The following stories are fictional tales written by local authors who participated in There Will Be Words’ Halloween flash fiction reading on Oct. 13, at which writers had 500 words in which to tell the scariest stories they could conjure. Enjoy.
After all of our apocalypses, even after every armageddon ...
By JC Sevcik
The phone in this fallout shelter won't work. I've been trying to get a dial tone for days, but the landline's been dead since everything went dark. The cell towers, the Internet, the TV, they all went a while back, before the electricity, before the city went black.
The generator's running out of gas, like the planet. We thought we had that problem solved with solar, and the panels would work, if the sun wasn't blacked out by the bombs or the eruptions.
Scientists think ISIS and Ebola are probably to blame for the zombies. And that it might all have something to do with the nukes Russia dropped and GMOs and vaccines.
Near as anyone can tell, it went down like this:
Climate change and global warming led to large swaths of land no longer being arable and the sharp decline in agricultural yields caused the price of food to skyrocket. People flocked to the cities because there was a better chance of feeding their families – that's where the government was giving out aid rations. When there wasn't enough to go around, civil unrest broke out, the whole country went post-Katrina, rioting, looting. People protested the austerity measures and martial law and the curfew, but the response from the militarized police and National Guard was so swift and forceful that all dissent was quickly quelled.
But then illegal aliens carrying Ebola, terrorists who'd infected themselves with the virus, crossed the border, disguised as refugees seeking asylum from our airstrikes and immigrants coming here to steal free healthcare and welfare.
Biochemical warfare, up close and personal, sandwich artists sneezing on your 6-inch, commuters coughing on the subway. The first wave was Suicide Ebola bombers, but suddenly anyone under the weather was an unwitting accomplice of the IS.
With everyone concentrated in population centers, the plague was uncontrollable. After months and months of going without fresh fruit or vegetables, of eating wheat rations and meat pumped full of antibiotics, our entire country was left immuno-compromised. Everyone walking around overweight and weak and tired, feeling that feeling you get right before you get sick, only all the time. And so the epidemic washed over every city in waves.
The Soviets, spooked about being next, split an atom over every major metropolis and declared a quarantine to isolate the outbreak. Geologists believe fracking in the Rockies combined with the payload Putin dropped on Denver is what triggered the super-volcano under Yellowstone. We haven't seen the sun since.
The CDC speculates radiation from the blasts catalyzed a heretofore unrecognized reaction between a component found in many common vaccines and a chemical byproduct of the agricultural methods used in growing GMO wheat – presto! Geiger-emitting Ebola zombies, puking and shitting irradiated, infectious necro-waste, eating anything and anyone they can find before they fall over to become biohazardous landmines.
The only survivors now navigate the perpetual dismal dusk of a dead and decaying society. The fetid stench of a rotting and rancid civilization filling our every breath, we search for canned food from one safe house to the next, hoping to come into contact with any other immunes not carrying the virus but hopefully carrying some spam. Or Chef Boyardee.
I've been holed up here for days, trying to call anyone, anywhere to figure out where to head next, but the landlines went with the electricity. I've already siphoned every gas tank around that isn't a diesel and now the generator's almost out of gas and I'm down to my last two tins of Hormel. Sitting on a half-collapsed wall, watching the last lights on the horizon go as the grid finally gives out, the last gasp of our once great nation, my reverie is interrupted by a ringing.
The phone! I rush down the ladder and lunge for the receiver – "Hello!"
"Hello, this is American Education Services calling on behalf of Sallie Mae with an important message about your student loans."
JC Sevcik is on the board of directors of Seattle City of Literature, and he is the current writer in residence at the Kerouac House.
Nothing to Fear
By Raymond McKee
It was a stormy Saturday night at Tyler's house. Fish stick night. His mother, Joyce, was out on a date. She worked a lot too, and over time, Tyler had gotten used to making his own meals. He planned to take advantage of the evening alone and watch a horror movie. The weekend before, his friend Ryan had been over and they binge-watched the Friday the 13th series, ending on Jason Takes Manhattan, which wasn't really true of the title – most of it took place on a boat.
Tyler's mother didn't like him watching slasher movies. Or horror movies. Or anything entertaining, for that matter. But with her out of the picture, he was prepared to watch something that he had only heard about. A movie so scary, it didn't even have name. A movie reportedly banned in 51 countries. A movie people boasted of having watched as an act of bravery. Tyler doubted its existence, and that night, he was determined to find out.
Ryan gave him a bootleg copy of the supposed movie after school on Friday in a brown paper bag.
"Did you watch it?" Tyler asked with anticipation.
"Nah, man," Ryan said.
"What the hell?" Tyler said. "Why not?"
"Haven't gotten a chance yet. You wanna borrow it, or what?"
Tyler put the tape in his backpack. "I guess one of us has to have some guts around here," he said, walking off.
Thunder rumbled from outside, growing louder as rain beat against the windows. Tyler sat on his living room couch with a plate of fish sticks and ketchup and pressed play on the VCR remote. Wavy tracking lines ran across the black screen. There was no title, no production company, and no opening credits. It opened with a shot of a horrific screeching female ghoul with long, stringy hair. Her eyes were a fiery yellow and her mouth was agape with jagged, bloody teeth. Tyler felt unnerved, but he wasn't afraid. It was just weird.
The scene cut to a darkened cell where a naked man crawled on the ground, moaning in agony. His rail-thin body was bruised and battered. He looked up at the camera, revealing two mangled holes where his eyes had been stabbed out.
"Please..." he cried in a desperate voice. "Turn it off!"
Tyler took a bite of fish sticks and shook his head. Another boom of thunder sounded from outside, followed by flashes of lightning.
The metallic door to the prisoner's cell swung open as two wolf-like mongrels with long snouts and red eyes stormed inside and tore the man to pieces. The camera didn't shy away. The film quality looked cheap, but the special effects were top-notch.
Just as the scene cut to another similar-looking cell and prisoner, the power went out. After his initial annoyance, Tyler felt a chill, and his imagination began running wild in the darkness. Lightning flashed, and he could have sworn he saw something in the kitchen. A lanky figure with wild hair. His heart raced as goosebumps covered his arms.
"Mom?" he said nervously.
He sat frozen to the couch, waiting for a response, but there was no answer. Then the room went black again. <
Tonight's the night
By Tom Lucas
Neekademus, Master Demonologist and part-time necromancer, let out a chuckle.
It had taken five arduous cycles of traveling to forgotten places to gather each element that the infernal forces of evil required.
But before the sun rose again, they would pay.
All those who had laughed at him saying, "Nick, stop this two-bit rennie fair bullshit. You're over 60. You can't walk around dressed as Gandalf any more." All those who had mocked him over the years and made him feel less than.
To hell with them all. Literally. Tonight he would summon a demon and the world would tremble before him.
He could already hear them begging for their pathetic lives. Joy!
The day had been spent preparing the summoning chamber – the basement of a local Knights of Columbus hall, of which he was a board member. Board members got full access. You only had to agree to brew the coffee for the monthly pancake breakfast – a no-brainer.
In the center of the room was the expected pentagram, drawn out using the ashes of 100 executed murderers. This wasn't required, but when summoning a demon, go big. Surrounding the pentagram were protective glyphs painted with his own blood.
He had only one candlestick, but when your "Hand of Glory" candlestick is made using the right hand of Jeffrey Dahmer, you don't need a second.
He threw toxic herbs on a brazier fueled by the finest Chernobyl coal. Acrid clouds of green smoke began to plume.
Reading from a cursed grimoire, Neekademus prattled his way through some ancient tongue as he completed the ritual with care and precision.
With the last words uttered, he waited. Nothing. He made another attempt and then another. Nothing. He scanned the room. Ah, the mandrake root. Quickly he threw it onto the burning coals.
A noxious cloud of death! There! A classic demon – a big red beast with rows of sharp teeth and black leathery wings appeared in the center of the pentagram.
"Demon! I summoned you and as such, I now control you."
"Really?" Smiling, it stepped out of the pentagram.
Neekademus stammered. "You aren't supposed to do that." He snatched the grimoire, pointing at its pages.
The demon grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted him into the air.
"I'm going to eat you," it said. "I will swallow you in one gulp. I'm feeling generous tonight."
"I don't understand. Every component of the spell was satisfied. We should be out conquering my sworn enemies. Not this."
"You forgot one very important thing." It licked its lips.
"Eye of Newt."
"No. I have plenty of that. Check out the spice rack in the corner."
"That I see, but that's regular Eye of Newt. My summoning requires something much more evil. The Eye of Newt ..."
"No. Don't say it."
The demon swallowed Neekademus whole. He rubbed his full belly.
"They always fuck that up. Classic."
By J. Bradley
I rescue the rattiest bedsheet from a nearby clothing donation box. I trim it to where I think I could see Neil's knees and feet. I cut two eyeholes, arm holes, and a slit where I think his mouth would likely be.
Neil frowns when he sees the bedsheet body stretched taut between my fingers. He wants to say: This is the third year in a row. "Pretend you're your mother this time," I say.