Hi all! Welcome to the first installment of my new story.
A man is trapped in his own apartment by an enigmatic captor, but what starts out as Home Invasion Horror soon goes in a different direction: a bizarre, even-more-terrifying direction.
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From The Shadows
Copyright 2017 Eric M. Heiden
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Chapter I: The Kidnapper
Out of all the muffled noises Mark heard through the walls of his now pitch black apartment, the howls and screams in the hallway were the first to die down. After that, it was the gunfire and blaring horns outside. After a long while, there was nothing, nothing but the occasional explosion in the distance–so far away they almost sounded like harmless fireworks.
He hadn’t left the apartment once that day; by now it was impossible. His chest grew cold. What had happened to Art; to Shelly, Kyle and Sammie; to his cousins Becca and Bill? Had they survived? Now his entire body grew cold. Whatever was going on might not be confined to just Mark’s town. Had any of his family or friends survived?
An emergency flashlight lay next to Mark on his bed; in his hands was a loaded and chambered Glock pistol. He shook his head. It was an excellent firearm, but did having it really make any difference? In that dark room, his one weapon felt inadequate against whatever had created the Hell on Earth outside. With no electricity, no windows to look through, a door that wouldn’t open and a phone that had broken just last night, he didn’t even know what was going on out there; he had no idea what he was up against. There was another explosion. He gritted his teeth; how long before he found out?
He figured that, by now, there wasn’t another human soul for miles. Based on the destruction–the death–he’d heard through the walls earlier, he also figured that if anyone did show up, they wouldn’t be there to help or even to take him prisoner; they’d be the last person he’d ever see.
That final thought enraged him. Even with a weapon, there was absolutely nothing he could do but sit there, waiting. The ball was in their court, not his. He was completely powerless. He continued to stare out the bedroom door. After a while, he shook his head again. No. There had to be something he could do. An idea hit him. There was something he could do. He couldn’t get out, but maybe he could lure them in. The building was as quiet as a mausoleum right now; that gave Mark two advantages. First, that meant that if anyone was still here, even if they were hostile, they were probably few in number, maybe even all alone. Second, any noise right now would be easy to hear, especially if it came from inside the building. If he threw things against the walls and created enough of a racket, someone might come to investigate, and he could overpower them; he could get out; he could find his cousins, his friends–his grip tightened–or, if anything had happened to them, he could go after whoever was responsible.
Mark didn’t move. His plan was based on guesses and nothing else. He took a deep breath and let it out through his nose. Bad plan or not, unless he wanted to go back to waiting, he had to act now. For all he knew, the attackers could be on their way back here. If he waited too long, he wouldn’t be luring in just one or two enemies.
Before he could even plant his feet, there was a loud crash, just outside his bedroom door.
Mark’s whole body went rigid. He hadn’t heard anything open or close; he hadn’t heard any footsteps; how could anyone have gotten in? He quickly tried to dismiss the idea, to convince himself something out there had fallen on its own; that made a lot more sense. It didn’t work. These last few hours had changed everything. He had no idea what was and wasn’t possible anymore. There very well could be someone else in the apartment, someone who knew he was here.
A thought occurred to him. If there was somebody else in the suite, they were obviously trying to lure him out, which meant his being in this particular room gave him some kind of advantage. His body relaxed, and his head tilted back slightly. Instead of letting them force his hand, he’d force theirs. Since they wanted him to come out, he’d just stay right where he was.
Time passed. Mark didn’t even shift his position; he just sat there, facing his bedroom’s open door, the gun still out and ready. It looked like he was right. Whoever was out there really didn’t want to come in this room; absolutely nothing was happening, no sounds, no sudden attacks, nothing. More time passed. Mark began to get frustrated. He considered firing a shot out the doorway. Maybe that would make them panic, and maybe that, along with the idea that he’d used up some ammo, would be enough to draw them in, where he, somehow, had the upper hand. He was debating with himself over the idea when something else occurred to him, something horrifying. What if they weren’t trying to lure him out? What if they were trying to make him too scared to move? What if his room actually gave them some kind of advantage? What if–
Footsteps. Footsteps in the other room. Footsteps that were getting closer. Within seconds, he could see a vague outline in the darkness. The intruder was right there at bedroom’s entrance. Mark’s mouth went dry. This was it. Either they were about to lose or he was about to die.
The figure passed through the doorway.
“Don’t move!” Mark ordered.
The intruder cried out. It was a woman’s voice.
“Don’t move!” Mark repeated.
“I heard you! I heard you!” she said.
Mark hated to do it, but he took one hand off the gun and grabbed the flashlight. He turned it on. What he saw made him tilt his head. In front of him stood a petite woman, holding her hands up in surrender. She was Asian and appeared to be in her mid-to-late 20s, somewhere around Mark’s age maybe. What he noticed the most, however, were her clothes. They looked like something you’d wear to the office on Casual Fridays, not something you’d wear to wage war. He then noticed that one of her hands was holding a shard of broken glass. If she was with the attackers, why would she be dressed like that and why would she have come in here with just a makeshift weapon? If she wasn’t one of them though, how was she even in the apartment in the first place?
“How did you get in here?” he demanded. “Who are you?”
Squinting at the flashlight, the woman gave a reply. “My name’s Lexi, and I don’t know how I got here. Really, I don’t. I…woke up and found myself here. I don’t even know where I am.”
Mark sighed. He couldn’t rule that out as a lie. “What was that noise I heard out in the living room?”
“I wanted to get my bearings, figure out where I was. I was scared someone would hear me, so I wanted to make sure I was in here alone first. Nobody came out when I threw the lamp on the floor, so I thought I was free to look around.”
Great. Mark still couldn’t rule her out as a liar.
“What’s going on out there?” she asked.
So she was doing the questioning now. He decided to oblige her. “I don’t know,” he said. “This morning, I decided to take a personal day. I called into work, went back to bed, and the next thing I know, it sounds like World War III broke out.”
“So this is your apartment?”
“Mine and my roommate’s,” he answered. “My roommate didn’t call in. God knows where he is now…or if he’s even alive.”
He instantly regretted saying that last part. For a second, Lexi looked like she was going to vomit. She didn’t though. She stood there shaking for a bit but managed to pull herself together. Then, she slowly looked back at the doorway and spoke. “I woke up while all that was going on. I panicked and was about to get up off the floor, but then someone rushed into the living room. They didn’t see me, probably because it was so dark. They pounded on the door and walls like a maniac for a while and then ran back into your room. I’m guessing that was you?”
He kept the gun on her. “That’s right.”
“Well, when you didn’t come back out, I thought maybe there was a secret exit in this room, a way out that…whoever all is out there didn’t know about.” She sighed, indicating she now understood there definitely wasn’t. After looking around for a moment, she continued. “It doesn’t sound like anybody’s out there now. Maybe we could try the door back there.”
Mark hesitated. She’d been through a lot already–waking up in a strange place, hearing the world go to Hell outside, being held at gunpoint; if she wasn’t lying, what he was about to say might push her over the edge. He motioned for her to put her arms down, and she complied. He decided to put her at ease a little and told her his name. Then, not able to put it off any longer, he bit the bullet and began.
“You saw me try the front door earlier,” he told her. “Do you know why I gave up and came back in here?”
Lexi said nothing.
“Something’s holding it shut.”
She shot him a fierce, exasperated glare. “But they’re probably gone by now.”
Mark cursed his poor choice of words. “I don’t mean that a person is holding it shut,” he clarified. “The knob still turns and everything, but no matter how hard you pull, it won’t give.”
“Then we can try a window. We’ll be more exposed, but–”
“That won’t work,” Mark cut her off. “There aren’t any windows.” He took a deep breath. “We’re dealing with the supernatural. I don’t know what else to call it. There used to be windows. There were some right in this room. Now, there’s nothing but walls, like the windows were never there in the first place.
“We can try the door, but I’m sure it’s still stuck. I bet it and the walls are even indestructible. I don’t know why, but whoever’s out there turned this part of the building into a prison. These people, people with magic powers, don’t want us to leave; they have plans for us.”
Lexi’s eyes widened, which could mean she thought he’d lost his mind, that she was faking it and was really one of them or–Mark frowned–that she believed him, and if she believed him, was she as close as he was to panicking?
He had to nip this in the bud. “I did find a way out. I’m telling you all this so you understand why we can’t do something more obvious, like the stuff you mentioned. What you did with the lamp out there wasn’t a bad idea. In fact, that’s how we’re going to get out of here.” He then explained his plan, the plan that had been interrupted when Lexi threw the lamp. He pointed out how it was basically her idea but on a larger, louder scale, designed to be heard outside the room instead of just in it. When he was finished, Lexi looked down, seeming to think it over, and then back at him.
“Let’s at least try the door first,” she said. “Maybe whatever’s holding it closed wore off.”
She was missing the obvious, so he’d just have to point it out to her. “The windows–”
“The windows are gone, but the door isn’t,” she interrupted him. “Maybe the”–she made a face–“magic they put on the door is weaker than the magic they put on the windows. If it did wear off, we might be able to just sneak out.”
Mark had to admit it; she had a point, and it would only take a few seconds. He nodded, and they went into the living room, Mark in the rear, Lexi in front, the flashlight and gun still on her. He had her try the door. Nothing. She gave it a few more tries, becoming more worked up and agitated each time. Finally, after pausing a moment, she turned back to him and threw up her hands.
“You were right…and unless you trust me enough to holster your gun, I’m guessing I’ll be doing most of the lifting and throwing. That’s fine; I just want to get out of here and find my family. Tell me what I should pick up first.”
Before he could answer her, out of the corner of his eye, Mark saw a tiny light appear in the blackness. He didn’t even have time to react; literally one second later, they both heard it and jumped.
Once he realized what it was, Mark was overjoyed.
“It’s Art’s phone!” he told Lexi.
“Art! My roommate! C’mon!”
They both rushed to the device, Mark keeping both the phone and Lexi in sight. Escape–rescue–was so close now, he was terrified of getting careless, of letting his guard down for even an instant.
Lexi picked it up, probably still assuming that Mark didn’t want to free up a hand.
“Put it on speaker!” Mark told her. She complied and held it out to him.
“Hello?” Mark said. “Hello?”
He could hear heavy breathing. Moments later, the breathing turned into growling.
“What are you doing with my other phone?” a guttural, menacing voice demanded.
Mark recognized the speaker. “Art? Where are you?”
The question went unanswered. “Tell me you’re in the apartment,” Art said. It sounded like his teeth were clenched.
“What? Yeah. I called in after you left. I found your phone here just now; I didn’t know you had more than one. Look, tell me what’s going on out there. Where are you?”
Art ignored the question again. “Let me talk to her.”
Mark’s gaze left the phone and settled on Lexi. She looked as confused as he probably did. “You mean Lexi?” he asked, not taking his eyes off the woman.
“I know she’s there. Let me talk to her.”
Lexi looked down at the phone. “Hello?” she said.
After a bit of silence, the voice on the other end responded. “Lexi Park?” Art said, his voice no longer threatening. “You and I have never met. You can only imagine how much I wanted to tell you all this in person. Ever since I arrived here, I’ve hated this alien world. All I could do was bide my time and wait to go back home, but then I saw you perform at The Laugh Lounge. You made Earth come alive for me. I never understood why you weren’t doing comedy full-time. Your routine enabled me to appreciate all the ridiculous little details in your world, to see hilarity…and joy.”
Mark couldn’t speak or move. Art, someone he’d been living with for the past five months, had just referred to Earth as an alien world.
“Since that day, I’ve never missed a show,” Art continued. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you…or about what would happen to you once we launched the attack.”
It was all Mark could do to keep from dropping the gun and flashlight.
“I’m the one who brought you here,” Art told Lexi, his voice now starting to wheeze. “I never laid a finger on you, I swear. My superiors gave me the ability to teleport people from a distance. I’m sorry it had to be like this, but there was no other way; you would have died otherwise.”
Lexi stood there, silent and blinking. Finally, she spoke. “We can’t get out.”
“That…won’t be a problem for much longer,” the voice said. “There are two ways to reverse what I did to the apartment. My plan was to come and do it in person…and finally meet you.” Lexi shuddered.
Still on the verge of going limp, Mark forced himself to rejoin the conversation. “What’s the other way? What do we need to do?”
“Nothing.” Art addressed him, the wheezing becoming more pronounced. “You don’t need to do a thing. Some of your fellow earthlings already did it for you…with their damned guns. We’re winning, but some of your people fought back. I got away,” he forced a bitter-sounding laugh, “but not in one piece.”
Art panted a bit before continuing. “It won’t be long. Once I’m dead, you’ll be able to open the door. Is she still there?”
“I…I’m here,” Lexi said.
“I’m sorry it turned out this way. I’m sure my superiors would have spared you if I’d let you out and brought you back home. You had so much to say about your world; I would have loved to hear what you had to say about mine.”
That was the last intelligible thing Art said. After that, there were a few minutes of moaning, garbled attempts at speech and coughing. Then, the phone went quiet.
