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A Little Something for Halloween

October 28, 2011

This is my first attempt to write a horror story. It’s an idea that had been swimming around in my head for a while, but as of late I haven’t felt the inspiration or the motivation to write anything. I’d tried to turn the idea into words a few times over the last couple of weeks, but every time I sat down to write this it just felt wrong and I would erase it a few hundred words in. Last night, though, I was finally able to get it out of my head and onto “paper,” so to speak. I still don’t know if it’s any good, which is where I hope you’ll come in.

Not only was this a story that I wanted to write for myself, it is a story that I plan on entering into the short story contest I mentioned a post or two back. (You can enter two stories in the “Fiction” category, and I was planning on modifying one of my previously-posted westerns for my second entry.) That explains why this story is a bit shorter than my others have been; the contest has a pretty firm maximum of two thousand words per fiction entry. I always like feedback on my work, even if I don’t receive very much of it. So I humbly ask that if you read this, leave a comment or shoot me a line on Twitter or the like. Constructive feedback is always appreciated, and that goes double for this post. If I decide to enter this into that contest, the deadline of which is the 10th, I want it to be as polished as possible.

I hope you enjoy it.

He thought he heard someone screaming. He paused out of instinct on the cracked remnants of the sidewalk and grunted, looking and listening for anything that might tell him where the sound had come from. Screams were common those days, and they usually told him that there was a meal nearby but this scream was different. He had been hearing it for weeks now, though each time was like the first to him. The sound had been omnipresent at the beginning, but now he only heard it three or four times a day. It was always the same scream: a man’s voice shrieking loudly and desperately. It always sounded close, as though the man was practically touching him, but he could never find him. The scream only ever lasted for a few seconds, and once the sound faded he would forget he had ever heard it. Time held no meaning for him now; all that ever concerned him was the moment he was in and the unnatural hunger that followed him wherever he went.

The sound died away and he stood motionless, his mouth agape and dripping thick white drool. His unblinking red eyes stared straight ahead. The city was silent but for the sound of the warm wind rattling through the limbs of the trees that still stood here and there. He couldn’t feel the heat of the sun beating down on his exposed grey flesh and coming up at him in waves off of the pavement. Across the street ahead of him, a pile of rubble blanketed the wreckage of a truck that had driven into the brick wall of a bank. Behind him, thin wisps of smoke still curled from the black husks of the sedan and the minivan that had crashed head-on into each other. Abandoned vehicles, undamaged and ignored, sat in silence parallel-parked against curbs or with open doors in the middle of the street. Dry bones, picked clean and serving no further purpose, littered the sidewalks and alleyways. A single raven cawed from the steeple of the nearby church that sat on the corner. It wasn’t a thought so much as a fleeting image that crossed his mind and seemed to tell him that it wasn’t always this way, but the city had been empty and silent for as long as he could remember. Another moment passed and the image vanished, and he forgot what “remembering” even was. He moaned and continued on.

Movement to his right caught his eye and he slowly turned his head. He saw another of his kind half a block away, wet with blood and englutting the carcass of a cat underneath the awning of an empty convenience store. He groaned loudly and began walking toward the feast. The sight of blood kindled his ever-smoldering hunger, sending him into a bestial fervor. He stepped into the street and growled sloppily, intending to fight the meal away from its current owner. The wind shifted and a new smell met his nostrils, stopping him.

He turned his head and body back around and breathed deeply into lungs that didn’t work correctly anymore. Smell was the one sense he could still count on, and there was no mistaking the sweet scent that came into his black nose now. It was not as fresh as the bloody mess of meat that called to him from across the street, and it was a wonder he even noticed it at all, but it was closer, and his insatiable hunger demanded immediate satisfaction. He worked his stiff legs, making them carry him faster. The smell was coming from the church, wafting out of one of the broken stained glass windows. He stretched his arms out, leaning into his shaking, shuffling steps, his fingers wriggling like grave worms.

