Star Snot

📅 Published on September 28, 2020

“Star Snot”

Written by Nick Carlson
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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The moon hung heavy overhead through a striated bank of clouds, and even though it was a weeknight, the Levine family was gathered on the front lawn, necks craning up and peering into the sky. The meteor shower was due to start at any minute – at least according to Simon, who had informed them of it at the dinner table that evening. A round of smooth-talking and extra chores had convinced Travis and Monica to let them all stay up late to catch a glimpse of the show. But as the hour of eleven dragged on, Travis was growing impatient. They all had work or school in the morning, and even Simon, despite his excitement, was beginning to show signs of fatigue.

“Was that a yawn, Simon?” Monica asked, seeing a hand approach his mouth.

“Nope!” he chirped, snapping his arms to his side. “I’m…” He stiffened for a moment in a feeble attempt to hide a yawn. “…awake.”

“We’re not staying out here much longer, Simon,” said Travis. “Besides, it’s only going to get cloudier as the night goes on. We might not even see anything tonight.”

“It’ll happen, it has to,” Simon asserted.

“Too bad you’ve got bedtime,” said Morgan out the side of her mouth.

“You’ve got school too, young lady, don’t think you’re getting off,” Monica chided. Morgan merely rolled her eyes, evidently annoyed at being addressed as “young lady” at eighteen.

“Five more minutes, Simon,” Travis announced, checking his watch. His eyelids were drooping with tiredness. No celestial event was worth eschewing his sleep schedule before the morning shift at the lumber mill.

Simon merely sighed and looked back up.

The moon dimmed and brightened again as clouds passed across it. The stars glimmered and were as expansive as ever, but otherwise the sky was motionless.

“Alright, everyone…let’s head in,” said Travis, tapping his watch. Simon groaned and slumped, trudging back towards the front door. Monica put her hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright, honey, maybe you’ll see some tomorrow night,” she assured. Simon only continued to pout.

“Wait, look!” Morgan shouted, pointing. The Levines stopped and looked up. At first there was nothing. Then a single faint, whitish-blue dot streaked across the sky. A moment later, another followed, then two more. They lingered for a minute longer, watching the ephemeral tails zip in and out of being.

“Pretty,” Monica commented.

“That’s awesome,” said Simon. “Thanks for letting me stay up, Dad.”

“You’re welcome,” said Travis, stifling a yawn of his own. He followed his family up the front steps, his bones aching with the desire to lie down and drift off.

The screen door rattled open and Slim, their Weimaraner, bounded out the door into the night. “Oh no, get the dog!” Monica called.

“I got it, honey,” said Travis, and the family shoved their way inside, the door snapping shut. Travis cursed the dog under his breath and trotted after him. Slim’s glossy gray coat gleamed in the moonlight, but he was a mindless animal once he got outside; he’d run and run and only come home when he felt like it.

“Slim! Get back here! Slim!” Travis attempted to round him off but the dog sidestepped with the grace of a deer and galloped across the front lawn, down the slope toward the main road. “No! Slim! You dumb dog!” The cool air pumped energy back into Travis’s muscles as he ran, and he subconsciously regretted that he might not get any sleep at all that night.

The blue darkness suddenly burned orange, and a caustic sizzling erupted in the sky above. Both Slim and Travis slid to a stop as a veritable fireball the luminosity of a streetlight plummeted through the atmosphere. Slim’s tail tucked between his legs and he emitted a whining howl, the meteor reflected in his eyes. It split into three parts as it rocketed above the treeline and dissipated entirely.

Only a thick plume of star smoke remained, slicing through the clouds like a jetstream.

Travis, snapping out of his trance, drew up to Slim and grabbed him by the collar, herding him back to the house. “Come on inside, dumb dog,” Travis growled. Slim didn’t pull away, but he took tentative steps, lagging behind his master, still frightened. “It’s alright, Slim,” said Travis, his voice softening. “Come on now…”

After what felt like way too long, Travis finally opened the door and the dog practically scampered inside, retreating to the living room to hide. Travis glanced up at the smoke trail, which was beginning to break up in the wind. “That really was pretty,” he muttered, lumbering upstairs to bed.

* * * * * *

It was cloudy the next morning, and even with his usual cup of coffee, Travis thought he hadn’t blinked all the sleep out of his eyes as he peered out the window. It was dismal and gray outside courtesy of the overcast weather, and a knot pressed above his left eye from the low barometric pressure. He took a sip from his mug, lamenting that mornings like this couldn’t be spent back in bed. Wiping mist off the glass, he looked down at the front lawn. Regardless of the weather, a flock of a dozen little brown birds would typically show up in the early mornings, pecking at seeds and bugs tangled in the grass.

Travis set his coffee down and rubbed his eyes, focusing harder on the lawn. There were things on his lawn for sure, but there were hundreds of them…silvery, motionless orbs that resembled mushrooms, except shiny and bright, more liquid than solid. He stared at them, more awakened than coffee could have done. Dew, or something, he assumed. Doesn’t look like any dew I’ve ever seen though…

Travis checked the clock and realized with a start he had to get moving. He made for the linen closet and took his work clothes off their hangers, slipping into them. Ready to go, he stepped outside into the chilly morning, but not without stopping and examining one of the strange blobs up close. They seemed as though someone or something had simply dolloped them onto the grass with an ice cream scooper. He poked one with the tip of his boot and it stuck to the toe like melted wax. Grimacing, Travis wiped it off on the grass and turned to be on his way – only to step directly on another one, which flattened and spread over his sole. “Oh for shit’s sake,” he spat, stepping over them on his way to the road the way one steps over goose crap at the park.

