I had an enormous amount of fun creating a 2,500 word short story for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge at https://www.nycmidnight.com/ssc
“Just for Fun: A Horror Lover’s Fanzine”
Written by Susan Eileen Jizba
A former frat boy named Chad, learns a little too late that his careless words and actions can have deadly consequences.
I wrote this story using the below required elements randomly assigned by NYC Midnight.
NYC Midnight’s required story elements:
Subject: A fanzine
Character: A caretaker
Time limit: 8 days
Word limit: up to 2,500 words
I love the challenge of creating short stories with required writing prompts and tight deadlines. It’s such a wonderful way to practice the craft of storytelling.
Here’s the story that I wrote:
Just for Fun: A Horror Lover’s Fanzine
Written by Susan Eileen Jizba
Chad hated moving. Mostly because he didn’t have any friends to help. But what made matters worse on Monday, were the five flights of stairs that he had to lug all his boxes up to reach his new drafty single on the top floor of the crumbling apartment building.
Chad smelled mold every time he entered the lobby; it was a stench that always lingered. He hated its odor, but he knew that there was nothing he could do, since it was the only place that he could afford. At least his apartment didn’t stink, he thought.
As Chad dragged a box through the entrance, he nodded to the balding middle-aged caretaker standing next to the mail drop box, secretly judging him. Chad glanced at the caretaker once more when he reached the staircase. “Loser,” Chad muttered.
The caretaker made Chad feel better about himself. He was gleefully aware that his lot in life wasn’t as bad as the caretaker’s lowly position. The caretaker had accepted Chad’s application for his dingy apartment in the rotting building located in the city’s center.
When Chad unloaded his next box from the trunk of his beat-up Chevy, he noticed a redheaded woman with a small dog on the sidewalk. Her back was turned, as she rummaged through her purse. Chad ignored her as he hauled his box up the front steps.
He noticed a strong stench as he struggled to open the front door while holding his box. He had stepped in poop. “Shit!” He glared at the redhead, still rummaging through her purse. He spit out the word “Bitch!” before heading inside.
The caretaker was still in the lobby. He stared Chad. “What a creep,” Chad thought as he kicked off his poopy shoe and lugged his heavy load up the stairs.
Chad’s next load was a heavy oversized box. As he struggled up the front steps, he felt as if he was being watched. He spotted a tall guy wearing sunglasses on the sidewalk who was staring directly at him. “Jesus, what’s up with the staring?” he muttered. “It’s like no-one’s ever seen a person move before.”
At the front door, Chad tried to reach around his oversized box to grab the handle. It didn’t work. Chad called out to the guy on the sidewalk. “Hello? I could use a little help here!”
The guy simply stood and stared.
“Asshole!” Chad shouted. He struggled to grasp his box as it split, slipped, and fell onto the landing with a thud. “Fuck!”
Chad propped the front door open and shoved his damaged box through. The caretaker was in the lobby cleaning up the dog crap. He stared at Chad.
Chad stared back. “What are you looking at? Loser!”
Chad struggled to his top floor apartment with his damaged box and pushed it through the open door. He collapsed onto a solitary chair to recover. He closed his eyes but was jarred by sudden loud waltz music in a nearby apartment. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Chad headed to apartment #508, where the loud music was playing. He pounded on the door. The music continued to blare. He pounded harder. After a moment, a sad elderly man wearing a suit answered the door. Chad yelled, “Your music, it’s too loud! Turn it down!” The old man acknowledged his request. As Chad headed back, the music stopped.
By nightfall, Chad finished his move. He had a slice of pizza and a beer as he sat in the middle of a sea of unopened boxes. He heard something being slipped underneath his door. Curious, he set aside his beer and navigated his way through the boxes to pick it up. It was a daily publication titled “Just for Fun: A Horror Lover’s Fanzine.” Chad opened his door and looked down the hallway. It was empty.
Chad returned to his chair to read the fanzine. It appeared to be typed with a manual typewriter. Chad chuckled to himself, “at least there’s one good thing about staying at this dump.”
The fanzine was holding a contest this week. On Monday through Thursday, the zine would provide a daily question for its readers to answer. There was a stamped, self-addressed envelope enclosed for the response. At the end of the week, on Sunday, a few reader’s replies would be selected for publication.
Monday’s question was: “Just for fun, if you could pick three people to kill, who would they be?”
“Perfect timing!” Chad exclaimed, scribbling his answers on the reply form below the question. He listed his intended murder victims as: the redheaded woman who didn’t pick up her dog’s poop, the unhelpful tall guy who simply watched as Chad struggled to open the lobby door, and the old man in apartment #508 who played his music too loud.
Sealing his handwritten response in the return envelope, Chad noticed a warning on the back cover of the zine. It read, “WARNING: Do no harm. Everything matters. Beware of the rule of three.”
Chad deposited his fanzine return envelope in the lobby’s mail drop box as he headed out on Tuesday morning.
Later that afternoon, on the front steps of the building the caretaker handed a plastic bin full of mail to a postman. The postman stuffed the mail into his bag and returned the empty container to the caretaker. “See you tomorrow” the postman said, before heading off on his rounds.
A blob of bird shit splattered at the caretaker’s feet. He looked up and spotted a few pigeons on the rooftop.
Breathing hard from racing up the stairs, the caretaker appeared on the roof with a machete. He took a swing at the pigeons, decapitating all of them at once, before casting aside his blade.
At night Chad ate more pizza, washing it down with a beer. A few boxes were unpacked, and items were stacked on top of a cheap bookcase smudged with stains.
Feeling full, Chad set aside his half-eaten pizza slice. He paused, listening. He didn’t hear any waltz music. His apartment was silent except for a few cars honking and an ambulance blaring through the city below. Chad glanced at the pizza box; half of the pizza was still uneaten.
In a rare act of charity, Chad grabbed his pizza box and headed out the door. He stopped at his neighbor’s apartment #508. He knocked a few times, but the old man didn’t answer. Chad pounded harder. The sad old man finally opened his door and yelled, “I’m sorry about the loud music, my hearing has gotten worse ever since my wife died. I still love to listen to the waltz music that we danced to.”
Chad felt a twitch of guilt. He held out the pizza box with the remaining slices. “Would you like some pizza, old man?”
He smiled and took the box. “Thank you, son. What’s your name? I’m Fred Dickerson”.
“I’m Chad. Great to meet you, Fred. I’ve got to go, gotta get up early for work tomorrow.”
Fred nodded and closed his door.
Chad headed back to his apartment. Tuesday’s issue of the horror fanzine had been slipped under his door. He settled down in his apartment to read it. Tuesday’s question was: “Just for fun, if you had to choose three household items to be used as murder weapons, what would they be?”
Chad looked at the items stacked on his bookcase. There was a worn dog leash, an old radio, and prescription pills. He grabbed the response form and listed the three items as his murder weapons.
Chad noticed the warning on the back cover of the zine. It was the same warning that appeared in Monday’s issue.
On Wednesday, when Chad dropped off the return envelope into the lobby drop box, the redheaded woman was entering the building, returning from walking her dog. Chad saw her full figure for the first time. She was pregnant and was carrying a small bag of cookies.
“You’re Chad, right?” she asked him. “I’m Sharon. The caretaker told me you stepped in my dog’s poop the other day. I didn’t know. I’m very sorry.”
She handed him the cookies, “I know it’s not much, but I thought you might like some of my favorite cookies. I have a lot going on as a single mom working full time, and sometimes I forget to bring poop bags when I take Jax for a walk.”
Chad surprised himself by bending down to pet her dog. He tells her “I used to have a dog. After it died, I kept its leash. I know it’s stupid, I’m not sure why.”
“I understand. If you like, you can walk Jax sometime,” she told him. Chad was strangely touched. “I’d like that,” he said.
After work, Chad found the next fanzine. Wednesday’s question was: “Just for fun, if you had to choose three ways to torment your victims, before dealing the final blow, how would you do it?”
Chad hesitated as he reached for the reply form. It suddenly felt wrong. He tells himself he’s just being stupid. He grabs the form, filling it out with the grisliest, cruelest answers that he can think of.
He notices the same warning on the back cover of the fanzine. He flips it over, so that he doesn’t have to look at it.
On Thursday as Chad leaves the apartment building, he sees the tall guy wearing sunglasses. Like before, he’s standing on the sidewalk staring at Chad.
Chad approaches him and gets into his face. The guy steps back and removes his sunglasses. His eyes are milky white. He’s blind.
“Hello, who are you?” the blind guy asks.
“I’m Benjamin Shumaker.” He extends his hand to shake Chad’s.
His name sounds familiar to Chad, “did you used to tell stories to the kids at the downtown library on Saturday?”
“I still do.”
“A guy in my fraternity had a kid sister who always went to that. She always raved about Benjamin, the blind guy who was an amazing storyteller.”
“I’m glad she liked it,” he replies. He points to Chad’s building, “my brother used to live in this building. He died of cancer last fall. I know it’s weird and sentimental, but I can still feel his presence when I stare at his building. Even though I can’t see. Sometimes I stop by on my way to work.”
Chad isn’t sure how to respond. The words “well, it was nice meeting you, Benjamin” tumble out of his mouth.
“Have a good day, Chad” he replies. Benjamin calls his seeing eye dog who is sitting on the sidewalk nearby. The dog nudges Benjamin who picks up the dog’s working harness and it leads him away.
The next fanzine is under Chad’s door that evening. He turns to the page with the question and has the fleeting thought, “this is a sick set of questions” but he still feels the urge to participate.
Thursday’s final question for the week is: “Just for fun, describe how you would murder your three victims.”
Chad writes down the methods that pop into his head: hanging, electrocution, and being pushed off a building.
On Friday, as Chad drops his reply form into the mailbox, he’s followed by a woman who deposits a few envelopes. Chad looks at the woman. Curious, he asks “have you been answering the questions in this week’s horror lover’s fanzine?”
The woman gives him a strange look. “What?” she says.
“It’s the daily zine called ‘Just for Fun: A Horror Lover’s Fanzine’ this week they asked readers to invent ways to torture and kill people.”
“Never heard of it” she says, backing away. She turns and quickly hurries out of the building.
Late at night when Chad returns from work, he’s shocked to find emergency vehicles and police at his building. A section of the street is restricted with yellow crime scene tape. Police hold back a growing crowd of spectators.
Chad asks a spectator, “What’s going on?”
“There was some sort of killing spree. An old man was electrocuted in his bathtub, a pregnant woman was hung in her apartment, and a blind guy was drugged and pushed off the fire escape.”
Chad felt a sliver of terror crawl up his spine, “Jesus.”
“I know, right! It blows my mind. It’s really sick stuff.”
Chad spots the caretaker talking to a bystander and overhears his words, “people today are carelessly brutal, acting without thinking. It’s as if everything is just a video game to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if the murderer was killing ‘just for fun’.”
Chad wants to ask the caretaker about the fanzine but changes his mind as a policeman with a clipboard approaches to take the caretaker’s statement.
Still stunned on Saturday, Chad mechanically moves through his day, as if in a dream. He finishes unpacking his boxes, but is so distracted, that he doesn’t remember doing it by the time he sits down to eat his fast-food dinner.
Chad twists opens a beer, noticing that the top is oddly loose. He drinks from the bottle anyway. He hears another fanzine being slipped under his door. He feels dizzy as he stands and stumbles onto the floor.
Chad drifts in and out of consciousness during the evening, experiencing the night’s events in a hazy, terrifying, semi-paralyzed state:
A man concealed in a black mask enters Chad’s apartment and closes the door, locking it behind him. He helps Chad sit up.
Moments later, Chad desperately gasps for air as he hangs from his ceiling by a dog leash noose, until he passes out.
Chad wakes as his body burns and jerks erratically in his bathtub full of water. Pain pounds through his body as a hand pulls a radio out of the water.
Chad shivers as he becomes vaguely aware of being slumped over the fire escape railing outside his apartment. A voice that seems familiar whispers into his ear, “my mother was killed ‘just for fun’ by a couple of frat guys on a joy ride. It was ‘harmless’ prank, gone bad. You were warned Chad, but you didn’t listen.”
Barely conscious, Chad mumbles, “What’s the rule of three?”
“What goes around, comes around. You reap what you sow”.
Chad is pushed and finds himself falling. A car swerves to avoid him as he lands in the street with a thud. He’s killed by the fall.
In the apartment building’s basement, the caretaker reads the Sunday newspaper. Chad has made the front page as the prime suspect in Friday’s murders. The caretaker provided evidence including Chad’s notes regarding his victims and murder methods along with his apartment application which provided a perfect handwriting match.
The caretaker sets aside the newspaper. He grabs a piece of paper and feeds it into his manual typewriter. He types the words: Just for Fun: A Horror Lover’s Fanzine.
He utters to himself, “One down, two to go.”