Skin Tags

The jagged square of flesh pinched between my fingers felt strange as I stood over the dead man’s body. Beads of sweat dripped down my face, and I held back the vomit while I thought about this horrible place. This wasn’t where I thought I would be today. I thought I would wake up, start another day of work, and cap the day with a savory meal and a cold brew. I wanted so bad to wake up in my warm bed, hit the snooze button, and then roll over so I could fall into a new dream. I wanted this to be nothing more than a nightmare.

Indeed, it was a nightmare, but a living nightmare. I wasn’t asleep. I was awake and very alert. I had to be, because a lack of diligence would get you killed in a place like this.

Earlier, when the loud trombone-like sound woke me, we found a note on the floor. It told us that we all had a talent for couponing, and that in order to stay alive, we had to rely on that talent. I certainly was a good coupon clipper, and even competed in plenty of extreme couponing competitions. My OCD made me a perfect candidate to get it done, and get it right. However, nothing could have prepared me for this hell.

There used to be six of us. The man at my feet was Michael, and like him, all the others were dead. That left me alone to complete the challenge. I could no longer rely on anyone but myself, which considering the circumstances, it was much better than having people fighting while a clock slowly ticked away toward my demise.

I stepped over Michael’s crumpled body. Not long ago he’d taken a shotgun blast to the skull. It wasn’t suicide but rather a fatality resulting from a mistake he made trying to complete the puzzle for this room. This was no surprise to me because he wasn’t as good at couponing as the rest of us. What was a surprise was that he outlived everyone but me. Of course, the rules of this game were ever changing based on the whim of the man who talked over the intercom. That faceless monster who built this kill house toyed with constantly, so anything that could change did change.

I stepped through the door, and entered the next room. It was like this from the get. As the note informed us, we were to go from room to room and solve each puzzle. Well, they weren’t really puzzles. They were areas with set coupons, and if you used the right coupons to get the best deal possible, then the door would open. If not, the trap would kill the person who offered the deal. We all took turns per room. When one of us didn’t make it, we just rotated to the next person. After twenty-two room, there was just one person left.

This room was not new to me for I had been here before, but not in the sense that I had been here before I came to this awful place. I came into this room earlier after I solved the puzzle that killed Michael. As it turned out, there were no coupons in this room, so I had to go back and find them.

The room was the same size as the others, though poorly constructed with particle board. Don’t get me wrong, the walls and ceiling and floors were strong and reinforced. We couldn’t just escape by breaking down a wall. There was concrete and rebar and all manner of stuff. Whoever stuck us in here had it planned perfectly. Moreover, like a haunted maze, the particle board was there to terrify us, among other things of course.

These other things I’m writing about are the props. In this room, the walls had blood splattered all over them. Pig’s blood if I had to guess, but I could be wrong. There were pieces of animal limbs spread around the floor, with animal innards splayed from the ceiling by wire and a few too many bits laying on tables.

You might think that this was the most horrific room, but it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. You see, each room represented a different type of retailer, each a morbid representation of the type of business. For instance, one room resembled a barber shop, and there were severed heads, scalped flaps of hair hanging everywhere, and beards torn from faces and nailed to the walls. In another room, which was a nail salon, there were severed fingers hanging from fishing wire, nails ripped off and glued to the floor, and feet laying on the tables. All this among many other things.

I didn’t know where he got all the body parts, and I didn’t much care. All I wanted to do was get the heck out of there.

This puzzle in this room wasn’t hard, but it was by far the worst of the bunch. The coupons weren’t in a basket near the beginning of the room. I didn’t have to dig through body parts or a list of ingredients to find the right one. No. I had to return to all my fellow competitors. Each one of us had a tattoo of a coupon on our body somewhere, which had been inked there before we were locked in this place. It was clever for this guy to have done this because it meant we had to torture each other just to get through the final door—or what I presumed was the final room. What he didn’t count on was that there would only be one of us left, and I didn’t have to torture anyone to get the coupons.

After gathering the last of those five coupons, there was only one left. Mine.

