Friday, July 25, 2014

EDEN HARBOR

Genre: Horror/Science Fiction

 

EDEN HARBOR
By Daniel Skye 

 
            Trouble always stems from living in a small town. The main dilemma is that your life, your business, personal or otherwise, is on display for the world to see. It’s not that everyone means to pry or be nosy. They just can’t help but witness the drama that unfolds. And others can’t wait to share these spectacles with others.
            These people that surround you are your friends and neighbors; they’re your colleagues and co-workers. As most people do, they often judge you or gossip behind your back. And if you’re anything like them, you promptly return the favor in their absence.
            All small towns are the same at heart. Everyone wears a smile, even when it’s just for show. Because you wouldn’t want to lead people to believe something is amiss. You wouldn’t want to give the gossipers a few extra rounds of ammunition. So you wear that plastic smile daily, grinning from ear-to-ear like some mindless jack-o’-lantern.
Tyler Reese never had to deal with the discomfort of small town life. He was born and raised in the big city. He grew up surrounded by towers and skyscrapers that gave the impression that they extended to the clouds above. He spent his life encompassed by packed highways and congested freeways.
          Reese became accustomed to the sounds of car horns blaring, ambulance sirens wailing, strangers exchanging vulgar obscenities out on the streets. This was background noise to him. What he hated most was absolute silence. That’s when he knew real trouble was brewing.
To a man like Reese, small towns just mean less work for him. Reese was a member of the census bureau. When people neglect to fill out and return their census forms, it’s his duty to track them down and obtain those documents.
That particular day, his assignment was Eden Harbor; a sleepy little town in the center of Long Island. A place that Tyler had no sincere desire to be…and for good reason.
Ten years ago–when Tyler was still attending high school–it was Bobby Sudrow who made the trek to Eden Harbor. The bureau never heard from him again.
The early morning fog crept in from the bay, slowly enveloping the roads. Tyler drove at his own leisure; one hand on the wheel of his rental car, the other hand gripping his morning caffeine fix. The coffee was boiling hot and singed his tongue with every sip. But it was also the only thing keeping his eyes focused on the hazy road. Tyler was not, and would never be, a morning person.
The car the bureau had reserved for Reese was a 2007 silver Honda Accord. The interior was worn and beaten. The upholstery riddled with cigarette burns and beverage stains. But the Honda still had that “new car” smell that Reese found nauseating.
So he drove with the windows down, and listened to the radio to keep his mind occupied and chase the silence away. He tried his best not to think about Bobby Sudrow.
Bobby Sudrow was a nice guy by all accounts. A family man. Everything he did, he did for his wife and two daughters. Every penny he saved went to his daughters college funds. Every free moment he had, he spent with his family.
Bobby enjoyed attending baseball and hockey games, knocking back a few beers with his buddies, playing racquetball at the gym, watching a good action movie packed with explosions and car chases. But he sacrificed all those little pleasures to spend more time with his family. That’s what put a smile on Bobby’s face. And it was no plastic smile he sported. It was the real deal.
His last assignment for the census bureau was Eden Harbor. According to the reports, he never made it. His red Camry was found abandoned in the town of Dorchester, some two hundred miles away from Eden Harbor. The police search turned up nil. They couldn’t find a shred of evidence that proved Bobby Sudrow ever existed. Even his insurance card was removed from the glove box. The interior of the Camry had been wiped clean with the skill and patience of a professional, and not a single useful fingerprint or trace of DNA was discovered.
The joke among colleagues is that trepidation of visiting small towns alone is commonly referred to as Sudrow Syndrome.
 
It was eight o’clock when Reese pulled into the only gas station in town. At least that’s what the hand-painted sign strung above the gas pumps claimed.
As Reese stepped out of the car, he heard the bells tolling in the distance. An ominous, unsettling ring that sounded similar to church bells. But Reese, a devout Catholic, was taught to identify the chime, and these weren’t church bells clanking.
A man stepped out from the mechanics garage, his hands caked in oil and black residue. Around his long neck was a faux-gold chain connected to a diamond shaped locket, which for all Reese knew was stolen. It seemed out of place amongst his oil stained jumpsuit and canvas shoes.
“What can I do for you?” the man asked, wiping his greasy hands with a yellow cloth.
“You can start by filling me up,” Reese said. “And if you’re familiar with the area, you can give me directions to the Henderson’s place.”
The man cackled offensively; a loud, boisterous laugh that made Tyler’s ears sore. “In the golden age of technology, who stops to ask for directions?”
“Someone who’s too cheap to splurge for a GPS,” Reese replied. “Now you know where it is?”
“What do you want with that old dump?"
“The name’s Tyler Reese. I’m with the census bureau. The Henderson’s never returned their census forms, so the bureau sent me.”
“They sent you all the way here for that?”
“We’re very thorough.”
The man fingered his diamond locket with one hand and brushed the other through his wavy brown hair. Avoiding eye contact, he motioned down the road with his head.
“Half a mile down the road if you’re heading east,” the man said, opening the gas tank. He unscrewed the cap and jammed the nozzle into the tank. Then he started fueling. “It’s an old cedar house, with green mold caked on the sides. Their front yard is littered with pink flamingos and gaudy patio furniture. It looks like a trailer park.”
“So you’re saying it’s hard to miss?” Reese joked, if only to quiet his screaming nerves. There was something disconcerting about this man’s demeanor, about the way he spoke and the way he seemed to almost be eyeing Reese up.
“I’d be surprised if you passed it by without looking twice.”
Reese glared to the east. It was then he noticed the green smoke. He couldn’t pinpoint the exact location. It was rising up through a series of tall evergreens.
“What’s your name?” Reese inquired.
“Alexis,” the attendant responded. “But everyone calls me Lex.”
“Well, Lex, you mind if I ask you what’s the deal with that?” He motioned to the green smoke filtering to the sky from an unseen chimney or smoke stack.
“Oh, that,” Lex started, as if he was accustomed to this routine. He continued to avoid eye contact. “That’s the Forbidden Zone.”
“The Forbidden Zone?” Reese repeated, almost mockingly.
“Yeah, you might want to steer clear of that whole area.”
“Why’s that?”
 “No one can trespass there. It’s been forbidden by the local authorities ever since the incident.”
“The incident?” Reese mumbled, taken aback.
“Your tanks full,” Lex said, disregarding his bewilderment. “That’ll be sixty dollars.”
Reese paid his debt and got in his car in a hurry. Lex watched as Tyler drove off, heading east toward the old Henderson place. If Lex’s intention was to stir Reese, mission accomplished.
Reese drove from the station with two words ricocheting around in his head. Sudrow Syndrome. If there was such a thing, Tyler had a serious case.
 
