Fiction: Selections from Gabriel Lukas Quinn
Don’t Let it Speak
Blood flowed in a single wave, leaving the extant bones dry and bleached. August London was gone; a faceless, inhuman skeleton remained. There was a pool of melted flesh below him—it—that still steamed like tar.
Zephyr’s own bones ached seeing their fellow skeleton naked, shredded of skin and tissue like nothing more than orange peel and pulp. Never had Zephyr felt so cold. This was odd, for the floor was like magma on their soleless feet, and the room was humid with iron and plasma.
Terror was a frigid sensation that creeped and captured one’s form until joints froze and breathing halted. Zephyr was entirely overrun by this frosted horror. They could think of nothing but August’s pale arms which would never warm their neck again. Why did he have to follow the creature down here? Why did August have to be so… selfless?
Zephyr toppled to the metal floor with a clang, their eyes wide and stuck infinitely on the corpse of their mortal partner-in-crime. Their eyes did not even search for the abomination that had done this destructive deed; they knew it was there, just out of sight. It waited in the shadows, frothing.
Zephyr had already given up. The moment August’s eyes burst like two tiny water balloons was the moment life had stopped being real. It was a game now, but not one worth playing: Zephyr had stepped back from the controls, content to watch the Game Over screen. So they now lay slumped against the laboratory wall, hair sizzling against the hot metal paneling. The room was deep and round, metal and stone like a cathedral dungeon. This was its lair, its home turf, where Zephyr was nothing more than a plaything.
Like a spider, it had lured them into its web. It had squirmed its intrigue into the minds of Zephyr Boyd and August London. All it had needed to do was pose a question; in search of truth, the two teens had ventured beneath the surface for the terrible answer. Then it had killed August—if killed was even the right word. “Killed” presumed so much action and mobility in its meaning. August had simply… evaporated. The thing in the corner had sat there, smug. It hadn’t moved, or spoken.
Could it speak? God, Zephyr thought, God, don’t let it speak.
It didn’t speak. Not yet, anyway. But it moved. Its spiked talons scraped across the galvanized floor, pitching inorganic screams from the surface. There was a clattering sound from the other side of the room. Without looking, Zephyr realized that August’s prostrate bones had finally collapsed in a heap amongst his liquified flesh. With chagrin, Zephyr knew they would never again see the way August stood with one hip raised above the other. The visual of the skeleton’s frozen posture would be the final requiem of August London in Zephyr’s mind.
The thing’s aura crowded into frame, a shadowed mass of black, floating bile and vomit. The residue dripped onto the metal with fat splatters that hissed from the heat of the room. Zephyr thought there was a rational shape within the cloudy structure, one like a diseased bird, but it was too obfuscated, and there were tears and cold sweat blurring their eyes.
There was that screeching sound of bone-spur on iron again: the creature pivoted from Zephyr and glided to the remains of August London. Zephyr should have sighed in relief, but instead, they felt their knees lock and their jaw tense.
Across the metal-paneled laboratory, the thing blocked the exit—the one August had been rushing towards. Its form crept up the doorframe, rotated to face downward, then lowered—extended—its dangling mandibles to feast upon the dead nectar of Zephyr’s love. The scythes of its mouth stretched from the black fog of vomit and scooped at the soulless soup on the floor. With each swipe, it retracted one of its dozen mandibles back to its innards and wiped the red liquid upon the walls of its exposed digestive tract. Its mouth was chronically open, screaming or smiling unto death, forever intent on gorging. With ferocious, ravenous speed, the puddle on the floor was smeared, drop by drop, into the thing’s insides.
When it had finished preening the final residues from its feeding-scythes, the thing retreated further up the domed ceiling until it leered down, directly at the pinnacle of the subterranean lab. Its dense form covered the one fluorescent light, drowning Zephyr in a nauseous darkness. It watched, fat and proud, as its next victim fretted below.
Again, despite the overbearing heat of the lab’s environment, Zephyr shivered. It was over, they knew. There was only one viable exit from the lab, but if Zephyr even stood to approach, the thing would plummet from the ceiling and thresh them to shreds. Or, it would simply breathe a wisp of swirling black gas, and Zephyr would melt as August had.
Zephyr inclined their head to stare up into the darkness. One could faintly make out the glow of the overhead light, but it was thickly veiled by a viscous, feather-like mound of pulsing flesh. The thing was not entirely solid in form; it seemed to pass between phases listlessly—from liquid, to solid, to gaseous. What had these scientists created? What seed of Satan had they pulled from the loam here?
