The ceiling sagged and dripped. Brown liquid fell onto cream carpets and filled the spare bedroom with a rancid air that alerted Moira to the leak before she saw the damage.
"Probably a burst pipe. We'll have to shut the water off." Maintenance told her, arriving just in time to watch the ceiling pop.
Within an hour, tape cordoned off the room. Various people came in and out of her apartment, wading through ankle-high murky water, shining flashlights into the fetid abyss above. Faces obscured with respirators carried ladders and vacuum pumps.
The whirring of machinery forced her onto the balcony, watching through the window as people climbed into the ceiling. Only the sway of flashlights slicing through shadows indicated they existed up there. One by one, the beams disappeared. Darkness overtook the hole once more. Over quiet minutes, body language changed amongst the workers; furrowed brows and exaggerated motions spread through the crowd like a virus.
Most were transfixed on the hole, shouting to those inside with the kind of timidity only borne of fear. Moira wandered inside, her head craning to see around the mob. A scream suffocated all communal curiosities and conversation. A choked, gurgled vocalization emanated from deep in the ceiling, like water poured into the throat of whoever made it.
Chaos replied. Two workers rushed up the ladder, their silhouettes engulfed by the darkness, while the rest quickly made their leave. Moira remained on the far side of the tape, shouting to the workers inside her ceiling.
Someone tumbled from the hole, crashing into the ladder's apex, bending across its metal before falling into the muck. Moira rushed into the room, checking on the man who convulsed in the murky water. As she bent to stabilize him, his mouth opened. Darkness extended forth from the back of his throat. Thick clumps of hair wound around his tongue and over his lips.
Moira backed up in time to see black wisps extend down from the ceiling. Matted hair spread across her ceiling and down the walls like a spider's legs clinging to a corner. As she felt the first strands wrap around her wrists, she saw the twisted visages descend from the hole, writhing and choking, cocooned in the hair, and the cluster of sallow eyes at its core.
Steve Neal is a neurodivergent, English-born writer currently surviving the summers of Florida with his supportive wife and less supportive cats. As a lifelong horror fanatic, he enjoys poking at the unknown and seeing what comes crawling out, as long as it isn't spiders. His debut novella TO LOVE A DYING WORLD releases in 2025 through Off Limits Press. Follow him on Twitter @SteveNealWrites.