In this picture, from left to right
J. Weintraub, L.A. Fields, Cortney Philip, Mackenzie Wilson, Gibson Culbreth, Cynthia (cina) Pelayo, Melanie Hanson, Jordan Scrivner
This past July, Friday the 13th, Burial Day Book hosted a Campfire Reading at Uncharted Books. Many wonderful writers read their work. This is a sampling of stories from that evening.
Biographies of the Sampling
Gibson Culbreth is a girl named after a guitar. She is the editor-in-chief of a small up and coming zine called “I Feel Pretty” (http://ifeelprettyonline.com/
M. N. Hanson is a postmodern deconstructivist, an aspiring astronaut, a proponent of the Oxford comma, and a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with an MFA in writing. Please visit http://mnhanson.com/ to complain.
Cortney Philip writes fucked up fairy tales for grown-ups who aren’t.
Mackenzie Wilson’s work has appeared in the Logan Square Literary Review. She write flash fiction and a little bit of poetry. Her tumbler, ChicagObservations (http://chicago-observations.
Click here for a PDF of Campfire Stories.
A collection of Campfire Stories
By: Gibson Culbreth
The homeless people who milled around our apartment all had names. There was Weird Walking Man – the terrifyingly scrawny individual who shadowboxed light posts late at night and lost, The Rat King – a scruffy guy who carried around a stuffed animal he found in one of the big cloth bins of discarded creatures at the Ark, and Dollman.
Dollman was not someone we had seen per say. We had only heard of him through past tenants, and he became our favorite sort of urban legend. Dollman was supposedly a guy who had once lived in the loft the six of us shared. He had slowly gone mad trapped in those thin walls, wandering around the apartment muttering to himself. Eventually he was evicted, but he had no place to go. The story went that he took to hiding in the basement of the huge building, one we never even knew we had.
His insanity, like that of many others, was spawned from a small kernel of loneliness that grew unbearably loud over the years. Dollman was socially inept. He was never an especially popular kid in school, and as time passed he found himself less inclined to talk to others. In fact, they began to terrify him. He lost his words, his gestures, his movements, until all that was left were his thoughts. They harangued him day in and day out until there was nothing left to do.
We always imagined him as a burly guy; facial hair etched across his cheeks, tangling his features into a knotted mess, his mangled toes poking out of sandals as he shuffled downstairs to receive his scant mail.
When he was finally evicted he moved his meager belongings, a table with chairs and a busted up old sofa spewing stuffing, into the dank basement. He slunk into hiding, never giving the landlord back his key and for all intents and purposes, he went missing from modern society.
The first night in his new home he tried to fall asleep on his sofa, the lumps reminding him of unstirred oatmeal. He saw a glint of something in the corner. An eye perhaps. He unfolded his musty body from the couch and moved forward, crouching a bit so as not to scare whatever the eye was attached to, or himself. Each step he took scraped a bit on the concrete. The eye never moved. He reached out when he got close enough, his dirt-smeared fingertips brushing across the cold porcelain of a doll’s face.
He pulled the shape up, grasping the tiny, hollow skull with his large hand. Her hair was curly and brown in the small amount of light emitted from the hanging bulb in the back right corner of the room. Her white, smooth body reminded Dollman of another body he had touched in his life. The only other body he had ever touched.
Dollman remembered this small interaction as he crouched over the little doll in his hand. He moved his grip down her body and her bright, flourescent blue eyes were exposed. They scared him up close and he dropped her quickly, her fragile porcelain head cracking against the concrete floor. Shards of her skull spread around the ground and Dollman moved away, her blue eye still staring.
One night my roommates and I decided to embark on an adventure to find the lost soul rumbling in our basement. The idea was formed after, on a slightly lubricated adventure to the roof, we found that a door we passed nearly every day was ajar.
It was posted in a very narrow hallway about a floor up from our own. The door was simple, painted an innocuous shade of eggshell. We had never given it a real thought before this day, but to us in our altered state it seemed ablaze with wonder.
Mel is the one who tapped her fingers against the wood, allowing the yellow light from the hallway to brush against the stairs that appeared to us, going only one way, down.
And we felt a bit like Pernath when we decided to descend those warped wooden stairs with our own young feet. We kept our hands out, palms brushing the walls, as we allowed the darkness to cloak us.
