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“Expiration Dates” by Erik C. Martin

“Mmm. I think this is the best coffee I’ve ever drank,” Heck said.

His wife of a month, Cassidy, smiled. “You said the same thing last Saturday.”

“And I’ll probably say it again next Saturday.”

Heck took another sip and waited for his cinnamon raisin English muffin to toast. The house smelled like morning.

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Cassidy opened the fridge. She pulled out the guacamole, checked the label, and chucked it into the trash. She did the same with a yogurt.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Cleaning out the refrigerator before I shop. They were expired.”

She took out his milk.

“Not that!”

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“It expires today.” She opened the jug and poured the milk into the sink. “Sorry. I don’t want you getting salmonella.”

His muffin popped up more burnt than he liked it. “I was going to have cereal.”

“Use my milk,” she said as she checked the Dijon mustard.

“Your milk is lactose free.”

“It’s good.” She tossed out half a bag of tortilla chips.

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“The milk wasn’t even past the date. And you know those dates don’t mean anything. They’re just suggestions. Food is good long after it,” he made finger quotes, “expires.”.

She shook her head. “I’m not going to eat bad food. That’s how you get sick.”

A third of a bottle of ranch dressing went into the trash, now dangerously full.

###

Monday. Cassidy asked Heck to stop at the grocery on the way home from work and get a can of beets for a salad. He’d driven up to Alpine to see a new client and needed gas. The mountain roads were empty. He drove ten miles before he saw a gas station. He could tell the building was supposed to be white, but years had turned it mottled gray. The parking lot held not a single car. But a sign on the door proclaimed they were ‘OPEN’ in big red letters. Good enough! Heck pulled in, hopped out, and whipped out the plastic. Black electrical tape covered the credit card reader.

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“Darn it. Making me go inside like a schmuck,” he said to himself.

A bell dinged above the door. A white-haired man wearing sunglasses sat behind the counter reading a newspaper, an actual newspaper! He never looked up when Heck entered. He was so still he might have been asleep. He might have been dead. The store smelled like week old hotdog water and burnt plastic. Heck spied an aisle with canned food and other gas station groceries. He shrugged. It couldn’t hurt to look.

Green beans, lima beans, mixed veggies, corn, aha…beets!

Heck grabbed the lone, dented can. Not the usual brand. No big deal. Canned beets were canned beets. Thinking of Cass, he glanced at the date.

“Yowch.”

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Well, they weren’t that expired. Easily within the Heck margin of error. He had his markers in his work bag and a steady hand.

It would be simple to make that six look like an eight…

He took the can to the register. The old man looked up from his paper. Heck saw the headline–OBITUARIES. The man took the can in his bony fingers and glanced at the label. He looked at Heck over the top of his sunglasses and smiled, revealing teeth that looked like grains of brown rice.

“Anything else?”

“Twenty in gas.”

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The man rang it up, smiling throughout like he had just remembered the most amusing joke.

###

Heck tried not to grin while Cassidy ate her salad. The doctored can had passed muster though she had remarked on the off-brand.

“These better not be from Wal-Mart.” She fingered the dent, frowning.

He assured her they weren’t. She thanked him for stopping at the store.

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His own salad had no beets, no broccoli, no celery, or cucumbers. It was lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, and croutons, basically a cheeseburger minus the meat.

After dinner he helped Cassidy clear the table and clean the kitchen. He was drying when she caught him smirking at her.

“What is so funny?”

“Nothing,” he said.

“Come on, spill it!”

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“Okay. I played a little joke. I’m not sure how funny you’ll think it is. Those beets you ate, they were totally past their expiration date.”

“What? No, I checked.”

“I changed the date with a marker. Pretty good job, huh? They were fine. You ate them and never noticed.”

She threw the sponge into the sink, splashing him with suds.

“You ass!” Cassidy stormed out of the kitchen.

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Heck started to go after her, but stopped himself. He had learned that if he chased her now, they would end up in a fight. The trick was to wait fifteen minutes before starting the apology process.

