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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
“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.
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.
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).
I have had experiences with ghosts and the paranormal all my life. I have heard voices, seen apparitions, and felt their cold touch on my flesh. This ghost story is one I will never forget because it was the one time a ghost wrapped his cold, gnarled fingers around my throat.
I was seventeen years old when my mother decided to divorce my stepfather. They shared five children, so it was decided that my stepfather and my siblings would stay in the family home while my mother and I would move into a house not far away.
The move was exceptionally awkward for me because my mother already had a boyfriend, he was the reason for the divorce. And I suspected, he would be a part of our new household. While I didn’t feel obligated to my stepfather for personal reasons, I really hated my mother’s new boyfriend. Add to that, I had a fear of being discarded by my mother. But I had no other place to go, no one else to take me in. I had to make the best of what I got. My life was about survival.
To make matters worse, the area my mother and I moved to wasn’t in the best part of town. It was on the outskirts of urban downtown Moline, which meant dealing with things like vagrants and rats.
On the plus side, I only had to take three buses to get to school.
The house itself was an older home that still had a coal chute in the basement, so when it rained parts of the basement flooded.
The main living area on the first floor included one bedroom, a bath, and a kitchen. A staircase off the living room led to the second floor with one small bedroom and several closets.
And then there was the attic room. Just off the kitchen, there was a door. When you opened it, there was a set of steep, rickety stairs that led up to a third-floor converted attic. That room had small, floor-level windows. It also had no heat, and ventilation was poor.
It was clear that things were not looking good for a new beginning. To this day, I remember the feeling of doom that came over me when I was told I would sleep in the third-floor attic room.
My mother moved us into our new home while I was at school. To be honest, I didn’t even know we were moving or anything about the house ahead of time. And it was the same day I learned of the divorce.
I remember coming out of my school and seeing my mother’s car by the curb. That afternoon, she had come to pick me up, something she never did, and then brought me to our new house. I followed her up the front stairs and inside as she said, “This is it. Help me unpack the kitchen.”
Later, when my mother was busy on the phone, I had walked around the small house, noticing there was only one bedroom on the first floor. I had also seen the staircase in the living room that led to another bedroom, but my mother had already told me it was off-limits. Mentally, I crossed my fingers, praying that she wouldn’t expect me to sleep in the basement.
“Where am I supposed to sleep?” I asked as I stood at the kitchen sink, getting a drink of water.
When she didn’t respond, I turned to look at her. My mother pointed toward a door that I hadn’t seen earlier.
I frowned and walked over to it. Touching the handle, I felt a black veil of doom creep up my arm. I pulled my hand back.
“Can’t I sleep on the couch?”
My mother went to the sink and busied herself.
“I told you that I need my privacy. You can’t be downstairs when my friend is here. As a matter of fact, you better head up there now. And take your books with you.”
It was still light outside, but I knew better than to argue with her. My mother didn’t have motherly instincts or nurturing skills. I was a burden to her and knew I was lucky that she let me live with her at all. I had no choice except to do as I was told.
And so, I opened the door to find a steep and narrow staircase. I inched my way up stairs so narrow there was no way to get real furniture up them. Near the top, I had to turn sideways to slip into the room.
It didn’t surprise me to discover that the room was a closed-off section of the attic. The windows were floor level and tiny. I didn’t see any vents so I knew it would be stifling hot in the summer and frigid in the winter. Living in the Midwest, those were our only two seasons if you didn’t count the three days of spring and the five days of fall.
And then when I pulled the chain on the single, hanging light bulb in the middle of the room, I noticed how sparsely my room was furnished. There was an old cot in the middle of the room and a bookcase in the corner. A couple boxes containing all my worldly possessions sat in the corner.
The light bulb was still swaying when my breath caught in my throat. There was a shadowy figure in one corner. For a second, I was frozen, unable to think or move. I forced myself to turn my back on the shape and sprint toward the door. When I got to the door, I turned to look back. The figure was gone.
Maybe it was my imagination.
I took a deep breath and decided I should just stay. I didn’t have any other place to go anyway, and I had lots of homework to do. So, I walked over to the cot and sat down. The mattress was thin and worn, as was the blanket and what passed for a pillow.
Yeah, home sweet home.
I may have had a sucky home life, but at school, I was aces. Schoolwork was my escape from whatever was troubling me at the time. The one thing that kept me moving forward.
That evening, I was in the middle of my English assignment, when I heard a scratching noise across the room. My eyes flew to look at the mouse skittering across the windowsill.
Oh, great, now I had to worry about mice crawling over me in the middle of the night.
