These are the most testing times the human race have faced since World War II. This time the enemy is unseen, an enemy so powerful it’s forcing many of us to retreat back into our houses. It’s here that people will try to continue to live as normal a life as they can and it’s here that the wonderful art of storytelling may blossom. Be it, young children sitting in front of a parent, or a person sadly on their own listening to the radio, stories will be spread and remembered, to be told to future generations once this horrible virus has faded.
I wanted to be able to share some stories with the fiends of Kendall Reviews, stories to help people get through these difficult times.
If you have a tale you’d like to share then please contact me via email
I’m really enjoying bringing you these Isolation Tales, even more so when the tale is from one of the incredibly talented members of Team KR. Today’s tale is a chillingly claustrophobic tale from the wonderful J.A. Sullivan
Lauren lay still, flat on her back in the wooden makeshift coffin. She could feel the vibrations of Henry’s truck as it roared down the road. Every dip and pothole jostled her body. She was blinded by darkness but knew she must be in his truck. The crate wouldn’t have fit in his police cruiser.
After a sharp turn, the truck slowed, and the engine cut out. Lauren screamed, pleading for Henry to let her out. He didn’t respond. Hot tears streamed down her face as her chest constricted tighter and tighter in fear. She could hear him sort through tools that clanked together, and then the grinding sound of a metal shovel blade cutting through earth.
“Please,” she cried, “I won’t tell anyone.” But the only reply was the sound of digging.
Her heart shrivelled and ached. She’d loved Henry for longer than he knew, and she never imagined he’d be capable of violence. His soft brown eyes and jovial voice didn’t seem to belong to what he’d become. He was a monster now, and she wondered if he always had been. She should have asked Hailey when she had the chance.
“Henry, it doesn’t have to end this way,” Lauren wailed. She felt her coffin lurch forward, scraping against the truck bed. As she opened her mouth to implore him once more, her jaws were snapped shut as the crate slammed into the ground. She bit at the air, desperate to fill her empty lungs. Finally, oxygen rushed back into her body, and through her ragged breaths she could hear dirt raining down on the crate lid.
Howling, she scratched at the wood above her. Splinters wedged deep under her nails, making her fingertips feel like they’d been in a hornet’s nest.
As the sounds of the shovel began to fade, she gave up screaming. No one would hear her. Henry would have picked an isolated spot.
Her breathing slowed and she began to feel every pain in her body. Her throat burned; the muscles in her back and shoulders groaned, desperate to be stretched. She never thought her life would end like this, disposed of like a dirty secret.
Lauren wondered exactly how she would die. Suffocation? Starvation? Dehydration? Would she go insane before then? How long would it be before death took her? The one thing she was sure of was Henry wasn’t coming back. And one other thing. Rats, worms, and other creatures that live in the dark, dank soil would be the only things to find her.
The stench of death permeated the inside of the crate now that fresh air didn’t surround it. Hailey’s body had only resided within it for a day, but that had been long enough for her putrid essence to linger. Death was a hard smell to get rid of. Most scents just masked the odour, but nothing really cleared it away.
When Lauren was eleven, she had tried every trick she could think of to remove the stench in Nana’s bedroom after the old woman finally succumbed to cancer. Lauren’s mother told her it was no use. “The smell of death is like grief,” Mother said. “They both stay with you until it’s time to move on.”
Lauren hadn’t grieved for Hailey, or Nana, or even Mother for that matter, but their stink stuck to the inside of her nostrils like passing over a skunk carcass on the highway.
Outside the planks of the crate, someone began to giggle.
Lauren held her breath as she listened. Something shifted in the earth to her left. She pressed her palm to the wood.
“Knock, knock,” a gravelly voice sounded as Lauren felt two thumps against the plank. Her hand snapped against her body like a broken elastic and she tried to shuffle her body as far away from the sound as she could. “You’re supposed to say, ‘Who’s there?’” the voice chuckled, sick and phlegmy.
Lauren’s throat dried and constricted. The furthest she could get away from the left side of the crate was only a few inches, and that wasn’t far enough to escape the icy cold air that now drifted through the small space between the planks. She closed her eyes. This isn’t real, she repeated like a broken record.
