Nightmares: Tales of Horror & Wonder
OF HORROR & WONDER
original tales of horror and speculative wonder.
October 2016 Ronn Hanley
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Table of Contents
Reason of Insanity
Kind of Lady
his mother had told him to stay home until she got there, Tim found
himself walking the green and white tile floors of the Springpoint
Station Mall. He was risking a scolding, but for a chance to play
‘The Game’ he figured that it was worth it.
reached into his pocket and took out his last quarter. A lucky
quarter, or so his father had told him. It flashed brightly in the
light from the overheads.
arcade entrance stood across from him. He stood staring at it for a
moment. For some reason he felt a little apprehensive about
entering. Dozens of times in the past he’d been here with friends
and had not thought twice about going in, but this one time, there
was a feeling of dread that knotted the pit of his stomach.
a moment he considered leaving, he even began to turn away when the
weight of the quarter in his hand reminded him of what he was there
for. The moment of indecision passed as he felt the challenge well
up in him again. The machine was in there. The unbeatable game that
had become the bane of his life.
wrapped his fingers around the coin and entered the dark.
metallic bleeps and whines filled the air around him. Every color of
the rainbow assaulted the walls and floor of the darkened room. The
other machines in the room called to him in robotic voices. Enticing
him to deposit a quarter and try his luck. He ignored these
machines. His quarry was in the far back.
stood alone. A jet-black cabinet surrounded on three sides by a
green nimbus of neon light. The light pulsed slowly, almost like a
heartbeat. Three control sticks, flanked by six buttons, each with a
different function. The controls were some of the hardest to manage
and so far no one had made it past the first level.
being totally aware of his actions, he bowed to the machine, as if
saluting it. He held out his quarter, only hesitating to look at it
once more. A lucky quarter, his father had said. Then he slid it
into the slot.
pulsing green stopped and faded down a little. The lights on the
screen changed and several map screens appeared. Each one showed a
different layout for a building. One was the mall.
the map screens glowing green letters asked, “Please choose your
one of the control sticks he moved the glowing cursor over to the map
of the Mall.
screen blanked out then another replaced it, “Please choose scout
or destroyer class.”
moved to the smaller swept wing scout ship. It was less powerful
than the destroyer, but it was faster, more maneuverable and it
packed a good punch. It would do.
the screen cleared and then a final legend appeared “Do you wish to
test fire weapons systems?”
Branson, chief of Mall security noticed the lights dim at the far
back end of the mall as he walked the corridor between Macys’ and
Sears. People streamed around and behind him, but since they were
ordinary shoppers and intent on their own tasks, he paid them no
three teenagers that he had been following had gone into the record
store, and for the moment were acting normally, but Will knew one of
them to be a gang member and he’d busted the kid before for
happened that he was standing by one of the support pillars looking
at the teens through the glass front of the store when a cloud passed
in front of the sun. Or at least that was what he thought at first.
When the light flickered green he realized it had nothing to do with
the sun. He looked up and noticed some sort of disturbance in the
air near Macys. As he watched a small green blob of light took shape
in mid-air. It seemed to twist and turn within itself, like a snake
with a broken back. The blob was fuzzy at first but quickly resolved
itself into a small green glowing …thing.
tilted his head in confusion looking at the little intruder. It was
shaped like a spaceship out of some alcoholic dream. For some reason
it looked familiar to Will, though he realized how ludicrous that
sounded. As he watched the little ship rotated left and right. He
could see small jets of yellowish flame shooting from the wings as it
of the other shoppers had noticed it and were stopping to gape at it.
The little ship turned to regard them, and Will got the oddest
impression that the thing could see.
moved forward a bit and a hush fell over the crowd of onlookers.
Without warning, a bright green pencil of light shot from the front
end. The hanging chandelier over the fountain exploded and fell into
the water. Sparks and hot metal fragments blasted in all directions.
shoppers moved as a wave, shouting and dropping items as they ran.
Another of the bright flashes issued forth and the front two windows
of Macys dissolved in a spray of glass and sparks.
tried to fight his way through the crowd to get to the little ship,
but he was swept along with them as they bolted for the exits. For a
moment the familiarity was forgotten as he tried to keep his feet
under him and not go down under the press of bodies.
was enjoying himself. So far the controls had proven not to be a
major problem. He’d learned how to control the ship motions and
after a few seconds found a way to answer the game questions. When
it had asked him about testing the weapons systems, he answered yes.
The ship oriented on a large crystal chandelier that hung two levels
above a fountain. He pressed the button and watched as a green lance
moved from the ship to the chandelier. It exploded spectacularly and
fell to the ground with a crash. Oddly enough, he thought he heard
glass break in the distance.
he thought, ‘the game’s sounds are even better than the graphics.
That almost sounded real.’
he shot out Macy’s front windows, marveling at the way the screen
showed each shard of glass flying and the explosive sparks that shot
in all directions when the pane was hit.
question legend popped up offering him multiple targets. He’s
played games like that until he was bored with them, so he chose no.
The next option confused him a little. Of all the possible things
that he could chase and shoot, this one at first made no sense. But
as he thought about it, he realized that this was the challenge that
all of his friends had been unable to overcome. He pressed the
button indicating his choice. The screen blanked out again.
it came back on, the view was first person and he was surrounded on
three sides by blinking dials and lights and control sticks. The
screen in front of him gave him a 90-degree view of what lay ahead
and he could switch the screens to view behind, above and below the
ship at any time.
legend appeared again showing his ship choices and setting for the
looked them over and decided that this would be fine.
you for verifying, good hunting.” The screen said. “Primary
target lock confirmed. Incidental targets are worth indicated
points. Ship power-ups are available and marked on the overhead
flight map. Primary target is marked in red, but only visible on the
scanner when within range.”
glanced at the status screen and half smiled at the glowing red icon
that indicated the primary target.
finally managed to disengage himself from the crowd and get most of
them headed to the exits. He went to the closest alcove and pulled
the fire alarm. The shrill alarm began to sound. At least now
people would leave the mall with some semblance of order, or at least
he hoped so. There was always that one person who felt they were
little ship had disappeared from the area in front of Macys, but he
somehow knew that this was not over.
to Branson.” The radio on his shoulder beeped.
ahead.” Will said quietly.
is Mr. Jenkins, what the blazes is going on out there?”
rolled his eyes. Not now you putz, he thought. He keyed the mike
and said, “I don’t know, the Macys chandelier just fell and the
fire alarm went off. I’m checking it now.”
checking it?” Jenkins already shrill voice went up and octave.
“I’ll have you know there are liabilities involved. Was anyone
injured? Did anyone see it happen?”
almost didn’t answer. This new vice president was a real pain in
the ass. “I’ll let you know Mr. Jenkins.”
as he was turning his radio down, he heard Jenkins shouting, “He’ll
let me know? Just who the hell…”
was a jerk, but he did have a point. Will had not seen anyone get
injured when the chandelier came down, but there was an awful lot of
glass, there could be real problems if someone had been cut.
looked around the corner from the alarm pod. The floor seemed to be
clear of people. Although he realized the futility of the move, he
drew his nightstick and moved into the corridor. Off to his left he
heard the high pitched whine of the little ship followed by another
explosion of glass.
instincts told him to go the other way, but he ignored them and
started in the direction of the sound.
was enjoying himself. The little ship was very maneuverable and it
was fun to blast stuff in the mall. But so far the dreaded enemy had
not made an appearance. He checked the small radar screen and it was
blank. Only blue and green targets showed glowing brightly.
flew on and blasted a few more store windows. The screen graphics
were nothing short of amazing. Each particle of glass looked real
when it flew outward in a shower of sparks. The pieces bounced off
the floor and skidded. They even broke into smaller pieces when they
hit a wall.
sound effects were top notch as well. The double sound of the glass
breaking and hitting the floor sounded real to his ears and even the
alarm had a realistic edge to it.
was marveling at the game when he brought the little ship around a
corner and came face to face with him, the enemy.
he stood, brazen, unafraid. Facing the ship with some sort of weapon
in his hand. Here now was the true test. The reason that most of
the 12-year-olds in Tim’s class had stopped playing this game.
