Window Watching (Rough/first draft)
She really didn't like scary stories. And now, she felt like she was in one.
Faye tried to close her eyes, and ignore it, but it was there - looking through the window at her. She could feel it.
And Sally's words repeated in her head, "it's called 'Alice and the Orphan Orchard'," she'd said. Every time she asked, or her 3-year-old brother, Marlow, barely succeeded in his attempt to do so; her answers as to its origins were always consistently inconsistent.
"An old man down the street," she'd said, the first time she'd asked her at school, while planning for the sleepover. "Just talk it over with Maybell, make sure it's cool I come over," Sally had said, referring to Faye's mother by her real name.
The second time she'd said, "I heard it in a dream," when she'd first arrived with her older brother, Patrick. And now, her answer was even more cryptic.
"It's an old campfire story that circulated in our summer camps in the area," she replied. Sally then raised her eyebrows and inquired, "so, do you wanna hear it or what?"
Faye shrugged. "I guess so," she lied.
"I like scary stowies," Marlow murmured.
Of course, like always, he was asleep before the two preteen girls made it halfway through said story.
"When Alice made it to the orchard," Sally explained to an increasingly terrified Faye, "what she saw in the trees weren't apples, they were... metal boxes. Each more bloody and rusted than the last."
"Does she ever find her friends," Faye asked with a tremble.
Sally chuckled, "you could say that. She approached the nearest box slowly, stumbling slightly over fallen tree branches, and something else. The box, she came to realize, was open at the bottom. An acrid odor invaded her nostrils, ensnaring her senses. She coughed, vomited, and through teary eyes... she saw a human arm."
"On its finger... was a familiar ring-"
Sally was cut off mid-sentence by the door handle rattling and the brass catch releasing as the off-yellow corridor lighting sliced across the carpeting.
"You two should've been asleep an hour ago," her mother's voice seared the silence with authoritative declaration, in stark contrast to Sally's raspy whispering. "Lay down, don't let me catch you two awake again. Goodnight."
The corridor light disappeared, and they were once again accompanied only by the soft blue glow of the night light.
"Faye," Sally's tiny voice practically squeaked from the top bunk.
"Yes," she replied.
"Would you stay awake with me until I fall asleep?"
"Sure," she tiresomely said after a few seconds.
But she would not keep her word, for it would be a few hours before she awoke in the middle of the night looking directly at the thing in the window.
And all light, including the night light, was out.
The only light present was in the form of two small beads of it reflected off of whatever's eyes, and whatever those eyes were made out of, that currently stared right at back her.
Kurt was finishing up on the kitchen and about to close the first time the power flickered. The second time was just after May called him on the cellphone on his way back up the mountain.
"Sorry I'm running late, we had a miscount in the drawer, someone might get fired. Power's been flickering on and off all across downtown, is it up there... you okay?"
She replied that she was, but he could tell from her voice that she was concerned.
"It's flickering up there, too, isn't it?"
"Yeah," she replied after a hesitation.
"Hang tight, on my way, love you." He hung up the phone as he turned onto the Bypass right as the first raindrops of an oncoming storm made contact with his windshield.
"It is," she added.
Patrick fidgeted uncomfortably as he stood outside on the back patio, smoking a cigarette while poured over his phone, growing more and more frustrated as he scrolled.
"Love you t-" she began, before peeling the phone away from her ear and beaming angrily at it. "He hung up."
Maybell looked up from her phone just in time to see Patrick sliding the glass back door shut, fully absorbed by his own.
"The power goes down, we might all lose signal, Pat."
He practically hissed as he accelerated his scroll speed.
"Yes! I know! That's why I'm getting so annoyed," he replied with a bark.
"Still can't get in touch with Amanda?"
Pat didn't respond, continuing to thumb and scroll through conversation after conversation.
"She's been talking to that neighbor," he replied, after a pause.
"I'm telling you," May began, starting to fall into her own cellular device, "Kurt is right about her and her drug problems."
Pat sighed with exasperation.
"You should really let us introduce you to our friend," she said, looking up to see him still obsessing over his phone.
She nodded and took another sip of her coffee. "Yeah, she just got a gig up in New York, but still lives around the Blue Ridge area part-time."
He didn't respond.
After another moment of pause, May was fed up.
