Tag Archives: horror

FOR SALE

The hatch cover; a square of white-painted plywood that gave access to the attic, was normally set snugly into its frame in the ceiling above the hallway landing, but this morning, on her way from the bedroom, Julia saw that it was lifted in one corner and slightly askew, revealing a narrow sliver of blackness; an elongated triangle of dark space.

+++++“You been up into the attic this morning?” she asked over her shoulder, as she poured her husband’s morning coffee.

+++++Miles looked up from his newspaper; a piece of buttered toast paused halfway to his mouth. “No, why on earth would I do that, love… and more to the point, why do you ask?”

+++++“It’s open,” Julia said, placing the coffee mug on the kitchen table, and then seeing Miles’s frown, added, “The ceiling hatch, I mean. It looks as if it’s been opened.”

+++++Miles put down his toast, stood up from the table and wandered over to the foot of the stairs. Leaning on the banister and craning his neck, Miles glanced upwards. “Oh, yeah.” He sounded surprised. “I wonder how that happened.”

+++++Taking a broom from the cupboard under the stairs, he went up to the landing. Miles stretched and, using the broom handle, pushed the hatch cover up slightly; manoeuvring it across a couple of inches to where, with a gentle thud, it dropped back into place in its frame. Coming back downstairs, Miles replaced the broom in the cupboard. “Maybe there was a gust of wind or something… just lifted it a bit,” he remarked to Julia, and went back to his toast and coffee. Neither of them gave it another thought.

+++++That night, while in bed, Miles thought he heard a faint scratching sound coming from above the ceiling in their bedroom; a slight scuffling, as if something small was moving about… maybe rats, he thought. The following morning, the hatch cover was out of place again… not much; just one corner lifted askew and pushed over about three inches to one side. Miles stood with his hands on his hips staring up at it, an annoyed frown on his normally placid features. “Pretty weird,” he said to Julia, as his wife paused next to him on the landing. “There must have been a bit of a wind again last night… I can’t think of anything else that would have moved it.” He did not mention the scuffling noises… Julia would be freaked out completely if she thought a family of rodents was sharing their new home.

+++++“Well, all our windows were closed, so it couldn’t have been a gust of wind blowing up there from down here,” his wife remarked. “Maybe there is a gap in the eaves and the wind outside is causing a bit of a vacuum in the attic. Maybe that’s what lifted the hatch cover… it’s very lightweight and maybe it sort of got sucked out of place.” She gave him a wry grin. “We’ve only lived here a couple of weeks, and we don’t yet know the house that well.”

+++++Miles smiled at his wife. “You know what, clever girl? You might just be right!” And he went downstairs to get the broom.

***

+++++Miles awoke in the middle of the night. Something was not quite right. He was sure he heard a noise from somewhere in the house. He lay there silently, mouth open with the air trapped in his throat, listening carefully. He wiggled his jaw, cracking his eardrums to remove the faint slumbering pressure and just lay there in the darkness next to his sleeping wife. There it was again, the faintest of dragging sounds… like an old desk drawer being pulled slowly open.

+++++Miles slipped out from under the duvet, picked up his old school cricket bat from its place in the corner and padded across the darkened room, where he pressed his left ear gently against the door. Silence. After a few breathless moments, he carefully turned the knob and opened the door. The hall landing was in darkness. No noise or light came from downstairs. Slowly, he stepped out of the bedroom and, so as not to wake Julia, closed the door softly behind him. He flicked on the wall switch. Light flooded the hallway and down the stairs. Miles leaned over the railing and peered into the room below. Nothing; no reactive noise of a burglar escaping the house; no noise from outside; no dustbins being knocked over in flight…and no neighbour’s dogs barking. Total silence.

