Halloween Blitz – Middletown 4: Unrestival

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Middletown 4: Unrestival

 

Where people gather, danger awaits. Where there is humanity, there is unrest. These two ideas meet at Unrestival. The Middletown series continues rolling through American culture. This time around the apocalyptic series stops at a New York festival dedicated to purging the unrest of humankind. Find out what happens when eleven of the brightest authors in the zombie genre are tasked with writing the same story. That is the heart of the Middletown series, and this time around it takes on a decidedly anti-establishment flare. Celebrate the purging of your own unrest with the zombie genre party people: Brent Abell, Rebecca Besser, Chuck Buda, Frank J. Edler, Tim Meyer, Lucas Milliron, John Quick, Armand Rosamilia, Heath Stallcup, Jay Wilburn, and Jack Wallen.

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Halloween Blitz – Middletown 3: Metal Apocalypse

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Middletown 3:

Metal Apocalypse

with stories by

Jack Wallen, Jay Wilburn, Armand Rosamilia, Rebecca Besser, Brent Abell, Chuck Buda, Eric Shelman, G.G. Silverman, Heath Stallcup, Jaime Johnessee, Peter Welmernik, and Suzanne Madron

 

What happens when a metal band gets caught up in the apocalypse? Even better, what happens when you give that same scenario to twelve of the genre’s hottest authors? Rosamilia, Besser, Abell, Buda, Shelman, Silverman, Stallcup, Wallen, Johnesee, Wilburn, Welmerink, Madron … each author was put to the task to take the apocalyptic story up to eleven.

1. 12. 11. Do the math. It all works out to rock and roll; zombie style.

Halloween Blitz – Feast or Famine: A Banquet of Tales for the Zombie Prepper

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Feast or Famine:

A Banquet of Tales for the Zombie Prepper

Edited by

Eve Bellator & Rebecca Besser

with stories by

Sara Gray, Paul McConnell, Alan Dale,
Johnny Andrews, Rebecca Besser, Tony Monchinski,
Rich Restucci, Carl Fox, Jamal Luckett,
J. Cornell Michel, Dylan Worthey, R.J. Spears,
Kevin A. Harris, and Julianne Snow

 

Survivalists, preppers, people who have prepared to ensure their safety and continued existence in the event of a catastrophic disaster. But what happens when the SHTF? Really? The population will be divided by the have and have nots- those who were ready and prepared and those who are caught unaware and panicked. The struggle for available resources will be another catastrophic event in and of itself as humans fight to either defend and retain what they have established or to take what others had the foresight to store and prepare.

This is the end as we know it. For some, life and death hinges on acquiring basic human needs, while for others life is good, if not better in accordance with their due diligence.

The Zombie Apocalypse has arrived. Will it be feast or famine?

Halloween Blitz – Cast a Shadow by Rebecca Besser

Cast A Shadow

By

Rebecca Besser

 

My mom always told me not to be scared of the dark. She said there was nothing in the dark that wasn’t there in the light too. She was wrong.

At first I couldn’t understand why she was saying that. But I was younger then, and didn’t understand I was different. I didn’t understand that most people were blind to the evil all around them, the evil I could see plainly. And maybe my mom was right in a way. Maybe they were there when the sun was shining or the lights were on, but my eyes could only see them in the dark. And that was still more than “normal” people apparently.

By the time I was eight years old I’d stopped telling my parents there were monsters in the closet and under the bed; they didn’t believe me and made light of the situation. They were wrong. So very, very wrong. Those monsters exist…and they’re terrifying. The monsters would growl and whisper in my ear while I was trying to sleep, threatening to do all kinds of horrible things to me. They wanted to keep me in a continuous state of terror. They enjoyed my fear; it was like they feed on it…and grew.

That was my childhood in a nutshell. And it’s no wonder my parents and doctors thought I had night terrors as much as I screamed. Well, until I learned to get it under control around age eleven so I didn’t have to deal with the adults in my life telling me it was all my imagination. They weren’t though. The monster were real.

Then came the tests to see if I had leukemia. I would develop bruises that couldn’t be explained and they checked me for cancer and other diseases and syndromes that would explain the bruises and the pain that came out of nowhere to cause them. Like I said, I was young and didn’t understand. I just knew the bruises were caused by pain and I had to endure more pain from doctors and hospitals while they ran test after test.

I live a lonely life. I don’t have many friends. Well, none really… It’s hard to make and keep friends when they want you to do kid things like go Trick-Or-Treating and you’re having a panic attack because that’s the night the monsters are four times their normal size and way stronger. But, yeah, I’m now a full-blown freak at school. My parents have talked about homeschooling me many times, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m now fifteen, so I don’t think it will ever happen. I think they hope if they force me to go out into the world I’ll “get over” my fears. That’s not going to happen, obviously. The monsters are real, which means my fear is real. I’m actually worried about my parents. Ignorance isn’t always bliss.

This one time, my dad came to check on me after I’d gone to bed. When he opened my door wider than its ordinary two-inch crack, the light from the hallway cast his shadow against my bedroom wall right beside the monster that was telling me all the violent things it wanted to do to me.

The monster laughed harshly, reached out and into my dad’s shadow, and clenched its mighty, grotesque fist in my dad’s shadow’s stomach area.

My dad grabbed his stomach on his actual body and grunted like he was in pain. He tried to be quiet and quickly closed the door, which removed his shadow and the onslaught of the monster.

The hideous thing turned to me and said, “See, I can hurt you anytime I want.”

