Not This Time

I awake with a start and a hand clutches my heart in my chest. I am panting. A slick sheen of sweat covers me. I am afraid.

Looking up from the bed into the near darkness I see it – the source of my fear. A dark form hovers above me; a shadow, a towering presence. I cannot see its face, but can feel it looking down on me. I can feel it observing me. Waiting. I know it means to do me harm.

And I’m afraid. So afraid.

Sleep paralysis, I think. This isn’t real. You’re experiencing sleep paralysis.

But then I discover that I can move. And so… can It.

How Kafkaesque

“I just don’t get why this story is so famous,” Lawrence said. “and why we’re studying it in this class. So he gets turned into a giant bug, so what?”

Professor Turner sighed and shuffled aside some of the papers on his desk.

“Lawrence, I believe you’re entirely missing the point,” he replied. “The fact that Samsa awakens to find himself an insect isn’t the point of the story. The themes that the story touches on – isolation, societal expectations of work and personal life, family, the limits of sympathy and care for others – are what’s important, and the transformation is merely used as a way for the author to illustrate the points about them he’s making.”

“I know, but a giant insect!” Lawrence persisted. “It’s just unbelievable! It’s crazy! And there’s never even any explanation given as to why he transforms! I mean, there’s a lot of things that happen out there, and I get that the suspension of disbelief is a part of reading literature and everything, Professor, I get it – but, a giant bug? It’s just too ridiculous. I don’t get it. It’s just stupid and I just don’t get it.”

Dr. Turner sighed again. “Lawrence, perhaps if you had a specific question, or if we went over one of the key scenes in the story again…”

“A bug! A giant bug!” the student continued. “Why do we have to read this drivel, Dr. Turner? It’s just, just, completely unbelievable.”

Dr. Turner loosened his tie. “Is that what you really think?” he said quietly.

“YES! It’s not literature, it’s just a disgusting and unbelievable story!”

Turner went silent.

“Dr. Turner?”

The Professor’s eyes rolled back in his head as his jaw slackened and his mouth dropped open, revealing a black hollow pit. A squealing, high pitched buzzing came from it, quietly at first, then gaining in volume and power until it was a maddening, writhing sound.

Lawrence stood up from his chair, as horror and disbelief overtook him. He watched as Dr. Turner reached plunged his hands into the center of his chest, digging his fingers deep into his flesh, and pulled himself apart with a wet, fleshy tearing sound. The two bloody sides fell away to reveal a giant wriggling centipede, a gray segmented body with thousands of waving legs.

The boy screamed and turned to run, as the vermin lunged and clamped its powerful jaws around his neck.

Blackout

I awoke to a pounding headache, guttermouth, and the stench of stale beer. God, what happened last night? I hadn’t felt this bad since… well, last weekend.

I threw the comforter to the floor. The headboard was broken. The lamp from the bedside table was on the floor, the bulb shattered into a million pieces. My jeans lay inside-out in a heap in the corner, belt still in the loops.

And then I saw them. Black stilettos kicked off by the door: one upright, the other on its side, a fallen soldier of fashion.

Oh my god! That model! Or was she an actress? Christ, she’d been more than a 10, she was a goddamn 11. Had I really? Did I? Never in my life had I gone home with a woman that hot, let alone when blackout drunk.

But where was she? Had she slipped out already and left her shoes behind? It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. Ugh, I ran my hand down the side of my face. I had only one problem right now and that was dealing with this massive hangover. Water, I need water.

I shuffled into the kitchen, feeling like death, and froze. There she – Tiffany, her name had been Tiffany – lay, naked on the tile of the kitchen floor in a puddle of blood, the chef’s knife from the block deep in her back amidst a forest of red stab wounds.

Collapsing against the wall, I slid down to the floor. I realized now I had bigger problem.

Beneath the Sea

“Enough already, ya damn fool! Go on and jump! Don’t be lily-livered! Die with some dignity, damn you!” The Captain pushed the point of his sword harder against the back of Thompson, propelling him forward another step toward the end of the board.

The crew, riled and rowdy for this spectacle, hollered and jeered. They called out “the plank, the plank! walk the plank!” Others stood in silence in the chill breeze, ready to watch one who had a mere day ago be one of their own plunge to his death in the icy waters of the merciless sea.

Thompson swiveled his head back toward the gathered crew of The Bastard’s Wish, half-turning as much as his bound hands and narrow walkway would allow.