I rummaged through my purse until I found a package of crackers. I had discovered a trick to training mice while living at another house. I found that if I led the mice away from where I didn’t want them to be, in this case, my bedroom and then fed them regularly at the new location, they would relocate to be closer to the source of food. Easy peasy.
So, I made a small trail of crumbs out the window and put a couple whole crackers on the ledge outside. It wasn’t long before the little creep went for it. Relieved, I shut the window behind him. Now I just had to remember to feed him every day.
With the mouse taken care of, I went back to my homework. The next few hours flew by until I heard laughing and the sounds of clinking dishes downstairs. I desperately wanted a snack, but…well, you know.
By then, I was starving. Struggling to ignore my growling stomach, I wished I had kept back some of my crackers. But I had been hungry before, so it wasn’t a new experience for me. I knew all too well that eventually the pangs would pass. I decided I would make a late-night raid on the fridge once my mom and her friend were occupied.
Later, after I finished my homework, I pulled out my Stephen King paperback to read for an hour or so. Thirty minutes in, I fell fast asleep. I had a very vivid dream, probably because of Stephen King, but other than that, my first night in the attic room was uneventful. I wish that was the end of my story, but it wasn’t.
A week later, as I opened the door to the staircase, I heard a strange noise upstairs. This time, I wasn’t concerned since I had already gotten used to various sounds the old house was making. Hurrying up the stairs, I hoped to get a head start on a new English assignment.
The minute I stepped inside the room I noticed a small piece of paper on the floor. It was a corner of one of my English papers
Damn mouse. Didn’t you like the crackers I left out?
Snatching the paper up, I noticed that there were no chew marks. It had been torn. I felt myself frowning.
There had to be chew marks, right?
As I stuck the paper inside my books, I heard the noise again, but this time it sounded like a low, menacing growl. Every hair on me, from my head to my toes, stood on end.
I backed up, my eyes scanning every nook and cranny in the room.
If I can get to the stairs, I can get down to the kitchen.And then if I run into my mother or her friend, I’ll just say I was hungry and take whatever heat they hand me.
Turning, I nearly stumbled and fell, but I thought I could make it. All I had to do was take two more steps. I heard the growl again. Turning, I saw it.
The shadowy figure was back…in the corner…moving. This time, I was convinced it was real. But I couldn’t move.
Minutes passed, or so it seemed, as I stared at it. I blinked…it was still there. I blinked again, and then time, it changed. I took a step closer. And another. It was then that I realized the thing I had seen was nothing more than a spider web.
Oh, for God’s sake. Your imagination is running wild. Get a grip.
My gut told me that what I had seen was much more than that. It was a ghost who could shift into other shapes. At the same time, my logical brain told me to calm down and do whatever was necessary to get through the night. I kept reminding myself that I had no other options, nowhere to go, no one to help me…no one to believe me.
Suck it up, I told myself.
Yeah, I was still brave.
Mere hours later, I would regret staying.
I found myself tossing and turning, unable to sleep. So, I got out my Stephen King book again and buried my nose deep. At some point, I don’t know when, I ended up in a dead sleep. Troubled, but deep.
When I first felt the hands, I thought they were part of a dream that I couldn’t wake up from. Fingertips brushed against my collarbone. I thought it was nothing, so I swatted them away and rolled onto my other side. Then the fingers touched the base of my neck. I rolled my head and buried my head deeper into my pillow.
A male voice growled my name, “Suzi.”
My mind snapped to attention as if ice cold water had been splashed in my face. I threw my covers off and grabbed the sides of the cot to lift myself up. At least I thought I did.
And then my eyes flew open. I tried to move, but I couldn’t. I was pinned to the bed. I attempted to raise my arms, but I was paralyzed. From my toes to my head, I felt crippled except my eyes. My gaze moved from left to right. I didn’t see any bindings or anyone.
How could I be pinned if nothing and no one is holding me?
I squeezed my eyes shut, as tight as I could, fearful of what was going to happen.
A second passed…I tried once more to rise up on the cot. This time, I felt a full body against the length of mine. It was hard, sinewy. My eyes flew open. This time, I saw him. It was the ghost from the corner. I could see his wavery outline.
The ghost pressed harder against me. I looked again and realized the ghost had no face. Somehow, he was more threatening because he was missing his face. I wished I had kept my eyes shut.
And then I felt his fingers again. They had been around my throat the entire time. Squeezing and tightening. I felt a scream from deep within me crawl up my throat. It caught and I couldn’t shake it loose.
The man’s fingers felt cold and gnarled as they squeezed even harder. I tried again to cry out, this time, he pressed his thumbs into my flesh. I couldn’t breathe. The pain was excruciating. I felt myself gasping. I yanked my hands from their invisible bindings and reached up, fighting to pry his fingers off my throat. I could feel the sinew in his fingers, the jagged cut of his ragged nails and scaly callouses I knew were filthy. I dug my nails into his flesh.
He squeezed again. I felt them dig deeper into the soft flesh of my throat, tearing and bruising my flesh. There was no ignoring the intent.
My eyes rolled up into my head. I no longer cared about the pain or the ghost.
I was done.
I woke around dawn.
My hands immediately went to my throat. I felt raw inside, but outside nothing seemed to be injured. I jumped out of bed and ran to my purse. Retrieving my mirror compact, I tried to open it, but couldn’t. My hands shook, I almost dropped it. Finally, I pried it open.
Staring, I could see bruises and scratches all over my throat. There was also a large bruise on my chin. And then my eyes caught my stare. Something was different in my soul. The ghost had changed me…forever.
Grabbing my books and my clothes, I ran from the attic room that an evil ghost called home.
I dressed on the staircase that day. And then I went to school and swore I would never return.
When I returned home from school, I found a note from my mother telling me she would not be back for a few days. I was so relieved, I cried. That meant I did not have to go upstairs. I did not have to see the ghost again or feel his hands on me. Instead, I could sleep on the couch, in peace, until my mother came back home.
Unfortunately, my mother returned to our house the next day. Mad as anything because she and her boyfriend had a fight. He told her he was done.
I waited until after dinner to make a pitch I hoped she’d agree to since the boyfriend was out of the picture.
“Do you think I could sleep in the second-floor bedroom? It’s really suffocating upstairs.” I asked as I washed the dishes.
“I don’t know. Reggie might be back.” My mother lit a cigarette and blew smoke at me.
“When he comes back, I’ll go back to my room. No problem,” I said.
Suddenly I felt her eyes on me. She got up from the table and came over to stand next to me.
“What’s that on your neck?”
“Nothing. Isn’t your show on soon?” In my mind, I begged her to just go back to the living room.
She poked the bruise on my neck with her nail.
“Who did that to you?”
“No one. I got my purse caught in the bus doors. I practically strangled myself…if you want to know.”
No way was I telling her about the man upstairs. She wouldn’t understand or believe me.
“Did anyone see it? Did you tell anyone? We can sue you know.”
“Mom, it was an accident. No one else was there.”
She stared at me. I suppose trying to break me. She didn’t understand yet that I was unbreakable.
“Fine, but cover it up. Make-up, a scarf, something. I don’t want any social workers coming around.”
She put her cigarette out in the dishwater and left me alone to finish cleaning up.
When I finished, I noticed the door to the upstairs was open. I considered leaving it open, but remembered that if I didn’t shut it, my mother might send me up there to sleep. I inched my way over and just as I reached for the doorknob, I heard a voice. Growling. Calling for me.
“I’m waiting for you, Suzi.”
I slammed the door shut. I backed away until I was in the middle of the kitchen. And then I heard footsteps on the staircase. It sounded like the ghost was coming down the stairs. When he reached the door, the ghost pounded on it. Relentlessly.
My mother yelled from the living room.
“What are you doing out there?”
“Nothing, Mom. Just dropped a pan is all.”
The pounding continued until my mother came to see what I was breaking. She walked in, looked around, saw nothing was going on, and went back to her show.
The minute my mother was gone, the growling whispers started again. “I know you are in there. Come upstairs and play with me, Suzi.”
Do you believe in Guardian Angels? I do.
The next day, when I came home from school, I found my mother sobbing on the couch. Her boyfriend had dumped her for good. She was devastated. I felt terrible for her, but I was happy for me. In her grief, my mother told me I could stay in the second-floor bedroom because she didn’t want to feel alone.
I never slept in that attic room again. I paid a little neighbor boy to bring down my clothes and I moved into my new bedroom that day.
I still heard the voice taunting me whenever I was in the kitchen alone, but for some unknown reason, the ghost could not go past the attic door.
Not long after, another more affordable house became available that was closer to my school and my mother’s job, so we moved.
I never went back to that house with the haunted attic.
But one day, years later, I happened to drive by on my way somewhere. I was stopped at the light waiting for my turn when I heard a voice…growling my name. I didn’t look around, I didn’t want to know where it came from. I just hightailed it out of there and never looked back.
I’ve been told the house still stands, but it’s been unoccupied for decades now. I know I’ll never go near it again.
I’m a survivor.
Suzi Albracht … The Queen of Scream
I always feel a little naked when asked to talk about myself. So let me put something on first. Ahhhh, that’s better.
