Web Shorts | Horror

Rotten

by Jeb Bohn

short horror stories

short horror stories

I can’t sleep. Well, that’s not entirely true; I can sleep, but I’m terrified of what I’ll find when I wake up. I know this won’t make sense to you—there’s really no way it can, but I need to tell my story. Maybe it will make me feel better; I doubt it, but I’m willing to try anything at this point. Christ, I’m rambling.

Okay, deep breath; get your shit together.

Saturday—three days ago, three fucking days—I woke up with the worst headache I’ve ever had. I’m not being hyperbolic; I could barely open my eyes, and every sliver of light set off a kettle drum in my temples. The sound of my calloused heels scratching against the bedsheet filled the air with the intensity of a dozen air horns. A mixture of ibuprofen and acetaminophen didn’t make a dent in the pain. It was like trying to puncture a brick wall with a plastic butter knife.

I tried to think of what I could have consumed that left me in this state. I went on a date Friday night—finally asked Susan out—and it was an absolute success. My idea was seafood; she recommended a new steakhouse. I gave in and, after the best cut of meat I’ve ever eaten, I took her home. We talked about a second date and closed the evening with a kiss.

There were no signs of illness when I got home; I was so high on endorphins that I stayed awake until five. I tried to sleep at one point, but my neighbor insisted on playing his stereo full-blast all night like a fucking asshole. As a matter of fact, I first thought that was the source of the headache. Once hours of relative silence passed and the pulsing misery persisted, I knew something else was wrong. Goddamnit, I can’t even focus thanks to this.

Unable to think clearly, I lined the bed with bottles of water, a sleeve of saltines, and a pharmacy’s worth of pain relievers. Before I knew it, Saturday bled into Sunday and my metamorphosis continued. The headache remained, though its severity lessened. My energy dwindled, making the short walk to the bathroom feel equal to hiking Mount Everest. By the time I reached the sink, white spots danced across my eyes and my lungs burned.

Then, I looked into the mirror; I may as well have been staring at a stranger.

My face—never the most handsome—had become gaunt, the skin stretched across it gray. We’re not talking Dawn of the Dead levels, but the pale peach tone had faded into something more closely resembling a corpse. Obsidian black bags ringed my eyes, puffed out nearly an inch from their normal locale. The whites of my eyes shone a silvery blue, the capillaries an electric red, almost glowing; the irises and pupils were barely visible. A crimson fluid oozed from the corner of my mouth.

Panicked, I burst out of the bathroom. My legs refused the energy I requested, spilling me against the wall and leaving a nasty hole in the sheetrock. My brain, exercising self-preservation, forwarded a single thought, delivered with the desperation of a dehydrated man dying in the desert sun: 911.

With every inch of my resolve, I pushed myself up, regained an unsteady base, and headed back toward the bedroom. An odd sensation began trickling up my throat, beginning as little more than a tickle before sandpaper fingers grasped my trachea. Another five feet and I would have made it to the phone; I couldn’t. A coughing fit overwhelmed me and drove me to my knees as a fine mist exploded from my lips. Something small and solid rested on my tongue; disgusted, I spit onto the comforter.

It was a tooth.

I reached for it with a trembling hand. Why—after everything else—this gave me the shakes, I’ll never know. I raised the item to get a better look; I wish I hadn’t. The surface, riddled with tiny holes, bore closer resemblance to a sponge than a tooth. I held it up in the glimmer of a bedside lamp and observed the light pouring through the cavities.

My tongue flicked across my remaining teeth and found a coarse surface in place of smooth enamel. Ignoring my earlier spill, I scurried to the bathroom as my heartbeat throbbed in my head. The sink squeaked in my grip. Anxiety battled terror as I searched for the will to open my mouth.

No.

Each tooth looked as though some tiny carpenter went on a meth binge before picking up a drill. A cloud of white dust drifted downward, propelled by my breath. One by one, they began fracturing. Pressure built before they burst, bits of bone rattling into the sink; the air grew dank with the scent of sulfur. Despite the incredible pain, this wasn’t the worst of it.

An army of snakes slithered through my flesh, locked in a race toward my head. I squeezed my face in my hands and screamed; thin, fleshy tendrils crawled through my gums, occupying the space vacated by my choppers. They flailed wildly in the air, thrashing around and smacking against the mirror. To my fevered mind, they looked like the tube men you see at car dealerships would look if powered by a jet engine.

I realized I was still screaming when a rat came running out from behind the toilet. By the time my eyes registered it, a half-dozen of the tendrils darted across the bathroom and speared the poor bastard. A wet squelch echoed off the tile; the coils were draining the animal and pulling everything into me.

Or something inside me.

Whatever happened, it eased the pain. It didn’t disappear completely, but it became barely perceptible. The sound of scratching drew my attention to the wall; there were more rats. The thing controlling me drove me to the corner, close to the source of the commotion. With no conscious input, my fists slammed through the drywall and into the void behind.

I didn’t feel a thing as small, sharp teeth gouged the flesh on my palms. The tendrils shot out again, disappearing into the darkness before returning with three angry rats. Again, the tendrils sucked them dry from the inside in a bizarre spectacle: their midsections sagged inward before their ribs snapped. Their eyes fell back and popped deep into their skulls where the tendrils liquified them. As the feeding concluded, we tossed aside the limp carcasses; they fell to the floor like dirty socks.

The creature inside, however, wasn’t satiated; the rats were hors d’oeuvres.

Almost as if answering some macabre prayer, a banging came at my door. It was my shithead neighbor, yelling about the racket. Yes, the same jerkoff who played dubstep at an obnoxious volume at three in the morning couldn’t handle my impromptu remodeling. The tendrils read my mind—or perhaps planted the idea—and withdrew into my gums, allowing me to speak. I told him to go fuck himself, knowing exactly how he would respond and what would happen when he did.

Just as I expected, he kicked in the door and began shouting threats. A tendril shot out, flicked off the light, and retracted, all in less than a second. I called out, beckoning him to the bathroom; his footsteps came fast and heavy, stopping as he reached the doorway. He stood there, staring into the darkness, his breathing growing louder by the second. Slowly, like a big cat stalking a gazelle, tendrils began sliding out of their hiding places and eyeing their prey.

They waited patiently. When he opened his mouth, they struck.

I couldn’t see much, but I felt everything. They bored down his throat, ripping through soft tissue before branching off. One penetrated his heart; two others shared his lungs. Once they violated every organ, they pumped a viscous fluid in to break the tissue down. After that, they slurped a jackass slurry into me, into the thing inside.

The last of the pain evaporated, not even mild discomfort remained. Energy surged through me, a simultaneous release of endorphins and adrenaline. I felt like a god; it was beautiful and even glimpsing myself in the mirror didn’t diminish the feeling. That euphoria carried me through an entire day, twenty-four hours of pure bliss.

That brings us to today. The pain is back, double what it was before. We found a lone rat, but that’s not enough to sustain us. The creature’s been trying to get me to go outside, to hunt. So far, I’ve been able to fight it; pretty soon I’ll be too weak.

The apartment building is rife with opportunity, after all. There’s the elderly couple at the end of the hall, the stoners on the third floor, and the single mother on the fifth. She and her four kids. I don’t like these thoughts but, truth be told, they don’t repulse me the way they did a day ago.

Now my phone’s ringing again. I think this is the twelfth time today, and I’m pretty confident that ten were my boss. We wouldn’t mind eating that son of a bitch, would we? Hey, now, perhaps I can lure him over. Worth a shot, since the worst he can do is fire me, and, well, I have much bigger issues to contend with, don’t I?

“Hello?” I could feel the tendrils getting excited at the possibility of another human treat.

“Robert?” 

Jesus, it’s Susan.

“Y-yeah, it’s me. Sorry I haven’t called you. I think I’ve got a stomach bug.”

“Are you sure that’s all it is? You sound terrible. Can I bring you anything?”

The corners of my ruined mouth curved upward. “Nah, I couldn’t ask you to do that. You don’t have to bring me anything.”

“Don’t be a dummy, I don’t mind.”

Of course you don’t; you’re an angel and a saint. That’s what originally drew me to you. Now, I’m going to use it for my own means, which are considerably different from our date.

“Tell you what,” she said. “I’ll bring crackers and ginger ale. Maybe we can watch a movie, if you feel up to it.”

“Thank you, Susan. We can’t wait to see you.”

“We? Are you having a party without me?”

“I’m sorry, I’m just out of it.”

“Don’t apologize. Rest up and I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

The pain’s coming back. There’s one way to ease it. I don’t want to do it; I need to do it. Worse yet, this won’t be the end. In twenty-four hours, we’ll have to find another meal. We’ll bleed this building dry. Then, the landlord will show up to take stock of who the hell is still alive.

Eventually, the cops will come in and they’ll find us and no one else, just a stack of empty bodies. I suppose we’ll eat them too. It will be a feast.

The tendrils are writing again; they sense something.

“Robert?” 

It’s Susan. She’s here. I swear I just felt a tear drop from my eye, but it’s gone. The hunger is the only thing left.

“Come in, the door is unlocked.” The tendrils emerged, dancing in anticipation. “I’m in the kitchen.”

If you enjoyed Rotten, check out these longer-form horror stories:

Strange Skies

Strange Skies

July 17, 1987.

A typical summer day in Bisbee, Arizona, is rolling along. The weather is beautiful, providing a picturesque backdrop for hikers, tourists, and everyone else lucky enough to be around.

As dusk falls and people settle into their evening routines, a large thunderstorm rolls in without warning. Unfortunately for the town’s residents, it’s bringing much more than just rain and lightning.

Random Synapse Misfire, Vol. One

Step into a world where everything is just a little bit…off.

An industrial accident sickens the residents of a small Kansas town; the remaining citizens soon face a darker fate…

A small group of criminals learn of a home filled with valuables. With the family out of town, it promises to be easy pickings. Unfortunately for them, some things are too good to be true…

A sparsely populated ferry off North Carolina’s Outer Banks is about to experience a macabre event at sea. Will anyone survive to tell the tale?

Random Synapse Misfire, Vol. Two

Three more tales from a world in limbo.

A man on a cross-country road trip see high beams in his rearview. Unable to shake the aggressive driver, he soon learns this is no ordinary case of road rage…

An accident snarls traffic on a busy interstate. First responders quickly flee, confusing the travelers until an EAS broadcast sheds light on their situation…

A writer wakes up and quickly realizes something is wrong. His neighborhood is empty, except for a kind old man who seems to know exactly what is going on…