Drawing to the main road, he scraped it off the bottom of his shoe, catching a pungent, bleach-like odor. For once he was eager to get to the mill, assuming that one of his coworkers might know what exactly had decided to infest his lawn overnight.

* * * * * *

Upon arriving home that afternoon, Travis saw that the globs hadn’t yet disappeared from his lawn. Definitely not dew, he concluded. His family was standing around the dinner table as he entered the kitchen.

“Travis, what on Earth is that stuff on the lawn?” said Monica.

“It looks like someone squirted shampoo everywhere!” said Simon.

“Smells like one of those awful trees that blooms in the spring,” said Morgan.

“I have no idea,” Travis replied, sitting down at the table. He looked up at them, still standing and staring at him. He gestured for them to join him. “I asked around at work though,” he said over the sound of creaking chairs. “Didn’t get a solid answer. Some said it was dead frogs, others say it was slime mold…Johnson said it was aliens. ‘Course, Johnson thinks everything is aliens.”

“But I’ve never even heard of anything like that before,” said Monica, passing around a plate of cornbread.

“And it came after the meteor shower!” Simon added.

“I did mention that,” said Travis, grabbing a piece and dishing himself some beef stew. “Another guy at work then chimed in and suggested it was something called ‘star jelly.’ Whatever that is.”

“‘Star jelly?’” Monica parroted.

“That’s a cool name,” said Simon. “Though it was less like jelly and more like snot. Star snot. The shooting stars sneezed all over our lawn and showered us with star snot.”

“Eww,” Morgan grumbled, stirring her stew.

“Well, hopefully it’ll be gone by tomorrow morning,” said Travis, starting on his dinner. “It’s scaring all those little birds away. They don’t like it that much either. Guess that’s one thing we have in common.”

“Congrats, Dad. You’re on the same wavelength as birds,” said Morgan. The family broke out in laughter.

* * * * * *

It didn’t go away overnight. Perturbed, Travis stepped outside earlier than normal to survey the extent of the spread. To his surprise, he noticed the substance clinging to tree branches and roots, and he nearly gasped when he saw more glutinous orbs adhered to the side of his house. Whether he had overlooked them or they had multiplied overnight, he didn’t know.

Regardless, the “star snot” had transcended from a curiosity to a concern, and the thought of it stuck to his brain as he powered through another day of work. He was sloppy and uncoordinated at the mill, wondering if he would find his lawn yellowed and dying from exposure to the substance. Then there was the uncertainty of it all, worrying about if there even was anything to worry about. I just wish I knew, he rued, clocking out for the day after a reprimand from his supervisor.

He came home that afternoon to an even more unpleasant scene.

“Look at this,” Monica snapped as he walked through the front door, holding out a severe-looking slip of paper. His brow furrowing, he took it and skimmed through it.

“Out-of-school suspension?” he read. “Simon, what is this!”

Simon was cowering on the couch, his head dipped with remorse. “I just brought a little bit and showed it around…”

“Apparently,” Monica cut in, “Simon thought it was a good idea to scoop some of that stuff in a freaking Mason jar and bring it into school today. He was getting all his classmates to smell it!”

“Simon! What the Hell were you thinking?” Travis shouted. “You don’t know what that stuff is! It might be toxic, or contain spores or something! What made you think that was a good idea?”

Simon opened his mouth to respond, but Monica drowned him out. “And one of his classmates thought that he had…” She lowered her voice so only he could hear. “…semen…in the jar, and reported it to the principal. Of course Simon couldn’t prove that it wasn’t that because he had no idea what it was, so now, he’s got suspension!”

“Oh, smart move, kid,” Travis groaned, rolling his eyes. “Well I know how you’re spending your Saturday tomorrow, and that’s helping us get rid of all that shit off our lawn. Whatever it is, it’s caused nothing but trouble and it’s gotta go.”

“Can I at least save some?” Simon pleaded.

“Absolutely not.”

“But that stuff might not show up again until the next meteor shower! What if -”

“I don’t want to hear any more of this. Now go upstairs, you’re grounded for the rest of the night.”

“But -”

“No more!”

“But I -”


* * * * * *

The Levines rose bright and early the next morning to get to work, but as they scanned the lawn, shivering against the cold, they openly speculated how they would even go about cleaning up the star snot. It would not easily detach from the grass, and the globs were too far spread apart to gather them en masse. After a brief, heated discussion, they settled on using shovels and Slim’s pooper-scooper to deposit them into trash bags.

It was slow, tedious work. The lawn was big and despite their agreed-upon fix, the star snot refused to cooperate. The only exciting thing that happened was Slim getting out once again and attempting to eat some of the star snot; the sight of Travis carrying him back to the house under one arm gave them some lick of amusement. Only when the sun was beating overhead around noon did Travis finally straighten up and call it a day. Streaks of shiny gray still permeated in the grass, but they seemed to subconsciously agree that the stuff most likely wouldn’t come back. At least, that’s what they hoped.

Monica had gone inside early to prepare brunch, and as Travis, Morgan, and Simon finally shuffled in, the smell of homemade quiche clashed unpalatably with that of soil and sweat. They managed to scarf down a slice each before being sent upstairs to shower. Simon was directed straight to his room afterward.

