The Day Reckoners (short story – horror)

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By Nathan Goldschot

 

January 3rd

Katie called me a creep for carrying a diary around. I told her it was a journal, and that all good writers have one. I plan on filling these pages every day until my first novel is complete. It’s nice to have something to take my mind off being Collected.

March 2nd

So much for my novel–I’ve barely written a word in this notebook since getting it. I’m filling up a few pages now while I rot in detention for laughing through yet another drill. The Collection Resistance Department still comes every year to subject the school to these stupid things. They’re meant to be serious exercises to prepare students for the unthinkable, but must of us consider them jokes. Ironically, it’s the only time of the year when we’re encouraged to remain indifferent—in fact, it’s strictly enforced. If anyone shows any emotion during a drill they’re in for a long stretch in room 107b. Despite the threat of punishment, my friends and I never take the lessons seriously. We’re used to doing time after school in this brick pen.

Deep down, every student knows the drills are a necessity. The threat of an attack from a Day Reckoner is always in the back of everyone’s mind—especially once they turn 16 and become prone to Collection. The CRD exercises used to have more impact, but these days most of them follow a similar pattern which completely ruins their shock value.

If I were in charge, each drill should start without warning; maybe with a blasting siren or a smoke bomb or some other kind of explosion to catch everyone off guard. I suppose it wouldn’t make much sense though, considering the Day Reckoners don’t seem to rely on stealth–the CRD says you’ll know when one’s coming even from a mile away. Still, if the drills are meant to emulate a sense of creeping dread they’re not working. I guess it must be a hard thing to pull off on a limited budget.

Failing to effectively scare anyone, it seems the CRD’s new goal is to simply keep students on their toes. The drills used to happen like clockwork every year on November 6th but they now fall on random dates. Sometimes there’s more than one in a year. Thankfully, they’ve finally retired their shoddy monster costumes and never repeat a scenario. The CRD is doing a better job since they reorganized, but I still feel like they were more effective when they tried to disturb us rather than surprise us.

During my final year of middle school we had a CRD drill I’ll never forget. After the simulated howl of a Day Reckoner played through the PA system, a trio of men wearing military fatigues and balaclavas burst into my algebra class. Like usual, the students were instructed to disregard the surrounding chaos and continue working on their assigned projects, but it soon became impossible.

While one hooded man stood quietly in the corner, the other two wandered throughout the room carrying large, tablet displays. One screen was showing scenes of hardcore pornography with the volume at full blast, which was shocking but fairly easy for us to laugh off. The other video however, was absolutely horrifying–featuring viral footage of a screaming hostage getting his head sawed off by a terrorist dressed exactly like the trio of men in our classroom. The true test of our class’ apathetic detachment began when the guy in the corner pulled a knife from his belt and started creeping from desk to desk. He held his blade under the throats of random students as we tried to focus on our quadratic equations.

Several kids burst into tears during the drill and were promptly sent to detention. A few others silently wet themselves. I managed to stay dry, but I did have nightmares for weeks afterward. When word got out, several irate parents demanded the drills be stopped entirely. The school board objected, saying the exercises were a necessary evil to prepare students for Collection. Someone up the chain must have folded under pressure because all the drills since have been tamer, less allegorical–and utterly boring.

My dad says he longs for the day when sex education was a school’s most controversial topic.

 

November 8th

I’ve still barely written a thing in my journal. Everything I do feels pointless in the grand scheme of things. I’ve been blaming my lack of inspiration on my breakup with Katie but this isn’t her fault.

Phil and Amy said I need to get over myself, so they’re dragging me to the homecoming game tomorrow. I plan to sit in the bleachers and stay busy writing so I don’t have to cheer for the a-holes who routinely shove me against lockers and spit on my back during class. Maybe being surrounded by so much banality will somehow inspire me to write something amazing. Yeah, right.

 

November 9th

To prepare for a natural disaster you can fortify your home, stock up on food and water, put an escape route in place—but ultimately you’re still dependent on blind luck. The Day Reckoners are an unnatural disaster but we treat them much the same. We delude ourselves into thinking we’re prepared when surviving a Collection relies on the luck of the draw. Tonight’s odds do not look good in my eyes. No one could prepare for this.

I was filling in my journal when the Collection began, so I’ll be forced to keep scratching out words until the Chosen is selected–or until I’m killed. My hand is shaking so bad I doubt the words I’m writing are even legible.

I don’t understand why the Day Reckoner isn’t moving. This isn’t how they’re supposed to behave. We were always told the monsters announce themselves with a shuddering howl ahead of their arrival, but this one didn’t seem to start screaming until it was right in front of us. Had I heard this sound in person before today I never would have laughed during a drill. The thing is just standing there, wailing. It sounds angry and in pain at the same time. Please God, just make it leave.

Maybe the noise of the game drowned out the Day Reckoner’s calls before it entered the stadium. I’m glad there was no warning—everyone says trying to escape them is futile, no matter how far away they may seem. Still, it’s taking every bit of my willpower to not jump from my seat and bolt out the gate.

I’m trying to recall years of Collection preparedness lessons but I’m having trouble focusing. I need to remember the key points of all those lectures I sat through.

The Day Reckoners always appear in the daytime.

Even though my friends and I are 16, we didn’t give a second thought to attending the homecoming game because we’ve always been told Collections only occur during the day. Bullshit. Away from the stadium lights, it’s pitch black tonight.

Whatever you are doing when you first hear the Day Reckoner’s howl must be continued until they leave. If you are playing ball, keep playing ball. If you are shopping, keep shopping. If you are reading, keep reading. etc. While the Day Reckoner is nearby you must appear unmoved by its presence. As long as nobody in the vicinity panics, only the Chosen will be harmed. However, even a single overreaction can lead to a massacre.

When the Day Reckoner arrived a shocked hush traveled through the bleachers. It took one man to resume cheering on the other side of the stadium for people to remember they had to pretend everything was fine or we were all going to die. Now, everyone is trying to maintain the illusion of normalcy. We’re repeating our actions, over and over; saying the exact same lines on a loop. Doing exactly as the drills instructed. All this forced repetition should be a funny sight but it’s not–not at all. I guess I should feel lucky to be able to sit here quietly and write as part of my “act.” The football players can’t stop running. The cheerleaders can’t stop cheering. The coaches can’t stop yelling. The people around me are performing admirably but I can smell that some of them are literally scared shitless.

Remember “The Nevers.” Never look them in the eye. Never cry. Never scream. Never try to fight back.

Thank god there’s not many young children here. Collections often turn into massacres if kids are around due to their lack of self control. Because of this, bomb shelters in every town were converted to house children in the event of an attack. Running for shelter isn’t really an option if the Day Reckoners strike, but I guess parents needed something to pin their hopes on. Everyone in my generation spent a lot of days inside one of those damn bunkers.

I can still remember a rhyme we recited in the den that served as our grade school:
The monster is real

It’s not a dream

Don’t look

Don’t cry

Don’t ever scream

 

The monster will go

No need to die

Don’t scream

Don’t look

Don’t ever cry

 

The day you turn 13 you’re no longer allowed to take refuge in a bunker and are expected to participate in the grand delusion like everyone else. Personally, I was overjoyed to be free of the dank basements where so much of my childhood had been wasted.

Those CRD drills were pointless. As scary as those hooded maniacs stalking the classroom were, we still knew we were safe. We’re not safe anymore.

They say one in 10,000 are Collected, all of them 16 year-olds. The relative scarcity of attacks made them fairly easy to ignore–at least until I turned Collection-age. At that point I stopped watching the news so I could sleep at night. I asked my parents from time to time if anyone had found a way to stop the Day Reckoners but nobody seems to know how to fight them. They’re bullet proof, fire proof…everything proof. The politicians can’t even decide if they’re extraterrestrial, interdimensional, or something God sent to punish us. After seeing one today, all I know is that they cannot be reconciled by any normal means we use to understand the world.

I just thought someone was playing a bad joke when the Collection began. A few yards of cheap, white fabric started sliding across the football field—rippling and rolling along the turf ungracefully as if being pulled by strings. A weird mist was rolling out from under the ‘cloth,’ similar to dry ice spilling from a cheap Halloween prop. I realized I wasn’t witnessing a prank when the dull fabric began to lift and constrict around something rising from below, a corporeal entity emerging from the solid ground. The fabric shroud took on a glossy, plastic sheen as it sealed itself tightly around the being beneath, revealing the imposing silhouette of a Day Reckoner. Fully formed, the monster crept forward on all fours, it’s claws leaving deep indentations in the grass. After crawling a few yards it stopped and rose up on a long pair of bent legs. Its white skin made the sound of stretching leather as its body straightened.

I can’t do this anymore. My hands are numb and my thoughts are all over the place. I’m just going to scribble on the pages and hope it’s enough.

My heart is pounding through my chest. All hell broke loose after I stopped writing. The Day Reckoner rushed from one side the field to the other without warning, causing the bleachers to sway from the collective flinch of the crowd. It’s so close now I can feel the heat radiating from its body. A few people screamed and cried but were promptly shut up by those near them. If those assholes somehow survive the night, I’ll kill them myself.

My hand won’t stop trembling. I don’t dare drop my pen again.

The Day Reckoner’s only a stone’s throw from my seat. The whole point of those drills was to keep people from acknowledging the monsters but I can’t help myself. The thing’s far larger than I expected, even hunched over it must be at least seven feet tall at the shoulder. Its thorn-covered body is relatively slender aside from a drooping, distended belly. Thin slits between its joints emanate a pale blue light behind swirling wisps of fog.

I’m not alone in my failure to overt my eyes–everyone seems to be having a hard time looking away. Someone is eventually going to crack and start panicking. It might be me.

I’m not sure how the Day Reckoner is able to see anything through its shrouded, sunken eye sockets. Every breath it takes makes it look as if it’s suffocating under a plastic bag. When it inhales I can see the outline of a gaping, toothless maw beneath the thin skin covering its face.

I can’t let myself stare. Just keep writing. I wish it would finish the Collection and leave.

I’m surrounded by phony enthusiasm. The band is playing fight songs off-key and out of breath as the players on the field go through the motions. The announcer above us keeps calling the plays and occasionally reminding us to ignore the Day Reckoner. I want to turn to Amy and Phil and tell them it’s going to be okay, but they’re stuck in a loop of cheering and I don’t want them to stop. They’re both crying as they chant for the home team. Ra ra ra. I’m starting to accept this could be my last night on Earth.

Oh god. The Day Reckoner just took a few steps closer to the bleachers and everybody recoiled again. Its seven-fingered hands are huge and webbed. I’ve never seen claws so long. It’s moving slowly. Methodically. Searching for the Chosen.

Mom, Dad, I realize I better say a few things to you in case I don’t make it home tonight. I hope someone finds this journal and puts it in your hands. I might rip out the other pages I’ve written so you’ll only have to see this part. I’m sorry I fucked up my grades but I just didn’t care about anything. I didn’t think I’d have a future–and maybe I was right–but now I regret being so consistently pessimistic. I should have just lived my life instead of getting so hung up on a dismal, uncertain destiny. Collection Day was a convenient excuse for me to wash my thoughts clear with booze and pills. I was mean to both of you. I was an ass to Katie. I said horrible things to everyone and I wish I could take it all back. I know you did your best to help me and I love you. Most of all I just

Some girl just bolted and now a bunch of people are flooding out of the stands following her. I don’t know if I should stay or

Fuck, it’s so fast. Some of us are still desperately trying to maintain the charade. The thing’s pacing the field, tearing up the ground with its claws. A guttural growl has replaced its constant shrieking. It’s so angry. I can feel its hatred.

I can’t look I can’t look I can’t

I think we should run. We should be running.

The Day Reckoner just grabbed Allison Humphries–that weird Mormon girl who spends all her time in the home-ec room. She was staring into the sky with dead eyes and chanting something about “the keys” when the beast took her.

And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key to the Abyss. That was it. Something like that.

Allison’s dangling in the air by the Day Reckoner’s hand. You can’t see her face beneath those webbed claws. Her body is convulsing. Rows and rows of people are pushing up against the gate, they’re screaming and crushing each other against the chain link.

The Day Reckoner is attacking everyone in sight. It’s shredding them apart with one set of talons while its other hand drags Allison along the ground. I tried to run but I can’t make myself move. It’s slashing people into indefinable hunks of flesh. Dismembered arms and legs are covering the field–some are still twitching in pools of blood. A legless woman is staring at me from the bottom of the bleachers and she keeps screaming for me to help her but I can’t. I can’t.

It’s all over. Amy and Phil are dead. We’re all dead. We’re all dead.

 

May 9th

It’s been six months since the attack. Six months since I wrote in this journal. Dr. Thompson says reading what I wrote that night might help me with my PTSD but I just can’t bring myself to look at any of the pages. Maybe tomorrow.

 

May 26th

I was hesitant to go to the Collection survivors support group in Portland, but meeting others who have gone through the same ordeal has been a good thing. None of them were at my homecoming game, but I think that somehow makes it easier for me to listen to their stories. Eventually, I’d like to talk to the other four people who lived through that night in the stadium but I don’t blame them for not wanting any reminders.

The support group consists of two guys and one woman who lived through the Collection in Portland last year, plus one other guy from an attack in Medford and another young woman from LaGrande. All of them have helped me realize I can’t change what happened. I’ve been fairly content just to lurk and listen but I think I owe the others my story. All of us saw horrible things. All of us are having the same weird nightmares.

Dr. Thompson says I shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to punch all the sympathy peddlers on the street who keep getting in my face. He said the rage I’m feeling isn’t healthy but it’s understandable. I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to throttle the people calling us “Miracle Children.” There was nothing miraculous about that night. The Day Reckoner acted like I wasn’t even there while it slaughtered my friends right beside me. I just kept writing while hundreds died. Fuck. I often wake up disoriented, thinking I’ve had a bad dream, but it doesn’t take long for reality to smack me in the face.

 

June 18th

I finally asked Bethany out, although I don’t know what the hell we’re supposed to do if we end up dating. I only see her twice a month at the survivors’ group and LaGrande is 600 miles away. Oh well—I just got my license and a road trip might help distract me. I’m probably getting ahead of myself but I really like this girl. Her eyes are two different colors. They call it Heterochromia iridium. It makes it a little easier to look in her eyes when we talk instead of her…never mind.

 

July 4th

Independence Day. I’m happier than I have been in a long time. So much so, I don’t feel very inspired to write. Truthfully, I don’t really care if I never feel creative again, so long as I can keep feeling this way. Bethany and I are going to a barbecue at her friend’s house later. I wonder if I still hate parties?

 

September 2nd

I’m trying to stay calm, but it’s not easy. A news report I saw last night shook me up pretty bad. Over the weekend, a search and rescue team retrieved 42 people wandering around in a daze in the middle of Death Valley. DNA tests revealed they’re all Chosen–people taken during Collections last year. All looked to be in their 30s and 40s when they only should have aged a few months. The report claimed none of the victims could speak. What the hell does any of this mean?

 

September 8th

A video showed up on Youtube tonight, purportedly leaked from an anonymous source in the government. The description claimed it was footage from an interview between an FBI agent and one of the Collection victims they pulled out of the desert. I was skeptical until the camera zoomed in on the face of Allison Humphries. Despite her bizarrely advanced age I immediately recognized her. She was wearing the same look of terror on her face as the night she was taken.

Allison completely ignores the interviewer throughout the video, seeming unable to comprehend any of his questions. When the frustrated agent gives up and starts to get out of his chair, Allison suddenly snaps to alertness. With her eyes popped wide, she reveals she isn’t mute and begins reciting the nursery rhyme all of us were taught as children–but with one striking difference:

 

The monster is real

It’s not a dream

Don’t look

Don’t cry

Don’t ever scream

 

The monster will go

No need to die

Don’t scream

Don’t look

Don’t ever cry

 

When the taken return

The end is nigh

All will scream

All will suffer

All will die

 

After Allison recites the poem a few times she rests her arms on the metal desk and puts her head down. She mumbles “None were pure enough” then goes quiet again. The interviewer leaves the sterile, white room when it’s clear his additional queries aren’t going to be answered.

Allison stays slumped in her seat for several more minutes before the video ends. After watching the footage over and over I don’t think Bethany and I are going to be able to sleep tonight.

 

September 9th

Bethany swore she heard Allison whispering something during her long stretch of silence at the end of the video. Utilizing her skills as an AV geek, she downloaded the uncompressed, leaked footage from an FTP site to her laptop and cranked up the audio levels. Sure enough, at the 24:29 mark you can hear Allison whispering “Matthew.” It doesn’t seem like much of a revelation to me, but Bethany seems proud of herself.

Allison Humphries was prone to apocalyptic mutterings even before she was taken, and I suspect her cryptic words were just a bi-product of her trauma. The video did frustratingly little to clear up the Day Reckoners’ motivations. If anything, we’ve been left with more questions than answers. The threat of the unknown is far more terrifying than a set of sharpened claws.

After those Collection victims were found in the desert a lot of people started thinking the worst was over. Why can’t I shake the feeling that this is just the beginning?

 

 

END.

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2 thoughts on “The Day Reckoners (short story – horror)

  1. Cool! The day reckoners are some creepy creatures. Nice how you play with the unknown here. Ends a bit sudden, though. Leaves me wanting to know more, which is not necessarily a bad thing, of course:)

    Like

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