The Deafening

December 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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Everyone knows that kid in school, the one who spends half the school year at home because their immune system can’t handle the massive amount of germs and viruses that tend to accumulate in an elementary school. I was that kid. I found myself getting sick every other week. Something in my body was always fighting off illness and fevers were more than common. My doctors didn’t know what was causing it, but since it never was serious enough to warrant a hospital trip, they concluded that I got the short end of the stick as far as my immune system went.

This did not make my mother’s life easy, given that she had recently divorced my father when I started first grade. She needed to be able to go to work and having a sick child made it very difficult. She reluctantly asked my grandfather for help. They had been estranged for years after a fight, but he agreed to take care of me and took us both in.

Moving into my grandfather’s house was a new experience that I had never encountered. It greatly outshone the small apartment my mother and father had lived in, a large Victorian home that had been in the family for generations. It stood three stories tall and had a large yard behind it, leading into a forest. It had fallen into some disrepair over the years as my grandfather had gotten older and with no other children to want the house, he’d stopped caring for it. The neighbors had offered him help fixing it up, but he’d rejected them multiple times vehemently, stating that he didn’t want people in his business.

From what my mother had told me, he’d always been a very cold and unfriendly man, including to her. It didn’t change even around me, always feeling as though he would rather be doing anything other than talking to me. That he even took us in though made me think that there had to be some good in this man, being an optomistic child.

It was shortly after we moved in that my fevers started up. My mother had to work and my grandfather was nowhere near as attentive as my mother was, so he left me to my own devices. They were mild, enough to remove me from school, but after a few hours sleeping past when I would have woken to leave for school, I’d get bored with laying in bed and wander. And for a six year old who spent most of their time alone and stuck in a bed, a huge house was the perfect place to explore.

My bedroom had been set on the second floor, next to the master bedroom so I was always near and able to hear my grandfather’s snoring. There were multiple bedrooms on the third floor, which made me wonder why my grandfather had bought the house when he’d only lived with my grandmother and mother. My first exploration would be of downstairs though.

The kitchen was large and made me wonder how much cooking my grandmother had done when she was still alive. The tiles were chipped in many corners and it was easy for me to hide in the large pantry, thinking that it would be a perfect place to jump out from if someone passed by. Even the oven seemed oversized, darkened with stains from meals past. My grandfather didn’t cook much, but he kept a steady supply of basic things to feed myself and my mother. I had never had much of a problem with foods with a few exceptions, which was surprising when you compared most of my classmates who spent most of their days living on chicken nuggets and sandwiches with the crusts cut off and only grape jelly.

The living room was a bit bare, the carpet worn down and rough to the touch. An old and torn couch stood in front of a television that barely functioned, looking archaic and rabbit ears bent in multiple directions. The scratches on the couch looked animalistic and I wondered if my grandparents had once owned animals and just never bothered to get it fixed. Outside of a set of dusty coffee tables, a flickering lamp and a grandfather clock that rang out with a distorted chime, nothing else interested me in this room. I didn’t imagine that it was used very often.

What was used often was the study. It was where my grandfather spent most of his time, looking over books and writing down words and numbers that were impossible for me to comprehend. Even as an adult, I still struggle with the cryptic poems and drawings that seemed to be his entire life’s work. He’d taken up most of the wall space with bookshelves and stocked them to the ceiling. The constant smell of pipe tobacco wafted out from this room and hung on his clothing. I learned very quickly not to bother him when he was in there. The look he cast to me when I knocked on the door was one of anger and disdain. When I asked what he was working on, he shooed me out of the room and told me to never go in there again, that it was not a room for children.

When the downstairs became boring, I made my way up the stairs and to the third floor. This one was even more empty, nothing but the doors to the bedrooms and a stained bathroom, along with a window that you could see the forest behind the house from. I struggled to see where the forest ended, looking like an endless sea of green and brown, darker as you tried to see further.

I checked the bathroom first. Again, everything seemed a bit oversized, but I was a rather small kid, so I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. The bathtub made me happy, I could practically swim in it. When I leaned in to look, it was stained dark on the bottom, darker than porcelain normally would be, but with how run down the house was, it seemed to fit. I turned on the water and the water came out reddish brown before slowly becoming clear. In older houses, the pipes still had a lot of minerals and rust in them, but it still looked a bit unnerving. Seeing the clear comforted my imagination though, especially when the sink did the same thing.

I did notice something a bit strange when I opened the cabinet under the sink. Far in the back, behind a few cleaning supplies, was a lone and dirty rubber duck. I found it odd because it didn’t seem at all like my grandfather to keep something this childish about, but concluded that it must have been my mother’s when she was younger and just abandoned. Feeling a sense of fondness, I took the duck from the cabinet and did my best to wash it off. The poor thing had been left there so long, when the grime came off from him, his yellow body was almost bleached white. His eyes, once black and shiny, looked grey and lifeless. I still liked the little duck though, and decided to take it with me as I explored.

The bedrooms disappointed me for the most part, looking long unused. There were three all together. The first was the most barren of the three, a long faded blue rug half crumpled on the floor and the bare frames of a twin bed in the corner of the room. The wooden slats on the bottom looked cracked and broken, as though someone had stepped on them or jumped violently on the mattress when it was still there.

The second had a bit more in it, barren bookshelves with a few thin books far too high for me to reach. Again, another abandoned bed frame sat in the corner of the room, missing its mattress as well and in just the same shape as the other bed. By now, I certainly wondered why my grandfather had multiple beds up here and who used to live in these rooms.

In the last bedroom, there was a dresser and eerily enough, a crib. My first thought was that this had been my mother’s when she was a baby. It was very small, a change from so much of the oversized objects in the house, just big enough for an infant. Off to the side of the room was what caught my attention. There was a door in the wall, a small square door that I guessed led to the attic. When I tried to pull the door, I found it was stuck closed fairly tightly. I pulled again and once more, but being out of bed and having been wandering up and down stairs had made me tired. I could feel my body begin to ache and decided that it would be an exploration for another day, dragging myself back down to my bedroom and laying down on my bed, falling asleep. The duck that I had kept in my hand stayed on the pillow beside me.
Someone had their hand on my head, feeling my forehead. There were whisperings above me, but they didn’t sound like my mother or my grandfather. They sounded like kids, people my age. I thought I felt a weight on my chest for a bit. Another hand touched my arm, a small hand. Having had many feverish nights, I thought I was dreaming until I could feel fingernails starting to dig into my arm. The whispers turned to snickers and laughs, something dark. I wanted to open my eyes, but I couldn’t. Something had me pressed down and whatever was laying on my chest was pressing to my throat.

And suddenly…

It was quiet. The hands and whispers were gone. The weight on my throat and chest was gone. I could open my eyes again. When I did, I found the duck sitting on my chest, staring at my bedroom door. It was the evening now and I knew my mother would be getting home. A nightmare, I told myself. A fever dream. I’d had lots of them before, and knew none of them were real, this couldn’t have been real. I rubbed my arm where I had felt the nails, not bothering to see if they had been real or not.

My mother swooped me up when she came home, looking tired and worried, telling me how much she missed me. My grandfather had barely left the room all day and somewhere in my sleeping, he’d left me a sandwich and juice, not wanting to wake me. My stomach still was in a knot, but seeing them both in the house helped to ease my nerves.

I decided that night to take my rubber friend into the bath with me before I went to bed. My mother filled up the bathtub, making a comment of rust in the pipes as the reddish brown water flowed out and then faded into clear, and helping me in. It felt soothing and watching the little discolored duck float was amusing. It almost seemed to smile, being in use again. Remembering, I asked my mom when she got it. She looked confused at me.

“I wasn’t much for baths myself. I never had a rubber duck.”

I gave a small “oh” at her and looked back at it. It had been so dirty, it had to have been there from long before. In the middle of my thoughts, I could hear her cellphone ring.

