Celebrating Women’s Horror Month, please welcome my special guest Amy Cross, author of Last Wrong Turn. That horror book was the first one I tried of her’s, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Having around 15 of Amy Cross’ s ebooks in my kindle, I’m pretty sure my TBR list will continue to grow, especially with her ghost stories. Please enjoy her 5,000 word horror short.
By Amy Cross
“Don’t be a smart-ass,” I mutter, still holding the fishing lure up for Bobby to see. “It uses a combination of vibration, movement and color. That’s what attracts the fish, and then the hooks do the rest.”
“Seriously?” He wrinkles his nose, as if he disapproves. “Fish are that stupid?”
Figuring that I’ve tried my best to explain, and that he’s not going to take this seriously, I finish dressing the lure before turning and casting it over the side of the boat. I was going to explain the full history of lures, and the importance of the various elements, and then I was going to tell him all about how I make my own lures with my own little twist, but somehow I think he’s not too interested. We’ve been bobbing about out here on Lake Cookarummie for almost an hour now, and it’s taken this long for the actual fishing part to start. I swear, inviting Bobby was a mistake, but I guess Sheila’s glad to have him out of the house for a while. I owe it to her to make an effort. I have to try, and besides, it’s just one weekend.
“So now we wait,” I explain, leaning back and waiting for his inevitable sarcastic comment. For a moment I watch the glistening water, as mid-afternoon sunlight sparkles all around us, and then I turn to see that Bobby’s more interested in something deep in his satchel. “What’ve you got there?”
“Nothing,” he mutters.
I open my mouth to ask again, but I catch myself just in time. Bobby’s the kind of kid who doesn’t really respond to direct questions, and I certainly don’t fancy another round of his nonsense. Honestly, if he wasn’t my sister’s boy, I’d never even give him the time of day. Still, I can’t deny that a flicker of suspicion is rippling through my thoughts as he continues to root around in that satchel, but I guess I should be more trusting.
“So what’ve you been up to lately?” I ask, trying to sound casual, trying not to make it obvious that this is a kind of intervention. “Anything fun or -”
“Won’t you scare the fish away?”
“Talking all the time. Won’t your voice scare the fish away?”
I can’t help smiling. “The lure’ll take care of that. They won’t be able to resist.”
“Huh. Still, shouldn’t you be focusing on fishing?”
“Well, that’s the beauty of a day on the lake,” I explain. “There’s a lot of waiting around, and a lot of time for nattering. It’s a way for two men to get to know each other a little better.”
“Sounds boring. And gay.”
“You just have to learn to appreciate it. I guess it’s a change of pace for a guy like you, huh? You’re used to the fast lane of city life, huh? Let me guess, you’d rather be spending your weekend cruising from amusement arcade to amusement arcade, wouldn’t you? Maybe stopping off for a milkshake and chat with a few pretty girls? You might be surprised to learn that I was considered pretty cool when I was your age. I was known as Big Ben, on account of how I had big, broad shoulders.”
He chuckles, which I guess is a response of sorts. He still seems totally preoccupied by whatever’s at the bottom of that damn satchel, and after a moment I realize that he’s mumbling under his breath, as if he’s counting something.
I lean a little closer, but he suddenly turns to me, startled. At the same time, he closes the satchel tight.
“Just wondering,” I tell him, leaning back and taking a look at my rod. Frankly, I’d give my eyeteeth for a bite right about now, just so I could have something else to talk about. A catch always brings some excitement, and Bobby’d be sure to get the fishing bug. “I guess I just wanted to bring you out here and show you a little of what I do with my days now I’m retired.”
“Yay,” he deadpans.
“There might be a big old perch down there right now,” I continue, “swimming closer and closer to that lure, getting about ready to go too close. They get mesmerized when they see it in the water, you know. They can’t help themselves. And then it’ll be all over for the poor chap, and there’ll be nothing left for us to do except haul him up into the boat. You won’t think the lure’s so dumb then, will you?”