He came around the corner and looked at the building. Spittle flew from his mouth with each ragged breath that escaped his throat. The doors of the church had been broken in, lying in splintered heaps just inside. He climbed the stone steps that led from the sidewalk to the doorway and breathed in. The smell was coming from inside. He stepped across the broken doors, oblivious to the thick splinters that jabbed into the soft spongy flesh of his naked left foot. They pushed farther into his foot with each step, and the wounds began to bleed thick black blood that he trailed behind him as he shambled across the plush red carpet of the aisle toward the altar, where the bodies lay.

There were three of them, though the number was irrelevant to him; all he cared about was the flesh. A thick cloud of flies lifted from the carcasses at his approach, buzzing around him. Some left through broken the windows or through the entrance whence he had come. Others returned stubbornly to the swollen, festering, maggot-ridden corpses. A few came to him, landing on his exposed flesh or crawling unnoticed into his ears or up his nose.

He dropped to his knees before the bodies and hissed satisfactorily. He examined them for a moment, his eyes soaking in the bounty that he had found. They had been there for some time; their flesh was almost liquefied now, and in some places more maggot than human. The bodies were close together, their arms wrapped around one another. One was bigger than either of the other two and another was hardly as large as a small dog. Some of the flesh on each body was gone, exposing bones, as though someone had beaten him to the first meal from the corpses. Between the three of them, though, there was more than enough to calm his unceasing hunger, if only for an hour. He reached down and wrapped his long, bony fingers around the arm of the smallest of the corpses. A quick tug was all it took to rip the limb from the body with a sickening wet sound.

He heard the scream again, loud in his head. “Stop!” it yelled, piercing the buzzing of the flies. He tightened his grip possessively on the arm and looked around, hissing. The scream refused to stop. He howled to the ceiling and brought his meal to his face. The rotten flesh all but exploded when he bit into it; blood, drool, and maggots stuck to his face and ran down his chin onto his chest. He moaned and hissed and snarled as he tore at the meat, angrily trying to shut the bodiless cry out of his mind. “No!” it echoed in his mind, seeming to come from within him. He squeezed harder. The flesh popped and oozed between his fingers. The brittle bones snapped. He ate his meal even more ravenously now, and soon his face was slick with the juices that flowed from the putrid meat. Maggots writhed and twisted on his face. Still the screaming voice wouldn’t leave him alone.

Driven by the hunger, he devoured the rest of the flesh and dropped the bare bones. He tore at the stomach of the largest body, ripping away the tattered remnants of a shirt and peeling skin and flesh away as though they were wet paper. Blood covered his emaciated arms to their elbows by the time he reached his goal, pulling twisted black intestines from the bloated body and biting into them voraciously. He moaned in animalistic satisfaction. A fly settled on his lidless right eye. Still the screaming went on. He lent his own scream to it, a loud, guttural moan.

He dropped the slimy mass of guts and crawled over the bodies, his weight popping their flesh as if the corpses were giant pustules. He grabbed one of the heads and bashed it against the marble floor before the altar, smearing it with blood and pus, until the flesh sheared away and the skull split. He broke away chunks of bone and reached into the head. He ripped out a chunk of the soft grey brain and consumed it, his flesh burning with his bestial drive to feed. The screaming in his head only grew louder.

A sudden sense of being trapped came over him. The scream grew so loud that his vision went black and all that he could feel was the overwhelming sensation of being in a room that was shut out from the rest of the world and getting smaller and smaller with every passing moment. The scream had never been so loud in his head, and it mingled with the cry coming from his own mouth until it seemed like they were now the same voice. An instant later a memory returned to him, and then another, until he was suddenly aware of what he was, what he was doing, and what he had once been.

It was a sensation that was common when he was at the height of his feeding fervor. The memories always vanished as quickly as they appeared, and once they went away, he had no recollection of the moment, no lingering sense of what he had been before this had taken him. Now, though, in the moment, he remembered what he had been weeks, months earlier—he had long since lost the ability to reckon time, even when the memories came back to him. He realized that the screams he heard in his head were his, coming from some part of him that was still there, locked away in what was left of his mind, only slowly getting weaker and weaker as time went on. There was some part of him left, locked away in the deepest recesses of his mind, but it could do no more than bring these momentary returns of memories. Try as that speck of himself might, it could do nothing to control his body. Whatever force had returned him from death was too strong, and it wouldn’t be long now before the last part of him that was still human was swallowed up and gone forever. Soon this existence would be all he knew, and nothing would matter to him except filling the hunger. Soon he would never be able to look at the piece of plastic hanging from the torn, soiled remains of his white jacket and know that the words “Dr. George King” had any meaning, nor would he remember that the picture next to the name was what he had been before this. Perhaps, the fleeting thought crossed his mind, that would be a blessing.