“Ahh, sorry honey, Mommy will be right back.” She said apologetically, rushing off the get her cellphone and take the call.

Now it was just me and the rubber duck. All alone in the bathtub and not able to see my mother’s figure, the walls of the tub seemed higher and larger, almost growing. I felt like I was shrinking and brought the duck to my body, not wanting to lose him in the water that seemed to be expanding around me. I could hear the same noises from my dream earlier, the same snickers and whispers. The thought that I was still dreaming crossed my mind, or that I was getting sicker, but the sounds were getting clearer and clearer. I could make out two voices, a little boy’s and a girl’s, having a quiet conversation. The third made no sense. It sounded like a baby’s gurgle but it was much too…distorted and almost sounded like choking. They were getting louder. And closer to me. Until it felt like they were over the side of the tub. I felt as though if I brought my eyes up away from the duck in my hand, I would see them. As a hand touched my shoulder, I could contain my fear no longer and screamed for my mother.

Her footsteps stomped to the bathroom and she burst in, frightened and worried for me safety. When I looked up, there was nothing but her in the doorway. No children, no baby. Only me and the duck. I wrapped my arms around her and cried, scared and telling her that someone was there, that someone touched me. She held me and stroked my back, telling me that the fever was making me imagine things, that I was sick and she’d take care of me, make it better. I tried to argue with her, but she told me that crying would make my fever worse and to just breathe, that she was there.

She toweled me off and put me to bed, telling me how important it was that I get better, that she loved me and even though it was hard for her to be here, she always would be and if I really needed her, she’d come. I don’t know what drove me to, but I brought the rubber duck to bed with me. She didn’t seem bothered by it. She even patted its head and said it would be a good dream companion, keep me safe. It may have been my imagination, but when I looked at it before she turned out the light, it almost seemed to smile and its eyes darken a bit.

When my mother turned off the light and left me in the dark, fear gripped my heart for a bit. I had wondered if those strange whispers and creatures were going to come for me when I went to bed. I had heard them before, I was sure of it. Would they wait for me to sleep? Would they just come in the dark? What were they, were they human? I couldn’t close my eyes, I was too frightened. The noises never came though. I could hear my grandfather’s snoring on the other side of my wall and my mother’s softer sleeping sighs as well. I couldn’t stay awake forever, as hard as I tried. I set the duck on the dresser beside me and bid it goodnight before falling back to sleep.
I heard them again. I was sure of it. Footsteps heading towards my bed. I had awoken before they got to me and could hear them. My breath caught and my hand moved slowly over to my dresser, feeling the rubber of the duck and where its head was turned, facing me. I’m not sure what compelled me to do it, but as a kid, you get some crazy ideas of what might help and protect you. In a moment, I grabbed the toy from my dresser and pointed its gaze to the sound, yelling “Go away!”

To my surprise, I heard a pair of tiny shrieks and something move through the open door, small footsteps on the stairs. I panted, holding the toy tight. Someone was there. They were real, I wasn’t imagining it. I wasn’t going to waste any time. I jumped from my bed and dashed into the master bedroom, duck still in my hand.

“Mommy, Grandpa, there’s something upstairs!” I called out, shocking them both and my mother turning on the light. I ran into her arms and buried my face in her chest, telling her of the kids in my room, the talking, that I heard them run up the stairs. My mother tried to calm me down, but my grandfather seemed angry and ripped me from her arms, holding mine and telling me to stop this nonsense and go back to bed, stop telling lies. My mother looked cross at him and told him that I was frightened and should stay with them. He argued that there was no one in this house and I wasn’t going to learn to handle myself unless I stopped being coddled. Not wanting to keep an argument going that late at night, my mother got up and said she’d stay in my bed for the night and keep watch over me. Looking irritated, my grandfather grunted and curled back up in bed, telling her to turn off the damn light on her way out.

My mother held me all night in my small bed. I think she must have been uncomfortable, but she didn’t seem to mind at all. Her warmth was comforting and within minutes, I had fallen back to sleep.

She did this every night for the next three nights, particularly as my fever got worse. The whispers stayed away when she was there, and after the first day, I grew nervous about napping when she wasn’t home. It left me worn out and exhausted, aggravating my illness. I felt a heavy throbbing in my ears and the morning of the fourth day, I couldn’t hear at all.

The doctor had said I had a severe ear infection and needed a lot of rest and antibiotics. It was an unnerving thing, not being able to hear. You take it for granted when you can, all the little things you missed. I wasn’t able to hear the tea kettle in the kitchen, nor the creak of the floorboards as I walked up and down the stairs, nor the sound of birds in the forest out behind the backyard. During this time, the duck, who I had named Leonard, never left my side. Whatever those things were, they didn’t seem to like him. He seemed to like me though and as I carried him around, his eyes seemed to get darker and shinier.

My fever spiked in the night and I could barely move from my bed. My mother watched over me, worried. She wrote things down on a notepad so I could understand what she was saying. She talked to my grandfather a lot and even though I couldn’t hear, I could tell they were fighting by the looks on their faces. When he left, she looked defeated and wrote something down on the paper.

“Mommy will be sleeping in Grandpa’s room tonight. You just call if you need anything, okay?”

I nodded and she kissed my forehead, the little concerned wrinkle in her brow as she turned off the light. I was so tired, that once she left the door, my eyes closed into sleep.

It did not last long though. I realized shortly after I had fallen asleep. I couldn’t hear them! I couldn’t hear if they were coming into my room or not! My skin tingled and a cold sweat started up in my body. My hand scrambled about my dresser, but somehow, I had dropped the duck from its place beside me. It wasn’t there. It wasn’t there! Tears began to form in my eyes, thinking that I couldn’t hear the creatures that were coming in, that my friend, my only friend, was gone and couldn’t protect me. Even calling for my mother wouldn’t work, they’d get me before she got there.

My blood ran cold as I could feel hands, two hands on each arm touch me, hold me down. The pressure returned to my chest. They were here. They were here and there was nothing I could do about it. Tears dripped down the side of my face and something else did. Whatever was on my chest was looking down at me, its head over mine and dripping something thick and cold, putrid smelling. It smelled like the rusted water from the bathtub, but far worse. I could see it staring down at me, small head silhouetted in the darkness by what little light I could see. The ones on the sides were digging their hands into me, and I could feel how slimy their hands were, cold and disgusting. I was sure I was going to die. My throat was being constricted, tiny malformed hands pressing to my neck and choking me. Everything was feeling tighter and tighter around me. The pressure was growing stronger and stronger and their grip on my arms dug into my skin. A feeling of resignation and relief came over me as I began to pass out.

A bright light flashed before my eyes, two small screams could be heard and all at once, it was all gone. I sat up, gasping for breath and heard something fall to the floor. Quickly, I turned on my light and reached for it. It was Leonard. All his color had returned, but it looked as though someone had tried to burn him, black misshapen patches on his body. He looked happy though. I hugged the small toy to me and cried, cried harder than I ever had before. It woke up my mother. I told her I didn’t want to stay here anymore and begged her to go somewhere else, to move, anywhere. She held me close and cried with me and promised me that we’d go somewhere else. Maybe it was the way I was crying or when she saw what looked like dark dried blood on my cheeks and arms, she knew something was deeply wrong.

Thankfully, one of my mother’s coworkers had the kindness in her heart to take us in. We moved out of my grandfather’s house, who barely said a word to us when we left, walking back inside to his study, I imagined. I would not leave Leonard behind. He stayed with me on the move and still stays by my bedside, even as I have long grown into an adult. I did not hear any whispers or feel any more presence in the nights. After that night, my illnesses suddenly cleared. I was able to go to school and function as a normal kid.
When my grandfather died, I was a teenager in high school. My mother called me and asked if I would help move a few things out of the house, though she did ask rather gingerly. I said that I would.

