Another fairly new story, and another one from the attempt at putting together a science fiction collection. 

 

’Tis the Season

by Ronald Cypress

 

Life must go on.

It was the same thing we were told every year around the holiday season. We were being urged to keep living as we had been before the yearly slaughters had started. The government said it was the best thing to do, continuing on with our customs and not worrying about the threat returning. They gave us the same promise that they had been giving us for years: We were going to be protected. They claimed to have made improvements to our defenses, and this year they would be able to stop the killings.

The horror usually didn’t start until a about a week after Thanksgiving. Last year we were able to go almost a month before it began. There had been some talk that maybe they wouldn’t arrive, but of course they did, and when the onslaught began it was worse than it had ever been. I think we lost at least seventy percent of our extended family last year. We only recovered one body; that was my Aunt Elaine. After last season, my father kept insisting that everything was going to be all right, but it was the year the he finally broke.

Most of us had decided to go about our everyday lives once the season was over. There were plenty of people missing, but the government insisted that we had to go on. I went back to high school, and my sister Natalia continued attending college classes. My father was the only one who couldn’t go on with his normal life. The last season had been too much for him. His job called for months, and during the last few calls my dad’s boss had pleaded for him to return. His boss wanted him to act like everything had gone back to normal. My father just couldn’t do it.

This past year I wanted to buy my father a new picture frame for Christmas. Much of my father’s time was spent just sitting around and looking at an old family photo. I don’t know what he did to it, but the frame had been broken. I thought about taking the picture one night while he was sleeping and throwing it away, but I just couldn’t do that to him. I feared that he might be completely gone if I got rid of it. I know why he has come to cherish the picture so much. All four of us were in it, and it was probably one of the best pictures of my mom.

They got her a few seasons ago.

That was the season we learned that we weren’t safe in our houses.

It had become harder to find a safe location in recent years as the slaughterers increased in numbers and their tactics became more destructive. The first season that I can recall seeing them is one that I spent a good amount of time watching them from the living room window. Back then they were only getting the people who dared to be outside while they were actively looking for people to kill. Everyone hoped that it would stay that way, but then homes started to be intruded and it seemed like there was no place that they couldn’t reach.

This last season they arrived on time, about a week after Thanksgiving. The government announced their arrival and began to give the locations of what were supposed to be safe zones. I couldn’t help but laugh at them mentioning the so-called safe zones. Everyone already knew those zones were probably one of the worst places to be when they started looking for people. There were strong military presences around the areas, but our weapons were useless. The slayers seemed to actually take delight in easily disposing of our military.

They were completely invulnerable to anything we had to hit them with.

Like usual we got to watch the start of the killings on television. Just like the years before, our military sent what they had out to attack the intruders once they came down to us. The vehicles they arrived in were unmoved by bullets and bombs. When the slayers exposed themselves, we could see that somehow they were just as impermeable. The resistance would only last for a day this year before our military was defeated again, and the slayers were feasting on what remained.

A few days later they arrived in our area.

We always saw a few walking around before the slaughter began. The majority of them were pretty short. They said the average height is about five foot three. I think the tallest one ever seen may have been around six feet. They always had on the same black attired. To us it looks like body armor, but it is skin-tight as if it’s been melted onto their skin. For all we know it could be their skin, but the government seemed to believe otherwise. Some say that a few have been seen without the black attire on and that their skin is actually a grayish hue. All the ones I’ve seen have been dressed in black from head to toe. The majority of the slayers are fairly stout. There’s nothing really physically imposing about them, and many people have tried to engage in hand-to-hand combat with them. The blows are always useless, and attacking with your fists is basically asking for death.

This past year we took off once we saw that the murders were coming. One of our neighbors, Tom, agreed to help us stay safe for the season. Tom had lost his entire family the previous year and since then he had been preparing to stay safe and to help others during the season. Tom told us that they safest place would like be the near the beach, and that was where he wanted to take us. Natalia and I agreed to go, but my father refused to leave the house. We begged him to come along with us, but he wouldn’t leave. He just wanted to sit on the couch and stare at the picture. Both my sister and I had once sworn that we would never leave him, but a human instinct kicked in and we decided to flee with Tom. Right before we took off, I covered by father in blankets and gave him the picture frame that I had bought for him. He said that it was nice. I had hoped that he would put the picture in the new frame while I was still there, but he just set it aside and went back to staring at the family photo.

