This week on bite-sized horror, I bring to you not a written story, but a terrifying podcast! The latest episode by the folks over at the Grey Rooms Podcast includes two tales: “Midnight Channel” by Tara Devlin and “Hunger Pains” by myself. Fair warning, these stories are not for the faint of heart and this episode contains graphic violence. If you can handle the stories in the Bite-Sized Horror Series, though, I think you can handle it. Have fun!
The High Priest burned Mom and Dad tonight. A child of their sin, I was forcefully dragged to the front of the crowd and made to watch as they died. I screamed and cried in protest, trying to break from my captors and save them, but my attempts were worthless. The only option I had was to listen as the High Priest condemned my parents. “Standing before you tonight are a pure-skin and a desert-rat, who have committed the awful sin of fornication.”
A gasp washed over the people and the priest continued, “Not just fornication, but by giving in to the delights of the flesh, the couple before you have also given birth to a child. This child is neither pure-skin, nor desert-rat, but a mixed breed: a mutt who has been living among us the last ten years, hiding the sins of his parents in plain sight.”
All eyes turned to me. The armed men restraining me grabbed my shoulders and spun me around for everyone to see. “Rat!” a voice screamed.
I looked around frantically for a familiar face. I recognized a few of my neighbors, but when they met my gaze, they looked away, ashamed. Among those gathered, I spotted my uncle Frederick. He didn’t look away like the others; his eyes told a different story. His normally cheery smile had sunken into his cheeks. He met my stare and returned a sorrowful head shake.
A fist struck my left cheek. Handfuls of mud sailed through the air and splattered my face. My captors turned me back to face the priest and my parents. From behind, I heard the crowd chant, “Punish the mutt! Punish the mutt!”
“The gods will pass their judgment on the boy soon enough. Tonight, we offer the bodies of the fornicators as atonement for their sins.” The High Priest raised the torch in his hands to the kindling at my parents’ feet. It caught instantly and my mother shrieked. With tears streaming down his face, my father looked at me and mouthed, “Don’t look.”
I tried to turn my head away, but the men holding me snapped my neck back. My mother gave in to the flames first. Her screams transformed into an awful choking noise until all she could do was groan. Then, she fell limp. My father, quiet the entire time, held on as long as he could, in defiance of death and defiance of the law. He raised his chin to the sky, and after a long time, finally gave in. His face, not recognizable by that point, fell against his chest.
When they had both passed, the High Priest raised his hands to the skies. “Our heavenly guardians, we offer the bodies of the sinful to you and hope you will accept our humble sacrifice.”
“Kill the mutt!” an angry voice roared.
As if in response, a deep rumble of thunder rolled across the horizon. Eyes closed, the priest lowered his hands and took a deep breath. “The gods have spoken tonight. There is still sin in our midst.” The High Priest opened his eyes and pointed a wiry, gray finger at me. “Tomin, your parents have committed a grave sin by bringing you into this world. For ten years, you have lied to us by your very existence. A pure-skin you are not.” He paused and made the sign of the holy flame across his chest. “By the power vested in me by the gods, I condemn you to death. Exactly one day and one night from now, you will join your parents in the afterlife, where you may seek forgiveness for your sins.”
The men dragged me away from the spectacle. Angry citizens flung insults and mud at me as I was carted away. The guards hauled me off to the temple, where I was locked in a tiny prayer room. The night grew dark and the noise of the throng faded into the distance, but I knew my time was approaching.
Shortly after I was shown to my room, Uncle Frederick paid me a visit. He entered alone, motioning to the guard outside to leave. The door swung back, hanging open an inch or two. I took note of the unlocked door and turned my attention to my uncle.
“Tomin,” he began.
I trembled. Was he here to save me? Could this nightmare finally be over? “Uncle,” I said. I dashed across the room into his open arms.
He wrapped me in his embrace and held me tight. “You know I want to make this right as much as you do.”
“Please help me,” I begged.
“Your dad lied to both of us for years sweetie. If I had known…” he paused, “If I had known your mother was a desert-rat back then, you would not be here right now.”
“But I am here right now,” I insisted.
He patted me on the head and tried to console me. “I know. I know. You are. But tomorrow, they will do the same to you, and I can’t let that happen.”
“Please get me out of here then,” I said. I pointed to the open door. “They’ll never know.”
Uncle Frederick looked over to the door, then back at me. I saw tears welling up in his eyes. Then, he lowered his voice and continued, “Listen very closely Tomin. I want you to know that I love you, but there are rules. These rules are unfair, and they don’t always make sense, but if we don’t play by them, then we all lose.”
“What do you mean?”
“I love you, that’s what I mean.”
A hot, searing pain abruptly pierced my stomach. I stumbled back from Uncle Frederick and grabbed my belly. My uncle had shoved a knife into it before I knew what had happened. I looked up at him confused. “I thought you said you loved me?”
“I do.” He looked at me with an uncomfortable grimace. Then, he grabbed the knife from my stomach and pressed it to my neck. “This is much quicker than burning at the stake.” The knife slid across my throat and I choked.
Through a red haze, I watched as Uncle Frederick turned to leave. “Tell your mother and father I love them too.”
A crushing weight sits on top of me. Surrounding me is nothing but darkness. I can’t see, but I know I’m being smothered. The last memory I have is that of my friends looking back at me and laughing.
“Hurry up already! Stop splashing around and get back in the boat!” The voice sounded distant and echoed through the bubbles.
My eyes open. All around me is empty space, wavering and rippling in a dizzying dance. I know my friends are near, but I can’t see them.
My chest is burning, and I just want to scream. Instinctively, I open my mouth. Water pours into my throat and I choke, trying to spit it back out. I close my mouth again, but I can’t seem to get rid of the water I’ve swallowed. My lungs feel like they’re collapsing in on themselves.
Somewhere far, far above me, I hear the sound of a motor. There’s an ethereal light filtering through the watery expanse, but it’s too far away to reach. I flail my arms up and down, hoping I can swim back up and breathe some air.
