Growing Pains. Short Story.

Grace stretched and yawned, she stood for a moment at the kitchen sink looking out the window at the field of cows. She was still having difficulty adjusting to all this space and the wandering farm animals. Before moving out here she’d never seen a cow in real life, never mind sheep or goats. She could hear Brad moving around upstairs with his usual heavy footsteps. The kettle clicked and she picked it up, pouring hot water into two mugs. She hadn’t slept well the night before, though Brad had slept like a log. During the night she heard an almighty bang, it was so loud it almost felt like the house shook with the noise of it. She’d prodded Brad awake, asking if he heard anything and all she got was some mumbling as he rolled over and went back asleep. She never appreciated the feeling of safety she had in the city, the fact that there were always people around and if needed, the police could be called. Out here god only knew how long it would take for them to arrive. Grace glanced out the window and frowned, there was something wrong with the fields, they were the wrong colour. She squinted at them, they were still green, but they were a brighter green than before. With a shock she realised that the brighter green was moving towards her, moving over bushes and animals alike. “Brad!”
he thundered down the stairs, “What? What’s wrong?”
she pointed out the window,
“What? Is there another cow in the garden? Just-” he stopped, staring wide eyed as the rush of green came closer. Grace reached out to Brad and gripped his hand tightly, “what is it?” by then it was almost upon the house. Grace flinched and turned her head. When she opened her eyes again a few seconds later she expected the room to be in darkness, but it was as bright as ever. She looked out the window and saw the green had stopped in a perfect half circle around the house. This close it looked like soft, verdant moss. Brad was staring out the window, his mouth hanging open. A second later the alarm started beeping, Grace looked around and saw the oven clock was off. “Power cut.” Brad stepped away from Grace, moving towards the back door, he reached for the handle and Grace leapt forward to grab his hand, “Don’t. What if it comes inside.”
“It stopped, why did it stop? Besides it’s like moss or something. That’s all.” He reached for the door again, Grace didn’t stop him.

Outside the air smelt fresh with a cool undercurrent to it. Grace and Brad had walked around the house and saw the moss had stopped in a perfect circle, about ten feet from the house. Brad’s car had been parked across the odd boundary and the moss had covered almost half of it. They were standing near the back door again, ready to make a dash inside if necessary. Brad squatted down to get a better look, then he stood. “It’s moss. It has to be, it looks exactly like it.” Grace gasped, Brad’s head snapped up, he looked to where she was pointing. A cow, completely covered in bright green moss was casually strolling across what had once been its field. It stopped and lowered its head, it looked like it was eating. “Why isn’t it dead? how can it be walking around like that? Can it even breathe?”
Greg shook his head, he had no answers for her, the cow looked like it was made entirely of moss. He picked up a pebble that was lying on the tarmac and tossed it onto the moss, it was quickly covered. He pulled his phone from his pocket, maybe the internet would have a solution, maybe it was just a rare natural phenomenon. He unlocked his phone then cursed under his breath, no signal. Grace went inside to check hers, she joined him a moment later, useless phone gripped tightly in one hand.

Inside they sat at the kitchen table, sipping their almost cold tea, they had taken a stock of the house and it didn’t bode well. They had enough food to last them a few days, a week at most with severe rationing and enough water to last a few days. Greg had tried to fill the bathtub with water but when he turned the tap nothing came out, not even a drop. They drank their tea in silence, Grace was scared, but angry too, she hadn’t wanted to move out here to the middle of nowhere, not at first, but Brad had managed to convince her. If he had listened to her they wouldn’t be here in this mess, they’d be around people, in a city somewhere and completely safe. Greg stood and moved his cup to the sink, he was going to throw the dregs down the drain, he paused and set the cup to the side, they might be thankful for that later. He looked out the window and frowned, had the moss moved closer? He moved to the backdoor, “What are you doing?”
“It looks like it moved closer, I want to get a better look.”
“don’t go out there. It’s dangerous, we don’t know what that is, what if it releases spores or something?”
Brad rolled his eyes and pulled the door open. He stepped outside into the cool air, it had definitely moved closer. He went to the edge, where black tarmac met startlingly bright green and squatted beside it. He was tempted to reach out and touch it, it looked soft, but he held back. “Well?” Grace’s voice startled him from his thoughts, he jumped then over balanced, he fell forward, hands lunging out to stop him. They sunk into the green moss, it was soft. Then the moss was crawling its way up his arms, down his chest and over his head. By the time he’d fully fallen Brad was coated in it. Grace took a step towards him then stopped, she didn’t want to get infected too. “Brad?”
He didn’t say anything, couldn’t say anything. He knelt on all fours, shuddering. When it stopped Brad stood and shook his head slightly, like trying to clear away the remnants of a bad dream. He smiled at grace, wide and open, even his teeth had been covered .Grace gasped then turned and fled into the house.

