Hallowe'en Short Story Challenge

Hi all

I set myself a challenge today: could I come up with a horror story from nothing and get it posted before the end of Hallowe'en? The results are below. Read on if you dare!

I Hear You Knocking

I’ll see your flaming Buddhist, and raise you these pics from Tuol Sleng. Very grim.

Drew’s pointer hovered over the upload option, as he mulled over whether this would put him ahead of the curve. This was Dark Night, after all. This was no time to be squeamish.

He clicked it anyway, reasoning that even if he got called out for being dull, he hadn’t gone through his Cambodia folders for a while, and it had been nice to revisit old memories. The Khmer Rouge had given him some of his first cheap scares, and over the years he had added to the vacant, battered skulls and stacks of limb bones with some lesser-known delights: audio files, testimony and translated confessions from some of the two million. But he wasn’t giving those up without some serious leverage.

Almost immediately, somebody replied with a yawn emoticon. Pol Pot? What is this, The fucking Archers? It was soon joined with an ‘LOL’, and Drew sat back in his chair and smiled. This meant somebody could come out with something really special.

That’s what Dark Night was for if you were a veteran, like Drew. Hallowe’en wasn’t about scares and revulsion but a chance to replenish old stocks from the newbies. In a way, it was like being a historian, chasing dead sources and archiving them for posterity. But at least he could be objective about it. He had never met any of the people in these files and didn’t take sides: once upon a time, some people died, and if it wasn’t for Dark Night they would never again be real, only statistics in a book written by the winners.

Newbies still referred to it as Hallowe’en (or All Souls Day, if they were trying to sound like they knew what they were talking about), but on the board it was known as Dark Night, and had been for as long as Drew could now remember. It wasn’t just a forum for disturbing media, rather a kind of never-ending bazaar for the forgotten or arcane, but on Dark Night the theme was always the horrific. This was a night where ghouls gathered and ice flooded veins, and it was not for the faint-hearted. In fact, it helped if you left your heart to one side.

The Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs, posted a regular contributor known as peterkuerten. I swear, if you’ve not eaten yet, prepare to stay hungry! They use hammers and a screwdriver on this poor fucker. Turn those speakers up, people!!

Drew had already seen it. It was pretty brutal. He had the movie, both subtitled and without, in his Fucked-Up Russians folder, sealed in digital mylar along with Andrei Chikatilo and the Beslan Siege. He was hoping somebody would post something about the Moscow Theatre or some unseen Chernobyl survivor stuff, but nobody took the teenagers as a cue. So far, Dark Night was turning out to be a bust.

What would he consider to be a success? Something new, certainly. The JFK files had been declassified, but then they only told you what they wanted you to read. The hot topic this year was Syria, but Drew didn’t particularly find that interesting. Too many bombs and too many casualties. He’d got all that stuff from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The material he’d collected started out on primitive message boards back in the early days of his internet use. Back in the lawless days of the cyber dawn, people posted any rubbish, disgusting or not. It was when governments wanted to make money that property rights began to push the fun stuff to the margins.

Now, on his terms, Drew found most of the material posted on Dark Night to be vanilla. To get at the really interesting detail, you had to descend innumerable rungs and tread the sludge and grime of the deep web. It was slow and frustrating work: non-indexed in the way that the corporate search engines were, nobody was there for a holiday. The deep web (Drew hated the name Dark Web, because half the time what the links claimed to be took minutes to load an error screen; the only thing to darken would be his temper) was where you could go to find really good stuff - things that had been lost down the sides of the safe, cuddly internet search engines.

Drew kept an old rebuild connected permanently online, because the deep web worked on a notion of co-operation: to get on it, you needed an anonymous node which diverted your connection into another nation’s domain. After a tortuous journey along roads with fuzzy edges, dated looking pages of links would present themselves, held who knew where beyond the horizon, and far from lawful jurisdiction. This was where Drew would rummage for his contributions to Dark Night; media traded for autopsy photos, security cameras and sealed depositions. The first time he had done it, he felt dirty and fevered, but after a while it began to feel like he wasn’t doing anything amiss. He only traded stuff he was willing to keep a hold of.

Maybe this was the future. At some point the planet itself would become disorganised and lawless; the anonymous byways Drew was starting to know were its ultimate expression.

He turned his chair ninety degrees and pulled himself into the yellowed keyboard of his node. He was about to log in through his layered route when he heard a disturbing knock from below his window. It would be trick or treaters, even though he’d specifically warned against it in a note quoting Aliens on the porch door. He was busy, and he hated to be taken away from it. Particularly on Dark Night.

Moving over to the single window in the bedroom, Drew pushed the pane open as gently as he could. He heard a stifled giggle, and somebody was moaning about how mean-spirited he was. Get a load of this, wankers, he thought.

Instinctively, he reached for the corner of his desk and picked up a cold cup of milky coffee from yesterday evening. Who knew who got the dregs and who was sodden? It didn’t matter. He asked not to be disturbed, and he certainly wasn’t going to be dumb enough to answer the furious pounding on the porch door that followed. When the fishwife who was with them started shouting, Drew put on his Sennheisers and turned back to his evening.
On the forum, the conversation had stalled. There was a quote-off; hamburgmensch and bluewaffle were entertaining with a back-and-forth from the David Parker Ray tapes. God, had it really got that dull?

