Zero Hour! Halloween 2014 — Slow Burn


Halloween has arrived!

It’s no secret… at Episodes from the Zero Hour!, Halloween reigns supreme above all other holidays.  It’s the time of year when we give license to our darkest imaginations to bring forth their worst, in service of the scare.  It’s the holiday during which we dare the ghosts and goblins to slink out of the shadows of our own fearful minds, to prove that the world isn’t as rational and logical and safe as we had hoped.  And that makes for some great storytelling.

Each year, we strive to bring you our Episodes from the Zero Hour! Trick ‘R Treat Halloween short stories.  This year, we gave our writers the freedom to write whatever they wanted, so long as it was scary or otherwise related to Halloween.  We’ve got some Zero Hour! veterans in the mix, as well as some fresh faces who have contributed their own tales of horror.  We hope you enjoy, and if you do, please let our writers know in the comments section of their short story posts.

Happy Halloween!

-Episodes from the Zero Hour!

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Our first offering is from Episodes from the Zero Hour! Managing Editor Jason Butkowski.

Slow Burn

by: Jason Butkowski

The world was going to shit.

I know every generation says the same thing. My parents, in their time, said it. My grandparents said it. But this time, it was actually happening. The human race had reached the end of its rope, the foot was on the accelerator, and the space between the car and the cliff was getting smaller and smaller by the moment.

It started innocuously enough. One or two fucked up stories in the news. Half-naked cannibals in Florida… the newscasters said it was because the assailant was on “bath salts.” First time I ever heard the term. Then some humans doing downright inhuman things in Jersey. Relatives, family friends, savagely attacking and killing children. Bad weed, according to police reports.

You see, people were shocked, and then they moved on. We all had our problems. As long as the drug-addled psychos didn’t bother us, we thought we didn’t have to pay any of it much attention.

But then things started getting bad for everybody.

At first, it was just some random uneasiness. Like the world had woken up on the wrong side of the bed…every day, for months. People were agitated. Tempers flared. No one slept anymore. I mean, no one. It became the primary topic of conversation: “You sleep last night?” “No, you?” “No. Not in days.” And woe unto the poor bastard that actually did get more than 3 or 4 hours sleep… the rest of us were so pissed all the time that, if it seemed like he or she was getting one over on the rest of us, and… well, like I said, people were just fucking ornery.

Then it started getting worse.

Fender benders turned into shooting sprees. Lovers’ quarrels ended with someone getting a crowbar to the face. Cut in line at the deli counter in the grocery store, and you could wind up with your throat cut.

These incidents became more and more common as the level of anxiety in the world grew. Baseless paranoia replaced basic reasoning. Wild conspiracy theories overtook well-trodden common sense. The threat was everywhere. Suicide bombers in Iraq. A new plague out of Africa. The definition of “us” became smaller and smaller – first “us” was our world, then our country and our allies, then just our country, then just the people in our country who thought like we did. Eventually, it got to the point where we didn’t know if we could even trust our own neighbors and friends.

In those early days, no one knew what was really going on. We chalked it all up to too much TV, too many violent video games. Information overload from ready access to smart phones which were making us anything but. A culture of indulgence and materialism which put a greater emphasis on possessions rather than people, things over thought.

It was easy to point the finger at the failings of society, because when it came down to it, wasn’t that just another way for us to pass the buck? The world was going to hell because everyone else was falling into the trap of a decadent, demoralized world. But not me. Never admit that you might personally be feeling a bit of the fear, the pain, the rage that characterized everyone else that you came into contact with.

When the CDC finally discovered the biology of it, it was already too late for the planet.

It was in us all. Probably had been for generations, gestating, incubating. The start of the end – not a flash, but a slow simmer, a gradually heated pot that was now coming to a boil. Man’s endless capacity for self-destruction given a fancy medical title and innocent-enough initials – Encephalitic Rage Disorder (ERD).

ERD started off with insomnia, anxiety, a feeling of isolation. Stage 2 was characterized by increasingly erratic behavior, risk-taking, clinical paranoia. Stage 3 was when it started to get really scary. Aphasia, adrenal over-stimulation, a compulsion to eat – and hamburger was as good as human at this point.

The disease took everything that made us human – the capacity for reason, for language, for camaraderie and empathy – and stripped it all away. Those poor beasts afflicted with Stage 3 ERD – not men and women anymore – they exhibited violence without cause, strength without fatigue, hunger without satiety.

And we had already hit the tipping point. There was more of them than us.

The survivors, whoever we were, wherever we were – we had to become crueler to survive. To become harder and colder. Surviving meant recognizing that we were all alone in the world. Alliances became entanglements, dragging us under the surface of the water. Weakness, frailty… these were luxuries for a more civilized world.

I write these words… I don’t know why I write these words. I don’t know who will read them. I haven’t seen another person in so long. I could be it. The last of humanity. Who will mourn us after we’re gone? Who knows.

It’s getting harder to concentrate. Words are… coming harder now. It’s there. Behind my eyes. Getting stronger. So tired. So hungry. No one left.

Just me.

So very, very hungry.

“Slow Burn” © 2014 Jason Butkowski
Originally Presented for Episodes from the Zero Hour! Halloween 2014

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