Recent Discussion

This Week's Active Posts

64
Rising Tides
• Comments: 13 • Facebook: 51
30
First Night in the New House
• Comments: 4 • Facebook: 26
24
That Damn Buzzing Sound
• Comments: 8 • Facebook: 16
16
The Cellar
• Comments: 15 • Facebook: 1
9
My Old Stomping Grounds
• Comments: 8 • Facebook: 1

Your Favorited Pastas

  • Your favorites will be here.

Available Beta Readers

Whether you're looking for someone to help proofread and refine your creepypasta or you'd like to offer your help to writers in need of a second opinion, please check out the Available Beta Readers post!

Creepypasta Prompts

Have an idea for a great pasta, but lack the time or ability to see it through? Or do you have the time and the will to write a story, but your personal font of inspiration is running dry? The Creepypasta Prompts page should be helpful to people in both camps!

RSS Stories Looking For Feedback

Creepypasta Contest: Gaming Pasta Challenge [Entries Closed, Winners Announced]

April 19, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Thanks for all of your entries! Here are our top three:

1. Willow Creek (Congrats to moonlit_cove on your flask!)
2. The Shame
3. Razor Games

Some entries were deemed very close-but-no-cigar and as such will be posted to Crappypasta for further refinement. It’s our hope that they will be reworked enough to eventually end up on the main site! Please keep an eye on the Crappypasta Round-Up category if you are interested in giving feedback to the stories in question, or simply check in with Crappypasta regularly.

As mentioned in the April Discussion post, this month we are having a writing contest!

I’m going to just go ahead and copy/paste what I wrote before:

If you’ve been active in the creepypasta community for a decent amount of time, it’s highly likely that you’ve encountered gaming pasta. Such stories are often referred to as “Haunted Cartridge” pastas due to how many of them involve protagonists who, for some reason, are willing to pay for obviously counterfeit versions of old NES games and then have to deal with the consequences of whatever weird angry gaming spirits they’ve invited into their console of choice.

The genre gets a (largely deserved, let’s be honest) bad rap mostly due to how many gaming pastas are nothing more than retellings of the original, more novel haunted game stories. For example: while Pokemon Black was novel at first and did creep some people out, the countless “Pokemon Blood Orange” or “Pokemon Burnt Sienna” spin-offs that sprung from its loins got really tiresome, really fast. Likewise with the “Ben Drowned” rip-offs – people started churning out variants that essentially were just mad libs, replacing just the game and Ben’s name. There’s really no faster way to kill a creepypasta subgenre than overloading readers with a glut of indiscernable copycat stories – even when a decent and/or original entry appears, readers seem to be too jaded from the ” crappypasta overload to give anything in the genre a chance.

With all that said, I do believe there is hope for gaming pasta. Even if it doesn’t receive many additions, I do retain the Haunted Games tag for a reason – there are those of you out there who truly do enjoy your creepy video game stories, and when they’re done well, I fully agree that they can be enjoyable.

So this month, I have a challenge for all you writers out there: write and submit a good gaming pasta.

From April 19th until May 5th, I will open up a special submission form where people can submit gaming pastas only; anything unrelated that gets sent in via this form will be deleted. The moderation team and I will read through all of the submissions and pick three winners that we feel best accomplished the goal of writing a good gaming pasta. The top three submissions will have their story hosted here, of course, and the top-ranked eligible author will also receive a Legend of Drink Gaming Cartridge Flask:

The Legend of Drink

  • The mods and I will be reading and discussing the submissions amongst ourselves as time allows. Please allow up to a week after contest submissions close for us to choose our winners.
  • Only ONE winner will receive the flask. In order to receive the flask, you must have a shipping address in the US/Canada and be 18 years of age or older. If this doesn’t apply to you but you still wish to submit a story to the contest, that’s fine, just know that you won’t be eligible for the physical prize – it will be given to the next placed author that fulfills the eligibility requirements. However, your story will still be eligible to be declared the overall winner of the contest.
  • TO BE CLEAR: DO NOT SUBMIT YOUR CONTEST ENTRY VIA THE NORMAL SUBMISSION FORM. USE THE FORM ATTACHED TO THIS POST. Submitting your story to the wrong form is likely to result in your story not being read until after the contest is over, as it won’t go into the priority contest queue.
  • Just because I know some of you will read that last sentence and think you have a clever plan to get your non-contest story read quickly: if you submit a non-contest story using this form, it will just be deleted. Don’t try to game the system, it won’t work.

The form is attached to this post under a cut and can be accessed by clicking here (or simply by clicking the post title). Submissions for this contest are now closed! Thank you to everyone who participated.

I look forward to seeing what you guys can produce!

*There is an affiliate code present in the link to the flask on Amazon. This means that if you buy anything on Amazon after using that link, the site will get a small kickback – which goes back into the pot to fund more giveaways like this one. If you use our affiliate link, thank you!

LineWhatsAppTumblrFacebookTwitterRedditPinterestGoogle GmailGoogle+StumbleUponShare

July 2014 Creepypasta Book Club: Cults, Conspiracies & Secret Societies – PLUS “The Secret World” Giveaway [Winner Chosen, Congrats to Kristela!]

July 1, 2014 at 12:00 AM

Welcome to possibly the longest-named post on the entire site! It fits, because this is going to be a long post – I’ve got a lot of ground to cover about the whole book club idea before we begin. Exposition, go!

Today we’re going to start the “creepypasta book club” that was discussed in previous announcement posts. If you’re not familiar, the idea is to read some books together that will help cultivate inspiration and nurture more original ideas in our writers. I don’t believe that I’m overestimating when I say that lately, a solid 75% of the incoming submissions are simply retreading the same few topics – I suppose that, for whatever reason, serial killers, haunted games, and fanfics of previously-created Creepypasta “characters” are extremely trendy right now.

The problem is, though, that after the 5000th rip-off of Jeff the Killer or the latest attempt to copy-and-replace Ben Drowned with the writer’s favorite game franchise, these stories get mind-numbingly boring. New ideas and inspiration are CLEARLY necessary now, because I for one am absolutely sick of reading about serial killers. I’m not sure if it’s just because they’ve been so in lately in pop culture (what a strange thing to say, but it seems to be true – Hannibal, Dexter, Jeff the Killer, so on and so forth), but we’ve gone way past the point of oversaturation.

You guys need to find something new to write about.

So that’s where this book club idea comes into play. Every month, I’ll select a general theme and give you guys one or two books to read. Now, to avoid confusion, this won’t be about reading already established “creepy” fiction like King or Chambers. Though we may do that another time, the book choices for the inspiration club will be, primarily, nonfiction (though some selections will definitely be “nonfiction” – we’re going to indulge in some pseudoscience and conspiracy books because, after all, we’re trying to get ideas for fiction anyhow). This will hopefully allow you guys to expand your comfort zone of creepy into realms like secret societies, cryptozoology, high-risk exploring like mountaineering, ancient cultures and pseudeoarchealogy, aliens, mysterious disappearances, and more.

The other added benefit of using nonfiction is that spoilers won’t be a concern. Since this post’s comments will act as the discussion forum for our book club, we need books that people can easily discuss at all sorts of different points of progress without ruining each other’s experience.

So, yes, to alleviate some of the confusion and concerns that initially came up when I presented this idea:

THIS POST is your book club. The comments here are where you should air out all your thoughts and ideas that spawn from reading the suggested books. There’s no requirement for how fast you progress through the book(s), whether you read both books or only one, or even if you finish the book(s) or not, so please feel free to jump in and discuss the books whenever you’d like.

If this takes off and you guys want it, perhaps in the future we can try and organize some sort of chat at the end of the month, but for now please don’t worry about that and just post here whenever you have things to talk about regarding this month’s books.

Okay, all that said – here are the two books I’ve selected for July 2014. As stated in the title, this month we’re going to explore the world of cults, conspiracies and the theorists who love them, and secret societies.

It should be said that these books were chosen with mature readers in mind. If you are under 18, please do check with your parent/legal guardian before reading these books. I’d really prefer to avoid a pitchfork-mob of angry parents who find this topic inappropriate for their kids. I’d also like to say that the opinions expressed in the books are, of course, the opinions of their authors and the people profiled only – I’m not advocating or co-signing any of the groups covered in these books. I’m not telling you to believe in the Illuminati or anything, I just think such topics are a cool and fun thing to learn about and will probably inspire some people to write better pastas.

