's 2019 Horror Write-off:

Dreadshapen II - Line Man

Submitted by Luna Wolf

“Are you sure it’s safe to sleep?” Nim asked for the third time.
“I can stay up to keep guard.” Leaner offered.
“No, you’re the only one capable of putting up a fight, you need to be well rested.”
“You can’t do it, being unable to see. And Zin can’t survive staying up the night.”
“I could… I’d just be even more useless tomorrow.” Zinci yawned. The lack of sunlight signaled her body to rest.
“I could wrap my tongue around us real tight. She can’t abduct all three of us and it’d keep us warm.” Leaner suggested as a joke.
“Can you do some magic barrier, Nim?” Zinci asked.
“I specialize in healing magic. Other than the training spell fireball, I can only heal wounds or alter bodies.”

Eventually they were too tired to argue and just huddled together. The attic of the house was dusty, but the moonlight illuminated the empty space enough to let no corners be obscured in darkness. The floorboards were hard, but it felt like the safest place to sleep. Most creatures they snuck past were either too large to fit into the house or were physically ill-equipped to climb a ladder, or even unfold it. The Skin Thief’s relatively human build could allow her up there, but Leaner was confident in the repellant force of gross chocolate.

She felt the skin of her friends on her own. The warmth radiating from within them. She’s never been close to anyone before. Due to the circumstances, it all went pretty fast with these two. At least she hoped they liked her too and didn’t just think of her as an asset to their escape. She was mostly concerned about Nim. There’s still this wall she kept up. Something’s eating away at her and Leaner worried next time, they would not succeed in calming her back down.


They did not wake up in the attic. The world had reshapen itself around them again. Instead, they laid on the mossy floor amidst a forest. The Earth bent under them, like a blanket hung over a hole. They laid in the center of a valley, with sunlight desperately trying to pierce the tree tops down to them. Leaner tried to allow her eyes to adjust to the rays stabbing into them occasionally.

Nim woke up shortly after and as the unfamiliarity struck her, she tapped the floor in search of her companions, slapping Zinci right in the face. Her upper half bolted up with eyes wide open. She looked around to spot the attacker, finding herself only surrounded by friends. Only then her awareness spread to the trees.
“Oh for fuck’s sake.” she grumbled.
“Where are we?” Nim asked.
“In the middle of the forest.” Leaner said with defeated acceptance. This place would not make escape easy.
No further questions from Nim. Her glowing markings dimmed. Leaner wasn’t sure what that meant, but it looked like she was distressed.
“Everything alright?”
Nim moved her lips but her erratic breathing did not allow for words.
Leaner wasn’t sure how to help her, but it appeared like Nim was stuck on a thought. Leaner pushed her into a proper sitting position and tried to get her attention.
“Do you wanna hear a story?”
Nim’s breathing calmed a little, as her attention shifted.
Leaner didn’t actually have a story in mind, she just wanted to distract Nim from whatever was upsetting her. She picked one out from her childhood.
“There once was a little girl that lived in the forest.” Leaner paused to gauge Nim’s reaction. She listened, not upset at the mention of the woods this time.
“The people of the village nearby would only see her from afar, standing by the trees. For the longest time, they weren’t even aware someone lived out there. But someone spotted her one day. That person was quickly told to leave her alone. Nothing good could come from the woods. Every now and then someone would spot the girl, watching them from afar. It was too far away to read her expression. Some would wave at her but got no reaction. No one dared to get close to the woods. Their parents warnings at least stopped them from that.”
Nim calmed down. Zinci also sat down to listen to the story.
“Should I finish?” Leaner asked.
“Yeah, I’ve not heard this one!” Zinci said.
“Well, one day a kid did walk up to the girl. The girl was not frightened, nor intrigued by the stranger. The kid reached out a hand to touch her and found that she was cold and softer than a human. He picked at the skin of her arm and found it came off rather easily. He took the piece of skin home and had the most wonderful dream that night.”
Zinci frowned in disapproval.
“The next day, the kid came back and found the wound had healed. Only a scar was left on her arm. A pale notch that no longer matched the color of the tree’s bark. He pulled off another bit of skin and soon others would too. No one was scared of the girl from the woods anymore. People got used to the dreams and forgot what it was like to not sleep well. In time, the oldest scars would fade completely.”
“Does this have a happy ending?” Zinci asked.
“No it doesn’t. Should I continue?”
Zinci debated her answer.

