Skin

I live in New England, it’s getting to be winter (we’ve already gotten some snow), and I have very dry skin. Hence, this story.

Music this time is Really Rosie by Carole King. I listened to this album countless times as a child, and recently recorded the cassette. I just uploaded it onto YouTube today, because until now it wasn’t particularly accessible. (A number of the songs were on YouTube, but I don’t think all of them were, and no videos had the full album.)

~

Dry skin. That was all. Everyone has a bout of dry skin every once in a while. Especially me, I lived in New England, where the winters were long and cold and dry. And it was getting to be about that time of year.
It started on my face. The corners of my eyes and mouth got slightly dry, cracked from the frequent opening and closing, and thus became irritated. My eyes had always watered a lot, but now the the salt water seeped into the cracked skin near my eyes and got inflamed. It was painful, for the few days it persisted. But for the rest of the week I put on a facial creme, and before long it went away.
But a few days later it came back, elsewhere. On my arms and chest and neck and back and especially hands, the skin became cracked and dry and flaky and constantly shed. When I looked at my forearms, in disgust, they resembled pale alligator skin.
One day I took an Epsom salts bath. It was nice enough, I played an Isaac Asimov audiobook as I soaked, but I couldn’t help noticing the constantly increasing amount of dead skin floating in the water. I rubbed my hands, and little flakes of skin scrubbed off into the tub. I rubbed them again and sent another layer of skin into the water. Another, and another. I became mesmerized by it, sending down layer after layer after layer of skin.
I got out partway through the bath, turning on the hot water to refresh it, and dropped in some scented oils. Maybe it would soothe my skin, but at least it might soothe my nerves. My hands felt noticeably lighter since I got out, and that concerned me.
I settled in, enjoying the new warmth and the soft lavender scent. I resumed my audiobook, closed my eyes, and tried to sink deeper.
But I seemed to have stretched out the skin on my back uncomfortably, it was burning how it feels when someone gives you an Indian rugburn. So I sat up, brought my back out of the water, and reassessed it.
It was still burning. I tried to bear it, ignore it, for the rest of the bath, but that hot sting was always there in the back of my mind. When I got out and turned around and looked in the mirror, a large swath of my back was bright-red, almost like I had been lashed.
Within an hour, though, it had gone away, and I didn’t bear it any more mind.
I had begun, almost unconsciously, just picking away at the skin on my hands when idle. Like others might click a pen, I tore off little sheets of skin. Occasionally, I’d bite away at it when I couldn’t get a good grip with my fingernails, or just for the salty sweat-taste.
My skin soon became outright painful. If I moved in the wrong way a sharp stinging would erupt from my skin, like being sliced by a very sharp knife, or a papercut. The way your nose gets sometimes in the dry winter. A “crack”, they call it. Because, normally, it’s just one specific little location.
But for me, it wasn’t. A week after the stinging started, my whole hand had it. Touch anything, even just move, and it would feel like my hand was being sliced up by uncountable razor blades. Then, before long, it spread. I was paralyzed by my skin. Any movement had instant punishment. I even made my speech as minimal as possible.
But despite the pain, my habit continued. Picking off little bits of skin whenever I was idle. But it was no longer just thin sheets of skin. They had thickened, deepened. It was like picking off plates of skin. The layer of skin beneath was young and supple. It was skin that should have had several months to go before reaching air. And when I looked at the area I had picked it from, there was an obvious depth change between the normal, scaly skin and the too-fresh skin. It was like a crevasse had been opened up.
Looking at the less-affected areas of my body, I realized that I resembled people with harlequin ichthyosis. Red, and with skin separating like continents from pangea.
Then the itching began. Perhaps it was because of the freshly exposed skin, perhaps it was just a side effect of the dry skin to begin with. Either way, it was intolerable. Itchiness to the point of pain. It hurt when I didn’t scratch it, it hurt when I did.
Wearing clothes, at this point, was out of the question. When you’re like that, clothes are like a coating of needles, all pricking down into your skin. Laying down to sleep was nearly impossible, as the sheets had a similar effect as clothes. I slowly became accustomed to sleeping while standing, usually leaning against the wall with the smallest amount of my shoulder as possible.
One day, upon waking up, I found a slippery, thick sheet of something on the floor below me, white on one side and red on the other. During the night, I soon found, a large section of my skin, from my legs and waist area, had completely sloughed off. The now-exposed flesh was bright red and continually painful, as you might expect of an area that had had its skin removed.
Oddly enough, though, there was very little bleeding. I could see that the surface was slick with blood, but none of it dripped down from it. I would have expected a practical fountain of blood gushing forth, but I was in no risk of dying from bleeding out. Initially, when I found that, I was relieved. Later, though, as my waking mind gradually came to grips with what had happened and the ensuing pain, I decided that was a curse. If I could have just bled out – if I had just bled out in my sleep – then this would be over. For the past month my life had gradually decreased in quality, and it was now at an all-time low. But no, my death would not be that simple, it would not come so easily.
I dared not move, dared not breathe, for the risk of infection was evident. Open flesh with no running blood to rinse out contaminants, just sitting there, body temperature, with access to oxygen. I was a human petri dish, and aware of that fact. I stared at the flesh, analyzing it with panic, watching for any change in color or unusual growth that might indicate an infection.
An hour later, I dared touch it. As I brought my hand towards it, the brittle skin around my wrist separated, and the skin on my hand slid off like a glove onto the pile of skin already at my feet. I saw bones, tendons, capillaries. I am not a weak-hearted man, but at that sight my head spun and my skin blanched further. I leaned against the wall, the pain that caused overridden by the pain around my legs and hand.
I focused on breathing, on coming up with a plan. But no plan came to me. Once my vision was no longer blurred and spinning, I stood up straight again. With that movement, however, came a wet tearing sound, like pulling the skin off of a raw chicken. Moments later, fire erupted from my shoulder. I turned to look at the wall behind me, my dry neck resisting the twisting, and saw a section of the skin from my back, what I had leaned with, clinging to and slowly slipping down the wall.
Instinctually, I moved. My feet shifted as I turned to look at the wall, and slipped on what used to be skin. It astounds me that something so dry could at the same time be so slimy and slippery. I tried to catch my balance, reaching out grasp for anything, but nothing was there to support me. I fell onto the ever-growing pile, all parts of me that were now touching something screamed with pain, and I writhed.
Oh, did I writhe. I couldn’t not. Unless you’ve been flayed alive before, you cannot imagine the feeling. You cannot say you would do any differently. And with every movement, strips and sheets and layers of skin – sometimes pulling off the connected flesh, sometimes not – tore off of my body onto the floor. Before long, I was one of those drawings you see in anatomy books, showing what humans look like underneath their skin. All exposed muscles and veins and arteries and bones and tendons. I was the Skinless Man.

