‘It That Decays,’ appearing in CORPSE COLD: NEW AMERICAN FOLKLORE

books, short stories

ItThatDecays_01

Jim Patrick tried to relax during his dental exam, but the severe pain made it hard for him to think of anything else. It had begun as a dull toothache, only a few days prior, and Jim had delayed making an appointment with his dentist, Dr. Godbere. But that morning, he was in such agony that he had pleaded with the office receptionist to be seen immediately.

“Well, Jim, overall your teeth look great, as always. There’s just a small cavity on one of your bottom third molars,” said Dr. Godbere. “Christ, it’s rare that I come across a full set of wisdom teeth that have as much room as yours. You’ve got great genes.”

Jim grabbed his cheek and sighed. “I’ve never had a cavity before. I didn’t know it would hurt this much.”

“The amount of pain you’re experiencing is out of the ordinary. But in the realm of teeth, gums, and nerves, nothing surprises me anymore,” said the dentist. “We’ll drill it and fill it.”

“Go ahead and drill, Doc. I’d never thought I’d be saying that to a dentist.” Jim smiled faintly as the dentist clapped him on the shoulder.

“I’ve known these teeth since the 90s. You’re in good hands.”

Godbere began preparing for the minor dental procedure. Jim tried to distract himself with a daytime talk show on the exam room’s TV, but he was already beginning to sweat. He was neurotic about his dental care, and was disappointed in himself for having to undergo a procedure that was fully preventable.

“Jim, I’m surprised you have a cavity. Has your diet changed since the last time you were in?”

Jim threw up his hands. “That’s the thing, Doc — I’ve been eating healthier! More fruits, smoothies, even drinking this special kombucha — my son said it did wonders for his gut flora.”

“Ah, I see. Fruits and juices are really acidic, eat at the enamel — not to mention the sugar,” said Godbere. “I’ve heard kombucha can really stain the teeth — and that it might be more hocus pocus than digestive aid. But we can talk about your diet later.”

Godbere tested his drill; the whirring of the motor made Jim cringe. The dentist then retrieved a long needle from his assistant and prepared to inject Jim with some novocaine. “You ready?”

Jim nodded, gripping the armrests on the dental chair.

“Then let’s get to work.”

 

Jim returned home later that morning, satisfied that he had dealt with his tooth troubles. It wasn’t until the early afternoon that the novocaine wore off, and he again felt the dull ache in his jaw. Dr. Godbere had told Jim it might take a day or two for the pain to completely fade, and had given him a prescription for Percocet.

By the time Jim was ready for bed that evening, his pain was on par with what he had experienced before visiting the dentist. Jim took the medicine, and still he barely slept that night. He called the dentist during his lunch break the following day, as he had been forced to down multiple painkillers just to get through the morning.

Dr. Godbere managed to get Jim in for a late-afternoon appointment. “Jim, you look good. I can’t believe you’re still in pain — it really was just a surface cavity, which I normally wouldn’t even bother filling. We’ll do some x-rays and figure this thing out.”

After the x-rays were taken, Godbere went over them with Jim in the exam room. “Here. Here’s the filling we just did,” said the dentist, as he pointed at the black-and-white film.

Jim followed along with the dentist, but he also noticed another blemish further down the tooth, and pointed it out. “Doc, what’s this dark blotch here?”

Godbere leaned over Jim to get a closer view of the film. “It’s not a cavity, and it’s probably not on the tooth itself. You sometimes see this sort of thing with wisdom teeth. They tend to pull up extra tissue, since they rarely have enough room to fully irrupt without disturbing the canals. Wisdom teeth are what we call ‘vestigial structures.’ They serve no purpose; they’re evolutionary holdovers from millions of years ago.” Godbere sat back and wrote out a prescription. “I’m prescribing you a rinse that’s meant to treat serious gingivitis. It should alleviate the gum pain itself — if this is a gum issue.”

Jim left the dentist’s office that evening feeling like he had received no real answers. He filled his new prescription, followed the rinse regimen, and popped a Percocet before retiring for the night.

