The Bursting Place

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My wife’s church morn­ings went on a year with­out me, and for eight months, I imag­ine my wife was faith­ful. To be fair, she’d invit­ed me. I’d refused. We’d already grown dis­tant, and I wouldn’t bob my head in the morn­ing with a hun­dred strangers when I had a night shift mop­ping blood from the oper­at­ing room floors. But around that eighth month, she became frigid toward me, refus­ing even to share the din­ner table. We spent nights back-to-back now. Yet I glimpsed a wist­ful­ness in her demeanor when­ev­er she spoke of the church. She’d uncov­ered some­thing more than God in that church, and when sus­pi­cion alone became too dif­fi­cult to bear, I insist­ed upon join­ing her. If I’d been a church­man, I’d have avoid­ed much of this.

The church was a tri­an­gu­lar prism with count­less rows of unsul­lied bench­es. Every inch was mod­ern and immac­u­late. It felt like enter­ing a court. Every eye seemed to train on me as I passed. The look they gave me was a mix of sym­pa­thy and increduli­ty. As if they knew some­thing I didn’t. My wife led me to the front-most bench, and once we picked our seats, she trained her eyes on the pas­tor who greet­ed church­go­ers at the doors. As she ogled him, a look I had only ever expe­ri­enced on our dat­ing days spread across her face.

When our eyes met, she smiled and shrugged, imply­ing it was my choice to come.

She wasn’t mak­ing the slight­est effort to hide the affair. I dropped my eyes and pat­ted my pock­ets as if I’d for­got­ten some­thing. I felt her gaze leave me a sec­ond after­ward. Down the aisle, a man’s gaze met mine with a smirk. I hoped he smirked at some joke he’d heard ear­li­er, but his weren’t the only eyes on me. A glance over my shoul­der, I saw them. At least three oth­er pairs of eyes watched me with that same sar­don­ic grin. They all knew about the affair. How could they be okay with that? This was church, for Christ’s sake! There had to be a rule con­demn­ing my wife in their Bibles. Amuse­ment, not pity or sor­row, filled the con­gre­ga­tion. If I hadn’t already known our rela­tion­ship was over…

When the ser­mon began, a robot­ic tran­quil­i­ty set­tled upon the con­gre­ga­tion as they turned their eyes on the pas­tor, bob­bing their heads to his every word. The look of hunger returned to my wife’s face. The pas­tor met it with one of equal pas­sion. Despite not mak­ing eye con­tact, he seemed aware of my pres­ence and pur­pose­ly avoid­ed acknowl­edg­ing me. My face grew hot and my fin­ger­nails cut into my palms, so I glanced away from my wife and the stage. It was in that moment I dis­cov­ered the gate.

A short dis­tance right of the main stage, a dusty stone stair­case punc­tured the waxy hard­wood floor, a not-so-minor blem­ish. At the bot­tom, an iron gate rust­ed in a decrepit arch­way. It seemed an ancient civilization’s mis­placed artifact.

Some­thing moved just beyond that alien gate, a curi­ous red mist that seeped from the breath­less void, waft­ed up the stairs and drift­ed across the floor, fill­ing crevices between floor­boards. It didn’t mean­der, but came straight toward me. I might have fled, but for a strange sense–in a church full of unfriend­ly, ill-dis­posed head-bob­bers, sole­ly this held any benev­o­lence toward me. Why did I feel that? I don’t know. I just did. No one else seemed to notice it. But I couldn’t touch it–not just yet. I did not know what it might do to me if I did, so I pulled my knees to my chest, placed my feet upon the bench, while it licked the base of my front-row seat.

No one else react­ed. My wife snick­ered but didn’t even glance my way. Her hands were motion­less in her lap. The pastor’s words allowed no dis­trac­tions, and the bid­ing sense of calm still infect­ed the con­gre­ga­tion as they lis­tened. They’d long since reject­ed any curios­i­ty towards the stairs, the gate and the mist. Or the mist didn’t care about them, didn’t show itself to them. Either way, noth­ing dis­turbed their qui­et repose. No one else lift­ed their legs off the floor. I looked like an idiot squat­ting with my legs up, but I was unsure of the con­se­quences of touch­ing the mist. Still, I couldn’t stay like that. I’d have to walk out of there, even­tu­al­ly. So, with my palms against my trem­bling legs, I eased them back to the floor as if enter­ing the oper­at­ing room after a botched surgery.