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The Second Law of Thermodynamics

I’ve been wanting to write a story in this kind of setting for a while. It’s one of the few kinds of things I find genuinely revolting and instinctively horrific. (By the way, if you think something in this story is a reference to something, it is.)

Music this time is something I’m sure everyone knows, but I actually sat down and listened to the full album for the first time while finishing up this story.

Oh yeah and, fuck you, internet.

~

I hadn’t seen George in a while. It wasn’t exactly my job to keep tabs on him. I mean, maybe it was included in the tasks assigned to a landlord, but I didn’t remember signing anything that said I had to do it.
George wasn’t one to get out that much. He wasn’t much to really interact with people, either, but I saw him go out every week or so to get his weekly store of Mountain Dew, Monster, potato chips, frozen pizza, and hot dogs. I always got the feeling he returned with a couple grams of weed as well. Maybe just a faint scent making its way out from the overall miasma of body odor, piss, and semen that emanated from him at all times.
I had talked with him maybe a handful of times since he had first come to the apartment. Because of the aforementioned smell I generally avoided him, and because of his aforementioned antisocial tendencies, he generally avoided me and anyone else.
But I hadn’t seen him in a while. Probably around a month. And despite my apprehension to make more of an effort than necessary and my utter loathing of the thought of entering his apartment, I felt it necessary. I found my copy of his room key and took the stairs (which I was certain George had never taken, he favored the elevator) up to his level and found the door to his apartment.
Room 217. I hesitated going in, but if he was having a problem of some sort and I didn’t help, that might end up imparting some legal problems on me and the apartment, which I wanted to avoid for several reasons.
I unlocked the door and went in and the wall of stench hit me immediately. It was like…
You know how Indian food is? Like so dense with flavors, such a multi-leveled taste, dozens upon dozens of herbs and spices blended in perfect ratios to create one whole, powerful experience, things that on their own would not be that unique but in combination with the rest became greater than the sum of the parts?
It was like that, but in a bad way.
I could definitely make out old beer and cigarette smoke over it all, but they were only the most evident notes in the cruel symphony of smell. Deeper was a heavy musk of a body that had gone without bathing for months, or more, a smell of piss that emitted from all around me, the sulfuric skunk scent of weed, decaying meat, a scent I hoped was flatulence but feared originated from shit smeared throughout the room, and a few other things I couldn’t quite place and wished would stay that way.
I coughed as I tried to take a breath. It was like breathing in exhaust, it was so thick and concentrated that my lungs tried to reject it. I cleared my throat and forced myself to breathe in.
“George? Are you here?”
I knew he was here. Well, if he had left sometime night before last and stayed out the entire time, he could be gone, but I knew for a fact he had been here since then. Unless maybe he jumped out of one of his windows. But George didn’t strike me as the kind of guy with that sort of athletic ability. Or an ability to even fit through a window, even.
I began making my way through the narrow path. Walls of greasy boxes, used and suspicious-looking towels, socks, and underwear, magazines, newspapers, empty cans, and nearly anything else surrounded me. I was honestly surprised George was able to navigate this passage himself. The carpet below, what I could see of it, was brown-grey with splotches of black and small stains of other shades. I felt it impossible that the carpet had at one day been a standard off-white color.
I continued calling out to him as I crept through the valley of shit. I felt foreboding, every step was hesitant. I wanted to leave, to lock his door and return downstairs and try to forget George or this room existed. But again, the problem of possible legal issues.
On an angled, unstable shelf sat a sealed jar of some nasty, thick-looking, yellowish opaque substance, and next to it a leaking fleshlight and dirtied butt plug. Nearby on the shelf was a pill bottle – vardenafil – and a small ziplock baggie with some partially-crushed crystals. A binger, it seemed.
I gave a start as I heard a sound behind me. A small cat – too small for its frame – was walking behind me. In terms of its skeletal structure, it was a normal sized cat, but starvation and neglect had turned it into a feline version of one of those impoverished African kids you see on charity advertisements. Its hair was matted, eyes gooey and hazy, and a slight twitch with each step implying a damaged leg.
Motherfucker, this was a pet-free apartment complex. Motherfucker. He was getting kicked out in any case, now. But that was just an unspoken – aside from the explitives – thought at the back of my mind. I was focusing too much on my progress through the “Valley of the Shadow of Death”. The intensity of my concentration and growing dread was inexplicable, but it took the center of my attention nonetheless.
The key to surival here was to take a breath with an attempt to filter it through my shirt collar, hold it for as long as possible, then exhale slowly while steeling myself for the next cycle. It was toxic, unbearable. It was thick, closer to a liquid than a gas.
After walking for a moment more, I found a nest. Dirty clothes, pillows, blankets, and anything else that seemed reasonably comfortable piled on what I guessed had once been a bed, with a hollow in the center. In the indentation lay George, his fat almost seeming to have melted and cemented him in place. He wasn’t moving, a belt tight around his neck and half-naked. A laptop, keyboard and screen smeared with grease and dried semen, sat nearby his body, three tabs open. The currently-selected one was on RedTube, the others on Reddit and 4chan.
I was loathe to touch him, but felt it necessary to determine whether he was dead or not before calling 911. I grimaced as I reached toward him and winced as my pointer and middle fingers pressed into the side of his neck, under the belt, to search for a pulse.
As it happened, I had to search for a vein for a while before I could even manage that. I had to press through a couple of inches of fat before encountering the atrophied muscle of his neck. I focused, trying to find a beat, and George’s body moved.
I stepped back in surprise, my hand pulling back to me in disgust. Had I moved him without noticing? Was it some postmortem seizure or something? That kind of thing happened, didn’t it? Or was he actually, somehow, actually alive? I hadn’t felt a beat, but then again, the amount of fat and the belt might’ve masked it somehow.
There was no more movement, no sound, so I tried to find a beat once again, gingerly pulling the belt loose and feeling like I needed to crawl out of my skin. My eyes narrowed, I put all focus on anything from my fingers.
And there. Was it a beat? I couldn’t be sure, but then, there it was again, another beat.
“George?” I said loudly.
A slight tremor from him, and I pulled out my cell phone and tried dialing, but I was entranced, watching him. Why would his body even bother trying to keep him alive? He had abused it for so long, why did it even bother serving him any more? I would’ve mutinied long ago.
I snapped out of it and went back to dialing, but before I had managed to press dial, his hand shot out and locked onto my arm, gluing itself to me with an adhesive I attempted to ignore. I instinctively tried to pull away, but the immense weight and size of his hand, compounded with the horrendous makeshift glue, held me back.
His eyes opened, bloodshot and dilated, and his mouth gaped. A smell of rotting flesh issued out, many of his teeth completely eaten through with by cavities and his tongue a nasty greenish black color. He pulled me toward himself viciously and began groping around my pants, trying to remove them. As I struggled with him a pizza box with one remaining moldy decaying slice fell out of his nest.
I was fucking done. With my free hand I reached into my breast pocket and grabbed my Zippo, light it, and threw it onto the nest underneath where he had risen slightly to get at me. The oil-drenched cloth ignited instantly into an intense blaze and he released me, writhing in the flames.
The fire spread quickly, quickly enough that I had to start walking away to avoid catching on fire myself. I pondered the gravity and potential consequences of what had just happened, but knew things would get worse if I stayed around.
I began running, or rather, walking as fast as I could through the unnavigable path. I glanced at the baggie of meth, debating about grabbing it as a repayment for my experience, but knew I didn’t want to touch anything more in this hellhole.
The cat was still in the path, curled up in obvious discomfort, and I grabbed it as I ran past. I clutched it in my arm as I opened the door and locked it from the inside, wiped my fingerprints off it, and left the room.
Once I was out, I ran back down the stairs and into my office. I sat down, breathing heavy, and set the cat on my desk. I recovered for a moment, then rushed to the bathroom and washed my hands, arms, everything vigorously. I splashed some cold water into my face as the fire alarm went off, the sprinklers showering every room as I returned to my office and opened a can of tuna for myself and the cat before heading outside with the rest of those who lived in the apartment.

The Long Wooded Road

Been a while since one of my dream stories, eh? This recent dream of mine stood out to me in how much of a narrative it really was. Most dreams are just kind of chaotic, randomly switching setting and whatnot, but this one was quite cohesive.

And had a horror that struck me as, well, rather realistic.

Music this time is another album I got in Philly, Punishment Room by Rise of Because. It’s noise, which is probably a rather… divisive genre. You’ll love it or hate it. But I love it.

~

I was walking down one of those old New England roads. The kind of road that no one but those who live on it know of. Dirt, gravel, and flanked on both sides by thick forest. Forest that could hide anything.

I had been walking down this road for a long time. It seemed endless. I didn’t know why I was there, why I was walking, but it was my one aim in life. Stop in and meet the residents of any houses I passed, few and far between.

I passed a man in the road. He was having trouble with something. Perhaps carrying a too-large bundle of firewood. I offered to help, took half of the load, and followed him to his house, exchanging pleasantries as we walked. His name was Travis Wentwood. He was typical New England stock for this kind of place: thick beard; scraggly hair that wasn’t exactly unclean, but unkempt; a gruff voice and demeanor but well-intentioned.

When we got to his house, I made as though to continue on my path, but he welcomed me in. It was cluttered, not exactly dirty but certainly messy, and it was immediately evident that he was a single father. The smell of something baking filled the air.

An adolescent girl sat at the table above a book and looked up as we came in. “This is Sophia,” Travis told me, and turned to her and said “This is Julian. He helped me with some of the firewood.”

She looked up and, while perhaps not exactly smiling, gave a friendly expression, then turned back to her reading. “Busy studying for a test,” Travis said, and another girl, a few years older, came into the room and, after taking a moment to look at me skeptically and with a questioning look to her father, came over and introduced herself as Sarah. She went over to the oven and opened it, poking a toothpick into the cake that was inside. She analyzed the toothpick, judging whether it was finished yet, and closed the oven door and walked away back upstairs where she had come from, setting a timer for a few more minutes.

Travis led me into a mudroom to the side, where there was already piled a stack of firewood. He placed the fresh wood on top, and led me back through the kitchen and into the living room. On the way we passed by a large glass jar of jellybeans, the kind that candy stores sell them out of in bulk. The inside was fogged with age and sugar residue, and the jellybeans had merged into one indiscernable yellowish mess of color.

Various newspaper clippings were pinned to the wall, all centered on one subject: a child molester in the area named John Jenkins. He had a stereotypical pedophilic appearance. Thinning hair slicked back with too much grease; a forehead that looked permanently covered in sweat; glasses that would’ve been in style thirty years ago; hints of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in his facial structure; an attempt at a smile that had turned into a sneer, and so on.

By the dates on the clippings and what I could skim of the articles as I passed, it seemed that he had been active around this area for several years now, had been arrested but no conclusive case had yet been made about him enough to send him for a long-term stay in prison.

Travis noticed me looking at them. “Rat bastard. Can’t believe he hasn’t been locked away yet.”

I thought of asking why he had so much information about him on the wall, but decided against it. This guy had freely welcomed me into his house, I wasn’t going to pry. Once in the living room, he motioned to a seat for me to take, and asked if I wanted a beer.

