Adrian Wayne Ludens has sold stories to several dozen dark fiction anthologies and magazines. His latest story collections are Bottled Spirits and Other Dark Tales (Lycan Valley Press Publications) and The Tension of a Coming Storm (Dark Owl Publishing).

Adrian was thrilled to place a story in The Best of The Horror Zine: The Middle Years, and will also be included in Where the Silent Ones Watch (Hippocampus Press).

He is a Library Associate and a hockey PA Announcer, and alternates between asking people to “please lower your voice” and “make some noise!”

He lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with his wife, Lizzy.


by Adrian Wayne Ludens



The word conveys negative connotations. There is implied menace, a strong degree of mistrust. In small town America, plenty of folks don’t like it when strangers come to town. Right or wrong, people become suspicious. Most times, their fears are unwarranted.

Most times.

The flood waters have receded, and I am the only one left in this house, which served as our temporary shelter. I’ve salvaged a pen and notebook and will try to collect my scattered thoughts.

Strangers came to the neighborhood last night, and I’m afraid they are here to stay.


The afternoon before the storm found me bumming around the town of Crescent. I didn’t have to work that night and had plans later to meet up with a couple friends.

All day long, ominous clouds hovered over the mountains to the west. The clouds were dark gray with a weird purple tint, and just roiled in the sky without ever going anywhere.

The cloudburst finally erupted near sunset. Total deluge. Somebody should have been building an ark.

My buddy Robbie texted to let me know he had finished his shift at the Pizza Club on West Lincoln. Water was running several inches deep in the gutters by the time I picked him up in my ’99 Ford pickup. We had been friends since junior high. We drove around without a plan. The heavy rain was sort of an adventure.

I also agreed to give a coworker of mine a ride home because his car was in the shop. Scott said he’d walk from the supermarket to McGillicudy’s Bar after work. He was old enough to drink but we weren’t, so the plan was to text him when we arrived.

“Hey, Ben. You hear about the Bedford Lab?” Robbie asked when he jumped into the passenger seat.

“What about it?” The Bedford Lab is a few miles west of town and deep underground. It used to be a big goldmine, but the gold ran out. Now it is rumored that they do experiments on dark matter and neutrino physics.

“There was a big explosion,” Robbie said. A bolt of lightning fragmented the sky. “Nobody has come up out of there all day. People are freaking out.”

I rolled my eyes. There was always crazy gossip about Bedford. They had nuclear missiles down there; they had the world’s largest supercollider; they’d invented a time machine. On and on.

“McGillicudy’s has a TV, right?” Robbie asked.

“Probably, yeah.” I navigated my truck through a huge puddle that covered both lanes, spraying water about fifteen feet in the air.

“Let’s ask them to let us in to watch the nine o’clock news. We’ll say our dads work at the Lab and we’re worried about them.”

I pulled into the parking lot of McGillicudy’s. We dropped from my truck’s cab into water that soaked our shoes. We laughed and ran through the deluge.

The guy who was supposed to be checking IDs wasn’t at his post so we slinked inside. A crowd of people were looking out the open back door, facing Crescent Creek. The creek basically splits the town and I realized everyone was watching the rising water. I spotted Scott at a table, so Robbie and I wandered over to him.

Before we even said hello, one of the bartenders bellowed, “Everybody, out! Now!

Patrons were scattering away from the back door. Water was pouring in, rippling across the dirty hardwood floor. The jukebox stopped and the lights started to flicker. Everybody saw the water coming in the back door and made a beeline for the front.

Turns out the entire bar was surrounded by standing water. Robbie, Scott, and I ran for my truck. The water was now ankle deep. Once inside the cab, hard rain and slapping wipers limited my visibility.

I should have had the presence of mind to travel away from Crescent Creek, which had obviously flooded. Instead, out of habit, I accelerated out of the parking lot onto Oak pointing west. We travelled about a block before we had to stop. The road was tangled with drivers trying to turn around and head east or south. We were hemmed in, and the water kept rising.

Chaos best described the situation unfolding around us. A compact car in front of us got swept away by the rising water. To my left, the shapes of mobile homes were visible, slowly moving and turning. It was surreal. Then the pickup’s engine died.

The next thing I knew, every vehicle on the street was moving—but not in the way any of us wanted. My truck rotated and we drifted backward. A pair of headlights from a panel truck facing us shone straight through our windshield. In the dim light, I could see that Scott looked white as milk. Robbie looked shell-shocked.

