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Eye of the Storm · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000


The following prizes are courtesy of horizon and Trick Question:

  • $25 USD to 1st place
  • $15 USD to 2nd place
  • $15 USD to 3rd place
  • $20 USD to the top placing entrant who has never entered a Writeoff before

A complete detailing of the prizes on offer is here.

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Jogging down a quiet street in the late evening should’ve been mundane. The most exciting moment should’ve been meeting my calorie goal. Instead I kept hearing the two words I’d been told for two days in a row.

Never run. That’s what I’d heard repeatedly from the moment I set foot in this quaint little town. Occasionally the more good-natured residents threw in a “don’t go out at night,” too, but that’s easier to dismiss as small town small-mindedness. I heard the same thing from the gas station attendant, the auto mechanic, and the motel owner. At first I thought I’d stumbled into a town-wide practical joke, some rite of passage reserved for every just-passing-through tourist with a blown out radiator.

Then I started to wonder if everyone in town was just crazy.

My first day out on the town, the first of three if the auto mechanic’s estimate held up, a five year old boy zipped past me down the block. That looked normal enough. Less normal was his mother tackling him to the ground and bellowing those two words of folkish wisdom: never run.

It’s not like the sidewalks were covered in marbles, or something. Between the wide streets, the Mom and Pop stores on every corner, and the picturesque greenbelts situated between nearly every oversized block, I’d be running too at that age. Everything, time included, looked like it moved slowly here, so why not run a little? Why not get some of that newfangled thing called exercise?

That first night someone finally told me. Drinking comes easy when there’s not much else to do, doubly so when the only people willing to talk are doing the same. The bar adjoining the motel, the only business open past seven, was home to the stereotypical drunks. The old greybeard in the back corner, the one that smelled of freshly poured scotch over days-old sweat, stumbled over to my table and grinned at me.

“New in town, boy?”

I’d nodded.

“Everybody give you the ‘warning’ yet?” He’d said it so casually, like he was mocking the local parishioners who wanted to make sure I knew what time Sunday services started.

“What do you all have against running?”

“Heh. Guess you haven’t heard it yet.”

“Heard what?”

He leaned in. I could’ve gotten tipsy off his breath alone. “The siren.”

“An alarm?”

“No, no. People go slow ‘cause if you don’t you might hear it. ‘specially at night. Starts like this… warbly thing if you’re going too fast.”

“Yeah? What happens if you do?”

“Depends. You got two choices. You stop then and there, and maybe it goes away. Loses interest or something. Happened to me once. Scared the hell out ’a me.”

I knew we were fast approaching the point where he’d ask me for spare change. “That’s fascinating, Sir. I’d better be—”

He slapped a hand down on the table. “Or you keep running! Can’t blame a soul who does. I almost did. Gotta be fast, though. Gotta get inside. Can’t ever ever turn around and see it.”

At that point I made my exit. He didn’t seem to care that I was getting further away, not when he could just talk a little louder to make up for it. “ ’Cause if you see it or if it catches you, you’re name’s Dinner!”

Such is the town’s paranoia: never run, never go out at night. If you do, the siren might get you.

They probably are all crazy. Still, in retrospect they have good reason to be.

I was just crossing from First Street to Second when I heard it, a long note rising and falling like the siren of a traffic cop moving in for the kill. Except it wasn’t a police car. The warbling sound was slow and uneven, almost like a hand-cranked alarm with some elderly cop at the handle.

I didn’t even slow down. I’d heard scarier things in commercials.

In response the sound grew louder, not from some local turning up the volume on their TV like I suspected, but from the source of the sound traveling closer in the still night air. The warbling sped up at the same time, as if my disrespect for the local boogyman was making him angry.

I stopped under a streetlamp for a moment. I needed to check my heart rate anyway, and if stopping also happened the local method of staying alive, then so be it. I held up my arm and checked my sports watch. The little heart indicator on the display flashed in time with my pulse, and the numbers next to it informed me that, yes, I had in fact burned off the half a beer I’d downed prior to the local drunk chasing me out of his watering hole the previous night.

Then I heard it again.

The siren’s wavering, warbling tone came closer and closer until it felt like the speaker was right next to me in the street. Something scraped and scattered the gravel on the blacktop, something quite unlike a pair of shoes or tires. The little heart symbol on my watch quickened its pace. The meagre light reflected on the watch face, which should’ve shown me the silhouette someone sneaking up behind me, went completely dark. Something blotted out the light behind me, and, for a moment, didn’t make a sound.

No breathing. No rustling. Nothing.

My own desire to breath finally caught up with me. I dropped my hand to my side and took a deep breath.

As soon as my breath I broke the silence, the warbling sound started again like a trumpet blast. The rising and falling sound echoed in my ears and brought the town’s strange wisdom to the forefront of my mind: stay perfectly still and maybe it’ll go away. Don’t run. Don’t go outside at night. If you run, it’ll chase you. If it catches you, you’re dead. If you see it, you’re dead.

I ran.

Street lights passed by overhead as I tore down Second Street. The little shops lining the block, all dark and locked up for the night, seemed to mock me with their ‘closed’ signs. I shot past the used book store that was too overpriced, the antique shop with nothing older than my sneakers, and ice cream shop that I just hadn’t been in the mood for. The siren faded into the distance at first, as if my arms-flailing sprint had somehow scared it off. Then it slowly wound up in volume and speed, closing the distance with a steady, silent glide. Gravel scattered and trash in the street rolled away, but never to the sound of a rolling tire or a heavy footfall.

I didn’t wait for the end of the block. I grabbed a lamppost and swung my way onto a narrow alley between shops. Part of me wanted to shout. Did anyone live inside their stores? If I sounded scared and pathetic enough would they let me in?

