“The Way the World Ends” by Ben Waters

“The Way the World Ends” by Ben Waters

They caught up to us on my twelfth birthday. Their guns sounded strange, even though I should have been used to it. Every shot was like the branch of a metal tree snapping. A sharp Twang that made my hair stand on end. They killed three of the group before we even knew where they were. Twang mixed in with the blood-curdling cries of the dying.

“Everybody, take cover!”  Hannah sent indiscriminate shots into the forest behind us. I dropped into a low spot, pressing my body as flat as I could. I rolled over, shotgun on my chest. I peeked up just enough to see the opposite hill with trees gripping the earth to keep from plummeting into the sky. A blue flash accompanied the chilling Twang just underneath a massive tree, another one a couple of feet up the hill sent a fistful of dirt into the air, peppering me with the warm soil. The flashes were so quick I would have missed them if I hadn’t been looking right where they came from.

“Side of the hill, just underneath that big oak!”  I shouted as loudly as I could. I could see the lanky bodies, their silhouettes darting for cover as Hannah dropped one. The Crack from her rifle a welcome reprieve from the killing enemy fire. Sid and Ricky took cover behind the same massive pine a little behind, and to the right of Hannah, shooting from each side. Within a couple of seconds, the tree was smoldering from return fire.

“They’re trying to flank us! Riley, watch the left.” Sam called out, sending a handful of hot brass into my hole as he tried to stop their advance. I ripped my eyes from the opposite hill just in time to see them coming through the underbrush. I slapped one in the face with a buck shot, the heavy recoil making my shoulder hurt. They dove for cover, but I caught another one in the leg adding his guttural cry to the chaos. Only six of us still alive—no, make that five as Sam caught an enemy shot with his face. The two remaining aliens to our left had returned fire after recovering from our attack. I sent five more shells into the brush, silencing them for good. Sulfur, ash, blood, sh*t, and dirt permeated the air, making my nose run and eyes burn.

Hannah emptied her magazine into the hill-side. “Dammit, one got away. We can expect re-enforcement, soon.” She dropped her pack and started handing out boxes of ammunition. “Ammo check and empty the packs of the dead; we move in ten minutes. Ricky, watch that hill in case they’re trying to dupe us.” My ears were humming with a high-pitched whine, but I reloaded as quickly as I could.

Hannah was the last of the Marines alive from our group, so she was our default leader. Tall, thin and fit. I wondered if she would be pretty with a shower to wash off the grime and blood. It was strange to think of her like that, and I frowned a little. She kept looking at Sam: one eye was open, staring in our direction, the other one, in pieces. He had called Hannah by her last name. They had taken turns sleeping at night, one of them always walking around. I slept well, knowing they were watching out for me.

“He was a good Marine.” Sid whispered it to Hannah; I thought she might cry. She took the metal necklace he always wore and put it in her pocket.

She nodded. “I’ll miss him, but Marines don’t die.”

Sid was retired Navy, from Alabama. He had led the civilian resistance to the initial landings in his home town, until they were overwhelmed and forced north. He wore an old camo jacket and ripped blue jeans. His left shoe was missing the toe, ripped off by razor-wire during the escape. He had a full beard and tanned skin. The wrinkles around his eyes said he smiled a lot. That was before, though.

Allan’s hands were shaking too bad for him to reload, so I moved in to help, since I was done with my shotgun. One of the lenses on his glasses had a new crack through the middle and he had some wooden chips sticking to a bloody scrape on his temple. He pulled out the map and smoothed it out, his hands still shaking, but he was able to get our position.

“We’re only about twenty miles from The Facility. We should be able to beat them there.”

Ricky stood off on his own. He had met up with our group a couple of days after we escaped the attack. Alone and wounded, but he had plenty of ammunition and food. Originally, he just wanted to trade for the medicine he needed to fight infection and continue on his own, but Sam talked him into joining our group.

“Hey, Ricky, you wanna think about actually doing some shooting next time they show up? It’ll take more than a half-dozen shots from us to send them packing.” Sid had finished two of his mags and was loading the last.

“If you were a better shot, it would only take a half dozen,” Ricky replied. “I’m going ahead to try and scout some terrain, and maybe a good spot to lay an ambush or two.” He gave Sid a dirty look as he walked off. I looked to Sid, but it seemed he either didn’t see the look, or didn’t care.

Sid leans against a thin tree, thinking, putting a cigarette in his mouth he won’t smoke. Sid walks over and slaps my shoulder.

“You did good kid. I thought they had us with that tricky shit.” I nodded and tried a smile.

With the action behind us, I took stock of my surroundings. The clear morning sunlight brought out the green in the trees and bushes. The occasional bird-song broke the now pleasant stillness. Life went on, despite the world being torn apart. I wonder if the whole world will be broken or if some areas like this one would escape the devastation.

BOOM! Deep and low, a sonic boom stilled the life and shook the forest; some loose stones tumbled down the face of the hill.

“Riley, cover, now!”  I dove into the bushes, slamming my already sore shoulder into the ground.

The massive ship screamed overhead, too fast to make out any details through the branches. I noted the smoke trail was thinning; it was landing, soon. Despite being larger than a football stadium, the ship disappeared into the mountains, miles away, in only a few seconds.

Sid broke the spell of shock. “More of them? Whelp, we are indeed up sh*t creek in desperate need of a paddle at this point. Let’s double time it.” He started off at a trot. I followed the rest of the group, my pack bouncing with every step.

I liked Sid from the very start of our time together. He took me under his wing early on and showed me how to shoot. The heavy hunks of metal were rough on my arms, and I earned more than a handful of bruises from the shotgun. But, over time I was getting the hang of it.

“What the hell kind of facility is going to keep them out? You remember how quick they cut through the battalion of Marines last month?  There were only five or six of them this time and they killed half of our group. Even if we can make it to your facility, they’ll just cut us down there.” Ricky’s voice bounced as we ran. Allan, was a little more out of breath than the rest of us, but he was able to work out his reply.

“Well, uh, Ricky. The facility is powered by photosynthetic converters. The water supply comes from the underground water table that couldn’t be poisoned or fouled for a decade—and only even then if they knew where we were. The entrance has a chamber that will fill with toxic gas if an alien steps inside it and tries to open the inner doors, which are made from a combination of hardened steel composites, and blast resistant materials. It would take months of un-harassed work to break it down. The defenses are all automated and capable of being withdrawn and repaired. There is enough food to feed a million people for a year, and systems that farm in underground fields.”

“Dang, Doc. Sounds like you’ve got something to prove here.” I wasn’t quite sure why everyone called Allan ‘Doc.’

“Yes, I do. I helped design the facility.” We ran through the rest of the day, stopping only long enough to drink bottles of water and eat a light lunch.

We caught up to Ricky. He seemed just as disappointed about our arrival as we were he hadn’t found anything. A tall, thin tree jutted above the tree-line where we were.

“Looks too thin for all my heft. You wanna take a look, Riley?”  Hannah was always nice to me. She never treated me like a kid and always asked for my help with stuff.

“Sure.” I slip my pack off my shoulders and start the climb. It’s easy at first; the branches are just thick enough for me to grab. The tree starts to thin out and my climb slows. The farther up I get, the more the tree sways with the wind, but my twelve-year-old frame doesn’t weigh enough to break any of these branches even though they are thin. It’s a little unerring at first but I get used to it. About fifty feet off the ground, the view opens up. It only takes a few seconds to see through the serene landscape to the terrifying truth.

Gently sloping hills covered in evergreens. A thick black plume scars the evening sky. Snow-capped mountains in the distance, hemming in the valley on the western side. The faint sound of heavy machinery drifts across the lazy forest. Birds streak across the view, and the sun is sitting on the edge of one of the mountains, taking one last look over the valley before resting for the night. The trees to the south shake. The sweet smell of a lake to the northwest. The mist from a waterfall behind it. It’s gorgeous. One of the tall ones falls, the direction it falls tells me there is something big, right behind us, coming this way.

I climb down; there’s no time to lose.

“We have to go, they’re right behind us. Some sort of big machine is headed this way. It’s taking out trees tall enough for me to see it miles back.” No one complains, no one questions. Everyone moves. A little faster than before, but not wanting to run ourselves ragged in the event we have to turn and fight. Ricky starts to drift ahead of the group.

Dark starts to set in, making our passage slower. Doc checks his map one last time in the dying light.

“We’re right on top of it, just over this next hill and we should be able to find one of the entrances. If there’s anyone inside, they’ve likely already picked us up on the seismographs, but they’re also getting that machine back there, and they won’t want to take the chance we’re some advance search party and reveal themselves. We’ll have to get into the chamber so they can see we’re human.”

Thankfully it doesn’t take Doc long to get us into the entrance chamber.

The chamber was large, large enough for a pair of crawlers side by side. We stood on the western wall, moving in to the massive space like rats to a trap. Red lights came on, giving us enough of a glow to make out the shapes of those around us, the doorway we entered snapped shut. I could hear the faint hum of machinery, so low it was more of a feeling than a sound. Doc moved to the wall, he pressed a hidden catch and a portion of the stone face slid up without a sound. A little computer screen and keyboard in the hiding spot. He typed into the keyboard, the technology looked ancient. Analog input.

“Sh*t.” Doc stared at the screen. The outer doors started to slide closed.

“What’s going on?” Sid walked over to him. I followed, wanting to know what happened. Ricky moved to the inner doors, using his flashlight to examine the construction.

“We’ve got a big problem. They won’t open the doors.”

“The hell you mean they won’t open the doors? Don’t they know there’s aliens coming?”

“That’s just it, Sid.” Doc had a look on his face I didn’t understand. “The aliens are already here.”

Silence.

I could see Sid thinking. His shoulders hunched a little and his eyes flicked around the room.

Hannah clicked her safety off and looked at Ricky. He was far enough away he might have been out of ear-shot.

“Like here in this room?” I started to shake. Edging closer to the comfort of Sid and Doc.

Sid put his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, kiddo.”

“They say that the sensors can’t determine who, but that there is definitely an alien in this room. They say.. Oh shi..” Doc’s eyes are sliding across the screen as fast as the words are appearing. “We’ve got five minutes before they pump the room full of gas and kill us all.”

“Now, wait just one God-d*mned minute. They can’t just kill five people.”

“They can and they will if they think there’s an alien in this room.” Doc looked at each of us in the red light, our faces nothing but planes and angles. “If even one of them gets through that door, it could mean compromising of the entire facility.”

