Contest #225 shortlist ⭐️


Science Fiction Horror

I enter Red Square from the south side. It's late; there's no one else around. My footfalls echo across the bricks. Then I spot him–a slender figure beneath one of the cherry trees outside Drake Hall. Silvery white hair pulled back in a ponytail. Black gloves, combat boots, a wool trench coat, the preferred attire of all psychopaths. I reach into my purse. In the next instant, he is standing right beside me.

"Excuse me, Miss?" I pepper spray him in the face. He takes it stoically, with little more than a wince. I empty the entire can, but he just stands there squinching like it’s nothing but tepid water. Then he wipes his obsidian eyes clean with his gloved fingertips. "I suppose I deserve that. I forget how fast we seem to you. Forgive me, I mean no harm."

“I will scream!”

"You're Anika Chande, yes? From the physics department?"

"Doctor," I say by reflex, sounding breathless. "Who are you?" Or what?

"Doctor Chande, forgive me," he repeats, extending a hand. "My name is Sasha Volkov. I've read your books and all the papers you've published. Your work with photons is nothing short of brilliant. No pun intended."

"Thank you," I say flatly. I don’t believe in auras, but if I did, his would be ice cold. I decline his handshake. I don't want my blood to crystallize in my veins.

"I’m hoping you will help me," he continues. "You are perhaps the only one who can."

"I don't think so."

His pencil-thin eyebrows pin together. "You don't understand–"

"No, YOU don't understand. You don't warp fifteen yards across a plaza in the blink of an eye, demonstrate a superhuman immunity to capsaicin, and then ask for a favor. I see you're sporting a nice pair of fangs, as well. That's very cute. Am I being Punk'd?"

"No, ma'am." He pulls a handkerchief out of his coat and mops his face with it. "Although I have been told I look like Slavic Ashton Kutcher."

"I'm calling the campus police."

"Please hear me out. Look, I'll show you..." He walks into a beam of moonlight and vanishes. Not entirely. His outfit is still visible, but there's no one inside it. 

I start to deliver on my promise to scream, but the sound catches in my throat. The ludicrousness of the sight, the sheer improbability–I must be suffering a psychotic break from the stress of finals, or the sushi I had for lunch is causing hallucinations–makes me scoff and start laughing, instead. "Very impressive. Bravo.”

"You see," the trench coat says, gloves raised in a gesture of helplessness, "somewhere along the way, our species developed this ability–or disability, depending on your point-of-view–to disappear under direct light. That's why we're nocturnal. You might assume this gives us a natural predatory advantage, but it's actually incredibly frustrating. Imagine trying to eat a sandwich without being able to see your hands. And it’s painful. The stronger the light, the more intense the discomfort.”

"Is that why you live in Seattle?” I snort. “Because the sun is never out?"

"Yes, exactly."

"Makes sense."

"I have a hunch there may be some sort of interference at the quantum level between our bodies’ atoms and solar photons. That's why we have no reflection and can't be captured on film. But the human mind can't abide the irrationality, so by rote it forms a composite to make us appear whole." He returns to the shadows and rematerializes. A fancy illusion, just smoke and mirrors, nothing to see here. No need for an anchor to drop into my stomach, or the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. “Nature had to find some way of keeping us in check, or we would’ve rendered you extinct by now.”

"W-what do you want?" I ask, wishing my voice didn’t make me sound so fragile. So human.

"There was an article about you in the school newsletter recently. Thanks to a generous donation from someone who wished to remain anonymous, your lab was able to get a new quantum camera and an entangled photon detector." Volkov grins, his cobra-like fangs glistening even in the dark. "I am that mysterious benefactor. And I want you to take my picture."

“Please stop messing with me. This really isn’t funny. At all.”

“I’m quite serious actually.”

 “We use simple objects for quantum imaging, like an emblem made out of gold and silicon. Not living beings...”

“Well, according to your lore, I’m not really alive. Isn’t that right?”

I grip the strap of my purse, certain at any moment I’m going to wake up in a puddle of my own drool at my desk, having fallen into a fever dream. “Undead beings then. The fact remains.”

“You injure me, Doctor. I am not a zombie or a virus. My physiology is nearly identical to yours. With a few notable differences, of course.” His stare is beyond unsettling. I cast my gaze towards the parking lot and keep it there in case he’s trying to hypnotize me.

