's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"Headed South"

Submitted by Jonathan Wojcik

I didn't even know what I was looking at, at first. I still can't imagine how I've only seen the one in all this time. If this was all they did, they should have been everywhere in the beginning. I should have seen them sweeping through the streets like Christmas Island crabs. Instead, they were all just suddenly gone. I woke up one morning and nobody but me had a head anymore. No trace of where they went, no clues that anything else was amiss with the world, and the bodies just kept moving. Like mindless robots, they've just kept repeating their last few weeks of life until something falls apart or gets in their way, and then they just...stand there. Still healthy, all things considered, still fresh and vibrant long after their clothes have rotted off and they should have starved to death. They don't even tan in the sun. Even insects avoid them like the plague. A civilization of pristine, headless, silent mannequins.

That all started three and a half years ago, by my best guess. I've lost track of the last few months, after my little road trip. It started on a routine drive out to the docks, where I'd set out a few crab traps. When I realized what was rolling up the beach, I screamed for the first time since D-day (the "D" is for "decapitation")...oddly enough, a scream of joy. When you've gotten used to a headless world, when you've resigned yourself to nothing new ever happening, a severed head rolling by like a bowling ball is just finally something different and exciting, the first human face I'd seen in person since my own.

It was bruised and battered, swollen like a blue and purple pumpkin, but there was no mistaking it. I tried to talk to it, but it didn't seem any more conscious than the 'bods. (shortened from "Ichabods," like it?) I talked to it anyway. I chalked up the convulsions of its features to repetition of past motion, and wondered what its matching body must be up to. I couldn't think of anything else to do but follow it. I'd wondered too long what had happened to them, and while he couldn't tell me, perhaps he could show me.

Kramer (why not?) rolled in a perfectly straight line. Not very fast, but nothing seemed to stop him. It was like some magnetic force was steadily pulling him along. At one point, I watched him roll straight up the side of a house and straight back down the other, like one of those sticky rubber toys. I clapped for his great trick and couldn't stop laughing. When I tricked him into a garbage can he slowly spiraled back out, returning to his path at the first opportunity. As the sun began to set, I realized this could go on a lot longer than I could...and I did what anyone would do. I bundled my new friend up in my shirt, cradling him like a baby, reassuring him that he was going to be okay as we went back to the car.

I picked up a heavy duty dog crate on the way home, just right for the masterful plan I was hatching. I spent the next few days tuning up one of my vans and mounting the crate to the front hood, as level as I could manage, though it didn't seem to matter the way Kramer defied gravity. The bars were thin enough that I could still see through to the road ahead, and this way I could follow his rolling like a compass. If Kramer was headed (as if he had anything else to be, haha) anywhere in particular, I was going to find out. I would drive to the ends of the Earth for him.

I loaded the van with supplies. I hitched up a trailer and packed that too. I could stop for more, but I was too eager to keep on the move. I had enough gas to cross the country before I'd need to scrounge. I carefully strapped in Dana, a particularly nice 'bod I'd brought home a couple years ago. Dana was a lot of fun, propped up in the right way at the right time in the cycle. It'd take too long to explain. Probably not anything you're thinking.

So I was off, with my headless companion and bodiless guide, not sure what I might find, but only hoping I wouldn't have to cross an ocean, or worse yet, somehow drive my way back into a normal world, back through time, and have to explain what I was doing with a head in a cage and a half-naked torso in the passenger seat. I wondered if they'd still move, and if that would be enough proof of my amazing story. Maybe we would get a TV show, the three of us. Maybe we could get Gilbert Gottfried for their voices. My thoughts really meandered these days.

We were on the road for eighteen weeks, stopping whenever I could find a diner where the 'bods were still delivering and serving anything palatable. Surprisingly still not that difficult, as long as you don't expect fresh meat. Pancakes and waffles have remained the easiest to come by. Leaving funny things in neck-holes still makes me laugh.

You see some amazing things breaking into the motel rooms. Dana and I found just the right friend for our new game. I call it sock-breath. Complicated. You wouldn't be interested.

It was just south of the border that I started to hear it. Soft, at first, something that barely aroused my curiosity, but soon apparent as a steady humming. Every day on the road it grew louder, and I was starting to get nervous; especially the way Kramer seemed to push harder and harder at his bars, and even Dana was moving a little different from normal. I'd yet to see a 'bod behave unpredictably, and the more my long time companion started shuddering, fingers splayed out like they were ready to snap, the more alone I felt. The false sense of normalcy I'd concocted for so long was breaking down, and by the time the thing I'd called Dana started grunting, the first sound I'd ever heard from these not-dead shells, I became painfully aware of the bent reality I had forced myself to accept.

I left it locked in a bathroom, gurgling and spasming and worse. I figured I could always come back, if I started to miss it. If I started to think of it as "Dana" again. If I could ever go back to touching one without wanting to throw up.

As the droning grew louder, the world seemed to grow more foreign. I couldn't tell if it was day or night. The sky was only the same steady grey-green, like the moments building up to a tornado, and I saw no signs of life, not even leaves on the trees. A few headless corpses peppered the streets here and there, not always shaped right. Actual corpses, I think. Little more than bones. I refused to look long enough to tell if they ever still moved. The droning sound was like a billion organ keys held down with bricks. I didn't even care when my rolling "compass" finally broke loose from its cage and hurtled up the road ahead, barely touching the ground, and I could swear I caught a smile. I could already see the looming thing on the horizon. I could already guess what that black form was comprised of. I couldn't see an end to it. It could have stretched into space.

I don't know what might have happened if I'd gotten any closer. The intense tickle in my neck offered a hint. I slowed to a halt and stepped out of the van, dumbstruck as I began to process what I was seeing. I can't begin to describe my thoughts as the ridiculous, unmistakable shape of the thing dawned on me, suffice to say I actually started to feel a little better.

A lot better.

I practically fell on my ass laughing.

This was it. This was what everyone else in the world literally lost their heads over. I slapped my palm to my face as I struggled to catch my breath.

I wouldn't be joining them, not yet at least, but at least it all made sense now. It wouldn't be worth explaining; it was like a punchline to a private joke. It's not as if you have anything left to think with, anyway. There could be no more doubt that I was unique, and it felt pretty good. Even life in the old world never made this much sense.

I waved a friendly farewell to that distant, dumbly wobbling shadow as I headed home, and I knew if it could wave back, it would, with a wink and a smile. I snickered as a dessicated body crunched loudly under the tires, and wondered if I'd find Dana stuck in the toilet again.