The first book is by Jon Ronson, a British author/humourist that I personally really enjoy. Them: Adventures with Extremists is exactly what it says on the tin – Ronson meets and spends time with a lot of famous faces in the world of conspiracy theories and extremist beliefs. David Icke, Alex Jones, Omar Bakri Mohammed, and more – as Ronson says, the only criteria was that the people/organizations he features have been called ‘extremists’ at some point in their careers. Each episode gives you a look into the beliefs, day to day lives, personalities, and habits of the the various extremists that he profiles. If you’re interested in writing a character-driven story about conspiracies, cults, or societies, this book will be helpful. It also tends to be rather irreverently funny, which is a plus.

As a bonus, Jon Ronson was recently on WTF with Marc Maron, where he gave some behind-the-scenes details on this book (they also delve into The Psychopath Test, another book I’m considering for future months if this book club turns into a long-term thing) as well as more personal opinions and anecdotes. You can stream/download the episode here for now (it will eventually become a premium-only episode, so keep that in mind – based on the pattern, I’m guessing it will go premium-only sometime in August).

If you want to go more in depth, the second suggestion is Arthur Goldwag’s Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies: The Straight Scoop on Freemasons, the Illuminati, Skull & Bones, Black Helicopters, the New World Order, and Many, Many More.

Unlike THEM, this book isn’t really a narrative – rather, the author has researched many of the world’s more infamous and interesting cults, conspiracy theories, and secret societies, and he’s done nice write-ups on each. The entries are organized thematically and can easily be read out of order if you’re so inclined. Beyond the organizations in the title, he also covers the origins of the Assassins (it’s not just a random word), Area 51 and all it encompasses, the Yakuza, the Kennedy assasinations, etc etc and so on. This book is really useful and interesting if you’d like to get a sort of crash course in this month’s topic.

Lastly, to celebrate the first book club post, I’m giving away ONE online game code for Funcom’s online game The Secret World.

Since the raffle is over (congratulations to Kristela A. for winning!), I’m putting the rest of this entry under a cut. The main page has so many stickied posts at the moment that I think it’s necessary to de-clutter wherever I can.

LineWhatsAppTumblrFacebookTwitterRedditPinterestGoogle GmailGoogle+StumbleUponShare

How to Write a Vidya Gaem Pasta

April 1, 2014 at 2:00 PM
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 8.8/10 (256 votes cast)

(A last hurrah to the Haunted Game ‘genre’, as it were.)

So, you’re wanting to write a video game crappy – erm, creepypasta? Think you have what it takes? To be honest, you probably don’t. But fear not! With just the submission form (who needs proofreading? Or drafts? Hell, who needs edits? Not you, that’s for sure!) and this handy guide, you’ll be writing terrible pastas in no time!
Wait, did I say ‘terrible’? Like, out loud?
I meant ‘beautiful’.
Yep.
Totally.
————–
First of all, you’re going to have to pick a topic! Maybe you should go for something well known? Maybe try your hand at more obscure games? It’s your choice! Let’s get creative!
(And by ‘get creative’, I mean ‘write the same shitty pasta that’s already been written a thousand times before’. But that doesn’t matter. Whatever.)
>Try a Pokemon pasta! They were the most popular video game pasta subject for a reason, you know. Don’t know anything about Pokemon? Doesn’t matter – just as people who have never played Pokemon can pick it up easily, you don’t need to know anything about it to write a pokepasta! Just throw in some peekachoos and charozords and you’re all set!
>Maybe a Minecraft pasta? Just like how you can do so much in Minecraft, you can write so much about it too! ..Or you can just write about Herobrine! ‘Who’s a hero brown,’ you ask? Why, only a slightly original monster that was mutated into a cliched horror monster by thousands of bad fan misinterpretation!
>Try your hand at a Legend of Zelda pasta! Hey, you remember that one ‘ben drowned’ pasta you read about a year ago? Well, let’s write that again, but with all grammar or decent writing absent! I’m sure it’ll get thousands of upvotes! (read: downvotes)
>Something a bit more obscure? Why not? You could be contributing to the large amount of stories that only make sense to a small, unknown group of people! A scary story… about lawyers? Farming? Why? Why the hell not?

Wow, that took a while! Time for deciding the name of the pasta! This is nice and simple!

[GAME NAME]: [DESCRIPTIVE WORD] [WORD RELATING TO THE PASTA]

Sounds relatively simple! Let’s try it out a bit!
Pokemon: Bloodied Diamond
Minecraft: Curse of Herobrine
Ace Attorney: The Demonic Testimony

Do you like those names? I like those names. Let’s move on!

Of course, your main character has to get their game in some way. What’s that? Introducing the character? No, no, no, no, no. You’re doing it all wrong.
>”I got it from a garage sale/market sale/yard sale” – The oldest and best one in the book. If 99% of people write it this way, then it can’t possibly be bad, can it?
>”Some shady guy/girl/being of unidentifiable gender gave it to me” – Sometimes, we just want to skip the boring introduction and get straight to the action, and there’s no better way to do it than this.
>”I downloaded it online” – Who goes to garage sales anymore? Keep up with the times with this new, hip trend!

Moving on to step number three – of course, because this is a creepypasta, the game has to be haunted, right? But what’s it going to do?
>Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary – because hey, if you put in no effort here, you can use that effort later, right? That’s how it works, isn’t it? Right? Right?!
>A couple of graphical glitches – because nothing makes your viewers tremble more than the screen flickering a little or some colours changed. This is a true fact.
>Noises. – More specifically, weird noises. Glitchy sounds. Muffled screaming. The usual.
Okay, those are some basic ones, but why not step it up? Add some blood! Lots of blood! Also, make sure to use some of these words at least three times in the story…
>Hyper-realistic
>Bloody
>Demonic
>Ghostly
>Scary
Alright, we’ve got some scary shit going on, but if the main character ran away now, the pasta would stop half-way, right? Let’s choose an excuse for them to stay around.
>”I thought it was just a glitch”
>”I thought it was just a glitch”
>”I thought it was just a glitch”
Just kidding. You get no choice on this one. Trust me, this is for the better.
Alright, now just fill in the rest of the story using more glitches (as always, consider adding more blood and hyper-realism to your story), until WHAM! Something really scary happens! This can be anything – hell, it doesn’t have to be scary. Just as long as your main character responds fittingly. Or, alternatively, not-so-fittingly.
How will your protagonist respond to the sheer creepiness? How will this story meet its conclusion?
>Throw their console out – Destroy their DS! Pulverise their Playstation! Erm, throw a TV out the window? Whatever. It works.
>AND THEN THE PROTAG DIED – Dead things are creepy. People dying are creepy. Why not kill off the protagonist? I’m sure that, with the large amount of characterization we gave them earlier, it will really shock the readers. Honest.
>YOU’RE NEXT – Did you know that all creepypasta readers have a constant fear that there’s a monster behind them? Use this to your advantage? Everyone’s terrified of walls!

Alright, now we have the main story and –
Oh?
Did you think that was finished?
Oh no, this is the fun part. Now we add some… er… personality to your story. And by ‘personality’, I mean ‘bad writing skills’. I mean, let’s face it, nobody really misses punctuation. I sure don’t.
Choose one of the following typing quirks – I mean, writing styles.
>capital letters. get rid of all your capital letters. no-one likes them at all. too old fashioned.
>WHY NOT HAVE LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS? BE NEW AND DANGEROUS. MAKE YOUR ENTIR STORY CAPITAL LETTERS. (Obviously, don’t use this one with the previous one.)
>Make Every Capital Letter Refined And Pronounced. This Makes You Seem Posh And Smart.
And at least one of these. You can have more, if you want to be EXTREME.
>Motherfucker, let’s get some fucking swears up in here. Swears are bitchin’ as shit. It makes you sound fuckin’ hip and cool. Fuck yeah.
>No punctuation ever at all because seriously having things just constantly flow is so much easier and better in every way wow
>Waht if you where unabel to spel things right? Sonds fun!
———————
Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’ve most likely just finished writing your first video game pasta! Now just publish your beautiful (read: horrendous) story (read: crap heap), and watch it get thousands of upvotes (read: downvotes) like it deserves! Good luck!

Credit To – Yu “The Operator” Meigns

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 8.8/10 (256 votes cast)
LineWhatsAppTumblrFacebookTwitterRedditPinterestGoogle GmailGoogle+StumbleUponShare

Succession Of Nightmares

August 8, 2012 at 12:00 AM
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 8.2/10 (565 votes cast)

Nightmares.

