Friday, September 26, 2008

Writing: The Red Ones

Below is a little horror story I wrote up for my Short Story Workshop last semester. It's not my usual genre (indeed I think if I wrote in it usually I'd get very depressed) but it was a fun experience.

The Red Ones

Jason paced back and forth, his bare feet slapping against the cold cement floor. It was the only noise in the dark room, besides the distant sound of pipes. He ran a hand along the rough cement wall for the hundredth time. Where had they taken him? Pulling his hand away from the wall, he put it up to his face, feeling the rough stubble where his wild beard had grown only a few days before. He turned away from the wall and waded through the room, hands out in front of him, until he found the long table at the center. Guiding himself around the table, he found one of the hard plastic chairs and sat down heavily into it. He felt like he was floating in empty, airless space, suffocating. He needed a drink.

            He wasn’t sure how much later it was, a few hours or so, he heard the door creak open and light cast around him from behind, and just as quickly it vanished as the door shut. He heard the clack of dress shoes making their way across the floor. Moments later the other chair ground against the cement as it was pulled back and then creaked as a heavy frame settled into it.
“Can I get you anything?” The man smelled of cigarettes.
“No.” Jason wouldn’t ask for a drink. He heard a rustling as the other man shifted in his chair.
“Well then, I suppose we’ll get started.” Suddenly there was light as the bulb over the table flashed to life, a bright stark white light. Jason blinked; he hadn’t realized the light was there. He had been in darkness ever since he had been brought to the room, and even on his way here he had been blindfolded. The man in front of him coalesced from a vague blurry shape into a meaty, clean-shaven, and pasty faced man in a suit as Jason’s eyes adjusted to the new lighting.
“So soon?” It had been close to a month since they’d taken him in. In that time the only people he’d come into contact with were the ones who brought him his food, the silent man who’d come in a few days before and shaved off all his hair and of course the guard with the huge vice-hand who had escorted him to this room.
“Time alone in the dark has a way of making a man think. You’ve been gone a long time, been running. Hard for a man to think when he hardly has a chance to lay down his head.”
 “Do I get a lawyer?”
            “What do you think?”
Jason nodded.
“What if I don’t feel like talking?”
The man rubbed his huge hands together.  He had a ring on. “Feeling is hardly our imperative.”
            “Imperative – they teach you to use big words like that at Harvard, Otis?”
The man seemed surprised for a moment, then looked down at his ring. “My name is not Otis, Jason.”
“Well, since I don’t know your name, and seeing as how I always had a liking for Andy Griffith, just figured it fit you.”
The man made a mock grin and bobbed his head around like a bad Jay Leno impersonator. “Very funny, now tell us about the events of February 14th, 1993.”
“The events of February 14th- so very formal.”
“Haven’t talked to anyone about it, sure as hell don’t feel like telling you.”
“We already know the facts, Jason.”
“Then why ask me?”
“Facts are just facts. We want the story, we want your truth. After all, isn’t it only fair that someone knows your side of the story before the end?”
Jason ran a hand over his scalp and there was a moment of silence. “Fine. Where should I -?”
 “Wherever you want, we’ll fill in any details we need to know later.”
“Well - It was February 2nd, 1993, my senior year, when things started to get all weird. I remember the date because I saw in the paper the next day that it’d been her birthday and I thought that was strange. That kind of things sticks with you for some reason, I guess.” He paused, it felt strange, hearing himself talk about it. He’d never stopped running through it in his mind, but he’d never talked to anyone about it. “Her name was Mary. Some kids called her Bloody Mary for the time she had her first period, she’d worn a white dress that day. That kind of stuff happened to her a lot, I’d hear. I didn’t really know her though. I remember she was blonde, but not much else really.  “Anyway, I was in history class. It was my last class before lunch and I’d stopped listening to the teacher since it was almost out. Some friends and I were going to cut fifth and six periods and head out of town to race cars. I was really big on that. So I was watching the clock real intently, waiting for the bell like it was the Second Coming. Now, it was so close to ringing that I’d already begun to tense my legs to jump up from my desk, when Pamela from campus security came into the classroom, and she and the teacher began to whisper about something. Pamela was the largest security guard on campus, with a jaw line that’d make an action hero jealous and a personality suited for the Gestapo. The teacher turned to face the class and told us that there’d been a slight emergency and that we’d have to stay over. With that, old Pamela walked to the door a gave a fierce glare to us all, as if to say that anyone who tried to leave would have to go with her to the marvelous little Auschwitz that was her office. At that moment I hated her just about as much as the potheads who spent every day in there did.
“Everyone started loudly wondering what could have happened that we would need to stay after class.  Now, you have to remember that this was before anything like Columbine had happened, so no one was really thinking that anyone had died or anything. Finally, though, we were let out of class and I was, of course, ecstatic.  Fast as I could I ran out towards my car, which was parked in the lot near the gym.  I stopped dead in my tracks. They’d put caution tape up all around the gym entrance, like in one of those stupid police movies, and there were maybe a half dozen police cars and an ambulance. And there was this gurney. They were pushing it out of the gym towards the ambulance, real slow like there was no hurry, and on it was this big long bag. That’s when I knew someone had died. The weird part though, the part that still freaks me out like hell, was the Pale Man. I mean, here was this body bag, someone had died, and what really caught my eye was this dude standing there. He was – he was tall, maybe six-and-half, seven feet, and so unbelievably pale, and he had this long silk white hair. Back when I was a kid, before I got bigger than my dad, my parents used to drag me off to church, and I thought about how when people saw angels, they’d always go all comatose. Well this guy reminded me of that, only where the angels were supposed to be all good and holy, he was – dark somehow. Like some sort of film negative of an angel. I mean, there was this kind of weirdly beautiful aspect about him and a real powerful presence, a – what do you call it? Charisma. But something about him scared the shit out of me. I turned right around and went back into campus.  There was no way I was walking past him to get to my car.
“Over the next few days the news spread that someone had died, and it turned out it was Mary. Rumors started going around about how she’d died too, lots of wild stuff mostly.  Of course, all the folks who’d called her ‘Bloody Mary’ started going on about what a great person she’d been and how their lives wouldn’t be the same without her. Because of all the rumors about how she’d jumped of the top of the gym, or been stabbed by some crazy bum, the principal called an assembly and told us all that she’d overdosed on drugs.
“It was after that, Dan came to me, his skin all clammy, looking like he’d seen a ghost. This kid, I guess you could call him a friend of sorts, worshiped me.  Thought I was the Christ Incarnate or something and. He figured I’d be able to help him, I guess. I remember it started with him stammering for what seemed like an eternity, his fat stupid lips opening and shutting like a beached fish gasping for air. ‘Mary - ’ he started, and I asked what about her, a little annoyed. He stammered again and then got it out. ‘I don’t – I don’t think it was drugs. It was – she – I found her.’ He’d started to get hysterical, weepy, and I tried to back away since I didn’t want to be seen with him like this. ‘I can’t – I’m not supposed to tell anyone. She was – there was blood everywhere, man, just pouring out of every hole in her body and there was all kinds of weird shit on the walls of the gym. Like fucking weird-ass banners. It looked like some sort of crazy human sacrifice.’”
Jason paused and chewed on his lip, a spot on his cheek began to itch and he started to scratch it. The man waited for a moment, his hands folded in front on him on the table, then he leaned back into the chair, which groaned, and he spoke, “Did you believe him?”
“ I sort of felt sorry for the kid, but I didn’t really believe him.  I figured he was probably just trying to get some sort of attention, maybe even on drugs himself. Drugs made a whole lot more sense than human sacrifices. By now I really wanted to get away from him.  He was getting so crazy that his blubber was vibrating obscenely. I told him I didn’t know what to do and that maybe he should see the school counselor. He gave me a look like I’d broken his heart and walked away.
“That was the end of that for a few days, but then the Pale Man showed up on campus again. I was at my locker, getting out some of my books for the next class, when I felt someone brush past me in the hallway and I swear it was like the heat was just sucked right out of me. I just stood there frozen for a minute or so and then finally looked down the hall in the direction the person had been heading. It was him and some government suit who looked like a g-man straight out of a B-movie. The Pale Man left a scent behind him, something sickly sweet, like lavender, that made me gag.
“Over the next few days I kept seeing the two of them around campus, talking with members of the faculty, especially the principal. My dad had been in business and it looked to me as if they were trying to work out some kind of deal.  Things even got heated sometimes. Well, the principal and the government suit got heated, the Pale Man never lost his composure. I could see that the principal wasn’t sleeping much. I tried my best to ignore it, seemed like no one else really noticed. I mean people talked about the strange men showing up on campus, but he didn’t seem to rub them the way he did me and most people just figured he was some stupid government man come down to campus to deal with drugs. So I shrugged it off best I could.” Jason swallowed, his throat felt dry. “Could I maybe get some water?” He hated asking for something from them.
“Very well.” The man got up, his belly sagging over his belt as he rose, and walked to the door. Jason heard it open and close behind him and a minute later the man entered again and sat a glass of water in front of him. All the while Jason’s face kept itching. He took his hand away from his face to drink the water, but then went back to scratching his cheek. “What happened next?”
“Dan disappeared. One day in Biology class, which we had together, Pam marched in (practically goose-stepping) and handed a slip to the teacher. A moment later she had Dan’s fat arm clenched in her fearsome grip and she hauled him, screaming for fear of his life, right out of class. A week went by and I didn’t see heads nor tails of him, and I was really beginning to worry. I don’t know why I remember this, but I was in Bio again and our teacher told us that though it didn’t really relate to Biology, she thought we might want to know that Mars was going to be visible that night, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how cool Dan would think that was. After class got out I walked to my locker, past a memorial that had been erected to Bloody Mary, and inside I found this freaky note from Dan. It was all rambling. He kept writing my name over and over. The handwriting was all over the place.  It got bigger and smaller and didn’t stay on the lines. I can still remember most of what it said. He said the Pale Man told him that he’d save the world, just like Jesus, and he said Ares was coming and that his army, Phobos and Deimos, was going to march right out of hell and into our world to slaughter everyone and that it was going to start at our school if he didn’t stop it with his blood. He told me to meet him in Gethsemane, ‘the Garden where she died,’ and that the key was under the rug.
            Jason stopped, “Sorry, I think I’ll need a minute.”  He’d began to breathe heavily, and shake, this was the hard part. All the while he kept scratching.
            “What!” He snapped.
            “You’re bleeding.”
            The man grabbed Jason’s hand wrist with surprising strength and pulled it away from his face, there was blood on Jason’s hand, and now he felt it trickle down his face. “Well, at least that explains the sores.” The man let Jason’s hand go and as soon as his hand was free Jason began to scratch again. “Stop scratching, Jason.”
“I can’t – it won’t stop itching.”
The man rose and walked back to the door. About a minute later he reentered with a guard by his side and they grabbed his arms and tethered them to the chair with plastic ties. Jason struggled for a moment and stopped. The guard left the room.
“Jason, we need the rest of your story.”
“No.” He shook his head and then began to rub his cheek against his shoulder.
“Fine. Fine, I’ll go on now. I – I didn’t really get what the hell that was, the note. It freaked me out that it was in my locker and I really didn’t know what to do but I was really worried. Worried about Dan,” Jason began to rock in his chair, “I mean, I could be a real jerk to him, but the kid really relied on me. That he’d just disappeared from class had me doubly concerned, so I decided I’d go. I’d figured out the garden at least, he was talking about the gym, since that was where Mary died. Why he called it the garden I didn’t know though.
“It was pretty warm that night, and the sky was clear and real beautiful, lots of stars. Pretty stars. I wonder though, how many of them hate us? Mars hates us. Mars isn’t a star though, is it? Mars was there that night, like a big red star. I was outside of the gym, and I pulled on the door, which of course was locked. I thought about just giving up on it, but then I remembered what Dan said about a key. There was no rug though but a glint caught my eye in the bushes and it turned out to be the key. I remember wondering how much jail time I could get for trespassing in the gym and figuring it couldn’t be as bad as the kind of trouble I could get into for street racing. I opened the door and went in. The gym was mostly dark, and the temperature inside must have dropped forty degrees from that outside. I felt an arm grab me and pull me behind a stack of chairs to the side of the gym. It was Dan, poor Dan,” 
Jason was crying now, not sobbing, but not trying to hold the tears back either, “He smelled like he hadn’t bathed since he’d been taken out of class, and looked even worse. He had one of his meaty fingers lifted up in front of his mouth in a gesture of silence, and he pushed me down behind the chairs. He gestured for me to look out between a crack in the pile and I did. There was – there were these two banners hanging on the wall of the gym, big red tapestries with some kind of bird, probably a vulture, sewn on them. Dan, he just rose and began to walk towards the banners. I should have stopped him but I didn’t, I was scared as hell.
 “God – um – so, yeah he went to the center of the room, between the banners and suddenly I heard this unbelievable sound, like a peal of thunder, and the gym began to shake. On the wall, between where the banners hung, a crack shot down the center and the wall there just imploded, like someone had pulled it from behind. A wind began to whip at me as the air in the gym was sucked towards the hole in the wall. Beyond the hole it should have been the campus, but it wasn’t, instead all there was - was red dirt and sky as far as I could see and them, standing there.
“They were taller even than the Pale Man, and they were covered in obsidian black robes and had tight black hoods drawn up over their skulls and over their face were crimson masks with two deep black holes for eyes and no mouths.” Jason hung his head forward and ground his teeth. His mouth tasted like salt from the tears, he didn’t want to go on. He looked up through bleary eyes to see the man across the table starring at him expectantly. Jason swallowed.  “They walked slowly, and the ground seemed to ripple away from them like they were walking through water, everything in me screamed to close my eyes, or to turn and run.  I couldn’t bear to look at them but for some reason I couldn’t turn away. It was absurd, they were shaped like men but something inside told me they didn’t belong, couldn’t be here. I really hadn’t thought anything could scare me as much as the Pale Man had, but they – they were so much worse.
 “I didn’t stop staring at them. I wish I had. Dan kept looking at them too. He stood there, frozen in the middle of the floor, quivering like some giant bowl of Jell-O. He was a little miniature doll of a human, dwarfed before the height of the figures. And then, and then – I don’t know if I can –“
“You can.”
Jason nodded, “One of them raised two black gloved hands to its masked face and pulled, removing the mask. I couldn’t see what was under it from where I was, but Dan could and as the blood began to seep out of his eyes, nose, ears, everywhere – I thought about what he’d said Mary had been like.
“I think I might have heard him scream, a terrible blood curdling sound, or maybe it was me. It didn’t really matter. I knew I was next, that they knew I was there. I sensed such incredible power in them, you can’t imagine. The whole world retreated before them, everything sane and ordered and – and right. I mean – just looking at one of their faces had killed Dan. Somehow I knew that nobody, no human, could ever stop them. It was the end of the world.
“But then, the door of the gym flew open, and he walked in, tall and pale, and from him emanated terrible power, like snapping electricity. The Pale Man stood there before the Red Ones, and he stared straight into the hood of the unmasked one. Something happened there, what I’m not entirely certain, but there was a sense that they were fighting each other, like two storm fronts meeting, bringing their powers to bear on some plane that I couldn’t see. It seemed like an eternity that they stood there, locked in their terrible struggle and then, in an instant, it was over.
“The Red Ones turned and fled back through the hole and seconds later the wall of the gym just closed up and it was undamaged. The Pale Man turned and seemed to glance at where I hid, and then the government suit who he’d been dealing with walked into the gym.
“The government suit spoke first; he asked the Pale Man if it was done and he replied in a bizarre evanescent voice that it was. The suit said that he supposed it was time to keep up his end of the bargain and he pointed at the body of Dan, said he figured he could be the first. The Pale Man shook his head and replied ‘The boy was the balance, a life for a life. The followers of Ares opened the star path with the girl’s blood. The boy’s blood, and a little effort on my part, shut it. Life for life. Jesus for Adam. Don’t you see? The rest of them will be the seal on the door.’ I just darted straight out of the gym right there, and ran like I couldn’t believe, jumping in my car and – and then disappearing. After that I just kept running, half-way round the world till your men found me in Tibet. You finally caught me, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. We’ll all be corpses when the Red Ones come again.” He had stopped crying, and he just stared blankly at the floor, his cheeks wet with tears and blood.
“When?” Asked the man across the table.
“Yeah. The Pale man, he stopped them, right? But how long till we get tired of fulfilling our end of the bargain? You were wrong you know, about me not thinking when I was on the run. That year at my high school, ten other kids died. They said it was from meningitis, but every year after that, same time of year, ten kids would die. Not always at my high school, but always together they were from the same school. People who didn’t know what I know wouldn’t have seen it, but I did. That was our price wasn’t it? The Pale Man, he gets ten kids a year and he keeps the Red Ones away, keeps them from killing us all.”
The man across the table didn’t respond, but Jason heard the door slowly creak open behind him, and, mixing with the smell of cigar, came the scent of lavender.