's 2014 Horror Write-off:

" Honey, This is It - Branch Two "

Submitted by J I L

I stare down into that almost abyssal entrance, sees the dirt walls packed into a tunnel. The more I stare the more I notice the archway looks like a replication of the arch de triumph, the dirt and mud having created this. Muqarnas hang from the ceiling, overlapping themselves in delicate designs, almost rippling under the light.

I take Wes' arms, holding them at his side, "Wes, I'm not going back there. I spent my life there, next to that corpse. There is nothing for me in that city, my family and friends are dead. So are yours."

The green cricket stammers a bit, adding, "If you want, we will continue to power everything for you."

"Just for you." I stare him in the eyes, "But I am going into that pit and I am going to spend time with something with sentience."

"What about..." he's fiddling with his fingers, rubbing them together, trying to tear the nails off, "Finding other people?"

"Are your other scouts still alive?" I ask the crickets.

The grey one seems to be getting nervous, bringing its legs to itself, "Not that we know of."

"There must be someone!" He cries, I push him back up against the collapsed door.

"Then go find them Wes."

"You need to come with me," Wes begins to whisper, panic making him sound like a child, "You don't know what these things will do."

"Wes." I stepped back and he stares into my eyes, pleading, "Leave." I turned around, walking through the arch, the crickets following. I could hear the one at the end turn and give Wes a welcome, anytime. I was too deep to hear if Wes accepted.

I felt a 'hand' on my shoulder, the elongated, segmented part of the green one, "Your medal." she said, we stopped for a moment for her to pin that to my shirt, a gaudy, gleaming icon. "Thank you for accepting the title of Ambassador. We must celebrate." I feel her grip tighten, and then she rubs my shoulder, "Being able to forgive is something to celebrate."

They've crafted a long table, stretching across the room; I rub my hands across the ornate carvings, sitting in the only chair at the very head of the table. "We will build more when we see more humans." My cricket tells me, standing there, "We, however, do not need chairs."

"Of course."

"Are you hungry?" My stomach grumbles, I pull my knees up reflexively so as not to seem rude. She laughs chirping bells, "You are. What would you like to eat ambassador?"

"Hush puppies. And gumbo. And greasy noodles." cans and bread have eaten away at my resolve, "Salad with blue cheese dressing. Fried eggs and donuts. Maplenut goodies. Chocolate pudding and pinapples. Freshly squeezed lemonade." She holds out a hand, I see three crickets in line behind her, each wearing a chef's hat and apron.

"We can make all of that for you, but it will take a little while. Our chefs prepared this in the meantime." One steps forwards, highly developed pincers holding on to a plate of pancakes, it sets them before me and bows its head low. "It was an easy recipe." My cricket giggles again, I smile before setting into the pancakes.

"Do you mind if I speak about ourselves, while you enjoy?" I nod to her, allowing her to continue in her soft voice, "You as Ambassador are welcome to call us by any name that you find to fit. But just as your kind calls yourselves Human, we describe ourselves as-" here she made a musical note that I cannot replicate- "And just as you are an Ambassador, so am I. Many of the others cannot speak as this, for it pains us to learn. But we wanted to communicate with your kind."

"Maybe you can teach me to make the whistles?" I say through a mouthful of food.

She touches the side of my face, then neck, the bristles along her digits seeming to stick for a moment, "You are not developed in a way to, dear. Your voice is here-" and she taps my throat. "But your gesture is deeply appreciated by all of us." and I hear a chirp erupt through the room. "After they have brought the rest of your food, and you have eaten to your fill, we can show you the rest of our domain."

When I laugh her eyes light up and she seems delighted to hear it, "If they can't make all of that, it is fine."

"We want you to be happy, Ambassador."

"You don't need to keep using that title. I'm not royalty."

"You are to us."

We venture downwards, following a tunnel that would have resembled human castles if I didn't already know it was dirt. I cumbersomely held a box of donuts in my right hand, reaching out to touch the wall with my left. The texture was so flat, no dirt even flaked off. The deeper we went, the more I could feel bumps, like roots or veins. The ground became completely black, almost undulating in its tones. I almost lost my footing, trying to step over something that was not there because of this.

Imagine you have just moved that you lived in a desert, with the sand and the sparse plants. Now imagine someone has guided you deep into a rain forest. The silence of the sand and sky has been replaced by thousands of animals crying, when you look up you can get no sense of where you are, the canopy blocks your view for miles. You are told to find your way out. This was how I felt, descending into the Cricket's domain.

My head swam, and my cricket quickly laid me on something elevated, she watched me as another Cricket ran over and laid a blanket on top of me. "Stay here." She rested besides me, while I slipped into sleep.

My mother's hand on my face, her loving eyes staring down at me. She smiles, a huge smile, blossoming from her heart.


Her hand becomes rougher, bristled. Her palpaie click open and shut in a nervous sort of way.

"Are you awake, Ambassador?"

I struggle to move, feeling my body like it belongs to someone uncooperative. "I'm awake."

"I feared our technology would have this effect." She whistles, moving around out of the edge of my sight. "I do not know how to adapt you to this either." She reappears with a glass of water, brushing my curls, "We do not want to lose you."

"Everyone I know is gone. I'm not afraid of death." I cover my eyes with my arm so they won't betray my fear. I hear a cacophony of chirping and peek to see hundreds of crickets in the room, in an utter uproar.

"We can help you live a few years longer. Would you like that?"

I stare ahead of me, my eyes adjusting to the undulating shapes on the wall. What if my information helped them to rebuild humans? Or repair Earth? I imagine tall humans, their bodies made of exoskeletons, living in the ruins of cities. They turn their multi-faceted eyes towards me, watching with a detached curiosity.

"What do I have to do?"

A cricket approaches mine, holding a tray. She holds the tray towards me, gently holding the cloth over it. "This will not be painful, and though it may lead to occasional aches, will take a portion of the radiation." She lifts the cloth and drops it into another deep container. What lies on the tray is tiny, almost a speck. Small and white. "You must ingest it."

"What is it?"

I hear nervous chatter through the room, murmured chimes; she almost seems to sigh, a low whistle, "An egg. This creature is harmful to us; however, were it to enter your system it would be beneficial. It would be foolhardy and ingest the radiation that enters your lungs, buying you more time within our community."

It's so small and insignificant, so small and ineffective really. I bite my lip. "Will it make me like the deer?"

"No Ambassador. This did not cause the incidents, it was our exhaust that had." All the crickets look down in unison, reverently, "And we regret it from every corner of our beings."

While they look down I dump the egg into my mouth. I can feel them watching me when I swallow, feeling what was so small become a gagging lump in my throat - welling to the size of a quarter. My cricket disposes of the tray and holds my head facing upwards.

The lump moves and I want to scream. My chest expands, trying to push past this, and then, I am shrieking, a sound that explodes through the room. She pets my hair, making low, calm chirps, "It's done." I gasp for breath, feeling my dizziness clear away in pieces.

I can feel it wiggle around occasionally. I can feel myself as a heavier form as I drift through the "Cricket's" inventions. She demonstrates how they work, explaining scientific principles I cannot grasp my mind around, the likelihood of anyone on Earth being able to understand them is impossible.

She explains that they have no water where they come from, not huge bodies like we do. She explains how desolate her land has become, "We wanted to share Earth with you. We have been spending years crafting our homes deep beneath yours."

"Why did you bring ships then?"

"Why, my kind did not all come at once. We sent a team when humans were small." She gestures to something which lights up, exploding into an episode of something like a science documentary about food. "This was our first transmission from your kind." The narrator drones over peanuts being packed into tiny bags, "We did not fully understand, but were overjoyed that there was someone else in our vast universe. When we arrived you were not the same ones who sent the show. You were backwards. We dug underneath you," her excitement was rising; I could hear it escalate in her voice. "We had the privilege of watching you grow and become increasingly advanced. Many of your choices were strange to us, but we chose to stay back and watch from afar."

"Why not intervene before now? You could have stopped slavery, or atomic bombs."

She was silent.

I was silent.

My chest hurt.

"We did not want to interrupt anything and change how you were. We may have been attacked, or revered as deities. It would... Not have affected enough either way."

"It would have been better on a lot of us though. My grandfather wouldn't have marks on his back, my mother could have followed her dreams instead of being pushed around - the people who have died, the people who have been, mutated. And you all thought it would be better to sit there?"

She waited in silence, I took a deep breath, to show her I was done talking, "You must remember, we watched it all in pained silence. My ancestors stood there and cried, with how humans behave."

"Then why didn't they leave?"

"We believe that humans are inherently good. It just takes a little to tip the scales, and even those that have been skewed can be taught what they do is wrong."

I looked at the screen, pretending to be engrossed by the conveyer belts. There was a strange static sound over everything, and the hues were much cooler than normal. I could hear her shuffling besides me, kicking at the ground. I observed her from here, pretending to still be ignoring her.

I don't know why I thought they were crickets when I first saw these aliens, considering they were not exactly like crickets. I suppose it was the thin face, with its giant eyes and antennae. Her antennae drooped downwards, the base of them like a piece, fit into the exoskeleton around her head. Her body itself a large construct, very pear like in shape. The limbs attaching the same as the antennae did, fitting into place. Hundreds of small holes to breathe from decorated it, in a pattern that reminded me of an aged tree close to it's death.

The exoskeleton was almost like armor, considering it now. And beneath that armor, if I peered long enough, was this darkness, shifting about like the walls themselves. Was what I spoke to a gaseous creature, and the form a literal costume? I had not seen them eat or sleep; I could ask her about this when I wasn't pretending to be angry.