“Oh, if only it weren’t,” the voice rumbled, mockful, androgynous, and full of disdain. It tickled a memory of long ago. A voice she recognized but couldn’t quite grasp. “Let’s try again, shall we? Knock, knock.” The boards were thumped upon again, but more forcefully this time.
Lauren swallowed hard and whispered, “Who’s there?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” the salacious voice replied. “I’ve been known by many names, though none of them are true. Angel to some, demon to others. You already know which one I am for you.”
“It isn’t real”, Lauren whispered over her right shoulder, still trying to keep away from the left-hand side of the crate.
“I’m as real as you, my dear. All the world’s atrocities wrapped together, including your own. But for simplicity’s sake, please, call me Nik.”
Lauren closed her eyes, feeling her eyelids twitch with the pulse of her hammering heart. Red splotches danced across her vision as a mad parade of devils. “What do you want from me?” she blubbered, fresh tears and mucus running down her face again.
“I’m here, waiting for your last breath, so I can escort you to your new home,” Nik chuckled. An image of fire engulfing a barren and broken landscape pushed into Lauren’s mind. “You knew I would come for you, eventually. I told you in Nana’s bedroom.”
She remembered that night.
Standing in the gloom beside Nana’s bed, embraced in the stench of excrement and death, Lauren let tears streak her face as she realised Nana was no longer breathing. Something, though she couldn’t say for sure what, had woken Lauren and pulled her to the old woman’s bedroom. She was about to tiptoe back to her room when she saw a grey mist swirl and condense to her left. Rushing backwards she tripped over the bedpan, falling hard on her tailbone. Cold urine spilled across the floor and soaked into Lauren’s nightgown.
The mist became a figure. A slate-coloured gargoyle with red eyes and sharp hungry teeth. It smiled at Lauren before crouching over Nana’s body. With its jaws open as wide as a cobra’s, the gargoyle lowered its gaping maw until Nana’s entire head was in its mouth. There was a sucking sound, like someone ravenous trying to get the last bits of marrow from a bone.
When the gargoyle was done, it spit out Nana’s head like a cherry pit and looked at Lauren, black muck dripping down its chin. “The dark souls are always the tastiest,” it said. “I expect yours will be exquisite, when the time comes.”
Overhead, the light popped on and the creature vanished. Mother rushed in and saw Nana’s lifeless body. Dropping to her knees, she wrapped her arms around her child and murmured, “I’m so sorry it had to be you.”
“That’s sweet,” Nik barked. “But that’s not what happened. I was there, I know your soul, and I know what you did.” Lauren snapped her eyes open and saw the gargoyle’s face inside the crate, a faint white glow surrounding its grotesque features. The tip of its nose was barely a finger’s width away from her own. It smiled a hideous grin. “Lies are most unbecoming at the best of times. And now, with only precious moments left, you might as well be honest with yourself.”
Staring into the blood-red eyes of the gargoyle, Lauren began to stammer. “There must be some mistake. I’ve never…”
Nik’s face rushed forward to Lauren’s left ear and snapped its teeth. “I do not make mistakes.”
She could feel its breath dripping down her neck like an icicle.
“Fine,” Nik growled, “we’ll do this the hard way.”
In an instant, Nik unhinged his bottom jaw and pulled Lauren’s head into its dark cavernous mouth. Fangs of cold stone ripped through Lauren’s brain causing every memory to flood her thoughts at once.
Nana, struggling under the pillow as Lauren snuffed out her existence.
Hailey, pleading for her life and the life of Henry’s child as Lauren repeatedly jabbed a knife into her swollen pregnant belly.
Mother, gasping for air as Lauren pinched the oxygen tube between her fingers.
And so many other faces, swirling and begging for mercy as Lauren held their fate in her hands.
“So much pain for so little gain,” Nik sniggered, after spitting Lauren’s inanimate head out. “With your brains and appetites, you could have done so much more, if you hadn’t been caught. Such a pity.”
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan