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Fiction Contemporary Horror

Are you there, God? It's me… 

Daniella Dean screams a muffled plea beneath her taped mouth.

Tears flow from her eyes. She hasn't eaten in days, and she doesn't know where she is or why he chose her. There were others that night he could have taken. Her best friend had been by her side. She recalls the fireworks and the eerie feeling she had just before he took her.. 

The devil is near.

Her cries are muted. 

Please, God. Oh, please…

Rays of light through the floorboard cracks catch dusty specks that cloud her vision in a yellow-green haze.

She hears the thud of his boots cease, as he stands over her. There's the click of a lock before the latch opens. 

Daniella can see the outline of a blackened figure. She flinches when something like a sponge bounces off her face and lands in the shadows.

"Bread. Eat," orders a deep voice.

Daniella is chained by the feet.

"Go on now. Get yer food.”

A flood of fear washes over her as he stares.  

No, no, no!

   The slamming of the latch door cuts all light.  

Faces float past, blank and smooth as cream. The crowd assembles toward the edge of a field.  

The devil is among them. 

A sea of country people peer into the dark for some midnight contest to begin.  

A light sputters off into the field, and a purple-tailed rocket skitters off high above their upturned faces. It bursts and sprays. Lit glycerin flares across the night and trails down the sky in loose  ribbons of hot spectra that burn into nothing.  

Another goes up, a wishing sound fishtails aloft. The bloom of its opening shares shadows and images of the rocket that had gone before. There are puffs of black smoke, and ashy trails arc out and down like a vast dark medusa squatting in the sky.  

The light bloom outlines two men in the field who crouch over a crate of fireworks like bridge assassins. 

A young girl with full lips and wide eyes is among them.  

Daniella's hair smells of sweet soap, a woman child beyond her years wrapped below the sulfur glow and pitched light of some medieval fun fare. A lean skyline candle skewers the black pools in her eyes. Her fingers are clutched with tension and excitement.  

In the flood of lights and colors, she sees the man watching her, and she nervously edges closer to the girl by her side. Her country denim overalls are fastened by glistening metallic straps.  

Daniella brushes her hair quickly with two fingers and cautions her best friend not to point his way. When she glances again in his direction, he has disappeared somewhere in the firelights.

The devil talks to himself. His shuffling boot prints lay out the plans of lesser life, where mice or foxes have gone hunting in the night. He wears the underclothes and garments of his female victims. He appears as a gothic doll in ill-fitting clothes. His gleeful mouth floats bright and detached in the white landscape.    

His tracks come from a mysterious cave with blood-red mud as if the snow had cauterized his feet, leaving dry prints in the frozen ground. Soon, false spring will come again with a warm wind, and the snow will melt off into patches of gray ice among the wet leaves.  

Bats begin to stir somewhere in the deep cave during his macabre rituals. He sees them come through the tunnel and ascends through the hole overhead. They flutter wildly through the smoke and ash of soulful wafts rising from Hades. 

When they are gone, he watches the hordes of cold stars sprawled across the smoke hull and wonders what stuff they are made of.  

"God, if you're there, have mercy on my child and show me the way."

Carson Dean, Daniella's father, crosses the road and follows the stream towards the thin, narrow gorge. It rushes off into the darkness before him and descends from pool to pool in stone cups.    

He follows the course for perhaps a mile down all its turnings and through narrows that stretch him sideways. He advances sideways, like a fencer, through a tunnel that brings him to his belly until he reaches an opening where he can stand again. He observes the underworld of a dark and cold cave and can't bear the smell.  

Hell on earth, he thinks to himself.

Carson rushes to an opening where tiny doilies of snow settle and perish on the crossed arms of his coat. He watches the silent land below him grow dim in gray snowfall. After a while, he takes up his shotgun and crosses the ridge to where he can still see the road.  

It takes him the better part of the morning to cross the ridge where God leads him.

The snow is gray against the sky and soft on his lashes. It falls without a sound. Carson makes his way down a slope towards what now appears to be some sort of plantation hidden in the monochrome tint before dusk. 

"Where are you, you bastard?”

Carson asks both God and man.

From about a half-mile out, he sees the devil coming from a house for wood. He crosses into a barn and then disappears aimlessly in the woods. Carson moves with haste and crouches behind the barn, listening. He hears the chunk of an ax dampened by the wind and trees. He advances through the barn, and it is empty. Even the lofts are bare of hay.  

Carson stands in a bay door and looks down at the fallen snow towards the gray shape of a smoking shack. He crosses through an adjacent chicken coop, and a few white hens eye him nervously through their cubby nests on the far wall.

He patiently waits for the devil to return.

Carson kicks in the door.

The devil is shirtless, and his back is covered in stripe-like scars that spill down his spine.

"Turn around," Carson says. "I want to see you."

Daniella lies below somewhere between a nightmare and exhaustion when she hears her father's voice.

