Welcome to The Echo’s annual feature, Summer Soap, a daily fictional serial told over 12 episodes. The latest Soap, called Bleach, was written by Beau Williams, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC. You can catch up with previous episodes at echolive.ie. In this second episode, Matthew reaches the house he is sharing with Jordan, but a mysterious door sets his mind racing.
MATTHEW and Jordan said their goodbyes from in front of the Phoenix café then slipped back into the rain and walked in opposite directions.
She hadn’t lied. The hike was terrible. Forty-five minutes, with twenty of it uphill. He couldn’t tell if it was the rain or his own perspiration, but he sweated copiously and pushed a little harder because of it.
Matthew didn’t hate too many things, but his backpack was gaining water weight and this stupid hill was doing a number on his back.
As he neared the top, he noticed a tree that hung over the pavement. Below was a fox with his face in a carcass. He could smell it before he first saw the scene.
The fox hadn’t noticed Matthew as it pulled at the meat. The animal clenched its front teeth onto the stomach of what was once a pigeon.
Matthew didn’t cross the street, but stayed on the path. He walked up to the creature and leaned forward; he looked into what was left. The remains of the bird were unfolded, spread, as if it had welcomed this. The fox continued unaware. A white foam mixed with the animal’s blood which dripped from the fox’s jaws.
Matthew reached out with caution, the creature’s orange and white tail flicked the air as its body moved through the bird. He ran his fingers through the fox fur and was surprised at its coarse texture. Again, the fox continued unaware. Matthew drew his hand back. He walked on.
Jordan’s apartment looked the same as all the ones nearby. Its front walkway area was a bit more unkempt than the surrounding ones but the front door was a bright white. The rest of the building was a dark grey.
When he got to the front door, he unlocked it and tucked the key under the ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ doormat. He looked around to make sure no-one was watching. You could never trust apartment complexes like that. Too many people in identical houses. Anybody could be watching.
Inside, the apartment was dark except for a night-light in the hallway and another at the top of the stairs. Visibility was low and everything had a tall shadow.
From what Matthew could tell, the rooms were pristine. It smelled of over-used cleaning products. All the perfectly-aligned picture frames seemed to be full of someone’s smiling cousins. Matthew was suddenly aware of how very wet he was.
He scooped his shoes off and placed them neatly on the shoe mat. He peeled off his backpack and jacket and draped them over his arm.
Matthew couldn’t find the light switch so he climbed the stairs in the dark. The dim nightlight shone through the banister and its shadow crawled like fingers on the wall.
As he ascended, he noticed the smells in the stairwell start to change. The smell of bleach was stronger up here but there’s something else as well. Matthew knew “too clean” too well. Only filthy things need to be that clean.
He stood at the top of the stairs. There were three doors, all closed but one. The one closest to the stairs on the left, he knew, led to the “too clean” room. The open door behind him lead to the guest room. His room.
But there was something alluring about that room on the left. A chill blew from under the door and wrapped his ankles like a cat. He needed to know what was kept in there, what was hiding.
He reached for the handle and gripped it. It was locked. The chill from his ankles crawled up his leg and a cold sweat spread over him.
Intrigue made his blood pulse but something about this frightened him so he released the handle, shook out his hand. He should probably go to bed. Should probably shut the door, get out of these wet clothes and away from things that stirred his bones.
Matthew crossed the hall and entered his room. He shut the door, made sure it was locked, and changed into warm pyjamas. He laid in bed and scrolled through the social media accounts on his phone.
He had learned this trick back in college. This always took his brain out of the situation. It calmed him down to see memes of cats and the boring updates on everyone’s lives.
Monotonous scrolling and useless stimulus was his go-to method for thought neutralising.
It didn’t work this time.
What was so special about that room? It was just a locked door. Why did it consume him now?
He forced himself to not think about it; to not think about the room, or bleach, or the hungry fox and the uncoiled pigeon in the rain.
He plugged his phone into the charger and set it on the bedside table next to the lamp. Instead, he began to let his mind wander.
He wondered when Orla might be coming home and what kind of person she might be. Was she one of those annoying housemates who leaves passive aggressive notes everywhere or was she the chill type? How did she know Jordan and did they get along?
Had Jordan become the kind of girl who would just as soon forget she kissed you as kiss you again? Was she into guys, now, as well as girls? She had seemed pretty flirty with him earlier.
Did it actually rain every day of the year in this godforsaken city?
Soon after, he fell asleep before his mind could trail away; before any locked doors would find themselves clicked open.