A is for Astronaut
Very rarely did something ever come into view of the International Space Station that wasn’t Earth. There was considerable surprise when, hovering just beyond the reach of the station and well beyond the reach of Earth, floated a single EVA space suit. A quick search of the ISS found that all their suits and astronauts were accounted for. No signals were received by the ISS during the brief five-minute period that the suit was within range of their portholes. No signals were able to reach Earth either.
The suit watched them as they floated by. No eyes could be seen beneath its inky visor, but the numerous rips and tears did enough to suggest that even if someone had been inside, they were long since dead.
That’s what they thought before the suit waved to them, just before it fell out of sight.
* * * * * *
B is for Beach
Tommy was playing in the wet sand. His parents had, again, turned their gaze from him to each other. This trip would have been so much better, they both secretly thought, if they didn’t have to babysit little Tommy. He was much too rambunctious to handle on a good day. All the excitement from the trip made him unbearable. So, they didn’t notice when he started calling their name.
He couldn’t resist. The biggest, most awesome cave had just been found, and he needed mom and dad to come look. It was taller than him, lopsided and drooping, but he thought it was a masterpiece of beach engineering. Little Tommy noted, as he was supposed to, that it was exactly big enough for him to fit inside.
His parents didn’t even notice as the cave collapsed back into the beach like a wave, and sunk below the sand. Tommy was gone. There was the smallest disturbance on the surface as the cave pulled it’s catch under the sand and back into the water.
* * * * * *
C is for Conversations from Down the Hall
“What were you thinking?”
“Sam just spent the last twenty minutes crying his eyes out, Jake! I don’t know what you were thinking!”
“I don’t know what I was thinking! Barb, tell me what the hell’s wrong!”
“This damn thing you got our son!”
“This ragged fucking teddy bear! I don’t know where the hell you got it—“
“What teddy bear? What is that?”
“Don’t give me that!”
“Barb, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Look at it! This thing’s arm is barely hanging on. I’m surprised it doesn’t have bed bugs, or STDs or something. It looks like you pulled it out of a swamp. Ugh, it’s disgusting.”
“I want a hug.”
“Well don’t drop it on the rug! It’s going to leave a fucking stain!”
“Well it’s on you. I don’t blame Sam. It’s so creepy! Did you hear it? You couldn’t even put new batteries in the thing? It sounds like the fucking Devil, Jake.”
“Babe, look at me. I didn’t get him that teddy bear.”
“What? But he said you got it for him.”
“I didn’t get him any teddy bear.”
“Then where did it come from?”
“He probably grabbed it out of a dumpster.”
“He says he didn’t. He’s adamant he found it in his room. He said it was a present.”
“Well that’s nice but—Wait.”
“Where did it go?”
* * * * * *
D is for Deforestation
The bulldozer slowly approached the tree, cutting through the thick brush. A lion stalking its prey. It lowered its plow like a shark extending its jaw. It bore its serrated teeth. Its engine snarled.
The edge of the plow had barely touched the bark.
It all happened in a reflexive instant. Like dolphins breaching the sea, about seven roots shot out of the ground and folded inwards towards the tree. They found solid ground, raised the trunk from the soil, and then the jointed, arachnoid legs carried the tree swiftly away. Its banshee howls echoed as it disappeared into the depths of the rainforest.
* * * * * *
E is for Exercise
Just minutes ago, Tori’s legs had been carrying her through seven-minute miles. Now, the left one is dragging behind her, leaking blood onto the burning asphalt, and the right leg is cramping. Every second it threatens to give in. She stumbles. A pain, a venom, crawls through her body. Below her, the Florida sun has cooked the bike trail as hot as a skillet. She can almost feel it through her shoes. Half of her mind is trying to balance; the other half is focused on the lumbering beast behind her.
The beast is too hungry to mind the heat. Its scales almost sizzle as it drags itself forward with its two, massive forearms. It’s long, bat-like fingers painfully grip at the ground, and they seize as the beast laboriously pursues its prey. Its all too human eyes watch Tori close, and its all too human mouth drips with spit, venom, and blood. It’s tasted her once. It refuses to let her go. It failed the ambush, but if it can push itself just a bit further, everything will be alright. It hasn’t eaten in weeks. Worse, it can almost hear its young behind it, pleading from the ditch in high-pitched voices. Two have already died. It refuses to let the other three wither.
