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A cop begins seeing huge, blinking eyes where the headlights of cars should be that tell him who to pull over. Two freedom riders take a bus ride that leaves them stranded on a lonely road in Alabama where several unsettling somethings await them. A young girl dives into the depths of the Earth in search of the demon that killed her parents. These are just a few of the worlds of Out There Screaming, Jordan Peele’s anthology of all-new horror stories by Black writers. Featuring an introduction by Peele and an all-star roster of beloved writers and new voices, Out There Screaming is a master class in horror, and–like his spine-chilling films–its stories prey on everything we think we know about our world . . . and redefine what it means to be afraid.
Featuring stories by: Erin E. Adams, Violet Allen, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Maurice Broaddus, Chesya Burke, P. Djèlí Clark, Ezra Claytan Daniels, Tananarive Due, Nalo Hopkinson, N. K. Jemisin, Justin C. Key, L. D. Lewis, Nnedi Okorafor, Tochi Onyebuchi, Rebecca Roanhorse, Nicole D. Sconiers, Rion Amilcar Scott, Terence Taylor, and Cadwell Turnbull.
A number of years ago I became morbidly obsessed with the notion of the oubliette. For those who don't spend their nights reading about medieval torture practices, an oubliette was a dungeon shaped like a bottle with only a small covered opening at the top that barely let in any light. Prisoners would be thrown to the bottom of the pit, which was so narrow you couldn't even lie down, and left there for days. Perversely, these dungeons were often placed in parts of the castle specifically where a captive could smell delicious food being eaten or could hear the laughter of parties, while their screams would fall on deaf ears. When you did eventually expire, they didn't even bother retrieving your body. The elegant name for this horrifically simple contraption comes from the French word oublier, which means "to forget."
This became, in many ways, the foundation for the Sunken Place in Get Out, where, through pre-operation hypnosis and neurosurgery, Black people were sent to these psychological oubliettes. A place where you were stripped of all agency and left alone with your struggle. Where you could see life going on around you, but you were essentially a bystander—forgotten.
The details of the Sunken Place that you see in Get Out are bespoke to the character of Chris, and it's intended to be personal to him, not everyone. Chris's Sunken Place channels his deepest childhood trauma, the time when his mother was killed in an accident and he did nothing; instead he sat there watching television in fear. But I always imagined that everyone's Sunken Place would look different, a manifestation of our own personal horrors.
Chris's Sunken Place in many ways was also a reflection of my own personal Sunken Place, at least in how it looks. When I was a child, I would sit staring at a screen and desperately want to be on the other side. I view horror as catharsis through entertainment. It's a way to work through your deepest pain and fear—but for Black people that isn't possible, and for many decades wasn't possible, without the stories being told in the first place.
In this collection, nineteen brilliant Black authors give us their Sunken Places, their oubliettes. And I could not be more flattered and honored to have my name next to theirs. They come in many forms: dances with the Devil, fantasies of alternate realities, monsters real and imagined. They are raw imaginings of our deepest dreads and desires. And they will not be forgotten.
Black female, approximately midthirties, alone. Driving a hundred-thousand-dollar Tesla? Yeah, Carl would've stopped her regardless. Casually dressed. Not light-skinned or pretty enough to be some wealthy man's side piece.
"What seems to be the problem, officer?" she asks as he comes up to the window. Hands in clear view on the steering wheel, no expression on her face. No smell of weed or anything else illicit, but he'll find something. There's always something, when he sees the eyes.
"License and registration, please," he says.
"Is there some reason you've pulled me over? I'm pretty sure I wasn't speeding."
"License," he says, slowly but (always!) politely, "and registration."
She hesitates a moment longer, the silence between them punctuated by the windy drone of passing cars. Carl could take her in on the hesitation alone—obstruction or maybe resisting—but he waits. He's a patient guy. After a moment, she takes her hands off the wheel, slowly. "I'm going to reach into the pocket here on my car door," she says. "I keep my registration and other information in a small folio there. May I pull it out?"
"Be my guest," Carl says, amused. So many "how to talk to police" videos on TikTok these days.
She hands him two cards. One is the registration, which is current. The other is her license, also current—and stuck to it, apparently by chance, is her membership card for the National Lawyers Guild. Also current.
He glances at her. She gazes off down the gently curving length of the interstate, as if unconcerned about his presence or whatever he might think of her little "Do you know who I am?" play. That's not important, though. Where is her phone? Most drivers keep it on the seat or in the console next to them, or attached to a dash cradle. If it's out of sight…Carl's state allows one-party recording. Best to assume the worst.
So he hands back the woman's documents. "Thank you, ma'am. You have a nice day."
She looks fully at him for the first time, still with that neutral face—but her eyes are cold. Truth always lies in the eyes. "Can you tell me why you pulled me over, Officer…Billings?"
"Well, I can see them now, but at first I thought there was an issue with your headlights." He moves away from the window, around to the front of the car. Her headlights are still on, and he's familiar with what this make and model should have: LEDs with a white rim, inward-slanting. What's actually on the front of this woman's car are prettier than LEDs, and sly-looking. They shift to follow him as he moves into their range. Brown irises, just like those of the driver, and just as cold. No blinking, no ducking his gaze, just a steady, sharp stare back. Whatever she's up to—because it's always something—this bitch is ready for him.
He could take her in anyway. His dashcam is off, "malfunctioning." Drag her out of the car, rough her up a little to let her know he's not scared of her or any other lawyer, park her in holding until he can figure out what she's really done. Probably better to shoot than arrest her, really; dead women file no lawsuits.
While still in front of the car, he glances up. There's a tiny rectangular device behind her rearview mirror. Can't make out what it is or tell where it's aimed, but he's pretty sure it's a camera.
Could still do it. Black women don't usually go viral.
He sighs and heads back to her window. "I apologize for pulling you over, ma'am, but there's no issue that I can see at this time. You have a nice day."
He feels her eyes—the ones in her face—against his profile as he turns back toward his car. "You, too, officer."
Next time, whore.
Carl started seeing the eyes a few months back. Thought they were just some new headlight fad at first. Every year there's a new one—neon rims, insectoid multiple bulbs, designs like hearts or cobra hoods. Tacky, but not illegal. These eyes, though, are far too realistic to be simply another mod. They blink. There are veins throughout the sclera, striations in the irises, boogers at the corners. Carl actually saw them manifest once, ordinary halogen one moment and then blink, and they were blinking. Since that moment he's come to understand something else: The eyes are a magical thing, or supernatural, if there's any difference. He asks around, casually mentioning the new headlight fad to a couple of his fellow highway patrol officers, but no one else has seen them. Nobody mentions freaky car-eyes. It's a Carl-specific magic, or blessing, or psychic gift. Just for him.
There has to be a reason for it, so Carl starts pulling over anyone whose car has eyes to figure out what the reason might be. This is tricky at first. He usually sets up speed traps with his patrol car oriented along one side of the highway, with the traffic flow, but he sees the eyes most easily on the oncoming side. They're never on the taillights. They actually glow with the same illumination as any headlights, beams angled through the pupils, so he loses a couple because it's hard to clock the model or color of a car when one's night vision has been ruined. Still, the first "eye car" he catches is a gold mine. Professionally dressed guy, nice (though not too nice) car, but there's a faint chemical smell. Guy's name is Gimenez. Chatty in a pretend-friendly way. Third-generation Cuban from Florida; makes sure to mention that he votes Republican. When Carl calls in a K9 unit, the guy stays cool, even offering them his suitcase to examine. The dog alerts on the guy's suitcase, which turns out to have a couple of prerolls tucked into a pocket. Marijuana's legal, as Mr. Gimenez clearly knows; nice red herring. He smiles when Carl and the K9 officer close the suitcase. Carl smiles back—and reminds Mr. Gimenez that he just drove a Schedule 1 substance over the line from a non-legal state, which gives Carl the pretext to do a full search of the car. Gimenez flips. Starts talking about lawsuits and calling the mayor of a city Carl's never heard of. Anyway, there's a palpable lump in the fabric of the car's ceiling, which Carl cuts open to find two keys of pure South American white powder heroin, flattened and sewn into little vinyl pouches. There's also a wrapped packet of cash—ten grand in small bills.
Unit captain later tells Carl that the heroin was worth more than two hundred thousand dollars in street value. No sign of the cash that Mr. Gimenez reported, but a drug dealer will lie about anything, won't he? Anyway, Gimenez takes a plea bargain, and Highway Patrol gets to brag about a big bust on Facebook, so everybody's happy.
Carl resolves to not call in any other units the next time he sees the eyes. His magic just bought the K9 guy a new deck, and the fucker didn't even thank him for it.
Carl's walking past his shift supervisor's desk when the supervisor—Kinsey—gets up and follows him into the locker room. The room is empty since it's not a shift change, and there are no cameras here. They've got privacy.
Carl doesn't like Kinsey. Highway Patrol is full of good ol' boys; they all bleed blue here but for most of 'em, the color white matters more. As in, Kinsey is. As in, Carl's Black. Another reason he's so careful.
"Getting some complaints," Kinsey says, while Carl changes into his civvies. "I mean, I always get complaints, about everybody, but lately there's a lot of new 'no probable cause' ones specific to you. You, uh, reading chicken bones or something?"
Funny. "I get hunches," Carl says. "Same as everybody. I always make sure there's cause on my reports, though, don't I?"
Kinsey sighs, in a "these people" tone. Carl's not sure whether it's for him or for the complainants. "You know what it looks like when you break somebody's arm after pulling them over for an 'outdated inspection certificate'? You can't think up anything better?"
"All I did was pull that kid out of the car. I wasn't even trying to hurt him." Apparently it was something called a torsion fracture. Kids don't drink enough milk these days.
"Look." Kinsey rubs his face, sounding annoyed at having to show empathy. "I get it, but you gotta remember people are out to get us. We're just trying to keep them safe, but all they're thinking about is how much they can get selling a video to TMZ, or suing the city. So can you try not to make it easy for them? Please?"
He walks away before Carl can answer. Duty done, now he doesn't have to treat Carl like a person anymore.
Message received, however, so now Carl's going to write up every probable cause like a potential felony. It feels unnecessary, performative—incident report theater. Qualified immunity and the eyes are all the justification Carl needs. But fine; he'll suck it up and do it anyway, because even the righteous need to cover their asses.
Carl doesn't have a girlfriend, just a rotating collection of fucks. Not "fuck buddies" or "friends with benefits," as these imply a friendly relationship. There's still enough public goodwill out there to make lots of women love cops; Carl's just picky. He needs women with a certain…maturity? Detachment? Awareness of their own insignificance? He also dates only white women, mostly because this pisses off Kinsey and the good ol' boys. All the women really want from him is the chance to say they screwed Black, anyway, and maybe to smirk at any nearby Black women in the process. Carl likes fucking them, so it's mutually beneficial manipulation. He drops them if they object to being called a fuck instead of a "girlfriend," or if they want more from him than dick. Best to keep things simple.
He does have one great passion in his life, however: a 1975 G-Series Porsche 911, which he's been restoring for the better part of a decade. First Porsche model to have turbo, 250 horsepower, Vredestein tires; it's a beautiful little beast. Carl picked it up for a sniff—literally, a hundred and fifty grams of confiscated coke to the impound-yard LEO, who pulled the car off the auction list for him. Fully restored, it's probably worth a hundred grand, easy. Poor baby had some kind of puke-green paint and pumpkin-orange upholstery; he's redone the upholstery in dark blue sheepskin and the body paint in black. Keeps it in his garage under a tarp, but once a month or so he takes it out for a good fast highway drive in the small hours of the morning, during shift change or when Miller is on duty, because Miller just sleeps in his car. Carl doesn't bother driving it around town, because he didn't buy it just to look good or score any kind of status points. His dick is plenty big. He's in it for the power. Nothing like flooring it, losing himself in the engine growl, and leaving the world and its judgments behind.
(Carl knew the car was meant to be his the first time he saw it, months before the eyes came into his life. Poor gorgeous thing, being absolutely neglected by an old retired white hippie who had priors for a protest back in the seventies still on his record. Punched a cop but got off with probation, then. This time, with Carl's help in the form of a planted gun, the hippie landed upstate for a few years—and now a beautiful car is where it belongs. The universe's reward is the eyes, thanks to which Carl has never tried to plant evidence again.)
But one night Carl struggles to sleep and then struggles to wake and finally sits up, sweating and panting and clutching at his chest. In the dream, he was walking through the impound yard as he sometimes does in real life, looking for another good score. Maybe he'll start a side gig restoring and selling vintage beauties—but it was night in the dream, worst time to get a good look at anything. Nobody in the guard booth, either, which never happens. The dream-yard's lights were out or nearly dead except one, bright but flickering at the back of the lot. And there, with a Jesus Is Watching billboard looming overhead, was Carl's Porsche. He knew it was his, though it had reverted to the color of puke, because the headlights blinked rapidly in the flashlight beam before settling into a pair of calm, cool brown eyes. Familiar eyes.
Awake, Carl gets up, pushes open the window, and stares across his property. He lives in a quiet subdivision, and it's an hour or so before dawn. Deathly quiet outside, apart from the rattle of his windowpane.
He needs to know.
Downstairs, outside. The detached garage is closed, undisturbed. Motion-sensing lights come right on, security system turns right off at the touch of his code. He turns on the showroom lights—LEDs so they won't fade the paint—and there is no flickering. Carl takes the front edge of the car cover in one hand and lifts it, slowly. Tires need polishing. And…
Just a dream. Carl's never seen his own eyes on anything, let alone this car. Shouldn't have had that ice cream before bed.
Carl resets the alarm, turns off the lights, and goes back to the house, lingering on the porch for a while so that the cool, quiet darkness can calm him down. While he stands there, willing the shakes to fade and wishing he'd thought to pocket Gimenez's weed along with the cash, he glances up and notices another of those damn billboards. The local megachurch has them everywhere, trying to scare people into buying their pastor another beach house. The billboards aren't supposed to be placed so close to residential areas—light pollution or something—but here it is, big as day. Same one Carl saw in the dream: a lurid red background with stark black words etching out Jesus Is Watching.
Jesus better keep his little bitch mouth shut. Carl goes back inside.
Carl knows he's in for it when he walks into the station that day and notices his fellow troopers not looking at him. They usually prefer to glare or follow him with their eyes, splashing his back with all the contempt they don't quite have the courage to lob from the front. Now, however, they look pointedly at their desks or screens as he passes, and there is something uneasy in their tension. Shame, he later suspects—whether because they want to admire him and hate themselves for it, or because what he's done reminds them of their own transgressions.
He walks into Kinsey's office with the "SEE ME" Post-it Note, peeled off his desktop screen, in hand.
The video just got posted the previous day on Instagram, but he remembers the actual incident being over a year ago. Middle Eastern woman in hijab, middle-aged, nice rack. Made the mistake of mouthing off when Carl pulled her over for speeding. He'd been having a bad day. Got better after he shoved his collapsible baton into her mouth. She lost a few teeth and spent a night in jail; got off lucky as far as he's concerned. Could've been a lot worse. Now she's suing him for—get this—sexual assault. Because the baton was phallic, Carl guesses, but sometimes a baton is just a baton, damn.
What's really frustrating is that there's video at all. Even when Carl's having a bad day, he still checks for a phone with that telltale recording light on. He still looks behind the mirrors and even makes them turn off the car so their phone can't sync to the car mic via Bluetooth. By the angle, it seems this woman had her phone positioned in the backseat. The video is crooked and something's occluding part of the view; maybe she had it under something? Either way, he missed it, and now he's caught. Worse, apparently the woman was older than she looked. The media's already running with headlines like "Grandmother Assaulted on Camera Sues Police for $3 million."
(He saw them, sloe-eyed and inviting, on the front of her car. There were extra eyes, too—a couple on the bumper, one nearly hidden amid the brand emblem on the hood. That's how he knew she was bad news even though he found nothing worthwhile after a search. DA dropped the resisting charge. He should've been more careful.)
Kinsey closes his laptop. "Union's already running interference," he says. "Her lawyer went to the media before talking to us; they're obviously trying for a big payday. But I gotta put you on unpaid till this blows over."
He's matter-of-fact about it. Carl's matter-of-fact about handing over his service weapon and Taser. It's not the first time he's been put on a desk or leave for something like this, so he knows it'll be fine. The "grandmother" isn't young, pretty, or white enough to hold the public's attention for long.
After Carl goes home and checks Facebook, however, he sees more people talking about the incident than he likes. Some big-name accounts are sharing it on other social media, and—fuck. A couple of celebrities? Don't they have better things to do? And a state senator…
It'll be fine.
It is not fine.
Carl has one friend: Bo Walker, a sheriff in the next county over. They go out for beers every few weeks, and get together sometimes to watch the game. Bo lets Carl know that Carl can have a job in his department in about six months, which should be enough time for the worst of the foofaraw to die down. There are some unspokens in this: Carl's going to have to take a pay cut, for one. For another, there's still a chance Carl could catch a charge from the baton video, because the union didn't step up the way it should have. Oh, they made a lot of noise and threw up the usual roadblocks, but when Kinsey decided to fire Carl, they didn't stop it. That means Carl is vulnerable enough to actually, maybe, go to jail, and everybody knows it. Bo knows it too, but he probably figures it's worth the risk to get another experienced LEO for a bargain price. (Men don't really do friendship, Carl believes, even if that's what they call it for civility's sake. What they really have is friendly rivalry. He and Bo do favors for each other all the time, but each still tries to get over on the other when they can.) Still, six months and a little luck, and Carl can have a life, if not his preferred life, back. He'll take it.
Bo also agrees to buy Carl's Porsche. Carl doesn't want to sell, damn it; he loves that fucking car. But six months is a long time to go without income, and Carl's GoFundMe isn't doing great. He drives it to Bo's himself, then personally wipes it down with a chamois as a slow farewell. Even sheds a tear or two, once Bo's driven him home and no one can see.
It eases the pain, a little, that the dreams stop. He's been having them a few times a week, always the same, always ending with his eyes on the Porsche. Suddenly he sleeps beautifully, and for about a week, the free time and weightless conscience combine to make Carl feel like he's on vacation, for the first time in years. He stretches out and enjoys it. Puts up a hammock in the backyard and sits in it for hours, swinging away the stress while he sips a beer and reads car magazines. Even jerks off there a couple of times, though he knows one of his neighbors can see the backyard. (Once, after an especially good nut, Carl looks dead at the neighbor's window and grins. The neighbor, who was indeed watching, quickly flicks the curtains closed and doesn't meet Carl's eyes ever again.)
Then, out of nowhere a week later, he gets a call from Bo. "The fuck kind of shit you tryin' to pull, man? The car is fucked-up."
"It's fucked-up. Starts but won't stay on."
Shit. Carl sits up, awkwardly in the hammock. "It wasn't doing that before. Did you have a mechanic—"
"I just bought this shit from you, I shouldn't have to take it to a mechanic! You said it was mint! Man, I been tryin' to look out for you, but you make it so fucking hard. Fix this. Now." Click.
So Carl goes over to Bo's. Bo stands around muttering the whole time while Carl checks the igniters, the fuel line, all the usual suspects. There's definitely something wrong. She doesn't even sound the same when Carl starts her up; the engine turns over, but there's a sluggy chug deep in her guts that turns into a cough and she finally blats out a puff of dirty exhaust and dies after about five minutes. Carl suspects a blocked fuel filter, or maybe he just hopes it's something simple like that. If it's the crankshaft, he's not going to be able to fix that with his little bag of hand tools.
He suggests that Bo have the Porsche towed back to Carl's place where he's got a lift—and Bo loses his shit. He's always had a temper, but Carl's never seen him like this. (Then again, he supposes a hundred-thousand-dollar car would put a strain on any friendship.) Bo gets in his face, poking him with a finger to emphasize every other syllable. "You think you can play me? You think I'm one of those chickenshits back in your old unit? They don't see how fucked-up you are, but I always did. I see you right now!" He jabs two fingers at his own eyes, the first half of the "got my eyes on you" gesture—and Carl's guts clench, inexplicably. "You're gonna take this piece of shit back, and you're gonna give me every dime of the money I paid you. Then that's it. No more favors for you."
Carl wants to ask if that includes the promised job—but there's a more immediate concern. He's already spent a good chunk of the money paying down his three-months-overdue mortgage. "Man, come on, you can't—"
They go back and forth for a while, Bo sounding fucking insane, Carl restraining his natural urge to just beat the shit out of Bo, until finally Bo agrees to give Carl more time to try to fix the issue. Carl decides to go home before his temper can slip. In the morning he'll return with his good tools and do the best he can, and hope that Bo calms the hell down.
He can't sleep that night, going over the encounter again in his head. Why was Bo so agitated? It feels like there's more to it than the money. It wasn't just anger, either; Carl hasn't been a cop all these years without being able to tell real anger from belligerence-covered fear. Why was Bo afraid? And why did that little offhand comment bother Carl so much?
I see you right now.
Carl's breath catches. Can Bo see the eyes, too?
Carl still sees them, even though without a badge he can't do anything about the drivers. This old Miata, that shiny new Escalade; the drivers are young or elderly, white and not, well-dressed or slobs, but he knows they're into some shit because of the eyes. There's always something.
And. Carl sits up in bed, breath a rasp in his throat. He's never looked at the front of Bo's car.
(Much later Carl will realize he was not thinking clearly in this moment. He never looked at any of his fellow officers' cars at the trooper station because he figured most
- On Sale
- Oct 3, 2023
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Hachette Book Group