Category Archives: Horror

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.


Besieged by the Drums

It sounded like a hammer beating against a thick log half a mile away. Reverberations filled the air in the claustrophobic way sharp reports do on cloudy days. At first, I assumed it was construction. But when the steady rhythm continued unabated until noon, I knew it was something else. An impact driller boring for water, perhaps, or an old generator on its last legs. I got in my car to get lunch – some fried chicken with red beans and rice – and left my windows down to try to find the source of the sound. It was impossible to localize. It seemed to drop from the sky. I drove 3 miles for my food and the thump never changed. It felt just as loud as it had at home. Just as close. Like it was occluded by some buildings or trees. If you could just get a clear look…

When I walked through the door, the man behind the counter was looking out the window. He glanced at me, momentarily confused. “Hey, ah, welcome to Popeye’s. What can I do for you?”

“You hear that?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s been going on all morning. I heard it at home, too. Any idea what it is?”

“No, dude. I’m as confused as you are. Heard it at my house, too. I thought I’d see something on the drive here. No dice.”

“It’s weird, man. Anyway, what do you want?”

I gave him my order, waited a bit for the cook in the back to box it up – the cashier and i both peering through the windows, and headed home. The sound never stopped.

That afternoon, I called a friend who lived a few blocks away, asked if he heard the banging.

“No way, man. What’s with everybody and this fuckin’ banging?”

“What do you mean?”

“Everybody’s asking about that shit. I don’t hear a damn thing.”

After he went to sleep that night, he didn’t hear anything. Ever again.

The cause of death was aneurysm. He died instantly in his sleep. But he wasn’t the only one. Hordes of people died that night from aneurysms. There was a story about it in our local paper, but the major city news didn’t pay any attention. Wasn’t worth the air time. Suburbanites dying from aneurysms was nothing compared to a gang shootout in the inner city. Local police called out hazardous materials units, checked the air quality and the ground water. Nothing. They wrote it off as a fluke.

And it took our minds off the banging. I barely remembered the sound until started again. It was 2 years later, give or take.

The reverberant hollow thud woke me up a few hours before my alarm was supposed to go off.

I imagined an asshole in a hardhat whacking away at a telephone pole before my still-sleeping memory fished out that strange day. My anger disappeared and I drew the blackout curtains, certain I would see no construction crew.

The pounding continued while I ate breakfast and dressed, while I drove to work, while I parked my car and walked across the parking lot. The receptionist of the small law firm I worked for was outside, shading her eyes against the morning sun and staring into the sky.

“That sound again, right?” I asked.

“Again? You’ve heard it, too?”

“Yeah,” I took a breath to jump into a story that might remind her, but recalled we hired her about eighteen months earlier. “You know, you weren’t here then. But you’ve heard it?”

“When I lived in Alaska. About two years ago. And once when I was a kid.” She didn’t pull her eyes from the sky as she talked to me. She was usually bubbly and fun, easy to talk to in a way that both enticed and intimidated me. Now, though, she had the clipped, even air of a CEO.

“Do you, uh,” I felt dumb asking, “see anything?”

“Yeah. Come here,” she motioned for me to get in front of her, so she could use her arm to guide me. She pointed into the cloudless sky above the sun, but not so far above that my eyes didn’t start to water. “See that little shine, reflecting the sun?”

I nodded, thinking it was probably a plane.

“It’s always there. My dad showed me when I was a kid.”

“What do you think it is?” I asked?

Francine shrugged. “Satellite, plane, UFO, superhero. Who knows? But it’s there, partially hidden by the sun, every time the drums are played.”

I chuckled. “Drums. I like that. I always imagine some asshole construction crew.”

“My dad was half Inuit. He called them the drums. He always said his tribe has stories about them from way back, but no other Inuits I’ve asked know anything about it.”

She had me hooked. “What did the stories say?”

Francine cleared her throat. “Eh, he never got around to telling me. He pointed out the shiny thing, called it the star, then he had to go to work. He got home late and died in the night. Just some random bad luck.”

I was still standing in front of her, close enough to feel her body heat. The sadness in her voice was hard to ignore. I wanted to hug her or put a hand on her shoulder. Instead, I continued looking into the sky. “I’m sorry. I had a close friend die of an aneurysm. Those sudden things are the hardest.”

