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Horror Thriller Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

"Bren ... Bren, wake up ..."


I can't. There's a weight on my eyelids. Something heavier than lost sleep. This feeling is closer to the finger of a nightmare pressing against the thin veil of skin, refusing to let my eye roll forward in the socket.


"Bren ... We're running out of time ..."


I see the first bits of light through matted lashes, so that the world before me is a hazy blur. Or a canvas by Monet. A dark, metal, creaking canvas that still rises and falls on the swell of the tide beneath it.


Willard grips my shoulder. It only hurts because his fingers are so bony, and my shoulder is so bony. Not because he is strong. It's only taken a few weeks to melt the muscles right off. We're barely tendons anymore.


It's only been a few weeks, right?


The deck beneath me is warm, and slowly becoming more and more scalding. That must be why Will woke me up. He sinks his fingers deeper, but they only slide and catch my shirt so that he can pull me towards the open hanger. It takes me a few seconds to get the strength to resist, and even longer for my throat to be wet enough to ask, "Is it safe?"


Will nods. "There's no one." His voice is much less parched than mine. If I had enough chutzpah, I'd be jealous or angry.


We step into the shade of the hanger bay, and Will finally lets go. Both of us sink to the floor, but I stay upright while he rolls on to his back. I scan the carnage of the last few days. Every crate, every barrel, all the containers that were once on their way to some far off destination have been smashed or ripped or sliced open, and the contents strewn out like the entrails of prey. Packing peanuts, bubble wrap, sawdust, straw, newspaper, all of it drifts through the hanger on the breeze.


And it's a breeze from Hell. Hotter than Satan's breath and smelling of scorched sinners.


I lick my lips. "Think there's any--"


"No." Will assures me. "There's nothing left."


I turn my eyes away from the dim hanger, and look out at the sky. It's clear. Perfectly clear and empty.


"No chance of dew tonight, either," I point out. "So we only have--"


"Maybe one more day."


I had hoped he'd say two. My gaze lowers from the tauntingly empty sky to the waves of black pitch that surround us. There is water somewhere underneath the black. Somewhere deep down. Somewhere we can't reach.


A callous whisper releases from my throat. "Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink ... water, water, everywhere ..."


"But not a drop to drink," Will sighs. “Shut up, Bren.”


But I don’t. I stand, my legs shaking beneath me, my arms quivering to help push me from the molten deck. “About, about, in reel and rout, the death-fires danced at night.”


Will groans as he sits up. I can’t tell if the groan is his choice. But his eyes hold the same fire the ancient mariner had chanted about. Black with anger and rot, and hatred that has no object to lick with its flames.


Something wicked in me smiles, splitting my lip and opening a path for blood to slide down my chin, hot and laced with salt. Instinct causes me to suck the broken bit of lip, drinking the bitter flavor that slides across my tongue. 


My voice escapes again. “The water, like a witch’s oils, burnt green …”


Will’s fist connects hard with my jaw, sending me stumbling backward til I slam against one of the ravaged shelves. I didn’t even realize he was standing, much less poised to strike. 


My vision blurs again. But this time I don’t behold an impressionistic vision of the barge. I see Will’s thin, frail body outlined against the blazing light of an unchecked sun. His arms seem so much longer than they should be. His neck thinner. His eyes hollow, like the barrel of some deep weapon.


“Snap out of it, you idiot,” he growls. His throat is getting dry again, like mine. “Stop … sucking your own blood …”


My eyes widen, slowly. Every motion is effort. Even the ones I don’t realize I’m doing. “I’m sorry, Will.”


His lips part, but he doesn’t get the chance to speak. We both hear it. Something echoes from inside the hull, the sound crawling up through the dark, smoldering halls until it reaches us on the surface. But by the time it reaches us, it’s nothing intelligible. Just sound.


Still, it’s enough to make us both sick.


“Think the door gave?”


Will shakes his head. “No.”


He’s right. We both set the bolt in place. But that was weeks ago, when we were still strong. By now, whoever is behind it is even weaker than us. No matter how many of them there are, they couldn’t force the door open.


At least that’s what I tell myself. 


“Might be a straggler,” Will admits. We’ve been keeping an eye out for them. So far, no one has appeared, but there’s no way to be sure we aren’t the only ones loose.


My mind creeps back down into the hold of the vessel, down into the sweltering darkness filled with bodies half burnt with sun and oil that tried to brave the cesspool that surrounds us. I can still hear the rhythm of dying, labored breaths, slowly eeking their way out from withered throats. Most of them should have already finished taking their final gasps.


