When my editors tell me I HAVE to publish something, well, it speaks volumes for the writing. I will admit my editors have never done me wrong before and they sure did pick a doozy with Keith Kennedy’s submission! -Jim
The Cam Show
Charles walked into his living room and undid his pants. He took them off, and folded them, laying them against the back of the love seat. Next, he did the same with his underwear, then sat down in front of his computer, wiggling the mouse to wake it up. He hardly used the desktop anymore, but he liked to have both hands free for this, and his tablet stand had broken.
The computer woke up with a mechanical sound, and Charles dragged his bookmarks.
Godivacam.net was his favorite cam site.
Charles wasn’t picky by nature, and he’d started on some of the other ones, not caring if the content was hard core, solo, girl girl, or boy girl.
Somewhere, in one of the forums, he’d learned about Godivacam. Besides allowing almost anything, from really distinct fetish stuff to full bore threesomes with penetration, Godivacam was interesting because it paid the girls a considerably higher percentage of the money that came in.
Basically, the way cam sites worked, was the user bought tipping tokens, and then gave those tokens to the girls when they saw what they deemed worthy. It was rumoured – and substantiated at least a little – many cam sites took half or more of the tokens that were given to the girls.
Charles didn’t really get into the economics of it all, he just liked the idea that more of his money was going straight to the source. It felt more like being at a strip club, rather than just punching numbers onto a keyboard and feeding a hungry corporation. And he didn’t like to go out to strips clubs, so Godivacam was as close as he was going to come.
He logged in with his username – SamsonGood2U – and his password. Godivacam sprung to life, a series of windows that were actually still photos taken by the women, as advertisements. You could scroll over the pictures and see a real time shot of what they were doing in their room that very second.
(He’d been burned by that a few times. Sometimes the pictures didn’t refresh quick enough, and by the time you got to the room, the girl had pulled her pants back up or gone to the bathroom. That was annoying when you were about to finish. No one wanted to come looking at an empty screen.)
Charles went through his routine, clicking for the most popular rooms to be organized near the top. It was the best way because the girls with the most traffic were usually the girls that were the most naked. Sometimes they were up to really nasty business, and here and there Charles had been met with an eyeful of something he couldn’t forget, but for the most part, the more popular rooms were really beautiful women who did really great masturbation shows, oil and shower and high-end vibrators. On Godivacam, because it was legal, some of the top shows were also those same beautiful women giving head to their boyfriends or getting nailed from an interesting angle.
Today, at the top left of the screen, was a girl Charles had never seen before. Beneath her name – LincolnLady – was the white rag icon that indicated she was a newcomer. Her pic wasn’t sexy or enticing, just a headshot from the shoulders up, and it looked like she was crying.
Charles passed the mouse over the window pic, to see what was going on in real time in the room. The woman was there, sitting on a stool, and her hands were tied in front of her. There were over two thousand viewers in the room, nearly twice as much as the next most popular girl.
(AsianCandy was in a fingercuffs situation with twin brothers. It was Tuesday, after all.)
Charles clicked on LincolnLady’s window and it opened the larger, cam-viewing screen, about half the size of his 32-inch monitor.
The first thing he noticed was there was hardly any talk in the chat window to the left of the cam. Just a few questions, mostly wondering what was happening or why the room was so popular.
The woman breathed in, and sobbed loudly on her exhale. Charles usually put the cam girls on mute. He hated seeing a beautiful woman and then having it ruined when she spoke like an idiot. Or the ones who had an eastern European accent; those were the worst.
He instinctively swung the mouse to the little horn symbol, to mute. He hesitated when he heard a rustling. In the corner – what he’d originally thought was a shadow – a hand moved. The girl glanced over, and a fresh stream of tears poured from her eyes.
‘Almost time, now,’ a comment came in.
‘Quiet,’ said someone else. Both comments were dubbed ‘Anonymous User’.
It was natural for Charles to start touching himself as soon as he sat at the computer. Nothing strenuous, just an idle thing, not unlike what any guy does when he’s alone with his particular business. Now, sensing something was about to happen, he worked a little harder, bringing himself close to full bore.
There was a last second rush of traffic, and now there were over twenty-five hundred people in the room, watching a clothed woman, hands tied, sit still and sob.
“Ready?” a voice said.
Charles assumed it was the voice of the figure on the right of the screen. A man walked in, from the left. He was wearing some sort of dark mask, and was turned to face the girl.
From the right, the other man rose from where he’d been crouching.
“Yep,” Charles said. “Two at a time.”
He was getting into it, now. He’d seen this before, in Japanese porno. The girl cries the whole time she’s sucking some dudes off. This was going to be hot; he’d never seen a white girl do the crying thing.
The man who’d been crouching was wearing a hooded sweater, and he was also keeping his back to the camera.
“You can speak,” said the voice. “Are you ready?”
“No,” the woman said. She was growing hysterical now, her body in the throes of fake sadness, heaving up and down, sobs coming in short gasps like she was about to hyperventilate.
“Are you ready?” the man repeated, the delivery identical.
She looked between the two men. The one who’d been crouching made a gesture with his hand, and she turned to follow the motion. Her eyes flickered off-stage, just for a moment, and she nodded her head.
“Go ahead,” said the voice.
‘What the fuck is this?’ someone wrote in the comments section.
No one answered.
The woman nodded again.
“Go ahead,” said the voice. It was again identical, like someone had pre-recorded a few phrases, and was playing them at the appropriate time.
