's 2017 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Brendan Cleary (email)

And with that, Bradley engulfed the centerpiece of the room, a clock that only had the numbers "0" and "0.1" on it.

The crowd cheered and clapped at the evening's light entertainment, Bradley bowed and left with a wink out of the third story window.

Now that the guest had been thoroughly put at ease, it was time for the dinner. Nallis Vick's true intentions in putting together this dinner for the most well known and talented members of the disease industry would be revealed.

She knew that reception to her proposal may be mixed, so she made sure to bolt the exit door shut five different ways.

The recipients gathered as Nellis and her genderless one legged concubine set up the artificially organic table. 28 seats, enough for everyone, with 14 extra seats if new humanoid lifeforms were subsequently created during the dinner and needed someplace to rest their newly made legs. Her genderless one legged concubine gave each guest a single embargo cherry, a delicacy worth more in value and meaning than the minor sustenance it could offer.

"How could you afford all these?" Asked The Neighborhood's own Theodore Paul, who always kept one hand firmly snug inside his shirt pocket. "I certainly hope you were able to splurge while keeping your "Squirrel" card legally." This caused the rest of the diners in attendance to burst into chuckles. They all possessed "Eagle" and "Grizzly Bear" cards, signs of their upper class worthiness, with a lucky few well on their way to getting official "Human" cards.

Nallis hid the inherent loathing she held for everyone at this party quite well. "I'm working within my means here Theodore. You all underestimate my funds, as you underestimate my intelligence." Vick was an independent contractor who had worked privately for all of these people in the past. She was always subservient to them. Always doing whatever her current "client" wanted her to. That would change today. From now on, Nallis Vick would have no master. She stood up, her fork sticking out of her still uneaten cherry, and walked around the large table. "This meal isn't just an excuse for you all to dine on my food."

"Then what the hell is it Nallis?" Asked Gottfried Figaro, who decided to wear a giant smuggling suit jacket to this party under the misguided assumption that there would be leftovers to smuggle. "Let us know and stop this ridiculous parlor show."

Nallis smiled. "I have for you all, a business opportunity." she snapped her fingers, and her one legged genderless concubine, who had scurried off after serving the food, scuttled back wheeling in a large sheet of paper stuck to a rickety metal stand. The large sheet of paper had another sheet of paper on top of it, which had the word "reveal".

"You are all genius in your field of manufacturing and creating germs, is that not correct?"

Always willing to admit their own greatness, the guests nodded and shared knowing smiles. One of them even went as far as to loudly proclaim that they were the best disease creator in the room, which lead the others into good natured laughter publicly and mentally updating their kill list privately.

"But, you all had a leg up in this game. Diseases were already a concept long before Parker Manzipeg decided to engineer a flu substitute to terrorize and control his apartment complex. You had a template to work with for diseases. Public consciousness of diseases made it an easy market to get into."

"Your point being?" Said someone, it's not important who.

"My point is is that because it's so well established, it's not that hard for any kid to get themselves a framework and start their own company. And frameworks and templates are becoming more simplistic and more effective every day. Sure, the true disease expert may understand the difference between Madam Bessey's premier custom airborne Crotaplexic and some mass produced quick fl-U hack made by a teen during his junior study break, but to the common man's eye they're just as effective. And 99 percent of your customers are the common man."

"So we'll just focus on selling to the expert market then, as we always have, it can be done." Barked Corporal Flattery, slamming his fists on the table in a way that he hoped came across as threatening.

"That's a short term strategy you're trying to prop up as a long term business plan." Nallis said with a smirk, "The upper class market will just become more and more fractured and your returns will become more diminished as more disease companies come to the same conclusion that with my help you all just realised. It's not a business that can function for long. And sooner rather than later the disease market as we know it will collapse, and the one that will emerge in it's place is one where name brands no longer exists and where everyone has the tools necessary to make their own disease. Why pay someone like Gulfton and Daughters or Veratex Inc a lucrative amount to make a fast acting cancer lookalike when you can make one yourself with a 50 dollar disease kit and rudimentary knowledge you can get for free online.

"So you're saying we should get into the disease tool box market?" Said a visibly nervous Golly Gulfton, not comfortable with being namechecked. "I can do that... we can do that."

"It's too late for that, that market is already cornered by Lakeside and Bowl. No, I'm saying we use our disease making knowhow to forge our way into a completely different medium."

"But what if the market is already cornered there to?" Said Shoes Porter, trying to keep her smile wide. "That would be impossible" Replied Nallis. "It doesn't even exist yet."

The plan, once she laid it out to them in simple terms, seemed intuitive enough to succeed and obscure enough to explain why no one else had tried doing the same.

They would create a new plague that would ale humanity, something that could satisfy their most sadistic customers in ways normal illnesses couldn't, something physical and tangible enough that classifying them as airborne viruses would be like calling a parrot a dog.

She encouraged the guests to look through their desks and garbage for all the ideas they disregarded for being too out there and unmarketable and bring them in next week.

Together, they would make an apocalypse, and then sell it in large and reasonably priced packages.

For months they worked together, the 14 of them working in unison, forgetting their own personal quirks and identifiers until one couldn't remember what separates their hands to those of the person synthesising microscopic teeth besides them. They had become one entity. Individuality set aside temporarily for lifelong financial security, the one true motivator for all of them. When they were done and the new medium had been finished, it was like one person's mind being split into 14 different entities, each with only a fragment of the originals memories. During this process, the Concubine was always close by.

Because of this, none of them could exactly say how the thing they would call Fear Canal was created, but they were all proud of it and the hand they must have had in creating it.

It's name was Fear Canal, and it wasn't a flu, but a creature that could think, and could kill, and could do things even creatures wouldn't do. Because it wasn't a creature. I was lying to you. It was more like a sentient tragedy that could, once it had slipped over its victims left earlobe, manipulate and stimulate their brain to heighten inconveniences and create the sensation of public embarrassment from the most minor stimuli.

FearCanal would be be a different type of disease, one that would target it's victims mentally, using the victim's own fears and neurosis against them, highlighting and underlining them against the victims will, creating the victim's own brain into a battleground, a fight they couldn't win because their own troops had seemingly turned against them.

"Artificial mental illness," Said Bats Mckenzie, softball enthusiast and one time player, dimly tracing the rough shape of a pear in the air, "It's terrible, and that's why it's gonna sell."

Of course, they needed subjects to test their creation on, and there are always people willing to put their lives at risk if the money's good. Wallis's concubine went to work spreading the world, their skin became covered with a message declaring "important experiments taking place for completely fine and normal individuals" and directions to Wallis's residence. Soon a steady stream of completely normal people were coming in.

You know, normal people. People who wears ties once a week. People who only have one interest, and make sure not to let their fairly mundane hobby get in the way of work. These people, those who had desired and attained normalcy, were the perfect subjects for Fear Canal. Within moments of activating Fear Canal on one of these individuals, the man (who put his name as Douglas Thrilled) became convinced that his own mother now controlled his brain, and was forcing him to relive everyone of his unsuccessful birthday parties. "The fact that she keeps skipping my 9th" Douglas said, holding back tears, a very not normal behavior. "Is what really hurts. It was by far my best birthday, and that shows a level of intentionality I'm not comfortable with at all."

With fine tuning, they found that they could engineer what aspect of a person the Fear Canal would focus on. The right twisting of a genome could make a Fear Canal that would torture it's target with images of food that no longer existed and over emphasise the importance of the grumblings in their stomach. A tweak on its genetic makeup could make one that made the user unable to think anything concrete and specific, only able to ponder in the abstract and in generalization. They were discovering this new medium piece by piece, stretching their legs in a vast ocean of potential. Some of the manufacturers started to become inspired creatively in ways they could scarcely remember being. It wasn't just financial stability they were doing this for, not anymore. It was for the medium itself, the art itself.

"If we didn't do it, someone else would" Rationalized Jeffrey TightSqueeze, who annoyed the others with his sudden growth of a conscious. "At least this way we can be the gatekeepers, we can make sure that what's made in this is... somewhat ethical."

"And we'll be the ones who determine what's ethical, correct?" Asked Nallis.

