's 2017 Horror Write-off:

She Never Got Addicted

Submitted by Miranda Johansson

Exterior, day. Establishing shot of a mansion in Mexican hacienda style: white stucco walls and red tiled roofs. The California sun sits high in the sky, and the street bakes in the heat, but the lawn is green and perfectly kept. Slow zoom on one of the first-floor windows. The blinds are pulled. Inside, it takes a few moments for our eyes to adjust to the gloom.

This is the bedroom where our leading lady wakes, past noon and with her mouth bone dry. Linger on her features for a moment. Take her in: the lovely Leslie. She's had work done on the nose, and collagen injections to make her lips plumper, but as yet there is no procedure which can fully hide the marks of age on the skin of her neck and her face. She's turning fifty this fall. How did that happen?

Leslie groans and rolls over, and sits up in bed. It's a king-size bed, but she's alone in it. Paul is on another of his interminable business trips. He's the breadwinner of the family. Leslie knows she shouldn't complain - she lives in the lap of luxury - but every now and then she wishes she got to wake up next to her husband more often.

After a while, she manages to get to her feet. She shuffles to bathroom that adjoins the master bedroom, and leans against the doorpost for a moment. On the washbasin is a glass with their toothbrushes in it, his and hers, the former so seldom used. Leslie dumps them into the basin with a clatter, and fills the glass with water from the tap. Swallowing hurts. Everything hurts.

She feels like shit.

Her skin is hot. She wants to lie down on the tiled floor, but her joints ache awfully, so she settles for leaning her forehead against the cool mirrored front of the cabinet. That'll leave a mark, but she's not the one who cleans around here.

She hears the door to the bedroom open. "Mrs. Shaker?" It's the voice of Maria, their timid little Mexican maid. "Is everything okay?"

"I'm fine," Leslie calls, though her voice comes out hoarse and raw. "Just a little headache." She opens the medicine cabinet and finds the bottle of extra-strength Tylenol.

"Okay," Maria says, though she sounds skeptical. "Do you want breakfast?" Her English is good, despite her thick Mexican accent. Leslie wouldn't have it any other way. She refuses to live in a house where the help doesn't speak the language.

"No, thank you, Maria," Leslie says. She takes two Tylenol and washes them down with water, then forces herself to a few more swallows. She pours the rest out, and watches it trickle down the drain. "I'll be heading out. Go and get the car started, would you?"

"Yes, Mrs. Shaker," Maria says. Leslie hears the bedroom door shut.

Leslie looks at herself in the mirror. She looks as bad as she feels. Her eyes are red-rimmed and crusted with sleep. Her face is drawn and joyless, and there's a bitchy little downward curl to her mouth that she doesn't like. She realizes with mounting horror that she looks like her mother. Dumpy old Mary-Ann Brown, who lived on farms all her life until she died on one.

Leslie attempts a charming charity-event smile to ward off the ghost of Mary-Ann, but it just makes her look sick.

It's been too long now, she knows. Too long since she made a sacrifice. She's been putting it off. She hates it, so she puts it off. But it's preferable to the alternative.


Leslie came to L.A. when she was only a teenager. She wanted to be an actress.

Her first job was as a waitress, just to pay the bills until her big break. Then she tended bar, until she realized she could make much more by stripping. Leslie used to laugh with her best friend Debra about what they parents would have said if they could have seen them, back in those days. Leslie and Debra had a lot in common - Debra came from Nowheresville just like Leslie, and had fled home to seek out a more glamorous life than that of a cattle-raiser.

Leslie misses Debra a lot.

It was while she was working as a stripper that she first met Paul. Mr. "Mover and" Shaker.

He was a customer. Yeah, yeah.

Romance isn't dead, right? But Paul was rich and good-looking, and she gave him a private dance, and he asked to see her sometime when she wasn't working. The rest is history.

