Blogoween Day 30 – True Terror Tuesday: The House That Mom Built

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Most ghost stories take place in houses that have histories, have been well-lived in, that have seen tragedy and death. So imagine my surprise when I moved into a brand new house that my mother built and had my most paranormal experience ever.

I think a lot of pre-teen and teen-aged girls have paranormal experiences because their worlds are changing so drastically in a very short time. That is to say, either the supernatural is drawn to people whose lives are in turmoil, or people who are experiencing turmoil cloak those experiences as supernatural. And turmoil is relative: what seems like no big deal to you could be life-shattering to someone else.

(Side rant: I’m always amazed at adult-aged people who think teenagers are over-dramatic and hyper-emotional. Yes, of course they are, their hormones are a mess, and this is the first time they’re experiencing heartbreak and betrayal and stress. Do you not remember having these experiences? If you lost a finger, you’d freak out, but to someone who’s lost two limbs, your experience is nothing–that doesn’t actually diminish your experience, it’s just relative. Fuck off, olds, and be nice to children for goodness sake!)

Anyway, I think the dichotomy of something monstrously supernatural vs monstrously human happening to a teenager is very interesting, and I’d love to find some research that looks at the psychology behind that with views from skeptics and believers alike. That is all to say, Dear Reader, that I recognize at this point in my life shit was capital F Fucked Up, and there could be a real life explanation, like my god damned brain just breaking, for what I’m about to tell you here, but this will be long enough without my telling you about all the horror that was my real life at this time, so I won’t bore you with that. Disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into the sPoOpInEsS…

Without getting too into the nitty gritty, my mom and her boyfriend at the time built a house on about seven acres in Bumfuck, Ohio, a village we’d moved to from a much more populated Florida a couple years prior. When I was little, one of the things I swore I would be when I grew up was a “farmer.” I didn’t know back then that farming actually meant raising animals to slaughter, I thought it just meant I would get to take care of a bunch of cows and sheep and cats, but when faced with a lot of open land, I realized “farming” was not all it was cracked up to be.

On the back of this swath of land was a few acres of forested area. Then-me was simultaneously more cowardly and braver than current-me, and I sometimes went on walks in the woods alone. This is where the weirdness started. The woods are isolating, even when you know home is a short sprint away, but then-me was very interested in nature and finding my, let’s say, tribal roots? I wanted very badly to belong in the new place that I lived, but I knew that I didn’t, so I searched for that inclusion in the earth itself, and in some ways I found it. I wasn’t afraid of snapping twigs and sudden rustling, of freakish silence and breezes that sounded like whispers. I was home.

But the house itself instilled a very different feeling. There was nothing creepy about it, and I was very happy to live there as opposed to the cramped, one-bedroom apartment we’d just been in, but it was…off. We had a landline then, but I don’t think many people had the number. I was home alone a lot and at a distance from the couple friends I had, so I was quick to answer the phone any time it rang. I got some prank calls from time to time, or I thought they were pranks, but there was a series of them that made me feel much stranger than any others.

I’d answer and there would be only breathing on the other end. Okay, fine, a creeper, just hang up. This went on for a couple weeks, a few times a week, then it escalated to a voice, a sort of strangled, breathy static voice. They’d only say one word, “I” or “eye”, and repeat it. Sometimes I’d say “Hello?” repeatedly before hanging up, but I was always quiet and calm. My mom would sometimes answer the phone but never got these calls, just me.

Simultaneously, I started having these odd experiences at night. Only my mom and I lived in the house. There were three bedrooms, but my mom opted to sleep on the couch in the living room at one end of the house, and my bedroom was at the exact opposite end of the house. There was a bathroom in the hall before you’d get to my room at the very end, so if my mom were to use the bathroom at night, that’s the one she’d go to.

For most of my life I fell asleep with the TV on. I was and am afraid of the dark, and the buzz of a tube TV and its dull, blue light were a great comfort, but I always kept the volume as close to being muted as possible. I also slept a bit strangely. I had my bed in the corner of the room with the headboard against the same wall the doorway was on. Between the doorway and my bed, I had a pretty big desk with built-in shelves, so when lying down, if I looked to the side, I’d just see the side of this shelving unit, and not the open doorway, and anyone looking in couldn’t see me. This was optimal to my emu-like brain.

One night after hanging up on the “I” caller earlier in the evening, I was laying in bed, staring at a silent TV, when I heard something from the hall. I knew exactly what the sound was: footsteps on carpet. It’s a very specific, soft padding sound and had the cadence of someone carefully and quietly making their way down the hall. My first suspicion was, of course, my mom headed to the bathroom, but she never went in, opened or closed a door, turned on a light, flushed a toilet, or ran any water. Instead, the footsteps just sort of stopped round about the bathroom. I still thought it was her, and she was just being expertly quiet, and I fell asleep.

The following night, the same thing happened. Quiet footsteps, no bathroom sounds, stopping randomly in the hall, then nothing. This went on for a few nights, and even in all my paranormal paranoia, I always thought it was just Mom taking a silent nighttime whiz, as improbable as that was. Then I noticed the steps getting closer to my room until they were stopping right at the threshold to my door. Now, remember, I couldn’t see the doorway from where I lay, so this was all on hearing alone, but I think we’re all familiar with that “someone’s in here with me” feeling, and it was pretty strong.

This went on a few more nights, and teen-aged me was like “enough!” because I was convinced it was my mother coming to check on me in the middle of the night, every night, and there was no need. So I confronted her, asked her why she was doing it. She had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t believe her, and told her so, asking her to not do it anymore because it was waking me up. At this point, I was waking up every single night to the quiet padding of feet on the carpet, and my brain was assigning it to my mother checking on me, despite her insistence that she wasn’t. I figured, even if she denied it, if I told her it was waking me she would stop. It didn’t stop.

I confronted her again, that this had to stop, and again she told me she wasn’t even gong to the bathroom at night, let alone going to my door. Her conviction was pretty intense then, and I started to entertain believing her. That night when I heard the footsteps and I felt the presence, I started to get genuinely creeped out. I don’t know the span of time this went on for. It could have just been a few weeks or a few months, but it feels very out-of-time to me now looking back on it, like a perpetual autumn into winter.

The phone calls had been going on this whole time intermittently. I’d accepted that the footsteps were not related to my mother, and when I’d wake to them, I’d lay frozen in bed until I just fell back to sleep, but I didn’t connect them with the calls until I got the last one. My mom and her boyfriend were out in the barn which you could see from the house, about a football field away, and I was alone inside. This time when I answered and that familiar static buzz and staggered breathing sounded, I felt enraged. I shouted “Hello?” a few times to be answered with a long, drawn out “I” in a scratchy voice, and I finally responded, “Fuck off!” and hung up, incredibly unsatisfactorily with the click of a button on the portable phone. My heart was pounding–I’d never told the caller off before–and I was just staring daggers down at the phone as I stomped down the long hall to my bedroom. I wanted to reach through it and strangle whoever it was, and my sleep deprivation wasn’t helping my mood, and I flopped down on my bed with the phone in hand. Then something happened that hadn’t before: the phone rang again.

