Tales From Dark Places
A selection of chilling stories from some of the best Indie authors on the market. We dare you to venture into these pages of spine chilling tales and stories of ghosts and goblins. Freely donated by the authors themselves, these dark passages are a great example of their various, unique styles and imaginations. This is the first of a series of topical collections brought to you by The Indie Collaboration.
Contributing Authors: Peter John, D.C. Rogers, Sonya C. Dodd, Sheryl Seal, Madhu Kalyan Mattaparth, Alan Hardy, William O’Brien, Gunjan Vyas, Chris Raven. Cover Art by Book Birdy Designs.
|Publication Date||October 26, 2013|
|Publisher||The Indie Collaboration|
|Series||The Indie Collaboration Presents|
|BCRS ratings?Learn more|
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THE INDIE COLLABORATION PRESENTS
TALES FROM DARK PLACES
THE HALLOWEEN COLLECTION
A selection of chilling stories from some of the best Indie authors on the market. We dare you to venture into these pages of spine chilling tales and stories of ghosts and goblins. These dark passages are a great example of our authors various, unique styles and imaginations. This is the first of a series of topical collections brought to you by The Indie Collaboration.
Copyright Retained By Authors
Cover Art by Book Birdy Designs
DINNER, DATE AND AUTOPSY
BY D C ROGERS
“Oh god I can’t move,” Mel thought as she laid there in the darkness. Also, something covered her face and body. She couldn’t remember anything past the point of that nice man buying her a drink, then it was all a blurry haze. Had she been drugged? Where was she?
Mel tried to call out to someone but no words came. She felt like crying and not even that worked. Frustrated at the situation she screamed out in her head and laid there dejected. A small amount of time later a bright light went on overhead, revealing to her that she was indeed covered by some blanket. Willing her arm to move she tried her hardest to sweep the shroud from her face.
Then Mel heard what sounded like doors opening, followed by two pairs of footsteps upon a hard floor heading in her direction. They stopped quite near her, she knew this as she saw their shadows cast across the cloth. Hello, please what’s going on? She tried to say but it only came as a thought in her head.
“Hey Henry, brought this one down earlier,” one of the people said. It was a man by his voice talking to, by his name, another man. She laughed a little hysterically in her head, unless he meant Henrietta.
“Any ideas on her yet?”
“One of those sad cases Jeff. A Jane Doe, to that new date rape drug that new killer’s using”. Oh god, a Jane Doe! What did they mean? She thought.
“Yeah heard of that new one. It kills it’s victims after a few hours, nine times out of ten so they say”.
“Yeah this one got the same M.O as the other ones. Drugged, had the dirty done to them and then left naked on the road side; it’s one sick guy alright”. Henry and Jeff moved away. Please I’m not a Jane Doe, Mel tried to scream, I’m not dead. I just can’t move; please help me!
“So what’s going to happen with her?” Jeff asked.
“Well the police want a fast tracked autopsy, DNA test and swabs taken,” Henry explained.
“So you’ll be here most of the night then,” Jeff had sympathy in his voice. Mel was screaming in her head, an autopsy oh god that would kill her; she had to do something. Try as she might though nothing moved, not even her little toes.
“We got a cornea transplant patient upstairs so I’ve got to keep her eyes pristine”.
“Sounds lovely Henry. Anyway, I’ll leave you to your work. If you’re done by eleven maybe we can catch a quick beer,” he laughed.
“Sure Jeff but don’t hold me to it OK”. Both men laughed, nonchalant of the supposed dead body.
She heard Jeff walk away, then leave through the same squeaky hinged door they both had arrived through. The room was almost quiet. Mel could hear Henry breathing and writing away on something, probably a pad. Henry don’t do this, I’M NOT DEAD, please!” Yet her mouth still refused to work for her. Footsteps then a shadow signalled Henry was back by her side.
He whisked the cloth off her body, which Mel felt. She then realised, from the earlier conversation, that she was naked. A cold breeze wafted over her body as the cloth came away, she hated that she couldn’t cover her modesty. Henry’s face came into view hovering above hers, for a moment she noticed he wasn’t that old and he was reasonably good looking. His hand then came into view, shaking a thermometer.
“First personal observation of our Jane Doe is… A damn shame is what I say”. He clucked his tongue in annoyance and walked off.
Mel’s overworked mind started to make her disbelieve the situation, surely someone was playing a trick. She couldn’t have been date raped then just left somewhere. Henry placed the thermometer in her mouth, she hated that she couldn’t say anything or react to the situation. This was going bad and was about to get worse, she thought. Henry came back into view. Taking the thermometer from her mouth, he spoke into a voice recorder.
“Henry here,” he stated his badge number and some medical jargon that Mel didn’t understand; he looked over her frowning.
“This is strange. She’s just above the room’s temperature, which would suggest a high rate of decomposition yet she looks unaffected. It must be some reaction of natural gases in the body,” he sounded so clinical in his observations. No, it’s because I’M NOT DEAD! She screamed in her head at him.
“OK, starting the autopsy. Estimated cause of death is an overdose of new date rape drug, Baltonine. It’s caused five deaths to our knowledge, our lady here being number six”. Henry walked off again. Mel could hear the tinkle of metal implements being rummaged around. Her heart sank, this was it, she was going to die fully aware and feeling every moment of it. What she did feel next was some soft swabbing of her nether regions.
“Collection of DNA samples from subject done. I suspect they will match the previous five from the unknown male assailant”. Mel was getting hysterical now, just mentally screaming at every sound that she heard.
Then the moment she was dreading, a metallic ringing noise signalled Henry had picked up a metal tool.
“Scalpel selected I will now begin harvesting eyes for corneal transplant victim”. She heard him walk back over her; he was now wearing a mask over his mouth. She had never in her life felt the intense terror that was now beginning to flow through every part of her body right now. Coupled with inability to shiver, it was excruciating. It intensified as his hand came into view with the glinting metal of a scalpel flashing into her stinging, unblinking eyes. Time seemed to slow as the sharp implement descended towards her terrified, waiting, soft flesh. It felt cold at first but then pain hit; it was unbearable! The implement sank into her and there was nothing she could do to stop it. The scalpel easily cut through the skin and flesh of her face to the side of her left eye. Inwardly she was screaming as the deft tool in Henry’s skilled hands began to carve away muscle and skin. Then suddenly Henry stopped,there was a strange frown upon his eyes that Mel, in her hysterical state, almost missed. He pulled his mask down and put his ear really close to her mouth.
“My god are you… Are you ALIVE?” His voice was high pitched. Despite her pain she thanked whatever it was that was looking after her right then. Henry turned, she heard him rummaging again. He then came back over with a stethoscope.
“I hope I’m not just being paranoid little lady, in all my years I have never seen blood run so red and freely from a supposed corpse. If you’re alive we need you in police protection so they can catch that bastard”. Her spirits rose despite the pain. Then she inwardly flinched as the cold metal disc went between her breasts.
“My god a faint heartbeat, how the hell was this missed. Jeff should have checked before you were brought here”. He looked at her face again and she noticed abject horror etched upon his. Then her body let out its first small sign of life, when a big fat tear welled in her right eye and then rolled down her cheek.
“I am so, so sorry little lady. We are going to get this sorted first”. Henry covered her up to the shoulders with a blanket then stitched the cut by her eye closed.
“Listen I’m going to get you some help”. She heard him run to some point, it obviously had a phone as she heard the receiver being picked up.
“Jeff yes, Jeff I need your help; that girl she’s alive. Yes alive, she’s just somehow paralysed”.
Henry went quiet as Jeff was replying. “I don’t know how, maybe she’s the lucky one out of ten,” Henry wailed. “OK I’ll sit tight until you get here”. Henry replaced the receiver. He walked back over to Mel who was currently crying a stream of happy tears down her one eye. She could feel other things slowly coming back to life now too. She could wiggle one little finger and most of her right toes. The coroner’s door burst open.
“She’s alive? Are you sure?” Jeff shouted as he entered.
“Yes, look at her, she’s even crying Jeff!” She knew something wasn’t right all of a sudden. Now the drug was wearing off she recognised Jeff’s voice. Then both looked over her, a small squeak escaped her throat as she recognised the one called Jeff which made him frown.
