Soft Spot

The first thing Susan noticed when she woke up was the piercing wail of her alarm.

“It’s not fair,” she mumbled, clutching her aching skull. Bethany had been up half the night moaning about her own headache, the last thing Susan needed was a matching migraine of her own. She slapped at the alarm and sat up on the edge of the bed. The floor wobbled and the bathroom suddenly seemed miles away.

Bethany was still curled up on her side of the bed. Her thick red curls stood out against the white sheets, even in the darkness. Susan gave her wife a hard poke in the shoulder. Bethany would sleep all morning if you let her, and then bitch about running late.

“Get up,” she said. “If I have to suffer through this, so do you.”

Once she made it to the shower, Susan slowly turned up the heat while she cleaned herself. Only a small turn of the knob each time until she adjusted to the heat. Then she’d turn it up a little more. Once it was just shy of scalding, she held her head under the hot water, and gritted her teeth. Quickly turning the dial back the other way, she gasped as freezing water ran down her face.

“Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck! God fucking dammit!” she sputtered when she could finally breathe again. Her dad had taught her that technique years ago for migraines. It was supposed to be better than any medication. Faster, too. When she stepped out of the shower on shaky legs she felt a little bit better.

The bedroom was still dark when she walked back in. There was a faint musty smell to the air, and Bethany still lay on her side facing the wall. When Susan pulled up the blinds the bright light made her wince. Squinting out at a slate gray sky, her headache came rushing back.

She sat down on the bed and grabbed Bethany’s shoulder. “Hey, I’m gonna call in today. I think I caught your migraine.”

Bethany didn’t make a sound.

Susan gave a gentle tug on her hair. “Baby, you awake?”

Thick red curls came loose in her fingers. Susan jerked her hand back, pulling a large chunk of hair with her. The back of Bethany’s head was bald and smooth. The smell in the air grew stronger, sickly and sweet. Unable to stop herself, Susan reached out and poked the back of Bethany’s head with her finger.

It squished inwards, leaving a dent a few centimeters deep. Susan tried to scream. It caught somewhere in her chest and only came out as a thin squeak. She shook Bethany’s arm harder, trying to get her to wake up.

The dent grew deeper. The back of Bethany’s head began to collapse like an old pumpkin. As more hair fell out, the skull disintegrated a little faster. Susan clutched at the hair, trying to push it back onto the large divot that formed where her finger had been.

She froze in place, watching helplessly as Bethany’s head fell in on itself with a sigh. Strands of red hair covered the bed. There was nothing left of the face, except a few teeth poking out of a ruined jawline. Even that was falling apart quickly.

Crawling backwards, Susan tumbled off the side of the bed and kicked at it with her feet. She brushed mindlessly at the red hairs on her sleeves and pants, as though that might stop the same thing from happening to her. All she could do is whimper in the corner of her room.

With tentative fingers she reached up and pressed the back of her skull. She tugged gently at the roots of her hair, probing for any weak points. The pain in her head came roaring back. Black spots flashed in front of her eyes. For a second, she felt the skin on the back of her head give a little bit.

“It’s just in your mind,” she whispered to herself. “It’s all a bad dream. You’re going to wake up and everything will be fine.”

A few small strands of her own hair floated down around her shoulders. She reached back up with a sob, trying to press them back into her head, where the soft spot was already growing. The pain grew worse, pulsing through her head.

“I want to wake up. Please, let me wake up.”

The hair was falling faster, coming out in clumps. For a brief moment, Susan felt a searing pain shoot through her head. Then everything went dark. The last thing she saw was her own dark black hair entwined with one of Bethany’s red ones. A smile that nobody would ever see crossed her lips.

 

©2017 Chris Page. All rights reserved.

Parlor Games

I wait on the porch, desperately wanting a cigarette. It’s been two minutes, so I knock again. A curtain twitches aside in the window and I get a brief glimpse of red light. Most nights, I’d think that unusual, but this is different. At this point, the only thing I’m focused on is the woman on the other side of the door.

The door slides open and she peeks out at me under the chain. “Landon?” she asks.

I give her my best smile. The whole ride over, I’d been reminding myself of the rules of the game: No real names, no attachments. The door closes again, and the chain slides away. She re-opens it with a smile of her own that doesn’t quite reach up to her eyes. She’s wearing a slinky black robe, and reddish brown hair cascades down over her shoulders.

“Come on in,” she says, her voice shaking a little. “Do you want something to drink?”

“Water,” I reply, looking around at the nearly empty apartment. There’s a sofa in the middle of the room, but nothing else. Every non-carpeted surface is covered in candles. Even with the warm light they’re creating, there’s still a chill to the room. Shadows dance across the walls as the tiny flames flicker.

“Not big on furniture are you?” I ask.

“I haven’t been here long. Guess I haven’t had the time to get more than the necessary stuff.”

“Like candles.”

She nods and smiles again. “Nothing sets a mood quite like candles.”

We make small talk for a few minutes while I drink the water. She waits on the end of the sofa, her hands nervously sliding over each other. The robe itself is small enough that I get a good view of things. She tells me her name is Susan. I’m tempted to ask what her name really is but that would be breaking the rules.

The small talk ends, and we stand there awkwardly. Susan takes the water glass from my hand, her fingers brushing against mine. Leaning forward, she kisses me, her hand sliding down my chest. Her breath tastes like cinnamon. She gently bites my lip and then turns away. Leading me by the hand, she pulls me towards the bedroom.

A small bed sits in the exact middle of the room. Dressers and small tables line the walls. Like the living room, every available space is covered with candles. These are red candles, and my mind jumps back to the devotionals of my youth. Somewhere in the room, incense burns, making the air sweet and heavy. My head spins as she pulls me onto the bed.

I pull my shirt up over my head as Susan runs her fingers over my stomach. She fumbles with the button on the front of my jeans. I pull her closer. She lunges forward, leaving small bites all over my neck and chest. I grab her hair and pull her head back to kiss her. She feels hot, almost feverish. My world becomes a blur of red light and skin.

She rolls me over on my back. Her hands move all over my body. She straddles me, sliding me inside of her. My hands slide up along her hips. She presses her body against mine. Her nails dig into my chest. She pushes me down hard against the bed. The robe slides down her body. I shudder a little at the smooth feel of silk against my legs.

She looks down at me with a smile. I’m dimly aware of her thighs pressing against my body. I sit up to pull her against me, and she pushes me down again. She moves faster. The room spins. It’s too warm. My throat is parched. My heart is thudding in my chest. I’m gasping for breath.

She’s grabbed my wrists, holding them above my head when I see it. A small seam forms in the middle of her forehead. Susan smiles down at me as the skin stretches. The reddish brown hair falls to the bed behind her. Holes form along the seam as the skin breaks apart. Tiny red eyes stare out at me. Her body bulges and twists above me. Her legs and arms are locked around me, holding me in place.

The skin splits down the middle of her body. It falls into two piles on either side of me, the warm flesh draped loosely over my legs. I stare in horror at thousands of tiny gray spiders piled together. They hold the shape of a woman for a few seconds before collapsing onto my naked body.

I scream and run for the door, brushing spiders off me as best I can. They’re everywhere, covering my skin. Hundreds of thousands of tiny legs skittering across my body. Thin voices call to me from the pile still on the bed.

Don’t go, Landon. We need you.

A sharp pain digs into my ankle, and my right leg becomes useless. I look down to see my calf is already starting to swell. I slap ineffectually at my leg, leaving a dark smear on the side of my foot. The floor is alive with tiny gray bodies, all surging towards me. Dragging myself to the hall, I force myself to ignore the wheezing in my chest. The door is there, twenty maybe thirty feet away.

All I have to do is get outside.

Landon, come back.

My head throbs, but I keep pulling myself towards the door. My legs are bound together, a solid white cocoon hanging off the back of my body. I still have my arms though, and I’m almost there. I ignore the hundreds of small bites that are slowly numbing my body. My fingers brush against the smooth wood of the door. The knob is directly above me, taunting me.

Sharp pain spikes in my left shoulder and the hand drops limply to my side. With one last gasp, I grab the door knob with my right hand and pull myself back, swinging the door open. The warm evening air floats into the room. My car is waiting in the parking lot.

You’re ours, Landon. Forever and always.

The numbness spreads to my chest, followed closely by the silk. My heart feels like a fist is squeezing it. There’s a slight lurch, and I’m vaguely aware that I’m being moved. My eyes look back towards the door as I slide away from it towards the bedroom. Laying on the floor, I see the bones strewn under the bed and I want to cry.

Every breath is a ragged gasp. The silk covers my mouth, keeping me from screaming.  A sharp pain moves through me as my organs begin to liquefy, but by then I’m barely capable of caring. All I can hear are the dry whispers of the spiders in my ears before the world goes dark.

 

©2016 Chris Page. All rights reserved.

Under Your Skin

You’re walking downtown after work one day when you see him. He staggers down the street towards you, his arms and legs twitching with each step. Most of the people walking past do their best to aggressively ignore him. His head bobs at each of them as they pass, his mouth stretched wide into a painful grin.

He stands out, even from two blocks away, like he has been cut out of the world and then hastily pasted back in. His entire body is frayed at the edges. He wears all black, and it hurts your eyes to look at it. It’s the darkness of a cellar with a burnt-out light bulb: you feel something watching you from its depths.

Every instinct you have screams at you to cross the street and avoid him. Still, you find yourself drawn to the ragged figure. The closer he gets, the more the little details stand out. His fingers are bent at the wrong angles, flopping against the backs of his hands. Small flecks of blood drip from under his sleeves. His feet barely touch the ground, and his knees jerk painfully up against his chest with each step.

You stop at an intersection, waiting for the light to change when he sees you. Staring across the expanse of black top and exhaust, you can’t look away from him. He bobs his head in your direction, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes.

The light turns green and he bobbles across the street towards you. You freeze, watching as he jerks and twitches with each movement. He gets closer and you hear the grinding of his bones with each step. The heavy smell of sulfur fills the air, and just under his skin little tendrils writhe in time with his movements.

Breathing a sigh of relief as he passes, you start to think that he somehow missed you. Before you can take a step, a hand full of broken fingers lands heavily on your shoulder.

You turn and look into eyes that roll independently of one another. His mouth opens and closes, each time snapping shut with a loud clack. The grin is still plastered on his face. He can’t grab you with his hands, but still you can’t move.

“We see you,” a small voice whispers from deep within his throat. “We’re always watching.”

He reaches up with his other hand, and pats your cheek. Then, bobbing his head in acknowledgment, he pivots and lurches down the street. Your skin crawls where he touched it. You rush into a nearby department store and scrub at your cheek in the bathroom sink until the skin is raw.

The voice still echoes in your head all the way home. “We see you.” Whenever you close your eyes, you picture the thousands of tendrils moving under his skin. Every time you’re jerked awake at night by a sudden movement in your leg, you listen for the sounds of bones breaking.

You stop eating and barely sleep. Most days you stare at yourself in the mirror for hours, wondering if something else was looking back at you. Your skin still tingles where he touched it with his bent fingers. Every day, standing in the shower, you examine your body for any sign of something just under your skin.

Relief floods your body when your finger finally snaps two weeks later. A small fit of giggles bubbles past your lips as you stare at the broken bone. Staggering to the bathroom, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Your lips are twisted up into a permanent grin, and your body pitches itself forward in fits and starts.

The laugh becomes louder when you see the movement under your skin. You can’t tell if it’s you laughing or something else, but the sound echoes in your head. Your body contorts now, bones cracking with each twitch. Something leads you towards the door and you cry a little even as the laughter grows in your mind.

A small voice echoes up from your throat. “Now you see us, too.”

©2015 Chris Page. All rights reserved.