“I don’t care,” Zephyr groaned aloud. There was no one left to care about Zephyr, so why should they care? They shifted down so that they lay prone on the tile of the lab. “Get it over with,” they acquiesced. They closed their eyes to the empty void of the dungeon, relenting to the demon they and August had chased through the sewers to this place.
At length, the heat gradually waned. The blistered palms of Zephyr’s hands soon found relief in the now-cool surface of the flooring. The air chilled. Zephyr sensed the light return, and the atmosphere cleared of noxious fumes.
They opened their eyes. Fluorescence glared down at them, glinting off the silver sheen of the walls. Zephyr propped themselves up and peered around. The chamber was empty. There was a series of scarred carvings on the floor and walls, but no other sign of the creature remained. The lab appeared as it was when they had first entered: inoffensive but mysterious.
No sign of August remained either. Zephyr put their head in their hands and wept softly, careful not to sob too loudly that the creature might return. They got to their feet, shakily.
There was a loud thunking sound, and Zephyr shrieked.
By the exit, a black tube rolled onto the tile floor.
Sighing, Zephyr crossed the room and picked it up. They turned the flash light on and pointed it out the lab exit. The sewer system illuminated before them, damp and vile. A viscous black trail muddied the sewer sludge, leading the way out. The thing had a way out now, thanks to their curiosity. It would no longer have to wait down here for stupid kids to approach; it was coming to them.
Zephyr looked one last time at the strange subterranean lab. It was August London’s tomb now, though there was no body for it to house. Zephyr glanced once at the spot where August had fallen, but not even a scorch mark was visible.
Zephyr steeled themselves to escape the grave. The trek up and out would be all the more miserable than their entrance in; alone, absconding through the putrid corridors, the young teen would now have to find a solitary courage. If they ever emerged from the sewers, they would be unrecognizable, a newborn in a suddenly frightening, much larger world. How would they navigate without a guide?
Zephyr brushed the grime off August’s flashlight, the final gift to his partner-in-crime.
No one would believe what had happened to Zephyr and August. No one would bother coming down to investigate the secret lab underneath the town. No one would care, is what Zephyr really meant. No one would care enough to understand Zephyr, though that was nothing new.
Zephyr hadn’t prayed since middle school, but right then she whispered fervently to whatever benevolent being might rival August’s destroyer:
If I get out of here, if I can get home, help me do what August would have done. Please.
Zephyr tightened their grip on the last piece of August left to clutch. August cared; it's why he had down here to investigate the darkness encroaching on the town. It’s why Zephyr loved August still.
Together, they left the laboratory lair.
Charlie H. / Why I Missed My Psychology Final
Charlie doesn’t notice anything different about me. He doesn’t even think to ask where I was during finals. Not a word.
Charlie’s always been a bit of a scatter-brain, but I think he really dropped the ball on this one. I mean, really, what did he think his roommate had been doing this past week?
It’s just, “Hey, how were your finals?”
I lie, saying they were fine, knowing damn well where I had been when Charlie was scribbling “I don’t know” on his last essay question.
And now I’m going to sleep in the bunk bed I haven’t touched in nearly two weeks.
I’m always tired now. Tired and hungry. Hungry.
Flashback: it’s dead week. Are you following? Okay, so Charlie’s out with some girls he met at the club. He’s probably telling them that same story about the female gladiators in Ancient Rome. Really progressive for the time, right? Yeah, yeah, take off your panties now. Anyway, it’s dead week and I’m studying alone. I finished up the chapter summary and I’m totally drained. Just, totally out of it. I know it’s time to take a break, obviously, but I somehow get it in my stupid head that it’s a good idea to drive down and meet Charlie at the club. Listen, Charlie’s not fun to be around, but he does prowl around some great places. It goes like this: you ride with him to the club, then you have a blast… so long as you stay on the opposite side of the bar from him. And since I’m not riding with Charlie tonight, I don’t have to act like we came in together. However, because I can’t stand the thought of a bus at this hour, I’m driving myself in Darth Vader.
Ah. This will be relevant later: my old Chevy is jet black and has a serious “breathing” problem. Probably, definitely not reliable. I keep saying I’ll get it checked out when the term ends; I started saying that freshman year, but, hey, that’s college for you! Anyway, I—no-life freak that I am—decided to name my wheezing wreck on wheels “Darth Vader.”
I never did get that wheezing checked out, did I?
Charlie just woke me up to ask why I’m snoring. I never was one to snore before. I tell him I have a sore throat. He goes back to smoking a bowl. The smoke makes my skin crawl. There had been a lot of smoke that night, hadn’t there? Smoke in the dark.
Waltzing into the bar with rings under my eyes, I’m sure I look shittier than even the drunkest person here. I’m practically staggering to the bar where I’ve spotted him. Charlie makes that stupid “Who done fucked you up?” face and I shrug.
I slide into the bar stool next to him, but he shakes his head, his whole torso swaying with the movement.
“That’s Debby’s seat, bucko,” Charlie shouts over the din of the dive.
I roll my eyes and slide down to the next seat over. After a moment of waiting for Charlie to say something, a young jezebel comes slinking over with a pair of pink drinks in each hand. She hands one to Charlie and sits directly in his lap. Is that even allowed??
Still, Charlie says nothing, just smiles largely in my general direction. I throw up my hands and pivot to the bartender. “House red. Just a glass. I plan on coming home tonight, unlike some people.” I glare at Charlie.
Charlie makes a “Whaddafuckdyamean?” face with his big bloodshot eyes. Debby’s butt bounces on his knee. I scoff; it reminds me of that time my touchy uncle came over and—
A modest young thing sits gingerly down on the opposite side of me. I pull my eyes away from the shitshow that is Charlie, turn, and find my gaze meeting hers.
“I say hi,” I say.
Yeah, I literally say the words “I say.” Probably one of my better starters to a conversation.
“I say that, too,” she responds with a smirk.
“Hey, sounds like we have a lot in common.”
The bartender slides a glass of red my way. The woman looks at my drink and raises an eyebrow. “Maybe not… if that’s the house red,” she says. “I have a little more class than that.”
At that very moment, Charlie and his “date” slump off of their stool. He has his hand down the collar of the nice lady’s dress. She has both hands up the cuff of his shorts. Gee, she’s really reaching up there.
Charlie makes immediate eye contact with me while his lips yank at the girl’s.
I whirl back to the sensible cutie I had been talking to see her mortified, her heels lowering toward the floor, preparing to—understandably—fucking book it.
I try to course-correct: “Get a room, am I right?” I say, chuckling, jabbing a thumb at the spectacle. I take a big pull from my wine.
The girl’s legs relax and she’s about to say something with those lovely crimson lips of hers when—
Charlie breaks off from his smut-caliber sloppy kiss (with a resounding smack!) and stands straight. “There’s a room?! Oh man. Fuck yeah! Lead the way, fuckin’ queer.” He puts a hand on my shoulder and it’s wet. And why is it warm? I bite my cheek, try to think of something to say to save my moment with—
But it’s too late. She jumps to her feet and leaves.
And now I have warm fluid on my shirt.
I should never have gone to that bar. At the least, I should have left when I saw how drunk Charlie was. But to be fair, even the best of us get a little bit out-of-control after about a dozen shots of brandy. Yet, maybe if I had left sooner…
I get a call from Charlie on the drive home from the bar. (Yeah, I left. I needed a shower. Or two.) As it’s ringing, I’m fumbling with my cell phone. It’s one of those flip-phones with a grip like a vice. Not easy to open with one hand, but I’m trying my best. There’s a screech somewhere far away, and I manage to open the damned vault trap. “Hello?” I say.
Charlie responds: “Smees abies hop biffies miggle pen vallerbeggons.”
I think I already knew what was about to happen when he said, uh, that.
“What?” I shout into the phone. This time it was perfectly clear and much too loud: “These ladies have TIDDIES bigger than WATERMELONS!”
I jerk with surprise at the slurring screams coming from my cell phone; I drop the damn thing onto the floor.
I’m so tired. Of this shit, but also in general. I can hear him laughing down below the gas pedal. I’m trying to reach him but the air’s definitely getting smurgy in here. Smurgy? Yeah, that was the right word. Smurgy.
It’s morning now. Well, more like afternoon-ish. Charlie saw the gash in my arm. I think he only noticed because it was oozing onto the bed sheets, and this is his weekend for laundry duty. He didn’t ask how I got it, just told me that I should probably clean it up. Thanks, Charlie. A plus.
Between the smurgy air, my general out-of-it state, and the steel lamppost pummeling toward me at eighty-two miles an hour, a little part of me astutely intuits that it was meant to happen. I mean, I had all these things working against me; I don’t think I could have avoided it if I wanted to. I’m not one to believe in the majority of Freud’s principles—he was a pseudoscientist, misogynist, and perhaps a little bit of a child molester—but that thought really does stick with me… Not the child molester thought. The other one. Like, maybe I had subconsciously wanted to crash that car, and maybe those external forces working against me were entirely negligible. Can a car crash be considered a Freudian slip?