As the fog began to clear up, Reese passed the harbor and noticed all the boats remained tied down in their spaces. The docks were deserted on such an ideal fishing day. And all local stores and businesses that followed the harbor were seemingly abandoned. CLOSED signs were visible in the windows of every storefront.
The green smoke continued to curl up from the invisible chimney and ascend to the clouds above.
Five minutes down the road, Reese found what he was looking for. It was just as Lex described it. Pink flamingos and purple longue chairs strewn about the lawn. There was a mailbox in the shape of a miniature Harley motorcycle. A bird feeder made out of a beer can. He was staring at a white trash portrait with a pulse. On the front porch sat a rotting pumpkin that was attended by a gathering of buzzing flies, probably a leftover from last year’s Halloween.
The door was slightly ajar, so Reese nudged it forward and peeked inside. A pungent odor from inside the house floored Reese, gagging him like a punch to the throat. He took a deep breath and entered, holding the collar of his white T-shirt over his nose to stifle the unbearable stench.
“Mr. Henderson?” he called out. “Mrs. Henderson? Anybody?”
The smell grew overpowering as he moved past the foyer and started down the narrow hallway that connected to the kitchen and living room.
In the kitchen, Reese saw a man slumped over at the Formica table. The back wall was stained with blood that had coagulated and dried to a hard red crust. As he moved through the kitchen, still pinching his shirt collar over his nose, he spotted the entry wound below the man’s forehead. A single shell casing rested near his feet, alongside fragments of skull and clumps of grey matter. Reese flinched when he felt the cold metallic sting of a gun barrel being jabbed into the nape of his neck.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Mr. Reese,” a voice said. Reese felt the steam of their breath on his ear. The man’s thumb cocked back the hammer of the gun. Reese didn’t see it, but he heard the unmistakable click. “Mr. Henderson’s been waiting too. Three days now. I apologize for the smell, but you do get used to it after a day or two.”
“Who are you and how do you know about me?”
“You’re from the census bureau, right? Henderson never filled out his form, so they would send somebody down here. You were the next offering.”
“Is this whole town backwards, or is it just a handful of you?” Reese couldn’t help but ask.
“Listen carefully. What I’m about to tell you might seem ludicrous, but it will save your life. I have no intentions of harming you.”
“Hard to believe when you’ve got a gun jammed in my neck.”
The man drew his gun back and released Tyler from his grip. He spun around and locked eyes with Frank Cornell, a man not much older than himself. An average looking fellow with light blonde hair. The only unusual thing about him was the absence of the middle and index finger on his left hand. Frank wiggled his nubs in the air, acknowledging his missing digits.
“A little chemistry accident,” Frank admitted, almost embarrassed to do so. “They couldn’t reattach them.”
“That’s the last question I had on my mind at this moment. You better explain this from the beginning. And try to make sense."
 
They moved from the kitchen to the living room at Reese’s request. He couldn’t endure the sight or smell of Henderson’s body any longer. Cornell cracked a window open to air the place out a bit and suggested Tyler have a seat on the plaid sofa. He wasn’t sure Tyler’s knees would be able to absorb the shock of what he was about to convey.
“Eden Harbor is controlled by the Minions, servants who worship and appease something beyond natural description. This thing appeared many years ago, back when I was just a kid.
It appeared from a smoking crater in the town junkyard. I’d like to believe it fell from space. Or who knows, maybe it rose up from the depths of hell. But that’s not what the Minions chose to believe.
They thought it was a gift from above. They believed it was sent here to guard us and protect us. To shield us from outside evils, and to bring us good fortune. And they assumed it wouldn’t leave its place of origin so long as we appeased it from time to time. Truth be told, it hasn’t.”
“When you say appease, you mean–”
“I’m referring to human sacrifice,” Cornell answered before Reese could finish the question.
Reese felt as though he had been assaulted. It was too much information to digest. “What is this thing you refer to?”
“It’s an abomination. That’s the best way I can paint you a picture of it.”
“How many people know about this?”
“Everyone in town knows about it.”
“Then why don’t you just leave town? Pack up your shit and bail.”
“That’s why I can’t leave town. Everyone knows. The Minions won’t give anyone the chance to spill their guts to the world. They watch the roads constantly. Those that have tried to flee never make it past the gas station. Did you hear the bells? See the green smoke? They knew the second you pulled in to town.”
“What was the green smoke really about?”
“The bells and smoke are how the Minions notify the townspeople that a new sacrifice has arrived or been chosen. To create the smoke, potassium chlorate is added to a fire. It’s this white crystalline substance. I should know, I showed them how to do it. And regrettably, that’s not all I showed them. It’s probably the only reason they’ve spared me.”
Reese let out a long, exasperated sigh. “Say I honestly believe you, what can be done?”
“You can help me destroy it. Without it, they’re powerless. We can blow the thing back to hell and then we’ll be free.”
“We could do that. Or I could get in my car, turn around and get the hell out of here.”
“They’ll never let you escape. They’ll hand-feed you to this beast. If you don’t believe me, try it. See how far you get. Think of it as a game. You can even time yourself.”
Reese weighed the options. He didn’t seem to have many. He knew what Frank was saying could, on some level, be true. He felt an odd presence the instant he arrived. Lex seemed to be eyeing him up at the gas station. Maybe he was being watched.
“This is going to be a long day,” Reese sighed. “The bureau better be paying me overtime for this shit.”
* * *
“I’ve spent three years cooped up in this house,” Frank shared. Reese had driven Frank back to his one-story house with his rental car. Not like he had much of a choice. Frank had a gun, he did not. “I’ve been waiting for the Minions to come knocking one day and sacrifice me to their false deity.”
“If this thing is how you describe it, how do you intend to kill it? It doesn’t sound the least bit human. It’s not like shooting someone in the head.”
“I said we were going to blow this thing to hell. It wasn’t a figure of speech. Gather around and I’ll teach the shit they don’t dare show you in chemistry class.”
“What are we making?”
“Fulminated mercury,” Frank said. “Used in a wide variety of explosives.”
“To create fulminated mercury,” Frank explained, “we need to dissolve mercury in a boiling flask.”
Frank walked him through the process step by step, which took a total of three hours.
When it hardened, it formed a transparent, crystal-like structure. Fulminated mercury, as Frank knew, is extremely delicate to friction and shock. A slight jolt can easily set it off. The radius of the explosion depends on the quantity of fulminated mercury.
For this occasion, Frank made three pounds worth. Enough to demolish a shopping mall.
They waited for nightfall. The fulminated mercury was secured in the bed of Frank’s blue pickup. Reese climbed into the passenger seat. Moment of truth, he thought. Either this guy is a crackpot or he’s telling the truth. Let’s hope he’s a crackpot.
Frank drove at a constant speed of thirty miles per hour. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself, and didn’t want to speed because of the delicate explosives in back.
Reese kept his eyes peeled for any looming dangers on the road. But every so often his eyes would inadvertently drift to the pistol jammed in Frank’s waistband. If this is all bullshit, Tyler thought, you better hope you can wrestle that gun away from him.
“Pothole!” Reese exclaimed before Frank jerked the wheel to avoid the huge dip in the road.
“That was a close one,” Frank sighed. Moments later, Frank veered to the right and stopped in front of a gate that was chained and padlocked. The chain-link fence was eight feet high and reinforced with razor-sharp barbed wire at the top.
“What’s this?”
“A shortcut,” Frank said. “Welcome to the origin of the green smoke. This is the junkyard, where they stash the cars of their sacrifices. There’s a shack with a small chimney attached. You met the guy from the gas station?”
“Lex?”
“This is his place.”
They exited the truck and Frank gingerly slid the box of mercury from the back. He gave Tyler a flashlight to lead the way. He rested the box on the ground and pulled out a set of keys. He unlocked the gate and pushed the chain-link doors open.
“Should I ask why you have the key?”
“Many people do. This is a place of worship to them. And like I said, I showed Lex that little trick with the green smoke. Membership has its privileges I guess."
Frank picked up the box and they moved quietly through the junkyard. Police cruisers and BMWs were buried under UPS trucks and dismantled eighteen-wheelers.
“Do all the vehicles get dumped here?”
“Not all of them,” Frank answered. “Some get dropped out of town, so we don’t raise suspicion. How many people can disappear in one small town before everyone else takes notice?”
More and more, Tyler was starting to think Frank was being sincere. You hear about cults all over the world, Tyler thought. It’s not that far-fetched to believe the whole town has been coerced into worshipping a false idol. Is it possible that some terrible, unspeakable secret is hidden in the center of this heap?
“How far do we go?”
“You’ll know when we’re there,” Frank assured him.
A red mist spurted across his face as the back of Frank’s head exploded with a single deafening blast. The box tumbled to the ground and Tyler gasped, squeezing his eyes closed. He expected the blast to throw him a good two hundred feet from the area. But the mercury had endured the damage of the fall and had not been triggered.
Then came what Tyler feared the most. Absolute silence.
Bobby Sudrow. Bobby Sudrow. The name flashed through his mind repeatedly. Unarmed and unable to detect where the shot came from, Tyler was helpless…until he remembered Frank’s gun tucked in his waistband. Flashlight in hand, he made a move.
“Don’t even think about it,” a familiar voice shouted and Tyler froze at their call.
Reese heard the crunching of fallen leaves underfoot, a chain jangling around someone’s neck. As the shadowy figure took form, the diamond shaped locket around their neck came into focus.
Lex marched from the darkness, rifle in hand. He approached Reese, opening the locket for him to see a young woman with curly dark hair. She looked to be anywhere from twenty to twenty-five.
“My wife, Natasha,” Lex said. He snapped the locket shut callously. “We all have to make sacrifices here. I want you to meet someone. He was a man who understood sacrifice. The sacrifices he made for his family alone proved that. And so we embraced him as one of our own.”
“Hello, Tyler,” a voice called from the darkness. Reese shined his light on a man who looked twice his age. His hair was snow white and thin, his skin pale and weathered. He looked closer to death than Tyler did. But there was something vaguely familiar about him. He had seen this man’s picture before.
Bobby Sudrow.
“No,” Tyler shook his head in defiance. “It can’t be you. You disappeared ten years ago.”
“I didn’t disappear,” Sudrow explained. “I started a new life, with a new family. This is where I belong. I wish you could stick around to experience the utopia we’ve built for ourselves.”
“I’d probably overstay my welcome,” Reese quipped. Even in the face of imminent danger, his dry humor seemed to ease the tension, if only for him.
“No more chitchat,” Lex shouted, still grasping the rifle. “This has gone on long enough.”
The townspeople, torches in hand, flocked in droves. It was a scene straight out of the original Frankenstein. There were men, women, and they all had their children at their sides. Their eyes all told the same story: Let’s just get this over with. This sadistic mob formed a ring around him, trapping him in the center.
From this wreckage, something had emerged. It appeared as a small blotch at first, like a stain on the sidewalk. But this seemingly inanimate blob was growing bigger as it moved towards them. When it reached the outer circle of the mob, its shadow eclipsed the glowing beam of the torches. It was as Frank Cornell had described it, truly an abomination.
The townspeople broke the circle to open a path to Reese. One of the townsfolk grew startled just at the sight of this beast and dropped their torch in the dirt.
It was unlike anything he had ever laid eyes on. It was a creature devoid of any normal human qualities. Its long, dense, oval-shaped torso had grey and lifeless texture, like that of a slug. No nose or ears were visible amongst the glowing torches. It had no legs and took to moving like a snake, slithering along on its ample belly. Wherever it moved, it left a trail of slime in its path.
Its mouth was comprised of two hideous rows of jagged fangs that could snap through a parking meter. Three red glowing eyes the size of baseballs rested upon what Tyler only assumed was its forehead. Its backside was curved, taking the shape of a monstrous barbed stinger.
Bobby Sudrow extended his arms in welcome. “Please accept this sacrifice we have presented you here today. We hope this will satisfy you and satisfy those that have blessed us with your presence.”
Tyler had fallen to his knees, accepting his twisted face. His eyes were aimed steady at the ground, as he did not wish to see it devour him. And so he missed it when the creature curled back his stinger and pierced through Bobby Sudrow’s chest.
The townspeople gasped, moaned. Some screamed. Its stinger retracted and continued to move at a lightning pace, tearing a gaping hole in the flesh of anyone that stood in its way.
Tyler looked soon enough to see it wrap its teeth around a dying Bobby Sudrow. It snapped him in two, bisecting the waist from the torso and then swallowing the top half in one motion.
The fire of the fallen torch was starting to grow from the dry leaves spread about the dirt, forming a straight path to the box that Frank had released.
The explosion wasn’t quite what Tyler imagined, but it was enough to send the townspeople–those that survived the blast–scattering like cockroaches for their homes. And it wasn’t enough to stop this beast from its rampage. The explosion didn’t seem to slow it down, or even leave a mark on it.
The rifle that Lex had been toting was mere inches away. It was still attached to his right arm that had been severed from the blast. He rolled through the dirt, his legs brushing past the orange flames.
He literally had to pry it from Lex’s cold dead fingers. When the rifle was in his hands, the creature was already too close for comfort. Its three red eyes were staring him right in the face.
You couldn’t call it a change of a heart, because inside that grotesque mass, Tyler shuddered at the thought of a beating heart resting amongst its entrails. It showed its true colors when it had ravaged a town that had been so rewarding to it. This…abomination as only it could be aptly described, it didn’t have a heart. That’s what Reese chose to believe. However, it did spare his life that evening. Perhaps so he could live to tell its tale. Or perhaps it was just full at the moment.
Changing its direction, it crawled its way through the fiery wreckage. It was seemingly impervious to the fire around it, the flames barely scorching its exterior. It slithered through the gates, past the Forbidden Zone. It had escaped from its point of origin, and anything in its path would undoubtedly feel its wrath.
The bureau has their work cut out for them, Tyler thought. The population of Long Island is about to be drastically altered.

