Now, THIS is how you do a horror short.

Roger Kilbourne

Sometimes the night seems to know things.

Richard heard it in sound of the crashing surf, muffled but still audible from out of sight just over the dunes. He saw it in the way the tall grass trembled in the breeze. The way the ghost crabs crept out of their holes in the sand at the edge of the campfire’s light, ready to dart back in at the first sign of danger.

He finished off his Heineken with a long guzzle, fished another out of the cooler beside him and cracked it open. The urn’s brass weight rested solemnly in his lap.

On their last trip together, when Cheryl made him promise to spread her ashes here, he’d grown angry and said she shouldn’t talk like that. Like the cancer had already won. He regretted that bitter exchange now, of course, and the night knew this. But it knew something…

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I’m in a room, and it’s very dark.

Somewhere, nearby, I hear the sound of voices. They seem far away and faint, but familiar in a way. Something niggles at my mind. A teasing thing, a dream wiggling out of memory’s grasp even as the dreamer rises from the depths of sleep. I’m struggling to remember those voices, to hear them and put them with faces. The sounds don’t seem distinct enough.

The darkness of the room frightens me. I can’t see anything beyond just a short distance from my face, and everything feels cold and far away.

A light!

A light begins to grow, to bloom, a flower of glowing warmth which spreads to expand my view. Where the light grows, I see things — a grassy field, and trees surrounding a meadow. Deep, thick leaves on all the heavy, gnarled limbs. And yes! Yes, this place is familiar to me! I recall this…somewhere, far in my mind, this tickles…

It’s a park!

I hear Madeline! Yes, Madeline! I can hear her voice, and she’s there with me in the park! We’re running, and playing on the grassy field. I see us there, in the warm sunshine, with our wonderful dresses and shoes, and mother and father are there as well. Yes, I remember this, and I can hear Madeline’s voice, but not what she’s saying. And her face…her smile fades now, as she repeats the words, but…they don’t seem real. Like jumbled, baby-speak words, incomprehensible, unintelligible, babbles. And I can feel my mind fighting, fighting to understand her. I know understanding her is important — so important! — and I can’t. No matter how I try, I can’t.

“Maddy…darling Maddy, I can’t understand you…”

I see her face, and she’s crestfallen. She shakes her head, and she turns away, but I can’t tell if she’s sad…or angry with me.

“Maddy? Maddy, wait, I just need a moment to understand you…”

But she’s moving away from me and only casts a glance backward over her shoulder, and the daylight glints on her golden hair as she moves away.

Then the warm bubble of light shrinks , very fast, and I’m in the darkness once again. Alone, in the dark, and afraid.

Those voices are echoing nearby. I can hear them, and in my dark solitude they feel so sinister, so frightening, threatening and hateful.

Faces! Faces come at me from out of the dark. They smile but the smiles seem mean, almost resentful and angry and bitter. More jeers than pleasant visages.

“What is it? What do you want with me?” My voice pleads with them for mercy.

But my question doesn’t garner mercy or kindness or understanding from them. It garners only more sneers and angry sounding voices, some of them raised. As if I’m deaf! I can hear fine, I want to shout, I’m not deaf, I just don’t understand!

But my fear freezes my voice.

And then another bubble of light grows in front of me, and the inside of the bubble is warm and happy and I can see…

…I see Stella! Oh, Stella, my dearest friend! I’m seventeen years old and a senior in high school, and I sit beside Stella in the school cafeteria. We’re admiring the athletic young boys, though we try to pretend to be studying. They see us! Oh, goodness, duck! Behind the books, Stella! Duck! And the giggles come — oh, how they come! So strong, so uncontrollably! What fun we have together.

Stella puts her face near to me, and I smile at her. She must have a secret to share. What tidbit of gossip has she gotten hold of now? I can hardly wait to learn it! I lean forward and turn my ear to Stella, but…

…she grips my chin and turns my face to hers. She’s smiling but her fingers are strong on my jaw, almost painful. I’m confused…I don’t understand what she wants. She speaks then. She speaks, and God in Heaven, I can’t understand her either. It’s the same babbling, baby-talk as Madeline’s words. The syllables are different, but…they’re just that, syllables, random and jumbled. The words are garbled and I can’t decipher what Stella wants from me.

“What is it, Stella? You’re hurting me! What is it? I don’t…I don’t understand!…”

Stella’s face falls, too. She’s hurt. I’ve hurt her feelings, and she looks away from me, toward the boys or the cafeteria crowd, and her expression — oh, God, her expression! She’s in such pain, and I don’t know why.

“Stella, please, I don’t…I can’t…”

But she’s leaving. She lets go of me but takes my hand for a fleeting moment, and squeezes it. And when she lets go and backs away the bubble of light collapses around her and she’s gone. Stella’s gone.

“St-Stella? Stella, don’t leave me, please! I’m so frightened!…”

But there’s no one there. I’m alone in my darkness again.

