Shawn P. Madison
The May Editor's Pick Writer is Shawn P. Madison
Please feel free to email Shawn at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Roger Bradley couldn’t breathe—his chest was tightening and his heart was pounding as he scrambled across the lush green grass of Gormley Park.
People were screaming; shrieks of pure terror echoed off the trees and the very air was electric with the stench of fear…nowhere to go, nowhere to run…although the park was vast and the area surrounding the amphitheater was open, the horde of terrified people seemed to take up every available space between the stage and the line of trees that encircled this section of the park.
The stage, that horrible place—where it first began, just minutes ago…maybe only seconds—before Roger turned coward and ran, leaving Emily behind…his beautiful, lovely Emily. Tears poured down Roger’s face but his legs kept pumping, attempting to put more distance between he and those things, those Godawful creatures.
What in the hell was happening? This couldn’t be real, but as the thought occurred to him, he began to laugh, a pathetic sort of cackle, that he knew was coming out with great big sobs that he wished he could hold in but couldn’t.
The show, the damn show! Had it been only a week since the flyers started appearing on telephone poles in town, in storefront windows, in the post office, in Ed Drake’s Diner on First and Main? Poor Ed, oh God, poor Ed Drake…he had been one of the first to go from his seat in the front row. Roger had seen it happen, had seen it all, the bright red splash of blood…those teeth! All of those teeth…and claws, and howls and Roger had run, turned tail and run…but Emily had stood frozen…nothing he could do!
“No Kids Night,” the flyers had proclaimed. It was to be a musical in the park, “Hello Dolly,” a night of fun and escape from the tedium of life!
What a foul joke it had been. At least the kids had stayed home this night. It was only adults out here. Roger was sure if he had been hearing the terrified screams of children all this time, these two or three minutes, he would have surely lost his mind by now, or lost more than what was surely already lost.
The moon had been shining bright above; the show had been amateurish but still garnered laughs from the crowd. There were at least a thousand people from town and the surrounding countryside had made it to the amphitheater—something different, something new—it was supposed to be a night of freedom and fun, a Friday night to remember.
Running blindly now, Roger collided with a man and woman that he recognized but didn’t allow his brain to register their names as they hit the ground and he kept going. Snarls sounded from behind, so close, the screams of the couple he had just hurtled through came to him through a haze of the blood pounding through his ears and his breath screaming in his lungs.
So many, so many of them…people, right? Weren’t they people just like he and Emily and the thousand or so in the crowd? How did they become these…these…things, these snarling, twisted creatures—all teeth and claws, ripping through his neighbors, killing his friends, killing his Emily.
Roger Bradley stumbled then, fell to his knees, and slid across the fresh green grass to bump up against a tree. That must mean he was near the edge of the park, close to the street, If he could only will his legs to move. Freedom and possibly survival lay just feet away…he would make his way into one of the many businesses that lined Main Street, steal himself into a back office, lock the door, curl up under a desk and wait it out, watch the moonlight fade into dawn. It would surely have to be over by then. It couldn’t last past dawn, could it?
Realizing that he hadn’t moved from where he lay, clumped against the roots of the gnarled old tree for several seconds, he shook his head and brought himself back to “now.” The scene in front of him was frenetic with the terrified scrambling of those who still lived and yet the bodies, the sheer number of unmoving bloodied forms. lined the dark grass of the park sent his mind into a tailspin.
Suddenly one of the things was a few yards in front of him. A gurgled scream escaped his throat. He heard it like a sound that he would make in the middle of a nightmare, and the creature’s eyes slowly turned toward him, blood dripping like an oily string from its lower jaw.
He froze as the thing’s eyes caught his, mesmerized by the intelligence that shone bright within them. Trembling, his brain screaming at him to run, but his body remained motionless as the thing slowly headed his way.
His tears returned then, great shaking sobs that racked his entire body as he watched his death approaching. Not like this, he told himself in that part of his brain that still somehow produced coherent thought.
Roger closed his eyes as the beast’s snout came within just a few inches of his face, as he felt the thing’s rotting breath blow the hair from his ears. In an instant he knew that his life would be over, that he would die here on the grass of Gormley Park and never see another sunrise…that he would soon join his dear sweet Emily who he had left to die, to be ripped to shreds, by one of these monsters.
A great howl sounded just inches away, stealing his breath, making his heart skip a beat and then an explosion from close behind deafened him completely. His eyes stuttered open and he saw the great beast rolling away, its chest ripped open, its eyes full of hate and death.
