THE MONSTER KILLERS • by Paul A. Freeman

Dressed in a black cape, his hair slicked back and with plastic fangs making it difficult to speak clearly, Royston Welby suggested visiting the old Mattock residence on the edge of town.

“No way!” said a young boy, part of the group of children Royston was shepherding around Ashbrooke, Indiana, this Halloween. “Everyone knows that house is haunted.”

“Then what better place to go trick-or-treating,” Royston countered. “Anyhow, the new residents specially invited us. It would be rude not to go.”

“The people living there now are freaks,” another young girl chimed in. “They scare me.”

One of the single mothers accompanying the group shrugged her shoulders sympathetically. “They didn’t really expect us to come, did they? It’s such a creepy place,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes at Ashbrooke’s most eligible, though somewhat retiring and mysterious, bachelor.

Royston sighed. “Well, I suppose I’ll have to go there alone, then. I’ll catch up with you lot later.”

***

The old Mattock house had been empty for some years until the proprietors of Mel and Chuck’s Diner, the newest eatery in town, took up residence a while back. Built on a low promontory, that night the house stood out as a stark, brooding silhouette in the moonlight.

Royston arrived on the front doorstep and pressed the bell. Two young men, dressed as zombies for the occasion of Halloween, opened the door. They took one look at Royston’s Dracula outfit and exchanged a glance.

“You’re alone,” noted Mel. “We invited you and your charges.”

“The kids were too frightened to come along.”

“That’s good. We thought that might happen,” said Chuck. “It means we’ve got you all to ourselves – vampire!”

Royston was not amused. “This is just a Halloween costume,” he said, feeling ill at ease.

Mel and Chuck pointed to a lynching tree in the middle of their overgrown garden. On a low-lying, horizontal branch they had attached a hangman’s noose.

“There’s a sack of candy for the children directly below the noose,” said Mel.

In spite of his reservations, Royston wandered over to the spot and lifted up the sack. As he did so, a pressure plate hidden below the sack set a mechanism into motion.

The metal-barred walls and roof of a cage sprang up around him.

“You’re all ours now, vampire!” said Mel.

In fear and frustration, Royston shook the bars of the cage. “It’s Halloween for God’s sake. I’m not a real vampire.”

“That’s what they all say,” said Chuck. “So why do you work at a blood bank? And why’ve we only ever seen you out and about at night time?”

Before Royston could reply, Mel thrust a supercharged cattle prod through the bars of the cage and into Royston’s side.

Hours later he regained consciousness in a dimly-lit chamber.

“Welcome to the dungeon,” said a pale-faced girl, the only other occupant of the room. “I’m Veronica.”

Royston introduced himself. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“We’ve been sold by Hunters to a bunch of reality-challenged gamers who are taking gaming to the next level. On the dark web they’re known as Monster-Killers-Dot-Com.”

A sudden howling made Royston’s skin crawl.

“Werewolves,” said Veronica to Royston’s unasked question. “Or to be more precise, a couple of guys who unfortunately happen to be hairier than your average Joe. They were captured by Hunters, sold to the gamers and brainwashed into believing they really are werewolves. Come Halloween, members of Monster-Killers-Dot-Com hunt them down like dogs, selling the live video feed online to finance their operation.”

A fusillade of gunshots, followed by howls of agony, filled the dungeon.

“Silver bullets,” said Veronica. “That’s the so-called werewolves done away with. We’ll be next, so you’d best make peace with your god.”

“But why on earth did they target you?” asked Royston.

Veronica opened her mouth, revealing two oversized incisors. “It’s genetic,” she said. “As is my abnormally pale skin. So what about you? Why did hunters contracted by Monster-Killers-Dot-Com target you?”

“I assume because I work night shift at a blood bank and sleep most of the day.”

In spite of their perilous situation, Veronica guffawed. “Sounds like you really are a vampire.”

Royston ignored her flippancy. “How long have you been here?” he asked.