And in that moment, I knew it was true. I knew the monsters could hurt me or anyone else they wanted, but it seemed they could only touch our shadows. This happened when I was five years old, so it took me some time to truly understand the limits of the monsters and how they could harm us humans. As I grew older, I began to understand where the bruises I’d suffered all my life had come from.

I learned that I was safer in the dark. I was safer when my shadow wasn’t present. And once they knew I knew, they hurt me even more often, especially during the day; it got really hard explaining why I had so many scratches and bruises on my body. They were stronger in the dark, at night, but they could still hurt humans during the day…and I know they had it out for me in particular. I think they hated me more than most because I could see them and tried to warn others about them; I became a favored target. Halloween was always the worst. Like I said, the monsters are four times their normal size and stronger. They could break my bones that day, and did a couple times before I could convince my parents to let me stay in the house, in my room, in complete darkness the entire day.

Sure, the monsters were there taunting me, but they couldn’t touch me. They couldn’t hurt me in the dark. I had to cast a shadow. I had to be vulnerable.

I learned to hate light of any kind. It’s no fun being beat on all the time, even if the monsters could only hit and scratch me during the day.

My parents grew more and more concerned because I wanted to be alone in the dark all the time; I did invite my parents to sit in the dark with me to try to protect them, but they eventually had to turn a light on… My mom ended up having strange scar tissue around her heart that they found when they thought she’d had a heart attack. Actually, she’d turned the light on and opened herself up to a couple attacks until the damage was bad enough she finally gave in and went to the doctor. My dad ended up having to have intestinal surgery when a slice to his large intestine almost killed him.

They want to take me to a special hospital. They want me to be in this brightly lit room all the time on meds, thinking it will get me over my fear. It’s strange… People consider fear of the dark normal to an extent, but fear the light and you’re suddenly batshit crazy. And, honestly, I was afraid of the dark until I realized it was the safest place to be; it was better to be mentally tormented than physically abused.

Oh, did I mention the school actually thought a couple times that my parents were abusing me? Yeah, be a kid with unexplainable scratches and bruises all over your body all the time and your parents start to look really shady.

But, now, having been through test after test and them not finding anything physically wrong with me, it’s all “mental health issue” this and “unstable” that.

I keep a journal of what I see, what I hear from the monsters, and the things they do.

My mom found it; she read it and cried for days. She and Dad talked about things.

They’ve given me two options, since today’s Halloween.

Either I go outside, or they send me to the funny farm.

They think that if they can get me to face my fear, that if I go outside on Halloween night (when there’s less light than the daytime), that I’ll find out I’m not in any danger. They honestly think I’ll be okay.

I told them I would die. I told them it was a bad idea. I cried and sobbed and begged and pleaded.

They wouldn’t budge.

I’m now sitting in my pitch black room, listening to the monsters with half an ear because I’m sick of their shit and I have a lot on my mind contemplating my own death with either choice. I could go to a hospital, take drugs, and let the monsters bash the crap out of me slowly until I die, or I can just go for a stroll down the street and get it over with quickly.

This world isn’t really for me; I’ve known that for a long time. But I thought maybe I could figure out a way to adapt that would work for me. Apparently that wasn’t going to happen.

The fact that people who are different aren’t listened to hurts. I’m incapable of living life like other people, and because of that, because I don’t fit into their societal mold, I have to be sick or deranged. It’s basically bullshit. It’s basically this twisted human control syndrome that has taken over most people. If you’re different they fear you, they make fun of you, and they think nothing at all about hurting you. I wonder if any of them even stop to think about how being different feels. I wonder if they ever think about how life must be from my point of view. Apparently they don’t care; my parents among the “they.”

The clock on my nightstand reads eight o’clock in its faint glow-in-the-dark hands. My parents said I had until eight-thirty to make my decision, but there’s no point in putting it off.

I stand and move toward the door. I’ve made up my mind. I’ll take the quick death, because I’m tired. I’m tired of the constant pain caused by human judgements, and I’m tired of fighting to have safety from the monsters.

I walk down the stairs and to the front door. I reach out and grip the cool metal of the doorknob. I take a deep breath.

Without saying a word to my parents that I can hear in the kitchen, I walk out into the darkness.

Three strides and I’m to the edge of the porch.

I can hear the monsters growling, getting excited.

I swallow hard and descend the porch steps, one at a time, counting them, reaching four and knowing I’m now on the cement path that leads out to the sidewalk and the street.

Tears run down my face.

The monsters laugh at me, now all around me.

I walk down the path, across the sidewalk, and out into the street.

Street lights illuminate me on all sides, casting multiple shadows of my person in every direction.

More monsters than I can count start running toward my shadows, snarling and salivating.

I turn to face my house, hoping my parents heard me leave, can see me, and will witness my death. Then they’ll know I wasn’t lying and the monsters are real. Maybe my death will save their lives. Once I’m gone, they’ll be the new favored targets. They won’t last long unless they learn to love the dark.

I whisper, “Happy Halloween,” just before the first of my bones snap and I’m dragged to the ground and torn apart from the inside out.

 

Author Rebecca Besser

 

Rebecca Besser is a horror/thriller author who resides in Ohio with her wonderful husband and amazing son. They’ve come to accept her quirks as normal while she writes anything and everything that makes her inner demons squeal with delight. She’s best known for her work in adult horror, but has been published in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for a variety of age groups and genres. She’s entirely too cute to be scary in person, so she turns to the page to instill fear into the hearts of the masses.

 

Copyright © Rebecca Besser 2019

Halloween Blitz – Fading Hope: Humanity Unbound

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Fading Hope: Humanity Unbound

 

It’s the end of the world and we are not feeling fine.

What happens when you ask seven of the most notorious writers in apocalyptic fiction to craft stories where a happily ever after doesn’t exist?

You get Fading Hope.

Bleak landscapes, fading faith, the loss of humanity and the struggle to simply make it to the end of the day, are just some of the elements that come together within this boundary-pushing anthology.

Dive into a world of hopelessness as rendered by award-winning authors like: Rebecca Besser, Eli Constant, Morgan Garcia, Thea Gregory, Claire C. Riley, Armand Rosamila, and Jack Wallen

 

 

Halloween Blitz – Conversation with the Living By Courtney Rene

Conversation with the Living

By

Courtney Rene

 

Will you stop?  Hello!  You’ve been playing with that stupid board for over an hour now.  You’re driving me crazy.  In fact, the only reason I’m responding at all is to get you to shut up and stop all that chanting and mumbo jumbo stuff you’re doing.  Geez.

What does a person have to do to get some quiet around here?  Oh, and just FYI, Ouija boards don’t really work.  We just sometimes get bored and like to aggravate the living.

For Heaven’s sake, why are you cringing?  You have been calling for me, right?  Well, here I am.

Look, I can’t do anything to you.  I’m just an empty shell.  Fog like.  Here, I’ll show you.  See?

So, you got me here, what is it you want?

Excuse me?  Allow me to let you in on a little secret, just because you’re researching the house and found that I died here, doesn’t mean I owe you anything.

Wrong.  Regardless of what you think, this is still and will always be, my house.  I was, after all, here first.  In fact, it’s been like over a hundred years ago, now.

Oh, all right, fine.  Go ahead.  Ask your silly questions.

What’s it like to be dead?  Why you want to know is beyond me, but okay.  It’s a little hard to explain.  It’s kinda boring, actually.  Once your body dies, you have no need for sleep anymore, so you have loads of time to just wander around.  I found out early that people, living people, really don’t like to hold conversations with me now that I’m dead.

Then you have all the other dead people, and all they want to talk about is how they died, when they died, and how awful it is to be dead.  You can only take so much of that before you go loopy.

Being dead, it’s not so bad actually.  Just boring.

What’s that?  Oh.  Well, there really isn’t anything to feel.  Since we don’t eat, we don’t feel hunger.  Since we don’t have a living body anymore, we don’t get tired.  We don’t get cold or hot or sweaty anymore either.

Why don’t I talk funny?  What do you mean?

Oh, I see.  I have spent most of my time listening and learning.  In fact, I love watching television.  Reality TV, oh yeah.

The story of my death?  That’s kind of a sad story, actually.  You sure you want to hear about that?

Well, I was just about to turn seventeen.  My boyfriend, John, intended to ask for my hand.

Hey, it was a long time ago, girls got married early back then.  We didn’t have many options.  I was lucky I knew how to read.  A lot of the girls my age didn’t.  It was thought to be a waste of time to teach us lowly women to read.  That’s another story though.

Anyway, as I was saying, I was just about to turn seventeen.  We were having a huge winter snowstorm.  There was snow and ice, and wind.  I didn’t care about the snow though.  John was coming over to take me for a sleigh ride, and I was going, no matter what.  I didn’t care what anyone said.  John, he was so wonderful.  He had put little silver bells on the harnesses of the horses.  The jingling echoed sweetly through the night as we made our way over the snow-covered roads.  I remember that night like it was just today.  That was the last time I left the house.

By the time we came back home, I was frozen with cold, but so happy and so in love.  I knew I’d made the right choice with John.  He was a good man.  We would get married, have children, and live happily ever after.

I got a fever the next day.  After two nights of the raging fever, I went to sleep and never woke up again.

John was broken up over my death.  I saw him at my funeral.  Yes, I actually attended my own funeral.  I wanted to see who would come, and also who wouldn’t.  You’d be surprised at all the people you think are your friends, who aren’t.  People that were supposed to have been my friends said terrible things about me at my own funeral.  Like, how I was stubborn and stupid for going out in the cold.  How it served me right to be dead.  How high and mighty I always seemed, the conniving wretches.  That’s all right, I got them back.  I took a crash course on haunting, just for them.  That was fun.  Revenge, it can be fun.

Well, of course I still have feelings.  What you see before you is a soul.  Where do you think your feelings come from?

John came to my grave to see me every day for a month.  He felt my death was his fault.  After that first month, he started coming less and less.  Then, one day he just stopped coming.

I went to his house to see how he was doing.  Okay, I wanted to see why he wasn’t coming to see me anymore, and I admit that I missed him.

I may have been dead, but I learned to hate that night.  I slipped into John’s house, and there he was, with my one of my best friends.  I never went back.  I heard they got married.  I heard they had children.  They lived happily ever after.  They had my life, the one I was supposed to be living.  Yes, I learned all about hate.

Sadness is a terrible thing.  It can eat away at you whether you’re alive or dead.  I hid from the world for many years after that.  I wanted to forget. I didn’t.

How did I hide?  I went into the darkness, into the shadows, and wrapped myself up in them and just stayed in their cocooned arms until I was ready to leave.  Shadows have life in them.

You didn’t know that?  Well, they do.  They sing.  You can hear them if you listen.  You don’t have to be dead either.  In the dark of the night, you should try it.  It’s beautiful.