Something heavy crashes into my leg and sends me tumbling. I’m facing the opposite direction now and I see nothing below me. The light filters down into the bottomless pit below until it disappears into the inky blackness. The emptiness is vast and indifferent to my suffering.
I can feel myself growing faint. I haven’t breathed in how long I don’t know, but it feels like hours. Below, I see a giant shape contrasted against the darkness, watching and waiting for me.
My vision blurs and I see long, snake-like arms burst from the depths below.
Trigger warning: this story contains violence towards animals.
My cat died a week ago.
I woke up from a nightmare about fingernails and hair glued to my bedroom walls. When my eyes opened, the reality was worse. Bella, my little orange tabby, lay on the pillow next to me, her body still and unmoving. I placed my hand on Bella’s head and scratched behind her right ear. Even with all her fur in the way, she felt different.
The soft glow of my night light filtered across Bella’s fur coat. Her chest refused to rise and fall. I tried to wake her up, but she wouldn’t budge.
I spent the rest of the night trying to make things right. First, I took Bella to the closest animal clinic and tried to persuade them to fix her, but there was nothing they could do. They offered to cremate or bury her for me, but I wasn’t parting ways with her so soon. She was only 3 years old. Bella couldn’t be dead yet.
After the failed trip to the vets, I took Bella home and placed her back on her pillow. Then I closed my eyes and fell asleep, hoping that in the morning she would be normal again.
When I woke up, nothing had changed. I put food in her bowl and refilled her water dish, hoping that the smell would attract her.
The only scent that made any difference was Bella. On the second day, her body started to rot. I tried to ignore it and laugh it off as a bout of passing gas.
The third day, I lit candles. Bella’s foul scent was filling my tiny apartment and I couldn’t get rid of it. The flowery smoke helped mute the odor enough to get on with my life.
The fourth day, flies began filling the bedroom. I watched them cover Bella and crawl into her nostrils. I would have shooed them away, but I was secretly hoping they would tickle her nose and make her wake up.
The fifth day, I noticed the maggots. They were crawling around inside her mouth, and by the time I opened her jaw to check, they had already started to feast on her tongue.
The sixth day, I decided it was time to do what the vets had been unable to. I was going to open her up and figure out what was wrong.
I started with the fur, tearing at it with a vicious energy. The smell made me choke, but I wasn’t going to give up. Whatever was making Bella so sick, I had to get it out. I tore clumps of her fur and flung them to the side. A chunk of flesh and fur stuck to the wall.
I slowed down, checking to make sure Bella wasn’t in pain. Her eyes were closed and she seemed to be sleeping.
Within minutes, I had her open. As I suspected, she was infected with some awful disease. Her organs didn’t look normal or healthy. I pulled them out and placed them to the side.
Next, I scraped away the bugs that had made a home inside her. I opened the bedroom window and flung a writhing mass of white maggots outside. I cleaned her insides as best as I could, and once I was satisfied I sat back on my own pillow and examined her.
Bella was in pieces, but she looked a little cleaner. More carefully now, I began to put everything back together. It was like a puzzle, except the pieces were a little more complicated. I spent the rest of the day sewing each organ back in place. It was not easy, but once the final stitch was in she looked nice and tidy. The stitches would take some time to heal, but I suspected Bella would be happier and healthier than ever before. Satisfied with my handiwork, I passed out next to her, exhausted from my labors.
It is now day seven and I’ve finally accepted the reality. The maggots have returned, and the smell is even worse. It’s too late for grieving now. I’ve made a mess and there’s no fixing what I’ve broken. In the corner of Bella’s left eye, I see a worm wriggling its way out. She stares back at me, her scarred and infested face begging to be laid to rest.
Trigger warning: this story contains graphic violence and a scene of abuse.
You only die once. I tried repeating the phrase inside my head, over and over again. You only die once. You only die once. Once I made it past the threshhold, there would be no more pain and I would never have to experience this again.
“You fucking like that???” His voice rang shrill and bounced painfully into my aching skull.
I didn’t fucking like it at all. I could barely see him through my blood caked eyelids, but his fat, disgusting body was still recognizable. That sick fuck! He was nothing but a fat piece of shit!
A high pitched whir filled the air. “Because I do!” Through the red haze, I watched him raise the power drill again. I tried to move, willing every muscle in my throbbing limbs to break free. I couldn’t take it again. Not again! It had been hours already, for Christsake!
The drill bit into my left hand and drove through my outstretched palm. He pushed it in slowly, taunting me while he did. I could feel each tendon snap as the metal sliced through the soft tissues. It was unbearable. Then it struck the bone and he pushed hard. A bundle of nerves exploded inside my open hand and I screamed, “Oh god!” The bone shattered and the drill pressed through the other side.
He yanked the drill back. The bit popped out of the drill-head, hanging loosely on a leaf of flesh. It tugged on my throbbing hand and yanked the fresh wound open just a little bit more.
I cried. Hot tears poured down my cheeks and my chest heaved. I couldn’t take it. I just wanted to die. I wanted to die and be done with it goddamit. No more. I couldn’t do it any more.
He must have heard me thinking, because he grabbed my face and pressed his foul lips against mine, whispering, “You know why I do this?”
I couldn’t speak of course. He had cut out my tongue in the first hour. He said he never knew how to shut me up, so this was his way of doing it. For me. For us.
“Because I love you.”
The words cut sharper than any of his instruments. I looked into his deep blue eyes and examined him. I used to love him. I used to love pressing my thin frame against his stocky body, using his bulk for warmth. He was like a giant teddy bear. A large man with a large heart, I bragged to my friends. Now, he was just a fat piece of shit.
He let go of my cheeks and stepped away from me. Dropping the drill, he placed his hands on his hips and frowned. “Just smile once in a while, would ya?”
I couldn’t even if I tried. I didn’t have the strength. I was done, but he wasn’t letting me die so soon. He wanted to make me feel the way I had made him feel. It was the only way to make things right, he had said. Hadn’t I paid the price by now? I just wanted to die.
