In Plain Sight

I used to work in central intelligence. I only mention it as it’s something that sets me apart from everyone else: my ability to notice small details, in even times of disorder or panic. It is because of this that only I know the truth.

Stirring my coffee with a dirty spoon, I looked up to see a ratty, disheveled man in a dirty brown coat at the far end of the diner. I watched him stand and it was then I noticed his mouth was bleeding. The other patrons took notice and started to stare as well as he bent over and began to grunt and groan and mutter.

And then his coat exploded in a splatter of gore, and long green tentacles writhed from his back. They shot out in all directions, grabbing the other customers, twisting up their bodies in slippery slick coils and lifting them from the ground.

Pandemonium ensued. Tables were overturned. Silverware spilled out on the checkerboard tile of the diner floor and glasses shattered. I was caught up in the fleeing mob, but as I glanced back over my shoulder I saw the man’s back had transformed into a gaping maw with fearsome giant teeth and was devouring the victims the tentacles pulled in.

We stampeded out onto the sidewalk and the creature followed. Our panic spread to the crowds in the street. The brown man gave pursuit, carving a path of mayhem and destruction. Bodies were eviscerated and devoured. Cars overturned. Hydro poles splintered like matchsticks.

But the details, oh, the details.

The boy behind the counter in the diner wasn’t among us. When I’d glanced over my shoulder I saw him still slowly wiping down the bar in the erupting chaos, as if nothing at all was happening. The man on the street corner smoking a cigarette and reading a newspaper hadn’t joined the fleeing mob; I saw him calmly turn a page while the brown man devoured a banker in a business suit, briefcase and all. The old vendor of the hotdog stand kept shaking his head in time to the music of his cheap radio as I fled past him. I saw him flip a sizzling sausage like he had so hundreds of times before, unshaken.

This isn’t an isolated incident. And it isn’t an invasion either. They’ve been here among us all along, just waiting for the right moment.

This is only the beginning.

The Lost Ring

Where could it be? Where could it be? Oh no, oh no, oh no, how could I have been so foolish? Beatrice Benedict was in a panic. It has to be here somewhere. It has to be here somewhere. Oh my God, my God, I’ve got to find it or Ralph is going to kill me!

She’d turned the whole house upside-down already in a panic. At first she’d not even noticed her ring was missing. It hadn’t been until she’d finished cleaning everything.

Beatrice Benedict trembled at the thought of her stocky husband bursting in through the door, coated in grease from head to toe, then turning bright red in anger when he discovered she’d lost it, the one true symbol of their beautiful union, and then the sound of his thick leather belt flying through the air and the thwack thwack thwack as the blows rained down upon her. God help them, she knew Little Johnnie could hear it, even from upstairs in his tiny bedroom beneath the comfort of his little rocket ship bedspread.

Oh God, oh God, I’ve got to find it! Beatrice overturned all the couch cushions she’d vacuumed only an hour ago and turned over only 10 minutes before once again. She shook them out above the ugly brown striped pattern of the sofa, hoping, just hoping, that her repeating the same process and expecting a different result wasn’t insanity. That her precious missing wedding ring would fall out onto the floor, and then she could breathe a sigh of relief and all would be well again. But it wasn’t there.

Beatrice collapsed to her knees on the carpet, buried her face into her hands, and sobbed. She cried and cried and cried, the sound seeping out into the surrounding beige walls of the simple bungalow she and Ralph called home, and the walls watched silently, shaking their heads in disapproval.

Oh Bertie, Bertie, Bertie, the one wall, the one behind the China Cabinet, cooed out to her. It seemed older and wiser than the others. She felt that maybe it was their mother. Could walls have mothers?

You’ve gone and made a real mess of things, haven’t you? the wall continued. Ralph was right all this time. You really are worthless. How could you lose the ring like that? Don’t you care about Ralph? Don’t you care about your marriage? About Little Johnnie? What’s wrong with you Bertie?

Well, I’m not surprised. We walls all saw it coming. We see everything. And we’ll see it all when Ralph gets home soon and lays into you with his belt again. Just like he has so many times before.