“I warned you,” he shouted. “We cannot go after the Bounty of the Black Dog! He guards it from beyond the grave! You’re leading us all to our deaths! Our deaths!”

“Aye, well, you I is,” laughed The Captain. The crew hooted and hollered. “I shan’t have no men stirring up mutiny on my watch, Mr. Thompson, ‘specially not from ghost stories and old wives’ tales. Go join ‘im ya bloody bilge rat! Off the plank with ya! Go see The Black Dog an’ his men ‘neath the waters of Poseidon! GO!”

And with the last word The Captain gave Thompson one final push with the point of his sword, and the men watched him fall, a stone, a dead man, into the cold waters of the ocean.

The Captain went to bed that night with a clear conscience, a man who knew his place in the wheelhouse, steering his men to glory, to riches, to the annals of the history books; until at the darkest stroke of midnight he awoke with a start.

All was black in the cabin. The smell of seawater was everywhere, the sharp brine smell of the ocean mixed with something fetid. He looked out the window and saw dark shapes moving, slow shuffling shapes that looked like men.

Outside on the deck, the night watch cried out as the shuffling figures surrounded him. They covered him with their reaching hands and his cries died against the black night of the open seas.

There came a thumping at the door of the cabin. The thumping became louder, louder and faster, and from beneath his door The Captain heard groaning. The noise crescendoed, louder and faster still, until finally the door burst open with the sound of wood breaking. That smell, that salty wet smell of the sea and something rotting, grew stronger still and flooded the air of the cabin.

The Captain made to rise for his sword, but before he could act the things were upon him, wet, sludgy hands holding him down. He struggled and screamed but he could feel the shapes surround him in the darkness, as more wet hands pinned him to his bed. Something slimy and rotten pushed his head down, and another entered his mouth. He gagged. As The Captain writhed and struggled to take his last breaths, he heard, from out on the deck, the sounds of men singing a sea chanty:

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Blackdog and his men do come
Fifteen men on a Dead Man’s Chest
You and your crew ‘ll join the rest

If his treasure hid you seek
Your words ‘ll die before you speak
Fifteen men on a Dead Man’s Chest
Beneath the sea is where ‘ll rest

Look to the Skies

I walked down the darkened street and all around the coldness of night crept into my bones. As I rounded the corner from 35th to 2nd Avenue, a homeless man got up from his pile of bric-a-brac and stood to face me.

“Money for the poor? I’m so hungry,” he said pitifully. His hands were shaking in the cold and I could see the tips of his fingers, showing through his cutoff gloves, were old and wrinkled.

“Sorry man,” I replied without courtesy.

“Do you know it’s coming?” he said. His begging for alms had left him now and his eyes took on a wild light. The black orbs stared deep into mine with a fire that both surprised and frightened me. “It’s coming. Today is the day, the sky will burn.”

“What the fuck are you talking about, old timer?” I replied with indignation.

“Look to the skies, my boy,” he damn near hollered with enthusiasm. “Look to the skies! The end of days! The end of days is upon us! The Antichrist shall walk among the Sons of Man and the Horseman shall not be far behind. Look to the skies!”

I gathered my coat around me and glared at him with disgust. “Crazy bastard.”

I thought nothing of the vagrant’s warnings all during my walk home, and through my supper and my ritual of evening television. But when I went upstairs that evening it birthed itself fresh in my mind.

The sun was setting on the horizon and I was exhausted from the weary days before. I tore off my shirt, and went over to the rolling blind to lower it for the evening’s sleep. I stared out onto the burning horizon to see the giant saucer, a monstrous disc of illuminated, glowing metal from another world lower itself down from the sky above, hovering above Manhattan. I saw the burning trails of fire burst forth from its metal chassis and rain destruction down upon mankind. I watched the buildings explode and crumble in the distance as the hellfire reigned down upon them, and I thought of the man’s warning, to look to the skies.

Man’s Best Friend

I awoke to the sound of a dog barking angrily.

I was chained to a wall, and gagged by a filthy cloth pulled taut between my teeth. I writhed and screamed, trying to free myself.

“Oh, you’re awake,” said a voice.

It came from a tall shadow standing nearby: my captor. He moved closer toward far wall, toward the angry dog, a large doberman. The animal lunged at him, barking madly, pulling its chain tight at its length.

“There’s a good boy,” he said, and violently kicked it in the face. It let out a whimper, then resumed its barking with heightened ferocity.