The rain suddenly grew in intensity, the churning water created a deafening roar, and lightning crackled across the sky every few seconds. The flashes created a strobe light effect, making snapshots my brain tried to catalog and understand before the next flash revealed an altered scene.

“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Robbie moaned from the back seat as we spun again.

A blue, double-cab pickup floated parallel on our right. A bearded man in the driver’s seat of the blue truck was yelling at us. I couldn’t hear him over the roar of the water. Scott turned to me, shouting to be heard. “He says we have to swim for it!”

We watched as the man climbed out his window. He looked strong, but the water swept him away in a blink. I twisted around in my seat. Lightning lit the sky again and I saw something terrifying happen.

A bolt of lightning must have hit the guy because, for a split second, he glowed like fire. Then I saw a blotch of bright light I assumed was electricity arcing away through the water. The man sank. He didn’t resurface.

Dazed, Robbie asked, “We have to swim?”

“Hell no!” I shouted. “We’re staying put.”

“Thank God,” Robbie said, his eyes glassy with panic.

My truck shifted and began floating again. The panel truck slid past. In front of us, illuminated by my headlights, a small travel trailer rode the water toward us. A woman was clinging to the rear of the trailer, obviously trying to keep her balance as the rushing flood waters pushed the trailer.

Then the trailer hit my truck, and she was momentarily pushed against my fender and grill. The trailer rebounded slightly to the left and she struggled to our right. Somehow, the woman made her way along the passenger side of my truck. Robbie cranked his window down and helped the woman scramble inside. The force of the flood waters kept bashing the floating trailer into my pickup. My hood began to bend upward, and the metal squealed and groaned as it buckled. Then a crack appeared at the lower left side of my windshield and moved across the glass like a slow-motion lightning bolt until the entire windshield shattered.

The trailer that hit us peeled away to the left and the flood waters pushed us backwards again. The pickup lurched and rolled and I feared we’d flip over and submerge in the water.

We soon jolted to a stop against debris piling along a line of small trees. The pickup started to sink, forcing our hand. The four of us exited my truck and climbed into the trees.

My view of our situation changed outside the confines of the pickup’s cab. The old Ford had lodged against the west side of a billboard. Mobile homes had broken against the three steel I-beam supports and I realized accumulating debris had created a breakwater.

A small two-level house stood behind the billboard. Small, closely spaced elm trees ran east and west behind the house. A convenience store stood nearby to the northwest.

As I clung to a tree, Robbie and the woman kept moving, half swimming through the trees toward the house. “Let’s get to the second floor!” he shouted over the noise of the storm.

Several other people were in the far trees, clambering down towards me and Scott. I saw a transformer blow in a shower of sparks from half a block away, and the neighborhood went dark.

“We’ll follow Robbie to the house!” I yelled at Scott over the roaring water and endless rumble of thunder.

Scott shook his head. “I’d rather try to get to the store!” he shouted.

A VW Bug and another car washed against the convenience store. A man climbed out of the floating VW to the roof of the store. A mobile home slammed sideways against the vehicles and the store. Then a second mobile home slammed against it.

As I watched, dumbfounded, the entire convenience store began to slide off its foundation. The man jumped from the building’s roof onto the first trailer, then, as they gathered speed, he leapt to the second, and finally from that trailer to the farthest away of the trees. I numbly realized the person or people in the other vehicle hadn’t made it.

Our decision made for us, we followed Robbie through the whipping branches toward a common goal: the shingled roof of the house behind the billboard. My hands kept slipping on the rain-soaked branches, and I was gasping for air, but I kept moving. Lightning flashes kept up the strobe effect. Several times, one of us either slipped or a branch broke, but we were eventually able to scramble to safety.

A white van floated in the calmer water between the billboard and the house. The water had risen so high that the roof of the van bobbed near the eaves of the house, and we were able climb from the van to the roof.

I counted nine of us gathered there: Robbie, Scott, and me; the energetic man from the VW; the woman we’d rescued; an Asian man and woman I soon realized were a couple; and two businessmen in ties and slacks. The older businessman introduced himself as Vern, his younger colleague was Charlie. The guy from the VW said his name was Dirk. The couple were Preda—he pronounced his name “Preeda”—and Tina. The woman we’d hauled into the pickup was named Sadie.

