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It was February 29 again, and I was wondering which member of my family would try to kill me this time. Still, a small part hoped that maybe this year would be different from the past. I mean, it’s been 16 years. I’ve made peace with what I did. It never had anything to do with them anyway. But here I was, lying awake in bed before my alarm and I couldn’t help wondering if when I opened my eyes one of them would be standing above me, ax cocked behind their head, waiting to make sure the last thought that went through my mind would be they got me like they said they would.

            I felt Michael stir. He’d be awake any minute. Surely they wouldn’t do it in front of him. They’d have to kill him too. The only guilt he had was that of association with me. He wasn’t even in the picture when it happened. He has nothing to do with this. There’s no way they would do it now.

            Not a day goes by where I don’t doubt my decision. That I wish it was me that died instead of him. That at least he died.

            “Are you awake?” Michael whispered.


            Did I say that out loud?

            He rolled over and slid his body up to mine. I could feel his morning passion pressed against my thigh. He kissed my neck gently then nibbled my earlobe. His hands traced my hips.

            “Good morning Beautiful,” he said.

            I pretended to be asleep. He knew I was awake.

            He continued. He slipped a finger under my waistband, paused, and then allowed his hand to follow through. I pressed my head back lightly to expose my neck. He took the invitation.


            His two fingers explored my wetness below as our tongues wrestled for dominance above.

            That’s when I jumped up.

            “What are you doing?” he asked.

            “Did you hear that?”

            “Hear what?”


            “I think someone’s in the house.”

            Michael sighed and fell back onto the bed.

            He didn’t say anything.

            Maybe he was right. Maybe there wasn’t anybody in the house.

            “What’s going on, Jess? You’ve been acting strange all week.”


            “Nothing’s going on. I just thought I heard something. I felt something.”

            “Yeah,” he chuckled. “That was me inside of you.”

            “Don’t be an idiot. I’m being serious.”

            “So am I. We were close to doing something we’d done every morning for the last six months, and then this week rolls around and I can barely get a kiss out of you.”

            “It’s not like that.”


            “Then what’s it like? Because this isn’t the Jessica I fell in love with.”

            “Stop being so dramatic.”

            I listened for what I thought I heard: the brush of a sleeve across a bare wall; that one creak the floor only makes when someone steps on that exact spot; the breath of a shadow in the corner of the room. Anything.

            “You’re distancing yourself from me. There’s a disconnect. It’s not just the sex.” He sat up. “Jessica, I’ve been in situations before that I’ve ignored and it only got worse. I don’t want to do that again. We need to talk about it.”

            “What are you saying?”


            “The closer we get to our wedding day, the more it feels like you’re running away.”

            “Are you kidding?”

            “It’s serious.”

            If he only knew.

            “I don’t remember when it started, but you don’t look at me like you used to.”


            He sounded like such a girl.

            “There used to be love in your eyes,” he said. “It was enough to just be around you. I never doubted you for a second. Now that we’re a month away it’s like you’re second guessing us; like you’re checking out. Now when I look in your eyes all I see is resentment, like I’m stealing your life from you.”

            “There you go again, making it all about you.”

            “Jessica, I’m not trying to make it about me. I’m sharing how I feel. I’m scared. I miss you. I miss us, Jess. I love you.”

            I hated when he said “I love you” at the end of his thought. It always made me feel I was obligated to say it back.


            I placed my feet on the floor. The shock of the cold wood invigorated my legs.

            “Please don’t just walk away.”

            “I have to get ready for work.”


The comforting smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the bathroom mixing with the steam of the hot shower. For a moment I forget to remember the inevitability the day will bring. I turned off the water. What could I do? Tell him? I couldn’t tell him. He’d never believe me. Nobody does. I don’t even believe me.



My mug sat beside the coffee pot. There was a bowl of sliced kiwi and strawberries on the table. Michael stood at the stove frying eggs.

            “Thanks,” I said.

            “Of course. Eat up.”

            I thought about stepping behind him and nestling my head into his back, or kissing his neck like he had done to mine this morning; then I saw the note on the fridge:


Thirty days hath September,

April, June and November;

All the rest have thirty-one,

Excepting February alone

Which hath but twenty-eight, in fine,


Till leap year gives it twenty-nine.

            “Did you write this?”


            “The poem. Did you write this here?”

            “What do you mean, ‘did I?’ Who else would have?”


            “Why’d you do it?”

            “Because it’s February 29th. We only get like 20 in a lifetime. It’s a magical day.”

