2016 Sinister Countdown Finale

And so ends this year’s Sinister Countdown to Halloween. I hope you have been thrilled and terrified by some of these stories. On this last night of October I’ll leave you with a story based in reality and personal experience. Of course there are the fictional embellishments that come with story telling, but keep in mind some part of this story did happen.

Thank you for reading Sinister Countdown this month on The Ink Owl. I hope you all are looking forward to next month’s challenge: Food. Happy reading all.

And now: The Haunting of Room 10

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There was a light rap on the glass door and two people walked through the glass door. Their uniforms had a crisp feeling that matched the antiseptic atmosphere of the room.

A nurse, gray haired and dressed white fatigues smiled down at a rather drowsy Luca Rodriguez. “Hello Mrs.Rodriguez, welcome to the recovery unit. My name is Mara, I’ll be taking care of you this evening.”

A smiling youth accompanied the nurse. He plugged in a carted machine with looping lines and flashing numbers on a screen. He was young, in his early twenties. With a comforting smile he spoke to Luca. “And I’m Carl, your aide. I’ll be doing a number of vitals for the next couple of hours.”

He stepped forward, attaching a long cord to the cuff wrapped around her arm. “I”ll be taking your blood pressure now.”

Luca smiled at the pair and nodded. She shifted her head around, taking in the room. She saw her daughter’s smiling face in the far corner. From the lines of the mild aged woman’s eyebrows Luca could tell something had unsettled  her.

“Marina, was it it?” She attempted to say, but again the pain medication dampened her physical abilities. The words came out a mumble. Energy drained from Luca’s body as she turned from her daughters face to focus on the wall behind her.

Gray bled into her vision as she focus o tight brush marks that flourished through the scene. It was a picturesque view of an afternoon picnic. Trees encircled those attending, while a solid stone house sat in the background. The smooth stone wall’s presence a stark contrast to the muted green of leaves.  But something troubling filled Luca’s mind as she stared longer at the painting.

“I’m sure she will be quite alright Ms. Marina.” It was the aide speaking to her daughter. His voice full of understanding. “Patient’s often come up from our surgical floor completely oblivious to the outside world. It will all wear off in a few hours, if not a day.”

Luca couldn’t pull her eyes away. Something was going on with the green trees. Their color meshed into one, every color seemed to smooth itself out. Until finally with a start she realized something was staring back at her: A skull.

“Huesos de la muerte.” Her dry lips could only twitch out the words. Her voice lost its momentum somewhere within her throat.

“Muerte.”

She tried to get Marina’s attention, but the woman was lost in her own world, fingers flying over the keys.

Her eye lids closing slightly as anesthesia ebbed at her consciousness. One last time the skull swam before her eyes and then darkness overtook her.

2256 Hours

“Mrs. Rodriguez? Mrs. Rodriguez can you hear me?” Luca felt her mind draw toward reality as from a deep well. The voice thundered in her ears, yet her mind registered it as a whisper.

“Yes?” She said, her tongue feeling more familiar with each passing second.

Something felt wrong, again.

“Luca, I need you to stop pulling at your lines. You’ve been dreaming I think.” It was the nurse. The same smile fixed on her face, as a belt would on a pair of pants.

Luca’s eyes roved around the room again, looking for Marina. A foggy memory of her daughter walking out the door came back to her, reminding her she had left some time before. Her eyes settled on he lone painting in the room. The lone skull lurking in a corner. White teeth smiled at her.

Mara could see her patient was more coherent this time. It was frustrating that she had all but pulled both I.V.s out in a single movement, but how could she blame her. The doctors seemed to be throwing all the pain managing drugs they could at her.

“You don’t think she’s had too much do you?” Carl asked from across the room. He was washing his hands in the room’s sink, next to the glass window and door.

“No, lucky for her I know what I’m doing. I swear these residents have no idea what they’re doing.” Mara shook her head, looking back at the heavy lidded Luca.

She shivered as the cooling unit in the ceiling kicked on, “Just keep me up on what her blood pressure is. . . Something just doesn’t feel . . . right.”

Carl was saying something else, but Luca couldn’t keep her mind together enough to understand. The only words she took with her into the quiet dark was that that of Mara.

Something doesn’t feel right.

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Carl paused outside of the room. His hand hovering over the door handle. He watched as the hair on his arm stood on end. Electricity ran through his body as the latch clicked and the door opened with a breathe of air.

Did . . . that just happen? He considered the door for a moment then shook his head and walked through. It was the last set of hourly vitals he needed to take, then he could leave Mrs. Rodriguez alone, at least for a few hours.

He paused in the doorway. A familiar and yet completely inappropriate smell assaulted his nose. The smell of baking sugar cookies.

Must be the kitchens again, their starting early. But the thought died in his mind as he realized the time. 0140 read in large numbers on the wall. And it’s a weekend, they never start anything early on a weekend.

He shook his head, as if to clear away the thoughts and smell and stepped over the threshold. Guess someone got a delivery below us, lucky ducks.

The room was dimly lit by the night lights from the hall. Soft humming of machinery filled the room. Luca lay sleeping, blankets tucked in around her like a nest. Carl attached the sphygmomanometer to the blood pressure cuff. He read the patient’s temperature and recorded her oxygen and heart rate.

They had all read within normal parameters for the last few hours. Nothing had changed. It was all well and good, yet something tickled at the back of his mind. He began wrapping cords up around his vital’s cart preparing to leave.

A voice whispered through a pile of blankets. “Hueso.”

Carl paused, peering through the half dark at the form in the bed.

Did she just say something? He stepped to the bedside and looked down at his patient. Her face was as placid as ever, eyes moving gently beneath her lids. He shook his head and was about to turn around when she spoke again.

“Muérete.” The voice that came from his patient wasn’t the same. It was harsher, more commanding.

Back stiffening as he leaned over Mrs. Rodriguez. “Luca? Is everything alright?”

At that moment Luca’s eyes flew open, showing only the white of her sclera. A knobbly hand shot out and grabbed Carl around the wrist. It squeezed his wrist so hard he was sure the bones would crack.

He gasped and tried to pull away, but the arm only pulled him tighter to the bed. Before him Luca’s body continued to tremble, shaking the bed itself. Lights flickered on and off around them both. Something fell to the floor with a crash.

Luca opened her mouth again and spoke, “MUERETE!”

The voice reverberated within his chest. His vision blackened and then came back into focus. The large window opposite bubbled in it’s frame. Cracks formed all around it’s metal seal.

Sound augmented itself in the space and Carl screamed in pain as his ear drums burst.

His mind reeled. What’s happening?

The bed in front of him rose up from the ground, hovering in place as if it were all a magician’s show. He twisted in Luca’s grip as the bed continued to rise.

