[This story was written for Round 1 of the NYC Midnight 2010 Short Story Challenge. The assignment was to write a story up to 2500 words--in one week--in the assigned genre of "Horror" and on the assigned subject of "Energy Drinks."]
Shelby walked the dark street behind the Baltimore Cemetery, with nothing but a stone wall between him and 100 acres of the dead. He tried to stay in the light of the streetlamps, but he walked mostly in shadow.
He was looking for his dealer.
Shelby’s partner, Ray, sat in a car at the end of the street, with all the doors locked but his own.
“Get your bad guy and get back here quick,” Ray had said. “This cemetery business gives me the creeps.”
“Heck,” Shelby had joked. “It isn’t any scarier than the rest of North Avenue.”
In truth, even Shelby was a little creeped out to be walking so close to all those cold graves, but he walked tall. It was the swagger that sometimes gave him away as a cop, even when he was undercover.
Across the street, one of the junkies who stood under the liquor store awning gave Shelby a hard look. Shelby caught his eye and held it. He knew that hungry look. That man would kill him for a dollar, if he had the chance. Shelby laid a hand on the 9-millimeter in his waistband, until the junkie broke his stare and turned away.
Shelby’s heart raced, not only from the danger of the street, but from the chemical-tasting crap he was drinking. He looked at the can. Yellow letters on a black label. RazorX, it was called. Some super-scientific energy stuff that everybody was drinking these days. Nobody drank plain old coffee any more. The gas station didn’t even sell it.
It made him feel good, though, whatever they put it in it. Almost too good. The ads said something about repairing DNA or something, but Shelby figured it was some kind of low-level speed.
He took another swig and felt that power rush through his system. It reminded him of the old days, when he would have been standing out here in the cold and dark, downwind of the dead, looking for a fix for real.
Raging for it. Ready to kill for it.
He shuddered as tried to shake off the memory.
Where is my guy? he thought.
Shelby heard a thump on the sidewalk behind him. Before he could turn to see who it was, the attacker was on him, with a foul-smelling arm around Shelby’s throat. The other arm came over Shelby’s shoulder and snatched the can out of his hand. The attacker loosened his grip as he chugged from the can.
Shelby shot back with an elbow to the guy’s ribs and wrestled himself free. He turned to face his assailant.
This guy was a mess.
He was just a kid, early 20s maybe. A derelict, from the looks of him. He was barefoot and deathly skinny, wearing a threadbare suit he must have fished out of a Salvation Army bin. He was smeared with dirt—his hair and beard were caked with it.
“You got some money, man?” the derelict said. “I need to get me some more….”
“Not from me, you freakin’ junkie,” Shelby said.
The attacker looked at the empty can that was still in his hand, then back at Shelby. He threw it to the ground.
“I said more!” he said.
The kid came at Shelby, swinging both fists.
Shelby pulled out his gun. He swore to save these people, but when they got like this—it was like they were already dead. There was nothing more he could do.
He fired three quick shots. Each one hit the junkie, who jerked and reeled from the percussion of the bullets. The kid staggered backwards and fell to the ground.
Shelby stood, still in firing stance, trying to get his breath back. He had all this adrenaline in his system, on top of the chemicals from the drink. His heart beat all the way up into his throat.
He turned to run, when he heard a groan behind him. He looked back to see the junkie stir. The attacker struggled to get back up onto his feet. Shelby fired again, three more shots, right into the kid’s torso.
They hurt, Shelby could tell. The junkie winced with each impact. But then he came at Shelby again, madder than before. The sticky green drink stained the front of the kid’s shirt, as if it was what oozed out of his wounds instead of blood.
As the junkie lurched toward him, Shelby fired, over and over, until the gun was empty. Then the attacker was on him, right up in Shelby’s face with breath that smelled like death itself. His hands closed around Shelby’s throat.
Shelby’s vision went dim, as the blows rained down on his head.
In the darkness, everything went silent, until he heard Ray’s voice shouting at him:
“Stay with me, man! Stay with me!”
