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Brian Genz
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The Harvesters

Brian Genz

 

Charles pelted down the ill-lit street, his panicked footfalls echoing through the night.  He knew that they would hear him running, but he could think of nothing else to do.  The only nearby hiding place was the alley where he’d first seen them, and he could not go back there.

I swear to god, I’ll never drink again, he thought.  If I would have just gone home after work, none of this would have happened.

The memory of what they had done tormented him despite the hazy curtain that overshadowed his mind.  His recollection was vivid, intense; horrid in a way that only the most advanced stages of mental degradation could ever hope to erase.

As he neared the end of the block, he tried to calculate his next move.  He glanced frantically over his shoulder.  There was no movement on the street behind him. 

They’ll follow.  There’s no way they didn’t see me.  There’s no way they didn’t hear me cry out.

He kept running, growing ever closer to the intersection that marked where the commercial district ended and the housing began.  Once he got across the road, he felt confident that he’d be able to lose his pursuers among the darkened neighborhood’s winding streets.

I’m almost there.  I’ve made it.  I’m –

His train of thought derailed as one of them stepped out from behind the edge of the last building.  He skidded on the soles of his shoes and his feet went out from under him.  He scrambled upright, and turned to run in the opposite direction.

Another already stood behind him.  He looked to his left, and saw two more coming from across the street.

“No,” he said, slurring his speech.  “No, you can’t have caught up with me already.”

The figure that had stepped out from behind the building moved towards him.  Its hair was bright orange, its face sickeningly white.  Its bulbous nose was the lurid red of blood, a color that nearly matched the hue of is vampiric lips.  Its outfit was a maddening jumble of stripes, polka dots, frills and lace, and its oversized shoes made a nauseating fwap, fwap sound as they slapped against the concrete beneath them.

When the clown had closed the distance between them to a mere foot or so, it stopped, and Charles tried not to gag.  It smelled of decay, of death.  It raised its hands towards his head, and he noticed in an instant of revulsion that they were covered in blood.

Regardless of the fact that he was flanked, he made a run for it.  The three other clowns closed in on him quickly, and had him in their grasp before he had a chance to get more than a few feet.  They turned him to face the fourth.

Please!” he said, struggling against his captors, “don’t do this to me!

What he had seen earlier was undoubtedly about to happen to him.  When he had stumbled past the alley on the way home from his nightly poker game, the three clowns that held him had restrained the girl. 

It was the fourth that had carved her to pieces.

Charles wished that he had not seen her face, or her stature.  To see an adult butchered would have been bad enough, but a child. . .

He continued to struggle.  The fourth clown came to a stop directly in front of him, and again reached its hands towards his head.

No!” Charles shouted, thrashing about.  No!  Stay away!

It grinned hideously and began to laugh.

“Don’t worry,” it said in voice that was both silky and venomous, “I promise we won’t hurt you.  We only want the children.”

It placed the sticky palms of its blood-soaked hands on the sides of Charles’s head, squeezing tightly.  Charles screamed.  He tried to look away, and tried not to lose himself in the fire that burned in the clown’s eyes. 

“When the carnival comes to town,” it said, “they’ll be ours.  Forever.”

Charles’s vision dimmed, and the intensity of his screams began to weaken.  The last thing he felt as blackness closed in were his legs buckling underneath him.

###

Jack glanced sorrowfully at the once-bustling avenue as he closed the door to his shop for the last time.  Like most of the other storefronts that lined the road, his windows were boarded, his lights extinguished.  There were still a few dimly lit holdouts dotting the street from end to end, but he knew they’d be gone before much longer.

As he locked the door, he fought to keep the tears back.  The local bookstore had been in his family for three generations.  It had once supplied the small town’s citizens with a wealth of newspapers, magazines, novels, and (for a select few of his regulars) literature of a more adult nature, which he had always kept out of sight behind the counter.  After all, his store had been a haven for some of the neighborhood kids.

As he thought about the way they used to come in for comic books after school, the tears won out, and Jack wept openly. 

Everything had changed when that goddamn carnival had come.  Everything.

Jack fervently clutched the cardboard box that contained the last few damaged books that the wholesaler would not buy back, and he slid his key ring into his pocket.  To him, the box contained far more than just a ragtag collection of torn and broken hardcovers and trade paperbacks.  Its contents were treasures, symbols of a happier life when his largest concerns were making his mortgage payment and balancing his checkbook.