I am an author of Supernatural Horror Crime Thrillers and Paranormal Romance/Ghost novels. Currently, I have two series. The Devil’s Due Collection—Supernatural Horror Crime thrillers. And An OBX Ghost Haunting Series—Paranormal Romance/Ghost novels. I am known to my fans as The Queen of Scream.
I currently live near Annapolis, Maryland. That places me halfway between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, MD. My horror books take place in these metro areas so anyone who lives here will recognize some of the locations.
My Paranormal novels take place in the Outer Banks of North Carolina or the OBX as it is known to locals. We vacation there every year. Many of the locals have read every book in my series. I’m especially partial to North Carolina since I will be moving there soon.
I’ve had many fascinating things happen to me along my life’s path. The first President Bush gave me a shoulder/back rub when I was visiting the compound in Maine one hot August in the 80s. I went to church with Princess Diana once (she was stunning, Charles was a lot shorter than I thought he would be). I’ve been to Las Vegas to shoot pool in the APA Championship twice. I won’t share all of my adventures. Where would the mystery be if I expose all?
I would consider myself to be a fair and giving person who loves hard. I am a nice person, but if you do me wrong, I will never forget. I may forgive, just to get past it, but you will never get close to me again. I am loyal to a fault. I’m into shoes and purses, they have their own room here.
I can honestly say my twitter bio describes me to a T – Write, scare myself, turn all the lights on, write some more. Take a break, play pool, kick butt/get butt kicked, go write more horror, double lock door.
My Uncle Jay and I were inside of his house when everyone went stiff.
It was a bright sunny day in July when my mother, Nina, and my father, Calvin, and I headed out to Uncle Jay and Aunt Linda’s place for a cookout we always had before I was dragged back to school for my freshman year. We never invited any of our other family members because we had to deal with their snotty stuck-up asses at the family reunion every once a year which was always a stretch. Although Dad and Uncle Jay never got along, it didn’t stop us from going.
Jay and Linda lived in one of those stucco bungalows with a red clay-tiled roof and a big backyard that was bigger than the front, crammed inside of a close-knit cluster of other houses just like it. Dogs barked and pools splashed from a distance I was comfortable with.
Uncle Jay was standing on the patio in front of his massive propane grill, flipping three different kinds of meat (not counting Aunt Linda’s veggie burgers, bleh) and flashing narrow-eyed glances at Dad every time he finished a beer and then plucked a fresh one from the case sitting under the picnic table between his feet. Mom and I were tossing a bright-yellow Frisbee around the front yard for a while until Aunt Linda finished cutting the trimmings for burgers and then took Mom’s place. “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream spewed from the little boom box Mom bought Uncle Jay last Christmas.
When he slid the last hamburger onto the platter sitting next to the grill, Jay peered over Mom’s shoulder and said, “Hey, Mattie. Could you run in and get the condiments out of the fridge.”
“Sure,” I said, my voice strained from exhaustion.
Before I reached the porch, I glanced next door and saw a young middle-aged couple leading a little six-year-old boy with blond hair toward their back door. The boy carried a stack of action figure in his arms and sobbed as if he were about to carry them to the electric chair; dirt caked his fingernails, clung to his kneecaps, and streaked the front of his bright blue t-shirt.
I ignored them, tossed the Frisbee onto the front porch, and entered the house through a pair of sliding glass doors. I bobbed my head to the music spewing from Jay’s boombox loud enough to vibrate the kitchen windows and opened the fridge. I heard the patio doors slide open again, spewing a split second stream of music into the house and then slide shut again.
I caught a shadow out of the corner of my right eye and grew tense, my scalp and skin prickling with cold fear. I thought this had been Dad’s opening to sneak in behind Mom’s back and grope me as he’d done three months ago after my thirteenth birthday. I know I should’ve said something by now but we both knew who Mom was going to believe and it wasn’t her daughter; she would’ve ignored anything I said because Daddy’s money made her more submissive and unaware than I would ever become.
“Hey, honey,” a familiar, but chaffing voice said.
I slumped against the fridge, breathing a sigh of relief when the mixed stench of flop sweat and stale beer were replaced by the pleasing scent of Stetson that only Uncle Jay wore. I shook off the uneasiness and smiled at him while all six-foot-four of him moseyed over to the other side of the kitchen with a perturbed grin on his big doughy face.
“Your aunt sent me in here for her fucking multigrain bread,” he mumbled, then snorted. “She’d eat poison ivy if they made a loaf of bread with it.”
I chuckled and knelt in front of the open fridge to resume my search when the breeze picked up and swept over the house. It muffled the music spewing from Jay’s boombox, shook the treetops like newborns, and reminded me of the whispers my friends shared behind my back before homeroom. When the breeze dissipated, a low wheeze filled the kitchen, merging into a loud startling gasp.