I started to cry. I didn’t mean to; it just sort of happened. “Maybe their scanner thingy is broken, or it’s just confused because that machine is so close.” I hated how little I sounded, my sobs breaking up my words, but I couldn’t help it. “This isn’t fair!”  

Ricky walked over, his rifle’s safety also off. I clicked mine off when Sid and Doc did.

Three minutes left.

Doc was typing on the computer, but whoever was on the other end stopped replying. Sid fingered his rifle. Our packs were piled up against the wall, We stood in a loose circle, un-easy glances the only conversation.

“Got it!” Sid walked back to Doc. “Tell them to open the outer door up, we’ll walk out, one by one, whenever their alarm thingy clears we’ll know who it is. If it doesn’t, which is what I’d bet on, we’ll know it’s broke.”

“Sid, the only way those doors open, is if that warning light clears. They want to dissect one of them to see what we’re dealing with. We can detect them, we know some of them can make themselves look like humans, but we don’t know how they work. A dead alien is more valuable than the four other lives.

One minute.

“Then they can dissect the alien when we kill it!”  Sid was worked up. Ricky and Hannah had locked eyes, neither one moving an inch.

A line of text flashed on the screen.

“They don’t trust us to kill it.” Doc relayed the message to us all.

Tears continued to stream. I started to sob

“Then I’ll kill it now.” Ricky said it and he shoved Doc into the wall. The rifle barked and Doc fell to the floor with a hole in his chest. The red light stayed on. Hannah moved in front of me and started shooting. Ricky caught one shot in the shoulder, but he killed Sid with his next shot. The red light stayed on. Hannah’s rifle went wide, but Ricky’s third dropped her. Something wet and sticky covered me. The red light stayed on. I blasted my shotgun without thinking to aim, pumping shell after shell in Ricky’s direction, peppering Ricky in the chest, throat and face, slamming him into the wall. He gasped for breath and his chest made a sucking noise.

Thirty seconds.

A line of text came across the screen.

-It’s still alive.-

Ten seconds

Ricky looked at me through hazy eyes. The accusation, the hatred, the anger, were all palpable.

A line of text came across the screen.

-It’s still alive.-

“I’m out!” tears fell from my face, Ricky’s eyes bugged out staring at me. He was alive, but barely. It looked like gallons of blood on the floor. He was getting weaker. “Please open the door!”  I fell down sobbing. “I don’t want to die!”

It had been twenty seconds. No hiss, no coughing. A line of white straight up and down in front of me. It grew wider every second.

The doors were opening. A squad of men dressed in full battle gear with masks on came in, assault rifles at the ready. One of them grabbed me and brought me into the facility.

I left the room at the exact second Ricky’s heart stopped beating. The red light went out.

The facility fell two weeks later.

The aliens got in through one of the ventilation ducts, impossible to find except from the inside. No humans inside survived.

No one, that is, except for me, and my fellow Aliens.

About the Author

Ben Waters.jpg

Ben Waters is a new writer, building his stack of rejections, and enjoying himself trying out different styles and genres. He operates a blog, pentenacity.com, is a part time student, full time father, and active duty US Navy.

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“Layers Part 8” by Kaine Andrews

“Layers Part 8” by Kaine Andrews

Part VIII

That should have ended it. I’d never found her in the dreams, after all. This was the resolution that I’d been pushed to since I was about the age she was. Or had been. Who knows what tense to use when you’re dealing with ghosts?

If she was a ghost. She was solid, having weight as I cradled her in one arm while running the steering wheel with the other. But it was just meat I was holding. Something she’d vacated long ago. A symbol and little else. But symbols had power, and by taking her battered body from the family and the burned, disfigured thing that had held her hostage for who knows how many decades, I’d given her the power to be free.

She wasn’t crying, anymore. I could hear her breathing, though. Ragged and labored at first, then smoothing out to the sound of a sleeping child being broadcast through a baby monitor. In that breathing she whispered to me; I heard her thanking me, and she told me her name.

“Deborah,” the corpse in my arms whispered. “Deborah Daphne King.”

The name gave me a terrible chill. I’d had a sister… or was supposed to have one, at least. But she hadn’t made it out of the hospital. Only lasted three days. Birth defects, something to do with the lungs; I don’t know if I just didn’t remember, or had never been fully told. But she’d been a Deborah, too.

That chill led to a shudder, and that led to the car drifting out of the thin lane. At the same time, a steep curve came into view. A terrible calm fell over me, a sense of resignation and deja vu that told me all I needed to know.

It didn’t matter how things had changed. One thing was going to stay the same. I tried to pull the car straight again, to force it into the turn. I pumped the brake. Neither had any effect, as the car continued to drift, the guardrail growing larger.

I looked down at her, the mangled thing that I’d been looking for my whole life, the thing that had driven me past the point of logic, of sanity. The thing that was going to kill me.

There was no body. No Deborah. Just a filthy, matted rag that might have been a towel at some point. Tears began running down my cheeks, and a strangled sob escaped my lips.

“You always knew,” a familiar voice said from the passenger seat. I drew my eyes up.

The thing from the house was sitting there, trying to smile at me. One arm was dangling between its upraised knees, the other stretched towards me, clenching the steering wheel and urging the car to the left, towards the rail.

