Edition 1: Bone Park (Windscreams) by Bruce Memblatt
When disgraced doctor Avril Chase wakes in a park, he thinks his guilt is finally driving him mad. But the reality is far worse–the world is ending in a most gruesome way. Surreal and horrific, Bone Park will make you flinch at the slightest of breezes. SY
Avril couldn’t say how he wound up in the park or how it all began. He hadn’t slept in a week, perhaps it was more. But more baffling he couldn’t account for the rips in his shirt or the holes in his shoes. Did he drink that much last night at Reno’s? There was a dry spot under his feet. He assumed he must have slept there because the rest of the grass was wet and the park was empty, and he had that groggy malaise that told him he’d slept recently. Beyond the gate he could see people walking along Sixteenth Street, umbrellas bobbing in the wind. Avril Chase was too spacey, and too confused to think it all out. He took a few steps towards the edge of a dirt clearing under a rusty set of swings, and his eyes fell over more he could not explain.
Whispers of the past, the last wind, the breeze that swept it all away flew past him unnoticed.
A sliver of a bone jutted out of the dirt. There was no question in his mind that it was a human bone. Being a doctor, even if he had lost his license, Avril knew about bones. A rainy day, an empty park, inexplicable rips in his clothes and shoes, and a bone sticking curiously out of the ground. He wondered if he’d somehow woken up in a George Romero film. Would the next surprise be the undead creature (that was formerly attached to the bone) rising to take a bite of his arm? He should be scared, maybe he should be terrified, but he wasn’t. A strange curiosity grabbed him, along with a queasy, cautious feeling in his stomach. Maybe sleep deprivation acted as a buffer to fear the way scotch acted as a buffer to everything.
But he didn’t see the clouds of worlds destroyed that formed in the horizon.
He knelt down and reached for the bone. His hand touched the smooth edge of marrow. He was about to pull it out of the ground, when suddenly sunlight covered the dirt and the bone he was reaching for was no longer there, as if it had crumbled, like sand sifting through his fingers.
Now there was more he couldn’t explain like the sun and the disappearing bone and the…
He jumped from the ground and saw children on the swings above him. The park was empty a moment ago. It was raining. Now the sun was out and people were in the park. Maybe he did drink too much at Reno’s. Maybe he’d inhaled a river of Absolut. As the swing set came into focus he noticed the rust was gone from the chains and from the seats. They seemed like ordinary children; a boy with a pompadour and a girl with her hair in a pony tail, dressed in a pink skirt, with a white headband in her hair. The hems of the legs of the boy’s jeans were folded up like in an old photo of Elvis. It looked like an ordinary day in the park; if it were, say, seventy years ago. Beyond the swings, outside the park, the buildings that lined the street were different; they looked newer, like they recently went up. A big fan-tailed Chevy was parked by the gate.
It couldn’t be. But everything seemed as real as anything thing he’d ever known. He had to assume something had happened to him or to the world, something more than sleep deprivation, something more than whiskey. Maybe it was the fight with his wife a week ago, maybe it was the malpractice trial.
He’d checked the fetal monitor readings thoroughly. He was positive the baby’s vital signs were within the normal range. This was not some bizarre manifestation of guilt. Maybe it was something entirely different. He read about hauntings in castles and homes, cemeteries…But in a small city park? Maybe he’d slipped through some chasm in time. Maybe he’d hit his head on a rock and he was still on the ground and what he was experiencing now was some sort of hallucination. Maybe he was lying in a hospital and he was in a coma. He had a universe full of maybes. Yet, it all seemed so real. Maybe because it was real, was the most frightening maybe he could imagine.
He stepped slowly towards the swings. He wondered if the children could tell him something, fill him in on how he got there, but then it dawned on him; they were part of the hallucination, this insane dream. Anything they told him could be a trick, or a door to something even worse. He’d be on guard and not sloppy like he was in the hospital that day (according to some know- it- all judge.)
