I am participating in NYC Midnight‘s Short Story Challenge 2018. At the start time for the First Round of the Challenge, we were given a genre, subject, and character for a 2500 word short story with 8 days to complete and upload it. I was assigned horror, a checklist, and a gatecrasher. Horror is not a genre that I typically enjoy, however, writing out of my comfort zone proved to be challenging and educational. I’m hoping to move on to the second round at the end of March by placing in the top 5 out of the 32 in my heat. Wish me luck!
Cat Scratch Fever
“Rebecca’s still not answering.” Lily huffed and dropped her hand to her side, her phone clutched in a tight fist.
“Stop being so paranoid.” Jeremy hissed, bored with Lily’s incessant worry. “She’s probably too busy having a good time with Ben to take your calls.”
Lily didn’t believe that for a moment. Rebecca always answered her calls or texts. Her skin itched with a sense of dread.
“Let me see that.” Lily snatched at the crisp sheet of paper in Jeremy’s hand, but he lifted it above his head, out of her reach.
“Let’s go to the car and plan out our strategy where no one else can hear us.” Jeremy herded her to his beautifully restored 1965 Dodge Rambler, away from the sign-in desk for the Shade University Annual Car Rally Scavenger Hunt.
He read their checklist of fifteen items, each one to be accomplished by one or more team members and documented with a cell phone picture. The first team to return with the least errors or omissions, won a cash prize, not that Jeremy cared about the money or even winning. The thrill was in the chase.
“A picture of a phone booth?” Jeremy sneered. “Phone booths don’t exist anymore. This is 2018, not 1999.”
“Oh! There’s one at the Reference Library.”
“Get out. Really? Cool.” Jeremy flicked his weighty golden bangs out of his eyes. “Photo of an out of state licence plate. We’ll hold off on that one and keep our eyes peeled while we work on the rest.” He read the list to himself for a moment. “A video of one team member Gatecrashing a party and having a drink. This one’s easy. There’s bound to be parties at any number of the fraternity houses on campus.”
The horn sounded, signaling the start of the three hour event. Jeremy shoved the checklist into his back pocket and started up his Rambling Rose. She roared to life, all shiny black and gleaming chrome with an abstract rose decal in the rear window.
Thirty minutes later, with three of the fifteen tasks completed, he pulled over at the Reference Library and Lily snapped an image of the graffiti ridden phone booth. Four down, eleven to go.
“Frat house next,” Jeremy said as he shot back out to the road. “While you gatecrash a bash, I’ll explore the campus parking lot for out of state plates.”
With a shrug, Lily stared out the window, still a little annoyed Jeremy wouldn’t show her the stupid list. His controlling nature tended to feed her ire.
Jeremy cruised down a tree-lined street with old two storey abodes on either side, the Rambler rumbling like a purring kitten. University students occupied most of these homes. He parked at the curb in front of a red brick monstrosity with loud music vibrating from inside. Squeezing Lily’s hand, he furrowed his brow. “In and out, Lil. Take the video and haul ass out of there.”
Lily smiled at the worry in Jeremy’s tone. “No sweat.” She leaned over and brushed a chaste kiss to his cheek – a reward for his concern. Jeremy rubbed his face against hers in a feline like gesture.
“What?” He grinned when she pulled away. “Don’t like my whiskers?”
“Whiskers? Who says that?” With a laugh, she opened her door. “Be right back.”
Bending over the seats, Jeremy stared up at Lily. “I’ll find a licence plate and be back in five minutes.”
* * *
The wind kicked up and the gnarled branches of an old elm tree in the yard creaked as they swiped close to Lily. She hit record on her phone, holding it up facing the house. Her long chestnut hair whipped around her face as she pushed the black iron gate on the fractured path. It groaned in protest before clanging shut behind her. Glancing up, she glimpsed the bright, full moon through the swaying branches and a shiver ran down her spine. She didn’t bother knocking on the dark steel door, considering she was gatecrashing this shindig. The music blared deafeningly when she eased the door open – some hard rock band screaming out lyrics of cat scratch fever. Not her cup of tea.
The place reeked of a mixture of cat piss, sweaty gym clothes, and raw, rotting meat. Ew, why were men such pigs? She would have been smarter to suggest a sorority house for this task. Lily scanned the rooms off the foyer, but saw no one. The raunchy song burst from the room on her right, a living room with mismatched dated furniture and an old vinyl stereo system against the wall. A red and green plaid couch with stuffing bulging out between strands of shredded fabric sat in the centre of the room. She backed up with the hair on the back of her neck standing at attention.
As she reached for the doorknob with a trembling hand, the music came to a screeching halt. She peered back into the living room at a man looming over the stereo. Silver threaded through his thick tawny hair. This guy was way too old to be a student.
“Hello. Can I help you with something?”
“Uh … sorry, I-I must have come to the wrong house.” Lily wrenched the handle, but the door wouldn’t open. She tried again, her damp palm slipping on the glossy globe. Gripping harder, she twisted and yanked, but the door refused to relent.
“You can’t leave. Unless I let you, of course.”
The raspy voice came from directly behind her and Lily spun around to face the man wearing a crumpled grey t-shirt with a dark, crusty stain down the front, filthy jeans, and bare feet. Well, now she knew where the vile gym clothes odor came from. “Can you open the door, please? My f-friends are waiting for me.” She held her cell phone at her side, hoping it captured him on the video.
