Drowning

One woman’s unfortunate evening at a local motel goes from bad to far worse as the hour grows later, the night longer, and the darkness ever closer!

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01

Grace Santos stands in the doorway of her bathroom, where the carpet meets the tile. Her naked form silhouetted against a field of blinding white. Her shadow stretching and reaching behind her, deep into the darkness of her apartment.

     Just beyond this, beneath the harsh fluorescent light, water and sewage pools and glistens across the bathroom tile.

     Grace just looks at this.

     The toilet gurgles and belches. Water pulses up and out, flowing across the tile and over Grace’s feet. Her toes curl and dig into the carpet with an audible squelch.

     Grace sighs.

     “Fuck me.”

02

An old, gas-guzzling Chevy pulls into a motel parking lot. It rolls to a stop among a small cluster of cars beneath a large sign that reads, “CASTAWAY INN.” Grace steps out, now dressed in a tee, pajama bottoms, and a patchwork denim jacket.

03

BANGBANGBANG.

     Grace stands with her face pressed against dirty, tagged glass, eyes straining to look into the small, dark office on the other side.

     “Hello? Is anybody in there?” she calls out to nobody in particular.

     The dark office replies with only silence.

     Grace strikes the glass once again with an open palm, BANGBANGBANG.

     “Can anybody hear me?”

     BANGBANG

     A distant voice cuts her off.

     She cocks and turns her head to this. “Hello?”

     A door opens in the darkness and light pours out from it. A shape appears, shuffling out of the light, into the darkness of the office, and to the check-in window. The voice speaks again, gruff and thick with a hard-to-place accent.

     “What it is you want, huh?”

     “I’m sorry, it’s just that I’ve been waiting—”

     Grace stops herself and looks at the man now standing across from her. Dark circles rest beneath a pair of glazed-over eyes. Deep lines carved across an expressionless face. Pinned to his shirt, a name badge that reads, “SIMON.”

     She closes her eyes, sighs, and then continues.

     “Just give me your cheapest room.”

     Simon says nothing, leans forward, and presses his faces against the glass. He looks left, then right, and then back to Grace.

     “Just you?”

     “Yeah, just me.”

     An uncomfortable silence happens.

     “Sixty-five. Fifty for deposit.”

     “One-fifteen for this shit—”

     Simon cuts her off once more.

     “You want room, or no?”

04

Grace makes a beeline down an overlit walkway. To her right, the orange-tinted parking lot. To her left, a series of rooms.

     105

     A child cries somewhere beyond an open door, ceaselessly, breathlessly. A blaring television only adds to the shrieks carrying out into the night.

     111

     A young, rail-thin couple—clothes mismatched and hair wild—light up on the foot of their bed. Big, silly smiles wash over their faces.

     117

     A dazed, piss-and-whiskey-smelling woman with matted, wiry hair stands in the doorway.

     Grace walks forward and onward, never giving any of this another glance.

05

“Hey, it’s me.”

     The room is a time warp. Curtains ripped right out of the seventies clash against the smoke-stained wallpaper. The wood paneled furniture that fills the room has long taken root in the thick, orange shag carpet.

     On the dresser is a small color television. A small sign atop this states, “NO SMOKING.” Beside that is the smoke alarm, disconnected and batteries gutted.

     “Yeah. No, I know what time it is.”

     Grace sits on the foot of the bed, rolling herself a joint, phone pinned between her ear and shoulder. She nods and mhmms as she listens to the voice on the other end.

     “Well,” she says as she finishes licking it. “I just thought you’d want to know I found a place to stay for the night.”

     An uncomfortable silence happens.

     “No. No, I understand.”

     Her toes curl and dig into the carpet.

     “I’m sorry.”

     She puts it to her lips and lights it.

     “Yeah, okay. Goodnight.”

     She hangs up.

06

Grace throws herself back across the bed. As she spaces out, she listens to the sounds of the motel fill the room. Old pipes rumble and clatter in the walls. The cries of the baby in room 105 muffled by the blaring of a television. Somewhere a headboard rattles and bangs against the drywall.

     CLACK-BANG, CLACK-BANG, CLACK-BANG.

     She exhales, a cloud of smoke rising and billowing up from deep inside her.

07

Grace is sleeping in her bed above the sheets. She moans softly, perhaps a troubled dream. A scream snaps her awake with a start. She looks around wildly.

     A woman stands at the foot of her bed shrieking ceaselessly, breathlessly, her gaping maw inhumanly deep and wide. Among the mess of hair that swallows the top of her head, her large, bulging eyes roll back into their sockets.

     Grace stares in horror, her voice filled with sleep and panic as she tries to spit out a thought. “The fuck you doing in here?” Her words coming out more like, Fuhyoudoinhere.

     And then a noise.

     Grace looks down at the woman’s nightgown, only now aware of a foul smell filling the room. There is a dark stain spreading across the woman’s gown, urine running down her leg, splattering and soaking into the carpet.

     “Oh, shit.”

08

BANGBANGBANG.

     Grace strikes the glass of the Castaway’s check-in window with an open palm, crying out into the small, dark office on the other side.

     “Simon? Simon, where the hell are you?”

     The dark office replies with only silence.

     Grace strikes the glass once again with an open palm, BANGBANGBANG.

     “Simon, get your ass out here right now!”

     BANGBANG

     Simon’s gruff voice cuts her off. He shuffles out of the back office and to the window. “What? What it is you want, crazy woman?”

     “Who are you—” she starts, looks at the man across from her, and then thinks better of it. “You know what? Never mind.”

     Simon looks at Grace, shrugs, and gestures at her.

     “Look, there’s some crazy bitch in my room and she’s screaming and pissing all over the floor.”

     “Friend of yours?”

     “What? No. Fuck you, man. I think she’s the lady in one-seventeen. I saw her when I first got here. But I don’t know how she got in my room.”

     “You lock door?”

