|Aldrich, Janet M.
|Allan, T. N.
|Allen, M. G.
|Ammonds, Phillip J.
|Augustyn, P. K.
|Aymar, E. A.
|Baumgartner, Jessica Marie
|Bennett, D. V.
|Bernardara, Will Jr.
|Blackwell, C. W.
|Bohem, Charlie Keys and Les
|Boyd, A. V.
|Brown, R. Thomas
|Bruce, K. Marvin
|Burke, Wayne F.
|Butler, Simon Hardy
|Cameron, W. B.
|Campbell, J. J.
|Campbell, Jack Jr.
|Cardoza, Dan A.
|Cooper, Malcolm Graham
|Corrigan, Mickey J.
|Cosby, S. A.
|Cross, Thomas X.
|Danoski, Joseph V.
|Davies, J. C.
|Davis, Michael D.
|de Bruler, Connor
|De France, Steve
|De La Garza, Lela Marie
|Deming, Ruth Z.
|De Neve, M. A.
|Dennehy, John W.
|Di Chellis, Peter
|Dillon, John J.
|Dioguardi, Michael Anthony
|Drake, Lena Judith
|Dromey, John H.
|Dubal, Paul Michael
|Dunham, T. Fox
|Dunn, Robin Wyatt
|Fisher, Miles Ryan
|Flanagan, Daniel N.
|Flanagan, Ryan Quinn
|Funk, Matthew C.
|Gardner, Cheryl Ann
|Garvey, Kevin Z.
|Gay, Sharon Frame
|Goddard, L. B.
|Golds, Stephen J.
|Greenberg, K.J. Hannah
|Gurney, Kenneth P.
|Hanson, Christopher Kenneth
|Hayes, A. J.
|Hayes, Peter W. J.
|Hockey, Matthew J.
|Hogan, Andrew J.
|Hoy, J. L.
|Huffman, A. J.
|Huguenin, Timothy G.
|Huskey, Jason L.
|Irascible, Dr. I. M.
|Jaggers, J. David
|Jones, D. S.
|Jones, Erin J.
|Kaplan, Barry Jay
|Keaton, David James
|Kevlock, Mark Joseph
|King, Michelle Ann
|Kolarik, Andrew J.
|Krafft, E. K.
|Lacks, Lee Todd
|La Rosa, F. Michael
|Lerner, Steven M
|Levine, Phyllis Peterson
|Lewis, Cynthia Ruth
|Liskey, Tom Darin
|Lopez, Aurelio Rico III
|Lucas, Gregory E.
|McFarlane, Adam Beau
|Mooney, Christopher P.
|Moran, Jacqueline M.
|Morgan, Bill W.
|Moss, David Harry
|Muslim, Kristine Ong
|Neuda, M. C.
|Ogurek, Douglas J.
|Perez, Juan M.
|Perez, Robert Aguon
|Powers, M. P.
|Purfield, M. E.
|Quinlan, Joseph R.
|reutter, g emil
|Rhiel, Ann Marie
|Richey, John Lunar
|Robinson, John D.
|Rodgers, K. M.
|Sayles, Betty J.
|Schraeder, E. F.
|Seymour, J. E.
|Shaikh, Aftab Yusuf
|Sheagren, Gerald E.
|Shirey, D. L.
|Shore, Donald D.
|Simmler, T. Maxim
|Sinisi, J. J.
|Small, Alan Edward
|Smith, Brian J.
|Smith, Ian C.
|Snethen, Daniel G.
|Solender, Michael J.
|Stanton, Henry G.
|Stevens, J. B.
|Stewart, Michael S.
|Stryker, Joseph H.
|Swartz, Justin A.
|Taylor, J. M.
|Thompson, John L.
|Valent, Raymond A.
|Waldman, Dr. Mel
|Weil, Lester L.
|White, Judy Friedman
|Williams, K. A.
|Art by Lee Kuruganti
Do You Love Me?
When Austin woke up, his head felt as if someone had cut it off and used it to play basketball
with. A migraine would have been an improvement. He stood up and rubbed his eyes
until the room came into focus, trying his best to ignore the throbbing in his skull.
Foggy but persistent memories from the night before filtered into his already confused
mind. He remembered hanging out near the highway with his best friend Ray, waiting for their dates to show up.
Tammy was Ray’s girl. She was short and petite with a full head of blonde curls
and a lively personality to match. They really got along well, so well in fact that they had even begun talking about marriage.
Angela was Austin’s date. She was thin and beautiful, with a silken mane of flowing
jet-black hair, which perfectly framed her face.
He knew he was falling in love with her, though he hadn’t worked up the nerve to
tell her yet. In his life, rejection was often a painful consequence of impatience and foolishness, which he had experienced
Ray had introduced Austin and Angela at a party at his house. Austin discovered she had
two daughters, Eve and Kate, and they were the spitting image of their mother, sharing her gentle personality and sweet, enticing
Normally he tried to stay away from women with children, but in Angela’s case, he
made an exception.
As the room came into focus he began to understand his predicament, and it was as confusing
as it was frightening.
He was in a large, empty room with walls made of some type of metal and painted a featureless
gray, as was the ceiling and floor. He saw no windows, or source of light, though the room was well illuminated. He was alone,
with nothing but cobwebs to keep him company.
One thing did catch his attention . . .
the doors. Or, more accurately, the outline of two doors on the far wall. But they didn’t appear to be doors. They were
not made of wood, but of the same material as the walls. The hinges and knobs
were so faint, he had trouble seeing them. They were only thin, nearly imperceptible lines framing the curious openings.
He waited for his head to stop spinning, knowing his options were limited. Without thinking,
he let loose several shouts for help. Then, hearing no response, he approached one of the doors.
They were identical in shape and size, about five feet apart from each other. He bent
and examined one door closely. What he saw sent waves of confusion and fear through his body.
The doorknob and hinges were made of cobwebs!
Too afraid to think, he reached out and touched the handle. It felt solid enough but in
a surrealistic type of way.
It could be a way out. It could lead to freedom and safety.
He began to turn the knob.
But it could also lead to certain death . . .or worse.
He released the handle.
The dwindling options available to him danced in his head. Should he try to open the doors
or simply wait for help? Neither choice was appealing, but he knew sooner or later he would have to do something.
Fear won out and he flopped to the floor with his eyes glued to the doors for any signs
of danger. His head still ached and he could only pray he wouldn’t pass out, although sleep seemed more and more attractive
by the minute.
Eventually he dozed off.
In a dream, she came to him. Her piercing eyes entranced him as her silky jet-black hair
swirled all around, wrapping him.
“Austin,” the dream voice asked. “Do you love me?”
“Yes,” he heard himself say,
as if his voice were separated from his body. “Yes, I do love you.”
A short pause was followed by a giggle.
“Good. Very good,” the dream
voice said. “I will see you very soon, my love. Very soon.”