I could hear it clearly now. I should have noticed it when it stated I’d finally come. But have you ever noticed that your voice sounds different, somehow alien when you hear it on a recording or an echo?

The thing spoke in my voice. It had always been me. Some lost fragment of myself, calling out somehow through the years, begging me to claim the treasure that it had given its life for, somehow blind to the fact it was no treasure but a wad of broken repressed memories and carefully fabricated lies.

“We’ll be together, now.”

The car hit the rail. I let go of the wheel as the vehicle plowed through with the shriek of steel and the roar of the engine as it surged, no longer powering wheels on asphalt but spinning in thin air.

“Forever,” I whispered to myself, hearing it both in my head as my voice always sounded, and in my ears as the thing had always spoken. Whether I meant myself and I, myself and Deborah, or all three of us together, I don’t know.

The car flipped once, cracking my skull against the roof and sending a freshet of blood into my eyes. I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt. There was no pain. The thing in the passenger seat reached out one claw, stroking the wound.

Another flip jarred me back into the seat and drove me forward. I felt my rib cage give way, my lungs collapse, as the wheel plunged into my chest. The thing put its finger to its mouth.

“Shhhh,” it said. “It’ll all be over soon.”

The car hit the bottom of the ravine below, doing another backflip and landing on the roof. The windshield, designed before safety glass had become the standard, shattered. Thick shards embedded themselves in my face, my chest, my arms. Everything went dark as my eyes were popped like ripe grapes. I felt fluids from the emptied sockets leaking down my face, mingling with the tears and blood.

The roof of the car had been punctured by a rock formation, dragging across it as the car burned the last of its momentum. It dug into my back as well, leaving a ragged gash that left the flesh hanging to either side like broken wings.

There was a perfect stillness to the world, then. A moment of absolute silence and clarity. No birds sang, no bugs hummed. My breathing had stopped, and the thing in the passenger seat had apparently lost its taste for chatter.

That silence was broken by a soft, unimportant sound. “Foomp,” it sounded like to me. But I knew what came next, knew it wasn’t unimportant.

Something had cracked the gas tank. The metal body of the car dragging across the gravel and rocks had provided the spark. Smoke and the smell of scorched earth came first, then pain sank in as the smell of a roasted pig added to it.

I couldn’t vomit, no matter how much I wanted to. Couldn’t hold my breath, even though it was coming only in shallow rasps. I just had to wait, to endure, as I burned alive.

But again, one fresh change. I was spared having to endure it all the way through, didn’t have to wait as I crisped, blackened, and finally died trying to scream. The thing laid hold of me, was dragging me out. Through the undercarriage, back up the hill, passing through the guardrail, which seemed to stitch itself back together as we passed, my eyesight somehow returned.

Back up the hill, a movie running backward. I passed the car going the other direction, then my other self pursuing it. Back to the house, where we were pulled through the hole in the front that it/me had created giving chase.

Like the guardrail, it pulled itself back together like a flower closing its petals against the night. I saw the television I’d knocked over right itself, saw the doors I’d opened on the way in slam shut, the blanket replace itself on the bed and straighten out perfectly. I heard a thud and knew the dryer had slammed shut again, and a moment later the rhythmic thumping of the thing in the dryer started again. Back into the shower stall, where I stood still and watched as the curtain pulled shut in front of me.

The house was as it had been, as it was supposed to be. It looked like a quaint little cabin, but underneath it was just a trap, a honeypot laid out just for me. Just like underneath the scars and claws and demon-like appearance, my tormentor had always been myself.

I was alone. I had become him, and he was me again. Now we would wait.

Perhaps not completely alone, though. Somewhere in the house, I heard the crying start again. Deborah was with me like she always had been.

I waited. I had time. All the time in the world.

I knew I’d come along. Eventually.

THE END

This story was originally published at KaineAndrews.com. Intrigued? Find out how it ends, next Thursday!

About the Author

Kaine Andrews

Kaine Andrews was raised in the wilds of Nevada, molded by NASCAR-loving witches, a Catholic school education and typewriter theft, granting a natural fascination with all things dark and dreary and demented scribblings. He currently resides in Oregon, where the omnipresent drizzle keeps him somewhat sane.

Black Catastrophy

 

“Layers Part 7” by Kaine Andrews

“Layers Part 7” by Kaine Andrews

Part VII

When I’d come in my dreams, I’d always assumed the blank spots, the skips that broke the sense of a cohesive narrative, would be resolved if I actually ever found the place.

I was wrong.

A moment ago, I’d had the rotten claw of a godawful who-knows-what wrapped around my arm, pulling me towards whatever death awaited. I remember screaming when it touched me and remembered it seeming happy that I was finally here.

Then, nothing.

The next thing I remember was being in an unfamiliar part of the house. Taking a second to look around, I saw the kitchen behind me, and beyond that the still-empty living room. The room I was in looked to be a laundry room. Blue tiled floor, a half-dozen cabinets hanging above, one or two with doors that didn’t quite shut and gave a view of Borax boxes and bleach bottles. Taking up the majority of the floorplan was a paired washer and dryer, beige in color, and surprisingly clean and unmarred for their apparent age.

