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.”

Farm to Table

farm

I’ve been selling ground meat and sausage made from the people I’ve killed to the hipster restaurants in the city. You know the type: ones with terms like “LOCALLY SOURCED INGREDIENTS” emblazoned on every surface like it somehow makes their food taste good. Not that what I’m selling them tastes bad, mind you. They love it. Everyone does. They think they’re getting some of that heritage-breed pork from those wooly Mangalitsa pigs I’ve got in the yard. Well, they’re not. Those little guys aren’t for sale. The restaurants are buying and serving human remains.

Let me guess: I’m a monster. Oooooooo. Another madman killing innocent people, right? Another psychopath? Well, no. Maybe. Probably not. Here’s the thing – it’s not that I don’t like people. I know everyone has hopes and dreams and blah blah blah.

I had hopes and dreams too. I had a butcher shop and loyal customers for 40 years. Then all the kids started moving in. White kids just out of college. Kids with jobs in technology or some other abstract s**t that pays an ungodly amount of money; five times what everyone else in our neighborhoods were making. Kids without a care in the world for the generations of culture they were trampling on.

Rents went up. Fast. Our neighborhoods changed. Fast. Family businesses that’d been operating for years couldn’t afford to stay there anymore and were forced to shut down. After just ten years, the city was nothing like it had been. “Gentrification” was the word that kept getting thrown around. People talked about it like it was a good thing.

I was lucky. I had a nest-egg saved up and didn’t even try to keep paying the rent as it skyrocketed. I saw where it was all going. I closed the shutters on my shop, bought some land upstate, had the foresight to acquire some Mangalitsas before they became popular and expensive, and started my little company. Once a month, I’d drive my van around the old neighborhoods on late Friday and Saturday nights. I’d invite the stumbling, drunken kids to get in for a ride, hit them over the head, and head on back to the farm. Easy peasy Mangalitsy.

Anyway, the great thing about these hipster joints is the owners will cut whatever corners they can if it means they can get an edge on a new or hot product. What does that mean for me? Well, they drive up early Monday morning, buy the meat from me without any USDA stamp, and head on back to the city with a week’s worth of meat. That leaves me with cash in hand and great dirt on the restaurant owners if they ever learn my little secret.

According to one of my buyers – a guy whose claim to fame was when he “Beat Bobby Flay” on TV – the next big thing will be meat from suckling pigs; baby piglets who’ve only consumed milk from their mothers. I glanced at his wife, who he’d brought to show her a “real farm” and “to see how the other half lives.” She nodded absently while cradling a tiny newborn to her chest. Her own little suckling animal.

The guy went on and on about the quality of unweaned, milk-fed product. He went through the recipes he’d planned out. They sounded pretty great, to be honest. Lots of fresh fennel. I love fennel.

I pictured the people bound and gagged in their pens in my basement. Three men and nine women. Basic arithmetic and logistics made me close my eyes for a moment as I thought about how I’d fill the order. The guy talked as I worked out the numbers.

“I’ll be happy to pay you in advance for not only the product, but for exclusivity,” he told me. We strolled around the pigpens as his wife worried aloud about whether the baby could get sick from the smell.

“11 months,” I announced. The guy smiled. Apparently he’d expected a year or more. I shook his weak, uncalloused hand, nodded at his politely-smiling wife, and patted the infant on its little, pink head. They drove off in their Volvo, leaving me with a bag of cash.

Once they were long gone, I headed down to the basement. I thought about the orders I had to fill over the next few months, then slit the throats of the two smaller men and hung them up to drain. I shifted the rest of them around in their pens until I had the grouping I wanted.

As I was heading back upstairs, I turned around and called out to the remaining man, who was sitting in the corner of the pen housing him and his four companions.

“Better start f*****g, buddy! Your children are my future!”

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If Anyone Asks

scarecrow

You know when you have something in your house or yard for so long it just becomes part of the scenery? You don’t pay any day-to-day attention to it, but you’d know right away if it was missing or damaged? Well, I’m a retired farmer. I’ve got more property than I know what to do with and more stuff than I know where to put. After 65 years of living in the same spot with the same junk, everything is just scenery. Me included.

Early this morning, when I was making some coffee, I noticed the scarecrow out back was different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. It’s pretty far away from the house, and the way my eyesight is these days, I wouldn’t be finding out what had changed until I hauled myself across the field to look from up close. But with the rain coming down as bad as it was, I wouldn’t be satisfying my curiosity any time soon.

I forgot about the scarecrow and went about my daily routine. Coffee with a bacon sandwich on rye with butter. I still have no idea how I developed a taste for rye. When Peggy was still around, she’d always make fun of me for having “exotic tastes.” I did my best to downplay my love for the stuff when she made her own bread. It was good, but wasn’t rye. That said, I’d give up my stupid rye if it meant getting her back.

I had my breakfast at the kitchen table while reading the obituaries. Some poor b*****d had published an obit for his Golden Retriever, Happy. Peggy wanted a Golden all her life and I kept putting it off and putting it off until her doctor found the cancer. A month later, I was a widower who never got his wife the one thing she’d always wanted. I hated how that felt. Still do. I tossed the paper across the table and went into the living room to watch some TV.

Morning television is horseshit. One of the things that really stinks about getting older is you just can’t sleep in anymore. It’s not even the fact I’m wide awake as soon as the god damn rooster starts screaming outside, but it’s how I’ve been back and forth to the toilet 12 times since I nodded off the night before. It’s hard to rest when you’ve got a prostate like a softball. Anyway, I was in my recliner watching some awful television about a judge who yells at people when there was a loud “bang” outside near the kitchen.

I figured some poor, dumb bird flew himself into one of the windows or the storm door. I dragged myself off the recliner and headed toward the kitchen, fairly certain I’d have to be replacing some cracked glass. The last thing I needed was water getting in the house.

To my surprise, despite the telltale shape of a bird’s dusty body on the window, all the glass was fine. Filthy, because I’m too lazy to wash them more than once a month, but fine. Satisfied yet tremendously bored, I stared outside and remembered the change to the scarecrow. With my curiosity still piqued, I directed my gaze at it. Same weirdness. The wind was making the remainder of the cornstalks bend pretty badly, but the rain had finally tapered off. I pulled on my boots, opened the back door, and headed out into the field.

The scarecrow stood about 500 feet, or around 150 meters for you Euros, away from the house. Peggy suggested we get it back in the 70s. I never really knew why. We didn’t have any damn crows. She’d dressed the thing in an old tuxedo she’d found at some thrift store, and that was that. Still no crows. Over the decades, the clothes became worn and tattered. The tux was just scraps of cloth but its cork or whatever-wood body stayed pretty intact. That’s why I got surprised when it looked different that morning. The thing was built like a tank.

I couldn’t see a damn thing as I walked through the field in the scarecrow’s direction. Most of the viable corn plants were gone, but lots of crappy ones still grew pretty tall. I was soaked from the dripping stalks after just ten steps. I figured I might as well keep going just to satisfy the diminishing curiosity and feel like I succeeded in doing something today. After a couple minutes, I got to the scarecrow.

It stood about 15 feet high. When I looked up at it, I felt like an asshole’s asshole. Why’d it look different? The wind had blown so hard it turned the body around so instead of its front facing the window, its side did. And if I actually got glasses when the doctor told me to, I would’ve seen that from the kitchen and saved myself a walk and a soaking. I headed back.

I stepped out of the cornfield and went around to the front of the house. I’d forgotten to put away my motorcycle the night before and I needed to make sure the wind hadn’t blown it over. Once I saw the bike was fine, I turned and saw that the f*****g storm door was shattered. On cue, the torrential rain resumed, further soaking me and pouring into the house. I was not happy.

Blood-covered glass from the storm door crunched under my boots as I walked through the front hall. The thing that hit the door must’ve been huge; it’d left a trail of gore all the way into the living room. Whatever it was stunk so bad my eyes started to water. As I looked around for its corpse, I stopped in my tracks. The scarecrow, the pouring rain, and the shattered door were put out of my mind when I saw a dog standing next to my recliner. It was terribly injured. Injured to the point where I couldn’t believe it was still alive.

Loops of intestines clung to the floor, leaking putrid grease that bloomed outward as it spread over the hardwood. Its remaining fur, once yellow or some variant thereof, was matted with encrusted blood and other nauseating fluids. It looked emaciated; the flesh of its chest clung to its ribs like rotting shrinkwrap. Through the patchy fur by its neck, a massive infestation of maggots writhed and chewed at the meat. But still, somehow, the dog stood.

