's 2016 Horror Write-off:

Old Me

Submitted by Jacob Roberts

My science teacher once said that all of the cells in our bodies have been replaced at least once in our lives. Even though parts of us die, the incredible thing about humans is that we always grow back.

I felt bad for those discarded cells. Some species of insects might only live for a few days, but at least when they die they are gone for good. When one of my cells dies, it is immediately replaced, as if its death doesn"t matter. So I began collecting my dead cells.

At first I kept them in a plastic zip-lock bag that I carried around in my pocket. Whenever I scratched my arm, I would hold the bag under it to catch the flaking skin. Whenever I took a shower, I plugged the drain and sifted out my old cells before getting rid of the dirty water. I won't even mention what I did after using the toilet. When the plastic bag got full, I emptied it out into a larger trash bag I kept in my closet. I continued doing this for many years, long after I finished school and got a job.

Eventually I accumulated enough cells to fill up the trash bag, which became almost as heavy as I was. Before I went to bed every night I would open the door of my closet, gently pat the bulbous bag of cells, and thank it for making me who I was. Sometimes I liked to pretend that it asked me about my day, so I would sit on the floor and tell my old cells about everything they missed out on.

One evening after a particularly stressful day at work, I came home, collapsed onto my bed, and fell asleep without visiting the bag of cells. In the middle of the night I awoke to a sloshing sound emanating from my closet. I opened my eyes and saw a gelatinous gray blob awkwardly stumbling across the floor toward my bed. It was having trouble standing up on its two glistening appendages. Every time it was about to fall over, it slurped one appendage back into its body and extended a new one to catch itself.

I got out of bed and rushed over to help support it. I showed it how to walk by putting one foot in front of the other and taught it how to grip with its hands by picking up my shoes. By morning my blob of dead cells looked vaguely human, although parts of it still sagged and peeled. As I got ready to leave for work, the blob seemed to look at me eagerly, although I couldn't be certain of its expression given that it didn't have eyes or even a proper head. I sighed and opened the front door, gesturing for it to follow me outside. Together, we walked to the subway station. My cells and I passed by a neighbor who was taking her dog for a walk. When she saw the blob wobbling next to me, she screamed and dropped her dog's leash before running away. I called after her, trying to explain that she shouldn't be afraid of the old me. The blob stretched out a noodly arm to pet her snarling dog, but I hurried it along in case the animal had a taste for dead cells.

When we got to the subway, I asked the attendant if I needed to pay for two fares, given that my old cells had ridden on this train countless times before, albeit not all together. The attendant just stared, then politely waved us through the gate. Waiting on the platform for the train to show up, the other commuters gave us a wide berth. I felt guilty that my old cells had to experience so much prejudice on their first day back in the world, but I hoped it was better than festering alone inside that trash bag. I could only imagine how disrespectful these other people were to their own discarded cells.

I was pleased to see that the blob either wasn't perturbed by or didn't notice the shunning. Instead, it ambled around looking at everything like it was brand new. A skittering mouse caused the blob to vibrate with delight, and a gust of fresh air made it ooze a clear liquid over its skin, which I interpreted as crying tears of joy.

I turned away for a moment to check when the next train was arriving, and when I looked back the blob of cells was playfully hopping about on the tracks. I yelled for it to come back, but it didn't seem to hear me. I watched in horror as it bent over and touched the electrified third rail. My glistening blob of dead, brittle cells immediately burst into flame. Within seconds it was reduced to a small heap of ash that blew away down the tunnel. The other commuters filled in the empty space around me, relieved that the strange gray lump was finally gone. As I waited for the train among the crowd, I remembered something else my science teacher said all those years ago: Skin cells die and flake off every three weeks. Bone cells die and get recycled every three months. But brain cells stay with you for life.