He snickered and Lily thought if the university offered a dental hygiene class, this freak missed it. A rusty brown stained his teeth. Gross.
“I don’t think so.” He padded forward, stalking his prey.
The same reddish-brown caked the corners of his lips, cracked and peeling like dried blood. Lily pressed herself into the door while her eyes darted all around, scanning for an escape route, for a weapon. “Listen, mister, let me out of here now or my friends will call the cops. They’re waiting right outside.” She should run to the back of the house and find the back door, but, God help her, she couldn’t make her legs move.
The man lunged for her and yelled, “Aaaah!”
Lily jolted, a shrill howl ripping from her lungs. Shocked into action, she sprinted around him, raced to the back of the house, ricocheting off drywall and doorframes. She stuck her phone in her pocket as she neared the back door in the kitchen, wrung and pulled the doorknob with both hands, but it denied her efforts.
A sinister cackle echoed from the hallway. “This is fun. I tell you what, little girl. Run and hide. I’ll find you.”
Jesus Christ! Lily foraged for something to throw through the window until she noticed the steel bars on the other side of it. Shit. No way in hell was she going back out to the hall to try for the stairway to the second floor with that creeper out there. That left this floor or … damn. The basement. How many horror movies had she watched and shook her head at the idiots who went into the cellar? But, she needed to buy herself enough time to call Jeremy to come and rescue her. She pulled a door open and found a walk-in pantry. The next door opened to a set of rickety stairs descending into a pitch-black abyss. She reached around for a light switch. Nothing.
The music came back on, blaring out the same hard rock crap, the base reverberating through her entire body.
Lily closed the door behind her and used the flashlight app on her phone to guide her down the dilapidated steps. The pungent rancidity of rotten meat and cat pee singed her nostrils and made her eyes water. She lost her footing on the last step thanks to her rubbery, quivering legs and her phone skittered across the cement, disappearing under an old pine workbench before plunging her into complete darkness. “Oh, God.”
She lumbered over the floor, her hands outstretched for the bench, then lowered to her hands and knees. Her right hand slid in a dense, slimy substance. Grease? She wiped her hand on her pants and reached under the lower shelf of the work table, sweeping her hand back and forth, praying there were no rats or creepy bugs under there. The tips of her fingers met the edge of the phone and she inched it out, turned the flashlight app back on, and lit up the deep red, congealing puddle in front of her as a coppery taste filled her watery mouth.
A sharp pain slashed through her chest as she struggled to contain the terror-filled scream crying for release. Hold it together, she told herself. She needed to find a hiding spot and call Jeremy. Fast. Her rasping breaths came in short gasps as she flashed the light around the room, searching for a place to conceal her curvy body. A blue plastic tarp hung like a curtain from an exposed pipe in the ceiling, blocking off part of the room. Whatever horrors hid behind it, Lily didn’t want to know. She went in the other direction, wedging herself behind a stack of cardboard boxes. Her hands shook so bad, she tapped Jenny in her contacts on the first attempt, missing Jeremy’s name. She managed to select the right name on her second try and held the phone to her ear. She couldn’t hear if it rang over the blasting music and her pulse throbbing in her ears, so she checked the screen. The call wasn’t going through. No reception. Her heart plummeted from her chest.
Lily frantically scurried out from her meager sanctuary, probing the cinderblock walls for a window. Nothing. To inspect the rest of the place, she had to go behind the dreaded tarp. A tremor creeped up her back, over her scalp, and goosebumps prickled her cold, clammy skin.
The music upstairs stopped, cloaking her in silence except for her own whimpers. No footsteps, but the creaking of the floor above her moved closer and closer to the back of the house, closer and closer to the door to the basement, to her.
She took one stiff footstep towards the tarp and froze, her arms pulling into her chest, her shaking fingers tightly grasping her phone, its glow aimed at the dreary curtain. A droning hum grew on the other side of the flimsy wall.
Lily whimpered. A slice of light beamed down from the top of the stairs, widening inch by inch, and Lily stumbled forward. She nudged the edge of the crinkly sheet aside, shining her beam ahead of her. Hundreds, thousands, of flies swarmed the confined space. Her brain took several seconds to register what she was looking at and her face solidified into an obscene silent scream.
She registered Jeremy’s voice, but couldn’t respond, couldn’t tear her eyes away from the gruesome scene before her – the mangled bodies, sliced and torn to shreds, the grisly flesh ripped from bone, strings of tendons and muscle hanging grotesquely out of joints. A sea of maggots gorged, their tiny forms moving together in sickening waves. Vulgar smears, splatters, and pools of coagulated crimson covered every surface. And the funk. Oh, the foul stench.
Lily bent forward, the contents of her stomach spewing out and spraying a horrid blanket over the repulsive display of wasted life. She caught sight of long, blonde hair matted with blood. The face was obscured by slashes and bloody stains, but she recognized Rebecca and howled.
Jeremy grabbed Lily’s shoulders and pulled her back, turning her before he wrapped his arms around her. Hysterical sobs heaved her rigid body. “I’ve got you.” His glowing yellow eyes drifted to the massive, tawny wildcat on the stairs and he smiled, displaying a row of small teeth bracketed by broad, sabre like canines. “I’ve got you,” he whispered with a purr. He didn’t know why he got such a kick out of luring these tasty treats to his father’s door, but he supposed he enjoyed playing with his food as much as his father did.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave me your comments below. How’d I do with the horror theme? Do you think I have a chance of progressing to the second round?