Friday, January 10, 2020
By Randy Romero
The jet was all fueled up and ready to go by the time we arrived at the airport. Private security rushed us on board and the pilot was already taking off before we even got a chance to fasten our seat belts.
It was just the four of us. Mom, dad, Tara, and myself. Six if you count the pilot and copilot. And seven if you count Gary, dad’s head of personal security. The guy was a brick wall of muscle, but with very little going on upstairs. He was a mindless grinning bulldog that obeyed every command without inquiry. Wherever my father traveled, Gary wasn’t far behind.
I’m not trying to brag, but before all this occurred, my dad was a big name in Hollywood. Everyone in the film industry knew the name Terry Watts. He had produced over two dozen films, all major hits at the box office. He had his hand in everything from horror movies to superhero films. And with the money he had, he could easily afford things like private security and his own luxury jet.
The jet was spacious, with a huge flat-screen TV, Dolby surround sound system, Blu-ray player, a fully stocked bar. Any other day I would have sat back and enjoyed the trip. But this wasn’t a vacation.
It was an evacuation.
We didn’t even have time to pack our things. We left all our possessions behind as my dad prepared a hasty exit for the four of us.
Dad was a film producer. Mom was a professional alcoholic. They went together like bleach and ammonia. God only knows what kept them together for so many years. Tara was a blogger. And I was a fifteen-year-old slacker coasting through high school. I didn’t have money or fame like my dad. No dreams or aspirations. I wasn’t popular like Tara. I didn’t even have a hundred friends on Instagram.
I stared out the window as we ascended to the clouds. The higher we got, the more things went out of focus. It was like staring through a blurry telescope lens. The people looked like ants down there. Mindless, vicious ants attacking the weaker ants of the colony. Ripping and clawing and tearing them apart.
When the plane steadied and we were in the air, my mom got up and took off her fur coat and I caught my sister glaring at her. Tara was a vegan, which also meant she was anti-fur. If I had a nickel for every time they clashed over her wearing fur, I would’ve had enough money for my own private jet.
On any other day, Tara would’ve commented on her choice of wardrobe and her insensitivity. But given the circumstances, she let it slide.
Mom poured a glass of champagne from the bar and drank calmly. I didn’t understand how she could be so calm about the situation. It was quite unnerving. But maybe it was her way of coping with the grim events that were unfolding below.
On the ground, all hell was breaking loose. The virus was spreading at an exponential rate.
According to all the breaking reports on my cell phone, there were three confirmed stages of the virus. First you get sick. Then you die. Then you come back to life.
I was glued to my phone. Videos popped up left and right on social media. Live footage of the undead roaming through the streets and ravaging the living.
One video showed Hollywood Boulevard as a sea of abandoned cars. Even the freeway had been abandoned as evidenced in another video that was filmed by a stranded motorist. In Northern California, it appeared that the undead outnumbered the living.
It was like watching a horror movie unfold in real life. Dad produced a zombie film back in 2012. I remember visiting the set and watching the makeup process. The fake blood, the rubber and latex, the prosthetics. But none of that prepared me for a real life zombie apocalypse.
In between blogging and checking her Twitter account for updates, Tara sent me a text.
“How are you holding up Eric?” she asked. She could have just asked me out loud, but this was Tara’s preferred method of communication. At least she cared enough to ask me. We were only two years apart and we had always been close.
“All things considered, I’m doing okay,” I text her back.
I kept going through my phone, looking for updates. I needed answers. Was it isolated to California, or was it happening across the country? Around the globe? Was this an epidemic?
Gary approached my father. “Sir, I’m getting reports of–”
The flash of light nearly blinded us all. The jet shook violently and dipped down. The sky was red and a thick pillar of mushroom shaped smoke nearly touched the clouds. Down below, all that remained of Los Angeles was a smoking crater in the earth. As far as we could tell, the entire state of California had been wiped off the map.
The jet plummeted through the sky as the pilot struggled to regain control. Just when I thought it was all over, the jet stabilized and the pilot resumed control. We breathed a sigh of relief as the jet ascended again.
“That’s what I was trying to tell you, sir,” Gary said. “This was some kind of contingency plan to stop the virus from spreading. I just got word on my phone before the bomb was dropped.”
“Dear God…” my dad whispered.
He rushed to the cockpit, where the copilot was frantically trying to reach anyone via the radio.
“We’ve lost all contact with Arizona. New Mexico too,” the copilot told him. “There’s no telling how far the virus has spread. There’s no telling what states are left.”
My phone pinged with updates. News about the bombing, and about how far the virus had spread. Every state was infected. Nowhere was safe.
We flew above the clouds, hurdling towards an undecided future.
Thursday, December 12, 2019
By Randy Romero
Roiling waves crashed along the shore like claps of thunder. The sky was a dark canopy riddled with stars, and the moon was barely visible. It was a chilly night and the ocean made it feel ten degrees colder. They were all bundled up, wearing hats and jackets. And the bonfire kept them warm; the alcohol kept them warmer.
This wasn’t exactly how Shirley Bellinger envisioned spending her Halloween. But sitting around a bonfire and drinking beers sure beat those run of the mill costume parties.
The group was small. There was Dylan Sommers, Shirley’s main reason for being there. Joe Cobb, who had supplied most of the booze. Three cases of imported beer from Belgium.
Joe’s girlfriend, Tanya Burke, was with him. Shirley knew her from school but they weren’t exactly best friends. They got along okay, but Shirley didn’t know her well enough to call her a friend. More of a mutual acquaintance.
Dan Carruthers, the school weirdo was also present. Shirley couldn’t understand why Dylan or the others hung around with him. But he did have primo weed, and he wasn’t afraid to share. Maybe that’s why they didn’t mind his company.
Then there was Gil Gerrard and Nicole Stevens. Shirley didn’t mind Nicole, but she never liked Gil. His family was rich and he wasn’t shy about telling you. His pompous attitude made him one of the more detested kids at their school. And Shirley could tell Nicole was only interested in him for money and social status.
They sat on the beach, drinking ice cold beers, with Dan rolling joints and passing them around. Joe and Dylan had a competition going to see who could drink the most beers. Gil bragged about his red sports car, and hung his arm around Nicole like she was a trophy of some kind. Just as Nicole used Gil for his family’s status, Gil used Nicole for her good looks. Even Shirley couldn’t argue that she was one of the prettiest girls in their school.
“Maybe we should sing a song?” Gil joked. “Maybe Kumbaya?”
“I’d sing one if I had my guitar,” Joe said.
“How about a story?” Tanya suggested. “It is Halloween after all.”
“What, like a scary story?” Dylan asked. “Like that urban legend about the guy with a hook for a hand?”
“Ugh, no. That story has been done to death.”
“I’ve got a story,” Dan chimed in.
“Go on,” Gil said. “I’ve gotta hear this one.”
“It happened right here in Brightwater. The Susie Q was a fishing vessel that sank over 25 years ago, before any of us were born. I remember my dad telling me about it as a kid. Nobody really knows how or why it sank. But it went down like a stone and they were trapped at the bottom of the ocean floor, their lungs filling up with salt water. They say it’s pitch black down there. The whole crew, all eight of them were lost. No survivors.
Rumor was that a rival fishing boat was responsible for sabotaging the Susie Q, but nobody could ever prove anything. But that’s not the scary part. For years after the Susie Q sank, people claimed to see the dead fisherman right here along the shore. They claimed they’d walk up right out of the ocean. Usually around this time of the year.”
“Why this time of the year?” Tanya asked.
He waited for some sign of understanding, but got none. “You guys don’t know much about Halloween, do you? You probably think nothing of Halloween outside of kids dressing up in costumes to beg strangers for candy. Halloween used to be called Samhain. In the Druid tradition, it was a festival, a celebration of the dead. And it was the time of year where the barriers between the dead and the living were at their thinnest. And believe what you want to believe about that, but it’s a fact that the Susie Q sank out there 25 years ago. And don’t forget how many people claimed to see those dead fishermen right here on the shore. If we were to see them, this would be the night.”
