's 2014 Horror Write-off:

" All Roads Lead to Rome "

Submitted by Thomas F. Johnson

August 6, 20xx

Stuck on this shithole slum beat again. Just when I'd forgotten the smell of piss and unwashed migrant, they put me right back in. And right in time for monsoon season too. Just fucking great.

So here I am, a pissbaby journalist in a shitty hotel in a shitty city in shitty weather. Apparently, these weird posters are appearing around the place, of these fucked up green monsters. They're even too chickenshit to run a picture of 'em, sayin' it's obscene. I think it's a load of "black helicopter" horseshit myself. I've seen worse online. But admittedly, not by much. I'll say I've got a plenty long time to look at it, given how one's right by my door.

Residents are pretty mum about it. They either don't care or change the subject real quickly, like they're scared of the po-lice comin' for em, or they go into conspiracy theories about how “The Man” is gonna take their kidneys. Nothing out of the ordinary.

The street people were chatty about it, as per usual, going on and on about "elections" and "the mayor is coming to this city". It's not even an election year. But, then again, it's probably not a "meds" day for these creeps.

Boss says I should use this piece as a moment for social commentary. Well, I got all the commentary I can muster in two words: Fuck this.

I'll just stay here, gawkin, gonna write up some bullshit at the last minute. The same “Something wrong again in the slums, nothing can be done, it's inherent in the system, we gotta do something that'll probably do nothing,” yaddah yadda yaddah, a stock article straight from the Mad Libs-sheet. I mean, it's the big crummy ass end of the city, not like it's gonna go nowhere in the meantime.

August 8, 20xx

There's more of them now, those fucking posters I mean. Obviously some sort of performance art crap. They even got some outta towners to stand around in front with clipboards.

I'll tell ya one thing, even as much as I hate this city, they don't make motherfuckers this ugly around here. They got big dumb lips, big glassy eyes, like a fish. Smell like a fish too.

Not that they're much worse than the Mexicans, trashy; sweaty motherfuckers in the goodwill clothes. I didn't graduate from state college, to write charity case stories, god I hate them so much. I should know enough to hate 'em, I grew up one of 'em.

Yeah, yeah, I know, self-hating hispanic, I've heard it all before. I was thanking god when that ordeal was over. You try living in the gutter and see how rosy your goddamn cheeks are.

But, back to the topic at hand, the locals at least know to stay away from 'em. The pollsters I mean. The street people huddle around them like they're the second coming of saint Mary fucking haleighlujah, like a chorus with them about "elections" and "mayor of the final" and I don't give a damn.

These pollsters, they ask the weirdest questions too. Like, here's a few I wrote down:

"Is the occulus or have you scried?"

"Has the brine void meteorologic been fair today?

"Are you for conglomeration or conglaberation in your politics leviathan?"

“A dead empyrian a dead polis do you want which?”

Everyone's afraid of 'em. They always walk to a different side of the street when the things are around. I saw one of the migrants cursing one, some kid who looked about twenty-something, before another woman (Think it was his wife) pulled him away. Nobody'll get near 'em.

The people have all kinds of crazy bullshit about them. Some people say they're related to some attempt at gentrification or another, which is a song and dance I've heard ten billion times before, but it makes sense and I heard about it before, so fair enough.

Some people're saying that they're escaped government experiments from a lab somewhere, that they saw scales . Some people say that they're demons, carryin' on in some hoo-doo gibberish about names and places I don't give a fuck. One guy said they ate a dog. Whole. Yeah, not the most reliable sources.

One dude, some neighborhood watch leader had a lot more of a mouthful to say. Think it was the one with his wife. He said that the gentrifiers were the ones ruinin' this city, draining away funds and lettin' decay set in so they could bring in... something, he never quite was able to specify, and they were apparently workin' with these assholes.

He'd gone into the whole rant talking about how they were both collaborating to break the place from within, how he'd seen fat-cats talkin with pollsters in back alleys at night about a clean sweep.

“Can't you see, can't you see?!” he kept saying to me.

Buddy, yeah, I can see, I've seen it all before. And to be honest, if it's true, then good riddance to it. I'd like to see this whole shitheap swept beneath the flood. But even then I'd still feel the filth. The filth never washes off.

