Abel’s Light: Alabama Ghost Story

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Ghost story of an Alabama “hollar” haunted by a farmer ghost searching for his missing son. Written by Irran Butler.

From the Author: Here’s a short story I like. I live on Lookout Mountain, about a mile from Daisy Gap here in Etowah County, Alabama and Owl’s Hollow is just the other side of the ridge of the mountain. This story has been passed around in my family ever since I can remember. Hope you enjoy it.

Owl’s Hollow is a sparsely populated and peaceful location nestled at the foot of Lookout Mountain, in North Alabama. Running for about twenty miles along the southeastern edge of the mountain, the hollow rests between Lookout Mountain and Shinbone Ridge. It’s width spans the better part of a mile and in my opinion is large for a “hollar” as I have always known a hollar. It is officially known as Owl’s Valley and appears as such on most maps. Few people outside the local area have any knowledge of the hollow and even fewer know of “Abel’s Light”.

Since I was a young man I have heard the story of Abel’s Light and have ventured many times to witness this tiny yellow spectral light among the trees in the area of the old Abel farm near Turkeytown. The farmhouse and barn existed throughout my childhood but finally succumbed to the relentless advance of the years and disappeared into the earth from which it sprang so many years ago.

The light can be viewed from the road that stretches the length of the hollow in only one place. It can be seen only in the coldest of months when the leaves have fallen and it disappears gradually as the trees put on new leaves in the spring. The area has overgrown with so many trees and undergrowth that, even as many times as I have been there, I have trouble locating the only vantage point from which the light can be seen. It has been several years since I last saw the light and I wonder if it endures without being witnessed.

The story behind the light goes like this:

In the early part of the 1900s, Owl’s Hollow was, of course, even more sparsely populated than it is today. Large tracts of pastureland and hardwood forest covered the floor of the hollow, accommodating only a few homesteads connected by narrow rutted roads. One family living here was the Abel family. Mr. and Mrs. Abel had three children, the youngest of which was a son named Henry. Henry was four years old when, one bitter-cold December evening, he disappeared. The weather was so cold that the urgency of finding the lad was of immediate and overriding concern for every family member. A frantic search in the area near their home by the family failed to turn up little Henry. Word went out to the neighbors for miles around and they eagerly joined the search for young Henry. All through that first night, searchers came and went from the Abel house. Having a cup of hot coffee and warming by the fire recharged the searchers. They doggedly returned to the task at hand in the bitter cold darkness. The search continued the next day, but there was no sign of the young lad; no tracks, no scent trail for the hounds; no nothing.

News from the birds (1898) (14750556715)

Three days after Henry disappeared the general consensus among the searchers was that he was likely dead of exposure and might never be found. Henry’s father could not accept this as the fate of his son and never stopped searching. He would leave home in the mornings and come in only when he was so hungry and exhausted he couldn’t continue. Grief stricken to the very brink of madness, Henry’s father lived a tortured existence and the entire family felt his suffering. The work around the farm was beginning to pile up in his absence as he searched on. Even though the other family members were doing double duty to maintain a normal existence, the work still piled up. On occasion a neighbor would come by and help Mr. Abel with his endless search or with the farm work. Henry’s father searched even at night carrying a kerosene lantern as he rode on horseback over the same roads he had covered a hundred times before. A thousand times, he called Henry’s name as he rode. This went on for months to no good conclusion.

Finally Henry’s father did not return from his search one night in mid-March. His horse came home and was discovered the next morning in the hallway of the barn. Henry’s older brother began a search for his father and within an hour located his body hanging by his neck from a forked limb in a blackjack oak just off one of the roads that he had searched so many times. He had apparently accidentally hanged himself in the dark when he rode the horse under the limb. His still-burning lantern was in his hand and his eyes were wide open. One would think his search was finally ended, with this horrible event.

That was a long time ago and since that time there have been many sightings of a dim yellow light amongst the trees during the coldest months of winter. Two explanations offered by locals are said to explain this tiny spectral light that is viewed from the road on higher ground. One part puts forth that the light is Henry’s father riding his ghostly mount carrying the lantern as he slowly moves through the woods. The hoof beats of the horse can be heard on especially quiet nights, punctuated by a man’s voice calling the name “Henry”. This chilling display is visible from mid-December until the middle of the month of March when Mr. Abel was overtaken by his most unusual death. The second part of the story is that the lantern can be seen, but not moving. This part asserts that the light is Henry’s dad holding on to the lantern as he hangs in the blackjack oak. As the trees begin to put on their leaves this light becomes harder to see with each passing day and finally disappears completely under the new canopy of green leaves, until the next December. Both parts are equally chilling and which part one observes depends on the month in which the observation occurs.

I have witnessed this ghostly light on a number of occasions; I have heard the hoof beats; I have heard a distant, desperate voice calling Henry’s name. It’s real… and it’s there to see in the cold winter months. I can’t help but wonder about what I’ve seen…and I have questions.

If Henry’s father’s spirit lingers in an unfulfilled and seemingly endless quest; Can little Henry’s spirit linger somewhere out there in the cold, inescapable clutches of a dark winter night? Is it possible that they will ever find each other? Why do I feel both saddened and exhilarated by my sighting of Mr. Abel’s light? … How would you feel?

-THE END-

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13 Skulls: Virginia Horror Story

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Heir to family fortune must solve the riddle of his father’s sinister tombstone to claim his inheritance in this Virginia horror story from K.E. Moore.

(Warning: Adult Language)

Bent Hill stumbled out the front door of the Jackspot into the cool night air. On the other side of the door behind him, he could still hear the din of the bar as it drank its way through the sharp cymbals and strained vocals of the live band performing its last set.

It was nine, and Chincoteague would be going to sleep soon; it was rare to find anything lively after eleven on the island. Normally, Bent would have stuck around to help shut the, for lack of a better word, club down. But tonight was special.

He slouched his way to the charcoal gray Jaguar in the seashell crusted parking lot, his uneven footsteps crunching a drunken jazz beat against the fading sounds of the revelers in his wake. Bent had known going into the Jackspot was a risk, and he only intended to have a few drinks disguised as regular soda to take the edge off. But after the day he had, it turned out the aforementioned edge was not so easily appeased.

He would be fine, he decided. This was Chincoteague, and he was a Hill. The worst that could happen would be him wrapping the Jag around a tree, and even then the townsfolk would likely sweep it under a rug.

Hell, these people might even pitch in and buy him a new Jag.

Bent smirked at the thought as he jangled his keys free from his once-pressed slacks. He hated Chincoteague with a fiery passion, but because his name was Hill, he was revered like a God. Fucking waterlogged hicks, he thought.

He unlocked the car, but only after adding a few more scratches around the already crosshatched paint. The opulent gray leather welcomed him, accepting his considerable girth as he slid into the car, the bucket seat almost enveloping him in a cool, soft embrace. When the engine turned over, it purred—fucking purred—because that, Bent knew, was what Jaguars were supposed to do.

On the seat beside him lay an anonymous brown paper bag, the sight of which made Bent smirk once more. Oh yes. Tonight was a long time coming. A real long time, and there was nothing anybody could do about it now.

At Bent’s command, the twin headlights came to life, casting their yellow pools of light onto the parking lot’s bleached shells. Seashells everywhere, on walking paths, front yards, parking lots—so many seashells if you didn’t watch yourself you’d end up with some jammed in your ass crack—and that was only one small reason why Bent hated this damned island.

The Jaguar whispered onto Main Street while the headlights cast their gaze on some of the other reasons Bent hated the island.

Chincoteague Island Sign 2

Main Street was a postcard. Up and down the street were quaint old stores owned and operated by island families. There was the fairgrounds, home of the annual firefighter carnival, the antique mall operated by a single old lady that would dash from one store to the next whenever someone was ready to check out. But the worst offenders in Bent’s mind were the bed and breakfasts. The whole damn street was lined with them, all looking like they were made from gingerbread and boredom.

This wasn’t life, Bent thought. This was a piss bucket—an old folk’s wet dream about what life was like back in the days when church bake sales were the hottest event on the books and kids stared slack-jawed at ten inch black and white televisions in display windows.

