L. A. Forman

The February Selected Story is by L.A. Forman

Please feel free to email L.A. at: forman337@yahoo.com

LA Forman

by L. A. Forman

He awoke abruptly from a dreamless sleep to the high-pitched sound of sirens blaring outside. They could have been coming from fire trucks, ambulances, or police cars—he couldn’t be sure. It was just a mess of wailing noise; enough to make his ears hurt.

Connor got up to look out the window and see what was going on, nearly tripping on the coffee table. There were multitudes of emergency vehicles passing by at high speed. Bright flashes of red and blue light accompanied the orchestra of noise. 

He reached for the wall switch, and realized that the power was out. Carefully navigating the living furniture by feel alone, he made his way to the kitchen to get a flashlight. To his surprise he made it without stubbing a toe or banging a knee. Hoping the flashlight batteries weren’t dead, he flicked the switch. The bulb lit up and a beam of light sliced through the black void.

And then the commotion outside seemed to be over and the house was quiet again. Connor hoped the power would come back soon. He didn’t like how quiet it got during a blackout.  Without the familiar white noise household appliances make—the sound of the television or radio in the background, the hum of the refrigerator or fan—silence is pure.

The sound of a dog barking outside broke the quiet. It started to whimper before abruptly going silent.

Suddenly a bright flash of light passed by outside, bright enough to illuminate the entire living room. It was accompanied by a strong vibration, and the glass rattled in the windows. He could even feel it in his chest. He figured it was just another emergency vehicle passing by.

Starting to wonder how wide an area had been affected by the power outage, he decided to call his friend, Phil, who lived in the next town over. He found his cell and tried to call but the phone was off and wouldn’t turn on.

Connor jumped when a scream came from outside, so full of terror it sent a chill up his spine. He dropped his phone and it clattered as it bounced on the hardwood floor. He ran to look out the window and saw a bright light emanating from the upstairs windows of the neighbor’s house. It flashed from room to room before disappearing and leaving the house in total darkness.

He tightly gripped the flashlight and ran outside to see what was going on. It never occurred to him that he should be afraid, only that his neighbor might need help. As he approached his neighbor’s front door, he tried to look into the windows but it was too dark to see anything.  There wasn’t even the faint flicker of a candle.

Connor knocked on the door and waited for someone to answer. He knocked again, harder this time, listening afterward to see if he could hear anyone. The house was completely silent.

He tried the doorknob, and was surprised to find it unlocked. He opened it slowly and shined his flashlight inside, calling out to see if anyone was home. He got no answer.

As soon as he stepped into the seemingly vacant home, a pungent odor overwhelmed him. It was a thick, acrid stench that made him gag and choke. He covered his mouth with his shirt and pushed on in spite of the horrible smell.

Passing the staircase, he noticed smoke wafting down from the second floor. Immediately the thought occurred to him that there could be a fire. His neighbor must have had candles lit because of the power outage. He ran up the stairs, calling out to anyone who might need help.

The trail of smoke led Connor to a closed door, most likely one of the bedrooms. He saw that the smoke was coming through the bottom of the door. He remembered learning something in school about how you should feel a door before opening it if there was a fire. He put his hand against it and the door didn’t feel hot; neither did the handle. 

He hoped for the best and pushed the door open.

The smoke inside the room was so thick it was hard to see. The rotten taste of it crept into his throat and he had to fight the urge to vomit. Through the haze he could vaguely see the remains of what had burned on the floor in the middle of the room. He couldn’t tell what it was.

He looked around, and realized that whatever fire had been here seemed to be out now. He decided it would be safe to enter the bedroom. He could hear his pulse in his ears, throbbing to the beat of his fear, but the morbid curiosity he felt overpowered his emotions. He had to see what that burned pile on the ground was.

He advanced on the smoldering pile until the beam of his flashlight revealed its blackened surface. There were tiny rivers of dark red liquid running out of cracks in the charred shell, making it look like a miniature volcano. The entire thing seemed to be settling, as if it were a viscous liquid, but Connor couldn’t understand how anything could be liquefied in a house fire.

He reeled back, falling to the floor when he saw bones protruding from the sizzling mass. 

His mind was slipping away from him, unable to grasp what he was seeing. As the gruesome sight settled to the floor, a human skull emerged in the center of what he could now see was human flesh and blood. 

The contents of his stomach were involuntarily emptied on the floor. He didn’t want to believe what he saw, even though the proof was in front of him. His mind wouldn’t let him believe it.  How could a human body be melted?