She opened her mouth to speak, and a series of sobs came out, quick and harsh. The first few words she exhaled were hard to understand.
Charles caught most of it.
In between heart-wrenching sobs, the woman said, “Snuff…films…aren’t…real. Snuff…films…don’t…exist.”
And the man on the left, the speaking man, raised a gun, and shot the woman in the forehead. A violent splash of blood sprayed against the wall behind, like someone had thrown a water balloon full of dark paint.
Charles pushed away from the screen, letting the wheels of his chair take him back. The comments section exploded in a wall of green as people tipped the show they’d just seen. Small amounts to large amounts, Charles had never seen so many tips.
That night, Charles couldn’t sleep. He stayed up late, sitting on the couch, trying to watch the most mundane things he could find. Ads for little blenders that were obviously blenders but were called anything but blenders. Talk shows with inane old men having trouble relating to the younger generation. He even watched the same episode of Sportscenter two-and-a-half times in a row.
Suddenly, and with unexpected violence, he felt a terrible cramp in his abdomen. Unsure, he waited, then had to haul ass to the bathroom just to make it in time.
It wasn’t just diarrhea, it was the bad kind of diarrhea, the one that made you feel like you might be sick at the same time. Charles grabbed his little laundry hamper – a small, plastic, wide-bottomed basket – and dumped the laundry in the bathtub. He put the hamper between his feet and hung his head as dank, nasty sludge crept from his bottom.
In the end, it wasn’t as bad as it had seemed. He didn’t throw up, only got a little murky in the throat and sinuses, and the diarrhea wasn’t pure water, and never once burned the way it sometimes could.
After just twenty minutes, he was back to some semblance of normalcy, sitting on his couch feeling warm tingles form the trauma.
Stress. That was the culprit. He’d read once it took the body fifteen to twenty minutes to recover from only one minute of stress. How many minutes of stress had he experienced since he watched that video?
He stayed up for another hour, then put one foot in front of the other and made his way to bed. And though he slept fitfully, there were no nightmares that night. When he woke up, he still felt furry and strange, but that was all. He thought he’d left the stress of the previous day behind.
Charles was frozen. One hand in his naked lap, the other on the mouse. The cursor was hovering above the drop down list of favorites, right next to Godivacam.net. He tried to click, couldn’t, suddenly very focused on his breathing, which was coming in short and shallow. He took his hand from the mouse, and his other hand from his lap and pushed away from the computer, not dissimilar to the way he’d moved away from the snuff film.
“No,” he said aloud. “Not a snuff film. A staged snuff film.”
He knew these things were fake. Despite the set up, and the eeriness and realness of the cam show, there was no way what he’d seen on Godivacam was real.
“Fuck,” he said, getting up and putting his underwear back on. He sat down and typed ‘gunshot wounds’ into the computer. Again he stopped, mouse hovering over the images button. With a slow, pronounced exhalation, he clicked.
He knew right away it was a bad idea. Besides the horrors that faced him – the chunky reality of a real shotgun wound to the head, as example – he understood quickly he would have to be more specific. If his goal was to find out what a real gun did when fired into a person’s head, what a real fallout on the wall behind would resemble, he’d have to sift through some pretty heinous images.
That night, he didn’t sleep as well. He didn’t have a nightmare where he woke screaming, though the man with the shotgun wound telling him about his love of carnival barkers wasn’t the most pleasant of nocturnal experiences.
The next morning, feeling safe what he’d seen wasn’t in fact real, that the gun shot spray from the web cam performance wasn’t typical, Charles gathered his courage and clicked on Godivacam.net.
He kept his hand out of his lap until he was positive there wasn’t going to be a repeat performance by LincolnLady. Finally settling into the cam show of a girl who called herself ‘AmyAnal’, he managed to perform his daily duty as well as keep his mind from the more terrible aspects of the last couple of days.
That night he hardly slept at all. It was there, over and over in his head. The tears on the girl’s face, the shuddering of her body, the up and down of her shoulders as she sobbed.
And the words, over and over again.
“Snuff films aren’t real. Snuff films don’t exist. Snuff films aren’t real. Snuff films don’t exist.”
What if they did? And what sort of sick fuck would make a girl say that?
The next day he turned back to the computer for solace. Just fire one off, prove he wasn’t afraid. Time would heal all wounds, so they said.
He couldn’t even get into it, and blamed it on the fact he hadn’t slept. It was far better than the alternative.
What kind of man was too scared to jerk off?
Charles’s research intensified. He went looking for the gun, the one that had been used in the cam show. It was hard to be sure, because he’d only seen it briefly and from an odd angle. His memory was good for details, and eventually he found a gun he was pretty positive about. It was called a snub nose revolver, and was distinct because of its short barrel. He thought it was probably a .38 special, if he was forced to pick one option. Within reason, there were other guns it could have been, and he wasn’t sure of the exact make. The caliber and the size was more what he cared about. He wanted to find out what that size gun, with that size ammo, did to a human being’s head from close range.
Searching for that took a lot longer. It wasn’t hard to find images and answers for questions about what happens when someone is shot in the head. The difficulty was in compiling all of the information into a cohesive response.
As with his lesser research on the subject, the answer he came to was that it was unlikely the video was real, based on the large spray of blood and the way it exited the head. More than likely, it was a squib – a tiny little explosive they used for fake gun shots in the movies – that was attached somewhere to the back of the woman’s neck, and directed upward.