“My god Henry, she is alive. Quick find her some clothes or a gown to put on”. Mel squeaked in terror, trying to warn to Henry. Jeff had been the guy in the bar who gave her the drink a few hours before, he had also proclaimed to have been a fireman. He made a strange facial gesture akin to an angry smile at Mel, who just inwardly cursed the man while trying to squeak a warning to Henry. Jeff then turned to Henry.
“This is going to get me a promotion, maybe even a picture in the paper Jeff. Local coroner helps find the rape killer,” Henry said, as he searched through a cupboard for spare clothes. “So you haven’t rung the police yet then?” Jeff said, in that gentle voice he’d used in the bar.
“Not yet was waiting on you for confirmation that I wasn’t going mad”. A ringing sound of metal on metal made Mel shiver.
“Oh unfortunately she’s quite alive there”.
“Unfortunately, Jeff what do mean?” Henry sounded confused, it was also the last thing Henry ever thought or said. A very fine swishing noise filled with a blood curdling gurgle signalled to Mel that Henry was now very badly incapacitated or probably dead.
Once more tears, this time of fear or frustration, spilled from both eyes; the cut one stung with pain as it did so.
“Well, well. Hello miss lucky one out of ten,” Jeff crooned, as he came back over to her. His chiselled handsome features seemed alien and wrong, so different than they had in the bar.
“Now I can’t have someone like you screwing up my weekly fun can we,” he smiled. Mel twitched and even managed to blink one eye in anger.
“Oh now there’s an amusing reaction,” his big hand came up to her face. Once more she inwardly screamed, no sound escaped as mouth and nose were now covered. As she lay there suffocating, one last tear rolled but not for her. It was for the poor girls that Jeff would meet in future and then she cared no longer.
© 2013 D. C Rogers
BY SONYA C. DODD
Every night the same nightmare:
I was standing in front of a large, derelict Victorian hospital. The windows were boarded up and graffiti covered most of the visible stonework which wasn’t smothered in ivy. The whole place was in a sorry state of decay, apart from the door. It was a still but cool night and I shivered slightly.
The enormous wooden front door was painted a deep red with a door knocker in the centre depicting a brass representation of the devil. The paint gleamed in the moonlight; it almost seemed to be wet still, and had an unnerving appearance of fresh blood.
Inexplicably I felt compelled to approach the door which swung open automatically, creaking noisily on its ancient hinges. Before me was a long, clinical corridor, the floor littered with debris such as dead leaves, empty beer cans and crisp packets. It appeared as though by day this place was a popular haunt for bored youths.
My feet moved slowly forward until I was inside the building. The door closed behind me yet I was still able to dimly discern my surroundings. Passing along the corridor, my shoes knocked cans flying or crunched over packets loudly. The sound echoed along the hallway, leading me ever forwards.
Numerous doors lined the walls of the corridor; some were closed, dirty and smeared with all kinds of unidentifiable marks.
Those doors which were open led into offices or long abandoned wards. Some of the furniture still remained, dusty and in poor repair now. Papers covered much of the floor but there were also tell-tale signs of rodent infestation.
It was impossible to tell how long this place had been abandoned or whether it even existed outside of my imagination. Somehow it felt real, as though I might have been here at some forgotten point in my younger life.
Although it might seem incredible, there was still a smell of disinfectant everywhere even though there clearly had been no cleaning done here for years. The only sounds were created by my shoes and a distant, faint drip of a tap somewhere.
The dull lighting cast shadows across my path with beams of brightness showing through open doors. I didn’t know where my destination lay and I trusted my legs to know which way to turn when a change in direction was called for.
Whichever way the corridors led, each turn showed me the same view. I could have been going round in circles had it not been for the fact I eventually always ended up in front of the double swing doors.
This was where my feet hesitated as though wanting to protect me from what lay beyond the doors. There was a window in each door but they were grimy and it was impossible to peer through them into the room beyond.
Tentatively I took a small step forward and rested my hands against the doors. Pushing slightly against the sticky surface, I was surprised at how easily and noiselessly they swung open.
The room had at one time been an operating theatre. Empty metal trolleys lay abandoned across the floor. A couple of curtains on wheeled frames blocked my view into the room but I already knew what lay behind them.
As if pulled by some invisible force, I stepped into the large room and let the doors swing shut behind me. The breeze from the closing doors sent a layer of dust into the air and my coughing sounded loud and false in the quiet space.
I moved forward, brushing past one of the curtains. The operating table was still in situ. Unlike everything else I had seen since entering the hospital, this looked clean and white. Reaching the edge of the table I stretched out my hand and ran my fingers along the surface. It was spotless and impersonal yet it appeared to be waiting for me.
Nervously I looked round the room. It was empty and I was alone.
Suddenly I found myself lying on the table, my clothes replaced by a standard issue green hospital robe. The overhead lights flashed on in an instant, making me jump in surprise. With the bright illumination the room seemed to reflect a pure, white light in all directions; the earlier grime and mess had vanished, yet I knew I was still alone.
The wait was interminable but I didn’t try to move or escape; it was as though what came next was inevitable, however terrifying.
Although I was aware of waiting, it was almost relaxing. The white light blocked out everything else around me and the silence was restful. My eyelids felt heavy but then, this was a nightmare and you can’t go to sleep when you’re already asleep!
Then came the sound of footsteps and whispered voices; I became alert. Whilst I wasn’t tied to the table, I wasn’t able to move either; but my eyes searched for some sign of who was approaching.
The footsteps stopped by the side of the table; I could hear the hurried whispers and believed I could detect the sound of breathing too but still I was unable to see anyone. The sensation was unnerving and I knew I was sweating profusely.
For a moment everything was silent again and then, in a flash, I saw the large, sharp-edged knife rise up out of nowhere before it plunged into my chest.
The force of the blow was terrific. In fact it was so fast and powerful that the pain didn’t register immediately. Then, as the reality began to sink in I felt the blade being drawn from my body before, once more, it delivered a second stab.
The blows came fast and furious, one after the other. Somehow I was still aware of what was happening even though I could feel nothing. It was as if I was now watching my own death from some higher point in the room.
There was no one holding the knife but it was moving backwards and forwards as my body became coated in a blood bath. I could see my eyes staring up blindly at me, blood at the corner of my mouth and running from my nose.
The horror continued until it looked as if I was clothed in a full-length red robe. A gaping hole was all that was left of my stomach and chest. It was mildly fascinating to see me lying there but know I was removed from the corpse upon which I looked.
The knife was now lying next to my body, abandoned by the invisible murderer. Gradually the scene faded before my eyes as the lights dimmed until I was surrounded by complete darkness.
Considering what I had witnessed yet again, I wondered why this particular nightmare was recurring. Who was responsible for killing me and what on earth did it have to do with my life now?
Life has become a bit creepy, to be honest. Just as in the nightmare, I am always alone. I know it sounds crazy but I think I am in my own bed, in my own house, when I wake up. It all feels familiar but odd too. I think it’s the isolation which makes me hesitate. If it was my normal existence there should be other people, if not in my home then at least passing by in the street, on foot or by car.
However, there is no one, just me.
Day after day it is always the same. I spend the day alone at home and then at night the nightmare returns. I’ve got to do some serious thinking about this or it’ll drive me crazy. It would be simpler if I could recall a time before this was my normal state of existence. But my mind is empty of any previous life; so I think about the nightmare, forcing myself to return to those spooky surroundings and the horrific ending.
I make the scene play out in my mind until I get to the operating theatre. Trying to view the episode from a different perspective I concentrate on the voices and squeeze my eyes tightly shut as I search for some clue as to the identity of the approaching people.
The mist is slowly clearing and for the first time I see the face. Opening my eyes in shock I rush to the mirror and stare at my reflection. It is me. In the hospital it is me I see carrying the knife and inflicting the injuries. But how can that be? How can I slaughter myself?
Again I close my eyes and am immediately transported to that moment. I watch over my own shoulder as I plunge the knife into the helpless body. But the face I see on the table is not my own.
It is the face of an old man, then it changes to a young woman, then a middle aged woman and so on as I watch myself murder person after person.
