The Red Knight gazed… STOP

The Red Knight prepared for his final battle against CALAMITY….STOP

Who the fuck am I kidding… I can’t write anything worth a damn in these circumstances. I can’t focus anymore. The cotton in my ears feels like they’ve burned holes into my skull so deep that a surgeon wouldn’t be able to remove them. Not to mention that I’ve barely eaten for the last two weeks since we hit nearly the end of our rations.

I haven’t seen the sunlight, except through the tiny crevices of the cicada’s bodies, since… Jesus Christ…days? months? years? How long has it been since we holed up in this ranch? The sounds of the wood itched as their tiny legs rubbed against the exterior, dulling any sharp thought I could muster. Most days I just sit and stare at the shadows they cast like marionettes against the fading red walls.

Before this, I was a novelist researching the midwest for my next mystery story. I’ve written everything from dramas about dysfunctional royalty to capers in gulags and now I wanted to write the next American novel. I found this resort, tucked away a few miles from the small town of Blainesville, Ohio, and booked a room. I was attracted to the simple lifestyle it offered.

When the swarm came, no one thought anything of it. What were a bunch of bugs going to do to us? They were supposed to fly right over our heads, maybe blot the sun out for a few seconds as they flocked to wherever cicadas go when they’re awake. I was looking forward to it, I hadn’t seen anything like it before and the ranch was supposedly located near one of the largest nests.

When I heard about the first couple of deaths, I had thought they were freak accidents. In the city, there were four fatal car crashes because of them. Each crash, the cicadas stuck to the car’s windshields like a thick sticky sheet of ice..
They were almost like a warning. However, most of us ignored it. I know I wasn’t going to let a bunch of bugs ruin my research.

There were about thirty of us in the beginning…

I was sitting on the front porch, drinking my coffee when I saw what looked like a black cloud rising from the distance. I was joined by three others, whom I later discovered were Jack, Keegan, and a woman named Avery. Larger and larger, the smoke cloud grew near the top of the trees until it exploded.

Cicadas are supposed to be harmless little bastards, at least that’s what I thought when I grew up in Florida. These were somehow different. Before running for cover inside, I watched as people ran from the forest where the swarm rushed us. It was like watching a cheap horror movie unfold in front of my eyes. Men and women, one by one got plucked from the ground and slowly eviscerated by the swarm — a red haze of mist shooting out each time.

In seconds, there were twenty of us, frantically screaming orders as we worked to board up the house. Our voices drowned out the people we locked out of the house, begging us to let them in. Until there weren’t any voices left outside.

Haven’t gotten much sleep since watching so many people die in the confusion. I can’t decide what’s worse though: being stuck in here to survive them, or trying to survive you…Creed you sick, twisted, fuck.

I didn’t decide until just now but — I think I’m going to kill you.

The Red Knight firmly grasped his blade as he rode his steed up the mountains of Calvernas… STOP

CALAMITY had been stalking around the mountains of Calvernas since Atavant had crumbled under his claws…STOP

You wanna know how long it takes for twenty people to turn on each other? Five days. At least, that’s how long I think it took for Creed to drive a butcher’s knife through some poor soul’s head. At least I think they were a poor soul, he never did explain why he killed her.

“She was going to kill us all,” was all he uttered as he went to the bathroom to clean a cut on his face. At the time, we never asked questions. Being that he was the head wrangler, he had the best understanding of how the ranch worked. We didn’t want to be next.

It wasn’t until the power went out that people really started to fear him.
By now, Creed was the unelected leader of our group. There were five other wranglers, me and a handful of other men and women including Jack, Avery, and Keegan whom I grew to view as friends. Creed had selected Avery randomly to fix the electrical (and when I say at random, I mean he forcefully chose her without anyone else’s say in the matter.)

I tried to fight back when he grabbed her by the arm while she wept and begged not to go. Punching him was like punching the side of a brick wall though and I recoiled in pain and fell to my knees when his men swarmed me and started beating me. I would have died if it weren’t for Jack, volunteering to go outside and restart the generator.

He exited the house through a fire escape that we had gassed with fire extinguishers. Dressed in a beekeeping uniform the grounds kept when they needed to remove and relocate a hive, Jack slowly made his way to the generator. For safety, we tethered him to some cable we found, just in case he was in danger we could reel him in. Through the second-floor windows, we watched as he disappeared behind the rocks and into the generator’s shed. We waited there for what felt like hours until the lights began to flicker and turn on.

