's 2013 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Rahkshasarani (more stories at the link!)

Can’t tell you the exact year, but it was around the time my wife’s scarlet rubella started acting up, so in the neighborhood of fifty years ago we had what you’d call an epidemic. Not a disease, no, all the young folks got their pricks down at the high school for polio and ringworm and what-have-you. Was nothing we could’ve explained, not that we really wanted to. Who the hell could we turn to for help? Those bastards down in Ashford wouldn’t even spit on us during the great brushfire of 1912.

Anyway, to the Fall. It was a real Indian summer, more springy than anything. Real moist. Grass got confused and started growing on the downs. Folks got to chuckling that if this was what mother nature was tossing at us, we might as well plant bulbs. Then along about October we had THE rain.

We hadn’t had a rain like this in many a year. It was an insidious kind of wet, creepin’ sideways into your shoes and through buttonholes. All the storm drains clogged up so’s you might as well have been boating around town. Nobody could keep dry. And oh—the stench of wet and damp and mould.

Yep, just a miserable wet week of solid water crashing down from the man upstairs.  The second rain, though, that was worse. After the first storm rained itself all out, it came creeping down from the hills. It came in drops so tiny you weren’t sure if you were getting rained on or standing in a shy fog. Everybody had coughs then, the kind of rough chest-bangers that went on for too long and made your whole body sore. It wasn’t so much the rain anymore but the things that came with it, the coughs and the lovely surprise it brought a few days after.

One morning we woke up and there were webs everywhere. I mean ev-ry-where.  One strand stretched from the top of the clocktower to the park sundial. Silly us, we think we got the most industrious spiders in the county. Trouble is, no one can find them. And the webs—they aren’t sticky. Folks just shrugged and went about their business, which involved a lot more coughing than anything else. Some folks got down and out with real bad fevers, said their eyes weren’t working right. Doc Evans, he sent a sample to a lab, rubbing his hands about some kind of brain fever. Everyone kind of forgot about the webs until a few days later, when we woke up to a forest of ears on every damn surface.

They looked like witch’s butter, only this kind of peachy-orange color. I hear the Chinese think it’s a delicacy. Well, I wish they lived here, then, because the whole town was a goddamn smorgasbord. Plucky bastards were on every available surface, even things by rights they shouldn’t have been able to grow on. Pickman’s grocery had a flock growing on the display window. They shriveled up after a few days, though, and folks still weren’t much worried. We scraped ‘em off and tossed ‘em into compost piles and garbage cans and burned ‘em. I don’t think nobody ate them.

It was round this time that Calvin Gille’s wife calls him in dead. Not a shock, he’d been hacking up a storm these past few days, so me and Deputy Hill ride along with the doc to collect his body. We ain’t checking for foul play, ‘cause those sorts of things just don’t happen here. Trouble is, though, that when we knock on the door of the whitewashed shanty, it’s Calvin who opens the door.

“I guess you’d be looking for me,” he says, and laughs kind of sheepish. That ain’t so weird. What’s weird is his face, it’s all puffy and peachy like he dropped his keys in hot oil and tried to fish it out with his lips. I suppose we was staring because he laughed again and asked us what was the matter. We tell him in no uncertain terms that he was reported dead not two hours ago, and damned if he don’t look a sight.

He shrugs and says, “Had a touch of the ‘flu, but I think I beat it in the end.” Didn’t strictly answer our question.

Deputy Hill asks, “Where’s Mabel?”

Calvin tells us she’s gone on down to her folks, and he was mighty tired, so if us gentlemen wouldn’t mind he’d like to lie down.

We came back in an hour with a warrant. Not a hide nor hair of him to be found. Nor his wife. Not that that was the last we saw of him, no. Bill Hetty bumped into the “body” in the woods and damn near filled his pants. Was nothing but a big wad of that fungus, and I suppose it could look like Calvin in the weak light if you were the kinda man who tipples from his own still. Came apart easy enough when poked with sticks.

Well you know the drill for this sort of thing, where one goes, many follow. You’d see folk walking around town, smiling and talking like regular people, but their skin looked like someone chewed an orange peel. They’d chat for a few days and then they’d up and disappear. Around this same time we just started finding more of those damn mushrooms, only they didn’t just look like Calvin anymore. Supercilious bastards looked like every damn person that had gone missing in town.

And I suppose that’s where it kind of peters off. Nothing much was ever done about it. What could we do, go ‘round pinning “missing” flyers to the trees? Anyway, after a week or two they must’ve melted in the rain, all we saw after that was this kinda orange foam where they’d been.

Well, I guess I’ve gone on long enough. Wife says that was always my problem, never know when to shut my yap, though as far as they go I say that too ain’t bad. Tell the truth I only got on this kick ‘cause just the other day I got a knock on the door, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the spitting image of Calvin Gille.

First thing out of my mouth was, “Cal?”

But he just smiles that PR smile and launches into his spiel. Seems he was a door-to-door salesman, hocking some kind of health food. Grown local and organic and all that hippie jazz.

Says it’s a delicacy in China.