Brad was circling the house endlessly, occasionally he would pull at a door or jiggle its handle, testing. Grace was upstairs, hiding in their room. She could see him from the window every so often, the moss was moving closer too. He hadn’t spoken to her yet, though she’d seen his mouth moving as she watched him. Finally after what seemed like hours he stopped, she watched him go to the garage, he went inside and started rummaging around. A few minutes later he pulled the lawnmower out. Grace’s chest felt tight, it was hard to breath. Saturday morning, that was when he always mowed the grass. She watched as the thing that was Brad dragged the mower across the moss until he was standing where their grass had been. He bent over and tried to start the mower, which was already covered in the moss and after a few pulls on the cord he stood up and started dragging it back and forth, like he was cutting grass with the dead mower. Grace turned from the window, she had a cramping lump in her throat that made it hard to breath. It was too much like him, she couldn’t watch any more.

An hour later and the thing that was Brad put the mower away, closing the garage behind him. Grace was shaking slightly, her eyes burned from crying, her nose was red and sore, wads of tissues were around her. She jumped as she heard someone pulling at the door downstairs, he was trying to get in again. After mowing it was always time for some TV, then lunch. A part of her wanted to go down and let him in, welcome her once husband with open arms and join him in whatever passed for the afterlife. Downstairs she heard the shatter of glass, her breathing quickened as she ran and locked the bedroom door. She heard the front door open and close again, then the sounds of someone sweeping up glass, the swish of the brush, the almost gentle tinkle of glass. Then the TV switched on, the noise was faint but she could just about hear it. Carefully she unlocked the door and crept to the top of the stairs, the door to the sitting room was open and she could just see his green arm on the armrest of the couch. Quietly she crept down the stairs, maybe she could make a break for it? She shook her head, that was crazy, there was no way she could cross that moss, but she could grab supplies while he was distracted.

She moved through the kitchen quickly and quietly, pulling open cupboards and filling a canvas shopping bag with what she could find. She hefted the bag and moved towards the hall, as she stepped out of the kitchen the TV turned off. Grace froze, eyes going wide. The green thing walked out of the sitting room then stopped, surprised to see her. It grinned, a grin that was so like Brad’s it made her stomach twist, but completely alien at the same time. He held up his hands and lightly clenched his fingers. Grace recognised that sign, it was the same one he always gave her before he would chase her down and tickle her until she couldn’t breathe, until she was screaming with laughter and tears ran down her face. She dropped the bag and sprinted to the stairs, Brad leaped forward to block her path but she ducked around him, his fingers trailed along her back and she was gone, up the stairs and into the bedroom. She had it locked before he reached the landing. The thing stood on the landing for a minute, then there was a soft, gentle knock. She knew that knock too, the soft, gentle tap tap tap letting her know he was here if she wanted him, if she’d forgiven him for what ever he had done. She sighed in relief as she heard the creak of the stairs. He was leaving. Grace stood from the door and moved around the bed, she expected to see him outside in the garden again but there was no sign of him. The moss was almost touching the house now. She turned, her heart leaping as she caught sight of bright green, then she let out a slow breath, he hadn’t gotten in. She frowned at the mirror, then crept towards it, not wanting to see. Slowly she turned and looked over her back, the back of her top was encrusted with the moss, she let out a strangled cry and ripped the top off her, hoping that somehow she was safe. As she wrestled it off herself she felt the cool softness of it against her skin, finally free she let the top drop to the ground, by the time it landed Grace was covered in moss. She stood there for a moment, then twitched. she breathed in deeply then moved towards the door, unlocking it. She went downstairs, Greg was sitting at the kitchen table, a mug with a teabag and nothing else in it sat in front of him. He stood when he saw her and held out his arms, Grace went to him, feeling his arms enclose her. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, inhaling the light mossy scent that surrounded them both. Outside the moss grew across the house, coating it as it had coated the couple inside.


About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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