When we returned to the house, close to ten years after we had left, it was in even worse shape than we had remembered. The windows were coming off the hinges, the roof had rotted and fallen in at places from heavy rains and the plant life was overgrown outside the house. We walked inside and the smell was horrendous, reeking of mildew and the vague scent of death. She cringed and asked me to look for anything that may be saved, otherwise to leave it. I don’t think she wanted anything from that house and would have burned it to the ground right then if she could.

I walked into the study and the smell of death was stronger than anywhere in the house. The chair where he had sat often was stained with something unmentionable. I imagined that was probably where he had died. A book lay open on his desk and I picked it up. The text was close to illegible, but I could read small words and dates, March 13th and April 2nd. They showed up repeatedly. I glanced through some of his other books and many were just the same, scattered drawings and journals everywhere. I picked up the ones that seemed the most important and left the room, happy to be out of the smell.
After disposing of the long rotted food in the fridge and pantry, I made my way upstairs, a sense of apprehension in my body. I’m not sure what I expected, it looked just the same as when I had briefly lived there ten years ago. The forest still expanded out into a sea of trees, and even as an adult, I could not see where they ended.

I remembered the second bedroom and the books that were on the shelf and went to see if they were still there. Indeed, they were and I reached up for them. They were photo albums and a journal. The photos seemed to go from the most recent to the older. I looked through and found pictures of my mother, going from a teenager to a child, to a toddler. When I got halfway through, I found other pictures that left me confused. They were pictures of children, a boy and a girl. They looked old and worn away, slightly distorted and black around the edges of it. They were mixed up, but the oldest they seemed to be was around 7 years old. In one particular picture, they were standing and waving to the camera with my grandmother in her younger years. She looked to be pregnant. In another picture was the boy in the bathtub smiling up at the camera. Holding Leonard.

My skin prickled as I stared at the photos. No one had said anything about other children. As far as I had known, my mother was their only child. Why would my grandfather hide this from her, from me, from…anyone? I closed the album and put it in the box with the journals, looking at the other book that had been on the shelf. When I opened it, a small envelope fell out. It had never been sealed shut. With a shaking hand, I opened it and pulled out the documents. They were birth and death certificates. The dates…1950 to 1957. 1951 to 1957. Causes of death, drowning. And…my grandmother’s. 1922 to 1957. Cause of death, suicide. Down in the doctor’s notes, it detailed her autopsy.

“The patient suffered multiple self inflicted wounds to the stomach and chest. The largest wound was created on the lower abdominal region and ruptured the uterus and small intestine. A brief blood sample and the expanded uterus lead to belief that the woman had been pregnant. Blood and amniotic fluid had been found around the woman’s mouth, as well as unknown flesh found in her teeth. No infant body was discovered with her and investigation is still in progress.”

This…was sickening. Was I reading this right? It was saying that…my grandmother had killed herself and tried to eat her own child? There was no death certificate for any infant in the bunch. Had they never found it? I looked through the book, searching for anything that would give me a clue about the children, what had really happened. There were places in the book where pages had been torn out. I searched the room desperately and found them having fallen behind the bookshelf. The writing was not my grandfather’s, it was far too neat and legible. The first page had the date of March 12th, 1957.

“They’re gone. I can’t…even believe it. My babies. He won’t even look at me. He thinks I did it. I turned my back for a minute. Just a minute….what a cruel world, to take ones so young. He keeps staring at me. Those eyes are burning holes in me, I can’t stand it. He’s looking at the young one in my stomach. He’s thinking I’ll drown it too. That man…he won’t hold me, won’t comfort me, won’t shed a tear for them.

What if he’s right though? The thought of my child coming into this world and losing them…no! No, I can’t let it happen! I can’t let them suffer, breathe in this foul air of the world, to be forced into existance just because I wanted another child…how selfish am I? I need…to help him. Save him from this world, but…I can’t bear losing another. What will I do?”

The second page seemed to be a letter. I was marked with the date of April 2nd. I tried to wipe off the dirt that seemed to be staining the page before I realized what the splotches and stains actually were: long dried blood. My body trembled and I feared what it would say. How long had my grandfather been hiding this? Against my better judgement, I carried on.

“my darling child,
i don’t have much time. i held you today, covered in my life and fluids, cut from my womb. you’re crying so quiet, i didn’t think you’d be so big, able to cry. i had hoped you’d be small enough to just sleep. even though you’re not ready, you look so beautiful. i made a mistake. don’t worry baby. i’ll put you back, then we’ll go together. i’ll bring you back in my body before we leave this world. then you won’t ever be alone. Mommy loves you so”

The letter seemed to cut off there and a trailing pen mark led off the paper, which made me guess that my grandmother had lost consciousness while writing it. My hands were shaking violently and tears had stared to form in my eyes. I dreaded the thought of showing this to my mother, finding out her mother was…No. I’d keep this to myself. She didn’t need to know. I put the letters back into the envelope and took the album and the book. I’d clear out the album when I got home, give her pictures and burn the others. They somewhat looked like someone had already tried.

The last room to inspect was the third bedroom. The roof had collapsed over this one and rotted wood and tiles lay scattered about. The crib that had been there before seemed to be missing. I was about to turn and leave, seeing nothing of value to take when I remembered and a chill went through my spine. The attic. I had never made it in as a kid. Given what I had found on the bookshelf, I thought of just leaving it be. I didn’t want to know. But…I knew I had to.

With a yell, I yanked open the door, feeling it snap at the top hinge. The smell of dust and dampness seeped out. I could barely see inside, but there was a light bulb hanging inside. My hand searched the side of the wall and found the switch when I crawled inside. What I found made me scream out loud.
The crib that had been in the room before had been put in there. The floorboards were stained all over underneath it. Inside the crib, the small mattress was covered with a red and black sludge, looking like it was slowly breathing, gasping for air. It moved and what looked like a misshapen and contorted face. It opened its mouth at me and let out that same gurgling cry I heard so many years ago.

I did not stay any longer. I scrambled out the small door, slammed the attic door shut and grabbed the box, running out of the house faster than I had ever moved. My mother caught me outside and asked what was the matter. I told her that something was living there, something that needed to die, that we needed to get away. She worked to calm me down and got me to the car, driving off as fast as she could to get us back home.

I never went back. I never stepped foot in the neighborhood again. My mother told me a few years after that, a storm had caught fire to the roof and the entire thing lit up and collapsed from poor care. I gave my mother the journals and took the photos of the children, my grandmother’s entries and the death certificates. I tried to burn them, but they would not catch fire, as hard as I tried, only blackening the edges. The documents and pictures are kept far away in a storage of mine, hidden there to be forgotten and abandoned when I die or for someone who knew nothing of her or our family to find one day, far off in the future.

I do not know or care if that thing…is still alive. What I know is that Leonard still remains by my bedside at night. His head is always, always turned to the door. My husband thinks I’m crazy, but tolerates it. I won’t let him turn on the radio at night. I can’t take the chance of not hearing the whispers again if they ever do return. He says he doesn’t like the silence at night.

He doesn’t know what the real silence is.

Credit To – Ariane M.D.

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December 1, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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I recall when we first found the grove. The trees glowed, illuminated by late sunlight coming in shafts down into the valley, the thick smell of decaying fruit rising up toward us, sweet and sour and wonderful.

I was part of a six-person research team looking into water quality fluctuations in the Sierra valley system, following watercourses and comparing their biodiversity. In pursuit of one specific stream, we’d squeezed through a narrow crevice canyon that eventually opened up into a verdant, enclosed ecosystem rich with plants and animals previously unknown to science. That sort of thing isn’t unheard of in the region – the Andean mountains are full of such tiny pockets of life, totally cut off from each other by high mountain walls, creating Galapagos-like isolation.

But the trees – those really were the discovery of a lifetime, for any botanist or explorer – and I was both. The local natives (Puruhá) called them ‘Witch Berries’, or something like that, according to our guide. I speak very little Quichua, so I had to trust his translation. It’s not an unfitting name, though – they were bewitching. Endemic to just one valley in Ecuador, which was later made into a protected reserve, the small trees were not only beautiful, with arching, pendulous boughs and long, distinctive leaves; green above and pink below, but they also produced flowers and fruit in amazing quantity.

