Madison McSweeney writes horror and dark fantasy from Ottawa, Ontario. She is the author of the horror comedy The Doom That Came to Mellonville (Filthy Loot), the folk horror novelette The Forest Dreams With Teeth (Domain Publishing), and the poetry collection Fringewood (Alien Buddha Press).

She blogs at madisonmcsweeney.com and tweets from @MMcSw13.

by Madison McSweeney


One good thing about working at the lab, they had no shortage of skeletons.

The capuchin monkey had been perfectly preserved from teeth to tail, crouched on its hind legs, the long bones of its fingers clasped, and its face in an expression in perpetual concern.

Professor Reed had rolled its eyes when Taylor asked to borrow it. “Why?” he demanded.

“Extra curricular activity,” she said. “I’m head of the organizing committee and sole member of the decorating committee. You know.”

“Kids,” he’d sighed, but relented. He had always wanted to be the “cool” professor. It was important to him to be liked. “I want it back exactly as it is right now. No damage.”


The Health Sciences Student Association Halloween party was being held in the MacDonald Hall auditorium, a three-hundred seat panopticon most often used for first-year lectures. The shape was awkward, but the floor area was large enough for the research students to mingle freely. Above Taylor’s head, a domed skylight provided a dust-streaked view of the afternoon blue.

Taylor had championed the dilapidated, slightly gothic vibe of the empty lecture hall. Now, the event hours away, she examined the results of a hundred dollars in Halloween decorations that hadn’t managed to make the place any creepier than it already was. Lopsided black streamers drooped from wall to wall, and glow-in-the-dark bat stickers stuck for a moment before skidding and peeling. The trio of folding tables lined up along the wall were clothed in black and strewn with plastic cauldrons and orange ceramic pumpkins to match the paper plates and napkins.

The monkey skeleton, as centerpiece, managed to make everything around it look even chintzier.

“I hope people actually dress up, at least,” Taylor spoke into the phone, using her teeth to rip open a bag of synthetic spiderwebs, free hand holding her phone to her ear.

“I foresee a lot of mad scientists and sexy doctors,” Craig said.

“That’s what I fear. I know that’s what my roommate Julie is doing. But she’s heading to the party straight from the lab.”

“That seems late,” Craig observed, and Taylor could hear his raised eyebrow from the other end of the phone.

“Dr. Reed put her on evening feeding duty,” Taylor said.

“That’s…some choice.”

“I think it was for a reason.”

“Dr. Reed is a weird duck,” Craig noted.

“Oh, he’s a total bastard,” Taylor corrected. “But he did agree to lend me—” The words left her as she turned around. “Oh, shit.”

“What?” Craig asked, a note of alarm in his voice.

“The skeleton’s gone.”

“The little monkey?” Craig asked. “He let you use it?”

“Yes. It was just on the table behind me, and now it’s not there anymore. I hope I didn’t knock it over.”

“Reed would kill you.”

“No shit.” The capuchin’s skeleton had been sitting in Professor Reed’s lab for years, since well before her time. Which was only four years, but still.

She crouched down, her pounding heart easing when there was no heap of bones under the folding table. She looked up and laughed. “Oh my gosh.”

“You find it?” Craig asked.

“Yep.” The monkey was perched on one of the front-row desks, head cocked, empty sockets watching her expectantly. “I don’t know how it got here.”

Craig scoffed. “That’s just like you, to forget where you put a literal skeleton.”

“But I wouldn’t have put it there!” Taylor protested. She couldn’t see herself deliberately setting such a fragile item on the flimsy half-desk.

“I’m sure it got up and walked,” Craig teased.

“Screw you.”


I’m not cut out for this, Julie thought, approaching the cage where the baboons shrieked. It was good research, she reminded herself, not cosmetics testing or sick psychological experiments, but experiments that would improve human lives, save them even. Yet still.

The simians quieted as she approached, gawking with intelligent eyes. This was a new batch; they hadn’t yet learned to fear humans. A mother looked up, grooming her baby, and Julie averted her gaze.