Now she's getting on in years - but still young at heart, she reminds herself - and there seems to be a lot of history. She's done a lot of things that she regrets, and worse than those are the things she regrets not doing. She never did get to be an actress.

She shouldn't complain. She has the kind of life people envy: she started out a farmer's daughter from bumfuck nowhere, and here she is, living in a Beverly Hills mansion with all the money she could ever need.

Yes, sure, there have been a couple of speedbumps on the way, but she's always kept her eyes on the prize. That's a source of pride for her. She never allowed herself to fall by the wayside, get knocked up by some deadbeat and end up a single mom. And she never, ever got addicted to drugs.

She's doing well. Unlike the junkie girls she has known, the addicts with their hollow eyes, Leslie has come out ahead. She isn't like them. She's made a lot of bad mistakes in her life, but she never got addicted. She's better than them.

True or false?

It's not that she's never done drugs. Heck, Leslie figures strippers circa 1990 who didn't at least try coke must be as rare as unicorns. Leslie has done more than her fair share of drugs, both before and after meeting Paul. She knows all too well the feeling of the come-down, of waking in the morning and feeling like dying in your sleep would've been preferable. She feels that way right now.

But she never got addicted.

Leslie dresses in a white pantsuit, puts her face on, and heads downstairs. She's hungry, but the thought of food turns her stomach. Maria looks at her with something approaching concern, and Leslie knows that she looks ravaged despite the makeup. "I'm going out," she says. "If Paul calls, tell him to try my cell phone."

Paul won't call. He hardly ever does while he's away on business. That's fine - Leslie would rather not be disturbed. "Yes, Mrs. Shaker," Maria says. "I started the car."

"Thank you, Maria," Leslie says, and leaves.

The 2016 Lexus sedan that Paul bought for Leslie's latest birthday idles in the driveway. It is sleek and gunmetal gray. Leslie really is in no state to be driving. She gets behind the wheel, pulls out of the driveway, and heads towards Los Angeles.


Leslie drives with no plan in mind. That's the good thing about Los Angeles: you don't need to look for long to find the people that nobody will miss.

She leaves the car in some godforsaken parking garage or other, despite her misgivings about the kind of people who live in neighborhoods like this. She'd much rather not have her car stolen, especially not today. But hopefully she won't take long enough that someone will spot her expensive car.

She heads out onto the baking L.A. streets. The homeless people are everywhere, the hopeless and the dispossessed, but they're so easy not to see. They hide in doorways and underneath awnings and in the scant shade of buildings, doing their best to avoid the blazing sun.

Leslie feels almost like a shopper, comparing wares. She gives them all an appraising glance or two, then looks away. A few of the beggars are vocal, pushy. They call out after her, and sometimes insult her when she ignores them. Others look hollowed out by hardship; they hold signs asking for help, but there's not much hope in their eyes.

It takes her ten minutes of walking to find her guy.

He sits with his back against a brick wall, a grubby blanket covering his legs. He looks about middle-aged. His hair and his beard are very black. He wears a beat-up baseball cap and meets her gaze with dark, intelligent eyes. She does her best not to feel a twinge of revulsion at his matted beard. It must've been a long time since he got to shave, she thinks, trying for sympathy.

When she approaches, he looks up at her impassively. "Spare some change, miss?" he asks, in a voice that is polite, not desperate.

"I'll do you one better," Leslie says. "How would you like a job? I need help carrying something heavy. I'll pay you twenty dollars."

A little apostrophe of curiosity and suspicion appears between his eyebrows. She can read his thoughts: what does this rich bitch want with me? She holds her hands up, shows him her palms to signify square dealing. "No funny stuff," she tells him. "How about it?"

The bum takes his sweet time deciding. As if he's ever going to turn down a twenty.

Leslie's head throbs, and she feels the weight of the sunlight like a physical thing. She tries to be patient, tries to not get annoyed. She wonders what he would do with the money, if she gave it to him. Buy food or coffee? Put it in a savings account? Get high? She doesn't care. It doesn't matter.