“Sure.”

“We’ve got PBR.”

“Sounds just fine.”

He came back a minute later with two cans and handed one to me before taking a nearby seat. I cracked it open and took a sip.

“Thanks a ton,” I said. “I was getting a bit thirsty.”

“So what were you doing out on this road?. You don’t live around here, I know everyone nearby. And people don’t usually just come through here to pass the time,” he said with a laugh.

“To be honest, I’m not sure. Just needed to get out for a bit. I’ve just been sleeping in the woods as I go. Saying hi to anyone I pass. Met a nice woman a little ways up the road earlier today.”

“Ah, Lucille. Yes, she’s a charm.”

A door behind us opened and I looked over the back of my chair. A little girl, probably no older than eight, had emerged from a darkened door that I assumed led to the basement. She looked at me in shock, then looked worriedly over to her father.

“Don’t worry, Suzanne. This is Julius, we’re just talking for a little.”

Her eyes were still wide and she looked deeply horrified. I noticed that her hands were red and a splatter of blood had dried on her forehead.

“She always gets a bit squeamish when she’s preparing meat,” Travis said by way of explanation to me. “But I say, get them started early! As you might have guessed, I’m a single father, and I’ve actually grown to depend on my little girls a bit. They help out a lot around here. Don’t know if I’d be able to manage without them.”

The timer went off and Sarah rushed through and into the kitchen again. I heard the creak of the oven door and a clank as she presumably set the cake on the stove.

“Like Sarah, what would we do without her treats?” he said to the other girls. Sophia nodded without looking up, and Suzanne managed a smile.

I ended up staying at their house through the afternoon and into the evening. It was nice being able to have more of an in-depth conversation than the little snippets I had had with most people on my journey. Around sunset I noticed the time and apologized for staying too long, but Travis stopped me. “No, no, it’s just fine. Stay for dinner! Hell, stay the night! It’s probably been a while since you’ve had an actual bed to sleep in, right?”

I shrugged and half-smiled. “Yeah, it’s been a bit.”

“We have plenty of space. And food! How’s the cake look, Sarah?” he called into the kitchen.

“It’s all ready,” she said in return.

Travis and I joined the girls at the table in the kitchen, where rice, green beans, and pork were set out on plates. The girls and Travis all held hands and bowed heads and I followed suit.

“Lord, thank you for this food and for this family. Thank you that Mister Linnover was able to join us tonight. Thank you for your help in the challenges we overcome every day and pray for help in the ones we must face in following days. Amen.”

The girls, and I after a moment, repeated the “amen” and Sophia began serving out everyone’s plates. I thanked her for mine and began eating. The pork was prepared well, the pieces all cut perfectly. “You did a great job with the pork,” I said to Suzanne.

“Huh?”

“The pork that you prepared. Assuming that’s the meat you were getting ready.”

The horrified look washed over her face again and her skin blanched. “Yes,” she said, her voice weak, “Thank you.”

“Yes, indeed,” Travis said, “You did very well. Good job, Suzanne.”

His voice held a slightly unfitting tone. It fit the words just fine, but not the context. He was praising her for her job, but it didn’t quite make sense for helping with dinner. It was spoken with much more weight than that would.

Travis got he and I another beer, and after the meal he cleared the table and began working on the dishes. Once they were finished – Sophia had resumed her studying, Suzanne was drawing, and Sarah had returned to her room – he brought the cake over to the table and cut it. He called the girls down and they took their places at the table again.

He set out five small paper plates for us and began putting a piece on each.

“What’s the celebration for?” I asked.

“Celebration?”

“The cake. Or rather, the writing on it in frosting. ‘It is overcome’.”

“Oh. Not particularly a celebration, as such, but it is our way of enjoying the happiness that comes after a hardship.”

I had another urge to ask him, but held back. This was clearly a family that had had troubles, and I didn’t want to pry into them.

After the table had been cleared again and the remaining cake was wrapped up, the girls said goodnight to their father and went upstairs. Travis led me back to the living room and reached to the top of a shelf for a small wooden box. “Cigar?”

I shrugged. “Why not? Thanks.”

After trimming and lighting them, we sat and smoked in silence for a minute. His eyes were distant; his expression was worried, showed years of pain, but a mellow, self-satisfied happiness emerged from underneath it. It was almost too contradictory, I didn’t think he could be that internally happy with that much weight apparent on his mind. Too happy, to almost a disturbing degree. It wasn’t self-satisfication, it was deviousness. It was the maniacal grin of a madman. It was a shaking, chaotic smile filled with hatred and glee. His eyes glinted, shone too-bright in the dim light, a fire behind them that frightened me.

“I like having a cigar every once in a while as a treat,” he said, turning to me. The look was gone. Utterly and completely gone. He was a completely different person.

Well, I was tired. And I hadn’t had a drink in a while, and couldn’t think of the last time I smoked. Maybe it was all just messing with me.

I rubbed my eyes and yawned. Then, realizing I hadn’t responded to his last sentence, I spoke. “I can’t think of the last time I had one. Probably my eighteenth birthday or something,” I said with a little laugh.

“Well,” I continued with another yawn once I had finished the cigar, “I think I should probably go to sleep. Thank you so much again, my back appreciates not sleeping on the ground.”

“No problem at all, it’s nice to meet someone. Here, let me show you to your room.”

We passed the door to the basement, only slightly ajar. For just a second as I passed I smelled something, something I recognized with almost animal instinct, but couldn’t really place. My heart rate increased, I felt a rush of blood flow to my head, and my body tensed, all autonomously. I forced myself to relax, the smell had faded, and went to my room.

The house was old, as might be expected for this area, and quite large. It was the kind of house that I’m sure wasn’t nice to be in in the winter. Large, with entire sections of the house completely empty, and with very little insulation. The bed was already made up, and I thanked Travis again and got in after turning the light off.

I fell asleep instantly. Very deep sleep but with troubled dreams. I couldn’t remember them upon waking, but I did remember the sense of surprise, disgust, and fear that they instilled in me.

I awoke in the morning to the smell of sausage. It took me a moment to remember where I was, between the surreality of the previous night and the dreams, I wasn’t sure if this house and family had actually existed or not. I went down and joined them for breakfast.

“Where do you think you’ll go now?” Travis asked me.

“Not sure. Just.. further down the road, I guess.”

“When will you ever head back to where you came from? Or will you not?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even really know where I would return to.”

I helped them clean up from the meal and gathered my small bag of belongings. I stood in the kitchen for a minute as Travis helped Sophia with something for her school. I looked at the fridge. Several photos and drawings were held onto the fridge by magnets.

One drawing in particular drew my attention. A bright red splash, a disembodied hand, a knife slicing through the red wave.

“That’s the one Suzanne drew last night,” Travis said, joining me. “I think Sarah started reading her some stories by Poe. Not sure if I’m happy about that or not,” he chuckled.

I tried to smile, but couldn’t quite do it. There was something itching in the back of my mind that was irritating and concerning me.

“Poe was a skilled writer, for sure,” I said, unsure of what else to say. “Well, thank you again so much for having me.”

I said goodbye to the girls right before Suzanne headed back down to the basement and headed outside and began going back down the direction I had been walking the previous day. A moment later, though, I waited for a minute, taking a deep breath of the fresh air. It had been slightly stifling in the house but I had gotten accustomed to it, and it was nice to be out in nature again.

I walked again. The woods on the left side of the road, the side their house had been on, were less dense than on the right, and in the early morning light I could see quite easily into them.

I was walking slowly, enjoying the crisp air just slightly dampened by the morning’s dew and the occasional chirping of birds, looking at the woods as I passed when I saw some movement on the left side. I paused, watching, and assumed that it was just a squirrel or something.

But a small girl in a bright pink jacket was there, dragging something large behind her. My eyes weren’t great, so I couldn’t quite make it out, but I thought it might have been Suzanne.

She stopped and crouched behind a fallen log for a few minutes, then walked away again – without the thing she had brought with her.

I was curious. And who could it hurt? I had wondered about the family, about some of the strange, out of place things with them, so I decided to go check it out.

I waited until she was far out of sight, then made my way to the fallen log. As I approached, more motion came, this time from a small group of foxes. I made my way carefully, keeping an eye on them to see if they’d do anything, but they just looked around at the fallen log as well, one of them approaching and sniffing around.

They backed up as I came up to the log, looking from me to whatever it was and back again. I crouched beside the log and searched for whatever it was she had brought.

I found one of those large clear plastic bag-cube things with a zipper, the kind that they sell sheets and comforters in. It was full of a chunky, red mixture with clumps of brown and grey. From here, I could already smell the stench of it.

I didn’t care. I wanted to find out. I pressed on it.

A mixture of blood, bile, and liquidated fat squeezed out from the gaps in the zipper, running over my hand. I pulled it back in horror. The stench had grown exponentially.

The foxes had evidently gotten over their fear of me and approached. With one last cautious look at me, they began lapping up the repulsive mixture, one of them even licking it off of my hand.

I noticed some crumpled up papers shoved underneath it. Wishing to leave but feeling as though I had a need to know, I pulled them out and shook the clumps of fat and coagulated blood off, then spread them out on the ground. One of the foxes tried licking them off, but I gently pushed its snout away.

They were the newspaper clippings about John Jenkins. I understood the horror in Suzanne’s eyes and Travis’s pride in how well she did her job. I doubted she had done that job of her free will. I understood that glimpse into Travis’s true expression the night before, that maniacal happiness and fulfillment. I understood the challenges they credited God as having helped them with in the prayer the previous evening.

I stood up and took a step back. My journey had come to an end. This had been a long journey to get away from those things that I found horrible. I thought rural New England might hold some peace and good will. It was time to go back.

 

The Falling Crosses

Not entirely sure what this is, actually. It came to me as I was falling asleep and was interesting enough to me (at the time) that I got up and wrote it down.

I guess it was more just something to write than anything else. But I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

Music this time is 3001: A Laced Odyssey by Flatbush Zombies. I just found about it a couple days ago but have listened to it many times since. It’s pretty great.

~

There was that ominous, building hum, with the occasional hoots and yells of that certain kind of person who finds making their existence known to others quite gratifying. The stage lay mostly in darkness, although the indistinct bodies of staff could be glimpsed once in a while.
A tuning guitar and bass, microphone feedback punctuated by a handful of drum taps and the crowd flared up like fanning dying coals. But the stage stayed dark, perhaps with a faint trail of artificial fog, and their screams died down a minute later.
There wasn’t even quiet conversation between audience members by this point, the atmosphere was tense, stifiling any speech like heavy snowfall. The air was heavy, like a layer of gasoline vapor lay throughout, ready to burn. Then the stage lights burst alive in blinding illumination and the gasoline sparked. The instruments screamed into life and the crowd felt a physical wave of sound crash over them, their insides reverberating with the music.
“Are you all fucking ready?” Adrian Buckner, lead of The Falling Crosses, yelled. The crowd had already been screaming but it doubled in magnitued at his prompting. The music of the background picked up in temp and viscousness, and the concert began.
After the first couple songs Adrian went offstage for a moment and came back, sniffing and wiping his nose with the back of his hand. His eyes were open wide, darting around.
The music began again with even more vigor, his singing jumping from yelling to screaming to a hoarse whisper and back again. Song after song they continued, the audience now at a continuous peak of excitement, only quieting somewhat in the short pauses between songs when Adrian went backstage for a boost.
The last couple tracks had been more mellow, slower and more poetic, brooding songs, but after his last return from backstage it spiked up again in fervor. Adrian’s eyes were crazed and his singing was manic, and during an intense guitar solo in the middle of one song Adrian darted offstage for a moment and returned with two gasoline tanks. The instruments continued, gaining in speed, and Adrian grabbed his microphone off the stand and held it in his right hand along with one of the tanks.
“Are you all fucking enjoying this?” he screamed as the music continued, and the crowd peaked again with excitement. He set down one of the tanks and unscrewed the top of the other and began dousing the crowd in front of him with its contents. Despite seeing what was happening, the crowd continued with their cheers, even the ones being covered in gasoline. Once that tank was empty he opened the second and began flinging it about, trying to cover those further back in the crowd. Still, no one quavered.
Adrian took a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, tapped one out and gripped it in his mouth, then returned it and pulled out a matchbook. He lit one, inhaled the sulfur fumes and paused a moment, staring at the flame, then flicked it out into the crowd.
It caught immediately, the fire spreading throughout the gasoline-soaked crowd and even to some beyond within seconds. The screams were still of excitement and fervor but now with a tinge of terror, edging gradually towards the latter over the time. Adrian removed the cigarette from his mouth and reached out toward the flaming head of an audience member in front of him.
“Could you spare me a light?” he said, lighting the cigarette of the burning person.
The instrumental solo had finished so Adrian returned to his microphone stand and finished his lyrics. When that song had finished, the instruments trailed off and the band members stood, watching the burning crowd in front of them whose screams continued but were now entirely of horror and pain. Adrian took a drag of his cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke into the pillar that was now rising into the air.

