It’s Only Me

From John Burish on writing, It’s Only Me: 

This idea came from my fond memories of Halloween as a child and the many stories I’ve heard about my Grandmother on my stepfather’s side of the family. She was an eccentric lady who took great joy in making the kids jump out of their skin.

staircase-ghost

It’s Only Me

Written By John Burish

“Zombies!”

Jeffrey’s eyes opened wide. He had fallen asleep, but had no idea where he was.

“Zombies!” the voice cried again. Jeffrey wondered how he would survive this one. Should he lie still or get up and run.

“Zombies, come on! Breakfast is ready!” Just then a pillow slammed against Jeffrey’s head, pulling him out of his dream state.

It was Jimmy, his older brother. “Get out of bed dumb ass, we gotta go to school.”

“Okay, Jimmy quit it!” Jeffrey said as he sat up rubbing his eyes. Jimmy jumped on him and punched him hard in the arm.

“I told you. Call me Jim. NOT Jimmy!” Jim was only two years older than Jeffrey, but thought he was too mature now for a little boys name.

“Jimmy. Jimmy. Jimmy!” The brothers wrestled. This was nothing new. Everyday the brothers competed for the glory of besting each other. However insignificant the task, they would push, punch and claw their way to beat their sibling. First to get dressed. First to use the toothpaste. First to get to the bus stop.

Jimmy was eleven now and had a serious nature. He had come to believe that his little nine-year-old brother was just a kid. Jeffrey was a tough kid though, trained hard through all the years of fighting for supremacy in their shared bedroom.

The boys came rushing down the stairs finally in a ruckus that resembled a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

“Good Lord boys, you keep doing that and you’ll wake the dead,” said their mother, Lorna. A tall lady with a pleasant voice, she carried herself with a grace and ease that defied her haggard appearance.

“Yeah, why you gotta act like little devil-jerks?” said Carol, their stern older sister. She was fifteen and tired of having the annoyance of little brothers. She couldn’t wait to turn sixteen, so she could get her driver’s license and leave whenever she wanted.

“Why do you have to act like little jerks. ‘Got’ is not a word Carol. Let’s speak correctly please.” Lorna put down a plate for each with sunny-side up eggs and bacon. She had put fine lines of ketchup in the yellow center making them look like blood-shot yellow eyes.

“Eeeewwww. Mom!” said Carol.

“Cool!” said the boys. This reminded them that it was that time of year again. Halloween! It was one day away and they would soon scour the neighborhood to see who could get the most free candy.

Lorna made her own plate of bloody egg eyes. She grabbed her cup of coffee and walked across the kitchen to join the kids. Her unique gait was such that she appeared to be gliding across the floor whenever she walked. “I was serious about waking the dead you two. Every year around October in this house…”

“Mom. Don’t.” Carol interjected.

“Have you ever noticed how extra cold it is on your way down the stairs?” she asked the boys. “Or in the hallway near the banister?”

“You’re gonna scare them.” Carol said, although she didn’t mind making her brothers uncomfortable.

“So what. There’s a rickety old window up their above the staircase,” said Jim.

“The people that used to live here told us that the woman they bought the house from lived here for 70 years. Her husband built the house for them with his own bare hands when they were first married and it was the nicest one in town. They would host fine parties and all of the prominent folks in the community would come. Her name was Greta and she loved this house.”

The boys listened as they devoured their breakfast. “So what does that have to do with cold stairs?” Jeffrey asked.

Lorna continued her story. “Greta, in her younger days, would dress in her best Sunday clothes and loved to greet her guests in a grand manner.   Her husband would open the door and as the guests entered, she would be standing up on the banister, and call down to the visitors to express her delight. Greta would then descend down the beautiful curved staircase quickly to greet them.”

“I bet she was pretty.” Carol imagined the eloquent dresses that she had seen in old movies.

“She is.   She was. But then sadly, her husband had to go off to war and he was tragically killed in battle. Greta was devastated. She withdrew from her friends and the whole community. She put away her beautiful white dresses, and would only wear black. The only time people would see her out of the house was when she would go to the market to buy food.”

“You said she is,” Jimmy said.

“What?” Lorna asked.

“Carol said she bet Greta was pretty and you said she is.” Jimmy was puzzled. “How do you know?”

“Well, because I’ve seen her.” The boys stopped chewing their bacon and looked at their mother. “She still lives here.”

“I have too. Well sort of.” Carol said. “She disappears when you catch her.”

“What are you talking about? Is she still alive?” asked Jeffrey.

Lorna leaned in so she could be discreet, “No honey. She’s as dead as a door nail.” The boys looked at each other confused.

“Years went by, with Greta being a recluse in this house she so adored. She would spend days admiring the beauty in the grain of the wood along the railing and the meticulous craftsmanship of the man she loved.” Lorna lowered her voice, “Some of the townspeople thought she had gone mad.”

“Why was she mad?” asked Jeffrey.

“Not mad. Like crazy.” Carol emphasized the word crazy.

Lorna looked over toward the doorway that led to the foyer. She continued softly the way you would if you did not want someone nearby to hear you. No sense in being impolite, she thought. “She became a very old lady lost in her loneliness. She suffered from dementia.”

“Why was she demented?” asked Jeffrey. Carol laughed.

“Not demented Jeffrey,” his mother clarified, “Dementia. When we get old, our brains get tired of remembering things the right way. So Greta became forgetful and confused. She started to wear her beautiful white dresses again. She would wear them to greet the mailman, or the milkman that came by once a week. She was old and frail so the dress appeared to be loose and a size too big. But it made her happy.”

“So what about the cold stairs. Why are they cold?” Jimmy demanded.

Lorna looked amused and leaned in even more. “Greta’s favorite day became Halloween, because that was the day she would get so many visitors. Every time the door chimes would ring, she would descend the stairs with an old crooked smile and greet her callers. In her mind, she was twenty again. But when she opened the door, she did not like the way her visitors were dressed. They were not dressed appropriately for an elegant dinner party. They were dressed as Hobos and ghosts and witches. She would get angry with the children and scream at them as she chased them off the porch. Then she would calm herself down, go back up the stairs and wait for her “real” dinner guests to arrive. This would happen over and over every Halloween night.   Until one year, a group of trick-or-treaters came to the door and Greta was so delighted she came downstairs too quickly. Her body was very old and weak by then. She fell hard and tumbled viciously down the hardwood steps her husband had built. Her torso rotated like a windmill over her legs and her head finally smacked down on the landing.” Lorna smacked the table with her hand as she said this and they all three jumped.

“And that is why every year around this time, she appears. You might see something out of the corner of your eye, but when you look over, it’s gone. Or she might see you as one of her friends and smile at you and let you see her for a moment. If you see her… be polite.”

With that Lorna stood up and began clearing the table. Jimmy and Jeffrey were creeped out. Carol relished seeing her brothers squirm.

“Uh, we gotta go to school! Let’s go, Jeffrey,” said Jimmy as they grabbed their brown bag lunches.

“You have to go to school. Got is not a word,” Lorna said in her motherly tone. “Don’t forget to invite your friends to dinner after trick or treating tonight. We’re going to have Witches stew!”

The boys walked toward the front door and stared uneasily at the bottom of the staircase. On the porch, Jimmy almost tripped over the loose brick again.

It was an old wooden porch with a brick ledge along the sides of the three stairs that led down to the front walk. The corner of the ledge at the top had a brick that had broken loose from years of people sitting on it. It could frequently be found lying on the floor of the porch. That stupid brick, it was a wonder someone hadn’t broke their neck tripping over that. Someone should fix that, Jimmy thought.

The boys walked down the block. There was a crisp breeze and the fall leaves tumbled across the green lawns. They liked their neighborhood, especially around Halloween time. Their neighbors were good about decorating for holidays. Giant spiders could be seen lurking on the bushes. Fake spider webs stretched in every direction.

Some houses even had tombstones and skeletons standing along the sidewalk to scare the kids and zombies climbing out of the ground! Man I can’t wait to get all that candy, thought Jimmy.

Jeffrey became serious. “Have you ever seen the Greta ghost, Jimmy? Jim.”

“Come on. I don’t believe in ghosts. That’s a bunch of bullshit.”

Jeffrey wasn’t so sure. “Mom says that when people die, their spirit lives on and sometimes their ghost stays around to haunt people.”

Jim tried to set him straight, “Grow up Jeffrey. Mom likes all that ghosts and goblins stuff. Witches spells and all that. She reads about it. She’s just trying to scare us.”