“It’s very late. I need to be getting home to my family.”

He pretends not to hear me and carries on, “I understand there may be challenges. That’s why I’m asking you. You’re the only one who can rise to the task.”

“Mister Volkov, whomever or whatever you are, I suggest you learn to take no for an answer. The first time, not the second or third or fourth.” I stride away, making sure to keep my head held high. Projecting indifference.

“Oh, come now,” he says, voice dropping to an impossibly low pitch. “I could just compel you to do it. But I’d rather you choose. This is an exciting opportunity for us both.”

My legs grow heavy. Against my will–how is he doing that–I stop in my tracks, my heartbeat rising rapidly into my throat. A mysterious gravity pulls me back in his direction, like my subconscious has staged a coup. I swallow against the growing certainty that this is actually happening. Only a monster would fail to see the false dichotomy of his proposal. “Alright then. Fine.”


In the lab, I keep the overhead lights off. The light from the monitors will have to suffice. As soon as we’re inside, Volkov makes a beeline for the oversized Faraday cage one of my students built as part of her thesis. Like he knew it would be here waiting for him.

“What material is this lined with?” he asks through the open door.

“Aluminum foil.”


“Why? Worried it was silver?”

The muscles of his jaw twitch. “No, that’s another myth. Along with aversion to the crucifix, garlic, and wooden stakes. Nothing but superstitious nonsense which, if I’m honest, I find rather insulting.”

“I see. It’s going to take a while to get everything prepared.”

I can wait, I hear him say, except his lips didn’t move. Much like your ascetic monks, we are capable of remaining motionless for protracted periods of time. Even when speaking into my mind, he sounds like a robot.

“Stop that. I don’t like it. It’s invasive.”

“Forgive me,” he says for the millionth time. But at least it’s out loud.

I set to work calibrating the laser with the beam splitter, then ensure the quantum camera is in position to catch all the action. Once the photons pass through the vacuum chamber and into the Faraday cage, they will entangle with Volkov’s atoms, or won’t if there is indeed some sort of interference. Then the beam will be rejoined on the other side by a sensor. The high-precision spectrometer, along with the computer program on my laptop, will gather and interpret the data. “You do understand that should we manage to get an image, it’s going to be little more than a ghostly outline, right? Nothing like an actual photograph.” 

“When was the last time you saw your reflection, Doctor?”

“...In the bathroom after class.”

“I’ve never seen myself at all. Not in the surface of a lake, nor the glint of an eye, nor a darkened pane of glass. You cannot cast a shadow if you are never in the sun. I’ve commissioned sketches and paintings of course, but it isn’t the same, is it? I’ve never seen a real, tangible image of Sasha Volkov.” He pauses. Because he’s so still, I can’t tell if he’s battling with something or just going dormant. “Can you imagine how that feels? To have so little confirmation of your very existence?”

“I mean…I teach for a living,” I shrug. I wonder how many people he’s fed on. How many pints of blood he’s drank.

“Thousands,” he says, reading my thoughts again. “Why is that relevant?”

“I asked you not to do that.”

“I can’t help it. It’s like asking me to ignore a blaring car alarm.”

“If you want my help, then you can try.”

He doesn’t move, yet I feel his irritation growing, as though he’s funneling his feelings directly into me. “How many animals have you consumed in your lifetime? How many cows, chickens, fish?”

“I’m vegan. Have been since 2006. Figured you would know that.”

“The point is you don’t think of your food in those terms. Would you castigate a lion for feasting on a lamb? It is the way of things. We have been with you since the beginning, in the shade of your monuments, co-evolving. Nature designed us for a singular purpose: to cull the human herd. But as you can see, we’re doing a piss-poor job of it. There’s more of you than ever.” In a surprising, potentially deceptive twist, I feel his emotions sink into self-pity. Like he believes ultimately it is he who is the victim.

“Aren’t your kind just humans who’ve been bitten and turned? Like Lestat and Louis?”

His irritation blooms into full-blown disgust. “Ridiculous. Can you turn a chimpanzee into a homo sapiens? We reproduce the same way you mammals do, via fornication and pregnancy. We are warm-blooded, after all. It’s just not our blood. It doesn’t originate from our bone marrow.” His anger cools a few degrees, and he adds, “I have never been human. But I have lived. I have seen wonders and horrors you cannot begin to fathom. We have our own society, tucked away in the nooks and crannies of yours. Our own ambitions, too.”

