Prompt Day #228: Unclog the pool filter
So, if you are OCD or you are insanely observant, you may notice that I skipped Prompt Day #227. Yes, I did. But I am going to do it…hopefully as tomorrow’s prompt. I flip-flopped them because frankly, today’s prompt had me completely blocked. I sat here for 2 ½ hours trying to come up with something. I have been late with prompts before because of my job or other such life issues, but I have never not been able to come up with something. That was disappointing. Finally I had to make a decision; either I was skipping tonight altogether (and be a day behind) or I could choose to do tomorrow’s prompt tonight and keep thinking about today’s. So, I looked at #228 and had an idea immediately (much to my great relief—I’d hoped I wasn’t succumbing to the horrendous “writer’s block”). I know right now I have a lot of stress in my life between my writing and my “real” job and I think it is affecting my creativity—I fear something’s got to give soon…I just hope it’s not my sanity. But, in the meantime, please enjoy this little story with (I hope) a big end.
The Pool Boy
The house was huge but in need of attention. Paulie thought maybe if he played his cards just right, he could get a fulltime caretaking job. He smoothed back his hair and rang the bell. He hoped for a woman; he was good with women, especially the older, lonely kind. Of course he could play the cool guy and buddy up to a man too, it was just easier to schmooze a woman. He guessed based on the time it was taking to answer the door, the owner was older and alone in the house. Good.
The door opened slowly and the woman standing there in her crocheted cardigan and slippers had to be in her late 60’s. He put on his most charming smile and held out his hand.
“Hi there Ma’am. Were you the one who called for a pool maintenance man?”
“Oh Thank God.” She said in a surprisingly crisp, clear voice. “I can’t take it anymore. I’m sure the filter is clogged up with something and now the whole pool is filthy and the stink, I have to warn you young man, the smell is just rancid.” She worried her hands together in front of her.
“Well, I’m a jack of all trades, so you’ve called the right guy. My name’s Paulie.” He pulled a card out from his shirt pocket and handed it to her. “We’ll have a look-see at the filter and I’d be happy to help you out with any other repairs you might need a hand with.” He wanted to ask her if she lived there alone, but he knew how the elderly could be. He didn’t want her getting suspicious and sending him on his way. He needed the money, he needed work.
“Well, as you can see, this place could use a lot of work. Since my Fred died, I’ve been trying to manage on my own.” She said turning around, leaving the door open to him. He followed. “I used the pool for my water aerobics. It’s easy on the joints. It’s my only splurge, paying for its upkeep. I had a young man, maybe a little younger than you, coming out twice a week to maintain it, but he just stopped coming. Never even called to say he quit, can you believe that? And I paid that boy well.”
She stopped in front of a set of sliding glass doors.
“Well, there it is” She pointed “I haven’t been in the thing now for a month. And just look at it.”
He looked, it had a brownish hue. “I’ll go take a peek, see what I can do.” He headed out through the doors. There was a small flagstone path that led to the small but adequate in-ground pool, the kind with a fiberglass form just plopped into the ground. Just to the far side of it was a small hut he assumed housed supplies and access to the filter. The air around the pool was thicker and the smell was indeed rank; swampy decomposition with an acrid ghost just above it.
“Jesus Christ” Paulie said to himself. “There’s gotta be some dead animal rotting in there; probably what’s in the filter.” He looked into the water as he walked towards the shed. It was murky, but there was some grey colored lumps scattered around the bottom. The water emanated with a tangible reek that burned his nostrils.
The shed was a cool reprieve. He shut the door and took deep, cleansing breaths. His eyes adjusted to the dark. Everything he suspected he would need was in here. He grabbed a myriad of chemicals down from the shelf and noted the location of the pool vac and skimming net; both hung from what looked like a gun rack. The filter rattled roughly beneath a wooden door in the middle of the floor. He pulled it up. The filter had its own odor. It smelled hot, as if it was burning the motor. He lifted the lid and gagged. There was a pool of muck at the very bottom. A grey sludge that resembled vomit.
“Shit” He muttered. The clog was back in the pool. He grabbed the net off the rack. If he was lucky, he could dislodge whatever it was with it instead of having to reach or worse get in the pool. He took two more deep breaths of fresh but stale air and walked back out to the pool.
Getting down on his knees, he pushed the skimmer net down into the filthy water. It hit against something stuck over the intake for the filter. It was big whatever it was and he couldn’t seem to dislodge it. His nose was stinging. He took his T-shirt off and wrapped it around his face like a bandana. He tried the net again but still could not break the clog free. On a whim, he swept it along the bottom and brought it to the surface. Even with the shirt to breathe through he could smell death.
The net held fragments of what could have been flesh or fungus of some sort. Definitely an animal in the pool. That would explain the brown scum on the top and given it had been in there for some time, it had started to disintegrate. It was probably a deer or maybe a dog. Something big enough that its body would clog the entire intake.
“Fuck” He said and plunged his hand into the water up to his shoulder. He touched it. It felt gooey and there was hair. Longer hair. A dog then. He grabbed its hair and pulled hard. Just as he felt it detach, his skin began to itch. He hefted the thing out of the water and stared at what remained of a human skull. Half the skin appeared to have melted off, the remaining eyeball was milky and desiccated. The boney half of the face was corroded. He could see spots where the smooth bone had been eaten away and the spongy, honeycombed inside part was exposed. In other areas, like the empty eye socket, there was just a hole.
The burning pain began then and he dropped the head. It hit the stone pool deck flesh side down and instead of rolling like one would expect a head to do, it just splattered and stuck where it fell. Paulie felt a gorge rise in his throat but the pain in his arm overrode any other thought. He looked at his hand. The skin was turning white and bubbling up. His whole arm was being skinned. He pushed back from the edge of the pool and stood up. He ripped the shirt off his face and clumsily wrapped his right arm with it.
He hadn’t seen the old woman come walking up behind him, it wasn’t until her turned to follow the deck around back to the house that he came face to face with her. He almost head-butted her in fact.
“So you found him, then.” She said.
“Call an ambulance. My arm.”
“Oh yes, it’s the hydrogen fluoride I put in the water. I was hoping it was concentrated enough to eat him all up but I see I now have two pool boys to dispose of.”
Paulie opened his mouth to respond but she shoved him backwards into the water. The unexpected fall caused him to take a mouthful of water in as he sunk underneath. Every part of his body burned now, his tongue was swelling up in his mouth and his sight clouded over until there was only white light and then pure darkness. He swam madly but his breaths were ragged and he had lost his sense of direction.
“Why?” he croaked
“Oh, well, what else am I going to do to amuse myself, all alone in the house now that Fred’s gone?”
He wanted to tell her that made no sense, that she was a crazy old woman, but the darkness and the water engulfed him.