1: LARVAE by Sumiko SaulsonLARVAE – A sliver of sunlight pierced the stagnant air of the subbasement, illuminating claw marks in the mossy walls. Under the stream of light I observed bloodstains at the base of my torn nailbed. I winced. The iron-rich smell would attract the creature.Its piteous mewling arose from the depths. I nervously kicked soil into the tunnel at my feet. I had to escape before it returned. Clutching the soil, my fingers dug deep within. Quickly, I ascended. I was six feet up when I felt a tug at my feet. Looking down in horror, I witnessed the creature’s bloated, white body creeping up my pants leg.
“Get off me, foul thing!” I screamed, kicking the hideous larvae. It was three feet long. Its maw oozed putrescent yellow fluids reeking of fetid lard. That evil oral emanation hit toe of my sneaker, melting canvas and eating away at flesh. I screamed in pain, kicking loose the shoe, sending the maggot dropping below with it.
The small crevice at the top of the well was just feet away. Heart racing, I redoubled my efforts to scale the wall. A nail broke with a gut-wrenching crack. I felt blood rush out from under the cloth, hot and sticky. I began to calculate how much pressure it would take to knock the wooden cap off the well.
A new sound emerged. Loud buzzing that grew rapidly closer. I felt wiry hairs touch the back of my neck. Against my will, I turned to look.
A monstrous fly stared at me with its compound eye. It’s voice, high-pitched and querulous, vibrated against my maddened eardrum. “I bet you didn’t know we evolved,” it said, arrogantly hissing before its mandibles slid into the unyielding flesh of my eyelid, tearing asunder the fragile orb underneath.
2: THE PET by Daphne Strasert
You first found your precious baby while she cowered under a car—tiny, trembling, more fur than flesh. Such a helpless angel… you couldn’t leave her to the cruelty of the streets.
You recline on the couch, Netflix droning in the background and your snuggle muffin nuzzled against your chest. Her breathing lulls you into the blissful space between sleeping and waking. You stroke her fur, careful to avoid the sharp spines, and trace each of the prominent bones that protrude from her back. The tip of her tail coils around your wrist, forming a vice of soft hair. Loving cupcake, you’d do anything to keep her happy.
You coo at her and she raises her head, blinking each of her four eyes in turn. A rumbling hum passes from her body through yours and she stretches to rub her nose against your arm. She nibbles at your finger and three rows of jagged teeth prick your skin, a minor pain while you swim in an ocean of bliss. Warmth trickles along your hand, followed by the rasp of your sweet pumpkin’s tongue and a crunch as her jaw snaps bone. You murmur affectionate words of encouragement. You would never deprive her of happiness over something as insignificant as an appendage. She gnaws at the edges of your mangled finger, mewing between nips.
Blood and flesh—you have plenty to spare for your darling. After all, your body is useless if it cannot cater to her. Any pain is worthwhile if you can provide what she needs. Isn’t that what you want? To be with her—a part of her—together forever? You’ll give anything for your dear pet. Even your life.
Especially your life.
Story 3: LINGUA by JC Martinez
The rotten smell comes from the body it left in the shower. It’s grown worse. It’s almost my time.
I hear something. A muffled splash, like a wet towel hitting the floor repeatedly. Its footsteps. Then, another sound, like the towel getting wrung. It’s disposing of the body. It’ll come for me next.
I close my eyes as the closet doors fly open. I close them hard, but I still see it. There’s nothing human about its shape, except for the… tongues. It’s all made of lilac tongues, grouped together like tangled hanks of yarn. I don’t know how it sees, for it has no eyes. I can make out no noses or ears either, just those tongues that wiggle wildly in all directions.
It grabs me by the waist, pulls me toward it. God, no. It yanks my feet, lifting me effortlessly. The tongues are everywhere now, all over my legs and arms and torso, leaving a slimy trail that dries swiftly over my skin.
Its tongues are over my closed eyes too. It pulls gently at my eyelids, as if caressing them. I want to scream, but I don’t. All I can do is cry silently, and that’s exactly what it wants.
It tastes my tears. It drinks them.
Over the next weeks, it’ll keep me alive, feeding me that strange marmalade that I don’t know where it gets from. It’ll keep me alive, savoring my tears and sweat and saliva, and any other body fluid that it craves.
After it grows tired of my taste, it’ll leave me to starve to death in that putrid shower. I’m not sure how it’ll do away with my body, but since I can see no other, I guess it’ll devour it whole.
So much for an open-casket funeral.
Story 4: BLOODWORM by Jonathan Fortin
It started with wriggling under her fingernails. Sam ignored the feeling. It was late, and most of the office had left, but she had to finish this report.
Then came heat, flushing her back and brow with sweat. Sam slipped off her hoodie. She was probably reacting badly to the meds she’d ordered off eBay. They’d looked shifty, but she’d had no choice—this scummy place didn’t provide health insurance.
The wriggling sensation spread through her body. She felt dizzy and numb, her fingers punching random keys. “Shit…” She couldn’t let this distract her from the deadline. She tried to sit up.
Her body didn’t respond.
A red worm poked out between her knuckles. Then another, from her wrist.
Terror hit her like a train. The meds—did they house parasites? Was she now their host? She’d been so stupid to take them!