The washer was nothing remarkable, standing silently to my left with the lid up, a hungry maw waiting to be fed with clots of clothes and the blood stains they probably contained. Peering over the lip, I could see the agitator, covered in moss and mold that looked like it might have migrated from the bathroom. Part of me wondered if the thing in the shower stall brought the mold with it, some little chunks of itself or leftovers from its presence. But if that was the case, why would it be in the washing machine? Probably just the lack of use and general humidity.

Maybe I should have looked closer.

The dryer, though… that was a different story. It was on, producing a steady series of thumps and giving off an unpleasantly burned smelling heat. From the pattern – a swish, followed by a heavy thud, repeated every five or six seconds – it sounded like whatever was in there was wadded into a ball. Being pulled to the top as it turned, then falling back to the bottom, never completing a full rotation. It would explain the smell, too, since at this point it would be smoldering instead of just drying, singed on the outside instead of getting an even heat.

The crying sound was back, assaulting my eardrums and making my eyes water. It seemed like I could hear words in it, timed along with the thumps.

“Help me,” I thought I heard it say. Over and over again, punctuated by a fresh thud from the dryer each time, the crying it was buried in getting louder.

I didn’t want to. I knew what came next. I didn’t know how I got from the bathroom to here, but I remembered the rest clearly enough and didn’t want to open the dryer. What was in there was a thousand times worse than pulling the shower curtain back and being confronted with the thing that dwelled inside, a million times worse than Dad fixing me with that eyeless stare.

Thinking how much I didn’t want to do it, I tugged open the dryer door. With a final thump and a sickly-sweet smell that combined burning hair, blood, and mold into a single strike team designed to murder my sinuses, the thing inside slid to the bottom of the drum. The crying stopped, with a final whisper.

“Thank you,” it said.

I reached inside and drew out the bundle. At first, I thought it was just a wad of sheets, tangled in a knot and nothing to be concerned with. It was too heavy for that, though, and the unpleasantly solid weight of it made me try to unfold one end of the knot.

Like a series of petals pulling back to reveal the eye of a sunflower, or a disgusting parallel to birth, I uncovered a small head. Misshapen, caved in on one side, missing one eye and the other scrunched up so there was only the tiniest sliver of blue visible beneath the bruised lid. Untangling more of the sheets, I revealed a chest that was sunken, ribs poking forth like spears. One arm was broken, twisted behind her poor back, while the other was lifted up, what should have been chubby grasping fingers instead skeletal things that seemed to be trying to ward off a blow.

“Shhhh, honey,” I whispered. That was all I could manage. Between the vice grip on my chest that the asthma brought with it and the choking clot of would-be tears creeping through my throat, I couldn’t manage much more than that.

“Shhh,” I said again, running a finger along that shattered skull with as much tenderness as I could manage. “It’s okay. We’ll get you out of here, okay?”

I swaddled her back up in the sheets but didn’t cover her face. She deserved to see, to have a chance for those lifeless little lungs to fill with clean air. Once we were out of here, anyway.

Something from further back in the house moved. A scratching, slithery noise that brought to mind images of snakes or squids uncoiling, preparing to strike. Something grunted, then laughed. It seemed to be coming from the hallway. Apparently, the burned thing had decided it wasn’t going to let me go after all. At least not without its prize.

I bolted, through the kitchen and into the living room. Mom, Dad, and Sis were back, their heads swiveling to track my passage, but I didn’t give them much thought. They weren’t the real threat, wouldn’t interfere. I hit the door at speed, practically blasting it out of the hinges, and dove through the darkness – how long had I been in the house, anyway? Who knew? – towards the car.

I’d left it unlocked, keys in it. I was more concerned about the ability to make a quick getaway if needed than that little Billy might stumble upon the car and decide to take it for a joyride.

I wouldn’t let her go or put her down. Hugging her to my chest, I yanked the car door open with my free hand and dropped into the seat. The keys were still there. As I laid my hand on them to gun the engine, not certain of where I was going to know but knowing that I had to take her somewhere, anywhere, other than here, I was frozen almost solid by a sound.

First, there was the sound of an explosion, followed by a metallic rain; looking over my shoulder, I saw that the burned thing had come through the door, doing it with such force that the front portion of the house had literally exploded. The drops hitting the roof of the car and making the sound were actually splinters and fragments of the aluminum frame.

It raised one claw, the one it had wrapped around my arm, and pointed one finger at me. I felt something burning on my arm and glanced down at myself to see blood pouring out from under my shirtsleeve. The spot that it had touched me had gone a sickening blackish purple, oozing blood and other, less-identifiable fluids.

Didn’t matter, I told myself. All that mattered was getting away, setting her free.

It shrieked, a sound born of sheer rage. I didn’t know why; it knew I would come, and it must have known the outcome. I’d known since I was a child.

I wasn’t sticking around to hear it. I gunned the engine and popped the clutch, spinning the wheel one-handed while I clutched the child’s battered corpse to my chest with the other.

“Hold on, baby. It’s gonna be okay.”

Flipping the car around in the driveway, it caught in the gravel for a too-long moment as the figure on the porch descended towards us. It was almost close enough to lay a hand on the bumper – something that I knew would mean game over – when the tires finally caught and peeled away. There was a moment of savage glee when the thing was pelted with chunks of the house and gravel from the driveway kicked up by the tires.

I started down the mountain with my prize, whispering nursery rhymes to her the whole time.