To say that things were now uncertain was a horrible understatement.  Jack felt vulnerable, exposed and defenseless in a way that he hoped no one else would ever feel.  The FBI, the CIA, the state and local police. . .combined, they had been unable to unravel the mystery.  Two years later, there were still no leads, no arrests.  Nothing.

An entire town’s children disappear in the space of one night, and no one can do a damn thing about it.

Ever since it had happened, the world as a whole felt darker, colder.  Even the air seemed to brood, as if nature herself was terrified of something on the horizon, something only she could see.

Jack wiped his eyes as he headed towards home.  He fought the urge to turn and take one last look at his darkened and boarded-up shop.

That won’t do me any good.  Time to start facing forward.  Time to get out of here and get on with my life.

As he neared the end of the road, he noticed a figure standing, motionless, on the other side of the street.  Though he couldn’t actually see who it was (his eyes weren’t as sharp as they used to be) he knew right away that it was Charlie Carter.

Charlie had somehow known that it was going to happen.  He’d tried to warn the rest of the town, but no one had listened.  The man had always been a drunk, and no one had taken his predictions of doom the least bit seriously.

Of course, everyone had blamed him for what had happened, and the cops had held him for months before realizing that he didn’t know a damn thing about who had done it, or why.

His drinking had gotten a lot worse after that.  He’d lost his job and his house, and had started panhandling for booze and food.

“Hi, Charlie,” Jack called out.

Charles gave no indication that he’d heard anything.  He stood in front of a narrow alleyway, staring into it with an addict’s intensity, brown bag clutched in a ragged hand.

Jack said nothing more.  He’d grown used to Charlie’s fixation with the alley.  That was where Charlie spent most of his days, standing and staring, only speaking to passers-by when he needed money.  Surprisingly, people gave it to him willingly enough.  Jack figured that it was because they all felt responsible for what had happened to him.  In a way, he did too.  When Jack’s eight-year-old grandson had gone missing, he’d behaved just as badly as the others.

Jack paused for a moment, then crossed the street.  Charles didn’t look up, even as Jack stood next to him.

“How’s it going?”

Charles stared forward, eyes peering sullenly from beneath his drooping brow.  His tattered clothes reeked of booze and B.O.  Jack ignored the stench as he reached for his wallet.

“Here,” he said, pulling out a twenty.  “Why don’t you go get something to eat?”

Charles turned to look at him. Despite the drunken fog that shrouded the man’s eyes, they were intense, penetrating, and Jack squirmed in spite of himself as he gazed back into them.

Charles reached out, slowly, and took the bill.

“This is where they killed the first one,” he mumbled. 

“Beg your pardon?”

“This isn’t the last time,” he went on.  “They’ll do it again.  In a bigger town.  With more kids.  They’ll keep doing it over and over again.”

Jack tried to ignore the goose bumps that broke out on the backs of his arms.

“I’ve got to get going, Charlie,” he said, backing away.  “Wife’s waiting for me.”

Charles nodded, as if he understood perfectly well that he was making Jack uncomfortable.

“Watch the TV,” he said.  “You’ll see it happen again.  Just like before.”

Jack crossed the street, glancing back at Charles.  He was facing the alley again, unmoving.

As Jack neared the end of the road, crazed laughter split the air.  He jumped, and turned to see Charles doubled over, howling.

“We’re all dead!” he screamed.  “Every one of us – DEAD!”

Jack tried to shut out the maniacal sound as he headed towards home.  His feelings of dread and insecurity bloomed anew, heightened to a point that was almost physically painful.

What if Charlie was right?  What if it did happen again?

Best not to think about that.  Best not to entertain that notion for a damn minute.

Jack fought to keep himself from shaking, and battled equally hard to keep words like “Armageddon” and “apocalypse” from his thoughts.

Charles continued to laugh, a sound that grew fainter with each step Jack took.  Before long, the twisted chortling had dwindled to a feeble whisper, nearly dead, just like the town.

Bio:

I'm a resident of the Chicago suburbs, where I live happily with my wife, two cats and a dog.  Horror writing has been a minor obsession of mine since high school.  I'm now in my mid-twenties, and I continue to find the craft of horror to be an extremely satisfying means of self-expression.  

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