I rose to my feet and cocked my head to where the sound was coming from.
Jay leaned across the sink, his thick-fingered hands gripping the edge of the countertop until his knuckles turned white; the loaf of bread had flown from his hands and rolled across the kitchen floor. He glanced out the window, his eyes and mouth wide from shock as the color began to drain from his face. I hadn’t seen him this scared since back in 2016 when Aunt Linda had her first of two miscarriages.
“What the fu–?”
The panicked wheeze in his voice lured me over to the window, my body racing with curiosity. I massaged my hands and peered through the white crop-top curtains draped across the kitchen window. I couldn’t believe what I saw, but it was as plain as the nose on my face.
Nina and Calvin and the hummingbird fluttering in front of the bird feeder above Dad’s head and Aunt Linda were frozen in place. Stiff and motionless, they looked like nothing more than wax figures in a museum: Mom was caught hovering above the bench seat across from Dad, her hands hugging the back of her dress and tucking it underneath her thighs as if she were about to sit down; Dad was crumpling an empty beer can in his hand and letting off an old fashioned burp through a lopsided grin in a non-comical display of manliness; and Aunt Linda was caught balancing herself on one foot with her head cocked toward the front of the house and both hands cupped around her mouth.
The grill kept going and so did Uncle Jay’s radio which switched from “Sunshine” to “Just an Old Fashioned Love Song” by Three Dog Night. Something glinted in the corner of my eye, but the procession of footsteps parading across the kitchen drew my attention instead.
I spun around in time to see Uncle Jay tearing ass toward the living room, mumbling Linda’s name over and over again.
He bounced his right leg off the corner of the coffee table, hissed through half-clenched teeth, and lost his balance. He teetered back and, arms pinwheeling out from his sides, slammed his massive bulk onto the living room couch. In the soft blue glow of the television, he stared up at me with a mingled expression of surprise and shock on his face.
“Jeez, Mattie,” he sighed. “Don’t just stand there and wait for me to bust my head open before you decide to help me. I need to get out there and see what the fuck happened.”
I shrugged and hurried over, my heart racing with panic. The light coming from the television shifted from a soft blue glow to plumbeous tint that made Uncle Jay sit up immediately. He brushed me off with a dismissive wave of his hand, snatched the cable remote from the coffee table, and thumbed up the volume.
“In case you’ve just joined us,” a middle-aged brunette in a bright-yellow blouse stated in a soft informative voice, “we’ve been following a breaking news story. There have been reports that a vast number of American citizens who have suddenly frozen in place. There have been numerous reports that the breeze had started from the northwest corner of The United States before sweeping down across the rest of the country, but we don’t have any real information to confirm it. We have live footage from all over the country and those of you watching at home parental discretion is advised.”
The first footage showed a cul-de-sac in Eugene, Oregon; the wind had swept through during a big block party leaving the streets dotted with wind-blown litter and rotund metal barbecue grills spewing tails of thick white smoke that dissipated in the breeze. The second piece of footage came from a monolithic water park in southern Texas; the stairways leading toward tall colorful water slides were streaked by stiff-legged swimmers while others floated lazily in the wave pool like a child’s ill-forgotten bath toy. The other pieces of footage took place in an amalgam of highways clogged with broken chains of mid-afternoon traffic, shopping malls with neon-gilded signs declaring false promises, and residential parks crowded with stiffs that reminded me of store-front mannequins.
“We will do what we can to bring you all of the informa–”
Uncle Jay muted the television, slid the remote back onto the coffee table and inched up to the edge of the couch. He raked his hands across his clean-shaven head, slid them down his face, clamped them across his mouth, and sighed.
I thought back to the footage at the block party and recalled the golden retriever wandering and whimpering at the motionless crowd, wagging its tail as it sniffed at their feet to get their attention.
I replayed that heart-wrenching image in my head until I felt my chest constrict and my cheeks flush. A river of hot tears brimmed in my eyes and slid down my cheeks, but before I could wipe them away Uncle Jay had leaped up from the couch and hugged me.
He buried my face in the front of his t-shirt and patted my back in a series of slow concentric circles that made me think of those late-nights when Daddy came up stairs to grope me before the whiskey put him down.
“It’s okay, honey,” he whispered. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
As much as I wanted to believe him, everyone was a skeptic, including me. If I were to shed tears for anyone outside of this house, it should’ve been Aunt Linda and the lost dog. My drunk horny father and my submissive mother on the other hand would receive as much sympathy as he would’ve had he gone to prison.
I broke the hug and hurried across the house toward the bathroom. I slumped over the sink, clamped my hands over my tear-soaked lips, and sobbed until it hurt. I snatched a hand towel from the shelf beside of the sink, tucked a strand of pineapple blonde hair behind my left ear, and swiped the rag gently across my face.
The cold touch from the rag cooled my flaming red cheeks, but failed to ease my fears. I was very familiar with the whole “end of times” spiel especially on the news during New Year’s Eve or in the midst of 2012, but I took it all with a grain of salt. I always thought that the apocalypse could happen due to anything between an airborne disease and a great massive flood.
“No!” A familiar voice bellowed from inside the kitchen. “Oh, God no!”
I flinched, my body rigid with fear. I bolted out of the bathroom and stopped halfway to the living room; a lone tear slid down my right cheek.
His face sagging under a mix of panic and terror, he leaned against the sink and gazed out the kitchen windows once more. He mumbled something under his breath because it might’ve been something I wasn’t allowed to hear.
I followed his gaze and felt my eyes widen with fear. Mom’s left arm jerked, giving a loud brittle snap that was obviously drowned out by the roar of Rush singing “Fly by Night” coming from Jay’s boombox. It slid out from underneath her chest, dragging her thin-fingered hand toward the edge of the tabletop and slid off at the shoulder.
We watched in horror as Mom’s arm slid down her left hip, bounced off the edge of the bench, and plopped onto the ground like a fish out of water. Blood pumped at the air, soaking the grass, and sliding down her left hip. She toppled back, her right arm jutting out from her hip, and struck the front of the house; the same bone-jarring thud that shook the windows also rattled my bones.
I pivoted, pressed my hand against my chest and sat down in the middle of the kitchen floor. I clamped my right hand across my mouth and hunched over to keep my body from shuddering; nausea churned the pit of my stomach and stung the back of my throat.
“No, no,” Jay pleaded, lips trembling. “No, no oh, dear God, no Linda not her he–”
The panic-stricken tone to his voice coiled around my spine, rooted me to the floor, and prickled my skin. His gaze never wavered from the front lawn as streaks of sunlight underscored the big red splotches flaring across his cheeks; his lips trembled.
I glanced up at him and, opening my mouth to mutter the first incoherent word from my lips, when something flashed in the corner of my left eye. I cocked my head around, scooted across the kitchen floor and peered through the triple-paned patio doors. I gazed across the driveway passed Uncle Jay’s Chevy and Mom’s Honda, at the rear of a two-story white clapboard house next door.
It had a wheelchair ramp that led up to the back door and a strand of white clothesline struck up between two oak trees rooted diagonally along the far right side of the yard. I scanned the house and caught it on the third try. A flickering orb of bright orange light whipped across the second story window on the far-left corner, snatching at the shadows filling the house.
“Look, Uncle Jay,” I gasped, rising to my feet. “Who lives there?”
“A young couple,” he stammered. “Why does it matter?”
When he joined me by the window, he perched his left hand on my right shoulder. He cupped his hands around his eyes, pressed his face to the glass and scanned the property as if he were looking for Waldo.
“We need to help them. That little boy could be hurt.”
“No, we don’t. What we need to do is keep our asses inside of this house until The National Guard comes.”
“Those people could be hurt,” I pleaded. “They could use some medical attention or maybe some food.”
“And if they need it.” He pointed toward the floor. “They’ll call for it, but for right now I think we need to stay in here until we get all of the information we need.”
“It looks like they’re trying to signal for help.”
“I know you want to help them,” he said, bracing my shoulders, “and that’s very brave of you, but we just can’t risk it. What are we going to do if we go out there and the next current comes through?”
I cursed under my breath, slapped his hands away, and spun toward the patio doors. I wasn’t mad at Uncle Jay because he wouldn’t help, but I was angry at the fact that everyone who I still cared about were dead. My world was shattered and yet here I was about to help a group of complete strangers with or without his help.
Before I could wrap my hand around the knob, the pleasing scent of Stetson hit me square in the face. Uncle Jay wrenched his hand around my wrist, clutched the back of my shirt with the other, and flung me back like a rag doll. I spun around on drunken wobbly legs and grasped the edge of the stove to keep myself from hitting the edge of the countertop.
Jay flipped the lock into place, leaned against the door and laced his arms across his chest. His mouth shrunk into a tight angry grin.
“We’re not leaving this house,” he declared. “In the past ten minutes I’ve lost my wife and my little sister. I’m not going to lose you, too.”
Something shattered from inside the house. We froze and perked our ears to hear where it might’ve came from. Two seconds later, a loud squawking sound burst across the house, but we didn’t know exactly where.
“It’s in the goddamn basement,” Jay said through tightly clenched teeth.