Austin was jerked awake. He rubbed his swollen eyes. The strange dream had taken its toll
on him, weakening his already frail condition. Waiting for help was fast becoming an option he couldn’t afford.
Gradually, the two doorknobs came into view. He stood up and stumbled over to one, ignoring
the voice of reason in his head. He must try to escape or he would surely die.
A thick, dry creak echoed in the room as the door swung open, revealing a wall of darkness
“Hello? Is anybody in here?” he asked, anxiously.
He began to close the door when he heard an almost indecipherable sound in the darkness.
It sounded like someone, or something, drinking.
Then he saw the eyes.
They shone with the reflection from the room behind him and were unblinking. Worst of
all . . . they looked directly at him. Six more eyes joined the first two and immediately focused on him.
An outline of something the size of a basketball was lying on the ground about ten feet
from him. His stomach convulsed when he realized it was a head, a human head…Ray’s
head! Actually, what was left of it.
Stumbling backwards, Austin kicked the door
shut with all the strength he had left.
Whatever was beyond the door pushed against it violently, making terrible sounds, reverberating through the room.
Thinking quickly, he brushed away the cobwebs lining the doors, erasing them from existence.
He stood back and surveyed the now empty wall. It was as plain as it had been when he
had awakened, but the thought of what might be trapped behind it terrified him. The crashing noises had subsided but their
ghostly echoes still rang in his ears.
Again he fell to the ground, exhausted and hungry, and passed into an uneasy sleep.
When he woke up all was quiet. He reached up to rub his eyes and realized he could hardly
move his arms! Something bound them in place in his lap. He tried to break free but his weakened condition would not allow
it. Then he saw what held him down . . . cobwebs!
“Austin, do you love me?” the familiar voice asked.
“Angela? Is that you?”
“Do you love me?” it repeated.
“Angela get me outta here!”
“DO . . . YOU . . . LOVE . . . ME!”
He was scared to answer; it might make his dire situation even worse.
Then he looked up. Right before his eyes,
cobwebs were gathering. He watched in horror as they drifted down into the room. Their descent was fluid and smooth but with
purpose, and eventually they settled on the opposite wall, forming the outline of a huge door.
His stomach was in knots. He knew what was happening to some degree but not how, or more
importantly, why. He also knew whatever was behind that “door” was going to be very happy to see him . . . but in the wrong way.
He rolled over onto his side and frantically tore into his bonds, but they felt like steel
Then he looked up again. Three more cobwebs were drifting down. Two thinned out and turned
vertically, the other rolled up into a type of ball. He knew right away what they were . . . hinges and a doorknob. In seconds
they had attached themselves to the door.
Further attempts to free himself only tightened the cobwebs more, and they were fastening
to the floor, leaving him more vulnerable than ever.
The door creaked as it opened, filling the room with its threatening echo. Austin could
only crane his neck to one side, not far enough to look away from the door.
“Austin, do you love me?” Angela’s voice asked from the black void.
His mouth was the only part of him free of cobwebs. “I…I can’t move.
Please let me go,” he pleaded.
Something massive shifted in the darkness.
“It would be better if you told me you loved me,” Angela’s voice slurred.
“So much better. You would taste so much better.”
“Angela, pleeeeaase! Let me go.”
He prayed for it to be quick, struggled to think of happier times. Like being a young
boy, frolicking in his backyard. Hitting his first home run or sharing his first kiss. Hanging out with his friends . . .
friends like Ray who was now undoubtedly in the belly of some inhuman thing behind
a non-existent door made of cobwebs!
He could still hear those things violently slamming against the wall where the other doors
had been. He surmised little Kate and Eve were still very hungry, even after they had finished with Ray and Tammy.
He focused on the square of darkness behind the large door. The face that began to materialize
was growing larger by the second. Finally its visage was clear.
In a way, Austin felt relieved to see her, though he knew this wasn’t the same girl
he had been dating. She glared at him with four pairs of baby blue eyes. The
compassion in those eyes conflicted sharply with their real intent. Austin’s heart
was in his throat when Angela scuttled out into the open room.
“Hello Austin,” she hissed through nine-inch fangs.
“An . . . Angela?”
“Yes, it’s me.” She straddled him with her eight hairy legs. “Did you miss me?” The mockery in
her words stung him like a needle.
Despite his situation, despite what she really was, Austin could not deny to himself he
had loved her, that he still loved her. Perhaps that was why she had kept him around for so long. Maybe her past boyfriends—her
other meals—had never truly loved her. Maybe she had never experienced real love before and was having difficulty dealing
He knew this was his only chance.
“Angela, I know you’re in there,” he moaned to the creature. “I
can feel it. Tell me it’s really you.”
Angela paused for a moment, pondering Austin’s words. The inner conflict in its
mind was reflected on its face.
“Austin, do you love me?” she asked.
A tear welled in Austin’s eye. His heart ached for this creature to be Angela again.
The sharp pain in his side was causing him to feel disoriented but he had to say the words
before he blacked out. They just might save his life.
“Yes, Angela, I love you,” he
managed to whisper.
And then his world went black.
Angela squatted back on her bloated abdomen and gazed down at Austin. She knew she had
truly loved him.
But she also knew that one needed more than love to survive. One also needed food.
She clicked her fangs together and waited for the venom to begin its work.
|Art by Gordon Purkis © 2010
There’s a Killer in the House
Paige just couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being watched; it clung to her like a bad hairdo. The day
had been a long one, peppered with a wide variety of problems and she was quite exhausted.
Jerry Fizzeral, the creepy guy stationed in the cubicle next to hers, had
been fired that morning for using his computer to research how to make pipe bombs, of all things. The management staff zeroed
in on it pretty quickly and when he was confronted, merely stated that it was a hobby he was interested in.
A hobby? Pipe bombs? Who did he think he was kidding?
In any event, he was let go immediately and received a stern warning not to come back onto the property, even to get
his last check. They told him they would mail it to him.
To say Paige was relieved he was gone, was a vast understatement. Knowing she wouldn’t have to see those beady
little eyes or crooked smile again was cause for celebration.
And that was just one of the interesting things that had happened during her day.
On her way home, she’d stopped to get her dry cleaning and who of all people did she run into . . . her beloved
He strolled into the store and sauntered right up next to her. He’d
claimed he was just picking up his clothes but she knew the real story. He’d stalked her before. Fortunately, he didn’t
follow her when she left.
Then there was the weirdo who followed her car practically to her own driveway. In his big, black truck, he’d
tailgated her while sporting a grin that gave her chills. She considered calling the police, but the guy hadn’t actually
done anything. At least, not yet.
When she walked in her front door, Paige felt she’d collapse. All she wanted was to flop in front of the fireplace
with a hot cup of tea.
There’s a killer in the house.
The unsettling phrase crept into her mind.
Was she being watched?
She didn’t think so, but one could never be sure. She took her tea out of the microwave and settled down in front
of the fireplace.
