A doubleheader this week: a tale of what happens when the apocalypse comes to the hood, followed by a story of an unlikely victim of an unusual siren song.
A transcript is available below.
You Call This an Apocalypse narrated by Devanté Johnson.
Siren’s Song narrated by Khalila Roney.
Executive Producer and Host: Tonia Ransom
All episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Join us on Patreon for as little as $1 per month to help us produce more stories for you to enjoy.
Hi. I’m Tonia Ransom, creator and executive producer of NIGHTLIGHT, a horror podcast featuring creepy tales written and performed by Black creatives from all over the world.
This week we have two stories for you. First up, a story originally published in After the Fall about what happens when the apocalypse comes to the hood. Then, a tale of a siren song that affects the most unlikely of victims.
But before we get to a couple of brothas fighting off the dead, just a reminder that all episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Thanks to our newest members Anne, Joe, Emily, Shrub, Conor, Brian, and Elizabeth. Thanks also to Audra and Merrit for increasing their pledges and thanks to Jennifer for donating via PayPal. You all have my eternal gratitude. We’re working toward our goal of bringing you new episodes every week, but we need your help. Just go to patreon.com/nightlightpod to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion and get a shoutout on the podcast.
Now sit back, turn out the lights, and enjoy You Call This An Apocalypse?, by Errick Nunnally, narrated by Devanté Johnson.
Quan swung his fire axe into the zombie’s head, cutting messily through its skull and splattering its brains right at Treyvon’s feet.
The boy just about fainted, knowing where the gelatinous mass had been. The dead body, in mid-step, crumpled like the marionette it was. Quan whooped with joy and Treyvon’s heart sunk further, if that were at all possible.
Treyvon had lifelong history with Joquan. They’d grown up in the same neighborhood, taught by the same teachers, and played in the same parks. At one time, they’d even lived together in a foster home. Not exactly friends, they’d known each other their entire lives, separated by personal interests, inextricably joined by culture and geography. They were both seventeen, but Treyvon was a nerd—he hated the portmanteau “blerd” almost as much as he hated the ridiculous convention that white comic creators tended to use when naming black characters. Black Lightning, Black Racer, Black Spider, Black Eagle, Black Panther—well, the Panther was pretty cool, and his name made sense. Since he was the leader of the Black Panther Cult and King of the fictional African country of—
“Tron, wake the fuck up! We ‘bout to get in some serious shit right here! Why you holding that shovel like that? Quit cradlin’ the damn thing like it’s a baby. Get ready to swing that bitch!”
Treyvon secretly loved that Quan called him ‘Tron.’ Most people shortened his name to ‘Trey,’ but Quan always looked for the most creative angle to truncate someone’s name. Thanks to his friend’s wit, Treyvon was closer than ever to imagining himself on par with Tron, the savior of the ENCOM Mainframe. He looked down at the entrenching tool they’d found alongside the axe at the firehouse and shifted his grip so that he was holding it more like the baseball players he’d seen on television. They continued to move through the building.
Quan was one-hundred and eighty degrees from being a nerd like Treyvon and at least fifty-thousand kellicams in the opposite direction, diving into the hot sun at the center of the solar system of coolness. Kellicams, by the way, are a Klingon unit of measurement, similar to a kilometer, but about twice as lo—
“Tron! Damn, son, daydream when we the fuck somewheres safe. You in shock or some shit?”
The duo headed for the back of Engine 52’s station. The house seemed to be empty, all the firefighters out dealing with one emergency after another. There were no police stations nearby to even consider raiding, so they sought solace here. Though there were more axes available, they were too heavy for Treyvon to handle accurately, so Quan had shoved the lightweight military shovel into his hands. The zed Quan had just dropped must’ve been part of the skeleton crew left behind to monitor the radio and… The radio!
“Hey, Quan, if we can find the radio here, we might be able to—”
“Watch ya back, son!”
Treyvon whirled. Wherever there was a freshly dead walker, there seemed to be another less fresh. How else would the fireman have been infected inside the firehouse? Emergency rescue personnel were ironically the most vulnerable. Their instincts were to help, not split a skull open. To run towards trouble and damn self-preservation all but guaranteed an agonizing demise. The former human being Quan had put down probably died trying to help this thing, not believing the dead walked.
The horror facing him must’ve been the victim of a murderous impact and freshly buried. The female corpse wore what was once a clean and professional skirt suit—the better to be presentable when being interred—a tradition that baffled Treyvon. The thing was now covered in grime and blood. She was dragging one leg at an inhuman angle and her arm on the same side dangled boneless, like a numb tentacle, her entire person a vile reminder that the dead walked. Treyvon raised his tool. The horror creeping slowly towards him echoed the trembles rising from his stomach. He brought the edge of the spade down square on her head or so he intended.
The sharp edge cut across her skull at an angle, shearing off a portion of her scalp and skull. With an ear dangling, she stumbled forward as Treyvon lost his balance, yelping uncontrollably and tumbling, his legs tangling with hers.
“Oh, for real? Finish this half-crippled bitch, Tron, an’ let’s go.” Treyvon could hear the exasperation in Quan’s voice, impatient at having to pull his companion out of fire after fire. If this were going to work, Treyvon knew he needed to get his game together and soon.
The dead woman squirmed, using her one good hand to grab a fist full of Treyvon’s pants, trying to pull herself into position to bite. He panicked, freed one leg and kicked her off. Then with a speed and accuracy he’d never known, Treyvon swung the tool in an arc, cutting through the dead woman’s neck, striking sparks from the concrete floor. The body went still and the boy was barely aware of what had happened. He’d lashed out and gotten lucky.
“Oooooh, shit! Tha’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout! Knew you had it in you, nigga.” Quan laughed and kicked the head across the floor.
Treyvon shuffled to his feet and shoved his glasses back up on his nose so he could see Quan clearly when he looked into his eyes. Relieved to focus on something other than shambling dead people, he spoke with confidence. “Don’t call me ‘nigger,’ that’s self-hating.”
Quan screwed his face up. “Da fuck? You think I hate myself? Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished, boy—N.I.G.G.A.” He thumped his chest with each letter, then poked Treyvon forcing the less imposing boy to take a step back. “Yo’ ass still alive ‘cause o’ me; you keep zonin’ out, I ain’t gonna be able to keep you alive much longer.”
Being shuffled from home to home as they got older had opposing effects on the two boys. Over the years, Treyvon sank further and further into books of all kinds—especially comics and science fiction, but he’d never developed the kind of brazen confidence that Quan seemed to generate tirelessly like the fission of heavy isotopes. The more Treyvon learned, the more conflict-averse he became, as if a thick blanket of knowledge smothered any aggression he may have developed over time. He remembered reading somewhere that boys like him were time bombs waiting to explode one day. Yet, every humiliating episode he could think of leading up to this moment merely left him feeling more confused than angry, the edge of any fury dulled forever by a relentless, academic logic.
He recalled one such incident, in eighth grade, at the all-white suburban school to which he was being bussed at the time, an urban program to give inner-city kids access to suburban schools’ larger school budgets. An essay he’d written was chosen to be read at a school event. The teacher had asked him if he had a tie, slacks, and shoes for the event? Would he be able to participate? He owned no such clothing and shook his head. Even though his essay had been chosen along with four others, his appearance would be the price of entry. Despondent, he’d gone home, told his current foster mother, and she managed to dig up a pair of shoes, slacks, and a tie for him. The tie was a hideous, multicolored affair, the slacks bell-bottomed and lime green, and the shoes were at least one size too small. Still, he had achieved both the academic costs and the minimum of proprietary fashion.
During the car ride to the event, Treyvon held a casserole in his lap. When they arrived, he discovered that liquid had leaked past the battered, foil-covered container and left a brown stain down one side of his calf where it finally pooled in one of his tight shoes. Onstage, his leg cold, wet, and stained with gravy, Treyvon sat with four other boys before he discovered that his essay had not been given to the presenter. They’d assumed he would not be participating, so the handwritten essay had been left behind…somewhere.
Why couldn’t this have been rectified on the spot? Surely the essay could be retrieved. More questions followed, tumbling one after the other. Because he’d not been assertive enough, because there was no time, because he didn’t have real parents, because he was the only black boy on stage with four other white boys? They were the kinds of questions that kept him up at night, his mind eventually wandering into a fantasy realm to evade the stress. His sense of logic could only determine that these questions would never be answered satisfactorily.
Like trying to figure out why the dead walked.
Treyvon muttered the only thing that seemed worthy of noting at the time. “It’s the apocalypse, I—”
Quan spread his arms. “You call this an apocalypse? Please, this a Tuesday night in the ‘hood, son, this ain’t shit!”
Bravado, braggadocio, boldness, braggart, bombast, and other alliterative nouns that Quan likely didn’t know bounced around Treyvon’s mind. Tuesday. Then the boy smiled and started to giggle. It wasn’t long before Quan grinned and chuckled, lowering his arms, then raising them again with a ridiculous smirk on his face. They guffawed uncontrollably until Treyvon, gasping for air, broke in.
“A Tuesday, huh? Tuesday. Okay, okay, well, I don’t want to see the weekend, okay? We really want to get out of here alive, right?”
“Damn right. Tha’s why we come here, man, all them firefolks out tryin’ to save a neighborhood that stopped carin’ ‘bout itself before we was born. We got to gear up and get out.”
Boston’s inner-city proved a unique challenge for those who wanted to survive the zombie apocalypse: fire and police stations were few; no gun shops to loot, precious few hardware or grocery stores, and no easy way to organize people. The area was constantly on the edge of teetering over into a depressing mess without flesh-eating corpses wandering around. As far back as Treyvon could remember, nothing ever changed. He and Quan continually swapped homes as one foster parent’s tour of duty ended and another’s began, but the neighborhood remained a constant, regardless of what the rest of the world was doing.
“We need to use the radio to call for help.”
“Help? Damn, Tron, you killin’ me. Ain’t no help here, never have been. What? You expect the National Guard to come runnin’ cause two niggas call from th’ hood?”
Treyvon ground his teeth, ignoring the word he considered an epithet no matter how Quan pronounced or spelled it. “Then where are we going?”
“Like I said: we gear up and get on. To the cemetery, down by Forest Hills.”
“The cemetery. Where all the dead people are.”
“Damn, Tron, think about it, you smarter than that.”
He thought. Most of the corpses would be deeply interred or too far rotted to be a problem. Plenty of open ground. There was a house on the grounds and the whole thing was surrounded by a high, wrought iron fence. This fire station had food, emergency supplies, and more. All the firefighters and cops usually drove SUVs, there were probably a few in the back. Well, damn, Quan was right.
“Yeah, you get it now.” The more aggressive and tactically oriented boy wore a wide grin on his face. “We could even take some radios for when shit cools down.”
Treyvon began to understand where he was going to fit in the apocalypse. As Quan searched the premises for keys to personal vehicles, Treyvon sat down at a computer to learn all he could about BFD communications and equipment, taking advantage of the Internet while it still functioned.
Keys in hand, the boys began loading a black SUV in the back lot of the station. They emptied the kitchen of whatever food they believed would travel well and filled the back with two more uncovered axes, a few pikes, radios, chargers, a ladder, and some power tools. They could see smoke in the air, drifting like octopus ink underwater. The occasional screams of people and the muted pops of handguns came to their ears. It was Treyvon’s idea to top off the gas tank and add two additional canisters of fuel.
Treyvon looked for somewhere outside the vehicle to hook the jerrycans, but had to load them in the back. “Keep the back windows rolled down, we don’t want to suffocate on gas fumes or, well, explode over a spark or something.”
Quan grinned and did what Treyvon asked as the boys clambered into the front seats. The engine turned over easily. Quan backed the truck out of its spot and wheeled around the side of the building. On the opposite corner, they saw an older man wearing an apron and using a push broom to hold one of the walking dead back. He was yelling profanities in a thick Caribbean accent, keeping the zed from entering his store.
Quan slammed the truck into park and said, “I want some snack cakes.”
“Are you serious? Now?”
Quan looked at the acquaintance he’d known his entire life. Despite their social distance, Treyvon was the closest thing he had to a brother. The young man was the only constant in his life, the only person whose values he respected, and could depend on. “Maybe you should pick ‘em up. Get something you like too, ‘cause I don’t think we gonna be able to hit the corner store later.”
Treyvon looked out the window at the old man struggling to keep the zombie at bay.
“Go on, man, I’m a wait for you right here. Get me some menthols too.”
Their eyes locked for a moment, then Treyvon hopped out of the vehicle and trotted around to the back, sliding a pike out of the hatch.
Quan stepped out of the cab, lit a cigarette, and watched as Treyvon scooted around the old man struggling with the zombie and dipped into the store. Moments later, he emerged with a plastic sack, heavy with treats. The old man glanced at the young intruder with a worried and disgusted look on his face. Treyvon stopped, took aim, and speared the dead monster through its head, pushing it to the ground with the pike. Then he handed the steel tool to the old man and trotted back to the truck.
“I like the pike.”
“Thought you might.”
“Dude, I think everyone in that old man’s family was inside that place. They just stared at me the whole time in there, stuffed in the corner.” Dots of perspiration speckled Treyvon’s hairline and dark patches had formed under his shirt’s arms.
Quan smirked and hopped back into the driver’s seat, slammed the door and pulled the SUV onto Donald Street, cutting through to Harvard and making a straight run for the cemetery.
“Niggas got to learn to take care o’ they damn selves.”
And now, keep the lights off for our second story: Siren’s Song by Nicole Givens Kurtz, narrated by Khalila Roney.
“You ever wanna just walk into traffic?”
Katrina cut her eyes over to me. Beneath the fall of her curly bangs, she sucked her teeth. “No.”
“You seriously don’t hear their song as they go rushing by?” It was definitely a song, not the harsh blaring of horns and rude honks. No, it was lyrical and enchanting.
Katrina adjusted her collar against the cold winter wind. “Nuh uh. What does it sound like?”
We started walking down the sidewalk along 12th Avenue.
I shuffle closer to her and recite the lines as fast as I can. It’s cold and I don’t want the next group of pedestrians to interrupt me.
“It goes like this:
Come play with us,
It’ll be fun.
Come play with us,
You’ll be done.
Come play with us,
It’ll be fine!
Come play with us,
Then you’ll die.”
Katrina shoved her gloved hands into her coat pockets and glared at me, mouth agape.
“You’re not right up there, Mimi.” She tapped her temple.
I gave a half-hearted smile, taking it as a joke, because I hope she meant it as a joke. “Yeah, I know.”
The flat tone alarmed Katrina, despite my efforts to give positive verbal cues. She grabbed my arm, spun me around, and with the distance between her artful eyebrows wrinkling, said, “You’re serious. You really hear that?”
The false smile pulled tight on my lips. “No, girl. ‘Course not. That’s crazy.”
She searched my face, her gaze roaming all over me like a thousand ants. I kept the smile in place until she relaxed. The bunched-up skin on her forehead smoothed.
“Okay. Let’s go get some food. A good bowl of phở will chase off the chills,” Katrina said, pulling my arm as she marched ahead.
I didn’t want to get anything into me, but I allowed myself to be towed to the Vietnamese bistro on the corner. The cold helped me keep my face blank even though the aroma of rich beef broth was delicious. How could I explain that what I wanted was to get something out?
We came to the intersection of 12th Avenue and Vine Drive. Phở Ngon sat glowing with illuminated lights and a heated dining area, beckoning for us to enter. I turned to follow Katrina into the open door, when I stopped.
I looked back to the street and the whispering that brushed my ears grew louder.
“Come play with us,
It’ll be fun.
Come play with us,
You’ll be done.
Come play with us,
It’ll be fine!
Come play with us,
Then you’ll die.”
My heart raced and my feet refused to move forward into the restaurant. A prick of cold, more frigid than the winter temperature, rippled from my head to my booted feet, making me shiver. I let the door go and it faintly clicked shut.
Ahead, the traffic light changed, and this stream of cars bolted through the intersection, singing their song loudly and extending their smear of colors and solace out toward me.
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And to thank you for listening until the very end, we have a creepy fact for you.
You’ve probably heard of zombie ants infected by Ophiocordyceps, but have you heard of zombie spiders? A species of wasp larva in the Ecuadorian Amazon infects a particular species of highly social spiders and forces the spiders to leave the safety of their colony to spin cocoon-like webs in far off locations. The wasp first lays its eggs on the spiders, and as the larva hatch, they begin to take control of the spider. Eventually, the spider is food for the new larva–safe and sound in the cocoon the zombified spider built.
We’ll be back next week to bring you interviews with Errick and Nicole, then we’ll have a new story for you the following week.