No one knew how long the rations we started with would need to last. There were thirty of us at the beginning, however long ago that was. A few died fighting when food got scarce. But most of them are down there behind that door, chewing on their own tongues, waiting for water that won’t come.


Or if it does… I’m not going down there to tell them. I’m not gonna be torn to shreds trying to scream sense into their rabid minds. They’re too gone.


It comes again. The noise. Metallic, and slow, like a door swinging on its weak hinges. Back and forth. Will tries not to look concerned, but he can’t help it. We both saw what happened down there. We both saw them trying to rip each other open, shrieking for water.


“Who’s there?” I don’t expect an answer, but fear forces itself past my lips, spattering blood with each word. Somehow, I haven’t resigned myself to death. Maybe if I did, this would be easier.


The silence is much too telling. A more frightening omen than even the sounds that drift upward from the belly of the ship. It’s unsettling. 


Will takes a step towards me, and we both stare into the dark of the hold. We should hear them, but we don’t. When we see them, we understand why.


There’s almost nothing left. Skeletal frames wrapped in shrinking skin that pulls against each orifice, so that eyes and noses and teeth protrude unnaturally against the bone just beneath. Laced veins that struggle to push blood bulge over wrists and knees and elbows. And swollen, white tongues hang from parted mouths that inch towards us with malice and desperation.


They should be dead. Maybe they are. But I can’t run until I realize they have come for us. They emerge like jaguars who have stalked their prey into place, leaping from the dark, from the corners, from the tops of shelves that collapse once they fling their weight towards us. 


My heart crashes against my ribs as frenzied panic hammers against my temples with ferocity, as if everything within me understands the need to move faster than I can force myself to. But I do. My feet barely touch the deck as I turn, and bolt towards the light.


They won’t come into the sunlight. They can’t. It would scorch the last remnants of life they possess.


I hear the crash, and I know it’s Will. When I was a boy, I remember watching a bird slam into the glass of a window and fall to the ground below. I went to look for it, and found it lying there with its neck snapped and legs sprawled from the crash. Ants had already come for it, crawling over its wings and belly and face.


This is no different. They are on Will just like ants, their fingers tearing at him, their mouths and throats trying to form that one word, that one thing we’re all desperate for. 


WATER.


But then, I hear it. The blades cutting the air as the craft begins to hover over the open deck, sending the Hellish breeze into the hold with a new vicious force. The chopper is here.


When my feet hit the uncovered deck, my sense of relief is cut all too short. A volley of bullets sparks just in front of me, and I hear the command of the officers to drop. My lips kiss the scalding deck beneath me as my eyes struggle to watch the approach of black boots and the barrel of rifles.


“Stay down.” 


I do.


“Name?”


I answer him. He laughs at my excuse for a voice.


“Three years, wasn’t it?”


I nod. 


“What for?”


Unlawful Assembly.


I feel his boot slam against the small of my back, pressing me down as they unload the chopper. Rations. Food. Water. Nothing more. 


They leave them in the center of the deck, and then climb back inside the cab.


“See you in six months, kid.”


July 13, 2022 01:36

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22 comments

Sarah P.
13:10 Jul 22, 2022

That is a really good story! I hope you win!

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14:15 Jul 22, 2022

Hey Sarah, thank you so much! 😊❤️ It just makes me happy when people enjoy my writing! Thanks for stopping to read! I will go look at your work as well!

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Sarah P.
14:23 Jul 22, 2022

Aw! Thanks! The title of your story got me from the beginning.

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Kelsey H
19:55 Jul 20, 2022

Amazing writing I love the sense of tension and the mystery of where they are and why which is slowly revealed. Love all your descriptions too great imagery.

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18:31 Jul 21, 2022

Thank you, Kelsey! :) I wanted to reveal enough for it to make sense, but also keep the BIG reveal for the end, so I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Katy Borobia
15:56 Jul 18, 2022

The idea of such hellish imprisonment for unlawful assembly is horrifying in itself. The image of a brief respite right after Will has lost to the zombies is somehow even worse. Lovely job of description and characterization, and I appreciated the inclusion of the Rime. A line that stood out to me was "And it's a breeze from Hell" - so abrupt, so accurate, so chilling (ironically enough). Well done!