The sound of static cut through the silent moment. Like a radio that found no station. An aggressive noise that filled the air like smoke. Leaner scooped Zinci up into her arms and took hold of Nim’s arm with her tongue. She didn’t bother looking at the creature, she just ran away from the noise. The ground here was littered with fallen branches held tight by the spiked tendrils that tried their best to ensnare Leaner’s feet as well. It was only a matter of time before she fell. The loud static was replaced by actual words as the creature began its pursuit. Leaner could hear it were english words, but she couldn’t make out what it said. She only noticed that the sound grew closer.
She wondered if her tongue was strong enough to pull all three of them up onto a branch. Was there any place to hide nearby, a cave too small for the creature? Hell, she didn’t even know what it looked like. She could tell by the size of its steps that it must be tall. Fleshy tendrils reached over her. Long, thin sticks covered in rust-colored skin. The next moment, they pierced into the ground, stopping the chase as Leaner uselessly threw her weight against them. Her tongue reached through the fleshen bars, still holding onto Nim, still running, as the creature reached out with more fingers. Leaner released Nim to instead hold back the creature’s arm. It had ten fingers on each hand, all longer than the arm itself. They reached all around the palm, forming a bird cage, struggling to capture Nim with Leaner’s own oversized appendage interfering.

Nim noticed the lack of guidance and shouted out to her friends, but the panic would not let her stop running. Blindly she ran onwards, evading the undergrowth’s passive attempts to grab her miraculously.

The radio creature looked after her, before redirecting its faceless head towards its prey. A deep scar cut through the swollen meat, almost giving it the appearance of having a mouth. In its throat stuck the noisy piece of technology still spewing random recordings underlaid by the steady rush of white noise. It’s body stood like that of a monkey, it’s right hand sticking rigid in the ground like it ceased to possess any mobility.

“-now what that would look like, is this.” Leaner could hear the relayed voice more clearly.
“Now, I don’t know about you, but looking at this, I don’t feel too great. The colors, the movement, it really worms its way into your stomach, doesn’t it? Now watch if I do this.” The sound did not appear to have any meaning or to be produced with purpose. It just seemed that the more something captivates the beings attention, the clearer the sound gets.
“I’m really feeling this one. Oof! Now, what I didn’t tell you is that I played this with the sound off this whole time. After you’ve seen this, you should know what you’re in for. Let me show you this sequence again but with the sound on.” the recording fell silent with nothing but the faint buzz left. Zinci and Leaner leaned against the bony bars or their prison, watching the being cock its head back and forth, like a confused dog. The fingers of its other hand tapped the ground in a simple rhythm. A faint murmur joined the buzzing. Perhaps a voice, or something else.
“Now the fellow who did this must be one twisted guy, right? Well, let’s look into that…”
The being reached one of its fingers into the cage. Despite their length, they appeared to only have one additional joint. They lacked fingernails, ending in thick knobs, like their last segment had been amputated. The finger poked into Leaner’s cheek. She would have bit it if she wasn’t so disgusted by it. After a minute of prodding, the creature removed its digit. It sighed. A sound not originating from the speaker. Spit bubbled out of the gash in its head. It plucked its fingers out of the ground, curling the tips to a point, like the legs of a dead spider, carrying the two girls off.
“Raymond Barry Colleigh is a forty-three year old man who began this project eleven years ago. He worked in a cannery since leaving school at age 16 up until the death of his mother fifteen years later. He lost two fingers in a workplace accident at age 27. Neighbors describe him as someone who rarely left his house. They found themselves wondering occasionally if they should check if he was still alive, but always decided against it, as it wouldn’t be a pleasant encounter either way.”

The being just wandered the forest aimlessly. Leaner did her best to bite through the fingers, but only managed to rip the skin. The creature did not care about the injury. A foul taste lingered in Leaner’s mouth, no matter how much she tried to rub it off on her pants.

At least it kept the cage steady as it crept through the forest like an injured gorilla. Leaner and Zinci tried their best to sit comfortably and wait for an opportunity to escape.

“I know it doesn’t have a happy ending, but do you mind finishing the story?” Zinci’s head leaned into the gap between fingers.
“Sure. Where did I leave off? Everyone was having nice dreams, right?”
“So, every night people would come and take a bit of skin from the girl and take it home. They’d have a wonderful sleep and by morning, the skin would be gone. This went on for a while, until one day, a man had a bad sleep. A really bad nightmare. He was very distressed and angry that morning and he was the first to return to the woods. He was angry that the girl failed him so. But like always, she did not acknowledge him at all. In his anger, he pried the girl’s mouth open and tried to yank out her tongue. It wouldn’t come off as easily as her skin, but he brought scissors just in case. Blood would keep dripping from her mouth from then on. This injury never healed.”

The creature stopped and looked around as if it just noticed it got lost. Leaner wasn’t sure what sensory organ it used for orientation. Was it listening for something? It even lacked ears.

