by: Shawn Smith
Eric Skullings enjoyed the sounds of solitude. In fact he revered it; it being the long sleepless nights, the ethereal transformation of night to day and day to night. Dusk to dawn, and living through sunset to sunrise without an ounce of sleep. The pallid man, smiling and silent, whored himself out on foggy wakefulness, ignoring the the tight unrelenting tendrils of instinct to doze and enter the realm of the subconscious. He denied himself sleep as long as he could. His eyes were dry and hazy, his face sagging and weary, his mind numb and often sore, but he was happy. Happy and content and that's what mattered. He didn't talk much and he worked the graveyard shift at the Greenfield Apartment Complex, That suited him fine. He patrolled the cracked and dusty grounds hourly in Misty eyed trances, shuffling his watery gait in tune to broken imitations of old Abba songs. His long, thick, hairy arms, that ended in curiously soft hands swung drunkenly at his sides as he made his routine rounds. He was grey and subdued and seemed to become part of the landscape, as if he were not really a person but a ghost. One that floated along the chipped and stony paths ways that separated the wild and savage world from one membrane of civilized sleep. No nightmares; just the happy housing arrangements of delighted dreamers.
Eric would go about his rounds diligently and then return to his chair. It was located in a spacious little room in a tight and compact hall that smelt of mildew and age.
"The hallowed hall of the sleepers", he mused softly, then farted and sunk snugly into the seat, grinning. Minutes passed and he began to feel a tugging at the corners of his eyelids. Just as his head drooped and he was about to doze, he was knocked back awake in his chair. A raspy howling burned into his ears. Some fist, it must of been the size of a small watermelon, pounded the door. The door arced and splintered under the pressure of each repeated smash to its frame. Something, or some one, of immense strength stood outside the door. The creature was grinning feverishly. He rapped at the door again and hummed Eric's name.
"You're not really there, you silly bear..." Eric squawked and pulled his cap over his eyes. He trembled and shook his head, "J-just a late night hah-loo-sih-nay-shun." He crooned the last word slowly, as if it were an incantation to ward off spirits. He closed his eyes and began to hum the chorus to Abba's Dancing Queen. The grinning thing outside stopped his rap-rap-rapping at the door and fell silent... Eric stopped humming. Gazing at the door his lips pursed into a tight questioning "O".
And then, "SCREEEEEAAAAGH". The creature began to run its long, rusty nails against the door. It screeched out like car’s tires skidding on hot asphalt, or perhaps more like an industrial saw trying to cut through cold, impenetrable steel. To say the least, it was not quite pleasant.
Eric grabbed blindly at his desk for his Kleenex box, found it, and jammed tissue paper into his ears. It softened the volume of the sound, but it was already too late. Eric felt as if glass had shattered inside his head. White, searing pain flooded his skull. Now the smiling thing had his attention. The creature's voice seemed to froth and spill from its throat "Eric, Eric!" the words bubbled out "You were beginning to dose off and you know what happens when you do."
Eric just stared fixedly at the door, his face a pale white mask. "What happens, big boy," The creature purred "Is when you're not here to protect and serve you're p-rrrrrrr-ecious tenants, then one by one they get nightmares. And I'm not talking about you're typical late night screamer-shit either, baby-doll. I'm talking talking crippling, biting madness, and the smell of rotting fish in the morning, baby. One by one we're gonna sorta.... eat their brains, I guess you could say, Skully-boy. We're gonna get nice and fat on brain-chow, and then you and your tenants'll be wandering around the rest of your miserable fucking lives living out your piss-ant nightmares. And then," he crooned. "We're gonna move on and find some more soft n' tender gray-matter sink out teeth into. Pretty fucking swell if you ask me. You should try some, tastes pretty damned good..." There was a pause as if the grinning one were pleasantly lost in thought. "Oh and if you don't want this this to ever, eveerr, happen again I advise you to try and stick it out champ, cuz tonight you was a sleepyhead!" He cackled and ran his claws against the door again. "One last remindah, to make sure you really got the message, sonny-boy."
Eric heard an archaic click...The rusty click of a firearm's trigger. Time seemed to freeze for an instant and Eric curled into a ball in his arm chair. Becoming small as he could he sunk into the chair’s large frame. There was a loud blast and strange discs of silver light punched through the door from outside. They Spread like a shotgun blast. Eric raised his arms defensively to his face and cried out in surprise and pain. The serrated moon slivers expelled from the the door in a wide arc, most of them missing him by a foot. However, a few of the air slugs got lucky and slashed his forearms. If Eric hadn't reacted with such quick timing then he may have come away from this with his face hanging like lasagna strips.
"I wasn't dosing off you fucking shit!" Eric screamed. His strained face became one of commanding intensity and suddenly he burst out; "Begone you slimy salamander, git outta here, and never come back!".
And then everything was still. The doorway stood indifferent, silent and empty, save for a few littered sheets floating to the ground as if there had been the slightest gust. Nobody here but us sleepy chickens, the room seemed to echo in his mind as the papers settled to the ground. He bit his lower lip against the pain, which felt hungry and raw. His wide glassy eyes returned to look in his lap, where his hands were tangled nervously. Eric's arms were covered in surgically precise open cuts at which he first didn't understand. cuts... but no blood...?
As what he was seeing came into focus he realized his flesh was tender and parted and cut cleanly to reveal cords of white string underneath his his skin. He shrieked. As he screamed, some of the white stringy spaghetti slipped from his wounds to writhe on the floor. They wiggled there looking naked and blind. Eric got out of his chair and began to stomp them, making a squishy sound under his boots... He screamed louder as more writhing noodle-worms slithered from his wounds.. and then there was just black.
Eric was jolted awake, he had been snoozing in his beloved armchair, with his feet up on his desk. He inhaled and breathed out a long sigh, sending the shivers from his body. He sat there and noticed a pleasant smell wafting his way. The warm aroma of... tomato sauce and coffee seemed to permeate the room. As his gaze fell upon the source of the smell his eyes widened, his hair stood on end and his body exploded into goosebumps. Eric let out a long piercing scream that went on for almost a minute. On the desk to his left were a plate of fresh spaghetti, a steaming cup of coffee and a memo that simply said "So you don't fall asleep on the job again, Baby Doll.". Eric’s world shattered like the freshly broken glass of a beer bottle in the heat of a brutal bar brawl during a weekend bender. His eyes glazed over with searing pain causing him to tear. Skullings felt like he was taking a nightmare-ride on the shroom train and his consciousness was being ripped from his body, to dangle in front of him menacingly and then smashed to bits on the floor. The sleepy-head felt his flesh explode into boils, writhing noodle worms poked their greedy little heads out from tiny holes being rendered in his skin and fatty blubber ballooned all around him. The scream took on a monstrous growl, low and guttural, as Eric felt his face collapse in on itself and then mutate into something grotesque and sexual. This process repeated itself through out his entire body; flesh collapsing in on itself, congealing, then after being submerged with in itself, regurgitated outwards, spilling forth in putrid husks of obese blubber. Noodle-worms crawled from large porous caverns, gaping from his new leathery flesh. They formed a complex network of subterranean tunnels beneath his skin, connecting all the worms with one convenient transit system. The worms writhed in unison together. The new Eric forgot about the coffee and the spaghetti, he forgot about his tenants and his job, he lumbered over to the corner, clumsily and as fast as his new legs could carry him. Searching for the mirror, he found it hidden behind a sheet of grime and dust. He used one bloated hand to brush the crust and dirt from the mirror. What he saw standing there reflected back at him could only be described as a manifestation of his darkest dreams...
He had become one of them....