As he neared the swings, the sunlight seared his eyes and he squinted. The boy and the girl seemed to smile, but their smiles didn’t look like they had any real feel behind them. And their gaze seemed strange; distant and intense at the same time. The girl pulled on her dirty blond pony tail, and then she reached for a small gold locket around her neck and held it in her palm. The boy in the swing next to her seemed to look at the girl as if she were in charge. They continued to swing back and forth, smiling that vacant smile. He was certain they noticed he was there, but they didn’t seem to be surprised to see him, as he expected they would be considering the circumstances.
He had moved in as close as he thought he should when the girl kicked her feet to slow her swing down. In the distance, on a storefront outside the gate, he could see a banner for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
His eyes were glued to the girl as she came to a halt. He was going to say something, he was about to, but she spoke.
“Say mister,” she said, in a small, high pitched voice, which he thought contained all the emotion of her smile. “Do you have any children?”
What a strange, yet not so strange question. He guessed it was a natural question for a child to ask, but not as a first question. She didn’t ask him who he was, or how he got there; she wanted to know if he sired any spawn. He had delivered more children then he could remember, but he didn’t have any of his own, and considering the boulder deep shit hole is life was in now he was sure he never would.
“No,” he said, waiting for her reaction.
He decided he wouldn’t say too much; just sort of feel them out at first like you do with a stray dog you find in the street because you don’t know if it’s going to lick your hand or gnaw it off. The boy had slowed down his swing, and he was staring blankly at Avril.
“Good,” she said, “because the wind screams would get them.”
“It’s the end of the world mister,” the boy abruptly said. There was a stutter in his voice like he was afraid of something.
Then the girl continued, “Before the world ended, the wind died. The windscreams are all that’s left of the wind. The wind’s last dying gasp. They come fast and they’re dangerous; they whip through the air like…”
As she said the words he heard something careening through the air, fast like a hockey puck. Then he felt a powerful gust of wind blow from behind the children. Their hair stood up as if they were being sucked through a vacuum. Strands of the girl’s pony tail rose like electrified wires. Suddenly there was a quick snap sound, like a bullfighter’s whip. And then a strange wind rushed past him. He could feel the edge of the wind as if it were a solid object.
What happened next knocked the piss out of Avril Chase. He saw blood drip from the girl’s neck like the wind had decapitated her, sliced right through her like a thin sharp reed of metal. The same thing happened to the boy. His skull flipped forward. Their heads fell from the swings onto the dirt clearing below.
He didn’t look back, he just ran for the gate. The world didn’t end. He was in it and it was hell. He didn’t see it. He wasn’t there. He was lying in some hospital in coma. He was sleeping it off in his comfortable old bed on Fifty- Ninth Street. WINDSCREAMS? The wind died? The world died? And all that was left was a park on Sixteenth Street in Manhattan that was stuck in the 1950s? Why the ’50s? What did the ’50s represent? They represented comfort, safety, real food, and real baseball. Now he was sure it was all happening in his mind. He’d turned time back for protection, like a cocoon to shield him from the stress of losing his medical license and his wife within the span of one week. It all made sense now, he deduced as he feet flew over the grass, and the leaves, and the rocks, and the gravel, and he pressed his hands up against the gate.
He had to believe in something—this crazy world couldn’t be the end of the road. All he had to do was push through the entrance of the gate and it all would stop, the buildings would suddenly age, the world he knew would return. And he wouldn’t be afraid of the hint of a breeze.
He walked down the edge of the black iron-gate looking over his shoulders, holding his breath tight. As he approached the entrance he saw a sign on a pizza shop across the street: TEN CENTS A SLICE. Something about the sign calmed him. He imagined himself as a little boy with a dime in his pocket, running to a shop just like that one as soon as the school bell rang.
They say there’s no going back but in a strange way he had. A strange and deadly way, he thought, while he stepped through the entrance to the park.
Confidence returned to him as he passed through the iron. He was going to beat this devil because he understood it. But the moment his shoes touched the sidewalk the sunlight suddenly gave way to clouds, bringing on a sick queasy feeling in his stomach. When he felt the slight breeze that began to stir in the air he started to panic. It came on so fast Avril couldn’t tell you when it began, and the wind picked up like a hurricane. He felt as if he’d stepped into a whirlpool. He was about jump back into the park when he saw the big fan-tailed Chevy that was parked in front of the gate ripped apart by the wind, like it was being sliced by a tractor. Chunks of metal tore through the air. He leapt out of the way of car doors as they flew down the street. Pieces of the vehicle, continued to whiz by as he pulled himself back into the park, fighting against the wind, covering his ears from the howling sound that seared trough him. And as soon as his foot touched the grassy ground of the park the sunlight returned, the wind vanished.
He was near a tree, about twenty feet from the swings, when Avril decided it was safe to slow down his pace. He turned around and past the gate he saw the street was still dark with clouds, and metal and debris still ripped through the wind. But before him, inside the park, it was sunny and calm. He stood and took in the sight; the sun falling over the grassy park ’til his eyes met the gate and the wind and the dark world beyond the grass. It was the same on all sides of the park. It was the strangest sight he’d ever seen. What was this world? What had become of him, of everything he knew? How was the wind out there, howling and alive, if the wind had died? There was no answer, he thought, as he watched a sheet of glass shatter on the other side of the gate. The world had gone crazy, or he had gone crazy, or…
Suddenly he heard a whipping sound. He remembered it—it was the same sound he heard when the windscream ripped into the children on the swings. His eyes shot up. He couldn’t see anything just the faint trace of a smoke trail, but he could feel it coming towards him. He started to run. There was a pulling force like a vacuum moving above him. His hair began to rise, his hands, his head, every part of his body felt like it was about to be sucked through a straw. He picked up his pace. He could feel the edge of the wind. Then there he heard one enormous snap as he felt his body begin to fall. He was certain he was about to die, his throat would be sliced like the boy and girl on the swings. Kicking his legs against the wind as if his feet could fight it off, he was conscious of his body descending to the ground like it had been released from the barrel of gun. His shirt tore against the side of a small fence when he hit the earth.
It left him bruised and on the ground, but it was gone. He began to stand, brushing off his torn pants. He wondered if the windscream was teasing him. Was he trapped in some kind of game? Then he remembered what the girl said; she asked him if he had any children, and if he did the windscreams would get them. Was it possible the screams only killed children?
He continued to stand. When his eyes met the tree and the sun he heard sounds coming from the grass: music. He dipped his head and right beneath the tree he saw an old transistor radio. He picked it up and held the small black device to his ear.
He knew the song. It was an old song by a group called the Tune Weavers. They were singing Happy Happy Birthday Baby. He looked out across the park, across the swings, and a tear came to his eye. It was the song, the word baby just hit him, and the song kept playing, and the word kept repeating; baby baby, happy birthday, baby.
He knew he didn’t kill that baby. He was a good doctor. The monitor said the baby’s heart was fine. It was all part of this crazy dream. It was no mere accident this song was playing on this damn old radio in this ugly old park. It was part of same damn conspiracy to drive him crazy, and it nearly did.
He was about to throw the radio to the ground when he heard an announcer’s voice in urgent tones.
To repeat; scientist are convinced the world as we know it is about to end. What do we say to you at a time like this? What does anyone say? All we can do is pray that this sudden atmospheric change, which is probably just a hiccup in the timeless and vast expanse of the universe, is as painless as possible. At the moment the president is in the White House praying. Let us pray with him. May God be with you all.
Static followed the report. Avril felt the radio drop to the grass by his torn shoes. And he began to cry. It was if all the repressed guilt he was hiding formed into a massive ball and burst through the very center of his being in one unforgiving shot of regret. He didn’t care about the report, about the end of the world. It couldn’t be true anyway because he was standing there in the world. And the world didn’t end in the 1950s. Then it occurred to him that the report could have been broadcast from any time; from the present or from the future. He was certain he was losing his mind. He was responsible. He was her doctor, and that baby died under his care. In the end it was him. HIM.
He cried out to the trees, to the grass, to the wind beyond the gate, “I’m sorry, God forgive me!”
Then he stood and he began to run towards the gate. He was determined to end the nightmare, to face the world; whatever was left of it. The sun still beat heavy down on the grass. He saw the darkened world outside the park grow more ominous. He didn’t care. It was his only choice, his only chance. He had to leave that park.
He was nearing a set of see-saws when he heard it whip past him, another windscream. He lunged for the ground landing just a foot away from the see-saws. He saw the smoke trail just above him. His body crawled along the dirt and the grass trying to hide under the wooden planks of the equipment. Then he heard a snap, and the planks began to shudder up and down like one of those plastic Broncos you’d see in a bar in and old western movie. At once, the pull of the wind became stronger. He knew he would get knocked out by the planks if the windscream didn’t get him first. He pushed and pulled his legs as fast as he could; weaving up and down trying to avoid the boards. Suddenly wood clamped down on his left leg and he let out a scream. Near his face he felt the thrust of a gust near the ground, but he fought against it and he pulled his leg up. He thought he’d need one more good tug to get past the see-saws, and he stretched his arms fast and hard as he could.
He made it through and he began to run, his clothing ripped, his head aching, his legs bruised and tired. The windscream was still above him. It was getting closer. He didn’t think he could run anymore when he heard a huge snap, and he fell to the ground about a hundred feet from the gate. There was grass all round him. From the ground he could see the wind brushing the hedges near the street. Then out of the wind, out of nowhere it seemed, he saw the figure of a man in a black suit.
Avril was so transfixed on the man he didn’t realize the windscream had left.
As the man walked closer Avril saw long gray hair flowing beneath his hat. In the air he could hear the howling of the wind past the gate, but not so much as a breeze touched the man, or the park, or Avril.
Could his mind have conjured this all up? He knew he had a healthy imagination, but was it possible? What wasn’t conjured up was that baby’s death. That was real. How would it all end he wondered. A picture formed in Avril’s’ mind of him babbling and drooling locked away in an asylum somewhere upstate. Maybe that’s what he deserved, maybe he deserved everything that happened over the course of the last day. How long had it been? He didn’t know. When did the world end? Did the world end?
The old man was almost upon him. Avril noticed his cheeks were full, and his mouth seemed expressive and understanding. He looked past the man at the street, and at the debris tearing through the wind, and he wondered how both worlds could exist side by side, one more terrifying than the other.
The sun was strong, it seared his eyes when he looked up to see the man standing right above him. He didn’t have to say a word.
The man knelt down, and let out his hand, and spoke first in calm, aging tones, “Are you all right, mister? Is your leg broken? Let me give you a hand.”
“I’m all right just a little beat up. Who are you ? Where are we?” Avril said as he held onto the old man’s hand.
“We’re in a park, mister. It’s the end of the world don’t you know that?” He said.
Avril noticed there was a bit of a wheeze in his voice, and that his words didn’t make sense. They were in the world. He thought nothing would ever make sense again. At least the strange man seemed to offer some sort of comfort.
He stared into the old man’s eyes. “Is it really is the end of the world?”
“I’m afraid so, mister, but you didn’t bring it on. I know you thought you did, but you didn’t.”
“What?” Avril said as he stood from the ground.
His eyes caught the gusts beyond the gate. The swilling mass of metal and glass flying past the bars seemed to be getting stronger as if something was about to change.
The old man’s eyes grew wide as he glanced over the street. “What you did, what happened in that hospital was an accident. Sure it was your accident, but it was an accident.”
“Accident? I read the readout. It said the baby was fine.”
“The baby wasn’t fine, of course, and neither was the readout. I’m afraid. Avril, you accidentally pulled out one of the cables when you reached for the monitor causing one of the electrodes to fall off the mother’s abdomen. You got a false readout. An accident, a false readout.”
Avril’s hand shook, and it slipped from the old man’s wrist. “No! You’re a liar!”
The old man reached for Avril’s hand again. “Think about it, Avril, that baby did die, and you were the attending physician. Something went wrong. It makes sense!”
“Sense? Nothing makes sense anymore. I would have noticed it,”Avril said, while he pulled further away from the man.
“You should have but you didn’t.”
Avril knew inside that the man had to be right. “Dear God, a simple flick of my hand.”
“That’s all it takes, Avril. It had nothing to do with God. It was just human folly.”
