's 2017 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Peter Marchetti

A pleasant collection of sounds, Sam thought: rain pattering softly against the roof, the low drone of the heat turning on, the crinkle of brown paper as he pulled his lunch from the bag. A poppy-seed bagel. Not his first choice - the bakery had been out of sesame - but it would do just fine.

A quick cut, a quick toast, and some time with the knife and cheese spread finished off Sam's preparations for the meal. As his hand brought the bagel towards his waiting mouth, something gave him pause, and he took a closer look at the poppy seeds.

Strange- he'd always thought of them as little spheres, uniform black dots, but now that he took a closer look he saw the little nub to one side, the faint ridges on their surface. Huh, he thought. Never noticed that before.

He sat, hand reaching up, mouth still open, as one of the seeds began to twitch, then uncurled, its tiny head darting from side to side. It squirmed its way towards his waiting fingers as its siblings began to awaken one by one.

Sam felt a little nip at the tip of his finger as the first seed climbed on to it, buried its head in his skin and started to dig. No pain - not even a pinprick. As the first seed vanished the rest followed, a tide of tiny black specks scurrying over Sam's hand and burying themselves. It wasn't long before the last one vanished beyond sight.

Sam came out of his trance with a start, not entirely sure what had just happened. He looked around. The room was as he'd remembered, the heat had just come on, rain still fell outside, his lunch was in his hand. He supposed he must have been missing more sleep than he thought, mentally shrugging as he bit into his plain bagel.


"Number fifty-two, your order is ready... number fifty-two..."

The tinny, distorted voice crackled through the loudspeaker, and Jen checked her receipt. Fifty-two: that was her. She pushed herself up from the grungy booth, and made her way through the empty restaurant over to the counter. Yep, that was her order: small hamburger with cheese, hold the fries. No soda, she'd stick with water.

Jen hated the run-down fast food joint, at the corner of the busiest intersection in the city, hated the greasy grossness of the tables, the stench of old rotting fries and lettuce stuck behind the seats for far too long. She had no idea how it stayed open - the owners must be committing dozens of health code violations - but it was cheap, and fast, and it was the only restaurant within a five minute walk of the factory that was open during her half-hour lunch break. The food was lousy but it was edible, and today there were no other customers to bother her in line and delay her order.

Jen unwrapped the burger, grimaced at the tiny square of cheese dangling halfway off the side, and raised it to her mouth, preparing to take a bite. But as the top bun approached her face, something made her stop short. She found her attention drawn to the sesame seeds spread over the bun. There wasn't anything particularly special about them, or the bun itself. Some junk-brand, mass-produced frozen garbage the chain used to cut costs. Was it her imagination, or were there more seeds on the bun than normal?

As she watched, tiny cracks appeared on one of the seeds, then another, and another. Six tiny spindly legs pushed their way through, and one by one the seeds unsteadily rose to their new feet. They seemed to amble about in some confusion, jostling each other about, and a few fell from the bun onto Jen's lap. Those that did suddenly stood straight up - their legs made a little circle around the sharp end of the seed - and then they began to jab downwards into her jeans.

As if they had received some kind of signal, the remaining seeds stopped their squabbling and rushed towards Jen's hands, still holding the bun. They climbed over each other, each searching for their own bit of skin, and jabbed down. Jen felt a light prick, then another, and another, and then the seeds slowly began to swell. Where their shells had cracked, plates of material came away, leaving little white sacs that swelled up to the size of peas, before dropping off and scurrying away across the floor. Those that had fallen to her lap had more difficulty - some tried in vain to dig through the denim, eventually shriveling and falling to the ground, while others tried to climb back up her body, towards her hands. Jen couldn't see what happened to those as her arms were in the way; she thought she might have felt a few pin-pricks on her waist and stomach, but it may have been her imagination.

A loud burst of car horns, followed by the screech of tires sliding across asphalt, brought Jen back to her senses. She looked down at the burger she was holding, confused for a moment. It was exactly as she remembered: skimpy cheese, wilted greens, seedless bun. She put the burger down and checked her phone; she still had twenty minutes for her break, her attention must have just wandered for a moment. She picked up her food and began to eat.


Today had been a good day. Customers were flying through the doors, the meat delivery had arrived on time for a change, and the new hire hadn't broken anything or set anything on fire. Closing time had been five minutes ago, and the last pair of customers had ordered the Chicken Parmesan. The chef picked through the ingredients: here's the cheese, there's the salt, the sauce is over there...

Hm. Not quite enough sauce left for both orders. A little dent marring the day's end. Oh well, making a small batch of sauce wouldn't take long, and would taste better for being fresh.

Back to the ingredients: tomato paste, parsley, garlic...

Something wasn't quite right there.

The chef sniffed the head of garlic, then separated a clove and squeezed gently between their thumb and forefinger.

The clove held firm for a moment, then started to give way. The papery skin flaked off and the fluid-filled sac beneath swelled under the pressure. The chef, shocked, tried to drop it but it was too late. The sac ruptured, and the scummy off-white fluid splattered over the counter.

The chef sighed from exasperation. More dents. Still, it would take more than a dent or three to ruin such a good day.

A quick soapy rinse of hands and counter, one head of garlic thrown into the garbage, and one more retrieved, tested and judged suitable. The chef resumed their work.


"He is such a picky child..."

Jason stayed in his chair, quietly looking up at his mother and his aunt, holding a plate of coconut macaroons and looking between him and his mother with a mixture of annoyance and concern.

"It's just a bit of coconut, what's he getting so upset over?"

His mother shook her head.

"That's just the way he is. I'm sorry, we should have told you ahead of time that he only eats plain food."

Jason's aunt glared a bit more forcefully.

"He is your child! Surely you've instilled better discipline in him than this?"

"He's just always been this way. We've tried of course, but we can't get him to touch anything with... seeds, nuts... you know, garnishes. Threaten to take it away, send him to bed without supper, he goes without a fuss. Give him nothing else to eat, he'll happily go hungry. We've just learned to live with it."

Jason said nothing as his mother and aunt continued to argue. He watched the plate, saw the thin threads of coconut start to twist and writhe, slither towards his aunt's fingers. One made a little slit, and worked its way inside, with the rest quickly following suit. They were far too sharp to leave visible marks, and Jason was sure his aunt didn't feel a thing. They never did.

"Well, at least I made some extra plain treats to go with the coconut. He'll have to make do with that, and I hope you won't expect me to do so again without notice."

Jason's mother sighed.

"Yes, Cathy, next time we'll bring something for him. Shall we get back to the party now?"

Jason's aunt placed the tray of plain macaroons down next to him, then wandered back towards the dining room with his mother. He carefully examined the remaining cookies.

Not a scrap of coconut remained. Satisfied, he took a bite.