Beatrice stopped crying and sat up. She’d already turned the living room over a dozen times. Then she thought maybe it’d fallen from her finger and gotten sucked up by the vacuum. She’d emptied the bag out and pawed all through the dirt with her bare hands. She’d gone through all of the bedrooms, tearing apart all the sheets and comforters on both her and Ralph’s and Little Johnnie’s bed, but there was not sign of her missing ring.

What was she going to do?

Wait, the bathroom sink? Or the drain in the tub? No, she’d put on her stretchy long yellow latex gloves as soon as she’d started on the bathroom, just like she always did, because she so hated cleaning the bathroom. She knew that the chemicals for getting rid of the kind of filth in there – stray pubic hairs and evil bacteria and mold caked into the grout and festering disease and rot and microbial death – were harsher than anything else she’d use to clean anywhere else in the house, harsher than anything she’d use in the kitchen.

Of course. The sink. She’d taken her ring off and set it on the counter next to the faucet, hadn’t she? Terribly absent-minded of her. But had she put it back on? And that clattering in sink had been that fork the fell from the drying rack, she’d seen it. But if she’d accidentally hit her ring with her elbow at the same time the fork had fallen then…

The garbage disposal. She had to look.

Dark and foreboding, the circular maw of the metal beast gaped at her, taunting her. I’ve got your ring, Bertie, now what are you going to do? You should have listened to the walls! The metal monster laughed maniacally at her.

Beatrice peered down into the depths of the hole, but could see nothing. She glanced from all angles but all was black; there was not so much as a gleam of light reflecting off the blades at the bottom.

She ran to the hall closet and bent down to the bottom shelf, rifling amongst the ratty old comforters and a big box of ancient used batteries. She found it, the big yellow plastic flashlight, the one her and Ralph had always taken camping with them each summer those first few years after they were newlyweds. Beatrice Benedict pushed the big black circular button with her thumb and it made a satisfying click-click. The beam from the light was still strong and lit the rusty brass hinges of the closet door next to her.

I don’t see it. I don’t see it. Beatrice squinted. She tilted her head every which way, this way and that way and a hundred other ways, but it was just so damn hard to see anything down that little hole, even with the light of the flashlight. Please God, please. Let my ring be in there. Beatrice tilted her head again and squinted into the depths of metal tunnel leading into the belly of the garbage disposal.

And then she saw it. Thank you God! A glimmer of light reflecting off her wedding ring.

Beatrice took a deep breath. She knew there was nothing in the kitchen, no implement, no wooden spoon or whisk or spatula or pair of tongs or scissors that would reach the bottom of the disposal. She’d have to reach down there with her arm and nimble white fingers and pluck the ring from those hungry metallic depths herself. It was the only way.

Think. Think about Ralph. Think about your ring. What that ring means.

She rolled up her sleeve and then stopped, recalling horrible stories she’d heard about household appliances turning on by themselves. About young boys reaching for things in the bottom of blenders and having their fingers turned into strawberry milkshakes with crunchy pieces of bone. About housewives falling headfirst into clothes dryers and being tumbled-dried to death, roasted alive all alone in empty basements while their cries for help went unheard, echoing in the scalding air of the hungry metal drums.

No, Beatrice Benedict thought. I have to. For Ralph. For Little Johnnie.

Beatrice took another deep breath and stuck her arm down the black hole, down into the hungry maw of the garbage disposal, and felt around with her nimble white fingers for her precious wedding ring. Her hand pawed and slipped against the wet steel, and she swore she could smell something foul rising up from the throat of the beast, up into the sink basin and assaulting her nostrils. Her digits danced a clumsy dance in the darkness. It was there. It was in there. I saw it! Just a little deeper. Just a little deeper. Before Ralph gets home.

There was a loud bang as the front door swung on its hinges and slammed shut. Beatrice looked up from the sink with a start.

“Bertie!” her husband called out. “I’m home!”

Oh God, it was Ralph! He’s home early! Beatrice thought. I can’t let him find me like this! And the ring! Oh God, the ring!

And then Beatrice realized her arm was stuck. And then she began to panic. She pulled and pulled and pulled but her arm was jammed in the hole of the drain at the elbow – she was like a minnow that had swum into a steel trap and but couldn’t squeeze its way back out.

She pulled and pulled but the circle of the drain was a snake coiled around her arm. She heard Ralph’s footsteps coming toward the kitchen. “Bertie? You there?” She was panicking now. She yanked and and twisted, and then her elbow turned the screw in the sink assembly and the metal monster roared to life.