There’s a killer in the house.
It was no use. No matter how hard she tried to relax, she couldn’t ignore this feeling. She had to make sure
there was no one in the house with her.
She set her tea down on the coffee table and pushed the
afghan off ofher lap.
Then she hesitated.
Before she sat down, she’d neglected to turn on any lights and now the house was brimming with shadows, even
though it was still fairly early.
The irrationality of being so frightened in her own home weighed heavy on her mind. She was a grown woman: independent
and intelligent. She owned her own house, drove a new car and had a moderately-sized investment portfolio. There was no reason
to be afraid, none whatsoever.
There’s a killer in the house.
Except for that.
That, and the movement she swore she saw in the guest bathroom, at the end of the hallway.
Was it that creep, Fizzeral? Did he find out she was the one who told on
him at work?
Maybe, before he left, he got her address from the computer and was waiting
for her to get home. Who knows what terrible things he had planned for her? She could just picture those beady eyes and that
crooked smile, sneering at her in the shadows.
She picked up the fireplace poker and held it like a sword.
“Who’s there?” she called out. “I’m armed and can defend myself.”
Without thinking, she rushed straight to the bathroom and flicked on the light.
It was only a towel that was hanging in the path of the heat register. When the furnace kicked on, it blew air right
on it, obviously causing the movement she’d seen.
Relieved, she settled back down with her tea, after leaving some lights on.
The scratching noise jarred her. It sounded like someone was outside the kitchen window, trying to get in.
She jumped up, again wielding the poker.
Could it be Sam?
She’d caught him outside her house twice before, after they’d
broken up. Both times he’d said he only wanted to make sure she was all right and said he still cared for her. She hadn’t
bought it, though. Sam was a louse, and a jealous, stalking louse, at that.
She was afraid to go near the window, fearing that Sam was lurking outside,
with a knife or gun. His jealousy only enhanced his temper.
When she saw the small bird pecking at the bottom of the window, she nearly
collapsed in relief.
Again Paige settled back down to her tea, which was cooling. She let her mind stray, delving into distant childhood
There’s a killer in the house.
The words ruined her reverie, firmly implanted themselves in her mind. In the past, when she’d sensed things,
she was usually right about them, so she was reluctant to ignore this.
The doorbell made her jump. She scurried to the front door, peered cautiously out of the small window in the door,
being sure not to be seen.
Nobody was there.
But across the street was a black truck.
Was that weird guy who followed her stalking
her? Playing mind games with her?
Paige locked the deadbolt and gripped the poker tightly.
After she’d taken three steps towards the phone, the doorbell shattered
the silence again. She rushed back to the door, this time fully prepared to defend herself.
The black truck was still there, but she realized it wasn’t the cause
of her worry.
The big man who’d driven it earlier emerged from Paige’s neighbor’s
house, carrying a large TV set. The neighbor, a woman she didn’t know well,
followed him, carrying an old VCR. They loaded the appliances into the back of the truck. The man then gave Paige’s
neighbor some cash, and they shook hands before he drove off.
A rustling in Paige’s bushes alerted her to why the doorbell had rung. Two small boys ran off, snickering, when
they noticed she had spotted them.
She chuckled, realized just how ridiculous she had been. There was no killer
in the house. She really was all alone.
There’s a killer in the house.
The ominous words tried to unnerve her, as they’d done before. But this
time she wouldn’t listen. Besides herself, there was nobody in the house.
She’d checked it, thoroughly.
She made another cup of tea and sat back down to relax.
There’s a killer in the house.
Forget it. Sorry. Not this time. She was going to enjoy the rest of her night. Soon her
favorite show would be on.
She set the tea down on the end table.
She reached for the remote, never seeing the black widow spider crouched next to it, ready to strike.
|Art by Jack W. Savage © 2014
by Rick McQuiston
Faith brushed aside several loose strands of her auburn hair. She was
frustrated with herself for not applying more hair spray before she left the
house that morning.
At times, she didn’t like being a girl.
Boys had it so much easier. No time of the month, no having to put on makeup, no endless
losing battles with their hair, or deciding which clothes to wear.
The tapping on the door startled Faith from
dear, are you almost done in there? We have a big order that just came in. I
need you now.”
Faith squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep
breath. She reminded herself of her name and just why her parents had given it to her:
because they knew she would be strong and never lose sight of her priorities no matter
what the circumstances were.
“Yes Mrs. Gladderton, I’ll be right
And don’t forget to wash your hands.”
Forgetting about her hair Faith straightened
her uniform and exited the bathroom.
Mrs. Gladderton was finishing up with a customer
when Faith walked into the room.
“Thank you, and come again.”
Faith approached her boss. She noted how the
rail-thin, conservatively-dressed woman was obviously agitated and nervous. Hopefully it
wasn’t because of her.
“Ahh Faith, good, you’re here.”
Her eyes narrowed, giving her a slightly ominous look. “We have a very special order
that just came in. It’s for an order of cupcakes.”
So what’s the big deal? People order
cupcakes all the time.
“As I said, this is a special order. A very important one that must be
filled without error or delay. Mr. Midnight will be here at eight o’clock sharp
to pick it up.”
Faith stifled a laugh. “Mr. Midnight?
You have to be joking.”
Mrs. Gladderton glared at her young employee, a hint of a smile sliding across her
“That’s just what I call him because
he’s always dressed in black.”
“Doesn’t he have a real name?”
“Well, of course he does dear, but let’s
just say it’s better not to speak it.”
Faith had only worked for Mrs. Gladderton for
a short time but she had already learned not to question her authority. Her boss, although
fair and honest, was also prone to bouts of anger the likes of which Faith had never seen
before, and did her best to avoid.
“We’ll finish here with these last
few customers…” she gestured towards a young woman with a small child latched
onto her side and a middle-aged man waiting to pick up a birthday cake for his grandson,
“then we’ll close the shop and get started on the order.”
Faith raised her eyebrows. “Close the
of course. We need time to prepare the cupcakes. We have to mix the
ingredients, make the frosting, decorate…”
Faith couldn’t help but notice that Mrs.
Gladderton had grown pale. Her face took on an anxious, worried look and her hands jiggled
at her sides nervously.
“Mrs. Gladderton? Are you feeling okay?”
“Why, heavens yes, dear. Anyway, as I
was saying, we’ll close up the shop after these customers are gone.” She stopped
and looked Faith in the eyes. “You have to understand,” she continued, “we
MUST have this order ready on time.”
Faith studied her boss for a minute, trying
to locate any sense in her words. There was something there, but she couldn’t put
her finger on it.
Worry? Of course, but why?
Fear? Definitely, but what was there to be afraid
Yes, that was it, pity. Mrs. Gladderton felt sorry for her for some reason.
Faith wiped her forehead with a flour-streaked
hand. A wisp of the white powder clung to her nose.
“Mrs. Gladderton, exactly how many cupcakes
are we making?”
