Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language, violence, and mature content.
This is my first work I've published on YWS for a while - hotel quarantine sure gives you a lot more time do stuff. This is something I slapped together this morning, so it's a bit rough, reviews would be much appreciated. The running theme behind it is a take on 21st century America gone crazy, plunged into anarchy and chaos. It's also a sort of slasher horror story, so I drew on movies like Scream and the Purge for inspiration. (Also, the costume the killer's wearing is supposed to be very similar to that of the stranger in Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of Red Death).
Let me know what you guys think.
Sydney clamped a hand over her mouth as she hid behind the bench, to hide the short, shallow gasps she was taking, her heart beating as if it were trying to break through her ribcage. She could hear that horrible ri-i-i-i-ipping noise from somewhere to her left.
The long river boardwalk was always lit up at night by the city, a cold silver-blue neon. Reflected on all the glass-sheathed buildings looming around her, the lights shimmered and swam, casting weird shadows. They sparkled on the river opposite.
She couldn’t hear him anymore. There was no sound of footsteps. It was silent.
Should she get up?
She almost screamed when she heard her watch beep. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Had he heard that? Had he doubled back?
The watch beep meant that it was one in the morning. Which meant nobody else would be out here. The city would be empty – it was just herself, out here, and the terrifying figure she’d seen before she dove behind the bench. There was the other man, too, the one the killer had sunk his knife into. But he didn’t count anymore. The screams had long since subsided. No, she was alone. The safety of daylight was still on the other side of the world, hours away, while night reigned on in the city.
Even five or six years ago, a city at one in the morning would not have been this quiet. People would have been out, partying, having fun. The clubs used to close at three and there would be people staggering back to their apartments from anytime between then and five; pathetic as it was, it was comforting to see them when you were walking home yourself. It meant you were not alone – there was a time when being alone didn’t exist in cities. But that was gone now. Nobody went out after dark anymore, not unless they needed to.
After a few more minutes, she decided it was safe to get up. She did so slowly, her legs shaking as she did. The first thing she saw was the thing crumpled on the boardwalk, on her right, and she had to clamp a hand over her mouth again, for fear she might vomit.
Spread-eagled, like the Vitruvian man. A pool of dark liquid spreading out around it, glittering in the glow of the city. Strange patterns like tattoos all over the body. Dark red slash marks. Witch-marks. Symbols of hate, of anarchy.
She’d seen all that and worse before. She’d seen corpses strung up on high buildings as she walked by in the night, nightmare parodies of angels. She’d seen bodies floating down the river. She was one of the few who braved the streets after dark, and for that she saw unspeakable things. But it was different when you could hear it happen. The choked gurgling, that horrible tearing sound as the knife gouged out its blood-debt –
She turned to lean on the bench, her legs almost giving out. Far away, she could hear the distant sounds of shouting and violence, breaking the quiet. White noise. A familiar sound, her world’s equivalent to common night sounds, like an owl hooting in the dark, or a startled bird.
She wouldn’t even have been out tonight. She was supposed to have the night off. But Ralph had called in sick, and they’d needed to get their deliveries to the airport by tomorrow.
Sydney worked at a postal delivery service. She worked the evening shifts, usually, helping deliver packages so that they could be loaded onto cargo planes. She would’ve changed jobs if she could, but there were no jobs to change in to. The monument of the American Dream was crumbling before the nation’s eyes. No jobs, no money, no safe suburban homes, and happy families and promises of equal opportunity. The city was in lockdown, under “martial law”, as were a number of cities across the US. Nobody could leave. Else Sydney would have done so a long time ago. The army had set up massive barbed wire fences and checkpoints around the place.
Her family were in Chicago, as far as she knew, locked down when the riots started. She hoped they were still okay. Though she doubted it. The way she’d heard it, Chicago was worse than here.
After what felt like hours, she stood up straight, sucking in deep breaths as she tried to calm herself. Her legs were still shaking, but she was alright. She started to walk back, eyes averted from the thing lying on the boardwalk not five metres from her. She stared at the advertisements on the digital posters as she walked by. There was one ad with a picture of the city mayor on it, and he was smiling in what was supposed to be a reassuring way. The captions read VOTE FOR ED HEARDT: END THE MARTIAL LAW!
She stared at the screen for a moment, pausing, wishing she could believe it – she stood there until the ad cycled through. It was a nice thought, the idea that you could just vote to end the lockdown. But America didn’t care what they voted. They were behind the barbed-wire fences for a reason. They weren’t supposed to get out.
But could she really blame them for that? She’d seen the madness that ran rampant in this city, firsthand – if she had the power, she wouldn’t let any of that leak out. Better to cut it off. Better to burn it to the ground, lest the sickness spread.
Her train of thought was interrupted by the sound of footsteps. She looked up. A shiver danced along her spine.
He (it) was wrapped in grey clothes – a filthy, hooded burial shroud, which hung off a tall and gaunt frame. It wore a corpse-mask, ragged holes for eyes, stiffened features that without the closest scrutiny could have easily been mistaken for the real thing. It was standing directly in her pathway, motionless. A masked ghost. A phantasm.
In its left hand was a knife with serrated teeth. Spattered with glossy black liquid.
She stared back at him, paralysed. A bird locking eyes with a snake.
‘W-what do you want?’ She called.
‘I can g-give you money if you w-w-want,’ she tried again. ‘Just let me go. Please.’
The figure took a step towards her.
She broke, at that, bolting in the opposite direction.
She could hear his footsteps behind her, thumping on the wooden boardwalk. She didn’t dare to glance back, as she fled, her heart in her throat. She had to run faster. She had to run faster. She had to –
Bony hands swept at her shoulder from behind, and she screamed, her body sent spinning to her left. She stumbled over, slamming into the fence on boardwalk fence alongside the river.
Winded, gasping for breath, she tried to get up; the killer’s hands pushed her down, and she looked up, her vision swimming. She tried vainly to fight back, but she couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t scream.
She reached for the phantasm’s mask, the terrifying corpse-visage, seeking to tear it away. It was spotted with scarlet, sprinkled with a fine bloody mist. The visage leered down at her, skull-like, black hole eyes staring balefully down at her as the knife rose –
The last thing she saw before everything went dark was the city lights. The glass buildings, shimmering in the silver-blue glow. Towering around her and hemming her in. High walls. Prison cell bars. No escape from the nuthouse.