Among The Flayed by Ben Spencer
Mygento sold their agrochemical seed steroid under the trade name “Sorocom,” but after a year on the market, a period in which it turned most farmers who used it and most people who ate the food they produced into shambling lepers, the FDA pulled it and declared a National Health Emergency.
It was too late for twenty thousand or so families and the counties they lived in throughout the midwest, 55,000 square miles of which––roughly the size of Iowa––was quarantined by the Army and the National Guard. Second Amendment supporting militias who had guns to spare and recruits eager for action helped patrol the borders of the containment zone.
In the common vernacular of middle America, Sorocom came to be known as “The Flayer,” and victims of its horrific side effects came to be known as “The Flayed.”
This brief history of Sorocom is running through my head as Rex is driving us down some unnamed access road in a wheat field, away from a pack of the Flayed that found us hiding in Ted Johnston’s hayloft with a dozen others.
Rex puts the old diesel truck into third gear. It belches out black smoke, obscuring the rearview. Looking through the oily cloud, I see the Flayed disappear.
But they’re still coming. They’ll never stop coming.
Rex did what he always did when he got into the truck. No matter how many unhealthy life choices he made––junk food, whiskey, chewing tobacco––Rex always buckled his seatbelt.
“Where do we go?” I ask. “What do we do?”
Rex holds his side. Maybe a stitch from sprinting to the truck. We barely made it. Rex was pulled out of the truck by one of the Flayed, but managed to unholster his revolver and blow its head off before the others got to him.
“We buy our time, Cherry,” he says. “We survive.”
I love that Rex still calls me by my pet name despite the chaos. He started calling me Cherry shortly after we started dating, a year before we got married. It’s a reminder that things were normal once.
Rex downshifts to pull around a hairpin turn. The wheels of the truck skid before finding traction and the rear end fishtails in a plume of dust.
I still wonder how we escaped the fate of so many thousands of other families. We speculated that the chemical properties of Sorocom that caused some peoples’ flesh to shed from their bodies were unstable. It was as if the drug had discretion. It picked and chose its victims, but without any logic that I could make sense of.
Staring at the ceiling at night, I often wondered if it would have been better to be among the first wave of people who’d become flayed. The transformation looked agonizingly painful. But I always imagined it would have been better to get it over with, better to be spared from witnessing the horrors of this new world.
Three farmhouses ago, I saw Eustice Jones’ husband Bill became flayed before my eyes.
I mark time by “farmhouses” now. The days and weeks started blending together not long after cellular service ceased, and I lost track of time.
On the run, we’d occupy a farmhouse, be discovered, and leave. Occupy a new one, get overwhelmed by the Flayed, and relocate. Each cycle constituted one “farmhouse.” In truth, “days” and “weeks” didn’t matter anyway, because it felt like we’d been on the run for years. I’d counted eighteen farmhouses so far, so many that I forgot who they all belonged to.
When Bill Jones became flayed, it started with his face. We were eating dinner, laughing and smiling and remembering the world as it used to be. Then Bill’s face turned into a frown. Working as a part-time nurse before the world fell, I’d seen my fair share of stroke victims. That’s what it looked like––that Bill lost control of the muscles in his face.
Eustice, his wife, asked what was wrong. And as Bill tried to answer, looking just as stunned as the rest of us, the skin from his face slipped off of the muscle that gave it shape, leaving a blood-red mask. Within seconds, the same thing had happened to the rest of his body. Within a minute, he’d killed three of us.
My attention comes back to the cab of the truck, to Rex, my last beacon of happiness and hope. He’s holding his side. His eyes are watering––no, he’s crying.
“I love you, Cherry.”
He upshifts, fourth gear, speeding faster down the road. The speedometer hits forty miles per hour. The truck rumbles across the hard-packed earth.
Rex’s face changes into a frown. The same frown I saw come across Bill Jones’ face.
“Rex, you’re scaring me.”
His face sags. The stroke. His skin becomes slippery, elastic. Then it starts to fall off onto his lap.
“Jump out of the truck Cherry,” he says, his jaw a sickening crimson. “I’m not going to slow down, I’m going to crash it. I won’t let it happen to me.”
He pulls up his shirt, showing me a deep gash in his side.
One of the Flayed bit him before he managed to get into the truck.
Suddenly, everything that made Rex the man I fell in love with, over beers in a smoky pool hall, slips away. The flesh sheds completely from his face. Now, Rex is reduced to a grinning skull covered in shiny red sinew. And he becomes terrifyingly aggressive like they all do. Like I’ve seen a hundred times before.
