Auto-neuroticism [A horrific short story]

[Hi all! Sorry for another long silence… here’s to breaking it! I’ve been reading a bit about paranormal investigators lately and am of the mind to write something of that ilk – before that (and while I’ve the time to blog but not the time to write) I thought I’d share an old piece of mine – my one previous foray into the horror genre. The following is a short story I wrote for a Halloween competition at work years ago.(Thanks to my good friend Hamish Hay for the adventure that inspired it and the photo that accompanies it!) I’ve refrained from editing it much, wanting to show how my style has (hopefully!) progressed since, but I’ll warn you now it’s a longer read at a couple thousand words! Thanks in advance to anyone who takes the time to plough through it – any and all suggestions, criticisms and comments welcome as I’d happily rewrite the whole thing with enough feedback! Enjoy]

He had chosen the perfect venue for the evening; a surprise he was confident she’d love. Having walked past it every day for two months now, it was only last week, when he’d caught it framed by the sunset, that Ryan realised how perfect a setting The Auto Abode could be. Once a glamorous car showroom, it had closed over a decade ago amidst a blaze of controversy and local newspaper coverage, which Ryan had poured through, fascinated to learn the remarkable story behind the now derelict building.

The owner, Sam Hughton, had been a well-liked figure, always ensuring that the high-spec supercars out front were complemented by a fleet of trade-in vehicles, serviced as comprehensively as those selling for ten times the price, which he reserved for members of the local community. Mothers often stopped at the showrooms for a chat, admiring of his generous nature and the lone-raising of his son Kevin, whilst the boys from the nearby estate came to marvel at the streamlined coupés, slowly turning on the rotating floors and gleaming under the hanging lights.

Things started to go wrong when Sam fell ill after 20 years of good business; diagnosed as terminal and bedridden he installed the irresponsible Kevin, now in his twenties, as the manager. Before long the trade-ins were gone as Kevin turned The Auto Abode into a solely high-end outfit, alienating the locals, including then-girlfriend Stacey Robson, an impressionable young girl Kevin had promised the world to. Seeing her cash-strapped family having to go elsewhere for a car for the first time in her life changed the young girl’s mind however, and she joined a mob of protesters demonstrating against Kevin’s ownership. Later that night, some of Kevin’s former schoolmates – his arrogance not having endeared him to them – snuck into the yard and wiped out over a million pounds worth of cars with a single can of petrol. Kevin Hughton soon disappeared into hiding racked with debt and wanted by the police, with Stacey having gone missing days earlier. Neither were seen again.

Soon home, Ryan could hardly hide his excitement as he prepared the picnic hamper. Kate would love the setting, he was so sure! Both aspiring photographers, the couple often spent weekends travelling to find the most picturesque locations, and here was one right on their doorstep- it was perfect.

He called up the stairs once he’d finished packing their meal, and Kate duly arrived, skipping down the stairs with her SLR tucked under her arm. That was all he told her to bring, an instruction that had been met with incredulity, as they’d covered the city’s main attractions within days of moving in.

Kate’s curiosity was piqued further when Ryan strolled past the car and set off down the road on foot. Unable to maintain the silence Ryan had requested until they reached their destination, she burst out,

‘There’s nowhere original in this city we haven’t photographed, you know! If this is some sort of joke you’ll be in trouble, wasting my time… where are we going?’

Ryan turned and smiled, “You’ll see, it’s worthwhile. God knows I’ve heard about how little time you have!”

He couldn’t resist the little dig at her, after all he’d been busy too, and while for her it was a complaint, for him it was a crime that he’d been away from home so often. Well, he’d make up for all that tonight.

Seemingly placated, Kate followed him obediently, and within minutes they were out of the housing estate and onto the busy main road. Deliberately slowing down as they approached the showrooms, he allowed Kate to overtake him and she instinctively headed past them for the footpath towards the city centre. It was only when she no longer heard his footsteps that she turned around.

Ryan watched her blue eyes as they bore into him, confused, and then slowly widened as they travelled to take in their surroundings. He lips parted in surprise, and she whispered a single word,

“Oh.”

It was all Ryan needed to hear.

Taking her slender hand in his, he guided them through a smashed window, treading gingerly on the broken glass and grateful Kate had chosen to wear her thick-soled hiking boots, clearly expecting a weekend trip away. He left her standing by the entrance and darted around the room, lighting several candelabras to soften, rather than erase, the deep shadows.