Drew moved back to his ancient Tiny. After some time, he settled on a known non-index and began to look through the unclicked links. Dark Night had thrown up some interesting stuff okay. A few bits of creepypasta he hadn’t read and copied into Word documents; Fred West’s prison diary, complete with Winson Green stamps; footage from a massacre on a minivan outside of Juarez, Mexico. Maybe he would win Dark Night with it. Or maybe somebody had been here before. Impossible to tell, sadly.

He was nearly at the bottom of the third page, thinking of turning for home, when he spotted a fresh kill. It simply said, I KNOW YOU’RE THERE.

Drew didn’t click links that didn’t have at least some description of what they could be. It gave him some deniability in case of emergency. The deep web was like walking through an epidemic half the time: it wasn’t the ones which looked ill you needed to worry about; it was the ones that looked normal. The FBI knew about this place and were trying their best to make a presence for themselves. Drew didn’t want to pick up something he couldn’t recover from.

But this link was so brazen in its token clickbait that he decided to open it just for a laugh. It was probably dead anyway.

The whole house blinked into pitch darkness. Both terminals clucked and whirred as they lost power, and Drew was sat with his hand on the mouse and Tool in his ears. There was a slight smell of burning dust.

‘Fuck,’ he snarled, and heaved himself from the chair. He tried the lightswitch but the fuse had been tripped. He swayed slightly as he trod the stairs to the cupboard beneath; all he had was the light from his phone screen to guide the way. The power came back to the house as he pushed the master back where it had sat; through the glass in the front door he saw a splash of coffee he would have to wipe off sometime.

Back in the front bedroom, he fired up both computers. Only his regular machine restarted; his router terminal was fried. He tried a couple of things - new power cable; boot disk - but all he heard was that depressing half-click as the needle of the hard drive found itself all dressed up with no place to go.

This was just great. All the stuff he’d saved for later! His fucking route below. In a fit of frustration, Drew closed down his other machine and stomped into his bedroom. They were probably just waiting for him to leave anyway.

He put on an old favourite: Loose Change. It was an unexpurgated version he’d downloaded from the States and ran for over two hours. He could quote every argument, but he watched it in the same way old lovers might put on Brief Encounter or Love Story.

A third of the way in, Drew was half-dozing but was jolted into reality by a loud and insistent knocking. ‘Jesus,’ he said. ‘If that’s that bloody woman…’

He pulled his dressing gown around him, not yet thinking it odd that somebody should be coming to complain at nearly eleven at night. He flicked on the porch light, expecting a row but seeing nothing but the stain, now a little drier in the cold night air.

He went back to bed and started the film again, but soon, the knocking resumed. Standing on the landing, Drew strained his ear, but the sound wasn’t coming from below; rather it was on the same level.

He frowned. He turned on every lightswitch, but couldn’t say for certain where the tapping was coming from. Was it a bird in the loft? No, it couldn’t be - it was definitely an insistent and rhythmic knocking.

Judging it to be the other end to the bathroom, Drew moved into his computer room. Then, the knocking stopped. Drew was left alone, with nothing but his binary print-out of Harley Quinn and a stack of old odds and sods for company.

He looked around, kneeling in every accessible corner and behind the monitors, finding nothing moving. Satisfied, he moved out of the room, and the knocking started again; loud and insistent.

Drew’s heart was beginning to flutter. This was weird, even for Dark Night.

He sat in front of his computer and started it up. Maybe it was a fan out of alignment. But the knocking was all around him by now, hammering his ears and hurting his head like hailstones. The machine started beautifully.

He turned. There was only one other thing it could be.

Wrapping his hand in his sleeve in case of shock, Drew pressed the power button of his older computer. The knocks stopped, replaced by an eerie and hostile silence.

The computer didn’t make a sound. It was dead, just as it had been earlier.

Fuck it. These ancient things sound like tanks.

Drew pulled every cable from it, and went back into his bedroom.

The knocking was everywhere now, multiple angles and with the same regular beat. Louder and louder, as if it was trying to knock holes in his cranium.

Drew marched back into his computer room, and hefting the terminal from the floor, he threw it with force, where the casing split apart, exposing the circuit boards and bunched wires. The future’s musculature.

He was about to do the same with the monitor - he had had it since he was seventeen, but who cared about that now - when he pulled away and stared. Stared at himself. There he stood, a look of confusion, trying to work out how his ancient tube monitor could be showing his image when it didn’t contain a camera of any kind.

Then, he watched in horror and the door behind him was eased further open, and some being, half shadow and half incandescent light, entered and pulled a large ceremonial sword from its robes and cut him from hind to hair, and the Drew he was became the Drews he would now be. In the real world, Drew could only attempt to light the scream which caught in his throat, as he watched the being lift both halves of him onto its shoulders and take him who knew where.

He was rooted, scared to look round, until the monitor screen faded to black. Immediately, he looked around, petrified to move from his spot.

He raised an arm to touch the monitor screen. He needed to feel it, to know if this was a dream. He felt the cold glass, ran his fingertips around the casing’s edges. The only thing that was in any way amiss was the way in which his fingers came away smeared with blood. He raised his fingers to his mouth; metallic and slick.

From the screen, a soft and rhythmic knocking began, but this time, he could make out the whine of a blade being sharpened, along with distant lamentations and cries of pain.

Chris Stanley

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