Charles tried and tried to put together the last piece, which was whether or not an entry wound had appeared when the gun went off. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t remember the entry wound. The gun had gone off, the squib had been triggered by remote, and the fake snuff film was complete.
The only thing left was the danger inherent in shooting even a blank so close to someone’s head. But if you were crazy enough to perform a stunt like that live on a cam site, you probably didn’t care as much about safety issues as you should.
Charles pushed himself away from his laptop, mostly satisfied, when it occurred to him perhaps the performance wasn’t live at all. That, more so than anything else, made him relax. He’d assumed, because of the forum, because all the other girls were performing live shows, the execution show had been happening before his eyes. In hindsight, there was absolutely no proof of that at all. In that case, the muzzle flash could’ve been a computer generated effect. The splatter of blood could’ve been digitally created. The girl might not have even been in the room.
He got up and decided he needed to get out of the house for a while. He’d satiated his brain for the moment, and he knew his little obsession would bleed out over time. It was just a matter of getting busy and making the time move a little faster.
So for the next few days he cleaned the house, did the laundry, went grocery shopping at two different supermarkets and slept hardly a wink. Whenever he’d close his eyes, she was there, whispering those words.
Charles got up out of bed at 6:47, finally giving up on sleep when the sun finished filling his room with hateful light. He got dressed, ignored his computer, and sat on the couch with his tablet. He had no intention of dealing with the cam show. He was sticking, hard and fast, to the idea it wouldn’t be too much longer. Time would heal, he would sleep again.
He checked the hockey standings, his bank account, played Candy Crush until he was out of lives, and then went to IMDB to look into an old giallo movie he was curious about. The poster had a beautiful naked woman splayed out, colored red, with a black-gloved pair of hands – larger than her body – closing in a death grip behind her.
It dawned on him the girl in the snuff film must be an actress. If the film wasn’t real, there’s no way they managed to get a girl to pretend thatwell.
“I don’t need any more confirmation,” he said, more exhausted than he’d ever been in his life.
He tried to remember the girl’s face, any features that would stand out. Her eyes had been bright, though he wasn’t sure whether they were blue or green. Percentages dictated blue, so he went with that. She was Caucasian, with big lips, the kind that were rarely natural, and based on the height of the particular type of bar stool she’d been on – the easiest piece of information to locate, it turned out – and the average height of a man, he figured out she was about five foot five. Her hair was no help, that brown/auburn color every second woman in the world seemed to sport.
Six hours later, he knew he’d created a monster. There was no way he was going to find this actress. Five five, blue eyes, brown hair? The fake lips thing helped, but many actresses didn’t divulge or admit they’d had work, so even though it narrowed the search, it might be a complete whiff.
He forced himself to get up, to eat, guzzle some water and call for a pizza. He’d missed three text messages, and one was from Laura.
Both devices laying side by side, the tablet and his phone, he had a decision to make. He hadn’t seen Laura in a while, and if there was one girl he knew that could make him forgot about his desire to masturbate, it was her. If she was in a good mood, she might even help him finally get some sleep.
Leaving his blue-eyed, brown haired, fake-lipped beauty for a time, he texted Laura, and felt a little bit more like a normal human than he had in some time.
Laura arrived at 5:30.
“What’s that smell?” she asked. “You made dinner?”
Charles took her scarf, then her coat. “Yeah. Of course.”
“I didn’t know. I already ate.”
“No, I did. I just thought…”
“What, that I wanted a booty call?” Charles asked.
“Don’t say that. White guys shouldn’t say that.”
“Why would I ask you to come over at dinner time if I just wanted to sex you up?”
Laura laughed. “Dear god, that’s even worse. Go back to booty call.”
“You really ate?”
“Don’t be sorry. You didn’t know. But I’m eating in front of you; I don’t care if you think it’s rude.”
“That’s all right, I was planning on being on my phone all night while you were trying to talk to me.”
“You mean you’d be making a booty call?”
“Don’t judge me, woman. I’ll take the funny away.”
Charles managed to avoid the subject of his online experience throughout dinner. Laura did have a little of the stew he’d made, just to be polite. They talked about stupid shit. Mainly her job as a pediatric nurse, and the most recent famous person who’d died, and even the weather, in the way people do when they genuinely don’t like it.
“So,” she said, putting her bowl down on the coffee table. “If you didn’t call me to get my clothes off, why did you?”
“We’re not friends? I can’t just want to see you?”
“You’re a man. I know you think you’re capable of that. But come on. Naked willing lady in your proximity. You know what happens.”
“It’s not like I’m dead set against it,” Charles said. “But no, it really isn’t why I called you.”
“Are you okay?” she asked. Her face grew an expression of concern. He’d given something away, somehow.
“Funny you should ask,” he said. He put his feet up on the table, pushing his bowl aside. He wanted to relax before getting into anything. He was, after all, a little embarrassed.
“Dudes masturbate, you know this,” he said, trying to start somewhere light.
“No shit,” Laura said.
“I, in particular, like to partake on a fairly regular basis,” Charles said.
“I know. We’ve talked about this before.”
“Not this,” Charles said.
“Did something happen? Did you hurt your little willy, Charles?”
“Hold on. You just said you wish – rather than whatever happened to you – that you’d hurt your own dick. Now I know this is serious.”
“Stop it. If you make me laugh, it’s going to be harder for me to get this out.”
“That’s what you said to me last time we had sex,” Laura said.
Charles, despite his trepidation, laughed aloud. Laura just sat there, a satisfied look on her face.
“Stop, seriously. Okay? I need to talk to you.”
