Bogleech.com's 2014 Horror Write-off:
" Cast Away "
Three packs of gum, two original and one grape flavor. One can of something with the label ripped off. A couple sticks of deodorant. One pack of slightly crushed cinnamon rolls.
Walsh mulled over the cinnamon rolls as he loaded up his backpack. They were too sugary for him, and usually made him nauseous, but all food was good food at this point. He hadn't eaten a real meal in days.
Walsh threw the rolls into his backpack and zipped it up quickly. He sighed. The gas station had already been nearly stripped bare. A lot of people had already come through here trying to get away from the Tide, it seemed.
He laughed quietly as he walked out into the desolate parking lot. One can left. Just one. He was really lucky.
He hoped it was ravioli. That was his favorite. He decided he would cook some up for him and David and Ciara when he finally found them. Not the canned stuff, though, the good ravioli, out of a box. He might even stuff it himself.
Having taken stock of his things, Walsh allowed himself a moment to rest. He crawled into the backseat of the abandoned car he had found outside the gas station, slinging his backpack underneath the driver's seat. He caught sight of his face in the rear-view mirror as he did so - his dark skin covered in days of grime and the scraggly beginnings of a beard. He cringed. He hoped to find a safe place soon where he could stop awhile to shower and shave, where he knew the Tide wouldn't get to him.
He turned onto his back, lying across the back seat and staring up at the blank grey ceiling. He had tried to drive the car away when he first discovered it, but it was broken, and he didn't know anything about cars to fix it.
It was a quiet day, as it always was since the Tide had come in. A different man might have been driven mad by the silence, but Wash was happy being alone. Within reason, at least. He could handle solitude, but everyone needed some company now and then. He hadn't been alone in quite a while, being a married man.
Walsh felt tears welling up as he thought of his husband. He clamped his eyes shut and began shoving happy thoughts into his brain, driving out the bad ones and letting the good ones fill the spaces. He would find his husband and daughter again. The Tide would recede back into whatever special little corner of Hell it came from. They would build a little house in the country somewhere, like they always wanted, and live in peace for a little while. It would be alright. Everything was going to be alright.
Walsh opened his eyes. It was still silent, except for a faint breeze blowing by outside. He imagined a bird singing outside the car, breaking up the ever-present quiet. He missed the birds singing. All the birds had gone when the Tide came in.
"Tweet tweet," said Walsh. The sound of his own voice surprised him, a hoarse croak he could feel emerging from his windpipe, like an elbow pressed against his throat. He didn't talk much anymore, since there was nobody around to talk to, and he didn't want to go insane from talking to himself all day.
The itching in his mouth started up again. He idly rubbed his tongue against the roof of his mouth, poking at the itch.
He heard something outside, an irregular high-pitched tweet. He quickly sat up, wriggled around, and opened the car door. It sounded like a bird. He certainly hoped it was.
Walsh hopped out of the car and looked around fervently. He didn't see any birds, but the sound was clear. It sounded almost like he was right on top of it.
He looked down.
In between his feet was a little gray glob, slithering around a few inches above the ground, twittering frantically.
Walsh leapt to the side in shock, shuddering and frantically kicking his foot into the air in case there was anything he needed to shake off. His skin crawled at the thought of it wriggling up his leg, intertwining with his leg hair.
The glob moved through the air erratically, up and down and to the sides seemingly with no rhyme or reason, like ink in water. Tentatively, it began moving in the direction of the car.
Walsh watched the glob pirouette clumsily through the air- up, up and onto the rear hood of the car, flattening itself out against the metal and spreading over its surface, replacing the metallic green of the entire back half of the car with its own shimmering and rippling gunmetal grey. It spread from the back half of the car over to the front half and down to the tires, discoloring the entire thing, which began collapsing as its structure was replaced with more of whatever the glob was made of. The tweeting got louder and louder, a piercingly high-pitched squeal.
Walsh knew it was time to run.
He turned on his heel and fled, not looking back as the screech got louder and louder. He got the feeling that the Tide was somehow still hungry after eating the car, and he didn't want to hang around and become its next snack.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw a massive gray liquid cloud rising up and thundering down onto the gas station like an otherworldly waterfall, spreading over the building, twittering and screeching as it fed.
"Joke's on you, Tide!" Walsh shouted as he ran, smiling. "I got the last ravioli!"
The Tide didn't answer. It took no notice of Walsh and continued to chow down on the gas station, twittering away. It sounded almost happy, Walsh thought, in its own impossibly horrifying way. Good for it. No sense destroying the world with a frown on your face.
Walsh walked along the abandoned highway, kicking a rock, considering his options.
He had ran for a long while, until the Tide and the gas station and the city far behind it were all out of sight, and he was letting himself catch his breath a little bit. If the Tide did catch up to him, he was pretty sure he could lose it by ducking of the highway into the forest. The Tide didn't like eating plants, he had learned that much. Just buildings and cars, and presumably people and animals, even though Walsh had never seen the Tide eat one. He thought it was safe to assume.
He had also never seen the Tide grow out of a smaller piece of itself like that before. All he had seen was the Tide itself, the massive grey wave plunging down onto his hometown, destroying everything in its path like some vengeful deity. Maybe a little piece of it had stowed away on his pant leg or something, waiting for him to be alone so it could ambush him. He didn't like to think about that. Imagining that the Tide could make plans was about the second-scariest thing going through his mind.
He had no idea where David and Ciara were. David had taken Ciara to preschool a few mornings ago and never came back. Walsh was sure they were fine. He had tried to call David, but the Tide had probably gobbled up the cell phone towers or something, so all he had gotten was static. He had probably tried to get back home, but the Tide coming in would have blocked him off. It seemed likely that he and Ciara had gone to his parents' house in Toledo, so Walsh was walking in that same direction to meet up with them. He would have driven, but the Tide had eaten his car.
He kicked the rock hard. It bounced off to the right and down into the ditch off the highway.
He was sure they were both fine. He wasn't worried. Then again, he was never the one to worry. David had always been the worrier in the family, the one who got himself worked up over things like how much TV Ciara was watching or how many Oreos she was allowed to eat per day. Walsh always played the good cop. He watched extra episodes of her favorite shows with her and sometimes snuck an extra cookie into her lunchbox before she went off to preschool. David chided him for it, but Walsh knew that David was just happy that Ciara was happy.
God, he missed them. These last few lonely days had felt like years, like he had been cast away on an island. He really might be soon, if the Tide kept eating and growing the way it had. Walsh shuddered at the mental image of himself huddling in the center of a tiny island, surrounded by the Tide on all sides.
Nobody, least of all Walsh, knew where the Tide had come from. It had just appeared a few days back, seemingly out of nowhere, crashing through the streets of Ann Arbor and chewing up everything in its path to make into more of itself, whatever "itself" even was. It was Walsh's day off when the Tide came in, and he had woken up a little bit late. By that time, everybody in town was gone.
It had seemed like they had gotten out and gotten a move on unusually quickly, Walsh realized. He hadn’t even heard about the Tide until it appeared, and yet the gas stations and grocery stores he had looked in were all nearly empty already. Apparently everybody else had a head start.
Walsh walked more quickly. No time to think about that now. He had to get to David and Ciara, and however soon he got to them wouldn't be soon enough, no matter what had happened. Although nothing had happened, he was sure. He knew they were fine.
The sun was beginning to set by the time Walsh found another good-sized rock. He prodded it with his foot, feeling its weight, before he started idly kicking it down the highway, like the first one.
He wondered how far it was to where he was going. He had been walking for maybe four hours by then. On second thought, he decided, maybe it was three hours, or five, or two. He had no watch, and his phone had died in the night with no safe place to plug it in. He kept imagining that he felt it vibrating against his leg in his pant pocket with messages proclaiming David's safety.
The rock skidded along the asphalt until it bounced off the tire of an abandoned car, clattered to the ground, and stopped. It was quiet again.
Walsh stopped and looked around. The Tide was nowhere to be seen. The only noise was a slight breeze. It was getting a bit discomforting.
Sudden movement caught his eye. Looking upward, he saw a tiny bird fly over his head and land in a tree off the highway to his left.
"Hi, little guy!" said Walsh, overjoyed. His voice cracked. The hoarseness of his own voice still surprised him. The bird, a chickadee, seemed unperturbed.
"Where've you been?" Walsh asked. "I haven't seen you or any of your friends around lately!"
The chickadee peeped back at him before suddenly taking off and flying into the woods.
"Alright!" Walsh shouted after it. "We can catch up later!"
He chuckled at a sudden memory. He and David had taken Ciara to the zoo in Detroit for her fourth birthday a few months ago, and she had been absolutely fascinated by the flamingos. Watching the bison with her dads for a couple minutes had been too much for her toddler attention span, but she had watched the flamingos for almost twenty minutes, enchanted by their honks and flapping pink wings. Even when David had dragged her away from them so that they could see the rest of the zoo before it closed, she had kept tugging on the hem of Walsh's T-shirt. "I wanna go back to the pink birds!" she had shouted at least fifteen times. It was annoying then, but remembering it later, Walsh was touched. He felt a tear roll out from his left eye and blinked it away.
The itching in his mouth started up again. Walsh grunted in annoyance and began scratching at it with his tongue again. He had been feeling this itch for days. It could have been allergies, but allergy season had been over for months. Besides, it felt more severe than that. It felt like a bug crawling around on the roof of his mouth, digging its little feet into his palate. He grimaced at the mental image and continued scratching at the itch.
Walsh was startled out of his reverie by the sight of a few more birds flying overhead, scattering through the air, down the highway and into the woods. Beaming in happiness at the sight of them after so many days, he turned around to see if any more were flying in.
Behind him, a few hundred feet down the highway, was the Tide, grinding up everything in its path - the cars, the litter on the road, even the concrete itself - as it blasted towards him. As it approached, its twittering screech, coupled with the grinding of the concrete and the cars, grew louder and louder every moment.
Walsh turned back around and fled as fast as his legs could carry him. His back was pelted with tiny pieces of asphalt as he fled, and his ears were filled with the two horrible sounds, the grinding of the concrete and the maddening squeals of the Tide itself, like a pack of rats, mere yards behind him. He tried to follow the birds, but they were long gone, flying faster than he could run.
He tried to run to the side into the forest, but tripped on a rock and fell forward, catching himself on his forearms before his face hit the concrete. He winced at the pain, but scrambled to get back onto his feet.
It was too late. The Tide was upon him. He was in its shadow. His ears were filled with its screeching.
Walsh twisted onto his back, looking up at the massive grey cloud roiling above him, an ocean suspended in the sky. He was only underneath its closest edge - it stretched for what must have been miles down the remnants of the highway.
Walsh cowered beneath it, but the Tide stayed where it was.
As he tried to stand back up, the Tide extended a part of itself, a sort of vaguely limb-like blob that slowly billowed down from the Tide onto the ground in front of Walsh, who regarded it with terror.
The limb flattened into a sort of wall-like shape, and on it appeared a pair of outward-bulging human handprints.
Walsh watched in shock as the handprints moved around in the Tide, sliding to the left and right, occasionally disappearing and reappearing elsewhere upon it. Eventually, they vanished entirely. In their place, a human face appeared.
Walsh stood up. The face was level with his own. It was only a rough imprint of a face in the surface of the Tide - rough-outlined features, no pupils in the eyes - but Walsh recognized it immediately.
"W- -m sorry," said David. "W- tr- -ead, but no- o..." His words were unclear within the churning noise of the Tide, like a phone call with a bad connection. Walsh reached out a hand hesitantly, but at the last moment, thought better of touching. He knew what the Tide was trying. This wasn't really David. It was just a lure.
Walsh's ears perked up at the sound of their daughter's name. How could the Tide know about her? How did it know about David, for that matter?
"It- -ith my parents," the David-mimic said. "But I- -et away in time. Tri- tri..."
"C'mon," Walsh muttered. "Spit it out, hon. You can do it." Stop worrying, he told himself. It's not real. It's just a trick.
"-M alive, but I- I-," said the David-mimic, a twinge of sadness in his obscured voice. "Don't come for me, it- T- Too late."
Walsh's heart plunged into his guts, despite his reassurances to himself.
"When y- y- -ind Ciara," said the David-mimic, with a slight smile, "-Ve her an extra cookie from me."
Walsh gaped. The Tide couldn't have known that unless it really had David. Ciara was still somewhere out there. She had to be.
"Where is she?" Walsh asked.
David said nothing. He shut his eyes and his face began to recede.
"No, no, no, come back!" screamed Walsh as his husband's face melted back into the Tide. The Tide retracted its arm and stayed motionless above him. Walsh glowered up at it, rage building inside him.
"Where is she?" Walsh shouted.
The Tide didn't answer. It just kept twittering away.
"Where is she?" Walsh repeated. "Where's my daughter, you big gray son of a bitch!"
The Tide still didn't answer. Walsh didn't expect it to answer, but its silence felt mocking, and it only made him angrier and more despairing.
"What are you waiting for?" he screamed up at it. "Take me!"
The Tide made a loud series of chirping sounds, seemingly in response to Walsh's demand. Walsh couldn't understand it.
"You've already got him!" Walsh shouted. "You won't help me find my daughter! What the fuck have I got left? Just take me!"
The Tide twittered at him again, repeating the same pattern, and slowly began moving over him, down the highway and away.
"No!' he roared. The Tide continued rolling.
"Take me!" he screamed. "Take me! Take me!"
The Tide descended in front of him to rip up the road. Walsh tried to throw himself into it, but it parted around him, letting him slam down onto the concrete.
"No!" he sobbed, tears welling up. "Motherfucking Tide, take me, you shithead, you fucking piece of shit! Take me! Taaaaake meeeee-he-he-he-heeeee!"
The Tide took no notice. His cries were drowned out by the Tide's own constant twittering and squealing, by the ripping grinding sound of the concrete coming up from the ground, the metallic groans and creaks of the cars being disassembled piece by piece and consumed.
The Tide proceeded down the highway, tearing it up as it went, until it was visible only as a shadow in the distance, and its sound was little more than a memory. Walsh collapsed onto the tiny patch of concrete it had left him, surrounded on all sides by dirt. Everything was silent again.
Walsh rocked back and forth in the grass, face in hands. He cringed at the grime and funk covering his hands that was now coming into contact with his face, but didn’t do anything about it. He didn’t see any reason.
He had gone off the highway and into the forest after the Tide had passed him by, flowing on down the highway to tear up more things and ruin more peoples’ lives, to eat other peoples’ husbands and leave their daughters somewhere, scared and alone, where no one could find them.
“Why?” Walsh sobbed. “Why?”
Why had it left him? What could it possibly want or need him alive for? Did it just get some kind of sick kick out of torturing him like this, or was it up to something deeper? Would he even be able to understand if he knew?
Walsh’s sobs were interrupting the quiet of the dark forest. Even the crickets had been scared off by the Tide, it seemed. He felt self-conscious and frightened crying in the silence and darkness, as though someone was watching him and judging him silently, and tried to quiet himself down.
He thought of Ciara in his position, curled up and crying somewhere all alone. She might be anywhere between Ann Arbor and Toledo at this point. He sobbed harder.
It occurred to him that the Tide could have lied. It might have gotten her when it got David, and was just stringing him along. It was probably laughing all the way down the highway at how gullible and stupid he was.
“The fucking big greedy son of a bitch,” Walsh whispered to himself, suddenly angry.
He decided that in the morning he would keep walking. He had to hold out hope, if only to spite the Tide. He was going to get his daughter back no matter what else he had to go through. He was so consumed with his anger that he didn’t even scratch at the itch flaring back up in his mouth.
Suddenly, Walsh heard a tweeting noise from behind him and flinched.
He looked over his shoulder. A robin was hopping around in the grass. Despite himself, he smiled. It was always nice to have some company.
“Hey, little guy,” Walsh said to it quietly, sniffing. “Isn’t it a little bit past your bedtime?”
The robin continued hopping around and peeping, seemingly taking no notice of Walsh.
“I don’t suppose you’d know anything about where to find my family, would you?”
The robin kept on peeping.
“I guess not,” Walsh said, turning away. He listened to the robin for a while as it sang him a little song. Gradually, it dawned on him that the robin was not happy. Its chirping sounded frantic, even painful. Walsh turned back around to see that its beak seemed to be open unnaturally wide.
“What’s the matter, little guy?” he asked.
The robin’s chirps grew more strangled. Within seconds, it was struggling to make noise, its beak seemingly forced open. Walsh watched in concern.
Suddenly, a mass of gray liquid poured forth from the robin’s throat.
Walsh watched in horror as the Tide vomited downward out of the robin and defied gravity to wash back over its body, coating it in gray. The bird dissolved and collapsed into a cloudy liquid mass the length of Walsh’s upper arm that squirmed through the air a few inches above the grass like some unnatural slug.
Watching it horrified him. It made him want to vomit.
As if responding to his fears, the trickle of Tide reversed its direction and began creeping towards Walsh, spiraling upward through the air.
