The Horror Zine
garden center


Christopher S. Nelson

The January Selected Story is by Christopher S. Nelson

Please feel free to email Christopher at:

Christopher S. Nelson

by Christopher S. Nelson

“Momma? How come these mosquitoes are biting each other?”

Bobbi Ruth looked down at Cody’s palm. Two tiny bloodsuckers squirmed in a desperate embrace, each one’s proboscis piercing the other’s red abdomen in a grotesque blood ring. Her maternal instincts jolted and she flicked his hand. Together they watched the two insects flutter to the ground.

Cody stood in his Li’l Dickies jumper, staring at the tragedy on the polished floor of Buggy’s Hardware. He was quiet.

Oh God, no…

Fear settled over Bobbi at the thought of what she had just done. She saw the insects, registered the obscenity, and then swatted the hand of Hayden Ruth’s only man-child (a good woman  <slap> don’t hit ).

When do I stop running?

The thought haunted her as much as Hayden’s temper.It had been getting louder as the months passed, her desperate need to leave her husband embattled with the fear that she would never see Cody again. And at the back of her mind was an even darker dilemma: that no one would ever see her again. Hayden Ruth had a way of taking care of what he deemed as “no good.”

She closed her eyes and breathed deep. When the moment passed, Bobbi looked at her little boy, ready for whatever may come next.

Cody’s shoulders heaved as he took a deep sip of lemonade through the bright red straw, finishing off with a good ole Hayden Ruth, ‘ahhhh.’ Then it was back to business.

“So why come, huh? Why were they biting each other like that, Momma?”

“I dunno, but come on, honey. We gotta get Daddy’s new hammer.”

“Kay.” And after a five-year old’s reasonable pause, “But why were they doing that for real, Momma?”

“They were just thirsty. That’s all.”


Mosquitoes weren’t cannibals. To feed on each other was disturbing. It’s gotta be this drought, she thought.

Crystal Mills was a sawmill town, tippy-toeing the line between the sagebrush of Central Texas and the wastelands heading out west. Draught conditions had turned it into one massive dry hole piled high with desiccated lumber and sawdust. Sawdust that added flavor to the air on a good day, but now sucked the little bit of water right out of everything as the sun forced temperatures scorching into the upper one twenties. The mosquitoes were probably the last two of their kind, hatched and wriggling up out of some stagnant puddle beneath a store AC unit.

A peculiar thought came to Bobbi in that moment: if those two bugs were any kind of an omen, then the old adage of blood being thicker than water might not hold true much longer for Crystal Mills.

“Momma, I think I gotta go,” Cody said around a mouth full of soda straw.

Really? She thought. She had mentioned at lunch that lemonade was a diuretic and Hayden had given her a glance that convinced her to buy his boy a large one anyway. Of course you gotta go, kiddo. Walnut-sized bladder. Thirty-two ounce Lemonade. Do the math, Hayden.

“Okay, honey. Let’s just get Daddy’s hammer and then we can go home.”

Hayden said he’d be back in thirty minutes to pick them up. What he didn’t say, she already knew from painful experience: she’d better be outside waiting with his boy. An indeterminate potty break could be a painful disaster later that evening.

“Momma, I really gotta go-o,” Cody said. He pulled at his crotch and crossed his legs.

Bobbi Ruth looked down at her son, his little face squinched up, big brown eyes pleading. Her gaze settled on the cup in his hand, straw still hanging out of his mouth (like a proboscis). Bobbi reacted and snatched the lemonade from him, angling it into a nearby trashcan.Her time-crunch versus rib-crunch dilemma just became a crisis. They were going to be late on account of lemonade and she was going to be living one more episode of the Hayden Ruth nightmare tonight.

 “Can’t you hold it, baby? We’re leaving as soon—”

“Mom-ma-aa!” Cody said, straining through clenched teeth.