“You think we’re being too harsh with him?” Monica asked up in their bedroom, as she slipped her husband’s sweaty shirt off, handing him a wet rag.

“No,” Travis grunted, wiping down his shoulders and forehead. “We have no idea what that stuff even is. I’m just glad it’s not coming back as far as I know.”

“Well, you feel fine, don’t you? What if it really is just some kind of weird fungus or whatever your coworkers said it was?”

Travis shrugged, brushing moisture out of his eyes. “Guess we’ll find out. Besides, it’s not so much what Simon brought in, as it is him not thinking about what he was doing. Kid needs to learn.”

Monica pursed her lips, but didn’t say any more.

Unclothed, Travis stepped into the shower, shuddering from the cool water running down his back. Something more than water crawled off his arm, and he opened his eyes to see a nugget of star snot splat onto the shower floor and slide toward the drain. He caught a whiff of that acrid, suggestive smell again.

Away with you, he thought, closing his eyes again. For good.

* * * * * *

Sunday morning Travis looked out onto his lawn again, pleased to see that no more star snot had bloomed overnight. The sight of untouched green had never before filled him with such relief. And as he watched a handful of little brown birds descended from above to land on the grass. He smiled, sipping his coffee again.

“Come on, we don’t want to be late!” Monica called out, arriving downstairs in her Sunday finest.

“Al-right, Mom, sheesh!” Morgan’s sleepy called back.

“I swear, that girl hit eighteen and became the living dead,” she muttered, joining her husband by the window. “Oh look, the birds are back.”

“Song sparrows,” said Travis. “You can tell by the barring on their chests.”

A brief pause followed this proclamation.  “…how did you know that? Do we have a bird book or something?” Monica asked, bemused.

“I…” Travis felt at a loss for words. “…I don’t know, actually.”

His wife stared at him, a slight smile on her face. “Maybe you knew all along and it just came back to you.”

Simon came down from the stairs at that moment, also dressed in his Sunday finest – a miracle by his standards. His brown suit jacket was clean and pressed, and his red tie had been knotted perfectly. “Simon, you…you look great,” said Monica, eyeing him up and down.

“Thanks, Mom,” he said, in a tone that was low, yet awake. “Have to look my best for Mass. I heard at school that missing church is like missing a wedding.”

His mother’s smile dipped a little. “…Simon, what’s wrong with your eyebrows?”

“Nothing,” he said a little too quickly, pretending to busy himself with his cuffs.

“Let me see,” she fussed, bending down and swiveled him towards her. “Simon, were you plucking the hairs out of your eyebrows?”

Travis turned and saw that his son’s eyebrows were patchy and asymmetrical, stripes of mismatched pale skin poking between the remaining hairs. “Simon,” Monica continued, “why did you do this to yourself?”

“I don’t know,” he said with a half-shrug.

“Well stop doing it,” she urged, brushing Simon’s brow. “Hopefully they’ll grow back by the time you get back to school. You don’t want to look like you have mange.”

“Please, don’t touch them,” he said, recoiling from her. He turned and retreated out of sight to the living room.

His parents stared after him. “What was that about?” Monica finally said.

“Probably trying to butter us up by dressing nice,” said Travis. “And kids pluck their eyebrows to get attention. Don’t let up on him.”

“I still think we were too harsh,” she asserted.

“We can’t let up,” he repeated sharply. “Just follow through with it. This weirdness will go away once his punishment is over with.”

Morgan came downstairs next, her church getup the same one from the week before. “Really, Morgan, don’t you have any other outfits?” said Monica.

Morgan said something that came out as a yawn and a few monosyllabic grunts.

Monica sighed. “Well, go feed the dog and let’s go.”

Morgan peered into the kitchen where Slim’s food bowl was. “It’s still full from yesterday,” she reported.

“Huh. Slim!” Monica called. “Come here, boy!” The dog didn’t respond. “He’ll eat when he gets hungry,” she said. “Come on, Simon, we have to go.”

Simon emerged silently from the living room and joined the rest of his family. As he passed by, Travis noticed a spot of whiteness on his scalp. He gritted his teeth and led them out the door. Whatever Simon’s scheme was, he had to learn it wouldn’t work a second time.

* * * * * *

Slim’s food bowl remained untouched. The Levines called out to him when they arrived home from church, scouring the house, until Morgan found him in a most unlikely place.

“Slim’s up here!” she yelled.

The others pounded up the stairs after her. “Where was he?” Monica said. But as they stepped onto the landing, they got their answer in the form of the attic door wide open, its ladder deployed onto the floor. Morgan’s head poked from the opening in the ceiling, wearing a mask of confusion.

“What on Earth?” said Monica. “Did he get the door open or something?”

“No, it was closed when I got here,” said Morgan.

“Did you hear him or something?”

“No…I just…” A dark cloud passed over Morgan’s face. “…I just felt like I had to come up here.”

They looked around at each other. Simon cocked his head, staring up at the ceiling. They climbed the ladder in silence, piling into the attic.

Slim had retreated to the far corner, shying away from the shaft of light pouring through the window; they had to squint their eyes to see him. He seemed motionless, and they could make out his stance: head lowered, one paw raised, tail between his legs.