 

To say Jim woke in pain each morning following his visit with Dr. Godbere would be an understatement. He was taking so many pills that he could barely function. He was a zombie at work and slept at all hours when he was at home. Jim was worried about getting hooked on opioids — he had heard the horror stories — and worse, his whole jaw ached when he wasn’t loaded up with Percocet. He called around until he could make an appointment with a new dentist and get a second opinion on his condition. He no longer trusted Godbere’s judgment.

“So, you say you’ve had a cavity filled and now your jaw hurts?” asked Dr. Robinson, as he examined Jim at his private practice.

“Just look at the x-ray I brought, Doc. I don’t think Dr. Godbere got all of the cavity or something.”

Dr. Robinson picked up the film and looked it over briefly before setting it down. “We can get the filling out and take a look, clean up anything that needs to be corrected.” The dentist was all too eager to replace the filling and collect an easy $800. He knew Godbere was an experienced dentist and considered the possibility that he was dealing with a hypochondriac.  

Robinson’s office was built above a remodeled garage adjacent to his home. Jim certainly preferred the clean, modern, and professional setting of Dr. Godbere’s office, but he was desperate. The dentist employed one receptionist/hygienist, an older woman named Mary, who had greeted Jim earlier while chainsmoking in the driveway.

Mary entered the room, turned on a monitor, and laid out the tools of the dental trade on a pan over Jim’s lap, before telling Robinson that she was headed out for another cigarette.

“Okay, Mr. Patrick, I’m going to give you a shot to numb the area; then we’ll get the filling out and see what’s going on with my new camera.” Robinson lifted the long, thin camera and flicked its light on and off before attaching it to the drill. He placed the drill in Jim’s mouth and turned it on. “I can move the monitor if you don’t want to watch.”

“Oh, it’s fine, Doc. Do what you have to do.”

The dentist nodded and went to work. He soon had the filling out and was prodding around in the depression. “Jim, I think I’m going to have to drill more. There’s still some discoloration. I can see how Dr. Godbere may have missed this if he didn’t have a camera to really get in there.”

“Yeah, I don’t think he went down far enough,” said Jim, after the dentist had removed his tools. “Drill, baby drill!”

Robinson chuckled. “Okay, okay. I’m going to place this O-guard in your mouth, just to be safe.”

Soon enough, the drill was back in Jim’s mouth, the two men viewing its progress on the monitor. Jim watched as the drill slipped through the small hole, suddenly, and Robinson unceremoniously yanked it back out of his mouth.

“Shit!” said Robinson. “There may be some serious basal decay. The drill went all the way through and into the gum — as if the bottom of the tooth was hollow.”

“Wha’ now?” mumbled Jim, throatily, the guard in his mouth obstructing his speech.

“Well, let’s take a look,” said Robinson as he put the drill with its attached camera back into the man’s mouth.

They could see some blood pooling around the tooth and gum as the camera approached the rear of Jim’s mouth. When the device was placed into the opening in the tooth, the dentist gasped. Jim couldn’t quite make out what Dr. Robinson was seeing on the monitor. From Jim’s point of view, it looked like a dark, hairy patch in his tooth.

“This is unbelievable. Let me increase the magnification.” When Robinson magnified the hairy patch, Jim could make out a sickening mass of tiny, black worms living within his tooth and jaw!

Both men revolted, and the camera and monitor lost the image. Jim tried to say something, but he could only wrench out a shrill series of gasps.

“Bone worms?!” exclaimed Robinson, now incredibly curious. He maneuvered the drill back into place so they could again examine the issue. “Relax a minute, Jim. Let’s take another look.”

But before Robinson could get the drill into the tooth itself, both men spotted the worms emerging from the hole, snake-haired. The wriggling abominations had made a home of Jim’s mandible and seemed to be erupting, their hideout exposed. Jim panicked and grabbed the dentist’s hand and drill, and the drill whirred to life.

“No, Jim, don’t!”

