The Doctor

For days I drifted in a sea of delirium. My dreams were queer, silent-picture affairs: abstract shapes blooming in fits of color; my deceased brother trying to speak to me, only before he could talk, his jaw broke off and floated away; children eating away at my flesh while I sang a silent tune.

It was the fever, I think, that did it to me. Asleep, my dreams were nightmarish, but awake….awake, the nightmare was alive and well and real.

When I was reeled back into consciousness, a tall, slim man stood beside my hospital bed. I recalled enough to assume that anyone who entered my room would be all done up in masks and suits and whatnot, but here this fellow with a long, lopsided grin stood, dressed in plain clothes.

Hello, Starla. His teeth gleamed at me.

I was very weak, so I just blinked at him, fearing that any move I made would cause great pain. Pain was definitely present, but instead of being localized, my whole body throbbed.

How are you feeling, Starla? Tell me, tell me, dear; I am on pins and needles.

A chill zipped through me, and I shuddered. His brown eyes widened in…was that excitement? Anticipation? I opened my mouth and realized I was wearing an oxygen mask. He threw his head back and cackled.

That bad, huh? Oh, dear, it is more than I hoped for. I feel so indebted to you, Starla. You are an incredible woman, to have made it this long.

Desperation electrocuted me into motion; I lifted my arm and shoved the mask halfway off of my face.

Fever….is it gone? I croaked.

He shook his head “no” and clasped his hands over his mouth. When he removed them, his lips were stretched so far across his face that he looked like a mutant.

No way, Jose. It surely is not gone, dear. Maybe you’ll pull through this after all, though.

I’m….still very sick? My voice was hoarse and raspy.

Yes, it’s a nasty little bug. So interesting and awe-inspiring.

I tried to lick my cracked lips, but couldn’t summon any saliva.

H-how did…. I couldn’t produce anymore words.

He clapped his hands together so suddenly that I flinched.

How did you get it? I am such a fool–of course you’d be wanting to know how you contracted it! He smacked a hand against his forehead and stomped a foot.

A tear glided over my lower eyelid and down my flushed cheek. He leaned over me and wiped it off with his index finger.

You visited the ER for a broken rib. While you slept, I sneaked into your room and injected you with a loaded syringe and–YAHTZEE–you became very ill!

He chuckled and howled. When his noise-vomit tapered off, he became very stern, all business.

Don’t fret, dear–you’re in good hands. I’m your doctor, after all. He tapped the I.D. card hanging from his shirt and winked.

On the inside, I released a scream.

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The Hunt

In passion, he’d forfeited his soul.

At the end of an unsuccessful hunt, he’d begun the journey home through the wood. In the diminishing sunset, rays of light shone down on her, strands of her brunette locks glimmering red as her thick lips stretched into a wicked grin. Her honey-brown eyes danced as they sipped him in; her green smock hugged her full breasts firmly. Her feet were bare and dirty, casting onto him thoughts of her wildness. Around her neck hung half a dozen beaded necklaces, colored apple-red, forest-green, and sapphire-blue.

She leaned coolly, resting a bent arm against the door frame leading into her shack. Had he been able to rip his eyes from lust incarnate, he would have seen beyond her, into her living quarters. He would have observed piles of thick books stacked on tables; bones from various animals hanging from the ceiling; and jars upon jars of all sorts of substances, lined up against the far wall.

She offered a wagging finger, and he came to her. He dared not speak as she led him to her bed. There, they spent the next hour. She excited an array of feelings inside of him, from lust to hate to shame. The wine she’d forced upon him did little to dull these intense emotions.

The act completed, his wife hung heavily on the man’s mind, like a ghostly witness to his sins.

Suddenly, he flung himself over the mattress and expelled the sour contents of his stomach onto the dusty floor. She climbed over him on her way out of the bed, and, in the light of the candles she’d lit before they’d come together, he saw that she was no longer a beautiful, young temptress, but an old, wrinkled hag.

She stood in the middle of the shack, murmuring terrible things, wonderful things, words that he had never dreamed could be uttered. She raised her hands to the sky, and, as he continued to be sick, he watched the drooping fat of her arms tremble from her movement.

Stop– he begged between the infinite fountains of rancid puke gushing out of him.