Shelby woke up in the dark. He gasped for air. He tried to move, to find his way out of this darkness, but he could not. Where was he? His body lay against a hard smooth surface. It was cold against his bare skin. He lay there for a few minutes, trying to catch his breath.
He tried once again to stir his limbs to action. They twitched at his command, but he still could not move.
Through the wall, he could hear a news report on a far off radio or TV.
“…reported that the man came up out of the water, stole a case of drinks out of the boat, then swam off …Police say it’s some kind of marketing stunt….”
Shelby struggled to move his frozen muscles. With great effort, he was able to wiggle his arms and his legs, slowly creaking them into movement, just small back and forth motions at first, then larger and larger arcs. When he could finally touch the wall, he rapped lightly on the metal surface, mustering as much strength as he could.
He rasped out a muted “Help.”
The second time was stronger. Then the third. Finally, was banging and kicking against the walls with all of his strength.
“Help!” he shouted. “Let me out of here!”
He heard clattering in the distance—stuff being knocked over by somebody in a hurry.
“Is there somebody in there?” asked a breathless voice on the other side of the wall.
“Yes, yes!” Shelby shouted. “Please let me out!”
Shelby heard some fumbling with the handle, and then a door opened above his head.
The man, some kind of security guard, slid Shelby out of the narrow chamber on something like a drawer. He screamed like a girl when Shelby sat up and looked around. Above his head, and all around, Shelby saw more of these stainless steel drawers.
As soon as Shelby realized where he was, he jumped up off the metal tray on which he had been lying. Naked and barefoot on the cold concrete floor, he tried wildly to brush himself off. But the taint of death was already on him.
Down here in the morgue, it was in the air itself.
“How did you get in there?” the guard asked, with one trembling hand resting on his sidearm.
Shelby tried to remember. Flashes of images. Red and blue flashing lights on the cemetery wall, men lifting him off the ground, the bag zipped over his head—
His thoughts were interrupted by an announcer on the TV:
“…brought to you by RazorX! Live life on the edge!”
Shelby’s mind came to a crashing halt, all thoughts swept away by one vision: a black and yellow can of RazorX. His pulse quickened at the thought of it. His mouth watered. His eyes darted around the room, until he found what he suddenly needed. Across the room, on the security guard’s desk, next to a half-eaten sandwich, stood a tall cold can of the chemical elixir.
Shelby lunged for the desk.
“Hey!” the guard yelled, but Shelby was already out of reach.
Shelby snatched the can and chugged it, as the synthetic green ooze trickled down his chin. As he drank, that sweet power coursed through his system once more.
He drained the can and turned back to the guard.
“More,” he said.
“Um, yeah,” said the guard, who was growing agitated as he positioned himself between Shelby and the door. “I can get you some more from the machine in the hall, but first I gotta call the chief and stuff—“
“Get outta my way!”
Shelby grabbed the front of the guard’s shirt and threw him to the side. He felt possessed. He fought against it, but his mind was nothing but a raging rapid of glowing green chemicals.
He crashed through the doorway and into the hall. Behind him, the guard stammered into his walkie-talkie, then raced after him.
“Hey, stop!” the guard shouted.
At the end of the hall, the glorious machine glowed neon yellow, lit from within.
“Stop, I said. I’m gonna shoot!” shouted the guard.
Shelby smashed the glass front of the machine with his fists. He reached in, wrestled a can free from its wire frame, and drank. Energy surged through him. With each swallow, he felt stronger. He threw the first can over his shoulder and reached in for another.
Shelby felt a sharp jab in the middle of his back.
He jerked himself around to find the security guard standing bravely in front of him. He pointed his gun directly at Shelby’s chest.
“I said stop,” the guard said.
Shelby instinctively made a grab for the gun. In an instant, bullets tore through Shelby’s torso and neck, some crashing through to the glass and metal of the broken vending machine behind him. Punctured cans bled streams of green onto the floor.
Shelby staggered backwards from the shots, but kept coming.
