After we abandoned the cursed house, we drove straight to the nearest Target and bought new T-shirts and shorts. Toni and I picked out new bras and I grabbed a pair of zorries to replace the shoes I left behind. Hialeah and Martin bought briefs and white crew socks and tennis shoes. We changed in the car, not caring who might see us, anxious to shed the caked decay of our old clothes.

We drove quickly to the Residence Inn and took blessed, relieving showers. We dressed in fresh, unopened clothes. Carefully, we bundled everything that touched us before the showers into a bedsheet, which we disposed in the motel's dumpster. After all, we didn't want anyone else to suffer the ordeal we'd just been through.

Before the sun went down, we set-to on the car, spraying ammonia and cleaners on all the upholstery and carpeting. Even Toni and Hialeah eagerly took up brushes and vacuums to prevent the spread of the cursed infestation.

Then we crashed in our room, sleeping more than eight hours--it felt so wonderful. I hadn't slept more than two hours at a time for at least two weeks, and I knew none of the others fared much better.

Martin woke me up. He and Toni had already been down to the motel's hot-tub and taken another shower ... together. I was angry, how dare Toni usurp my place--but Martin pointed out that our roles were now upended. The mold has done its work too thoroughly.

The mold! Oh, how I've grown to curse the Guiding Creator of this universe, who would allow such a disgusting plague to exist in His World. How could He have been so powerless to stop the spoliation. Damn the mold--and the God who permitted it!

The mold. That horrible, insidious infestation. How I hate it. It was my master and I the unwilling, unsuspecting, unwarned slave. How straightway it took over every aspect of my existence, overpowered my defenses, revoked my liberty, and undid all I've worked to achieve.

How I pray that no one else suffers the depravations of the mold.

Let the four of us be adequate warning that evil isn't always in the sudden detonation of a terrorist bomb or the muzzle-flash of a teen-gang drive-by shooting. It is sometimes the little details of the mundane reality which raise up and defeat.

Beware the mold!

---

It began, innocently enough, with a ring of black around the inside of the toilet. Tony complained first. He'd been "saddled" with keeping the bathrooms clean and the carpets vacuumed, in return for an allowance of gas money, cash for lunches at the technical college, and his weekly ska concert with the other boys.

But there was no denying this mold was different than the usual black stuff in the water. It defied his every effort. Clorox had no effect. Though he scrubbed valiantly, it quickly grew back. Before long, it let down tendrils which penetrated the deepest parts of the plumbing in both bathrooms.

And we noticed it was not only getting thicker, but was etching the porcelain. And creeping out of the drains into the shower and bathtub.

Hialeah, bless her heart, noticed the changes first. "Mom," she called to Martha one evening. "I need a new bra."

Martha and I had been resting on the davenport, watching some mindless television, her head on my chest, her warm hands inside my shirt. She stood and disappeared down the hall.

"She's right," Martha sighed, returning later. "She's not growing any more. Oh, well, we'll go to Mervyns when she gets home from school tomorrow. Damn, I was hoping to get a nap."

"Hmmm," I wondered idly. "How come if she's not growing anymore, she needs a new bra?"

"Oh, it happens," Martha whispered from her place on my chest. "Girls reached puberty and their growth hormones flair until the changes are permanent. Then things settle down and sometimes shrink at little." I must have made a sound, for she looked up and explained, "Hialeah's lost--I don't know--an inch, maybe. She's worried about what the other girls will say. I remember it happened to me, too."

Geez, I though, teenagers. They have it so good, and they have to invent these enormous little problems. No wonder they're all so screwed up.

Less than a week later, Martha mentioned that she'd been to the store again, buying Hialeah another smaller bra. "She really is changing, Ted. I don't know why, but she's losing weight everywhere."

"Do we need to have her checked for anorexia?"

"I thought of that. I may still call the doctor, but if anything, she's eating more. She's keeping right up with Tony."

Again, my answer was a perplexed "Hmmm." I didn't express the sudden notion that my son was losing his voracious appetite. "Well, keep your eyes open," I cautioned. "We don't want to wait until it's too late."

The mold showed up in the kitchen sink. There was also a ring in the washing machine. We had to pre-rinse everything, then run each load a second time with more detergent, to get clean once the mold was scoured away.

"Dad," said the voice in my dream. "Dad." The weight on my side of the bed pulled me up from the sleepland I was roaming.

"What's up, Tony? My wallet's by the computer. Help yourself."

"That's not what I need, dad," he said in a serious voice with an underlying anxiety. I sat up, the dream permanently dispelled. "Dad, is there any reason why my ... ummm ..." He was kneeling on the quilt, wringing his hands in his lap.

I waited for him to continue. "... why my chest should be so tender. And it's not just my chest, it's my ..."