“Slim, what’s the matter? Come here boy,” Travis beckoned, holding out his hand. Slim turned his head but remained still, his periwinkle eyes fixated on Travis. They almost seemed accusing.

Travis snapped his fingers. “Slim! Come here!” The dog finally relented and walked up to him. His gait was slow and smooth, his tail unmoving, eyes still locked with Travis’s.

“What’s wrong with him?” said Monica as Slim gave her a suspicious look. “Do you think being around that stuff made him sick?”

“I think so, he tried eating some of it yesterday,” said Travis. “He was acting like this during the meteor shower, though, when a big one showed up overhead and…” He stopped himself, shooting a glance at Simon, but his son was only staring around at the attic with a mildly interested expression.

Morgan walked up to where Slim had been hiding and picked something up from the corner. She set it down in the sunlight; it was an old, tattered cardboard box. The Levines gathered around it as she lifted the top off. She nearly shrieked at the sight; inside was a framed display of various spiders, all pinned to the backing. Most were small and brown, one was the size of her palm, mottled yellow and gray. She removed it from the box and uncovered stray sewing needles and tangled balls of yarn. It reeked of moldy cardboard.

“Whose is this?” Monica asked.

“I don’t know,” said Morgan, putting the box back on the lid.

“And how did Slim know where it was?” Monica followed up.

I don’t know,” Morgan reiterated. Travis noticed his daughter’s face had gone pale, her gaze almost magnetically attracted to the far wall across the way. He squinted into the gloom, but couldn’t see anything.

“Let’s get out of here,” said Travis. A whistling fluttering sound suddenly shot past the window, and they all jumped.

“What was that!” Morgan yelled.

“Calm down, it was a mourning dove, their wings make that whistling noise when they fly,” Travis immediately responded.

Monica looked at him; his second spontaneous bird fact had evidently troubled her. He looked back at her, his heart sinking. Some ominous understanding seemed to wordlessly unite them in that moment. “Please, let’s just get out of here,” she said, and the Levines made for the ladder again. “Where’s Slim?”

Slim, as it turned out, had left the attic himself and found another dark corner to occupy.

* * * * * *

The rest of their Sunday passed without incident.

Monday morning, as Travis left for work and Morgan went off to school, Monica wandered the house listlessly, with only Slim and a grounded Simon for company. She tried busying herself with housework, but the bizarre happenings in the attic and Slim’s strange behavior kept tugging at the back of her mind. Perhaps it was right for Simon to have been suspended for bringing the star snot into school…more and more she believed exposure to it was incurring untoward side effects on them all. But why were they so…weird? And what more would come of them?

It didn’t help that Slim had stayed put in his living room corner, giving her the same dead stare. She deliberately avoided the room, making up excuses to stay in the kitchen or retreat upstairs. But upstairs was where Simon was spending the duration of his punishment, and she felt compelled to peek her head in and check up on him. She would find him deep in prayer, facing away from the door, resting his head on his forearms with his hands folded above him. Any good Christian mother would not be bothered by his habits, but that gave her no indication as to how he was handling himself…if he were to turn around, would she see a completely bald face, with sore red gashes across his brow?

Enough of this, she thought.

She went back downstairs to confront Slim, to try and figure out what was up with him. He stood his ground, peering up at her balefully. “Slim…what’s wrong, dog?” She held out her hand, expecting a lick or a sniff. The dog did nothing.

She extended her arm further. Slim pushed himself deeper into the wall and his gaze snapped to a point above her shoulder, in one split-second motion. Monica drew back herself…his movements were nothing doglike…the way he seemed to scuttle…

Slim’s lips quivered, and ribbons of saliva dripped freely from his muzzle. Monica gave a noise of disgust and retracted from him. His face took on an almost perverted triumph as he dribbled a film of spittle around him and curled tighter in the corner, a low rumble coursing up from his throat.

Horrified, alone, she felt no choice but to flee back upstairs to Simon, hoping that there was still some semblance of normalcy about him… “Simon!” she cried, throwing his door open.

The boy was standing in the middle of his room, brushing minute hairs off his fingertips. When he looked up, only a few scraggly remnants held on above his eyes.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” he croaked. “I feel dirty…”

“Then stop doing this to yourself, for God’s sake!” Monica pleaded, barging in and ripping his arms away from his face.

Simon shook his head. “No…I feel dirty, with them on.”

She gaped at him, then wrapped him in a hug. He stiffened in her embrace. “Please, don’t touch me,” he said flatly.

Monica let go but continued to stare tearfully into his face. “You’re not doing this because you’re upset with us, are you?” She went to grab him again but stopped herself halfway. “Please…tell me…are you upset with us? I love you…”

Simon cocked his head in that quiet, subdued manner. “If it makes you happy…I’ll stop.”

Monica offered a smile that seemed to rip a fissure across her cheeks. As she left his room, he returned to his prayerful vigil.

Drowning in ominous chills, she checked the clock in the hallway. It was barely past noon.

* * * * * *

Travis’s performance at work had continued to decline, due this time to a gnawing cramp that had flared in his stomach. Each twinge of pain coincided with the arrival of more small, brown birds that flew among the rafters above, birds that he recognized as house sparrows.

Pretty little things. Too bad they displace our native tree swallows…

His supervisor had threatened him with probation if he slipped up once more. The man’s words rattled in Travis’s head as he took the dusty road back to the house. He knew it all had something to do with the star snot…all his coworkers’ outlandish theories suddenly hit too close to home…

He headed up the lawn. The house seemed quiet.

