Laketon. Short Story.

“I’m dead and I have been for a long time. Before we begin properly I really need you to understand what that means. I have not seen friends or family, I do not know what they look like now, I don’t know how they’re living their lives. I don’t even know if they still live in the same city, but I know they had a funeral for me. I know they mourned for me. I left on the day I died. You might think it’s overkill, hell I even wondered that myself when it happened, but you’ll see. You’re new to all this, aren’t you? Have you seen them yet?”
“Seen who?”

The man chuckled and shook his head, “You’ll know them when you see them. It’s none of that men in black suits bullshit, they look like regular people but they’re not. You won’t notice it at first, but as time goes on you’ll be able to spot them. They move oddly, they don’t seem to eat, they tend to stare for just a little too long before they blink. I’ve seen groups of them in a restaurant with full plates of food, they move their forks around, it’s almost like they’re pretending to eat like in a movie. You’ve talked to one or two people so far, but the more interest you show in what happened, the more interest they’ll show in you.” The man took a drink from his coke and set it back on the diner table, “You won’t know my name, someone will probably be able to figure it out eventually, but I’ve taken steps. I’ve changed how I look, I’ve taken great pains to disappear, but I think they know where I am. They’ve been content to leave me alone for the most part, I think because they know I’m scared.”

He took a deep breath, then shook his head. “Sorry, I’m rambling. Ok. I’m going to start at the beginning.

It was Stephens idea to go camping, he loved camping, always spending time in the woods and trying to convince us to come with. That weekend we were all free so we decided fuck it, why not? It had been a while since we had all gotten together properly and had a laugh. The plan was simple, grab a few tents and some food, a couple of beers, maybe a few joints and Stephen would help us with all the outdoorsy stuff. We arrived early enough and started out, the hike was longer than I expected it to be, and I was in worse shape than I thought. All of us were really, except Stephen, he was laughing and joking the entire way, trying to keep up morale. When we got to the camp site he chose we were all tired, but we took a short break and got everything set up with minimal fuss. The weather was nice out, sunny and warm but not too hot. The night was supposed to be cool, but not cold. We all had our jobs to do, get fire wood, help set up the tents, that kind of stuff. Nothing too interesting happened really, it was just a normal day. That night, after we had a few beers and smoked a few of the joints I had to take a piss. So I left the camp and started walking. I always needed a bit of privacy to go, if there were people around I just couldn’t. I made sure to keep an eye on the fire and what direction I was going in so I wouldn’t get lost. One of the others, I’m not sure who, called out they’d send a search party if I wasn’t back in ten minutes. It didn’t take me long to find a good spot.

I was finishing up when I looked up at the sky, it was a clear night and there were so many stars out, it was beautiful, I’d never seen anything like it. Most of the time if you looked up you’d see a couple of stars, and even then they were most likely satellites. I don’t know how long I was looking up at the sky, it was kind of hard to keep track of time at that point, but then I noticed something. A sudden burst of light to my left. I looked out and could see it over the trees, it looked like light pollution for a town or city, but I knew that couldn’t be it. Stephen had guided us out here and said there wasn’t anything around for miles and miles. Whatever it was was close. I moved my way through the trees, until I came to a ridge, and I saw it. A town. It was so close but there was no noise of traffic, nothing. Just silence. I didn’t notice the quiet at first because I started to laugh. Stephen always bragged about being an experienced outdoors man and he had managed to get us all turned around. I was looking forward to making a few jokes at his expense.

I found my way back to the campsite easily enough. I sat down and waited for a moment, finally it came and I casually asked about the town. Stephen got a weird look on his face and he told me there wasn’t any town or village anywhere near us. I started laughing then, I made a few jokes though I don’t really remember them. He was so insistent that I must have imagined it that I stood up and told him to follow me.

We stood on the ridge, Stephen was staring in disbelief, the others were cracking more jokes. Stephen hadn’t said anything since we got to the ridge, he looked at us, his eyes were slightly wide with fear and he asked why there wasn’t any sound. The others didn’t seem to take much notice of that, they shrugged it off, it was late, the town wasn’t terribly large, everything had probably shut down. But I could see cars sitting on the roads, they weren’t moving, but they weren’t parked up either. One of the others suggested that we go and check it out. I felt a little  scared, but I figured we’d be safe enough, probably just some small backwards town where everything closed at sundown. Stephen didn’t really want to go, which I found strange, he was always the brave one, pushing us all forward. As we made our way down the ridge he trailed along behind all of us. He didn’t say anything, but I could feel the unease from him. It was around this point that I realised that Stephen and I were by far the soberest in the group. The others had practically started drinking and smoking as soon as camp was set up. As we got closer I could feel it, something heavy in the air. The guys ahead were being too loud, too disruptive. I kept trying to get them to quiet down, I told them that we didn’t want to get hassled by any cops out here, but really I just didn’t want them breaking that heavy, oppressive quiet.

It didn’t take us long to reach the outskirts and everything seemed normal at first. Houses with blinds closed but lights on, cars parked in driveways. As we went I felt more and more uneasy, even the guys had started to keep it down. They stopped making stupid jokes and were talking in half whispers. We had also started to walk in more of a group formation, pulling in closer to one another, whereas before we were spread out.

It was when we reached a group of shops that we saw what was really wrong with the town. There were cars in the road, with drivers sitting up behind the wheels but not moving, there were people inside the restaurant, frozen mid-bite. At first I thought they were wax dummies, the others seemed to agree. We looked around for a little bit, but I was really starting to freak out. I approached one of the cars and gently tapped on the window, the person inside didn’t move and I started to feel a bit silly. Obviously they were just wax, it was some weird new amusement or something. But then I noticed that the wax dummy was breathing, her chest was moving up and down so slowly I had almost missed it. The other two didn’t want to go, they wanted to stay and explore, take pictures for the internet, after all we were the first people to get a look at this. I tried to tell them about the breathing but they dismissed it. Me and Stephen eventually convinced them we should get out, that there had to be security in a weird place like this and we didn’t want to get caught. We turned and started to go back the way we came. We had gone maybe ten feet before there was a high pitched whine in the air, we all winced and covered our ears. I turned to look for the source and saw that the people were starting to move. Slow, repetitive and jerky, but they were moving. I felt like my breath caught in my throat, I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. The others hadn’t noticed yet, I wanted to call out, to warn them. That’s when I saw her. She was about average height with long brown hair and white skin. She looked normal enough but there was something off about her. I couldn’t pinpoint it, but it was in the way she moved, like she was still learning how. The noise stopped as suddenly as it began and we could all hear her footsteps, heavy and kind of dragging. There were noises, snippets of music coming from the restaurant, a weird mechanical rumble from the cars. Like everything was stuttering and trying to start properly. The others had spotted her too, one of the guys raised his hand, he was about to call out to her but Stephen grabbed him. I could barely hear the scuffle over the sudden noise, but she had heard it. Her head whipped around. We could all feel it, that heavy gaze. She shouted something at us, but none of us could make out what she was saying. We all turned and ran.

The entire town seemed to be waking up and I knew with absolute certainty that we needed to get out before that happened. We were at the outskirts when everything finally started again. I was the last one out, behind the others, making sure no one tripped though they seemed to have sobered up considerably. I felt this awful, piercing pain in my head, it was like my head was in a vice that was trying to break open my skull. I kept running and the pain became worse, it was blinding. A few minutes later I came to, I was being half carried and half dragged by the others. I had passed out at some point and had thrown up on myself. The others were pale and shaky, but I had seemed to have gotten the worst of whatever it was. I could still feel it as we walked, though the further away we got the less it hurt.

We got back to our campsite and quickly packed, starting the trek back to the car. When we got home we tried doing some googling, to find out anything about the town, but there was nothing, nothing at all. It didn’t exist. We figured it was just some weird government thing, they couldn’t of known who we were so we figured we were in the clear.

Then we started seeing them. More people like that woman, they looked normal but there was just something off about them. I died two weeks after that camping trip. We were going away again, it had been planned for months. Stephen was driving, we were supposed to go across the country for two months, see what there was to see. I wasn’t feeling great, I was jumpy and nervous since I had seen that damn town. The others seemed to have moved past it better than I had. The other two had taken to saying that it wasn’t that bad, that we had just been too drunk and high and we had half imagined most of it anyway.

I cancelled going on the trip that morning. They drove to my house to convince me to go. Stephen even loaded up my half packed bag and everything, but I refused. They got a little pissy with me, not that I blame them. They drove off, my bag still in the car, there had been a bit of an argument and we had all forgotten about it. It was an hour later that I realised my phone had been in the bag, it wasn’t anything special, I was never big on carrying a phone around anyway. I figured I’d just pick up something cheap the next time I was out shopping.

I saw the news report a few hours later. The car had been in a pile up, no survivors. They could barely even identify the passengers of Stephens car. Mostly it was down to guess work. There were four of us that were supposed to go on the trip, there were four bodies. I was still in shock, the cameraman panned over the mangled wreckage of cars and I could see them, every emergency personnel there gave off that vibe, that they weren’t really people. It was then that I knew I had to run. It sounds crazy, even after everything that happened, but I could just feel it. I didn’t want anyone else in danger, so I didn’t tell anyone.

I don’t know for sure who that fourth person was, but I have a suspicion. There was a hitchhiker in the area, around our age, looked kinda like me, same height and everything. We were all kind of friends in that we’d always pick him up if we saw him hitching. I think he was the fourth body. I don’t know if they knew it was him at the time, I don’t even know if they know it now. They know it wasn’t me though. I was able to hide for a few years before I saw another one of them. They spotted me, their eyes never leaving me as I ran. The story broke not long after. It’s weird. I could see it happening on the news, the way the story shifted and changed. Do you remember the absolute panic in the early days? The droves of people that went out there looking for their loved ones? No? Of course you don’t. No one really does, but it’s out there if you look. Footage that’s floating around on the internet, photos. Little bits and pieces that were missed out in the clean-up. They’ve left me alone for the most part now that they see everyone is buying it. But I can’t go back, not now, after all this time. How could I even explain it to my family? I’m trusting you here, that you’ll be able to tell my story, but screw it up a bit more, change the details. I only named Stephen as it was his car that crashed and everyone knew he never let anyone else drive that car of his, even though it was a bit of a shitbox.”

The man took another drink from his coke, this time draining the glass. He reached across the table and shook hands with the man sitting across from him. “I’m not going to see you again. I’m not going to answer any questions. Good luck, you’re going to need it.” He slid from the booth and walked out of the diner.

The man sitting at the table, turned off his small recorder. He took another sip from his coffee. If he had this meeting two months ago, hell even a month ago, he would have dismissed it all as the ramblings of a mad man. He looked out the window and a man sitting on the bench across the road caught his eye. He wasn’t sure why at first, the man looked normal enough, grey suit, newspaper in hand. It took him a minute to spot what was wrong. The man was turning the pages of his newspaper every ten seconds. He watched as the man finished it, then opened it from the front and started again.

He shook his head and smiled to himself, he was just on edge, that was all. When he glanced at the man again the man was looking right at him, his eyes flat and emotionless. As he watched the man continued to turn the pages every ten seconds. Not even looking down. He stood from the small booth, not bothering to finish his coffee, he threw some money on the table, enough for what was ordered and a tip and he quickly left the diner. As he walked he kept glancing behind himself, expecting to see the man with the newspaper following him, still turning pages, but there was no one there.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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