Category Archives: Horror

Being Proactive

I was on my fourth beer, watching the stock report, when the Breaking News report started. The Dow was good. NASDAQ, too. So I guess it was just my company that was floundering so bad they had to let me go. The cute reporter Alison and the wonderful, form-fitting blue dress she wore was replaced by a helicopter shot of some town square. Maybe Times Square. Maybe Piccadilly. Could have been Tienanmen for all I knew.

It looked like a small riot had broken out; people were running from the main open area of the square while a few combatants struggled in the center. The cameraman zoomed in on one pair who had fallen to the pavement. The one on top looked homeless or, at least, like he had been “urban camping” for a few days. His long, greasy hair flowed down over a puffy vest that was tattered on the edges and stained with God knew what. I remembered the 99% protests from a few years ago. Had those started up again?

Then the dirty guy heaved himself to a standing position, pulling a mouthful of skin with him. Blood ran down his dark beard and spilled onto the ground before the feed cut to a pair of stunned anchors sitting behind a desk. The woman had both hands covering her mouth. The man was frozen mid-tie adjustment. Everyone behind me in the bar had struck similar poses; either horrified or almost comically stalled in the middle of mundane task. The bartender had been overfilling a pint glass for almost 30 seconds before he flipped the handle.

The news showed similar scenes playing out in several large cities across the US and western Europe. Everyone in the bar wondered the same thing. Zombies? Was it really happening? No one said it out loud, maybe worried they would sound crazy or scared that verbalizing it would make it true. Then someone broke the seal and zombie was the word of the day. I ordered another beer and tried to remember the plan my brother and our friends had come up with in college right after Dawn of the Dead came out.

We weren’t the only one with that thought. Every screen in the dark bar blazed with the bright, daylight camera feed from a college campus in Indiana. Locals, including some police, had showed up with rifles, shotguns, and machetes. The biters went down in seconds. Then, with their shins protected from tooth and nail, the rag-tag militia began wading through the wounded and stopping the outbreak before it could begin.

Some cities rounded up anyone with a bite wound or scratch. Others had already taken care of the problem. Then the second report came in.

The first attackers, the biters, were covered in makeup and cheap costumes from Amazon. Some had ID, the names on which had matched names on the FBI’s domestic terror watch list.

Out of the 2,385 dead, the ‘biters’ had only killed 48.

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My Connor

Those fliers in the mail; those missing children. You see them all the time. What do you think about the parents? Neglectful? Inept?

Connor was my life. The moment I felt myself glowing with the blossom of new life after a night with his father, I felt a heart aching, eternal love overwhelm me. I would be devastated if anything happened to him. And I was.

He was riding his bike one day, enjoying the summer. He did it all the time.

“Around the block,” I would say.

“Yes, Mama,” he would agree.

He always came back. He would check in with me after every lap.

One day, the five minutes became ten. Maybe he ran into a friend. The ten minutes became fifteen. I walked around the bock of upper-middle class homes to try to find him.

His bike was on the sidewalk, laid down with care. The red streamer on the upward facing handlebar fluttered in the breeze.

He was gone.

“Around the block,” was the last thing I would say to my son for nearly twenty years.

Two weeks ago, I got a phone call.

“Mama?” a voice on the other end asked.

A prank. Connor was dead.

Without my light, I was a candle running out of wax that should have been snuffed long ago. The police had never found a body and, though I sat in the tub many nights with a razor in my hand, I knew I couldn’t abandon Connor if he was still out there. It was a common Catch 22. Can’t live without them, have to live in case they come home. Mrs. Kerr in the support group, who lost her daughter to an abduction around the same time as my Connor went missing, said she felt the same way.

“Connor?” I asked, my voice tight.

“Yes, Mama. They’re going to let me go home.“

I couldn’t speak, couldn’t stand. I collapsed on the dirty wood floor of my living room.

“I have to go now, but I’ll see you soon.”

“Wait! No! I love you! Come home!” I shouted into the phone, but Connor had already hung up.

One night, I heard sounds in my kitchen; a shuffling step just like Connor’s lazy gait. I rushed out to see him.

In the moonlight, I could see that he was now much taller than me, though hunched over. His head hung stiffly down on his chest.

“Are you hurt?” I asked.

Connor whipped his body toward me in one motion and lunged. He bit deep into my arm. I managed to embrace him and keep him from struggling – has was so thin. I think whoever took him drugged him before dropping him off. He’s locked in the bathroom until the drugs wear off and then I’ll have my boy back.