Friday, July 18, 2014

IN THE FLESH: PART SEVEN


Alive:
 
Carson Ryder: Former Marine/Former police officer/Has retrograde amnesia/Searching for clues to his past
Damien Albright: Found and saved Carson/Has no family/Doesn’t seem to care about anything
Kenny Sudrow: Former spa porter/Happy to be doing something else
Trevor Virden: Former comic book store owner/His knowledge of useless facts is limitless
Janice Whitfield: Four months pregnant/Wife of Regis Whitfield
Chuckie Razzano: His only concern is his Rolex and his hair gel
Chase Crawford: Religious zealot/Loner/Keeps to himself
Willard Pickman: Scientist/Worked for the C.D.C./Knows of a cure
Brent Blaze: Mall survivor/Former police officer
Ally Burton: Mall survivor/Sister of Eli Burton
Eli Burton: Mall survivor/Brother of Ally Burton
Vern Sheldon: New ally/Drives a box truck/Carries a badass flamethrower
 

Deceased:

Arnold Vesti: Biters got him
Regis Whitfield: Biters got him
Devin Morris: Strangled in his sleep
Darren Mays: Shot by Damien Albright/Claimed that Carson arrested him at one point

 

IN THE FLESH
By
Daniel Skye
 

PART SEVEN
DEATH COMES KNOCKING

 

            Day One.
            Trevor had drunk five shots of Southern Comfort and two Budweiser’s. Then he proceeded to make a complete ass of himself. When he woke up on Friday, September 13, 2013, with his temples throbbing and red smears on his collar that he deduced as lipstick, he just assumed these were the signs of a good night.
            The whole evening had been a drunken blur to him. It was a night he’d scarcely remember, until later that day when Kenny “Squeak” Sudrow would refresh his memory and remind him just what a fool he had made of himself.
            But before all that, he glanced at the alarm clock and saw it was eleven. He was supposed to open the comic book store at ten, but he was pretty sure he had told Devin Morris to open for him that morning.
            He didn’t realize how dehydrated he was until he tried to clear his dry throat and it sounded like a frog was lodged deep in his esophagus.
            Rolling out of bed, he shuffled to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water. He sipped the water, then set the glass down on the faux marble countertop and massaged his throbbing temples with his index and middle fingers.
            From what he recalled, he had drunk twenty-four shots of tequila and made out with at least three different girls. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, he drank five shots and two beers, puked in a dumpster, dry humped a tree, and reenacted William Shatner’s rendition of Rocket Man on karaoke. The red smears he mistook for lipstick were actually ketchup stains from when he conked out at the bar and landed face first in someone’s basket of French fries.
            Kenny had arranged a taxi for Trevor and he managed to get home safely. Again, all of this was a blur to a hung over Trevor.
            He was going to call the store just to make sure Devin remembered to open, but when he reached for the phone, it started ringing.
            “Hello?” Trevor said, lifting the receiver to his ear. He still had a touchtone phone in his kitchen, cord and all.
            “Trevor, it’s mom. I’m calling just to make sure you’re all right.”
            “I’m fine, mom. How are you?”
            “Have you turned on the news today?” his mom inquired.
            “Who watches the news nowadays?” Trevor answered her question with a question. “I get all my news from the internet.”
            “Well, you better get over to your computer. Some really strange stuff is happening right now. I just called to make sure you’re safe. I want you to be extra careful. Please, Trevor.”
            “Ok, mom,” he assured her. Trevor was twenty-seven years old and his mom still managed to make him feel like an undeveloped child that required constant supervision. Though, he supposed she wouldn’t make such a fuss over him if she didn’t care with all her heart. They exchanged goodbyes and they both said I love you before Trevor hung up the phone. Little did Trevor know, that would be the last time he’d speak to his mother again.
            A heavyset Trevor waddled to the fridge and snagged a bottle of blue Gatorade from the top shelf. It was the cure for his every hangover. He ripped the cap off with one twist and started quaffing it down. When he finished the bottle, it was 11:15 and he remembered he was supposed to call the store to see if Devin opened up on time.
            But when he called, nobody answered the line. The phone just kept ringing and ring. He hung up, dialed Devin’s cell number, and paced back and forth as far as the phone cord allowed him to as he listened to the phone ring and ring. Eventually it went to voicemail and he left Devin a brief message saying, “Where the hell are you? You better be at the shop. I was counting on you to open today.”
            Trevor hung the phone up and waddled back over to the fridge, scanning the shelves for another Gatorade and finding none. “I should really just buy them by the case,” Trevor muttered to himself.
            He wondered where Devin Morris could be. He considered the possibility that Devin’s first job had called him into work on short notice. The comic book store was not Devin’s regular gig. He just filled in for Trevor from time to time. His main priority was the Best Buy in Levittown, two blocks from Devin’s house.
            That’s how Trevor and Devin first met each other. Trevor wandered in looking to satisfy his craving for action movies when Devin suggested The Raid: Redemption.
            After that moment, they became instant friends. Trevor would visit the Best Buy all the time just to get movie suggestions from Devin.
            An avid horror movie fan, Devin turned Trevor on to many great unknown French and Asian titles that blew most American horror movies out of the water. They’d talk movies for hours, exchange bits of random cinematic trivia, and have lengthy debates over their favorite or least-favorite titles.
            A huge Tarantino fan, Trevor was shocked to learn that Devin despised Pulp Fiction. They argued about the film for hours, and when Trevor finally realized he wasn’t going to win, he threw in the towel.
            Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, GoodFellas, Desperado, Fight Club. These were the movies Trevor grew up on and loved, in addition to all the horror movies he had digested over the years. He saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street when he was seven, and had seen the entire Friday The 13th series before he was ten. But his personal favorite was Halloween. That film gave him nightmares for months to come after watching it late one night alone at the age of six. For months following, he’d check his closet and under his bed every night just to be sure Michael Myers wasn’t lying in wait for him.
            By the time he ate, showered, and got dressed, it was past noon. His migraine had started to dissipate and he was praising the inventor of Cool Blue Gatorade. He tried phoning the store one more time. Still no answer.
            He figured it’d be best if he went down there himself and checked it out. He stepped out the front door, and his mother’s words suddenly filled his head. He realized he had never gone online to check the news his mother was so concerned about. But he remembered her warning to be extra careful.
            But outside, everything was calm and tranquil. Birds chirped and tweeted, the sky was clear and blue, and there wasn’t a person in sight. Trevor hadn’t the slightest clue what his mother was so concerned about, but he’d soon find out…
* * *
            Day Thirty-Three.
“Fuck me,” Trevor muttered.
“Vern, where’s the flamethrower?” Carson asked.
“Shit, I left it in the cab,” Vern slapped his palm across his head as if to say stupid me.
“They must’ve smelled the food,” Pickman surmised.
As the Biters crept past the lawn, their numbers became visible. It was dark and they couldn’t see all of them, but Trevor lost count after fifty.
“We need to find something to barricade the windows,” Brent suggested.
“No time,” Damien said as the Biters made their way to the front of the face, pressing their bodies against the glass.
Their chests bloated and distended. The flesh rotting away from their arms, blackened skin peeling from their faces. Among this congregation of the dead, Janice spotted a little girl, the skin missing from the lower half of her face, fully exposing her jaw and bottom row of her red stained teeth. Janice’s heart sank and she turned away, clutching at her belly, thinking of the unborn child that was growing inside of her.
            “I don’t think the glass is going to hold them,” Kenny said, taking a few steps back to prepare himself for the inevitable.
            Chase Crawford had locked himself in one of the bathrooms and had no intentions of coming out until the worst was over.
As the men scrambled for their weapons and extra rounds of ammunition, the glass couldn’t hold anymore and as it shattered, the mob of Biters began to spill in one-by-one.
Carson Ryder instructed the women, Janice Whitfield and Ally Burton, to seek shelter upstairs. “Lock yourselves in one of the bedrooms and don’t come out until we say the coast is clear.”
The ladies scrambled up the stairs as Damien made sure both of his pistols were fully loaded. Carson had his pistol tucked into his waistband, and cradled in his arms was Arnold Vesti’s Remington shotgun. Brent Blaze had his trusty service revolver, and Trevor and Kenny were both armed with semi-automatic weapons that held fifteen rounds each.
Vern was given a piece, which he tucked into his waistband, instead opting to use the machete that Ryder acquired from their trip to Dorchester.
“Have you two ever fired guns before?” Damien asked Willard Pickman and Chuckie Razzano.
“I’ve never fired a gun before in my life,” Pickman confessed.
“Me neither,” Razzano said, shrugging his thin shoulders.
Damien sighed and shook his head. “Just stand behind us and try not to get in our way. And try not to get bit.”
            “Where’s Eli?” Carson asked as he fired the first shot at an impending Biter. He pumped the mechanism of the shotgun and an empty shell popped out from the breech.
            “Who cares?” Damien replied as he fired the second and third shots with dual pistols. “As long as the kid stays out of the way. I don’t think the rich boy is cut out for this sort of thing.”
            Trevor, Kenny, and Brent opened fire as the looming Biters continued to advance. Vern was on the front lines of the battle, slicing and dicing everything that lurched in his direction. The machete hacked and slashed away, decapitating the Biters with ease.
            When he stopped to rest his arm, he counted about twenty headless Biters spread out over the house. His arm was getting tired, but as the Biters continued to crawl and fight their way in, he couldn’t stop. So he drew the pistol from his waistband and started shooting.
            As the Biters multiplied in numbers and spread throughout the house, the group was forced to split up to try and combat them.
            Trevor and Kenny lost sight of one another when Trevor wandered into the open kitchen and took two Biters down with two deafening shots. He noticed the backdoor had been left open by someone, and as he rushed to close it, he found himself cornered by a group of ten Biters that wandered in from the living room.
            He took three of them down with three more shots that echoed through the house. He squeezed the trigger again, but nothing happened. All he heard was a faint clicking sound. The gun was empty. As he fumbled through his pockets for a spare clip, the Biters circled around like sharks in the water.
            Just as Trevor retrieved the clip, the little girl that Janice had spotted with the exposed jawline, sank her teeth into his ankle.
            Trevor squealed in pain as he stumbled and fell on his back. The Biters proceeded all at once, dropping to skinless knees to get a better grasp on Trevor. He fought for the gun, but with seven Biters tearing, clawing, ripping, gnawing away, he didn’t stand a chance.
            As shots rang throughout the house, an unlikely duo of Vern Sheldon and Brent Blaze retreated to the dining room, their backs pressed against the wall.
            “Bet you wish you had that flamethrower now,” Brent murmured.
            “This isn’t the time for chitchat,” Vern chided. “But if you wanna talk, let’s talk about you putting me behind bars.”
            “You were a drug dealer, Vern.”
            “I was selling a little pot on the side to support my family. I still held a job, paid my taxes, went to church on Sundays. Why’d you do it? Was it just to make an example of me?”
            “I did what the law required me to do. But since the law no longer seems to apply, I see no point in holding grudges. I’m sorry, but I can’t change the past. Friends?” Brent extended his hand and his face expressed a look that begged for forgiveness.
            Just as Vern reached out to accept his hand, a stray Biter popped up out of nowhere, sinking its black teeth into Brent’s wrist.
            “Fuck!” Brent exclaimed. Vern aimed for the head and blasted a hole right through it. The Biter sank to the floor as Brent applied pressure to the wound to slow the bleeding.
            When the dust was settled and the final shots were fired, they had killed over seventy-five Biters. But their victory came at a terrible price. It was Kenny who discovered the mutilated body of his fallen friend in the kitchen. And it was Kenny who took on the horrible task of putting Trevor out of his misery by firing a single bullet into his head, to ensure his friend would never come back as one of those things.
            The group gathered in the dining room, where Vern broke the news about Blaze. “You’ve gotta do the right thing,” Brent implored them. “You’ve gotta shoot me in the head. I can’t come back as one of those things. I won’t.”
            “Don’t be foolish,” Pickman said. “There’s a cure. There’s still hope for you, even if you turn.”
            “I’m not taking my chances on some miracle cure you may never even reach. Just do it, before I lose my nerve.”
            Vern approached Brent and rested one hand on his shoulder. He extended the other hand for Brent to shake, and Brent accepted. “Friends,” Vern repeated “And I forgive you. Just as I hope you forgive me.”
            Vern raised the pistol the group had supplied him, and one final shot echoed through the halls.
* * *
            Day Thirty-Four.
            By morning, the remaining members of the group had moved on. The house was no longer safe, and they had used up all the food supplies they had found in the basement. Carson Ryder took the wheel of the van and Damien Albright, Kenny Sudrow, Chuckie Razzano, and Willard Pickman all piled in.
            Janice Whitfield and Chase Crawford opted to ride in the back of Vern Sheldon’s box truck, along with Ally and Eli Burton.
            They stopped up the road to regroup and strategize. A vote was held and it was nearly unanimous. The majority voted to pursue the underground lab in Texas. If there was any hope of survival, it rested in that subterranean lair.
            “Do we even have enough gasoline to make it to Texas?” Chuckie Razzano asked.
            “You can take the Interstate-81 S from New York to Texas,” Vern stated. “We’d have to pass through Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas. With all the gas we’ve collected, I figure we’ve got enough to make it at least half of the way.”
            “That doesn’t sound very reassuring to me,” Ally said.
            “What other choice do we have?” Ryder asked. But nobody replied, nobody followed up. The decision had already been made. They were going to press on. They were going to make it to Texas. Or they were going to die trying.

To Be Continued with Part Eight: Helter Shelter

MISCHIEF NIGHT

Genre: Horror

Note to readers: This story is a revised version of an earlier story I published to my blog titled Prank Call. If you wish to read the original, please browse through the archives on the right-hand side of the page, or just click this link:
 

MISCHIEF NIGHT
By Daniel Skye

 
            Five simple words echoed through the speakers of Melissa Alden’s phone and chilled her to the core. “You’re going to die tonight.”
            The caller’s voice was distorted, yet she could clearly make out their tone. They didn’t speaker in a threatening manner, they spoke sincerely. And that’s what truly disturbed her.
            “You’re going to die tonight.” The caller had said it in such a matter-of-fact way. The same way you’d tell a person where you were born and raised when asked, or what schools you attended.
            There was nothing urgent or pressing about the caller’s statement. Though, they did seem in a bit of a rush to get off the line once the message was received.
Melissa never even had a chance to respond. The phone rang twice; she answered and heard heavy breathing, followed by the haunting words, “You’re going to die tonight.” Then the line went dead.
She didn’t try *69, as the number came up blocked on her caller ID. Instead, Melissa dialed 911, and an operator connected her with Suffolk County police. The local police worked fast and hard to trace the call, although they were slightly unsuccessful in their efforts.
They were in fact able to trace the number…to a store-bought mobile phone with no GPS. The caller had used a prepaid phone card to add minutes to the phone and place the call. And tracing one particular phone card to one particular location was seen as a major waste of time and resources to the police, especially when the police were convinced that this was the work of a prank caller. Four more people had called the station that evening with claims of a similar call being placed to them.
It was October 30th, otherwise known as Mischief Night. And the cops were receiving an influx of complaints from local residents about prank calls, spray-painters, acts of petty vandalism and wanton destruction.
The police said if the creep called her again that she could dial them from a different phone–her cell phone perhaps–and they would try and pinpoint the location while she still had the creep on the line.
Melissa Alden had no enemies, no crazed stalkers. She was happily married with two kids in college. She managed a department store and all the employees adored and respected her. How many bosses can honestly say that?
Shane, her husband, was a construction worker whose free time revolved around hockey, football, model trains, and most importantly, family.
Devout Catholics, the Alden’s attended Mass every Sunday, with or without their children present. And Shane was always the most generous when it came to the collection plate.
Why on Earth would anyone want to harm me? Melissa wondered. Not just harm me. KILL ME.
As soon as she finished speaking with the police, she dialed Shane. His cell went straight to voicemail. She tried two or three more times and got the same result.
Then she bravely did a full sweep of the house; she checked every closet, made sure every door and window was locked. The basement door didn’t have a lock on the outside and could not be locked by key. But there were windows in the basement that a person could easily smash and crawl inside if they so desired. So Melissa grabbed a chair from the kitchen table and wedged it firmly under the knob.
If she heard the glass shatter, she could be out the front door in five seconds before an intruder even had time to realize the basement door was jammed.
She remembered the Snub .38 that Shane kept loaded in a shoebox under the bed. She was cursing herself for never learning how to use it. Shane had offered multiple times to take her down to the shooting range, but Melissa just couldn’t get into the idea. Guns were never her style. Just the thought of holding a loaded gun in her hand was enough to make her entire body quiver.
After she conducted her search of the house, Melissa sat in the living room for hours, her back against the wall as she watched television at low volume. Every light in the house was on. The place was lit up like Yankee Stadium. She had taken a butcher knife from the knife block on the faux-marble countertop and was clutching onto handle like it was a new appendage.
Her mind was racing, her heart pulsing. Where the hell are you, Shane? I need you here.
Melissa knew of Shane’s after-work ritual. Every evening after he punched out at work, he’d swing by the BBQ Shack with his co-workers for a pulled pork sandwich. And if they twisted his arm enough, he’d follow them over to a local bar and knock back a few beers before returning home.
It was one of the few things Shane Alden did that irritated his wife, but she was always willing to look past his minor imperfections. And at that moment, all she wanted was for Shane to be at her side, to assure her everything was going to be all right.
The front door of the house sometimes sticks when you try to open it from the outside. You have to give it a hard push every once in a while to pry it open. When she heard that hard push, followed by the door bouncing off the inside wall and swinging back, she screamed loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear.
“Jeez,” Shane said, dusting snow off the shoulders of his jacket as he stepped past the threshold of the door. He walked over to the living room where Melissa was cowering in the corner. “What’d you see a spider crawl under the couch or something?”
“Shane!” She exclaimed.
“That’s my name,” he said, shrugging his broad shoulders. “Are you ok, babe? You look really pale. And are you holding a knife behind your back?”
“Why was your cell phone off? I tried calling you so many times.”
“My battery died on the ride home from work. Sorry it took so long. I didn’t want to, but Louis insisted on stopping for a beer. Now what the heck is going on here?”
“I got this weird phone call a few hours ago. Someone threatened me.”
“What’d they say?”
“I don’t even want to repeat it,” she sighed. “I’m just so happy you’re home.”
“Oh come on,” Shane shrugged again. “How bad could it be?”
“They said, ‘you’re going to die tonight’. Then the line was dead.”
“It’s probably just some punk teenager trying to scare you. It is the night before Halloween, after all. Mischief Night. People love to play pranks around this time of year. Someone did that to my aunt once. Scared the daylights out of her. You’ve got nothing to worry about now. You’re safe with me. So put that knife away before you hurt me accidently.” He chuckled as she lowered the knife and placed it on the glass coffee table. Then she wrapped her arms around him like it was the first time she had seen him in years.
“I’m so glad you’re home, Melissa reiterated.
“Me too,” Shane said as she released her grip around his waist, and he removed his gloves and jacket. “I hope you didn’t make too much for dinner,” he said as he stepped out into the hallway and headed for the staircase. “I’m all filled up on barbequed pulled pork.”
When Shane had removed his gloves and winter jacket, he had tossed them aside on the floor; an unbreakable habit that irked Melissa every time he did it.
As Melissa unwrinkled and neatly folded Shane’s jacket, his phone slid out from the pocket. But it wasn’t Shane’s iPhone that landed on the beige rug. It was a cheap flip-cover phone; a brand she didn’t even recognize. One of those drug dealer phones you’d buy at a pharmacy or a 7-11.
She should’ve stopped right there, turned around, and ran straight for the front door. But Melissa had to know for sure.
She dug her hand into the pocket that the phone had fallen from, and her fingers brushed a thin slab of rectangular-shaped plastic. She drew her hand from the pocket and held the phone card up to the light of the ceiling fixture. The card had been recently activated, as the spot where you obtain the code to activate the card had been scratched away with a coin.
“Tell me if this sounds familiar,” Shane crowed from the hallway. Melissa turned and froze at the sight of the Snub .38 in his hand. “You’re going to die tonight.”
While the rest of her body remained frozen, her lip was quivering involuntarily and her hands were tremoring at her sides.
Shane lowered the gun almost instantly, when he saw all the color drain from face. It looked as if she was about to keel over.
“Oh, honey,” Shane said, lowering the gun gently to the floor. “It was just a joke. I’m so sorry. I guess I went a little overboard.”
“You sick bastard!” she screamed, running over to bat his chest with her tiny fists. “You scared me half to death! Why on Earth would you do this to me? The phone call was more than enough.”
“Honey, I didn’t make that call,” Shane insisted. “I swear. I just saw how jumpy you were and I thought I’d have a little fun at your expense. Did you really think I was going to shoot you?”
“I found the phone card, Shane,” Melissa said, pointing towards the jacket he carelessly discarded on the rug. “And I found the phone. You’re not fooling me.”
“Oh…I’m so sorry, Melissa. I never meant for you to find that. I honestly didn’t make that call. The phone…I use it to call my supervisor.”
“Why can’t you just call him on your regular…” Melissa trailed off when she remembered meeting Shane’s supervisor once at a company Christmas party. His supervisor was a woman, not a man. And that’s when it dawned on her what Shane was trying to convey.
Before Melissa could blow a gasket and go off on a profanity-laced tirade that Shane certainly had coming to him, a noise grabbed her attention. It was faint and unclear, but it almost sounded like glass crunching underfoot.
“Did you hear that?” she asked.
            “I didn’t hear anything,” Shane responding. Then he added, “Oh, I moved that chair away from the basement door. I guess you did that when you got that phone call. Well, there’s nothing to worry about now.”
            “Shane,” Melissa gasped, her body suddenly quaking again. Her throat was dry and she was on the edge of shock, but she ultimately managed to utter the words, “Behind you.”
Shane Alden turned to face what was eagerly waiting behind him. A man, nearly seven feet tall, his face shrouded by a crude mask of what could only be deduced as rotting flesh. A butcher’s apron was tied around the waist of this giant and at his side, his catcher’s-mitt-sized hand grasping at a crimson stained machete.
The blade cut through the air with a vicious swipe, decapitating Shane with one quick strike.
The towering figure stepped forward, machete still in hand. “Hello, Melissa,” the giant spoke, using a small voice box that distorted his speech. “We finally meet.”