     “Jesus. Yes, I lock door. What the fuck does that matter? I just want her out of there so I can sleep. Can you do that?”

     “What you want I do, huh?”

     “I don’t know, call the police? Something?”

     He waves his hand at this.

     “I don’t believe.”

     “Excuse me? Why not?”

     “No one in seventeen.”

     “Seriously? Look, can I speak with the manager, please?”

     “Why?”

     “Because I’m sick of your shit, Simon. That’s why.”

     “No.”

     “The hell you mean, ‘No?'”

     “No manager. Only me tonight.”

     Grace says nothing, leans forward, and presses her face against the glass. She looks left, then right, and then back to Simon.

     “Just you?”

     “Yes, is only me.”

     An uncomfortable silence happens.

     Grace sighs.

     “So what the shit do you expect me to do?”

09

Simon enters the room and turns on the light. Grace stands in the doorway, unwilling to enter, watching on as Simon inspects the room.

     “Room is empty.”

     “Yeah, I can see that,” she says, watching him step over and around the stain on the carpet. “So what now?”

     Simon ignores this, taking notice of the tampered smoke alarm.

     “You do this?”

     Grace just looks at him.

     “What’s matter? You forget how to talk?”

     Grace just looks at him.

     “Maybe you forget how to read too, huh? I read for you,” he says, taking the smoke alarm, shaking it in Grace’s face. “It say, ‘No smoking.’ Understand?”

     “Dude, okay. I get it. But how’s about maybe you give me a new room, huh?”

     “No.”

     “What? Why not? You don’t expect me to sleep in here, do you? It smells like piss.”

     He sniffs at the air.

     “It smells like drugs.”

     Grace shakes her head and mumbles to herself. “Weaselly son of a bitch.”

     “What was that?”

     “Nothing. Can I sleep now?”

10

Atop a nightstand is an old 80’s clock radio, red LEDs burning against the faux wood paneling of a style long past its expiration date. It’s just past three o’clock in the AM.

     In the moist warmth and darkness of her room, Grace lies awake in bed, looking up at the ceiling. Thinking, listening to the distant sounds of aggressive lovemaking coming from several rooms over. (CLACK-BANG, CLACK-BANG, CLACK-BANG.) A woman peaks. A man howls. And then there’s just silence.

     Grace sighs and rolls out of bed.

     “Fuck my life.”

11

A single bulb fills the cramped, narrow bathroom with a dull, yellowed glow. Its fixture filled with dead flies. The dull roar of a small exhaust fan echoes off the walls and tile, drowning out the distinct hiss of urination.

     Grace sits on the toilet, eyes alternating between the dead flies and the black void just beyond the open door set across from her. The still darkness stares back.

     And then, clack. The door to her room opens.

     Grace gasps, holding in the breath. Every muscle flexing and tensing, cutting her off mid-stream. Her heart pulses quick-quick in her ears. Eyes widen, seizing on the doorway.

     Just beyond this, beneath the roar of the fan, is the faint shuffling of feet on carpet.

     Shhh-fmph, shhh-fmph.

     “Who’s there?” The words catch in Grace’s throat.

     The darkness replies with only still silence.

     Grace’s eyes dart about the narrow bathroom. The vanity mirror and a small hairdryer fixed there beside it. The shower on her right. A plunger set between that and the toilet. She grabs this, holds it above her head, and stares into the darkness.

     And then, shhh-fmph, shhh-fmph.

     Her toes curl.

     The woman stops there in the doorway of the bathroom, where the carpet meets the tile. The bathroom light throwing her naked, fleshy form into broken shadow and light.

     Grace just looks at this.

     The woman gurgles and belches. A foul stench pulses up and out, carrying across the narrow bathroom and stings at Grace’s nostrils. Her nose wrinkles and throat fills and burns with bile and acid.

     Grace shivers, sighs, and then lowers the plunger.

     “Jesus, lady. You scared the shit out of me. How do you keep getting in here?”

     The woman just looks at her.

     “You need help getting back to your room or something?”

     While Grace waits for her answer, the woman just looks at her, clutching tattered strands of cloth. Grace gestures at these with a nod of her head.

     “What’s that you’ve got there? Your undies?”

     The woman’s lips part with hardly a sound coming from them. Only a soft, barely-there rasp.

     “You’re gonna have to speak up, lady. I can’t make out a thing you’re saying.”

     She mutters again.

     “Red or blue?”

     “Red or—what’s the matter? Can’t decide which one to wear for your man? You got yourself a man, don’t you, lady? Oh, I bet he’s missing you something bad right now.”

     The woman ignores this, repeating her question once again. Clearer, wetter.

     “Red or blue?”

     “Jesus-God. If I answer your fucking question, will you close the door and let me finish up here?”

     “Red or blue?”

     “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Blue, okay? Blue. I pick blue. Now get—”

     The woman pounces. Grace screams. And then there’s just silence.

12

BANGBANGBANG.

     Simon stands with his nose pressed against a door numbered “122.” He shouts.

     “Open door, crazy woman! You must leave now!”

     Doors open one by one, people stepping out of their rooms, some watching from the comfort of their doorways. Whispering, talking among themselves, recording with their phones.

     “—husband called in a noise complaint, and he’s got work—”

     “—screaming just a minute ago, but I don’t hear—”

     “—already got, like, fifty views on—”

     “—too cheap and now we’re stuck with this—”

     Simon ignores this, striking the door once again with a balled first. BANGBANGBANG.

     “Leave or I call police, okay?”

     Simon waits for a reply that never comes.

     BANGBANGBANG.

     He fishes a set of keys from his pocket, unlocks the door, takes a here-goes-nothing breath, and turns the knob.

