Maybe it was just the drugs, but this was all kinds of thrilling.
Clark’s hands upon me as I straddled him.
My husband filming me with his brand new HD video camera.
Kevin had asked me to fuck his friends before. Looked at me like I was beautiful whenever I did. Clark and I had been together before behind Kevin’s back. And I loved him.
Would Kevin notice something about the way I made love to Clark? Would the camera pick up on that different something, display it for the world? For Kevin.
I let the excitement overtake the fear.
A raw animal spirit stirred within me at each inch of exposed skin. I focused on Clark who stared up at me in adoration from his spot on our leather couch. I could tell he was scared too. Kevin uttered encouragement, but I barely heard him. I peeled off Clark’s pants. I took him into my hands and wrapped my mouth around him. Kevin went silent, but I could feel the camera documenting my long-buried desires.
“Oh God…” Clark said, and I released him, delaying his release, and peered past the lens, into Kevin’s eyes.
We hadn’t fucked in almost a year. He only got off on the voyeurism.
I wondered what would happen if I told him how I felt about Clark. It was more than sex. It was spiritual. We were equals. I glanced over my shoulder at him, then returned my gaze to Kevin.
“Is this what you want to watch?” I asked and again thought of revealing that this act had meaning. I didn’t, because I still feared him.
He licked his lips, put a hand on his crotch and caressed himself through his pants. “Do it,” he said. “I want you to fuck him.”
I dropped a knee on either side of Clark’s lap and guided him inside me, all the while aware of the cool black lens observing and documenting our transgression.
In my dream, my abdomen burned as if something with claws was trying to rip its way out. I shot up in bed, throwing the comforter off of me.
The pain persisted.
I wrapped my arms around my belly, which was swollen as if something wriggled inside of me. I screamed at the discovery, at the agony, at the fact I was alone.
How long was I out?
Did he leave me because he saw my feelings for Clark in the video?
My stomach and groin flared, and I staggered out of bed.
I burst into the bathroom and flicked on the light. Bony features pressed against my swollen flesh, stretching my skin to grotesque lengths. I dropped my panties and crouched in the bathtub, seized with panic and turned on warm water.
New pain flamed between my thighs. I howled in agony as my gut shredded open. Dark blood filled the tub.
I opened my eyes. A red, cavernous tear occupied the space where my vulva had been and claw marks lined the insides of my legs. Chewed remnants of my labia floated.
A creature crawled in the gore and shallow water, like a large crawfish; spiny limbs, antennae and a rock hard shell. Wiry tails lashed the bloody water. Black orbs for eyes. An aberrant life form spawned by the nightmare of my life.
I woke up screaming, reaching down between the sheets to ensure my loins were intact.
They were, but I worried about my sanity.
Kevin stirred beside me. He said, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
His beady little eyes glared. I decided I hated him more than anything.
“What?” he said.
I got out of bed and went in the bathroom to cry. He never checked on me.
Maybe it was the drugs. Maybe we got bad shit, but I don’t think so.
The dream haunted me as I sat in my gray, secluded cubicle at the call center. Every time I closed my eyes, the crustacean’s black eyes stared back at me.
I tried to focus on my work, through exhaustion and paranoia.
The dream didn’t feel like my usual nightmares. I experienced pain. I couldn’t help but think it was somehow related to my recorded encounter with Clark. Like fucking him in front of Kevin, under the scrutiny of that camera awakened me to the horror of my existence. This day to day bondage I agreed to enter.
An incoming call lit up my extension and broke me out of my thoughts.
“Thank you for calling K and V, this is Alicia, how may I help you?”
“Alicia,” said a whispered voice on the line. “What a wonderful name.”
Something about the voice’s tone made me uncomfortable, but I tried to maintain a professional demeanor. “Thank you, sir, and may I have your name?”
Soft laughter. “I just called to tell you I enjoyed your performance the other night. On the video.”
I tensed with alarm. “How’d you get this number?”
He laughed again. “I wish you were here with me now. The things I could do to you…”
“You’re calling me at work. This call is being recorded.”
“Come on, sweetie, I thought you were an exhibitionist.”
I hung up. Tremors jolted through my body. The last thing I needed was a stalker. I left my cubicle and went into Buck McKinsey’s office. He stared at his computer screen with bleary eyes. He raised his gaze when I stopped in front of his desk.
He said, “Alicia.”
I took a breath and folded my hands. “Buck, I need to go home early today. Can you swing it?”
“Ah, Alicia, I…”
“Please. It’s important. Family-related.”
“Fine, but you’ll have to use your PTO.”
I nodded, gave him a hasty goodbye, and headed for the exit.
In the parking lot, the surveillance cameras all seemed trained on me, shattering all illusions of privacy. I broke into a run.
“I want you to take the videos down.”
Kevin’s eyes widened. He sat on the couch, right in the spot where I had fucked Clark. Where I fucked all of his friends.
