This week, the first part of a two-part cyberpunk horror about a mysterious box and unusual pandemic.
Narrated by Felicia Renee.
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 the first part of a two-part cyberpunk horror story.
But before we get to mysterious boxes and an unusual pandemic, just a reminder that all episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Thanks to our newest members Arlis, Accalia, and Tracy. Thanks also to Abigail 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 “Red Box”, by Tracy Cross, narrated by Felicia Renee.
The bus stopped and the doors scraped open. Bodies piled up like sardines, filling the worn plastic seats from the front to the back. Electra picked up her small radiophone, clutching it as the bus driver grumbled for everyone to move back. The doors slammed shut, and the bus rumbled toward the next stop.
Electra heard the man before she saw him. His cough rattled in his chest as he barked apologies to other riders on the bus. People cursed, babies cried and screamed and mothers complained. He bumped into the people and apologized as he moved further into the bus. He coughed over the heads of other passengers, nearing Electra.
She spoke to her boyfriend, Cres, on the radiophone. He smiled and asked if she was on her way home.
“Yeah, had to pick up textbooks for next semester, but it’s square. You out delivering?” She adjusted the screen to fix its graininess.
“Rain interference. I’m on the other side of town, making deliveries. I just wanted to make sure you were—”
“Can you hear this?” Electra interrupted. “Some dude is coughing on everyone. He just got on the bus and—”
“The seat next to you is empty, isn’t it?” Cres asked.
She looked over at the empty seat next to her and groaned. “So much for me not getting sick on public transport… again.”
She heard a voice above her. “Excuse me. Sorry.”
Electra glanced up at the man and whispered, “Shit.”
Cres smiled at her as she glanced at the radiophone. “See you at home. Good luck.”
The screen went black as he disconnected. Electra wrapped the cord around the radiophone and dropped it in her bag.
The man sat in the seat and wrapped his arms around a large red box. The box seemed to move—bump around, like something lived inside. She glanced over at the man. He wore a pair of pressed black pants with a crease so sharp, she could cut her finger if she touched it. Her eyes worked up toward his large hands holding the larger red box. It filled his lap. While it was square with a crimson color, his hands contrasted it with a pinkish undertone and the wrinkles of age. Covered with boils, some of the sores oozed clear pus. His fingers drummed along the top of the box.
Electra opened her mouth to speak, but the box rattled. The box rattled. She turned to look out the window.
The man reached up and wiped at his forehead with a folded handkerchief. He held it in his hand and gripped the box tighter.
Electra heard his breathing change from shallow to steady. In the reflection of the window, she watched him put the handkerchief in his chest pocket and drum his fingers across the top of the box.
She felt his eyes on her. “You want to see in my box?”
“Um, no.” Electra stared straight ahead.
“Inside is something special. It will change the world. It will change you.”
Electra ignored him.
“It changed me.” His voice was gravelly. He spread his fingers over the top of the box.
“I don’t want to see what’s in your box.”
“Okay.” He coughed.
Electra slowly exhaled. She glanced over at the man and saw a wide brimmed black hat. He turned toward her and leaned in close. She looked up over her shoulder and saw a pair of reddish eyes, and a face scarred with boils and creases like he lived outside, always staring at the sun. Some of the boils seemed to pulse as he moved his head lower and closer to hers. She tried to snap back, but his left hand caught her right arm.
He licked his lips. They were chapped and she thought they crackled as his thick tongue ran over them. He cleared his throat and moved in closer until his nose touched the tip of hers. He grabbed her forearms as she wrapped them around her bag, trying to put distance between the two of them in the tight bus seat.
“You know”—his voice was scratchy and low—“we are all infected.” He coughed, and a huge chunk of sticky, green phlegm flew past her and splattered on the window.
“What?” Electra pushed away from him, her bag falling to the floor.
With a toothy smile, he said. “We. Are. All. Infected.”
“Let me go!” Electra twisted her body and tried to break his grip.
