(^ CLICK PLAY for music track)
by Vashti Quiroz-Vega
“Raven, I can’t believe you’re really going through with it.” Nina’s face was frozen in an astonished smile.
“Once you and Travis leave for college, there’ll be nothing left for me in this small town.” Raven frowned. “Besides, I’m an artist, Nina! I need to expand my wings and fly!” She swung her arms outward and fell back on the grass surrounding Lake Creepy-Crawly.
“But . . . New York is such a big city. Aren’t you afraid you’ll be swallowed up by the masses?”
“I plan to shine bright like a Nova. By the time I’m through with that town, everyone will know my name.”
Nina glanced at Raven and giggled. Raven joined in her laughter and suddenly jumped to her feet.
“Lets go in!”
“Go in where?”
“Lets go for a swim in the lake. For old time’s sake.” Raven’s blue eyes glittered with mischievousness.
“No way! Why do you think the town nicknamed it Lake Creepy-Crawly? If you go in, you won’t be swimming alone. There are things in that lake. They’ll crawl all over you.”
“That’s not true!”
“It is!” Nina yelled. “No one has gone swimming there for years. Not since the incident.”
“Do you mean when the fish died?”
“It was more than just a few fish. Old man Sam said that the big company out by Expiry road had something to do with it. He saw them dump things into the lake one night. The next morning, the lake’s fish were floating on the surface. Dead.”
“Old man Sam drinks!”
“Yes, but he wasn’t the only one who witnessed the dead fish, and everyone knows that nothing grows or lives in that lake anymore, except . . . except those things.” Nina shuddered.
“It’s been a while since that happened.” Raven looked out to the lake. “Those things have probably always been there. Besides, they’re tiny.”
“They were tiny. With time, everything changes . . . and not always for the best.”
Without waiting for the end of Nina’s sentence, Raven ran and jumped into the lake and splashed around happily, as though she hadn’t a care in the world. A powerful feeling of foreboding enshrouded Nina like a suffocating blanket. When Raven finally emerged from the lake, Nina rushed to her.
“You’re nuts! Sometimes I think you just do crazy things to torment me.”
Raven scoffed. “Who’s being dramatic now, huh?”
Nina picked up the blanket they had been sitting on and placed it around Raven’s shoulders.
“Ugh!” Raven groaned. She tilted her head sideways and pounded on it with the palm of her hand.
“There must be water in my ear.” Raven shook her head. “There, I think that did it.”
“I don’t know how you could swim in that murky water. Look at it—it’s black!”
Raven waved her hand dismissively. “Let’s go home.”
“Yes! You need a shower.” Nina giggled, pinching her nose and waving her hand as though to clear the stench in the air.
“Gimme hug! Me want big hug!” Raven joked as she ran after a screaming Nina.
*Two months later *
“Campus life is great! ” Nina raved on the phone. “I’m really enjoying myself here. I’m doing really well in my classes, and I’ve made some new friends. Oh, and Travis says hello!”
“That’s great. I’m doing okay, too. I’m painting almost non-stop. I showed one of my works in progress to the manager of a posh art gallery downtown. He was impressed and offered to show my work in early November.”
“That’s awesome, Raven!”
“Will you come for the opening?”
“But we talked about me visiting for Halloween, remember? To see how New York celebrates our favorite holiday?”
“You could stay through the first week of November,” Raven said in a sullen voice.
“Nothing. Why do you ask?”
“You don’t sound like yourself. Aren’t you excited about Halloween and your very first art show?”
“Of course I am. It’s just these headaches . . . I can’t seem to shake.”
“Have you seen a doctor?”
“No. It’s only headaches. Two Advil, and I’ll be all right.”
“But if you can’t get rid of it—”
“The pills will help take the edge off so I can get back to work.”
“Alright, but if the headaches continue, you’ll need to see someone.”
“Yeah, well . . . If I want to have these paintings done by the opening, I’d better get back to work. We’ll talk again soon.”
“Okay. Bye, Raven. Take care.”
*One month later*
“Aaaahhhhhh! Aaaahhhhh! Get out of there!” Raven pounded her head. She collapsed to the floor and pulled her hair with both hands. She screamed and groaned as she squirmed on the floor of her one-bedroom apartment.
A banging on the door did not stop her howling.
“Miss Raven! Open the door, Miss Raven!” An old woman banged on the door. “That racket is driving everybody crazy!”
Raven opened the door. Her long dark hair was disheveled and covered a good portion of her face. Her shoulders were scrunched around her ears. Her blue eyes, once vivid azures, were now dull and foggy, with intense redness where the whites should be and deep dark circles underneath. Her usually rosy lips were pale and dry.
At the sight of her, the building superintendent flinched and squinted, as though trying not to capture all the unpleasantness at once. “Are you ill?” She stared at her wringing her hands.
“No. I’m fine.”
“You don’t look too good. Maybe you should see a doctor.”
“A doctor can’t help me with what I’ve got!” Raven bellowed making the woman jump. “You need to leave me alone.”
“I have received countless complaints from your neighbors about screaming, loud banging and crashing noises coming from your apartment.”
“You keep knocking on my door!”
“And each time you tell me that the noises will stop, but I keep getting complaints from your neighbors.” She added with a grumble, “If the noises don’t stop, I’ll have to call the police.”
“I assure you–––the complaints will stop.”
The superintendent narrowed her eyes. “Make sure they do. I don’t want to come back here again.” She turned and shuffled away.
Raven followed the old woman with her eyes until she was out of sight.
“Hello, Raven. How are you? I’ve been calling and leaving messages, but you never return my calls.”
“Hi, Nina!” Raven said in an excited voice.
“Are you alright?”
“Why are you yelling? You sound manic. Are you sure you’re fine?”
“I’m just excited to hear from you. I’m sorry about not returning your calls. I’ve been very busy, working on my paintings. I’m all done now! I have left over materials, so I’m using them to decorate for Halloween. You’re still coming up, right?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Good! I’m throwing a Halloween party! I’ve invited some friends and neighbors. You’re going to love what I’ve done with the place.”
*All Hollow’s Eve*
“Raven is going to be surprised to see you. I hope she doesn’t get angry,” Nina said.
“Why would she? I’m your date for the party.” Travis blinked at her and smiled.
“She hasn’t been herself lately. Sometimes on the phone, she seems despondent and her voice is barely audible; other times, her voice is excited and shrill. But the last time we spoke, it was more like a groan or a growl.”
Travis scrunched his brow. “That weird.”
“She’s been having these terrible headaches, but she refuses to see a doctor. I’ve been calling her all day, but I haven’t been able to reach her. And yet, she knows I’m arriving today. I hope she’s okay.”
“Well, she’s throwing a Halloween party. How bad could she be?” Travis said. “She’s probably busy putting the party together.”
“You’re right. Halloween was always our favorite holiday. She’s probably knee-deep in Halloween décor right now. It’s going to be fun.” Nina tried to force a smile. “Anyway, thanks for coming with me.”
Travis and Nina approached Raven’s apartment building. They rang the buzzer several times, but no one answered. Travis pressed on the inner door, which swung open.
“Hello,” he called.
There was no answer, so Travis and Nina started up the stairs. When they reached Raven’s apartment , they found the door ajar.
“I was expecting festive lights and blaring music.” Travis glanced at Nina with a puzzled look on his face.
“Why is her door open?” Nina shook her head and bit her lower lip. The door creaked as she pushed on it, and they entered the dimly lit apartment. All the lights were off, except for a small lamp on an end table near the sofa. The curtains were drawn. The smell hit them almost immediately––rancid, jolting, evil—a stench to make the inside of their noses burn.
“Wow! She really went all out with the macabre theme.” Travis scanned the room his face pinched.
“What’s that smell?” Nina covered her nose and mouth with her hand.
“That is one of my best works,” a dark, sinister voice answered. Nina and Travis jolted and directed their eyes toward the voice. Nina’s legs faltered. If it weren’t for Travis, she would have fallen.
“Raven?” Nina gasped.
Raven’s skin appeared ashen and leathery. Her ratty, black hair framed her face like heavy curtains. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she wore a raggedy long black dress.
“Do you like my painting?” Raven tottered toward her.
Nina reached for Travis’ hand and gave it a squeeze. “Your . . . painting?”
“Yes, come and have a look.”
Nina and Travis followed Raven deeper into the apartment. Nina’s heart pounded. A thin film of cold sweat covered Travis’ forehead.
“At first, I couldn’t figure out what my series of paintings should be about.” Raven waved a paintbrush like a conductor’s wand. “Then an explosion of light went off in my head. Why not make paintings of my neighbors gathered for a great supper?”
“Interesting concept.” There was a slight tremor in Travis’ voice.
Nina stepped closer to the painting to have a better look, but then backed away. The stench seemed to be coming from the painting itself. Its surface was slathered in deep red paint and there were rubbery objects attached – no doubt the type of props that gag shops offered around Halloween. Nina looked around. All of the walls were adorned with the dark red paintings.
“So, you like them?” Raven’s manic tone was back in her voice.
“Well . . . ” Nina gulped.
“I like your costume, Raven.” Travis fidgeted and glanced at Nina.
As Raven brought up her hand, Nina noticed that the handle of the wooden paintbrush had been sharpened to a point. Before Travis realized what was happening, Raven had stabbed him in the chest. He stumbled and fell on his back. Nina wailed, dropped to her knees and began to shake him. He lay still, his eyes wide open.
“Why Raven? Why?” Nina stared imploringly at the monster that was once her friend.
“I’m not wearing a costume.” Raven glared at Nina. “Do you like my paintings or not?”
Nina was sitting on the floor directly beneath one of the paintings. She peered at it through eyes blurred with tears.
“Well? What do you think?” Raven’s voice became angry and vicious.
Nina jolted and wiped the wetness from her eyes with trembling hands. She shuddered as she was finally able to see the painting for what it was. Those rubbery objects attached to its surface weren’t from the gag shop – they were real intestines, brains, hearts, tongues, spleens, and who knows what else. How many people died here? Her stomach churned, and she felt lightheaded.
“Tell me!” Raven stared at her with a wolfish expression. Then she became calm and studied Nina’s face. Suddenly, Raven said cheerfully, “If you don’t like it I can always improve it.”
Raven lurched over to Travis’ body and grabbed his head, lifting it by the hair. She buried the tip of the large paintbrush into the tear duct and popped the eyeball out. She did the same with the other eye to the rhythm of Nina’s wails. She grabbed the eyeballs dangling on his cheeks and yanked them from the optic nerve. Nina felt an expansion in her head and a weakness throughout her body. She retched several times.
She can’t have a fainting fit. She has to get to her feet! Nina’s eyes shifted to the door. Raven stood between her and the exit.
“Here we go. Much better, right?” Raven attached Travis’ eyes to the bowl of soup in the painting. The painted bowl was now crowded with eyeballs. “My neighbors were always watching me, so I decided to paint an homage to their prying eyes.”
Nina screamed. Her hands flew to cover her mouth. Trembling, she clambered to her feet.
“I knew it! I knew you wouldn’t be happy for me!” Raven twitched with rage. “I knew you wouldn’t like my work. Well––I have a few more improvements to make, but for the final touches, I’ll need something from you.”
Raven lunged at Nina, clutching her filed paintbrush.
Nina’s legs started moving, as though on automatic pilot. Her heart beat loudly in her ears.
Raven chased her, howling ghoulishly.
Nina ran to the kitchen. Her eyes darted. She spotted a large knife sitting on the counter. She grabbed it and held it in front of her. Her mind raced and she panted.
Raven charged and ran into Nina’s extended arm, which held the knife. Raven stared into Nina’s eyes and moaned. Nina thought she heard her murmur, Thank you.
Nina released hold of the knife, and Raven slid to the floor. Nina kneeled next to her and rocked back and forth, sobbing. Her mind was unable to fully grasp what had just happened.
“Why? Why did you do this? Raven . . . why?”
She saw the answer to her question as Raven took her last breath. They crawled out of her ear by the dozens—the wiggly wormy things she recognized from their hometown lake. The parasites were vacating Raven’s head, no longer having a live brain to feed on.
Copyright © 2013 by Vashti Quiroz-Vega. All rights reserved.
Edible Body Parts –– Bread!
Okay, before you guys go off the deep end, let me explain. The images of the human body parts are unsettling I know, but guess what? They’re actually bread. Yes! Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. Thai artist and baker Kittiwat Unarrom creates these edible bread sculptures and sells them at his family’s bakery!
I don’t think I’d be able to put any of this bread in my mouth without retching, but hey, if you’ve ever fantasized about eating a person zombie-style hop on a plane to Thailand and visit Kittiwat’s bakery and you can do it legally. Read more about this Body Part Bakery and The Walking Bread here. Check out this video.