Read and die. Read and survive.
A storm rages outside.
You’re huddled beneath the folds of a large, soft blanket watching a favorite movie- something lighthearted and humorous, something to keep your mind off of the empty house and violent weather. The blanket is nearly black in color, like the sky outside… like the sky outside until thunder booms and a bolt of lightning brightens the dark in a short-lived flash. You debate getting up and turning on more house lights, but you hate wasting power. The small lamp beside you is enough, no need to be a big baby.
As if teasing you, the tableside lamp beside you flickers twice and then settles back into a constant glowing. You breathe a sigh of relief and try to focus fully on the movie.
Feeling hungry? How about popcorn… Move to part 3. — Too nervous to leave the comfort of your cozy blanket? Continue reading through part 2.
Finally feeling a little relaxed, you even laugh a little as an actor on screen falls face-first into a four tier wedding cake.
The laugh catches in your throat as you’re suddenly plunged into blackness. The television is barely an outline in the dark. You hate being alone, especially on a night like this. Even the dog is at the vet overnight. At least if Boomer was home, you’d have someone to quake in fear with. He hates storms, almost as much as you do.
Reaching toward the floor beside the chair, you reach for the flashlight you were smart enough to grab from the basement hours ago when the storm began. Your fingers grasp at nothingness and you remember that you took the light with you to the restroom over an hour ago. You must have forgotten it there.
– Make your way to the bathroom. Move to part 5.
The kitchen fills with the delightful smell of hot buttered popcorn. You wait patiently as the popping sound slows down. When the microwave beeps, you immediately retrieve the popcorn; hot steam pours out of the small gap in the top of the bag, burning your fingers. So much for patience.
Dancing around the kitchen, you find your favorite large, red bowl and dump in the popcorn. Grabbing a few paper towels, you start back into the living room. The movie’s still playing. The storm still rages outside.
Above the mix of noise, you hear a smash and the tinkling of glass onto a hard surface. It sounds like it came from upstairs…
Investigate? Move to part 6. — Chicken? Continue reading through part 4.
You flip off the kitchen light and race back into the living room with your popcorn, seeking the sanctuary of your blanket and the movie. You’re sure the sound of breaking glass was nothing, absolutely nothing. You live in an insanely safe area after all. Taking comfort in that fact, you cozy up back on your couch beneath the warm blanket.
But then you remember the morning news, your missing neighbors… how your Dad had tried to convince you to come up to the mountains for a while and take a little vacation. You thought he was just being paranoid- obsessing over another Bigfoot like he’d done when you were fifteen and easily embarrassed.
Silliness. It was all plain silliness. You live in a safe area; nothing bad ever happened here- sunny 75 and all that jazz.
You hear a pop-pop-pop sound, not unlike the popping corn you were just greedily (and anxiously) stuffing into your mouth. (You’re a sucker for comfort food and stress-eating). You freeze in place as the soft black blanket slides off your lap, as if being pulled away from you, robbing you of security. Now you wish you had turned on more lights. Sometimes wasting power was pure necessity.
Pop. Pop. Pop. It’s behind you now. Whatever it is. Whatever is in your house.
Wielding the red bowl as a weapon, you slowly stand and turn. What you see is nearly impossible to comprehend.
A human-sized creature, traveling on all fours, its translucent, pale skin stretched like good canvas across the interior painting of arteries and muscle, stares at you. Its head moves back and forth jerkily, almost reptilian-like. The sideways tear drops that are its eyes close and re-open rapidly. Thick, long, raptor-sharp claws rest against the wood floor.
How stupid is it to worry about your nice floors getting scratched at a time like this? The insane things that run through our heads when we’re faced with true horror…
Run up the stairs toward your bedroom? Move to part 7. – Grab the table lamp and stand your ground? Move to part 8.
In the pitch black, the bathroom seems a ridiculously long way off. It’s not, of course. Just on the other side of the kitchen. When you’d first bought the house, you hadn’t seen the need for the first floor powder room, but now you’re exceedingly grateful that you don’t have to go all the way upstairs for the trusty steel flashlight.
Finally pushing open the powder room door, you instinctively reach for the light switch, then mentally face-palm as you remember the power’s out and that’s why you need the flashlight in the first place.
Your fingers reach to the left and search for the pedestal sink. Finding it, you feel across the smooth, porcelain surface until you find the comforting steel that is your trusty flashlight. Pushing the rubbery button, your heart sinks as your eyes are not greeted by a much-desired beam of light.
What kind of idiot doesn’t check the batteries? Oh, right… you’re that kind of idiot.
No big deal. You know right where the batteries are. They’re in your room, upstairs… in the dark.
Go upstairs for batteries. Move to part 9
You have to know what made that glass-breaking sound. You won’t be able to relax until you find out. Leaving the popcorn behind, you square your shoulders and act brave.
As you walk, you turn on every light you find, flooding the house with brightness. That makes you feel better. The boogeyman doesn’t hide in the sunshine after all.
Taking the stairs two at a time in your hurry, you pause at the top of the stairs, straining to hear anything out of the ordinary. But all you hear is the soft whir of the ceiling fan starting up since you’ve just hit that light switch. See, silly, it was probably nothing. Getting worked up for no reason… But your mental admonishments trail off as you hear scratching, sharp and ear-splitting like nails on a chalkboard.
Something is in your bedroom.
All you can think is ‘run’, but your body won’t let you. Fear drives you forward. As you pass the upstairs bathroom, you duck in and grab the bleach spray and toilet brush. Ridiculous weapons, but it makes you feel better to have something in your hand.
You’re in front of your bedroom door now. Taking a deep breath, you push the door open roughly and scream out an unconvincing ‘hi-ya!’ The toilet brush and spray bottle are out in front of you like samurai swords.
Your bedroom window is busted and a large branch protrudes into your room, it scratches back and forth against the broken glass as the wind blows violently outdoors.
You smile, feeling silly for being so scared.
Congrats! You survived the storm!
Heart lodged in your throat like a ball of barbed wire, you race franticly away from the creature and towards the stairs, dropping the red bowl and scattering popcorn everywhere.
But it is faster, so much faster.
Clawed hands wrap around your left ankle as you ascend the first step. You’re yanked backwards violently, your chest hits the stairs above and then your head rams against the hard wood. Why hadn’t you opted for carpeted stairs? Why? 20-20 vision, right?
Your eyes can’t seem to focus, you scream in pain as the grip releases from your ankle. Wetness soaks your white sock and you know you’re bleeding. Rolling over on the stairs, you face the creature… the beast… the beastie. It’s elongated limbs are disconcerting, its legs tucked beneath its body as if ready to pounce at any moment.
You can’t get away. You know you can’t.
Thunder rumbles outside.
The least you can do is get a better look at your attacker, see it in the full overhead light instead of by the dim residual light of the small lamp in the living room. Reaching up, you finger the switch that turns on the two bright lights hanging above the staircase.
Flipping it on, you gasp. At the same time, the creature screeches, covering its eyes.
It doesn’t like bright light.
Ankle hurting like hell, you scramble to your feet and race upstairs, switching on every light available until the second floor is as bright as daylight.
Chancing a look down the stairs, you see the monster is gone… gone.
Moving toward your bedroom, chest rising and falling jerkily, you decide to pull down the pink duffel bag in your closet, fill it with all the necessities and visit your Dad in the mountains. Screw this noise.
Congrats! You bested the beastie!
You throw the red bowl at the creature. It hits it full in the face and popcorn falls down like yellow-tinted snow. Grabbing the small table lamp, you crouch slightly and wonder what the hell you were thinking trying to fight a monster? Storms will make people do unexplainable things…
Being hit by the heavy ceramic bowl seems to have had zero effect on the beast. It continues to regard you and the waiting makes your pulse race. Plus, you’re pissed that your favorite bowl is broken into five or six jagged, pottery pieces. Your Gran made that bowl for you.
Well if it won’t make the first move…
You lunge forward with the lamp, screaming bloody-murder.
And immediately fall backwards as the still-plugged-in cord does not yield against your pull.
The creature makes its move now, now that you are flat on your back, staring at the ceiling, your brain trying to comprehend the likelihood of the scenario.
Sharp-as-knives claws sink into your upper chest and begin to pull and tear downward, ripping you open from nipples to hips. The feeling transcends screams and yells for help.
The pain numbs you, alerting you that this is the end.
You’re barely conscious as the beastie pulls your body out of the house, down the concrete stoop and out into the wet, dark, monsoon-esque night.
Too bad, poor you; the beastie won this fight.
Slowly, you move upstairs, feeling your way along in the dark. If only the power would come back on, then you wouldn’t even need the batteries. You could just go back to watching your corny movie, maybe even make popcorn or a banana split. You’re pretty sure you still have some ice-cream in the freezer…
At the top of the stairs, you hesitate.
Was that a noise? Almost like a pop, pop, pop?
You wait a moment longer.
No, it must have been your mind playing tricks on you. This storm had lasted way too long.