"Oh, give me that!"
But right as she reached for his phone, the power went out.
There was no flickering, just darkness. At first, the soft glow of the city in the basin below caressed the jutting furniture and custom installments made by Kurt and Pat... but this would not last.
"May...look," Pat stammered as he stood, an index finger directed at the window.
Block by block, street by street, and then section by section, the city lights began to follow.
"Something must have hit the entire grid... what the hell is going on?"
Rain had now begun to tap on the roofing.
May shook her head, but before she could reply she was interrupted by the ear-splitting screams of her daughter.
Dashing down the hallway with Pat close behind, May burst into the bedroom just in time to see Sally hoven out of the window by a dark blur. Faye's screams were then accompanied by Sally's elder sibling's.
With a speed she didn't know she possessed, May snatched Faye out of bed and hauled a still-sleeping Marlow onto her shoulder. Pat pushed past, screaming for his sister, but largely muted by the rainfall, which had by now escalated into a straight on downpour.
When Pat reentered the living room, May was sitting on the floor in front of the couch and facing the door, both of her children under each arm. The front door swung open as Pat was making his way through the kitchen to the foyer, and he suddenly found himself looking at a soaking wet and irritated Kurt.
"Someone just kidnapped my little sister, where do you keep your guns?"
Kurt looked as though Pat had just slapped him in the face. "What?"
"He's right," Maybell shouted from the living room.
For a moment, he was just as silent as Pat had been earlier. Then, interjecting, Faye added, "it was an Orchard Orphan."
Nobody replied, but according to Kurt, Pat looked like he'd just seen a ghost.
"You okay, Pat?"
He exhaled, before shaking his head. "No, not until we find Sally."
Kurt nodded. "Follow me," he said, moving past him and returning to the living room through the kitchen. "They're in my bedroom in the back, you three okay?"
"We're okay. Did you check next door at the Moot place?"
"I didn't, I just wanted to get home. Anyone know what's going on?"
Before May or Faye could respond, a bolt of lighting slammed bright white, orange and yellow hues onto nearly every surface for an instant, followed by a deafening bellowing roll of thunder. And what they saw in that split-second would haunt their nightmares... and their waking reality... for the foreseeable future.
On four crooked limbs just within view, peeking from around the corner of the threshold the glass door slid upon a track into, stood something that caused the thinking mind itself to recoil in not only fear... but also in visual incongruity and overall hysteria. The brain denied the very existence of what they all five saw then and there, something that used to be a man, but contorted into a quadrupedal subhuman form. And it all seemed to have something to do with the metal box with thin rectangular slits on its sides, from which the pale, thin limbs protruded from.
Kurt shone his light through the right-hand glass pane where they'd seen the box-thing crouching, but it was gone. They then heard a smash in one of the back rooms, Pat and Kurt exchanged a weary glance, and hurried down the hall to barricade the door. The doorknob began to shake erratically, and both men piled their body weight onto the brass. The box-man had already managed to get a grip onto it, however, and managed to snap the door open a crack a good twice or three times, before stopping.
Kurt sighed. "Pat, hold this here while I move that armoire in front, get ready to move." Pat nodded and wiped sweat away from his face before occupying both hands on the doorknob. The door was suddenly wrenched open wide enough for a bony hand with claw like, blackened nails to scuttle through and grab at his face. He screamed and fell backward, right as Kurt tackled the armoire and it fell right on top of Pat's own hand. Patrick screamed even louder, screaming himself hoarse, screaming until all that came out were pained squeaks.
He tried to move the furniture himself, but it was too heavy to do on his own. "Pat! Pat? Can you move anything over there?" He shook his head weakly.
"Dammit," he sighed again. "May! Come here and bring the kids! I need your help!"
Kaley's car had run out of gas on the interstate, and she'd had to abandon it. All of the gas stations within a several-mile vicinity were out of gas as vacant cars, vans and other vehicles spilled out of the parking lots in lines beginning at the gas pumps and extending even in some cases out to the curb next to the street. She'd been walking for about an hour, only the sounds of sirens and emergency alert broadcasts to accompany her, when she saw the first signs of human life.
A man was screaming in agony, the door to his eighteen-wheeler ajar, as he punctuated his screams with the occasional, random swear word.
"Sir," she inquired. "Are you ok-?"