When I asked the pollsters themselves about that "election" they say "coming soon", and something about "primaries". Most of the time they didn't notice me, just barreled towards me like a game of chicken until I blinked. Just to add, they weren't exaggeratin' about the smell neither.

God damn will I be glad when these idiots leave. I'm a reporter, not a goddamn performance art critic. Hopefully they'll be gone when the monsoon's over. They're always out when the rains are down, standing beside those posters while nobody else's there. God I hope they leave soon.

August 12th

A new building popped up today. In the middle of the slums, used to be some condemned ruin there. The thing that's there now is a big green fucker, no windows, no bricks, just one big united slab of rock with a door.

It hurts to look at it. It twitches around in my sight, something about the proportions, parts of it look like they disappear. Sad thing is, this is on par with the shit I've seen for the last few days.

The rains haven't let up for a single day. People've been hiding in their houses, though those damn clipboarders. I tried interviewing them. They don't like me very much. Can't blame 'em. Street people're gone though, which is nice.

When they do talk they're yammering about missing family members, talking about a missing wife here, some kids not coming back from school, phone calls and warnings, tears and sob stories all around. Funny, nobody ever gave two shits when I lived here. Though, nobody gives two shits about me now, so.

You stop giving a shit after a while on this beat, but damned if they didn't wear me down. A few of 'em looked out their windows and screamed at the “pollsters”. One of the yellers was the guy I saw before. His wife wasn't in the house, he said she'd been “taken”.

Probably has something to do with those sacks they're carryin', wriggling around. They don't seem to pay the expletives from the gutter gallery much mind. They just look up, nod, and write down something on those clipboards. I have no idea how they didn't collapse into a pile of mush in the rain.

No, I didn't stop them. You wouldn't blame me if you saw them. Fuckers're are big, basketball player big; if not bigger. I don't think some twiggy reporter could do anything about 'em even if I wanted. Everyone else seems to be doin' the same.

And before you talk about calling the cops, cops don't come here. Never came down here since I was a kid, 'cept for “pest control”, so they ain't gonna come here now.

They're even more posters around here too. Seems like the less folks there are on the streets; the more posters there are. There's been some people tearing down the posters. Trying to anyway. They're lying on the ground, heads opened, green n red stains on the wall. Like a Christmas tree.

Nobody bothers to move em, or get near 'em. Posters are still there, though, maybe with a rip or a piece off or a red handprint on 'em, and the people who tried. All of them have the same note attached: “THE PATRIARCH WILL CONTINUE AS SCHEDULED”. Nobody touches the bodies. Nobody even gets near the same side of the street as the bodies.

Current headline is “Fortean Freaks Go Green: Giant green structure appears out of nowhere, likely linked to political campaign currently waging acts of terror against lower-class slum in the city. Citizens lie low as dirty politics continues as usual.”

“Dirty politics continues as usual” is my forte as a journalist. I'd call the place I work for a “tabloid” if generous, but “a yellow-journalism piss-rag” if we're being honest. Even in the shiny places I go, the white cities of Silicon Valley or the shiny towers of whichever, it's always covering up a shithole like this beneath, dirty politics with a clean rubber raincoat. Maybe that's why I keep coming back here...

Nevermind. I've been feeling sick again. Maybe it's the rain, maybe it's the nightmares I've been having each night, or that shadow I see at the corner of my eye every time I walk past one of those posters, I have no idea what the fuck is going on anymore. I'm leaving tomorrow.

August 15-

I can't find my way around here anymore. I thought I knew these streets like the back of my hand, but they just keep moving around, I can't leave, I can't even think straight. There's more of those buildings, those great green buildings; now where some of the apartments were. Some of 'em have half taken over the normal building, like tumors or mushrooms, eating the apartments alive.

Nobody's opening their doors, they've got the windows and doors boarded up. A few of them had the boards pried off by someone. Nobody's in those anymore. I can see a few of them in the streets; hiding from something. They didn't want to talk, but I followed their lead.

Current headline is “Fungal Freak Facades Plague Projects: Strange green masses of material have began to subsume substandard housing as peculiar political campaign continues unprotested, despite terror tactics.” Well, there were some protest, but like most shit here, it never amounts to much.