The baboons became agitated when she pulled open the panel to insert the new water bottle. The alpha of the group, with a thick dark coat and bushy mane, grasped the bars and shook the door. The lock rattled against the steel, its key far away, probably jangling in one of Professor Reed’s pockets.

Dr. Reed. Once she’d once been honored to work under him, but she hated him this week. He knew she was uncomfortable with the animal stuff, and assigned her this task anyway. Not anyway— because of. “You’ll need to desensitize yourself to it,” he’d said, as if her compassion was a weakness. It hadn’t escaped her that he hadn’t trusted her with a master key to the cage.

She wondered why he played favorites with his students, which he apparently did.

She slammed shut the guillotine flap to the cage as the baboons grabbed at the bottle, squabbling over who would drink first. Only the mother and baby didn’t get in on it. An image popped into her head, unwelcome, of the woman and child being experimented upon with their skulls sawed off at the top, attached wires pulsing electric shocks into their brains…

She gagged and turned away. On the counter in front of her, white rats chirped, demanding to be fed.


The room looked better, Taylor admitted, once the fluorescents were off and the A/V was set up. Craig had not only come through not just with the sound system, but surprised her with a fog machine and a set of whirling party lights. Above, the skylight was a giant pumpkin against the orange sky.

“Those lights look pretty cool flashing off the webs,” she observed, shouting to be heard over the throbbing base of Kanye West’s “Monster.”

“And there aren’t too many sexy doctors,” Craig grinned, wrapping his Dracula-caped arm around her shoulder.

Taylor scanned the crowd of party store witches, werewolves, sexy cops, sexy cheerleaders, and sexy serial killers. She was about to smirk back and say, But some of the doctoral candidates aren’t bad, when Erica barged in. “And just enough sexy nurses, amiright?” She raised her cup as if toasting and knocked herself off-balance, tottering on her cherry red stilettos.

Next to her, Ryan’s mummy bandages disintegrated as blackish-red punch sloshed onto his shoulder. “Watch it!”

“Watch yourself, boy-king,” the biologist in the nurse’s outfit slurred.

Ryan glared, and his eyes slid down her chest and to the upper-thigh hem of her white vinyl skirt. “I’m just saying, I wouldn’t want you to have to bandage me up again.”

Erica leaned in so close that he could smell the vodka on her breath. “Or stitch your pretty mouth shut.”

Ryan raised his hands and took an exaggerated step away from Erica, forcing Julie to jump out of his way. He hadn’t noticed her next to him quietly nursing a glass of Taylor’s Blood Punch, green glowsticks radiating from within her lab coat pocket. The butt of a syringe poking out completed the half-assed look. “Who are you supposed to be?”

Erica answered for her. “She’s Sexy Herbert West from Reanimator, dummy. Can’t you tell?”

“If you say so,” Craig muttered, and Taylor elbowed him, the rubber snakes she’d wired into her hair jiggling. The costume was apt; her eyes, when he looked at her, could have turned him to stone.

Julie missed the barb. Her attention was fixed to the monkey skeleton on the table, looming over a plate of bat-shaped sugar cookies and a vegan cheese dip shaped like a pumpkin. The apes alive in the lab still weighed on her mind, and—though she’d seen the capuchin skeleton displayed in Dr. Reed’s office many times—its current placement seemed in poor taste.

“It almost ran off on me today,” Taylor remarked, following her gaze.

“What she means is, she lost it,” Craig retorted.

“Did not!”

“Fine, almost lost it,” Craig corrected. “Which, I mean, wouldn’t be the first time something like that’s happened.”

“What are you talking about?” Julie asked.

Plastic fangs flashed. “Scaaaaary story for you all,” he began, wriggling his fingers like a TV horror host. “Five years ago, a plague ripped through the lab. Seven monkeys died before they could fulfill their scientific purpose. The director wanted them incinerated to avoid spreading disease to the other animals, but a pre-med smuggled out one of the cadavers. I guess he was an amateur taxidermist.”