This enemy was supposed to be unbeatable. Tim hesitated for only a
moment. Then, gritting his teeth, he pushed two of the control
sticks forward and pressed the fire button with his thumb.
found no one injured near the remains of the chandelier and sighed
heavily with relief. At least that much had been avoided. Macys
would be spending quite a bit of money to replace their window, but
so far no one had been killed.
of the break resistant glass lay everywhere and crunched loudly under
his boots. He heard another window shatter and started forward to
around a corner, he came face to face with the little swept wing
ship. It hovered before him, as if unsure what to do next. He
studied it for a moment and then had to jump to his right as it
suddenly came at him firing more of those funny green lights. The
tiles in front of him exploded upward with sharp popping noises, and
though he could feel no heat, Will knew it would be a very bad idea
to let one of those green lights touch him.
no other weapon available to him, he threw the nightstick at the
little invader as it passed him. He was amazed to see the stick hit
the ship, but his amazement turned to dismay when the baton simply
passed through the ship and landed on the other side.
ship seemed to shimmer slightly as the baton passed through it, but
then the form solidified and it flew on. It passed him and
disappeared down the hallway.
he thought, ‘the stick didn’t even slow it down.’
flew the ship a short distance down the hall and then stopped. The
damage screen showed 75%, down from the starting amount of 100%. His
friends had been right, the enemy was very strong. It had barely
scored a hit on the ship and had managed to hurt him pretty good. He
had to be careful, he told himself, he only got three lives with each
figured that he ought to score some more points before going back
after the main bad guy. Fighting the enemy was only half of the fun
and challenge. The targets worth the most points had to be found.
They were scattered all over the mall and not programmed to be easy
flew off looking for easier targets.
watched the little intruder move off. He was considering what to do
about getting rid of the ship when he heard a sound much worse than
as the ship passed out of sight, there was a loud barking roar. It
was followed by another and then there was a moment of silence.
Will thought as the sound came a third time.
being fully aware of what he was doing, he found himself running in
the direction the little ship had gone.
as he was passing a photography stand, the shotgun barked one more
time and then gunfire seemed to come from all around him. Training
took over and he threw himself behind a large potted plant.
took a moment, but he realized that the gunfire was not aimed at him.
He looked up just in time to see two of the large white skylights
dissolve. Plastic and wood fragments began to rain down on him.
was not smiling any more. He had already lost one ship to these new
targets and his second one was down to 50%. They had come out of
moment he had been flying along happily blasting art hangings, the
next his ship had taken a hit from something that reduced its life to
25%. He jogged to the right and found six targets. The game
displayed them as human with a large red X across their chests.
Three of them were carrying weapons.
Tim tried to line up a shot, one of them lifted its weapon and fired.
The shot missed, but the other two targets fired as well, bracketing
him. The damage display dropped to 0 and the screen went black.
moment later it came back on. The scene had not changed. The six
targets were still in front of him. The targeting circle was dead
center of the largest target.
ya.” Tim said as he pressed the fire button.
the rain of debris stopped, Will looked around to see if anyone had
been hurt. Satisfied that no one seemed to be around, he glanced
over the remains of the flowerpot.
young men stood not 15 feet from him. There were dressed similarly.
Tan khaki pants with half their rumps sticking out. Oversized plaid
shirts and red bandanas on their heads. These were the kids Will had
been shadowing earlier. Will cursed softly to himself when he
realized that the largest of them was carrying a sawed off shotgun.
Two of the others carried semi-automatic pistols. Will was very
glad that he had not made contact with them.
two with handguns were staring at the air about 10 feet in front of
them. The shotgun toter turned to them with a large smile on his
face, so he did not see the death that came for him.
saw it all though.
sudden green glow blazed in the air. Oddly geometric forms swirled
within the glow and then the ship was there again.
of the pistol holders shouted, but it was too late.
bolt of green spat from the front of the ship accompanied by the high
pitched whine. It nailed the man with the shotgun dead center. He
did not get a chance to scream. His arms shot out, releasing the
shotgun. Before the smile faded from his lips he flared green and
disappeared. The aura around his body faded before the shotgun even
hit the floor.
mouth closed with an audible click. Jeez.
little ship moved slightly and one of the kids with the pistol flared
and was gone.
others broke at that point. The little ship followed, spitting green
death at them.
the kid’s death had rattled Will. Not that he hadn’t seen death
before, quite the opposite. What bothered him was the fact that the
kids had not had time to scream. They had died quietly, without so
much as a protest to their fate. Will intended to make sure that no
one else died. But even as he got himself moving, a nagging feeling
began to play itself across his nerves. As if he had missed
something small but important.
to get moving, he thought.
through the broken glass and plastic, he retrieved the shotgun. He
turned it over and unloaded it. Four rounds of number 2 shot, plus
one in the chamber. The weapon was not very well maintained. Spots
of rust showed on the barrel and the wood stock was pitted in several
was concerned about the weapons ability to fire, but it would have to
In Hell Is Going On?” Jenkins enunciated slowly. Will could
almost see the capital letters in each of his words.
a little busy right now, Mr. Jenkins. But I would appreciate it if
you would call the police for me.”
Jenkins could reply Will turned his radio off.
chased the other targets as they ran up an escalator. They had not
tried to shoot at him again, but he had still taken damage when he
accidentally ran the ship into a wall. The damage indicator showed
75%. With one full life remaining.
he understood why so many kids had grown to hate this game. He’d
only been playing for about 5 minutes and he’d already lost half of
his lives. Games this hard were not exactly fair, but he had to
admit that he was having fun.
the targets reached the top of the escalator they separated. Two
went to the left, two went straight. Tim kept after the one with the
the same instant that he thought they might duck into a store, they
did just that. He stopped the ship, considering whether to go after
the target. There were plenty of other targets. Most of them had
higher point totals than this one. And then there was the main bad
guy to consider.
for something to do, he blasted the hanging sign over the store
entrance, earning 500 points and a mystery bonus. A spinning
question mark hovered in the air where the sign had been. He shot it
and with a short burst of music, his damage screen went back to 100%.
He shouted with joy.
the hell, he decided, it’s just a quarter. Using the joysticks and
one button, he flew the ship into the store.
walked along surveying the damage. Most of the stores were missing
their glass fronts. The mall seemed empty, or at least no one was
running and screaming. Not that he would have been over to hear them
over the blare of the fire alarm.
as he was starting to wonder where the hell the rest of his security
team was, he ran across one of them. Jim Wilkins sat huddled beside
a large round trash container. His arms were wrapped around his
knees and he was shaking badly.
day Jim?” Will asked casually.
eyes were slightly glazed over.
just flared, like a big old Roman candle. Poof!” He said in a
lady, big, wearing a flower print thing. She stood and,” He
stopped and drew a shuddering breath. “Oh my god.”
understood. The kid must have seen someone catch a green one way
be okay. Can you make it back to the security office?”
Wilkins was still not back from where ever he was visiting.
on Jimmy, wake up. I need your help.” Will grabbed him by the
shoulders and tried to lift him to his feet.
a moment the kid fought him. Not violently, his legs just refused to
carry his weight. Will shook him gently.
Jim. You with me?”
seemed to work, or at least his eyes cleared a little. “Will?”
Will said dryly. “Can you get to the security office?”
I think so. Where did that thing go?”
tilted his head to indicate the direction.
seemed to sag as he relaxed. The ship had gone in the opposite
direction of the security office.
need you to contact the police and get some help down here.”
but what the hell is going on?”
shrugged. “Who knows, but I’ve got to find a way to stop it.”
pointed to the shotgun. “Will that work?”
wanting the kid to slip back into a trance he said, “It should. I
just have to find it first.”
nodded. He seemed to be coming back on track. “I’ll head back
and call for help. What about the other guards, and Mr. Jenkins?”
Jenkins. If you find anyone else, have them come back to the office
with you. Don’t let anyone go up against that thing without a
weapon.” He started off, thought of something else and turned
back. “If you run into any customers, make sure they get out
through the fire exits as fast as possible. And shut off that damned
gave a high sign and walked away on rubbery legs. Will watched him
for a moment to be sure that he was all right. Then he started off
after the ship.
pressed several of the smaller buttons on the game console. The view
on the screen changed. First it showed stencil outlines of the area
around the ship. Walls and counters took on a stick man like
appearance. Point values glowed above each target.
took a moment of hovering and spinning to and fro but he found what
he was looking for. The targets were hiding behind a center display.
The one with the gun showed with a red X. The gun itself was orange
and seemed to pulse slowly. The other target was blue and the point
value was a lot lower.
fired at the display.
the screen the wire frame broke into hundreds of smaller lines and
then faded out. It left a jagged missing corner, as if an electronic
dog had gone on a chewing rampage.
blue target bolted into the clear. Tim considered letting it go.
Without a weapon, it was not really worth bothering, but…
the target cleared the display, Tim flew in. He fired twice and the
one behind the display jumped up and fired. The shot struck the
little ship and the damage screen dropped to 75%.
went up the escalator slowly. He held the shotgun before him, and
though it felt comforting, he was not sure of its effectiveness.
the top he spun a slow circle.
least the people got out.” He said softly.
through the circle he noticed a blasted store sign. There was no
other damage in the hall behind the store.
alarm bell, louder than the fire alarm, went off in his mind.
closer, he heard the first shot and saw the brilliant flash of green
light. There were two more shots and then a flurry of green.
hell.” He said running to the wall beside the door.
of the kids in the tan pants came running out of the store as if a
demon were on his heels. A moment later the ship emerged.
kid ran right past Will without seeing him.
ship started to follow, but stopped suddenly.
spun and Will hit the floor at the same time. The white tile wall
behind him exploded.
snapped off a shot and cursed when it missed.
explosion of the shotgun got through to the kid. He stopped running,
turned and began to curse in Spanish. The gun came up and spat
was amazed to see that his aim was god. Two of the rounds hit and
went through. The seemed to slow as they did so, like there actually
was something of substance to strike. Three rounds hit in rapid
succession and then an even more amazing thing happened.
ship seemed to expand, then contract, and then expand again. The
green glow faltered and then went out. An after image of pencil thin
lines remained for an instant, and then that too faded.
bullets do hurt it.” Will said.
kid lowered his weapon and glanced at Will with defiance in his eyes.
He had started to turn away when Will noticed the air begin to glow
out!” He yelled.
late. A bright flash of green followed by shifting patterns in
mid-air and the ship was back. Before the kid had a chance to raise
his gun a bolt shot from the front.
arms went up, hands in front as if to protect himself. There was not
even enough time to scream. His outline grew fuzzy and then faded
he watched the ship form, something had occurred to him. Earlier he
thought that the little ship looked familiar. When the ship blasted
the last kid, it clicked where he had seen it before. A video game.
The damned new video game that all of the kids had been playing in
the arcade. It occurred to him because of the wording that was on
the side of the oddly shaped cabinet. The little ship flying through
a realistic landscape blasting things. Above the ship had been the
words MALL BUSTERS and below, in green letters had been the legend –
New And Improved!!.
and improved.” He said as he ran.
made him weave as he ran. The first time he jumped to the left saved
his life. The ship fired and parts of the railing exploded. He was
showered with sparks and wood fragments. He picked up the pace
had to get to the arcade.
watched the main target run. The red glow coming from it was huge.
It was also very fast. Each time he got a lock on it, it would jump
to the right or left and he would miss.
it was frustrating he was smiling. This was more than worth spending
his lucky quarter.
points were not that high, but he had already lasted longer in the
game than his friend Nelson. Nelson had played the game a few days
ago and told Tim all about it. He bragged about how hard it was and
how good the graphics were.
far Tim had been at this for almost 10 minutes. Which as far as he
knew was a record. It sure would be good to have bragging rights
about this on Monday. The only problem was that he was in here
alone. He was sure that he would have problems making people believe
he shot at the target destroying a picture window and part of a
storefront, he shrugged. Oh, well. At least he would know that he
did it. Plus, he could always play the game again when someone was
touched one of the buttons on the joystick and the ship suddenly sped
up, passing the target.
that he had made a mistake, he touched the button again. The ship
jerked forward even faster.
target disappeared off his radar.
watched as the little ship went over him. What appeared to be little
yellow flames of rocket exhaust came out the back end. The thing was
moving so fast that it appeared to bend in the air.
stopped, took a moment to chamber another round and think of the
quickest way to the arcade.
was at the far end of the mall. 2 levels down and almost 40 stores
from where he was. As fast as that thing moved, he did not see how
he could make it without being vaporized. He needed a plan.
cover behind a trash receptacle, he thumbed the radio back on.
to control. Wilkins, you there?”