“Why? I don’t get it.”
I wouldn’t expect you to, I almost said. I told him about the phone call. I left out the part about the crawfish baby.
“Holy shit,” he said, genuine worry in his eyes, and I thought our relationship had some inkling of hope. His expression reminded me of the past, back when I believed he still loved me and saw me as more than a plaything. He put a gentle hand on my arm.
I nodded. “Yeah, just a little shaken up.”
He got to his feet and went to his study. “I’ll take them down right now.”
This empathy wasn’t like him.
He sat down at his computer and I stood behind him. His room was like an adolescent boy’s, covered in posters of women with bodies so perfect, so tight. I didn’t think I wasn’t attractive. Our videos got enough attention and positive comments, and plus, I liked my body. But something about this room always made me uncomfortable, like I didn’t measure up.
Kevin opened his account on the hosting site. He got to the video of Clark and I, and hovered the cursor over the file.
“Did you enjoy it?” Kevin said.
I tensed and stepped back. Played dumb. “What?”
He spun around in his chair. “Did you enjoy fucking him?”
I tried my best to keep a level tone and said, “I did it for you.”
He got up and put his hands on my shoulders, leaned in close.
“That’s not what I asked.”
I pulled away. “What do you want me to say, Kevin? We were high. You asked me to do it. Actually, you demanded I do it. Don’t act like it’s the first time you filmed me having sex with someone.”
His expression didn’t change. “You love him.”
I jerked out of his grip and left the room. I’d never walked out on him before, for fear of repercussions, but I didn’t need this today.
“Are you seriously going to do this? This was never an issue before.”
He followed me into the living room and stood in front of the couch where it happened.
“I wish I hadn’t made you do it,” he said.
I came up behind him and put my arms around his waist.
“Don’t,” he said.
Kevin slept beside me. He tossed back and forth. Groaned in discomfort. I wondered what he dreamed, but didn’t wake him. For one, he’d be pissed. I also didn’t care much. He wouldn’t do the same for me. I realized that was important.
I remembered what he said when I woke from my nightmare.
What the fuck is wrong with you?
I hoped the guilt and jealousy tore him to pieces.
I sat in Candi’s Coffee Shop sipping a sweet, caffeinated concoction. Wished the establishment hadn’t banned smoking a few years back. A cigarette would go great with my latte.
I looked up.
The cameraman wore a black suit with white gloves and a shiny red shirt. A large, handheld video camera obscured his face. The lens pointed right at me.
I averted my gaze. I was being silly. He was just filming the street. Not me.
But he inspired the same dread brought on by the dream and the phone call. Like I shared an intimacy with people whose intentions were dark. Violent.
He still filmed me. I turned to my coffee, but couldn’t drink it.
It’s nothing, I told myself.
Still, I rose from my seat to leave.
A shadow fell across the window. His camera lens pressed up against the glass, scrutinizing me and reflecting back the face of a rotting corpse. Blood trickled from empty eye sockets and oozing lesions covered its face and neck—my face and neck.
I threw my hands up and screamed, spilling coffee. The café customers ogled me.
“He was…” I pointed, but no one stood outside.
After the ordeal at the café, I changed my mind about going to work. Kevin left for the night shift and I poured a stiff vodka cran. I went and stared at myself in the tall mirror that hung from the door in our bedroom. I looked into my eyes, thankful they were still in their sockets.
Here I am, alone in the dark, drowning my madness with booze.
I tried to muster the determination to dump the drink in the toilet, when my phone rang. My mission unaccomplished, I set the cocktail down, and picked up my cell from the bureau.
“Alicia?” Clark’s soft voice shook as he spoke my name, like whatever held him together could give at any minute and send him sprawling into the emptiness of space or the cavernous mouth of hell.
“Yeah, it’s me,” I said. “What’s up?”
“I don’t know. I can’t shake the other night. It’s fucking weird.”
I wondered what he meant by weird. Had he dreamed of crawfish babies too? Had he been called by people he didn’t know? Was he plagued by an oppressive feeling that something dark and sinister was closing in upon him? Some sentient, insatiable void collapsing around his world? I exhaled and said his name, not sure what else to say. Do I tell him?
He said, “I just wish he hadn’t pushed us.”
Clark had refused to do me on video before. Even told us that he didn’t one-hundred-percent approve of the videos we made, but that night, his date didn’t show. He was high on ecstasy and down on himself. Kevin pushed us, true, but I wanted it. Told Clark it was okay.
Maybe it was the drugs, or the digital camera bringing out our deepest selves, even before Kevin hit ‘record.’
Crazy thoughts, I know, but it had been a crazy couple of days.
“Because now I can’t stop thinking about it… I can’t stop thinking about you.”
I considered inviting him over. Suggesting we run away together.
Crazy, crazy, crazy.
