's 2014 Horror Write-off:

" Rings "

Submitted by Tom Serveaux

June 12

I finally got a job after six weeks of hunting. Gardening. Yeah, I know, it’s not quite the fit for someone who just spent four years of their life in accounting school, but it’s something at least. The family – they’re called the Parish family -- showed me around the house today; it’s one of those big old-timey mansions way out in the woods, the kind that screams “we’ve kept this house in our family for six generations now”.

But hey, any day now, the real estate fat cats are going to surround it with some ugly prefabricated McMansions or something.

Maybe I’m just bitter that I’m not one of those fat cats yet

At any rate, the pay is nice. All I have to do is show up three times a week, trim some hedges, mow the lawn, keep the garden clear from weeds. You know, gardener-type stuff. Mr. Parish seems like a nice enough guy, at least. Three kids and a wife, a Mercedes, . I don’t think his wife liked me very much though; she didn’t say anything, she just stared at me, her head following me around the room. Her eyes were … intense, and I don’t mean intense as in a crappy romantic novel way. More like they were staring at something that was visible only to her.

It gives me the creeps, at any rate. Hopefully Mrs. Parish has a life outside the house.

June 15

It’s pretty easy work so far. Mowed the lawn, trimmed the hedges, weeded a few flower beds. Mrs. Parish was out for the afternoon, thank God.

I noticed a few mushrooms growing on the lawn. I did my best to dig them up but I did tell Mr Parish about it before I left. He told me he’d look into it. So there’s something off my shoulders.

June 17

I showed up early today to take care of some particularly unruly hedges. I had already trimmed my way through my first hedgerow when I realized something was off – nobody was there. That was odd, especially since Mr. Parish said he’d tell me beforehand if they’d be out of the house for the day.

Knocked on the door; no answer. Some kind of family emergency, maybe, or maybe they just didn’t feel like paying me today. I wouldn’t put it past Mrs Parish to do something like that.

I also took care of some more mushrooms growing on the lawn before I left.

Note to self- stop by the gardening store tomorrow to pick up some more fungicide. Maybe do some extra soil aeration next time?

June 19

Still no signs of the family. I tried ringing them up – no answer. Tried emailing them – no answer there, either. I let myself in with the key they keep under the backdoor flower pot, hoping that I could at least get some clue about their whereabouts. As far as I can tell, it’s like they’ve vanished into thin air. Both of their cars still stand in the garage, keys lie in a heap on the table, their shoes neatly lined up on the doormat. Even the cat – an overweight, surly blob of a feline who spent most of its time scowling at everyone – had vanished.

I found myself picking up the phone to call the police, make a missing persons report. I dialled 9, then 1, then hung the phone neatly back up on the hook. A rich family has gone missing and the last person they were in contact with was the gardener, a broke college graduate with easy access to sharp, easily disposable objects. I’ve got enough to worry about as it is without the police battering down my door.

Ha. And people always say that the butler did it.

The mushrooms are already sprouting back up on the lawn. I didn’t know they could re-grow that quickly.

June 20

I drove past the old house again, just in case they’d returned in the night. No luck. I’m not going back there again; there’s something wrong with the place. I’ve only been away for a night. When I pulled in this morning it looked as if decades had passed. Unruly vines of kudzu and ivy braided the bricks and stones. Juicy, succulent fruit shimmered in the hazy, late afternoon sun. Was it always this muggy? This hard to think?

The mushrooms are still growing. They’re forming weird shapes as they spread; concentric circles of toadstools scar the ragged lawn. Dozens of these mushroom formations, overlapping and mingling into one another like a looping ring of coffee mug stains. Some of them are already growing bigger than any mushroom I’ve ever seen. Probably poisonous, or something

There’s a name for this kind of phenomenon, the tiny part of my brain that was still thinking rationally said to me. Rings of something, something ring…

I heard a faint voice, softly singing somewhere in that overgrown tableau. High, thin, inhuman, somewhere between the lilting voice of a choir singer and the mindless cooing of a dove.

I jumped into the car, locked the door and sped away without looking back.

June 20

What was wrong with her eyes?

June 22

Twelve children have gone missing overnight. They can’t find any trace of the abductees. Talking heads and political pundits are babbling about internet predators and child kidnappings and I know, somehow I know, that all the police in the world won’t find these kids. It’s all connected to whatever’s invaded the Parish house, somehow.

I found mushrooms growing on my lawn. I ripped them out of the soil one by one, stomped on them, doused the remains in gasoline and burned them down to the last spore, just to be sure.

In the long run? I don’t think it’ll make a difference.

June 23

Twenty more children have gone missing all across the country. They’re talking about declaring a state of national emergency, mobilizing the military to hunt down the kidnappers.

I bought a shotgun today and signed up for a course at the local firing range.

June 24

I saw them tonight.

I’ve started stocking up on food and water. A lot of the neighbors are doing the same thing – keeping the kids indoors, buying extra supplies for whatever’s coming. It must have been about 9 PM when I drove back from the firing range.

Something scampered across the road; I swore and slammed my foot down on the brakes. Maybe a racccon, or a squirrel, or something.

Did squirrels have limbs that long and gangly, or ears that pointy?