Finally the bum seems to come to a decision. He gets to his feet; he bundles up the blanket and stuffs it into a shabby plastic bag; he looks at her for further direction. Big soulful eyes in an impassive face. He makes her think of some kind of dog. A big dog, without a master.

She leads him back to her car. It hasn't been stolen or stripped for parts, but when she circles around to the driver's side door there is a long, ugly scar in the gunmetal paint, left by some hard metal object. Leslie sighs. She'll have to get that fixed. The Lexus unlocks remotely, but the bum waits until she's in the car before opening the door on his side and sitting next to her.

She doesn't ask his name. She doesn't want to know.


The tenement is a blasted concrete nightmare. Even the weeds around its foundation look like they regret growing there. It's close to the airport, and Leslie sees the bum wince as a plane passes overhead. She remembers living here, forever ago: how she was liable to wake at all hours of the night, startled into consciousness by the roar of engines.

"In here," she says, and the bum follows her inside.

Through the front door into a front hall riddled with litter and shattered glass. The building lost its tenants long ago. Obscene graffiti covers the walls. Leslie wonders if the teens who come here to smoke weed know about the secret this place harbors.

"This place is a dump," the bum comments.

Leslie has to laugh. "Why do you think I want to move my things out of here?" Her smile is bright, but she is abuzz with anxiety that makes it hard to breathe. She hates this. In the medicine cabinet back home, there's an old bottle of Valium that she hasn't been able to bring herself to get rid of. She wants nothing more than to take one and hide under the covers, but she can't. She has to see this through. Nothing to do but grin and bear it.

She leads the way into one of the first-floor apartments. The carcass of a sofa molders in a corner. The bum eyes it doubtfully. "That what you want me to move?" he asks.

"No," Leslie says. In her mind's eye, she can still see Debra sprawled on the sofa, only half sitting, her eyes all whites. It wasn't the drug overdose that killed her, in the end, but choking on her own vomit.

Just inside the front door to the apartment is a doorway leading to a bathroom. The door to the bathroom is long gone, torn off its hinges by some vandal or junkie. The bathroom is tiny, a few tiled square feet furnished with a filth-caked old sink and a toilet. "In here," Leslie says, and motions the bum through.

He looks at her, mystified. She can guess at what he's thinking.

He's wondering what she's playing at - if this is a sex thing, if this rich lady gets off on fucking homeless people. If she intends to suck him off in there, or what. If he wants her to. It would nettle Leslie, that a bum like him even has to consider it - he ought to be thanking his lucky stars - if she weren't so apprehensive about this next part.

After a moment, he shrugs, and walks past her into the bathroom. His foot touches the tiled floor. Leslie follows close behind him.

The one step from the doorway to the toilet becomes two steps; after two steps, the toilet is ten steps away. Walking towards it doesn't seem to bridge the distance, as it should, but rather increase it. The walls rise around them. The sink disappears into hazy distance above. The toilet looms like a monolith on the distant horizon.

The strange part is, there's no sense of shrinking. Leslie doesn't feel as though the two of them are getting smaller, nor that their surroundings are growing. It's just... some trick of perspective, like an illusion, except it's too real to be an illusion.

The bum comes to a staggering stop after only a few steps. He turns around and looks at Leslie with wide, uncertain eyes. He looks over her shoulder at the doorway, through which ten people could've walked abreast. "I, this, what," he stammers.

Leslie puts a reassuring hand on his shoulder and squeezes. "Don't worry," she says.

"What the fuck is happening?" the bum demands. "What - how is this..."

"This is just a dream," Leslie assures him.

It's a bald-faced lie, but the bum looks like he desperately wants to believe it. He nods and swallows. She holds onto his arm, and leads him through the bathroom, bigger now than any cathedral. It's a much longer walk than one might expect. Each tile is the size of a large room. Their steps echo.

