The following short story is based on characters created and/or copyrighted by Glenn Eichler, Susie Lewis Lynn, and MTV. All other characters were created and copyrighted by Roland Lowery.
The author gives full permission to distribute this work freely, as long as no alterations are made and the exchange of monetary units is not involved. Any questions, comments, suggestions, or complaints should be sent to esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thank you.
"The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread."
Screams of Silence
by Roland 'Jim' Lowery
I woke up, as I usually did, to the sight of the grey padding that lined most of my bedroom wall.
To many, naturally, this would be a most unwelcome wake up call, a reminder of the insanity surrounding them or perhaps a note that they themselves were insane. For me, it had always been a sort of layer between me and the rest of the world. Rather than keeping me in, I looked upon it as keeping everyone else out. Seeing that thick padding every morning always made me feel, for lack of a better word, safe.
But no matter how safe I might have felt in my little cocoon, I knew that eventually I would have to emerge, a cranky butterfly taking flight in search of the closest cup of warm coffee. I gradually pulled myself out of bed, stretched until it seemed as if every single joint in my body had popped twice over, then slipped my glasses on my face and pulled on a pair of socks to ward off the cold chill running along the floor.
I stumbled blearily into the hallway, yawning as I started trudging toward the stairs. Along the way, I rapped loudly on the bathroom door to let my sister know I'd need in there myself soon enough and that she needed to hurry her skinny little butt up. I did this, of course, knowing full well that it probably wouldn't work. Her morning preparation ritual was as fixed as the phases of the moon and took almost as long to complete.
Downstairs, the kitchen was blissfully empty. Thoughts of Dad still being asleep and Mom having left for the office early hovered mere inches from my still sleep-addled mind, but I shooed them away and decided to simply enjoy the experience while it lasted. There was no need to jinx things.
Somehow I managed to get the coffee machine working with only one eye open. As it softly gurgled to itself, I set my forehead against one of the cabinet doors and began to slowly ponder of what my once and future breakfast for the day would consist. Leftovers from the fridge or cold cereal seemed the most logical choices, but I did consider being brave and trying for that impossible dream . . . toast.
A few minutes later I realized that I was starting to doze off again when I opened my eye and found that the coffee level had jumped from just a small stain of brown at the bottom to nearly half a pot without my noticing the intervening passage of time. I slipped a mug under the drip as I pulled the pot out and quickly poured myself a healthy portion before setting it back to finish.
Wake-up juice in hand, I shuffled over to the sliding glass door and stared out at the backyard sitting just beyond. Or, rather, what little bit of the backyard I could actually see.
At some point during the night, a fog had apparently rolled in. Either that or a shipment of grey cotton had accidentally gotten dumped behind our house. It certainly looked as thick as cotton as it slowly slid by thanks to a soft air current. The grass seemed to simply disappear halfway out into the yard, cut off abruptly by a void of mist. Nothing beyond that point was visible.
I sipped carefully at my coffee for a few minutes as I stared into that impenetrable fog and woke up by degrees. Then, feeling a sudden and inexplicable urge, I set down the mug, slipped off my socks, and slid open the door to step outside.
The chill wasn't quite as bad as I had expected it to be. The tiny hairs along the exposed areas of my flesh stood up, but all in all it was actually quite comfortable. The dew that seeped between my bare toes, however, felt like tiny shards of ice cutting their way across my skin. Gritting my teeth and bearing it, I took several steps out into the yard and watched in fascination as the fog rolled away from me.
I knew that the whole effect was due to the way light was being passed through the water vapor, but the idea of having my own personal bubble in the fog that moved with me was strangely soothing and empowering at the same time. I smiled lightly as I continued walking and more of the yard came into view.
A dark shape loomed ahead, taking the form of a tree as I approached. The green of the leaves and dull silver of the bark could be discerned a few steps later, and I could spot a few squirrels moving through the branches. It was at that point that I froze in my tracks and felt all the blood drain from my face.
There was something seriously wrong with the squirrels.
Dad hated squirrels with a passion. Asking him, one would think that all of the world's ills were caused by the tiny, furry bastards. The squirrels I was looking at were something else entirely, and for once I found myself leaning toward complete agreement with my dad's usual cockamamie rants. If any squirrels in the world were capable of even half the things he claimed, those would have been the ones.
The eyes were the worst. I started to back away, one hesitant step after another, but it was the very thought that they might turn those eyes my way and look at me that spun me around and sent me running for the door.
The second I did so, I could hear them behind me. Several loud thumps filled the still air as bodies the size of your average dog hit the ground. And I could feel them, feel those eyes on my back as they followed me on swift legs. I lurched forward into the house, skidded for a couple of steps, then turned back and slammed the door hard enough that I was afraid I might end up shattering it in my haste.
The first hairless body hit the plate a few seconds later, but the glass mercifully remained intact. The stymied demon squirrel fell back, shook its misshapen head, and glared up at me with those awful red orbs. It then slunk back a few feet, its every movement that of a predator on the prowl, and began to pace around with its compatriots, undoubtedly trying to judge with what little intelligence it could bring to bear its chances of getting inside.
My coffee was still sitting on the table, gradually cooling and completely forgotten as I ran back to the kitchen drawers and started rifling through them. The panic I was already feeling deep in my chest nearly doubled when it seemed as if everything had been moved around on me, but after taking a few heaving breaths, I finally deduced that I was looking on the wrong side and turned around to search the other counter.
I finally located the drawer I was looking for and pulled out a long, thick blade nearly the width of my forearm and set in a sturdy hardwood handle. I wasn't entirely certain I could muster up the capability to actually wound one of the monsters wandering around outside with the knife that Mom used to carve the turkey on those rare Thanksgivings we had one, but every bit of survival instinct I had in me was screaming, telling me that I had to have something in my hand or I was going to die.
Armed and dangerous - probably just as much to myself as to the demon squirrels - I reached out with my free hand and fumbled around for the telephone. Trying to keep an eye on the back door at the same time made the task more difficult than it had probably needed to be, but I successfully grasped it on the fifth try and dialed 911 before putting it up to my ear.
Nothing but static. No dial tone, no authoritative operator's voice, no busy signal, no anything but random noise crackling in my ear. I turned the phone off and slapped it down on the counter in frustration before I started moving back toward the living room with both hands holding the knife out in front of me.
A loud crunching, snapping noise startled me, and I spun around to find that I was no longer alone in the first floor of the house. I swiftly deduced that this newcomer was not at all familiar to me, a conclusion based primarily on the fact that it was just as obviously inhuman and twisted as the demon squirrels outside. It was hunched over an oddly shaped mass in the corner of the room that I couldn't quite make out, but whatever the lumpy thing was, the monster was obviously tearing into it and devouring it piece by piece with gusto.
The small cry that escaped my lips at that moment caused the creature to snap its head up and around. It slowly turned in my direction as blood dripped from its steel grey beak. Its wings spread out, knocking over a nearby nightstand, and it settled down into an attack posture before letting out a shriek and charging in my direction. I let out a pitiful shriek of my own, closed my eyes, and held the knife out in the hopes that the creature would impale itself.
It did, and I felt the force of the impact travel painfully all the way up my arms and into my shoulders, but that didn't stop the beast from sending my blood splattering across the room as it tore my throat out with the points of its cruel, sharp beak.