“Don’t you worry about that, Dear.
I’ll tell you when to stop.”
Faith rolled her eyes. She was getting tired,
both of making cupcakes and of her boss. She glanced over at the stainless-steel oven in
the corner of the room. A series of muffin tins, each holding a dozen cupcakes, were stacked
one on top of the other in the machine. A smooth flow of sweet-smelling heat radiated out
into the room.
Faith swung around to be confronted by Mrs.
I… I’ll get started on a new batch right away. We’re running a little
low on sugar and…”
“No need, my dear. The cakes already in
the oven will be the last ones.”
Faith felt so relieved. She glanced over at
the puppy-dog clock hanging on the wall and was startled to see how the time had flown
right Faith,” Mrs. Gladderton said quietly as if reading her young employee’s
mind. “Nearly seven o’clock. Mr. Midnight should be here shortly.”
“Should I get the orders ready?”
Mrs. Gladderton smiled. It was a nervous grin,
one of forced sincerity.
“Yes, please do.”
As Faith turned around she suddenly felt a sharp
jab in the back of her neck. Instinctively she reached back and was shocked when she looked
at her hand.
Her fingers were smeared with blood.
Mrs. Gladderton tilted her head to one side
as if studying her victim. A large syringe dangled from her hand, a thick, clear liquid
dripping from its tip.
“Mrs. Gladderton, I don’t understand.
then Faith’s world went black.
she came to the first thing Faith heard was a dripping sound. And it was coming
from below her. She blinked her eyes several times as she tried to orient
Mrs. Gladderton’s smiling face came into
the face was upside down.
“Well, hello there, sleepyhead. I’d
thought you’d never wake up.”
“W…what happened? Where am I?”
It was then that Faith realized that it was she and not her boss who was upside down. She
felt the painful pressure on her ankles as the ropes suspending her threaded into her skin.
“I’m sorry dear, really I am. But
you must understand that this has to be done.”
Faith was feeling weak. She found it increasingly
difficult to remain conscious, let alone understand what her captor was saying.
“Please, let me go. Please…”
“It’ll all be over soon, dear,”
Mrs. Gladderton assured, her face a picture of worry. “Mr. Midnight will be here…oh
dear! It’s nearly eight o’clock! We’ll have to hurry this up a bit.”
Faith felt her body being squeezed and prodded;
Mrs. Gladderton was quickening the draining of her blood. She knew all too well that Mr.
Midnight would not tolerate his order being late; the consequences would be dire if it
“There, that’s better,” she
said with a smile. “Now we’re back on schedule.”
Knowing her life was slipping away Faith lifted
her head as much as she could. She wanted, she needed to see just where her precious blood
was going. If nothing else it might at least allow her to leave the world knowing why.
muffin tins were laid out below, every four inches there was a depression
filled with a colorful cake. Some had sprinkles scattered across their tops,
others sugar candy, and several were simply coated in different shades of frosting.
A few were plain. And they all had a thin plastic tube inserted into their center.
And the tube was filled with blood. Her blood.
“That’s right dear,” Mrs.
Gladderton’s soft voice echoed in the room. “He wants your blood. The blood
of an innocent, or something like that. I never really bothered with all that religious
stuff. Not really my cup of tea so to speak.” She leaned in close to Faith, her
eyes reflecting a deep-seated regret. “But you must understand that I have to do
this. If I don’t…” her voice trailed off into silence.
The noise sliced through the room, startling
Mrs. Gladderton and causing Faith to temporarily drift out of her death throes.
“Oh my! He’s here!”
A small brass bell jingled as the front door
to the store was pushed open. A slender man dressed entirely in black stepped inside, a
dull black cowl obscuring his face. Mrs. Gladderton scurried into the room.
“Mr. Midnight. How good to see you.”
“Dispense with the pleasantries,”
the hooded figure snarled. “I am here for my order. I assume it is prepared.”
The words were laced with threat.
“Oh yes, of course it’s ready,”
Mrs. Gladderton said nervously.
“Good!” Mr. Midnight snapped as
he began to tap cloven hooves on the white-tiled floor. “See to it that I am satisfied
or I’ll unleash my wrath upon this foul world.”
Mrs. Gladderton cupped her hands to her face.
“No, no, Mr. Midnight. Your order is all set. I’ll go get it right away.”
“Make haste, woman, for I am hungry.”
Faith was teetering on unconsciness when she
heard her boss shuffle into the room.
“L…let me go. I…”
“Oh, you shush now, dear. You’re
doing the world a great favor. You’re sacrificing yourself for mankind. Don’t
you see? If he doesn’t get his order the world will end.”
“Y…you’re crazy. You’re…”
“I’m sorry you think so Faith, really
I am, but that doesn’t change a thing.”
She then proceeded to
remove the tubes from Faith’s cooling body. Despite being pressed for time she took
a moment to look at her latest victim, his latest victim.
matter how many sacrifices she did she never could get used to it. She was
certain the girl had a family somewhere, people who loved her and cared about
her, and even though Mr. Midnight made sure that no one remembered them (it was
part of the bargain they’d made) it still clung to her conscience like a wet
So young. So innocent.
So helpless. She had liked Faith, much more than all
the others, but it needed to be done. She shuddered to think about what would happen to
mankind if she didn’t meet her end of the bargain. And thank goodness Mr. Midnight
liked her cupcakes.
|Art by W. Jack Savage © 2015
I sit on my musty couch with a half-empty beer in my hand, I see a spider scurry across
I'd jump out of my skin. I'm terrified of those creepy little eight-legged things. Have
been ever since I was a kid. I saw one (a dirty-yellow thing the size of a nickel) crawl
onto my plate of food, and from then on they frightened me. I was only about eight or nine
years old at the time so you could imagine how traumatized I was.
And to think that I almost ate it!
But the reason the spider in my living room doesn't startle
me is simple:
I know it.
Yes, I know it well. I've seen it before. I recognize it.
Most people would think I'm crazy. They'd say I've lost my
mind, lost my touch with reality, flipped my lid.
I suppose in a way, they'd be right.
But then again, maybe not.
The spider suddenly stops. It gracefully turns around and faces
me. Leaning up on its pencil-thin back legs, it flashes half-inch long fangs in
my direction. I can see drops of milky-white venom trickle from the tips.
have this instinctive feeling that it knows me as well. It recognizes me, as I do it.
After a few seconds of displaying its weapons, the spider
returns to its normal stance and scuttles into my bedroom.
I shudder at the implications.
As I look
at my cell phone encased in a thick blanket of silk, I can only smile. They're
very thorough, I muse to myself.
at the front door. It's covered in a sheet of web so dense I can hardly see it. Several
dozen spiders of varying size ramble through the silky mess, obviously to make sure I can't
"Richard, come to me now."
toss my beer to the floor and stand up. I can't control my legs, but it doesn't
matter. I would heed her call regardless.