+++++Cricket bat half-raised, Miles padded quickly downstairs and checked the exterior doors. All were locked, as were the windows. Everything was in place and so, with an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders, he headed back to the foot of the stairs. Julia came out of the bedroom and onto the landing; when Miles glanced up at her, his gaze fell upon the attic hatchway. The cover was skewed well over to one side… almost fully open this time. Julia followed his gaze and clapped a hand to her mouth, stifling a scream, and withdrew quickly back into the bedroom. Miles completed his ascent in two leaps, running along the landing to the bedroom and throwing a quick look at the black rectangle above when he passed beneath it. Back inside the bedroom, he found Julia sitting on the edge of the bed, the duvet wrapped around her shoulders.

+++++“It’s okay, honey. No burglars, everything is fine. It’s just that damned hatch!” He put his arm around her and, coercing her to get back to bed, pulled the duvet over the both of them. “I will check the roof tomorrow; I promise,” he said, kissing her on the nose.

***

+++++Early the following morning, before breakfast—and after another hatch cover manoeuvre with the broom handle—Miles went out into the garden and made a wide circle of the house, peering up at the steeply-angled roof to see if there were any tiles missing or any holes under the eaves that could allow wind or a vacuum to disturb the hatch cover. From down at his lower level, however, he could see nothing that would indicate such a fault.

+++++The house was very old and had stood empty for several years before being sold. Recently renovated and finally decorated by a property developer just a few weeks before Miles and Julia had purchased it at auction, the house still retained all of the original structure—the masonry and wooden beams and so on. It stood alone in an acre of ground that abutted to the rear rolling farmlands that disappeared off to the vast Yorkshire moors rising beyond. They had yet to venture up into the attic… in fact, as first-time home owners, they had very little junk or items for storage, so there had been no need; and besides, Miles had no step ladder. That was something he put right as soon as the village hardware store opened.

+++++Miles also purchased a big chunky flashlight at the store, and so armed, he set the folding aluminium step ladder below the hatch cover and climbed a couple of steps. He extended his fingers, lifted the cover and slid it to one side, then climbed another couple of steps until his head and shoulders were inside the hatchway. Before using the torch, Miles peered around in the darkness of the huge roof space, looking for any tell-tale shafts or pinpricks of daylight that might indicate a hole in the roof or a gap somewhere. There were none. Flicking on the flashlight, Miles made a sweep of the roof space, but the torch beam revealed nothing untoward. He did not, he admitted to himself, even know what it was he was looking for. Could a stray cat, maybe chasing a mouse or a bird, have gotten trapped in the attic and, in desperation to escape, moved the hatch? Could there be a family of rats living up here… are rats capable of moving objects?

+++++He examined the edges of the plywood hatch, somewhat illogically, for claw scratches or the evidence of gnawing teeth marks, but there was nothing to see. Miles’s mind could not settle on any logical answer and he carefully ascended the ladder until he was able to haul himself over the edge of the hatchway and into the attic. Getting to a crouched standing position and balancing on the latticework of narrow and uneven beams, Miles gingerly shuffled forward twenty feet or so, swinging the flashlight around and peering into the shadows, but apart from cobwebs hanging from the rafters there was nothing Miles could see. The only real blind spot in the convoluted roof space was the large brick chimney stack that thrust its bulk up through the living room ceiling on the far side of the attic, but he was reluctant to approach it, fearful of losing his balance and crashing through the hairy insulation matting and plasterboard ceiling—or maybe he was subconsciously wary of leaving the hatchway too far behind.

+++++Satisfied that there was no roof damage or holes that would allow gusts of wind inside, and that there were no rats or stray cats living up there, Miles turned back towards the hatch.

+++++His torch beam swept over a few scattered piles of some lumpy, greyish objects over on the left. Miles stepped gingerly from beam-to-beam, ducking lower and lower as the roof angled down until he could go no further. He bent forward; holding the flashlight at arms’ length, peering at the objects. They looked like animal droppings. He stretched out and plucked the nearest one, holding it up in the torch beam. It definitely was a dropping of some sort; a desiccated piece of dung, as thick as his thumb, about two inches long. Miles crumbled it in his fingers; dry greyish-white crumbs and tiny splinters of bone mixed with matted hair fell down onto the insulation matting. Miles was taken back to something he studied in the biology lab when he was at school… “Not dung, but maybe owl pellets,” he mused aloud. “If I remember rightly, the calcium from the bones of their prey makes them greyish-white.” He dropped the remains and wiped his hand on his jeans. “Or is that hyenas?” he frowned, crabbing his way back to the hatchway and departing the attic.

+++++“Well?” Julia asked, holding out a mug of coffee.

+++++“Nothing… just dust and cobwebs.” Miles brushed his shirt front before taking the mug and sitting at the kitchen table. “There are no holes in the roof, no tiles missing, and no gaps in the eaves… and no wild animals living up there.”

+++++Julia raised her eyebrows. “Wild animals? What on earth do you mean, Miles?’

+++++He smiled. “Only kidding, but the thought had occurred to me that maybe a stray cat had got trapped up there, or some bats or… something like that.”

+++++Julia put one hand on her hip and raised an eyebrow. “Or rats? Is that what you were going to say? Or is there anything else ending in ‘ats’ that might live in an attic?”

+++++Miles gave her a wry grin. “Anyway, there is nothing up there at all. There were some owl pellets, but they must be old, from a time before the house and roof was renovated, I imagine.” He sipped his coffee.

+++++“Owl pellets; what are they?” asked Julia.

+++++“When owls eat their prey – mice, rats, other small mammals or birds – they are not able to digest everything. They regurgitate the undigested bits of hair and bone as pellets.” He explained. “But there is no owl up there now, and I still have no idea how the hatch cover got moved,” he said, picking up the newspaper from the table. “It can only be either the wind or, as you first suggested, a vacuum caused by something. We will have to check the whole house this evening before bed… just to make sure there is not even a fanlight open. I’ll even seal the letter box with duct tape,” he said, pausing to sip his coffee. “And I am going to leave the ladder and the torch up on the landing… so if the hatch is blown open again, at least I can have an immediate look to see what’s going on.”

+++++“Maybe the house is haunted,” Julia said, with one eyebrow raised; with a wry grin on her face. “Maybe we have a resident ghost… woo woohooo!”

+++++“Very funny” said Miles, chuckling. “Now, how about some breakfast before I go to work? I still have time.”

***

+++++Later that day, Julia was doing her housework, running a feather duster over the framed pictures Miles had hung on the walls up the stairs and along the hallway; prints of old paintings, landscapes and family photos, etc. On the landing she paused to straighten a photo of her sister’s wedding day, smiling at the memory, but suddenly stiffened and looked up; sure she had heard a faint noise from above… from the attic. Julia stood there, her ear tilted to the ceiling, a frown of concentration on her brow. Nothing. She shook her head in dismissal and ran the duster over the photo. The attic hatch above her lifted up and thumped shut twice in quick succession; just a few inches, like a mouth opening and closing… or chomping. Julia screamed. The photo fell from its hook; glass smashing when it hit the polished wood floor. She flew down the stairs and ran out of the kitchen door and down the back garden, scared stiff. Resting on the low wall of the fish pond at the end of the garden; Julia put her hands upon her knees and hung down her head, breathing heavily. “Damn!” She swore once she had regained her breath, shaking her head. “What the hell is that?”

+++++After some minutes she plucked up the courage to sneak back into the house. Taking a carving knife from the kitchen draw she crept into the living room and tip-toed across the carpet to the rear wall. Leaning on it with one hand, she peered around the corner and up the stairs. On the hallway landing, the hatch cover was in place.

***

+++++“I don’t give a damn what you do, Miles,” Julia stood with her hands on her hips, confronting her husband when he arrived home from work. “But do something! This is freaking me out!”

+++++“Okay, honey,” Miles raised his hands in surrender, “I promise I will get it sorted… tomorrow I will see if I can locate roofing contractor to come and check it all out… and maybe call in an exterminator.”

+++++“An exterminator?” Julia frowned. “I though you said there was no rats or whatever living up there.”

+++++“Well, I didn’t see any, but it wouldn’t hurt, would it?”

+++++He was also getting freaked out by this attic hatch situation. He was worried that he couldn’t explain it, but he didn’t want to alarm Julia any more than she already was.

***

+++++Julia awoke in the middle of the night. There was a faint noise; a dull thump followed by a faint susurrus. It sounded as if it came from the attic.

+++++“Miles?” she whispered, urgently, turning to one side and reaching out with her hand to wake her husband. But Miles was not there. His side of the bed was empty and cold. A faint strip of light showed under the bedroom door. Julia slipped out of bed, pulled over her head a baggy tee shirt and tiptoed over to the door. She listened for a second before opening it. The landing light was on and the step ladder was in place directly under the attic hatch… which was wide open. “Miles?” she said in a hoarse whisper. No answer. She walked warily over to the foot of the ladder, resting one hand on a step and craning her neck to peer up into the tenebrous space above. “Miles, you up there?” she asked. Again no answer, but she was sure she could hear some faint noises up there. Miles must be in the attic, she thought. Julia placed one foot on the lower step, testing her weight. Then, with hands trembling, she carefully climbed the creaking ladder. As her eyes reached the level of the hatchway, Julia swivelled her head, peering around the roof space. Some twenty feet away, the chunky flashlight sat lens-down between two wooden beams, the torch beam diffusing through the matted roof insulation, giving off a dim yellowy glow.

+++++Stepping up and clambering into the attic, and with arms outstretched for balance, Julia began a timorous journey along the precarious roof beams towards the faint guiding light. As she reached the flashlight and picked it up she became aware of a weird slurping or sucking noise, coming from behind the great chimney stack that stood some distance away.

+++++“Are you there, Miles?” she hissed, and the noise ceased. “What the hell are you doing?” Still there came no answer.

+++++With the flashlight held in front of her at arms’ length, Julia shuffled warily forward through the roof space until she reached the chimney. She wrinkled her nose; there was a smell—at first it was indistinct but then she recognised it—the sickly-sweet, coppery smell of the local butcher’s shop. As she peered cautiously around corner of the massive structure her breath caught in her throat. For a brief moment she stared incredulously at the lifeless body of her husband, Miles – his throat torn open and bloody. Her scream—shrill, piercing and full of terror—filled the attic as a clawed hand shot out and grabbed her wrist, violently jerking her down behind the chimney stack. The flashlight fell from her hand and went out. Her scream diminished quickly to a wet gurgle, but for several moments the memory of it echoed around the attic, until fading away to nothing.

+++++A moment later, way back across the roof space, the hatch cover jerked and scraped slowly across the hole until, with a gentle thud, it dropped back into place, shutting out the ambient light from the hallway below; plunging the roof space once more into total blackness.

+++++In the entire house the only sound to be heard was the tearing of flesh and the crunching of bone coming from up in the attic.

***

+++++The young couple stood in the middle of the front lawn, gazing up at the house. “It has been empty for over a year,” the real estate agent was saying to the potential buyers. “Apparently the previous owners just upped and went away one day; leaving everything behind. It was a mystery, of course, and became the subject of a massive search and long police investigation. As far as I know they never discovered where the couple had gone off to.” He looked up at the house. “Some weeks after the investigation had gone cold, as they say in police jargon; their respective families came to collect all the various belongings and empty the house.” The agent paused and turned to them with a smile, “Anyway, that’s just ancient history,” he said brightly. “Now, would you like a tour of the interior?” The couple nodded enthusiastically, and the followed the agent to the front door.

