Last year, 2018, I had this great idea. I wanted to start a new tradition of releasing a free horror story every October. I was tentatively calling it my Annual Horror Story. So I began to work on a story last year leading into October, I even conned fellow author Trent Becker into joining me and making it a collaborative effort (I'm a sucker for working as a team). And we did write, a lot, more than intended, and ran out of time. So we put the story on hold for a while and still haven't completed it. And yet another October is upon us. And we still haven't finished it.
But you're in luck. Because starting today, the first week of October, we will be releasing the story one chapter per week. We currently have 11 chapters written (it's hardly a short story anymore). And during this time we will try and wrap it up before those 11 weeks run out. In theory, it shouldn't be too hard. In theory.
At the end of releasing all the chapters, I'll roll it all up and put it on our Gumroad store front for you all to download as well.
And because music plays such a pivotal role in my writing, I wanted to include a theme song of sorts. I'm attaching this lovely dark song by Paperkite. A lovely duo of St. Louis folk who I know well. They've graciously agreed to let me include it each week as the theme song of our story, Night Aggressions. It works beautifully, reminding me of some of John Carpenter's work -- I have used several of his songs in my writing playlist for this story.
About Night Aggressions
It's the 90s, and two besties working at a fast food restaurant called Taco House and a local sheriff are about to be taken for the ride of their life dealing with the townsfolk who have turned aggressive and against their own. Killing those who have not been infected.
Chapter 1: The Real World
Mandy Springer slammed on her breaks in the torn driveway of her and Maggie’s apartment complex. They both had become roommates only three months before. Both of them were eager to declare their independence from their parents at the ripe age of seventeen. Their home lives had been hell up until they moved in together. While it was hard being a financially independent while still in high school, it was well worth it. Mandy got out of her car and quickly rushed inside with her backpack, knowing she was going to be cutting it close to being late for her shift at Taco House. Mr. Bullsworth had proven to be a jerk by her standards, forcing her to stay after class so he could school her in the realities of the real world and what it’s like to be out in the working world. He had held her there for twenty extra minutes, while she rummaged around in her head finding all of the amazing comebacks she’d never say to his face. She was working through high school, so she didn’t need Mr. Bullsworth’s lectures on the realities of the real world—a place he clearly didn’t live in.
Inside the tiny, one-bedroom apartment she and Maggie shared, she ran around grabbing her uniform pieces from the floor. She scooped up her shirt, apron, name tag, and hat, all branded with the Taco House logo. She put on her dress-code non-slip shoes--that she had to pay on her own dime--and bolted out the door. She nearly knocked over Larry the neighbor man, who was quite overweight, had a royal stench about him, and was always rude to her. He called her an indecent name as she ran away. She flipped him an equally indecent gesture over her shoulder for good measure.
She sped the whole five blocks to Taco House--and even skipped a stop sign. She parked her Ford Escort and ran inside.
“You’re late.” Lucas said to her. Lucas had an attitude with most people, especially people younger than him. He seemed to think, even though he was a lot less intelligent, he could treat the teenagers at Taco House like dirt. He said he had “experience,” which really just meant age.
She glanced at her watch. “Like two minutes, tops.”
“Still late.” Lucas replied with a shake of his head. He added the “tsk, tsk, tsk” noise with tongue for dramatic effect.
“Whatever,” she said and clocked in at the register. “I’m not gonna mince words over two minutes.”
“You kids are such nitwits.” Lucas bemoaned. He looked her square in the eye, his brow furrowed and angry. “If you have no respect for anyone but yourself, you’re not going to make it in this life. You certainly won’t make it without crawling back to your mommy and daddy begging for help.”
How inspirational, she thought to herself with her teeth gritted. It was no use jabbing back at him. She walked away and found Maggie making some nachos on the line and slid in next to her. “Lucas is in an especially pleasant mood today,” she whispered, thick with sarcasm.
“What a joy.” Maggie said. She plopped two scoops of refried beans and beef on top of chips, poured nacho cheese across the top, squirted some sour cream out of a tube, scattered some lettuce and tomatoes, and then passed it on. It took less than ten seconds. “What held you up?”
“Mr. Bullsworth.” Mandy replied with an eye roll.
“Geez, he’s the worst.” Maggie said. “I can’t wait to be rid of him.”