She bowed and backed away, chirping at another cricket. "Ambassador?"

I spun on my heel towards her, "Yes?"

"There is something we would like to show you. If you are interested." I nodded and she led. I could smell the sugar in the air, a thick, sweet smell. The source was a hall of small, tube like boxes. It reminded me of a monastery, and as she approached one, my mind imagined the coffins beneath Paris. "This is not a decision you need to make today, only to make when you are prepared. We love humans so, and wanted a way to keep you close to us, and so mimicked your burial practices. However, where your practices destroy your forms, we found a way to preserve you, using natural material from your world."

She opens the lid of the one she has been standing besides; it slowly lifts to reveal a casket of honey, empty and thick. "We do not lose you this way. And is it not a beautiful way to rest?"

As she closes the lid, I approach another. The plaque on it has a handwritten name; it's difficult to read with loops and curls. My hand wipes away at the surface, "May I open this?"

"This woman was a teacher," she comes besides me, "She was very strong-willed, and patient. However, we have sealed the casket tightly, and it will not open."

My mind goes wild, imagining a mummified form floating in murky amber.

"But she is preserved as she was in life, as if she is sleeping."

"How old is this grave?"

"Nearly sixty years."

"Is there a chance of spoiling?"

I hear her whistle to herself, as if forming a thought. "We have mastered our skills since then, and now there is no chance. This is why we keep these sealed."

The scent swims through my clogged memories, reminding me of a distant grove, thick with the same smell, "What do you do with the ones that spoil?"

"We do not keep them."

The honey scent overwhelms me and I follow the wall out of there, resting my hand against its flat plane. "I want to lie down." She guides me to the bed I lay on the other day, helping me to lay down, gently placing the blanket over me. When I hold on to her, she sits beside me, resting against the side of the bed.

I am drowning in water, my body writhing as I try to reach the surface. I feel my lungs explode, watching as the black lines erupt from my form, staining the water as I lose consciousness.

My dream wakes me; I cannot tell if I have rested long or not. I can still feel the Cricket besides me, motionless. I reach out, feeling the cold exoskeleton, running my hand along it until I reach a point where there is an overlay, where she bends. I make a small cough, waiting to see her move or respond, before poking my hand into the emptiness. I drag my body up; shoving my entire arm into what should be her neck.

My hand hits something.

It's the other side of her chest, the interior. I pull my arm back and bring the blanket over my chest. I drift back into sleep, not wanting to consider what this means for me. She talks to me; we aren't frightened about where our meals will come from, if our bed will be ripped away. This strangeness is preferable to the world I came from.

I hadn't ventured to the surface since my descent, and honestly I did not want to. I did ask them to find Wes, once, but they never told me the result, if they had found him at all. I never pried, fearing that I was the last human on Earth.

I began to learn under them, watching as they attempted to re-create humans. Many times I wondered if they would just make suits of armor like a human, and live out their lives in our place.

When my suspicions reached their peak, when my thoughts ran rampant with paranoia and doubt, I confronted my friend, the green cricket who continued to guide me.

Instead of asking: Was this intentional? Did you see us and decide we must be disposed of? Do you really love humans? Did you hope that we would kill ourselves off? Am I only here to provide you with a template of "human"?

I asked: "Will you remove this parasite?"

We negotiated, we debated. I knew I would die the moment it was removed, slowly succumbing to the strange air. She assured me I would feel no pain, and only pass into sleep. She asked if I would like to be mellified, my body resting among the honey.

They prepared a pot of water, placed over a small pit to be lit up. "We must kill the parasite when it exits you, or it will be unmanageable."

I nodded; they helped me to kneel and instructed me to place my mouth in the water.

I realized why I had not needed to drink water for the past year. My reflection became smeared with spools of white, covering the interior of the pot, they pulled my head back and slammed the pot's lid down, taping it down and letting the sticks beneath it engulf in flame.

Instantly I felt light headed, reeling to the side until the Cricket caught me, lifting me up and gently carrying me down the halls.

We had discussed it already; she had explained what it would be like. Rational thoughts drifted out of my mind as I breathed deeply, my lungs screaming for real oxygen. The Cricket moves like a machine, whirring and grinding as her steps echo the carved tunnels - the chirps becoming mutated into distant cries.

The sickly sweet smell surrounds everything, engulfing me, I feel as if I am submerged in it, like it is water. I strain to pull myself out but find I cannot move, I can only watch as a shape of what was once the Cricket stands above me. From a distance, I hear her voice thick and heavy with sorrow.

"I thought that you would agree to this Ambassador." as the honey surrounds me, I remember back to the farm, to that sickly smell that accompanied the corpse nearby. "After all, they look just like you. They all look like you."