The two race onwards, in the heat of the Florida sun. It collapses first. Its tail spasms, trying to give it one final push forward. In a cruel irony, Tori collapses barely twenty feet away. Its tongue blisters as it licks her blood off the bike trail.
They both close their eyes.
* * * * * *
F is for For Mom
I love you.
It’s so cold now. We’ve been wandering around for two weeks in these mountains. The snow hasn’t let up.
Every day, the voice gets louder. It bores deeper, like a termite in my head. I tried. I tried really hard, Mom. I fought.
I remember the stories you and grandpa told me. The tales of the monsters out here. I think there’s one inside me. The spirit that devours. It’s going to make me kill Kieran. He’s the only one left, besides me.
I’m so hungry. It tells me Kieran will taste just like meatloaf, just like you used to make. It says his thighs will be sweetest. Like pork. He’s sleeping. It doesn’t need to tell me that it’d be so easy.
I hope you never find this note.
* * * * * *
G is for Grandmother
“You have to,” his mother said.
Zack didn’t want to. His grandmother looked so helpless there, atop the mangled debris of the forest’s floor. The blood had started to dry now. Earlier it had been rushing down the side of her face. Her eyes were, thankfully, closed. They were such a pretty green. He fell to his knees, feeling like he was going to vomit.
“I can’t,” Zack croaked.
“I did,” his mother said. “So did she. It’s just tradition, honey.”
His grandmother had been bound by Zack’s hands. She’d felt so old and fragile beneath his fingers as he worked. He’d been the one who brought her down, too. He’d hunted her all throughout the thick, pine forests behind her house. He had no choice.
Next to her bleeding visage was a knife. It was the same ceremonial knife she’d almost driven through his heart not minutes ago. She’d cornered him, and had she not slipped on the leaf litter below, he would probably be dead. In his hand, clenched tightly still, was the rock he’d used to take her down. He had taken advantage of his good fortune to bring the rock down upon her brittle skull. He had won.
Now the spoils were his.
The honor was his.
“How?” Zack asked.
“It isn’t nearly as hard as it seems,’ she said, compassionately. “Especially if you could know how proud she is right now.”
“She looks so—“ Zack started.
“Yes,” his mother knelt beside him. Her smile was sincere. “But you’ve proven yourself worthy to be called her blood today. Just as one day one of your children will prove to me, and your grandchildren will prove to you.”
His mother stood back up. She watched him, as she had watched him throughout it all.
“Besides,” she said. “She thought this would never happen. All three of your siblings before failed. So enjoy it, Zack. You never liked them anyways.”
His siblings had been dead for years. Not one of them lived past thirteen. But Zack would. He dropped the rock. Shamefully, he allowed his mandibles to emerge from within his mouth. It felt wrong. It was if he’d suddenly become naked in front of his mother. He turned from her, but she placed her hand on his neck. It caused a reassuring chill to course through his skin. It felt good.
His grandmother was still breathing as he bit into her neck. She smiled.
* * * * * *
H is for Hunter
The buck collapsed. He was pleased with the clean shot. It was perfect. Through and through. Leaves crunched as he approached. The noise caused the buck to struggle. It writhed, and it moaned in seemingly complete misery. It was only when he got close, and he raised his rifle, that the hunter noticed it wasn’t the buck struggling.
There was something struggling to get out of the buck.
Beneath the fur, something massive thrusted, and through the wound crawled skeletal phalanges. The hunter dropped his gun, as the skeleton emerged from within the deer’s warm flesh. It stood, and it watched the hunter flee with empty sockets. It gave him a head start.
* * * * * *
I is for Into the Hatch
*The following excerpts are from an oral account of the events that transpired during the spring of 1977 involving the disappearance of Chuck Shaw near Bow, New Hampshire. Witness is Robert Athens.
Why did we make him go in? We were all, what, ten? Eleven? Of course we bullied him into it. Chuck was a runt. He was THE runt. Of course we made him go in.
There was a short period of time where we—where we started to really get worried, ya know? It was just, well, what just looked like a bomb shelter. The door, rusty door, was sticking up out of the ground like a tree root. There should have been one room, but within, I don’t know, ten minutes we couldn’t even hear Chuck anymore. Where the hell did he go? Ya know?
