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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Halloween Reads: The Child-Bearer by Zachary T. Owen

Zachary T. Owen has been a frequent guest writer for GeekRex around the Halloween season, and since he has given us a great list of Four Great Reads for the Halloween Season, it only seemed fitting that we give you a taste of his own horror fiction. This short story is part of the collection entitled Doom Sayer, about which we interviewed Zach back in March. It's an excellent collection and a perfect read for anyone looking to add some extra creepy, clever, and sometimes hilarious horror to their Halloween this year! Check out the full book here, but in the meantime please enjoy this excerpt–it certainly kept me awake when I first read it!


By Zachary T. Owen

When I woke up today my body was infested with hundreds of tiny holes, dry perfect little circles which seemed more like pockets than wounds, for there was no blood or scabbing. I stared at these holes and felt my stomach knot-up. My throat grew tight and I felt myself begin to panic. I itched myself frantically, ferociously, hoping to quell the sudden sickly itch that came from seeing these tiny clusters of holes. They reminded me of insect burrows. I imagined ants crawling out of me. I imagined larvae spilling out of my legs, bees curling inside the dry empty hovels of my arms.
I paced my filthy apartment. I hadn’t cleaned in weeks. The ceiling fan was covered in a thick grey dust and sloppy cobwebs made by ungraceful spiders traveled from the blades to the ceiling. The floor was littered with soiled clothes. I did not notice any of this, not anymore. I was transformed and my environment meant nothing to me now. I paced into my bathroom and stared at the mirror which had become smeared and dirty—the only uncleanly part of my apartment I chose to observe, because I had to look at myself and see the damage. I scraped away the grime enough to see my face. It was as clean and pale and young as it had been when I went to bed the night before in a stupor, liquor bottle clutched in my hand like a cross and a pack of cigarettes across my chest like a bible. I am twenty-seven now. My breasts seemed slightly fuller than before, which worried me. I didn’t want to be carrying a child. I wouldn’t know who the father was. Didn’t care.
I hadn’t been to class in over a week. Some kind of anxiety crept over me. Whenever I went out in public I felt as if everybody was looking at me, tracing my form with their eyes. I didn’t like this. I didn’t want to be the subject of somebody’s disdain. I didn’t even want to be admired or envied.
My clothes were still damp from sweat. I stripped them off. Leggings, dress, bra, all crumpled to the floor like wads of colored tissue. It felt good to be naked again. It always feels better to be naked. Had I not passed out drunk, I probably would have slept on my bed exposed, nothing but a sheet drawn partly across my feet—the part of me that seems to chill no matter what time of the year it is.
I stared at my bare breasts. Some of the men and women I’d slept with seemed quietly critical of my nipples. They are large, yes, but I’ve always thought they would look stranger small. And some have been critical of my belly, which protrudes just slightly. But mostly my partners seem to love my body, to relish tasting my insides, cunt and anus alike. And my hair, at that moment greasy, is long and wavy and full. How proud I am of my hair.
I have never been able to grow long nails and have never cared. My buttocks is lightly peppered with cellulite. These flaws seem little in comparison to my attributes. Full lips, sharp chin. Sturdy, long legs.
But the holes. The insect houses. They were (are) hideous, a geometric nightmare of perfectly formed circles in patterns too organized to appear somehow natural—not to say this is natural, but I mean to imply it was hard to believe I had contracted something and easier to feel I had been purposefully cursed or blighted by somebody, but who I knew not.
They trailed down my arms and legs, mostly, but there were a few on the lower regions of my stomach, a few above my groin. This was upsetting. I itched again. It was a psychological discomfort, I know. These holes did not itch. The idea of them itched. The discomfort of seeing them—that itched.
So I scratched myself until I was raw. My skin flushed from the rapid touch of my angry fingers, I crawled back into bed exhausted and stared at my ceiling and imagined one of the loose tiles falling down and crushing me, though they were too fragile and small to do so. What had happened to me, I wanted to know?
I couldn’t remember my last sexual rendezvous. I had kissed a girl in a bar two nights go, but aside from that, it had been a long while. My anxiety had become too great to let hands venture between my legs, tongues across my nipples, hard cocks into my mouth. I still felt attractive, but I felt lost. Something was wrong. It wasn’t class. It wasn’t my parents. It wasn’t my friends (who were they, anyway?) and I wasn’t sure it was an existential crisis, though that seemed to weigh in favor of it being exactly that.
I slept hard.
When I awoke again my stomach roared and I picked myself up and sauntered to the kitchen where I dug around in my cabinets for too long, finding only cheap Macaroni. I sighed and began to prepare my meal. I ignored my arms and legs, though my peripheral vision constantly threatened to break my illusion of normalcy and cast me into an anxious rage.
When I sat down on my loveseat, in front of my television which had been broken for three days, and dug my spoon into my macaroni, I observed the hollow ends of the noodles as they stuck together and pointed upwards, forming a kind of landscape fit for things with skittering, segmented legs. I hollered and threw my bowl across the room. The spoon flung itself somewhere far off and clattered loudly, the bowl smacked my faded pink wall and macaroni splattered against it. Some of it ricocheted back to me. I stood up and wiped the noodles from myself in horror, and this act caused me to observe my arms and calves and feet and see that the tiny holes had multiplied, and worse yet, there appeared to be something inside of them.
I found myself in front of the mirror again. I watched my face carefully, wondering if it would show any sign of mental illness or a kind of psychic disturbance.
When I gazed into my holes and studied them, I found that the things inside of them resembled smooth pebbles. I tried to pull one of them out, but my fingers were too large for the small caverns of my flesh. I pried. I tried to shift my skin, but nothing worked. I shook my arms vigorously, hoping to dislodge the pebbles by sheer force, but it was to no avail. I shook my head and cried. I trembled and placed my hand nervously on my mouth. I stumbled to the toilet and sat down and looked over my breasts carefully, first the left one, then the right one, checking for signs of invasion. I found none.
I stretched my labia, pulled each lip taught, parted them, wriggled my fingers inside myself—into my sex and then into my anal cavity. I sighed with relief when I found no abnormalities.
It was then my fingers went for my scalp. I scratched and massaged at that hidden skin. Without thought, I began pulling out hair. It was painful. After only wrenching out a few strands, I dug around my bathroom sink for the electric razor—a former lover had left it behind (I suspected on purpose, a constant memento of his existence. He was a person who feared everyone he encountered would one day forget him, something I had come lately to feel hope for). I buzzed my hair off and stared at my naked scalp.
They were there. Yes, those tiny, lined-up trails of would-be burrows. I sobbed. If this disease, this affliction, if it wasn’t sexual, what was it? Maybe it really was a curse. But I could think of nothing I had done to deserve it, unless I had hurt a former bedmate by mistake, and if that was the case I could never expect to easily locate the source of attack.
The itch came back with a hunger. My fingers moved. I rubbed my back against the bathroom doorframe, knowing the skin I now scratched was of course polluted.
I ran myself a scalding hot bath and stepped into the water and shrieked. It took some time for my body to grow comfortable in the heat. I could see redness traveling across myself like a rash.
After a while I convinced myself the itch was gone. I didn’t dare open my eyes. I didn’t dare lay a hand on any portion of myself, shift limb or muscle. I lay in the tub, stoic and burning.  Finally, the water cooled. Finally, I felt at peace. Drifting, I let my mind fill with vague thoughts of a life fulfilled. Visions of a successful, post-graduation future littered my stream of thought. I found comfort, suddenly, in myself.
As I started for slumber I pictured a beach. On that beach I placed a beautiful wife under a golden umbrella. I do not know why I chose gold. My wife kissed me fervently and placed a hand against my back and whispered into my ear, “You are beautiful, spirit and mind, and you have value.”
The pebbles drifted from me like miniscule buoys, then sank to the bottom of the tub. I stood and watched the water cascade down the landscape of my body. The holes were still everywhere, but they hadn’t increased. And now they were empty. The exodus of the pebbles could mean anything, but I took it to mean I was healing, that soon my body would be whole again, rather than holes. I wept gently and stepped out of the tub. I didn’t bother to drain it. Trudging wet and naked and sleep-weighted to my couch, I sat down and stared and wondered what came next.
I found my phone and tried to call the doctor. The call didn’t go through. A twinge of coiled fear invaded me again—always I waited too late, thought things were fixed when they had broken beyond repair. What if the time I’d spend fretting over the burrows of my body was time ticking toward destruction? What if the release of the pebble-things brought me closer toward something grim? The thought was inevitable and pulled me magnetically toward the floor where I lay in sprawled despair. I tried to put it out of my head. Nothing. I must think of nothing.