When it saw me, the remaining part of the tail swung weakly, as if it was happy to see me. Something clicked and my blood chilled. Happy. The color of the dog was definitely gold. I could see it now that I’d made the connection. I said aloud, “Happy,” and the ruined animal’s tail wagged even harder. Its smell was incomprehensibly awful. Behind the odor of putrefaction, though, something else lurked. Something familiar and, dare I say, pleasurable. I told the dog to stay, assuming it would die from its injuries before I came back, and I walked into the kitchen. Happy, like all Golden Retrievers, disobeyed. He followed me; bowels dragging behind him.

The other smell intensified as I got closer to the kitchen. I looked on the table. A loaf of rye bread sat on a cooling rack with tendrils of steam rising from its surface. My confusion was turning into frustration. Who the hell brought me a loaf of bread? Why’s there a left-for-dead dog stinking up the house? My questions were answered when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I jumped half a mile and spun around. In the same green dress she was married in; the same green dress she was buried in, was Peggy. Wisps of blonde hair grew from the desiccated flesh of her scalp. The empty sockets which housed the eyes I’d gazed into so often gaped at me. Then I knew.

I embraced my wife with care. I didn’t want to damage her. Then I released her and sat at the table, chewing on the best rye bread I’ve ever eaten. Happy sniffed at Peggy, who knelt down, joints cracking like gunshots, and wrapped her arms around its rotting body. She pressed the side of her head against his wormy neck. I could tell she loved him. After I’d eaten my fill and watched Happy’s ragged, dry tongue adoringly lick between Peggy’s teeth, I started to write. And here I am. Well, here we are.

Peggy had gotten the revolver down from the shelf in the pantry. She placed it on the table while I wrote, then came behind me and wrapped her arms around my torso. Now her head is resting on my shoulder, waiting for me to finish up. If anyone asks what happened to the old farmer who lived on the edge of town, just show them this letter. I’m ready to go spend time with my wife.

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Otter

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an otter. When I was six, Mom brought me to the Maritime Center in Norwalk. It was my birthday. Things had been really difficult for us since Dad died the year before. Mom worked long hours and I spent so much time in day care. For a while, it felt like everything was falling apart. But Mom knew I was having a hard time. She did her best to let me know I was loved. And on my sixth birthday, I truly realized how much.

Mom knew how much I adored otters. I had pictures of them from National Geographic hung up all around my room. This one was the best. I had little stuffed otter toys, too, like Ollie here. They made me feel safe and happy. But until then, I’d only seen otters on television and in magazines. When Mom surprised me with a trip to the Maritime Center, I started crying. We walked through the halls, bypassing all the aquariums featuring stingrays and jellyfish and giant lobsters. After what felt like an eternity, we made it to their glass-walled habitat.

I stood, transfixed, and watched their sleek, furry bodies navigate their enclosure. It’d been designed to look like the local estuary from which they came. I marvelled at how quickly they could dart across solid ground and dive into the water where they’d move with equal speed and grace. Then, as I watched, I finally saw it. Two otters, tired from playing around, floated together in the water. I shook with anticipation, praying I’d get to witness what I’d dreamed about. The otter on the right held out its left paw. The left otter held out its right. Then they clasped them together in a gesture of closeness while they peacefully floated.

While I watched the beautiful display, I felt a soft hand wrap around my own. It was mom. She looked down at me and smiled her warm, loving smile. We stayed that way for a long time.

Looking back, that was the best moment of my life. The decades that followed were nothing but heartbreak. Mom passed away when I was 14. Cancer. We had no other family, so I was put in foster care. My foster parents were kind, but distant. They didn’t try to understand me. I know they thought I was weird. I guess maybe I was. A teenage boy with a love of otters and no friends doesn’t sound normal. Because of that abnormality, I started getting picked on at school.

It started off innocuous. Just some name-calling in the hall. “Freak,” “f*g,” “retard;” the basic high school Freshman insults. Over time, though, starting around my Sophomore year, the negativity got worse. A lot of it stemmed from when I tried to join the swim team. I’d never been a competitive swimmer. I wasn’t in particularly good shape, either. Add to that a body that was extraordinarily hairy for a 15 year old, and I became an easy target of the school’s more vicious bullies.

Verbal insults increased in frequency and physical violence became the norm. I don’t need to get into it, because it makes me sad to think about, but there were many times I was simply punched in the face as I walked down the hall. Sometimes I’d get kicked in the crotch. One time, someone reached up my shirt and smeared their gum into my chest hair. And all the time, they laughed. I wouldn’t wear my otter shirts anymore. The other students were ruthless with their bullying whenever they saw me with a picture of my favorite animal. Someone started a terrible rumor that since I’d never had a girlfriend, I must have sex with otters. And when they noticed I cried whenever they insinuated such a hurtful, despicable act, it became their insult of choice.

Once or twice, school officials would punish the most flagrant abusers if their words or actions happened to be noticed. But for the most part, it was under the school’s radar. I never said anything. As it all went on, my foster parents never had a clue because they never asked how I was doing. Even if they did, I don’t think I would have told them. My grades were decent enough. That’s all that mattered to them.

By the time I was a Senior, the bulk of the bullying had died down. Still, not a day went by when I could say people were kind to me. I was growing sick of the feeling of isolation that plagued me from the moment I woke up to the time I collapsed back in my bed at night, usually in tears. When the school posted a notice asking for someone to work in the pool area in the afternoons, I decided to apply. It was pretty low-effort work. Some organizing, some water testing, but mostly just cleaning up the messes of the day. No one else was interested, so I was hired on the spot.

The shift was short; about 3 hours starting at 4pm. Most of the students were gone by then. The swim team’s season was over, so they didn’t have practice. Some of the teachers liked to swim and get some exercise around that time, though, so I made sure their locker rooms had towels and were relatively clean. It all went well. I made a few bucks. Nothing much, but more than I was used to.

Once everyone left, I’d swim by myself. I’d float on my back and glide through the still water while my imagination ran wild. I’d imagine myself in an estuary filled with otters and fish and seabirds. We’d all be happy and everyone would get along. I stretched out my hand, half hoping another understanding person would grab it and we’d float away together. Soon after, I’d leave. While I walked home each night, I would cry.

After graduating high school, I kept the job. They were happy to have me. There wasn’t a chance I’d go to college and endure any more abuse, so I was perfectly content with keeping the status quo. My foster parents were glad to have me around, especially once I began giving them a small bit of my take-home money as rent.

When the next school year started up, the swim team started practicing again. I’d hover around the pool area, doing my various jobs, and every so often I’d hear the team laughing at me. They’d point an insult or two in my direction, but I’d just keep my head down and stay on task. After work, I’d head home like I always did, have my dinner, and retreat to my bedroom where I’d sit at my computer and watch videos of otters until I was too tired to continue. This one was my favorite. I still think about it all the time.

On a night in October, when I was finishing up my shift, someone was banging on the door to the pool and demanding that they be let in. It was two swim team members and their mother. They’d missed practice in the afternoon and they said they had to get their laps in or else the coach would force them to miss their next meet. I apologized and said the pool was closed. Their mother started to yell, so I unlocked the door to let her in so we could discuss it. As soon as I opened it, her sons pushed by me, stripped down to their swimsuits, and jumped in the water. While the mother screamed, her pregnant belly bumping against me as she got closer and closer, I closed my eyes and wished I could run away. So I did.

I turned around and ran toward the supply room. I’d left it open while I cleaned, so once I got in I slammed the door behind me, locked it, and sat on a bucket while I cried. The mother laughed at me from the other side of the door while yelling to her sons, “is this that otter fucker you told me about?” I heard the boys laughing as they did their laps. The woman gave one final pound on the door before she muttered, loud enough for me to hear, “I can’t imagine what that freak’s mother must be like.”

Everything went red, then white. I found myself travelling down a lazy river. I was on my back, staring at the sky. It was bright blue and dotted with puffy cumulous clouds. Thick, green grass grew all the way to the riverbank. As the river turned and I bumped into the grass, it felt soft against my furry skin. The water slowed as the river drained into a wide, clear lake. I craned my neck around and saw her. I let the gentle current take me, and I gradually drifted closer. Once I got there, I held out my paw. She grasped it in her own.

Mom and I floated together for a while. The sensation of closeness was almost as wonderful as my birthday at the Maritime Center. Then it got even better. Mom had been hiding my new baby brother in the crook of her other arm. She reached over and sat him on my chest. He squirmed for a minute, but then he was still. Comfortable. Safe. I closed my eyes and felt the warm sun on my downy fur.

When I opened my eyes, I was staring at the ceiling of the pool room. The bodies of the two swimmers floated lifelessly in the shallow end, blood blossoming in the water from their slit throats. I floated, silently, clasping the hand of their mother. She was facing the ceiling, breathing shallowly. I glanced over at her. A gaping wound in her belly was spilling blood all around us. Her breathing stopped. I felt her start to sink and I turned to pull her toward me, but something on my chest shifted and nearly fell. I dropped the dead woman’s hand and picked up what was resting on me. Her baby. It wasn’t breathing.

I worked hard not to panic and I retreated back to my safe place. If I ever really wanted to be an otter, this was as close as I’d get. I felt the sunlight on my fur again as I clutched my baby brother to my chest. I looked over, hoping mom would be there, ready to hold my hand. But she’d ducked underwater to get us some fish to eat. It would all work out in the end. My paws stroked the tiny form of my brother as I floated in the tranquil lake, waiting anxiously for him to wake from his nap so we could play. I love him so, so much.

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Pray Away

My body is an icon of loathsomeness and sin. Ever since our pastor found out and mentioned me by name in front of the whole congregation, what was once our family’s secret became a big problem for me. Practically the next day, I was shipped off to a facility owned by a group of the churches in our area.

The purpose of the facility was conversion. They believed, with the help of God and the power of their therapy and drug intervention, I’d be able to “pray away” the “perversions” which had infected me. They made it sound like I had a disease. I have to admit – I was terrified of what was going to happen.

Growing up, I knew I was different. During high school, when everyone was interested in girls and their b***s and all that, I didn’t take part. It’s not that I didn’t want to, either. I couldn’t, no matter what I did, force myself to be attracted to them. There was no way I could tell my friends how I actually felt. We all attended the same church and heard the same sermons. People like me were hellbound aberrations. Can you imagine how that makes a person feel? To be told he’s going to hell simply because of who he loves? It’s devastating.

Time went by and I sank into depression. Late in high school, the few times I attempted to form a real, romantic connection with someone to whom I felt genuine attraction, I was shut down pretty quickly. I was lucky they didn’t say anything to their friends or parents; I think, maybe, they took pity on me. Knowing I was an object of pity was something almost worse than knowing I was damned. I was being tortured in life even before I could be tortured after death.

My parents found out about my inclinations because of my own idiotic laziness. I didn’t clear my browser history on the family’s computer. I knew how they felt about pornography, but I just couldn’t control my desire and curiosity. When I got home from school one afternoon, I was oblivious to the fact they’d discovered what I’d been up to. Upon walking into the house, my father just started hitting me. Over and over and over his fists pummelled my ribs and legs and crotch, making sure not to hit anywhere that would be noticed by the school officials. Since that day almost a year ago, my father has refused to say a word to me. Instead of making him proud, something I’d always hoped to do, I’d made him despise me.

Mom eventually came to terms with my differences, but she’d been irreparably damaged. We talk, but it’s almost like she’s speaking to a stranger. I could tell the stress was eating her alive. She’s an incredibly pious woman. Something like this is against everything she believes. I didn’t know how long she’d be able to keep a secret of that magnitude, and not long after, I heard my name being spat from the pastor’s mouth as he gave his Sunday sermon. She later told me she mentioned it at confession and the pastor urged her to let him tell the congregation. “For their safety,” he told her. I hated myself.

At conversion therapy, I was beaten, injected with unknown drugs, bound, and forced to watch pornographic films of all sorts. Before every film that wasn’t a depiction of a heterosexual couple, I was forced to swallow ipecac syrup which produced the most hideous, nauseating sensation I’d ever known. Each day, many times a day, I vomited with such force I felt my stomach would rip in half. I was so dreadfully sick throughout the majority of the films they showed me. The purpose, they claimed, was to “set me straight.” They wanted my body to become so conditioned to being sick during the “abhorrent” types of pornography that I’d have no choice but to become aroused by the approved variety. When I wasn’t puking and watching movies, I was kept awake for countless nights and forced to recite prayer after prayer under hideously bright industrial lamps. I wanted to die.

I was released a month later. As far as my sexuality, I felt no different. What had changed, though, was my day-to-day interaction. The abuse had made me terribly skittish and unwilling to engage with people. No one, even the friends who’d stuck with me through the whole ordeal, could bring me even a modicum of comfort. I cried at the drop of a hat and held myself as I shook with terrible, wracking sobs that would appear out of nowhere, even when I was in public.

That public, the majority of whom were in the congregation, loathed me. At school, I was terrorized by both students and faculty. The kids would hit me, the adults would verbally abuse me. As I’d walk down the hallway with a bloody nose or a black eye, teachers and even the vice principal would hurl muttered insults at me as I walked by. “Freak.” “Heathen.” “Savage.” “F****t.” I understood and even agreed with all of them. All except the last one. That confused me. They knew I’d never been attracted to other men or boys. Just little girls.

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I’ll never eat exotic food again.

I spent three years as an IT contractor at the US military base, Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti. Our firm had been hired to perform a massive upgrade to all the information systems on the base. It was only supposed to take a year and a half. As these things usually go, it went enormously over budget and took twice as long as we’d estimated. I didn’t mind. One of my dreams growing up was to travel to Africa, so when I was presented with the opportunity, I jumped at it. Since I don’t have much family and wasn’t in a relationship at the time, I had no strings attached when I boarded that plane with my colleagues.

The base offered free basic housing and other facilities to their visiting contractors, which some of us took, but I wanted to live in town and embrace the culture. Djibouti City was nearby, extremely inexpensive, and replete with all the cultural experiences I ever wanted. I met wonderful people, learned a little French and Arabic, and discovered their local cuisine is not only some of the best on Earth, but far less fattening than American food. I must’ve lost 25 pounds while still eating like a king. As our IT project dragged on, I almost wished it would take forever. I just didn’t want to leave.

But, of course, all good things must come to an end. In April of 2005, with our task complete, we were on a plane back to Burlington via a New York layover. The team was given a month off to reconnect with everything back home. Those of us who didn’t have homes or families to come back to were put up in hotels until we could find places of our own. The hotel room was so much bigger and nicer than the tiny apartment in Djibouti to which I’d grown accustomed. It felt downright decadent to get to sprawl out and get comfortable. And as much as I loved the Djiboutian food, knowing a bacon cheeseburger could be room-serviced up to me 24 hours a day was a damn good feeling. I took advantage of it many, many times.


After being home for three days, though, a rather unpleasant situation arose. I’m not going to get graphic because we all have our own intimate knowledge of such a thing, but I’ll just say I was terribly constipated. Three days stretched into four, then five. I was extraordinarily uncomfortable at that point. Most of the advice online said to wait it out and make sure I was staying hydrated. I drank bottle after bottle of water, but, to my chagrin, my desired result continued its elusion.

Day number six was a repeat performance of the previous five. On the seventh day, I didn’t rest. I hauled my bloated self over to the p******y and bought some laxatives. Just the thought of the things grossed me out, but the promise of their efficacy did great work to quell my emotional misgivings. I went back to the hotel, read the directions, swallowed the suggested dose, and waited.

The medication acted quickly. Again, in an effort to avoid the all-too-familiar details, I’ll simply say the pressure and discomfort ended abruptly. The only pain, as I’d expected, was located on the, well, exit. Unfortunately, here is where I must start a period of elaboration. I assure you, it is not scatological. It is, however, profoundly disturbing.

As I went to clean myself, I noticed an obstruction in the area. It was not what I, or likely you, are thinking. No, as I learned rather quickly, it was far, far worse. I peered down between my legs and saw the most horrifying sight in my 42 years of life. Dangling into the the bowl was a thick rope of tangled, grayish-white worms. I screamed with such terrific ferocity that I immediately damaged my vocal cords, causing the outburst to sound as if it were produced by a dilapidated chainsaw. I flexed the muscle through which the creatures were hanging, hoping to dislodge them. Nothing.

Needless to say, I was panicking. I had no idea what to do, but I knew I had to get the things out of me. All my life, I’d been terrified of bugs and insects of all sorts. Having these monsters infesting me was beyond any level of abject horror I could’ve imagined. The next move I made, I would later learn, is not a recommended method of removal.

I reached behind me and grasped the writhing column in my fist. I involuntarily retched as I felt the thickness of the parasitic invaders against my palm. All bunched together, they were the diameter of toilet paper tube. I squeezed the atrocious things and pulled as hard as I could. For a moment, my only respite from the terror was the impossibly acute agony produced by my pulling action. A tearing sensation of pain exploded right below my sternum – practically in my chest. With dawning realization that the creatures were far deeper in my body than I could deal with myself, my panic mixed with deep helplessness.