Illuminated with a flickering glow, the room lived up to the artistic expectations Ryan had held. Faded posters, their ripped edges now smooth, seemed to drip from the walls, some held up only by glistening cobwebs. Bright, bold and proclaiming sales, banners curled down from the ceiling, some wrapped around the hanging light-fittings like lampshades. Curious but unhopeful, Ryan flicked a switch on the wall and was surprised to see two bulbs stutter into life, casting blood red shadows across the walls. A scraping noise behind him made him turn, and a giant flatscreen TV rolled out from behind a fake wall panel, miraculously unscathed but showing no signs of life; apart from a small red LED it remained black. He sighed, thinking of the wild extravagance once on display within the walls.

“This is perfect.” Kate finally managed to talk, and her words delighted Ryan, who was busy unpacking a laptop from his bag. “And you brought the studio, Ry, how lovely, we can edit them here while we eat.”

“My plan exactly! Now let’s set up and tuck in.” They did just that, juggling trifles and tripods as they prepared their cameras. Within minutes, Kate was contentedly snapping away, and Ryan went to inspect the TV further. A button at the rear sprang the screen into life, and after a bit of adjustment came to display black and white photos of the site. Ten second shots from various vantage points rolled by, but it was after spotting a raccoon scurrying across the screen that Ryan realised these were CCTV images, broadcast live. He shivered involuntarily, but shrugged it off and called Kate over.

They watched as the pictures changed, soon spotting themselves from a viewpoint outside the front door. Eager to find it, Ryan ran outside, calling back to make sure he was still on camera.

“Is it still on?”

“Yes”

“Can you see me?”

“Yes….and still….stop it!” Ryan stopped pulling faces and frowned, puzzled.

“It’s been on me a while hasn’t it?”

“Yes baby, you’re the star of the show!” Kate giggled, sipping her second glass of champagne.

“No, you don’t get it!” snapped Ryan, “It should’ve switched by now.” He rushed back inside and indeed, the view was still fixed on the couple. Kate wandered off disinterested, and after staring at the screen for several minutes, Ryan had to admit defeat- even if it was a bit strange, he couldn’t do anything about it. He joined Kate and began taking photos, but his eyes constantly flicked back to the screen, and he saw the change as soon as it happened.

“There, Kate, look at that!” His voice cracked momentarily as he ran back towards the screen, now showing the two of them from even closer than before. Scanning the room, he was unable to locate a camera, but that didn’t stop the shot zooming in even further a few seconds later. He could now see his and Kate’s faces clearly, and they both looked worried. Walking over to the computer, he whispered to his fiancée,

“Let’s go.” Kate stood still, and motioned silently to the screen. The scale even smaller, Ryan’s shoes were projected larger than life-size, alongside the computer, whose screen showed the untitled album in the making. A line flickered across the header, and then slowly, letters appeared.

I A M

Ryan looked down, his laptop’s screen was unchanged, but up on the TV the letters still came..

W A T C H I N G Y O U

Darkness. Kate screamed as the lights flicked off, and a rush of air extinguished the candles as a low drone started. The air-conditioning unit had powered into life, leaving Kate and Ryan with only the faint glow of the laptop.

“Ry?” Kate’s voice called out, and following the sound quickly brought Ryan to her side. He took her hand, and they walked in silence back to the laptop. Only when they’d got there did they remember the TV screen, and looking up in unison saw themselves huddled together, the viewpoint now back to the camera outside.

Leaving the equipment scattered around the room, they headed towards the entrance, only for a low grinding sound in front of them to halt their progress. Standing still, they realised the noise was coming from all sides, and they were losing their balance as well- the rotating floors had started moving. The racket grew louder, and Ryan could tell that the other sections had to begun to turn also.

Panicking, he grabbed Kate and dashed for the entrance, but lost his balance and crashed down hard onto the stone floor. A scream echoed out from his left and he crawled towards it, only to collapse again when blinding pain shot up his left arm. Inspecting it with his right hand, he felt damp warm stickiness and then- his stomach turned- smooth stiff bone. Ryan’s head felt light, and his voice came out in a desperate croak before the darkness enveloped him…

The room was quiet, a shaft of moonlight pouring in through broken glass the only light. It was towards this that Ryan headed, after clambering lopsidedly to his feet, left arm throbbing. As he got closer, the outlines of the walls became visible, and following them he located the light switch. Gratefully he depressed it, bathing the surroundings once more in the red glow of the two surviving bulbs.