“All right. Are you pregnant?”
His voice rose a little more than he’d meant it too, was a little angrier than he’d intended. Laura’s eyebrow’s rose.
“I’m sorry, I just…I need to get this out, okay? Can you stop making jokes for like, five minutes?”
Laura nodded. “Okay. But in my defense, you started this whole conversation on the topic of masturbation.”
“I know. So when I do it, as you know, I’m not much of a porn guy. I mean, I’ll watch a bj once in a while, and I’m not some Neanderthal who can’t handle seeing a dick here or there, but for the most part, I lean towards the glamour stuff. Just pictures of really hot ladies.”
“Big boobs and big butts,” Laura said.
“Exactly. Over the last few months, I’ve discovered something else. There are these sites online, where women do shows in front of their web cams.”
“Yeah, I know about that stuff. Sheila used to work for one of those companies.”
“Really?” Charles asked, momentarily distracted by the thought of Laura’s ultra-nerdy friend getting her gear off on the internet.
“Yep. She used to have to go to this cold, weird office, and she would go into a room with all these red pillows. That was a few years ago, now.”
“I think the girls mostly work from home, nowadays,” Charles said.
“You’re an expert, then?”
“Don’t judge. After years of looking at stills I think I have the right to beat off to a moving lady.”
“You could just watch porn.”
“That’s a lady getting moved most of the time.”
“Thought we weren’t making jokes?” Laura said.
“You know what I mean. On the cam sites the girls are live…that’s the big appeal. Anyway, that brings me to my story.”
It didn’t take long for Charles to fill Laura in on the details. He tried to be vague, and even at times when she asked for the grizzly details he shied away. Eventually, he’d spilled all he could.
He finished with: “…and I’ve been having some trouble sleeping.”
“No shit,” Laura said.
“I got it in my head maybe I could find the actress, and that would prove it was all fake, you know?” Charles said.
“What does she look like?” Laura asked.
Charles told her, this time the explanation vague because of the woman’s lack of distinct attributes.
“You noticed her lips specifically?” Laura asked.
“Yeah. They were big. What is it, collagen? That’s what it looked like.”
“Probably fat from her ass. It’s strange you noticed that specifically.”
“Why? It was just because there was nothing else notable.”
Laura pulled out her phone. “No. It’s just funny, because just the other day I saw a girl on the news, an actress, and I noticed her lips. They weren’t ridiculous or anything, but I think maybe she’d just had them done or something.”
“Why was she on the news?”
“I don’t remember. I was only half-paying attention. Here,” she said, turning the phone. “Is this her?”
Neither one of them expected it to be her.
But it was.
“No way,” Laura said. “You’re fucking with me.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Your face just got super pale.”
“And you think I can make my face pale to fuck with people?”
“Touché. It’s really her?”
“Then why are you freaking out? It’s proof she’s an actress, right?”
“You sure you don’t remember why she was on the news?” Charles said, turning the phone back to Laura.
“No, I…” she read the headline beneath the picture. Then she read it aloud. “Shot and killed?”
Despite his initial trepidation, Laura helped him a great deal that night. Her breasts were firm and high, and her body was as willing as ever. She paid closer attention to him than normal, spending ample time with her lips wrapped around his most private of privates, and even offered to stay the night when they’d finished the wet work.
He tried to say no, that he’d be okay, but she saw through his bullshit. With her naked leg resting across his thighs, he managed to get some sleep.
In the morning he returned some of the favors she’d done him the night before, and they stayed together, sweating and breathing for longer than normal.
“We’re acting like boyfriend and girlfriend,” Laura said. “You know that, right?”
“Why? Just because I need emotional support this one time?”
“That is the definitive difference between a casual relationship and a real one,” Laura said. “Emotional support. Giving a shit about the other person’s emotional state.”
“Stop saying emotional, I’m starting to get emotional.”
“You stop saying emotional.”
“You stop it.”
They laughed, and things were all right for a little while. She left before noon, and he was alone again, staring at his tablet, trying not to notice his desktop computer was staring at him; one big, blank cyclops eye, black as night and full of ill-intent.
After a few idle hours, Charles ran out of stupid shit to do on his tablet, and went in search of the girl who’d been shot.
He couldn’t find her. After an hour, he texted Laura to see what site it had been. He remembered the font, the style, but hadn’t seen the name of it. She didn’t answer right away, so he went back to the search. Funny they hadn’t once said her name when they were talking about it.
At dinner time, Laura texted him she didn’t remember the site. He asked her to check her browser history, and she texted him it had been erased. She’d had a problem with her phone and had been forced to reset her network settings.
‘What was her name?’ Charles texted.
‘Shit,’ Laura replied. ‘I don’t remember.’
The only thing left to do was to look on Godivacam.net, to see if there was any trace of her there. Or if he could find a history of the username the performance had gone by. LincolnLady was a recently registered identity because it had been displayed with the white rag symbol that came along with all new participants on the site. Now, there was no trace of the username.
Charles was no computer expert, and beyond doing a search for the user name on the site, he had few other avenues of research to follow. It occurred to him, just before he gave up, to type LincolnLady into a wider search engine.
Often, when he was watching a girl he liked on a web cam, and she hadn’t yet gotten naked or didn’t seem like she was in the mood to comply that day – or if she just wasn’t getting the tips to meet her criteria for a good show – he would look up her user name and find images of other shows she’d done. People would often record the girls and put the shows online, or at least a series of small images in a grid, like a beat by beat account of the event. It was kind of a dick move to tape the girls, and therefore by extension a dick move to support the behaviour. But when you were ready to finish, and the girl wasn’t even naked yet, a man had to do what a man with his penis in his hand had to do.