Remember, this was 2005. Personal cell phones were not nearly as ubiquitous as they are today. While I had one in Africa, I’d turned it in upon my arrival home. It wouldn’t have worked on our network, anyway, and my company had yet to give our group new Blackberry devices. What that meant was I had to get up and walk to the bedside telephone. I distinctly remember the wet slapping of the repulsive rope on my bare thighs as I waddled across the room. I dialed the front desk, not 911 for some idiotic reason I can’t remember, and simply said, “medical emergency in room 1142.” I stood there, naked from the waist down, with a tail of twitching parasites hanging out of me.

The hotel staff who’d been trained in CPR and other basic emergency services arrived first. Without knocking, the used their own key to barge in. Each of the three looked puzzled, and, within a span of ten seconds, realized why they’d been called. One by one, they turned varying shades of white. The largest of the group, a man with a name tag labelling him as “Jeremy,” sat down on the bed and promptly fainted backward. The other two, “Maria” and “Tyshawn,” did their best to maintain composure. They asked me if I was having trouble breathing or experiencing chest pains or blurred vision. As the procedural questions dragged on, the real EMTs arrived.

Hardened as EMTs are, one of the two men who arrived audibly whispered “Jesus f*****g Christ” when he saw why they’d been summoned. Wrapping a towel around my waist, something I hadn’t even thought of in my panic, they helped me onto a stretcher and we went down the elevator and into the waiting ambulance. At the hospital, the ER doctor in charge of me just said, “well that’s a pretty bad case, huh?” I nodded, stupidly.

A few doses of specialized medication and two days later, I expelled the invading creatures. I was told I probably got them from eating contaminated food in Africa. Also, apparently I was lucky that I didn’t have to have surgery. Sometimes when they’re as deep as mine were, surgery’s the only option.

So, it’s almost 11 years later. I had a few scans in the months that followed my hospital stay to make sure I didn’t have anything new growing inside me, but each time I was clean as a whistle. Still, as you might imagine, I’m haunted by the experience. Worst was the feeling of how thick and heavy the tangle of worms felt in my hand. That, and how impossibly long the things were. I swear, I was convinced they’d made their way into my chest and were coiling around my heart, ready to squeeze the life from me. But all is well, I keep telling myself. Nothing is out of the ordinary.

It’s interesting, too, because the worms themselves don’t scare me anymore. I’m traumatized by the experience and the stress resulting from it, of course, but as the years went by, I could easily study the things online and in textbooks without shrinking away. In fact, I’m almost drawn to them. Today, I’d venture to guess I know more about that genus and species than even some experts in that field. It’s strange how our experiences can shape our interests, isn’t it?

A couple years ago, I quit my job in technology. Using the money I’d been saving, I started a food truck. The customer base started off small, but it grew pretty quickly thanks to word of mouth and social media. My customers love the cuisine and regulars line up every day to enjoy the outstanding Djiboutian food made by the quirky white American. As the business flourished and customers came in droves, all the diners were happy to report to me how they finally found a diet food that works. Even though hearing that warms my heart, I still experience a pang of jealousy that makes me feel a little empty inside.

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The Wisdom of Moms

Baby was receiving his scheduled vaccine injection in his right thigh muscle ie intramuscular injection

January 3, 2016

My son will NOT – I repeat: WILL NOT be getting any more vaccines. I was ignorant about how bad they were for the first four years and I never told the doctors to leave him alone. Well, thank God he got lucky and seems fine, despite that. I got my eyes open now.  Are vaccines safe? Hell no. Sandra Barker’s child got poked with all those needles and shot through with nasty chemicals and guess what? Her poor little Eva ended up half retarded. A damn shame for Sandra and her little girl. Sorry big pharma, you can’t have my Thomas. No way in hell. And I’m going to tell the doctor that at his checkup tomorrow.

January 4, 2016

Doctors just make me sick. Funny, huh? Like it’s the opposite of what they say they’re gonna do. Thomas’ doctor is so rude and pushy. He has the nerve to think he knows what’s better for my son than I do. Me. His mother. The strong woman who gave birth to him. You know, because he went to some fancy college in New York and got a piece of paper saying he can look at sick children.

By the way, his name is Dr. Rav Mati and his practice is in Alfonse Creek, West Virginia. Don’t even think about going to him with your own boy or girl. All he’ll do is try to push vaccines on them and gets fresh when you tell him to prove the shots won’t make the kids sick. The man even said there’s a shot for chickenpox now. Chickenpox! Those pharma fat cats will take every dollar you’ve got. I guess they don’t think us parents were taught by our own moms about how to deal with chickenpox. A child has to catch it if they want to get strong! I think Earl has a point when he said those companies are trying to make kids grow up weak so they’ll vote liberal. There’s no other explanation I can think of. I married a smart man.


January 7th, 2016

As luck would have it, Sandra Barker’s poor retarded girl got chickenpox at the special daycare she has to go to. When Sandra called me up, I was relieved. After dealing with that stupid Dr. Mati the other day, I’d started to worry Thomas wouldn’t get to be around other kids who had it if their parents had been duped into getting them vaccinated. The last thing I wanted was for Thomas to be weak. God forbid he ended up that way and Earl found out he was a homosexual. I’m not even going to think about that. No need to do that to myself.

Anyway, Sandra and I set up a playdate for Thomas and Sandra’s little Eva. We’ll go over tomorrow at lunchtime so I can be back to cook dinner for Earl in the afternoon.

January 8th, 2016

Thomas seemed to have fun with little Eva. It breaks my heart to see that little girl, though. She just doesn’t know what’s going on half the time. Thomas was a good boy, though, and was very gentle and shared his toys. Sandra suggested we let them share a spoon and bowl when they ate their lunch so he’d get a better chance of catching her chickenpox. So they shared their chicken soup and Sandra and I talked for a while. Thomas and I went home around 3:30. Perfect timing to get dinner started.

January 11th, 2016

Earl was grumpy this morning when he left for his business trip. He was hollering and complaining about one thing or another, but then he left and things were quiet again. I bet his job is more stressful than I know. Hell, this trip will keep him away from home for three weeks. I wish I told him I was sorry before he went, though. I always feel bad when I feel like I put him in one of his moods.

On a good note, Thomas started to get a fever and he said he was itchy. When I gave him his bath at night, I saw the little dots of chickenpox starting to show up. I called up Sandra to thank her and asked how Eva was doing. Sandra said Eva had it bad but no worse than her cousin Duane did a couple years ago. I got a little sad that Thomas would be so uncomfortable soon, but it was worth it in the long run. He’d be good and strong.

January 12th, 2016

It’s amazing how fast chickenpox shows up! Thomas went to bed with little pinprick dots and woke up with big blotches the size of pepperoni slices. He’s scratching them like crazy and I keep slapping his hands so he won’t cut himself with his fingernails. I can’t stop thinking about all the poor kids whose parents were so ignorant about how the world works that they listened to Dr. Mati and all the other doctors like him. All the doctors lining their pockets with big pharma money so they can donate it to the democrats and whoever else hates families. Well, they’ll see. It’s families like ours who get strong and survive.

January 13th, 2016

Thomas started getting blisters on his palms. I don’t think they’re from chickenpox, but the nice ladies on the homeschool forum I started visiting last year said it was probably just from his fever. Once his fever goes down, they’ll go away. And if they got any worse, it would just have to run its course. He’s young and he’ll heal up good enough.

As mean as this sounds, I’m a little glad the blisters seem to hurt because it stops Thomas from scratching. Didn’t stop him from complaining, though! Not one bit. But it’s okay. I can take it! This is mom territory – we live to deal with kids complaining.

January 14th, 2016

Thomas’ is COVERED with chickenpox. Even when I part his hair, I see them on his scalp. Some of the older ones started to get big whiteheads on them. The one on the tip of his nose looks so uncomfortable, the poor kid. I remember having pimples when I was a teenager. These pox are like five times bigger. Maybe later on tonight I’ll squeeze a few of them to help take some of the pressure off.

January 15th, 2016

In the bath last night, I popped about 20 of Thomas’ riper chickenpox. I squeezed and squeezed and that gunk just plopped down into the water. I had to mash it up with a wire brush before it would all get down the drain. Nasty nasty nasty! But still, it’s natural. So much more natural than whatever the doctor would’ve pumped into him.

The pox I squeezed dry just look like holes now. They’re pretty swollen but he said they don’t itch anymore. The holes are about as wide as a dime. I put Neosporin on them just so they wouldn’t get infected and I’m changing his bedsheets every night. I might be being a little overprotective, but hey, I’m a mom. It’s what moms do. Well, the good ones at least.

January 16th, 2016

I squeezed out more and more of those chickenpox last night. The ones I’d squeezed the night before didn’t fill up again, at least. Poor Thomas looks so ragged. It’s like he’s covered in little, swollen volcanos. At least this is running its course and it’ll be over in another few days.

I’m a tiny bit worried about the fever blisters on his hands and feet. My camera in my phone’s still busted, but I went online and found a picture that’s pretty similar. Obviously this person’s hand is much bigger than Thomas’, but the look is the same. True to what the homeschool ladies said, he was still running a fever. 102 on the nose. Once that goes down, his hands will heal up and he’ll be good as new.

January 17th, 2016

Thomas woke me up this morning! He hasn’t done that since he would cry and yell when he was a tiny baby. But he was standing next to my bed and saying that his body hurts. Well, I took one look at him and saw why. The poor boy’s chickenpox looked worse than any chickenpox I’d ever seen. I’ll admit it – I got pretty scared. His entire body – all his skin – was just filled up with holes. It looked like the remaining whiteheads had popped when he was asleep because he was all smeared with it.

I brought him into the bath and rinsed him off. The water seemed to help him feel a little better, so I let him soak in the tub while I sat next to him in a chair with my laptop. I asked online if chickenpox were supposed to get so bad. One of the homeschool ladies asked if he’d been vaccinated. I was super embarrassed when I told her he got all his shots up until this year because I didn’t know any better. I felt awful admitting that to these smart people. But they were so kind and understanding. Then I was told what I’d assumed but didn’t want to take for granted: his case of chickenpox is worse because of the vaccines he got as a baby. Something about mercury poisoning and his body using the chickenpox as an opportunity to cleanse the toxins from his body.

While Thomas splashed around and I talked to the ladies online, I felt a lot better. By this time next week, he’d be healing up like nothing had happened.

January 18th, 2016

Thomas looked just as bad this morning. He asked right away if he could take a bath, so we did what we did yesterday. I paid more attention to his skin this time. I don’t know exactly how to describe him. Maybe the inside of a wasp nest? He’s just so covered with holes that I can barely make out any skin that isn’t part of a crater, especially now that he’s in the water and his skin is swelling.

I’m just so mad at all the doctors and corporations who put those chemicals into Thomas when he was a baby. I’m mad at myself for listening to them. Like I was just following orders like some damn N**i. Because that’s what those big pharma liberals are, you know. There’s a reason “socialist” is in “national socialist.” Of course you know. And this country’s going down the tubes because of it. And Thomas is suffering in that bathtub for the same damn reason.

January 19th, 2016

I’m about to go ask the ladies on the homeschool forum for some help because I just went to wake Thomas and all his holes are leaking. There’s yellow stuff coming out of them and a tiny black hard thing is poking out of each one. It’s like a pebble or a seed or something godawful. When he opened his eyes, I could see more holes starting to form in the corners where his tears come out. He said he could see me but I looked like I was underwater.

I carried him to the bathroom so he could do his business, and when he sat down on the toilet, some holes in his thighs split and the stuff inside, the yellow gunk and the hard pebble piece, bulged out. He looked at me like he was scared and started to pick at it. His finger slid all the way inside.

There’s no way I’m going to the doctor who’ll just inject him with more stuff to make this even worse, but I’m concerned his chickenpox might be getting infected. I guess it’s time to go ask online. The ladies from the homeschool forum have been so helpful already. It’s great to be able to rely on the wisdom of moms.

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It all started when I realized my iPhone was self-lubricating.

iphonewet

I pulled the charger out of my iPhone and a string of viscous fluid stretched between the charging tip and the opening in the phone. To say I was irritated was an understatement. I’d just bought the thing.

There was a small pool of clear liquid on the table where it’d been charging. I touched my finger to it and sniffed. There wasn’t much of a scent. I tasted it. Salty. The worst possible scenario. Saltwater destroys electronics. I had no idea what I could’ve spilled.

The screen was off and the power button wasn’t responding. I brought the phone into the bathroom and aimed the hairdryer into the charging port, being careful not burn anything. When it was as dry as it was going to get, I tried to power it up again. It worked.

I thought about bringing the phone back to Apple, but I knew they wouldn’t do anything. They’ve gotten good at knowing when a device has been damaged by water. I wasn’t in the mood to get into a fight at the Genius Bar.

The day went on and my phone seemed no worse for wear. I made calls and played games and browsed Reddit without any issue. Before going to bed, I plugged it in to charge.

The following morning, when the phone’s alarm went off and I leaned over to hit snooze, my hand slid into a puddle of warm fluid. Cursing, I grabbed the phone and was about to pull out the charger when I stopped. Instead of my lock screen or the iOS icons, something that looked like a screensaver was running. Colors were flowing in weird, peristaltic undulations from the top of the screen, intensifying and darkening as they got closer to the bottom. It was actually quite pretty.

I heard a sound coming from the speaker. Being careful not to get any of the fluid on my face, I put it to my ear. Bizarre waves of warm static were being played in rhythm with the motion of the colors on the display. The waves of static were picking up speed. So were the colors. As I watched with a combination of fascination and annoyance, the static became staccato and the colors blinked faster and faster before culminating in a bright flash and a burst of static.

The phone had to have a virus or some kind of malware. Still, that didn’t explain the liquid. I’d made sure the table was dry before plugging the phone in the night before. I pulled the cable out. A gush of clear, sticky stuff drooled from the port onto my chest. Its smell was stronger than the day before. I gagged and got out of bed.

I used the hairdryer on my phone again. It was back to working normally. Opting to go with the virus/malware theory and not wanting to think about the liquid other than how badly I wanted to get it off me, I used a different cable to connect the phone into my laptop so I could do a complete software restoration. I went into iTunes, clicked the necessary things, and went to shower. The fluid had dried into a disgusting, gummy syrup that’d caused my chest hair to stick together.

I was in the shower for 45 minutes trying to pull all the rubber-cement-like stuff off me. As soon as I turned off the water, I heard something from outside the bathroom. I wrapped a towel around my waist and headed toward the sound. It was similar to the static I’d heard before, but now it was coming from two sources: the phone and the laptop. As I got closer, I saw colors on both screens.

The colors and sounds were synched up again, but the two devices were playing off each other. The sounds on the laptop affected the colors on the phone, and vice versa. I sat on the couch in front of the devices and watched. Then stared. Then gazed. Right at that moment, there was nothing else on Earth I wanted to see more.

I saw it all. I felt something, too. But the feeling was tangential. Indirect. As the moment of bliss passed, emptiness and a need for more bloomed within me. From the bloom came a realization.

I tore myself from the screens and rummaged through the drawers that held all my spare electronics. Cables, USB hubs, network switches, etc. I took them all.

Returning to my position in front of the screens and fixing my eyes on the waxing and waning undulations, I noticed that same fluid beginning to dribble from the USB port in the laptop as well as the charging port in the phone. Colors swam in my vision as I inspected the other USB ports on the other side of the computer as hope flooded my chest. Then I saw it. My hope was not misplaced.

The ports on the other side of the laptop were dripping. They were ready. I took one of the USB cords I had in my hand and carefully teased it inside the waiting port. On right side of the laptop screen, which I knew corresponded with the port I’d just entered, a hazy, pink semicircle began to brighten the edge of the display.

With my eyes fixed on the warm pink and my ears serenaded by each peak and trough of gentle static, I brought the other end of the USB cable to my lips.

As the metal touched my flesh, a tiny shock passed through me. It was not unpleasant. Quite the contrary; it was enticing. Attention-getting. And indeed, it had my full attention. I traced the plug around the bow of my lips, savoring the gentle, constant prickling. My mouth watered as the pink spot grew and pulsed onscreen.

My tongue flicked the tip of the plug. Its touch was met by a drop of liquid. I closed my eyes and focused only the sounds and the feeling on my lips and tongue. The metal was so warm – almost hot. Almost burning. More liquid seeped out of the plug. It was slick and salty. My heart was pounding in my ribcage while I drew wet lines across my lips before taking the plug into my mouth in its entirety. The volume of static coming from the laptop intensified.

Time disappeared as I savored what was inside me, not caring about anything except the flow of the static and the pulse of light on the other side of my closed eyelids. My tongue and lips worked and, accompanying a burst of static and a blast of pure, white light, my mouth was filled.

I opened my eyes and parted my lips, letting the fluid drool down my chin onto my bare chest. This time, I wanted it on me. I wanted it to dry there. I wanted it to be the mark of this experience. I didn’t want it to end.

The display on the laptop had changed. The waves and semicircles were still there, but the unmistakable shape of a person was being formed through different colors and wave patterns. On that shape were warm circles. I knew they meant.