Opening my eyes slowly the realisation hits me. I haven’t been watching my own death but the replay of all the deaths I have caused. I am a killer. My blood runs cold. How many were there? Too many and I daren’t close my eyes again.
And now the mists have completely vanished. I have my answers. I am guilty of killing other humans. This is my purgatory: to live in eternal isolation and have to go through the same horror I inflicted on others each night in my dreams.
It is appropriate that I am alone. My madness will be slow and deserved. I am the only person who should have to live with myself, in hell.
© 2013 Sonya C. Dodd
IT STARTED WITH A WHISPER
BY PETER JOHN
My eyelids felt heavy but seemed reluctant to close. Sleep was eluding me and my effort to break free from consciousness was draining my body of what little strength that remained. That was why, the first time that they spoke to me, I excused the experience as yet another symptom of my sleep starved mind.
As the darkness drew ever closer I found myself focusing inwardly. With the calm of the night they came to my bedside and whispered their quiet woes into my ears and I could feel their warm breath as their words brushed against my face. My skin crawled with every syllable and stuttered moan that was forced into my conscious mind. I found myself craving sleep as a form of escape but it was a fruitless dream. I lay still with my weakened state holding me to the bed while a constant flow of whispered doom laid siege to my defenseless ears. Relief only came with the growing light of dawn. As the first scrawny filaments of light slipped through the cracks in the curtains the voices began to fade until all I could hear was the sound of bird song outside.
As I look back on that first night I find myself wishing for another like it. I had suffered a tormenting experience which turned out to be nothing compared to that which was to follow.
The day after, I felt as if I was living in a blurred world. I felt detached from my surroundings and the distractions I usually craved. The evening seemed to arrive without warning and the night crept in like a prowler searching for an unlocked door. Even though I was exhausted I still found myself delaying the inevitable journey to bed. I sat alone in my living room flicking through the channels on my television but I couldn’t find anything to engage my tired mind.
The television switched off and the room fell dark. I assumed that I had accidentally pressed the remote control in my weary condition. Then I felt the weight of another person join me on my sofa. The nearest light was in the hallway and it barely penetrated beyond the living room door. Even as I strained my eyes to peer through the darkness I could see nothing beyond the end of my nose. I
could feel the weight shifting and I could hear the sound of shallow breaths. I found that I couldn’t move at first through fear or lack of strength. I sat blindly waiting for the cold touch of whatever it was that had sat beside me. My strength suddenly returned and I jumped to my feet, only to watch the door swing shut as I stepped towards it. The room was now pitch black and the only comfort I could find was in the solidness of the wall as I pressed my back against it. The floorboards creaked as if supporting heavy footsteps and the gentle flow of cold air brushed against my skin. I felt goose bumps begin to form and the hairs of my arms rose to attention. The shallow breathing became a low growl like someone was breathing through clenched teeth. I could feel the presence close by but I was too scared to reach out and confirm my fears. Hot breath stroked my ear and I could feel the air as it was disturbed by movement around me. It was so close now that I braced myself for the feel of its touch. The television switched back on and flooded the room with multicolored light and I could see that I was alone. The rest of the night passed under the shadow of apprehension but the presence didn’t return before the morning arrived.
I struggled to understand the events of the night and found it difficult to excuse them as just figments of my imagination. As the day wore on so did my apprehension of the approaching night. I tried to say away from home by visiting various clubs and bars. I was drinking more than I was used to and, combined with my lack of sleep, my grasp on reality began to fade. I had a murky awareness that I was sat upon a bar stool in a drinking establishment only a short walk from my home. I had no idea what I was drinking by then and if there was anyone else currently enjoying the same misty surroundings. I lacked the strength to resist when exhaustion finally took me.
It was still dark when I awoke but there was enough light for me to recognized my own bedroom. I had no memory of returning home and no intention of staying. I tried to move but found that my limbs wouldn’t respond. I couldn’t even move my head so I was stuck with a straight, upward view of the ceiling. I began to panic and my mind span in circles but suddenly stopped turning when I heard the first of the whispers. The voices were clearer than before as they retold their stories of misfortune. I could feel their thoughts as they began to mingle with my own and I
felt a clammy touch around my ankles. Coldness slowly rose up my legs, leaving my body numb and lifeless. I lost all feeling below my waist as the chill rose up through my stomach. The voices echoed through my head predicting a future of torment. I felt my arms go dead as the sensation reached my shoulders and my chest became numb as the coldness invaded my neck. The voices fell silent when my ears felt the chill and my mind succumbed to the deathly touch.
As you lay awake in a world upon the edge of dreams, listen to my shallow voice. This is my story of woe and as I whisper the tale of my passing into your defenseless ear. Can you imagine the fate that awaits you?
© 2013 Peter John
BY CHRIS RAVEN
James woke up with a feeling of being watched, which of course of late meant that he probably was. He rubbed his eyes, and slowly opened them to see the silhouetted figure of a woman looking down at him from the foot of the bed. He groaned, and reached out to pat the bedside table until he found the switch that turned on the lamp. “Oh,” he said disappointedly, “I thought you were Celia”.
He suppressed a brief pang of guilt, as he had already guessed that the woman was Rebecca.
“Did you now,” the stern looking woman replied, “well tact was never your strong point was it James”.
“Tact?” James said as he sat up in his bed, voice instantly annoyed. Rebecca had always known how to push his buttons, especially when she was in this type of mood. “You come here uninvited, and you talk to me about tact?” Rebecca just looked down at him in silent accusation, which only increased his annoyance.
“You know this isn’t right, what you’re doing. It’s all wrong”, he said angrily, swinging his legs off the bed and grabbing his glasses from the bedside table. “You can’t just come here any time you want. This is really not fair, especially to Celia.”
“Oh, we wouldn’t want to upset Celia now would we,” Rebecca replied, voice heavily sarcastic and bitter.
“No we would not, so you had better stop coming here, and start coming to terms with how things are.” James reached down to grab his dressing gown off the floor and caught sight of the alarm clock on the bedside table. “Bloody hell Rebecca, it’s four o’clock in the morning”. Rebecca just shrugged defiantly.
“So!” She sneered, “what’s that to me?” James stood and slipped on his dressing gown. He studied Rebecca’s petulant face and tried to calm himself down.
“Look,” he said, trying to introduce a reasonable tone to his voice. “I wouldn’t mind so much but, if you remember, it was you who left me.” He knew he had just made a terrible mistake, but it was too late for him to take his words back. Rebecca’s body had visibly tensed, her eyes were wild and then she exploded.
“How dare you! Of course I left you, what choice did you give me? You heartless, arrogant ass, and after what you did to me”. James cut in quickly, angrily and loudly; wanting to drown out Rebecca’s voice before he had to hear the same old accusations and recriminations all over again.
“For Christ’s sake Rebecca that was over ten years ago, ten years!” James was standing up by then and he had moved towards her. “Ten years, can’t you let it go? It was a one off and it wasn’t even Celia. You didn’t have to leave, we could have worked it out, but you went. It was your choice, so don’t blame me now if you can’t move on. This is not my fault anymore Rebecca and it certainly isn’t Celia’s”.
James was really close to Rebecca by then, his red angry face almost touching hers, his voice loud and furious, with his spittle occasionally landing on her cheek.
“That’s it James,” she screamed, “hit me, go on, you know you want to. Get it out of your system”.
James stopped, stunned, he hadn’t even realized that he had been shouting. He hadn’t realized how terrifying he must have appeared to her then. He sat down heavily on the bed, his head in hands.
“I never would have… I wouldn’t, why would…” And then it dawned on him.
James looked up at the defiant expression on Rebecca’s face and was horrified to see that his suspicion was justified.
“You bitch, you call me heartless. I can’t believe you would try and get me to do that to Celia”.
James took a deep breath before continuing.
“Try and understand Rebecca, this was never Celia’s fault. We weren’t seeing each other back then, not until years later anyway, not until well after you left. We’ve been married five years now for God’s sake”. James fell silent and sat shaking his head.
“I can’t help it,” Rebecca explained after a few moments of silence, “I just hate her”.
James angrily motioned Rebecca to stay quiet and got up off the bed, giving her a long angry glare as he left the bedroom and slamming the door behind him.
In the kitchen, James switched on the kettle and prepared himself a cup of coffee. Rebecca was sitting at the breakfast table behind him, so he was able to keep his back to her.
“I’m having a coffee,” he said over his shoulder, not wanting to look at her yet. “Do you want one?”
“I don’t think Celia will approve, do you?” Rebecca replied but without her earlier passion.
James tipped in a spoonful of coffee in the cup as the kettle bubbled and switched itself off.
“I’m sure Celia wouldn’t begrudge you one cup of coffee Rebecca, it’s probably been quite a while now.”
“It has,” Rebecca said quietly, thrown by his sudden thoughtfulness. “Thank you James, I would love a cup of coffee.” The spoon of sugar that had been hovering over the steaming hot coffee was immediately withdrawn and James took the cup to the breakfast table. He placed it by Rebecca’s hand, only glancing at her once, both allowing only a brief moment of eye contact before James returned to the kettle. He grabbed a fresh cup from the tree and switched the kettle back on.
Rebecca held the coffee cup in both hands and took a sip.
“That is a perfect cup of coffee James”. She closed her eyes to savour the taste as she took another sip. “But you could always make a good coffee James. That was one of the things I loved about you”. James said nothing while he prepared his own coffee. The kettle switched itself off again and James picked it up and poured the hot water over the sugar and coffee granules, watching the clear water turn instantly brown.
“It’s only coffee Rebecca,” he finally told her, “I only add hot water and milk.” He started to drink his coffee, with his back to her and looking out of the kitchen window to the identical window opposite.
After a while Rebecca broke the silence and eventually asked.
“Do you love Celia more than you loved me?” James’ head and shoulders sank a little but he kept his back to her as he added a little more sugar to his drink.
“No,” he sighed, “I don’t love Celia more than I loved you. I have never loved Celia more than you”. He let the words hang there and after a while he gently added, “you were always the love of my life Rebecca and when you left it almost killed me. Celia quite literally saved my life; she gave me something to live for.”
“I wish she hadn’t,” Rebecca said quietly, but without any malice. “You could have joined me; we could have been together all these years”. James turned and looked at his first wife across the kitchen, sitting on an old rickety stool, cradling her coffee cup in her hands.
“I wanted to Rebecca,” he told her, “there was a time back then when I really could have, but I didn’t”.
“I know,” Rebecca replied dryly, “Celia saved you”.
“I chose to stay,” James cut in defensively, “Celia was there for me. That is why you can’t keep doing this, that’s why you need to move on and leave us alone”. Rebecca’s eyes filled with tears.
Instinctively, James stepped forward and knelt down beside her.
“I can’t help it James,” she cried, “I still love you.”
“I know,” James said softly, putting his arms round her. “I know, I love you still but there’s Celia”.
“Celia,” Rebecca repeated, briefly annoyed but then they looked into each other’s eyes and at that moment they suddenly and unexpectedly kissed, eagerly and hard, ten years worth of intense love and hate formed itself into this one moment of intense passion.
Rebecca broke away first, gently pushing James back.
“Does Celia know about me?” James shook his head and looked down, ashamed.
“No, she thinks she sleepwalks”. Rebecca cradled his jaw in her hands and lifted his face to look at him.
“This is not infidelity you know. I am still your wife, we were never actually divorced. That technically makes Celia the other woman.”
“No it doesn’t” James protested “I’m doing to Celia what I did to you.”
“No, this is different my love,” Rebecca reassured him. “This is a lot different because you still love me and you’ve always loved me. You tell me that I can’t move on but that’s not quite true is it. The truth is my darling, that it is you who cannot move on. It is you who’s holding me here. I could have passed on at any time, but it is you who has never been able to let me go”.
“I know,” James conceded and they kissed again but this time gently, more tenderly.
Later that morning James awoke in bed at the insistence of the alarm clock. He patted the snooze button, rolled over and looked at his wife’s face as she lay there sleeping contentedly in the bed beside him. It was Celia who awoke when she opened her eyes and smiled warmly at James when she realized he was lying there looking at her. “Good morning darling,” she said, “have you been awake for long?”
“No,” James said, sitting up. “The alarms just gone off, did you sleep well?” Celia considered this and then looked a little confused.
“I think so, but I can taste coffee.”
“I know,” James said, “you were sleepwalking again last night and you actually made yourself a cup of coffee”.
“Really?” She said, sitting up surprised. “How strange, you know how much I hate coffee”. “I know,” James laughed nervously. “What will you do next?” “That’s bizarre,” Celia said laughing.
“I know,” James replied, getting carried away with the lie.
Celia stopped laughing and conspiratorially asked.
“Did we?” The question was left hanging in the air for a moment before James nervously confirmed.
“Yes we did sweetheart”.
“Really?” She said, a little shocked.
“You woke up first,” James added hastily, “but you were really sleepy. You’ve probably forgotten”.
“You’re a naughty man,” she said in mock indignation, “taking advantage of me. It’s a shame though, I would like to have remembered”. James quickly stood up and slipped on his dressing gown again.
“I’m taking a shower before I get ready for work. Do you want me to run you a bath while I’m in there?”
“Please,” Celia said, as she snuggled back down under the duvet, warm and contented.
James went into the bathroom and started to run the hot water. He sat on the edge of the bath and noticed that the bathroom door was still open. He could not see Celia from where he was sitting, but he could hear her breathing and he found the sound painful. He reached out and pushed the door closed.
James looked at Celia’s pink bathrobe hanging from the back of the door and he choked back tears thinking about how he had betrayed her last night. No matter how Rebecca and he had spun the lie at the time, it was still a betrayal. James had betrayed the good friend who had become his second wife, the one who had saved his life all those years ago. Out of all their friends, Celia had been the only one who had remained while all the others had slowly drifted away, unable to face James’ headlong decent into despair. It had been Celia who had convinced James that his life was still worth living, even after Rebecca’s suicide, so James just sat on the edge of the bath and sobbed.
© 2013 Chris Raven
THE GOBLIN CHANGELING
BY SHERYL SEAL
“You should know… It’s that time of year… When the witches and ghosts appear… They come at night when there’s no more light… Halloween is almost here… If you look… Very carefully… There’s a goblin behind each tree… But I must say… don’t you run away…‘Cause. It. Might. Be.
Singing this children’s song as we all strolled down the sidewalk, my buddies and I were excited to be going trick or treating this year. We were all hooting and hollering and having a great night. It was probably the last time we would all be together like this. We were between the ages of ten and twelve and this was our night.
There was one house that we all couldn’t wait to get to and it was on the next street over. Of course the rules state that we have to knock on every house that is brightly lit up and participating with this age old tradition. Begging for candy isn’t exactly classy, but at the end of the night the rewards will be life changing.
“Hey there Billy! Dude, you look like a dork with your great big green goblin ears and that mouth full of slimy teeth. I can smell your breath from here.”
“Yeah Tyler, well look how big your feet are. A foot the size of a Volkswagen and just as wide isn’t exactly all the rage.”
Cole and River and I were hanging behind and mocking every move the two of them made. “Katelyn, watch this.” River whispered. Cole and River then proceeded to mock Billy and Tyler’s steps. They had me laughing so hard I thought I might pee myself. Tyler is all long-limbed and his feet are the still the biggest part of him. Transforming his features to look just like Tyler, River even matched his huge feet. Cole couldn’t resist and joined in the fun and suddenly there was a loud noise and the nastiest odor in the air.
“Hey River, that’s Billy’s breath! Get it?” The laughter continued as Tyler and Billy turned around and chased Cole and River down the street. I yelled for them to come back so we could go up to the next house. With my hands on my not so delicate hips and stomping my big foot, I shouted for the guys to come back.
“We can’t skip any of the houses and I’m not going into this new life without my buds.” Heckling each other, they caught back up with me and we continued down the street of houses. Decorated all spooky, the last house on the street had what we call an overkill of decorations. A mass of spider webs with a giant make believe spider was surrounding the house. Spooky music played on loud speakers and carved pumpkins lined the stairs up to the house. A man dressed as a zombie handed out candy at the door and thought we were cool. “These are the best costumes I’ve seen so far, a gang of goblins, very realistic kids.” As he tried to pat Billy on the head, I heard the growl that came deep within. I stepped up quickly in front of the zombie and Billy, before the guy lost his fingers or worse. Tyler and River grabbed Billy by the arms and turned him back to the sidewalk and proceeded to calm him. Then he turned back. “I should really apologize for my behavior. Go on ahead and I’ll be right there.” Cole followed Billy to make sure he got his share of candy. Then Billy came running past me and I yelled after him.