We giggled and whispered with fervor as we walked on.
“Why would the entrance to the basement be on the second floor?”
“Who left the door open?”
And we attempted to light the way with the blinking blue screens of our cell phones. They told us that our signal was lost, and now all we had were each other as the light faded against our backs.
David’s palm hit a light switch and he stopped. He had been leading our silly little pack, as he often did, and when he felt the switch under his skin he stopped. The six of us collided. One after the other slamming haphazardly into the other’s backs, and scooting the line forward, like a train of stumbling dominos. David flicked the light switch with a definite pop and then we were standing in blue grey light falling from a filthy bulb in the corner of the room.
We found that we were at the end of the stairs, clumped together in front of this nearly empty room. We stood before a wooden table, its legs scarred with the tiny scraping of rat’s teeth, four worn chairs placed delicately around the edges. And at the head of the table there was a place setting. A full place setting with a glittering set of silverware, a rather large kitchen knife sitting atop a porcelain plate splayed out in front.
“Is that…?” And the question dripping from Mel’s tongue took form in the air above our heads. The kitchen knife, our only good one, had gone missing almost a month before. And David looked to see that there in the corner were shadows, rather large shadows. He strode forward, parting from the shivering group.
As he drew closer he realized that the shapes were blank, human-shaped forms. Mannequins. Six of them. Each with an article of clothing that had gone missing in the previous weeks. Mel’s head band. My scarf. David could see a t-shirt of his on the mannequin in front, and his blood went cold. He turned and strode back to his roommates, now backing slowly up the stairs.
“Maybe we should start locking the door at night,” he shrugged, trying not to let his fear penetrate his voice. And then we dashed away up the stairs to down our whiskey on the roof and try to forget about the underworld of our lives. To shake the feeling that our lives were being watched and imitated somewhere down below.
By: M.N. Hanson
Paul told people he’d fallen on hard times. He never explained, but he said the words with a sorrowful acceptance, as if things had just worked out in a way that was beyond his control.
He never mentioned where he came from, just that he “ended up in the Midwest.” His face was too haggard by poor living and weather to be sure, but he appeared to be in his late-twenties to early-thirties. He carried a high-quality backpack covered in at least a decade’s worth of grime, with a general issue bedroll tied to it with bungee cord. Sometimes he talked about how he used to own a motorcycle. He reminisced about being on the road, riding through wild cities at night, then along sunny highways through the countryside – soybeans so green it hurt his eyes to look at them, cows resting in the shade, and, as darkness fell again, miles and miles of lightning bugs floating above the corn, as bright as the stars in sky. On his bike, he could go anywhere, and he chose to follow any path that would lead him to adventure – new faces and new experience.
The motorcycle was long gone now, and Paul’s movements were predictable. During the day, he could usually be found downtown, earning spare change by holding doors for people and flagging down cabs. At night, he walked south, keeping near the train yards, and sleeping wherever he could in that vicinity. He hadn’t left the city in at least two years, but he seemed to eye the tracks like he was ready to go at any second.
On the South side, near Chinatown, Number One Spirits sold forty-ounce bottles of malt liquor for little more than a dollar, and loose cigarettes for twenty cents. Paul went there often in the late evenings, shortly before it closed. One night, as he was standing at the cash register, he listened to the old man behind the counter gumming with one of the local drunks.
“No one’ll go in that house anymore,” the cashier said. “They’ll have to tear it down. No one’ll live there.”
“Good,” the drunk said, as he stumbled out the door with a black plastic bag, “Bulldoze it all down. Was a crack house, anyway.”
The cashier took Paul’s forty and ran it over the scanner. Paul cleared his throat and said, “And two cigarettes, please.”
The cashier smiled at him like they were old friends. In spite of seeing each other on a regular basis, the liquor store clerk never spoke to Paul unless the store was otherwise empty. The longest conversation they’d had was about the value of homemade soup.
“What house were you talking about?” Paul asked.
“Oh, Lord,” the cashier exclaimed, “It’s just terrible. That abandoned house, the one next door – the yellow one. Oh, it’s terrible.”
He paused to take Paul’s money, then continued. “That house has been empty for a while. The junkies took it over. Then two girls got killed there ’bout a week ‘er so ago. Real bad. Real bad.”
His smile never faded as he related this.
“What happened?” Paul asked, and the old man shrugged.