As they near the vast towering commode, the bum begins to feel it. It starts as anxiety, as a physical worry, then it gets worse. The bum is sweating now, and he takes off his baseball cap and wipes his forehead with the sleeve of his oversized sweater. "Is this real?" he asks, the panic in his voice only barely subdued. "Is this real?"

Leslie hushes him, and soothes him with little noises. The toilet looms over them, the size of a mountain. They have to crane their necks to look up at it. Every hairline crack in the old porcelain is the size of a canyon.

The thing rising from the bowl of the toilet is skyscraper-huge. It is long and segmented, like a centipede, but with none of the centipede's symmetry. Misshapen appendages project from its body seemingly at random, and it terminates in a blunt, blind, featureless head, more like that of an earthworm than anything. It's completely covered all over in human nails, which ripple and flatten in waves along its form like grass in a breeze.

The homeless man moans. Beads of sweat stand out on his forehead. Leslie feels it too: the shakes, the horrible driving need. The thing in the toilet bowl projects abstinence symptoms like an aura. Leslie resists the urge to scratch at herself. It'll get better once it has fed.

She has sometimes wondered if the thing is a god. It has power, certainly, and it is to it that she makes her offerings of innocents, but there has never been anything to suggest that it is sapient, or even sentient. Nothing past her first run-in with it, on the night that Debra died.

There was - not a vision, nor even an epiphany, just the horrible knowing. Knowing exactly how it would feel to be shut in a little refrigerated stainless-steel locker in the morgue. Refrigerated so she wouldn't spoil. A tag tied around her little toe in testament to her final fuck-up. Cause of death: drug overdose.

Of course, when the time finally comes, she won't know or care, but it doesn't matter. The memory, undiminished these past two and change decades, still fills her with claustrophobic horror. She wants to avoid that fate for as long as she can. And the way to avoid it - to postpone it for another six months, another year on the outside if she's lucky - was vouchsafed on her that first time.

Anyone would have done the same in her position. Leslie is absolutely convinced of that. She's convinced that Debra would have done the same, if the roles had been reversed. But they weren't, and so Debra was the one who ended up with the tag on her toe, and Leslie was the one left alive, her brain echoing with commands awful in their simplicity.

Appease. Sacrifice.

Leslie does as she is told.

God or not, Leslie feels no sense of ritual or sacrament. The bum is retching, but he can't tear his eyes away. The thing that looms over the two of them, over Leslie and her homeless sacrificial lamb, is beastly. There is no dignity in it, only awful hunger.

It feeds.


It's hot and dark outside, a tropical L.A. night. They were in that bathroom for what felt like twenty minutes, maybe half an hour at most, but outside hours have passed. Leslie feels the cool breeze on her face.

She has one of the bum's arms around her shoulder. He weighs heavily, a nerveless weight. She can smell his unwashed stink. He's hardly conscious, but some automatic part of his brain makes him put one foot in front of the other as she coaxes him along. Before long he'll be incapable of even these most basic motor functions.

They stagger together to her car, and she deposits him gracelessly in the passenger seat. His head lolls. His eyelids flicker.

Leslie looks back for a moment at the ugly old tenement building. She doesn't know what would happen if it were ever demolished. Maybe it would solve her problem once and for all; maybe it would just leave her with no altar to sacrifice at. She's terrified to find out. She hopes she never has to.

She walks around her car and gets in the driver's seat. The scratch on her car door doesn't seem like such a big deal now that she's had time to clear her head.

She'll drop the bum off on the steps of some hospital or clinic. Not because there's anything they can do to save him, but for ease of disposal. They'll take one look at him and see there's nothing to be done, and he'll be carted off like so much garbage. At the end of the day, the multisegmented god of addiction will be appeased, and once again the person in the stainless-steel locker will not be Leslie.

The tenement disappears in the rearview mirror. She opens the windows a crack so the overdosing bum won't stink up the car. The warm California night air smells of palm trees and cooling concrete and exhaust fumes. Leslie feels better already.

She's going to sleep well tonight.