Bogleech.com's 2019 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by 0. Blaufuss (email)
In the second before it hits the stage, Charlie watches the invisible wall of whatever-the-hell-that-is hurtle towards him and thinks I’ll never forget this moment as long as I live. Which might not be very long.
He could “see” it because it swept through the crowd, back to front, spines stiffening and eyes bugging and jaws dropping like some fucked-up version of The Wave. They don't even have time to stop playing and stare before it slams into the speakers and the air erupts into an annihilating roar of feedback. The next thing Charlie knows, he’s curled up in a ball around his Strat, blind, retching. Deep breaths. Don’t vomit on the new axe. His vision clears, and he’s on the floor, shaky but intact. “Nice,” he croaks, then throws up on his shoes. Great.
He guesses where “up” is and points his head that direction. This is worse than waking up hungover. Somehow the whole audience is already empty, but the door in back swings idly, like someone just left. How long was he out?
Charlie takes stock of the band. The Mighty Icemen are:
Charles: Lead guitar/vocals. Miserable, kinda pukey, alive.
Logan: Drums. Sitting up now, looking for his drumsticks. Nosebleed. Cool, he’s alive.
Jonathan: Guitar. Weird buggy look in his eyes, standing stock still. Probably alive, maybe brain-damaged, what else is new.
Bass guy: Shit. They definitely had-
“I’m okay,” Logan announces, even though nobody else is okay enough to have asked yet.
“Didn’t we have-” Charles mumbles. “Fuckin... Where’s our bass player? What was his name?” The bass amp’s right there, but nothing’s plugged into it.
A hollow tapping sound begins right next to him, deafening in the silence, and Charlie practically shits himself before realizing it’s just blood dripping from Logan’s nose onto the snare. “Oops,” Logan mumbles. “Hey Jonathan, do y-”
Jonathan jerks violently and with one fluid motion he drops his guitar, leaps over his amp, off the stage, across the floor and out of the place, shoving through the door at the back and setting it swinging again. Charlie gapes. “Where’s he going?” he asks aloud, knowing the answer is probably “where everyone else went”. Which isn’t really an answer at all.
A weird hum hangs in the air, but not from the sound equipment. The speakers are busted. Charlie realizes he’s expecting someone to come yell at them and kick them out. But that wasn't their fault, couldn't be, and nobody’s coming. Pull your shit together, man. The band is depending on you. The “band” being…..just Logan and him, now. “Alright,” he announces. “So, I don’t know what happened, whatever the hell just happened, but I don’t think it was good.”
Logan giggles nervously. Yeah, ok, understatement of the fuckin’ millenium.
“I say we go back to the Ice Machine. Look for everyone else. Grab our cell phones. Call someone.” Who? Anyone, really. “And bounce. Sound like a plan?”
“You want to go out there?”
“You want to sit in an empty room until the cops come?”
Logan looks around the abandoned stage apprehensively. “I….. I don’t think the cops are coming. I think this is bigger than that.”
“‘Bigger than that’, what the hell does that mean?”
“I think this was an EMP or something. You know what an EMP is, right?”
Charlie doesn’t. “Yeah. So you wanna wait here until the cops DON’T come? We’re only parked a hundred feet from the door.”
No response, but no protest, either. Charlie grabs his guitar and hops off the stage. Logan follows, slower. It’s decided.
It is, to put it lightly, spooky as fuck outside. The “EMP” or whatever it was left the sky the streaked grey-green of an approaching storm, and to the south is….. something, very far up in the sky, dark and spreading and roiling. Charlie refuses to look at or think about it. He stares at the beat-up van across the empty parking lot instead. The Ice Machine, they call it. The lot was mostly full when the show started, but now the white and blue van stands alone. He fixes his eyes on it, not even glancing at the dark mass that’s creeping in slow, massive arcs along the horizon, and that’s why he doesn’t realize that Logan isn’t with him anymore until he’s reached the door.
The bottom of his stomach drops out. Logan is standing like an idiot in the middle of the empty lot, staring up at the sky. Goddamnit, Logan.
“What the hell are you doing?” he growls, quieter than he wants to. Don’t want to get the sky-stuff’s attention. Logan doesn’t move. Charlie grabs his ears and pulls their faces level. “Logan. Buddy. If you run off or start speaking in tongues or some shit, I’m gonna jump off the nearest bridge. C’mon, let’s get to the van.”
“Are you seeing that?” Logan asks, and his wide eyes flicker like something skittering into the dark.
“Nope. Ice Machine time.”
“Okay.—Listen, I’m COMING, let go.”