I think it shocked all of us when he screamed. Oh yeah, he screamed louder than anyone I’ve ever heard. Bloody murder. And then he came out of there like a bolt of lightning. I think he pounced on Ben like a wild tiger, ferocious, but then he started bawling. I don’t think he ever would have let go of Ben had Frank and Pete not pulled them apart. He was real silent after that. Whole way home.
It took about a week before he started to talk again. Personally, I don’t think he could talk. I think he screamed the voice right out of his throat. Even then, he still wouldn’t tell us what he saw for another month. Even then he really only told Ben.
I still don’t think I believe it all. See, you have to understand Chuck was pretty imaginative. We all were. That’s why we were too scared to go into the woods to begin with. Yeah, I think it took us a whole month of consistent prodding before that boy ever told us a thing. I think he made half of it up just to make us stop.
Rambling was more the word. He rambled about this giant, what’d he call it, a factory? I think that’s what he said. Like a slaughter house. That’s the word he used. Underground. Massive, he said. Acres wide and deep. Impossible, right?
He was very stingy with me after that. I think it’s because I pushed harder than Ben, and I think Chuck blamed me for everything. Honestly, have you contacted Ben? Ben Huckins? He was closer with Chuck. I still think he has a few morsels left to pull.
Anything else? Well, I know Chuck disappeared on the twenty-first, I think. He was getting real weird the week before. Paranoid. His parents were real worried. I’ve never seen any ten-year-old act as freakishly as he did. He went missing on a Wednesday. Of course Ben did too, but the difference is they found Ben. He was in the woods, wandering around. He claimed he knew nothing. They tell you that? Did Ben tell me anything? Yeah, Ben told me a little, and I told all of it to you. I think he knows far more than he has ever let on, though.
Every bit of it was crazier than anything our little Chuck ever said, though. Those woods will drive you crazy. You should talk to Ben.
* * * * * *
J is for Jersey’s Devil
His girlfriend kicked him.
“Look, Ron!” she exclaimed. “There’s a deer outside our tent!”
Sure enough, as Ron came to, and he put on his glasses, he saw the outline of a deer painted across the tent by the light of the full moon.
“I didn’t know deer sat like that,” Ron noted, pointing out how the shadow sat on its hind legs exactly like a dog.
“Shush,” his girlfriend said. “You’ll scare it away!”
But it wasn’t spooked. Instead, the shadow on the tent was still. In the quiet, Ron was quickly aware of the shadow’s breathing. It was coming in raspy, and fast. Heavy. It sounded almost pained.
“What’s wrong with it?” he asked.
His girlfriend couldn’t answer. Her jaw had dropped, voiceless, as the shadow on their tent stood up, and spread its bat-like wings.
Its breath became hot, as they all screamed.
* * * * * *
K is for Killer
Nearby, the bodies of his brother, sister, mother and father lie. Collectively, they’ve turned the entire carpet red. Alone, he stands in the bathroom. He’s the youngest of them all. He’s responsible.
“Now your face.”
The boy sees himself in the mirror. He has cuts all up and down his body. Blood seeps, yet his face smiles. It’s his face, but not his smile. His face is still unmarked.
“Do it across your cheeks.”
The voice isn’t commanding. It’s speaking out loud, using his mouth. The boy is no longer in control of his body. He can’t even cry, as his arm brings a knife straight up towards his face. He can’t even close his eyes. He just watches as the blade touches his cheek.
* * * * * *
L is for Lucky
The woman running towards him was perfect.
Her breasts were plump, succulent, and so were her pearly white thighs. They seemed to glow in the moonlight. He wondered what her flesh would taste like. Oh, and her hair. It was so short, and red. Vibrant. And she was coming right at him.
It was just the two of them on the street. The sun had barely risen. To his right was a ditch, and just beyond it a field full of wheat. He imagined grabbing her by the throat, and tumbling down with her. He’d drag her into the ditch to finish her off.
Or maybe he’d pin her to the hard sidewalk. He would crack her skull against the concrete like an egg on a countertop. His van was close he realized as she jogged past it. Maybe he would pull the pocket knife out of his pants and stab her. He would drag her by the hilt, and twist the knife. He imagined letting her free a few times, letting her fall to the ground just so he could stab her again and again. He’d load her in the back and take her home.
His mouth started to water.
As she drew near, he reached around for his back pocket. He found the knife, nestled safe and warm. His fingers seized it. She smiled at him. So close. He smiled wider. He could smell her now. She was musky, sweaty.
She was right on him.
“Hey. Beautiful morning.”
“Yes,” he said, turning as she passed. “Beautiful.”
The runner continued onwards, and he continued down the road. He whistled “Hey, Jude” as he started his van and drove away.
* * * * * *
M is for Marriage
She was late that night.
A chill rode up his spine as the window opened. Cracking his eyes, he noted the red numbers on the clock. “4:23 AM”. A breeze seemed to lift the covers behind him. Like a mist, his wife glided into bed. He didn’t even notice her icy touch anymore. Her hands wrapped around his chest and he smiled.
He loved her, but still that animal instinct struggled within. His heart started to race. He wondered again about their infant daughter down the hallway. She was warm, like him. Was she safe? Was he safe?
Again, he forced the doubt, the fear, back down. It subsided.
Of course she was. Of course they were.
She loved her daughter. She loved him. They were both safe.
He felt a heat on his neck as she pursed her lips and kissed him. The blood red mark stayed there until morning.
* * * * * *
N is for Night
I never feared the night sky. At night, you can see beyond our world for miles and miles. Everything is so clear, and I can see It.
At day, the sky clouds. The blue covers my view. I can’t see It. I hate when I can’t see where It is.
The only thing reassuring about the day is that at least It can’t see me either.
I hate the way It smiles at me.
* * * * * *
O is for Orbit
They did see the space suit again. This time it directly hit the front of the station. It bounced off the solar panels, and rolled onto the side of the ISS. They didn’t see it through the rear facing portholes. There was a knocking at the airlock.
* * * * * *
P is for Paralysis
He made a bargain with the wrong man.
James Collins was stuck, paralyzed, just outside the corner of his apartment building. Ethereal, the only one who could see him stood before him in a black brimmed hat. The man bid him adieu, with a tip of his hat and a flash of his teeth. His words rang in his ears like rusted bells.
I granted you your desire. Your family is now fully sustainable. Your enemy has been dealt a rather unfortunate hand in the stock markets this morning. Your son will be set for life. The son of your foe will find himself another unfortunate victim of a drive-by. Gang violence is so depressing. Now, as promised. You owe me this. Fifty-years. Those will be spent here. You can watch, and you can listen, but you’ll never be seen or heard. In half a century, I shall return to release you. Until then, live in the moment. Every moment. To watch time pass is a privilege. If you allow it to be.
So he waited. He missed the sensation of his own blood pumping through his veins, and the cold rush of air down his throat. He watched as his son left. The apartment they used to call home would surely be beneath him now. Years flew by, and he watched the city around him grow. Soon, days became like hours to him. Hours to minutes. Minutes to mere seconds.
One day he noticed a particularly interesting looking man strolling down the lane in a fancy suit. He was young, with a head full of ginger hair. If James didn’t know better, he’d assumed he’d fallen backwards in time. The young man was him. Surely, and in a way, he was.
The young man removed a canister, a flask, from his suit, and drained it. Then his ass fell to the concrete below, and tears started to flow.
“Where did you go, dad?” He asked with a start. James realized then that the young man was his son. He had come so far, and the years had changed him. James had given everything, so he couldn’t imagine why his son had grown so sullen.
Tears couldn’t fall as his son left his side, walked into the building, and was reunited suddenly, not five minutes later, with the ground. He lay beside his father, but his father couldn’t touch him.
James had twenty years left to go.
* * * * * *
Q is for Quiet Study Hall
White ashes fell from the white ceiling. They danced in the air around his head. The desks around him had started to crumble, as if they too were made of ash. The glass wall beside him showed an empty hallway that led nowhere. He was alone with the thing. The thing stood in the front of the classroom, tall and bulky, and tapped its claw against the blackboard. He gave it his attention. Atop its massive shoulders was fixed an antelope’s skull, with wild, twisting horns. Its body was concealed by a cloak of black, tar-like feathers. It seemed to breathe. Protruding from the center of the cloak, were four skeletal hands. It turned its gaze to the board, and it started to carve. Black ash fell from the tip of its claws, and gently they formed uneven piles at the base of the wall.
The bell rang, and he woke up in a familiar room. A detention sheet greeted him for once again sleeping in the quiet study hall. He couldn’t remember what the thing wrote on the board.
* * * * * *
R is for [REDACTED]
Dear Senator Cornyn,
I’m writing to you today because of recent questionable, and disturbing events. I live in Santa Anna. I have done so for about thirty years now. My mother, however, has spent her whole life in Anaheim, Texas. It’s a small little town, barely 100 people in total, and she lived a very happy life there.
In regards to Anaheim, I know everything about it because I grew up there. It’s a quiet, very personal community. They stick to their guns and each other and that is it. I was one of the only kids who ever sprung up out of that dirt-hole. Me and my brother, that is. Everyone else were ranchers, ex or current. To them, and me, Anaheim was about as real as anything.
Now, the problem I’d mentioned earlier started about four months ago. That’s how long it’s been since I have been in contact with my mother. The last time she called she’d mentioned something strange had been happening with her neighbor, and she thought he was up to something rather fishy. She was in rather a panic about it, and my mother is a Texas-born woman so it would have taken something pretty serious to rile her up. So I drove up to stay with her.
Now, Anaheim is just northwest of Santa Anna a little ways. It’s an hour north straight up 283, and then on to 153. It’ll take you all the way up, and then you’ll find Anaheim just off 153 before you hit Nolan onto Farm Rd. I know this because I go there all the time. The problem is, when I got to the turn-off, there were police cordoning off Farm Rd. I asked them what they were doing and they told me to leave or I’d face federal prosecution. So I went up around north past Nolan and I was told to stop at two other roads that led to Anaheim, and again I was told about federal prosecution.
I tried calling my mother again, and there was no answer. So I waited with a friend in Nolan for the night, and come the next day I couldn’t find Farm Rd at all! I couldn’t find any road that led into Anaheim. I got to a point of frustration where I even tried to walk through the dirt to get there, only to find there’s now a fence surrounding the whole town. I was asked to leave at gunpoint by Federal guards long before I was able to get within half a mile of the fence.
It’s going on months now, and I still have no answers. The town no longer appears on Google, and I’ve been asking around. There seems to be a gag order on any reference to the town. My friend in Nolan, the very one who let me stay at his house, is now terrified and adamant that Anaheim never existed. He’s continued to encourage me as such, like he’s trying to bribe me. But it did. My mother is still in there, and I need to make sure she’s ok. I need answers. My brother needs answers.
Please find this letter well,
Dear Ms. Hawkins,
I’ve been authorized to write to you on behalf of Senator Cornyn.
It’s my understanding that for the past several months you have had an inquiry involving a particular town in western Texas.
In regards to this inquiry I can personally assure you that there is no such place as “Anaheim, Texas”. I’ve been very thorough, I assure you. There has never been a town such as the one you described in the registry. There is nothing south of Nolan besides wind turbines and farmland. I apologize for any inconvenience and undue stress this has caused you.
If you have further questions please feel free to respond to the return address on this letter. I would love to answer any further questions you might have. Perhaps if you could send me your mother’s name we could search for her current whereabouts.
* * * * * *
S is for Survivor’s Guilt
*The following excerpts are from an oral account of the events that transpired during the spring of 1977 involving the disappearance of Chuck Shaw near Bow, New Hampshire. Witness is Benjamin Huckins.
Not a day goes by I don’t think about Chuck. The weeks after we went into the woods, I was his only friend. Bob certainly wasn’t. I don’t know what he told you, but he was never really a friend to Chuck. He wasn’t with him in the end.
I was. I think I was the only one who believed him. Even back then.
There were things that Chuck only told me. He told me those in confidence, so please understand if I can’t convey everything that happened to you. It’s been years and I still don’t feel comfortable talking about it. That “place”.
Chuck was convinced that he was being hunted. That was the word he used. “Hunted”. He said, and he only told this to me, but he said he wasn’t alone in that place that day. He said that he heard something walking around, making clacking sounds on the metal.
No, he never described it. Yes, “it”. As in “thing”.
I can’t talk about the day he disappeared. Yes, the paranoia was real. Chuck was convinced that the thing was coming for him. The thing in the place, yeah. Honestly, no, I didn’t believe him. I believed he was afraid, surely, but no, I didn’t believe he was in any danger.