In the meantime, I can see flashing lights at Mrs. Kerr’s house. I’d better go see if she’s alright, even though I feel like I’m coming down with a nasty flu.

 

 

This story was narrated recently by Auntie Creeps.


SEALAB IV

The US Navy’s SEALAB projects I and II went off, relatively, without a hitch. SEALAB III was another story. One crewmember died and five separate attempts were made to poison the entire atmosphere of the decompression chamber as crew were attempting to return topside. The official line given to the media was that a suspect had been found. None ever was.

 

It was 1969, though. We all knew who had sanctioned it, if not physically carried it out. There was a Soviet saboteur on San Clemente Island. Officially, the Navy cancelled future SEALAB missions. Unofficially, SEALAB IV went forward, though 50% of the research crew was replaced with counterespionage agents and Navy SEALs, who trained at San Clemente. I was the only geological oceanographer on the team. The findings of SEALAB IV are on a 75 year classification, but I’m the only survivor, the only one who can describe what we saw down there in my own words. And years of enjoying a Marlboro while writing my research papers has finally caught up with me; I was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

 

During preparations for the mission, it became clear that we were targets. Our buoyancy tanks were repeatedly punctured, our food stores were opened and allowed to become stale. The lead scientist was even attacked as she walked from the mess to her quarters to finish some late night paperwork. By the time we submerged, the attacks had stopped. The first week underwater was quiet and the mission proceeded as planned.

 

Then a small one-man vessel shone lights into one of our portholes, flickering an SOS. We allowed it to dock. A Russian crewman, bleeding excessively from what one of the SEALs called a sucking chest wound and several holes in his stomach, collapsed in our crew cabin.

 

“Beg,” he said. “Pobeg.” *Run. Escape.* He repeated it until he passed. We found a small vial with a preserved, almost translucent shrimp in his breast pocket.

 

Our recon missions showed no evidence of a Soviet version of SEALAB, but the sub had to come from somewhere. I directed the crew to look for caves that had been washed out from centuries of wave activity on the side facing away from mainland California. Sure enough, we found a few. More than a few.

 

The Reds had set up an entire lab in one of the caves, directly under the US Naval base, filled with chemistry equipment and notebooks written in indecipherable code. On the central table sat a roughly spherical mass that looked like melted iron inlaid with small crystals. A meteorite, I guessed.

 

Most of the caverns dead ended. One, however, had clearly been mined. Inside, we found the skeletal remains, still in their lab coats and mining gear, of the Soviet crew. The bones were browned and brittle; just husks. The walls of the cave were covered with a pinkish-brown mold that bulged with writhing spore pods. I took scrapings before we retreated to our sub. It was a creepy place.

 

At SEALAB, I couldn’t identify the scraping I took. The shrimp creature remained an anomaly until I lost touch with the marine biologist from the crew.

 

Recently, at parties and in my academic circles, I kept hearing about odd new amphipods appearing along the California coast along with a strange mold or some type of red tide. I remembered my wall scrapings. Running some through a mass spectrometer revealed they were not mold but something closer to mammalian flesh. A DNA typing showed it was human.

 

This morning, a colleague had forwarded me an article about a body washed ashore in Long Beach. Brittle, browned bones covered in small, translucent shrimp-like amphipods.


Where’s Dr. Rwasa?

I opened my eyes to a softly lit white room. The bed under me was soft but didn’t cradle me in the pleasant way a lived-in bed would. The sheets matched the stark white of the room. My loose grey tunic and flowing pants were the only contrast in the entire room save for a slightly shaded rectangle on the wall in front of me that I assumed was a television or computer screen.

 

The room was wholly unfamiliar but felt somehow safe, like I knew it even if I didn’t know it. The screen glowed to life as I swung my legs off the side of the bed. My bust filled the view, smiling slightly. The room looked similar, though I could see the reflection of sunlight on the video.

 

“John, it’s John,” my recorded self laughed. “We are very forgetful! The clinical term, as the people you’ll meet soon have informed us, is anterograde amnesia. Every night when we go to sleep,” a wiping gesture of the hands, “our memory is wiped. If you think back to being a kid in the park, you’ll remember it.”

 

An image of running through wood chips and playing tag around a swing set erupted in my mind’s eye like the sour, liquid-filled candies I remembered sharing from a plastic bag.

 

“Certain scenes come to us: Mom and Dad, Lisa from UC Davis. But not what happened to put us here. You’ll probably meet Dr. Rwasa today. He’s been helping us try to recall the accident or,” a shrug, “whatever it was.” The John on the screen brought a red book toward the camera as he finished his sentence but the video ended before he said anything about it.