But as Travis reached for the front door, the holly bushes caught his eye, and he noticed they were caked in thick, glutinous ribbons. His throat seized up…but he looked closer and saw the texture was thinner than star snot, translucent and studded with bubbles. Against his better judgment, he leaned in and took a whiff. The smell was instantly familiar, then troubling.

Dog breath.

The bushes rustled, and Travis jumped as he saw Slim’s pale eyes staring up at him through the branches. The dog emerged from behind them, chewing up something in his spittle-soaked jaws. A few insectoid legs that could have been a grasshopper’s dropped from his mouth, and he emitted a low, guttural howl, that fluctuated and flowed almost lyrically.

“No…no,” Travis murmured, slipping inside the house. “None of that, please…” The walls felt askew and cramped as he stumbled through the foyer, his abdomen flaring again. Amid the pain he couldn’t shake the thought that Slim’s noises had resonated with him, in a gut-wrenching, uncanny manner.

The words, decipherable to him as human speech, surfaced in his mind like dead bodies in slurry. “Look what I brought for you…”

“Travis!” Monica cried, bolting from the living room into his arms. “Oh my God, Travis…what’s happening to us?”

“That stuff,” he muttered, fighting another cramp in his stomach. “That stuff is doing this to us…but I don’t understand how, or why…”

“We need help,” she whispered through tears. “I nearly went crazy home alone with…them…did you see Slim? I had to put him out…he wouldn’t stop staring…

“He’s out there,” Travis whispered back. “He still hasn’t touched his food, I’m guessing.”

Monica shook her head, smearing tears across his shirt. Travis pursed his lips grimly. “That dog is fucked up…how’s Simon? What’s he been doing?”

She only shook her head further, her anguished voice muffled against his chest. “And Morgan?” he pushed.

Monica finally looked up at him. “She’s…in the attic. Reading a book.” She spoke it as if it were some horrible crime. Travis’s brow creased, and Monica shoved him in frustration. “She hates reading! Never picked up a book in her life! Just sitting in the corner reading, she…like she’s someone else!”

Travis sighed. “Tomorrow I’ll call Dr. Kline…if this really is some kind of chemical exposure or madness or something like that, he’ll find out.”

Monica grabbed his wrist and held it up to her, kissing his hand. “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t there on Saturday…I wasn’t out as long as the rest of you…I only wish I could…share your sufferings…”

“No you don’t,” said Travis. “Don’t you dare think like that. You’re the only one with any hope of staying sane through this…you have to be strong, honey. For us.”

She squeezed his wrist tighter. “I will…I will. For us.”

“Very good. I love you.” He kissed her, then made a casual stroll past her for the bathroom. Closing the door, he violently hunched over the toilet and vomited, releasing all his pent-up nausea. None of us are strong enough, he thought between bouts. We’re in God’s hands now…

* * * * * *

That night, Travis dreamt he was being chased down a dark hallway. Their own hallway. A bald, towering man brandishing a filet knife loomed behind him like a brick wall, blocking out any chance of doubling back.

“Gotta get it outta you,” the man breathed. “Gotta get it outta you…”

Travis threw his bedroom door open, and dream logic sucked him into his own bed, where nightmare bindings held him down, and his pursuer arrived at his side, the knife poised almost lovingly over his stomach…

He awoke with a jolt, clutching his midriff, pain contorting his guts. He feared the knife had crossed from his dream into reality. He grabbed at the skin around his stomach, and nearly groaned with relief when he found no blood or wounds. His mouth still tasted sour from bile. He was still intact, only burdened with his mysterious sickness.

But he quickly realized there was blood. And new pain, little pricks pulsing in his nipples. He directed his gaze to his chest, and saw twin trickles of red staining through his undershirt. Even as he watched he felt that uncomfortable hot-cold sensation of blood running down his skin. His stomach gave another twinge. Jesus H. God, he thought. It’s almost like I’m…

He leaned over to shake his wife awake, and nearly screamed. Standing over her was Simon, his white face completely devoid of eyebrows and eyelashes. It made him seem much older, like a wax sculpture, and his glazed expression was one of subdued disdain.

“Simon!” Travis hissed, pulling the sheets over the colored streaks on his shirt.

His son swayed on the spot like a tree in the wind. “I see you with this temptress,” he murmured. “I see you cuddling with the poison fruit of your sins. Your sick indulgences.” He gave a twitch. “The Lord God, He does not permit you to lie with a woman as you would a man. That is bad enough. But this…” He gave a sleepy gesture towards Monica’s sleeping form. “You have no idea what you’ve done.”

“Simon, what…what are you talking about? Wake up!” said Travis.

“Hush, Vanessa,” he garbled. “These creatures can change their sex on a whim…it has infected you with child…time will tell if your wretched womb will bring it to full term…”

“Simon!” Travis commanded, and Monica finally woke up, gasping at the sight of her son’s hairless face.

“Oh my God, Simon, my baby, what have you done??” she demanded.

Simon twitched again, and his eyes seemed to blaze with color. “Mom,” he croaked. “What…was I dreaming?…”

“For God’s sake, Simon,” Monica fussed, scrambling out of bed and grabbing his shoulders. “Come back to bed, we’re going to make you feel better, I promise…”

“Get your vile feelers off me,” Simon snapped, recoiling from her. “Lord knows where your hands have been.” He pivoted and disappeared back into the darkness.

