Body Cast

huntsman

(Horror stories about spiders.)

My therapist suggested I write this out. I guess reliving that night and putting my experiences on paper will help me get over the trauma.

A few years ago, I was in a motorcycle wreck. Broke my left tibia and fibula, shattered my right patella, got a greenstick fracture of my left femur, multiple fractures in my pelvis, breaks in almost all my ribs, and two broken collarbones. I was immobilized from the shoulders down by a heavy body cast. They told me I was lucky.

My wife, Violet, was supportive and nurturing. She never once complained about having to care for me. She cooked all my meals, kept me company, and emptied my bedpan without grimacing. About two weeks into my convalescence, Jenna called us, bawling, because her college roommate died. Vi had to leave immediately and be there for her. Vi’s sister, Kathy, was going to take care of me.

When I woke up the following morning, Vi was off to get Jenna. Kathy was there, cheerfully making breakfast and talking up a storm as she helped me with my more embarrassing biological needs. Like her sister, she never made me feel ashamed. She left around 11 that night and told me she’d be back at dawn.

Continue reading “Body Cast”

Maria’s Extra-Credit Assignment

slug

When I was in college, I dated a biologist named Maria. Well, a biology undergraduate. She was a lot of fun, albeit slightly odd. Being a bit odd myself, we hit it off right away. Our first date lasted almost 12 hours – the entirety of which was spent talking as we sipped terrible coffee in a 24-hour diner.

Maria told me she wanted to focus on entomology after undergrad, then started to regale me with passionate stories about the local banana slug.

I was familiar with the banana slug. Everyone on campus was. They have an unfortunate habit of falling out of trees and landing on the heads of unsuspecting students and faculty. Being around 8” long and remarkably disgusting, having one plop on one’s head is pretty close to a living nightmare. My first month on campus, one missed me by inches and splattered on the concrete. I was picking slug out from between my shoelaces for a week.

Continue reading “Maria’s Extra-Credit Assignment”

My cellar door is breathing.

scary-basement

We’d been finding paint chips and broken bits of plaster on the carpet near the cellar door. I’d vacuum them up, but each morning they’d be back. At first, I thought it had to be from mice or termites burrowing into the wall. We’ve had mice in the basement since we moved in, but they’d never been seen anywhere else in the house. Despite that, I looked for evidence that they could’ve made the mess, but I couldn’t find any. There wasn’t anything out of sort whatsoever, aside from what we’d find in the mornings.

Larry didn’t think much of it. He mentioned something about a construction site a mile or so away where they’d been blasting out rock. Apparently the shockwaves they produce can form cracks on walls and ceilings. Just cosmetic issues, he assured me. Nothing structural. But neither of us could remember hearing any blasting – especially in the middle of the night.

My guess was whatever had been making our cellar warmer than usual over the last few weeks was to be blamed. Neither Larry nor I could figure out why that was happening, either, but we both assumed there was something with the furnace. The HVAC technician couldn’t find anything wrong, but even he admitted it was strange that the basement was a full 30 degrees warmer than the temperature set on the thermostat.

So, with the working belief that the paint and plaster chips were from the expansion and contraction of the doorway, we went on caring about more important things and hoped the heat issue would fix itself.

Last week, I was getting home late after a red-eye flight back from my sister’s. Larry was dead asleep when I walked in the house at 4:30am, and I was so sleep deprived I couldn’t believe I hadn’t killed myself driving home. After I put my stuff down and was getting ready to head upstairs, I saw something that, at the time, I was certain was the result of my exhaustion: the cellar door and the surrounding frame were moving in and out.

I shook my head to get my senses back, but the door and frame still moved in a slow, deliberate pattern. Tiny flecks of plaster fell with each contraction. I walked up to the door and put my hand on it. I still wasn’t trusting my eyes and knew that touch would confirm or deny what I was seeing. As I expected, the second I touched the door, the movement stopped. I went upstairs and slept for 10 hours.

Larry was at work when I woke up. He was pulling a double that day, and I likely wouldn’t see him again until the next morning. After I showered and went downstairs, I found quite a bit more plaster and paint on the floor than usual. The memory of what I thought I’d seen the night before came back, and I experienced an involuntary twinge of fear. It made me feel a bit silly – almost like how I’d felt when I was a little girl and still afraid of the dark.

I brought out the vacuum and started to clean up the mess. When I was running the vacuum over the carpet right next to the cellar, I felt hot air rushing out of the cracks on the sides and bottom of the door. Not warm. Hot. I shut off the vacuum and listened. Aside from the gentle rush of hot air, there was nothing.

I tentatively touched the doorknob, ready to pull back if it was too hot. It wasn’t. It was very warm, but not hot. The fear came again as I knew I was about to open the door and go downstairs. I didn’t want to. The child me wouldn’t have. But I’m 52 years old. This is our house, and we’ve lived here for 26 years. We know it inside and out. There was nothing to be afraid of.

The fear remained. I opened the door and was hit in the face with a rush of hot, wet air.

While the temperature wasn’t unendurable, it was entirely unpleasant. My plan was to rush downstairs to make sure nothing was on fire, then run back up and call the HVAC man for an emergency visit, no matter the cost. I tiptoed down the old, wooden steps and entered the basement.

The wind rushing up the stairs faded as I got closer to the bottom. All that remained was humid, oppressive air. I began sweating immediately, and I walked across the room toward the furnace. It wasn’t even on. I touched it, and while warm, it wasn’t close to the temperature of the room.

Condensation was covering the tiny windows at the top of the walls. And there was an odor. It was heavy and thick and reminded me of vomit. I felt my stomach churning as my mission now became finding the source of the smell. Whatever it was, it had to go.

It didn’t take long.

On the other side of the furnace, up against the wall, was a pile of dead mice. Tens of them. Maybe 50. They were hideously decayed and dripping with dark yellow slime. I gagged so hard I felt my eyes bulge and I pulled my shirt over my nose and mouth. I couldn’t believe we hadn’t noticed them before, and I was miserable about the prospect of cleaning them up. But it had to be done.

I ran upstairs, grabbed a bucket, some kitchen gloves, and a bottle of bleach. Back in the stifling basement, I grabbed the vermin as quickly as I could, threw them all in the bucket, threw the gloves on top, and poured bleach over the whole area. I’d come back later and scrub the remaining slime and bleach and sloughed fur off the floor. I just couldn’t take any more at the moment.

I grabbed the bucket and headed back upstairs. I could’ve sworn I saw the cellar doorway widening and narrowing as I went, accompanied by waxing and waning gusts of hot air on my skin. My fear and disgust were bordering on terror as I burst through the doorway into the cheery living room.

I stood in the center of the living room, watching the doorway. It wasn’t moving. The bucket of dead vermin smelled incomprehensibly putrid. I went out the back door and was ready to throw the whole thing way out back where the property met the woods, when I stopped. There was smoke coming from the gloves on top of the mice. Another smell joined that of the putrefying rodents: burning rubber. I upended the bucket into the brush. I saw that the parts of the gloves that had touched the mice were bubbling and burning away.

As soon as I got back inside, I called the HVAC guy. He said he was booked solid all day and any work after 6pm would be at double the usual rate. I told him I didn’t care. I needed the furnace fixed. I needed whatever it was leaking removed. I couldn’t have our home in the shape it was in anymore.

The HVAC guy arrived around 7. I felt bad to be pulling him away from dinner with his family, so I made him a sandwich and some macaroni and cheese. He appreciated it, and brought the plate downstairs with him so he could eat while he worked. I wasn’t exactly sure how anyone could eat under conditions like I’d seen that afternoon, but I didn’t bother arguing. I left him to his work and went next door to see my elderly neighbor.

We got to talking, and it was almost 10 by the time I realized the HVAC technician was still working. I wished Gladys a good night and went home. The tech’s van was still in the driveway.

I walked inside and headed to the cellar door. Plaster and dried paint chips littered the carpet and were being blown across the room by the steady breeze coming up the staircase. Three deep cracks in the door frame and ceiling had appeared.

I called down to the technician and asked how it was going. He didn’t reply. I called again, louder. Nothing. That same fear welled up in me again. I looked around. This time, the cheery living room was dark. The windows showed nothing but blackness and the distorted reflection of diffuse kitchen light and the harsh illumination from the tech’s lamps in the basement.

I called a third time. He didn’t respond, but I jumped when a loud, splintering crack rang out right next to me as another fissure appeared in the door frame. I could’ve sworn I saw the frame move right before it happened.

My fourth and final call went unanswered. For the second time that day, I knew I’d go down the stairs. My 52 year-old body carried my frightened, 8 year-old mind down the steps. I felt hot, sticky air on my face.

The moment I reached the bottom, the smell hit me. It was just like it’d been with the mice, only heavier. I spoke the tech’s name, rather than calling it. My voice was small and weak and I realized, as I walked toward where he’d been working, I was shaking.

I reached the furnace and headed around to the other side. The smell was so strong, my eyes had started to water. But even through my bleary, tear-filled eyes, I could see the technician’s clothes and shoes. They were covered in the same yellow slime and smoked weakly as whatever was burning them ate its way through. The man who owned the clothes was nowhere to be found.

I ran upstairs and called the police, fully aware that the doorway was moving in and out as I ascended the staircase, feeling cool air against my face, followed by hot air against my back. I left the house and waited with Gladys for them to arrive.

It’s been five days and the technician has not been recovered. There’s been a town-wide search for him, and his wife and daughters have appeared on television begging for him to come home. Larry and I have allowed the police to search the house while we stay at a hotel. I’ve refused to go back until everything is resolved.

It wasn’t the terrifying strangeness of the cellar that has kept me out of our house. It wasn’t the still-missing man who came to fix our furnace. It was something else. It was the result of the chemical analysis of the substance on the HVAC man’s clothes and the mice I’d taken from the basement. Normally, we wouldn’t have been given that information, but Larry’s brother is a cop. He told us what it was, and now I know I’ll never set foot in that house again as long as I live.

Stomach acid.

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People are disappearing in northern Canada.

lake

For the last 35 years, a lake in northern Canada has been the site of hundreds of suspected drownings. The location is in the middle of the Canadian tundra. There is nothing around. No food, no shelter. Just cold, inhospitable wilderness.

The lake is frozen eight months out of the year. Nothing happens then. But during the thaw, when we’re doing our flyovers, we’ll see clothes floating on the surface of the water.

Like we’ve always done, we’ll dispatch a team to investigate. They’ll bring back what they can recover, which will invariably be clothing and someone’s wallet or purse.

So far, we’ve never recovered a single body. Continue reading “People are disappearing in northern Canada.”

The Sleeping Game

furnace

My brother and cousins and I used to play a game whenever we had a sleepover. It was simple: we’d stay up and scare the living f**k out of each other. When we were at Erin and Kyle’s house, it was the scariest by far. Her house was haunted. That’s what everyone said. Even her parents knew it. “Don’t worry about Mr. Toombs,” they’d say. “He’s harmless.” Then they’d laugh and go back to what they were doing.

Mr. Toombs was the man who owned the house before Erin’s parents. He died all alone and no one realized he was gone until many months later. Even though the house got gutted and renovated before it went on the market, we had this feeling he’d died in the basement right near the furnace. The air there just felt thick and heavy – like old, sour breath.

We’d have our sleepovers a few times a month. Our parents all worked at the same factory. Whenever they had to take third shift, we’d either stay at home and Erin and Kyle would come to our house or Greg and I would go over to Erin and Kyle’s. I never minded all the moving around until Kyle said we had to play that game. I hated it.

Kyle was the oldest and could be mean if he wanted to. He wasn’t a bully; he usually knew when to back off and genuinely felt bad if he made one of us cry. But he still liked to get his way. And that meant we’d have to play the sleeping game.