That changed on the night before he disappeared. It’s going to sound silly to you, but I had a nightmare of sorts. At least that’s what I pray to God every night that it was. A fit of sleep paralysis, hopefully, but it scared me. There was something in my room. On my ceiling, hanging there. It blended into the shadows like a tiger blends into the damn jungle. It wasn’t watching me, so much as it was smelling me. I could hear it breathing. Heavily. It was sniffing. For a good ten minutes or so. It then decided I apparently wasn’t worth its time and just crawled out of my window like a centipede. I woke up after that. At the very least I sat up.
Chuck went missing the next day. I’ll tell you what I’ve told everyone for years. Yes, I saw him that last day. I tried to help him. I ran so deep into those woods.
I just wasn’t fast enough.
No. I don’t think it was actually a nightmare. But I can still pray.
* * * * * *
T is for T.V.
He knew what would happen next. The room glowed from the light of the television as he fled into the hallway. He pried open the folding closet doors, and once he’d squeezed inside he tried to shut it. The edge of the door skinned his foot, but he didn’t dare cry.
He heard the static. The TV was still displaying the same scene.
Headlong view of an empty road. Empty fields on both sides. Cornstalks lay, decomposing against the dirt. Something stirred on the right side, beneath a pile of stalks.
Moving his foot, the boy continued to pull the door shut. It hit the other side, the other door, too hard. The other door opened a smidge, allowing light from the hall to fall inside the closet.
A moist sound came from the television. Something had come onto the road. It stumbled forward. Its shredded arm reached for the screen.
The boy cursed one of the curses his daddy had taught him as he reached for the other side. The other door was closed flat, but the one in front of him still bent at the joint. The smallest sliver of light shone on his tears.
The thing crawled out of the TV.
He stopped moving when he heard it growl. Each footstep was highlighted by a moist, padding sound as the thing limped out of the room. The boy didn’t dare move. Through the crack, he watched the hallway. Light from the TV room around the corner still reflected off the dark wall, and into the closet.
Something blocked the light.
* * * * * *
U is for Ugly Christmas Sweater
The intent was for it never to be worn again.
Rachel, fueled by a fear and vengeful rage, spent all night sewing onto the damned thing horrendously misshapen patches of ugly wool and uneven strips of velvet. The arms and ends were held down, tight, by large textbooks and unwrapped presents. On the front, she’d cut up one of her own Christmas sweaters. The damn thing was horrendous, and that meant it was perfect. She placed the image (A redneck Santa Claus who wore a red “Duck Dynasty” hat, and a sleeveless white T-shirt) dead center, and she did her best to rip and tear at random stretches of exposed sweater. By morning, the lump of a shirt was nearly unrecognizable. Chunks of sewn together pieces formed what could barely be called a shirt. Rachel laughed at it, as she dragged it away.
She went to the front porch, and she dumped it into her trash. She heaved a large potted plant on top of it, just to be sure.
Her attention finally fell back to her husband. He lay in the same place he’d lied for the last eight hours. She sat down next to his body, and she cried as the sun rose. The light illuminated his mangled form. His chest and his back were gone. The flesh had been stripped away. The damn sweater had pulled them with it when Rachel had pried the thing from her still screaming husband. She had looked inside the sweater, but couldn’t find her husband’s skin.
She laughed, imagining the sweater in the trashcan. She couldn’t burn it, so this would do. She thought she could hear it banging. It was surely hissing at her.
“Merry Christmas,” she called to it, mockingly.
Her job was done. It was a shame, too. It had been so beautiful before. After what she’d done to it, though, no one would ever wear it again.
* * * * * *
V is for Velociraptor
The museum was quiet when Billy snuck out of his father’s office. His father was the curator, and had to take Billy with him for his late night. The sun had set, and Billy was too young and energetic to let an office hold him. For a kid, it was the greatest feeling in the world. He ran through empty corridors and exhibits. Only twice did the lumbering security guard almost spot him.
It didn’t take long for Billy to find himself in the dinosaur exhibit. The models, to the twelve-year old stowaway were so incredible. They were beyond compare and larger than life. He assumed they’d always be that way. At least, that’s what he’d thought before. Tonight was different. He wanted to feel the awe, but he couldn’t. Something felt off.
He lost interest. He took off down the hall, running again out of a primal urge. He raced through endless stretches of granite halls, before he turned a corner. He paused, stumbling forward from his momentum. There was an exhibit out of place.
A skeleton model stood not thirty feet away from him. A Velociraptor mongoliensis skeleton stood in the center of the shadowed corridor, its neck was craned like a bird. The white bones were significantly shorter than Billy (a Velociraptor only ever grew to about a foot tall, and about six feet long). Its arms hung, folded against its rib cage and its long, toothy snout was turned just to the model’s left, straight down the corridor towards Billy.
Billy, forgetting for a moment it was only a skeleton, tried to match its placidity. He had the strangest need to not startle it. His breaths came in intervals too sudden, and too loud for his liking. He truly believed it was alive, or at least he pretended it was. How else could it have gotten there? But that was just his imagination on steroids. Surely, it hadn’t gotten there on its own.
Then he noticed the model’s ribcage expand and contract, as if it were taking breaths.
The model’s head tilted slowly. It was almost a curious motion. Billy was no longer frozen by choice. As their staring contest continued, the raptor continued to tilt its head. Left. Right. The raptor was trying to figure what to make of Billy, and Billy wasn’t sure what to make of the raptor.
Billy found his control once more. He was aware of a twitching in his right leg. He managed to move his foot back.
To his shock, the raptor responded in kind. It stretched one of its legs forward. The long, sickle-like claw on its medial toe clacked hard against the ground. The sound seemed to echo through the hall. Billy shivered. He took another step. Again, the raptor followed. Its gait was significantly longer than Billy’s. It seemed to bounce forward with each step. With each step Billy took away, the raptor would still get closer.
So Billy stopped. So did the raptor. It watched him. Billy knew that even without eyes, it was looking right at him. The skeleton’s claws twitched and fidgeted. Billy was being sized up. Through a glance to his right, Billy saw it. His father’s office. The light in it was still on, but the door was shut tight.
He was farther from the door than he was the raptor.
Seconds wafted by, and his eyes danced. The raptor didn’t move. Billy didn’t dare call his father. The raptor would be on him too fast. Maybe if he ran. Maybe then he could call his father as he was running, His father would open the door for him. His father could help him as long as he bought himself enough time and distance. Tears fell as he tried to make a decision. It was so far, but it was his only hope.
The decision was made for him, as the raptor’s jaw descended. On a hinge, it slowly swung open. It lowered, like a ramp to a plane. Ready to rip and tear.
The silence was murdered by a howl. The raptor was yelling, screaming, and it sounded just like Billy. The lungless beast spread its razor clawed hands wide, ready to embrace its prey. It charged as Billy turned.
Billy cried for his daddy. He wailed, and he ran. He wouldn’t make it. He was sure of that. He wouldn’t make it.
The screaming had stopped, but Billy would cry all the way home. His father comforted him, but he never believed Billy. He even tried to show the screaming, wailing child on the way out that indeed, the velociraptor had never moved.
It remained frozen, with its arms held wide and its jaw hung low.
* * * * * *
W is for Water
The green water lapped beneath the rotted, wooden dock. All of her friends had jumped in. Now only Emily stood there, awkwardly covering her naked body. It wasn’t the boys that made her hesitate, nor her own nakedness. There was something off about the water. The green seemed to be all there was to it. The surface was thick. Nothing below the putrid color showed. She wondered how deep it was.
Davy was in just a few feet from the dock. He was taller than she was, and the green seemed to wrap around his throat as he bobbed up and down in the waves.
“Come on in, Em!”
They laughed and splashed. Jill was getting close to Alex again. Alex was Emily’s. Jill was too close, but Emily didn’t dare move. The sickly water had hold of them both. It had pushed them together. It wanted her to jump.
The waves seemed to thicken. Looking again, the singular pale green split into millions of particles. Each one swirled in the water. They moved. They swam. Her mind imagined each piece as a spider. She imagined if her friends could feel them swimming.
“Em?” Davy asked.
Emily didn’t hear. She could only imagine sinking under the thick, mucus green on the surface. She could feel it pry open her mouth, and pour into her lungs. She exhaled audibly before running from the dock.
“What’s wrong with Emily?” asked Alex.
