's 2020 Horror Write-off:

Billboard Tradition

Submitted by Signal Shut

On the billboard, a white man stood on a white background. Comic Sans read: Raymond will arrive on April 4th. The words blocked his face, so only his eyes were visible.

No additional detail was provided. The rest of the billboard, an enormous space to Raymond's left and right, was empty.

Brilliant graphic design. Very postmodern.

I walked home and quickly forgot the ad.


The next day, a crowd had gathered before the billboard.

I said, "What are you doing?"

A woman turned to me. Her eyes were radiant with joy. "Raymond is coming," she screamed, and fell on her knees.

The crowd fell on their knees after her.

I asked, "Who is Raymond?"

The crowd glared. A man said, "Why aren't you paying your respects? Kids these days have no manners."

"I don't know who he is."

"Kill the heretic," the woman said.

The crowd chanted. "Kill the heretic. Kill the heretic. Kill the heretic."

I ran home.


The next day, the crowd was bigger.

I took a detour.


I could not take a detour, because the crowd filled the streets. There was laughing. There was wine. There was rapturous drunken partying.

I pushed through the throng. Someone put a hand on my shoulder. "What do you think, hun? Ready for the arrival? Ready to—rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!"

I asked, "Who is Raymond?"

The hand squeezed. "HERETIC."

She leaned close to me.

"His name is Raymond. He is radiant and full, in ascension. His face is blinding like the sun. He sweeps over you with a gaze that erases all other thought from the world except his eyes, which sear your mind shut. You are hollowed out before him and filled with light."

I said, "I love and adore Raymond. He is amazing."

"That's it! That's the spirit!" She laughed raucously and stumbled away, off-balance.


In the town meeting, the mayor made a formal proclamation of Raymond's coming arrival. He pulled away a velvet cloth, revealing a bust of Raymond in marble. We went wild. We stampeded towards the bust. "Not yet, good citizens!" the mayor cried, drowning beneath the human tide. "Good citizens—hold back—listen to me—I can't breathe..."

The mayor died of suffocation. The bust broke. A day later, someone had repaired it. A week later, there were ten life-sized statues of Raymond in the town hall. Their eyes followed us as we passed them by.

A colossal statue of Raymond, ten times my height, was built in the plaza. The construction workers sweated beatifically in the hot sun. Their smiles stretched ear to ear. They never stopped smiling.


Girls dolled themselves up to look like him. They wore dresses the same blank white color as the billboard. Boys slicked their hair back in a transparent and lackluster attempt to imitate his style. They could not capture his gaze—his full, blinding, brilliant gaze that fixed the world onto his pupils so the planet could pivot around him. But they tried.

Raymond-branded eyedrops sold like wildfire. An exposé revealed them as saltwater. We bought more anyway.


The new mayor declared a one-week holiday before Raymond's arrival. Everything was canceled. All our efforts were dedicated to preparation.

More people than ever came to the town. Cars backed up in highway traffic jams. Driving into town I'd meet a line of cars, further than the eye could see. The road out was empty.

The hotels filled until there were no vacancies. People camped in town. The police chased them off, so they camped just near the border. On the outskirts blossomed great tent cities with thousands of people. An infinitude of tents stretched on and on and on...


A blowout party was held on the day of Raymond's arrival. We lit bonfires and fireworks. We prostrated ourselves before his image. We self-flagellated. We twisted in wild ecstasy.

We held a potluck. Everyone contributed. Hundreds of dishes lined the table, food piled atop food stretching into eternity. From this pile, grubby grabby hands snatched as much as they could. We stuffed ourselves bloated and filled. We stretched out under the radiant sunlight and moaned graciously. All was indulgence.


April 4th.

Raymond did not arrive.


We waited with bated breath. We waited for his eyes to scour tracks in the dirt. For his words to ring holy fire. For the music of his voice to bring peace to the land—a choir of nightingales would accompany him. He was haloed by olive branches. He was the happiness we had always searched for but never known.

We spread throughout the town, trying to trace his steps. We scoured every nook and cranny. We found nothing.

He was not coming.

He was gone forever, and he would never come back.

He was lost to us.

We ripped out our hair and teeth. We fell on our knees and sobbed into the dirt.


The bonfires went out. The fireworks were discarded. The potluck table collapsed. Naught was left but dust and moldering timbers. Crows pecked at the carcass of our festivities, scavenging for scraps of food.

The statues crumbled. Raymond's face was riven with pigeon droppings, and we did not clean them off.

We returned home. Our houses were in decay. Front doors were left open. Rain had gotten in, along with feral rats and other animals. Thick dust blanketed furniture we hadn't used for weeks, because we had been waiting for him.

The line of cars crawled slowly out of town.

The billboard had disappeared.


We were pathetic, craven creatures. We needed Raymond. He was all we had left, in this pitstop town where nothing ever happened. In this lost and lovelorn world where every man was a stranger and no face was one you knew, where even the rich begged for a meaning far flown from them. Raymond was all we had to live for.

I thought the loss would burden me forever. Even in old age, I would look back on my memories of Raymond and break into violent sobs. Oh, the sorrow! The pain!

But time heals. The sorrow receded. The pain receded.


Raymond was a distant memory when I saw the billboard again.

Lucia will arrive on April 4th.