Authors: Edward Crae
Copyright © 2015 Edward Crae
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
All brand names mentioned within are the registered trademarks of their respective copyright holders. No infringement, endorsement, or detraction is intended.
This is a work of fiction, and any resemblances to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Place names are used respectfully and solely for the purposes of reference points for the story.
Animals may have been harmed in the making of this story. A man’s gotta eat, right?
Dan stood on a hilltop looking down over the valleys of the state forest. There were dead trees as far as he could see, and an orange mist crept through them, slowly swirling in the light breeze. There were no birds in the sky, no crickets chirping, and no deer dashing through the underbrush. There were only the soft rustlings of dried branches, and the white noise of whatever the hell made white noise.
Dan’s father stood about ten yards away, looking out over the landscape. His face was grim and still. That wasn’t unusual; he was a man of little outward expression. Dan approached him slowly; unsure as to whether he was really there. Though he made no indication that he heard Dan’s footsteps, Dan knew he was aware of his presence.
He stopped next to him, turning to look out as he did. They stood in silence for several minutes, taking in the deathly sight. A forlorn feeling hung in the air; a longing for the way things used to be. There was once life here; abundant and beautiful. Now, it was desolate and skeletal.
The world seemed dead.
“It’s all gone to shit, Dan,” his father said, finally.
Dan nodded wordlessly, and he could hear his father sigh.
“Everything is done for,” he continued. “And all that’s left is the bare bones of what used to be.”
“It will come back someday,” Dan said, hopeful.
His father nodded, pursing his lips and lowering his head. “Maybe,” he said. “But not for a long time. And when it does, it will just go unattended and wild. But that’s a good thing I guess.”
Dan thought of the movies he had seen in the past; the ones that showed how life would be without the presence of civilization. There would be trees and vines growing everywhere; slowly crumbling the once great buildings and roads. Grass would break up the asphalt rivers, eventually turning them into gravel. Skyscrapers would rot and drop chunks of stone until they too finally toppled over and crashed to the ground.
“She’ll bounce back,” Dan said. “With a vengeance.”
Dan’s father turned to him, placing his hand on Dan’s shoulder and looking him in the eye. Dan felt a twinge of sadness seeing the expression on the old man’s face. He had never seen that look before, and was unsure what it really was.
“I’m proud of you, boy,” he said finally. Dan’s heart sank. “You’ve stayed alive through this mess so far. That takes guts, and skills. I knew you had it in you.”
“Nothing has really changed, though,” Dan said. “I’m still a drunken pill popper.”
His father dropped his hand down and turned back to the valley. “We all have our little things, Dan,” he said. “Can’t blame you for needing a little motivation. Everybody does, and we’re all different. Whatever you have to do to keep from going bat-shit crazy. Just stay alive and never give up. That’s what life is all about.”
Dan was quiet, but a sense of accomplishment began to build up within him. He had never really heard his father talk this way. He had definitely never heard the words “I’m proud of you” before. It was a good feeling. But there was something strange about it; like it wasn’t real.
“Dad,” Dan said. “What are you doing here?”
His father looked at him. “What am
doing here?” he repeated. “I’m dead, son. The question is, what are
“I… I don’t…”
“You’re not dead,” his father said. “But you will be if you don’t wake up. Wake up son.”
He slapped Dan in the face. Hard.
There was darkness as Dan jerked awake. Darkness and cold. The sound of dripping water echoed around him; little drips of moisture that fell into small puddles of water. He was restrained; strapped to some kind of chair with his arms out to his side. There was a slight ache in his shoulder, and he was thirsty and breathless.
But he was alive.
He tugged at the restraints, groaning as he tried to pull free. But he was tied down pretty tight. The strap buckles merely clanked; not budging.
“Fuck,” he whispered.
Where the hell was he? What had happened? Where were his friends?
Why was he strapped to a fucking chair?
He tried to move his legs, but they were strapped down too. Even his waist was strapped, and he couldn’t even move his torso. The only thing that was free was his head. He squinted in the darkness, letting his eyes adjust. All he could see were shadows, and dim patches of what looked like moist rock. Among the patches were parallel lines running up and down, and side to side. Blocks.
He was in a basement or something. A wet basement.
He thought back to his last conscious moment. Someone had come to his rescue. Someone had showed up just in time to save him from bleeding to death. He had been shot, he remembered. His friends had… died? No, just fell. Where the hell were they? Where the hell was
He thought briefly of calling out into the darkness, but thought better of it. He didn’t want to alert anyone that he was awake; not until he figured out where he was or why he was here. He would just sit in silence, letting the desperate thoughts drive him nuts.
Yeah, good idea.
He leaned his head on his injured shoulder. He could feel the bandages against his face. Someone had tended to his gunshot wound, and had bandaged it pretty tight. It was still painful as hell, but that was the least of his worries. Here he was, tied up in some dark and dank room surrounded by moisture and the smell of… death?
He hadn’t realized it before, but there was a stench. He couldn’t decide whether it was decay or simply shit. They smelled similar, only the smell of decay usually had an underlying funk that was indescribable. This was definitely decay, with a little shit mixed in.
It was the same smell he and Drew had encountered in the crazy guy’s house.
Crazy guy’s basement.
“Oh fuck,” he whispered again.
“Who’s there?” he heard a whisper.
“Hello?” Dan said.
“Where the fuck…”
He heard the clanking of buckles as the stranger tugged at his own restraints. Then, a clank sounded from above, followed by the ring of metal striking stone. A gush of liquid followed, as if a faucet had been opened and allowed to spill on the floor.
But Dan knew it wasn’t a faucet. Someone had just been killed.
His heart raced, and he could feel the panic begin to overtake him. He couldn’t catch his breath, and the thumping in his chest threatened to burst it open. He looked around again, this time desperate and panicked. His eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness, and now he could see the faint blue glow of moonlight from outside.
And the shocked face of a severed head lying on the floor.
Dan almost cried out, but clamped his mouth shut, closing his eyes and taking deep breaths. His thoughts raced, showing him pictures of himself being tortured and mutilated by the psycho that had been stalking him. He was in the serial killer’s basement, he knew. He was now a victim, not just a prospect.
“Jesus,” he whispered. “Fucking shit.”
He looked down at the shadowy severed head. It stared up into the darkness; lifeless and dull. Blood was pooling around it in dark puddles. It was darker than the stone, and the moonlight mixed in with it, showing purplish specular glints on its glossy surface.
Dan leaned back to shield himself from the sight, his breathing forced and his head swimming in dizziness. He kept his eyes open and stared at the ceiling. It too was stone block, and moist with moss and mold. He turned his eyes down toward the opposite wall, where a faint, dark blue square of light was beginning to fade into existence. It was a basement window, showing the sky outside.
But there, among the shadows, was another shadow. He saw it briefly as it moved ever-so-slightly. There was only the faintest of rustling as it swayed. He could barely see it, but it was there. He glared at it as his heart sped up again, waiting for it to charge at him from the gloom. Something was about to happen, he knew, and he was scared to death.
Then, the shadow stepped forward into a beam of moonlight. Dan’s heart skipped a beat. It was tall and gangly, almost horror movie thin. The figure was wrapped in what looked like leather; not leather clothing, but layers of straps and swatches, all buckled in place and riveted together in a macabre outfit. The figure stood menacingly still, breathing deeply, almost Darth Vader-like in its raspy, hissing tone.
But the most horrifying thing was its face. It was pale, glossy, and seemed almost like porcelain. It was feminine in appearance, with dark circles where the eyes should be. Dan stared, his heart racing as the figure stepped forward again. The face became clearer, and Dan realized that it was a mask; a porcelain harlequin mask, with painted features, and a thin, morbid smile that sent chills up Dan’s spine.
