“Baby Fingers” is a PseudoPod original
“Polaroid, 1979” is a PseudoPod original
“Metal, Sex, Monsters” was originally published in Gamut #5 in May, 2017
Metal, Sex, Monsters: “As you might be able to tell, this story was written with a Judas Priest soundtrack in mind. While writing it, I listened obsessively to all of Judas Priest’s back catalogue, so that is its main inspiration.”
by Pierce Skinner
narrated by Austin Malone
Curt stares out the into the dark beyond the jaundiced light of the motel sign. He’s got the sawed-off resting across his lap, hands shaking, face white as drywall behind his wild red beard.
I set my helmet down on the dresser, lean myself against the wall. The wallpaper smells like bleach. A fly thrashes between lightbulb and lampshade. TVs cackle through the walls and somehow, over all of this, behind it, the chittering, scratching. Like ants crawling over a microphone. It’s the sound the thing in the bathtub made before it killed Travis.
“You’re hearin’ it too.” He says, “We’re fucked.”
“No I ain’t.”
Curt’s eyes go red, wet. He looks down at his shaking hands, at the shotgun.
“Hey!” I growl. He don’t look up at me. “Christ, Curt! You a Mongol or ain’t you?”
Curt nods. “Yeah. I’m a Mongol, Dennis. But I ain’t never seen no shit like that before.” He looks up at me like he’s about to cry. “It…killed Travis.”
A headache builds behind the scratching sound. I try to tell myself that it’s just hearing damage. That emptying twelve rounds in an underground bunker did a number on our eardrums. But that don’t explain everything else. Not even close.
“What’s gonna happen to us?”
“Nothin’, Curt. Whatever it was, we killed it. Now I’m gonna call Mr. Senator. We’re gonna get our money, get out of the state. That’s it.” I pull the door open. “Stay here,” I tell him. “I’ll be right back.”
Soon as the door shuts behind me, the scratching sounds stop. The night is silent.
The headache don’t go nowhere. I light a cigarette.
I drop a quarter into the payphone in front of the laundromat across the street. It only rings once before a man’s voice says, “Hello?”
“You got him.”
He breaks it. “You…you killed the other thing, too?”
And when he says it like that, says thing, then it’s real. And that’s when I start shaking.
“Not before it killed one of mine.”
“I…I’m sorry. If I had told you everything, you wouldn’t have believed me.”
I close my eyes and I’m right back there. The house. The Armageddon bunker. The room full of kids’ clothes. The table, heaped with tiny limbs, tiny hands. All of them missing fingers, all of them bloodless, some of them rotten and crumbling like last winter’s firewood. Symbols on the walls. The stink of mildew, blood, shit. The clawfoot tub full of brown water. Full of pale white worms, insect larvae. The smiling man with bright white teeth. Something familiar about him. Like maybe I know him. Shirtless to the waist, eyes rolled back white, swinging a rusted medieval claymore down the hall. Curt’s gun making the two of us deaf and the smiling man dead, head opened up like a red wet flower.
“That was the governor’s boy, wasn’t it? The news anchor?”
“Thought I recognized him.”
This explains why he went to the Mongols instead of the cops. Don’t explain the thing that stood up from the tub. Skin black, shiny like an eel, like the highway wet with rain. The thing took Travis by jaw, peeled him open like a sardine can, took six hollow points and two shotgun shells to die. No blood came out. Just brown water.
“I…” the man’s voice cracks. “I don’t know what it is. It’s what they feed them to. And I…I let them.” He starts to cry. Thick, heavy. Between sobs, he manages, “But…you killed it. It’s over.”
He sniffles. “You know where I am. I have your money. I’m sorry about your friend. You don’t know the good you’ve done.”
“Tomorrow,” I say. “Noon.”
A small, hot wind moves my hair. Overhead, something clacks its jaws, grinds its teeth and there’s that scratching, insect sound again. I drop the phone and back away but when I look up but there’s nothing. Not even moths crowding the streetlight.
I smell the blood before I see it.
Curt’s a pink smear across the carpet stretching from the bed to the bathroom mirror. His boots are by the edge of the bed. His face hangs from the lampshade. A fly buzzes panicked, caught in the bloody forest of his beard. Drawn in blood across the walls, the symbols from the house. Triangles. Zigzags. Bullseyes. Everywhere, the worms, the larvae. On the sheets, the carpet, spilling out from the vent above the bed onto the pillows.
The bathroom door creaks open. Brown water spills over the edge of the tub. There it is. The sound, again. Coming from the water. Coming from the worms.
But they ain’t worms. I can see them now, in the light. I can see what they are.
I turn. I run.
I don’t know where I am. The highway. West. Maybe. The road is empty. I am alone.
The sun comes up over the world. White snakes as big as God dangle from behind the clouds. Forests of glass needle teeth catch the light of swallowed suns in their bellies, split it into rainbows, turns the whole wide world into a karaoke dance floor.
The bike rattles. Fire spits from the tailpipe. My body is a vibration.
I shut my eyes, twist the throttle forward.
The tires spin themselves into black rags. Metal screams against the pavement, curses at me in sparks, reeking heat.
I spin the bike into the guardrail, and then I’m flying through the rainbows.
I stumble into the drugstore, bleeding. Ribs complain about how broken they are with every breath. The cashier, a young girl, pretty, the kind of girl that gets fed to things that shouldn’t exist, she says something to me. Looks real worried.
I can’t hear her. The only sound in my ears is the chittering. Ants crawling over my eardrums. Worms gnawing at my breastbone. That’s how I know what I gotta do. I know how it’s following me. The thing from the tub. It’s following me. Tracking me like a wounded stag.
I make it to the restroom, lock the door, back away from it, slide down the wall. I can feel them, in my arms, inside my chest. Plucking at my veins like guitar strings, calling out for daddy, racing toward my brain.
Well, shit. I almost laugh at how simple it is. I wish I could tell Curt. Wish I could have saved him.
The door shivers in the jamb. Thunder roars from the other side. Bang. Bang. Bang.
Something cold, wet against my hand. Water. Spilling from the sink. Gushing from the toilet. Brown water. Freezing, like from the deepest parts of the sea.
“You were right, Curt!” I bellow over the crackling in my ears, over the banging on the door, “But it ain’t gonna get me!”
I pull my knife out of its sheath. I shut my eyes. Right there. Inside my chest. Under my heart. If they get to my brain, I’ll wind up just like that news anchor. Like the governor’s boy. That ain’t gonna happen.
I put the knife between my broken ribs, open a hole. I scream. I twist the blade, searching, scraping. Air hisses out of my lung, makes pink bubbles in the blood. Nothing else comes out.
I ain’t worried. I’ll find them. Just got to keep looking. Keep digging. I cut again. The brown water rises. My blood turns it black.
These things are smart. Fast. I can feel them now, bunching up into tiny fists behind my eyes, knocking against my skull, reaching for my brain.
I bring the blade up, laughing.
“Son of a bitch. I got you now.”
The door explodes inward. The water recedes. The lights go out.
Hands on me. Cold, slick, like fish skin. They pry the knife from my remaining fingers, drag me down into the brown water. And I can’t tell if what I’m hearing is myself, screaming forever or the roar of the worms in the sky or Travis crying as he dies or angel trumpets or Curt’s big belly laugh, somewhere in the dark, at the end of a highway wet with rain.
by Lora Gray
narrated by Setsu Uzume
Their skins never look as beautiful on her as they do on their original bones, but this boy drapes over Evelyn like silk.
She smiles at the cracked bathroom mirror and puckers her lips. The boy’s reflection kisses back. If she turns her head just so, she can almost believe those lips are hers, that she is a young man and not a monster. Except, of course, that his chin keeps tugging those lips toward the hollow of her throat.
Sighing, Evelyn presses his mouth back into place. She squares his shoulders over her own and lifts Roberto’s instant camera level with the mirror.
She takes the photo.
The camera whirs and the polaroid, square and slick with chemicals, rolls out. She should probably take another. Even with the image barely developed, she can see the line of her boy’s hips spliced by the mustard yellow sink, his chest obscured by the bulk of the camera. A train rattles past the apartment and the vanity lights flicker. His complexion will probably look waxy in the uneven light, too. Dead.
Roberto hates it when they look dead.