“Thanks. My dad’s was an aneurysm, too.”

I almost gasped out loud. “Francine, did… You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to. Did your dad hear the drums that day?”

Her eyes finally fell from the sky, red and watery. Maybe from the sun, maybe not.

“No. He thought working on the oil rigs had killed his ears. Why? How did you know?”

“My friend, Bill, he – The last conversation we had was about the noise. He said he couldn’t figure out why everyone kept asking about something that wasn’t there, then died that night. Along with, actually, dozens of other people. All aneurysms.”

“Oh,” Francine said. Such an underwhelming response. She wiped her eyes.

“My dad bought a life insurance policy on the way to work. Paid extra to have his insurance guy expedite the paper work. Do you think he knew?”

I shrugged. How could I answer?

We spent the entire day researching the drums online. We found articles on ghost cannons and ethereal trumpet calls, but nothing about rhythmic banging.

The banging, itself, never ceased. It started to get to me. I could almost feel it throbbing in my skull.

I invited Francine to my house after work to keep researching. She decided to stay, since it was Friday. We slept in my living room on different couches. She didn’t want to be alone with the drums. I couldn’t say I was particularly looking forward to it, either.

In the morning, they had stopped. I turned on the news, opened my tablet, searched for anything about mass deaths caused by aneurysms. Nothing.

“Colin,” Francine called. She pointed at the TV.

Thousands of grackles had died in the night, apparently falling out of trees throughout our town. Their bodies littered sidewalks and streets. The veterinarians from the large city north of us who came down to investigate the birds for disease said there was no sign of a contaminant. It appeared as though the birds had died suddenly from a natural cause. Maybe an aneurysm, one suggested.

That was in 2013. We forgot about it. Mostly. I married Francine, but we stayed in my small town. I still work for the same law firm.

This morning, the guy at the gas station was complaining about thumping. Everywhere we went, we asked people if they could hear it. They could. Just like a few years ago, some of the older locals said.

Francine and I can’t hear it. It’s a calm day to us. The star is there, twinkling beneath the sun. We’re driving now, off into the desert. We’re trying to get to a town isn’t besieged by the drums. It’s a long shot, but maybe we can survive if we’re far enough away.


Oneirographia

“I paint what I see in my dreams,” Zoe told me.

It was an answer of sorts, a politician’s answer that addressed the obvious meaning of the question but left the implied and vastly more important subtext untouched.

I arrived at her gallery, Oneirographia, on the request of some hack actress who insisted her boyfriend’s overdose was on display at the Modern Art Museum. “Drugsploitation” she called it.

I had to agree that there were a lot of similarities between the scene photos and the painting. When I talked to the artist, though, she proved the painting predated the suicide by three days. That should have been the end of the interview, but she wanted to show me around and I wanted to let her.

She was a good painter, if a little abstract. I turned a corner into her work area, her hand on my arm, and looked into my own face. It was a painting of a sex scene, half finished. The face of the woman on top hadn’t been finished, but the cascading red hair was unmistakably Zoe’s.

For the second time, she had painted something that came true.

In a few weeks, hardly a morning went by that I didn’t end my day at her loft downtown. Life imitated art, then we would fall asleep in each other’s arms. She would often cause me to stir when she awoke in the middle of the night and began painting in the dark. I brought her a glass of water one night and recognized the dazed eyes and slumping head from childhood, when my sleepwalking brother would mindlessly pull food from the refrigerator.

She really did paint what she saw in her dreams.

I got called in to work early about a month later. On my way out, careful not to wake Zoe who had finally come back to bed, I noticed her most recent painting: blood everywhere. She envisioned a cheap motel room slathered with dark crimson like a butcher’s back room. In a heap near the door was a man, an almost comically large knife jutting from his chest, his face a bloody ruin. A greyish oval loomed near the body, globs of paint rising from the canvas.

At the precinct, they sent me out on some big case. A murder in a pay-by-the-hour motel; the same murder Zoe had painted in the night.

