The Morning After

The sound of his heaving envelops you; your heart rate syncs itself to the chase. At some point you start to pant and realize your sweating – slippery, sticky, terrified. Your legs go numb. Your thoughts start to jumble. You try to plan your next move and the one after that. The only signal your brain seems to compute anymore is GO.

So you go. It’s all instinct, now. You go, go, go. You know you can’t keep going, and yet – you do. There’s a desire you never knew you had; a desire so strong it fuels you when you have nothing left to give. It’s the desire to live.

He catches your arm and in an instant it might be all over. Might be – but it’s not. Because you drive the knife right through him. And the skin is tougher than you imagined; everything under it, softer. Physically, it’s a difficult thing to do, but you do it. He drops. The blood seeps out of him and crawls towards you; disappears under your feet and surrounds you.

You did it. You survived. Now what?

And then the Feeders Came

Jeanette stared at the sunrise as it melted its glow over the city’s smog. The smell of jet fuel and sweat mingled through the air and carried up her nasal passage, making it tickle and itch. It was amazing to her that as the population shrunk, the stench of labor grew.

“Going hunting today?” Abe asked.

Jeanette shrugged. The question seemed superfluous. She couldn’t remember the last day she hadn’t hunted. She also couldn’t remember the last day one of the feeders hadn’t hunted her. The hunt was all that existed anymore.

“Listen,” Abe continued, his tone suddenly stark. “We gotta head north. I know how you feel about it but -”

Jeanette snarled dismissively. It was the closest she’d come to a laugh in a long time. A week ago she would have shot words as sharp as darts at Abe. Head north for what? It’s a bullshit lie. The feeders are there too, you know. They’re everywhere. You know that. But today, today she didn’t have the fight in her. So she just snarled, and kept her eyes facing forward. From her peripherals, she could see Abe huffing, his heart aching at her coldness.

“What’s left for us here, Jeanette? Vicki and I have thought it through. Even Garret says -”

“I don’t care what Garret says.” There they were, the darts. Laced with poison at the mention of Garret; an amateur who couldn’t last a day on his own. They had taken him in for his eidetic memory thinking he’d be  an asset – until a few days ago when he had almost gotten them all killed.

Abe stepped back as a show of faith. He knew he had taken the wrong approach and was surveying his mind eagerly for the right one. Jeanette faced him and let out a slow, frustrated, sigh. Her resistance to heading north was purely based on logic. Travelling ill-equipped and malnourished was a bad idea. It was best to stay put, where the grounds were familiar. But she had to admit, Abe’s logic was sound too.

The malnourishment would not be solved by staying put. They had depleted their food sources. The Hudson was their best bet now. As for Garret, he might be a coward and a poor shot, but he was a human map. He’d get them there. That was true.

“I agree, Jeanette. The theory that these things can’t survive the cold is just that, a theory. But how do we prove it if we sit here, rotting in the sun, shooting feeders from afar until we run out of squirrels and ammo?”

Abe smiled at Jeanette in that warm way that always settled her. By sundown the four of them were headed north, with Garret leading the way and Vicki by his side, gun-drawn at all times. She was one of the few soldiers who had stayed behind with the civilians when the military pulled out of their zone. Jeanette had prodded her for answers: Where was the military going? What was the plan? She never answered a single question. Within hours of the abandonment, the fences had been torn down and most of the population made a run for it – most right into the arms of feeders.

“It’s a good time for it,” Abe assured Jeanette who couldn’t help but look unsure of each step she took. He continued, “by the time we get there, we should still have a month or two before the snow.”

“And then?”

“And then, we acquire winter survival skills.”

“If we make it that long,” Jeanette mumbled.

“We will.”

On the third night, Jeanette scratched a seventh slash in her rock. She liked the idea of keeping track of how many feeders they encountered. It was a hangover from being a records keeper in a past life. She had to admit, the trek had not been quite as dangerous as she had expected, and it gave everyone a reason to keep going. Goals were healthy.

She sat by the fire, quietly thinking about how glad she was that they were all doing this together. Hell, she and Garrett were even being civil again. The fog was thick, a blanket that made everything seem a little unreal; a little magical, even. The air had a sweetness to it she couldn’t place, and even though they were still eating rodents, she was excited for the fish. The Hudson was known to have had over 200 species at one point.

As she lay under the heavy sky, Jeanette drifted off to all the best thoughts and let good dreams take her over. For once, things seemed to be falling into place.

And then the feeders came. A hoard of them greater than any other they had ever encountered. Jeanette was thrust awake by inarticulate screams. Vicki was probably giving orders to the others; Garret was probably babbling through tears; Abe was likely hollering for ammo. He was kicking wood from the fire towards the coming monsters. But they were still coming, and it was over before it began.

A small group leapt on Abe, taking him down in one swift motion. His screams became garbled as his wide eyes stared into Jeanette’s from across the way. She sat, frozen, only partially upright where she had been sleeping so peacefully just moments before. Simultaneously, a larger group descended upon Garret. He tried to run but fell, inviting the feeders down onto him. Vicki ran towards Jeanette, hand extended, wanting to pull her out of her shock. But Jeanette just stared at the hand, trying to process how her dream had so quickly turned into a nightmare. And how the world had so quickly become this Hell.

The feeders got Vicki from behind. The blood splattered across Jeanette’s face, bringing her back to life. She scrambled up and ran. She ran faster than humanly possible. She ran further than humanly possible. And not once did she look back.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

 

 

Changeling

Lily’s feet slapped hard against the frosted ground but she did not slow her pace. She tried not to think about how cold it was, how dark it was, or how much it hurt to feel the twigs snapping underfoot. In the distance a low and soothing voice whispered her name; the sound tugged at Lily, but she resisted, and kept running. Her body was extra-cooperative, leaping over rocks and squeezing between tree trunks. Lily had always been a clumsy child, but not tonight, not when her life depended on it. Even her heart matched her pace, slamming rapidly against her chest.

“Liiiilllyyy.”

The voice was getting louder, and more intrusive. But Lily just ran faster. Overwhelmed by her own determination, she burst out of the forest and onto the highway, where a truck had to skid to a stop to avoid hitting her. Lily stared out at the driver, her eyes surely glowing in his headlights. She watched, paralyzed with shock, as he jumped down from his seat and rushed towards her. He was screaming nonsense. When he got close enough to reach out to her it sent her into frenzied hysterics. Lily screamed herself unconscious, her tiny and exasperated body collapsing onto the street.

*****

“Lily? Lily James?”

This time it was a man’s voice. It had a lot more urgency in it and was lacking the seductive nature of the voice she had been running away from. On the silent count of three, Lily sprung her eyes open, hoping her body would have jolted forward at the same time. She hadn’t moved, but she was staring into Mr. Cole’s eyes. They were scared and confused, much like her own. Recognizing the man, Lily allowed relief to sweep through her as she curled up tighter in his arms.

“Okay, okay,” he whispered affectionately. She must have started crying, but couldn’t quite tell. “Let’s get you home.”

Mr. Cole bundled Lily in a blanket and set her down in his passenger seat. She was quiet now, secretly listening for the voice to call her back.

“What were you doing out in the street Lily?” he asked as they moved calmly down the highway. There were hardly any other vehicles; symptom of a small town.

Lily wanted to respond, but she didn’t know how. Honestly, the whole ordeal was starting to blur over in her mind. She had been trying to get away, but was no longer quite sure what from. When she remained silent, Mr. Cole stopped speaking, and they drove the rest of the way listening only to the hum of the engine.

“Here we are,” he finally said.

The drive had felt long, and Lily was pretty sure she had been dozing for most of it. Her muscles ached and her head throbbed, so she put up no fight at all when Mr. Cole scooped her up and carried her to the front door. The only thing more comforting than being held by her elderly kind neighbor was seeing her front stoop. She wasn’t sure how long it had been, but it felt like ages since she had been home. When the front door swung open, she leapt towards her mother and locked her small arms around the woman’s heavy thighs.

The satin pajamas were familiar and warm; but to Lily’s dismay, her mother did not reciprocate. In fact, she seemed to stiffen uncomfortably. Lily was a perceptive child and could sense her mother’s fear. She threw her head up and stared at her, waiting; tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Impossible,” her mother whispered, a stunned expression worn on her face. “My Lily is asleep in her bed.”

Margaret looked down at the child clinging to her thighs. She looked just like Lillian – and yet. She looked to Ed for an explanation, but the old man just looked at her as though she were an alien herself.

“Perhaps not, Marge. I found her in the street; damn near took her down with my truck out there on the highway.”

Margaret looked down at the little girl. Her eyes were watering, her dress was torn, hair unkempt. And wasn’t that – yes, the blue dress she had bought her for her sixth birthday just a few months back. Deciding instantly that she must be in a sleep daze, Margaret dropped to her knees and stared into Lily’s eyes. She wanted to scold her for running away, but first, a gnawing in her gut told her she had to be sure. Margaret snatched Lily’s hand and flew into the house, up the stairs and down the hall to Lily’s room. She could hear Ed close the door behind them and follow. Inside, the room was dark and still. Margaret flipped the light switch and stood face to face with her Lily, snug in bed.

Frozen, Margaret watched as her daughter gently stirred awake. As her eyes fluttered open, Margaret instinctively pulled the other Lily behind her, blocking her from her daughter’s sight.

“Mama?” she asked groggily, rubbing her eyes with the corner of her blanket.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Generation Slasher

Jessica gasped lightly. A shadow lingered in her peripheral vision, and she had to hold her breath to keep calm; to keep from screaming. Her heart rate increased and tiny pools of sweat emerged from under her bangs. She could feel her pulse in her neck; a constant thud that she was sure must be visible, if not audible. Her stomach churned. She suddenly regretted the mixture of popcorn and soda she substituted for a freshly cooked meal. The room had always had a chill in it, but now Jessica could barely contain her shivering. Her teeth even wanted to chatter, although she had clenched them with such force it seemed more likely that they might crush under the weight of her fear.