Bent wanted life as it was now. He would see tourists from New York and Pennsylvania, adorned in Abercrombie & Fitch and driving their Mercedes coups. How he wanted their life, night clubs that stayed open until sunrise, bespoke clothing, designer drugs, and women as exquisite and delicious as wine.

And yet, despite being the heir to a pile of money that would make Scrooge McDuck blush, Bent grew up here, in this sea-locked, aw shucks, prison.

The Jaguar turned onto the accurately named Church Street. Half a dozen churches lined the picturesque lane; why a town so small needed so many churches eluded Bent. But first, there was the funeral home.

Without meaning to, Bent slowed as he drove by the funeral home. It was a simple, squat, red brick building with an elegant green archway over the door of finely etched glass. The Jag nearly crawled to a stop as he remembered the first time he stepped foot in the place.

Now, at night, he could barely see through the glass, making out only sparse shards of light that cut sharp and thin into the amorphous shadows. For reasons his drink addled mind couldn’t comprehend, he felt his skin prickle as his eyes searched the nameless shapes beyond the funeral home door, as though some part of him, primal and scared, expected something to move, some dark nameless shadow to shift and drag itself closer to him, saliva dripping from its decayed mouth. His heart thudded, and the fog dissipated from his mind as he waited for it, waited to see a face twisted and decayed look back out at him.

It didn’t. Of course it didn’t.

Bent had been on the other side of that door recently. The whole funeral home was designed to offer comfort and solace. He remembered the cool air, almost enough to make one wish for a jacket even in the heat of summer, and he remembered the rich cream-colored walls and dark stained oak—plush red velvet chairs that wrapped him up like a consoling hug.

He remembered the funeral director, and the Jaguar pushed on.

Soon, Bent had put the churches behind him. He was now encroaching on the real side of Chincoteague, the part of the island not meant for the tourists. The picturesque houses had dissolved, replaced by cul-de-sacs guarded by signs warning that trespassers were not allowed. Mobile homes barely bigger than campers were propped precariously atop stacks of cinder blocks and cookie-cutter houses huddled close together, sharing the spare street lamps that existed in too few a number.

And still the Jag pressed on into the night. Into the darkness.

This was dark Chincoteague. The shadowy Chincoteague. As Bent coaxed the car through the unlit streets, he could easily believe that there was a reason why the island went to bed so early. Because here, where street lamps dared not to dwell, there was only the tall untamed grass, a bitter wind that knew nothing of civilization, and the dark—the kind of dark wherein predators slinked, hiding, waiting for their prey to stumble in cold and afraid and confused. Here, where the shadows had shadows, and things waited patiently with yellow, sharp, jagged teeth.

Cemeteries on Chincoteague are an odd entity. Most are small, maintained by family and friends. There is even a cemetery with exactly one occupant. The Chandler cemetery, at the north end of Main Street, is the final resting place of Captain Joshua Chandler, something of a local hero and rumored friend (or, as the more scandalous rumors told, lover) of the famed German composer, Richard Wagner.

But Bent’s Jag carried him to one of the most crowded cemeteries on the island.

It wasn’t until the last street lamp, faint bluish-white in the rear-view mirror, had come and gone did the twin headlights of the Jag pour over the painted green railing that contained the Bunting Cemetery.

A crooked garden of tombstones leaped and danced as the yellowed light of the car slipped over the markers. Shadows darted behind one tombstone before dashing to the next as Bent slowed the car to a halt. Somewhere under the haze of alcohol, and the cynicism of being in the mid-twenties, there was ten-year-old Bent, gaping at the dancing tombstones, knowing that under the tilled earth, corpses slept, but slept uneasily, tossing and turning from wicked dreams. Deep down inside, Bent knew that at any second, any of those corpses could rise from its rotted coffin and tear through the soft earth, the flesh eaten away by worms, leaving behind only a mask of rotted bone and yellow-gray teeth.

Bent eased the Jaguar to a halt as he shook his head. He was not some silly ten-year-old out on a dare. Corpses didn’t rise from the grave.

He looked up, his eyes following the headlights of the car, past the green fence, and through the headstones. They looked to him like rotten teeth. And there, at the very back, he found his final destination.

The tombstone in question stood out, to say the least. He stared at it, and it stared back at him. Those eyes, he thought, all of those ugly, hollow eyes. Fear covered Bent like a blanket, cold, prickly, and paralyzing, before he scolded himself silently in the plush cabin of the Jaguar.

Grown men did not piss themselves with fear at the sight of a cemetery. It just wasn’t done.

Bent studied the tombstone from the safety of the car, and recalled the moment he first laid eyes on it.

**


“It’s quite a remarkable piece, Mr. Hill,” the funeral director said in a silken, practiced voice that hovered somewhere just above a whisper.

Bent nodded. Compared to the blistering July sun, the air-conditioned sitting room in the funeral home was cool and soothing. And yet, something about the chunk of rock on display gave Bent chills of an entirely different sort.

Finally, he spoke. “It’s exactly as dad wanted,” he said, doing his best to sound like the loving, grieving son.

“Well, your father…” the director began. To Bent, the funeral director looked… well… like a funeral director ought to look. He was short and bald, thin and small. His eyes were kind, but it was a sort of manufactured kindness, almost as if he spent an hour every day in front of a mirror practicing. “…your whole family means so much to the island.”

Bent started to roll his eyes, blinking instead just in time. He raised a finger to his right eye and made a show of wiping away an imagined tear. It was far too close of a call, especially now when he was so near to the end. Bent simply had to keep his shit together for a few more days and he could put the whole thing behind him: his sainted family history, his revered father, and this stupid hick-spunk island.

Selling the act of the grieving son, Bent sniffled and squinted at the tombstone. Just on the edge of his vision, he saw the director smile understandingly at him, making the youngest Hill left alive wonder who was really bullshitting who?

The tombstone was… it was hideous. Horrific. No sane person would request a tombstone like that, and even if they did, good luck finding someone to make it. But the Hills of Chincoteague were special. And, in the end, Bent wasn’t sure which was worse, the subject of the sculptures adorning the stone, or the epitaph etched in its face.

“I know the material I gave you to work with wasn’t… common,” Bent said finally.

The director breathed deep and offered the man a modest smile. “Well, Mr. Hill was an eccentric. I don’t think there’s a one of us on this island that would have expected something normal out of him.” The director rested his hand on Bent’s arm, just above the elbow, the pressure perfectly calculated to show affection and commiseration. “But of course, you knew him better than any of us.”

Bent nodded. That was a complete fiction of course. Bent knew Thomas Hill III about as well as he knew the insides of the panty drawer of Ms. Haley Cox—that is to say, not at all.

It was then, as Bent studied the hideous tombstone, that he realized something. What if this was all just a joke? One last punchline, a zinger aimed at the people he worshiped, and worshiped him back in return. Those sculptures, that epitaph—if anyone else had asked for that tombstone the general consensus would have been that such a thing was in poor taste. But not for a Hill. Ol’ dad asked for a grave marker that was borderline offensive, and these hicks practically applauded him for it.

That thought was immediately followed by another; what if the joke was on Bent? Make him jump through all of these hoops, explain all of these oddities, just to get access to the family fortune? That seemed right. That was more like the man he knew.

Asshole.

Bent squatted and ran his fingers over the chiseled stone. “Fine craftsmanship, though,” he remarked. There was something gaudy about this dance that reminded him of buying a used car (an act that someone of Bent’s station shouldn’t have been forced to experience, but good ol’ dad strikes again).

“Ah, yes,” the director said in a voice that managed to somehow get even smoother, oozing from his lips warm and sweet like chocolate syrup. “That was one of the reasons I wished to speak with you, Mr. Hill.”

Bent rose and looked at the director. “Oh?” he said as though he didn’t know what was coming.

“Yes,” the little man said. He looked away, his fingers worrying each other as the man exuded embarrassment through every pore in his skin. “You see, Mr. Hill. This sort of craftsmanship—we couldn’t get that kind of work here on the island. Oh, I assure you, for your father, for your family, if we had the capabilities, there wouldn’t have been a problem.”

“But…” Bent said, fulfilling his half of the tango.