Jeffrey knew that Jimmy was thinking about Greta too, but was too “tough” to admit it. As they climbed on the bus to school, Jeffrey decided to think about candy instead of ghosts.

The boys’ mother was famous around the neighborhood for doing strange things, especially during Halloween time. Just last year she got Jimmy and his best friend Billy Reynolds really good. They came home from playing baseball and the house was all-quiet. They were walking down the hall to the bedroom and she jumped out at them from Carol’s room. They both jumped 2 feet high and Billy actually pissed his pants. As she laughed at her prank, the dark wet spot seeped down the front of his jeans all the way past his knees. He ran home, but was too embarrassed to tell anyone about it.

Lorna had a laugh that was full of delight and mischief. You could tell she was pleased with herself, when she would pull off a good scare. The year before that she put a “spell” on Carol and her friend Karen at a sleepover. She told them if ever they weren’t being honest with their parents, they would get little red bumps all over their skin. Each of them were horrified as it came true again and again on different parts of their faces.  They stopped lying to their parents for a while, until they realized it was just normal teen hormones causing the unsightly bumps. The friends that were brave enough to come over knew they couldn’t let their guard down. Not knowing what Lorna would do next made them curious.

Another time she held an séance for all the neighborhood kids. She blindfolded each of them included her own three kids and passed around different items for everyone to feel. She described what they were about to hold in their hands as they passed it around. First a human eye ball, taken from a man who was found dead in the woods. Next, she passed around a bloody heart. And then his brain! Of course they were actually a peeled grape, a cold steak and a bowl of pasta with olive oil.

It was all in good fun for Lorna.

Jimmy and Jeffrey burst in the door that evening with red cheeks. They had been playing tackle football with Billy Reynolds and a few other kids from down the block. They were having a blast rolling around in the leaves, their hands so cold from the crisp fall weather, they could barely feel their fingers. They forgot all about Lorna’s tale of a ghostly old lady, until they saw the staircase.

At bedtime, Jeffrey wandered out into the hall while brushing his teeth. He thought he saw Carol over near the banister out of the corner of his eye.

“What are you look-“ his question muffled by toothpaste, as he looked over, the image disappeared. He peeked into Carol’s doorway and she was sitting on her bed reading. The hair stood up on the back of Jeffrey’s neck. He quickly spit the toothpaste in the bathroom sink, rinsed and shut the light off. He carefully walked into the hallway toward his bedroom. He had to look again, so he turned around just for a second to make sure no one was there at the top of the stairs. Jeffrey jumped into his bed and pulled up the covers, the light still on.

Jimmy was down in the kitchen because he was hungry. He grabbed a banana and took a big bite. Lorna glided through on her way to the living room. She was holding one of her weird books.

“Goodnight Jimmy. Don’t let the bedbugs bite,” she smirked.

As usual, there were candles lit in every room. Lorna preferred candles to using electricity late at night. The flames danced a little as she floated by and sat gently on the couch.  With a slight smile she opened her book and started to read.

Jimmy blew out the candle on the kitchen table and threw his banana peel in the trash. He walked out of the kitchen and started up the stairs. He stopped, taking a careful look around. That’s when he noticed he could see his breath. It was slight, but he could actually see his breath. He took inventory of his senses and realized how cold it was on the stairs. He looked at the skin on his arm. Goose bumps.

He looked up at the old rickety window. It was closed, but maybe there was a draft coming through, Jimmy thought. He scanned up to the top of the banister, looking for any signs of Greta. As he took another step up, and then another, the chill went away. Jimmy felt strange. He imagined himself in a nice suit from the olden days and taking the hand of a beautiful lady as he bent over and gently kissed it.

Jimmy snapped out of it. What the hell, he thought. He trudged up the stairs. As he reached the top he paused. He thought he felt the air move around him on the left, like a little breeze. He could’ve sworn somebody just walked by, but when he looked, there was nothing.

Jimmy hurried into his room. Jeffrey was still under his covers. Jimmy turned off the light and jumped in bed.

“No, leave it on!” Jeffrey pleaded.

“We’re not sleeping with the light on, stupid. Turn on your night light, “ Jimmy said acting like nothing was wrong. Jeffrey came out from under his covers and clicked on the small lamp that was on his nightstand. He was glad Jimmy was in the room now. He didn’t want to be alone.

It took a long time for the shivering boys to finally go to sleep. They were lying there staring at the ceiling, trying very hard not to think about Greta.

By the time the boys put on their costumes the next evening, they had forgotten about their fears. They were now focused on more important matters. Halloween was finally here! They came stumbling down the stairs in a hurry, pushing and wrestling as usual.

“I’m going to get more candy than anybody’s ever seen!!” boasted Jimmy.

“I’m going to get more than the candy store!!” replied Jeffrey.

Lorna was in the kitchen stirring a gigantic black pot that sat on the stove.

“You guys have fun. Remember don’t eat the candy until I check it first! Bring it all back here.”

Carol and her pimple-faced friend Karen were the chaperones. They were much too old for trick or treating, but secretly wished they could. Lorna would stay behind and hand out candy while the stew simmered. The kids gathered in the front yard. Billy Reynolds was dressed like Alfred E Neuman from MAD magazine. Jeffrey’s friends from across the street were Batman and Robin.

Jimmy was dressed like one of those tough guys that rode motorcycles. He had a white shirt and a black leather jacket and Carol even helped him slick back his hair.

Jeffrey loved his costume this year. He was Dracula, with a long black cape and those teeth that made it look like he had fangs.

They could hardly contain themselves as they started down the block. They ran up to the first house holding out their pillowcases and plastic pumpkins. After each house they would excitedly brag about what they scored, while hustling to the next door.

“Hey, what’s your Mom making for us this year?” asked Billy, “Blood sandwiches?”

“Witches stew!” Jeffrey replied.

“Is it gonna have rat guts in it?” laughed Batman.

“Or maggots?” asked Robin.

“Oh it’ll be way worse than that, boys. You’ll have to come back to our house to find out!” Carol teased.

They continued on their way making sure they hit every door. Yelling “trick or treat” as loud as they could. Some houses looked a little scarier than others, so they dared Jimmy to go first. Of course, he claimed not to be scared.

This is the best, Jeffrey thought! People just giving you free milk duds and Kit Kats and licorice all night! It was almost better than Christmas! The boys could not believe their good fortune, as they wound through the whole neighborhood. It was getting later now and dark and the number of trick-or-treaters had dwindled.

Carol made the announcement, “Alright boys, it’s time to head back. Two more houses and that’s it, okay?”

As Jimmy saw the last handful of candy plop into his bag, he took off running.

“I’ll meet you back at the house!” he told Carol. Jeffrey was too busy talking to Batman and Robin to notice that his brother was way ahead.

Jimmy was smart. He knew that Mom always had to go through everyone’s candy to make sure there were not pins or razor blades stuck in there by some demented weirdo. If you didn’t get there first, you had to wait longer to eat all the good stuff. He slung his pillowcase over his shoulder as he hustled down the sidewalk. It was pleasingly heavy, no doubt he would beat Jeffrey this year, he thought.

“Mom!” Jimmy burst through the door and left it open for the others. There were even more candles than usual and they cast dim shadows along the old walls.   Jimmy smelled the pungent aroma of the Witches Stew that filled the house.

“Mom!” He made his way to the kitchen.

“I’ll be out in a minute,” Lorna yelled from another room. Jimmy looked over and saw the light on under the bathroom door down the hall. He took the opportunity to look into the pot. Despite the gruesome description of ingredients, Jimmy actually loved his mom’s Halloween stew. She claimed it had owl’s eyes and frog toes and bat blood and all kinds of gross stuff in it, but he knew it tasted like vegetable beef with some extra spices and that was good enough. It smelled delicious and he was starving.

He heard a familiar creek of the wood floor from upstairs. Strange, he thought, Dad works late and Mom was in the bathroom. Maybe Jeffrey ran all the way back. Jimmy walked out of the kitchen and looked out the front door. Nobody was on the porch. The foyer was empty and he turned around to look up the old staircase.

A chill came over him. It was colder in the house than it was outside. He froze as he looked up and saw the full ghostly image of Greta standing at the top of the stairs. Jimmy’s jaw dropped and he stood there frozen in fear.

Greta was a magnificent spirit with a wrinkled face and an old white dress that hung off her skinny frame like a curtain. She had a maniacal smile and hair like a rat’s nest. She lifted a bony finger to her mouth and said, “Shhhhhh…”

Jimmy was going crazy inside his head, but outside, his body did nothing. He tried to call for his Mom but nothing came out of his open mouth. He had never been so scared. Greta glided down the stairs quickly and with each step, Jimmy backed further away.

“Shhhh. It’s only me,” Greta smiled. “It’s only meeeee.”

Jimmy stumbled back and tripped over something and fell hard on his butt. It was the near empty bowl of candy that Lorna was using for trick or treaters. Greta kept coming toward him.

“G-get away!” he gasped as he pushed backwards with his feet. He felt the threshold of the front door as he backed on the porch, still on his butt. Mom wasn’t lying, he thought, her story was true!

“Shhh. I’m waiting to greet the others. It’s only meeeeee…” Greta said in a whisper.

Jimmy’s hands kept shuffling back on the hardwood floor of the porch. His right hand scraped against the loose brick that was lying under the ledge. He couldn’t take his eyes off the ghostly apparition, but his hand searched behind him desperately for the brick. He landed his palm on the brick and wrapped his fingers around it. With all his might he stood up and threw it at Greta,

Jimmy was good at throwing baseballs and footballs, and apparently bricks as well.

The brick flew straight for Greta’s head. The ghostly image froze for a moment and then collapsed in a heap on the floor. Jimmy’s heart raced as he stared at Greta’s wrinkled white face. He was astonished as dark red blood ran through her ratty hair and trickled down her cheekbone. Ghosts don’t bleed, do they? He wondered. Jeffrey and the other kids had come up quickly behind him on the porch.

“Whoooaaa,” Jeffrey marveled. Greta began moaning.

Carol pushed her way through the other kids and looked down at Greta. “You got to be kidding me, Jimmy!”

The ghost of Greta kept moaning and said, “Got is not a word, Carol. Jimmy, you’re grounded.”

 

john-burish

John Burish is an actor, writer and director with experience in both stage (“Modigliani”, The Heidi Chronicles”, “Carbondale Dreams”, and “Waiting for Lefty”) and film (“INVERSE”, “In-World War”, “Project Joe”, “Written By”) and is one of the founding members of a short-film production company called the Annex Film Group.

He has also written and directed many short films including the Annex’s award winning “Robbie’s Withdrawal” and “A Real Doozy”.

Currently John is finishing his fourth feature screenplay “Next Year”, which was recently optioned by Remote Films.

John lives in Los Angeles  with his wife and spends much of his time working way too many hours in film production. He is the proud father of two trick-or-treaters.

Posted in Bizarro, Campfire tales, Ghost Stories, halloween, nosleep, October, Scary, Strange Fiction, twilight zone, weird | Comments Off on It’s Only Me

The Sandbox

From Matt about writing The Sandbox: I hated sandboxes when I was a kid. Then one day I decided, it’s time to face the hate. It’s time to step into the sandbox. And voilà.    

evil-sand

Photo credit: Jason Zwolak

THE SANDBOX

Written by Matt Duggan

I am sitting at my desk with my pen hovering above this opened notebook. “Time is such a thief,” I think to myself as I look at the pages full of my history. And then I glance up, look out the window onto the long grassy slope of the back property, and there I see the young boy. He has made his way through the column of thick pine trees and he has climbed up onto the one well-worn branch that provides the only unobstructed view of my home and its hidden surroundings. He has fixed his stare on the centerpiece of my wide, well-groomed landscape: the sandbox.

I set down my pen and take a deep, lamenting breath. Here is the little boy. It starts all over again. But, for the purposes of this story, I must start from the beginning.

And the beginning concerns another little boy named Gregory Baiston, who lived a quiet life with his mother and father. All were happy, and more importantly, all were healthy.

Gregory was eleven years of age. He was reclusive by choice and by necessity. He enjoyed his own company and he was mercilessly bullied at school. Gregory was also compulsively curious, like most other little boys.

What most roused Gregory’s curiosity was the mansion at the end of his street, which nobody knew anything about because it was hidden behind an imposing curtain of tall, old pine trees that ringed the entire property. The thick rigid trees shot sky high and lined up shoulder-to-shoulder like a security force.

Gregory passed one particular section of the pines each day on his way home from school. The sidewalk abruptly ended as the road veered left. The sidewalk became a dirt path, went on for about twenty yards, then met with the road and turned to concrete sidewalk again. No cars passed along this stretch. It only led to a cul-de-sac, where Gregory’s home was. This was his own little adventure trail.

At first Gregory only slowed his pace as he neared this spot of pines. He would glance into the crowded darkness and see whatever information he could: How far in did the pines go? Was there a fence somewhere back there? What if he just stepped into the first couple of trees?

That last thought piqued his curiosity and it soon turned into a self-dare.

Gregory went from light to shadow immediately. The trees creaked as a cold wind rustled through their high branches. He was only a few feet from the path. What if he took two more steps into the pines? There was no danger; he could always run right back out.

Two steps led to two steps, which led to two more steps.

Soon the young boy was squeezing between trunks, his skin rubbing against the bark. Not only were the trees so closely bunched, but their branches all stuck out like bayonets. Several times a branch jabbed Gregory in the ribs as he pushed himself past another tree trunk.

Just when his fears began to triumph over his curiosity, at the moment when Gregory knew he’d gone too far, he caught sight of the pale blue sky peeking out from behind the trees up ahead.

There was one particular tree branch. It wasn’t gnarled and pointy like the others. This branch was smooth and worn down as if it had been treated with oil. Its end was dulled. It was just high enough for Gregory to climb onto. So he did.

When he stood on this first branch, he saw a second branch, just slightly higher and just as inviting.

Gregory followed a succession of branches until suddenly he stood on one last branch, thicker and flatter than the others. Gregory hugged the cold trunk of the tree and looked onto a beautiful mansion atop a vast lush carpet of grass. The house had enough rooms to sleep the entire town.

More beautiful than the mansion was the property on which it sat: the grass was greener than a crayon, without one dead blade. There were several bubbling fountains on the edges; brick walls lined the perimeter; an array of flowers and flowering trees were dotted throughout.

In the center of the great lawn was a black-marbled sandbox. It was the most curious and inviting thing Gregory had ever seen.

“Hey! Get down from there right now!”

Gregory nearly fell from the branch. He froze; his heart pounding like a fist punching through his chest.

“Please. I didn’t mean to startle you. But you must come down. It’s dangerous; you might fall.” Gregory turned his eyes downward and stole a look: At the foot of the tree stood a man who looked about the same age as Gregory’s father. He smiled up, like a school teacher encouraging a child back to the classroom after recess.

“You are quite an explorer to navigate through those old trees,” the man said as he took Gregory’s hand and helped him down from the last branch. “What’s your name?”

“Gregory.”

There was a trust and kindness in the man’s hand.

“Would you like to take a closer look?” He asked.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to…I wasn’t snooping.” Gregory stammered, still nervous at being caught.

“It’s quite alright,” the man replied. “I once did exactly the same thing as you.”

The man knelt down on one knee and looked Gregory in the eyes.

”My name is Robert, and it is a great pleasure to meet you. You are an impressive young man. You found the one branch that offers a view onto our private sanctuary. You are brave and curious.”

Robert gave his guest a tour of the property: they walked through the Japanese garden, climbed along several of the old moss-covered brick walls and watched the frogs floating in the small lily-covered pools of the water fountains. They passed a clay tennis court on the side of the mansion where a vigorous and youthful couple was in the middle of a heated match. They briefly stopped and enthusiastically waved up to Robert and Gregory. Robert smiled and told him that they were his parents. It was odd, because they looked to be Robert’s age. But Gregory didn’t think much more of it; he wanted to continue with the tour.

Robert intentionally avoided the sandbox, which only further piqued Gregory’s curiosity. At each stop along the way, his attention turned to the sandbox. Its black marble siding glistened like an eye; the sand looked like a virgin beach waiting for its first footprints.

“Would you like to see it?” Robert looked down at Gregory, who was staring at the sandbox. Gregory nodded his head “yes” with delight.

The black marble edging was cool and smooth to the touch. “I could invent so many fun games here”, Gregory thought. “How fun, and no other boys around to bother me, or bully me.” He kneeled down for a closer look as he gazed at the sand. He stretched out his hand to touch it.

Robert seized Gregory’s hand and stopped him. “No! Not yet.” Gregory looked up at Robert, frightened. Startled tears formed in the corners of his eyes. Robert kneeled down next to the boy as he tightened his grip. “Listen to me, and listen well. Your life and your parents’ lives depend on it. Do you hear me?”

Gregory’s wrist felt as if it was breaking. He couldn’t breathe; he was drowning under water. He choked for breaths.

“This sandbox is alive. Each grain is a tormented soul who needs to feed on life to ease its torment. Your curiosity brought you to the sandbox. You are to be their new guardian.”

Gregory had closed his eyes but he could hear Robert’s deep, ferocious breaths that sounded like a firestorm in his ears.

“Look at me,” Robert said in a grave voice. Once, when Gregory was five years old, he had fallen off the jungle gym and he had landed on his head. For an instant, he thought he’d broken his neck. There was an all-consuming fear that electrified his body and mind. He felt that fear all over again as he looked into Robert’s narrowed eyes.

“You’re too young to understand, so you will experience what I’m telling you.” And as quick as lightning, Robert thrust Gregory’s hand into the sand.

Immediately Gregory felt a thousand needled teeth biting into the very fingerprint folds of each finger. Razors were peeling back each layer of skin with excruciating care. Gregory screamed with such force that he thought his eyes were going to burst. Blood began to run down his nose.

Robert patted Gregory’s forehead with a handkerchief as Gregory lay flat on the grass, his sightless eyes staring up at splotches of gray clouds skulking past. He had passed out.

“You are now in charge of the sandbox. You are responsible. You must feed it. Human flesh. Young flesh. Boys and girls.”

Robert folded the handkerchief, put it back in his pocket, then hoisted Gregory to his feet.

“Time moves quickly, you must not hesitate. This is your responsibility. You must feed them. Once a month.”

Gregory ran home in a panic. He stopped two times along the way and vomited. His knees felt as though they would crumble beneath him at any moment.

He burst through the front door and zoomed past his mother who quipped, “Not even a hello?” Gregory ran upstairs and dived beneath his bed covers. He curled up in a ball and cried as he wished he’d never set foot into those pine trees.

The scared boy feigned illness for two weeks. He wouldn’t get out of bed. He thought that if he stayed there, maybe everything that had occurred would turn out to be make-believe.

Soon the days and hours melted into each other, and Gregory began to have mild hallucinations. He confused real events with imaginary ones. “Did the doctor visit and take my temperature?” he asked himself. “Did mom make me chicken soup this morning?” He convinced himself that perhaps it was a terrible nightmare. Perhaps the sandbox was nothing.

But then his father fell ill. It happened quickly, and it was severe. At first, Gregory’s father had become sick at work. He came home early one day with a harsh cough that he described as a painful dry scratching, as if his throat were lined with sandpaper. Soon after that, he was coughing up black clots of blood, and he had trouble breathing. He was taken to the emergency room and for two days tests were administered. Then sections of his forearms began to dry up and flake, like animal skin curing in the sun. Soon all his skin was flaking and peeling off.

Gregory’s father was dying, and the doctors couldn’t diagnose the cause. He was brought home. Twenty-four hour nursing care was provided for him.

Gregory hid beneath the covers in his bed and listened to the hushed whispers of the nurses consulting with his mother in the hallway. He listened to the whirs and beeps of the medical machines keeping his dad alive in his parents’ bedroom.

One afternoon, while the nurses were downstairs, Gregory slipped out of bed. He was curious to see what his father looked like.

Gregory thought a vacuum had sucked out all of his father’s blood; his skin stretched thinly across his face. Mr. Baiston’s arms, legs and torso were all bandaged, but blood seeped through the dressings. There was a blue trashbag full of blood-soaked linens near the bed. And as Gregory stood there, quivering as he stared at his father, he heard faint moans. With each struggling breath, Gregory’s father whispered. The son leaned close and placed his ear near his father’s mouth. With each breath came a pleading cry for help.

It was too much; the frightened child quietly back-stepped away. He needed to get back to his own bed so that he could return to an imaginary world where these horrors didn’t exist.

And then Gregory stopped with a wince. He thought he’d stepped on glass as he lifted up his bare foot.

Beneath it was a small pile of sand.

The next day Gregory’s mother was rushed to the hospital. She quickly fell into the same grave condition as his father.

A feral cat used to live in the basement of Gregory’s home. She used to curl up on her little bed and let him stroke the fur behind her ears. He had named her Tabitha. She loved to prowl up to the broken dirt-covered basement window, slink between the shards of glass, then jump onto the washing machine inside. Then she leapt onto the basement floor and walked over to her bed of discarded blankets. She would arch her back, then settle in and gaze up at Gregory as if saying: I’m ready for a petting now.

As Gregory hustled through the pine trees his stomach hurt and ached as if his sorrows were trying to claw their way out.

He dragged the heavy laundry bag behind him. It bounced and jolted every step of the way. A terrified hissing and whining came out with each step that Gregory took. It made him angry because he was so helpless; he knocked the laundry bag against the hard tree trunks. He wished that it would be quiet. He wished that he’d never given it a name.

As time passed, much was explained to Gregory. He slowly settled into his new reality and his new life. He accepted his fate. He had no choice. Robert was patient with him. “Animals do not do the trick,” he told the young guardian. “In fact, they are an offense.”

Gregory was standing at the edge of the sandbox, the empty laundry bag in his hand.

“Human flesh. Young flesh. That is what they require.”

Robert let Gregory cry until he was too tired to resist anymore. The emotional exhaustion was needed for Gregory to let go, to listen, and more importantly, to act. Time was invaluable and Gregory was behind schedule.

The lush landscape was turning brown. The flowers stopped blooming. The water fountains were dry.

“The sandbox is just the door. Beneath the ground, the Tormented are everywhere. When they are not satisfied, everything is affected.”

As Gregory listened, he felt eyes staring through him. He quickly turned and looked up at the Victorian home. On the third floor, peering out from behind a thick gold and red curtain, was a gaunt, frail woman. She bared her teeth as she pointed a crooked finger at Gregory, then she whipped the curtain shut.

When Gregory dumped the cat into the sandbox, he froze at the events that unfolded next. It was as if two worlds simultaneously appeared before him. One world was the ordinary world. And that was the world of a cat landing on sand. Gregory thought that this must be what the naked eye of a stranger would see. But then there was the second world, the world that Gregory was privy to. Gregory could see each individual tormented soul. A mother can see things in her child that no other person would ever perceive. It’s an extra-sensory perception. This was the only analogy that Gregory could draw for seeing the unseen. Terrible twisted faces with thin razor teeth, gnashing and angry. There were legions of these monstrous devils. As the cat was pulled into the depths of the sand, it was skinned alive. Its body turned inside out. Sand forced itself out of the cat’s eye sockets, out of its ears. A bloody animal skeleton disappeared beneath the sand. But this did not suffice, at all.

The first boy was not as difficult for Gregory as Tabitha was. His name was Billy. He was two years older than Gregory and he was a bully. Every morning before the school bell rang he circled around Gregory and pegged him with a tennis ball. “Bean ball.” Gregory would come home covered in welts but he never told his parents. He was deeply embarrassed and he didn’t want to upset them.

One day Gregory told Billy that he knew where there was a buried treasure and that he would show him after school if Billy could keep it a secret. As proof, Gregory opened his hand and showed the bully two pearl earrings and a diamond necklace. “There is a whole chest full of this,” Gregory whispered. “I need someone to help me dig it up. I can’t do it alone.”

Billy teetered on the black marble of the sandbox and was practically hyperventilating with excitement. Firstly, he was proud of himself for getting through the forest of pines, arguably his greatest fear. Secondly, he was now staring at a mound of sand that contained a treasure chest somewhere inside. He pushed Gregory down onto the grass and warned, “I’ll deal with you later.” Then he picked up the shovel and leapt into the sandbox.

The screams were were deafening. And the whole process went slowly. Tabitha was pulled under quickly compared to Billy. It was painfully slow. Excruciatingly slow. Billy cried. He outstretched his hand and begged to be saved. Gregory reached his hand forward and snatched his mother’s two pearl earrings and diamond necklace from Billy’s hand.

After another several minutes, Gregory picked up the shovel and whacked Billy over the head. He was still sticking out of the sand from the chest up, and his pitiful cries were distressing. The shovel crushed against his head, stunning him into silence. His eyes glazed over with terror. He looked at Gregory even more desperately, then he doubled his cries for help.

Gregory wound up the shovel for a second strike but Robert grabbed the wood handle.

“He must be alive.” He took the shovel from Gregory and set it aside.

Robert was happy. He tussled Gregory’s hair and invited him inside for cake. But Gregory was so nervous about the screaming. It echoed everywhere and it was really loud. Robert took his hand and explained that the pines soak up the screams. “That’s their job.”

“Come, let’s have some cake and ice cream. I’d like to introduce you to my parents. They are excited to meet you.”

They walked up the stone walkway toward the big Victorian house. “One day this will all be yours.”

