|Beef Stew from Anna Lou
Author: James Hampton PM
This Halloween you're invited to dine at Murl's Famous Country Buffet, a place where folks gather to enjoy good food, friendly service, and a warm, down-home atmosphere as the world around them comes to a screaming end. Step right in and let our charming hostess, Anna Lou, find you a seat. We hope you enjoy your meal. It's probably your last.Rated: Fiction M - English - Horror/Sci-Fi - Chapters: 12 - Words: 9,638 - Reviews: 25 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 6 - Updated: 10-14-12 - Published: 09-24-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3060752
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Shane went to the nightstand in the bedroom, yanked the top drawer open: inside lay the revolver—a Smith and Wesson Model 327—he had purchased for home defense two years ago, along with fifty rounds of ammunition. The simplicity and the reliability of the weapon appealed to him, not so much for his sake but for Crystal's, if ever she would need to use it. He'd once owned a Nosler M48 but had sold it for extra cash last summer when he was between jobs.
Shane understood so little of what was happening right now. Would this one firearm be enough?
Somehow he didn't think so. His gut told him that much.
"Got it?" Anna Lou called from the front door. "Shane, have you got it?"
"Yeah," he said, loading the revolver and then stuffing it in his waistband; he filled his pockets with the remaining ammo. "What's happening out there?"
"You'll see," Anna Lou promised grimly. "Come on. We've got to get to my car without them seeing us. What one knows, all of them know."
"Just come on." Anna Lou took his wrist, tried to lead him out—but Shane jerked free of her.
"I'll follow you," he growled, "but don't touch me again."
Anna Lou looked back at him. Her expression struck him as wounded at first; then it hardened into anger. "All right, then," she hissed.
She went out, with Shane close behind her.
Crystal was now in the foyer of Arlene's and Donny's house. She had not wanted to come inside—and yet had not been able to help herself.
"Arlene?" she called again, louder. "Donny?"
What am I going to find in here, if I keep going? What am I going to see?
"Come on, y'all," she said, though—without realizing it—her voice had less volume this time. "If you're in here, say something."
No answer, again.
Then she looked down at the floor.
Anna Lou's car—an old Toyota Camry lacking much of its original paint job; at one time it might have been blue—was parked across the street. Behind them, from elsewhere within the condominium development, there were suddenly more screams. Shane stopped, turned around. Anna Lou halted as well.
"There are people—" he began.
"Shane, you can't do anything for them," Anna Lou insisted. "I've told you that over and over." Forgetting his earlier admonition, she grabbed his arm.
But Shane was too transfixed by the sound to even notice.
That single eerie whine before had become multiple whines now. He could tell from the way several ran concurrently, or differed in pitch.
There was something about the carpet: specifically, the carpet at the entrance of the hall leading back to the two bedrooms.
Crystal bent over for a better look.
An oily, faintly luminous substance had stained large portions of it in this area; some of the fluid was even spattered on the walls. Yellowish in color, it had no smell, or none she could detect. But there was a bunch of it, thick enough to pool up in certain places. Crystal straightened again, slowly backed away.
Something bad, she thought. Whatever happened here between now and last night, it was something bad. I can feel it.
Crystal decided to call the police. She wasn't worried about the prospect of embarrassment anymore: hers, Arlene's and Donny's, or anyone else's.
She hurried out of the house.
"Shane, no," Anna Lou cried, attempting to drag him toward her vehicle. "It's suicide."
"I can't just run while—"
"Yes, you can. Yes, you can." Anna Lou was nearly hysterical now. "We have to. If it sees you, we're both dead."
Shane pushed Anna Lou away. She staggered back, but did not fall. Facing her now, Shane demanded: "If what sees me, Anna Lou?"
Anna Lou nodded in the direction of the condominium complex.
"That," she answered. "Look."
Shane spun round.
There was one was in the parking lot.
Standing beside her car, Crystal waited for someone to pick up at the police station—and waited, and waited.
This doesn't happen, she thought to herself. This never happens.
But it was happening, all right: no one was present to answer her call.
That's crazy. Someone's there. Someone's got to be there. It's a law or something, isn't it?
And yet here she stood.
Suddenly: a cry.
Startled, Crystal dropped her phone. It landed on the grass, thankfully, rather than the pavement. Even as she stooped to pick it up again, she looked around, trying to see where the cry had come from.
She quickly learned.
The front door to the house across the street was flung wide open, and a pudgy, white-haired man in his late sixties or early seventies stumbled out, clutching his shoulder. He toppled down the front steps, landed hard on the concrete path that led from his driveway to the door. Immediately he began to convulse—perhaps he'd hit his head, or was having a stroke...Crystal had no way of telling. But one thing was for sure: he needed medical attention, and fast. She started toward the man. Until emergency services arrived, she would do what she could.
Then one emerged from the man's house.
"What is it…?" Shane could hardly breathe. His throat was locking up on him.
"Shane," Anna Lou begged, grabbing his arm again. "Come on!"
Crystal backed up against her car. Keeping her eyes focused on the horror that had just now followed the ailing gentleman out of his residence—the horror that she knew without knowing was responsible for his present condition—she fumbled around in her small purse for her keys.
The beast in the parking lot was vaguely simian in appearance, with its two arms, two legs, and a small oval head. Instead of fur, though, its skin was covered shiny gray scales. Its spine was massive, ridged down the middle with bony structures that resembled reddish-hued molar teeth. Even hunched over, it easily stood nine feet in height. Its arms terminated not in hands, but in a quartet of glistening, transparent quills. From this distance, Shane could not make out any of the facial features—
—but Crystal was close enough that she could make out certain aspects of its face and what she realized, even half-delirious with terror, was that the monster now exiting the house had a human face: the face of an older woman, a woman about the same age as the man now ravaged by spasms on the front lawn; the man who, as he shook uncontrollably, was undergoing extraordinary physical changes—
—and Shane did not fight this time. When Anna Lou tried again to yank him to her car, he went with her. She even went so far as to open the passenger-side door and shove him in. Then she rushed around to the driver's side and got in, cranked up the engine.
As Anna Lou pulled onto the open road, Shane gasped, "What was that thing?"
"I told you you'd have to see it for yourself," was her quiet reply. "It's what everyone in this town is going to turn into—everyone in the world before long." She placed her hand on his forearm. "Except us."