Walking into the grove, the berries were everywhere, emitting a heavenly scent, and we could not resist sampling, even knowing we risked poisoning. Taking some back to camp, they were run through our field toxicity test without any problems, and after we’d gone several days without any ill effects, we went back to the grove and picked hands-full of the fragrant fruit. Orange-pink, grape-sized oblong berries with a thin, fig-like skin, and a ripe mango texture. And the flavor – like burnt brown sugar and melted butter drizzled on perfect strawberries. They also dried easily, and held up unrefrigerated for nearly a week before spoiling. Almost immediately, talk of cultivation and marketing overtook our discussions, we foresaw ‘witchberries’ being the next big thing in supermarkets all across the world – and our visions soon danced with the money to be made!

The Puruhá didn’t seem too happy about us taking branch samples or eating from the trees – no doubt we were offending their religion and angering their Gods somehow – they had some sort of taboo about eating the fruits raw, which we didn’t understand, and dismissed as superstition. They used the berries for various medicinal and ceremonial purposes, cooking, drying, and grinding the fruit into a fine powder. It was easy to categorize their reverence as being similar to other cultures’ superstitions about pomegranates, apples, or honey.

So we took the cuttings back to our greenhouses in Kent, only to be pleasantly surprised by how readily they rooted and grew, thriving in warm, humid shade. Inside of five years, they started flowering, and we arranged an industry party to celebrate and taste the first crop grown in the UK. I lost track of how many people shook my hand, congratulated me and my teammates, and gushed positively about our find.

Oh but of course, we couldn’t say we -discovered- the plant, the indigenous people of the region knew about them long before us, and we had already made plans to send a small portion of the profits from our venture to the Puruhá, to improve their lives and to protect the tiny valley the trees came from.

The tasting party went off without a hitch, and we got a plethora of preliminary offers, not only from within the UK, but Europe and the USA as well. Of course, the fruit still needed FSA approval, but since the trees produced year-round with sufficient fertilizer, we could start shipping as soon as we were certified. Since our own labs had already investigated them pretty thoroughly, we knew it wouldn’t be a long process. With luck, we’d be able to get the next crop out by December, just in time for the big rush on tropical fruit for the holiday season. And when the certificates arrived, I brought in some champagne for us all.

We were, of course, fools. Not stupid, we were all educated scholars. Well, except Paul Dimsey, he was a photographer. But no amount of research or knowledge could have prepared us for the worst. I, in particular, was so blinded by fortune and success that even when I saw the signs that something was wrong, I didn’t pay attention to them. I didn’t want to. And for that I take full responsibility.

There’s a disease called ‘Pica’ that affects people with certain neurological conditions or dietary deficiencies, and it is characterised by the sufferer eating non-food items or substances. In some cases, pennies, buttons, small sundry objects… in others, clay or dirt. It was the latter that I caught Nick Blessed up to in the greenhouse, perhaps three days after we’d packed our first shipment and kissed it goodbye. He was eating the moist black soil straight out of a large plastic bag, and when he saw me watching him, he immediately stopped, guilty-faced and stuttering. He called me ‘Miss Torgersen’, instead of my first name, and tried to hide what he had been doing.

I asked him if he was feeling alright, and he abashedly admitted to me he’d had the condition his entire life, it just… happened to come and go at odd times. I told him I understood; though really, I was surprised. He’d never mentioned it, and he’d always seemed very open and jovial about his life. But then, I’d reasoned, some people act that way to better hide their secrets. Still, something felt off about the entire thing.

I regretted not listening to my instincts when Dr. Hanlon came to my apartment a little less than a week later. He asked to come in, and I offered him a drink. “Bless you, girl.” He said, and I poured us whiskey on the rocks. We weren’t best friends, but we’d spent a lot of time talking on our trip. I think our mutual love of a good bottle pushed us into each others’ company – the others in our team didn’t drink, and didn’t find our rowdiness after a few as mutually endearing as we did. Dr. Hanlon; Eugene outside office hours, hadn’t come for my delightful presence, but to talk to me about something far more problematic.

He asked me if I had felt any strange urges recently, for example, the urge to eat anything… unusual. Eugene was edging around the true crux of his question, so I supplied it for him.

“You mean like soil?” As I said it, his face stiffened. I’d hit the bullseye. I told him I’d walked in on Nick earlier, and he nodded, then told me it wasn’t just the one. He liked to sneak into the greenhouses for a tipple here and there between his appointments, and he’d spied three people – all members of our expedition – snacking on black humus. We discussed the situation for a good long while, consuming half of my bottle of Glenfiddich.

The possibility of having brought back with us some exotic tropical parasite came quick to our minds, though Eugene and I weren’t experiencing any odd urges yet. Still, I was worried, and sought a clinic as soon as they were open the next morning.

I went back to the campus in the afternoon, to ask Eugene to help me convince the rest of the expedition team to get themselves tested. There was initial resistance, everyone seemed to feel fine, even those who we knew were snacking out of the garden bed. Especially those, which just made us more worried. Our concerns were taken seriously by the department head, who ordered mandatory testing for everyone who’d been on the expedition – as well as anyone who’d been in extended contact with us, or been in the greenhouses for any length of time.

Everyone in the department submitted to various scans and samplings without argument, including the soil-eaters, their smiles so certain that nothing was amiss. And they seemed to be right. There was nothing new or unusual in any of their samples, no strange bacterias, viruses, nematodes, no extreme nutritional elevations or deficiencies, nothing to indicate why some of them were having such odd cravings.

Testing did reveal those who were affected – crapping dirt is hard to miss. Seven people came up positive for soil-eating, which meant that whatever it was had spread to at least four people who had not gone to Ecuador with us. Suddenly, the situation was -far- more serious. If the disease could be spread, it could get out, and nobody had any idea what it was, or how it was transmitted. More people started showing symptoms, some reporting right away – others only admitting their condition after they’d succumbed to dirt hunger. All the while, the lab techs ran themselves ragged looking for an explanation, but it was only after ruling out just about every cause for the symptom they could think of, that one of the techs finally noticed something common to those who’d been afflicted: Witchberry.

Well, we’d all been eating them. Some more than others, apparently. But these folks most of all. More specifically, they were finding -lots- of chewed seeds in the subjects’ stool. When asked about it, all of the unaffected said that they specifically avoided eating the seeds, while the others did not. So we had an obvious suspect, but we’d waited too long before looking at the fruit. Hundreds of pounds had already been shipped all around the world, and while we could shut down the farm and stop production, a recall and the potential panic it could cause seemed unreasonable. If we could just figure out how to mitigate the effects, maybe the situation could be salvaged.

And then the symptoms just… went away. The dirt-eaters’ cravings evaporated a few days after they’d stopped eating the fruit, starting with those who’d developed them first. They’d experienced some mild withdrawal symptoms, but it seemed the problem had resolved itself. Still, we had a lot of work on our hands. If it was just the seeds that were the problem, we could deal with that, all was not yet lost.

So we halted shipping, and on the advisement of our legal department, sent out a statement advising people not to eat the seeds, or, if they had already been eating seeds, to stop doing so. Arrangements were coming along nicely to buy a modified olive-pitting machine, that would target and elimiate the problem area. A lot of our profits were going down the crapper, since cut fruit wasn’t as shelf-stable, and we needed special packaging to keep it from spoiling – but some income is still better than none. Or none and a legal fiasco. Looking back, I would have taken that legal fiasco happily.

Dr. Godorr had been transferred to another office, so I didn’t hear about him right away. He’d been depressed since the Pica incident, and talked about quitting, but it was still strange that he’d just disappear. A police detective came by to ask us a few questions, but I got the impression he wasn’t very optimistic.