As I mentioned, the tattoos were not in the same spots, and in some cases, it was difficult to get it off someone. Michael had his on his back, and I was thankful that mine was on my stomach in the front, where I could easily access it. This, however, didn’t make it any easier to clip.

The room had provided six pairs of razor sharp scissors, and I had already used a pair to cut out the other five. I grabbed a clean pair because I wasn’t sure how clean or dirty the other captives were, and if I did get out of there, I didn’t want to suffer from some disease I got from sharing someone else’s blood. Call me crazy, but that little OCD voice inside me needed to feel safe.

My hands were shaking as I looked up at the timer on the wall. It read that I had three minutes left to complete the room. I didn’t know what would happen if the timer in each room ran up, and I didn’t want to find out now.

After pressing the sharp edge of the clippers against the corner of the coupon, I struggled to make the first snip of my skin. The shaking became even more violent, and I felt my head go foggy. I fought passing out, but soon squeezed the handle and felt the blades cut through my skin.

I would like to tell you that I didn’t scream, that I fought through the pain without tears. It didn’t happen that way. After the first snip, I felt my body turn icy. I screamed and I cried and I pleaded to the maniac who brought me here. The snot dripped from my face, and my shaking hands moved the sheers a centimeter further, and then… SNIP.

I nearly dropped the sheers that time, but persisted. One snip after another clip, I pressed on. I glanced up at the clock, which told me I had wasted a minute and a half just getting thorough one edge of the coupon. This wouldn’t do, so I had to go faster. All the way around, until each side was cut.

Looking up at the clock, there were fifty seconds remaining. I still had to organize all the coupons to get the best deal, and that didn’t leave me with much of a choice. I had to tear the coupon off or I wouldn’t make it. So, I peeled back one of the corners, and yanked hard and fast. This, I fear, was nothing like ripping off a Band-Aid. It was hot. It was cold. My vision blurred. I was nearly down for the count.

After wobble-running to the door, I fished the other slices of flesh from my pocket. Some of them slipped from my fingers, and I had to quickly scoop them from the floor. The timer dropped second after second, but I dared not look up to see it.

Reading each label, I needed to find out what coupon should go in the scanner first, but there was nothing more than bar codes on them, which I hadn’t noticed before. Each tag of flesh twisted my stomach as I handled them, the torn flesh rough and slick against my fingertips. I had no idea what went where and in which order. So, I began scanning them all and throwing them into the basket. I ended with my own piece, but hesitated to throw it in with the rest. Whether it would save my life or not, tossing out a piece of myself felt weird, but I eventually scanned mine and dropped it in there.

The clock on the wall continued to count down, and I wondered what the heck I had done wrong. Something somewhere wasn’t right because usually the clock stopped the moment the last coupon went into the basket or, if it didn’t, you were immediately killed because it meant you failed the puzzle. Frantically searching the room turned up nothing useful, and the clocked began its final countdown.

…5

…4

…3

…2

…1

The red LED clock numbers began to repeatedly flash 0:00. I expected the room to close in on me or for a toxic gas to snuff me out. Maybe I would just be locked in the room with all these festering bodies until I eventually died of disease or starvation.

That’s when I heard the soft buzzing noise. The door behind me closed, and the one before me didn’t immediately open. Instead, I felt like I was floating for a second. A moment later, that semi-weightless feeling ended, and the clock changed to three hours. The door before me opened, and I entered a new room with five new people.

They watched me, and I sized them up because I had no time to mess around. I didn’t know if I would have to endure this forever, but these new sets of puzzles wouldn’t be the thing that would end me after all that horrific stuff I went through. I wouldn’t let that happen. I couldn’t. So, I pressed on, determined to lead this new group and help them succeed where the others had failed.

The Lonely Road

Oatman, AZ

The desert seems more barren in this area than in the previous. Jack is in the back seat looking out at the ocean of sand passing by at speed, my wife sits passenger, silent as well.

It wasn’t always like this. We all used to be a family of chatty best friends. My son would be bouncing around in his safety seat, and my wife would turn around and play along with him. My daughter would be humming in the back seat to some tune she found on YouTube. It was always perfect.

Not everything lasts forever. Not traditions and certainly not life. Not long after her fifth birthday, the doctors diagnosed Liliana with lung cancer. Within a year, she passed away.

Although any type of cancer can attack anyone, my daughter’s lung disease wasn’t abnormal. Well, it was, but it wasn’t just a random occurrence of cancer. It resulted from my smoking habit. I never gave a second thought as to how dangerous it could be to smoke in the car with my children in the back seat, even with the windows open. My stupidity was my daughters end.

My wife, Kelly, looks at me and then at the gauge cluster. She says, “You better fill up before we get stranded out here.”

She’s right. Plus, I’m incredibly tired. I need to get something to wake me up if I plan to drive through the night. So, I nod in agreement, and she doesn’t say anything further. We aren’t a catty couple. She doesn’t nag and I don’t pick fights.

Ahead, the road appears fluid, a river through this Egyptian-like desert. To the right of the lemon-lime horizon is a small gas station. The giant sign twisting languidly at the top of a long pole had once presented the name of the station. Years of weather and neglect caused one side to break apart and reveal the lamps inside. The other still had the name, but it had faded to a light pink logo that I couldn’t read.

Pulling into the station, we transition from tarmac to gravel. Small pebbles kick up and tick inside the wheel well. I stop at the first pump on the right, and the hot desert wind carries a cloud of dust past us. For a moment, it twists into a dirt devil, and then dissipates as quickly as it appeared.

“I’ll be right back,” I tell them. They know I’m coming back, but I feel like I have to say something. I want to interact with them because we all need it. Silence is a killer. Perhaps it won’t actually kill anyone, but it will destroy relationship, and I needed to break that silence to make sure that they’ll be okay while I’m gone. To let them know that I’m here for them, and that I will always return.

The inside of the station is much cleaner than the outside. A quick glance through the door behind the attendant reveals that he lives here. My guess is that he originally didn’t want to drive every day, so when he bought this station, he decided to move into it.

“Twenty, please,” I say as I hand him a fifty note. “Can I also get one of those energy drinks in the cold case back there?”

“Yes, sir,” the man replies.

As I wait for him to start the pump and make change, I walk back and grab one of the cherry flavored drinks. Returning, I spy something to my left. My eyes dart over there, but I see nothing more than a rack full of flavored jerky.

I thought it was my daughter. This isn’t unusual, though. I’m used to keeping an eye on her in my peripheral, as one must do with children of any age with so many creeps in this world. Even now that she’s gone, I still see her everywhere.

“Son, are you okay?”

I meet the old man’s lazy blue eyes, and smile weak and thin. “Yeah, I’ll be okay.”

With my change and drink in hand, I return to the car and start pumping the fuel. As the LED screen indicates that I’m nearing the end of my twenty-dollar credit, I hear for the first time in months my son screech with laughter. It warms my heart so much that I almost drop the pump and cry with joy. Thankfully, I’m able to maintain composure as I kneel down to see what has him so excited.

My wife is gone from the car. I don’t know exactly where she went. I don’t recall hearing her exit the car. My brow furrows, and I turn my attention to Jack.

He has his mother’s deep brown eyes that are reminiscent of crystal rather than mud. The light allows the small golden flecks in those pools of joy to twinkle with life. He looks away from me, and laughs again. I’m not sure what enamors him so, and although I want to study him for a moment to figure it out, the pump handle clanks hard letting me know it finished.

I get back in the car, and my wife is sitting in the passenger seat again. However, this time she’s facing the back seat, playing with Jack.

She says, “The bathrooms here are so clean. I expected to walk into some kind of CDC death trap, but I have to hand it to the guy, he really knows how to scrub.”

She hasn’t shown this much affection or attention to either of us in a long time, so I don’t respond. I know I’m still broken even if she has suddenly become okay, and I don’t want my dour mood to sour hers. So, I remain quiet as I pull out of the station.

Jack continues to play. Kelly lightly claps her hands and urges him on. I glance over at her, and I want to caress her skin, to feel her warmth, but I know I don’t deserve to touch her. Instead, I look in the rear view mirror to steal a glimpse of my son, and I see my daughter sitting next to him.