This time he didn't continue. He was dressed only in briefs and though I could see nothing wrong. I could tell he really was in pain. I reached out and gently touched his torso, but he flinched back.

"I don't know, Tony," I soothed. "Where else does it hurt?"

"Down ... ummm ..." he spread his hands away from his lap. My eyebrows must have shot skyward, because he nodded and whispered, "... yeah, there, too. Really bad pain."

As embarrassed as Tony was, his mom was the one to take him to the doctor. I had too much work and was pushing some heavy project-related overtime. And for some reason, I wasn't sleeping as restfully as normal, waking up at odd hours of the night with oppressive thoughts that only a couple hours of surfing the net could melt away.

Though she worked early morning to early afternoon and then went back to close the pre-school, Martha had about four hours in mid afternoon that she called her own and about which she was very defensive. Errands were not usually her priority, but she reluctantly agreed to take him between his college classes.

The prognosis was mixed. Yes, Tony was experiencing tenderness, but no this wasn't totally unheard of. Sometimes emotional traumas caused physical aches and pains. Martha explained that he seemed a well-adjusted college freshman.

"Well," the doctor said, "Sometimes environmental things can be traced to this kind of temporary discomfort." That made sense to Martha, so she told him about the mold. He suggested we call our landlady immediately.

Gillian was less than enthusiastic about the mold issue. Though we've been friends for years, and though she asked us to rent her house after she got married, she said "I don't think this is a big-enough deal that I should pay to have it investigated. Besides, who should we call?" We all shrugged, no one knew.

So we continued to ignore the mold. By now, we could see permanent scarring in the toilets and bathtub. The mold caused the commodes to plug up when we had heavy stools, which was another source of irritation.

"Damn kids," Martha fumed one evening. "They plugged up both toilets and I really had to go when I got home. Took me an hour to get them unclogged. Ted, we've got to do something about this mold."

I sighed. "Don't know who to call. Why don't you check the yellow pages tomorrow? Maybe you can phone a plumber or two?"

"Shit," she mumbled. "I wanted to watch soap operas tomorrow. I missed them yesterday because of Tony's doctors appointment. This is a big plot tie-together."

And the two plumbers who came at her calls were as baffled as she. One gave the name of a super-strength cleaning additive she could get at a store in the south end--and again she was peeved about giving up her afternoon to go get it.

It worked. The mold disappeared out of the toilets. Martha and Tony also scrubbed it out of the shower and bathtub, but they were afraid to use it in the kitchen or washing machine. At least we thought it worked, until Hialeah came up from the crawl-space one afternoon and announced casually: "Have you guys been down there? It's like a rain forest."

It was. Mold streamers hung from the joists and floor panels above us. It oozed down the foundation, and squished beneath the plastic runners on the ground. It coated our stored belongings, making the cardboard boxes slimy and hard to move. I recovered my personal collection of valuable railroad books but several were already ruined. Martha's Barbie collection, which she'd safeguarded throughout Hialeah's childhood, were also damaged beyond belief.

Both cats moved out of the house, and Huge, the tiny calico kitten who'd grown to be a playful blimp, disappear altogether. Hialeah was inconsolable, Huge was her cuddle cat. Dennis, the mean tiger, "packed his bags" the following day and followed Huge's headstart.

Martha worked at a pre-school and every parent who dropped off a child commented on her new figure. "You look great," they'd say. "That must be a powerful diet." She didn't think it was great at all, and she took Hialeah to help her shop for new clothes--including much smaller bras.

The mold moved out of the bathrooms into our closets. Hialeah took her closet doors off, hoping to let more air circulate. Tony threw away most of his precious "punk" garb, keeping only a few normal-looking things to wear. And he started doing his laundry downtown. My best suit was the first thing I lost, followed by a beautiful hand-knit wool sweater.

And it got progressively worse. Finally, we each took a few salvageable things and hung them from a makeshift clothesline in the living room, abandoning the rest to the mold dripping in our closets. The kids moved their bedrolls into the living room, too, carefully picking everything up each morning and hanging it outside on the porch to air. Martha and I stubbornly stuck to our mattress and sheets, even though we could feel the dampness constantly.

Tony complained that his chest and groin were on fire. Hialeah fussed as usual about what her friends were saying behind her back, and even Martha was feeling uncomfortable. "My ankles have swollen but my feet are thinner and very sore," she reported.

I suffered a full-fledged asthma attack; not even my inhaler worked as I gasped for breath. Martha tucked me into bed and rubbed Mentholatum on the parts of my body that weren't screaming in agony. I tossed and turned until finally I fell into a fitful sleep, which lasted over 15 hours. That was the last time I've slept more than a couple hours at a time.

When I awoke, everything was crazy. Seems they'd all taken extra long naps, too, and some serious changes had been wrought on us.

Hialeah's breasts were flat and her nipples shrunken to boy size. Tony's nipples, on the other hand, had grown and he had tender mounds that mimicked breasts. Martha was much thinner and very ill-at-ease. She, too, had experienced breast reduction.

My chest was still sore but it hadn't changed. It was my abdomen that startled me. I had a very deeply scalloped waist--a real hourglass--which emphasized that my hips and butt were bigger. And my penis and testicles were half their expected size.

"I'm having the same thing, dad," said Tony. "I just can't get 'it' up anymore."

Martha and Hialeah looked at each other with embarrassment, and took down their panties. They both had inflated round pussy lips, probably three times their normal proportions. "I can feel something, too, mom," said Hialeah. She demonstrated by squeezing gently. "Right here, way back, but it feels hard and it's painful to touch."

"My clit is so tender," said Martha, "I feel like it sticks way out and I need to relieve myself. I've never masturbated before but this afternoon the urge is awful." She looked around, abashed at revealing such an intimacy before the children.

And we discovered mold growing under the furniture. It was everywhere, even under the computer. The strings and blobs were especially bad under the sofas and beds. Behind the curtains, the window sills were black and slimy and mold was eating at the caulking.

We called Gillian and the doctor. Both were baffled. Gillian was upset the mold had grown back in the toilets and bathtub and doubly perturbed about the closets and under the furniture. She promised to call her own plumber, but her anger seemed directed at us.

The doctor made a family appointment for the following Wednesday. We never made it, because we packed and left Monday afternoon.

Monday morning, Tony had no genitals. His breasts were big enough that he had to wear Hialeah's new bra, which she no longer needed. And his waist was pinched like mine. "I can't go to church like this," he moaned. "Everyone will know. Ah, fuck, what's happening, dad? Why us?"

I had no answer. My scrotum was deflated and hugged my crotch. My penis was a quarter of its normal size and many times thicker than it should have been--and the opening was a gaping slit nearly two inches across. I had to sit down to pee because there was too little to hold onto, and naturally, I sprayed all over myself. "Wipe with toilet tissue," advised Martha. "That's what women do."

When Hialeah woke up, she was obviously uncomfortable. Martha had finally resigned herself to go to work, since she was the only person on staff when the parents and children arrived each day. With an air of surrender, Hialeah informed Tony and me, "I'm not female anymore."

"Do you want me to take a look?" I asked. She nodded yes and we sent Tony out of the living room, so she could strip. Sure enough, her labia and clit had been conjoined into what looked like a small, perfectly- functional penis and testicles. She had developed, unbeknownst to us, sexy washboard muscles in her abdomen. And her face was splotched with dark patches of stubble, just like a teenage boy.

"Hialeah," I said. "Sometimes when a person is under these kind of pressures, it helps to have another person touch your genitals. Let me see what is happening with yours, and maybe I can give you some relief."

With a tiny sob, she nodded. I touched her penis and it promptly stiffened. I confess this surprised me, even as I expected it. I continued to stroke it until Hialeah started to moan. Without any urging, without knowing why, I leaned over and took her erection in my mouth, sliding my tongue and lips up and down her red-hot shaft. Without warning, she ejaculated, filling my mouth with semen. It was sweet and tasted like musk, but I almost gagged from the consistency as I forced myself to swallow.

Hialeah lay on her bed with her eyes closed, her male chest rising and her breath coming erratically. Finally she whispered, "that was fantastic, daddy. That felt so-o-o good." And like that, she was sleep. Leaving her quietly, I tiptoed away.

"Oh, God, Martha," I confessed that afternoon. "It was awful. I gave my own daughter a blow job. And enjoyed it." I held her tightly, pressing my sensitive chest against hers. She was shrinking, just as Hialeah had, and I was following Tony's pattern, with enlarged responsive nipples and tiny buds of breasts.

"Ted, that's awful. I'm so sorry you had to suffer through that," Martha whispered huskily. Her voice was so different, so much lower than mine. And her hands were immense compared with mine, as she idly stroked my sensitive groin with a thick finger. She could reach deeply into what was once my penis and the more she moved, the more I wanted her to penetrate deeper.

I moaned. "Oh, baby, you got the equipment--fuck me, please. We both know what's going on--give it to me, give it up now, honey." I pawed at her zipper but she beat me to the draw, slipped her pants off the biggest penis I've ever seen. And the most satisfying.

I never knew orgasms could be so spectacular. It made me sad to think of the pleasure I'd denied her over the past years--but now it was my turn to moan and shriek with exhilaration, to laugh and weep for joy, and to agonize about the asthma fire in my lungs and the even-more intense carnal fire contained within my loins. I wanted to cry "I'm sorry, Martha. Forgive me."