He picked up a plate and started to scrub. After a few minutes, from the living room Cassidy yelled, “I feel dizzy! There was something wrong with those beets!”

“It’s in your head. You were fine until you knew they were old.”

She didn’t say anything. He ran hot water over the skillet and scraped off food with a plastic spatula. From the bathroom, the unmistakable sound of retching.

She’s making herself sick. The drama! This might take more than fifteen minutes.

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THUD!

What the hell?

“Honey?”

“Sweetie?”

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Nothing.

Heck put down the sponge and went to the bathroom.

Cassidy was sprawled out on the floor: foamy crimson rivulets ran out of her mouth and formed a small puddle on the white tile. The toilet was filled with red liquid.

Is that from the beets?

“Cass! Are you okay?”

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She was not okay. Cassidy wasn’t breathing.

“Oh my God. Cass, hold on!”

Phone, where was his phone? Living room.

“I’m going to get help!”

He ran to his phone. His hands shook but he managed to dial 911. He nearly forgot his address but stammered it out to the dispatcher.

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“Hurry! She’s not breathing.”

The dispatcher said something, but Heck hung up, oblivious. He hurried back into the bathroom and rolled his wife onto her back.

What do I do? Rescue breathing…how does it go? Check her airway.

Cassidy’s eyes popped open. They were blood red.

“You’re alive! Thank God!” He leaned in to hug her. Her mouth opened and he caught a glimpse of jagged teeth.

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She lunged for his throat. He jerked back and she missed the major artery. Sharp teeth sank into the meat above his clavicle.

“Ahh! Get off!” She clung to him like an animal, but he finally pushed her off and scrambled to his feet. She snarled at him from all fours. Hand pressed to his bleeding wound, he retreated into the living room.

Cassidy stood stiffly, like someone shaking off the rigor of sleep. Head down, she charged. Heck ran, right out the front door slamming it behind him. Cassidy screamed on the other side, a sustained, frustrated wail. She pounded  against the door so hard it rattled in the frame. Doorknobs had become a challenge.

He was half a block away. The bite throbbed. Suddenly dizzy, Heck staggered and held a tree to steady himself. Sirens in the distance, getting closer.

A wave of nausea ripped his core. He vomited onto the sidewalk, dark red and foamy.

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The End

Erik C. Martin writes books for YA and middle-grade readers, but loves to write short stories of various genres for adult readers. Erik is a member of SCBWI and the San Diego Writers and Editors Guild. He lives and writes in San Diego, CA. Originally from Cleveland, OH, he still carries a snowbrush in his car.

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Erik C. Martin, Author

Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Zombie Snails

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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

Mind-Control

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

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Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

Terrifying Tardigrades

Reindeer Give Pause

Komodo Dragons

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Original Creations

Snails a Whorl Whirl Whore World…

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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…

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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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Original Creations

Have a Dystopian Girls on Film Valentine’s Day

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So it’s finally actually Valentine’s Day, and thus marks the final segment of our dysfunctional dystopian romance. So far, we’ve survived both Gen X and Krampusnacht, what else could possibly be in store? Girls on Film…

Valentine's Day card Girls on Film
Girls on Film Valentine’s Day card from Jennifer Weigel

Image description: Video camera umbrella shower succubus stares through the lens at the viewer, surrounded by eerie Cthulhoid horror embellishments with text.

Text reads: Happy Valentine’s Day; lipstick cherry all over the lens as she’s falling; give me shudders in a whisper; take me up ’til I’m shooting a star; (she’s more than a lady)

OK so this Valentine’s Day dystopia ends in a Duran Duran video, because of course it does. If the video doesn’t load properly, you can find it by following this link. Girls on Film.

Duran Duran official video

Here’s the camera eye succubus all by itself, for your viewing pleasure. Actually this is the original original image from an Unselfie performance art piece in the shower before I decided to forego the umbrella. Girls on Film.

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Unselfie performance art video still
Video still

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.

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.

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