Mandy grabbed a handful of chips and walked off to the dish-washing area. She hid there in the corner of the kitchen, eating the chips and wishing she’d had more time to finish her free-and-reduced lunch from the cafeteria at school earlier. That little government program had helped loosen the grip on their wallets, since becoming independent. Their two decent meals of the day were the free breakfast and lunch the school cafeteria provided because they met the criteria for the Free and Reduced Lunch program. In the evenings, they scrounged for some snack or stole a few bites from Taco House when Lucas wasn’t looking. The crap job only paid minimum wage, which was the state standard of $5.15 per hour. They worked as many hours as they could on school nights, while still having time for homework and studying for tests. And then put in longer shifts on Saturday and Sunday. Still, they were only part-time and only skirted through the month with a shared income of just a little above $650 per month. That was barely enough to pay for their rent, electric, water, gas, groceries, and other essentials. In the winter, they usually spent a few weeks at least one month without electricity. During those cold times, they had taken to sharing a bed and piling on ten blankets they’d bought over time from the Salvation Army. They were still cold and miserable nights, but at least they didn’t freeze to death. At least, not yet. And at least they both out of their past home situations.
She finished the handful of chips and started to wash some pans. Dudley, a boy in their high school class, popped around the corner, dorky fangs poking from his mouth as part of his getup.
“Happy Halloween!” He shouted at her. “Wait, what? No costume? Lame.”
Dudley came from a rich family. His dad was a lawyer, and his mom was their school’s superintendent. His lack of empathy was stammering, but overall she didn’t mind him. He was funny sometimes. They shared Bullsworth together in seventh hour.
“Halloween is for losers who only wish they were cool all year long.” She said. She tossed a pan into the sanitizer, and it clanked around loudly against the sink. Water spilled onto the floor.
“Saw Bullsworth was giving you an ear full.” Dudley said. “What was that about?”
“What’s it always about?” She said.
“The real world.” Dudley said and rolled his eyes. He adjusted the fangs in his mouth. “These are annoying and kind of painful. Not sure I’m gonna keep these on.”
“And where were you when he cornered me after class?” Maggie asked, switching the topic back.
“I had to get home,” he answered. “Knew I wasn’t gonna have much time to get dressed for tonight. How do I look?”
“Like a moron.” She said and threw another pan in the sanitizing sink.
He smiled. “Jealous?”
Maggie said nothing. He took off back around the corner and she could hear him doing his best Dracula impersonation, fangs apparently back in. It wasn’t good. Not at all.
Several hours, tacos, burritos, and nachos later.
Lucas came out of the manager’s office scratching his greasy hair under his hat. Mandy could see the dandruff snowing from his head to his shoulders. She cringed at the thought of his snowflakes seasoning the food when he was on line just a moment ago. She felt sorry for the customers who had come in that night and had to eat his snowy food, and endure his endless ranting and cursing that spilled out from the kitchen and into the dining area. She could see parents with worried looks on their faces sometimes, rushing their children out as Lucas escalated his unwarranted attacks on the teens that worked beneath him.
Between his homophobia and disdain for teenagers and general dislike for anything fun, it was hard to see any good in Lucas the Rat -- as the younger crowd had affectionately named him--without his knowledge of course. He had a long, pointy nose just like a rat, so the shoe fit, as Mrs. Williams used to say. Mandy missed Mrs. Williams sometimes. An art teacher who couldn’t give a care about anything. She’d call a kid an idiot for getting into a fight, they’d complain, and she’d say, “If the shoe fits.”
Classic Mrs. Williams.
“Hey, Amanda,” Lucas called to her, “I need you to take the trash out, pronto. And don’t mess around about it. Be quick.”
“It’s Mandy,” she retorted and regretted it immediately. Before he could say anything else, she shuffled off to the back door where the trash had been piled into trash cans throughout the night.
Dudley came out of the walk-in refrigerator with handfuls of cheese and lettuce.
“Hey, Dudley, you got smokes?” Mandy asked him.
“Take a smoke break, and meet me at the dumpster,” Mandy told him and headed off to the back door. There was a large trash can on wheels overflowing with trash bags. Beside it on the floor were more trash bags and a stack of folded down cardboard boxes. “Jesus, take the wheel,” she mumbled with a shake of her head when she saw the mess. One trash bag hanging over the side of the trash can was leaking a mix of fluids onto the floor. She rolled her eyes because she knew Lucas would make her clean it up.
