's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" Power "

Submitted by C. Lonnquist



Ben watched Tom's daughter from the other side of a chain link fence surrounding the substation. Somehow, she had gotten past when Tom wasn't looking. She reached for a ball she dropped, and Tom and Ben watched a series of glowing fingers instantaneously stretch out from a nearby metal structure and grasp her outstretched hand. In that moment, Ben remembered The Creation of Adam, only God had been replaced by an electric reaction, tearing into his friend's daughter and forcing her to her knees. Something exploded, showering her shocked face in sparks and a tirade of angry pops.

               She was eight. Her body lay on the small, assorted stones scattered on the ground. She didn't breathe or move or laugh. The ball rolled away, rubber and immune. Tom clutched the fence like there was a current running through it. He wasn't looking at his child. He was looking at the power lines above, and his face was contorted in a mixture of fury, pain, and awe.

               In the sky above them, high tension lines whispered a soft, metallic chant.


               The ambulance came far too late. Paramedics threw the doors open. Tom waited by the fence, still staring open-mouthed at the power lines above. The medics threw open the gate once the electricity had been turned off in the substation. Tom ran. At first Ben thought he was going for his daughter, but instead, he turned towards the ambulance.

               "What are you doing?" Ben shouted after him.

               Tom didn't answer. He had already opened a box with a defibrillator and rubbed the plastic-handled paddles together hungrily. "Didn't you see them?" Tom asked. "Didn't you see them?"

               He slammed the paddles against his chest and grinned at Ben, an open-mouthed, wide-eyed smile. He licked his lips.


               The high tension lines whispered in the blue sky.


               Ben knocked on the door of the house. No one answered, but the door wasn't locked so Ben let himself in.

               He had walked through the three-bedroom before Tom's wife left and took their two remaining children with her. It had been a gorgeous home, but now, the walls had been torn open, exposing pipes and wires that Tom had cut and woven together. They led up into the attic and through a hole in the roof where Tom had connected them to a thirty-foot antenna. The last time Ben saw the house, Tom was standing on the roof, smiling at the antenna, stroking his chin with a shaky, burned hand.

               The bills piled. Two years of them, since the death of Tom's daughter. He had quit his job at the processing plant the day his daughter died. He was dipping into his meager savings to keep the lights on.

               Ben made his way to the roof to find Tom kneeling by the antenna. The October sky was empty and blue, and the vacant cornfields behind the house were amber with dead stalks, scars of brown earth stretching between them. The early Minnesota winter had held off, but the sharp autumn wind in the air bit at the back of Ben's neck as he stood next to his friend. He flipped up the collar of his windbreaker and pulled his cap lower, though the tops of his ears still reddened in the cold.

               "Your family is worried about you."

               Tom didn't reply. He held a screwdriver in one of his hands. The skin on his fingers and forearms was strangely white in places, but cracked and red in others. Blisters like little balloons dotted his palms and wrists. His left arm pulled towards his chest in tiny spams, commanded by warped nerves. When Tom breathed in, his chest twitched, and the subconscious action was accompanied by two quick, sharp sucking noises. He exhaled slowly.

               "Y'know, you're gonna lose the house."

               Tom's ragged breath terminated in a short laugh. "If I can get it a little taller, maybe they'll be able to get across." He pointed a burn-scarred right hand upwards at the network of high tension lines above them. "I don't think they can go through that much air. They need a stronger body, right?"

               Ben followed Tom's gesture. The power lines vibrated above them, and they accompanied the susurrus of wind with a mutter of their own. It was like a monastic chant, quiet and somber and solemn. They hummed and quaked.

               "What's ‘they'?" Ben had asked a thousand times.

               Tom scoffed. "You saw them, didn't you? Up there when Cassie died? They were watching, you know."

               Shaking his head, Ben sat down next to his friend. No one in town knew what to say to Tom, but Ben was the only one that kept trying.

               "It's bodies, y'know?" Tom said. "The ones they have, they can't do anything with those. Bodies. You know that our bodies work on electricity? That's what thoughts are. Little sparks in your brain. Little jolts. Things fire, and you feel scared. Things fire, and you feel hungry. Just little jolts, over and over."

               "What needs bodies?"

               Tom frowned as a crow landed on the narrow black threads that stretched across the open sky. "That one's not enough."

               "What needs bodies, man?"

               Ben could see that Tom's left nostril was twitching of its own accord. His face was wind-chapped, and his lips were cracked and peeling. Tom's cheeks were gaunt, his eyes were sunken.

               "C'mon, man, you need to eat something."

               "I had a sandwich this morning." Tome said. "Think we could get the fridge up here?"

               Ben helped Tom move the fridge. The hole in the roof was too small, so Tom took an axe and made it wider. It was still too heavy. Tom reached into the braid of wires leading to the roof and pulled out one terminating in an outlet. He plugged the fridge in and climbed on top of it to get back to the roof.


               Ben's house was a few blocks away. He could see the antenna from his bedroom window. At night, it was lit by red and blue rope lights, and Ben could see a black shape interrupting their dim glow as Tom walked back and forth across the roof, pulling more wires up through the attic. Sometimes, Ben could see his friend shimmy up the antenna. Sometimes, sparks flew out of the structure, stopping the black hole in the light that signaled where Tom was, but a few minutes later, Tom would start climbing again.

               The moon was orange and huge on the horizon. There were still no clouds. Something small and white danced on the high tension wires far above the antenna. Ben's wife pulled him away from the window and into bed. The sullen red glow of the alarm clock kept him awake into the early morning. He unplugged it when he couldn't stand its quiet, audible buzz.


               "We put them in there," Tom said, holding up a bundle of frayed wiring and a copper pipe. He looped the wires over his shoulder and started scaling the antenna. A few months ago, Ben would have tried to stop him. There wasn't any point to it now. He knew that if he did, Tom would try to push him off the roof again.

               "Edison or Tesla or something found them and put them in the lines, y'know?"

               "I don't know, Tom."

               "Maybe it was Franklin. The kite with the key and stuff. They jumped down out of the sky and hit the kite and wham, stuck in a little metal key in a mason jar. They probably hated that more than…" His voice trailed off and he jerked a thumb up at the power lines.

               "Do you think that's why they killed Cassie?" Ben didn't really understand what he was saying, but now he was just saying things to keep Tom talking.

               Thanksgiving was a week behind them. It had snowed, but all of that had melted again. The temps were still in the 50's, unseasonably warm for late November, but still bitterly cold on top of the Tom's roof. Ben sat down on the blue camp chair and pulled his knit cap down over his ears.

               Tom stopped climbing and looked down. "Cassie's not dead. Not all of her."

               Ben closed his eyes. "You know she is, Tom. You weren't at the funeral because you were still in the hospital, but I saw the coffin. It's hard to hear but—"

               "No, no," Tom corrected. "Yeah, that part's dead, right? But, like, can't you hear her? She's telling you she's not dead right now. The ones inside her got free, so that's still her, right? Gotta listen, man. Gotta listen."

               There was a faint sound like an electric razor above them, coming from the power lines.

               "They need bodies, y'know? Conductors." Tom said. "She was little. Just wasn't enough. They tried to get in but she got out instead."

               He looked down at Ben, his face creased with sadness. His left nostril twitched. "I don't think she likes it very much."

               "Are you trying to build the antenna to get her out?"

               Tom laughed and bound the pipe to the top of the antenna. It was nearly sixty feet now. He looked up at the power lines above him wistfully and stretched a hand above his head. "No, too much air."

               When Tom got back to the roof, he started scratching at a dark spot on the arm of his Henley. Ben reached over and pulled the sleeve back.

               Ben swore and jerked his hand away.

               Three wires, two blue and one red, wove their way through Tom's arm, just under the skin so Ben could still see the color of the rubber shielding.

               "I'm calling the cops."

               "No, you aren't," Tom said with a far-off smile. "Tried that before, remember? Don't wanna jump off the roof, right?"

               "I just wanna help you, man."

               Tom threw an arm over Ben's shoulder and pointed up. "Then just listen. You hear ‘em, right? I see that look in your eyes. You've seen ‘em, too, have't you? Up there at night. Little white guys. Just sittin' there."

               Ben swallowed hard and said nothing.

               "Little ones. They're real chatty. Don't actually say much. Just kinda sit there and sing."

               "What are they?"

               "Stay out here," Tom said.


               Ben pulled the blanket closer and took the cup of coffee Tom handed him. He leaned back in the camp chair. Tom flopped down on the roof next to him, no coffee, no blanket. Just a grey Henley and jeans. The Christmas lights on the tower blinked on and off, punctuating the steady glow of the rope lights.

               There were a lot of stars, even with the amber glow of yard lights below them. A river delta of sickly orange-yellow drifted between the houses, but the sky above was left unsullied aside from the guttering pinpricks that wavered in the cold air.

               "See, you gotta watch, right?" Tom said. "Just watch and listen, and you'll notice ‘em."

               Slowly, softly, a rhythmic sound like lasers being fired in a sci-fi movie drifted down from above. Something like gently bending metal followed, and a reverberating, breathing bass tailed it. Ben shivered, not just from the cold.

               The power lines' chant continued, and as Ben's eyes adjusted, he could see black interruptions flicking back and forth across the field of white specks above. He was surprised he could make out the high tension wires, but once he knew what to look for, they were nearly impossible to pass over. They were like running through a spider web you couldn't see; he felt them on his skin more than he could actually detect them with his eyes. It was unsettling at first, but soon, the gentle motion accompanied by the whispering hum pushed his heavy eyelids lower and lower.

               "There," Tom whispered.

               Ben jolted awake, eyes wide, trying to drink in the blackness above.

               He didn't see anything.

               He thought he saw something.

               He saw.

               No taller than a crow. A boxy white body flat like paper. A bulb of a head, red like the light on the top of a radio tower. Tiny white eyes that could have been the stars behind it. Little legs dangling below it like strings. Little white arms  like bent needles holding it in place on the strip of darkness where the powerline was. Three more. Five. All along the line like starlings.

               "Hi there," Tom whispered.

               The hum of the powerlines was punctuated with a few short, hungry clicks. Coyotes yipped in the empty field behind the house. Ben pinched his eyes shut.

               "Oh yeah, I can get that," Tom said cheerfully.


               "What are you doing, Tom?" Ben shouted up to the top of the antenna. "Get it down now before you kill it!"

               Tom pulled the length of wire tight around the coyote's neck. It twitched. Its limbs were pulled tight against it without being bound like it had been shot with a taser. Its tongue hung from the edge of its froth-speckled mouth. Another length of wire was roped around its chest, holding it in place.

               "I already shot it with a mess of tranquilizer," Tom said. "It's already gonna die."

               Ben's breath rose around his face in the chilled evening air. "Man, you are not right. People can see this."

               "Haven't stopped me yet," Tom said. "I won't let ‘em anyhow. It's a small town. Cops are steerin' clear." He slid down the antenna and grinned up at his handiwork. "I think they might be able to get down now."

               The antenna was only twenty feet from the power line. Tom scratched a transistor in his cheek. The black object shifted slowly under his touch, breaking the scab below it. Tom sucked the blood off his finger. "You aren't gonna stop me, either. You've seen ‘em."

               Ben didn't want to look up. He couldn't see the white things until after sunset, but they had to be there all the same. One time, he had watched the sun rise with Tom, and the white things stood up on the wires and trotted back to the metal towers, where they slowly vanished near the steel supports.

               "We keep ‘em in there, right? That's how you get toast and cook pizzas. Put a few of ‘em in a phone, and you can play games, right?" Tom said. He puttered around at the base of the antenna, tightening wires, checking for breaks.

               "You think that's what happened to people?" Tom asked. "Monkeys hanging out in a tree one day. One gets smacked by a lightning bolt, but it doesn't die. Just sits there in the tall grass, and sparks start poppin' in its stupid monkey head, but it's not stupid anymore. Looks up at the sky and it knows. Not like knowing where Bolivia is on a map or anything, but like knowing how to drive a car after you've been driving for years. Foot on the gas to go faster, but you don't even think about it."

               "What are you talking about?"

               "They're up there in the clouds, right? But now they're in the monkey's head, and it knows what's up, and it gets to thinking over years and years, ‘what if I can put them in other things,' y'know?" Tom laughed. "Light switch gets flipped on, right?"

               "You're nuts."

               Tom laughed even harder, doubling over, sucking for breath between each outburst. The back of his Henley was tattered. Ben could see red marks running across his yellow skin. It looked bruised, and the marks were like a million little roots scratching across his flesh. The bumps of his vertebrae were black and purple, like someone had methodically punched each one. A green wire snaked its way between it all, diving in and out of his skin like an earthworm, each wound marked with a weeping cut.

               "Man, I'm not nuts. I'm just a monkey, right? Just the switch got flipped double for me. Check it out."

               The sun was below the horizon. The coyote opened its eyes and yipped. Weakly at first, but then louder. It barked into the air over and over, and soon the empty field behind the house responded in kind. Ben shuddered, but didn't look away.

               The first star appeared in the darkening sky. The high tension wires vibrated and groaned, competing with the coyote's cries. The coyote screamed louder, but the voices of its pack moved away and turned to fearful whines. The chant of the power lines reverberated against the shingles of the roof like a car stereo with the bass cranked. Metal thrums punctuated the electric grumble.

               The coyote shrieked again, and the little white things appeared along the power lines. They capered back and forth, some hanging from the wire and shaking it madly. Their white eyes bulged in their angry red faces. They chittered, little metallic blips scattered through the chorus of the power lines themselves.

               Something flashed out from the line. A hand, an arm, a broken finger of white-hot energy that reached down and took the coyote by the throat. It shook the animal once and drew back as the coyote's body stiffened unnaturally. It pulled something with it, something glowing and smaller and vaguely dog-shaped. The two forms raced back to the power lines, and the little white things snatched the second shape from the tangle of energy spat out by the wires. They yanked at it and pressed their blood-red faces against it, flailing back and forth, needle-arms jabbing and ripping. The coyote's body wasn't moving, but Ben could still hear it screaming. Next to him, Tom was clapping and laughing.

               The chant of the wires grew louder, shifting and forming patterns and words that Ben knew but couldn't say. The little white things pulled the last bits of electricity apart between them, snickering with a sound like static. They spread back along the line and sat, staring down at the two men on the roof.

               The coyote's rigid body slumped. Tom grabbed Ben by the shoulders, forcing his view away from the things above them.

               "It wasn't strong enough!" Small rivulets of joy made their way down Tom's cheeks. A smaller trail of mucus and blood ran from his left nostril. Something was wrong with one of his eyes, but Ben couldn't see what it was in the fading light.

               "They couldn't use it, but they could get at it!"


               Ben threw his phone off the roof when his wife called again. The ringing was drowning out the sound of the power lines. He sat in the camp chair under a blanket and watched Tom work.

               Tom dropped down from the tower and limped towards Ben. Every few minutes, his left arm would flail out a few times and drop to his side. He sat cross-legged on the shingles and reached down into the hole in the roof, grabbing two beers from the fridge below them. He tossed one to Ben, who cracked it and down it in a few seconds.

               Ben dropped the beer can down through the hole and onto the growing pile. The sun was setting. He lost count of beers after the fourteenth one. There had been a lot since then.

               "Feelin' good, right?" Tom asked.

               Ben nodded. He could still feel the snow falling around them, but it didn't bother him. He could tell his nose was bright red in the bottom of his vision. "Feelin' good, Tom."

               Tom tapped the glass where his left eye was. He had pulled it out with a spoon a week ago. A few days later, he pulled the bandage off and jammed a big blue bulb from one of the strings of Christmas lights into the socket. He pointed out that it was festive. ‘Twas the season, after all.

               Tom jumped slightly as he flicked the light switch on his shoulder, opening the current from the lamp battery hanging around his neck like a pendant. A little sigh escaped his lips, and he tilted the beer into his mouth, washing the scattered transistors that had replaced some of the teeth he had pulled. His fingernails were gone. His left thumb had a little LCD screen on it from an old digital watch. It flashed 88:88 over and over.

               There was very little left of his tattered shirt, and the red root-lines that stretched across his back now reached down his chest like spindly tattoos. He had cut off his right nipple and sewn a flat, circular battery in its place. Wires radiated out from it, disappearing into his chest and between his ribs. He looked at the copper and rubber veins tracing across his arms and nodded.

               "Monkey's gotta climb the tree, right?" Tom asked. "Y'know, get back to his roots."

               "Sounds right," Ben slurred.

               Tom's head twitched to the side, and he tried to smile, but only half of his face moved. He finished his beer and dropped it through the hole in the roof.

               The little white things chattered from the high tension wires, and soon the chant started, like metal cords rubbed against each other, like ice cracking on frozen branches, like the distant thrum of a passenger jet as it left contrails in the sky.

               Tom reached down to the ground and flipped another switch, lighting the antenna. It hummed in response to the wires above them, hidden in the darkness save for the tiny white bodies that looked down at the two men expectantly. Every now and then, a hiss of dying sparks leapt from the antenna as if trying to escape.

               Tom began to climb.

               His limbs bent oddly as the volts coursed through them. He clenched his ruined teeth and held on, though Ben wondered if the electricity dancing in his veins made Tom's grip even stronger. Ben watched Tom ascend. Slowly at first, then with purpose, and as he scaled the last twenty feet of the wobbling, glowing tower, he was practically running on all fours, clambering like a monkey.

               The little white things began to shake the wire and giggle, sounding like gaps between radio stations.

               Tom reached the top of the tower and lashed a string of lights around his waist. He yanked a few wires free from his hip and jammed them into a light socket that capped the top of the antenna. The LEDs buried underneath his skin lit up in yellow and blue and red. They blinked and flashed, shuddering along with Tom as electricity hopped between his nerves.

               He reached up, the high tension wires so close to the tips of his fingers. He groaned, strained, and cried out, inches from his goal. The little white things poked at him with arms like bent needles, their voices screeching with white noise.

               Through all of it, the power lines' chant shifted into stern, scolding words. Eldritch syllables formed from charged electrons, alien verses and refrains of something that once belonged to the sky and was furious at the thing that reached for it for enslaving it.

               "No! No, let me in!" Tom screamed. "Don't say that!"

               Ben could understand the sounds, and he wept like a child. He covered his ears, but the chant was in his head, firing angrily in the pathways of his brain, drowning out his thoughts with an alien rage.

               Tom screamed and thrust his body upwards, even as the things inside him sent spasms of betrayal through his limbs, keeping him from the wires above. He growled and stretched. Just an inch farther. Just a fraction of air. So little. So close. Little arms like white needles stabbed downward.

               His fingers wrapped around the wire.

               The antenna flared, screaming in anguish, vomiting sparks across the rooftop. Ben turned his head away from a moment, shielding his eyes from the angry explosion. Tom screamed in reply, his voice like feedback from a ruined speaker. He laughed and howled and uttered words in the same shuddering metallic tongue as the power lines. Arms of white reached for him from above and below, pouring out of the antenna and the high tension wires at the same time, ripping at the parts of him that were still skin and muscle, pulling are clumps of hair and stretching bones unnaturally. There was something ecstatic in his voice, something vindicated, but it wasn't Tom anymore.

               Ben screamed as well. Growling, spitting lightning tore its way from Tom's chest, reaching up to the wire. The little white things pulled away, but their heads popped like broken bulbs, and they fell down to the roof. Their bodies splashed against the shingles like electric raindrops, arcing chaotically and dissipating.

               Something was forming between the antenna and the power lines, stretching Tom's body out further and further. Meat and sinew pulled away awkwardly and burned in the holocaust of lightning, leaving only wires and diodes and bits of conductive metal. The web of cables danced in the blinding storm, and a mouth opened, teeth formed from jagged claws of electricity, eyes made from pulsing LEDs. It looked down at Ben and spoke, and somewhere in his brain, sparks bounced back and forth, beckoning him upward, demanding, begging.

               The power lines' chant surrounded him and moaned with a slowly waking fury.

It spoke of hatred, of imprisonment, of retribution.


               The doctors wouldn't let Ben have candles. They wouldn't unplug the machines. They insisted on leaving him hooked up to the monitoring devices that tracked his erratic heartbeat. The bandages that covered his burns itched, but the constant muttering of the dim lights in the hospital room scratched at his brain like insects, reminding him over and over of what was trapped within. He kept his finger clamped on the button that delivered more morphine, dulling his mind, drowning his thoughts.

               Little arms like bent white needles reached from the wall outlets and scraped against their plastic covers.