“Let go! Let go!” He shouted, but his words were muted in his damaged ears. The hand let go and he fell to the floor. Sliding away from the bed he tried to find some kind of cover. Medical supplies and equipment rained down on him from all sides. as if a giant child had ripped the room out of the hospital everything shook up and down.

I’ve got to get out! Got to get away! Looking around for some avenue of escape Carl saw the glass door, slightly ajar. Beyond it lay the hallway in perfect silence.

He lunged forward, head bashing against a rolling laundry cart.  His vital’s cart smashed into a hundred pieces where he had been. Then it arched upwards towards the ceiling.

He slid into the door as gravity shifted from side to side. He managed to get one hand out of the room and cling onto the door jam. Discordant clamor reigned behind him as he tried to shift his body out the quivering door. Luca’s bed and body lay obscured beyond an undulating mass of shattered equipment. Everything outside the bubble continued to move. Things broke to pieces on walls, floor, and ceiling. Gouts of water traced unnatural lines from ground to ceiling shifting midstream.

Carl’s mind couldn’t accept what was happening around him, he just stared. He wiggled himself halfway through the opening and it all stopped. Silence deafened his ears. He turned to see a pathway clearing on one wall. A golden frame sat, untouched by the destruction all around.

It was the painting.

“Muerete.” Came from the whisper in the bed. No human vocal cord could have spoken at that low or harsh of pitch. Carl reached a hand to his ear and felt warmth running down his cheek and neck.

And then it was upon him. Broken materials and things wrapped themselves tight around his exposed legs. He grabbed onto the door hand as it yanked open. He felt his fingers give way under the unimaginable strength assaulting him.

With a yell he fell into the waiting void. And with that the door to room 10 clicked close.

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Mara poked her head around the corner of the darkened nurses station. “Has anyone seen Carl?”

Several people shook their heads, ensconced in their computer screens. Another nurse looked up with bleary eyes. “I think I saw him heading to room 10 a while back, but I can’t be sure.

Mara grimaced. “Well he’s not answering his phone, so if you see him, tell him he’s late on that three o’clock blood sugar.”

The other nurse nodded as Mara disappeared back out onto the unit. She sniffed a couple times and then turned to the aide next to her.

“Does it smell like baking cookies to you?”

 

 

Into the Yew Wood

I’m posting this story for a Halloween flash fiction contest orchestrated by Scale it Simple. They were kind enough to invite me to participate and I hope I’ve risen to the challenge. Follow the link above to view other submissions. If you’d like to vote for your favorite submission, send an email to scaleitsimpleblog@gmail.com. Voting closes on November 4th.

Comments and likes are much obliged.

Please read and enjoy my story entitled, “Into The Yew Wood.”

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Photo obtained from iloverainandcoffee.tumblr.com via pinterest.com

It was one of those nights on cemetery lane that made you feel electric with energy and somber with thought all at the same time. The air was crisp, dead leaves scattered as they ran underfoot and glided overhead, filling the night with noise. The moon was full and luminous casting an eerie light on the scene below. Halloween was in full swing, the streets were abuzz with hooded figures and lively children enjoying their annual candy hunt.

Hidden from the action at the end of the long lane of perfectly decorated houses stood the towering and dark-windowed number 13 cemetery lane. Behind it, the forest stood lifeless and desolate, a depressing shadow on a lively scene. It was in this very house at this very moment that

darkness gathered.

Sinister things were afoot, and only three young individuals knew about it. Sam stood with one foot in the gutter. His other foot twitched on cracked black asphalt. His dark eyes sought through the shadows and trees to the house beyond.

“She’s in there. I know it.” His words cut through the chill night. Next to Sam stood Julian. His mop of black hair shifted in the wind as he too stared into the dark. He stood tall above his companions.

Resolve glinted in Julian’s eyes. “We’ll get her out. There’s nothing they can do to stop us.”

“Remember what the Seer said.” Spoke up Lawrence, pushing horn rimmed glasses up his nose as he clutched at a tattered backpack.  “Together the Shadow will fall, Apart it can only grow stronger.”

A lone howl grew from the twisted trees behind number 13. It echoed down the moonlit street. Goosebumps broke out over Sam’s body and he shivered. Both Julian and Lawrence sensed their friend’s trepidation and reached out to Sam. Their touch gave one another hope.

Where despair had filled Sam’s heart earlier, a strength grew within his chest. They were but thirteen years old. Yet as legend would say with generations to come, it would be those three who held back the tide of Hell.

Sam raised his chin. “Then let’s get in there and get Lucy.”

Lucy. Sam’s only thoughts for the past 48 hours had been for her. He’d never really appreciated her presence before now. She had loved him so much, even when he had teased her to the point of tears. Now there was a chance he would never see her again. Because of them.

Each boy shouldered their packs. Clutching iron charms, they crossed the street.

Before them Number 13 Cemetery lane leered, watching their every move. Where the star dusted night should have reflected in large glass windows, only an abyss stood. Solid eaves yawned in the far flung light of a lamp post.

“They say this house has been haunted for generations. Something to do with the sacrifice of unholy apostates and disobedient children.” Stated Lawrence. His voice taking on a rehearsed note. Julian and Sam looked at each other, then to Lawrence. The boy paused. “What? I did my homework on the place, come on.”

Julian shook his head,”You sure know when to say the right thing, ya know that?”

Trying to not take in the whole house at once the boys walked through the gutter. Their eyes roved up and down the street, up to the house and to the woods beyond. Loose shingles flapped in the evening air. The house itself was set back away from the street. A tangled mass of bushes and grasses guarding the front porch. Vines clung to porch rails and up onto an uneven balcony. The house disappeared into the limbed shadows of the forest. Vast hanging branches rested on roof and wall. Unchecked growth sought its way into nooks and crannies. The trees appeared to be drawing in the house,  consuming it whole.

“Those are yew trees back their. They’re said to be the symbols of death in some cultures.” Lawrence’s voice faltered as he saw the look on his friend’s faces. “. . . It’s probably just myth . . . legend . . . You know.”

“Lawrence.” Cut in Julian.

“Yeah?”

“Shut up.”

“Guys.” Said Sam as he stopped walking. Lawrence shot a resentful look at Julian as they focused their attention onto Sam. He rested his hands on the twisted front gate. Only a short wood picket fence stood between them and it now.

Something waited within, they all could feel it.

Fear wormed inside Lawrence’s resolve. His eyes roved over those all-to-blank windows.”Guys are you sure about this? Shouldn’t we wait for the adults?”

Sam gritted his teeth. “We don’t have time, Lucy’s in there and who knows what they’ve already done to her. Besides were you not there when we tried to tell my parents? Do you not remember how they reacted to us?”

Sam tried to control his anger and bitterness, but his emotions were to close to the surface. He saw the hurt on Lawrence’s face, but there wasn’t time to care.