I tried talking to Zoe, but got nothing but that same politician’s answer. I didn’t get worried until I saw another bloodied scene. Again, the corpse had no face. But it was wearing my jacket. A dark orb hovered over the body, still wet on the otherwise dry canvas.

I remembered hearing that historians used x-rays to uncover Da Vinci’s original work underneath the Mono Lisa. I snuck back into Zoe’s loft and snagged the canvas.

Later that day, the lab tech texted me a picture of what lay under the glob; Zoe, with her cascading red hair and a large knife.


Duncan Road

My friend had a housewarming party for his new place. It was huge, beautiful, in the middle of a nice neighborhood. And he got it for pennies on the dollar. He kept insisting there was no catch, and then I saw the address on the invitation. His new house was in a suburb over 40 miles from the heart of the city.

There was no direct route between our houses; I live on a different edge of the city. My choices were to drive into the city and take the freeway back out, or find an alternate route.

Between us were citrus groves, cotton fields, desert wasteland, and mountains. Google showed one little, winding road that would take me most of the way until Duncan, which connected the last 5 miles. It seemed like a fun drive.

In the bright sun, a vista of sand and swirling dust devils before me, I felt like I was driving through Tatooine. I saw one other car the entire drive until I passed an old filling station. Dan’s Gas and Burgers. The burgers probably sucked, but I logged the location into my memory for later and made the turn onto Duncan Road.

It looked like a town had once sat on Duncan. Little houses with sagging rooves and rotting doors crowded the asphalt. Broken windows offered glimpses of the still-furnished interiors.

The sky seemed to darken as I drove, the vibrant, almost turquoise blue turning a muddy purple. I felt uneasy. Afraid, maybe. But more like I was heading toward a test I hadn’t studied for.

The houses grew closer together, the brick chimney of one pressing against the deck of another. Patios and porches intertwined in a violently perverted dance, wood splintering. Through the jagged shards of glass, I could see people sitting in chairs, playing cards. Their skin hung from their faces like molten cheese sliding from an upturned pizza.

I jabbed my foot into the accelerator, but the houses wouldn’t stop. I drove for 5, 10, 30 miles. Duncan Road seemed to stretch into infinity.

I knew I couldn’t get out of the car. I could feel them waiting for me.

Instead, I turned in a sharp U and raced back down the road. In seconds, the sky brightened and I was back at Dan’s Gas and Burgers. A little flag flapped in the wind.

I asked Dan for direction to my friend’s town and he told me Duncan used to go through, but a flood washed it away a few months ago and the county hadn’t repaved. When I got back in my car, I could clearly see the bright orange ROAD CLOSED signs that hadn’t been there before.

I went to the party and made myself forget.

And then I noticed streets called Duncan where they shouldn’t be. I avoided them, stopped driving altogether.

Last night, someone broke the windows of the house across from me. The roof had sagged by morning. I can see them inside.


The Black Rock

Twenty years ago, I got lost while jogging near my campsite in the Sierra Nevadas. I wasn’t far from the main highway that cut through the range like a meandering stream, but the sun’s location was lost in the dense foliage and I couldn’t hear vehicles shooting past no matter how I strained; the forest floor, littered with pine cones and needles soaked up the sound like an aural sponge. I wandered for an hour before deciding I needed to make a logical plan to get out. I searched the forest floor for a sharp rock I could use to mark my path to make sure I was traveling in a straight line.

I found a rut, perhaps a wash that became a small stream during torrential rains. At the bottom, the nude, exposed faces of rocks shone in the filtered light like fresh eggs. I slid down the slope, smiling to myself about the find.

The bottom of the rut held a pocket of cold, heavy air. It was in a clearing of sorts, but I could feel claustrophobia prickle at the back of my neck.

A smooth black rock – far smoother than the jagged grey stone that littered the floor – caught my eye. It looked like obsidian but somehow deeper; the rock had to be a few inches in diameter, but I felt like I was looking across miles of emptiness as my eyes crossed its surface. The entire stone seemed to suck up the light near it save for one imperfection, a splotch of dark red mineral or paint. A single drip.

