The Horror Zine
Burned House
Stephen Dare

The September First Selected Story is by Stephen Dare

Please feel free to email Stephen at:


by Stephen M. Dare

The two men stared at the small, partially burned house at the end of Smith Street.  It was bordered on one side by the high trees of the Park Woods, and on the other, by a vacant lot full of tall grass, weed-trees, and the junked hulls of appliances and cars. They stared, amazed that so much of the house was still standing; so much was still intact, somehow surviving the fire. The worst of the fired looked to have scorched the house’s right side where some blackened bricks of the foundation had been kicked over, probably by kids in the neighborhood--kids in rags and bruises on their unwashed bodies, most without shoes but all with rings in their ears and noses.

Kids, the men thought, not much younger and not much different than their sister Rachel’s boy Eddie. Head-shaven Eddie, with the new stainless steel gauge in his earlobe, a bit less expensive than the diamond Rachel had studded into him when he was six months old. Eddie was eleven now, bearing their father’s eyebrows and cheekbones and their mother’s pouty mouth. 

Eddie hadn’t been to school in three days. The school had finally called his Uncle Shane, one of the men who were now staring at the house. Shane had called his own brother Al, the other man. Al worked the second shift, so he was home now; two brothers staring at their sister’s home across the street, and wondering where Rachel was right now. The last they knew, she had wound up in some friend’s trailer, after the fire had broken out, though now in a meth-haze.

A few days ago, the brothers had gone to the trailer to try to reason with her. And Rachel wailed that she “didn’t know nothing” about Eddie, until Al shoved her head against the wall. That was when she finally cried out, “The house has him! The house has my Eddie, and it won’t let him go!”

Disgusted with her drug-induced psychosis, the two brothers had left in Shane’s Mustang to find out for themselves if Eddie was trying to live inside the burned house. Once there, they talked in front of the house, watching its burned silence behind a single strand of yellow police tape over the front door. Shane lit a cigarette, and Al kept nodding at what he was saying until Shane pointed with his cigarette across the lot at another house just like Rachel’s.  This one was surrounded by a ragged wire fence, yard stomped to dust by dogs and kids. One of the kids--a child certainly no older than three, diaper sagging yellow around its middle--stood at the fence staring at them. The child stared and stared and stared so long that both Al and Shane soon believed the child could not blink. 

Across the street and in the tall grass of the other lot waited an older child dressed only in cut-off jeans so baggy that the boxer shorts underneath were in full display. The boy was smoking a gray joint. He watched them as if waiting for something before finally sitting on the crumbling curb. A dog barked with menace down the pitted road somewhere.

Shane pulled his palm across his forehead. The heat had stilted the air to a smother. Maybe there would be rain later, but this early, the sky was white with August fatigue. 

Al said, “No crickets here.”

“No crickets anywhere,” Shane said back. Then he finished his cigarette and tossed it into a pothole in the street, and they went together to the path scrawled through the weeds up to the house.

Rachel’s satellite dish had been moved since they were last here. Rachel and her goddamn daytime TV and her Xbox, and all the while Eddie ran wild over god knew the hell where. The brothers had long known that Rachel lived only for Rachel. Plasma TV Rachel, iPhone Rachel, Wi-Fi computer Rachel; probably all stolen. And the latest was that BioFab one of her old boyfriends had installed; that penthouse-designer carpet you never had to vacuum. That was their sister. Gotta have every new and trendy thing because she was tweaking all the time and always needed a distraction, and go screw the rest of you.

Approaching the front stoop, the brothers saw that a rotting board was set on cinderblocks as a step before the battered screen door. Al broke the single strand of yellow tape, pulled the screen door open, and tried the knob on the weather-warped storm-door behind it. Shane would have gone instead to one of the windows along the side of the house, but each window had been barred, probably so that Rachel’s stolen items wouldn’t get re-stolen when she had lived there. With all those bars, it was amazing that anyone had gotten out that night when the house had caught fire.

Al pushed the big front door open and they both stepped in. Though it was mid-morning, it was dark inside, the air smelling of old fire. It was close and stale, but with something in it that made them both pause. Al didn’t like it and said so. Shane grunted. It was like wetness, he said. Wetness from the firemen’s hoses, hauled in like heavy snakes through the front door. Wetness and rot. Like a pile of vegetable scraps and meat left to rot in the sun. But Al thought of something more: it made him think of rank digestion.

They shut the door against the outside and waited in the dark for their eyes to adjust. They couldn’t turn on any lights since Rachel hadn’t paid her bill before she left. No electricity for almost a week before the fire.  Maybe she couldn’t stand no TV and no Xbox and that was why she left. It sure wasn’t the smell of the burned roof; Rachel had lived like this for years. She might have continued living here, even with the fire damage and its rank smell. Except neither of the brothers could remember when the smell had been this bad.

Al called for Eddie several times, his voice filling the empty house. Nothing. You could tell when someone was hiding out in a house. An empty house felt empty, vacant and hollow.  The feel of it here said that Eddie was sure as shit gone. Probably living with someone, some girl maybe.

In the dimness, as they waited and talked in near-whispers, Al thought he heard something move across the designer carpet to their right. A mouse, maybe. They were all over these places, rats too.  But it didn’t sound like a mouse. It sounded like something pushing its way over the floor, jabbing in one long, darting movement through the paper and trash. Not scurrying like a mouse but something more like a snake.

“Snakes’re all over out here,” Shane said when Al spoke about it, “‘specially under these houses. Foundations’re crawling with the fuckin’ things. Fire could have drove them out though.”

“We need a flashlight,” Al said.

“We need to get this place searched and done with.”

“You lead, then. You deal with the snakes.”

Shane stepped through a heap of wet, soiled clothes. He kicked sopping pizza delivery boxes, Cheetos and Lays potato chip bags, and mildew newspapers out of the way. The big room--really, no larger than Shane’s garage--doubled as a TV room and kitchen, the kitchen set to one side of the room. Dishes crusted with macaroni and dried spaghetti and pot pie tins were piled in the rust-spattered sink. A Breyer’s vanilla ice cream box left on the peeling counter had dribbled a tacky white stream down a scarred cabinet door to a pool on the linoleum.

Against the wall by the fridge were towering stacks of Budweiser, Mountain Dew, and Coca-Cola cans. Some of the stacks had fallen over, the remaining contents in the cans having trickled to a sticky pale sheen on the floor.  A Monster energy drink can lay by the trim-strip where the linoleum met the BioFab carpet. Some of the carpet had frayed there and bits of its curly strands lay across the linoleum. Their ends were pasted into the tacky pool of puke-colored energy drink. 

The men moved through the kitchen onto the carpet and bent down to examine it. The BioFab carpet looked like a graham-colored Berber, but unblemished by stains. Somehow it had survived the fire completely intact. Al moved another box away to find a half-eaten piece of pale pizza crust stuck to the carpet. He nudged it with his boot, but the crust didn’t budge, the BioFab pinning it down tight like glue. Soon the BioFab would have made the crust disappear altogether.

“That designer carpet shit actually works,” he said, amazed.

“The lazy housekeeper’s dream,” Shane said. “Look at this place. It’ll be condemned, I’ll betcha.”

They went through the trash to the window on the far side of the room and moved the fire-eaten curtain away. Through the filthy window, they could see two new shirtless boys standing on the edge of the weed-lot across the street where the older boy had been. They were watching the house, their tanned skin like tough bronze. They were barefoot and in cut-off shorts. One had a mohawk, the other a mullet, they were both smoking cigarettes or joints. Eddie’s long lost friends, Al thought.

“Let’s see what they know,” Al said.

“After we look in the bedroom,” Shane said.

They went back across the carpet and around the kitchen wall into the bedroom. Most of the fire damage was here, where Rachel and Eddie shared a bed. It had probably been Rachel’s cigarette that started the fire. the walls and ceiling were torn with fire as it had consumed up and into the roof before the firemen could put it out. By that time, Rachel had fled, with or without Eddie. Had Eddie come back to hide out?

They searched the closet, glanced under the ragged bed. No Eddie. So Eddie was gone, all right. Maybe he had hooked up with that gang everyone was so scared of over on Adams Street.

“What now?” Al asked.

“Let’s go outside and talk to those kids out front,” Shane said. “Those kids look like they know something, the way they were watching the house. Like they’re waiting for something to happen.” 

Al peered out the window to the backyard. Through the bars, he saw the edge of the woods running away and the sea of yellow weeds reaching up past the window. Powerlines further out, leading to brick apartments on a distant grassy hill. Too far off, Al thought, to tell if anyone is standing on a balcony of one of the apartments, grilling something good with an icy Busch beer at their side. Al swallowed, wanting to taste it. He waved a couple of fingers at the invisible griller. Be there soon. Save a cold one for me.


Back in the combined living room and kitchen, the light had brightened as the sunlight shifted. It looked as though somehow there was more trash on the floor, and more light on the far side of the room. They remembered that there was a plant on a stand in the corner, some viney tropical thing living on neglect. A perfect plant for their sister. 

But the old wooden stand had toppled, and the pot fallen away from it onto the carpet. The plant still lived, its vines and leaves rolling over a greasy Dominoes pizza box. Frayed grayish strands of BioFab carpet had curled into the spilt black soil. In here the light had moved enough for them to see that several fuzzy strands had climbed the walls in long twists. The brothers looked closer and closer until they each had their faces hovering several inches from the BioFab’s strands hooked into the wallpaper, curled like stiff worms underneath it, not pulling the wallpaper out but having pushed through it; some of it forced into the drywall itself and into the wall.

One strand had ventured high enough to grasp the low corner of the smoke-greased HD and hang there.             

Al tugged on a strand, pulled it away from the wall but plaster powdered down with it, and he cursed, letting it go fast and cursing again and again and holding his finger away from him in the sunlight. It dripped with bright blood, spotting his jeans leg and shoe.

“Sumbitch bit me,” he said, “bit me hard.”

“What bit you hard?”

“What d’you think bit me, fuckin’ carpet got me.”


“Bullshit, lookit.” He held his bleeding finger out at Shane. “Bit me like with a tooth or razor.”

Shane bent to look at the strand Al had pulled off. Held it between his fingers like a string.  He quietly ran it between his fingers. Then he winced. He held the strand up to the light. A very tiny piece was hinged on the strand so that it was able to flip up and down.  It was no longer than a quarter-inch. A black tooth, and sharp; snake-fang sharp. 

“Jesus Mary Christ, brother,” Shane said. He ran his fingers a ways down the strand. There seemed to be a tiny burr at its end. It gleamed like steel in the light, as long as a carpenter’s trim nail, with an edge like a razor.

Al saw the lump in the new light first, the small risen area in the corner where the BioFab had swollen like something pregnant. And then he knew what had tipped the plant-stand. The lump had moved toward the dark corner, tipping the plant stand into the room long after Gotta-Have-It-Rachel had fled in her piece-of-shit Ford Escort. The lump had moved to a dark spot to get tucked away and hidden, like an engorged python digesting a goat in sleepy seclusion.

Shane took his Buck knife and plunged it into the lump, slicing through the BioFab. A tiny hissing sound like a broken steam-hose came from somewhere under their knees or behind them as they stripped the rug back with their knives, the lump feeling soft at first but then hard under them. A warm, wet vomit-acid reek came around them, filling their skulls, springing hot tears to their eyes. 

Al fell away, stumbling backwards. Coming out of him was a combination of screaming and choking noises. Shane held a flap of rug away with the blade of his knife, the strands twisting, dangling like silkworms in August country air, and peered into the hole at the squashed thing there.

It was a bony, flattened torso, the pink arm and leg bones; pale, moist flesh pitted like Swiss cheese, and stringy meat was glistening underneath. The slick and pitted pink skull gaped up at him. A stainless-steel gauged earring lay beside it in the warm, red-black, rotting muck. The entire thing was compressed, all folded tightly into itself, as if stuffed into a suitcase.


Shane was holding the earring up to the light with his knife as Al ran to the front door, both hands gripping the handle and twisting together. He pulled hard toward him, but the door wouldn’t move, wouldn’t even budge with a wooden groan. It held like that in the dimness, held pinned in its frame, the tall man groaning, twisting, grunting until he fell to his knees, spitting and cursing. He looked up at the door, blinking, not comprehending the slight bow in the wood before him, bulging out at him in the middle, and falling away into its frame at the sides. 

Then Shane was there beside his brother, studying the BioFab by the floor-trim, his eyes traveling upwards along the doorjamb. The trim covering the jamb had flexed away from the wall. Shane cursed, squeezing the tips of his fingers behind the trim, prying it outward only to see that the BioFab had curled under it, stuffing itself into the quarter-inch space between the wall and jamb. Stuffing itself like insulation but only tighter, so tight that even as Shane dug his fingers into it, he could barely make purchase. The twisted strands had snaked high, burrowing into the space, squeezing the jamb so tight it flexed the door inward, compressing it to not open; freezing it tight.

“Christ, brother, what’s it done?” Al cried with frustration and fear.

“What’s it look like?” Shane said as he forced his nails into the strands, managing to pull several frays out until finally he had enough to seize. He began stripping them outward, away from the jamb, the trim leaning by the few nails holding it to the wall. His hands worked, stripping the frays like long gray licorice. His eyes were wide with what he and his brother now realized had happened, this seeming entrapment. The strands came away only a few at a time, but revealed a newly twisted mass hardened into the jamb, the loose ones twisting against the frame and door like silkworms. 

The blood began to trickle a little at first. It ran down Shane’s wrists and then his forearms, over his faded snake tattoo, beading on hairs and blooming against his shirt and pants like bright red paint.

Al said his brother’s name several times before finally rushing to lurch him away from the door. Blood ran down Shane’s pants and into his shoes and down the sides of them onto the carpet where the rich stains disappeared in moments, as if they were never there. When he got to the deeper strands, the hinged fangs slipped into him like surgeon’s needles, biting through his flesh and muscle. He didn’t stop, as if he couldn’t, his will hijacked by some outside and foreign determination. Blood dashed over the door, streamed down to the threshold, pooling on the carpet where Al thought he heard something like a sucking sound, like someone using a straw in a deep, emptying cup. 

Then Al was on his knees too, and then over his brother and what was left of his brother’s arms and hands. Flesh hanging like torn, wet paper, tendons like wet black cables, muscle and white fat stripped apart; a few of the strands had caught in the torn fat and muscle and hung there, but other strands were twisting in the air and over his ruined body. They were squirming like they were alive, tiny furry things with their ends moving back and forth like the heads of worms.  Some wiggled into the lacerations on Shane’s arms, disappearing into them.

It was Shane who spoke what Al knew by then. It was Shane who put it together, but too late. 

Not just the carpet stranding to the pizza crust in the TV room, not the strange kids watching the house from the lot, not just the kids keeping away, far away from the house, knowing something.  There had been more, and it had come when they had seen Rachel in her doped rant about the house. About something bad with the house: The house has him! The house has my Eddie, and it won’t let him go!

“It got Eddie, it got me too, brother,” Shane said, his eyes already death-sheen glassy. “It let us in because it was hungry, it wanted more. Now that it’s got us, it ain’t going to let us out. I couldn’t help tearing at it. Something about it got in me to make me keep cutting myself, making myself bleed. Feeding it with myself.” He spat blood over his chin. “Call 911 on your cell.”

Al screamed, “I didn’t bring it! Christ, I didn’t think to bring it!”

But Shane went on, not listening, his voice fading. He said, “It grew out of itself, brother. Eddie always had those bloody noses. Fuckin’ rug got a taste of blood. No rats left here. No cockroaches, no crickets. No Eddie, and now nothing left to eat but us.”


After Al shut his brother’s eyes, he had moved off the carpet to stand on the tiny linoleum area by the door. Against the far wall of the TV room, something hissed, and when he looked, he saw that the sliced-open section around what had once been his nephew in the floor had gotten smaller.  Gray fibers had run across the hole like threads trying to stitch together a gaping wound. The hissing came again right next to him, and when he turned he saw that several strands had run themselves over Shane like tiny ropes pinning down a giant.

He remembered the window in the bedroom, knew he could break the glass out, and beg the staring kids for help. Please help me! Please, please get someone…..

And what would that help be? To summon someone--the police? Never, not down here, not in this neighborhood. Some kid’s dad with a blowtorch to cut the goddamn bars away? No one would venture towards this house; he knew it in his bones. By the look of the kids across the street, they’d seen or heard things down here that would make even grown men like Al go pale.  And things from this house too. It wasn’t the fire that had kept them away. Maybe they had heard what happened to Eddie. Maybe they heard Eddied screaming as the carpet strands wrestled him to the floor; furry, sharp tendrils snaking into his bleeding nose and mouth, into his ears, up his asshole. Or maybe, Al thought, maybe it had gotten Eddie as he slept. Maybe Eddie had never woken up. 

He needed to get out of the living room. There was only one place that had no carpet: the kitchen.

It was watching him as he was trapped in the kitchen, sitting on the counter. The sun faded low, the house deepening into dimness. The sun’s light changed orange and purple in the window across the room. He could hear the hissing sound come more and more and from every side so that eventually no moment was silent. It came from the attic and from inside the walls.

And now the kitchen was no longer a safe haven. Out of the corner of his eye, Al saw the linoleum floor below move. So it was spreading. It wasn’t just the carpet anymore.

Al pushed himself into the corner on the counter and held himself, his muscles cramping. He know longer smelled stale fire; now he sensed new decay, sweet and bitter as the hissing went on into the black night, his eyes finally adjusting to see shapes moving from the floor. The hissing pierced him like talons so that soon--sweat beading down his face and back--it became just white noise and comfortable like a fan. It lulled him to sleep, letting him nod off, only to snap awake, his heart drubbing in his throat.

Nodding off, then waking, over and over; clinging to the countertop, thinking of Eddie.  Dreaming of Eddie.  Eddie on his first day of school. Eddie’s first birthday. Fatherless Eddie.  Drug-addict mom. We should of been there for you more, Eddie. We should of knocked your mom’s teeth out a long time ago, taken you with us. Raised you ourselves. Raised you right and good and with a chance in this hell of a world. Gave you what you needed. Sorry, Eddie, sorry. 

He felt his cheeks wet. Tears, hot and thick. Wiping them away, but with the sting of salt like a stab in his eyes, and then his hand snagging into the fabric of his shirt collar and then another stab and another in his hand and up his nose and inside both eyeballs, exploding him awake so that he fell and his face met the floor with a painful, furious slam.


The police came shortly after the house was condemned, but the search for the two men and the boy ended quickly and quietly. What was strange, the police decided, was that it was the only house on Smith Street that wasn’t a haven for rats and snakes. Even cockroaches were absent, which was okay.  Just a bit peculiar.  Just like the things left behind--the Xbox, an iPhone, and the charred remains of several marijuana plants. The woman who owned the place was supposed to be strung up and crazy but not so crazy she couldn’t vanish sometime in the night from the friend’s trailer she’d been staying at. Vanished, someone thought, to head out West.  California maybe, or Mexico even.

They razed the two-room house in the grassy lot with a bulldozer and backhoe and dumptrucks that came and went only twice in a span of two hours.

The demolition crew had pushed soil vaguely over the house’s crumbling foundation.  Bits of wood lathe and plaster and remnants of carpet had mixed into the earth and brick. Eventually, under the sun and rain and wind, new weeds sprouted wild, accompanied by tiny bits of grayish strands of carpet that twirled over timothyweed and ragweed. In some places, whole mats of carpet had stretched over patches of barren soil, clinging in bland colors like the soil itself.  It was moving across the lot towards the other crumbling houses; moving away for the distant hilltop apartments, towards young wives with toddlers, towards men grilling on their balconies in late summer-wear and sunglasses, who were sipping their final cold beer.



Stephen Dare lives with his wife and three children in Delavan, Illinois, which is a small town founded by H.P. Lovecraft's uncle. He has a master's degree in English and teaches at a private school.

Stephen has been writing horror since the eighth grade, but he has been reading it and watching movies in that genre for much longer. He appreciates good, deep horror fiction and has a passion for Algernon Blackwood's novella The Willows, which achieves a profound level of horror rarely seen in contemporary fiction, and that is unfortunate.

Besides horror, Stephen's other passion is gardening, and of course he is attracted to carnivorous plants.....he has actually created a carnivorous plant bog in his front yard.