“A few months. They were preparing me and another girl for their Halloween hunt, but she died. Part of our ‘training’ involved them keeping us in the dark for days on end and suddenly exposing us to bright sunlight. The other girl was hypersensitive to sunlight. She got third degree burns from UV exposure and died.”

“That’s dreadful,” said Royston. “I’m sorry.”

“You should be sorry. You’re her last minute replacement.”

The monster killers arrived shortly afterwards. They were armed with wooden stakes, wore helmet cams and reeked of garlic.

Retching at the overpowering stench, Royston backed away into a corner. Veronica, however, after months of conditioning, played her part. She bared her teeth, hissed at her tormentors and fought them off until she got speared in the chest with a stake.

“You’re next, Vlad,” said a paunchy, middle-aged man in spectacles.

As the vampire killers turned their attention to Royston, he evaporated before them in a puff of vapour. An instant later he reappeared, crouching on the ceiling. Overcoming his aversion to garlic, he pounced on the nearest vampire killer and ripped his head from his shoulders.

Once he had dealt with his enemies, Royston bent over Veronica. Her breathing was shallow. It would take just one selfish act to save her and to never be alone again.

***

Back in Ashbrooke, shortly before sunrise, Mel and Chuck were awoken by an insistent ringing of their doorbell. When the two bleary-eyed hunters opened the door, a beautiful, pale-complexioned woman stood before them.

“My car broke down not far from here,” she said. “Can I use your phone to call a garage?”

“You’d better come in, miss,” said Mel, winking at Chuck, unaware of what he had invited over his threshold.


Paul A. Freeman is the author of ‘Rumours of Ophir’, a crime novel set in Zimbabwe. His narrative poem ‘Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers’, and his second crime novel, ‘Vice and Virtue’, have also been published. Over a hundred of his short stories have appeared commercially in print. He currently lives in Abu Dhabi with his family, and despite reports to the contrary, he never swims in the nude. He can be found at www.paulfreeman.weebly.com.


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 average 2.6 stars • 59 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Voice makes or breaks everything, I think, and this one carried me along quite nicely. I wondered if perhaps Veronica was going to be kin to Vera from Saki’s “Open Window,” but really didn’t mind her fate.

    I thought you should have ended this at “Chuck[.]” Don’t need to hammer it in…but I enjoyed this very much and gave it four stars.

  • I’ve mixed feelings about this, a pleasant enough story, but perhaps too pleasant considering the potential for a gruesome ending.

    Many sentences seemed overly complicated – more suited to a longer work.

    I waffled between thinking Royston WAS a vampire, then wasn’t, until the reveal.

    Point to ponder: since Royston was able to do his vapor puff, at the end, then he certainly could have defeated his captors much earlier. But then that would make a really short short story.

    I think the last section unnecessary. I like the concept of ending with “It would take just one selfish act to save her and to never be alone again.”

    ***

  • A cool idea, but could have been more ‘active’ in spots.

    The trapdoor/cage:

    His foot sank, tripping a lever. Something mechanical groaned, and the metal walls of a cage erupted from a channel in the lawn to surround him.

    Were awoken:

    Back in ashbrooke a doorbell rang insistently, waking….

    Just a suggestion, the story was good in my opinion (whatever that’s worth) but it could have been much better with less simple and generous narration.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Something I endlessly need to suppress when I read others’ stories is the urge to transform their voices into mine, and that sometimes makes it harder to separate style from slackness. I would ordinarily tend to agree with your points on this story.

      I myself rated this highly because I felt it was distinctively Paul, and had a pleasing sensibility, with a
      kind and caring vampire who nonetheless helped to achieve an efficient revenge on the two dolts who’d–uh–bitten off more than they could chew.

      • That’s not what I was trying to do here.

        I was in no way suggesting he copy my style or voice…. I was giving an example of something that is showing instead of telling. I just felt the narration in that spot was very matter of fact rather than engaging… I apologize to Paul if he thought that’s what I intended. I’m not saying I’m a better writer or anything like that, I was just giving an example.
        And the second example is active voice rather than passive voice… Which is taught in all writing classes. It’s not unique to my voice it’s just flipping the sequence.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          I wasn’t saying that was what you were doing.

          Ordinarily I’d have wanted this to be a much tighter story, as I did with “Fat Vlad.” They might perhaps strike a writing instructor the same way.

          But the crucial difference for me was that “Vlad” just didn’t convey or sustain a distinctive authorial voice.

          This did. It also fell prey, I thought, to the Last Line Demon, and needed some surgery to fix that.

          Just my opinion, and I always go with how something strikes my reading ear rather than the rules, or expert advice, etc.

          • Ok, yeah I gotcha now.

            Still a likeable tale, I have just edited my new novel and sent it to the REAL editor, so I have been looking for weak areas in my own work to avoid things like that, so I am perhaps hypersensitive

  • S Conroy

    Ooh, I do love a happy ending. Nicely done.

  • Ann Liska

    Enjoyed the story Paul. I was a little confused about whether he was an actual vampire or not, but then I got it. 4 stars!

  • I thought this was an excellent Halloween story and I enjoyed it. Unusual to come across a sympathetic vampire 🙂

  • Carl Steiger

    You tricked me! I didn’t see the reveal coming at all.

    Is Veronica the beautiful, pale-complexioned woman at the end? Hope so.

    As a total change of subject, what do you think of these new Zimbabwe “bond notes” that are causing an uproar? This isn’t the proper venue, but I thought of you when I saw the news piece last night.

    • Paul A. Freeman

      When I first moved to Zimbabwe, a beer cost one Zimbabwe dollar. When I last visited in 2000 (the country still had its own currency then), a beer cost ten million Zimbabwe dollars. It’s nothing short of a tragedy, especially for those still trapped in the country.

  • S Conroy

    12 is a magical number… It’s a mouldy old discussion, but it would be good to hear from at least one of those 12 critics (Halloween trolls?) who have given this story one star.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      14 as of this posting. I guess they haven’t learned that vengefulness can’t replace talent…

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Friendly Note to Trolls:

    You poor guys. No dates, huh? Brighton must have some naughty shops where you can find something to help relieve the tension…

  • I do appreciate your style, Paul, relaxed, comfortable, even when the horror comes to light. I too thought Royston (great name) was in Halloween mode but delighted when he showed his true face. Back histories in the front could have been tighter; some left to the imagination, but the entertainment value rode victorious.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Thanks for the comments, folks. A lot of food for thought. It was interesting that of the first three ratings, two were one star and without a comment. No problem though, it’s not a popularity contest. My only worry is that those finding their footing as writers will be put off submitting a story if this kind of cowardly response is part of the feedback.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      When the small-minded are riled up against you, you know you’ve done something right.

      Bravo, Paul, for always calling out pettiness when you see it and for being a writer of deceptively low-key but always cleverly-crafted and charming stories.

      (And note that all that anonymous spleen has placed this story firmly on a Top-Ten list…)

    • I’M really not hoping to stir the pot here, but I disagree with calling someone cowardly because they rated your story a one star and didn’t expound upon why in the comments section.

      I don’t often give one star ratings (and I didn’t here) but if I did do so (on purpose- this system is touchy) and couldn’t think of anything constructive to say i don’t think that’s cowardly. not all readers here are participants. some are just readers. Ill bet the subscriber list for their feedburner and RSS and so on is 10 times the number of commenters we see here on a daily basis.
      a star rating is simply, where a comment takes a little more time and energy, and dealing with Disqus.

      Likewise, it has been years since I published anything here, but I got a couple one and two star ratings from people I had invited to this page from facebook, who were neither participants nor subscribers to EDF, but were instead fans of my work etc, and they were new to here and duped by the hypersentive, all-Clicks-are-final, star system used here. I only know this because they asked me how to change it…

      just my two cents,
      Still liked the story.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        Paul’s story was hit with more than a dozen one-star votes within an approximately one-hour time frame.

        Even despite my tinfoil hat, I suspect that to believe it was all a nefarious plot is not, in fact, paranoia…

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        You have two stories on EDF (that I could find) and neither of them show one- or two-star votes. They show 3, 4 and 5-star votes.

        • S Conroy

          That might be due to the hiccup in November of last year, where all the old votes were wiped out and authors started off with a blank slate.

          • yes. that’s likely it. I have since shared the stories on my website and my writers forums

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            I might’ve misunderstood Michael, but I thought he was referring to recent votes by friends, and not old, archived ones which, as you note, vaporized last November.

          • No, I was referring to the day it was first published i had someone reach out to me and tell me they sabotaged me… I burned them at the stake in a subsequent story. 🙂

        • I believe S conroy hit the nail n the head, but where do you see the breakdown?

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            There’s a little bar chart next to the stars, and if you hover the cursor over it, it shows the breakdown of votes. (I only discovered that recently…)

      • Camille Gooderham Campbell

        You’re absolutely right, Michael — commenters are a tiny fraction of our readers. Even the proportion of people who hit a star rating without comment is still small compared to the number who just read and move along, while others will share a link and their feelings somewhere such as a Facebook profile or blog rather than coming here to join in this discussion.

        Please email me if you wish to discuss the star rating system.

        • I don’t personally wish to discuss the star rating system, if that was for my benefit, nor was i knocking it, just rehashing a point that many have made as to how sensitive the star system is, to further illustrate why i don’t hold anyone in poor esteem based upon their star rating.
          thank you for responding 🙂

          AND THANK YOU for keeping at it with all the tech issues that hit .

          I’m glad to have this “place”

    • It is a real shame that this happened to you, of all people. You are one of the fairest, most articulate commentors when it comes to pointing out weaknesses in a story.

      Here is an excerpt from a new poster in response to a post of mine, which was deleted in the purge. I think it worthwhile reposting:

      “This is the one site I’ve found where the comments section is unmissable. It’s surprising how much can be learned (just as a reader, let alone as a writer) from these sorts of honest discussions by experienced writer/readers.”

      I hope the deletion of this person’s post doesn’t drive them from EDF as I found it to be a welcome and refreshing response to critical reviews of stories.

      It is a shame that authors don’t reply with such vigor as others.

      • Camille Gooderham Campbell

        Jeff, once people start to respond to a troll, we have to remove the whole thread. If the commenter had posted their thoughts as a new comment rather than a reply to the inappropriate discussion taking place, we would have been able to leave it.

        Note to anyone observing a heated discussion — if you join in, we might have to nuke everything in the thread, even if yours is a sensible response. Protect your post when things are getting hot by making it as a new comment and not a reply. Thanks!

        • Camille, I fully understand that. I thought that one comment was worth repeating for the benefit of those among us who take their writing as well as their evaluations seriously.

          Also for the benefit of the person who made the deleted comment who may not have understood, but who, hopefully, does now 🙂

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I think, Paul, that cluster bombs are aimed primarily at the more capable writers…

    • We all remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but seriously though, to give your story one star (not just one , one star, but 15 of them one stars) seems to me a conspiracy. How anyone could think The Monster Killers a bad piece of trash is beyond my comprehension.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        I think when writers step out from their cozy little local clubs, or from their jolly mutually congratulatory bloghops and collaborative projects, and submit to a place where just anybody can read, think about and respond to their work, it’s like stepping away from the latest rewatch of “Steel Magnolias,” or something, to get a big bowl of ice cream from the fridge, and when they get back the Apocalypse is playing and they just can’t handle it.

        Of course, the Apocalypse isn’t really playing–it’s just real life, where not everyone gets the trophy and sometimes you go home aching, but if you’ve got any guts you wipe your smarting eyes and try again.

        • Darius Bott

          Absolutely. And we should follow the example of our betters. Gore Vidal vs. Norman Mailer, for example (alright, maybe minus the fisticuffs). One of my favourite authors is Martin Amis, and he has over the years copped bucket loads of vitriolic abuse (particulary early on — “Smarty Anus” he was nicknamed by some rag) — and none of his detractors could write within a bull’s roar of his scintillating prose.

          I dabbled briefly (VERY briefly), in the arena of stand-up comedy. An essential part of the development of good stand-up, of honed joke-writing, is the free-wheeling cruelty of the audience. It keeps one EXCRUCIATINGLY honest. I really think a bit of that can’t hurt a writer who’s serious. I personally like it when the author hits back, a la the comedian taking on the hecklers.

          As Martin Amis said, you’re aiming for the Universal, it’s supposed to be life and death.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            I’m not quite sure about that author hitting back business. The reader is perfectly entitled to loathe, or dislike, or be unmoved by, or find tiresome anything he reads, regardless of what anyone else thinks about it. And the author can’t insist that his story must be appreciated by everyone, though certainly he’s entitled to hope that someone will like it–if he’s been respectful enough of his potential audience to give it his best shot. One needn’t be Einstein to smell a fraud.

            You can especially hope to find, within the general readership, one’s own particular audience, and to strive not to let them down if they’ve had the grace to appreciate your voice.

            As a writer I’m glad to explain my story to interested readers, if they’ve found anything baffling or ambiguous in it, and I don’t expect them to live inside my head along with me and comprehend my voice perfectly.

            The writer needs to have the sense to figure out what his market is, and if feedback indicates he’s shooting for the wrong moon, he ought to look elsewhere for love.

            But if feedback indicates he’s got potential, but hasn’t reached it yet, and rigorous critiques are there like manna from heaven for him to dine on and grow wiser from–

            –you can only lead that horse to water, right?

          • Darius Bott

            “The reader is perfectly entitled to loathe, or dislike, or be unmoved by, or find tiresome anything he reads…”

            Yes, so why not let it apply to an Author reading a Reader’s comments? But I was mainly referring to dealing with hecklers, not genuine criticism. And one needn’t even be Forrest Gump to spot the difference between those two. You did it yourself, stepping in for the author to quip “Can’t get a date, huh?” (A bit hackneyed, but it did the job.)

            Hitting back at critics, be they trollish or insightful, is a delicate art-form – very easy to come off looking like a thin-skinned ass.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            Darius, my tender suggestion on how to deal with unsublimated feelings was aimed specifically at the cluster bombers who’d attacked Paul’s story not with words but with a rather silly rage (since it ensured his place on an EDF top-ten list, where readers who enjoy reading can easily find it now.

            There’s no need to hit back at critics who use words instead of other forms of sleen, I think. They are entitled to their opinions and an author must hope that the undeniable quality of his work will speak for him. That’s the whole point–that your craft makes any other defense unnecessary. That others, reading your story and the responses to it, can separate the dross from the gold.

          • S Conroy

            I do think the witty come-back is part of a good stand-up comedian’s routine, but I’d say for an author it’s not such a clever strategy. After all a reader’s gut reaction (the “genuine criticism”) is not something one can really argue against. I mean you can’t tell someone that your story didn’t actually make them cringe, despite what they may believe.

            But at least, if you’re the author, you have something to mull over. — Ok this reader has issues with the subject that one with my writing style. Fair enough. Being everybodies darling on the web would be quite a strange phenomena. And if several readers have issues with the same thing, it might make me rethink whether I could/should have written something differently.

            I find it harder to deal with low ratings with no comments. But I’d agree here with Michael that no-one need feel obliged to leave an explanation. — Personally I wish they would, but not everyone feels like they have something specific to say.

            But clearly — I think for once there might even be unanimous agreement here… — none of this applies here. Someone must have gone to some trouble to muster all those single stars. The energy and passion required… I suspect a millenial 😉

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            Something tells me we can lay this one at the calloused feet of those of more–uh–mature years.

          • S Conroy

            Interesting… just found 2 brand new one-stars on my own last story. Probably pure coincidence… Have you notice anything like that on your own stories in the last day?

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            I’ll repeat what I said before. Spleen can’t substitute for talent.

            Disqus and other wonderful tools of our high-tech world–like, you know, the internet–make it fairly easy to find clues to a person’s generation, and most of the people who’ve called me variations on “spawn of Satan” in these august virtual pages are in the eligible-for-Medicare crowd.

            And as I said in other words right here–the reader can figure out quality without any assistance from the peanut gallery

          • S Conroy

            “Spawn of Satan” 🙂 Now that’s a passionate response.

          • Darius Bott

            I’ve had a couple of situations where I’ve attempted a witty comeback to what I considered a lame bit of spite — on similar sites to this. It just seemed appropriate – and felt pretty good. But I grant you it’s not something to overdo.

            I think this sort of publishing has pushed writers into a stand-up-like realm. There’s an element of live performance about it – particularly with flash fiction, where you come on stage and – bang, you’ve got two minutes to make ’em laugh or cry. And people are letting you know what they think, to your face, straight away.

            The one-star-no-commenter is like the person sitting in the front row, arms folded, refusing to crack a smile, stinking up the place with gloom… Good on Sarah for giving ’em a tweak – it entertains the rest of the crowd, if nothing else!

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Geez. I can’t believe it took me until right this minute to realize the full implication of the title, which I’d been thinking was a little pedestrian. Well done, Paul.

  • Michael Snyder

    Well done, Paul. My first reading was a few days ago and admittedly before I was fully awake. I’ve read it a couple of times since. And although the genre typically leaves me wanting, the piece is written very well indeed.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Thanks again to everyone who commented, and to everyone who voted with integrity. I’d also like to point out that whenever I rate a story, I always convert the star rating in my mind to percentages, i.e. 0-20, 21-40, 41-60, 61-80, 81-100. By doing this, even if I am not particularly enamoured with a story, it’s virtually impossible for me to give less than a three-star rating. This is especially true when I take it into account that published stories have passed by the EDF editors first. Anyhow, that’s just food for thought from my perspective.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Paul: It’s clear that many people who seemed to have left the clubhouse are still peering through the windows and peeing in the bushes. They’re highly wroth and their hearts burn with a fire for which there is no balm…

      …but as I already noted, spleen can’t replace talent, nor distract from the gifts of others.

      Consider those one-star votes a badge of distinction–that your humor, wit and talent are so threatening to those who have none that they must try to gnaw at your anklebones. I think you are likely impervious to their teeny little pointy teeth…

  • WAYYY off topic, but does anyone know when to expect more stories?

  • Camille Gooderham Campbell

    Please focus any further comments on THIS STORY only.

    Everyone is welcome to rate stories as they please, for any reason they choose — that’s the nature of an online rating system; if you feel that someone might be actually tampering with or manipulating the system, please contact us to discuss it (the subject has been exhausted here and further speculation here will be deleted).

    • Darius Bott

      We’re bored, and chafing at each other’s bits because there’s no new story! I’m just worried Vladimir Putin has hacked into another one.

      Only joking! — These sites are run by the unpaid and overworked and have my gratitude and admiration (even if I can’t promise to always keep a tight rein on the unruly run of my rhetoric).

      • Camille Gooderham Campbell

        We’ll get the new calendar up as soon as it’s finalized; we just have to make sure we’ve got contracts and whatnot in place first. We’re aiming for Monday, but no promises!

  • manjina

    Called the plot from the first few sentences. Neat story, though, but I found the voice a little timid especially considering the content!