Stop she did, turning to face him. Her hair was white and stringy; her breasts, the necklaces resting between them, hung flat, resting just above her belly button; her stomach, flabby and dimpled, covered her groin. She smiled, revealing yellowed teeth. Those eyes, those honey-brown eyes remained, truly belonging to the witch.

What’s–happening–to–me?

He understood, though. He’d bitten from the forbidden fruit, and it was rotten.

The witch had poisoned his wine.

Bonnie. Bonnie was home, where the smoke drifted lazily from the chimney on a gentle breeze. Bonnie was pure and good and love. Now he clutched dearly to a vision of her sweeping, the skirt of her blue dress swaying as she performed the mundane chore.

The witch ambled over to the wall with the jars and snatched an empty one up. As she drew closer to him, she opened it, then seated herself beside him on the bed, patiently awaiting his demise. All the while, she gripped the jar in her thin, long-fingered grasp.

Some time later, the moon high in the black sky, he lay sprawled out on the floor, resting in his own vomit. He was dead.

He no longer resembled the handsome, sturdy hunter who had come to her, but a man who had succumbed to starvation.

She screwed the lid back onto the jar, the jar that now contained essence of hunter, and nodded in satisfaction. After the jar was put back with the others, she peered down at the mess the hunter had gifted her before his passing.

She would be up until dawn, cleaning up this mess.

Lady Death

When had this lady arrived? How had he missed her entrance? She sat in stark contrast to the colorful ball; her gown was pieced together with black cloth. A veil shrouded her face in black, masking her features. Logic spoke to him and said she must be a woman in mourning. His heart whispered otherwise.

Like witnessing a plague picking off its victims one by one, he watched as awareness of her presence crept over the dancers. Each body grew silent until the whole room was immersed in a bone-chilling hush. Gone was the music, the friendly exchange of greetings, gossip, and anecdotes. All eyes hung on the lady in the black dress.

A bold dancer stepped forth and asked, “Who might you be, my lady?”

The hair on his arms bristled as he waited in despair for her answer. Yet, she offered none. Instead, she gracefully came off her seat and stood to her full height. She was tall for a lady, the same height or taller than most of the men in the room. She sauntered toward the very spot he stood, the crowd dispersing to allow her passage.

The lady he’d been dancing with glanced at him nervously. Black skirts swaying, the lady in the black dress stopped within a few feet of them. She pointed a thin, white finger at him, and, suddenly, her clothing–including her veil–collapsed to the floor in a heap. There was no lady under the garments anymore.

The ladies shrieked, and the men gasped. Someone uttered, “Witchcraft!” His chest grew heavy. He felt as if he’d been robbed of oxygen. He clutched at his throat as his eyes bulged in their sockets. His dance partner slipped her arm around his waist as she cried out for help.

On the cold ballroom floor, as he yielded to fate, he thought about how wrong they were about death. Death was really quite alluring, and she was a lady.

Ben & the Puppet.

Julia was intelligent, fun, and beautiful. One day she was here; the next she was gone, vanished, nada. The police wouldn’t even look into it for awhile, and when they did, they decided my best friend had simply skipped town. Alright, I’ll give them this: it certainly didn’t seem like anything criminal had happened to her. Her apartment appeared completely unbothered, and no one, not even Julia, had tried withdrawing any money from her bank account. And it was weird that her car never turned up….

But this explanation was so unlike her. She was kind and thoughtful and painfully meticulous with every plan she organized, from a trip to the grocery store to a vacation at the beach. Why now would she become spontaneous enough to simply disappear? Her mother’s bipolar, so her father even toyed with the idea that Julia had somehow acquired the same illness later in life, causing her to impulsively run away. The “she skipped town” theory never sounded right to me.

Months after her disappearance, a phone call came. It was Gary from the U-Store-It storage facility. This wasn’t the same facility Julia’s father had placed the contents of her apartment in after her disappearance. Apparently, Julia herself had rented a space there and had paid for an entire year in advance. They were going out of business, he said, and he’d tried in vain to contact the renter of the space. My name and number were also on the contact list; he’d hate to rummage through and discard a stranger’s possessions. I’d come and collect her things, I told him.

I was a little shocked when I saw a sleeping bag spread out on the unforgiving floor of the storage space. Gary asked no questions about it; he slunk away to give me privacy.

“Julia, what was going on with you? And why didn’t you tell me?” I sighed. “Where are you?” I whispered, my voice cracking.