It was too late. Jim had already jammed the drill toward the bewormed wisdom tooth. First missing and scraping a jagged line across the dentin of another molar, then adjusting and finding the mark — all while watching on the monitor above. It happened so fast; Robinson was powerless to stop the frenzied man from drilling into the tooth, then through the gum tissue, and eventually into the jaw, each of which had been hollowed as the worms progressed toward the surface. There was the whirr of the machine and the hideous crackle of broken bone and severed tissue. The drill easily broke through the passage made by the parasitic creatures, and Jim only ceased drilling when he had punctured through the flesh of his jaw.

“Mary! Get the hell in here, now!” screamed Dr. Robinson, as he finally unplugged the drill and restrained Jim from further injury.

Jim writhed madly and kicked the pan of tools set on the table hovering across his lap. Mary ran in, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, and helped the dentist keep Jim in the chair. Blood was running from the drill emerging from Jim’s jaw, dripping down his neck, even spurting when he turned his head too far.

“What the hell is that?” asked Mary, as worms as thin as human hair began finding their way out of Jim’s jaw, slinking down the drill itself and falling onto his shirt and into his lap.

 

When Jim passed out, Dr. Robinson and his assistant quickly contacted an ambulance. The ER doctors were able to remove the drill, Jim’s injuries were treated, and he was given a regimen of medications to kill off the parasitic worms.

The write-up on Jim Patrick’s diagnosis and treatment became a well-known case-study. It took time and effort on the part of the medical researchers, but they were able to determine that the worms had originated from a natural kombucha which Jim had purchased online from the Philippines, only weeks prior to his first symptoms.  

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Every Creepy Illustration Featured in ‘Corpse Cold: New American Folklore’

Art, books

Chad Wehrle‘s macabre, black-and-white illustrations truly bring the stories in our anthology Corpse Cold: New American Folklore to life. Here’s a look at all of the major pieces found in Corpse Cold, including front matter and other incidental art, in the order they appear.

Cover

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Content section

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Story section

Stories_01

“Switches”

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“Black Dog”

BlackDog_01

“Czarny Lud”

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CzarnyLud_02

“Corpse Cold”

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“Amityville Beach”

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“A Morning Fog”

MorningFog_01

“Friendship: Dead and Buried”

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“Autoplay ‘On'”

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“The Big ‘M'”

BigM_01

“Dracula’s Bride”

DraculasBride_01DraculasBride_02

“Moss Lake Island”

MossLakeIsland_01MossLakeIsland_02

“It That Decays”

ItThatDecays_01

“Two Visions, 1984”

TwoVisions_01TwoVisions_02TwoVisions_03

“Woman on the Campus Green”

WomanCampusGreen_01

“The Blue Hole”

BlueHole_01BlueHole_02

“Jesup”

Jesup_01

“Model Citizens”

ModelCitizens_01

“Last Train Home”

LastTrainHome_01LastTrainHome_02

“A Casket for My Mother”

CasketMother_01

“Echo’s Reflection”

EchosReflection_01EchosReflection_02

Notes section

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Preview: A Strange Love & Relationship-Themed Paranormal Anthology from Cemetery Gates Media

books

In February 2018, we (Brhel & Sullivan) will release a book of ten short stories entitled Her Mourning Portrait and Other Paranormal Oddities. With this collection, we aim to present the difficulties of sustaining flesh-and-blood relationships through a novel lens — through the weird and uncanny.

Paranormal themes and plot elements help us explore interpersonal relationships in unique, often amusing, ways; but at their core, these tales are not about ghosts or strange premonitions — they’re about flawed, everyday individuals navigating the complexities of dating, marriage, and loss. If anything, the strange situations that our characters encounter only parallel the seemingly arbitrary, uncertain nature of real-life love and companionship. And while you may not ever communicate with a dead lover or have a preternatural insight into a different time or place, you can likely relate to the tragedy, the euphoria, the insanity that the act of loving often entails.

The stories can be considered romances in the broadest sense. Each tale is built around a central character’s quest for a more secure, fully actualized, and loving intimacy. However, most of the stories would not properly fit within the expectations of the already established, paranormal romance subgenre.

With books like Tales from Valleyview Cemetery and Corpse Cold: New American Folklore our goal was to entertain readers with spook stories, featuring uncomfortable plot elements that approach real-life horrors. And in Carol for a Haunted Man we portrayed a helpful, Dickensian apparition, and a mortal protagonist who was struggling to rebuild his personal and professional lives. While this collection is a mix of both thematic styles, we hope to satisfy readers who’ve enjoyed our campfire oddities, as well as those who’ve preferred our more literary moments.

TFVV cover    cemeterygatesone_final_cover .   haunted-man-cover

Some of the highlights from the new collection include:

  • “Her Mourning Portrait” is the story of an artist who immortalizes his dying wife, and then must face the consequences of aging without her.
  • “Side by Side” is a quirky cemetery tale about a confrontation between a long-deceased man and his widow’s second husband, regarding the final resting place of their beloved-in-common.
  • “Lady of Cayuga Lake” recounts the last hurrah of a separating husband and wife, a final vacation which takes a turn toward the paranormal when they both spy a ghost over the lake. Will they have what it takes to work together, confide in each other, and solve the mysterious disappearance of Mary Gold?
  • “The Lost Cache” tells of the strain an obsessive hobby can have on a marriage. Hillary appears to give Eric every chance to engage her, and work his way back toward an intimate companionship, even going so far as to plan out a special evening of hiking and geocaching in an old cemetery with her husband.
  • “Play It Again, Sam” is a science fiction story regarding the discovery of a technology that can influence recorded memories. Sam is an engineer hoping to alter his ex-wife’s perception of their seminal, shared moments together, enough that she has a more positive view of him in the present.
  • “Her, He, and a Corpse Makes Three” focuses on a love triangle between a living couple who work in a funeral home, and the woman’s recently deceased, yet spiritually returned ex-boyfriend.

Ben Baldwin is once again responsible for the cover art. Ben previously designed the cover for our episodic novel, Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop.

hmpCover

The following is a complete short story from Her Mourning Portrait and Other Paranormal Oddities, entitled “Beyond a Blood Moon.” It is a brief homage to the chillers of Guy de Maupassant and Edgar A. Poe.

“Beyond a Blood Moon”

I was awakened one night in bed, likely due to the absence of my fiancée; I can only assume that it was this silence past midnight, which a light sleeper can’t help but notice once they’ve become attuned to the constancy of their nightly bedroom environment. And this absence was likely what my unconscious found unsettling enough to stir me. Sara’s breathing was often measured, hypnotic, a comforting rhythm to my night. Her respiration was often the last thing I took hold of in my twilight mind before plunging into the great unknown, and then my first lifeline back to cognizance each morning. But when I stirred that night, due to the silence, and reached for her—I couldn’t help but convulse, considering a multitude of fears and possibilities.

I left the bedroom and wandered our home. Her sneakers were gone. She enjoyed jogging late, and I hated that she had no fear of the night. As I dressed and put on my shoes, I considered whether I was the reason for her jogging now; that she wouldn’t want to worry me if I were still awake, while she took the path around the block and through the cemetery. So, since there was no way I was going to fall back to sleep without seeing her safely home, I headed out into the night.

There were intermittent clouds, but the moon was full and bright, illuminating the areas where the amber-yellow street lamps fell short. As I turned from the sidewalk and into Valleyview Cemetery, I noticed the beginnings of a lunar eclipse. I hadn’t seen one since childhood, and stood in awe as the Earth’s shadow consumed the reddening lunar surface. At the time, I considered how strange and seemingly unimportant such a spectacular astronomical event had been to me. It had been over twenty years since I’d stood in my parents’ front yard and last waited for the moon to vanish.

I rarely consumed local media, but there had to have been some mention of it in the newspaper that morning. To think that ancient societies would plan for months, and even years, in advance, to celebrate a full lunar eclipse—and here I was, casually catching one as I searched for my missing companion.

I continued on through Valleyview after the blood moon had passed. The lunar disc retained some of its reddish hue, but the street lamps on either end of the cemetery were enough for me to find my way down the winding paths of the hillside graveyard. I came upon Sara, not far from the central outcropping of mausoleums. I ran to her crumpled form. I knew her instantly by the powder-blue sneakers with their pink bands.

She was lifeless. I screamed her name as I attempted to revive her. I could make out the strangulation marks on her neck, her bruised face, as I gave my best effort at resuscitation. She had been murdered. I’m still not sure whether she had been robbed. I called 911 and the paramedics, fire department, and police raced into the cemetery.

It was the last time I saw Sara’s body, as her family wouldn’t allow me at the wake or funeral, since I was awaiting arraignment for homicide.    

I had no choice but to put my hands on her, and try my best to revive her. I had to touch her, feel with my own hands the bruising on her cheek, her broken right orbital bone, the sinewy strangulation marks on her neck. I began to mourn her, long before the first medic arrived on the scene.

There was no one else to charge, imprison, and punish. It really made sense for the police, community, my friends, and family, that I was the one who had extinguished a loving, generous, woman—one who I had long imagined as the mother of my children, my lifelong partner. For eight years I went mad in a single cell at Shawangunk Correctional Facility. I had no visitors, no one waiting for me—no one to serve my time for. I wrote letters to Sara’s family, my own family, pleading my innocence and the truth of my unabashed love for her. They went unanswered.

During my eight years, I married Sara in my mind, had children with her. We went on family vacations, advanced in our careers—even had spats, and differences, which we eventually overcame. She and I advanced into old age, and I was ready to die alongside her when I was granted parole.

The first night I was allowed to leave the halfway house, I went right to Valleyview and lay upon her ornate altar-tomb. It was a frigid, overcast February night, and I intended to fall asleep and become a part of her monument. A monument to my love for her, the love we had shared the four years we were together, and the eight I had shared with her in dream.

With my finger I traced her name in the granite, then the inscription beneath, which read: “Devoted daughter and fiancée, a beautiful soul taken too soon.” I shivered at the mention of ‘fiancée,’ that her parents left her connection to me at her burial site. It surprised me, and gave me some small consolatory pleasure in my waning hours.

The chill had already consumed me, and was now leaving my body along with my life’s energy. It began to snow. A thin, white blanket covered me and the altar, and I began to drift into that place between conscious and unconscious. But as I resigned myself to my end, and was preparing to embrace my final sleep, the altar moved beneath me. The shock of the tomb cracking mere inches from my face gave me a rush of adrenaline that left me fully cognizant of what then occurred.

From the few inches of darkness revealed by the cracked top piece of the altar, a waxen, partly shriveled hand emerged. I pushed myself onto my side to avoid the ghastly intrusion by my beloved. The aged, embalmed hand proceeded to scratch out the inscription on the tomb. I watched as an eerie incandescent green glow passed from the fingertips to the stone, bright enough that I had to momentarily shield my eyes.

It wasn’t half a minute before the task was complete, and the hand returned to the dark of the tomb, the altar gently scraping back to its settled position. I looked to the inscription, to see what damage had been done, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. I assumed I had experienced some sort of delusion brought on by my deteriorating condition.

When I lay back on the tomb, resigned to complete my purpose, I looked up into the overcast sky, and the clouds soon parted—revealing the Earth’s colossal umbra as it consumed the moon. I had no prior knowledge of an impending lunar eclipse, and I had to shield my eyes, as I was shaken to my core by the specter of the blood-red disc.

I turned away from the dreadful astronomical event, and when I did, I caught sight of the inscription on the tomb, which was now illuminated in a reddish hue from the heavenly body. Where the inscription had once read “Devoted daughter and fiancée; a beautiful soul taken too soon,” it now read, in an ordered (and what I can only describe as ‘angelic’) script: “Devoted mother and wife; to be together again, if only in dream.”

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