“These girls got stabbed there. Someone found ‘em laying there, blood all over, these two teenage girls. They never found who did it, but I don’t think anyone’s been in there since. No one’ll go in there anymore. They’ll have to tear that place down.”
Paul thanked him and left with his purchases concealed in his backpack. He stood on the sidewalk for a moment out of habit, scanning for familiar faces and potential danger, then turned right and hurried to the alleyway mid-block.
In his comings and goings, he’d noticed the house the old man had mentioned. He’d heard rumors that it was a serious drug den, not for window shoppers or hangers on. It was buy or die. So, he never let his gaze linger on the house’s facade, and he averted his eyes whenever someone appeared from the alley, just in case they’d been doing business there.
When he stood in front of it now, however, he stared openly and saw it as if for the first time. The house backed up to the edge of its lot, much further from the street than the other buildings on the block. The plants were overgrown, with ivy climbing up the sides and under the siding. Every window was boarded except for one leading to the basement; its glass was broken and covered in grime.
Paul decided he’d rather not risk being seen entering through the front of the house, so he entered the alley and walked around to the back to look for another entrance. The unpainted wooden fence had a broken gate that swing open easily when pushed on it with his fingertips. A few steps down the cement path a back door was ajar. There was police tape over it, and Paul hesitated a moment. He listened for any movement inside, but there was none.
When he reached out and gave the door a light push, it swung easily on its hinges. As he pushed it open further and climbed under the police tape, the light from the streetlamps in the alleyway illuminated a patch of dirty tiled floor, partially obscured by his own shadow. Once inside, he closed the door and let his eyes adjust to his dim surroundings. It was a normal, if filthy, kitchen. None of the cupboards had doors, and there was a clear outline where the refrigerator used to stand. A large spider had made a home in the sink. Paul stood still and listened. No one else seemed to be inside.
He searched the house, quickly and cautiously. There was a small room off the kitchen, empty but for some shards of glass, beer cans, and cigarette butts. More beer cans and cigarette butts littered the floor in the living room, which also had an old, tattered lounge chair. A couple of needles were scattered here and there, as well as a broken crack pipe, and a small, red teddy bear – but there was no sign of violence.
There was a staircase near the front door, still carpeted for some reason. As he ascended, his shoes stuck and occasionally squished in the many mysterious fluids. The higher he got, the faster his heart pounded, and for a moment, he paused mid-stride on the stairs.
“Anyone up here?” he called, his voice shook a bit.
There was no answer, and he hoisted his backpack higher on his shoulders.
Upstairs, there was a hall with four doorways. At the end of the hall was the toilet; its lid was open and it was overflowing with excrement, flies buzzing over the top crazily. He turned away and moved down the hall, peeking into the first two rooms, which contained even more refuse than the downstairs. One room had a soiled mattress in the corner, a single, torn curtain on one of the windows. Still, nothing appeared out of the ordinary; that is to say, it didn’t look like a horrible murder scene.
He came to the last bedroom. The door was wide open and hanging off its top hinge. His clenched his jaw as he rounded the corner and the first bloodstains came into view. Stopping short, he hesitated a moment before entering the room.
Whatever happened in that room, it was messy. A mattress, this one torn open and covered in a massive brown stain, was shoved against a wall, around which there were several handprints, the same dark brown. Chalk outlines on the floor showed that one of the victims was found near the mattress, the other across the room near a hole bashed in the wall. As he squinted and looked closer, he could see a dark, sticky-looking substance in and around the hole.
Something skittered across the floor in the attic, and he jumped. The attic was probably infested with squirrels or raccoons. He turned to leave, but paused again when something caught his eye – a wad of police tape rested on the floor next to the door, a sign that someone else may have been poking around. He stared at the tape for a moment, then left and pulled the door closed behind him.
He walked to the other end of the hall, past the staircase, to the room furthest from the raw sewage smell of the toilet, furthest from the apparent scene of the crime. If someone came up the stairs, they would have to make a U-turn to go down the hall to that room, a maneuver that a random junkie would be unlikely to execute.
Paul took one last look into the hallway before shutting the door to his temporary room. He made his bed, then sat on the blankets, drinking the malt liquor. In the dim light of the street lamp, filtered through the sparse tree branches, he finished the forty quickly, smoking one of the cigarettes with the last gulps. Then, he got under his blankets and lay on his side, with the crook of his arm for a pillow. All was quiet, aside from the mice crawling around the walls and the occasional shout on the street. He smiled and closed his eyes.
