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Urban Nightmares: Tales of Horror & Wonder










URBAN NIGHTMARES:


TALES OF HORROR & WONDER


By


Ronn Hanley


4 original tales of horror and speculative wonder.




© October 2016 Ronn Hanley


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law




Table of Contents



  1. Mall Busters

  2. Fly Trap

  3. By Reason of Insanity

  4. Some Kind of Lady





Mall Busters


Although 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.

He 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.

The 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.

For 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.

He wrapped his fingers around the coin and entered the dark.


Odd 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.

It 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.

Without 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.

The 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.

Above the map screens glowing green letters asked, “Please choose your arena.”

Using one of the control sticks he moved the glowing cursor over to the map of the Mall.

The screen blanked out then another replaced it, “Please choose scout or destroyer class.”

He 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.

Again the screen cleared and then a final legend appeared “Do you wish to test fire weapons systems?”


--- ----


Will 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 mind.

The 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 stealing CD’s.

It 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.

Will 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 turned.

Some 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.

It 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.

The 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.

Will 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.


--- ---


Tim 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.

‘Wow’, he thought, ‘the game’s sounds are even better than the graphics. That almost sounded real.’

Then 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.

Another 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.

When 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.

The legend appeared again showing his ship choices and setting for the game.

“Please verify options.”

He looked them over and decided that this would be fine.

“Thank 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.”

He glanced at the status screen and half smiled at the glowing red icon that indicated the primary target.

Mall Security.


--- ---



Will 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 fireproof.

The little ship had disappeared from the area in front of Macys, but he somehow knew that this was not over.

“Dispatch to Branson.” The radio on his shoulder beeped.

“Go ahead.” Will said quietly.

“This is Mr. Jenkins, what the blazes is going on out there?”

Will 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.”

“You’re 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?”

Will almost didn’t answer. This new vice president was a real pain in the ass. “I’ll let you know Mr. Jenkins.”

Just as he was turning his radio down, he heard Jenkins shouting, “He’ll let me know? Just who the hell…”

Jenkins 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.

He 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.

His instincts told him to go the other way, but he ignored them and started in the direction of the sound.


--- ---


Tim 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.

He 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.

The 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.

He was marveling at the game when he brought the little ship around a corner and came face to face with him, the enemy.

There 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.


--- ---


Will 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.

Bits of the break resistant glass lay everywhere and crunched loudly under his boots. He heard another window shatter and started forward to investigate.

Coming 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.

With 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.

The 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.

‘Damn,’ he thought, ‘the stick didn’t even slow it down.’

--- ---


Tim 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 quarter.

He 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 to find.

He flew off looking for easier targets.


--- ---


Will 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 glass breaking.

Just 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.

Shotgun, Will thought as the sound came a third time.

Without being fully aware of what he was doing, he found himself running in the direction the little ship had gone.

Just 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.

It 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.


--- ---


Tim 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 nowhere.

One 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.

As 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.

A 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.

“Got ya.” Tim said as he pressed the fire button.


--- ---


When 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.

Six 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.

The 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.

Will saw it all though.

A sudden green glow blazed in the air. Oddly geometric forms swirled within the glow and then the ship was there again.

One of the pistol holders shouted, but it was too late.

A 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.

Just like that.

Will’s mouth closed with an audible click. Jeez.

The little ship moved slightly and one of the kids with the pistol flared and was gone.

The others broke at that point. The little ship followed, spitting green death at them.

Seeing 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.

Time to get moving, he thought.

Crunching 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 places.

He was concerned about the weapons ability to fire, but it would have to do.

His radio beeped.

“Branson.” He said.

“What In Hell Is Going On?” Jenkins enunciated slowly. Will could almost see the capital letters in each of his words.

“I’m a little busy right now, Mr. Jenkins. But I would appreciate it if you would call the police for me.”

Before Jenkins could reply Will turned his radio off.

Prick, he thought.


--- ---


Tim 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.

Now 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.

When 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 gun.

At 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.

Just 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.

What the hell, he decided, it’s just a quarter. Using the joysticks and one button, he flew the ship into the store.


--- ---


Will 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.


Just 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.


“Tough day Jim?” Will asked casually.


Wilkins eyes were slightly glazed over.


“She just flared, like a big old Roman candle. Poof!” He said in a faraway voice.


“Who?”


“Some lady, big, wearing a flower print thing. She stood and,” He stopped and drew a shuddering breath. “Oh my god.”

Will understood. The kid must have seen someone catch a green one way ticket.

“It’ll be okay. Can you make it back to the security office?”

“Huh?” Wilkins was still not back from where ever he was visiting.

“Come on Jimmy, wake up. I need your help.” Will grabbed him by the shoulders and tried to lift him to his feet.

For a moment the kid fought him. Not violently, his legs just refused to carry his weight. Will shook him gently.

“Hey, Jim. You with me?”

That seemed to work, or at least his eyes cleared a little. “Will?”

“Hi.” Will said dryly. “Can you get to the security office?”

“Yeah, I think so. Where did that thing go?”

Will tilted his head to indicate the direction.

Wilkins seemed to sag as he relaxed. The ship had gone in the opposite direction of the security office.

“I need you to contact the police and get some help down here.”

“Okay, but what the hell is going on?”

Will shrugged. “Who knows, but I’ve got to find a way to stop it.”

Wilkins pointed to the shotgun. “Will that work?”

Not wanting the kid to slip back into a trance he said, “It should. I just have to find it first.”

Wilkins 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?”

“Screw 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 alarm.”

Wilkins 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.


--- ---


Tim 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.

It 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.

Tim fired at the display.

On 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.

The blue target bolted into the clear. Tim considered letting it go. Without a weapon, it was not really worth bothering, but…

When the target cleared the display, Tim flew in. He fired twice and the target flared.

“Yes!” He said.

The one behind the display jumped up and fired. The shot struck the little ship and the damage screen dropped to 75%.


--- ---


Will went up the escalator slowly. He held the shotgun before him, and though it felt comforting, he was not sure of its effectiveness.

At the top he spun a slow circle.

Nothing.

“At least the people got out.” He said softly.

Halfway through the circle he noticed a blasted store sign. There was no other damage in the hall behind the store.

An alarm bell, louder than the fire alarm, went off in his mind.

Moving 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.

“Oh hell.” He said running to the wall beside the door.

One 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.

The kid ran right past Will without seeing him.

The ship started to follow, but stopped suddenly.

It spun and Will hit the floor at the same time. The white tile wall behind him exploded.

He snapped off a shot and cursed when it missed.

The 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 several times.

Will 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.

The 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.

“So bullets do hurt it.” Will said.

The 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 green again.

“Look out!” He yelled.

Too 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.

His 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 out.

Will began running.

While 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!!.

“New and improved.” He said as he ran.

Instinct 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

He had to get to the arcade.


--- ---


Tim 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.

Although it was frustrating he was smiling. This was more than worth spending his lucky quarter.

His 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.

So 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 him.

As 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 around.

He touched one of the buttons on the joystick and the ship suddenly sped up, passing the target.

Realizing that he had made a mistake, he touched the button again. The ship jerked forward even faster.

The target disappeared off his radar.

“Damn.” He said.


--- ---


Will 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.

He stopped, took a moment to chamber another round and think of the quickest way to the arcade.

It 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.

Taking cover behind a trash receptacle, he thumbed the radio back on.

“Branson to control. Wilkins, you there?”


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