Slamming on the breaks causes me to lose control of the vehicle for a moment. I wrestle it back into a straight line on the road, and then I stop the Chevy entirely. I try to turn around and look at my daughter, but the seat belt stops me. I fight hard with it, and finally release the latch. I look back, and see her sitting there as alive as ever.

While Jack has his mother’s eyes, Liliana has mine. They’re azure, but warm. The light haloes from her blonde hair and filters through the fuzzy peach hair on her cheek. She looks scared because of my reaction.

Kelly says between panicked breaths, “What the heck was that?”

I shake my head, unable to speak.

“Babe, are you okay?”

My heart pounds in my chest, and I step out of the car. With my hands on my head, I try to control my breathing. I look out into that hot abyss. A lizard skitters from one dead bush to another. A fly buzzes near a pile of coyote droppings; it lands for a moment and then takes flight again.

I know this can’t be real, but it’s too vivid to be a dream. It has to be a reality, but then, how is my daughter alive? I don’t know, and because I figure that it can’t be real, I fear turning around because I worry she won’t be there.

Eventually, I gain the courage to turn, and gasp in horror. The car sits overturned in the embankment, fluid dripping from the hood. It takes me a minute to process what I’m seeing, and then I run to the car.

“Kelly!” I scream, and I fall to my knees to look through the window.

It is there I find my wife crumpled in the passenger seat. In the back, my son lays silent, still hanging in the safety seat. I search for my daughter, who is supposed to be in the car. She isn’t there. However, someone else is in the car. Me. I sit there with blood all over my face, teeth smashed, and eyes bulging and staring through the cracked windshield.

I look anywhere but there and find my daughter standing a short distance away from the wreckage. She smiles warmly, and beckons me with her hand. Her mannerism isn’t that of a child but of someone with finer motor skills. She smiles again, and I go to her. When I arrive, I find Kelly standing next to her with little Jack sleeping peacefully in her arms.

I, Savior

Time Machine Eye

I thought, you know, there would be something spectacular when I arrived. There were no arcs of electricity that would make Tesla proud, no electromagnetic waves bowing my visual perception of reality, nor the stench of burnt hair. I know the last one seems strange, but when you test out a device that needs as much power as my time machine, you’d expect to ride the lightning, too. Thankfully, I didn’t.

Anyway, I appeared in my old backyard. That was where I had hoped to materialize because that was where the machine sat in my future self’s time. Besides, the device wasn’t capable of transport. Well, I could theoretically move it elsewhere, but it would require a heavy-duty truck and trailer. I didn’t actually need to move it because it sat exactly where I wanted to go and because I knew there was nothing occupying that same exact space in the past. Only God could know what would happen to me if I materialized where an object already existed. I didn’t want to find that out the hard and probably painful way.

After exiting the device, I walked across the rain-soaked lawn. The clouds above still sprinkled small beads of glassy water onto the world, and because my fever had turned up the heat before I left, it felt good against my skin. Fissures of lightning crawled along the dark sky, and a rolling roar of thunder boomed. The cold weather irritated my chest, and I coughed. Remnants of blood stippled my hand, and I wiped my lips hoping the rainwater would wash away whatever I missed.

No doubt, this story is as you expected. The only reason I went back in time—as anyone else would—was to change the future. Unfortunately, I wasn’t here to save myself. No, that wasn’t it at all because I knew how a paradox worked. I knew that going back and changing my life may have an impact on everything else, sure, but it might also alter the timeline in a way that ensured I never traveled back. Of course, if I never travel back, then how could I change the future? Exactly. I wasn’t prepared to figure that out because I had more important things to worry about, and the fate of the world was more important than my survival in the future.

Despite what I’ve just told you, I don’t want you to think of me as selfless. What I had to do in the past was selfish. True, I went back to save the world, but I only did it to save my daughter. Furthermore, and this is the part you’ll likely think of me as a maniac who doesn’t deserve to live, I had to kill hundreds of people. Men. Women. Children. All murdered by me.