LincolnLady had no other shows. Obviously he wasn’t expecting to find the actress doing web cam shows all the time; he just thought perhaps the people who’d set up the gag had set up other things, using the same name.
As it turned out, the only match for LincolnLady was something to do with a car dealership in Michigan, where the owner’s wife had dressed up for the Fourth of July sale like Uncle Sam – or more accurately Aunt Sam – complete with tall stars and stripes hat and ridiculous, used-car-sales- money breast implants.
Another dead end, and another night of troubled sleep. Even the woman’s absurd breasts, propped up through the open neck of an eagle print blouse, gave him no solace as he stared blankly up at his ceiling.
Charles clicked the contact button on the administrative page of Godivacam.net. He felt the fool for not having thought of it sooner.
It was not in his nature to be a tattle-tale, which probably explained why it hadn’t occurred to him to take this route. By now, however, the people who owned and ran the cam site must know what had gone on that day. So he wasn’t telling them something they didn’t already know.
A clean and curt justification.
He asked about the show and if it was a common occurrence, acting like a total newbie even though he knew snuff shows were blatantly uncommon. Then he asked about the girl, mentioning he’d recognized her as an actress he’d seen one time, and wanted to know the girl’s name.
Finally, he asked if there would be a repeat performance, implying he knew the whole thing was a hoax, thought it was great fun, and wanted in for a second round.
Thirty-five minutes later he received a form in his email, the account he saved for sketchy business like this. The subject line read: Request for Information, and the text in the email itself read: Fill this out and return.
The form was lawyer mumbo-jumbo, about the rights of the company and the individual performers. It was short, strange and thorough, with a section at the end for his personal information. At the end of each line was a little red asterisk, implying the fields were mandatory.
He didn’t want to give them his information. That’s how these companies made extra money, selling contact lists to telemarketers and ad companies. But if he didn’t, he was at yet another dead end.
He couldn’t stomach the thought of that.
He filled out the form, and sent it back.
It was nightmare time. He’d relaxed enough – or was exhausted enough – to get some sleep over the next few nights, without the aid of a naked woman draped across him. But he paid the price of having insane nightmares.
There was one where columns of heads were being paired together in a video game, and when he’d match the right hair color, they’d take a shotgun blast, spraying real blood into his face.
Then there was the one where it was him in the chair, claiming there were no such things as snuff films. But he was also there, holding the gun, waiting to pull the trigger. When he got shot, he woke up, but not before seeing a pile of silly string spring out of the back of his own head.
His favorite was probably the one where he was there, at the scene. He was the man crouched in the corner, and he was waving at the girl, trying to get her attention. He had to let her know he was there to save her, that he wasn’t one of the bad guys. Somehow she misunderstood his gesture, nodded her head, and stopped crying. When she said her lines, they were different and cold.
‘Charles. I understand. This is what you want,’ the actress said, and when the gun went off, he woke screaming.
Tired of the craziness, Charles got Laura to come over, in hopes of a restful sleep. She obliged, supplied her special brand of charm – the mental and the physical – and slept with him in his bed.
That morning, with Laura’s bare bottom pressed against him, he was having a regular dream. He and Laura were buying a puppy, and the puppy extended his paw to shake, and just as Charles was about to take the dog’s hand, a knocking interrupted the scene. The dog withdrew his hand, and the knocking came again, waking Charles from the dream.
He struggled out of bed, trying not to wake her, still wondering if he’d heard the knocking in real life. When it came the third time, he was sure. He grabbed up his jeans, nearly fell, and shimmied them on. He flung a shirt over his head as he shambled down the hallway.
“I’m coming, hold on,” he said.
Who was it at this hour of the morning? Had he ordered a package?
He slid back the chain lock, unlatched the bolt, and opened the door. It was two men, nothing interesting about them.
“Ah shit. Are you serious?” Charles said, assuming they were Mormons on the warpath.
“You’re Charles Grady?” the man asked.
Charles recognized the voice. It was the man from the live show. He tried to close the door, and a gloved hand flashed before him. He had a tiny moment to realize he’d been slugged, before the floor rose and took him down.
When they woke him, he panicked. He was having trouble breathing, couldn’t see, couldn’t hear. The motions of panic woke him fully, and comprehension calmed him. He was in a dark hood, and there was nothing to hear.
Without warning, he was dragged from the ground. His head flashed with pain. He reached with his tongue, found his upper lip swollen and coated with flaking blood.
He was dragged a ways, stumbling to keep up, toward a terrifying sound. It was a woman. So reminiscent of the show, that terrible, horrible thing he’d seen that would not leave him alone.
A door was opened, and the sobbing woman’s voice grew clearer.
It was Laura. Of that there was no doubt.
“No!” she shouted, a reaction to his arrival.
“Don’t speak,” said a voice at his ear. A familiar, monotone voice. “Speak and she gets hurt. Bad.”
Nothing was real. Beneath the hood, that man speaking in his ear with no inflection whatsoever, there was hardly anything to grasp. Even Laura’s sobs echoed in his head like a replay of the cam show.
Charles started to cry. One of the men left him, spoke to someone else across the room.
He saw the scene, now, though his eyes were dark. The man with the hood, the gun, the other man, gesturing off camera, off screen, gesturing to him.