This story was originally published at KaineAndrews.com. Intrigued? Find out how it ends, next Thursday!

About the Author

Kaine Andrews

Kaine Andrews was raised in the wilds of Nevada, molded by NASCAR-loving witches, a Catholic school education and typewriter theft, granting a natural fascination with all things dark and dreary and demented scribblings. He currently resides in Oregon, where the omnipresent drizzle keeps him somewhat sane.

Black Catastrophy

 

“Layers Part 6” by Kaine Andrews

“Layers Part 6” by Kaine Andrews

Part VI

I moved to the door, nudging it the rest of the way open with my knuckles. The room beyond was the bathroom, fully decked out in yellow paisley wallpaper, antiseptic green tile, and baby-blue formica fixtures.

I saw myself in the mirror for a moment as I scanned the room. It was almost like looking at a stranger. My hair, instead of being straight and brown, had gone frizzy and white. My face had none of its usual color, bleached almost the color of my hair, and the lines of old scars were replaced with the ruts and grooves of age.

I looked away quickly. I didn’t want to see what else coming here might have done to me.

I could see the toilet peeking out around a small corner in an alcove to the right, a dead sunlamp mounted above it. I wondered who’d sit on the crapper with a heat lamp pointed at their face. Assuming it was Dad, I decided he was even weirder than his little house of horrors might have revealed.

To the right was a combination bath and shower, the only thing showing any real signs of use in the house so far. Unlike the other fixtures, the lip of the tub was chipped in places, showing the rusty metal beneath. There were small puddles of mossy water, breeding who-knew-what sorts of bacteria splashed on the floor beside the tub and along the rim. Blocking the view of whatever lay within was a vinyl shower curtain with a seascape pattern that looked more mid-90s than late-60s.

The crying was coming from behind the curtain. Steeling myself as best I could, I wadded one side of the curtain up in a trembling fist and yanked it back.

There he was. After all this time, all the bad dreams and wakeful nights, he was here in front of me. It wasn’t so bad. It was almost anticlimactic.

The thing in the shower stall was tall; probably just shy of seven feet. How I hadn’t seen its head peeking out over the top before pulling the curtain back was a mystery, but one easily solved. He hadn’t wanted me to see him, not until it was time.

The face was a pitted ruin, flaps of black and blue flesh interspersed with hillocks of burned and mutilated flesh, some of it leaking fluids that I didn’t want to consider. The whole of it looked like a mask that had been poorly stapled over a mannequin head. The eye sockets, like those of the family up front, were empty. Instead of flesh or whatever passed for a brain beyond, there were flickering flames that occasionally turned a rotten green. The mouth was just a wide gash, ringed with split lips and fractured teeth. It lay open though unmoving. The crying was coming from there.

The body was wasted, emaciated. Bones jutted through the broken skin in places, giving the impression of a skeleton someone had laid a sheet over and tried their best to stitch in place. At the shoulders, ragged wing-like flaps of skin hung. Unlike the rest of the meat on the thing, they were pallid, shot through with tattered holes as though moths – or something worse – had been gnawing at them.

The arms were longer than they should have been, hanging almost to the thing’s knees. It didn’t have hands; instead, it had spade-shaped claws with three fingers each, tipped with nails that extended several inches past the fingertip, black with veins of silver and red shot through them and looking razor sharp.

The crying stopped. The edges of that jagged gash in the middle of its face slid upwards and I was horrified to realize it was trying to smile. The fear came flooding back at that, caving in my chest with the force of a sledgehammer.

“You came,” it whispered.

One of those claws shot out towards me, circling those talons around my forearm. Though it looked fragile and skeletal, there was a terrible strength behind it and I could feel the bicep and the bone beneath screaming and creaking under the pressure.

I felt blood running down my arm, and realized the thing’s claws had punctured the flesh. The pressure increased. It was dragging me closer.

“You came,” it whispered a second time.

I began to scream.

This story was originally published at KaineAndrews.com. Intrigued? Stay tuned for Part 7, next Thursday!

About the Author

Kaine Andrews

Kaine Andrews was raised in the wilds of Nevada, molded by NASCAR-loving witches, a Catholic school education and typewriter theft, granting a natural fascination with all things dark and dreary and demented scribblings. He currently resides in Oregon, where the omnipresent drizzle keeps him somewhat sane.

Black Catastrophy

I’m Willie, I’m a Scotsman, and I Like Horror Fiction.

I’m Willie, I’m a Scotsman, and I Like Horror Fiction.

WILLIAM MEIKLE

I’m Willie, I’m a Scotsman, and I like horror fiction.

A lot of my work, long and short form, has been set in Scotland, and a lot of it uses the history and folklore. There’s just something about the misty landscapes and old buildings that speaks straight to my soul. (Bloody Celts… we get all sentimental at the least wee thing).

Scottish history goes deep. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a castle or a historic monument or, from further back, a burial mound or standing stone. Five thousand years of living in mist and dampness, wind and snow, lashing rain and high seas leads to the telling of many tales of eldritch beings abroad in the dark nights. Add in the constant risk of invasion and war from Romans, Danes, Irishmen, Vikings and English and you can see that there’s plenty of fertile ground for both fact and…

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“Layers Part 5” by Kaine Andrews

“Layers Part 5” by Kaine Andrews

Part V

I turned away from the portrait of a happy family, slinking past the couches with all the hair on my body standing straight up. They’d never bothered me before, and whatever logic remained in this hellhole said they wouldn’t… but after the television, I wasn’t certain that things here were going to go 100% according to the script. Something was different this time. Maybe because I was actually here, instead of just visiting in my sleep. Maybe because what was waiting for me had gotten impatient and greedy, or maybe it was just stronger.

Once I was past them, creeping into the hallway, I lowered my guard. Just a bit, but enough that I felt I could breathe without sounding like a broken teakettle. I glanced back over my shoulder, not surprised when I saw that Mom and Dad’s heads weren’t visible over the top of the couch, and I couldn’t see Sis sprawled out on the other one. They’d vanished.

I was okay with that. One less thing to worry about, at least for now. What was coming was worse than their eyeless stares.

The crying was louder back here. I knew where I was supposed to go – the door at the end of the hall – but still wanted to put it off as long as I could. Wanted to make sure there were no other nasty surprises. Besides, I had to follow the script; I was sure if I tried to beeline it, something would stop me. I had to check the other door first.

I laid my hand on the doorknob to the left and pushed the door open a crack. The crying intensified for a moment, a brief period where it seemed like it was coming from right in front of me. Then it receded, as though falling down a long well.

The door opened on a walk-in closet. A blue plastic bowling ball bag sat in the corner, the outer layer peeling and flaking. A long brown coat that looked like it was last in style sometime during the flapper era, reeking of mothballs and stale cigars, hung above it. A pair of battered cardboard boxes, the edges cracked outwards and yellowed with age, sat on the shelf above. One was a Monopoly set; the one on top was the old Parker Brothers Ouija board. Some people might have taken that as a bad sign; I figured the family had worse supernatural crap to worry about than a plastic planchette and a mass-produced particle board alphabet.

I pulled the door shut and turned back to the end of the hall. The crying was obviously coming from there. I moved towards it, feeling like I was walking through water rather than air. Something beyond the door was radiating something, an aura deadlier and more poisonous than radiation. I couldn’t let it stop me. She needed me.

I reached the end of the hall and pushed the door open. Even though I knew there was nothing to fear – at least, not right now – I still winced as the door rebounded off the wall, and kept one eye to a slit as I scanned the room beyond. Just in case.

The room beyond was a bedroom. The shag carpet continued, though it looked less walked on in here. To the left was a smooth wall, a recessed and half-open door beckoning at the midpoint. Ahead was an old-time slot machine, neon glass, chromed buzzer on top, polished level to the side, almost begging to be pulled. The lights were dark, and a thin layer of grime over the windows said it hadn’t been used in a long time, probably even longer than the television out front.

To the right was the bed, and as I came into the room and turned my attention to it, I saw a shape squirming in the middle, underneath the thin brown blanket that was otherwise without blemish, pulled perfectly up against the gleaming white pillows. The crying became louder again, very clearly from the bed.

I walked towards it, grabbing hold of the blanket’s loose edge on the right side of the bed. The image of myself in my head was that of a bad magician attempting the tablecloth trick, as I whipped the blanket away and let it fly into the corner. It crumpled there like the discarded flesh of an uncleanly killed animal, revealing the layer beneath.

There was an indentation in the bare mattress, right in the middle where the shape had been before I pulled the blankets away. The crying seemed to be coming from that same spot. I reached out and placed my hand on the mattress, feeling the smooth fabric cool against my skin. Sliding my hand towards the indent, even as it was rising to the same level as the rest, I felt the heat coming from it, as though a body had lain there not long before.

The crying stopped as I pulled my hand away. I glanced over my shoulder, to the half-open door. As I stared, the door wobbled in the frame, as though something had passed by it with a gentle nudge. The crying started again, coming from the room beyond. I backed away from the bed, taking a deep breath.

If there was any consolation to be hand, it was this: It was almost over.

This story was originally published at KaineAndrews.com. Intrigued? Stay tuned for Part 6, next Thursday!

About the Author

Kaine Andrews

Kaine Andrews was raised in the wilds of Nevada, molded by NASCAR-loving witches, a Catholic school education and typewriter theft, granting a natural fascination with all things dark and dreary and demented scribblings. He currently resides in Oregon, where the omnipresent drizzle keeps him somewhat sane.

Black Catastrophy

Willow Croft’s Short Story Response to Black CATastrophy Writing Prompt 16: PUPPY LOVE

Willow Croft’s Short Story Response to Black CATastrophy Writing Prompt 16: PUPPY LOVE