We cheered as we watched Jack make his way around the rocks. For a moment, it seemed like he was going to make it back. But then, the cicadas began chirping as if they were angered by our success. Louder and louder the chirping got until I couldn’t take it anymore and fell to my knees, passing out — what happened next was later described to me by Avery through her tears.

“Jack tried making his way back while the cicadas chirped. With each step though, the frequency got louder and louder and louder. He got halfway to the house when suddenly, he dropped his things and clenched his head. We couldn’t tell but we were certain he was trying to dig his eardrums out. Creed and the others tried reeling him in but it was no use. The frequency got louder and louder — most of us had passed out from the sound — until Jack’s head popped like a grape between your fingers.”

Jack, who worked in sales, was vacationing with his daughter Monica when the swarm came. It was a surprise gift for her, graduating top of her class from Yale Law School was no small accomplishment after all. It was the getaway he had promised her when she was younger. Now both of them were dead — at least presumed dead.

The night Jack died, Monica set fire to the wing where Creed and his men were sleeping. She took a bag of supplies and left while half of the house caught fire. It took the rest of hours making sure the makeshift fire bomb — styrofoam and gasoline — was out.

Nothing was the same after that. Creed came down harder on the rest of the group, even some of his own men….

…I stepped away from the typewriter and realized I think I’m underselling just how batshit crazy Creed had gotten….

His first act after the fire was to execute two people — one of his own men, who fell asleep while on the night shift, and another random person he “picked” out of the crowd. Determined to make them both an example, he stood them in the center of the banquet hall and slit their throats. Afterward, two of his men dragged them off to the basement.

“Let this be a lesson to you,” he said. “Surviving this means a well-oiled machine. What happens when two parts of a machine malfunction?”

No one replied.

“The whole fucking thing collapses,” he said, turning away and following his men.

“We need to do something about this,” Avery whispered into my ear.

“What can we do?” Keegan asked.

“I don’t know but this is too much,” she replied.

After that, he kept us under constant surveillance, making sure we didn’t attempt to burn the house down or get anyone killed. When someone questioned one of his commands, he beat the ever-living shit out of them, including me and Keegan.

Most of the time, we kept our distance. We made sure we kept our chores in line and while we did that, Keegan worked on setting a radio up for help. He tried explaining it to me once but I never understood how he did it. Before this, Keegan had worked as an employee for Radio Hut, a knock-off version of Radio Shack, that specialized in selling two-way radios to truckers.

Me and Avery started bonding also. I learned she was there as a pit stop on her way to see family in California. While Keegan worked on the radio, I and Avery spent time talking about literature (turns out she was an English teacher at NYU). We hotly discussed if Bukowski was worth his muster (the answer is yes) and we almost killed each other over who was better: Faulkner or Hemingway (Hemingway).

It wasn’t like being home — but it was a nice escape from the escape.
When Keegan finally got it operational, there was a quiet moment of celebration between us. We had decided not to tell anyone, especially Creed, about the radio and see if we could find help on our own. Once we did, we were going to start forming a group to make plans to escape the ranch. We decided that the next night, we would try and make contact with someone off of the ranch.

We thought we were getting away with the crime of the century until…The next morning, in the banquet hall, we were surprised to find Keegan bloodied and gagged in the banquet hall. I looked at Avery confused and she looked back horrified.

“It’s come to my attention that there has been an unauthorized communication relay set up without my knowledge,” he said, holding a butcher knife. “What did I say about a well-oiled machine.”

“It breaks down if a part malfunctions,” the crowd replied.

“That’s right,” he said smiling.

For a minute, dead silence filled the air. He watched us as if he was the crowd, and we were the executors. Without warning, he… swung at Keegan, lodging the knife into his neck over, and over, and over again until his head rolled to the wall. Blood painted Creed’s face when he turned to face us.

“This will make a great sacrifice,” he said.

I thought Avery was going to scream or plead with Creed not to kill Keegan but she didn’t she just watched. Can’t say I blame her, everyone’s gotten numb to the violence lately, even the wranglers just droned on. At the time, I had no idea what he meant by sacrifice.