“Why, surely you recognize him?” he said, walking back over to me. “Shocking, really, that you don’t recognize your own dog. The same dog that got loose from your yard that day. The same dog that tore out that young girl’s throat. The same dog for who’s behavior you were not found criminally responsible.”

He knelt down next to me, and looked my straight in the eyes. The lower half of his face remained hidden in shadow.

“Do you see that clock, up on the wall?” He gestured with his head toward the far wall, to a large LED sign above the furious canine. It was counting down; the time read 00:47:32.

“In…” – he looked up – “forty-six minutes and thirty-eight seconds the chain around your dog’s neck will release, setting him free to satisfy his appetite, and all the rage I’ve beaten into him these past seven days. And that is exactly how much time you will have to figure it out.”

He pulled the gag from my mouth. I spat in his face. “Fuck you!” I screamed. “To figure out what?”

“Why, whether your pet is as safe as our criminal justice system believes it to be.” He stood to leave. “And whether it’ll have any more mercy on you than on my daughter.”

Revenge is a Dish

I awake into blackness and a world of searing pain. Everything is cold. A cold so freezing it burns. I am naked and the cold hard steel I lie against is a burning fire that sears my exposed skin.

I violently convulse in shivers. I gasp the cold, desiccated air and its emptiness stings my lungs. I am in shock. In the darkness I realize my eyelashes are frozen together and that I cannot feel my extremities.

A crack of light, up above. The crack grows to a rectangle to reveal a face staring down at me, a face I recognize. Megan’s face.

“Hello John.”

“M-m-m-m-m-m-m-MEGAN. W-w-w-w-wh-wh-what is happening? G-g-g-g-g-g-g-ge-get me out of ha-here.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, John, ” she says, and her voice is colder than the searing hell that imprisons me. “Do you know what it’s like, John? To feel betrayed? Do you? YOU ANIMAL. YOU GODDAMN MONSTER.”

“W-w-wh-wh-wh-w-w-wh-at are you t-t-t-t-t-t-t-alking about?” I stammer.

“SHUT UP!” she snaps. “You disgust me. You sick fuck. You monster. How can you do it? How can you murder innocent animals? How can you let people carve them up to serve to you on a plate? You disgust me.”

“M-m-m-m-m-m-eggggggan…”

“I’m just giving you what you deserve, John. Unlike you, I’m NOT a monster. I could never hang you from a meathook and slit your throat like you deserve, even though that would be true justice, eye for an eye. Then you would really know what it’s like for them, those poor animals.”

Oh god, so cold. So cold. She’s insane, my mind screams. Insane.

“No, but I can show you the next best thing. So how does it feel, John? To be a piece of meat? How does it feel? Should I serve you up now, or freeze you for later?”

“M-M-M-M-M-MEGGGGGGAN!!!”

“I thought so,” she says with derision. “Goodbye John.”

Her face disappears, and the rectangle of light follows. My anguished cries echo around me in the frozen steel of the box, unheard.

The Virulent Man

The first clue came when I was a child. All my family, everyone that lived in the house. Sudden, debilitating sickness causing their sudden, untimely deaths. Excruciating pain. Vomiting blood. Violent, explosive hemorrhaging. Red everywhere, on everything. It made the headline in the newspaper: FAMILY SUCCUMBS TO MYSTERIOUS ILLNESS, SINGLE CHILD SURVIVES.

They were the first, but certainly not the last. My uncle, who I went to live with. Children at my school. Teachers. Friends. The CDC was called in; there were fears of an outbreak, a potential epidemic: H1N1 but a thousand times more contagious, ebola but a million times deadlier.

Then suddenly it stopped just as mysteriously as it had started. All the men in hazmat suits left, shaking their heads in confusion. The quarantine was lifted. It stopped because I figured it out. Because I stopped myself coming into human contact with anyone else.

Somehow, I’m immune. No symptoms. No biological signs. But I am also the only source. It waits in me. I am the virulent man. I am a walking plague of biblical proportion. I am disease. I am death. I am the most deadly biological weapon in the history of mankind.

And this is why no one can ever know.

“Your bill,” says the bartender gruffly. The beer was warm and skunky, and he’d been rude to me.

I reach in my jacket pocket and feel the pen there.

“Damn,” I say, “do you have a pen?”

He grabs one from beside a pile of filthy glasses and holds it out to me, eyebrows pulled together and frowning.

“Thank you,” I say, reaching out to touch his hand.