You only die once. I repeated it again, as if those very words would drive a knife into my heart and end it all. As if the words themselves would be my savior.
“Look at what you made me do!” He shouted, interrupting my thoughts. He pulled out his pistol, raised it to his head, and pulled the trigger.
His body fell to the floor with a heavy thump and the gun landed beside him. I yanked at my restraints as hard as I could, but they wouldn’t budge. Nausea gripped my stomach and I felt the need to vomit. Acid burned the back of my throat and nipped painfully at the fleshy nub where my tongue used to be.
I looked at the floor where my husband lay. He looked so peaceful and calm, compared to how violent he had been moments ago. I didn’t deserve this. He deserved to be in my place and die agonizingly slow in the basement.
My left hand hung limp and broken, still bleeding from where the drill had bit through. Everything ached and burned and I knew I wasn’t going to die as soon as I wanted.
I glanced once more at the body before me. He lay in a pool of his own blood, surrounded by his sins. Whether he was in hell or not, I didn’t know, but at least he was dead.
The time is 3:00 am and I can’t sleep. Everywhere I look, there are faces staring back at me. There’s one in the doorway, frowning and baring its teeth. Above it sits a disembodied mouth, grinning as wide as the Cheshire Cat. Below, there is a pair of eyes with no face, wide and bloodshot, and refusing to blink.
There’s a face right above my head, hanging from the ceiling by tendrils of exposed flesh and tissue. I refuse to look up and see it again, but I can feel a slow steady drip of blood on my neck, and I know it’s still there.
The faces cover every inch of the four walls surrounding me. Some are inquisitive, and some of them don’t seem as frightening as the others, but all of them look like they’re waiting for me to close my eyes.
I blink quick and look around to make sure nothing happened in the half-second my eyes were shut. None of them seem to have moved, but as if copying me, they blink all at once.
In unison, every pair of eyes opens again and focuses their gaze on me. “Leave me alone!” I yell.
Lips peel apart and then a singular, awful screaming fills the room. “We will never leave!” they reply.
This has to be a nightmare. If I just close my eyes and wish myself awake, then the faces will leave. I pull the covers tighter against my body and dig my toes into the bedsheets. As a kid, this always worked, so it has to work now.
I close my eyes.
There in the darkness, another face is waiting for me. A face like my own greets me with a smile. I try to open my eyes again, but there is no going back.
It opens its mouth and the sound of my own voice shrieks, “Wake up!”
Sam's going to sleep now. It's my favorite time because that's when we get to play.
Sometimes we just sit and talk and I get to tell him about my family. There's Bill and Susie, and of course myself, and we all live underneath Sam's basement.
When we're not talking, I usually chase Sam around the house and we play hide and seek. He doesn't like it when I brag, but I'm better at that game because I can see him through the walls. I always find him, but he never finds me. It's lots of fun.
Tonight Sam and I are going to play with his mommy and daddy. Sam tells me they don't believe I'm real, and that makes me sad. I told Sam that we can make them believe - adults just need a little more convincing, that's all.
I haven't told Sam yet, but I think I know how I can show them I'm just as real as he is. So tonight we're going to go underneath the house, where the rest of my family stays, and make Sam just like us. It's going to be so much fun, I already know.
It looks like Sam's asleep now. It's time to play!
It’s dark outside and George is in bed. He has been sleeping for some time now, and so have I. I’m lying by George’s feet to keep him safe, like I do every night.
A strange sound wakes me up. I think I hear someone moving around downstairs. George and I live alone, so there must be a stranger inside. I growl quietly. I don’t think I need to wake George up yet, but I should probably investigate and make sure George’s territory is safe.
I hop off the bed and pad across the carpet. George grunts in his sleep and rolls over. I look back at him to make sure he’s okay. He’s drooling in his sleep and making a mess. George doesn’t like it when I drool on his things, but he’s the Master, so I suppose it’s okay. I snort and lick up the slobber under my lips.
Outside in the hallway, I stop. The noise is gone now, but I smell something odd. It reminds me of a rat I found rotting in the basement one time. It smells like death.
“Master! Master!” I bark, “Wake up! Wake up!”
I hear George yell, “Duke! What is it?”
A hand grabs me by my scruff and I yelp. It’s cold and I don’t like it. “Get off!”
I turn around and see the intruder. He’s the strangest creature I’ve ever seen. He looks human but has no face. The hand he touched me with is freezing cold and I can see bones poking out from under his skin. The smell is stronger now and my fur is standing up. If he smells dead, he shouldn’t be moving around like this.
I growl as loud as I can and jump towards his throat. He must be almost dead, so killing him should be quick. I miss and land on the stairs.
How did I miss? The stranger was right in front of me the whole time. I bark, “Get out! Get out!” and lunge back into the hall.
The stranger slams the bedroom door shut and disappears. Inside the room, I can hear George stumbling around, trying to find me and make me quiet. “Duke! I’m getting up. What’s wrong?”
I jump at the door and scratch at it with my claws. The smell of death keeps getting stronger and I don’t like it. “Intruder! Intruder!”
“Okay, okay! It’s alright Duke, It’s al-”
George stops speaking and I hear a crash from inside the room. “Get it off!” George yells. He’s panicking, I can feel it. I hear George’s heart beat faster and faster, and I can smell his tears. He’s crying now. “Please, god, get it off me!”
“I’m coming! I’m coming!” I jump at the door again and dig my claws into the wood. It won’t move, though.
There’s another crash and I hear George screaming. I can smell his blood now. “I’m coming! Master! I’m coming!” My throat hurts from barking so loud, but I have to do something.
I hear a ripping noise, like someone tearing a shirt in half. George is choking.
“Stop! Stop!” I jump at the door, again and again. I’m clawing so hard at the door, but it just won’t open. Why is this happening?
The bedroom is quiet now. The smell of death is everywhere, and I just want it to go away. My nose is telling me George is dead, but I don’t want to believe it.
Downstairs, I hear the front door open and a voice yelling, “Police! If there’s anyone inside, keep your hands where we can see them!”