Something told me that running was going to be pointless. I had seen what they had done last year and knew that it would probably be twice as worse this year. Tom assured us that he knew how to keep us safe, but I never believed him. To his credit, Tom had done a good deal of studying and was pretty skillful at avoiding the slayers. He told us that he had even managed to learn what some of their communications meant.

We felt safe with Tom, and for four days he managed to guide us around on foot without encountering any of the killers. Most of our time was spent on or near roads. There were a bunch of abandoned cars, but occasionally we would see one making its way down the road, maneuvering through the metallic mess that had been left behind. Tom told us that travelling in any vehicle was a danger. Just being near the road was a hazard, and we often strayed from it and went into a wooded area. While we didn’t see anything for those four days, there was often the sound of screaming and a high-pitched screeching sound that made my jaw tighten every time I heard it. The screaming could easily be recognized as someone being slaughtered. Tom explained that the screeching was the slayers’ way of expressing joy and excitement.

We hardly slept as we moved closer to the beach. My sense of direction was absent, and I had to trust that Tom was taking us to where we needed to be. He told us that we were close to the beach the morning that we finally came across our first slayer party.

There are some things that are too horrible to mention or write about. All I can say is that we had concealed ourselves in the woods when we came across a one of their sites. I had seen short footage of such sites before, but what I saw with my own eyes informed me about just how appalling the season could become.

There was non-stop screaming.

They were holding at least two-dozen people captive in what looked like big plastic bags. People were being taken out of the bags and lead over to an area where several of murderers would put them down with an object that looked like a club, blunt but with the ability to cut into the victims. I watched at least three people get put down.

The screeching went on and on as people were slaughtered and taken apart.

I saw them stuffing remains into what looked like a plastic cube. The cube was then put over some type of purplish light. Tom explained what was happening. The slayers were making their meal.

We methodically worked our way around the site. The screams and screeching went on. We were almost completely around the killers when I saw them begin to devour their meal. A hole opened up in the middle of their empty, black faces and the meat went in. A loud whistling sound began as they ate. Tom said that the murderers were really enjoying themselves.

We were able to travel several miles from the site before taking a rest. I could see that Natalia was left devastated by what she had seen. I tried to comfort her, but there was nothing I could say or do to get inside her head and assuage the memories. She had gotten to the place that our father had after the last season. I curled up with her to sleep, hoping that she would be better when we awoke.

I slept until the sun went down.

Natalia was gone when Tom woke me. I started to call out for her, but Tom stopped me. We couldn’t risk attracted them. I wanted to go look for her, but Tom said that it was too late. I had to assume that she had gone off somewhere and gotten herself captured. We kept moving forward, only crossing a few of the slayers as we travelled, and reached the beach three nights after coming across the site.

A very light snow had started to come down when we arrived. A few people were there when we got there, and we were greeted as if they had been waiting for us. Tom assured me that we were safe, and I was actually able to relax as we began to talk about plans for survival. Like we had during our trip to the beach, we would have to scavenge for edible food and drinkable water. Our group on the beach formed to be about fifteen people, and we quickly began to work in designated roles. I was part of the team that worked as a preparer, meaning that I stayed in our area on the beach and made sure that things were taken care at the home base.

Tom seemed to be able to easily settle into the place, but I always felt uneasy. I would watch him and a few of the others laughing as they used a fire I had helped make to roast meat they had caught that day, and I would wonder about how they could still feel joy. We could still hear the slayers out there, and it sounded like they were getting closer. The others kept insisting that the beach was safe, and if the slayers did arrive all we had to do was run into the water. I don’t know why they thought this would save us since the killers had no known aversion to water. As far as I was concerned, they would just march right into it to get to us.

The season crawled on, and we waited until someone from the government arrived one day and told us that we were safe. The slaughterers had left, and a new season was beginning. The people around me cheered and held a small celebration as they prepared to return to their homes. I wasn’t sure about going back to mine. Tom insisted that I had to return. We left the beach and began walking home. Along the way we were able to get a ride on a bus that was driving around to random locations and helping people get back home. On the bus, the radio transmitted the news and we all listened as we were told by the government that the season of tragedy was over. It was now our duty to go back to our lives and move forward.

In my mind, I knew there wasn’t much of a reason to go on living.

But life had to go on.

And so it has.