13

The exhaust fan roars as water drips from its fly-filled fixture. Beneath this, a hand clutches to a shower curtain—half-plucked from its rings—in a death grip. Water and sewage pool across the tile, glistening in the yellowed light. Grace’s head is impossibly buried in the toilet bowel, neck stretched and broken by the weight of her lifeless body. Her limbs tense and outstretched, as if somehow still desperately struggling to stay alive. Her toes curled and broken, her nails torn off the nail bed. Her panties down around her ankles.

     Simon stands in the doorway of the bathroom, where the carpet meets the tile, just looking at this. No one there but him and a dead woman. But a voice speaks. Deep in the throat. Phlegmy.

     “Red.”

     The voice pulls Simon from his daze with a start and he whirls around. Listening. Squelching with every uneasy step on the soaked carpet.

     A naked woman staggers forward from the dark five feet behind him, something dangling from her hand, perhaps tattered cloth. Maybe a handful of hair, scalp. She squats low. Her arms spread wide. And then, she howls, that foul, rotting stench rising up from deep inside her. Simon is cut off from the world.

     “Mein Gott im Himmel…”

14

The Castaway’s lot sits in still silence. A heavy marine layer has rolled in on the remaining crowd of lookie loos gathered outside room 122. A mother coos her fussy child.

     The junkies from 111 are standing by the door, half-naked. Smoking. A howl catches their attention. They glance into the darkness.

15

The woman pins Simon to the wall. One twisted, arthritic claw holds his head there against the smoke-stained wallpaper. The other digs into the flesh of his arm.

     “Please, just leave me—”

     In a single, swift motion, she separates Simon from his arm, like a child plucking the wing off a fly. Simon’s arm goes one way, the rest of him in another. Sinew snaps and pops, flesh tears, and blood splatters like wet paint against a distant wall.

     Simon falls to the bed, shrieking and blindly clutching at where his arm used to be.

     She just stares at him, still holding the arm.

     “You fucking bitch! I kill you!”

     Simon lunges to his feet, is struck by the woman, and falls back across the bed. She pounces, throwing the arm into the darkness, crawling atop and mounting Simon.

     He lifts his head from the bed, “I’ll fucking kill—”

     The woman cuts him off, turning his words into wet gurgling sounds with a clawed hand buried knuckle-deep into his mouth and eyes. She bites into him, teeth tearing and rending flesh. What isn’t swallowed is vomited up and out from the pit of her gaping maw, this horrible mess of blood and bone and hair. Streaming out and over her lips. The writhing body beneath her falling limp and silent.

     Drawn by the terrible screams and struggle, the junkies burst into the room. They stare for one long horrifying moment of disbelief as the woman continues to feast. The room filling with the wet crunching and cracking of teeth tearing and chewing and swallowing flesh and bone.

     “Jesus Christ,” one junkie says to nobody in particular as the other doubles over and vomits.

     The woman reels back, turning to and staring at the couple with large, wild eyes. Her breath heavy and shallow. Face and hands and body dripping in gore.

     The couple just look at her.

     She rises to her feet, slow, steady. Standing tall and naked atop the bed, over what’s left of Simon. And then she lets out the most god-awful scream imaginable. Breathlessly, ceaselessly. The cry splits the night.

Danny

Another work-in-progress that exceeded a contest’s word count. And, again, until I get around to revising it, here’s the original text, warts and all. Enjoy.

*          *          *

01

The wide, empty stretch of Pacific Coast Highway is nestled between the rolling foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the dark and endless abyss of a moonless Pacific. The glow of a distant oil rig a dot on the horizon.

The foothills burn in the steady ticking of a car’s emergency lights. The car is an old gold Chevy set askew across the northbound lanes. Its horn blares across an otherwise still darkness, bouncing off the burning foothills and disappearing across the abyss to the west.

Stuart Mercer, a man of little consequence, sits behind the wheel, his hands wrapped white-knuckle tight around it. Dark circles hang heavy beneath wide, unblinking eyes. Their gaze seized on the bloodied windshield before them. A bloody, dented hood just beyond that.

Stuart sits behind the wheel, still and silent. He raises the lever on the Chevy’s wheel with a clack and the windshield wipers move back and forth—once, twice, three times—smearing the blood and clouding the windshield further.

Stuart lowers the lever once again, another clack, the jingle of keys as he kills the ignition, and then Chevy stops doing much of anything.

“Shit.”

02

From a distance, the entire scene appears to blink in and out of existence. Every action only a brief snapshot. Stuart and the Chevy where they started. An open driver-side door. Stuart standing beside the Chevy. Stuart looking to the foothills, then across the abyss, and back to the foothills. Stuart standing in front of the Chevy, inspecting the dented hood and blood-covered windshield.

A noise, some wet mewling cuts across the still darkness.

Stuart snaps his head back towards the long, dark stretch of highway behind the Chevy. His eyes strain, struggling to adjust to the shifting darkness. Whatever waits for him there in the darkness of the highway, only the darkness stares back.

Stuart takes a step forward, his mind snapping and biting at a new thought with every step after that. A highway patrol vehicle pulling up and asking questions to which Stuart has no answers for—at least answers that won’t just make everything that much worse—like why Stuart smells of piss and cheap beer. (Well, Officer, that’s because I went and pissed myself after getting absolutely shit-faced on cheap beer.) He imagines a dead coyote and a now-orphaned litter of pups crying for Stuart to will their dead mother back to life. Maybe a very pissed off cougar waiting for him, eager to teach him how to properly finish off a kill. Or, hell, maybe he’ll find a chupacabra.

And then he stops, stops walking and thinking and even breathing for a brief moment. His eyes drop down to the asphalt at his feet.

A small, broken child—a rail-thin boy no older than seven or eight—dies a slow, painful death. Choking on his own bile and innards as he blinks in and out of existence in time with the steady ticking of the Chevy’s emergency lights. One eye rolls around in a broken socket. The other is seized on the trembling, silent man standing over him. The dying boy makes a wet, dying sound. Reaching out and touching Stuart with a clawed hand, one attached to an arm that now bends at several unnatural angles.

