's 2016 Horror Write-off:

Hotter and Hotter

Submitted by Anonymous

"HOTTER!" Came the demand, bellowed down from a titanic iron bath propped in the air by the furnace below it. Already a fire burned within, heating the water to a simmer, but clearly it wasn't enough. Servants rushed around, carrying armfuls of wood, paper, and dried grass to help stoke the flames more and more. Despite their work, the demand came again: "HOTTER!"

Their master was by no means a cruel man. His pay was fair, his work simple if demanding, and though his orders could sometimes be confusing or unclear he never punished those who failed to do what they could. Or that's how it used to be, anyway. A splash of heated water shot from the bath onto the head of some poor servant, who shrieked and dropped the hunk of wood they carried. "WHAT DO I PAY YOU IMBECILES FOR?! I NEED IT HOTTER!"

About a week ago the master had a horrifying nightmare. A monstrous insect attacked him in his bed, ripping open his belly and rummaging around in his innards as he could do nothing but look on, paralyzed by the agony. He claimed the dream was so vivid and the pain so intense it was impossible for it not to be real, despite bearing no wounds from the imagined attack. Despite all attempts to alleviate his fears, he became paranoid. He refused to sleep, he barely ate, he was constantly jumping at every shadow, every noise. It transformed him from a benevolent man into... Well... "Can't you all do anything right?!"

The fire roared with such intensity it rose from the furnace's mouths to lick the edges of the tub, the water inside boiling so violently that the foam obscured the bottom. Steam rose in a huge plume from the surface, the tub itself glowing a dull red as the temperature of the fire became impossible to comfortably approach. Even still, above the roar of the fire, above the hiss of the steam and the grumbling of the water, his voice rose: "HOTTER!"

They threw everything they could into it, but eventually the fire burned too furiously to approach anymore. They had to back away as the brick of the furnace's many mouths began to blacken from the ash it spewed out. The steam filled the room, making it nearly impossible for anyone to truly say what happened next, impossible to determine if some crime or another had occurred. No body was ever found, even rooting through the ash of the furnace, the case quietly dropped as no one could be implicated for the man's sudden disappearance. No witnesses close enough to the bath gave a statement that made any sort of sense, either.

Who would believe such a story, even from so many people? They could believe a man's skin, blistering and burned from extreme temperature, could slough off like a glove being slipped away. That part was fine. The part they could not believe, that no one could believe-or would believe-was the revelation of a chitinous horror underneath it, so many twitching, clicking limbs moving in ways impossible for any earthly insect. No one could believe the creature snapping up its shed skin and delving beneath the boiling water, vanishing as though it were never there.