“Go away!” I bark. “No strangers!” I want to run down there and stop the new intruder, but if I leave, I might miss my chance to kill the faceless man.
“We’re coming in!” Another voice yells.
“Go away!” I jump at the bedroom door again, putting every bit of my weight into it.
“Hey bud, it’s okay…” I turn around and see a group of people at the top of the stairs. Some of them are wearing blue uniforms and the others are wearing red ones. What are they doing here?
“Go away!” I bark again.
“Look, he’s trying to get into that room,” one of them says. He pulls out a gun from his hip and I see him wave at another one of the strangers. Are they here to help?
I jump at the door again and claw it as hard as I can. A thick hand grabs me by the scruff and then one of the strangers yanks the door open. The hand lets go and I dash into the room as fast as I can.
“I’m here! I’m here!” There is blood everywhere, but I can’t find George or the intruder from earlier. Where are they?
“Holy shit,” one of the men says. “Look at the ceiling.”
I look up and see what they see. George is stuck to the ceiling, and he’s not moving. There’s blood coming from his head and something is horribly wrong. George has no face.
The event occurred so long ago that I try to tell myself it wasn’t even real. When asked about it, I say only that the memory is fuzzy, and besides, I’m not even sure if it happened. That’s a lie, though. The memory is seared into my mind so thoroughly that no matter what I try to convince myself or others, I know it’s real. The truth is that I don’t like talking about it. Who would want to relive such an awful moment of their lives?
I am compelled now to write about it only because I cannot bear it any longer. I have to get these images out of my head and let someone know what I saw that evening.
It was a Saturday night and I was planning to meet a couple of my close friends at one of our favorite haunts: Silver Light Coffee House. We usually played board games on the weekends and the coffee house was our favorite meeting spot.
I ordered my drink and made my way to the corner where we usually sat. No one had arrived yet, so I set my things down and organized some of my playing cards. I was a few minutes early, anyways.
I spent the next half hour flipping through my collection, removing cards and placing newer ones in their stead. I didn’t look up, only to my left to check my phone and see if I had any new messages. It was as if my eyes were bidden to remain focused on the table in front of me until the specters were ready. Until they had decided it was time to see.
30 minutes precisely after I sat down, I had a sudden premonition to look up. I wasn’t searching for my friends. I only felt as if it was suddenly the right time to raise my head.
They were ready for me.
Directly in my line of sight there sat a body. Its hands were bound to the arms of the chair on which it sat and nailed firmly in place. Its feet were the same, each fixed in place with a thick metal spike. The body was that of a man, naked and bloody and very much dead. Horrible lashes rent open the skin on both the torso and the back. A small wooden sign hung from the man’s neck, which read, “The sacrifice of the son can never pay for the sins of the father.”
I tried to stand up and scream for help but found myself unable to do so. An invisible vice clamped onto my lips and sealed them. Another urge to move my head took me, and my neck swiveled unbidden to see what was to my left.
At the coffee counter there stood another corpse. It was a woman, her hands stretched above her head and bound at the wrist by a thick rope suspended from the ceiling. She had been sawn in two from top to bottom and where her face had been, there remained only a gaping hole of flesh and bone.
I wanted to get up and run, but I couldn’t. Instead, I snapped my neck back, glancing momentarily again at the man in the chair and then to my right. Three heads and one body. The face of an elderly man, the face of a child, and the third was faceless, like the woman I had just seen. The body was sewn together - a patchwork of various skins. The body was nailed to the wall in the shape of a cross, arms outstretched and legs clasped together.
The horrific images were too much for me to bear. I wanted to scream, I wanted to run, I wanted to do anything but look. I couldn’t move, though. A horrible sickness gripped my belly and I felt the bile rise, but I couldn’t vomit. My actions were not my own. I had no choice in the matter. A voice within me commanded my muscles to move, to turn around and see what was behind me. I didn’t want to, of course. I tried to fight the feeling, to break the invisible bonds and go free, but my body ignored the pleas for help.
I turned around and faced the being who had brought me into this macabre gathering. Upon turning, I realized the being was not a single entity, but a twisted mass of countless tortured souls. I stared at them, overcome with helplessness and utter confusion.
A gaping maw of darkness opened before me, belching forth a thousand shrieking voices and shaking the walls with an agonizing noise born of pain and suffering. The sound overcame me, finally allowing me the mercy of shedding a single tear. The bile rose and spilled from my lips, bubbling out of my mouth and dribbling down my chin. The voices crowded together inside my mind, screaming as one, both begging me to help them, and condemning me for my failure to act.
A figure shrouded in shadows stepped out of the darkness and faced me. It bore no likeness to anything I’ve ever seen. It had no body, no face, nothing even slightly human for which I could compare it to. It only had a voice. Though the sound of torment surrounded me, I could hear it speak. Its voice was shrill and tinged with poison, “See now the price that must be paid.”
It beckoned me to turn and I did as I was commanded. Each of the bodies I had seen before were now animated and had been freed from their bonds.
The faceless woman raised an arm and a gurgling, choking noise erupted from where her mouth should have been. Cold fingers raked across my face. Another choking noise and she pulled tight at my cheeks, trying to rip the flesh from my face.
The man with the sign around his neck joined her, laboriously removing the nail from his left hand and then raising it to me. He drove the nail into my face, through the fragile skin upon my cheek and into my mouth. I knew their pain at that moment. I knew what it was to feel the agony of unthinkable torture and be incapable to stop it. The three-headed horror attacked me while they tore my face from my skull.
I blinked, suddenly dizzy and disoriented. The shop of horrors had disappeared, and in its stead was the Silver Light Coffee House, normal and very much unassuming. I looked up to realize that the barista was staring at me curiously. “I am so sorry,” I said.
I must have made a scene because the other patrons were staring at me. There were only five other people in the shop, whom I had never seen before, but looked all too familiar. Directly in front of me sat a man dressed in coveralls, and holding a newspaper. His hands were shaking slightly and bore scars of some sort of terrible accident.