“Then he should take the pictures himself, shouldn’t he, darling?” Evelyn pats her boy’s cheek where it rests over her own.
Roberto shouts “What?” from the living room, his voice slurred.
Evelyn bites her tongue and shushes her boy’s mouth with her fingertips.
When she first found him alone behind a deserted bus terminal, Evelyn knew she’d love this boy. Her heart had quivered as she slinked, catlike and skinless, behind him. It thundered when she raised her pearl handled knife and slit his throat. He’d been so warm when she scooped his organs into that dumpster, so snug when she slipped into his skin.
When she was younger, Evelyn would have strutted into the daytime world wearing this boy, sumptuous as a mink stole, until the stench of rot and flies made people suspect, or until hunger forced her to eat what was left of him.
Playing with her food has always been a dangerous game and rumors followed her as she moved between cities and villages. A serial killer was on the loose, they said. A monster. But she’s never been caught.
The world isn’t as safe as it used to be, though. It’s bristling with security cameras, neighborhood watches and homicide detectives playing at Columbo in trench coats and battered sedans. It’s 1979. Evelyn needs protection. And Roberto, with his keen eyes, his blood lust and appetites, helps cover her ‘crimes.’ He gives her a warm bed and a safe place to feed if she lets him play with her skins.
Roberto, Evelyn tells herself, is a necessity.
But it’s been months since she’s done anything but find new skins for him to fuck. Months since he’s allowed her outside in the day time. Months of screaming and angry fists. Months of him threatening to turn her in to the police if she doesn’t make him happy.
On the back of the toilet, the butt of Roberto’s cigarette sags. His dirty underwear drips on the shower rod. Evelyn can hear him in the living room, belching and swearing, clicking from channel to channel on the new RCA. He sniffs, loud and long. Allergies? Cocaine? Both?
Evelyn gives the polaroid a weary shake. Her boy’s face swims toward the surface of the milky film and she imagines him rising toward her, escaping the confines of that photograph.
He’s been a good companion, such a lovely distraction from Roberto’s sweaty palms and hungry mouth. It was so much easier to admire the stretch of his skin over her bones than pay attention to Roberto rutting between her thighs.
Bad enough the time has come to devour what is left of this boy without Roberto reducing him to a sallow photograph tucked into the shoebox beneath his bed with the faces of all the others she’s killed for him, smudged with greasy fingers and crumpled at the corners from frantic, late night jerk offs.
When was the last time Evelyn killed for her own pleasure? When was the last time she did anything on her own terms?
Evelyn looks at the photo in her hands, her boy fully developed now, but trapped, and sets it on the back of the sink.
“Goodbye, sweetness,” she whispers.
And eye to eye with the polaroid, she feeds.
Hooking her fingers into her navel, Evelyn pries herself open. Her belly ripples and flexes its spongey jaws, tiny, flesh worn teeth gnashing until they snag the boy’s skin. The fibers clutching him to her pop loose and he sloughs away, a thousand teeth tenderly devouring. Another train rattles past. A cockroach scuttles to safety beneath the radiator. Her navel closes with a wet smack.
Evelyn smooths a hand over the pulp of her belly.
She is full.
She does not feel satisfied.
Polaroid in hand, Evelyn emerges from the bathroom, a shamble of raw meat and bones. The air prickles her exposed flesh.
“You done already?” Roberto asks, paunchy and pale in his recliner. “You know what’ll happen if that fucking photo isn’t-“ Roberto chokes on his beer. “What did I tell you about walking around like that?!”
Evelyn doesn’t reply.
She goes into the bedroom where the sheets are tangled with the remains of her boy’s clothes. She lays the photograph of him on the blood stained pillow, his face turned toward the window.
The sun is rising when Evelyn takes her pearl handled knife from the dresser. The world is bright when she slinks, catlike and skinless, into the living room.
Roberto isn’t beautiful like her boy was. He is ugly. Monstrous. But when Evelyn steps out of his apartment and into the dangerous world once more, his skin slumped around her like an oversized cardigan, the sun, at least, is warm.
The daylight, delicious.