A strange warmth greased my heels. It felt like step­ping into fresh blood, but they remained dry. A tin­gling sen­sa­tion crept from my legs and up along my spine. Some­thing was hap­pen­ing with­in me, some­thing caused by it. I cringed, expect­ing pain, but there was none. Then, as the mist rushed around my ankles, my mind drew me to a child­hood sum­mer by the beach, the con­stant shift­ing of the earth beneath, each ocean swell strip­ping away more sand to uncov­er my buried feet. It felt very much like that, like it was strip­ping away the floor beneath me. Despite the fear, I felt drawn to it, like a mes­mer­ized baby drawn to a mobile.

Yet still that dev­il­ish air in the church per­sist­ed. In my wife, in the con­gre­ga­tion. They all sat, lis­ten­ing with antic­i­pa­tion to words that had at some point become a mur­mur to me. The mist was invis­i­ble to them. The lulling com­fort it promised me, unof­fered to them.

It had come for me. After all, I alone could see it. Not my wife. Not the pas­tor. No one else react­ed to it. No one even looked at it. What made me spe­cial, I didn’t know–but of every­one here; it chose me.

It chose me. Did that mean it was a con­scious thing, or else part of one? An appendage to find the reject­ed. What breath­ing crea­ture wait­ed at the oppo­site end of that dark splendor?

An urge arose in my gut, inex­plic­a­ble, but strong. Past that gate, something beck­oned me, and God, I’d take any excuse to heed its call. I want­ed to run across the stage and down the steps, but what about the oth­ers? What would they think?

After the ser­vice, while every­body else con­versed near the exit, my wife told me she need­ed to use the bath­room and aban­doned me sit­ting with my feet in the mist. A moment lat­er, amidst the post-ser­mon bus­tle of bob­bing heads, the abun­dance of bless­ings, she stood face-to-face with the pas­tor. She glanced right at me, resent­ment incar­nate, then took the pastor’s hand between hers and whis­pered into his ear. A hot anger swelled with­in me.

But then all ran­cor drained into the mist. I need­ed to get down­stairs to that gate. My wife may have bro­ken us, but she left me to my own desires. Only the gate mat­tered. If I stood up, would the mist fol­low? I left my bench, and, to my sat­is­fac­tion, the mist fol­lowed me past the stage. I descend­ed those musty stone steps, my foot­steps echoed hol­low, and at the bot­tom, I clutched the bars and stared through that pri­mor­dial gate. Dark and secret whis­pers breached the room ahead, but I detect­ed only shad­ows. No faces owned the whis­pers. A pan­icked rat dashed around the room. What thing ter­ri­fied the crea­ture so? I should have turned back then. Left well enough alone. Curios­i­ty over­took me, and I strained against the bars to see the source of the sound. This near the gate, the smell of rust was over­whelm­ing. And then I spot­ted it. A del­i­cate red glow stood like a veil against the wall just ahead, not lit from a sole point like lamp­light, but ema­nat­ing from a sin­gle plane. The mist oozed from that wall. The muf­fled voic­es I’d heard res­onat­ed from a far­ther, unseen point. Like they were call­ing to me from behind the veil. That’s what the rat was flee­ing. For what­ev­er rea­son, the rat hadn’t con­sid­ered squeez­ing through the gate.

As I gazed into the glow, heat built behind my eyes as if a great fever seized me. What was that thing? Could some­thing enter where the mist exit­ed? Not know­ing made my shoul­ders shake and hands quiver. Behind me, out of sight, my wife still flirt­ed with the pas­tor. She was leav­ing me with only a bloody night shift. Did she know about the gate? Did the pas­tor? How­ev­er unlike­ly it was that the pas­tor did not know, it seemed true. This thing was here for me, after all. Me and that rat.

The mist was drift­ing off the sur­face of the veil, beck­on­ing me for­ward. What were the chances of get­ting back out if I went into it? Was it a one-way trip? The faint voic­es con­firmed this with a melan­cholic dirge. Bereft of life and love, they called to those who under­stood from beyond the veil. I under­stood. I want­ed to go to them, share my pain. The mis­t’s call and the whis­pered voic­es revealed their cov­etous­ness towards me. I had to con­firm it was safe. I gripped the rusty gate to push it open, but paused. Did dan­ger await? Some­thing painful and unend­ing? My heart began to thunk rapid­ly against my chest, and my hands trem­bled. What if I regret­ted it? There was no com­ing back.

That rat would do. Open­ing the gate, I stepped into the room and felt the warmth of the veil. The rat skit­tered away from me, but not towards the veil. Not want­i­ng it to get away, I leaped to the floor, cup­ping my hands over it.

I stood up and threw the rat into the veil with­out hes­i­ta­tion. It van­ished on impact.

A moment passed in that eerie qui­et, the whis­pers echo­ing off the sur­round­ing walls.

The veil turned dark­er crim­son and moments lat­er, some­thing red burst through and splat­tered on the floor. The thing had erupt­ed, jagged bone around torn flesh, the vis­cera on dis­play. I hard­ly believed it was the same rat.

Pan­ic stole over me, and I stag­gered back and ran from the stairs.


The crim­son glow con­sumed my thoughts dur­ing many sleep­less nights in the fam­i­ly room. My wife hadn’t noticed what I’d seen and would think me insane. We didn’t talk any longer. We’d already made a silent agree­ment to end things. It was just a mat­ter of when we would go our sep­a­rate ways.

When sleep arrived, it came haz­ardous­ly. I fell from the couch often, thrash­ing awake and hat­ing my wife for it.

One Sun­day after­noon, months lat­er, when she was late return­ing home, I remem­bered the glances cast between her and the pas­tor and became furi­ous as the day moved into after­noon and evening. When I could no longer stand it, I made at once for the church.

Upon arrival, the red mist bled across the shin­ing floor away from the podi­um and stage to the gate. The famil­iar fever swept over me, mixed with the jeal­ousy I was feel­ing. That was where I’d find my wife. She and the pas­tor sought a pri­vate place to enact their treach­ery. Remem­ber­ing their betray­al, the fever took hold, and I imag­ined haunt­ed faces and writhing arms drag­ging them to the depths. They had long ago for­sak­en me. I remem­bered the mirth on my wife’s face when I’d caught her eye in the church. I didn’t care what con­di­tion I found them in, want­i­ng to sub­vert them–to rid of the betray­al and the mirth. Beyond the veil, there was more than relief.Alone, I descend­ed those steps, pulled open the gate and peered through into the room beyond. I saw them there. He had her pinned against the wall, one hand grasp­ing her wrists, the oth­er clutch­ing her ass. His pants were down around his ankles, and her dress was at her waist. This tapes­try of aber­rant flesh con­vulsed, thrust­ed, moaned, and then she saw me. That look of mirth returned to her. I had had enough. They didn’t react to the veil beyond them, as if they couldn’t see it. But I could, and I knew what hap­pened when some­thing entered it. I thought of the rat. They weren’t rats, but they’d do. I start­ed toward them, my mirth match­ing her own.

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Care­tak­er at // // Author Web­page // Oth­er Sto­ries

When he’s not home­school­ing and par­ent­ing, Max Blood spends his days spin­ning hor­ror tales for online audi­ences. He spe­cial­izes in the weird, the cos­mic, and the mon­strous. With a pas­sion for turn­ing cryp­tid sto­ries into pos­i­tive­ly hor­rif­ic mon­sters, he has cre­at­ed many tales of mon­ster hor­ror. He has also dab­bled in ghost sto­ries and body horror.

He cur­rent­ly lives in Bak­ers­field, Cal­i­for­nia where he writes his nov­els and short sto­ries, and in 2023, he launched Max Blood­’s Mau­soleum, a mag­a­zine of orig­i­nal hor­ror stories.

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