His vision started to blur as he felt himself losing consciousness. Fear had tightened a hand around his throat and squeezed until reality slipped away into nothingness.

The next thing he knew he was on the floor, someone standing over him, asking if he was okay. 

Connor opened his eyes, but his vision was blurred and his mind felt out of focus. The nauseating taste was still clinging to his tongue and his first thought was one of panic…who was talking to him? What had happened to the body on the floor?

Slowly his thoughts cleared and he looked up to find Hal Royce standing above him, who worked at the garage where he got his car serviced.

“Connor!”  Hal was yelling in his face. “Connor! Are you okay?”

“Yes, I think so. Where’s the police? Call the police!”

Ignoring that, Hal went on, “God…I thought you were dead. Something’s happening.” Hal’s voice was jittery and spoke in tones of helpless fear. His eyes darted back and forth and sweat was pouring down his hairless scalp.

Connor awkwardly rose to his feet. “What’s happening?”

“When the power went out,” Hal said, “I was seeing bright flashes of light outside. I heard people screaming. I stayed inside until it was quiet then I ran to my truck to get help. While I was driving here I saw…”  Hal stopped, his eyes widening.


“You’ll have to see for yourself. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

Connor followed Hal to his pickup, which was parked outside in the driveway. They got in and the engine cranked a few times before starting noisily. Hal pulled the truck onto the road and sped off.

“We have to tell the police,” Connor said.

“I’ve already been to the police station. That was the first place I went. There was no one there! No one that was still alive, anyway. Christ, they were burned! The cops were burned! Just like your neighbors…the Millers. I knew them, Mr. Miller anyway, he’s my friend. Or was. I went there to see if they were okay. That’s when I found you.”

As they drove, the moonlight brightened the visibility, and Connor looked out the window at the melted bodies which were scattered all over the streets. They had to maneuver around abandoned vehicles as well as the remains of the dead. 

A man ran into the street in front of the truck. Hal laid on the horn as he stomped the brakes, bringing the pickup to a screeching halt.

“Hey!” Hal yelled out the window.

The young man stared blankly into the headlights.

“Are you okay?” Hal shouted.

“Help!” He screamed. “Help me, please!”

Hal stepped out and held his door open. “Come on, get in.”

The stranger jumped in and slid to the middle of the bench seat. Hal jumped back in the cab and took off.

Connor could see that the man was shaking badly. He looked extremely pale and sweaty. “Everyone is dead,” he muttered. He put his hands over his face and started to weep.

“What’s your name?” Connor asked.

“Jim,” he stuttered between sobs.

“What happened to you?” Hal asked.

“Well…”  Jim drew in a deep breath. “I was having a bite to eat at the diner when the power went out. The staff had lit some candles and everyone kept eating. Then we saw bright lights outside and after that came the screams. Everyone in the diner went to the windows to see what was going on. What we saw…” Jim went silent.

“What did you see?” Hal demanded.

“What we saw was a glowing ball that looked like fire and lightning…it was floating through the air.  I don’t know how else to describe it. I thought I was imagining it at first but then I noticed everyone was looking at it. Then I saw people running through the parking lot, more of the lights chasing them. The lights were chasing those people! They were screaming, trying to get away, but the balls of fire were too fast. They were sucking people into them! I swear!”

Jim was interrupted by a loud sound and the truck began bumping along on the road.

“Damn!” Hal exclaimed. He stopped the truck and everyone got out to see what had happened.  It was a flat tire. 

“There’s a spare in the back, Jim. Get it for me? Connor, you grab the jack from under the seat.  I’ll start loosening the lug nuts.”

They worked quickly to change the tire. Just as Hal was tightening the last of the lug nuts, a bright light could be seen from down the road, coming in their direction. Along with it they could feel vibrations, getting stronger as the light came closer. 

“Get in the truck!” Hal screamed.

Connor jerked into action, but Jim was frozen in place, staring in the direction of the light.

Hal turned the key to start the engine but nothing happened. He tried again but not even the accessory lights on the dashboard lit up. He then popped the hood, jumped out, and checked the battery cables. One had come loose from the truck being jolted around when the tire blew. Hal put it back on as the light down the road came closer, the vibration getting stronger.

Just as Hal got the cable on and got in to start the truck, Jim began to scream. The glowing orb reached him and was now pulling his body into itself. All Hal and Connor could see of him were his legs thrashing in the air as the thing lifted him from the ground. 