 

A blue light flashed at the far end of the room and a section of wall slid back, revealing a smiling, light blue clad attendant.

 

“Hello, John. How are you feeling?” Her voice was pleasant, but my chest tightened upon hearing it. My skin prickled as she walked toward me. Something was wrong. Some part of my brain could still store information and it was telling me to run. Or fight.

 

“Are you Dr. Rwasa?” I asked.

 

“Dr. Rwasa is ill today,” the attendant said, pouting her lips slightly like she was speaking to a child. “You’ll have a free day for recreation.” She reached out a hand. “I’ll take you-“

 

“No!” I said, louder than I intended. “No. Where’s the book I had? The red book? In the video.”

 

“You finished it. Some thriller about the mafia.”

 

The book was blank, without even the Spartan imprint of a hardcover missing its dust jacket.

 

“I’d like to go outside, then. Get a burger.”

 

“I’m afraid you can’t. It’s not safe.”

 

“Am I a prisoner,” I asked, “or a patient? I’d like to get fast food and see my parents.”

 

“That’s,” she paused, “not possible.”

 

“Why?” I shouted, eyes darting around the room for something use as a weapon.

 

“Your parents perished, along with the rest of humanity, in the decades of war and ecological instability in the mid 21st century. This facility was constructed to retrieve and care for the leaders of the US government in such an occurrence. You were the only survivor we could find.”

 

“What about you?” I had pressed my back against the wall, trying to stay as far from the attendant as possible.

 

“I am an artificial intelligence, as was Dr. Rwasa. We have been able to keep you healthy with our continually evolving technology and understanding of human physiology, yet your advanced age has led to memory problems we cannot repair. Dr. Rwasa attempted to strengthen your memories through repeated exposure but it did not help.”

 

“My advanced,” I shook my head, “advanced age?”

 

“We have kept you alive in this facility for 239 years. In that time, the surface has grown hostile to human life. You will remain here indefinitely until our probes detect a suitable planet in another solar system.”


Salle des Machine Vivique

There is a well-known ancient civilization that rose from a mere 200 breeding pairs of Homo sapiens. War with neighboring cultures, coupled with alternating torrential rains and drought, pushed this particular pocket of humanity to the brink and, yet, they went on to become one of the few megalithic societies on which modern myths and adventure stories are based. Genetic evidence shows that this culture had no mingling of DNA from nomads or nearby groups until it was already a local power. Everything they were came from those 200 pairs.

 

I won’t name the culture for fear of unintended political and existential backlash.

 

I’m a member of an international archeological group that has been researching this culture for the last 10 years. We’ve mad brief and superficial dips into the megaliths – likely there were tombs or temples, though this has never been proven – but the local government has been reticent to permit us access into the heart of the structures. We’ve been content to dig for pottery and ancient trash piles, learning what we can about the day-to-day life of these people, while endlessly pressing the flesh and campaigning for a legal writ that would allow a real expedition.

 

Last month, we got it.

 

It took one full week to excavate and understand the slab blocking access down into the structure. Beyond the doorway was a long, sloping passage lined with wooden-handled tools. We sent many of them out of the country for radiocarbon dating. The results from our colleagues in the States were the first indication that there was something strange about the dig. Radiocarbon dating can often provide dates that are accurate within 100 years. The tools we sent were dated between 3500 and 2500 BC; a range ten times larger than it should have been. One axe was as much as 10,000 years old. That could be the result of the builder repurposing a log or using driftwood. A spade, however, was identified as 300 years old. There was no good explanation for that.

 

At the end of the winding passage, almost 200 feet underground, we came to a second door. Clearing away the accumulated dust of centuries, we saw the unmistakable shape of the Latin alphabet. Everything about this culture, especially the megalith we were beneath, predates the first incarnation of the alphabet around 600 BC. Up to this point, we had seen nothing but the common pictograms.

 

The words were French. “Salle des Machine Vivique.” Room of the Living Machines.

 

The door opened easily with a rush of air as though it had been hermetically sealed. The room was hewn from solid rock, each face smooth and pristine as though cut with a laser or waterjet. Computers – fully modern computers without brand markings – sat atop wooden tables.

 

Stretching out beyond us were cylindrical plexiglass and metal coffins, each open. There must have been about 500 of them.

 

A notification, in French, blazed on a monitor: Organic Machines Activated.

 

We found a few hairs in one of the coffins. The DNA analysis came back today; it’s an almost perfect match to the ancient breeding pairs from this culture.

 

And mitochondrial DNA of five percent of the world’s population can be traced back to the DNA of these “organic machines”.


Urine Trouble

It started years ago, a flashlight beam crossing my window. I saw no one in the small front yard or the expansive pasture beyond. I flicked on the floodlights for a few minutes hoping to scare off whatever intruder or drunk teenager was out there. I was pretty sure it worked.

A season or two passed. I brought a pitcher of mojitos and my laptop outside to the front yard to work on my taxes and spotted fresh boot tracks in the dirt. Too small to be mine, too big to be my son when he came to visit every other weekend. I stared at them for a while, perhaps trying to divine their secrets from the earth. Then I poured a drink and got to work.

The footprints began to show up everywhere. Every. Where. In the front yard, the backyard, muddy tracks on my porch and patio, in my garage, even once in my house. I bought a security system pretty early on, but the tapes never showed anything but shifting shadows. I had people stay with me, but we never heard anything. Even if I stayed up all night long – every light inside and out blaring – I would still find at least one set of footprints somewhere. Usually somewhere impossible. I asked my ex to stop bringing Tim over, worried something might happen when he was there.

I saw the first one three months ago. Just a person out in the pasture. People have gotten lost before and wandered into the area. They have to jump a fence, but I think they’re usually spooked that they’ve completely lost the main road. Those people are on the move, though. This one was stationary. Not a waver from tired foot nor a twitch from cramping calf.

It had to be related to the footprints.

I grabbed an empty wine bottle and chucked it as hard as my old pitcher’s arm would let me. The path was true, but the standing person managed to jerk out of the way at the last second before resuming its stolid pose. I hurled more, but my anger – and the alcohol – got the best of my aim. The figure didn’t even have to dodge.

I charged the asshole, running full speed and letting loose a battle cry that likely pissed off my neighbors. By the time I reached its location, it had disappeared. Faded into the dark. I didn’t even see it move.

This continued every day with different numbers of people. The exact number was either more or less, but the trend was always for more. When they took me, I counted 17 stationed around my house.

I never saw their faces. One or two grabbed me from behind while I was screaming at those arrayed in front of me.

I awoke in the pasture, nude. The muddy ground gushed around my flesh, small rocks scraping my tender areas like a sandpaper-wrapped worm. Thin, slippery mud seeped into me, chilling my anus and filling my ears until it was almost impossible to hear.

I felt pressure at the base of my stomach, right above my pelvic bone. A sharp pinch, then darkness.

In the morning, I found myself back in my house. I was curled in the bathtub, cold water raining down on me. A quick check in the mirror showed that I was completely clean. Even a q-tip came out of my ear in pristine condition. The only evidence that something had actually happened was a small scab over my pelvis. It was small, syringe-sized, but twinged pain deep into my body when I pressed on it. I felt like Jackie Chan had given me a dual nut-gut kick with all the force he could muster.

The scab healed and I started to wonder if the whole incident was some weird sex dream. Minus the sex and plus a whole lot of creepy. Shadows no longer crept through my pasture and footprints stopped materializing in the middle of my foyer. I threw out all my alcohol, burned my salvia in a pit outside with some yard debris. I’d decided to go clean.

My ex took notice of some of the changes brought about by ditching the booze. My eyes looked more awake, my stomach got flatter, I stopped getting angry at nothing. She invited me on a trip to California to take Tim to Disneyland.

Of course I said yes. They were driving over, but I had some work meetings I couldn’t change and opted to fly out the next day.

I had to jump out of the TSA line once to pee. It was a trickle but, good Lord, did it feel urgent.

A handful of times before I boarded the plane I had to run off to the stinky little toilet behind the airport sandwich shop. A small speck of blood dribbled out of me on my last visit.

Bladder cancer? Intense UTI? STD? Diagnoses whirled in my head until I felt dizzy. My pulse was racing.

As I boarded the plane, I felt a stab of pain so intense that I could almost hear a crunch echo through my body. A burning hot coal detonated in my bladder and stripped my lungs of air. I ran to the airplane lavatory against the admonishing glance of the attendant.

I felt like I was trying to blow a sunflower seed through a straw, snaps of painful relief punctuating each millimeter the obstruction moved down my urethra. Tears flowed from my eyes unquenched, drenching the collar of my shirt. Blood, first watered down by urine and trickling, then rushing dark and fast into the toilet, poured from my penis.

With an almost comical plunk, I passed what felt like the biggest kidney stone known to man. I clutched my bleeding member in one hand, willing it to scab up. The pain, mercifully, had mostly gone.

I looked into the murky, pink water to see what had come out of me and watched several black worms with pale streaks on their front ends wriggle through clouds of my blood.