Rex releases the steering wheel. He lunges for me. I close my eyes before it happens, but hear a sharp click as Rex’s seatbelt locks him in place. His jaws snap. He’s like a rabid dog. He pulls against the seatbelt, but the stringent automobile safety standards keep him locked in place.
The tears come, pouring from my eyes. I remember everything that made Rex and I happy. Even though we’d never been able to have children––even though three pregnancies had ended in miscarriage – we’d started a family, just the two of us. And we’d been happy.
Rex’s foot is locked against the gas pedal. The speedometer reaches sixty. I think of trying to stall the truck, to stop it somehow. If I jumped out at this speed, no matter how soft the field, I’d be injured or killed. And if I happened to live, the Flayed would catch up to me, like they always do.
Rex is still restrained by his seatbelt, struggling ferociously against it. My hand closes around the gear shift. In his calloused, farmer’s palm, Rex––this monster that used to be my husband––grabs my wrist and brings my arm to his mouth. I pull away before he manages to bite it. I reach and try to downshift again, but Rex grabs my arm, pulls it to his mouth with extraordinary strength, and snaps just as I manage to slip out of his grasp.
In this final, vicious struggle for life, I’m reminded that it won’t end well. None of this was ever meant to end well. There will be no federal relief. Waiting for the government and the army is not an option, because they are not here to help us––only to keep us contained. Only to let all of us become flayed. We die after twenty-four hours. Once everyone’s dead and gone, then they’ll come in to clean up the mess.
I wonder if God has a plan for me, or if my Christian religiosity has been a lie I’ve told myself for thirty-three years to believe that there is a plan, that there is meaning. That there is something, rather than nothing.
If I live in a Godless world, one without Rex––is that world worth living in? How many more farmhouses, now, by myself? How long until I’m flayed? What will the change feel like as the skin falls from my face? Will I remember who I was? Does our sanity depart as we become flayed? Are we trapped inside a body that is not ours? Do our souls live on, or do they, too, depart?
As these questions cross my mind, I make my decision. Death has the final word in any scenario. Dictating how I meet it is my last act of free will.
Rex’s foot has continued depressing the accelerator. We’re humming along at eighty-five miles per hour.
The wheat shines in the moonlight––a translucent amber blur.
I look into Rex’s eyes. I see a flicker of blue color that made me fall in love with him. It aids my decision.
“Goodbye Rex,” I say.
I unbuckle my seatbelt. I grab the steering wheel. I close my eyes and pull it towards me as hard as I can.
Before everything goes black, I feel the truck lift from the ground. I open my eyes. We’re flying over the moonlit wheat field, which––if there were still people to harvest it––would be nearly ready.
The moon fills the cab of the truck.
I close my eyes again. Gravity pulls the truck down to earth.
Ben Spencer lives with his wife and two beloved Boxer dogs in Washington state, where he works as a writer and content strategist for a tech company. Ben is currently at work on his second novel, a young adult horror story and homage to H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.”
Revisitations: The Devil Went Down to Georgia
So I’ve been working on more painting into found art (as seen here before) and I thought I’d share a newer one, based on the song The Devil Went Down to Georgia by Charlie Daniels. But first let’s make like my She Wolf post enjoy a couple variations of the song, shall we?
First we have Charlie Daniels, the writer of the song which was inspired by the beautiful poem by Stephen Vincent Benet titled The Mountain Whipporwill. You can read the poem on Your Daily Poem here.
Then we have to watch my favorite version, the animated music video by Primus. I know there are claymation-haters out there who find the effect bit too “uncanny valley” but how can you not just love those chickens?
Anyway, without further ado, here is my painting, incorporated into a found still life, original signed L. Harady.
Here The Devil is defeated, crushed along the lower edge of the artwork beneath the fiddle and lamenting his loss. The bow jabs into his sneering nose as if to add insult to injury, but his eyes still glow, alight with the prospect of coming back for another round. (They actually do glow, I have acquired some blacklight reactive nail polish to use in these pieces now.) I suppose I may go to Hell for this portrayal (or for defiling yet another painting) but alas, such is the price of art sometimes. I guess I’ll add it to the list…
Cravings Part 2, story by Jennifer Weigel
If you missed the beginning of this pregnancy horror story by Jennifer Weigel, you can catch Part 1 here.
Jayden’s stomach turned. Who or what was this creature standing before him, and what had it done with his wife? Claire proceeded to eat more than half of the jar of eggs in a fury of consumption; Jayden finally retreated to the office alone unable to watch any more. He heard a sloshing sound as she finished the jar and proceeded to drink the brine before retreating to the bedroom and crashing into their bed, presumably to pass out. Again. Later that night, he crept in to find her sleeping, clammy and sweaty, nervously twitching. Her body made the most abnormal guttural sounds as her internal systems groaned and sputtered. It was definitely getting worse. Jayden resolved to call Dr. Randolph the following morning; this had gone on for far too long already.
The next day, Claire awoke with a start from another bad dream that she couldn’t remember. Crying uncontrollably, she clutched her swollen belly, still ripe with child, and hurriedly exclaimed, “Blood sausage! I must have blood sausage!”
Jayden woke from his curled-up safe haven beside her and muttered, “Wha… What is that? I’ve never even heard of such a thing.”
“Go!” she snapped. “I’m starving. Go now! Return with blood sausage.”
Jayden staggered over to the dresser, threw on some clothes, shuffled into his waiting shoes, and gathered himself to duck out the door in the well-practiced gesture he’d become so accustomed to. “I’ll stop on my way home from work, I guess,” he mused, making his own plans. Claire seemed to settle down a little as she woke further, but it was little consolation.
“Thank you Sweetcheeks,” she said. “You’re the best.” She blew him a kiss.
While at work, Jayden managed to secure an appointment with Dr. Beth Randolph, Claire’s primary physician since before he had known her, for later that day. He took off early and rushed home to gather his unwilling wife. She was going in, whether she liked it or not.
He opened the front door and peered inside. The house was dark and quiet, as he’d come to expect. He crept in and stole upstairs to the bedroom to rouse Claire from sleep. He’d tell her where they were going once he got her in the car, no sense in making this even more difficult than it already was. Unsurprisingly, there she was, a shadowy form hunched over in the bed, her back to him with the covers pulled up over her eyes. He peeled away the comforter and blanket to reveal a tangled mess of white knitted yarn; Claire was nowhere to be found. He looked around, trying to focus on the darkness of the bedroom that enveloped him. That unsettling feeling had returned, like he’d had at Maresh’s shop, sinking into his gut. Claire was here idling, watching, waiting; he could sense her presence sizing him up as if she could read his mind and was on to his plan. But why was her company so disconcerting? This was still their house, their home, their lives intertwined… Jayden felt his trust ebb, spine tingling sensing danger.
“Hey there Sweetcheeks,” Claire’s voice echoed from the darkness of the closet. “Do you have something for me?” She emerged into the room, her eyes wide, frothing slightly at the edges of her mouth. Tiny bubbles of drool burst forth from her quivering lips and trickled down onto her chin.
“I couldn’t find any… blood sausage… whatever that is,” Jayden lied through his teeth. He hadn’t even gone to the store. Claire should never have expected him back at this hour; apparently she didn’t even know what time it was. But that seemingly wasn’t a concern. She wasn’t herself. Something about her fragile frame, the way she rocked from side to side, reminded him of that crazy old witch doctor Maresh. He finally managed to connect the two; it was as though she were possessed. It was imperative that she saw Dr. Beth Randolph as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to sever ties to that crazy old hag and hopefully start to snap out of it. He simply had to get her to that appointment.
“No blood sausage!” Claire shouted, becoming more and more agitated. “No… blood… sausage!” Her breathing became less regular and her body shivered all over as she hulked towards him. “I am sooo hungry!”
She lunged towards him, stumbling into his arms and collapsing towards his feet laughing maniacally. Jayden reached for her instinctively, to lower her to the ground gently, and felt something sticky and warm envelop his hand. Feeling lightheaded, he glanced down as he fell to the floor beside her. Protruding from his gut was a long silver thread, no something pointedly metal and hard, oozing thick oil sludge all around. Not oil, blood. His blood. Claire continued laughing, her lightning-fast fingers quickly and methodically ripping their way into his tattered shirt and worming around within his wounded frame to pull forth bits of viscera, which she wrung in her hands and smeared up and down her arms and torso. As Jayden passed out, she mouthed each of her fingers in turn, sucking the precious liquid off of them one at a time, before she began to feast on his entrails.
Claire’s belly was finally full. The baby developing within squirmed and settled, as if finally satiated. She swiped a stray bit of flesh from her bosom, licked it off of her fingertips, and heaved a sigh of relief. Miracle Madame Maresh Meliasma was right; she just needed to get to the root of her cravings.
Cravings, a Pregnancy Horror Story by Jennifer Weigel
Here is Part 1 of Cravings, a pregnancy horror story considering darker cravings and changes in contrast to the glow that comes with the all-too-often toxic-positivity focus of carrying a child.
“Honey, I’m home,” Jayden’s voice echoed through the house like a bad 50s sitcom rerun for all that he didn’t watch those kinds of shows. The callout seemed equally rehearsed and hopeful but harbored a hint of fear in the way his voice cracked that didn’t bespeak Mayberry or the like. He waited for his wife Claire to greet him at the door. The house was still and cold with all of the heavy drapes drawn and no lights on anywhere. He glanced towards the dark bedroom where she must be napping, like the day before and the day before that, for weeks and months on end now.
Honestly, Claire hadn’t been the same since she’d finally conceived, following that witch doctor Miracle Madame Maresh Meliasma’s advice after years and years of trying to get pregnant. Now Claire was lethargic and succumbed to migraines, nightmares & morning sickness that kept her bedridden much of the time, screaming bloody murder because of her headaches if anyone so much as flicked on the lights. And she had barely even gotten into the second trimester. Jayden had read that it was supposed to get better but there didn’t seem to be any improvement; if anything she seemed to be getting worse. He tried to get her to see her doctor about it but she snubbed the idea. “After everything they put us through, all those years of fertility treatments, the invasive procedures, the bills… No way. To Hell with modern medicine,” Claire had retorted.
So now here they were, readying themselves for their first child. Maresh had foreseen that Claire would birth a healthy baby boy, and with all of the card readings, spiritual advice and herbal concoctions, Claire had fallen right in line, hanging onto the witch doctor’s every word. Jayden was still frustrated she wouldn’t consult with her normal doctor, but she instead visited with Maresh every day through Instachat online for about an hour and even invited the creepy old woman into their home once a week on Thursday mornings to supply fresh herbs, massage her aching joints and swelling tummy, and call forth healing realigning energies with elaborate candlelit rituals. Claire could focus on only one thing: anticipating the pending home birth and natural delivery of their firstborn child, still several months away.
Jayden wished his wife had never set foot in that weird alternative new age spiritual center, something about it had just seemed off. It wasn’t the crystals or candles or psychic energy books that seemed to line every surface; he wasn’t into any of that mysticism crap but it seemed pretty innocuous. He recalled small figures made of sticks, straw and mud, and giant Mason jars boasting exotic herbal remedies, and the lingering scent of something sickly sweet decaying, all of which was genuinely unsettling, but it wasn’t really that either. There was something decidedly sinister about the place that he couldn’t quite put his finger on, more caught up in the air surrounding and within the space itself. It settled into his gut like that feeling you get when you know you’re being watched by some unseen far away presence or when you meet someone you know deep down has ill intentions. And Maresh herself was just as disturbing; she only ever addressed Claire and had not uttered a single word to Jayden in the entire time. In fact, she acted as if she looked right through him without even seeing him.
As days turned into weeks into months, Claire became more withdrawn and more obsessed about the baby. She never left the house, locking herself away in the gloomy stagnant nest and occupying herself with the remedies, rites and rituals that Maresh suggested. Oh, and knitting. Jayden hadn’t realized that Claire knitted since he had never seen her do so before, but her hands were a frenzy of motion, whipping silver needles back and forth and pulling soft white yarn between them like a growing umbilical cord tethering her to the circumstance at hand like some sort of strange pregnancy lifeline. The so-called blanket she was producing grew larger and larger every day.
Jayden snapped out of his reverie to see his wife eyeing him from the hallway. She studied him up and down slowly, staring longingly at his body. She inadvertently bit her lower lip in anticipation, teeth striking flesh to cut forth a small droplet of blood. Her tongue eagerly danced across her pursed mouth and lapped it up before withdrawing again.
“Aw, what’d you bring me this time, Sweetcheeks?” Claire smirked; eyes alight with flame like a cat readying to pounce
She had been ravenous throughout the pregnancy so far, and her cravings kept getting stranger and more bizarre as time passed. The other day, Jayden had fetched boiled shrimp, and she had devoured over 2 pounds of the mud-bugs in less than an hour’s time, shell, tail and all, their little legs matted together like thick wet whiskers. Today she had requested pickled eggs, the kind that they import from Europe or Dutch-country Pennsylvania in those big almost gallon-sized jars, stained pink with beet juice vinegar. Jayden procured the giant jar of eggs from the paper bag in his arms. Claire lunged at him and grabbed up the prize, prying the lid off in one fell swoop. She reached in, pulled out a pink rubber-looking egg still dripping with brine, and shoved it in her mouth whole. She hadn’t even bothered to chew it before she grabbed another to meet the same fate. And another.
I hope you have enjoyed the first part of this story. Part 2 will air next time here on Haunted MTL. In the meantime, feel free to follow your cravings and order up some midnight munchies, or listen to this lullabye.