Earlier on today I tweeted about the fact that I had caught the tail end of an advert on the radio and all I could make out was ‘Are you Lisa?’ Needless to say I freaked out a little and waited all afternoon for the advert to play again, but it didn’t.
Afterwards, I remembered this short story I had written in 2010 and had to go and dig it out and write it up to share with you guys.
I found a load of other prompts, too – should I type some up and make an ‘old prompts’ series? Let me know in the comments below.
Below is the prompt, it was very heavily inspired by the xbox game Alan Wake, which is about best-selling thriller novelist Alan Wake as he tries to uncover the mystery behind his wife’s disappearance during a vacation in the small fictional town of Bright Falls, Washington, all while experiencing events from the plot in his latest novel, which he cannot remember writing, coming to life.
I heard it on the radio.
It happened as I was driving home from work. The streets were unusually empty – normally it was gridlocked as I left work – but today I was coasting down the carriageway at sixty and there was no-one in sight. Rolling down the windows and turning up the volume on my radio, I decided to enjoy the open road and the glorious warmth.
I assumed it had been a lovely day; I worked in a basement office with no windows. Working on a bank holiday was always stressful, and I had found driving to be the perfect releastr. A couple of songs passed and the traffic report kicked in, interrupting the beat I had been drumming out on the steering wheel. Frowning, I jabbed at the button to switch it back to CD, but nothing happened.
I waited impatiently for the report to start; sometimes it wouldn’t let me change back until it had. But it wasn’t the cheerful news intro that reached me. Instead, there was a high pitched whine. It hurt my head and I winced, struggling not to take my hands from the wheel and cover my ears with them.
The whine gave way to a groan. Deep, cracked and guttural. It raised the hairs on the back of my neck and I jabbed at the radio again. Nothing.
The road was clear enough to take my eyes off it long enough to reach over to the volume dial. I turned it counter-clockwise and the groaning stopped as the volume level reached two.
I froze as my name was whispered through the radio at me. Sure that I had heard wrong, I trned the volume back up a little.
I couldn’t tell if the voice was male or female, but it set my teeth on edge.
“Karen.” The voice was getting louder. I turned the volume all the way down to zero and concentrated on the road, realising that my turn was coming up soon. It didn’t matter too much, there was still no-one around, so I could quite easily pull a U-turn if I needed to.
“KAREN!” The voice screamed.
My heart felt like it had stopped. I slammed on the brakes in shock, staring at the radio. The volume was all the way down. How could it still be making any noise? Maybe it was faulty.
I ejected the radio from my dashboard and threw it to the passenger seat beside me. Pulling my other hand from the steering wheel with difficulty – my knuckles were white from gripping it so tight – I ran a hand over my face and pushed my hair back. I was breathing hard, and the frantic beating of my heart seemed to drown out all other noise.
As I started the engine, impossibly, the radio started up again.
“Karen, Karen, Karen, Karen.” The voice chanted my name with a frightening intensity. It got louder and louder, increasing in pitch until it sounded warped. Lifting the hand brake, I launched the radio through my open window and sped off as fast as my car could carry me. I had no idea what was going on with it, I just wanted it out of my car. Forever. Part of me wondered if it was someone’s idea of a prank. It wasn’t very funny.
Before I could reach my turn, I hit a wall of traffic. I had to slam on my brakes again as I came to the back of the build up. Was this why the roads had been so clear before? It didn’t make any sense. I sat at the back of the queue for almost a minute before I realised that nothing was moving. Not even the drivers; I couldn’t even see any drivers in the cars in front of me.
I tried to pull around the cars but it had rained a couple of days previously and my car sank into the damp loam; the tyres spinning ineffectually until I gave up. Noticing that none of the carriageway lights were on, I thought about leaving my headlights on to light my way – none of the other cars seemed to have their lights on either – but I thought better of it, reasoning that i might need to come back for my car and it would be pretty useless with a flat battery. Not to mention the fact that it was already stuck in the mud. Instead I got out, remembering to take my keys, and felt my way round to the back of the car. I had a torch in the boot, and I gave silent thanks to my paranoid father who had insisted I keep one in there to begin with. I could almost imagine the smug look on his face and his smarmy voice as I said ‘I told you so!’.
