This is a repost of a short story I did a while back. As it turns out my friend’s art continues to inspire me and I made a few edits to the story as well as including another piece of art she did based on the new edits.
Along the same line of thought, this will not be the only short story set in this universe and I hope to compile a whole anthology of short stories in this universe together with my friend’s art. It might take a long while, but keep an eye out for more news on that.
By the way, here is a link to my friend’s tumblr art blog so you can enjoy her stuff without my yammerings: http://mm-chibi.tumblr.com/
Now without further ado, darkness the room and enjoy the creeping horror!
“So as you can see, the lining protects the stomach from its own gastric fluids.”
Aileen barely paid any attention as her professor sketched anatomical drawings on the whiteboard. In her seat at the back of the room, she doodled in her notebook. Most people would say that drawing in the middle of class wasn’t conducive to learning, but she’d found it helped her absorb the information better than if she tried to focus on writing down what she was being told. It was kind of like those CDs that you’re supposed to listen to while sleeping. The information just seeps in while you drift along.
Right now, she was drawing a watch with a smiling mouth full of razor sharp teeth instead of a clasp. This was actually the fourth mouth she’d drawn this class period, the second with teeth for shredding, and the only one on an object. She’d been drawing a lot of mouths and teeth recently. Maybe it was the Halloween spirit getting to her, but body horror art had been what her hand had drawn every time she was in the zone.
She was pulled out of said zone by the sounds of college students eagerly leaving the last class of Friday. Quickly, Aileen packed away her own notebook and pencil bags into her backpack. Hopefully the professor hadn’t seen her doodling.
As she got up, she heard something hit the tile floor near her. Looking down, she saw that her watch had come loose and fallen off.
Muttering a light curse, Aileen knelt down and picked up the timepiece. She would have strapped it back on, but part of the buckle was missing. She searched the floor, but couldn’t find the missing piece.
Oh well, she’d just get it fixed over the weekend. That shouldn’t cost too much. She slipped the watch and her notebook into her backpack.
Back in her dorm room, she dropped her bags in her desk chair and flopped onto her bed with a sigh. She glanced at her alarm clock. 4:30pm? Plenty of time to take a nap before dinner. Aileen kicked off her shoes and closed her eyes, drifting into a shallow sleep.
Two hours later, she was pulled out of her slumber by the sound of her roommate, Nella, opening the door to their room.
“Wakey wakey, Aileen!” she sang.
“Hey,” Aileen mumbled groggily, sitting up and rubbing her eyes. Something from the clutter of her dreams nagged at the back of her mind. A fuzzy recollection of some shadowy figure fighting a squid? “What’s up?”
“Samson’s having a pre-Halloween party tonight in his dorm. Wanna head over there and check it out after dinner?”
Samson? Her sleep addled brain couldn’t place the name at first, but it sounded wrong. Then she remembered. Samson was Nella’s older sister’s boyfriend’s roommate. He was famous across campus for his parties. Aileen—like the introvert she was—usually avoided college parties like the plague. But tonight, she felt restless and adventurous. Besides, her mom, despite warning her of all the dangers, had encouraged her to go to at least one party during her years at the university. Saying it was part of the “full college experience.”
“Sure,” she said, grabbing her keys. “Let me just freshen up a bit first.”
Aileen trudged across the campus green. Going to that party had been a bad idea. So many sweaty people crowded into such a tiny space was enough to turn anyone claustrophobic. It didn’t help that a bunch of dudes on a couch in one corner had been passing around a roll of something which filled the already stifling air with sickly sweet smoke. It wasn’t weed, she already knew what that smelled like, but Aileen still didn’t trust the obnoxious odor. At several points the mix of smoke and flashing lights made people in the crowd look like nothing but 3D shadows.
She’d been pretty much smooshed against one wall for nearly an hour until she managed to finally slip out. Of course, as she was exiting the party, she accidentally got a face full of smoke from that joint of unknown stuff. She didn’t pause to ask what it was.
Now she just wanted to get back to her dorm, shower, maybe chat with her friends a bit online, and head to bed so she could sleep in her cocoon of blankets till noon.
Night had fallen fast and the crisp autumn air was soothing against her skin. Little witches and candy corn ornaments decorated dorm windows and unlit jack-o-lanterns from the carving competition sat along the sides of walkways. The light posts scattered around campus afforded plenty of light to navigate by.
