Welcome to episode 70 of the Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast with Lee, Tracey, Darren and Hunter! For your listening pleasure, we’ll bring you a live report from Jessie in her own inimitable way; a news discussion which includes celebrating the holidays in the parks, Universal Orlando’s new online planner, the opening of Red Oven Pizza, the release of the Harry Potter postage stamps and more. Then, with rumors of a third Universal gate on the horizon, we put our creative thinking caps on and each of us come up with lands that we would like to see.

Listen to the latest episode here and then read the winning short story from our contest below!

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The winner of our recent Short Story Competition is announced and we are very pleased that he, Sam Peck, has agreed to our sharing of his amazing entry – and here it is:

Untitled Halloween Horror Nights Short

Being mistaken for a famous Hollywood actor had been the highlight of Gavin Hooper’s week, even if it was only for a short moment. He was doing his everyday job, cleaning the streets of ‘New York’ in Universal Studios, Florida, when a woman approached him and made the mistake of assuming he was the well-known heart-throb who made millions of women swoon. The smile quickly faded from his face when the theme-park guest told him she had made the error because the actor in question had recently let himself go and piled on the pounds for a film role. “I could have done without that, to be honest,” Gavin said as the woman returned to her friends.

Gavin was miserable. He had a job he despised, his boss, Tony, was the biggest jerk on the planet, his former girlfriend, Sarah, continued to find ways to rub her new relationship in his face, and his only source of company was his Portuguese roommate who couldn’t speak a word of English. He quite liked his old roommate and he enjoyed living with him, until a SWAT team kicked down the door, and took him away in the dead of night. The fat cat who used to turn up outside his window had stopped dropping by too, which was a bummer. “I hope you’re ready for tonight,” Tony said as Gavin made his way out of the park at the end of his morning shift. “It’s one of the busiest nights of the year, so you may have to pull your finger out and get some work done, for once”. Gavin always muttered abusive comebacks under his breath. “I’ll pull my finger out and shove it right up your-”  “What was that?” “Nothing, I’ll see you in a few hours, Sir”.

‘Halloween Horror Nights’ was the most exciting night of the year for Florida residents and Sarah Holt wouldn’t miss it for the world.  She gripped hold of her new boyfriend’s hand and smiled proudly as she made her way down City Walk. Sarah had never felt better about her life, she had lost so much weight she was barely unrecognisable, even her own family members, she had just landed the job of her dreams, and she was dating the hottest guy from her gym. She was likely to bump into her ex, Gavin, as the loser worked as a cleaner at Universal. She secretly hoped they would cross paths. She wanted to flaunt her new life and boyfriend in his face. Sarah would do anything to taunt the man who made her so unhappy for so long. “Tonight should be fun,” Caleb said as they entered the park and made their way towards the first scare maze. “It sure will be,” Sarah smirked as she fantasied over how sad Gavin would look if he caught sight of her with Caleb.

Tony Upton loved his job. He had been a well-paid theme park manager at Universal Studios for over a year now and he adored every second of bossing the little people around. For the first time in his life, he was the one in charge. After so many years of being picked on and pushed around by people who were, in his mind, not even worthy of being in his presence, it was his time to feel good about himself and make other people’s life a misery. “I hope you intend to do more than stand around this evening,” he said loudly to Gavin, a cleaner he had never liked. “I’ve been working hard,” Gavin replied with a harsh snap. “I’m not sure I like that tone,” Tony said, puffing his chest out proudly so he would notice his manager badge. Gavin ignored Tony, and continued to sweep, but Tony wasn’t about to drop it. He liked to show he had the authority. “There’s some vomit over by Rip Ride Rockit, go and sort it out, would you?”  Gavin held up his middle finger as Tony walked away.