The first time we played the sleeping game, we were at our house. The four of us were in our sleeping bags in the living room and Kyle started to tell a really terrifying story about a skinny alien that comes through the window and cuts you up in your bed. Greg, Erin, and I hated the story, but I could tell Erin was especially horrified. She was only six. I kept telling Kyle to take it easy on his sister, but he was relentless. To Erin’s credit, she didn’t cry, but I think that was the problem. He probably would’ve stopped if she had.

The game went like this: after the story, you weren’t allowed to get out of your sleeping bag. No matter how scared you were, you couldn’t get up to get water, you couldn’t go to the bathroom, and under no circumstances could you run upstairs to get comfort from the grownups. If you did, you’d have to get an indian burn from the rest of the group.

The night of the alien story, I couldn’t stop looking at the living room windows. Whenever a car went by and cast its light against the wall, I’d shiver and feel my balls drawing up into my body while goosebumps rose on the back of my neck. Stupid Greg and Kyle were asleep already. Erin, whose sleeping bag was next to mine, was crying to herself.

“I need to pee,” she whispered. “And I’m too scared to get up and I don’t want to get an indian burn when I get back.”

I looked at Greg and Kyle. They were both completely out. “Go ahead,” I whispered. “I won’t tell anyone.”

Erin gave me a tight-lipped smile and snuck out of her sleeping back and padded down the hallway. Right around when I’d assumed I would hear the bathroom door close, she screamed. It was a shrill, horror-filled explosion from her tiny lungs, and the three of us, now wide awake, vaulted from our sleeping bags in her direction. We got there a couple seconds before my parents were thundering down the steps. They flipped on the lights.

Erin was in the corner of the bathroom, sobbing. Her pajama pants were soaked. Mom picked her up and held her to her chest and asked what happened.

“The alien,” Erin whimpered, then pointed to the shower curtain. Dad opened it. Nothing was there.

“It was just a shadow, honey,” Dad told her. He glared at us. “Come with me, boys,” he ordered, and brought us back into the living room while Mom drew a bath for Erin.

After a long lecture from my father, we agreed to not tell any more scary stories. Erin eventually came back to her sleeping bag, and with Dad snoring on the couch, we all went to sleep.

The next night, of course, brought more stories. They were much tamer, though. Greg told a dumb one about a lady who gets pulled into a grave by a killer. I told an even worse one about some teenager whose baby brother’s head came off. Erin actually laughed at that one it was so bad. We got ready to go to sleep, still bound by the agreement that we couldn’t get up for any reason until it was morning.

At some point in the middle of the night, Greg shook me awake. “Hey, we caught Erin coming back from the bathroom.” She was already rubbing her arm in discomfort from the burn her brother had given her. Greg grabbed her other one and twisted, making Erin yelp. I took her arm and just squeezed it a little. I felt bad.

Months went by and we played the sleeping game every time we were together. Everyone got caught at least once trying to sneak out. Indian burns were had by all. Erin, though, got the most. It was obvious she wasn’t having any fun. To make matters worse, she looked exhausted on the mornings after we played. I brought it up to Kyle, and he thought about it for a minute, then said we’d do it once a month instead of every time. I didn’t argue.

We kept our little agreement to ourselves because we didn’t want Erin to think we were treating her like a baby. That night, we were sleeping at their house. They had a beautifully furnished basement with a big-screen TV, a ping-pong table, and all sorts of other fun stuff. We set up our sleeping bags and played video games until well after 10pm. My aunt came down and said to turn it all off and get to sleep, so we made like we were getting ready for bed, but when the lights went off, Kyle said it was time to play the sleeping game.

I groaned, but he shot me a look and mouthed “only one,” to me. At least he was holding up his end of the bargain. Like we always did, anyone who needed to get up to pee or get a drink beforehand was allowed to. I went, followed by Kyle, then Erin. We all came back.

In the glow of the flashlight Kyle liked to hold under his chin when he told his stories, Kyle started to talk about a ghost. The ghost. Mr. Toombs. Even Greg looked uncomfortable as he stared at the slatted wooden door which served as the barrier between the furnished and unfurnished cellar. The furnace was on the other side.

“Mr. Toombs waits until you’re asleep,” Kyle whispered, “and sucks your breath into his lungs. The longer you sleep, the more he takes away. And if you sleep for too long, you won’t have any air left to breathe and you’ll…be…dead.”

My eyes were wide with fear and Greg just stared at the ground. Kyle, too, looked like he’d successfully startled himself, especially when the furnace kicked on and we all jumped. Erin, surprisingly, had actually managed to go to sleep first, despite bawling her eyes out by the end of the story and making Kyle promise to give her his snack at lunch or else she’d tell on him. I snuck her one of the Lifesaver candies I’d stashed away to help her feel better. I guess it’d worked.

The rest of us tried to go to sleep. Kyle caught me getting up to pee and gave me a wicked indian burn, but since he caught me while he was on his way to the bathroom himself, I was able to reciprocate. Hard. He punched me in the arm and I swatted him in the balls. I won. We tiptoed back into the basement and got in our sleeping bags. It was the worst night’s sleep I’d ever had; each time the furnace kicked on, I knew I’d see Mr. Toombs floating above my sleeping bag ready to suck the life out of me.

Like always, my aunt came downstairs in the morning to wake us up for school. She started with gentle calls, then hollers, then shouts, then, since we always ignored her, she stomped down the stairs and threatened to haul us out of the sleeping bags.

“Let’s go!,” she ordered, “get dressed and go get your breakfast. Erin, if I have to ask you again I’m gonna flush your goldfish.”

Erin didn’t budge.

“I swear to God, Erin, Goldeen’s going down into the sewer with the Ninja Turtles in 3…2…1…”

Nothing. Concern flashed across my aunt’s face. Kyle, who’d been sleeping next to her, shook his sister. She didn’t respond. My aunt rushed across the room and pulled Erin to her. She hung limply out of the sleeping bag.

Everything went really fast for a while. The ambulance came while my aunt and uncle screamed and cried and Kyle, Greg, and I just sat there in stunned silence. My parents arrived soon after. They were also crying. We were all asked if we saw her drink any alcohol or take any medicine. None of us had. I knew Erin had been the last one to use the bathroom before bed, so I mentioned that. Someone went into the bathroom and returned with an empty bottle of sleeping pills that’d been in the medicine cabinet.

Through her tears, my aunt insisted that the bottle had been empty to begin with; that she’d been saving it so she could remember which kind had worked for her so she could get it again. But there was no other explanation at the time. Erin was dead.

There was a funeral. It was terribly sad. But I went on with my life. Everyone did. I learned years later that the toxicology reports had been negative and Erin’s death had been ruled an accidental asphyxiation. They blamed the sleeping bag, and my aunt and uncle sued for millions.

When Greg was moving out before his first year at college, I was asked to help load the van. I didn’t want to, but I helped anyway. Some of the heavier things were boxed up in the unfinished part of the cellar, by the furnace. I went down and tried not to think about poor Erin.

When I opened the door and entered the warm furnace room, I remembered that feeling I got the first time I’d been in there. An image of Mr. Toombs decaying next to the furnace flashed through my head. I shivered. But then I noticed the familiar, strange heaviness in the air. I noticed the smell. It was different from the sour odor that’d reminded me of the last breath trapped inside a corpse’s rotting lungs. This smell was sweet. It was cloying. Like the breath of someone who’d eaten a lime Lifesaver.

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Far Too Little Air

air

I’m one of the victims of the hypodermic needle assaults over the summer. Kara Yvette Bernard. It was the first time my name was ever in the newspaper. My name was among 51 other women; 66 total victims, 51 of whom allowed the media to name them. We did it in some spontaneous show of solidarity, as if we’d formed some kind of connection because of our victimization.

It wasn’t long before the physical damage of the assaults began to manifest. The media wouldn’t go into detail, but it was easy enough to find online. Mania. Hypersexuality. Skin deterioration. Not a single doctor could identify what our injections contained. Aside from the needle marks themselves, there wasn’t any sign that we’d been injected with anything at all. But as time went by and more of the women began to succumb to the effects, my terror and dread turned into confusion. After 3 months, I was the only one still alive.

My doctor suggested I was immune to whatever the injection had contained. I didn’t have any reason to doubt his suggestion, but there was still too much uncertainty to give me any relief. And now, almost half a year after the attack, I knew it was right to deny myself that relief. I started hearing voices.

I was on the couch eating my dinner. The television was on. At first, when I heard, “can you hear this?,” I thought it was the TV. Then the voice said, “Kara, can you hear this?”

You have to realize, after what happened over the summer, I’ve been terribly skittish. I panic at the drop of a hat and I’ve been on disability since the attack. When I heard someone say my name last night and it was so loud and clear that it was like someone else was in the room, I nearly passed out. But I knew no one was around. The place was empty aside from me – just like how it’s been for the last four months.

“Kara, please reply if you can hear us.”

I whispered that I could, and I heard talking in the background. I couldn’t make out what they were saying. The next part, though, came through without any ambiguity.

“Drown yourself.”

I didn’t move. I knew it had to be the effect of the injection.

“Fill the bathtub and drown yourself.”

That was when I started to cry. The voice kept repeating the command. The tone was calm and seductive. Then, as I bawled and begged whatever it was to leave me alone, my body started to move on its own. I had no control over anything, not even my voice or my eyelids. My body stood, walked over to the bathroom, and began to fill the tub with water.

Internally, I was shrieking and sobbing and trying to plead with whoever was doing this to me to stop. All it did was repeat what it had been saying. “Fill the tub and drown yourself.”

When the tub was full, my body stepped into the warm water. Even though I tried to fight as hard as I could to break away and not be forced to do what they were telling me to do, I sank to my knees, sat cross-legged, then dropped facedown into the tub.

My body didn’t allow me to take a breath before I plunged in. While I panicked inside a body whose autonomy had been stolen, I readied myself for the moment my lungs would give out and I’d inhale, filling their entire capacity with bathwater. I imagined sucking in the water and reflexively coughing it out, only to refill my lungs again and again as I gasped until I was just a corpse to be found by the landlord.

The gasp never came. My panicked heartbeat thumped in my ears while I stared at the plastic bottom of the bathtub. There was no pressure in my chest. The only pain I felt was the cramping in my legs from being tucked underneath me.

“What does it feel like?”

I could talk again, but I still couldn’t move.

“Help me,” I gurgled, as bubbles floated by my wide eyes on their way to the surface. There was still no pain in my chest or any compulsion to inhale. It had to have been two minutes since I went under.

“What does it feel like? What does it feel like? What does it feel like?”

The question repeated over and over in my head. Eventually, I answered. “Like I can breathe underwater.”

The reply was instantaneous. “Are you actively breathing? Are you inhaling and exhaling water?”

I considered the questions and changed my answer. “It feels like I don’t have to breathe anymore.”

There was a silence inside my head that was broken only by the sounds of my heart beating and my stomach processing my dinner.

“You have eight days. We will come see you at the end of it. Please drink the bathwater periodically to stay hydrated and adjust the water temperature to avoid hypothermia.”

I noticed I could move my left hand, arm, and shoulder again. I reached out of the water and tried to pull my head up by my hair. It was as if I weighed 1000 pounds. When I tried to reach for the plug to empty the tub, my arm flopped lifelessly in the water. After a minute, I regained movement. I fumbled for the faucet and turned the water on and off.

For eight days, I remained underwater. My legs had gone numb. On the fourth or fifth day, I tried to run the water and overflow the bathtub with the hope a neighbor would notice and alert the landlord. I lost control of my hand for a while after that.

The water grew dirty as the days went on and I stopped drinking it. I lost control of my mouth and throat and was forced to consume a certain amount every day. On day eight, my chest began to burn. As soon as the feeling registered, I had control over my entire body again. I carefully extricated my stiff body from the tub.

I remained on my back, staring at the bathroom ceiling, for a while. The smell of the room prompted me to start moving and I showered the filth off myself while looking down at my severely water-damaged body. I dried myself carefully, noticing skin coming off as I did. I thought back to the online reports of the other injected women; how their skin sloughed off in bloody, sticky clumps. But mine wasn’t like that. There was no blood. Only raw, pink skin.

It took me a while to move into the kitchen where I grabbed a box of cereal and started shoveling handful after handful into my mouth. The skin on my lips split wide open with the first handful. Again, no blood.

“Kara, stop eating.”

I dropped the box of cereal. The voice was in my head again.

“You have three hours.”

And now all I can do is wait. Wait and type. My skin is starting to hurt and I’m worried I’ve gotten an infection from being in the dirty water for so long. I don’t know what’s going to happen in three hours. Part of me wants to call the police or run away. There’s another part, though, that’s overriding my desire for help. It’s grim curiosity. It’s the curiosity of someone who’s given up hope. Someone who’s lost control. I want to see why these people want to subject me to all this.

While I was face down in the tub, I sometimes heard talking in the background. The voices weren’t directed at me. It was almost as if someone had left a microphone on by accident. Words would come through every so often. “Respiration.” “Bonding.” “Slough.” There was one time, I think on the sixth day, I was able to hear part of a sentence. I’ve picked it apart in my head over and over, trying to figure out not only what it meant in general, but what it meant for me. I guess I’ll find out pretty soon.

There’s a nervous excitement in me that I feel is somehow wrong. Somehow suicidal. But still, like I said, the curiosity is overwhelming my desire for self-preservation. A little less than two hours to go. The perversity of my excitement is unsettling. This isn’t me, but I don’t think I care. All I care is that in a couple hours, I’ll learn what they meant by “…successful underwater, but it will be entirely different in the vacuum of space.”

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Far Too Little Progress

progress.jpg

GeneMedica General Memo
Rakesh Chandrasekhar
March 16, 2015

The cursory observations from Kyle Arrington’s field reports and preliminary data suggest we might be on the right track. I had the bulk of the samples collected by the expedition sent for sequencing and analysis. AppDyn is waiting for our results before they can proceed with their own work with their amplifiers and transceivers, but the merger is slowing everything down on their end.

The portion of samples that were sent directly to the test labs are showing promise. The fail points of MR1 through MR331 aren’t an issue with MR332. Transmissibility among mammals via spore burst and secondary pathways is still lower than our target, however.

GeneMedica General Memo
Rakesh Chandrasekhar
March 17, 2015

I talked Rakesh Patel from AppDyn into loaning us one of their new transceivers. It’ll be set up by tomorrow, which is perfect because the sequencing and analysis on MR332 will be available tomorrow morning.

The overnight guys in Lab 4 had a small breakthrough when it was discovered that MR332 had had a 100% transmission rate when applied to flies. Tissue degradation is still the main concern, however, as it decreases the secondary transmission radius. Fly mortality was 96% within the first hour and 100% by the third.

GeneMedica General Memo
Rakesh Chandrasekhar
March 20, 2015

Our researchers have been unable to successfully bind MR332 zygospores to AppDyn’s most recent respirocyte iteration. AppDyn is unwilling to provide us with its full design specifications, claiming they will only be made available once the GeneMedica/AppDyn merger is complete.

This is a major setback, as the bulk of our models were built on the assumption of a successful zygospore/respirocyte synthesis. That said, the respirocytes are still sensitive to on/off broadcasts made by the AppDyn transceiver I secured from Rakesh Patel.

Mice exposed to the pure respirocytes were able to exert themselves approximately 4000% above baseline. Structural damage of legs and feet was within expected levels. This percentage will need to increase exponentially to meet the modelled goal.

GeneMedica General Memo
Rakesh Chandrasekhar
March 23, 2015

There have been suggestions that the failure of zygospore and respirocyte synthesis can be mitigated by our hemoengineering technologies. While I understand the thought process behind the suggestion, I’m uncertain about its overall feasibility. It would require significant, stealthy acquisitions of hospitals, blood banks, and other medical facilities using capital beyond what GeneMedica has available. I’ll suggest looking into this again after the merger, but considering the cost and the enormous risk involved, I’m not increasing our hemoengineering budget. We will continue working on the synthesis.

GeneMedica General Memo
Rakesh Chandrasekhar
March 24, 2015

AppDyn sent us their preliminary results on our model-based zygospore/respirocyte synthesis and the model’s receptivity to early PHz transceiver signal models. As predicted, the respirocytes embedded within spores will take complex commands while inside a host. This would be a big relief to me if we weren’t just talking about models that still aren’t reflecting reality.

CONFIDENTIAL – GeneMedica Emergency Memo
CONFIDENTIAL – 11A access only

CONFIDENTIAL – Rakesh Chandrasekhar
CONFIDENTIAL – March 25, 2015

Dr. Erin McConnell: deceased
Dr. Arthur Crane: deceased
Dr. Abasi Ndoga: deceased
Dr. Li Chen: deceased
Dr. Annette Chang: alive

I’ve ordered the immediate shutdown of Lab 4 located in sub-basement 3, and the interview and indefinite quarantine of the survivor.

DVR footage shows Dr. Li Chen surreptitiously emptying a vial of zygospores onto the floor of the sample lab. The sample lab does not require a cleansuit for entry. Drs. McConnell, Crane, Ndoga, and Chen began showing symptoms within minutes. Dr. Crane was able to sound the alarm and initiate a lockdown before being overcome.

Dr. Chang returned from the restroom immediately following the lockdown and was able to view the zygospore effects upon Drs. McConnell, Crane, Ndoga, and Chen from the lab window. DVR footage showed the zygospore effects on the doctors were in line with the field observations of Kyle Arrington, albeit far faster due to the artificially-concentrated zygospores used for testing purposes.

A note was found in Dr. Chen’s locker which read, “We will be the first ones to travel.”

I’ve ordered sub-basement 3 to be incinerated following the collection of samples from the flesh of the deceased. Labs 1 – 3 and 5 – 28 will be unaffected and researchers will be kept unaware of the event.

This setback is not expected to affect the GeneMedica/AppDyn merger, although the loss of zygospore samples as well as four doctors will hinder the progress toward zygospore/respirocyte synthesis. AppDyn is being notified of the incident.

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Um can any of you guys tell me what’s wrong with my stupid sister?

I know it’s probably silly to ask but since there’s a lot of people here maybe someone knows what’s up? I’m Madison, btw.

But yeah Gina (that’s my sister) is 11 and we just had a fight because she has a boyfriend and I told her she has to wait to have a boyfriend because I had to wait til I was 12 to have a boyfriend but I STILL don’t even have a boyfriend so she DEFINITELY can’t have a boyfriend. You know what I mean? Anyway we were yelling and then she stopped and made these sounds like she couldn’t breathe too good. She was fine after a couple minutes but now she’s just being weird.

I know I could call Mom and Dad but they’re away for the weekend. Mom finally let me babysit for Gina so I’m super worried she’ll get mad if Gina does something dumb like she’s doing now. That’s why I’m asking you nice people for help! 🙂

So anyway yeah Gina’s just staring at the ceiling. Like, totally staring. She hasn’t moved or anything and she’s standing in the middle of the living room like a dumb totem pole lol. I know that’s mean and Mom says I shouldn’t call her that just ‘cause she’s tall. But you can call her that if you want haha. Yeah she’s staring at the ceiling.

Just a couple minutes ago I told her I was sick of playing her dumb little kids game and tried to get her to move out of the living room. She didn’t budge. I know she’s tall for her age but she’s not heavy at all but I couldn’t move Gina even a little. I know I shouldn’t have but I started yelling at her again and called her a bunch of names and then I hit her but she still wouldn’t move.

That kinda scared me a little and it’s when I got the idea to ask you guys online. I’m in the living room typing on my phone so I can watch Gina while she’s still doing the same bullstuff. Like, I don’t know if she got cut with a nail and got lockjaw all over her body or something but now while I’m saying all this she’s making noises. Maybe that’s a good thing?

Hmm yeah Gina won’t shut up now and keeps saying weird stuff like God and faces and how the inside of faces taste like faces. Kinda gross right? Now she’s saying my name over and over and over. I HATE IT WHEN SHE SAYS MY NAME A LOT!!

Well I hit Gina again because I’m so mad at her for making me miss my tv show because I’m dealing with all this little girl garbage she’s doing. I know this is why Mom and Dad like me better. Especially Dad. I bet he wouldn’t care if Gina even died lol. No maybe he’d probably care a little.

Oh my God Gina will not shut up! Oh weird she just shut up lol. She’s crying hahah. I bet she finally noticed how mad she made me. But there’s something wrong with her tears they look almost yellow and sometimes darker. They’re thick too. I’m gonna go look closer.

Ew God they smell so gross and they’re all thick and pasty and I can hear them squeezing out of her gross eyes and she’s saying something about the taste of faces again. Anyway I’m going to post this online for you guys and you can tell me what’s wrong with her. I’ll let you know if anything else weird happens! Thx!

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Just Swell

hair

“It’s just an ingrown hair!,” my sister insisted. Then it encysted. Three weeks later, she was in the hospital having a pint of sludge sucked out of her armpit. If she’d lanced it early and not left it alone, she could’ve saved herself a lot of pain and suffering.

It was that memory from a decade ago that made me pay very close attention to the swelling right where the corner of my lower jaw met my neck. It’d always been a sensitive spot for me. Whenever I shaved, that one area invariably ended up being a swollen mess of ingrown hairs. It was miserable.

I had a system that helped a bit: cleansing the area before and after shaving, shaving with brand-new blades, and making sure to shave in the direction the hair grew. It brought my outbreaks down from every time to every other time; not much, but better than nothing. When the most recent swelling showed up, I didn’t think much of it and treated it like any other ingrown hair. But it got worse.

Remembering Lynn’s nightmarish experience in the hospital, I wanted to take action quickly. I went to the drugstore and bought a package of lancing needles. Back at home, I swabbed the area with rubbing alcohol and poked the needle into the area of the swelling. It bled quite a bit, but the swelling didn’t diminish. I squeezed hard and pushed the needle a little deeper. More blood, and a little bit of other fluid.

When I let go, it hurt more than it had, but the swelling appeared to have gone down a little bit. When I shone my bright desk lamp against the skin, I could see a few thick, black hairs trapped under the surface. I imagined how they were growing in backwards; twisting and weaving their way along the underside of my neck as my immune system attacked them. The thought turned my stomach. I took a few Advil and went to bed.

I woke up in pain. The swelling had gotten significantly worse and my throat had started to hurt on that side. I ran my fingertips over the bulge and felt the swollen follicles. I turned on the shower and brought a couple lancing needles with me.

I poked and squeezed and expelled what had to have been a cup of blood and yellowish-orange fluid. I looked at the mess on the shower floor and told myself that if it didn’t get better in a couple days, I’d have to go to the hospital. Just like Lynn. She’d never let me live it down after the way I’d teased her after her own issue.

The thought of Lynn’s smirk compelled me to do two things: one, I promised myself I wouldn’t tell her about what happened, and two, I’d do everything in my power to make sure I fixed the problem before I needed to go to the hospital. My neck throbbed as if it were agreeing with me.

Feeling the hairs still lurking under my skin, I wiped the fog off the mirror and examined myself. The swelling was the size of a baseball. Swallowing was intensely painful. I was determined to get this fixed.

I remembered Lynn had told me that when she went to the hospital, they had to do more than just stick the thing with a needle and drain it. The cyst had been too deep for that. They needed to make an incision and hold it open for all the muck to come out.

I checked my needle supply. There were a ton left. Knowing they were the only sterile things in the house, I decided they’d have to do. I doused the area in rubbing alcohol, then began dragging the needle across the swollen lump.

It bled, but not a crazy amount. When I felt the needle getting dull, I opened a fresh one and continued. The discomfort was significant, but not agonizing. Having relief from the pressure was almost enough to overcome the pain.

When I was about three-quarters of an inch in, the pain became severe. I gritted my teeth as I pulled the needle across the flesh, waiting for the rush of gray-white pus from the cyst created by that horrible ingrown hair. After another few millimeters, the needle struck something firm. Finally. I poked and prodded at it, and that same yellowish-orange fluid started to leak out.

With a rush of confidence brought on by the intense desire to get this all over with, I reached in with my thumb and forefinger, pulled, and squeezed. An explosion of agony made the world grow white, then gray. I felt something dangling against the skin of my neck, and I passed out for a minute. Fleeting lucidity returned and I used it to dial 911 before passing out again. I woke up in the hospital.

It turned out I did, indeed, have some seriously-ingrown hairs. My doctor said they were some of the worst he’d ever seen; he even recommended that I grow a beard so I wouldn’t have to deal with them so frequently. But the ingrown hair wasn’t why I was in the hospital.

The good Lord saw it fit to give me a throat infection right around the same time that ingrown hair had gotten inflamed. The lump, while partly from the hair, was a swollen gland. In my search for the infected root of the ingrown hair, I’d carved the lymph node out of my neck and squeezed it until it ruptured.

No way I’m telling Lynn about this. No way in hell.

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Bareback

stable

I’ve been riding since I was six. It’s always felt natural and effortless. It’s nothing but the wind in my hair, the steady, pulsing steps propelling us forward, and a communion between woman and beast that transcends individuality. Once I’ve mounted her, we stop being separate entities. We become a singular machine with one, undeniable purpose: motion.

Sometime around my 14th birthday, I concluded that a saddle and bridle defiled the purity of the riding experience. They were training wheels. They had to be taken away before I could consider myself a real rider. So I insisted that I learn to ride bareback.

It was much harder than I’d anticipated. I fell often. I had a terrible time trying to get Millie to obey my commands. There were many occasions when she would roam in random directions and I couldn’t turn her. But I learned. Gradually, I learned.

I began wearing spurs. When I dug them into Millie’s sides, she’d whimper and stomp the ground, but she learned quickly that the pain meant it was time to move. The harder I spurred her, the faster she was to go. Before long, she knew I was in control again. I’d grab the thick hair by her ears and pull her head in one direction or another, depending on where I wanted us to go. My thighs would ache as I held on, but slowly, methodically, our oneness was reinstated. Our purpose was renewed. We were speed. We were power.

On the morning I’d intended to ride through sprawling, wooded acres of our property, I stepped outside to find a note on the doorstep. It was from our stable hand. With a growing sensation of rage and contempt, I read every messy, scribbled word that he’d written. He was reprimanding me for my treatment of Millie. He called me cruel. In the envelope, along with his note, were photographs of bloody streaks on her side from my spurs and raw patches from when I’d pulled her hair too hard and it had come away in my hands.

The audacity of the stable hand – the stable boy – infuriated me. When my parents died, they’d left me everything. Their fortune. Their land. Their stables. And, most importantly, Millie. Millie was my property. That the servant in charge of caring for my property could have the temerity to scold his better was incomprehensible. It was seditious. It was vulgar.

In a rage, I stormed down the hill to the stables and saw him brushing Millie’s hair. He saw me coming with the envelope in my hand. The fear blooming in his dull eyes gifted me with a modicum of satisfaction, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t nearly enough.

I pulled a riding crop from the wall and beat the cowering worker across his face and neck. I screamed at him and demanded that he not cover himself. He obeyed. Blood poured out of the thin, deep canyons I left in his flesh. With one, final swing, I watched his left eye split as the tip of the crop carved through the organ.

Millie paced around her stall, frightened. I saw the scabs on her head and sides that’d been featured so prominently in the photographs. I unlatched the door and beckoned her out. She looked in the direction of the stable hand and saw the blood on the floor. She hesitated. I screamed for the hand to leave, and he did. After a moment, Millie stepped out of the stall.

Her towering bulk trotted into the aisle. She brushed up against me, obviously happy I was there. I looked at my watch. There was still enough time to ride. I patted her on the butt, and she knelt down.

“Good Millie,” I whispered. My spurs clinked on the wood floor. “Now, up!”

She lifted me with one massive arm and placed me on her hunched, twisted back. Her misshapen breasts dangled as she arched, then moaned slightly as I gripped her thick, black hair. She turned her head, and for a moment, I was startled by how familiar a portion of her profile looked. That one, small sector of her deformed face looked like me. It looked like our mother. The memory brought a tear to my eye. I gathered myself.

“Let’s go,” I ordered my older sister, and with a grunt of assent and a whimper of pain as she felt my spurs, we galloped off into the dewy morning.

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The Oblivion that Masks Pain

sad-woman

He said I’d feel better after a while; that my pain would fade along with his memory. His words echoed throughout the husk he’d left. My soul had been cored out and left to rot.

I tossed and turned, night after night, as I imagined him with the one who made him happy. My replacement. The thought of their sex didn’t bother me. It was the intimacy after – the quiet bliss when I was the furthest thing from his mind. Just days following the dissolution of our multi-year couplehood, the one which whom he’d spent so much of his life was on her way to being forgotten.

I was forgotten.

I sought an oblivion to mask my pain; anything to dull the omnipresent savagery of loss. Memories of our happiness felt false. I wondered how long he hated me before he finally let me know it was over. How long was I happy while he was miserable? How much of his life had I stolen, oblivious to his diminishing love? I knew it was all in my mind. And my mind screamed as cascades of neurotransmitters reinforced my feelings of profound, hideous dejection.