I laid there while time stood still, listening contentedly as she--no, he-- snored beside me on the sofa. The house was quiet. Hialeah napped across the room. Tony watched television in the family, or maybe he, too, was asleep. I could hear the slow drip of moisture--from the mold streamers hanging limp in our closets and bathrooms, from below the floor, from above the rafters, and from the leaks that had been eaten by the mold through the toilets. It almost sounds peaceful, I thought briefly as I dozed.

Everything was crazy when I was rudely shaken awake. "My God, Ted. We're covered head to foot with mold," thundered Martha with her deep male voice, echoed by an almost as deeply-voiced Hialeah. Tony sobbed in the background.

I tried to get up but everything was slippery. The davenport was coated with black ooze, and it clung to my legs and arms. Tony and Hialeah frantically brushed it off their garments. Martha was an island of calm, even though half her clothes and face were obscured by black slime. She ... he pulled me to my feet. My breasts bounced against my chest from the sudden movement, and one side popped out of the rotting bra I wore.

"Let's go," Martha ordered. "Out of the house now, before it's too late." The teens needed no further prompting, as they fought the slippery doorknob and finally wrestled it open. Leaving the door gaping behind us, we dashed for the Toyota. Tony found his ... her keys first and jumped behind the wheel as the rest of us buckled. With a roar, we backed out of the driveway and spun around. And never looked back.

---

That's why we fled away from Seattle, to a warmer, drier climate where the mold won't find us. We pay cash for gas and food, living from the cash machine. At first, we all agreed to sleep in the car--agreed the discomfort was worth the bond we all felt for each other. We were fortunate to have lived through the ordeal. Of course, we can't tell people what's happened to us--no one would understand.

Now, we're renting a tiny room in Phoenix, trying to marshal our savings until we figure out what we can do with our new lives. Martin doesn't feel comfortable asking for work in a pre-school or day care, though that's really all he knows. He met a fellow from Fort Worth who said he'd pay our way to Texas if Martin was willing to try being a sales consultant.

Martin's started to enjoy sports and runs every morning and evening. He used to hate warm weather; now he loves the sunshine. He found a public tennis court nearby and got a second-hand racquet, and the men in the park are teaching him how to play. He's become a basketball fan, too, and he and Toni splurged to see the Phoenix Suns at one of their semi-final play-off games.

Toni's resigned to losing her youth and her future. She's happy to be Martin's middle-aged wife, and loves his attention. She's turned into a regular hausfrau, all domestic and momlike. She and Martin have been so intimate, so carnal, that I've learned a few things. They both agreed to keep their names but changed the spellings.

Hialeah decided his name could be for either gender, "Since I AM NAMED, for God's sake, after a ... racetrack." (For the record, he wasn't. It's his grandmother's maiden name--and it made sense when he was a girl.) Now that he's my older brother, I depend on him for comfort and fulfillment. He's growing a beard, which makes him look incredibly handsome.

Though we've shared intimacy several times, Hialeah's not comfortable with his new-found male sexuality. He often complains about the injustices of male supremacy, and how women have it so much better. Still, he thinks he can do some physical things to earn money--and wants to help as we continue to deplete the family's meager cash reserves.

I picked Tami as my new name, even though the rest of the family all kept reasonably close to their old names. Somehow, Teddy just didn't fit as well as Tami for a slim 16-year-old with long blonde hair, C cups (voluptuous but not overwhelming), and an abdomen that flows gracefully to my love mound and then curves smoothly between my legs.

I love being female. I love Hialeah's hands kneading my nipples, my breasts. I love his cock inside me, either my pussy or my mouth, and I'm trying to get him to loosen up. He's responding but not as enthusiastically as I'd have believed from when we were in Seattle. Since our lives are so turned about, I don't consider this to be incest but survival--it gives us both release from the stresses of having run away from the mold and from being really poor now.

I've "come on" to Martin several times, but he keeps pushing me away, claiming he's happily married to Toni. Damn, it makes me cry when he does--I'm kind of jealous. We were never all that intimate as husband and wife, but we had a few wild moments which I miss.

He gets upset when I watch my soap operas. "Get a life, girl," he yells. "You're young. Do something with yourself. Get out, go to school, find a job, be free again while you have the opportunity." Typical parent, so inconsistent.

I've seen a couple of boys at the malls around Phoenix. I think they like me and if we get a chance before Martin moves us down to Texas, I might jump into bed with them. I know one is curious, he bought me a bunch of flowers and said he had some money if I was interested. Money for sex ... now there's a worthy concept. Getting paid for doing "it"--for having fun.

Maybe the mold did me a favor. I don't know yet.