I crouched over the stone, transfixed, for what felt like hours. At one point I felt something angry behind me. I knew I should turn and protect myself against whatever forest creature I had disturbed, but I couldn’t look away. When I finally stood, I was alone. I found a sharp rock and made it back to the road. It was closer than I thought.

Some months later, I was in a car accident. My boyfriend’s new car lost traction on an icy road. I lost my left foot. My boyfriend lost his life. I was pinned and could look at only one thing: blood from Jeremy’s gaping chest dripping down his hanging body, filling his mouth, and spilling over onto the ground. A single drop fell on a patch of pavement that seemed far darker than the rest of the blacktop.

I remember pushing with the doctor’s order as I gave birth to my first son. I made eye contact with him as he spoke. The red exit sign reflected off the darkness of his pupil.

I was trapped in Fallujah as an embedded reporter during the second Iraq War. We were ambushed one night by dozens of insurgents. I covered my ears as bullets bit into masonry, RPGs exploded, wounded soldiers shouted. When it finally quieted down, I was one of three left alive. A dark acrid smoke filled the building, the morning sun a small splotch of red.

Three days ago, I got a call. My husband was flying home with our son and daughter from their college. The gyroscope failed and the pilot overcorrected into a mountain. Every passenger died. The news showed a black streak with a red piece of aluminum near the top.

It was easy to pull the trigger and end my pain.

And now I’m back in the forest, rising from my crouch over that dark rock. I turn to search for something behind me, something roiling with hatred. Nothing’s there. I feel like I’ve trespassed on sacred ground.

I pick up a sharp rock and begin to find my way back to the road. The terrible memories of someone else’s life flit through my mind like a reel of film that has been cut and taped together haphazardly. The road was closer than I thought.

When I have service on my cell phone again, I check my messages. Jeremy, my boyfriend, has called to tell me about his new car.


Nothing but Flowers

Everyone was happy. That’s what gave me the weird feeling in my gut. People are never happy for more than a few days at a time. Maybe a week. After that, they create friction for themselves if something doesn’t show up. If their family life is fine, they look at work; if work is fine, they turn to the national picture. With the alt-right recently re-elected to the White House, it wasn’t hard to find political strife. Trip over your shoelace in even the smallest town and someone’s accusing you of being a “Dumbocrat” or a member of the American Nazi Party.

But Twitter’s circlejerk of deplorables had shut up. Tumblr’s extreme social leftists had quieted down. Both sides had only one message: peace.

In no time, the gun debate had evaporated in a cloud of apathy. Some gave their weapons away, those who liked the way they looked or felt on their hip kept them but never loaded them. A group of drunk Border Patrol agents tied part of the fence to a dump truck and pulled it down. They drank with the locals that night.

“Worldwide Utopia” was the headline on the last issue of the New York Times. They didn’t go out of business per se, but people simply stopped coming in to report the news. They would rather attend the all day (and all night) music festivals in Central Park, all genres of music welcome.

Prison gates clicked open and stayed that way. All prisons. Even Guantanamo. The inmates tore off their orange jumpsuits and ate handful after handful of free street tacos from local vendors.

Someone, probably a DJ on one of those niche Sirius channels, started playing that Talking Heads song (Nothing but) Flowers on repeat. It grew. And it stuck. The last time I saw a Billboard chart, it was at Number 1. It became our anthem.

And it started to come true. We did tear sown shopping malls to replace them with fields of daisies. We turned Howitzers, anti-aircraft guns, and tanks into planters filled to brimming with fruiting plants and herbs. We took sledgehammers to our houses of law; we didn’t need them. There was no more murder, no more violence. Just peace.

Even those of us who didn’t feel the worldwide tug of brotherly affection didn’t resort to violence. Maybe it did affect us a little. Maybe we could have knocked the rose-colored glasses from society’s nose if we bloodied our hands.

Instead, we connected on the internet, talked, theorized, planned. Was this heaven, the result of some Tranhumanist designer happiness virus, a massive shared hallucination?

One of us, some guy in India, noticed a couple NASA sattelites returning wonky results. We could see them through live feeds; hundreds of saucer-shaped ships. Thousands.

When they landed, humanity put up no resistance. They had pacified us too well. Even if we tried, all our defenses had become grain silos and orchards.

There aren’t many of us left.