Michael Simon lives with his wife and three children in New Brunswick, Canada, where he works in the field of healthcare. Previous stories have appeared in Apex: Science Fiction and Horror, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, The Sword Review, Unfi, Etherea and several anthologies. He has been shortlisted for the AEON and Writers of the Future Awards.


by Michael Simon


“There is no safe place!” I hissed. “They’re everywhere, slaughtering and tearing bodies apart…”

I caught the glint of a tear in Jamie’s eye and clamped my mouth shut. Unable to vent my frustration, I kicked a Barbie doll across the floor.

“Quiet,” Weasel whispered, his lazy eye starting to twitch. “They’ll hear us.” He stretched his neck over the store shelf of Lego boxes and surveyed the street. After a minute, he sank back and shook his head. “They’re just standing there, admiring their handiwork.”

I took several breaths to calm down. The family hiding in the adjacent store never stood a chance.

I stole a look at the sick, dark green star in the sky. The cursed thing had replaced our yellow sun barely a fortnight ago, bathing the land in perpetual twilight. It was under that painted sky and sanguineous clouds that we adapted to a life of shadow and slaughter. Those that didn’t––I stared at a decomposing body of a teenage boy––died quickly.

We had just crossed through the desolation that, in a previous life, existed as a six-lane interstate. A carpet of smashed vehicles and rotting corpses covered the roadway and surrounding green-space. Along the south side, pieces of twisted metal and charred wood framed a patchwork of destroyed buildings. Columns of paper and dirt swirled in the evening breeze. The smell of decay hung in the air like a city dump.

Jamie dried her eyes on the back of a dirty sleeve and stood. She looks even younger than I do. My high school art teacher seemed to have garnered a second wind as she tried to distract herself by checking the toys on the shelves. I remembered when my dad used to take me here on my birthdays.

Weasel looked over. “What now?” With his grimy features, black rimmed glasses and adolescent peach fuzz, he reminded me of a cartoon rodent.

I don’t know why the group seemed to accept me as their leader, but I went with it. “We wait,” I said, “until they get bored.”

“We’re already late,” Jamie murmured. “Mac will be worried.”

I shrugged. Mac always sweated the small stuff.

“We wait,” I repeated. “Weasel, did you find any food?”

Weasel was aptly suited to run point. Small and wiry, he moved through the chaos like an animal; silently, without leaving a trail. He chose the nickname himself before anyone decided on ‘rat.’ Not bad thinking for a tenth-grade computer nerd.

He dropped two cans of beans on the table. “Not much. This area’s been picked clean.”

Everyone looked to me.

I sighed. My gut was saying it was time to move. “Pack up. We leave after a few hours rest.”

Jamie slid her sleeping bag next to mine. The bedroll seemed to swallow the former teacher whole. “Are we going to make it, Carter?”

Even through the covers, I felt her tremble. A month ago, in high school, I was a stuttering fool around the pretty young art teacher. Now I didn’t hesitate to wrap a comforting arm around her. “We’ve come this far.”

“They’ve killed billions. The city is a wasteland. I bet the entire world is in ruins.” Her voice cracked. “What are they?”

“Some sort of evil thing that feeds on dead bodies,” I answered. “I remember writing a story once about ghouls. They would dig up dead bodies from graveyards and eat them. These things don’t dig up corpses, but they do haunt the living. I’d say they are a lot like the ghouls of my story.”

“Where did they come from?” Jamie asked.

A cold, clammy feeling washed up from my toes, and I squeezed my eyes shut as memories flooded back. It started on Monday morning. I was on my way to school when the sun disappeared, replaced by the evil, dark green orb that never moved. Stuck on one spot. Perpetually twilight.

People panicked. Neither the government nor the scientists had any answers, or if they did, they weren’t sharing.

Tuesday afternoon––as measured by our watches––millions of translucent, wraith-like creatures appeared on the streets. They faded in and out like ghostly images on a fuzzy TV screen.  Like statues: silent, their black eyes watching.

On Wednesday, hell arrived. The statures began to move, and move fast. They struck without warning, ripping and tearing and biting. Killing everything in their path. They would show up anywhere––a restaurant, a store, your bedroom––at any time. Their hunger for flesh was insatiable, their rage undeniable.

Mankind never stood a chance.

“They resemble normal people,” she whispered, “except their skin is so pale and those terrible eyes…”

I gave her a squeeze.


Weasel crouched behind a crumbling wall of a Sears building. Most of the Sears stores had closed well before this event, but this particular store had still limped along. Almost like it wanted to join the absent stores, it had burned to the ground days ago, leaving its sign dangling on chains like a tombstone leaning over a grave. In the breeze, small tendrils of smoke oozed skyward.

I scanned the ruins. “All quiet?”

