Daycare Massacre

crime

This is going to get swept under the rug because of the Hurricane Matthew coverage. Even if it isn’t, whatever’s mentioned in the news will be sanitized for public consumption. People aren’t supposed to hear about this kind of thing – especially when you consider how frightened they are already.

There’s a daycare in Charleston, SC. It’s in an awful neighborhood. I was patrolling the area before dawn this morning when the owner ran out in the street and flagged me down. She was covered in blood. I got out of the car and called for backup. Officers Fitzgerald and Ndoma were a block away and got there a minute later. Ndoma stayed with the inconsolable, trembling owner while Fitz and I drew our weapons and entered the building.

There were six children inside. Unclothed. Dead.

I called for paramedics and a supervisor. Amid the chaos of hurricane preparations, by the time they’d arrived, Fitz and I had cleared the small building. If the owner of the daycare hadn’t killed the kids, whoever had was gone.

The news media, who would’ve been all over something like this, hadn’t even noticed our radio chatter. They were too busy reporting on the storm. To be honest, I couldn’t have been more relieved. The city didn’t need to know about this yet.

The daycare owner still hasn’t said a word. We have her in custody and it’s obvious she needs a psychiatric evaluation, but that’s off the table until at least tomorrow. We pulled the records of the children from the daycare files and are beginning to notify parents. The last two of the six bodies are being examined as I write this.

The hospital is being prepared for an influx of storm-related injuries, so the deceased were brought directly to the city coroner. The examinations are cursory and unofficial. I know the main guy down there. My father was the best man at his wedding. Whenever I wanted to know something about a case that was above my paygrade, he’d usually fill me in. Today was no different. I know what I saw, but were a lot of unanswered questions.

When Fitz and I entered the building and saw the victims, we knew the cause of death right away. The wounds were gaping and obvious. In fact, I don’t think I’ve blinked today without seeing them in that split second of darkness. To me, it was clear the owner couldn’t have done it. She’s 5’1”, and if you told me she was 90 pounds, I’d be surprised. Her mouth’s small, too. Yes, that’s relevant.  

Here’s the thing: at first glance, I assumed the kids had to have been killed by some kind of animal. The bites which prompted the massive blood loss must’ve come from something with large, powerful jaws. After we cleared the building, though, and Fitz was outside with Ndoma trying to get the owner to say what happened, I took a closer look at the wounds. They were too uniform. Too precise.

What I mean by that is the children were all bitten in the same spot. Everything between their legs, from navel to lower back, was gone. There were smudges on their thighs. Something white. It more obvious on the darker-skinned victims, but nonetheless present on all of them. I was about to examine the fibers I saw sticking to the wounds, but I was interrupted by the paramedics and the coroner’s office. They needed to do their thing, so I left them to it.

I’ve spent the whole morning at my desk, filling out reports, and writing this account to help clear my mind. About an hour ago, I called my contact at the coroner’s office. He told me, like I mentioned above, that they’d looked over four of the six. It was, certainly, the bites which had killed them. They bled out in a matter of seconds.

I asked him what he thought could have done it, and he paused. To me, that meant he still didn’t know for sure. After a few seconds of silence, I asked about the fibers I’d seen.

“Red hairs,” he told me. “Wiry, red hairs. John thought they could’ve been from a chimpanzee, since they’ve been known to attack the genital area, but they usually do damage to other places too.”

“What about the white stuff?,” I asked.

“We’re not sure yet. The lab will have to do an analysis after the storm, but from what everyone over here can determine, it’s some kind of makeup.”

I thanked him and was about to hang up, but he told me to hold on.

“There’s one more thing. Something we found stuffed up around what was left of the caucasian boy’s bladder.”

I shuddered, but told him to continue.

“Well, it’s foam. When we pulled it out, it was just kind of a blobby thing. But then John washed it off.”

My friend trailed off and I heard him sighing deeply into the phone’s receiver. I gave him a second, but urged him on. He sighed again.

“Max, it was one of those red foam noses. The same ones clowns wear.”

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My Wife, the Artist

pumpkins

Jen and I love Halloween. We go all-out when decorating our house and yard. The neighborhood kids love to see what we put up every year and even their parents are impressed by the scale and sophistication of the decorations we use. We don’t just give out candy, we invite the trick-or-treaters into our home to see our setup. Pumpkins, spiders, skeletons, ghosts – you name it, we’ve got it. Our local newspaper even did a feature on us last year. “A Safe and Spooky Spot for Local Kids.” It wasn’t much more than a fluff piece, but it felt good to have our work celebrated.

A project Jen’s been working on over the last fifteen or so years is her “Halloween Town of Horrors.” It’s the centerpiece of our trick-or-treat trip around the house. The town takes up our whole dining room table and it’s a darker take on those big Christmas villages people like put out in December. The architecture is very Tim Burton-esque; lots of strange looking buildings, exaggerated colors, and blood splatters, while the townsfolk lurk in the shadows like little purple zombies and space aliens. As the years have gone by, Jen’s taken her Halloween town from a couple small buildings to the sprawling, populous nightmare-scape it is today.

This year, Halloween came and went. We had a blast. Jen’s Halloween town was a huge hit. Even adults from around the neighborhood came over to take a look. Jen loved the attention; she wanted to be an artist growing up, but, sadly, it wouldn’t pay the bills. As we cleaned the house, Jen picked up one of the townsfolk dolls. Its clothing had a little tear that needed to be fixed. Sighing good-naturedly, she gathered the rest of them into their box. I love those dolls; their aesthetic works beautifully with the town Jen puts them in. They range in size from a raisin to a lemon; some have distinguishable features, others don’t. It takes a while for her to make each one – between 2 and 5 months – but her effort always yields a product that’s perfect for Halloween. Until she can carry one to term, we both agree they shouldn’t go to waste.

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Wikileaks rejected a State Department document and demanded that I destroy it.

wikileaks_logo_text_wordmark

My uncle worked for the State Department. He died a couple weeks ago. As per State Department policy, whenever one of their higher-ranking employees dies, the Department sends a small team to the home of the deceased to ensure they had no sensitive documents in their possession. It’s not that they distrust their dead colleague – they just don’t trust his family.

The Department team came to my uncle’s house one morning, spent a few hours rifling through his closets and drawers, and left with a small pile of papers. They expressed their condolences for my loss, then left. I never saw them again. Not even at the funeral.

On the night I visited and found him on the floor, dying of a heart attack, he told me something. It’s something I would’ve preferred to have never heard; something that made me wish I’d gotten to his house 20 minutes later to find him dead.

“Rockville Bank. Rangeley, ME. Deposit box 4426.” The key was on the ring between his car and house keys.

I pocketed the key before the paramedics arrived. He was dead by then. I went through the motions, arranged what needed to be arranged, and let the State Department do their thing. Last week, I drove from DC up to Rangely. I showed the bank the documents proving I was in charge of my uncle’s estate and owner of the contents of the box. The bank manager unlocked the main lock on top, then left me to unlock the other one on the bottom. Inside was an envelope containing a single sheet of paper dated August 4, 2016, that looked like it had been pulled out of a fire. I took it from the box, left the bank, and read it in my car.