“Are you there?” he asked.
“I don’t know what to say, Clark. You know this is so wrong.”
“I know. That’s what’s driving me so fucking nuts about it. We…had sex before…but…”
A sip from the vodka cran warmed my core, leveled me a little. We were friends and I had a responsibility to put him at ease. I hoped I could sort some of this out, too, by having a sounding board. I said, “Do you want to get a drink?”
“Sure,” he said, the shakiness still present in his voice.
“When can you pick me up?”
“I’ll leave now.”
I hung up. My gaze drifted to the mirror. The man in the black and red suit stood behind my reflection, his face covered by the video camera. I screamed and spun around to confront him, but I was alone in the room.
I searched the house. Examined every room and decided I hated every one of them. The whole house was a prison, and being here made me crazy. I’d let it become that way.
I ran out into the night and closed the door behind me.
“What were you doing outside?” Clark said.
I hugged my chest against a sudden chill. I said, “I couldn’t take being inside anymore.”
“I know what you mean,” he said.
We sat down in the car, he pulled a cigarette from the glove box, and I asked for one.
“Here,” he said, and placed a Winston in my hand.
He started driving and first we were silent, smoking away as the street lamps illuminated the ugly, prefabricated homes of our suburb. They seemed uglier tonight, like a cheap set in an old science fiction movie where people lived out dreams written for them by otherworldly forces, as their true dreams lay buried beneath this false existence.
“What are you thinking about?” he said.
I blew my cigarette smoke toward the cracked window. I said, “You don’t want to know.”
“I do, though,” he said in a way that made me fall in love with him even more.
I held to the torturous silence. Could I tell him I dreamed I gave birth to a monster? How sure I was the monster was more than a dream? That a ghost with a camera for a face was stalking me? That I loved him?
“I want to drive,” I said.
“Are you sure?”
I flicked the cigarette out the window. It flew in the wind, sparking like a tiny firework, before crashing to a final resting place on the pavement. “It’ll help me collect my thoughts.”
He nodded. We pulled over.
Shaded in darkness, I couldn’t see all his features, but the dread he inspired was unmistakable. He aimed his camera eye at me across the street.
I’d had enough. I approached him, hands balled into fists, my jaw firm. “Hey! What the hell is your problem?”
Clark called after me but I ignored him. I pulled the camera down to reveal the face of a boy in his late teens, not a whole lot younger than me. Dressed in casual clothing, the outfit was all wrong. He braced himself as if he expected me to hit him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I was just out here filming. I just like to capture everything.”
I wondered how mistook him for the ghostly voyeur.
Because everyone’s a voyeur.
Clark came up behind me and asked, “Is everything all right?”
The kid trembled.
“I’m sorry, Miss.”
“Forget it,” I said, then to Clark, “Forget it. Let’s just go.”
We went back to the car and I slid into the driver’s seat, loving the control, how it centered me.
We never did go for that drink. I drove us toward the outskirts of town. The rumbling engine sent pleasant waves through my body, reminding me of the ecstasy. We had the windows down and the radio blasted Orgy’s Candyass, an album only he and I remembered. Clark sang along. A perfect moment I hoped would last forever.
I slowed to a halt and parked on a cliff that overlooked the river on Clark’s side. On my side of the car was the road and a hill covered in trees.
“What was that all about?” he said.
“I just wanted to get out. That’s all.”
“Not that, the boy with the camera.”
I hesitated. “Can I have another cigarette first?”
He handed me one and I told him everything. The words flowed like stream-of-conscious poetry, like they were coming from somewhere else. A place only the cameras could see, perhaps.
“I’m surprised his only reaction was regret,” Clark said. He knew about Kevin’s temper, the fights that led to my outright fear of my husband. “Holy fuck, Alicia.”
“Do you think that dream means anything?” He lit a cigarette for himself.
“I’ve never been the type to think dreams mean much of anything.” The sentence seemed to come from that same dark place, made me physically ill saying it. I listened to the faint, gentle sound of the water. A few miles down lay treacherous rapids. “It’s like that monster, that crab baby, was the offspring of my life with Kevin. Like, we could only produce perversions together. I don’t think I want to be his wife anymore.”
“Don’t say that, Alicia. You don’t mean it.”
I thought about the river again, the gentle flow, the violent rapids. Always moving. Never stagnant.
We drove back at three-thirty in the morning.
We got closer to my house. I almost told Clark I intended keep driving and to never stop. The idea of going back home, no matter the cause, horrified me in some primal way I couldn’t even begin to fathom.
Kevin’s truck was in the driveway. I cursed. I’d expected him to still be at his night security job.
“Is he going to be pissed you were out all night?” Clark asked.
“Yeah, but I’ll deal.”
He put his hand on my leg. “Do you want me to go in with you?”
Worry creased his features.
“I need to do this alone. I’ll call you later. I’ll be fine.”