Beatrice Benedict screamed as the garbage disposal ate her arm.


“She’s heavily sedated,” the doctor in the white coat said. “But she’s conscious. You can speak to her now.”

“Thank you,” Ralph Benedict said heavily. His wife lay docile beneath the hospital green of the bedsheets, an IV snaking down to her left wrist and surrounded by beeping machines keeping vigil.

“Ralph?” she said weakly. Her eyes fluttered. “Are you there?”

Her right arm was hidden within the cast. Ralph knew it was a courtesy. A sham to hide an ugly truth. He knew beneath that plaster his wife’s arm was all ground up to hell, a potpourri of flesh and skin and bone. The doctors did what they could, but had already told him she’d never regain use of her arm, let alone her hand, for as long as she lived.

A tear welled in the corner of the burly man’s eye, and slowly wandered down the side of his face. He hadn’t cried since his father’s funeral when he was 11.

“Ralphie,” Beatrice said weakly. “I’m sorry…”

“I’m sorry too,” Ralph said, reaching into his pocket for something. He set it down on the tray above the bed.

“It was in the car,” he said. “Found it beneath the passenger seat on the way home. It must’ve fallen from your finger the other day. You’re just so careless, Bertie, just so damn careless…”

Ralph Benedict’s wife cried.

“I’m sorry, Ralphie!” she sobbed. “I’m so sorry! I just didn’t want you to be mad! I’m so sorry for everything….”

“I know,” he said, rubbing his face with his hands. “I know. So am I.”

He took off his ring and set it down next to the other one the tray over the bed, and it rolled in place in a circle, rattling against the cheap plastic. The monitors behind Beatrice kept their steady pace, but nothing would ever undo what had been done.

Ralph Benedict stood and left. A doctor passed by the open door to the room, and the halls of the hospital continued to smell of antiseptic.

Howl

Constable Shivers coughed and the last bit of spittle fell from his mouth, atop the pile of vomit on the floor that had exploded from his gullet mere moments ago.

“Jesus, I’ve never see anything like this,” he said, coughing one last time and catching his breath.

“I have,” said Captain Driscoll calmly, his pipe still clenched between his teeth.

The body in the corner was recognizable as such mainly from the fact the head remained, the skin upon it slashed in jagged cuts and exposing the bloody bone of the skull. The pile of flesh beneath looked as though it’d been put through a meat grinder: bones were snapped in half, muscle had been torn asunder revealing ligaments and the marbling of fat, and what remained of the body’s entrails were ground to a pulp in a pile nearby.

“My God, such savagery! What kind of man could do this? I fear The Ripper himself has come to Dunlet!” exclaimed Shivers.

Driscoll walked over to the pile of gore and bent down. He picked something up out of the carnage and wiped the blood from it with his handkerchief. Slowly and carefully, he his removed monocle and held the curved white object up to the single gas lamp overhead to examine it.

“This is the work of no man,” he said. “This poor soul was mauled – no, devoured – by an animal.”

“And that is one of the beast’s teeth left behind? My word, it must be enormous! A timberwolf, I’d venture, roaming wild in our streets?”

“No,” Driscoll said, replacing his monocle. He folded the tooth into his handkerchief and tucked it into his pocket. “Behold the door, Shivers. A wild beast has not within in his abilities to open a portal like so.”

Shivers looked down at the long, deep claw marks gouged around the door’s handle.

“It’s been nearly twenty years… I never thought I’d see this day,” said the Captain.

“The Dunlet Howler has returned.”

Vampyres

We came out of the drop and into complete and utter chaos. They were on us before our chutes even hit the ground. Out of the woods into the clearing they came, faces stretched taut in rage, their jaws mashing, their horrible bloodshot eyes burning.

I had my rifle out and was firing before I even got my footing. Brick was already on the ground next to me, screaming, going full auto.

We were overwhelmed.

They overtook Parsons and his rifle fell back with him, the muzzle flashing up into the sky, and I heard him scream as they bit into his flesh. Brick turned and unloaded everything he had into the group they fell like the sacks of meat they were. Still shooting I glanced back over my shoulder and saw all the new recruits had landed further south. It looked like they were being overrun.