It was as she was passing under one of these light posts that a figure stepped in front of her. She froze. The person had seemingly appeared from nowhere and stood just beyond the reach of the light. Only its silhouette and black boots—just barely within the light—were visible. She assumed it was a man, since the person had very broad shoulders underneath a long trench coat and a square jawline below the fedora pulled low over his face. He was nearly seven feet tall and all the sounds of the night had quieted when he appeared. A sense of déjà vu wormed its way into the back of her mind.
Aileen slipped a hand into her pocket and gripped the small can of mace she always remembered to bring if she was going to be out past dark.
“C-can I help you?” she asked.
The man seemed to hesitate, but it was hard to tell. Finally, he spoke with a clear, deep voice that reminded her of a large church bell. “You need to be careful. You are in danger from something you can’t understand.”
“Uh-huh,” she said carefully, trying to shuffle around the man. He was obviously crazy. “Listen, I don’t want any trouble…”
“Then you should stop letting your daydreams guide your art,” he interrupted. “You may end up losing a part of yourself.”
“How do you…?” Anger flared in her core and she yanked out the can of mace, pointing it at his face. “Listen here, bucko, I have a can of pepper spray and I’m not afraid to use it. So just mind your own business and leave.”
He lunged forward into the light, grabbed her wrist, and pulled it down with iron strength. Aileen’s scream died in her throat as she stared at the man’s face, or rather his lack of a face.
The man was entirely black. Totally, completely black. An onyx at midnight in a cave could not have been as black as this man’s skin and clothes. Looking at any part of him felt like standing at the lip of a bottomless pit, and having his “face” this close was tantamount to being just inches away from a black hole. He had no eyes, no nose, no mouth, no ears, no anything on his head. It was a square-jawed obsidian bust that had never had its features sculpted.
“Sansh’n ‘lglith guides the hand,” he somehow recited without a mouth. “Sansh’n ‘lglith dyes it red. Sansh’n ‘lglith blinds the eye, Sansh’n ‘lglith eats all kinds. Sansh’n ‘lglith sleeps awake, Sansh’n ‘lglith never sates.”
That name, Sansh’n ‘lglith, seemed to strike her very soul every time it was repeated. A sledgehammer pounding into her sternum would have shaken her less. She felt the ground beneath her swaying like the deck of a ship and the world itself began to whisper. She couldn’t get enough air into her lungs and felt like she might faint.
Sansh’n ‘lglith wasn’t this thing’s name. It was the name of something much worse.
Finally getting her voice back, Aileen screamed, and yanked her hand back, pressing the top of the mace can and spraying wildly as she thrashed.
She didn’t break free. The man let her go. She stumbled out of his grip and bolted across campus to her dorm. She glanced back once to see the impossibly black figure looking after her from under the rays of the light post, a silhouette under full light. She turned away and ran like the hounds of hell were after her.
Aileen burst into her dorm and slammed the door firmly shut. She leaned against the wall and took deep breaths. It was several minutes before she stopped shivering uncontrollably.
Her first thought was to call the police, but the man had probably already run away. Besides, how could she explain what he looked like without their assuming she’d been taking mushrooms, or deciding to throw her in an insane asylum. As far as she could see, the only option would be to report the case to the main office, which didn’t open till eight o’clock tomorrow. Then she’d get herself some counseling sessions and try to figure out what had made her hallucinate like that.
Maybe it’d been something in the smoke. She had no idea what she’d accidentally inhaled at the party, how could she trust her own senses? How had she known that man wasn’t Sansh’n ‘lglith? Had he been giving her a threat or a warning? Maybe the beer fumes had affected her? Were those horror movies getting to her? Did spirits really come out around Halloween? Had she been getting enough sleep?
Sleep sounded good, but she was still too shaken to even think of closing her eyes. She needed something to relax her nerves.
Sitting at her desk, she pulled out her drawing pad and pencils. Letting her daydreams take over as she doodled helped her calm down whenever she felt high-strung. She was definitely high-strung right now.
Aileen brushed her pencil lead over the paper a few times to start the beginnings of a shape. Immediately her fluttering heart returned to a steadier beat. She let her subconscious take over and guide her hand. Nothing in her own creative mind could hurt her.
Soon, she’d finished the first draft of the piece. Her breathing had returned to normal, her heartbeats steadied fully, the hairs on the back of her neck had lain back down, and her shivers had dissipated completely. Finally, she allowed herself to see what she’d been drawing.
The piece was a stylized self-portrait in an angular, manga-esque design. It was what Aileen often wished she looked like. Long black hair hung in a stylishly messy way down to her mid-back. Her brown eyes were big and full of playful mischief. Casual but eye-catching black clothes covered her slender but strong body. She’d made several anime self-portraits of herself and her friends before, but there was something odd about this one.
In the picture, she’d drawn her left arm raised in a way so that her hand covered her mouth with the palm facing out. She didn’t remember drawing it like that and it looked wrong somehow. It wasn’t uncommon for her to draw certain body parts covering others. Many artists did this so they didn’t have to draw those limbs or features. The most common was when she and others drew long bangs covering one side of the face so there wouldn’t be a struggle in drawing two identical eyes.
However, the one thing she’d never done was cover up a character’s mouth. She’d never had problems drawing mouths or teeth, so she’d never had to resort to tricking an audience.
Still not liking how the hand covering her mouth looked, she suddenly had an idea. Sketching a few more lines, she drew a mouth with pointy teeth on the palm of her drawing’s hand. It created a nice bit of body horror.
Inspired now, Aileen started drawing more mouths on her manga self. If she was going with some body horror, she might as well go all out.
Her right hand drew up a frenzy of mouths and fangs. One on each knee, a couple along her shins and thighs. Another few down the inside of her left arm and one on either shoulder. It was turning into a nice piece for the Halloween season.
(Art provided by Isabella Villanueva)
She was about to start another mouth over her stomach to create a sense of gluttony when she used her left hand to adjust the paper and hold down one edge. There was a wetness along that part of the paper, which broke her out of her sketching trance. Frowning, she lifted her hand from the paper.
The paper beneath her hand had been stained red along the top left corner. How had that gotten there?
At that moment she heard the door to her dorm room opening behind her followed by her roommate’s slightly tipsy laughter. Suddenly the laughter changed into an earsplitting scream.
Aileen leapt out of her seat and promptly collapsed to the floor. She barely heard her own shrieks over the pain that lanced up her legs. Her head hit the ground hard and spots danced in front of her eyes.
Yet, past the pain and spotty vision, she could see her left palm, open toward her face where it had fallen with her. She couldn’t process what she was seeing at first. All she saw was a red oval. However, as her vision cleared, she saw that a chunk of flesh and muscle was missing from her hand, blood flowing freely.
Her stomach lurched at the gruesome sight and tears began to flow freely.
Cruel curiosity took hold and she looked at the rest of her left arm. It was covered in similar wounds, each looking as if a cannibal had taken large bites out of her flesh.
Aileen’s heart pounded in her ears. She barely registered the fact that Nella was kneeling next to her calling 911 or that a crowd was gathering in the doorway to her dorm. These wounds were all exactly where she’d drawn the mouths on her self-portrait. Impossible.
Pleading to every force in the universe, she looked down at her legs. Or—as she saw—what remained of her legs.
An entire range of ovular chunks had been torn from her thighs and shins. All that was left were grotesque pieces of muscle, sinew, and flesh that could have been pulled from a surrealist sculpture gallery. Tatters of what had been her jeans did little to cover the gore and were nearly soaked through with the blood pouring from her exposed veins.
Aileen wanted to scream, but her mind seemed to have forgotten how to. Her vision blurred again and the world spun like a circular saw. Her thoughts, her vision, her everything faded to black.
Rick yawned. He had the most boring patrol a security guard could have. Nothing ever happened at this part of the mall. Not even the druggies or the homeless cared much for this abandoned lot of unused construction equipment. It was all just a bunch of cinderblock bricks, scraps of wood, and the occasional scaffold or tarp.
He crossed his arms against the early winter chill and leaned against the wall.
This all might make for a nice parkour course, but the inside of the mall offered an actual free running gym to practice in, so nobody cared to look back here. Especially not on dreary, overcast days like this.
Rick couldn’t wait to go home and get back to watching his soap operas. Yeah, they were trash, but so was he.
A loud scraping noise shook him out of his ruminating. He glanced over at one of the piles of cinderblocks, the one closest to alley between two stores. It had sounded like someone had pulled one of the bricks off.