And that’s when Stuart begins to scream.

03

As adrenaline floods his system, neurons fire off in his head, pulling back the heavy fog clouding his mind to reveal a series of loosely connected scenes. Fragmented memories of a time from before he found himself on this dark and mostly empty stretch of PCH.

A kitchen, night. A family dinner interrupted by a stubborn boy’s refusal to put away his phone. A bloated man raising his voice, and then his hand at his son. A tired wife unconvincingly pleads with her husband and son to stop, please, just stop. The bloated man takes the boy’s phone. The boy talks back, calling the bloated man something you can’t say on TV. An uncomfortable silence followed soon after by the sharp crack of the bloated man’s hand falling across the boy’s face. More silence. And then the bloated man runs, to where his keys hang on a distant wall, out the door, into his an old, gold Chevy, and then off into the distance.

Fade to a shot of the bloated man sitting in some dark corner of a local bar. An aging woman brings him an open bottle of beer. She refers to him by name when asking what’s on his mind and thinks nothing of it when he slurs a lie about feeling fine. He drinks until his eyes can’t stay open and he no longer recognizes the songs playing on the jukebox but can’t help sing along anyway. And when the bartender cuts him off, he leaves, call her a cunt, and is never asked to hand over his keys.

The drive home is little more than vague sensory information. Cold wind against his skin. A strange warmth running down his leg. Flashing lights, red and green. And the sobering sound of flesh cracking against and bouncing off metal and glass followed by the wet thud a young boy’s body rolling off into the gutter. The shrill shrieking of a terrified mother.

Cut to Stuart already out of his car, sitting in the glow of a lamppost, holding a convulsing, twitching mess of flesh and innards he calls Danny. Blood and brains stain his hands as he cradles his son’s fractured skull. The boy’s dinner comes up and out of his mouth along with the sort of icky, sticky stuff that really should be on the inside instead of the outside. The wet sounds of his scared, dying child’s apology. Stuart says it’s okay, that everything will be okay. That Danny doesn’t have to be sorry because this was his fault. The fault of a broken, drunk bastard who turned out just like his old man. But before he can finish, the boy’s body grows still and heavy.

The world around him is a dull throbbing noise, a pulsing sound of screams and cries from his wife. Neighbors chattering among themselves, calling the police, taking pictures and videos to document the drunken moment a family was ruined.

Stuart rises to his feet, walks back to his car—still running and parked halfway up the curb and across his lawn—and seats himself behind the wheel. He sets the Chevy into reverse, pulls back out the driveway, the car rattling and sparking as its undercarriage strikes against the curb once again. The car rolls back, past Danny’s body, turns and illuminates the neighbors and their homes for a brief moment in the headlights, and then speeds off into the night.

Stuart pilots the stained and battered Chevy north on the Pacific Coast Highway. Brief flashes of a seedy neighborhood in Long Beach. The skyline of downtown LA. The rolling foothills of the Santa Ynez in the distance as he suddenly appears on the far end of Ventura. A moonless sky. The dark abyss of the Pacific to his left. Wet, salty air sticking to his skin. A sharp pain shooting through his chest and down his arm. The screeching of tires. And then nothing at all.

04

Searing pain radiating up his leg brings Stuart screaming back into the here and now. The twisted dead thing at his feet digs and tears at the flesh on Stuart’s calf, clawed fingers buried down to the second knuckle.

A single word bubbles up, escaping from deep within the dead thing’s belly.

Daddy.

Stuart looks on at the dead thing, it’s flesh hanging off the bone. Bone twisted at strange angles. Jaw hanging crooked on by decaying and tearing strands of sinew, unhinging like a snake.

The wet sound repeats, Daddy.

Stuart desperately pulls at his leg, howls as his flesh stretches taut on the bone and tears away in ribbons. His pant leg and shoes fill with blood as he hobbles away. Away from the dead, rotting thing with Danny’s face and voice and toward the Chevy.

The door slams shut. The cabin of the car floods with red, then darkness, and then red again. The keys jingle and the engine coughs and wheezes.

And then the Earth shifts, the Chevy bouncing and squeaking as the world turns sideways. The sky now off in the distance, just beyond the blood-stained windshield. The highway nowhere to be seen. Only a great darkness in the rear view mirror.

The car sinks with a pulsating rhythm, deeper into the darkness, into the rising maws of a great worm. And as liquid asphalt fills the Chevy’s cabin and all the stars in the sky are swallowed whole by the great worm, Stuart’s final thoughts are of his son. A prayer that his boy might see the light of the stars wherever he’s found himself tonight. Safe from the darkness.

Puppet Show

The following short story is another work-in-progress that I originally started writing on my Twitch channel for a contest with a highly restrictive word count. The story took on a life of its own and exceeded the word count. Until I get around to revising, here it is in its original form, warts and all. Enjoy.

*          *          *

1

Ya know, I’m sitting here, trying really hard to find the right words to explain what it is I saw without sounding completely batshit. And I don’t think I can. I mean, look at me. You can tell I ain’t all right, can’t ya?

It’s crazy, ain’t it? The way the whole world can just turn sideways—justlikethat. I mean, it’s not like you leave your house expecting crazy shit to happen, ya know. You wake up, you step outside and get in your car, and you just go, right? You just assume that you’ll come home in one piece. Like, no matter what happens it’ll all be okay just as long as you can get back home and crawl into your bed.

2

My little girl, Audrey, she really digs puppets. Always has. And she’d been begging me to take her to see this puppet show down at the library all week. She must’ve seen a poster for it somewhere, I guess. Maybe someone gave her mother one and she showed it to Audrey–I really don’t know. Anyway, she tells me she wants to see this show. And I don’t get to spend much time with her or my son—I’m working all the time these days and I can’t seem to get home before they’re in bed most nights, right? So I figure, why not? But I tell her, Sammy’s got to be cool with it? That’s my son’s name, Sammy. He’s a little bit younger than her and he’s not really into this puppet shit like she is. But she just runs off and I can hear her shouting at him from across our house, asking him if he wants to see the puppet show. And I don’t think he gets a word in before she starts shouting at me, telling me how Sammy says it’s all cool.

