ShadowCast 019 The Picker’s Harvest

The Picker’s Harvest

by Todd Austin hunt

read by Jason Warden

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Victor looked at his wife from the corner of his eye. She sat on the
end of the sofa, reading a paperback romance. Fabio was on the cover,
with some woman wrapped around him.
She squeezed the pages tight between her hands. Her mouth was open in
that dopey expression, like she was a dummy lost in the woods. Good.

He focused his eyes back on the video playing on the tube. Gellar,
his therapist, had given him the tape a month ago. He said watching
it every day would take his mind off Lucy, help ease the insecurity
that made him go to the damned shrink in the first place. He thought
it would be boring, but watching the mushy caterpillar breaking out of
the chrysalis into something equally as ugly, but powerful devoured
his interest for the twenty-seventh time. Lucy knew he went to
Gellar, but didn’t know why he had to watch the video.
He twitched his nose, feeling that dry hardness in his nasal cavity
building up. Jesus, it itched like hell! Ever since Gellar gave him
this weird butterfly prescription, his nose wouldn’t leave him alone.
He glanced at Lucy again. His left hand, slug-slow, crept up his
side. It patted his love-handle, squeezed it. It poked into the flab
above it, vainly searching for some ribs.
Lucy turned a page. The hand froze. She sighed.
The hand’s fingers probed his fading pectorals, wiggled the loose
skin covering his collarbone. They spread out on his neck, rubbing
back and forth while Victor pretended to sigh tiredly. They closed
into a fist and rasped against his beard stubble. Then, at last, one
of them found his nose. Victor had a very large nose. His nostrils
screamed for relief. Placing the tip of his forefinger on the
outside, he inserted most of his thumb into his prodigious left
nostril.
Thwack!
Lucy’s paperback slapped down on his hand, knocking it away from his
nose. She stood over him. Her lips squinched together into what
looked like a tight, purple anus. She lightly backhanded his cheek
with the book.
“Owww!” Victor whined.
“Gitcher frickin’ fingers outcher nose!” Lucy barked. “What the hell
is wrong with you, Vick? Every time I look atcha you’re spelunkin’ in
the booger cave!”
He started to push himself up, but she slapped his hands away from
the couch. “You keep them filthy hands in your lap until you wash
them in the sink. With hot water!”
Victor stiffened. “This is my house, woman…” he began.
Lucy cocked her head to the side, looking at him as if he was the
retard in the woods. “Are you actually gonna try to defend your right
to pick your nose?” She closed her eyes and laughed. “Now get off
your ass and go wash your hands.” She snatched the remote control off
the coffee-table and switched off the television.
“The video’s not over!” Victor said.
“It’s nine-thirty. We’re going to bed. I’m sick of watching that
stupid bug.” He opened his mouth in protest, but Lucy stared him
down. He sighed instead and went to the kitchen sink to scrub his
hands. Lucy grabbed his beer, which was still cold and two sips away
from being a virgin, and poured it down the drain after he was
finished. He licked his lips.
In the bedroom, he changed into his pajamas and quickly slid under
the covers. He turned off the bedside lamp and closed his eyes,
praying that Lucy would not want to have sex. It was the most
disgusting thing in the world, rutting with her. Her body was always
cold and smelled like American cheese. She made grunting, snorting
noises that sounded like a wild-boar. And she had to be on top.
Victor felt his lips moving. “Oh please sweet Jesus, not tonight,
