The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Michelle Joy Gallagher
Lacey had worked tirelessly for two weeks straight programming her company’s new video game. The premise had been simple enough, a multiplayer game in a mythical land that borrowed from elements of the Aztec culture as well as early European tribal cultures. Being a history buff, she had been excited by the prospect of being involved in something with such a depth of story. They were using actual elements from historical facts their research department and writing department molded into a unique and engaging mythos. She prided herself in her involvement and dove into the project headlong, putting in late nights and keeping herself functioning with a mixture of coffee and nicotine.
As the weeks unfolded and pressure mounted from her boss, the shine of the project dulled and time felt all at once claustrophobic and implacable. She became more and more fixated on getting things absolutely perfect and would spend entire nights working on lines of code for a simple plant or tree to ensure she got things absolutely right. Her boss grew frustrated with her seemingly spinning her wheels and gave her a hard deadline in order to hopefully encourage her to stop hyper focusing on details that may not even make it to the final look of the game.
When the design team did change elements of the theme and mood of various scenes, she would lock herself in her office and fly into rages. This was outside of her normal level and calm composure. The last straw had been when she noticed a flicker in one of the background designs she’d rendered. Someone had been into her files somehow. She accused everyone in her office, and everyone denied being responsible. Her paranoia grew by leaps and bounds after this. With every meeting they made the game more and more violent and wanted her to create a scene where people had to be rescued from torture. They were to be rescued of course, by the brave heroes of the game, but any time they were rescued the scene would reset for the next group to come through and interact with. Non player characters perpetually endured grotesque physical damage, their rescues only lasting mere minutes.
The deadline loomed. She slept less and stopped eating. She mainlined coffee and cigarettes and shut herself off from the outside world. The lines of code seemed to wrap around her throat and choke her. When she was lucky enough to find sleep, the elements of the 3D textures and rendered landscape haunted her dreams. She found herself walking through the portals and between the statues she’d lovingly poured her heart and skill into. The dreams were heavy and carried with them a sense of panic. The violence she’d crafted, haunting her on an endless loop.
With the deadline just a week away, she decided it would be best to consult a doctor. She felt it was beyond her control and she didn’t like the looks her coworkers and superiors gave her. The doctor was sympathetic and reassured her that stress was the most likely culprit and wrote her a prescription for a new sleeping medication that was also formulated to reduce anxiety. The doctor wanted her to start on a low milligram dose, intending to increase it slowly over time, but in her desperation, she took twice the amount she was supposed to. She was exhausted and pushed to her limits.
A knock at the door startled her. It was late and she hadn’t expected visitors. Through the peep hole she could see her boss, a very tall and severe looking man looking around awkwardly with his hands in his pockets.
“Great.” She said to herself.
She opened the door and put a fake smile on.
“Greg! Hello!” she said warmly. Sensing the façade, he smiled awkwardly back and asked to come in. She opened the door wide and led him into the living room. He sat on the edge of her ratty sofa and looked at her seriously.
“I’m worried, Lacey. Frankly we all are. I think you need some time away from the project and I think we need to reassess your involvement in it.”
She shook her head violently and tears started down her face.
“Greg, please! I’m committed to seeing this through. I’ve been to the doctor! Just give me a chance.” She sat down hard on the couch beside him and he stiffly wrapped an arm around her to console her. She leaned her head against his shoulder and felt the weight of the stress mixed with the sleeping medication hit her all at once. She started to nod off. Greg allowed her to remain there for some time, before rousing her and helping her to bed. He laid her down on her pillows and pulled the blankets over her, careful not to get too personal, and slunk out of the room.
She fell deeply asleep in no time, the television flickering and droning in a comforting pulse in her dark bedroom. It felt like only moments later and her eyes sprang open. Her bedroom was bathed in the soft luminescent purple hues of the landscape she’d spent countless hours working on. As she focused on the television screen, she realized the familiar landscape was there, including the flicker that she had loathed so much. She got up and approached the screen to find the flicker was emanating from a small fire pit and there was a lone figure huddled next to it. She put her hand to the screen and the figure started at the movement. How could it see her? It crawled slowly toward her and away from the fire and as it grew nearer, she saw with some horror the figure was faceless and bloody. A half-rendered ghost in the machine.
It whispered something unintelligible. She put her face against the screen and felt the hum of electricity, the purple hues illuminated her face brightly, and the whispered message seemed to be telepathically sent.
“Stop them. Stop them. Stop them.” In cadence with the background hum.
And then “It hurts.”
She backed away from the television slowly and stumbled over a pile of dirty laundry she’d neglected for ages. When she fell flat on her back she jerked awake and realized it was an incredibly vivid and incredibly frightening dream. One of the worst she’d ever experienced. It felt so real. As the sun started to peek through her bedroom curtains, she fell back to sleep. This time it was mercifully dreamless.
When she awoke, she felt hungover and she laughed at how desperate she must have been to take more of the pill than she’d been prescribed. She went to gather the laundry at the foot of the bed and was shocked to find it all covered in a tacky red substance. Her hands and clothes were as well. The voice from the dream the night before echoed in her mind. “Stop them. It hurts.” She remembered the visit from her boss the night before and ran down the hall. A trail of blood on the hardwood floor. Handprints in blood along the walls and finally a massive pool of blood outside of her bathroom door.
She opened the door slowly to find Greg folded over in the bathtub, a deep wound in his neck. She fell to her knees, wracked with sobs. She crawled to the side of the tub and saw a piece of jagged glass sticking out Greg’s neck. She pulled it out, carving deep gashes in her palm and fingers. She plunged the glass shard into her own neck, blood spilling freely from the wound and soaking the floor in front of her. The voice echoed in her mind until all went dark.
It hurts. It hurts. It hurts.
Fiction © Copyright Michelle Joy Gallagher
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from author Michelle Joy Gallagher:
This collection of twelve stories and artwork by women is truly a collection of the macabre. Make a reservation for terror and get ready to delve into the deepest, darkest fears of some of the best writers and artists in the fiction game. Leah McNaughton Lederman has collected an anthology of the truly strange… a tome of the weird. Take a seat and order a cup, you’re dining at Café Macabre!