That’s just the way Audrey is, ya know. Always doing stuff like that, thinking she can get one over on me. And I guess I let her think that too. I used to think maybe that sort of thing made me a better father. That it was better than the sort of hands-off hardass my old man was. Guess I was wrong, huh?

Anyway, we get down to the library and the librarian just smiles and thanks us for coming and all that. And she waves us in to this little room there in the back. Audrey and Sammy run off and get a seat there on the floor with the rest of the kids. And I just take my time and sit in the back with the rest of the parents, ya know. They’re texting on their phones, or whatever. There’s maybe one or two of them who are actually interested in all this. I know I’m not, but my kids are happy. They’re sitting there with their legs crossed, waiting on this hippie looking guy to get things started. He looks like he just woke up in the back of his van, ya know? But he’s got this nice little set up, little cardboard castle and curtains. He’s no Mr. Rogers, but it looks good. Or at least the kids think it’s good enough.

By the time things finally get started, I’m already fidgeting in my seat. My back is killing me and my sciatica is flaring up something awful. But I don’t want to be rude or anything, so I’m trying to pay attention to whatever the Hell it is this story is supposed to be. Something about a lake and two suns. And some guy who wears a mask but really isn’t? It didn’t really make too much sense to tell the truth. But this guy is getting really into it, using a new voice for every character and acting his little heart out. And all the kids are loving it. Audrey’s right there and she’s stiff as a board. I know she’s in love with these puppets and the whole thing. And I’m already thinking to myself how she’s going to beg me the whole ride home to make her something like this setup.

But the strangest thing was how Sammy was sitting there real quiet. Audrey’s a lot like her mother, real smart-ass when she wants something bad and a complete angel when she finds herself in the middle of something she loves. But Sammy’s like me. He can’t sit still for the life of him. Can’t take him to the movies without him needing to use the toilet. He doesn’t really have to go, ya know. He just wants to get up and move. It’s a waste of a ticket those few times we do get to go, but whatever. That’s kids for you, I guess.

But the point is I’m sitting there wishing I could get up and go. Audrey’s loving every minutes of this shit. And Sammy’s just sitting there, probably fell asleep. I’m hoping that’s the case. Last thing that guy on stage probably wants is my kid crying about how he’s bored and needs to take a piss. But that doesn’t happen.

And then my phone rings. Thank God, right? I got it on silent, but it’s buzzing like a bee in my pocket. So I take it out, see it’s the kids’ mom, and I just get up and go. The kids don’t notice me. The hippie guy probably sees me but says nothing. And the other parents are just looking at me like I’m just about the luckiest sonnovabitch in the whole world.

3

So I step outside—all the way out, because it’s a library and the librarian’s already looking at me like I whipped it out and started pissing all over the rug, right? And my wife and I get to talking. She wants to know how things are going. I tell her the kids are fine, that Sammy’s having just as much fun as Audrey. My wife’s happy to hear this. And that’s about as far as we got before I heard all the screaming.

Look, I’ve heard screaming. You’ve heard screaming. We all have. Kids hollering at each other. People getting mad. Husbands and wives saying the worst shit they can think of to one another in public. All pretty normal, right? Except this ain’t that sort of screaming. This is something I ain’t ever heard before.

A few years ago, we let Audrey watch that movie, An American Tail—the one with the singing mice who come to America from Russia. Well, there’s this scene where the mice make this giant, evil looking mouse filled with fireworks to scare off all the cats, right? Scares the piss out of Audrey, like literally causes her to wet the bed because she’s having nightmares of this thing. She still can’t watch that movie anymore she was so scared. And I remember her waking up that first night, screaming and crying and waking me and my wife up. You’d think someone was hacking her to pieces, but she’s mostly fine. Just lost her mind is all because of the nightmares.

Well, this was sort of like that. But it wasn’t just Audrey this time, it was mostly everyone.

So, I hear all this and I just hang up on my wife right there without another word and run inside. And the librarian is just looking over at me like I’m supposed to know what to do. She’s barking at me that the children are screaming, over and over as I’m running to that back room. And before I even step in, I can see them all there.

On the floor, the kids are screaming and howling. Some of them are even talking in what sounds like Spanish, but it’s no Spanish I’ve ever heard before. Others are crying on about some man in yellow, which is just about the only English I do hear. And all of them are seizing on the floor, twitching and writhing—the kids and their parents. Foaming at the mouth, eyes rolling back in their heads. A few of them are bleeding from the mouth, probably because they bit off their tongues.

And that hippie guy who was running the whole show? He’s there on the stage, clawing out his own eyes. Just digging his fingers in there, screaming about how he doesn’t want to see this anymore. And I don’t know if he’s talking about all these kids there on the floor or something else.

Remember how I said you never leave your house on any given day thinking something bad is going to happen? That was me right there. These kids are just bleeding out from their faces and twitching all over the floor. This guy is knuckles deep in his own eye sockets, shrieking and laughing about how he can’t see them anymore, whoever or whatever “them” might be. And I’m just thinking how glad I am my kids aren’t doing this shit. I know they’re in the room. I know this shit is going on. But it’s not really registering, ya know? Not until I see this woman—I think she was the one texting on her phone before I stepped outside. She’s saddled on top of Sammy, like you see bullies do to the smaller kids in school? She’s there on top of him, her hands wrapped around his throat and bashing the living shit out of his skull against the floor. There’s just shit coming out of the back of his head and his ears and just everywhere. I see all this but all I can hear in my head is the woman screaming at Sammy, “Stop hitting yourself.” Next thing I know, I’m doing the same to her. I don’t think I say a word. I watch myself grab her off my son and then bash the bitch’s head into the carpet. And I do this again and again and again until she’s twitching like the rest of them. And then I just keep going until she stops moving all together.

And I sit there for a minute. All the light bulbs that should’ve lit up over my head the second I stepped in there are finally doing that, right? And I get up off my knees and walk around, looking for Audrey. And I see her there on the floor. Her face looks the same as it did that night she woke up from her nightmare, like a giant mouse had just come running at her in the dark, shrieking and burning with all the fire of Hell. And she’s wet her pants again. She looks at me, right, and I know she knows she’s wet herself. And I tell her it’s okay, that I won’t tell Mommy. That I’ll get her cleaned up. And she just shakes her head. She’s not even looking at me. She’s just looking up and out like none of us, none of this shit is going on around her. Like I’m not covered in blood and some bitch’s brains. Like her little brother ain’t dead. And she just cries. She says it’s dark, it’s all just so dark, Daddy. They’re waiting for her, the people in the shadows. They want to pull her down and away from the light, because the light is worse than the shadows. The things in the light–that man in yellow who isn’t really a man but something else—they want to taste what her soul is made of.

4

So here I am. My son is dead, his head cracked open like a fucking egg. I held my daughter while she’s pissing herself and barely alive and talking all sorts of nonsense. And all I can think to do is to crawl back into my bed and pretend everything is going to be okay.

I just wanted to spend some time with my kids, ya know? It was just supposed to be a fucking puppet show, man.

Unopened Letter

The following short story is a work in progress that I originally wrote up over on my Twitch channel. It was intended to be submitted to a contest on writing.com, but I completely overshot the 1500 word count required of entries. So rather than butcher what I had or rewrite it all from scratch, I’m just going to present it here in its current form and take my time revising it. Enjoy.

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01

They told me becoming a father would change me, ya know—my parents, that is. My old man used to tell me that’s when I’d learn what sort of man I really was. My mother, however—well, she figured I’d finally get all that was coming to me, for all the trouble I used to cause her when I was a kid. All the screaming and the fighting. But to tell the truth, I don’t think either of them was right. Not really.

Nathan was a sweet kid. Bit of a mommy’s boy, for sure. But the kid never made so much as a peep. Maybe if he’d shit himself, or whatever. Other than that? The kid was an angel. In fact, sometimes I’d get a little worried and go look in on him every now and again just to make sure he was still breathing. For the first couple of weeks, my wife was so terrified she’d wake up one morning and find him dead in his crib that she hardly slept. Me, I didn’t think twice about any of that at the time. But soon as she stopped worrying, I did. I worried about every little noise he made, every little noise he didn’t make. I started researching every ingredient in his formula, his food, his diaper. My wife thought it was cute, all the fuss I made over all this. My parents—my father, mostly—they thought I was driving myself crazy. And maybe I was, at least a little bit. But it felt right, ya know? Like if I did nothing else right with my life, if I could just manage to not fuck this all up for him, then all was right with the world.

So I guess in a way my parents were right about it all. Maybe I did get what was coming to me. Maybe I did learn what sort of man I really was. But it wasn’t when I became a father, because those were the happiest moments of my life. No, I knew they got it right when I ceased to be one.

 

02

The last night I saw my little boy alive, the two of us were watching his favorite movie while his mother was cooking dinner. Like I said, he was a real momma’s boy and he’d follow her around the kitchen, trying to help her with whatever it was she was doing. And sometimes she’d let him help too. But most of the time he was just in the way, ya know. What the hell is a two year old going to do when you’re trying to cook? So I picked him up. And he cried and kicked and said he was helping Mommy. And then he stopped all that just as soon as I put on Ghostbusters, because he might have been a momma’s boy but he was still very much my son.

So we’re sitting there, watching the movie, and we get to the part where they’re working their first gig at the hotel. And I remember this real clear too, because my wife came in and asked me when I was going to take this box of Nathan’s old clothes down to the Salvation Army. When I said I’d go take them right then if she didn’t mind Nathan tugging at her apron strings again the second I left, all he could do was tell me how I was going to miss his favorite part in the movie. He loved it when Bill Murray pulls off the table cloth, right, like a magician, and then all the flowers and glasses come flying off with it. He tried to do that at home once, too. Right after the first time he’d seen the movie. Annie didn’t care for that too much.

Anyway, I get up to go and Nathan’s starts getting fussy, telling me, “Gonna miss the flowers, Daddy.” And I tell him to be cool, that we’ll watch it again after dinner, right? But that’s not good enough for him. So Annie tells him he can help her finish up in the kitchen, and of course that works. So, I grab the box and my keys, and I take off.

 

03

Now the Salvation Army is about ten minutes away, and I never thought to check the time. Didn’t think it’d close anytime soon, at least. But, of course, I get there and they’re already locked up for the night. The lights are all off and the parking lot is empty except for this kid who works there. He’s maybe sixteen, and he’s just standing there tapping away at his phone. Probably waiting for his mother to come pick him up after his shift, right?
Anyway, I pull up and go to get the box out of the backseat where I put it. And the kid starts saying something, but I can’t really hear. Not until I get half-way to the door.

“You can’t leave that here,” he says to me.

And I stand there for a second, looking at him like he just told me he shit himself. And I ask him what does he mean I can’t leave this here. And he tells me it’s policy and points to a sign over near the door—little red piece of tin. The thing says no donations after hours. And, again, I ask him what does he mean I can’t leave it there. It’s just a box of my son’s old clothes. Are they gonna reject a perfectly good donation, throw that shit in dumpster out back?

The kid just looks at me for a second, like he’s giving it a real one over in his head before he shrugs his shoulders and tells me, “Whatever.”

Cool, whatever. I leave the fucking box there, get back in my car, and then hurry my ass back to my wife and kid.