Should I leave? Should I go out? No. There was no way. My head was covered in hollow little spaces I could not explain, visible now that my hair was gone.
I opened my phone again and looked at the long list of names inside, many of which I didn’t recognize. There had to be some ally, some aide to call. I chose Dave. It rang.
“Hello, Dave. There’s something wrong with me. I need somebody to look at me and give me an opinion and maybe take me to the hospital.”
“Seriously? Fuck you.”
He hung up. I threw my phone. It clattered against my bedframe. I got up and retrieved it. This is an emergency, I thought. I should just call 911.
But the truth was, I was terrified of what they might tell me once they saw what happened, and a part of me irrationally believed if I did nothing and remained in my apartment forever, it wouldn’t get any worse than it had. I would still the progress of this blight, keep it frozen, a statue hand spread across me but never clutching tighter.
I felt like my body would rend itself to pieces as I tore off in different directions at once, uncertain what to do.
And, then, a terrible, repetitious scuttling turned me toward my bathroom. Pouring from the tub, falling wetly to the floor, hard and many-legged, there marched an army of something between crabs and spiders and they came for me, straight for me. I squeaked from my tight throat, my fingers drove themselves inward, into my palms.
The things were black and segmented with eyes in bizarre formations. They were shelled and covered with tiny bits of hair. They had claws and mandibles and thick, gleaming bodies. Huge. They were huge. Each the size of a fist, at least.
And. Headed. Toward. Me.
They came, fast and hard, crawling up me, the tips of their legs poking here and there into the holes they had been born from. I stumbled. Threw myself against walls. Moaned in horror. Somebody would have to hear me. I felt certain.
Brushing them off of me, I backed onto my bed, swept my sheets over myself, used them as a protective shawl, and curled into a fetal egg, whimpering and convulsing.
I remained this way for hours, feeling the crab-spiders dance on me, search for an entrance into my abode. Prayed. I prayed they weren’t smart enough to use their claws to tear into the sheets and to tear into me.
When I finally reared my head and scanned my apartment, there they were, piled against the door, as if waiting for an escape to find meat. All of them were dead. Some of them overturned, some missing claws and legs. Maybe they had turned on each other. I laughed.
I stood, breathing hard, and stretched my body. I felt victorious.
But no. The holes were filled, once again, with those smooth pebbles that were really eggs. And worse, the insect houses had now invaded my areolas, spiraling on my breasts like geometric art. They shot down my inner arms, spread on my thighs. I was covered. The itch came back, furious and bitter.
I know now I will not make it. I know now I must extinguish myself or forever face these shelled, crawling things which find refuge in me and then return to me for meat, to fill their insect bellies with morsels of myself, take pieces from my lithe, ripe carcass.
This is why I am inside the crawlspace above my apartment.
Just above my fridge—that’s where the entrance is—placed in a way that most would ignore it. The work of crawling atop my fridge, opening the latched door, and climbing inside has left me exhausted. My body is rapidly growing sluggish. Perhaps the eggs are starting to sap me of energy.
I have brought with me a shard of my mirror, which I shattered with an old wooden chair.
It hurts, what I’ve done to my body. The smears of blood on my stomach and breasts and legs do not hide the egg chambers. My intention is to destroy the things inside me while they are still unborn. But I cannot reach all of them. They span my back, hide themselves in places I know I can’t see. I am faint now.
It is my hope that when my children are born they die quickly here, as they did in my apartment. They do not seem intelligent. Of course, they will have me to feed upon. This could make them grow strong and nimble. God, I hope not.
I can’t help but think of all my failures. Am I irredeemable? Have I wronged? Or am I no worse than most?
The pain is flowering. Blossoms of hurt. I can’t stop crying now. Am I loved?
I can see the beach again. The golden umbrella. My wife beneath it. She kisses me and places a hand against my back. My unharmed, tan, sun-warmed back, draped partially in the umbrella’s shadow.
“You are beautiful,” she whispers into me. “Spirit and mind. And you have value.”
I’m kissing her now. I’m kissing her forever. Always, I’m kissing her.

Zachary T. Owen is an arsonist and an author. You can find him on Twitter and other internet vacuums. His books can be found here. 

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