Trigger Warning: This short story may contain sensitive content.
I don’t know how long I’d been unconscious, but when I came to I awoke in my worst nightmare. Surrounded by complete darkness, the cold prickled my skin. I thought I’d been buried alive in nothing but my underpants. When I cried for help and tried to pound my fist on the wooden box I soon realised from the echo and the restraints on my wrists I was in a room.
No, not a room. A cold dark chamber.
“Is anybody there?”
I struggled where I lay, hyperventilating. I tried kicking but my ankles were also bound.
Taking some deep breaths, I swallowed the lump in my throat. It was not a good time to cry. I refused to let fear take hold of me. Something told me the worst was yet to come. So keeping a level head was a must.
What the hell happened? How did I get here? I tried to remember but had no memory of it. The last thing I recalled was being at the club, hanging out with a bunch of gorgeous guys. We were having such a good time. They wouldn’t have spiked my drink, would they? Friends had often warned me of the dangers of going out on my own but I’d been doing it for years without any worries. I’d heard terrible stories of guys getting themselves into all sorts horrific situations. But I’d never thought it would happen to me. For the most part I’ve always had a great time going out on the scene. Whether with friends or out dancing solo all night long. I’ve never been a big drinker and drugs have never been my thing. The music has always been enough to free me of my inhibitions. Enough for me to enjoy myself.
So what on earth happened?
A terrible feeling of being watched came over me. My skin crawled.
Helpless, I lay tied to a gurney elevated at an angle so I was positioned almost upright.
All sorts of crazy notions entered my head. Was I being punished? Was someone teaching me a lesson? An underlying shame had got the better of me. The guilt that had been there since I was a kid – the stuff I’d talked about with my therapist. But being tied down and alone in the dark – it was difficult stopping myself from going there.
Kids at school taunting me. My parents’ disapproval when I came out. All the words and experiences clouding my sense of self-worth.
But what if I hadn’t been abducted by a self-loathing homophobe? What if my captor was just some sicko who wanted to have his wicked way with me? Like I said – I’d heard the stories…
But I was wrong on both accounts. Something far more sinister lay in wait.
A bolt shifted in a door. I froze.
A little light bled through the gap in the opening and the silhouette of a tall man appeared and entered. He closed the door behind him and the room fell into darkness again. His footsteps tapped on the concrete like a ticking clock counting down the seconds toward my death.
I trembled and broke into a cold sweat.
My muscles went rigid. I held my breath. I blinked away the aftershock of light flashing in my line of vision, hoping my eyes would adjust and I’d see who was holding me captive.
A lamp flicked on. It was like the sun had appeared from nowhere, searing deep into my retinas. Twisting my head to one side, I screwed my eyes shut. The footsteps began again. Pacing back and forth.
Little by little I opened my eyes to a squint, my head still turned away from the direct light. In my peripheral vision the silhouetted man came to a halt.
My voice quivered. “Who are you?”
His faceless stare burnt into me like a hot iron claiming cattle. Was that all I was? A piece of meat?
I pushed the thought aside. There was no point going down that road. I had to stay focussed.
“What do you want? Just let me go. Please.”
The silhouetted man spoke. “Sssshhhh. My pretty little thing.”
His voice had an accent I couldn’t place. I was too panicked at the time. Besides, my attention was distracted by the syringe he lifted from a nearby trolley. Holding it up to the light he gave it a little squeeze. A spurt of liquid shot out of the needle. He stepped toward me.
Digging my nails into my palms I braced myself for the inevitable. I thought I knew what was about to happen.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“Please. Don’t do this. Don’t hurt me.” I wrestled with the straps, fighting with every bit of strength I had.
He paused. “Oh, no, no, no, no, no. I don’t want to hurt you. Sweet little boy. Is that what you think I am? A sexually perverted sadist who takes pleasure in hurting people.”
I said nothing.
“No, my beautiful, young friend. Hurting you is the last thing on my mind.”
I stopped struggling, but still pulled on the restraints, hoping they would loosen.
“Why am I here?”
“I have a gift for you.” He looked at the syringe and I understood exactly what he meant.
“I don’t want your gift, you sick fuck. Keep that thing away from me.” Again, it was another of those stories I’d heard. I’d even seen documentaries on the television about it.
“You have me all wrong, my dear boy. I don’t want to end your life.”
I still pulled at the restraints.
“No, not at all. In fact, I want to do the very opposite. I want to preserve it.”
“I don’t understand.”
The silhouette man moved to the wall and tugged on a cord. He flicked a switch and the rickety contraption I lay on whirred around to face opening curtains.
My jaw dropped. I’d never seen anything like it in all my life.
It was a gallery.
To my left, to my right and in front of me the walls were filled with display cases. Each one home to a beautiful man. Men of all ages. But not just ordinary men. Men who had been altered in some way.
There were two cases on each of the left and right sides. Three in the middle.
The glass case, first on my left, caught my attention. Seemingly empty at first, but for a mist where a ghost with a haunting expression stepped forward. A ghost. Who would have believed it? I would’ve gone mad were it not for the distraction of the decaying man in the next case, tearing at a human carcass and gnawing flesh from the bone.
In the next case along, a muscular man with wolf-like features – hair covering his entire body – howled. Hunched over, he growled, beating his fists on the window of his prison. The glass was so thick and resistant it didn’t bear a scratch.
The centre piece – the silhouette man’s crowning jewel – played home to a pallid but well-dressed and extremely handsome specimen of a man. Bats fluttered all around him. The pits of his eyes were black and as he curled his thick ruby red lips into a sneer, revealing sharp, ivory white fangs. I found myself falling into a daze, enamoured by his…
I snapped toward the next exhibit where a man with the saddest expression slept standing up. Dressed in rags he looked like he’d been pieced together – an experiment gone wrong. But his bulk and stature made him the most imposing of all the creatures.
To his right the case was more of a tank filled with water. The man who swam about in it had been cross-bred with some kind of sea creature. Something from the hidden depths of the dark waters far beyond man’s reach. His bulbous lips pressed and suckered against the pane as his tongue flickered from his mouth.
It was a sad display of what was once human life at its most beautiful. I was both mesmerised and horrified by the exhibition. But what scared me most was the final case.
It was empty. I had no idea what the silhouetted man had in store for me. And I didn’t want to. If I didn’t find a way to escape, I would fall victim to the concoction in his syringe and remain trapped in this prison forever.
The silhouette man stood behind me, never showing his face. He placed his cold hand on my shoulder. “It’s quite the collection, isn’t it?”
“Yes. It’s very impressive.” Pleading with the psycho wasn’t getting me anywhere. So I tried a different tact while pulling on my restraints – restraints that were loosening.
“Ah, I knew you’d come around to my way of thinking. You will make an excellent addition to my collection.”
The bolt pinning the restraints came free. My hands were loose. “Please. Let me see your face. If we’re going to spend so much time together I think I should know who you are.”
“Very well.” The silhouette man moved to my side and leaned towards me, holding the syringe next to his cheek. He was an older gentleman. Gaunt with beady eyes and bad breath. He grinned with two rows of yellow crooked teeth. I grabbed a tuft of his white hair at the back of his head and yanked it hard toward the bolt in my other hand, jamming the damn thing in his eye.
Dropping the syringe, he lurched back screaming and cursing. “My eye, my eye!”
With no time to lose I unfastened the buckles around my ankles. I got up from the gurney but stumbled on weak legs. How long had I been held there?
The silhouette man lunged and dragged me to the ground. But there was no way I was staying here. I kicked his wounded eye and he recoiled, shrieking in agony.
I clambered toward the door, noticing a second switch next to the cord that opened the curtains. I guessed it only had one use. And I wasn’t going to let the silhouette man come after me. So I punched it. A grating alarm sounded.
The collected creatures stirred.
The vampire glared. The wolfman howled. The Frankenstein-like monster awoke from his slumber. Water drained from the sea creature’s cabinet. The ghost dispersed into his misty form. And the zombie sensed new blood, fresh on the menu.
The doors to the gallery unlocked. And the creatures emerged.
The silhouette man fell to his knees. “What have you done? I only wanted to preserve your beauty. Elevate you beyond your potential.”
In that moment, every bad experience came rushing back. The name calling. The disapproving guilt trips. The shame and self-loathing. And within a breath it all faded away.
“That’s just it. I don’t need you or anyone else to tell me who I should be. Because, you know what? I’m happy just the way I am.”
The creatures closed in on their maker. The silhouette man’s screams faded as I slammed the door shut.
* * *
I found my way outside and walked down the street in my underpants toward the police station. People laughed and gawped but I was surprised how it didn’t bother me. I had nothing to hide. Nothing to be ashamed of. This was me at my most vulnerable and I was okay with it. I knew what brought me here to this point and it didn’t matter in the slightest what other people thought.
It was wet and windy. And I was cold. But it wasn’t entirely a grey day. I had high hopes for a happy future. The upside-down smile of a rainbow made me grin as the rain washed away the last of my fears.
By Mark Young, He/Him
Mark Young lives with his partner of eight years in London, England. In his spare time he likes to meditate, go to the gym and read, read, read. He also partakes in a bit of professional acting and singing from time to time. He’s a keeper of tropical fish and has two aquariums. And aspires to own a house with a garden and a family of cats and dogs thrown into the mix.
At 18-years-old he came out as gay and has never looked back. It was one of the most significant and one of the best choices he has ever made. The last 26 years has been quite the journey.
He is the author of the 13 Dark Fantasy & Horror Stories series. The Heartbreaker was his first publication back in 2018 and he is very excited to share its successor Coven this July. Both volumes include a number of LGBTQ protagonists who are placed in terrifying situations. LGBTQ themes run throughout these horror stories with inspiration often drawn from the author’s own experiences and nightmares.
Mark is both excited and proud to be a part of this initiative, celebrating Pride in Horror with you all.