“No I’m going in and if you two can’t handle this I’ll do it myself.” Sam opened the wood gate and stomped up the cracked front walk. Julian looked at Lawrence with measured eyes and then followed Sam through.

Lawrence was left on the sidewalk, exposed to the night. His faced burned at his friend’s words. He looked up at the house and trees, gulped and then scampered after his friends.

The three crossed through the dead shrubs. Each one careful to not snag their bags or clothes on the naked branches. Julian glanced back and smiled at Lawrence.

“Glad to see you’re making yourself useful at last.”

Nerves getting the best of him, Lawrence snapped back. “Useful? Useful? Next time we have to rescue someone from a Coven, you can do the research in the library with Mrs. Ketcheren. I’ll pack the food.”

Thunder crashed through the empty sky as Lawrence clapped a hand over his mouth.  Sam and Julian all but jumped out of their skins at the sound. The only light on the street crackled and went out. A peel of weird green light flashed through the house. Windows illuminated, exhibiting antique furniture, bookshelves, lamps and the like. Voices screamed out into the night, scratching their way through worn wood siding.

They had heard their name spoken.

“Run!” Screamed Julian. He grabbed Lawrence by the shoulder and pushed him headlong into the shrubs.

Sam froze, panic clouding his mind. Viridescent radiance washed over his body. For an instant that felt more like a year, a yearning to lay down and sleep took hold of him. Something was coming. It was hunting him, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that he needed to lay down his charms and weapons.

Sleep. Whistled a soothing voice. Sleeeeeeep.

The voice increased in presence, echoing within his mind.

Listen to the Yew Witch, put down your guards, Child.

A second voice grew as Sam closed his eyes. He felt his body shift to the ground.

“Sam!” It was familiar, as if he’d heard it in a dream.

Listen to the silence. Sleep.

“Sam!” It grew louder than the whispers of the Yew Witch.

Listen to meeeee Samuel. Listen to the Yew Witch.

“SAMUEL!” Screamed Julian as he slapped his friend across the face. Next to him Lawrence fumbled with a charm of iron attached to his belt. All around, naked bushes scratched at their faces tearing at their clothing.

You will now die.

A wave of energy lashed out from the house as wicked shrieks rose from within it ghost lit depths.

DIE!

Leather snapped as Lawrence held up his iron charm to the light. Flames exploded from the house as Lawrence screamed in surprise. Windows shattered and wood blackened as Number 13’s front porch and door exploded outwards. Flames licked up under its eves and onto the roof.

“Lawrence don’t let go of it!” Yelled Julian over the roar. He pulled Sam closer to him as fire raged around all three. Sam’s eyes rolled back into his head and his body crumpled.

THEY ARE NOTHING!  TO THE WOOD SISTERS! BRING THE GIRL!

Panicking Julian yelled right into his friend’s ear.”Sam, stop it! Sam come on! We’ve got to get Lucy! LUCY!”

Sam sat bolt upright, almost flinging himself into the heat and flames. Julian pulled with all his might against Sam until his friend relented. Instantly the flames around them vanished.

“What’s happening?” Screamed Lawrence as he dropped the still smoking iron. He looked at his unburnt hand in awe. Before them Number 13 crackled and sagged as fire ravaged through shattered windows.

“They know we’re here, she was talking to me.” Sam got to his feet looking all around. Embers flashed down around them as smoke plumed into the sky.

Lawrence shook his head, looking at the circle of unburnt ground beneath them. “Who’s she?”

“The Yew Witch. The one who has Lucy!” Sam was now running through the bushes, towards the already burning garage.

Julian grabbed his bag and ran after Sam shouting, “But the house! The house, Lucy’s in there-”

Sam waved off his words as he hopped what was left of the low fence and shot around the corner of the garage. Julian glanced back to see Lawrence stumbling into the driveway. His face blackened with soot, iron charm in hand.

“Where does he think he’s going?” Lawrence called after Julian.

“I don’t know! The woods I think!”

They both disappeared around the garage, giving it a wide berth. Something rumbled deep within the house as a section of the roof collapsed in on itself.

An echo of piercing laughter made the boys run faster. It was coming from the forest beyond the house. Before them, darkness stretched from gnarled root to undulating branches. Light from the house danced across sagging limbs and twisting scrub oak.

Julian and Lawrence caught up to Sam as he stood silhouetted before an aged yew tree. Its shadow bent around him, as a spider would to its prey. Chest heaving he turned to his friends, tears running down his face. He pointed past the tree, where dark forms disappeared into the night.

“They’ve taken her.” Sam’s voice shook with fear. “They’ve taken her into the Yew Wood.”

Unit 56

img_20161015_013137.jpgPanic, don’t panic. I repeated those words over and over in my mind as the car bounced through yet another pothole. Rain drummed against the car as it turned yet again. In the darkness claustrophobia reigned. I could feel my chest constricting, as if someone were sitting on it.

“B-b-breathe. Breathe.” It was all I could do to whisper those words as I bounced around, sliding around with the car’s momentum. I don’t do well in dark enclosed spaces. We turned again, my body banged against the side of the trunk.

A spike of anger dampened my fear as I thought about the predicament I was in. It was frustrating to know I was gagged, and tied. Yes I had tried to find the glow-in-the-dark hand and kick out the rear tail-light. But someone had removed the handle, and two metal plate had been welded in place. There was nothing to do but wait, and struggle against my bonds.

The car splashed through a giant puddle. I felt water stream through the wheels and pound against the undercarriage.

Where are they taking me? I forced myself to say a list of what happened.

“1. I was shopping at the market, just down the street from my house. 2. Someone followed me out of the store. 3. Someone hit me from behind . . . .”

We’re stopping. The hum of the road isn’t as loud anymore. Wheels crunch over gravel and we stop.

“Breathe, breathe.” Panic sets in as I realize I’m not ready, I have no plan. Nothing.

They’re going to drag me out of here and do, who knows what to me. . .

The car picks up speed again. The sound of metal clanging on metal passes us by.

That sounded like a gate.

I twist at the ropes tying my wrists, determined to have some kind of plan ready. The car coasts to a stop, I hear doors opening.

“Breathe.” I roll myself over, positioning my feet towards the mouth of the trunk and wait. Footsteps crunch on the ground.

Wait for it. Wait . . . .

Keys jingle in the lock as I pull my legs back, ready to lash out.

Silence.

Breathe.

And then the trunk is flung open wide. Cold night air fills the space, almost leaving me breathless. I kick without looking. Someone connects with my foot and I hear a gasp of pain.

I can see out into the night. A sky full of stars is framed by  lines of low lying structures. Beyond the lights of the city shine miles away.

Gruff voices shout around me.

“Grab him! Grab his legs you idiots!” The voice booms out into the night.

I feel my foot connect with something soft and hear a gasp from another figure.

“Do I have to do everything myself?”

Strong arms clench both of my legs, squeezing so hard I can feel my bones ache.