The pollsters 're out here in full force. The normal buildings that're left are covered in the posters. I saw them building these rickety wooden platforms, size of buildings with speakers the size of people, shouting gibberish while they tooled away at these monstrosities. I can hear the word “Mayor” in there a couple of times.

You know, I wonder why the fuck I continue this job. I mean, I hate it. I hate the clean places, I hate the dirty places, I hate this place most of all.

Maybe it's that hate that keeps me going. I mean, god knows I don't have anyone in this shitheap world I care about, most of my colleagues feel likewise, I'm alone in this world. Maybe the hate reminds me I'm alive, that while I'm circlin' the drain; most of the cities in the world are doin' likewise. Yeah, I think that's it.

What I'm leading up to is that I went into one of the green buildings. It was on Griffin Alley. Used to be the place I was born into a dirty bathtub, place where I got sick from the black stuff leaking from the showerhead, place where ma died.

And, god forbid, I walked in. It's all I could do anymore.

It looked like a doctor's waiting room made by some Aztec psychopath, stairs leading nowhere, floors elevating and falling down like a funhouse made of this fucked-up green plastic, ceramic, rubber, I don't fucking know what it was. But the worst was the bags. Hundreds of 'em, squirming, hauled by the “pollsters”, who were screaming and chanting and taking turns opening and passin' around the bags like an orgy with only one girl.

The pollsters were opening the bags, vomiting this horrible green slime inside from their big dumb fish-y maws. And god dammit, I saw people in those bags. I could see the limbs pushing out, people trying to crawl their way out, but another pollster shoved them back in with some pitchfork thing. It cut some of 'em right open.

But they weren't bleeding. Their skins were mashing and rolling together. I couldn't see into what, but it looked fucking awful. One of the bastards was stabbing it with a pitchfork to keep' em. The thing with the pitchfork was screaming “DO YOUR DEFERENCE OF THE HARDIHOOD! BE FERVID OF OUR POLIS WORKS!”. Some of the people were weeping. I ran the hell out of dodge there. I haven't gone into any others. I couldn't stand the screaming. Over that building, as I left, I could see that great shadow, the same one I see in my room, following me out the doorway.

The rain stinks of brine now. There's a fish flopping in the street, fell right out of the sky. Right now I feel the same way as that fish. Thank god I can still find my hotel. Thank god it's still normal. For now.

August 22

This city is gone. Those green buildings are eating up every single fucking block of this place, big fucking patches of posters plastered all over this shithole. I keep seeing seaweed and fish dropping from the sky in this endless salty rain. One time I saw a ship fall from the clouds, old wooden thing from god knows when, shattered on the ground. I'd say I'd been going screamingly insane if it weren't all so fucking real.

Things that used to be people are now on those platforms, those giant merged wads with those slippery pollster things standing next to 'em screaming and screaming god knows what. Sometimes they stop, to write down something on their shitty little clipboards, then they go back to screaming.

I can see faces within the blobs, stretching out of those grey-green globsters. They all look different, as a collective I mean, each blob its own special kind of screaming puking hateball. They look like those animals you'd see at the bottom of the ocean, but stretched and squished and things put in places they shouldn't go, that nothing should go. The faces on their surface plead, they beg, to me, but that's not the worst of it. The worst of it is the ones that talk like the pollsters.

I've tried to continue writing about it, starting “Headline News: City absorbed into another world, humans assimilated into blobs of tissues as creatures known as “Pollsters” work towards enigmatic plan. It seems to be an insidious plot by-” but I can't make myself bother.

It's never going to get out of here, the exit roads all loop back in on themselves, and I always find myself back in here. For all that I struggle and write, the city has eaten me. And I can't say who's done it. Aliens maybe? Demons? Maybe it's just reality setting in, them rotten mask ripped off to show the black core this place was always leadin' to, takin' the people down with it.

There are no more people left here but me, no more real people anyway. I see other living(?) things out of the corner of my eye, crawling in the alleys and gutters. They look worse than the platform-things, but they don't do shit, like flotsam and jetsam of the cosmic shithole. But they're nothing that could be called “people”.