I have to preface this by saying I’ve never been one for conspiracy theories. In fact, I think they’re all a bunch of bullshit. We landed on the moon. Oswald killed Kennedy. Islamic terrorists brought down the twin towers. Vaccines are safe and important. None of the major conspiracy theories have been able to hold up under scrutiny, and all the exponents of the theories are, in one way or another, unhinged. But.

But.

There’s nothing inside me that can adequately explain away what I read on that sheet of paper. Yes, it might be a hoax. During the long drive back to DC, I’d almost convinced myself that it was. But my uncle wouldn’t do something like that. He took his work seriously. He was passionate and moral. All the evidence pointed to the fact the document was real. And if that were the case, people needed to know about it. That had to have been why my uncle had hidden the file away. He wanted me, or someone else, to disseminate it after his death. I made up my mind, and when I got home, I submitted it to Wikileaks.

Five minutes later, I received a phone call. “Destroy the scan you sent us. It is not real. Destroy the file and the physical document. Do not attempt to submit it again. We know who you are.”

I hadn’t provided any personal information to Wikileaks. They don’t even ask for it. And hardly anyone has my phone number. Plus, no one else knew I had that document in my possession.

If anything could have proven the document was authentic and important, that was it.

That all happened last Friday. Every day since then, I’ve gotten calls from different numbers, all asking the same questions. “Is it gone? Is it destroyed?”

Each time, I hung up without saying anything. This morning, though, the voice on the other end said something different. “You will die if that document is leaked.”

I hung up and called the police, who said they would send a car over. But I’m still worried. I am going to destroy the document, but not before I transcribe it. Not before I put it online. Even if they get me – even if they kill me – I’m not sure I want to continue living in a world where the contents of that document are real.

I’ve replaced the burn marks with dashes. The content is still discernible. The context is still available. Whatever happens with this, once it’s out in the open, my conscience can be clear. If this is my last day alive, maybe I’ll be rewarded for bringing this to light. God knows if I live through today, I may never sleep again.

U.S. Department of State: Wikileaks & JA documentation — — summary

JA ordered multiple attempts on the — of BO JB HC according to — sources in — of Ecuador, London. Electronic surveillance of the — is ongoing, although human intelligence —. Following — offer of funding, most attempts linked to JA have stopped. Tactical reversion to JA — Embassy of Ecuador, London — budget to silence sexual assault — and smear accusers in tabloid — as promiscuous or drug users.

JA has accepted the — GBP sum in exchange for keeping secret US UK BZ IT — for refugee experimentation. (See cable —) — experimentation via biological, chemical, radiological, —

— — refugee populations in SY being moved — — —, though Ciprofloxacin shortage makes it difficult to keep enough alive before reaching BZ and IT labs. JA accepting variable sums to hold back information — to sick and dying refugees.

JA received cables — from RU re: US initial success in UK lab — Zika manipulation. Zika reengineering and subsequent failure — reanimation of dead tissue.

Loss of containment in FL, US, GA, US, LON, UK — some bodies regaining movement and autonomy — — following brain death. In some cases, full recovery. — motivation altered. Wikileaks and JA rejecting — reports for GBP 1M per. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and others complying — —.

Final note:

JA assassination attempt on — — 2016 reported successful by — Ecuador, London and US team — via gunshot wound to head. Body — reanimated likely — dormant Zika — accidental exposure to lost mosquito — LON, UK lab. JA new motivation unknown. Gunshot — covered by hair styled — over wounds. Still responsive to — and communication.

Internet in general still unaware of bioengineered — outbreak. — and family of citizens in US and UK — — reanimated dead without anyone knowing it. Monitor cables from — and RU. Avoid mosquito exposure.

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The Empty Cribs on Hawthorn Lane

pacifier

The bloody pacifier I found hanging from my tree belonged to Alyssa Harris, who went missing from her crib two nights ago. I figured it had to have been Alyssa’s when I saw it, but while I waited for the police to arrive, I realized it could’ve belonged to Matthew Roman. Or Muhammad Ahad. Or maybe even Hailey Davis. Over the last four years, they’d all vanished.

Hawthorn Lane developed quite a bit of notoriety in 2015 after Matthew and Muhammad disappeared on the same night. The Romans and the Ahads lived four houses apart, and as far as the detectives were able to tell, the children were abducted within minutes of each other. Both houses were securely locked and there was no sign of a forced entry.

As far as I’m concerned, though, the notoriety and brief rush of attention from the national news wouldn’t have happened if their disappearance hadn’t been on the anniversary of the 2012 abduction of Hailey Davis.

Hailey’s case was special, if it could be called such a thing. That’s because on October 1st, 2013, exactly a year after she went missing, pieces of her were found stuffed in the mailboxes of every family on the street who had, or were expecting, children. A swarm of investigators, both local and federal, descended on our quiet, suburban lane, and worked around the clock for months before admitting defeat. There was no evidence.

No fingerprints. No hairs. No mysterious DNA.

When the media came to town in 2015 after Matthew and Muhammad went missing, the rumors started. Rumors and threats. People from all over the country decided to get involved. They felt it was their duty. They began sending harassing letters and making threatening phone calls to the single adults who lived on Hawthorn Lane. These were people who’d lived here for years; people who had grieved alongside the parents and families who’d lost their children. But that didn’t matter to the crazies, who’d been thoroughly brainwashed by cable news into believing the abductor had to be someone from the neighborhood.

In December of 2015, a Georgia man named Alvin Stovall drove 300 miles up the coast, parked in front of Jose Partida’s house, and shot him to death when he came home from work. Alvin was certain Jose was the murderer of Hailey Davis and the abductor of Matthew Roman and Muhammad Ahad. He’d heard from a cable news anchor that Jose had a criminal record. That, as well as Jose’s name, was all Alvin needed to justify his action.

What the anchor had neglected to mention was Jose’s record was from 1977. And it was for nothing worse than being a passenger in a stolen car. Jose did his three months, got out on his 22nd birthday, and had been a model citizen ever since. He was my friend.

After Jose’s murder, the local police were ordered to keep a tight lid on any information pertaining to the disappearances. When Alyssa Harris was reported missing two days ago, it was printed on page four of the local newspaper. So far, there hadn’t been anyone from the major media outlets poking around. I know it’s only a matter of time, though. Yesterday morning, someone who looked like a reporter was tailing the police cars when they came to investigate the bloody pacifier. For the rest of the day, my phone rang and rang. When I answered, whoever was on the other line just hung up.

That alone was enough to make me worried. My name is Luis Goncalves. I’ve been on Hawthorn Lane for 40 years. I’ve lived by myself since Robert passed away in 1999. Jose Partida was my next-door neighbor. While I appreciate the efforts of our law enforcement officials, they weren’t able to stop Alvin Stovall from murdering my friend. They aren’t able to stop whoever is taking the neighborhood children. I’ve resorted to keeping my pistol holstered to my side all day, every day; even in my house.

I know that may sound paranoid, but look at it from my perspective. Someone is abducting and killing children on my street. An innocent man was gunned down because the news media has convinced a large group of people that Latinos are dangerous criminals. And yesterday morning, hanging from a small branch on a tree in my front yard, was a pacifier dripping with a child’s blood. I can’t take my chances.

All that said, there’s one more thing. I’m reluctant to talk about it, because it’s something I saw when I was experiencing a dizzy spell from my blood pressure medication. I’d blacked out from the medication before, so this could’ve been nothing but a hallucination. Still, these days, with everything that’s going on, I think it bears mentioning.

I was washing up after a midnight snack. The sink is in front of a large picture window that overlooks the front yard. Since it was dark out, I couldn’t see anything but the reflection of myself and the kitchen behind me. I was already feeling dizzy from my medication, but it wasn’t severe enough for me to have to sit, so I kept cleaning.

As I washed the last dish, the overhead light blew. The kitchen went dark. It took a moment for my eyes to acclimate, but I could now see the neighborhood outside. And there was something across the street, opening the Richter family’s mailbox.

A wave of dizziness went through me and I gripped the edge of the counter to steady myself, but I’m certain, despite what I’m about to write, what I saw was really there. It was a pale, nude man with freakishly long legs and even longer arms that protruded from his hips, rather than his shoulders. Despite him being bent down, it was obvious he was tall enough to peer through a second-story window.

He paused with the mailbox half open, then abruptly stepped away and turned around. In two, long strides, he crossed the street into my yard. He gazed through my kitchen window with massive, gray eyes. I stared back. A toothless mouth opened, stretching wide enough to fit a basketball. I reached for my pistol. Through the glass, I heard the sound of infants screaming from deep inside his throat. His mouth shut, then twisted into a grin. Then his long, spindly legs carried him away, down the street, and into the woods.

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In our quest to drill for more and more oil, I think we finally went too deep. Part 2.

plain

Part 1.

The following hours passed in a blur of frantic calls to corporate, systems checks, and a near riot when the divers refused to collect the rapidly-dispersing grease slick that used to be John Edmundson.

The tension broke when Gervaso Zaragoza, whose headache had returned with a vengeance, grabbed a wrench that weighed almost as much as he did, hoisted it over his head like he was going to hit someone, and then toppled backward and fell on his ass. It’s amazing how the humor of someone falling down can diffuse a volatile situation. After a few minutes, the divers stopped complaining and did their part while the rest of the crew shut up and went back to work.

I hadn’t told anyone what I’d seen in the water. As far as corporate was concerned, a catastrophic failure in the hydraulics system was what had pulped their employee. Yes, people with knowledge of the systems involved would be able to dispute it, but at the moment, which was what mattered, no one did. I’d be able to talk with corporate later in the week, once I knew what was going on, and they’d appreciate me keeping it from the rest of the crew. A plausible lie is always better than a disruptive truth.

During the commotion, when I was trying to get everyone to calm down, the “tentacles,” or whatever they were, had fallen back to the floor of the plain. They sat in straight lines at the bottom. I dumped all the data showing their movement to a pair of USB sticks, pocketed them, and purged the storage array of the evidence.

For the rest of the day, I sat at the console and did my best to work without interruption. While the calls to and from corporate had slowed, every 45-or-so minutes, I’d be forced to respond to another board member’s secretary asking the same questions I’d already answered a dozen times. Thankfully, as the day came to an end, even those calls died down. It was quiet.

My direct supervisors left via helicopter in the early evening. I was in charge for the weekend. It wasn’t a new experience; the upper management of the platform had the freedom to go back to the mainland and visit their families a few times a month, and they did so as frequently as possible. I was used to being in charge. In fact, I enjoyed not having anyone breathing down my neck.

In the morning, more of the crew were reporting headaches. Gervaso was not one of them. He said he felt a lot better, and even volunteered to take the shifts of a few of his colleagues who were under the weather. His supervisor, Quan Williams, who felt like shit, told him to do whatever he wanted. I found out about that much later.

I’d been busy since early in the morning, working remotely from my dorm, and using my laptop to control one of the drones. I was studying the tentacles. Overnight, one had moved. Not much, but enough to warrant my investigation – especially because it was touching one of the platform’s support beams.

To make matters worse, the bottom was exceptionally murky. Sediment was floating in a thick cloud. Visibility was awful. While I could see the tentacle touching the platform through a visual/sonar composite, the resolution was low. It was obvious there was movement on the floor of the plain, but its source was invisible. Part of me was certain something was being intentionally hidden.

Around noon, Anand, the head medic, knocked on my door. I met him in the hallway. He informed me that 34 of the 66 crew members were sick with debilitating headaches. I told him to keep me abreast of what was going on, and if anyone took a turn for a worse, to keep it quiet and come to me immediately. He nodded. I think he understood the importance of avoiding another commotion.

I didn’t have to wait long. Anand came back at 2pm. He looked upset. When I asked who’d gotten worse, he looked around, then put his finger to his lips, shushing me. I nodded and he beckoned me to follow him. I did.

We traversed the labyrinthine staircases of the platform. We were heading toward the mechanical room. I hated the mechanical room.

The mechanical room was where all the heaviest equipment was located. It was always loud, always filthy, and always dangerous. Pumps and engines rattled and expelled noxious fumes while hydraulic cables transported fluids under pressures so high that a leak no wider than a human hair could cut a man in half. The crew who worked down there were a mixture of brave and insane. They’d been putting in double time over the last few weeks as they tested and prepared the platform to begin its main drilling cycle.

Anand and I reached the room and found five crewmembers being kept at bay by their supervisor, Karen Vant. When they saw me, they started asking questions – all relating to Gervaso Zaragoza, who’d volunteered to work there for the day, and Frank Panagakos. I’d never met Frank before, but I knew he was one of the newer mechanics on the platform. Karen told her guys to shut up and let us through. To their credit, they did.

Karen, Anand, and I walked down the main corridor between two massive generators. Karen told us how all the holes in the platform from the accident with Edmundson had been patched. All but one. The one we were coming up on.

The mechanical room was essentially the basement of the platform. Below it was nothing but pipes, cables, and water. I saw the hole ahead of us. As we got closer, I saw there was something coming out of it. Something bright red and glinting in the harsh, overhead fluorescent light. My breath caught in my throat.

We approached the hole. A hundred feet below, greenish-gray waves heaved against one another. I got on my knees and peered down, making sure not to touch the thing coming out. On the northern support beam, a thin line of red rose out of the Gulf, all the way to the underside of the platform and over to the hole. Once inside, it stretched down the corridor. Karen asked me if I had any idea what it was. I lied and told her I had no idea. Anand urged us forward, and we continued down the corridor, following the red tube.