We were a miserable bunch in a precarious spot and our collective expressions showed we all knew it. We were soaked and shivering. I think the wet cold played a part, but so did shock and fear. We had a clear and terrible view of the flood’s devastation. Frequent lightning was the only illumination. The stink of propane tinged the air.

Across the street sat a neighborhood comprised of small houses. As we watched, they collapsed one by one. The timbers cracked and snapped as some of the homes broke apart, while others slid into the rushing water so silently you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t watching them.

I spotted a flashlight’s beam scanning wildly inside the upper room of a two-story house and nudged Robbie, who was seated beside me. “Do you think there are people home below us?”

Before my friend had a chance to respond, the doomed house across the street slanted as the lower level caved in under the relentless rush of floodwater and debris. Even over the roar of the water we heard the home’s occupant shriek. I stared in morbid fascination as the structure tipped until it broke apart and disappeared in the dark, rushing water.

I glanced at Robbie. He had drawn his knees up to his chest and hid his face behind his hands. I didn’t know if he was crying and didn’t want me to see, or if he just didn’t want to witness any more of the death and devastation around him.

Mobile homes rode the roaring flood waters and exploded against trees, knocking some of them down. We were directly in the path of several of them. After gathering speed, they would either break against the billboard or be slightly diverted by the wave that extended from the breakwater, just missing the southeast corner of our house. It shuddered, seemingly ready to collapse.

“We have to do something!” Vern suddenly shouted.

“We’ll stay put until help arrives,” Dirk told him.

Instead, Vern stood up and made his way to the roofline.

“Stop!” I called to him, but it was too late. He had slipped and fallen on the wet shingles and I saw him roll over the edge of the roof. Helplessly, I watched Vern bob in the fast-moving water until he submerged and never returned.

I gazed at the water, wondering what else was in there that we couldn’t see and then squinted through the rain and tried to follow the body’s progress. Lightning washed away the night for a moment.

As the corresponding thunder rolled, a strange orange afterimage hung in my field of vision near where I thought Vern’s body should be. I saw a splotch of bright light travelling south from the floating corpse before sputtering out. I realized something similar had happened to the bearded man from the panel truck earlier and puzzled over this.

“We need shelter,” Charlie urged. “Before any more of us get hit.” He’d apparently assumed his colleague had been struck by a stray bolt of lightning.

“Maybe we could break out an attic window and climb in,” Preda said.

I looked around. The water had receded a few feet and I didn’t see any more trailers moving in our direction. Tina must have noticed the same thing. “The water’s not running as fast now,” she said. “Maybe this house will hold.”

Dirk and Scott worked together to break and clear the attic windowpane. They lowered themselves first and then stood at the opening and hauled us in one by one as we dangled from the roof’s edge. In less than five minutes, we were all inside.

I never felt so thankful to be in a warm, dry space. Someone located a flashlight and shined it around. The attic was obviously used as a bedroom and had steep, narrow stairs running down to the ground level.

The eight of us wrapped ourselves in blankets, sheets, and clothing foraged from a tiny closet. The married couple huddled together, and Charlie slumped in a corner. Scott examined Sadie. She had cuts from her ordeal, but they were no longer bleeding. The rest of us had come out almost unscathed—at least, physically.

Then Robbie and I made what turned out to be a horrible decision.

Borrowing the flashlight, we ventured downstairs. As we edged down the muddy steps, I observed black water swirling level with the countertops. We crouched on the stairs and shined the flashlight beam around the room. The flood waters had ripped away the kitchen’s exterior door. The windows too, were all blown out. A jumble of debris filled the kitchen.

“Look,” Robbie whispered. “There’s money.”

The light showed several twenty-dollar bills floating near the sink. I counted at least a couple hundred dollars’ worth.

“Hold the flashlight steady,” Robbie murmured. “Treasure hunt time.”

“Not sure we should be thinking about money right now.”

My friend cocked his head. “Eventually the storm will stop. Then I will be thinking about money.”

He descended into the murky water. He sloshed, waist-deep, across the kitchen. Robbie had just reached the first floating bill when something drifted between him and the stairwell.

That’s when the creature appeared.

At first, I thought it might be a white plastic trash bag, but it seemed to be moving against the gentle current. Diaphanous is a word I’d use to describe it; and boy would my old AP English teacher be pleased. It was like gossamer fabric.

