Bluebirds

Allow me to wax poetic about these tiny newborn birds. Never before have I felt such softness. As I reach for them, gentle prickles of static electricity cause strands of their avian gossamer to stand at attention before my fingertips trace whispers through their feathery down. My ears fill with the cooing of birds; two angels with wings outstretched. Two beacons of my newfound tranquility.

I sat, terrified, as they hatched the night before. Each one fought so hard to enter the world and battled to escape the confines of their once nurturing, but now worthless, container. But the fight went well for them. At the end of the battle, two strong, white doves met this world. Two porcelain baby birds. I watched, spellbound, as their mother expressed her thoughtless, impelled teleology to feed them before they could start to cry. And as the last bits of nourishment trickled down their throats, the warm body of their mother kept them protected against the dangers of night.

When I woke up this morning, the two baby doves greeted me with stares of admiration and love. I felt how hot the room was and noticed the dampness of sweat in my armpits and crotch. I shrugged away the discomfort. The little white doves needed warmth more than I needed clean, dry clothing.

The mother cared for the needs of her two white babies as I gazed at them with satisfaction. I brushed the belly of one with the back of my knuckle. Its down ruffled against my touch and stuck straight up as I traveled against its grain. Time passed and I stroked each of the tiny white babies for hours, savoring the sensation of their delicate fluff against my sensitive skin.

With each stroke, though, dull panic began an inexorable metastasis within my chest. These baby birds were growing. Even though part of me knew it was impossible to notice growth after only a day, its very prospect was abhorrent. No longer would they be soft, delicate, and tiny. They would be coarse. Thick. Bulky.

I buried my face in my hands and sobbed. I cried for so long I expected the two white babies to have grown up and flown away by the time I stopped. When I opened my swollen eyes, though, there they were – soft and tiny as ever. But their mother was gone.

I placed my tear-soaked hands over the faces of the tiny, white birds. I could hear their muffled coos of protest through my palms, but I remained resolute. My eyes closed and I imagined the quiet beauty of bluebirds; the birds of happiness. Minutes passed. Then hours. And then I knew I could let go.

The wide eyes of two bluebirds gazed adoringly at their mother, who had finally returned to care for them. I put their legs together and stretched their arms wide, as if they were perfect, angelic wings. Wings that would always be small, delicate, and soft. Glowing cheerfully in the nurturing warmth of the room, I stroked the downy lanugo dusting their tiny blue faces, chests, and bellies.

More.
Unsettling Stories is on Facebook.

Attempts to Repair the Irreparable

It was my rapist’s birthday the other day. Seven years ago, on that day, I endured the horror of having my autonomy stolen. Afterward, as the years dragged by, I grew to associate all birthdays with his. It took away a lot of the fun one might associate with the events. Especially the parties.

I’d been unwilling to break my silence about the experience. The people around me knew something must’ve happened. To them, there had to be some explanation why I changed from an ebullient extrovert into a person whose very essence screams, “stay away.” I didn’t say anything, though. I just remained cold and as detached as I could manage without being overly hostile. The masses of friends I had seven years ago evaporated into a few professional acquaintances. They didn’t need me, so I didn’t need them. I could manage alone.

So why am I writing this? Because I’m starting to make a change. Seven years of my life spent circling the drain wasn’t something I was ready to continue at 26 years old. Perhaps enough time had passed for me to start healing. The few books I’d read about trauma suggested that might be the case. The incident feels no less raw, though. The physical sensations haven’t dulled. Essential, daily bodily functions force the memory of his violence into every occasion. Every twitch of muscle. I have to sit there and think of him and how his atrocious legacy still dominates my body. The same body in which he planted his flag and claimed as his own. His body, rented by me.

But, as I said, I’d begun to change. Despite the hideousness of the prior seven years, I’d been able to hold down a good job. It’s basic web design stuff; nothing too glamorous. But the customers kept rolling in and the pay was good, so that small bit of positive reinforcement kept my finances afloat. More than afloat, really. Since I’d withdrawn so far away from all the fun and excitement I used to have, all I’d done was save money. Over those years, I was able to accumulate quite a bit in my savings account. Thanks to that, I was able to leave the city and rent a small cottage on a sprawling farm in rural Washington. The new scenery helped more than I’d expected.

The couple from whom I rent the cottage, Karen and Jessica, are in their 60s. You couldn’t tell by looking at them. Decades of hard work kept their bodies conditioned and strong. It wasn’t until they invited me to celebrate Karen’s 61st, which induced an involuntary shiver I was able to mask as a cough, that I had any idea they were so much older. I would’ve assumed mid-40s. They had no problem with my polite refusal of their invitation. On the day they interviewed me as a potential tenant, I told them I was private and, in an understatement that almost made me laugh, a homebody.

I spent my first month in Washington setting up the cottage. I arranged and rearranged the furniture, cleaned every surface I could reach, and even started a small garden in the back. I’m pretty proud of the garden. As we all know, Washington gets a ton of rain. That, in combination with the excellent soil quality, yielded the speedy growth of the basil, parsley, and rosemary I’d planted.

That month was the first time in seven years I didn’t feel the constant weight of my abuser on my back. Yes, I still remembered him many times each day. I still felt, with excruciating, perverse nostalgia, how much I cared for him even after he’d used me. But the terrible clarity of it all had begun to fog. Edges were blunted. I had three nights of amazing, dreamless sleep. Not once during those three nights did I feel his hot breath in my ear as he sobbed, “I’m sorry” with each devastating thrust. Things were quiet; as quiet as the dead I’d so often admired.

The next two months saw the gradual lifting of my mood. I became a frequent visitor to Karen and Jessica’s home. We would drink wine and talk. Sometimes we’d play Scrabble, which they eventually stopped suggesting because I knew all the 2-letter words and annihilated them every game. For a few brief moments, things felt, I’m cautious to say, like they did before the rape. I was laughing and talking with ease; my foul-mouthed sense of humor causing gasps of surprise and tears of laughter from the two women who’d made me feel like their daughter.

As the golden sunshine of summer transmuted into the leaden gray of winter, the relationship I’d developed with the couple, especially Karen, allowed me to do something I couldn’t believe. Late in December, a few days after Christmas, I revealed the assault to them. With a level of clinical dispassion of which I never imagined myself capable, I told them everything.

They were crying by the time I’d finished. When the last word of the story left my mouth, I felt invigorated. Proud, too. Proud of myself for having the courage to finally tell the story of why my life had changed for the worse so abruptly. Proud of the fact I’d found friends who could help me emerge from my shell and who genuinely cared about what had grown inside for those seven years. I loved them.

The night I wandered back to my cottage, tipsy from the bottles of local wine we’d shared, I collapsed into bed and fell asleep. He met me in my dreams. The rasping humidity of his sobbing apologies in my ear, the impossibly-heavy weight of his body on my back, and the incomprehensible indignation of having my autonomy stolen all coalesced into an interminable nightmare. When I awoke, sweating and shaking, it was still pitch dark. A glance at the bedside clock told me I’d only been sleeping for an hour. My sweat-soaked clothing clung uncomfortably to my skin, and I rolled off the bed to take a shower.

I stood up in the darkness, took a step toward the bathroom, and bumped into something. Someone. I gasped and reached out to push the person away. Strong, heavy arms wrapped around me. I shrieked and squirmed in a futile attempt to free myself. Putrid, wet breath filled my nostrils and changed my scream into throat-shredding retches. The arms gripped me tighter and my fingers dug into the assailant’s body. I couldn’t see anything, but I could tell he was naked. No clothing shielded his flesh from the assault of my fingernails, and I raked them over him, hoping the pain would make him release me.

My fingernails slid into his flesh far more easily than they should. I felt my first, then second knuckles disappear into his body. When I dragged them over his flesh, I felt the skin slough off and hang from my fingers. A smell, somehow even worse than his breath, filled the room. I choked and vomited against his chest. A thick, rasping voice choked out the words, “I’m sorry.” The pressure of his grip disappeared. The smell evaporated. He was gone.

Still in a panic, I ran across the room and flipped the switch for the main lights. The bulbs illuminated the puddle of bordeaux vomit on the floor. My fingernails, which I’d expected to be coated in foul slime, were clean. Confused and beyond terrified, I grabbed a knife from the kitchen and went through the tiny cottage. It was obvious no one was there. The door was still locked and deadbolted from the inside. No windows had been disturbed, either. But something had been in there. I went into the bathroom, placed the knife on the sink, and went to wash myself.

I showered with the curtain open, soaking the floor, so I could see everything. The knife was perched on the side of the tub and in easy reach if whatever it was came back. It didn’t. Nothing did. I towelled off and put on fresh clothes. As I cleaned my puke from the hardwood, I worried I had either consumed far, far too much wine that evening or I was going completely nuts. The knots of terror in my chest gradually untied as exhaustion took its toll on my consciousness. When I finally had the confidence to go back to bed, with every light in the cottage still blazing, I slept immediately.

The next morning, I told Karen and Jessica about my nightmare. They hugged me and made me breakfast and told me not to worry. I decided to wait to tell them about the purple stain on the hardwood until I tried another couple times to get it out. We ate our breakfast and the two of them griped about the inordinately cold temperatures which would make the next growing season a major pain for them.

After we ate, Karen and I chatted while Jessica went to organize their office. An hour later, she came back apologizing profusely. She handed me a piece of mail that had arrived a week after I’d moved into the cottage. It had been forwarded from my old address. Jessica told me it must’ve gotten mixed in with their bills and that she’d be much more careful in the future. I laughed and told her it was okay.

I tore open the envelope and read the short letter inside. My head began to spin. I asked if I could use the phone to make a quick long-distance call. “Of course,” Jessica replied. I dialed the number at the bottom of the letter. A woman answered. I asked to speak to Ryan. There was a pause, and in a voice much sadder than the cheerful “hello” I received when she picked up the phone, she answered me. Then she hung up.

I shook as I handed Karen the letter, which she read aloud to Jessica.

“Marie, I am finally doing what I should’ve done seven years ago. No, eight years ago. Before we ever met. Before I could hurt you. I don’t deserve to continue living. I’ve always wanted to say how sorry I am, but I destroyed those words for you when I did that unspeakable thing. Still, in my darkest moments, it’s something I need to say. And I know that need will go unmet as long as I’m alive, since I can’t bear the thought of making you endure the sight of me again. Once I’ve mailed this letter, I will do the only thing I can to adequately express my sorrow. If you need to know I’m serious about this, please call this number and ask for me.”

The number I called was written below the body of his message, followed by his scrawled signature. I thought of the embrace from the night before and the words that were drooled into my ear. My knees gave out and I fell to the floor, screaming as I cried. Karen and Jessica could only hold me as years of incomprehensible feelings flooded out in painful, wracking sobs. Over and over, they told me it was going to be okay. And, as is customary, peppered within their sincere assurances that things would get better were liberal declarations of, “I’m sorry.”

More.
Unsettling Stories is on Facebook.

An Unlucky Samaritan

When I was 17, I was in a head-on collision with another driver. I think I was unconscious for a minute or two after the impact. When I came to, I was confused and couldn’t feel any pain. I couldn’t move much, though. Something was pinning me. A downward glance showed me what it was. There was a metal rod impaling directly under my knee, through what the doctors later told me was my patellar tendon. It had pushed through the tendon, lifted my kneecap, and driven itself up the length of my thigh. It wasn’t too deep inside; I could see it bulging under my skin.

A minute later, I felt everything. I screamed and screamed, thrashing for a bit before realizing any movement only intensified the pain in my knee and thigh. Then I looked out the cracked windshield and saw the other driver. His devastated skull sat on his neck like a mashed fruit. I could see his tongue lolling out of his ruined mouth. Without a lower jawbone to hold it in place, it hung down to his Adam’s apple. The remaining eye stared, unblinking, at the damage its owner had caused.

Another wave of impossibly acute agony surged through me, blurring my vision and forcing me to bite down on my own teeth until I felt at least one molar crack. Some part of my consciousness registered the fact I was hyperventilating and worked to calm my breathing. A couple moments later, the wave had passed. I realized no cars had come upon our accident yet. I tried to reach into the back pocket of my shorts for my cell phone, but there was no way the rod in my knee would allow that much movement. In exchange for my attempt, the unbearable pain resumed.

Once I’d regained my senses, I looked again at the remains of the other driver. There wasn’t much I could make out. It looked he he’d had a beard; hair was puffing out from the skin of what might have been his cheeks. Even though he was the one who’d caused me all this pain, I felt bad he was dead. No one deserved to have that happen to them. While I studied the gore with morbid fascination, the man’s neck jerked and sent the fleshy wreckage of his face flopping back and forth. He jerked again. This time, his shoulders and torso moved as well. I gagged as the movement forced his head downward and bits of his crushed brain oozed from the hole that was once his face.

The man continued moving as if he was enduring a terrible seizure. My pain came back. Unable to bear the sensation, I blacked out. It couldn’t have been very long. When I came to, there was something wrong with the man’s body. Something I couldn’t understand. The hole where his face had connected to his throat was stuffed with something. It slid out in a thick, wet mass onto the twisted steering wheel and dashboard. From my vantage point, about six feet away, I could only describe it as a worm or snake. Still, it was unlike either of those things. The body was grayish-white and oozed heavy, milky yellow discharge from gaping pores which covered the entirety of its length. That length increased as I watched with growing horror.

The return of the pain in my knee was unable to overcome the fear sweeping over me at the sight of the monster. Over ten feet had unfurled from the carcass and had draped itself along the dashboard. It was lying on surfaces coated with pulverized glass from the windshield, and I could see chunks of it sticking in its pores as it moved. The thing didn’t seem to mind. Once another few feet came out, I saw its tail end finally discharge itself from the man. The parasite squirmed off the dashboard and onto the crumpled union of car hoods. The viscous, milky slime clung to every surface it touched and kept the creature connected to the contacted surfaces by thin ropes. It uncoiled completely and its full length lay wetly on our cars. The smell coming from its body was thick and putrescent with a revolting, cloying sweetness. I struggled not to retch, not wanting it to hear me.

The pores stopped oozing. An unsettling, peristaltic ripple passed through the thing’s body. Ugly flatulent sounds leaked from each pore, and I saw something moving inside them. With an explosive jolt that caused me to jump in shock, bright red tendrils burst out of its pores. Each one was about as thick as a pencil and every pore contained at least 20 of them. They grew and grew in length, some laying flaccidly on the cars and some erecting themselves and flopping around like severed electrical cables.

I screamed when a couple of the tendrils brushed against me as they grew. But seconds later, every one of them pushed downward and dragged the main body onto the surface of the road. An 18-wheeler was driving toward us. It screeched to a halt and I watched an overweight trucker stumble out of the cab and run toward us. First he looked over and saw the dead man was far beyond help. Then he saw me and my look of pain and terror. He opened his mouth, presumably to say he’d call 911, but the tendrils leapt into his mouth and throat before he could get a word out.

The trucker grasped the thick cord of tendrils invading him and tried to pull. More shot out from the thing in the road and wrapped themselves around his fat form. Over the course of a minute, the main body had been pulled over to the trucker. Gradually, the tendrils retracted from the man’s mouth while the body forced itself into his throat. The putrid seminal fluid again began to leak from the creature as it pushed deeper and deeper. A little while later, it was inside. The man was soaked from head to toe with the vile substance. But he no longer looked afraid. He just looked calm. He turned around and walked back to his truck, leaving a trail of milky-yellow slime. I heard the engine start and the truck drove away.

Another car noticed us soon after. The paramedics were called and I was brought to the hospital. I never told anyone what happened. I assume everyone was confused about what the slime was, but I didn’t hear them talk about it. All they were concerned about was the wound in my leg, which required two years to recover. I never saw the parasite, or any hint of it, again. It was another five years before I’d conquered my fear of driving. I’ve done my best to forget about what I saw. No matter how hard I try, though, I still shudder when a truck passes me and I see the driver through his open window. I know that thing is still in one of them. At least one.

More.
Unsettling Stories is on Facebook.

Something horrible is happening to me on Facebook.

(A scary story about social media.)

I don’t know anything about Facebook. I started an account late last year to promote my website. Not much happened. I plugged my Facebook address pretty much everywhere I went, and while fans trickled in and one or two even shared some of the content I posted, my page wasn’t growing nearly as quickly as I’d hoped.

Fast forward a couple months. Same problem. In total, I think my page was stuck around 100 “likes.” The majority of those were from the first week I started the page and a bunch of nice Reddit users felt sympathy for me and visited, clicked “like,” and never came again. I can’t blame them, to be honest.

I was in a creative rut. Very little new content was coming out, and whatever did reach completion was nothing but a rehashing of older, more popular stories I’d done in the past. I was hoping to piggyback on their successes. It didn’t work. It was obvious that interest was waning.

All this was coming at a bad time. My Tumblr, which had done spectacularly well for the first four months of its existence, was also stagnating. Followers were disappearing. Again, I can’t blame them. Why follow a blog that just reposts old stories without putting anything out that’s new or interesting? I’d reached a point where I was starting to think writing wasn’t for me and I’d have to rethink everything I’d envisioned for my future.

Out of nowhere, sometime in April, I got a notification on Facebook that my page had been mentioned. I clicked through, and was astonished to find out that a page with nearly 10 million fans had posted one of my older stories and had credited my own Facebook page as the content creator. Messages and “likes” came in droves. Friend requests, too.

I didn’t know what to do with all the newfound interest in my work. My creativity hadn’t been piqued by it all, but my enthusiasm had reemerged. I chatted with people who messaged me, I gave advice to aspiring writers, despite not really believing any of what I was saying, and I even agreed to collaborate with another, semi-well known author on a piece at some point in the fall.

As April progressed, more and more people were visiting my page and inhaling my old content. Each day, I’d spend hours replying to notifications and messages; sometimes holding 10 real-time conversations at once. It felt good to be connecting with people again. It’s something I hadn’t really done at all since high school, and that was almost 20 years ago.

I grew close with a few of the people who’d been messaging me. People from all over the world, in fact. We chatted about nothing and everything, to use a cliche that I despise but find impossible to avoid. The more we talked, the closer we got. There were about 25 people out of the hundreds who I really felt a connection with. I think it was mutual, too. We chatted together on Facebook, and then we started doing group emails.

In May, Charles, one of the 25, suggested a meetup. Obviously for some of them, it was impossible. Quite a few were way too far away for that to be possible for them, but 8 or 9 of us were all within around 300 miles of one another. After working through some logistical issues, we made it happen. Seven people showed up. I got to meet seven, wonderful people: Charles, Lynn, Malcolm, Anita, Bev, Mellie, and Raj.

We met up at a small restaurant in the Tribeca area of NYC. We chatted and laughed and had an all-around fantastic time. I enjoyed myself and my new friends more than I can even express. But it was Bev who really stood out.

We’d grown close online, but I never had any hope of getting much closer than that. It all changed when we met. While we all shared stories and jokes and beers around the table, Bev and I held hands. She squeezed my fingers with her own and I stroked her wrist and toyed with her bracelet. During the brief glances we shared with one another, we both knew something special was happening.

When it was obvious the night was coming to an end and everyone headed back to their respective hotel rooms or homes, Bev and I remained together. We headed back to her hotel room and let things take their natural course. It was truly wonderful.

After it was all over, Bev got up from the bed to take a shower. I propped myself up with my laptop on my lap, happily reminiscing about the time not only she and I had spent together, but the time all eight of us had shared hours earlier. I decided to go on Facebook and leave individual messages for my new friends to show how much I appreciated them.

While clicking through to where I needed to go, I realized I’d never even visited their pages before. We’d all just chatted either on my page or through email. I clicked on Malcolm’s first. It was weird. A lot of his friends had posted some pretty depressing emo stuff on his wall. I wrote my little “thank you” paragraph, and then headed over to Charles’ page.

Same thing. Just sad stuff. I wrote my letter and moved on. Lynn, Raj, and Mellie’s were the same. A strange feeling started inside my chest and gradually bloomed outward while gooseflesh prickled my limbs.

I clicked on Anita’s wall. More depressing messages. One in particular caught my eye: “We’ll always you love, Anita. You will always be our beautiful, sweet daughter.” It was from her parents. Dated 2011.

The feeling of discomfort and dread intensified. I went back to all the other pages I’d just been to and scrolled down. All the depressing messages were from between 2009 and 2016. They all had something in common: they were saying some variant of “goodbye.”

Doing my best to control my breathing, I navigated to the one page I hadn’t visited yet. Bev’s. The message on her wall, dated February 2nd, 2016: “God bless you and keep you – you were taken from us far too soon, sweet girl.”

A loud thud sounded from the bathroom, causing me to jump. I got up, quietly asking “Bev?” “Bev, are you okay?” No response. I walked slowly toward the bathroom, a sense of doom weighing down my body. I knocked on the door. No reply. Just the sound of water running. I turned the doorknob and entered the bathroom.

The room was steamy and warm with an intense, unpleasant odor. “Bev?” I asked, my head starting to spin with fear. I gripped the shower curtain between my thumb and forefinger and carefully pulled it open. I screamed. Hot water streamed down the remains of a bloated, rotting corpse. Stringy blonde hair was plastered to the side of a gray face with a purple tongue bulging through lips that looked like dark-green banana slugs. Grayish-yellow slime drooled from between her legs and puddled thickly near the drain. Before I could turn away and throw up, I saw the bracelet on her wrist that I’d played with at the restaurant.

I heaved and retched into the toilet, trying to tell myself this was all impossible and Bev was alive and normal and everything was okay. I closed my eyes and turned around to face the tub. I made the sign of the cross, opened my eyes, and nearly fainted with relief. The bathtub was empty. I inhaled. The smell, for the most part, was gone. I sank to the floor and tried to collect myself.

The horror I’d felt was replaced with an immediate concern for my own mental health. I didn’t know if I should call 911 right away or go to the hospital first thing in the morning and get checked out. I dragged myself to my feet and headed toward the bedroom to lie down for a few minutes. As I was crossing between the rooms, I glanced in the garbage can next to the sink. My used condom sat inside like a deflated grub, covered in grayish-yellow slime.

Continued:

Something horrible is happening to me on Grindr.

Something horrible is happening to me on MySpace.

More.

 

After 20 years, my wife finally allowed me to tell this story.

A man screaming

Like all good scary stories, this one begins with a t*sticle self-examination. Or, as its colloquially known: jerking off. It was my last day in Guatemala and I was sitting in the hotel, waiting to go to the airport, and abusing myself to help pass the time. Things were going as well as could be expected. Until they weren’t. My left middle finger brushed against a lump on my right t*sticle. My erection wilted like a primrose at Chernobyl.

I did a cursory examination, hoping it might be an ingrown hair. But I knew it wasn’t. It didn’t have the itchy pain of an ingrown hair. No pain at all, actually. It had all the telltale signs of a growth I absolutely did not want anywhere on my body, especially not on my balls. Within 20 minutes, I’d cancelled my flight, phoned Renee to tell her the flight was delayed, and called an emergency clinic to tell them I was on my way.

Fast forward eight hours. Interesting fact about Guatemala: great medical care! I was examined, given an ultrasound, and told, to my enormous relief, the growth was benign. Just a cluster of fatty deposits. It’d go away on its own in a few weeks. I was on the next flight home. Continue reading “After 20 years, my wife finally allowed me to tell this story.”

Something horrible is happening to me on Tumblr

(A scary story about social media.)

I started up a Tumblr blog last November so I could get better exposure for my writing. I was surprised by how quickly it took off. There’s a big horror subculture that seems to enjoy the type of stuff I write, so it didn’t take long before I’d gotten well over 10,000 followers and was cruising along pretty well. As the blog got more established, though, some frightening things started to happen.

Before I go on, I need to give a little background info. For those who don’t know how Tumblr works, they have something called “reblogging,” which just means you repost something that someone else had put on their blog. It shows up in your own blog with the creator’s name linked to it. It basically can allow content to go viral very quickly. Like, you can post something and then someone with a large and established blog might reblog it to all their hundreds of thousands or millions of followers, who can then do the same, and over and over and over until it eventually dies down.

Obviously, wanting to spread my stories and “brand” as far and wide as I possibly could, I sought out opportunities to get my content reblogged by one of those well-established bloggers. After a month or so, it happened. A story of mine got shared well over a thousand times. I gained hundreds of followers. That type of thing happened on many occasions over the following months, leading me to where I was late this April.

In April, after one story did particularly well, I started getting weird messages in my inbox. All of them said something similar. Something along the lines of, “hey I reblogged your story and started getting really personal messages from you – can you please not?”

I was shocked. I thought someone had hacked my account and was spreading harassing messages around. The prospect of someone ruining my reputation before I ever got a chance to really get my writing out there terrified me. As the days went on, more and more people started telling me that I’d sent them unsettling messages.

On April 22nd, when the influx of notifications had slowed and I’d changed my password about 100 times, I was starting to think it had all blown over. I’d posted another story that was met with surprising success. As I watched the reblogs fly and the new followers accumulate, I got a message from a woman named Beverly. All it said was, “I never told anyone about that abortion. Get the f**k out of my head.”

Five minutes later, from a man named Arjay: “But my mom swore she never told anyone about my accident with my cousin.”

Then more came.

Dana: “F**k you! I couldn’t have stopped that car from killing him!”

Janelle: “Who are you? My father never so much as spanked me. Message me again and I’ll call the police.”

Muhammad: “I didn’t expect him to join and now he’s dead and you’re harassing me about it? Who the hell do you think you are?”

Vivian: “STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP!”

Martin: “She was just lying there. I couldn’t help myself. Please don’t tell.”

I was terrified. I wrote a frantic email to Tumblr staff begging them to see if they could track what was going on and stop it. They never replied. More and more and more notes flooded my inbox. Every single message was from someone who’d reblogged one of my stories. Every single message claimed I’d brought up something to them that was deeply personal; something they’d never told anyone before; sometimes things they never even knew themselves.

I stopped visiting Tumblr for few days and deleted all the email notifications I had about new messages. I tried to keep myself from panicking. It had to be some sort of joke or the work of an extremely determined hacker. My therapist, who only knew I was getting unwanted messages, got me to calm down. He got me agree to give it a month before I visited the site again, and I could figure out a plan of action to either get the messages to stop or to be able to ignore them without panicking.

I took his advice. A little over month later, which was just last week, I went back. I discovered my number of followers had gone from 13,000 to 4,000. So much of what I’d worked to build was gone. The fear of what had happened coupled with the immense frustration I felt from losing what I’d dedicated so much time to. My decades-vanquished anxiety and depression returned with a vengeance.

As I went through my page stats, I saw no one had reblogged one of my stories in three weeks. Part of me knew I had to try to get a handle on the situation and take whatever steps were necessary to get back to where I had been. I waited for a time when it looked like the site was getting a lot of traffic, and then I reblogged one of my older, more popular stories. I prayed it would attract some new followers. Followers that hadn’t heard about my ruined reputation.

No one bit. There wasn’t any indication anyone had read it whatsoever. It was like I’d just thrown the story into interstellar space, never to be seen again. An hour or two passed. I checked the stats. Still just one reblog – my own. I glanced up at the toolbar and saw there was a message waiting for me. The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention and my hand shook as I moved the cursor to click the icon.

“I watched you eat your little sister. Your little twin sister. Consumed in utero. Before she even knew what pain was, it was the only sensation she ever felt in her short life.”

The message was from me.

Continued:

Something horrible is happening to me on Facebook.

Something horrible is happening to me on Grindr.

Something horrible is happening to me on MySpace.

More.

Something horrible is happening to me on Pokemon Go.

pokemon

Pokemon Go is a fun game when you don’t live in an area devastated by industrial contamination and toxic waste. Pokemon Go is a fun game when the Poke Stops aren’t at local landmarks steeped in mercury and lead. Pokemon Go is a fun game when innocent gamers don’t congregate in areas where the grass no longer grows because of carbon tetrachloride and dioxin and radionuclides in the soil.

For the kids in this city – and even for the adults in this city – Pokemon Go should be the kind of game to help them through the hell of their day-to-day lives. It should be a distraction from the omnipresent horror of living in a place that’s no longer on anyone’s map – a place that the outside world thinks is better off forgotten. If only playing it wasn’t killing them.

At the community hospital where I work, we’ve had a substantial increase in the number of patients displaying some effect of being poisoned: skin deterioration, pregnancy complications, respiratory distress, etc. – all consistent with the various environmental pollutants in different parts of town. Nearly all of those admitted have been Pokemon Go players.

Our city council had a meeting with officials from the police and fire departments, hoping figure out a way to keep those dangerous locations off limits to visitors. Lots of ideas were floated, but they all got shot down. The city has no money to erect barriers or police the areas. There’s simply far too many of them.

Signs started to go up. That was the one thing everyone on the council could agree on. The signs explicitly mentioned Pokemon Go and featured the frightening biohazard and radiation warning symbols.

No one was deterred. The poisonings continued.

I’d never played Pokemon in my life. I didn’t know anything about it. As more and more people started to show up at the hospital, though, I got the impression I should get at least a basic grasp on what everyone was obsessed with. So, when I got home, I downloaded the app.

Right away, three of them showed up in my living room. I tapped a turtle-looking one and threw a ball at it. It was mine. Pretty cool, actually. Simple mechanics. There was a radar thing on the bottom right and three pawprints under silhouettes of other Pokemon I hadn’t seen yet. I didn’t have any idea where the things were in relation to me, and it seemed stupid that the radar was so worthless, but as I walked around, I’d eventually run into one. Not one on the radar, mind you, but still one I hadn’t seen before.

I started to understand why people enjoyed the game so much. I found myself wishing the residential areas had more Pokemon to catch. When I zoomed my map all the way out, in the distance, I could see those spinning blue towers – many of which were shooting out pink confetti. From what I’d read online, that’s where all the good Pokemon were.

It’s also where all the industrial contamination was.

When I got to work the next day, I was shocked to find one of those blue towers in the hospital. When I clicked it, the little blurb said it was in the children’s wing. I never go on that side of the building, but I figured “what the hell” and walked over. Once I was in range, I spun the wheel and all this stuff popped out: balls, potions, and even an egg! It said 10km on it. I threw the thing in my incubator, knowing it’d probably hatch at some point on my shift. I do tons of walking.

Halfway through my day of walking up and down the labyrinthine halls, I checked my phone. Less than .4km. God damn it. A familiar alarm sounded and I rushed to the ER. Before I saw what had happened, I could smell it.

A group of teenagers had jumped the fence of the old battery factory. Apparently there are three Poke Stops inside, two of which are overlapping. The third, though, is inaccessible unless you go through the basement. The spot is a memorial for the company founder, and is located in the viewing area above a group of vats. As the factory deteriorated, the catwalk leading to the memorial had fallen. To reach the Poke Stop, the kids had traversed the profoundly toxic basement. They reached the Poke Stop without incident, but then one of them saw something called a Lapras on his radar.

One kid, David, headed in one direction, while his friends went in others. Whoever found the Lapras was going to yell and his friends could come catch it for themselves. It was David who found the Lapras. But it was also David who, in the process of yelling and gesturing to his friends, slipped.

When David slipped, he crashed into an unlabeled, rusty container. His friends saw the whole thing. The container, filled with contents that had corroded it over the years, burst. From the waist down, David was completely covered with a viscous, caustic combination of concentrated acid and various, unknown industrial toxins.

The friends received severe burns on their hands and arms when they hauled David out of the building and into the car. After they pulled the car up to the ER doors, a very kind, but very dumb, samaritan, who’d been nearby, rushed to help. He made the mistake of grabbing David by his foot and ankle. He degloved David’s leg all the way to his crotch. The sloughed skin splashed onto the pavement as the samaritan screamed with horror, and then pain, as steam began to rise from his own hands.

Long, terrible story short: surgeons had to amputate everything below David’s ribcage. The rest of his skin was damaged beyond repair, leaving him covered with an otherworldly patchwork of hard, gray burns. His friends, as well as the dumb samaritan, lost their hands. Two of the ER rooms needed to be closed for 48 hours so they could be decontaminated. Of all the Pokemon Go accidents we’d had in the short time following its release, it was the worst.

One might think the accident would deter other people from going to the industrial zones. Quite the contrary. Once people learned they could catch a Lapras near that factory, despite warnings and promises to arrest trespassers, trainers swarmed. They knew no one would be there to arrest them. Cops had better things to do.

Two days later, we had a handful of patients with burned lungs, a few with debilitating fatigue, and two pregnancy complications, both of which ended in miscarriages. The remains of the fetuses were indescribably deformed. How such deformities could occur in such a short period of time was beyond anyone’s guess.

I needed to take my mind off everything I’d seen, so what did I do? I played Pokemon Go. I used the Poke Stop at the hospital frequently. Whenever I had a spare moment, I’d go into the parking lot and catch pidgeys and ratattas. I yearned for the bigger, better Pokemon that I knew could be obtained from the old factories. I even drove up to the fence outside one and saw something huge on my radar, but I was too afraid for my own safety to get out and investigate. In the brief period I was sitting in my car out front, I watched six people hop the fence and run into the factory. I admit, I felt a little jealous. I forced myself to get over it.

Last night started like all the other nights since the game had been released, but turned into a tragedy felt hospital-wide. Lenisha Davis, who’d undergone successful fertility treatments a few months prior, was expecting sextuplets – a first for our hospital. She was in excellent health and only a month away from her due date. She’d never played a second of Pokemon in her life, but her husband and son had. Lenisha never knew they’d frequented an abandoned factory that once made herbicides. Over the few days they’d gone and come back, Lenisha was walking barefoot on the toxins they’d tracked into the house.

The pain and bleeding that caused her to come to the hospital ended the same way as it had for the other pregnant women exposed to the toxins. The deformities of her miscarried sextuplets were hideous. Their complexions were albino and their limbs were gone. All that remained were round, hard blobs containing lidless, glaring eyes and fully-toothed, gaping mouths. Lenisha had to be sedated. She wouldn’t stop screaming.

The image of the sextuplets stuck with me. I was scheduled for an overnight shift, and there was a free bunk where I could’ve slept, but that was out of the question. I wandered the halls aimlessly, watching for Pokemon, and gathering supplies whenever I passed the Poke Stop.

Around 3 this morning, I saw a shape on my radar. It was a big one, and I think it was nearby. Two other, smaller ones, were also showing up. I speed-walked in all directions until I finally saw them appear on my map. I felt pretty lucky to have them all come at once. Seven balls later, I’d captured all three. A horsea, a kakuna, and the big one was an exeggcute.

I looked around. I’d walked without paying attention to my location in the hospital. When I realized where I’d gone, I shuddered. It was where abnormal specimens were dissected and tested. Dr. Ahad was working on one of the deformed miscarriages from the day before. To his side, about to go into the refrigeration unit, was a large biohazard bag containing Lenisha’s sextuplets.

Sorrow suffused through me as the scenario played out again in my head. As I stared, a feeling I can’t explain pricked the hair on the back of my neck. My phone vibrated in my pocket. There was a Pokemon nearby. I checked the radar. It was the silhouette of a big round thing with two arms. I remember seeing that online when I was learning about the game. A geodude.

I did my best to shake off my misery as I trawled the halls until the geodude showed up. I caught it, had a little moment of excitement from adding another entry to my Pokedex, then returned to my weariness and sorrow. I checked where I was. I was right in front of David’s room. He was on a ventilator and he was covered in bandages. Fluid kept seeping through his gray, cracked skin. A nurse was getting ready to change his gauze. I felt such sympathy for the kid. My eyes blurred with tears.

While my eyes welled up, I stared at the shape of David on the bed. Gray, with a round, hipless torso and two long arms. My breath caught in my throat. Before I knew it, I was running back to where Dr. Ahad had been working. The room was dark. He’d gone home for the night.

I scanned my keycard and let myself in. I opened the refrigeration units and removed the two bags of the miscarriages from the days before. One was shaped like a seahorse. Another looked like a cocoon. I thought back to the three I’d caught right outside the room.

My hands shook as I opened the larger cold box housing the remains of Lenisha’s sextuplets. The inside of the bag was coated with grayish-red slime and I couldn’t see the contents. I put on gloves and made the sign of the cross. As tears ran down my face, I took out each horrifically-deformed fetus and arranged them on sample trays. My weeping turned to wracking sobs as I examined their features. Pink. Limbless. Wide eyed.

Egg shaped.

Six in a row.

More.
Unsettling Stories is on Facebook.