A commotion in the attic woke him up at two-thirty in the morning. He raised his head to listen to what sounded like two or more creatures growling and spitting. They seemed larger than the average raccoon as they thumped heavily against the attic floor. At last, there was an animal cry, and the noise stopped. Quiet.
He lowered his head back onto his arm and closed his eyes, but they wouldn’t stay closed. He rolled over on one side, then back again, rearranging his legs repeatedly. This went on for some time – close to an hour, he lay awake. After a while, the noises from the attic began again. This time they were longer scraping sounds, like someone dragging the blade of a knife along the floorboards. Paul opened his eyes and sat up irritably, but froze when he saw the police tape waded up within arm’s reach of where he’d rested his head.
He threw his blanket off and looked around. His breathing became labored when he noticed the sullied, red teddy bear at his feet. Jumping up, he backed away from his bed. On the far side of the bedroll, the side he’d had his back to, was a pile of torn, bloodied cloth. At the head of his bed, a little wooden box, like a jewelry box.
Backing himself against the wall, Paul sank to his knees. The door to the room was still closed. He remained there, staring at his empty bed and the various objects around it, for several minutes as his hurried breathing slowed.
When he finally rose again, he ran on tiptoe to his backpack that was thrown in the opposite corner. Then, with barely subdued frenzy, he gathered up his bedroll and blankets, not touching any of the objects that had encircled him. Eyeing them all the while, he paid special attention to the wooden box, even pausing for a moment as if he contemplated opening it.
With all of his belongings stowed away, he moved toward the door, treading lightly with his neck craned. There were no other sounds in the house. Even the critters in the attic were quiet.
He grabbed the doorknob and turned it slowly. His whole body tensed as he hunched over the knob. When he pulled, the door wouldn’t open. He pulled harder, but it wouldn’t budge at all. He leaned into the door, then tried to pull again. Pushing up on the knob didn’t seem to help, though he tried it again and again. Push up, then pull. Push, pull.
His breathing became rapid again, as he started to pull on the door frantically. Putting the bottom of his boot flat against the wall for leverage, he yanked on the knob with both hands and fell backward as the door swung open easily.
He caught himself with his other foot, his boot banging against the floor. He froze, listening, but there was only silence. Still, he strode out the door and toward the top of the staircase. Again, however, he stopped suddenly, and looked at the room at the opposite end of the hall – that one, with the soiled mattress and chalk outlines. The door to that room was wide open. Though it should have been closed, yes? Hadn’t he closed it?
He stood at the top of the stairs, gazing at the open doorway for some moments before stepping toward the room, then pausing to listen. He took another step, then paused to listen. Step, pause. Step, pause.
When a small, indeterminate tap came from inside the room, he jumped. There were three more, quick and light: tap-tap-taps, like the sound of a sneaker rapping on the wood floor, unobtrusive but impatient.
Paul stood steady, and when there were no more taps, he slowly leaned into the doorway to peer in the room. There was no one there. He cautiously peered around the door jam to view the opposite corners – no one. There was no one in the room. He stepped inside, pulling the door toward him to look behind it – no one.
He stood there for a moment, thinking. Putting his hands on his hips, he released his gasp on the knob, at which point the door slammed shut forcefully.
He grabbed the doorknob and pulled. When the door wouldn’t open, he tried again briefly with his push-pull technique, then began frantically pulling on the knob.
“Let me out!” He yelled. “Let me out! Please!”
With some effort, he pulled the door open. For a moment, it felt as if there were someone on the other side, pulling back, but then it was open and he flung it wide. Racing down the stairs, he didn’t stop when he heard the door slam shut again. Then another. Then another. He didn’t stop as every door in the house slammed shut. He ran to the front door, which was locked, but with one yank on its knob, he busted the lock and the wooden frame with it. He pitched himself, shoulder first, against the broken screen door, which gave way and dumped him down the wooden front steps.
He was last seen barreling toward the train tracks, head down, running so fast that his feet barely touched the ground.
He once met a girl who believed in god.
By: Cortney Philip
She becomes beautiful when she says this to him, so quietly in the corner of the bar. He leans in and smells old beer on her raggedy sweatshirt. But still, she might be the last believer on earth. He lifts her off her stool and into the air. He proclaims, “You will be my personal angel.”
Silly. Only god can make an angel, and he would make one better than me.
He twirls her around and around in his arms, pretending to drop her when he’s done. “Sweetheart, everyone knows the smartest and strongest angels get kicked out of heaven.”
I did get kicked out of high school for smoking joints in the locker room.
He studies her pockmarked cheeks, imagining her a greasy stoner kid with skinny arms. This would never do. “Sweetheart, you are the most goddamned modest angel I have ever seen in my life. I am going to take you home and make you mine.”
You better not put me on any damn pedestal.
A pedestal, yes. He carries her back behind the bar, up the three flights of stairs, and across the threshold of his studio apartment. He sets her in the armchair and swoops his hand across the top of the entertainment center, knocking loose change and an ashtray to the floor. When his television was stolen three months ago, he took it as a sign that something better would replace it. Now he had his angel.
“Take off your clothes and stand on that, sweetheart. Let me take a look at you.”
Whatever. It’s your time. She climbs on top of the entertainment center.
The elastic from her ill-fitting bra had left deep welts on her ribcage. Her left tit sagged more than the right one. He shakes his head. “Oh, no. No no no no. Fuck.”
He pulls a graying sheet from his bed and wraps it around her body. “Hold it like this, sweetheart. Yes, that’s much better.”
He lies down. “Now you just stand there and look down on me while I sleep. Say a blessing if you think I deserve one, but I don’t want to pressure you.” His erection feels exposed without the cover of his sheet and he doesn’t know if it would be appropriate to masturbate. He decides against it.
Wait, you want me to just stand here all night?
“Not just stand there. Look over me. You’re my angel now; that’s your job.”
He is very hard now. He rolls over on his side to hide it. “Goodnight, sweetheart.”
* * *
After a long shower, he takes her to breakfast still wearing the sheet.
At the window, the waitress asks the line cook if she should call the police. He shrugs. “Looks okay to me. A little kinky, but okay.”
The waitress returns with their food and they unwrap their silverware. He feels her eyes on him as he watches the waitress’ ass swing away from their table. “Ah, crap. Sorry, sweetheart.”
You’re forgiven, she whispers.
She eats the rest of her pancakes with her eyes down, like a hunted animal.
He has no idea what should come next. “What do angels do during the day, sweetheart?”
I have to pick up my kid. Her daddy gets her on the weekends.
A kid? He could work with that. “You navigate, I’ll drive,” he says.
At the ex’s, the kid won’t get in the car.
“But I don’t know him, Mom,” she says. She clutches her backpack in front of her.
It’s okay. This is your new Uncle Moneypants. He took me out to a nice breakfast this morning, and now he’s going to buy us some clothes. He can’t have me running all over town in a sheet, now can he?
The kid sighs and climbs in next to her mom in the backseat. He drives them to the mall, where he picks out three white bathrobes and a pair of slippers at Victoria’s Secret. At the register, he hesitates before tossing a nightie on the counter, too. “I like to keep my angels in bed as much as possible,” he says. The saleslady doesn’t smile.
His studio feels cramped and messy under the kid’s gaze. “We’re going to play a fun game,” he says to the kid. “I’m going to put your mother back up on her pedestal. She’s the angel, see. And since you’re her daughter, you get to be the handmaiden.”
He tugs the kid’s thumb from her mouth and wraps her fingers around a broom handle. “Let’s get to work. We can’t have our angel living in filth.” The kid stares up at her mother, who looks instead at the bolted window. She sweeps, the edges of her new robe picking up as much dirt as the broom.
“Now we’re going to bathe the angel.” He runs a bath and leads her to it. As she disrobes, the smell of yeast rises from underneath her breasts. He lowers her into the bath and calls the kid. There’s no washcloth. So, he rubs the bar of Irish Spring roughly over her skin to make a lather. The kid leans against the door frame with her thumb in her mouth again. He would have to do something about that.
“Kid, idle hands are the devil’s playthings. Help your mother out of the tub and wrap her in this towel.” The kid shakes her head. “Now,” he says.
He hands the kid the nightie, and she passes it to her mother. “Dry off her hair and give it a hundred strokes,” he says to the kid. When she is done brushing her mother’s hair, he says, “Again.”