Two weeks later, another member of the expedition team went missing. She just didn’t show up one morning. The same detective came back around, but didn’t seem to remember having talked to me before. He just gave the impression of general disinterest in the case. There was a lot of pica talk in the department, both of those who’d vanished were recovered dirt-munchers. It quickly became a department-wide rumor – the witchberry curse. One of the others who’d showed symptoms early on became so anxious that she simply quit, another went on extended vacation, and a third came into work high until he got a suspension. I never heard from any of them again.

It was fall when I received a letter on my desk. I opened it to find a complaint from the resource management office, upset that our department was using a greenhouse unit we hadn’t requisitioned or been granted the use of, and that if we didn’t move the new plantings, they would be destroyed.

New plantings? I called Eugene Hanlon first, and then Maggie Hershbaum, the only other people who might use the greenhouses for personal projects. Though even then, they’d have needed to apply for them with resource management. Neither of them admitted to knowing anything about it.

I asked them to meet me at the unit mentioned in the letter, curious (and slightly irritated) about what was going on. I’d rarely even been in that unit, since it was out on the end row, a long way from our crops. Even if I felt like putting anything in, there was no logical reason to go do it out there. After work, I hiked up to the last row of greenhouses in grey drizzle. Maggie was already there when I arrived, and Eugene made it only a few minutes after. The unit in question was unlit, and I flipped the switch so my companions could read the letter. They agreed it was odd, but sometimes our students get odd ideas for projects, and they’re notorious for failing to follow procedure with some of these things.

As promised, there were a number of seedlings growing in one of the plots. They were perhaps seven or eight inches tall, representing a couple weeks’ growth. Healthy and robust despite being in an unheated, unlit unit. They had the elegant pink and green leaves of Witchberry.

“Maybe someone’s trying to selectively breed them.” Eugene rubbed a leaf, “Make them hardier.”

“Noble, but misguided.” I noted a spade left on the floor in the aisle, and picked it up. “We’ll need to move them. Maggie, could you get a pallet?”

I remember pushing the spade into the soft, loose soil around the seedlings, working down and pulling up. I remember the -rip- of fabric, and when I lifted the spade, the dull sound of dirty brown bones coming up all tangled with the roots. I didn’t recognize what I was seeing until I looked closer, down into the hole I’d made, and saw a human jawbone with still-white teeth shining out of the dark, loamy earth.

I think I went into shock at that point, since I don’t recall much else of that night, and had to be filled in later by Maggie. Within an hour, police had swarmed the greenhouses, Eugene, Maggie and I were taken to a hotel and questioned repeatedly. I was in a daze, Maggie told me, and not very responsive. Forensics specialists dug up all the greenhouse plots with any sign of recent soil disturbance, including the original crop trees, which were moved into a storage facility in plastic tubs. The bones I had found had been those of Paul Dimsey, who had actually been the first of our expedition to go missing – but he wasn’t an employee of the university, having been hired on contract, and he lived alone. I hadn’t even known he’d gone absent. Five corpses were found inside the greenhouses – and three more in some nearby woods, each one indicated by a small cluster of pink and green saplings.

Evidence suggested that the deceased had actually buried themselves, sometimes using their bare hands to dig a hole big enough to lay in, and then pull the freshly-turned earth back in over their own bodies. Of course, not everyone who’d eaten the seeds ended up in self-made graves. A couple were found decaying in their beds, with sprouts attempting to grow through the blankets. Others were still alive, but now experiencing fatigue and abdominal heaviness. And a good percentage showed no symptoms at all, regardless of how much of the fruit they’d eaten.

CT scanning revealed what earlier tests and X-rays had missed: Some of the seeds, swallowed whole, had implanted themselves into the victims’ intestinal walls, and germinated there. Invisible to the immune system, they’d quietly spread soft, fine roots all through the bodies of their human hosts, feeding and storing energy until they were ready to progress to the next stage. Somehow, the plants made their hosts want to bury themselves, their corpses providing fertilizer for the fast-growing trees.

Efforts were made to remove the parasitic plants from the still-living victims, but the surgery proved more deadly than the parasites. And worse, new cases of soil-eating Pica were starting to emerge in every place we’d shipped the damned berries. A full recall was ordered, the fruit gathered and destroyed, but there was little way of knowing how many people ignored the recall, or had already been infected.

Eugene and I went to be more thoroughly scanned, and again, we came up clean. We went for a few drinks to celebrate our one small mercy, and talked about the future. We were pretty certain the entire department was going to be scrapped. We’d be lucky to keep our jobs once the full legal reprecussions came down on us. It would be the last time we’d see each other.

It’s quite amazing how efficient the media and government can be at hiding a crisis in plain sight. The public was scarcely aware of any of this happening. Witchberries vanished from collective awareness, and a few (dozen) people came down with an unrelated illness in each of the countries we’d shipped to.

A cure was, in fact, discovered in time to save some of those people. There was a pattern to who did or did not get infected – the immune were all regular drinkers of hard liquor, like Eugene and myself. I don’t know about Maggie, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Beer or wine wasn’t strong enough to kill the seeds, it had to be something at least 30 proof. Hospitals prescribed vodka and scotch, and patients drank to their health.

Sadly, this came too late for some. Once they’d passed the Pica stage, the growth in their bodies became resistant to treatment. Or, even if they did manage to kill the parasite, the damage it had done to the host’s organs by that point was often irreversible and terminal. Some waited too long – or simply did not, or could not, seek medical treatment. This included a lot of people in the United States, who lacked any form of medical coverage. For those who got such a prognosis, suicide was vastly preferred over letting nature take its course, but the numbers didn’t make much of a blip on the world radar. People kill themselves all the time.

Witchberries are now illegal, though I’m certain there’s a black market supplied by backyard growers. The cure for infection is now well-known folklore, and new cases of dirt-eating Pica are rare.

I’ve moved on, I don’t work at the university anymore, I rarely travel, and I prefer meat and bread over greens. I do not eat fruit of any kind. And now and again, when I see a sapling coming up with pink and green leaves, I kill it.

Credit To – Smoke

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November 30, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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I’ve noticed a spot forming on the dining area wall in my apartment. I figure I should call someone about it, but I’ll have to worry about it later. I gotta concentrate on the work load I have waiting for me back at the office. I don’t have time to call and make appointments about some weird black spot.

My work day is as busy as I figured it would be. There’s just a lot to get done with my deadline creeping up at the beginning of next week. At lunch I mentioned that spot on my wall to one of my co-workers. He told me that a mixture of water and bleach should clear it right up. If I can get home and clear that up tonight, that would be one issue off my mind. I’ll try to remember that water and bleach thing when I get home.

Finally made it home. I had to stay late to complete phase one of my work load so I can stay on schedule. Time to try that mixture on my wall, though I’m not too clear on how much bleach to use. As long as that spot goes away, I think I’ll be fine. I guess I’ll just use an old kitchen rag to clean that spot before I cook myself some dinner and go to bed.

Another day another dollar. Good news, that spot is gone, but I have noticed a weird smell… Maybe I used too much bleach, I dunno. The smell should be gone by the time I get home. Time for some scrambled eggs, toast and coffee and see what’s on the news. Bad news, it seems that there’s another missing person with no clues at this point. I guess I’ll keep an eye out.

Work was just another rat race for this guy. All this work will make that cheese taste all that much better. I hope I get finished this Friday so I can enjoy a stress free weekend. Okay, there’s definitely something wrong with that mixture I used ’cause that smell is still here. I’ll give it another day, but if it doesn’t get any better I’ll definitely have to call someone. In the meantime, I’d better get some rest.

Well, it’s the next day and I think that smell is still sorta here. Maybe I’m used to it. Well, no time for that now. I think I’ll be able to finish my work load and get ready for an awesome weekend. I’ll just go ahead and make a few phone calls during lunch to get someone over to my apartment to inspect my wall and that smell.