Hal turned the key, this time the engine roaring to life. He put the transmission into drive and stomped the pedal, spinning the tires and leaving a cloud of smoke behind them. “There was no way we could have helped him.”

Connor felt as though he were in shock. “Oh my god.”

Silence filled the cab of the pickup. The further they went, the more hopeless their situation seemed. The melted bodies were everywhere.

After a while, Connor broke the silence. “Hal, are we the only ones alive?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing.”

“I’m wondering how wide an area is affected by whatever it is that’s happening. Is it just here?  Or is it everywhere? I can’t imagine it’s everywhere. I was thinking about my friend Phil. He lives in Middletown. He has a ham radio and a gas generator. Maybe we could use it to call for help.”

“That’s a good idea. Let’s do that.”

Connor directed Hal to Phil’s house when they got into town. It looked worse there than in Pine Bush. There were so many dead bodies that the stench of burning flesh filled the air. This heightened their fears that they were all on their own and that this was happening in a wider area than they dared think about. When Hal pulled the pickup in the driveway, Connor saw that Phil’s car wasn’t there. 

“I don’t think he’s here. But we need that ham radio, so we may have to break in.”

“All right,” Hal said. “It’s not like we’re going to get arrested.”

Connor tried the front door and found that it was unlocked. “He must have left in a hurry.”

Entering the house, he noticed that nothing seemed amiss. There had been no fire here. They headed straight to the basement, where Connor knew Phil’s radio was kept.

The basement was dark and damp and with only the light of a flashlight to see, unsettling. Connor’s heart was pounding, not only from fear, but with the excitement that they finally might be able to call for help.

Once they got the generator going, Connor tried to get someone on the radio, but no matter what he did with the radio he got nothing but static. He hoped he were only using it wrong, that the absence of any reply was simply his own error, and not that there was no one to answer.

“What now?” Hal asked, sounding desperate.

“We wait it out. I’m probably just not using the radio right. I’ll try again later. We should get some food from the kitchen. I’m starving and we might be down here for a while.”

Connor switched off the generator to conserve gas and they headed upstairs. They gathered up whatever food they could that didn’t need to be cooked and put it in some shopping bags. Going back, Connor was opening the basement door when he felt a strong vibration in his chest.

“Do you feel that?” Hal asked, “I think we should—” 

His words were broken off by a guttural scream.

Before Connor could even look back, he could tell that the kitchen was lit up brighter than if it were daylight. When he turned around, all he saw of Hal were his hands sticking out of the ball of light, as if they were reaching for him, the flesh falling from them until they were only bones.

He staggered back, feeling disconnected from his body, unable to control his movements.  He fell to the floor, looking up at the motionless glowing orb, carnage dripping from its underside.

He had never before experienced a true fear of death. Now it loomed over him like a shroud.  Countless thoughts collided in his mind, each one the boxcar of a derailed train crashing together in his head.
Struggling, he managed to turn over and begin crawling towards the basement door. All he could clearly think of was being consumed by the horrible thing that had taken Hal.

To his surprise, the blinding light dimmed out, the vibrations ceased, and he was left alone in the now dark and silent kitchen.

He didn’t know what happened; only that it did happen. Whatever made the death-light disappear, he was grateful for it. Dimly he realized he should be sad for Hal and Jim, but he couldn’t wrap his mind around anything but his own survival.

He gathered up the shopping bags of food and headed back into the cellar. He tried the radio again but to no avail. Unable to sleep, he sat and waited until he could see a sliver of daylight leaking through the bottom of the cellar door. Daylight was the only light he wanted to see.

He heard footsteps coming from upstairs. He held his breath while he listened. It sounded like there were more than one set of feet walking around above him. A rescue! I’m being rescued, he thought. Hope filled his heart.

Suddenly the basement door flew open. Men dressed in army fatigues held assault rifles. Wearing gas masks, they came running down the stairs. Connor cowered on the floor as they crowded around him, pointing their guns in his direction, all of them yelling an unintelligible mess of commands.

Two of the soldiers grabbed his arms and began to drag Connor up the stairs. He struggled against them but they only tightened their grip, twisting his arms back as he protested with moans of pain.

“What’s going on? Where are you taking me?”

“Shut up,” one soldier said, and hit Connor in the stomach with his rifle. His breath whooshed out of him and he felt a stabbing pain.

The soldiers brought him outside and dropped him to his knees in the front lawn. He saw a white van parked in the street with more soldiers standing around it. Beyond it, black smoke was fuming into the air in huge clouds from the surrounding neighborhood, drifting up to the overcast sky to form a blanket over the destruction. 