Then I had an idea.

Part of me felt sad about how easy it was to buy h****n.

The first pet store I visited had the rats I wanted. I brought them home and fed them a solution of sugar water and h****n. They died soon after. I knew the last moment of their lives had been their best.

While they were still warm, I removed their brains and ate them. I wanted to absorb the physical manifestation of their joy.

I know a small portion of the euphoria I experienced following my meal was from the trace amounts of h****n I’d ingested. But it lasted longer than a drug high. It lasted for days. For three full days, the thought of him didn’t send me into a self-destructive spiral. Quite the contrary; I felt like I was growing. I was getting over him.

At the end of the three days, the pain came back. Nightmares flooded the sleep that’d once been a respite. The fact remained: I was gradually being forgotten. I was being replaced. Someone was creating new memories with the person I love. I couldn’t let that happen.

More rats, more h****n. Another respite. Two days, though. Only two. It wasn’t working the way I’d hoped. The root of the problem was still there. Every passing day, I was becoming less clear in his mind. The prospect being forgotten was infinitely worse than forgetting him. The former made the latter impossible.

My moment of serendipity occurred while I was throwing the dead rats down the garbage chute.

He answered his phone when I called. To this day, I feel terrible for lying to him. He rushed over, as strong and protective as ever, to see who’d hurt me. When he was sitting down, I came behind him and injected a lethal dose of h****n into the side of his neck. He punched me, hard, before his pupils dilated. Before he stopped breathing, he smiled at me.

“Kate,” he whispered, “to think I’d almost forgotten how beautiful you are.” He exhaled a long, quiet breath. His dilated eyes never left mine as he blinked once or twice, almost as if he were wondering why he didn’t feel the need to inhale anymore. When he died, his smile remained.

I opened his head. It took longer than I’d expected. I made sure to keep cleaning off his face. His smile urged me to go on. After an hour, I stared at the mass inside his skull that was him. His essence. His everything.

I didn’t know what part did what. I just knew it was all him, so it was all important. Over the course of a few days, I consumed him as he smiled. Each morsel had the potential to be a piece that contained his memory of me. All his memories of the good times. All his memories of the beauty we experienced. The closeness.

When his skull was empty, I felt different. I wasn’t euphoric, like I’d felt after the rats. I felt better. I was at peace. This was my closure. I’d ensured that I wouldn’t be forgotten. The one I loved was with me again. Forever. And together, we could be free to make new memories.

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Stop Being Such Babies

stop

There’s nothing scary about the woods. Sorry guys. Or, should I say, sorry kids. I get it. You all saw Blair Witch Project or read some shitty “creepypasta” BS online and suddenly some of the most beautiful places in the world are havens for demons or zombies or whatever garbage is lining the pockets of writers these days. But guess what: it’s all your imagination. Look, I remember being a kid. My mind would go all over the place: ghosts, goblins, aliens, blah blah blah. You know what happened, though? I hit 13. I saw the real world.

Here’s why I’m so irritated about all this “oooh I’m too scared to go into the woods now” bullshit. I live near a state park. There are quite a few local businesses that used to thrive because of the high number of hikers, picnickers, and daytrippers during the spring, summer, and fall. But over the last couple years, perfectly coinciding with those idiot kids one-upping each other to cry about how scared they are, these businesses have lost a ton of money. Yes, I own one of them. An ice cream stand.

I could see the trend starting, too. Pasty white, black-clad preteens on vacation with their parents would whine about being too frightened to go on a mile-long hike along a pristine trail just because there were spooky trees around. All while shoveling ice cream into their soft faces. I thought back to what my father would’ve done if I complained about being too much of a baby to walk around outside for an afternoon. The only ice cream he’d have bought would’ve been for me to put on my black eye.

So I’ve lost money because of this s**t. My buddies lost money, too. Spouses divorced each other, kids ended up not going to the colleges they wanted to, and the local economy, aside from the revenue from skiers in the winter, went to hell. And it’s all because of those little a******s who think fragile bleating and cowering in fear is more desirable than strength and resiliency. I weep for the future.

My ice cream stand is supposed to reopen on March 1st. Already, though, I can tell it’s going to be a brutal season. The pervasiveness of those online stories about “creepy things in the woods” and “omg I can’t believe what I found in this diary while I was hiking” has just grown and grown. When I look through the comments on the ridiculous websites that showcase that trash, I see adults, ADULTS, saying how terrified they are to even go out in their backyards because they think some skinny guy in a suit or a troll monster is going to possess them or something.

Never once have the authors of that garbage thought about how their recklessness is destroying small businesses. Before my wife died, I used to be able to look out from my back porch and see families hiking through the woods, kids skipping stones across the pond, and dads teaching their sons or daughters how to safely build a fire using sticks. Now, there’s just the timeless woods and a devastated economy. The childish dopes succeeded in scaring themselves away from nature and they screwed up the livelihoods of real people in the process.

Thankfully, every now and then, a family will walk by the house and do the things I used to see before all that “I’m too scared” horseshit started. The other day, for the first time in nearly three years, a young couple braved the melting snow and mud and set up a tent right on the outskirts of my property. Do you know how happy it made me to finally see some people who weren’t afraid of ghosts or haunted woods?

I must’ve stayed in the tent until the sun came up, enjoying their warm, young meat. The woman died instantly but her husband or boyfriend or whatever remained alive for hours. The only benefit of such a low population of hikers nowadays is that not a single person heard him screaming as he watched me eat the most tender morsels of his partner before I unleashed my appetite on him. Another bonus: they were in a tent! I just had to wrap it around them and drag them back to the house. No fuss, no muss.

After all my complaining, I have to admit, finding two people who were brave enough to go out in the woods helped me feel better. It showed me they didn’t follow trends and did their own thing, just like in the old days. It doesn’t entirely make up for the lost wages and the harm to our local economy, but it’s still something. That knowledge, plus a freezer full of meat that’ll last me through the spring, helps warm my cynical heart.

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