There’s a shuddering thump that feels like God kicking me in the ass. The smurginess of the air seems to disappear and everything is so clear and fresh and fluid. The glass is raining into the carseats and the streetlight from above is refracting on each shard. The hot engine smoke dances with the cold night air for the brief second that they clash in front of me. It’s like being caught in a snowstorm of light but also like heaven is baking me alive.
It’s a shame I don’t believe in a God because at this point I would have been scolding him if I did. Hey, what’s the deal, big guy? This is all very inconvenient, see? This is going to severely affect my GPA. Shame on you!
Why the hell was I thinking about my GPA at a time like this? College, man. It’s so—
But then I wasn’t thinking. Crash. Bam. Fade to black. I’m out.
“What sounds good, gringo-san?” Charlie’s asking. “Chinese or Mexican?”
I tell him that, you know what, I’m not really hungry for either.
“Yeah, well, what are you hungry for, lil’ bitch boy?” Charlie asks now.
Well, I think I’m gonna tell him what I’m actually hungry for.
It’s dark. It’s an eternal black. Like, blacker than any amount of drinking can get you, even with Charlie. Something tells me I didn’t make it back to the dorm.
It smells like shit and mildew. It’s dry, too.
For a long time, I play reruns of that old classic “Where the hell am I?” But then—
I find sensation. It’s dull. Touch feels distant like I’m underwater. My bones feel soggy, like they’re turning to mush inside me. Oh, and my head. Jesus Christ, my head. It feels so light like it’s full of helium, like it’s emptier than empty. It’s got negative mass, man! (Don’t ask me how that works; I’m just a psychology major.)
With those far-away tools that are my hands and fingers, I begin feeling around. It’s a box. My size. It’s just my size. Perfect for me. I’m meant to be here, aren’t I? This is where I’m supposed to be.
Oh, I don’t think so. There was a mistake; I don’t belong here in this heavy, boring emptiness. Not anymore. I’ve got places to be! Finals to take! Student loans by which to be crushed!
Charlie’s got his reusable “environmentally friendly” metal chopsticks, and he’s making some very racist gestures with them. Can hand motions be racist? I don’t see why not.
I already told him I wanted to let him in on a little something, so here it goes. I kinda wish I could tape record this just to savor his reaction. The first living reaction to my secret.
It takes all my energy, but I’m out of that perfectly-sized box and onto the grassy hills. The stone markers seem fraternal in the night air. I wonder if this is the same night of my weary moonlit drive… or had I been stuck in that hole for a whole day? I’ll find out later from the newspaper.
The place is pretty big, and I’m pretty sluggish. I stop to sit on some of the stones occasionally, catching my breath. I look down at my hands. They’re all scuffed up from scratching and digging. I’ll have to see the doctor again about it. Again? Was it again? I’m starting to remember the night of the accident at this point. Well, parts of it. I remember the crash, then getting hauled out, then getting put under for surgery. What happened after that?
Charlie’s asking me what kind of joke this is. Darn, he doesn’t get it. I’m sorry, Charlie… You gotta face the music here, buddy. If not for my sake, then… Well, I guess it’s only for my sake. I’m just egocentric like that.
But you owe me this much, Charlie.
You’re the one that got me killed.
I stand up from the headstone, hoping to get my mind into a reality-processing state as I move. Soon I find the cemetery’s gate and I stumble out into the street. There’s a vagrant across the road and I wave at her. She screams and grabs her little cart, careens away. I cross the street and find a newspaper in the stash of trash she left behind in her escape. I read it, my eyes drooping and my mind slapping around at the words and letters on the page.
Fatal Car Crash During Uni Dead Week.
University Student. Exhaust Leak. Blunt Force Trauma.
Announced Dead at Hospital.
I stagger a little, dropping what I now know to be last week’s paper.
According to the date on the front page, I had been in that black space for over a week. I had been lying there, rotting, while professors called my name in attendance and received no response. I had been there in the coffin as each final test concluded, as students sighed in relief or in sorrow.
My jaw sorta just hangs open and my eyes would have gone teary if the ducts were working, but they’re just kinda palpitating without fluid to pump. I was taking this pretty well, wasn’t I? Dead at twenty-one from a freak car crash. I was looking at my own name in the headline with “passed away” next to it. I was dead and yet I was standing right here next to the homeless camp.
