It had begun only eight days prior, when an odd conspiracy of entirely unrelated events ended in Melrose awaking, seven days before the present, with a face covered in what he now knew were the deeply-rooted spores of what would soon become a full-fledged fungus face.
He had, eight days ago, looked out his bedroom window immediately upon waking only to find that there were again, and for no reason he could discern, stones throughout his otherwise neatly-manicured lawn. These stones were organized in the sorts of stacks one sometimes sees in zen gardens, where each stone is balanced upon a larger one beneath it. He had no idea who might have done such a thing, having no friends or neighbors who were publicly interested in Buddhism, balancing things, or rocks.
His bafflement almost immediately gave way to concern, however. Melrose couldn’t stand the thought of any of his grass (which was of a rare, exotic species grown painstakingly from seed, right there on his lawn) being stifled under the stones, so he called in sick to work and got dressed in yardwork clothes and set about moving the stones. He took armfuls of smaller ones, stacks of medium ones, and lugged the largest stones one by one to the sidewalk.
The problem, of course, was that it was now on him to put the stones somewhere else, and he didn’t have a rock pile or anything of the sort on the premises. What Melrose did have was a series of large cardboard boxes, kept in his basement, which he had always suspected he would one day need but had, until now, privately feared he never would.
Now, with his back already aching and his arms feeling full of jelly, Melrose set up the boxes in his driveway and piled the stones inside them. It wasn’t any sort of permanent solution, he knew, but there would still be room for his car to pass and it wouldn’t block sidewalk passage. When this was finished, he lumbered, temporarily bowlegged from the strain, into his kitchen for a glass of water and a permanent marker, the latter of which he used to write a halfhearted “FREE STONES TO A GOOD HOME” on the frontmost box in the driveway. He rather suspected that this would not be enough to rid him of the nuisance.
It was only midmorning, and he had taken the whole day off work, so Melrose decided to have a shower and take a muscle relaxant pill, one left over from his brief and disastrous attempt earlier that year to take up the game of squash. He would likely then nap into the late afternoon, which, with his lawn now safe, he felt he had earned. He swallowed the pill and began to run the hot water in the shower.
But he soon became aware that an odd sound was making its way up from somewhere else in the house, and Melrose turned the water off to better hear it. The sound gurgled and ground to a stop not long after he shut the faucet. He opened it again, and the sound returned soon after. He turned off the water again, put on a towel, and went back to the basement to look at the first suspect: the water room.
That was what the previous owner had called it; it was really more of a closet, full of bare concrete and plywood and general unfinishedness, and containing the unfathomable intricacies of plumbing and water heating that made Melrose’s bland upstairs existence possible. Before he even made it to the water room, Melrose noticed that the carpet around it was wet and, worse, showed water damage lines beyond its current border of wetness.
Inside the room, fetid pools greeted him at the bases of the inscrutable machinery of water flow. There was no breach detectable to his eye, but obviously something was wrong and had been for some time. How long had Melrose gone without noticing the strange sound he had heard today, he wondered? He hung the towel on the doorknob and shuffled inside to inspect the damage and look for its source. At the back of the closet, where the light was low and the water was opaque, he saw the fungus. There appeared to be a whole range of forms and colors, a mesmerizing garden of fungus secretly growing in the obscurity.
At this point, the air in the water room was beginning to make Melrose’s head swim, and the muscle relaxant had begun to take hold, and when Melrose leaned in to inspect a patch of fungus growing directly on a pipe, he lost consciousness and landed on a soft bed of fungal growth, albeit with some uncomfortable pipes along with them. He slept through the day and the night, and awoke the next morning, seven days before the present, not yet knowing of the spores he now bore or the fungus face that would all too soon greet him in the mirror.