She grabbed his hand when he started to bounce for effect. At this point, the only thing worse than being late for Hayden Ruth, was showing up late with a wet kid. She searched the ceiling marquees. Aisle numbers in bold white letters floated above a home improvement index of titles: Lighting, Plumbing, Hardware, diy. She needed the one that read, Restrooms.

“Momma, where’s the potty at?”

“I’m looking, baby.”

Now she could feel the diet coke from lunch starting to push on her own bladder. Diet soda did that to her. It wasn’t that she was fat. Hayden just preferred that she drink diet and watch her weight anyway. He reminded her often enough (aint gonna be married to no heifer).

Bobbi and Cody rounded the end cap of blue and silver Bosch power tools, her eyes scanning the ceiling ahead. She would love to see one of those floating street signs announcing a bathroom, but she would settle for directions from a red-vested Buggy’s kid, in a pickle.

Up ahead. Restrooms.

 “There it is.”

“Kay, Momma.”

She purposely made herself slow down (a good woman don’t run for no shitter. She waits).
And the door had a puddle of water coming out from under it with yellow caution tape barring across the frame like a crime scene. A little old man in blue bib-alls with his back to them bent over the puddle. Her heart sank.

“Shit!” Damn! Bobbi’s eyes widened at her mistake and she squeezed Cody’s hand. “Sorry. Honey, please don’t repeat that word, okay?” Muscle memory from the last time Hayden had schooled her on “her mouth” made her lumbar throb, her bladder burning all the more with the added weight of a full canteen.

“Not even to Daddy—”

“No!” and then softer, “No, especially not to Daddy. He doesn’t like that and we don’t want him to be upset, right?”

“Kay, Momma.”

“Good boy.”

A young man in a Buggy’s vest, sporting a chain that dangled from belt to back pocket, floated by with that galump-a-lump swagger Bobbi associated with the Next Generation. That’d be the ones that were sweeter, softer, but videogame-dependant.

“Excuse me?” She asked the young man.

“Yeah?” The teenager smiled, then went back to mouth breathing.

“Do you have a restroom we can use?”

“No, it’s broke,” he said, giving a whole-body nod.

Bobbi counted to four slowly while Next Generation stared through her.

“Okay… do you have one that works? Maybe an employee restroom?”

Breathing in… out… in… out…“Oh, yeah.”

Bobbi sank with relief. Ooh. Bad move. Her bladder felt the push as well.

“It’s at the warehouse? In back?” Next Generation explained in question form, turning to point at the rear of the store. “If you just go down there? And then turn left? You should see a display of… Craftsman hammers? No, wait, huh-huh, I just changed that one… yeah, it’s—”

“Thank you so much,” Bobbi cut him off, tugging Cody down the aisle. They could find it from there.

“Momma, that man is funny.”

“Baby, that’s not very nice.”

But Bobbi’s eyebrows squinched together. She realized that Cody was talking about someone else. Not Next Generation, but the old man directly in front of them, the one from the out-of-service restroom puddle. He stood at the end of the aisle blocking their way.

There didn’t seem to be anything menacing about his form. Bobbi figured he was at least seventy, if not older. Shorter than her own five-and-a-ponytail, the gentleman looked frail and withered. He reminded Bobbi of a dried out insect husk. His blue bib-alls sagged all around him and on his feet were two of the biggest, dirtiest brown loafers she had ever seen. They bulged at the toes like clown shoes.

But his face was unnerving.

The man was bald and liver-spotted on top, white wisps of hair trailing long and wily down his skull. His mouth was set in a huge, closed-lip grin and there was something not quite right about the way those lips came together in the center to form a small hole; almost like an orifice scarred into place by a lifetime of sucking on a wide straw. His nose was near comical in proportion, a big fat pear of a thing jutting out from beneath bushy white eyebrows, complete with warts and cavernous nostrils.