“But we had to go off island. That was the only way to get the work done in time for the service.” The director bowed his head. “I assure you we have done everything we possibly could to keep costs down, but I’m afraid that the final cost is more than the initial estimates by a sizable sum.”

Bent just stood there, his face unreadable.

“I understand that remuneration at a time like this is a difficult subject. Believe me, Mr. Hill, your name goes a long way here, and we will work with you in the days ahead, if need be.”

“How much are we talking?” Bent asked.

The director looked away, “two thousand, Mr. Hill. I do wish I could have done more, please understand.”

Bent had decided that either this troll of a man was in the wrong business, or Bent himself was. This was a scam, he knew he was being scammed, and he was almost positive the funeral director knew he knew. What was more, he was being scammed over his recently deceased father—a fact that might have had more impact if he cared for the old bastard. This tiny man was fleecing Bent, and the whole time he was consoling him about it. Bent was a little jealous.

He gave the funeral director a warm little smile, a smile he himself practiced in the mirror. Bent worked hard at that smile that said, “Yes, these are difficult times, but I’m soldiering on so please don’t worry about me, really, life goes on.” It was time to take it out for a spin.

“I’ll cut the check right now,” he said.

The director bowed and humbly said, “Truly, your father is so lucky to have such a dutiful son.”

Yeah right,, Bent thought. What he actually said, though, was, “When it comes to dad’s funeral, the checking account is bottomless.” What he omitted was that dad’s funeral was the only thing for which the checking account was bottomless.

For now, anyway.

**

Bent’s Italian shoes crunched against the seashells that coated the ground like brittle snow. His father hated Bent’s love of the finer things, and outright refused them throughout childhood, but when Bent turned eighteen, he regularly spent his monthly stipend on luxury and smiled at the old bastard as he walked by.

What’s the point of having money if you don’t spend it?

The brown paper bag on the passenger seat had a delicious weight to it when Bent picked it up, and as he slid out of the Jaguar, the contents of the bag glugged slowly.

Standing up was a little easier than it had been since he had left the Jackspot, and Bent could feel the buzz quietly drain from his brain. That was fine, it would be making another appearance in the very near future. Now, nearly sober, Bent was able to better appreciate the sound of the door silently swinging shut, and that special ker-chunk that you only ever seemed to get from the higher end luxury cars.

Darkness enveloped him. That was another reason he hated the island as much as he did, a reason he wasn’t keen to share. The further in one got into the island, the darker it got at night until it felt like being smothered in blackness, the few tiny shards of light scattered and feeble.

A chill wind wrapped itself around him and Bent’s arms prickled with gooseflesh beneath his silk shirt. He shivered as he let his eyes grow accustomed to that special Chincoteague brand of darkness picking out the porch-lights and distant street lamps that glowed like morbid fireflies on the periphery of the cemetery.

At first he could only make out shapes, curved patches in the night that weren’t quite as black as the rest. They looked like gray, teeth, all of those tombstones, each one etched with decay, staring at him, cold monoliths of stone molded into an army of the dead.

Finally his eyes fell back upon the one he was looking for. Its gruesome shape beckoned him, and he mindlessly pushed past the creaky green gate and threaded his way through the other grave-markers until he was standing before it. His father’s final resting place.

Bent took a step back and studied the grave-site. All of those eyes, black in the scarce light, stared at him, and those words, so familiar and yet twisted, wound their way through his mind. The macabre stone was offset by a fountain of flowers and American flags that rested at its feet that somehow made the whole setting seem more eerie not less.

To the rest of the inhabitants of the island, Bent knew, this whole thing was probably just one last joke, a dark punchline from a man who, despite his apparent greatness, had a strange sense of humor. But Bent knew better. This was only a small piece.

Bent braced himself against another tombstone and slid down its back face until he was sitting on the ground and resting against it. A small part at the back of his mind noted that he had probably just ruined a thousand dollar pair of pants, while another part of his mind noted that tomorrow morning, he could buy a new pair. Hell, once the sun came up, he could fill his entire closet with bespoke tailored suits if he liked.

He reached into the bag and let his fingers curl around the smooth glass neck of a bottle. The paper bag fell away like dead foliage as he cradled the bottle of Macallan in his lap and grinned. This, he knew, was just a taste of the life that waited for him.

Just as Bent was about to work off the cap, he paused and looked at the offensive tombstone before him. Mock mortification filled Bent’s features as he looked at his father’s name etched in stone. “That’s right. You don’t approve do you?” The melodramatic expression on his face drained, replaced with spiteful glee as he added, “Yeah, well I’d like to see you do something about it now old man.”

He opened the bottle and took a long, slow sip from it, letting the fire like gold slip over his tongue and down his throat. “To you, dad. It was a hell of a ceremony.”

**


If nothing else, it was a hell of a day for a funeral. Clouds stretched across the sky in lazy grays and whites, while a sharp breeze wound its way through black pant legs and rustling leaves.

A large number of mourners showed up, Timothy Hill III being a local celebrity and all. Bent recognized more than a few of them, though, to be fair, most of them looked the same to him. Most of them looked out-of-place in their cheap black suits, each pairing of coat and slacks struggling to contain the knotted muscles and leathery skin of fishermen and boat guides. Men squinted beneath their unruly mops of wiry gray hair, and women with skin like the melted wax of a dying candle sniffed and shuffled in old-fashioned dresses.

Bent wore the same suit he would later ruin by sitting in the damp grass of the cemetery as he sipped expensive scotch. That, and the sunglasses—don’t forget the sunglasses.

He could never manage to squeeze out a tear for the old man, but he could wear sunglasses and pretend to wipe away an imaginary tear for the sake of the townsfolk. He only had one more day to go, so he might as well sell it.

“I am the resurrection and the life, sayeth the Lord…”

The funeral was, as it turned out, harder to endure than Bent anticipated. Not because he had all of a sudden found a nugget of emotion for the bastard. Oh no. The difficulty came from trying not to laugh at the reactions from the other attendees.

Many gasped when they first caught sight of the tombstone as hushed whispers skittered throughout the crowd like spiders. Others stared quizzically back and forth between the strange epitaph and the front page of the embossed programs clenched in their liver-spotted hands, at the bottom of which was inscribed, “Per the wishes of the deceased, we thank all attendees to not read the epitaph out loud.”

Bent had to stifle a smile as he heard things like, “scandal,” and “what is that even supposed to mean?” whispered behind cupped hands. If only they knew the whole story.

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord…”

Bent spent much of the funeral wondering what the people would say if they knew everything else he had to do to protect his inheritance. He wanted to fight it, to be sure. He had even hired an outside lawyer to see if all of the provisions in his father’s will were legal.

To his dismay, they were.

In retrospect, Bent was glad at least for the tombstone. It made for some entertainment on what would have otherwise been a boring, annoying day.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”

Pastor Simmons presided over the funeral with the same voice he used to put people to sleep every Sunday. Bent hadn’t attended one of his sermons since childhood, but he could never forget those early mornings, his ass aching from the hard wooden pews, and the sonorous drone coaxing his eyes to droop shut.

There was even a moment when he thought the ancient cleric might put him to sleep again all these years later. But Bent persevered.

Once he had tuned the pastor out, in fact, he was able to let his mind drift to other more important things. For a while he entertained himself with what he was going to do with all of his money, but that couldn’t cover up a darker thought that had been nagging at him all day long.

The list.

“He restoreth my soul…”

That was the real last punchline. The tombstone was part of it, to be sure, but only a part. There was the vial of blood that had to be hung from his father’s neck, and a sprig of rosemary for his left hand. He was not to be embalmed, per his will, nor were any organs to be removed under any circumstances.

This list of burial requests was so strange that Bent had taken to carrying the will around with him as he made arrangements. There was the folded linen napkin, and the ivory bracelet, and of course the tombstone.

Compared to all of that, the pack of cigarettes and matchbook placed in his breast pocket were downright quaint.

“In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life…”

Bent delivered the eulogy. He had only written a paragraph and a half at which point he had planned to fake being far too overwhelmed by emotion to carry on. He was proud of his performance, going so far as to think maybe he had a shot at Hollywood.