“Thought I heard something by the school,” Weasel said. “But it’s gone now.”

Mac slid off his knapsack and passed around bottles of water. After carrying most of the supplies for a month, the big guy was better than a pack mule.

Still, after six hours scavenging, we needed to rest. “There was a steeple down the street,” I said, gesturing east.

Three nervous pairs of eyes met mine.

“Remember the last time we saw survivors hole up in a church?” Mac said.

“Yeah.” Weasel nodded. “The ghouls set fire to the building and waited for the poor bastards to flee. Then they slaughtered every man, women and child.”

“Carter’s hidden us there before,” Jamie reminded them. “He knows what he’s doing.”

“They can’t step foot on hallowed ground,” I said. “If the ghouls don’t see us go in, we’re safe.”

Weasel glanced at Mac before offering a resigned shrug. “You da man, Carter.”

The church was the place where we added more people to our group.

We found them hiding in the church loft. Starving, terrified. My small knot of survivors slowly swelled into a larger band. I fed them and hid them as best I could, but it wasn’t easy, not with ghouls constantly on the prowl. It wasn’t a smart decision, but these were ten-year-old kids. I couldn’t live with myself otherwise.

“I don’t know why they want to join us,” I complained to Jamie at night while we lay in our sleeping bags near the altar.

Even in the dim light of the candle, I recognized her incredulous look. “You know, for all you’ve accomplished these past six weeks, you’re incredibly dense.”

“What are you talking about? They survived this long on their own.”

She brushed my words aside. “You’re the one who is a survivor. Just like in war where certain people ‘accidentally’ find out they’re good at killing, you’ve got a knack for staying alive. Mac, Weasel and I noticed it the first time we stumbled into each other. The kids see it, too. That’s why they’re not leaving.”

I started to protest, but she just smirked and the words died in my throat. I blew out the candle.

Weasel’s voice came out of the darkness. “You know, the sun didn’t just disappear.”

“What are you talking about? One minute everything was normal, the next, the sun was gone.”

He shook his head. “I checked NASA’s website right before the internet went down. In super-slow motion, you can see a gradual eclipse.”

“Bullshit!” Mac snapped. “It was sudden. There was nothing––”

“He’s right,” Jamie chimed in. “The NASA film went viral right before…well, before. It was weird.”

No one spoke for several seconds. Then Weasel urgently said, “There’s something out there!”

Mac shook his head. “I checked. The road was clear.”

Weasel hissed defiantly at Mac. “I heard it.”

“I tell you, the road was completely empty!”

“Then you need a hearing aid––”

“Quiet!” I snapped. “This isn’t the time.”

Jamie got to her knees in the sleeping bag and said to Mac, “We’re out of food. The kids are hungry.”

Mac protested, “But the ghouls…”

Weasel shot a look at him. “You said the road was clear!”

“We can never be sure,” I said.

Two days ago, the ghouls had changed tactics and started searching the rubble in packs. There was no way to avoid the tightly packed creatures, so we had to stay ahead of them. Which, with five terrified kids, was an impossible task.

“Why are they hunting in packs now?” Jamie asked. “What’s changed?”

Mac rubbed his hands together like an expectant father. “She’s right. They’ve been slowly picking off survivors at their leisure for months. But now they almost act like they have a united purpose. Why the sudden urgency?”

“It makes no difference why,” I said. “We need our focus to be survival. We have to keep moving. They won’t chase us forever.”


Nine desperate survivors, perhaps the last from a city of two-million, ran, twisted and crawled through a destroyed metropolis.

A breathless Mac caught up and grabbed my arm. “They must have heard something. They’re right behind us!”

I bit back an expletive. My thoughts raced. “There was some kind of steeple over that hill!” I pointed down the main thoroughfare. “It’s another church. We can hide there for a bit. Tell Weasel!”

“Got it.” Mac took off at a sprint.

I waved over Jamie. “Gather the kids and get ready to run.”

In one group, we dashed for the only place of refuge my tired brain could think of, but several ghouls spied us just as the church came into view.

“Run!” I shouted.

Four ghouls materialized in the main street and pursued us until we stumbled through the archway of the burned-out church. The scorched sign read ‘Liberty Baptist.’

“Mind your step,” Mac warned. “The floorboards are warped and cracked.”

I huddled with Weasel and Mac in the main foyer. The ghouls stopped short of the building.

“We can’t stay her,” Weasel said. “They’ll burn us out.”

“I know!” I felt the walls closing in, like we had exhausted all our good luck.

Jamie hurried in. “Everyone’s hiding in what’s left of the vestibule. There’s an open field out back but…” Her voice trailed off ominously.