Nobody else in the van. Not that they expected anyone. Charles enters loudly, kicking the seats and shoving junk over to try to shake off the heebie-jeebies. His phone’s in the cupholder. He dials and makes a face as Logan wipes his bloody nose on a band t-shirt. Don’t do that, he mouths.
“It’s black. You won't see it when it dries.”
Charlie glares. The phone rings and rings. And rings. Then nothing.
“Hey, an EMP can jack up phone lines, right?”
“Well, great. I guess we gotta get moving.”
“Are we just going to leave them?” Logan asks, nervous.
“You know. The, uh… the other two, uh...”
“Who?” Charlie gestures around. “Fucking, who? Everyone else split. And I think we should too.” He glances at the un-infested portion of the sky. Already it seems to have shrunk.
He half expects the engine not to start (almost hopes it won’t—if this was a nightmare, it wouldn’t, but at least he’d get to wake up) but it coughs itself awake as heartily as ever. He pulls out with no idea where he’s going. Just not south. So north, towards the sky that still looks like sky. Looking for the highway, it takes him a moment to notice.
“Could an MP-thing…like...erase the words on signs and stuff?”
Logan giggles like a scared little girl. “You didn't see the storm?? Man, that wasn’t an EMP.”
Charlie floors it out of there.
He thought he'd feel better on the road. It’s worse. Now he sees how completely alone they are. There's no other cars on the road, but some abandoned on the shoulder, doors ajar. He turns on the radio, desperate for a distraction, but gets nothing but static and the occasional snatch of garbled classical music.
“Hey, dig out a CD.” Charlie wants to make Logan quit muttering and climbing into the back seats to stare out the rear window, but Logan looks glad to have something to do. He selects a Foo Fighters disk, slides it in, then ejects it almost instantly. Charles can take some harsh noise metal, but agrees that whatever Dave Grohl’s harmless rock has been corrupted into is just upsetting nothingness. Logan digs out a stack and tries them all. Disc after disc of garbled static hiss.
“That’s enough,” Charlie finally growls. “Toss ‘em.” Logan rolls down a window and flings the discs out one by one, watching each flash in the greyish light before they vanish behind.
“Play something yourself,” Logan suggests.
“I’m driving, man! You play something.”
“Me? I don’t even know which end of the guitar to blow into.”
“Smartass. Why’d I get stuck with the drummer?”
“Why’d the drummer get stuck with the guy with the stick up his ass?”
Charles laughs. Logan drums on the dashboard. “Now you sing,” he offers.
“I have no idea what that is.”
“It’s one of ours! Acid Walk.”
“Really? I wrote that one. You’re doing it wrong.”
“I’m not doing it wrong. You never told me what to do. You came in with a paper with four chords and told us to ‘figure it out.’”
Charles grumbles something rude but noncommittal. “Fine. But maybe do something a little less…” but he doesn’t want to say apocalyptic when the sky is dark and strange like this. “Something else.”
Logan does, and they shout along.
Rock isn’t dead, and rock will never die, and here’s why: It’s hard to be scared when you’re being loud as hell. So it helps for a while.
Until it doesn’t.
The dashboard clock is busted, so all Charlie has is his internal clock, which says it’s been way too long since they set out. Long enough to start losing their voices. They stopped singing when they sped past that flaming wreck (crazy how fast you end up going on a flat, empty highway, desperate) and stopped talking miles back when they realized over half the horizon had gone infested and dark. It’s past that now. It’s grown so far and eaten away so much sky that it’s like driving into a massive tunnel with seething walls. Logan crawled into the back seat and is staring out the window again. Charlie keeps his eyes stubbornly on the road.
Ding ding ding! goes the low fuel indicator. “FUCK!” goes Charlie. Logan jumps a mile.
“What fuckin’ now? Where’s the next gas station? Where the hell are we? Why are the signs still gone? What NOW?” The questions all try to leave Charlie’s mouth at the same time and get stuck like Three Stooges in a doorway.
“Pull over,” Logan suggests.
“Here? We can’t stop!”
“Pull over.” Logan repeats. “We can’t outrun the storm at this point.”
Charlie lets off the gas slightly. “Do you remember…. What was the name of the other guy on guitar? We had another guy on guitar.”
Logan thinks. “Don’t know. Didn’t it start with a ‘D’?”
Soft, metallic tapping begins on the roof. The first raindrops.
“What… was the name of our bassist?”
“We have a bassist?”
Charlie pulls over, turns the engine off, and puts his head between his knees. He's not gonna cry. He listens to his own breathing and the shuffling hiss of rain on road. Logan climbs back into the front.
“You tried,” Logan says.
“Fuck. I really thought we could make it. Wasn’t there a TV show where people outran storms in cars?”
“Storm?” asks Logan, incredulous. He's looking past Charlie, out the windshield. The tapping and shuffling is growing louder, more insistent, alive. “Didn’t you look at the sky once?”
Charlie knows this is the moment where you yell at the dumbass onscreen not to turn around, but he's the dumbass onscreen right now, and the dumbass always turns to look. So he does. And screams. Predictably.
When he was a kid Charlie found a dead robin and wanted to show his brother, so he picked it up and its skin and feathers came apart in his eight-year-old hands, and the inside was alive with flesheating beetles, black and shining and thrashing. Here’s that memory scaled up fivehundredfold. It’s a goth mosh pit from another dimension. He leans back as one of the dog-sized beetles—is that even a beetle? It has so many parts, looks the wrong shape entirely—lands on the windshield and drags barbed forelegs screeching down the hood, leaving gouges. Jesus.
“I would’ve preferred a mushroom cloud,” he croaks.
“Don’t be like that. At least this way something survives, right? The meek shall inherit. Shakespeare. Or maybe that's the Bible. It’s always one of those two.”
Charlie watches the tops of the trees begin to shred and disintegrate under thousands of mouths. “God. Do you think we can drive through this?”
“Drive to where?” Logan says with impressive calm. “Charlie. You fucking idiot. This is the end of the world.”
“Of the world? But- not really, right? Like, the military can probably wait it out. Or those crackheads who build apocalypse bunkers in their free time. The van- the Ice Machine can-” Another screech of insectoid parts against agonized metal suggests maybe the Ice Machine can't.
“For us it is. They'll get in one way or another. You always liked writing songs about Armageddon. It just came faster than you hoped, I guess.”
Charlie has no idea how he sees the next movement out of the corner of his eye in time, but he does, and somehow manages to tackle Logan against the door before it opens. “HAVE YOU LOST YOUR FUCKING MIND?” he roars, prying Logan's fingers off the handle one by one. Logan kicks, spits, and even though he's a smaller man than Charles, he has a terrifying drummer's strength. “LET GO of the HANDLE! You son of a bitch, let go!” He slams Logan against the door, praying it won’t pop open. The dark slithering insects are gathering on the window, excited by the thrashing of the men inside. They scratch at the glass, inches away, and Logan looks at him with a crazy grimace of a smile, surrounded by a halo of grotesque, palpitating mouthparts and legs, and begins whacking the back of his skull into the window, trying, what, trying to smash it? Charlie feels like he’s going insane. Everything is going insane. He roars and gives a massive yank and even above the chaos he hears something give way with a SNAP—
But it’s not the window or his mind. He’s bent Logan’s fingers back so hard he’s broken them. Logan goes limp, clutching his wrist and yelping.
“How am I supposed to play now, asshole?” whines Logan, other hand already reaching towards the window again. Charlie hauls him against the seat, just out of reach.
“You open that window and see if you can play!” Charlie snarls. “You open that window and there’s no more Mighty Icemen.”
“Keep it closed and there’s no Mighty Icemen either. How do you think Jonathan is doing right now?”
Charlie falters. “Who’s Jonathan?”
“God. Oh, god.” Logan begins reaching towards the door again, so Charlie grabs his arm and grapples him into the backseat, then snaps the child locks on. Around him, the walls and ceiling creak and groan.
"That wasn't very punk rock of you," warbles Logan from the floor.
"Fuck you, Logan."
"You want to lie down and die? Or stand up, open that window, and face what kills you?"
"Maybe I don't wanna die at all!"
"I think you lost that one by being born."
The van shakes with stress. The light coming through the windows is gradually dimming, filtered through legs and wings and chitinous things. Their faces glow sickly in the alien gloom.
"I'm scared," Charlie admits.
"Yeah, well. Me too."
The world crackles around them like thin ice under combat boots. Charlie makes his decision.
"Gonna lie down and die?" he echoes back to Logan's fetal form.
"You broke my goddamn fingers. Leg hurts too."
Charlie thinks. “I didn't touch your leg.”
"Yeah. I jumped off the drum riser weird yesterday.”
Charlie laughs and drags his Strat out. He'll miss this guitar. He offers his spare arm to Logan, who hauls himself upright against the creaking door. They stare into the writhing oblivion just beyond. Logan grips his arm a moment more than necessary. He doesn't mind, here at the end of the world. He half wishes Logan wouldn't let go.
Charles hefts the guitar, takes a breath, then smashes it through the window.
The end is just as loud as promised.