Shifting grey mist filled the darkened corner until the shape of a hunched over man appeared. Cockroaches exhaled stale air while a woman slept alone in her bed.
Tendrils of decay spread from Leon’s insides, seeping into her dreams as he stepped closer to snoring heap. A trail of muddy footprints followed. A modem flashed signal in the opposite corner of her rented bedroom. The pink and fluffy evidence suggested she tried to make it feel like home.
But pink and fluffy could only hide the mould lurking underneath. It couldn’t silence the rats or disguise the smell of their bodies rotting beneath the floor and above the ceiling.
His chest rose and fell with cockroach breath. Ribs creaked wrapped in putrid gore and laced together in old rags and sticky honey. Her nearest neighbour – the girl next door, called out in her sleep through the thin walls. Leon’s neck creaked turning around to look. The sound was enough to stir dead rats until they started scratching in the ceiling and beneath the floor.
Cockroaches fell out of his mouth and ceased to pretend to be tobacco-stained teeth once he grinned. Honey filled muddy footprints left behind on the floor. The puddles caught a sliver of silver moonlight and refused to let go.
It is a common misconception that every Christmas Eve there’s a Full Moon. One calendar month is longer than one Lunar month. But Leon gave up arguing the point around the same time the cockroaches took the last of his tobacco-stained teeth.
A plastic tree hung with pound-shop baubles in a desperate attempt at Christmas cheer. Mould climbed in from the shadows and traced the plastic trunk. Mist crept in every night while the woman slept in her bed.
Mould wrapped the cheap pink baubles in long green and black fingers. The faint attempt at Christmas cheer was tainted, but that was nothing a social media filter couldn’t fix.
Leon’s patched trench coat knocked the cheap plastic branches. He held his hand out to stop it from falling to the floor. A habit he held onto from long ago. His insides splashed against his bones with the sudden movement.
Sad and alone in the single room with plastic branches that drooped and cried mouldy tears (but only when the cameras weren’t around). A fly landed on the plastic angel with her painted eyes and hair.
Worms ate Leon’s tear ducts long ago. But even if they hadn’t, he wouldn’t have a tear to shed for the likes of the woman sleeping in the bed.
The only presents underneath her sad pound shop tree were the empty boxes she wrapped herself. But, still, she told herself she had friends. So many friends. They liked so many of her social media posts.
Empty boxes didn’t make any sound when they fell to the floor. They looked great beneath a filter on social media. And earned comments from so many of her so-called friends.
An old plastic music/jewellery box leftover from childhood opened on its own. The plastic ballerina twirled into life. Forever pirouetting to music distorted in the cold mist. A few photo-filters cleaned it up for the online audience approval the woman sleeping in bed craved (needed to survive and feel alive, if only for a few seconds of happy brain chemicals celebrating before the emptiness spread).
He hovered over her bed, fresh out of Christmas cheer. Fresh out of breath, until he pounded his chest with his fist and the remaining internal cockroaches started to hiss again.
Social media influencer was a tough-sell. But, still, it didn’t hurt to dream. To brown nose and lick online boots for likes and laughs. Her blonde hair fell over her pillow. That was mouldy too, with fuzzy farms growing in between the creases. Those filters, again, concealed such despair.
Leon came for the lonely, the lost, the trapped. It was long before her time, but where he planned to take her, she wouldn’t even notice. They never did as long as their phones still chimed online approval and email signatures and newsletters wished them a Happy goddamn Holiday.
Honey dripped from the plastic ballerina trapped in a forever pirouette. Two black dots in a white circle served as eyes. The paint started to peel long before phantom bees built a hive.
Rats gnawed on the corpses of their recently fallen brothers in the ceiling, even as Leon’s presence brought them back from the brink of the void. His head rolled all the way back when he tried to look up. A mouldy scarf stolen from the woman’s floor secured it back to his neck and hid the loose flaps of skin.
Four plastic pillars tried to create the illusion of a four-poster bed. Pink feathers strung together for a princess-effect. But the feathers were plastic too. LED fairy lights twinkled in the dullness of a dying battery. Mould climbed down from the ceiling and wrapped around the fake four-poster bed. She forgot to put curtains around it to keep out the Christmas chill.
Cockroaches flew landing on the walls until Leon called for them again. The plastic ballerina’s painted lips melted into a scream. Honey dripped onto old plastic bracelets and smudged high school love letters.
Shouldn’t that have been sent via text, my dear? Leon chortled, dislodging a sleeping rat from deep inside his bowels. It scratched at his insides, searching for the way out. Only to end up like its distant cousins in the ceiling and floor.
Leon looked at the sleeping woman. She kept meaningless letters through the years. Not like there were many, but Leon liked the little touches of sentiment kept by the desperate and lonely. Some old thing from the past to remind them of their humanity beneath the fake filters designed to make them look like a Barbie.
He looked around. She forgot to string up plastic mistletoe to lure her plastic man into a meaningless kiss before they fell into the single bed for one night of meaningless sex. He’d be the one doing the walk of shame in the morning. Or, maybe he’d stick around all winter?
There wouldn’t be the opportunity now. Leon doubted she’d notice. They never did.
All relationship-style transactions were now carried out by mobile phones and laptop computers with specialised USB attachments and controls for the other party. It didn’t matter if the more specialised attention came from a pay-per-click website.
Honey weighed heavy on the cheap plastic baubles hanging from the pound shop Christmas tree. It couldn’t wash away the mould. Phantom bees buzzed inside Leon’s head. Honey filled the cavity that used to house his heart.
Long fingernails sharpened into claws curled into Qs and scarped against her temples. They took a little sampling of her skin and a single strand of her blonde hair.
But it wasn’t enough to satisfy the phantom bees buzzing in Leon’s head. They should all be dead now, except for the hibernating queen.
The modem’s lights declared their full-strength in green. Dreamwaves twirled into Leon’s decaying brain landing in an arabesque to disturb the phantom bees and force them into stinging his skull.
That’s where they stuck. Tormenting him forever. But there was a way out, once his auditorium was full.
She didn’t have a name beyond that of Principle Dancer (and occasionally princess for the right online Daddy with all the proper credit cards – American Express isn’t accepted here). Principle Dancer that was her online handle too.
Mist traced pink flower wallpaper patterns in an outline of black mould. His toothless smile widened letting old cockroaches fall out. A cheap plastic Father Christmas wall decoration mirrored Leon’s smile, but it couldn’t imitate his laugh.
Fits of laughter sent Leon’s breathing roaches into coughing fits and woke another internal rat. The rats above and the rats below searched for holes to crawl out of and plant poison for the occupants of the HMO.
A pimple burst on the sleeping woman’s chin. Pus called cockroaches over for midnight lunch. A filter could erase any imperfections and make her look just like everyone else in the social media feeds. And that’s what they were, feeds for the lonely, the desperate and the lost.
Hours spent in front of the mirror. Her dance instructor held a riding crop. Bare thighs no longer felt the sting until she craved it at night and begged for it on her knees at some back street private members club. She wasn’t allowed her phone while on her knees begging to feel. So, no photos existed, but the PD in bed believed it was real.
The dance started again. She smiled through it all in the way she was trained to do. Big pearly whites, expensive Veneers covered up the screaming from the void.
Yellow-tinted curly-Q fingernails swallowed silver moonlight poking through the grey mist. Long strands of greasy hair fell over Leon’s face. His fingernails traced her lips. She recoiled from her dance instructor’s whip.
Cockroaches hissed. The audience cheered. A bit too rowdy for the ballet but every Christmas, every single person played pretend at airs and graces for the approval of their social media feeds.
Social media notifications, a cruel dancer instructor and BDSM silenced the Principle Dancer’s childhood friends. They leered somewhere out in the crowd. Drunk on cheap imported beer.
But she was too wrapped up in the social media approval of eating a burger dripping with grease while wearing a tutu and leg warmers to notice.
Leon’s fingers burst their black stitching on her face. The cockroaches paused their breath. If he dissolves, they cease to exist and become part of the creeping mist.
Mist seeped behind the cracks and the wallpaper started to peel. The audience determined to show social media that they too had some class. Phones flashed despite the signs that said NO.
That reminded him. Leon reached into his pocket, grateful for the upgrade to the new waterproof model just one week before his death. A little gift from his grandchildren that found him to be oh-so unkewl.
Even in death, followers demanded a near-constant stream of meaningless content. It kept them fed.
He snapped a selfie of himself with the sleeping woman. The camera focused on grave fluids seeping through his burst stitches and his fingers clutching a few strands of her blonde hair.
Young cockroaches exhaled in Leon’s decaying lungs. The sleeping woman twitched. Dreamwaves paused; Leon urged continuation with as much force as he could muster from some deep cavern where his heart used to sit.
He put all the right hashtags on his photo and waited for the likes. Likes gave him some sort of weird half-life with rats chewing through the rags that held his body together. And the cockroaches that would cease to exist if he didn’t fill his damned quota.
The woman’s moans looked for a wall to bounce. Basic backwards borrées made her trip. A rat became lost in Leon’s decayed intestines and started to eat. It too needed to be fed. The audience were too wrapped up in whatever else they saw up there on that very same stage.
Cockroaches dropped from the walls. The mould traced the pink flower pattern they left behind and tried to pull the wallpaper back to the wall. The rat fell out of what remained of Leon’s butthole. Phantom bees buzzed in his head. The rat scratched at his muddy boots before it ran off to join its cousins and friends somewhere in the ceilings or floors.
Her ankle twisted with a threatening break. The end of her career. Only then did her smile falter. Leon leant over her lips as if searching for a dream-kiss.
He tasted her sour breath intermingled with her sour soul. Phantom bees dropped dead. They finally felt a Christmas chill.
Strands of greasy hair clumped together in long, dirty rats’ tails and fell over his face. He couldn’t push them away with the phone still in his hand. Every moment recorded and uploaded for instant shallow approval.
Tendrils of black mist pregnant with rats and cockroaches seeped in from stage left. The P.D didn’t notice spotting too many chaîné turns for the audience to count until they slowed down their recorded footage. Leon kept the phantom bees for himself.
Leon breathed in exhaled moans for the baby cockroaches creating a sense of warm breath. The ballerina on stage glowed even as she realised she couldn’t draw another breath. Cold mist traced her ankles. Her pink ballet shoes were damp and covered in pink worms fat on the feast found in fresh graves.
Auditorium lights buzzed on just as she reached into a breathless arabesque. Cockroaches twitched their brown wings. Leon’s lips covered her sleeping mouth. Mould sped up its race down her fake four-poster bed.
The audience didn’t clap as they normally did. Hollow eyes stared. Relevé then bourée all while what remained in her lungs caught on fire.
A bulb burst and wires sparked somewhere above the audience. They sat watching a series of dizzying chaîné turns with their hollow eyes.
Party-eyes makeup couldn’t hide the creeping hollowness inside. Cameras paused the dizzying display from the stage for the pleasure of the online audience. No one existed beyond their social media profiles and filters.
The tendrils of decay only just started to climb Leon’s fingers. Mist circled his legs and dropped worms onto the luxury carpet. The dance started again. Forever on repeat.
A ballerina twirled landing in an arabesque with her leg to the audience and a cheeky grin thrown over her shoulder. Tendrils of decay waited at stage left, strangling the corpse de ballet. Tentacles caressed their throats and pried apart their lips for the most tender of a kiss.
One final leap and the Principle Dancer would belong to Leon. The corpse de ballet was nothing more than her dream rehashing old memories. But the audience were as real as the mist.
His excitement sped the rot seeping in from his insides. His knuckle brushed against the dreamer’s cheek. Soon, he’d be free.
Cockroaches fell from every mouth watching the girl on stage. Leon couldn’t breathe and neither could the audience in the women’s dreams. The cockroaches created an illusion of sour breath though. They, at least, were alive.
The Principle Dancer watched herself piqué from her dusty seat. Leon left behind muddy footprints in the rented bedroom. The cheap plastic Christmas tree fell to the floor. The plastic ballerina continued her twirl slowly drowning in the honey left behind.
Cockroaches ate the Principle Dancer’s eyes. But she could still see and watch herself repeat the same steps on stage. The woman sat next to her saw something else up there and documented it all. If it didn’t get posted online, she’d cease to exist.
It took years before the last of the milky-white orbs were nothing more than hollows sat in a grinning skull. But the same phone she had when Leon took her in the night captured the entire ballet. The approval of followers gave whatever remained, trapped and screaming somewhere inside her skull, a little glimmer of hope and the pretence of life.
A man towards the back started to break the spell when he heard jingle bells. The rags wore thin and couldn’t support his neck. His head rolled off and hit the floor.
His nearest neighbours turned from watching themselves on stage and snapped some photos, adding a few filters for their social media accounts. An extra filter of Christmas tree tinsel made the decapitated skull that bit festive for a bit of Christmas cheer. Rats chewed out of his stomach and spilled onto the floor in a puddle of gore to increase his nearest neighbour’s social media popularity.
Leon flexed his fingers, listening for the pop. The auditorium was nearly full. He was nearly through. Jingle bells sounded outside somewhere. Christmas always filled the lonely with extra despair. Their existence ready to fizzle out if the Wi-Fi and 5G goes down.
<Pose and wait for social media approval and online cheers>
Boo-graphy: Suitably labelled “The Queen of Filth”, extremist author Dani Brown’s style of dark and twisted writing and deeply disturbing stories has amassed a worrying sized cult following featuring horrifying tales such as “Ghetto Super Skank”, “Becoming,” “56 Seconds”, “Sparky the Spunky Robot” and the hugely popular “Ketamine Addicted Pandas”. Merging eroticism with horror, torture and other areas that most authors wouldn’t dare, each of Dani’s titles will crawl under your skin, burrow inside you, and make you question why you are coming back for more.