The man in the long coat shuddered and his left arm fell off. The breeze was toying with his long black hair, pulling it off his head and whirling it away. His other arm detached and hit the ground with a dull thud.
“The hole in the wall,” he said. His teeth were drooling out of his mouth, and falling away. His nose slid off and his eyeballs rolled out and splatted to the ground. “Hole in the wall,” his bloody mouth said and then his legs crumpled and what was left of his body thumped to the ground.
His clothing seemed to unravel and the flesh began to slide off of the torso, leaving shiny white bones. The blood and flesh withered and vanished as the bones settled and then began to crumble. In just a few moments, all trace of him was gone.
Carol was rooted to the ground. At first she’d been afraid, then horrified, and now disbelieving. She took a few tentative steps towards the spot where the body had vanished. When ferns started sprouting before her eyes, she backed away, her thin legs shaking. She stumbled and had to grab on to a nearby wall to remain standing. Somehow she managed to find her way back to the bank. She tried telling Jocelyn, a fellow teller and her friend, but Jocelyn just laughed and accused Carol of drinking on her lunch.
The rest of the day played out like a parody of normal life. Customers came and went; the clock charted the extremely slow voyage of the afternoon. The people lined up to do their banking didn’t seem real. Carol felt they were robots, or paid actors. When it was finally time to go home she stood at the bus stop and shivered even though the breeze was warm. The same breeze that had torn away the man’s black hair.
What had he wanted? Earlier in the day, she’d eaten her lunch and then had walked along the river, as she always did. She was on her way back to the bank when the man in the long coat had blocked her path. His strange eyes had made her think he was on drugs. Then he’d literally fallen to pieces.
The bus had stopped in front of Carol, waited, and finally pulled away. Carol was still standing at the stop, rooted, seeing the whole thing happening again in her mind. The hole in the wall, he’d said. Hole in the wall. As if blown by the warm breeze, she headed back down to the river.
It was where she always walked at lunchtime. Five days a week. Ate her carrot sticks and apple slices so she’d stay slim for the men who never called her, and then walked along the river. As she walked now, her life seemed incredibly empty. Her house was empty, her job was empty, her friendships were empty, her heart was empty. Her soul was empty. She swallowed a sudden irrational desire to set herself on fire. What would that accomplish? Why did having seen a man fall to pieces make her feel that she was suffering the same fate?
The sidewalks called to her and she retraced her path right to the spot where the man with long black hair in the long coat had stopped her. The ferns were still there she saw with relief. She hadn’t imagined it. It was all real. The ferns growing in the middle of the sidewalk proved it. Closer inspection revealed that the cement there had cracked and the plants were growing in the splits.
She was sure she had not seen the man in the area before. But she could not shake the feeling that he had come just for her, to tell her ‘the hole in the wall.’
That same warm breeze blew the sun away and whisked darkness in. Where had the time gone? She began the long walk to her apartment.
Usually she avoided walking downtown at night. There were sexual assaults and thefts and attacks but she still had that feeling that she was out of place, that the world was happening around her but she wasn’t a part of it. No one bothered her. No one bumped into her or made lewd comments. Instead of feeling like prey, which was how she usually felt, she now seemed invisible.
Her dark apartment was waiting for her. When she turned the key and opened the door the smell seemed familiar and yet she still felt like she was not in the right place. She kicked her shoes off, brushed her teeth, pulled on her pjs and climbed into bed.
She stared at the ceiling in the darkness. She looked at the walls, expecting to see a hole in one of them. Every time she closed her eyes she began to see the man falling apart again, so she’d open them. Finally she sat up, accepting that there wouldn’t be sleeping this night. Gnawing in her stomach sent her padding to the kitchen.
The curtains were open and the streetlights outside lit the room with a pale bluish glow. The clock above the stove ticked the beat to the humming fridge’s cooling song.
Carole opened the fridge thinking of orange juice but instead was confronted by a large reddish quivering mass that that seemed to startle when she opened the door. She let out a scream and the red thing slid out of the fridge onto the floor. It started to spread towards Carole’s feet, puddle like, and she backed away into the table. She climbed up on a chair and then crawled on the table, knocking over the salt and pepper shakers stationed there. She grabbed the salt shaker and threw it into the red puddle. The gel screeched and contracted into a ball which rolled out of the kitchen into the living room. From the top of the table she saw it dash at the wall. A glowing black hole opened in the wall and the round red substance shot into it and then the hole folded into itself and was gone.