But his eyes truly unhinged her. Watery and full, bulging with tiny blue irises, his two peepers never blinked. They seemed to stare straight through her. In fact, the more Bobbi thought about it, the more she was convinced that he was actually staring into her. A thirsty freak looking at something delicious about her inside parts.

She smiled politely and pulled Cody passed the old man. “Excuse us, sir.”

She ducked her head to the side and purposely put herself between the man and Cody. She felt Eyeballs pivot slowly while they moved around him.


Her mother had a different term for old men that liked to look at little girls funny, but Bobbi couldn’t think of it at the moment. It wasn’t important, anyway. The bathroom was.

“Come on,” she said.

Bobbi spotted the double warehouse doors at the back of the store. They walked at a normal pace, the pressure on her bladder subsiding. She knew from experience that it would come in waves now, each bringing more pain than the last. If she could hurry Cody, take care of her own issue, then grab Next Generation to show her to his “huh-huh” hammer display, they just might be done before Hayden got back.

“You still have to go?”

“Uh-huh,” Cody answered. “Ba-ad.”

A sound made her turn.

The old man was suddenly behind them. He shuffled forward, fists pumping in tight syncopation with his legs, pushing his too big loafers across the concrete floor with a sandpaper sound. Bobbi continued to move towards the double doors. She picked up her pace a smidge and gave Cody’s hand another squeeze.

“Just a few more feet, baby.”

Cody turned to look at the old man and then back up at his mom. “Why is he following us, Momma?” he whispered.

Bobbi turned to look.

Shff… Shff… Shff... Shff…

The warehouse was locked from within.

Dammit! It’s not fair!

She looked back. The man had more than halved the distance.

They moved just before he reached them and started up to the front of the store by way of the aisle labeled Fencing. Rolls of chicken wire, chain link, and garden grid surrounded them in an Outdoor Improvements canyon.  

Shff… Shff… Shff...

Bobbi blew her bangs out of her face. This was getting ridiculous!

The old man was right behind them, almost close enough to reach out and touch them with his bony fingers. She sped up. Her good-woman gait was now pushing the envelope on the Crystal Mills standards of wifely behavior.

Jesus! What’s with this guy?

She looked ahead for a red vest, or anyone other than the little old pscho-perv. The aisle was empty.

“Does he have to go potty, too, Momma?”

“Yes, baby. He probably just has to pee.”

“Then what about that one?”

Cody pointed down a side aisle boasting massive shelves of HVAC equipment. There were two old men now and they were the same down to the clown shoes!

“You’ve gotta be kidding me…”

Bobbi and Cody raced past the large opening of the HVAC aisle. They reached the corner. She stopped and stared, tiny spiders skittering up her spine. It wasn’t just Fencing that had a lack of customers: the whole store was empty.

The main aisle leading to the bank of cash registers and glass exit doors was at the far end. Not a soul stood in the distance between her and the exit. No Next Generation in Buggy’s Hardware vests. No flat bed carts waiting with piles of lumber, shingles, and plum bob calibrators. No one even worked the registers to harvest the Almighty Dollar.


Bobbi turned.

“What do you want?” she screamed.

Double grinning faces with dead-looking eyeballs. Locomotive zombies.

“Stop it!”

“Daddy says you’re not s’pose a yell, Momma. I think they just need to go potty.”

Bobbi’s bladder burned and warm tears were building behind her eyes. She was a good woman that was about to start leaking at any moment.

“Uh-oh,” Cody whispered.

She looked down. A carnation-sized wet spot spread around Cody’s crotch. The patter of droplets pulled her gaze to the forming puddle. He started to cry.

“Oh,’s gonna be okay. Come on.” Cody stopped crying and Bobbi pulled him into the Garden Center entrance located in the middle of the main aisle. Cody could water the plants. Hayden may actually laugh at that. She felt hope. She felt scared. She felt like she was losing her marbles.

A third old man appeared.

Bobbi stifled a scream and ran, yanking her son after her. Cody moved as fast as his little feet could keep up. Old Man Number Three loomed in the corner with his wide stare, schnozola turning to track them like a biological security cam.