Time drifted away and, with it, opportunity. Before, my gut always told me what to do. Now, I didn’t like what I was hearing. But it wasn’t like I had another option. “Jamie, Mac, you’re with me. We’ll make a break and draw the ghouls off. Weasel, you and the kids haul ass back to the mall and hide there.”

Beneath his spectacles, Weasel’s complexion paled. “What about you? By now, there could be dozens out there.”

“It’s the only chance to save the kids. I figure if they’re chasing me, they won’t see you double back.”

Weasel shook his head. “No, Carter. I’ve survived this long by sticking with you. No way I’m leaving now.”

I leaned down eye-level. “Weasel, you trusted me so far, right? I need you to do this. Get the kids to safety. We’ll find a way to join you.” I put a hand on his shoulder. “Okay?”

“Okay boss,” Weasel whispered.

We left the dilapidated ruins of the church, and immediately shifted west when the ghouls spotted us.

“Stay tight!”

We sped through a series of narrow side streets, the route partially blocked with fallen brick and mortar. Jamie almost tripped over something soft and viscous, but Mac grabbed her before she went down.

“They’re on the left!” he warned.

I turned right, cut through a demolished bungalow, and hurdled a three-foot wire fence.

Hesitating just long enough to help Jamie across the fence, I scanned our surroundings. We were in some sort of junkyard. Rusted car skeletons and piles of garbage emptied into a wide, mud encrusted driveway.

“It’s a dead end!” Jamie cried.

“This way!” But I stopped as six ghouls materialized in front of us. We fell over each other scrambling back.

They slowly encircled us. Alabaster, translucent skin, except for black-rimmed eyes. Matted hair plastered to their scalps. Ripped, dingy cloths from bygone ages. And dried blood staining their arms and hands.

“Carter.” Mac’s tone bordered on panic. Jamie’s hands trembled like an addict.

I had never been this close to them before, and it was all I could do not to scream.

“What’s that sound?” Jamie asked.

I hesitated, and heard it for the first time; a low keening sound, like the sound of a midnight wind through the eaves. Except colder.

I blinked as realization dawned. The ghouls were moaning in pain, a hopeless gnawing ache that reflected their homicidal madness.

“Stand back!” Mac withdrew a handgun he had found at the mall and began blasting. Dozens of high-velocity slugs bit into flesh and although it didn’t kill the ghouls, it stopped them. They wavered, as though dazed.

A second group appeared in the driveway.

When Mac’s pistol finally clicked on empty cylinders, my legs threatened to collapse. Jamie’s hand found mine. “Carter, save us,” she whimpered.

“I’ll find a way,” I told her, but inside I knew we had run out of options.

They advanced. Five feet. Four. One arms-length away from ripping our throats out. The smell of decay and rotten meat filled our nostrils. Mac fell to his knees and retched.

I felt it before it happened: an electric shock that numbed me to my waist. In that moment, the air changed. Something flashed behind the soulless black eyes of the ghouls.

They all stopped moving.

“Carter.” Jamie blinked away tears and pointed. “The sun.”

My jaw dropped. Like clouds parting after a summer shower, the star’s sick, greenish tinge faded. After several drawn-out seconds, our familiar yellow sun burst through.

The creatures barely had time to open their mouths in a silent scream before they were sucked upward. They trembled and squirmed and were almost pulled apart by the powerful, million-degree corona’s force. I could feel the heat on my face, yet only the ghouls were taken by the sun.

Seconds stretched into minutes and I watched, fascinated, like a convict given a gallows reprieve. The ghouls went berserk in their final efforts to escape. And then they were pulled apart. Arms were ripped from their sockets, legs amputated, as the force of the sun increased. Heads were twisted and severed. Body parts filled the sky, all sucked upward by the power of the star.

Jamie let out an audible sob and slumped to the ground. Mac remained kneeling, staring dumbly into the heavens.

“Carter, is it over?” Mac asked, his voice strained.

I helped Jamie to her feet and hugged her. “It’s okay,” I breathed. “They’re gone.”

She looked at me with something like adoration. “I knew you could save us.”

“It wasn’t me,” I said. “The answer is in the colors.”


“The sun didn’t vanish. Weasel mentioned the eclipse and he was right. The sun was there all along, just hidden, concealed by a star of another color.”

I continued, “Our star, our world, crossed paths with another realm. We merged with them. For fourteen days, our existences entwined.”

Mac began to ask, “What color––” He trailed off.

“Green. A dark green that plunged our world into twilight, and brought its own unholy denizens.”

He met my gaze and held it. “So, our world crossed paths with some manner of place that is beyond our comprehension?”

“Yes,” I said.

Jamie spoke up. “Was it a test or a punishment from the universe?”

I shrugged and my gaze swept across the bright blue sky. “Either way, we survived.”