Okay, I scheduled someone to come over Friday afternoon, tomorrow, to inspect my wall. I’ll be able to finish my job assignment in the morning and I at least have a good reason to get off work a little early. Sounds pretty good to me. Sounds like I’ll just have to spend one more night in a smelly apartment before I can let loose this weekend. My assignment is pretty much in the bag so I think I’ll get off work a few minutes early to try and beat the traffic and get some well deserved rest.

I decided to pick up some dinner on my way home from work so I don’t have to cook in that smelly kitchen. I think I’ll eat in my bedroom tonight with the door closed and seal it up the best I can. As I walk into my apartment, that smell hit’s me in the face causing me to cough and gag. Thinking fast I open a few windows and crank up my A/C to air out my apartment.

Once I feel like I can breath again, I venture into the dining area… That spot is back and bigger than ever. It also appears to be leaking some sort of dark fluid. As I get closer I have to shield my nose and mouth from the thick odor with my coat sleeve. Oh God, I can still sort of taste it. My mouth begins to salivate in preparation for any vomiting that I may do.

Forget waiting until tomorrow, I need someone to take care of this now. As I inch my way closer I call up the maintenance person I had scheduled. After a few rings he answers and I quickly tell him the problem I had has gotten worse and can’t wait till tomorrow. I give him a quick run down and he assures me that he’s only a short drive away and he’ll be around in a few minutes. I hang up and at this point I’m right next to the wall and my eyes begin to water.

As I stare at the spot with squinting tear filled eyes I notice something. Something small and white poking out of the black spot. With my free hand I grab a napkin off the table and wipe the small protrusion. As I do some of the black spot around the area falls away. Startled I step back and notice the napkin has been stained red. I look back at the newly formed hole on the black spot.

At this point I have a gut wrenching realization. That sharp, white protrusion… is that a broken piece of bone? With my mind overcome with shock and dumb curiosity, I nudge at the hole with my foot. As the rest of the black spot begins to crumble away my mind flashes with thoughts… I’ve noticed a spot…worry about it later…a lot to get done… water and bleach… spot gone… smell…Bad news it seems… another missing person…rat race… smell… finish my work… make phone calls… another missing… smell… finish job assignment tomorrow… another… no clues… smell… pick up some dinner… smell… spot… no clues… missing.

I wake up to the sound of my door buzzer ringing in my head. As my memory begins to flood back, I scramble to my feet and answer the door. It’s repair man I called. I’m rambling trying to explain what happened. The only clear words I think I was able to blurt out were, Police, in the wall, missing persons, black spot. As I gesture to the wall my eyes lock onto the small heap of rotten body parts on the floor and everything goes black again.

Okay It’s been a couple days, my weekend was hell. I had to spend it away from my apartment which is now a crime scene and I was bombarded with a lot of questions. After everything settled down I was able to find out that one of my neighbors had been abducting people in the area. It’s unclear when and how he would kill them, but once he did… he would… eat his victims.

The body count is unknown, but it seems that he’s recently become a bit picky with the cuts of flesh that he would eat. That’s why missing person reports have gone up in my area lately. I mean he would abduct a person, take the certain flesh he wanted and dispose of the rest. Figuring he can’t flush or trash his leftovers he decided the next best thing would be to hide his scraps in the walls. my stomach turns just thinking about it.

After getting those details I was given more bad news. Once they figured out which apartment the remains were coming from, they found that the tenant had already vacated. The name and info attached to the apartment belongs to a dead man. With no more clues and no leads to go on, he remains at large.

As much as I don’t want to stay in my apartment, I guess I have no choice. Now that the police know he’s been here, they’ll be keeping a look out and so will I. As for the rest of you, who live in apartments, keep an eye on any weird spots on your walls and sleep tight.

Credit To – Creepy Jonez

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Kystlich Syndrome

November 29, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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The first known case of Kystlich Syndrome occurred in Bonn, Germany on June 27, 2014. The media was all over it, of course, due to the grisly and disturbing nature of the event, but stayed with the story due to the unraveling strangeness that emerged as more details emerged. On that day, police initially responded to a report that a mob of people had attacked and seriously injured a person on a side street in a shopping district. When first responders arrived on the scene, they were shocked at what they found. Over a dozen people scattered around a wide side walk in various stages of shock. They were all covered in blood and gore, covering their shirts, arms, face and especially on their hands and around their mouths. Some of them were weeping openly, some were catatonic, and a couple appeared to be trying to induce vomiting by sticking their fingers down their throats. However, this was not the most unsettling aspect of the scene.
Lying roughly near the center of the assembled group was a human corpse, though this wasn’t immediately obvious. The corpse was in taters, with its chest cavity torn open, most of the face shredded, and several limbs mangled and broken, with the right arm actually having been separated from the rest of the body and dragged several yard away. The most disturbing aspect of the victim, however, was the nature of the wounds. Cursory inspection revealed that most of the wounds to the body had been inflicted by human teeth.

Several eyewitnesses would later recount the same story to the police. The victim had been walking down the street, doing nothing out of the ordinary, when he stopped to check a bus schedule. It was then that several people passing by him had suddenly stopped, and turned their attention to the man, who seemed oblivious to the sudden attention. A few moments later, witness claim that the passersby leapt at the man, knocking him down and tearing at him with teeth and fingernails. The attackers made animalistic grunts as they rent the man asunder, some tearing flesh free with their teeth and eating it, while others shoved large handfuls of organs into their mouths and devoured them. By far the most disturbing aspect was the account of several patrons of a shoe store directly across from the site of the attack. One person had left a nearby shop, screaming and brandishing a long pipe at the attackers to drive them off, but when he got within a couple yards of the attack, he suddenly came to a halt, as if dazed. Several seconds later, he had dropped the weapon, and joined the attackers in their savage dismemberment of the man.

What startled the police most, however, was the behavior of the attackers after the attack. After the attack had been going on for over a minute, the attackers suddenly stopped. Some witnesses described it as though they appeared to be coming to their senses, and then they began screaming. Many of them scrambled away from the body, retching, while others simply fell back and went catatonic. One attacker, an elderly woman, lost consciousness and would later pass away from heart failure. The police rounded up all the attackers, and carted them off to the police station. Several hours of interrogation and background investigation would only deepen the mystery.

The people were all complete strangers, unrelated by any factors other than their proximity to the victim when the attack occurred. They were mostly coherent now, and as coherent as you could expect given their circumstances. Most showed deep revulsion at what they had done, but couldn’t adequately explain what had happened, only that they had been overcome by an uncontrollable urge to attack and devour the man, and how his flesh had tasted delicious to them, right up to the point when they had regained control of themselves. This led to the investigators nicknaming it Kystlich Syndrome, after the German word for “Delicious”. Eventually, they were all quietly sent to mental health institutions for treatment of their ‘temporary’ psychosis.

News organizations speculated wildly about the attack. A thrill kill gang, a secret cult of cannibals, a viral marketing stunt for a new zombie movie and other theories floated around for most of the following weeks, right up to the second attack. This attack occurred in a small village in China, this time involving several people in a street market attacking and devouring a vendor whose stall they’d been near. The same pattern was described, the people suddenly freezing before attacking the man, the same gory attack, and the same sudden cessation of hostilities followed by horror on the part of the attackers. The government media was quick to cover up the attack, though stories of it managed to leak out through the usual internet channels.

By now, several multinational agencies had become involved, looking for a pattern in the attacks, the main suspect being some here to for unknown religious cult or gruesome drug cartel. It wasn’t until the third attack, ten days later, that the true nature of the attacks would start to be uncovered.

