's 2018 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by saint salt

“The people here have the most dangerous curses of anybody in St. Clara,” the mayor said. “Sooner or later, one of them will break out, and it will be your job to handle it.” Victor flinched as he walked by some of the cells. Poor bastards. One had fingernails long and thick like railroad spikes, scratching tallies into the wall. He nodded at Victor as the little visiting party passed by. Another had holes in his teeth, through which sickly lights were visible dancing around like fairies. It was a carnival freakshow in the form of a prison.

“Don’t get too afraid, now, sonny,” said the mayor. The stooped old woman  took a second to remove her sunglasses to look pointedly at Victor with her sunken, empty eye sockets. “You’re gonna wind up like them one day. Whether you use your curse for good or evil, it gets you in the end.” Victor was filled with renewed fear, but only for a second. The mayor could not see it, but all four of Victor’s eyes hardened with a steely resolve.

“I’ll use what you’ve given me, Mayor Humors. Your curse is a blessing.”
The mayor chuckled. “We’ll see about that, doll. Let’s start your hero career before you can make too many promises, hm?” Victor nodded.

As they marched down the corridor, accompanied by a guard, there was a bizarre and nauseating gurgling sound that got stronger as they approached cell 61. Someone stood in the corner of their cell, eyes to the ground as gallon after gallon of fluid poured from their open mouth. There was a hole in the ground that they stood over to let the fluid spill into. When the person looked up in surprise as the three of them passed by, Victor saw the prisoner was a slight girl, no older than 17. The fluid pouring out of her mouth was deep black, like oil. Some spilled on her as she moved her head, and it began to steam and burn immediately, apparently incredibly hot. She winced but did not cry out. Victor’s Oculus sight noticed calluses and burn scars on her hands and arms. The girl moved back towards her hole.

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry,” said Victor. The girl looked up with pitiful eyes. “I’ll find a way to get you out of here.”
“Don’t promise that,” snapped Mayor Humors. “You think we haven’t tried? She’s treated well down here, I promise that.”
Victor turned to the girl. “Is that true?”
The girl, sadly, shrugged, standing up to take a whiteboard and marker from the wall of the cell. Victor noticed how skillful and careful she was to keep her head angled towards the hole, not letting a drop of the fluid spill onto the floor or herself.

She scribbled for a second, before turning it to Victor without looking at him, keeping her head facing down over the pit. “They treat me well, but I’m still a prisoner.”

He nodded. She took it back, erased it, and wrote. “I understand that this is for my own safety and the safety of the city.” Took it back. Erased. “But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Victor was silent for a minute. The only sounds were the scraping of the man with the fingernails and the constant splatter and hissing steam of the fluid from the girl’s mouth hitting the bottom of wherever her hole lead to.

“What’s your name?” The question caught the girl by surprise. It almost seemed to Victor that it took her a little time to remember. She erased her board. “Sarah Chambers.”

“I’ll get you out of here, Sarah. I mean it. I swear it as Oculus. Where my predecessor failed I will succeed.”
Sarah nodded faintly and hung her board back up on the wall, rotating herself with her head above the hole.

“I’ll see you again,” said Victor.

They kept on down the hallway.

“You’re an imbecile,” said the mayor. “A complete sap and an embarrassment to the name of Oculus.”

“And why’s that?” barked Victor. “Because I saw someone in pain and wanted to help them?”

“No,” Mayor Humors said. “Because you can’t ever accept that you can’t save everyone. You do this every time we go into the field to do hero work.”
“Easy for you to say, grandma, riding on my back when we fly like I’m a fuckin’ horse. You don’t have a curse anymore. I do.” Two of his eyes were furious. The other two were desperate. “You might be training me, but I’m the one doing all the work. You’re not Oculus anymore. Your days have passed. I bear the curse now.”
Mayor Humors said nothing.

“‘I can’t save everyone.’ No shit, Vanessa. No shit.” Victor stopped walking. “I know I can’t save everyone. But here’s the difference between us. When I watch a criminal kill a civilian who was just out of my grasp, I feel destroyed. When I see Sarah sitting in a cell 80 feet below the earth, spending her life staring at a pit in the ground because if she moves she’ll burn herself up, I want her to be free. I agreed to take this job because I wanted to help people. So would you let me do it?”
Mayor Humors stopped too. “I gave you my eyes and my curse because you wanted to help people. I understand your feelings and I trust your judgement. I felt much the same when I was a young woman.” She turned around to look up at him. She took her glasses off again, and a fire seemed to  burn in those dark, sullen sockets, covered over with tight skin. “But I find it unbelievable that you think I haven’t done everything in my power to help these people.”
“You put them in cages!”
“They’re safer here.”
“At what cost?”

“We weighed the costs! If we don’t know how to break the curse without passing it on, what can we do besides doom somebody else?” She paused to collect herself. “Look. This is what I brought you here to teach. I want you to meet someone.”

Mayor Humors motioned for Victor to follow.

At the end of the hallway was an enormous wall that almost looked like a bulkhead on a ship, tall, metal, and seemingly impenetrable.

“The most dangerous person in the entire facility is behind this wall,” said Mayor Humors. “He’s young, but he’s been young for a very long time. His name is Elmo. I want you to talk to him. Please don’t make any rash promises this time.”

“I can’t promise that,” said Victor.

Vanessa scowled but said nothing. The guard swung the great door open and slipped in, Victor and Vanessa following.

The inside was not what Victor had expected. It was, architecturally speaking, an exact midpoint between “castle dungeon” and“child’s room.” Racecar posters and dinosaur figurines adorned wooden bookshelves and oppressive stone walls. The ceilings were high, with wooden beams supporting them, faintly visible in the dim fluorescent lighting. The floor was carpeted blue, and a young boy sat on it, N64 controller in hand as he stared at a small TV, enraptured with what looked to Victor like GoldenEye.

“Lunchtime?” The kid said, without looking away from his game. He looked to be between 10 and 12, with scraggly, bristly black hair and thick, round glasses that the dim lighting made it difficult to see through.

“No, Elmo,” said Mayor Humors tenderly. “I’ve got someone here for you to meet.”

“Oh, hi, Miss Vanessa,” Elmo said. “Gimme a sec.” Victor almost introduced himself, but the security guard put a finger to his lips.

“Not till he talks to you first,” the guard hissed through clenched teeth. “Be careful about how you talk to him. He will trick you.” Humbled, Victor nodded.

Elmo finished his level and stood up, brushing himself off. He wore a grey t-shirt and blue gym shorts, and when he smiled politely, walking over, Victor’s Oculus sight noticed through Elmo’s lips that his teeth were jagged and pointed aggressively. He stuck out his hand.

“Elmo Burkard, at yer service. Nice eyes, mister.” They shook. He was deceptively strong. “What can I do you for?”

Victor didn’t know. He looked back at Vanessa for support, but her blind sockets couldn’t see him.

“Uh... I just, came to talk to you, I suppose,” Victor decided. “What game is that, GoldenEye? I used to play that as a kid all the time.”
“You wanna do a match?” The request was so earnest it caught Victor off guard, but he found himself actually wanting to.

“Sure, why not?”
“Just don’t pick Oddjob.” Elmo opened a drawer on his dresser and pulled out a second controller, plugging it in and waving Victor over. Victor looked through the dresser with his Oculus sight. All the clothes were identical.

Victor sat down next to Elmo. “How long have you been here, bud?”

Elmo shrugged without meeting Victor’s eyes. He picked the Basement level.

“What’s, um, what’s your curse do?”

Elmo looked at Victor now, studying him. Those thick glasses blew his eyes up, bigger than his face should hold. “You’re the new Oculus, huh.”

Victor mumbled a confirmation. What was with this kid? “I took the curse on a few months ago,” clarified Victor.

“I was born with this curse,” said Elmo, looking back at the game. The match started. “No screen cheating,” he added.

They played. Elmo was good, and Victor was out of practice. It was over pretty quickly.

“I’ve been here as long as I can remember,” said Elmo. There was a twinge of bitterness in his voice. “The curse passed from my dad to me.” No, it wasn’t bitterness, Victor realized. It was spite. Pure, sharp, burning spite. “Is that the answer you wanted, Oculus? I’ve been here my whole life.”

They played another round. Victor got smoked.

“I don’t know what the Sun looks like.”

Victor said nothing. He realized with a start that Elmo was very, very pale.

“I’ve never seen the Sun, Oculus.” Practically a whisper.

“Would you like to, Elmo?”

Elmo looked up at Victor and there was anguish in his eyes. Untempered anguish, the likes of which Victor had never seen in someone so young. “I don’t have much in my cell, but I’d give anything.”

Victor was at a loss. Vanessa and the guard hadn’t heard Elmo speak. He made a snap decision. “I can’t let you leave, but I’ll show you the Sun.”

Victor stood up and looked skyward. He felt a heat building behind his second set of eyes, but he knew it wouldn’t be enough. He let the heat creep up into the top set, his own eyes, and unleashed one of the most powerful optic blasts he’d ever attempted straight towards the ceiling. The noise was deafening, but the cut was clean - tons and tons of rock above the prison obliterated in an instant, leaving a circular hole about the diameter of a yoga ball. A spot of sunlight from the world above poured downwards and splashed onto the floor, a beam passing visibly through the hole and illuminating a spot on the carpet.

Victor looked at Elmo, and the youth looked giddy, but not in the way he had anticipated. The happiness Victor saw in Elmo’s face was depraved and unnatural. Just as he saw intense anguish in this young boy’s face, he now saw an intense perversity, a malevolence that came on suddenly and grippingly.

The security guard bellowed. He dashed forward, but Elmo was faster. He sidestepped the larger man, slipped around Victor, and threw himself into the sunlight. Blind Mayor Humors pieced together what had happened and shrieked, “VICTOR, WHAT DID YOU DO?”

As soon as the sunlight hit Elmo, he fell to his knees cackling, and his head began to grow. That was all. His head simply began to grow, and Elmo began to laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh, as his head grew and grew and grew. His glasses fell off his face and shattered uselessly on the floor. His head grew some more. His eyes darted around the room frantically and ecstatically as they expanded beyond belief. The security guard body-checked him, but wound up simply bouncing off and falling to the ground. His head took up nearly half the room already. Victor scooped up the security guard. There was a nauseating, wet cracking sound as Elmo’s feeble neck snapped under the weight of his own head, but the head kept growing and Elmo kept laughing. It was a wheezy, splintery sound.

Victor could still hear it in the elevator as they fled the building, could still hear it as he flipped the switch to release all the accursed lest they be crushed. He doubted he would ever stop hearing it, same as he doubted Elmo’s head would ever stop growing.