's 2017 Horror Write-off:

Nepenthes polypsyche

Submitted by Hisham Hasan

My name is Raymond, and I have a story to tell.

I don't know why I feel I need to, really. I guess I wanted to get it off my chest, like maybe if I share it I'll feel better. A sort of catharsis, I guess.

It's not that like I'm depressed or anything. I don't think I'm traumatized by the incident, although I guess many would consider it traumatic. But having this weird story, carrying it around like it was some sort of secret, is in itself a strange sort of burden.

Now, I'm an unremarkable person living an unremarkable life. Early on I decided college wasn't for me, and decided to eke out a living while accumulating less academic but more practical skills.

I worked plenty of jobs; fast-food worker, retail, janitor. I wasn't picky, just trying to find my niche, something I was good at.

Eventually, I decided to move out. Not that I had a falling out with my parents or anything; it just that eventually, a guy starts chafing against parental authority and decides to strike out for himself. I craved independence; my dad understood, said he was just like me at my age. We parted on good terms.

I found a pretty good arrangement sharing an apartment with two other people. Got along great with my roommates until the two of them got married and decided to move out to a place of their own. I advertised for new roommates, but didn't find any takers, and I couldn't shoulder the rent myself, so eventually I had to move out.

And in the midst of all that I got fired from my latest job. Yay.

I slept on a friend's couch for a time while I looked for a new place. I made a few calls here and there, checked listings and websites. I was getting desperate.

Then one day my cousin, Ivan called. He shared an apartment with a guy and was in the process of moving out, and he asked if I was interested.

The apartment was a pretty elaborate 3-bedroom suite. It was divided up in such a way that each bedroom had its own bathroom and small study all to itself, so it gave off the impression of three smaller flats. Each study then opened into a common living room and kitchen. I'm not sure if it was originally designed that way, or if the original owner decided to divide up an unnecessarily large flat. At any rate, it was an excellent arrangement for roommates that preferred privacy.

The other fellow was a guy named Ted, a quite sort of fellow who kept mostly to himself and, when home, rarely left his quarters. I would practically have the main living room to myself.

These were clearly above average accommodations, so much that I worried that even with the rent split between us I still wouldn't be able to afford it. But when I voiced my concerns to Ivan, he reassured me I wouldn't have to pay as much as I thought.

He explained that the apartment used to have three occupants; my cousin, Ted, and this one other guy that moved out just a few months prior. Now, the official arrangement was that the rent was split three ways equally between the tenants, but Ivan told me< that whenever he and the other guy were late on a payment, Ted was perfectly content to cover the whole rent, and get paid back later. He then admitted to me that although he always tried, he didn't manage to pay back for the all times he came up short and accumulated quite the debt to Ted. In fact, he was pretty sure their other roommate pretty much gave up paying his share of the rent at all when he saw that Ted was capable of footing the whole bill by himself. Ted was apparently indifferent to whether the others pitched in or not, or if they even paid him back.

At any rate, as far as he knew, Ted never brought it up with either one of them, and the other guy mooched off of Ted for a few months before leaving greener pastures. And Ted continued right on paying that guy's share without batting an eye.

Not that Ted was completely oblivious. A few weeks after their third roommate moved out, Ted had quietly occupied that guy's rooms, citing his need for extra space. Ivan didn't mind; Ted was technically paying for it, after all.

Ivan also assured me that I wouldn't have to shoulder his debts after he left, and that it was likely Ted would never even bring it up.

Now, I didn't want to be a freeloader, no matter how laid-back the seemingly easy-going Ted was, so I resolved to pay my share as long as I was financially able, like any respectable adult.

But soon you find yourself slipping; you're switching from job to job, the hours are unreliable and so is the pay, you come up a bit short for that month, there always something you need more urgently, and you start paying the rent later and later, and then you miss a month entirely, but you resolve to pay him back later. Then later comes, and you've paid him back in full, but now you've missed this month's rent.

And it goes on and on, month after month, and keep missing months, until you start losing track of the whole mess. But this guy doesn't really seem to care or even keep track of what you owe, so you think, why bother? Why bother paying anything at all. And sometimes you try to muster up the courage to talk it out, but you're afraid that bringing up the subject will only remind him of how much you owe, so you just let sleeping dogs lie, you try to not ruin a good thing you've got going, you've got to scrimp and save whenever you can, especially in this economy, and you go on living while trying to ignore the undercurrent of guilt.

And so in less than a year, Ted was paying the whole thing by himself, while I kept slinking around, dancing around the specter of due rent.

It wasn't that I saw him often, mostly just once a day, if ever. We would exchange greetings and all that. Like I said, he mostly stuck to his own quarters. The study rooms of each portion of the flat were connected to each other by doors, so Ted could easily move between the first and second sections without ever showing his face. (These connecting doors could be bolted from both sides, so there was no chance of him sneaking into my room, or vice-versa.)

All in all, Ted was a model roommate. Quiet, inoffensive. I guess his hobby was horticulture; his part of the apartment had the only balcony, and from what I could see from the street, he grew a bunch of large-leaved shrubs that occasionally grew long, hanging trumpet-like flowers.

The only thing that really stood out about him was his peculiar diet.

He did practically all the grocery shopping. And the rule was that all roommates were free to cook or eat anything in the kitchen and fridge, so for all practical purposes Ted always insured we all had food.

It wasn't that he ate anything strange. Mostly frozen and canned vegetables and fruit, sometimes fresh. Potatoes, bread, pasta, rice. Milk, eggs, chicken, organ meats, like liver and gizzards. Anything that was cheap.

But there was no comfort food, no indulgences. No cheese, no peanut butter. No hotdogs or cold cuts. No chocolate. No beer or soft drinks, no chips. I thought maybe he was a health nut or something, but he really didn't seem like the kind of guy that jogs or works out or anything. Besides, he didn't bother trimming the fat off of the chicken hearts and kidneys and other offal he bought.

There was also the way he cooked. Sometimes he cooked food in a non-stick pan, but of the time he just dumped food into pot and boiled it for a few hours.

There was no rhyme or reason to his recipes; just whatever was at hand at the moment. A tin of beans, a tin of mushrooms, diced ox tongue, a bag of frozen peas, half a cabbage, whatever. No seasoning, except for a bit of salt sometimes.

That was the other thing. Even when trying to eat healthily, most people would also focus on the flavor, try to make it as tasty as possible. But not Ted. No spices, seasoning or condiments. No soysauce or ketchup, or vinegar, or chives or whatever.

He didn't seem to care what his food tasted like, as long as it was nutritious and filling. In the end, I thought maybe he had a digestive problem or something, like a sensitive stomach or maybe irritable bowel syndrome and couldn't eat anything to heavy on the seasoning. Or maybe something was wrong with his tongue and he couldn't taste anything other than salt.

On occasion I would cook, or bring in some take-out, and whatever I offered him he would politely decline. But he made it clear that I wasn't obligated to treat him.

I tried to do my share of the shopping, but it was soon clear Ted always made sure our kitchen was well-stocked and didn't expect anything of me, so I resigned myself to buying various treats and indulgences for my own consumption, knowing that he would never touch them.

I know that makes me seem selfish, but like I said, Ted didn't mind footing the whole bill for groceries and seemed fine with the current arrangement, so I felt it was okay. Besides, he had his own little quirk; while he always freely offered me some of his cooking if I happened to be around, he would always take the leftovers into his room. The next day the pot would be washed and placed to dry on the counter.

I deduced there was an unspoken rule that leftovers were exclusive to their owners. It was cool by me; it was nice I didn't have to worry about my leftover sweet and sour shrimp being purloined by some nocturnal snacker.

Now, for the first time since I moved, I felt really good. Like, security is quite a commodity in this time and age. I had a roommate who was willing to provide both free housing and meals. Look, I didn't intend to become a parasite, it just sorta happened. Besides, I meant for it to be a transitory stage in my life.


I was in pretty fortunate situation, all things considered. Which is why I chose to ignore the dreams.

Yeah, a few weeks after I moved in, I started to have weird dreams. Vivid, surreal dreams, unlike any I ever had before. I soon decided to keep a dream diary.

The ones that stood out the most were the recurring ones. And the strangest thing was, the setting for all of them was my new apartment.

A common dream was just giant, beady-eyed semi-transparent tadpoles almost as big as I was, just floating around the apartment, all their guts and blood vessels showing through their translucent skin, their tails fluttering as they feebly propelled themselves through the air. I would get up to get a sandwich or something and just gently push them aside, like they were just helium balloons.

Another one had me trying to get a glass of water and opening a tap, only to have very tiny tadpoles come gushing out with the water.

A really disturbing one had me in bed, pretending to be asleep while a towering, spindly-legged mottled orange and brown frog, so tall it had to crouch in the room, just loomed over me. For some reason, I could never look directly at it. I would try, but my eyes would slide off to one side. And despite never seeing its face, I had the impression that it was blind; like I somehow knew it either had its eyes covered over with skin, or it had no eyes at all.

Another one had just me sitting in total darkness, fumbling around until I opened my mouth and discovered I could see, and somehow I knew my eyes were actually in my mouth and I had to gape in order to see.

A less disturbing one was just tiny brown frogs sitting in a circle around a really holey and warty pumpkin or gourd, right in the middle of the bathroom floor. Every few minutes, one would walk right up to the gourd and climb right into a hole, only for another, different frog to emerge from another hole.

Another had me lying in a bathtub full of water. Somehow, I couldn't move. And all around me, little tadpoles would swim about, develop limbs, crawl onto me and absorb their tails and become tiny frogs. The full life-cycle of a frog in fast forward.

But the one that recurred the most involved a tiny, brightly colored frog (the color varied from dream to dream) hopping through the apartment. I would notice it, then go after it. I didn't chase after it, just followed, curious as to where it would lead me. Eventually, it would lead me right up to the door to Ted's quarters. It would crawl under door, I would be compelled to follow it and tug at the handle, find it unlocked, then open the door. After that dream becomes really vague, and I don't remember what happens next.

Funny, usually the very last part of a dream is the clearest.

I used to have these dreams maybe once or twice a week, but as time went on I started having them almost nightly, then I started having multiple dreams per night. I would wake up exhausted and drained, no matter how much I slept. I got reprimanded at work for falling asleep on the job.

The Follow-The-Frog dream became ever more prevalent. Now when I walked after the little frog, I would notice other frogs out of the corner of my eye; climbing out from beneath the carpet, coming out of the furniture, even dropping down from the ceiling. These other frogs would always be mottled shades of brown, but the one I followed would always have bright colors.

Once I found myself sleepwalking. It was the same dream, following the frog, as usual I ended up in front of Ted's room, then I grabbed the handle only to find it locked. This was so jarring it jolted me awake, and I found myself actually at Ted's locked door, turning the handle. It was extremely disorienting; I hadn't realized that I had been dreaming nor that I just woke up. It took me almost a full minute to realize what was happening.

Naturally, I was quite alarmed. The last thing I needed was committing manslaughter in my sleep. I took to locking my door every time I went to sleep, and I took extra care not to doze off in the main living area.

The exhaustion just built up until one day, while I was browsing videos on my laptop, whatever I was watching wasn't interesting enough to keep my attention, cause I drifted. Once again the little frog appeared, a bright orange one this time, and once again I followed. Once again, the little frog wriggled under the door as I approached.

But this time was different. This time, I saw the door was bolted.

Strange, I thought. The door to the study didn't have a bolt, only the connecting doors. Besides, what use is a bolt on the outside?

I accepted it as dream-logic and proceeded to slide the bolt and open the door.

Then I passed through. I must have woken up after that, though I can't recall the exact point I went from the dream to reality, so seamless was the transition.

Anyway, I found myself in the study room of the former third occupant, the one taken over by Ted. And I was transfixed by what I saw.

Lianas. Woody lianas crisscrossed all over the floor, covering it with a network of woody vines. And along their lengths, here and there, sprouted clumps of ovoid shapes.

The egg-shaped objects were open along their tops, like an urn or vase, with a tiny lid flexed backwards and a shiny rim. Most were heavily blotched and streaked with various shades of brown, but some were different colors. Butter-yellow with fuchsia blotches, magenta with yellow-orange streaks, bright orange with lime-green spots, striped with pale magenta and dark pink like a peppermint candy. They varied in size; some tiny, the size of a cherry, others were the size of a golfball, still others the size of apples, and the largest ones were practically the size of my head. They grew huddled in huge mats and clumps, like groups of sea squirts.

< It was a bizarre scene from another planet, the shapes reminiscent of colorful alien eggs that had recently hatched.

I was sure I was still dreaming. I took a small step forward, heard crunchy, rustling noises. I looked down and saw someone had something like a tarp on the floor, and covered it with a thin patchy leaver of peat, leaf mulch and bark chips, presumably for the lianas to lay on.

Above me dangled powerful-looking lights, and what looked like a system of misters and hoses.

The strange vines practically covered the entire floor and were just starting to extend into the unoccupied bedroom. They entered the study through the open connecting door that led to Ted's study.

The connecting door. It stirred something in my memory. I remembered my dream.

I checked behind. I had unbolted the door that connected my study to this one. For some reason, the door had not been bolted on this side, which allowed my entry.

Realizing what happened caused me quite a bit of disorientation. Was I awake, or still asleep?

Then, the feeling of disorientation sharply increased. The room seemed to tilt at a steep angle. For the lack of a better term, I entered a trance-like state.

Perhaps "trance" isn't the best word. You know how sometimes in a dream, no matter how weird things get, you just accept things as they come and take the path of least resistance? Just go with the flow?

That's what it felt like. I felt like I was in a dream, and simply had to play along, just go wherever it took me.

So it seemed perfectly logical that I should tiptoe gingerly around the vines and clumps of urns and go explore Ted's room, even though normally I would never invade another person's privacy.

Ted's study was even more overgrown than the previous room. The sparse furniture and desk were pushed up against the wall.

And as I entered the room, I was greeted by a chorus of peeps and chirps.

I looked around. Perched on the rims and lids of the urns were tiny, brown frogs, like from my dreams. They were maybe the size of my fingernail, so small that their croaking sounded like buzzing.

But not all of them were brown. Here and there, there were individuals clothed in vivid hues. One was a brilliant, flourescent orange, almost like a glossy plastic figure rather than a living creature. Another was blotched in brilliant shades of indigo and gold. One was almost completely jet-black, save for two yellow spots, one above each eye.

All these little amphibians were croaking their little heads off, like a miniature audience cheering me on. Again, at any other time I would this at least disturbing, if not outright terrifying, but confronted by such weirdness at the same, in that dream-like state I was glad that I had finally gotten past the point where the dream usually became vague and fuzzy, and was actually looking forward to how the rest of it played out.

I somehow knew I had to go to the bedroom next. As I trudged along., I was careful not step on any frogs or trip over any vines. The little frogs were cooperative enough to give me a wide berth, and hopped away well before I came near. I noticed some of the brightly colored were hopping ahead of me, leading me along. I was happy to oblige.

The bedroom was more of the same. The bed itself had no vines on it, and showed signs of having been slept on, although Ted himself was nowhere to be seen.

I felt my next destination was the bathroom. A sour, sickly-sweet scent wafted from within, like vinegar and maple syrup. And as I approached the threshold, I saw it.

The source of all the vines.

Sitting in the bathtub was an enormous mound of woody lianas and long, tapered leaves. The rest of the tub seemed to be filled to the brim with more of those strange urns. Vines spilled over the edge of the tub and snaked along the floor, to invade the rest of the room. I noticed, with some amusement, that several vines actually grew into the toilet bowl, and I wondered how Ted managed his business.

The whole scene was surreal, the plant like some shaggy swamp beast brooding an enormous clutch of monstrous eggs. I stood there for a while, just taking it all in.

Suddenly, I was struck by a sudden thirst. I was parched; like I hadn't drunk anything for days.

And for the first time, I noticed that the little urns were actually full of liquid. Refreshing-looking liquid.

Something at the back of my mind, some rational part of me that remained buried deep within, screamed at me to quench my thirst from the faucet that was right next to me. But that voice was drowned by something, I don't know what, more amorphous, looming, overwhelming even. An insistence that drinking from the little vegetable jars was a really good idea, in fact the very best idea of all.

So I reached down, plucked one of the cups, one as big as my hand, deftly snapping the stalk that attached it to the vine, raised a toast to the main plant, then tossed back its contents.

Two things happened. One, the rush of fetid, slimy, sour liquid gushing down my gullet suddenly jolted me out of my dream-like state, and I was suddenly and painfully aware of the utterly idiotic thing that I had just done. Two, my tongue and throat went numb.

I clutched at my throat, gagging. With alarming speed, my movements slowed and my senses. I felt a hundred pounds heavier, then three hundred pounds heavier. My limbs felt like they were turning into lead.

I crumpled face-forward into a pile of half-wilted urns, frogs leaping away in all directions, my head narrowly missing the edge of the bathtub while my elbow cracked excruciatingly against the sink. I managed to turn my face to one side in order to breathe, but even breathing was becoming difficult.

As I lay there like a dying animal, struggling to breathe, my cheek squashing a withered urn. I saw a little frog approach, tan with dark brown stripes.

Then another. And another.

They crowded around me, crawled right up to me in fact. I could see a few had even hopped onto my body, although I couldn't feel them through the numbness coursing through my body

I had the feeling that I was being scrutinized, inspected. Evaluated for something I was too freaked out to even consider.

I don't how long I lay there, being judged by minuscule frogs. Maybe just a few minutes, even though it felt like hours

But eventually, they lost interest and just left me there, wheezing on floor.

At that point I was starting to get lightheaded. It was getting harder and harder to breathe, each inhalation requiring more effort than the last.

In the back of my mind, I felt that I have should be panicking, in absolute terror at my impeding demise. But I guess my brain was too deprived of oxygen to muster up any sort of panic response, so I just lay there, waiting for the end.

Until someone grabbed me and flipped me on my back.

It was Ted, his expression best described as a mixture of mild annoyance and bored resignation.