Metal, Sex, Monsters
by Maria Haskins
narrated by The Word Whore
Yes, officer: I do remember my first time. I was thirteen, and the room smelled of drugstore perfume, apple-scented shampoo, and sticky lip gloss. I remember what the boy tasted like, too: potato chips and popcorn, teenage sweat, and bated breath. It was in the basement of a friend’s house, a party, out of sight of the parents, and Judas Priest was playing on the stereo when someone turned off the lights and said we were playing a kissing game: everyone had to walk around in the dark and kiss whoever they could get a hold of. It sounds kind of louche now, I guess, but it was 1981, and it’s not like we were drinking anything but soft drinks mixed with lemonade.
The boy’s hair and eyes were brown and I’d had a crush on him since grade two, though I’d never considered doing anything about it. I’d never kissed anyone before, either. But in the dark, with Rob Halford screaming about working class frustration in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, he grabbed hold of me, probably out of pity, and kissed me.
I liked kissing him: liked the rush of blood to my head and groin, liked the way he held me. He might have tried to pull away soon after, or maybe he was just trying to breathe, but I persisted and he acquiesced, and when his lips parted just a little, I kissed harder, penetrating his wet, warm mouth with my tongue, nipping at the flesh. There was a taste then, familiar and new at the same time, slipping through me, of salt like tears, of rusted iron and oxidized copper.
I probed and bit and licked as something shuddered awake deep beneath my skin, rippling like the surface of a submerged dream, its sudden heat radiating through my capillaries, burning through my eyes and fingers, blistering my lips and cheeks.
Will you look at that? Look at my hands. Even now, thirty-five years later, the memory of it makes me tremble.
No, officer. I pulled away. He caught his breath and I thought he’d scream, thought he’d tell everyone that I had bit him. The blood was there to prove it, on his lips and chin, on my tongue as I swallowed. But he just put his hand to his mouth and looked at me, as if he’d caught a sideways glimpse of the hunger lurking inside me.
His family moved away later that summer. Probably just as well, even though I missed him.
But that’s not what you want me to talk about. You brought police photographs.
Let me see. Yes, they were all mine. Such gorgeous boys. Hell bent for leather, wouldn’t you say, each and every one. But then, rock and heavy metal gigs have been my venues of choice from the start. I love the music, of course, always have, and I figured those places were good for hiding in plain sight. There, I was just another hungry groupie, just another starving fangirl jonesing for a fix: unremarkable, disposable, forgettable. Considering how long it’s taken you to find me, I guess I was right about that. But it’s the bodies I love most of all. That’s what kept me coming back. All that lovely flesh wrapped in sweat and studs and tight denim, bones reverberating with the amplified sound of guitars and drums and bass, shouted vocals clawing at their throats, the air thrumming with scent, everyone resplendent in eyeliner and hairspray, lace and spandex. All those beautiful people: souls loosening their grip on mortal coils, words and breaths and hands rising, each one wanting to taste blood and skin, wanting to disappear into another, to be devoured by the music and the crowd…
No, officer. I don’t need anything to drink. I just need a moment.
The second boy I kissed was the first one who went all the way. I waited for him in the shadows on a street corner, after the club had closed: I was eighteen and starving. I wonder if you’ve ever been as hungry. Maybe you have. I’d been good for so many years after that night in the basement. It was hard, but school’s important, and besides, it takes more than hunger. At least for me. Something has to turn me on, there has to be a spark – heat, lust, love – call it what you want, but if I don’t want them, if they don’t want me, it’s no good at all.
Sorry. You look uncomfortable. Is that too much information? But then that’s what you want, isn’t it? Information. That’s what you said when you brought me here.
But I was telling you about the second boy.
Inside the club he’d slipped his arm around my waist and I’d left it there. He was barely older than I was, all strut and swagger in his leather jacket when he followed me outside and offered me a ride on his motorcycle. I held on to him, speeding through that gossamer night, my body bursting, flaring at the seams and joints with heat and hunger, trying not to take him too soon, too quick, trying to make it last.
In the tall grass by the river he took off my bra and I took him into me, whole and screaming and unwilling. He was my first, and I wasn’t as gentle as I should have been, as I’ve learned to be since. But that mingled taste of him – leather, beer, and cigarettes – it whets my appetite even now, just thinking about how he scraped and rubbed against my viscera as I brought him deep inside of me.
That was a long time ago. I’ve devoured so many boys and men since then.
