Marty shifted the selector to “P” and felt the slight shift in his car as the brakes applied. He sat there in the parking lot of a chain of cheap apartments that had long ago been nicknamed “Cardboard City”. Each unit joined to the next with walls so thin, a neighbor could hear a mouse fart in the apartment next door. There was also the time the roof of one of the buildings had blown off and landed in one of the cornfields. It hadn’t even been a tornado whistling through town, but only a strong wind. Those were the stories anyway. In the small town, it didn’t take much for the little apartment complex to be known as the harbor of trailer trash, without the trailer.
The apartments sat on the outskirts of town, past any of the rows of houses and nearly tucked back into the entrance of a cornfield. The wind here was fierce. During the winter, it would bite at a person as soon as they stepped into it. Marty felt a breeze as he opened his door, dirt from the fields hitting his face. He tasted it in his mouth. It felt like a dry film as it seemed to coat his insides like cellophane, tight against the skin, choking him.
Why in the hell am I here? he wondered again. Why did I let John talk me into getting up and coming over here in the middle of the night? It was almost three. He was supposed to be at work at ten. Before he got the call, he had just nuzzled into his pillow for a long, lustful sleep with the hooter models from his calendar hanging above his bed. What was so important that John needed him to come now?
John and Marty had been best buds since the fifth grade when John was Johnny and his parents had just moved to the small little town. Small being relative, as they had moved from a town with only seven thousand people, so moving to Hammond, with nearly fifteen thousand, made him feel like he had moved to the city. Hammond wasn’t that large, but it did have two strip malls…although one of them was mainly a shell of closed stores…a post office, a doctor’s office, a lawyer’s office with a dentist in the back, and twice as many bars as there were churches. Having more bars than churches was something John had always said defined it as a true city.
Briskly, Marty walked the short distance to the front door. The doors were always unlocked, open to anyone walking in at whatever hour they wanted. Marty doubted most of the residents came in before dawn and typically could barely stand when they did. He didn’t pay any attention to the mouse that scurried away from the entrance when he walked in. He quickly made his way to the stairs and the second floor.
He worked hard to ignore the smell of mold that seemed to radiate off the walls. The building smelled like wet, sweaty old socks that had long since gone foul, making him wonder how anyone could ever live here. He didn’t know how John could stand it, but knowing him, Marty felt like he should fit right in.
He reached the door and lightly tapped on it, not wanting to wake the neighbors. Last thing he needed was “Big Bertha”, as they called her, from across the hall coming out and yelling at him. A sixty-year-old fat woman, who could probably wrestle him down and sit on him, he thought it best to just stay away from her.
“Hey, John, open up, man. You called me out of bed, so you sure as hell should still be up to let me in,” Marty whispered as he leaned close to the door. When his skin touched the wood, it felt soft and rotten against his flesh. His nose wrinkled in disgust. There seemed to be a smell coming from either the door or whatever was on the other side of it.
He listened, hoping to hear some sound or movement from inside. Everything was nearly silent, other than the whistling howl of the wind as it passed by the window at the end of the hall. Even the mouse from downstairs had gone silent, as though waiting for an answer.
Bastard sure as hell better not have gone back to sleep, Marty thought. The wind blew even stronger against the window, making it rattle loudly. Marty knocked on the door again, a little louder this time, trying to be heard over the banging of the window and the howling wind.
Still, only silence answered. Marty was starting to get pissed. In his dreams, he had been relaxing at some resort surrounded by Double D’s. The last thing he had wanted was a phone call from his best bud telling him that he needed his help and to get over there. John had sounded pretty messed up on the phone, worse than Marty had ever heard him. He wasn’t going to leave him hanging—unless he didn’t open his damned door.
“Hey, you son of a bitch! I hope you didn’t drag me out of bed in the damned middle of the night just so you could fall your ass back to sleep,” Marty said, pounding on the door. Sleep began to filter back into his mind. The drive had woken him a little, but it was now replaced by the stench and warmth of the hallway. He just wanted to get himself back to bed. If John wasn’t going to answer the door, there was no reason to stick around.
Marty reached for the doorknob. He figured it was probably locked, but he had come all the way across town. He should at least try the knob. Even if John had passed out somewhere or just fallen back to sleep, it would be better to crash on his nasty couch than driving back across town to his bed. He turned the knob and, with a satisfying click, the door swung open.
He was instantly assaulted by a foul stench—the sour odor of maggot-infested meat, mold, and dirty socks. It was in such a high concentration, it was overwhelming, nearly knocking him back. His stomach twisted and was ready to release its contents onto the filthy hardwood floor.
He could have sworn it wasn’t this bad just last week when they had all been over for the Twin Peaks annual marathon night. Marty, John, Bob, Ramrod… They had all been there, watching the old VHS box set John had. They’d been doing it for ten years. Every year on June 10th, the day the show ended, they got their popcorn, their tape recorders, a little vodka, and enjoyed all the additional scenes from the European versions. It was their tradition, and they always did it at John’s. But the place never looked this bad. It was always clean when they came over. Plus, Marty was over more often than just for the annual event. In fact, he had been over just…
He tried to remember the last time he’d been there. He struggled, thinking about the inventory he had been working on at the grocery store, the dinner with his parents, then there was the night out with his sister celebrating her twenty-first birthday. So maybe he hadn’t been over since last week.
John had really let the place go since then. It was trashed.
He kicked over a pile of pizza boxes as he stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. He didn’t want to be trapped in with the smell, but he didn’t want it to drift out into the hallway, either. The smell was bad enough out there as it was. It didn’t need any help from John’s trash heap of an apartment.
Marty reached for the light switch. Light flooded the room, cascading over the mess that would have been better left to the dark. He heard scurrying noises as small creatures moved to hide in the darkness. Marty didn’t know what they were, although he had an inkling. He didn’t have to see the roaches, didn’t want to see them, didn’t want to think about them. It was easier for him to ignore them and imagine they weren’t there, rather than try to ever sit on John’s couch again and watch crappy horror movies.
Marty looked around, taking in the full extent of the damage. He had to be careful not to step on a broken beer bottle near the door. It looked like it had rolled from the couch and through the papers and other miscellaneous garbage thrown throughout the room—paper plates stained with food of unknown origin, soda and beer cans, various magazines with scantily clad women on their covers.
Marty stopped looking at the mess when he saw John stretched out on the couch. He looked to be in worse shape than his apartment. His skin and lips were pale, nearly as white as the wall behind him, and his eyes were dull. None of it was natural. Albinos had more color than his friend. Marty couldn’t understand how skin could lack color. While Marty never knew what color John’s eyes were, he did know that they were usually not as faded as they were now.
Marty stared at what could easily be mistaken for a corpse. And maybe he was. He wasn’t moving, was he? He couldn’t see John’s chest moving. Maybe his friend had died in the time it took for him to get there.
If he were dead, that would make him an ass for screaming at the man for not opening the door. And here he was, worrying about his damn door etiquette and his crassness, not even thinking about his friend possibly being dead. What should he do? Call the paramedics?
John’s chest rose with a sudden raspy intake of air. Marty jumped in surprise.
There was a soft wheeze as a long, slow breath slipped out of his friend. It ended in a cough and John came to life. He rocked with a seizure-like motion, which spread throughout his body. He sat up slightly, coughing, black chunks spraying out onto the couch around him.
Marty stood near the door, not really sure what the hell he should do. He wasn’t a damn doctor. John needed a doctor, or at least an ambulance. When Marty was sick, he went to the doctor. He didn’t call his damn friends to have them come over to watch him cough out a lung.
He wondered briefly if it was John’s lungs that were those black chunks landing on the couch. They were probably black enough, as he knew his friend was up to two packs a day. Basics. He saw an empty pack lying next to John on the couch. He had probably just finished up another one before Marty had walked in. He thought he could smell it, but with the stench in the room, it was hard to tell. What did it matter anyway?
John tried to reach out and pull himself up more. It looked more like a turtle lying on his back, rocking back and forth as he tried to find something to grab onto.
Marty reached out and started to lift John into a sitting position. He smelled like he had sweat a lot throughout the night. Marty pulled him up so John was sitting there, still not completely erect. He doubted he could even stay straight if he wanted to.
“What…the hell you doing here…in the middle of…the damn night?!” John growled. The words came out in a mixture of spitting and coughing up blood. Marty was scared for him. He had never seen a person cough up so much blood.
“Hey man. You called me. Got my ass out of bed to hurry over here, so don’t even start with that shit. You kept screaming something about being attacked by spiders.” Marty took another look at his friend. Damn, he wished he knew a thing or two about medicine. “And, well, you sure as hell look fucked up.”
John tried to speak, but when he opened his mouth, it turned into another spasm of coughing and more black specs flying to the floor.
“We should probably get you to the doctor,” Marty said, lowering himself into the recliner next to the couch. He had to sit on the edge because of how much unknown crap was piled in the chair.
He turned back around to see John looking at him, those pale, glazed eyes staring into his. A thin smile creased his lips, then it was gone, the hunger that had seemed to take hold fading back away. His face went back to looking lost look as John blankly stared back at him.
He watched John try to swallow as he moved back on the couch. The motion was tight and he made a loud sound as he licked his lips. He looked dehydrated, his lips chapped. Then John looked down, a lost look, a sad look. It was as if he wanted to cry, but the tears never came.
He looked back to Marty with those white, lifeless eyes. His face was twisted in mournful agony. There were only faint remnants of what had once been eye color. “I feel them. The spiders. They’re in my stomach now. They are eating away at me from the inside, turning my stomach into knots.”
What the hell was he mumbling about? Was he stoned?
Marty didn’t like to think that his best friend had lost his mind. Maybe he was just having a bad acid trip. It wasn’t like John to drop acid, but spiders inside him? Maybe the doctor wasn’t the best thing. Still, John looked terrible. He needed some sort of help.
John started to pull at his stomach, looking at it, scratching, a dazed look on his face. “They itch.”
“You’re nuts, man. You’re just coming down with something or having a bad trip.” John just kind of grunt laughed and kept looking down at his stomach.
“Here, let me show you something,” John said, suddenly standing. Marty was surprised he could even stand, although he did wobble a little. He remembered how he had to help John sit up. How was he standing now?
He started to stumble out of the room, bouncing off any object he passed as he worked his way back toward his bedroom. Marty watched him as he disappeared down the hallway. He could hear John tossing things around, possibly looking for something.
Marty hoped that he didn’t come back with some acid or ganja because he was not in the mood. Especially, and he kept thinking there was no way to avoid it, he’d have to take John to the doctor. He just hoped that whatever his friend took wouldn’t show up in any of the tests they would have to do. Marty didn’t want to deal with the questions.
John came wobbling back into the living room holding a folded piece of paper. Marty hadn’t even heard him stop looking for it. He guessed that he just was too tired to keep paying attention.
“That damn bitch is after me,” John spit out as he neared Marty.
“Who?” Marty asked, as he started to reach for the letter. John quickly pulled it back, blocking him with his other arm.
Marty recoiled a little in surprise.
John walked to the coffee table, and with a sweep of his arm, he cleared a spot sending piles of garbage to the floor. He then tilted the piece of paper over the table, a white powder sprinkling out.
Shit, Marty thought. He sure as hell hoped John hadn’t moved on to start doing the white stuff, the “nose candy” Marty had seen some of his other friends starting to take, losing their lives in the process. It was nasty stuff, and John wasn’t doing good as it was. He didn’t need to make it worse. Once that shit got you, there was no getting away from it.
“You’re not doing that shit, are you?” Marty asked, hoping the tone conveyed more than his question. He wanted John to know and understand that coke was going too far. That there was no way he approved of it and would not watch his friend lose himself to it.
John looked at him, a strange expression on his face, as though he had heard Marty’s question, but didn’t comprehend it. He looked at the powder briefly, then recognition flashed in his eyes.
“No, no. Hell fucking no. This isn’t that shit. No, man, this is much worse than that. I think it’s that fucking anthrax shit.”
John went into a coughing fit, shooting more blood onto the floor. When he was done, there was a streak of it dripping from the side of his mouth. It reminded Marty of that show he had heard about on HBO. The one with the vampires. John looked back at Marty. He could see he wasn’t catching what he was saying.
“Remember those terrorist attacks and how they had that white powder, anthrax, being sent around? I think this is that,” John said as he reached out to the couch to help himself sit back down. It was laborious, Marty could tell. Damn, he had to get John to the hospital.
“Who, man? You don’t really think you have that shit, do you?” Hell, looking at him, Marty could almost believe that he did.
When John let the letter fall to the table, Marty saw it had some writing on it. He wanted to reach out for it, find out what it said, but he was afraid to touch it.
“What’s it say?”
John smiled. It was strangely terrifying because there wasn’t any rational reason for it. “Die, motherfucker. Die! It’s in Jamie’s handwriting. I knew she was a psychotic bitch, but I didn’t think it would come to this.”
“Jamie? She would never.” Marty didn’t truly believe that. Jamie was nuts. He had known her since her family had moved to town and had heard all the stories long before John started dating her.
Then again, John and Marty were, themselves, considered to be the younger generation of nut jobs. They had both seen their share of strange looks as they walked into the grocery store or gas station. In a small town, when you were on the “darker” side of social living, you easily stood out. While Marty would never consider John a goth, the rest of the town did. Jamie, though, was at her own level of crazy.
She had always been heavily into Wicca, witchcraft, earth mumbo jumbo. Marty never did get the full story. He didn’t care, either. She was into magic and all that hocus pocus, and he couldn’t give two shits about it.
John thought she was interesting. She liked to make her potions. He liked to make his…own concoctions. They were their own strange peas in a pod and went psychotically well together.
Thankfully, John had finally had enough of her bullshit and dumped her just over two weeks ago. That letter must be her response.
Damn, she is crazy.
“I can’t see her sending you anthrax. I mean, where the hell would she get it?”
“Who the fuck knows? She’s nuts, man.”
John coughed vigorously. Blood splattered from him, spraying out and falling onto the hardwood floor. Marty was sure he had more to say, but John just sat there, looking at the spot where his blood had hit the floor, like he was seeing if for the first time.
“Anthrax is such a deadly disease. I would have thought she would have better taste,” John said. It sounded almost dreamlike, as though he didn’t even realize he said it. He just kept looking at where the blood sat drying on the floor.
John continued to look at the floor, but it wasn’t the blood he saw. It was two spiders, dark, black shapes that had been launched when he coughed and had landed in the puddle of red. At first, he didn’t even know what they were. He had been coughing up black chunks all morning. Most of them were irregular, so he just assumed they were blood clots from inside him.
When they hit the floor, they just stayed there, as if they were stunned. Then he saw what looked like little strings unwinding from around the tiny dots. The strings formed the long legs, different from the tiny spider he had imagined earlier. The legs lifted the bodies, now bigger in size, then both just paused there. It was like they were scanning their surroundings. Then they quickly dashed toward Marty, who just stood there.
John wondered if he could see them because he didn’t react. He thought about trying to step on them, but he was just so tired. He had gotten worse. He could feel it. Even breathing was getting difficult.
He heard Marty say something but didn’t hear what it was. He was watching the spiders. They had stopped. “Wha…? John said, looking up.
“I said that I should get you to the hospital.”
John looked back at the spiders. They were dead.
He could tell because they were on their backs with their legs curled up.
“I don’t think I would make it,” John said.
“Don’t be so cryptic.”
Yeah, that was easy for Marty to say. He hadn’t been
the one trying to figure this shit out the last hour. He wasn’t the one who had felt the stabbing pains all throughout his body as the little bastards tore his insides apart. Marty wasn’t the one sitting here while he felt them in his head. They were in his fucking head, under his skin, where he couldn’t get to them.
One would occasionally come out and taunt him, dance on his skin, play games with him, make John chase him, itching to catch the damn thing as it ran under his skin again.
Marty hadn’t been here when he tried to go into the kitchen. It wasn’t a big apartment, so he didn’t have to walk far. Marty hadn’t seen John trip over his own legs when he lost all control of them and started falling forward. He had just barely gotten his hands out in time to catch himself on the counter. He had to use his arms to pull himself, shifting his weight back and forth to bring his feet under him. It was like he had become paralyzed while walking. He had never felt anything like it. He had just stared at his legs, the limbs that were no longer his.
Then he could feel them again, like a switch had been flipped. Of course, with the feeling returning came the pain of sudden awareness. He had screamed out as his knees buckled.
No, Marty hadn’t been there. Marty hadn’t seen.
Marty also hadn’t seen as John lay in the kitchen, painful wave after painful wave coursing through him to the point that he could feel tears and sweat spreading across his face. That was when John had felt he couldn’t take it anymore. He was lying on the floor, his eyes glazed over, only seeing shapes in the room through his tears. He had just wiped them away when he saw them—more of the little spiders coming out of his arm and running to a hole in the wall.
Oh, how the little bastards just seemed to be coming out of him in droves. They just kept coming, and he had to stop them. He wanted to kill them, to get every damn motherfucking one of them. They were killing him, eating him away. Well, guess what? It was time for him to eat them away.
John had pushed himself up onto his knees and reached out, grabbing the handle for the cupboard under the sink and ripping it open. He quickly found what he was looking for. It hadn’t been what he had originally gone in there for, but this shit, this fucking pain could just go to hell. Actually, he was probably the one going to hell, but the rest of the shit could go down there with him.
John had reached into the little cabinet. His arm was thick and heavy, hard to keep it steady as he reached for one of the bottles. There were many different chemicals and poisons in there. He didn’t care which one. He figured any one of them would do.
Yeah, Marty didn’t know about any of that shit. John drank from multiple bottles. Any one of them should have killed him. Marty should have found him sprawled out on the kitchen floor, but he wasn’t. No, he was on the damn couch. He didn’t even feel the effects of any of the poisons tearing away at him. It was like he had never done any of it. And maybe he hadn’t. Maybe it was all a hallucination.
Man, wouldn’t it be fucked up if all this shit is just some part of a bad trip?
Marty watched as John started to sway. He looked like he was getting worse. Staggering, John bent over, a coughing spasm much worse than any previous ones shuttered through him. He had to reach out to the side of the couch as he shivered violently. Spittle flew through the room and he rocked back and forth, his lungs convulsing, blood showering down.
Marty hurried forward, reaching out to him. John put a hand out to stop him. His eyes were mere slits from the coughing spasm, but he could see the spiders as they landed on the floor. They would just stay there for a brief moment before their legs quickly carried them toward Marty.
John quickly slammed his foot down on top of them,
using all his energy to focus on them. He thought he was going to fall over. In the fog that surrounded his head, he was surprised he could keep himself upright. Not only that, he was able to use the momentum of moving forward to reach out and push Marty toward the door.
“Get…out!” John said, rasping and working to spit out the words through coughing spasms.
“What the fuck, man?!”
John pushed hard against him, and Marty could tell he was trying to put all his weight into it.
“Dude, I’m fucking here because you called me!” Marty
tried to yell, but as he struggled against John’s weight, it came out more like a grunt. John was actually pushing him back. It surprised him just how much force he could put into it. It was enough to get him to nearly fall back against the wall, which would have had John falling with him. Marty was barely able to get a leg behind himself and plant it down to stop their momentum.
“Get…o—” John tried to spit out.
Marty could tell he put everything into the struggle as he tried to work him toward the door. Marty wasn’t about to give up and just leave his friend. Not like this, not with how bad he was.
“Come on!” Marty yelled
John buckled. Marty caught him, quickly working him back to the couch, lowering him as softly as he could. It wasn’t easy. He found himself having to let go and reach out to the back of the couch in order to keep from landing on top of his friend.
Marty pulled himself back up and looked at his friend. John was out cold. His breathing was shallow, his chest barely rising, and Marty could hear each breath as it was forced back out. He couldn’t help but think of hospitals and patients who were hooked up to machines to keep them alive. The rhythmic, raspy, dying sound was about the only thing Marty could hear in the now quiet apartment.
Hatched written by Jason R. Davis is currently available in print, Amazon Kindle, and through Audible. If you would like to continue reading Hatched, you can download your copy today at Amazon.com
You can visit Jason’s website at http://www.jasonrdavis.com