“I don’t really give a -”
“Sorry, Uncle Ben,” he continues, “but the whole thing just seems stupid to me. If fish are that brain-dead, I don’t know why you’d want to eat them anyway. How can there be any pride in catching something that’s so gullible?”
“The lure just appeals to their senses,” I point out. “It’s designed that way.”
“Yeah, but you’d think, like, nature or evolution or something would’ve made them smarter by now. If they’re so easy to catch, why haven’t they, like, died out already?” He looks back into his satchel for a moment, and then he glances out toward the lake. “Stupid fish,” he mutters finally. “The only fish you catch are the dumb ones, Uncle Ben. All the other fish are just watching them and thinking how stupid they are. Dumb fish.”
“So then you cut it like this,” I explain as I slice the knife through the fish’s gut, “and clean all this stuff out. You want to get it all, okay? If you don’t, there’ll be a real nasty taste when you finally cook the thing, and that’d be a total waste of a good perch. There’s even -”
Before I can finish, I see out the corner of my eye that Bobby has turned away. Glancing at him, I can’t help sighing as I find that he’s rooting around in his satchel, as if somehow the contents are far more important than any wilderness survival tips he might pick up from me. If I’d been that rude to anyone in my family when I was his age, I’d have received a swift clip around the ear. Then again, I guess kids these days aren’t used to proper discipline. He’d probably wail and whine that I’d assaulted him. Better to keep this verbal.
“Hey!” I call out. “Wanna pay attention? This stuff might save your life some day!”
He lets out an amused grunt.
“I mean it!” I continue. “How long do you think you’d last out here in the wild, miles from civilization, if trouble struck?”
“About as long as it took me to call for help on my cellphone.”
“And if you didn’t have access to a cellular telephone?”
“Then I’d deserve to die, for being an idiot.” He glances at me, and then at the fish. “I guess I’d be in good company, then.”
“And if you didn’t have cellular telephone service?”
He slips his telephone from his pocket and holds it up for me to see. It’s one of those fancy ones with a big screen and no buttons.
“I’ve got service,” he points out with a sanctimonious grin. “This is the twenty-first century, Uncle Ben. I checked online before you dragged me up here. My provider’s website specifically confirmed service out here. And that is called thinking ahead. You should try it next time you’re heading out into the wilderness. It might just save your life.”
“When you’re preparing a fish for roasting on the campfire,” I continue, looking back down at the perch, “there are really three things you’ve got to consider. Now, I’m going to go through each of those three things in turn and…”
Before I can finish, I realize I can hear a rustling sound nearby. Turning to Bobby again, I see that he’s once again rooting through his satchel. This time, I don’t think I can hold my tongue.
“Care to share what’s so fascinating in that thing?” I ask.
“Sure. Like you’d get it.”
“Come on, I’m not some old fart. What’ve you got there?”
He shakes his head, while grinning and muttering something under his breath.
“Maybe you’d better let me see,” I continue, stepping around the campfire and heading over to him. “Hand it over.”
“It’s my bag!”
“And your mother put me in charge of you for this little trip,” I point out, “so let me see what’s in the bag.”
“Don’t you trust me?”
I open my mouth to reply, but the words catch in my throat.
“You don’t, do you?” he continues. “You think I’m still into all that stuff that got me into trouble.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But I can see it in your eyes. You’re like Mom. You think I’m still taking drugs and getting high and all that stuff. You don’t believe that someone can change. You don’t believe that I can change. Thanks a lot, man.”
Sighing, I put my hands on my hips.
“People are just worried about you, Bobby,” I explain. “Your mother and I, neither of us have ever tried marijuana or cocaine or any of those other things. Meth. It’s just not something people do in our family. But we’ve read up about it, on account of the trouble you’ve been in. We know that it’s really, really hard to kick the habit.”
“So that’s why you brought me on this weekend camping trip? You thought a few lungfuls of fresh lake air would clear me out and set me back on the straight and narrow?”
“There’s no need to be defensive.”