And why not? He was still young and good-looking. He could easily sell off the family estate and move out to somewhere in Beverly Hills. His name might not mean a thing in California, but money talks everywhere, and he bet it wouldn’t be a thing to get in the right parties.

The possibilities opened themselves up to him, as long as he could make it through this last day.

Meanwhile Simmons had navigated the funeral like an expert, taking the host of mourners from one prayer to the next.

“To ashes from…” Simmons had said, his eyes affixed to the tombstone, before everything fell silent. The crowd in attendance sucked in a collective breath while every muscle in Bent’s body tensed. Don’t you dare ruin this for me old man, he thought. All of the work Bent went through, all of the acting, all of the waiting, all of it would be for nothing because some doddering old minister couldn’t follow simple instructions.

Bent’s eyes flickered over to Mr. Prescott, his dad’s lawyer, and he saw an entirely different future. In this future, the Hill estate would be donated, cut up and shared amongst the volunteer fire department and some charity for ponies. In this future, Bent wasn’t partying with Hollywood socialites, or cruising around in luxury cars.

In this future, Bent loses everything.

“Excuse me,” Simmons coughed. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

**

“The old bastard almost had me, didn’t he, dad?” Bent chuckled before taking another swig of scotch. “And I bet you were rooting for him, weren’t you?”

Bent shook his head. The tombstone stared back at him silently.

“You’re an asshole,” Bent said with a sense of finality. “Sometimes I think you liked it. Like how they worshiped you. That’s why you never left the island. Out there, you would’ve been just another businessman, some nameless old fuck in a suit with more money than he knows what to do with. But here, you were a god.”

He pointed at the tombstone. “I mean look at that!” he said in a voice somewhere between a whine and a guffaw. “Thirteen skulls on a tombstone and no one says a word.”

Bent took another drink and stared at the tombstone again. There, all around the edge of the tombstone, were thirteen skulls carved from stone. Each one was positioned as though it were taking a bite out of the marker, making it look less like a tombstone and more like some ancient shrine to a dark and terrible god.

creepy-cemetery-tombstones-night

The thirteenth skull at the very top of the tombstone, larger than the rest, glowered at Bent with its wicked black empty eye sockets.

“And what the hell are those words even supposed to mean? ‘To ashes from ashes, To dust from dust?’” Bent could feel the buzz from the scotch spread through his brain as he shook his head more violently, giving the tombstone the kind of smile a parent may give to a bemused child.

“You know what, dad? The money? It’s almost not enough to make up having you for a father.” More molten gold slid down Bent’s tongue before he climbed back up to his feet and pointed at the grave with a wavering finger.

“But I did it. I did everything you asked, didn’t I? You can’t say I didn’t, because… well… ha-ha, you can’t say anything because you’re dead. But still, even if you weren’t dead, which you are, you still couldn’t say I failed you this time because I followed the instructions to a… to a T!”

Bent braced himself on an anonymous tombstone. This, he decided, was some really good booze. He would have to make sure to stock his bar with lots of it when he got to Hollywood.

“Oh, but there was one more rule, wasn’t there, dad?” Bent said. “No alcohol. Isn’t that right? ‘Cause my dad, the great Timothy Hill III is far too great a man to be brought down by the booze, isn’t he?”

By now, Bent was swaying gently from side to side. Yet, no matter how much he moved, those skulls always seemed to stare at him, like those trick paintings where the eyes follow you down the hall. Somewhere under the haze of alcohol, Bent could feel something dark and dangerous in the hollow voids that glared at him. But the scotch was running the show now.

“Oh well,” he said. “Looks like I screwed another one up, eh dad? Like you always say, I’m not perfect… just one big, spoiled disappointment. Right?”

One foot lurched in front of the other, carrying Bent closer to the tombstone, to those slightly twisted words, to the skulls. He rested a hand on the center skull and patted it with false affection. “But it’s okay, dad. ‘Cause you’re dead, and tomorrow. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life.”

Bent laughed wildly at this, the bottle in his hand glugged with the effort, sounding like a deep, dark guffaw. “That’s right, father dearest. You’re dead, and I’m off to go put your money to some good use. But hey, I can be a good sport. Just like you always taught me right? Hell I’ll even share. Drink up, dad!”

Bracing himself on one of the smaller skulls with one hand, Bent took the bottle of scotch and upended it onto the center skull. One of the closer street lamps caught the flow of the liquid as it splattered off of the stone skull, sending out shards of reddish light that died in the darkness.

Bent laughed. He laughed as the booze drenched the skulls and fell over the face of the tombstone in a dark curtain. He laughed as thick tendrils of scotch, black in the shadow of the marker, stretched and reached for the freshly lain sod and the grave dirt underneath. He laughed even after the bottle was emptied, leaving only the bottle wavering in his hand.

“Drink up, dad,” Bent snorted. “Drink up and rot in Hell.”

Laughter died. All of a sudden, the whole scene didn’t seem all that funny to him anymore, instead feeling as empty as the bottle that dangled from his hand. Bent sniffed, and turned to walk away.

He only made it past the second row of graves before a strange sound stopped Bent fast. It was a soft sound, so soft he wasn’t even sure he heard it correctly. It could have been the sound of his foot against the soft loam of the graveyard, or the beating of a heart.

With his eyes closed, Bent focused his scotch addled mind on the sounds that surrounded him, carried by the night breeze.

Nothing.

He started walking back to the car once more when he heard that sound again, this time louder and sharper. Bent’s eyes scanned all around, looking for someone in the glow of a porch-light out for a smoke, or the yellow-green glow of the eyes of some small animal out foraging for food.

But the noise came again, a hard thump. The buzz quickly evaporated as Bent tried to home in on the source. Alarm bells were going off in his head like Klaxons even as his rational self refused to accept from where the thumps were coming.

They came louder now, faster, more insistent, and Bent’s feet drew him toward them, back through the garden of tooth-like grave-markers, back to the thirteen skulls biting into stone. And then there was a crack.

Bent flinched and felt his knees go wobbly as more sounds, different sounds emanated not from the tombstone, but from the ground beneath.

By the time Bent saw the ground actually move before him, he was dead sober, and quickly losing his sanity. There was just enough of his rational self left when the hands burst through the sod, pulling it apart with a terrible ripping noise, to know what he was seeing.

A shadow pulled itself out of the earth, clutching the grass with its black claw like hands until it spilled out in its entirety, sprawling onto the ground just a few feet from Bent.

His knees gave out and Bent fell on his ass. He tried to scream, but what came out of his mouth was more like a strained squeak, his hands scrabbling against the cemetery grass, his legs kicking futilely as though trying to run before he was even upright.

But when the thing that had oozed from the earth pulled itself to its feet, all of Bent’s will to move, to scream, to run, died. It wasn’t a shadow; it was his father.

Clumps of soil clung to the man’s scalp, and the faint glow of the distant lights gave him a ghastly, pale hue, but it was definitely Timothy Hill III. “Well, son, I gotta hand it to you. When I needed you most, you finally came through.”

“Wha…Wh…” Bent stammered, causing the older man to cackle a hoarse, gravelly laugh.

“Relax, Bent. I’m not,” and here the old man chuckled again, “some sort of movie zombie. Lord, no. Though I must say, zombies are grossly misunderstood. The mindless slouching about? That’s all Hollywood hooey. Now, the brain eating, we’ll have to come back to that one later. But it don’t matter. I’m not a zombie, son. I’m resurrected.”

Bent blinked dumbly.

“And I got you to thank for it.” The reborn corpse smiled at his son, his teeth brown and gray, rounded and crooked like the tombstones that surrounded the pair. “You didn’t know, of course. But then with your lazy ass, I didn’t expect you to care much beyond doin’ whatever you had to do to get my money!”

The man crouched down right in front of Bent with that graveyard grin still on his face. This close, Bent could see his eyes, bleached with the haze of cataracts, but still staring at him as though they weren’t there. What was worse, he could smell the thing, the sour-sweet, putrid stench of death pouring off of him. It made Bent want to vomit.

“Had to use a little reverse psychology on a couple of things though, didn’t I? The vial of blood, the napkin, the ivory, I knew you would do. The tombstone, Hell, Prescott would have that money out from under you so fast you’d bust your ass on the ground if the tombstone wasn’t right. But the phrase, that was tricky. Couldn’t have anyone saying it too soon, but I knew if I forbade you, you’d wait until no one was around.” The corpse clapped its hands right in front of Bent’s face and laughed.

Bent felt something hot and wet spread out over his legs and realized with hardly a glimmer of embarrassment that it was his own urine.

Timothy looked down at the steam rising up from the piss in the night and chuckled. “Look at the little piss boy,” he sang.

The old man leaped back onto his feet and stepped away. “Bent, Bent, Bent. I knew I could count on you. I knew I could count on you to be a greedy little shit. Just like I knew I could count on you to disobey me when you could, to come out here and say my words when no one was listening, and drink your booze when no one was watching. And here we are. I was worried for a little bit, but after all this time, you came through.”

The old man fished for something in his breast pocket, and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “These weren’t part of the ritual, just figured I could use a smoke after a few days on my back. Not like they’re gonna kill me now, right?” he chortled before putting a cigarette between his lips and lighting it. The flame illuminated his face a glowing red, each line and wrinkle etched in flickering darkness. That face was a nightmare mask, grinning, and breathing smoke.

“The ritual,” the old man nodded as blue smoke faded into the night. “We’re a little too far north for voodoo to be easily accessible, but after a while I managed to throw a few things together. What you did after my untimely demise was a kind of patchwork—a little voodoo here, some witchcraft there.”

“See, I knew I couldn’t leave the family legacy up to you. Probably fuck your brains out and overdose in some whore’s arms before the year was out. So I had to come up with another option, don’t you see? And here we are.”

Bent nodded as though he was listening and agreeing to everything his father was saying. Meanwhile, his fingers had found the smooth, cool weight of the bottle, and he was trying the best he could to wrap his fingers around the neck without his dad realizing it.

“Stupid and greedy, that’s my son. You weren’t worth a shit when I was alive, but I realized you could finally do something good once I had passed on,” the corpse nodded. “Oh, what do you have here?”

The man stalked towards Bent, his foggy eyes affixed to Bent’s hand. “I told you, boy, the bottle will do you no good, but did you ever listen?”

One big shoe lifted itself up and stepped down on the hand holding the bottle. Bent looked up at his father’s face, milky green eyes and tombstones curled into a crescent moon smile. He felt the shoe press harder, just as he felt the glass shatter from the force, the shards tearing through his flesh and slicing their way deeper into his fist. That smile continued to grin at him as Bent felt his fingers snap like twigs.

This time Bent screamed. Even when his father raised his foot again, Bent could do little more than hold his mangled hand and whimper.

“Still a little crying piss-boy, ain’t ya?” the old man said before flicking the cigarette off into the night. “Lord knows I tried. But maybe this is for the best.”

The corpse crouched down again, this time his face only inches from Bent’s. Bent could feel his father’s breath, hot and toxic as it smothered him.

“You see, Bent, originally I was going to give you a pass. Maybe even give you one last chance to redeem yourself, one last chance at becoming a true Hill like this island deserves. But you know, it’s the damnedest thing. Being dead makes you very, very hungry.”

-THE END-

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Irwin Tarheel and the Fair Folk: Louisiana Folktale

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Louisiana twist on the legend of the Fair Folk, written by Sam McDonald.

You see it all started many years ago in Shreveport, Louisiana. These days Shreveport is the third largest city in the entire state of Louisiana, but in those days Shreveport was just a tiny little settlement on the banks of Red River. Captain Henry Miller Shreve, from whom the city gets its name, was still clearing off the great log jam. Before the good captain arrived you could drive a horse and buggy all the way across the river. Everyone was very excited about the new opportunities the new waterways would bring the little settlement, but that isn’t what this story is about.

MVI 2620 Red River Bridge in Shreveport

It was around this time there lived a fellow named Irwin Sherwin Tarheel. He was the son of an Indian maiden and a white settler. You see mixed race marriages faced a lot of prejudice back then, and poor Irwin had been dealt quite a few knocks in this life. One day Irwin was taking a walk out in the woods to go fishing at his favorite stream. When he got to the stream he came across a group of boys messing with a turtle that was flipped on its back. Irwin, never one to let a helpless creature be tormented, quickly shooed the boys away and gently put the turtle right-side up.

The turtle looked at Irwin and in a tiny voice it said. “Oh, thank you kind sir! I thought I’d never escape those tormentors.”

Irwin nearly jumped back four feet. He’d never heard a turtle utter so much as a single word before! When Irwin looked back the turtle was gone and in its place stood a beautiful young lady with raven-black hair, copper skin and a dress like a goddess of some ancient land. At this point Irwin was so terrified that he tried to back away, but he tripped over a log and fell flat on the ground.

“W-who are you? What are you?”

A strange girl giggled. “I have many names, but you can call me Red Ears. Now hurry and get up, everyone is waiting for us!”

Irwin looked and, sure enough, the girl’s ears were as bright and red as a ripe tomato. Irwin wanted nothing more than to run to his home, draw the curtains and huddle underneath a blanket. Still, there was no telling what else Red Ears could turn into, and he wasn’t so keen on finding out the hard way. After a while, and well after it had started to turn dark, Red Ears lead Irwin to a clearing of sorts. The bright lights, joyous music and wonderful smells told Irwin everything he needed to know. Red Ears had led him to a party!

Irwin didn’t get invited to many parties, but he soon found himself as the guest of honor. Red Ears made a point of introducing Irwin to everyone at the party and telling of how he saved her. Irwin had a grand time as he danced up a storm, sipped on sweet drinks, ate tasty foods and generally felt like he’d found some place he belonged. Soon, however, Irwin noticed that there was something a little off about the people throwing the party. Some of them had hooves like deer, others had eyes like cats and a few had scales like alligators!

Irwin nearly lost it all together when a man with an alligator head and deer antlers walked up to him. “You’re the Mr. Tarheel I’ve been hearing so much about?”

“I, uh, yes. May I ask who you are?” Irwin stammered.

“Oh, dear, where are my manners? My name is Chief Cernunnos, and you have earned my daughter’s hand in marriage. Now don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll make a fine husband for Red Ears.”

“But who are all these people? They don’t look right.”

Chief Cernunnos gave Irwin a big alligator smile. “Well now, that depends on who you ask. Some would say we are gods, while others would say that we are demons, and yet others would call us spirits. But if you want to call us something you may call us The Fair Folk. We really are quite reasonable.”

Irwin considered what the chief had told him. The Fair Folk had certainly been more kind and welcoming than anyone he’d ever met, but he had his suspicions that all was not as it seemed. Both of his parents had told stories of tricksters who lured unsuspecting traveler’s to all sorts of horrible fates. If he could only slip away to see if anyone else had heard of these strange people.

Red Ear and Chief Cernunnos tried their best, but Irwin insisted that he needed to go attend some matters in Shreveport, though he promised he’d be back as soon as possible. Reluctantly, they sent Irwin on his way, but not before Red Ear gave Irwin a tiny pouch. She instructed Irwin to absolutely never open the pouch under any circumstances. It didn’t take Irwin long to find the path he’d taken to get to the Fair Folk’s part, but when he made it out of the woods he did not find the Shreveport he remembered.

Shreveport had grown from a tiny little settlement into a city of glass towers and strange metal carriages that drove without horses. Irwin searched and asked around, but everyone he’d ever known was gone. The more he searched the more Irwin realized the horrible truth. Everyone he’d known was dead because he’d been away for over 160 years! There wasn’t any point in staying in Shreveport so Irwin decided to make his way back to the Fair Folk.

Unfortunately, Irwin soon found himself completely disoriented. There had to be something that would remind him of the way back. Irwin decided to ignore Red Ear’s warning and see if the pouch held a clue. What Red Ear hadn’t told Irwin was that the pouch contained all of the years he would have aged if he hadn’t stayed at the Fair Folk’s party. As soon as the pouch was opened Irwin aged until he was a feeble old man.

As if carried on a gentle breeze Irwin could hear Red Ear’s voice say to him, “I told you not to open the pouch.”

With that Irwin crumbled into dust and was carried away on the wind. The white man brought many things with him when he colonized this land. Perhaps a few Fair Folks decided to come along for the ride.

-THE END-

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The Grey House: Georgia Haunted House Story

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Young boys make the mistake of chasing an errant football into he depths of a Georgia haunted house. Written by Kenneth Gary.

PRELUDE

“I know that the old woman in that huge, crumbling, grey house is hiding a secret, a dead body, something. I just know it!”
– words of an anonymous woman in the neighborhood.

One cannot, with the unburdened mind of youth, gaze upon stars, or the imaginative clouds of the sky, without being set upon by waves of wonder…
– sentiments of an anonymous child, same neighborhood.

Once upon a time…

When I was a young boy we played any number of sports and games outside in all areas of our Georgia neighborhood. The entire area was our domain: With one unacknowledged exception.

It was not something that we talked about openly, unless it was Halloween, but, there was one very large, decayed, grey house at the end of our ‘territory’ that, collectively, we instinctively avoided.

We had in the past, experienced the terror of attempting to retrieve an errant baseball from the front yard. There was no particular event associated with this perception: just a feeling. This alone was enough to make us realize that the air within that yard was forbidding. In fact, there are a number of prize balls of all sorts in that yard that were simply never recovered. It could even be the ninth inning, sun setting, mothers calling; but whenever the ball fell into that yard, it was the unspoken termination of whatever series was underway. Silently, no boasting, no arguments; the game just dissolved.

It was the kind of house that you just did not turn and walk away from; you tended to look over your shoulder for an extended portion of your departure. There was a subterranean concern with having ‘disturbed’ whatever lay within…there was a ‘please do not follow me home’ thought in the mind of anyone who in any way encroached.

That year, the hometown team made it to the Super Bowl. In those days, we were so adept at sneaking into any stadium that our only concern was getting enough cash for hot dogs and pop. This we accomplished also. With the game being local, we basically had fortune not merely smile upon us but bursting with a cornucopia of joy.

When our team won, underneath the bleachers, and everywhere else, people celebrated without restraint. One particularly exuberant (drunk) man pulled me aside and pushed a real NFL labeled football into my stomach, just like a hand off. “Here’s a souvenir, kid” he mumbled.

Well, to me at that age, I thought it was the game ball!. I ran before he could change his clouded mind. Showing my friends, they immediately wanted to go out to our street, and play a game with this wonderful ball that found its way into our lives.

With the seemingly limitless energy of youth, when legs just wanted to run of their own accord, we played and played up and down the avenue that night. The ball seemed to bring some magic to the game because there were more extraordinary plays performed than ever before. Finally, there was one long sideline pass that ended up too close to the fence, and even though I tipped it with my left hand, it did not bounce into receiving range, and it went over (it was ‘sucked’ over) the fence.

It went over the fence into the yard of the big grey house.

Typically, we would all simply subdue our impulses and quietly go home for the evening. But this was a special ball; and the Super Bowl had filled us with emotions that made us feel it was the game of our lives. This ball had to be retrieved.

I immediately drafted Bruce and Ronnie as my co-agents in what I had already determined to be a rescue mission. We lost a lot of balls before; we are not losing this one. Neither of them objected, as they were both intoxicated by the day, the Super Bowl and the ball: we approached the fence to figure a plan of retrieval. Behind us, out of view, everyone else slowly backed up, with that same mesmerized expression, and finally simply turned away and went home.

What came to mind with the force of thunder was the recollection that only two people had ever entered this yard before. One, a high school football star, who instantly broke his leg after climbing the fence, his arm upon breaking his fall. The other incident involved a very popular boy who must have incurred an even more horrific fate as no one would even tell us what had taken place. We were ‘too young’. All we could gather was that the grief-stricken, morose expressions on the faces of his friends that day, spelled certain doom. We never saw him again.

No matter. The ball is outside in the yard. It cannot have gone too close to the house. Besides conquering the prodigious undergrowth, what really, in this world of sunshine and blue sky, could stop us?

We were terrified.

RustyFence amk

The fence was chest high, for all three of us. But the vines and bushes that were never cut, caused one to forcibly dig through them in order to get a clear view of the yard even on top of the old wooden fence. And these vines and other undergrowth were tenacious; at points it seemed they grew straight through uncracked areas in the wood itself.

Assessing the landscape we decided to try to first make visual contact with the ball. Then we could decide a plan of action that would most likely secure our lives in this mission and return us safely to this side of the fence. We could not see the ball. However, we remained undaunted.

Unnoticed, we transformed into a band of predators that surveyed the African Savannah. With unspoken stealth, we found an area that permitted the easiest access thru the brush , vines, and over the fence.

There was a movement in one of the upstairs windows…not now; did it notice me? don’t look! Let us just get the ball; that’s all. In that strange way that people will expect that if they do not look directly at the car as they cross in front of, it will, by some unwritten law, not hit them. Just don’t look!

We had no real idea how large this cul-de-sac property really was. The house, easily observed from a distance down the street, was in reality thirty yards from the fence, and much taller, wider and far more decrepit than anyone ever suspected. And the grey color was not so much a color as it was the complete absence of any color at all. It was the color left when absolutely all other color is washed away. And it was unsettling. The house just looked dead.

Ronnie had received several cuts in the effort. One, on the back of his right hand, which probably deserved some attention, but before we knew it Ronnie licked it several times, applying saliva and clearing the blood. He looked up at us and whispered “ It’s okay”.

Crouching to a height just above the never tended sea of weeds covering the yard; we spread out to better locate our target in minimum time. We were far enough apart to expand the swath of the search, and close enough to not leave unexplored areas in between us.

Spread out, as we were, me in the middle, Bruce on my far left and Ronnie on my far right, we hesitantly began to search through, what seemed to be all the wheat in Kansas, for the ball.

Unbelievably, I heard Ronnie talking. The plan was to be utterly quiet once inside, which we now were, in order to not attract attention. Besides, who could he be talking too??!!

I stood up straight to see what could be going on over there just in time to see Ronnie running towards the house, halfway there he began to wave a greeting as though he saw someone he knew in the house. When he bounded upon the porch, clearly with glee, the front door opened allowing entrance. Without pause, Ronnie ran right into the house and the door closed sounding the finality of a prison gate: a life lost. The house had swallowed him.

I looked to the left, and Bruce too had observed this astounding behavior, and was clearly as astonished as I was. What could possibly possess someone, knowing what we all know about this place, to behave in this manner?

My bones told me there was no chance of going into that house. I looked at Bruce, blankly; implying that the decision was his and all the while hoping that he too would decline to follow Ronnie.

His bones told him the opposite. We could not leave without Ronnie.

Damn!

Reluctantly, we approached each other at full height; the secret shroud of our arrival had evaporated. We were already announced, by Ronnie’s unbelievable behavior. It never occurred to us that we were in fact being invited in: that is why the mesmerizing effect that had sent everyone else home, did not impact us. Without speaking, we agreed to rescue our friend. Shoulder to shoulder, we turned to look at the Grey House where we would face whatever fate awaits.

But wait! Not the front door. Let’s take a walk around the house, there is probably some broken screen door to the kitchen, or rotted out gateway to the basement, or something. Here is where our skills at sneaking into all those football stadiums and carnivals would come in handy; we will find a way in; but it will be our way in: not the front door.

The very back of the house did have what used to be a screen-enclosed porch off the kitchen. Carefully, cause we could ill afford to have ourselves injured by rotten porch timber, we approached the kitchen door. The screen on the door had completely rotted away also. All I had to do was push my hand through the remaining screen, which instantly turned to dust, and unhook the simple lock.

We were in the kitchen.

To our utter amazement, the kitchen had towering cabinets scaling two of the walls. There was a table in the middle that was tall enough for us to walk under without bending our heads at all.

On the table there were apples the size of basketballs. Closer inspection, however, revealed that they were actually grapes. It finally dawned on us that whoever inhabited this place had to in fact be of monstrous proportions. With considerable effort, we returned our attention to the urgent task of finding Ronnie and getting out.

Since he came in the front door, let’s start there.