How many? I couldn’t tell you. I’ve not counted them. But, yes. More than in your photographs, certainly. If I wanted them, and they wanted me, then I took them. And when I reached out, when I opened up and they saw me in my glory, when they were blinded by my bliss and consumed, they were not afraid. Not in the end, at least.
Are you afraid, officer? Or is that too personal a question to ask?
What it’s like? Why would you ask me that? You said you have video footage, so you must know. I don’t know what it’s like from outside. I only know what it feels like from within.
…heat and light, ignited and extinguished in the same moment
…reaching out through flesh and bones and web of veins and skeins of nerves
…savouring the quavering tissue of life and memories, their first and last flashes of pain and ecstasy, the moment of their birth and the instant of their death.
Afterward, I can still feel them inside me for a while: plucking them like strings to hear the whispered echoes of who they were.
Yes, thank you, officer. I do need something to drink now.
What I am? Don’t ask me that. Tell me what you see, instead, when you look at me.
I don’t know what I am. I don’t know what awoke in that basement when I was thirteen, with British Steel pounding beneath my flesh, blood riveted to my tongue; when I awoke and knew that I was no longer what I’d thought I was, that I wore the body I’d thought was mine like a second skin pulled tight over my true self.
I’ve thought about that kiss, that boy, every day since.
Something was different that time. I know that now. I sensed it, but didn’t understand it until later, maybe not until tonight. That he was like me. That he hungered, too.
I wonder if he’s looked for me like I’ve looked for him.
I’d know him anywhere. I’d know his dark brown eyes, would know his hair even if it’s thinner and streaked with grey, would know the scent of him even thirty-five years on. I’d know him no matter where I saw him, or what uniform or badge he wore.
I’d know the heat, radiating from his skin before we even touched.
Yes, officer. I would know you, even if I’d waited decades, trapped and lonely inside an aging husk of skin and flesh, even if I’d lingered, sleepless for a million years in an empty space of stars and quantum rifts. I’d still know you.
Do you remember it? The dizzying taste of me in you? The fleeting promise of it on your tongue? Of course you do. That’s why you brought me to this bar rather than the police station.
And if we kissed again, you and I, here and now, with this Judas Priest song cutting through us like a screaming metal blade, cutting all our memories open; with the noise and blood and hunger throbbing in us like when we were thirteen; if we kissed now, what would we become then, you and I, if we unfurled, unhinged, unleashed ourselves together, devouring each other, our light and heat bleeding into the other, pulsing, flowing, mingling, fusing into one?
What, I wonder, will we become, now?
About the Authors
Lora Gray is a fiction writer and poet from Northeast Ohio.Their writing has previously appeared in The Dark, Strange Horizons and Shimmer among other places. Recently, Lora’s short fiction has been featured as part of Black Library’s new horror imprint. When they aren’t writing, Lora works as an illustrator, dance instructor and wrangler of a very clever Siamese cat.
Pierce Skinner currently lives in Richmond,VA with his wife and three cats. He writes horror and fantasy. His work has appeared in Dark Moon Digest, Aurealis, and Lamplight Magazine. When he’s not writing, he’s probably waiting tables and if he’s not doing that, he’s probably at his favorite dive bar, arguing with strangers about Star Wars. When he’s drunk enough, he writes poems on Instagram @pierceskinnerpoems.
Maria Haskins is a Swedish-Canadian writer and translator. She writes speculative fiction, and debuted as a writer in Sweden in the far-off era known as “the 1980s”. In 1992, she moved to Canada and she currently lives outside Vancouver with a husband, two kids, and a very large black dog. Her fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Escape Pod, Aliterate, Kaleidotrope, Shimmer, Cast of Wonders, Bracken, and elsewhere.
About the Narrators
Austin Malone is a short-fiction author who lives in New Orleans, and is the coordinator of the Crescent City Critters writer’s group. Those who are curious about his work and would like to use their personal summoning-circle to conjure his presence for further discourse are urged to use vanilla-scented black candles and only top-shelf rum. Seriously. If you even think about using Bacardi he’ll rip your soul out through your nostrils. Just don’t. For those who would prefer to enjoy his words at a safe distance, he invites you to visit sippinghemlocktea.com