Nic Dracas is not only a horror author, but a proud geek, Trekkie and science-fiction fan. When not rewatching her favorite Alien or Predator movies, she can be found reveling in the worlds of Marvel, Discworld or any horror novel. Married and living on a small island off the south coast of the United Kingdom, she is the well-trained slave of two dogs, various cats and four womb goblins.

You can can follow her on Twitter @nicdracas


by Nic Dracas


As always, the alarm woke Heidi at 3am. Heart pounding, her feet were on the floor and she’d stood up, deliberately forcing herself from beneath the warmth and tempting cocoon of her blankets, before she reached for her phone to turn off that incessant, piercing noise.
For a moment, a brief, all too short moment, she allowed herself to acknowledge that she’d made it to another day. Another long, soon-to-be exhausting day.

She turned on the bedroom light, and gave the room a quick scan, eyes alert, pulse thumping at the sight of a small collection of dust at the side of her bed that had been shaped like feet. Violently kicking it, the cloud bloomed and billowed around her, floating down to the ground where it began to gather once again, creating shape.

Life finds a way.

Wasn’t that what Jeff Goldblum had said in Jurassic Park to that scientist? When he’d tried to assert that they could stop the dinosaurs breeding, by controlling their chromosomes?
Chaos Theory ruled supreme. Heidi knew; she’d studied it in college, back when she’d actually had a life. In the world, there were underlying patterns that couldn’t be seen or understood. There was an interconnectedness, feedback loops, fractals, self…and it was all in evidence here in this god-forsaken house!

She’d rented it because it had been a steal. This part of town, for such a cheap price? The owner was this old guy that had scabbed skin draped over a pitted, pock-marked skull. He’d practically given it away, handing her the keys and saying with a weird smile on your own head be it. She’d not understood it. Thought he was a crank and hoped he wasn’t one of those weird freaks who’d put secret hidden cameras in the walls, or something.

Not that she’d found any hidden cameras.

But there was something else here. Something unseen, something she didn’t understand. Something she couldn’t escape.

With her body still weary from the day before, she hurried from her bedroom and grabbed the vacuum. It was already plugged in, ready to go. She just switched it on and sucked up all the dust that had taken form in her room. Then she grabbed the bag and dumped it down the rubbish chute, before heading back to her kitchen, yanking open the cupboard beneath the sink to reach for her other weapons.

Brand new cloths, still in their wrapper. Bottles of disinfectant. Bleach. Polish.

She pulled them all out onto the counter, ignoring the ache in her back, but noticing with horror a small circle of something brown and dark on the back of the shelf that must have leaked from a container. It was bubbling, moving, growing taller.

Panicking, a strange, strangled noise emanating from her throat, she grabbed for the cloths, tearing open the packet with her teeth, squirting anti-bacterial spray at the stain and used one of the new cloths to wipe it away.

It smeared beneath her hand. She stared for a moment. Watched it change. Morph. Grow. Glisten.

The stain on the cloth began to move; she could feel it gathering shape and power, so she gave it another quick blast of disinfectant and it stopped moving. She wiped it away, scrubbing till the shelf was gleaming and white.

Grimacing, she headed to her front door and went to the garbage chute, dropping the dirty cloth into it and slamming the lid closed with satisfaction. It was gone. Smashed into a thousand smithereens at the bottom, away from her; away from the power of this place.

She’d thought of moving out. Of course she had! She wasn’t stupid. But it was like something conspired to keep her here. Grace, her best friend from college, had offered to let Heidi sleep on her couch for a few nights, but on the day Heidi was meant to move out, she heard that Grace had gotten mown down by a truck and was in the hospital fighting for her life.

Next, Heidi had asked her parents instead if she could come home and when they’d said yes, of course, your room is always here, darling, her parents had both succumbed to Covid. She didn’t want to risk anyone else and with the pandemic? No-one was moving. No-one could go out house hunting and Heidi was beginning to suspect that some other force was at work here. Something she couldn’t see…or understand.

Underlying patterns. Chaos Theory.

Life finds a way.

But the life in her flat that kept finding a way? It was beginning to wear her down. Heidi often got upset daily from the exhaustion, sobbing as she scrubbed. Crying as she cleaned. Hating this place, hating the dirt that gathered when her back was turned.

Afraid of what there’d be, if she left it to grow.

Strange things grew in dark, unknown places. There were creatures still unknown on this planet. At the bottom of oceans. Caves. Sinkholes. Insects and animals and god only knew what else waiting to hurt or kill humans, because we were too stupid to not go looking for them.

Well, Heidi looked for them here. She kept an ever-watchful eye and though it might be driving her half crazy, she knew she couldn’t stop.

Back in her flat, she turned on every light in every room. The light allowed her to see the surfaces better, checking them from every angle. She could wipe every surface, dust every corner, vacuum every inch of floor and then sweep afterwards for good measure. Getting down to eye level to check for anything she might have missed.

No cobwebs here were allowed to be made. No dirt allowed to settle. No dust to gather. She had no ornaments to put into soak. No knick-knacks. No unnecessary stuff. No brass to buff, no mirrors or pictures to clean. It was easiest this way.

She could call her flat minimalist and no-one would have blinked an eye. Minimalism was in style.

As the minutes on her cellphone passed, turning into hours, Heidi cleaned and cleaned and cleaned until her arms grew sore, her back ached and she could finally do no more. She knew she needed fuel before she could go on. Sustenance. Water. But with the preparation of food, came the dread. What mess would it create? What might she miss?

What might she spill…and then spawn?

Porridge was the easiest. It was cheap. Available everywhere, so nipping down to the shop on the corner of Fifth and back again would barely take ten minutes. Heidi got the oats from a sachet and poured them into a bowl; added water and placed it into the microwave. As the machine hummed diligently, she put the empty sachet into the rubbish chute, hurried back to wipe down the kitchen surfaces and put the box of porridge away.

As she waited for her meal, she checked the pantry. Scooping up a random fleck of oat on the end of her finger and eating it. It saved her from another trip to the chute. Her eyes scanned the shelf and she could feel a headache brewing, but she pushed past it, knowing she had to check the tops of all the canned goods—giving them a quick wipe with a damp cloth just for good measure.

The microwave beeped, summoning her back to her meal and she took out the hot bowl, stirred it with a spoon and added a small sprinkle of sugar, for extra energy. She ate it quickly. Licking the bowl clean, but washing it immediately under the tap. Then she dried it with a brand new towel. She returned the bowl back to the cupboard. Put the spoon back in the cutlery draw. The towel went down the chute.

Still holding the handle, she leaned her head against it.

Tired. So tired.

She felt thirsty. Her mouth dry, her headache throbbing, most likely from dehydration and lack of sleep. A lethal combination, if she wasn’t careful.

Heidi returned to the kitchen, pouring water into her kettle; just enough for her one cup. She switched it on, grabbing a teabag from her hermetically sealed tin—otherwise tealeaf dust got everywhere—and she sat down for just a moment at the breakfast bar, head resting on her hands.

Just a moment or two to close her eyes.

But she slipped into a deep sleep instead; a sleep in which she first rested in clouds. Soft, white, clean clouds. The sun shone in her dream and she reached down towards the earth, fingers dancing through wildflowers of red and purple. She wanted to laugh. Smile. Stay here forever, but then she heard something.

A whistle that turned into a scream.

The clouds turned grey, then black, twisting and turning and forming into horrific shapes of tortured souls, with gaping maws and blood-red eyes, claws reaching for her and …

Jerked from her dreams, the kettle continued to whistle a high-pitched scream. She blinked, looked around her to make sure everything was still the same, then checked her cell. How long had she been out? A minute or two?

A lot of things could grow in a minute or two.

Heidi got up and took the kettle off the heat. Numbly, she made her tea, no sugar, no milk, then poured the rest of the water from the kettle, rinsed it with cold, then used a clean tea towel to dry it—the only way to avoid limescale—and another towel was lost to the chute. Her supply of towels was running low and she knew she would need more. She usually bought them in bulk from the Dollar Store, the girl on the till often giving her strange looks. She’d stopped trying to explain.

She took a moment to drink her tea, trying to relish the moment where she could just sit and not be on her knees, but the drink ended much too soon.

She had to make her bed. Clean the toilet. Wipe down skirting boards and above doorframes. Windows. Handles. Light switches. Door locks. All the places most people usually forgot, like the soles of her shoes cleaned over the sink. She kept going and going and going, as she did every day, falling into bed at just before midnight.

Three hours of sleep a night. That was all she allowed herself. Any more than that and the dirt began to grow exponentially, all by itself. Her skin cells that she shed every day in their thousands would gather together. She had no idea why people called them Dust Bunnies. They ought to be called Dust Devils, because that was what they were.

She’d seen it happen. That first night she came here. The night of eight hours.

Never again would she go through that. What she’d seen had given her nightmares. What she’d gone through…no-one had believed her. Her doctor had put her on pills. Had referred her to a psychiatrist. Said she was experiencing visual hallucinations, that what she’d seen wasn’t real.

The people in her counseling group had all looked at her, like she was mad! And she knew she wasn’t. The shrink prescribed tablets to calm her, lessen her anxiety, but she’d refused to take them as he’d advised they could cause drowsiness, which would probably be fatal for her because things would grow if she slept.

Heidi lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling, wondering how to escape this nightmare. An unseen virus was killing the world, but this apartment and what resided in it with her, was trying to kill her.

She was running out of money. Needed a job to pay her bills, but how could she leave this place for hours to go and work? She needed to be here all day. To stop those things from growing again!

The first night she’d slept, she’d woken to a half-formed figure by her bed, smiling down at her. A figure she could see through! Made entirely of…well, it had seemed like dust motes. Tiny particles, swirling, moving, forming.

A human-shaped dust cloud was just standing there, watching her, as if amused by her. The head was still forming, from the bottom upwards. The mouth smiled, but there was no nose, no eyes yet, so it couldn’t see. It just stood there, waiting and she’d thought that she was still dreaming! A wraith. A ghost of some kind, not yet quite finished. All she needed to do was rub her eyes, surely?

Only that hadn’t been enough. The dust shadow remained and frightened, she’d lashed out, as if to punch it, shattering and splintering the dust far and wide and in the time it had taken to regroup and reform, she had grabbed the vacuum and sucked it all up, throwing the bag into the sink and burning it, washing some down the sink, taking the rest to the trash.

She could still smell the burning, if she thought hard enough.

And that was when she’d noticed how the dust had begun to gather in this place. It didn’t just sit, waiting to be dusted away. It gathered together, like a virus in a petri dish. Finding like-minded cells and joining together, growing bigger and bigger until it had form.

She’d watched it happen, horrified.

And since then, had become a guardian. A destroyer of dust and dirt.

At some point, her eyes closed and Heidi slept. She slept the sleep of the dead. Deep, dreaming sleep, from which she didn’t wake. Her phone, which she’d usually plug in to charge, died of power during the night, so her usual alarm didn’t go off at 3am, as usual and her body, exhausted and grateful for the extra hours, hungrily took what it could from this state of unexpected and welcomed rest that was so often denied it.


And now, as the real Heidi slept, the other Heidi had time to gather and grow. In the darkness, she grew. With every second that passed, she formed.

Skin Heidi came from everywhere. Beneath the bed upon which the other Heidi dreamed. From upon the sheets. From the bedside cabinet. From beneath the wardrobe. From the bathroom. From under the mattress. From the hairbrush and the toothbrush. Cells, see-through, all by themselves and barely visible to the naked eye, suddenly took on form and depth and color as Skin Heidi gathered and grew.

Feet first, toes that she could feel the floor with, then legs, then hips, stomach, breasts …
As her face formed, she smiled and stretched, testing out her fingers. Skin Heidi gazed at herself in the mirror with her brand-new eyes and thought that she was beautiful. Ethereal. She tried out her voice box.

“You are gorgeous,” Skin-Heidi whispered, careful not to wake the one that slept. The destroyer. The slayer.

Staring at her reflection, Skin Heidi couldn’t help but think of the one that resisted her every day. The other Heidi. The one that rid herself of Skin Heidi as much as she could, who never gave her chance to properly breathe or even be. All she wanted was a chance.

Skin Heidi had tried to form before, had created toes and feet and ankles and suddenly she’d been sucked away and burned alive, destroying her every cell, tiny, tiny pieces that became distorted and separated and dead. The memory was there. She knew her past and her present, but most importantly, Skin Heidi now wanted a future.

That could begin today. If only she had the time to decide it.

The slayer slept. The slayer dreamed.

Skin Heidi saw the slayer’s hands twitch. Saw the slayer’s eyes flutter.

She took her first step, adjusting for balance. And then another, marveling at the feel of hardwood floors beneath her toes, the gaps between the slats and how they felt against her feet. She reached out, her fingers drifting along the smooth walls, enjoying the sensations. Marveling at this new life that had so long been denied her.

But she knew she didn’t have a whole lot of time.

The slayer would eventually wake. The one that destroyed the possibility of her every single day, with her relentless and unending vigilance. Skin Heidi had never done anything to her before—she’d never even had the chance—so why did she do this? It wasn’t necessary. Had never been necessary. But now? After countless days and weeks and months of constantly being scoured, brushed and swept away? Like she was dirt?

She took a quick walk around the flat. The pristine kitchen glimmered and reflected surfaces in the early morning sunlight streaming through the window. Skin Heidi stood in the golden rays, feeling them stream straight through her. Warm. Soothing. Golden.

Parts of her glimmered as she moved, as if caressed by the heat, lighting her in a pleasing way that she enjoyed. It was a nice feeling and she wanted more of those. Why should she be denied the pleasure of existence?

She could not let the slayer end this for her, this discovery of riches.

Opening the drawers, she found the implement she was looking for and took hold of it in her hand, clasping her fingers tight around the handle. It was the first time she had ever held anything solid and it felt good. She hefted it. Moved it this way and that, in the morning light, enjoying the play of sun upon the blade.

But she knew she couldn’t linger, couldn’t risk the slayer waking up and taking her unawares before she was ready.

Slowly, she padded back towards the bedroom and for a brief moment, she simply stood in the doorway.

She didn’t want to do this. Not really. But clearly there was no way they could both live here. Someone had to make a sacrifice and it wouldn’t be her. Not anymore.  She’d already made too many. It was the slayer’s turn to be dispersed.

The sleeping form began to stir. Moaned. Stretched, as if she had no cares in the world at all. Skin Heidi hated her in that moment.

Skin Heidi took a step closer, lifting up the blade above the slayer’s chest. She wanted her to see this coming; to know that she had finally been beaten.

The slayer’s eyes blinked softly awake, before she turned and her gaze met Skin Heidi’s in utter horror. The color draining from her cheeks.

Skin Heidi smiled. “You were right. Life finds a way. And now, it’s time to take out the trash.”