The Horde

With axes, daggers and rusted spears they came. Their pale demonic faces were alive with rage as they chased me through the night and the trees of the dark woods.

The hideous creatures showed no sign of relenting as I felled them in my wake, one after another; I hacked and sliced and stabbed with my steel blade, turning it red with rivulets of their blood. They would not relent – the onslaught of monsters stepped over the bodies of their fallen as they came. Baring white teeth and uttering unworldly screams, they stared into me with beady eyes inset in spherical skulls.

I was doomed.

I sliced the arm off yet another one of the monsters, leaving my side unprotected. A jagged axe sunk deep into my flesh.

The last thought I had as I watched the blood run over my fur was that I would not be able to warn the others. Soon they too would be overrun by the horde of approaching creatures known as humans.

Mousetrap

I’m a solitary man.

So as you can probably imagine, I wasn’t overly pleased about someone shacking up with me without even so much as asking.

Oh, no, wait – not like that. You see, I discovered the other week that I have mice. Well, that is to say I have a mouse.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably thinking, just one mouse? That’s pretty damn specific. And you’re right. It is. Real damn specific. Because that’s exactly what I have.

I live in an old house, because I like my space – so I have what the people in the real estate business call a heritage property. A century house. That is to say, it’s old and cold and drafty and I love it that way – because I like my damn space and my home being built out of wood, not fucking particleboard. I like my space and narrow stairwells with banisters and attic and cellar and crawlspace, so there.

But I do not like this mouse invading my property. It’s my home, rodents are vermin and that’s trespassing.

I could hear the damn thing in the night, squeaking and scratching and chewing. It was eating through the old wood in my beautiful home, turning it all into sawdust inside the walls and shitting out little black pellets. I could feel it.

I saw it once in the kitchen – damn thing was stupid enough to come out hiding and into the open. As I was frying up bangers and mash I heard it scurry out along the linoleum. It froze and looked up at me with those beady little black eyes and wasn’t even afraid. It was taunting me in my own home.

I grabbed another pan off the stove and chased that little bastard as fast as I could, screaming and smashing the floor behind, but it got away. My glorious breakfast was ruined by the agony of defeat and the escape of my nemesis.

This was war.

I became single-minded in my determination to regain the solitude of my beautiful home. I became a commando of the dark arts of pest extermination – every rat poison, every trap, every strategy and tactic for killing rodents – I learned them all.

Yet still the little bastard persisted. I found unsprung snap traps with the cheese gone. Glue traps with tiny footprints across them. Holes I had packed with steel wool were inexplicably open again the next day.

And still always the scratching. The scratching and the chewing. How they tormented me! It came from the ceiling above my bed when I tried to sleep at night, in the kitchen walls around me while I ate my dinner, and especially beneath the kitchen floor in the crawlspace.

I had to up the ante. The little bastard was getting the better of me. I set more traps, everywhere. I bought more and more rat poison with bigger and more extreme warning signs. I bought all manner of traps – live traps, super-sensitive high tension snap traps, electric wire barriers, pressure sensitive micro-projectiles. Still nothing.

Now I had to tiptoe around all the lethal hardware in my own home but that little bastard had the run of the place. Then one day I saw it again. The mouse made the mistake of coming out into the kitchen once more, and this time I was ready. I grabbed a meat tenderizer from one of the drawers and chased the little plague-bearer with all the fury and hellfire in my soul.

This time it didn’t run back into its hole but across the open floor. Ha! stupid vermin – I’ll pulverize you!

Out of the kitchen, down the creaky basement stairs and onto the concrete floor it skittered. I knew there were many holes down there it could escape into any moment, but I couldn’t stop now. I had to kill my miniature aggressor – I had to reclaim my home. Into the crawlspace the rodent fled, underneath the stairs, but I couldn’t let it get the best of me now. I grabbed a big flashlight from the workbench, threw aside the board covering the hole and army-crawled in after it.

Again I heard that abominable chewing. It seemed to come from everywhere around me, in the maze of two-by-fours which held up my old home. The mouse was here somewhere and I’d smash it yet. I crawled deeper and deeper into the crawlspace, shining my light all around and trying to locate the pest.

The chewing stopped and so did I. The regular creaking of my house above me turned to a loud groaning. I heard a sharp crack, and a cloud of sawdust from a shot downward from above my head, blinding me. One of the beams had snapped. As my vision cleared I heard the groaning deepen and I shone the light forward.

The last thing I saw as the house collapsed around me was the mouse sitting up on a beam ahead, and its little black eyes and smug look which seemed to say: I can set traps too.

Los Coyotes

I want to tell you the story about my family vacation. Well, actually that part is not really that important; what is important is that it’s the story of how my baby sister died.

When I was younger my Dad took our family on vacation to Mexico.

Now when you most people that that, they probably think of going to a nice resort for an all-inclusive vacation where you can sit on the beach in the sun and drink margaritas to your heart’s content until you are drunk as a skunk at two o’clock in the afternoon while your bratty kids play in the surf and you ogle the gold-digger with a supermodel body in a tiny bikini in the beach chair next to you out of the corner of your eye and hope she or her fat old rich husband don’t notice because your wife sure as hell won’t because she’s passed out next to you in another beach chair from too many damn daiquiris and has her wide sun hat pulled down over her face and a New York Times bestseller that Oprah recommended splayed open facedown on her chest.

This was not that sort of vacation.

You see, when I was growing up, my family was poor. My Mom was homemaker and my Dad held down a blue-collar job – he worked the line at the plastics plant just across the tracks before they brought in all the robots and computers and fired everyone.

But goddammit my father was a proud man. Even though he was poor and could barely afford to feed me and my baby sister sometimes, we were going to go on a vacation.

So we went to Mexico, not to a resort with surf and sand and unlimited food and drink, but to a ranch in the desert. As determined as ever, he drove our family through the sweltering heat for 12 hours straight, in that beat-up old blue Chevy with no air conditioning. I sat in the back and sweated and read comic books while Mom sat in the front and took care of the baby.

Finally we pulled in off the desert highway to the ranch where we’d stay for the week. It was a big property and the room where the four of us stayed in wasn’t bad for what my Dad was paying – it was about what you’d get at a cheap motel back home.

The ranch was owned and run entirely by two tall Mexican brothers, who constantly wore giant grins and spoken quickly and excitedly, mixing Spanish and English. They did everything – the older and taller one, Alejandro, greeted us at the desk when we arrived and managed the grounds. The younger brother, Eduardo, cooked delicious Mexican meals 3 times a day in a cramped little kitchen in the dining hall. When he wasn’t doing that he was working with the ranch machinery – tractors, generators, pumps – at a big shed on the edge of the property.

The problem was there wasn’t a whole lot to do on the ranch, other than stuff ourselves with food or ride the couple of horses they had around the fenced-in area by the stable. My Mom mainly just took care of my baby sister, and sat in a chair on the deck outside our room.

I think it was around the third or fourth day when I started to get really bored. I had finished reading all my comic books and explored the ranch as much as I could. There was just nothing else for a kid like me to do.

Later that evening Mom and Dad were sitting out on the deck chairs. Dad was drinking a beer and arguing with my mother about the baby. I just wanted to get away from their shouting.

“Dad, I’m bored.” I said, and sat up. “I’m gonna go exploring.”

My Dad stopped yelling at Mom for a bit. She was rocking the baby which had started crying because of their arguing.

“Alright son,” he said, and took a long pull on his bottle of cheap Mexican beer. “But don’t wander off too far, it’s getting dark out. Come back soon, ya hear?”

“Ok!” and off I ran.

