Friday, August 1, 2014


Genre: Horror/Science Fiction

By Daniel Skye


            Bartending does have its advantages. Just ask Dylan Ford.
            The hours are flexible, it gives you the opportunity to socialize and make new friends, and taking home a handful of tips every night comes in handy when you’re broke and waiting on your paycheck.
            But like any job, bartending has its downsides.
            For Dylan, the most dreadful aspect of his occupation was dealing with the rude, surly customers who didn’t tip or would go crazy when he tried to cut them off if they had too much. That was a judgment call Dylan loathed being the one to make, but it was all part of the job.
            In addition to the cheapskates who refused to tip and the lushes who tried to put up a fight when Dylan cut them off, he also had to contend with a series of oddball customers and elderly drunks who thought of him not as a bartender, but an unlicensed therapist who worked for tips.
            They’d come in and vent their frustrations, bitch about their jobs or their wives, share personal details you could only share in the company of a stranger you’d likely never see again.
            Then there were the regular drunks like Bobby Mac that always gave Dylan a chuckle. Cross-eyed Bobby Mac used to brag about the fact that he hadn’t missed a day of work in twenty years. Never showed up late, never called in sick. Twenty years of perfect attendance.
            He’d tell Dylan this every night he strolled in to Murphy’s Pub for a pint. Then he’d roll up his sleeve and flex his flabby bicep in a sad attempt to show Dylan what, if anything, comes from twenty straight years of hard work and dedication. But it wasn’t like Bobby was working steel mills or construction sites. He was a janitor for the parks department.
            But Dylan still reveled in his drunken yarns. But his favorite customer was his buddy, Rey. Rey was a generous tipper and anytime he stayed ‘til last call, he’d help clean the place up after Dylan sent the bar flies on their way and locked the doors.
            It was a dreary night back in October of 2013 that Rey stopped in ten minutes to three for a quick pint. He stayed behind as usual when Dylan locked the doors and grabbed a broom, helped sweep and then mop the floors while Dylan tended to the bathrooms. That was one job Rey never volunteered for.
            “You’ve gotta see this,” Dylan shouted from the men’s room. The door was wedged open and Rey walked over to see Dylan hunched over the toilet.
            “Is there a reason your face is mere inches away from that disgusting bowl?” Rey asked. “You gonna throw up or something?”
            “Look,” Dylan said, not altering his position. Rey leaned forward and saw the object of Dylan’s interest.
            “Yuck,” Rey remarked. “Somebody left a floater. Stop staring and flush the damn thing.”
            “I don’t think that’s a floater, Rey. It’s…it’s moving. Pulsing like a maggot.”
            Rey moved in for a closer look. The small, nearly microscopic worm was crawling its way up the bowl. But this didn’t resemble any ordinary earthworm. This worm was black, it pulsed with every movement and left a clear trail of smile in its path like a slug.
            “Who was the last person to use the bathroom?” Rey asked.
            “Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure it was Bobby Mac.”
            “What the hell is it?”
            “I don’t have the slightest clue. It looks kinda like a worm. But it doesn’t move like a worm. It could be a parasite.”
            “Hey, what’s the name of that science geek you pal around with? Langford?”
            “Langstrom. Harrison Langstrom. Why?”
            “Maybe he’d know what it is.”
            “It’s possible. Tell you what, there’s a mason jar behind the bar with cherries in it. Empty the jar and bring it in here.”
            As Rey went to fetch the jar, Dylan stood up straight and glared at the yellow restroom sign that read: Servers, wash your hands after using the restroom to ensure the health and safety of your patrons. Patrons, wash your hands to ensure your health and the health of your friends and family.
            The sign was laminated, but easy to remove from the wall. He pulled the sign from the wall and used it to gingerly scoop the black worm up from the bowl. It crawled slowly across the yellow sign as Dylan held it straight, waiting for Rey to return.
            When he did, Dylan positioned the jar and gently tilted the sign, watching the worm slide down into the jar. He sealed the lid on the jar and wiped the ooze the worm had left on the sign with a bar rag and hung it back on the wall.
            “You should poke tiny holes in the lid,” Rey suggested. “So it doesn’t suffocate. We don’t even know what this thing really is, how it breathes, what it eats. It could die overnight inside there.”
            “Good point,” Dylan said, taking Rey’s suggestion when he arrived home with the jar in hand. He poked several small holes in the top and let it sit overnight.
By morning, the black worm had ceased movement. It looked all shriveled and dried out. He shook the jar lightly and saw there were still signs of life in this enigmatic creature.
            Without so much as a phone call, he rushed straight to Harrison Langstrom’s place and pounded on the door until it opened.
            “Dylan, what the hell?” Harrison muttered. “It’s eight in the morning. Some people like to sleep more than six or seven hours, you know?”
            “I’m sorry, but I have something that might interest you. And it couldn’t wait.”