I really should’ve gotten Darth Vader’s wheezing fixed. All I could think about was how in the hell I would drop my books off at the library now. That place is on the opposite side of town, and I’m sure as sin not shuffling over there on these feet. These… dead feet.
I wander off to find that vagrant woman to tell her about how hard it is to walk with these dead feet. For hell’s sake, it’s like walking in mud.
Charlie’s explaining to me how that doesn’t make sense because I’m not grumbling and groaning like an undead buffoon. I’m not “fugly” enough, he says.
Now I’m telling him what a hurtful stereotype that is.
“To whom?! Wait, Christ, are zombies, like, a cultural minority? Holy shit, am I being totally bigoted right now?” Charlie’s making a fool of himself. But, at the very least, I wasn’t the first one to call myself a zombie. It makes for a weird introduction: Hi, Charlie, I’m a zombie.
Yeah, right. I’m glad he got that out of the way. Still, it felt weird hearing it aloud for the first time, like someone telling you that you’re an alien.
“No, Charlie,” I’m saying now. “It’s hurtful to me.”
“Fuck, man. I just called you the Z-word, too, didn’t I? Jesus, I’m sooo sorry.” Charlie’s throwing his hands up, getting a real kick out of it. He’s making a real show of the whole thing.
“Charlie,” I’m gonna say softly.
Then he’s gonna ask “What?” in that stupid, unbelieving tone.
Then I’m gonna tell him.
After I catch up with the vagrant woman and let her know how I’m feeling, I decide that I’ll crash in the dorm room, even if it is the weekend after finals. Everyone should be packing up, getting ready for break. All the better: I don’t have to speak to anyone. I didn’t think I’d run into Charlie, but look where we are now. So, yeah, I make it onto campus and head straight for my dorm room. I crash into the bottom bunk, tired as hell. I sleep until Sunday afternoon-ish, when Charlie asks me about what kind of take-out I want. I let him order Chinese, then I sit him down to tell him the truth.
I’m really polite about it, as a good zombie should be:
“I’d like to eat your brain.”
Charlie’s chuckling. He’s busting his gut. He’s slapping his knee. No one has ever said anything that funny: he’s just being an ass.
“Charlie, I’m going to eat the gray matter in your skull. It’s what I’m hungry for today.”
Charlie’s catching his breath, trying to speak.
“It’s not like I can order brains on GrubHub, right? I’m sure you understand.”
Charlie’s wiping a tear from his cheek. “Oh-hoo. Oh, man. You’re never this funny when I ask you to wingman.” He’s standing up now, gathering all the Chinese food and stuffing it in the fridge haphazardly. I hate when he does that. Jesus, does the zombie have to be the one to label everything in the fridge?
“Charlie, I’m being serious.”
Charlie is washing his hands in the sink. He turns off the faucet. “Are you…” He whirls around to face me. “DEAD serious?” Charlie’s face cracks into a big grin.
Then Charlie’s skull cracks.
Blood is dribbling down his face from where the metal chopsticks were driven first through his forehead, then through his cranium. His stupid smile stays on his stupid face as he topples over onto the stupid kitchen floor.
Ah, geez. Shit. I’m not really sure how to do this part. All so very messy, and on the kitchenette hardwood, no less. Well, let’s assess things: I already have a hole through the bone. That’s a step in the right direction. Should I get a straw and suck it out like a milkshake? No, I’d have to mush it down to the right consistency first. Damn it! For keeping my GPA so high, I’m feeling pretty stupid at the moment. I should be smarter than this, right? Oh well. Maybe I’m just hungry and need some… brain food!
Ha, Charlie would have liked that one.
God, I feel fresh. Who cares about finals? About Charlie? I see now: that’s all small-scale. Small potatoes. For the first time in my life, I feel at peace in my skin. I think I can live life for real this time.
I can finally indulge.
I think I’ll check the student supplies office. They might have a crowbar in there. First, though, I should probably change clothes. Don’t want to go walking down the halls looking like a total slob now, do I?
Gabriel Lukas Quinn (he/him) is a 20-year-old gay writer and English student from Portland, Oregon. Quinn authors short speculative fiction, psychological thrillers, and poetry concerning mental health. Literature is a preservation of the soul… so write or die, y’all! Quinn has been featured in several publications such as Bindweed Magazine, The Kings River Review, Perceptions Literary Magazine, The Sucarnochee Review, and The Whistle Pig Literary Journal. Find Quinn (@ichaotiqa) on Instagram.