I kissed him.
Our lips separated.
He said, “I’ll stay out here until I know you’re safe.”
Once I entered the house, familiar music played from Kevin’s study, accompanied by the unmistakable sound of my passionate moans. Entering his office and seeing me naked on his computer screen, casting seductive glances back and forth from Clark to the camera confirmed he was watching the video from the other night.
Kevin’s arm shuffled up and down. At the base of the chair, his pants were around his ankles. I froze. I couldn’t speak. Over his shoulder, on the monitor, I grasped Clark by the throat and grinded against him. I blinked myself out of my trance and said, “Kevin.”
He didn’t respond and I thought for some crazy reason he couldn’t. The images hypnotized him, stripped away his autonomy, and turned him into a masturbating somnambulist.
I said his name a little louder, but he kept jerking off and continued to ignore me.
I walked across the room.
Blood and semen covered his raw cock. His hand moved faster than humanly possible. His eyes were gone, replaced with dark bloody sockets. He whispered something over and over again, an indecipherable chant in some esoteric tongue, through a mouth lined with strands of viscous drool.
I backed away. Scream lodged in my throat.
I wished I never returned home. Feared I wouldn’t escape. Even if I did, the image of Kevin reduced to a puppet of lust and pain would haunt me forever.
I staggered into the living room, my legs like jelly, my pulse pounding in my ears. The scream tried in vain to expel. I spun around to run for the front door, and the cameraman blocked my path, lens transfixed upon me. I froze, caught in the focus of his all-seeing gaze, clenched in the grip of cosmic dread as if his camera was the eye of the world. His footage entertained the raving mob.
The cry wanted to explode from me. The audio from the other room grew deafening as Clark and I drew closer to our climax. He began to lower his device. I feared whatever I’d see would be horrible, something that would scar me to the marrow, but yet I couldn’t turn away. From the video, the sound of my orgasm filled the house. I screamed with it. The camera lowered to reveal a gaping bloody hole. Deep red flowed, a waterfall of gore soaking his suit, splattering the carpet.
His camera dropped and I stopped screaming. I turned. Kevin stood before me, mangled genitals in hand.
I bypassed them both, headed for the master bedroom.
I entered and screamed again. Eyes now peeked through bloody cracks in the walls and, on the bed, body doubles of Kevin and me pressed together and writhed in red-soaked sheets. We became less like ourselves and more a lumpy mass of flesh and hair. The eyes looked on, the image transmitting to some perverse collective mind.
The deliberate approach of the cameraman’s footsteps echoed just in the hallway. I ran past the eyes, past the mutilated avatars of Kevin and me. Into the bathroom, locking the door behind me. My eyes found the small window above the sink, my only escape to the outside, where Clark waited.
A shriek tore my attention to the bathtub. The thing from my dream scuttled along the bath’s edge, regarding me with black eyes and baring jagged mandibles. My nightmare offspring pounced and latched onto my face.
I tried in vain to pry the legs free.
A fecal smell made me gag.
I thrashed, knocking toothbrushes and toiletries to the tile below. Someone banged on the door.
I fought without hope. Only an animal instinct to survive drove me.
I locked my fingers underneath the creature’s shell, spines digging into my hands, tearing skin. The grip on my face too firm. My mind raced trying to find an alternate solution. I refused to die.
I bit into the abdomen. Chewed a chunk out of the softer flesh. Bitter blood stung my mouth, but I gnawed until the creature howled and loosened its hold. With a final heave I flung the crustacean into the sink where it squirmed on its back, clawed at the air. I smashed the mirror and took the largest shard into my hand.
I drove the glass into its stomach again and again, spattering geysers of black blood.
I climbed out the window.
I ran to Clark’s car.
Other doors opened along the street. Coming outside of their houses were more cameraheads, with black lenses and the plastic bodies of movie cameras for faces. I screamed Clark’s name as they closed upon me.
He pushed open the driver’s side door and climbed into the passenger seat. I slid in beside him and started up the car.
“Who are they?” he said.
I ignored him and gunned the accelerator. More came out of their homes on the outskirts of the neighborhood, recording our exodus.
But this isn’t really an exodus. I’ll never get away.
“Alicia!” Clark pointed to the sky above.
Red cracks split the darkness and the fissures were filled with eyes. I held Clark’s hand, needing to feel his presence, to know I’m not alone in this new and terrible world.
Lucas Mangum is an author living in Austin, TX. He enjoys wrestling, cats, wrestling with cats, and drinking craft beer while crafting weird tales. His debut novel, FLESH AND FIRE, is out now as part of Journalstone’s Double Down series with a new novel by New York Times Bestseller Jonathan Maberry and Rachael Lavin. Visit him atlucasmangum.com or follow him on Twitter @LMangumFiction and talk to him about books, pro-wrestling and horror movies.