            “Come in, I guess,” Harrison said, holding the door open. He didn’t notice the jar until Dylan was inside his house. “What in God’s name is that thing?”
            “I was hoping you could tell me. Rey and I found this in the pub last night. It was snaking its way up the toilet of the men’s room. I took it home last night and it seemed to get sick overnight. It was moving like crazy last night. Now it hardly moves at all.”
            “I’ll run some tests,” Harrison assured him. “As soon as I’ve had my coffee.”
* * *
            It took Harrison a day to reach any kind of verdict before he summoned Dylan to his house for a conference.
            “What’d you find out?” Dylan asked as he entered. Harrison closed the door and didn’t speak above a whisper.
            “I confirmed a number of things,” he began as Dylan took a seat on the couch. “The worm is definitely an organism, a life force of some kind. Just unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. I did some research, consulted a few textbooks, and couldn’t find anything useful. I’ve also discovered our little friend is a pelagic organism, a sea dweller. I conducted some tests and water seems to garner a positive reaction. It increased its movement and seems to be doing everything in its power to escape from its new habitat. I put it in a small tank I used for my snake before he died. Don’t worry, it can’t escape. There’s a mesh lid at the top. It’s way too big to squeeze through.”
            “What else?” Dylan asked.
            “Nothing. The thing is an anomaly. No one’s ever seen or heard of anything like it before. We might be looking at a new species here. But there’s a variable I can’t detect. I’m working on the theory that this organism might be a parasite. If I’m right, it would eventually need a host in order to continue to survive. You said you found it in the toilet?”
            “Yeah,” Dylan confirmed.
            “Who was the last person to use the bathroom?”
            “One of our regular customers. A guy named Bobby Mac.”
            “Then you need to find this man. If this thing somehow came from him, he could be in danger. Parasites can be very damaging to the body.”
            “I don’t know his address. But I know he works for the parks department.”
            “Well, that’s an excellent place to start.”
* * *
            Dylan Ford consulted the parks department. But they informed him Bobby hadn’t shown up for work that day. In fact, Bobby never even called in to let them know he wouldn’t be there. And Dylan knew that didn’t sound like Bobby Mac to him.
He inquired about Bobby’s address, but the manager stonewalled him, refusing to release an employee’s private information over the phone. So Dylan had to get creative.
He called Alex, the owner of Murphy’s Pub, and told him the cops turned up at his doorstep asking questions about Bobby Mac. Said they were looking for him and they needed his address. Alex hit the panic button immediately. He hadn’t renewed his liquor license in almost two years, and he couldn’t have the cops poking their nose around his business. He coughed up Mac’s address right away and told him to forward the information to the police for him.
Alex said he didn’t want anything to do with the cops, just as Dylan had suspected. His plan worked like a charm. Now armed with Bobby’s address, he set out to warn him of any impending dangers to his health.
But Bobby refused to answer the front door when Dylan arrived. He could hear movement from inside the house, feet shuffling past the foyer. But the door never budged.
“Come on, Bobby,” Dylan shouted, pounding his fist against the door. “I know you’re in there. I can hear you moving around. It’s an emergency.”
“I missed a day of work,” Bobby muttered from behind the door. “First time in twenty years.” He sounded gloomy, saddened. The sound of a broken man.
“Bobby, please open the door,” Dylan persisted. “I need to talk to you.”
Dylan heard the snap of the lock and the door creaked open a few inches. Dylan nudged it forward and saw Bobby shuffling past the foyer with his back turned to him, a robe draped over his body.
As Dylan passed the threshold, the soles of his sneakers met a sticky, unpleasant substance that nearly glued his feet to the floor. Dylan gasped as he laid eyes on the trail of slime that Bobby had left in his path.
“Bobby where’d you go?”
“In the living room. I’m not so sure you wanna see this, kid.”
Dylan took a deep breath and steeled himself for any horrors that waited. Walking across the sticky floor, he kept telling himself to pretend he was just inside a movie theater. That’s what the gummy floors reminded him of anyway. And it was easier to just write this off as imagination.
But nothing could prepare him for what he was about to see.
Dylan averted his eyes the second he moved to the living room and saw that Bobby Mac had discarded his robe.
His skin was dry and cracked, oozing puss from every slit. And his eyes…green as the skin of a lizard. In fact, his entire body was starting to resemble the appearance of a reptile. When Dylan dared look again, he realized the skin wasn’t just cracking. It was slowly peeling away to reveal a new layer of skin hiding beneath. And this new skin was riddled with green and yellow scales.
“I think I’m sick,” Bobby mumbled, his voice changing along with his skin.
“I think it’s more complicated than that,” Dylan said, cupping his hand over his mouth to stifle an imminent scream. Bobby turned away in despair, and Dylan gulped at the sight of the newest horrific discovery. Something green, long, and scabby was protruding from his backside.
He was sprouting a tail.


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