Shelby grabbed the little man’s throat as the guard dropped his gun. The guard clawed at Shelby’s strong hands.
“Let go, you crazy junkie!” the guard rasped.
The word hit Shelby like a slap to the face. It shook him out of his haze for just a second.
What was happening to him?
How had he suddenly become this monster again?
Shelby loosened his grip on the guard, who slipped out of his hands and ran away down the hall.
He glanced down at his own wounds. The holes in his chest. The glass shards up and down his arms. They all bled green.
Just like the monster that had jumped him at the cemetery.
The one that had killed him tonight.
From the morgue down the hall, through the sound of the mumbling television, Shelby heard a familiar voice, squawking over the security guard’s abandoned radio.
Slowly, deliberately, Shelby walked away from the precious pool of energizing chemicals behind him and made his way back down the hall.
As he got closer, the voice became clearer. Someone Shelby remembered.
“Shelby,” the voice said. “It’s Ray. If you’re there, take the radio. I can’t believe what this guard is telling me. He says you’re alive!”
Shelby looked at the wall of stainless steel drawers.
I belong in there, he thought. This is not me. I’m not supposed to still be here.
It’s the drink that’s keeping me alive. But it’s turning me into something I’m not.
Something that would kill, steal, and destroy for what it wants.
“Shelby, this is Ray. I don’t know what happened to you man, but it’s gonna be OK. Stay still, I’m coming down there!”
Shelby looked at his trembling hands. They had killed once before, so long ago, but he would not let them kill again, not like this.
If those guys came back here, he didn’t know what he would do. He didn’t know what he would have to do to feed this demon.
But he knew how to starve it out. He had done it before.
He rifled through the drawers in the morgue. He knew there wasn’t much time before the whole cavalry would come racing back down here.
As the addiction clawed at the edges of his mind, Shelby fought to keep his focus. He found what he was looking for—the strong black thread they used down here for sewing cavities closed, after they had stuffed everything back in.
It would work fine.
He scanned the room and found an open drawer, way off to the side, with its door ajar. Maybe no one would notice him there.
At the wall, he tied one end of the strong thread to the door handle of the drawer. With the other end of the line grasped tightly in his hand, he slowly eased himself back onto the metal tray. He took a deep breath, fighting back a wave of nausea, and slid the drawer—and himself—back into the darkness of his temporary mausoleum.
Shelby knew that it only took two things to starve out a hunger like this.
One thing he needed was a lock on the door.
As he lay back on the cold metal tray, he gave the line a sharp yank. The door slammed shut behind him. Now the darkness was complete.
The other thing he needed was time.
For a few moments, all was still. He could feel his racing heart. Far off, he could hear the muffled voice from the TV.
“…more of these bizarre marketing stunts around the country…everybody’s talking about ‘RazorX’…”
Shelby tried to calm his mind, but still his thoughts came back to the ache in the back of his throat. An ache for a drink.
A sickeningly sweet, chemical-tinged, life-giving drink.
Then he heard a knock. At first it was slow, and quiet, but then it began to quicken. He knew exactly what it was. It was one of the bodies in one of the other drawers.
Whatever the chemical had done to him, it was doing to somebody else.
Of course. Everybody was drinking the stuff. It was going to start happening all over. Maybe that was the plan.
He listened as the knocking grew stronger.
Then it was joined by another.
It was the rhythm of desperation, pounded out on the insides of the drawers at the morgue. He hoped that when the cavalry did get here, they would have the sense not to open them.
But then Shelby’s sense of that world—of people he cared about—of reason—of anything other than the drink—closed in and were washed away in a viscous flood of green.
Panic crept over him.
He needed that drink.
Shelby didn’t want to die.
All he wanted was in that black and yellow can.
Suddenly, Shelby joined the knocking, banging on the inside of his crypt, along with all the rest of them, beating out his anguish on the stainless steel walls.
The morgue rang out with the noise.
A room full of the dead, pounding on the insides of their graves.