I answered immediately because I knew: even though the mystery caller had never tried multiple times or even days in a row before, I knew this was them. I was feeling angry, but also at a loss–no one else ever got these calls or was even around when they happened–and I shouted into the receiver, “What do you want?!” In return, over the static and the breath, a raspy but clear whisper-shout answered: “I WANT YOU!”

I screamed, the anger terrified out of me immediately. All my bravery drained away, and I suddenly felt very alone and totally panicked. I was probably having an anxiety attack, but didn’t know the name for it. The walls seemed to bow in on me, my vision tunneled, and I started to see things flitting in the corner of my eyes. I fled from my room, down the hall, the feeling of something on my heels the whole time. I passed by a sliding glass door, the forested area on its other side, and I swear I saw figures there amongst the trees. I flew out the front door, barefoot, and raced my own fear across the yard to the barn, bursting through the opening hyperventilating and on the verge of tears. My mom and her boyfriend just sort of stared at me, and I shoved the phone at my mom. “No one’s there,” she told me, and I didn’t bother explaining. I just sat on the ground and refused to go back inside by myself.

That night when the footsteps happened again I’m not sure exactly what happened. It was a bit like my mental state had deteriorated, and I just left my own body because I got up out of bed, under just the glow of the TV at 3am, and walked stoically toward my bedroom door. I don’t think I wanted to do it, but my body just did it, so I turned my mind off. I didn’t let myself be afraid–I didn’t let myself be anything–I just did it because I had to know, to confirm if I was crazy. When I got to the door, there was nothing there, so I went out into the hallway.

Standing at the hall’s end, my eyes could make out in the darkness all the way up the hallway, through the kitchen and dining room, and into the living room. My mom wasn’t there, presumable she was lying on the couch beyond the wall and asleep, but there was something. Something I could see through, but was definitely there in a sort of white sheen. It was bigger than a person and without features, but it was person-shaped, and it filled up the hallway, standing just by the bathroom door. I was still in my brain-broken state, and my feet took me toward it, absent of fear or dread or anything at all. Then I sort of just fell through the apparition, and in that moment I snapped back into myself, wholly aware of what I’d just done.

I stumbled, I grabbed the edge of the bathroom doorway, and I fumbled for the bathroom light. Fear came rushing into me, but it was that feeling you get when you’ve been frightened by a friend–your heart’s pounding but you know you’re not in danger because it was a joke. I wasn’t anxious. I was, in fact, feeling strangely warm and almost happy, but I was scared that I’d just not been myself at all in the moment prior. I didn’t think about what I’d seen while I stood in the bathroom, I didn’t even look to see if it was still there because I knew it wouldn’t be, and after a minute or so, I returned to bed and fell asleep.

I never got another creepy call or experienced the disembodied footsteps or strange presence in the hall or my room after that. We only lived in that house for a year or so, and when we left it I was both distressed and relieved. I have my theories about what it was, both purely psychological and human as well as supernatural, but without being able to confirm anything or to go back to that place, I feel like they’re all sort of useless. All I know is what happened, Dear Reader, and this is just that.

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Blogoween Day 23 – True Terror Tuesday: A Haunting in St. Pete

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I’ve always been leery of public restrooms. There are plenty of reasons to be: they’re a room full of doors with typically only one way in and out, and when inside you’re at your most vulnerable. But I’ve also always had a tiny bladder, so more often than I wish, I’ve found myself in dimly-lit, dirty, defecatoriums of doom.

A few years ago, I was out with Husband and some in-laws. I’m protecting their identities here, mostly because I’m sure they don’t want to publicly be associated with this brand of crazy, but they could corroborate at least part of this experience, provided they remember.

We had spent the day in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, and were returning to the car which was parked by the pier. The ride from St. Pete to Tampa was always long, stuck on a bridge, so I knew I had to pee before we got going, and as luck would have it, there were restrooms right there: Comfort Station One, to be exact. Dear Reader, when I tell you this was one of the strangest, most off-putting public bathrooms I’ve ever been in, I’m not exaggerating. They felt absolutely horrible inside.

The men’s and women’s were in separate buildings, octagonal shaped, and to enter the bathroom, you had to walk around the building and up a ramp, so that trapped feeling one might have in a bathroom with one way in and out was amplified by the hall of sorts that you could never see the end of since it spiraled around to the entrance door. Inside, the space was dark with tile walls and a concrete floor, so your movements echoed, but even though there are windows that are open and you can hear a bit of the ocean through them, most outside world sounds were shut off. Mirrors and sinks lined the left side of the room with a stall at their end, and stalls lined the right side completely.

I did a quick visual pat-down of the bathroom, and saw I was alone. This is always both better and worse than what I anticipate: I don’t want to be murdered, so an empty bathroom means no murderers, but if someone new comes in to murder me, there’s no one around to go get help. Ya dig? The farthest end of the bathroom was a bit more shadowed, so I opted for the second stall from the entrance, which is my typical go to anyway. I popped in and sat down quickly. I needed to pee pretty badly, but I was also anxious: what if the moment I started peeing someone tried to break down the stall door? This fear is exceptionally stupid, I have to admit, because if this did happen, I’d probably piss myself (and what better place than on the toilet?), but if I felt like I needed to run, I’d probably just stop peeing very suddenly, or if I was in genuine danger I would probably not care if I ran out half naked trailing urine. In fact, this might be tactically advantageous since my attacker could slip in the pee trail. Ultimately, I’m very unlikely to be murdered in a public toilet (though that’s probably the most likely place, it’s just unlikely overall), but I still had that momentary jolt of realization: I’m at my most vulnerable right now.

So now that we have my irrational fear covered, let’s get back to it: I was pissing. As I’m relieving myself, willing it to get the heck out so I too can get the heck out, I hear someone else come into the bathroom. Now, this bathroom, as I mentioned, already gave me that sense of dread that only very few places do, so when I heard footsteps outside the stall, my whole body seized for a second. Everything stopped up, and I just held my breath as they walked across the concrete just outside my stall. But then I realized, this is a public restroom after all, people come in and go out all the time, it was evening, it had been busy outside, this was completely normal. That and my family was waiting outside for me, so if I didn’t come out, they’d at least recover my corpse later.

So I hear this other person, and I see their shadow on the ground due to the windows in the room. They walk past my stall and enter the stall directly to my right. I was immediately annoyed–I don’t know why people do this, just leave a space between us! But then I remembered the dimness of the rest of the end of the bathroom, and I forgave them. But only a little. I heard them close the door and shuffle in the stall for a minute, then I’m finally finished, and I wrench my shorts on as fast as possible and throw myself out of the stall.