Another explosion and The Man with the shotgun walked past, actually walked toward the horror, triggering round after round into the great furry creatures. Roger Bradley’s heart began beating again, tripping and skipping, but beating nevertheless. His brain cleared, the buzzing stopped although the ringing from the shotgun blast being unleashed so close to his right ear remained.
He watched The Man, this crazy bastard, as he calmly walked toward death, stared it straight in the eyes and met those blood dripping teeth with blast after blast of shotgun fire. Two of the monsters actually tried to flank him but without hesitation he dropped them both, blowing one’s face nearly off and taking off another’s left leg at the hip. With every step he snuffed another one out, blood—thick and black in the moonlight—flew through Gormley Park. Fur, teeth and bone followed.
When the shotgun was out of ammunition, the large man, dressed in black, calmly tossed it away and filled his hands with two gleaming silver handguns, the size of which Roger had never knew existed. More booms echoed through the park, bouncing off trees and rocks and the now ruined stage and more of those creatures died.
Within a minute or so it was over. At least a dozen of the monsters lay dead or dying in the grass amid several hundred other bodies, all bloodied and broken. Roger sat there, in a trance, watching the dead creatures slowly transform into what looked like naked people.
Several huge furry forms ran swiftly into the trees and out into the town. Roger prayed for whoever they should stumble upon in their hasty retreat.
The Man stopped walking, turned full circle, both hands fully extended, the guns leading the way and then slumped his head in apparent grief. “Dammit!” he could hear The Man scream as he raised his face to the moon and roared in rage and frustration. The black coat he wore looked too heavy and hot for this early autumn night but he could tell that the body beneath was large and bulky. It was a body built for fighting, for dispatching evil such as had visited his small Virginia town this day.
The Man retrieved his discarded empty shotgun and began walking back toward Roger then, the same way he had entered the fray, and stooped down to pick up a fallen flyer from where it lay in the grass.
“Hello Dolly!” he rasped. “You’ve got to be goddamn kidding me!” Walking again toward Roger, The Man holstered one weapon, kept the other in his hand, pointed it straight down, and crumpled up the flyer.
He stopped about two feet in front of Roger. “When did it start?” he asked, but Roger was still frozen. “When?” he demanded, and Roger shook the fuzziness from his clouded brain.
He mumbled at first and when the man took one firm step forward he quickly found his voice. “Minutes…it was just minutes after the start…”
The man nodded once, slid his wide brimmed hat a bit lower down on his head and calmly walked past Roger Bradley’s still trembling body.
He could hear the man talking to himself as he passed.
Roger somehow managed to turn his body around so he could see past the trunk of the tree and watched The Man pick up the crumpled up flyer and dump it into a waste basket. The Man quickly filled his free hand with one of those huge silver guns again. Within seconds he was out of view, walking towards town.
More screams sounded from several blocks away and Roger shuddered at the memory of all that had just occurred. Thank God for The Man. But no sooner had those thoughts entered his mind than the tears formed again and ran down his face, memories of Emily and the cowardice that forced him to leave her side as she her life was ripped from her filled his suffering mind.
The Man heard the screams in the distance as he left the park and quickly broke into a run, hoping to catch up to the few that had escaped the park just minutes ago. His job wasn’t done tonight, not by a long shot—he knew who caused this. Scanlon’s pack had staged a show in a rural town to attract a larger crowd. Had made it an Adult’s Only Night to keep out the smaller morsels and increase the feeding pool.
So much blood back there in the park; so much death. There were many who were only injured, bitten and torn, but not dead. No doubt those would turn next month around this same time of another full moon, would not know what they would become, would not realize what they had been made into this night.
He wouldn’t finish them tonight…no, not before they had turned for the first time. But he would return, no doubt…he would not allow the several dozen survivors of tonight’s devastation to terrorize the residents of this small Virginia town next month. He would return and finish what had been started here. But that wouldn’t be for a while yet.
Right now, he had more work to do…another scream, this one much closer, came from the next block over. The Man ran faster.
Shawn P. Madison, creator of the Guarder/U.E.N. Universe, currently lives in the beautiful Garden State of New Jersey with his wife and a veritable cornucopia of kids. Although he has written in many different genres, he tends to write mostly science fiction and horror.
He has published more than eighty short stories in thirty different magazines and anthologies, both electronic and print. His first novel, Guarder Lore, was released by NovelBooks (March of 2002) and the follow-up novel, The Guarder Factor, was also released by NovelBooks (November of 2003). His collection of short horror fiction, The Road to Darkness was released by Double Dragon Publishing ( April 2003).