“Fine, look in the stupid bag!” He tosses the satchel at me, and I feel it bump against my feet as it lands in the dirt. “If you really don’t trust me,” he continues, with anger in his eyes, “and if you really can’t see past your own prejudices, then look in the bag. Go on, show me that you don’t trust me. That’d feel really good, Uncle Ben. Mom goes through my stuff when I’m out. She thinks I don’t know, but I do. I’m eighteen years old, I’m not an idiot. But if you think I am an idiot, and if you think I’m still using, then go ahead and look in the goddamn bag.”
I stare at him, trying to figure out whether or not he’s bluffing, before finally reaching down and picking up the satchel. I dust some dirt from the front, which is really just a cover while I feel the weight of the damn thing. For a moment, I’m sorely tempted to open the top and take a look inside, but finally I realize that I need to get Bobby on my side. Even though I’m worried I might be making a mistake, I step over to him and set the satchel next to him feet. I need him to see that I’m his friend as well as his uncle.
“You’re not gonna look inside?” he asks, staring up at me as if he’s challenging me to change my mind.
“I’m not gonna look inside.”
“Because you trust me?”
“Because I think you’re a good kid,” I reply, before turning and heading back around the campfire, “and because I’ve got a fish to gut. Now, I’m not gonna force you, but I reckon you’d be mighty wise to come over here and learn how to do the gutting. You might surprise yourself and actually like getting your hands dirty, doing things the old-fashioned way. You wanna feel like a real man, don’t you?”
I look down at the fish and try to remember where I left off, and then I take the knife again.
“Okay,” I continue, “now a little -”
I pause. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see that he’s going through his satchel again. I hope I didn’t make a mistake by not looking in there.
“Now a little trick my old man taught me,” I say finally, deciding that I just have to trust the boy, “and which I’m gonna pass on to you right now, Bobby, concerns the way you cut the head off. Okay, so I know there’s a lot of blood, but the head can actually be useful, provided you remove it in the right manner. Right, so here’s the tricky part. Pay attention now.”
“The key to a good fire,” I explain as I toss some more sticks onto the flames, “is kindling. You got that, Bobby? You need to start it up right, and then it’ll keep you warm all night. Just like a woman.”
I glance at him, expecting him to laugh.
“Another trick,” I continue, “and I don’t know if you noticed this earlier, is to dig a little hole under where you’re gonna set the first sticks. That way, you’ve got air coming from under, which helps the fire get going, especially you’re in sub-optimal conditions.”
Suddenly realizing that he hasn’t replied for a while, I wait again for him to at least acknowledge that I’m speaking. It’s almost midnight, and to be honest I’ve spent the past few hours more or less talking to myself. Bobby wolfed down his share of the fish, which was good to see, but since then he’s mostly been over in the shadows at the edge of the clearing, and it seems like he wants to nap. I guess the day might have tired him out, but I can’t help worrying that maybe he’s keeping something from me. Right now, he’s just silhouetted against the night sky.
I guess I’ve gotta trust him.
I wish that wasn’t so hard.
“You okay over there?” I call out, watching his silhouette. “Enjoying the forest air?”
I wait for a reply, but he just stays quiet.
“It’s good for the mind,” I continue. “Clears your thoughts. Have you noticed that? Sometimes it’s the simple things that do you the most good.”
Again I wait, and again he doesn’t respond.
Figuring that he might finally have started to appreciate the great outdoors, I grab the plate of marshmallows and carry them over. When I was Bobby’s age and my father used to take me camping, a plate of marshmallows was just about the most exciting thing in the whole world. I know kids these days are used to more technological treats, but I reckon deep down Bobby might just appreciate something to eat. At least he’s not playing on that goddamn cellphone, which I suppose is already a small victory.
“How about you try some of the best marshmallows the world has to offer?” I ask.
“Just having a contemplative moment, are you?” I continue, forcing a smile. “Okay, then I just -”
Suddenly I see that his satchel is on the ground, tipped partway over and with several small plastic pouches having slithered out. My heart sinks as soon as I see that each of the pouches contains some kind of white powder.
Crouching down, I set the plate aside and then I pick up one of the pouches. I don’t want to believe that he brought some kind of drug out here with him, but at the same time I’m no fool. Turning the pouch around, I can already see that the white powder has small crystals that are catching the light of the campfire. I’ve never seen illegal drugs up-close before, but I let out a long, slow sigh as I realize that my worst fears have been confirmed. I should never have trusted him.
“What is this?” I ask, struggling to contain my anger.
When he doesn’t reply, I reach over and nudge his shoulder.
Letting out a faint, mumbled groan, he turns and looks at me with a big grin and huge, dilated pupils.
“What have you taken?” I continue. “Bobby, I swear to God, you -”
“Chill out, man,” he replies, placing a hand on my arm. “You can take some too if you like, Uncle Ben. It’s really good stuff. It’s the best!”
“What is it?” I shout. “Is it cocaine? Is it heroin? Is it -”
Suddenly he starts laughing, and then he slithers closer to me and grabs my shoulders, as if he wants me to hold him up.
“You don’t have a clue, man,” he continues, and now I can feel his ice-cold breath on the side of my face. “Coke and heroin are so old school. I’m not into that stuff. I scored some of this new powder that everyone’s going crazy about. I mean, I didn’t exactly score it, it just turned up, but who cares about that? The effect’s like LSD but times a thousand.”
“Oh God,” I mutter, realizing that I need to get him to a hospital. “Bobby, how much of this did you -”
“Take some!” he hisses, grabbing a packet from the floor and holding it up for me. “You’ll never regret it!”
“I’m going to call an ambulance!”
“You’ve gotta try some first, Uncle Ben! It’ll open your mind!”
“You goddamn idiot!” I mutter, getting up to go and get my phone, only for Bobby to grab my arm and hold me down. “Bobby, this is serious!” I continue, turning back to him. “You were supposed to be getting clean!”
“But this is the good stuff! This is the stuff that lets you experience the world in a whole new way! Everything’s alive, Uncle Ben! There are cracks in everything and the light’s just streaming through! And that’s where the voice is coming from!”
Sighing, I slip free and head back to my seat, where I quickly pull my phone from my pocket. At least Bobby was right when he said that we had mobile telephone coverage out here, so it doesn’t take long for me to call 911 and tell them what’s wrong. Since we’re a little far off the beaten track, I have to describe exactly how the ambulance can find us, but eventually they tell me that one should be here within two hours, and they add that I should keep my phone on in case they need to call me back. They tell me a few more things I should do, in case Bobby’s reaction to the drug gets worse, and then they tell me to just hang tight. It’s probably not that bad, they add. It’s probably going to be fine.
And then the call ends.
I immediately bring up my sister’s number, figuring I should tell her what’s happening, but then I realize I might be worrying her unnecessarily. Besides, she’d probably scream at me for putting her boy in jeopardy, and I can’t say I’d blame her. Better to wait until we’re at the hospital, maybe, so that at least I can ease her concerns when I speak to her.
“I can relax, knowing he’s with you,” I remember her telling me when we set off early this morning. “You’re a safe pair of hands for the boy. You’re steady, Ben.”
Yeah, and look how that’s worked out.
“An ambulance is on its way,” I tell Bobby as I make my way back around the fire. “Might take ’em a while, but you’ve just gotta hold on, okay? Help’s coming.”
“I don’t need help,” he whispers, leaning against a tree now and staring straight ahead into the darkness.
“I think that’s a matter of opinion,” I mutter, kneeling next to him, “and in my opinion, and the opinion of a lot of people around you, you need a great deal of help. Clearly you haven’t kicked your problem at all.”
“This stuff’s different,” he replies, his voice fading slightly as if he’s on the verge of losing consciousness. “This isn’t like coke or anything else. This stuff takes you somewhere. I can see lights, Uncle Ben. I can feel the universe opening up, and getting ready to reveal its true nature to me. Before, I never took enough, so I could never really go there, but tonight I took three packets and I’m so close. I can hear his voice, he’s…”
His voice trails off for a moment.
“It’s me he wants,” he whispers.
“Hey, stay with me!” I say firmly, nudging his arm. “The lady on the phone said you’ve gotta stay awake!”
“He’s calling to me,” he continues. “I don’t know what he wants, but I have to open my mind and go to him. I can hear all the colors around us, Uncle Ben. Even the ones I can’t see. I can smell the sounds and I can see the light that’s breaking through. There’s something calling to me, something immense, something from the other side of existence. It’s so beautiful there, Uncle Ben. I’m seeing something we can’t see unless we get a little help. He’s calling me, calling me, calling over and over again, calling me. I have to go to him. He’s in the place where it’s so beautiful.”
“Oh, Jesus,” I mutter, taking off my cap and wiping my brow. “That ambulance had better get here soon.”
“I’m almost there,” he whispers, leaning his head back against the tree. “Such pretty colors. Some of them are completely new. I can feel myself getting closer, Uncle Ben.”
“Keep your eyes open!”
“There’s a man made of pure light and he’s telling me to keep going. I can’t stop, Uncle Ben! I have to see what he wants! I have to go to him! Attaroth, I’m almost there, I’m -”
Suddenly he lurches forward, and when I grab his arms I find that he’s trembling violently.
“Bobby, just calm down!” I say firmly. “Help’s coming, but you have to stay calm!”
“I’m going to him!” he gasps, as sweat runs down his face. “I can’t help myself! I couldn’t turn back, even if I wanted! I’m almost there! I’m going to become one with the light, and then I’ll know the answer to every question there’s ever been! I’m going to get everything I ever wanted! I’m going to be with him and…”
His voice trails off.
“He smells hungry,” he adds, with a hint of fear in his voice. “Uncle Ben, I think he’s angry about something. He’s not my -”
Suddenly he lets out a gasp, and a kind of white foam starts dribbling from his lips.
“Bobby!” I yell, lowering his shaking body down onto the ground, as more foam runs down his chin, mixed this time with a trail of blood. “Bobby, hold on!” I shout. “Bobby, help’s coming! Bobby, you just have to hold on!”
And then he screams so loud, I have to put my hands over my ears.
Suddenly hearing a voice saying my name, I look up and find that a man in a dark suit is standing right in front of me. I immediately glance along the hospital corridor, worried that something happened while I was lost in my thoughts.
“It’s okay,” the man continues, reaching out a hand for me to shake. “My name is Joseph Mayfield, I’m a researcher from a government agency that deals with new and emerging psycho-active substances. Drugs, in other words. Threats in general, really. National security, that sort of thing. I need to talk to you for a few minutes about your nephew Ben.”
“Is there any news?” I ask.
“I’m afraid not. He’s being monitored around the clock. His mother’s with him. Do you mind if I join you?”
I nod, and he takes a seat next to me.
“Ben took a substance that’s known on the street as Polly 66/99,” he explains. “We don’t know where it got that name. We also don’t know exactly where it first originated. Since it was first brought to our attention about three months ago, we’ve determined that it’s synthetic in nature. That means it was created in a lab somewhere. It’s an extremely powerful substance, it causes users to experience some very strong and powerful sensations.”
“Ben said he could see different colors,” I tell him.
“That’s something other victims of Polly 66/99 have said too.”
“How many others have there been?”
“Like Ben? A few. Nine so far, including him.”
“And they recover, right?” I continue. “Please, tell me I got him here in time!”
I wait for a reply, but I can already tell that he’s worried.
“I’ll never be able to forgive myself if he’s hurt,” I add. “I should’ve looked in that satchel. I should never have trusted him!”
“Mr. Truman, the other teenagers who’ve overdosed on Polly 66/99…”
His voice trails off for a moment.
“What’s wrong with them?” I ask. “What happens?”
“Physically, they’re fine,” he continues. “Even with deep scans of their brains, we’ve detected no damage whatsoever.”
“That’s good, right? That means they’ll recover!”
“It should,” he adds, “but in this case, they don’t wake up.”
I feel a shiver pass through my chest. “What exactly do you mean by that?”
“The mechanism is not understood at this point in time,” he continues, “but it’s almost as if… I know this is going to sound crazy, but it’s as if their minds are somehow lured out of their bodies. Just drawn out, and then they vanish, leaving just the bodies behind.”
“What do you mean, lured out?” I ask, trying not to panic. “You mean they’ve got that locked-in syndrome? They can’t communicate?”
“There’s no brain activity at all. Their minds are just… gone.”
“That’s something we haven’t been able to determine yet.”
“But it doesn’t make sense,” I continue. “A person’s mind can’t just float right outta their head!”
“No, it can’t,” he replies, “but like I said, we’re struggling to figure this one out at the moment. All we can say for certain is that batches of this Polly 66/99 substance seem to appear fairly randomly in cities across the world. So far it’s shown up in Seattle, and New York, and half a dozen other places in Europe and Asia. We don’t know who makes it or why, or how they get it out into the world. It’s almost as if it just drops down out of the sky and lands in front of people.” He pauses for a moment. “Obviously we’re working on it. We’ll figure this mess out eventually.”
“He can’t die,” I reply. “Please, you have to help Bobby. He can’t die, if he dies I’ll never be able to forgive myself.”
“We’ll do all we can,” he says, before getting to his feet. “I need to go and speak to some specialists over the phone. Whenever a new victim of Polly 66/99 shows up, we roll into action pretty fast.”
“You have to do something!” I reply. “For God’s sake, you can’t let people get sick like this!”
He nods, and then he pauses for a moment, as if there’s something he can’t quite bring himself to tell me.
“You have blood on your hands,” he says finally.
Looking down at my hands, I realize that he’s right. I have some patches of dried blood struck to the sides of my fingers, and dried to my nails.
“Oh, that’s from the fish I caught earlier,” I explain. “I gutted it and cooked it.”
“You fish to eat? That’s admirable.”
“I throw ’em back if I don’t eat ’em,” I tell him. “I only go fishing for food. Not for sport. Anything I’m not gonna eat, I throw back. It’s not natural any other way.”
“I happen to agree very much with that sentiment,” he replies, before patting my shoulder. “Hold on and stay strong, Mr. Truman. We’re going to do everything we can to help your nephew. Some of the best minds in the country are working on figuring this drug out, and I’m confident we’ll have an answer eventually. It’ll just take time. So far, this thing seems unlike anything else we’ve ever encountered. It’s almost like it dropped down here from another world.”
“He mentioned a man made of light,” I tell him.
“He said he was going toward a man made of light.”
He pauses, before nodding.
“It doesn’t make sense, does it?” I point out.
“No, it doesn’t,” he replies. “But in all the other Polly 66/99 cases, the victims said the same thing. They said they were being drawn toward a man made of light, a man who’d give them everything they wanted. Most of them even mention a name.”
He hesitates, as if he dares not say that name out loud.
“Attaroth,” we both say finally, at the same time.
“What does it mean?” I continue. “It has to be nonsense, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Truman. But I’ll be sure to keep you posted if I find out. We have good people, brilliant minds, working on this. We’ll solve it eventually.”
“And they’ll all wake up, won’t they? The kids, I mean.”
“We certainly hope so, Mr. Truman. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
Once he’s gone, I sit alone for a few minutes, thinking over all the things I could have done differently, all the ways I might have kept Bobby from taking that stupid drug. Finally I reach into my pocket to take out my phone, only to let out a gasp of pain as I feel something sharp pricking my finger. Carefully, I reach in again and pull out one of the lures from earlier, and I hold it up until it glints a little in the electric light.
“Pretty,” a smiling nurse says, glancing at the lure as she walks past.
I wait until she’s gone, and now my mind is racing and I can’t help thinking about the things Bobby said while he was high on that drug. Especially the things about the voice he could hear, and that name. Attaroth.
A man made of light.
“Let him go,” I whisper finally, with tears in my eyes. “Don’t keep him. Wherever his mind went, let it come back. Whoever you are, you don’t need him or want him. Just let him come back to us! Why do you want him, anyway? What possible reason could you have for taking him?”
And yet, even as I say those words, my gaze shifts from the lure to the blood that’s caked around the edges of my fingernails.