Silently, we found our way towards the front of the house. We passed what appeared to be a reading room, equipped just like the kitchen, with a table taller than us, and bookcases populated with strangely labeled, old, hard covered texts, that would have been too large for us to even retrieve from the shelves. We continued towards what had to be the front of the house where Ronnie, stupid Ronnie, just had to come inside!

Impossibly, the inside of this ‘house’ was of colossal proportions totally belied by the outward appearance.

The inside was just like the outside; never attended to. We were able to see Ronnie’s footprints as they came in the front door in the thick dust that covered the floor. They went to the (his) left upon entering, the opposite direction from which we had just come.


As we proceeded in this direction, to the right was a lofty, curved staircase, with enormity more than human, that went up to a second floor which surrounded the entire house it seemed with a walkway with many doors and several halls that wound off into utter and hollow darkness. Cautiously, we followed the footprints; thankful they did not lead upstairs. We need to find him fast before fear overtakes us and changes our minds completely.

Very faintly, I could hear a strangely familiar muffled sound coming from the direction we were going. We moved over to the wall, so that we could inch our way forward and defeat the chances of being discovered by…anything that may be in this place.

Fortunately, very shortly the familiar sounds were recognized as those made by a considerably large number of people dining together.

We squeezed ourselves along the wall until we came upon a large room before us, where, there was in fact a large table with what appeared to be about 20 people sitting around it eating.

Crouching behind a small table that was holding a dim lamp, we could make out the entire group across the hallway without being noticed. It took a few moments, but; I did recognize Billy Mitchell sitting at the table.

Billy was a classmate of mine, two years earlier. More than a classmate, we were actually quite good friends. Billy and his family had moved to Detroit; yet, those were his parents on either side of him, eating in relative silence.

There was also Trudy Jones. I would never forget her because, even though she was several years older, I had a boyhood crush on her for as long as I could remember. But, she was no longer older than me. In fact, she was exactly the same age as the last summer before her, and her slow running brother, were at the time that they left this town.

There were several other people recognizable at the table. But in every case, it was someone, or some family, who had ‘moved away’, or otherwise relocated, to some other distant place. But they were in fact all right here! They had not gone anywhere! And they looked exactly as they had when they ‘left’. Trudy was no longer older than me. Not this Trudy.

Then we saw Billy’s dog Apache. The dog had died a year before Billy and his family moved to Detroit. It was sitting by Billy’s leg at the table. A position I clearly recall that his parents would not allow at dinner time because I often visited them in those days.

We made no noise at all. Suddenly, as if by clairvoyance; the dog immediately swung his head around to look directly at us; he looked as though my very recognition of him had made a suspicious sound that he could hear. His ears twitched, and he instantly sprang to his feet, and began to snarl like Cerberus, guarding the gates of Hades. This was effectively an alarm to everyone at the table who also immediately ceased all activity and, without searching, turned their laser like attention upon us.

I could feel the heat from their glare; eyes rimmed with deep bloody red. Inhuman forked tongues darted out of several mouths in serpent like fashion. They rose from the table in unison; never taking their eyes off us…

Without a word, we turned and ran. We ran back across the large foyer that comprised the entryway. Looking over my shoulder to see the ‘missing people’ storming out of the dining room after us, only, they were running on all fours; backs arching like true quadrupeds in pursuit. Now their tongues wagged out of their open mouths like wolves. And they howled like a pack of wild animals.

Their form of locomotion, along with the changes in their bodies, made it clear they were soon going to overtake us. In utter desperation we decided to run, jump, up the staircase; because we all know, canines are not so graceful on stairs as they are on open ground.

To our surprise, they did not even pursue us up the stairs. They came to a screeching halt, some tumbling in the dust under their own momentum. Reverting to human, upright posture, they walked back and forth at the bottom of the stairs staring with those empty red rimmed eyes, long tongues rolling out of their mouths like a dog on a hot day. Some of them had long snake-like tails trailing behind them.

We stumbled up the stairs backwards. Looking at them, in case they changed their minds…

We reached the second story of the house. From here, looking upwards, the very top of the building hosted a huge glass dome. Through it I could see the most magnificent display of brilliant stars against a palpably thick, blue-black sky. I knew I was somehow closer to the entire universe than I had ever been before: This was not a scene one could commonly see from the surface of the earth. Besides, it was full daylight still when we entered the house.

I looked back down the stairs and they were all gone: Nowhere to be seen. Since Ronnie was not among them, we decided to see if he was upstairs also. Maybe he was fortunate enough to have escaped them in the same way we just did. Either way, without discussion: getting out of here is already far more important than finding Ronnie (stupid Ronnie).

With all the noise echoing throughout the mansion from the chase just escaped, there is no need to try to be quiet. Anything that can hear already knows we are here by now.

There was a huge, ominous door at the end of the hallway before us.

When the door opened, the wind of death floated out onto the balcony. Standing in the doorway was a very tall (far more than human height), large, muscular figure, of a man. He did not move, but his very presence exuded sheer gravity. This was an entity that encompassed more than mortals have ever witnessed before.

It was as if some two-story tall, granite statue in the main lobby of a bustling New York skyscraper had awakened: infuriated by the way that mankind had exploited his true immortal grandeur to adorn their meager buildings. This was the infernal rage before us now.

With the sound of thunder, heard on the inside; in the space of an instant, eons were revealed to us, as if flying through the galaxy. His intent was not instruction, or sharing; we could see these phenomena simply as a by-product of having been brought into his mind. His intent was examination of us.

One could feel that what he was doing with the missing people was consuming their future, extracting all the promise from their lives; their hopes and dreams; this is what he lived on. Simple manipulation, crushing several dreams, diminishing just a little celestial light, is how he victimized them: exactly as a spiders poison incapacitates the victim. It was a combination of this and the wind from his home world blowing in this place that transformed them into the creatures they were becoming; Man is never far from Monster – human aspiration is a feeble barrier.

I grabbed Bruce’s arm, to set him into motion as I turned to flee. The grab meant I was not going to wait – better come now! With my acceleration being so desperate, the ancient carpet beneath my feet rolled, fighting my intention to escape and catapulting my mind into complete terror. But I kept running. Bruce was energized into action by my grasp of his arm, and he too managed to turn and flee.

The creature in the doorway, actually filling the huge doorway, did not bother to pursue us. Pursuit never entered his vast mind. You do not chase mosquitoes; you kill them when they light on your arm again.

We ran back past the stairs. Looking down, those people were once again, all gathered around the bottom of the staircase. That path was blocked. We kept running until we came upon a very narrow stairway at the opposite side of the second level. At a glance, the stairs were more normal size, and this stairway did not even open up on the level where the ‘people’ were because we did not see it when we were downstairs. It actually was a servants egress. Apparently for human sized servants.

The stairway was interminably long as it had no exit on the first floor but continued uninterrupted into the cellar. This did not feel good at all. With what we have seen already, is not the cellar in this place bound to be far worse?

No stopping now. At this point we have to concentrate on saving ourselves.

Upon arriving at the bottom, one entire wall, of what appeared to be a recently excavated basement; the length of a football field was lined with embedded cages lit with mildly different colored lights from the top of each cell. Some were filled with a writhing mist that did not escape what appeared to be a set of horizontal and vertical bars encasing each cage. This was a menagerie that provided the many beasts within, a recreation of the environment from whatever world he was taken from.

Just then, a beast resembling a huge grizzly bear covered with alligator skin crashed into the bars of his cage with such ferocity that it physically shook many of the adjacent cages and elicited a huge cacophony of growls and shrieks from the nearby inhabitants.

My extreme terror was revealed with an audible shriek of my own.

Then, I felt myself gripped from behind on the shoulder. My entire life dissolved inside me as I turned around to find that it was Ronnie, standing behind us.

Ronnie was trying to explain to us what had occurred. He spoke slowly, actually he mumbled. I could see his cheek quickly jutting out, as though his tongue were poking it. It fell upon me in a flash; Ronnie too has the serpent tongue, and he was trying to hide it from us!

Just like the dog before him, ‘Ronnie’ knew instantly he had been discovered. He pounced upon me, with more power than he had ever possessed, forcing me backwards against one of the cages of the enclosed beasts. Behind me I could actually feel the delight (the hunger) of the creature within as it began to slither towards the bars of the cage and receive this human offering which was myself.

