's 2014 Horror Write-off:

" The Traffic Stop "

Submitted by Elliott Avery

When I picked up my brother Darryl at the airport, it shocked me how different he looked. It hadn't even been a whole year since the last time I'd gotten to see him in person and so much had changed. He'd shaved his head and grown a beard, a thick, rounded soul patch that, frankly, looked pretty damned ridiculous on him. Still, it was the first time I'd ever seen him with a beard and it really drove home the fact that he wasn't a kid anymore. He was almost 25 and making his way in the world.

Now if only he'd dress like it. Man, he was still wearing baggy jeans and sports jerseys everywhere. I recognized his shirt as a replica of the one Cito Gaston wore when he played for the Braves. Gaston was a childhood hero of mine. Darryl had actually bought it for me as a birthday present a few years back, but it was the wrong size so he kept it and gave me some cash instead.

"You are not wearing that to see Dad." I scolded him.

Darryl rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I know. The good clothes are in my bag."

I told him to go change in the men's room since we were driving straight to the home, but he said he'd use one of the ones there as soon as we got in because their facilities were bound to be a lot cleaner than an airport bathroom.

Our father had been having health problems for a few years. I'd tried to take care of him for a while, but I just wasn't equipped to. He's staying at a rest home run by a local church. It's a nice place, very clean, the staff are good people, but Dad never was very religious and he loves complaining about how they're always trying to save his soul. It's not far from where I live, but I admit I don't see him as much as I should. It's hard seeing somebody you love in a state like he's in. I know it's wrong, but sometimes you just gotta avoid stuff, otherwise it'll wear you down to nothing.

Darryl was lucky. His job kept him on the move a lot. He was a sound engineer/music producer. When we were kids he found some pro-level music mixing program for the computer (shamelessly pirated, of course. We were better off than a lotta folks, but not by enough to buy a piece of software they were asking $500 for). I didn't get computer literate until I moved out on my own because any time my dad wasn't working on the damn thing my brother would be there playing around with it, remixing his favorite albums and putting together backbeats for his own ill-conceived attempts at rap stardom. Thank god he finally wised up to the fact he's got a voice that sounds like a fish trying to breathe air and decided to focus on the production end of things.

Darryl had followed a friend of his with a slightly less annoying voice out to the coast after graduating and was helping him get his own music career going while doing freelance work for some other small time indie rap acts on the side. He was even starting to branch out. On the car ride away from the airport, he was telling me all about this crazy metal band from Minnesota he'd been working with. Four nerdy white guys slapping greasepaint on their faces and singing songs about vikings in a voice that sounded like Cookie Monster on PCP. He showed me a music video they'd done on his phone. I told him to turn that crap off or I was gonna be laughing so hard I'd run us into a ditch.

Darryl thought they were pretty funny, too. Especially the part about most of their fans being skinheads. Told me he'd love to see the look on their faces if they knew who was producing their albums.

I told him not to joke about that shit. I told him I deal with enough stupid peckerwoods in this town, I got a whole family of them to put up with around the holidays since I married Erin, I don't want to hear about more.

I must've told him a bit louder than I meant to, because he went real quiet after that for a while. He knows I kinda resent him. He's a music producer (a small time one, admittedly) living in the big city, I'm head of security at a small town shopping mall, a job I only stay at because it's the best one a big, don't fuck with me-looking black guy can get in a town like mine. I know I shouldn't compare myself to him, really. I got it pretty good. I got a house, a beautiful wife, maybe some kids soon, work pays alright. Maybe it just bothers me that I never found something I was really good at the way Darryl did.

We drove on like that for a while, as the sun started setting over the hills. I was getting worried we wouldn't make it before visiting hours were up, traffic down the highway from the airport had been a pain, but at least the road into town was deserted as usual. Nothing but the occasional big rig zooming by, probably carrying more stuff to my work for me and the boys to chase surly teenagers and listless old folks off of like seagulls at a picnic come Monday.

The last truck had been out of sight for ten minutes or so when I heard the siren. Darryl cursed under his breath but I didn't think much of it at the time. The tail-lights on my car had been acting up ever since some kid banged into it in the mall parking lot. I'd already had a cop pull me over once before on the way home from work to warn me about it. I kept telling myself I'd go down to Ed's Garage and get it looked at next payday for a few months now but just never got around to it.

At any rate, I don't know if they just pulled me over with the intention of telling me the damn light was blinking out again or not. That's not how things turned out.

The officer who came up to us was tall and wide, with a fat neck and a sharp nose that looked way too narrow for his jowly face. I thought I recognized him from one of the times a customer started getting too rough and we'd had to make a call, but if he recognized me back he didn't say anything about it. Didn't say anything at all. Just looked back and forth between me and Darryl like he was sizing up the produce in a grocery store and didn't look too impressed with the selection.

I didn't say anything. I just sat there. Don't know if I was afraid or just confused. After what must've been a minute or two of that, Darryl got pretty fed up. He just shouted "What?!" at the guy, real loud.

I know it's sick, but part of me's still pissed at him for doing that. Like everything that happened next was his fault. Gotta blame somebody. And there's no use blaming something that isn't even human for just being what it is, is there?

The cop's expression didn't change at all when Darryl yelled at him, or when I tried to apologize for him. He just asked Darryl to step out of the car and when my brother refused he turned his head and yelled to his partner in the patrol car to come over. The partner, a short, wiry, balding man with buggy eyes took the big one's place at the driver's side window as he went around to the other one. The big one, hereafter referred to as Joe, asked Darryl to roll down his window. When Darryl failed to comply, he elbowed it in and grabbed my brother by the throat.

I tried to stop him, of course, but I didn't get very far before the smaller one, which I will call Herman, twisted my head around with one hand and with the other jammed his service revolver into my mouth until I could feel the cold metal against the back of my throat.

Herman didn't say anything as I sat there trying not to gag, sweat pouring down my face, staring into those inhuman fish eyes of his. All he did was smile. I'm going to see that lipless, predatory grin every time I close my eyes. Like a shark. They all kind of look like sharks, don't they? Eyes dark and soulless against their pale, pointy faces. Smiles that expose more teeth than emotion.

The feeling any sane person gets when they see that first sign of them, whether it's a dorsal fin or a siren light.

I had to stare at that... thing's face for I don't know how long, as I listened to the screams and the sound of a pistol grip crushing flesh and bone and the spray of mace. When I saw my brother again, as Joe dragged him around by his arms, he didn't look very human anymore, either. He turned to look at me, briefly, through swollen eyes, and I saw some hideous, red and violet fugu fish, hauled up from the depths and struggling to breathe in the territory of a different order of life. Then, just like that, the plaintive puffer fish was driven into the dirt as the great white drove its knee into his back.

They didn't bother with the handcuffs, although I think after the beating Darryl took they would have been superfluous, anyway. Instead, Joe grabbed one of his arms and started twisting it, hard as he could. My brother howled in pain as loud as he could with the wind knocked out of him.

And then it happened. I heard a sickening crack, louder than any of the ones before it as something inside the arm gave. As the huge whatever it was (I cannot in good conscience call it a man) on top of my brother, kept on twisting and pulling, spurts of blood erupted as flesh tore. Soon he was holding a joint of raw meat in his hand. You wouldn't have thought much of it if you didn't notice the fingers at the end.

And he took a bite.

He took a bite of it.

He took a bite.

He made a sound, then. A sort of wheezing, cackling noise. With the scent of blood in the air, his partner momentarily forgot about me, sliding the gun out of my mouth and running over to join in the feeding frenzy.

I could have looked away, but for some reason I didn't.

Incredibly, my brother made one last attempt to get up before Herman, whose gun was still in his hand, shot him through the head.

I tried to move. I tried to do something, but every time I did my eyes snapped back to that terrifying piece of metal. I think towards the end I was just invoking it so I wouldn't have to focus on the rest of that scene. It didn't entirely work. I couldn't keep myself from seeing what they were doing. What they were.

I don't think they physically changed. I don't think that's what happened at all. But as I watched them pull hunks of meat from my brother's corpse, what little was human about them dropped away from my sight. Ears, lips, hair, everything that signified an evolutionary connection. I thought I really was looking at sharks, their featureless, predatory faces dripping with blood as they glutted themselves on their kill. Their teeth clattering and flapping gills wheezing out strings of hard consonants that no longer had the illusion of language.

Eventually, one of them, for I could no longer tell them apart, twisted its wedge-shaped head back in my direction, the hungry jellied globes in its head fixating on me. It took me a moment to remember I was still at the wheel of a car, but that did little good. The first thing it did was shoot out my tires.

Another bullet carried away the rear-view mirror above the dashboard as I scrambled to get out the still open passenger door. I fell to the ground and desperately tried to hide myself in the long, unkempt grasses at the side of the road.

They were about to chase after me when a crackling voice rang out over the radio in the patrol car. One of them picked up while the other started in after me, but was soon called over away by its partner. Apparently it was time to go. The both pumped a few perfunctory shots into the grass, none of which hit, and sped away.

Darryl's body wasn't there when I finally crawled back out to the road, just a large red stain soaking into the blacktop and pieces of a brain that spent over a decade learning how to turn the caterwauling of a bunch of young fools into something beautiful. I wanted more than anything to just break down right there, just lay there forever. Anything except wind up like Darryl did, so I knew I had to keep moving. I left my shot up car by the side of the road and made for the hills. I'd go to my house, get myself cleaned up and figure out what to do next.

The shock really started to wear off as I hiked back to town. Then the questions started coming. Had I really seen what I thought I'd saw? What could I do? How was I going to tell my father?

What I didn't wonder, though, was how they could have done something like that. I knew. I knew what they were. I'd seen what they did to some of the people we called them on at work. That's why I was always reluctant to unless there was already serious violence going on.

Even then I kidded myself for a while. Let myself think I was safe. Though that I was some kind of authority figure. That that would protect me and mine. The fact I wore a uniform meant I wasn't prey, and they only looked at me the way they did because the one I wore didn't carry the same prestige as theirs.

A man never wants to accept that he's nothing but prey for monsters. But in the end, the monsters rarely leave him any choice.

My fault. My own damn fault for being so blind. For not gunning the engine and taking our chances with death in a firey crash instead of that. I should have done more. He should have done more! Even mice can take out the eye of a snake before it gets them.

I kept replaying the scenario over and over in my head, all the things I could have done to save him. Or even before that, if my last words to him hadn't been so angry. It was like that all the way to my front door.

I didn't stay in my home long, though. After I saw what was waiting for me in the kitchen, over a pan of something I couldn't help but wonder was really beef, I walked away slowly, cautiously, like one walks away from a rattler in the desert, and never went back in that house again.

Because I didn't see a woman there. I didn't hear the sweet voice that had told me she wanted to be with me forever and didn't care what anybody else thought. All I could see was that hateful, pointed head and all I could hear the sharp chattering coming out of that big, lipless mouth.

And I knew I would never see anything else ever again.