The triplets fell in and followed in file.

Peediddlers. That’s what her mother used to call dirty old men that like to touch little girls in their no-no places. She called them Peediddlers. Maybe it was her countrified momma’s way of smashing ‘pedophile’ into something that rural Texans could handle, but either way, Bobbi grew up knowing that there were old men who wanted to touch her no-no and they were called Peediddlers.

Except, these Peediddlers were more than just dirty old men. They were three identical creatures with identically insane expressions, chasing Bobbi and her son through an unnaturally evacuated hardware store.

There was the Garden Center exit! Bobbi moved Cody to the gate of the Garden Center, squeezing her well-trained no-no muscle to hold back the flood of her screaming bladder.
It was just as locked as the warehouse doors.


She stole a glance at the opening that led back into the store. What happened next broke the delicate membrane holding Bobbi’s grip on reality. A long, maroon proboscis the thickness of an air hose flicked out three coiling feet from the front Peediddler’s lip-hole. Bobbi screamed.

POP! The lights went out.

“Momma, I’m scared!” Cody cried.

They raced beneath the dull gloom of skylights towards the back of the Garden Center. If they could skirt the walls and keep the Peediddlers behind them, they could make a break for the main exit. For the first time in her marriage, Bobbi Ruth prayed that her husband was there.

Two more creatures in blue bib-alls shuffled through the doors in front of them.

“No!” she screamed.

Cody started to cry again.

Bobbi cut across the middle and weaved her way between low tables filled with cacti, Mexican sage plants, and a menagerie of clay ornaments. Her foot caught a faux Spanish pottery display, sending red shards skittering across the floor. The sound made her yelp and sent images of Hayden through her head, a tortured mind already kicking in spasms from PTSD and the surreal chase.

The eerie quintuplets converged on a straight path along the far wall and turned directly for Bobbi and Cody. They were like a human centipede flowing through the maze of display tables, following the exact same route that Bobbi and Cody had taken. She fought for focus, the shift and pounding of her feet creating a tiny explosion in her bladder with every step. Her only purpose in life right now was to get her little boy away from the centipede, out of the store, and to the safety of the meanest son of a bitch on the planet.

Bobbi and Cody zigzagged their way right back to the front. They shot through the store opening and into the main aisle, skidding to a stop.

Something pulled her attention to the back of the store.

Five more old men shuffled in a cluster to their left, at the corner where Cody had wet his pants. They huddled together, milling against one another in a circle, heads and backs bent down. Bobbi felt her gorge rise.

Each creature had extended its proboscis to the floor, feeding on the small puddle left behind by Cody earlier. It was like watching five human anteaters going at a single mound. They pumped their fists in the same freaky manner as if they were still moving and their bodies waved like reeds. They were sucking the water out of the mess.

“Don’t look,” she told Cody.

Bobbi spun back towards the exit. It was clear. She pulled him after her.


The five Peediddlers from the Garden Center spilled out into the main aisle. The five puddle-suckers stopped and looked up as one.

“Momma? What’s happening? I’m really scared!”

Ten insane faces grinned and bugged their eyes at them.

“I don’t know! We’ve gotta get outa here!”

The smell of urine wafted up to her, mixed with the loamy aromas of pesticides and fertilizers from behind the Garden Center quints. She knew Cody had held it for as long as his tiny body could. Her own bladder was a balloon stuffed with barbed wire. She wanted to double over from the pain.

“I’m sorry, Momma,” Cody said through giant tears.

Bobbi cradled the back of her son’s head and pressed her forehead to his. “Don’t cry, baby! We’re gonna be fine, okay?”

“But Daddy’s gonna hit you again, Momma…”

Something died inside Bobbi. In her mind, the SHFFing sound and turmoil fell silent for an eternal second. The last five years had been dedicated to being a good woman, but more importantly, to being a good Mommy. She never wanted Cody to have to see that.


The sound was back and near deafening, a cheese grater across a ganglia of exposed nerves.
Bobbi and Cody ran through the checkout stands. Everything was going numb below her waist. She let go of Cody for the first time when they reached the storefront windows. Both mother and son slapped at the glass and screamed.

Bobbi turned her head to see that the ten Peediddlers had doubled in number. A sea of old men with insane stares and too-wide grins rallied towards the checkout stands. The first one shuffled through the checkout, fists pumping, feet sliding.

Out of the corner of her eye, Bobbi could see a white Ford F-350 contractor’s truck chattering up to the front of the store.


Blood-red proboscises shot out of mouths at random, some withdrawing, others curling around to search for food.

Bobbi screamed for her husband.

Hayden hopped out of the truck and swung around to walk towards the front of the store. He cupped his hands to the glass and peered in. They could’ve kissed if it weren’t for the glass between them. Hayden moved with casual ease to the sliding doors and yanked them open with his powerful hands.

“Oh thank God, Hayden!” Bobbi cried, tears streaking her face. She shoved Cody through to his father.

Bobbi heard the Peediddlers behind her less than a dozen feet away, but Hayden regarded her with cold eyes. She stopped and her fear turned to desperation.

“God! Hayden! NO!

He looked down through the eight-inch crack of the sliding doors and stared at her crotch. The smell of ammonia was suddenly very strong. A wet spot, not much bigger than a carnation, spread from between her legs.

“A good woman knows to hold her damned water, Bobbi.”

He slammed the doors.

Bobbi paused for a fraction of a second. Then she pounded at the glass with everything she had, screaming through tears.

Safe outside, Hayden tussled Cody’s hair and lifted him up to the booster seat in the back of the truck. Cody held up a timid hand to wave to his Momma.

From far away she heard her own screaming. It was like an animal: hoarse, no longer human. Bobbi relaxed to the warm deluge of her bladder letting go and the knife-like pain ripping through her bowels when the membrane retracted.

She felt hands. Lots of hands touching her, clawing at her, turning her about while the first of many probing red whips snaked their way into her flesh; breaking through to the source of her water and final release.


Hayden walked out of the aisle with Cody pushing the over-laden Buggy’s cart. Cody struggled to keep up, his arms locked out in front of him as he forced the hulk forward, inch-by-squealing-inch. He coughed once. His throat was so dry, but his daddy said he could only have his lemonade when they were done (a good son earns his lemonade, boy <thwup>).

“C’mon, boy. Hurry the hell up.”

 Overhead, a marquee read: Restrooms. Hayden headed in that direction, squeezing his crotch like an all-star pitcher. “You stay here with my stuff while I go talk to a man about a horse.”

“Kay, Daddy.”

Hayden stopped and stared at the yellow tape across the bathroom door.

“Aw, for the love of…”

A puddle spread into the aisle and a thin figure in blue bib-alls stood bent over the mess, wavering from side-to-side. Cody’s eyes lit with recognition and a little something else: this one had a ponytail. He smiled.

Momma…” he said, barely above a whisper.

Hayden’s eyes blazed. “Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing here, you dumb bi—”

(A good woman always looks at her husband when he’s talking to her)

The thing jutted its face up to Hayden and a maroon tube shot out of its mouth.

POP! When the lights cut off, Hayden Ruth’s screams sounded like those of a little girl.

Cody moved quietly to the front of the store, sipping his lemonade.








Christopher S. Nelson writes horror and SF from his high desert home in Quartz Hill, California. He holds a BA in English from Thomas Edison State, New Jersey, and applies the hell out of to his day job as a U.S. Army Scout /Observer Controller in the Mojave. He currently has an assortment of short story publications through Wicked East Press, Scarlett River Press, Twit Publishing Presents and Liquid Imagination Magazine. He can be found by either catching him in his M998 Humvee out in the Mojave, or at