Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Very Short Horror Story by Rebecca

The Rat

It all started with an ingrown toenail. Sierra was repulsed by malformations of any kind. The prospect of having to cross paths with an amputee would be enough to drive her to the other side of the street. Even a large scar or a lazy eye would make her shudder and turn away. This was why she ignored and ignored the toe until it was so swollen and throbbing that she could scarcely ease it into a sandal and hobble in to the doctor’s office.

Once there, she flinched and moaned until the doctor, out of exasperation, injected sufficient anesthesia to numb her to all sensation well past her ankle. One would not characterize Sierra as being robust of spirit. Soon, her toe yellow with iodine and packed in gauze, she limped back out to her car.

She arranged her deadened foot safely out of the way of the pedals and got on the highway. To complicate things, she had agreed to house-sit for her brother that weekend, which involved a two-hour-long drive. She had reached cruising speed and the sun was beginning to dip below the horizon to her left when her phone rang in her bag. Her brother.

“Have you left yet? I tried to reach you before you left. I’m sorry. Can you do me a favor?”

“You mean besides watching your house for you all weekend?”

“Har. Yes. Lucifer needs to be fed and I forgot. Will you stop at a pet store and get him a rat?”

“Are you serious? After the day I have already had? I just had minor surgery on my toe!” she snapped.

“What happened? Are you okay?” he said, sounding regretful, “You can cancel on the house. I didn’t know you were injured.”

 She sighed, enjoying making him feel bad for a moment.

“No, it’s fine. Just a gross ingrown toenail. But I’m not buying a rat!”

“Fine,” he replied, “then you can spend the weekend alone in a house with a hungry python.”

“Aarrgh! You are so annoying!” she hit the steering wheel with a fist, “fine! I’ll go buy a disgusting rat for your disgusting snake, you disgusting person!”

And she hung up the phone.

At the next exit that promised commerce, she pulled off and drove around until she found a chain pet store.

“I need a rat,” she mumbled to the perky clerk who asked brightly if he could help her with anything.

“What size would you like? I can let you pick it out,” he chirped, trying to lead her to a cage that was writhing with rodents.

“No! Just get one. I don’t care what size,” she growled, feeling herself beginning to sweat. 

The clerk walked rapidly away. She leaned her weight on her right leg. Her foot did not seem to be coming back to life at all.

“Is this one okay?” asked a voice at her elbow.

She whirled, startled, and found herself face to face with a rat.

It had round, red eyes and huge, yellow front incisors. Its body was covered with thick, coarse, off-white fur. It clung to the hand of the clerk with red, scaled claws, and its repulsive, ropey tail wrapped around his wrist like a serpent.

“Yes! It’s fine!” she shut her eyes, but the image of the rat stayed in her mind.

The clerk calmly put the rat into a small cardboard box, closed it, and punched holes in the top and sides with a pair of blunt scissors. Immediately, the rat stuck his nose out of one of the holes.

“It can’t get out, can it?” she asked, and the clerk just stared at her.

Sierra paid and limped away as fast as she could, panic and humiliation washing over her in waves.

Sierra put the box in the passenger seat. The rat was completely contained, but the mere sight of the box made her jumpy.

Once again, she arranged her numb foot on the floor board, and put the key in the ignition. Back on the highway, she turned on the radio, hoping to take her mind off of her cargo. She managed to find a station with some pop country that came in distant and fuzzy.

Sunlight was beginning to fail and headlights were winking on in cars all around her when she heard it. A slowly, steady grinding sound. Of course! The perfect ending to the perfect day. Car trouble. 

She snapped off the radio and tipped her ear toward the dashboard, trying to find its origin.

Suddenly Sierra felt a chill. She realized where the grinding sound was coming from.

 It was the box.

The rat was chewing the box. But something about the sound was terrifying. 

It wasn't the frantic attempts of a primitive creature that smelled its own death in the corners of its cardboard prison. No; it was the slow, methodical execution of a plan. The rat was slowly, steadily, gnawing at the box. It was only a matter of time. The rat was going to escape.

And it seemed to know it.

Sierra screamed and swerved. Her breath came quickly.

Grind, grind, grind.

At this point it was nearly dark. The interior lights of Sierra’s car had gone out long ago. She realized with mounting panic that very soon she and the rat would be in a completely dark car together. She rolled down the window, ready to fling the box to the will of the Fates in the median of the highway.

She took a deep breath and shifted her anesthetized foot. She was being irrational. The cardboard box was thick. It was just a rat. She had about an hour left in her drive. Surely the box would last that long.

Grind, grind, grind.

She leaned back in her seat and stepped on the gas. Everything was going to be fine. As if to confirm this, the grinding, gnawing sound abated. The prisoner had given up. She imagined it curled inside the box, placidly awaiting its doom.

But…what if it had stopped chewing, not because it had given up, but because it had already escaped?

She reached out to touch the box, to check if was still sound. But then she recoiled, imagining the rat, crouching on top of the conquered box, its nose quivering through the darkness toward her outstretched hand…

She shrieked again, resolving to pull off at the first exit and drive to the sanctuary of a lit gas station. But the miles were desolate, and the signs on the side of the highway gave no hope of rescue.

As minutes passed, her heart thundered and her imagination went wild. Her mind began to vividly animate the rodent's escape. She was sure the rat was perched on the back of her seat, slinky tail wrapped around the head rest, filthy claws clinging to the upholstery, whiskers nearly brushing her neck…

But then she heard it- grind, grind grind.

The sound sent ripples of relief through her taut and shaking body. The rat had begun to chew the box again. The gnawing noises sounded softer and wetter than before. The box was probably nearly shredded, but at least she knew where the rat was. She was twenty-five minutes from her brother’s house, surely the box would last that long.

Sierra sat up straight and drove, strangely soothed by the foul, moist sounds of the rat gnawing at its soggy and disintegrating prison.

At last, she turned onto her brother’s street, thinking how she couldn't wait to take a shower. Even her jeans were soaked in sweat.

As she pulled up to his house, and the motion-sensing light snapped on, Sierra began to scream. In the yellow light she would see that her jeans from the knees down were black with blood. Shredded gauze, sticky with clotted yellow matter littered the floor.

Five pointed, white bones protruded from a tangle of flesh. The rat, now slick and crimson with gore, perched, satiated, on the ruin of what had once been her left foot.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Babysitters: A Call to Arms

People with kids hate people without kids. Sorry, but it’s true. You say cruel things like, “We watched the best movie the other night,” and, “Look at my new sweater!”

We like other people with kids, especially as babysitters. You are nonplussed when my daughter tries to convince you that she is allowed to play outside with no pants on. You get us.  But it is that uncomfortable affection; when you are keenly aware that both parties are a tiny bit lame. Like making friends with someone in your chess club. Or at a They Might Be Giants concert.

Then there is a third group. Couples who want, or are planning to have, or just really really like kids. They are the types who actually look at, like, and even comment on the legions and legions of kid pictures that we put up on Facebook (which, if we were honest with ourselves would acknowledge are nearly identical) . They too are great babysitters. They are fresh meat, not all leathery and tired and gamey like parent-meat.

Ah, babysitters. There is a special place in paradise for you. With a chocolate fountain and…I don’t know what people like…fuzzy socks? One of those scooped-out watermelons but full of cocaine? I’m just trying to make everyone happy here.

But let’s be clear: the interview process will be rigorous and harrowing. I AM scrutinizing you. I didn't haul those things around in my guts for ten months each for you to go and drop them on their heads or let them get into the moonshine. Wait, what moonshine?

So, the interview.

Don’t swagger. Don’t act all self-assured.  Don’t say, “I've got this. Don’t worry about a thing. You guys go have a good time.”

Arrogance is ignorance. And ignorance…that shit will get you killed.

Among your charges is a child who once closed herself in the bathroom, stripped naked, and began systematically dumping water down a heating duct into the expensive, expensive furnace below.

Among your charges is a child who took off her own diaper, then peed, then tried to run from the pee and slipped, crashing to the ground, and lay there, writhing and flailing, resembling the hardwood-and-urine version of a snow angel.

Among your charges is a child who silently and in plain sight built an elaborate structure, climbed it, and crashed through a screened window six feet down into the bushes below, practically at the feet of three adults and two dogs with judgy eyes.

I am stopping myself here; but I could go on and on.

The point is, when you arrive at my door to babysit, there should be a sheen of panic-sweat on your forehead. You should be pallid; your voice should be quavering. A damp, wrinkled notecard of emergency numbers should be clutched in your shaking fist; you should be unable to meet my gaze.

Then you are ready.

On the other end of the spectrum, I also will be reassured by seeing any or all of the following:

  • Paperwork documenting your experience wrangling vicious simians
  • You solving a Rubik’s cube reallyreallyfast
  • An up-to-date hypnotist license
  • The blow gun and tranquilizer darts you are willing to use if things get out of hand
  • A resume that includes foreign diplomacy
  • Scars of any kind

Even with these credentials, every fifteen minutes or so you’re going to want to cup your hand under the middle child’s chin and say, “Pit it out. Pit it out right now.” You know, just to be proactive. Because you can never tell with that one.

Good luck, and we’ll see you on the other side.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Bartending Tip: Upsetting Inedible Garnishes

I do not have the time or money to host sexy cocktail parties.

I will, however, tell you how you can make your (presumably mediocre) sexy cocktail parties better.

While other cocktail party hosts are googling “simple syrup” or jamming sprigs of lavender into vodka bottles, you can make your party the most memorable of them all with this one easy concept:

Upsetting inedible garnishes.

Limes can suck it. There are myriad random objects that can be used as garnishes. They will confuse and alarm your guests. They will have lasting, vivid memories of your party that will surface later in some therapy session.

Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Dismembered doll bits: this idea is cost-effective, because one doll can go a long way. Also, no one ever forgets finding a Barbie leg in his or her Tequila Sunrise.
  2. Unpaid traffic tickets folded into various origami creatures. This one has layers, man.
  3. I don’t recommend putting anything in the actual drink unless you have guests sign some sort of waiver first. But if you must, I think plastic aquarium plants or old house keys would be fun.
  4. A fishing float: if your guest nervously asks if there is any additional tackle in the drink, dart your eyes back and forth and walk away without answering. 
  5. Cicada exoskeletons.
  6. Tape an inflated balloon to the rim of the glass. At first it seems festive; but it makes the cocktail impossible to drink with any dignity.
  7. Old hotel key cards: use a box cutter to make two parallel cuts about two inches long so that the key card will sort of clip to the rim of the cocktail glass. Give the person you serve this drink to a long, sultry look and whisper a random room number. Hopefully the recipient will make it all the way to the hotel like an idiot before he or she realizes how odd it is that you got a hotel room when the party was at your house.
  8. False eyelashes. I couldn’t even type that without gagging.
  9. Ominous Tarot cards.
  10. *Somehow* affix the string and tag from a tea bag to the rim of the cocktail glass, giving the impression that perhaps Bloody Mary and Earl Grey are getting frisky in there.

If you decide to actually try any of these ridiculous concepts out there in what we perceive to be reality, I hope that  a) no one presses charges, and b) you have the good sense to tell us all about it in the comments.