Eventually, these sacrifices became commonplace. Once every few weeks, we’d be summoned to the hall to witness another murder for the greater good. At first, it was the elderly who were killed, then the stragglers and sometimes one or two of his own men. Each time, he cut their head off using the butcher’s knife.

It was time for me and Avery to leave, with or without help.

Of course, what did they say about making plans?…

One by one, Calamity plucked the sheep as they climbed the mountain and threw them in his mouth, and devoured them whole. The Red Knight readied his blade and drove his feet deep into the side of his steed…STOP

The first night me and Avery slept together, she told me she was going to die.

Why am I still trying to write this FUCKING story… It’s not like I wanted to in the first place. Once Creed found out I was a writer, he insisted I started writing again to cheer up the remaining survivors. It was at this time we had begun running out of food and we started eating what we thought was expired canned meat.

Paranoia and jitters had begun to sink in with the survivors, there were no water cooler chats or talking to pass time. All that filled the house was the scratching of the cicadas climbing around the house outside. It’s when Creed had begun looking through our shit without telling us. Unfortunately for me, he found my notes for the untitled novel I was working on.

“You’re like some sort of bard, huh,” he said to me, giving me my notes.

“In a sense, I guess.”

“You know, I’d really like it if you wrote us a story,” he said. “A big long one so that we can read it and not have to think about this hell we’re in.”

A jitter kept over me.

“Uh, sure. I don’t have a computer though.”

“That’s no problem, I’m sure we can find a typewriter around here,” he said. The rest of the day his remaining wranglers searched the ranch until they found one with two ink ribbons.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I did consider writing him a story. I had been through so much shit in the last however many days that I felt like there was something new to say. That is until Avery convinced me not to that night.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said rolling over in the bed to look at me.

“It’s not worth it.”

I just grunted, rolled over, and grabbed her hand. I wish I said more but I couldn’t find the words. I was just tired of it all. I closed my eyes and fell asleep with my back turned to her, tears rolling down my face.

The next morning, Avery was not there in the bed with me. Instead, Creed sat at the foot of the bed and looked at me, smiling. Without saying much, he told me to come downstairs for a special ceremony.

“Where’s Avery?” I asked, feeling stuck in a daze.

“She’s down there, don’t you worry.”

In minutes, I was downstairs in the dining room set with the remaining survivors — about ten of us. Most of them were already eating the meal made from expired meat. I looked around but couldn’t find her.

My stomach started growling and I began eating. Creed joined us soon after, still smiling like before.

“Is everyone enjoying their meal?” he asked.

The sounds of metal forks clanged against the porcelain plates.

“I think that’s a yes,” he said looking to the man on his left. “I’m glad you’re enjoying yourselves. Listen, while I have you here I wanted to say that today is a special day.”

The group stopped what they were doing and looked at Creed. While we looked at him, he looked at me.

“Today, we received a special…gift…from one of our very own,” he said. “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today’s meals have been provided to us by Avery. I think we should give her a round of applause.”

One of his men wheeled out a cart, decorated with flowers and herbs found in the kitchen. In the center of the cart…was Avery, gutted like a pig, her guts falling out of her body like wet, dead, tendrils. She was dressed in a white gown, bloodied by the slaughter. Her eye sockets were missing her eyes and her jaw was ripped open.

I leaned over the side of my chair and puked…Had we been eating human flesh this entire time? Starting with fucking Keegan? Is this why everything tasted stale to us? What did he do to us?

I looked around expecting to see an uproar from the others but…they…they didn’t do a fucking thing about it. They just kept eating her like it was fillet mignon at their favorite steak house. I shrieked in horror and left the table.

I later agreed to write Creed a story so long as he spared me, to which he agreed. I knew it was full of shit and he would kill me eventually but it bought me time.

It’s been days since we found out we’ve been eating our own. I’ve stopped eating, the pain in my stomach is unbearable, and mixed with the chirping,

I’ve had to convince myself not to end it all on multiple occasions.

So to pass the time, I started writing this story, I plan to show it to you, Creed. While you’re reading it, I will bash your fucking head in with the typewriter and let all of the cicadas in. I didn’t care about this life or the next anymore — I wanted out.

STOP.

Today’s the day.

I’m gonna kill you.

STOP.

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Calamity bashed in the Red knight’s head with his sword and ate him alive.

THE END.

Alex Kamczyc is an award winning journalist covering politics and culture in Cleveland. He studied at Kent State University under Connie Schultz.