I’d borrowed my brother’s truck, since I’d been unsure of the amount of stuff that occupied Julia’s unit. It was pretty cramped in the dusty space, and I regretted not taking Evan up on his offer to help. I crouched down and peeled the top of the sleeping bag back. There, underneath its top layer, was a book with a blank cover. It looked like a journal. My heart skipped a beat.

With shaking hands, I lifted the book from its hiding place. My thumb grazed its numerous pages as I anxiously pondered on what I was about to read. Would it provide answers? Should I bring the cops to this space, given that I felt fairly certain that something very weird was going on? I decided I’d read the journal first, and then call the cops, if I felt it was necessary.

I opened the leather book, expecting its pages to shriek secrets at me. Instead of Julia’s handwriting, I was faced with blank pages. “No,” I mumbled in disappointment as I frantically pawed through page after blank page. Nothing. Hope can be a tool of survival, but, sometimes, hope is a cruel monster.

Heart heavy, I tossed the book to the floor and began loading the boxes into Evan’s truck. Hours later, I was in my living room, kneeling beside another of Julia’s unpacked boxes. So far, I’d discovered nothing suspicious in her possessions. The wine I was drinking as I worked made my limbs feel warm and fuzzy. Frustrated, I snatched another box out of the stacks that littered my living room and lifted the flaps.

There was nothing inside except for a dusty Ouija board and a couple candles. I blew the dust off the top of the Ouija board and freed it from its cardboard home. I almost hate to say it because of how corny and cliché it sounds, but the second I unfolded the Ouija board, a sensation hit me like a ton of bricks: I didn’t just feel like I was being watched, I knew I was. Goosebumps tightened the skin on my arms.

I chastised myself for being so paranoid as I set the candles up on my coffee table and lit them with a match, switching the overhead light off. The warm candlelight cast an eerie glow over the familiar room. That feeling of unease wouldn’t release me, but I did my best to ignore it as I picked up the planchette and placed it on the board.

It’s not like it hadn’t occurred to me many times before, that Julia was probably dead. My only goal now was to find her, no matter what or where she was, and gain some closure. I’ve never been a believer in the supernatural, even though it can be fun to pretend that ghosts exist. I don’t know what made me decide to try and talk to my best friend through the Ouija board, except maybe desperation and a merlot buzz.

“Julia,” I started.

I sipped more wine.

“I miss you.”

Tears pricked my eyes.

“This is stupid, I know….I feel really silly. I don’t care, though.” Her hands had been on this planchette before. She was gone now, but at one time, she had played around with this same board.

“Are you here?” I whispered.

I held my breath, waiting for the planchette to do something, anything. Nothing happened.

“Julia? Please, I have to know what happened to you.”

My phone chimed. I frowned as I released the planchette. I leaned over and scooped my phone off the couch—and gasped. I blinked and checked again: the text was still there. Julia: Read

I opened the text thread. “‘Read,'” I repeated the word aloud. Another green bubble appeared: It.

“‘Read it,'” I murmured.

I tapped the phone icon with a shaky finger and waited for the line to ring.

I’m sorry, but the number you are trying to reach has been dis—

No!” I cried.

The phone chimed again.

Read. It.

And again.

READ. IT.

And again.

MEL, READ IT.

I threw the phone onto the coffee table and sobbed into my hands. Was I hallucinating? The sweet sound of violins filled the air—my ringer was going off. I dove for my phone. “Julia” was calling. I slid my thumb over the “answer” icon.

“Julia!” I shouted.

Static filled my ear.

“N-no, please—Julia, are you OK? Where are you? Please, answer me—”

Somewhere in the static was a human sound. The sound of….laughter? Weeping? The line was disconnected. I immediately called her back.

I’m sorry, but the number you are trying to reach has been…

I slammed the phone down and popped up. Her boxes had a lot of books in them. What was she wanting me to read? I turned the light back on and threw books aside as I clawed my way through her collection.

“What do you want me to find, Julia? A little more detail would’ve been nice!” I yelled.

I twirled around, my eyes bouncing from one box to the other, and froze. There was something on the couch that hadn’t been there before: the leather journal. I brushed tears off my cheeks and picked up the blank book.

“What the hell?” I whispered as I opened the book up to the first page.