She tried to scream, but instead fell off the chair and became fetal on the floor. She choked as worms crawled up her throat and out her mouth like regurgitated noodles. They plugged her nose and burrowed out her eyes, popping them. Pain rushed through her as worms ripped out her back and twisted into sinuous, red-soaked ropes.
Blind, she felt her body rise up from the floor, like a puppet. She took steps against her will.
“Sam?” A voice. Her boss! She tried to tell him to run, but her mouth was blocked. Vomit rushed up and back down again.
She couldn’t stop. Her hand collided with something, just as her boss began to scream. She pummeled over and over amidst wet sounds until the screaming ceased.
Sam felt his still body with her fingers. She felt worms slip out from her and burrow into him.
And then, soon after, she heard him stand.
Together they lurched.
Story 5: The ODDMENTS Monster by Adele Marie Par
Corners hold secrets that burst forth like rotting fruit when darkness falls.
A blackness within the dark. Shapes that form to become objects of dread as they begin to move. A puppet dance with no master.
This is the jerky, raggedy birth of the Oddments Monster.
Tommy’s safe world no longer existed. It had exploded into shards when his father died.
The house became a lifeless tomb that he and his mother shuffled through.
She trailed dust and dirty clothes behind her.
Tommy was a ghost, incorporeal, unheard.
Perfect conditions for the Oddments Monster.
Wrapped up like a mummy in his bed, Tommy waited. Frightened into silence and rapid puffs of breath.
A crackling sigh vibrated around the room. A slithering sound followed, evocative of a snake shedding its skin.
The atmosphere became heavy. He gulped air like a fish stranded on land. He felt compelled to look and when he did…..
Blackness filled his dirty clothes. A striped t-shirt wavered and flapped. Jeans bent at the knees and wobbled into an upright position. A crusty, grey handkerchief became a face. The centre puckered inwards to form a rudimentary mouth.
The monster moved.
It lurched towards him, eyes made from lost buttons. Black as coal with twin, red, pinpricks of evil intelligence behind them.
The raggedy thing leaned over Tommy’s paralyzed body.
The stench of its breath was forgotten memories and sorrow.
“Dust and ashes you will be, Tommy boy.”
His trembling bladder gave way and the sharp smell of urine drew the monster closer.
Ancient bubble gum drooled from it’s puckered mouth and dribbled onto Tommy’s face.
He opened his mouth to scream but the monster kissed him. He tasted death and dirt as the monster sucked his breath.
Story 6: THE LAUGHING MAN by Naching T. Kassa
The heart was still warm when I found it near the latrines. It hung from the barbwire fence like some hellish Christmas ornament, dripping blood into the muck below. I wasn’t sure who it belonged to.
It might’ve been Private Jefferson’s or Lieutenant Blackmore’s. They’d gone missing and Sargent Collins had laid the blame on the Hun’s doorstep. I knew the truth, though. My mum had told me long before I took up my gun and gasmask.
“Go to sleep, Johnny,” she’d said one night before bed. “Sleep before Laughing Man comes. If he catches you awake, he’ll rip your heart out and hang it up to dry.”
“Does he come every night,” I had asked.
“He does. If you smell almonds, he’s coming. And, if you hear him whisper your name, he’s testing to see whether you’re awake.”
“What if I can’t sleep?”
“Best pretend, love. Pretend and pray.”
The memory of her words kept me from the trench and the squirming shadows which filled it. I returned to my dug-out as quickly as I could.
The blanket had grown cold in my absence. I huddled under it and would’ve drifted off if the scent of almonds hadn’t wafted in.
“Johnny?” a voice whispered.
I froze. Something moved in the moonlight. It dropped to all fours and peered through my doorway.
“You awake, Johnny?”
Moonglow didn’t favor the creature. Instead, it laid bare every flaw in his leprous face. I shut my eyes but the image of oozing sores remained. He hadn’t changed.
I answered with a snore as I had always done. A moment later, his cold hand clutched my throat.
“I’ve always known you were awake,” he said.
Laughter echoed throughout the dug-out and, like a malevolent lullaby, it bore me to my final rest.
Story 7: Always Hungry by Cat Voleur
It was horrible when the sound stopped. For the last few hours Kimi had been forced to listen to the slurps of the creature’s messy eating – interrupted only by the occasional cracking and crunching of bone. Sickening though it had been, it was preferable to the silence in which she was now stuck.
They have an insatiable hunger for human flesh that grows as rapidly as the beasts themselves.
Her grandmother had believed strongly in the Algonquin lore with which she had been raised, and Kimi had heard many such stories growing up.
If only I had listened.
The beast had stopped eating, which could mean only one thing; it was out of food.
For a moment it lingered, still crouching in the bloodstained snow a safe distance from dying campfire. Elongated limbs extended from the emaciated torso at strange, unnatural angles. Even in the warm glow of the embers Kimi could see that the skin stretched thinly over its skeletal frame was a sickly, mottled gray.
It was all she could do not to gag as the thing straightened and she caught a whiff of its decaying scent.
At its full height, she saw that it was clearly taller than it had been prior to the feast, and Kimi gasped at the realization its head would now be level with the branch where she was hiding.
It turned toward the noise.
For the first time she could see it in all its grotesque glory. Teeth jutted in all angles from the gaping, gore-filled maw. Its distorted facial features were dripping with blood. Worst were its eyes – two black orbs that were sunken deeply into the deformed skull, reflecting no light.
She knew in that instant she would not be spared.
The wendigo is always hungry.