“If what you’re saying is the truth, I still killed her no matter what the reason.”
“That you did in a way, Avril. That you did. You didn’t think of all the possibilities, and now the world’s coming to an end, another screw up, because we didn’t think of all the possibilities.”
“What! It can’t’ be!” Avril cried.
He must have been lying or crazy, but he knew about the baby, about the accident. The old man knew more than he did, if what he was telling was the truth.
“That’s just the way things are, but you didn’t bring it on Avril.” The old man said, with a smirk on his lips.
“No, fuck you to hell, Avril.” The old man said, and then he vanished just as unexpectedly as he arrived.
He wasn’t surprised; there was nothing left in the world that could surprise or shock Avril any longer. He knew that when that he looked towards the gate and saw the sun falling over the street. And even more staggering to Avril’s; the buildings had aged, the wind was gone, the street, and the world outside the gate seemed to have returned to the present.
He didn’t know what to make of the world’s return at first, but he knew he was going to walk through that gate without delay. He proceeded to travel towards the iron structure. He was only one hundred feet from sanity, he told himself as he stepped over the grass.
Of course the world didn’t end. He was right all along. It was the guilt he was holding onto exploding in his mind. And now that he knew the answer, now that he knew it was just an accident, he could return to the world whole, because he did nothing wrong. Maybe he could get his license to practice medicine back, make up with his wife.
He cautiously continued his steps, past trees, past benches, past a large circular water fountain, when from behind the water fountain came children, and more and more children dressed just like the girl and boy from the swings. Then fear began to overcome him; real fear, the kind of fear that made everything else pale, because he finally knew what real fear was. Real fear was the feeling that you were going to lose something that was just within your reach. He knew there was only one thing he could do, and he ran.
He ran fast as his feet could carry him. As he neared the children he heard a familiar sound, the sound of a windscream. He lunged for the ground. He heard loud snaps so close he could almost feel them brush against his skin. The wind began to pull, stronger than before. He kept his eyes on the children. The whipping sounds got louder. This windscream seemed stronger than the others, like it was the B52 of windscreams. Suddenly the children began to fall to the ground, like it was some rapid fire turkey shoot. Blood poured from their necks, while the snapping continued to get louder. Avril held his ears, praying it would just end. Their blood spattered through the wind and streamed across the ground as their skulls turned over on the grass.
He looked at the gate again expecting to see the street returned to darkness, but it was still bright, the world still looked like it had returned.
He knew what the children signified. They were obviously a further manifestation of his unrelenting unending guilt. And what a waste it was because the entire thing was an accident.
As he approached the gate he took one last look at the park, the children’s heads laid on the ground by the benches, their bodies strewn across the grass. He moved his eyes to the see-saw, to the swings, to the water fountain and he whispered, “Go to hell,” while he passed through the entrance.
The world was sunny. He stood across the street from the park and watched an old couple walk into a supermarket. He smelt the sizzle of a hot dog stand on the corner, and he listened to the sound of traffic moving down Eighth Avenue. He was going to be okay. The world was alive again and so was Avril.
As he neared the avenue he saw something strange on the pavement. He knelt down, and he immediately knew what it was, because he was a doctor and he knew about bones. The sick-queasy feeling returned to his stomach, because next to the bone he saw the locket that the girl on the swing held in her palm. Immediately his eyes turned to the sky where he saw the clouds forming. The horizon blackened, and then the winds came.
Bruce Memblatt is a native New Yorker. He is a member of the HorrorWriters Association. His stories have been featured in: Aphelion, Short Story Me!, Bewildering Stories, The Horror Zine, The Dark Fiction Spotlight, Bending Spoons, Strange Weird and Wonderful, Static Movement,Danse Macabre, SNM Horror Magazine, The Piker Press, Pill Hill Publishing,Eastown Fiction, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Necrology Shorts, Suspense Magazine, Gypsy Shadow Publishing, Black Lantern Publishing, Death Head Grin, The Cynic Online, The Feathertale Review, Yellow Mama. and numerous anthology books. His self-published collection of previously published short stories, The Dark Jar, is currently available at Amazon.com.