And then I’m pulled, dragging over the lip of the car and falling onto the ground. Stars explode in my eyes as my head connects with wet asphalt. The tang of nature and concrete fills the air. Above me hot exhaust mutters from a tailpipe.

“Alright! Alright! That’s enough, lets get this over with.” All around me figures loom in the darkness. One walks towards a wall.

“Who are you guys? What do you want with me?” They all freeze at my words. It’s almost comical as I imagine their eyes widening in astonishment.

“You didn’t gag him? Really?” It’s the figure by the wall, he’s waving his arms. “Do your job you morons! Get something! Come on!”

Rough hands grip me around the head, and a knee pushes into my chest. I try to struggle, but they’re too strong. A dark piece of cloth descends onto my face and into my mouth. Trying not to vomit I snort air into my nose.

I would have struggled more but the sudden sound of a garage door rolling up and a blinding flash of light shock me into stillness.

“Drag him over here, let’s go.” Hands drug me across the ground. Asphalt bit into my shoulder and hip as they awkwardly pulled me into the light. Blinking out the dazzle from my eyes I saw the man reaching for a handle. Beyond him were stacks of boxes piled all the way to the ceiling.

“Can’t you move any faster? We don’t have all night!” He was angry. Even with my blurry vision I could see his face turning a blotchy red.

After a second my body is picked up, walked over the threshold and into the storage space. As we pass close to the wall I see the number 56 reflected on a silver plate.

They throw my body to the ground, and I’m left laying on my stomach trying to suck in air. Except I can’t. It’s like the air is refusing to find my starving lungs. All there is an over powering smell of rot.

My stomach heaves as I roll over, or try to. Someone’s boot gets in my way.

“Yeah you smell it don’t you?” It was the big blotchy man, standing over me. He had something long in his hand. A wooden handle. Metal scraped on the cement floor as he hefted an ax into view.

“It’s what death smells like.” All his other henchmen laughed. He pointed to something hiding deeper in the shed.

“Death’s waiting right over there for you.”

I twisted around to see an old freezer half burried beneath a stack of boxes. Smears of red-brown decorated the whitewashed sides.  It’s lid was slight open at a cock-eyed angle.

I tried to scream as uncontrollable tears fell from my eyes. A gray hand and forearm stuck out from the freezer. A finger pointed to me, as if saying,”This is your fault.”

Above me the man chuckled, “Try not to struggle too much, it just gets more messy.”

 He hefts the ax and swings it with all his strength.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the Bite

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It’s happening again. The earth beneath me shudders with raw power.

All around me people pause in their every day moments. Some compulsively grab for a child’s hand, others for their belongings, or for a wall.

A cloth banner falls from the ceiling stating: WELCOME TO THE BERRY MUSEUM

Shrieks can be heard as the plaster walls around me crack. Taxidermied animals shiver in their displays, feeding upon my energy.

Squeezing my eyes shut I try to control my breath.

I must stop it, now before it’s too late. The floor begins to ripple, half dissolving into the air.

Greg! Greg where are you?” His is the only voice that can break through to me.

Sam’s my guardian, my guide through it all. The only friend of a monster.

“I can’t control it Sam, we need to run.” But I know it’s too late. All around me innocent voices screaming out in terror are met with a new sound: roars. I  open my eyes, seeing Sam’s face. He’s scared. I’m scared.

More fell voices fill the museum’s halls. Wolves howl, lions roar and all the while people are screaming.

A great lumbering form of a white polar bear passes close to us. It takes a sniff in our direction and turns tail when a pulse of energy crashes into it.

“Come on! Let’s go!” Sam yanks me away from the spot. I hear my feet sizzle as they leave the ground. Looking back I see a massive circular divot where I stood. All around white hot designs and patterns radiate outward.

Sign of the Tesseract. My mind reels. Only twice has it appeared to me. I try pulling Sam gently back, but he ignores me. His hand is white knuckled as it grips my forearm. He’s really scared.

“Sam wait! The Tesseract! It was here!” At that word he looks back at me. He knows, he already knows what I need to do.

But our progress is stopped. Between us and the nearest exit one alcove remains in our way. Their bodies trapped in a titanic struggle for life and death. A huge wildebeest lifts mournful eyes to the heavens while a savage lion tears into it’s flesh.

It would have been more stunning, if ceiling tiles hadn’t been raining down on it.  Under our feet the ground crackles. It morphs into geometric shapes, striking straight beneath the two beasts. The transformation had already started.

“Sam, we need to run, we need to go. This is the last of the Transformation and you know what that means!” I push his shoulder towards the exit. A few last people straggle out of what’s left of the building. One man fights off an arctic fox that’s attached itself to his shoulder.

“You don’t need to remind me!” Sam calls over his shoulder and dodges past a fallen pillar. I throw a glance over my shoulder. The wildebeest collapses under the lion, bellowing in pain and fear. With a roar the lion falls to the ground, but quickly rolls to his feet. Flames blossom from his main as his coat turns to a jet black.

An obsidian lion.

This is not good, this is not good. This is not good! Feeling it’s telepathy reaching out for me, I pelted for the broken doors. Sam had already made it out into the sunlight.

Good, he’s safe. Now I can do what I’ve needed to do all along.

MORTAL. Roars the Obsidian lion. MORTAL, STOP NOW AND MY MASTER WILL SPARE YOU.

His voice is the sound of  rocks rasping across one another. Embers burn bright as they scatter from molten cracks in his coat. He shifts his paws, and unfurls vast leathery wings.

IT IS TIME YOU VISIT THE UNDERWORLD, MORTAL, AND FEEL ITS RAW POWER.

I tighten my hands into fists, and lean forward. Energy pours into my body as I say the answer he’s hoping for.

“No.”

The fight begins.

 

Nightmare of Bowood Hall

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Soft murmurs and the clinking of forks and knives receded in the candle lit passage. Eleanor withdrew  on silent feet into the shadows of the Hall. Amber illumination glowed as she tip toed through plush carpeted passageways.

I shouldn’t be doing this, father will be furious when he finds out. She thought to herself, guilt creeping into her mind. But what’s a little exploration going to do to anyone? There’s no harm in being curious.

The invitation had arrived on Tuesday. They had been entertaining a late breakfast, father and her. It had been a dreary start to the day, rain pounding down up on each dark window. That is until Manson, their butler, had entered the room. His brisk exterior was somewhat subdued by something held tight in his gloved hands.

Eleanor all but dropped her spoonful of porridge at the sight of the black velvet letter. A lingering scent of jasmine and anise had drifted towards her as her father had opened the note.

“To the most Honourable Sir Carrington, and his daughter, the Lady Eleanor. Your presence is here by requested at Bowood Hall on Sunday, October the 22nd. In celebration of his Lordship’s Eldest son Fredrick III. Guess will be seated for evening festivities by no later than 9 o’clock sharp.” Her father had been most impressed by the lavishness of the invitation. He had made all haste to prepare them both, a whole week in advanced.