The third recorded incident occurred in London, in a heavily monitored portion of the downtown area. The footage of the attack, which eventually leaked out to the internet, showed the same pattern of attack as the previous two incidents, though this time, a string of events would shed further light on the true nature incidents. The attack occurred along a busy street, and this time, the victim, a young man in excellent physical health, managed to break free of his attackers and run out into the street. His attackers pursued him, but the man and those following closest were struck by a bus as they entered a bus lane. Those behind them pulled up moments after the bus struck and dragged their intended victim several yards down the road, and this seemed to cause whatever had come over them to release its hold, and they seemed to regain their senses, though they were clearly in a state of shock. The young man himself was apparently killed the moment the bus struck him. This footage and a subsequent autopsy would lead to the discovery of the horrific truth behind the incidents.

An autopsy of the body, complete with chemical analysis, showed an unknown chemical in the body of the young man. This chemical was present throughout the body, but mostly in the blood and on the skin of the deceased. This chemical was determined to be a previously unknown aromatic hydrocarbon compound that had been produced by his bodies own glandular system. This chemical would then begin to waft off the person, become airborne, and would enter surrounding people through the mucus membranes of the nose and mouth, finally accumulating in the olfactory and cranial nerves. When present at a high enough concentration, the hydrocarbons would begin causing something akin to a ‘short circuit’ in those nerves. What followed was cascade of neurological reactions would then ‘supercharge’ the part of the brain associated with hunger, quickly overwhelming the conscious mind , banishing higher thought, and causing them to go into an animalistic state where they needed to devour the source of the ‘smell’. The hydrocarbon itself was unstable, and once it came in contact with air, it would begin to break down. This was what had limited the radius of the attackers. It also explained why they had ceased their attack after the death of the victim, as exposing the inner workings of the body would expose the chemical to air without any source of replenishment, causing it to disperse and release its hold.

The chemical had only been detectable in the accident victim due to the circumstances of his demise. By the time stunned onlookers had rushed to aid him, he had already passed away. The chemical present in his spilled blood and on his skin had diminished enough to not affect those who approached the body. However, with the cessation of vital functions caused not by consumption of said organs by other humans, enough tissue to sample was still present and find traces of the chemical.

Needless to say, the governments of the world worked quickly to keep these findings under wraps. They began looking for a source of the change in the glandular system. Bioterrorism was suspected, and across the globe, intelligence agencies worked overtime to try and find any signs the disease had been manufactured by the usual rogue’s gallery. Researchers worked feverishly to try and find a food or airborne vector, but to little avail. The incidents continued to occur, but did not accelerate in frequency, nor did a geographic common point emerge. It wasn’t until late 2015 that the answer emerged. In early 2014, astronomers had begun to register an unusual subatomic particle burst originating from deep space. They had no clear source, and were not particularly plentiful, but it did make some news for its quirkiness about how little we understood about subatomic particles. Researchers continued to gather data on these particles, but in September 2015, a Spanish government researcher noticed a correlation between these bursts and the attacks, with bursts being recorded in the general area the victims had been in hours before the attack. Studies would reveal that these particles, passing through the human brain, would spark the process to alter the human glandular system.

This information led to a flurry of activity from the governments of the world. The announced to the world the existence of Kystlich Syndrome and its cause in February 2016, and assured the citizens of the world they were working on a solution. Till then, they advised people to wear air filtering devices when going around in public and to wear newly designed devices that would detect when your body began to emit the hydrocarbon so you could make your way to a hospital for isolation. But this was where the problems began.

It soon became clear, thanks to tests on victims who managed to reach isolation before it was too late, that the alterations in their glandular could not be reversed without causing fatal reactions in the human body. Furthermore, the high energy particles turned out to be impossible to block without extremely expensive and difficult to produce materials. Several years of fruitless experimentation couldn’t change these two factors, and the bursts showed no signs of stopping. Some people suggested developing the particle detection system further, but it finally decided that it wasn’t worth it, since knowing it had occurred was akin to closing the barn door after the horses had gotten out. One of the few pieces of good news was they also didn’t show any signs of increasing either. Meanwhile, governments had begun to enact mandatory respirator laws in order to prevent attacks, but these were met with surprising resistance. After all, the chances of a given person being exposed to a person experiencing the peak of Kystlich Syndrome were very slim, less than 1% of 1 % of 1% for a given person’s lifetime, less than the odds of being struck by lightning, one famous statistician showed. And so, the laws were eventually repealed, replaced at first with campaigns urging citizens to wear them, until these were eventually defunded. Furthermore, it was argued, that it was unjust to punish those who had perpetrated these attacks, since they had been overwhelmed by the foreign chemical in their body, and couldn’t resist. Soon, laws began to spring up making Kystlich Syndrome an acceptable defense in court, and the attackers would often receive government aid in order to help them recover from the trauma of the attack.

That was all years ago, and here in 2037, we don’t really think too much about it. It’s like getting struck by a car or attacked by a wild animal; it’s just something that can happen. Oh, we have taken steps as a society to deal with it. Young children are taught about the condition in health class at a young age, in order to engrain in them the necessary tools to avoid being traumatized by it. It teaches them what the sensation of hunger would be like, and that, scientifically, it’s no different than eating raw meat. These programs, in place since 2020, have been designed by experts, and have been largely effective at helping avoid long term psychological damage. It’s not something they can control after all. We don’t even really monitor for the bursts anymore. Just some spot checks to confirm they are still occurring.

It was just last week, however, that news has begun to circulate around the internet about an attack in New York City. A pair of teens attacked a homeless man in an alley, and devoured much of his body. They had passed lie detector test that they had been overcome by a tremendous urge to eat him, and that he looked delicious. However, enough was left for a Kystlich compound test. Apparently, no sign of the syndrome was found in his body.

Attacks have been higher this year, actually. And it turns out, most of the attackers have been teenagers or younger. All of whom have stated that they were gripped by an overwhelming urge that someone simply looked “Delicious.”

Credit To – Discardable

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It’s a Small Road

November 27, 2013 at 12:00 AM
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I spot a fellow standing on the side of road, slightly obscured by the low-lying fog. He’s got his thumb stuck out – kind of gruff and dirty looking. It’s late… Hell, why not. I pull the car over and the man opens the door; he hops in without saying a word.

“It’s your lucky night,” I state, “normally I don’t pick up any thumbers.”

Despite the night being dark, I notice some bright yellow teeth in my rearview mirror. I guess he’s smiling at the comment.

“Must be. I never thumb much myself anymore.” He halts, “Not since what happened.”

“Oh?” I ask. “What happened?”

The man in backseat pauses for a moment, but with a shrug of his shoulders he commences the tale.

“It were some years ago. Late at night as you might expect. I was out hitchhiking when a man comes along and picks me up. Sounds good, huh?”

He hesitates here but when I give a grunt of approval, the story continues.

“Well this man who picked me asks ‘Dangerous isn’t it?’ What is? I asked him. He says ‘Thumbing,’ and before I can even speak the man pulls a big ol’ knife on me. He says ‘Yep, dangerous alright.’ Then stabs at me. The car is swerving all over and he’s stabbing and stabbing.”

I grunt again, becoming interested. “Well what did you do?”

“I’ll tell ya!” the man yells. And out of nowhere he thrusts his arm forward, right up against my cheek. I look down at it. The hand is gone. He pulls the arm back. “This guy cut it right off!”

“How’d you escape?”

More bright yellow teeth in the mirror again. “Well, I got hold of his hand and instinct kicked in. I bit his fingers, got two of ‘em. Car hit a tree and I made a run for it.”

I grunt again, gripping the steering wheel with my bad hand – the one missing the two little fingers.

Credit To – S.R. Tooms

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The Arcade

November 24, 2013 at 12:00 PM
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When I was in high school, my girlfriend and I would go to the mall a lot. It wasn’t something I enjoyed very much, but it made her happy so I didn’t complain. Every time we went she would make us get our pictures taken in those photo booth things. You know, the ones where you put in two quarters or whatever and get a strip of pictures taken and printed off? It was kind of a ritual. She kept the best one from each visit in her locker.

