's 2017 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Jackson Gilbert

Johnny and the City Slickers were on the prowl. A number of homeless people in the slums had gone missing. They were spread out, each one in a different section of the bad end of town. Right now, Johnny was in a former industrial zone. The city used to produce a lot of fish before the money-making species was declared endangered, and now the smell still had yet to get out. The massive warehouses- some well-stocked with canned food- were great places for risky parties, meth labs, and squatters. They were also great places for the arcane to operate in secrecy. Johnny had actually lost a few friends to some fish revenants in this place. And yet, even when faced with a decaying leviathan made of both fish and man, the Feds still wouldn't give them guns!

"Assholes." Johnny muttered. And yet, he knew that some of his pals were in a place where the wrong kind of gun would get you killed faster than the aforementioned fish giant. And nothing blows cover faster than a fully automatic weapon strapped to the back.

A voice crackled on his walkie-talkie, sending rats scurrying. "What're you seeing, John?"

"Ain't nuthin much. Some homeless people. A hundred and a half rats. And it smells more like shit than usual."

"Doesn't smell like daisies here either. And since I'm up in the Ranch, that's a bit weird."

"Yeah. I'll let you know if I see a vampire or something. Stay safe, Abby."

"You too, John." The crackling stopped. "Why didn't you let me talk to her?" Patrick was right behind him. His green eyes were wide, and he looked nervous.

"You really think you would have anything to say, new guy?" John asked with incredulity.

"... No." He sounded dejected.

Johnny stifled a laugh. He remembered when he was first picked up for this gig. A mass of veins, attached to a human body, was chasing down some poor guy in the street. Johnny hit the thing with his car, launching it a good five feet, and breaking its neck. It gave the guy enough time to run. Next morning, he found a business card taped to his fridge. Pretty soon, he was hunting down the freaks and geeks of this foul city.

From what Johnny knew, Patrick had done something similar. Apparently, Abby and another agent were cornered by some type of rubber-balloon-thing. Patrick had leaped down from his second story window onto the thing, popping it with a knife and breaking a femur in the process. The Slickers paid for the hospital bill, and as soon as he recovered he was sent out. This was his first mission.

"Are there any vampires? Like, I mean, actual vampires with human skin?"

"As a matter of fact, the first monster I ever killed was a vampire."

"No shit!"

"Yeah. Human skin and everything. A lot of worms under there, lots of tentacles, but human skin. Also, it had no eyes. Or tongue."

A big grin spread across Patrick's face. "Cool."

"Yeah. Let me see that map again. I want to check if we're at the center of the Fish Market."

Johnny grabbed the map, and checked. Yep, all the disappearances were around here. He looked back and forth. There was nothing significant. No sketchy warehouses, no cemeteries, and no skinned humans pinned to the walls. In fact, it was just an ornate, if disused fountain, and a large square around it. Johnny walked around, searching with a keen eye. "Sonuva bitch! Wait- what the hell..." Patrick had stepped into a pile of black sludge. It quivered a little bit, almost like it was alive. What's more, it crunched when he walked on it. The pile was part of a trail that lead to a manhole cover, stopping just before the actual metal. Patrick walked a little closer.

"Woah. Johnny, look. There's blood on the manhole. Like, the edge of it, not the top. And a huge dent. And all kinds of scratches. What do you think happened?" "I don't know. I'll call Abby and Teresa, and ask them if anything is wrong on their side."

And something was wrong. The two reported a similar phenomenon.

"Like I told Patrick, I don't know what's happening, but something might be wrong with the sewers. Listen, let's rendezvous back at the safe house. We need to talk."

An hour later, everyone was at the latest place people had gone missing. Teresa and Andrew were using forensic equipment on the sludge, Abby and Nancy were making sure no one came in the square, and Johnny and Patrick were investigating the manhole. Andrew lit a cigarette, shaking a little. Abby took a swig from something in a paper bag.

Patrick and Johnny were still struggling with the cover. For whatever reason, it wouldn't budge. Johnny put all of his weight on the crowbar, and it bent.

"Guys, we're gonna need something a little bigger to move this. Let's just go home and buy ourselves a crowbar that wasn't five dollars." Johnny said.

"Hell, who even knows if this is paranormal. It might just be some serial killer. And that sludge might just be a little snow mixed with smog. I mean, it's January. All-in-all, I say that we go home. Let the bosses deal with this one." Andrew said quickly. He was still shaking.

The party began to walk towards where the cars were parked. Then, they heard some kind of vibration, emanating from the manhole cover. It lifted up a little, before launching into Andrew's skull. A long, spindly appendage, composed of pipes stuck together, raised up from the open manhole. Quick as a flash, the broken pipe on the end stabbed Andrew through the chest and dragged him down. Then, it grabbed the manhole, pulling that down too. Andrew's cigarette fell on the black sludge, setting it on fire.

"Fuck. Looks like we're going after Andrew." Teresa said.

The team got out their flashlights and climbed into the sewers. The smell was ten times worse. Johnny took the lead, and walked down the conspicuously large sewer. Pipes lined the walls, and they constantly stepped in crunchy black slop.

"Christ. This is horrible." Patrick shuddered in revulsion.

"Pssh. Tell me that when you've fought a human guard dog. Or when you've met the embodiment of a cigarette company. Or when you've gone after-" Nancy was interrupted.

"I think he gets it." Teresa said.

"Yeah, but this is honestly nothing compared to some of the other stuff."

"Like the wizard!" Abby piped up.

"Fuck that wizard." Nancy said.

"I-I understand. I'm sorry." Patrick said.

"It's okay. We're just jaded. Honestly, I'm a little jealous of your innocence." Johnny said.

After five more minutes of walking, the group found Andrew. He was stuck upon a pipe jutting out from the wall. The creature was nowhere to be seen. Nancy immediately ran up to help him down. She didn't notice the pipes coming off of the walls, or the large form coming down from the ceiling. She only looked behind when Andrew's pile shifted. The blunt pipe hit her right in the head.

The sewer-monster looked like a massive, four-legged bug. Each of its legs were composed of pipes, jammed into each other or melted together. The two front legs ended in jagged, broken points, while the back legs ended in blunt, regular pipes. Its front legs were easily six feet, about two feet longer than the back legs. One of the back legs split in half, while the other was about six inches longer than the other leg. Black sludge leaked from some of the pipes, and pooled on the ground. The thing's body was composed of cement, coated with black sludge as well as the nastiness naturally found in sewers. Smaller pipe limbs dangled from the body, constantly clicking against one another and grabbing the detritus leaking from the cement. A manhole covered what seemed to be its face, and it constantly rotated. Johnny could hear something inside of it, sporadically moving and slamming into the sides of the cement. When Johnny looked at the sewer-monster, he couldn't help but feel revulsion and disgust. It made his skin crawl, and he wanted nothing more than to see it curl up and die. The thing was vermin.

Johnny picked up a broken pipe, then started towards the thing. It shook around, launching Andrew's body about five feet away from Johnny. Abby immediately tried to grab Andrew and pull him back. She saw that his skull was almost cut in half, and stopped. Instead, she acted to distract the monster. She clanged pipes together, yelling slurs at it. Patrick was standing around, wide eyed. Suddenly, he started towards Andrew's body. Teresa ran out to call for backup.

"Kid, what the hell are you doing?" Johnny yelled.

"Shit. Fuck! Where the hell is it?" Patrick was running his fingers through Andrew's pockets, mindless of the blood.

"Patrick! Watch out!" Abby called.

One of the front legs stabbed at Patrick. He jumped out of the way, but it swerved sideways. The side smacked into him in midair. Patrick flew to the other side of the sewer. He gasped twice- once in pain, and once in triumph. He dug through a pile of sludge before holding up the matches.

"Johnny! Johnny! Catch!" Patrick spoke with a slur, and his head was bleeding.

"What- Holy shit! Holy shit! Yeah!" Johnny caught the matchbox, then scraped some sludge onto his pipe. He lit a match and placed it next to his weapon. It was quickly lit on fire.

Johnny swung the pipe at the monster, then motioned for Abby to join in. She dropped one of her pipes and scooped up sludge with the other. The two kept smacking the monster, keeping it off balance. The sludge on the cement was lit on fire, and the thing inside started to make a screaming noise, like a lobster. The thing launched the now steaming manhole at Johnny. He dropped to his stomach, dodging the superheated metal. It flew past Patrick, and a second later he flinched.

Steam was pouring out of the monster's hole, and the screaming lessened. Johnny still couldn't see the thing's insides, but he could see a general silhouette. It was shifting and undulating, and seemed to be grinding up some sort of meat. Most likely human. When the steam cleared, he could see its skin. It was grey and dry to the point of flakiness. The meat was systematically losing the moisture in it. When all the moisture was out, a chemical was introduced, turning the flesh into an inky black syrup.

Johnny aimed his makeshift torch at the inside of the monster. Fast as can be, it smacked at his arms. The pipe flew away from him, and he dropped to the floor in agony. Both his hands were probably broken, judging by the bones sticking out of them.

The monster reared up on its hind legs, still on fire. Liquid flame leaked onto him, and he screamed again. It brought its legs down, and he barely dodged them. The grey parts seems to be stretching towards him. Johnny shut his eyes, and felt the fire drop onto him. Then, he heard a scream. He opened his eyes. Abby stood directly over him, her spear stuck through the creature's grey body. The syrup caught aflame, easily spreading to the dry skin of the thing. It thrashed about in a blind rage, grazing Johnny and spreading fire everywhere. Then, after two minutes of rampage, it slumped over dead. It vomited out a small thing. It had big eyes, a small mouth, and looked underdeveloped. Johnny knew better than to question it.

Johnny stood up, careful to avoid the flames. Abby had what looked like multiple burns on her, but she was otherwise okay. He limped over to Patrick.

"Hey bud. Are you okay?" Johnny barely managed to get out the words.

After a second, Patrick replied. "Yeah. I'm having trouble thinking, and uh... wait, what were we talking about?"

"Abby! We need to get Nancy and Patrick to a hospital. I'll take Patrick, since he can walk. Can you carry Nancy?"

"Yeah, I'll take her."

Everyone except Andrew was treated for their injuries. A quick flash of their agency card, and no one asked them how they got hurt. Patrick had a concussion and stayed out of the field for a few months, Abby had twenty first and second degree burns, Johnny had multiple compound fractures in the hands, and Nancy needed facial reconstruction to fix her up. Teresa was completely okay. Naturally, all five were traumatized, and continued their mandated therapy. The mission was considered a success.

Meanwhile, around the city, black sludge was found. It quivered and crunched more and more by the day, until, one night, the millions of tiny eggs hatched. Naturally, more than a few of them would die. However, many would survive, and adapt, and shape their malleable bodies to find new niches. They would spread more of their children, gaining as much mass as they could. Humans and greater things would shoot them, burn them, destroy their homes, and otherwise harm them. That was okay. The species would survive. They were like cockroaches- innumerable and unkillable. They were Vermin.