's 2018 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Zach Metz (email)

Ted Butler had a very strange beard.
    That isn't to say it was odd looking, per se, more that it made those who were looking feel odd. So most didn't look, or did so in short, furtive glances as though afraid of ramifications.
    Ted Butler was a man who was fond of ramifications. So much so that when he became manager nearly 20 years ago, he stamped the word "ramifications" above a bulletin board and gleefully posted disciplinary reports upon it every Monday morning. Towering over his employees at a staggering 6 foot 10 inches tall, and built like a bull, Ted was a physical and emotional presence wherever he went; this was usually to nearby cubicles, where he would relentlessly bully the occupants. Coming upon them sitting down and turned away from him, he would lounge against the wall until they noticed him looming over them like a cold, smiling titan. Bending at the waist, back stiff and arms folded, he would lean in and begin berating them, smiling the whole time. He had a strange way of speaking, starting slowly and speeding up throughout a sentence, before biting off the end in a rush. Disoriented and intimidated, most new employees would be suitably cowed in the first few hours of their shift.
    Adding to this fear was the knowledge, shared among employees over water coolers or between bathroom stalls, that Mr Butler had a large Colt .45 that he kept in plain view on his desk. This, he explained, was in case of terrorist attacks.
    There had been a pretty sizeable turnover for a while, and the company began sending in experts to determine the cause. These experts never made it to the employees before they were swept away to Ted's office for a few rounds of expensive bourbon and some kind of rich cheese, and strangely enough never seemed to want to interview any of the employees when they came out. Several, in fact, told the company's corporate headquarters that there was a great degree of unrest because Mr Butler wasn't able to truly enforce his rules! As Ted would say, if somebody breaks the rules, there have to be... ramifications.
    But it wasn't Ted's questionable business practices or clear and evident abuses of power that interested Jacob Guillaume, though that would plague his day to day life for years. No. It was Ted's beard that was so strangely compelling about the massive, arrogant man. A small part of Jacob wished he could tear the black, twisted mass off the man's face in a fit of rage, while another part of him was disgusted by the pube-like patch of weeds.
    "It's hypnotically horrible, you know?" He would say after a few beers with his friends, interrupting their game of pool with wide, drunken gesticulations and a frantic, fervent tone of horror. "Like I can't take my eyes off it, and it feels like it's fuckin' watching me, you know?"
    Nobody ever paid Jacob any heed. Rumor was, his family was French. Poor devil.
    The Christmas of Jacob's third year approached, and the turnover had reached an all time high. Through some kind of cosmic joke, he was now the only person in the building who had been there more than 90 days. As such, according to company policy, he was the only one eligible for voluntary overtime.
    According to one Mr Butler, not signing up for voluntary overtime when it was available called for... ramifications. So it was that Jacob found himself working alone in his cubicle, fingers tapping away blankly at a keyboard he barely glanced at, eyes flicking between the monitor and his cubicle entrance. Mr Butler was working in his office, presumably filling out last minute paperwork; the light shone through the window of his office door and formed a thin path through the aisle of darkened cubicles right to the doorway of Jacob's, where it stopped. At any moment, Jacob expected to see the looming shadow of Mr Butler ambling down the hall towards him, and as the clock tick, tick, ticked away the hours, the tension, the fear of this outcome grew.
    His fingers typed more and more frantically, making more mistakes and marking them with whispered, muted "fucks" followed by speedy backspacing and retyping. His bladder became painfully full, but he crossed his legs and held it, afraid to move anything but his fingers and his eyes, lest he be trapped, alone, with the bullying presence of the esteemed Mr Butler. His shoulders grew more and more hunched, like a man preparing for the strike of a lash that refuses to fall, lengthening the tension and the terror with each agonizing second.