not tonight…” His breath caught. She came out of the bathroom,
wearing nothing. “Uhhh, Lucy?” he whispered. “I’m suffering from
terrible cramps…”
“This’ll make ‘m better.” She got into the bed with him, leaving the
lights off. As she started doing her duty, Victor thought about his
life without this woman, this assmouth. It had been wonderful. He
never flinched at anything. He never knew what it felt like to be
scratched for careless words. He’d always eaten his sandwiches with
one or two slices of Kraft cheese.
When she was starting to slow down, he felt a tingle in his right
nostril. The tingle escalated quickly into a scurrying itch. Lucy
had his wrists clamped down to his sides. He twitched his nose a bit;
soon his whole face began a series of writhing contortions. But the
itch got worse, making his eyes water. It was one of those itches
that feel as if something is crawling across your skin. Lucy
finished, letting go of his wrists. Immediately Victor’s hand shot up
to ease the irritation. He plunged his forefinger, scratching,
catching debris under his fingernail. The itch subsided, and he
shuddered in relief.
Lucy opened her eyes, apparently thinking the tremor was a response
to her ministrations.
Victor yanked his finger out and cowered under her. Her lips
tightened, tightened. Her eyebrows crashed together over the bridge
of her nose. She hissed and backhanded him, careful to drag her sharp
talons across his cheek. Victor yelped and covered his face, but Lucy
was already standing on the bed. Curling her toes inward, she kicked
him in the chest, in the stomach, caught him in the balls, shrouding
his stomach with that belly-ache only a man can suffer. He tried to
roll off the bed, but Lucy kicked him hard in the ass, knocking him to
the floor.
“You goddamned piece of Judasshit! You stay the hell out of my bed
if you’re going to do that. I’ve had enough of you, Victor. I don’t
know what to do.” She jumped off the bed, but Victor raced into the
bathroom on his hands and knees and locked the door behind him. Lucy
thumped into the other side, shouting. “Yes, you just stay in there
tonight. Maybe you oughta sleep in the tub. Fill it up, and keep
your head on the wet side!” She hit the door again, then retreated.
He listened to her grumbling curses, and the swish of her stripping
the bedsheets. Leaning with his back against the door, he gently
cupped his crotch with both hands, groaning softly. The air stung the
scratches in his face, and he felt them slowly filling with blood like
new rivers, seeping down over his heavy jaw, splattering the vinyl
bathroom floor. The mirror was just a few feet away. His heart
thumped at having to look at himself.
He flicked the light switch and stumbled to the sink. Five large
light-bulbs cast shadow eating light in the bathroom, attached above
the large, rectangular mirror. Victor was revealed and he cursed.
The regular, lumpy nose, milky eyes, Leno-jaw. He cursed at the
bloody rips in his face. Tomorrow he had to go to work like this.
She had never scratched his face. All the guys at the post office
knew he didn’t have a cat; they knew he had Lucy, though.
He could already hear those little chuckles– all those brand-new
jokes and the thanks he would get for comic inspiration.
“You fucking bitch!” he shouted. It started a roar and ended a
squeal. As the swishing ended, he heard her laughing. “Don’t laugh
at me!” All squeal.
“Shut up and start your blubbering,” she said lightly. “It’s a
little easier to say those things locked up nice and safe in the
bathroom, isn’t it?”
Victor waited until he heard her leave the bedroom before he started
to clean the cuts. The water made him wince, and a black cloud of
obscenities shrouded his head while he pressed a towel to his cheek to
stop the bleeding. After applying some mercurochrome, he lifted a
stack of towels for a pillow in the tub, but dropped them when that
itch abruptly possessed the inside of his nostril. His eyes watered
immediately, seeped. He shoved his finger in past the first joint,
scratching, scraping away anything that yielded. The itch subsided,
and he pulled his finger out and rolled what he’d found between his
thumb and forefinger. He grinned, thinking if assmouth saw me doing
this…
Chuffing, he flicked the booger roll into the sink. It landed,
spearlike, in a drop of water on the verge of falling into the pipes.
Victor turned the water on full blast and washed it away. Reaching to
shut it off, he saw his hand tremble, and enormous gooseflesh rose on
his hands and arms. He felt his tight-fitting shirt raise from his
skin. His head convulsed involuntary, a spluttery sound too wet to be
a giggle burst from his lips.
The itch had turned into an insane tickling. It felt as if someone
had tied him up and attacked the inside of his nose with a tiny
feather. He first pressed the palms of both hands against his nose,
rubbing up and down, trying to crush the tickle. The feeling
persisted, centralized in his left nostril. It moved in a slow
circle, as if probing some alien territory. Looking in the mirror, he
saw that his face was flushed. His entire frame jerked like an old
man’s handshake. Victor’s eyes froze on the flesh on the upper-left
of his nose, where the bone gave way to cartilage. The skin bulged
out very slightly; he couldn’t tell unless he looked at his nose as a
whole.
The bulge moved quickly and efficiently. Victor immediately thought
of a bug. The thought was punctuated by a gag. He bent over the
sink, his mouth opening and closing exaggeratedly as he tried to keep
from spilling his stomach.
There’s a fucking bug in my nose, he thought, panicking. It still
tickled, but his disgust had overwhelmed the response to that feeling.
He opened his mouth, even grunting, “Leww…”, but he stopped
himself. Lucy would have his balls in her fist and him on the street
if she knew there was a bug up his nose.
He closed his eyes, covered his mouth and inhaled. Then he leaned
over the basin and blew out hard through his nasal passages. A lot of
stuff sprayed from his nose. Opening his eyes, he expected to see a
roach or something crawling in the sink.
The furious white porcelain was mottled with red and yellow. Mostly
red. The sight of all the blood made him gasp. The bug increased its
chitinous probing, closer to the nostril opening than before. Looking
at the blood, Victor said, “The little shit is biting me!”
Spider whistled through his brain.
He covered his mouth and blew gain, harder, keeping his eyes peeled
so he could watch it fall into the sink. He’d watch the flow of water
envelop it, drag it down into the pipes. Three more times, three more
sprays of his blood. The tickle was gone. It hurt now. It grasped
the tissue in there in tiny, sharp claws or pincers. And ripped.
“Uhhhhhhhh,” he breathed. Or tried to breath. The left passage was
clogged. That side of his nose had swollen to the size of a gumball.
A steady stream of red seeped from the opening.
“Lucy. Luucy!” he shouted. His voice was muffled and sounded
comical, sounded like some creature on Sesame Street. Tilting his
head back, he lifted the tip of his nose, which gave him a piggish
snout. Angling himself so the light would shine into the darkness, he
looked inside and saw the spider moving like a wicked little demon.
He screamed. “Luuucy! Luuuucy!”