That night I wandered far off into the desert, past Eduardo’s big machine shed and over one of the hills surrounding our little bit of civilization. I wasn’t worried because I could always see the lights of the ranch, but had never explored out that far before. It got quite dark out and what I could see was illuminated by the light of the full moon.

I came down the side of another hill and stopped. There, off in the distance, I saw it – two green eyes, reflecting the light of the full moon back toward me. I was afraid. What was it? It didn’t move – the black shape surrounding the eyes just stayed there, perfectly still, and stared back at me from the next rise. When I finally slowly took a step forward it darted off up over the hill, kicking up plume of sand behind it.

That was enough for me. I high-tailed it back to the safety of the ranch lights.

I asked Alejandro about it in the morning when he was serving us delicious piles of his brother’s huevos rancheros.

“Ahaha, little señor, oh you were out exploring the desert at night?” He laughed again. “Strange things live in the desert my little amigo, I think perhaps you met some of our neighbors, no? los coyotes!” I smiled at him but didn’t understand the last words.

“Coyotes, huh?” my Dad answered gruffly through a mouthful of egg and refried beans. “Half wolf, half dog, son.” I found out later that wasn’t true. “I toldja not to wander on out there. Yer lucky he didn’t make a meal of ya. Best be more careful.” I nodded and Alejandro kept smiling.

“More frijoles?”

It was our second last night at the ranch when it happened. I guess Dad drank too many beers and didn’t close the door all the way behind him when he went to bed.

I woke up halfway through the night and thought I heard boards creaking outside, and a scratching at the door.

“Dad! Dad! Something’s outside!”

“ehhhhhh? Go to sleep son.” He rolled over in bed next to my mother. I know I heard something. I was frightened but closed my eyes and managed to fall back asleep.

In the night I dreamt about the hills of the Mexican desert, the green eyes of los coyotes staring into me, and my baby sister crying.

In the morning I woke up to the sound of my mother screaming and sobbing. I had never seen my father like I saw him that morning, and never did again – he just got real quiet and had this far-off look in his eyes.

It killed my little sister. I looked over at the overturned crib and her body laying next to it on its side. Whatever it was had come in to get her – there were claw marks on the door and a trail of sand from the desert. Two perfectly circular puncture wounds were in her tiny throat, and the body was pale, as if all the blood had been drained out. I’d never seen anything like that before and to this day wish I hadn’t. I cried and cried and buried my face in my hands.

The brothers came by later that morning. The tall one, Alejandro, tried to console my mother, and called the police from our room. They were in the next town which was 30 miles away so didn’t arrive for another half hour.

The other brother, Eduardo, looked more like my Dad did. He just got really quiet after he saw my sister’s body, and then just stared at the ground without saying anything.

Later the two brothers argued in Spanish but I didn’t recognize any of the words: sangre, policía, niña muerta. Alejandro kept talking quickly and loudly, but Eduardo just looked down at the ground and quietly murmured responses.

Coyotes, los coyotes….. the older one kept saying, over and over again.

“No,” said the other, sadly, without looking up.

Even though I didn’t understand, I remember feeling a chill run up my spine when I saw him mouth the next words.

el chupacabra.

The Itch

“My shoulder’s itchy,” Steph said, and scratched it. We were sitting out on the balcony, having a barbeque and enjoying some drinks.

“Baby, if you’ve got an itch, I’ll scratch it!” I grinned roguishly at her, and took a swig of my beer. I laughed.

“shaaaa-daaaaaahup….” she smiled, all flirty, and hit my arm.

Steph and I had been living together for just over a year. We weren’t married or anything, but neither of our families were particularly religious so it wasn’t like were we ‘living in sin’ either. What’s the neutral, god-awful legal term for it again? Oh right – cohabitating.

We continued to sit out on the balcony and enjoy our drinks – I tried not to think about the fact that it was Sunday night and having more than a few beers was probably something I would pay for tomorrow morning at work with a hangover. She on the other hand, didn’t have class until the afternoon and so would be able to sleep in. Ah well, small sacrifices for small pleasures.