He grabbed my legs and dragged me to the bathroom door. When we reached the threshold, he picked me off the floor and plopped me gently onto his bed.

I tried to say something, but all I could produce was a panicked whine. He checked my breathing, then pulled a blood pressure gauge from the bedside drawer and checked my blood pressure and pulse.

He nodded, seemingly satisfied, and picked me up again and exited the bedroom. He approached his desk and grabbed a small tin, then went into the living room.

He carefully propped me up is a sitting position on the coach, then headed to the kitchen, with the small tin in hand.

At this point, I was getting a bit sick of the continued silence, and managed an indignant grunt. He paused, and finally addressed me directly, "You'll be fine, just wait a minute."

He went into the kitchen, and I heard him turn on the electric kettle. I was a bit mystified, still in a low-key panic, and my elbow was agonizing, but at least now I felt I wasn't dying.

He came a few minutes later with a mug and spoon and sat on the table right in front of me.

"This is sort of like an antidote, it should reverse the effects. You should still be able to swallow," he held up the mug. "I'm gonna spoon it into your mouth, and try your best to swallow. If you can't, I'm afraid I going to have to bring the tube and insert down your throat."

He started spooning the hot liquid into my mouth. It was like some sort of tea, but incredibly bitter and astringent. I swallowed dutifully, and after a while I could swallow much more easily. He held the mug up to my mouth, and made me drink every last drop.

Minutes passed, and the numbness in my mouth and limbs started to subside. I still couldn't move, but I could twitch my fingers and wiggle my toes, and my breathing gradually became easier and deeper.

I wet my dry lips, then I finally managed to croak: "What happened?"

Ted sighed. "You went and drank and from the pitcher, didn't you? I guess it's my fault for forgetting to bolt the door."

I was confused. "Pitcher?"

"You know, pitcher. Trap?" Ted made a vague cup-shape with his hands. "Pot? Cup?"

"Oh, you mean the plant urn thing! Yeah, I did! What was that thing?"

"Something placed in my care," Ted said dismissively. "More importantly, how are you feeling?"

"Better." I tried to sit up, but slumped back down. "What exactly did I just drink?"

"Oh, some Datura, some Brugmansia, a bit of island nightshade and hidden-petal nightshade, amongst another things. Potent stuff. You'll have to drink another mug in an hour, but you should be back to normal after that. Just be warned that this stuff does have a few side effects of its own. Dizziness, nausea, warmth. You might also lose your sense of taste for a few days."

My head was starting to clear, and I was finally able to arrange my thoughts. "Look, I'm thankful for the help, I really am, you most likely saved my life, but I think I deserve an explanation."

Ted looked at me for a minute, then said flatly said: "No, you don't."

I could feel my gratitude being slowly replaced by my growing anger. "Bullshit! I nearly died back there!"

"By entering my room without my permission, then drinking from some unknown plant."

I faltered. I had indeed entered his room and drank some sort of magic plant potion of my own volition.

But did I? Did I really do that of my own free will? I remembered my dream-like state, my strange and sudden thirst, but especially the compulsion to drink specifically from the urn rather than the tap.

My thoughts were interrupted by Ted clearing his throat. "After what has happened today, I think you should move out. You can stay for a few months while you look for another place."

Well, that was blunt and to-the-point. I was incredulous. "Are you evicting me?! What gives you that right?!"

Ted looked me straight in the eye, and calmly said: "Where's your part of the rent?"

Well, I couldn't argue with that. I found a new place, and moved out after a month. During that probation period, with Ted it was pretty much business as usual, and he never mentioned the incident again. I debated telling the landlord, or even the police, but really there's no way to tell the story without making it seem my fault.

I'm getting along fine now, new place, new roommates. I pay the rent on time, more or less. I no longer have the strange dreams about frogs or the apartment, and there have been no new episodes of sleepwalking.

Yet I still have questions about the incident. The most likely explanation was that I had been under a lot of stress and mental pressure and just had a very vivid sleepwalking incident.

But I couldn't shake the feeling of being, I don't know, manipulated. Being induced into a dream-like state, a suggestible state, and then prodded along. Like being hypnotized.

Besides, while all of the above I could attribute to an unusual episode of sleepwalking, there's one thing I can't really rationalize. The part where I was on the floor, unable to move, with a small horde of frogs crowding around me.

I feel, somehow, like I had been rejected? Like I was wanted for something, was evaluated, then rejected. Like as if something, some entity, had considered me for something, and I was found lacking.

As if something, at the very last moment, decided I wasn't worth it and let me go.

I can't help but feel I've had a very narrow escape.