This week, the second part of our 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 at patreon.com/nightlightpod 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 second 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. We didn’t get any new patrons this week, so I’m hoping you can fix that for us! 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 part two of “Red Box”, by Tracy Cross, narrated by Felicia Renee.
Electra went out the night before. She stumbled into her apartment as the sun reached the horizon. She could not tell if it was a hologram or if the actual sun made an appearance between the tall skyscrapers of District City. Trying quietly to slip out of her wet jacket and smelly clothes, her armadillo bag hit the floor with a thud. She whispered, “Shit!” before she dragged herself to the bathroom.
“Korea Town?” Cres stood in the doorway of the bathroom, wearing a pair of black boxer briefs.
Electra pushed past him and into the bathroom, heading straight for the shower stall.
As she turned on the water, she heard Cres put the lid down, sit on the toilet and say, “Karaoke?”
Electra dipped her head beneath the water and let it run along the back of her neck. “Cres, geez. If I want to go and see some cute boys in Korea Town, I can go. Just like you go to Soulville.”
“I went once! That was before we even…” There was a gurgling sound as Electra wiped steam off the shower door.
Cres was leaning over the toilet. After stepping back and turning off the water, she pressed a button and the drying vents filled the shower stall. She shook her hair out and ran her hands through it, water droplets flying off her body.
As she stepped out of the stall and grabbed a long white robe, she asked, “You okay?”
“Huh?” Cres stood in front of the sink and brushed his teeth.
“A minute ago, I saw you puking your brains out. You feeling well?”
Cres raised his eyebrows as he rinsed his mouth, “Better than any dude in Korea Town, for sure. You should let me show you.”
Electra ran her hands through her hair. “So, you weren’t sick earlier?”
“Sick? I’ve been talking to you the whole time! Are you okay?”
“Huh.” Electra shrugged, walked out of the bathroom and crashed on the bed. She felt Cres slip in behind her and run his hand over her side.
“I just wanna sleep. I’m worn out.” She turned into the pillow. “I’m just so tired, Cres…”
Electra fell asleep mid-sentence.
Electra turned over and saw Cres eating more noodles with his feet propped up on a chair, their holographic TV screen projected on a wall. A woman was talking about more people falling ill in District City. “Again, if you feel you have any symptoms, please head to your nearest—”
“Cres?” Electra’s throat was scratchy.
“Water’s by the bed.” He pressed a button on the table to change channels until he stopped on one from the early 2000s. They were celebrating all week with Celebrities Diving with Sharks.
She ran her hands through her curls and checked the clock. It was six in the evening; apparently, she’d slept all day.
“Sleeping all day is the first sign of a weak immune system.” Cres set the takeout box of noodles on the table as he slurped. “Look, Jermaine gave me these shots while I was at work. I traded some for ‘shrooms and I feel so much better already.”
Cres held out four small vials with yellow liquid and a small injector for shots. “This could be piss for all I know, Cres. Besides, what happened to Rodney?”
“First, it’s not piss. Second, you know Jermaine. I mean, you know Jermaine. You went to school with him. And he works for Medbay—he gets the good stuff, you know?”
Electra furrowed at the vials in his hand and heard someone crying far off in the distance alongside a long beeping sound. She looked at Cres, but he seemed to either not hear it or ignore it. “You don’t…”
“I took two this afternoon and look at me, eating cold ramen.” Cres grinned and slipped a vial into the injector.
Electra held her arm out and she heard someone yell. “Clear!” Cres jabbed the gun into the middle of her forearm, and soon, she felt her chest burn.
“Give it a sec.” Cres fumbled with the second vial. “Almost done.”
She twisted her arm as the burning feeling snaked around it. “No, Cres, I’m serious! Stop!” She fell backwards onto the bed. She gave the room a once over and everything seemed normal.
“Give it a sec. You’ll feel good. Besides, it’s the weekend. What are our plans?” Cres massaged the spot where he gave her the shots.
She closed her eyes and slowed her breathing. “I guess movies or something?”
“Why don’t we pick up something over in Little India? All people ever go over there for is food and maybe some really awesome dancing.” Cres tucked the vials away in the kitchen. “Ramen?”
“Nah.” Electra looked around the room. The walls seemed whiter instead of their putrid green. She watched Cres, shirtless again, shuffle around as his black utility pants hung low on his hips.
“I saw it’s going to be pretty warm tonight,” Cres said as he slipped behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.
“After the Mysteries of Korea Town last night, we should go a bit classy tonight. I think we should go see a movie in Brit Town.”
“You know how to suck the air out of an oxygen tank.” Cres kissed the side of her head. “But whatever you want.”
friends and floaters
They joined Cres’ friends at a Thai restaurant. As they sat in a booth, laughing and joking, the skies opened and the rain seemed as though it would never end. Electra sat near the front window. She glanced out between the streaks. Cres asked if she was okay or if she wanted to leave every five minutes or so, but she kept telling him she was fine.
“It’s just… that I—” Electra lurched toward the window.
She saw him—the man with the black hat and the red box.
“I have to know… I need to find out something…” she murmured before she excused herself and ran out the restaurant.
Cres called behind her as she dodged holograms advertising In Home Fun Boys, Free AI Cleaning Services, and Drug Hotels. She pulled a small silver sticker from her pocket and slipped it behind her ear while hearing the last holo ad, “The next hour of uninterrupted holograms is brought to you by Brit Station. Hop in for a cuppa and get half off when you mention this sound ad.”
Electra stopped and all the holograms disappeared as she saw the man gliding down the alley. He wasn’t running; it seemed as though his feet were above the ground. She rushed toward him and felt like the alley shrunk around her—the red, glossy bricks darkened and appeared closer as she made her way toward the man.
“Wait! What did you mean?” she yelled as he tipped his hat.
She reached the back wall and ran smack into it. She turned around and saw the man in front of her, floating at least a foot above the ground. All she could see was his black hat and his smile and the red box in front of him.
“Would you like to see what’s inside?” His voice was smooth and syrupy. He did not cough anymore. His hands curved around the box’s lid and loosened it. She didn’t know what she saw… it resembled a black swarm of locusts, and it was moving in her direction.
“You see what you want to see, but it will infect us all,” he wheezed.
“I need to get away, right? I need to leave! I don’t want to be infected. Why did you pick me?”
He smiled and tilted his head to the side. “Meh.”
“Am I infected? I mean, I’m not infected, right?”
He laughed, louder than before. “Remember what you saw. Now you know.”
His voice echoed in her head. She dropped to her knees and blocked her face with her hands as the black swirled all around her and into her mouth. The black mass swirled inside her, expanding her chest and blurring her vision. It lifted her off the ground as her chest ballooned. She fought it. She kicked in the air. The man laughed. He pointed to her, as she drifted higher into the air.
“Can’t… breathe… please…” Electra grabbed at her throat and closed her eyes. “Can’t breathe.”
The man laughed louder as she felt the air pressed out of her body. Another voice was in her head. “It’s only us now. And you are infected.”
She felt herself fall to the ground. She scanned for the man with the box, but he was gone. There was nothing left but the box on the ground.
“Electra! Electra! What’s going on? Are you okay?” Cres and his friends ran to her in the alley.
Electra swiped at the air as Cres helped her stand.
“Where did he go? Where’s he at?” Electra pushed through the group.
“Who?” Cres quizzed.
“The guy! The guy from the bus was here. Something is wrong, I’m telling you. Something is wrong.” Electra leaned against the bricks, blinking when she saw everyone around her with boils on their face.
“We should maybe call an Auto Doc or something,” a voice mumbled.
Electra’s eyes darted around the crowd, then she passed out.
Electra tried to focus around the room. Its walls were all white. Several doctors and nurses in all-white containment suits shuffled around, sliding between the curtains as they spoke in soft tones. She turned her head to the right and saw Cres wearing a surgical mask. It covered his nose and mouth as he snored at the edge of the bed. She ran her fingers through his hair.