There was probably only 20 seconds between hearing my pee-partner close their stall and me exiting my own, 20 seconds that I got dressed, flushed the toilet, and left. Yes, I made a significant amount of noise, but it was incredibly fast, and I know for certain that no one else had entered or exited the bathroom in that time, but when I walked up to the sinks to wash my hands and peered into the mirror, I could see the reflection of all the stalls behind me, and they were all open. I was still alone.

My heart started racing. I was sure I’d heard and even seen someone (their shadow at least) come in and close the stall beside me. The world around me had most certainly been manipulated–light had been distorted by a figure passing by, the stalls had made a sound, they’d even rattled physically a tiny bit with the movement of the door. Everything that had just transpired screamed “there’s someone in here with you!” but I was definitively, in that moment, the only person inside that restroom.

I ran my hands under the water for a second, staring daggers at the reflection of the stall beside my own. There was no figure inside, the door didn’t even sway, but I had a terrible feeling, like I shouldn’t turn around and see it in actuality. Then I booked it out of the bathroom, and I think I actually ran down the ramp and away, and up to my family. I told them immediately, out of breath, “We have to go, that place is haunted.”

Now, I never expect people to believe me when I say this kind of thing, but this time, someone looked at me and asked me if I was joking. I shook my head and told them what happened. They pried a little harder, asking me if I was making it up or joking. Of course not, I told them, why would I do that?

Apparently, while I was in the bathroom, someone had come up to them and started talking. Since they were standing outside the Comfort Station, it looked like they were admiring it, so this person started telling them about the building. He told them that the man who’d built the octagonal bathrooms had first built an octagonal church in the area in the 30s, but had been stiffed on the payment for the church, so when he built the bathrooms, he modeled them after the church as a sort of middle finger to those that had done him wrong. Because of that, the bathrooms were cursed, or maybe haunted, or just had bad juju in general. In any case, it was best to just stay out of them. He walked away, and then I came out all flustered and upset because I’d peed next to a ghost.

I’ve since done research on Comfort Station One (meaning, I Googled it a couple times), and it turns out the legend isn’t 100% true (though it’s a pretty good one), but lots of people do report unease and ghostly sightings in that very bathroom, none of which I knew ahead of time. So that’s the story: a ghost hung out in the stall beside mine in a weird, octagonal bathroom in St. Pete once, and I managed to not pee myself or get murdered.

Blogoween Day 12 – Freaky Fiction Friday: Saber and Parchment

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Note: This is written in first person, and sounds a lot like normal blogging me. Though it’s based on true events, it is, obviously, fiction. It was written originally in an attempt at the NoSleep style, part one to a longer story. Perhaps I’ll continue, only time will tell, but I do think it can stand alone.

Saber and Parchment

I met Nick when I was in my final semester at [redacted]. We had an American lit class together, and our mutual love of Poe evolved into love for one another. We moved in together that summer, some might say too quickly, but we knew we were meant to be together. It felt like fate.

Or like a totally manufactured series of events.

Maybe I jumped in head first because I never thought I could have anything normal, and Nick felt like my chance at normal. Up until my last couple years of college, my life had been so full of fucking noise–just this constant background chatter from what I affectionately call the Other Side, like background music that would occasionally crescendo into some horrific experience. But since about my sophomore year everything had gone quiet, and when I met Nick I thought maybe, just maybe, I’d imagined everything in my life up until that point.

Nick was a year older than I, but I finished my degree first as he was balancing school and work to help pay for his degree. Nick’s job was unique: he worked third shift for the university’s emergency facilities department. It was way too easy, and he got paid way too much to do it, even as a student employee, and of course he loved it. Basically, he waited to get alerts that could range from the temperature gauges in the science facilities varying by a degree, to a forced entry through any of the keycard-access-only dorms, and when they came, he would dispatch the right people to handle the issue. The alarms didn’t sound often despite the university being massive, and most of what he handled were drunken students stuck in elevators, or drunken student pulling fire alarms, or drunken students, well, you get the idea. There was always one other employee, a non-student, there as well, so Nick spent the majority of his time writing essays, watching pirated movies, and on rare occasion he’d go “exploring.” It was a sweet gig, and he was going into his fourth year at it when we moved in together.

I was newly graduated with an English degree and no idea what to do with it, but lucky enough to snag an editorial assistant job with a favorite professor of ours, the very professor whose class Nick and I met in. I could work anytime I wanted, so we both ended up living nocturnally that last semester he finished up school.

We lived in a shoddy one bedroom just off campus, but popular housing for students as some of our classmates lived in the same complex, and walking a couple blocks would get us on to university grounds. The school was spread out over hundreds of acres, and though it had its own transit system, it didn’t run at night, and Nick was usually scheduled from 10pm to 6am. His office was in one of the oldest halls on campus so there was very little parking near it, and most parking on campus required a pass that we were too cheap to shell out for anyway. He usually biked there, but when it was raining or particularly freezing, I drove him. I liked the drive, even at 15 miles an hour on old cobbled streets, and more importantly, I liked knowing Nick was safe.

I imagine there are other things like it, but in all the years since, I’ve never quite experienced the silence that is driving through a university campus just before sunrise. Parties ended hours before, classes have yet to start, and exhaustion settles over the grounds like a dense fog. In those moments, the towering halls and copper statues seem like relics from lifetimes ago, and you wonder if anyone will ever return to these ruins after you.

Of course, even in the predawn there are people out, very few, and most unseen–this I know better now than I ever wished to.

Summer passed uneventfully, with Nick taking a couple evening classes, and me getting paid to collect research for Professor White. He was working on a book about magic and folklore in literature with plans to publish in the following year. I was reading through renaissance poetry and romantic gothic novels to find the exact passages he would reference vaguely from memory in his notes, and typing up the information for him throughout the night, then Nick would come home by sunrise, we’d sleep for a few hours, and start our day over again. By fall we were in a pretty good rhythm save for Nick picking up an early morning class twice a week.

Nick’s job was technically high security, but he’d ask me to come eat “lunch” around 1am with him on occasion. I’d bring fast food if his counterpart John was working, and a burger or a couple tacos would keep him quiet about my presence. One night I got a Skype message from Nick–texting didn’t work from his basement office–asking me to come for lunch in the next hour. I hadn’t planned on it, but Nick typed out that he’d found “something awesome” and needed to show me.

I brought some Thai for all three of us, and left the car in a delivery area safe enough for an hour or two. Campus police seemed to like nothing better than to call a tow truck on passless cars, but didn’t start patrolling until around 5am. Nick was waiting for me at the door: his ID was high security and allowed him into most buildings on campus, but mine just gave me special library access, and without cell service down in his office, he wouldn’t know I was there otherwise. The emergency facilities office was a small room in the basement of [redacted] Hall, a largely disused building that had stood on campus in some form or another since its inception. The office had a number of cubicles, two glass-windowed offices for management during normal business hours, and cement block walls painted hastily in hospital white. Monitors lined one wall, most filled with text, one of them displaying a live video of the hall we’d just walked down, and a gentle hum filled the room. That hum let you know everything was fine.

We ate, and Nick told John he was going to take a break. John waved him off and hunched over in his chair, eyes closed. When we were out in the hall, I asked Nick what happened if John fell asleep. “He always does,” he told me, “but he’s never missed an alarm yet.”

Nick took me to the end of the hall where a heavy, fireproof door opened into a dim stairwell with the swipe of his ID. To my surprise, the stairs headed down. I grabbed his arm when the door slammed behind us, echoing into the empty space. “I thought your office was the basement?”

“Sub basement,” he pointed over the railing and winked a blue eye at me.

“Are we allowed down there?”

Nick shrugged and held up his ID, “I guess.”

Another fireproof door sat at the bottom of the stairwell, and through it a sadly-lit hall that was too dark to see its end. I immediately didn’t like it, but Nick insisted I had to see what he found, which he still wasn’t defining for me. He swiped his badge on the second door on the left and turned the handle, “You’re gonna love this.”

A single light shone down from the room’s center. Some old desks were upturned in the corner, but otherwise the space was empty. I looked back at him, and his face immediately fell. “What the hell?” He moved passed me and looked around, but there was nowhere to really search in the small space. “I swear it was right here!”

“What was here?” I gnawed on my lip. Nick was a bad liar, and his surprise seemed pretty genuine.

He walked to the corner with the desks, “This bin…this big rolling bin full of books.” Nick held his arms out to mimic the size, “Like loads of books!”

My heart sort of skipped at the idea of something so large and presumably heavy just vanishing in the middle of the night. “And you’re sure it was this room?”

“I left the light on,” he screwed up his face, gesturing to the fixture above us that had indeed been on when we entered, “I mean, it was right here, and it was huge.”

I wanted to bolt, then calm washed over me as I realized. “Huge, hu?” I went up to him and slipped a finger into his belt, “Like something else?”

His face changed, sort of giving me a stupid grin, “Yeah…” then he shook his head, “But no, seriously. This is weird.”

Now that was weird: he’d never turned down an opportunity to fool around.

Nick moved past me and my advances back out into the hall. From the doorway, I glanced down into the darkness at its far end as he started opening other doors. When my stomach flipped, I tried to convince myself the Thai just wasn’t sitting right, but when I followed him into a different room across the hall, the queasy feeling wouldn’t rescind. Nick was very still, staring at the back wall. Again there was a small pile of desks to his right, but the room was larger, and its most prominent feature was a chain-link fence reaching from floor to ceiling, caging off the back half of the space. The light above where Nick stood shone only slightly beyond the cage, but there beyond the fence was a rolling bin like he’d described.

“That’s it,” he pointed when I came up beside him, “The books I wanted to show you.”

I closed the space between myself and the cage, peering into the bin through the links. It was full to the brim with books, most with tattered covers. They looked like they might have been headed for an incinerator, but they also had some beautiful leather covers and ornate script along their cracked bindings, though it was too dark to make out what they said. I smiled, momentarily forgetting the weirdness of the situation, and searched the fence for an entryway, but there was a padlock on the chain-link door.

“Well, these are cool,” I offered, “It sucks they’re probably going to be destroyed.”

Nick came up next to me and pulled out his flip phone–old, even for those days–and pressed buttons furiously, “That’s not all. I took this to show you in case you couldn’t come by.”

He pulled up a picture, low resolution and shadowed on his tiny screen, but I could tell it was one of the books, lying open on top of the pile. I glanced at the bin again on the other side of the cage, nowhere near close enough for him to have gotten the shot, and what was more, none of the books were open. Looking back at the photo, I could see text on one page, and a drawing on the other, but it was quite blurry.

“I thought–”

“Shh!” I cut him off, snapping my head toward the cage. Something there, in the space beyond the light, had moved.

We were both silent, and I stared unblinking beyond the fence. It had been a subtle sound, a gentle sliding of material against itself, but distinct enough in the quiet of the hall’s sub basement to catch my attention. I held my breath standing there, trying to keep my mind from conjuring up all sorts of imagined visions and sounds in the darkness. I saw nothing, I heard nothing, but what I felt to this day I can barely explain. It was a bit like the feeling you might have gotten when you were little, immediately after one of those old tube televisions were turned off. The static is still there, radiating out into the room as it dissipates. I could feel the static of whatever had been there until its energy was gone.

I nudged Nick and gestured to the door. He said nothing, but backed up toward it, both of us still staring into the shadows until we fumbled back out into the hall. My heartbeat quickened as we scurried to the stairwell. Nick swiped his badge and the panel lit up green. As he pulled the door open, I glanced back because, well, I’m a fucking idiot, I guess.

In the blackness of the hall’s end, I saw it. In silhouette only, it stood there, taking up the space of the corridor unlike any human man could, its shoulders too near the ceiling, its chest too broad. It didn’t move to follow, but it stared after us with intent. I didn’t need to see its eyes to know it was looking right into me. And my first and only thought was, Not again.

We thundered up the stairs and let the fire door slam behind us. Nick turned to me to say something, but before he could get a word out I interrupted him. “Don’t go back down there!”

He took a few deep breaths and scratched the back of his neck, “Oh, uh, okay?”

“Promise me!”

I barely remember lunging forward and grabbing his shirt, but his hands were on my wrists and he tipped his face low to be near mine. “Okay, okay, I promise!”

Nick was a bad liar, but he turned out to be worse at keeping promises.

 

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Blogoween Day 5 – Freaky Fiction Friday: Best Friends

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Best Friends

Marianne is my best friend. We’ve been together since the beginning of time, or at least it feels that way since I can’t remember an instance from before we met. When we were very little we would play most of the day and even sometimes at night when we were meant to be sleeping. If you would have asked her then, Marianne would have said I was her best friend too, even if sometimes she would do something bad and blame it on me, but it was okay because sometimes I’d do bad things too, and she would always end up the one in trouble.

Once I knocked over her milk–and it was an accident really!–but her mom didn’t see it that way. Marianne didn’t talk to me for the rest of the day, and I slept in the closet that night, but by the next morning we were back to having a tea party with her stuffed animals.

I will admit that over the years we’ve drifted. Days would go by, weeks even, and we wouldn’t even talk, but Marianne always comes back. A classmate turns on her, a boy breaks her heart, and when she’s finally at her lowest, she reaches out to me. She doesn’t need to know my part in those things–that would only complicate our relationship–she just needs to know I’ll always be here for her. I am her friend, after all. Her best friend.

Caroline would say that she is Marianne’s best friend. They met in Mrs. Mulberry’s third grade class and became inseparable, but I don’t know how Marianne could stand her with her whiny voice and stupid pigtails. Marianne ignored me when Caroline was around, but despite my best efforts they remained friends, so I came to accept her. I let them do whatever stupid thing Caroline suggested, work on projects I wasn’t part of, go to parties I wasn’t invited to, but I’d eventually get my alone time with Marianne. Even just for five minutes before falling asleep, we’d talk. And that was enough. It had to be.

Marianne was really nervous the night before her first day of senior year. We stayed up really late talking about how we missed being little and all the fun we used to have, how we’d play pranks on her mom, and how we’d fall asleep with Barbies in our hands. We even talked about how stupid Caroline’s hair was, and Marianne laughed! She thanked me for calming her down, told me that she loved me, and in her sleepy stupor as she closed her eyes, she said goodbye. Silly, I thought, she just meant goodnight.

I woke up last week to her call. She was so nervous all over again that I thought I was living the same night over again at first, but no. We caught up, apparently this last year has been great–without me–but she was a wreck trying to figure out where to go to college. Her mom wanted her to pick before graduation at the end of the week, and she needed help. That’s when it hit me: Marianne was leaving. I always had an inkling this would happen, but it never felt so real. Every time I’d watch her walk out the door, I never felt like this, like she might leave me behind for good.

I can feel myself slipping already. It’s like, I don’t know, like she’s able to look right through me now if I don’t go out of my way to get her attention. I didn’t want to break her volleyball trophy–really, I didn’t!–but I needed her to know I was there. To acknowledge me. Her best friend.

So after all this time, I finally sat Marianne down and told her that it was my turn, that I needed her now. I told her she owes me this, and, I mean, Marianne made me what I am, so she must want this too somewhere deep down inside. It took some convincing, some rationalizing, some coaxing, but in the end she understood. Of course she does, because really this is what she wants. What we both want. It’s the same thing when you’re best friends.

So Caroline is coming over to spend the night, one last time before their big graduation bash. Marianne says she knows the words–I think she’s always probably known them since she made me–and I brought her the knife. I’m sure I can dye her hair or something, and if I can’t, well, it’s a small price to pay to stop being imaginary.

 

More Writing

Blogoween Day 2 – True Terror Tuesday: The Spirits of Bourgeois Swamp

blogoween ttt

Let’s start light, shall we? Oh, and if you’d like a little ambiance, I created a fun haunted house-style mix over at Ambient Mixer.

A few years ago, Husband and I were living in New Tampa, Florida which isn’t a real place, it’s just a bourgeois name some wealthy but uncreative people came up with who still wanted to be considered in the city limits but have sprawling golf courses between their McMansion subdivisions. The smartest thing the New Tampa planners did was to plot the “city” down in the middle of a protected wetland-type-area. Yeah, I don’t know exactly how they did it either, but basically most of the developed areas there are surrounded by land that can’t be built on because it’s too soggy or too protected. I’m all for protecting natural areas and leaving wilderness untouched, and maybe this was the best way to do it, I’ll never know, but something about it feels icky.

We lived in one of the few apartment complexes allowed in the area because sometimes you have to keep the servants close what with gas prices being so high and their wages so low. We actually didn’t know anything about the area when we moved to it, we just picked the complex for its convenience to my new workplace. It was much nicer than any place we’d lived before; our apartment was on the back of one of the buildings and all of our windows looked out on what was essentially untouched forest/wetland. This made the apartment nice and cool and quiet, but it was also often a bit creepy. I made Husband sleep on the side of the bed next to the sliding glass door.

Speaking of Husband, you should know this about him: he thinks all of this is bullshit. He’s never had a supernatural experience, and doesn’t believe in ghosts or demons or anything like that. He loves fantasy stories, and he has a great imagination, but none of those things are real to him. Although I can’t wholly wrap my head around this kind of thinking, I’m really appreciative that I’ve married someone who can keep me grounded. (Though if we ever find ourselves in a horror-movie situation, he is the exact kind of person who will get possessed but insist there’s nothing wrong with the house, and WE AREN’T MOVING, DAMMIT!)

So while we were living there, we would go on walks in the evening along the driveways and parking lots of the complex that snaked deeper into the preserve. Even though there weren’t sidewalks, there wasn’t a lot of traffic. The complex had about 55 buildings, most of which were at the front and the main road, but there was a private road that went further into the forest and ended in a big loop with about 10 buildings off of it. The private road was maybe a third of a mile long, with dense woods on either side and a stream running under it in the center: I suspect there weren’t any apartments built right off of it because the land was too bog-like.

We were both working weird hours back then, so we’d often find ourselves walking kind of late, and once you were headed down that road with the woods on either side of you and the trees reaching out overhead, it got dark quickly. There was a single streetlight, maintained by the complex so that is to say, not well, right in the center of the road. It was that yellow, sickly color, dim, sometimes flickering, sometimes out all together.

We had a couple occurrences out there in the dark. Once as we were walking we could see something in the shadows of the road up ahead, black against the tar of the road, so just a weird outline on the street, but it was long and a bit winding, not like a branch had fallen from a nearby tree, but that would have been the most obvious thing. We got closer, and not unreluctantly–we just thought hey, what is that thing?

A snake. That thing was a snake. And not like a little garden snake–we certainly wouldn’t have been able to see a small thing as far as we were to begin with. I’ve happened upon plenty of snakes while walking in Florida and though obviously they give a fright because of how they move and basic human instinct is “GET AWAY FROM THE FAST, POINTY, POSSIBLY VENOMOUS THING!” I know logically snakes want to me around me about as much as Di wants to be around Rutherford (which is not at all). But this wasn’t that, Dear Reader, this was massive and fat and in the shadows of the trees and the evening, it was black.

Florida is a great place for reptiles: it’s hot, wet, swampy, and there are year-round bugs and rodents. People have also released enough invasive species there to really amp up the scary factor when stumbling upon anything scaled in the state. I can’t tell you what this was–it was too dark and even in the light I honestly assume all snakes are good guys who should just be avoided–but it slithered away and into the woods with the kind of leisure that says, “I have no reason to be afraid of you.”

A second memorable moment was once when we had already walked down the road and completed the loop. We hadn’t measured time well, and upon return, we saw that the road had gone almost completely dark, but there wasn’t any other option–there was a single way back home, and it was through the heart of the wood.

My mind immediately goes to playing tricks on me, so I have to reason with myself, but the danger in that is I go too concrete: “Of course there isn’t a wendigo loitering behind the trees and sniffing the air for your blood, and those two glowing dots you see are very certainly not the piercing eyes of a skunk ape ready to attack.” I managed to calm myself down by chatting with Husband about something inane like work or football, and had actually put the spooky thoughts out of my mind when I heard it: the growl.

This noise shook me to my core, Dear Reader. We did not walk along the edge of this road, and it was wide enough for cars to pass one another, but even as we walked down its very center, I heard this growl in the space just behind my ear so that my jaw bone tingled. It wasn’t loud, but it was somehow right beside me. I didn’t have the nerve the turn and look, but I did feel something out in the forest. Not just behind me, not preparing to attack, but something lurking that was looking as us like we ought not be there.

Yes, I may have been too heavily invested in The Werewolf of Fever Swamp when I was a kid, but if nothing else R.L. Stein taught me not to dawdle when lycans are afoot. I grabbed Husband’s arm and started fast walking til we got past the flickering light then broke into a sprint. He was questioning me audibly, but not enough to make me stop. I didn’t explain, I didn’t even bother to ever look back, I just told him we had to go. When we got back home I told him what happened. No, Husband does not believe there was a werewolf in the woods that night. But he’s also not dead, so that is that.

Finally, the legit most frightening thing that happened to us on that road, and possible ever in our relationship, was another night, of course, when we were walking out towards the back loop of apartments. The streetlight had been properly maintained at this time and though still yellow and illuminating the humidity hanging in the air, it lit up the road enough in its center to make walking though the darkest parts tolerable. We were headed toward the light but in the darkest span of the road. It was quite quiet that evening, not even a breeze, and the woods on either side of us were still and heavy. Then there was a sound, somewhere off in the forest, more than the snapping of a twig, but not the fast and loud skitter of a small animal. No, this was slow and deliberate. We stopped to listen, but it was followed by nothing.

So we continued on toward where the streetlight stood illuminating the only bright patch on the road. Then, just at the edge of where the light ran out and the foliage turned from distinct leaves to shadows, a form emerged. Husband and I were petrified in that moment. This was no trick of the eye, there was nothing to question or second guess–something was coming out of the woods, and we, like hapless victims in the first fifteen minutes of your favorite creature creep film, froze.

Bursting onto the street up and out of the woods, it crashed through the brush like cannon fire and plunged itself out onto the road just under the light. The thing looked to be easily seven feet tall, even on four spindly legs, and had a head massive and branch-like. It stood there for just a second, regaining itself, its features obscured by shadows, then darted back off onto the other side of the road and disappeared into the woods leaving just the clamor of snapping tree limbs and crushed leaves in its wake.

Dear Reader, it was only your sweet namesake, a deer, but it was humongous with antlers like something out of a hillbilly’ wet dream. We knew almost immediately what it was once it had gone, but the jump scare we got that night will likely stick with us forever. Its size is most definitely hyperbolically painted into my memory, but not the scare we got.

So those are my spookiest stories from the time Husband and I lived in the boggiest but best apartment we’ve ever had. More to come next Tuesday, possibly spookier, possibly more supernatural. So far Blogoween is going quite swimmingly, but I’ve only had to post for two days straight, so I guess we’ll see! Stay spoopy, my deers!

Vacancy – 1.10 – Cross The Veil

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

You can also listen to this episode by clicking here!

Vacancy 1.10 photo

Lorelei realized she had not yet been in the basement of Moonlit Shores Manor, and traversing that barrier down a creaking staircase at three in the morning didn’t seem like the most welcoming time to do so. Candles in their holders along the walls cast Hotaru’s and her own long, black shadows ahead of them as if they followed a set of robed figures. The darkness changed as they descended, more complete and quiet, and she could feel the ground rising up around her.

As they came to the narrow landing at the staircase’s end, a soft, violet glow met them, accompanied with a briney, wet scent like that of ocean air. Illuminated by splashes of blue, purple, and green luminescence crawling over rocks and sprouting from the midst of leafy foliage, Lorelei could see that the walls in the space they’d come into were cut from natural stone arching up above them to form a craggy ceiling. From the ceiling, stalactites hung, shimmering like icicles in the luminescence, and some even met the rocky places that grew up out of the ground, though she soon realized it was not an earthen floor, but water.

“Is the manor built over a pool?” Lorelei whispered, though her voice echoed into the cavernous chamber. Taking a step forward, she felt uneven planks below foot.

“I would call it more like a salty lake,” Hotaru told her offhandedly, “But you can swim in it if you’re brave enough.”

Lorelei knelt at the edge of the boardwalk where the water gently lapped at the planks. From the blackness below, she saw a pale orb rising up to the surface. She leaned a bit closer then, and in the darkest depth that she could perceive, noted two eyes staring back at her own. She let out a squeak and jumped back, colliding with Hotaru. Water sprayed up at them, then there was a splash somewhere at the farthest end of the space, followed by deep, feminine laughter echoing off all of the walls.

“This way,” Hotaru giggled, gesturing for her to follow around the lake on the boarded path. Lorelei kept her eyes glued to the black waves, but saw no other movement. They came to an archway in the stone and found themselves traveling down a more traditional basement corridor, with block walls painted a soft grey and more sconces holding candles. Ahead, one of the many doors opened, and a tall shadow staggered into the hall. Lorelei stopped, nerves on edge, but the candles illuminated Conrad’s unshaven face. With sleep in his eyes, he yawned with a wave, “Morning, ladies.”

“Shut the door!” a familiar, annoyed voice shouted from deeper in the room.

He took his time reaching for the handle and gently pulled it to, avoiding both girls’ amused looks then joined them on their trek. Down the corridor and around the corner, they came to yet another set of stairs. Lorelei’s heart pounded a little harder as they descended, and she reached out a hand to steady herself as there was no railing. The wall was rough here and gritty as if the stairwell had been carved out of the earth. Lorelei had never been a fan of tight spaces, but the cool stone on her hands made her feel something different, and when she took a deep breath, she thought she could feel the manor breathe with her.

At the base of the stairs, they reached their destination, a room glowing orange where Ziah waited, tapping her foot. Grier was already sitting at a round table in the room’s center, leering at the door, his eyes locking onto Lorelei when she entered. Seamus and Ren conversed in a corner, the elf nodding solemnly at Seamus’s big, articulate motions with his hands. The space was warm, a few degrees beyond cozy, Lorelei reckoned, and there was a humming coming from the walls.

“That’s all of us,” Ziah turned to the only figure Lorelei didn’t recognize.

Shadowed against the furnace, a massive metal chamber encrusted in orange rust, a fire glowing from behind its mouth-like grate, a woman’s figure stood. She threw her hands into the air, spinning to face them and tilting her head to the ceiling. “I feel it!” her exclamation made each of them jump, “This place,” her accent was thick and southern, and Lorelei took a quick peek at her feet to check for cowboy boots, “it’s brimmin with life!” Point-toe, red-soled, nude pumps. Lorelei cocked her head.

“Yes,” Ziah spoke through grit teeth, “You said. Please, can we get started?”

“Started?” the woman snapped her head to stare at Ziah, “Darlin, there is no start, no beginnin, to eternity. Whether we cross the veil or not, the spirits are here.” She wore a ruby lip and cat-eyed, purple shadow, with hair, bleached blonde, surrounding her head in a perfectly round helmet. Lorelei said a silent prayer for the ozone then realized she’d done that before.

“I know her,” she whispered, sidling up to Ziah, “from TV.”

“Betsy Jo LaReaux,” the woman crossed her arms and popped out a hip, mimicking the pose Lorelei had seen in the opening montage of her show, “Clairvoyant to the Stars. You musta spent some time out there amongst my kind,” she winked at Lorelei, “The Charmed don’t like it, but simple human folk like me gotta earn a livin, and the spirits tell me everythang. Every. Thang.”

Lorelei gulped; at least the spirits hadn’t spoken of her secret yet.

“Betsy Jo can walk and work in both worlds. She’s exceedingly rare: a human with a charmed gift,” Ziah eyed Lorelei as if she were contemplating a new thought, then shook her head, “She’s the best, from what I understand, and she’s visited here before as a guest.”

“And I been itchin to come back,” she rubbed her hands together and glanced around the room, “Let’s all take a seat, shall we?”

Lorelei found herself between Hotaru and Conrad as they filled in around the table, Betsy Jo directly across from her. Their positions faintly resembled what she’d seen of seances on the couple episodes of Clairvoyant to the Stars she’d allowed to play in the background while doing other tasks, but the glitz was missing. Instead of the dark cloth draped over the table, it was bare wood, older and covered in knicks and scratches. There were no candles in varying sizes melting all over one another lining the walls, no purple and gold crystals reflecting the candle light, no massive crystal ball in the table’s center. But Betsy Jo was dramatic enough.

The woman threw her head back and her arms up, addressing the ceiling, “Spirits of Moonlit Shores Manor, hear my request. I beseech you, oh spirits, to assemble here this night, to wrap us in your protective light, and to present to us the truth we seek.”

Lorelei felt her stomach flutter. She always thought Clairvoyant to the Stars was a hoax, and yet Ziah had called her up to solve a very real problem. She glanced at the others around the table. Grier was still glaring at Lorelei from under a heavy, furrowed brow, Ziah and Hotaru beside him, both looking at Betsy Jo with a quiet suspicion. To Betsy Jo’s left sat Seamus, eyes twinkling as he apparently surveyed everyone as well, giving Lorelei a nod when their eyes met. Ren stared straight ahead at nothing in particular. Conrad, beside her, returned her look when she glanced at him, raising an eyebrow and gesturing toward the woman. I can’t believe it either, she told him, but only in her mind.

“By golly!” Betsy Jo exclaimed, slamming her hands against the table. She popped her eyes onto Ziah and huffed, “This place is fuller than a tick on a coonhound!”

“Well, many have lived–and I guess died–here over the last four hundred or so years.”

“And they come back,” she put a finger to her mouth in thought, “Even when they pass far away. This place calls to em. You’ve got to let me shoot here, for my charmed show!”

“Let’s see how this goes first, hm?”

Betsy Jo huffed, then sat back, “Alright, alright. Come on now,” she laid her palms up on the table and wiggled her fingers, “Ya’ll are gonna need to help, as I predicted.” Seamus immediately grabbed her hand, but she had to reach out and take Grier’s. When the rest did not rush to comply, she gestured with the hands she already held, nearly yanking Grier from his seat, “All ya’ll now!”

Lorelei looked to Conrad beside her hesitantly. He gave her half a grin and offered up his hand. She sat hers on top carefully then clasped down when she felt Hotaru picked up her other hand. When Ziah finally made reluctant contact with Grier, a spark flew through the group, zapping each in a wave as it traveled from Betsy Jo and back to her again. They were connected. “Now,” she gazed out over the table, “Do not let go.”

Their guide tipped her head back once more, but this time when she spoke, it was quiet, half in whispers, half inaudible. Gentle hisses filled up the room, riding on the hum of the furnace, until her one voice sounded as if it were many, layered on top of one another and coming from every corner. The others could hear it too, Lorelei confirmed, when they swiveled their heads to peer into the shadows at the edges of the room, but they followed Betsy Jo’s instruction, and she felt both Conrad and Hotaru’s hands tighten on her own.

Words began to form from the whispered sounds, each a fragment of something more, a “kitchen” or “hello” or “statue” rising up out of the sea of whispers each in its own unique voice none of which matched Betsy Jo’s, then fading back in. A chill ran up Lorelei’s spine despite the heat in the room, and a voice sounded just next to her ear, “It wasn’t me!” She jumped, but Conrad was holding fast and they did not break the circle.

As the voices became louder, there was a tinge of anger, blame perhaps, as they answered one another. Pieces of conversations floated around them as if the speakers were passing by. Lorelei thought she caught sight of a figure walking behind Grier, but when she turned to see it fully, it was not there. Another shadow flitted from the corner of her eye near Ren’s shoulder, and when she swiveled to catch it, there was again nothing, but Ren appeared paler, if possible, his eyes locked on the table, wide and searching.

The voices crescendoed suddenly, unmistakable now, loud and shouting. The bodies around the table all leaned forward, closer together, grips tightening, breaths held. Even Grier had lost the ire in his eyes and was panicked. Then Betsy Jo’s head snapped forward, her hair unmoving in its perfect halo, and her eyes fixed on a place just above Lorelei’s head, “There you are.”

The room plunged into silence in an instant, and Lorelei’s ears rung. Despite the orange glow, the room’s temperature had dropped, and if she had breathed, Lorelei thought she might see it.

“It’s okay, honey,” Betsy Jo spoke to no one, “I’ll help you. You can use me to talk to these nice people. Go on now.”

She snapped her head back, then gently dropped it forward again. Sleepy eyed but only for a moment, they popped open and she gasped, “No way!” Eagerly, she looked around the room, blinking, then down at herself, any trace of her accent gone, “This is too cool!” The look she wore disappeared, and her voice changed back to its familiar southern drawl, “Don’t get comfortable, ya hear? I’m only allowin this so you can answer these nice people’s questions.” She gulped and nodded, her voice again dropping its accent and taking on a lilt, responding to herself, “Yes, yes, okay.”

As Betsy Jo looked out on them, they came to the shared conclusion she was no longer herself. Or she was a fabulous actor.

“So,” Ziah drew out the word, biting a lip, “are you our troublemaker?”

Betsy Jo shook her head, violently, eyes wide and unblinking.

“You’re not the one who made the chandelier fall or let the goats out?”

“Or unknotted all my ties?” Seamus piped up and the woman looked at him. “I, uh, have Arista pre-tie them all.” He grinned.

“Nu uh,” she shook her head again, then winced as if she’d been stabbed. Betsy Jo sighed, “Tell the truth,” in a scolding, southern drawl. “Ugh, okay, it was me!” she hung her head.

The alarm draining from her face, Ziah pursed her lips, “Well, why?”

“Cause,” Betsy Jo huffed, “I felt like it.”

The group traded looks, still holding one another’s hands though it felt normal now. Ren appeared composed again, and asked, “What is your name?”

“Samuel,” she ventured carefully.

Something stirred in Lorelei’s brain–a name, a face–but she couldn’t place it.

“And how old are you, Samuel?”

Betsy Jo’s eyes glanced around the table, and Samuel answered: “Forty nine.”

Ziah leaned forward, “How old were you when you…passed on?”

Samuel grumbled in the back of his throat, “Ten.”

“That’s a long time to be hanging around still,” Ziah offered cautiously, “Why are you still here?”

“I’m waiting for my mom and dad.”

A wave fell over the table and the cold felt different then, more empty. Ziah sat back, “Samuel, you could have hurt someone.”

“No!” he shouted using Betsy Jo’s voice, “I made sure nobody was around when I did those things! You didn’t get hurt, did you?” he looked directly at Lorelei.

She paused, then shook her head slowly.

“See, she’s fine.”

“Samuel, does Lorelei have something to do with why you’re…acting out?”

Betsy Jo’s eyes were staring daggers at her.

Grier laughed, “I knew it!”

Ziah glared at him, and he shut up immediately. She was careful how she went on, “Do you want to elaborate?”

“It’s just…that’s my fort, and she’s messing it up.”

“Your fort?”

“The room with the boxes,” he said as if they all should have known, “She moved everything.”

“The office,” Lorelei nodded at him, “I’m organizing the paperwork in there.”

“Typical,” Betsy Jo came back all at once, sitting up straight and arching a perfectly tweezed brow, “Construction and other big changes to living spaces really put a burr in their saddles, even the most casual hauntings. We can send Samuel to the other side, if you’d like. He’s not a particularly strong spirit, used up mosta his energy runnin all over hell’s half acre the last day.”

Though she clearly didn’t want the obstacle to her work, Lorelei felt a pang in her heart at that suggestion.

“That might be for the best,” Ziah offered quietly.

Suddenly panicked, Lorelei shouted, “Wait! What’s Samuel’s last name?”

Betsy Jo was quiet a minute, rolling her eyes back, “Winchester.”

She searched her mind. “Can I talk to him again? Just for a second?”

Closing her eyes, the woman sighed, then when she opened them again they were looking straight at her. There was panic in them, just like how she had felt a second earlier. “Sam, do you want to stay here?”

This time he nodded frantically.

“You know, if I finish organizing the office, there will be a bunch of space in there for you to play.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she couldn’t help but smile at the look Betsy Jo was giving her, even if it was an act, “But you can’t mess up the papers. And you definitely can’t drop heavy things from the ceiling.”

“I know.”

“Promise,” Ziah added, narrowing her brow.

“Yeah, yeah, promise!” Betsy Jo shook her head then blinked, “So what? No cleansin?” It was her again.

“I guess not,” Ziah shrugged and flashed a quick smile at Lorelei.

“Well, I ain’t givin ya a discount.”

Betsy Jo spoke to the manor’s spirits again, bestowing thanks on them and protection on the circle, and ended their communication gracefully. When finished, she released Grier and Seamus’s hands and placed her own flat on the table. She looked tired, if only for a moment, then pushed herself up to stand and began shaking hands.

Ziah touched Lorelei’s shoulder and leaned over in her ear, “Nice catch with the Winchester reservation.”

“Every year,” Lorelei sighed, “It must be sad for them.”

Betsy Jo took Ziah away then to discuss payment, and Lorelei lingered near the door while the others filed out, Grier now avoiding her gaze like the plague. Finally Betsy Jo broke off from Ziah and reached out for Lorelei’s hand. She was reticent to take it, but when she did, felt that same spark that had shot around the table.

“Oh!” Betsy Jo jerked as if she’d heard someone call her name. “Well,” she smiled, “they got a lot to say about you.”

Still trapped in her handhold, Lorelei attempted to lean back, but was only pulled in closer. “She won’t do it,” she whispered, “Trust yer gut, hun.” As if she read the look on Lorelei’s face, Betsy Jo LaReaux flashed her a dazzling red smile, “I’m bout as confused as a hen in a ping pong ball factory bout that too, but that’s what they want ya to know. Consider it a freebie.”

 

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Blogmas: The Longest Night

Winter begins today in the northern hemisphere, though being so close to the equator it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Tampa was a VERY balmy 70 degrees F by the time I went outside at 6:30 this morning and the high was 80. But the winter solstice is not necessarily about the cold, but about darkness, the shortest day, and the longest night.

Winter solstice falls during Yule from which most of our modern Christmas traditions come. Both holidays have a history of ghost stories and things that knock on your bedroom window in the night. Yule, like Halloween, is thought to have been a time when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. The dead, or draugr (a term I’m co-opting for a fantasy novel), could walk amongst us, sometimes taking part in the Wild Hunt which, if you see, you may be spirited away to join. Glimpsing the Wild Hunt could also be prophetic of coming war.

One of the creepier accounts of this death march through the sky comes from 1127 when an abbot, Henry d’Angely, was appointed to a monastery in Britain. Apparently he was terrible and witnesses said the following went on through to Easter:

Many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge, and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats, and their hounds were jet black, with eyes like saucers, and horrible…and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns.

But perhaps the concept of dark, vengeful spirits is only the bastardization of a more positive procession of lost gods and goddesses through the sky, who only wish to bestow good will. Faerie folk taking to the sky, welcoming the rebirth of the sun.

While a horde of demonic hunters is pretty frightening, what chills me a bit more is the concept of The Stranger. During Yule, you may be visited by an entity, wearing a human visage or perhaps not, seeking shelter. Accounts report The Stranger being met in the street, looking mostly like a man, but not quite. Sure, he wears the clothes, the skin, even the smile, but there’s something hollow there, something missing. That’s The Need, and he is searching for someone to help fill a void.

Other stories tell of an incessant rapping at the door or window, but no form on the other side when answered. You’re advised to invite the unseen into your home, offer it a place at your table and a means to keep warm that night. In this case, opening your heart to the wandering may bring you luck. Good or bad, I’m unsure.

Tomorrow, the days begin to grow, the sun is reborn, and though half of the world will plunge into the coldest weather it will see all year, the promise of spring is on the horizon. But tonight we’re in that limbo, and if you linger long enough at a crossroads or in a doorway, be sure to try and catch a glimpse of the other side. Or not.

For me, well, the cats keep mulling about the front door and cocking their ears at a sound I can’t quite make out. At least, I don’t think I can. So I’m off to investigate.