's 2020 Horror Write-off:

Getting His Stretches In

Submitted by Ishmael Reynauld Bright

She worked as a sanitation officer on one of the Federation battleships; not quite glamorous, but certainly some kind of impressive. He had always been kind of twitchy; no one really knew why he was so continually nervous, but her personal leading theory was that it was the result of sharing a cabin with his roommate; since she imagined that she would be like that if she was in his place. Their door had been left open, so she naturally peeked in to see if it was empty and if she should close the door.

The cabin was decidedly not empty. Her first, almost instinctual reaction was to slam the door buttons, close the door, and pretend she hadn’t even caught a glimpse of what was inside. However, her morbid fascination won out over her self-preservation, and she peered closer at what he was doing inside. He was facing away from the doorway, and he was shirtless, exposing the spotted fur of his back. More interesting was the set of, ah, "stretches" that he was doing. His skin and fur had begun peeling away in places, exposing the raw, distorting bone and muscle that lay beneath. He seemed in no particular stress, and in fact, this was the most relaxed she had ever seen him. He bent over backwards, eyes shut, ribs exposed and flexing like someone trying to get the stiffness out of their knuckles, back popping. His hands were clasped, and less than a foot off of the floor. His eyes opened, a little at first, and then wide when he fully registered that he had locked eyes with her. That expression was more familiar, although he somehow seemed a bit more panicked than he usually did.

He had lunged forward and grabbed her by the shoulders in a matter of seconds; she wasn't quite sure how he had gotten, well, "unstretched" so quickly, but there was a kind of nasty crunch as he had snapped everything back into place. He then pulled her into his cabin - surprisingly strong, he was - and slapped the door buttons to shut and lock it behind her.

"Do not tell ANYBODY about this, I'm begging you." The sheer terror in his voice surprised her a little, considering what he had just done and what he could probably do.

"D-don't worry, man, your secret's safe with me. Honestly!" His expression flipped to one of utter relief.

"Thank you! Thank you so much, you are a lifesaver, I'm telling you." He pulled her into a nearly bonecrushing hug, before composing himself and pulling on a shirt. As he unlocked the door and she left to return to her duties, it occurred to her that she still thought his roommate was scarier. Maybe that was the preexisting crush talking.