AJ, and Jesse…I’d like to congratulate you for writing two, absolutely horrifying short stories. Best of luck to both of you.
This cage match is going to be a great one, ladies, and gentlemen. Please read the following pair of shorts then cast a vote for your favorite. The stories are shown without writer attribution to keep things as fair, and unbiased, as possible. The poll will be open until 6 PM on Wednesday, August 31st. At that time, a winner will be announced, and will be interviewed on this blog on Sunday, September 4th.
I’ve included the prompt below, with the stories to follow. The poll is located at the end of the second story. Thank you in advance for your vote.
Sean Fredrickson burst through the front door of his Denver condo, employing the usual theatrics associated with the bi-weekly Indian cuisine night he and his wife, Katy, so enjoyed. “Got your saffron…hon?” he called out. Katy was always waiting on the living room couch. “Honey?”
The smile faded from his face as he checked each room, failing to get a verbal response from his wife. As he rounded the corner for the dining room, there sat Katy at the table, her back to him. “Hon…why didn’t you answer me?”
Just as Sean placed the bag on the table and his hand on her shoulder, he noticed a disturbing, golf ball-sized lump on the side of her neck. Her eyes were focused on the wall straight ahead.
She gave no response.
A loud crash in another room startled him, as the couple lived alone. Sean rushed toward the living room and found nothing. He systematically checked each room, with the same result.
Confused and disturbed, he returned to the dining room.
The chair that Katy had been sitting in just seconds before was now empty.
Sean called out for Katy again, his mind wanting to twist it toward a desperate scream but her name leaked out of him. Dripped slowly off his tongue, “Katy…?” His fingers left the back of the empty chair and as he turned slowly he found that figure standing there – not of his wife, but instead the man. He took in the beard streaked in blacks and grays, the twist of the mustache…
Sean was no slouch, he was a tall man with a deep voice and still hit the gym at least three days a week. Just over the cusp of thirty-four years on this planet, more than half that time with Katy – they’d gotten together when he was still playing baseball. Normally, he was a man who could hold his own…
“Mukesh?” Sean barely got that name from his lips as the giant of an Indian man was already swinging the baseball bat. The impact of the bat to the side of Sean’s head made his body buckle and slip. Sean’s brain was spinning, threatening to send him over the edge of the well. When the confused man’s knees slammed into the hardwood floor his mind’s eye projected a single lotus floating alone upon a vast lake. Sean watched the flower drift further from sight, pulled ever faster over a waterfall. Sean’s ears sang the sound of a rushing deluge.
The husband pulled himself from the brink of the falls, but couldn’t save the lotus – it sank over the falls and vanished. His consciousness was overtaken with the smells of rich and exotic spices. None of his senses could be trusted, save those smells which overtook his nostrils.
He was a stranger overwhelmed – a wanderer in distant lands. Sean might have been smiling when the Hindu woman who appeared from nowhere tied his arms behind his back. It was actually comforting to be bound so tightly when everything else in the world had become so dangerously unhinged.
Sean blinked and recognized the shoes, they were the ones that he had surprised Katy with. She’d been looking at them in the window that time in New York. Sean had slipped back into the store and bought them for her.
His head ached as the blood dripping from his nose began forming a thick pool upon the blonde bamboo flooring.
Katy was sitting in the chair she had previously vanished from once again, wearing what he always called ‘one of those fancy dresses’ ready to go out on their little date. Sean more imagined her than looked at her – auburn hair, green eyes that hid a mischievous and precocious nature, skin that glowed. This is how Sean always thought of her when he used more than his eyes to do so.
He tried to rise from the floor, even though his head pounded and he couldn’t make any sense of how he had gotten there or why the kindly mute cook , Mukesh, from their favorite Indian restaurant, had clocked him so hard in the side of the head with his own baseball bat.
Mukesh stood silently in the background, not paying much attention to Sean on the floor or Katy. Vasu, the mother of the vast Hindu man, was standing over Sean’s wife.
Sean couldn’t take his eyes off the lumps scattered about Katy’s still beautiful face. Sean struggled with the tight knots of the rope which kept his hands and arms held tightly against his back and he didn’t find them comforting any longer.
