's 2020 Horror Write-off:

Vocal Mimicry

Submitted by Tristan Tanner

I used to work as a delivery driver in my home town, getting orders through an app, picking up whatever they wanted to eat, and delivering it to their doorstep. It wasn’t the best job, and the pay was pretty variable from day to day, but it helped me earn a little bit of extra money.

I hated delivering at night. Interacting with strangers and driving around unfamiliar neighborhoods was already scary enough, but being forced to do it in the dark made it easily a hundred times worse. I’ve always been afraid of the dark, ever since I was a little kid. I never fully grew out of that fear, and I’ve always been teased by my friends about it, but I tried to work through it as best as I could.

One night I was finishing up an evening of deliveries at an apartment complex I hadn’t been to before. Apartment complexes were tough to deliver to during daylight hours, but at night they were almost labyrinthine. The dim light from my phone’s flashlight was scarcely able to help me determine which building housed my delivery’s recipient, but after about 10 minutes I finally found them. I apologized for the wait and they shut the door in my face without another word. Now I faced another challenge; finding the way back to my car.

I always forget where I park, but fortunately I had a method to find my car. My car’s keys had some buttons on them that would allow me to lock or unlock my doors from a distance. If I hit the lock button when the car was already locked, it would make a beeping noise. I could fairly easily use this to navigate my way to my vehicle.

I started hitting the lock button repeatedly, and sure enough I began to hear the telltale beeping of my car. I walked towards the sound, straining my ears. As I walked, I began to hear a second beeping noise. I stopped for a moment, listening. I pressed the button again, and once again there were two beeps. One seemed louder than the other, so after a moment of thought I figured that the quieter beeping must be an echo of some kind. I began moving towards this newer, louder sound, starting to feel a little uneasy.

Even though I couldn’t remember exactly where I had parked, I felt almost certain that I was going the wrong way. But each time I pressed the button, I heard my car’s beep, so I thought that I had simply gotten more lost than I initially thought. Eventually, I rounded a corner and reached a small parking area.

I peered about, but there were no cars to be seen, just empty parking spaces and a lone streetlight, illuminating what seemed to be some old clothes, laying abandoned on the asphalt. I once again pressed the button, growing concerned and feeling watched. I heard the beep emanate from the “clothes” beneath the streetlight.

I stared in panic as the object I had mistaken for discarded clothing began to stand up. It didn’t move like it had bones, instead seeming to inflate like one of those tube men that car dealerships use to advertise. The thing rose up to nearly 8 feet in height, with pale, blubbery skin dotted with occasional patches of course hairs. It was human shaped in appearance, but the proportions were all wrong; its anatomy almost looked like that of a stickman from a child’s drawing. Its head finally inflated, revealing a circular face with two bulging, bloodshot eyes facing in different directions and a crescent moon smile. Its mouth wasn’t filled with rows of razor sharp teeth, or hundreds of human incisors, or even just gums and flesh. It was a featureless, black void. Its eyes finally came together, zeroing in on my position like a predator staring at its prey. Time froze for what seemed like minutes, though it could only have been a few seconds. The thing before me stood, swaying gently in the slight wind. Then, from its empty, vantablack mouth came a single, solitary beep, and it began to stumble towards me.

I screamed and began to flee, though I couldn’t help myself from constantly looking behind me. It was wobbling and tumbling over itself, but somehow was still gaining on me. As my lungs began to burn I swear I heard canned laughter emanating from the creature, the sort of noise they used to have on old sitcoms. I was once told that most canned laughter was recorded in the 50s, and that in all likelihood most of those laughs you hear when watching old shows come from the mouths of dead people. As I blindly fled that’s all I could think over and over; dead people laughing, dead people laughing, dead people laughing.

Somehow I reached my car, I guess I subconsciously found my way there in my panicked flight. I slammed the door and locked it, curling into the fetal position as I heard the wet slap of the thing’s hands against the windows, along with that horrible mocking laughter.

I suppose I passed out, as the next thing I knew there were cops knocking on my car’s window. I claimed I fell asleep in my car after a long night of driving and I was let off with a stern warning. I haven’t done any delivery driving since, and after that night I always make sure that I know exactly where I parked my car.