Her damp hair crackles and breaks off into the brush. He hands the kid a bottle of Lubriderm. “Rub this into your mother’s hands and feet. Slowly.”
The kid does as she’s told now, a fast learner. Her mother’s skin is still blotchy from the bath, and her stringy hair frizzes as it dries. He groans. “Hey sweetheart, tell me more about this god of yours. Are you absolutely sure you believe?”
I talk to him in my head, and he listens.
“How do you know he listens? Does he ever talk back to you?”
No, but sometimes I just get this feeling, you know? Like someone is thinking really hard about giving me what I need.
“What do you need, sweetheart?”
I need to be saved.
“Tell you what. You go ahead and ask god to save you right now.” He unlatches the window, which looks over the alley behind the bar three floors below.
She squinches her eyes and mumbles some words under her breath. He holds the window open, waiting.
He tucks three hundred dollar bills under the strap of her nightie. “Ready, sweetheart?”
She closes her eyes as she steps out onto the ledge, unfolds herself, and jumps with her arms over her head. The hundreds come loose and flutter down behind her.
On the pavement, her knees buckle and bend beneath her. From the angle, he can tell at least one of her legs is broken.
She reaches for the bills as they fall and scatter, but she can only clutch onto one before the wind blows the other two away. She closes her eyes to wait for someone to take out the garbage and find her there.
The kid has her grubby thumb in her mouth again. He yanks it out and snaps it backward. The kid yelps, and he smacks her across the face. “That’s no way to behave for someone who just got a promotion, sweetheart.”
How Katie Michaels Finally Became One With Her Cat
By: Mackenzie Wilson
“Oh! What is it sweetie? Calm down, Murphy!” But the cat continued to moan wildly in the dark.
“Did you un-do your stitches? Are you okay?” Katie Michaels fumbled for the light switch on the wall. The room illuminated. She could see her growly gray beast with his bright blue neck-cone from the veterinarian’s. He was usually a furry mess of long haired elegance but the cone just made him look like a broken old man. She felt a pang a guilt seeing him so upset. “Is your cone uncomfortable? Do you want me to fix it?” But the cat was ignoring her. His moans had turned into trembling barks that sounded unearthly.
“Furry Murry!” She cried and leapt from bed to hold him. She was naked—she always slept naked—and her cat’s soft fur felt like happiness on her own exposed skin. She wanted him to calm down, though. He was giving her goose bumps. There was no way she could sleep with him making such terrible, gutteral sounds. She patted him, hugged him, and tried to pick him up but his muscles were so tense and contracted that he seemed to be rooted in place. That’s when she noticed that he was staring at one corner of the ceiling. She followed his gaze to spot on the wall where a giant, black…
“Jesus fucking Christ!” She gasped aloud and backed away to the opposite corner of her small studio apartment. Was it a spider? It had so many legs. But it also had pinchers. And a dangling tube. She had never seen anything like it. It was sitting there with that bizarre stillness that is so common to insects.
The cat continued his territorial polemic, his back shivering in readiness.
She was frozen in place. She considered calling her boyfriend for help. Or grabbing a shoe. How could she possibly get closer to it? She couldn’t bear to look at it—bristly and shiny— but couldn’t risk looking away.
Without warning, it started to frantically crawl in circles. Did it know she was looking at it? The thought made her insides quiver with sickness.
There is a unique sort of shame that comes from being nude in close proximity to something frightening. This black, investigative creature probably had no knowledge of nudity and still, it could see her (could it see?) in a way that was definitely not appropriate. Instinctively she wondered what would happen if she accidentally touched it? Even just gingerly? Feeling just a single bristle from one of its posterior legs? It was a repulsive nightmare. Without her clothes on, she was no longer a master of the animal kingdom, she was simply part of its ugly and luckless continuum. Worst of all, she was a helpless, hapless homosapein, and yet totally removed from the world of inclement nature by a millennium of luxurious safety. She felt so weak and exposed especially when confronted with this thing which God had unabashedly blessed with predatory gifts. And yet it seemed silly (beyond reason, even) to simply get dressed in the face of danger.