One time we went, and the booth was taped off. I guess someone thought it would be funny to use it to take nude pictures of himself, and then leave the strip in the booth. The parents of the little girl who went in next were not amused, and the mall was going to be taking it out. I think that’s an overreaction, but expected nowadays.

Well, my girlfriend was pretty sad about not being able to get our pictures taken like usual, so we ended up just wandering aimlessly. She didn’t really want to leave, but she didn’t feel like shopping either. I bought us some ice cream, hoping it would cheer her up. but she still was pretty depressed.

Eventually we ended up at the far end of the second floor. We almost never got over there, as there weren’t many stores either of us were interested in. but today we did. I noticed that there was an arcade there, and that got me thinking. They tend to have a photo booth in them. I didn’t want to say anything about that, to avoid getting my girlfriend’s hopes up, but I managed to convince her to go in.

It was noisy inside, but mostly just from the games. There were only a few other kids inside, and the owner sitting at a small desk watching some sports game on TV. We walked around the place, and didn’t see a booth. Saddened a bit, I suggested that we go, and she started to say that she agreed when her sentence drifted off. I looked where she was looking, and tucked back in a corner there was a machine that said “Instantly Developed Photos” peaking over one of the games. We nearly ran over to it, but were disheartened to find that it too was taped off.

My girlfriend was really sad now, and suggested that we leave the mall now. I hated seeing her like this, and I thought to myself, “you know what? Almost no one is in here, and none of them are paying attention to us.” So I went over, plugged in the booth, and pulled the tape down. At first she was shocked that I would do that, but then the joy at being able to cary on our tradition overtook her.

One thing that was incredibly obvious about this booth was that it was much older than the one that we usually went to. It was beaten up, didn’t have a touch screen menu, and only cost ten cents a strip.

We decided to do a double strip, since it would still be cheaper than one of our normal ones. We put in two dimes, and then it took our pictures. When the last one was done, we looked and saw that there wasn’t a slot for them to be printed on the inside. It was odd, but I guess back when this thing was made they didn’t think to have them print on the inside.

So we got out and looked at the sides of the booth, and found the pictures. There wasn’t much light inside the arcade, so my girlfriend picked them up and we were walking outside to see them better when we realized something. There was no sound anymore.

All the games were running, but it was like someone hit the mute button on all of them. It creeped my girlfriend out, and I’ll admit I was unnerved as well. So we walked towards the exit a little faster. But we couldn’t find it. Every corner we took just led us to another row of arcade games with flashing lights and no sound. Now we were both panicking, but I managed to be rational enough to figure out that, if I climbed on top of one of the machines, I would be able to get a view of the room.

I went over to one, and asked my girlfriend to give me a little support as I climbed it. I got on top, and saw that somehow we had goon further into the arcade. The exit was on the other side. I told her, and she calmed down a bit. I was trying to get down from the game when I thought something brushed my hand. I screamed and fell.

My girlfriend tried to catch me, but I just knocked her into the machine and fell onto the floor. I wasn’t hurt badly, and I got up to tell her I was sorry. When I turned to look at her, I saw she was starring at the screen, and shaking. I walked over beside her, and saw that it no longer was showing the menu. No, flashing in old fashioned arcade game letters, was the message “Player 2 has no more lives.”

I told her that I must have started a game when I climbed up, but she shook her head no and whispered “look around.” Every game was flashing the same words. That really freaked us out, so we started running in the direction of the exit.

We went around turns and turns of games, and it seemed we had been running far too long to have covered less distance than is contained in a shop in a mall. But now we could see it. Seven rows of games ahead, rising above them all, was the exit sign. We stopped for a moment when we saw it, relieved and catching our breath. Then my girlfriend screamed.

She spun around to look behind her, and screamed that something had just touched her hair. We looked around but saw nothing. No one was near us. But there was something worse than the presence of someone else. The screens now all showed the words “Player 1 has no more lives.”

That was it. We were sprinting faster than we ever had before, running towards the exit sign. We just had to get around three more rows and we would be out of the arcade. And then we saw something that brought us to a halt. There was someone standing at one of the games.

He was one of the kids we had seen earlier, when we came in. I recognized the clothes, even though I hadn’t payed much attention to him before. He was just standing there, playing a game. After the shock of seeing someone else had passed, I thought I should call out to him.

“Hey, dude!”

My girlfriend grabbed my arm and shushed me.

“Don’t,” she whispered harshly in my ear.

“Why not, what’s the matter?”

“Something doesn’t feel right. Let’s just keep going, we’re almost out.”

So we walked past him, hugging the other side of the row of games. Something seemed wrong with him, in the glow of the lights. I stopped walking and just looked at him. My girlfriend begged me to keep going, but I had to figure out what was wrong. I took a few steps closer, and it hit me. His hands were on the controls, the game was playing, but he wasn’t moving at all.

I walked closer and closer, all the while my girlfriend was crying and begging for me to go back to her. I got to him, touched him on the shoulder, and shivered from how freezing cold he was. I asked if he was ok, and walked beside him to get a look at his face.

His throat was slit, and his skin was paper white.

I screamed so loud and so intensely that I hurt my voice. I turned back to my girlfriend and started to run to her, when I saw that someone holding a hand over her mouth and a knife to her throat. I couldn’t see the face, but the figure’s hands looked like a man’s.

I shouted at him, “let her go!” The response was a laugh, deep and gurgling. I tried to lunge at him, to get the knife away from her throat, but I wasn’t fast enough. He slit her open in one fluid motion. Blood sprayed out all over me, and I was frozen in shock.

He dropped her body, and brought the knife to his face. It was still shrouded in darkness, but I saw a tongue come out, and lick the knife. That tongue… it wasn’t human. It looked more like a giraffe’s, long and thin. I was crying now, and couldn’t think. Then he pointed at me, and said “you wait there. You next.” That voice, it was horrible. It was like two rough stones being dragged across each other. But what came next was worse. He bent down to my girlfriend’s body, and started sucking and the fatal wound.

His mouth covered her entire neck, and it made a horrifying squelching sound as he sucked the blood from her. I couldn’t think, couldn’t react with anything but more tears and a sighing cry. And then the noises started to stop. He pulled back, and his mouth was extended like a trunk, and it began to pull back into his face. When it was back to normal, that tongue came out again and licked the traces of blood off his lips.

He pulled the knife out again and started advancing towards me. Part of me wanted to let him kill me. I didn’t want to live with these memories. But that part of my mind was overridden by a more primitive section. The adrenaline poured out into my body, and I ran. I didn’t even know what was happening any more, I just ran.

Somehow I managed to make it to the exit. As I ran I saw the owner still sitting at his TV, now blank, and some still active part of my mind realized that his skin was far too pale, and that there was a black line running along his neck. But I caught all of that in the few seconds before bursting out of the door, and running in to a woman outside of the arcade.

I franticly screamed, begging her to call the police, the paramedics, anyone. She screamed too, at first I thought because I seemed crazy. Then I realized that I had blood all over me. My girlfriend’s blood.

Eventually security came, and the woman told them I had come from inside the arcade. One of them stayed with me, and the other two went inside. They came back out, and told the man with me to handcuff me while they contacted the police.

What they had found was my girlfriend’s body, throat slit, drained of blood. This was expected. I had seen her die. What I didn’t expect was that her’s was the only one. Nor did I expect it to be found in the photo booth. But the worst part, the piece of evidence that I can never comprehend, the reason that my mind was broken to the point I was considered incompetent for trial, was that two strips of pictures found in the booth with her.

They showed me slitting her throat.

Now I spend my days out of my mind on medication in a psych ward. But sometimes, I trick them into thinking I took my medication so that I can think for a while. And I always think back to that day. And I have an idea about it. I think that, sometime, someone else will go into that arcade. They’ll find it empty except for the owner sitting there watching a sports game, a couple kids playing games, and a beautiful girl sitting alone in a photo booth. And I wonder, will this person ever leave the arcade?

Credit To – J.N.

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