“The man however found that the tongue would not disappear overnight. He never needed to return to the woods. Word got around and eventually, the next person had a bad sleep. That one came to the edge of the woods that morning with a spoon. No one bore witness to it, but what happened was that he held open one eyelid and tried to dig the spoon behind her eyeball. What he did not see was the one that stood behind the girl. Before the spoon could make any work, that person was dragged into the woods, never seen again. The girl would also stop appearing after that day. The last bits of skin were used up and from then on, the people of the village were subjected to endless nightmares.”

Leaner was interrupted when the radio emitted a crackling screech. Just part of whatever audio it was playing. Neither really listened to it anymore.

“Well, all except for one. Soon, someone killed that man to take the tongue for themself. Not long after, that one would suffer the same fate. People became so desperate for a good sleep, they hardly cared they likely won’t wake up from it. For years, every night, someone died. Eventually several people died at day. In the end, people had no time to even fall asleep while the tongue was in their possession. And that’s when the girl returned. She did not stand by the forest then, she stood in the middle of the village. She took the tongue from whoever was holding it and placed it back where it belonged. The bleeding stopped. The people gathered around her, waiting for her to speak. They knew she was supposed to call out the name. But the girl did not remember the name. So many memories have bled from her head. So she remained silent. The forest had vanished. Surrounding the village was only barren land. The girl wandered the village and the remaining people followed. One day, one came up to her and asked: ‘When will you punish us for what we did?’ The girl stopped and thought. She was so desperate for a name, an identity to be her own. These people offered her one. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t hers. She wanted to be someone, so she became their punisher. And for the rest of history, she wondered what it would have been like to be herself instead.”

“What’s that story about?” Zinci whispered.
“Not sure. Teaching young kids not to hurt strangers?”
“Do you think we’re in this place because we hurt someone?”
“Did you?”
“Not that I’m aware of.” Zinci noticed the change in Leaner’s eyes. “Did you?”
Leaner looked away and didn’t answer.
“You’ll be my friend no matter what, but you don’t have to tell me what you did. Can I ask you one thing though?”
Leaner kept her eyes on the thin but bloated abomination carrying them.
“Do you regret doing it?”

The cage-handed ape man dug its fingertips back into the ground. The sky was getting darker. Leaner wondered what the plan was. The creature lacked the ability to eat them, and it didn’t seem interested in killing them either, unless it wanted to draw it out. Leaner considered digging their way out while the cage was grounded, but she knew those fingers curled up in the earth. The were like spears, despite their knobby tips.

Zinci tugged on Leaner’s sleeve. “Look, not to freak you out but… I’ve not absorbed much sunlight today and I’m not sure if I’ll make it through the night.”
“Wait, what do you mean?”
“I’m saying, I’m not sure with how little energy I can survive. Just… prepare yourself for the worst.”
“You gotta be blowing this out of proportion, surely you don’t die just like that?”
“We’re fragile people. Really, just being able to grow fat is a fantastic superpower to us. We just can’t put much distance between us and death. Spending the day under these trees was like holding your breath for half an hour.”
Leaner just stared at her friend. She looked tired, but not more tired than she did the night before. A human could easily survive a day without food and it’s not like the leaves blocked out the sun completely. Granted, those rays didn’t exactly reach her inside this cage. Leaner felt like the air in her lungs turned to hot steam. She turned around, squeezing the steel-hard fingers in her hands. The creature stared mindlessly at the ground, its radio voice completely overtaken by meaningless noise. Air-headed piece of shit!
“Let us out! You’re killing my friend, you ugly, rancid toothpick! Do you hear me?” she barked, spit and tears spraying onto the bumpy ribs. “I’ll break your fingers inch by inch and shove them up your backside until they come out of that asscrack in your head! I’ll tear out that radio and beat it back in until it makes no more sound! You’ll rot! You’ll rot in hell! Burn! Filthy!” Leaner just screamed until her cheeks hurt. All the while the figure ignored her.

“I don’t think it can hear.” Zinci whispered. Leaner laid curled up with one arm stretched out of the cage. She dug her fingers into the dirt and moss. Zinci laid down too and dug one arm under Leaner, so her arms could interlock over her chest. Leaner felt her warm breath on her neck.
“Let’s just sleep.”
Leaner pulled her arm back in so she could touch Zinci’s hand. She would have almost fallen asleep, if it weren’t for that last thought to jolt her back awake. She rolled around to face Zinci, whose eyes already resisted being open.
“You can’t eat, but you can drink in emergencies, right?”
“Yeah, but we don’t have anything.” Zinci words came out weak, barely strong enough to lift themselves to Leaner’s ear.
“Would blood work?”
Zinci’s eyes fully opened.
“Blood contains nutrients and stuff right? Could that work?”
“That’s never been done.”
“But it could work, right?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s just try it, please!”
Leaner pulled Zinci back into a sitting position.
“So how are you-” Leaner silenced Zinci by putting her lips on hers. Leaner’s mouth filled with blood and Zinci swallowed it as it flowed into hers. Leaner let Zinci drink as much as she could sacrifice before she felt light-headed.
“How did you-?”
“We Children, we are a bit like reverse Vampires. We can shoot our blood out of our teeth like snake venom. Our cursed blood can transform other people into sharing our traits, the tongue, the teeth and all that.”
“Will I turn into a Child now?”
“I’m not sure if it works on Umbrisan. Maybe? It only matters that you live.” Leaner slumped against the finger bars. It was like their prison was swaying like a boat in a storm, though it remained firmly anchored in the ground.
Zinci shoved herself to her side, shoulder to shoulder.
“See you tomorrow Lea. I promise I’ll be there.”
Lea felt weak enough that the grief of losing Zinci could genuinely kill her. She was fine with that.