Sundown at the Toxic Shock Syndrome

So, this was how it would all go down? Eric the Red thought with disdain. An army of crazed, soulless flesh starved things that used to be people, battering down his fortified office door, tearing him to shreds, leaving just enough of his chewed carcass to become one of them—whatever they were. He had always expected to die young and violently, but not like this, and certainly not by his own hand. Eric appreciated the bitter Irony. He had been the father of this atrocity. That he should fall victim to it would have been hysterical, if it weren’t him. Now, here he sat at his desk in his windowless basement office. All he had was a syringe of the awful mixture he had set loose on the world, and a choice.

+++++Eric had only lasted this long because of the door. He had it installed in anticipation of needing to protect himself from one of the many drug dealers with whom he had entered into an uneasy partnership over the years. Eric sold their drugs for them in his club. As skillful and efficient as he was at moving narcotics to the addled metal heads who frequented the place, Eric was even better at skimming profit far above his agreed upon percentage. His erstwhile partners were getting wise to the scam. The grumblings had begun. With that in mind, Eric had the four-ply titanium fire-door put in. It was more vault than anything else. He was assured by the contractor the door would withstand all manner of explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, and any hand-held missiles currently available on the black market. But Eric knew it would be just a matter of time before the horde of berserkers presently outside would finally accomplish what explosives and weaponry could not.

+++++Eric Funschman had been called Eric the Red since he was ten-years-old. His father, Irwin, a criminal with his dirty fingers in all manner of quasi-legitimate small businesses, gave Eric the name. It started to take hold before anyone knew the reason for the appellation.

+++++“Why Eric the Red? It’s not like you guys have Viking blood or anything,” Tovar Beral, Irwin’s retired Mossad agent/bodyguard observed. “You’re Bronx Jews, not a Nordic raiding party. Scary enough if you ask me, I certainly wouldn’t cross you. But, why not something snappy in Hebrew or Yiddish?”

+++++“I call him Eric the Red because he’s always in a foul mood. He is the most unpleasant boy I ever encountered. More is the pity, he’s mine,” Irwin said.

+++++“I still don’t get the red part.”

+++++“Because he’s always on the rag.”

+++++“Oh…that makes sense.”

+++++In fact, Eric was not always on the rag. He had an inability to express himself to others. As such, Eric was awkward around people almost to the point of paralysis. He wanted desperately to interact pleasantly with others. But, his facial expressions and deadpan demeanor would not allow him to communicate his better intentions. Eric had done a lot of work over the years to combat his forbidding appearance, but all his attempts to counter it only exacerbated the problem, and put him further out on the island where he had no desire to be.

+++++A year after his mother passed away, when Eric was ten-years-old, his father brought him to a psychiatrist. He was hoping for a diagnosis that would allow him to have his son declared incompetent, and commit him to an institution—to be rid of him. The psychiatrist, referred by an associate, didn’t understand this was supposed to be a formality. The doctor undertook a pain-staking and rigorous examination. His diagnosis was Asperger’s Syndrome. When Irwin explained the setup as he understood it, Doctor Amalfitano scoffed at him.

+++++“My diagnosis was based on the medical evidence and symptoms your son evinces. I’m not fudging my findings just so you can dump him in a mental hospital for the rest of his life.”

+++++“But Tony Scaggs told me you would do the right thing,” Irwin argued.

+++++“And I just did it. Tony Scaggs is my uncle. I see people he refers to me as a favor. But he understands I will not tailor my diagnoses. Nor will I prescribe drugs which aren’t medically needed. Many of Tony’s associates come in here with the wrong idea. They get sent away just like you. I can help you with your son. But I’m not taking him off your hands for you.”

+++++“What the fuck is wrong with him then?” Irwin demanded.

+++++“He has a high functioning form of autism. His social awkwardness and inability to modulate his voice to coincide with his facial expressions prevent him from communicating with others very well,” the doctor explained.

+++++“So, he’s a retard?”

+++++“No, quite the opposite. He’s actually brilliant, but until he learns to function socially, he’ll never be able to utilize it.”

+++++“What do we do about it?”

+++++The doctor went on to describe a rigorous plan of counseling, occupational and physical therapy and drugs to combat the anxiety brought on by the awkwardness. Irwin thought it would have been easier to just burn the doctor’s office to the ground, destroying his precious medical records, and finding another shrink willing to play ball, but he was prevented from doing so. Irwin Funschman was the second scariest and deadly gangster in Youngstown Ohio. Tony Scaggs Amalfitano had him beat by a mile. There was no way Irwin was going to start a war with Tony by messing with his nephew. He could sense the little prick doctor knew it too.

+++++The treatment prescribed helped Eric to be able to communicate with others and to begin to use his outsized intellect. His father didn’t like him any better, but as he grew, Irwin started to find uses for the boy. While he was able to communicate with others, he made no progress with respect to putting people at ease. If anything, his therapy and training further alienated them.

+++++To combat Eric’s clumsiness when the training began, he started learning mixed martial arts, and lifting weights. Because autism sufferers tend to fixate on rituals and routines, the training took on an almost religious zeal. The fact he was big already made it all look frightening. He countered his impulse not to make eye contact with others by simply forcing himself to do it. This force of will, coupled with his expressionless mask of a face, and his deadpan demeanor made eye contact look and feel like a glare. He never figured out what to do with his hands when he spoke. So, he would push his chest out and throw his shoulders back. He would leave his hands at his sides, but to keep them there he clenched them into giant balled fists. It appeared to everyone he was one cross word away from killing them. With his massive chest, and shoulders like bowling balls, his aspect was terrifying.

+++++Eric’s low raspy voice, delivered from deep within him didn’t help matters at all. It made everything sound like a demand, rather than the polite request he intended. The monotone words, without inflection or emphasis, on their best day sounded like sarcasm. On every other day, they sounded like the portent of doom.

+++++Given these unintended consequences, it wasn’t long before Irwin dropped to number three on Youngstown’s scary gangster list. Tony Scaggs was still nominally recognized as number one, but that was more out of respect and tradition than reality. No one was betting on Tony if Eric ever decided to challenge him.

+++++His father chose Eric to run his most lucrative but volatile business venture, an erstwhile dance hall and saloon. In short order, Eric informed his father he was taking the club. Irwin was no longer in a position to argue. The Toxic Shock Syndrome was a rave hall and exotic dancing emporium fronting an enormous narcotics distribution operation, which is a polite way of saying it was the amoral epicenter of Ohio. Tucked all the way out on the McGuffey Road, out near the county line, the place was the perfect cover for all manner of criminal behavior. And if you had a sin you’d like to commit, or a form of self-abasement you hadn’t yet tried, The Toxic Shock Syndrome would afford you ample opportunity. The strippers were drug addicted prostitutes. They also sold the drugs for Eric. The transactions all looked legal. Buyers would appear to be paying for lap-dances. They would get a lap-dance, along with their purchase of narcotics being slipped into their pockets.

+++++It seemed like a flawless operation, and it was for a while, but Eric was his father’s son. He had been taught to skim everything since he was young. So, he skimmed. Every parcel of narcotics coming into the club to be sold, would be automatically cut with a third of its weight in lactose powder. Eric did all the cutting and re-bagging. The autistic are creatures of habit.

+++++Once Eric started cutting the drugs, it wasn’t long before it was what he had to do. To keep him functional and in his comfort zone, no matter what else happened, Eric cut the drugs. It was this attention to detail and habit that would ultimately slide the world out of its comfort zone and into a world-wide pandemic.

+++++When the Professor showed up, Eric’s operation was already in full swing. He was making more money than he could ever spend, but he was never averse to making more. Counting money was a comfort to him. So, when the tall, thin, stooped and creepy man made his business proposition, Eric was all ears. The vibe of impending tragedy which was coursing through Eric’s body at that moment was not communicated in his face or body language. No one else knew he was suddenly afraid. Eric suppressed his initial revulsion to the Professor, and listened to his deal.

+++++The Professor really was a professor. He had taught bio-chemistry at Ohio State University for thirty years. He became bored after he retired and started messing with the kind of chemistry the University never would have permitted. He would become known in the organized crime world as a synthetic drug manufacturer. His motivations were much darker than narcotics, though. What he was creating wasn’t a drug at all. It was a nerve agent. He called his creation Cornucopia, and insisted it be marketed as such. What the chemical compound did when injected was to simulate the initial high of a heroin shot, coupled with the adrenaline rush of a methamphetamine hit, encased in the general warm encompassing feeling of euphoria and well-being one gets from that first line of cocaine. Eric immediately recognized the limitless earning potential of this product. A drug with those properties sold itself. His only question was, would its allure guarantee repeat sales?

+++++“Is it addictive?” Eric asked.

+++++“Most certainly….and instantly. One shot of Cornucopia ensures the user will need another shot every single day,” the Professor assured him.

+++++“How do we sell it?”

+++++“Like heroin, it’s a powder. We sell it in gem paper in exact doses. The user cooks it with one milliliter of distilled water. There are no impurities, so we have removed the tedious need to strain it through cotton, like they do with their dirty brown tar heroin. They just load the syringe from their spoons and they are as they say, good to go.”

+++++With the built-in demand to such a product, Eric knew it wouldn’t be long before every junkie west of the Appalachians and east of the Rockies would be banging at his door just to get some. And they would be back for more every day thereafter.

+++++“I’m in,” Eric said.

+++++“Yes, of course you are. But before I agree to sell to you, understand this compound cannot be cut or adulterated in any way. The dosage is precise. Any attempt to dilute it will have catastrophic results. Do you understand?”

+++++“Yeah, sure,” Eric intoned, already factoring his inflated profit by one third.

+++++The Professor sensed as much, and was secretly delighted. He had engineered this chemical as a weapon. He was going to sell it to the military, but declined to do so because he knew they wouldn’t have the courage to use it. This was his baby. He wanted it introduced to the world. So, he went back into his lab and engineered the compound with a blocking enzyme to thwart the full, and secretly intended effect. He had heard rumors about Eric’s practice of stepping on his drugs. That’s why the professor sought him out as his distributor. He was counting on it.

+++++The professor had engineered the enzyme to be blunted when simple sugar molecules adhered to it. Eric’s preferred cutting agent for powders was lactose—pure milk sugar. Once the sugar removed the blocking enzyme, Cornucopia did what it was originally intended to. It attacked the brain, which instantly signaled the pituitary gland to put every other gland in the body into overdrive. In an instant, the user felt the effects of enormous quantities of testosterone, adrenaline, growth hormone and insulin coursing through their bloodstreams, with all of the inherent aggression and nervous energy. At the same time, the outer half of the adrenal cortex started pumping enormous quantities of cortisol. This triggered the bodies fight or flight impulse. Except, with this particular nerve agent, there was no longer a flight option. The user became a crazed hormone bingeing dynamo of violence. The aggression stayed in check momentarily until the compound could further attack the brain by depleting the serotonin levels to zero. Once that happened, the ability to reason was gone. The switch had been flipped. What was left was a superhuman turbo-charged killing machine with no other impulse but to destroy or murder.

+++++Then there was the bad news. Once a user of cornucopia either bit, spit, or bled on another person, that person was instantly infected. That’s how a miserable hole in the wall in Ohio became ground zero for the apocalypse that would eradicate the human race.

+++++As Eric the Red Funschman sat at his desk, watching his impregnable door start to give way behind the crush of the berserker horde behind it, he gave some thought to how he would meet his end. He had a syringe of the adulterated cornucopia. He reasoned he could just wait for the door to go down and be consumed by the horde, thus becoming one of them. Or, he thought, he could just inject the drug and join the Armageddon he created. As he jammed the syringe into the side of his neck, and drove home the plunger, he thought, for once I won’t feel awkward around my peers.