I obey and stumble into the bedroom. A
small spider doesn't get out of the way in time and is crushed beneath my foot. I grimace
as I feel its gooey innards squeeze up between my toes.
sorry," I mumble as my heart tears. I hardly knew the bug, but it still hurts.
to me now!"
I obey the command from my wife and stumble
into the bedroom.
She is splayed out on our bed. A cushion of silk supports all eight
of her legs, as well as her heavy abdomen. Her fangs curve inward toward her delicate but
deadly mouth. Fine hairs bristle across her body.
try not to look at the hundreds of spiders that are scrambling around the room.
They vary in size from no bigger than a fingernail to up to two feet across.
I catch a glimpse of one (my first) that's as
big as a fully grown dog. It glares at me from just inside the closet door.
"Richard," my wife whispers through her fangs. "Come to me now."
make my way over to our bed, and slipping off most of my clothes, climb in next
My wife immediately sinks her fangs into my neck. I feel the potent
venom course through my veins, as I have so many times before. I know it's what she uses
to control me, to coax from me what she wants (more children), but I don't care. I
also know that she needs love.
"I love you," I moan as
I feel my manhood rise.
"And I love you," she hisses.
"Now let's make love."
|Art by Noelle Richardson © 2016
"So you're saying that these things, these worms
can actually imitate a person?" The words came out of Jerry's mouth like water, spilling
into the damp, cool air of the supply closet.
Alex felt irritated at his friend's doubt.
After all they'd been through he was still having trouble believing his own eyes.
his head. "I just can't believe it."
Alex sighed so loudly, it echoed in the closet. "You saw the same thing
I did," he mumbled. He found himself keeping his voice down for fear of Elise hearing
him. "It wasn't her. It was those things imitating her. Or maybe they took
over her body. I don't know, and frankly I don't care. All I do care about is
getting out of this closet, this building, in one piece." He put his ear to
the door. "I don't hear anything. I think she's gone. We should make a run for it." He
reached over and snatched a pair of scissors from a shelf. "We'll split up. You go one
way and I'll go the other way. We'll meet up outside and get some help."
your cell phone? Did you leave it in your office?"
Alex nodded. "Yeah, but the battery is dead. I didn't have a chance
to charge it. How about yours?"
"Left it at home."
about the office phones?"
Alex took a deep breath. "If you get a chance, try one. If not,
just get out of this place."
The thin strip of light that shone through
at the bottom of the door was the only light in the closet. The space was dry and would
start to run short on air if the door wasn't opened soon. Various office supplies littered
the shelves, but didn't offer any help for the situation.
Jerry agreed to Alex's
Alex said. He held the scissors in his hand like a sword. "On the count of
three. I'll go to the left and through the lobby. You cut right and head for
the back door."
Alex pushed the door open. Instantly the closet was flooded with
florescent light. The stillness of the hallway felt worse than if Elise herself was standing
in the doorway.
"Let's move!" Alex commanded. He shuffled to the left, glancing
in every direction for any signs of movement.
The office was terrifying in its stillness.
Alex knew that Elise was lurking somewhere, not to mention Frank, Angie, and Mr. Frol (his
dreaded boss who was frightening enough when he was human). Alex didn't know if any of
them had been compromised like Elise, but he had to assume they were.
was just around the corner from the supply closet. The light was on, revealing an aged
refrigerator and sink cluttered with stained coffee cups and plastic bowls.
into the room, and satisfied it was clear, stepped past it.
He stopped in his tracks when he heard the fridge door open. The
scissors shook in his sweaty hand. His heart skipped a beat. His head grew light.
back allowed him of view of the fridge. The door was indeed open, but that isn't what froze
the blood in Alex's veins.
Frol's body, or more accurately: parts of his body, were neatly stacked inside.
Arms, legs, and a torso all lay atop the lower shelves. Orange juice and milk
containers had been pushed toward the back to make room for the grisly stock.
And the head, severed just below the stubbled chin, stared at nothing from the
top shelf, right next to the brown paper bag that contained Alex's lunch for that day.
numb. He eyed the phone on the kitchen table (a surefire guarantee that Angie would have
to take calls during her lunch break), but resisted the urge to use it. He didn't want
to go anywhere near the refrigerator.
Then he heard the back door open and shut. A wave of relief washed over
him when he realized that Jerry had made it out.
Without giving it much
thought, Alex turned and bolted to the back door.
The doors that lined either side of the hallway were closed, but
he didn't dare open them to see if there were any other survivors. All that mattered was
getting out of the building in one piece.
Just as Alex approached the door, Elise
stepped out of one of the rooms. She blocked his path, forcing him back the way he came.
of her face, writhing with impossible life, and her undulating arms, swinging above her
head, burned into his sanity as he stumbled along the hallway.
The scissors fell from his hand but he didn't stop to retrieve them.
He ran past
closed doors, the supply closet, and the kitchen. The lights went out then, causing the
office to be submerged in near total darkness. Only the emergency and exit lights provided
held his breath. He only had one option left: go out the front door.
settled over the office, and in conjunction with the sparse lighting, created a terrifying
ahead, on the left, was Mr. Frol's office. The door was open, but the room was
never thought he'd miss seeing the old guy sitting behind his expansive desk.
the front office. Even with only an exit sign for light, he could see the outline of someone
sitting behind one of the desks.
was Angie. Her head was tipped back, giving her the appearance of looking at
But Alex knew she wasn't looking at anything. She was dead, no doubt
killed by Elise.
Alex bumped into a file cabinet, and then an office chair. He was
fumbling his way to the front lobby, and hopefully to safety, and he had to be careful.
There was a reason why Elise wasn't coming after him, and until he found help, he
didn't know what to expect.
He caught his foot on something and went down hard.
Alex knew it was a body.
reply. He couldn't, his face and been completely torn off, leaving nothing but a ragged
slab of raw meat. Only two clouded-over eyes and a set of blood- streaked teeth gave clue
that it had once been a face.
shot to his feet. The inner office door, the one separating the front lobby and
the main office, was speckled with Frank's blood. A crimson sheen coated the
handle, causing him to hesitate. The sanctuary of the outside world was close,
but could still prove dangerous to reach.
The handle felt cold and slick in his hand. He turned it, grimacing
at the squeak, and as quietly as he could, pushed the door open.
in the lobby was dark. No light whatsoever shone through the pane, making Alex think that
it was evening.
closed the inner door behind him and approached the window.
Something was covering
it, something that moved in excruciatingly-slow gyrations, so slow in fact that it appeared
to be solid.
in God's name is that?" he asked with the tone of a child seeing its first
worms on the other side of the glass began to coalesce, sliding this way and
that, forming one central cluster of nauseating life. They worked together like
a swarm of bees tending to its queen.
In five seconds they were the size of a basketball, contrasting
ever so slightly with the surrounding worms.
In fifteen seconds they formed a distinct
half a minute the front of the mass shifted yet again, revealing two hollowed-out
orifices near its top, one directly below them, and a horizontal slit that
stretched across the bottom.
The face broke into a caricature of a grin.
Alex nearly fell to the
floor. He recognized the face. It was Jerry, or at least the worms imitating him.
how you are feeling," the face said with a cold indifference.
Alex could practically feel the rancid breath coming through the
open the door and join with us, then you will understand."
Alex felt a surge of defiance
well up inside. He would not allow himself to die like some lamb waiting for slaughter.
He would fight.
he shouted. "I won't join you!"
He waited for a response.
shifted again, this time more gradually, as if it was thinking over Alex's answer to its
offer. Worms twisted across the face. Dozens
of the sinewy creatures made trails up to the eyes and nose. They slithered into and back
out of the mouth, dripping out of the orifice like so much soup.
the face said, "then be aware of what your world has become."
The worms then began to separate. Clusters moved away from the face,
taking chunks of the bizarre visage with them. Thousands of the beasts squirmed with a
single purpose, each and every one driven by some horrible and unknown force that
commanded them. And as the face dissipated, a narrow clearing opened up where
it had been.
leaned forward to look into that clearing.
At first, all he could see was a darkened
channel with squirming things on either side, but, as the worms began to recede into his
peripheral vision, he recognized more familiar shapes.
He saw the parking lot
light poles jutting out from a writhing sea of worms. Only about half their length remained
visible, telling Alex that the worms were at least six feet deep.
saw tops of vehicles. The worms undulated, being thicker in some areas and thinner in others,
leaving a few cars and trucks partially uncovered.
And that was all Alex saw. There was no movement other than the
constant gyrations of the worms, no birds flying by overhead, no droning of car's engines,
no life whatsoever.
The parking lot had been transformed into a veritable ocean of worms.
for breath. The enormity of the situation (presumably of the world's situation) weighed
down on him like a load of bricks. His options were between slim and none. He obviously
couldn't go outside, and staying in the office would surely mean his death, either from
Elise or eventually: starvation.
chose the latter option. He decided he'd rather die in the office, hopefully on
his own terms, instead of facing the horrors outside.
But as he turned, he was greeted by a sight
every bit as terrifying and unbelievable as the worms themselves.
up, he struggled to remain on his feet. He felt an entirely new fear grip his body, one
that efficiently snuffed out any remaining hope he clung to.
Elise stood in the doorway. Her face alternated between being somewhat
normal and something so far removed from human it was right out of a horror movie.
of worms poked out from her pallid flesh, only to disappear back into the skin after a
second or two. Her hair swayed on top of her head like crazy, blind snakes. And horrible
groans escaped her shuddering lips, painful growls that filled the room.
loomed others: Frank, Angie, even Mr. Frol, whose body parts were propped up against a
wall like a broken mannequin.
were crawling with life, but not their own.
Alex fell to the floor, exhausted, defeated,
ready to accept his fate, only then realizing that it wasn't the floor he had been standing
on, it was worms.
coworkers rushed forward.
|Art by Daniel Valentin © 2017
A Slave to My Passion
by Rick McQuiston
I am a slave to my passion. I work hard at it,
and am only truly satisfied if I manage to churn out at least two or three pages of quality
at every sitting. Anything short of this leaves me with an empty feeling.
Two months ago I started writing
a novel, a dark, gritty horror story that began its life in my head and has
since spilled over to relatively tangible pieces of paper. With each tortured stroke
of my pen, it gains life; with each stroke of my pen, I lose my life.
An interesting choice of words,
right? Lose my life.
I chose those particular words because that is exactly what is happening: I'm losing my
life. Torn Asunder, my novel, was so aptly
named because that is what it is doing to me with each word I write: tearing me
apart. It's taking me over, reveling in draining my thoughts, taking pleasure
in replacing my will to live with its own will, its own plot.
lift my cup of tea to my mouth and tip it back, anticipating
the warm flow of liquid that soothes my nerves, but find that it is empty.
Apparently, my literary creation
wants to deny me even the simplest of pleasures.
surge of anger racing through me, compromising any rational thoughts I harbor, I throw
the empty cup against a wall and watch it shatter into dozens of pieces.
Then I look over at the paper on my desk.
My novel looks back at me, assuaging my outburst with
false hope and empty promises.
Finish writing me. You know you want to.
Bring the characters to life. Fill them with resolve.
I hesitate because the book is coming
along nicely. I'm at the critical juncture where the main antagonist (a demented and thoroughly
evil killer whose fiery red hair tops off his nearly seven-foot frame) is attacking the
main character. He corners the man with a jagged blade that is pockmarked with rust and
proceeds to flail about in a frenzy of bloodlust.
Make the killer murder the main character.
I write that the killer murders the
main character, dispatching him with a startlingly efficient stroke.
I don't like what I write, but
I write it nonetheless. It's like my hand has a will of its own.
Have the killer set
his sights on someone else.
write that the killer sets his sights on someone else,
a lonely man who is sitting in a room, writing.
I hear the sound of footsteps and then porcelain cracking.
Someone is stepping on the remains of my teacup. Someone is in the room with me, someone
I already know, someone I have created.
Someone who is holding a rusty blade
that is speckled with blood.
Have the killer murder the author.
I write that the killer murders . . .
|Art by Steve Cartwright © 2018
The children huddled around the hunched-over figure
in the rocking chair. The room danced with shadows from the crackling fire, amply lighting
the small chamber and the group of characters within it. A somber and gloomy atmosphere
hung over the scene.
The old woman rocked back and forth with a steady,
unnerving rhythm. The creaks and groans that her movements caused on the floorboards
were occasionally accented with her own creaks and groans.
children," she murmured through swollen gums and cracked teeth, "who
would like to hear another story?"
Her question was rhetorical. She wasn't asking for a
One little girl, her pixie-like face weathered from far too
many of the old woman's tales, feebly raised her hand. She was Hope, and wished
for the strength to endure another story.
The old woman's eyes fixated on the girl. A deep-seated
fire surged behind her gaze, sparked by the desire to unleash a barrage of cold
words on the child.
"Good, good. This one I call Hatred."
the frigid words spewed across the room the children cowered against one another. They
felt no warmth from the fire, and even less from the story assaulting their ears.
boy dared to stir. He was Courage, and despite his diminutive size, had stood
up against many an imposing adversary.
The old woman stared him down without pausing in her dark
tale, biting words continuing to flow from her cracked mouth like so much fetid water.
The boy hesitated in his defiance, and then became still.
girl sitting next to the boy reached over and wrapped an arm around him. She
was Compassion, and sought to comfort her companion. She wore an expression befitting
her benevolent stature.
The old woman snarled at her. "Be still, young fools!" she blurted out.
Impatience stained the already dark visage she threw about the room like fire.
"Be still until my tale is complete!" She then continued with the
telling of her story, periodically stealing a glance at her captive listeners.
girl promptly removed her arm from the boy's shoulder.
When her story was
finished the old woman leaned back in her rocking chair. Her gaze roamed over the children's
faces, pausing for a moment or two on each one.
saw Friendship and Understanding. She saw Patience and Honesty. She saw Integrity and
Caring. She saw Love. All of mankind's virtues were displayed before her in the form of
the children trapped in her room.
A crooked smile creased her aged face. "I can see by your expressions that
I've succeeded in taking away some of your influence." Her words were
thick with venom. "One more nightmare for the world to digest, and with it
a little less of each of you."
Swelling to dream up a new nightmare for the world to
|Art by Cindy Rosmus © 2018
|Art by KJ Hannah Greenberg © 2019
thought you said you cleaned it?" Heather spat at her husband. "I can still see a spot
Adam rolled his eyes. "I did clean it." He gestured
to a bottle of glass cleaner.
Heather wasn't convinced.
"Whatever, all I know is I see a giant spot in the middle of the mirror."
Forcing himself from his worn but comfortable recliner Adam
lumbered over to where his clean-crazy wife stood with her arms folded.
"Where? Where is this so-called…"
words died in his throat.
A dark spot, dead center
on the otherwise gleaming surface of the glass, glared out at him like the eye of a cyclops.
How he had missed it, he couldn't begin to guess.
Heather grunted in satisfaction. "You see? I told
you." Her words dripped venom.
The spot moved on the glass then. It gyrated in light semi-circles,
rotating in one direction and then the other, as if testing its boundaries.
Adam stepped forward, coming to within
inches of the mirror.
what are you doing?"
heard Heather's words, but they seemed distant.
He touched the spot with his finger.
At first the sensation was not unlike
a mild electrical jolt, but somehow pleasant. He looked at his finger. It was smudged with
a charcoal-black substance similar to soot and rubbing it on his thumb, he noticed that
it wiped away easily.
Heather came up behind him and peered around his shoulder. "Did it come off?"
Adam brushed his fingers
on his pants. "Yeah," he replied with a hint of uneasiness in his voice. "It's clean now."
Feeling relieved, Heather turned and left the room.
"Good," she said casually as she walked into the kitchen. "I'll make us some lunch."
Adam nodded and stumbled over to his
chair. He was feeling disoriented and needed to sit. He flopped down in the recliner and
closed his eyes, clearing his mind as he breathed in deeply.
"Ham sandwich okay?" Heather called
out from the kitchen. She waited for a few seconds, a loaf of bread in her hand. "Adam?
Did you hear me?" She set the bread down on the counter and walked back into the living
She choked on her words.
Adam was sprawled out across the chair. His complexion was
a ghastly white, his eyes sightless orbs that stared at nothing. His mouth, drool at the
corners, was like a bottomless chasm waiting for someone to fall into it. And his arms
were bent at impossible angles.
But the worst part was what Heather didn't see.
Adam's entire midsection was missing. His chest
down to his groin was nothing more than a gaping hole, blacker than midnight in a grave,
revealing nothing in or behind it. It was as if something had dissolved him.
Heather stumbled back into a wall.
She struggled for breath and her head spun in a thousand different directions. The man
she loved was dead and the fact that she might be next was not lost on her. She turned
and ran into the kitchen, her eyes focusing on the back door. Then the knife block on the
counter caught her attention. Escape was her first choice, but anger welled up inside her
She snatched a large
knife from its slot and spun around. What she would do she wasn't sure, but she would somehow
walked into the living room and was engulfed before she could defend herself.
stopped in front of the house. Her dog, an energetic miniature dachshund named
Rocky homed in on the front door and stiffened his posture.
Meredith studied the house. Heather and her husband
Adam lived there. They'd say hello from their front porch when she walked by with Rocky.
But Rocky had sensed something, and he was never wrong about those things. When he felt
that something was amiss it always was.
There were no lights on inside, despite dusk settling over
the town, but that wasn't unusual. Perhaps Heather and Adam weren't home.
Then the front door creaked open, exposing
a wall of pitch darkness behind it.
began to howl. He bared his teeth and tightened his haunches. He sensed something
was wrong and was intent on letting his master know.
The door opened more, loosening on its hinges as
it did so. It then fell away into the darkness, crashing into the abyss without so much
as a sound.
had seen enough. She pulled Rocky along behind her, ignoring all the noise he
was making. She needed to alert the authorities. They'd know what to do.
Yanking her cell phone from her pocket she fumbled
with the screen, trying to call 9-1-1.
Rocky's barking suddenly changed to a whimper and he curled
his tail between his legs, cowering next to his owner. His change of demeanor was obvious,
made all the more frightening by the fact that he didn't take his eyes off the source of
his fear: the house.
However, Meredith didn't notice her pet's odd behavior. She was busy trying to reach
She didn't notice Rocky.
She didn't notice him shivering at her feet.
didn't notice the man-shaped mass of darkness rapidly lumbering toward her.
There is Nothing
I'm writing this letter in the hope that someone will discover it
before it is too late.
As I gaze out through a small window I see that
there is nothing. No trees; no birds in the sky; no people walking past. The building that
I crouch in like a frightened child seems to be that the only thing left.
am truly alone.
Although I would hesitate to call it
being alone. A short while ago I could have sworn I heard something.
It sounded like moans, but not human. They were raspy, guttural, feral. My blood froze
in my veins when I heard them.
I immediately grabbed
a piece of wood from the debris scattered on the floor,
crept up to the window, and peered into the void.
sense of great depth overwhelmed me. I could see no
light, no boundaries whatsoever, only an inky black chasm that was as blank and depressing
as a mineshaft.
Pressing my nose against the few remaining
shards of glass left in the window's frame I listened for
the sounds. I think I would have preferred to hear something, despite my fears. In a strange
way that would've been preferable to the nothingness that stared back at me.
I called out. "Is anyone there?"
Only silence answered
I continued to stare at the void, oblivious
to my own sanity or safety, neither of which I was certain would remain intact for
long given my current circumstances.
then I heard it: the same moans as before, only, and
I shudder to think about it, closer. Before, they were distant, like a voice diluted by
distance. But not now. Now whatever was making them was quite near.
I recoiled from
the sound. I've never been one for courage so it didn't
take much effort on my part to let fear rule my actions.
I fell back into
the room. My back crashed against the far wall and I
readied myself for whatever might come through the window.
It only took a
minute or so for the moans to start up again, this time
increasing in both volume and frequency. They were closer than earlier, so close that I
expected something to present itself in the room at any time.
fact, I wanted it. Since this bizarre nightmare began
and I found myself in this building, surrounded by nothingness, my fear has been matched
only by my curiosity. Why did this happen? And who or what was behind it?
I saw something outside the window, although it wasn't
a something. It was nothing, actually, a mass of nothing that had congealed outside the
window frame. It
appeared to be nothing more than darkness,
but as I stared at it I saw a vague shape take form, unclear and yet distinct, there and
yet not there.
piece of wood, my pathetic excuse for a weapon, fell
from my hand.
