Things That Rot from the Inside Out

by | December 2020 A (Day 3)

Your dentist peers into your mouth and sees your soul sprouting out.

You’d been putting off visiting for twenty years, since a violent childhood experience. But the root beneath the gaping hole in your lower left molar started to throb even worse than suppressed emotion.

“There’s something growing in this cavity,” says the dentist. She prods deep into the tooth and removes a mushroom. From the top of your upside-down vision, you see her put it in her mouth.

“Hmmm…” she says, nibbling. “Tastes like compulsion for self-destruction. Hmmm… and a fear of failure.”


A mouldy infestation has turned the wall in your box room into papier mâché. You only plucked up the impetus to call the landlord about it when the smell went from bad to really bad.

The landlord puts his arm clean through it. A clown emerges and splats a custard pie in his face.

My landlord licks the cream off his lips and narrows his eyes at you. Then he tells you about every time you were abandoned.


Sarah was your soulmate, but you hadn’t seen her in ten years. Most of your childhood friends are at her funeral. You feel all their eyes on you the whole time, crawling on your skin.

“Nice to know you’re alive,” says more than one person to you. “Would be nice if you ever answered our messages.”

Bats flutter out of the coffin and start laying out the sandwiches for the wake.

You make sure you leave before anyone starts eating them.


  1. Cheryl Pappas

    Oh, GOD, Neil. You have some kind of magic spell going on here. This is the worst nightmare scenario for anyone slightly introverted. It’s totally original and horrifying and I love it. The idea of other people eating your dark secrets or embarrassments is compelling. It reminds me of the flipside of visiting other people’s houses in dreams when you know they’re not home (oh, does everyone not have those dreams?).

    I would only recommend to keep going with more of these sequences. I don’t feel this is the end of the story yet. Something needs to circle back or a thread needs to be pulled through a bit more. But I love what you’ve done.

    I always love reading your stories, too, by the way. What a treasure to get to read them from the get go.

  2. Janelle Greco

    I really fell in love with these Neil. Like Cheryl, my only suggestion would be to create more of these little snippets and see how they weave together. What themes can you return to here in other excerpts? Other instances of deep dark secrets being released? The last excerpt with the bats coming out of the coffin was amazing. And all three pieces work so well together as one piece. Phenomenal job with abstracting these and making them more fantastical. I’ve enjoyed reading your writing during this course and appreciate you sharing!

  3. Bud Smith

    “Bats flutter out of the coffin and start laying out the sandwiches for the wake.” Holy moly. I like how the bats are the death itself and have to feed the audience at the funeral. I like how the clown emerges from the problem that the landlord has neglected and attacks the man for it. I like Janelle’s suggestion to create moire of these. How about two more? Teeth and clowns and bats, the stuff of nightmares … I guess on that topic you could do public nudity and being sent to jail for a crime you didn’t commit — or at least that’s what my nightmares always seem to be about. What are yours? Great work here and all weekend actually. Thank you

    • Neil Clark

      Thanks Bud! I surely do have a couple more nightmares to spare! Your jail one is also getting my creative juices flowing.

      Thanks also for a great course. I come out of it with three stories I wouldn’t have otherwise written, I’ve got to practise my critiquing skills (something I struggle with a bit), and your essays were fantastic, especially the day 3 one. That anecdote about the baby’s first words being Shakespeare and the way you explained it really flicked a switch on in my head.

  4. David O'Connor

    Excellent triptych. Three inner snippets loaded with logic but not ostentatious. I can so relate to the dentist fear which relates to the landlord to a funeral… if anything the clown with the pie felt a little Simpson-esque-hence-overused, I think you can find a more powerful and layered image to come out of the wall, other than that, I enjoyed it as much as looking at a Francis Bacon painting–and that is a true compliment. Really good writing.

  5. Kevin Sterne

    You’re onto something here. It’s so grotesque and so free flowing. Everything here is compelling, though I particularly loved the last section, getting at a relationship. Helps create an emotional pull.

    Overall I want these to connect more, maybe keep writing sequences until you arrive at some sort of arc or conclusion. play around with this more, there’s so much potential here. the voice is so haunting. Read Negative Space by B.R. Yeager

  6. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Neil, What a triptych! You have me instantly when the dentist eats the mushroom– oral enlightenment! Love it. I especially love the surreal character of each panel, told in 3 to 4 straight forward narrative paragraphs. I think this works in second person POV, but it might be interesting to play with both first and third person and see how it shifts. Of the three panels, the first, I think, is the one that will haunt me the most– there, connoting the wildness of the late sixties, and the mushroom culture. Really enjoyed this well-written work.

  7. Amy Barnes

    Even if a flash doesn’t intend horror, including a dentist theme makes it so. The dental office and dentist are so ripe for writing. And you bring all that to this tightly-written story.

    “Your dentist peers into your mouth and sees your soul sprouting out.”

    This opening line explains so much — the dentist is trying to steal our souls (and our money and our teeth)! But you take it all further and give us the visceral throbbing before switching to the surreal again with the mushroom in the mouth and then in her mouth plus the therapist analysis — so seamless.

    Your movement into the second part of the triptych continues that smooth transition by bringing up another kind of fungus — the mold infestation but again with the same kind of agony and surrealism of the first micro (clown/pie). And then a third entry with the soulmate echoing back to the soul in the mouth and another delay of experiencing pain/grief combined with just the right amount of surreal (bats out of the coffin/sandwiches) tying back to eating again. Love the last line that hearkens back to the opening. Just masterful storytelling.

    “You make sure you leave before anyone starts eating them.”

  8. Lisa Moore

    Neil, this is very cool. It makes me want to try to write a triptych.

    I enjoyed the surreality of all three sections. The final bit was my favourite. The bats laying out sandwiches is a standout image for me. Brilliant. It recalls Edward Gorey:

    I do agree with Martha that it would be interesting to see how a shift in the POV feels. I feel like the third person might be impactful in the final section, but that’s just a thought. I love it as-is.

    Great work. Thanks for sharing.

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