And then it came. The man jumped out his hiding spot and pounced on the half naked teenage girl. She screamed as the knife penetrated deeper and deeper.

Jessica let out a yelp, and although it was embarrassing, she was glad she had. Now she could breathe again. Unable to watch the gore unfold on the huge screen before her, she squeezed her eyelids shut and tried not to imagine anything worse than what might actually be happening.

Beside her, Erin burst into laughter. It was genuine, but those who didn’t know her might find it obnoxious. Suddenly, Jessica was hiding not only from the blood bath on the screen, but from the other moviegoers who might be getting irritated with her friend.

“Shh,” she whispered, still refusing to open her eyes.

“Oh, please” Erin retorted. Her voice was lowered but it was certainly not a whisper.

The credits began to roll, cued in by the last victim’s fading scream and the rising level of the ominous theme song that had been a staple of the franchise for the last decade.

“That was the worst one. I tell ya, no more. I’m done with these sequels,” Erin blurted as they hustled out of the packed, dark, cinema.

“It was scary. And gory. That seems like it’s exactly your thing.” Jessica was feeling more like herself now that the film was over.

“Not even! It was just a hack. An imposter of the greats.”

Jessica rolled her eyes, knowing she was in for a long walk home.

“Think about it,” Erin started, “There was all the typical slasher icons: it had the maniac in a mask who is human but borders on the supernatural in his ability to kill, fight, and not die. It had the mixed bag of unsupervised teenage pals: a jock, a nerd who is cooler than he lets on, and two hot girls, one a bit more… promiscuous… than the other.”

Jessica nodded, wondering exactly where this was going.

“Then we have the setting – secluded getaway with a killer on the loose. But, of course, the kids don’t know that because they’re too wrapped up in their teenage love-triangle bullshit to listen to the news. Wrong place, wrong time. One by one, they get the axe.”

“Yeah, I’d say that about sums it up. All of them.”

“That’s my point. Those are the main ingredients – nay, the required ingredients to put together a slasher. It’s what you do with all the in-between that makes it a great film, or a waste of everyone’s time. This one was of the latter category.”

“Okay, so what makes any of these great? As you say, it’s all formulaic. The purpose it to make us squirm, and I do. Mission accomplished. Success.”

“No. It’s not that simple. Horror movies are made for horror fans. The people squealing next to us are the people we dragged with us.”

They turned off of Main St. and the wind picked up. Erin kept talking.

“Horror fans don’t watch it to scream. We watch for a bunch of different reasons; personally, I watch for the final girl, which this film severely lacked. The ‘no survivors’ angle seems original, until you realize that with no survivors there’s no story. No one to route for, route against, laugh at, identify with. All of that is embodied by the final girl; or, on the very rare and generally unsuccessful occasion, the final boy. Either way, that archetype is essential. I wanna see some girl that everyone underestimated kick some ass.”

“Wouldn’t that also be predictable?” Jessica couldn’t help but ask.

“Maybe. But it depends what you do with her.

There are two types of slasher films. You’ve got your run-of-the-mill reactionary film. Typical of the 70s, and it’s all about punishment. It’s a reaction against the civil rights movement, women’s lib, gay rights and anything else that was considered leftist or unnatural. All those things get knifed. The black guy, the sexual women or any form of sexual activity. Whatever isn’t the typical picture of 50s suburbia. In those films you’ve got a virgin for a final girl. She’s hope for the traditional values. Usually she’s even kind of a damsel in distress and she gets rescued.

Then you’ve got your progressive films which are all about the Other fighting back against the monster who represents social oppression. There, you get a badass final girl. She isn’t going to take shit, she’s smart, and she’s capable and she wins. It’s not luck, it’s strategy.”

Jessica pondered on that for a minute and was surprised by how much sense it made to her. Erin caught a glimpse of that in her eyes and smiled, pleased with her persuasive argument skills.

“You see,” she added, “horror is all about living vicariously through these characters. But that doesn’t mean we’re all masochists.”

“I might be. You don’t really drag me here. I could say no. I like the scares and I watch to squirm,” Jessica finally admitted.

Erin laughed. “Yeah, I guess you might be, then.”

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Final Girl Syndrome

I hadn’t pictured it this way. I thought it would be exhilarating, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 when she spins the chainsaw round and round; victorious. Or, maybe even like Halloween, when she just cries and cries.

I guess what I’m saying is, I thought I’d finally feel something. But I don’t. It’s more like Black Christmas; the original or the shitty remake, take your pick.

Just numb. Catatonia, I think it’s called.

His body finally limp; the blood that once filled it splattered across my face and clothes. The nightmare finally over. The chase complete. And he just lies there, and I just stare at him.

He’s taken everyone from me. Everything.

There’s no avenging that.

I’m guessing by tomorrow, I’ll look more like Girl, Interrupted.

How dissatisfying.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©