's 2016 Horror Write-off:

The Boxes: Bootleg

Submitted by Sam Miller

A street. My feet. I walk down a street at night, lights overhead guiding my way. I hear a whispering and nasal voice from a dingy and dank alleyway.

"Hey pal, friend, buddy, ally, acquaintance. Come down here, I gots loads of great great things for ya! Great products, delicious organisms, beautiful concepts here in these pockets!"

Confusedly, I walk down the dark alley, a squat man standing there. His entire body is hidden within a trench coat and hat, only his sickly yellow eyes peering out through the gap. I ask him why he has called me down here.

"Oh, why because I have some of the best deals on the best products of the world this side of the mississippi! Just come look, my boygirlfriendpal!"

He pulls his trench coat wide, his misshapen body laden with chains and cages. Hanging from a tumor on his right is a furry thing with a few too many eyes, on his left a many legged thing. In the pockets of his coat are boxes which such labels as "Best 'Animal' of SAND", "Slimy Fish For Slimy Boys!", and "Arthropod Human Boy Girl Power Team". A snaggletoothed grin framed by warts and giant staring eyes sits in the middle of his face. I inspect some of the strange wares, confusedly touching the ones in the boxes and avoiding the things on the chains.

"And if you want more insurance of our quality, I'll take ya to the factory these cool cats crawled forth from!"

"Uhm.. sure?"

A disgustingly warty hand, each finger tipped with a differently gnarly fingernail, grabbed my hand. Before I could do anything, I was snatched away into some crevasse or gap between bricks, a darkness all around me. It feels as though I am falling down a chute, air rushing past me. My hand is still in the gangly clutches of the salesman. A small square of light appears beneath us, growing ever larger and larger, until we hit something soft at the bottom. The soft something then wiggles and shivers underneath me, and as I recover from the fall I see the face of the soft something, an upturned and squat visage with a forced smile. I jump off of the thing in surprise, landing on my back on a grating.

"Heh Heh," the salesman laughs creakily "Welcome to our fine factory of manufacturing goodliness, pal friend! The cutie you just fell upon was our new Softboy Hound (trademark)!"

Confusedly, I get up, and the malformed salesman guides me down this metal walkway. On all sides are massive machines of all sorts, pumping tubes and churning gears and flapping meat and screaming steam. Shadowy little things, all wearing identical little uniforms that hide their entire body behind hazmat suits, work at these machines, turning wheels and filling meaty balloons and all other manner of factory work.

"Here at this good ol manufactorum we make the most beautiful, most pure, most living organisms and animals! Perfect for whatever little bug or gal you wanna give em as a gift to, or for whatever sort of newly opened box you are filling up with critters, pardner!"

I don't respond at all, simply gazing in half wonder half confusion at the machines and the work all around me, the warty salesman yammering beside me. We move along the gangway into another room, this one full of tubes and tanks and tubs full of embryos and slimy creatures, veiny and wet. More of the small hazmat henchmen work at these incubation tanks, and the salesman points to one of the tanks, where a slimy embryonic thing with a toothy leech-like umbilicus floats in a matrix of slime.

"If you look here, you can see our signature little touch!" The unkempt claw of the salesman points towards the skin of the slimy thing within. "Every one of these little bad boys comes with this little unique sigil on their nice skin, exoskeleton, or other such covering!"

On the skin of the incubating embryo is a little symbol, made of triangles and lines and circles, with similar shapes on the skins of all of the other things in this chamber. A thing with the head of a bulging-eyed horse on a spindly body with twin triangles on its neck, a crab with two too many faces with a circle within a circle etched into its back. Each and every one of these uncanny creatures is emblazoned with some symbol, identifying it from organisms not produced here.

"Heh Heh.. Come to think of it, I thinks I may have just noticed a little somethin."

The gangly hand of the salesman pulls my pant leg up, revealing what I had thought to have been a birthmark for my entire life. The small circular marking, a shade darker than my skin, sits on my ankle. The asymmetrical eyes of the salesman widen in surprise.

"Oh golly! Tsk tsk, looks like I've been advertisin to one of our own products this whole time. What a fool of me! Well, since you're here, we better package you up, little pally!"

Before I can do anything in protest or resistance, I am grabbed and pushes by hands on all sides of me, from all directions. I am pushed further and further forward, entering a room filled with boxes and wrappings and plastics and packages. At the end of the grate gangway is a cardboard container, labeled with some gibberish in both English, other languages I can recognize but cannot read, and languages I have never seen before. The many hands shove me forcefully into the container, and a machine guided by a handful of the looming hazmat henchmen slides plastic over the opening, trapping me in for good. The deformed salesman leans over me, saying in his creaky voice:

"Hmmm, ship this cool cat off already, they is ready for sale."