It’s been said that the dead can’t harm the living. I understand why, but it’s inaccurate.
Me and my husband were driving back home from a party when we came across the crash. It looked like a bad one. A mini-van was sitting in a ditch, cabin almost unrecognizable due to the damage. Police cruisers were diverting traffic around the second car. I leaned closer to get a better look.
Call it morbid curiosity. I wasn’t ashamed of taking interest in a tragedy. We’ve all done it once in our lives.
But aside from the vehicles-cum-caskets, I couldn’t see much. The lights from the first responders blinded me. A swirling mess of red and blue and white. All I could see was a grim-faced EMT loading a body bag into the back of an ambulance.
Harold didn’t slow down to investigate.
We just passed the carnage.
I still remember that night. Not because of the vehicles. Not because of the expression on the EMT’s face. Not even because of the bloody sheets that had been laid over the bodies. No.
It was my callousness. The way I had sighed as we took the closest exit, disappointed. I’ve realized that our interest in death is disrespectful.
And while the dead can’t harm the living, they can still use them.
The bridge was known as a suicide spot. It was a beacon for lost souls, providing the ultimate solution for those with nowhere else to go. The town turned a relative blind eye to it. Sure, there were guardrails a whole foot taller than regulation and memorials put up there all the time. Pictures of those that had jumped, personal effects of the departed, crosses. I had seen it all.
I often spent my mornings at the bridge. There were several of us. We called ourselves the Watchers, and we liked to just hang out on the bridge. We were an ear if someone needed to talk, a shoulder if someone needed to cry. We liked to think we were making a difference on the wall, but we had all lost people anyway. It was devastating.
Normally there were at least three of us out on the bridge. This morning, though, I would be the only one. These were my favorite days.
I meandered up and down the walk on the bridge. The man stood in the middle of the bridge, looking over the guardrail. He didn't move for ten straight minutes. He was clearly contemplating his mortal soul.
I waited until I saw him start to look around quickly and put his foot up on the railing. I ran towards him.
"Hey, you might slip! It rained last night."
He stopped moving and looked at me. "Woah, you scared me."
"You don't want to fall down there. Hitting water at this height is no different than concrete."
He looked at me sheepishly. "To be honest, that was kind of the idea."
I gave him an understanding half smile. "Well I hope you'll rethink that. I'm Andrew." I stuck out my hand. It was important to treat them like individuals.
"Robbie." He shook my hand back. He was embarrassed. "I don't know what I was thinking. I started to jump and suddenly I realized...I want to live."
I smiled warmly at him. "That's how it goes every time. Sadly it's too late for some."
He nodded knowingly. "I'm glad you were here, Andrew."
"Come on back to my place for the morning. I've got warm coffee and we can just talk."
"I guess that'd be alright, yeah."
We began to walk back to the car. I loved the mornings when I was the only Watcher out. It was so easy to bag someone.
This pathetic waste of life would be chained up in my damp basement within the hour with the five or six of his fellow like-minded suicide attempters that were already there. These fucks always thought their lives were unlivable beforehand. Didn't they know that real suffering was happening around the world?
As i drew the straw, my vision darkened and the world came crashing down. I was shaking, my knees buckled, it was all I could do to remain standing and not just collapse down into a shivering mess. Slowly, as if from behind a wall, i heard voices, voices that slowly came into focus so I could make out the words.
"...will message the family, promise". Annette, our comms officer. At least she was, until the damned space rock blew straight through our antenna dome. She tried to keep her voice steady, but I could feel it breaking as the sobs were coming through.
"...sorry. I wish there was another way". Jacob. The station doctor, he always seemed to have some treats from Earth stashed for when our moods were down during mess hours. He always shared them around, never taking any for himself. His eyes were sad, but kind. We both knew that there was nothing else we could do.
"...need to hurry". Takechi. Structural engineer. And de-facto captain, now that the.... No. Cant go there. Must not remind myself. It took hours for me to stop retching when i saw that scene the first time.
But Takechi was right, cry and shake as I might, I had to hurry, that was the whole point. Otherwise, it would all be for nothing.
We made it through to the airlocks. Another pause. Another awkward silence. They didn't know what to say, but then again, neither did I. What does one say in such a situation? The vote was fair, the vote made sense, and we all knew it was the only way. But its one thing to discuss it in a room, and another when you're the one standing outside of the airlock.
One last nod, and I took a step inside. Another step. Turned around in time to see the giant door closing, their faces struggling to contain the tears that are flowing down. But even until the very end, they're smiling. Smiling to make me feel better. Until it is all over.
As the outer airlock disengages, and I feel myself rush out, i can't help but curse at the damned luck that caused the comet to collide with a piece of an asteroid field near our ship. The same luck that turned said piece around towards our ship. The same luck that blew apart the comms and resting domes, snuffing out lives of hundreds in just a second. The same luck that made it so our life support system could no longer provide for the few people who remained, even if we were to cut the rations and oxygen intake. The same luck that made us take a vote. Cut off one hand so that the other one lives.
We all agreed.
We all drew straws.
And as I floated towards the pod, I couldn't help but curse the luck that made me draw the long one.
Edwin stood, battered and bruised. His singed armor fell from his chest, clanking to the ground as he struggled to inhale. His scaly foe showed its fatigue as heavy scales rose and fell in irregular intervals, a single functioning eye remaining locked onto him and glistening in the dying embers of the flame.
"By the power of His Holy Grace," Edwin aligned his claymore with the serpent's heart, "I vanquish thee and all thy vile kin back to the darkest pits of the inferno!"
As Edwin plunged his steel through its thick hide, the beast roared and slumped to the ground. Its reptilian eye narrowed as it slurred dying words in its ancient, foul language: words incomprehensible to Edwin. Its scales rose and fell one final time as it let out its last breath. And thus the dragons ceased to exist.
Edwin was paraded as a hero and bestowed the title of Dragonslayer. Trumpets heralded a victorious song and the people laughed with mirth and drank until they could no longer stand. The entire village sang in elation.
But amidst the celebration, something descended from the sky. Something that had preyed on dragons for eons. Something that needed a new source of food. Something that grinned as it locked its sights on the human village.
After the divorce, Dan wanted to move to a quiet place, so he bought a house in a small town up in the hills. He got a great deal. There were rumors that the house is haunted and past three owners killed each other. Dan didn't believe in ghosts. He has his own ghosts that keep him awake. Like his failing business, his poor health, and of course, his ex-wife.
Its been over a year now since he moved into the new house. His business is good. He lost weight. He stopped smoking. Anyone who talks to him about the history of the house, he ignored them and asked them when do ghosts help you in business and health. And he is single now.
Today evening Dan has a business meeting down in the city. He left at 8 pm and drove down the winding roads. Listening to music and singing along, he noticed a woman waving her hand to stop him. He has heard about some carjacking incidents, so he got alert and didn't stop. After few minutes, he noticed another woman waving. As he got closer, he noticed it was the same woman. He continued driving.
After a few minutes, he saw the same woman waving and shouting as he approached. What the heck?? He wondered. How is she getting ahead of me? Should I stop and talk to her?
When he saw her again, he stopped. She was sweating and panting. Before Dan could ask anything, she screamed at him: Why didn't you stop earlier? Go back home. your wife... someone stabbed your wife. Go back, now.
Dan was confused. Wife? Whose wife? The woman shouted again. Go back, you idiot. Sarah will die if you don't take her to the hospital. Go. Then, the woman ran back to the trees and disappeared.
Sarah? They haven't talked since the divorce. Dan got back in the car, took a U-turn and drove back as fast as he could. When he reached home, he found Sarah knocking the door. Hearing the car, Sarah turned and smiled.
Dan: Sarah, what are you doing here?
Sarah: I was in the neighborhood and came here to say Hi and see how you are doing.
Dan: What? But that woman... she said you are hurt.
Sarah: Which woman, Dan? You knew I was here?
Dan, now confused, asked Sarah to ignore what he said and invited her inside.
Sarah: Wow. I like this new house. you look good too.
Dan: Yeah. This house is lucky for me.
Suddenly, the lights went off.
Dan: Ohh. The fuse must have blown. Wait here. I'll check.
Before he could leave, he heard a familiar voice. Ohhh, Dan. We have waited for so long to see you both together.
Dan couldn't see anyone but recognized the voice of the lady on the road. Then he heard someone else. A male voice and the sound of knives sharpening.
Yeah, Dan. Too long. Now, shall we begin the game?
That's what it was. A most hollow victory. So much was gained on the field only to be lost in ourselves. We really found out what our civilization was made of when the Giants came from the sky.
It wasn't exactly the kind of thing anyone would have taken seriously beforehand. Alien invasion. Certainly we've branched out a bit from our own home; to make contact with far away life forms. To ask why we're here.
That didn't stop our cities from being tumbled or the denizens of our planet to see in our shared plight the opportunity to destroy those of their own kind they deemed less than. I'll save you the particulars of that. What the engorged, quavering things did was more or less ecumenical in their war. Nearly every resource poisoned, the entire atmosphere assaulted with 'the spray.' I don't know what it was made of.
That life remains sustainable at all remains a mystery to me. I'm not as well versed in the scientific particulars to understand how or why. All I do know is every third day is 'supplement day.' But not today. Today is special. Today is 'Victory Day' where the remaining dead (for that's what we are) trot out the remnants of our enemies stay on our home. I'll assume the particulars of our victory are apparent. A war of all against all tends to weed out it's least dedicated adherents.
In defeatedly well dressed places that I'm guessing were beautiful constructions once are the 'exhibitions.' You see, not all of the gergating things died. Unfortunately for them they are the remaining set pieces of this world's victory. Emaciated, imprisoned and apparently a spectacle to be lorded over they idle dejectedly.
