Perspective

The window had been clear last night but this morning the thin jagged tendrils of frost had woven their way across the glass. Jake sighed and watched the frost disappear and reappear with his breath. It was still warm enough in the shambles he called home to be comfortable, but he knew that’d soon change.

It always did.

It only took him about a half hour to finish his morning routine and head out the door for the morning slog. The grass wasn’t quite crunchy with frost yet, but he knew it was only a matter of time. He puffed a little, as he walked… he couldn’t quite see his breath yet, but he liked to pretend he was a dragon anyway. Behind him, the house seemed to stare at him sadly as it became smaller and smaller in the distance. Jake shifted his huge, heavy backpack and resisted the urge to turn around and get back under his blankets. He puffed, mightily.

Soon enough, he had reached the school. As usual he was one of the first kids in.

As usual someone had tampered with his locker.

He’d long since stopped leaving much of anything in the locker, so this time he didn’t have to worry about shredded notes or stolen books. This time it seemed he also didn’t have to worry about scrubbing it, either.

This time there was just a doll there. Something a kid would make, roughly in the shape of a person and roughly stitched. With its stitched mouth and stitched X’s for eyes, it reminded him a little of a voodoo doll. Its heart was exposed, and the tag read simply, “Jake.”

He glanced around quickly to see if anyone was in the hallway and then puffed, imagining the doll disintegrating into ash and smoke. But it didn’t, so he stared at it until the noise of other kids made him startle and bit, and he gently set it down on the bottom of the locker. He shrugged out of his jacket and hung it, along with his empty backpack and skittered off to homeroom.

As usual, he was polite and quiet. He answered the teacher’s questions. He responded appropriately to the other students, even as they teased him or commented about him within earshot. No one said anything about the doll… yet.

A girl snapping gum behind him in 4th period asked if he had an extra pencil she could borrow. It was probably the 3rd pencil she’d borrowed from him. He smiled, and said, “Sure,” and handed it to her. As she leaned forward to take it, he imagined reaching out with a long scaly neck and what it would feel like as his teeth punctured her skull. If his jaws were as strong as a crocodile’s, would her brains burst inside his mouth like a cherry tomato? As she grasped the pencil, she looked into his eyes for a moment and paused. His smile slipped a bit. “What?” he squeaked, then winced. He hated how whiny he sounded. Had his mask slipped a little?

Julie snapped her gum again, “…Nothing.” She finally said, leaning back. She looked back down at the worksheet she was working on, and seemed to make a deliberate point of ignoring her. His stomach churned nervously. He turned back to his own worksheet and closed his eyes. He tried to imagine the feeling in his gut was the feeling of a dragon’s furnace boiling inside him. Screw her, anyway.

He caught her watching him again later in the day before school ended. He didn’t linger. In fact, he was in so much of a hurry that he didn’t realize he’d packed the doll into his backpack until he was halfway home. He stopped in front of an abandoned freight trailer with the words “VIRTUAL REALITY” spray painted on the side. God, if only he could unplug from this shit life. He set down the pack and rummaged through it until he found the doll. He tossed it in the general direction of the trailer, and it disappeared into the shrubbery. Fuck you, doll. Fuck you guys. Fuck you, Julie. When he closed his eyes, he could believe his hands were claws, his churning stomach was lava, and his breath was fire. He stretched his wings… then opened his human eyes in his human skull on his human body to stare at the same old writing on the trailer. He sighed and moved on.

The house looked as sad and dewy-eyed as he’d left it, the late afternoon sunlight shimmering off something along the bottom edges of the windows.

Jake made himself some eggs and toast for dinner, and worked on his homework before bed. While washing up for the night, he noticed the water was draining more slowly than usual. But he didn’t have the will to think about what that might mean. He’d look to see if he had Draino or a plumber snake or something tomorrow.

In the night, the cold had deepened. Again, he looked at the glass on the bathroom window. The tendrils were thicker now, softer, and rounder. When he breathed on them they seemed to swell and grow.

No… he could see it. They were growing, organic. They were writhing towards him.

He leaned closer.

——

Nightmare Fuel 2019, Day 7, 8, 9, 10

The Struggle

Forests are really coffins, you know?
Have you really ever thought about it?
Think about what you walk on.
Maybe you think about the bugs and plants you crush.
But that’s just one part of it.
Think about what’s underneath.
What’s underneath is a pile of earth.
Fine, nutritious soil.
A mass grave.
Nothing but a molding pile a corpses.
And not just regular corpses, I mean.
It’s an open-air den of wickedness.
Rotted flesh.
The wastes of plants and beasts.
Digested, putrid remnants.
Bones, and things that were once bones and are now slime.
Being devoured even now.
As you stand there.
You stand in death.
Tendrils and lengthy ropes of monsters writhe beneath your feet.
Feeding, shitting, and feeding again.
There are eyes on you.
There are legs crawling on you.
There are things waiting there in the soil.
Waiting to get on you. Waiting to get in you.
Wanting to taste you. Wanting to consume you.
Even now, some do not wait. Perhaps a mosquito slides a piece of itself inside you.
It penetrates you. Tastes you.
Perhaps it puts something inside you.
Something else that was wanting you.
Something that begins to digest you. But just a little bit.
Bit by bit, things begin to rot you.
Things in the air.
Things in the soil.
Things that live, and breathe and crawl.
Lifeless things, as well.
They degrade you.
They rot you.
Your body is a forest.
Walking, and eating, and rotting.
Things begin to eat you.
——
Nightmare Fuel 2019, Day 4

Black Eye

It seemed like everyone had come out to watch the house burn. Even a woman wearing nothing but a wispy pajama robe. The owner, maybe? Daniel wasn’t sure, but he guessed she must be. Who else would possibly be wanting to stand out in the chill October evening breeze like that, just to watch a house burn? The light from the flames played across her face and he could see what looked like the beginning of a bruise there, across her right eye and cheek along with a nasty gash. He didn’t really know anyone yet in this town, so he wasn’t sure about her or her situation, but he could take a guess.

But he didn’t her man with her, or anyone that might be her man. Just other neighbors, watching like he was. Some drinking beer. Most gossiping excitedly. A few had even pulled out some lawn chairs. Guess they didn’t have to worry about work in the morning.

He went back to bed shortly after the fire trucks and the ambulance arrived. He imagined they’d patch up her face, patch up that nasty gash. He figured, maybe tomorrow he’d ask her if she was OK.

But he didn’t see her tomorrow. Or the next day.

But when he looked, really looked, at that house from his window it seemed that the house, with it’s boarded up windows and blacked right side was looking back.

——

Nightmare Fuel 2019, Day 5

Please Release Me

“Oh, sweet Jesus…” I moaned. My fingers twitched and curled around the ornate metal shaft. For a moment, I almost forgot myself. Almost. I tightened my grip. Licked the salt and snot from my lips. Fluid leaked from my eyes and nose. My legs and crotch chafed under damp fabric. Leaning against the rigid pole, I hooked one leg around it. I rubbed my face against the cold, smooth surface like a babe seeking a teat.

“God, please…” I heard myself making soft, whimpering sounds as I rattled the chains that lashed me to the rod. I couldn’t help myself anymore and I broke down, begging for release.

And then, out of the mist a hand reached towards my nose. And scratched.

——

Nightmare Fuel 2019, Day 3

Ex-Commute

This really, really blows.

Here I am, again, on the train. Alone. And why am I alone? Because he is on the train with me. Even though he is sitting as far away from me as possible and pretending I’m not there, which is pretty damn childish no matter how you look at it. But even more so when you’re literally the only being in the car.

And why is he there at all? Because he’s been sulking for the past week about how I broke up with him.

And of course, no one whose got at least a couple of neurons to rub together wants to get involved in a spat involving Anubis. Of course.

I sighed.

There’s nothing more horrible than a sulky ex.

———

Nightmare Fuel 2019, Day 2

The Breakening

An Expressions of Madness crossover. Long story short: I took a break from catching up on Nightmare Fuel when…

—————

“Damnit…” I muttered. My throat and stomach were tight. Unlike the writing on my laptop which was lose and flaccid. Both, pathetic. I sighed. My spouse had filled the house with the reek of freshly-made lasagna. Not having had breakfast yet, the stench was overwhelming and more than a little distracting. But did they make breakfast? No. Of course not. Would they make breakfast? Never. Apparently on the pain of death.

I sighed, again, and set my laptop aside. I didn’t even know what I wanted. Just something quick and easy, I guess. Nothing was really appealing to me. Not even the lasagna, which was cooling on the counter. Hunger without a specific craving was so annoying. I spied an old box of cereal on the counter. There better be enough left in there… I shook the box. Just barely enough.

I was still looking at the box while I groped in the cabinet. The sudden explosion of white around me catching me completely by surprise. Flakes of ceramic of all sizes spread and drifted all around me like a demented Christmas snowfall. The sound, out of place, reached my conscious brain a moment later… the sharp chatter of fractured reality ringing around me like a bell. Above me, the volume of cereal bowls had been reduced by a third. Below and at level, God’s dandruff spread in an infinite field of albedo and broken jagged patterns.

“Are you alright?” they asked from the bathroom.

I stood in the dingy, stinking kitchen surrounded by the shattered remains of two dollar store cereal bowls.

—————

Nightmare Fuel 2019, Day 6

Pre-prompt submission.

Down the Stair

“Shh…iiit,” Cathy sighed as the key slid over the silver knob, again, and thunked into the door. “Goddamnit,” she muttered, fumbling again. She licked her lips and belched. It tasted like coconut. Sharon and Michelle laughed from somewhere behind her.

Cathy was standing in the hall staring at a hole in the floor where the carpet was supposed to be. Sharon pushed past her and floated into the living room with Brandon.

Brandon was complaining about the music being too loud so she turned it up even higher, and Mike threw a pillow at her. Everyone gasped when it knocked over the drink on the table instead. “Oooooooooooooooohh…” everyone said, and laughed. Cathy went to get a towel.

There was a hole in the floor.

A towel hit her face, and slid off. “You’re really going to hate that stain in the morning,” Michelle said. She peered into Cathy’s face. “You don’t look so good,” she said.

Cathy blinked cold water out of her eyes. She could hear the music from the living room. There were dark circles under her eyes. There was a damp towel under her hand. She took it with her when she left the bathroom.

There was a hole.

“Hey, hey, I’m going to make some popcorn, OK?” Brandon patted her on the shoulder, squeezing past her in the hallway and disappearing into the kitchen. In the living room, Michelle and Sharon were looking over a pile of movies spread out on the floor. Mike was pouring vodka into a cup with some juice.

“I need to go to the bathroom.” Cathy muttered, then accidentally kicked the empty popcorn bowl.

There was a hole.

Were those stairs? Cathy leaned closer. She could see the edge of the rug where the tassles spread across the floor. She traced the material to the edge and felt her finger slip into the darkness.

“Oops! Sorry!” Sharon laughed as she accidentally bumped Cathy from behind. For a moment, Cathy teetered precariously on the balls of her feet. And then she was falling, tumbling…


————
2019 Nightmare Fuel, Day 1

Ghost of an Artist

My heart was so far up my throat, I was all but strangling on it. My sweat-slicked clothing was strangling my body with its grip. Ahead I could see a clearing. God, let it be a man made one…

When I stumbled on the grass, and saw that cabin just sitting there, I sobbed in relief. I managed to crawl the remainder of the way to the door, somehow. My legs felt like their strings had been cut. But I managed to haul myself up on the door handle and get it open. I slammed the door behind me and leaned on it, gasping and wheezing.

But I wasn’t expecting what I saw in that beat up, dingy cabin. I’d expecting something more like a hunter’s shack— maybe skulls and deadly looking tools handing everywhere. A rotting and neglected mattress, maybe. Some dusty animal mounts. That sort of thing.

Instead, it was full of modern art pieces. Some very abstract, some more down to earth. Faces, koi flags, that sort of thing.

There was no dust.

There was even an electric lamp, on, in the corner.

Sure, there were some rough wooden pieces, but not the kind made by some rough country guy or gal. The kind made by someone who probably sold pieces at city art festivals. Or like a fake butter churn you’d get to stick in the corner to make your cabin look rustic.

My heart, which I didn’t think could beat any faster, felt like it was about to explode.

I could hear the happy whistling outside.

Oh… oh shit…

This is…

There was movement in the window to my left.

I could see the doll staring in at me.

The doorknob began to twist beside me.


Nightmare Fuel 2018, Day 14 and 15

Expressions of Madness: End of a Dream

An Expressions of Madness/Nightmare Fuel crossover.

______

Someone once told me that reality is just what we observe. That we determine what is real. And when I say somebody, I don’t really mean someONE, right? I mean those friends that maybe smoke a little much, or are a little too New Agey, or maybe this or that guru’s documentary or some such.

And if they aren’t talking about that in a general way, or maybe they get the vibe you’re not into the spiritual stuff, maybe they start to talk about quantum this or that, about human observation, and about infinite universes based on different choices we make.

I’ve always found this kind of talk far too anthropocentric for my taste, not that I care for it at all.

But I suppose you never know.

Maybe, just maybe, we are just a flock of crows pretending to be human and we’ll just change our minds and fly away someday.


Nightmare Fuel, Day 13

House of Dreams

Thwack-thwack, thwack-thwack.

The rain was torrential, unrelenting. My hands were slick on the steering wheel as I leaned forward, chin over my knuckles. I appeared to be alone except for the car and the rain and the darkness outside. But I knew I wasn’t.

I didn’t glance into the back seat. Do not glance into the back seat.
There was nothing but me, the car, the dark, and the rain. There was the road, too. Void. Not even deer were out, though I was certain the moment I let my guard down one would flash across my vision. I squinted, trying to see past the watershed. My eyes flicking left and right for the signs of anything moving in the brush I couldn’t really see.

After an eternity, I pulled into the gravel driveway. The rain had stopped by then, but fresh enough that the drips were still loud, falling from the huge Victorian house in front of me. Dawn was still hours away. Electric lighting reached out from the windows, hungrily, illuminating the ill-kept yard and gardens just enough to determine that they were in truly sorry shape.
I didn’t glance back at the car as I shuffled up the steps to the front door. I already had what I needed. My fingers slid into the front pocket of my jeans and deftly inserted the key they found into the front lock.

“Did you do it?” she asked, taking my coat.

“Yes.”

“Did anyone see you?”

I didn’t answer for a moment. Then, “He’s in the back seat.”

“… I’ll take care of it.”

“Thanks. I’m sorry.”

“You always are.”

I sighed. “Where will she be today?”

“You’ll find her in the woods out back.”

I didn’t go out immediately. Nor did I find my room and sleep. I paced a bit, rummaged through the bookshelves and liqueurs and finally settled on a splash of something that might have been whiskey and flopped down on the soft chair near the stairs. It would only be a couple of hours until dawn. I listened to the lingering drips outside as I sipped my drink and remembering how I’d first found this place so many years ago. In my dreams.

I jolted awake, but as usual, no one was there. The table was empty except for the green mood lamp in the center. Sunlight, weak, was trickling in through the gaps in the heavy curtains.

There was no sound except the soft thumps of my boots on the hardwood floor, even that barely audible. When I opened the front door I was not greeted by the sounds of birds or insects, just the impotent faded glow of a morning that seemed to have died before evening being truly born. The gravel path was empty, and I turned away from it, instead heading around the side of the house and into the woods behind it.

She was small today, I almost stepped on her in the brush. She was the chair of a doll today, broken and forgotten. She held up a mirror, and in the reflection I saw nothing but and endless river of her.

“I’m ready to go back.”


Nightmare Fuel, Days 11 and 12