So I get back home and we have our little family dinner. When we’re all good and done, Nathan helps Annie with the dishes—because of course he has to—and then we finish watching the movie. Of course, we have to start all over again because Nathan, for whatever reason I never understood—and probably never will, of course. But he can’t watch it where we left off. No, he’s got to watch it from the beginning. Okay. Fine, whatever. By the time the movie’s over, he’s passed on the floor in front of the TV. So I carry him to bed, tuck him in. And I just sort of watch him for a long minute. Watching as his little chest rises and fall under his blankets.

And while I’m standing there, I don’t think twice about that kid at the Salvation Army or their stupid sign or the box with Nathan’s clothes or anything else. All I can think about is how my son and I just finished Ghostbusters, so I’m good. It never crosses my mind that this is the last time I’ll see him alive.

04

Annie and I must’ve only been sleeping for a couple of hours before the noise woke us up. Annie would tell me the first thing she heard was the trash can falling over, but I swear it was this—I’m not sure how else to describe but this wet meowing, like a cat crying under water. Like it was something just outside our window.

So we wake up and it’s dark and Annie’s got this itch that something or someone’s outside. And I tell her it’s probably just some raccoon, right? What else could it be?

But she pushes and asks me to go out and check. And I don’t want to, of course. I just want to sleep. But then she has to go and mention Nathan, telling me something’ll happen to him and how I’d never forgive myself if I’m wrong about it being a raccoon.

Now, don’t get me wrong. And it’s not that I think you’re going to twist my words. It’s just that I want to be clear that I’m not blaming Annie for anything of what happened. Not one bit. What I am saying is that she gets me thinking about Nathan and I can’t help but go out and check. And every night since then, I’ve had to live with that choice. Of going outside to check on whatever that noise was instead of running right over to my son’s side and not leaving him until the fucking sun rose. That falls on me. All of it. Lord knows how Annie blamed herself for everything, no matter what I told her. But this is on me, and it always will be. Right?

Anyway, I go outside and I check around for a bit. I got my cellphone there in my hand, using it like a flashlight. And I don’t see a goddamn thing, just the trashcans knocked over. Annie’s right behind me, asking me what it is, and I tell her just that.

And that’s when it happens. Again, Annie would argue about the order in which it all happened. And I’m pretty sure what I’m saying is the way it really did, but I could be wrong. I don’t know anymore. It’s just been so long now. And after everything that’s happened, I’m hardly sure which way is up some days. But I swear I heard the glass of Nathan’s window shatter long before we hear him screaming. There’s just no way it got in through the back door while we were out there, not without at least one of us hearing or seeing it.

Anyway, the glass breaks and Nathan just starts screaming. He’s crying and screaming for me, begging me to help him. And I know—I just fucking know—that this is it. All those nights of me looking in on him every five fucking minutes and this is the night I finally fuck it all up—me!

I run, right? I just run right for my son’s room and I push my wife out of the way. I just shove her ass out and send her flying against the wall. And I practically fly to my son’s side.

Maybe if I’d been just a little faster, all of this, everything that’s happened since that night, would’ve turned out different. But I wasn’t fast enough. And everything is the way it is.

Sometimes I stay up at night and I can still see it, except it’s all slowed down. And maybe it’s just the way I see it in the dreams and that’s the only way I can see it anymore. Could be that things are all twisted in my head, everything’s exaggerated. But I can see my son’s room just the way I left it a few hours earlier. His little night-light on, casting these little stars across his ceiling. Just light enough so he’s comfortable sleeping in his own bed, but still dark enough that I can’t make out everything all at once when I get in there. It takes my eyes a minute to adjust. But when they do, I see—it’s just blackness all over the wall. Lumpy and dripping down, like someone’d just thrown jars of blueberry preserves against my son’s bedroom walls. I can see it clumped up there. And I look over at my son in his bed, and all I can think is that someone’s covered him in the same shit. That he should be pissed as all hell and crying and begging his momma to give him a bath even though we all know he hates taking a bath.

It’s funny, I remember when he was just a baby. He was maybe three months old at the time. But I’d gone in to check on him like I did, and he was just covered in shit. Just head-to-toe covered in his own shit. Like his diaper had just gone off in his crib like a grenade. And I’m standing there, right? Right there in the doorway, thinking, oh, Jesus, you’ve got to be kidding me, right? The kid’s two, almost three. And he’s gone and shit all over himself again. And I think maybe I’m laughing at the time, but I’m really screaming and crying without realizing it. My mind’s just gone. And it isn’t until Annie catches up with me and starts shrieking right behind me that I snap out of it and I finally see, really and truly see what’s going on.

My son’s there, dead in his bed, gutted like a fucking fish. His innards thrown about all over the room, the walls and the floor. The ceiling’s just dark and dripping. Like a bomb had gone off in my son’s belly.

And while my brain’s trying to process all this, I see this thing in the window. And I know it’s there because my wife is telling me to look at it. It’s this sickly looking thing, looks kinda like a person, but it’s skin, it’s face—you ever see one of them naked mole-rats before? It’s nothing but this sickly looking pink skin, beady eyes, and teeth. That’s what’s there standing in my son’s broken window. And I swear it’s holding my son’s skin in its fucking hand.

 

05

Everything else is a blur after that. That thing was there one minute and gone the next. The police are at our door, responding to a call from our neighbors. Our neighbors are there watching all this from their own lawns, some of them are recording it with their fucking phones. And I do remember being pissed as all Hell—still am, to tell the truth. But the police and all that do what they need to do, and my wife and I never tell them anything about that thing we saw, of course. But we can’t stand to be there a minute longer than we have to, so we get a room at a hotel and do our best to sleep even though we both know that’s not going to happen. And I don’t think we slept much ever again after that. Every little noise had my wife snapping upright in bed, screaming. And she did that for maybe three months straight. And me? Me, I just can’t sleep at all. These days, even after all this time, I barely manage—if I’m lucky—three hours most nights. If that.

But the weeks and months go by and I don’t even know how we even pretend things are normal in that house after everything. But somehow we do.

And then, one day, my wife gets it in her to ask me to head back down to the Salvation Army. To see if maybe—just maybe—they still have Nathan’s baby clothes somewhere. She wants something to remember him by that isn’t from that room, which at this point we haven’t even stepped into. The thing was cleaned from top to bottom by professionals, tore out the carpet and dry wall and everything. All like new. But it’s just verboten at this point, ya know?

Anyway, it’s been quite a while since I left that box there. No way it wasn’t processed or thrown away, or whatever. But I don’t want to cause Annie anymore grief, of course, so I go.

Now when I get there, I see the same kid from that night. And he just looks at me with that same stupid look of his. Probably saw what happened on the news and isn’t sure how to react to seeing me and all that. So I just go right on and ask him if maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance they still have Nathan’s box of clothes. Of course, he shakes his head and tells me they don’t, that they’ve been sorted and distributed around the store a long time back. And he just keeps on apologizing for a minute until I tell him that’s just fine. And then the manager comes on over and tells me that I can take back whatever I can find that’s still there in the shop. So I thank him and turn to do just that. And that’s when my heart just about stops in my chest.

I nearly fall ass over teakettle and the kid has to catch me before I fall completely over. And when I look back up, he’s there standing in front of me same as you’re sitting right there. It’s my Nathan.

Except it ain’t my Nathan, because my Nathan—or at least what’s left of him—is rotting away in some fucking box in the ground, right? But I see Nathan. It looks just like him, anyway. It’s my little boy with his skin on and everything. But it’s all just a little crooked. Like it’s not set on there quite right.

It takes a minute, ya know, but I finally get it in my head to call out to him. Like maybe it’s really him and I haven’t just lost my goddamn mind. Except when I do, his parents show up. His dad is this big blond man and his mother is this petite Asian woman. And this kid looks nothing like either of them—he looks just like my Nathan.

But they’re standing there, dressed in second-hand clothes. Still got the tag on and everything. And all they do is look at me for a minute, like I’d just caught their son stealing or something. But all they do is politely nod and walk on right out that door and around the corner. And I just watch them do it.

 

06

I never did see that kid again. Never went back to that shop either. And I sure as Hell never told Annie about any of this. Not a word. In fact, the only reason I’m telling you all of this now is because I don’t have to worry about her hearing any of it. It might be something worth keeping to my own grave, but whether anyone believes it or not, it’s something that has to be said.

Those signs, the one’s about not leaving your donations after hours. They’re not just some courtesy. They’re warnings.

Maybe my folks really did have it right in the end, bless their souls. That night I lost my little boy to this thing, whatever it is. That’s the night I learned the sort of man I was. I failed my son. And now that Annie’s gone, I know I failed her too. I tried for years to convince myself otherwise. So, if sharing all of this, even if it means looking like a crazy old man in the process. If it means helping a father keep his family safe tonight or any other night, then it needs to be said. I failed my own family. I won’t fail another. Not if I ever want to see my wife and son again.

The Pale One

I originally wrote this story back in 2011, just a little more than four years ago now. It didn’t get much attention when I originally set it up for sale on Smashwords.com for about a buck. I’m not sure what I was expecting, really. I’d just left a job at a hotel that nearly got me killed and my grandfather had only passed away a year earlier and I was falling into some sort of depression. I suppose with a lot on my mind and not much else to do, I got to writing, hoping that somehow, someway it might make something of me.

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Little Monsters

The following is the first draft of a short-story inspired by this prompt from r/WritingPrompts. Be sure to checkout the other submissions and be sure to upvote what you like there (especially this story, of course).

As for what follows here, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it on the whole. I think there’s something here of value (and I certainly hope you do too). But I think there’s quite a bit of work left to be done on it. If there’s enough interest in this one, I might get around to working on another draft. Maybe something for the first short-story collection.

Oh, and beware: this be a bit of a monster itself at about 5000 words.

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Little Monsters

1
You live as long as I have, you get to doing things you wish you’d done differently, right? See things you wish you hadn’t. My life is like that. Everytime I close my eyes. Can’t go more than a few hours sleep before I find myself waking up in a sweat, crying maybe. And sometimes I find myself praying maybe God’ll have mercy on me one of these nights and let me slip away before I get to remembering what I wish I could forget.

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Running, Running

The following is a flash fiction piece based on a writing prompt provided by @RyKinder.

I’ll readily admit to never being the biggest fan of flash fiction, at least when it comes to writing it. Far too often I find word count restriction doesn’t gel well with the associated prompt. And almost as often I find the end results being a well-meaning, but ultimately missed attempt at recreatingFor sale: Baby shoes, never worn” (a bit of flash fiction attributed to Hemingway, though no substantial proof of this exists). And I think the issue lies in the concise nature of the “baby shoes” piece being mistaken for ambiguity.

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Whisper in the Dark

The following was originally published on r/WritingPrompts. The prompt (by u/talkingdolphin) was, “A short scary story, but no adjectives.”

Whisper in the Dark

It was November of 1955. The children were playing hide and seek at the city dump.

A boy, Thomas, thought to hide in a refrigerator resting atop a pile of cans and bottles. He slid inside, hearing a click as the door closed.

Minutes passed. He heard all his friends giggling and laughing as Patty Nelson snuck up behind them and gave them a fright. But she couldn’t find Thomas. No, Sir. Because he refused to hide behind boxes and trash piles like the others.

After a minute or so, he stopped hearing the laughter and the giggles. Instead he heard a voice calling out to him. Except this voice wasn’t Patty or Eric or anyone of his friends. No, this voice was right here in the dark with him. And it whispered in his ear, telling him how he’d never ever be found by Patty Nelson, or anyone else. No matter how much he screamed.