He wasn’t quite sure how to describe the smell.  It wasn’t so rank as to warrant his full attention, but at the same time, it always persisted.  It was like a mosquito, in a way: it was only annoying if he paid attention to it.

And like any mosquito, Sam couldn't help but pay attention to it.

The water steamed as it touched his skin, running down his slicked back hair.  It wasn’t boiling water, but it may as well have been.  Every study in the world could prove that hot showers were bad for you, it didn’t matter to him; the shower was a place of reflection, after all, and if Sam had to be alone with his thoughts, he would rather be comfortable while doing so.

Thankfully I won’t be alone for much longer, Sam thought to himself.  He smiled as he pictured her face in his head: short, cute, and willing to spend the night.  Just what he wanted out of a first date.

I wouldn’t really call it a date, per se; if it were a date, we’d be going somewhere.  But she- what’s her name again?  Erika.  Erika is coming straight here, which means we get a little more fun than we would on a traditional date.

Sam glanced to his right at the bottle of shampoo resting on the shelf.

And it also means you’ve gotta get ready and stop hogging all the hot water, hotshot.

Sam moved for the faucet, but stopped.  His nostrils flared as he picked up on the smell; he had done well to push it out of his attention span so far, but it hit him full on in that moment.  He couldn’t put his finger on it; he could smell it, that much was for sure, but it was… distant, somehow.  Faint.  Like someone a few doors down was decomposing.  A strong odor, but one that hadn’t quite reached him just yet.

I bet something died in the walls, a mouse or something.  Though you’d think something like that would be a bit harder to smell from the shower.

Sam looked around, not entirely sure what he was looking for in the first place.  The shower was big enough, a large vertical cubicle big enough for two to fit comfortably (a purchasing point Sam had picked up on keenly), but not so large as to fit any potential harborers of the stench.

Unless it’s… me?

Sam stepped away from the showerhead for a moment, raised his arm, and took a quick sniff; he nearly recoiled in disgust as a result.

Yep.  It’s me.  Damn, thought I shampooed already?  Guess another round won’t hurt, especially for Erika’s sake.

He wasn’t so sure why exactly he was so concerned with impressing Erika.  He would have his way with her, she would promise to keep in touch, and they’d mutually move on to separate bodies.  Such was the cycle that Sam kept himself in; it was the only normality he knew.

He grabbed the shampoo, making sure to be much more thorough this time around.  The soap foamed and bubbled on his skin, running down his arms and legs as it mixed with water on its way to the drain.  He let himself soak for another few minutes, letting himself get lost in thought; finally, he pulled back from under the showerhead once more, and went in for a final check on how he smelled.

It had gotten worse.

Sam stared at the shampoo bottle, still open from use.  He suddenly became very aware of how harsh the water pressure was; each individual droplet of water seemed to strike him like a BB pellet, assaulting him in a painful barrage he couldn’t get away from.  It pelted his back, the hiss of the shower steam blaring like a truck’s horn.  He covered his ears, silently pleading for it to stop.  It wouldn’t.

All the while, the smell seemed to rise.  It reeked not of body odor, but something stronger than that.  It was suffocating, seemingly closing in all around him.  The cubicle, lovingly selected to fit two, suddenly felt that much smaller as Sam’s senses went into overdrive.  His chest rose and fell, the water beating down on him as he struggled to make sense of what was happening.

You’re ok, Sam, you’re ok.  It’s all the steam from the shower, it’s… it’s messing with your head.  Yeah, that’s it.  Just gotta get out of here...

Regaining control of his body, Sam powered through the smell and the sensory overload, reaching through the steady downpour for the faucet.  He cranked it off, and all at once the cacophony of his mind fell silent.  No more thundering water drops, no more claustrophobic shower.

But still that smell.

Ok, whatever; I can deal with that later.  For now, I’ve just gotta clear my head, gotta-

Sam reached for the sliding shower door, then stopped.  He stared down at his arm as the smell grew sharper.

There was a small dark spot on his arm; it could have easily been mistaken for a mole, had a mole been there when he entered the shower.  Sam looked at the dark spot, then realized something: whatever it was, it was spreading across the skin of his forearm.

It was growing.

Confused, Sam ogled the dark spot, slowly raising a finger to poke it.  The skin that had darkened felt soft to the touch; when he applied pressure to it, it seemed to almost give way to the pressure.  He pressed and pressed, feeling his finger sink ever deeper into the dark spot.

Then, finally, something gave.

The darkened skin began to break open, the skin not so much ripping but more sagging as the pressure from his finger proved too much.  Recoiling in horror, Sam quickly withdrew his finger from the wound, watching a glob of jet black viscera drip down his index finger.  The dark spot, now an open pit on his arm, grew even still, his skin breaking and peeling away.  The smell was now more pungent than ever before, the source of it having been exposed to open air.  His hand shook as blood began to flow down his fingers, growing cold as he slowly began to lose control of it.  The rot had corroded his arm all the way to the bone, leaving his forearm up hanging limply as Sam struggled to get his head straight.

What the fuck what the fuck what the fuck?!

He backed away from the door, in shock; there was no pain, but that fact did little to remedy the situation.