The other man, the one with that wife, he was the last to go. I saw him swingin' at one of the platforms with a metal baseball bat, screaming “MURDERERS! BUTCHERS! YOU TOOK HER! YOU TOOK HER FROM ME!”, or something like that. One of the faces on the thing up there in the mass looked like his wife. It was the biggest of all the faces; size of a refrigerator. The pollsters did nothing.

He managed to kick a few of the legs down, but it didn't fall down. It just hung there, in the air. He started to climb it, screaming and sobbing. The pollsters still did nothing. He started beating at the thing, beating around all the other yelling sobbing heads, but never touching his wife's. At least, until it opened up and swallowed him while.

The pollsters wrote something down, whooped, hollered, cheered, shouted “MAYOR COME!” and then went back to their notebooks.

God willing, he was a better man than I was, and he was gone, just like that, eaten alive by the city.

I'm remembering those nightmares, when we used to live here, when I was a kid. Ma was barely scraping away at an income, I was a burden to her more than a son. I was pretty much on my damn own except for the city, the nightmare of the city.

I remember was always sick. I remember the nightmares. The giant green city swallowed by water, monstrous fishy things wandering in an endless rain, and that thing; the mayor of this cancertown. He looked like the shadow I've been seeing, that shadow that I see every time I walk past those posters, like a dripping waxen Charles Foster Kane from hell.

I always saw that thing only in bits and pieces. Even when I was left on the side of the road, vomiting in a sick fucking haze while mom boozed and whored it up, I saw it in my fever-nightmares. Even when we had to live in the alley at one point, and I was coughing up blood and snot, I saw it touching me. Enveloping me.

That's why I hate this place. It's a sick place, a place where he only way to go is downhill. That's why I've always hated this place. That's why I left this place. But that's why I always come back to this place. Because I hate this place just a little bit more than I hate myself, and it's that hate that keeps me goin'.

I saw something in the alleyways today. It looked like a human shadow, made three-dimensional and squeezed into the shape of a cat, smoldering like a hot coal in the rain. Not my hallucination, just somebody lost. The thing was shivering in the rain, shaking it self off while looking around for someplace dry. It looked like it was just as terrified as I was.

We looked each other in the eyes before it walked off. Despite the fact it's probably something just as weird or as bad as this shit goin' down, for the first time I felt like I met a friend. I think it might've felt the same. Could be just me.

Oh god. I'm at that platform again, the one with the thing with that lady's face. I know I didn't pass it last time I went down here. And I'm seein' more of 'em I scout about.

I think the platforms might be moving, getting closer together. For what I don't know.

August ??

Oh god, I see it now. The platforms 're converging into one spot, a hell-temple of rickety planks, and those fused fleshy things coming together; they're merging with that horrible grey-green flesh. They weren't being turned into something new, but parts of something older, jigsaw pieces of The Mayor within this city.

The pollsters scream “ABTRUSE ELECTION IS AMARANTHINE! HECATOMB IS SOVEREIGN, CALL OF THE NADIR CLARITY!” as the things unite, as the screaming flesh joins into one mass, and I see that thing from my nightmares really; truly once again. A thing that's only a tiny part of some greater whole, the tip of the iceberg of insanity, boring through my minds' eye.

To think that this thing; blotting out those green shanty skyscrapers, carving through the clouds and the rain like it was the city and the city was it, is but a fucking hand; a fucking anchor for the full lifeforce to drag itself up from the depths, the force I have only seen other partial glimpses of in my childhood fever dreams.

This bastard, this leviathan fucker, it's the mother of all this things in all the cities, it's the fucking mayor of every fucking town, and I can see it as it rises. There was that old saying that came to mind, all roads lead to Rome. This is it, the place where all cities lead, gentrified or decaying. I don't know whether it's subconscious shading or if it's part of a plan, but somehow, I can see it now, as this horrible; beautiful thing rolls over me, this is the core of all cities, the engulfing moist place beneath all the skyscrapers and subways and corpses it all rolls down to this metaphysical cesspool!

All roads lead to Rome. All cities lead to here. And I, for the first time in my life, am finally home...