pexels-photo-114297

They found the bike propped up against the wall, but Allison was gone.
“Dammit, I knew I should have never got her that bike.”
“Dad, it’s not the city anymore. She’ll be okay.”
“I know, it’s just…”
“Yeah, I miss Mom, too.”
Samuel gave his son a side hug. “I love you, Marius.”
“C’mon, Dad. Let’s find her before she stumbles across a backwoods meth lab.”
“Ha, ha.” He watched his son load the bike into the back of the SUV. Hard to believe he’s already a senior.
“We’ll hit all the stores on Main Street before they close. Then head over to the dog park, then—”
“Then we’ll swing by the trailer, then the community pool, then out to the farmhouses on the outskirts. Can I drive?” Marius asked.
“When you get your own car.”
None of the store owners had seen Allison.
“Next stop, the diner,” Samuel said. His son was too busy texting to answer.
“Hey, Rhonda, seen Allison today?” Samuel asked his boss.
“No, hun, not since you all were here for Sunday brunch. She missing again?” Rhonda inched closer. “You just need a good woman to look after you all.”
He could smell peppermint Schnapps on her breath. “We’re doing okay.”
“C’mon, Dad, it’s going to be dark soon.”
“You all just let me know if you need something.” Rhonda patted Marius on the head.
Samuel hustled Marius out the door.
“Seriously, Dad, a head pat? Please tell me you don’t like her.”
“Why not? She’s a good woman.”
“Now I know you’re full of sh*t.”
“Watch your mouth, son.”
Their laughter stopped when they got to the trailer and saw Allison on the steps.
“Oh, no, she’s got Mrs. Wilson’s dog.” Samuel said.
“Daddy, look. I have puppy friend.” Allison stood, the dog struggling to get free.
“Dad, what’s all over her dress?” Marius said.
“Hopefully just mud.”
“It’s all in her hair, too.”
“Sweetie, that puppy is Mrs. Wilson’s.”
“No, daddy. Is mine.” Allison held the dog even tighter.
“Allison, we’re going to get hamburgers at Charley’s. Mrs. Wilson is going to watch the puppy while we eat. Okay?”
Allison smiled crookedly. “Okay, Daddy. Then we go get puppy, if I’m good?”
“I promise.” Samuel gently took the dog from her. “Now, go with Marius. He’s going to get you all cleaned up.”
Samuel carried the dog over to Mrs. Wilson’s trailer and knocked. The tin door squeaked open.
“That girl of yours stole my dog again?” Mrs. Wilson flicked her cigarette into a bush.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m very sorry. Allison doesn’t understand when she does something wrong. And she just loves dogs.” Samuel said, as the dog ran inside.
“So you keep sayin’. Next time, I’m gonna call the police.” Mrs. Wilson slammed the door.

********

Later that evening, Samuel made sure the childproof locks were set on the front door. At least she couldn’t wander outside at night.
“But what if there’s a fire,” his wife said to him, in his head.
“I tried my best, Janine,” he whispered, as he poured himself some Scotch. After a couple of sips, he took the glass to the desk in his room. He pulled out a glossy pamphlet from the drawer. “I’m so sorry, Allison.” Salty tears mixed in with the whiskey taste in his mouth.
The next morning, Samuel dropped his son off at school.
“Allison not coming to school today?” Marius asked.
“Nope, we’re taking the day off. After yesterday, I’d better keep an eye on her. Figured we’d go get pancakes. Can you get a ride home after band practice?”
“Sure, Jessica’s mom can drop me off.”
“Pancakes?” Allison said from the back seat. “Chocolate chip?”
“You betcha. All the chocolate chips you want.”
After Allison had her fill of pancakes, Samuel drove her to the state psychiatric hospital that Allison’s doctor had recommended.
“Daddy, where are we?”
Samuel unloaded her suitcase. “Sweetie, you’re going to go on a vacation.”
“Are there puppies inside?” Allison asked.
“Let’s go see, shall we?” He held her hand tightly while he led her up to the white building.

********

He got home well ahead of Marius. There was a dog sitting on the front steps of the trailer porch. At least it’s not Mrs. Wilson’s dog.

“Shoo,” he said, and the dog took off. The trailer was so quiet. He turned on the TV and then took a new bottle of Scotch and a glass from the cabinet. The house was still too quiet. He turned up the TV volume. Some old action movie.

He poured one drink, then another. Then a third. His hands hadn’t stopped shaking, but at least he wasn’t crying anymore. Have to be strong for Marius.

Five o’clock, and the winter darkness started to close in. Someone started yelling in the movie. Then a cacophony of barking dogs erupted from the television. I don’t remember dogs in the movie. How much Scotch did I drink?He shook the bottle. Almost empty.

He squinted at the TV, but the picture was blurry. He turned it off. The yelling stopped but the barking persisted. No, it was more like howling, now. He fumbled with the childproof locks and opened the door. Animals streaked from the small porch into the shadows.

“What the—” He took the flashlight from the shelf by the door and shone it into the darkness. Dogs. Hundreds of dogs. Some even looked like wolves. And they had stopped howling. Instead, they were growling. Growling and snapping as they sprinted forward. Samuel stumbled backwards and fell, dropping the flashlight.

“I’m so sorry, Allison,” he cried as the dogs closed in.

*********

“Hi, Marius.” Allison hugged her brother. “Are we going to go get pancakes?”
“Yes, Allison, pancakes with chocolate chips.”
“Then home?”
“Yes, home. But only after we get you a puppy from the shelter.”
“Puppy.” Allison clapped her hands. “I love puppies.” Her smile was no longer crooked.

–Willow Croft

The story was written in response to our writing prompt, Gone. It was originally published by Willow Croft, here.

About the Author

Willow Croft is a freelance writer and editor, who loves nature, stargazing, and action adventure movies. She is the author of the poetry book, Quantum Singularity: A Poetic Voyage through Time and Space. Tweet her at @WillowCroft16.

Black Catastrophy