's 2020 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Eileen Hill

22 years is a short life for someone to live, and a particularly strange one to live if they weren't even supposed to have been born in the first place, but that is the number of years it has been since Buster first came into my possession.

Allow me to explain. Those twenty-two years ago, I had been a collector of neonatal curiosities- "punks," as we call them on the sideshow circuit. Dr. Peterson's Amazing Punks, that's what my show was called. I was always looking for the most unusual specimens for my show, and a good friend of mine at the city morgue, one Dr. Barrie, was always happy to oblige.

One day in the spring of those some odd years ago, I met with Dr. Barrie to examine the latest fetus he had procured for me. Stillborn, he said, but almost perfectly formed if not for the tell-tale markings of syphilis that marred its face. It was far from the most striking of conditions I had observed at the time, but I was impressed with how far it had developed, so I gave Barrie the money he wanted for it and he helped me preserve the poor thing.

It was a well worthy purchase- people throughout the county flocked to my little punk show to see what I had dubbed "The Devil's Punishment," the thing that had the potential to be born a beautiful child were it not for the sins of its poor mother. It elicited disgust, pity, and most importantly it put money in my pockets.

I don't recall how he came up with the name, but one of my assistants grew rather fond of that particular punk and decided to call it "Buster."

I began to travel with my show to neighboring towns, and continued business with Dr. Barrie, but none of the other punks I received from him seemed to capture the imagination of my audience as Buster, the beautiful yet scarred child who had never been given a chance at life.

And yet, as I traveled on, it seemed that Buster had begun to grow within the glass jar that Dr. Barrie had first placed him in. My explanation for this phenomenon is as good as yours, but several months into our little road show I had found that Buster's face and other extremities began to press against the glass, and his spectators were beginning to find him less beautiful. I refused to give up on the most treasured piece of my collection, and so I searched for a larger receptacle for him.

And as I carefully wiggled him out of his old jar, ready to place him as well as his embalming fluid into the new one, I witnessed an even more peculiar phenomenon: Buster's eyes began to open.

Though it startled me, I dismissed it as a mere trick of the light and sealed him in the new jar like nothing had happened. But it could not be ignored for long. About a week later, the very same assistant who gave Buster his name announced his retirement from our partnership after he claimed to see Buster blink his eyes at him. And for sure, strange as it seemed, Buster could blink and move his eyes as if he were alive.

More than that, as the years progressed, Buster's abnormal growth seemed to continue, to the point where after a while he could hardly be considered a newborn at all. I assure you that this frightened the general public as much as it had my assistant, but it also did wonders for my business. Buster was no longer the devil's punishment of an unfaithful mother, he was now a "living marvel," the child who conquered death! All who saw him were as amazed as they were terrified by the advancements of this miracle child, dead and yet seemingly alive.

The more Buster grew, the more he continued to surprise me. He continued to periodically outgrow his preservation jar, to the point where I eventually had to switch him to a large aquarium. By the time he was two years old, he had developed motor skills and could move his hands quite efficiently. He never learned to speak, and he never seemed to require food or sleep, only his preservation fluids, but I did truly see him as alive.

When Buster was five years old, I took it upon myself to learn sign language in order to teach him a means of communication. It was remarkable that he was able to learn a language at all, but he proved to be quite efficient at it.

I almost wish I hadn't taught it to him.

I continued to tour around the country with Buster, and people from far and wide continued to be amazed by the "living punk" who existed between life and death. It was other children who were the most intrigued by Buster- perhaps it was their first proper lesson in mortality, seeing a person their age in such a state- but I never let them get too close. I didn't want them- or Buster- to get too upset.

And I could tell that as he grew older, Buster began to resent me more.

"Other children go outside," he would sign to me. "Buster stays inside." And then he would glare at me with a look of pure disdain whenever he signed it.

Despite our partnership being one-sided, I never stopped exhibiting him with my show until he turned twenty two.

I suppose that Buster had grown into a fine enough young man, if you could see past the scars he had been born with, which had never gone away despite his many physical changes.

It was at this point that a young woman by the name of Vivian became a frequent visitor to my sideshow. I admired her willingness to help my business, and she seemed to be particularly fond of Buster, so I didn't see any harm in her presence.

But tensions between us quickly grew. As it turned out, Vivian also knew sign language, and she had been having conversations with Buster when I wasn't looking. This new contact only made Buster more agitated with me. Me, the person who had discovered the life within him and raised him from infancy!

"I greatly prefer Vivian," he signed to me one day. "She sees me as a person. You do not."

I would not stand for this. All my assistants had left me, all I had was Buster and my business, and my business was nothing without Buster.

Finally, one day, I had caught him and Vivian in the horrible act. There she was, sitting in front of his aquarium, exchanging gestures with him. But the thing that horrified me the most about this rendezvous was that Buster was doing something entirely new.

He was smiling, from ear to ear, teeth showing and everything. Not once in my entire possession of him had I seen him smile in front of me.

I told Vivian to leave at once and that her presence was a bad influence on Buster. She pleaded with me to stop, saying that "he's been awfully lonely," and I "haven't been kind to him." What could she have known? I knew Buster for 22 years, she had only known him for a month!

At that point the both of us heard a loud banging against Buster's glass, and looked towards him. His expression had gone from that twisted glee to anger.

"Leave her alone," he signed rapidly. "She has made me happier than you ever have."

"Shouldn't you be happy enough?" I signed back. "Aren't you happy that I have given you another chance at life?"

His response still shakes me to my core.

"I would have been much happier if I never really was alive."

It was then that he had thrust himself against the front of the glass multiple times, gradually shaking it until at last it had lost its balance and shattered, leaving him on the floor in a mess of broken glass and preservative fluid.

I was too stunned to move or speak, but Vivian, in the distress this had caused her, rushed to Buster's side as reached a scarred hand to her face and gave several sharp, ragged breaths- the first breaths he had ever taken in the facsimile of his life.

And then he collapsed, there in her arms. I was never able to rouse him. No longer would he blink his eyes, or sign his disparaging remarks at me. Buster, the boy who had conquered death, was dead to the world.

But I don't believe he will ever be dead to me. For now, his body remains wrapped up in a shroud, in my study. I am expecting Dr. Barrie to arrive within a week to assist me in better preserving him.