“Hey!” he sat up and stretched. “Feeling better?”
“Where am I?”
“My friend, Jermaine, hooked you up with a bed in District Local Hospital. I mean, you were talking a bit crazy and you passed out. And, uh… we hacked credits to pay for the meds. Jermaine said you have to stay one more day and I think that’s best. I’ll come back tomorrow, okay?”
Electra stopped smiling and grabbed Cres’ arm. “One more day? What do you mean one more day?”
Cres glanced down and smoothed the sheets on the edge of the bed.
“Uh.” Cres pulled something out his pocket and squirted it in his hands.
“Why are you wearing a mask?”
“They made me wear it. I shouldn’t be in here, let alone touching you without a suit.”
She eyeballed him. He adjusted the mask on his face.
“Cres! How long have I been in here?” Electra tossed the sheets off her bed and stared at her legs. They were completely covered in bruises and boils. “What happened to me? What is this?”
“Don’t touch them!” Cres stepped back and closed his eyes. “Look, just pull this back up, okay?”
“Cres, why are all these people in here?”
Cres cleared his throat. “You haven’t been paying much attention, have you? We’re in a lockdown situation. Just be thankful you got a bed, okay? Friends of mine pulled a lot of strings, okay?”
“I feel so much better. Please thank them for me.” Electra snorted.
“Don’t be so mean. We all tried, but there are only so many rooms.” Cres furrowed his brow. “Give it a day or so, after the Lockdown Rules are fully establ—”
“Whoa! We are in a lockdown? What the hell?” Electra peered beyond the bed and outside the door. She saw people covered from head to toe in containment suits. No skin exposed. Doctors rushed around, nurses scowled wearily as they barked orders and people coughed everywhere. “Are those people infected or something?”
“Ah. . . they locked the sick people in here. They locked the gates, so no one can leave the city and they are using words like: pandemic… epidemic… no cure… death. I’m headed home, but I’ll visit tomorrow.”
“How. Long. Have. I. Been. In. Here.” Electra clapped her hands after each word.
“About a week or so. I gotta go. Curfew is coming.”
“Things are getting desperate out there. All the towns have closed down. No more Korea Town or Soulville. Brit Station is gone. All because of some pandemic.” Cres ran his hands through his hair.
“Epidemic. Pandemic is all across the globe,” Electra gently corrected. “I love you.”
“I love you more.” Cres disappeared out the door.
“A week?” Electra whispered.
“A week, maybe longer.” The curtain pulled back and there stood Jermaine, tall. His thick, black glasses propped on his nose outside the white containment suit covering his dark hair.
“Hey, Jermaine?” Electra straightened herself in the bed.
“Yeah, I’m doing this for Cres. Now we are solid.”
“Jermaine, I gotta get outta here,” Electra whispered. She watched Cres walk away from her room.
“Did you look at your legs? You’ve got blisters all over your body. I can’t let you go. Besides, where would you go? There’s nowhere to go. They have locked the gates.”
“First line of defense is to contain it. We figure where it comes from and how to eradicate it.” Jermaine sat on the edge of the bed. “Next time you talk to Cres, ask him to bring me something.”
Electra sighed. “Sure, but at some point you’ve gotta help me get out of here.”
“Why? What are you going to do if you get out?”
“That’s my problem.” Electra’s wheels turned in her head as she thought of several scenarios. “Just help me get out of here.”
Jermaine stood and started to walk away. “Did you see anything weird a week or so ago? Something or someone that was a bit off or sick?”
Electra squinted and saw red eyes at the door. The black hat covered a face consumed by even more boils as he scratched a finger across the glass. She turned away and stared at her hands on the sheets.
“I can’t think of anything.”
“There was a woman… an Indian woman that came in last week after getting treatments in Little India. She had bloody eyes… boils on her skin… and she was coughing quite a bit. We tried to save her, but she lost her voice and couldn’t really tell us much. Then, she started to vomit blood… anyway, her husband said she was on the bus earlier in the week. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
“No, why?” Electra’s heart pounded.
“Well, they’ve been trying to pull video from the camera on the bus and there’s one bus where the cameras weren’t working. Just the one. None of the cameras.” Jermaine stared at her again and scribbled some notes on his Delphius Pad. “Get some sleep. I’ll try to get you out of here, although it’s safer in here than out there.”
“I don’t know Jermaine. Many people go into hospitals with one thing and come out with something else.”
Jermaine glanced up at Electra. “Get some sleep.”
Electra fell back against the pillow and then she saw it. On the floor. By her bed. The red box, with a bow neatly tied on top. She sat up and pushed herself back as Jermaine closed the door.
“Saw some guy come in and leave that for you,” a scratchy voice whispered on the other side of the curtain.
“Weirdo looking guy,” the voice stated. “Said you would need it, where you’re going.”
Electra stared, speechless. She leaned over and picked up the box. It wasn’t heavy or light. She hesitated before she sat it on the bed.
“Said you would know what to do with it,” the voice whispered.
A shape moved on the other side of the curtain like someone walked around as they spoke, but the curtain was never touched.
Electra ran her finger around the edge of the top of the box. It felt soft and velvety. She lifted the box again and started to open the top when Jermaine came back into the room. He motioned he was going to check on another patient and went to the other side of the curtain.
She placed the box back on the floor, slid it beneath her bed, and fell asleep.
A few days later, the hospital was so full that beds were set up in the halls. There was talk of setting up a hospital in one of the empty apartment buildings or schools. Electra knew she needed to leave the hospital. Cres only visited her one more time and that was to bring Jermaine mushrooms so she could get a private room faster.
Jermaine gave her some cream to clear up the boils on her legs––temporarily. She searched around the room for her clothes and dressed.
She ignored the box for days. She felt it call to her. She picked it up and held it close. Sometimes, it seemed as though the box hummed.
Still holding the box, she pushed open the door to a wall of silence. The lights were low and people slept everywhere. The nurse’s station at the end of the hall was a mini hive of activity, but this part of the hall was dead. Trying to find a way out of the building, she passed a janitor leaning against a wall, asleep. She slipped his badge off his jacket and swiped the exit to the stairway.
Managing to make it all the way down to the garage, she scanned the badge. There were several cars in the garage, but she was on a mission. She needed to check on Cres and be sure he was not infected. She wanted to check on her friends. She wanted to see what happened outside. And, she needed to handle the red box.
She walked up the ramp and out of the garage. For the first time ever, the streets were empty. All around, posters hung on buildings and poles looking for different people. The alien quiet of District City deafened her… District City was never silent, ever. She crept across town, never seeing a single person or hologram.
She made it up to her apartment and tried the door. Cres’ cheap scanner managed to hold up as she slipped her thumb in and had her retina scanned. The door clicked open and she stepped inside. Empty brown bags were scattered on the floor of the apartment. Half-eaten packets of food covered the table, and bottles of unopened water were everywhere.
She touched Cres’ naked ankle and whispered his name.
He flipped over, holding a small knife to her throat as he stared at her with dead, red eyes. He blinked, shook his head, and relaxed. “Electra! When did you get home?”
“What happened? What happened out there? Where is everyone?”
“Quarantine. Nobody on the street from sundown to sun up. I’m starving, did you bring some food? I can’t get any work or hack credits.” He pushed back and crossed his legs. “Even if I could, food is crazy expensive in the underground. I just don’t know.”
“No? I didn’t know and there wasn’t much of anything on the street. Lots of signs and stuff looking for people.” She sighed and slumped her shoulders. “I gotta get out of here. I gotta warn people.”
“It’s already been done. Everyone has been warned.”
“Cres, I gotta get out of here, period.” Electra glanced around the apartment and felt a helplessness sweep over her.
“We could just wait this thing out here. You and me, babe.” Cres gave her a once over before he fell back in the bed. He rolled over and went to sleep as he whispered, “Just you and me.”
Electra stood over him and sighed. She walked into the bathroom and set the box on the floor before slipping into the shower and scrubbing herself clean, but the boils returned worse than before. They covered her legs and arms and a few of them oozed with green pus, which she dabbed at with a tissue. Before she could attempt to clean all the boils, the box called to her. She walked over and took the lid off.
She dressed slowly and meticulously. She checked the mirror after she put on a pair of black lace-up oxfords. “Perfect.”
She took the elevator to the first floor and walked out into the street. The only thing she carried was the red box. She walked around the empty streets, looking for a car she could steal. She saw an old funeral home on the outskirts and stepped inside.
“Hello? Anybody here?” Chemicals filled her nostrils as an old man crept out of an office.
“Help ya?” He took off his wire-framed glasses, cleaned them and put them back on again. When he focused on Electra, he stepped back and paused.
“I need a car. Do you have one of those?” She growled as she stepped toward him. Each step she took forward, he stumbled backwards.
His bony finger pointed across the room. “Keys out there too.” He disappeared back into the office, his eyes focused on Electra the entire time.
“Thank you.” She opened the door, ran her hand across the wall until she felt a light switch. She flipped it on and saw a shiny, black hearse. She found the keys on a hook along with a garage door opener. She recalled driving an actual car once or twice, but when she slid behind the wheel, it all felt vaguely familiar. “Must be the new me.”
The engine turned over and purred as she pressed the accelerator. She turned out the driveway and drove along the wall that surrounded the city. She hit the brakes and parked. “Almost forgot…”
She opened the box, pulled out a huge black hat, and put it on her head. She pressed it down until all you could see were her red, crusty, watery eyes. She examined her face in the mirror, her lips cracking as they spread into a grin, and drove to the exit.
Military men blocked all exits. She anticipated this. She feigned getting out the hearse by unlocking the doors. One man peered into the hearse as she raised her face and smiled. “One way out, please.”
The soldier gaped at her, stumbled backwards and raised his hands in the air. He made huge circles, signaling to open the gates. She heard him mumble, “For the love of all that is holy, please open the got-damned gate, Bob!”
The wheels hummed as the gate opened, and Electra drove past them, slowly. With her knees on the steering wheel, guiding the car, she checked the glove box, finding a ticket that let her ride through all the gates. She put it in the windshield. It read in huge red letters, FUNERAL DIRECTOR.
District City appeared smaller behind her as she drove. Her memories waned as she brushed dirt flecks from the black suit she wore from the box. It was a custom fit, and she knew what she had to do. Share the infection and she would pick out the next person to spread it.
She coughed the same phlegmy cough as the old man. In the mirror, the boils appeared on her face. Her red eyes crusted over and she laughed a little. “Now, let us let the dead bury themselves and move on to another place.”
Thanks again to our patrons for supporting this podcast. Because of your support, listeners around the world get creepy tales in their ears every other week. If you want new stories every week, the only way for that to happen is to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion by going to patreon.com/nightlightpod and supporting this podcast. You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal at PayPal.me/NightlightPodcast. If you’re unable to support us financially, word of mouth is the next best way to help. Give us a shoutout online on Twitter or Instagram @nightlightpod, or like us on Facebook @nightlightpod. Reviews are also a huge help, so be sure to leave a few kind words on your podcast platform of choice.
And to thank you for listening until the very end, we have a creepy fact for you.
In 541 A.D., the Justinian plague ravaged the land in the Middle East. The first recorded instance of the bubonic plague, the same infection in the Black Death, killed 26 percent of the world’s population–not just the Middle East’s population. What’s more, the apocalypse brought on by the Justinian plague is credited with the rise of Christianity, as people wanted something to hope for and something to blame for the massive economic loss and outrageous death count. What’s your favorite plague? Tag us on Twitter @nightlightpod to share the gory details.
Join us next week for an interview with Tracy Cross, author of “Red Box”.