Seeing the room empty, he crossed it in three quick strides, heading for the only other exit- a small door adorned with a faded ‘Manager’ label. He did not notice the TV screen buzz into life, if he had perhaps he would not have found the energy for what was next. The door was locked, but adrenalin surged through Ryan’s veins, it gave in to his second shoulder-barge and he was sent sprawling by something lying on the floor.

For the second time in a minute, Ryan gingerly climbed to his feet, before bending back down to investigate the obstruction. His hand touched cloth and he shuddered and pulled away, before grasping the material once more and dragging the object into the showroom. Exhausted, he collapsed back onto the floor before recoiling in horror at the body lying next to him.

Moth-eaten clothes hung loosely from stiff limbs, over which stretched pallid skin. Decay had worked slowly in the sealed office, but some areas had been slashed and decomposed faster. The worst though, was the face, which had been ripped off down to the bone, leaving only a grinning skull thinly veiled in dried blood. Retching, Ryan backed away as fast as his legs and one good arm would carry him, continuing until he met the far wall heavily. Slumped against it, his eyes rolled back and caught sight of the TV screen above him, showing a picture he couldn’t make out from below. Once he’d turned round to see it, he immediately wished he hadn’t.

It was Kate, even from behind he could tell. She hung from a chain, suspended above the scorched tarmac of the yard. Swaying gently in the breeze, her body turned gradually until she was facing the camera. Ryan, now prone on the floor, gasped for breath and cried, losing consciousness as the will to live drained from him. Kate hung from the chain, but the face Ryan saw, projected greater than lifesize from the screen, was another familiar to him. Countless times he’d seen it, in all the newspaper clippings he’d researched, and even decayed and stitched over that of his girlfriend’s, there was no mistaking the face of Kevin’s lost love Stacey Robson.

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Future Story

[Thanks to the effervescent Nurse Kelly for the suggestion of a genre I haven’t really tackled yet and so this is my attempt at science fiction! Admittedly, a more ‘dystopian culture study’ vibe than a space-age tech-filled journey, but still. Let me know what you think and I’m always open to suggestions so feel free to throw any ideas my way! It will likely lead to a thank you and a plug for your blog, so win-win really. Without further ado….]

Child parts, numbered, flashed by on the screen. The line of images stopped abruptly as Az@lea blinked. $alesperson looked towards Greek who sent Y. The part’s number slid into the table of selections, where already eyes, hair, nose & others waited. $alesperson phoned the next images to the screen. When they had chosen all the parts, Az@lea & Greek met Designer. They movied what all child parts would visualise together as their child. Couple refined child’s skin tone & confirmed before meeting Psychologist. Couple felt good as most couples went with default100 but Couple specified Rebellious4 and even lowered match certainty to 98% – #gamblers! Lastmost was Doctor who had taken the original samples to analyse and now took new samples. The samples would be sequenced & matched to the child genes specified so that child’s genetic data matched the profile.

Couple were so excited. Child would be the envy of all the homestreet. Rebellious4! What excitement.

They thanked and paid $alesperson on their way out. $alesperson was content with another strong piece of commission –  <100% certainty had past meant a lower price, but these days was so rare that it charged just as much & Couple had selected several pricier facial components. A good sale, but nothing out of the ordinary.

In a sealed backroom, Designer triple-checked the component list by hand. The computer was theoretically error-proof but Designer knew this was a serious development and mistakes would not be tolerated.

Certain: the list, unique, matched the Future Story they had been waiting for. With shaking hand Designer called HQ. He had just authorised creation of The Last Child.

Pride

[Evening all! Found this reading through some old work and quite liked it, so hopefully you will too. A slight departure from my usual style, which I enjoyed. Shout out to my good friend Jake of Granola For Dinner, who likely helped me edit this back in the day (thus any mistakes are his and I accept no responsibility). *end disclaimer, start poem*]

Pride

The bitter taste of bile and blood,
A battle nearly won.
Though vict’ry’s air was sweet to taste,
The cost had been a son.

All around him friends lay still,
Ne’er to breathe again.
Yet tall he stood, with pride in tow,
A king, he must remain.

Time soon passed with summer scorch,
And winters cold with frost.
Then though the land grew green once more
He was consumed with what he’d lost.

In sweet birdsong, a rose’s dew,
The king saw only death.
Bleak and black and burned in guilt,
His mind a blazing wrath.

Wife departed, sons all slain,
What now, did he have left?
The razor drawn at the setting sun,
The king saw only death…