Three hours into the grand opening of Halloween Horror Nights, things started to go terribly wrong. Gavin was making his way around the park when he caught sight of his former girlfriend and her ridiculously good looking new partner. Sarah waved in an overly happy manner as she noticed Gavin, he sighed, and to his irritation, she began to make her way towards him, boyfriend in tow. “Oh my goodness, hi!” she squealed excitedly as she pulled him in for an awkward, brief hug. “What are the chances of us bumping into you?” “I work here, you insufferable cow,” Gavin mumbled. “Hmm?”  “So, how are you?”  “Oh, I’m well!” Sarah beamed as she leant closer to Caleb. “I’m very well indeed!” Gavin couldn’t believe how much she had changed. The chubby, anxiety-ridden girl who always used to get a disgusting amount of barbeque sauce around her face seemed a distant memory now. “This is Caleb,” Sarah smirked. “Caleb, this is Gavin. We’re old friends”. ‘Old friends?’ Gavin thought to himself. ‘I used to make love to you once to month’. “It’s nice to meet you,” Caleb said as he took Gavin’s hand and shook it. “Would you like to join us for a drink?” Sarah asked.  “I’ve got a lot of work to do”. Caleb raised his eyebrows. “She asked you to have a drink with us. Maybe you should be polite and talk to her a bit nicer?” Gavin shook his head and began to walk away. “Hey!” Caleb shouted out. Gavin turned and watched as Caleb threw an empty bottle onto the floor. “There’s a trash can right there”. “Oh, I’m aware of that, Gavin,” Caleb smirked.“I just want you to pick it up for me. You can do that, can’t you? With it being your job, and everything?” Sarah couldn’t contain her smile. This is what she had been hoping her. She tingled with excitement as she watched them. She secretly hoped Caleb would end up hitting him. “I’m not going to pick it up,” Gavin snapped angrily. “I’d do it if I were you, or I may just lose my temper”. ‘Yes!’ Sarah screamed excitedly in her own mind. ‘Lose your temper! Oh, please lose your temper, Caleb!’ Gavin slowly began to tremble with rage. He had reached his limit. He picked up the empty bottle and threw it to Caleb; it bounced off his head and landed on the floor. Caleb started towards Gavin. He hadn’t had a scrap in a theme park before. This would be a new story to tell the guys at the bar. Sarah couldn’t help but clap her hands together as she watched Caleb’s fist fly for Gavin.

Suddenly, a figure appeared from the shadows and pounced onto Caleb, who turned and yelled in confusion. “What the hell?” The figure was that of a zombie. “Erm, excuse me?” Sarah snapped angrily at the intruder. “We’re not in any of the mazes, we don’t want to be scared right now, thank-you-very-much!” Gavin knew something was wrong. The ‘make-up’ and costume on this individual looked unfamiliar to him, and scare actors were not allowed to touch guests. The zombie sunk his mouth into Caleb’s neck. Gavin and Sarah winced as they heard the teeth bite into the skin with a crunch. “What the hell are you doing?” Sarah screamed as Caleb roared in agony. She rushed forward to try and help as blood began to pour from his neck, but Gavin grabbed her by the arm and pulled her aside. The zombie continued to feast on Caleb’s neck. “Is this some sort of sick joke?” Sarah yelled. “This isn’t a joke,” Gavin muttered. A group of worried bystanders approached and watched on in horror. Sarah sobbed hysterically when Caleb stopped putting up a fight. His eyes had become still. The zombie then approached Gavin. “Get away from me!” Gavin yelled. He picked up his broom and whacked it across the zombie’s head; the creature fell to the floor and began to crawl away. “This is awesome!” screamed an excited teenager. “I’ve never seen a performance like this!” “This isn’t a performance!” explained a bewildered Gavin. “I swear, this is not an act!” “Oh, come on,” said a woman who approached Caleb. “You expect us to believe this is real?” “Get away from him!” Sarah pleaded. “This isn’t fake, I promise you!” “Karen, what are you doing?” asked the husband of the woman. Karen rolled up her sleeves and bent down to the floor to examine Caleb’s corpse. “Relax everyone, I’m a doctor; we’ll soon have this cleared up”. She pressed down on Caleb’s neck with her fingers. “I have to say, even for a Halloween night event, this joke is a bit messed up! There are children here, you know? I have to say I’m glad I decided against bringing my-“ She stopped talking and her mouth dropped in shock. “There’s… there’s no pulse!” People watching shouted  in confusion and alarm. “What?”  “How can he be dead?”  “Is she in on this, too?”  “I assure you she’s not,” said Karen’s husband. Sarah began to sob. “He’s dead, he’s really gone?” Karen nodded. “I’m sorry, but yes, he really is dead”. Sarah wrapped her arms around Gavin and howled into his shoulder. Not knowing what to do or say, he patted her on the back. “Right,” said Karen’s husband who moved towards her. “Get away from him now”. Suddenly, without warning, Caleb’s corpse leapt back to life. He pulled himself upright in a flash of movement and bit into Karen’s hand. “NO!” the husband roared. “Karen, no!” Karen screamed in horror as people yelled and ran away. She tried to pull her hand from Caleb’s mouth, but he dug his teeth in deeper. She wailed as her blood squirted all over her face. Caleb jumped onto Karen, knocking her over onto the ground. Her husband pulled Caleb off by the scruff of his neck. “No! You’ll have to leave her!” Gavin yelled. “Leave her, man!” Karen screamed as another zombie arrived, plunging it’s teeth deep into her husband’s chest. He fell to the floor and tried to get the creature off him, but Caleb had joined in and began to feast on his flesh. “We’ve gotta run, Gavin!” Sarah cried. “We’ve got to get away from here!” Gavin nodded and took one last guilty look at a screaming Karen before sprinting away with Sarah.