In spite of our history of my superior athletic prowess, I could not even begin to contest Ronnie’s strength at this point. Bruce too, attempted in vain to force Ronnie to relinquish his grasp upon me. With utter ease, he ignored Bruce, and he pinned me against the bars as the creature within increased his speedy approach, beckoning my certain doom.

It is said that man’s extremity is Gods opportunity. There was certainly only one single moment left for me; and looking deep within Ronnie’s eyes I was surprised to see recognition. In that instant, our entire shared childhood passed between us, both good and bad, and with the same complete power that he had pinned me against the bars, he now jerked me away. Behind me, I could hear the creature within crashing, disappointed, against the cage: Furious at the lost opportunity.

Speechless; and with an inhuman, mechanical like precision, Ronnie pointed towards a sizable nook within the cavernous walls of this dungeon. As we peered within the nook, we could see a stairway with light squeezing through the edges at the top. We turned to thank him only to see him turn and run with supernatural speed down the length of the walkway between the cages, uttering guttural, primordial grunts along the way, until something from within one of the cages reached out and pulled him in. His sounds ended abruptly, signaling certain extermination.

We chose to ascend the stairs.

There was the outside, old fashion cellar door at the top, which was not even locked. We opened it with ease to emerge into the same un-kept yard we had just left. As we shut the cellar doors we could still hear the cries from the unholy collection of wildlife below. The only difference being that it had to be about midnight judging from the position of the moon, the darkness, and the quiet that seemed to surround the neighborhood as far as we could tell.

Why did Ronnie not secure my death? Perhaps he was in the initial stages of being ‘absorbed’ by this place. More likely, the colossal creature within – who clearly spanned eons and galaxies – perhaps he had no concept of simple human friendship: A situation he had not incurred as yet. For whatever reason, at whatever stage of being ‘taken over’ he was at, the ‘Ronnie’ on the inside was being made from the Ronnie we knew. I do not think the being upstairs could just invent heroism, or even recognize it. Even if he could, he would not employ it to act for our sake. No, this incubus, this voodoo doll that was to become Ronnie, somehow was being made from the real thing – our friend.

Amazingly, when we finally got back outside, there was Ronnie, excited, asking us why we just suddenly ran into the house – for no reason! This inquiry was so honestly set forth as to disarm us of any anger or other misgivings at all. This was our Ronnie. I could see the tinge of guilt in his eye for not coming after us – he had no hint that we had encountered ‘him’ on the inside of this place. I could also appreciate his dilemma; and at least he did not leave the yard. He was just unable to get into the house. He did not realize that the ‘Ronnie’ that was on the inside, was a part of him, and this meant too that a part of him was a true hero, in a way that this, our Ronnie, would perhaps never know.

And, it was the right decision in the end…the creature within had easily fooled us all.

And there was no old woman at all, contrary to a popular rumor.

And, most importantly, Ronnie had recovered the ball.

-THE END-

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Are You Roger? Georgia Halloween Horror Story

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Georgia bullies terrorize the wrong trick-or-treater in this Halloween horror story from Harris Tobias.

I hear them upstairs. Bands of costumed kids coming to the door for handouts. “Trick or treat,” they yell in chorus and thrust out their bags for filling. Each kid dressed as something outlandish, something not real. In fact, the more unreal the better the people like it. I wonder what they’d think if they saw me. It makes me laugh to think how they’d react if they knew that I wasn’t wearing a costume. No, no costume, this is how I look. Like some special effects monster from a grade B movie. Halloween is the only night of the year I can go out in my Atlanta neighborhood and be with other kids without frightening them to death.

It’s getting dark. Soon mother will come down and unlock my cage and let me out. I can go outside and pretend I’m a normal kid instead of a horror movie freak. The joke in all this trick or treat nonsense is that I don’t even like candy. I still have the bag I collected last year. Oh well you can’t expect them to hand out raw steaks now can you?

Well, the candy is besides the point. It’s being outside with real kids for a few precious hours. It’s all I have to look forward to. They always want to know where I got my costume and ask me to take off my mask. They wonder if they know me. I tell them my mother made my costume which I guess is more or less the truth. They’ll say things like, “I remember you from last year.” or “Are you from around here? Are you Roger?” Sometimes I say no, sometimes yes. It all depends on how I feel.

I hear mother coming to unlock my cage. She keeps me locked up for my own protection. She says the state would take me away for medical testing if they knew about me. I wouldn’t want that to happen so I live in the basement. It’s not really so bad. I have a TV and books to read. Mom home-schools me. I have crayons and paints. I’m a good drawer. I’d like to be an artist.

Mother puts a cape around my shoulders. “To keep off the chill,” she says. The cape really completes my costume. I look like a werewolf trying to be a vampire. Well at least the fangs are real. I might look like a wolf but I’m a normal kid. At least that’s what Mom keeps telling me. I’m a normal kid that just happens to look like everyone’s idea of a Hollywood werewolf. It’s not my fault. I don’t thirst for blood or anything like that although lately the idea doesn’t seem quite as yucky as it used to.

Mother gives me a pat on the rear and sees me to the door. “Have fun,” she calls after me and then adds, “Be careful.” She worries about me. I join a bunch of goblins, ghosts and comic book superheroes and I’m off on my one night of freedom.

The other kids are curious about me. Some of them ask what school I go to or what grade I’m in. I don’t answer. After a while they leave me alone and we go from door to door. Things are fun until we run into some big kids who are working our street. The big kids aren’t even wearing costumes. They push us aside and take our candy. I hold on to mine. This annoys one of the bullies and he calls his friends over. “Mr. Dog Face here doesn’t want to share his loot,” he says to the others. Three big kids surround me and block my escape.

“I remember you from last year,” one of them says. “You wore that same stupid costume. What’s the matter, you can’t afford another costume?” Then they all start pushing me around. I drop my candy and run but they chase me into a vacant lot and one of them tackles me and knocks me to the ground. They’re all older and bigger than me. I’m scared but I’m angry too. I just want to be left alone. To be a normal kid for a couple of hours. But the bullies don’t let up.

“We want to see who you are,” one of them says. Two of them hold my arms while the biggest and fattest sits on my chest. He starts pulling at my face as if it was a mask. How I wish it was a mask but of course it isn’t. All he gets is a handful of fur for all his pulling. It hurts and I snap and growl. I bite his hand and he really gets mad. “Why you little freak! I’ll show you!” And he starts slapping me around and the two holding my arms join him in punching me. They hurt me. I taste blood but I don’t know whose. I’m thrashing and snapping with all my might but there are too many of them.

Varulv

“Hold him down, boys. I think we caught us a real werewolf. Hold him while I look for something to kill it with. Any of you know how to kill a werewolf?”

They try to remember what they know about werewolves. Whether it’s wooden stakes or silver bullets. One of them is pretty sure it’s fire. By now I’m really frightened. I feel like crying but I don’t want to give them the satisfaction. I’m angry too. Angrier than I’ve ever been. What right do these kids have to torment me? I never did anything to them.

The ringleader is looking around for a weapon. The two holding me down are saying how they can’t let me grow up to kill innocent people. “You got to kill werewolves and vampires. It’s the law.”

The third bully comes back holding a big rock with both arms. I can see it’s heavy as he’s straining to lift it to his chest. I wish I was back in my cage. I want my mother to protect me. I look at the sky. The last thing I’ll ever see. The moon comes out from behind the clouds. It’s nearly full. It fills me with a funny feeling. I feel a surge of exaltation. I am suddenly very strong. I lift my voice in a glorious howl and the three bullies freeze, their bravado drains away. I have no trouble getting to my feet. Their weight is like so much paper to me now. Now it is their turn to be afraid. I look them in the eye and a deep growl rumbles in my throat. They turn to run but it is too late.

I don’t remember what happened next. I think I might have really hurt those kids. I don’t remember. When I got home, there was blood all over my face and hands. Mother washed off the blood. She kept asking me what happened but I didn’t know. She locked me in the basement. I can hear her crying upstairs. I’m afraid I did a bad thing to those kids. I’m afraid I might do it again. I’m afraid of what I might be. I can’t wait for next Halloween.

-THE END-


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