We all have them, one time or another.

Everything has a dark side, our dreams were meant to be a place of jubilation, and contain our most wonderful fantasies.

This is kinda like an award. Some of us work our asses off all day long, and then come home to a nice cozy bed. Sleep by itself is a nice gift for our turmoils, but dreams make sleeping hard for us to want to wake up sometimes.

But there is of course a darkside…there is always a darkside.

Nightmares have a certain way of creeping up on us when we don’t want them to…its almost like they know…

Some may say that nightmares are our own fault. Watching scary movies, or reading scary stories can fuel our nightmares.

But….what if there are things out there…that can control our dreams?

What if there are beings who can purposely give us nightmares.

What if these things are there to drive us insane…to the point where we want to sleep forever.

Now is when I tell you about my nightmares…

A couple weeks ago I started to get really into reading creepy stories. All humans have this certain want of excitement…but sometimes we take it way to far. You know what I’m talking about. Surfing videos on the internet late at night, reading creepy stories, or making our own stories.

You know how it works. You sit there, tired in front of your computer. The room is dark, the voices in your head are telling you to shut off the computer and finally get some fucking sleep. But then it happens. You find a video that has a creepy description. Perhaps a video about a ghost encounter, or a video of aliens.

This is how my nightmares started.

My friend Zack has a youtube account where he plays video games and gives them commentary. You know, a “Let’s Play.”

But one day he decided to do something different. He narrated a story off of a website called “creepypasta.com.”

I have heard of this somewhere, I know I have. Its hard to surf the interent for so many years and not hear about something so popular.

He told a story of a man called “Slender Man.” Now I had obviously heard of this character. I’ve seen the MarbleHornets videos, and I’ve seen the fan art, and the so called “pictures.”

The story was interesting, and it made me want to read more, so I did.

Within a few days, I had read all the populare stories that this website had to offer. “Squidward Suicide” “Ben Drowned” “Dead Bart” “Jeff: The Killer” “The Tails Doll” “Smile Dog” And all the Pokemon hacks.

These stories…they give you a feeling of terror. You start to notice all the small things around you, all the creaks and moans. You look over your shoulder and think you see a shadow of some sort. Nothing…huh…silly you.

You finally get the courage to go to sleep, and then you start to understand the position you just put yourself in.

I understood what I was doing to myself…but I didn’t stop.

I saw them all…I saw all the creatures from those stories in my dreams.

I saw the Smile Dog try to make me spread the word…I saw Jeff telling me to go to sleep…Squidward staring at me with his bloodshot eyes…

Jerking myself awake everytime I encountered one of these freaks got old real fast.

But then, the nightmares begin to get so much more real.

No longer was I imagining the characters from the stories…but now…my nightmares were taking their own shape. Contorting themselves to make me even more uncomfortable.

One night, I was laying soundly in my bed. It was almost like an out of body experience. You see, I had a bird’s-eye view of myself. It was as if I was laying on the ceiling. I was laying on top of the covers, and my eyes were closed. I must note that I was not breathing. No snoring, no indication of my stomach rising and lowering. In fact, I was utterly motionless.

My room was pitch black as it usually is when I fall asleep, but I could see myself perfectly. Its as if I had some type of night vision, but it wasn’t all green and shit like it usually is.

Then my eyes shot wide open. It startled me a bit. I just stared up at the ceiling. It seemed as if he was looking at me, like I really was on the ceiling.

A drop fell…a ruby colored drop of blood fell onto my face. Then another…and another…and another…
The drops began to fall slow, but then they picked up speed, similiar to when rain begins to fall.

The version of myself laying on my bed then begins to smile. The blood soaks his teeth, and started to drip into his eyes. But he did not blink or close his mouth. Just let the blood fall on him.

Suddenly, the view switched to me being on the ceiling. Now I was the one laying on the bed.

On the ceiling…was a bloody, mangled, wounded version of me. My eyes were missing, and my teeth were missing as well. But I had the same smile as the version of myself on the bed.

My hands and legs were pinned to the ceiling…almost…as if I was being crucified.

Then the view began to slowly zoom in on my face. Blood still fell, and my view was being distorted. I wanted to see what was going to happen, so I tried my best to see. The view then zoomed in on my face at an alarming rate, and then I spoke.

“I am your God now.”

I woke up. Breathing fast and hard. I felt paralyzed, like I was stuck.

I felt liquid around me. Did I really just piss the bed from this nightmare? Or….or was it blood? I quickly jumped up and found out that I had knocked over a cup of tea in my sleep, and I was laying in it.

Sometimes when I have dreams I feel as if the interactions of objects in the real world affect my dream. In one dream I was being stabbed repeatedly in the arm, and I could actually kinda feel it. I awoke to my friend obnoxiously poking me in the arm with a pen. I thought that him poking me in the arm made the stabbing from the nightmare be all the more real.

Since dreams and nightmares are derived from our brains, we can experience things in our dreams that seem real. When you eat something, you can taste it. This is because you remember how the object tasted.

This dream made me not want to sleep anymore that night, so I didn’t.

But that wasn’t the end.

I had this same nightmare over and over again for a few days. Happening the same way everytime. There wasn’t anything I could do. I couldn’t change the dream even if I wanted to.

This nightmare scared me everytime. You think I would have got use to it…but I didn’t.

I began to think about ways I could avoid this nightmare. This was my first thought.

I can’t remember ever having a nightmare while I was napping during the day. So my frist plan was to sleep during the day, and stay up during the night. Hopefully this would work.

First day, no nightmare. I was relieved. I thought that I had found the solution. I had no problem sleeping during the day, I didn’t sleep much as it was already.

Second day, my plan failed. The same nightmare happened again, but this time. There was no smiling from the body on the ceiling…actually…there were no emotions at all. My head was missing…more blood fell quickly this time making the dream end faster. My body laying on the bed looked down, and my decapitated head was laying in my lap. And it was smiling.

I’m pissed now. What, I just can’t fucking sleep anymore? Fine, I won’t. I’ll stay awake! Yes, that will work. I’ll stay awake until I pass out from exhaustion. I won’t encounter the nightmare unless I absolutely have to!

I wrote this…quite a while ago…back when the nightmares first started. It’s been about a week since I decided I wasn’t going to sleep.

I’m so tired…I don’t think I can stay awake anymore. My bed…sounds so heavenly right now. I guess my plan didn’t work how I thought it would…

I’m going to go to bed now…I think I could stay up for a few more hours but…I don’t want to.

I want to see my smile…I want to see my bloody body hang from the ceiling…It sounds so interesting to me now…Oh how that blood felt so refreshing cascading on my face.

I have a bottle of pills…extra strength…I’m going to take them all with some alcohol…

I don’t want to be awake anymore. I’ve been awake for a couple days…and I now realize how horrifying it is.

I’m seeing all those creepypasta characters in real life now…I’ve gone completely fucking insane.

I know they won’t be there in my dream…they were never there before.

I’ll sleep forever…so I can look and smile at my God for the rest of days.

I just swallowed the pills…I’m going to have a quick drink, then I’m going to bed.

Why not join me?

It will be your God soon enough.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 8.2/10 (565 votes cast)
LineWhatsAppTumblrFacebookTwitterRedditPinterestGoogle GmailGoogle+StumbleUponShare

Rising Tides

May 27, 2016 at 12:00 AM
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 6.0/10 (114 votes cast)

Rising Tides:
Written in the Style of M.R. James
By J. Bailey-Hartsel

Some time ago, I was asked by several former colleagues to tell them a ghost story. We had gathered for an evening of socializing, a small group of academics from my department at a small but formerly respectable liberal arts university in West Central Wisconsin. As such evenings go when a group of academics cluster around a table for a satisfying meal, we had been drinking wine and discussing the sad state of affairs in contemporary trends in education, literature and film. I will spare you the details of the conversation – people in my profession seem to feel they need to use all the words they know in the course of conversation, and department meetings with those of my ilk can run far longer than is truly necessary.

Suffice to say for the purposes of what I am about to relate to you, eventually the conversation took a darker turn – perhaps due to the season, as we were approaching the end of October. An associate professor I knew slightly began to bemoan the dearth of truly frightening narratives that had been a hallmark of the Romantic period. There were no longer Gothic tales regaling the reader of “things that go bump in the night”; no gloomy mysteries, no startling specters, no malicious supernatural forces imposing themselves upon sympathetic characters naïve in the darker dealings of death (as are all we the living truly naïve of such things).

I had been silent for some time (an unusual thing for an academic, but then I was known by my colleagues to be a person of quieter contemplations), when our newly elected Chair of the department asked me whether I knew of any truly frightening stories. In fact, I did, and due to perhaps one half glass of cabernet sauvignon too many, dared to say as much. All eyes turned to me.

“Tell us,” urged the bombastic professor to my right, a gentleman of considerable letters from an East Coast Ivy League college. “Is someone writing frightening fiction that I have not yet heard about?” His tone indicated that he found this fact rather difficult to believe. If that indeed was the case, he would be further disbelieving of the tale I could relate to the roundtable of academics before me.

“Not written,” I said slowly, tracing the rim of my wine glass with the tip of my finger, “something that was related to me this summer whilst on vacation.”

“Oh my,” chortled the Ivy Leaguer, “a real ghost story?” He glanced about the table, looking for matched reactions to my admission, and several faculty members, though not all, joined in with his forced mirth. For my part, I half-smiled and replied, “but aren’t all stories somewhat real? Certainly authors of such tales have some autobiographical reason to engage in such wild narratives.”

“Indeed,” replied the Chair, smiling at me in an encouraging way. “I’m very interested to hear what you have to say.” And so I told them, as I am about to tell you, the story of two naïve characters and their dogs.

*****

I had returned to this beach on Wisconsin’s only peninsula for nearly 20 years. I rent the larger of three cottages on a quiet, narrow, lake side road each season in August. The cottage is simple and self-catering, and despite the sand carried in inevitably from the beach, is always clean and comfortable. However, last summer the cabin I normally rented was undergoing renovations to the roof and was unavailable for renting. In lieu of staying in the cottage I’d grown to love for it’s solitude, I opted to rent the smallest of the three for my fortnight stay.

The Firefly (for that was the name of the cabin) had always been visible to me from the west side of my usual rental. A one room cottage with a tiny kitchen and even tinier lavatory, it was nonetheless a pleasant place with a comfortable double bed, a picnic table in lieu of a dining table, and a small, working stone fireplace for colder nights. The décor was as rustic as the cottage. The furniture sported faded plaids, the windows red and white gingham check curtains and old photographs of the lake adorned the walls. One piece, however, stood out from the rest; the wall opposite the view of Lake Michigan held a round, convex and grotesquely ornate mirror, far too ripe with gilded vines and three chubby cherubs holding bows and arrows. The mirror hung from a ribbon of faded red velvet ribbon tied in a bow which draped either side of the glass, which was dark in places where the silver had warped and worn off the back. The owner, in handing me the key, stood to look at it with me.

“It’s ghastly, isn’t it?” she remarked, without a smile on her face. “We don’t know how it got here. A woman renting the cottage during my father’s time found it in the storm cellar, apparently.” Then she turned to me with a curious expression on her face and asked, “… do you like ghost stories?”

I was startled by the question which arose seemingly from nowhere, but replied that in my profession I could never turn down a good story, ghost stories (usually quite disappointing) notwithstanding. I retrieved a bottle of wine and we sat at the small picnic table, where she told me the following tale.

The cottages I had rented for nearly two decades were built near the turn of the century by the current owner’s grandfather and father. As a child, the woman’s father told her the cottages were built on top of an Indian burial site. She had grown up happily in the cottage that stood before a dense wood, had learned to swim in the lake, ride a bicycle on the narrow lane that separated the cottages from beach. Her father rented the two other cottages – the one in which I usually passed two weeks in August, and the other in which the owner and I were sitting. One year, when she was sixteen, a woman, newly widowed, came to spend a quite few weeks by the lake to calm and ready herself for a life alone. She brought with her as company her small dog – a Pekinese or some such thing – named Francesca. The dog was affectionate and adored her mistress, who in turn bestowed such fondness upon the tiny creature it was obvious that she had never had children of her own. To occupy her mind, she had determined to teach her small companion to swim in the lake. It was her to leash Francesca and draw her out further and further into the waters, until finally, with patience, the tiny dog would paddle happily around with her owner.

On her second night in the cottage, the sky broke open with incredible power, and the storm forced her to retreat to a small storm cellar which one accessed through at the back of the house with her dog. Whilst waiting out the storm with Francesca panting softly on her knees and only a kerosene lamp for light, the woman took stock of her surroundings. The cellar was dank and smelled of lake and must. Cobwebs hung thickly from the beams across the ceiling. Along with the old chair in which she sat, there were shelves stacked against one wall, a crate full of old, dusty children’s books and an item wrapped in a moth-eaten blanket leaning against the wall behind the stairs upon which she had descended. The woman set the dog on the dirt floor and more than the sake of boredom than curiosity, began to unwrap the dusty, decaying blanket using only two delicate fingertips. Outside, the storm gained strength and howled against the horizontal storm doors overhead. In the cellar, Francesca began to bark furiously as the blanket dropped away to reveal the same grossly overwrought mirror hanging now in the small cottage I’d rented.

Perhaps owing to the tastes of the time, or perhaps revealing a lapse of taste on the part of the widow, she opted to bring the mirror above ground and into the cottage once the storm had carried itself away. She retrieved a long red velvet ribbon from her cases, secured it to the mirror and hung the thing exactly where it still remains to this day. No dared move it following the events of that long ago August, and so it has been allowed to offend those with more tasteful sensibilities unabated; but since that fateful summer the mirror has apparently reflected nothing more than a strangely warped and blotchy view the rest of the cottage and the parcel of beach that can be seen through the building’s large front windows.

The owner of the cottages fell silent for a bit, until, thinking she’d lost her train of thought, I prompted her to continue. “If you’re suggesting that the mirror played some part in a tragedy,” I said at length, “I can hardly accept this on faith. It isn’t pleasant to look at, certainly, but that does not incriminate the object as having committed some sort of crime.”

The woman looked at me with some surprise. “Oh, it isn’t the mirror itself that is the issue,” she said slowly, as if explaining her story to a child, “It’s what appeared in the mirror that caused the – shall we say, “event”? – to occur.” Then she lapsed again into silence, glancing at the mirror from the corners of her eyes.

“And what precisely did the mirror reflect?” I asked more out of courtesy than curiosity. It was getting late and I had yet to have eaten my midday meal, and was anxious that she complete her story in a timely matter so that I could boil myself an egg or two and have my evening meal in comfortable solitude.

“Well, that’s just it,” the woman responded. “It didn’t reflect anything. It… well, it created an image, if you will. An image of a young man and a dog, walking in from the lake. My great-uncle, to be precise. Or at least, that’s what we were led to understand. It was, however, quite impossible that his image should appear. He and his dog drowned just after the turn of the century when he was just sixteen years old. They both died. Out there.” She turned and nodded toward the lake. “Just off the end of the canal where the lighthouse now stands. His little skiff went down in a storm.”

“I’m sorry, I’m afraid I don’t understand – how could this woman assume it was your great uncle she’d seen? It could have been anyone, with any dog. Or her own imagination.”

“No, no,” the woman said, and reached across the table and laid her hand on my arm, looking intently into my eyes. “No, she saw him. She described both him and the dog precisely – my father showed her a photograph and she nearly fainted. No, it was him. Come back from the other side some forty years after his death with his dog at his side.”

The morning following the storm, the widow awakened to the sounds of workmen in the yard. She dressed lightly in her swimming gear, preparing for a humid summer day and anticipating the cool waters of a lake reflecting a passively blue sky up to the horizon. She wandered outside with her usual morning cup of Earl Grey to survey the damage. Branches lay strewn across the grounds of the small cabin, and the workmen were busy at work dismembering the desiccated trunk of a long-dead blue spruce that had fallen dangerously close to the Firefly’s front door.

As she stepped daintily around the fallen bracken strewn across the small grass yard, the workmen glanced appreciatively at the woman carrying her small dog in her arms. She was comely for her age, with soft, lightly lined pale skin, blonde hair and blue eyes that belied her Scandinavian roots. A tall and gracile woman, she carried herself with refinement and innate dignity but also with an openness of expression that indicated a woman who may have become used to the finer things of life without losing an instinctive gentleness of spirit that was the hallmark of her personality.

The foreman of the crew at work pushed his slouchy hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead with a red neckerchief. He held out a hand to help the lovely woman step over a fallen branch. “Mind the undertow, Ma’am,” he offered gallantly as she glided toward the beach with Francesca. “The lake is always a bit rough following a storm.” She smiled at him beautifully and thanked him with a slight and endearing nod, and continued on her way.

The beach grass swayed benignly against her ankles as she made her way through a soft dune to the rain-mottled beach, Francesca trotting happily beside her. They paused, the woman looking daintily away, whilst Francesca completed her morning business, then continued to the lake. The water lapped delicately at her feet whilst Francesca lapped delicately at the water. The lake beckoned, promising cool weightlessness, a floating and forgiving weightlessness free of the crashing weather from the night before. She moved further out into the waves which swayed against her ankles, then her calves, her knees and her finely muscled upper legs. Francesca, holding tightly at the far end of her leash, whimpered anxiously and paced back and forth with taught nervousness, wanting to be closer to her mistress but showing a marked resistance to the waters which seemed to draw the woman further and further out. The little dog sat on her haunches and panted as the woman, turning her back to the lake, pulled finally against the long lead. Francesca rose slightly, setting her surprisingly strong hind legs in resistance to the tugs. The widow tugged harder. Francesca resisted further, twisting her little neck and head against the pressure of her collar and.

“Come on, Francesca,” the woman called in deliberate soothing tones, assuring the small creature that all was well. The water swelled against the back of her thighs, forcing her to take a small and involuntary step back toward the beach. The leash loosened slightly and the little dog sat back down, her pink tongue pulsing with her pants. “’Cesca!” the woman finally called in sharper tones which were styled with the intention of a command which was not to be ignored. “Come!” The little dog clutched the beach sand deeper with damp paws and stood suddenly, barking madly. “Come here!” the woman ordered again, and was about to pull the leash far more firmly when suddenly a rogue wave which had been rising steadily behind her struck fast against the beautiful woman’s finely sculpted back and powerfully pushed her off her feet, forcing the breath out of her.

Francesca, the beach, the dune grass, the sky, the clouds, and the workers in the small yard disappeared suddenly as the widow was thrown forward and thrust beneath the waves of the first watery onslaught. The sounds of birds, the breeze, the workers dispatching the fallen branches and the small dog barking its warning were replaced with the muffled, subsurface roar of Lake Michigan recovering from the previous evenings severe storm.

Her footing gone, the woman suddenly found the sand floor of the lake beneath her hands and clutched at it helplessly before her body acted of its own accord. Her arms pushed firmly against the sand beneath her hands and tried to force her body upwards toward sunlight and air. Her face broke the surface and she managed one grateful gasp that partially filled her lungs. Her feet scrambled against the sand beneath her and she fought for her footing before the second wave suddenly crashed overhead and forced her back down beneath the waters.

Then, the undertow found her. She felt herself pushed forward and then sucked backwards with sudden force. The water seethed against her ears, filled her nose and then tossed her helplessly upward. Briefly, she saw the sky. She saw a confused blur of normal life continuing without her – workers hacking away at fallen limbs, birds calling sweetly, the breeze blowing her dog’s furious barking back toward her cottage – before another wave tossed her hopelessly forward, under and then back toward the lake’s distant horizon once again.

In a confused moment, the undertow felt like fingers clutching her ankles, her calves, her waist, her shoulders. Safety was either above her or beneath her – she couldn’t be sure. The strains of surface waters moving in opposite directions of the deep beneath it tossed her like a small stone. She felt the pressure of the lake pushing against her chest, filling her ears and nostrils. She felt the air moving upwards and out of her mouth, and the metallic taste of lake water and fish moved with oily slowness against her tongue. She struggled for what felt like an endlessly long moment against the waves, struggling to get footing against sand which slid infuriatingly away from her toes with every second that passed.

Suddenly, fingers stronger than the undertow that sought to draw her out to see grasped her upper arms. She felt hands beneath her arms and arms encircling her waist. She felt herself drawn suddenly and sharply forward and up as two men drew her up out of the water and her lungs burned as oxygen flooded her body. Lunging forward, the two workers who had finally turned at the furious sounds of barking and had seen her struggles dragged the widow out of the lake and up into calmer and shallower waters. All three fell against the shore gasping and crawling toward the other workers who had dropped their axes and saws rushed forward to help them all out of the lake.

On her knees, her hands gratefully gripping solid land, the woman vomited weak streams of lake water which ran from her lungs and up her throat to pour out her mouth and nose onto the wet sands beneath her. The widow was distantly aware of shouting, calling, asking her questions. She felt the warm, soft tongue of Francesca against her face, and pulled the trembling dog close in her arms, the damp leash tangling around her wrists and the dog’s fur hot against her hands. Opening her eyes finally, still panting and coughing for plentiful air, she looked up at the beach, the trees blowing in the summer breeze, the workers still rushing forward to help, the clouds like soft white sleep against the sky, and then blissful darkness.

The widow spent the rest of that day lying in beautifully artistic repose against soft pillows in her cottage’s double feather bed, Francesca sleeping peacefully curled beneath her mistresses’ right arm. She was gloriously pale, which only served to accent the blue of her eyes and dusky pink lips. She was a gracious and elegant invalid, nearly regal in the way she received visitors who either expressed sincere regrets and brought nourishing soups, or visitors who merely wanted to take some small part in the near-drama that had occurred just off the beach on the small, private road that shared a narrow and sandy earthly space with Lake Michigan.

Once the respectable time for sick-bed visits to occur had ended, the woman rose slowly, disturbing (however stylishly) her small dog’s slumber, and went to survey the damage to her beautiful face and her long, blonde hair which had curled prettily from the lake waters and the day’s humidity. She stood before the grotesque mirror she had retrieved from the storm cellar and slowly wound her hair into a soft coif atop the crown of her finely formed head. She glanced away for a moment to locate several bobby-pins, and when she looked up again she gasped in astonishment, her eyes wide and frightened. There, in the mirror, were two shadowy and indistinct figures moving forward from what appeared to be some distance like mirages that appear above hot sands, their outlines shimmered slightly at the edges, making them appear as ghastly shape shifters must to superstitious people who believed in things such as vampyres and werewolves, ghosts and daemons. The first figure was human in form, the second much shorter, reaching only to its companion’s waist (if such atrocities sported waists) and appeared to be crawling on all fours.

Alarmed, she spun round, one hand still securing her hair atop her head, the other holding out a u-shaped bobby-pin as if it were an effective weapon against anything other than stray locks.

There was nothing behind her. Slowly, her breath and body trembling, she turned back to the mirror and saw her own eyes staring back at her in wild alarm. And there, on the right hand side of the glass, was simply reflected the candlelight room, the front windows framing an evening sky, the lake beyond washing purple in the dying light of day.

With shaking fingers, she bravely arranged her hair with careful precision, smoothed her lace robe and pinched her cheeks to bring color to her face all whilst staring wide-eyed at her reflection in the fearsome mirror. The candlelight played garishly upon the surface of the gild covering the leaves and figures on the overwrought frame. The cherubs appeared to smirk with mordant humor, pointing poison-tipped arrows into the glasses’ depths and aimed directly at her heart. She backed slowly away from the mirror, the candlelight forming attractive hollows in her face, making her cheekbones stand out and her startled blue eyes to spark in the fading light. Francesca whined for attention and dinner, breaking the woman’s fascination with the mirror and gave her something else to focus on besides her strange hallucination. Nonetheless, when she went to bed that night she sat with her back against the headboard, her knees and blankets drawn up, her little dog cuddled protectively in her arms. She sat as such for hours until the extraordinarily stressful day finally exhausted her once again, and she slept fitfully until dawn.

The next morning dawned clean, cool and damp. The Widow woke as the very fingertips of light found their way from the horizon across the lake, along the beach and up across to smudge themselves along the woman’s face. She could hear the faint “shush” of a gentle surf at a distance, and turned on her side restlessly before finally opening her eyes. Accustomed as she was to having Francesca curled in upon herself atop a tufted, violet-velvet pillow the Widow kept on the mattress next to her, she was startled to find the dog’s cushion empty. She raised herself on one elbow.

“’Cesca?” She waited. There were no sounds of tiny nails scrabbling along the cabin’s wood floor, no soft jingle of the dog’s nametag playing against her collar hook. “Francesca!” the Widow called out rather more loudly than she expected to, and she sat up fully in bed, slightly wild-eyed, the fears of the evening before still gripping her imagination.

A soft, groaning exhale came from low beneath the foot of the bed. Gathering the skirts of her white cotton nightgown around her legs, the Widow crept slowly forward on the mattress on all fours, trembling, and then cautiously peered over the bed’s edge. Her mind manufactured all sundry of horrible sights – Francesca bloody and mauled, Francesca fighting for her breath, Francesca in the grips of some wild animal that had found its way in during the night – in all scenarios, Francesca at the foot of the bed, fighting for her life.

But there Francesca sat quite still and upright on the floor between the bed and the fireplace, staring fixedly up at the gaudy gilt mirror. “Bad girl,” the Widow exhaled without any heat nor anger. “Didn’t you hear me calling you?” Francesca didn’t seem to hear her at all, in fact, but sat rigid, slightly shaking with some sort of internal intensity, her little eyes fixed on the mirror over the fireplace mantel.
With growing apprehension, the Widow found herself raising her eyes to the mirror.

The glass glowed with the reflective glory of a beautiful dawn. The sun, giant on the horizon, burned brilliantly, throwing up flames of orange, red and gold toward the sky and across the lake to the beach. The waters of Lake Michigan lay quietly in its bed this fine morning and blushed softly with the mirrored magnificence of the sunrise, as if embarrassed by its behavior of the previous day. A bevy of early morning fishing boats seeking the best catches steamed out from the canal and passed by as shadows all along the horizon. In the middle distance, an early morning swimmer emerged slowly from the waves toward shore. A soft breeze tossed the dune grasses gently, shaking early day dew from the blades of green and amber, and drawing brief but diamond sparkling sun showers from the leaves of Quaking Aspens.

Daybreak has a magical ability to chase away night terrors. All things that habitually skulked through the dark of night vanished in the face of the sun. The Widow stood transfixed at the mirror, watching life resume its business with seemingly no sense of any scars of fright one may have incurred the night before. It calmed her, filled with both hope and a sense of wellbeing that comes when a dark fear goes unrealized and renders itself ridiculous in the light of day. She stood next to her dog, both gazing at the mirror, watching the swimmer emerge slowly from the surf. Backlit by the light, the silhouetted swimmer appeared to be towing something at the end of a rope. The closer it came to shore, the more it became obvious the swimmer was a boy or a young girl, thin and athletic in outline, the rope a tight line between it’s hand and whatever was tethered to it. Enthralled by the idyll before her, the Widow watched the reflection of boats passing peacefully into the distance as the sun rose higher, the light now touching the horizon with the briefest of kisses. The swimmer had won the shore, and paused on the beach to allow what was now obviously a dog to vigorously shake the waters from its fur.

Francesca growled softly, her brown eyes wide, her body trembling with stress. The Widow, too engaged in the pastoral before her to notice, followed the swimmer’s ascent from the water to the beach, from the beach through the dune grasses, past the Quaking Aspens and toward the road. The little dog’s growls became low yips which quickly turned to a salvo of frantic yelping. The dog then leaped to its feet to brace herself against the ferocity of her own barking.

Broken from her reverie, the Widow turned her head to frown at the little dog for the briefest of moments, annoyed that her pygmy companion had broken her blissful morning reverie. Then, turning instinctively back toward the mirror in which lay a likeness of peace and tranquility, she felt her breath stop in her throat and her heart leap violently. Reflected in the mirror was the front room of the cabin, framing within it the door to the place. Just outside the door on the stone step, both dripping with lake water, were the shadowy figures of a young man and his dog. Staring in horror, knowing somewhere deep in her bones that there was no way the early swimmer could have breached the distance between shore and door in a mere moment, she watched in horror as the boy raised a spectral hand to knock and acquire entrance into the cabin. Reeling about in fear and confusion, Francesca’s warning barks echoing in her ears, the woman’s gaze swung to the front door.

There was no one there. Just the empty front step, beyond that the tiny road, the dune grasses, the Quaking Aspens, the beach, the lake, the fading glory of a dying dawn that heralds the burning promise of a bright day, and the fishing boats slipping into invisibility beyond the horizon as if they had never existed.

Bending down with trembling hands the Widow pulled Francesca up into her arms and backed away around the edge of the bed, away from both the mirror and front door, and, sitting suddenly on the wooden floor, pushed herself against a far wall, between the bed and the dresser, her breath scraping as best it could from beneath her pounding heart. Francesca squirmed frantically in her mistress’ arms, pushing with whatever might a small dog has against the Widow’s chest and belly to be free. Finally freeing herself, the dog ran back around the end of the bed to stand and savagely snarl and bark at the mirror.

From her place on the floor, the woman stared in abject terror up at the ghastly mirror, grabbing with some vague but irrational instinct at her bedsheets. The shawl she wore to warm her shoulders when she read at night propped up against bed pillows fell with a soft, silky hiss into her lap. It had been a wedding gift from her husband, a man she had not truly loved but had endlessly respected. He’d proven himself a good man and a decent husband, had provided for her and had indulged his beautiful young wife with both wisdom and whim. The memory of him, coming unbidden, gave her some brief relief from her terror. Grasping her shawl with sudden firm resolute, the Widow forced herself to her feet and raced across the short distance from bed to wall to fling the shawl over the face of the mirror.

The small cabin was filled with a sudden, soft silence. Francesca, her barking instantly stopped with the veiling of the mirror, sat down once again with her tiny ears pricked and her small head cocked to one side as she gazed up at the Widow. Beyond the silence of her immediate surroundings, she heard once again the gentle passes of waves moving back and forth upon the shore and the rustle of leaves in the gentle breeze. She stood, panting, one place delicate hand pressed against her breast to stop the pounding of her heart, and waited for her mind to calm itself. She was only certain of one thing; she had to get out of the cabin and away from the veiled mirror. Perhaps another cabin in the small resort stood empty. Perhaps she could rapidly pack and leave her vacation early. Perhaps… perhaps….

First things first. She and Francesca needed to flee the small bungalow. The back door of the cabin through which she had escaped with Francesca the night of the storm was not reflected in the mirror, and therefore she considered it “safe.” She could dress, leash the dog, and escape quickly out that door without any fear of passing before the fireplace or the veiled mirror suspended above it.

Crawling on her hands and knees, she crept from her place beside the bed and into the small kitchen, then reached up, unlatched and opened the inner door, then hesitated. Francesca had run off twice before since the Widow had owned her, and both occasions had been heart-rendering until the little dog was back in her arms. Knowing the dog would run out at any opportunity afforded it, the Widow allowed the screen door to remain latched at the last moment. She then turned about, still on all fours, and crawled back to the comparative safety of the narrow space between bed and dresser.

Rising slowly, shakily, she yanked open drawers and dove her hands into the dresser, dressing herself hurriedly and with much less care than she generally prepared herself for any given day. She donned a top that didn’t quite match the skirt she’d yanked from a drawer. She buttoned the blouse rapidly, wrongly, and found herself nearly rending buttons from the cotton fabric in trying to get the thing on correctly. Finally, she drew on slippers rather than her shoes which were lying further away, and reached behind herself for Francesca’s leash, which she every night she hung on a peg near the top of the bed.

It wasn’t there.

Appalled, her breath escaped in one giant rush and, dizzy, she dropped instantly to her knees. Panting, her heart still throbbing painfully, she nervously looked beneath the bed only to find fine balls of dust and a pen that had dropped from the nightstand and rolled against the wall. She frantically searched beneath and behind the nightstand nearest her, then rose and frantically tore the blankets from the bed, sent clothes from dresser drawers flying, cast about helplessly on the floor beneath the dresser and under the blanket chest. Nothing. Raising herself to a kneeling position, she cast a furtive glance toward the mirror.

And there it was. In her haste to cover the damnable thing, she had somehow tangled the leash in her shawl and had tossed both over the glass one and one together. The braided leather leash drooped where it had caught about the head of a chuckling cherub near the top of the frame toward the fireplace beneath it, the silver clasp dangling over the edge of the mantel.

There were most like at least half a dozen ways the Widow could have retrieved her pet and carried both it and herself to safety, but a mind in turmoil is a labyrinth of intellectual failings and loss of common sense. At this moment, everything depended upon the braided leash capped with a silver clasp dangling from the veiled mirror. Even the shawl, the very thing which had brought memories of her husband which had allowed her the strength to place a flimsy silk barrier between herself and the loss of her very sanity would have to remain behind. All she wanted was safe escape for herself and Francesca. And she would do anything for the tiny dog that had taken the place of all the children she would never have.

With aching slowness, the Widow crawled round the end of the bed and approached the fireplace. Francesca danced backwards a few steps then lowered her front legs and raised her back end in the air, thinking play was in the offering. Ignoring her dog for the moment, the Widow raised her hand up to the mantel which thankfully, from her low vantage point, hid the mirror from her view. Her fingers, reaching, found the silver clasp and then gripped it firmly. With a thankful sigh, the Widow pulled on the clasp to bring the leash down to the floor. A blissful few inches of the leash slipped further into her grasp, the stopped. She tugged. The leash held tight, caught firmly by the frame as if some fat, gilded baby held it tight in its chubby little hand.

The Widow’s eyes filled with tears. Wiping angrily at them with her free hand, the woman gave a single firm tug to try and free the leash from the clutches of the frame. The mirror, in response, leant dangerously forward. To pull any harder would most likely mean pulling the entirety of the heavy monstrosity down upon her head. Suddenly sobbing, the Widow turned and leant her back against the stone side of the fireplace, and gave herself over to sorrow.

It was not an emotion she was unused to. It arose in her soul from loss – the loss of her father at an early age. The loss of her mother’s attentions and affection as she watched her drift further into the dark grief of her own widowhood. The loss of a much loved betrothed in the Great War. The loss of one child, then another, before she was informed of her inability to ever bear a son or a daughter to full term. All those losses leading to a hardness within her which then sought comfort in more concrete terms – she had found solace, finally, in the good reputation of her husband and the money and prestige they afforded her through what she’d always considered a loveless marriage. She’d learned to find peace in a doting husband besotted with the beautiful girl who had agreed to marry him. She acquired a bounty of beautiful clothes, expensive jewels, and enjoyed (as much as she was able) epically long journeys to Europe, extravagant meals boasting flesh of fowel and beast and bounties from the sea and prided herself in the beautifully turned-out Victorian home which boasted more bedrooms than it could ever fill. All of them cold comforts, now. Now, faced with the terror before her, the fear of the immediate loss of her mind drove her deeper into darkness where she feared she would meet the spectre of her own mother in her darkest days – unwashed and unchanged for days, hair disheveled, eyes wild and wide and at the same time sightless to what was directly before her, the images her mother saw coming only from deep within the dark void that comprised her grief.

The image of her own mother’s unspeakable grief internal torture brought within her some steel of reserve to save herself from any more loss. She would not lose Francesca. She would not lose her own mind. She would not lose her will to live. She reached behind herself and pressed her hands against the solid stone of the fireplace. Pushing herself thus to her feet, she stood for a moment, still, straight backed and stern, facing away from the thing of her dread until her tears stopped. Those that remained she uncharacteristically wiped away on the sleeves of her blouse. Then she turned with fierce determination to face the veiled mirror, and then moved with glycerine slowness to pull the leash down from its height.

The shawl she had cast over it was billowing as curtains hung before an open window on a breezy day. From behind the blowing veil she could hear the surf Lake Michigan, louder than it should have been given her albeit short distance to the thing itself. She could smell the fishiness lakeness in the breeze as it blustered out from the mirror. She could feel its breath upon her face, feel it blow back the auburn curls of her hair. But steeled as she was against Loss, she nonetheless reached out away from her fear and sought to pull the leash from the mirror’s frame.

The breeze from the mirror lifted a corner of her shawl, and as she reached out toward the thing, she glimpsed for the merest moment a hand likewise reaching out for her. Before she could react, the hand left the confines of the mirror and reached into her reality, where it gripped her wrist firmly, then grappled hungrily for her forearm where it wrapped it’s fingers tightly about her flesh and bone like a person will apply a deathly grip even to its rescuer to save itself from drowning. Francesca barked before shrieking once in fear or pain (or both), and then all was silence save for the soft , motherly “shush” of waves upon sand.

*****

I fell as silent as my colleagues gathered around the table with me. After a pause, my department chair asked, “…But is that all there is?” “Yes,” responded another colleague, “what happens next?” “Surely,” said another, “one cannot end a story there. What became of the woman? The mirror? The little dog, for God’s sake?”

“Ach,” said my bombastic male colleage, stabbing his fork into his dessert, “Chihuahas. If that’d been my dog, I’d have shot it in the pooper.”

“It wasn’t a Chihuaha,” someone corrected him, “it was a Pomeranian.” “No,” replied someone else, “a Toy Poodle.”

“Irrelevant!” my male colleague replied, downing the last quarter of his port in one gulp of gusto. “It was a dog. That is the fact. The type of dog is the fiction. All ghost stories contain more of the latter than the former.”

“But surely,” one of our newer faculty replied, “one must accept that all fiction contains within it at least kernels of reality. Should we not as academics at least consider that this story offered to us tonight,” here he nodded toward me, “carries with it at least the possibility of truth? Might it not be possible that things could happen?”

“Possible!” the bombastic male responded, “but not probable, my dear boy. You must learn that difference at once. Truth is not fiction, nor vice versa. Here are truths for you – dogs exist. Mirrors exist. Fragile females exist. Lake Michigan, most certainly, exists. The rest? …” and then he let his sentence trail off, waving his hand in the air as if he were shooing away at a noisome gnat.

After this brief exchange in relation to my tale, talk turned again to academia – to curriculums and assessments and quite dull things the likes of which I shall not bore you with here. I remained silent, drank my coffee and ate the remainder of a rather fine vanilla pumpkin custard that I had ordered for my own (shall we say “just”?) dessert.

Upon leaving, as I was buttoning my coat and chatting aimlessly with my Department Chair, she leaned forward suddenly and peered at my necklace. “Now, that’s a pretty thing,” she murmured. I wore a small, braided silver chain upon which hung a disk of beveled sterling with the initial “F” set in fine, pave diamonds. She took the disk between to fingers to admire it more closely.

“It was my great-aunt’s,” I told her, “left to me when she passed long before I was born. Her name was Finnula. I was named for her.” “Well,” my chair replied, tightening her scarf whilst staring at the pendant, “it’s beautiful. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.”

The first snow of the year had begun to fall whilst we were gathered at table. It’s not unusual for this part of the country to see frost and snow long before others ever do. I walked into the night and took a private moment at the corner to gather my thoughts. When it snows at night and one has the opportunity to look up at the sky from beneath a streetlight, it seems as though the sky does not exist and the snow falls from eternity itself. I thought about what I’d related at the table and also those things I did not relate. I thought about whether I regretted leaving out parts of the tale while embellishing other things to obscure what my colleagues considered, “Truth.”

Instinctively, from long practice, I gently took the pendant around my neck and set it inside my blouse, where it lay cold as ice, waiting to warm against my skin. My fingers slipped into the placket of my shirt, I traced the diamond “F” with my fingertip, glad I had not turned the pendant around. On the backside of the shiny silver disc is engraved in sweet scrollwork letters a single word: “Francesca.”

Credit: J. Bailey-Hartsel

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 6.0/10 (114 votes cast)
LineWhatsAppTumblrFacebookTwitterRedditPinterestGoogle GmailGoogle+StumbleUponShare

One For The Road

April 19, 2016 at 12:00 AM
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 8.7/10 (319 votes cast)

I woke to my friend, Tom, climbing through my window. It was a summer’s night, around 2AM, and the heat had been unbearable for days. For that reason I had left my window open slightly to let what cool air there was filter into my bedroom while I slept. It was a scrambling, panicked noise which brought me to consciousness and immediately I thought someone was breaking into my home. In the darkness I couldn’t tell who it was, but as soon as I heard ‘help me’, I recognised my friend’s voice.

After turning on the light I pulled Tom into the room and sat him down on my old brown armchair, which had seen better days.

‘Close the window!’ he seethed, half shout half whisper, and completely occupied by the nighttime scene outside. ‘Switch the light off’.

‘Why?’, I asked, confused and still half dazed.

‘It might see us’.

That word ‘it’ sat in my mind, distilled and unerring. I would have laughed if Tom hadn’t had such an unsettling look on his face. I’d never known him to be spooked by anything, and to see him so visibly shaken took me by surprise and filled me with trepidation. I switched off the light and my eyes adapted once more to the dark. Tom sat there with his head in his hands, the room lit dimly by the street lights outside filtering through the blinds.

‘What’s going on?’, I said.