“Where’s Cole at Billy?”
“He’s getting more candy from the zombie guy.” I knew of course, I shouldn’t have left him there alone but we all have decisions to make in life and I hoped Cole made the right decision tonight.
We were rounding the corner to the next street when Cole finally caught up with us. He was making loud slurping noises and moaning and groaning. I knew what had happened and it was an unthinkable thing to do on this Halloween night. I turned around and stood in front of him as I glared and waited for him to confess his sin. He just smiled and pushed me aside and walked past.
Catching up with him I whispered.
“You have a few fingers stuck in your teeth.”
There wasn’t much time to consider the complications that would arise from Cole’s actions. The street we turned down was so thick with fog that it was hard to see your hand in front of your face. Then I ran into River and it was like running into a brick wall. He was mumbling to Billy and Tyler about how eerie this street was. Tyler caught me by the arm and asked.
“Katelyn, what took you and Cole so long? You know we’re supposed to stay together.” I dreaded telling him anything.
“Ummm… there was an incident with Cole and the zombie man. This is creepy and there are no other kids around. Is this the right street?”
We were all hanging onto each other now like Tyler suggested and talking about leaving this street when a light came on at a house right across from us. The fog cleared and a lady in a witch’s costume stepped out the door and onto the porch. She motioned us to come towards her. We moved together like we were in a trance all the way up the steps until we were standing in front of her. She was beautiful with long pink hair that flowed under her big black hat. She had eyes that sparkled like emeralds and a black box with silver lettering that I couldn’t read. She clutched the box tightly and smiled at us all.
“Welcome to the night of the goblin exchange, you are here to become part of the world of man. My name is Alicia and I am the witch that will help you on your way into the world of man.” She pointed her finger at us and the ground shook. Electric colors raced all around us and we were instantly changed into children that could live in the world of man. Tyler, River and Billy all highfived each other as I stared at Cole. He was still a big green ugly goblin. He had big ears, big feet and hands, an oddly shaped head and body, weird looking obsidian eyes and the biggest mouth with slimy sharp teeth. Goblins are really not very attractive and I was happy not to be one any longer but poor Cole. He should never have eaten that zombie guy. I felt bad for him even while I was happy for the rest of us.
As I watched, Alicia stepped forward and held her box up. I could see that the beautifully scripted lettering spelled Cole and before I even knew what was happening, she raised her eyebrow and spoke directly to him.
“Get in the box goblin boy, you have broken the rules and must go back home until next year.” Immediately he was sucked into the box until the next Halloween.
© 2013 Sheryl Seal
BY MADHU KALYAN MATTAPARTHI
I can’t remember. I only have the vague memory of a woman living here with me but if it is a fleeting glimpse into my torrid past or only a figment of my imagination, I cannot say. The only thing that I can say with all certainty is that I do nothing but sit here in my run-down apartment, never being able to leave as I have no key to the door. This isolation is further enhanced by the heavy chains that bar my way. I do not know why they are here.
I do have a few DVDs that lie caked in a thick layer of dust on my coffee table. However, I am unable to watch them as my television is broken. I can’t even remember the last time that it worked properly. My telephone doesn’t work either. Whenever I pick it up, I hear nothing but the static that echoes throughout the expansive caverns of my empty life.
The only thing that I can actually do is play the menial computer games that always seem to appear on my desktop; games that constantly change throughout the day. This first one appears to be some sort of colour matching game. Red, blue, green, yellow, purple, orange… I click lethargically on the dull orbs. All the while I stare out my window at the lush, green fields that lie behind my complex. I realise as I listen to the soft, comforting sounds of birds that contentedly flit to and fro among the branches of the trees, their gentle chirps resonating through the air as they do so, that it’s the only glimpse at freedom that I have.
I hear an electronic ping come from my computer, so I tear my eyes away from the window to look down at the screen. I must have beaten the game. The colours begin to spin and rotate about themselves, quickly turning from a ring of varying shades into a sickly green miasma of swirling chaos. I chuckle softly to myself at the irony.
Suddenly, I am distracted by the sound of something dropping through the mail slot on my door. This surprises me, as I have never received any sort of mail before. I run quickly over to the door, hoping to catch the mailman before he leaves. I may even start a conversation with him through the mail slot, as is the state of my desperation, but, alas, I must be too late; I can see nothing but the faded red paint of the door that sits solemnly across from my own.
Feeling somewhat jaded by this, I turn my attention to the humble brown package that lies on my floor. I carry it back to my couch and begin to slowly open it. I desperately hope it’s a letter or gift from someone, anyone. Family, friend, stranger; I just don’t care. The parchment falls away to reveal nothing more than an ordinary barcode scanner, the likes of which could be found at any local grocery store. Thinking that it was delivered to the wrong person, I throw it against my wall in a fit of anger and frustration.
I lay my head in my hands, as I have become gripped once more into the familiar embrace of loneliness and depression. After a fairly significant amount of time spent wallowing in my own selfpity, I look up again. The scanner must have been accidentally triggered by my throw, as I can see the insignificant red beam resting upon the spine of one of my aforementioned dust-caked DVDs. As I go to pick up the scanner, I notice something peculiar on the screen. Instead of reading the name and price of the DVD, or at least something along those lines, it simply reads “EY H”. This thoroughly confuses me, as I never expected to see something this strange from those simple, unassuming bars of black and white.
After some time spent pondering these events, I begin to develop a theory. I reason that if one of these barcodes held some sort of strange message, then perhaps the others would too.
I begin to scan everything that I can find in my apartment, from the rest of the DVDs, to the blank white bottle of pills that rests ominously in my medicine cabinet, the purpose of which escapes me. After scanning some more barcodes, I begin to see more of a message take form. “FED”, “NG B”, “APE”, “AN”… It was all gibberish to me. I finally go to the only item that remained un-scanned; the lone can of soup that seems to be perpetually full upon the shelf in my kitchen. I expect to find some more nonsensical letters to add to my already confusing collection. However, this one was different, coherent. It merely reads “WINDOW”.
After a few minutes spent pondering this, I decide that it must be referencing to the window above my desk, as it is the only one in my apartment. I am sceptical though, because I have tried to open that window in the past only to find sealed shut with no apparent means of unlocking it. I decide to try the window anyway and, to my surprise, it opens! I begin to inwardly rejoice, thinking that I am on the verge of escaping from this hell that has so long entrapped me. I suffer a moment of hope that I will finally be reunited with the outside world, but it is not to be.
Instead of a blessed breath of fresh air, I am greeted by a cold, hard floor of cement as I enter into the secret room behind my window. I immediately walk passed the beautiful painting of a lush, green field and I walk passed the cassette player with the calm chirping of birds set to play on endless loop. I find myself face-to-face with a cork-board that is completely covered by faded yellow scraps of paper, each one filled with a multitude of those familiar barcodes. As I scan them, a message begins to take shape. “TH”, “HAV”, “HILE”, “IES”. I scan every scrap of paper and I finally have my obsession, the completed message is in my grasp. It reads: “THEY HAVE FED
YOU NOTHING BUT LIES. ESCAPE WHILE YOU STILL CAN.”
I laugh aloud at the implication and absolute absurdity of the situation but a clanging sound, coming from within my apartment, distracts my dark revelry.
I return to find the chains that have so long barred my way has fallen to the floor and the deadbolt has turned itself in the lock. I am finally free, I can finally return to normal society!
As I push my way through the portal, I am greeted by a dark and ominous hallway. The electric lights flicker and spark, as if they are about to burst at any moment. As I take stock of my surroundings, I notice three doors besides my own. One is sealed shut with a multitude of boards and nails. Another is completely bricked over, the hastily done cement-work having dripped down and hardened upon the floor. As for the door that I had seen across from mine? I could see through its mail slot that it is devoid of any and all furnishings; the yellowed wallpaper is peeling around the edges.
