Bogleech.com's 2016 Horror Write-off:
Greater Striped Tanzanite
The first time Erica saw the thing was on her third shift.
It was a very busy night in the delivery ward, and eventually it was her turn to ferry a pudgy newborn to the nursery.
She was just a newbie, and still on orientation. She hadn't even seen the nursery in person yet. But it was a busy night, and everyone had their hands full; besides, it was just down the hall, with clearly marked signs. A simple enough task.
She wheeled the bassinet holding her precious cargo (a 2.8 kilogram male exactly 55 minutes old, and counting) down the hallway, and turned left to enter the nursery.
She pressed the call button, heard the door click, and started to smile when the door was opened by a kindly looking fellow nurse.
The smile withered from Erica's face.
A typical nursery, painted in white and pastel shades. Rows of bassinets each housing a brand-new human. A couple of nurses cradling infants.
And on a dilapidated hospital bed in the corner, rested an enormous grub.
A huge, bloated grub, bigger than a human. Its translucent, reddish skin showed a network of radiating greyish-yellowish and brown tubes, and creamy deposits of fat.
A tiny dark head, almost enveloped by massive folds of flesh.
Fear seized her. She raised a trembling arm to point at the thing, a shriek rising in her throat.
But she froze when she saw their faces.
Some glanced to the corner, then returned their gazes to her.
She recognized these signs, this familiar scenario.
They don't see it.
Old survival instincts kicked in.
She swallowed down the scream in her throat, and instead clasped her hands together in a pantomime of terror.
She paused, her mind racing for a practiced line from a memorized script. She got one.
"Oh...oh no! A rat!"
Faces became alarmed. There was a flurry of activity as indignant nurses searched the area she was looking at, while others hovered protectively near their charges.
Warm relief surged through her body. They bought it.
A report was filed. Phone calls were made. The new infant was handed over.
As she made her way back, she thought to herself, I need to contact Dr. Jenkins.
She needed this job. She couldn't afford to slip up like that.
So much for medical science, she thought. Maybe the new pills hadn't kicked in yet.
Here she was, handing off another neonate, and the thing, the grub, was still there, pulsating and throbbing.
It had covered the corner and the hospital bed with filthy brown webbing, as if to mark off the area as its home.
She chatted with nurses. Today was a slow day, they could afford to loiter a bit. She asked tactful questions, and was able to determine that the bed at least was real. But the monstrous occupant and its webbing were invisible to everyone else.
She never had a hallucination quite this detailed, all high-definition and such. She could see that it had coarse hairs scattered over its head, a pair of chewing mandibles and two stubby antennae, and three pairs of stumpy legs, each tipped with a jointed, black, needle-like claw.
Plus, there was an auditory and olfactory component as well; the grub periodically emitted a high-pitched, raspy sound, like someone crackling disposable plastic cups, and a sour-sweet stench wafted out from its corner.
This time, she managed to maintain her composure; she handed over the newest infant with the utmost professionalism, and prevented herself from glancing too frequently or obviously at the corner.
It was all going so well. Up until one of the nurses picked up a swaddled infant and made her way towards the grub.
Her throat tightened. As she turned to leave, she tried to reassure herself.
Nothing is going to happen. She's probably going to put the baby on that bed so she can change its diaper and stuff. There is no grub.
In spite of herself, she glanced back.
The nurse held up the infant, positioning its fuzzy head near the grub's jaws.
The grub leaned forward, caressing the infant's head with its short antennae.
She let out a strangled cry despite herself, arm reflexively outstretched in a futile attempt to snatch away the baby.
She screwed her eyes shut, not wanting to see what happened next.
But the sound, a crunchy pop, reached her.
Auditory component, she thought hysterically before she lost consciousness.
She woke up later in a hospital bed. They had questions for her. Of course they would. But she had a well-rehearsed script for situations like these: she told them she was so sleep deprived that she had hallucinated that the nurse had dropped the baby. Lying came so easily to her now; as natural as breathing.
Fortunately, her head nurse was sympathetic. She was given the rest of the day off.
On her way out, she passed by the nursery to apologize for the trouble she had caused.
As the nurses reassured her, she glanced towards the back.
The grub was grooming itself, cleaning the blood off of its claws.
I really need to talk to Dr. Jenkins again.
After that, she tried to avoid seeing its meals. Thankfully, it didn't always do so when she was there, but as soon as she saw a nurse approach it with a bundle in her arms she hastily excused herself.
Just to be sure, she unobtrusively took out her phone to film it (not while it was eating) and showed to her sister Heather, with excuse that some colleague had sent her a video of a haunted nursery.
Heather stared at the screen, searching. She zoomed in on certain parts, played it over a couple of times, then finally said "Nope, don't see anything. Looks like a dud to me."
I must be going mad.
A couple of weeks later, as she passed by the nursery, she saw a large man staring tenderly through the glass.
He looked up, smiled, and pointed to a small bundle. "That's my little girl, Maggie for Margret."
No mention of the giant grub in the back.
Act normal. Say normal things.
"How cute! When will she discharged?"
"Oh, the doctor said maybe tomorrow," he turned back to the glass, smiling fondly.
One of the nurses stepped forward and picked up Maggie.
Erica glanced at him. His gaze followed the baby.
The nurse carried Maggie to the grub.
She watched his face closely. She focused on his face, blocked out everything else.
She saw his eyes widen.
She held her breath.
For a split second she saw it.
His eyes glazed over. Tears fell down his cheeks.
Did he see it? Even for a moment?
Erica was almost afraid to speak.
"Sir?" she gingerly touched his arm, "What is it?"
He wiped his face. "Oh, it's nothing. It's just...my baby girl was stillborn. I don't even know why I came here."
He gave a watery smile. "Maybe I keep thinking I might see her here."
Later she checked the files. Newborns were filed under their parents' name.
The guy's name was Edgar Hanson, and there was no record of a baby girl born to him. Even his wife's file indicated the child was stillborn.
And she would have left it at that, chalked the whole thing, conversation and all, to another extremely elaborate hallucination, if she hadn't seen the faded yellow corner of a patient's file jutting out from a torn garbage bag sitting in the janitor's cart. Parked right outside nursery.
She peeked through the window. The janitor was chatting amiably with the staff as he mopped up some tarry droppings near the tail end of the grub.
She checked for witnesses, took note of the cameras pointed right at the nursery door. She made an exaggerated pantomime of shaking her head and pushing the cart along the hall, as if not to obstruct the door to the nursery.
She wheeled it into the nearest bathroom, then ripped the bag open.
Packed full of yellow files.
She went through them. Each file belonged to an infant born at the hospital.
She skimmed through them, searching.
She found it. Baby girl. Three-point-seven kilograms. Standard vaginal delivery. Born to Edgar and Joanna Hanson.
Later she showed the file to the head nurse of the maternity ward.
The head nurse leafed through the file, frowning. "This is all smudged up, can't read a thing. So what's so special about it? Where'd you find it?"
Erica took back the file. "Oh, I found it in a cabinet. Just checking before I toss it out."
I must be going mad.
It was no longer a grub.
It was a pale, butterscotch color, and shaped like a sculpted spindle with lobes down its length, almost like a sugar-glazed sweet potato in a hotdog bun.
She felt a confusing mix of emotions. Relief, because the thing wouldn't have to feed for a while.
Dread; because what on Earth was going to hatch from it?
For a time things improved. Relatively. The dread still remained
The number of "stillbirths" dropped. She felt more comfortable entering the nursery now, although the thing still reeked of a sour-sweet odor that nobody else could smell, and all the air-fresheners she bought couldn't seem to mask its stench.
At least it was easy to ignore in its current state. Easy to go about your business when it was a motionless pupa that wasn't throbbing and wriggling all the time.
As the months passed, the chrysalis darkened to a deep, amber brown.
Sometimes, she entertained the faint hope that it was dead, and today would be the day when they announced they found a giant alien pod in the nursery.
But it remained in its corner; unseen, untouched, and unmoving save for the occasional twitch.
One day, she arrived early for her morning shift, and immediately felt there was something was off. Something was different, wrong. There was excitement in the hospital, an almost festive air.
There was far more activity than expected at such an early hour. Normally, staff that weren't actively engaged in some duty or task would be sluggish; night shift people winding down and morning shift people still struggling to throw off the inertia of sleep. Instead, everyone seemed tense with anticipation; like kids waiting for a surprise.
As she walked deeper into the hospital, the excitement only grew. And the night shift weren't leaving for home. Instead they lingered, milled around.
Then, as if at some unknown signal, people started to move together, all laughing and chatting. All in the same direction.
Visitors, hospital staff, even patients came tottering out of their rooms. Some leaned on companions, others grasped walkers or IV stands.
She was equal parts confused and terrified. She let herself be carried by the stream of humanity.
They headed towards the inner courtyard of the hospital, a grassy area dotted with ornamental bushes and paved hallways.
There they gathered, bustling about, making room for others. Making mundane small talk. Talking about everything under the sun, save for the reason they were all gathered.
Suddenly there was a loud cheer. The double doors at one end of the courtyard swung open.
Her colleagues from the nursery, all smiles, wheeled in the familiar, filthy bed.
And on it was a massive insect, so heavily cloaked in flat-tipped bristles it looked like a plush toy. It was a pale, faded blue, like old denim, with streaks and spots of sandy tan. Here and there were darker shades of indigo and cobalt blue.
From its back sprouted what looked like two crumpled, veiny, furry bags. A pair of long, disheveled antennae adorned its head. Huge, glittering black orbs for eyes. And two long tubes, which it kept coiling and uncoiling like a party favor, emerged from a thick brush of bristles beneath its head.
It lay there, trembling and heaving, lying on the tattered, amber shards of its chrysalis.
A butterfly. She felt torn between laughing and crying.
No. This was no time to be hysterical.
All around her, people broke into applause. There were some murmured, vague sounds of appreciation and exultation, but most simply clapped in silence.
I'm not mad, she thought with a sudden burst of clarity.
Everyone else is.
She remembered the caterpillar, in its foul little nest.
She started moving around, pushing through the crowd. Some gave her puzzled looks, but most just ignored her, transfixed by the insect on the bed.
She remembered how it groomed itself after a meal.
She took out her pen, uncapped it, then peered at the tip.
It'll have to do.
She scanned the crowd, searching.
She remembered all the little babies, all the discarded yellow files.
She remembered Edgar Hanson, staring helplessly.
She looked for a break in the crowd, an opening, somewhere she could easily push through.
Near the double doors there was a gap. She slid into the front, all smiles, enthusiastically clapping with the pen in her hand.
She faced the fat bloated abdomen. She scanned for a site where the fur was sparser, a soft spot between the segments.
Should be easy. Like a soft-shell crab.
She gripped the pen firmly in her left hand.
She felt a cold resolve settle into her veins, an icy fury. She steeled herself.
She charged forward, her fist raised.
She swung her left fist downwards with all her might at a point between the segments. The pen pierced the soft, leathery exoskeleton, but just barely.
She whipped her right arm in a full circle to build momentum, smashed her right fist into the pen, using her hand as a hammer to drive the pen even deeper.
A two-part maneuver, so swift it was almost a single action.
The bug convulsed, its legs flailing. A loud, harsh screech, like rusty metal hinges.
With both hands she wrenched the pen down the length of the abdomen, tearing a long gash. There was more resistance than she expected.
The stunned crowd suddenly surged forward with a roar of outrage.
She grabbed the edge of the wound with her right hand, desperately digging in with her fingers.
Hands pulled her roughly. She kicked out, letting herself fall, using her weight to topple several of her assailants. And as they fell together, with their combined weight she ripped the gash even wider.
The side of abdomen tore open. Whitish tubes and brown chunks spilled in a cascade of yellowish slime.
Another screech, but more prolonged.
Bodies piled on her. They were all drenched in slime and innards. They reaching for her, grabbing at her. But in this disgusting mess they were momentarily disoriented, confusedly grabbing at each other.
She shoved the person on top of her onto the rest, and slipped out from the pile.
But when she stood up, she saw pandemonium.
Everybody had apparently lost all interest in her and were now busy attacking each other, biting and clawing, tearing at each other's clothes. Nurses, doctors, children, patients, well-dressed visitors and janitors all locked in clumsy, vicious hand-to-hand combat.
She turned back to the dying butterfly.
"You just had to take everyone down with you!"
She stomped towards the head. A doctor lunged at her, but she gave him a vicious kick in the groin and pushed him aside.
An elderly patient wobbled towards her, snarling, but she shoved him into an incoming nurse to keep them both occupied.
She wrapped both hands at the base of the long curly tube, planted her right foot on its eye, and yanked as hard as she could.
It tore off in a gush of liquid. The thing shrieked, tried to jerk backwards. She shoved her arm through the hole, probing blindly.
Hands grabbed her shoulders. She whipped her head back, hitting something hard. Pain exploded through her head as she heard a sickening crack and a muffled scream, but the hands let go.
She shoved her arm in deeper, up to her shoulder. She felt solid things, but they had the consistency of soft tofu; whenever she grabbed something, it just squished and liquified.
She finally got a hold of something a bit more substantial, but it came apart as she pulled, like tearing a loaf of bread. But whatever it was, it did the trick.
All around her, activity slowly ground to a confused halt, people pausing in mid-attack, seemingly coming out of a trance. Like waking up from a dream.
The butterfly still thrashed in its death throes, a harsh, deflated wheeze emanating from it with a note of finality. Erica stood, covered in slime and shed scales, looking like she had been tarred and feathered, and turned to address the crowd. She had to explain, but first, there were many injured, they had to be seen to...
Suddenly there were screams. A cry of "Monster!"
Panic set in. The tranquility was broken. There was a stampede for the exits as terror galvanized the crowd. To their credit, many medical staff escorted the patients and the more injured people, while some people did help up others, in some cases the very ones they were beating down only a few minutes earlier.
Of course, given the circumstances this was a very understandable reaction. But in that moment, an extremely exasperated and frustrated Erica could only scream:
"COME BACK! IT'S JUST A BUTTERFLY!"