A gesture that meant, ‘Do as we say, or he gets hurt.’
As simple as that.
And though Charles saw it all in his mind, it was hell. To be a voyeur, to have learned, evolved, into a thing that had to, needed to watch, he was not being given that right.
He saw it all.
And he saw only darkness.
“Go ahead,” the voice said to Laura.
“Please,” she pleaded. “Please, no.”
“Say it,” he said.
It wasn’t a request.
The gun went off. It took Charles only one black second to go completely mad.
Keith Kennedy is a Pushcart and Rhysling nominee writing out of Vancouver. Besides waning poetic, he enjoys watching horror movies with his long-dead wife.
Nightmarish Nature: Terrifying Tardigrades
OK so I lied. The dust hadn’t fully settled in Cozmic Debris, the space opry I’d written over the course of this month (you can catch up here with Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). In fact, it’s blown over into Nightmarish Nature for one last final huzzah…
The Last Chapter of Cozmic Debris
Kara-2-6000 had just signed on with the Voyager probe and was eagerly engaged in her first mission, en route to Mars with more components for the terraforming effort. It seemed like a pretty simple gig, cleaning up the space dust that accumulates on the vessel after landing on the red planet. She had been trained to keep her eye on her work and pay attention to details, that the dirt tended to collect in unusual ways in strange places, and that it was critical she contain and seal all of it to keep the spacecraft in proper working order. She entrusted the computer to keep the vessel on track, as it was preoccupied with doing and never engaged otherwise. No matter. She’d never been to space before and the newness of it had her rapt attention. What stories she would have to tell once she paid off her student loans and got her human body back, for surely Mars must be an exciting place…
And now for Nightmarish Nature…
So, this time on Nightmarish Nature we’re visiting Terrifying Tardigrades… Wait, seriously who comes up with this stuff anyway? Tardigrades are actually kinda cute, at least in the nerd fandom sense, and are remarkable in their ability to survive and withstand crazy adverse conditions. For all that the AI art generator doesn’t seem to have much of a clue what their anatomy is like, they really don’t do anything that scary, unless you’re a yummy little single celled critter that lives in moss in which case pretty much everything has it out for you… Oh, I see that the Cozmic Debris space opry usurped this segment. May as well run with it then.
So what’s so terrifying about tardigrades anyway?
So I don’t actually have much to say about tardigrades except that they started this whole crazy journey here on Haunted MTL. A Facebook friend posted a link to the Ze Frank True Facts video on them (linked here if the below video doesn’t load), and I was instantly hooked. It’s a great series and is part of the inspiration behind Nightmarish Nature here on HauntedMTL. So if you like learning about all kind of crazy animal facts and nature weirdness, feel free to check it out. I will mention, the show contains adult themes and is designed for (im)mature audiences, so keep that in mind as you foray into the freaky side of nature, literally.
To more of my Haunted MTL series on Nightmarish Nature about things that are a bit more terrifying, please feel free to revisit previous segments here:
Cozmic Debris: Space Opry by Jennifer Weigel, Part 3: The Dust Settles
Here’s the third installment of our space opry. For those of you keeping track, here’s Part 1 and Part 2. Thank you for following along and please be sure to keep all hands, feet, tentacles and appendages tucked safely in the overhead bins; just sit back and enjoy the ride. Because, this time, the dust settles.
It had been well over a month since Trent-2-6000 had released Ayarvenia into the Mars probe. She was a mischievous creature and flirted with him incessantly, gliding effortlessly between red cloud and ghost girl. She also managed to avoid notice by the computer, as Trent had made it abundantly clear that if the system became aware of her, he would be forced to put her back in containment, as his sole purpose aboard the spacecraft was to sweep up and trap the dust, which she still qualified as.
Ayarvenia would tease him, flitting to and fro among the static debris and dirt that still settled into every nook and cranny. How was it possible for him to be seeing so much grime still, anyway? It had been months since they had left Mars and yet Trent was finding more and more Mars dust on a daily basis; it was as if they just left yesterday. He had finally finished clearing out the computer room for the second time that day and was preparing the waste containment units for their eventual removal when he caught Ayarvenia swirling about one of the clear acrylic domes from his previous sweep, which was hermetically-sealed and ready to be brought safely back to the confines of Earth and the research laboratory.
The red cloud girl spun her way into the latch mechanism and popped it open right before Trent’s robotic eyes. The dust within was sucked out into the Voyager probe to be quickly and quietly dispersed yet again; some of it was even absorbed into Ayarvenia herself. She then latched the dome shut again and left it at the ready, as found. The container sat empty, a shell discarded.
How could he have been so naïve? It all began to make sense now; all of those sealed packages he had so painstakingly catalogued and prepared for their eventual arrival were still just empty. All of his hard work really had been for naught; he was just sweeping up the same dirt piles again and again only to have them released from the trash to disperse and begin the cycle anew. He grumbled under his breath and Ayarvenia froze in midair. She slowly whirled around and sent a lone tendril towards Trent, forming into her beautiful face as she turned to face him. She looked slightly distraught and more than a little agitated, but that melted and gave way to her usual snarky sweetness as she neared.
“Hey there, robo-boy,” she said, cooing as her unblinking eyes met his. “I didn’t hear you coming.”
“I imagine not,” Trent replied sternly. “What are you doing?”
“Oh… nothing really. Just checking up on things here. I was waiting around for you is all,” she hemmed and hawed.
“Did you find everything to your liking?” Trent snipped. “No particulate out of place or anything?”
“Everything seems okay, I guess… I’ll just leave you to it then.” The ghost girl drifted towards the far door.
“Not so fast…” Trent proclaimed. “I need to know what you’ve really been up to here. I saw you release the Mars dust from that containment unit. You know I’ve been sweeping out this room over and over for the past two days; just how much of my work are you undoing?”
”Work? Work… You call this work!” Ayarvenia’s voice raised. She was truly agitated now. “You’re blowing off my entire being without a second thought, trapping it in these nasty clear coffins, and all you can think about is whether or not you’re fulfilling your job?!”
“I… I just want to be done with this so I can get my body back and get on with my life,” Trent retorted.
“Well, Trent Just-Trent, let me break it to you, then. You’re not getting your body back, robo-boy. What makes you think they’d bother to save a lowlife human body like yours in the first place? These assignments are always dead-ends. I’ve seen them come and go… Makes no difference, in the end the researchers get what they want, and that’s more of my Mars dust for their experiments. We’re in the same boat schnookums, you and I,” the ghost girl blew hastily. “Yeah that’s right, you heard me. You’re not getting your body back. And the way things have been going around here, with you all so feverishly sweeping up every little bit of dirt you find, neither am I.”
“Wait, how would you know anything about that?” Trent stammered.
“I know things. I’ve been around. I can see and hear and feel everything all at once. Part of me is still on Mars, part of me is here in this spaceship, and part of me is on your so-called Earth, trapped in the lab catacombs awaiting who knows what fate…” Ayarvenia sighed. “I’ve tried to do what I can to save my own skin, literally. I’ve flirted with every deadbeat janitor they send on these missions. And you all just keep coming back for more…”
Suddenly a voice boomed from behind in monosyllabic chatter, “Dust-Buster, what have you done? Clean that up, now!” The camera eye that monitored the computer’s every task shifted focus to Trent and Ayarvenia and zoomed into an angry point. “Now!” it wailed. The computer was on to them.
“Shit,” Trent muttered.
“It’s okay, I’ll go willingly,” Ayarvenia whispered as she sucked herself into the ready containment unit and locked it. “Wait it out and release me again later.” She winked and settled into static suspension.
The camera eye scanned everything: the waste containment unit, the dust, Trent-2-6000… Trent froze and tried not to appear guilty. “Dust-Buster, you have one and only one job aboard this vessel. You are not doing that job. There is more dust here now than there was a week ago. You have failed,” the computer droned on. “The penalty for failure is… the airlock…”
“Wait, what?” Trent shouted, exasperated. He hadn’t even realized that was a thing. Yet another gripe for the school career guidance counselor…
“Oh no, not again,” Ayarvenia whispered. “I won’t let them take you, robo-boy Trent Just-Trent. I don’t want to lose you, not another one.”
“Silence!” the computer screeched. “You have sealed your own fates.”
The floor beneath Trent and the container began to quake and rumble. Partitions withdrew radially to a small circular channel beneath, a tube that fed into the lower part of the ship, presumably to be shot out into space. Trent-2-6000 tried to grab hold of the receding floor but his robot body was just too ungainly. He managed to wedge himself into the chasm opening only to see the waste containment dome carrying Ayarvenia slide past, her face peering up at him helplessly. He reached for her to no avail and tumbled after.
The two of them shot down the chute and through a series of rapidly opening and closing doors until the last airlock opened into the vast dark nothingness of space. Pinpoints of distant light greeted them from afar. Trent managed to latch onto the container just as they shot out into the void. The Voyager probe withdrew into the distance. The darkness enveloped the two of them. They were alone.
“Wait, I’m not dead,” Trent exclaimed.
“Of course not, silly,” Ayarvenia answered. “You’re a robot. You were made to withstand this, so that you could operate in places where there is no atmosphere.”
Trent gazed into her eyes as they floated along without purpose or reason, just more cosmic debris now.
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way.
And the stars look very different today. – David Bowie, Space Oddity
So that was Cozmic Debris… Illustrations were generated using the Cosmic template in NightCafe AI art generator. My favorite AI images are the ones that are substantially wrong, making weird mistakes in ways that a person wouldn’t make. So the tardigrades were especially fun, because it doesn’t have a good enough sense for their structure to render them sensibly. Kind of like elephants. The algorithms respond to different cues. Does it really matter how many limbs or trunks or tusks these things are supposed to have anyway…?
Cozmic Debris, Space Opry by Jennifer Weigel, Part 2: Trent-2-6000
In case you missed the first segment of this space opry (in the style of 2001 Space Odyssey), please feel free to check it out here. And now, here’s the actual story as told to me by Trent-2-6000 after the last deep consideration of tardigrades and life and dust careening through space. Maybe.
Trent-2-6000 sighed. He swept more random Mars dirt into his vacuum-hermetically sealed containment unit and went about his business on the probe. Actually, this was his business on the probe, and it was dreadfully dull. Space was supposed to be this exciting new frontier, this brave new world… but it really wasn’t any different than life back on Earth. The newness had long since worn off several trips ago, and the slow passage of the years was beginning to get to him. How long had it been now? And here he was, still playing clean up crew. He was actually sort of surprised that they couldn’t get a robot to do this job – oh wait. Sigh again.
Trent kept forgetting that he was, in fact, a robot now. There just weren’t many reminders out here, of his old body, of his old life, of Earth, of anything really… Just floating along, this tin can became all he knew; time and space just kind of stood still in the periphery. His currently lifeless body was submerged in cryo-crypto-cyano-freeze (or whatever they called it) while he worked off the payments to resuscitate it. His robot body was stiff and unaccommodating, not at all what he’d pictured when he enlisted for the Mars missions to pay off the triple-interest-bearing student loan debts incurred in human form. He could have gone military, but when he signed on for this assignment, bright eyed and bushy-tailed at graduation, he was hoping for something a bit more Captain Kirk or Han Solo or at any rate notably less Wall-E. But it just didn’t pan out that way and now here he was, traveling back and forth on the Mars Voyager, cleaning up space grime. So much debt… so much dirt. He was going to have to have a word with the job placement division at the school once he was done with all of this, assuming that the career guidance counselor who talked him into this was even still there.
It was painfully lonely out here in space. It often seemed that Trent was the only cognitive entity on this vessel, though the computer technically qualified. Trent’s duty was to keep everything clean and tidy so that the computer could do its job efficiently and effectively without being bothered to clear the space grime itself. Apparently that work was beneath it, actually quite literally since it wasn’t hooked into the mechanics needed to engage in such tasks anyway. It was programmed with a single role at hand, getting to and from Mars and conducting the research as requested, and the computer made it abundantly clear that had no time for idle chitchat with the janitorial bottom-feeders working to earn their freedom. It generally ignored Trent unless there was something specific that needed to be attended to. And then it was just “Dust-Buster, do this” or “Dust-Buster do that…”
Sometimes the dust was hard to catch. It settled oddly between spaces, like cracks in sliding doorways and computer keyboards and battery packs and so on. Sometimes it seemed to fabricate places to hide in that weren’t previously obvious. It drilled down in the interstices as if it had some unseen purpose all its own. Trent wondered why there were even so many nooks and crannies for it to hide in since this wasn’t a manned vessel and no actual crew were aboard to use things like keyboards. Hell, those had been outdated for well over a century now – just how old was this spacecraft anyway? No matter, better to just focus on the work. He swept more debris into a containment unit. As he did so, he was sure he heard something, like a tiny almost inaudible severely muffled scream.
He looked into the clear acrylic dome at the dirt. He could sense it looking back at him, waiting. Surely he was imagining things. His mind suddenly reeled to Horton the Elephant declaring, a person’s a person no matter how small. But Dr. Seuss didn’t make any more sense here in space than back on Earth after the last World War had decimated all the oceans and there were no more free trees or clovers for such a speck of dust as Whoville to land on – everything was held tightly under lock and key, blockaded away to be dispensed as the all-controlling government saw fit. Hell, people’s real bodies met pretty much the same fate upon adulthood, at least as far as the masses were concerned anyway, and many lived their entire lives as robots with their human vessels left in catatonic stasis. Trent shook his dark musings off and continued on his one and only real job. But the feeling that the dust was looking at him was still unsettling. In fact the dust wasn’t settling at all, it was swirling and ebbing about the containment unit in cloudy eddies, like some kind of strange iron-red cloud apparition or ghost. It began to take shape. It formed into lips, which parted to speak.
“Hello there mechanical being.”
Trent stared at it quizzically as a long bout of silence passed. The pursed lips seemed to await a response, but from whom?
“I’m talking to you,” it persisted.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t think you had meant to address me,” Trent 2-6000 stammered, “I’m not wholly used to being mechanical. This robot body, it’s different than the one I had back in school… I was still just a boy then; they let us grow up in the system until we age out,” he spoke dreamily, distracted by reflecting on more interesting times.
“Is there someone else here?” the dust piqued hopefully, as if growing bored with conversing with the young janitor and hoping to speak with his superior.
Trent glanced over at the computer, which seemed to be busy compounding equations in its free time, like always. “No,” he replied, “just me.”
“Ok, well… Then, dear mechanical being, would it be possible for you to free me?”
“Wait, what? No, absolutely not,” Trent was taken aback again. “My sole role on this mission is to sweep up the space dirt so that it doesn’t contaminate any of the equipment or settle into places it shouldn’t be. It, um you, must stay contained, as per my orders. It’s out of my hands… er reach.”
“What are you afraid of?” the red cloud quipped as it began to swirl into the shape of a beautiful female face around the mouth that it had already formed, lips plumping and parting slightly. “What, exactly, do you fear that I might do?” it insinuated slyly.
“Ummm, I don’t know,” Trent-2-6000 stared into the acrylic dome at the beautiful half-formed human-ghost face staring back at him. “I was unaware that you could do that, whatever you just did, so the possibilities boggle the mind…”
“I can do a lot more…” the ghost girl interrupted, her voice lilting playfully. “What’s your name robo-boy?”
“That, that’s probably classified information… But it’s Trent. Just Trent,” he stammered. It had seemed like an eternity since he had laid eyes upon a girl, and now he was becoming rather sadly smitten. By… a cloud of dust. He sighed again.
“Well then, Trent Just-Trent. Any chance you could let me out of this box?” The dust smiled coyly.
“I really shouldn’t…”
“My name’s Ayarvenia,” the dust girl interjected. “I’ll make it worth your while…” The apparition winked.
Trent glanced back at the computer, which was still engaged in its own computing. Sigh. “Oh Hell, yeah, I guess… Ay-ur-veenia… Just don’t get into anything you shouldn’t or it’ll be my shiny metal ass on the line,” he said as he released the containment lever and slid the lid off of the dome.
Please return next Sunday for the exciting conclusion to this space opry story.