"Well, of course" Jeffery said. "Well... of course."

They started to advertise, but they were clever about it. Done in a hush hush, need to know basis with companies big enough to pay well but not big enough to be able to take over their business. They kept this method of secrecy and security even as they started diversifying and their clients got more numerous and smaller in profile. Soon, every Joe on the street had their hand in the Fear Canal pot, but every Joe on the street was certain that they were the only Joe who had gotten this opportunity, as it was designed.

By the end of a time period one could call relatively short, 87 percent of the population was infected by some sort of FearCanal, and 79 percent were controlling at least one FearCanal. And every single one of them, no matter how many lives they controlled or how many companies were in their name, thought they were the only one who had this "new stage in airborne terror" in their pocket.

The FearCanals effects were so similar to hysteria and madness that one could easily write off the countless news reports of erratic behavior as "chaos caused by chaos" or "people being people". As the underlying madness that everyone had silently agreed years ago governed human nature artificially forced its way to the surface, it was almost comforting. No one wanted to question it when their most cherished pessimistic worldviews were becoming remarkably similar to their own reality.

They raised a glass to the view screen and toasted to the fact that the world was finally as it should be, trying to ignore the fact that they've recently become obsessed with the idea that their legs didn't belong to them.




"So that's it, we're done?" Jape Nepal shifted uncomfortably in his seat, he didn't want to end his work on fear canal, it seemed like they had just started.

"For the time, being" Nalis replied. "We now have a dedicated base of customers, a steady stream of income, and have accomplished what we set out to do. I'll be keeping a close eye on its proliferation and spread, and making adjustments or intervening when necessary. But as for the 13 of you, you're good. You can live comfortably in a leisure cube or go on that murderous rampage you've always wanted to do. You're all set, and your weekly cuts will make sure that you all stay that way."

Bats reached out a shaky hand to nothing in particular. "Can we at least... make our own? Not to sell or anything, just to have as a sort of... hobby."

Nallis raised her three layered eyebrows. "Certainly. What you do now is none of my business. But please tell me this, do you know how to make them. Honest to god, do you know how to make them?"

Bat opened her mouth to respond, but was surprised when nothing came out. Some of the others were coming to the same conclusion, realization blooming on their face.

"We made this together, in an act that was almost religious. I don't remember what I did to create Fear Canal, and I'm sure none of you do either. You played a part, but that's just it, you played a part, and a part does not make a whole. The only way you could hope to make more fear canal is if all 14 of us worked together, and there is enough fear canal circulating now that I have no desire or reason to make more."

Nallis took a step forward, as her Concubine looked on. "And so, there's nothing left for you to do. Please leave, feel proud of what you've accomplished, and never talk to me again."

The 13, while they seemed on the verge of revolting, sheepishly left the room. As was expected. While it wasn't completely necessary Nallis had implemented each with a fear canal that neutered their aggression, just in case.




That night Nallis laid in her bed. It was five times larger that it was when she first invited those idiots to the dinner party, and she was taking full advantage of this, sleeping in a pose that was uncomfortable, but maximised the amount of space taken on her bed. Everything she had set out to do, had been done efficiently and perfectly. And in return, she had gotten everything she ever desired, including a "Human" card. She had every reason to be happy.

So why was something dark scratching at her, some thought that she couldn't explain but that filled her with dread? What dread could she possibly feel?

I want to create fear canal, this thought floated up suddenly, gaining her full attention. She examined this thought in her brain. She had had it, she remembered the exact moment she had come up with it, so why did it feel... so impersonal? Like some object that had been placed in her brain, without her consent. There was other thoughts she could see now that shared this feeling of artificialness, all thoughts that had to do with fear canal, all of them, frustratingly, didn't seem like her own. Another thought bubbled up, one that was certainly her own. It was terrifying, but she had to admit it made sense. What if fear canal was-

Her thoughts stopped. Her pupils dilated. The one legged concubine calmly administered the nightly dose of BloodScream into Nallis's veins, resetting her mind and filling it up with new, likable thoughts that would help guarantee the existence of Fear Canal for years to come.

Once this had been done, the concubine hopped out of the room happily, humming their own little private tune.