Well, I suppose it’s just like with me.  If you believe, you can see us, if you believe in the shadows, you can hear them.

I finally came out of the shadows when your family moved into the house.  This house had been empty for many years. It was quiet and peaceful and empty.  Then you moved in and with you, came the noise and the chaos.  It was wonderful.  I hadn’t realized how much life is in the young.  How much I missed it.

Now, why are you sitting here in the night, talking to cardboard?

Don’t be stupid.  I can’t tell you the future.  I can’t tell you if some boy likes you or not.  I’m dead, not a fortune teller.  Geez.  You have to figure that out for yourself.  You have to make the future yourself.  If I have learned anything in my life and in my death, it’s the world turns with or without you.  It’s not fair or just.  It just is.  You have to make your own future and live your life to the fullest for as long as you’re allowed.

Now quit screwing around in here in the dark and get out there and enjoy it while you can.

 

Author Courtney Rene

 

Courtney Rene lives in the State of Ohio.  She is a graduate and member of the Institute of Children’s Literature.  Her writings include magazine articles, short fiction stories, several anthologies, as well as her young adult novels which include, the A Howl in the Night series, the Shadow Dancer series, Feathers, and her new release, COLD, published through Rogue Phoenix Press.  For a complete listing, visit www.ctnyrene.blogspot.com or feel free to contact her at ctnyrene@aol.com.

 

Copyright © Courtney Rene 2019

Halloween Blitz – Which Witch? by Rebecca Besser

Which Witch?

By

Rebecca Besser

 

“What’s wrong?” Taylor Simmons asked as she walked up to the porch steps where her friend was sulking.

“Tiger went missing sometime yesterday,” Susan Hughes said with a heavy sigh. “I’ve looked everywhere, but I still can’t find him.”

Sitting down, Taylor wrapped her arm around Susan and gave her a hug.

“How did he get out of the house? Don’t you usually keep him inside?”

“Yeah,” Susan said with a sniff. “Brian didn’t shut the door when he took the trash out last night. It’s the only time I know of that Tiger could have gotten out of the house.”

“Maybe he’ll come home on his own,” Taylor said. “If he can’t find food or something, maybe he’ll just come back.”

“But he doesn’t have his claws,” Susan said, sobbing softly. “What if he meets another cat and has to fight? He’ll be at a disadvantage. Tomorrow is Halloween, what if someone does something mean to him just for fun? You know how boys can be!”

Taylor hugged her friend again.

“How about we go for a walk around the block and see if we can find him, and if we don’t, maybe one of our parents will drive us around to look for him later.”

Susan sniffed, wiped tears from her cheeks, and nodded. “Dad said he would take me when he got home from work today, if it wasn’t too dark.”

Taylor smiled. “Hopefully we find Tiger and we don’t have to worry about that.”

Susan went in and told her mom what they planned to do.

When she came back outside, the two girls went for a walk to find the lost orange tiger-striped cat. Susan had gotten him for her tenth birthday, two years ago, and she was really attached to him.

They called his name and walked slowly, going to the door of each house to ask the residents if they had seen the cat. No one had.

“This is frustrating,” Susan said. “He had to have been seen by someone.”

Soon, they came to Miss Nordstrom’s house. She was a nice, younger woman who was friendly with the children of the neighborhood, always inviting them over for cookies or lemonade when she saw them outside playing. Not only was she friendly and nice, but she was beautiful as well. She had long blonde, curly hair, aqua blue eyes, and perfect white teeth. Her nose was the perfect size, and her dark pink lips were always smiling. The girls of the neighborhood always envied her and wanted to look just like her when they grew up.

The girls climbed the light blue painted cement steps and smiled at each other as they rang the doorbell. If anyone would help them, it would be Miss Nordstrom.

In a matter of moments the door opened to the cheery smile the girls expected.

“Susan and Taylor,” Miss Nordstrom said happily. “What are you doing here? Come to visit? I just finished making a pumpkin roll. Would you like to come in for a piece?”

The girls looked at each other, shrugged, and nodded yes. They could smell the pumpkin and spices in air as it drifted out of the house and it made them hungry.

“Have a seat in the parlor,” Miss Nordstrom instructed. “I’ll get us a snack. Would you like tea or hot chocolate?”

“Hot chocolate,” the girls said in unison, and then giggled.

Miss Nordstrom grinned, nodded, and went to the kitchen.

Even though Susan and Taylor had been in the parlor many times, they were still fascinated by the elegance of the decor. Everything appeared to be old and well-maintained.

They sat down on an antique red velvet couch and looked around.

“What’s that smell?” Susan said, wrinkling her nose.

Taylor sniffed. “I don’t smell anything.”

Susan looked down at the couch, frowning. She didn’t find anything, so she looked at the small, round end table that sat beside her. It held a lamp and a shallow bowl with a mesh bag, which looked like it held potpourri. Leaning closer, Susan sniffed.

“Found it,” she said, lifting the bag by the string and holding it out for Taylor to smell.

Taylor wrinkled her nose and gaged. “That reeks! Get it away from me!”

Susan made a disgusted face and put it back where she’d found it.

Miss Nordstrom entered the room at that exact moment, carrying a tray full of mugs of steaming beverages, small plates, forks, napkins, and pumpkin roll.

The girl’s faces lit up as the pumpkin and spice aroma overpowered the stench of the little bag, but not before Miss Nordstrom saw their expressions.

“What’s wrong?” she asked the girls, setting the tray down gently on the coffee table. “You look disgusted with something.”

Taylor shrugged and looked at Susan.

“I was just sitting here and I smelled something funny,” Susan said, picking up the little mesh bag to show Miss Nordstrom. “I found this. It really stinks.”

Miss Nordstrom laughed. “If it bothers you, I’ll put it some place else.”

She took the bag from Susan, put it back in the bowl, and moved it to the top of an old piano that was in the opposite corner of the small room.

“Better?”

Susan smiled and nodded. “Yes, thanks. What was in it? Why do you keep something so smelly in here?”

“Susan,” Taylor gasped, elbowing her friend in the side. “That was rude!”

Miss Nordstrom laughed. “Not at all, I have no problem answering those questions. The bag has a mixture of herbs in it. My great-grandma used to make those bags before every Halloween, to keep bad spirits out of the house. It’s an old superstition. I can’t say I really believe it, but doing it each year makes me feel closer to my family.”

Both girls smiled politely and nodded. They knew Miss Nordstrom didn’t have any living relatives, and didn’t want to push the subject, taking what she’d said at face value.

They talked and laughed for the next ten minutes as they ate their delicious snack, forgetting about the stinking bag.

“Now,” Miss Nordstrom said, putting her empty plate back on the tray. “What has brought you two to my doorstep this afternoon? You didn’t look too happy when you arrived.”

With the reminder of the reason for their visit, tears sprang to Susan’s eyes, and she gushed out the whole tale of Tiger going missing while Taylor held her hand.

“Oh, that’s terrible,” Miss Nordstrom exclaimed. “No one’s seen him? What does he look like?”

“He’s a plump orange and yellow tiger-striped cat,” Taylor said, as Susan was now crying too hard to speak. “He has a tie-dye collar with a little gold bell on it.”

“Hmm, let me think,” Miss Nordstrom said thoughtfully. “I don’t recall seeing any strange cats around lately. Have you checked over by Mrs. Larson’s? I’ve heard of all kinds of animals disappearing over there.”

With the mention of Mrs. Larson, both girls froze, their faces going white with fear. Mrs. Larson was a crazy old lady that lived in an old rickety house on the hill. Her yard was always overgrown, and dark clouds and fog seemed to linger around the house. She was a witch, or so all the children believed.

“Mrs…. Mrs…. Larson?” Susan said in a quivery voice, swallowing hard. “You think she might have taken Tiger?”

Miss Nordstrom shrugged and sighed. “I’m not saying she did, but I’ve heard stories of her taking animals that she finds roaming around. If you don’t find Tiger anywhere else, I would check there.”

The girls glanced at each other, the knuckles of their clasped hands were now white for gripping so tightly. They were afraid of Mrs. Larson—always had been.

“I hate to rush you two out,” Miss Nordstrom said, standing and picking up the tray now laden with empty plates and mugs. “I wasn’t expecting company today, and I have an appointment soon. I wish you good luck in finding Tiger.”

The girls mumbled their thanks for the refreshments and made polite good-byes, but as they walked out of the house chills ran down their spines. They jumped as the door closed with a loud thump behind them. Thunder boomed from the sky where dark clouds had gathered. Lightning flashed and the wind picked up with a vengeance.

They glanced at Mrs. Larson’s house on the hill, which was shrouded with dark storm clouds. The lightning flashed off the windows and made the house look like it was coming alive and wanted to eat them.

Thunder boomed again, and the girls screamed. They ran off of the porch and all the way back to Susan’s house, knowing it was about to storm. Just as they stepped through the door, closing it tightly behind them, rain poured from the fall sky. The rainfall shrouded the world in gray and stripping radiant red, orange, and yellow leaves from the trees, laying them out in a murky carpet on the road and lawns.

The girls darted up the steps to Susan’s room and talked in hushed voices about what they would do tomorrow—how they would find Tiger. As a last resort they would go to Mrs. Larson’s, but only after they’d checked everywhere else.

*   *   *

The next morning was still overcast. Gray, damp clouds hung low to the ground, setting the perfect stage for Halloween. The girls met at the agreed upon time and continued their search. No one had seen Tiger.

“Let’s just go do it,” Taylor said. “The sooner we go and ask, the sooner we can get home and get ready to go Trick-Or-Treating. Besides, I’m cold and hungry.”

Susan nodded, her teeth chattering from cold and fear. “Okay.”

Slowly the girls walked to the gate set in a high brick wall that surrounded Mrs. Larson’s property. The land had been in her family for years, having been owned by the town’s founder, who was Mrs. Larson great-uncle.

They stood at the ornate wrought iron gate, staring at the twisted trees, overgrown bushes, and weed-choked gravel driveway. Gulping, they pushed the gate open. It screeched in protest and a mass of black crows took flight from their hiding places in the trees. There were so many of them that the sky looked black with stars of gray where the clouds shown through.

“I don’t want to do this,” Susan whined. “Can’t we just have my dad or someone come up here?”

“Your dad is at work, and it’ll be dark by the time he gets home,” Taylor said, trying to be brave. “Besides, if we don’t do this now, we won’t be back in time to Trick-Or-Treat, and I don’t want to miss that.”

Susan nodded and took Taylor’s hand in a death grip. They walked together, hand-in-hand, up the gravel drive to the house that stood on the top of the hill. The stones of the drive crunched under their feet with each step. Their eyes darted about anxiously, expecting some huge monster to come bounding out and gobble them up at any moment.