“Now, it’s in here with us. It’s here in the city and we can’t escape. We are all infected.” He released her as the bus came to a stop. He grabbed his box and shoved his way through the crowded passengers in the aisle; hacking a phlegmy cough before he escaped.
Electra sat back in her seat, shaking. The bus doors slammed shut, and someone else sat in the man’s seat. She whipped her head toward the person and saw an older Indian woman wearing a sari.
“That man’s brain is out of the station! He almost knocked me over!” The woman spoke with a thick accent as she reached into her handbag and pulled out tissues. “Oh my… here you are.”
Electra jerked her head toward the window. She suppressed an urge to gag, looking around the thick ball of phlegm.The man stood on the curb. He held the box in front of him and laughed as the bus drove by, pointing at Electra.
Through the closed window, she barely heard him shout, “Infected! All of us!”
Electra turned back to face the Indian woman. “May I?”
“My dear, sure.” Electra blew her nose into the tissue. Her hands shook as she slipped the tissue in her pocket. The woman reached across and wiped the phlegm off the window, leaving a white streak, and threw the tissue on the floor.
Satisfied with herself as she adjusted her bag on her lap and smiled at Electra, she said, “I have ten brothers. I have seen worse things come out of even worse body parts.”
Electra reached down and picked up her bag and radiophone. She wrapped the cord from the earbuds and shoved it deep into her bag. As the bus etched toward the guard tower, she gathered her belongings. High walls with barbed wire surrounded the city. A police officer stepped on the bus and scanned identification cards. Electra slipped her card out of her hooded black jacket and shakily held it up.
The officer’s outfit was a drab green, and a white shield covered his face, concealing his identity. It even covered his mouth and disguised his voice as he opened his palm, scanning identification cards. He paused after he scanned Electra’s card. He glanced from Electra to the woman next to her and scanned her card again.
“Some of us have lives, please continue to move. I need to get home to my family,” the woman clipped as she slipped her identification card back into her purse.
“We’re all legal here, bub,” Electra added. “Keep moving.”
The officer leered at her longer than he should before walking away. .
The bus cranked forward through several sets of gates and into the city. Bright lights and dancing holograms filled the streets. Hordes of street children ran around trying to steal from food trucks and fruit stands. A few women stood on the sidewalk in their transparent parkas, wearing very little and inviting men and women to join them with their snake-like tongues and gesticulating fingers. Soon, darkness covered the bus as Electra heard the last of the gates close behind it.
“Last stop! Snake and Traviata Streets! Last stop! Clear off the bus, please!” the doors opened, and everyone piled off the bus and headed in different directions.
“Take care, dear.” The woman touched Electra’s arm and squeezed it gently. “I have a daughter your age. These men have no respect.”
“Thank you.” Electra pulled up her hood; the woman’s voice seemed to fade behind her in the distance.
Electra lived in a darker part of District City. Lower class families, factory workers, and college students filled the already cramped apartment buildings. Richer families lived outside the walls. They had access to beaches and highways, whereas the people “behind the walls” lived a different life, where buildings stacked on each other like cards. There were Love Hotels and One Night Squats for some. Electra lived in a building called the Runner, sandwiched between biotech repair shops and tattoo parlors that installed illegal cybernetics.
The Runner was at least fifty stories high. Each floor had several small apartments, referred to by many as ratholes. Electra liked this building because the rooms were filled with younger people, like her. College kids living on their own or people like her boyfriend, Cres—forever making future electronics or biotech to sell off-market for extra credits.
As she walked up to the door and eyed the graffiti covered walls for what felt like the millionth time, she reached forward and slipped her thumb over a sensor while pressing her eye against a retina scanner. With a click, the door opened. She unzipped the knee length jacket, slipped the hood off and stepped out of her knee-high boots.
Cres called out from the kitchen as she dropped her bag on the floor next to her wet items. “Babe, I got us some ‘Thai Fusion’ on the way home. Lots of noodles… leftovers from work and stuff.” He stepped out of the small kitchen and placed white paper containers on the small table in front of the balcony doors.
A willowy man with heavy black lined tattoos on pale white skin, Cres wore a pair of pants that barely fit him. His hair was dyed black and twisted into tiny dreads that fell into his freckled face. He reminded her of a newborn colt-all arms and legs-but she loved him. Electra walked over to the table and slid into one of the wooden chairs, her worn in black leather pants squealing the entire time. The chair wobbled side to side as she sat. He leaned across the table to kiss her on the lips. She presented her cheek for him to kiss instead.
“What gives? Hey!” Cres pushed back into his chair.
“That guy on the bus… really freaked me out.”
“I saw him but I had to go. Deliveries and I’m still paying off my biotech.” Cres held his black gloved hand in the air and twisted it around.
“You’ll be paying forever.” Electra coughed, covered her mouth, and turned her head.
“Rodney hooked me up with the replacement after my accident. He’s also pretty generous. I’m on my last few credits. Besides, I’ve got some really great ‘shrooms for him. Pure shit. I grew them in my lab.” Cres grinned, flashing his dimple.
Electra held up a finger and continued to cough. Stumbling away from the table and into the small bathroom, she dropped to her knees and wrapped her arms around the toilet. Cres followed, grabbing a face cloth, running it under cool water, and pressing it against her forehead.
“You okay?” Cres whispered as he slid beside her.
“Do I look okay?” She raised her head and glared at him.
“I don’t know. I mean, you’re not puking and you don’t have a fever or anything. I don’t know what to tell you.”
“What do you mean I don’t have a fever? I feel all woozy and nauseous. I mean, just look at these boils on my hands!” Electra held up a smooth brown hand and flipped it from front to back. “Well, there were boils.”
“There’s nothing on your hands and face. What happened that you’re freaking out like this?”
“The guy… the guy on the bus said that we were all infected. We are all infected in here or something… But he coughed on the bus and I think all those people are gonna be sick.”
“Wait! The dude I saw when I was on with you? Oh jeez, how could they let this guy into anywhere? He looked like shit, from what I could see.”
“Cres, who the hell else do you think I was talking about? Of course that guy! Thank heaven you are good looking… it more than makes up for your lack of brains.” Electra snatched the towel and wiped her face.
“Aw, come on. . . cut me some slack. You know how many times I fall off my moped a week. The rain today didn’t really help much.”
“All the more reason you should wear a helmet.” Electra pushed back and pressed her back against a wall. Cres turned and faced her as he gently placed his hands on her knees.
She covered her face with her hands. “You think I’m crazy, don’t you? I guess it’s like psychosomatic or something. Somebody so gross, it’s not hard to think you’re coming down with something.”
“No, I don’t. I’m worried about what you could have caught from this asshole. I swear, if I ever see him …” He shook his head. “There’s some vitamin patches in the kitchen, over the sink. Got ‘em from a reputable source.”
A robotic voice declared, “This is an emergency broadcast.” Cres grabbed Electra’s hand as they followed the noise into the living room. He walked over to the dining room table and pushed the food aside, pressing a button on the table. A holographic screen appeared above the food, and a woman said, “The death of a mother of three has shocked the small community of Little India in District City today. She died in the local hospital after developing a series of boils over her body as well as a severe cough. If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms, please call for an Auto Doctor to do an examination. A containment team will be sent to…”
Electra gaped at the woman on the hologram screen and gasped. “She looks like the lady on the bus next to me today.”
Cres stared at the woman, then Electra. Slowly, he took a step back and whispered, “Maybe we should call an Auto Doc.”
“No! Don’t call one! You know what the containment squads do, right? They will burn you and all your stuff. They will cut our unit out and burn it to purge the area of germs.” She pressed a button and the holoscreen disappeared.
“I’m not trying to get sick, babe.”