I now look to my right and see a long and dimly lit hallway that stretches further than what I can make out. I take a deep breath and begin the long march down the hallway. After walking for what feels like an eternity, I happen upon a yellowed scrap of paper resting upon the floor, its face bearing yet another of those familiar bars of black and white. “IS ANY PERSON TRULY FREE?” Struck by a sudden pang of fear, I drop the scrap and continue nervously on my way. I walk only a little bit more when I find yet another scrap, this one so yellowed and torn that the ink was barely readable upon the page. “IS ANY PERSON TRULY SANE?”
I panic now and begin to run. I don’t care where I am going, I just want to escape from the dark and imposing walls that seem to mock me at every step. I still continue to run as the walls begin to twist and spiral, taking on inconceivable shapes. It seems that I am running forever, never to escape this prison, this hell that has had me trapped for an eternity within its grim jaws, the likes of which must have been machinated by Satan himself; I continue to run.
I write to you now, having finally escaped from the confines of my prison. I can finally look out of my window at the people who frolic to and fro, with their children and their pets, all the while oblivious to life’s challenges. Even if it begins to rain, they will simply lay out umbrellas over their picnic tables; they will allow nothing to interrupt their quiet Sunday afternoons. These joyous scenes of normality bring me great peace. I need only look past the iron bars that stand in my window and block my view, all the while being wrapped snugly within the warm, comforting arms of my straitjacket.
© 2013 Madhu Kalyan Mattaparthi
BY ALAN HARDY
The first time it happened was on a very cold night in early winter. It didn’t scare George particularly, and he certainly had no presentiment that he was going to die.
He’d just gone to bed and, shivering, tried to pull the bedclothes snugly around him to keep out the cold. There was a tug on one side of the bed as if the sheets were being held back. He gave a forceful tug in return and they were released. They had obviously got caught up under the bed and he had had to ‘unjam’ them, so to speak.
That’s what he thought at the time, although even then he sensed just for a moment that a figure by the side of the bed, obscured by the darkness, had been holding the bedclothes back. He laughed, and drifted off to sleep, though not without a sideways glance or two.
He chuckled about it in the morning, as he munched his breakfast cereal in his lonely bed-sit. He’d had a lucky escape from the devil’s clutches. He giggled stupidly.
He’d been living alone for a couple of years now, ever since moving to the big city from the village he’d grown up in. It had been a wrench leaving that village, with its tiny, winding street, handful of shops, quaint old single-track railway station, and people who all knew each other. He had never got used to the chilling anonymity of the city. He’d never settled into a long-term job, just a succession of unsatisfying temporary positions, and had only had one proper girlfriend, Jennie. Although he had been crazy about her, and still was, it hadn’t worked out.
He missed the security of the village. Even the ‘dares’ he and his mates used to get up to on Saturdays, like running over the track in front of oncoming trains, now seemed cosy and safe. It was so unlike the big city, where he felt totally lost. He just couldn’t make a go of it. He couldn’t progress in life. It was as if an invisible hand were holding him back.
He often got that feeling. The feeling he was being pulled back. He would sense somebody or something behind him who was tugging on him, who had grabbed hold of a piece of his clothing (his coat-tail or coat-sleeve maybe), or even his body (his arms, legs or neck) and wouldn’t let him break loose. He would be walking by shop-windows and catch strange glimpses of a shadowy figure close behind him, overwhelming him with its scary presence. ‘Glimpses’ was the wrong word. Whenever he stopped and stared closely in the shop-window, or spun nervously round, he saw nothing. It was more a sensation, a fear, a premonition.
One day he was sitting in a café, still wearing his coat and eating some badly-cooked sausage and chips. He was intrigued by a figure sitting at a table in the far corner of the drab, damp-feeling room. What with intervening tables seating other people, coughing and spluttering their way through the unwholesome grub, he couldn’t see clearly but the figure seemed to be clad in black, hooded in some way and just broodingly sitting there. George was distracted as a couple of other diners suddenly laughed out loud and, when he looked again into the corner, the black figure was gone. George shuddered and passed his hand over his forehead to see if he was hot. Maybe he had a fever. He shuddered again; he was icy-cold.
He swallowed a bit more of the grub, paid the surly-faced waitress and rose to leave. As he tried to move away he felt himself being held back. He yanked at whatever was tying him down. His hand instinctively moved to a button of his opened coat which had caught on the rim of the table. He disentangled it and stumbled a bit as his body was released. Red-faced, and acutely aware of one or two strange looks from his sour-faced fellow-diners, he tottered to the door, fearing he were about to topple over. Outside he drew in the cold, invigorating air.
“Get a grip, George! Get a grip,” he told himself.
Other similar incidents took place. An evening spent in a pub drowning his sorrows ended badly when, drunkenly staggering away from the bar with yet another pint of beer in his hand, his legs collided with a stray chair that some oaf had left in his path. The momentum of his initial movement propelled his body forward and he was forced to hold himself back from toppling over. Once back in his seat, he broke out in a cold sweat and stared ahead with unseeing eyes.
He was being held back; he couldn’t move forward. He couldn’t carry on with his life. Something was stopping him. Some sort of being was grabbing hold of him and not letting him go. He knew what it meant. He had no future, except for…Death.
There was always somebody near him, behind him, watching him. A sinister presence, an unimaginable creature was after him. Something was snatching him away from life. He wanted to scream. He was so alone. Who could help? Who could save him?
It was like perpetually being in that nightmare where you couldn’t escape the clutches of some pursuing phantom or monster. The more he tried to run, the more he was held back.
Reality and his dream-world of fear and shadowy shapes became confused and mixed. He remembered once leaving a department-store and somehow, in his panic, trying to rush through the revolving doors out into the fresh air. He misjudged everything and got caught in the ever-closing exit. He felt suffocated and trapped, squeezed between the jaws of the doors. Had that happened or had he dreamt it?
He felt the ghostly presence of the thing which was following him more and more. It was always there. It was as if it mimicked every step he made, as if it followed him like a rabid dog. Its blackness, its sombre, hooded shape never left him. He couldn’t escape; it wouldn’t let go until he was dead.
Memories of his life in the safe, old village flooded back to him and, in particular, the tiny single-track railway-station where he and his mates used to dare each other to run across the track in front of approaching trains.
* * *
“George, is that what you’ve dragged me here for? To hear nonsense about being followed by a ghost or monster?”
“But Jennie, you don’t understand…” George said, hardly able to look her in the face, staring down at his hands clasped around his glass of beer.
“And somebody holding you back, not letting you move…You were always the same George, too nervous. Get a life!”
George raised his eyes. Jennie was as attractive as he remembered. Black hair, firm features, lovely body and as fierce and unforgiving as ever. He winced under the gaze of her contemptuous, blue eyes.
“That’s why things didn’t work out between us, George. You’ll never amount to anything until you face down your demons.”
“Wait a bit longer, Jennie…” George pleaded. “I’ll get another round.”
As he nervously stood up and made to walk to the bar, his foot caught on the foot of the table and he was pitched forward on to the floor, his nostrils sucking in the stale, fibrous smell of the shabby carpet.
“George! For God’s sake! Has the devil got you by the heels? You’re pathetic!”
As he picked himself up, he saw Jennie storming out and other beer-drinkers staring at him, one or two with rather curious, worried expressions. He sensed that black, shadowy figure nearby. He couldn’t see it, but it was there.
* * *
He stood on the station platform, waiting patiently. For the first time in weeks he felt calm. He checked his watch. The train would be arriving soon. There were a few other people there, including a pale-faced woman with short, blonde hair, wearing a long red scarf. She was looking strangely at him.
George moved further up the platform in the direction the train was coming. He could see its outline in the distance, snaking along. He got to the point just beyond the raised platform where he and his mates used to play their game. They could run out on to the track without having to jump down, and used to be over the other side and away before anyone could stop them.
That’s what he was going to do. He was going to run over the track right in front of the train, but much closer than he had ever done as a kid. He was going to confront his demons head-on. Jennie was right. He would never amount to anything until he faced down his fears. He was going to cheat death. He was cocking a snoop at that black-hooded devil. It was near him; he could sense it but he didn’t care. This way he would win Jennie back. He would get a life, a proper job and the girl he loved.
The train was getting closer. He was amazed at his calmness. Everything was going to be fine. He glanced over to the platform. The blonde-haired woman was still staring at him.
He could hear the rattle of the train. He tensed his body. The shadowy figure was standing by his side. He could see it now, dressed in a black, flowing robe, and he wasn’t scared of it anymore.
The train was nearly there. He tensed his muscles. The black shape moved directly behind him. George drew in his breath sharply and, with a cry issuing from his parched lips, he bounded forward.
He felt exhilarated; it was just like old times. He would soon be over to the other side of the track. He heard the shrill scream of the train, smelt its fumes.
He couldn’t move. He was being held back. He struggled and struggled to get loose but couldn’t budge.
He turned round. He was met by the sight of a huge, black figure, its hooded face hidden in darkness and its body wrapped in a long, black, flowing robe. The fearsome being raised a hand, and a long, bony finger beckoned. It lifted its head. Its hood fell open a little to reveal a black, cavernous depth, which George was immediately sucked into, hurtling down into its vast emptiness. * * *
“Is he dead?”
“What do you think?”
“His shoe got caught in the rail. It’s still there.”
The people who had been on the platform were now huddled in the waiting-room, listening to the reports from those who had rushed to the scene. “Who was he?”
“I think I recognised him…he used to live around here”.
“And what about the other person there?”
Everyone stared at the blonde-haired woman, who was sitting quietly in the corner, nervously fingering the red scarf around her neck.
“What other person?”
“That black figure, wearing a hood, and a long coat…”
“Was he carrying a scythe, love?” asked one man, sniggering unpleasantly.
“No, no, I must have been mistaken,” said the woman hurriedly. “I need some fresh air.”
She attempted to stand up, but gave a choking cry as she was held back, half-strangled by her long, red scarf.
“Sorry, love,” said the man sitting next to her, looking embarrassed, and quickly moving his foot from the end of the scarf.
She moved to the door, looking round behind her, as if she were being followed. Her anguished face was as pale as a death-mask.
Despite a few sniggers at her strange behaviour, the vast majority were indifferent to her obvious discomfort and troubled look. As she glanced round, there were two or three others who looked nervously at her. They knew, once the Grim Reaper had finished with her, it would soon be their turn.
© 2013 Alan Hardy
BY GUNJAN VYAS
She walked around her house a few times before unlocking the front door. The iron lock was big and rusty, just like the door’s hinges which creaked as she pushed it inch by inch. It was an effort considering how old the place was and how much it wept for renovation. As she stepped inside, the familiar odour of the musty, closed house welcomed her. The spider webs that decorated her walls had spread out even further in patterns that were thicker and more intricate than before. A fly was caught in one of them and was trying its best to escape from the sticky hell but all the insect’s efforts were in vain.
The windows were covered with dust. She didn’t even think about trying to open them; they were closed too tightly. As she walked through her living room towards the staircase, the floor creaked under her booted feet. Like everything else inside her house, it was very old and, at some point in her life, she planned to have her whole house refurnished. Now, however, the thought seemed more forbidding to her than the web must have been to the fly. The ceiling just above the staircase was dripping and covered with fungus. Its familiar damp smell filled her nostrils and she inhaled a deep breath; this was home.
As she started to climb the stairs, candles appeared as if from thin air and lit up her way. Their light shone upon the tall, old vases that held dried and decayed flowers, casting uncanny shadows. She smiled as she remembered the day she had received them as a token of true love. How bright and fresh they were when she had held them in her hands, smelling them every two minutes and blushing as she snuggled into the warmth of his embrace. Those were the good old days that a part of her wanted to return to but the other part of her sneered at the mere thought of it.
With each step, new candles lit up and the ones she had left behind died without even a flicker. Step by step, until she was in front of her bedroom. Without a single movement from her side, the door opened for her to step in and so she did. As soon as she was inside, the door creaked shut behind her with a soft thud. Her room smelled different from the rest of the house, it smelled like burning leaves. The air inside her room was devoid of all moisture and her skin felt dry just by being there. However, just like every day, she got used to the contrasting odour and continued with her routine.
Her eyes fell on the canapé at the other end of her room but she resisted the urge to go near it; the time wasn’t right and she had learned to remain patient over all these years. She looked out the window and wondered how life would have been if she wasn’t there. Unlike other windows in her house, the ones in her room were clean with a transparent pane for her to see the outside world. Just like others, however, it was tightly shut. It was a bright day and the sight of kids playing in a nearby park made her feel a little warm inside. There was life outside and there was happiness. Maybe she was no longer a part of it but the fact that it existed was heart-warming enough.
She had heard stories about herself, the strange woman that walked to the church every morning only to sit on the bench outside and staying there for hours before returning to her broken, haunted mansion. Some said she was a haunted spirit and some said she was mad. Some said she was just a normal person with a peculiar routine, while others said she was evil. She heard everything that was being said about her and, apparently, no one liked her. Kids called her a witch and adults didn’t want to know her.
She had got used to it by now, her appearance was revolting and she knew that. Skin as pale as a corpse and a face lined with age. She was always dressed in the same long, black gown, which was torn in various places. Her long black hair, which mysteriously never lost its youth even when her entire body had given itself to the process of aging, was always down and flowing. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why they were so scared of her. She didn’t care about anyone enough to harm them and she found their fear amusing.
Her eyes moved to the wall clock which was stuck at 12:05. So much time had passed since he had left her, saying that he would return once the clock’s hands started to move again but the time was not yet right. She’d been waiting for so long that just staring at it and begging it to move had become more of a habit.
She shook her head in dismay when once more the day had shown her nothing different. She let out a long breath and placed herself on the bed that sat in the centre of the room. The hard pillows felt like rocks under her head and she moaned softly with every breath. Just the usual day, the same monotonous waiting again.
The day started to die and the pleasant sounds of playing children started to turn into silence. Everything was quiet and the occasional hoots of some nearby owls only added thickness to the quietude. She closed her eyes and let sleep take over her, just how she usually did, but today it didn’t come to her. Her eyes flickered open and, involuntarily, her neck turned towards the wall clock which was now ticking away. The time had changed; it was 1:00. She sat up excitedly, her heart was beating faster than ever.
She ran towards the window. She pushed on the glass and, to her suprise, it opened. The night breeze swept inside and, along with it, the scent of memories from a beautiful past. A sudden wind blew against her face and she turned towards the canapé, where they had made love for the first time, and there he was. A translucent body with the familiar face of her true love; tears filled her eyes and she knelt in front of him.
“I didn’t think this was going to happen,” she said. “I didn’t know you were going to come back for me. It’s been so long…I don’t even remember how old I am.” He just smiled and lifted her to her feet, as if she were still as small and delicate as when they first met.
“We can be together now,” he said, “but you need to take your own life if you want to join me.”
“I have waited for all these years for just this moment. My life has been worse than death anyway and, if death unites us, so be it.” She hurried towards the window and, in a mad frenzy, lepted out into the night air. Today was the first day of her new life.
The incident of a woman’s suicide flashed across the newspaper headlines. Many claimed it was her madness that took her life. Some others said it was loneliness, while some said it was finally her evil spirit leaving to unite with her demon god in hell. There were some who said that she took her life only to turn into a ghost and haunt the living. To this day, there is no one who has spoken to her, no one who has actually known her but there is no one in whose memory, the mysterious Melinda doesn’t reside.
© 2013 Gunjan Vyas
BY WILLIAM O’BRIEN
In Temptus Vale it is often said those sensing the witches should be very careful with thoughts and wishes. It is true many do not understand the laws of nature and as some know ignorance is bliss. However, there are many that are aware of spells, magic and the like but do not respect the subtle energies that define many worlds. Temptus Vale is a small town in a shallow valley, where many strange things have happened over the years. On this particular night, it was now a few minutes to midnight and the grandmother clock born before the Great War was ticking. It had been an exciting evening for Rosie, Sean and Lily playing in the streets and getting treats. Hehe… but best of all were the tricks! Dressed as a ghost, Rosie squirted fake blood all over her white frilled skirt and blouse. Sean made himself up as a zombie using green face paint and lamp soot for blackened eyes, while helping Lily with her outfit. Lily loved the pointed hat and plastic fingernails.