The Ruined House of the Venzequintas (and new episode)

So, in case you haven’t been listening to my audio show 108.3: Two Worlds recently, this story is – within the world – a story written by H.P. Lovecraft after he died in our world. Just listen to the show, it will make more sense.

But basically, this story was actually created by Lovecraft, in a way. It was a  sentence-long story idea he had written in his commonplace book, but never got around to actually writing. Therefore, I thought that would be a pretty plausible story for him to have written later in life.

I finished this last week… I think? But I didn’t want to post it here until the episode in which the story is finished had been posted. So:

There it is. I’m back from my little break from 108.3, and better than ever. Well, maybe. I enjoyed making it, and I think it turned out pretty well. Next episode is going to be a bit… different.

Anyway, here’s the story.

~

Some centuries ago, according to an ancient manuscript I found recounting part of the following narrative, there existed in a now-abandoned Eastern European hamlet a large castle. This formed the center around which the hamlet was based, much in the manner of the “castle towns” of old. To one side of the castle was a large pond, which was kept clean and in a presentable manner while the owners were at their height of power.
The residents and owners of the castle were the surviving members of the Venzequintas family. They were a reclusive folk who had immigrated decades before from parts unknown. Few people in the hamlet ever saw them, despite the castle and, thus, the family, providing the only financial and physical safety that it had.
The disparity in wealth between the denizens of the castle and those of the hamlet, however, caused an amount of animosity between the two.
Due to some strange and as yet not wholly explained occurrences, the family line began to die out. It seemed as though some of the “life” in their blood had started fading, and as a result the castle, after several decades, was left empty.
The town had, coincidentally enough, strengthened in security and stability during the same period in which the opposite happened to the line of Venzequintas, and by the time their bloodline had been extinguished, the hamlet was self-sustaining.
The pond went into disuse, the garden surrounding it dying and decaying into a greyish-brown mess of half-rotten vegetation. But still the pond reflected the image of the desolate castle, mirroring the stone that had just begun to crumble, the wood that for once didn’t seem quite as impenetrable as before.
In the town there was one family, in particular, who had loathed the Venzequintas. Under the shadow of one moonless light several years later, a small group of them – five in number – made their way across the darkened field outside and towards the castle. For one silent, horrific moment, the clouds parted and the moon shone on the castle wall, reflecting onto the greenish water of the pond. The five pillagers all paused and stared at that ominous sight, that one true glimpse of foreboding that they were allowed, before the clouds returned and blotted out the moon’s light once again.
They broke through the ancient oak doors, only breakable now that the mold and rot had weakened them, and rushed inside. Their eyes shone, when the moonlight made its way out from behind the clouds, with the insane gleam of greed.
The five people of the group split up, as had been their predetermined plan, and spread throughout the dank, heavy, dark insides of the stone building. They ran like rats throughout the structure, scavenging anything of wealth that they could find.
The clouds darkened and rain began to pour forth. The moon glared like an eye at the castle and pond. Lightning struck a nearby tree. There must be some relation between stupidity and lack of fear, though, for the five pillagers showed no change of determination.
Three hours later they emerged from the hollows of the castle – they were truly hollow, now, for their contents had been emptied out into the pockets and bags of the pillagers. All five paused for a moment before stepping beyond the threshold. The moon was shining, revealing a mirror image of the castle in the murky water of the pond. A heavy cloud slid in front of it, casting shadow over the area once again.
All five left, parted ways with their treasure, and never spoke of it again. It was known in the following years that the  family had come into some wealth, as was obvious by the power that they slowly gained over the town, but they never revealed its origin, not even to their decedents. Generation after generation, it remained a secret.

A hundred years later, their wealth remained. Like the flour and oil of the widow in Zarephath, it miraculously never ran out.
At the same time, the castle of the Venzequintas, now drained of the dynasty’s golden lifeblood, crumbled and decayed. No one dared go back there within the family, and once they had enough power in the town, they disallowed anyone else going there, to defeat the possibility of someone discovering what had happened. It was unknown why, precisely, they wanted to prevent that, but a sense of disease and paranoia had grown in the family since then, passing down from parents to children.
One of these children at that time began to grow curious. He had grown up always seeing the silhouette of the dying castle against the setting sun, but had heard nothing more about it than that the late occupants once controlled the village. He had tried asking people about it, both within and outside his family, but had gotten no responses save darting eyes and whispers of dread in the former and bored carelessness from the latter.
He took it upon himself to go to the castle one cloudy night, lit by the full moon. He slipped out of the house and darted across the field toward the stone building under the cover of dark clouds. A few minutes later he neared the castle and stood in awe nearby the pond, which had since gained more of a marsh-like appearance.
The clouds rolled past the moon, which now lit up the building in a cold uncaring light. He could see, just staring at it, bits of stone tumbling off into the unkempt surroundings. Just as he began to step forward toward it again, he saw the pond.
Mirrored through time in the pond was the castle, in all its previous glory. Oak doors stood strong, stone slabs were piled untarnished, towers looked down at the town below in a frenzy of power and greed. The boy’s eyes widened in horror at the sight. He looked from the castle to the reflection and back again, his mind trying in vain to find a logical explanation. His head spun, his legs weakened. He fell limp to his side and rolled down the slight slope to the pond. His body rolled into the thick muddy water and sunk underneath, helpless to fight against the grudge of the Venzequintas family.