I panicked. I flushed, wrapped myself with toilet paper, and returned to my seat.

“By the time I get to Anaheim, everything will be fine.” “I just had to pass a parasite.” Those were lies I told myself to keep my sanity until the plane landed. Deep in the back of my mind, I remembered being held down in the mud, feeling that pinch.

What did they do to me?

I dashed out of the plane without my carryon, running for the nearest restroom. The pressure had returned. I could feel the mass squirming and ripping its way through me, the toilet paper sopping up hot, wet blood. Drips began to fall from my soaked pants.

Before I could reach the toilet, the lump of tangled bodies poured out of me. I sighed with relief, drawing the attention of a man who was washing his hands.

“You need help, man?” he asked, eyes wide at the crimson streaks on the ground.

“I’m sorry,” I grunted. “Parasites. From fish.” I pointed to the wriggling streaks moving toward the floor drain like hair on a plastic shower curtain.

The man bent over to inspect the mess. “Jesus, man. I’ll call someone for you. I think you need to go to a hospital.”

Under the now-closed stall door, I could see his loafer step right in the thick of the mess of worms. I was glad to have him gone. I needed to clean myself up and meet Annabel and Tim. I couldn’t waste time at a hospital.

I sat on the toilet, resting my head against the stall wall for a good fifteen minutes. By that time, the blood seemed to have stopped gushing and most of the sharp, urgent pain had faded. I cleaned up as best I could and left the little, bloody prison to wash my hands.

Gasps gave way to screams outside. Pounding footsteps yielded to urgent radio calls and deep voices demanding calm.

I pushed open the bathroom door to find the man who had offered to get me help on the ground in a pool of dark blood. His eyes were dark, dripping holes. Holes about the size of cigarette burns scattered his exposed arms and face and long, stringy bumps moved haphazardly under the skin. One of the black worms erupted from his nostril in a small cloud of snotty gore. It had a pale streak on its front end.

I joined the crowd away from the dead man, then snuck off to exit the airport.

I should turn myself in, but I don’t know to who. I’m worried the CDC would think I was a freak and the local PD would think I was some bioterrorist. I just want this to stop.

Worst of all, I can feel another mass welling up inside me.


They’re Drinking My Blood

I tightened my helmet and bent my knees one more time to move the pads into their natural resting spot. I checked my phone again – no voicemail, no texts. It was late, but someone else in the cave rescue group should have been available to be my backup.

“Looks like it’s just me,” I said to the two EMTs who had driven me out. “I’ll be back in two hours. If someone else shows up – hopefully Barbara – keep her out here until I come back. We need to coordinate.”

I explained to them that cells and radios would be blocked by the rock, so they’d just have to wait without word from me.

I was looking for a professor from out of state. He was a geologist, athletic, about 43 years old. He had a lot of experience spelunking. His graduate student called the police when he didn’t return from the Copper Spar cave system. Copper Spar isn’t marked for the public because of it’s confusing branches and counterintuitive grade changes. You can be going up when you think you’re going down. Not a problem going in… coming out is another story.

I moved quickly, chalking my route so I could retreat easily. I saw absolutely no signs of someone ahead of me for almost 40 minutes.

Then I found a page torn from a graphing sheet notebook. They’re drinking my blood, was all it said.

My heart jumped a little before I got it under control. There were bats in these caves. Maybe it was that simple. Or the professor had a stroke. Something.

Around the 70-minute mark, when I should have been starting my return, I found the rest of the notebook lying on the cave floor in front of three branching tunnels. The notes were arranged in bullets:

  • The exit appears every 99 minutes – pagan numerology??? 9 x 11 = 99
  • 3 passages also related to numerology?
  • Passage 1 (left) can only be entered in the first 33 minutes of the cycle. Entering after leads to capture. They drink your blood.
  • Passage 2 is always open. The walls move here, evidenced by skeletons sliced clean in half. To survive: left 7 paces, forward 13, right 9, back 3, at this point there should be a backpack attached to a rotting torso. Right 111 paces, forward 16, right 11, forward 13. Opens onto the throne room – bodies opened like autopsies, obsidian knives hanging on the walls.
  • Passage 3 is open for only 13 minutes, end coincides with opening of exit. Passage 3 is darkness. Fires go out, batteries die. Screams fill the chamber and intensify with each step in. I have only made it 21 steps. Can’t bear the wailing and horrid things they shout to me. Things no one should know. Things I’d forgotten.
  • They’re always behind me.

I dropped the notebook and turned back. My chalk marked a blank face of rock. There was no exit.