Glad for the change of subject, I announce, “We are ready to run our first trial. Please stop talking now and remain stationary.” Volkov shuts the door and settles in. I click on the laser. The beam is split and sent into the cage. The hum of the machinery comforts me, brings to mind the many students who’ve used it to embark on their first voyage into the realm of the subatomic. The inevitable look of rapture when they finally see the particles they’ve spent so long reading about. In the midst of this rumination, I realize it’s providing a kind of psychic cover. My subject is occupied, the grip of his influence weakened. I slip a ballpoint pen into the pocket of my blazer and pray he doesn’t notice.

We run six trials in total. The whole process takes a little over two hours. Once it’s finished, I take a screenshot of the results and send it to the printer in my office. Volkov exits the cage and joins me, and once it’s printed, I hand him the copy. He accepts it like it’s his birth certificate. “Like I said, pretty grainy.”

“But it worked,” he murmurs. His fingers trace over the grayscale form, caressing it. He is totally transfixed. I feel his heady mixture of elation and awe, the vanity that coils around his heart like a serpent. “It’s me…” he whispers.

“You got what you came for. I need to get going now. My family will be worried.”

Volkov gives me the side eye. “Surely you know by now that lying to me is pointless.”

“I don’t know what you mean. If I don’t get home soon, they’ll–”

“You live alone, Doctor. Have since your breakup with Paul. You don’t own any pets, nothing that depends on you for its survival, not so much as a cactus. Your younger sister calls to check up on you every so often, but not often enough.” He sounds bored with the subject, preferring to pour over the print-out with the intensity of an art appraiser. “Is there anything else your system picked up on?”

I push aside the sense of betrayal and shake my head. “The emissions analysis produced a string of errors. That would seem to confirm your hypothesis of some kind of interference, as no entanglement occurred in any of the six runs. But it would take a much more thorough experiment to isolate the actual cause of that interference.”

“I see…” he says, licking his chops. “No matter. Still a tremendous success.”

Unable to help myself, I blurt out, “Are you going to kill me now?”

He blanches. He’s probably manipulating me, but I can feel the sting of hurt feelings in his chest. “Of course not, Doctor. You have me all wrong.” He clutches the print-out in both hands and peers around the lab, taking it all in. “I want you to study me further. Enlist the help of others, if need be. People we can trust to test my DNA and take blood samples. Think about it: if we can produce more results like this, you can publish them. These findings will fundamentally alter the world’s understanding of biology and quantum mechanics! And what might that do for your career?” When I don’t say anything, he continues, “It’s time homo sapiens learned they are not so alone as they imagine. It is time for us to evolve beyond the predator/prey dynamic and work together. We have to do something before your species gets us all killed with your utter disregard for the health of this planet.” His eyes land on me. Despite his words, I feel sick to my stomach, because in his zeal he's accidentally let slide a few of his memories.

I see his first kill at just four years old, hunting with his father in the streets of Québec. The elderly homeless man bundled up in a doorway. The pale, mottled flesh of his throat. The profound hunger, a thousand times stronger than any I’ve ever experienced. An insatiable need. The man awakens and finds himself immobilized by Volkov’s father. Fear pours out of him in a thick stench. His final thoughts are filled with deep regret. He's struggled so hard for so long, endured so much, and survived on so little, only to meet his end as some night creature’s meal. And little Volkov loves it. Every drop of remorse, every pitiable whimper, every dream…he feeds on them along with the blood, gorges on the man’s life force until he's full as a tick. And his father says simply, Good.

I see his most recent kill from earlier in the night. Stephanie Albright, the student who made the Faraday cage. He broke into her dorm and drained her in her sleep. She died and never saw it coming.

Volkov looks at me now. He knows that I know. “Don’t,” he warns.

I jam the ballpoint pen into his chest. My aim is perfect. It lodges between the ribs slightly to the left of his sternum and hits something hard, catching when he takes a breath. He growls at me, “I told you that wouldn't work.”

Then I’m soaring through the air. My body collides with the quantum camera, shattering it against the wall. I land in a heap on the floor, sparks raining down around me. Pain shoots up my spine, the wind knocked out of me. Volkov is on top of me in seconds, his weight like a thousand-ton hydraulic press. There is no further possibility of fighting back. “Do it then…” I hiss at him. I will not be like the man in the streets. I will not go to my death without dignity. If he’s going to eat me, let him taste nothing but pure hatred. “Do it, you fucking parasite!