Time went by and I put the hubs and switches and cords to use. The Thunderbolt cable was for my mouth. Mini USB plugs, with the aid of their lubrication, slipped underneath each eyelid. The Apple lightning connector fit into my urethra as if it had been built for that purpose; its length disappearing into me until there was no more left to go further. Multiple RJ-45 cords, thanks to an 8-port switch, nestled comfortably inside my r*ctum. My ears, of course, played home to the creamy white headphones while my nostrils and sinuses were packed with micro USB connectors. For the first time, I knew what it was like to be filled.

Colors and static burst from the laptop and my body hummed with electricity and incomprehensible bliss. During an infinitesimal moment of lucidity, I realized the sun was going down. During another, I noticed it was dawn. Then, with a burst of fluid and noise and brightness, it was over. And I felt empty. So, terribly empty.

It’s three hours since that transcendental experience. The phone and laptop continued their dance, but I was no longer part of it. Everything inside me felt weak and useless. Everything, that is, except one part.

An hour ago, at the peak of my despair, I made a small cut on my chest and pushed a micro USB plug inside. Right away, more circles appeared on the body shape onscreen. Lots more. I knew what I needed to do.

I’ve spent this last hour slicing and inserting every cable I own into myself. My soft palate has been cored out and stuffed with Lightning cables. I’ve invaginated my navel and filled it with ethernet cords and an HDMI cable. Inserted in the meat between my fingers and toes are the twisted pairs of ethernet cords I unbraided. I filled everything I could until I had nothing left to use. And I hope it’s enough.

I can feel the cords lubricating themselves inside me and the background of the screen as I type is a blur of warm pink and other, melting pastels. My vision is dimming and I know I’ve lost too much blood to write much longer. That’s okay, though. I’m done. Read this and know I’ve met something else. Something much better than any person. Know we’re going to be together. Connected. And I pray some of you get to experience this yourselves someday. You’ll never want anything else again.

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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.

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Family Tree

tree

I was five the first time Grandpa invited me into the basement to see his safe. It was massive. Apparently, the original owners told him the house had to be built around it; there was no way it could’ve been brought in afterward. When I asked him what was inside, he just smiled and said, “maybe I’ll tell you when you’re older.” I remember being frightened by that smile. Everything about my grandfather frightened me, to be honest. I was never able to put a finger on why, but the feeling was real. I dreaded whenever Mom said we were going to visit.

Every time Mom and I were there, his housekeepers would wait on us hand and foot. Even at an early age, I noticed how they seemed intimidated by my grandfather and were quiet, timid, and unwilling to speak unless they were spoken to. It was almost like they’d been traumatized.

When I was 13, I learned an unsettling fact about the housekeepers: they were, in fact, his wives. The grandmother I’d known, who died when I was very young, was merely one of nine. Mom didn’t want to explain the whole thing to me. I could tell she was afraid of him, too. When I asked why she’d chosen to keep in touch with him after Dad died, she told me I needed a male figure in my life. It sounded strange to me, but I never pressed the issue.

On the day before my 16th birthday, Mom said Grandpa wanted to take me hunting. I absolutely hated the idea. Being alone with my grandfather on his sprawling property which comprised countless acres of deep, dark woods was one thing, but the addition of guns to that already-unpalatable scenario basically made it the last thing I’d ever want to do. I protested and argued and whined. Mom wouldn’t have any of it. “He’s done a lot for you over the years,” she insisted. “You’ll go and you’ll be polite.”

And that was that.

Mom woke me up before dawn on my birthday and drove me the two hours it took to reach Grandpa’s home. She didn’t get out of the car. I knocked on the door and one of his wives, Gert, ushered me into the kitchen where there was a hearty breakfast waiting for me. Despite not being even remotely hungry, I gnawed on some bacon and shoveled some eggs into my mouth. I didn’t want Grandpa to get angry at Gert for making food I didn’t want to eat.

As I was finishing up, my grandfather came down the stairs. Despite being in his 70s, he was strong and enormous. His 6’6” frame dwarfed me; at over 300lbs, he was more than twice my weight, too. As usual, he grinned and exposed teeth that were too straight and too perfect for a man his age. I tried and failed to prevent gooseflesh from rising along my spine.

He greeted me with a cheery rendition of “Happy Birthday,” his deep voice resonating throughout the cavernous kitchen. I smiled at him and did my best to make it look like I was deeply appreciative. He asked if I was finished eating. I nodded. After instructing Gert to clean the place up, he put his massive right hand on my shoulder and told me to follow him.

I trudged along as he walked across the house to the basement door. He flipped the lightswitch and we walked down the thick, wooden stairs. He turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs and I immediately knew what he was going to show me. We stopped in front of the colossal, iron safe.

“I think you’re ready to see what I’ve got in here,” Grandpa informed me.

Excitement and fear churned in my breakfast-stuffed stomach. I’d wondered what was in that safe for as long as I could remember. Now that I was about to find out, I was borderline terrified. What did he have in there that had needed to stay secret? I’d learned he was a polygamist, and probably an abusive one, but he and my mother acted like it was a normal fact of life. What was so bad that he had to keep actively hidden from the world inside a safe the size of a small car?

Grandpa turned the old, chrome-plated combination lock a few times. I heard something unlatch from deep inside the iron bowels of the thing. With a grunt of effort, my grandfather pulled open the heavy door.

I let out the breath I’d been unconsciously holding in one, long sigh. Inside was an arsenal of firearms. Rifles, shotguns, pistols, and countless boxes of ammunition.

“John,” he said, staring intently at my face, “some of these guns aren’t legal anymore. I’m showing them to you because you’re family, I trust you, and these will be yours someday. I don’t want you to tell anyone about what’s in here because I could get in a lot of trouble.”

I nodded my understanding and promised him I wouldn’t say anything to anyone.

“Good!,” he exclaimed. “Now pick one for yourself. We’re going hunting.”

I didn’t know anything about guns. I thought back to the television show’s I’d watched and tried to remember what hunters used in them. I selected a long rifle-looking thing.

“M1 Garand,” Grandpa announced. “Excellent!”

He pulled the gun from the safe, loaded it with ammunition, and handed it to me.

“Keep it pointed at the ground and don’t touch the trigger until you’re ready to shoot something,” he warned. He pulled another, similar-looking rifle from the safe, loaded it for himself, and picked out a small revolver, which he loaded and stuffed into his front pocket.

“Come on,” he boomed cheerily, “let’s go for a walk.”

The morning was cold and the sun had barely started to rise. It was overcast and every so often, a flake or two of snow would float to the ground in front of my face. I stared at the ground while my grandfather walked ahead of me.

We walked at a brisk pace for what felt like an hour. The sun rose behind an overcast curtain and its light barely penetrated the dense, coniferous canopy above us. The longer we walked, the more unnerved I became. It seemed like the day was getting darker, not brighter, as the density of the forest swallowed nearly everything the shrouded sky could produce. I noticed animals as we walked, but they were all ignored by Grandpa. I wondered what it was we were hunting.

We passed deer, squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons. Eventually, growing tired of walking in silence and becoming increasingly aware we’d have to walk the whole way back, too, I spoke up and asked where we were going and what we were hunting.

Without turning around, Grandpa replied. “I’ll be honest with you, John; we’re not hunting anything. Bears like to roam around these woods and I’ve seen a lot of them over the years. They never bothered me, but I want us to be prepared in case today’s any different.”

I just said, “okay,” but I wondered why the hell we were out here in the first place if we weren’t actually going hunting. I didn’t want to say it just like that to my grandfather, though, so I just asked, “are we near where we’re going?”

Grandpa stopped walking and turned around. That same, unnerving smile was plastered across his lined face. “Just on the other side of that rock formation,” he said, pointing. “Come on.”

Instead of going ahead, Grandpa slowed down and walked next to me.

“You’re a man now, John. Your father should be the one walking with you, not me. The good Lord saw it fit to take him when you were a baby, though, and I knew I had to step up and show you what that means.”

We stopped at the rock formation. “We’ll have to climb over.”

Grandpa climbed next to me. It wasn’t steep and the footing was solid. We moved easily. He kept talking.

“Your mom told me a few years ago that you knew my housekeepers were actually my wives. And that’s okay. I worried you might be confused, but you always surprised me by your maturity. That’s what’s important to me. Not age.”

We reached the top of the rock formation. I looked down at the forest below and started to climb down with him.

“It’s your job as a man to claim as many women as you want.”

I thought about protesting, but I didn’t dare interrupt. I let him continue.

“They’re yours. It’s their duty to be there for you, to bear your children, and to take care of your needs, whatever they may be.”

We climbed down in silence for a few minutes, as if he wanted to make sure I had time to reflect on the importance of what he’d just said. A little while later, we reached the forest floor.

“When your Dad died,” he started, his voice breaking with emotion that he quickly swallowed, “I was put in a difficult position. He was my son, and my son embraced the tradition of all the men in our family; me, my father, his father, his father, and so on.”

The trees seemed much taller than before. The forest on the other side of the rock formation was older than what we’d been walking through, and even darker. I had to squint to see, even though, when I snuck a look at my phone, it was almost 10am.

“You have a unique family tree, John. Remember, your father respected the tradition of the family. That means your mother was not his only wife.”

This news made my head spin. I didn’t remember much about Dad, but I always thought he was a decent, caring person. Hearing he was anything like my grandfather was a terrible revelation.

“Like I said, I was put in a difficult situation. Your father had 12 wives. For whatever reason, despite him impregnating all of them, only one gave birth to a boy. Your mother.”

I felt mildly dizzy. “You mean I have sisters?” I asked, hating that my voice cracked an octave higher on the last syllable of the sentence.

“12 of them. One of your father’s wives had twin girls.”

“Can I meet them?” My voice was back to its normal pitch. I sounded calm and oddly hopeful, despite the intense discomfort I felt.

“A woman’s duty is to serve the men in her life, John. Your mom had you, and it became her duty to serve you. When your father died, the other wives couldn’t serve anyone. They no longer had any purpose. It’s not like the daughters could have carried the family name.”

“I understand,” I said, not understanding. “So I’ll never get to meet them?”

“John. They lost their only purpose in life. The daughters couldn’t carry the family name. What purpose could they have had?”

I stared into Grandpa’s eyes. Their intense blue was startlingly bright against the gloom of the forest. As we’d stood and talked, the clouds had given way to partial sunshine. It was still dark, but I could see more than 10 feet in front of me.

“I asked you a question, John. What purpose could they have had?”

I shifted in place with acute awareness of how uneasy and timid I must have looked to the giant man in front of me. It was obvious I needed to tell him what he needed to hear.

“They didn’t have any purpose at all, Grandpa.” The words felt disgusting as they came out of my mouth.

The smile returned to his face. “Good boy, John.” He paused before he spoke again. “Good boy.”

We stared out at the endless forest ahead of us. I got ready to ask if we could start heading back before Grandpa spoke again.

“I had to make things right after your father died.” He pointed up, over his head. “No waste.”

I started to shake as a feeling of dread suffused throughout my body. Grandpa kept his hand raised with his finger pointing up. Despite not wanting to look, I craned my neck and stared into the shadowy canopy. It didn’t take long before I realized what he was pointing at. I gasped with such force I began to choke.

Skeletal bodies in ragged clothing hung from the branches above. Some were big, some were small. Some were tiny. All were dead. Long, long dead.

“Meet your stepmothers and your stepsisters, John. I know you don’t remember them, but they all loved you and your father very much.”

Tears streamed down my face as rage began to replace my fear. “Did you -”

“I did,” he declared. There was pride in his voice.

He watched as I raised my rifle and pointed it at his barrel chest. “You don’t need to, John. I’ll take care of it so you don’t have to.” He produced the pistol from his jacket pocket and held it against his temple.

“I’ve done my part, John. I know you won’t actually shoot me, but you’ll report what happened here and I’ll be arrested. I’m going to make it easy for you and take care of the ugly part myself.”

He tightened his grip on the pistol. “Let what I told you sink in, John. Talk to your mother about it. She knows all about this. She’ll help you. It’s her job to help you. You’ll see it my way when you’re a little older.”

A breeze whistled through the trees. Above us, I heard the ragged dresses on the bodies rippling in the wind. My mind wandered to the poor women back at grandpa’s house; women who’d been abused for decades by a man who thought they were nothing but property. The thought of how they’d been so conditioned over that time to buy into the hideous tradition of the awful man in their lives prompted a terrifying realization.

“Your…your wives,” I choked out. “What will happen to them?”

That repulsive smile gashed my grandfather face as he spoke. “They knew why we were coming out here, John. And they knew only you were coming back. I’m sure they did what they needed to while we’ve been away.”

A sob burst from my lips as I thought about Gert’s sad smile while she watched me eat the birthday breakfast she’d made for me.

The clicking of the gun’s hammer being cocked caused me to look back up at my grandfather. He stared into my eyes with an intensity I’d only seen from animals about to maul their prey.

“Happy Birthday, John. Don’t ever forget the day you became a man. And don’t forget what it means to be one. Tradition over all, John. Tradition over all.”

He took the gun from the side of his head and placed it in his mouth. He squeezed the trigger and dropped heavily to the soft blanket of pine needles on the forest floor. Blood gushed from his mouth and nose.

I stood, motionless, watching the blood drain out of his head. Sounds of the forest gradually replaced the ringing in my ears. Birds chirped. Squirrels chittered. Branches clattered. Dresses fluttered.

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Butt Stuff

It’s hard to keep the physical aspect of a relationship going over the years. My wife and I are in our late 30s, and things had started to cool down for us in the bedroom. Thankfully, we’re both very into communication. Whenever we sense something might be amiss, we talk it out until we discover a solution. Our stagnating sex life was no different.

After a few lighthearted discussions, we decided to start experimenting. Nothing too crazy. Just basic kinks. A little bondage. Some mild butt stuff. You know.

Everything went really well. We learned new things about ourselves and one another. Our creativity blossomed as we tried to figure out fun, different activities we could engage in. The fact we’re so comfortable with one another was a huge plus; I couldn’t imagine this all working out if either of us felt shame or nervousness.

About a month into our experimentation, I walked over to Olivia and held my phone in front of her. I’d found a hilarious and pretty impressive clip on Reddit. It featured three p**n actresses attempting a unique challenge: they had a small sex toy attached to a string, the other end of which was attached to a small helicopter drone. The goal was to use their vaginal muscles to keep the toy inside while the drone tried to pull it out. They all tried with varying levels of success with the last woman appearing to hold onto it indefinitely.

Olivia, like me, thought it was hilarious. Then she got a look on her face that told me immediately we were thinking the same thing.

“You know…I bet I can hold one way longer than you,” she informed me.

“You’re on,” I told her.

My lovely wife had given me a quadcopter drone for Christmas. We used it a lot for the first couple months, but then the novelty wore off and it’d been sitting in my closet ever since. I headed upstairs, got the drone and a small vibrator, and headed to the garage.

It took a little while to properly secure the fishing line to the vibrator. It didn’t help that Olivia and I had downed a bottle and a half of wine with dinner and were still drinking. Eventually, though, I had the line on tight. It wasn’t going anywhere. Olivia wanted to test the strength of the line, too – the vibrator wasn’t designed for a**l use and the last thing she wanted to do was show up at the hospital and ask them to dig it out of one of us.

Olivia said we needed to have a brief conversation about lube. It would definitely make the thing easier to go in, but also easier to come out. Since the vibrator was pretty small, neither of us thought it was necessary, but I had some ready just in case. We were taking this all pretty seriously; we’d made serious oral sex wagers that’d have to be delivered by the loser of the contest over the coming days.

We headed outside with our setup and chose a spot by the pool with a few comfy chaise lounges. I gave the quadcopter a quick test flight. The drone is operated with an iPhone app that’s pretty intuitive. We’d gotten pretty good at it since Christmas, so even in our semi-drunken states, it was going to be a piece of cake.

We’re fortunate enough to have a pretty big backyard and no nosy neighbors. It’s allowed us to go skinny dipping and get a pretty good all-over tan without having to worry about anyone getting an eyeful. Not that Olivia would have minded, but that’s another story.

Olivia said she wanted to go first. I’m not going to get graphic or anything, but I’ll just say she got the thing in there, I waited for her to tell me she was ready, and then I had the drone take off. I was laughing so hard at how hilarious she looked trying to hang on to the damn thing. Still, I had the presence of mind to keep an eye on the stopwatch. Olivia was able to hold onto the toy for almost two minutes before it popped out.

“Beat that!,” she shouted. I was worried. She went way longer than I thought she would have. I had the drone land, Olivia brought the setup inside to rinse the toy off, then came back. I was ready. It was my time to shine.

I jammed the thing up myself without much ceremony. I’d tested the line again beforehand, making absolutely certain it wouldn’t break and force me to explain to the ER nurse how I fell on it in the shower or something. I pushed the idea out of my mind and did a few practice clenches. I felt the toy move a little deeper, but I figured that could only help me hold it inside.

“Ok,” I said, realizing how ridiculous I must look with my dick and balls dangling underneath the fishing line sticking out of me. I glanced at Olivia over my shoulder and hollered, “let ‘er rip!”

Olivia activated the drone and started its ascent. I felt it tugging the toy inside me, but it was nothing more than I could handle. The line moved back and forth as my wife flew the drone around like I had, trying to dislodge the vibrator from its position. I’ll be honest: it was way easier than I thought. I could’ve done it all day.

The ten feet of fishing line moved back and forth, around and around, and there was no way in hell it was getting away. A minute passed. Then a minute and a half. Olivia had started playfully buzzing the drone by my head with the hope of startling me into letting the toy go.

Right before I was going to eclipse my wife’s time, Olivia moved the quadcopter straight out, using the momentum she’d gathered from passing by my head, and I felt something pinch inside me. “Oh f**k, the corner of the battery compartment must’ve come off,” I thought with a twinge of worry, and I felt a much harder pull. I clenched as hard as I could, but the pulling sensation only intensified. Olivia shrieked and dropped the phone onto the pavement.

Further startled by my wife’s scream and the sound of my phone breaking on the concrete, I unclenched the toy. The feeling of pulling turned into white-hot pain as I flipped onto my back and saw what had frightened Olivia.

Between my legs was a grayish-white tube leading up to a slightly thicker, bright red tube with fishing line hanging out of it. The fishing line was still attached to the drone. Right where the line met the red part, the toy bulged at a semi-sideways angle. Dizziness overcame me as I reached out and pulled the slick, veiny, tube, trying to get the drone to stop flying and pulling more of it out of me. Olivia screamed again and sat down hard on the pavement before falling over sideways. She’d passed out.

The tube continued its slow unravelling. It slipped and slid through my hands as I tried to get a grip on it. The drone crashed into the branches of a nearby tree and stuck there. At least 12 feet of my intestines hung out of my body. The air was filled with a nauseating, estuarial scent.

The terror of my injury was eclipsed only by my concern for Oliva. She’d hit her head on the pavement when she fell. I got up from the chaise lounge and tried to maneuver over to her without causing any more damage to myself. I felt a series of dull, disjointed pains in my stomach. My shattered phone sat next to Olivia, who I could tell was still breathing. The moment of relief I felt was fleeting; more and more twinges of a pain unlike any I’d ever experienced pulsed through my stomach, although I knew even though I felt it in my gut, it was probably from 12 feet away.

I yelled for help as my wife regained consciousness. It appeared the fall hadn’t hurt her. She was alert again quickly and ran into the house to call 911. I was on my stomach under the tree with my intestines sticking straight up out of me. While I waited and did my best not to panic, more dull pain filled my belly. It felt like I was being punched in the stomach over and over.

Possibly because I’m the most unlucky person on earth, a bee landed on my hand while I waited for help. Before I could swat it away, it stung me. I smashed it and let fear overcome me while the stomach pain got worse and worse. I knew if I wasn’t going to die from this, my digestive system would be severely damaged. One stupid contest had ruined the easy life I’d taken for granted.

Sirens filled the air and an ambulance drove directly into the backyard. As I sobbed with pain and fear, I distinctly heard one of the EMTs say “holy f*****g dog dicks.” The reaction was enough to make me laugh for the first time since the ordeal, but another wave of crushing pain filled my belly as soon as I did. I passed out.

Countless hours later, I woke up in the hospital with Olivia by my side. There were doctors, nurses, and med students milling around. My pain, mercifully, was gone. The fear remained, though. I asked Olivia how bad it was. She said I’d be okay – there was no real damage. The doctor came in and told me I’d have to be on a special diet for a while so my stitches wouldn’t pop, but I’d probably be fully recovered within a year.

I couldn’t believe it. I asked him how long I’d have to be on the heavy pain medication I assumed I must have been on because I felt hardly discomfort at all. He told me I wasn’t on anything major and when I was discharged, I wouldn’t need meds stronger than Tylenol. I asked about the pain I’d felt in my stomach. He smiled, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small plastic bag, which he handed to me.

I inspected it. There were hundreds of tiny, black pieces that looked like splinters.

“You’ll probably want to get rid of that bee hive in your tree,” he told me. “They weren’t too fond of being bothered.”

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House Sounds

Carol heard it first and woke me up. She told me to listen. Then I heard it. Bumping and scraping. Shuffling and clattering. I turned on the light. The sounds stopped.

It was still our first month in the new house. By new, I mean “new to us.” It was quite old; over 100 years. Like any old house, it had its share of creaking and groaning, but we’d grown used to all that after the first couple weeks. These sounds were new. Unfamiliar. Unsettling.

We listened in silence for a few minutes. Nothing. Carol flipped on the TV and we watched Chopped! for a little while before getting tired enough to go back to sleep. And we did.

The next morning, a Saturday, which was supposed to be a day for yard work, was spent sealing all the visible cracks and holes around the baseboards and windows. Carol’s concern, which I echoed, was a vermin infestation. Rats were a problem for some of the houses in the area. Our neighbor, a strange, elderly fellow named Herman, had mentioned an opossum infestation in his barn in the 1990s. “Just the cost of rural living,” he proclaimed, before regaling us with the details of how he dispatched them all in the course of an afternoon with a pitchfork.

I made a trip to the hardware store and picked up a few rat traps. Nothing major; just enough to put in the basement and in a few other areas we thought they might traverse. Over the next week, when we heard those strange sounds again, we just assumed we were dealing with rats. We were a little grossed out, but the concern was mostly gone. Their days were numbered. It was only when the traps remained untouched that we started to feel a little uneasy.

During a particularly bad, sleepless night, when the bumping and shuffling sounds went on for hours and I’d gotten out of bed and walked all around the house trying to find the source, I was frustrated and exhausted. I’d traced the loudest of the noises to a closet in the hallway. Hoping to scare the rats into shutting up, I pounded on the closet’s interior wall. When my fist struck the old board, the board next to it fell out. Scared the hell out of me.

Expecting rats to start scurrying toward me, I grabbed the board and got ready to beat as many to death as I could. No rats came. But the sounds had stopped. There was only the soft din of whatever TV show Carol was watching in the bedroom. I was getting ready to replace the board when I saw something on the ground behind where the piece had fallen out. I picked it up. A scrap of newspaper with the headline: “Another Infant Missing: 17th in 10 months.” It was dated March 3rd, 1933.

I shuddered and shoved the scrap in my pajama pocket. Of all the things the rats could use to make their nests, it had to be something so morbid. As I started to replace the board, the sound resumed. This time, it was far louder than ever. The bumps shook the house and a clattering like a thousand rattlesnakes filled the air. The power cut out. Upstairs, Carol hollered. I ignored her. Something else had grabbed my attention.

After the first, violent bump, before the lights went out, I saw the two adjacent boards in the closet had fallen away. They revealed a much larger space behind the closet than I’d thought.

I felt my way to the kitchen and grabbed a flashlight out of the drawer. I flipped it on and jumped a mile when I saw Carol standing across the room. She looked frightened and annoyed. I grabbed her hand and we marched to the hall closet. The rattling persisted.

We peered into the hidden compartment and followed the beam of the flashlight. Something on the floor glinted back. I started to squeeze between the boards to get closer. Carol grabbed my arm and told me not to go in. I shook her off. I made my way inside and saw something bizarre: a metallic, glittery wand and a very large tiara – way too big for a child. A piece of cloth was underneath. I picked it up and shook away the dust. The letters “TF” were emblazoned across it in garish, cartoonish cursive.

The rattling grew deafening. I turned around and saw Carol holding her ears and crying. I aimed the flashlight around the rest of the space. A large bucket sat in the corner. The two steps it took to reach it only served to increase the amplitude of the noise. As soon as I pointed the flashlight beam inside it, the sound stopped. The bucket trembled in the yellowish light.

Inside were more newspaper clippings with equally disturbing headlines. More missing infants. The more I pulled out and read, the numbers kept rising. The last one said “88”. December 12th, 1941. There was a thick piece of card stock under them. I lifted it and uncovered more pieces of paper. They were different. Handwritten. Just numbers and dates and what looked like prices:

4/4/39 – 3 – $30
6/23/45 – 10 – $95
10/1/46 – 2 – $25

And so on. There were lots of these. Receipts, I assumed. Carol had entered the room and stood next to me, clutching my arm. Under the receipts was another piece of card stock. I lifted it away and uncovered a few handfuls of little pebbles or seashells. Sticking out of them was a small, colorful placard with the same cursive as the cloth. We read it together. Carol screamed and I felt faint. Right then, I knew what the “TF” meant on the cloth. Cloth that had been, I realized, a cape.

I dropped the placard back in the bucket. The contents rattled. In bright, pink, hand-painted letters, the words stared back up at us.

For sale: baby teeth. Never used.