“No,” he muttered. “No!”
As Walsh began to back away, the Tide darted for him.
“No!” he screamed, but his words were interrupted by the Tide forcing its way into his mouth. He tried to clamp his mouth shut, but the Tide crept in between his lips and flooded his nose, pouring down his throat like thick, hot sand. He tried to vomit, but it wouldn’t come up. He suddenly tasted hot iron. Grit was stuck between his teeth and scratching his gums. The itch in his mouth spread down his throat and through his guts before flooding his entire body. He fell to his hands and knees before quickly collapsing onto his chest. The grass felt prickly and sharp against his face as he shut his eyes.
Walsh jolted awake.
He sat bolt upright in bed, heart pounding, gasping for breath, and shoved the sheets off of himself and onto the floor.
He had been having a nightmare. He was in a forest, or maybe it was a field, and there was a- a bird? Yes, there was a bird, and then it- what was it doing? He couldn’t remember. It had slipped away almost as soon as he had woken up. Strange, he thought. He couldn’t remember anything scary happening, just a field and a bird.
He chuckled nervously as he tried to catch his breath. What a way to start his day off.
After calming himself down, showering, and getting dressed, Walsh went downstairs to make himself some breakfast. The house was empty, and almost eerily quiet. David had probably just run into traffic on his way back from dropping Ciara off at preschool, Walsh reasoned. What time was it? 8:15? 8:30?
Walsh glanced up at the clock above the kitchen sink as he opened the cabinet, reaching for some cereal, and froze in his tracks.
Walsh’s heart plunged into his stomach. He bolted out of the kitchen and went searching for his cell phone. It wasn’t plugged into its usual spot in the living room. Where the hell had he left it? This was all he needed.
After several minutes of frantic searching, he finally found his phone on top of the dresser in his bedroom. He picked it up and rapidly hammered in David’s cell phone number with shaking fingers before pressing the phone to his ear. On the other end, Walsh heard the phone ring once with mild background noise, a second time with significant interference, and a third time that was almost entirely consumed by static. If it kept ringing, he couldn’t hear it through the static. This did nothing to soothe Walsh’s mood.
“Hello?” he barked into the phone. “Hello?” No answer.
What is going on, he wondered? This doesn’t even sound like normal static.
It didn’t. It was a thinner, bristlier sound. Almost itchy, Walsh thought, an itchy noise.
Walsh hung up the phone and stuffed it into his pants pocket. He darted around the room grabbing his other things – wallet, house and car keys, jacket for the surely brisk October day. He was going to find David if he had to comb the whole of Ann Arbor for him.
He ran down to the garage and hopped into his car, barely waiting for the garage door to rise before speeding out. He drove recklessly, zooming around corners with abandon. He knew he should slow down – the last thing he wanted was to get into an accident, especially right now – but there seemed to be no other cars on the road, and nobody out walking. Where was everybody? Were they all still asleep? Was Walsh not in on some joke?
Whatever, he thought. He could figure that out later. Right now he needed to find David.
Walsh sped around a corner and almost ran headlong into a massive torrent of dirty water thundering down the middle of the road. He braked his car just in time, leapt out, and hurried to the side of the road. He growled in anger. This was all he needed – a freak flash flood. He braced himself as it flowed down the street, big enough to knock his car down and carry it away.
Just before it hit his car, the liquid stopped in its tracks, then reared up and smashed down on it, poured over its every surface, broke it up and consumed it.
Walsh stared in disbelief. The liquid produced a chorus of beeps and twitters, like a flock of mechanical birds. It rose up off the street, forming a massive airborne cloud the size of a house, undulating and convulsing in the air. Its motions turned it, as though it was fixing Walsh in its sights.
He turned on his heel and bolted away from it, running back down the street he had came from. Behind him, he heard the tweeting get louder. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the liquid rise up in a massive tidal wave, crashing down on houses and sweeping over the road, chasing him down the road.
Walsh looked away and kept running, putting the horrible mechanical tweeting and the grinding crunch of the houses being eaten behind him as he moved down the street. As he ran, he felt an odd itch in his mouth, and attempted to scratch it with his tongue.
Strangely, as he ran, Walsh experienced a momentary sensation of déjà vu. But that was ridiculous, wasn’t it? Of course this had never happened before. Obviously, he would have remembered.
The Tide kept eating, paying him no notice for now. It remembered. It always would.