Sam lost his footing, slipping on leftover water from the hot shower.  He went sprawling to the ceramic floor, howling in pain as he felt a sharp pain in his leg.  It fell under the rest of his body weight, jerking reflexively for a moment before going limp.

“Help!” Sam shouted instinctively.  “Somebody help me!”

He gasped, doing his best to conserve his breath.  Erika wouldn’t be arriving for at least another hour.

Mustering all the strength in his remaining arm, Sam propped himself up just enough to get his leg out and examine it; the bone piercing through the skin was the only diagnosis he needed.

Sam could hear his heart beating in his chest.  His mind began to race, imagining all the worst case scenarios as he scrambled for a solution.

I’m going to die in here and nobody will find me.  Erika’s gonna have to cancel and they won’t find me for weeks.

Sam’s hyperventilating was interrupted by an observation, a sight so shocking it almost sent a jolt of focus into his scattered brain:

His leg was moving; more so, it was moving away.

The area around the breakage had gone black with rot, just as his arm had; only this was... different.  Instead of simply crumbling away, the black material was moving, writhing and squirming as if it were alive.  As the corrosion began to separate Sam’s leg from his knee, a set of sinewy black tendrils wrested themselves free from the open wound.  They flailed about as Sam covered his mouth in horror, his eyes welling up with tears.  The tendrils began to push against the pristine white floor, leaving behind a trail of the same black tarrish substance that coated Sam’s arm wound.  Pushing and pushing, they began to control where his rotting leg was going.

This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, Sam struggled to bring his brain to reason.  This is a nightmare, Sam.  You’re gonna wake up, ok?  You’re gonna wake up.

Sam began to back away weakly, sliding what remained of his body towards the front of the cubicle as his body creaked in agony.  He raised his remaining arm- now slowly becoming peppered with its own dark spots- up to the wall, desperate for anything to help himself up.  He found the faucet with his grip, and using what little strength he had, he pulled down on it hard, hoping to pull himself up.

As the barrage of droplets fell once more, Sam noticed something: the smell had dissipated, if only slightly.  No longer as rotten and odorous, it was as it had been when he first started showering: only a faint nuisance that he could tune out if need be.

He stared down at his leg, only to find that it had stopped.  The tendrils were prone on the ground as the water beat down on them.  Then, slowly, they began to move; it was about a hundredth of their previous speed, but the tendrils were adamant to move once more.  Only this time, the shower water was slowing their progression.

It was slowing the rot.

Sam looked up at his remaining arm.  The dark spots were there, but they weren’t growing or advancing in any way.  Then, after a moment, he could make out a faint spread of one of the spots; as with the tendrils, however, it was infinitely slower now.

The cubicle began to fill with steam as Sam weighed his options.

If I turn the water off, I’m a dead man... but I’ve got to get help somehow.

Sam backed up against the wall, sinking to the ground as he watched the tendrils push away at his severed leg.  They were still on the move, slowly but surely.  His arm- his rotted arm- was completely dead.  He was certain it would have fallen off by now, though he suspected that the water had something to do with its preservation, if he could call it that.  It hung loosely by a single strap of skin and muscle, dangling at his side as if to mock him.

“I’m not gonna die in here,” Sam said out loud.  “There’s a way out of this... whatever this is.  This water gives me time to think, so that’s what I’m gonna do.

“Do you hear me?!” Sam shouted, again, to nobody.  “I’m gonna figure out how to beat this!  You won’t kill me... I won’t let you!”

Sam stopped, sucking in deep breaths as he began to calm down.

“I won’t let you,” he mumbled as he began to concoct his escape.  The steam encircled him, the water bearing down heavier than before.

He was safe in the water.  He was safe in the steam.

He was safe in the shower.

****

“Sorry I’m late!  Traffic was a bitch, and Waze wasn’t much help either.  I knocked, but you didn’t answer, so I, uh... let myself in.  You don’t always keep your door unlocked, do you?”

No answer.

Erika frowned, setting down her handbag as she surveyed the lavish living room.  It was much nicer than most apartments she’d seen, which gave her hope that her date wouldn’t just be a cheap hookup.

Speaking of, where even is Sam, anyway?

She approached the kitchen area, peeked her head in the bedroom... nothing.  She pulled out her phone, hoping to shoot him a quick text.

As she plopped down on his sofa, she noticed something on the coffee table by her elbow.  It was a note with a piece of tape stuck to it, as if it had been plucked from off a door or a wall or something like that.  Curiosity overtaking her, she picked it up and began to read, doing her best to decipher the crude handwriting:

SAM-

LAST WARNING!

HAVE YOUR RENT TO ME BY 7 OR I’M SHUTTING OFF YOUR WATER.

-BRUCE

Erika pulled out her phone- 8:07.  She stifled a chuckle.

I bet Richie Rich here is down there complaining to his landlord right now.  Poor guy; I hope I can make it up to him when he gets back.

Erika put the note back on the coffee table, propping her feet up as she began to browse social media absentmindedly.  Sam would be back soon, she was sure of it.

And when he got back, she would make him explain exactly why his apartment smelled so rancid.

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