Leaner woke up when the creature uprooted its hand. She still felt weak but her first thought was to check on Zinci. Breathing. Leaner gave her a light squeeze in relief.
“Guess it worked.” she said, though her voice was still faint. “Except for the mutation part.”
The radio voice became clear again as the cage was held up to the scarred face. Two fingers poked in and something wet slapped against Leaner’s face. A piece of raw meat, blood still dripping from it. Leaner struggled to direct her arm to slap it away. She felt like she’d throw up if she moved too much. The creature insisted. Leaner readjusted her body and her eyes fell on something on the ground. A human body, face down with a gaping hole exposing the shoulder blade. The monster pushed the meat against her mouth again and it was clear to Leaner what it was. She gagged, tried to wipe the blood off her lips. It tried pushing the flesh into Zinci’s mouth next, but she kept her lips tight, even if she lacked the energy to fight it any harder than that. Soon their captor gave up with Zinci too and placed the dead flesh back onto the corpse. Leaner found small relief in the fact that its skin was not multi-colored. The faceless one shook the cage, the two of them cramping up with sea-sickness. Then it just stared motionless, as the radio talked.

It was keeping them as pets. Leaner believed Zinci realized this as well. “Play dead.” she whispered.
And with that, both ceased any motion. The creature waited for them to move. Leaner’s body urged her to move as well. Made her feel uncomfortable. Maybe if the creature shook its hand again, she could shift into a better position unnoticed? Leaner tried to pull herself away from her body and sink deep into her mind. Occupy her mind with thoughts. She tried to remember the books she read, to the exact wording. The colors of the pictures she looked at. What cars looked like. A washing machine. Tried to remember every detail, as if it was of any importance. Finally the creature tried to shake them awake. Leaner just slumped forward, arms falling through the bars and dangling above the ground. She felt Zinci’s knee dig under her ribcage. Just a bit longer. She hoped the creature would just drop them if it found them dead. Hoped it would not crumple them up like paper beforehand. What if it actually could eat them? Maybe there were teeth somewhere within that gash. Leaner felt three fingers grab her right arm. It yanked it up and with a snap, her elbow now bent the other way. She had no idea how she remained still. It was like she couldn’t move even if she wanted to. It kept pulling on the limb until her upper arm snapped in half too. Leaner felt her tendons tear under the strain and hoped the creature wouldn’t spot the tears dripping onto the fallen leaves below. Finally it let go, opened its hand and dropped them like a used snotrag. It trotted off with a sigh as the radio lost focus once more. Leaner remained face down in the moss. Warm blood eventually made its way to her face and began clogging up her nose. She carefully lifted her head to breathe. The being was gone.

Zinci helped her up so she could better look at her arm. Leaner kept watching for the creature. It wasn’t fair it got away with just slight disappointment. After all that. Zinci gathered some sturdy branches and placed them by Leaner.
“I’ll have to get your shirt off.” She said. Leaner pulled her healthy arm out of the sleeve, then Zinci pulled it over her head before carefully removing it off the injured arm. It didn’t hurt as bad as expected, but it still felt pretty bad.
“It’ll be okay. I heal fast.”
“I wish Nim was here. She’d fix you right up.”
Leaner had shrugged off stabwounds and gunshots before. Children were sturdy people. Though she had never broken a bone before. It should heal up too. Her side was sticky with blood. She remembered she had already lost a lot of blood last night. Remembered that she was warned of bleeding out, as Children had a faster blood flow than humans and as such bled much more profusely. God damn it. She can’t afford this. She had to get Zinci out of this damn forest before sunset. Leaner felt her bones being pushed back into place. The pain jolted her awake. Good. Zinci attempted to tear up the bloody shirt but it naturally resisted. Leaner grabbed it out of Zinci’s hands and bit into it. It ripped more easily once a tear had been made. Zinci tied a strip below her shoulder and pulled it tight to stop the bleeding. The next surge of pain shot into Leaner’s head and her consciousness popped like an overworked lightbulb.