“I guess she just doesn’t like the water,” said Jill as she touched Alex.
Emily cried behind a tree, as the water dragged the three friends under.
* * * * * *
X is for Xenophobia
The International Space Station fell to Earth. It crashed into the middle of the Indian ocean in the early hours of the morning. As the piece’s sunk, no bodies emerge. A Great White shark still comes. It smells blood. In the dark waters, it can’t see well, but it follows its nose.
Sharks have an excellent sense of smell, and they have even greater tools for hunting. On the tip of its snout, pores called the Ampullae of Lorenzini guide the shark based on electrical impulses. They can pick up the smallest electrical fields. With their specialized sense, they can detect even the smallest heartbeat of prey. There is no hiding from a shark. It searches the wreck.
It smells the blood, but through the sinking, mangled pieces it can find nothing edible. The shark starts to pull away, when suddenly it picks up a faint signal slightly above the wreckage. Its electrical senses tingle as something passes by its nose. The moonlight only offers the briefest glimpse. It looks edible, and the shark’s lateral line can detect its movements.
The predator’s mind tells it that it’s prey.
With a quick motion, it’s gums extend from its jaws, and its eyes roll backwards into its head. It’s a basic reflex to protect them from injury. It doesn’t see as it brings its teeth closed on a limp astronaut suit. Its tongue feels the thing in its mouth, and it tastes blood on it. The shark begins to thrash its head back and forth. Its serrated teeth try to dig into the leathery mass. They can’t manage cut it.
Suddenly, the shark’s Ampullae of Lorenzini cry out in pain. A tingling causes the fish to writhe, and its jaws to spasm. It feels aching in its head, coming through its many teeth. It can’t release its catch. It still tastes blood, but now most of it is its own.
Its jaw stretches, as something emerges from the suit. It tastes like carrion. Rotted, and foul. Too foul for even the shark. It struggles its hardest as the projections from the suit feel around the shark’s insides. The shark tries to regurgitate, but it can do nothing as it feels its own teeth pulled from the gums. Its jaws stretch and stretch, pushed by the suit’s extensions, and eventually they tear as the thing pushes. The shark is dead long before the thing has finished. After the suit is freed from the dead predator’s clutches, it begins to pull the once great predator’s body inside its own. The thing devoured it; stuffing it within its impossibly small form.
In the deep, the still man-sized astronaut suit settles to the bottom. Blood leaks from the center seam. The dark here is like home.
It waits for a while before its starts to walk.
* * * * * *
Y is for You
What’s the earliest you can remember?
My first memory is of me in a crib. What will be me. I see myself, my body, lying sound asleep. The light of the moon highlights my face. There’s a spindly woman holding me. What is me. She smiles as she brings me down, atop of my body. I sink into it, like a well-used mattress. I breathe in. I see through my body’s eyes for the first time.
I see the woman better now. Her hand is still nearby. She cranes her long neck down towards me, and she kisses me. She tells me everything will be ok as she pulls her hand away. There’s something in it. It’s small, white, and it’s struggling to escape her grip. I always used to think it looked like a shiny mouse.
She speaks to me.
“It’ll take some time to adjust,” she says, as she strokes my naked head. “You won’t remember anything for a while.”
I coo as her hand leaves my cheek. I turn, my parents are sleeping on the bed. They don’t hear her.
“This is you,” she continues. “From now until it dies, this body is yours.”
She turns to the squirming thing in her hand. The thing that used to live in my body.
“And this is mine.”
She eats the thing whole. It stops struggling as it’s pulled down her throat.
It’s taken me this long to realize what that memory was. It was the memory of my birth. The memory of how I stole my body.
Do you remember?
* * * * * *
Z is for Zephyr
The reef lay dead ahead, and the storm grew fierce. Through the snow, the captain sees them crawling about the hull. Their faces glow red hot. Fires and embers crackle within their skulls. The demons clamber about, and the remaining crew members desperately fight them off. The captain sees another man fall. The demon stares into the poor man’s eyes, and his soul bursts into flames. He is one of them now.
As the skeletal things approach, and his crew dwindles, the captain of the “Zephyr” makes a final decision. The raging sea below roars, begging to be fed. The captain releases the helm of the ship, and it crashes into the reef. The ocean claims them.
Human and Demon alike.
Credit: Ryan Brennaman
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