‘You won’t believe me’. He looked up at me and, even in the low light, I could see the sweat running down his temple.

‘Tom, whatever it is, it’s okay’.

‘No, you don’t understand’.

‘Try me,’ I said. And with that, he relayed his story in a hushed, wavering voice.

*

Tom had been out that night, no surprise really as he always enjoyed a drink. In fact he enjoyed it too much, and his behaviour of late had been erratic at best, self-destructive at worst. He’d been at the Windarm Lodge, a small old-man’s pub near the town main street. I knew why he’d been there before he even told me. His ex-girlfriend, Shelley, worked there behind the bar. A month earlier she had broken up with him; she just couldn’t take his drinking anymore.

That night, Tom had dragged a mutual friend of ours, Greg, to the lodge, under the guise of ‘a couple of games of pool and just one drink’. Come midnight, as the pub closed, Tom had to be dragged from the bar by the manager and thrown out into the street. He’d been pleading with Shelley to have a drink with him when she finished her shift. When his simple question turned into a bitter demand, he was quickly ejected.

I knew what Tom was like when he had a drink in him, which was one of the reasons I’d refused to go out with him that night. He’d been increasingly argumentative and unpleasant. The break-up with Shelley had made him even worse. We were all trying to help him as best we could. I’m not painting a great picture of him, but when he was sober he was a thoughtful and caring person, and a good friend.

After staggering down a couple of streets and lanes, Tom produced a hip flask filled with whisky which he carried in his pocket, and asked Greg to join him for a few more drinks on the way home. Greg refused, no doubt already having had his fill, and so it wasn’t long before an argument broke out. Greg was just trying to help Tom up the road, but instead received drunken insults; Tom throwing around words he’d regret in the morning. After a few minutes of a verbal bashing, Greg gave up and made his own way home.

Tom staggered along the road and cursed Shelley, Greg, and the rest of the world for refusing to have another drink with him. There was nothing else for it but for Tom to drink alone. As he wandered along an empty street not far from where I live, the rain came on, slight at first then torrential; so heavy was the downpour in fact, that he was forced to take shelter and wait for it to pass.

It just so happened that the street he was on, Serling street, had its fair share of abandoned buildings, having once housed the workers of a now defunct factory. One house in particular had an old porch which encased the front doorway on either side and had a pointed roof, which provided just enough shelter for one drunken twenty-something during a downpour.

Tom climbed a small fence and staggered across the weed filled garden to the front door.I say the front door, but in reality it had long since been broken in, no doubt rotting somewhere inside the house alongside unseen floorboards, roof beams, and memories. No matter how drunk my friend was he had no intention of exploring inside. He just wanted somewhere to stay dry, and the porch would provide enough protection for that. And so he sat on the front step, angry and embittered, the rain for the most part being rebuffed by the porch roof above.

He waited there a while, looking out across the overgrown garden to the street beyond, the rain dancing off the tarmac. It seemed clear to Tom that he was going to be there for a while longer, and so, if all else fails — drink. There he sat taking increasingly longer slugs from the hip flask: it filled with cheap whisky and Tom filled with anger at the world, at Shelley, Greg, and everyone else who ‘didn’t understand’.

Now, Tom had a habit common to heavy drinkers. When he would get to the precipice and intoxicate most of his sober mind, he started to talk to himself; and that night, after the pub and a good portion of the hip flask, he began a conversation. He cursed his friends and family, his situation. He called Shelley a ‘whore’, and, beyond all else, he hated those around him for being so perfect and lecturing him on how to live his life. At least the drink wouldn’t turn its back on him. That was something he always said he could rely on.

The rain hadn’t abated, falling with the same ferocity as it had from the start, Tom’s words swallowed up by the white noise which blanketed everything around him. Finally, after another slug of whisky, he slumped against the cold rotting porch frame, closed his eyes and began to drift off to a drunken sleep. As he did so he mumbled once more about Greg and Shelley’s refusal to join him; that it was ‘just one drink for the road’.

It was then that Tom felt a drip of rain make its way through a crack above onto his forehead, and at the same time the weight of something uncomfortable prodding into his shoulder. As he opened his eyes he felt a warm, humid breeze flutter across his face, arid and stale, far removed from the air around him which pulsated with each sheet of rain.

‘I’ll drink with you’ a gravelled voice breathed into Tom’s ear.

He turned, startled and horrified by those words, only to be confronted by an unnatural, aberrant face which rested its pointed chin on his shoulder, its body poking out from the darkened doorway behind. The face was covered in dirt and grime as if it had spent decades beneath the earth, and had the shrouded appearance of ivory cloth pulled tightly over a withered frame, implying skeletal features beneath and showing every movement of jaw and bone.

There are some sights which will sober even the most inebriated drunk, and this was one of them. Tom dived forward, falling onto a slabbed garden path thinly concealed by weeds and soil. He screamed at the top of his voice, only to be drowned out by the torrential rain, its million voices engulfing his forsaken one. Clawing at the ground he rushed to his feet and leapt over the garden fence into the street. Then, on; on into the rain, into the night, away from that house, from whatever thing had been disturbed there.

Blood coursed through his veins as he fled, and his head began to ache excruciatingly from a potent cocktail of fear and alcohol. Gasping for breath, he stopped for a moment, now far away from the house at the other end of the street. He turned to look back, but it was difficult to see, the rain hurling itself into his eyes with such force that the scenery was blurred and indistinct.

Slowly, he calmed and entered into a sober dialogue with himself about having ‘drank too much’ and ‘just seeing things’. It was then that through the bubbling wall of rain he saw something move. A figure, shrouded in darkness and cloth climbed over the fence in pursuit. Tom wiped his eyes in disbelief as it began to run towards him at speed.

Panic, absolute and controlling. Tom turned, screaming, no one able to hear his pleas for help. He kept running. He left Serling street behind, and yet at every turn the shrouded thing from the house followed. Finally, he made it to the street where I live, and clambered through the window hoping to be saved.

**

I stood there in silence. He seemed so upset, so certain, that he even had me believing his story for a moment. But then what I saw as the truth presented itself.

‘Tom’, I said gently. ‘You’re bone dry’.

‘What? No, I’m…’, he stopped as he ran his hands over his clothes and then his hair.

‘There hasn’t been a drop of rain in weeks, and tonight has been just as still as the others’.

‘But…’ He hesitated for moment, shaking his head and rubbing his mouth with his hand. ‘No, I’m telling you. This happened. That thing is real’.

‘Tom, you’ve been drinking too much, and you probably fell asleep, and in a daze you made it here’. I placed my hand on his shoulder to reassure him. ‘Please, let’s get you home. Give me a minute to change my clothes and I’ll walk you there’.

As I moved across the room Tom pulled out his whisky flask and took a big slug. ‘Maybe you’re right. Just need to sleep it off’.

I turned to put the light on, but before I had a chance to, Tom let out an almighty scream. I have genuinely never heard anything like it. Utter fear, complete and distraught. He leapt to his feet, opened my window in hysteria, and then fled into the night.

***

Two months passed, and myself, Greg, Shelley, and our other friends who cared about Tom were unable to contact him. Indeed, the only reason I knew he was alive, and not drowned in a river somewhere, was because his brother assured me he had spoken to him.

Finally, one day, Tom appeared at my front door looking in as good a shape as I had seen him in a long time. He claimed that he had in fact went through an alcohol rehabilitation program which, while he still struggled with an urge to drink, had kept him sober for several weeks. He said that the tipping point, his lowest ebb, had been that night, when he hallucinated that thing into being on Serling street. Indeed, he said that for weeks whenever he had a drink near him, the figure would appear from the darkness; following, chasing, never relenting. In the end, more than anything else, it was the fear of a mental illness taking hold and seeing that hallucination again which made him stop drinking.

I was, and am, so happy for Tom, and would hate to do anything to change his interpretation of the events. Doing so could perhaps undo his rehabilitation. I’m sure he’s right, about the whole thing being an hallucination. That seems like the reasonable and obvious conclusion to have. But I often lie in bed kept awake by an uneasy memory, unsure whether to trust my own senses. For when Tom jumped back out of the window into the night, I saw something follow him from the corner of the room.

Credit: Michael Whitehouse

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rate This Pasta
Rating: 8.7/10 (319 votes cast)
LineWhatsAppTumblrFacebookTwitterRedditPinterestGoogle GmailGoogle+StumbleUponShare