Slinging my bag over my shoulder and activating my car alarm, I walked to the nearest darkened car. There was no-one inside it, and the engine was off, but when I tried the door it opened. It looked like the car had simply been abandoned. There was a mobile phone in the footwell of the passenger side and I stooped to pick it up, leaning right into the car.
My own mobile had died on me at work, and I’d been told off many times in the past for charging it in the office. Phone in hand, I crawled back out of the car and checked to see if it worked. The lights came on when I pushed the button but there was no signal. Typical.
I tucked it into my bag anyway, just in case. Continuing down the line of traffic, I found that all the cars were empty. Some of them looked as though they had been parked there carefully, whilst others were more haphazardly abandoned. Some even had one or more of their doors open.
I started to panic, wondering what would have caused all of these people to abandon their cars. Was there an accident up ahead? Had the police had to evacuate everyone? If something had gone wrong, surely the road would have been closed off, preventing me from taking this route. Different ideas stormed my mind, each more crazy sounding than the last.
Walking away from the cars and back to the grass verge, I shone my torch on the line of trees there, trying to spot any police or rescue personnel that might have herded everyone in to the tree line to wait for help. I couldn’t see or hear anyone. It was as if every one of these people had just vanished without a trace. Maybe they really had been abducted by aliens.
Behind me, I heard a click and turned back to face the cars. My breath caught in my throat; every car had lit up. Collectively their radios began to whine and crackle. I heard my name again, broadcast in surround sound effect.
My heart skipped a beat.
I wanted to run, but I was rooted to the spot in fear.
The air filling my lungs felt ice cold.
“KAREN KAREN KAREN KAREN!” The cars chanted my name in unison, the same voice from before getting louder and louder, higher and higher. I put my hands over my ears and dropped to my knees as the car windshields smashed at once. The voice screamed one last “KAREN!” and for a moment everything was silent except the ringing in my ears.
Pulling my hands away, I opened my eyes and surveyed the damage. What the hell was going on?
Silently, I rose to my feet again, the radios crackled and this time I found that I could run. Instead of shouting my name, the voice had returned to a whisper.
“Theeeyyyyyyy’re heeeeeeerrreee.” It whispered through the radios, trailing my like some kind of nightmarish mexican wave. This time the voice sounded different though. Again I felt the hair rise on the back of my neck, and then everything went black.
Almost instantly, a terrible wind came out of nowhere. It swept around me, tugging at my clothes and hair, threatening to blow me away. Remembering the roch in my hands, I fumbled for the switch. It wasn’t just wind, it was a swirling vortex of darkness. It writhed around me reaching out tendrils to stroke my body, each one drawing blood where it caressed me. I wished that I had left the torch off.
Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a face in the darkness and I turned towards it. What had looked like a face in my peripheral vision was actually far worse. It’s features were all sharp and menacing. Cold eyes glared at me like pools of tar, and it leant forwards out of the column of darkness.
“Karen.” It sneered, and I recognised the first voice from the radio. “Join usss.” It hissed. I shook my head and realised I was pointing the torch upwards, illuminating my chin. I lowered it to get a better look at this thing i was confronted with.
As soon as the torch light hit the darkness, it gave off a fearsome shriek that chilled me to the bone. Darkness lashed out at me, cutting through the sleeve of my shirt and biting deeper into my skin in retaliation. I flicked the torch setting up to full beam and the darkness released its hold on me long enough that I could slip through the hole the beam carved through it. I ran forwards, looking for a road that was still lit.
A tendril shot out of the swarthy mass as I ran and wrapped around my ankle. I went down hard, banging my knee. The torch slipped from my hand and rolled away but didn’t break. I tried to shuffle forwards and grab it, but I was pulled backwards. I struggled but to no avail. I could feel the cold creeping up my body as the darkness pulled me back to its core.
Suddenly, a bright light flickered on and, screaming, the darkness released me. In the same moment, hands grabbed my arms and hauled me forwards. I struggled against them before realising that their touch was warm. These were people. Or at least I hoped that they were. It was hard to see anything with that light on, but for now I was willing to go with them. Anything to get away from the dark vortex and the monster that had spoken to me inside.
“Who are you?” I asked, but no-one answered and I was bundled into the back of a large vehicle. Plunged into blackness again, I began to panic, wondering if I could open the doors from the inside. Getting to my feet, I stumbled around looking for a handle; there were one. I was stuck in here until someone or something let me out.