Their cages are given no individual signature. No distinguishing marker. On every label above these creatures is carved the same word.
I take the stairs as quietly as possible. Place my weight slowly and evenly. Keep my feet to the outer edges of each step. The carpeting helps. I want to get close as possible to her before I re-announce my presence. Build tension, increase terror.
I chose this house carefully. The tree out front. A glass rear door to a patio and pool. A pretty young blond girl, home alone. It was close to perfect as I could find. She had even inadvertently followed the script pretty closely. Too young to panic when she heard "Do you like scary movies?" The perfect opening kill to start my legacy.
She ruined it by running upstairs instead of out.
It was never going to be perfect. Scream was 22 years ago. Too much changed. Before I could start I had had to steal her cell phone. Left it at the bottom of the pool. I had to deactivate the home phones every time she hung up on me. Police actually came in real life. Way too quickly. Listening to her frantically calling for help over dead air had actually been an unexpected bonus. I can still hear the beeping of her continuing attempts through the portable in my hand.
Still, its close enough to be recognizable. Between the call recordings I'll be leaving and the layout of the scene you'd need to be an idiot to not make the connection. And I would drag her body outside. Hang it from the tree.
I hope they won't call me the Copy Cat Killer or something. I hope they give me something unique. Something recognizable. My social media profile, where I'll be leaving clues, is MMM. I want them to use that. Mass Media Murderer or similar. But more creative. Cleverer.
I reach the top of the stairs.
She's hidden in her parent's bedroom. Like a scared child. Which she is. She's only half my size. The kitchen knife I have is huge. Better suited to a butcher's block than a kitchen rack. I will punch it straight through her. Inches will explode bloody from her back.
I make the door silently. My heart is beating fast. I wonder if she'll be cowering in the closet or curled under the covers of her parent's bed. Perhaps I'll pull her from underneath that bed. Taste the delicious fear that'll have her frozen on the ground before me. I rattle the door in its frame to let her know I've arrived. Grow that fear, push it to panic. This will be the best hide and seek of my life.
I test the knob. Left unlocked. I don't get to smash through. Instead I hurl it open. Hard. It slams into the wall as I step in.
She's standing tall, fully in the open on the other side of the bed. In a perfect stance. I'm dumbfounded.
My husband is very bullheaded. The kind of guy that knows he's right, even if he's wrong. As such, a lot of the things I ask of him, he blatantly refuses to do. You know the type. "Father knows best" and "a man's always right".
39 days ago he finally gave in, and agreed to what I asked. I honestly regret it. I asked him:
My fingers typed quickly in the game’s chatroom box: “Take that loser!”
I was destroying this dude in this game, and he kept on getting pissed. He sucked and was easy to kill. He needed to go to training practice. When seconds passed, he responded with: “You should be careful who you trash talk to online, punk.”
Oh, I’m so scared! I’m shaking in my boots. I had him aggravated with each headshot. I wittily typed in: “gg ez.” I haven’t laughed so hard in my life.
After I saw the victory screen pop up, I turned off my computer and headed to bed.
After hours had passed, I abruptly woke up to a clash inside my house. I quickly got out of bed and darted out of my bedroom. I think someone’s inside my house.
There was a note in the hallway. I picked it up and read it.
“How’s your cat?”
I felt uneasy and creeped out. The red lettering on the note looked like blood. I whistled for my cat to come, but he didn’t show up. I checked in the living room but couldn’t find him.
There was a trail of blood inside the kitchen. I followed the trail and gasped. My cat’s head was mounted on the counter top. There was a note beside his head. I picked up the note and read it.
“Kiss your parents goodnight.”
No, this can’t be happening! I darted up stairs and into my parent’s bedroom. I screamed in horror. No, this has to be a dream. Their pillows were saturated with blood. Their throats slashed wide open. A note laid on their bed. I picked it up and read it.
“Pick the knife up and find me.”
I grabbed the knife which laid on top of their bed. The knife was coated with blood. I’m going to find this sick person and end him. There were sounds coming outside the house.
I darted out the front door ready for him. I was blinded by a flash light.
“Put your heads up and drop the weapon!” A police officer said. There was a truck with tactical units aiming their semi-automatic rifles at me. “Do it now!” He said.
I dropped the knife out of my hand, and my hands raised high in the air.
“Are you Alex?” The officer asked. I nodded my head. “Put your hands behind your back. You’re under arrest.” He said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Boy wonder, don’t play with me tonight. You know why.”
“No, I don’t.”
“You called 9-1-1, and said you’re going to kill your family.”
Another officer rushed up to him. “Sarge, the mother and father were found deceased. Also, the family cat was decapitated.” He told him.
I sat in the back of the patrol car. I was screwed, and I realized something. The dude I tea bagged in the game earlier had framed me and swatted me. I sighed. And the knife has my finger prints. I’m screwed.