He heard a sound behind him and spun around, dropping the piece of brain to the floor. A woman stood silhouetted in the doorway, a shotgun cradled in her arms like a babe. “You’ll even do it in a church, you bastards,” she snarled. She pumped a round into the chamber.

He stood up and took a step away from his meal. Blood dripped from his mouth and fingertips. Maggots crawled on his flesh, consuming it as they consumed that of the three corpses. He stretched his arms out and took another step. “Help me,” he wanted to shout, but already the scream was dying and the voice was fading to silence. The only sound that passed his teeth was a wet and gurgled “Braaiins.”

Had he been aware of it, he would have thanked the woman for the 12-gauge slug that was sent into his skull.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2011 1:40 pm

    Ooooh, a classic zombie apocalypse story. It must be a really different, unsettling, and yet fun exercise in putting yourself into this scenario, this scene, and being able to describe it in such a way so that others can vividly see it too. You have, of course, done an excellent job of doing this. I could vividly imagine everything playing out in my head–the settings, the actions, all of it. From beginning to end, it was like I was watching it happen, rather than reading it. Very well done. ^^

    The only thing that for whatever reason bothered me was the part when you are describing the corpses in the church. This sentence in particular: “One was bigger than either of the other two and another was hardly as large as a small dog.” Hardly as large as a small dog sounds a little strange to me, as you’re using two relative terms to describe size. I’d probably reword that a little, but that’s just me. (And I have no idea why that stuck out at me, as it’s hardly a story-breaking detail or issue. xD Who knows.)

    While it’s not a Halloween story per se, it’s definitely timely and provides a nice dose of horror. I found reading it was unsettling, but not so terrifying that I’m going to shiver about it afterwards. :) I like it!

    Keep up the excellent work!

    • October 28, 2011 2:34 pm

      I’m glad you liked it. (I trust you were being honest.)

      It was certainly different writing this, especially since I haven’t read as many horror stories as I have, say, westerns. As such, I knew that the results of my trying to write horror would be a bit more shaky than my westerns or my WoW stories. It’s good to expand your field, though. The word count that the contest has in place is a little bit of a constraint too, in that I had to pack as much information as I could into a small space. Which was part of the point, I suppose.

      I’ve always thought that the potential of zombie stories was more limited than that of, say, vampire stories. One of my personal fears has always been that of losing control of my body while my mind still being intact. So I thought it would be interesting to explore the zombie idea from the perspective of one of the monsters, who still has vestiges of what he was still there, trying in futility to get control back. I’m sure that I’m not the first person to approach it from that angle, but I hope I did a passable job at it. (As long as the idea is sound, I can fix anything that might be off about it.)

      As far as the passage you quoted, that was probably one of the more awkward-sounding lines to me as well. I wanted to give the unsettling implication that it was a family that had taken refuge in the church (and he is by extension eating the arm of a child), but not be too terribly overt about it. Were I to actually submit this to that contest, that’s one of the lines I’d try to polish up a little.

      Thank you for your feedback. :)

  2. November 1, 2011 4:40 pm

    Hello!

    One thing that I have always liked about your writing is how you humanize your bad guys. I love complex characters, especially complex bad guys! Am I the only one who thinks that the motivations of antagonists is way more interesting than the motivations of protagonists?

    Anyway.

    I really enjoyed reading this story. It was certainly, well, messy enough. You certainly like to pack in the adjectives, which isn’t always bad. Sometimes it can bog down your writing some though, which means when we get to a spot like “Soon this existence would be all he knew, and nothing would matter to him except filling the hunger. Soon he would never be able to look at the piece of plastic hanging from the torn, soiled remains of his white jacket and know that the words “Dr. George King” had any meaning, nor would he remember that the picture next to the name was what he had been before this. Perhaps, the fleeting thought crossed his mind, that would be a blessing,” it’s difficult to read through it because it’s so word-heavy. Sounds silly to say word-heavy… What else would you have there! What I mean is that when the whole story is heavy and thick, it can be difficult to appreciate the passages that really need to be weighty and full. Just something to think about while writing!