Before she could finish, the man hopped out of the cab and pointed a gun at her.
"Back... back! You're with them-"
The truck driver made a pained sound that could've been a word, or simply a primal noise, and then sprinted away. That would be the last she saw of another human being for hours. Once he was gone, and she'd called after him several times in vain, she reluctantly climbed into the truck cab.
With no key in sight, Kaley searched the recesses of her memory banks regarding a time when she was about twelve and her now-deceased dad showed her how to hot wire a vehicle. It had been a minivan, but she found the process nearly identical to back then.
Hot wiring the truck took a few tries, but she eventually got the engine running.
Once she pulled out and got a steady rhythm for driving the vehicle, Kaley began searching the stations on the radio. The dial picked up only emergency broadcasts and static, until - eventually - she reached a station that appeared to be talk radio. "... Coast-To-Ghost AM with Mark North, where we deliver the news straight into your receiver without the corporate and company middle-man... I'm Mark North, and you're listening to Coast-To-Ghost AM."
Kaley never put much stock into conspiracy theories, let alone talk radio, but at this point she was starved of any and all information out there. And it seemed like right-wing conspiracy-theorists were as good as it got.
"So, the big story these days is the mass outages across the United States and Canada. Some think it was the Russians or Chinese, but there are those of out there who... like to dig a little bit deeper. Our guest today is Ronald Steels, a former intelligence agent and state department employee. Mr. Steels, glad you could be with us today."
Small water droplets began impacting with the windshield now, and the wind was beginning to pick up.
"So you were working up at the Groom Lake facility over in Nevada, correct?"
"Yes, and thank you for having me here today. What started as a couple of experiments to reverse global warming ended up becoming a failed experiment, basically... and, well, I was let go a few months before this all started happening. So, I can't say with 100% certainty that these events across North America and Europe are related, but-"
"Wait, a couple of experiments to reverse global warming? What can you tell us about this?"
"Well," he began, Kaley's knuckles beginning to whiten along with her hardening grip on the steering wheel, "all the data points to human beings as the primary driver of accelerating greenhouse gasses and the rise in global mean temperature, correct? Well, we wanted to rule out whether or not this was due to a, 'collective psychosis' if you will."
"Yes," Steels replied, "we wanted to know whether or not this had something to do with the media, and the world view it was implanting into people's heads. And so, we decided to run some tests on a select few individuals, one of whom - actually - happened to be a writer."
"A writer? Like a journalist, or-?"
"No, a fiction writer-"
She had been listening to the broadcast for about forty-five minutes before she came to an intersection and almost slammed at nearly eighty-miles-an-hour into what appeared to be a fifty-car pileup. Kaley slammed on the breaks, but the recent rainfall meant she was going to be hydroplaning. The multiton locomotive's wheels locked up as she commanded them to, but the momentum of the vehicle meant it was to be in futility.
The static wheels continued to slide across the moist tar of the road, and the weight of the tractor trailer pulled the vehicle over onto its side. Kaley didn't have time to process what was happening before the vehicle ended up on its side, and she was greeted by unconsciousness and darkness.
The bandages would hold, but Pat no longer had use of his right-hand due to the mutilation. If he ever would again, after the bandages were safe to remove, was up to debate. They had retreated to the basement immediately after he'd been freed. The box-man had almost managed to escape from the master bedroom, but they'd compensated by tipping over another obstacle in front of the door.
"If he gets out," said Kurt as he locked the door to the basement, "it won't be until the early morning hours. We'll be safe here," he explained, pointing to the narrow windows toward the ceiling.
"Nothing's getting in here without a fight."
"K-Kurt," rasped Pat with a wheeze.
"We'll find her," he replied, without a beat. "First..." he said, hovering over to a wooden bracket and fishing around for something on the top shelf. "We need this," he finished, producing an old shortwave radio. "Just needs some batteries. Faye?"
The half-asleep child wiped the sleep from her eyes groggily.
"Would you look inside that box to your left... yes, that one," he finished as she reached over. "Open it, inside there should be some batteries."
She sighed. "Dad, there's only two left."
"That should do," he said, walking over to it. She placed the small metal cylinders into his outstretched hand, which he promptly inserted into the back panel of the device. After about a minute of fiddling with the antennae, he set the box back onto the shelving, and spun the dial.
After another minute of static, a signal began to pour through into their ears.
"-about five hours ago," the voice on the other end began, "Or so. Everyone... everywhere... lost power." The kids gathered around, followed by mom who propped her weary head upon her right hand. "The east coast was first, of course... given how interconnected everything is out there. Then, about forty-five minutes to a half-hour later, everyone else followed. I-it was about an hour after that... the first reports starting pouring in. At first, we thought it was prank calls, because it was always different. There was one about these kids who kept seeing... I dunno... Freddy Vorhees, Jason Kruger, I don't remember what the name was. Some slasher villain from the 80s that the kids had been watching the night before. The mom wrote it off as them having a nightmare. About thirty minutes ago the entire family was found dead with deep lacerations in their chest and face."
"Wow..." said the radio host. "You think they... they might have killed themselves?"
"I dunno, Mark. This seems... I dunno. I just dunno. There was another series of reports about 'giant spiders', and another about the tree in their backyard coming to life and destroying part of their house. I dunno. I just dunno. It all sounds so incredibly made up, but... the speed... the quantity-"
"It just seems like too many in such a short period of time-"
"To be a coincidence? Yeah. And you know me, Mark," he said. "I'm a skeptic when it comes to UFO's and bigfoot and that stuff. Spent half my life debunking shit like that. But... this? The blackouts? The disappearances? I dunno, it just seems like too much all at once to be a coincidence. This feels... different."
"Okay, ya'll hang tight," said Kurt, loading a revolver. "I'll be back."
Before he could exit the basement, May stopped him by grabbing his pant leg.
"Hon, be careful."
"I will," he replied, moving to pull away. She tugged at his trousers once more.
"Hon, look me in the eye and say that."
He did so.
He bent down and kissed her.
And with that, Kurt left the basement, his revolver in hand.
The dark red of predawn twilight had begun illuminating the road by the time Kurt had the truck warmed up and pulled out onto it. Being about halfway between the street-level below and the peak of the mountain, the incline was just pronounced enough to be noticeable. Kurt swung his vehicle until it was pointed down, toward the base of the mountain.
He didn't know why, but he felt this instinctual urge to search toward the bottom. The next-door neighbors' was empty. He wasn't surprised, their car had been gone since last month. Kurt didn't know when they would be back from vacation, but given current events the answer was probably; 'never'.
It was rather trivial, but Kurt noticed the gold and orange dawn rays of sunlight reflected off of the morning dew of a rather large spider web in the upper-right corner of their living room window. The next house down belonged to an older man named Red, whom Kurt almost never saw, and his vehicle was missing as well. Strangely, he too had an arachnid visitor, as evidenced by the even larger spider web - so large, in fact, that it covered the entire diameter of his garage door.
The third house down from his own belonged to the Moots. He tried the front door, to no avail. Locked. Kurt peered around the house for webs, and when he saw it was clear, he made his way along the side of the building around back. Like his own, there was a sliding glass door. However, there was no glass in this one. Only jagged shards and edges remained along the metal and aluminum frame.
Kurt cautiously stepped through, his right foot crunching atop the glass shards beneath the soles of his boots. There were empty bottles and bags of trash ripped open, old food and spoiled beverages across the floor and counter tops. Between the crunching and grinding of glass on the tiling, Kurt could make out what sounded like the rustling of plastic and goods in one of the back rooms. He stopped his movement and pulled the hammer back on his revolver, making sure to time it just so whomever - or whatever - was in back would hear it.
The rustling and noise stopped immediately, and after a few seconds, a ragged voice responded to it with, "wh-who's there?"
Another moment slipped by, several seconds elapsed like molasses. Finally, a tall thin form emerged from the hallway with his bony hands extended above his head.
Kurt lowered his weapon.
"What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same question, what are you doing in this house, Red?"
He sighed. "Have you heard anything about what's going on over the radio or anything?"
"It's over," he replied just above a whisper.
"All of this. Everything. Society as we know it is gone."
Kurt shook his head. "Look, I don't care. I'm looking for a little girl. About five-foot, twelve to thirteen years old, blonde hair. Have you seen her?"
Red was about to reply, starting with a shake of his head, but then he stopped himself. "Actually, I think I know where she is... but you're not going to like it."
"Where is she, dammit?"
"I saw her being taken by the hand, practically dragged kicking and screaming down the mountain... but, trust me-" before he could finish, Kurt had turned to leave the house through the opening he'd entered, and stopped as his eyes passed over what he hadn't seen at first when he'd entered with his back turned to it.
"You don't wanna go down there!"
Stretching from tree to tree, from the canopy to where he could reach up and grab it, were the most utterly massive and titanic spider webs he'd ever seen.
"There's a lot more and a lot bigger than that further down the mountain. Went down to check on my traps about an hour ago and ran into a spider 'bout the size of my tool shed. Couldn't even tell what species it was, but... I didn't stick around to find out."
Kurt was frozen in fear. He didn't know how to respond, only that he had to stay focused. He turned and grabbed Red by the collar of his jacket.
"You're full of shit. I'm gonna find that girl."
He released the man, pushed his fear aside, and returned to his truck with a quick jog. When he arrived, he stepped in, and turned over the ignition. Kurt did everything right, all the way down to hurrying back to the vehicle as fast as he could, but what he didn't do right was leaving the driver's side door open.
May winced as she heard the gunshots, followed shortly by screams.
"M-mom? What was-"
"Nothing, hon. It was nothing," she lied. May stood up and walked over to Pat, who had been asleep at the time, and woke him gently.
"Look after the kids, Pat," she said, checking the battery on her phone. "I'll be back." He replied with only a pained grunt, and she hurried upstairs.
The floor above was not as they'd left it. There were debris and trash from one corner of the house to the next, strewn across the tabletops and in pools on the floor. May saw what looked like a half-eaten noodle cup on its side, the contents within spilled to one side and partially upon the linoleum. Pat shakily reached over, her eyes locked on the hallway, and grabbed the largest knife she could fish for.
With her weapon of choice outstretched before her at arm's length, she made her way to the hallway. In the brightening day, she could make out the door at the end was exposed, and the armoire was in splinters and pieces all down the length of the corridor. A faint sound of thunder entered her ear canal as she edged her way down the hallway, toward the master bedroom, one thing on her mind - guns.
As she inched into the room, taking care to make as little noise as possible as she stepped over the debris, the first thing she saw were the narrow windows that had been broken out. The thing's anatomy had prevented it from getting all the way through, just as in the childrens' room (although unfortunately it's limbs had been long enough and the top bunk close enough for it to reach through and grab Sally). The dresser drawers had slid out of their container after it tipped over amid the scuttling and thrashing, and May almost missed what they were lying on top of.
She grabbed the shotgun and racked it after some effort, making sure to grab the other revolver for Pat before leaving. On her way back downstairs to the basement, she checked her phone to see the time. It was almost noon, meaning Kurt had been gone over an hour.
"Pat, kids, you up," May practically shouted as she opened the basement door.
"Yep, we're up," Pat muttered.
"Pat, can you stand and walk?"
Pat winced as he shifted his weight. "It's my hand that's broken, not my foot."
May smiled a little at that, but she wasn't well enough to laugh.
"Help me up," he groaned, raising his good hand, which she grabbed tightly while stepping backward. Once on his feet, she withdrew her hand and replaced it with the small revolver.
"Take that, you and the kids stay behind me, we're finding the truck and getting the hell out of here."
Above ground, the sun was hidden from view and the day was dimmed by heavy overcast, occasional dull thunder and some sprinkles here and there. Although it was afternoon by now, the darkness of the thunderhead's shadow meant it looked like it could've been just about any other time in the day than around what it was now. The smell of the humidity in the air barely masked the far more pungent odor of what May could only describe as dead animals.
Although the road curved slightly, May, Pat and the kids would've seen it parked out front the Moots' place within a hundred feet... if they hadn't been staring in a contorted cocktail of enmity, revulsion and awe at what currently blanketed the trees and had begun to appear on the rooftops.
In ghostly greyish-white hue, layered and peppered thinly at first on the trees nearest to their neighbors, were thick ropes and sheets of webbing. She couldn't be absolutely sure, but Faye could swear she saw what appeared to be cocoons among the gossamer weaves.
"Mom, what's that," she asked quietly, pointing at them.
"I don't wanna know, hon, keep moving."
May spied Kurt's revolver on the ground, and grabbed it quickly before one of the kids did. Pat, Faye and Marlow piled in through the passenger door while May hopped in the driver seat, turning over the ignition, and putting the stick into the highest gear she felt comfortable with, and depressed the gas.
"Keep an eye out for anything moving, and shoot it," she told Pat, as she did her best to ignore the steadily accumulating and thickening webs out of the corner of her view. As they rounded the next corner, the entanglement had become so thick to such an extreme extent that threads had begun to extend across the road itself. She sped up, the strands passing over the roof at increasingly greater acceleration and ever lower heights.
By the time they arrived near the bottom of the hill, they came upon a few thinner ones that were easily broken through, but then they began to get thicker - to the point they stunted the vehicle's momentum, and she had to stop and put the truck in park.
She sighed, her head in her hands. "What is it, Marlow?"
At Pat's shriek, she snapped her head up and saw instantly what they were pointing at.
Despite the steady breeze and most of the trees swaying only slightly enough to be seen if you were to concentrate on them for a few seconds, one in particularly was quite noticeable with its movement. Although it was slightly taller than its brethren, it was significantly thicker and sturdier, and the thick labyrinthine interconnection had become so prevalent at this point that it seemed virtually incomprehensibly impossible that any of the trees would be moving at all... until they saw what was causing it.
Near the top of the tree, in the canopy, it clutched to the webbing it had tenderly crafted around what May could discern clearly as being a cocoon.
"May," Pat whispered through gritted teeth as she pointed the shotgun at the creature. "Put the truck in reverse, and back up."
It was right around this time the nearby Oak Ridge nuclear civil defense sirens began to go off, and a similar but different sound began to broadcast to their phones.
"If I don't get it now it'll get us while we're backing the truck-"
May ignored him, and fired the weapon at the largest brown recluse spider she'd ever seen in her life. The creature twitched, and undulated, its eight limbs curling beneath its large abdomen.
Then, it fell from the tree... which was seen by all four to be home to at least two more of the monsters, which were now making their way toward the ground.
Without hesitating, May did as Pat initially suggested, flooring the gas and accelerating the vehicle backwards up the hill at high gear. She then flung the clutch forward, without fiddling with the stick, and without letting off the gas, hurtling down the mountain.
They had just crossed the Knox county line when the nuke hit.
"...at this time, all we know for sure is that it is this recurring feedback loop that began once we hit a certain percentage of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. We knew all this fifteen years ago, back in 2017, when scientists gathered to warn the planet this was coming. We knew fifteen years before that this was coming. But we didn't listen, and now - a literal collective psychosis has ensnared humanity," was quite possibly literally the absolute worst thing Kaley could've woken up to.
"The fear response to innate aversions, usually associated with the amygdala, is particularly strong and potent with regard to one in particular - suffocation. We are all slowly suffocating due to the increasing prevalence of CO2 in the atmosphere, and it has caused a mass panic 'event horizon' so to speak. The only problem is, nobody can see what is causing the panic, and so our brains are collectively filling in the blanks with our worst and most primal fears imaginable," the radio droned on.
Unfortunately, she also had a splitting headache, and could feel dried blood in her hair in the back. Kaley imagined the worst hangover she'd ever had, but multiplied by thousands. Her skin was covered in goosebumps and thick, slimy 'fear' sweat. She was almost certain she was going to die when the truck tipped over, but miraculously she was unharmed aside from her head injury. At least, all of her limbs were intact aside from a broken finger.
"The estimates are in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, dead. The giant spiders across North America and serpents in Brazil. Werewolf and vampire attacks in Europe... it's all going to hell. Should've known that it would've affected the cohesion of governance, people with nukes who think there's an alien invasion will use them."
Kaley projectile vomited onto the window next to her head, almost falling back down before she could get halfway up. It was a bit difficult getting out with one hand, but using the steering wheel and headrest she was able to roll over on top of the door, climb over it and jump to the ground. She landed slightly wrong on her ankle, but didn't appear to roll it or anything as she was able to walk fine.
Regardless, she quickly forgot about that when she looked up and realized what was happening everywhere around her, as far as the eye could see.
The end of the world.
Close the space between the four tildes in the box and hit the "Leave Feedback" button to begin your comment.