The man watched as the old woman produced the syringe from the kitchen table. Katy’s arms were open and lying over the arms of the chair. She was not bound and the look on her face as the Indian woman slipped the needle into the vein of Katy’s left arm was intoxicating to behold. Katy’s blood flowed into the syringe as he noticed how pale his wife was. The blood looked so warm, while Katy looked so very cold.
Katy was enraptured – Sean couldn’t tell whether or not she was about to begin speaking in tongues, professing her love for the universe, or have an orgasm. His wife’s lips blurred the line from one transcendental state to the next. The strange lumps on Katy’s face and down her neck, invading the area of exposed flesh of the V cut of her dress and down towards her breasts, were full and threatened to burst.
Katy shhhh’d him – grinning knowingly to the ancient woman who held the vial of her blood up to the light, flicking her bony forefinger against the needle and watching a dark red drop form at the tip.
“Katy, what is she doing to you?” Sean hated the sound of his own voice, normally so commanding, tonight it rang distant to him. That unsure speech when the world is big and new and terrifying.
The old woman made her way to the kitchen table, pushing the blood from the syringe into a small copper pot.
“Baby we have to get away.”
Katy shook her head at the small voice of her husband, “We are, Sean. I promise we’re going away. Soon.”
Sean’s nose sent those signals to his brain again, the old woman began to pour spices from a bag into the pot with the blood. She began to stir.
“We’ve eaten from Vasu and her son’s table for years now,” Katy said this as if to comfort.
Satisfied with her stirring, Vasu pulled the new thick mixture of blood and fragrant powders from the little mixing pot, the blood took on a new texture. It was thick and black. Vasu took slow, delicate steps towards the left side of Katy. Katy watched the woman and smiled down to Sean.
Vasu used the needle to invade the left side of Katy’s neck and pressed the dark mixture of blood under Katy’s skin. Sean watched mystified as the pocket beneath the skin filled with the mixture leaving the syringe. A new lump grew to match so many more covering his wife’s ever pale skin.
“It’s why we lost her. None of us are clean. There’s too much evil in the world, Sean.”
Vasu discarded the empty syringe. The pockets of tainted blood up and down Katy’s body made her into a pulsing funhouse version of herself.
“I’m wearing the shoes you bought me.” Katy clicked he heels together as the Hindu man stepped from the shadows. Mukesh placed the heel of his boot onto Sean’s neck and applied pressure against the struggling man’s windpipe.
“When you wake up I’ll be ready.”
Sean looked across the water and could no longer see the lotus flower.
When Sean awoke it was cold, Denver is like that, but he’d never felt a cold like this one. Everything about him felt damp. He was outside and lying on the ground.
He recognized the cemetery immediately, even on such a dark night. The plot they’d bought by the cypress tree. Sean’s arms were no longer tied behind his back, but it wasn’t something he immediately realized as they were so numb. He tried to tell his fingers to move, a million tingling pins were digging into the flesh. He focused on the bare cypress tree in the darkness and he couldn’t tell if it was sprinkling rain or if those were tears he felt on his face.
He felt guilty for not coming here more often. His heart ached thinking about this place and the last time he’d been here. What he’d given up in this place.
What they both had lost.
Sean rolled onto his side and that’s when he saw it, the earth piled high at the base of the tree. Sean caught himself just as he was about to roll too far and fall into the freshly dug grave.
His hand gripped the earth, he felt some of the damp ground slip and slide over the edge and into the hole.
Sean pulled himself up, found he was sitting on the edge of the grave with his feet dangling over the side. Mukesh stood by the tree, his big hands resting on a shovel. Mukesh’s white apron was stained and dirty. The mother, Vasu, knelt across the grave from Sean with her arms spread like a vulture. She whispered to herself in a twisting tongue unfamiliar to any sound which had ever crossed the threshold of Sean’s ears.
Sean knew he had to run. He didn’t know why he had been brought here, what sick cosmic joke had been played to get him to his own cemetery plot across from that goddamn tree he hated so.
He was going to pull himself up and run. Find his wife and get her away from these two. He wasn’t sure what they had told her, given her, drugged her with..?
The old woman’s arms craned up towards clouds which hid the moon. Sean was going to run, but he had to look away first.
Sean looked down.
Katy was so beautiful, even with the hundreds of alien globes of death magic blood which festered upon her skin. She’d decided to change into the white dress. He remembered her on the beach in that dress.
She’d been wearing that same dress the night she told him. She’d smiled so wide every time she said that word she’d found ways to work into their conversation a hundred times…
She was smiling up to Sean from her own grave, “We have to go now.”
Sean found his voice again, the strength in it and resonance shocked him, “Yes, come on Katy. We have to go.”
Sean pushed his hand down towards his wife, “Give me your hand.”
“No, you have to come with me,” Katy extended her hand, those long pretty fingers towards his dangling feet, “I’m not evil anymore. I’m full of good blood now.”
Katy craned her neck towards her husband, Sean watched as one of the globes burst on her neck and the deep black mixture seeped out, draining into rivers over her pale white skin.
“Come to me, Sean. Stay with me.”
Sean turned his face from the hole, looked out over the headstones. He could make out the lights of the world he knew, twinkling in the distance – a city blanketed in false stars.
“I can’t,” tears burst forth, slipping down his face, “We can’t.”
“The world is too evil, Sean. Can’t you see?”
Sean looked again at the mother and son who waited silently for the rest of the night to begin. So much earth piled up at the boots of the giant.
“Please,” Katy sang, “I can’t go alone.”
Sean didn’t want her to go alone.
They lay together in the ground below the quiet singing of the Hindu blood witch. The only other noise were the shovelfuls of earth landing in steady intervals upon them. Sean held Katy and kissed the side of her face between the lumps which blackened her face. She had that look in her eyes that he loved so – wonder. As her sores bled out her soul, Sean tried to hold his own soul inside himself and close to her. The earth crept ever closer to their faces and he felt her hand close over his and she drew his fingertips down her body until her hand lay atop his and she pressed his palm flat over her belly.
“The world is too evil, Sean.”
Sean kissed her again. “The two of us will be together,” he promised her.
He let her press his fingers into her belly. Sean felt the lump there, the only lump on a body covered in them that contained any life, when it was too late for any of them.
“Family,” she smiled.
Sean heard Mukesh grunt and the last lotus of earth turned the journey black and blanketed that final rational scream.
Eating For Two(Hundred)
“Mosquito bite,” Sean repeated, noting how the disbelief in his voice made his wife’s forehead wrinkle with displeasure. “OK,” he allowed. “It’s a helluva bite, though. Sure you don’t want me to take a look at it?”
“I’m fine, Dr. Fredrickson. You’re a vet,” Katy teased, “And I’m not a puppy with heartworm.”
She had sauntered back into the dining room like nothing was wrong, claimed she hadn’t heard the enormous crash in the other room, and hadn’t heard him come in, absently scratching at the angry eruption on the side of her swan-like neck.
Now, the way she was eating her tandoori chicken wings made him wholly uncomfortable, but he couldn’t put his finger on exactly why. Was it the prodding of that quick, pink tongue pushing each slip of meat between the bones, only to be captured by a nip of white teeth? Was it the way she sucked the red sauce off each finger in turn, giving every sticky drop her full attention?
Katy noticed his scrutiny with a casual flick of pale grey eyes then turned her attention back to her plate; his wife never minded their shared silence. Said it gave her more time to think. The first time they’d met, it had taken less than five minutes for her quiet yet agile intelligence to slap cuffs on his heart. Her ash grey eyes were intense when she turned that sharp focus on you, and she cared nothing for pretense. Which is why her determined indifference wasn’t sitting right.
Sean figured Katy would let the silence stretch interminably, except to request half of his lamb biryani.
“So what are the plans for the evening?” he asked.
She began the routine of cleaning her fingertips with tiny, efficient slurps, letting a stripped bone clatter to her plate in the ever-growing heap, the wasteland of her dinner. Her appetite tonight was unnerving. He’d never seen her eat so much. Without warning, the beginning strains of Them Bones by Alice in Chains popped into his head and he brushed it out. When she finally spoke, she didn’t bother looking at him, just picked up another wing and turned it over and over, planning her point of attack.
“Thought I’d grab a bottle of Jack, eat a T-bone in my underwear and watch Megashark vs. Crocosaurus.” Her tone was so casual that he almost missed the underwear bit. Almost. “Why? You got a better idea?”
Sean blinked once. “There has never been a better idea in the history of mankind. Ever. Except you hate sharks. You hate the ocean.” That’s why I’m not a marine biologist. That’s why we live in Denver not Florida, and I hack cat testicles off all day.
“Don’t be a lip-diddling ninny,” she said. “One night celebrating Shark Week won’t kill us.”
Her face gave no indication whether or not she was joking, or testing him; she merely raised a questioning eyebrow and nibbled earnestly on her last chicken wing.
“You’re going to eat steak,” he clarified, “After all those wings?”
Her reply was a slow, curling smile, one he didn’t like, not one bit. Despite a wash of cold dread in his gut—dread, Sean, about your own wife? Get a grip—he feigned a smile.
“Of course you are.” He motioned to her waist. “You’re a bottomless pit tonight.”
“I’m eating for two hundred,” she deadpanned, and one greasy hand went up to slap at the lump on her neck. Her scrambling fingertips left smears of red sauce on the bulge that he figured would pop any second like a ripe whitehead.
The remains of her dinner finally gave way, tumbled off the pile and onto the table, a boneslide onto glossy mahogany. As she tidied them up, she kept one eye on him, sidelong.
“OK, woman,” he relented, “But don’t think you’re getting me all liquored-up and out of my pants. I’m not a piece of meat.”
Her sudden laugh, a bubbly delight, startled him into one of his own. She rolled her eyes grandly and drawled, “How will I ever control myself, Tex Mex?”
And just like that, she was his Katy-bear again; hearing his pet name instantly uncoiled the knot that had kinked his gut up tight. She slid off her chair.
“Getting a bit of a headache. Popping in the shower. Will you make us some tea?”
“Of course, babe,” he said, letting his head fall back as she came to plant a kiss on the bridge of his nose. She withdrew, ruffling his hair. His eyes strayed helplessly to that troubling lump. As she swayed from the dining room, he called after her, “Hey, before you enter a Competitive Eating contest or join the Olympic Relay Feasting team, take a Benadryl?”
Her indulgent chuckle drifted back to him. “Yes, Dr. Fredrickson.”
He knew better than to bother with cologne when she had a headache, but that stubborn part of his brain—the dink-not-think part that made his hands slap on a preemptive dose of Hugo Boss and wouldn’t let go of the image of Katy licking her fingers—half-expected her to pad from the walk-in closet to the bathroom in bra and panties. When she did, mild surprise prevented him from taking in details. He saw only the tight swell of her buttocks cupped in her usual no-nonsense white cotton before she disappeared.
She said over her shoulder, “Your wife wants meat.”
He scrambled for a classier comment than I’ve got meat, and came up empty-handed. “I’m feeling overdressed.”
He pressed further into the bedroom to put the tea on the nightstand as the shower started, noting she hadn’t completely closed the door. An invitation? His heart began to drum pleasantly high in his throat, and he stripped off his socks, pants and tie, and threw his shirt in the hamper.
“Hey, Tex Mex?” she called out from the steamy crack of the bathroom door. “I forgot my robe. Grab it?”
“If this is just a ploy to get me all hot and bothered, you’re going to have to do better than terrycloth, this ain’t cutting it for me,” he lied, giving the robe a sniff to catch the faint, familiar scent of her perfume. “Silk next time?”
“Try not to be retarded.”
“I’ll do my best,” he promised.
“Hang it on the back of the door, please? Don’t slip. The floor is wet.”
“You playing water park in here?” He picked a path across the slippery tiles. The floor was completely drenched, and closer to the bathtub the water looked greenish, like gel cleanser that hadn’t been rinsed properly. “It’s so steamy, I can’t see a damn thing. Is that you behind that curtain or Megashark?”
“You caught us,” Katy said, her voice abruptly grinding down low. “We’re a whale.”
We? He paused in the act of folding the robe on the bathroom counter, alarm hooking every muscle in his arms. “I was joking.”
“We’re a worm. A big, fat worm.” She choked out something that sounded like: heartwormleviathantiamat.
“Honey, what the—“
Silence. A wet slap.
He let his breath stream out of his nostrils. “You OK, Katy-bear?”
His wife’s voice was a breathy sob. “No.”
“That’s it. I’m running you to the ER to get that bite checked, just to be safe.” He took another step toward the shower and his bare foot landed in something distinctly glutinous.
“We’re a worm,” she wept behind the curtain. Gagging, and more clearly this time, “Heartworm. Leviathan. Tiamat.”
“Honey, you’re sick, and obviously feverish,” he told her with an uneasy chuckle. “Come on. Let’s get you dressed.”
He pinched aside the shower curtain in time to see a wriggling white maggot rinse down the drain. Choking hard, he jerked back as a downpour of tiny worms—hundreds of them, a rice avalanche—washed out of Katy’s ruptured wound, pouring over the shelf of her breasts to rain down on her toes. An oily brand of fear shrieked escaping in his head; that same irrational part of his brain bent him at the waist to cram the plug in the drain, too late.
Katy’s fingers scuttled up to clutch her contorted face. She moaned, “Oh God, Sean, oh Godgetheroffme,” and tore at a flurry of snot-like filaments roping down to her forehead from above. Sean craned to look at the ceiling.
Tucked into the corner was a grub. Roughly the size of a pig, its doughy folds were the rubbery white of hard-boiled egg. Sean made fists, prepared to launch into the shower to pulverize it, when it opened two slit eyes, green and terribly sentient, and hissed his name. A raw quivering slash of mouth flashed open, spilling the heady stench of rotten fish. A gluey tentacle whipped under Katy’s armpits and flexed. The one stuck to her cheek tilted her face as another rushed between her moaning lips and gagging tongue. Sean snagged the closest one and yanked. Half of Katy’s cheek came away with it.
She didn’t scream around the thick filament down her throat. She gurgled.
“Sean…plugged. In.” Her breath hitched once, an instant before the slick, wet snap of bone breaking.
Shock clobbered him like a mallet between the eyebrows as the grub-thing hauled her up, dead weight dangling in his face, and greedily latched onto her shredded cheek. Sean pitched back in horror. Dumped off his feet to the slimy floor, he backpedalled on the meat of his palms until his spine was pressed against the linen cabinet. Several pairs of leathery wings unfolded with a sound identical to the one the plastic shower curtain made as it shuffled back into place. Something splashed in the bathtub; he fiercely denied that it could be Katy’s corpse, but his brain cruelly reminded: bone snapping, limbs dangling …
“Just a taste,” the grub-thing rasped, peeling away from the ceiling with a sucking noise. “We’re in the mood for Tex Mex.”
The curtain spilled open as he lurched to his feet. Something damp and fleshy thwapped him in the chest hard enough that his head snapped back. The blow sent him sprawling against the counter, where he knocked Katy’s hairdryer and tangled mess of wires into the sink. Plugged in, she’d said. He double-checked it then wheeled to point at his wife’s still form.
“Where I come from, you fry for murder,” Sean forced out.
The grub crooked its head to one side, making triple chins of the white flesh. It sucked Katy’s blood off each tentacle in turn, giving every sticky drop its full attention, before flinging bodily at him. Sean was ready for it.
Dodging the slap of leachy filaments and membranous wings with a snarl, he swung the hairdryer as if pistol-whipping the grub, ignoring the crack of the plastic. When it reared back as if to strike, Sean kicked out furiously. The grub smashed into the tiles and Sean, vaulting backward to a safe distance, threw the hairdryer. It was only as the appliance left his hand that he saw Katy move; her slim arms shot up to capture the grub in the full, sloshing tub.
The snap-spark was immediate. An inhuman shrill reverberated in the tiny room to drown out his own devastated howl and his hands slammed over his ears to block it all out. Huddling around his pain, he slid down the wall and coiled tight. He never heard the drumming of his wife’s heels against the bottom of the tub as together with the grub she convulsed and smoked. Nor did he allow himself to look at the frozen rictus of Katy’s final victory when later he examined the gelatinous ectoplasm splattered in roping arcs across the tiles. The blended stench of death, seaweed and fried fish ensured that Dr. Sean Fredrickson, ex-vet turned marine biologist and monster hunter, would never eat seafood again.
Three hours later in the Stygian depths of Denver’s sewers, two hundred maggots sprouted wings.