Will by Max Wheeler


GoCome on. Don’t be an idiot. In just a moment, she was going to stop being ridiculous, get out of the car, and enter her own house for god’s sake. But she could already smell the intruder, and it was like rotting and death and mold and excrement, and she didn’t want to get any closer.

Someone strolled past with their dog, oblivious to her quiet crisis. Could they smell it, too? She shrank further into her seat as the dog lifted a leg and peed on the struggling pistachio tree. She had been dumb not to water it through this whole long drought. Its leaves were crisp and withering. Maybe the dog pee would do it good. 

It was 4:55pm. She’d been sitting here for 15 minutes. The next steps were obvious: unbuckle the seat belt. Grab her bag from the back seat. Lock the car. Walk up the steps. Open the front door. She’d give herself two more minutes, then it was time. She’d unbuckle the seat belt. Grab her bag. 

After all, it hadn’t been too bad when she’d left for work this morning. One cupboard was pretty much full of the intrusion, little threads worming around the extra spice jars and dusty ceramics, dangling out a little before she shoved them back in and secured a rubber band around the handles to keep it closed. But she wouldn’t need anything from that cupboard, so it was fine. Same with the bedside table drawer. What was even in there? Some old lube, maybe? Extra phone chargers? She’d taped it shut without checking, catching a few rank strands. It wasn’t too bad. 

She was being irrational. She heard Will’s very calm neutral voice telling her how irrational she was being, saw his red-rimmed blue eyes that drifted around when he spoke. He didn’t have a very good sense of smell. 

She wondered if he was in there now, 3D rendering an object he would never fabricate, ignorant to the threads that wriggled around his feet. Will, who didn’t see that this was a problem. When it was all his fault to begin with. 

They’d been on their way back from a long weekend in Vegas. It was still early in the day, but they had a long way to go. The map said they’d get home after midnight; she hated being on the road after dark. He thought this was a silly fear and refused to indulge it by hurrying. 

“Scout needs to pee,” he had said, pulling off the road. No arguing with that. “And let’s climb up that dune while we’re here.” The dog ran ahead. Their shadows were little pools at their feet, sliding along under them through the sand. 

They’d struggled up the dune, sand filling their shoes. He laughed and she laughed with him. From the top, she tried to admire the Mojave stretching in front of them, undulating and shimmering, but she kept checking the time on her phone. A turkey vulture soared above. Scout pawed at something. 

She knew better than to try to convince Will to leave somewhere before he was ready, so she started back to the car on her own, hoping he would follow. Then she waited, leaning against the hot metal while he made his slow way back with the keys. He was grinning under his wide-brimmed hat. 

“What does he have in his mouth?” It looked like a little clump of yarn, orange and sage green and black, lichen colors. “That’s disgusting. Oh no, can he not bring that in the car please? We are not going through this again.” 

“It’s fine, let him have something to chew on.” 

She sighed, taking the keys from him and sliding into the driver’s seat. 

“It smells like a dead animal.”

He didn’t respond. 

That was three days ago. 

She’d been upset when they got home, grabbing her things and coming inside in a rush, so she didn’t see the dog bring the mess inside, which is what must have happened. She woke up smelling rot. A clump the size of a basketball pulsed slightly on their white living room rug. She grabbed it with a dish towel and took it to the bin outside. It left a light brown stain. 

Scout was clawing at some wiggling pinkish threads in the corner of the kitchen. She swept those up, too, and then had to start getting ready for work. She shook Will’s shoulder. “Please, please clean up the rest of the disgusting stuff the dog brought home.” He mumbled and turned over. 

That night, she found bits of it under her pillow. She started to cry. He took her hand, told her to calm down. It wasn’t that big of a deal. This was just some stuff. 

He’d always liked that she was unconventional, that she didn’t cling to normative standards like he said most women did, and that was the premise of their life together. They did things because they made sense, not because of illogical social conventions. He’d explained this last year while smashing plates in the backyard.

The ceramic shards left a mess on the patio that he insisted on leaving, to prove a point. She was fine with that, although she missed walking barefoot through their yard. This mess felt different. “It’s gross and it smells bad,” she said through sobs. 

“We just think some things are gross because we been conditioned to expect a firm delineation between inside and out, or between dead and alive, or human and animal. But that’s arbitrary.” 

“It isn’t arbitrary that it smells disgusting. And I think it’s growing.”

“I won’t stop you from cleaning it up, if that’s what you need.” He kissed her cheek. His voiced sounded soothing. Reasonable.

She’d changed her pillowcase, but the smell lingered. For the next two days, corners of the house had filled steadily with writhing gunk. But Will wasn’t worried. 

It was 5:05 now. She unbuckled her seat belt. 

It wasn’t so bad. She could do this. It was probably mostly still confined to cabinets and drawers. Or maybe Will had given in and cleaned it up after all. Sometimes he surprised her, like when he brought home four chicks from the farm supply store down the block and set them up in a cardboard box with a heat lamp. 

Her phone rang— mom calling. She silenced it.

She watched herself unbuckle the seat belt, open the car door, grab her bag, walk up the stairs. The smell seared her nostrils, a sharp dead rankness, but she had vacated her body and wasn’t there to perceive it. Her hand turned the fiddly key in the lock. A few tendrils pressed out from under the door, segmented and grasping, but small. Not so bad. Her arm pushed the door open, smearing the snarls against the floor. She halted in the doorway. 

Will’s buggy eyes stared at her from the middle of the room, surrounded by a writhing mass. None of his body was visible. The clumpy threads were pink, orange, green, blood red. She heard his voice, still preternaturally calm. She couldn’t make out what it said. 

She should save him, she thought. She could pull him out, clean him off. Find the dog. Then burn the house down, start again somewhere else. But what would stop it from happening again? Will was not a man who changed easily. 

A memory crept up in her— she didn’t have the mental focus to keep it at bay. One of those chicks that he’d brought home ended up being a rooster. She kind of liked it, even though it was technically illegal in their city. She named it Rocco. It was ruddy brown and reminded her of a cat she’d had growing up. But Will hated it. He couldn’t stand the crowing in the morning. He resented its maleness, its stubbornness, its defiance of his expectations. 

One night, she’d woken up to squawking clatter in the kitchen and an empty bed. She kept her eyes closed, not wanting to face whatever Will was doing. Eventually, she must have fallen back asleep. 

He never brought it up with her, but she knew. She’d seen the splatters of blood in the morning. The stray ruddy feathers whisked into the corners of their kitchen by the breeze. She saw him beating Rocco’s body against the wall long after the rooster was dead. 

A few of those feathers swirled in the thready mass that surrounded Will now, like it was strengthened by the ghosts that huddled in their walls. Her gut and forearms burned with a feeling she recognized but didn’t want to name. 

She wouldn’t rescue him. 

Her phone started ringing again. 

The fantasy vanished—she was still in the car, seat belt buckled, hands clenched around the wheel. Will was probably at his desk, up to his ankles at worst. She didn’t want to know. 


“What’s wrong, Lillian?” 

In the cupholder, a few greenish tendrils swayed tentatively where her phone had been. She sprayed them with hand sanitizer. 

“I need to come over.”

Max Wheeler is a trans writer from Oakland, CA. His fiction has appeared in the Civilian Climate Futures Project, Rough Cut Press, and is forthcoming in the Heavy Feather Review.

Published 2/16/23


1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.