“Bullshit,” Gil muttered as he pretended to cough.
Dylan chuckled but Shirley wasn’t so amused.
“I remember my parents telling me about the Susie Q,” Joe said.
“Mine too,” Nicole said.
“Yeah, I remember hearing about it. But those sightings were just ghost stories, urban legends. Nobody ever saw any dead fishermen out here. Our parents used to tell us that just to scare us.”
The waves crashed like thunder, and with it, they came. Eight skeletal beings walking out of the sea. Covered in barnacles and tangled in slimy seaweed. Their flesh corroded away. And what little flesh remained was dark blue.
Shirley grabbed Dylan’s hand and Dylan squeezed back.
Dan had a sudden epiphany. It wasn’t just a story his father had told him. It was a confession. Dan’s father had been the captain of the Barbara Ann. He had made his living with that boat. But Dan wasn’t the only one guilty by association.
Joe, Dylan, Tanya, Nicole, and Shirley–all of their dads were local fishermen, and all of them worked on the Barbara Ann around the time that the Susie Q mysteriously sank. Even Gil’s uncle had worked as a mate on Dan’s father’s boat. They were all linked to someone directly responsible for the deaths of eight men.
And now, those men had returned. They lurched forward, making their way up the beach, gaffs and rusty fillet knives in their hands.
The tide came in, extinguishing the bonfire and plunging them into darkness. Their screams, as long as they lasted, carried across the empty beach. There wasn’t a soul around to hear their desperate cries. They wouldn’t be discovered until the next morning. And no trace of the eight fisherman remained. The ghosts of the sea had returned to the ocean they had perished in.
Friday, December 6, 2019
By Randy Romero (Randy Benivegna)
First, it wiped out the power grid.
Then, it wiped out the entire town.
It didn’t take a mathematician to solve the equation. It was basic subtraction. Geoff Banks was the only one left, and he was next.
The streets weren’t safe. Geoff’s car had been in the shop with a bad catalytic converter when this thing had descended upon the town of Ravensville. He didn’t have a vehicle to flee in. He couldn’t make a run for it. He’d only make it a few short blocks before it found him.
Geoff retrieved his shotgun and a box of shells from the garage. He loaded it and pumped the mechanism. Then he locked all the doors and shuttered the windows. He took it a step further by boarding up the windows from the inside and barricading all the entries. Then he chained the cellar doors from the inside.
When he was finished, he sat in the living room under the glow of the kerosene lamps, shotgun nestled in his lap.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Geoff glanced up at the ceiling. The chandelier tinkled as it swayed back and forth.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Outside, gargantuan footsteps reduced the asphalt to rubble. He could hear them down the block. Thump. Thump. Thump. The foundation shook and the chandelier danced above his head. It was coming.
Geoff had secured his house, taken every precaution. But that didn’t stop it from getting in. It came in right through the roof, ripping a massive hole in the center of his house.
Fear overtook him. He held the shotgun but his trembling fingers couldn’t find the trigger. He stared up in horror at the mammoth beast that towered over him. Grotesque, enormous, and starved for flesh.
Friday, November 22, 2019
By Randy Romero (Randy Benivegna)
Trevor Booth had an awful but unbreakable habit of eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. Sometimes it was unavoidable. Dependent on public transportation, Trevor couldn’t help but overhear people’s chitchat. But he also couldn’t deny that listening to these conversations was a guilty pleasure for him.
Maybe it was a way to make up for his own lack of companionship. Trevor was a paradox. He was lonely and he craved conversation, but he typically loathed people. He did have a few friends, but they were few and far between.
That morning on the train, he overheard a heated domestic dispute taking place over a cell phone. The conversation was one-sided since Trevor couldn’t hear on the other end, but it sounded like the woman’s boyfriend was breaking up with her. And judging by her profane remarks, she wasn’t taking the news too well.
He also overheard a man talking to his friend about how his wife left him for her younger, more virile yoga instructor. He overheard two teenagers, who were probably on winter break, gossiping about their classmates and talking about their boyfriends.
In the seat across from him, two strangers argued back and forth. One was a businessman–suit, tie, briefcase in his lap, newspaper rolled up in one hand. The other man was a bit younger, more dressed down. They were heatedly discussing politics, which turned into a debate about climate change, which somehow segued into a debate about vaccinations.
He listened intently to two women gabbing about their husbands and kids. The inane chatter was enough to bore most people to death. But he couldn’t stop himself from listening.
“I told my kids I’m older than Google and they didn’t believe me,” one of the women said. “They think it’s been around forever.”
“Kids have it easy these days,” the other woman said. “We didn’t have Google when we were growing up. We didn’t even have computers.”
“My oldest daughter wants a cell phone for Christmas. I’m putting my foot down. She’s only eleven. She’s too young for a cell phone.”
The rumble of the train ceased and the doors open. A man got on and sat next to Trevor. The man carried a wretched odor. The smell of death. He looked sickly, his eyes were bloodshot. He leaned in, close enough for Trevor to feel his cold, disgusting breath on his cheek.
“We all have it here,” he whispered. “We’re all infected.”
Trevor didn’t respond, just stared straight ahead. He’d dealt with his share of weirdos and creeps on the train, and he knew the best course of action was to ignore them. But that didn’t stop the man’s eerie words from echoing through his mind.
Trevor’s stop was next. He just sat quietly and waited it out.
The train’s brakes screeched as it came to the next stop. The man stood up and Trevor got a better look at his eyes. There was a dark red, almost black color clouding the whites of his eyes.
Trevor got off after him, and looked around. The eyes… Everyone in the train station had the same discoloration and seemed to be walking around in same kind of trance. He ran into the bathroom to get away from everyone and caught a glimpse of his reflection in a mirror, saw that his eyes were turning red too.
“We all have it here,” he repeated the man’s ominous words. “We’re all infected.”
Thursday, November 21, 2019
By Randy Romero
Kayla Wren–a short seven-year-old girl with a pallid complexion and shoulder-length strawberry blonde hair–stood at her parent’s window, staring out at the empty street below. Her eyes shifted back in forth between the desolate street and the cloudless sky.
It was a strikingly sunny day in early May, but Kayla wasn’t surprised to see the neighborhood deserted. Kayla knew something. Something even her parents didn’t know. Something her neighbors never saw coming.
Max and Alyssa Wren woke up just after 10 o’clock. It was a Saturday and Max usually slept in as late as he could on his only day off.
Alyssa was the first to notice Kayla standing at the window.
“Kayla? Are you sleepwalking again?” her mother asked, rubbing sleep dust from her eyes.
But Kayla was wide awake. She looked awfully pale and seemed distant, yet calm, serene. Eerily calm.
Kayla had heard her mother’s voice, but didn’t turn to face her. She just gazed skyward at the blistering sun.
“Today is a beautiful day,” Kayla declared. “We should make the most of it. It will be our last.”
Alyssa gasped, Max sat up straight in bed.
“Kayla! What an awful thing to say,” Alyssa chided. “Why would you say such a terrible thing?”
It wasn’t just what Kayla had said. The frank, matter-of-fact way that Kayla spoke frightened her mother, chilled her to the bone.
“But it’s true,” Kayla said.
“Who told you that?” Max asked.
“Who, sweetie? Who?” Alyssa asked.
“Who are you talking about?”
“The Dark Men. They’re coming to get us. They got Mr. and Mrs. Harper next-door. They got the Sanchez family across the street. Everybody on this block is gone. And we’re next. There’s no stopping them. ”
Max and Alyssa exchanged looks of concern, then turned their attention to Kayla, who still had her back to her parents.
“Today is a beautiful day,” Kayla repeated. “We should make the most of it…”
Thursday, November 7, 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
By Randy Romero
Rust Cogdale was the first to spot the anomalous shapes in the sky. He was standing outside his house on the veranda, puffing his cigar and blowing out rings of smoke.