Still here? Well, it all started ten days from now—or twelve years before I used the time device. It started with a woman and a child. A birth that would end the human race. A birth that some called the coming of the antichrist—the end of times. That woman was my neighbor.

As the rain fell harder, the subtle ping and pong of it hitting nearby pottery and buckets, I went to the shed. I had the key in my pocket, so I opened the door. Inside there were few things of interest to me. I would later needs some of this stuff to make more weapons, but for now, I had only need for one item, and that was the hand spade. After picking it off the wall mount, I closed the doors, followed the side of the house, and exited through the gate.

The neighbor’s house was aglow with amber light, but only through the big picture window. It was there I was able to spy Michelle sitting at the dining room table nursing a small bowl of hot soup. She gently scooped up a spoonful, puckered her adorably pouty lips, and blew on it.

I wished I didn’t have to kill her. I knew I had no choice, though. If she didn’t die, then many more people would. In fact, the ratio, if I remember correctly, was for every one person I killed, I saved close to ten thousand others. It was an obvious answer to the choice I had in front of me, but it disturbed me nevertheless.

In the past—before this day, not in the future of this day—she had asked me to water her plants while she was away. She had told me that she kept a spare key hidden in a fake rock and buried in her garden. According to her, she was a klutz and often did things like lock her keys in the car or had locked herself out of the house. It was fortunate for me that she kept it there at all times.

After opening the door, I listened for a moment. The sweet scent of tortilla soup made my mouth water, but it also bothered my sensitive throat. I held my hand over my mouth and coughed. They came as nothing more than soft chuffs of air. When they subsided, I wiped the blood on my pants and listened. There was still only the soft clink of the spoon against the bowl as she scooped up the soup. No indication of her hearing me.

Now inside, I stood behind her. The spade felt slick in my hand, probably a combination of sweat and rainwater. My heart hammered, thumping hard in my ears, deafening one of them. My face burned, and maybe I was pale, I couldn’t know. Anxiety had worked its magic, and my illness had taken it a step farther.

As she blew on the soup, I came up behind her and stabbed her neck with the spade. She dropped the spoon, grabbed her throat, and looked up at me. Surprise was what I saw on her face, but had she known the kind of hell she would rain upon the world if given the chance to live, it might have been a look of acceptance. At least, that how I wished it were, because I needed something to acknowledge that I was doing the right thing. However, the world in the future and the world in the now would never know what I had to do, what I would do, and why I needed to do it.

I don’t need to tell you what I did next, but suffice to say I had to make sure the baby did not survive. As sure as I sit here and write to you all about what I had to do, that baby probably wouldn’t have survived the mother’s death. That wasn’t a chance I could take. Just one life can take so many more lives, and that risk alone was simply too great.

When I finished, I rushed to the kitchen and vomited. I would have liked to blame by illness on my stirring stomach, but the reality was that I had never killed anyone, let alone a pregnant woman. That sickness lasted for days, and thankfully, it ended before I had to find the next person. A man named Albert Pinchot.

I didn’t immediately leave her house. Instead, I went upstairs to the master bathroom to see if she had any Tylenol. She did, and although I took some, I wasn’t sure it would help with my now pounding headache. It helped a bit, but as I suspected, it wasn’t enough to ease my discomfort.

The master bedroom had a balcony. I swiftly opened the sliding door and stepped outside. The cold water felt good, and my thrashing head seemed to settle a bit. I glanced at the device I had arrived in, and it was gone. Probably I had left the system running, and it had either returned to a different time or gone back from whence it came. It was okay, because I didn’t need it anymore.

The horizon of twinkling lights from homes of people who would die one day made me take a deep breath to calm my nerves, and maybe it made me cough, but that was okay. The pain in my chest reminded me of why I was here and what I was doing. It was for my daughter. For me. For the future.

You’ll Never Believe What Shocking and Horrible Thing He Gives Out each Halloween!

Finger Food

He didn’t know why he checked the crime log. He had nothing to worry about. After years of doing the things that he did, he was as likely to get caught as was a mime likely to press his hands against a real wall. Not gonna happen. He continued to read though, and that’s when he saw his name, in bold, with a small reward amount.

“What?” he said to himself, and looked around trying to think of how he got caught but a sudden repetitious bang on his door broke his concentration.

“Open up! Police!”

His heart hammered, his mouth dryer than the Mojave during a drought.

BANG BANG BANG!

He shot up from his seat and watched a silhouette cross the window. Beads of sweat rolled down his face as if he’d just took a brisk walk through torrential rain.

BANG BANG BANG!

“Last warning! Open up or we’re coming in!”

He dashed from the living room, up the stairs, and into his bedroom, which faced the backyard. He had been preparing for this for a long time, and now that it was time, he was scared nothing would go right.

From his closet, he armed himself with a shotgun. It was loaded with only two rounds, but that was enough.

He heard the door open on the first floor. They had a key. They must have, because he had locked the door after grabbing the paper that morning. He always locked it.

When feet started stomping up the stairs, he positioned himself three feet from the door. It was enough for the door to open and enough room for the shotgun spread. When the door burst open, he fired. The blast hit his intruder in the chest, and he watched the uniformed man stagger back and tumble down the stairs. He waited for just a moment to see if anyone followed him, and when he heard nothing, he dropped the shotgun.

Gable ran toward the back wall of the room and kicked it. One, two, three times. The cracks started to appear, and then the wall crashed out onto the ground below. He worried that the break-away wall would fail him, but it turned out to work well after all.

He stopped at the edge, and looked out into the crisp morning sky. A cold wind nipped at his skin, and a distant dog barked at something. This was supposed to be another wonderful Halloween, which he’d prepared for all year long. Now, it was spoiled because a couple cops couldn’t mind their own fucking business.

Above his head, there was a metal twine rope attached to the wall and it lead down to the grassy area just beyond his backyard fence line. He opened the cabinet to his right, which contained clothes and other assorted items, and he retrieved a zip line mechanism. After quickly connecting it to the line, he zipped to the ground.

He looked up, and no cop appeared at the opening in the wall. They were probably being cautious or tending to their fallen comrade. He didn’t know. Didn’t care. He just started running, and as he approached the ally between his house and the other, someone turned the corner and he ran right into them.

After falling and then scrambling to his feet, he was about to dash the other direction when he saw it was Lucas, the man he’d known for over two decades.

Gable said, “They’re here! The cops. Dude, we gotta bolt!”

Lucas’s face was red, his eyes lit with the glisten of water. “You killed him!”

Gable stopped, and turned. “What?”

“Victor. You fucking killed him!”

Sirens blared in the distance as Gable approached Lucas. “What the hell do you mean I killed him?”

Lucas, through deep heaves of pain and anguish over his friend’s death, explained that he and Victor had dressed up as detective and cop, respectively, to play a prank on Gable. He was supposed to open the door and find two cops there, but then immediately realize that it was just a prank. When they heard him rummaging around, they used the key he’d given them a couple years ago to go inside and scare him a little more. Victor went upstairs while Lucas stayed behind to get a good laugh.

“Shit,” Gable said, the sirens near.

“Why the fuck did you freak out!”

Gable knew why. It was because normal people don’t understand him. They don’t understand that he has fetishes and desires that he had to feed. They don’t understand people like him, and so they call him monster, murderer, and try to lock him up in jail, but they don’t try to understand him. They never do. After this, they won’t even try.

“Why!” Lucas screamed and wailed in pain.

Gable listened as the police vehicles in the front of the house came to a screeching halt. Soon, they’d capture him, and then they’d find his friend dead in his house. The police would arrest him, and probably they’d search the rest of the house. They’d find the bodies he had stuffed in the walls, and the one he had in the basement that was still fresh. They’d examine those bodies and find that each one of them was missing fingers and toes. They’d find the bowl of fingers and toes in the freezer, and then they’d connect him to the fingers and toes he handed out to kids during Halloween. They’d know that he was the Candy Man serial killer–as the media so lovingly called him. They’d find out all of that, and he would go to jail. Likely he’d be put to death. All because his stupid friends played a stupid prank, and the stupid police responded to the stupid fucking gunshot.