I look around the library now, at the shelves full of notebooks. I glance out the window again. The boy is still there, transfixed. Just as I was that first day.

I sign my name at the bottom of the last page of my notebook, “Gregory Baiston.” I close the cover and slide it onto the bookshelf right next to Robert’s notebook. I must go outside now. I will walk out the side door off the pantry and I will sneak up behind the boy to make sure that he doesn’t run away before I’m able to touch his hand.

I pause for one last moment before I leave. “Time,” I think to myself, “the thief.” I take one second to consider it all. From the dining room at the other end of the house I hear the faint sound of waltz music. My parents are dancing. They dance every day.

It is time now to help that little boy down from the branch.

matt-duggan

Matt Duggan is an award-winning writer and film director. His first feature film Inverse, which he wrote and directed, has won numerous awards including, “Best Sci-Fi Narrative Feature Film” at the 2015 Philip K. Dick Film Festival; “Best Sci-Fi Feature Film” at the 2014 Cinevision Film Festival; and “Best Sci-Fi Feature Film” at the 2014 Eugene International Film Festival.

Matt is also the creator of two award-winning web series: Man Vs. and Not Suitable For Work. He’s also had several of his short stories appear in publications including The Menacing Hedge, The Literary Hatchet, as well as October Ghosts.

An early career highlight for Matt was being invited to participate in Marlon Brando’s documentary on acting entitled Lying For a Living. Spending two weeks with Marlon Brando and company that included Robin Williams, Michael Jackson, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, and Philippe Petit was an honor and a career highlight.

Currently Matt is working on his first novel, Ostraca. It’s a wild heart-sung adventure about a young man’s wrestling match with meaning and existence.

 

Posted in Bizarro, Campfire tales, Ghost Stories, halloween, nosleep, October, Scary, Strange Fiction, twilight zone, weird | Comments Off on The Sandbox

Carpool

From David Caprita: The inspiration didn’t come from a true story, or some apocryphal tale I heard on the internet.  It didn’t even appear in my imagination about parents and their kids and loss.  It came from being in a city where the predominant thought in my mind at least half the day is being stuck in traffic and unable to drive in the carpool lane most of the time because I’m alone, with just my thoughts, which, as the story reveals, are always a little bizarre and disturbing. 

carpool

Carpool

Written by David Caprita

Martha smiled and looked over to Abel in the passenger seat as she maneuvered her car through the heavy traffic over to the far left lane.  Abel gazed at her from over his Dr. Seuss book and smiled back.  Martha loved driving with Abel. The way he sat totally still, never distracting, never interrupting, never suddenly blurting out something silly during one of her favorite songs on the radio as they cruised through the ocean of moving metal and rubber. 

Abel stared past her out the window to watch the passing California landscape.  

The late afternoon sun hovered over a flat Pacific Ocean.  Suddenly Martha hollered, “Carpool!”  Abel giggled.  It always made him laugh when they got into the special lane.  Special because Martha knew that Abel knew they were free to drive in the carpool lane only because he was in the car.  With her.  It was so good to have him back!

He sat quietly as she ranted and raved and blurted out pointless soliloquies about traffic and work and his dad, who had been gone for months now.  For a kid only six, he was an excellent listener.   Martha had always joked to her husband Jack, that the boy would make a great priest.  You could confess anything to him and he would just look at you and listen without judgement.   Jack would laugh and nod in agreement.  That was during the happy days, when they would all ride in the carpool together.  But Jack had left them, because of the accident.

But, onward and upward!  It was her and Abel now.  And that was just fine with her.   He was the best carpool partner she had ever had.   

“Abel?  I love you so much.”  Her eyes filled with tears, blurring the traffic ahead of her but they were tears of joy.  A heavy joy that weighed her heart like a stone.  

“So.  What do you think you want for dinner when we get home?  Meatloaf?”  Abel stared.

“Or maybeee .  .  spaghetti?  That would be easy – “

Bright blue lights bathed the interior of the car stopping her in mid-sentence.  It took forever for Martha to get out of the carpool lane and move all the way over to the right hand shoulder of the 405.  Martha could imagine how annoyed all the other drivers were as she and the patrol car behind her maneuvered through the typically heavy traffic.

She rolled down her window as the cop in the khaki CHIPS uniform approached her car.

“Hey, Martha.”

“Hello, Officer Gennessee.”  She said his name with a barely suppressed annoyance.  She forced a smile.

“You know why I’m pulling you over.”

“No!  I don’t know why you’re pulling me over.  It’s ridiculous, Mr. Gennessee.  I know Abel is too short to be seen from behind the car but there he is.  I’m legally driving in the carpool lane.”

“Martha.  We’ve been through this before.”

“I don’t know why you gentlemen insist on harassing me but it’s really starting to get on my nerves.  With all due respect.”

“Okay.  Sorry to do this again, Martha, but let me see your driver license.”

Martha held back her anger.  She turned to Abel, who was staring at her puppy-like. Without a word, his look said, “How can I help?”  Martha smiled.

“Abel, reach down on the floor and grab my purse.’

Abel continued to look.  “Abel, honey.”  Abel didn’t move.

Officer Gennesse patiently waited for Martha to finish her perennial ritual.  He was a father.  His heart swelled with compassion as he watched Martha, through her blank gaze cajole her son.

“All right.   I’ll get it myself.”

Martha reached down and pulled the purse onto her lap.  Extracting her wallet, she found her license and handed it through the open window to the officer.  Gennessee knew her California ID number almost by heart.

“Okay, Martha.  I have to warn you again, if you get back into that carpool lane – “

“I have every right to drive with my son – “

“IF – Martha, listen to me – if you do it again, you might not be so lucky as to have a nice guy like me pull you over.  They’re not going to understand.  At best,they’re going to give you a ticket.  At worst, you try to explain what you keep telling me, they’re going to haul you in.  Now, please.  Martha.  Please get someone to help.”

Martha stared coldly at him as he gently said, “Have a nice day, Martha.”

“Aren’t you going to say, ‘have a nice day’ to Abel?”

Gennesee stopped.  He looked at Martha directly into her tear-filled eyes.  “If I do, I’m condoning this behavior, Martha.”

“You’re not going to say goodbye to…“   She couldn’t get his name out.

Gennessee melted.  He couldn’t look in the car.  He directed his gaze over the car’s roof toward the horizon.   “Have a nice day, Abel.”

Gennesee watched through his windshield as Martha pulled back into the slow flowing traffic.  He heard himself exhale a sigh of exhaustion and sadness.  He turned off his flashers and twisted around to check the traffic through the rear window.  The light of the late sun reflected on something on his back seat.  Gennessee reached over and picked up a large, thin book with a bright red, shiny cover.  “Green Eggs and Ham”. As he stared at the strange Seussian creature on the front, Gennesse gasped.  A child’s innocent eyes gazed at him in his rear view mirror.  Abel smiled playfully at Gennessee, saying nothing.  Frozen, Gennessee forced himself to quickly spin around.  He stared at an empty seat.  

Gennessee dropped the book in his lap.  He stared straight ahead through his windshield at the traffic.  A hundred yards ahead, in the ocean of taillights, Martha’s car dutifully maneuvered from lane to lane, to the left, to the left, until it finally joined the other drivers with their passengers,  kids, companions, steadily streaming in the carpool lane.  

caprita

In addition to his love of writing, David Caprita is an actor on stage and film as well as being a DJ on 94.7 The Wave in Los Angeles.  He lives with his wife Ellen in the San Fernando Valley, has a daughter and grandchildren in Florida.  David’s blogs as his alter ego, Tarzana Ted can be found online on Antix Press.

 https://www.facebook.com/AntixPressandEntertainment/

 

Posted in Bizarro, Campfire tales, Ghost Stories, halloween, nosleep, October, Scary, Strange Fiction, twilight zone, weird | Comments Off on Carpool

Cackle

You can’t have Halloween without a witch. Melissa Underwood, who has been a contributor the past couple of years, felt that a good witch story had been missing from my annual canon of weird. And it’s true, I’ve never been enamored by the witch. I think it had to do with it being the preferred costume worn by the majority of my grade school teachers. When I look at a witch, I think about subtraction, long division and how to properly use a comma (I still don’t).

But a good witch story is in order and Melissa certainly lived up to the task:

 

witch

Cackle

Written by Melissa Underwood

It was sweaty and hot and the drums thumped and pounded like thunder. The moon was swollen and low, it hung over the sea, darting behind swiftly moving clouds.