Two of the men walked to the van and spoke to the others who were standing there. Connor tried to listen to their conversation, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. They came back with a cloth sack which they put over Connor’s head. He was then dragged to the van and thrown in the back, a few of the soldiers joining him. The doors were slammed shut behind them and the van started up and drove away.

When they reached their destination, he was taken out of the van and his hands were tied behind his back. The cloth sack was removed from his head. He saw that he was in what appeared to be an underground parking complex. There were white vans and army trucks parked throughout the huge parking lot. Army men were running about, seemingly in a hurry to do whatever it was they were doing. Connor hoped they were sent here to rescue people, but with the way he was being treated, it didn’t seem like that was the case.

He was taken down a long corridor and into a small windowless room that looked more like a prison cell than anything else. There was no bed, no sink, not even a toilet. It was lit by halogen bulbs built into the ceiling and had a large steel door to keep him from getting out.

What was happening seemed impossible. He went over it in his mind again and again but could come to no logical conclusion. None of it made sense. He paced back and forth in the small concrete cell trying not to think about it, but it was all he could think about. 

What was going on? It was obvious that they weren’t here on some kind of rescue mission.

The metal door of his cell opened and two soldiers came in. Neither of these men wore gas masks and Connor could see their cold, merciless faces staring at him. One of them raised his gun and pointed at him, and for a moment he thought for sure he was going to be shot. The look on the soldiers’ face told him that he would have no problem putting a bullet in his chest.

“Come with us,” the man pointing the gun said. “That is not a request.”

Connor slowly started walking towards him, afraid to move too quickly for fear of being shot.  “Please tell me what’s going on,” he begged.

“If you open your mouth one more time I will not hesitate to pull this trigger,” the soldier answered, putting the barrel of the gun against Connor’s forehead. “Now let’s move.”

They led him through the complex, one soldier walking behind him and one in front. He couldn’t see the gun pointed at his back but he knew it was there. His legs felt rubbery and he struggled to keep upright with every step.

He was taken into a room much like the one he had been in before but this one was much larger and there was a table and two chairs in the center.

“Sit down,” one of the soldiers told him.

Suddenly the lights went out. 

Emergency lighting came on a few seconds later and alarms began to wail in their high pitched screams. Red and orange lights flashed on the ceiling. The radios the soldiers had on their belts carried the panicked voices of other men throughout the building: Code six, code six! Facility has been compromised. Repeat, facility has been compromised.

The two soldiers abandoned Connor, unlocking the door and running down the hall. He heard a voice calling to him. He got up from the chair and peered out the door.  He looked around, trying to find who it was. 
He saw Phil running towards him. “Connor! I heard you were here!”

“Oh my god, Phil…I can’t believe you’re alive. I was at your house; I tried to use your ham radio. What are you doing here? ”

“I’ll explain later. Right now, we have to run.”

They ran through the chaos. Soldiers passed them by as they too ran.

Suddenly Connor felt like someone had hit him in the chest with a baseball bat. A hot, burning pain followed as he fell to the floor. He looked down at the growing patch of red on his shirt as more blood spilled onto it from his mouth. Everything seemed to go quiet, the noise muffled by the one thought filling his mind: I’ve been shot.

Phil lifted Connor up and pulled him along, his feet dragging on the tile floor behind him.

The hallway lit up with blinding white light and the floor shook. The guns stopped firing and were replaced by the screams the soldiers made as they were taken by the electrifying ball of fire. 

Phil dropped Connor on the floor.

“Go,” Connor barely managed to say. “Run, Phil. I can’t keep up.” 

The vibrations got stronger as the ball of light advanced behind them.

“I have to leave you now. I’m sorry, Connor. If it wasn’t for me, the soldiers would never have found you in my house. Yes, I knew you were there. I told them where to find you. They wanted to know how you survived our weapon. So I told them where you were.”

Connor couldn’t believe what Phil said. Was he in on all of this? How had Connor not known?

He used the last of his strength to stand. He staggered and grabbed Phil and threw him at the ball of burning light. It consumed Phil until he was nothing but a memory. 

And then Connor staggered, clutching his stomach that held a bullet inside, and tried to run down the hall, away from the light.

L.A. Forman has been an avid fan of horror for decades. He resides in Orange County, New York, where he spends most of his time writing short fiction and hiking trails in the Hudson Valley. 

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