Before they knew it, they’d made it to the house. It was an old Victorian made of red brick. Vines grew up the sides, like the fingers of vegetation were trying to grab the house and pull it down into the earth, swallowing it and the inhabitants forever.

Slowly, they stepped on the wooden steps that lead to the house, each one creaked ominously, causing their apprehension to grow. By the time they reached the top, they were both so tense that they moved in short stilted steps toward the door.

The porch went all the way around the house, so after they knocked tentatively, with no answer, they decided to walk around the corner to see if there was a back door.

As they went around to the side porch, they saw a light. There was a large window close to the back corner of the house that was like the beacon of a light house to a stormy sea. The girls headed for it.

Kneeling down, they peeked over the windowsill to see what was inside. The room appeared to be a kitchen. Herbs hung from the ceiling on strings, small containers with hand written labels covered every available surface, and a large pot was steaming on the stove.

Mrs. Larson stepped into the room. Her gray and white hair stuck out from her head at odd angles. As she turned and took something out of a cabinet, they saw that she’d attempted to tame her hair into a bun, but had failed. She wore a calico print dress that looked homemade and old—something that would have been worn twenty or thirty years ago. As she closed the cabinet, she turned to face the window.

The girls hurriedly ducked down, before slowly peeking in again.

They hadn’t been seen.

They watched as Mrs. Larson stirred the contents of the pot, singing to herself. She walked over to a drawer and pulled it open, and that’s when Susan saw it. Tiger’s collar was hanging from the handle of the drawer!

With a gasp, Susan spun around to sit on her butt, facing away from the house. “She has him. She took Tiger. How are we supposed to get him back? For all we know she’s cooking him right now in that pot!”

“Shh!” Taylor hissed. “Be quiet. We don’t want to get caught, she’ll probably cook and eat us, too!”

Just then the window slid open and Mrs. Larson stuck her head out and looked down at them.

“Hi, girls,” she said in a cracked voice. “Want to come in for something hot to drink?”

The girls screamed, jumped up, and ran. They were off the porch in moments, down the drive in minutes, and as they passed through, they slammed the gate shut behind them. Only then did they stop to take a breath. Only then did they stop screaming.

They hurried to Taylor’s house, where they were going to get ready to go Trick-Or-Treating. They took turns taking showers, and then they had some soup to warm them up. It did the trick for their bodies, but their minds were still frozen with fear from their experience.

When they went back upstairs to get ready to go, Susan started to cry.

“I can’t believe she ate him,” she sobbed. “I loved him so much, and she ate him. It’s just not fair.”

Taylor hugged her friend. “I know. But there’s nothing we can do about it now. We might as well try to have fun tonight. Maybe some time out with friends will make you feel better.”

“I don’t know,” Susan sniffed. “I could tell my parents. They could call the police. Isn’t that cruelty to animals or something?”

“We would have to get evidence for that,” Taylor said thoughtfully. “Maybe if we went back and got the collar, you know, as proof she took him, then they could do something.”

Susan shook her head, her eyes wide with fear. “I can’t go back there. I’m too scared. She’ll get us this time for sure!”

“Calm down, calm down,” Taylor sighed and sat down on the bed. “We’ll do it after we are done Trick-Or-Treating. She should be asleep by then. All we have to do is find a way in and take the collar. I bet she doesn’t even lock her doors. I mean, she’s a witch, who would dare try to steal from her? They would probably be cursed for life.”

Susan nodded, but still looked scared.

“Let’s get our costumes on,” Taylor said with a soft smile. “We don’t want to be late for the candy.”

Susan laughed through her tears. “You know. We are getting kinda old for this. How many more years do you think we can get away with candy begging before they stop giving it to us?”

Taylor grinned. “I plan to try for a couple of years yet. After that, I’ll just start throwing Halloween parties.”

For the next hour the girls forgot about all their cares as they applied each other’s make-up and dressed in their costumes. This year Susan was a giant teddy bear and Taylor was an undead fairy princess.

With pumpkin pails in hand, they left to beg for candy. The night flew by with friends they met along the way, and the excitement of seeing everyone’s costumes.

Before they knew it, they were standing in front of the wrought iron gate, staring up at Mrs. Larson’s house.

“I don’t want to do this,” Susan said.

“You want to report her for eating Tiger, don’t you?” Taylor asked.

“Yes, but I don’t want to go up there again.”

“What are you two doing?” Miss Nordstrom asked, coming up behind them, dressed as a sexy rock star. “Trick-Or-Treat is almost over. The two of you shouldn’t be out here all alone. Something bad might happen to you.”

The girls looked at each other, wondering if they should tell Miss Nordstrom what was going on. They missed the malicious gleam in her eyes, and the slight smirk that flutter across her face for an instant.

“Mrs. Larson took Susan’s cat and ate him,” Taylor said. “We saw his collar in her kitchen. Everything is true. She is a witch!”

“We have to go up there and get his collar,” Susan gushed, “so that we have proof when we tell the police.”

“Oh, I see,” Miss Nordstrom said. “Do you want me to come with you? You both look scared.”

Taylor and Susan smiled with relief at having an adult to come with them.

“That would be great,” Taylor said.

Susan nodded in agreement—too choked up from relief to speak.

“I have to go and get something from my house first, okay?” Miss Nordstrom said. “You two wait right here.”

In just minutes, Miss Nordstrom was back, carrying two strings with something attached to them.

“These are charm bags I had laying around the house,” she explained. “My mom made them for us kids when we would go out on Halloween, to protect us from evil spirits. Kinda like the bag you asked about yesterday, Susan. These are a little different though.”

She slid one over each girl’s head, to dangle from their necks, over their costumes. They stunk worse than the bag in the parlor had.

“Where’s yours?” Taylor asked, trying not to gag.

“I have one in my pocket,” Miss Nordstrom said with a smile. “It’s been in there all night.”

“Oh, okay,” Susan said, turning her head to try and breathe in some fresh air.

Together they stepped up to the gate. The two girls hung back a little, thinking about their earlier experience. Miss Nordstrom didn’t have that problem, and pushing it open. It screeched louder than it had earlier, and both girls shuddered.

Miss Nordstrom looked back over her shoulder. “You two coming?”

They nodded and followed her inside. The trees and the bushes were even more unnerving in the dark.

They hadn’t gone very far when Susan started to yawn.

“I feel so weak and tired,” she said, covering her mouth as she yawned yet again. “Do you mind if we take a break?”

Taylor was yawning, too. “A break does sound nice.”

“I agree,” Miss Nordstrom said with a gleeful smile. “Let’s rest. I think I see a bench over there, just past that tree. Why don’t you two go sit down?”

The girls nodded; stumbling over to the bench, they sat down.

“Why do I feel so drowsy?” Susan mumbled as she almost fell asleep and would have fallen off the bench if Taylor hadn’t been there to lean on.

Taylor kept dozing off herself, and would try to startle herself awake again, blinking like an owl and shaking her head.

Miss Nordstrom watched with amusement. “It’s the charm bags I gave you. They’ll put you to sleep and then I’ll take you home. It’s time for me to do my beauty spell again, and I’ll be needing some parts of young girls for the potion. You two should do nicely. You’re both young and lovely.”

Susan finally went to sleep, fell forward off the bench, and landed in the overgrown grass with a thump.

Taylor whimpered, still trying to stay awake. “Why are you doing this to us? I thought you were our friend.”

“I have no friends,” Miss Nordstrom laughed. “I use people and I move on. I’ve been doing it for hundreds of years. Luckily my spells last for a long time, so I don’t have to move too often.”

“You’re…you’re a witch,” Taylor gasped, before she too fell off the bench, sound sleep.

*   *   *

Susan woke up slowly. Her body was weak and it took effort for her to move. She was surrounded by tall grass, and it was dark out. Her head throbbed with a headache. It was the strangest headache she’d ever had.

As she sat up, she looked around. There were trees, bushes, and a cement bench, but nothing else. Slowly her mind started to work again, and she remembered where she was and what had happened.

“Taylor?” she croaked, standing up. Dizziness overtook her and she had to immediately sit down on the bench.

After the world stopped spinning, she looked around again. Taylor was nowhere in sight, but she could now see a path of flattened grass that lead back to the driveway.

“Miss Nordstrom,” she muttered to herself. “She must have taken her back to her house.”

Standing again, Susan closed her eyes and willed the dizziness to go away. She needed to find help, and fast. Miss Nordstrom would be back for her soon, and she had to get out of there. But the closest person was Mrs. Larson. The thought of going to that house again still scared her. But the thought of being chopped up and cooked into some kind of potion scared her even more.

Stumbling and weaving, Susan made her way up the overgrown drive. She tripped and fell over the weeds multiple times, and by the time she reached the porch steps her knees and her hands were scratched and bleeding.

She gulped hard before she lifted her foot and forced herself to climb the porch steps. She ran up to the door and knocked. No answer.

She stood there for a moment, thinking maybe she had just dreamed all this up, when she heard a rustling of leaves and a twig snap behind her. Turning, she saw Miss Nordstrom rushing up the drive.

Susan pounded on the door with all her strength, yelling, “Help! Help!”

She glanced back to see Miss Nordstrom just entering the overgrown grass that surrounded the house. As she looked back, the door opened and she fell inside.

Mrs. Larson stood over her with her hands on her hips. She was wearing a long, white cotton night gown and her hair was even more wild than it had been before.

“Can I help you, dear?” Mrs. Larson asked, her voice cracking.

Susan lay speechless, looking outside at the now empty yard, and then up at Mrs. Larson.

“Can you talk? Cat got you tongue?”

At the mention of a cat, Susan’s throat went dry and she feared she’d made the biggest mistake ever coming here. The thought that Mrs. Larson and Miss Nordstrom were both witches and were working together hit her brain like a lightning bolt, making her gasp.

Susan began to tremble violently and tears slid down her cheeks. Closing her eyes, she lay back on the floor, thinking she was doomed.

Something cold and wet touched Susan’s ear, and then a rough tongue began licking her cheek. She opened her eyes to see Tiger.

Forgetting about the women she thought were trying to kill her, she sat up and squealed, picking up the cat to cuddle him close.

“Ah, so he belongs to you,” Mrs. Larson said with a soft smile. “I found him yesterday. He’d hurt his paw and was laying on my porch.”

Susan wiped the tears from her face and noticed Tiger had a white bandage on his left hind leg. He hadn’t been eaten. He had been rescued.

“I…I thought you ate him,” Susan said softly.

“No, dear. Why ever would you think that?”

“I thought you were a witch,” Susan said, blushing and rubbing her now smiling face on Tiger’s fur.

“That’s just silly, dear,” Mrs. Larson laughed. “I’m just an old woman that keeps to herself and takes care of injured animals when they come my way. There’s no witches around here.”

Susan froze and looked up at Mrs. Larson, her eyes huge with fear. “Yes, there is. Miss Nordstrom is a witch. She tricked me and Taylor, that’s my friend, to wear these charm bags, saying they would protect us. They put us to sleep and she planned to take us to her house and use our body parts to make a potion that would keep her looking young and beautiful. We have to save Taylor! She took her!”

“Calm down, dear,” Mrs. Larson said. “I’m sure it was just a prank or something. Where’s Taylor now?”

Susan stood up, still clutching Tiger. “It’s not a prank. I’m telling the truth. We have to call the police. She has Taylor!”

“Okay, okay, dear,” Mrs. Larson said. “We’ll call the police. I’m sure it’s all a misunderstanding though.”

*   *   *

Dawn was just starting to light the distant horizon as Miss Nordstrom was lead out of her house in hand cuffs.

“We’ve been looking for this one for a long time,” one of the officers said to Taylor’s dad. “She’s been on the FBI’s most wanted list for years. I, myself, have never believed in witches, but this has changed my mind.”

Taylor was being loaded into the back of an ambulance, to be checked out at the local hospital, although she seemed fine. They’d found her in Miss Nordstrom’s basement, still asleep.

Upon investigating, they’d also found the charm pouch Susan had been wearing, lying beside the stone bench. Luckily for her, it had gotten caught on a sharp corner where the cement had eroded and chipped, cutting the string that held it around her neck. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have woken up, and they would never have caught Miss Nordstrom.

Mrs. Larson walked up to Susan, who was watching all the activity from across the street, wrapped in a fleece blanket. She put her arm around Susan and gave her a hug.

“You were very brave. If it hadn’t been for you, your friend would have died,” she said.

Susan smiled up at Mrs. Larson, still holding Tiger in her arms. “I’m glad you’re a nice woman instead of a witch. It’s strange that we had it all mixed up. The real witch pretended to be our friend, and you were just a nice woman we thought was strange. I’m sorry.”

Mrs. Larson laughed. “Well, now you know you can’t believe what you hear about people. You just have to meet them and find out for yourself.”

Susan giggled. “I guess so.”

“Susan,” her mother called as she walked across the street, “it’s time to go home and get some rest. You’ve had a big night. I’ll take you to visit Taylor at the hospital tomorrow.”

“Okay, Mom,” Susan said. “Can Mrs. Larson come, too? I’d love for Taylor to meet her. Oh, is that okay with you, Mrs. Larson?”

Both women laughed.

“That would be fine with me,” Mom said.

“I’d love to, dear,” Mrs. Larson said.

Susan and Mom started walking away when Susan handed Tiger to Mom, and ran back to Mrs. Larson, giving her a hug.

“Do you think I could come and visit you sometime, and you could teach me about taking care of hurt animals?”

Mrs. Larson laughed. “I’d like that very much.”

*   *   *

Many years later, Susan was locking up her veterinary clinic to go home. She smiled, never tiring of seeing her name on the door. With a content sigh, she turned to walk down the street, heading home.

She pushed open the gate, and started up the well-maintained drive way. The crisp autumn air rustled the orange and red leaves that dangled from the pruned trees. Giggling, she caressed the bushes that were trimmed in the shapes of pumpkins, ghosts, and ghouls. Today was Halloween, and after dark, the children would come to her house to Trick-Or-Treat. All the orange lights strung in the bushes would light the way to her house. The house on the top of the hill. The one she had bought from Mrs. Larson, the woman who’d nurtured her passion for animals, and had been an inspiration to her life.

Standing at the bottom of the steps, Susan looked up at the house that had once scared her, which was now a place of warmth and friendship. She smiled and went inside to put on her costume, knowing Taylor would be there soon to help her pass out candy.

 

Author Rebecca Besser

 

Rebecca Besser is the author of “Undead Drive-Thru, Undead Regeneration, Cursed Bounty, Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death, Hall of Twelve,” and “Nurse Blood (Limitless Publishing).” She’s also a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature. Her work has appeared in the Coshocton Tribune, Irish Story Playhouse, Spaceports & Spidersilk, joyful!, Soft Whispers, Illuminata, Common Threads, Golden Visions Magazine, Stories That Lift, Super Teacher Worksheets, Living Dead Press Presents Magazine (Iss. 1 & 2), FrightFest eMagazine, An Xmas Charity Ebook, The Stray Branch, and The Undead That Saved Christmas (Vol. 1 & 2) and the Signals From The Void charity anthologies. She has multiple stories in anthologies by Living Dead Press, Wicked East Press, Pill Hill Press, Hidden Thoughts Press, Knight Watch Press, Coscom Entertainment, Crowded Quarantine Publications, and Collaboration of the Dead (projects), and one (each) in an anthology by Post Mortem Press, NorGus Press, Evil Jester Press, Horrified Press, Atria Books (S&S Digital), and Nocturnal Press Publications. She also has a poem in an anthology by Naked Snake Press and a children’s poem in Oxford Ink Literature Reader 4 from Oxford University Press (India).

Her nonfiction children’s article about skydiving, written for her writing course with the Institute of Children’s Literature, was published by McGraw Hill for NY Assessments.

She’s also an editor and has edited: Dark Dreams: Tales of Terror, Dead Worlds 7: Undead Stories, and Book of Cannibals 2: The Hunger from Living Dead Press; Earth’s End from Wicked East Press; End of Days: An Apocalyptic Anthology (Vol. 4 & 5/co-edited) from Living Dead Press; and she co-edited Feast or Famine (a zombie anthology).

 

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