They Won’t Stop Coming

“For fuck’s sake, here comes another one!” I stared at the murky shadow as it became larger, closer, and more distinct. Fleshy, living hands appeared and pressed against the thin glass. It was trying to come through. “Shoot it now, Will! Shoot it the fuck now!” I backed up and moved to the left of him. Shrugging, Will braced the gun, a Winchester ‘73 that was nearly as old as Will, on his shoulder and fired. The surface of the mirror rippled and splashed like water as it was sprayed with pellets.

I let out a shaky sigh as I saw the mirror darken with blood, then clear. The woman was gone. I felt Will’s hand on my shoulder.

“Easy Jack, you’re letting it get to ya too much.”

“I just want it to fucking end Will, you know that.”

“I reckon it will end soon enough. They’re trying to come here to live, not to die.”

“They damn well need to wait their damn turn, and they know it!” I huffed. “They’re as creepy as fuck, too. Just isn’t natural.” I turned and dug into my bag and pulled out my government-issued laptop. “You going to fill out the report this time, or me?”

“I’ll do it,” Will sighed, “I think you should tuck in early. I’ll let the ladies know we exterminated the problem and give them their leaflet and all that. Just relax and tuck in. Maybe you should file that vacation time you’ve been building up…”

“You know I can’t do that, Will.”

He raised his hands, “Fine fine, but just get going alright? I’ve got this.”

An hour later and I was home, staring at a candle I’d lit to relax. I never really got used to being here. I’m not sure anyone was. But like everyone else, I didn’t know what to make of the Invasion.

It had started soon after I died. I woke up spitting and choking mud, naked as the day I was born. I’d wandered for about half a day in an off-color, off-scented world… ignored by the cars I’d waved at, until I was finally picked up by Transitional Affairs. After a brief interview I was given everything I’d needed to become acclimated and start living my life in the Realm of the Dead. Finding a job didn’t take long— once the Invasion started, I and everyone else that had died near to the event was summoned and evaluated for recruitment for the Extermination Force.

It had started with a single man. At first, no one knew what to make of it. For weeks, there had been strange and unexplained phenomena in the back alleys of town. Seeing people in mirrors, objects moving, doors opening and closing on their own. And then the man. The bricks rippled and he simply stepped through. A 1520’s woman saw it from a nearby apartment. He placed a national flag, right there, jamming it into the cracks between the bricks.

It wasn’t until he walked out to the main street that there was a panic. See, there is a barrier between our worlds for a reason. That flag he planted? It began to burn. It was a familiar burn… the light of life and living. And it hurt. Where the man’s feet and hands touched, it dissolved. That poor woman almost didn’t escape as bricks began to glow and then dissolve. The people on the street, some of them weren’t as lucky. Anyone who bumped into this man on the busy street began to dissolve, unravel… discorporate. The man was glowing at this point. Looking more and more… more… everyone seemed to realize it at the same time: this man was alive. That’s when the riot started, the screaming and running. The police came, the national guard. They quarantined the area.

The official story was that they’d killed the man. Burned him and that section of the city with fire until it was cleansed. But I’d learned the real story as part of my briefing. The man… had simply walked into another wall and disappeared. Back to the living.

It had been hoped it was some kind of anomaly. But anomaly it was not. Only a few months passed before more unexplained phenomena began again. Fortunately, it seemed to take quite a bit of effort before anything or anyone could pass into our world. We learned how to kill them before they came through. But they also adapted, discovering ways to come through without drawing attention to themselves lighting fires with their steps. Disguising themselves and hiding until they slipped up and dissolved someone or, worse.

I am an Exterminator. It was my job to identify their access points to stop them from crossing over. Well, crossing over the wrong way, anyway. Will is a Hunter. He used to prowl the abandoned areas of town and wood, looking for anything that slipped through in uninhabited areas. He’d still be doing that, but currently he is the one assigned to train me.

I hear a sound, and I glance over. There’s a book, sliding across my counter.

__

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day 7

Myself

I didn’t really think about death a whole lot. Well, that’s a lie. I guess what I mean to say is, I thought about death probably as much as anyone else and at the particular time of my death I wasn’t thinking about it. I mean sure, I had some ideas of it. The usual… that maybe nothing would happen, or there would be a tunnel of light, Heaven, Hell, Limbo… whatever. Maybe I’d get judged by some god or something.

What I didn’t expect, was to my judged by my own memories. Now I know what you’re thinking— you’re thinking, well of course you’re judged by what you did. No, what I am saying is, that I was— am— being judged by my own memories. I’m on a stage, right? And around me are lots of little mirrors. They turn to face me as I walk back and forth, pacing and trying to justify myself. Each mirror has a lot of different faces in it. Men, women, various degrees of androgynous and intersex individuals, babies, toddlers, teens, adults, the elderly…

Now, you’re thinking— oh, these are all people you met in your life, right? And now you’re dealing with how you acted around them?

Not even close. At first, that’s what I thought… but when I bent down and looked more closely, I saw strange costumes, piercings, tattoos, cuts… these were not people I had simply passed by or met on the street. I caught the eyes of one…

And suddenly I was there, in her life. I knew everything about her. All memories she ever had, all at once. I knew the names of all her children, her parents, her homes. Even the little bug she kept as a pet for a few days when she was practically a toddler.

Because she was me. They were all me. Past lives.

But, you say, that is interesting, but so what?

Well, let me tell you what thousands upon thousands of past lives staring at you when you die means. It means, that not only are you sad because you are dead, and are worried for and missing your family— you know, that little 5 year old you just left behind forever? The now-grieving spouse that will somehow have to find a way to support them? That sort of thing? Well— it also means, you get to remember all the other people you’ve left behind. All the other children you watched die, or you left behind. Remember that time you were standing outside your hut, fighting off an enemy tribesman, trying to protect your daughter and then you died? You don’t know what happened after that, but you’re pretty sure you let her down, seeing as you died and left her to those guys. Or remember that time your Daddy kissed you good night, and he told you you were going to have the best day in the world tomorrow… except you never woke up? All those people you loved, and loved you… you start to remember all of them.

The people in the mirror talk to you, too. They curse you for forgetting them. Curse you for forgetting your promises to your loved ones. You remember those you told you’d never be parted with— even in death. Countless “soul mates”, friends, lovers, traitors, victims. The differing perspectives become overwhelming— lives where pacifism was king and lives were life meant nothing stare coldly at each other. You watch lives where you sacrificed everything— then watch the lives that came after, where you learn the sacrifice was for nothing, or wrongheaded… or completely forgotten. Most lives… forgotten… Endless loves, lies, tortures, pleasures. Lives of luxury, lives of privation. Madness and sanity.

Eventually, nothing… because now I’m in the mirror as well.

And I’m looking at you.

___

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day 6

Grass Is Greener

“… and one can only imagine the little creatures living their whole lives in the islands of shrub and weed throughout the city. What do they think of the asphalt, the cars, and the animals wandering to and fro? Do they see those others islands, just over there? Do they dream to cross the deadly rivers?”

“Imagine how different everything would be if Mars were green. If mankind were the bugs staring out across the wastelands towards another tiny paradise. And maybe, those other bugs were staring back at us, too…”

I woke every night with that voice in my mind, that voice that lectured to me, inflamed me… guided me. My logos. Every day I moved as an automaton towards the goals dictated by my personal god. And here I was.

The road stretched out before me, worn. The waking, the preparing— that had happened without my knowing it. Automatic. To my right, shrubs on a wall. To the left, old buildings with the paint peeling. Everything was similar but so very different. Colors seemed… strange. There was an atmosphere I couldn’t place. I felt, rather than saw, a curtain pushed aside by an invisible hand. Someone was watching me.

And that was fine.

It wouldn’t change why I was here. What I needed to do.

I wondered if every great explorer was guided as I was. If they heard the same lectures. Did those same whispers cross glaciers and oceans, mountains and plains? Was it there when the world was globalized? On the moon? Did it hold Man’s hand on Mars?

I couldn’t know that. But I knew what I was here for. The last frontier.

I planted my country’s flag while the ghosts watched.

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day 5

Trick

I couldn’t believe the package was actually here. I’d scoured the darknet for ages, looking for the legit thing. Had more disappointments than I could count. I don’t want to say, “So much for honor among thieves,” but, I was definitely reaching the zone of cliches.

The box was a tad battered, but it looked like customs hadn’t touched it at all. However, that may have been intentional if they ran it through an x-ray machine. Customs was a bunch of bullies that would take your heroin or cigarettes, but they knew better than to touch what I had.

“What is it, what is it?!” One of the pumpkins poked out through the leaves. “Is it dinner, is it dinner?!” I heard the other fruits whine and wheedle. A few embers flashed through the leaves.

I gently kicked a few of the lumps hidden in the dry leaves. “Cut that out, you’ll start a fire and then where will you be?”

“Yes, mom…………” A few lumps moved, burrowing deeper down. The first one to call out to me simply stared quietly as I walked past and into the house, past another package I’d left out earlier for pickup. I set the box down on the butcher’s block I kept near the door. I heard the packing paper inside crinkle as the thing within smelled the old blood on the block. However, I wasn’t ready to open it. A full ritual circle was in order, and the first step: a good cleansing shower.

Meanwhile, a vine stretched across the yard, dragging leaves and detritus in its leaves. It covered the package I left, and snaked up to the latch of the door, quietly opening it a crack. While I was busy preparing the ritual, a certain pumpkin watched as a fresh-faced young and inexperienced delivery driver walked up to my first step, passing the package hidden in the leaves. Looking around, confused, for the package he was supposed to pick up he glanced inside and saw the box on the block. He lifted it, turning it this way and that, trying to read the foreign characters wrapped around it. He shrugged, assuming his more experienced coworkers would know what to do with a foreign package, and took it back to his truck under the watchful eye of a very jealous squash.

If I had to guess, I would assume that that pumpkin was the last to ever see that delivery man alive. But, I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t stupid enough to follow up on the situation. I did hang quite a few extra charms around the house for a few months afterward, just to be sure.


Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day 3 and Day 4

 

Birth

Then said Gangleri: “Much indeed they had accomplished then, methinks, when earth and heaven were made, and the sun and the constellations of heaven were fixed, and division was made of days; now whence come the men that people the world?” And Hárr answered: “When the sons of Borr were walking along the sea-strand, they found two trees, and took up the trees and shaped men of them: the first gave them spirit and life; the second, wit and feeling; the third, form, speech, hearing, and sight. They gave them clothing and names: the male was called Askr, and the female Embla, and of them was mankind begotten, which received a dwelling-place under Midgard.” – GYLFAGINNING

The chronometer whirred and clicked, its display settling as the finest processors, circuits, and sensors of the 23rd century calibrated and calculated through a dozen references. The date: CE3125.10.02.2200. Tidy, and coincidentally precise; not a perfect landing. Managing an exact landing date was like trying to dock just so in the midst of a raging river. As soon as the craft slipped into timestream it was buffeted by forces human technology couldn’t neutralize…yet.

The pilot flicked a few switches here and there, various lights dimming and others coming on. He checked a few readings on the panel. Satisfied, he removed his helmet and activated the outside displays.

He was silent and staring for a long moment.

He checked the panel displays again. Launched a few probes which flashed and bounced backwards a few hours in time. Examined the data when all the probes were connected and beaming data in the current time-loc.

There was nothing but forest, field, tundra, and desert. Everywhere.

Although he was dismayed that his home city had long since vanished in the 700 or so years since his departure, the pilot reasoned that there was nothing particularly unusual about the possibility of changing cities or civilizations. But for the entirety of human civilization to disappear without a trace?

Grabbing his flashlight, popped the hatch and hopped down onto the springy forest floor. It was dark, the kind of broad leafy dark that the moon could barely penetrate. In his time, this was the edge of the city with tall narrow apartment complexes. In his mind’s eye he compared the buildings with the enormous tree trunks around him. How many years did it take for trees to get that large?

He strode forward, stumbling a little in his bulky suit, lost in his thoughts. It takes about 500 years for a city to disappear, he thought. There were trees of all sizes around him, some living, and some old and dead and rotting on the forest floor. He noticed the flashing of lights dimly in the canopy above. A meteor shower? There were muffled booms in the distance, like thunder.

It was only once the noise had faded that he realized just how quiet it was in the forest. He heard no sounds. Not of insects nor birds. Even the sound of branches creaking and cracking in the distance was absent. The voice of the forest was held as if in anticipation.

To the pilot, this realization made the trees seem more alive and more menacing. In the shadows he thought he saw movement, and he began to swing his light this way and that amongst the leaves. The leaves, he realized, were hands. The branches were claws. There was a whisper of voices as the alien vegetation reached for him, clutching at the folds of his space-age fabrics. He turned and ran back towards the ship.

Branches blocked his way. Hands pushed and stroked and guided him. There were… whispers. Savior, savior, savior…

And then suddenly, he stopped. The tree ahead was groaning, a human figure writhed from the flesh of the tree. She is smiling at me. Behind and around him other figures pulled from the trunks. You’ll come home with us soon. Thank you, thank you. There was a woody scent, memories of another trip in the ship. Memories of darkness, comets, and fire, earth and loam, of alien vines burned and dying even as they sprouted. The shouts of men. Lasers, bacteria, microscopic machines… and himself.

He stumbled back, not knowing where he was going. The smell was still in his nostrils. The chrononaut felt faint, weak, and confused… drugged. He felt a firm but gentle grip on his arm, supporting him. Dad… help me…

The familiar gentle figure buckled him into his seat, latched his helmet back into place and began typing instructions into the control panel and setting the destination date to mid-2374 CE.

“Dad… don’t go.” The figure turned and smiled. The pilot looked into his own face, which grinned back at him wistfully, before the hatch closed and the ship disappeared in a flash of light, carrying the pilot, and a cargo of tiny yellow seeds stuck to the soles of his boots.
——

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day 2

Exhale

So I’m standing there, just looking at this thing. I can never remember if it’s called a mausoleum or a tomb, or if they are just synonyms… but you know what I mean. It’s place, with an ingress, that is creepy as fuck because maybe there is a corpse in it.

It’s staring at me.

Someone left the door open.

It’s… staring… at me.

I could see the earth behind it, humped and raised although not enough for one to simply walk through the door and expect to be in a room. The darkness is a descending darkness, the kind that pulls you down, ever down… into…?

I step inside.

It’s calling me.

I can hear a heartbeat, in the dark.

The light disappears behind me.

It exhales.

Nightmare Fuel 2016, Day 1

The Red Men

It was the slowest wave she had ever seen. It was so slow, she wasn’t even certain when it actually began. She first noticed it when she stumbled over the red lump in the grass during her morning jog in the park.

On her hands and knees, she inspected the strange sudden protuberance that had thrust itself into her daily routine. The smooth ochre stone seemed to strain against the soil around it. Touching it, it feel hot and wet, but nothing came off on her fingers. Strange, she thought.

Dismissing it, she continued on her way.

It wasn’t until several days later that she noticed the lump was growing. She had diligently avoided the spot since then, either by going around or being sure to step over it. It wasn’t quite as smooth looking as she had first assumed. It was creased a bit at the edges. She reluctantly put aside her thought that the lump was a bowling ball that had gotten buried somehow.

As the weeks passed, her horror mounted. At first, she did not put together what she was seeing each day, but as the eyes erupted she was dismayed. It was beyond belief that a statue was not only buried, but heaving its way silently upward out of the soil.

And even more incredible is that no one else seemed to notice. Each day she watched other joggers, pedestrians and the like simply pass the ochre anomaly without notice. They never stumbled or tripped over it like she did, but yet they were also unaware. Aware and unaware.

She knew she should have stopped coming to the park. But she was drawn. She was witness. She didn’t know what she was seeing.

More weeks passed, and the statue was fully revealed. An ochre man in ochre clothes, with tears smeared like birdshit down his face.

Why are you weeping? She wanted to ask, but could only remain silent. What is happening?

The first was followed by more underneath, which raised the first on their shoulders. In turn, they were followed by more behind and below. And still, people did not see even when their numbers were in the hundreds, and then thousands. They rose in an eternity of months and eternity of years, a stair of crying ochre men stretching to the sun. Reaching upwards. A bloody, straining, grievous stairway to Hell.

 

The Pits

“Fuuuuuuuuck…” Johnny sighed, exhaling a long stream of tobacco smoke. He leaned back, placing his boots on the splintered counter in front of him. The light coming from the ballast above his head seemed to writhe and twist with as much impatience as he felt to leave.

And fuck, tonight’s event hadn’t even started yet. There was one more…

Thud.

Thud. Thud.

Thud.

Johnny straightened in his chair.

Finally, the late fuck is here, he thought.

Eventually the bootsteps reached the bottom of the stairs and a skinny rat-faced man with a covered crate, the kind you’d carry a small dog in, slipped through the doorway and took a seat at the stool in front of the counter. The sounds of the crowd milling about in the back room swelled in anticipation, as if they new the newcomer had just arrived even though no one but Johnny was minding the door.

“Name?” Johnny asked. He knew, of course, but the formalities were a necessity and a precaution.

The man opened his mouth to speak, but his eyes suddenly darted to the left of Johnny at the same time Johnny heard a crinkling sound behind him. Johnny whirled around in his chair.

A doll was rifling through the small cupboard by the minifridge. It paused, sensing it was discovered and turned to Johnny. Its dress was rumpled lace which may have been white, once.

“Please Mister, can I just have one cookie…?” It begged, gazing at him with empty eye sockets which had had their beads torn out some time ago. It twitched on cracked and broken joints.

“GET BACK IN YOUR CRATE!” Johnny roared. The doll shrieked and ran deeper into the building, in the direction of the dollhouses.

The violence in his voice silenced and protest the rat-faced man may have had about the treatment of the doll. Of course, if he had been the kind of person to complain about something like that, he wouldn’t have been there at all.

“Sorry about that,” Johnny muttered sheepishly. “Damn things are always finding new ways to get out. I prefer dogs, myself. Good thing they don’t seem to have much will to go far, eh? Now, about getting your info down…”

Johnny finished taking down the challenger’s information, inspected the doll he brought, locked the entrance, and led the man with his crate to the pits.

Legend of the Lambs

Listen closely little ones, for this tale is the core of our history and lore.

Long long ago in a time before the Tall Ones, our people lived in the hills and fields at the edges of the Earth. We were a content people. The grass was enough, the sun was enough and our females were plenty. But there was a price to pay for Paradise, the price of Desolation. For soon there were many of our kind upon the Earth and soon all the grass and sun were not enough.

The wolves saw the Despair of the sheep, and an opportunity for themselves.

“Sheep,” the Lord of Wolves said, “we are both destroyed by the price of fecundity. For as you starve, my kind starves as well. Let me offer a treaty for our survival. Let us take our chance to hunt you each night.”

At first our ancestors could only reply with Dismay. But in the throes of their decline they came to see the wisdom of the wolves. Each night, they offered one of their own until the grasses returned.

The bargain has held since then, even through the Reign of the Tall Ones, and even when wolves became dogs and forgot their way.

But the Tall Ones are gone now, buried in fire and ash and in lush grasses.

And now, we are too many again.

And now, we begin the sacrifices of the night once more.

Inside

The dream started normally enough.

She was at work, at one of the large retail pet store chains. Her arm was soaked to the elbow as she scraped and scrubbed the algae of the blue backing and front acrylic of hundreds of tanks.

It was soothing, normal.

The customer was normal, too. He had a box in his arms. He examined the aviary for a few moments then approached. He held up a battered cardboard pet carrier like an accusation.

“My parakeet died.” He stated, wielding the words like a weapon. The man seemed to think that no other words were necessary. His eyes gave away the confrontation he was prepared to engage in.  This was normal, too.

“Did you notice anything unusual?” She asked. A lot of people were surprisingly unconcerned about animal death, but the details could nearly always be teased out. She lifted the bird from the box. She had sold this one only a few days ago.

“No, but I’m sure there is some kind of disease in your birds and I want a refund! I don’t want another one of your sick, mass produced birds!”

She sighed, internally. This was normal, too. The bird was light in her hands.
“How was he eating before he died?”

“Well, I bought those pellets but he didn’t seem to like them much.”

“Any seeds, fruits or veggies?” She already knew the answer. It was just normal ritual at this point.

“No.”

“Sir,” she began carefully, “parakeets and most other birds don’t switch well to pellets. You have to transition them carefully. A parakeet or a cockatiel has a high metabolism. They literally will starve themselves. The instructions are given on your care sheet and on the bag of pellets.”

As she was talking she walked to the shelf with the bird feed, grabbed the bag the man had probably bought, the bag she didn’t see him leave the store with. She turned the bag over, smoothed the crumbled plastic and showed him the instructions. The belligerence went out of the customer’s eyes as it always did.
Mumbling confusion, he took his bird back and left the store. She still would have honored his request for a refund, corporate policy dictated she do so but she had no interest in clearing the man’s confusion. Payback for his careless death and mindless accusation. For the way he had stared into the aviary looking for more dead or ill birds to justify his position.

She stood there for a while, thinking.
She had the answer. She knew what to do.

Unnoticed by customers and coworkers, she poisoned the fishtank system with an overdose of Melafix. She crushed the rodents and reptiles with her feed, snaring them in fish nets to hold them in place.

It wasn’t until she had started in on the aviary that she was caught by a manager with a parakeet in her left hand, its head twisted around in another.

That was the exact moment awareness and sanity returned to her. A moment later, she woke terrified of the realization that she had no free will.

When she got up and looked at her baby sleeping the next morning in its crib, also normal, she realized it wasn’t a matter of choice. She couldn’t choose to not love him, she couldn’t choose to suffocate him. She stumbled out into the living room.

It would only take one small quirk in her brain, one small moment of nightmare to change her perceptions, alter her choices.

She pressed her head against the glass coffee table and laughed.