We made a mad dash across the house, our feet pounding quick but softly across the floor, matching the rhythm of our heartbeats. We ran across Uncle Jay’s office (which once served as a carport after the house was built), ignored the stacks of paper cluttering his desktop, and ran toward a flat wooden door on the far right corner of the room. Jay grasped the curved metal handle jutting up from the wooden door, his sweaty panic-stricken face scrunched together, and yanked it with all his might.
When he flung the door open, my skin prickled. I stepped back, my hands curled into tiny white-knuckled fists, and peered down a flight of solid stone steps. Shafts of sunlight spread abnormal shadows across the rough concrete floor and grasped at the scarred brick walls; the diverse smells of mildew and paint wafted upward, spun around my head, and made me wince.
I glanced down for a second to see what might’ve caused the noise. A dead bird, maybe a sparrow or a robin, was lying spread eagled in the center of the floor next to Uncle Jay’s work table. Its beady black eyes glistened like wet stones; its fat brown-feathery head was twisted too far to one side; and two jagged shards of glass were strewn across the floor beside of it, glinting amongst a second bed of broken glass.
Before I could investigate any more, Uncle Jay screamed, “Fuck, fuck!”
He leaped back from the open door just as the wind sighed through the treetops and whistled through the crack in the window. He cradled his left hand in his right fist, sat down hard enough to jostle his teeth and scowled in pain. His face and eyes flaring from a mix of panic and shock, he pressed his fists tightly against his chest and bit down on his bottom lip.
“Shut the door, Mattie,” he said through trembling lips. “Shut the goddamn door.”
I stretched myself across the open doorway to avoid the gust of wind spewing through the broken window, pressed my fingertips against the edge of the door, and pulled it toward me. The door’s rusted metal hinges shrieked as it struck the floor like a judge’s gavel before an unjust sentence. I took a few deep breaths to calm the fire in my nerves and, my chest rising and falling, hurried over to Uncle Jay.
“Don’t touch it, honey,” he sighed, waving me off. “I don’t even want you to see it.”
He rolled over, pressing his injured arm against his chest and used his other hand to hoist himself up.
I inched over, braced his hips in both hands, and walked him back into the living room.
He stretched out onto the couch, tore the brown and orange braided afghan from the back, and wrapped it around his hand so I wouldn’t see it; through the blanket’s honey-cob pattern I saw tiny gray dots spread across the back of his palm like a case of tombstone freckles, but I knew that if I said anything he would be angry.
I sat down beside of him and held his good hand while we both cried. Outside, the wind died down; the treetops bowed. We wiped our tears away and tried to gather our thoughts—whatever the hell they might be.
A thick gray cloud rolled over the sky, drenching the house in a soft somber glow that edged the living room curtains. He cried himself to sleep five minutes later and although I wanted to wake him I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I got hungry instead.
I thought about bundling myself up in a ton of jackets and ski gear and see if I could go outside to get the food that Uncle Jay had cooked earlier, but I didn’t want him to wake up and lose his shit when he couldn’t find me. Instead, I took advantage of the fact that we still had electricity and made a pan of macaroni and cheese. I locked the doors then the curtains and drew the blinds shut when I saw that Dad’s right leg had come off at the knee; his head disappeared two seconds later.
I turned on the television in time to see more reports coming in about everyone’s limbs falling off and chuckled at their timing. All across America, everyone was losing something and soon Uncle Jay would lose his hand if not his mind by the end of the week.
It’s true what they say.
There’s no news like bad news.
Brian J. Smith has been featured in numerous anthologies, e-zines and magazines in both the mystery and horror genres. His books Dark Avenues, The Tuckers, and Three O’Clock are still available on Amazon for Kindle. He recently completed a short story collaboration with fellow author Lenore Sagaskie. He lives in southeastern Ohio with his brother and four dogs where he eats more than enough spicy food that no human being should ever consume, already has too many books and buys more and doesn’t drink enough coffee to suite his palate and cheers on The Ohio State Buckeyes.
My best friend Sam, he was always telling me to stop living in the past, to move on with my life. He’d follow up that part of his speech by saying, “There’s plenty of fish in the sea,” or some other cliché.
My sea only had one fish. Sam never understood that. How could he? Before he married, Sam was a notorious womanizer. After he married, he didn’t slow down much.
Missy Ramer was my fish, so to speak, and I let her get away.
It was Debbie Swartwood who started the rumors about me. Rumors that ultimately drove my love away. Debbie said I was creepy. Said it was me who did those awful things to Missy’s cat, Buttercup.
It wasn’t me.
I would never do anything to hurt Missy.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I met Missy in the summer of 1979. We were twelve, our birthdays a week apart. I loved her immediately. Even a year later, when we were close friends at the beginning of the greatest decade ever, I couldn’t summon the courage to ask her out.
