Abandoned

Captain Smith looked out over the roaring waves of the ocean. His face was still and expressionless, even with the cold sea air blowing fiercely, stinging his cheeks and making his overcoat flap behind him.

The men in the lifeboat rowed and rowed, and their oars plunged into the frothing icy water. Their muscles were burning with exhaustion but still they toiled.

“How much further, Captain?” shouted Winters, the first mate, from Smith’s side, such that the man could hear him over the raging winds. “I fear the men cannot keep up this pace and the storm will never subside. That monster – that thing – that sunk The Imperial must surely be in these waters still and giving us chase!”

The Captain raised the spyglass to his eye again, looking through the raging rains for that far-off piece of land that was to be their salvation.

On the island Smith saw gray trees blowing in the breeze, then rising into the air and twisting, twisting and roiling and elongating into thick black fleshy tendrils, and the rocks of the island shifting. As the leviathan plunged beneath the waves the last thing Smith saw was its giant eye, an eye that must have been as large as The Imperial had been herself, staring back at him through the glass.

“Captain?” Winters shouted again.

Smith lowered the telescope.

“Keep rowing,” he said.

Welcome to BigFuture™ BSI

One of the Birds bursts out of the flaming house, right through a fresh trail of flame Brick is laying down on the place, then tears off into the sky above, screeching and squawking like all hell. It’s a horrible thing, all gangly bones and green skin and that giant bony bill lined with razor-sharp teeth. Brick just caught it with the last coming out of his ‘thrower, and I can see through the mask of my suit the thing’s on fire now too, singeing from darkish green to black. It squawks and squawks and flaps its enormous wings; Brick’s throwing more up fire its way but the damn thing’s just out of reach. I hear the rest of the team screaming and hollering, then the sound of automatic fire as they let all hell loose its way.

“Burn it to the ground!” I heard Brick yelling over the din. “No survivors! Can’t let the infection spread!”

The family are running out of the house now, all on fire too: the father’s clothes are nearly burned away and the skin I can see coming through is all black; the mother’s hair is mostly gone and covered in soot and smouldering; and the small child being lead out between them is crying and looks like she crawled through a chimney a damn mile long.

The Bird’s flapping every which way, in its dying throes, slowly falling to earth; Brick finally catches it with a burst of fire and then the horrible creature’s fully ablaze. I look over and he looks back at me before letting another burst go. “What are you waiting for Sphinx, burn ’em! Burn ’em before they get away!”

The father is almost on top of me now and I can see his scared eyes grow wider as I pull the trigger. Flame engulfs him totally and he screams and the sound is horrible and higher pitched than thought it would be. The blast engulfs the woman and child too, and I can see them flailing within it, trying to run; arms, legs, faces, all turning black, skin melting away to charred muscle then bone beneath.

And then for a moment the bright light of them reminds me of my first day, of sitting in what seemed like an ordinary conference room in an ordinary office tower with a group of other ordinary people ready to join a completely ordinary company to work an ordinary 9-to-5 at an ordinary job, and me looking up into the flickering bright light of fluorescent tubes overhead.

A pretty black-haired girl with a short skirt had come in to us waiting expectantly. “Welcome to BigFuture™ BSI,” she’d said. “I am so excited to have all of you here joining us, and to tell you that for each of you, for all of you: your Big Future is a bright one.”

Beasts

We burst through the upper atmosphere, our dead ship falling to earth like a steel stone, klaxons blaring loud and all the lights red and flashing inside, blinding all sensation. The hull glowed angry red and flames and smoke of rage trailed from the vessel. It must have been a beautiful sight from the ground.

Only McGrady, Whittle and I survived. The Captain took the joystick right through the ribcage like the spear of an angry native.

It was black, black as pitch, and the jungle of the planet we’d crashed into awaited outside the mangled steel door of the ship. Noises, from outside. Insects. And animals.

McGrady had the blaster. The only other thing we could scrounge up was a handful of flares. Everything else was gone, jettisoned with the cargo.

I lit the first flare and it exploded into an unreal red flame. I saw Whittle’s pudgy white face glow beneath it. We tramped through the humid underbrush, scarcely able to see anything, not knowing where we were going.

As we hiked the noises got worse, deep growls. Roars. Sounds that made us think of mouths full of sharp teeth and vicious hungry claws and scaly backs and eyes that saw us in the dark.

When the first flare went out I reached to light the second. That was all it took. Something pounced and I heard Whittle scream and all was blackness and fighting. I heard McGrady fire the blaster. When the red flame finally came alive I saw Whittle’s terrified face as he was dragged off into the brush. Then there was only his screams and wet, snapping sounds and growls and the sound of him being devoured.

McGrady’s blaster shook in his hand. They kept their distance from the flare. Until it ran out again and they got him. The soldier’s screams were even worse than those of Whittle’s had been. I heard the things tear him in half with a wet crackling snap and then all was silent. There was two of them now.

I’m crouched on a log now, huddled down. I think there’s a third, I can hear them all circling.

The flare is burning low. I know it will only last so long.

Clover

When I was five I discovered the clover patch by the old farmhouse I grew up in. A hidden oasis of green in the expanse of sandy hay flapping in the wind around our humble little abode, the amber stalks around opened like a curtain to a hidden backstage. Many a warm summer afternoon I lay in the cool comfort of the clover patch without a care in the world and stared up at giant white clouds slowly crawling across the sky.

When I turned 8 I fell in love. Margaret was her name. She lived in the next farmhouse over, down the road. We met when we both wandered to where the properties did, right where it gave way to the thick of the forest, at the rotted fence made of old railway sleepers.

We lay in the clover patch most every day that summer, at first apart and then together. We lay in the innocence of childhood guilt, knowing that what we were doing was wrong but could also never be. That was when we learned its secret. The clover patch was alive, a living thing. The tiny sprouts swayed and caressed their leaves against our naked bodies, absent any summer breeze.

The summer after that my parents sent me off to boarding school and I thought only of Margaret. Those few weekends I returned home I visited the clover patch, like a pilgrim to his childhood Mecca, hoping I’d find her there. But the clovers lay still, only for only me.

When I was 16 I visited the clover patch under the light of the full moon and Margret was their too, her back to me, the clover swaying beneath her feet in the still humid air. “I knew you’d come,” she said. We made love. We lay in the clover and held each other and it held us.

We made love each summer after that, until I was 19 and Margaret told me she was going away to college in the city. “I can’t keep doing this,” she said. “We’re not children anymore.” The clovers lay still then and I wondered whether they’d ever really moved at all.

She sent me a letter after I shipped out to Iraq. It said she met someone and everything had happened very fast. It said she’d always love me in a certain way, and that nothing would ever be the same as those summer nights we lay amongst the clover. She said she was pregnant and she was going to keep it and they were going to get married.

When I was 20 I came back to the farm on leave. Dad and Mom were dead and the old farmhouse was mine now. I brought Margaret’s second letter with me and read it over and over on the way home. I went back to the clover patch under the light of the full moon, and thought about all the summers we’d lain in its soft caress.

I lay, and this time the clover was alive again, and I felt it caressing me, then saw in the dim moonlight little white tendrils sprouting from the tiny plants and snaking out over me. The tendrils burrowed into my skin, into the flesh of my arms, and I bled. The clover sprouted, smothering me, thousands of them rushing into my mouth and forcing their way down my throat and suffocating me.

The moon was beautiful that night. I hoped that one day Margaret would come back with our son, and in my bones they’d find my dog tags with the inscription I’d had engraved on the back: I STILL LOVE YOU

The Blood of the Wolf

I ran and I ran and I ran through the thick black woods, the gnarled bones of the trees rushing by me, and tramping the packed snow underfoot. Faster and faster I ran. My lungs burned and my blood sang in my veins and still I pushed myself, faster and faster, harder and harder – but I knew no matter how hard I ran it would never be fast enough to escape her.

My legs were burning, burning so hot they felt like they would explode, as I rounded the corner near the embankment, the snow of its sloping side dusted in fallen green pine needles. Past the giant boulder, over the next little hill. Not far now, it was not far now. Just had to keep running. Not think about what was behind me. Just keep running.

Finally, I reached the cave. I stopped and bent over at the waist, my face hot and flushed in the cold of the winter air, my chest heaving and lungs aflame, my gasped breaths quick bursts of steam evaporating into the frigid nothingness.

This was it. All I had to do now was plunge the dagger into her heart. That would vanquish her soul, both from her inert form and the one of the creature in which she’d terrorized the countryside; the one hot on the heels of my boots that very moment.

As I stood to enter the gaping black maw of the cave I heard a growling. I looked behind me, afeared to see the evil she-demon had caught me now when I was so close, but there was nothing. Then the low growling was mixed with angry barking. It was coming from in front of me, from the black mouth of the cave.

The terrifying white form of her emerged from the blackness, nine feet high at the shoulder, her wet fur glistening in the bright alpine sunlight. She growled and barked and bared her monstrous teeth. I was done for.

Another shape emerged from behind her, a man clad in robes. A man I recognized from the village, from the table of elders at the council only a fortnight past.

“Surprised to see me, Tristan?” he said, smiling ear to ear. “We knew you’d come.”

The Shower Scene

One time when I was younger my mother told me something that really stuck with me. She told me that when she was a teenager she saw the movie ‘Psycho’ even though her parents had expressly forbidden her to, and after she watched that movie she couldn’t shower for a month, she was so scared of the infamous ‘shower scene’.

Imagine that. Watching a movie with a scene about something as commonplace and everyday as taking a shower and having that make it absolutely terrifying. And, as many people have pointed out, compared to modern films, the shower scene doesn’t actually show all that much of anything – it’s all in what is suggested, which is the brilliance of Hitchcock at work.

I’d never seen the shower scene, in fact, only heard it talked about by others and seen bits and pieces of it when it was referenced in documentaries and TV specials about Hitchcock or the history of film. But still my mother’s story about it terrifying her that much changed the way I thought about showering. It made me realize how strange an act it actually was and how frightening it could really be.

I mean, it’s kind of strange when you really think about it, the fact that each and every day we step into this tiny little chamber, no more than a few feet by the length of the average human body, and then completely close ourselves in. With a curtain. Or maybe a sliding glass door. Frosted usually, so if someone else happens to be using the bathroom they can’t see your naked ass and naughty bits, but perhaps more importantly, it means that you can’t see what’s going on outside. What’s on the other side of the curtain? You have no way to know except to hold it back a little and peek out from behind it.

I guess it was about two years ago. These past two years my morning routine is a lot different now than all the years before, but we’ll get to that in a bit, hold on there. Even then, even before it happened, I guess I never really liked showering that much, after what my mother had told me. I found myself sometimes worrying if I’d forgotten to lock the front door or left a window open, or the back door maybe, with only the old storm door that didn’t shut completely on its own, and maybe someone could break in and rob the house while I bathed myself, or, worse, barge into the bathroom and attack me where I was behind the curtain blissfully unaware.

So, I’ll admit it. Sometimes those types of thoughts got the better of me. Sometimes, I peeked, just to make myself feel better. To reassure myself that I was just being silly. Irrational.

That time I really wish I hadn’t.

Have you ever had the feeling that someone is watching you? Ever just been sitting somewhere, minding your own business, reading a magazine or playing with your phone or watching pigeons flutter away against the backdrop of a blue sky and you know – you just know – that someone is watching you? I remember one of my psychology professors in university liked to say that there’s nothing more powerful than the gaze of a human eye. If we see other people staring at something we can’t help but follow to see where they’re looking. It’s in our nature. Evolutionary. But I think he meant more than that, I knew he did. There’s something about another presence, about something observing you, that you can just feel.

The steam of the shower was hot and the water was too, and just as I was finishing rinsing the last of the shampoo out of my hair, I felt it. A presence. Something watching me. Something there in the bathroom with me. It sounds crazy, I know. I knew I was just being ridiculous but I couldn’t help it, just like my irrational fear that someone would barge into the house while I was defenseless beneath the hot water, I knew this was irrational too. Ridiculous.

But I still had to look. To prove to myself that it was. That the presence I felt was only my imagination, only my mind playing tricks on me.

Ever so slowly, I stepped over toward the far side of the tub, the one away from the falling water of the showerhead, and slowly pulled back the curtain to look.

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. Thank God nothing did. Who knows what would have happened had I made a sound? Terror, sheer, raw, utter terror overtook every part of me in that moment. I wanted to run. I wanted to scream but knew I could not. I wanted nothing more than to flee from that tiny space beneath the falling water and dive into the safety of my warm bed and hide beneath the covers until it went away and I could stop shaking and convince myself that what I saw was not, could not, be real.

In the bathroom, not two feet away, towering over me, was a creature.

I don’t expect you to believe me. Why should I? It’s impossible. But it happened. I know it did. How do you describe to someone something that is beyond belief? The paranormal? The fantastical? The beyond real? I’m doing my best. All I know is that that thing I saw in the bathroom was as real as you and me. And it’s no exaggeration to say at that moment I was more terrified than I’d ever been in my entire life.

The thing was tall, too tall, tall and white, and had smooth, smooth skin. It was facing away from me, so all I saw in that furtive horrified glance I took was its giant back arching toward the ceiling and the rounded whiteness of its skull.

The terror I felt. What did it want? How had it gotten in? And what horrible would the face of this horrible thing look like when it turned to face me? Full of long pointed teeth covered in the blood of children it had devoured. Of previous victims caught unaware in the shower, dozing on the couch, sleeping in their beds. Two sunken black pits for eyes that burned with the red fires of hell.

The water poured down and the steam rose and the seconds passed and the thing, the terrible thing, just sat there and my fear, my complete and utter horror and dread of this thing, was absolutely palpable. I put my hand over my mouth and tried not to make a sound. Not to breathe.

The creature was not two feet away from me. It needed only to reach out the tiniest bit with one of its long spindly arms to touch me, and then what would it do? Impale me on its long bony fingers that I’d seen hanging down to the tile of the floor. Spear me on its claws, slash and tear me until I bled to death and my blood mixed with the water going down the drain, just like that in the shower scene.

Have you ever had to do something you know you must but every part of you screams not to? Have you ever been so terrified that every part of you, every tiny fiber of your being screams for you to turn and run, but you know you can’t, that you mustn’t, that you’ve got to face your fear head-on if you want to survive?

I have.

Ever part of me wanted nothing more than to scream and run from the warm wet safety of my tiny universe, to tear out of the bathroom and run screaming out of the house, down the street, naked and dripping wet, just to escape the horror of that thing that stood waiting for me. But I knew I had to look again. I knew I had to hold back the curtain and look again just to convince myself that it was real.

Holding back my fear, quivering and shaking, every part of me wanting to scream, wanting to run, I slowly pulled back the curtain just a little to reveal nothing.

There was nothing there. I was alone. The water kept falling and beating its rhythm against the bottom of the tub. I had imagined it.

I finally watched the shower scene. And I know now why it must have been so terrifying for my mother at the time. It’s true, it doesn’t show that much, but that’s is precisely what makes it so brilliant, as I said before, and so many others have said before me. It’s not about what you do see, but what you don’t see. Terror is not about what is shown, but what isn’t. The greatest horrors are those that are left to our imagination. The white creature that visited me will always fill my nightmares, but only because of what I did not see – it never faces me, never acknowledges me, but still I know that it is watching. The most frightening thing is that if the very presence of this thing filled me with such dread I cannot begin to comprehend its true nature – what staring into the face of such a thing would have done to me.

I don’t take showers any more. Two years it’s been since then. Two years that I’ve only taken baths, and then only with the door open. I try to tell myself that what I saw wasn’t real. Couldn’t have been real. But when I stepped out of the shower that day, still very much shaken from what I’d seen, on the tile of the floor next to the bathmat were two giant wet footprints.

It’s still out there, watching me.

Froggy

When I came back outside Sandy was over by the edge of the pond amongst the bulrushes, crouched down on her little haunches in her bright purple boots.

“Sandy!” I said, picking up some more dirty plates from the patio table. “What are you doing over there, honey?”

She didn’t look, just called out in her cute little 4-year-old voice I never tired of hearing: “Playing boats Mommy!”

I set the dishes back down on the table and strolled over to her. Pushing aside the tall grass I saw a tiny paper boat floated toward the center of the pond, slowly sailing with the last of its inertia from the push my little girl had given it.

“Honey, where’d you learn to play boats?” I said, crouching down next to her.

“Froggy!” she said, hugging me. “Froggy lives in the pond. Froggy and I love playing boats!” And then she ran off back into the house.

Isn’t that cute? I thought, but part of me still wondered where she learned to fold a paper boat like that. Must have been at kindergarten.

That night I awoke that in the darkness to a scream, a scream I recognized in even my sleep to be that of my little girl. It had come from outside. I ran out of the bedroom in my nightgown, down the stairs and out the back door onto the grass.

“Sandy!” I called. “SANDY!”

Tiny footprints led to something white by the edge of the pond, pushed in the damp earth and surrounded by the dewy grass. Slowly I followed them over and picked it up.

It was Sandy’s paper boat, limp and soggy, and beneath it sunk into the mud was a massive webbed footprint, the first of a trail which led out to the center of the pond, where a single purple boot floated.