It was common knowledge, or more so town gossip, about a young boy that had fallen down a staircase and died in Viewcrest House. The children at school said Mrs Cruelmonger did it, a mean old woman that had no desire for children to exist at all. Rosie decided to scare the old lady from number 83 by knocking on her windows as the other two were banging on her front door. Mrs Cruelmonger came out all in a tizzy, yelling and shouting about how they were such horrible children. Running around to the main door, Rosie caught up with the others as little Lily turned around and stood her ground. Donned in a black hat and long gown, she pointed her finger at the grumpy old woman and scowled.
“I am a witch and I wish you dead.”
Just before they ran away, Mrs Cruelmonger reached out with her scrawny hand and snatched a purple ribbon from the Lily’s hair. Laughter echoed through the porch as the wrinkled-faced crone grabbed her mop from the side of the doorway and started waving it at the trick or treat pranksters. Lily was the youngest of all and cackled the loudest as they all ran off down the street.
The evening was full of giggles and tricks with very few sweets or treats. It was much more fun to play jokes on people than eat candy. Anyway, there were loads of toffees back at home. The group all sat around the fire trying to keep warm as the clock continued ticking and they talked about the fun things they got up to that night. The parents had gone to a Halloween party for grown ups as they had been told by the babysitter. Rosie was the eldest of the three and 14 years of age and was never quite sure why they needed a ‘baby’ sitter. After all, she had an uncountable amount of piercings and could stay up as late as she wanted. The sitter had fallen asleep on the floor after drinking too much strawberry cider, evident by the empty cans beside the table. The fire crackled and the pendulum of the clock continued with its momentum.
Rosie sat by the fire reading scary stories to the younger ones when out of nowhere an almighty crash was heard. Jumping up, they all shrieked but the babysitter didn’t stir from her slumber. Sean knew the noise came from the kitchen because he had seen what had happened. A mop, leaning against a tall bin had slammed against the table—it didn’t just fall, it crashed down with a thunderous BANG!!! They all went into the kitchen and looked at the fallen mop upon the floor with the stolen purple ribbon tied to the handle—nobody wanted to touch it. Looking at each other scared and confused they moved back into the living room where the hot flames flickered. The book had fallen down and opened at a certain page: ‘The night has come, Those to be done, Never forgiven today’. Sitting back down, Rosie read the words aloud as a shiver ran over them all in the homely room. Trying to regain his composure, Sean looked over at Lily on the sofa and his eyes widened and his face went pale. Petrified, Rosie too had seen the ghostly image of Mrs Cruelmonger sat next to Lily, the old lady from the house across the road. A wind chime on the patio started to rattle erratically and cupboard doors began to shake violently as the apparition fully manifested. Smoke began to drift from around the old lady, over the carpet, snaking up the walls
and along the ceiling.
“ I am a witch and I wished you dead” whispered Lily as her eyes turned black.
Sean and Rosie were almost frightened to their graves as Lily’s eyes and voice changed. A whirling wind spun as Mrs Cruelmonger opened the palms of her hands and lightning sparks poured in the air. The powerful elements pinned Sean to his chair as the purple ribbon fluttered in the atmosphere and bound his mouth tightly shut. Lily turned and smiled at the woman.
“Yes, you are a witch my child and you decided to kill me on this very night. You took me from this Earth, a life you have removed and revenge will be sought as it is meant to be.”
“You murdered Charlie Featherwick!”
Horrifying shrieks filled the room as Rosie fought to get up but the old woman’s magic would not allow this to happen. The ghost chanted a spell under her breath and Lily still smiled.
“A fate has been cast.”
“You cannot hurt me, you have no control over me.”
“So true my child. Let us see what your sister thinks.”
Tears began to flow down Rosie’s cheeks as she started to whimper. Slowly, slash marks began to appear on the white clothing that Rosie wore and real blood started to run from her arms and legs.
“Arrrghhhh… arrrrgghhhh… no…”
“Stop, please don’t… don’t hurt her! Take me and I will go with you,” she cried.
Suddenly, through the mist, the haunting figure of Charlie Featherwick appeared as real as he was in life.
“Haha, he has come back to get you Mrs Cruelmonger, even in death you are not safe.”
The spirit of Charlie Featherwick held a large, sharp butcher’s knife and in the bat of an eyelid he moved across the room with blinding speed. Grabbing her hair, he pulled back her head and sliced her throat clean from ear to ear. The blood spilled and tormented wailing filled the house. There was a deadly silence, which seemed to last forever as Rosie’s head fell and her limp body rolled off the chair onto the floor.
“I didn’t kill Charlie Featherwick, it was your evil sister,” said the old woman as the storm fell calm and the ghostly figures disappeared back to their own worlds.
From that day onward, the young girl was very careful and for the rest of her life was always watchful. Sean, never spoke a word again.
© 2013 William O’Brien
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Gunjan Vyas is a college student born on 20th August 1994, residing in New Delhi, India. She has interest in music, technology and works of fiction. She likes to write poems and short stories as a hobby. She also co owns a start-up company, Green Turtle Software Solutions which her friend started and suggests and supports new ideas
Living in a small village in Lancashire, England, William O’Brien has written his second book, Peter, Enchantment and Stardust. In the 1990s, the author had twenty-one articles published, both nationally and internationally. After gaining an honours degree in Geosciences, doing post-graduate study in Occupational Health and Fitness, and earning a masters degree in Science Communication, he developed an interest for simple communication. A passion for writing again emerged, and combining various interests in fine art, museum exhibition display, biology, geology, poetry, and the mystical led to the story of Peter: A Darkened Fairytale. The author still retains a childlike vision of the world, which is conveyed throughout his books.
Madhu Kalyan Mattaparthi is an IT professional from Hyderabad, India, born on 16th January 1989. He is a philanthropist, traveller and pursues writing as a hobby. Sensitive and observant, everything that happens around him is an inspiration to do something new. His knowledge in the world of technology has earned him appreciation and success and he now considers writing his new passion. He has worked in Google, India as a CEA and also the owner of a start-up company, Green Turtle Software Solutions.
Sheryl Seal, with her husband of 30 years lives in Greeley Hill, California, a gateway to Yosemite National Park. I write Paranormal/Fantasy and I am currently working on a series of ghost stories. With six children and six grandchildren life has been full of fairies, dragons, shape shifters, and a whole world full of magic where there’s still hope for a new generation of young readers.
Alan Hardy: I’m a Brit. Director of an English language school for foreign students. Married, with one daughter. Poet and novelist. Poetry pamphlets: Wasted Leaves, 1996; I Went With Her, 2007. Comic, bawdy novel GABRIELLA available on Amazon as Kindle e-book. Other novels, similarly disrespectful, surreal and shocking, on their way. Get ready for them.
Sonya C. Dodd lives in Norfolk, England with her husband and two sons. Although Sonya began writing in 1996, it wasn’t until 2013 that she started to publish her work. A teacher, as well as a mother and writer, Sonya has a selection of novels and short story collections available.
Chris Raven is a forty-odd year old relative new comer to writing fiction who is currently experimenting with a number of different formats and genres, including short story and play writing. In the real world I earn my living in health and social care, and my published work to date has been non-fiction articles on the topic of mental health
After a reasonably colourful life, I now live with my two wonderful daughters in my home town of Orpington, in Kent.
Author D C Rogers is a 31 year old man with ideas people say are great so he’s decided to write them down. Hailing from the deep dark valleys of Wales, where his first zombie based novel stems, he lives happily with his fiancée. Pretty new to the game of writing his style is fast and fresh, focusing on thrillers horrors and fantasy works. I just want to show you lot the chaos in my mind!
Peter John was born in Bromley Kent, England in 1973. He gained an interest in creative writing at the age of 14 and was published during the 1990s in several poetry anthologies. Happily Married to Jo since 1996 and currently living in Sidcup Kent, not so far from the tree.
Also by the Indie Collaboration
Fancy a change of pace now you’ve got your breath back, and you’ve switched on all the lights?
Watch out for Yuletide Tales from the same stable of writers. Gentler, sweeter, more sentimental…but still with a dash of the unexpected, the horrid, the ghostly…You have been warned.