Even when she could date, I was too chicken to make a move on her.
Shortly after we turned fifteen, Missy made a move on me. We went with Sam and some other friends to a matinee of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York.
I can tell you now there was something different about her that day. Her subtle displays of affection. Laughing at my corny jokes.
But I was too stupid to pick up on her signals back then. Besides, I was still too chicken to reciprocate.
By the time I realized what she was up to, it was too late.
Debbie Swartwood started spreading the cat-torture rumors about me.
After that, Missy rejected my offers to hang out. She hung out with other guys instead—dated some of them, too. Then in the summer of our junior year, she moved away. I made one final plea to reconnect with her, to explain to her that the rumors weren’t true. Finally, she believed me.
We promised to stay in touch. Social media didn’t exist then, and there were no text messages to send. Only letters and phone calls. I held up my end, and for a while, she did too. But within a few months, my letters and phone calls went unreturned, and the thing I’d feared most came to be: Missy had moved on.
All these years later, I still haven’t.
We were meant to be, ya know?
That’s a truth I feel in my soul.
But you shouldn’t have to serve a life sentence for missing a few signals.
These days, I refuse to participate in social media, as Sam suggested I do. He figured it’d be a way to reconnect with her.
I don’t want today’s Missy.
I want the Missy I knew. The Missy I fell in love with back then.
I still live in the same house I grew up in. I keep it just like it was in the ’80s after my dad took off and left Mom and me to fend for ourselves. She didn’t mind me sticking around after high school or passing up college. I was good company for her. I took care of her when she got old. I kept the lawn mowed and the snow cleared. When she passed away, I inherited the place.
I like to watch VHS tapes of Knight Rider and TheA-Team on the same kind of TV we had back in my high school days. The fancy new flat screens hurt my eyes.
Recently, Sam talked me into going with him to New Orleans. A business trip for him, but a chance for me to get laid—his words, not mine. I was desperate, but not in the way Sam meant. I went to see Ms. Marie—a practitioner of voodoo—instead.
That’s how it read on her sign: “Practitioner of Voodoo.”
I told her what I wanted. She performed a spell and ended it by leaving a mark on my chest, right over my heart. And with that spell came a promise that Missy would soon return to me.
Sam thought it was all bullshit, of course.
He changed his tune when he dropped by to visit me a week after we got back and saw Missy standing in my living room, looking exactly as she did in high school.
I didn’t plan on Sam’s reaction being so negative. He accused me of kidnapping some girl that looked like Missy. Even took out his phone and threatened to call the police.
But Missy protected me.
She had to drop her disguise to do it. Her serpent’s tongue flicked out, tasting the air between them as she approached.
Sam’s phone bounced off the shag carpet as he backed away. He eyed the front door, but before he could run, Missy’s dagger-like tail speared him through the heart.
In the end, I was sad to lose my friend, but I was glad he at least knew the truth. I didn’t want him going to the grave thinking I was some demented child predator.
And, yeah, maybe she’s not exactly the real Missy. But she’s the Missy I want.
I put Sam in his car and sunk it in Clifford Pond.
When they finally found him, it looked like he’d gotten drunk again and went off the road.
I didn’t go to his funeral. That decision caused a few bridges to burn with some old classmates who turned up for the services, but I just couldn’t leave Missy’s side.
Instead, we made love for hours, and it lived up to all my fantasies and more. We watched all the classic ’80s movies like War Games and The Breakfast Club. We played Atari games for days.
Missy and I are building a whole new life.
I’m finally ready to move on. Together this time.
A new couple can’t be stuck forever behind these four walls now, can we?
We’re eager to get out into the world.
This is how the story begins.
Dale Elster is a dark fiction writer. He is the co-author of Deadsville, a short story anthology that’s seen high praise from reviewers and bloggers alike. His other stories and flash fiction pieces have appeared in several indie and small press anthologies, including I Can Taste the Blood (ebook edition) from Grey Matter Press and Shallow Waters, Volume 3 from Crystal Lake Publishing. All are available on Amazon.
He lives in upstate New York with his wife and two children, where he is currently writing Deadsville: Welcome Home as well as several other works-in-progress.
It’s finally October, which means…Halloween (what I like to call Horror Christmas).
For all you Halloween and horror lovers out there, I’m once again hosting Halloween Blitz.
What is Halloween Blitz? Its a blog event I started last year where I share with you books, authors, and stories from the horror genre. There might even be a giveaway mixed in. 😉
I hope you’ll enjoy the posts and get into the Halloween Spirit with me by following along! You might just find a new author or book to love, or a short story that you can share with your friends to creep them out.