We turned corners and ducked under cables and piping until we reached one of the hottest, noisiest, and filthiest corners of the room. Gervaso was there, facing Frank. They stood, motionless and open mouthed, staring at one another as we walked toward them. They didn’t move or acknowledge our approach.

The closer we got, it became obvious something was very, very wrong with them. The red thing had grown up Gervaso’s leg and chest and appeared to have entered his face under his chin. But that was the least disconcerting part.

The light was dim over here; blocked by the piping and machinery. I had to get in close to see exactly what was happening. Karen produced a flashlight without my knowledge and as soon as I was within a foot of their faces, she flicked on the light. I gasped.

Gervaso and Frank were joined by thin, red veins. They appeared to have sprouted from Gervaso’s eyes, and they entered Frank’s face at various spots in his mouth, eyes, and forehead. They trembled slightly, almost like they were shivering. As I watched, another cilia-like vein pushed from the center of Gervaso’s eye and twirled outward, searching for purchase, before settling on Frank’s temple and slipping inside.

“What is it?,” Karen asked. I looked at Anand. He shook his head. A string of drool oozed out of Frank’s mouth.

“We can’t leave them here,” Anand said. “They need to get to a hospital.”

“Can we move them?,” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Anand told me. “They might move on their own if we ask.”

“Gervaso, estas bien?,” I asked. He didn’t answer. He didn’t move. “Frank?” Nothing.

I took the flashlight from Karen and touched it to the veins. They stretched under the pressure, but didn’t react. I pressed harder.

“Maybe you shouldn’t –” started Anand, but I’d already pressed hard enough to detach one of the veins from under Frank’s tongue. Frank exhaled heavily and his left eye turned to look at me. Before any of us could react, the entire platform shook.

“What the fuck was that,?” Anand practically shouted.

“I have no idea,” Karen answered, wide eyed. “It felt like something just crashed into one of the support beams.”

Will be concluded.

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In our quest to drill for more and more oil, I think we finally went too deep. Part 1.

plain

I’ve worked in petroleum engineering for 35 years. Most of it has been in the Gulf of Mexico, though I’d done a bit of contract work in the Middle East and Canada. After the BP disaster, there’d been quite a bit of pressure on the major petroleum companies to use extra caution and increase their R&D budgets to design safer technologies to prevent another environmental catastrophe. For most of the people in my position, that meant more work and less pay. Of course.

My most recent employer has been one of the big American oil companies. I’ve been stationed on an experimental, semi-secret offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico. I say “semi-secret” because we’re using a lot of new, highly-proprietary technologies. If our competitors were to learn about them, we’d be set back a few years and countless billions of dollars. All outward appearances would suggest we’re a normal platform that’s outfitted for extreme-depth drilling. If only the competition knew how deep we were going.

The platform is right near the edge of the drop off leading to the Sigsbee Abyssal Plain. One of the new technologies we’ve employed involve our remotely-operated submersibles. They’re basically just submarine drones with lots of cameras and equipment on them that can go super deep. All the ones we’d used in the past needed to be tethered to the surface using a fiber optic connection.

The physical connection had its pros and cons. Fiber optic connections are speedy as all hell, which means commands and data can be sent back and forth to the drone with no meaningful lag. A major downside, though, is that a physical cable limits the maneuvering capabilities of the drone. At the depths we were hoping to reach, the topography was unknown. Previous attempts to send tethered drones ended in failure when the cables were severed by the terrain.

Even with our best satellite, sonar, and early-drone imagery, our knowledge of the area we wanted to drill was terrible. The resolution was too low for any meaningful data to be gleaned. We knew there was oil down there – lots and lots and lots of it – but until we could develop new ways to map the bottom, we were screwed.

A guy named Masaharu Ajibana changed everything for us. He’d been a materials scientist we’d brought on to work on some of the ceramics composites in our drill heads. When he saw the new, undisclosed materials we’d been wanting to employ in the future drills, he must’ve spent four straight days poring over their properties with an enthusiasm I’d never seen in a person over the age of five.

At the end of those four days, Masaharu not only understood the materials better than the team who invented them, but he’d gotten an idea about how to transmit data through miles and miles of murky saltwater using some bizarre form of piezoelectric resonance unique to the properties of the new ceramics. Essentially, a transceiver on the drone would resonate at the same frequency as one on the platform. Once the transceivers were locked in an oscillatory pattern, smaller, tighter waveforms from a second set of transceivers would traverse the oscillation “cable” linking the drone and the platform.

Nearly every scientist in every department in the company said this was entirely impossible. Still, there was enough support from a few key players in R&D that Masaharu’s claims were investigated. Investigation led to cursory confirmations. Cursory confirmations led to experiments. Experiments led to shocking successes. And shocking successes led to the fastest development and deployment of a new technology in the history of the company.

It’s that technology our company employed three weeks ago. We’d been using a fleet of nine drones to map the abyssal plain of Sigsbee Deep. There’s one “hub” drone and eight “mappers.” The hub has one main resonator which communicates with the platform, and eight smaller ones which communicate with the mappers. We were dumbfounded not only by the simplicity and ease of the data transmissions, but by the richness of the data we were seeing.

Another technology we’d deployed for this project was a small, cable-form drill mounted on the mappers. Its drill head was equipped with our new ceramics and could cut through the bottom of the plain with ease. The cables were 3000 feet long – not anything major – but they allowed the mappers to confirm the massive salt sheet we’d assumed was covering the oil deposits.

Once the drill cable maxes out, a tiny device gets deposited in the cavity. It’s mostly multilevel sonar with some seismographs and embedded communicators. Nothing too advanced. It measures minute seismic activity and sends it back to the hub. The data gets processed by our CPU cluster and is incorporated into our future drilling plans.

As I said, we’ve been mapping for three weeks. A week ago, the seismographs started picking up some bizarre activity. And something else happened. It’s something neither I nor the onboard medics can adequately explain.

Last Tuesday, Gervaso Zaragoza, a member of my team, went to the infirmary complaining of severe headaches. He had no history of migraines and until the headaches started, seemed to be in perfect health. The severity of the pain grew as the day went on. After a couple hours, he was screaming. When I stepped out of the infirmary, another team member came to me and casually mentioned the seismic activity of the plain had been rising all day. On a whim, I asked him to send a sleep command to the seismographs. A minute later, Gervaso was fine.

We resumed the operation of the seismographs later in the afternoon. Gervaso, who was resting but otherwise alert, was unaffected. I knew it had to be a coincidence and did my best to put the event out of my mind.

On Wednesday, the mappers were spread in a wide circle out from the hub. They were pinging the interior of the circle with extremely high-resolution sonar, as well as multi-laser topography measurements as the circle widened. The goal was to see if there had been any appreciable surface shifts since the last measurement three days earlier. With the seismic activity we’d experienced, I’d expected some shifts to be detected.

There were no shifts. Instead, there were a series of long, unbroken convexities lining the sea floor. The scan resolution was extremely sharp, and we could clearly see the digitized images of straight lines pushing nearly a meter above the plain. Even with the scans, I wanted to see a camera feed, so I directed the camera to send a raw feed to the platform. The light on the drone went on, and the screen displayed a long, perfectly-straight mound in the silt that stretched for miles. The other mappers displayed the same thing.

The onboard geologist wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a seismic event being the cause of the convexities. He said we knew very little about the seismological properties of the salt plate beneath the plain. The pressures of the silt and water above it and the oil and gas below made for an intensely complicated interaction model, and even though he’d never heard of the type of thing we were seeing, instances of symmetry in natural geology were well-known. He mentioned the basalt formations at Giant’s Causeway. And that’s how he left it.

I wasn’t convinced. Even though I’m not a geologist, it seemed odd that such obvious and large changes could occur with the comparatively-little seismic activity we’d seen. Even though the activity had increased as we’d observed it, it still hadn’t come close to reaching an intensity that would have moved such a large amount of rock and water.

Two days later, on another mapping mission, I took manual control of one of the drones. I’d had the guys from robotics outfit another couple cameras and lights to the outside. I guided the sub along the tallest of the convexities and positioned it about a foot above its surface. All the cameras and lights traced along the convex surface. No visible change from the other day.

I extended the drill. The drill head sank into the convexity and stopped. It was stuck. The transceivers on the hub reported error transmissions from the mapper. I reversed the drill, backed it out, and tried again. Throughout the platform, I heard a number of sharp reports that sounded like gunshots. In the other room, shouts of surprise and screams of fear rang out. I ran from the control panel to see what was going on.

John Edmundson was lying on the floor. A hole had appeared in his belly. A sucking sound filled the room coupled with John screaming with an intensity I’ve never known to be possible. He moved his hands to the wound in an attempt to plug it, but with a series of horrible, wet cracks, his hands and arms were pulled into his belly. Above him, a hole exploded in the steel ceiling, its ragged edges pointing downward. I realized John was being pulled down to the deck below.

I ran down the steps and watched with profound horror as the man was pulled through a series of holes the size of dimes, all the way through every floor in the platform, down to the water. I ran down each floor, watching the column of gore disappear ever downward. Two minutes later, a foam of pulp and entrails floated in heap on the choppy surface of the water.

I slowly plodded back up the steps, unsure if what I’d just seen could possibly have been real. I was jolted out of my contemplation when I realized, behind the shrill voices of my coworkers, an alarm was screaming from the drone control room. I ran back upstairs, past my traumatized colleagues, and made it to the control room. The camera feed was gone.

I rewound to the moment I’d left from the room and started at the screen with disbelief. The convexity below the drone shook like an electric shock had coursed through its bulk. Then, the silt covering it began to fall away. It wasn’t a rock formation. Ripples of peristaltic convulsions seethed along a gray, scarred surface. A hole opened in the surface of it and the drill cable began to get sucked inside. As the 3000 feet were being consumed, the camera showed a vacant column the width of a dime pointing straight up. I realized that must’ve been what had killed John.

Once the drill cable disappeared, the screen went black. The drone, presumably, was gone. The other drones were still mapping away with mechanical obliviousness. I called up the real time sonar data. The convexities had disappeared from the sea floor. I pulled back on the sonar map and tried to figure out what I was seeing. The sonar feed was slow; around 2 frames per second. Still, there was no mistaking what was coming on screen.

The convexities had all lifted from the abyssal plain and were waving back and forth through the water. They were massive; easily 7000 feet long. I couldn’t figure out what was causing them to move. Then, as the reality of John’s death started to sink in and the strangeness of what the camera showed before it went out began to take hold in my mind, I came to a realization that was impossible to ignore. What I was seeing wasn’t an effect of bizarre, deep-sea geology. They were colossal, writhing tentacles.

Will be continued.

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My erection lasted longer than four hours – and I didn’t call a doctor.

viagra

I’ll just start by saying I didn’t have health insurance. Couldn’t afford it.

Anyway, when I started dating Marie, I was worried our age difference would be a problem. So, before our third date, when I figured things might get physical, I asked my buddy if he’d let me have one of his Viagra pills. He obliged.

The date went wonderfully. The time in my apartment afterward went even better. I’ll keep it classy and just say she was impressed by more than just my huge aquarium. That’s not a euphemism, by the way; I have a really cool aquarium. Of course, if I’d gotten rid of it after Mom died, I probably could’ve afforded health insurance. But I’m getting off topic.

As the night came to a close and Marie was saying goodbye because she had to work early, I realized I was still, well, aroused. For lack of a better term, my cock was harder than trying to put a dry sock on a wet foot. Marie, to her credit, took it as a compliment. She left, and I was alone. Alone with it.

I did what I could to bring it down, and yes, that means what you think it does. A half hour and 300 porn clips later, there was another successful firing. I cleaned up and went to make something to eat.

The image of a 44 year-old man sporting a turgid erection as he makes a sandwich is not one I’d like you to hold on to, but for the purposes of this story, it’s kinda important. So I’m sorry about that. But as the sandwich was built, I became increasingly aware that I might be having a legitimate medical issue. I stood in the kitchen, trying to eat, but I had a hard time focusing on the the pastrami. A different meat was on my mind.

With a growing sense of concern, I waddled back to my computer desk. Here’s a tip: if you ever want to feel disgusted, do a search for “priapism.” Even better, do a search for “untreated priapism.” You’ll be regaled with images of poor guys who, for whatever reason, had erections that wouldn’t go down. Over time, the blood trapped in there went bad, and the organ began to rot. It turns purple, then black. The sufferer not only can lose his dick, but could die of blood poisoning if all that nasty stuff goes into his bloodstream.

I didn’t want to lose my dick. I didn’t want to die. But I also didn’t want to have to declare bankruptcy. As much as I was terrified of my condition, I simply couldn’t afford to go to the ER. So, after more Googling, I realized what I had to do.

Mom died in 2014. She was diabetic. I’d gotten rid of most of her medical stuff, but I still had some. Of those “some,” one thing was relevant to this particular story. A needle. Yes. And again, I’m sorry.

I sterilized the head of my penis with some rubbing alcohol, and before I could lose my nerve, I stuck it in and pulled on the plunger. Having my hog sucked had never been so painful.

The hypodermic needle filled with dick blood. When it was full, it was obvious the head gotten smaller. I squirted the blood down the sink, then did it twice more. When all was said and done, my soggy, Swiss-cheesed glans sat at the end of my shaft like a beanie on the tip of a pool cue.

The shaft was a major problem. Besides the pain in my glans from the needle marks, the shaft itself ached terribly. I’d been about seven hours since Marie and I had started fooling around. Everything I read online said eight hours was the absolute limit before irreversible damage would occur. I had to hurry.

Try as I might, I couldn’t get the needle to work properly in the shaft. Part of it was the pain, which was a thousand times worse than it’d been on the tip, but the other part was how the biology of that area is. It’s not just a basic tube that can be emptied and filled. It’s more like a sponge with many chambers which fill with blood, then clamp shut. I could empty a chamber or two with the needle, but I’d have to stick myself hundreds of times to get it done. I simply didn’t have the time. Plus, I was terrified of further injuring myself if I pushed the needle too deep.

I started to panic and I felt myself getting dizzy. Some of it was from the pain, certainly, but to this day I’d swear I’d already started to get poisoned. That freaked me out even more. Short of stabbing my cock over and over and over with the needle and probably destroying the organ in the process, another part of me worried that, in my panic, I’d break the needle off inside. It wasn’t going to happen. I’d rather die.

Panic mixed with despair as I knew I’d probably have to call 911. I cradled my face in my hands and cried for a minute, then got up and headed toward the phone. As I passed the aquarium, I stopped. The exotic fish stared, no doubt judging me. I didn’t care. I’d figured something out. Something that, in my haze of fear and panic, seemed reasonable. Now, a year later, I can barely comprehend how I took the next step.

The biggest fish in my tank, the red-ear sunfish, has a special diet. Regular fish food won’t do it. No, the red-ear sunfish needs to eat leeches. And in the small refrigerator next to the aquarium, I had a box of them.

My dizziness had grown severe and I dropped to my knees and opened the little fridge, pulled out the box, stuffed my hand in, and pushed a handful of the writhing, black leeches against my awful, blood-filled dick. The last sight I had before passing out was the biggest of the leeches pushing its mouth against my shaft.

I was out for hours. When I woke up, it was morning. For a brief moment, I was confused. I couldn’t remember why I was on the floor. To my credit, it all came flooding back pretty quickly. I gasped and jumped to my feet. Here’s another tip: if you’ve had leeches sucking your dick for a few hours, don’t jump to your feet.

I felt terrible pain as the engorged leeches, unable to support their own weight, were ripped off my body. All but one, which had attached itself to my pubic area and could rest its weight on the base of my penis, dropped onto the hardwood floor. Two of them burst like blood-filled water balloons while the other three just writhed pathetically. I shrieked and slapped at the one connected to me. It flew off, hit the side of the aquarium, and splattered.

As disgusted as I was, I felt intense and overwhelming relief. My stupid, tiny, flaccid dick hung from me like a newborn doorstop. I poked it a couple times, amazed that it still had feeling. Its color looked decent enough. Somehow, despite doing everything wrong and doing things out of panic that I would’ve never considered otherwise, my dick had survived. And so had I.

So that’s about it. Later that night, I gave the thing a test firing. It worked. Then, as I waited with bated breath, it returned to its normal, pathetic size. No harm, no foul. I have to admit, though, I still have a hard time receiving oral sex without thinking of those leeches. And I guess maybe now you will, too.

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Making Faces

face

I was torn from my sleep by the sound of my daughter’s screams. I rushed across the hall and saw Jessie standing in front of her bedroom window. When I wrapped my arms around her, I noticed her pajamas were soaked with sweat. The screams tapered off and gasping sobs replaced them; her tiny body heaving as it attempted to take in more air than her lungs would allow.

I picked her up and carried her into my room. We sat on the bed and I held her until she’d calmed enough for me to ask what happened. She shook her head. Hot tears spilled down her cheeks.

“Please, sweetheart – I promise it’s okay. What happened?”

Jessie’s wide, blue eyes stared into mine, still leaking away the memory of whatever trauma she’d endured. She pulled my nightgown, beckoning me to come down to her level so she could whisper something in my ear. I obliged.

“There was a big girl in my window making faces at me.”

I lifted my head again to look at Jessie, still feeling the hot condensation from her breath in my ear.

“A big girl?,” I asked, puzzled. Jessie nodded and wiped her eyes on her sweaty pajamas.

“Come on,” I told her, forcing a smile. “Let’s get you in the tub. I’ll let you use my bath bomb.”

For the first time since the ordeal began, a smile flashed across her face. Finally.

As we waited for the tub to fill, Jessie held me around my waist. Her crying had stopped, but she still trembled. I stroked her hair and told her it was okay, over and over, while wondering what could have possibly scared her so badly. This type of episode was entirely unlike her. Quite the contrary; I’d always walk in on her sneaking peeks of scary movies on TV even though I’d told her, in no uncertain terms, that she wasn’t to watch them. But still, even though she’d seen some creepy monsters and murderers, they’d never given her nightmares.

When the tub was filled and the bath bomb was releasing bubbles and glitter and scents that delighted and relaxed Jessie, I helped her out of her pajamas and into the water. She sat there peacefully as her tiredness caught up with her again. Her eyes closed. I continued stroking her hair.

After a little while, knowing she needed to go back to bed, I shook her awake. She opened her eyes and saw me, prompting a smile. But then she stiffened, her eyes widening, and screamed again. I reached into the tub and grabbed her, trying to hold her close, but she pushed and clawed at me, trying to get away.

I cried out to her, “Jessie, what is hap –” and I stopped. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something behind me. Something at the window.

I whirled around, yanking Jessie against my back as I shielded her from something I hadn’t even properly seen. But soon I had. And my own panicked shriek drowned out that of my daughter.

Peering in through the bathroom window was a round, wide face. Pale white with small, jaundiced eyes, it pushed against the window screen until it fell out and clattered on the floor. The face moved toward us on a dowel-thin, articulated neck connected directly to its chin.

“Get out!,” I shouted, mustering up as much violence in my voice as possible.

The neck was blocking our path to the door, and the hideous face turned and stared directly at me before opening its mouth and saying one word: “Jessie.”

A paralyzing wave of incomprehensible terror bloomed inside me. The voice was low and droning, like a normal woman’s voice slowed and pitched down an octave. I felt Jessie stiffen against my back and she pressed her face against my spine, as if trying to hide inside me.

More neck came through the window, the vertebrae bulging against its tight skin as it swayed in the space around us like a long finger with a hundred knuckles.

“Jess……ie.” The voice was even deeper now; I felt it in my chest and bowels.

The face moved toward me and I struck it with my fist. My hand thudded uselessly against its forehead. Before my eyes, the face began to change. Its features elongated, then contracted. Its mouth stretched to its earlobes, then shrank down to a pinhole. The entire topography of its cheekbones and chin and jaw shattered, then reformed. A second later, I was looking at a terribly deformed version of my daughter.

“Jessie.” It exhaled heavily. Hot, stinking breath filled my nostrils.

The strength in my arms vanished. The stability in my legs evaporated. I dropped to the floor, helpless. Jessie was exposed.

“Jess…ie.” The long neck wrapped around my daughter like an anaconda and pulled her toward the window. Jessie, no longer screaming, struggled to breathe against its constricting grasp. Her face reddened. The terrible thing drooled black fluid onto the top of her head. Jessie stopped struggling. She, and the creature, disappeared into the night.

My body regained its strength and I bolted to the window. In the dim light of the crescent moon, I watched the long legs of the thing carry my daughter away into the woods.

I called 911. The police came. They investigated for days. I was the only suspect in her disappearance, but as days turned into weeks and weeks stretched into months, the trail had gone cold. Even if I was still a suspect, they had nothing to even hint at me being the reason for her disappearance. And, in fact, there was evidence to the contrary.

During the initial investigation, when every nook and cranny of the house was looked at, when every piece of furniture was upended, and when every inch of the property was examined, there were only two pieces of evidence; neither of which had anything to do with me, other than to help corroborate my story.

The first morning of the investigation, officers noticed a trail of glitter from the bath bomb stretching from the bathroom window all the way through the yard and high into the trees at the mouth of the forest. When an officer scaled one of the trees, he found glitter stuck to leaves 25 feet up. It was strange, they admitted, but in their words “glitter gets everywhere.”

While they were quick to dismiss that as direct evidence, they couldn’t explain the other thing they found. Smeared across the window in Jessie’s room was the greasy, distorted shape of a woman’s enormous face. When the lab analyzed the cells that’d been left behind, the results were “inconclusive.” The samples were deemed “non-viable.” To me, that meant they wanted to hide what they’d discovered. After a long while, the active investigation was closed.

It’s been six years since Jessie was taken. I live alone in the same house, and every night, I go to bed wishing my daughter would come back to me. Recently, I noticed my bedroom windows had started getting dirty faster than they usually did. I washed them and didn’t think much of it. Not until this morning.

This morning, I woke up to find the outside-facing side of every window covered in grayish, translucent grease. For a while, I struggled to understand what had happened. Then I got to the picture window in the living room. It, too, was filthy. But there was something in that filth. Outlined against the wide piece of glass was the impression of a large face and a thin, articulated neck. The same face I’d seen that night. And next to it, clear as day, was the print of another, smaller face.

Jessie’s face.

Supported by the same, terrible neck.

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My only experience with ASMR

asmr

I’ve been dealing with anxiety my entire life. Whether in social situations, work situations, or even at home by myself, feelings of panic rise to the surface and consume me. Medications don’t work. Therapy doesn’t work. Each day, I wake up knowing at some point before I go back to bed, I will feel like the world is about to collapse around me.

I heard about ASMR online. For those who don’t know, it’s short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Basically, it’s an induced euphoric response that supposedly causes deep relaxation and a sense of wellbeing. I’ve never been relaxed. I’ve never been well.

Like all “natural” products designed to elicit a positive biological response, the ASMR space on the Internet is full of bullshit. Countless fraudsters and faux-experts tout extraordinary claims, and while scientists have found no direct correlation between ASMR and health, mental or otherwise, those who sell ASMR-related products will tell you it’s the next big thing. The thing “doctors don’t want you to know about.” Needless to say, I was skeptical.

Skepticism, however, in the face of daily panic, can often upshift into something resembling hope. I did my research. I sifted through claims and medical information with my untrained, but nonetheless determined, mind.

Another problem with something like ASMR is that people claim they know what they’re doing, when, in fact, they’re just trying to get hits on their website. YouTube, for example, is full of kids talking seductively into their microphones while dull synthpop plays in the background. Those are the top hits for ASMR. You need to dig deep before you find something you think is legit.

And I did.

Last year, I found an ASMR site run by a university in Ukraine. The cursory listen I gave seemed relaxing enough; a soft voice over gentle electronic pulses and the certain sounds from nature, like running water. The associated imagery was abstract and colorful, reminding me of Easter palates and springtime flowers. The samples were only five minutes long. To access the rest, they needed credit card and shipping information. At least the subscription came with a free Blu-Ray copy 8-10 weeks later.

I plugged in my payment information, name, and address, knowing American Express would cancel any fraudulent charges in the event the Ukrainians wanted to scam me. I wasn’t particularly concerned about that, though. The payment went through, and I was greeted by a “Members Only” page and libraries filled with various ASMR videos. I put on my noise-cancelling headphones, clicked the first video, and set it to fullscreen.

The world melted away. For the first time in my life, I felt relaxation overtake the omnipresent anxiety. Peace washed through my mind and passed in a wave down to my chest and throughout my limbs. My sensation of self vanished. Whatever this university had developed, it was a miracle. Enraptured by the sights and sounds and sensations, I remained in my chair for two straight days.

I awoke to the feeling of my headphones being torn off and a rough hand shaking my shoulder. Panic bloomed within my chest, but agony quickly overtook it. My legs and lower back were searing with hideous pain and I screamed, only to have the same hand clasp over my mouth.

“Shut up,” came a voice with a thick accent. A Ukrainian accent. “Scream again and we’ll take even more. Do you have any money in the house? Any jewelry?”

I tried to shake my head, which was pinned back against the computer chair from the man’s brute strength. “No,” I grumbled behind his hand, tears streaming down my face from the overwhelming pain.

“Good. Now sleep for another hour or so.” He strapped the headphones back on my ears and straightened me up so I was facing the monitor again. Before slipping back beneath the waves of bliss, I realized I’d been strapped in my chair. I didn’t know why.

After an hour, the video ended. The audio cut out. The pain returned. I screamed again, this time alone in my apartment. I was still strapped to the chair. I looked down at my legs, certain they were broken or slashed by the intruders. But my legs were gone. My screaming stopped and everything blurred. I reached for the phone on my desk and managed to dial 911 before passing out, my hand groping at the pain in my back where my left kidney had been.

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The Perils of Live TV

cook

One of the biggest misconceptions about live television is that it’s actually live. Let me tell you a secret: nothing is live. Everything has a built-in delay, just in case something unexpected happens. It’s not so much out of concern for the viewers, but for the advertisers. The last thing Pampers wants to deal with is some British actor saying “cunt” on a talk show or an NFL quarterback getting paralyzed after a big hit. It’s bad for the brand.

I work for the Food Network. Over the last ten years, we’ve moved from basic cooking instruction to a more “reality TV” style; lots of competitions, celebrity cameos, that whole thing. Lots of people didn’t like the change, but we got a big uptick in the younger demographics as a result.

One of the problems with capturing a younger demographic is holding onto them as they transition into an older one. Let’s say, for example, when we started with the reality TV shows, we got a viewer named Jenny. Jenny was 22 when she first saw Ace of Cakes and became a regular viewer of the network since then. She was fresh out of college, had few responsibilities, and was enjoying being a kid.

Fast-forward nine years. Jenny’s 31 and a stay-at-home mom. Her priorities are far different than they were when she was 22. She has two children, and, on weekdays, she babysits her brother’s twins as well. Instead of eating out all the time like she did at 22, Jenny’s responsible for feeding a household. She doesn’t have time for reality shows anymore and she wishes her cable company offered the Cooking Channel – the sister station to the Food Network that offers more how-to programming.

There are hundreds of thousands of Jennys across the country – first generation captures from the reality-TV era who yearn for more instructional programming. But it’s a balancing act. If the Food Network goes back to their original format, they lose the potential for new, younger viewers. If they stay with primarily reality-based programming, they lose all the Jennys out there.

Our goal, and by “our,” I mean: me and my team at the network, was to create a show to bridge that gap. After the success of The Kitchen, a Saturday morning program featuring four of the network’s biggest stars as they cook exciting recipes and give tips and techniques, we were tasked to make something for the weekday morning viewers.

We ended up creating a show that featured two of the network’s top chefs, a live studio audience, and Q&A from online viewers. It was going to be as interactive a show as we’d ever made, and the twist was, it would be “live.” Now, remember what I said about “live” TV. Sure, the audience would be there watching the chefs cook and asking them questions while they did, but the online questions would be from emails. The delay would be 30 minutes.

It was a huge success in the various test markets. We had one show to go with the stand-in chefs before the show went national, this time in Oklahoma, but there was a problem. There had been a tornado warning in the county. It had since expired, but the audience was about half of what it should’ve been. We decided to go with it anyway, since we figured a lot of the at-home audience would still be inside after the storms. They’d be watching.

Right away, there were technical issues. Even though the tornado warning had passed, there were still frequent lightning strikes and other atmospheric disturbances all around the station. Things still went on, however, and the chefs started cooking.

The first problem came when the cream wouldn’t whip. The chef made a show out of it, poking fun at the behind-the-scenes staff and trying it again with a new container of cream. Again, nothing. In my ear, one of the producers said it might have been because of the storm. He didn’t sound like he knew what he was talking about.

The chefs gave up on the whipped cream and decided to make a creme anglaise. Those require eggs. Two eggs were cracked into the mixing bowl without incident. The third, though, was bad. It was blood-red, clumpy, and smelled terrible. The odor permeated the studio quickly and I saw the audience members holding their noses. When I held my own, my fingers came back bloody. I hadn’t had a nosebleed since I was a kid. We cut to a commercial.

Neither chef was happy. They agreed to scrap the whole “dessert first” idea and just go directly to the entree. No one would complain about the basic steak-and-potatoes main course, especially in cow country. The kitchen was reset and the show resumed.

The downward spiral continued. As thunder boomed outside, loud enough to be picked up by studio microphones, the mixer for the potatoes started to smoke and emit sparks before the chef yanked the plug out of the wall and threw the whole thing in the sink. “Just goes to show you guys, disasters can happen in any kitchen,” he joked to the audience, still obviously irritated but trying to play it cool.

Potatoes got mixed and mashed by hand and the chefs fielded questions about whether or not milk or cream should be used. There was another thunderclap and the studio lights flickered. I’ve always hated working in these satellite studios – compared to the main studios in New York, these were like living in the dark ages.

The lights stayed on, thankfully, and the half-hour delay caught up to the beginning of the show. All over Oklahoma, people watching the Food Network were about to see the show for the first time.

Problems aside, the potatoes came out great. During a commercial, I had an intern get me a spoonful. I should’ve had him get me a bowl. Didn’t matter – after the broadcast, I’d be able to eat all I wanted.

The studio audience, to their credit, had taken all the technical problems in stride. I hoped the TV audience would do the same, and figured they would, as long as they didn’t turn the TV off in disgust at the sight of that egg.

The chefs moved on to the steak. Each discussed their favorite techniques; one preferring a sous-vide style followed by a blast in a hot pan, while the other advocated grilling it over hardwood charcoal. Both methods would be used and the lucky studio audience would get samples to taste and choose their favorite cooking method.

The cast-iron pan was hot and the grill, despite the powerful fans sucking away the smoke, filled the studio with the savory aroma of burning hardwood. I was starving.

Chef Bob cooked his steak first, then showed the audience the perfect edge-to-edge pinkness that only a sous-vide cooked steak can achieve. The crust on the outside was magnificent. Maillard would have been proud. Wind battered the studio walls and more thunder rolled by. The power went out.

Everyone in the studio groaned, but not as loud as the executive producer. We were in a time slot. Even with the delay, which we could shorten if we had to, there was a hard out a the top of the hour when Chopped! was scheduled to air. The last thing we wanted was to have the show just cut off entirely. If the power didn’t come back on before the delay was used up, it’d look awful. Plus, we’d have to issue refunds to the local advertisers who’d purchased that time.

We waited. And waited. And waited. We had less than a minute of delay left before the power went back on. The whole team was galvanized into action and, with only one second of delay left, we resumed filming.

For the first time in about 20 years, the broadcast was fully live. I thanked God we weren’t in front of a national audience, because if someone screwed up and said a bad word, the FCC fines we’d have to deal with would be crippling.

More thunder rumbled outside as the chef talked about how sous-vide was a nice novelty, but almost everyone, in reality, preferred a grilled steak. He seasoned as he talked, obviously comfortable with the cameras and the audience who hung on every word. The grill, which had to be refilled with more charcoal to bring it back up to temperature after the delay, was screaming hot again. The chef used his laser thermometer to take the temperature of the coals. 733 degrees. Perfect for the initial sear.

Another clap of thunder and the lights flickered again. I felt my stomach leap with panic, but the lights stayed on. We only had 11 minutes left before Chopped! came on.

With the seasoning complete and the audience dying to see the steak get cooked, the chef picked up the rib eye with his tongs and carefully placed it on the searing grill.

The other chef began to scream. Everyone, including the production crew, jumped. With expertise honed by years in television, the camera operators instinctively turned the cameras toward the screaming man. 31 studio audience members and 14,000 households across Oklahoma watched as the chef’s skin blistered and charred.

“What the fuck is going on?,” the executive producer shouted, his voice clearly audible over the screams of pain and panic. Before the cameras could pan away, the chef’s eyes burst in an explosion of boiling lachrymal fluid and blood. The skin on his nose, forehead, and cheeks bubbled and blackened.

As EMTs rushed toward the man, one of them knocked over a carton of eggs and sent the contents splattering across the floor. Behind me, with a sound I will never forget for as long as I live, Dave, the sound engineer, crumpled to the floor with his body in knots of hideously broken bones; his skull caved in and leaking brain matter onto my shoes.

The loudest thunderclap yet drowned out even the panicked shouting and screams of pain. And that was it. When all was said and done – whatever it was that had been said and done – Dave was dead. The chef was dead. The cameras had never stopped rolling. Not until Chopped! came on.

The Food Network settled lawsuits for the better part of a year. Needless to say, our show wasn’t picked up. No one could ever figure out what had happened, but the funerals I attended and the trauma endured by the audiences, both studio and remote, are proof enough that I didn’t imagine it. If you know anyone in Oklahoma who was watching the Food Network on April 11th, 2015 between 10 and 11am, ask them what they saw. They’ll tell you. I’ll bet they haven’t watched a single live broadcast of anything ever since.

And yes, the network got an FCC fine from the producer saying “fuck” on air. They were okay with the burning skin, for some reason.

More.
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