December 31st 1999
The blurred white credits rolled up the black screen and the film was done. The old man’s head fell to one side and coughing, he woke.
“I hate New Year’s Eve. Always have done.” He grumbled.
“Everyone needs to throw a party, everyone needs fireworks and everyone needs to make as much noise as possible to celebrate the fact that after another year, we’re still here. The government hasn’t killed us all, the bird flu turned out to be nothing and the robots haven’t risen and taken over the planet. Just another bloody day to me.”
“Five minutes to go and I can hear fireworks already. Looks like some poor sod forgot to check his clock was the right time. Gimp. I’m going to bed.”
Brushing his teeth, the old man was listening to the street party counting down.
As the crowd chanted to “one”, the old man braced himself for the inevitable roar of cheers, shouts and fireworks, the crescendo the world was waiting for. It didn’t come. Instead, there was silence. He glanced at the clock hanging from the shower rail and found that it had stopped at midnight. He carefully made his way downstairs to the ancient grandfather clock in the hallway but that had stopped too. As had the mantle clock, the video and the computer that his lodger refused to turn off. The “hairy hippie” was typing up some book an acquaintance had found below his house. Both the computer and video said simply
The old man was startled as the room was plunged into darkness and turned back towards the computer, now the only source of light. He chuckled quietly to himself as he realised that it was only the screensaver.
The silence was deafening.
The only timepiece working was his watch but even that wasn’t working properly. The small hand had stopped at twelve and the second hand was jerking slightly, but the minute hand was ever so slowly moving.
At what his watch said was seven minutes past midnight, he ventured outside. Creeping through his garden, every step a cacophonous roar in the surrounding silence, he made his way to the street party. The once thriving gathering was silent and chillingly, every single one of the sixty-plus revellers was frozen in place. A permanent look of anticipation was etched into their faces, all waiting for an event that would surely not come now. Surely…
A rustling three gardens over snatched his attention and he too froze in place. The rustling moved toward the street and for several torturous moments he could see nothing. He could hear footsteps, quiet, yet undisguised, but he dare not move. A few minutes later, his breath caught in his throat and his chest constricted tightly. His heart was pounding in his throat and he was morbidly surprised that the creature now standing only three feet away from him could not hear the deafening thudding that was assaulting his own ears. It was so tall! It had two arms, two legs and even a human face, but this was something else. It vaguely resembled a man but seemed stretched, exaggerated… and…what was it doing…
Sniffing at the air, it sauntered confidently over to a young woman and glancing briefly into her eyes, it threw back its head, dislocated its jaws in a horrible cracking and bit her head clean off her shoulders, swallowing it whole. It paused, savouring its meal and moved through the crowd, sniffing at all the prone figures…
For a few agonising seconds he could not breathe and he forced his lungs to take in air. Finally, a short ragged breath burst through his dry trembling lips.
It heard him.
It swung around surprised and sprinted towards him, roaring so loudly in the silent night the old man thought his ears were going to burst. He turned on his heels and ran for his front door, slamming it behind him. The creature hit the door as the old man toppled the grandfather clock against it and the crash shook the windows in their frames and the old man slid down the wall, put his head in his hands and sobbed.
“Oh God, please stop them, please help me somebody…”
He was still by the front door, rocking back and forth on his heels. He had locked the back door when the creature had paused, but it had come back and was again attacking the front door, desperate to break into the house. A few far off cries silenced the old man and a cold dread crept up his spine. For a few long torturous seconds there was nothing to be heard but the rhythmic slapping of bare feet on tarmac, nothing, and a loud crash shook the house. There were more of them. He stole a glance through the living room window and could see them, six of them, sizing up the house. One of them looked directly at him and leapt at him. It bounced off the glass and fell back stunned. The other five sauntered over, peering through the window, tapping at the glass, perplexed. The old man found a lost reserve of confidence at this and despite himself, he grinned cruelly. The creatures moved away and looking back at the house, they began weaving through the crowd, feasting on the silent celebration.
“Let’s have a look at you then. Maybe you have something to say…” The old man picked up the book, a large heavy leather-bound tome. He gently opened the cover and flicked through the thick dusty pages.
“Bloody nonsense, can’t see the attraction meself. I suppo…” his words caught in his throat and the book fell to the table with a loud thud. The face of one of the creatures glared at him from within its pages.
He read through the accompanying text several times and the book had described the creatures as scavengers, let loose into the world every thousand years to feed on humans before being thrown back into purgatory. It had gone on to describe a lengthy history, tracing them back to a time before man, to a time of ancient cities in vast frozen vistas before it ended in a torn corner with the words; “These horrible creatures will run free on Earth for just one…”
“Just one what? Hour? Day? YEAR? How fucking long?!?” He began to cry again, but a loud crash stopped the cry in his throat. He looked out of the window and caught a glimpse of them running across a long tree branch to one of the upstairs windows. One of them had broken through the window and was running around upstairs, breaking through doors, toppling wardrobes and cabinets looking for him. The old man crept towards the stairs and dared a brief look up at the floor above. One, two, three seconds passed and there was silence. A slight creaking on the floorboards directly above his head made him gasp and a gaunt shrivelled face appeared just above the top step, calmly looking at him.
They stood for almost a full minute, calmly looking at one another and could well have stood there forever, lost in each other’s eyes but one of the creatures stumbled over what must have been an electric cable.
Then it went for him.
The old man fought desperately with the door to the cupboard under the stairs and almost wept in relief as the creature lost its footing and fell down the stairs. In the precious extra seconds he opened the door and slammed it behind him, pulling over the coats, umbrellas, the vacuum cleaner, everything to create a barrier between himself and the creature just behind the door. It was up now, tearing round the banister, crashing into the thin wood. A series of sharp thuds and splintering shook the old man and he began to cry, pleading with the creature relentlessly pounding the door. A loud shrieking sound pierced the air and the creature tore the remains of the door from its hinges, pulling away the fabric shield the man had erected until at last they were eye to eye again. The creature slowly reached forward and gently held the old man’s head in its hands, cradling it gently. It looked in his eyes again and hesitated. The old man thought that for a second, maybe it wouldn’t kill him, maybe it would let him live. A single tear crept down his cheek and the creature opened its mouth. The old man watched its jaws extend, then dislocate, shuddering at the cracking sound. Resigned, he fell limp in the creatures grasp and closed his eyes.
An ear splitting roar awoke the man and he sat trembling, listening to the cheering and shouting outside. He smiled and laughed at himself. He had eaten very late and something had disagreed with him. He’d had a nightmare. It had all been a dream!!
A shrill scream wiped the smile from his face and he made his way to the window, stepping cautiously over the wood splinters littering the floor. Someone was screaming outside… He moved the net curtain aside and watched the crowd in the street gather around someone crouched on the ground. Squinting, he could see that they were cradling someone…
“Oh no” the old man gasped and he looked at his feet, following the splinter trail to the stairs. The door beneath them was embedded in the wall behind him, the stairs themselves covered in broken glass and the cries from outside fell upon deaf ears. He stood numbly staring at the floor.
It was real.
It had happened.
Two tears crept from the corners of his eyes and his lips trembled. He looked at the table, at the dusty tome and fell to the floor. His short ragged breaths came few and far between and after a moment, his chest fell still.
The screamer outside was joined by three more as more decapitated bodies were found. It was three days before the police broke down his door and found an old man lying cold on the floor, pointing at his dining table. A dining table with only a computer on it.
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December 31st 1999 by Nyarsetna
This one came to me in a dream. I was the old man. In that respect, can I really claim to be the creator of the story?