Within minutes, the situation at Universal Studios Florida had rapidly got worse. Gavin and Sarah found refuge with other petrified guests who were hiding in the line area for E.T’s Adventure. “I can’t believe this is happening,” Sarah whimpered. Gavin didn’t feel bad about Caleb’s death, or for Sarah’s loss for that matter. He had tried to have sympathy, but he didn’t feel a thing, which was unlike him. The televisions on the wall, which usually displayed Stephen Spielberg talking about the ride, had been replaced with a live news report from CNN. The headline read “ZOMBIE BREAKOUT AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS FLORIDA”. “We do not have a lot of information at this time but this is a real and horrifying event which is currently taking place. At the moment, police responders do not have permission to enter the park, but we are told footage is being analysed before a decision is made on what to do next,” the news reporter read out. “This is just unbelievable,” a man yelled out in tears. “My wife got turned into one of them. My wife, of thirty-two years is gone, just like that!” Gavin turned his attention to the TV again. “We can now speak to a survivor who has made it out of the park. Is this Darren Schmidt, on the line?”

The sound of the barricaded doors opening made Gavin and the other survivors turn around. “Everybody can relax!” came a familiar voice. Gavin squinted his eyes to try and make out the man. Tony was standing before them all; he had a rifle in his hand and his usual smug grin was still present. “Oh, you just had to survive, didn’t you?” Gavin snapped. “I’ve taken it upon myself to take charge here, Gavin,” Tony replied firmly. “If you have a problem with that, you can take your chances outside, but I wouldn’t recommend that”. Tony began to address the group about a plan to make their way across the park to take refuge in a diner, where there would be plenty of supplies until help arrived, but Gavin turned his attention to Sarah, who had nudged him. “What is it?” She beckoned down at Tony’s leg. His trousers were ripped, and in the dark, Gavin could just make out the colour red. He was bleeding. “You know what that means?” Sarah whispered. “He’ll become one of them”. “And he wants to take us out of here, where we’ll be likely to be killed within seconds,” said Gavin. “Would he really do that just so we all go down with him? I mean, I’m a sick bitch, but that’s a bit dark, isn’t it?” Gavin smiled. “I think that’s a brilliant plan!” Gavin called out. “I think you’re right, Tony, we should do it”. “What are you doing?” Sarah asked in alarm. Gavin shushed her. Tony, who seemed taken aback but fairly pleased, nodded and pointed towards the doors. “I’ll be your protection. Follow me out, folks!”  The group of survivors nervously followed as Tony led the way. Upon making the way outside, Gavin seized his chance; he smacked Tony over the head who grunted in pain as he fell to the floor, the rifle flew out of his hands. Gavin picked it up. “What are you doing, Hooper?” Tony yelled as he got to his feet. “I’m trying to help you here!” “I see your bite, Tony,” Gavin said calmly. The survivors gasped, several ran back inside. “It’s not a bite,” Tony yelled, his usual calm tone had been replaced with a panicked whimper. “You’d really be so cowardice as to try and take us out just so you will have something to feast on when you eventually turn?” Gavin asked. “Do not listen to this man!” Tony screamed at the people watching. “People laugh at him! He can’t lead you! He is nothing! He is a nobody… a loser!” Suddenly, a pack of zombies grabbed Tony, who shrieked as they began to feast on his body. Gavin and the others watched on as Tony died and then transformed. He then stood, his skin now dangling from his face like melted cheese. Gavin aimed the rifle and shot Tony in the head, who fell to the floor and moved no more.

The group of survivors applauded Gavin and approached him. “What now?” a woman asked. They were looking at him to lead. It was his turn to be somebody. It was Gavin Hooper’s turn to step up to the plate. Gavin loaded the rifle and smiled.


We hope you enjoyed reading Sam’s story and agree it was a worthy winner.

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So, as usual, we invite you to find a comfy spot and listen to the ramblings of The Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast.