's 2017 Horror Write-off:

The Town

Submitted by doomydoomydoom (email)

 Little red blue and yellow birds chirped and hopped in the birdbath outside. Sunlight dappled leaves of pink daisies, white zinnias and orange marigold plants freshly planted in the warm soil. Raindrops fallen not long ago gave off twinkling sparks of light.

And the astronaut at the kitchen table sobbed uncontrollably into his hands:

 "-Oh please, don't cry!... Hmm. I think back in school I was taught by Professor Mossum that we've undergone the same thing, for, oh...about three thousand generation cycles?? ...Well! There's no way really to know for sure is there. Once you're done for, you're done for, isn't that right my dear!" Sella shook her head and chuckled warmly to herself. "Would you like another cuppa tea??"
John Winters wrung his hands. He could only let out another miserable howl.

 "There therrrre therrre," she whispered gently, petting his shoulder. "It's really not so bad. Here. Why don't you have another biscuit."
 Sella offered up to him a cold glass of water and a tray. Her round bulbous face blossomed kindly with genuine Love. Her calm tiny brown pinprick doe eyes both disturbed him beyond belief yet made him feel truly safe. He knew they would never be filled with malice toward any soul. He only wanted to cling to her short, soft, tubby white inhuman form and hug her for support: Hug her tightly, and scream. Scream until he passed out exhausted; like an infant in his long dead mother's warm arms.

 "Poor thing," Sella crooned, stroking his shivering back. "It's alright. You know the world starts over-"

 'No. You're so unbelievably kind, but you don't get it. You don't get it,' he thought. He wrung his hands and only mooed.

 John could not speak.
For whatever reason since he'd came into this world, all that a human voicebox could do was produce an awkward batch of low worn out croaks. Or a loud pitiful moan. It was  a painful rattling hollow bellowing, an animal whimper that came deep from within the pit of his belly, punctuated by a bark almost exactly like a seal's. It was comedic and pathetic and horrifying all at once. Comedic because every time without fail it would always remind him exactly of Chewbacca. If he could watch himself on camera, he'd probably laugh. But the futility, the unnaturalness; the sudden unexplained lack of motor control, surrounded by this cozy saccharine atmosphere, it was almost grotesque.  He was completely unable to speak the language, yet it was exactly like his own, except he was American and everyone here spoke some warped cutesy version of some kind of rural modern English. Accent-wise, they all sounded a bit Southern Welsch. A kind of inquisitive, almost child-like music stood lodged in the creatures' pitch.  John couldn't write here either. His hands wouldn't move right...all they produced was harsh scribbled lines, like a toddler holding a crayon the wrong way as it tried to stiffly spell out its name.

 The natives had obviously never seen any person like him before. But the 'aliens' or whatever they were, were pretty unphased by his strange new arrival.  All everyone thought of him at most on sight was he was just an odd harmless novelty. Like a two headed cow or bicycle with six wheels on it; he was briefly interesting to look at, then they got bored and comfortable right away and moved on with their daily lives. He wasn't sure if either he appeared just physically mute or mentally simple to them; it didn't really matter either way, because they all loved him dearly. They treated him with excellent gentle care, like a beloved child or elderly person. While it was a releif they weren't hostile, the whole situation still was unbelievably surreally frustrating to him.

  'I can't stay here. It doesn't work like this. There's got to be a reason for it to happen, even an unsensible reason, at very least.' He paced back and forth anxiously. 'Is 'unsensible' a word??...Whatever. It doesn't make logic. It can't just....HAPPEN like that. There's always a reason for things. Think! Someone's got to have built a shelter before...there must be a way out. A vehicle or something,' he thought as he looked around the tiny cozy kitchen desperately.

  John clung his face. He whimpered and rocked back and forth. He had endured everything the government and the military and life with a single father had ever asked of him without protest. He'd once spent an entire three days living trapped in his car. He was not prepared to handle this world. It was insane. It was like a children's book brought to life, only pure whimsical innocence and good natured folk lived here, and apparently he had the ironic misfortune to arrive, after endless years and years of utopian peace and dullness, he'd caught them right in the middle of finally at long last celebrating their own universe's completely pre-scheduled end.

 ...To be frank that didn't settle with him very well.
Sella shook her head.
"Sorry. I'm afraid there's not anymore biscuits."

 What came out of his mouth sounded like a gorilla being stabbed.
"-Well that is just too bad young man!" Sella sighed wearily getting up and straightening her apron. She was like a school teacher getting bored of a child's temper tantrum. "You'll just have to get used to it!"
"No," John snapped brokenly. " No. No. No no no no."

 Sella only took his plate away and wiped it clean in the sink. "-Oh come come now. Please! ...Here. Why don't we go outside and gather some berries? We'll make us a nice pie. That'll make you feel better."

 "Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" He ran out and pounded his fists on the bathroom wall.
"Oi! Now stop all that fussing about! Sit back down right now!" Sella pointed with a wooden spoon then folded her arms and pouted as he hung his head. John shook with humiliation like a scolded little boy and went back sulking into the kitchen.
This place was too much of a discovery. He had to tell the world about it, it changed literally everything about science. Yet nobody would probably take its existence seriously anyway back home, he thought miserably. ...So who cared if he died along with it into obscurity?  He was still sad about it anyway. He was never going to have the chance to even fail at revealing the truth. So goddamn stupid.
The birds chirped outside. The bright yellow stupid grinning sun and the clouds blazed as the sky around it began to crackle apart as if the sky were a printed image on a fragile china plate breaking very, very (but audibly) slowly. Impenetrable white light leaked thru the slivers, making the fine cracks almost seem like lightning.

The cracks got bigger every day.
If you strained your ears, whenever you stood outside you could hear the very low faraway soft creaks of the sky's inner destruction: Slow and endless groans, like a wooden ship at sea. Melodious almost in a mechanical way... No, it was not like a ship he thought. It was more like an empty attic door; a battered wooden door getting constantly shut then reopened again on old rusty cold metal hinges. Then slowed further down.
 It echoed thru the air without pause like distant abnormal thunder. Growing softly louder every minute by very subtle increments. Even when you could not hear it above you, when it was often drowned out by the sound of lawnmowers and children's laughter and birds singing and neighbor's music playing and the wind, you still FELT it, deep in your bones. It was all too much for him.
Too much.
When he and the three other scientists entered that portal, they had not ever expected to step out of the void into anything remotely resembling Earth. This state of vibration, whatever the engineers had called it....maybe it was just some mad wild hallucination brought upon by the technology. Maybe all this time he was lying comatose on his back in a hospital bed dreaming up some completely fictional place: Whatever the hell it was; it looked far more like his childhood suburb than any brave new realm of the virgin untouched cosmos.
....It was actually a lot more like somebody's IDEA of Earth than the real thing. The entire world came down to just one, single quaint tiny suburb of a bygone time that never really existed. It was a tormenting mockery of Western civilization,  romanticized to the point it felt both cartoonish and sublime. Every flower was geometrically perfect. Trees and bushes grew in the shape of lollipops and marshmallows. And whenever the scientists breached the edge of The Town, they somehow would find themselves right back at its center square. Either the world here was just very small, or there was something far more bizarre going on with the physics. But never did the inhabitants seem to know how it worked or were concerned. Neither did they care about the strange newcomers or prevent their trying to leave. They simply lived with the fact their little Town was all the world supposedly was made of, and that was enough.
It should have been the warped physics of The Town to have been the first red flag, but that was not what most unsettled the crew: it all was ...too pure. Too clean and peaceful. Not in the artificial commercialized sense that comes with a theme park. This wasn't cheap forced deception put on for tourists. This was genuinely how they lived. How they saw the world around them. It felt more like a painting, than advertisement. Grossly saccharine, but sincere. Like some kitschy thing a mother might hang in her doorway or a dollhouse. The sky was rarely grey. The rainbows were more bright than any he'd ever seen, almost painfully intense to the point of light nausea if you stared too hard at them.
This wasn't the oddest part: The oddest part was that the Town was populated by nothing except a few very strange cats. They looked more like ridiculous caricatures of 'Cats', actually, the way this place was like a ridiculous caricature of 'Town.' There was very little that was feline about them save for the ears, and the fact they were covered in soft ivory, grey or chocolate brown fur. The resemblance ended there. These creatures were bipedal. They wore clothes but lacked noses or feet. Though their bodies were plump, they still should not have been remotely able to uphold the absurdly big balloon faces they carried without toppling over. They were loony improbable bobble-heads, while their eyes were tiny wet black dots about the size of golf balls. Their mouths had rows and rows of tiny sharp teeth, six pairs of bright red gums lined the inside of their lips, but these creepy looking mouths only were fed with basic human pastry and vegetables and sometimes on the very rarest of occasions fish. There were no carbonated beverages and alcohol to speak of. The creatures called themselves 'Yoomas'.  They were an extremely tiny populace, maybe about 50 at most, and that was being very liberal. Maybe some kind of disaster or horrible disease or parasite has rendered them infertile and thus largely affected their numbers, the crew thought. They were some of the most frustratingly pleasant beings the scientists had ever encountered. They rarely argued and were more helpfully cordial and patient and eager to be part of anybody's experience than a good many humans he'd known. Sella had been the one who'd taken him in, while the others-.....he couldn't remember what happened to them. Nobody had killed them or even seemed capable of wanting to kill. Instead, his companions had just wandered off one by one, and faded away. At first he was truly upset. Gradually it didn't matter. He wagered they'd all found Sellas of their own. They just no longer needed to communicate by this point.

It didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore.
He wanted her so badly to be his mother. He wasn't sure if it was merely the state of this planet or just the fact that since the cancer he had not been able to stand looking at her photos for a very long time. He was beginning to forget her face. But he was starting to replace with Sella's.
"Goodness me! I've never seen you in such a state! Calm down! Frankly I don't see what bothers you so. ...............Wait. Oh my. ...Are you ...actually....scared to die??"
 John froze. Then nodded.

 "How strange! Ohoho! Everybody knows when they're going to die. It's just three days away. Aww now, you're shivering! ..Why do you feel scared? There's nothing to be afraid of it doesn't hurt!"
"That's not the problem," John said, more to himself than to Sella, holding his shoulders.
 ("Gorble gordff, mmmmwargh.")
"You poor silly dear," she said giggling, stroking his hair, as if he were but a dog being frightened by the vacuum cleaner.
"It's not fair," John whimpered. "I mean, it's just...not like that...on Earth. We get to each have our own time to die, not all at once like you do. ...I mean...well...well, it's debated. What with global warming and what's happening overseas and meteors and- ....well-llllll I guess sometimes we don't REALLY know for sure, or get much time either but...well, at least it's totally random, you know? I mean. SOME people think they know when, but they're quacks. We don't ever know how long we TRULY have to live. Not the Rich, not the Poor, not the young, not the elderly."
("HHhggkk. MOoowahhhh...")

John smiled tearfully down at Sella. She only tut-tutted and began to wipe his face with a lace handkerchief.

 ".....Heh. Heh. ...I mean, I guess it is different instinctively here. You all know when since birth you're going to die. You're all in it together! It's kind of remarkable. But still. ......... I don't wanna know when I am going to die.  I miss her but.... ...well. I guess that is why all you people know how to live your lives so peacefully though isn't it? I mean...Heh. Why kill each other in a war or hate one another when you already know you're running on such limited time!"

 ("GRugnnnGH. Dd dd dd dd dd. Grrh. Hgraugh!")
"It's alright dear." Sella blinked her eyes up at him in innocence. "-Hmm. Perhaps you need a nap??"
"Ugh. ...Well. If I knew exactly how long I had," John mused aloud to himself as she dabbed at his eyes a second time, then went up and fetched herself some tea,  "-or how long this world has, then I suppose why spend it on feeling sorry for myself? Why spend it doing pointless things and on people I resent," John mused to himself. "Sheesh. Fighting wars. Mindless jobs. Prejudice. Greed. All for such abstract bullshit. We don't appreciate the time we've got back on Earth. No sir! ...The ones in charge, they'll manipulate you and tell you to think back to a 'simpler' time, when all the world had Moral Decency and Class and use it all the time to justify so many... awful things. The rich try to recapture it and sell it to you too. But...THIS place, this tranquil, idyllic sorta..." he gestured with his hand clumsily, ".....THING? never REALLY existed back home did it. Heh. It just can't back there. We cannot stomach Pure Tranquility for long, we humans. It's not Real. It can't truly be. But maybe that's a good thing. Maybe we need to Suffer a little bit. Maybe ugly things and times have their place. This place IS nice but it's also sorta driving me crazy. And I never much went to parties or bars. I always kept sober because of my uh....upbringing. But for once in my life, I think I could really use a fucking drink. ...I dunno."

 Sella sighed and shook her hear as she took a broom and swept the kitchen floor.
 "...Still," John sighed bitterly to himself playing with a dinner roll, tearing it idly to pieces, "-I am glad to have at least found out about this place ...glad I met you too Sella. I guess.  .....I-I'm. ....I just. Christ. I don't know." He laid his head down wearily on the table. "Yknow? This place reminds me of something SO familiar. I can't put my finger on it. I don't want to lose you. All the new friends I've made. But I have to get out of here. I have to go home." He looked up at Sella and she stopped sweeping for a moment. She only stared at him blankly.

 "Alas. .......It's such a pity you cannot talk. You're so lively today!" Sella smiled shaking her head. "Hmm. ...I wonder what a creature like yourself WOULD say if it could speak like a real person??" 
The astronaut at the kitchen table only gave a withered smile. Sella leaned on her broomstick and stared at him a long time.

 ".....You're not eating your food much these days. I wonder....Are you...sick? No. ...You're. You're not happy here. Are you." She knelt down beside him and scratched under his chin. "-Do you want to go back?? To your habitat? Huh? Huh my pet???" she asked softly. John blinked and looked over at her. He nodded stunned very slowly. Judging by her expression, he wasn't sure if it registered, but he knew she could see it by the light in his eyes. She reached out and stroked his hair as if it were the mane on a horse.

 "Hmm. I No it is too foolish."

 "What?" he asked begging.
"I will try, I guess, to see what I can do in the morning about it. I could have a solution," she said hesitantly, pointing a wooden spoon up at him, "but I will only be able to go there tommorow. Best not to worry over it dear. Now why don't you go outside and play??"
Winters sighed and slumped out the door. Children were playing without fear in the streets that never saw cars. He stared up into the bright cheerful grin of the sun.
The cracks were getting bigger.
 * * * *
 On the second-to-last-day of the world Sella grabbed the nicest picnic basket and checkered blanket she could find to put inside of it. She loaded it up with a long loaf of bread, some fruit and cheese, and a couple jams and fresh flowers.

She tottered for hours all the way to the one single building in Town that wasn't painted in bold garish color. Instead it was grey, a towering featureless box made entirely of cold stone. It had no flower boxes or pretty birdhouses standing around it. There was no green lawn. It was not at all very interesting to look at.

 "But it's still where I need to be!" she smiled jovially as she skipped along her merry way, up the many flights of stairs, up the long marble hall to the reception desk-
"Hello there! What brings you to Town Hall!" asked the smiling cheery receptionist.
"Oh I'm here to help a friend. And look. I've brought gifts for everyone!"

 "Oh, how lovely dear! Come inside! Come inside!"
"Thank you! I hope the Chamber of Commerce enjoys it."
"I am sure that they will dear!"
Sella entered the rotunda of Town Hall and waited on the bench patiently for another three hours.
"-The Chamber of Commerce will see you now!"
 A door in the corner wall of the room suddenly opened, revealing total darkness.

It was silent. Sella tiptoed and leaned forward into the void.

"Hello? Is anybody there?"

She suddenly realized why she had known the way to Town Hall so easily. Sella had been here long, long ago, one very odd gray day when it had been raining in sheets. She didn't know why she was taken there or recall what had happened.

But she did know that she had been there with her Mother.

And that was the last time she had devoted any thought to her.

Why hadn't that alarmed her before.

"Hello...? I have. An appointment??"

A sound like a broken furnace was suddenly emanating from the black.
As Sella crossed over the threshold into the darkness, and the door shut of its own accord behind her, for the first time ever in her life, she truly wasn't Happy.
  * * * *

John Winters was lying on his back watching the sky get erased in the grass. He didn't have access to any alcohol but they did have another kind of substance here which could be ingested in a kind of spread like a cream cheese over a cracker, and boy, it was great. He was smiling as blissfully dumb as Sella. It was still a beautiful day, a sad one, but beautiful nonetheless. Even over the hushing creak of the torn up black and gold sky, which he was beginning to find rather soothing, he couldn't feel it in him to be sad anymore. He was too tired. If the world wanted to end itself without logic, who was he to protest? If he was destined to meet his fate in Paradise; was that really so terrible? It wasn't like he was missed back home. They never had War or Disease here. Noone quarreled or abused. Noone forced another to take an ideology they didn't have.  There was no form of pollution or racism or religious prejudice. There wasn't any kind of the hellish suffering that would be the mass hysteria of his world if they were enduring such a fate. Maybe this was for the best. Maybe he-

 "John! John! I think I've found a way for you get home!" Sella panted running outside to meet him across the lawn.
Oh thank fucking god.
"What," he said thickly, rolling onto his stomach. ("GRAAGHHN.")
"Here!" she gasped offering him a large scroll. "It's from the Chamber of Commerce. I told them your story. They put their heads together, and one of the elders said he heard about someone in your condition before!"
"My condition? You mean there's been OTHERS?!" ("GRok...grok-okkk-okkk?")
"Here! Take it! There isn't much time!" she heaved. Her species' anatomy was awkward at running and she was drenched in sweat panting. The parchment scroll was the size of a baseball bat. It looked like a school diploma, sealed up tight with an enormous fancy red bow. The Colonel stared in awe at it, a thing of True Achievement and Formality.
"....Thank you for this Sella. It means a lot to me." He suddenly jumped up and hugged her tight.
 Sella hugged him numbly back and looked down at the ground. Her eyes were red and haggard. Something about her had changed. Something had turned her younger looking. Less certain.

 "-I hope wherever you go back to there's someone who takes good care of you John." 
Sella teetered woozily and clasped at her shoulderblade. Blood trickled out at the side of her mouth and her nose but John didn't notice. The fellow didn't really care about anything much by this point except Escape. So much so to the point he did not even realize the fact that now she was suddenly aware of his name or the fact he was cognizant.

 Sella looked up once more into his eyes and stared up at the human being named John Winters a short while in silence.

"John...?? Will you...miss me? When I am gone I mean. ....John?"

He only continued to fumble excitedly with the parchment ribbon...

Sella let out a heavy sigh.
They were right.

 This place wasn't meant for his kind.

The Town was not ready for him.

 "I'll never forget you my dear." She forced as hard as she could thru her teeth a big wide smile: "B-But that's okay! I w-won't be feeling anything very soon anyhow! ...Not for another thousand cycles."
"Yeah. Heh. I guess so!" John absently mussed her head up and tore the scroll hungrily away from her hands.

 "...Had wanted to baked you a pie you know. I wish you could've stayed to eat it," she mumbled to herself dully as she began turning away. He only without hearing unraveled the parchment's crimson loose satin bow and stared down blankly at the surface.

 He could not believe it. John scanned the paper with his eyes back and forth.
Was this a joke?
His mouth fell slowly open. Then shut.
As the sky rang out like bells and the ground violently shook. As rabbits lost their fur and soared up into the air like tossed up ragdolls. As the birds screeched all over the town in unison and their plumage changed violently back and forth between random flashing colors.  As the rainbows turned even more sickeningly bright, and the sun's teeth grinned so white and its gums burned so dark blood red it was almost as harshly radiant as the cracks in the sky. As the green grass blades turned grey and then stretched out into the sky in long steaming tendrils of fine black dots.... As blindingly the wind ripped all around Sella and tore her away. As the houses buckled and collapsed and every window cracked, John's boots remained firmly planted on the ground. As the trees rippled then pulled themselves out of the earth like carrots one by one, as the clouds swirled into the vortex and flowers opened their tiny little grinning mouths and sang before careening into the holes in the sky above....

 He could not believe it.
All the scroll contained was the following words: