Necrotic Zone

by Marléne Zadig

The mushrooms sprouted overnight after a string of autumnal rainstorms, springing fully formed into clusters of unnaturally precise arcs and rings across people's front lawns.

"No wonder the Irish came up with leprechauns," he'd said after bringing home blended coffees from around the corner. "That's some weird shit, is what it is. Crop circles of the suburbs."

Bits of obliterated toadstools clung for dear life to the rubber toes of his decrepit Converse sneakers, having been kicked to smithereens in his attempt to restore entropy to their neighbors' lawns on his way back from the café. Their own front yard contained a gigantic perfect horseshoe—which he'd left intact—encircling a maple sapling which retained a single, crimson leaflet shuddering on a limb.

"It's probably just the way the spores disperse," she offered. "It's not that weird."

He donned a black ski mask and sat down at the laptop for his Saturday morning veg. He had recently taken to wearing it at the computer after learning that hackers could activate the camera remotely and view the person through the screen.

"Why don't you tape over the camera with painter's tape?" she'd suggested.

"Because I want to scare the bejeezus out of the sons of bitches if and when they get through."

The neighbor's dog, a spitting image of the classic Benji, barked directly at him as he sat there on the couch, its snout forcing its way through the fence slats in order to project towards their window with the utmost conviction.

"One of these days, I swear to god I'm gonna shoot that dog."

She pictured this pronouncement permeating out of the walls themselves, as she couldn't see his mouth moving under the ski mask, or perhaps it was emanating from one of the grumpier-looking anthropomorphic doorknobs—two screws for the eyeballs and the knob its bulbous nose.

He'd been threatening this for years, as long as she'd been around to hear it anyway, and maybe it was the ski mask, maybe the trail of mushroom guts smeared across the parquet floors, but she sensed that he was closer than ever to carrying out his threat. He had the weaponry, a Glock, loaded and locked up in his night stand, and she imagined the line between him doing it and not doing it to be only as wide as your average crack in a sidewalk. On the one side, the side they were on, he was just a man who threatened to shoot the neighbor's dog for barking at him day after day in his own home, a reasonable complaint, she conceded. On the other side, just a footstep away, was a dog-killer. And though the gap itself was narrow and technically effortless to traverse, she imagined that it went all the way down, a fissure opened deep into the center of the earth.

Still, it could just be a thing one says to relieve tension in the moment, something she'd caught herself doing lately.

"I'm gonna rip that kid a new one if he tears off one more of my geranium blossoms," she'd said only the week before. "He does that every goddamned time he walks by."

"Shoulda planted barberry," he replied, "teach him a thing or two about trespassing where his filthy paws don't belong."

She sipped at her frozen coffee and tidied up absently in the kitchen, tossing a stray straw wrapper in the trash, flinging an orphaned beer bottle cap into the recycling bin in the corner. Plinkety-plink plonnnng.

He rose from the couch and strode across the room into the kitchen. His hand plunged into the revolving lid of the trash can, grasped the crumpled straw wrapper, and threw it into the recycling bin. He then returned to the living room without saying a word.

They'd had this argument before, about the straw wrappers, and it wasn't worth rehashing, especially because she always lost.

The Benji clone next door continued to unleash its ire at their side window, prompting him to slam the laptop and fling it to the side with such force that it bounced on the sofa cushion before coming to rest perpendicular to a pillow. Before she could ask what he was up to, he was down in the basement rummaging around the garden tools. He came back up the slanted, sinking stairs with a tall shovel, dried mud still stuck to its blade, and stormed out the back door.

She heard and felt a series of thunks as he ran the shovel along the fence slats and shouted something unintelligible.

He did not come back in as she expected him to, so she decided to go out.

She thought about the riddle she'd once heard in math class involving walking to the threshold of a doorway: if getting to the door means you always have to go half the distance that remains, how do you ever get all the way there? The answer, she'd written on the assignment, was sheer will.

Sure enough, when she got to the lip of the front door, she was able to cross over it. When she got to the steps on the porch, she could walk down them. And when she saw that he was covered in mud on the front lawn and had already dug several feet down in, around, and through their former mushroom halo, she drifted to the gate and found herself stepping through it.

It was raining again, and as she forged ahead down the street, the broad fallen leaves of sycamores jerked and flopped around on the ground with every raindrop strike, ten thousand fish out of water, gasping for air.

BIO: Marléne Zadig (rhymes with "Train a Bad Pig") is a writer in Silicon Valley with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. She sometimes makes beer, often stories—once, a novel, now beckoning from an actual closet. She’s also the mother of two young children who literally and figuratively keep her up at night. Marléne occasionally blogs with a writer friend who lives in Guinea at writersblockduo.com and tweets @MarleneZadig. Her fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Split Lip Magazine, Reed Magazine, Sakura Review, and Crack the Spine.