Short Story: “The Unknown Occupant”

The inspiration for this story came when I happened across a picture showing the grave of famed Swiss artist H.R. Giger. Giger, who passed away in 2014, had a distinct and horrifying visual style that popularized the idea of “biomechanical” art, i.e. images of machinery combined with organic material. You probably know his name thanks to his iconic creature and spaceship designs for the Alien films. His grave is, fittingly, just as striking as the work he created in life. So I used the image below as a starting point and then went off in my own direction. Enjoy the result!

The unnamed gravestone had always been in the earth, and our town had grown up beside it – or so the local legends said. The first settlers had kept a healthy distance from the rock, as had the people before them. They must have sensed something old and malicious about it, something their descendants would forget.

I only saw the grave once, when my friend and I hiked into the woods to find where it lay. He had some half-formed idea about breaking the thing open and seeing what was inside. “Could be pirate treasure,” he said, his lips curling around a stolen cigarette. 

“That’s dumb,” I told him, and I meant it. But there was nothing else to do on that cloudy fall weekend, and I was a little curious myself. 

Searching the woods took all afternoon. The sun burned red and low through the trees when we finally found what we were looking for. We weren’t ready.

The grave was in a patch of barren dirt, as though its presence alone had salted the earth. Six feet long and three feet wide, it lay embedded in the ground. If it was darker outside, we might have mistook it for a gaping hole. The surface was black and shiny like tumbled obsidian, or so it looked at first. I caught glimpses of something else flickering in the rock, flecks of gold and silver like tiny stars in a midnight sky.

Against my own instincts, I took a step closer to get a better look. 

Then the sunlight hit the rock, and the surface came alive. 

The growing darkness had made it impossible to see the carvings in the rock. But under the light, the lines lit up in stunning metallic gold. There were hundreds of them, if not thousands, all tiny and intricate and flowing together into a giant twisted web. 

We blinked and stepped back, overwhelmed by the abrupt sight, but it only took a few moments for our eyes to adjust. This time it was my friend who hurried forward, kneeling by the side of the gravestone. 

“Dude, get back here!” I hissed under my breath. Something about this place made me not want to raise my voice. 

“Get your phone out,” he answered. “You’ll want a picture of this.” 

My legs felt as if they were weighed down with cement blocks. But I walked with plodding steps until I stood inches away from the stone. 

As I looked, my eyes began to make sense of the carvings. They untangled themselves from each other and flowed into a looping pattern. Lines going around, twisting toward the center of the stone, down into the infinite. Like you were looking at a whirlpool or sinkhole. In the light, they shimmered like they were moving for real, and they pulled my gaze along with them. 

That was how I noticed the creatures.  

My hand flew to my mouth, and I stumbled back as the white-hot fear reactivated my limbs. I closed my eyes, as if that had any chance of blotting out the things I had seen. But they were already in my head – they’re still there. 

I didn’t know how many of them were etched into the pattern on the stone. But once you saw one, you saw them everywhere. They were infinite, and they were terrible. Distorted bodies that weren’t quite flesh and weren’t quite metal, but something inbetween. Elongated skulls and limbs. Grasping claws. Fangs inside open, howling mouths. Beasts with dozens of heads and multiple snarling faces on each one. Tentacles coiling like snakes. All part of the unceasing procession towards that last point in the center, a pitch black circle from which glared the image of a single wide eye. 

I knew it was watching both of us. 

“So, how do you think we get in?” my friend said. “Break a lock? Maybe we’ll need a chisel. Or we can try and lift this thing.” 

I slapped his hand as he reached for the stone. “We need to get out of here!” I said. 

But he just looked at me askance. “What’s wrong with you? It’s just a rock.” 

“Don’t you see the carvings?” 

“Yeah. So the guy who made this was some goth weirdo, what about it?” 

I couldn’t say the words stuck in my brain, because they would sound insane if they left my mouth. Whatever made this wasn’t human

“Look,” said my friend, “if you’re not gonna help, you can go home. I’ll do the rest of this myself.” 

I hesitated. “Just promise you’ll call or text me if anything weird happens.” 

He rolled his eyes, but then he nodded anyway. “Sure, whatever.” 

I should have asked for more than that. But I didn’t want to stay, and the thing in the grave didn’t want me to, either. I didn’t realize I was running home until I crashed out of the woods. 

It stormed hard that night. The torrent of rain created a dull roar outside, and each thunderclap made me shudder. But I couldn’t have slept even without the rain. When I closed my eyes, I just saw those monsters. So I lay awake and listened to the rain. 

At first I thought the tapping on my window was just more raindrops. But the noise soon grew quicker, more insistent. Then it turned into a prolonged squeak, like someone dragging their nails across the glass. I sat up and listened. This time I heard something else, too. A low, gurgling, ragged breath. Like something injured that was struggling to gasp for air. Or something lying in wait, trying not to make a sound. 

My phone buzzed for the first time in hours. Just a single text message from my friend with a few scattered words. Window. Look. And then garbled letters. 

Where have you been? 

Just those words again. Window. Look. 

Springing out of bed, I ripped open my curtains just as a lightning flash illuminated my view. 

And then I screamed.

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— Dana

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