The entity (for lack of a better word)
slipped past the window frame and into the room. I watched
its edges shimmer, blurring the surrounding darkness like heat escaping a fire. However,
there was no warmth, nor was there cold. In fact, there was nothing, no sound, no sense
of life, despite the unsettling movement of the thing. It was a patch of blackness, a
blob of nothingness that had somehow coalesced into a sentient being.
I shivered when the moaning started
But this time the sounds
began to take shape, gradually forming into gibberish,
and then rudimentary words.
amm…I am. I am nothing."
The words chilled me to
"What are you?" I asked.
am nothing," the creature repeated.
I felt secure that it wasn't
going to attack me. It had after all kept me around
while apparently erasing the rest of existence.
do you want?"
My question seemed to agitate it because
it lunged toward me, coming to within inches of my sweat-slicked
"To be recognized," it said in a hoarse
It was then that
I realized the magnitude of my predicament.
don't understand," I lied. I did understand though, much to my misfortune. I understood
was not of this planet, possibly not of this dimension.
It was a being that was composed of nothing, and yet somehow existed. And to continue to
exist, it needed to be known, it needed, as it had told me, to be recognized.
I, not only the sole person left on Earth, but also
the only person left in existence, was spared so it could have an audience.
creature elongated, forming a vaguely recognizable biped shape. A head stretched out near
its top; a pair of arms on its sides, and all composed of emptiness.
watched in disbelief as a slit then appeared in the
nothingness of its head and opened.
"You will remain alive.
Your immediate surroundings will also remain intact."
looked around the room in which I was trapped. Long-lost
memories of my parents, my friends, a sunrise, flashed across my mind, each bringing with
it an agonizing jolt of reality.
"Death will not come for
you, ever." The creature then folded in on itself and
disappeared back through the window.
last word it spoke stuck in my gut like a machete. Ever? I was to remain alive forever, never finding
the merciful release of death?
The notion chilled my blood.
snatched the piece of wood from the floor, and without
hesitating, slammed it into my chest. Burning pain washed over me, radiating from the entry
wound down to my toes, and back up to my brain, crippling me in its fiery embrace.
crashed to the ground, clutching my chest with blood-soaked
But I didn't die. Instead, I quickly
regained my breath, and within a few minutes felt perfectly normal.
was immortal, a living god in a vast sea of oblivion,
undeterred by death, unknown by all except an entity composed of nothing.
I pulled the piece of wood out of my chest and rolled onto my back, cursing the
thing that had done this to me.
down into the hole, Josh could see the small featureless blob at its center. It resembled
a wet marble, but displayed an organic quality, as if it were somehow alive.
Was it an egg? Was something gestating inside of it?
But if so, then what had laid it?
Being worrisome by nature,
Josh resisted the urge to simply bend over and pluck
the thing from its resting place. Without knowing what it was he couldn't risk touching
"If only I would've paid attention in Biology
class," he lamented.
He got down on his hands
and knees and stared at the thing. Anyone else would
have seen dollar signs, trying to take advantage of such an unusual discovery, but not
him. He had morals, for better or worse, and just the thought of exploiting whatever life
might be lurking inside the thing did not appeal to him.
call Jimbo," he announced to no one. "He'll know what
Jimmy, or Jimbo as Josh called him, was his
cousin, and was good at chemistry and biology. He'd be able to figure out what it was.
slipped his cell phone from his back pocket and fumbled with the buttons. Something was
messing with his equilibrium, distorting his ability to think straight, but he managed
to push the first four digits of his cousin's number.
phone fell from his hand.
"What's happening to me?"
The screensaver of his mother stared up at him from
the ground. Her rotund face reflected her compassion for anyone she encountered
and her still-brown hair (a marvel at her age) stuck out in a frenzied display
due to the brisk wind of the day the picture was taken.
As if in a dream
Josh saw the ground rush up toward his face. He knew
that he was the one falling but it seemed as if it was the other way around. His senses
could hardly tell the difference.
he knew it, he was face-down in the dirt.
the dirt wasn't actually touching his face. It was still
several inches away from the tip of his nose.
Holding his breath Josh
realized where he was, and the thought sent a shudder
throughout his body. He tried not to breathe or open his eyes but couldn't resist the urge.
He opened his eyes.
The first thing he saw was
darkness as a dank odor assailed his nostrils. His stomach
threatened to empty so he had to keep his mouth closed as tight as he could. The fact that
he wasn't able to lift his head out of the hole was not lost on him. He was however able
to arch his neck back slightly, allowing just a hint of daylight into the small chasm that
he was situated in.
There, roughly ten inches
below his face, was the mass. It quivered like a bowl
of jelly in a moving car, occasionally coming to within inches of his nose. A tendril,
no thicker than an ant's leg, snaked up from the central mass and wormed its way toward
Josh's cheek, and then his eyes, and then down to his mouth, delicately brushing along
the flesh as it went.
from its touch and kept his mouth shut. He still couldn't
move so he had no other choice. All he could do was hope the thing would lose interest
in him and lie back down in the hole.
The tendril paused with its probing and
settled in the crook between Josh's lips. It then began to swell, doubling its girth.
Then he heard a familiar voice.
Is that you with your head down in that hole? What are
you doing in there?"
Josh wanted nothing more than to jump
up and embrace his cousin, but all he could do was lie there.
He didn't dare open his mouth.
"Josh? Are you all right?"
The tendril tapped Josh's nose.
Jimmy bent down and reached
for his cousin.
The tendril slid over Josh's
cheek, toward his ear.
Jimmy shook Josh. He tried
to roll him over but couldn't move him.
The tendril flicked Josh's earlobe.
Jimmy pulled his cell phone
from his pocket. "Okay, Josh, don't move. I'll call
Josh suddenly stood up. He oriented himself
and ran his hands over his face, exhaling deeply as he did so. A sheen of dirt and
sweat coated his calm expression.
"Are you all right?"
Jimmy asked again. "I thought you were hurt."
smiled. The glint in his eyes spoke volumes. He said
nothing though, instead gazing past his cousin as if he wasn't there. His smile grew, nearly
splitting his face. He saw a whole new world to explore, to be conquered, to be devoured.
He saw an opportunity unequaled in the history of his race.
Jimmy reached out for Josh but was brushed away.
"I'm fine," Josh said with no emotion.
"All I ask is to be left alone." And with those words he walked away.
After all, he had work to do. He didn't have time for delays.
Rick McQuiston is a fifty-three-year-old father
of two who loves anything horror-related. He's had over 400 publications so far, and
written five novels, thirteen anthologies, one book of novellas, and edited an anthology
of Michigan authors. He's also a guest author each year at Memphis Junior High School.
Currently, he's working on a new novel.
In Association with Fossil Publications