The day is finally here where Ink Heist starts publishing original fiction! It’s still kind of surreal to think we are finally able to take this step, but we’re excited! I promise to keep this relatively short, but before we introduce John F.D. Taff’s “Love Tap” into the world a quick background on the story. We had a burst of inspiration for a unique format experiment that sped up our timeline a little bit on publishing original fiction. The idea was inspired by the concept of spontaneous creation – what would happen if we invite writers to let their imaginations run wild and craft a story in a limited time frame? We gathered some insight on a realistic timetable and settled on roughly three weeks from conception to completion. We may come up with themes in the future, but for now, we’re just focusing on letting the first few authors write about what moves them. The first story to appear on Ink Heist comes from one of our favorite authors, John F.D. Taff. We’re honored to host this story which the King of Pain himself says is unlike anything he has written in years. With that, we’re proud to introduce….
By: John F.D. Taff
©2019 John F.D. Taff
In Stacey’s mind, each drop of water fattened, glistened at the end of the tap, plopped against the bathtub’s white porcelain. It took her mind off the jangling of the bedsprings, the slap of the headboard, the labored breathing of the man above her.
She paused for a moment, opened her eyes. Larry’s blotchy, straining face looked pleadingly down at her. She closed her eyes and moaned, long and low, but it was not Larry’s face that she saw in her imagination.
It was the water drop, sparkling as it fell languidly through space, landing with a delicious plip! that made her tingle.
She let the water increase from a trickle to a torrent.
This time, her moans came unfeigned.
Larry’s movements became sharp and erratic, and soon it was over. As he faded inside her, a shudder, pleasurable but not all that it might have been, tickled through her.
Larry lay gasping, his cheek pressed against her shoulder.
She let him lay there, reaching up to absently stroke his smooth, bald head, willing him to sleep quickly.
The spoked handles of the bathtub’s faucet were cold and smooth in her hands. She plugged the drain with the rubber stopper hanging from the faucet by a thin chain, passed her hand through the stream of water, tested its temperature. Shedding her robe, she took one last, furtive peek across the hall into the bedroom.
Larry still lay sprawled out on the bed like the lone survivor of a shipwreck, the sheets tangled amidst his pale limbs.
As she entered the water, its sudden heat spread across her skin in an electric wave. Her butt squeaked along the slick porcelain surface. She lifted her feet, savoring the sound as the water tinkled back to the bath, and placed her soles on the tiled wall to either side of the faucet.
The water lapped in the channel of her thighs. She closed her eyes, savoring the warm liquid as it washed like the tide over her, then out, exposing her skin to the cold air, hardening her nipples.
Scooting closer to the mouth of the gleaming faucet, stretching her legs up the length of the tiled wall, she positioned herself directly underneath the flow of water. Her back arched, her legs tightened. The water pulsed inside her, its heat penetrating into the core of her body. She pushed herself strongly against it.
It built quickly and was almost over.
Then, the water moved.
Not the waves and ripples caused by her motion, rather the water gathered around her, embraced her.
She dreamily opened her eyes, blinked, wiped at her face in order to clarify what she was seeing.
The water took form around her, arced above her, anchored to the fount that still splashed achingly against her.
It assumed a defined shape, a rippling, silvery-translucent torso. The stream issuing from the faucet swirled about itself, becoming a thick column that insinuated itself between her thighs. Its shimmering length slipping in and out of her with solidness and strength.
A globe of water distended from the mass above her, became a face, with long silvery hair, blue-silver eyes. Disturbingly alien, disturbingly sexual.
She could smell the sea on it, salty, tangy. She could see the bathroom tile and her legs distorted through its body as if through a glass of water. But even though she could see through it, the form had substance. She felt it around her, atop her, inside her.
Their lips met, and its kiss squeezed small tears of salt liquid into her mouth.
The creature’s movements quickened, but its pace remained smooth and even. She looked into its face, the bathroom lights sparkling inside its eyes.
It ejaculated with the force of a garden hose, bringing an intense, wracking orgasm from her. She cried out, for it was both unexpected and painful. Her legs cramped, and she pushed herself back from the wall, straightened them.
Water sloshed from the tub, soaked the small rug lying on the floor nearby, eddied around the floor register.
She opened her eyes, shivered.
“You have given me shape,” the thing said.
It bent to her, and she would have pulled away had she been able, but she already lay flat, her back pressed against the cold tub. It kissed her again, and she found herself returning it without volition. Its lips were soft, plump, warm and moist like the most delicious, pliable lips that had ever touched hers.
Then, it melted around her, spilled back into the tub, swirled down the drain. She watched it disappear, waited a few moments thinking it might return. When it didn’t, she leaned forward, spun the faucet handles until the water faded to a drip, unplugged the rubber stopper.
She leapt from the tub, fell to the floor, crawled to the opposite end of the small bathroom.
Her first instinct was to scream, but that would bring Larry. Pulling herself up, she took a towel from the linen closet, began to dry.
She itched maddeningly, drew the towel briskly between her quivering legs. It came away covered with fine, white powder.
The insides of her thighs were coated with this.
Without knowing why—or perhaps fully knowing why—she drew a finger through it, touched her finger to her tongue.
Alarmed, she refused to take her usual long, arousing bath for days afterward, opting instead for a shower, brief, businesslike and without intimacy.
But she found herself thinking about the incident while doing laundry or cleaning the house. She thought of it when making love to Larry. It was so vivid, so unlike her old fantasies, that even Larry’s grunting, sweaty demands only fleetingly concerned her.
As he ground away that evening, she remembered the feeling of the water creature slipping in and out of her, its smoothness like polished glass. She remembered how gently it had held her, how slippery-soft its skin had been, how beautiful its sea-glass eyes.
For a brief time, she felt she had the best of all worlds.
A week or so later, she laid out her bath items in the morning as Larry prepared for work. Each thing, from the soap to the towel, was readied, put in its proper place. She spent the moments before he left brushing her hair, thinking about, then deciding against perfume.
When she heard the downstairs door close, she walked into the bathroom, dropped her robe, stepped into the empty tub. She settled against the cold porcelain, sighed, then spun the faucet handle.
It erupted from the tap when she turned it on. Surprised, she fell backwards, was cushioned by a swirl of water that caught her, lowered her slowly, sensuously into the tub.
This time, she shivered as it explored her skin.
Its kisses lingered, salt-rough on her lips.
This time, it moved with slow deliberateness.
She gasped when it surged into her.
This time, a million drops of water exploded in her mind.
For two weeks, she resumed taking her bath every morning. Each time, though, the creature’s embraces became more passionate, its demands on her more insistent, their encounters longer. When she began the week, their encounters lasted fifteen or twenty minutes, and then she would bathe normally, taking the time to rinse the grit from her inner thighs, her belly.
Now, though, she found herself luxuriating in its attention, crawling weak-kneed and dizzy from the bath for lunch.
Another week, and she was missing lunch all together.
Another, and she was pulling herself limply from the tub just in time to greet her husband, returning home from work.
She found it increasingly difficult to function during the day. The creature left her physically exhausted, unable to do much more than throw a frozen or canned meal onto the table for Larry’s dinner.
She began to doubt her sanity. What was really happening in that bathroom? Was it all just some manifestation of her unhappiness with her life, with her relationship with her husband?
And if it was real…well, what then?
So, she decided to stop the baths for good this time, to return to short, simple showers.
The creature, enamored of her, began to take shape whenever she turned water on anywhere in the house; at the kitchen sink, watering the garden, doing the laundry.
At first, she avoided its advances. It could not stray far from its point of origin, so she found it easy to simply walk away from it, ignore its pleas, its sorrowful entreaties.
“You gave me shape,” it wailed at her one morning from the tap near the washing machine. “Why do you deny me? I love you!”
“You’ve got to go!” she finally turned and yelled at it. “I don’t know what you are or how you got into my water, but, you’ve got to leave me alone. My husband will…”
The water of the creature’s face furrowed like waves in a storm. “Husband?” it howled, and the pipes rattled in the walls. With a glare, it rumbled back into the tap, disappeared.
She didn’t see it again for several days.
“Mary, mother of God! That’s cold. We must be out of hot water.”
Larry’s hair brushed the surface of the water, the movements of his arms sent ripples out across its surface. It made her think of the creature, whom she hadn’t seen in several days.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to get you out of here long enough to be able to take another one of these anytime soon,” he laughed.
Stacey turned back to gather the dirty laundry when she heard a loud pop, like the cork exiting a champagne bottle.
Larry had a concerned, surprised look on his face.
“Uhh, I, ahh…”
There was a sudden jerk on his leg, and he was pulled below the water. His head smacked the bottom of the bathtub.
He sputtered to the surface, and, to Stacey’s astonishment, screamed.
Stacey had never heard a grown man scream, never really heard a woman scream, at least not like this. It rang within the tiled enclosure of the room.
“What’s the matter?”
“Something’s got me!” Larry’s hand grasped for her, clutched a handful of fabric.
Larry’s leg tapered to a pencil point at the drain, deep burgundy drifting from it.
There was a muffled, cracking sound.
“It’s pulling me in!”
Stacey’s mind rebelled against what he’d just said. Pulling him in? That was just crazy. Pulling him into where? The drain was less than three inches in diameter. It just wasn’t possible.
She wrestled from Larry’s grasp, stepped away. Larry’s leg began to twist like a rubber band within the drain. His hand lost its hold on her pants, flailed.
There was a loud snap, and he stopped moving for a moment, his screams fading to braying sobs.
Then, his free leg kicked, and his head was jerked below the surface again. This time it stayed there, soapy, bloody water filling his open mouth.
Another sharp snap as his femur, twisted beyond its capacity, tore through his hip, fanning blood against the ivory tiles in bright, crayon-colored squirts. Deep, almost purple blood jetted midnight clouds into the water, spiraling down to where Larry’s leg, now up to his thigh, disappeared impossibly into the drain.
As Stacey backed slowly toward the door, a geyser of red, foamy water shot from the tub. The force of it threw Larry upright, held him kneeling. His head lolled, blood and bath water drooling from his mouth.
There was a roar from deep within the house, and the pipes shook in the walls. A surge of water shot from the tap, curved upward from the faucet, engulfed Larry.
It held him for a few seconds like this, then roared back into the faucet with unbelievable force, sucking Larry’s body back with it. It pulled his broken body against the drain, began to suck the rest of it down.
There was an awful series of pops and snaps, a brief rumble from the pipes. A crack in the tile wall lengthened from the faucet to the ceiling.
As Larry disappeared, there was a great red burst within the stream.
The last of it, his head—his face mercifully turned from her—shattered like pottery, slurped down the drain.
Stacey fell to the hall floor and began to cry. Tears trailed down her face, ran into her mouth. Her head fell limply to the carpet, and she vomited.
Suddenly, water splashed again into the tub.
She jerked her head up, flattened her body against the wall.
The water spilled over the lip of the bathtub, crept toward her across the tiled bathroom floor, impossibly holding itself together as it approached. In less than a minute, it was at the bathroom door. It soaked into the hallway carpet; a dark stain that moved with intelligence.
It erupted from the carpet just inches from her face, coalesced into a ball of water. A darkness snaked its way up the length of the stream, swirled like a feather into the globe.
She screamed as it settled inside.
Water pressure kept the skin of Larry’s face tight against the inside of the sphere, filling in its features. When his eyes opened, they were transparent silver.
“Is this more pleasing to you?”
She pulled herself up, staggered down the hallway with the obscene thing snaking behind.
As she drew the door open, the creature began to look stretched, taut.
She fled from the house, the last things she heard were the creature’s plaintive cries, the sound of water splashing onto the front porch.
“What do you got?” asked the nurse, setting his lunch out atop the rumbling ice machine. There was no lunchroom in the hospital’s psychiatric observation wing.
“Baloney and mayo. You?”
“Shit, man, I didn’t think nobody ate Spam,” laughed the attendant, plunking his money into the Coke machine.
“Nobody does,” said the nurse, frowning at the mottled, pinkish slab tucked between the bread. He took a quick, resigned bite.
Another nurse opened a door at the end of the corridor and ushered through a man. He rushed to where the two were eating, his shoes squeaking on the tile. “I’m here to see my wife.”
“You’re Mrs. Taylor’s husband?” asked the nurse, surprised.
“They said you was dead, man,” laughed the attendant, fishing out his key ring. “Cops brought her in an hour ago, hysterical. Said she killed you.”
“You okay?” said the nurse, noticing how badly the man was perspiring. A dark line of moisture had soaked the back of his shirt. And his features…they seemed to ripple across his face.
“A little nervous, that’s all,” answered the man, wiping a handful of sweat from his forehead.
The nurse opened the door, and the man slipped in.
The smell woke her.
It clogged her nostrils, filled her senses.
Then, she felt a touch.
She tried to pull herself to a sitting position, opening her mouth to scream.
Something covered her mouth.
She looked up, and saw Larry’s face. She scratched at the hand that covered her mouth, and warm liquid welled up from the cuts she made in its solid surface.
It had all been a dream, a madness, some sort of terrible fugue state.
“Oh, Larry!” she cried, embracing him. “I thought you were dead. I thought it killed you. I…”
She began to cry, hitching in a stuttering series of breaths.
“Shh. It’s okay. I love you. You’ve given me shape.”
The voice wasn’t Larry’s. It was liquid, gurgly. And its hands, its arms…the skin seemed to float on a film of water.
She struggled, but he seeped through her clothes, penetrated without disrobing her. He slid in through the crotch of her jeans as if they were no more a barrier than the air.
She cried out, but it was drawn into the creature’s yawning mouth, sucked in along with her breath and the bile she gagged on. Her body, wrapped in its shroud of wet clothes, became numb. The only sensations that touched her were the burning of her lungs, the throbbing wave moving out from her center.
She tried to draw a breath, but all was water.
It gathered inside her, a fountain, a spray of water that pushed aside everything in its path.
A wave washed through her, carried away all but blackness.
“What the hell’s that?” The attendant pointed at the water rippling across the floor tiles, running along the baseboard down the corridor.
The nurse spat out a pink lump of sandwich. The attendant rushed to unlock the door, his sensible sneakers splashing in the rushing water. The door opened, and he paused in the doorway. The shape of the woman was visible on the bed, but the man was nowhere to be seen.
The attendant flicked the lights on.
“Oh my God,” whispered the nurse.
The woman lay sprawled across the bed, her eyes wide. Brilliant red blotches marred her otherwise bluish face. Her clothes, the bed sheets were soaked, and water trickled to the floor. A great pool had gathered around the bed.
The nurse took one of her limp arms, felt for a pulse. Quickly, he lifted her cold, damp neck, pressed his lips to hers. He forced a breath into her, then lifted his face slightly.
The other man, his hands clenched together, compressed her chest.
Water belched from the woman’s mouth with a sound not unlike that of a drain unclogging. It splashed the nurse’s face, and he drew away quickly in disgust.
He smelled it immediately, and the few bites of his unwanted Spam sandwich began to dance uncertainly in his stomach.
“That’s salt water,” he gagged, holding his knees to steady himself.
“Salt water?” asked the attendant, looking around the spare, unfurnished room. “Where’s her husband?”
The nurse bent, retrieved something from the floor. In the dim light of the room, it looked like a pair of khaki pants, sodden and limp. But as they stared at it, it became clear exactly what it was.
A suit of skin, as wilted as a deflated balloon. The nurse held it a little farther from his body, feeling the leatheriness of it, its weight. A look of revulsion passed over his face.
Then he saw something else on the floor, and he stooped for it, dropping the suit of skin, which slumped to the ground like a discarded shirt.
He held this new thing, smaller than what he’d just discarded, but with the same rubbery feel to it.
“What the hell?” the attendant asked.
The nurse draped the thing across his hand. A head of hair. Lips that opened onto nothing. And empty, gaping eyeholes.
“Go get a mop,” he said. “I gotta call 911…or someone.”
“Where’s the guy? Where’s the husband?” the attendant said, raising his voice, refusing to even consider what he was seeing.
The nurse thrust his fingers through the blank eyes, held the mask aloft.
“Go get a goddamn mop!”
John F.D. Taff is the author of more than 100 published short stories and six novels. His short story collection Little Deaths was named the best horror fiction collection of 2012 by HorrorTalk. His collection of novellas, The End in All Beginning, published in 2014, was a finalist for a Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection. His fiction has appeared most recently in Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Behold: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders, Shadows Over Main Street 2, and his latest short story collection Little Black Spots. His epic novel The Fearing is out now from Grey Matter Press in May 2019. Follow him on Twitter @johnfdtaff or learn more at his blog johnfdtaff.com.