Eleanor had hidden her interest well. Burying her excitement, fear, and, exhilaration deep within herself. Not a soul was to know, not a sign was given. But it would be her chance, once and for all. It would be her responsibility to uncover the secret of Bowood Hall.

Eleanor’s smile flashed in the flickering flames as she glanced all around the passageway. Her draped satin dress whispering across rich carpet. And now here I am, plain ol’ Eleanor in the likes of Bowood Hall. Plain boring Eleanor uncovering the truth of this old ruin.

No one knew the darkness contained within its walls. No one but her . . . and the Society.

They had trusted only but the most stalwart member of The Society. It had been Eleanor the Young who was chosen. It would be her who brought one of the most noblest families of England to their knees.

Bowood held an ancient secret, an ancient terror. And it had to be stopped before it was unleashed up the world she loved so dearly.

“I must.” She whispered, the air close upon her brow. “I must.”

Motifs of intricate vines and fruit criss-crossed the ceilings and walls. Exquisite murals depicting the gods of Greece and Rome watched the glowing youth. She continued, delving deeper into the heart of the house. Richness was the essence of this house. A thousand years of lust and power built upon the back of a sleeping beast.

Eleanor kept careful track of her steps as she felt the house close in around her. She opened her mind to the symphony of silence all around her. It was too quiet.

Careful Eleanor, careful. It mustn’t know your purpose. Slowing her breath she cleared her mind. Focusing her thoughts on the party and her father she continued on. Opening up a paneled door Eleanor paused in the opening, listening.

There was a clatter of metal upon wood as something in the room beyond fell. Eleanor froze, heart thundering in her ears.

Think of the food, the costumes. Think of father, of Fredrick.

Looking into the semi darkness the young woman saw nothing. Furnishings of a plush sitting room lay beyond. Counting three more beats of her heart she continued on.

Relax. Relax. You are calm. Her heart slowed as she crossed the room. She had reached the opposite door when dazzling light blinded her from one side. A fireplace roared to life, flames licking out over the edge of the mantle. Heat roiled from the grate now burning white hot. Wood blackened in moments as flames reached out for her.

Eleanor stifled a shriek as her gloved hand closed on a gold doorknob. It knows. It knows I’m here. Somehow it’s divined my purpose.

With frantic twists she forced the door open. Her glove sizzled and blackened as she flung herself into a narrow hallway. The door slammed shut behind her, cutting of the roaring heat.

Hand stinging with heat, she ripped off her glove and tossed it onto the floor. Jet black reflections illustrated her young and terrified face. Her chest heaved with the efforts of the other room. Her hair had slipped from its delicate styling, curling around her moon shaped face.

Breath, you must remain calm. Calm. Eleanor arranged her thoughts, closing her eyes and listening. Silence once again pressed upon her.

“I am calm.” She said as her eyes scanned up and down the black marble passage. It knew she was there. It knew she meant more than going on an innocent stroll. Her time was growing short, and there was no room for failure.

“I am calm-” Something breathed in the dark. A long whistling breath that drew in the air all around the youth’s body. Her hair swished against her neck, rippling the fabric of her dress.

It knows.

From behind her a crackling of stone sounded, within the dark passage. Eleanor watched in growing horror as minuscule fissures opened in the walls to either side of her. Dust and small chips of stone rained onto the ground at her feet. The something breathed in causing the walls around her to buckled inward. As if a constricting throat enclosed her.

“Run!” She screamed to herself as rock rained down upon her head. Air buffeted her body as the unseen giant exhaled. Dust choked off her throat as she ran. Rational thought gave way to instinctual fear in Eleanor’s mind and she ran for her life. Crackling stone continued to fall all about her. She slipped and nearly collided with the bubbling wall as more breaths continued. Flinging her hands and arms over her head she pushed forward. The walls continued to press inward, crumbling to dust.

With no end in sight, Eleanor’s hope and courage began to fade. She could barely breathe, let alone fend off the bits of granite that all but consumed her. And just like that she was tripping on a threshold and falling. Falling, falling down onto thick luscious carpet.

Carpet. Carpet! I’m out! I made it! Glancing back to the door Eleanor found herself looking at gold leafed door shut tight. Lingering coils of dust curled from around its edges.

“I made it. I’m alive!” Picking herself up from the floor she brushed at her dress, now a drab gray color. “I’m alive! I made it!”

Her enthusiasm ebbed as light grew around her. A great glinting of light shone around her as above her luminescence grew. Gilded walls reached up above her, growing from the receding dark.

“Where am I?” She said, trying to make sense of it all. Around her light illuminated the raised entry to a behemoth staircase. Steps stretch downwards ending in the largest hall she had ever seen. Ornate iron railings enclosed the stairs and reached all the way to the wall where she stood. Above her titanic crystal chandeliers hung suspended by flaxen threads.

The hall continued to expand, infinite in size.

And then realization struck Eleanor. “This is it. This is the center, its heart.”

It was what she was looking for, what The Society had charged her to find. It was the heart of the Monster of Bowood. She took a few tentative steps forward, waiting for the essence to react to her presence. All was still. She continued forward, her confidence growing.

Reaching, with care, for a concealed pocket in her dress, Eleanor drew out a sliver vial. no bigger than the span of her hand from wrist to finger tip. With purpose she walked towards the top most step of the great stair and raised the vile into the air.

Vibrations issued from the walls around her. Faint as a tap-tap tapping from a raven’s beak on stone. But then the vibrations grew.

Knowing her time had now passed, Eleanor stepped onto the staircase. Her body resonated with the floor beneath her. She tipped her head upwards, ready to speak the Words of Cleansing. A howling grew within the golden hall, a keening of something unnatural and unsubstantial. Malice grew palpable in her mouth, stinging her nose.

And then it was there, voice screaming in her ears, tearing at her body. Eleanor struggled as she held the silver vial before her. She twisted around, looking for her assailant.

“NO! Stay back fiend!” She cried to the vast specter. But the voice only grew louder. Her body shook, and Eleanor knew she couldn’t lose hope, “Desist! I send you to the abyss!”

And with that all sound ceased. The hall grew still all around her. A slight tinkling came from the vast chandeliers above the stair. Eleanor moved to throw the vial, triumphant written upon her face. But a sudden grasping hand caught her shoulder. Screaming she whirled around only to stare in amazement as her own hand and arm held her fast. Eleanor held onto Eleanor, both suspended over the yawning stair.

She looked into golden eyes that resembled her own. As if a dark mirror had been placed before her, the apparition mimicked her solid form. But instead of opening its mouth in terror, its lip curled into a sneer.

Opening its mouth wide it issued one word, “No.”

And with that it pushed Eleanor down the stairs.

“Noooo!!!” She cried as her body tumbled and tossed its way down, down, down. Into the deep she rolled. Into oblivion.

When her broken body finally did stop Eleanor found herself on the bottom most stair. Looking up into the glimmering light of the chandelier her vision began to fade. It swayed ever so gently, side to side.

It was then that Eleanor realized the truth about Bowood hall. It wasn’t a specter or poltergeist that imbued its walls in living evil. No, it was the house, the house itself was the haunting. And it was alive, alive and furious.

With a loud crack the chandelier above her fell.

Locked

Hands reached out with broken nails and bloodied fingers. Swiping blindly through the shattered windows they searched for their next victims.

Moans of the dead filled the air as she screamed, “Open the door, open the door!!”

His hands fumbled for the key, scraping it against the lock. Behind them wood groaned under the weight of a hundred bodies.

“I’ve got it!” He shouted, “I’ve-”

CRACK!

The door gave in, ragged corpses flooding into the room. At the same moment the key caught in the lock snapping clean in two.

“-Got it.”

The woman screamed.

House of the Damned

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“Elisha, where are you? You know we’re not suppose to be here!” Beth slipped on a smooth rock in the trail. Her phone flew out of hand as the young woman fell into the brush.

“Ouch! Ah man! Elisha! This isn’t funny!” Beth clambered back onto her feet, dusting her jeans off as she looked around. Sunlight shifted between the trees, illuminating the already golden vegetation.

“Elisha come on! I’ve lost my phone, this isn’t funny anymore. We’ve got to get back home, the other’s are waiting for us.

A bird twittered on a branch further up the path. An unseen thing scuttled away into the grass. Beth felt her arm twitch as silence pressed in around her.

It was unnerving to hear her own breaths.

“Elisha?” She called, realizing the loudness of her voice felt to harsh for her surroundings.

Beth looked around one last time for her phone and then continued on up the trail. Brush gave way to fields of grass. The hill she walked on grew steep as the mountains grew before her. She turned back to see where she had come.

I didn’t think we’d come this far. She thought as sunlight glinted back from roofs and cars. The city below spread through the hills and off into the distance. It was spectacular, or would have been if Beth didn’t feel a sudden sense of urgency. The day was waxing on.

Grunting with the effort of climbing the ever-increasing slope, she paused for a minute. Looking around she glanced at the fall leaves.

“I’ve gone to far, she couldn’t have made it up here.” Beth half whispered to herself as took a swig from her water bottle. A flash of reflected light crossed over her face and Beth help up a hand. And as if a magician had pulled a cloth away from a hidden object, she saw it.

A building.

“What the?” She blinked a few times, trying to clear her eyes. Has that been there the entire time?

Rough rock walls peered between trees as glass windows shone bright. The house stood in the midst of a cluster of trees. It’s slanted roofs and pitch walls cut a sinister line in the rolling foothills.

Really, how could I miss this? Beth’s face flushed as she realized it didn’t matter. What matters is me finding Elisha and getting off this hill before sundown.

“Come on!” She jumped at her on voice and determination. But it was silly to think that anything more was going on around her. Irritation flared within Beth, and for an instant fear took hold of her.

Just find Elisha and get back down. This is stupid, we should have never walked up this path, or even gone near this mountain. Haven’t they told us not to go up here? And here you are, stupid girl, here on the mountain side, wish some freak house staring at me.

Beth stomped up the path, kicking dirt and rock.

She’s going to be hiding around one of these corners, I know it. Just waiting for me to jump and scream. I’ve had it with all this!

“Elisha enough! I’m turning around right now if you don’t come out from wherever your hiding. This is scaring me!” The words flew from Beth’s mouth and to her horror shook the empty glade. The house continued to stare, wavering in a slight heat.

The young woman tucked her hair behind each ear. She took a calming breath, and then continued on her way.

Only to find that her way blocked by a fence. A black fence, made with some kind of curved wood.

“What is this? Hello is someone just playing a trick on me? Elisha?”

Nothing. The fence crossed the path, which had twisted back in on itself. In the distance she could see a faint line reaching to the house.

“How? What? She stopped an arm’s length from the fence. It was burnt black, with white stones attached to strings. They were lining each bar of the fence, hundreds of them.

Beth licked her lips, knowing something wasn’t right. A fine mist pervaded around it, like a coiled snake waiting to pounce.

Touch it. Whether it was her voice or someone else, she knew not. A burning, no trembling sensation to find out grabbed her. It was then, as she was looking side to side the form hanging above the fence, off the beaten path.

“Elisha!!” She screamed, seeing her friend in the air. Elisha stood tall, with palms facing up, hands spread wide to either. Beth scrambled over rock and grass clump to get to her friend. But when she stood before the figure, it took all her control not to scream at Elisha’s face.

It was gaunt, vacant and distorted Her jaw hung open, in a silent scream, eyes rolled up behind their lids.

“Elisha! Elisha, please be alright! Don’t be dead!” Beth crashed through the underbrush beside the fence. She reach out trying to pull Elisha down onto the ground. But she stopped, short as her hand seared with pain. Jumping back from the pain Beth realized her friends body hung in the air without suspension. Nothing.

“Please all I want to do his help my friend.” Again Beth felt white-hot stab of pain as she reached out for Elisha.

It was at this moment that Beth looked int he houses direction again. She gave a small cry. The house had moved, closer. The glade was now behind the house and it’s windows looked down on Elisha and herself.

And as if electrified, Elisha straightened, shifting in the air. Her mouth closed, forming words with her mouth. All the while glassy eyes stared out onto the world.

The scent of burning flesh intensified as soot and ashes sifted from the blackened fence.

Beth screamed, Elisha shook. And then she disappeared into the sky, body disintegrating to nothing.

Beth could only hear screaming. Searing heat enveloped her. And in the middle of her cry Beth heard the voice again speak, “Touch it.”

Her feet lifted from the ground, and like a child controlling her limbs she moved. Her hand reached for the fence, each finger wrapping around the smooth blackened surface.

With a final gasp Beth felt hair begin to burn. It was hers.

Then she too succumbed to fire.

 

 

 

Jane’s Spector

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“You filthy little liar!!”  Jane tried to run from the merciless voice. She backed into an ancient globe rocking it back on two carved feat.

The young girl looked around the room, desperate for an exit to appear. Long black curtains shifted on the walls. Sallow colored paintings watch Jane’s dread unfold.

“Don’t you run from me! You horrible sneak!” Her Aunt Sarah commanded. She  strode forward, hand raised, ready to strike the young girl down.

“I didn’t mean to, honest Aunt! I didn’t mean for John to get hurt! It was an accident!”  Jane backed away from the woman. She tripped over a curling rug and fell heavily onto an over stuff ottoman. It was a game of cat and mouse, except now the cat had won.

Quick as a flash her aunt’s hands found Jane ripping at her white starched pinafore. Fingers raking over her face.

“You insolent little girl! Do not move away from me. Don’t you dare!” Some how Jane managed to dodge back from her aunt’s twisting hands. She fell to the floor and crawled around the back of a flowery couch.

Tears streaked her face as uncontrolled sobs escaped her, “Please no! Stop it!”

“Ashworth! Ashworth, I need you.” She was breathing heavily, her plump body heaving with the effort of finding Jane.

At the name of her Aunt’s butler, Jane choked on a sob. Ashworth was tall, lanky and relentless in his cruelty. It had only been an accident what had happened to John. Really Jane had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and had foot the blame for it all.

If only I’d have stopped myself from going into Uncle’s study. I’d be out in the gardens now, but it wasn’t my fault! If John had only let me read on my own and not stolen my book . . .

Aunt Sarah sat down onto a chair, her breath slowing. “Ashworth! Come get this wretched child. Where is that useless stampcrab?”

Jane could hear her aunt looking around for her.  Her breath growing louder each time the woman turned her head. Realizing she might have an avenue of escape Jane began to crawl on hands and knees. Looking around she spotted the sliding doors at the far end of the room sat unlatched and ajar.

Endeavoring to remain silent Jane held her breath as she passed by dusty furniture.  She periodically looked up to make sure no thing was in her way. There was a pause in the room as she continued to crawl. She found herself under a table, right next to the sliding doors.

Now if only I can open them without making a sound. Then it’s off to the garden and beyond.

Aunt Sarah shifted in her seat and then spoke to the room. “You do realize if you run it will only make things worse for you. Jane, I know you’re in here, come out now and I promise you will not . . . harmed.”

It was a lie, they both knew it. Jane already knew where she was to end this day. The Red Room.

“Jane. Come out. now.”

With tears streaming down her face and onto the floor, Jane pushed her body across the floor. Closing the gap between her and the double doors. Freedom was a hands breath away.

Light blinded Jane as the doors flew open. The afternoon light reflecting upon dull storm clouds was too much. She closed both eyes, rolling into a fetal position. Unnatural hands forced themselves upon her. Ashworth spoke to his master with a note of triumph. “I have her hear my lady. Looks as if she was making for the hall.”

Aunt Sarah’s voice dripped with sweetness. Her pitch grew higher as she forced warmth into the words. “Ah most excellent Ashworth! Bring her here.”

Jane opened her eyes to see the taught jaw line of her Aunt setting itself. The woman’s dark eyes burned into Jane’s body. Her back went ridged at the sight of the girl. Yet she kept the same silken tone.

“Ah Jane, so good of you to join me here, now. Come let us . . . talk for a moment. Perhaps we can gain and understanding.”

There had been too many nights where this voice had been used. Too many punishments that reinforced the terror of this woman. Jane knew she was in for it now.

She snapped two pudgy fingers together, “Ashworth here. I want her where I can reach her.”

The butler followed his master’s request and deposited Jane at her aunt’s feet. She tensed herself, waiting for the blows to come as they surely would.

“Jane. . . Dear, dear, Jane. I’m afraid your behavior has left me with no choice. This household does not tolerate disobedience, or lying. And you’ve provided me with both.”

She shifted in her seat, her anger turning to excitement. “I do believe you know what that means?”

Jane’s mouth went dry. Fear sliced deep into her heart as she attempted to struggle out of the butler’s hold.

“Oh struggling will only make it worse, dear girl. I believe you’ve earned yourself an entire night’s stay. Wouldn’t you agree Ashworth?”

Jane stiffened in the butler’s arms.

“Undoubtedly, Madam.” Was the butler’s stoic reply. “Shall we?”

“NO! No!! Please you can do this! Not all night!” She screamed. “You can’t leave me there with it! Not for that long! Please don’t do this! I’ll do anything! I’m sorry!”

Aunt Sarah all but jumped from her seat and slapped the girl so hard blood spurting from her mouth.

“You are a wicked, wicked child Jane Erye! It’s only fit that you spawn of the devil should go to the Red Room to commune with your maker. I should have never taken you into my home, I should have let you die!” Spittle flew from her mouth onto Jane’s burning face.

“Enough! Ashworth take her. I’ve had quite enough of this.” The butler turned without a sound. Holding the child to him as he would a heavy tray.

Aunt Sarah took a prim sniff as she looked around the now vacant room. “I do believe some tea is in order, I’ll send for Mary.”

Out in the hallway Jane’s head lolled to one side. Light and dark passed over her body as Ashworth moved down a darkened hallway. Through a labyrinth they passed without sound. All the while a ringing grew in Jane’s ears.

An unseen force pushed itself against Jane as they stepped into a confined foyer. There a plain door sat, awaiting entry of the condemned.

Ashworth stepped to the door, twisted the knob and pushed it open. Without crossing the threshold  he laid the child onto the dusty wood floor.

Jane shut her eyes, knowing it would be waiting for her. Knowing He would be waiting. The ringing grew as she closed her eyes tight.

I will not open them, I will not open them. He cannot make me. She thought, shouting it into the emptiness behind her eyelids.

OPEN THEM CHILD. A voice reverberated in her mind. He had found her. He was pleased she had come.

OPEN YOUR EYES JANE ERYE AND LOOK AT ME. I WISH TO SEE YOU.

Resolve crumbling she opened her eyes. Fractured pieces of bone stared back at her, mounted by an evil hand upon a stave in the wall.

WELCOME JANE, I’VE MISSED YOU. The skull smiled with it’s upper jaw. Hollow pits assessed Jane as she sat up, making the world spin. She felt His control upon her, as a spider plucking at its web.

SHALL WE BEGIN?

Mr. Johnson’s Delight

The storm had hit without warning. Rain descended in a torrent, washing over the neighborhood.  Water flooded the gutters, streets, and yards.

Jaime and Brad had watched it all happen from their upstairs window. Their house sat on the lower end of the neighborhood. Within a manner of moments, everything turned into a turbulent bog. Dead branches, weeds, and mud swirled round their swing set.

“I don’t think mum and dad will want us out there today.” Said Brad, the eldest of the two. He was one for sticking to the rules, even if it meant being as bored as wood.

Jaime was halfway on putting her boots and slicker, “Ah come on ya boob, let’s go have an adventure!”

Brad’s eyes bulged out of their sockets, “Are you kidding? Could you imagine what they would do to us?”

The debate had raged through the storm and lunch time before Brad caved to his sister’s persistence. Jaime would have given up, but their parents had needed to run to the neighborhood grocery store. Triumphantly she had closed the front door behind her mother’s departing back. His sister all but pranced off to the mud room. Brad had followed suit, donning his boots and readying a yellow slicker.

“We’ve got to be quick about it, okay? I’m not about to get caught out here by dad. He’ll have my computer locked away for a month!” Brad shivered at the thought. Jaime just laughed.

Jaime threw open the back door, whistling for Topher, their yellow lab, to join them. “Come on Bradley, where’d your sense of wonder go?”

Knocked off-balance by the departing dog, he stumbled forward. Brad stuck his tongue out at Jaime and stepped into the backyard.

The rain had stopped. Late afternoon sunlight filtered through a spectacular array of clouds. Everything glinted with flashing dew drops. Beneath their booted feet washed out grass squelched with mud.

“Isn’t this amazing?” Yelled Jaime, mud kicking up from her dancing form. Topher jumped about, sniffing around the fresh scrubbed world.

Brad looked around at the young oak tree, scrub brush and dogwood. They peppered both sides of their narrow lot.

To the left lay Mr. Johnson’s yard. It sat half a head taller than Brad with an ancient rock wall dividing the two pieces of property. A short chicken wire fence sagged under a line of drooping dogwood bushes. Their bright green branches contrasting with juicy berries.

“Come on Brad! Let’s go see if our grass village survived the flash flood!” Jaime was already under the dogwood branches, pushing them aside glancing all around. Topher continued along the wall, sniffing here and there at bedraggled vines.

Brad stepped towards his sister, but then stopped, movement catching his attention. He looked up to the chicken wire fence, a lone form stepped between the bushes, peering down at his sister. It was Mr. Johnson, the neighborhood miser. Unfortunately for Brad and his family Mr. Johnson had lived in his house for the last forty years. His back yard was full of well-tended fruit trees and was the envy of the neighborhood children. Often the Mr. Johnson’s orchard was the target of many an eager trespasser.

“Come on Brad!” Jaime’s voice echoed off the stones and bushes. She crouched low founding the site of their once bustling grass metropolis. A desire to be invisible to the hook nose and sallow eyes Brad side-stepped his way around the shadow of a dogwood. Mr. Johnson looked away from their yard. He scanned the ground like a man who’s lost something of great value. He carried a hoe in his hands, brandishing it before himself like a sword.

Topher barked from the corner of the yard. Still Brad stood out of view watching the old man. Weird chills raised the hair on his arms and neck as he observed. Mr. Johnson continued to walk towards Jaime, hoe in hand. His eyes casting about his feet, searching.

With a somewhat hollow bark from the corner Topher began to dig. Clods of earth flipped into the grass. Brad shifted position. Now he could see Topher digging in the yard. Jaime played with something on the rocks and Mr. Johnson searched.

Dad’s not going to like this, he just buried that fence post last week.

Above them, Mr. Johnson disappeared into the orchard. Brad breathed a sigh of relief. He looked down at his hands only to realize they were shaking.

What’s wrong with me? He shook his head and made straight for his sister. It was time for this adventure to end. We’d better get back inside before mum and dad get here.

He was almost to his sister’s side when with a yelp and muffled bark Topher all but bulled the young boy over.

“Geez boy what’s wrong with you? Whatcha got there?” Wiping at his pants, Brad noticed something muddy sticking out of his dog’s mouth.

Jaime had jumped up and was heading in his direction.

“Give it here boy, what is it?” He made a grab for Topher’s mouth, but the dog danced away.

“Come on, we’ve got to get back.”

Again the lab jumped back, toying with him.

“What does he have Brad?” Jaime made for the dog, but to no avail. Topher was going to have his game.

“I don’t know, it’s pretty muddy. Oh well, let’s get inside.”

Jaime sighed, arms flapping down to her sides, “I suppose so. Come on Topher!”

The two walked back to their front porch, sitting on the dry steps under the eaves. Shadows played over the sun as they took off soggy boots. After running laps around the yard a couple of times Topher trotted up to the kids.

Brad was scanning Mr. Johnson’s yard  for any sign of the old man, but to no avail. So intently was he watching that he felt, rather than saw, Topher drop something  into his lap. It was wet, and muddy.

He opened his mouth to speak, reaching for the thing and his dog. But an explosion of screams broke his ear drums, making him jump. Jaime was screaming. He looked at his sister, who sat frozen to the ground pointing at his crossed legs.

Irritated at his sister’s antics. He looked down and opened his mouth, screaming in terror as well.

In his lap lay a hand. Jagged bones stuck out from clay gray flesh. Fingers as cold as stone groped at his leg. Broken nails caught on his  jeans.

He screamed again, kicking the severed limb into the dirt. Scrambling to his feet he watched as Topher pounced on it and tossed it into the air.

Jaime continued to scream, her face going white. She pointed at something behind Brad. He followed the dissected hand’s tumble through the grass, towards the rock wall. He looked up from it to see Mr. Johnson, hoe in hand staring at them from behind the fence.

The old man was smiling.

 

 

Whispers

Voices hissed through leaves that clung to brittle branches. All around green gave way to a single column of gray.

A scrawny teenage boy stood in an over sized T-shirt and ripped jeans. Strangers walked past his still form, oblivious to the steps of fate he was taking. A cyclist corrected his path, almost clipping the kid. They exchanged no words, no retorts. The world kept moving onward, resolute.

Come to us.” Called the dead leaves, rustling in the cool autumn air.

Come.

The small boy stood on a small hillock, overlooking the gnarled and twisted tree. It reached for him, branches twisted into a sinister smile.

“Don’t you go near it, you hear?” The voice of Kaleb’s mother rang in his ears, a bell tolling danger before the dawn. His eyes roved over the peeling bark.  “Never go near the Whispering Tree.”

“But why mamma? Why can’t I? I hear it talking to me?”

His mother had held him close, pressing her lips against his soft cheek. “Because, dear. It would learn your secrets.”

He had only been a child then, not understanding his mother’s words. Fairytales and nonsense, that’s what it was.

Until the day he stepped through the door, away from childhood and out into the world.

“It took your father one day.” His mother had said, staring out the kitchen window as they sat at the table. “It learned about the darkest part of him and the next day I found him, curled at its roots. His body covered in tangled bark and leaves, blood was everywhere.”

The police said it was suicide, but I knew better. It was that tree.”

Seth remembered a solitary tear had run down her cheek, falling from hollow eyes.

He had taken her face in his hands and kissed the tear away. “I promise mom, I promise I will never go near the Whispering Tree.”

That had been three years ago. Three years of knowing the truth. Three years of feeling the call.

Each day before he left the house his mother had looked at him and said, “Remember.”

And each time he had nodded. But not today.

Kaleb had risen from his bed knowing it. With finality he had gotten ready for the day, eaten a silent breakfast, and then left his house. Today Kaleb knew he had to break that promise, even though it would mean his death.

He stepped off the path, down the hill. No one notice, no one cared. An elderly gentleman fed bread to the ducks, a baby squawked from a covered stroller. The world turned.

Kaleb stood before the tree, listening to it whisper.

Come to me.