    Another fabulous story, dear. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • November 1, 2011 5:51 pm

      I’ve always been a firm believer that a hero is only as good as his villain. A poorly-realized (or cliched) villain can bog down a narrative even more than a poorly-realized (or cliched) hero can.

      I don’t know if you’ve ever read Shakespeare’s “Othello,” but I think that Iago, the villain, is a much more interesting character than the hero. There’s absolutely nothing sympathetic about him, though; he’s about as pure evil as a man can be. I do think, however, that reading that play and appreciating that villain as much as I do has done a lot to how I portray my antagonists. Even if I don’t “humanize” them, i.e. make them sympathetic, it’s vitally important to me that I make them more than mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash analogues. (By the way, if you haven’t, you really need to read “Othello.”)

      As to your critique, like I mentioned to Cerylia, the 2,000-word limitation of the contest made me pack more detail into a smaller space than I normally would. I can certainly see how I could have tried to get too many images and ideas into a space too small to do them justice. I had a feeling that I may have done just that, which is part of the reason why I posted it as it was instead of giving it another once-over on my own. The idea, for example, that the protagonist (such as he was) of this story was a doctor is thought-provoking and interesting, I think, but it’s not vital to the story as a whole, so I could probably dump or trim that without much of an effect. I do want to maintain the implication that the bodies in the church were a family taking refuge, so streamlining the descriptions in that scene are essential, I think. If I were to remove the unnecessary details and streamline those that are necessary, I might be able to perhaps add a bit more descriptive language regarding the church or the city as a whole.

      Thanks as always for your comment. I’m happy that you liked it.

      • November 1, 2011 6:00 pm

        I wouldn’t dump all the neat, thought-provoking stuff that you did include; I was thinking, dump some of the descriptive things about the city and the church, or extraneous things that the reader’s minds will fill in.

      • November 1, 2011 6:45 pm

        I ended up 200 or so words shy of the maximum for the contest, so I have a little wiggle room. I think I’ll be sitting okay if I just streamline some of the existing stuff.

        I’ll give it a nice once-over later in the week or over the weekend and see where I end up.

  3. andromeda permalink
    November 30, 2011 3:12 pm

    Eeeeeewwwww kinda very verbosely descriptive…. But it makes sense, hmmm. For some odd strange reason it seemed to me like you uh, Dare I say it? It seemed to me like you were trying to parallel sex? Idk, it was very odd reading this, I think the whole description of flesh popping, and rotting made me feel very uncomfortable, but the Zombie, salivating, and drooling and groaning really emphasized the a lusty? type of feeling, I don’t know my mind is so much more eloquent when talking to itself a s opposed to verbally, but it was interesting to read and uncomfortable as well which isn’t bad. Now that im not reading it, I feel that its a good story, and as a ll good stories, it can certainly be expanded. It Even seemed like you foreshadowed death at the beggining, like the only way for the zombie to “cope” with its feelings and emotions, was to well die, good job.

    • December 1, 2011 10:19 pm

      Yeah, I’ve been told that my writing is very descriptive. I try my best not to bog down my work in adjectives, though… >.>

      Now that I’ve had a chance to read your whole comment, I much more understand what you meant earlier today when you gave me your interpretation. It certainly wasn’t my intention, but when you think about it, devouring people is the closest thing a zombie is going to get to sex. When you also consider the fact that the hunger (“Brains… brains…”) is a pervasive, driving force behind zombies in pretty much every interpretation of them that I’m aware of.

      So now that I think about it more, I’m finding myself agreeing with you as far as that being a possible interpretation. Which is amazing, given that that was the farthest thing from my mind at the time I wrote it. I think that’s a very valid point of view, when you look at it a certain way. (The gears are already turning in my head, looking at my own words in a different way and seeing EXACTLY what you meant.)

      Thank you very much for giving me that feedback. :)

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