Last week in my writing workshop, the instructor had us each write the beginning of a story and then give it to a classmate to fill out the rest. We were encouraged to mix in elements of another genre for an amusing or unusual combination.
I received the outline of a horror story featuring the “Sensational Patrol,” Urbancraft the imp, and an undead surfer girl. I decided to flesh this out with self-help tips. This was pretty fun to write. Enjoy!
“Feeder, two o’clock!” Ace’s voice rang out from several yards up ahead, immediately followed by the click-boom of a shotgun.
Boss swiveled away from the strange stain he was investigating on a dying tree, and immediately saw the nightmarish creature heading in his direction. It was roughly the size of a large dog and had leathery, purplish black flesh and glowing blue eyes. Dozens of worms writhed in and out of the flesh in a nauseating dance of symbiosis. The creature moved with a slithery sort of run on six appendages, which seemed able to contort and grab onto surfaces like tentacles. The man raised his crossbow, took half a second to aim, and fired a bolt straight through the feeder’s head. It shrieked—sounding like a crazed human-bird hybrid—and collapsed immediately.
From the back of their little expedition, Crasher sheathed the sword that he had just wiped clean of putrid blood from his own feeder kill. He walked up, glanced at the fresh corpse, and patted his older comrade on the shoulder. “Nice shot, Boss. That makes, what, eighty-four now for the Sensational Patrol? Eighty-five if Ace just got one, too.”
Boss wasn’t really their leader; they just called him that because it was his old fraternity rushing nickname, and it had stuck well after college graduation. He frowned down at the monster on the ground. The worms had scattered off and away from the body after its death, and were now wriggling their way into the forest floor.
“Do you think these things are changing?” he asked Crasher, slightly perturbed.
“What, like evolving?”
“Yeah. Like you said, we’ve killed over eighty of them. But the first ones were smaller and didn’t have all these squirmy legs. They seemed slower, too.”
“No doubt the first ones were different,” Crasher said confidently. “Can’t say for sure if these here are evolutions or just different species or something, though. You starting to question what we’re doing here?”
“No, we’re definitely playing a vital role in keeping Brashsword safe.” Boss yanked the crossbow bolt from the feeder’s head, checked that it was still reusable, and wiped it on a nearby leaf. “Ace says we’re getting close to Urbancraft now. Hopefully we’ll get some answers there.”
He tucked the bolt into the quiver on his back, and the two of them quickly resumed their path to catch up to the third member of the Sensational Patrol.
Four hours and three more dead feeders later, the three patrollers encountered an enormous rock covered with brown vines that appeared to twitch and shiver in the breeze.
Ace looked briefly annoyed, then thoughtful. She peered closely at the vines. “More of those repulsive worm things! They must be hiding the entrance. Crasher, if you wouldn’t mind…?”
He stepped forward and hacked at the vines with his sword, as Boss stood ready with his crossbow to shoot at any unwelcome surprises. Bits of stems and wriggling worms fell to the ground. Eventually, they uncovered a cave mouth in the stone, about five feet high, with a dimly flickering light inside. Ace immediately started scanning the entrance with her flashlight.
“Not bad for a piece of Game of Thrones memorabilia, huh?” Crasher beamed, brandishing his sword proudly.
“Not bad for a nerd who was only playing with digital swords in World of Warcraft up until a couple months ago,” said Boss.
“The tunnel doesn’t seem to contain any traps,” Ace announced, ignoring her two accomplices’ banter as usual. “We’ll all have to duck down, but it’s not long. I’ll take the lead again. Crasher goes in the middle, and Boss covers our rear.” She paused when she noticed Crasher’s suddenly crestfallen face. “Hey, you okay?”
Crasher stared down at the ground as he spoke quietly. “I know I’m not the kind of guy you’d normally hang out with before the Rise. Either of you. We’ve been patrolling together for three months now, and… I thought we were becoming real friends.”
Ace glanced at Boss, confused. Where was this coming from?
Boss sighed and placed his hand awkwardly on Crasher’s shoulder. “We are real friends, man. It was just a joke.”
“I’m tired of hearing shit like that,” the younger man said to the forest floor. “I’ve been hearing it all my life. When the Rise started and a feeder killed my family, I was crushed. It came for me last. I grabbed my sword without thinking and just slashed away. Somehow I killed the thing. I sat there in my room for a long time, just staring at the dead thing lying there, trying to process what the hell had just happened.”
Boss nodded sympathetically. He’d had a similar shock when he found a feeder devouring his four-year-old daughter’s mangled body and smashed its head in with a baseball bat.
“When I met you guys and we formed a team,” Crasher continued, “I thought, At least now I can do something to make an impact with my life. I may not have a family, but I can still learn to fight to help defend the people of Brashsword. It meant so much when you agreed to call ourselves the Sensational Patrol.”
“The Sensational Patrol is important to all of us,” Boss assured him, as Ace began to look slightly impatient. “It’s given us all meaning and purpose in a world that’s gone straight to hell. It’s given us a support network for solidarity and encouragement, to pay it forward and help empower others. We’re helping real people in real ways every day.”
Crasher looked up at his teammates. “Sometimes it just takes a toll on me, you know? We’ve been fighting for months. When does it stop? When do I stop feeling like a loser?”
“You’re not a loser. You’ve killed dozens of feeders—you’re a champion defender! You weren’t a loser even before the Rise. You had family and friends who cared about you. You had a good heart and strong spirit, and still do.”
“So do you, Boss. I’ve seen the haunted look in your eyes every now and then. Unhappy, yet you’re still fighting.”
“Yeah.” Now Boss looked at the ground and shuffled a fallen leaf with his foot. “I guess before the Rise, I was too fixated on everything I used to be. From star athlete and homecoming king to potbellied insurance salesman. A washed-up has-been. Didn’t think my kid could ever look up to her dumb dad. Still wonder sometimes what I could possibly have to offer.”
“She’d be so proud of all the important work you’ve been doing. I’m sure she was already proud of you before. We all have our imperfections. We need to embrace the positive parts of our past that inspire us, and accept that what’s done is done for the not-so-good stuff. Don’t let it impede growth and progress.”
Crasher gave Boss an impulsive hug, which he gruffly reciprocated.
“Can we go find Urbancraft now?” Ace said with irritation.
“What’s your story, Ace?” asked Boss.
“I’ll tell you if we get through this alive.” She held her shotgun at the ready, and the three of them filed into the cave.
Urbancraft turned out not to be some giant, horrific, Lovecraftian embodiment of Hell. Instead, it was a tiny imp about the size of a rabbit, who cowered in fear from the three larger invaders of his home.
“What are you guys doing here?” he squeaked.
“Are you responsible for spawning all these terrible monsters throughout the state of New Jersey and causing the deaths of hundreds of innocent people?” Ace demanded.
“N-no,” he stammered. “That’s impossible. Leave me alone, please!”
Crasher edged forward, his sword gleaming forebodingly in the light of the torches that lined the cavern walls. “We know it was you. We heard rumors from someone who claimed to have found you when you first appeared, and we’ve been following the markings left behind by those foul creatures. This must be their home base, which means you must be their master.”
Boss raised his crossbow and said, “Now, are you going to withdraw your minions and crawl back to whatever hole you came from, or are we going to have to make you?”
“You’re the ones who are going to have to withdraw!” an imperial voice spoke from behind them.
The Sensational Patrol wheeled around. They spotted a tan-skinned woman with long, dark brown hair wearing a surfer swimsuit. Her eyes looked unsettlingly hollow, and glowed a bright blue.
“The imp is my prey!” she proclaimed. “You’ll have to fight me first if you want the satisfaction of killing him.”
“Are you impaired?” scoffed Ace. “There are three of us and only one of you. And we’re armed.”
The surfer didn’t respond. Instead, she darted over to Boss and touched her palm lightly to his forehead while he was too surprised to react. Similarly caught off-guard, Ace tried to shoot her and Crasher swung his sword forcefully, but they both missed. The surfer touched them both on the forehead, too. Almost immediately, their eyes became submerged in darkness while severe cold overwhelmed their bodies, paralyzing them.
After defeating the Sensational Patrol, she walked over to the imp, who was still cowering in fear in a corner of the cavern. She picked him up, brought him to her face, and gave him a big hug.
“I’m here to help you become bigger and stronger,” she said.
Together, they walked out of the cave and went to the surfer’s makeshift hut at the edge of the forest.
The surfer got the two of them settled into her hut with cozy blankets, hot cups of blood, and a feeder posted on guard outside. Then she asked, “So why did you do it?”
“Do what?” said Urbancraft.
“You can drop the act,” she replied kindly and gently. “I’m here to help you get stronger, remember.”
The imp sighed and thought for a while. When he spoke again, his voice was noticeably deeper, though still quite high-pitched. “At first, it was just one small, impetuous act. When I first emerged from the earth, I created a minion to carry me to a nearby cave, where I could hide and figure out why I had been summoned. As time passed and I still had no answers, I began to feel incredibly lonely. So lonely, I thought I would implode.”
The surfer nodded understandingly. “So you created more.”
“Yes. It was almost subconscious. I just thought how nice it would be to have more friends around me, and they appeared and multiplied.”
“But they weren’t content to hang out with you all day in the cave, were they?”
“They must have picked up on my frustration and discontent. They began to grow restless. They started leaving the cave to terrorize nearby towns. Over the weeks, they grew increasingly ferocious. They would bring back dead animals or even people, or parts of them, thinking it might cheer me up.”
“Sort of. Part of me felt happy, but in a fabricated way. Does that make sense? As if I felt an obligation to respond that way, so I tried, but it wasn’t genuine.”
“Sometimes that happens. Sometimes when society or your fellow demons expect you to think of or react to something in a certain way, you try to do it involuntarily. If you don’t, you might feel as though something’s wrong with you, or that you might not be an individual worth the time or attention of others.”
“That makes sense. Maybe that was it.”
“But what’s important is to be true to yourself. You don’t have to like dead animals or people just because the other demons do.”
“Then how do I get them to like me?”
“It will happen easily and naturally, once you show them power and respect. Controlling legions of terrifying monsters could be a good start.”
“I can’t control my creations anymore, though. They’ve gone wild. Their form has been changing, evolving on their own. I don’t know what to do about it. That’s why I’ve been hiding and afraid.”
“There’s no need to be afraid. You are the dread Urbancraft! The humans of New Jersey have been spreading fearful rumors of you for months!”
“That’s true, isn’t it? That one nerdy-looking guy with the sword did say that.”
The surfer smiled. “Yes, he did. And maybe once you regain your confidence and control of the creatures, you’ll find the other answers you’ve been seeking.”
The imp also gave a sickly, twisted smile. “You’re right. Thank you for the impeccable advice,” he said. As he believed in himself and his power, his body began to swell in size. Intimidating spikes and horns grew from his skin, which became tough and leathery. He raised his arms and willed his minions to return to him. From Brashsword and across the rest of New Jersey, he felt the creatures stopping in their tracks and heeding his call. Back toward the hut in the forest they swarmed, their eyes glowing fiercely blue.