“Robbie,” I whispered. My brain tried to make sense of what I thought I was seeing. The creature expanded outward while other parts simultaneously drew inward. In Chemistry we once watched a slow-motion video of a colored liquid being poured into water. The colored liquid had slightly more mass than the water and it was a breathtaking sight as it billowed without becoming diluted. That is what seemed to be happening, except it wasn’t sinking, it was moving.

“Shine the light over here, Ben,” Robbie commanded.

Startled, I jerked the flashlight, and its beam went straight into my friend’s eyes. “There’s something…” I faltered, unable to articulate what I’d seen.

Robbie’s shoulders hunched with annoyance. He began sloshing back towards me. “Give me the flashlight.”

“There’s something in the water with you!” I finally blurted.

Robbie waded toward the stairwell; his night vision likely compromised by the flashlight’s beam. A massive lightning flash illuminated the entire scene, inside and out. Two things happened simultaneously: a deafening clap of thunder shook the structure, and the thing in the water lit up like burning magnesium.

I saw Robbie’s skull and the bones of his skeleton glowing orange, like liquified steel in a mill. They shined brilliantly, as if his muscles and flesh weren’t even there. He sank into the water, and I knew instantly he was beyond saving.

I cried out in grief, but noticed that I barely made any sound. My innermost emotions seemed to be dulled. I didn’t react as strongly to losing my childhood best friend as I would have imagined. Instead, I was instinctively programmed into survival mode.

I retreated to the attic and found the others silently resting. No one spoke, so I pulled on a dry coat and lay on the floor, numb with shock. Shocked. Whatever Robbie had encountered had shocked him. But had it bitten or stung him somehow? Or was it the result of something I couldn’t fathom?

“Ben, don’t go to sleep,” I heard Scott say. “It’s just about dawn. I see some headlights outside. Maybe we’re being rescued! Let’s go see.”

I slowly gained my feet. There were five of us in the room; Charlie, Dirk, Tina and Scott. The bed was empty. Quilts and blankets littered the floor.

“Where’s everybody else?” I asked.

“I don’t know where Robbie is.”

“What about that Asian couple?” I asked.

“No idea,” Scott told me. “I think they already left. Have you seen Robbie?”

I didn’t want to try to explain what had happened to Robbie so I let the matter drop.

“You guys, the water’s receded,” Sadie announced from the top of the stairs. “I think the storm has stopped. We should finally be able to get out of here.”

“What about the headlights?” I asked. “Maybe we should go back to the roof to check them out.”

“The headlights are gone already.”

Charlie hurried down the stairs. Scott started to follow, but I told him, “Don’t go! I saw something in the water down there.”

“Ben,” Scott said, “the storm has ended. We can leave now.”

“You can’t go downstairs!” I shouted. “Something happened to Robbie down there!”

Scott stopped and gave me a long, curious look before he turned to follow Charlie.

“So long, kid,” Dirk said as he also descended the stairs. “Hope your friend shows up.”

From the attic window, I watched them leaving one by one, wading out through about two or three feet of running water. Scott noticed me watching and called up to me.

“Hey, you coming or what?”

“I’m staying here until rescue comes,” I called back.

Scott nodded and sloshed away. I watched him until he left my field of vision. I didn’t see which direction the other three had gone.


I’m still in the attic. The storm is long over, but I can’t bring myself to descend those stairs. I found an old Bic pen, the blue kind in clear plastic. It was in the same drawer as a notebook.

The fear of having to descend the stairs—and what might be lurking there—is paralyzing me.

So now I wait. Maybe there will be authorities coming to search for survivors soon.

Or maybe no one will come, and I could die here.

Either way, I can’t force myself to leave the attic. I am no longer numb to emotions: I have one remaining, and that one is fear. So I await my fate one way or the other. Still, I want to record everything on paper just in case someone does survive all of this.

I can’t help but wonder about the origin of the creature I saw in the flood waters. Where did it come from? How many were there?

What I’d witnessed had happened concurrently to lightning bursts. Did those things mean to cause harm, or is it a terrible but accidental byproduct of a physiology far removed from our own?

If there really was an explosion at Bedford Lab, I wonder if it somehow opened a gateway. One thing is certain: monsters came to the neighborhood, and they are strangers to Mother Nature.