I swore an incoherent scream of curses and screeched to a halt as the thing bounded onto the hood of my car, snarled, and dashed off into the gloom. My heart was pounding in my ears. The twisted, greenish-grey thing that I had very nearly run over wasn’t anything native to planet Earth.

My stomach began a slow, leisurely plummet, while my heart played an unsteady tune in my eardrums. I tried to stop my hands from shaking, and had just begun to convince myself that I had just seen some kind of illusion, when the trees on the side of the road parted and something else emerged.

Have you ever seen those body image experiments, where they take a Barbie doll and blow it up to life size? You get that anorexic homunculus thing with giant eyes, tiny limbs, and unnaturally-smooth skin – something that’s almost human but not. That’s more or less what tottered out onto the road in front of me. Shimmering black hair hung from its head and framed its cold grey eyes. Its long, skinny legs tapered into tiny, perfectly shaped feet. It wore nothing but fur, loosely wrapped around a torso that a supermodel would kill for. Its arms and face were covered in some kind of shimmering body paint.

She(?) tottered across the asphalt road slowly, hesitantly, like a toddler just learning to take its first steps. I saw her nostrils inhale and exhale, sniffing the air for something.

Then she turned her attention to the car and locked eyes with me.

I slammed my foot down on the gas pedal and screeched away, before it could react. I barricaded my room with every inch of furniture I could fit through the doorway. My shotgun is sitting on my lap as I write, and I desperately hope that these… invaders… haven’t followed me home.

The TV is telling me that two hundred children across the world have been abducted.

June 25 I went to the grocery store today, to scrounge for whatever’s left. Mushrooms grew all across the big park on the opposite side of the road. But it’s not just the mushrooms anymore—everything is gradually growing thicker, greener, lusher. Trees are sprouting unfamiliar fruits, swollen and grotesquely juicy, completely out of season. Flowers are growing bigger and more unnatural.

Somehow I’m not surprised. The aliens, or demons, or whatever they are, they’re making the world more like home – whatever that place is like. It’s already having an effect on us, too.

People have started becoming increasingly dopey and dreamy. Maybe it’s connected to the mutant fruits and vegetables; maybe it’s something in the air. Some kind of induced apathy, or maybe just a nation-wide inability to wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe it’s happening to me as well.

Rings. Something rings. It was something to do with the mushrooms.

June 26

The power went out today. I don’t think it’ll ever be coming on again.

June 30

I’ve stopped going outside. It’s too dangerous. I have enough food to last for six months and a rainwater collection system. Everything is overgrown outside, like nobody’s set foot here for decades. Houses are already starting to crumble under the weight of monstrously overgrown trees and leaves.

From my grimy, mud-stained window, I can see people leaving their homes and going outside without a care in the world. They frolic in the thick grasses, sink their teeth into head-sized peaches and plums. And the mushrooms, those damn mushrooms, growing bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and

something came over me there

i need some sleep anyway

June 28

Was there always a river at the foot of our street?

July 1

A whole bunch of them made their way through what remains of the street this morning. One of them rode atop some kind of deer-like thing. Its elaborate horns looped and curled around themselves like some kind of M.C.. Escher sculpture come to life. Its coarse, shaggy hair shimmered in a way that didn’t quite match up with the angle of the sun. Nobody seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary—nobody but me. A few of the children waved at the creatures as they passed by.

In their wake, trees and plants shot through the asphalt like a time-lapse film played out in real life.

As I write this, something else is pushing its way through the mutant forest now, an unidentifiable thing with too many limbs and too many horns. A cloud of butterflies follow in its wake.

Not butterflies- tiny people with garishly coloured butterfly wings. I think there are about three hundred or so.

July 6

It’s the middle of summer, but the sun sets at about 4 PM now.

July 8

I found the mushrooms growing in my living room floor this morning. Doused the house with every fungicide and weedkiller I could safely scrounge from my garage.

July 10

As I write this I hear screaming outside.

There are hundreds of the lanky creatures outside now, riding horses and stags and other, less recognizable things. From my bedroom, I watched them ride their impossible mounts through the crumbing wilderness that had once been a well-kept suburban avenue. They calmly chased packs of weakened suburbanites through forests of mushrooms and walking trees.

They cut off the weakest members from the group, brought them down with flurries of flint arrows. I saw them pin down a man and break every appendage in his body cracking each finger and toe, one by one. I saw another corpse… I couldn’t even tell what gender it had been time they had finished with it.

I can hear them singing over the agonized screaming, high and trilling and mindless. Two thousand years and nothing has changed. It took me this long to remember the name of those mushroom formations, and now it’s too late to do anything as the world goes straight to hell.

Fairy rings.

Maybe Mrs. Parish was one of them all along. Or maybe they’ve been planning their return for years, and she was just some unlucky pawn.

We never needed to clap our hands and cheer for Tinkerbell if we believed in magic; they knew what was real and wasn’t all along. I don’t think we’ll ever know where they went all these years, but now the pendulum is swinging the other way again. The forests have reclaimed the farms and fields, the darkness grows blacker and deeper, and the ancient things have reawakened, and after two thousand years they’ve learned to hate us.

Now it’s our turn to go into the night– and to rediscover our ancient terror of the elves, and the changelings, and the bogeymen of our nightmares.

I don’t think the sun will rise tomorrow.