Carson gasps when he observes the spectacle face to face. He's painted in makeup smears, bare-chested and hairy, adorning Daniella's torn bloody overalls. He smiles with cracked and chapped red-painted lips.

“God, what are you?" 

The devil remains silent. 

When he pulls the trigger, Carson doesn't even flinch, unloading the buckshot into the throat of his adversary.

Daniella kicks and screams as blood leaks through the floor and drips onto her naked flesh.

"Honey? Daniella! Hold on, hold on. Daddy's here!"

Carson moves swiftly and stands over the devil. Still intact and drenched with eye shadow, his right eye looks up at Carson. He tries to speak from a red-bubbling mouth, but he cannot utter a sound.

Daniella frantically kicks at the locked hatch door.  Carson tries to stomp through the floorboards but they won’t break.

Unable to speak, the devil points to a table where the key is, and Carson instantly snatches it. With trembling hands, he unlocks the hatch and opens the door to the horror of his daughter lying there in her own filth. .  

"Daddy's right here, honey."

Carson drags the devil's body out of the way, blankets his daughter, and gently sets her in the corner. His heart thumps with rage, and he turns, reloads the shotgun, and unloads one final shot.

February 06, 2022 19:49

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54 comments

Graham Kinross
08:33 Feb 26, 2022

"His heart thumps with rage, and he turns, reloads the shotgun, and unloads one final shot." If zombie nation taught us anything, it's to double tap. Just to be sure.

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Stella T Morgan
11:41 Mar 05, 2022

The pace and imagery as well as language are fascinating! I read this in one breath. I'm looking forward to reading more and learning from you. Keep it up!

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Rachael Reese
01:17 Feb 19, 2022

I really enjoy your style of writing. Your story is very well written. As a newbie writer, I appreciate learning from more seasoned writers. Thanks for sharing your work.

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Dustin Gillham
03:04 Feb 19, 2022

Thank you so much, Rachael.

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Barbara Burgess
14:52 Feb 17, 2022

Hi Dustin, I enjoyed your story it kept me reading right to the end. I also thought it was a good ending. A good read, well done.

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Dustin Gillham
21:01 Feb 17, 2022

Thank you, Barbara. BTW, I loved "Confectionary Carnage"!

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Nemira Alexis
14:27 Feb 17, 2022

Your writing style reminds me of the classics. And classic literature never dies. Baby writers like me have a lot to learn from you, so I will keep an eye on your work.

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Dustin Gillham
21:00 Feb 17, 2022

Nemira, I am honored for you to say that I write like the classics. I hardly deserve the compliment, but you made my day. I absolutely loved the honesty in your recent story "A Manafest Against God." Keep up the great work.

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Kevin Broccoli
19:16 Feb 16, 2022

I love that the whole gang wound up under the same prompt! I love that you went the way you did with the prompt. It has your signature burst of frenetic energy but also it's very honed and specific. Well done.

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Dustin Gillham
22:14 Feb 16, 2022

Thanks, Kevin! Your compliment means a lot to me. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Mike Panasitti
21:53 Jun 23, 2022

Your imagery is cinematic and noirish. I couldn't help but think of the gender- bending psycho from Silence of the Lambs when I read this. Was the film a conscious influence? BTW, I enjoyed listening to the Read Lots Write Lots episode that featured you.

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Dustin Gillham
22:33 Jun 29, 2022

Thank you, Mike. I was totally thinking of Buffalo Bill. Blessings.

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22:15 Feb 15, 2022

Wow! What a dramatic story. Riveting and certainly kept my attention. Well done.

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Dustin Gillham
03:10 Feb 17, 2022

Thank you, MC. I'm very grateful for your compliment and for you taking the time to read.

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Pankaj C.
22:39 Feb 13, 2022

Couldn’t put my phone down! Very well written.

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Dustin Gillham
06:47 Feb 15, 2022

Thank you for your time in reading and commenting. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! 👍

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J.C. Lovero
16:31 Feb 13, 2022

Hi Dustin, Well done! This was a great read, keeping my attention all the way to the end. The dark descriptions and imagery, combined with the pacing, kept me all the way to the end. Looking forward to more of your stories!

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Dustin Gillham
20:15 Feb 13, 2022

Thank you J.C., combining both description and pace on this prompt was quite the challenge. I’m honored you too ok the time to read it!

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K. Antonio
22:43 Feb 11, 2022

Sup, Dustin. I read this story days ago, but didn't get to commenting. By the looks of it everyone is really enjoying it. I too enjoyed reading it. I found this take on the prompt to be clever and not at all obvious, and you really did a nice job of creating tension. I think this story's pacing is actually great. I have to right a thriller story this week for another contest and when I read this piece days ago it did make me think a lot about how I would go about it!

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Dustin Gillham
22:45 Feb 11, 2022

So you liked it?

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K. Antonio
22:52 Feb 11, 2022

Yep! I wish I had thought of it, actually. xD

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Dustin Gillham
00:40 Feb 12, 2022

Oh yay! I’m so excited and honored that you liked it. Thank you, K. Antonio!