You feel in the dark and find that your bedroom door stands wide open… that’s strange. You always keep it shut with the A/C vents closed so your room will be nice and warm at night. That’s how you like to sleep. No blankets or sheets; just a nice warm room so you can glory in your birthday suit.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
You definitely heard something this time. What the hell is upstairs with you?
Stepping fully into your room, you’re immediately hit with a cold, wet wind. The window must be open. Why the hell is the window open?
A loud crack explodes outside and the night sky is made white with the flash of following lightning. A form catches your eye in the sudden brightness. It’s crouching on your bed, staring at you… all pale and deformed and alien. A monster. A beast.
The last thought that runs through your mind isn’t important or even slightly intelligent.
All I needed were the damn batteries.
Guess playing it safe doesn’t always work out in the end, does it? This time, your bedroom wasn’t very safe…
Let everyone know how you did in the comments below!
by Eli Constant
Publication date: June 15th 2013
Genre: Horror, Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Subterranean humanoids, existing since the dawn of man, arose from the belly of the planet. Humanity was unprepared. The undergrounders came with nails and claws and speed to kill people in the night, dragging bodies downward into dark tunnels teeming with rabid life. Civilization is now a ghost of yesterday and the remaining humans fight for survival.
One thing’s for sure- a scientist mommy battling beasties better be handy with a scalpel.
Elise Swanson is a widow and mother. She fights and prays that she can keep her little, broken family safe. She drives and drives, day after day, trying to escape a threat that seems… inescapable. Her hope fades, food is scarce and she watches her eldest daughter’s attempts to soothe the younger babe. Then she meets Jason- a father mourning the loss of his son, masking his pain with bravado and charm. He’s strong, despite his sadness, and love re-grows within him. Weeks pass and Jason’s singular desire becomes the continued safety of Elise and her daughters.
Bloody fights with beasties define the survival-road the companions travel. Even a few moments of safety and relaxation elude the group; time and time again, Elise must kiss her children goodbye, just in case tomorrow never arrives.
Against all odds, they reach a government safe zone. Even there, Elise finds that there’s no rest for the weary.
Doctors O’Toole and Peters have been studying the beasties under lock and key, trying to find an answer, but the doctors aren’t interested in saving humanity. Forced to lead two lives, Elise assists the good doctors in their pursuits while working secretly in sublevel lab 8 with her own team, Nick and Jamie. Their combined knowledge may be the key- the only hope humanity has of reclaiming the planet from the beasties. As long as they can keep their research secret, safe from O’Toole and Peters, they might discover the way home, the formula to click Dorothy’s sparkling red shoes three times and begin to recreate Earth as it was… before the humanoids came out to play on the surface.
What will happen when Elise, a neural engineer, Jamie, a medical researcher, and Nick, a computer wizard, are humanity’s best hope? The answer might be surprising. Wrapped up in all the uncertainty, violence, science lingo and beasties, they will find a strange solution to a new Earth.
And her name is Margaret.
Dead Trees 2
by Eli Constant
Publication date: May 30th 2014
Genre: Horror, Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Two years of peace in a primitive setting can make anyone forget a past full of science, beasties, and blood.
On the day of her son’s birth, the past invades the Yukon valley where Elise and her family reside and they are once again forced to travel survival-road. The General has found her… tracked her across the miles. Elise is his obsession; he wants her for reasons beyond comprehension.
H2H was supposed to be the answer, but the world’s ‘savior’ has created a new pack of demons. The Rippers, beasties on steroids. Wild undergrounders are a mild nightmare in comparison.
Thankfully, humanity has an ace up its sleeves.
The question is: This time, when a new solution for saving humanity is put into action, what will the consequences be?
~About the Author~
Eli Constant is a genre-jumping detail junkie obsessed with the nature of humanity. She believes that there is beauty at the core of most everything, but that truly unredeemable characters create the best stories. She is the author of Dead Trees, Dead Trees 2, Mastic, DRAG.N, and is a contributor to four current and one upcoming anthology. Her works in progress include CON-troll & Dead Trees 3.
While completing coursework at USC-L, Columbia College, TAMU-CC, and George Mason University, Eli enjoyed a varied course load, but finally settled on Biology and focused on a career in lab research. She spent time in Texas at Flour Bluff Shrimp Mariculture Lab and also spent time at NIH participating in an Animal Research Program in the Infectious Disease Dept. It took two years working in Histology/Pathology for her to realize she wanted to be a writer.
Eli lives in Virginia with her husband Damion, their two children (with their third on the way), and her rescue hound. Find out more at www.eliconstant.com and keep posted on upcoming publications.
Eli’s Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
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