            “Well, the people in Scotland believe that if you’re born on a Leap Day, your life will be an everlasting stream of suffering and pain.”


How is anyone supposed to know what to do? Seriously. How do you know if the decision you make is the right one? Isn’t it enough to at least have had the courage to make a decision? It has to better than not making a decision, right? Don’t they see that? Can’t he see that I’m distancing myself from him for his own sake? To protect him. If only he knew. Christ. If only he knew, then there’d be no way he would love me. There’s no way he could. I should have never let it get this far to begin with. I don’t even love myself. How am I supposed to love anyone else? I just need to make it through the day. Just one day.


            Just today.


I didn’t feel my head strike the steering wheel, but it struck. I opened my eyes to a half dozen blank faces staring at me. My foot was pressed on the brake and somehow I was in the middle of a lifeless intersection.

            The cracked giant grill of a white SUV glared at me in the rear-view mirror.

            I pounded the steering wheel with my fist. Why today?


            I stepped out of the car and approached the vehicle behind me.

            It was a woman. An Asian woman. She stared straight ahead. There was a young girl seated beside her.

            “You have to be kidding me,” I said. “Why did you have to be the goddam stereotype?!”

            Neither of them spoke. A black Mustang pulled up beside me. It was a young couple.

            “We saw everything,” the girl said. “She was on her phone. She sped past us and straight into you. Do you want our number in case you need a witness in court?”



            “Are you OK?” the girl asked. “You don’t look too hot. Maybe you should sit down.”


“I came as soon as I heard, baby. Are you OK?”

            The fluorescent lights forced me to squint. I could barely make out the face, but I knew the voice: Michael. I looked around the room.


            “You shouldn’t move your neck like that. They’re worried you might have a fracture.”

            “Fracture? From what?”

            “From your face hitting the steering wheel. Don’t you remember?”

            “I think so.”

            “You were rear-ended. Apparently you were coherent for the first couple of minutes after the accident, but then you collapsed in the street.”


            “Jesus. Is my car OK?”

            “Your car? You could have a broken neck and you’re worried about your car?”

            “Don’t lecture me, it was just a question.”

            “Sorry. I guess I’m still a little upset about this morning. When I got the call I thought the worst, I was terrified.” He paused. “Your car is a write off. Insurance will get you a new one.”

            “Oh. That’s good.”


            “Were you on your phone when it happened?”

            “I’m not doing this right now. You can stay, but I’m not doing this right now.”


In a fog. Michael’s voice was accompanied by others.

            “How long has she been out for?”


            “She was awake for a couple of minutes when I first arrived, but she’s been asleep ever since.” That was Michael. “Maybe a couple of hours?”

            “How was she when she woke up?”

            “Honestly,” he said. “She was in a mood.”

            “That’s Jessica for you. Once she digs in her heels there’s no talking with her.”

            The voice sounded like my dad’s voice.


            My dad!

            I had to wake up. Why couldn’t I wake up?

            “Are Julie and Paige coming?” Michael said.

            “Yes, we all came together. They’re talking with the doctor right now. Julie’s worked with him before and you know how Paige is, always trying to network, so she’s stuck to Julie’s hip.”

            They laughed.


            “Paige has got to be close to finishing nursing school, isn’t she?”

            “Final year.”

            “That’s great, Stan. You must be proud.”

            I imagined my dad grinning ear to ear. He had the smile of a politician.

            “And how about you two?” he asked Michael. “Are you all set for the big day?”


            “Just a matter of time now. I’m actually looking forward to it being over with. Get on with our lives. I think the pressure is weighing on her.”

            “Hang in there, son. Julie was the same way during the month leading up to our wedding day. That was twenty-five years ago now.”

            “That’s incredible. You don’t see too much of that anymore.”

            “You sure don’t. But here we are, living proof.”

            I pictured his big grin again. It’s not that hard to stick together when you and your spouse are both psychopaths. I needed to open my eyes. Why’d Michael have to call them? Why today?


            “Do you need to take a leak or anything? Have you left her side since you got here?”

            “Thanks. If you don’t mind I’ve been holding it since I got here,” Michael said.

            “Take your time, stretch your legs. We’ll be here when she wakes up again.”


I felt a presence hovering over me. It descended closer. I felt its breath warm my face.


            My body quivered.

            “Hi Sweetie,” my dad said. “Daddy’s here now. Everything is going to be OK. Can you believe it’s February 29 again? How does the old poem go? Excepting February alone, which hath but twenty-eight, in fine, till a leap year gives it twenty-nine.”

            He kissed my forehead.

            “Rest now, little girl. You’re going to need all the strength you can muster.”



“Did you get it?” my dad asked.

            “Of course,” my mom said. “Where’s Michael?”

            “Giving his legs a stretch.”

            “Is she awake?”

            “It’s hard to tell,” he said. “I whispered in her ear and I thought I noticed a quiver, but I don’t know for sure.” Then he snickered, “She’ll wake up in hell soon enough.”


            “I want to be the one that gives it to her.” That was Paige. “I am the nurse after all.”

            “All right Sweets, it’s all you,” my dad said.

            Paige moved around the bed. She stopped when she reached my side. She cupped my hand. The gentleness of her touch surprised me. She leaned into my face.

            “You won’t notice right away,” she said, “but you will soon enough. You’ll be awake. You’ll feel everything. But you won’t be able to move. You’ll be screaming out of your eyes for us to stop and nobody will be able to hear you. You’re going to wish you were dead – but look around Jessica, you’re in the hospital. Their only job is to keep you alive.”

            I heard my parents chuckle. I felt a coolness being carried through my veins. It reached down to my toes. It reached to the top of my head. Paige must have injected something into the IV.


            “How do we know if it worked?” my dad asked.

            “Well,” Paige said, “If she opens her eyes and doesn’t scream it worked.”

            I didn’t open my eyes. I felt Paige holding my hand. I tried pulling it away. I couldn’t. She took my pinky finger, straightened it out, and rested something on the tip below the fingernail. I felt pressure. Why couldn’t I pull my hand free? A spike ran up my finger, up my hand, up my arm and into my shoulder, like when you press a tack by accident, my arm wanted to recoil but couldn’t. I wanted to scream but nothing came out. My eyes welled and then shocked open. My family started laughing. The pain tripled. Paige continued to press the needle under my nail. I was losing my breath. Inside I was shaking but I knew it didn’t show.

            “What if she passes out?” my mom asked.

            She sounded sincerely concerned.


            “Just give her a little ephedrine.”

            “You girls are sick,” said my dad.

            “You’re just jealous I came up with the idea,” Paige said.

            “Just wait till it’s my turn.”



My finger throbbed. Paige pressed my hand against the bed and snapped the needle. Its crisp crack bounced around the room. It felt like my finger had been sliced in two.

            Paige replaced the medical sensor to cover the wound. My fucking sister. My parents. How could they do this to me? What else were they going to do?

            A pricking burning scorched my veins. Fire blazed from my fingertip. I thought maybe like in a hot spring if I just didn’t think about it and didn’t move, the pain would go away. I couldn’t move, but not think about it? How could I not think about it? I may as well have been strapped to a bed in the Toy-Box Killer’s torture dungeon the way my psychopathic family was eager to pounce.

            Where’s Michael? Why did he leave me with these monsters? MICHAEL!



“Paige,” my mom said. “Stand by the door and wait for Michael.”

            “No fair,” she said. “I was just getting started.”

            “We have to move quick; and we have to take turns. This is the first time we get to do it together. Go wait at the door.”

            I watched Paige smirk as she walked across the room.

            “Your turn Julie,” my dad said. “What are you going to do?”


            “Watch and see.”

            I knew the voice. She was a little girl about to poke a cat with a stick she spent hours sharpening in anticipation.

            Her bulbous nose nearly touched mine. She kept it angled in arrogance as she calculated what she would say next. The light of the room ignited the tiny hairs above her lip and I knew if I could laugh at her for this it would send her into a rage.

            “Hi Jessie,” she said. “I wish I could say ‘momma loves you,’ but, well, we all know that isn’t true.”

            I wanted to spit in her face.


            “Oh look Stan,” she said. “You can almost see the fear in those little blue eyes of hers.”

            My dad moved in for a closer look. He hummed. “Isn’t that cute.”

            “OK,” my mom said and pushed him aside. “It’s my turn.”

            She flashed a razor in front of my face. It was a razor from my dad’s shave kit. The kind of razor that comes individually wrapped in wax paper, both sides of the blade sharpened to slice with ease.

            “Your face isn’t as bloody as I hoped it would be,” my mom said. “But that’s life, isn’t it? I’m just going to have to make the best with what I’ve got, you know, play the cards I’m dealt.”


            She used one of her hands to palm my face.

            She set down the razor and unbuckled the neck brace.

            She stroked my neck.

            She wasn’t going to slit my throat, was she? She couldn’t. That would be too easy. She wanted me to suffer. Isn’t that what all these years have been about? To make me suffer for what I did? To make me suffer beyond the hell I put myself through every day? I did what I had to do. I shouldn’t have to pay for it over and over and over again.



            Please mom, don’t do this. I’m sorry. I really am. Mommy, please stop.

            I felt the sting when the razor pierced my skin. My heart raced. I saw my mom’s eyes shimmer. Her lips tightened to expose her sunken cheeks and hollow bags beneath her eyes. She stared at me.

            “Relax Darling,” she said.

            The sting dragged along my throat, then stopped.

            OK. That’s OK. That wasn’t so bad.


            My mom snapped her fingers in front of my face. I hadn’t noticed I’d averted my eyes.

            “This is going to hurt,” she said. “But I need you to hang in there, baby. Paige has more to do and Daddy still needs his turn.”

            I felt the razor dig into the slit. My mom pressed so hard against my neck I thought she would break it. A crack exploded the room. The pressure gave way. I gasped for air. I tried to reach for my throat, but my arms remained limp by my side.

            “Pass me the tracheotomy tube, Hun,” she said.

            The room began to fade. I couldn’t hear. I couldn’t breathe. My skin felt blue. There was more pressure on my throat. It was like choking on a chip that was being forced deeper and deeper inside me. The tissue grated like shredding cheese. My lungs burned. I sucked liquid copper. The taste filled my chest. And then I caught my breath. My vision returned. My mom tightened the neck brace and began petting my hair.


            “There, there, Sweetie, there, there. Momma fixed you up real nice.” She smiled. “I think I may have dropped the razor inside before I ran the tube down though. Oops. Let me know when it starts to feel like drowning. It should be a little harder with each breath. Each nick of the blade on the inside of your lung will add just a little more blood. How many litres can they hold? It’s been a long time since clinical anatomy. What I do know for sure is: your chest will get heavy. You’ll taste it in your throat. You’ll want to cry out for help but no one will be able to save you. No one will be able to save you like that dying child you abandoned. What do you think his last minutes were like? Do you think he cried out for a mommy that wasn’t there? Do you think his begging landed on deaf ears? You’ll know his pain Jessica. Mark my words. You will know his pain.”


“Do you remember when Jessica was just a little girl and we were going to that Mexican restaurant all the time?” my dad said.

            “Of course, Mya Riviera,” said my mom.

            “It must have been her second birthday. She kept shovelling those tortilla chips into her mouth when all of a sudden she burst out screaming bloody murder.”


            “Bone chilling.”

            “All the wait staff ran over. All the tables stared. We thought she dipped it in the habanero sauce so we made her drink milk but she kept on screaming; those gumball tears pouring down her face.”

            “I ran her to the bathroom and found that chip lodged in the back of her throat, its sharp corners digging in like anchors. She spat up blood.”

            “It was terrifying,” my dad said.

            My throat was on fire. My chest pooled. The room was closing in.


            “Did I take it too far with the razor blade?” my mom asked.

            “No, Julie. It was perfect.” He pulled her in for a kiss. “I love you baby.”

            “I love you, too, Stan.”

            “Get a room,” Paige said.

            Everybody laughed. Everybody was always laughing.


            “Glad to see your spirits are high,” Michael said.

            So stupid. How could he leave me alone with these monsters?

            I choked. Blood splashed the inside of the tracheotomy tube. Michael ran to my bedside.

            “What’s going on? She’s bleeding out of her tube,” he paused. “Wait, why is there a tube in her throat?”

            “She started choking while you were out. They cut a quick trach to keep her breathing. They think maybe a rib impaled one of her lungs when she hit the steering wheel.”



            “I know. I hate seeing her like this,” my mom said. “I’m torn though.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “She wasn’t wearing her seat belt.”   

            “How do you know?”


            “There’s no abrasion or bruising across her chest,” my mom said. “There would be if she was wearing her belt.”


            “I don’t know how many times we told her to buckle-up when she was a kid. She just never listened. Life is a cruel teacher.”

            “I don’t know Julie. That seems a little harsh. I mean, look at her.”

            Michael looked like he was going to cry. He loved me. I knew he did. I just didn’t know why.


            “She has her ways,” he said, “and don’t get me wrong, I’m not always a fan of those ways, but she’s a good person. I’d never wish this on her in a million years.”