Rust had never seen anything like it before. They weren’t ordinary aircrafts. They were irregularly shaped and diverse in size. Some were round and disk-shaped. Some looked like giant fighter jets, but with a bizarre, unearthly features. One metallic spacecraft hovered above them all, bigger than a house.
Rust’s neighbor, Sheila Barnes, joined him outside. She gazed in disbelief at the enigmatic space crafts that loomed over them.
“What in God’s name is that?” Sheila cried.
“I don’t think God has anything to do with this,” Rust said, shaking his head.
The otherworldly spaceships blotted out the sun, engulfing the town in darkness. It was three in the afternoon, but it might as well have been midnight.
Other people soon joined them and before Rust knew it, the whole neighborhood was gazing skyward, mystified by these technologically superior space crafts.
Kaitlin Caruso stood on her porch, huddling her children who looked like scared rabbits.
“Government?” Kaitlin asked. “Are they military?”
“No way can the government hide something that big from us,” Rust said. “I served as a Marine for eight years. That sure as hell doesn’t look like military to me.”
Tom Holt shouted from down the street. “It’s not just us! It’s the whole damn city! They’ve got us completely surrounded!”
The situation reminded Rust of those old black-and-white Sci-Fi movies he used to watch as a kid. The idea of an alien invasion used to scare the life out of him. But this was no movie. And Rust had a funny feeling that these aliens didn’t come in peace.
The space crafts cast a terrifying shadow over the whole city. This finally answered the daunting question of whether or not life truly existed on other planets. But the question on Rust’s mind was, “Why are they here? What are their intentions?”
He didn’t have to wait long for his answer as a laser beam from the largest ship reduced the town’s clock tower to ashes.
The first shots had been fired. They had come to declare war.
People rushed inside their houses, seeking shelter. Rust went back inside just in time to see the latest news on TV. The whole city was under attack. Seconds later, the signal was lost and every channel was on standby.
Wednesday, November 6, 2019
By Randy Romero
The cellar was jet black and freezing. Its walls were soundproof. Not like it mattered. The property was secluded, tucked away on the back roads of Westlake. No one was around to hear anything.
The Surgeon’s polished equipment glistened under the dim lights. His patient was splayed out on an operating table that was bolted to the floor.
“All those charlatans. Those sycophantic simpletons. They praise the wicked, the immoral, the corrupt. They worship false idols. And they dare to call me a monster. Foolish parasites. The media calls me The Surgeon because they lack creativity. It’s funny though, they actually got things right for once. Score one for those hate mongering bastards. Should the police ever apprehend me and reveal my true identity to the world, the media can gave themselves a congratulatory pat on the back.
I’m a surgeon by day, and a killer by night. A sinner and a saint. An angel to some, a demon to others. To my patients, I am a God, a savior. To my victims, I am the devil. For every life I save, I take one in return. Confused? I’m sure you are. Why would I dedicate all my energy to saving lives only to take the lives of others? Well, I could give you a load of crap, make up some excuse. But the truth is, there is no reason. I kill simply because I enjoy it. I’m sure they’ll say I’m mad, crazy. But I’m as sane as I’ve ever been. The only feeling better than saving a life is taking one. It gives you a rush like you wouldn’t believe.
I remember Grady Miller. He was my first. I cut him open, took out all the organs, and sewed him back up. No wonder they call me The Surgeon. Grady was the first…of many. If they ever do catch me, I’ll probably be sentenced to death. I wonder what will happen when they execute me. Hell won’t want me. Heaven won’t know what to make of me. But both will be in awe of my work.”
The priest–bound to the operating table–was speechless. He had that helpless look that The Surgeon had seen innumerable times before. He called it the death stare. That look of fear but also acknowledgement as they accepted their death was imminent.
“Well, Padre, thanks for listening to my confession. I don’t expect you to absolve me. I don’t desire redemption or absolution. Now, let’s get this show on the road…”
The Surgeon took a razor-sharp scalpel from the instrument tray and slit his “patient” down the middle, the blood spurting through the air in quick jets. The Surgeon wiped some of the blood from his face and checked his watch.
“Time of death, 12:14 AM.”