Self Devastation

If a house could have cancer, and tumours took the form of clutter, clutter soiled with dust clinging to moist remnants of food grease, then this house was metastasising.

“Could someone throw out a pizza box for once?”

Julia, her arms and neck a pink relief map of the planet Hives, vented her frustrations upon Eric and Zach in the den. Being a germophobe during a pandemic was a nightmare. Being forced by necessity to live in a house of slobs was a living hell. No wonder she had hives.

“We used to throw them out,” said Eric without looking up from his laptop. Since the game store he worked for had shuttered his erratic personal hygiene practices had been abandoned. With his thoughts free to wander for days at a time, led into the desert of rationality by wide-eyed YouTube prophets, he had become convinced that lizard people really did run the planet. He kept busy proselytising this truth across Facebook and Instagram with photoshopped images of lizards at WHO and Whitehouse press conferences. “Doesn’t help. They’re reproducing.”

“Pizza boxes don’t reproduce,” said Julia, pulling the collar of her t-shirt up over her nose. Did Eric even have a toothbrush?

“Then how do you explain this?” said Zach, lifting his MacBook to toe a small pizza box off the edge of the coffee table and onto the floor. He had twisted his rose gold headphones to expose his right ear. The faint thump-a-tiss of a drum loop leaked into the room. “Ever seen a pizza box that size?”

“Haven’t you ever seen a kid’s pizza?” said Julia.

“Have you ever ordered one?” said Eric.

“Has anyone ever ordered one? No.” said Zach. “Anyone in this house ever order one? Post previous factum, that also has to be a no.”

“And did you even read the box?” said Eric. “I don’t think Dominomonido Pizzazzapa is a typo.”

“It’s a fricking mutant. An inbred little pizza box,” said Zach. “I’ve got a track about it. Want to hear?”

“I already have a headache,” said Julia. It was being made worse by the clutter in the den of tumbled soda cans and bottles, gaping styrofoam containers, and pizza boxes, pizza boxes, pizza boxes, many of which, she realised, were on the small side, their surfaces covered with blue and red blobs and nonsensical jumbles of letters.

“Should we be concerned? It’s seems unnatural. I’m concerned.”

“You’re always concerned. They’re just boxes,” said Zach. “Just keep busy. Like Eric. And me. I haven’t got time for concern. I’ve got to get my album out before this lockdown ends.”

“It’s the damn lizard people and one of the rays from their satellites,” said Eric. “Stop the lizard people and that’ll stop the pizza boxes.”

Time passes.

Julia slinked back towards her room, avoiding contact with any surface, corner or edge, unable to ignore the quantity of pizza boxes that were not family-sized. She felt like an idiot, a frightened idiot on the verge of hysteria. Of course they couldn’t be ordering that many pizzas in that many different sizes. How could she miss it? By hiding in her room, her clean, pristine, sanitised room, eating Saltines and celery.

The atmosphere of patchouli and sandalwood at the end of the upstairs hallway made her wonder if Holly had missed it, too.

She tapped on her door. “Holly? Holly?” Pink Floyd was playing behind it, making Julia think she might be sleeping, but the door opened a crack and Holly’s red eye appeared.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said and opened the door further, scented smoke and elegiac guitar solos curled around her.

“Have you noticed the pizza boxes?”

Holly ran a hand through her long mousy hair as she pondered the question, a selection of edibles having left her hyper aware of the individual contours of words, but incapable of connecting those contours with any portion of her mental landscape.

“Pizza boxes? Pizza boxes? Oh, wow. I could totally eat a box made of pizzas. How big is it?”

“No. You know, pizza boxes, white, flat, pizzas come in them.”

“I know.” She no longer knew. She was in stoner social survival mode. Agree. Nod. This too will pass, despite it feeling like it will never end.

“Eric and Zach say they’re reproducing and I think they might be right and it’s freaking me out.”

Holly grinned. Freaking out was in her wheelhouse.

“Do you want an edible?”

She pulled open the door to invite Julia into her room. The floor between her tie-dye covered bed and the crystal draped dresser was crowded with the towers of her art project, which despite the fully-baked theoretical justification she would never be able to articulate, was in reality eight stacks of pizza boxes of varying dimensions.