            Paige hugged him. She rubbed his arm and shot me half-cocked smile.

            “Oh Michael,” Paige said. “Mom didn’t mean it like that. We all adore Jess. It’s why we’re here. And you, mister. You are just the sweetest, most stand-up guy. She’s lucky to have you.”

            “Don’t be silly,” Michael said.

            “For serious. I mean, if I’m being honest, it’s crossed my mind a few times that if things didn’t work out between the two of you, I just might have to take a turn.”


            Michael squeezed her close. He kissed the top of her head. “OK little sis.”

            Everybody laughed, again.


I was 18 when I met him. Not Michael, Shelly, and it was love at first sight. My world stopped spinning. It was as if all the pieces had finally fallen into place. I know it sounds cliché, but it was real. I was smitten. He treated me like the only girl in the world. When he looked in my eyes I knew I was the only girl in the world. I wanted to be his forever.

            We moved in together right away. Like, within weeks. The first day in the apartment, we were setting up the bedroom and he picked me up against the mattress and made love to me until we fell to the floor. It was amazing. There was always that passion between us. We were consumed with each other. We made meals together. We walked together. We talked even. How many people have a passionate relationship where communication is a cornerstone?


            Right from the start we wanted to have children. And right from the start we were pregnant. I still remember the look on his face when I woke him up to tell him the news. Tears filled his eyes. His cheeks puffed an honest smile. He pulled me close and kissed my forehead. He said, ‘I love you, Jessie. I love you so much.’

            And I felt sick.

            Here I’d found the greatest man in the world and I couldn’t even be sure the baby was his.


“Kiss your fiancé then take me to the cafeteria. You’re little sister is famished.”


            “Is that so?” Michael said.

            “It is,” Paige said.

            I swear I saw her bite her bottom lip.

            Michael leaned above me. “You heard your sister, Jess,” he said. “We’re going to get the family some food, and you some flowers. You’re in good hands here.”

            He kissed my forehead.


            Please don’t go Michael. Please. I need you.

            “I love you,” he said.

            And I knew it would be the last time I heard anyone ever say that to me again.


Even with my eyes wide-open, my vision faded in and out. I got lost in a day-terror picturing my sister holding Michael’s arm as they walked down the hall. She was telling some silly story or laughing at everything Michael said even though he wasn’t being funny. They’d pass an empty room in an adjacent hallway and she’d bump him through the open door. Michael would laugh and turn to leave but she’d be advancing. He’d object at first, but he’s a guy, and despite my sister being a bitch, she has always been pretty. She’d press him against the bed and run her hands down the front of his pants. She’d tell him how she knows things weren’t going great in our relationship and how he deserves better and how he doesn’t have to reciprocate she only wants to service him; help him relax a little. His pants would drop to the floor and she’d kneel in front of him knowing there was nothing left of his resolve.


            A solid mass struck the side of my face. I was jarred from my daydream as a numb, eye watering nausea settled into the back of my skull.

            “Stay with us Jessica,” my dad said.

            “Maybe we should give her a few milligrams of ephedrine,” my mom said.

            “Yeah. There’s a good chance she’ll pass out on my go.”

            The room became brighter. The metronomic sound of my heart on the monitor quickened. I could hear surgical tools being placed in metal pans somewhere outside the room. My eyes darted in every direction consuming my surroundings. The IV bag hung full. The TV remained off. The curtains were pulled back. The room was only my mom, my dad and me.


            “Let’s see what you brought,” she said.

            “You think you can handle it?”

            “Bring it on.”

            He shuffled around and said, “I call it ‘The Show Stopper.’”

            My mom cocked her head in disbelief as if she wasn’t quite sure what she was looking at.


            The finger monitor squeezed my pinky. The razor floated with each breath I took to cut just a little bit more of my insides. But I was right. As long as I didn’t move, which I couldn’t, the pain was present but not intolerable. All I needed was for Michael to walk in while my dad was doing whatever he was about to do and this would all be over. I only had to last a few more minutes. I could last a few more minutes. What’s a few more minutes?

            “What have you done to my vibrator?” my mom asked.

            “Relax Julie, I figured after this we’ll splurge on some new toys.”

            “You’re sick.”

            “She doesn’t deserve this?”


            “Oh she does, but,” my mom paused. “Are you really going to fuck our daughter?”

            “Paige is our only daughter,” my dad said. “Jessica is a whore and deserves a whore’s punishment.”

            “So you’re going to punish her by excessive pleasure?”

            “See for yourself; tell me if you’d find pleasure in this toy.”

            I caught a glimpse of the purple device as he handed it to my mom. It looked like a regular vibrator: a blunt end for insertion, a handle to hold in position, and one of those tickler nubs for clit stimulation. It looked like the one Michael had bought me before he went away on that business trip.


            “Turn it on.”

            My mom pressed the button and the vibrator sprung to life.

            The motor hummed like a tattoo gun. The silicon shook in my mother’s hand. Lengths of shining metal pierced the skin at a hundred miles an hour. The alternating blades looked like teeth ready to devour whatever they were put in.

            An angular bit spun from the tip of the purple silicon. This was not a toy. This was a miner’s tool. This device was designed to borough deep into parts unexposed to the light. It would slice clean through me.

            “Holy Christ,” my mom said.


            “Didn’t know I was so technically inclined, did you?”

            “This will kill her.”

            “Isn’t that what we want?”

            “You’re sick,” she said. “And I love every sick bit of you.”

            She turned off the device and handed it back to my dad.


            “The best part is,” he said, “if it doesn’t kill her, she’ll never be able to shame this family again.”

            “Give me a kiss and I’ll go see if Michael is ready.”


I couldn’t bare Shelly finding out the baby wasn’t his. It would have killed him. I knew he’d love me and the child regardless, but every morning I’d see what I’d done; every day I’d see it in the baby’s face. We would have been doomed to live unhappily ever after, because of me. Because of me and my insecurities. So I pushed him away. I broke up with him. I told him I never wanted to see him again. I told him he didn’t owe me anything. I told him: go.

            He went to my parents. He begged for advice. Nobody could make heads or tails of the situation. They apologized to him on my behalf. They called me. They showed up at my apartment begging for answers and I turned them all away.


            I don’t know how they found out I wasn’t keeping the baby, but they found out. I didn’t abort or anything, I’m not a beast. I carried full term. I just gave him up at birth. I didn’t know he’d be born sick. How could I? Those things happen. I didn’t plan it. I made the decision to give him up before he was born. It wasn’t my fault. I gave him up because I thought he deserved better. I was sorry I failed him from the start and only wanted to give him opportunity. I didn’t think he’d get that with me. I did what I thought was best. I did. I…

            Wait. Did she just say she was going to see if Michael was ready?


Inside I was thrashing to be free. I kicked. I pushed. I swung and scratched and clawed. Only my body wouldn’t respond.

            My dad pulled the sheet. He lifted my gown and stared.


            “Looks a lot different from when you were just a little girl,” he said.

            My eyes filled with tears.

            “Why do you look so sad, honey? Isn’t this a position you’re used to being in? Laying on your back, cunt exposed, eager? This is how they all did it, right?”

            He hovered over my body and brought his face to mine. He bit his bottom lip. His hand traced the inside of my thigh.

            I felt the warmth of a tear escape my eye and run down my cheek.


            Please don’t do this daddy.

            He brought his mouth to my ear.

            Please daddy, don’t do this.

            “I bet you’re dripping with excitement right now,” he said.

            That first tear must have broken the levy. Both sides of my face were singed with a stream of water from my eyes.


            I felt the sharpness in the base of my throat. My stomach convulsed but I couldn’t vomit. The razor that was forced down by my mom was now being pushed in the opposite direction. The weight in my chest was squeezing the breath from my lungs and forcing the blade back up my throat. It was stuck. The corners anchored into the cartilage. The blade bent with the pressure and dragged along the rigid tissue. The air from the oxygen machine was the opposing force.

            I was going to die. Please let me die. Please. I’ve suffered enough. Please. I’m begging.


“You can’t put it in dry,” Paige said. “You have to spit on it first.” She paused and turned to Michael. “You’re familiar with that aren’t you?”

            “You sound a little jealous Paige.”


            “You’ve been sleeping with my sister. You don’t think I enjoyed that did you?”

            “And you think I did? I was only doing it for you.”

            “Well aren’t you chivalrous?”

            “Get over here,” he said.

            Paige obliged.


            Michael gripped her nape and stared her in the eyes. He grinned my dad’s grin.

            “I fucking love you Paige.”

            He pulled her face to his own and they kissed like Shelly and I used to.

            “Let’s put an end to this and get on with our lives,” Michael said.

            “I’ll spit,” said Paige.


            She blew me a kiss and smiled.