Besides, it really was a beautiful sunset. We laughed and chatted and watched, and when I looked into Steph’s eyes with the sunset off in the distance I thought about how it was just one of those perfect moments and about how much I loved her.

The sun dipped below the horizon and it got darker out so we went back inside.

“Don’t worry about the dishes,” Steph said, smiling. “I’ll do them in the morning.”

“Yer damn right ya will!” I replied in a drawl, and gave her a look. She giggled. “I mean, I love you sweetie.”

“You’re cute, you silly boy,” she pecked me on the forehead. “Let’s go to bed.”

We went to bed, made love, and fell asleep.

In the morning as I collected my hung-over self to head into the office. Steph, naked and still-half asleep, mumbled from under the covers. “I’m still itchy…” I watched the sheet move where she scratched her shoulder beneath it.

I went to work.

“It’s getting worse,” she said, when I came home that evening. We were making dinner. “I think I might have a rash or something.”

“Lemme see,” I pulled her sweater down, revealing her left shoulder and black bra strap. “Hmmm… it’s kinda red but I think that’s just from you scratching it. I can see your claws marks!”

“Shaaaaa-dddddup!” she hit me. She did that a lot. “I’m serious, it really itches a lot.”

I really just wanted her to stop complaining. I loved her to death, but she would get hung up on little things like this, and honestly, sometimes she was a bit of a hypochondriac.

“Okay, well if it doesn’t get any better by tomorrow maybe we should go to the clinic or something,”

It did not get better.

“It’s really really bad now….” she said the next evening. “Awwww it hurts so much.” she scratched and scratched the spot vigorously. scratch scratch scratch

“Stoppit!” I said, and slapped her hand. “You’re just going to make it worse. Come on, let’s going to the clinic then – it’s only 6 and they’re open ’til 10.”

Surprisingly the line at the free clinic wasn’t bad. We were admitted within half an hour and I went into one of the exam rooms with Steph. She sat on the exam table on that disposable paper they drape over it that always weirds me out.

Our doctor came in – he looked very undoctor-y – no white lab coat like on TV, just a wrinkled dress shirt and mom jeans. He fired off a lot of questions. Why are you here? The itch. How long has this been occurring for? About two days. Any history of disorders or skin ailments? No. Pregnant? God no. Any drugs or changes in diet? No. Pets, exposure to animals or wild plants? No. Finally he took a look.

“Yes, it’s quite red and inflamed,” he stated. He was like a robot. “But that’s almost entirely due to all the scratching you’ve been doing.” He continued peering at the red area on Steph’s shoulder.

“I told you!” I blurted out. Steph shushed me. I could see she was really uncomfortable, and trying not to scratch the itch, even now as the doctor examined her.

“Hmmm, well normally I’d attribute a prolonged itch to either a skin condition like a rash, psiorasis or eczema,” he cleared his throat. “or possibly an environmental factor like a food allergy, exposure to poison ivy, or pests like fleas, ticks, or scabies.” He got out his clipboard and scribbled away in doctor scribble. “Given what you’ve told me though, and the absence of any visible surficial symptoms, I’m just going to prescribe a general antipruritic.”

That sounded scary. “What’s that?” Steph pulled her cardigan back on over her tank top.

“Anti-itching medication,” Guh. “Topical corticosteroid, anti-inflammatory. Just apply to the area and the itch should subside. Oh and try not to scratch it too much if you can help it.” He tore off the prescription. “If the itching doesn’t subside within a week come back and we’ll run some tests. Before then though, I’d recommend monitoring the humidity in your home as well as getting it checked for pests.”

The humidity in the apartment was normal. The exterminator couldn’t find any signs of pests. The medication didn’t help, no matter how much, or how often, we smeared it on growing red patch on Steph’s shoulder – the itch would not go away.

I was beginning to become worried.

“It’s getting SO much worse!” I could see tears forming in Steph’s eyes. She assured me she was trying her damnednest not to scratch but I could always see her doing so, and making little whining noises. The other day she had been in tears. “I know it’s crazy,” she cried, “but it feels like the itch is coming from inside. It’s like it’s under my skin.”

scratch scratch scratch – that sound was beginning to burrow its way into my mind. “oooooo… this is so terrrrrrrible…it’s spreading down my back now too… a-huh a-huh a-huh” she sobbed. Her shoulder was raw from the scratching and beginning to bleed. I could see gouges from the sharpness of her fingernails.

“This isn’t right,” I hated to see my baby in pain. “It’s too late now, but let’s go back to the clinic in the morning.” It had only been a few days.

“Ohhhh honey, it hurts…” scratch scratch scratch “maybe we should go to Emergency?”

“I know it hurts baby, but it’s just an itch,” I hugged her and stroked her hair. She continued to scratch at the raw patch beneath her shirt, her arm crossed in front of her, between us. I pecked her on the forehead like she always did to me. “We’ll go back to the clinic in the morning and get this figured out.”

We didn’t go back to the clinic in the morning.

scratch scratch scratch I tried to sleep despite the sound burrowing its way into me and Steph’s incessant tossing and turning. I must have finally managed to doze off, because I was awoken around 3 AM by her leaping out of bed. She was in hysterics.

She ran out to the kitchen, screaming and sobbing and scratching. Still half in a daze I got up and followed her. She was running around the island scratch scratch scratch sobbing scratch scratch scratch blood spilling from the raw wound on her shoulder scratch scratch scratch her face all hot tears.

“Steph! Steph! Steph! Stoppit! Get a hold of yourself!” I grabbed her by the arms and stopped her forcefully in front of the sink. She broke down into tears.

“It hurts! OHHHH it hurts! OHHHHH its trying to get out!!! AHHHHH!” scratch scratch scratch the itch. More blood, on her fingers.

“Steph! Fuck, get a hold of yourself!”

And then I saw it. As she turned away and scratched compulsively at the gaping wound on her shoulder, I saw. It was tiny and black.

“Steph! What the fuck is that?” she froze and her hysterics were suddenly swept away for a moment. It was wriggling.

“OH MY GOD!!! OH MY GOD!! GET IT OUT!!! AHHHHH!” she was a ball of blood and tears and elbows now.

scratchscratchscratchscratchscratchscratch

The black tendril got larger, now it looked like a leech on her shoulder. It was writhing. It was a fucking tentacle burrowing its way out of girlfriend’s shoulder.

“Steph!”

She screamed and then the tentacle burst out of her. Flesh. Blood. Everywhere. Steph screaming getioutgetitoutgetioutkillitkillitkillitkillitAAAAAAAAA then another, from her abdomen. They were as big around as my arm – writhing, wriggling, flailing – black as ink, thick and wet.

“OH MY GOD KIILL IT KILL IT AHAHUHAHUH”

That’s when things got a bit hazy.

As I grabbed the butcher knife from the block one of the thick black tentacles wrapped itself around my arm and pulled me towards her. I brought the knife down, over and over again – hacking, slicing, stabbing at anything. I heard an unworldly shrieking separate from Steph’s screams and saw black blood mix with all the red.

I brought the knife down over and over again. Over and over again. Until I began to realize that I was on my knees. Until I began to realize that the noise had stopped. Until I gazed upon the bloody heap of flesh, human and otherwise, on the kitchen floor of my apartment.

There was blood everywhere.

Stephanie was dead. It was dead. The image of that bloody pile, hacked to bits, would forever be set deep in my mind, having tunneled its way in through the depths of my perception.

I buried the body in a shallow grave I dug in an abandoned lot outside the city.

I drove home, a zombie lost in the headlights of oncoming traffic. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t feel. I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened – what I had just done.

I stripped off my clothes and fell back onto the bed.

My chest started to itch.