I fired at the last one running toward me from the trees but it was too fast. Almost on top of me, lightning fast I bayoneted the fucker. It spat blue blood in my face, then its eyes rolled back. It was already starting to swell when it fell off the end of the blade.

Somehow, against all odds, we took them out. None of the juniors survived. Green, Oslo and Backtrack didn’t make it either. At the end there was only me, Brick and that quiet kid I’d never spoken with, Blohjek. Just us and all those pale swelling bodies, tumescent bags of flesh turning white in the grass of the clearing, surrounded by shell casings.

“He’s gone,” said Brick, and kicked the ballooning corpse of Parsons. “He’s swelling up just like them.” Most of the skin was still there but the puncture wounds were everywhere.

“Come on,” I said, “the rendezvous point’s at the top of the hill.”

We walked and we walked and we walked, on high alert the whole time, but we saw no more of them. Finally we reached the top and set all the gear down. Brick sat on one of the bags and took off his helmet. The kid lit a fag and the cherry glowed in the day’s dying light.

“What the hell is that…?” he said, pointing to the horizon, back from where we came.

Streaks of fire shot up in the sky, long burning pillars of orange light rising from the ground and up into the dull blue-grey of twilight. I picked up the binocs and looked.

It was them. I saw their bodies within the fire, rising up to back from where they came, their swelling shrinking within the flames, the death falling off them and burning away. I saw our guys in there too. They were burning up and becoming part of the cycle just like the rest.

I remember the horrible weight sinking in my stomach, and the glassy reflection of those pillars of fire in Brick’s watering eyes.

“They are reborn,” he said.

Closet Monster

“Mommy, I’m scared! There’s a monster in the closet!” Little Johnnie said, holding the covers up against his face.

Susan Patterson sat on the edge of her young son’s bed, sighing once again as they went through this nightly ritual.

“I told you honey, there’s no such thing as monsters. You’re a big boy now and you needn’t be afraid.”

“But there’s a monster in the closet, Mommy! I saw him! I saw him! He’s gonna get me as soon as you leave!”

Susan rose from the blue rocketships of the young boy’s comforter and walked over to the sliding door of the closet. She slid it aside, revealing the young boy’s hanging shirts.

“See? There’s no monster. I know it’s been hard for you since your Father’s not around any more, but try to be brave, okay son? It’s what he’d want.”

Johnnie shook from behind the shroud of the covers. “Okay Mommy,” he said quietly.

“Good. Goodnight son.” Susan Patterson walked over to the door and flicked off the light.

“Goodnight Mommy.”

Little Johnnie lay back in his bed in the darkness still afraid. He heard a noise, and looked over to the closet with terror to see the other door slowly sliding aside. The monster emerged from the blackness toward his bed, a giant dark shape looming with white eyes and yellowed teeth glinting in the darkness.

“Hello son,” the monster said.

That Escalated Quickly

Everyone is pushing, pushing and shoving – busy, busy, busy in the mall. Everyone in a hurry to get somewhere, anywhere, not sure where but they need to get there fast and shop, shop, shop.

“Hey man, your shoe’s untied,” a hipster with a skateboard says, rudely cutting in front of me and boarding before I can.

The escalator is crowded and I can feel the other bodies around me in my bubble, pushing against my personal space, all standing, rising slowly with the brainless mechanical steps as they complete their transcendence to Pedestrian Transport Valhalla, only to be reincarnated at the bottom as steel amoebas and do it all over again.

I reach the top and the hipster steps off in front of me. I follow him but am jerked back suddenly.

“Dude, your shoelace!”

And then I’m stumbling like an ungainly newborn fawn trying to find its feet. The brainless hungry steel machine is eating my shoelace like a stringy earthworm – pulling it slowly down into its hidden mechanical depths and my leg with it. The other passengers behind are piling up on top of me, alarmed, shouting, not knowing what is happening, trying to get past me.

“Help me! Please!”

The escalator continues churning away, pulling my foot into the tiny crevice between reality and abstract thought where the stairs disappear. The gap is a giant steel mouth with hideous sharpened steel teeth, pulling me in, crunching the bones of my ankle with its monstrous jaws, eagerly devouring its meal, as I can only listen to the sounds of my bones crack and grate against the brainless mechanical beast, helpless.

Reflection

Yesterday I awoke
To find my reflection in the mirror
twisted
bloated
disfigured
monstrous

I feared the worst
but no one noticed
not one on the train
nor the drones at work
not even my wife
only I could see

Now each morning
I awake to find myself
the same abomination
or worse

With every lie I tell
each person I hurt
My face grows more horrible
disgusting
repugnant
inhuman

What I fear most now
is not the face in the mirror
but the knowing
that one day I’ll awake
and find
that everyone else
can see it too

Dispatched

Back in my home country, I could have been a doctor. I came to America to pursue a better way of life, a dream. But I discovered that there are lots of other people in America trying to be doctors too, and my degree from back home wasn’t worth so much compared to theirs.

So now I drive a taxi, like so many other immigrants. I don’t resent it even, I’ve been doing it for almost 5 years now. It’s not so bad, really. If I’d come over here with a family to feed I’m sure it would be a struggle, but it’s just me. I don’t have the nicest apartment, but it’s much better than any place I’d ever have back home, and at least I don’t have to worry about being awoken by the terrifying sound of jets screaming overhead, or bombs being dropped on me.

I’ve found that when you’re a cabbie for a while you start to get the same sorts of questions over and over again from customers – well, the sober ones anyway. Busy night? How long have you been driving a cab for? What’s the largest fare you’ve ever had? What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen?

I get that last one a lot. As a taxi driver you get to see a cross-section of life afforded to few others in this world. You see it all, unfiltered, unedited, unflinching; life, with all its dark corners, and all the sordid vignettes that play out so many thousand times a night unnoticed. I’ve witnessed so many cross-sections of humanity and most of the time they act like I’m not even there.

But the craziest thing I’ve ever seen? The worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my line of work? Well, when the customers ask me about that, I always lie. I always tell them the story about that group of drunk college kids I made the mistake of picking up on St. Patrick’s Day in 2012. They’d stolen a keg from the bar and one of them, a frat boy type, was naked, and threw in up in the backseat.

Why would I lie? Because in order to be a good driver you have to make the customer feel at home. You have to have a good relationship with them, no matter how short their ride is, make them feel comfortable and safe. And if I told any of my customers the real story about the strangest thing I ever witnessed, they wouldn’t feel that way, because it terrified me more than anything else I’ve ever experienced in my life.

I’ve never told anyone else before, so you’ll be the only one. But first I need to tell you about dispatch, and a little bit about what it’s like to be a cabbie – because the strangest thing that I ever experienced as a driver wasn’t something I saw in my cab, but something I heard over the radio.

Dispatch calls out the names and addresses what gets called in, and we on the radio, if we don’t have a fare, answer back to accept, depending on who’s nearby. Of course, sometimes you have a fare picked up off the street, so the car accepting what’s called out by dispatch isn’t necessarily the closest one. And some of the other cabbies were lazy, and would lie about having fares, or say they weren’t nearby when really they were. Some of those assholes would even call out the wrong car number or steal other guys fares, knowing they’d never get caught.

You see, it’s a strange thing to work with people you never actually meet face to face. I mean sure, I come in to work every day and pick up my car, and make sure it’s clean and in good order before I head out, so I’ve met some of the other drivers. Tommy from Nigeria. Hank, the retired guy that used to own the pub down the street. But the majority of the other voices I hear on the radio are nameless, anonymous, coming out of the silence with only a number to identify them.

I’ve never met the dispatchers either, but I’ve gotten to recognize them by the sound of their voices and the way they operate. Michael has a low voice, gravelly and rough, so the other drivers are always asking him to repeat himself. He talks more than he should, too, and jokes around a lot.

I like Navid better. He’s got some kind of accent, I’m not sure what exactly, but his voice is higher and melodious, and he’s all business. When Navid is on dispatch, the company is a well-oiled machine, churning through fares like one of those money-counting machines the tellers use at the bank.

When Navid was on dispatch, the sound coming out over the radio was a mesmerizing symphony: him succinctly calling out the fares, the other drivers taking them, and the chirping and warbling of the radio in between as dispatch and drivers squeezed and released the buttons on their handsets.

“Jennifer, 11 37th Street outside The Green Orb Room.”

“Yup. Car 3134.”

“Thank you. Mrs. Hutchinson on 324 Sycamore. She’ll need help her with her wheelchair.”

“Got it. 1554.”

“Thank you. Avinder at 1919 Wallace Drive.”

“Copy. 5821.”

“Thank you. Mr. & Mrs. Brindley outside the Metropolitan Opera House…”

And on and on it went. It made me happy, and was so much better than working with the other dispatchers, some of who would get caught up in mindless chatter, or even argue with the bad drivers. That always bothered me.

The terrifying thing I ever experienced happened that one night in 2013, the last night Navid ever worked. I was on the late shift, 6-6, and it was probably around 3 AM. I was coming back from a fare I’d taken out to the airport, so I had the long drive on the highway all the way back to downtown, with nothing but the warbling of the radio and Navid conducting the Symphony of the Dispatcher keeping me company. But the melodious tones of Navid’s cheery voice and the chirps and squawks of the radio quickly turned into a dark drama, one that I knew to be real.

“Two cars to Key Lofts at 517 Albion for Melvin and his friends.”

“3814. On my way.”

“Thank you. Someone else?”

“5 minutes, this is 4582.”

“Thank you.”

And then another voice came over the radio, one I’d heard about ten minutes ago, accepting a fare on the outside of town.

“Hello dispatch, this is 4317. I’m out at this house in the Gables, but it doesn’t look like there’s anyone here.”

“4317, please try the number. Dr. Johnson at 451 Oak Street to the airport.”

“OK. 2323.”

“Thank you.”

“Dispatch, I’ve tried the number no one’s answering. Think I’ve got the wrong one, could you say again?”

Navid said the number. “Michelle at 837 University.”

“Got it. 4518.”

“Thank you. Mr. Brindley at…”

“Hello dispatch, I’ve tried the number, there’s still no one there. Could…”

“Cut the chatter please, 4317. Mr. Brindley at 13 Northampton Crescent.”

“Car 1325. Yup.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m going to leave, dispatch there’s nobody here. I think they flagged one.”

“Negative, 4317. Please check the door. Arnold at 9987 15th Street at the Velvet Palace.”

“Copy. This is 3624.”

“Thank you.”

“Dispatch, the front door’s open, something doesn’t seem quite right here. Should we call the police?”

“Negative, 4317, cut the chatter and check the door, I have other cabs to dispatch. Tehmina at Eastsider’s Pub at 582 Monarch Road.”

“1147. Got it.”

“Thank you. David at…”

“Dispatch, there’s something behind the door. It’s too dark inside, I can’t see but…”

“Cut the chatter, 4317!” Navid was getting annoyed, I’d never heard him raise his voice before. “David at 935 Slater.”

“1321. Got it.”

“Oh my god, it’s a man, he’s covered in… no it’s huge… it’s…”

“4317, hello?”

“Holy shit, it’s coming! Oh my god, no! Please! I…”

“4317?”

“…”

“4317? Hello, do you copy?”

“………”

“Hello, 4317? Do you copy….?”

Compound Fracture

I’d never broken a bone before.

The pain was excruciating, it was all I could think about. I scarcely noticed the chaos on the soccer field while the paramedics came. I barely realized I was being loaded onto a stretcher and taken away. I didn’t hear the voices calling my name, or even my own screams of agony. I hardly noticed the exposed white of my bone, poking out from my skin and exposing the surrounding muscle. Because all I felt was the unbelievable pain of my shattered limb.

Once at the hospital and the unreal haze of surgery was over – my arm all done up in a cast, my body all done up with morphine – the doctor assured me everything would be fine. But I told him I still felt a strange sensation; an itching, no, more like something writhing, inside me.

“Itching’s normal,” he said. “It’s just a part of having a cast. Best get used to it.”
“No, you don’t understand,” I said. “The feeling’s inside me. Where the bone broke.”
“Yeah, they’ll be all kinds of sensations while you heal up. Wouldn’t worry about it.”

scribble scribble scribble on the chart. Release form. Out the sliding glass doors. Have a nice day.

The sensation is still there, and it grows worse each day. I can feel it inside my body: squirming, crawling, writhing. I can hear it while I fall asleep, scraping away my flesh and bone in the quiet stillness of the dark.

But lately what terrifies me these nights is not the thought of what’s inside my body, but what will happen when it finally gets out.