Authors: Ryan Craig Bradford
Tags: #YA, #horror, #male lead, #death, #dying, #humor
On the screen, someone says “We can’t bury Shelly. She’s a friend of ours.”
I look behind me to see if Brian’s hiding in one of the dark corners with the other creatures.
The sound of a phone wakes me. The red, disembodied digits of a clock read a little past 5:00 a.m. My skull feels whip-cracked, like a concentration of sugar has settled right on the top of my brain. My eyes adjust to the darkness and I make out Steve’s figure standing in the corner. His back is to me. He holds his family’s cordless phone down by his side. He sways to a dream rhythm, out of step with the frantic ringing.
“Steve, you’re sleepwalking.” My voice sounds weak. Louder, I say, “Answer the phone.”
He faces me with a clumsy, three-point turn. He holds the phone out to me.
“It’s for you.”
I jump from the couch. The urge to shake him awake overwhelms me. I try to remember the consequence that happens when you wake a sleepwalker. Death. I’m certain.
I take the phone out of Steve’s hand. He wanders back over to his couch and lies motionless. The grid of buttons lights with each ring. My family’s name scrolls across the display. I answer the phone.
It’s my mom’s voice, distant and flat. She speaks through a wall of high-pitched static. “You need to come home now.”
“Do you know what time it is?”
“Please come home.”
The static pitches upward so high that I have to hold the phone away from my ear. It cuts out in rapid succession, only this time the pattern really does sound like
Get out of my house.
“Mom, are you there?”
The static ends. The line goes dead. Steve’s snoring is the only sound. I scamper to find my shoes in the darkness and leave without even tying them.
The neighborhood’s Halloween decorations strive to give me one last scare before dawn breaks. Skeletons hanging from trees shake in the wind, their bones sound like wind chimes. An inflatable sock, twenty feet high, collapses and reanimates from a machine blowing spurts of air through it. There’s nothing celebratory about this dance. I run faster.
The door to my house is locked. All my momentum becomes focused in my shoulder, which slams against the newly-installed deadbolt. The graying morning flashes red. I reel from the pain and nearly fall down the stairs. Inside, my dog barks. The window from my parents’ room lights up, and I see a figure cross it. Muffled footsteps trample down the stairs. The lock disengages and the door opens a crack. My dad’s bloodshot eyes fill the space. He sees me and opens the door wide. He holds an aluminum bat at his side.
“Jesus. You scared us.”
I rub my shoulder. A dull ache has planted itself deep in my muscle.
A hand slithers around my dad’s arm and my mom appears behind him.
“What are you doing home so early?” she asks.
“Didn’t you call me?” I shake myself. “No, you called me. At Steve’s. You told me to come home.”
“We’ve been asleep,” Dad says.
“Come in,” Mom says. “Maybe it was a nightmare.”
The adrenaline wears off. My eyes feel heavy. Dad puts his arm around me, and I let him guide me to the couch. I’m almost sleepwalking myself by the time we get there. Before I fall into unconsciousness, I think it’s strange that “nightmare” was the word my mom used.
The girl in the picture looks magnificent blood-drenched. The sidewalk glistens with gore. I put her hands into a mangled, Egyptian-walk-like stance to accentuate the writhing of her final moments. The blood looks good, but I adjust the contrast of my camera to make it darker, more deathly.
A wasp lands on the corpse and crawls around on her white shirt. I follow with the viewfinder. It stops on the small rise of her breasts, and I automatically take measurements, trying to remember if they were bigger than a week ago. The insect climbs higher up, idling between her clavicle and where her neck begins. A little pool of blood has formed in the crook of her neck, where the wasp treats itself to a little snack. The bug hovers over the girl’s face. I make little circling motions with my camera to keep up.
This is priceless footage.
Ally is pale. You can reset a white-balance against her skin. Her lips, almost as pale as her skin, are open slightly to reveal the small gap between her two front teeth. Watery blood leaks out of the side of her mouth. Her gray eyes stare past the bug circling above them. The wasp, maybe sensing a smoother, watered-down treat, lands on the corpse’s face.
I have to tell the corpse to not smile.
“I can’t help it,” she says. “Are you done yet?”
“No, this looks really good.” It does. Somehow I’ve mixed the perfect amount of corn syrup and food coloring (red
blue—most people don’t realize that they’ve got to darken it up, or else they just end up with liquid candy). I’ve also added milk to mimic blood’s sometimes-thicker consistency, and since Ally died from a sledgehammer to the skull, there’s bound to be some brain thickness coming from somewhere.
“All right,” I say, catching one last shot of her tits. “I think that’s a wrap.” I stop the tape. Using the word “wrap” makes me sound professional. I use it to impress Ally.
She sits up and takes her glasses off, puts them up to the sun to inspect red specks on the lenses. Somewhere, a door slams shut and my dog, Brock, comes bounding from the sound to lick the sweetness off Ally’s face
“Fucking mutt.” I try to push Brock off her.
“It’s okay,” she says, petting him on the head, stretching the fur around his eyes. His dumb face pulls but his smile never falters. He licks her again and she giggles.
Then after some careful consideration, she says, “I’ve been thinking of the script.”
“Yeah?” I look up from rewinding the tape. “And?”
“Just small things. Like, right before I get killed? And I say ‘Get away from me with that’”—she pauses—“‘that effing sledgehammer’?”
“What about it?”
“Do I really have to say the F-word?”
I sigh, maybe a little dramatically. “You would probably say it if you were really going to get your brain smashed. This is realism.”
She cringes at the image of a brain smashed, despite having just spent the last five minutes on the sidewalk in fake blood. “I don’t know. I might just scream. I just think you use
too much in your script.”
“Fuck, it’s just a word. Fuck fuck fuck.”
She stands up out of the fake-blood puddle. She’s about eight inches shorter than me. “Please, Bria—I mean Jason.”
Brock runs off somewhere, and far off, a kid screams.
Ally quietly apologizes and asks if I’m mad. I lie and tell her that I’m not. She smiles and hugs me goodbye. I smell her hair. I tell her that she should call to tell me when she can film again.
I look past her as she crosses the street. The curtains shift in a window of her house—her mom or dad, who, I suspect, has been watching us this whole time. The supervision doesn’t make me feel any safer, just paranoid. I don’t know what makes me more uncomfortable: the threat of kidnap, or the icy feeling of being under constant surveillance. I wave at the window and the curtains slide closed.
Ally doesn’t look back as she walks home, and a car driving too fast slows down to look at the blood-soaked, walking corpse girl.
I remember my brother as a skeleton. My lasting memory of him is as a corpse.
Ally’s thirteenth birthday was a costume party. After months of vying for her attention, we got the invitation. We showed up drunk after sneaking shots of whiskey from our dad’s liquor cabinet. We thought it would help us be comfortable.
He was a skeleton. I was a zombie. Twin deadites. We scared Ally’s sensitive friends when we arrived. Some of them were dressed as fairies and Disney characters. Princesses before teenage years turned their costumes slutty.
Ally was not a princess; she was a ghoul. Face painted white and black around the eyes. She wore a black Spandex suit decorated with bones. The princesses were scared of her celebration of death. Brian and I were in love.
I was also jealous. Two skeletons made a lovely pair.
Still muddled from the alcohol, we said hi to the dead girl. It was the first time we spoke to her. We were trying not to slur our words.
When we all paired off during a game, Ally picked Brian. She picked her skeleton mate. I was stuck with a fat fairy.
When it’s your birthday, you’re allowed one birthday wish. I stole Ally’s: I wished for Brian to go away.
A couple weeks later, I got my wish.
It’s funny how a girl can change things.
The sun’s about to set and my dog hasn’t come home. I shake his food bag and whistle. Only my echo responds, sounding weak and scared upon its return.
I wait until dusk to sneak out through my window. For the past year, the town of Silver Creek has enforced a bullshit curfew: no kids on the street after sundown. They’re turning us into reverse vampires.
Immediately after Brian disappeared, my parents were strict about keeping me in their sight at all times. As time passed, however, they’ve become more distant and less attentive. Still, it’s not like I can just strut out the front door as the sun’s going down.