“Harrrrrrum!” said the old bent crone. Her eyes widened and searched the small crowd of followers that had gathered by her driftwood fire.

Harrrrrrum – hum haaaaaaiiiiii!” she shrieked like a gooseneck podium microphone stand. The followers anxiously watched her. The drums beat softer, rhythmic like the tide. She raised one shrunken arm towards the starry sky, an ancient carved staff in her grip.

“Thisssss night,” she hissed, “this night has shown me the powers of the dark!” Her gummy mouth chewed for a moment, glistening spit frothing in the corners.

“Thisssss night will bring forth a new and exciting world!” She hung to the word world and then snapped her jaw shut as she scanned the followers once more. The wind whipped her rough ragged shift dress, exposing skinny, vein-covered calves. The drums fell silent as she dropped her arm, her staff plunging into the sand.

“Thissss night will be the end of the rotten former world, it will be filled with wondrous magic. Wondrous, wondrous things!” At once she threw back her head and released a long shrill cry, seemingly too loud for her small frame to produce. The flames leaped towards the sky, growing large and hot. The followers shied back from the sudden heat. It roared for a moment, and then reduced back to its previous size.

Now the crone dropped her head forward.

“Wondrous, wondrous things.” She closed her eyes and leaned into her staff, her head shaking back and forth slowly while a low soft cackle began to emerge from her mouth. The followers began to close in towards her, as if straining to hear what dark wisdom might come next from her wrinkled lips.

“Will we be able to CRUSH our enemies?” said a loud, deep voice in the crowd.

Silence.

“Will we be able to SQUISH them like a snail?” cried another, higher pitched voice.

More silence.

“Will we be able to RULE them?” shouted a third voice, coming from the back of the crowd.

The crone raised her face and looked at the followers, jaw protruding.

“Of course you can crush them and squish them.” She paused, shifting her weight off of the gnarled staff.

“But rule them?” She clicked her tongue twice and her voice suddenly became a tidal wave of fury in response.

“I will CRUSH, SQUISH and RULE YOU!” She howled a rising howl, lifted the staff back up and pointed it towards the crowd of followers. A blue-white beam shot from it’s tip and found the owner of the final voice, brought him up and over the crowd and slammed him into the sand, his body bursting like an overripe grape at her bare feet. Piles of black shiny spiders appeared where he landed and scurried at first in sudden confusion, then dispersed into the crowd. Voices screamed, feet leapt, heads turned wildly, following the path of the newly formed creatures, all the while trying to process the fact that one of their own was now gone.

She shrieked with unbridled laughter as the chaos ensued. When she was finished with her amusement of the crowd, her eyes narrowed and her wrinkles deepened.

“SILENCE!” She yelped. The followers suddenly stopped in the middle of their frenzy. All eyes were wild and wary and filled with uncertainty as they returned their gaze towards the crone.

“At last I have removed the final pathetic louse who risked speaking up to me. Do you now understand, my children? There is room for only one ruler. It is not you who will rule, it is I and I will do it in the most GRAND way!” Her voice was calculated and commanding.

“When I am finally ruler of this land, I will have all the gold from the mines and the coffers. My enemies will be slaves, and I will eat their babies after I slaughter their dogs!”

The crowd of followers murmured and shifted uneasily on the sand.

“Resume the drums!” she suddenly cried, pointing her staff in the direction of the three large figures that were straddling enormous round logs, stretched tight with blonde, smooth skins. Claws, shells and tiny skulls were hanging from their rims. The drummers instantly began again, pounding rhythmically with their bone sticks. The pulsing beats filled the followers with new energy and they returned to their former devoted selves, transfixing their wide eyes on the terrifying leader.

“Thissssss is the time that all of you will wield the greatest of my power! You will channel the most glorious and wretched evil on them who dare to defy me!” The followers began to lean in towards her, now curious to what kind of power they would be receiving. The drummers began to beat faster, the bone sticks smacking the skins harder and harder, booming rhythm becoming louder and louder still.

“Now is the moment,” she howled, “now is the time you will make your final sacrifice to me!” Her arms jabbed to the sky and the flames grew ferociously large and red, crackling and roaring with tremendous fury. The ocean seemed to be in agreement, for it roared like thunder and crashed wave after wave down in a colossal display of salty proclamation.

The crone suddenly crouched down and produced a large brown skull from a pouch on the sand. It was smooth and shiny, and reflected the red flames in it’s curved shape. The top third was missing and she poured a charcoal-black liquid from a green bottle into it’s hollowed interior.

“Drink, my children. Drink.” She showed off the skull in a sweeping half circle. “You will be filled with the most powerful gift I could give you. It is time for the transformation!”

One by one the followers lined up to receive the libation from the old crone. They whispered to each other their subdued excitement. Each drank greedily, slurping like hogs at a trough. The crone smiled wickedly as the followers drained the skull. After the last follower had received their ration and returned to the crowd, the crone picked up her staff and held it vertically in front of her body with both hands, one above the other.

“Now close your eyes and surrender to my power!”

The followers closed their eyes. The drums were silent and the ocean seemed to turn it’s roar down to a softer, gentler cadence.

“Surrender,” she chanted, “surrender, surrender. Surrender your very souls to me.”

The followers swayed to her voice.

“Transform,” she chanted again, “transform, transform. Transform your souls to me.”

The followers continued to sway, the firelight glistening off of their sweating bodies.

The old crone scanned the crowd of her followers; her left eyebrow bristled upwards.

“Surrender?” There was a slight crack in her voice and it had a hint of doubt. “Surrender, transform, surrender, transform.”

The followers remained swaying with their eyes closed.

“Surrender, transform, surrender, transform.” Her voice gained volume and speed. The followers continued their closed-eye swaying.

“SURRENDER AND TRANSFORM!” She growled. None of the followers appeared to heed. They maintained their rocking back and forth, eyelids pressed tightly closed. The crone bent forward and grabbed the green bottle from the sand, brought it to her face with both shriveled hands gripping the neck and peered inside it’s depth. She took a quick sniff and then tipped the bottle back and drank a small sip of the black liquid. Her eyes instantly bulged from their sockets as she realized her ruinous mistake.

“Catatonia! Catatonia!” She cried. “Nooooooooo!” Her hollering voice rose and wailed into the night. “Catatonia was for the enemy!” Her wail continued on, getting weaker and weaker in force as she acknowledged that her plan had failed. She slumped defeated to her knees, grasping for her staff. The minute she touched it, her hands erupted in a shock of blinding pain. It was if she had shoved them into a pan of molten steel.

“Eeeeeaaaaahhhhhhgggg,” she bellowed, as the her palms began to blister and char.

“Gaaaaahhhhgggggg,” she wailed, as her hands caught instantly on fire.

“Ayyyyyyaaaaaoooooow,” she brayed, as the flames pounced up her scrawny arms and caught her hair, slid down her ragged dress and onto her legs. The veins in her calves bubbled and bulged to the surface. Her whole being began to swell and singe like a marshmallow over a campfire, eventually melting into an uninspired pile on the sand. The tide creeped closer until a larger surge overcame what was left of the old hag and sizzled like bacon in a hot skillet.

The followers continued with their perpetual swaying towards the end of the night. The driftwood fire eventually died down and the stars dazzled vividly overhead.

Then, the first advent of dawn began to appear, and soon after, the sun started inching over the periphery of the horizon. As it rose into the sky, a favorable breeze enveloped the followers and brilliant daylight shone on their bodies. Once their malevolent leader perished and sunlight returned to the land, true transformation began. At first, they stopped swaying and opened their eyes. Each follower slowly began to examine their own hands and the faces of their neighbor. Melting away was the fear, anxiety, greed and desire to be conduits of evil. The old crone had certainly made a horrible mistake, but one that was counter to her own plan. She had in fact, done the only thing positive in her terrible, ancient life, even if it was something she had no intention of fulfilling.

Over the sea cliffs and above the followers, an army began to appear. Some rode horses with long spears, while others stood on foot with swords and yet more rode in carts.

“Charge!” a voice cried.

A wash of hooves, boots and wheels scrambled on the edge of the cliff, pebbles and dirt falling below to the beach. The tremendous company began to make their way down the narrow paths that surrounded the sandy cove towards the followers. As they approached, the crowd on the beach began to close in among each other. Walls of horses and carts began to encircle them as they shuffled and shifted amongst themselves.

“Surrender!” A captain cried. “You must surrender! Where is the old hag?”

The followers were distraught; they looked at one another, panic covering their faces. The drummers were run down by two large horses, their bodies slapped by the broad equine shoulders that sent them sprawling in the early morning sand. Arrows sprang from sturdy bows and caught the followers. One by one the army from the cliffs knocked down each and every person that had previously been transfixed by the old witch. As they lay bleeding and dying, wounds spurting copiously from the many spear jabs or sword slashes or slicing by wheels, the Captain overlooked the scene.

“We have finally overcome the small army of the witch. This has been quite the stroke of luck, her demise,” he said to his men. “Feel free to loot them.” He waived his hand in permission. The men hollered and began tearing jewels, knives, and shoes from the bodies littering the beach.

And suddenly, as if on cue, the ocean began to retreat from the sands. The many millions of gallons of seawater swooped back towards the horizon in a mad rush. The men stopped their pillaging and looked out to the water, confused. And as rapidly as it had in its retreat, the water began to move opposite, gathering tall an immense blue wave. The sun glinted off the crown of the wave, which at this point had grown to the size of a mountain. It rushed towards the beach with vengeance and slammed onto the shore with such force that it could be heard and felt many miles away. Instantly, the cliff army was crushed and squashed. The bodies of the followers, already dead, mingled with the newly deceased soldiers in the washed up turmoil of the water. In his last moment alive, the Captain saw a hideous wrinkled face in that wave coming straight towards him, cackling like a lunatic and staring back at him with large, dead eyes.scary-wave

melissa-on-a-tractorMelissa Underwood is a jack-of-all artistic trades: Musician, Writer, Poet, Prankster, Lyricist, Vinyl Enthusiast, Gardener, Animal Lover and Horror-Story Enthusiast. She lives in Carmel-by-the-Sea with her husband; world renowned vinyl expert and Silver Medalist Brewmeister, Chris Loecher. 

 

Posted in Bizarro, Campfire tales, Ghost Stories, halloween, nosleep, October, Scary, Strange Fiction, twilight zone, weird | Comments Off on Cackle

Trick or Treat

Today’s story comes from longtime October Ghosts contributor, Chris Pauley.

This comes from Chris as to why he was inspired to write Trick or Treat:

I was looking to do something that was a little different than your regular ghost story. So, I thought of what scared me the most. I couldn’t imagine losing a child. What could be worse? Well, what if you literally lost a child and his or her fate was ambiguous? Maybe they’re alive? Are they hurt? Are they scared? Do they need me right now? The not knowing – not really knowing what happened and not being able to do anything to help or to change what had happened would drive me insane. How does your life go on after that? How is anything ever normal again?

trick-or-treaters

Trick or Treat

Written by Chris Pauley

“I saw him, yesterday.” She looked at me, waiting for a response. “When I was at Whole Foods. I was getting some dinner at the prepared foods counter – just some veggie lasagna – whatever, and I saw him out of the corner of my eye. “ She took a cautious sip of her green tea and continued. “I know what you’re going to say so you can just keep it to yourself. He was there, okay? I saw him!”

“Okay. I wasn’t going to say anything.”

“I did. I’m – God, I know how it sounds but if I don’t get it off my chest …” She blew some of the steam off the top of her drink and took another sip. “It’s stupid, I know. But he was really there. Wearing his 49ers jersey. He had his jeans rolled up at the bottom like he used to do. Remember? So he could show off his Star Wars shoes.”

I reached out and held my soon to be ex-wife’s hand.

“Jesus, I made such a scene.” Her face turned a crimson red.

“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want –“

She waved me off. “I called after him. I dropped everything, the basket of groceries, the lasagna – I scared the shit out of the woman next to me.” She started to giggle. “Just, dropped everything and ran after him. I ran down the aisle and there he was! Right in front of me. Only he was facing the other way. I ran up to up to him, spun him around and I was, like –‘Aaron! Aaron it’s me!’”

“Oh, no.” I winced at the thought.

“I did! Spun him right around ready to gobble him up – ‘Aaron, baby. It’s Mommy! It’s Mommy! I’ -…” Her eyes glazed over and seemed sink back into their sockets. All the flushed color in her face faded into a dull grey. She brushed a stray curl off of her cheek.

“I didn’t even notice the woman standing next to him – clearly his Mom. Didn’t even see her, I was so tuned in on him, you know? I mean, to who I thought was him but…” She let out an embarrassed cackle. “You should have seen the look on her face. No joke. I thought she was going to deck me. Just haul off and kick my ass! If I were her, if some nut case had come up and grabbed… I would have hit me. But she didn’t. She pulled him close to her, shielding him from me like I was radioactive. ”

“What did you do?”

“What do you mean what did I do? I was mortified! I blabbered out some half-assed apology and got the hell out of there.” She took another sip from her tea and then, with a smile “Not sure I’m going to be doing much shopping there for a while!”

They say that losing a child feels a lot like you’re drowning. I can definitely attest to that. The fear, the pain, the guilt becomes overwhelming and starts to pull you under like a strong rip tide. The more you struggle the worse it gets. The grief chokes the air out of your lungs. You can’t see anything past what’s happening to you right there at that moment. And much like drowning, when you start to go under, it’s quite likely you’ll also drag down the person who’s trying desperately to save you.

Often when the subject of my missing son came up in conversation, people felt compelled to talk or to offer their apologies and their well-intentioned compassion. Just nervous chatter, really. What happened to my son made other people jittery. I had been on the receiving end of this often enough, so I knew to just keep quiet. Let the moment pass. Lauren didn’t need me to say anything, anyway. Just shut up and be her soundboard. I owed her that much. We only recently started to be civil with each other again and I enjoyed spending time with her. She also didn’t need to know that I saw Aaron, too. I saw him all the time in fact. According to some of the other parents at my support group, this was fairly common, though I’m not quite sure they realize quite how often it was that I saw him. “It’s just a manifestation of what your mind wants to see,” they’d say. A cruel trick the mind plays on you to remind you of what’s been lost. “Were you having a good day today? Oh, that’s nice. Hey remember your son? Yeah, he’s gone now. Or is he? Hey look over there!”

The first time it happened to me, I was driving by the Dunkin Donuts where Aaron and I used to go get our glazed donuts every Saturday morning. I was driving by, my mind lost in the song on the radio when, out of the corner of my eye – BOOM! There he was. Walking out of DD’s with a box of sweets. I nearly rear-ended the guy in the pick-up in front of me, who made sure I knew how pissed he was at me by vigorously flipping me off in his rear view mirror. Of course by the time I looked back to where I had first seen Aaron moments before, he was gone. That didn’t stop me from walking up and down the blocks around the area for hours afterwards, popping into each store along the way to see if I could spot a glimpse of him. Anything. Any hint that my boy, missing now for over two years, might against all odds still be living in the same area as he did when he and his Mom and I were happy.

That night I had terrible difficulty sleeping. This wasn’t unusual. After Aaron disappeared I would often find myself awake at all hours of the night, watching re-runs of old sitcoms or re-reading the day’s newspaper. My mind wouldn’t keep still so I needed something to settle it. Anyway, that night I was more manic than usual. I was completely shaken by what I had seen – or what I had thought I had seen. I was only starting to come to terms with what had happened and seeing him… well… seeing him had brought back all the crazy thoughts and pains that I now associated with him. Lauren had already moved out so I had no one available to unleash my venom upon.

Aaron and I were trick or treating with some of his friends, the night he went missing. Lauren was working late so we decided that we’d stay out until just after the streetlights came on. Then we’d head back home to pop some popcorn and watch a scary movie. Aaron promised his mom that he’s save all the Peanut Buttercup candies for her. She was his favorite. Mommy made everything better. They had a connection that I always felt he and I were missing. He’d do anything for her; even give up his favorite candies because he knew she had a big sweet tooth.

Anyway, we were out trick or treating and it was getting dark. The streets and sidewalks were starting to fill up with little superheroes and zombies. Aaron was running up ahead with his friend Marcus while I hung back with Marcus’s dad, Lyle. Lyle was regaling me with a story about his fantasy football team when Marcus reappeared next to us without my son. It took me a moment before I realized that Marcus was alone. The neighborhood was safe. We were only a few blocks away from our house and we knew most of the people who were out that night. Aaron would be back in a moment.

This by the way, was the moment that continues to wreck me to this very day. Why the FUCK, didn’t I ask his little twerp of a friend where my son was? Why didn’t I stop everything right then and there and go look for him. Say something like “You know what, Lyle? I don’t give a shit about your fantasy team, nor do I care about the amount of points you left on your bench because you thought the Rams defense was ‘for real’. You’re boring as hell and right now I’m going to look for my boy.” But I didn’t say this. Instead I let another couple of minutes go by. And then, oh boy, and then when Aaron hadn’t yet returned…

“Hey, Marcus. Where’s Aaron?”

“I dunno.”

“Wasn’t he with you just a minute ago?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sure he’ll be right back.” Lyle chimed in. “What house did you just come from buddy?”

Marcus pointed in the direction of the street in front of us. Nowhere specific. So I walked up to the first house on our right to see if he was there. Nothing.

“Aaron? Aaron, buddy, I can’t see you. Come on out!”

More kids in costumes were walking by. When did the street get so busy? Lyle and Marcus walked up to the next house to investigate while I crossed the street to see if I could spot my son. Nothing. I rang the doorbell and knocked on the door. A woman dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein appeared in the doorway with a big smile on her face. It faded when she saw me.

“Excuse me, have you see a little boy, about seven years old, wearing a green ninja turtles costume? He was carrying a yellow candy bag.”

“Um. I don’t believe so. But I’ll keep an eye out for him if you like.”

“Yes. Please. I’m sure he’s just a couple houses ahead, but… if you could do that, I’d appreciate it.”

“Of course, hon.”

It went like this for the next few houses. Each stop made me more and more uneasy. “C’mon, Aaron, this isn’t funny. Come on out please! Game over, okay?”

Aaron knew not to hide from us when we were away from the house. He learned that lesson years before when we went to the mall and he decided to hide from me inside a clothing rack at a department store. One moment he was there and then the next, he wasn’t. It wasn’t until I had spent several tense minutes pacing around in circles calling out his name and the store’s manager had gone to the back of the store to check the security footage that he revealed his hiding spot. I was petrified but he believed his little joke to be hysterical. He didn’t know that his game of hide and go seek made me feel like throwing up all over the floor. He couldn’t figure out why I looked so sweaty and pale and why everyone who was calling his name a moment before was now looking at him like he was a very bad boy and at me like I was a very bad, Dad. He didn’t know how scary that game was then, but he knew it now. And I was certain he wouldn’t be so cruel as to try the same thing again. And that’s when I started to panic.

Lyle and Marcus walked up and down the street calling out for him. More people on the street joined our little search party and before I knew it the police had been called. We checked every house on the street before we extended our search to the adjacent blocks. More police arrived as well as the fire department. Half a dozen different officers asked me what had happened and if I had any information that could help them with what might be going on.

“Does he have any friends or family that live in the area? Could he have gone to see them? Have you checked back at your house? Sometimes the kids just decide to head home and not tell anyone.” They asked me more and more questions and as time went on the questions they asked became more sinister. “Were you with him while he was walking door to door? How long was it before you noticed he was missing? Have you noticed anything or anyone suspicious in the neighborhood recently? Did anything happen that would make him want to run away? A fight at home perhaps?”

They wouldn’t say it out loud but their subtext was pretty clear: “You didn’t keep an eye on your son? On a night where every other stranger on the street is wearing a mask and tempting kids with candy, you didn’t keep an eye on your son?!”

The more questions they asked the more my head began to spin. Visions of my son running away from an invisible horror kept invading my brain. He was terrified. Tears streaming down his face and running away as fast as his small legs would carry him from a black dense fog filled with hungry skeletal fingers that would reach out and slash at his back. He was just out of reach but he was getting tired and he knew it. He couldn’t run forever and the moment he slowed down, even a little bit, the earth would slowly rise up over him. The more he struggled the worse it would get. He would scream and cry and beg for his Mommy and Daddy to come save him but no matter how much he wailed and cried the ground would engulf him and swallow him whole

“Have you called your wife? Is it possible that he’s with her right now?”

This question snapped me back to reality. Calling her was something that I had been avoiding. On the one hand it was possible, albeit unlikely, that Lauren, while driving back from work had seen, Aaron, picked him up, and had taken him home. Could she have been so thoughtless that she wouldn’t have called to tell me that she had him? It’s possible. I mean anything was possible. And really I would have rather believed anything other than what I had feared was happening. But still I hesitated calling her because if he was not with her, and deep down I knew he wasn’t, I would have to break the news to Lauren that her baby boy wasn’t with me. That he had slipped into the ether. I didn’t want to make that phone call. Telling her would make this all… real. Surely this was all a misunderstanding and we would find him on the curb in front of one of these houses eating from his candy bag and wondering what all the fuss was about. But after another hour of searching, Lauren called me wondering what was taking us so long and then the cat was out of the bag.

The rest of a night was a blur: more police interviews, endlessly walking down street after street knocking on doors, dozens of phone calls from concerned family and friends (how had the news gotten out so soon?) until a kind police woman named Jennifer told Lauren and I that there wasn’t anything more that we could do at this time, so we should leave. “We’re going to stay out here and keep looking.” She said. “But you two should go back home and try to get some sleep. We’ll call you the moment we learn anything.”

Go home? What were we going to do at home? Aaron wasn’t at home. I need to look for my son! That vision again filled my head: Aaron running for his life with death nipping at his heels. He was crying and afraid and he was alone.

“No fucking way am I going home.”

“I understand what you’re saying, sir but there really is nothing more that can be done right now. The best thing you can do for yourselves and for each other is to go home and get some sleep.”

I put up a fight. Leave my son? Insane. Absolutely insane. He was going to come home with me. He’d be so tired when we found him he’d want to go home to sleep in his bed with all his stuffed animals and extra pillows. He’d need me there to carry him home and tuck him in. And when he woke up we’d eat all the Halloween candy that he collected for breakfast. And afterwards if he were still hungry I’d make his favorite meal: blueberry pancakes. And when he ate his fill we’d curl up in bed underneath the sheets and watch Pokémon on my phone. And we’d hug him and kiss him and tell him how much we love him and how amazing he is and that he was never going to leave the house again. Ever. We’d live there, the three of us and we’d never let anything scary ever come near our boy again.

But eventually we left. We went home and cried, and fought and blamed each other and then cried some more.

It was a little more than a year later when he showed himself to me outside of the Dunkin’ Donuts. After that I started to see him more frequently. He’d be leaving the kitchen as I walked in or I’d see him running down the street in the morning to catch the school bus as I was pulling my car out of the driveway. Sometimes when I’m watching one of our old favorite movies like The Lion King or Star Wars, I’ll see him out of the corner of my eye watching from across the room. I’ve stopped trying to catch up with him. I’m happy for the moments that he makes an appearance. It makes the days a little more bearable. Also, I think by my letting him be, he feels more comfortable to stop by assuming it’s really him and not my brain playing those funny tricks. It’s just a guess but it makes sense to me.

Now, sitting here across from Lauren outside of our favorite coffee shop, I see that Aaron’s starting to show himself to her too. I feel happy for her. It’s a little crazy, I know and it’s going to torture her at first but I think she too will come to appreciate these little moments that he’s with her. She needs it. She misses her baby boy.

Maybe one day he’ll stay a little longer. Maybe one day he’ll be brave enough to say something. Or maybe one day I’ll realize that he was never there at all and that I’m starting to go a little nutty. Maybe. In the meantime I’ll take what I can get.

pauleyChris Pauley: This is the third year that Chris has taken part in the October Ghost series and he is very thankful to Trevor for asking him to be a part of it. Chris lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two young sons where he works as a commercial and voiceover artist.

 

Posted in Bizarro, Campfire tales, Ghost Stories, halloween, nosleep, October, Scary, Strange Fiction, twilight zone, weird | Comments Off on Trick or Treat

October Ghosts 2016!

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Here we are again, six years on for October Ghosts.

I’ve got an impressive list of writers joining me again this year; David Caprita, Shoshana Hebshi-Holt, Melissa Underwood, Chris Pauley, John Burish, Matt Morava and Matthew Duggan.

As for me, I’ve got new stories (some written, others a mere log line) that I’ll be sharing with you throughout this month.

As before, October Ghosts is always changing, evolving and morphing.

When I first started October Ghosts in 2011, I set out to write 31 stories in 31 days. I did it and frankly have been never been able to match it since. But that’s okay, every year when it’s November 1st, I look back at where I was at the beginning of the month and think, “Wow, look at all the new content.” Plus, the writers who contribute stories always bring the noise. I think I’m more excited for their work than my own.

As with previous years, October Ghosts will feature new and old stories  as well as an introduction by me or one of the other writers on what inspired the story, how it was written, or what has sparked their creativity.

And with that I say, “Happy October!” to you all, it’s going to be another fun one this year.

 

Trevor Boelter

Hiroshi's Mirror

 

Posted in Bizarro, Ghost Stories, Strange Fiction | Comments Off on October Ghosts 2016!