Monica sank to her knees, face in her hands, overwhelmed with sobbing. Travis, his insides twisting up, made to get out of bed himself, but his legs felt sticky and warm. Peeking under the covers, he saw another pool of redness spreading from his boxers, soaking into the mattress, paired with a stabbing pressure in his groin.

Fighting back his disgust, he observed his wife broken down on the floor and nearly teared up himself. He suddenly felt weak, the aftereffect of having passed so much blood. The knowledge of unknowing tore at him. He could only acknowledge they were on the losing side of a one-sided war.

* * * * * *

Travis had opted to stay home Tuesday. It wasn’t as if he’d had any choice in the matter; he had lost almost all sensation in his legs. After his spate of lackluster performances, he wouldn’t be surprised if he walked into work only to be terminated on the spot.

Monica had called Dr. Kline, who arrived in the late morning and first examined Travis. He noted that male lactation was not unheard of, a result of a fluctuation of the hormone prolactin. But what seemed to ooze out of Travis was pure blood, and Dr. Kline observed that passing it through his sphincter was atypical of any hormone imbalance.

“If he were a female, it’d be symptomatic of a broken pregnancy,” he told Travis and Monica. “But unless my calculations are off…Travis Levine is certainly not female.”

“What could it have been? The stuff he was exposed to?” Monica inquired.

“Can’t say. Some sort of radioactive or mutagenic substance, I reckon,” Dr. Kline guessed, reading Travis’s pulse. “Do you have a sample of whatever it was?”

“No,” Travis said, rueing not allowing Simon to keep any of the star snot.

“That’ll make it hard,” said Dr. Kline. “Where are your children now?”

“Simon’s locked himself in his room. I can hear him shuffling around,” said Monica. “And Morgan’s in the attic…I let her stay home from school today. Until she gets better…”

An odd look came over Dr. Kline. “Let me take a look at her.”

* * * * * *

Up in the attic, Morgan sat cross-legged in the corner, a book balanced on her shins. Her hair was tangled and undone; it was most unlike her not to freshen up in the morning. As Monica and Dr. Kline approached, she gave a quick glance up and her eyes narrowed at the doctor.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Dr. Gary Kline,” he responded. “I’d like to check you over, to try and figure out what happened to you all.”

“There’s something on your shoulder,” Morgan muttered, going back to her book.

Dr. Kline brushed himself off. “There’s nothing there. What are you talking about?”

Morgan shook her head. “No. Something bad. On your shoulder. Gripping onto you, not letting go. Fuck it. Tell it to go fuck itself.” Her voice was bitter and low, gravelly with fatigue.

Dr. Kline looked around and made eye contact with Monica, who was hovering slightly behind him. He pursed his lips, as if he had to stop himself from saying something. He then pulled out a light and shined it at the wall above her head. Illuminated in his beam were the lines of a poem, scrawled in jagged black ink.





“Did you know this was here?” Dr. Kline asked.

“No,” said Monica. “Morgan, did you write this?”

She didn’t answer.

“Morgan, did you write this?” Dr. Kline inquired.

She looked up again. “I did. What of it. You going to put me away, Doctor? Or will Daddy get you too?”

“See?” Monica whispered. “It’s like she doesn’t see me anymore, she’s talking nonsense…she’s a whole different person!”

“I’m sure,” Dr. Kline whispered back. “And I don’t think she wrote that. I believe we’re good to leave her here. I’d like to see Simon now.”

They descended the ladder and Monica knocked on Simon’s door. There was an eerie silence, as if someone constantly shuffling about inside had stopped.

“Simon, open the door,” Monica demanded, jiggling the doorknob.

“It’s back,” they heard him mutter. “I warned her it wouldn’t go away, didn’t I? Keeping clean wasn’t enough…dirty bitch invited germs inside her. Lesbian slut. Her yield must be destroyed…”

“Listen,” Monica hissed. “He thinks I’m some kind of…thing. Something evil and low, something that doesn’t deserve to exist! And he’s not talking about me right now. He’s talking about…Travis.”

Dr. Kline nodded. “Again…I’m sure.”

Monica stared at him. “Why do you say that? Where are you going with this?”

“I need to talk to Travis now,” he said.

They reentered their bedroom, where Travis was still lying down, applying fresh paper towels to his bleeding chest. “Mr. Levine,” the doctor asked, “did Simon ever mention anything specific to you? Like a name?”

“He…” Travis grimaced against another upheaval in his stomach. “He called me Vanessa.”

“And you don’t know a Vanessa? You don’t know where he could have picked up the name Vanessa?”


Dr. Kline sighed. He pushed his briefcase aside with his foot, squeezing the bridge of his nose.

“What?” Monica demanded. “What is it? What do you know?”

“All who breathed in that stuff are experiencing these things…no chance you all picked up any outside information…” He looked up, his face grave. “And none of you are aware of the history of this house?”

Monica and Travis shook their heads. Dr. Kline sighed again. “Barring any more evidence that emerges…I’m afraid I can’t help you further as a doctor.”

Monica’s lips parted slightly. “What do you mean…’as a doctor?’”

The doctor regarded them grimly. He took his glasses off and pulled up a chair in the corner of the room, sitting down upon it. Monica lowered herself onto the foot of the bed.

“You all moved here five years ago…makes sense you wouldn’t know,” he explained. “The family that owned this house before you…were the Glicks. Husband, wife, two kids, named Severin and Isabelle. I knew Isabelle the best…I treated her for depression and the occasional self-inflicted wounds. She was normally reserved, quiet and shy…except when it came to her family. She would tell me everything. Her family…they terrified her.

“Severin was a nightmare. That boy was only six yet he already had serious issues. He started collecting spiders. They fascinated him…I can imagine why. Their patience, their designs, their killer edge…it got to the point where he started acting like them…took up weaving, ate bugs…as a coping mechanism.”

“How do you know all this?” Monica asked, her hand over her mouth.

“I’m getting there,” said the doctor. “It was a coping mechanism, demented as it was…against his father. Randall Glick. He…he was the true horror. A religious fanatic who openly likened sin to dirt and impurities…so much so that he shaved his head, and the rest of his face. Everyone called him the Skeleton Man. Germaphobic obsessive-compulsive disorder, by my reckoning. Had a bad enough reputation with the other folks in town…so you can only imagine what it was like living with him.

“The abuse was bad enough. Isabelle practically lived in the attic, busying herself reading and writing, just to get away from it all…from him. Severin would do his thing at home, his spider-act…even at that young age he couldn’t function in a school environment. They were overseen by their strained mother, Vanessa.”

A tremendous silence descended upon the Levines. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together, but the picture being formed was ugly and shocking.

“When Vanessa got pregnant with her third child,” said Dr. Kline, “Randall was incensed. He was convinced it wasn’t his. He accused her of first being unfaithful. But as his mania exasperated, it morphed into her making sexual congress with an impure spirit. He thought she was bearing a creature with the single-minded purpose of his own destruction. ‘The Devil works in mysterious ways,’ he would say.

“Things went quiet for a few months. Then, they picked up again, one November night. They picked up, alright. This whole front lawn was swarming with police cars, night became day from all the blaring lights. Officers went in…and they all came out white as ghosts. They very well might have died from what they found.

“From the coroners’ reports, Vanessa died first…eviscerated, the child in her womb crushed with bare hands. The two children fled to the attic, pursued by their father, where Isabella, she…” Dr. Kline paused, taking a deep calming breath. “She decided she’d rather take her own life, than give it to her father. Severin was found bruised and beaten, stuck and tangled in pins and yarn…no one could figure if it was Randall or the kid himself who did him in. And Randall…fell on his own knife. That, the coroners said, was definitely intentional.”

Monica was crying again, her face in her hands. Travis remained frozen, eyes wide and utterly speechless. The doctor stood up, not looking any of them in the face. “In short folks…I saw the Glicks again today. In Morgan. Travis. Simon. And from what you told me about the way your dog’s been acting…in him, too.”

“So…” Monica offered. “You’re suggesting that stuff on the lawn was…”

“Whatever you want to call it,” Dr. Kline finished. “Soul. Ether. I don’t think there’s a good enough name for it, frankly…but something about that meteor shower made it…condense, for lack of a better term. And now the Glicks are coming back. Severin in Slim. Poor Isabella in Morgan. Vanessa in Travis…I can’t imagine a pregnant woman’s physiology would mesh with a grown man’s. That reminds me, another thing too…Vanessa loved birds. She could name anything that flew through her yard.”

Monica’s hand covered her heart. “Which means…”

“Randall Glick is reemerging in Simon,” said Dr. Kline. “And I fear now that they’re back…this house’s history is doomed to repeat itself.”

Monica sprang up. “Simon…we have to get him. Now!” She sprinted for the hallway, but halted almost immediately. At the far end, Simon’s door was wide open. “Oh no,” she whispered.

“He’ll come for Travis first,” said Dr. Kline. “I’ll stay here with him…you go find Morgan. Get her out of here…”

Monica nodded, wiping her eyes, and bolted out of sight.

Travis, still immobile, winced with pain as more blood leaked from his nipples, and his stomach twisted into knots. Dr. Kline stood guard in the doorway. They heard the sounds of the attic ladder descending, of feet on rickety steps.

“Will he…have the strength of a grown man?” Travis winced, barely conscious from the agony.

“I can’t say,” was all Dr. Kline replied.

“I…I hope not,” Travis breathed, his eyelids flitting. “Help…”

“Stay with me, Mr. Levine,” Dr. Kline urged, risking a few steps forward. “Stay with me…”

A jarring clatter sounded off outside – Travis spasmed from shock. Dr. Kline snapped over to the window. There was a scraping, clawing pounding. Something was trying to climb the outside wall.

It ascended, approaching the windowpane.

Slim’s face appeared through the second-story window. His eyes were buggy, and cobwebs of saliva ran down his jaws. Tufts of fur were missing from his face, revealing the scabby, wrinkly skin beneath.

He pressed his snout into the glass, staring intently at Travis. He howled, three vocal bursts, garbled and strained with the effort to speak in a human tongue. “RUNNNN…MOM…RUNNN…”

“Severin!” Travis commanded. “Sev – Slim! Get out of here!”

The dog whined and smashed his nose into the window; the glass cracked and his face bloodied. “RUN MOM RUN MOM RUN,” he howled again, hammering his face into the pane like a woodpecker. The cracks branched wider.

“Severin!” Travis wailed.

Dr. Kline flew for the window. “No! Get out of here!” he snapped.

Like a trailing specter, Simon followed Dr. Kline into the room and stabbed him in the kidney.

The doctor screamed in pain, flailing around to strike the child, but Simon had already plunged the kitchen knife into his flesh with murderous precision. Roses of red bloomed through the doctor’s coat as he crumpled to the floor, twitching and sputtering.

Standing over him with supreme disinterest, Simon wiped the blade clean on his sleeve. He turned to face his father. He was completely hairless, save for one greasy tussock that clung to his scalp and hung down his face. He flipped it out of his eyes and took slow, savoring steps toward him. Slim had disappeared.

“Vanessa,” said Simon in an oily tone. “Gotta get it outta you.”

Fate held Travis down. He knew what was coming. Vanessa hadn’t been lucky. Neither would he.

* * * * * *

Up in the attic, Monica had found Morgan in her usual spot. Her daughter’s hands were pressed to her ears. “It’s happening,” she was muttering. “Daddy’s on a warpath. It’s happening.”

“Morgan,” Monica pleaded, kneeling in front of her. She blotted out the unseen carnage on the floor below. “We have to get out of here. Please.”

“I don’t know what you are,” Morgan growled. “You don’t exist. Fuck you.”

“Morgan, please.

“Stop your lies. I’ve heard enough of them.”

Monica closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Isabella,” she said.

A flicker of movement registered in Morgan’s face. Monica pushed further. “Isabella…I know what happens to you. I can stop it…but you have to come with me. I don’t want it to happen to you. You’re…you’re so much more than that…”

Things had gone quiet downstairs. Morgan looked up at her mother. “You know what happens to me,” she uttered.

“Yes,” said Monica. “You won’t leave this room alive. Unless you leave it with me.”

Morgan stared blankly at her. Then she rose to her feet. “Do what you need to do,” she said.

“Come down with me,” Monica urged, and together they descended the ladder to the landing. “Wait here,” she told Morgan as she headed for her bedroom. “Travis, I got her, let’s…”

Her husband was sprawled on the crimson-soaked mattress, opened up like a filet, and Simon was digging through his ruptured abdomen, elbow-deep in viscera.

Monica screamed and fled back to the ladder, wailing hysterically. The sound of a child’s footfall welled up and Simon emerged into the hallway, a line of blood across his face. “It wasn’t there!” he roared. “Cursed spirit! What have you done with your yield?!”

“Get away!” Monica shrieked. “Just get away! For God’s sake, just leave us alone!”

“Creatures of dirt!” he sneered, wielding the knife. “My wrath is the Lord’s! My cleansing is the fires of Hell!” He pointed the blade to Morgan, who was cowering behind the ladder in a near-comatose state. “I will take you! As retribution! For Vanessa!”

He charged at them. Monica reared up and screamed with all her might, “RANDALL GLICK!”

Simon stopped, his bald face confused.

Monica surged forth and barreled into him. Simon tumbled sideways and fell down the stairs as her momentum carried her across the floor.

He slid and bounced, swinging his limbs, the knife still clutched in his hand.

He landed on his stomach. There was the gristly crunch of a blade slipping between his ribs. He fell still instantly.

The silence that followed nearly brought down the house.

Monica flattened herself, sobbing onto the floorboards, her voice muffled. Morgan knelt beside her, laying a consoling hand on her shoulder.  “I owe my life to you,” she whispered. “Thank you…thank you…”

But Monica only cried harder, smearing her face with tears. No amount of star snot could have changed her more than the untenable misery that had poisoned her very soul.

* * * * * *

Monica and Isabella observed the black-clad figures milling around the room. It was to be a small service, brief and contained. Monica felt the need to pay their respects, no more ceremony beyond that. The husband and son she once knew and loved had vanished long before they had died.

Two coffins of differing sizes lined the far wall. Funeralgoers ran their hands across their glossy exteriors. It was more out of solidarity than anything else. No one in town had known the Levines for very long.

Despite that, someone familiar did approach them: Ms. Clara, Simon’s homeroom teacher. “Hi, Mrs. Levine,” she said. “I’m so sorry…I loved Simon. He was such a good boy.”

“He was, wasn’t he,” Monica replied, her voice thin. “Please remember him as he was.”

Ms. Clara shook her head, her lip trembling. “And your husband too…if there’s anything I can do to help…please, please let me know.”

“Thank you,” said Monica. “I don’t think that’ll be necessary though. My daughter and I are going on a little vacation soon. I feel like…” She laughed in spite of herself. “I feel like I haven’t known her for many years.”

“That’ll be nice,” said Ms. Clara. She smiled too. “I think I need a vacation too…my entire class has been driving me nuts.”

“Why, what’s going on?” said Monica.

Ms. Clara put her hands on her hips. “All this week, they’ve been pulling the hairs out of their eyebrows. I don’t know if it’s some practical joke or the stress from finals, but…it’s aggravating me to no end.” Her eyes suddenly narrowed. “You don’t think it had anything to do with that jar Simon was passing around, do you?”

Monica blinked. “I can’t say.”

“Troubling,” said Ms. Clara, shaking her head. “My respects to you all. God bless.”

She walked away to talk to another funeralgoer. Monica looked down at Isabella, her mouth needle-thin. “Isabella,” she declared. “More and more I think getting far, far away from here is a wonderful idea.”

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Written by Nick Carlson
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Nick Carlson

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