Lexi shuddered again before looking at Mark. “Can I have the flashlight?” she asked. He gave it to her.
The windows hadn’t come back, but the door opened when they tried it, just like Art had said. It let out into the building’s third-floor hallway, now as dark as the apartment and completely empty.
Mark was the first one out; after all, he we was the one with the pistol; if anyone was still here, they might as well attack him first, not Lexi. “Keep holding the light up,” he called out. “The stairs are this way.”
In the hall, the distant explosions were even more muffled than before. At least they weren’t getting closer. Progress was slow and quiet. Now that they’d escaped, there was no need to draw attention to themselves; just the thought of doing so now made the hair on Mark’s arms stand up. It wouldn’t be much longer, though; they were halfway down the hall already. Once they rounded the corner at the other end, they’d be at the stairs.
The light vanished. “Stop,” Lexi hissed before Mark had time to say anything. Either her ears were playing tricks on her or her hearing was better than Mark’s; he could believe either at this point. Then, he flinched; he could hear it too. It was coming from around the corner. At first, it sounded like a rapid tapping. With each second, it grew louder until Mark realized what it was; something was heading toward them, running on all fours.
“Turn it back on!” Mark ordered. “It already knows we’re here, and unless I can see it, I can’t shoot it!” Lexi complied. Mark braced himself. At least it wasn’t coming from behind–he tensed up–unless there was more than one.
What they were hearing rounded the corner and came to a stop, facing them. It almost looked like a rottweiler but twice the size; it had no visible eyes or ears, but it did have an entire set of long, jagged fangs. Mark lined up his gun’s sights. He didn’t fire. All of a sudden, he didn’t want to. As he stared at the four-legged demon, strange, completely alien thoughts came into his head, animalistic thoughts that overrode his own. The gun dropped from his hands. He didn’t notice. All he was aware of was the creature in front of him, a creature that looked as vicious as he felt that moment. He got on his hands and knees. All he could think of was meeting it head on, tearing it limb from limb and devouring it.
The creature lunged at him.
A piercing shot rang out, and it fell to the side. Mark jolted back, trembling. The thoughts were gone. He looked at the still beast and then at his own hands. Lexi ran over to him.
“Are you alright?”
The creature’s head suddenly rose, and it got back on its feet. Lexi screamed and shot, missing this time. Its front leg wounded from before, it staggered toward the two. Lexi kept firing. Each shot missed. It got closer. The thoughts were coming back. Lexi fired again. Its head jolted back; then, it stiffened and fell forward.
Lexi shot its unmoving head one more time, apparently wanting to make sure they were safe, and then looked at Mark.
“Are you alright?” she repeated.
He shuddered. “It…it…took over my mind. Made me think the way it thought. Made me want to attack it directly instead of shooting or hiding…so I’d be easier to kill.” He got to his feet and looked over at the woman who’d just saved his life.
She looked at the dead beast, then down the hall and then back at him. Breathing heavily and shaking her head, she handed him the gun, grip first. “Here’s how you can thank me.”
Mark’s blood ran cold. He took the gun but only to get it away from her. Once he told her no, there was no telling what she’d do to herself.
“I won’t do it,” he told her. “You can’t give up now. Think of your family.”
Lexi’s jaw dropped, and she put a hand to her chest. “You thought I meant–” She shook her head again. “Are you insane? No!” She gestured at the carcass. “Look at all the ammo I wasted! You’re clearly better with that thing than I am; our chances are better if you’re the one holding it; I just wanted you to have it back!” She put a hand to her forehead. “Let’s go,” she whispered after a moment.
Mark pulled out one of his spare magazines and slid it up into the pistol. Thankfully, there were no more incidents. They made it all the way to the ground floor without any trouble. Mark signaled for her to wait while he put an ear against the exit. He didn’t hear anything, but he couldn’t bring himself to push it open. He wanted to get away, but there could be anything out there, things even worse than whatever had almost killed him. He sighed. But there were also people out there, ordinary people who had managed to kill at least one of the attackers.
“I don’t hear anything. I’ll push on three. Ready?”
They walked out the exit, and each gasped.
All around them–easy to see against the night sky–were glowing, white humanoid figures, each hovering limply in mid-air.
Both hands on his gun, Mark forced himself to look away, to look down at his companion.
“Let’s go,” he said.
To Be Continued
Link to Chapter II: Surrounded