At last, the bubble opens again and I can see Stephen! Oh, thank God! Thank God! It’s Stephen, and he’ll help me. I know he’ll help me. He’s always been there for me. He’s such a dear, so wonderful when father died. Such a dear when mother passed later. He’s so handsome! Even after all these years, Stephen is the most handsome man I know. How lucky I am to be his wife for…for…

How long? I can’t remember!

Oh, but here he is to walk me out of the church as husband and wife, and he looks so dapper in his tuxedo, and my ring — my beautiful ring! — I…

My hands…my hands are old and wrinkled, speckled with liver spots. And Stephen’s not here, is he? No, Stephen died a long time ago. When? When did Stephen die?

I can’t remember.

And so I wait. Always I wait for the bubble to expand, for the light to open up and show me what I have forgotten.



Copyright 2011 J. Dane Tyler, All rights reserved

Pest Control, Part 3

Pest Control, Part 3

I don’t know how far down the line I am right now, so I gotta stop and check myself. I have this LED flashlight thing and it’s plenty bright, but I always get a little nervous when I turn it on, y’know? Like, I’m not sure what I’ll see. I ain’t ever had nothin’ jump out at me, or be waiting in the dark for the right moment, but it always makes me nervous.

So I turn on the light and there’s nothing there. It’s just a narrow little tunnel that goes up over my head in a dome shape, like round tunnels do, and there’s a bunch of crap-water in the bottom. I don’t look at it – not if I can help it. And there’s probably rats down here somewhere too, but they won’t be around the skeeters. Skeeters drive most things off. Since I don’t see any rats or whatever, and I don’t wanna see the bumpy brown fish, I just keep my eyes on my gear.

The light’s just so I can get my map on. It’s like one of those things you read books on, ‘cept I can use it in the dark. It’s got a map of the tunnels and if I’m careful and pay attention, I can follow ‘em pretty well with it. I get my bearings and then turn it back off, and make sure the light’s in reach. I don’t know why. I always like to have it in reach though.

Back in the day, when there weren’t as many of ‘em around, killin’ skeeters was done by people like the CDC. They’d send some goobers out with their white anti-viral suits and stuff, and they’d go muckin’ around in the shit water ‘til they find the nest. Always big fun when a news crew found out about it, too, ‘cause they’d want to go into the tunnels too. At first it was funny to see how their faces get so weird when they realize what’s up down here. But then, some chick bought it on camera when the skeeters went nuts and they don’t let ‘em down here anymore. Matter of fact, they started hiring guys like us ‘cause we can be “discreet.” You know, nobody pays attention to some schlub like me. But some hard-body bottle-blond with silicone tits and botox lips gets ripped up, well…time to shut off the TV, know what I mean?

So here I am and I’m close. If the intell’s right, I mean. Sometimes we don’t get good info on where we’re s’posed to go to find ‘em and then it’s a turd hunt. But I don’t want to take any chances, so I’m grabbing my FLIR and turn it on. It takes a couple of minutes, but when it’s warmed up it’s a big help findin’ skeeters in the tubes.

See, like I toldja before, this is a virus thing. And like most viruses – least, that’s what the CDC says – it causes fever. So even after the host is pretty much gone and there’s only the virus trying to spread itself, the body it’s usin’ is toasty warm and shows up nice on the FLIR.

That’s another reason the creepy-ass suckers come down here. It’s cool, but not cold, and they get out of the light. There’s something called “photosensitivity” they get as part of the virus, and their eyes are real sensitive to sunshine and whatnot. Bright lights make ‘em nuts. So one way to keep skeeters off ya is to blind ‘em with bright lights and move away. Mostly it works.


Problem is, lots of times they panic when you blaze ‘em. When the charges go off, they wake up. By then, ‘course, it’s too late, but sometimes – and not often, but every once in a while now – they wake up while you’re plantin’ the charges. The charges are little fire-bomb things that you direct at the nest. Then you gotta go under or around the nest to the other side and make sure there’s enough charges on both sides. Otherwise, they get away. Just one skeeter gettin’ away can cause a new infestation somewhere else, so you have to get ‘em all.

I ain’t never had a nest wake up on me, but my buddy Turk did. Turk – everybody knew Turk after he started exterminating, but I knew him all my life. We went to school together, got high together, got drunk together, even lost our cherries the same night on a double date. We were tight, man. And he worked for the CDC back when the shit first started, but when it started gettin’ outta hand, he went private. But he kept his CDC suit.

One day Turk was chargin’ a nest over in Dunston. Got everything all set, but when he tried to get back to the front side of the nest – you know, where he came in, so he could go out the same way he got in? – one of the skeeters woke up. Musta smelled him or something. It went nuts down there and woke up a whole bunch more of ‘em.

Turk tried runnin’ but they tore a hole in his suit, and ‘fore long he was just buried. I heard when they found ‘im there wasn’t much left. They had to burn his corpse real quick though, so he didn’t turn. The infection can spread even if you died after exposure. I guess they didn’t want to take a chance, so they cremated him same day.

I never did get to say good-bye to him.

And then that TV reporter chick. That wasn’t pretty, I heard.

I try not to think about stuff like that ‘cause it can give ya the yips, y’know? This is sorta all I have going for me right now in life, so I can’t get the yips.

