by Justin Eells 

One morning, Nick woke up and it was there beside him in bed: a bowling ball-sized clump of gray, vein-riddled meat. Although he lived alone, Nick had long suspected another presence in his house, and now it was showing itself. Nick smiled and poked the little thing, and a mousy squeak came out of it, followed by a slurp, which made Nick laugh. It smelled of vinegar and bowling shoe.

Nick didn’t know what to feed the thing, so he made eggs and toast for two. The thing fidgeted and stretched toward the plate, stood erect like a bowling pin, then shrunk back down to the shape of sourdough loaf.

“Can I make you something else?” Nick said.

The thing spread across its chair like spilled soda and slithered down to the floor where it slid over to a small brown puddle at the foot of the fridge and turned itself over and over in the slurry.

“Morkus, don’t!” Nick yelled. He didn’t know why he said that—“Morkus”—but the name came out of him, so Morkus the thing was.

At first, Morkus was content to stay in the house. There were enough puddles and growths to sustain him, and Nick could go to work and Thursday-night bowling and no one had any reason to believe his situation was anything but normal. Sometimes Morkus would recline all day on the ottoman like a bunch of dusty grapes, emitting occasional slurps; sometimes he’d slink out from under the sink in the shape of a floor sock, and Nick wouldn’t know if Morkus had shrunk or his mind was playing tricks. The slurping was constant, as Morkus absorbed whatever nutrients he found in the nooks and crevices, but it was tolerable.

Then one morning, a few months after Morkus first appeared in Nick’s bed, Nick put on his coat and Morkus wrapped himself around his calf and squeezed, not in a painful way, but an insistent way, as if to say he would not be letting go.

At first, Morkus drew some stares at work, and people occasionally poked their heads around the cubicle walls when the slurping was especially loud, but no one said anything, and Nick was still welcome at happy hour and Thursday-night bowling.

Still, it wasn’t always easy. Occasionally Morkus would get up on the breakroom table and people would shrink back. And sometimes he got in the way of Nick’s bowling game. One night, during an especially bad game, Nick’s ball seemed perennially destined for the gutter and he could almost smell his teammates’ tepid ire as they stared at the squishy monster affixed to his leg. Peeling Morkus off didn’t seem like an option. By the end of that night, Morkus’s slurping was loud enough to hear over the crashing pins and hair metal blasting from the bowling alley’s speakers, so Nick opted out of the usual post-game sandwich and went home. When he turned on the TV and Morkus settled in next to him on the couch, Nick looked over and realized Morkus was now so big he took up an entire cushion, and an oozy string of him dribbled down the front of the couch like snot.

The days got shorter, the air colder, and Nick stopped attending happy hour and dropped out of the bowling league. Morkus’s slurps grew louder and more frequent, and Nick noticed pieces of hair and smears of dirt sticking to his nubs of flesh. Then his parents said they were coming for Christmas.

Nick made Morkus wait in a sealable plastic container while he vacuumed the floors and scrubbed the sinks and toilet. When he opened the container to let him out, Morkus gave a high-pitched, spittly whine, and Nick promised never to leave him in there again.

When they arrived, his parents were taken aback by this ball of gray flesh that smelled like a spent scouring pad and made little slurpy sounds. His mother did not approve of Morkus: “There are ways to handle such things. You don’t have to live like this.”

His father was more pliant: “It’s not harming anything. And it doesn’t require food or a litter box, so…”

“Don’t tell him that! This isn’t normal. This is no way for a young man to live. When did you last have a date, Nick?

Nick looked at Morkus, the size of a small refrigerator, sitting on the floor beside the recliner, and he looked at his diminished parents sitting on the couch and felt a dull pain in his gut. That night, he took Morkus in two hands and stuffed him back into the plastic bin and slid the bin under the bed.

Christmas was pleasant enough as Nick and his parents pretended life was normal and that Morkus didn’t exist. After they left, Nick pulled the container out, but when he took the lid off, there was nothing inside but a moldy smell. He looked around the house, in all the closets, the basement, and under the bed. He couldn’t find the little monster anywhere. He remembered his promise never to put Morkus in the container again, and how quickly he had reneged. Nick had treated Morkus unfairly, but, as he got in the shower and let the warm water wash over his body, he felt revitalized, as if this were the start of a new life.

In bed, sleep pulled on him as it hadn’t in a long time, and as he sank into its velvet embrace, he heard a quiet slurping from somewhere in the pipes or the walls, or maybe from the dream world that was drawing him in. It was perfectly normal, he decided; nothing but a sound.

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