He flinches again. I feel his emotions fan out in a kaleidoscope of rage, disappointment, and woe. Beneath which is a childlike longing for my approval. He can't hide it now that I've seen it, his need for recognition that washes over me in waves. It’s nearly as overwhelming as his hunger. An insecurity born of being raised with no mother. “We could’ve done important work together,” he says, voice choked with repudiation. “Remember that.”

 Then he’s gone. His presence peels away like a bad dream. The overhead lights turn on. “Doctor Chande?” asks Officer Thompson. He’s standing in the doorway holding a nightstick; the school won’t let him carry a gun. “Everything okay in here?”

Shakily, I get to my feet and survey the damage to the lab. Other than the broken camera, all the equipment is intact. There’s no sign Volkov was ever here. Except for the image on my laptop.

“I’m okay, Officer,” I say, “but we need to send the local police to Stephanie Albright’s dorm room. There’s been a homicide.”

Gripping his stick closer, Thompson asks, “How do you know that?”

I stare at the screen, its spray pattern of photons in a vaguely humanoid shape. The world’s first evidence of the supernatural. But it could be anything, no better than a UFO sighting or a blurry photograph of Big Foot in the woods. I clear my throat and glance at the officer. In the wake of Volkov's influence, my emotions come flooding back with a vengeance. Hot tears spill down my face. I clear my throat and remind myself, no matter what I experience, I am a scientist. “Call it a hunch.”

November 24, 2023 21:18

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Chrissy Cook
13:55 Nov 26, 2023

This was an absolute delight. I was pleased to see that someone else saw the word "mirror" and also immediately thought "vampire"! This was such a cool take on it, though - I love that you went sci-fi instead of fantasy. Simply inspired, and a wholly fun read. :)


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Geir Westrul
15:45 Jan 11, 2024

Nicholas, this was such a great read. I loved all the tantalizing hints at the world of vampires - the quantum explanation for their lack of reflection, their purpose to cull the human herd, their own society tucked away in the nooks and crannies of ours, their "own ambitions", their profound hunger .. insatiable need, feeding on human life force not just blood, and the mommy issues! This feels like more stories, a novel, a series! (I also liked the slightly unsettling reference to "Red Square" at the beginning, which naturally, for most ...


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10:55 Dec 19, 2023

Catching up on a few stories I've missed in the horror category and this is fabulous stuff Nicholas. Nice to go sci-fi route on this as others have noted. I'll keep an eye out for more of your writing!


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Danie Holland
13:53 Dec 11, 2023

Okay, I loved this. I did not know I needed a vampire with mommy issues until I read this. Now I love him and I want to keep him. Both of these voices were captured so well and the conflict, ugh. On one hand, the obvious reaction is hers. He's a monster and he's basically holding her at gun point (fang point?) to do what he wants. And then you dive into the reasons and... I just. I like him so much. He wants a sense of identity. There is something so human about that. And yet, you remind us at every corner that he isn't human. - "His sta...


15:40 Dec 11, 2023

Lmao @ I'm unhinged. Thank you, Danie! I really enjoyed exploring sci fi vampirism. Might be something I revisit in the future


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Story Time
21:34 Dec 07, 2023

This was put together with such precision, I flew through it. Just fantastic.


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Mary Bendickson
16:48 Dec 01, 2023

I know I read this story this week but I must have been interrupted before I made a comment. Thought it was very good then and the shortlist proves it. Second vampire story to win. Congrats🥳


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Katie W
01:46 Jan 20, 2024

I love vampires :) Really good story!


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Goerge Jones
05:11 Dec 04, 2023

Composed superbly👏🏼 looking forward to more!


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Philip Ebuluofor
16:52 Dec 03, 2023

Hooking work. Congrats.


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Marty B
08:12 Dec 03, 2023

Great story, I loved the detail of Doctor Chande, and his office, Congrats!


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Graham Kinross
12:45 Nov 30, 2023

“squinching like it’s nothing I like the reference to the Vampire Chronicles. Have you read those books? I like your version of their aversion to daylight as well. The idea of quantum photography to get an image is cool as well.


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Helen A Smith
17:23 Nov 26, 2023

An excellent read.


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