A trio of matching children screeches by on tricycles, racing to get home before sundown. A speeding driver nearly hits them. I think of the advantages of having speed bumps in my neighborhood, but after a few steps, I don’t really care. A breeze starts up, rustling fresh grass cuttings around my feet. The sun has set, and there’s no more orange hue; everything’s gray. Behind me, one of the tricycle kids screams. I stay focused on finding Brock.
I step in some remnants of fake blood from earlier today. The blood has dried into a crystallized candy-slick. I’m thankful that it doesn’t get on my new school shoes.
An owl hoots overhead, comical and ominous at the same time.
When Brock runs away, I find him in the usual places: terrorizing Old Hilborn’s cats or down by the drainage pipe near the creek. I walk by Hilborn’s place, and he’s sitting on the porch, all three cats secured on his lap. Instead of loose and saggy, old age has pulled the skin on his face tighter around the eyes and mouth, exposing black-rimmed teeth.
He’s a living corpse.
He brightens up when he sees me walking past, and his faded eyes open wide. He beckons me near his porch.
“Finally, God willing! I’m covered in pussy!” He cackles at his joke, his laughter deteriorating into a hacking fit. He holds two cats over his head in a callous “Y.” Dangling from the scruffs of their necks, the cats look more annoyed than pained. I walk faster. Hilborn mumbles the pussy joke to himself and laughs again.
The wind kicks up, and I zip my black hoodie. Down by the stream, the wetlands grass grows above my head and dry enough not to upset my allergies, which I’m thankful for as I crash my way through it. I leave a crushed trail so that I can find my way back.
so someone can find you
I quickly push the sinister thought away.
I enter a clearing, surrounded by grass and a concrete wall that supports a drainage pipe. A small trickle empties into the stream.
I see my dog.
A wave of relief rushes over me when I realize I can make it home, with my dog, before the sun completely sets. I run to Brock but stop before reaching him.
He exposes his fangs. The hair on his back, stiff.
He growls at something behind me. Cursing my obliviousness, I turn to see what he’s looking at.
A pile of sewer rats, ravaging each other. A mound of rot.
I step forward. No, not rats, but a dog. What I thought were writhing
rodents is actually the mangled and inconsistent fur
of a single dog. All of its legs work independently in some grotesque form of reanimation. I shudder.
The smell hits me. I taste it in my mouth.
I pat my leg. “Let’s go Brock.”
Let this creature die in peace.
My dog doesn’t move.
The decaying animal stands, balancing on unsteady feet. I jump back and feel a breath get caught in my throat where it swells and burns.
The creature stares at me with one eye while the other hangs out of a socket, stuck to the dried blood on its face. There are three gashes on its side that are deep enough for me to see ribs. The animal sits there with a worried smile, panting and whimpering. Its good eye rolls around and tries to focus on me.
“Run,” I say, mostly to myself.
The creature’s sad whimpering stops. A growl grows in its throat. The sound is like choking, like dry heaving. It knows I won’t help it. Its lips curl back and reveal sharp teeth, surprisingly intact.
“Run!” I yell, and the thing lunges at me. I feel snapping at my heels. A silly aside thought reminds me not
to slip on that root.
I slip on the root. The ground arrives hard.
I turn to face the thing, ready with fists clenched and enough adrenaline running to face the demonic nightmare that has somehow escaped a horror movie.
Brock lunges. The animals intersect in the air.
Cue a heroic overture.
They become a furry, vicious yin-yang. I hoot. The battle snarls on until there is a very large, very heartbreaking yelp as the ball of dog separates.
My dog stands.
Brock, assessing the damage, gives me a confused
look and licks the wounds of the other animal. The creature breathes, slow but rhythmic. I call my dog over to me. My hero looks at the conquered thing one more time and limps over. I get up to inspect my dog. There is a shallow wound on his shoulder. It doesn’t look too serious. I wipe animal blood on my jeans.
“Let’s get you home, boy,” I say, hugging him. I part the tall grass and let Brock lead the way, but not before checking behind me one more time. The other creature rests on the ground. I enter the tall grass and, despite Brock’s injury, we run the whole way home in darkness.