Andrew Lafleche is an award-winning poet and author of seven books. His work uses a spoken style of language to blend social criticism, philosophical reflection, explicit language, and black comedy. Andrew enlisted in the Army in 2007 and received an honorable discharge in 2014. Visit or connect with @AndrewLafleche on Twitter for more information.

Author, Andrew Lafleche

Original Creations

Sporespawn, a short story by Jennifer Weigel



Sporespawn was thriving. The Mars colony had become more efficient and better at finding and using native resources with the Martians’ influence. The native creatures were a dust-borne sort, essentially existing as microscopic eggs in stasis waiting for new hosts to infect until opportunity presented itself. These particles could exist in a state of torpor for centuries, millennia, perhaps even longer. It was unclear how ancient some of them were, and the alien humans had no way of calculating this. When the humans had first arrived on the planet they hadn’t even realized the dust they were breathing was alive, nor could they discern that it was infectious. Not until it was too late anyway.

The humans who had been involved in the Martian terraforming effort had all eventually become Incubators and succumbed to becoming a part of Sporespawn. Over several generations, the terror of the situation had subsided and the colonists had acclimated to their new role as host bodies for the Martian creatures. It wasn’t all bad, the Martians looked out for their Incubators and kept them safe until the Spawning, and the period before then was 40+ years long. So an infected person could live a relatively full life in that span, even including having children of their own. And since the humans were infected and became Incubators at a very young age, typically around 5 or 6, they never really questioned their roles, merely following along like sheep until the slaughter.

Plus, the native Martian creatures were much better equipped instinctively to handle all of the chaos that the hostile-to-humans environment threw at them. The alien humans had struggled just trying to survive in the settlement, let alone make much progress, until enough of them had become Incubators to make better sense of their circumstances. And it wasn’t as if they didn’t get to make any decisions in their lives at all, more like the guardian angel on their shoulder whispering in their ear (or that little voice in their heads that belonged to the Martian creatures inhabiting their body) was much more involved in their lives, its presence increasing the more mature the Martian beings residing within became.

Sporespawn art evolution generated by NightCafe AI art generator
Sporespawn art evolution generated by NightCafe AI art generator

Fetsch was thirty-nine. She had lived a full life in Sporespawn, working from when she was just 7-years old to plant and harvest potatoes in the still relatively harsh conditions of the roundhouse, an area designed specifically to grow food. The voices in her head had grown louder and more insistent in recent years, and as always she was persuaded to obey them. She could not remember a time before her guardian angels had whispered in her ear, protecting her from pending dust storms and helping her to survive the blackouts when they happened. They taught her how to get everything back online quickly and maintain tight control of all of the atmospheric conditions in the controlled habitat. She trusted them with her life, and they seemed to have her best interests at heart. And her Elders had always taught her to mind the guardian angels; she always did as she was taught.

Now that she was an Elder herself, she had retired from potato farming and was in charge of taking care of the younglings, including her own daughter, now 4 years old, and the baby. She was lactating and nursed those who needed it. As Fetsch had grown older, she began to work harder at taking care of the younger members of the society, helping them to master agriculture and teaching them the trade, just as her Elders had modeled when she was young. It was, after all, the natural order of things. At about six years of age, after becoming one with Sporespawn, the children would finally start learning how to survive in this difficult land by shadowing the adults and doing what they could to help out.

Sporespawn art evolution generated by NightCafe AI art generator
Sporespawn art evolution generated by NightCafe AI art generator

But at this point Fetsch couldn’t even remember which children were her own amongst the throng of infants and toddlers. In fact, she couldn’t remember much of anything, really; her existence was drowned out by her migraines. Recently the headaches had worsened considerably, and her visibly throbbing temples drowned out much of her memory and awareness. Her skin was stretched so thin as to appear transparent over her bulging forehead, which pulsed and convulsed of its own accord. Red tendrils wormed their way beneath the surface, edging towards the surface and causing it to swell further.

Fetsch remembered seeing other adults like this as they were nearing the Spawning. She knew that eventually their heads burst open, spewing forth a cloud of particulate among the children in their care. She knew that this was also her fate. And yet, she found it strangely comforting, knowing that her life would end as part of the ongoing cycle towards the continuation of Sporespawn. For this was also a part of the natural order of things, and her guardian angels ensured her that her Spawning would fulfill the needs of the colony and provide for generations to come. She could think about little else as she played amongst the children, her mind becoming more and more infantile as the pressure throbbing inside her brain grew. She looked forward to the end, when everything would go black and the headaches would finally subside. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too terribly much longer.

