The day the ooze appeared was the day I had planned to get my life together. The night before, I had watched a video about feng shui and decided that tomorrow would be the day. I was going to put electrolyte powder in my water. I was going to move my tall lamp from one side of the sofa to the other, away from the window, where the light was redundant. I was going to apply to fulfilling jobs and buy a white noise machine to improve my sleep. But as I drank my electrolyte water and envisioned how moving the lamp might have a significant effect on the room’s ambiance, I noticed the ooze.

At that point, it resembled a tar puddle, a foot's-length across and covering only a small spot of the vinyl flooring in the corner. Improving the feng shui of my inhabited space was the second step in my plan to get my life together, after putting electrolytes in my water, but the ooze changed everything. My plans would have to wait for another day.

I had been living at the Lofts at Olive for three months at that point. The Lofts at Olive referred to an old apartment building, on Olive Street, that had been purchased, repainted, and had granite countertops installed. I tried to remember if the old apartment building had a name, other than apartment building. The Lofts at Olive retained several of the old building’s qualities, like not having lofts and having a spider problem.

The building was managed by a couple, Scott and Kristen, from Arizona. I generally avoided Scott. I got the sense he disliked me since I lived in one of the rent-controlled apartments that the city had mandated in exchange for the development’s tax rebates. I got along with Kristen. We usually spoke about how it was snowing, how she wasn’t used to the snow since she was from Arizona, and how I was used to the snow since I was from the northeast. 

I thought about telling Kristen about the ooze, but that was out of the realm of what our conversations were supposed to be about—snow and being used or not used to it—and anyway, when I had told her about the spiders, she seemed to take it as a sort of personal accusation. Buildings like the Lofts at Olive were the sorts of places that housed creative types and had coffee shops on the ground floor. They did not have spider problems, and they definitely did not have ooze. 

I drank my coffee on the sofa, examining the ooze, and when I was finished, I placed the coffee mug on the surface to see what would happen. At first, nothing. But after a few minutes, the sounds of cracking, and the mug began to buckle inwards, as if pulled downward by a string attached to the center of its flat bottom. Within another several minutes, the ooze was swallowing the last few red ceramic shards, and bubbles popped on the surface as if to signify that the process was complete, and the ooze was satisfied.


Over the next few months, I developed a sort of scientific fascination with the ooze. 

Normally, at my job at the library, I would spend the day playing spades on my phone, or reading old detective novels and thinking about reading more challenging books, but now I spent the day thinking about different objects I could feed to the ooze. I fed it a book of local fauna and flora I had bought aspirationally. I fed it the film camera I had stopped using. I forgot about my plan to get my life together. 

Over this period of experimentation, I was able to discern that the ooze had subtle, but specific tastes. It preferred crunchy, hard-shelled objects to soft: hardcovers over paperbacks, carrots over peas, electronics over fabrics. I was enthralled. I had never thought of myself as someone to whom exciting things happen. And yet. 

It wasn’t until I had fed the ooze a not insubstantial portion of my belongings that I realized it was growing. It now occupied about a quarter of the floor space in my living room and had begun working on the sofa, which now sat lopsided. 

I went to my job at the library. I collected things on my walk home to feed the ooze. I went to bed thinking about what I would feed it the next day. I went on a date with a girl named Tessa. She worked at a restaurant whose name was written in a font that meant the city was up-and-coming. Before the date, I reminded myself to behave like a passionate person and not to talk about the ooze, as people found it off-putting. I loosely draped a bedsheet across the ooze in case we ended up back at my apartment.

Tessa shrieked upon seeing the ooze. It had made quick work of the bedsheet, I realized, and was now fully visible. 

What is that thing, she asked.

I did my best to explain it, but that just seemed to make her more upset. Have you told anyone about it? 

A few people, I said, but no one knows what it is.

Haven’t you told your landlord? 

I hadn’t. I explained that whenever I told Kristen about problems in the apartment, she seemed to take them as personal accusations—such as when I told her about the spider problem—and I was, as a rule, conflict averse. 

Tessa said that she didn’t know if she could date someone who had a thing like that in his apartment. She thought it was indicative of a neglectful approach to life. 

We could just hook up, I offered. 

She shook her head. I’m upset by what you’ve shown me, she said. Tell your landlord, she added, you’ve gotta get that thing taken care of.

I bumped into Kristen in the building’s entryway. She was telling one of my neighbors how her husband had just put snow tires on his truck, which was good because of all the snow. 

Excuse me, I said, I have a question about something in my apartment.

She cut me off about halfway through my telling her about the ooze and its various properties which I had been able to discern. I’m not assertive enough in conversation, I thought to myself, as she asked whether I had told any of the other building occupants about the ooze. 

Just a few, I said, but they didn’t seem interested. 

Good, she said, it sounds like you should get in touch with someone at the university. This is probably too complicated for Kent. 

Kent was the building’s repairman. He had once visited my apartment to repair a problem with the ceiling fan, but the visit had ended up with him telling me about his pitbull, who had died, and then crying.


The graduate student who came to study the ooze was named Patrice. He was around my age and thin, with wispy hair that made me think of baby chickens. Finally, I had someone who shared my interest in the ooze. This is exactly the sort of research, he said, that could land me a teaching position.

Patrice increased the scope of my experiments on the ooze. He suggested feeding it only small things—marbles, thumbtacks, Altoids—to see if that did anything. Next, he suggested flat things—coasters, poker chips, cotton rounds. He also proposed that we rename it. 

The bog, he said, would be a more fitting name. Ooze is a verb. Did you mean to name it the sludge?

Bog made me think of Ireland and cavemen that drowned and then, millions of years later, became peat. Or however that worked. Sludge is fine, I conceded.

Patrice developed a theory that the sludge was not, in fact, growing outwardly, but was instead pulling the world around it inwards, having some sort of gravitational pull. Like a black hole? I asked. 

Sort of, he said, but obviously that’s not what this is. 

Obviously, I responded, not sure why it was obvious.

Eventually, Patrice brought his professor and a crowd of other graduate students from the university to demonstrate his theory. When Patrice finished speaking, the professor —looking altogether nonplussed—pointed out that if Patrice’s theory were true, if the sludge had a gravitational pull, then there should be cracks in the plaster on the walls from the increased strain.

This sludge, the professor declared, is just a thing that eats other things. His students applauded. Patrice hung his head.

With his theory disproven, Patrice began to lose interest in the sludge. He brought geiger counters and oscilloscopes, but eventually determined that it had no special properties whatsoever, apart from growing and consuming whatever it was fed. He stopped coming altogether. 

That’s fine, I thought, though I missed the feeling of someone taking interest in my life. I returned to calling it the ooze as a form of retaliation. Patrice, I decided, only cared about the ooze for the opportunity of career advancement.


Returning from the library, one day, I realized that the ooze now took up nearly the entirety of my living room and had begun spreading into the bedroom. I had to leap across it to avoid contact. 

I thought back to the day the ooze had first appeared. The tall lamp I wanted to move to the other side of the sofa, and indeed the sofa itself, had long since vanished. I thought about all the objects it had consumed—spatulas, framed posters, even an old motorcycle that I had taken apart and fed it, piece by piece. I wondered where they had all gone. I had long ago confirmed that they didn’t just tumble out of the ceiling in the apartment below mine. I realized, then, what I had overlooked. I called Patrice.

We’ve never fed it something living, I said. 

I’m coming over, he responded.

As we watched it collapse the tupperware container of Patrice’s lunch, he said, you’re exactly right. All we know, really, is what it does to objects.

He proposed a lab rat. That’s barbaric, I said. No, it has to be a person.

You’re right, he said. It has to be.

You could do it, I said. Since you’re the researcher, you’ll be able to record all the relevant data and figures of its scientific properties from within. 

That’s true, he said, I could do it. On the other hand, you have a much more personal connection with the sludge. 

Ooze, I corrected him. We’re back to calling it ooze.

You have a much more personal connection with the ooze, he clarified. It chose you, your apartment. In fact almost everything we’ve fed it has been your belongings. And anyway, he added, I think it’s important that I observe this first expedition from outside, so that I can record all the relevant data from this side of the ooze. 

That’s a good point, I conceded. I didn’t really think it was, but I have a hard time disagreeing with people. 

Patrice left to fetch his equipment, and I passed the time feeding it the rest of the food in my refrigerator. 

Whenever you’re ready, he said, when he returned. I felt nervous. What if I get dehydrated, I asked. 

Good thought, said Patrice. You should drink something.

I made us each a glass of electrolyte water and, as we drank, I thought back to that first day, back to the plan I had made to get my life together. It seemed silly, now, to think that small changes like improved hydration or more REM sleep would be the ones that altered my life’s course, when something of cosmic significance, as Patrice said, was forming in my apartment at that same moment. That reassured me, to think about my place in all this. Of all the apartments in the Lofts at Olive, the ooze had chosen mine and mine alone. It hadn’t chosen the man across the hall, with the red Labrador he told everyone was from one of only three such breeders in the world, and it hadn’t chosen Scott, with his wrap-around sunglasses and oak trunk neck. It amused me to think about how Scott would have reacted had the ooze appeared in his apartment. He probably would have tried to get rid of it. No, we were in this together, me and the ooze, the ooze and me.

I studied the slick, obsidian surface. I wondered if and how I would be transformed. Perhaps I would emerge as someone who exuded charisma, or with all my limbs elongated, or simply a more vigorous demeanor. If I were more articulate, I thought, or better at speaking off the cuff, this would be the moment to say something profound about my journey.

I’m gonna do it now, I said. 

I stood at the ooze’s shimmering edge. I dipped my toe. 

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