Mandy stepped out the back door, pulling the trash can behind her with one hand and carrying two bags of trash in the other. She stopped and let a minivan by, catching sight of a disgruntled looking soccer mom in the driver's seat. She could hear the children screaming as the minivan passed. Another reminder not to make the mistake of reproduction. The thought of having a child, raising a child, made her cringe. She carried on with the filth of others and entered the city-approved Dumpster House, as she liked to call it. Three brick walls with a metal gate at the front. Inside? A place to discard the filth of others.
After entering the gate, she methodically threw the trash bags up, over and into the dumpster. She was careful not to throw out her back that one might do while tossing weight around. On the plus side, all the lifting she’d done at Taco House had really built up the strength in her arms and core. She had become deceptively strong. Although she hadn’t gotten the chance to test her new-found strength, she was determined to make it happen. Mandy was beyond tired of the jokes for being petite all her life. She was eager to show people she wasn’t a dainty ballerina.
She tossed the final bag into the dumpster, turned and looked for Dudley. He hadn’t appeared from the Taco House yet. She pulled some earbuds from her pocket and put them in her ears. Firing up some music on her phone, she let Warren G play as she gazed around the parking lot.
Empty cups. Taco wrappers.
A burger wrapper from a different food joint just a few buildings over.
Cigarette butts everywhere. She couldn’t see them, but she knew they were there. They were always there. She knew, because when she worked mornings on the weekend she cleaned them up before they opened. And there were the beer bottles in the bushes that young drinkers would dump, so they wouldn’t get pulled over with them.
A dirty diaper had been dropped in a parking spot where the minivan had come from. Another reminder not to reproduce. When you don’t have kids, you’re literally only responsible for your own crap.
The trashy lot always got her, and reminded her of that old public service announcement from the 1970s with the litter on the highway and the crying Native American. As much as it was a joke of a commercial now, it actually rang true. How lazy of a people are we that we just toss our trash to the ground, when there are trash cans just a few steps away? It’s absurdity. People are disgusting, was something she muttered to herself at least five times per shift at Taco House.
Dudley came out and pulled his cigarettes from his pocket. A customer saw him and gave him a shout out for his costume. “I vant to make you a taco!” Dudley said back. They both laughed.
Mandy shook her head at the miserable display of customer and employee interaction. Dudley saw her shaking her head. “What? I thought it was good,” he said, a mildly hurt look in his eyes.
“Yeah, well, not all of us watch Pixar movies,” Mandy said. She snatched the cigarette from his hand as he offered it.
“Hey, Pixar movies are great,” he said as he followed the cigarette with his lighter. He offered to light up for her, but instead she took it from him, content to do it herself.
“When you’re five, she remarked and lit up. She tossed the lighter back to him. He caught it in the chest. The first puff of the cigarette was instant relief.
“When are you gonna buy your own cigarettes?” Dudley asked. “I’m tired of you bumming off me.”
Mandy knew that wasn’t true, but she let it go. “When they’re cheap, and when it’s not illegal for me to do so,” Mandy said. She took another puff, and she could feel the stress relieving for a bit.
“Doing anything for Halloween? Any parties?” Dudley asked.
She looked his expression over. She could tell he was about to ask her out or to accompany him to a party. She just wanted the cigarettes, maybe a good chat during a smoke, not a relationship. Curse heterosexual boys and their constant need for a woman’s attention. She figured she’d just lie and shoot it down before he could even ask. “Yeah, Maggie and I are doing something with a cousin of hers.”
“Really?” He looked genuinely disappointed.
“Yeah, really,” she said.
There was an awkward pause as she began to feel the anxieties and stress rush over her body again. He was ruining the smoking experience.
“Well, if something happens, and you need something to do, I’m gonna be hanging out at Paris’s house.” He said. “Big to-do there.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I know you aren’t much into Paris, but she can throw a party. And, honestly, she’s not that bad once you get to know her.”
“I shouldn’t have to get to know someone to know they have a good side.” Mandy said. “The good side should be the first thing you offer, not the last. And only to friends. Anybody can be nice to friends.”
“Yeah…” He said and his eyes were darting around. “I’m heading back inside. See ya.” Mandy didn’t respond, and he turned and went back inside without a word.
Mandy took a puff of what she figured might be her last cigarette from Dudley. Their little exchange might have just killed their little working relationship.Sighing, she made a mental note to to Maggie later.
Mandy looked out across the dark lot and saw a man slowly crossing the street into their lot. A car pulled in and drove past her. It parked a few parking spots from her. The headlights turned off and the driver didn’t get out immediately. She glanced at her watch, knowing she should get back inside for whatever task Lucas had awaiting her. But she couldn’t help but gaze at the scene before her.