Sporespawn art evolution generated by NightCafe AI art generator
Sporespawn art evolution generated by NightCafe AI art generator

If you want to read another of my stories prominently featuring Mars dust, please follow these links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of Cozmik Debris (and it’s later conclusion here on Nightmarish Nature: Terrifying Tardigrades).

Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.
Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.

Feel free to check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.

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Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Zombie Snails



This time on Nightmarish Nature, we will look into zombie snails, because we were having so much with the Whore Snails recently. So this is a lot like the Freaky Fungus except that this time it’s a parasitic worm that is the cause of the horror… Leucochloridium paradoxum, the green-banded broodsac worm, forces snails to be a part of its nefarious plans to take over the world (well, really more just continue on keeping on in its strange and bizarre life cycle).

Hungry birds want nummins
Hungry birds want nummins

This Is What We Get for Eating Poop

The worm, which spends much of its life as a parasite in birds’ digestive systems, is part of a weird cycle that includes both birds and snails, though the snail end is much creepier. It starts when a snail ingests worm eggs in bird droppings. These eggs hatch into worm larvae that eventually turn the poor hosts into zombie snails! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Snails make questionable food choices, but I guess this comes from being where they are on the ecosystem clean up crew...
Snails make questionable food choices, but I guess this comes from being where they are on the ecosystem clean up crew…

The worm larvae work their way up into the snails’ brains and take over, hijacking them on suicide missions to continue their own life cycle. These worm larvae eventually grow large and worm their way into the poor snail’s eye stalks, pulsing and throbbing therein to resemble maggots or other tasty treats.

Zombie Snails
Zombie Snails


The worms use the zombie snails to get into their bird hosts by mind-controlling them into climbing out of the shady undergrowth where they will be easily spotted by bird predators which will feed on them, ingesting the eye stalks and continuing the worm’s life cycle as it gets into the bird’s digestive tract. The huge, bulging eye stalks are irresistible to birds looking to snatch maggots and other delicious delicacies. Eventually, after the worms are well ensconced in its bird hosts, the bird poops out more worm eggs for unsuspecting snails to ingest, completing the cycle.

Birds love their grubs and maggots and other nummins, even if they are just zombie snails.
Birds love their grubs and maggots and other nummins, even if they are just zombie snails.

You can watch this in action on Nat Geo Wild: World’s Deadliest here, if you dare. Warning, it’s a little gross but not near so much as some of the other topics we’ve covered. If you enjoyed this slimy segment of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:

Vampires Among Us

Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus


Worrisome Wasps


Terrifying Tardigrades

Reindeer Give Pause

Komodo Dragons


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Original Creations

Snails a Whorl Whirl Whore World…



So a friend and I made some artsy snails awhile back. Essentially this was in response to her granddaughter proclaiming that her favorite animals are whorl snails. My friend heard “whore snails” and was a bit perturbed that the child would use such a word so nonchalantly, whether or not she knew what it meant. But then again toddler-speak is like that sometimes… Anyway, it stuck.

So we made some whore snails, all glammed up and ready to go. We started with these flat metal snails and then painted and decorated them, to whore them up a bit. I figured this would be apropos after my recent Valentine’s Day posts and that the end results were horrifying enough to appear here.

My friend's whore whorl snail
My friend’s whore whorl snail

This is my friend’s creation. I especially like the David Bowie star and cherry bling to match her cherry red lipstick. The purple shell is a great color on her too. I think my friend went back and decorated her shell more after the fact, but I didn’t see the snail after those changes.

My whore snail
My whore snail

And here’s my whore snail. She’s a bit more of an ice queen with her deceptively lovey-dovey eyes and mouth full of poison darts, like the underwater snails do. I believe I called her a Hoar Whore Whorl Snail as when the discussion first came up I heard “hoar” and thought of hoarfrost. Hence the ice queen take…

And another friend joined us via Zoom just to visit and have fun making art together.

Another whore snail, drawn by our friend over Zoom
Another whore snail, drawn by our friend over Zoom

This little Zoomed in snail is kinda cute, like she’s out on the beach in her bikini… Mixed media on paper.

So if that wasn’t disturbing enough, check out my inappropriate Shrinky Dinks posted here before, or maybe this Eye Candy Peeps Easter basket, both taking some innocuous thing(s) turning into something… else…

Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.
Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.

Feel free to check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites. Her friends will remain anonymous for now…

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