The Mummers

March 12, 2017 at 12:00 AM

When I was a child, the mummers came to town.

It was not quite Solstice’s Eve yet. The nights were long and dark, and most nights a thin, jagged coat of haw frost would top the trees in glistening frigidity. What few horses the rich owned would stamp and whinny at their posts, billowing clouds of icy fog filling the air from their nostrils. The windows in the village had flickering tallow candles in the window, and the stores continued the custom of handing out sweets and cakes to the half-starved children. A thick, smoky fire was always lit in our house.

My father took me one night to the tavern. I myself was young, not yet a man but old enough to be trusted to drink without the barkeep watering the beer down. As we crossed the threshold, the thick wave of village chatter washed over me, and I remember feeling the rich acceptance that only a homely community can extend to you. In one corner of the squat, one-storey building, a performer strummed his instrument carefully, leaning against the black, ancient oak beam that supported the white plaster wall. Although he had a half-finished cup of strong liquor within arm’s reach, his fingers were not dulled by the alcohol, and the fast rhythms and leaping melodies comfortable backed up the incessant murmur of the village gossips.

I remember standing at my father’s side, sipping gently at the drink in my little hands as he talked to Arem, the local farmer who owned the barely fields up on the crest of the hill. He often did business with the next village across, set deep into the rolling chalk valleys, and it was gossip from the next village over which he was talking to my father about.

“You know, Gure, there have been whispers of strange folk around.”

“From beyond the valleys?”

He shook his head. “More foreign still than that. They apparently hail from across the sea, came over on strange filigreed boats from the Silk Isles. They don’t even follow the Great One.”

My father gulped down another mouthful of beer, his eyes widening in shock. “What? Dear One, what is upon us? What faith do these foreigners have?”

“I don’t know, but whatever it is, it’s something stranger, something…” the farmer dropped his voice to a coarse whisper, years of dusty farm work evident in its low harshness, “older.”

My father hurried me away, rushing me off. I found a couple of similarly aged children to play with, dancing around between the legs of our elders, getting yelled at and cuffed on the ear more than once as we collided with people’s pints and knocked their drinks to the floor. Soon though, we were brought still by the hush that descended over the townsfolk. Quietly, I snaked my way through the crowd and found myself at my father’s side. I tried to advance forwards, but my father caught me, and held me tight at his side.

The door of the tavern opened, and a troop of men and women came through. They wore thick, dark cloaks, dusted on the top with a thin patchwork of fresh fallen snow that melted as they came into the warm room. They had on cowls of thin, near translucent silky material that shifted over their forms as they moved, thin golden threads in the fabric casting long shadows on their features. As they trod in a thin column into the pub, they gently removed their cloaks, and people gasped at their clothes. You have to understand, we were country folk, simple people whose aspirations didn’t extend beyond the next village over. To see the rich, imported vermillions, purples, blues, and golds that were daubed liberally over their gay costumes left us dumbfounded. Outside of the pretty birds that the Great One had made for us, we never thought to have seen such colours, much less shaped by the hands of man.

The leader of the troupe was a vaguely androgynous character, the hood dangling limply around his neck like a slack noose. He approached Stryor, the barman, and produced a thin purse. From this, he drew curiously imprinted gold leafs, hexagonal in shape, and wordlessly gave them over to him. Stryor examined them briefly, testing their weight in his hand, and then nodded, finding them acceptable. He disappeared into a back room, leaving us alone with the Mummers.

I heard whispers from my own folk, growing in aggression as they stood there, looking blankly at us from their hidden eyes in perfect silence. Another member, a woman, moved over to the fireplace and gazed into it quietly. She reached deep into a pocket and drew out a strange, patterned pouch that stunk pungently of mysterious herbs and spices. She held it to her nose, inhaling deeply of the scent, before tossing it into the flames, watching the fire spit teal and violet hues. As she returned to her own people, the leader gave a simple hand gesture, and what few Mummers had kept their cloaks on threw them off, revealing wind instruments and stringed implements that left the poor old lutenist in the corner wide-mouthed in envy. Then, without even looking at each other, they began to play.

The melody was mournful and slow. High, descant drones were complimented with chromatic bass scales and chords, terrible, important notes. My father gasped and gripped my shoulder tighter as we saw things come from the fire. The colours and sounds became more vivid in hue and pitch, the emotions of fear we all felt more powerful. I watched fearfully as things stalked forwards out of the flames. They were not human in shape, nor form, for they were purely shadow, dark creatures that flickered over us all. What they were human in, though, was the careful thoughtfulness with which they scanned over everyone, seeking something, someone. All too soon, the Mummers were finished with their song, and the fire had died out, leaving us in stony, dark silence as they trooped out, donning their thickly layered cloaks as they dissolved into the night.

For a little while afterwards, I searched for the children I had played with earlier, desperately searching for people whose names I now cannot remember. The screams of their parents filled up the nights, for no one knew what had happened to them. I wonder if anyone other than me counted the Mummers in and out. There were nine who entered, and eleven who left.

Credit: HulloThere

A Heartwarming Christmas Tale

December 26, 2016 at 12:00 AM

“… and to this day Marie should still be the queen of a country in which shimmering Christmas forests and glazed marzipan castles – in short, the most marvellous things you can imagine – can be seen if you only look.

The End.”

With a sigh, Little Timmy slowly closes the book, gets up and places it on his “corner of books”, as his mother calls the pile at the corner of the room where Timmy puts his books.

“Did you finish that already honey?”

“Yeah,” Timmy responds, his soft voice trembling from the cold.

“Did you like it? I will take you to the bookshop to get another one for the holidays when the weather becomes better,” Timmy’s mother says, before she is struck by a coughing fit. It has been snowing heavily for days now and the two of them have been trapped in their home, while the old stove in the basement has broken down and there is no heating in the house.

“It’s OK mom, I don’t need one right now.” Timmy, despite his young age, knows his mother doesn’t have much money and doesn’t want to put pressure on her.

He jumps on the couch next to his mother and she strokes his hair affectionately as the two of them huddle together to fight off the growing cold.

”During the night…”

It is just past midnight and Little Timmy is laying on his bed, tightly clutching his raggedy blanket close to his chest. He is having trouble going to sleep. His mother’s muffled crying and raspy coughing can be heard through the wall. He pulls the blanket over his head, to fend off both the lingering cold and his mother’s suffering.

“Having trouble sleeping, little one?” a voice speaks up from the foot of the bed. With a swift move, a wooden nutcracker toy soldier climbs onto the bed and sits on Little Timmy’s leg.

Little Timmy peeks out from under the blanket. “Hi Alexandre,” the boy says with a frail voice.

“Worried about your mother, huh?” the toy soldier says, readjusting the wooden hat on his wooden head.

Little Timmy nods in agreement.

“She is having a rough night, isn’t she?” Alexandre pauses for a second. “But I heard you just finished your book! How was it?”

“It was good.”

“Hmm, you are not in the mood for talking, eh?” Alexandre scratches off a wood chip from his knee. He looks sternly at Little Timmy. “Tell you what lad, I will take care of this. I will go down at the basement and see what I can do about the stove.”

“I want to help too!” Little Timmy says, his voice stronger.

“That’s the spirit lad! Have a good night’s sleep now.”

With that, Alexandre takes a bow and jumps off the bed. Little Timmy is very glad he has Alexandre. He is shy, sickly and small in frame, and he doesn’t have many he can call friends. Alexandre is there for him ever since he can remember, taking care of him since he was young. These thoughts float in Timmy’s mind as he falls into the warm embrace of a deep sleep.

”Morning comes…”

Little Timmy spends the day taking care of his mother. He cleans around the house, cooks and caters to her needs. Her condition has worsened during the night. She is feverish and can’t stop coughing. She is stuck to her bed for the whole day. To keep her warm, Timmy gave her his blanket, no matter how she refused. Still, the house is terribly cold and the stove remains broken.

”Night falls again…”

Timmy bids his mother goodnight and goes for his bed. He has no blanket, instead he uses the heaviest clothes he could find in his wardrobe. Still, the cold is stinging and harsh. With a trembling breath, he lays down and closes his eyes.

“Pssst, lad, are you asleep?” Alexandre opens the toys chest and walks slowly towards the bed.

Little Timmy groggily opens his eyes. The moustachioed face of the soldier greets him.

“Sorry to wake you up, but I think I found what the problem with the stove is. The basement is covered in snow!”

“In snow? H-how?” Timmy’s timid voice speaks out.

“There is snow everywhere! On the floor, the shelves, everywhere I say!”

“H-how is this pos-” Timmy’s sentence is interrupted by heavy coughing from his mother’s room. Alexandre looks at Little Timmy stoically.

“Tomorrow I will go down there and take care of it, do not worry lad,” the toy soldier tries to soothe Timmy.

Suddenly, the sound of a door slamming shut echoes across the house. Little Timmy gasps.

“Must have been the wind…” Alexandre says.

Then, just outside the room, footsteps. Slow, unsteady footsteps, like someone is dragging his feet. Little Timmy hides under the covers, while Alexander stands up.

The footsteps abruptly stop. The door to the mother’s room creaks open. The footsteps resume. Someone has entered the room.

“Stay here lad,” Alexander whispers to Little Timmy before he jumps down the bed and goes for the door. He jumps to the handle and pulls it down, but the door does not open.


The door to the mother’s room closes shut.

Timmy starts sobbing lightly. Alexandre frantically jumps around the room, trying to find the key. Then, from the mother’s room, a loud moan.

“Mommy!” Timmy cries. Alexandre is livid, eyes darting around and mind racing for a way out.

The moans get louder and louder, until they suddenly stop, replaced by rhythmic wheezing.

Alexandre moves a stool under the handle, climbs on and jams his metal sword in the lock and frantically moves it around. The door clicks open and the toy soldier jumps out, his wooden boots clacking across the cold floor. He runs to the mother’s room, but as he reaches the door, it swings open and a wild gust of wind blows into the hallway, lifting Alexandre and slamming him against the wall.

Then, an eerie silence falls upon the house. Only the muffled crying of Little Timmy and the heavy breathing of the mother disturb the stillness of the cold night.

”The weak morning sunrays break through the dark clouds…”

“Mommy. Mommy, please wake up,” Little Timmy begs his mother. She has grown deathly pale and she is very cold. She is breathing with difficulty and she is shaking. “I warmed you some milk, please drink it, it will do you good.”

But she does not respond, lost deep into feverish dreams.

Little Timmy places the glass of milk on the nightstand and turns to leave. He has a lot of housework to do. During the day though, he takes great care to stay away from the basement door.

“The moon shines brightly in the sky…”

“Lad, is everything alright?” Alexandre jumps from the toys chest and sits on the windowsill, next to Little Timmy who has been staring out of the window for the past hour. Alexandre’s left hand is bruised and its red paint is scratched off, while a button is missing from his torso, from the scuffle last night.

“I gathered some wood and dry branches, I will light the old stove and we will be warm again.”

“Wh-what about the thing?”

“Don’t be scared Little Timmy, Alexandre will take care of it!” the toy soldier says with a warm smile.

“Anyway, I see you started writing the story you were telling me about,” he says pointing at the notebook by the nightstand. “How is it going? This must be fun!”

“It’s great, I’m at the part where Jack sneaks into the Mouse King’s castle to save Eliza.”

“Oh, I am so eager to read it! Jack sounds like a very fine lad!”

“He is very brave. But he is not as brave as his guardian…” Little Timmy says, his gaze wandering off in the distance.

Alexandre sighs. “I’ll go fire the stove up for a moment and then I’ll return to talk about your story more, alright lad?”

Little Timmy gives Alexandre a fleeting, nervous glance and Alexandre bows his head and backs away.

An hour has passed and Alexandre still hasn’t returned, nor is the stove lit. Little Timmy is growing more anxious by the minute. He fears the worst. Thinking of what Alexandre would do for him, he decides to go to the basement. With trembling hands he opens the door.

His mother is fast asleep. Little Timmy covers her exposed to the cold body with her blankets and starts the long walk towards the basement.

Time seems to have stopped while Timmy makes his way to the basement door. The incessant wind has ceased blowing and the house is plunged into complete silence. He takes a deep breath and with shaking hands reaches for the doorknob. The old door opens, the rusty hinges groaning under the weight of the metal door.

The cold breath of the darkness below hits Little Timmy in the face. For a moment his will falters, but he steels himself and pushes his legs down the slippery stairs, the open, dark mouth of the basement below staring back into his little heart.

Slowly but steadily, Little Timmy descends into the abyss. The further down he goes the colder and darker it gets. Snow and ice have formed on the stairs. Then, Timmy reaches the floor of the basement. He gets on his toes to reach the light switch, but it is completely frozen and stuck in place. Darkness and cold envelopes the little boy.

In front of him stands the old stove, asleep and dormant. All the boxes and old shelves around it are just shadows in the dark. Alexandre though is nowhere to be seen.

Timidly, Little Timmy takes a step forward. As soon as his foot lands, a gust of wind blows from the back of the basement, swirling snow and stuff around. Timmy covers himself as best as he can. When the ruckus stops, a tall, white silhouette stands in the middle of the room. The man-like creature is crouched over, its thin torso almost floating on its lean limbs. Its skin has a parch like texture and breaks up here and there. The creature sniffs the air and turns towards Timmy. Its black eyes meet with his as the creature starts to move towards Timmy, who can only watch paralyzed.

“Over here!” Alexandre’s voice echoes in the basement, pulling Timmy out of his trance. Little Timmy follows the voice and finds the toy soldier hiding under a shelf, a pile of wood by his side. He is in a very dire state, his torso is cracked, wooden splinters spurting out from his body, and his right leg is severed from the knee down. To stand up, he is using a branch as a crutch.

“We don’t have much time. You need to go and put the wood into the stove. That will drive the creature away and heat the house! I will distract him! Quickly!”

Alexandre starts hopping to the other side of the room while Little Timmy grabs the wood and branches and sneaks his way to the stove.

“Over here, you big snowflake!” Alexandre shouts at the creature, which turns and gallops toward him, its bony spine arched back and his sharp claws clicking on the floor.

Little Timmy is halfway to the stove, but he slips and the branches scatter across the floor with a loud noise. The creature stops in its tracks and turns towards the boy. It glances at the pile of wood on the floor and then the stove. With a gritty laugh it grabs the wood, which dissolves under its touch. It then moves closer to Timmy, who backs away as fast as he can.

Alexandre sprints as fast as his one leg allows and gets between the creature and Timmy.

“Over my dead body!” the soldier says, unsheathing his sword and staring down the vile beast. The beast falls on all fours and slowly prowls towards Alexandre who stands tall, its shouldreblades bobbing up and down. It stops right in front of the soldier and looks down on him, its black eyes examining the little thing that stands between it and its prey. Alexandre assumes a defensive stance. The beast goes to move over him to Little Timmy, uninterested in the soldier.

Alexandre strikes its arm with two quick slashes, and two red streaks splatter across the floor. The beast lets out an angry cry. The soldier moves back on the defensive and steadies himself.

“For Little Timmy, be strong for Little Timmy,” he whispers under his breath.

The beast lets out another bone-chilling cry and stands on its feet. When it comes back down, it strikes at Alexandre, throwing him to the side. His head hits the hard wall, his hat splintering into a thousand pieces and his sword thrown way out of his reach. The last thing the soldier sees before his strength leaves him is the creature lunging towards Little Timmy, who screams in fear. Alexandre’s eyes close and his world fades to black.

Little Timmy is now backed against the corner of the basement, clutching a box as a shield in front of him. The creature tears the box apart. Little Timmy starts crying, as the creatures grabs his leg. The creatures smashes Timmy against some cardboard boxes. Before it can grab him again, Little Timmy opens his tearful eyes. On the opening of the stove stands Alexandre. Both his legs are broken off, half his torso is gone and his head is cracked. Somehow he managed to climb on the stove. Below him on the floor where he crawled are wood splinters and parts of the toy soldier.

“You made it,” Little Timmy thinks as his heart is filled with new hope.

The eyes of Alexandre meet with Little Timmy’s. The wooden nutcracker toy soldier smiles warmly, “I will take care of it lad, I promised…”

With that, Alexandre pushes himself into the old stove, which flares up in powerful red flames. A blinding white light shoots out and the wave of heat that follows shakes the foundations of the whole room. First the stalactites quickly melt off and the snow evaporates into mist. Then the wave engulfs the creature, its white skin catching fire like old parchment. It lets out a scream of agony, flames shooting out from its body. A big hole of fire opens up in its chest as it falls to its knees. It looks at its hands as they are burned off its body, shattering and evaporating upon hitting the floor. The creature, finally, vaporizes into a dark smoke.

Only Little Timmy now stands in the basement.