“Pizza boxes?” said Julia, repulsed.

Holly followed Julia’s eyes and a mislaid connection sparked to life.

“Oh yeah, pizza boxes. I’m growing them. It’s going to be my thesis project.”

Time passes.

With a chair braced against the inside of her door, Julia collapsed onto the white sheets of her bed. She rubbed at her neck, resisting the urge to give it a good scratch with her fingernails, to draw just a little blood and let the itching out. Something was digging into her back. She reached under herself and pulled out a little pizza box that didn’t even cover the palm of her hand. It looked like a dollhouse accessory. She opened it out flat. There were tiny grease stains marking the inside. She tore the top away and continued to shred the pieces as she walked into the ensuite, where she sprinkled them fluttering into the toilet bowl before flushing them away. The gel of the hand sanitiser was cold and slick against her skin. It stung when she rubbed it across her throat.

In the morning there were pizza boxes in the hallway. She tiptoed around them like they were ancient, unstable landmines, and continued so down the box-crowded stairs and into the kitchen. Eric and Zach were standing at the island in front of their laptops, eating cornflakes out of porcelain Oktoberfest steins. Mounds of pizza boxes slumped against the wall.

Eric held up his stein and said, “All the bowls were dirty.”

“And you couldn’t run the dishwasher?” said Julia.

“I tried.”

Sure. Of course he tried. She wrenched the dishwasher opened. It was full of dishes and they were coated with a grey pulp.

“Someone put a pizza box in it, right Zach,” said Eric.

“It wasn’t me,” said Zach. “It was probably Holly when she was high as.”

“Well tell her to come down and clean it out,” said Julia.

She took out the gloves from under the sink and snapped them on. Someone had to take care of this mess. A few disgusting moments in exchange for cleanliness. She took a breath and grabbed a load of pizza boxes off the floor. Eric opened the back door and she carried them outside. There was no point. The deck was littered in pizza boxes. She kicked her way through them, but the wheeled trash cans were buried under the things. She threw the ones she was carrying on top of the pile and hurried back inside, scratching her arms through the gloves.

“Holly’s not in her room,” said Zach.

“She’s always in her room,” said Julia.

“You go look. There’s nothing in there except pizza boxes.”

Time passes.

Zach hadn’t shut Holly’s door. Maybe he couldn’t. The opening was filled with pizza boxes. Julia pushed on them with her gloved hand. They shifted a little, but sprung back, and then a glistening waterfall of little pizza boxes cascaded out of them, shiny with amniotic grease, and spattered to the floor. She stomped on them like they were cockroaches and ran for the stairs, this time kicking the boxes on the floor out of the way.

Eric and Zach stumbled up into the hall, sliding on boxes, blocking her way, their laptops embraced against their chests.

“There’s no room down there!” said Eric. “It’s all boxes.”

The door to Julia’s room cracked and split open. Pizza boxes of all sizes began to spill into the hall.

“We gotta get onto the roof!” shouted Zach. He climbed over the slope of pizza boxes, Eric following. The drift of boxes falling from Holly’s door was even higher, but beyond it was the hall window. The three roommates scrabbled desperately over shifting boxes to reach it and climb onto the roof.

“This is crazy!” yelled Julia.

“It’s the lizard people,” said Eric.

They followed Zach up the grey asphalt tiles to the ridge of the house.

Black clouds boiled overhead, pierced at intervals by green cones of light that swept over buildings and streets. White pizza boxes streamed out of broken windows. Across the suburban rooftops they could see other people taking refuge on the tops of their houses. Off in the distance, around the towers of downtown, following columns of jade light, tornadoes reached down from the dark clouds to touch the earth, their thin tails instantly surrounded by a whirling cloud of pale square debris.

Cold winds began to buffet and push at the roommates. Eric pointed at the lights piercing the sky.

“It’s the lizard people satellites. They’re doing this.”

Glass broke and wood splintered as pizza boxes burst out of the houses and flowed into yards and into the streets. In every direction more tornados touched down and the wind picked up.

“It’s the end of the world,” said Zach.

Julia pulled off the rubber gloves and instinctively reached for her neck. It didn’t itch anymore. It was smooth and unblemished, just like her arms. That was a nice change.

“We’ll get through this,” she said.