“Well, babe, I suggest you keep your mouth shut because you’ve been in here with me the whole time. If I go, you go too.” Electra put her hand on her hip.
“What do you mean?”
“I wouldn’t worry about paying for your hand, if you know what I mean.” Electra flopped into a chair. “I really don’t feel well. And we can’t afford a call to an Auto Doc anyway. I mean unless we cut back on something. Maybe I can sell a book or something.”
“What do you want to do? Don’t sell your books. I’ll figure out a way to make some extra money.” Cres reached into the bag for his Thai and began crunching on a spring roll. “Sorry, I can’t let this go to waste. And it smelled so good all afternoon.”
“I’m just worried… no big deal. I’ll handle it.” Electra sighed, reaching into the bag to grab her own meal.
it’s coming out of both ends
Electra awoke to the sound of Cres dry heaving in the bathroom. She felt torn—should she go to him, or return a book so she could call an Auto Doc?
Cres stumbled back to bed. “The Thai Fusion was bad, I think. No wonder they gave it to me for free. I got shit coming out of both ends.”
“Oh, I thought you were sick with… you know…”
“I’ve been thinking—you didn’t get that close to that guy, so you should be okay. You said he coughed on his way off the bus?”
Electra closed her eyes and inhaled, smelling the mint mouthwash on Cres’s breath. “Yeah, after you saw him next to me, he just got up and got off,” she lied. “I mean before he left the bus he yelled that ‘we all had it and we were all infected.’ But, yeah, I wasn’t near him for long, anyway.”
“No worries then. Come on, let’s get back to sleep.” He wrapped his arm over her half naked body and kissed her ear. “Love you babe.”
Electra reached up and rested her hand on his fleshy hand as she drifted asleep. Then she felt it.
There was a bump on the back of his hand.
“Yeah, me too,” she whispered.
“Going to the market! You need anything?”
Electra stared out the window to the balcony while Cres slipped on his rain gear by the door. “I’m good—maybe more tissues or something,” she mumbled as she turned and looked at him. “You look like a shadow, like you could slip between the raindrops with all that latex.”
“I’m thinking of a different use for it when I come back.” Cres grinned.
Electra plodded over to him, barefoot across the wooden floor. She lifted the Murphy bed and pushed it into the wall while still holding her coffee. As she watched him zip his jacket, she grabbed his cool, cyber hand and wrapped it around her waist. “Kiss me.”
His crystal blue eyes rose followed by his nose and blistered mouth. He licked his lips, but the sound was the same as the stranger on the bus. She stumbled back, her coffee mug slipping from her fingers and shattering on the tiled floor.
“What gives?” Cres asked, his voice rising in surprise.
“I just… I just—” She rubbed her eyes and stared at him, and he looked like Cres again. No blisters, no boils, just Cres. She sighed. “I’m sorry. My nerves, and class starts tomorrow… this damned rain is just so—”
“Sure babe, whatever.” Cres unlocked the door. He lifted his bike off the wall and placed it halfway out the door. “Left the moped at the shop for repairs. I’ve got my answerbot wired in. Call me if you can think of something.” Cres adjusted the silver wires over his ears and plugged a jack into a jack point in his neck.
Electra ran her hands through her hair. “Try not to be out all night, right?”
“Meh.” Cres shrugged his shoulders and closed the door behind him. “Love you, babe, but you really know how to make a room binary.”
Electra closed the door behind him and walked over to the wall unit by the bathroom door, dialing for an Auto Doc. She slid her card in the slot and paid for a five-minute consult, which was about ten credits.
Selling one book would more than cover the expense. She hoped.
“Hello, Auto Doc 36487 here. How can I help you?” A woman with dark hair, olive skin and a very throaty voice emerged on screen. She wore wire-framed glasses on the edge of her nose. “Please remember this assessment should not take the place of an actual visit to the doctor. It is just an assessment based on questions and what I can see on my side of the screen. Do you understand?”
“Now, what’s your name?” The doctor picked up a pen, poised to write.
“Electra Daviosis. Requesting evaluation for influenza.” Electra pushed some of the shattered coffee cup in a pile on the floor with her bare foot.
“Miss Daviosis, please place your hand on the screen.” The Auto Doc touched a few buttons and leaned in closer to examine it. “You can put your hand down, now. Please place your forehead on the bar and look straight ahead.” Auto Doc 36487 barked more orders. Electra complied.
The blinding light forced Electra to struggle to keep her eyes open during the exam. She watched the Auto Doc scribble a few notes and press something into a box next to her. “You are fine, no symptoms of influenza. I see nothing but a tired young woman. I’m sending you a prescription for sleeping pills. Get some rest.”
“But… I don’t feel well,” she stuttered.
“For an additional fifty credits, you can plug in for a more thorough diagnosis.” Auto Doc 36487 flashed a smile and tapped a pen on a desk.
Sheesh, I’ll pass.
“No thanks.” Electra pushed back from the screen.
“Have I answered all questions to your satisfaction, Miss Daviosis?”
“I am pleased with my diagnosis.”
“Auto Doc 36487. It has been a pleasure to serve you. Would you be willing to take a survey—”
Electra pushed a button and ended the session before checking the amount on the screen. “Worst ten credits I ever wasted.”
After the screen spit out a prescription for the sleeping pills, another person appeared on the wall unit. Sondra Jones’ name scrolled across the bottom of the screen, and Electra pushed the button to receive transmission. In all her glory, there was Sondra, picking her nose.
“Sondra,” Electra said. “Maybe your nose would stop bleeding if you kept your finger out of it.”
“Funny, Nachos. What are you doing today?” Sondra moved back from the screen and absently picked at a zit on her face.
“I was going to start reading. I’ve got Philosophy 402 this semester and some shit classes to fill my fundamentals. I think all I’m carrying though is Philosophy books.”
Sondra turned away from the screen and held a finger up. “Give me a microsec.” A series of newly tattooed dark swirls ran from beside her eye to her auto jack plug on her neck.
Electra watched her walk toward someone coughing. It sounded more like a hacking lung. Sondra glanced back at the screen. “You know anything about this? Do you?”
“Know about what?”
“My man is sick. He said you know about it. Something about you being on a bus with the sick man.”
“What?” Electra stumbled backwards and shook her head.
“Hey! Starving Nachos! You hear me? I said that my man is sick. You guys doing okay? Cuz I gotta call the Auto Doc and call you back.” Sondra’s eyes widened.
“What did you say before?” Electra placed a hand on the screen.
“What?” Sondra furrowed her brow. “I asked if you were okay because something is going around.”
Electra stared at the screen and saw the man from the bus, his wide brimmed hat and reddish eyes, as he said. “We are all infected here.”
“Okay, gotta go.” Electra disconnected the call as Sondra kept calling her name, but the screen went dark.
“What is happening to me?” Electra asked herself. She picked up the shattered coffee cup before slipping into some clothes for the day.
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And to thank you for listening until the very end, we have a creepy fact for you.
The 2012 film “The Possession” is supposedly based on a true story. It features a haunted wine cabinet which is argued to be one of the most haunted objects in the world. The box, apparently originally owned by a Holocaust survivor, was sold on eBay after its owner had a run of bad luck after acquiring the box. It contained old coins, a lock of hair, a wine goblet, and a spirit from Jewish mythology called a dybbuk. Zak Bagan of Ghost Adventures fame allowed Post Malone to see the box in 2018, and less than 3 months later, the rapper fell victim to a near-plane crash, an armed robbery that targeted him, and a car accident all within a month. Do you think the story of the haunted box is real, or fabricated to grab those sweet Hollywood bucks? Would you bet your life on it? Tag us @nightlightpod on Twitter and tell us what you think.
Join us in two weeks for the creepy conclusion to “Red Box”.