After he collects himself, he shakily exits the basement. The house is now warm! He walks into his mother’s room. The mother is sat upwards on the bed, calmly drinking the warm milk Timmy made her earlier. Little Timmy runs to her and gives her a hug.

”In his warm, star-lit room…”

Little Timmy finishes writing his story. He gets up from his desk and walks towards his toys chest. He carefully places the notebook on the wooden box.

“… with the Mouse King defeated, Jack and Eliza lived happily ever after, with Alex always watching them from above, smiling warmly. Jack’s ever-loving guardian.

The End.”

Credit: MrDupin

“Monday’s Child”

December 25, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Monday’s Child
By Christina Durner

The screams were like windchimes stuck in a storm. At first, Della had thought it was the gale-force winds of the blizzard until she heard the weeping coming from her front lawn. By its sound, she could tell that it was not an infant nor was it an adolescent, but the wailing of a child that was about seven or eight years old.
She lay in bed listening to it, afraid to go to the window to see what was causing such anguish for the girl. Finally, she looked down. The lawn was empty but for a few Christmas decorations that were steadily disappearing beneath the falling snow. There was a trail of footprints, kid-sized, on the walkway leading up to her front porch. The howling continued, but now it was accompanied by the sound of frantic pounding on her front door.
Della saw no immediate danger. She was not the type of person to place herself in harm’s way to help a stranger, child or adult. No one ever bothered to help her when she needed it. Why should she put herself out for anyone else? But she wasn’t so cold-hearted as to leave a weeping babe frightened and alone on her front porch during a blizzard. She’d been hoping that one of her neighbors might have interceded and she could just go back to bed. But the cul-de-sac was almost abandoned for the holiday. Everyone else seemed to be visiting with family and friends, two things that Della lacked these days.
It appeared to be just her and Sammy, her drunk of a neighbor who lived across the street, left in the Hazelwood Valley community during this festive season. Neither of them was particularly attractive, Della being in her late-forties and possessing both a spare tire and a thin mustache that she didn’t bother to pluck anymore. Sammy had been a drunk for most of his life, and his appearance revealed it plainly. Sporting a beer gut and a perpetually red face, he still found his way into Della’s bed on the occasions that she was feeling particularly lonely.
She wished that she had invited him over earlier that night for a little Christmas Eve celebration. He wasn’t all that great in the sack nor was he much of a conversationalist, especially after a few boilermakers. He was a quiet man when he was sober, and drinking seemed to quiet him to the point of silence and often slumber. But she would feel more at ease having someone else answer the door. Just as well, Della thought to herself. If he could manage to sleep through all that screaming, then what help would he be here and now. She would just have to take care of the kid on her own.
As she opened her door, Della was assaulted by a burst of frigid air. The biting ice and snow slashed across her face, a sensation so intensely raw that it burned on impact. Blinded momentarily, she half expected to be plowed over by the child if the sound of her crying was anything to go by. But nothing happened. Della’s vision was blurred, her eyes running as a result of the harsh breezes that assaulted her. She wiped at them fiercely and finally managed to regain her sight. What she saw before her gave her goosebumps more fervent than any arctic blast ever could.
On the porch, a small, almost gnome-like girl sat crouching against the doorway. The child wasn’t dressed at all for the weather. She donned a short-sleeved white cotton dress decorated with holly leaves and berries. Barefooted and wearing no jacket, she was shockingly sallow, no doubt from the cold squall-like winds that continued to assault them. Her beautiful pale face was accentuated by two pools of ice blue eyes. The girl reminded Della of that nursery rhyme she used to like as a kid. “Monday’s child is fair of face,” she recalled, gazing upon the poor little darling at her doorstep.
But despite her angelic beauty, the sight of the girl was enough to make Della’s stomach churn with anxiety and terror. The little girl’s pigtailed blonde hair was striped with blood. Her alabaster cheeks smeared with it, as was her festive clothing. Streaks of blood on her face had been mottled from streams of tears that continued to cascade down her weary face. The cries stopped the moment that Della had taken notice of her.
Doe-eyed, she stared at the middle-aged woman; her baby blues glassy and slightly bloodshot from all the weeping. Della had been so shocked by the child’s appearance that she’d lost the ability to react. She stood staring at her, mouth wide open, hands wringing nervously.
“Please, may I come in?” the little girl asked sweetly. “I need help.”
The strangled soft voice seemed to reach Della through her state of consternation, and she was finally able to find her voice.
“Of course, you can come in sweetheart,” she cooed as she lifted the small child into her arms and hauled her into the house.
As she carried her into the dimly lit living room, Della kicked the door shut with a bunny-slippered foot then placed her down on the tattered old sofa.
“Let me call the police so that we can help you, darling,” she suggested.
“No!” The child’s sudden outcry startled Della causing her to drop the phone to the floor. “Please, mam. Please let me get warm first. I’m so cold.”
The tone in her voice broke Della’s heart. She could afford a few minutes to allow her to warm up. The child didn’t seem too badly injured from what she could tell, and if she were honest with herself, she was happy to have the company.
“Ok, we’ll wait. Let me get you a blanket and some hot chocolate, honey. You are completely safe here with me. I want you to know that,” Della assured her. “But in a few minutes, I’ll need you to tell me what happened. I’ll give you some time to get your bearings.”
“Thank you, mam,” the little girl replied delicately.
“Please, call me Della,” she requested, smiling warmly at the girl in an effort to put her mind at ease.
“My name is Christabel,” the child said through chattering teeth.
Della made quick work of wrapping Christabel in a blanket and proffering her an enormous serving of hot chocolate. She hadn’t bothered with the marshmallows, thinking that they would only slow down the warming process for her unexpected visitor. But she did serve it to her in an oversized mug that was fashioned to look like Frosty the Snowman. Christabel held it gingerly in her tiny hands, taking dainty sips from it while Della flicked on the switch of her gas fireplace.
Glancing at her phone, she noticed that there was no service. This storm seemed to be causing a great deal of trouble tonight. She was glad, for it meant that she had a little extra time with another human being. Was she really that selfish, she wondered? Had she become so greedy for pleasant human interaction that she was happy for the inability to call the police to assist and injured kid? She tried not to think about it.
“That’s better. Isn’t it?” she asked Christabel.
“Much better. Thank you, Miss Della.”
Noticing that the child seemed more comfortable around her now, she posed her question gently, hoping that it wouldn’t alarm her.
“Christabel, would you mind if I looked you over, just to make sure that you aren’t hurt badly.”
She looked at Della appraisingly before nodding her consent. Della sat beside her on the couch, looking through Christabel’s hair for any sign of a head injury. There was none. She was stumped. After searching Christabel’s bare arms and legs she was unable to find a single scratch.
“Are you hurt somewhere on your back or your belly?” she questioned.
“Nope,” Christabel answered. As if that single word explained everything that Della needed to know.
“Then where are you bleeding from?”
The child stared straight ahead, taking swig after swig of her hot chocolate before she answered.
“It’s not mine.”
“Were you in some kind of accident? Was your mommy or daddy hurt in a car crash or something?”
“No, I don’t have any family,” Christabel said matter-of-factly.
Della’s patience was wearing thin. She enjoyed having someone to talk to, but not when every question that she asked was answered without actually being answered.
“Then where did all that blood come from?”
“The man across the street,” Christabel responded. “I’m pretty sure he’s dead by now.”
Della’s breath hitched. Sammy wasn’t that great of a companion, but she never wanted to see anything bad happen to him. Knowing him, he’d probably gotten into his bottle of Christmas cheer earlier than usual and fallen down the concrete steps of his so called “wine cellar.” Maybe he was only hurt.
“How do you know that?”
“Because I killed him,” the little girl confessed.
Della’s blood ran cold. For the second time, tonight, she found herself unable to respond to the horror that had been placed at her feet. This child couldn’t know what she was saying. Maybe she was a relative of Sammy’s and had stumbled upon him after he’d taken a bad fall. That had to be it. She must be in shock. Christabel continued to stare into the distance and drink her hot chocolate.
“You don’t mean that, Christabel.”
“Yes, I do.” She drained the last of her drink. “That’s good stuff, not what I’m used to drinking but tasty all the same.”
She tossed the blanket over the back of the couch and stretched before looking Della in the eye.
“It was nice of you to invite me in,” she began. “It’s so hard to find people who are willing to open their doors to a stranger on Christmas Eve. They’re normally busy with their families.”
Della pushed herself backward on the couch, confused and disconcerted by the adult quality that Christabel’s voice had taken.
“You know, you and Sammy were the only ones here tonight. Too bad you weren’t spending the evening together. That would’ve made things so much easier,” she continued. “But good meals often take time and preparation wouldn’t you agree, Della?”
Della shrieked in utter panic as Christabel’s top canine teeth elongated right before her eyes. As she struggled to get up, the child let out a ferocious snarl.
Quick as lightening she was on her, draining every drop of blood from her portly little body. As the last of her life bled out of her, Della was filled with different emotions. Surprise, fear, but above all else a sense of gratitude that her miserable life would soon be coming to an end. And she was thankful that she didn’t have to spend another Christmas alone.
Most vampires fed on any human they could find. But in her eyes, Christabel performed a service. She only fed on the lonely ones who were beyond all hope.
She’d watched them from a distance and studied their patterns. Many of them were self-destructive drunks anyway, like Sammy across the lane. Others were suicidal or prayed for a release from the loneliness. Like poor Della who was lying on the floor. Poor Della who proved that, alas, no good deed goes unpunished. Christabel in her own way was helping them by putting them out of their misery. And if it meant that she got a nice hot meal in the process, then all the better.
Licking the last of the blood from her lips, Christabel raided the kitchen. On her way out, she stuffed all of Della’s hot chocolate packets into her dress pockets. They’d make a fantastic dessert after she finished up her dinner in the next town over. Partaking in ordinary food and drink was uncommon practice but not entirely unheard of for her kind. Surely, she would be invited inside once more. They always invited her in, the lonely hearts. Especially, at Christmas time.
The End