To my right, there was a family of three. A father and his son both faced me, eyes open wide. The third had their face obscured by a black hood.
Behind me stood a man dressed in a black suit. He was the only one unfazed by my outburst. I saw his eyes and felt the same horrible fear set into me again. It was him. It was them. It was the nightmare. His mouth didn’t open, but when I met his gaze, a tiny whispering voice crawled into my mind. It beckoned me to embrace the visions and become one with them, to leave this reality behind and enter their twisted version of my world.
I broke my gaze with him, suddenly aware that I was in control of my body again. Offering another apology to the barista, I gathered my things and left.
I never returned to the Silver Light Coffee House after that event. The horror of the scene was too much to bear. I cannot fully explain what I saw, but I know that there are terrible evils in this world. There are beings which exist for the sole purpose of purveying terror. There is no way to understand them unless you have seen them, but understand that they are real. They are probably watching me write this with some dark sense of humor, laughing at my inability to comprehend their true power. There is nothing I can do, but share this tale as a sort of warning. If you can feel their presence - and you will know when you feel it - stop whatever it is you’re doing and leave.
Leave and never return.
Timmy dipped his toes into the warm waters of the baptismal. There were three short steps to descend, and then he would be waist deep, standing side-by-side with the pastor. He hesitated, looking out at the congregation before him.
His parents and friends sat in the front row, waiting patiently. Their faces were still and solemn. Their little Timmy was ten years old - finally old enough to make a public proclamation of his faith. All he had to do was step into the waters and cleanse himself of his sins. Timmy raised his eyes and met the expectant gaze of Pastor Hughes. He was always fair and just and had never done Timmy any wrong, but Timmy had seen the wrath of God in his eyes before, and that scared him.
As if seeing Timmy’s thoughts, Pastor Hughes nodded in affirmation and raised a hand, beckoning him to enter the holy waters. Timmy chided himself for his doubt, and thought, “A true believer doesn’t doubt. A true believer obeys.” He grimaced, wondering if God could hear him and if he could possibly forgive him for his sinful feelings.
Timmy splished into the water, and descended the steps, grasping Pastor Hughes’ hand. He looked at his parents’ waiting gaze and felt his gut tighten. They never smiled. No one ever smiled. He hated that about this place. Timmy winced as the thought invaded his mind, then left. He looked up at the pastor, hoping he couldn’t hear him thinking.
Pastor Hughes grasped Timmy’s hand in his, patting it gently, then began to speak, “Timothy Jethro Isaacs comes before us today to publicly announce his faith in our Lord and Savior. He offers himself as the Sacrificial Lamb for our sins, just as Jesus himself did almost 2000 years ago.”
Timmy’s mother Kiera seemed not to flinch, but his father Abraham immediately reacted, viscerally and violently. Jumping from his seat, he roared, “Not my son!”
Pastor Hughes waved his hand to the two hooded figures standing out front. The elders were still as statues until they were needed, and when they were needed, they readily became the fists of God. They exited from either side of the large stone altar before the baptismal and seized Abraham.
“Not Timmy! He’s one of us!” Abraham yelled. A wooden bat struck his head, silencing him immediately. The elders dragged his limp figure back to his seat and plopped him next to his wife. Kiera looked at her husband with a vacant stare, then returned her attention to the front of the church.
Timmy began to shake as the Pastor continued to speak, “Please repeat after me… I believe.”
“I believe,” Timmy said.
“That Jesus is the Christ.”
“That Jesus is the Christ.” Timmy breathed in deep. This was his chance. He could prove himself. He could show his family that he was one of them.
“The Sacrificial Lamb.”
“The Sacrificial Lamb.”
Pastor Hughes turned his gaze from the congregation to meet Timmy’s wide-eyed stare. “Timothy Jethro Isaacs, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Sacrificial Lamb, and of the Holy Spirit, for the forgiveness of your sins.”
The Pastor placed one hand around Timmy’s neck and placed the other on the small of his back. Timmy instinctively placed his fingers on his nose, pinching his nostrils shut. Pastor Hughes shook his head and slapped Timmy’s fingers, then grabbed him forcefully. He shoved his body under the water and held him there. Timmy began to thrash as the Pastor held him down.
The two hooded figures up front turned to Kiera, as if waiting for her to react. She kept quiet and watched with polite reverence.
Pastor Hughes held Timmy down, counting the seconds in his head. A minute passed by and Timmy stopped fighting, struggling instead to breathe. His mouth opened and water flooded into his lungs. The Pastor felt the boy’s body shake as he tried to choke out the fluid, but there was no relief. Timmy’s quivering body sent ripples across the water’s surface.
Another minute passed and Timmy’s body fell limp and still. Pastor Hughes let go of the boy’s neck and waved the hooded figures over. One stood in front of the altar, holding a torch in his left hand, and the other headed to the baptismal to receive Timmy’s body.
The congregation was silent.
The elders placed Timmy on the altar, removing his wet garments and replacing them with a clean, dry white robe. They laid the torch on his chest and then took a step back, kneeling before the child.
Pastor Hughes raised his eyes and hands skyward. “Dear Lord, please accept this, our humble sacrifice.”
Abraham shifted in his seat, roused by the harsh scent of his smoldering son. He blinked, wiping the blood from his eyelids and looked up.
He was too late to do anything, except repent. Abraham fell prostrate on the ground, wailing and crying, “Father forgive me!”
Kiera placed a hand on her grieving husband’s shoulders, and whispered, “Sacrifices are not easy, but they are necessary, my love. Timothy sleeps with the angels now.”
The bad men came at night.
Mommy tried to hide from them, but they dragged her away into the darkness and made her scream. They tossed her dead, naked body into the bushes when they were done with her.
Daddy tried to fight them, but they shot him dead in the street. I remember thinking that he came apart just as easily as my action figures had when I was playing with them.
Then the good men came.
They wore tan and green clothes and talked in a funny language. After a lot of yelling and loud noises, they killed the bad men.