It shimmied onto the door before she could plan any course of defensive action. She watched the long wiggling tube as it explored a small stain on the paint. It took heady interest in a particularly brown spot and puckered at it. Kissing it. It moved away from the stain, jostled around for a few more moments and then abruptly ceased activity. Murphy the cat was still barking and yowling.
“Okay Murphy, okay…” she said to her only teammate. “We’re going to do this together. Right? Right, sweetheart?” She had no idea what to do. Tentatively, she looked for her phone. Murphy began to approach the door. His cries were shockingly visceral. Who could have known that Furry Murry was privately so vicious?
“Don’t go over there, honey.” She cried plaintively, though she was more occupied looking for her phone. She had decided not to call her boyfriend but instead the police. Or animal control. “Just stay with mommy!” While her attention was still divided she heard a sickening crunch. The cat’s meowling pitched into a sudden shriek. By the time she looked back, she saw the tip of Murphy’s tail go up the creature’s tube. It had crawled down the door and was now standing on the floor where the cat had been. A few flecks of meat dotted the tube’s orifice and stray pieces of wet and blood were everywhere. It had pulverized him and grown accordingly in size.
The following adrenal surge of panic she experienced completely shredded her ability to think rationally. She screamed. She screamed and screamed. She ran into the kitchen to grab a knife or a frying pan or a gun. She didn’t own a gun but she hoped she would find one anyway. She grabbed both a chef’s knife and a giant cooking pot. Whimpering and crying, she stood at the ready but did not have the courage to get close again. She stood in place, piqued, sweating, and reeling. She stared at the creature, her panting turning into ferocious wheezing. She couldn’t have realized it then but she sounded quite a bit like the now-deceased, Furry Murry. After a few predictably human calculations, she put down the pot and instead picked up a plate. She pitched it with all her strength at the creature. Bull’s-eye.
Though it had been hit, the spider-insect thing seemed more disgruntled than injured. It cocked its tube over its body, letting out a sound that was akin to a hiss. It drummed all of its legs, twirling feverishly and brandishing its thick pinchers. She retrieved another plate and was ready to throw it.
But then the creature took off. It crazily scurried all over the apartment, vivaciously threatening. Because it had so many legs, it could change directions instantaneously. She could not predict where to throw her plate. She yelled and cried and stomped, trying to ready herself to run out the door at her next possible chance.
Too late, she realized it was heading in her direction and not stopping. It raced up the wall, and without warning, it quietly fell off the ceiling directly into her hair. She had only enough time to spasm with terror before she was suctioned into its horrifying mouth. After only a few milliseconds of struggling with excruciating denial, she was a pile of meat in its stomach.
The black spidery creature was now about three orders of magnitude larger than it had been when it first entered the apartment. Its tube and interior digestive tract were clicking rapidly with wet sounds as it collected residual pieces of its meals, a one Katie Michaels and her cat Murphy. It slowly scuttled itself into the middle of the studio apartment where it seated its bloated self on the floor. It’s difficult to know if it found the shag carpeting pleasant or if it was even aware of it. It trembled ungracefully in satiated torpor.
It stayed this way for hours, not moving. The feeding tube slowly shrunk back to the original petite size it had been before eating the cat. The lights in the apartment were all still ablaze but the creature did not seem affected. It remained this way all night.
A few tweety rays of sunshine found their way around the apartment’s drawn curtains, illuminating the creature. If you had been there (though, I’m sure you’re glad you weren’t) you might have noticed that the engorged insect creature looked unwell. Its inanimate posturing was emptier somehow. It did not seem to be standing at ready attention or droned indifference. It didn’t look this way because, actually, it was dead. Just hours ago it had been an intimidating machination of evolution but now it was just a limp flotsam of nature, polluting someone’s apartment building.
A few of its legs gave out and it lethargically nosedived into the floor. There is nothing quite as dead as dead invertebrates: Their outer functionalities finally in concert with their brainless, soulless interior.
The creature, now unapologetically decomposing in the middle of the room, began to move. Or rather, something inside of it was moving. Forces within were pushing and pulling it, rocking it over the floor.
Over the course of thirty minutes, little black baby maggots began boring out of –what was apparently—their mother. They flopped unceremoniously onto the floor, twisting and coiling, a squelching concerto of birth. Each in turn began to wander around aimlessly until their puckered mouths twitched in fascination toward their maternal origin. They began to feed on her carcass which was now juicy and rich with flesh.