Credit: Christina Durner

Glow-in-the-dark Cardboard Skeleton

October 31, 2016 at 12:00 AM

I’ve just awoke to see a cheap, Halloween-leftover, glow-in-the-dark cardboard skeleton pinned to my closet door. And no, this isn’t yet another creepy story where someone or something has been hiding inside to emerge in the night. I hope. All I can see in the darkness of my room is the faint, pale green glow of those old yellowing bones. But I am afraid that if I reach over to switch on my bedside lamp, I will also see my old friend David. Or whatever is left of him.

David was the strangest kid at my old school; in fact, he was the strangest person I ever knew. Nobody else ever really liked him; even my mom, who is usually the nicest of people, never seemed to call him by his name, always referring to him as “that boy”. When I’d arrive home late for a meal, or covered in mud with my shoes scuffed and clothes torn, she would say “have you been hanging out with that boy again?” or “Haven’t I always warned you to steer clear of that funny boy?” He seemed to have a stink which followed him around, and although I never once saw him throw a punch or break anyone’s stuff, people who crossed him would often end up hurt or in some kind of trouble. The other kids taunted him pretty badly, mainly as he was always very scrawny, all skin and bone; but he never once got beaten up, as they were all a little afraid of him.

He lived a minute’s walk from me, and we became friends despite his strange ways. I guess he must have latched onto me because I was always a patient and easy-going kid, and more prepared than most to humor his many outrageous claims. He had thwarted armed robbers in the local bank and tackled deadly invaders in his home. He was the world body-popping champion and lethal in most forms of martial arts. His lies were always way over the top, and even as a young kid I found this to be fascinating; I mean, why not try to impress me by telling me things that were at least vaguely plausible?

His own mom barely spoke to him, and never took him out to do anything fun. He told me that his dad had died in a brutal motorcycle crash; this was one of his two favorite topics of conversation, more like an obsession. The details of the incident changed every time he described it, but always involved a very specific way his dad had lost his life. Some criminals, drug dealers or a rival gang or something, were chasing him down the highway one night, and they forced him into a trap where they had stretched steel wire across the road to snare his bike. He had been travelling at such high speed that the friction formed when he was flung over his handlebars and scraped along the road caused him to be “de-gloved.” I remember having to ask David exactly what this meant, which I quickly regretted. It is when the body’s skin is torn clean off leaving bare bone exposed. David told me that at the funeral there was just a skeleton lying inside the coffin, only recognizable by his dad’s distinctive leather biker jacket and Ray-Ban sunglasses.

Obviously, that was another lie; there is no way there could have been an open coffin. But boy, I believed him at the time. Now THERE is an image which can stick in a kid’s mind…

In David’s garage there was a pretty ancient motorcycle, maybe dating from the 1950’s, so I always assumed the tale was true to some degree. David was forever trying to “fix up” the bike, which mainly involved him covering every inch of it in ridiculous stickers showing glittery bald eagles wearing aviator shades, and skeleton soldiers in army jackets, with slogans like “Death before Dishonor.” He sometimes said when applying these decals that one day he was going to hunt down the guys who killed his father and make them all die in the same way his dad did. David rarely told the truth about anything, but his lies reached new peaks when it came to his father, with outrageous tales of his life and death growing wilder every time I heard them, evolving into an elaborate tale of his role as a secret agent working for both British intelligence AND the CIA, going undercover on a mission to save the world from neo-Nazi gangsters who’d stolen a death-ray, or some similar crap.

I guess I felt some sort of kinship on this topic though, since I barely remembered my own dad, and could never get my mum to talk about him. David would say we were like brothers, and though he seemed needier than me, I suppose I enjoyed feeling so wanted and appreciated. At least at first.
David’s other obsession was with skeletons. These things were everywhere in his bedroom. Plastic model kits, tiny Dungeons & Dragons figurines, even one of those life-size anatomy statues that you see in doctor’s offices in old black and white movies; he had quite a collection. He loved old woodcut images from the middle ages showing skeletons representing famine or death or mortality. Those pictures always gave me the creeps, but David’s room was covered in these, usually stolen from library books about medieval times. He would endlessly try to copy these images, and pin them all over his bedroom walls, but he wasn’t much of an artist, and they always ended up somehow looking even creepier than before.

His favorite skeleton was the cardboard one I can see in front of me, though it’s no more than a tacky piece of tat, maybe three feet tall with a cheeky smirk on it’s face, and limbs you could twist into position to kind of make it do a little dance. This always used to be pinned onto his wardrobe, surrounded by his many strange sketches. He told me that the guys who had killed his dad had given it to him on the night he’d died. He awoke to find it pinned there, grinning down at him, and this had seemingly fueled his fantasies that his father’s death had been no accident. It was a message, David told me. A warning, perhaps. I asked him why he kept it around and he said it was so he would never ever forget that everyone alive had a cruel fate that was coming to them.

He would often glowingly describe a recurring dream, in which he awoke in the middle of the night, in a room with only one door, blocked by a grinning, living skeleton who left him with only one option for survival. David had to take the razor-sharp scalpel from atop the dresser next to his bed, a gift from the madman; and make drastic use of it in order to squeeze through the only other exit, which was a tiny window, barely a foot across, to emerge on the other side born again completely free of fear.

I tried to see a positive in his obsession with human bones, and sometimes suggested that he should study to become a surgeon when he grew up, but his response was usually something along the lines of “I want to help those in need, not hurt them! Surgeons waste their time sewing up skin and wrapping wounds in bandages. Why would I leave people to suffer inside their skin?”
This was a recurring theme with David. He had this insane idea that living things would be somehow better-off if we shed our own skin, and he would complain about how hot he felt, trapped inside a stifling cage of flesh. Like I said, he was a weird kid. He boasted of secret experiments; I will spare you the details but basically he claimed to be loosening his own face so it could be peeled away to show his true self underneath. You are probably wondering why I didn’t run a mile from this creep; eventually I did begin to distance myself. I am a nice guy, but I like to think I’m not stupid. I started to make excuses whenever he invited me over to his house, and I made a point of not sitting near him in classes, though I couldn’t avoid him completely. He always found me in the cafeteria and did a great job of putting me off my lunch with his gross ideas.

My mom and I moved away from that town when I was ten years old, without much notice, and in all honesty I felt a huge sense of relief to be leaving David behind. There had been two incidents, not long before we left, which really cemented the belief in my mind that this guy was maybe more than just a little odd; that maybe he was potentially dangerous. He invited me to a sleepover at his house, telling me this would be a great opportunity to take some measurements and start me on my first steps to shedding my “hot, heavy flesh”, as he put it. He said this in a completely cheerful, friendly way, as if he was proposing a perfectly normal sleepover activity. Of course, I made up some excuse about my mom not allowing me to sleep at his place, which was probably actually true.

Although I was started to become a little disturbed by David’s ideas, I still wrote it all off as B.S., figuring he was just a little upset and desperate by my efforts to avoid his company; maybe in some messed-up way he was trying to intrigue me into remaining his friend. But the second incident forced me to accept that this guy wasn’t just playing around.

Late one night a few days before we moved away, I awoke from a terrible nightmare about David, and screamed the house down when I saw that distinctive glow-in-the-dark skeleton smiling up at me from just a few feet away, taped to my bedroom cupboard. We lived in a bungalow, and I always used to leave my bedroom window open at night, figuring it was too small for anyone to enter, but I guess David must have managed it. He was still a very skinny kid by then, though even for him it must have been a very tight fit. My mom rushed in, but I didn’t tell her why I was so frightened, figuring I might get into trouble for allowing David to sneak into our home while we slept. I stopped leaving my window open at night after that. In fact it became my number one rule in life.

I returned the skeleton the next morning, more than a little angry, but by that point I was so afraid of the guy that instead of telling him what a cruel trick he had played on me, I just pretended that I enjoyed the joke, and asked him why he did it. He acted all surprised, swearing that he had never entered my room that night, but I didn’t argue. I just made my excuses and left. As I walked off down the street, intending never to return, I noticed David watching me from his bedroom window, with a strange look on his face that I didn’t like. He looked drained, and listless. And maybe a little… scared?

So we left for a new house in the next town over, and I attended a different high school to David; in fact I never even laid eyes on him again. I don’t even know what he looks like nowadays. A couple of years later I found out from someone who had know some of David’s relatives that his dad didn’t die in a motorbike crash; in fact, he didn’t die at all, but had left home, simply because he didn’t like David’s mother, or David. Which made me wonder where the hell this kid picked up his obsession with people losing their skin?

We didn’t move all that far away though, just a few miles, and even though I never bumped into him myself, my mom would sometimes tell me that she’d see him lurking around the streets, and he would always ask her how I was doing. Again, she would always refer to him as “that boy”, and she would say that she wished we had left him behind when we left our old home. It always struck me as very strange how uneasy he seemed to make her feel; after all, he was just a skinny little kid who would stand no chance in any sort of fight. I started to suspect that maybe my mom knew things about David which she kept under her hat. I did hear stories from friends who still lived back in the old neighborhood that a few pets had gone missing and then been found in a very grisly state, but nobody would ever tell me all the details, just that David had was suspected of being involved. And there was an incident where David had been accused of pulling a knife of some kind on a school bully, and threatening to cut him down to size, but there was no real evidence, though David was pressured into finding a new school anyway.

Eventually he began to fade from my mind, as I rationalized him as just another weird kid who told people stupid stories to get attention or have some sort of impact on their lives. I used to sometimes have troubling dreams about skeletons marching down the streets and sort of recruiting people for their flesh-less army, but everyone has nightmares sometimes, don’t they? I honestly thought that David would grow up to surprise everyone and become some world-famous doctor, or maybe a plastic surgeon working in Beverly Hills. But then when I was about fourteen, I found a certain Halloween decoration taped to my locker at school and I had a nervous breakdown.

I spent about eight weeks in the psychiatric ward of my local hospital, where I was happier than I had been in a long time. I guess this was down to the dependable daily routines in there; the stability. And the safety. My mom visited nearly every day, and though I was never a very popular kid, I was lucky enough to have made three or four good friends who also often came to see me, usually on weekends. They made jokes about me being in the funny farm and receiving shock treatment, which sounds mean but I knew that they were nice guys, and we all had a pretty stupid and tasteless sense of humor; if our roles had been reversed I would have been making the same snide wisecracks. We used to explore the ward, even though visitors weren’t supposed to, and my mates would try to fool the other patients into thinking that they were not visitors but consultant psychiatrists, which obviously never worked.

There was a girl in my ward named Susan who was a couple of years older than me, with a real anger management problem. She was everything I was not: smart, witty, tough and rebellious. I guess she was my first real crush, and she was always nice to me even though I was a total geek. One day, about a week before I left for home, she told me that during a cigarette break outside the building, she had met a strange, skinny kid with very pale skin and all of his facial hair shaved clean off, who had been asking odd questions about me. He wouldn’t tell her his name, and she told him to get lost pretty quickly, but though she acted cool as ever when she told me about this, I could tell that he had gotten under her skin and totally freaked her out. He was asking if I was expected to make a recovery or if I had totally lost my mind forever. Susan told me that he sounded deadly serious when he asked this, and seemed desperate for an answer. She threatened him with violence if he ever hassled her again, and threw her cigarette away and headed back inside, but he followed her and kept asking weird things about whether I was cutting myself, or if I was morbidly obsessed with my mortality. The last thing he shouted after her as she hurried away down the corridor back to the ward was an offer to smuggle inside a razor sharp scalpel for me, if I needed it.

I played down the incident to Susan and evaded her questions, which soured things pretty badly between us, but my philosophy regarding David was that he was my problem and nobody else’s. I alone had befriended him, and I guess I had humored him when I should have shown him some tough love. And then I had run away and left him all alone. I guess I carried around a little guilt about the way I had handled our friendship. I had made my own bed and had to lie in it. I couldn’t live with the idea that my mistakes could taint anyone else. Any innocent parties.

Now, of course, I view the situation very differently. I was his victim. He was playing me like a violin. Or like a skeleton playing the Spanish guitar in one of those Mexican Day of the Dead cartoons. I was dancing to his tune. But back then I couldn’t see the woods for the trees.

I never told my mom exactly what had happened with the skeleton on my locker and the friendly hospital visit, but she wasn’t stupid and knew that David was circling me like a shark. So even though it hit her bank balance pretty hard and we never had it easy afterwards, as soon as I was discharged from the hospital she quit her job and we moved again, halfway across the country this time, and we made damn sure we told as few people as possible where we were headed. I literally never saw any of my old friends again.

I heard Susan disappeared about a year later. There was a police search but no trace of her was ever found. That is all I know. She had a real rebellious streak, and I told myself that she must have gotten bored with her life and run off to start a new one. Whatever gets you through the night, right?

The fresh start in a new town did me the world of good, and against all odds I managed to catch up at high school, attend the local college and eventually land myself a pretty decent office job with the city council, providing social services for local disabled people. I was based in a huge 1960’s building with maybe three hundred staff. One of whom was David.

No-one else who worked for the council ever seemed to meet him. He worked in human resources, in a tiny, cramped basement office. But he was never around. His whole department never seemed to have anyone around; there had been some pretty severe budget cuts after the financial crash in 2008, and I guess that had left just a skeleton staff. I don’t know how he tracked me down. He must have been very determined, as my mom had changed both of our names.

I didn’t realize he worked there at first. I heard references to some new guy downstairs named David, but let’s face it, it’s a very common name. And like I said, nobody ever seemed to see him around the premises. But after a few weeks, I saw his full name on a round-robin internal e-mail, and I felt like I had been gutted like a fish. The e-mail was discussing an upcoming office Halloween party. It seemed that David had volunteered to bring in his own decorations and make the place “exquisitely creepy”. I walked right out of that building, went back to my little flat and started packing my belongings. I never even told them that I’d quit. I remembered someone from the office describing a very thin and odd-looking man in an elevator a couple of days earlier, who wore so many clothes you could barely see an inch of his skin, even wearing a hat and gloves though the weather was warm for October. A woolen scarf obscured his mouth and nose, and tinted glasses hid his eyes, but she said that she was sure his skin was the color of porcelain.

I doubt it’s a coincidence that he found work in human resources. There, he could quickly learn everything about me. Everything he needed. I left town that same afternoon, withdrew my savings and closed my bank account. Threw away my phone. Bought a bus ticket to a city I’ve never visited before and rented a cheap room. This room. And laid low. Luckily my mom had taught me to always have enough cash so that I could go on the run. I could always live very frugally anyway. I never ate much, and avoided social situations. I had developed a terror of telling people about myself. About my old life. I’ve barely left this room in months.

Today I read a story in the newspaper about a truly horrific motorcycle crash, which took place not far from where I grew up. The man involved had been middle-aged. I recognized his surname. The details were sketchy, just something about him being rushed to hospital after riding straight into a steel wire placed across the quiet country road which he drove down each day. He was speeding when he hit the wire. I guess he must have been flung head first along the asphalt. In that situation, there isn’t much a leather jacket and pants can do to save your skin. I stared at the small photograph of his face for a very long time. He seemed vaguely familiar from somewhere. The police are appealing for information on the incident. I could contact them, I thought. But maybe tomorrow morning. First I needed to lie down and close my eyes. I didn’t want to think about anything at all. Thinking is bad. I wanted to drain my head of everything. And I felt warm. Very warm. Constricted in my skin. I wanted to take off my heavy overcoat of flesh and let my bones cool off. I slept more deeply than I had in months, perhaps years, as if there was a huge weight stripped off my shoulders.

Now I lie here wide awake in my bed and stare at that skeleton. Its glow has faded from age. The time is 3AM; Soon the dim light of a new day will aid my eyesight, forcing me to confront the presence in my room. The presence In my head, in my life. I have learnt now, learnt at last that this thing has always been there. If I run it will follow me, and I have nowhere left to hide. There is a cool breeze from my open bedroom window. I guess I have let my old rule about never leaving windows open lapse. I figured that I should have been safe, as that window is tiny, maybe eight inches by six. Nobody could have fit through in one piece. But my bedroom door is bolted from the inside, and there is no other way in. David must have squeezed through. Or what is left of him.

I bet if I reach up for my bedside lamp, I’ll find a scalpel there, too.

Credit: Hack Shuck

Tragedy at Tuckahoe Lake

October 10, 2016 at 12:00 AM


Ronny was impressed- they were great at telling his tale. “We only save the BEST campfire story for the end,” Stan told the wide-eyed kids as he leaned in, flames reflecting off his glasses. “Are you all SURE you can handle it? It’s pretty scary.” Hannah, the head female counselor, tried not to smirk. “This one’s about a REAL ghost.”

“I thought they were ALL supposed to be ‘real ghosts,’ ” some 12-year old whined.

“Lemme tell you somethin, son. I seen ghosts,” Old Pete chimed in. He was the closest to a real cowboy you could find in Maryland- skin like a catcher’s mitt, and not one scar that didn’t come with a story. “Even I can’t barely stomach this ‘un. Happen’ on our own lodge. So listen up good- or mebbe that ghost’ll git ya.” The kid swallowed hard under Pete’s stony gaze.

Nobody crosses Old fucking Pete, Ronny thought. He was keeping his safe distance- the bushes were dark, and the children tired. Still, he had to see HIS story- it was getting better every year.

Stan glanced around before continuing, arms outstretched. “It happened RIGHT HERE, on the docks. One week in summer, not so long ago…”

Depends on your definition of “long ago,” Ronny mentally replied. He’d been waiting for his little stunt to grow into a legend… into a GHOST story… for a long, long time.

In hindsight, the Lodge at Tuckahoe Lake was always kind of a ghost story waiting to happen, especially by the time his family starting dragging Ronny and his sister here. A bunch of creaky old cabins, surrounded by acres of woods, AND a lake? Horror movies couldn’t DREAM of a better locale. And it’s not like the assholes running the joint were exactly safety-compliant. No helmets for kids on ponies. Leaky tin-bottomed fishing boats. Whole parts of the lake cordoned off, with thin yellow tape as its only real warning. And YET…

No drowned little kids. No camp counselors picked off one by one by a chainsaw-wielding psycho. No ancient Indian burial ground. No deaths at all, even, in its 47 years as a public ranch. By age 16 Ronny was almost… disappointed. The Lodge was populated by grinning idiots posing for photos as their fat asses tested the strength of sad, old horses; lobbing tennis balls back and forth to Aunt Betty in the sweltering heat; orange-tanned Jersey girls waving from those stupid docks.

No outdoorsy, yearning-for-adventure types here. Just working class wannabe cowboys who got drunk by noon, their fat subathing wives, and their little brats that ran around, ensuring ZERO quiet time for Ronny. That ‘fateful’ week when they drove up, it was early morning and ALREADY hot as fuck, which did no favors for the horse shit.

The Penderson family came every year. God only knows- this place was a nightmare. It doesn’t matter how many “diverse” activities the family that ran this place CLAIMED to offer. Everything was either detestable to Ronny- hay rides, horseback riding, swimming in a nasty pond- or otherwise not tailored for a teen boy. Ronny didn’t want to play bingo or go to the petting zoo, least of all when there’s a swarm of hyperactive kids running around who seemed to all be named Tyler or Jamie (when the FUCK did that become a girl’s name?), he bitched to himself.

Vacation was supposed to be about relaxing. Ditch school, lie back, crank the tunes and let your headphones drown out all the happy shiny people. But Ronny wasn’t old enough to drink, even if he’d WANTED to pay three bucks for a warm beer. Besides, it wouldn’t make up for the fact that he was still crammed into pathetically small “rustic” lodgings, with no A/C, and the train wreck that was the Penderson family.

“Ronald, if you’re not going to cut that long hair, at least WASH it,” his mother spat at him while unloading her suitcase. It’s Ronny, bitch. “You and Shelly have the upstairs this year, with your OWN bathroom for once, so I don’t want to hear about how you don’t have enough time to make yourself look like a NORMAL boy.”

Dad wasn’t too far behind with his annual red cooler, no doubt sloshing at least as many liquor bottles as soda pops. Poor, dimwitted, pussy-whipped Henry Penderson. Ronny almost felt sorry for him, if it wasn’t for the same constant “happy family” thing Dad put on 24/7. “And put on some REAL clothes this time, bucko.” As Ronny started up the stairs to the a lumpy cot with itchy blankets, his father added, “Friday is trivia night. NOT a dance club.”

I wish it was, Ronny mused to himself, before half-mumbling, “I can wear what I want, asshole.” His parents must have been too busy unpacking to hear, but Michelle had already picked her cot, the one closest to the bathroom- for a minimum three hours of hair-crimping a day, no doubt. She crossed her long stockinged legs and glanced at him with vacuous, sarcastic eyes. “You can NOT wear ‘what you want’ if it means dressing like Kurt Cobain after three days of heroin withdrawal. We’re going to LUNCH soon, ya know.” Oh, he’d almost forgot- there was no backing out of the three requisite family meals, no matter how mystery-meats-in-a-greasy-bun SHITTY they were.

In hindsight, Ronny should have just made a run for it that week. He didn’t have a license, or even a car, but fuck it. He should have swiped Mom’s keys, kicked up gravel back to the Interstate, and never looked back. He didn’t belong in that manure-smelling, basket-weaving shithole of a ranch, and he should’ve known better than to stay there one more minute.

The Lodge at Tuckahoe Lake was made for jolly, vacationing families, bocce-playing grandpas and sand shoveling tykes. It was made for happy people. And if there’s one thing Ronny hated most, it was happy people.

So pacified by creature comforts; so fucking FASCINATED by their own nostalgia that they’d become oblivious. Lulled into a false sense of smores-roasting, Yahtzee-playing SECURITY. Grown blind to the dark reality of the outside world. No, the age of innocence at Tuckahoe Lake was at its end.

This place didn’t just NEED a ghost story; it was well overdue for one. What would scare these idiots of our their precious comfort zones? It’d better strike fear into the hearts of every would-be camper for years. But that’s why Ronny had come prepared. VERY prepared.

“Families have always loved coming to Tuckahoe Lake,” smiled Hannah, taking over where Stan had left off. “When the Warring family opened this place, ALL the way back in 1947-“ She wisely gave a pause to let the younger kids take in the sense of old-timey awe. Whoop-dee-fucking-do, Ronny thought, shaking his head. “-well, even in 1947, people came from all over. The Lodge was a quiet place, and Tuckahoe Lake was more beautiful than any other ranch in the state.”

Debatable, he added to himself. But Hannah needed to really grab her listeners, so she said, “It was such an innocent place back then. Perfect for families. But that was BEFORE.”

“Before what?” a young girl chirped.

“Before… the INCIDENT.” Stan had taken back the mantle of storyteller, and now he had them hook, line and sinker. “They say it was just a matter of time before some creeper made his way to Tuckahoe Lake. Before he slipped in unnoticed.” The children shuffled close and watched him intently. “They say no one ever suspects the quiet ones. But it’s the INVISIBLE ones you really have to watch out for…”

By the time a lunch of questionable deli meats was over, Ronny had formulated his plan. It wasn’t hard- half the idea was already there, and the other half came easily, if you’d seen all the slasher films HE had. If anything, he was doing the Lodge a favor- it would certainly upgrade its coolness factor, not to mention all those basket cases that love to shell out cash for a “haunted cabin” stay.

In hindsight, Ronny’s toolkit could have ended up doing much worse. The cheap black trench coat and baggy clothes he’d picked up at the thrift store. The grimacing mask he’d made slip proof, should somebody decide to rip it off. The wide, gleaming butcher’s knife he had so deftly slipped into the lining of his suitcase.

They might have just as easily been used to butcher the especially nasty school bullies, or even to silence his sister’s incessant whining, those tools. But they were stashed by the docks by noon, past the neon barrier, where Ronny knew they’d be safe. No, the ones to terrorize were his fellow campers, Ronny had decided, sitting on his cabin’s deck with a flannel shirt and a Marlboro Red. He would be just another hapless victim of a crazed slasher- in fact, the most important victim of all.

Ronny took another puff and outlined it for the hundredth time. He’d like to test his night camouflage clothes out anyway, so after his parents had gone to bed, and Michelle was in one of her swiped-cocktail blackouts, everything was laid out neatly. He oh-so-softly snuck down the stairs, out the door, and back to his little grotto of stashed-away goodies. Just like Shelly had switched her juice blend for Mom’s “Tuckahoe Iced Teas,” Ronny changed from ripped jeans to navy sweatpants. He replaced his leather jacket for an oversized hooded one, just in case. (There’s no way they could afford security cameras at Tuckahoe fucking LAKE.)

He decided it was time to find out just how the ‘slasher’ stalked and chose his victims. The Lodge kept cabins in tows of twos and threes, which made things easy enough, especially as there were just two crowded chalets side-by-side for the teen counselors, one for each gender. They would be Ronny’s GOLDMINE- and he knew it. He could hit them all at once- half the boy counselors and half the girls led a ‘Late Night Hike’ every other night, including the next one. By that late hour the half of each chalet they picked would be the stronger, faster, more robust ones… leaving 4 weaklings on each side. But tonight? No, tonight, they would all be there, already sleeping by the time he left the skull-and-bones ‘death totems’ he’d bought cheap after thumbing a ride to the local “AUTHENTIC Indian crafts’ store. He quietly snuck down to the dock (Mom and Dad always liked the waterfront view) to retrieve and gently lay each of them on the placemats of his ‘chosen’- save for a couple random ones to throw them off, especially the one on his own… surely the slasher wouldn’t ‘curse himself,’ would he?

Ronny had already decided which cabin to SKIP, the one across from their own, but not because it’d look suspicious. No, Mrs. Sullivan- she talked to Ronny’s mom sometimes- was pregnant, and even HE wasn’t that much of a cold-hearted bastard. Plus, she was with some burly guy called Milo, and he’d hate to accidentally piss HIM off. On second thought, he decided to skip that entire ROW… just in case.

Being so close to the docks (as were the cabins he’d staked out) meant he would probably take about 6 or 7 minutes, running, before he bounced (keeping track with his wristwatch). He figured this would happen, and sure enough it did- by they time they flagged down help and called the police, it’d all be over (it WAS all over before anyone even dialed 911. Tuckahoe Lake would get one warning only, and have the whole day to either wise up or, well, fear the same fate that the totems implied. Ronny fancied himself pretty strong- beating the shit out of a punching bag was all the chill pill he needed, and anyway, he had some impromptu padding under the oversized disguise.

He slept in late the next morning… it took him forever to fall asleep from the excitement, the ADRENALINE RUSH of it. He figured his parents would be pretty pissed off he only JUST made it to lunch on time, but they seemed too exhausted to scold him. Maybe the totem actually scared THEM, too. His father was grim-faced and his mother spazzed-out, smiling weakly. Here were two adults who had worn the suburban masks of banality for years: Not much longer, he told them, even if it was in his own head. By this time tomorrow, this family will known what it means to REALLY live. You didn’t need to kill anybody to make your lasting mark on horror history; all he was going to do is give them a good scare.

He mentally reassured himself, tugging on his old grey band shirt and making his way to the games room at just the right time- when it would peak for all the kiddies and their parents to be hanging around there, able to give dozens of eyewitness accounts that he seemed like such a fun-loving kid… Wasn’t it just a SHAME the he wouldn’t be able to play video games for weeks?

But wouldn’t you fucking know it, some preteen dork was hogging his favorite arcade shoot-em-up. The one GOOD game in this crappy, pitifully unfurnished ‘game’ room. And the dweeb had beaten the high score. RONNY’S high score. You stupid fucking scrub. He had to truly will himself to not scream it out loud. As if on cue, an older mother stomped into the room and snapped, “James FRANCIS Geary, what do I ALWAYS tell you?!?”

The kid turned around and nervously adjusted his glasses. “Um… stranger danger?” he squeaked.

“And what about violent GAMES,” she fumed.

Little James sighed and dully recited, “Violent video games turn kids into killers.”

“That’s right,” his mother droned, taking him by the shirtsleeve until they had vanished into the night.

Too late, Ronny decided. He just made the fucking list.

“The totems? They meant DEATH,” head counselor Adrian declared, the kids (and even new counselor Nicky) all screwing their faces into varying levels of fascination and disgust. He pulled a cheap plastic knock-off out of his pocket: it wasn’t even the right totem, for fuck’s sake. He continued, “After they took away all the little warnings, the Lodge KNEW they would have to keep on patrol, every night, every PLACE.”

A little girl in Disney princess pajamas bit her lip and said, “But… wasn’t they scared? They could see him sometimes, right?”

Adrian widened his eyes in mock tension and nodded. “Oh, people saw lots of things that whole day, and even more at NIGHT. Before… the tragedy, of course.”

“Guys, maybe we shouldn’t,” Nicky the newbie said hesitantly.“It’s pretty creepy. Those people…”

But the children were too invested now to sugarcoat the story. “Didn’t he have big claws and sharp teeth? You know- like fangs.”

“Did NOT. It was a lady ghost,” a round-faced little girl insisted. “She could float and disappear, and GHOSTS kill people.”

Kids, Ronny thought to himself with a grin. Smarter than I thought. Too bad ghosts couldn’t scare them to death. But I probably could…

“The Warring family KNEW they had a duty to protect their ranch, and aaaallll the people staying there,” Adrian explained, derailing Ronny’s train of thought. “But they didn’t know the right place to look. If they had, they never would have let poor Bertie go investigate the docks. She’d always been a bit of a detective. But what she saw was far worse than she could have imagined…”

Bullshit, Ronny protested mentally. She wasn’t playing detective, she was going for a goddamned nighttime STROLL. This isn’t fucking ‘Murder, She Wrote.’

“You see, there was a young, quiiieeet little boy here that week, and his name was Ronald,” Hannah told them in a hushed tone, savoring every word. I HATE that name. It’s Ronny, for God’s sake, you bimbo. On the other hand, even if they were exaggerating- it only grew more and more with every telling- Ronny himself was kind of glad that he’d left such an impression on them. Hannah cleared her throat, then carried on. “But Ronald had no idea the HORRORS that he would face in the dark, dark docks that night…”

In hindsight, there WERE a bunch of fucking cowboys and rent-a-cops on high alert by sunset, and that included the Warrings. But Ronny figured, Hell, I’ll just have to be EXTRA invisible. Operation Tuckahoe Lake Slasher is still going down.

He staked out the cabin rows from behind, since the Warrings apparently hadn’t considered checking it. Ronny was probably one of the few people- save for the male counselors- that knew just the right angle to peek inside. Everybody left their windows open because of the miserable fucking heat… they just didn’t know how cheap and thin the window screens were. That was how he would get inside, once the more pussy-like kids were there alone, or at least in a small group. Tonight, in disguise, his ‘Slasher’ was going to make a few particularly freaky late-night visits.

It’s not like he was planning to KILL anyone. Just give ‘em a couple of surface slashes with his knife and then half-heartedly try to stop them (in vain, of course) from running off. In reality, he would quietly open their front and side doors beforehand, leaving them several clear escapes. The cheapass Lodge didn’t provide them with a telephone, not evey a way to PAGE them… They’d recover just fine, at least physically… well, maybe not that little shit Jimmy Geary. And the piece de resistance? That’d be Ronny himself. Once he’d ditched the Slasher persona and all of his materials, he would become the last victim- stabbed on the docks (nothing fatal, just a deep cut or two), waiting just long enough for the schizo to have ‘escaped’ before he’s screaming for help, just like the rest, and quickly discovered.

Then the Lodge at Tuckahoe Lake would finally have the ghost story it deserved. They’ll feel SORRY for me, he smilingly thought as he made one last back-window pass around the cabins. There was Nancy in Block 14, Cabin 28 as usual, already asleep. Her fellow female counselors were all half-dressed and crowding around the bathroom mirror. They’ll be my first stop tonight. God, I fucking hope they’re all saying ‘candyman’ three times into the mirror… Doubtful, but that would be hilariously ironic.

But pretty little Nancy- she didn’t follow them out to the dive bars every night with a fake ID and enough makeup to coat a house. No, she put her nose ring when they weren’t around to see it, and when her skull and crossbones tattoo was visible they called it her “freak flag”. Nancy didn’t bring half the Gap summer collection; she brought weed and ripped stockings. I’m gonna do her first, Ronny thought to himself, relishing the very idea. She’d like me WITHOUT multiple stab wounds. Maybe I’ll get lucky and end up in the same therapy group as her. But he’d have to hurry to make enough time for his ‘recreational activities.’

In hindsight, it was kind of lame and dumb for him to stop and check in on his family first… just in case. Shelly wouldn’t come back for at least an hour; it was mostly for kids, but they were having indoor karaoke with an acoustic guitar, and even though every 14-year-old girl likes to think they sound like Jewel, Michelle though she WAS Jewel. She WAS good with kids. Whatever. One less person to contend with. There were his parents, like any other weeknight: Mom was re-reading her low-fat diet book (she wasn’t getting any thinner, just more bitchy) and Dad was wondering aloud whether or not well water could give people AIDS.

No more board game nights. No more beaning me in the head with a snowball for being a ‘spoilsport’. No, not after tonight, he told himself, making a beeline for the docks that weren’t meant to be accessed. Even better than a local legend of the ‘phantom maniac’ was the fact that now, he’d have the perfect excuse to NEVER come to this stupid ranch again- his family can’t blame him for being traumatized. As he went under the caution tape and reached his stash, he mentally rehearsed his own sad, tormented discovery. Screaming and bleeding on the dock after a violent struggle (he wasn’t above injuring himself with cuts and bruises before the ‘big stab’). Forever remembered as the poor, sad boy who was viciously cut down by the would-be killer. Hell, even if the stab killed him, he could at least haunt the SHIT out of this place, cementing the tragic story for the ages.

In hindsight, he should have tested the mask out earlier. Undressing, he caught his reflection on the water’s surface: shirtless, and wearing a mask that was more cheesy than it was scary. The eyeholes were dark mesh and cheaply misplaced- Ronny could hardly see. In hindsight, he should have ripped it off the second he heard Bertie’s slow little footsteps. And re-buttoned his pants. Apparently it WAS scary enough- at least, for an old lady with a bum ticker.

She took one look at him and started squawking like an idiot, falling onto her back- the clumsy bitch- and trying to shuffle away from him in the grass. In hindsight, he should have just scrapped the whole thing. But he’d barely had time to react, and his jeans were around his ankles, so he stumbled forward practically ON TOP OF the old windbag. In hindsight, he should have seen the wooden oar she was reaching for, but once he’d stood up, he sure felt it- smacking him upside the head so hard that he fell backwards into the lake and blacked out.

“So it was Ronald?” asked a little girl, her eyes darting around nervously. There’s that fucking name again, he told himself. They always have to humiliate me, don’t they. I think they get OFF on that shit.

“Yes,” Adrian replied. “He was the boy that died. His ghost can even be felt sometimes around this place- especially late at night.” The kids and even one of the counselors, way-too-nervous Nicole, shivered in fear.

“You can’t just creep us out like that until we know what happened!” Another obnoxious little punk. “…How did he die? WHEN?”

In hindsight, Ronny shouldn’t have relied on the old wisdom of a drowning person waving and shouting for help. If he had known real drowning victims couldn’t get their mouth above water or splash very much, he wouldn’t have been so confident that a ranch hand named T.J. would rescue him from the lake after hearing Bertie’s screeching and moaning. But while Ronny was only just regaining consciousness, old Bertie was already having a massive coronary. So T.J. ran off shouting for help, for an ambulance, and Ronny struggled to move at all.

In hindsight, heavy combat boots, jeans bunched up around the ankles, and barely-usable eye holes turned out to be a dangerous fucking combination. In hindsight, Ronny should have considered that this part of the lake was cordoned off for a good reason, namely, that it was very, very deep. Since they were all busy trying to save the senile old bitch (despite the fact that she was already TOAST), they didn’t notice any evidence of a second victim just two yards away.

In hindsight, Ronny REALLY should have learned how to swim. It would have saved him the indignation of his plight being realized too late; the humiliation of rigor mortis setting in before they even recovered his body. It would’ve given him a chance to explain that NO, he wasn’t some pervy rapist waiting in the shadows to attack an old lady. Instead, he went down in the memory books as a dumbass teenager frightening poor old women to death with his idiot prank. Instead of a helpless victim done in by a spree killer, BERTIE was the one constantly remembered and doted on.

“So he was a… pussy?” asked a disappointed boy.

Nicole tsked tsked him and said, “Watch your language, Peyton.”

Now THAT’S a pussy name, Ronny thought sullenly. Even at 78, she was a fixture at the Lodge year round- Bertie had opened the Lodge in the first place, with her since-departed-husband. SHE was the quirky, still-active old lady everybody adored. A month after she AND Ronny were killed, they named a new baby colt “Miss Bertie” in her honor. Kids can still get ‘Bertie’s Banana Pancakes’ on Tuesdays and Saturdays. An ad-hoc memorial behind the check-in desk was plastered with photos of Bertie playfully posing with skis and a snowsuit, a young Bertie giggling in her swim dress, Bertie leaning over and patiently helping her grandkids play a game of Bingo.

These days, however, Bertie was rarely all smiles and sunshine. Ronny just wanted to haunt the Hell out of this place, and scare the occasional snot-nosed brat. Bertie wanted to RUN IT from beyond the grave; she’d become a busybody ghost that nattered incessantly about his angsty, miserable ghost day and night for the rest of eternity. She went on for WEEKS when they finally got Wi-Fi at the Lodge. Even the central air conditioning sent her on a rant. But the only one to suffer it? Ronny.

“They shouldn’t be keeping children up this late,” Bernie whispered, hovering next to him in the bushes. “When I was a girl…”

Oh God, not this again. “I don’t give a flying FUCK what you did as a girl!” he retorted. He must’ve been pretty pissed, because the campfire suddenly went out, sending the kids into a panic.

“I heard something! Like- like whispers!” cried Nicole. “I told you he was mad about the ghost story!”

Adrian gave them a reassuring glance. “It’s just a trick, right?” On cue, Stan came back from his ‘pee break’ and high-fived Adrian. “There he is- Stan the Man!” The kids all laughed and smiled with relief, and their parents soon arrived to escort them back home.

“Dude, that was amazing. How did you get the fire to go OUT like that?” Adrian asked Stan. “I thought you were just gonna rustle some bushes.”

“I DID rustle the bushes,” Stan replied with a look of confusion. “If somebody made the fire go out, it sure as Hell wasn’t me.” Nicole grimaced in fear. “Relax, Nicky. There’s no ghosts here.” He put his arm around her shoulder. Nice move there, dickface, Ronny complained. “You weren’t even BORN until after the deaths. It was 1994, Nicky!”

The cowboys, Old Pete and T.J., stood up slowly and approached the counselors. “Mighty fine story ya got there,” Pete admitted.

“Thanks for leaving out the part where he exposed himself to the poor lady,” T.J. concurred, before tipping his hat and walking off with Old Pete. Too bad they didn’t add IN the part about your real name being Terrence, the one you still used in California before moving and conveniently losing that ‘lisp.’

“Creepy little bastard,” Old Pete concurred. “Imagine, doing that to an OLD WOMAN. Sicko.”

“Oh, like you’re one to talk!” Bertie protested. “I know I’m not here to judge, but TWO COWBOYS-“

What a bitch. “You know, they screened Brokeback Mountain on the counselor’s movie night a few years back. Maybe you should see it.”

“You- you d-bag!” Bertie replied, shocked.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Just SAY it. Douchebag. DOUCHEBAG.” But she just sniffed in disgust and floated off to micro-manage ‘her’ Lodge. Ronny gave all four counselors a chill, and Nicole could’ve sworn she heard his whispers on the wind. Just like the kids who insisted an unexpected breeze swept dried leaves against their legs- they were just on edge because of the ghost story, weren’t they?

Nancy was the only one that remained here… but now she was a middle-aged chubby woman; laser-removal scar where the tattoo had been; a closed hole on her nostril. As it turned out, Mom should’ve been watching her sugar, not fat. Diabetes. Still, she was OK in the end, and Dad too, and Shelly- she even became a teacher and popped out a few kids of her own. And hey, at least he finally made an ACTUAL ghost story for the Lodge- with TWO ghosts.

Credit: TheJinx


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