He pushed back with his feet, desperate to get away. His skin crawled, and he could feel his breathing become labored and irregular.
Suddenly, the figure shot forward, jabbing something into Dan’s arm. It was a little sting, like a needle, and Dan felt the warm, pleasant feeling that surged through him as he was injected.
The rush settled over him quickly like a hot, heavy blanket. He let his head fall back and lean to the side, averting his eyes from the strange vision in front of him. He was out in seconds.
There was a shuffling sound that woke Dan from his slumber. His eyes fluttered open, barely wide enough to see anything but light. His eyelids were heavy, and it was a struggle to get them to separate. The light he saw through them was dim, almost ghostly, but within it, he could see movement. Someone or something was moving around in the room slowly and aimlessly. Though he couldn’t yet see who or what it was, he could guess.
A faint moan confirmed his suspicion. He immediately went into panic mode, feeling his heart flutter with terror. He forced his eyes open, blinking rapidly as they adjusted to the light. There, in the center of the room, was the offending creature, walking around in circles. He took a deep breath, focusing on unclouding his vision. Soon, the room became clear, and he was relieved to see that there were thin straps of metal covering the opening of the alcove where he was imprisoned.
The same alcove where crazy dude’s wife was chained up?
Dan looked at the walls around him. There were pieces of ripped tape stuck to the blocks, telling him that there were small squares of paper taped there recently. They could have been the photos of him and Drew.
He turned back to the Shuffler, looking it up and down. It was male, naked, and covered in patches of fungus. There were places on its skin that were eaten away by decay, especially its face. The lips were gone on the right side, and the missing flesh extended up along its face to the eye socket. The eyeball itself was exposed and dry, pale blue and pointing downward.
Several ribs were also exposed, and the flesh at the edges of the wound was festering and blistered, dripping a yellowish fluid that ran down the man’s hip. The smell was unbelievable, and Dan had to breathe through his mouth to avoid gagging.
“You’re one ugly fucker,” he whispered.
The Shuffler hesitated for a moment, turning its head in Dan’s general direction. It had heard him, but seemed unsure as to where the sound had originated. Dan watched it, wondering what was going on inside its head, and why it was here.
He looked around the rest of the room, seeing minor details among the shadows. The severed head was still there, staring into nothingness as a severed head would. There was a large chair nearby, where a headless body sat, strapped in much the same way as Dan. A flip-down blade was embedded in the headrest, having swung down from a bracket in the ceiling and decapitating the chair’s occupant. He could see ropes and pulleys attached to the chair’s armrests; obviously triggers for the blade.
“Jesus,” Dan whispered, prompting another pause from the Shuffler.
Dan’s revulsion began to grow as he assessed his situation. He was definitely a prisoner of the serial killer; locked here in his basement. Obviously, the fire had left the stone cellar untouched, and the psycho had survived down here. But where was he now? And what was the figure he saw earlier? Though generally human in shape, it was too thin, and tall. He had never met crazy dude before, but he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be that tall. His brother had been average sized, and fat.
Brothers usually resembled each other, right?
The Shuffler stumbled over a crack in the floor, regaining its balance quickly, and paused. It stood motionless for a moment, its teeth chattering strangely. Its head began to shake slightly, as if sensing something nearby that put it off kilter.
It seemed afraid.
Dan watched with morbid curiosity. Though he was afraid, his sense of wonder had suppressed that fear, and now he simply wondered what the hell was happening. The Shuffler then turned toward him, focusing its one eye directly on his face. Dan’s heart sped up, and the rush of fear began to build.
But the Shuffler just stared; unmoving, and unwavering. Dan slowed his breath, swallowing hard, and stared back. As his eyes met the Shuffler’s, he sensed a brief glimmer of awareness in the creature’s eyes—or eye, in this case. It was almost like the Shuffler was giving him the once over; taking stock of Dan’s mood and composure. When it cocked its head to the side, Dan almost laughed.