When they found me, I was scared, but then I looked into their eyes and realized they were too. I didn’t understand a word they said, but they put aside their guns and played with me for a little bit until I was brave enough to come out of hiding.
Now I can speak their language. I live with them, in the land they call free. Some of the same men are my friends.
Some of their friends are not so nice, though. They say I’m a danger to everyone else and like to yell, “Go home! This is a land of God!”
The bad men never really left. They’re here in the land of the free too, but instead of hating in the name of my God, they do it in the name of theirs.
The bad men are here, and they want to send me back - back to where mommy and daddy died that night.
José sat quietly in his corner of the small room. The other kids had fallen asleep by now, finally succumbing to their mental exhaustion. José was was only six years old though, and he had seen too much. He wasn’t sleeping tonight.
Three nights ago, men in uniforms kidnapped him. José had seen his older sister Bibiana kidnapped the year before, but this time was different. Bibiana was taken in the middle of the night by a group of men wearing masks. The men in uniforms were not quite as discreet as the men in masks had been. His Mamá and Papá were put in handcuffs and walked away in one direction, and José was stuffed into the back of a van and carted away in the opposite direction. The last memory José had of his mother was the sound of her screams fading into the distance.
Mamá and Papá told José this day would never come. “We’re visiting the land of the free, mijo,” they told him. “No one gets kidnapped there,” Papá had said.
José hugged his knees, remembering his Papá’s words. Then, he remembered the man in the red tie, and what he had said, “If they feel there will be separation, they won’t come.”
Hello dear reader. I have some dreadful news: there will be no bite-sized horror tonight, as I am currently playing catch up on life and homework. I am currently working on next week’s tale, so stay tuned. Also, be sure to catch up on past tales of dread and despair while you’re at it!
See you next week!
The puttanesca was starting to get cold. The candlesticks on the table flickered to and fro, casting an angry light over the gloomy room, and illuminating the feast spread on the table.
There were two plates piled high with the pasta, a basket of garlic bread, and a splatter of red sauce on the side opposite where Jim was sitting. His eyes were wide, unblinking, and fixated on the figure slumped across the chair across from him. It was a woman, her head slumped over, hair falling onto the table and woven into the strands of pasta. Her blood, spilled just a few moments before, was readily mixing with the food in front of her motionless body.
Jim swallowed. This wasn’t supposed to happen today, but his urges had won out in the end. The puttanesca was perfect, but it had been missing a few ingredients.
He lifted his fork from the plate, studying his wife’s sauce covered fingers once more. “Might as well make the most of it.” He shrugged and took a bite.
Tonight at exactly 5:30 pm, Mom started screaming.
“Make it stop!” Her voice was shrill and hung heavy with fear.
I dropped my dinner plate on the table, startled by the sudden and terrified cry for help. “Mom, what’s wrong?” I spun around to see her bent over the kitchen counter, holding her head tight between her hands. She was crying and shaking. “Mom, what happened?”
“I… I don’t know.” Mom looked up at me, tears in her eyes. “It. It just hurt.” She was still shivering but I didn’t see any injuries. She continued, “Everything pinched at the same time. It was terrible.”
“What pinched?” I examined her again. Mom was a small woman, but she didn’t seem hurt. “Is it something internal? Do you need to go to the doctor?” She seemed to be hunched over, or maybe bending at the knees. Either way, she seemed smaller and more terrified than I had ever seen her.
“No… no babe. It’s fine.” She wiped her eyes with her shirt, and then motioned to the dining table. “Help me clean up, okay?”
“Okay?” I said, hesitating. “If something’s wrong, I’m taking you to the doctor, though.”
At 6:30 pm, Mom screamed again. I was in my bedroom with my headphones on and face buried in a pile of homework, but despite the distractions, I couldn’t ignore the sound. The shrieking lasted for about 5 seconds and by the time I dashed into the hallway to investigate, it had stopped.
I stood in front of the bathroom door where the sound had come from. Mom was sobbing. Pounding on the door, I demanded to be let in. “Mom, open the door. What’s happening?”
“It’s okay!” She said, choking back her tears. Her voice sounded quiet and distant. “Just do your homework and leave me alone.”
“Just let me in, Mom. You need to go to the doctor.”
“No… I can fix it, okay? I just need a few minutes.”
“Honey, just listen to me and leave me alone. Just for a little bit.”
I returned to the bedroom and grabbed my homework. Then, I sat myself down outside the bathroom door. Cross-legged, I waited. When she finally decided to come out, I was going to get her some help. Mom was stubborn, but so was I.
At 7:30 pm, a horrifying squeaking noise crawled through the crack under the door. “It hurts! It hurts!” Mom yelled. Her voice was quieter and sounded strained.
I dropped my papers and pounded on the door. “Open up!”
“No honey, no… you can’t see me.”
I kicked the door. “If you don’t open it, I’m coming in.”
“Stop it, honey. Just stop, please,” Mom begged. She didn’t sound right. Her voice wavered and squealed with each syllable.
I kicked the door as hard as I could, driving my heel through the cheap plywood. It splintered and a jagged hole appeared.
“Stop!” Mom pleaded.
I ignored her protest and reached in, feeling around for the door handle, then opened it. Yanking my arm back out, I winced as a tooth of freshly broken wood bit into my arm.
The door swung open and I stared into the small bathroom. Mom was nowhere to be seen. There was only a pile of clothes sitting by the toilet and the shower curtains were drawn. I yanked a towel off the rack and then flung it over. “Mom, get out of the shower and get changed! I’m taking you to the hospital.”
“I’m not in the shower,” a tiny voice squeaked from behind me.
I tripped over my feet, grabbing ahold of the towel rack to steady myself. “Mom?” I asked.
“I’m right here.”
I looked down at my feet to the pile of clothes. The shirt moved and a tiny head peered out from the bundle of laundry. The face staring back at me was no larger than the head of a mouse, but I recognized Mom in an instant.
Was this a nightmare? I slapped myself across the face, then looked back at her. She was still there, tiny and frightened. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were playing tricks on me or not, but she seemed to be shrinking.
I knelt down and looked at her again. “What the hell happened?”
She looked up at me with sadness in her eyes. “I don’t know baby. Just leave. You can’t see me like this.” Her head disappeared beneath the pile of clothing, and then she screamed again. This time, it was quieter but still as jolting as before.
I grabbed ahold of the shirt she had been hiding under and searched. There, in the folds, she was clinging desperately to the fabric. She was no larger than the size of a grape now, but I recognized her blonde hair. I grabbed her and held her in my hands, looking in disbelief at the shape.
Mom fell on her back, writhing and shaking in my hands. “It’s crushing me! Make it stop! Make it stop!”
I dashed outside, carrying my mom in the palm of my hands. Grabbing my car keys, I bounded down the steps towards the car. I had to find help!
A whisper washed over my wrist as Mom tried to cry out. “It’s all around… it’s crushing me.”
I looked down at my hand. I could barely see her anymore. Her writhing and tossing tickled my palms. “Mom!” I said. “We’re going to get help!”
The tickling sensation stopped. There, in the palm of my hand, I watched as Mom’s tiny, frail frame melted into my skin. I closed my hand and clasped my fingers together. If she was still there somewhere, I had to make sure I didn’t lose her.
Then, I felt it. The crushing weight of some invisible force surrounded me, twisting my skin and tightening around my bones.
I started screaming.
“Hey David, look at this!” Freddy, my older brother, hit the switch next to the sink. The garbage disposal whirred to life and a whirlpool formed, sucking the soapy water down with a gurgling fury.
“Mom said no! You can’t touch that!”
We were both ten years old and had been assigned to wash dishes. They had piled up over the last couple days while Mom and Dad were working, and neither my brother or I were exactly hopping at the chance to do more chores.
“Oh just shut it, won’t ya?” Freddy snapped. He hit the switch to shut it off, then stuck his tongue out. “What? You gonna tell Mom and Dad, huh?”
I don’t know how other twins get along, but Freddy and I had been at each other’s throats since the day we were born. Apparently, the story goes that Freddy was born first and when they pulled me out, they found Freddy’s umbilical cord wrapped around my throat. I don’t know how true that is, but it makes sense. Freddy was always trying to corner me or sock me in the face when I wasn’t expecting it. He was technically the “older” sibling since he came out first, and he never let me forget that.
“Maybe I will!” I said.
“They’re not even home stupid. Who’re they gonna believe? Me or you?”
I frowned. Freddy smirked and hit the switch. The garbage disposal started up again. “You’re just a butt-head you know?” Freddy said. He grabbed the dish soap and squirted a healthy amount into the sink, giggling as the water foamed up.
I’d had just about enough of his stupid little games. We were the same age and he was constantly trying to pretend like I didn’t matter. I shoved Freddy. “Turn it off!”
Freddy had been standing on a small stool, and as soon as I pushed him, he fell. Out of instinct, his left arm shot out to steady himself, and he grabbed ahold of the faucet. It detached and his hand plunged into the sink.
A horrible grinding noise erupted and Freddy yelled, “It’s got my hand!”
I watched Freddy struggling to break free. The water was quickly turning red and the drain was sucking his left arm in as it tore it apart. His bones and flesh broke so quickly, it seemed almost impossible. No garbage disposal could be that strong could it?
Freddy screamed. Tears poured down his cheeks and his eyes bulged out of his face. I had never seen him look so scared. “Help! Turn it off! Please!” he screamed.
His voice snapped me out of my momentary shock and I ran over to the switch. Freddy’s arm had already been shredded up to his elbow and the water was a soupy mess of dish water and grease swimming with blood and flesh. The drain grew louder and wailed violently like it was about to give up, but the more of Freddy’s limb it sucked in, the more powerful it grew. The lights flickered on and off and a bulb shattered in the living room.
I hit the switch as fast as I could. “Okay! Get out!” I yelled.
The wiring must have been damaged, because the disposal kept going and became even more furious at my attempts to stop it. Freddy was in up to his shoulder. His legs dangled off the edge of the counter, and he screamed at me to stop it. I couldn’t tell who was louder: Freddy or the drain.
I grabbed Freddy’s leg and tugged. The blades of the garbage disposal spun faster, ripping him from my grip. “David, please help! Please!” my brother sobbed and cried pitifully.
Freddy’s face disappeared beneath the water and his wailing was deafened by the bubbles foaming above his mouth. His body convulsed and shook violently. I fell backwards, unable to do anything. The drain made an awful grinding noise and then Freddy’s legs disappeared into the sink.
Then he was gone, as if he had never been there in the first place. The lights above my head flickered again and the garbage disposal finally shut off. I listened as the drain continued to gurgle and choke, and then finally, grew quiet as the final gooey remains of my brother disappeared into the pipes.
I don’t know the exact moment the shadow started following me, but it’s been long enough now that this is the only reality I know. When I was younger, I was terrified of its unnatural shape, shifting and stirring in the dark corners around me. Perhaps the detail I found most horrifying was not the grey haze of its body, but its face. There were no features, save for a mouth. Always open and exposing its yellowed teeth, it spoke dark little threats while I tried to hide from it. It would hiss and whisper, “You are nothing.”
I tried to confront it, but that only made things worse. The first time I tried to reason with the shadow, it began shouting, “You’re nothing!” The voice echoed through my skull like a drum and beat out my thoughts. All my arguments were worthless with its grinding voice drowning me out. It was best not to argue. If I did nothing, eventually it would grow quiet again and be happy enough to simply whisper its threats.
The best option I had was to stay busy and ignore the shadow. It is, after all, a coward and it likes the darkness best. At work, I took on every task I could, so that there wasn’t a spare moment where the shadow could come out from hiding. When the boss needed me, I was the first to arrive, and the last to leave. The shadow was there, sure, but it was hard to see it hiding in the corners when my eyes were glued to my computer screen.
The only problem was when I had to go home. Alone in my apartment, I was the perfect prey. The shadow climbed on top of my shoulders and its lips peeled apart. A wretched odor dripped from its throat and it continued to whisper, “You’re nothing, can’t you see?”
Those moments alone only fed the shadow’s strength, until finally, it attached to me like a parasite. It melded into me, fusing its cold grey skin with mine. I could no longer see the awful mouth, but I could now feel it breathing on my neck every second of every day. It had made a home and it wasn’t going to leave.
I turned to religion next. If this thing was a demon, then perhaps church was the cure. I read the scriptures and prayed every night. I begged for forgiveness, but my words were heard by no one. The shadow mocked my attempts to be holy and reminded me once more, “You’re worthless. What god can fix you?”
With few alternatives left, I considered the one thing I had been dreading my whole life: telling someone. Maybe a friend, or a family member, or my boss even? I could tell them all about the shadow and they would help me. It was pointless though, and I knew it. No one would believe a word I said, and if they did, they wouldn’t know what to do.
I had only a single option. I was tired of fighting the shadow. It was never going to leave.
Now here I stand, one with the shadow and unable to escape. It’s growing louder, and chanting in my ear, “Do it, do it, do it.” I know what it wants and if I give it what it's asking for, it will finally leave me alone.
The knife feels sharp, and I hate the pain, but it will be over soon. The voice is already fading and the shadow is slipping away. There’s blood on my skin, and I have only one thought, “What if I had told someone?”
I can't remember what time it was when I hid in the closet. It feels like hours have passed, but it could be minutes. My heart has slowed down a bit, but I can still feel its palpitations in my throat.
The shadow found me in the basement while I was rummaging around in some old storage containers. At first I thought it was just the coats hanging on the wall, but then it blinked, and I saw milky white eyes staring at me. They looked like the gaze of a starved animal. I ran from it and hid in the hall closet.
While I hid, it searched, tearing through the hallway and into the living room. It's irregular breathing betrayed its location as it moved from one end of the house to the other, trying to find me.
I held my breath and waited for it to go back to the basement. If it returned to where it came from, I could lock the door and get the hell out of here.
I listened closely, but it had stopped searching. It was probably waiting for me to come out of hiding.
Then, I felt a cool breath tickle my neck. White eyes blinked next to me and a ragged voice whispered, "I like this hiding spot too.”
Not all who are blind were born that way. It’s a misconception that many people still have. I don’t usually correct them when they make remarks, but when they ask, I shrug and say it was a childhood accident. They usually leave it at that, figuring it’s rude to pry. And it is. I wouldn’t want to talk about it even if they tried to get me to spill my story. The truth is, my blindness is no accident. I just lie so I don’t have to confront the terrible truth.
All my life I’ve been haunted by a terrible evil. I never figured out what it was, or why it followed me everywhere, and it’s probably best to leave it that way.
I first saw it when I was born. Most people don’t remember the day they were born, but I do. One moment I felt safe and cozy, and the next, I was surrounded by bright lights and the eyes of a thousand terrors. I screamed just like any baby does when it's born, but I couldn’t stop screaming. My parents told me I screamed until I was old enough to walk, and even then I was still a frail, scared child. They could never quite figure it out, but I still have the memories of the specter watching me.
It followed wherever I went, grinning and grimacing. Its body was made of many beings, all contorted and twisted into one wretched mess of a creature. I tried to escape, to run to the safest places I could find, but I was never safe. Even in the arms of my mother, when I would look over her shoulders it would be watching me from the corner.
That’s why at the age of 5 I decided to do what most would consider an act of insanity. I tore out my own eyes. It was simple, really, though not very pleasant. I grabbed a fork from the kitchen drawer and stabbed each eye with a quick jabbing motion, then scooped. I figured it would do the job better than a knife and there would be nothing left to repair. Pain and relief washed over me at once. My vision filled with red and I felt the tongs of the forks drive into the nerve endings behind my eye. The last thing I saw as my vision disappeared was the specter fading, mouth opening in a look of defeat.
I don't see that thing anymore, but there's one problem: I can hear it now. It never used to make sounds when I was younger, but I know it for what it is. I hear it whispering terrible lies in my ears everywhere I go. No one else can hear it but me, and no matter what I do, it won't leave me alone.
I think my ears are the next to go.
I burned down the church and everyone in it. Pastor Hughes had just stepped up to the altar when the flames engulfed him. The funny thing is, no one flinched when the fire started. All they could do is watch with mesmerization, certain this was another of his performances, an exhibition of his devotion to God.
Let me tell you a little about the church before I go on. The Church of the Sacrificial Lamb prided themselves on their mission to cleanse the earth of sin. Pastor Hughes preached fire and brimstone and commanded his followers to cleanse the world of its sinful ways through whatever means necessary. Every Sunday they brought before the Pastor a new sacrifice, a debt owed to God. Pastor Hughes would read aloud from the Old Testament, commanding them to do deplorable things, such as sacrificing pagan children and offering them as a burnt sacrifice before the Lord.
I listened just outside the doors as the congregation worked themselves into a frenzy, descending on their pastor as he flailed about. I heard the sound of cloth tearing, followed by the wet noise of flesh ripping open.
If I told you I was proud of what I did, it would be a lie. I knew every person inside that church. My sister Alice danced in the fire, screaming her sins aloud. She was trying to atone for her own evils, but it was too late.
My best friend Thomas broke from the throng, suddenly aware of his own awful ways, and trying to escape. He beat and clawed at the doors, trying to make them open. They would never open until they were reduced to ashes, though, since I had bolted them shut and made sure no one could make it out, no matter how hard they tried. I stood on the other side of the doors, listening to his wails and wondering what he could have become if he hadn’t committed his life to such a terrible calling.
The flesh of Kiera, my own wife, filtered underneath the door as she burned inside. I couldn’t deny it was her. I could point out her flowery scent in any crowd. My love smoldered and burned, the smoke of her flesh rising to my nostrils and biting into my soul.
I destroyed all I ever knew that day. I should have gone with them, but I was too much of a coward. All I could do was destroy it and pretend they never existed.