The man from across the street started making progress, zoned in on the car that had just parked in the lot. He darted straight up to the driver’s window and reached inside, attempting to pull him out. Mandy’s gaze turned to a frightened stare. The man began stabbing the customer repeatedly with a large knife. The customer cried out in pain and for help. Mandy couldn’t move. She had no idea what she was watching. It didn’t even seem real.
The customer went limp and quiet. The stranger continued to stab him, even after he was obviously dead. At least twenty stabs delivered. He finally finished and just stood up straight. Like he needed a breather. He just stood there, staring off somewhere. The knife was still in his hand and dripping blood onto the pavement.
She wanted to run inside and call the police. But she knew as soon as the stranger knew she was there and had witnessed the murder, she’d be in trouble. She had to think before she acted. She dropped the cigarette and stepped it out. She kept an eye on him, and he didn’t move a muscle. Just still. Stiff as a board. She would have to run right past him on the way to the restaurant. He would have her before she was even halfway to the door. She turned away for the first time to look about the Dumpster House. There was a shovel, something they used to pack down the trash sometimes when it was full. It was a health violation, and they had to hide it when the health inspector was expected. She reached over and took it in both of her hands. She lifted it up first, careful not to scrape the concrete. Careful not to make a sound. She turned back and saw that the stranger had still not moved. She took two deep breaths, braced herself, and bolted for the door.
She only made it a few steps when the stranger turned to face her. He reached for her with one hand and raised the knife to strike her with the other. She took a position with her feet flat and parallel. She swung the shovel with both hands like a bat as he lunged at her. She hit him upside the head and watched him cascade to the ground. The knife slid across the pavement, clattering loudly--almost loudly enough to quiet the insistent beating in her chest. She took back into a sprint and reached the door, throwing it open and diving inside. Mandy closed the door with force and stole a glance through it, relieved that the stranger was still on the ground.
“What the hell?” Lucas said to her from behind the front counter.
“Give me your keys.” She said.
“Just give me your keys, dammit!” She yelled at him.
For once Lucas had nothing to say, just did as she’d said.
She tried to catch them with one hand, but batted them down instead. She still clung to the shovel. She shot Lucas a look that could kill, and then picked up the keys. She locked the door and noticed the stranger was about to his feet now. She ran to the other entrance around the side and locked it as well.
“Um, we’re still open,” Lucas said stupidly.
“A man just killed another guy in our parking lot,” Mandy told him and headed back to the main entrance where she had come in. “Call the police. Now!” She saw the stranger was on his feet and halfway to the entrance now. She took the shovel in both hands and held it up like a baseball bat. She planted her feet flat again. She looked straight into the eyes of the stranger who seemed almost inhuman. Just staring blankly. “He’s coming.”
Lucas came from behind the counter, “You stupid girl.” He saw the stranger walking steadily to the door and stopped. “I’ll call the police,” he said and ran back to the office.
“Come on!” she yelled at the strange man. “I’ll hit you again!!”
The stranger tripped a little when he reached the curb of the sidewalk; he looked down and tried to steady himself. He slowly stepped up with one foot, and then the other. It was almost like he wasn’t sure how to take a step up. Once on the sidewalk, his eyes leveled on her. He began to walk toward her again.
“The cops are coming!” she yelled at him. “You better run!”
He didn’t seem to hear her or didn’t care. He just walked right up to the door, but instead of stopping and trying the handle, he just walked right into it. As if he didn’t see it or didn’t realize it was there. He looked around confused. He raised his hands and touched the glass and felt it up and down, trying to push lightly against it. Confusion began to give way to anger. And finally he looked at her again and let out a loud bellow. It was half frustration and half rage. Like a bird, he legitimately didn’t know what glass was and how to get passed it.
Mandy knew he could easily break the glass--she could tell he was strong--and she had thought for sure that’s what he was going to do when he reached it. But now she didn’t know what to expect. She didn’t imagine he would last long before just hitting it hard or something out of frustration and breaking it. She was certain she’d have to confront the stranger once more before the cops arrived.
Maggie and Dudley came up from the kitchen. Dudley pulled his vampire teeth from his mouth.
“What is going on?” Maggie asked.
“This guy is a murderer.” Mandy said and gestured to the door. “Stay behind me. I locked the doors, but he’s gonna break the glass, I’m sure of it.”
Dudley took several steps back.
Maggie rolled her eyes at him. “Have you called the cops?”
“That’s what Lucas is doing,” Mandy said.
“Yeah, we saw him lock himself in the office,” Maggie said.
“Moron,” Mandy said. She tightened her grip on the shovel, the sweat of her palms were loosening it.
“Locked in the office?” Dudley said to no one. “That’s a good idea.” He ran off through the kitchen, back to the office. Within a matter of seconds the girls could hear knocking on the office door and Dudley begging Lucas to let him in.
“Two morons,” Maggie said. “Does he have a gun?”
“No.” Mandy replied. “He had a knife, but I knocked it out of his hands when I hit him with the shovel.”
“You hit him with the shovel?” Maggie asked.
“Not really,” Mandy said.
“Let me get something,” Maggie said and dashed behind the counter. She looked around for something to use as a weapon. She opened the little closet they used for cleaning supplies. She pulled out a pink cleaning fluid in a spray bottle. She came back to Mandy and stood behind her.
“What did you get?” Mandy asked.
“The pink spray.” Maggie said.
“What?”Mandy threw her a look like she was crazy.
“Yeah, it’ll really screw up your eyes, and it can be fatal if you get it in your system.” Maggie said. “It’s better than pepper spray.”
The sound of police sirens could be heard in the distance. Mandy could feel a sense of relief, now that she knew this situation would soon be out of her hands. The sirens got louder and louder as they approached. And she could feel the burden being lifted, but the stranger didn’t seem to notice or care.
“Hey, numb nuts!” she yelled at the stranger. “Those cops are for you!”
The sirens were just behind them, and the lights began to flicker on the side of the stranger’s face. He slowly smiled, the first sign of anything other than a blank stare and rage. She wasn’t sure she liked it. What was making the stranger do what he did? Why did he seem to struggle with small things like the step up onto the sidewalk and glass? Was it some new drug with a nasty side effect? Was he just a raging lunatic? Whatever the case, it would soon be out of her hands.
The cop car came screeching by the restaurant, lights flashing and sirens blaring. It passed them by. The lights and sirens began to fade away into the distance. It wasn’t for them. This wasn’t over. Yet.
“Why didn’t they stop?” Maggie shouted.
“I don’t know.” Mandy said. “Are we sure Lucas is actually calling the cops?”
Dudley came back from the kitchen, but he stayed behind the counter. “Lucas won’t open the office up.”
“Did he call the cops?” Maggie asked.
“I think so,” Dudley said. “He’s on the phone with somebody.”
The weird man leaned forward and placed his forehead against the glass. He pressed hard and heavy against it. Mandy could hear the door squeaking under the pressure, begging to give way. He pushed harder and harder, and his breathing escalated higher and higher. He was furious again. He took his head back and slammed it against the glass. It created a web of cracks where his head smashed against it. The stranger was puzzled and surprised by it, almost a look of delight sweeping across his features. He stepped back and looked it over from side to side. A stream of blood began to run from his forehead down his nose, and he felt it with his fingers. He looked at it and rubbed it with his fingers. He didn’t know what blood was either. He took his hand and slowly made it into a fist. And then looked up at Mandy with that smile again.
“Crap,” Mandy said. “I think he just figured out that glass breaks.”
“He didn’t know that?” Maggie asked.
“Get ready to spray that ugly mug.” Mandy said.
Dudley ran back to the office and began pounding on it again.
The stranger slowly took his fist and pulled it back, lining it up with the fracture in the glass he’d already made. He punched.
It didn’t shatter the door, but it made a larger and more fragile web of cracks in the glass. His knuckles were bleeding, but it didn’t seem to phase him. He pulled back for another punch. The second one struck an even bigger blow to the fragility of the glass. The whole glass pane was shaking back and forth. His hand was covered in blood as he pulled back for another blow. He punched again and the glass caved under the pressure. The whole pane shattered and fell to the ground. He came stepping through behind it, the glass crunching under his shoes as he did so.
“Spray!” Mandy yelled.
Maggie sprayed relentlessly in the stranger’s face, and immediately the irritation of the chemicals took ahold of his eyes. He stopped forward movement and grabbed at his face. Mandy took a swing and knocked him upside the head for a second time. He crashed to the ground. He rolled onto the glass on his back. Maggie continued to spray into the stranger’s eyes and mouth.
Mandy pushed Maggie back and stepped over the stranger. She pounded him in the head over and over with the shovel until he quit moving. And then she stood there, her breaths long and laborious. The stranger’s face was a disfigured and bloody mess.
She wasn’t a dainty ballerina.
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