Halfway down the alley, I saw the telltale lights of upstairs windows: a residential area, complete with local residents.

“Hey! Someone help! Someone let me in!” I shouted.

Almost immediately I saw silhouettes darken the windows. For a moment my panic abated. Any second now, someone would throw open their window and shout “this way!”

Thick curtains dimmed the lights instead. One by one, every house in view went completely dark. I could almost hear deadbolts being fastened, sealing the locals inside and the condemning the hapless jogger who wouldn’t listen to the town mantra.

The siren’s call got even louder as it entered the alley. The ancient stonework on either side felt like a gun barrel, complete with a warbling bullet speeding its way towards me. I burst out of the alley and turned back up the street. Maybe I could lose it around a corner. Maybe I could make it all the way back to the motel three blocks over. If I got enough of a head start it wouldn’t matter who was chasing me, I’d bolt my room’s door and shove the mini-fridge in front of it.

Except I wasn’t running from a ‘who.’ I’d gone less than five feet when the siren’s tone lost the amplification of the alleyway and reentered the street behind me. It’d taken me thirty seconds at least to run down the alley; how did this thing do it in less then ten? If it could move that fast why hadn’t it already caught me?

My left ankle decided to find out.

I don’t know what I tripped on. All I know is that I my mad dash ended with me sprawled out on the ground. The edge of the sidewalk hammered against the arm I’d held out to break my fall. For a moment my cries of pain drowned out the apparition chasing me. I writhed on the ground, cradling my arm and trying not to kick anything with my bad foot.

My heartbeat thundered in my ears. Every survivalist braincell I had screamed ‘run,’ even if my ankle felt like it needed to be amputated. For all I knew where the monster would start eating me.

Why hadn’t I heard it yet? There I was, face down on the ground and completely helpless, and yet the monster wasn’t pouncing. Somehow I still knew I wasn’t safe; I hadn’t escaped the storm, I was in the eye, bracing for the next wave to destroy me.

Minutes passed by. The raw adrenaline pumping through my muscles started to fade. The pavement smelled like aged rubber and rotten oil; each stinking breath brought me closer to retching, although I suddenly felt far too cold to puke. My sweat-stained shirt felt like an ice blanket pressed against my skin by the unusually heavy air.

Then a paper cup skittered across the street in an invisible breeze. I froze in place, willing my body to stop shivering.

The siren started up again, or at least tried to. The warbling couldn’t seem to last for more than a second. Instead of a long, menacing tone, the siren’s call turned into a revving sound, like someone trying to restart an engine.

Wrrrn. Wrrrn. Wrrrn.

A shadow eclipsed the light overhead. I kept my eyes glued to the pavement. I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t need to know if it was human, animal, or just some punk teenager with a future in psychoacoustics.

The revving slowed down. Each attempt got more pronounced, as if the engine was starting up in slow motion.






Realization hit me seconds before the adrenaline did. My sprawled out body felt as coordinated as rag doll trapped in molasses. I inched across the ground, nearly dragging my face against the pavement in the process, before my legs finally started to cooperate. I pushed myself back to my feet and staggered forward, one lurching step at a time. Each time I put my weight my bad ankle the pain shooting up my leg nearly made me scream. The rest of the time I just felt like throwing up.

The siren’s normal cadence and volume resumed, but this time I heard more than a ragged, warbling tone. I heard that single word, stretched out into the call of an otherworldly hunter with as much of a taste for sport as for human flesh.

My sprint turned into a marathon. Every step was agony, and yet I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop, not even as I passed the greenbelts between the blocks. The untamed grass and trees that’d looked so picturesque in the daylight took on an entirely different meaning. If they really were just greenbelts, why did the dirt look like it’d been shaped by shovels instead of erosion? Why did the grass grow in clumps on top of mounds? Was that where I was going to end up? Was I going to join the last idiot to be out after dark in an unmarked grave on the open land between housing tracts?

Second Street turned into Third, and then to Fourth. The motel was at the end of the block. I could see the flickering neon sign lighting up the night. My right hand, the one connected to the arm that didn’t feel broken, rifled through my left pocket unto it closed around my room key. Step by agonizing step, I closed the distance. I shoved the little metal key in the lock. I fasted the deadbolt behind me. I laid down on the carpet and waited for the vomit to finally make its promised appearance.

Still, even as I lay there I couldn’t help wondering what I’d done right. The siren hadn’t closed in as I hobbled away, not even as I stopped in front of my door and fumbled with the key. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how long it’d been since I’d heard its warbling cry. Was that back on Third Street? How long had I been running on fear alone, without the monster goading me on?

I didn’t have time to think of an answer, not when my churning stomach demanded that I find something to throw up in.

Somehow I slept. Maybe my brain rationalized it all away. Maybe I convinced myself that I’d actually spent the night at that bar, soaking up local horror stories and downing local spirits. I don’t know, and I don’t care. All that matters is that I woke up the next morning. I woke up in the same sweat-stained clothes that I’d gone out jogging in the night before with all my limbs still attached.

I hobbled my way outside some time after ten in the morning. I needed breakfast and a new bottle of painkillers.

What I found out on the street made me forget all about breakfast. A small crowd had formed in front of the bar, and even at a distance I could see what had drawn all the attention. The barfly that’d told me everything I thought I needed to know about the siren lay on the face up on the pavement, a few feet from a battered old station wagon that I can only assume was his. Except this wasn’t the same man: this was a sagging, empty shell that the real human being had been sucked out of, leaving only a few drops of blood by one of the ears.

Based on the bar’s closing time, he’d died at least a half hour before I’d gone jogging. The siren had just been toying with me, just using me for sport long after the hunt itself was over.

The only sight worse than the body was the collection of onlookers surrounding it. I saw no horror in their expressions, or even surprise. They’d seen this before, and they knew they’d see it again.
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