Her voice from across the house, “What’re you yelling about, Vic?”
“Dere’s somefink in my nose! Comp’ere!”
She yelled back at him, “It’s just another booger, asshole. Eat it
for all I care!”
Victor wanted to cry. He glanced at the roll of toiletpaper. It
wouldn’t come out from just blowing. The damn thing was fastened in
there. He knew it wanted to crawl deeper, maybe down his throat.
Maybe into his stomach. Maybe….
He had to crush the spider inside his nose. He had to kill it before
he could spray it out. Taking a stifled breath, he wrapped his thumb
with toilet paper, so didn’t have to feel it. Gingerly, he pushed his
padded thumb up into his nostril. He touched the thing immediately.
The hardness of it and the minuscule twitchings he felt through the
tissue paper made him gag reflexively. He almost pulled out, but
nothing could be worse than having this damn thing in his head.
Pressing his index finger firmly against the outside of his nose,
Victor squeezed the spider viciously, wincing at the expected squoosh
and burst within.
Nothing happened.
For a moment.
He started to squeeze again when a stream of searing breath whistled
from his nose, burning his thumb and scoring a red trail down his palm
and wrist. Gritting his teeth, Victor yanked at his thumb, but the
thing had clutched his thumb in its pincers.
Unable to believe, Victor began to gibber. He encircled his raw
wrist with his left hand and heaved. His wrist and the knuckle of his
thumb cracked loudly, but the thing held fast. Worse, the twitching
movements were drawing on his thumb. He watched, horrified, as the
creases of his thumb gradually disappeared into his nose. He tried to
inhale, so he could scream, but his chest was heavy and felt thick.
Swiveling toward the door, making inaudible, piglet squeaks, another
blast of scorched air streamed from his unblocked nostril. It
devoured the fingers of his clinging left hand with pain, causing it
to release and flail away. His lodged right hand continued to tug,
causing him to lose his balance and crash against the sink. The edge
of the sink crushed his elbow into his ribs, and his face smashed into
the mirror. The rush of air halted abruptly, along with the little
thing’s
Little thing? he thought, crying. Little thing?
sucking of his thumb into his head. From this angle, he couldn’t see
the left side of his nose. He didn’t want to. The taut circle of the
orifice fitted his thumb like a ring. It burned from the exhalations
and the stretching. In that moment, Victor tried to exhale himself,
but his lungs expanded and contracted with no circulation, like he was
a little kid trying to stay underwater longer than he could.
Can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I have to get out of here.
Just as his sneakers gripped the floor, something sharp and small
poked the soft web of skin between his thumb and forefinger. It
punched through, piercing bone and emerged where his wrist met his
palm. Upon bursting through, Victor’s air passages momentarily
cleared and he shrieked, high and shrill, the sound of a small animal
gripped in the talons of an owl. His shriek cut off with a
vaccuum-like inrush of air. The thing inhaled with the power of a
god, and the incredible wind impossibly sucked Victor’s hand into his
face, breaking his teeth, smashing through the roof of his mouth. The
back of his hand crushed his nose from below, sending shards of bone
into his
Oh, fuck what is it It huuurts huuu
brain, relieving Victor of his life. He collapsed on the floor, his
face unrecognizable. His hand was invisible from the middle of the
forearm up, disappearing into the fresh hole in the center of his
face. The edges of the hole were tucked back, also pulled back by the
inhalation.
“Vic?” Lucy called from the bedroom. “Why the hell did you scream
like that?” The doorknob turned. “Victor? What’re you doing? Open
the door. Victor!”
There was a sound. A wet sound. The sound of a tongue licking
something. Victor’s elbow pointed toward the ceiling, and it began to
move in lazy circles. When it stopped, something hummed deeply,
followed by the sound of teeth ripping through skin, crunching through
bone. With nothing to hold it, Victor’s grisly stump plopped out of
the hole of his face and thumped down on the vinyl.
The door rattled. “Victor? What was that sound? Answer me! Open
this fucking door!”
Victor’s corpse stood. Very straight. Twenty-six slender, black
fingers rose from the hole, gained purchase on the gore-strewn edges.
The tip of each finger had three tiny, red appendages of its own, and
those moved wildly, searching for something. Anything.
“You know I don’t have a key, so open this damned door or I’ll call
the cops . I’ll bet you’d love for them to see you like this.”
The fingers shoved against the sides of the hole, pushing apart. A
crack appeared at the top and bottom of the wound and grew in length
like cracks on a windshield. Very slowly, his body was torn in half
by the force of the thing. Its skin shimmered from the wetness of
Victor’s insides, and once either side of Victor hung like banana
skins around a freshly peeled fruit, it shucked the rest down,
stepping out, leaving the split corpse like a husk. Its body was a
maze of crenellations and ridges uncountable. Two black, empty holes
glared out where eyes should have been.
The thing chewed and swallowed the rest of Victor’s hand and upper arm.
“Tastes like me,” it whispered. “Tastes like me.”
“What was that? What did you say?” Lucy squealed. “What was that
tearing sound, Victor? Open this door!”
From within the dark apertures in its head rolled two eyeballs. The
pupils were a stunning blue, but quickly the color drowned in a
milkiness.
“I’m coming, Lucy. Comes the pretty butterfly.” it said. It
scuttled very quietly to the door. “I’m coming and I’m so sorry.”

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