“Gross!” Erica shuddered, though she was grinning like a fiend. Taylor didn’t doubt she’d soon be demanding to see a photo of the thing.

“But that wasn’t all,” Craig continued, egged on. “He also had some spare bat wings lying around, so he wired them up and added them to the mount.”

Julie went white between the green flashes of the lights. The song had changed, and “Weird Science,” ironically, pulsed from the speakers. Craig was watching for her reaction, his smile perversely simian. “Excuse me,” she said, handing Erica her cup before hastening out of the auditorium.

Craig’s laughter followed her. “What’s the matter, not a Wizard of Oz fan?”


Julie didn’t bother to lock the door behind her before emptying her stomach. She was glad to be alone in the washroom. She didn’t need the other girls gossiping that she couldn’t hold her liquor.

In the next stall, something splashed.


No reply.

Wiping vomit from her chin, she headed straight to the sink to wash out her mouth before turning to see who had joined her. Strange. The stall door was hanging open, and Julie didn’t see a set of feet. But she’d definitely heard water sloshing. Toilet overflowing?

Julie prodded the door, nudging it open to reveal a throbbing purple mass in the toilet bowl.

It was an octopus.

The cephalopod’s bulbous purple head took up nearly the whole bowl, and its tentacles awkwardly bunched and hanging over either side. Its eyes, when she mustered up the guts to move closer and peer in, looked up at her placidly, like it was waiting for a follow-up question.

Confusion turned to rage. Researchers sometimes did toxicity tests on octopi, so the creature’s origin was not a mystery. But to dump it in a toilet, floating with fecal matter and other filth, as some kind of Halloween prank?

“Sick bastard,” Julie hissed. The octopus rippled. “Not you, sweetie,” she clarified, and its tentacles raised and writhed.

Like it was waving at her.

The floor rattled with The Cramps when Julie burst back into the auditorium, announced by Craig’s too-loud, “Here comes Jane Goodall.”

“Is she crying?” someone asked.

Julie was walking quickly with her head down. When she looked up, her teeth were clenched in a near-snarl. “Someone put an octopus in the toilet!”

Craig burst out laughing.

“Excuse me?” Ryan said.

“You heard me!” Julie snapped, voice choking. “Someone took one of the research octopuses and left it in the girls’ washroom.” She turned on Craig. “Was it you?”

“Are you kidding me?”

“I don’t know! You’re the one who’s been waxing poetic about taxidermy.” She jabbed her index finger inches from Craig’s face.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Craig exclaimed, just before Taylor got between them, as if she were breaking up a fistfight.

“Show me. It’s probably a toy or something,” Taylor reasoned, not sure if anyone was listening. “Something someone left as a joke.”

“It was moving,” Julie snapped.


Three stalls awaited them, empty with doors slightly ajar. They were alone; Erica, who’d tagged along to see the thing in the toilet, had drunkenly twisted her ankle and was recuperating in the hall. “It’s the middle one,” Julie said. When she hesitated, Taylor took the liberty of pushing it open.



“There is no octopus in the toilet.”

Julie’s face fell. Pushing past Taylor, she gaped at the empty bowl and she hastened to check the other stalls. Also vacant. She returned to the middle toilet, lifting the tank lid before sticking her head into the bowl, as if the creature could have possibly slithered down the drain. Taylor watched the search with an expression of revulsion.

“Could it have crawled out?” Julie muttered, turning to face Taylor. “Can octopi survive on dry land?”

“I don’t know. Julie, do you think it could have been…a mistake?”

Julie looked indignant. “You think I imagined an octopus in the toilet bowl?”


That would have sparked an argument for the ages, if Erica hadn’t screamed outside the door.


Erica was sitting on the floor outside the bathroom, back against the wall. One leg was bent and wrapped in her arms as she shrunk closer to the wall, trying to put as much distance between herself and the red-eyed white rat that was nosing around, sniffing at the hem of her skirt.

Taylor jumped. “How did that get out of the lab?”

“I don’t care; just get it away from me!” Erica shouted, trying and failing to stand on her six-inch heels. The rat scuttled away as Erica plopped on her ass once again, then inched closer, whiskers twitching.

Taylor felt something tickle her foot. A second rat was suddenly crawling on her toes, nibbling at the golden straps of her sandal. Shrieking, she kicked it away.

Julie gasped as the rat flew through the air, flung at a speed that would undoubtedly shatter its little bones whenever it hit the wall. But before it could slam spine-first into the brick, it vanished.

Erica’s rat flicked its head to the spot where its sibling had been, standing up on two feet as if hoping for a better view. It clasped its hands and chirped, a gesture that could only be described as “nervous-looking,” and then, blinking its eyes, it also disappeared, until all left of it was the afterimage of its red irises. And soon not even that.

Erica was the first to speak. “Guys, I think someone put something in my drink. Because I know I didn’t see what I just thought I saw.”


Craig knocked over the punchbowl as he staggered backward, staring into the black eyes of a baboon. Its gait was unsteady, its hands reaching, as if it didn’t know where it was going and was beseeching Craig for guidance. The top of its head had been sawed off, cranium and all, revealing a gooey mass of pinkish brains.

The auditorium was in uproar, as there were now as many research apes as guests in attendance. A few had also undergone brain surgery; several seemed to be limping, and one could only crawl, its legs slumping uselessly behind it. In the middle of the room, a bereaved mother ape dragged her dead baby across the dance floor.

In the distorted light, people had at first thought them elaborate costumes, but the illusion dissipated close-up. About half the students had escaped before the exits were blocked; others had fled to hide within the rows of seats. Two people were standing on chairs, as if that would do any good. Beneath the simian screeching and all-too human screams, Craig heard his classmates whispering into their phones, calling 911 and animal control and who-knows.

His eyes flicked toward the exits. The closest one was blocked; the partygoers who’d belatedly made for the door held back by a larger, more irate baboon. One of its arms was held above its head, flailing like a club, the other slumped as if broken at the shoulder.

Craig remembered a study he’d worked on years ago, on methods of strengthen limbs re-attached after accidental dismemberment—a topic that hit close to home for him after his brother’s car accident—and how they’d sedated the research monkeys before severing the tendons of their knees and shoulders. But those apes had all been put down.

Pinned against the table, his hands groped behind him for anything he could use as a weapon. As one simian lurched closer, his fingers found a ladle that had fallen out of the punchbowl. Craig gripped it by the handle.

The baboon grunted, tensed to pounce. Craig hurled the spoon, aiming for the beast’s forehead, his throw strong enough to stun. The ladle sailed toward the gory head and flew right through it, clattering on the floor as if nothing had happened.

The baboon turned to inspect the implement. Craig saw his chance. But instead of trying to maneuver around the monkey, he ran right at it. A chill rippled through him as he overtook the animal, but nothing solid stopped his passage.

“They’re not real!” he screamed, though his voice was inaudible over the shouting and the still-blasting music, the theme to some heavy metal horror movie Erica liked. “They’re holograms or something!”

Having done his part, he barreled for the exit, savoring the gobsmacked faces of his classmates as he rushed the angry baboon by the door, not slowing even as it roared at him, and leaped straight through.

The sensation was stronger this time. For an instant, Craig felt that he had been taken out of himself and deposited elsewhere; utterly alone, in the dark, his loved ones close but unreachable, brief flickers of light his only guideposts as his vision failed.

Muscle aches and tearing, stinging pain set in as the anesthetic wore off, every movement painful, every instinct screaming at him to fight or run even as his body urged him to huddle up and wait to die…

And then he was through, triumphant.

When he emerged into the hallway, Craig found a nurse, a Medusa, and a Herbert West standing in front of him.

Arm shaking, Taylor lifted her hand and pointed over his shoulder. Confident nothing could scare him now that he understood the simians weren’t real, he turned slowly, and came face to face with the flying monkey.

The beast hovered at head-height, though Craig didn’t understand how the tiny, paper-thin bat wings could possibly hold it up. There were four sets of wings, starting at the ape’s shoulder blades and finishing just before its red, bulbous ass. Its arms stretched stiffly in front of its chest, frozen in the act of pouncing; the stance was contrived, though, and its humanlike hands had been replaced with sharper claws of another beast. His old classmate had not been a good taxidermist, and the monkey’s face was smashed and misshapen.

The dead thing reached its claws toward him.

Craig’s scream, when he could breathe again, drowned out the Alice Cooper.


Dr. Reed parked half a foot over the line because he’d had a few drinks and probably shouldn’t have been driving. His wife had tried to tell him that, before he’d left their neighbours’ cocktail party, but—as he’d informed her—he couldn’t exactly let simians rampage through the school, could he?

One report of lab animals on the loose, he would have written off as a Halloween prank, but three he had to believe, and could only assume had something to do with Julie Chen. How she had managed it—whatever it was—without a key to the cage doors was a mystery.

Down the street, a police card idled, lights flashing. Reed headed straight to the lab, posture slumped.

When he flicked on the lights, he was shocked to find nothing amiss. The baboon cage was secure, the monkeys stirring gently as they snored. Rats ran obliviously on their wheels. There was little activity even within the backlit aquarium, casting its blue glare across the tiles as night-fish flitted.

Reed crossed the floor to look more closely at the enclosure, counting the animals (all present) before pulling on the lock to test it. He found it firmly shut. He shoved his hand into his pocket to confirm he still had the only key.

A louder-than-normal squeak turned his head, directed his attention to the white rat scampering into the room. He glanced again at the cage, still latched. His rats had not escaped. But a wild rat wouldn’t have had that coloring…

Chittering was coming from the hallway. He stifled a grunt of surprise as the first rodent was followed by another, and another, traveling in a straight line as if queuing behind an invisible piper. They all stopped a uniform distance away from him, sitting on their haunches.

Once the procession of rats ended, the snakes came, so many that the whirr of the equipment was drowned out by their hissing. The snakes didn’t go after the rats but lined up behind them, tales flicking, a battalion getting into formation. Next, a massive octopus pulled itself into the room, an inky slime staining the floor underneath it.

As Professor Reed watched, a menagerie of animals entered through the open door; all creatures he knew intimately. An army of frogs with their stomachs sliced open, organs dyed blue and red for easier inspection dangling from the slit. Fetal pigs that stunk of formaldehyde, wobbling on half-formed legs. A dozen rabbits with patchy brown fur, blind but somehow coming directly for him.

And bringing up the rear came the simians. Capuchins and baboons and chimpanzees, brethren of the beasts in the cage and species he hadn’t worked with in years, male and female, alpha and beta, adult males who bared their teeth and infants who scrambled ahead to play, flowing through the single door until they nearly filled the room, surrounding him. Their arms were half-severed, their craniums sawed off, but any one of them could have easily overpowered him.

Behind them, in the hallway, he heard the inexplicable flapping of wings.

The caged monkeys awoke as Reed backed into the bars, forgetting his surroundings in his haste to escape the horde. Curious hands ran up his back, his arms, through his hair.

He yanked himself away, nearly stomping onto the frontline of rats. He raised the errant leg before it could touch the ground, his other foot taking his weight, eluding the beasts with a pirouette. But the dance couldn’t last.

He failed to catch himself a second time and slipped.

For a second his feet were above his head, and then his skull made contact with the floor tiles. 

Were Professor Reed conscious, he would have seen the walking cadavers start to fade. Perhaps he could have realized that they were insubstantial and could do him no harm. But he wasn’t, and he didn’t see any of that.

Because he was unconscious, he was lucky not to see a familiar skeleton lope to the front of the line, brushing past the animals and the snakes and the rats and the octopus  to minister to his old master.

As it was, only his nervous system registered the presence of the former capuchin, his thigh twitching slightly as a simian hand of bone reached into his pocket and closed around a set of keys.