    Tick, tick, ticking away the time. Like something out of a slow, methodical nightmare. Aching bladder, legs tensed so badly his right foot fell asleep, and of course, cold sweats. His hair began to fall, limp and sweat soaked, in front of his eyes. Still he refused to move his hands away from the keyboard. His eyes flicked more and more frantically between his monitor and the light shining from Mr Butler's office. Looking from the monitor, to the path of light. Monitor, path of light. Monitor, light. Monitor, light. Monitor, Ted Butler's perfectly polished shoes.
    Letting out a hoarse shriek, Jacob spun in his chair, limbs akimbo, feeling his pained bladder release in a sudden torrent, his chair slamming back against his desk with a shuddering crash. His monitor flickered, but Mr Butler just stood there, idly staring at the flickering monitor as he calmly scratched his beard, a large, toothy smile taking up his face.
    "Hey there Jacob, how's it going today!" His greeting felt like a demand for positivity.
    "It's... It's fine Mr Butler. Just getting this work done." Jacob stuttered out, squeezing his legs together to hide the unpleasant dampness. "I, uh, didn't hear you coming."
    Ted Butler stopped scratching his beard and turned his eyes towards Jacob, that too-big smile strapped firmly to his face. "I'm pretty light on my feet hahaha! Always been good at sneaking up on people. Hey, Big J, you ever been good at anything in your life?" His eyes were turned towards Jacob, but they seemed to be looking through him, as if he was an uninteresting speed bump in the life of the large-and-in-charge Mr Butler. Embarrassed and a little annoyed at the jovially proclaimed but cruelly intentioned question, Jacob bit back.
    "Yes sir, I think I'm pretty good at dealing with assholes. Get a lot of practice, working here."
    Mr Butler continued smiling, speaking with warm mirth in every word. "I'd say this building isn't the only place where you've dealt with assholes, Big J."
    Jacob stared at him in enraged incredulity, but remained quiet. This kind of casual belittling was pretty common for Mr Butler, but insulting an employee's sexuality was brash even for him. And yet the man just stood there, staring and smiling, with that horrible beard framing his face.
    "Why don't you grow a beard, Jacob?"
    "They make me look like a homeless person, sir."
    "Someday soon you might be a homeless person, you know. Might as well be prepared. Corporate thinks turnover is pretty high as it is, otherwise you'd probably already be there."
    Jacob gripped his chair armrests tightly, shifting in damp discomfort and wishing the man would just leave him be.
    "Yeah you new employees are too lazy. Too soft. Can't even grow a beard right." He began to stroke his fingers through his beard, pulling it down towards his chest as he did. "Back when I was working out here, I'd finish twice as much as you guys before I even went to lunch. Hell, I still could." He laughed through his smile, a kind of light hissing sound. When it ended, there was total silence, apart from the ticking of the clock. Mr Butler continued to stroke his beard, and Jacob found his eyes drawn to it. The beard seemed to keep growing as he stroked it out, getting longer and longer with every pass until it was nearly to his belt. But he continued brushing it, now with both hands, pulling the two sides apart slightly as he did.
    "Jacob, I want to show you something."
    This was all the warning Jacob got as Mr Butler moved his beard away from his chin enough to reveal a huge, blood shot eye peering out of the tangle of hair. It blinked sideways, like the nictitating membrane of a lizard, and unlike Mr Butler's other eyes, it stared at Jacob with a purpose.
    Jacob let out another, higher pitched, shriek.
    "Yes... strange, isn't it? Do you like it? Do you want to touch it?"
    Jacob scooted away, standing up and feeling the warmth run down his leg, unable to stop himself from staring at the eye. "What the fuck?" he gasped out.
    Mr Butler shook his head sadly. "Come on Jacob it's a birth defect. Don't be an ableist, this is probably the only part of a man's body you wouldn't touch." He began to laugh, but this time he threw back his head and laughed loudly, in a way that sounded almost entirely fake. Jacob covered his ears as the sound consumed his small cubicle.
    "Report to my office, Big J. I think your disregard for the feelings of other employees and your disgusting public display of urination are grounds for termination." That smile again.
    Jacob shook his head, unable to move. Too much was happening too fast. This was too weird. Too fucked up. What did it even mean? What was going on.
    "What... what the fuck are you?"
    Mr Butler's largest eye bulged as he smiled even broader. "Why Jacob, I'm your boss. That's all. Everything you need to know. Well, except that I'm watching you. Always. Wherever you are."
    He stepped into the cubicle and gripped Jacob's arm firmly above the elbow. "Come on now, let's go to my office. We can talk about this. I don't want to lose my oldest employee." the way he said the last sentence sounded the same way most people would talk to infants. Jacob pulled away in horror and dawning disgust as the eye came closer to him, but Mr Butler's grip was like a vice.
    "Let me go, what the fuck are you doing? Get away from me!" Jacob kicked out, his leg thudding up in between Mr Butler's in a boneshakingly powerful strike, but Ted barely moved, just kept smiling as his other hand reached down with incredible speed, grabbing Jacob by the thigh and lifting him bodily of the ground.
    "C'mon Big J, just relax! It's not my fault your work is slipping and your health has gotten so bad! You should just work harder, you'll feel better!" The hand gripping Jacob's thigh squeezed and twisted, and the bone shattered with a horrible crunching noise. For the third time that evening, Jacob screamed.
    "Please, please let me go... fuck!" He shouted as he looked down at his leg, bent at a right angle to the rest of him. Another warm liquid pooled down his leg, this time with much scarier implications.
    Mr Butler's third eye wandered up and down Jacob's suspended form, holding him in place with one arm. Jacob kicked limply with his working leg and slapped with his free arm, but he was rapidly going into shock, and blood loss from such an important artery was weakening him. Mr Butler's smile grew.
    "You can't just kick someone in the groin like that at work. We're adults here. Our actions have... ramifications." His fist lashed out, smashing up into Jacob's crotch with a crunching sound. As Jacob's mouth opened to scream again, Mr Butler grabbed his lower jaw and dropped him to the floor, beginning to drag him down the path of light to his office, whistling happily. Jacob writhed like a fish caught on a hook, eyes filled with tears as his hands gripped his crotch.
    Mr Butler threw open the door to his office and dropped Jacob unceremoniously inside, bleeding and whimpering in pain. He was rapidly turning pale from blood loss, and seemed to be unable to even sit upright anymore.
    Turning, Mr Butler poured himself a glass of bourbon, sipping it through his broad smile. He watched Jacob struggle for a moment before laughing and sitting down at his desk and rifling through the drawers. When he re-appeared, he was holding an employee complaint form.
    "Do you have any complaints about how things are run here, Big J? What's that? You don't? Excellent. I'll need you to sign this paper saying you agreed of your own volition." He tossed the sheet of paper across his desk and watched it gently drift down just out of Jacob's reach. He continued writhing.
    "I always liked you the most, Jacob. It's a shame really. But I don't decide what happens, you know? Downsizing and all that. Gotta be tough to survive in this corporate world. Gotta be the best we can be!" His smile had gone so far beyond manic it was hard to even notice the third eye. And as pain pulsed through him over and over again, Jacob found it hard to focus on anything at all.
    "It's eat or be eaten buddy boy. Sad to say." Mr Butler tried and failed to hide the look of absolute glee on his face. He seemed to be sweating with excitement. Turning away from Jacob, he walked to the back of his office and began searching through his closet, talking to himself the entire time. The longer he spoke, the more fragmented and almost advertisement-like his dialogue became.
    "Try our brand new Jacob burgers, now with real food! Marinated for your pleasure! Spice up your love life with our new mop headed freak!" On and on. Through his pain, eyes fogged and unconsciousness fading on and off the horizon of his mind, Jacob began to push himself towards the desk. Mr Butler was entirely distracted pulling what appeared to be an entire small oven out of the closet as Jacob pulled himself up against the desk.
    Trying to ignore the pain radiating from the entire area south of his stomach, Jacob leaned forward and squinted, his eyes, unfocused from pain as they were, finding the revolver he sought. He staggered to his good foot, turning painfully to face Mr Butler.
    "Now," The latter said, standing straight after arranging a large collection of buckets, bowls, knives, and a surprisingly large, gas powered stove with its accompanying propane tank. "I don't want this to take up too much of my golf time, so let's get on with..." His voice trailed off as he turned around to stare at the barrel of his own revolver.
    Jacob groaned in pain and squeezed the trigger hard. The shot was meant for Mr Butler's third eye, but a pained shudder jerked the barrel up and sent the bullet slamming through his skull instead, splattering gray brain matter across the back wall. Mr Butler's body fell limply to the ground, and Jacob winced as he fell back against the desk.
    Silence fell in the wake of the booming crack of the revolver. Panting, Jacob slowly, each movement an agony, sat up. His leg was still bleeding, so he pulled his belt free from his pants and wrapped it around his thigh, pulling it tight with a pained grimace. His throat felt torn and bloody from the screaming, and he was covered in blood, piss, and brain flecks. He stared down at the revolver at his side and back to Mr Butler's body in a kind of silent, short lived relief.
    Mr Butler's third eye, remarkable undamaged in his cranial detonation, was pulling itself free of the man's chin with 4 or 5 long, spindly, spider like limbs. The horrible creature had pulled itself mostly free, stuck to the corpse only by the long umbilical cord of its optic nerve. With a tearing sound, this came free and, now sporting a tail, the eyeball scurried across the floor at lightning speeds. Jacob reacted quickly, but in his weakened state, he barely managed to pull the gun up to aim before the eye had slipped up the pant leg of his wounded limb.
    Jacob swatted at it once and howled in pain as his blow made the bones in his leg crunch and shift. The eye twisted around his leg, looking for a way to climb higher,to no avail. Shaking his wounded leg, teeth gritting in pain, Jacob shook the beast free of his clothing, watching as it frantically leaped backwards, away from him. It scurried for the door; there would be just enough space for it to squeeze under, and no hope of ever finding it among the sea of cubicles.
    There was only one thing for it, and Jacob pushed himself up and off the desk, hurling his broken body in front of the eye, blocking the doorway. Although the creature dodged his opponent, it had no way of escaping the room with this exit blocked. Dodging Jacob's hand, it slipped up under his shirt. Jacob found the strength to scream as he brought his fist down against his own stomach over and over again, but within seconds, the eye had scurried to his back and torn into his skin with long, sharp claws, and pulled itself up and under Jacob's skin.
    He could feel Mr Butler moving through his body, the eye cutting a path through his skin, closing it behind him as he moved to the front of Jacob's body, staring up at Jacob as the latter pulled his shirt up to look at his new organ. There was a long, terrible pause, before Jacob started screaming again, flailing towards the desk. Reaching it, he sat up and grabbed the revolver, pressing the still-hot barrel against the eye and squeezing the trigger without a second of hesitation.
    Deep in his mind, Jacob felt something pop, as though there was a presence he hadn't known about. He felt the parasite almost dissolve from such a close shot. Then came the pain. He passed out.
    When Jacob came to, he found himself the prime suspect in a murder case involving the fate of one esteemed Mr Butler. The press was somewhat sympathetic to Jacob, who seemed like a friendly, peaceful man, but public opinion turned against him when the lawyer representing Mr Butler's side in the case walked into the courtroom and the supposedly murderous employee attempted to attack the man, screaming about an eye hidden in his beard. After this, Jacob pissed himself and was sedated. The court decided a mental health institution was in order.
    A new man has taken Mr Butler's position as manager. He's a shorter man with an impressive gut, but most people are more concerned with his strange, some would say frightening, beard...