This story is by Bart Mann and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
At least it began like a typical day.
That put Fred on his way to work, his routine being a short walk to his car followed by 50 minutes of driving through highway hell. He’d done it so many times he had no complaint left in him.
Heading out, Fred knew exactly how many steps it would take to reach his car. That used to bother him.
He crossed the main boulevard against the light. It was deserted at 5 AM. He didn’t care.
An ugly granite bank sat on the corner. Shiny black columns bookended the ATMs. There was a homeless guy who was always there, always leaning face forward into one of those columns. His nose pressed flat against the unrelenting surface.
Awarding him little notice, Fred yawned as he walked by.
Then something not typical happened. Keeping his head against the column, the homeless guy turned his attention in Fred’s direction. His eyes darted back and forth between Fred and the column with dizzying speed.
“Hey!” the man whisper-shouted, “Hey you!”
Fred slowed, hoping there was a different “you” than him, but no such luck.
“C’mon over here buddy,” the man said. “Please? I need your help.”
“Sorry I can’t… I’ll be late for work,” Fred lied.
“Shit man – I gotta show you something,” the man said.
“I don’t think so… besides, I don’t seem to have any change,” Fred pretended to rifle through his pockets.
“I’m not asking for money buddy, just c’mon over here.”
Fred continued walking towards his car. It was only a block away.
“Stop!” the man yelled.
Fred paused. “I don’t want any trouble mister. Just let me walk by to my car.”
“No… you can’t… it’s… you… the whole world overrun… is that what you want?” the man babbled.
Fred started walking again.
Suddenly the homeless man lifted his face off of the column and looked directly into Fred’s eyes. In that moment Fred saw cognizance he hadn’t been expecting.
“Please pal, just let me explain…” the man stopped mid-sentence. A large mucous dripping tentacle emerged from the column. It was the color of baby shit and smelled worse. It flopped with a wet smack onto the pavement and quickly wrapped around the homeless man’s left leg. Pain and panic tainted his eyes.
Shock stole Fred’s breath.
The homeless man’s leg vomited blood as he spun around smashing his face up against the column. As he did the tentacle sizzled and disappeared like a heat mirage. “Christ they’re getting faster… I turned my gaze for what?” the man cried, “Was that even 5 seconds? It used to take almost 15.”
“What, uh… what..,” Fred tried to ask.
The man held up a piece of torn fabric, “Tie this around my leg would you? It hurts like hell.”
Fred snorted, “I don’t think so.”
Walking in a cautious arc around the column, Fred searched for anything solid for his mind to grasp.
“Can’t compute it, right?” the man asked, struggling to wrap his ruined leg without looking. “I couldn’t either. At first I thought they lived in the column but the guy told me the column was just a rip to somewhere else. Yeah and he said by standing here looking through the rip he was preventing things from coming through. Bad things… wicked things. Corrupt things!”
“What guy?” Fred asked.
“I’m not the first you know – some British tourist was here before me. I used to be like you, a job… a life. But then I was consigned and shown what I had to do. So here I am.”
“Why haven’t you told the cops or someone?“
“Oh that’d go well. They’d lock me up in psych! Who’d be watching the rip then? You saw what comes through if the consigned isn’t watching!”
“If they saw what I saw…” Fred said.
“You don’t get it yet do ya? They couldn’t help even if they believed me.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Because the only one who can seal the rip is the consigned! By watching it… by watching them! Try anything or anyone else and the creatures can reach through. I tested it. Let poor Marty try watching. Things wrapped around his waist… folded him in half backwards pulling him in.”
“So you’re it then… you’re the consigned?“ Fred said.
“But it’s no good! Being consigned only lasts for a while. Then it’s like your battery runs out. I only have a little time left,” The man said.
“Well what do you want from… oh no! You’re not thinking I’m next… that’s bullshit! I mean I’m not noble or anything. I don’t even like the world that much. Why would I get all freaking self-sacrificial over it?”
“Because you are the consigned now and you don’t have a choice,” the man said, “not unless you’re fine with all humanity dying ugly.”
Fred remembered the greasy sucking sounds of the tentacle moving around, dripping what looked like boiling pus everywhere. He imagined it reaching around him, squeezing him, the searing suckers against his flesh… the pus burning through muscle and sinew.
Suddenly the homeless man turned and limped over to Fred.
“No! Don’t! They’ll kill everyone!” Fred cried out.
“It’s ok. They’re all asleep right now. You’ll see. The cycles of their moons controls them. At 5:20 AM there’s a 20 minute nap.”
“Well I’m not it… the consigned or whatever,” Fred said, “I’m not convinced you got the right guy.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re convinced,” the homeless man said, “All that matters is what you decide to do now. As for me? I’m done,” Then he quickly pulled a gun from his jacket, slipped it into his mouth and fired.
Fred stood there dumbly, his suit dripping with blood, brain matter dangling off of his cheek.
He felt his legs go limp. He sat down hard with his back against the column and wondered what he was going to do. He had about 15 minutes to figure it out.