Friday, January 24, 2020
By Randy Romero
It was a bright, humid day in July of 1992. Pre Google. Pre Netflix and YouTube. Pre social media. Before everybody carried a cell phone in their pockets. It was a time when the world wasn’t so crazy and parents weren’t afraid to let their kids play unsupervised. And it was the summer Drew Parker would never forget.
The sun was blinding and the heat was blistering. Billy Locke wore his lucky red cap for shade. It kept his eyes and face out of the scorching glare of the sun.
Billy was biking home with Drew from the baseball field. They took a shortcut through the woods, as they usually did to avoid the local bullies that loitered around town.
“Race you home,” Billy said with a sharp grin.
“No fair. You already have a head start,” Drew complained.
“Ah you’re just making excuses because you know you can’t win.”
“I could beat you any day of the week,” Drew said, though he didn’t sound too sure. Drew carried a few extra pounds on him and he wasn’t quite as fast or agile as Billy. When they played baseball, Drew always made sure they played on the same team so he wouldn’t be on the losing side.
“Then let’s go. I’ll make it interesting. If you beat me, you can have my Gameboy.” Billy was competitive, but also compulsive. He wasn’t even thinking when he offered up his Gameboy as a prize. He would’ve said anything to get Drew to accept his challenge.
“Oh, it’s on now,” Drew said.
Billy shot ahead of him on his red Schwinn. Drew pedaled his feet off in an attempt to catch up, but Billy was leaving him in the dust. Drew huffed and puffed as he worked his way uphill. He reached the top and let his bike glide down the small hill and pick up speed. He was closing in when Billy jammed on his brakes and skidded in the dirt. Drew pedaled past him, then came to a stop.
“Hey, you stopped first. That’s a forfeit. I win. I’ll take that Gameboy anytime.”
Billy didn’t reply. Just stared quietly off to the left. Drew circled back to see what was so captivating.
Hiding under the shadow of a dead sycamore tree, Drew saw the well.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Drew said. The sight of it creeped him out, hidden in the darkness. It was as if the sun refused to shine on it.
“Me neither,” Billy said. “We ride our bikes through here all the time. I can’t believe we never noticed it.”
They got off their bikes and walked towards it. It was a dry well, dark and deep, with an old fashioned wooden ladder descending down.
“Let’s check it out!” Billy exclaimed.
“No way, man. I can’t even see how far down it goes. I’m not messing around in there. It’s probably crawling with spiders.”
“You’re such a chicken.”
“Am not! I just don’t want to go messing around in some dark, dirty well. Besides, I’ve got to get home. I can’t be late for dinner or my mom will freak out.”
“So go. Nobody’s twisting your arm to stay.”
Drew didn’t want to leave his friend behind. But he wasn't about to break curfew. His mom expected him at five o'clock sharp, and she would raise hell if he was even a second late.
Drew told him to be careful, got on his bike, and pedaled away.
Billy stood around the mouth of the well, contemplating, reconsidering. The ladder was old and didn’t look too sturdy.
“Billy,” a voice whispered.
“Who said that?” Billy stammered.
“Billy,” the voice called again, beckoning him. “Billy Locke. Come on down. Don’t be afraid. There’s nothing to fear down here. Just follow the sound of my voice.”
Billy followed the strangely hypnotic voice and descended the rickety ladder. It got darker and darker with every rung he slipped down. He was almost at the bottom when he looked down and saw two glowing red, malevolent eyes staring up at him.
“Hello, Billy,” it whispered. Billy scrambled up the ladder, but one of the rungs snapped on the way up, and he felt something seize his ankle. It dragged him to the bottom of the well, Billy screaming all the way down as he disappeared into the darkness.
Billy Locke never made it home that evening. His parents called Drew’s parents and Drew told them about the woods, about the well, about Billy staying behind.
Billy’s parents led a search party out to the woods. Drew was there, escorted by his parents. He showed them the exact spot. He was certain of it. He remembered the dead sycamore tree. And Billy’s red Schwinn still rested in the dirt.
But the well was gone, as if it had never even existed. And so was Billy…
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.