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Sam Wilson
04:35 Feb 09, 2022

This was a really gripping story Dustin. You do an exceptional job painting such a vivid picture. The imagery portrayed was beautiful and eerie at the same time. I was holding my breath until that last final line and wow: what an ending.

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Dustin Gillham
22:27 Feb 09, 2022

Sam! Thank you thank you for reading my story and writing a comment. I’m honored that you enjoyed it and took the time to write me. Many blessings. :-)

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Philip Ebuluofor
12:58 Feb 08, 2022

Eye for an eye resolution. Fine work.

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Dustin Gillham
03:11 Feb 17, 2022

Thank you, Philip. I've been watching a lot of the show "Reacher." I was in the mood for a total revenge story.

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Philip Ebuluofor
20:54 Feb 18, 2022

Welcome

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23:51 Feb 07, 2022

Hi Dustin. So visceral, as another reader observed, i think i might need a shower so i can wash the blood and smell of sulphur of my skin haha! Some really descriptive phrases like ' The light bloom outlines two men in the field who crouch over a crate of fireworks like bridge assassins...and, '...trails down the sky in loose ribbons of hot spectra that burn into nothing. I love how you gave the Devil a campy personality with his wearing of makeup and crossdressing in his victims clothes. A visual, disturbing read. Nice one Dustin.

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Dustin Gillham
08:45 Feb 08, 2022

Thank you, scoop! I’m grateful you took the time to read and comment. I was going to add a bit more of that campy horror but I felt it would have been cheesy. I really was going for something scary and thrilling but at the same time fun while also adding the visceral aspects I tend to put into a lot of my stories.

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Jamie Gregory
22:43 Feb 07, 2022

This was quite a chilling story! I could really sense the fear Daniella was experiencing, especially with the devil lurking around above her. I like how the timeline started with her being held hostage, then switched to how she was captured, and then ended with her being rescued. I thought it was interesting that the devil indicated to her father where the key was for the trap door before he died.

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Dustin Gillham
22:51 Feb 07, 2022

Jamie, I’m glad you brought that up. I wanted the ending to represent a culmination of redemptive goodness triumphing over the enemy of evil. Plus, the dude knew he was done after Carson shot him in the throat. But, he too had a connection - even though sick - with his victims. I am so appreciative of your time and grateful for your comment. :-)

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Cindy Strube
18:50 Feb 07, 2022

Visceral! The picture you paint is both vivid and dark. I was drawn into the story by Daniella’s fear, and relieved that, at the end, her father rescued her in time. His tenderness toward her in the midst of his rage is very well portrayed. I don’t typically read thriller/horror fiction, but I do consume a lot of true crime and forensic material. This was very well executed.

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Dustin Gillham
19:01 Feb 07, 2022

I'm honored you replied, Cindy. Horror is somewhat the stepchild genre of fiction and gets overlooked, so I really wanted something readers could consume while representing horror/thriller well. It was a great challenge on this particular prompt. BTW I loved "chicken scratch" and "small town talk." Thank you for reading, Cindy.

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Craig Westmore
18:40 Feb 07, 2022

The first sentence (or technically the second) "...a muffled plea... " really sets the tone. Eerie atmosphere throughout. I really wanted to see her rescued even if it doesn't always happen that way in the news. Good work, Dustin!

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Dustin Gillham
18:56 Feb 07, 2022

Thanks, Craig. I had a couple differant endings and I really wanted good to prevail. I love a solid revenge story, and the bad dude I was envisioning was ugly and hateful. He got what was coming to him! Have a wonderful week, my friend.

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Paul Brown
15:25 Feb 07, 2022

Chilling to think real monsters do exist, glad to see an ending with hope, thank you. Enjoyed it.

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Dustin Gillham
18:07 Feb 07, 2022

Thank you, Paul.

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Michaela Davis
10:12 Feb 07, 2022

Ooh spooky i liked it !!

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Dustin Gillham
18:08 Feb 07, 2022

I appreciate your time Michaela. Thank you for reading.

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Calm Shark
06:52 Feb 07, 2022

Hi Dustin, I like how it was a horror/thriller. There are many writers who write a lot of stories quickly and I am astounded by their ability to publish a story quickly such as you. Well, Dustin, this was a great read.

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Dustin Gillham
06:58 Feb 07, 2022

C.S., Don't be impressed at all, my friend. I have surgery this Tuesday on my right arm and won't get to writing. And honestly, in between taking care of my kiddo and prepping work for the week, this took me a solid 6 hours! That's after taking an hour Friday to jot some ideas. It usually doesn't get done without putting in a solid 3 to 6 hours. I know some talent here that can pound out a solid story in 1 to 2. Time well spent, though. :-)

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Calm Shark
07:03 Feb 07, 2022

Yeah, that's true. Some people publish quickly while others publish later. It depends on the circumstances and how easily they can convey the prompts.

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Dustin Gillham
07:03 Feb 07, 2022

Absolutely.

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