She wakes up with a sense of foreboding that tells her the alarm should have gone off by now. She is correct. She jumps out of bed in a panic, checks her phone, which has run out of battery overnight, and runs into the kitchen to try and get ready for work. The clock on her oven tells her that she still has fifteen minutes before she needs to set off, so she scarfs down a bowl of cereal and slaps on a token amount of makeup. She packs her work bag quickly, zipping it closed while she walks. Her phone battery can wait until she gets there.
As she rushes out the door and through her meager garden, she notes that the grass has grown past knee length and needs tending to when she gets some spare time.
She arrives at work three minutes late.
She makes sure her phone is plugged in before she goes to sleep. The tinny pop song of her alarm wakes her up in the middle of a dream, and she snoozes twice before waking up fully.
Her alarm is a tune she used to enjoy in days past. Today she finds herself hating that song just a little bit more.
She opens her cupboard to retrieve her cereal, and the top hinge falls loose, letting the door hang askew. She still has time. She digs out her screwdriver and spends a few moments trying to fix the door in place. She does an okay job, but the hinge fitting is too worn out and will not last very long. She makes a mental note to buy a replacement and fix it properly when she gets a chance.
She looks at the time on her oven and notices she got distracted for far too long. She only has twelve minutes left. She prepares her bowl of cereal, but the first spoonful almost makes her retch. The milk has gone off. She places a slice of bread in the toaster while she applies her makeup. By the time she’s done, the bread has already grown cold.
Walking out, she stuffs a dry bit of toast in her mouth. A stray takeaway leaflet blows out through the door as she opens it. After she locks up, she tries to put the leaflet back into her letterbox but gets her wires crossed and inserts the piece of toast instead. She groans, forces the leaflet in, then dashes off to work.
She arrives with almost a minute to spare but still earns a disapproving look from her manager.
She is woken up an hour early by a loud, infernal beeping. She bounds out of bed, shaking with adrenaline. It takes her almost half a minute to realize what the sound is and what it means. She runs through the house, checking each room in turn, but there’s nothing burning. There’s not even smoke.
She paces around the living room, unable to think from the noise. The fire alarm pulses through her ears, causing her physical pain. Then she looks up at the alarm itself. There’s a damp patch around it, and it dawns on her that the alarm must have shorted. She manages to climb on a chair and take the alarm down with her stiff fingers. It’s not until she takes the batteries out that it finally shuts up.
She takes a moment to enjoy the silence and let the buzz in her ears subside. It’s not long until worry sets in again. She looks up at the dampness on the ceiling. She sends a brief email to her landlord, and he calls her back instantly, berating her for waking him up. The first ten minutes of their conversation consists of apologies, accusations, and a brief lesson on how to enable the Do Not Disturb mode on her landlord’s phone. The next twenty-five minutes, a back-and-forth about whose responsibility it is to look into the leak.
Finally, her landlord relents. He has agreed to address it later in the day.
She hangs up, exhausted. She tries for a ten-minute nap before her alarm rings, but sleep doesn’t come. Grudgingly, she gets up as the wretched pop song sounds again.
She heads over to the cupboard for her cereal. The door falls out again, her superficial fix barely lasting a day. She has bought a replacement hinge but lacks the energy to deal with it today, so she lets the door hang. She frowns when she takes the cereal box out: There are mouse droppings all around it, and one of the corners has been chewed off. She opts for toast again but finds a few splotches of green mold on it. Finally, she decides a cup of tea will keep her going until she passes a shop on the way to work.
As she leaves her home, she sees a dog arching its back, shitting right in her garden. The dog’s owner is on his phone, ignoring her angry glare.
Even as the smell of excrement reaches her, her first priority is food. She resolves to tidy up when she gets back home that night.
She wakes up with her alarm. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she reaches out to silence her phone, but it crackles and dies out. She holds the “on” button, taps the screen. Nothing. Its battery must’ve died the moment she snatched it.
She grabs for the charger on the floor next to her bed but decides against using it. A section of the cable has been chewed off, individual coils of severed wire sticking out.
There is a spare charger in the living room, so she stumbles out of bed and opens her bedroom door. The door falls out. She jumps back, looking at it in surprise.
It hasn’t simply fallen off its hinges. It’s broken in half, torn like damp cardboard. She pokes at the part that still holds to the door frame. It’s squishy to the touch, sodden with liquid that bubbles out the side when pressed.
She looks out to the living room. The leak from the previous day, supposedly fixed, has come back in full force overnight. The ceiling is covered in black growth. The walls are glistening with moisture, and the air hangs heavy.
She realizes the little specks floating about must be spores, and she lifts her pajama top over her mouth to avoid inhaling them. She feels stifled. She cannot breathe.
She goes to the window and lifts the curtain. Before she can crack it open, she halts. Her little garden, normally clean, is now strewn with plastic, old disposable coffee cups, wrappers, and children’s toys bent out of shape. Shocked, she drops the curtain. Gathers herself and looks again. Now everything is on fire. Her garden is burning up.
She stares blankly at a plastic bottle melting on top of her rosemary bush for a moment before she shakes her head and starts looking around for a fire extinguisher. She cannot call the fire brigade with her phone off, so she shouts for help, hoping a passer-by will do it for her.
The fire extinguisher she finds is ancient. She runs outside with it, slipping on the dog feces from the previous day and almost falling over. When she points the extinguisher at the flames and presses the handle, nothing happens. Desperate, she fetches the fire blanket from the kitchen and starts batting at the burning plants. It takes her half an hour. Between the blanket and a few rounds with a large pot full of water, she manages to put the fire out.
There is no sense of satisfaction when she’s done. Her garden is a burnt-out, plastic-ridden, shit-covered mess. Her hair hangs messily, her pajamas are blackened by fire. Nobody has come to help.
Once things cool down, she spends some time clearing the rubbish out. The grass is still long. Just when she thinks she’s picked everything up, another bit she missed catches her eye.
She arrives at work an hour late, still smelling of smoke.
Outside, she finds the office is shut. A few of the windows are boarded up, and old posters and notices cover the door. She walks up to a window that is still intact. Through the grimy glass she can see a thick layer of dust coating the furniture within.
She doesn’t sleep much that night. Visions of unemployment, ashes and mold spore lung diseases take turns asserting themselves in her mind’s eye like a grotesque parade.
She gets up when she concedes that it is too late in the night to try and fall asleep. She doesn’t know what time it is, but no light is coming from the outside.
She stumbles to the entrance of her bedroom. An old bed sheet covers the gap left by her door the previous day, a feat of 2 a.m. engineering she hoped would make it easier to relax. She flings her makeshift door open.
Her living room is gone. Everything is gone.
The world outside her room is a turbulent emptiness. Flecks of red dust shift in front of her. Here and there, bolts of lightning illuminate the entropic clouds. Winds move everything in directions devoid of meaning.
A few household appliances and tools, miraculously intact, float nearby. She reaches out and just about manages to grab ahold of a broom. She sighs stoically and steps out.
There is always more work to be done.
ANDREY PISSANTCHEV is a Bulgarian writer based in Leeds, UK, where he shares a house with his girlfriend and a cat that barely even exists. He hopes to one day be remembered as the first person to get punched by a ghost on live television. His short stories have most recently appeared in Idle Ink, Sirens Call, and Tall Tale TV.