George Xavier, Midas of Time

Finally finished this one. I’ve also been editing and submitting a bunch of stories to magazines recently, so… Hopefully? We’ll see. I’ll be working on City Intersection again now and am hoping to make another episode of 108.3 next weekend.

~

The hospital hummed and beeped. The beeping didn’t come from one specific origin, it just beeped in rhythm with George Xavier’s heartbeat. An oxygen tube ran up from somewhere beside the bed and underneath George’s nose. His eyes, mostly shut, flickered occasionally with what seemed to be pain. Pain so bad that even a sleeping body unconsciously responds to it is the worst.
Little Thomas Xavier stood by the side of his father’s bed and held his motionless hand. Thomas’s finger traced a circle on the cupped palm of George’s hand then patted the back of it and laid it gently on the slowly rising and sinking chest.
The hospital hummed and beeped, even when Thomas had left George’s room. Perhaps the beeping came from other rooms, perhaps it was merely the heartbeat of the building itself.
Little Thomas Xavier had read a bit too much in his childhood. His family never did things together; so he read anything and everything he could find. But while in his reading, he had learned of the supernatural and the things it could do.
Thomas looked down each direction in the hall, checking to see that he was alone, then slipped inside a broom closet, wiping the remaining drops of blood that had been on his finger onto his pants. Once inside the room, he locked the door, turned on the lightbulb that dangled above him, sat down, and opened a book onto his lap.
The pages he opened it to were covered in symbols and words in some undecipherable language – undecipherable to a layman, that was, but not Thomas. He knew just what those words meant, just what they signified.
So he read the words aloud. He prayed – not to any god, though – that this would work. It was his one chance to help his father.
“Kkrenhaek Cschaupfterein” would be a good approximation of the two last words he said. They meant “eternal life”.
The lightbulb above flickered, though that could’ve just been due to the old wiring. Thomas took it as a good sign nonetheless.
All rites finished, he closed the book, turned out the light, and left the room. He made a point of not returning to his father’s room, not just quite yet. He wanted to give it a bit of time first. A bit of time was all he and his father needed for this to work.
That evening Thomas and his mother went into his father’s room. It seemed as though he was awake, as he was for only a few minutes a day at this point, and they stood by his bed and looked with sadness and pity at him. He, with no small amount of excertion, rested his hand on his wife’s. A moment later, something started to happen. His eyes widened slightly, not as thoroughly in a droopy, drugged state. Some small amount of color returned to his cheeks..
“Hi,” he said, and Thomas’ mother let out a choke of tears. No one had heard George’s voice in three years. A doctor was in the room when it happened, and she turned around in surprise upon hearing it.
“How long had you known he was getting better?” Thomas’s mom asked the doctor.
“We… didn’t. We didn’t think he’d be able to speak again. This is… Highly unusual. I think I’ll have someone else take a look at this.”
“What’s there to look at? He’s getting better!”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t make sense.”
George’s hand had remained on his wife’s the entire time, and seemed to be getting visibly better and better all the while. By the time his wife turned back to him, though, she seemed more aged, older, albeit far happier than she had been a minute before. She pulled her hand away, grasped his head, and kissed him on the forehead.
“We’ll get you out of here in no time,” she said with a smile.
Thomas’s eyes stayed on where his mother and father touched. He stepped forward once his mother was done and wrapped his arms around his father.
As he and his father were locked in each other’s embrace, Thomas felt his father’s grasp grow stronger and stronger as the seconds passed by. When Thomas pulled away, breath shallow and face pale, color had returned to his father’s cheeks. With an expression of surprise, he pulled the sheets off his legs and sat up, dangling his feet just above the floor.
Thomas and his mother looked at George in astonishment. While just a few minutes ago he had been barely conscious, barely holding on to life, he was now flexing his toes and pushing off of the bed to stand beside them.
Two doctors, the one who had been there earlier and joined by another, walked into the room and froze, staring at George.
They ran up to him and immediately started checking his vitals, counting under their breath while peering at small charts and indecipherable screens. They checked everything once, twice, three times, but couldn’t figure out why on earth he suddenly seemed to be back to normal.
They asked him a few questions, making notes on clipboards, then left the room in disbelief. Once they were gone, George kissed his wife and rustled Thomas’ hair. Something caught his eye and he fingered through Thomas’ hair until he found it again; a dry, grey hair had taken the place of one of the normally silky, rich brown hairs.
“Don’t get old on me, you hear?” George said to Thomas jokingly.
Thomas smiled, though only on the surface.

George, once he had gotten through several stages of rigorous testing the hospital staff forced him through, was released to return to his home with his wife and Thomas. Over the following weeks, though George didn’t notice it, Thomas and his wife began to seem more and more wearied. Tired, aged, downtrodden.
He did notice one thing, at least; more and more grey hairs began cropping up on Thomas’ head. George didn’t think anything of it. He didn’t think anything of much of anything, any more; he was far too happy to be out of the hospital and back with his family to do that.
His wife noticed it in herself and Thomas, though she assumed it was just a lasting effect from the immense stress they had been in shortly before with George getting sicker and sicker – and, as a result, closer and closer to death – day by day in that eternally humming and beeping hospital; the music of death.

George hugged Thomas and the skin on Thomas’ skin began to sag. It was wrinkled, now, worn by years that he had never lived. George’s skin was looking better and better; it had gained a sort of deathly pallor when he had been at the hospital, but now it was looking fresh and healthy. It looked like he was a good decade or so younger than he was.
His wife was overjoyed, of course. She didn’t care if her joints ached, if her skin stretched and wrinkled and sagged, her husband was healthy and he was with her. She didn’t care if she was beginning to look eerily like her mother – not only in likeness, but in age – if only he was happy to be with her, and he was.
Thomas made sure to spend plenty of time with his father; almost always holding his hand or hugging him. His father assumed that it was just due to relief at him being back at home.
Thomas laid his head on his father’s chest while he hugged him, head down to conceal his tears.

The hospital hummed and beeped. Once again, it had no definite origin, it was as if the hospital itself were alive; the hum was its breath and the beeps were its heartbeats.
Thomas laid still on the hospital bed. He could no longer by any stretch of the imagination be called “Little Thomas”, or even a child. He was an old man living his final days in the worst way; on a hospital bed.
George, looking even younger now, was joined by his wife, who looked a similar age to Thomas. They sat by Thomas’ bed silently, waiting to hear from a doctor. They knew the doctor would have no good news for them, but they just wanted to hear something definite at this point.
A man in a white jacket came in and spoke to them in a whisper. George’s wife fell to sobbing on his chest and he hugged her side.
George was distraught. He had no idea what was wrong with his wife and his son, and felt guilty for some reason; as if his impossible luck of recovering and getting out of the hospital and ending up better than he had even been before had somehow taken its toll out upon them.
Whenever he talked with Thomas about that, Thomas had denied it. Luck, karma, whatever, didn’t exist. It was a coincidence, that was all. But Thomas was only a boy, despite what his looks would imply, and George thought it might have just been the optimism of youth.

Thomas was only given a few weeks to live, though the doctors could pin it down on nothing other than “nonspecific organ failure”. Those weeks flew by for them all, and for Thomas they were filled with relief. He didn’t want to leave his father and mother, but knew it had been worth it. He had made a trade and had paid the price, but he was happy with the result.
But not fully. His father would continue to unconsciously drain years off of anyone he touched, and unconsciously give them to himself. It wasn’t only he, Thomas, that would be subject to that. He had given himself up for it, readily giving his years to his father, but it was clear that it had affected his mother as well.
Ah, that was fine, he thought in his semi-conscious state. It was all fine. She would live her remaining years in happiness with his father. His father would keep going. At some point he was sure George would figure it out, but until then he would live in happy ignorance.
Thomas hoped his death wouldn’t affect them too much. He struggled to gain more consciousness, enough to open his eyes and possibly say a few words. He had to focus on holding onto any consciousness he still had. It was an effort, but he felt he needed to hang on until he could say one last thing to his parents.
He moved his hand and his parents noticed, coming to his bedside eagerly.
“Don’t mind me dying,” he said to them in a whisper. “I’m happy with it. Stay happy together. I’m happy you’re better, dad. I’m… happy.”
He closed his eyes and released his grip on consciousness. The humming and beeping of the hospital increased for a moment as though freaking out, unsure of what to do, then fell into relative silence.
George and his wife didn’t cry. They stood by the bed in silence, staring at Thomas’ body, wondering how he grew up, not just physically but mentally, in such a short time. They didn’t cry. They wanted to do what Thomas said, stay happy together.

Second Death, Part Four

The finale. Sorry I haven’t posted much about the show recently, but I do actually have something planned that I’ll be working on… later this week, probably. There’s also another story I have somewhat preliminary plans for that I’ll be working on then as well.

Also. I discovered this song, “fix me up“, by an artist named unlove. Definitely check it out, it’s quite relevant to this story. Also, on that label’s Bandcamp page, you can buy their entire discography for $1.41. 41 albums for that. Less than four cents per album. Buy it.

~

“Well, what now?” the exorcist asked. “You want me to remove her, right?”
“Maybe. I’m not sure.”
“Why did you come here, then?”
“I don’t know. Catharsis?”
“There are cheaper ways to earn catharsis than one-hundred dollars per hour. I think you wanted to acheive something, even if you aren’t sure what it was. In my professional opinion, I think you wanted me to end this haunting.”
“I wanted to, I guess. But I… I can’t.”
“Why? A haunting is torture. Even if you think it’s some sort of self-flagellation of penitence, it can only go on for so long.”
“It’s more than that, though. I killed her once already. I can’t bring myself to kill her a second time.”
“But she’s already dead. It’s not killing her, it’s freeing her. The physical world is torture to a spirit.”
“It’s like she’s still with me, though. It’s like we’re still married.”
“Except it isn’t happy. It isn’t enjoyable. Why on earth would you want to continue this?”
“I.. I… I just can’t. I’m sorry for wasting your time. I just can’t. Every moment I think of following through with this, I remember that knife, that blood, that body, that impossible rage. This is my burden to bear. I’ll leave her with me for the rest of my life, for better or for worse.”
“I must ask you to reconsider, Joseph. I’ve seen this happen before. It never ends well.”
I stood up and wrote him a check. “I’m sorry. I’m sure this seems very stubborn for me to do, but you can’t imagine the bond she and I shared.”
“I think I can. But in any case, you know where I am. Please think about it, and come back to me once you’re ready. I’ll always be here.”
I thanked him, got into my car, and drove back home. She and I would be together until I died, for better or worse. Once at home, I took a few shots of whiskey and sat on the couch, thinking. I felt her approach, and I walked into the kitchen. I had, stupidly, bought the same set of kitchen knives as we had in our old house. I pulled out the same model of chef knife.
I saw her ghostly presence drift through the wall and hover towards me. Holding the knife in my right hand, I stretched out my left hand and brushed her cheek. “Goodbye, Beth.”
I stabbed the chef’s knife through my throat. In the few moments before I died, as the blood was draining from me onto the floor, her nonexistent form suddenly became real, just as it had been when she was alive. She knelt by my side and brushed my cheek with her left hand. “Goodbye, Joseph.”

The exorcist saw the news. He was saddened, of course, but he had seen it happen before. It was a sad eventuality for the people touched by his profession.
His wife came into the room. “Why, Victor? Why?” Her head cocked to one side, split apart on the other, and slid off onto the ground with a nonexistent thud. He winced at the sound that only he could hear, the headless body only he could see.