Anyway, I’m startin’ to pick something up on the FLIR now. Just a brighter spot on the screen, but I’ve seen it before. I know what it is.

Showtime, I guess.

#FridayFlash: The Crisp Man

He shifted on the soft, padded seat. It was very comfortable but he still felt … uncomfortable. He didn’t know why though.

“S-see, it’s j-j-just that m-my w-wife is the w-w-one who usually–”

“We understand, Joe.”

The tall man looked like a magazine ad. One for clothes maybe; those fine, fancy clothes from one of those shops where soft violin or piano music drips from the ceiling and walls. He wore crisp, dark, neat clothes. His tie had no flawed edges, no stray wrinkles. His hair was gray around the ears and jet black on top, and every strand, every piece, sat in its place, perfect, a plastic statue, movie star hair. The rugged lines in his face drew Joe’s eyes.

Joe swallowed hard. It was just spit but it went down like he’d swallowed a tire. He almost gagged. “Y-you … You do?”

The Crisp Man nodded. “Of course we do. We know all about you, Joe.”

Joe listened whenever the Crisp Man talked. He couldn’t help it. His smooth, rich voice was hot maple syrup on a cold winter morning. Joe felt better when he heard that voice. He wanted a voice like that.

Joe shifted again. He didn’t like the idea of someone he’d never seen before knowing all about him. He didn’t care for the thought of someone who knew all about him. It felt like someone went through his underwear drawer, or found his dad’s dirty magazines under his mattress.

“B-but I d-don’t know who y-you–”

“It’s all right, Joe. Really. We understand you can’t read the agreement.”

Joe’s blood chilled. They knew him all right. Knew that much, at least. He never told anyone, but they knew. He couldn’t go anyplace where he’d have to write his name, or his address. He couldn’t visit libraries and no one ever saw him with a newspaper in his hand. It’s a small town. People talk. Everyone probably knew. Still, an icy hand gripped his heart when the Crisp Man spoke his secret shame.

Joe shuddered and stared at the paper. The jumble of letters and words seemed alien and threatening. He glanced at the Crisp Man with narrowed eyes, and tried to muster all the fight he had into his words.

“And all I have t-to d-do is m-make my m-mark on this paper? And y-you’ll g-g-give m-me m-money?”

The Crisp Man smiled again and his perfect, TV-star teeth shined at Joe. “That’s all. And take the medicine, of course.”

“Right. The m-medicine. W-what’s it f-for again?”

“It’s for many things, Joe. It will make you everything you want to be. Strong. Smart. And it will take away your stutter.”

“All that?”

“And more.”

“J-just for t-taking the m-medicine?”

“And making a mark in your own hand on the paper, yes.”

Joe looked down again. The letters seemed to shift and crawl over the paper. He stared at the gold pen gleaming on the table, reflecting from the glossy varnish, and the paper next to it. Then he focused on his own reflection in the table. His wild hair, his ragged clothes, his scruffy beard, his hollow eyes, all stared back and urged him to pick up the pen, make the mark.

“We know you don’t have a wife, Joe. You lost her years ago in the fire.”

Joe shuddered again when a chill twisted up his spine. He wiped the sweat from his palms onto his dirty overall legs and put them back on the table. How could the Crisp Man know he was about to lie again, say his wife usually does all the reading and signing for him? But he knew. Somehow, the Crisp Man knew. He could read Joe’s mind, maybe. Like some folks read books and magazines, the Crisp Man saw into Joe’s skull and picked his thoughts out. He couldn’t hide anything from the Crisp Man.

Joe licked his lips. His heart pounded. The Crisp Man reached out and nudged the pen toward him with trimmed, clean nails which glinted under the recessed lights above. The room felt hidden to Joe, dark and mysterious beyond the circles of light from above. The warm carpet and rich table didn’t make the room cozy or friendly. Joe felt very alone, very defenseless, and very watched.

“N-nothin’ bad’ll happen to me from the m-medicine you said, right?”

“That’s right, Joe. Nothing bad.”

“And this p-paper s-says y-you gotta p-pay me t-t-to t-take the m-medicine, right?”

“That’s right. More money than you’ve ever made before. Just for making your mark on the agreement and taking the medicine.”

Joe drew a deep breath and seized the pen, found the line at the bottom of the paper and made a large, clear X on it. He dropped the pen and sat back in the embrace of the soft chair and folded his arms over his chest.

“Very good, Joe. You won’t regret this. Now I’ll have someone drive you home and your first pills will arrive later. We’ll call you and let you know when you need to come back for tests. We’ll send a car when it’s time. Do you understand, Joe?”

Joe nodded. He couldn’t speak. He felt bad, like he’d done something wrong.

“Don’t worry, Joe,” the Crisp Man soothed. “We know all about you, and we’re going to take care of you.”

He watched the Crisp Man get up from his seat and vanish through a door he couldn’t see somewhere beyond the ring of lights. Joe thought, no matter what the Crisp Man said, he might’ve made a big mistake.

A big one.


All original content © J. Dane Tyler 2010
All rights reserved