Clicking on his flashlight and stepping up to the pile, he saw there was definitely a space where one of the bricks had been. What’s more, he could hear faint scratching sounds coming from the alley.
Sighing, Rick stepped into the alley and shone his light down the dark corridor. There in the middle huddled a small figure in an oversized hooded parka, frantically scratching on the stolen cinderblock with a worn down pencil. Their left hand was wrapped in a thick, bloody bandage.
“Hey kid!” Rick called, walking towards the figure. “What the hell’re ya doin?”
The figure’s face shot up at the sound of his voice. She was a young woman, probably college age, with dark hair and eyes. He could just make out the white and red patch of another bloody piece of gauze wrapped around her neck.
At the sight of him she scrambled back, lugging the heavy cinderblock with her, concrete rasping against concrete.
“Stay back,” she warned, resuming her drawing but keeping an eye on him. “He hungers.”
Rick sighed. He had no idea what this kid was on, but he was gonna have to be the one to take care of it. Hopefully it wasn’t anything like that bath salts incident down in Florida, or that massacre at the hospital a week ago.
“Listen, kid,” he said, approaching more slowly and holding out his hands like he would to a stray dog, “I ain’t gonna hurt you. Just put down that brick and I’ll call your folks. If you ain’t got any folks I’ll drive ya to the shelter. How’s that sound?”
She shook her head frantically. “Can’t. It’d be like before. I can only hold his hunger back so long. He likes living things, but rocks and stuff can keep him at bay. But if I sleep, he’ll hunger again. I can’t be around people when that happens. I can’t.”
Her words were too structured. Her voice was scared, but it didn’t have that high pitched crack to it like insane people did in movies. She didn’t sound crazy, but she wasn’t making sense.
Suddenly he noticed she had stopped drawing.
Looking down…and what he saw didn’t make sense.
A big elliptical hole had appeared in the side of the brick. Where there had once been solid stone, there was nothing. All that was left was a mouth shaped hole, smoother than any power tool could make.
Meeting the girl’s eyes again, he saw deep sadness and regret.
“It’s not enough,” she said, her voice so dejected and without hope he thought she might start crying. “I’m sorry.”
Before he could ask why, he saw the bandages around her neck and hand begin to undulate. Then he saw other pulsing, snake-like movements from within her coat.
All he could was stare in horror as long, tapering tongues pushed aside the bandages to reveal ovular wounds just like the hole in the cinderblock. Teeth grew from the rims of the wounds and the muscle beneath the skin turned into abyssal caverns leading to nothing.
Rick felt a scream rise in his throat, but before it could escape, one of the tongues lashed forward and coiled like a noose around his neck. The only sound he could manage was a strangled gurgle.
With impossible, pulsing strength, the tongue pulled him toward the girl. Her hand with one of the mouth on it rose and clamped around his face in a vice grip. He could feel the razor sharp teeth beginning to tear into the flesh of his cheek. He struggled and prayed to every name he could think of, but he couldn’t get away.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed, looking away from his eyes.
Her hand slammed him against the ground and the tongues swarmed him, pulling his body to their mouths.
Aileen could do nothing as her curse tore the man apart. Having to press herself against him for the mouths to reach, she felt his every one of his desperate struggles. She felt him convulse as he tried to get away. She felt his chest rise and fall with each desperate breath. She felt and heard every heart beat as it thrummed in his veins.
She felt everything, just as she had with the others. First the hospital, then the cats in the alleys, and now this poor security guard.
They all struggled. They all fought to the last. But none of it mattered. They were less than nothing compared to him. For him, this was as easy as biting into a carrot: some resistance, but nothing substantial.
Finally, after far too long, the security guard gave his final twitch and the mouths finished their meal. All that was left were a few scraps of clothing and a couple splashes of blood the tongues hadn’t lapped up.
The mouths retracted and disappeared, leaving her with a dozen bleeding holes again. She snatched up the remains of the security guard’s clothes and began wrapping her bandages again.
As she did, the chant rose unbidden to her lips once more. Some part of her, desperately wishing she had listened to the man who gave her the warning, bade her repeat the words once more:
Sansh’n ‘lglith guides the hand
Sansh’n ‘lglith dyes it red
Sansh’n ‘lglith blinds the eye
Sansh’n ‘lglith eats all kinds
Sansh’n ‘lglith sleeps awake
Sansh’n ‘lglith never sates