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20:50 Jul 18, 2022

Hi Katy! :) I thought a lot about what the crime was for Bren, and given the current environment in my own country (I'm in the USA) sadly the idea of a future where "unlawful assembly" was a capital offense wasn't too hard to imagine. I'm so glad you could enjoy the story! I hope you have a great day! <3

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Jay Mc Kenzie
12:36 Jul 15, 2022

Wow, Hannah! This is so dark, so creepy. It's the kind of thing I'm not supposed to read because I get too creeped out and won't even go to the bathroom by myself. Tight writing, great pace and such vivid imagery. I'm intrigued (and scared) to learn more...

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04:56 Jul 16, 2022

Hi Jay 😊 I take that as a HUGE compliment Lol I creeped myself out a bit writing it, but I’m so glad you found it intriguing! I’m thinking about making it a longer story, so far everyone supports my idea. Thank you for reading and commenting! ❤️

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Suma Jayachandar
06:21 Jul 15, 2022

Hannah, this is the kind of horror that makes one feel nauseated yet so fascinated and riveted till the end. Taking a deep breath now... it was an absolute breath taker. It has such great imagery and lines. The line I liked the best was-Something echoes from inside the hull, the sound crawling up through the dark, smoldering halls until it reaches us on the surface. I could actually hear it. Great story!

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04:53 Jul 16, 2022

Suma, I always get excited when I see your name! 😊 I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Funnily enough, I don’t READ a lot of horror, so I tend to second guess myself on if I did a good job. Your comments make me feel so much better about the story! Thank you for reading! ❤️

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Nandini Panchal
03:27 Jul 14, 2022

Hannah, your writing skills are just amazing! I love the way you described the torture, the slow, unending pain until death. The occasional bits of poetry lend a whole spooky atmosphere to the story💀. It was thrilling and really enjoyable. Really looking forward to more stories from you.❣️❣️(I'd love to read the sequel of this one, if you are planning to write)😊😊

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04:55 Jul 16, 2022

Hey Nandini 😊 thank you so much! This one even creeped ME out sometimes Lol but I enjoyed getting to write it, and I’m so glad you enjoyed reading it! I am thinking about making it a longer story, so if I do, I will let you know!

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Kevin Marlow
02:20 Jul 14, 2022

Delightful ending, it reminded me of The Maze Runner, where the end unfolds into another chapter of limitless suffering.

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19:52 Jul 14, 2022

thanks, Kevin! I was planning to make this a longer story, so the ending is definitely a "here's where it gets worse" moment thank you for reading :)

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Michał Przywara
20:46 Jul 13, 2022

Great story! What a lovely, horrid prison. The descriptions are spot on – the fatigue, the delirium, the emaciated bodies, "His eyes hollow, like the barrel of some deep weapon." Some great visuals here, great setting and mood. A powerful sense of heat, thirst, and despair. Same with those from below, "eyes and noses and teeth protrude unnaturally against the bone just beneath". Awesome and terrible. I also like that this appears to be an open prison (well, before the others were locked in the hold). I'm picturing a derelict ship mired...

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00:58 Jul 14, 2022

Michal, my friend, I really wish we could sit and have tea together and just discuss literature sometime 😊 my heart was bursting with happiness at your comments! I’m so glad everything came through so clearly for you! The idea of the open prison was so intriguing to me. You’re right, nothing is FORCING them to stay … but it’s not likely they will survive if they try to leave. I want to make this a longer piece, I have a whole story for Bren and Will (he survives the attack) so maybe one day I can share the rest here 😊 Thank you so much fo...

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Michał Przywara
21:48 Jul 14, 2022

Tea and literature would be nice :) Perhaps one day, at a writers' conference, when our books are reviled by highschool students around the world. Till then, we have virtual reali-tea. 🍵 Open prisons are a cool concept, for sure! If you do expand on this, I'd love to read it, whether that's a follow-up on Reedsy or a novel or whatever other form.

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Zelda C. Thorne
05:24 Jul 13, 2022

Hi Hannah! Very creepy. The sense of dread you created was great. It reminded me of the film Hunger. And the end just left it all on a note of despair, which was fitting. I want the MC to escape this horrible place!

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16:05 Jul 13, 2022

There is a lot more to this story, but I figured I shouldn’t try to explain everything for this contest 😆 in the “longer narrative”, he does get away from the “paradise”, though! Thank you for reading ❤️

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Zelda C. Thorne
16:33 Jul 13, 2022

Oh that's nice to know. Did you write it as a longer piece for a magazine or something?

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18:13 Jul 13, 2022

I’m still writing out the full story 😊 maybe one day it will be in a magazine!

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