I flinched: the pages weren’t blank anymore; Julia’s neat handwriting now filled the unlined spaces. The first few pages were normal entries: recipes, pensive paragraphs, personal goals, prayers….on the fifth page, things got strange.


Ben wants me to talk to him everyday. I don’t know how I feel about that. Something seems off. I wish I could tell Mel….I don’t want her to think I’ve finally lost it though, haha. Is this really happening?


Things to ask Ben: who was he? Was he human?


Ben hesitated when he answered the question. I’m not so sure I should keep talking to him. I mean, I’m getting this bad feeling about the whole thing. He hesitated, I felt it through the planchette. I’m certain he lied about being human once. If he was never human, what is he? And why lie?


Ben got angry at me today. He said I have to trust him. It doesn’t matter if I stop talking to him—he’s always here. He can move the planchette on his own now. I’m going to throw it away. Hopefully, this will be over soon.


I threw the board away, but it reappeared, somehow. I’m getting scared. Maybe I should tell Mel? I don’t know….Ben’s pissed off. He told me I can’t get rid of him.


Jesus, I thought I’d been scared before. Not true. Tonight, I learned what feral fear is, how it feels when it collides into you, how you feel like you’re going to burst right out of your body. That horrible thing….I nodded off on the couch. Something was being dragged down the hall, and the noise of it woke me up. I thought someone had fucking broken in! I got down on my hands and knees and peeked around the couch. In the light of the TV, I saw it—fuck, just thinking about it makes me tremble—my grandpa’s horrible clown puppet. It was using its arms to drag itself down the hall. And it noticed me, it fucking noticed me, because it collapsed to the floor when I made eye contact with it! Jesus Christ, I am terrified.


It’s him. It’s fucking him, Ben. He won’t leave me alone. I threw the damned clown into the dumpster outside and found it in my bathtub an hour later.

I even drove over an hour away and chucked it out the window, and STILL the fucker found its way back into my apartment! I don’t know what to do….I’ll be cooking and turn around, and there it is, seated at the kitchen table, watching me….or reading on the couch, and suddenly it will be sitting beside me. The worst is when it watches me get dressed. I don’t think Ben was ever human.


The next line was obviously not written by Julia. The handwriting was shaky and unpracticed.

Rip you apart if you say a word


Last night, I woke up, and Ben was in bed with me. I think—no, I know—he was watching me sleep. Also, it seems like the clown’s lips have stretched out even further, making its smile all the more grotesque. It left me the warning above this paragraph. What if it….tries something, something violent? I’m losing my mind.


It knows about Mel. I accidentally left my phone at home today. When I got home from work, my cell phone was clinched in its hands. Mel’s Facebook page was open. Its smile was even wider. And….and I swear it winked at me.

I just got off the phone with Mel. She apologized for not being able to meet me at my place for lunch today. She obviously has no idea that she wasn’t talking to me, doesn’t know I left my phone at home. IT was texting her! I opened the text thread and, sure enough, there were the messages to prove it—nothing unusual, just very normal conversation….which makes it all the more ominous. What does it WANT?


I haven’t seen it in a couple days. I don’t know what’s worse: knowing where it is or not knowing where it is. Maybe it finally just left?


I’m exhausted. Mentally, emotionally, physically….I don’t know how much more I can take. I woke up to a loud boom coming from my neighbor’s apartment. I ran out into the hallway, thinking to check on her….her front door was ajar, so I walked in.

I found her on her kitchen floor. Her nightgown was pulled up over her face and her underwear were twisted up, like she’d tried to take them off in a rush. The clown was sitting upright by her head. Its smile was so wide, the corners of its lips touched its ears. I don’t know how I’d never noticed before, but it has teeth. Little, tiny, needle-like teeth.

My neighbor had no pulse. I grabbed the clown and heaved it into my apartment before dialing 911. The paramedics suspect she had a heart attack. I’m not so sure.

Maybe I should’ve left the evil thing beside her, let the cops and paramedics deal with it….but I can’t do that, can I? I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, if I knew it was terrorizing someone else.

I have never felt so alone in all my life.


I was in the shower when my ankle started stinging. I peered down and saw it, latched to my lower leg. Tiny streams of watery blood leaked out of the small puncture wounds created by its teeth. I screamed in horror and thrashed my leg around until the puppet went flying into the glass door of the shower.

I can’t live in terror for much longer. The clown is either going to kill me, or I’m going to lose my mind. Oh, and I caught it with my phone again. This time, it had my gallery open to a picture of Mel. What if it goes after her like it did my poor neighbor? It already tried to lure her to it once.


Again, in shaky, unpracticed handwriting:

Mel


That’s it. I have a storage space. I’m going to sleep in it tonight, think about my next move….I can’t afford a hotel, and I can’t let anyone know that anything’s wrong—they’d probably lock me away if I told them any of this. I’ll take a flashlight and leave the clown in my apartment. This is all so insane….I still can’t believe this is happening to me.


That was the last entry. There were a couple of blood droplets on the corner of the page that made my blood run cold. Reading Julia’s passages left me with an upset stomach and sweaty palms. How had I not noticed that my best friend needed me? That something sinister was going on, whether these things she wrote were true or she only perceived them to be true? I had to choose what to do next. Go to the cops? Go to her parents? Look through her stuff again and see if I could find any other clues?

I had other questions, too: did my best friend die in that storage space? How did I receive texts and a call from her number? Why was her journal blank earlier, but later filled with the horrific details of the events leading up to her disappearance? Was I—now or at any time—in danger? Was Julia suffering a mental breakdown, or did these awful things actually happen?

And—I swallowed hard at this—where was her grandpa’s clown puppet now?


The next day, as I dressed for work, someone paid me a visit. I felt its presence before I saw it. It was sitting on the chair I sit in to do my make-up, grinning ear to ear. When my gaze fell upon it, I screeched. My heart thumped wildly against my rib cage as I sidled up to the clown puppet. It was holding something in its fist….

Swiftly, I snatched the scrap of paper out of its hand and backed away, leaving about ten feet between me and it. The paper was covered in what appeared to be old, dried blood. I winced as I scanned the message jotted down on it.

First Julia now Mel

My face wrinkled in distress as I glanced back up at my visitor. I inched closer to it, squinting as I tried to pick out what was wrong with the image before me. It took me a few seconds, but it came to me: there were human teeth in its mouth.

Rat-a-tat-tat

Rat-a-tat-tat

“‘Who did that?'”

Lines from my nephew’s favorite book, “Pete the Cat and the Bedtime Blues.”


A sudden noise at my window yanks me awake. It’s a bird, an insect. Hell, it’s a bat. It’s relentless. It’s always there to shake me awake. How long can a person go without a full night’s rest?


The sunlight burns my stinging eyes. My air conditioning doesn’t work, and sweat rolls down my face and pastes my shirt to my back. The cars passing overload my system. My brain can’t choose which noise or sight to concentrate on. A horn sounds, and my head snaps up. My vehicle is rolling forward, inching closer to the intersection ahead. I’ve nodded off at a red light and released the brake. I mash it back down with a startled gasp. The light’s transition from red to green doesn’t immediately register. Impatient drivers honk their horns, and my heart pounds in unison with the obnoxious noise.


I saw a kid die. He drowned right before my eyes. I didn’t know he was in trouble, God, I swear it. It happened so quietly. By the time it dawned on me that he was drowning, it was too late. The last thing he saw was my frantic gaze, reaching out to him, pleading for him to live. The world should have shrieked in protest of a life snuffed out, yet the sun rises and sets, the birds sing, and the people live.

It’s gnawing on me. It’s taking its time, the guilt—pacing itself. And why not? It’s got until my own death to consume me. The weight of his lifeless body is a sensation I’ll never be able to forget. Sometimes I’m walking through Wal-Mart, or some other store, pushing my cart along, and out of nowhere I’m again cradling his phantom weight in my unsuspecting arms.

Is it a monster? A demon? A ghost? It started after the child died. And it started with a rat-a-tat-tat.


Most nights, it allows me to fall asleep for a couple hours before its drumming rouses me. I prop myself up on my elbows and watch the bedroom window, waiting for the stuff of nightmares to appear on the other side of the glass. I imagine it’s grinning at my terror. Or maybe it’s watching me from the shadows, smug with dutiful satisfaction. When will it break from this routine? When will it decide to venture inside? I wonder. All too soon, is the answer.

I tip-toe down the hallway, the light of the flashlight trembling in my quaking grip. I’m too scared to let it know I’m coming with a bold blast of the hallway light. It’s in the kitchen, clanging and banging around. No more gentle rat-a-tat-tat. I need to see it. Closer and closer….and I’m right around the corner from it. I peek.

A night-light is on. My searching eyes flitter back and forth. I almost miss it, but it shudders and gives away its position. There!Crouching on the floor, a shadow darker than the darkness of my house. It moans. It’s big. Its head is turning. I lose my nerve and dart back to my bedroom, locking my door behind me.

Underneath my bed, my knees throbbing from the carpet burn I sustained in my haste to dive into hiding, my breath comes in short, raspy waves. I pray. A tear rolls down my hot cheek. The floor outside my door creaks. The door knob turns and rattles. It’s here. It will rip the door off the hinges. It will crush and mutilate my body. I weep. The rattling ceases. The floor groans as it departs.

Another night. There’s a hush over the house, but something woke me up. I sit up in the illumination of the moonlight pouring through my window. I’m not alone. It stands at the foot of my bed, a seven foot tall figure shrouded in a white sheet. It is motionless. My heart beats in my ears as I gawk at it. For a minute or an hour, we remain locked in this position. Then it pivots and shuffles out of my room. Outside my door, it claws at the hallway walls for the rest of the night.

I hug my knees, too terrified to even hide. As the sky lightens, the scratching becomes distant. When the sun rises, it stops altogether. I am rattled. I cannot go to work. I choose to sleep in the light of day, and sleep is good to me.

When I awake, the evening has already arrived. My senses are on high alert. I check every door and window. The door to the basement is unlocked. I lock it. I don’t feel much safer. I lock myself in my bedroom and settle into the middle of the bed. I wait. It doesn’t take long.

Rat-a-tat-tat. It’s not inside yet. I shine the flashlight on the window. Nothing is there, but there’s a spot of condensation on the glass, like someone is breathing on it. My stomach somersaults, and I force myself to turn the flashlight away.

Somehow, I drift off, my back supported by the wall. A door is disturbed. I flinch awake and point my flashlight at my bedroom door. It’s still closed. I shift the light—in front of the bed, my closet door is opening. My flashlight blinks off and refuses to come back on. The darkness darker than my house is crawling out of my walk-in. It stops and rolls its head.

I want to jump out of my skin. Impulsively, I pull the cord to my lamp. I catch a fleeting glimpse of it slithering under my bed. I leap off the mattress and sprint to the living room. Somewhere in the house, heavy knocking begins. As I struggle to catch my breath, the pounding intensifies, and the house vibrates under its force. I clamp my eyes shut and clutch at my ears. I have to call for help.

I snatch the cordless phone off its cradle and dial the number. The knocking stops as the phone rings. She answers on the fourth.

“Yes?”

What do I say to my sister? How do I explain everything?

“Hannah, are you there?”

“I-I’m here,” I whisper. “June, something’s in my house.”

She says nothing for a few seconds. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I don’t know what it is, but it’s torturing me.”

“Christ, if you think something’s in your house, why don’t you call the police? What do you think I can do about it?”

She’s got a point. “I…I’m sorry. You’re right.”

“Hannah?”

Footsteps enter the hallway. My ears perk up. I should’ve turned on a light.

“Yes?” I whisper.

“Don’t ever call me again.” She hangs up. The dial tone hums.

The footsteps continue. I am frozen in time.

The boy’s limp body hung in my arms. I clutched him to my chest as I howled in agony.

It rounds the corner, covered under a sheet again. It drops back down onto all fours.

My nephew’s lifeless eyes stared up at me. “I didn’t know he was drowning, I didn’t know!” I scream.

I throw the phone at it. It recoils before renewing its advance with vigor.

“Please forgive me, June, I’m begging you—it was an accident, please!”

It reaches for me. I snatch the fabric it hides beneath and tug it off. The sheet collapses and reveals empty space.

He drowned. I was supposed to protect him, and he died.

The sun rises. The birds sing. The people live. The sun sets.

June’s silence was the worst. She could’ve screamed, she could’ve attacked, but silence? Nothing else could’ve shredded me apart like her cool refusal to comfort or condemn.

The next night, the tapping begins again.

The Girl At My Door.

 

I’ve always possessed a deep love for Halloween. Everything about it makes me tingle with joy. I mean, the weather is perfect; the leaves of yellow, red, and brown are gorgeous; the decor inspires my infinite imagination; the treats are mouth-watering; the movies and shows leave me in a perpetual state of high anxiety…what’s not to love?

Within the last couple years, I’ve become old enough to dress up for the holiday again. As a child, I, of course, slipped into a costume for the night. Then, as a preteen, it occurred to me that I was too old for such things, much like how it came to me that I was no longer little enough to play with my Barbies and dolls. I recently dove into my mid-twenties, right as my daughter, Olivia, entered her toddler years, and it dawned on me that I am finally at an acceptable age to don a costume again.

I still love Halloween. I don’t think anything could ever make me stop enjoying the night; however, I now approach Halloween like I’d approach a stranger in a dark alley: with extreme caution.

Olivia was about one and a half. I dressed her as a dragon that year, and she looked absolutely adorable (I’m biased, but it’s true). We trick-or-treated for an hour before my sleepy baby vocalized by way of a tantrum that she’d had enough festivities and was ready for bed. I’d worked all day, so I was a bit relieved that we could head home. The walk home was nice. The sky was a deep slate gray, as it wasn’t yet fully night. There was a cool breeze that carried to my ears the gleeful voices of happy, thrill-seeking children all throughout the neighborhood.

At home, I bathed my cranky baby, slapped a fresh diaper and PJs on her, and tucked her in, planting a kiss on her forehead before leaving her to drift into sleep. For myself, I changed out of my headless horseman attire, grabbed a beer, snagged a few chocolates out of Olivia’s pumpkin bucket, and settled into the couch to watch a horror film on TV. I sipped my beer, ate my stolen bounty, and cringed into the cushion at every jump scare. When the credits of the movie rolled, I turned the TV off and showered, ready for bed.

I was getting myself some ice water when there was a knock at my door. I checked the oven clock: 10:39. Trick-or-treating ended at eight, but I figured maybe some teenagers were trying to prolong the night or maybe wanted to dabble in some practical jokes, like ding dong ditch. I tiptoed to the door and peered through the peephole. A weeping girl, probably about sixteen or so, stood on my welcome mat, mascara running down her face in squiggly lines. She was dressed in an outfit that reminded me of Little Red Riding Hood.

‘Fuck. What’s this about?’

Reluctantly, I unlocked and opened the door. “Are you OK? What’s going—”

“You gotta let me in! Please! Please, Jesus, let me in! I’m so scared!”

The stench of raw fear emanated from this girl; if she was playing a joke, she more than earned a fucking Academy Award. I instantly felt my stomach drop; I had Olivia, sound asleep in her bed, to worry about.

“Yeah, come on, hurry,” I said, peering up and down my street before shutting and locking the door behind her.

“Oh, God, thank you, thank you, you’ve no idea! I’ve gone to a million different houses, and no one would even acknowledge me!” She peeled the red hood of her cloak off her head of long, dark hair.

“What’s going on? Are you hurt? Do I need to call your parents or the cops or both?”

“NO!” she shouted, throwing her hands up in front of her.

I flinched. She lowered her arms to her sides.

“I mean, no, that’s not necessary. I, uh, I’m OK. Can I have something to drink, please?”

“Yeah, of course. Uh, I hate to sound pushy when it’s so obvious you’re upset, but I really need to know what’s going on…”

She nodded solemnly, chewing on her bottom lip. After I’d given her a glass of water, we sat down on the couch. She guzzled the water down and put the empty glass on the coffee table. I cleared my throat. I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable, but I had to know the extent of the situation.

“Um, I was with some friends. We weren’t trick-or-treating or anything, just walking around, goofing off, you know…there’s this party we were going to go to tonight…” She twirled a strand of hair around her index finger.

“It’s OK. Really.” I was trying my best to sound like a safe and comforting adult, when really I felt like a terrified, insecure kid. I wished I wasn’t having to deal with this, wished there was someone older around to take care of it.

“We went to the cemetery. Took some candles and stuff, for a seance. Just for fun, you know? We didn’t mean for, for…”

My arms broke out into goosebumps. I knew in the same way you can feel someone staring at you without ever seeing them, in the same way you know the teacher is about to call your name before she does, that whatever she was about to tell me was the truth. I squirmed in reluctance to receive it.

“At first, we thought it was a train because it sounded so far off. Then Danielle said it was just the wind, but the trees weren’t moving. That’s when the grave next to us just, just sort of crumbled. We all screamed and scattered—at this point I was actually laughing. It was still just adrenaline-inducing fun. But I ended up alone, running by all these graves, and s-suddenly it didn’t feel like much fun anymore.”

Her voice was getting shrill, hysterical. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I tripped and when I stood back up, there was this, this woman, standing right in front of me. She was in a long, black dress—oh God, and this smell! It was terrible—she smelled like something dead!” She covered her eyes with a shaky hand. “Her face, her eyes were completely white, and her mouth was wide open…s-she had all these teeth, real pointy teeth, but the worst part was the ax that was stuck in her neck, a-and her head was crooked, like, like it was barely hanging on!”

She swallowed and rubbed her arms. Her eyes were watery and distant.

“She touched me, t-t-touched me with these long, nasty nails. I screamed and ran and tried to get someone to help me—and then you answered your door. And I don’t know where my friends are, but I am so, so scared.”

I was stunned. I had no idea how to react. The rational part of me said, “This girl is messing with you!”

“You aren’t fucking with me, are you?”

“No!” she cried. “I swear.”

“You…I hate to ask this, but have you been using drugs?”

She shook her head. “I had two beers hours ago, that’s it.”

I nibbled my lip. “What about your friends? You don’t think it’s possible they were playing a joke on you?”

She stared off into space. “I hope they were.”

“Just hang on a sec—I’m going to get my phone, so you can call your parents, OK? Just breathe, you’re safe now.”

She didn’t answer me, just kept staring at nothing. Goosebumps materialized again. On the way to my room, I checked on Olivia. She was sleeping peacefully, blissfully unaware of the situation in the living room.

When I returned, the dialer already open on my cell, the girl was gone. I raced to the door and flung it open. I looked up and down the street for her, but saw no one. Eaten alive with worry, but not knowing what to do, I barely slept that night. The only thought that consoled me as I tossed and turned was the idea that maybe it had been a silly (however convincing) Halloween prank.

The next day, as Olivia was eating yogurt melts in her booster seat, I scoured the living room for a book I hadn’t yet pawed through in order to get my mind off the mysterious teenage girl. En route to the bookshelf, I paused in front of the couch. There, where the girl had sat, were what resembled blood stains in four different places; two were on the cushion you sit on and the others were smeared onto the back cushions. The sight knocked the wind out of me—had she been bleeding? And how had I not noticed that she was bleeding, if she was? Why hadn’t she told me she was hurt?

As silly as I’d feel doing so, I felt compelled to call the police, to do something, but the news anchor speaking on the TV halted my intentions and captured my attention.

“…Hills Cemetery. The teenage girl was found dead at approximately ten this morning by the groundskeeper. Authorities are not releasing details of her death at this time, but did state that she appeared to have died sometime last night.”

My gut screamed out, “It’s her! It’s the girl from last night!”

I practically threw Olivia into her car seat in my haste to leave, buckling her and slipping behind the wheel in the driver’s seat. I peeled out of the driveway, narrowly missing my mailbox, and zoomed through the streets of my neighborhood, my neighbors openly gawking. Fifteen minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot of the sheriff’s department. I burst through the entrance, Olivia in my arms, and jogged up to the front counter.

Before the officer standing there had a chance to speak, I cried out, “I want to speak to someone about the teenage girl found at the cemetery!”

“U-uh, o-kay, come with me.”

I followed the deputy through a fluorescent maze of generic metal doors. He stopped outside one and knocked.

“Yeah!”

“Lady to see you, about—well, about that teenage girl—”

The door opened, revealing a squat man with intense brown eyes. His eyes found my gaze and cooled considerably.

“Come in, come in, I’m Sheriff Hughs.”

We shook hands.

“I’m Laura Yoke.”

Olivia fussed as I squeezed into the dense office. I opted to stand, so I could bounce her on my hip.

“Please, sit,” he said, plopping down into his chair.

“No, thank you. I-I uh…oh, God. This is going to sound just so crazy. But, last night—”

“What time last night?” he asked, eyes averted as he scribbled in a notebook.

The digital green numbers on my oven clock flashed in my mind’s eye.

“It was 10:39.”

He added something to whatever it was he was writing, then set the pen down, folded his arms across his chest, and gave me his full attention.

“This girl, a teenage girl knocked on my door, and she’s crying, hysterical. I let her in and asked what’s wrong, and, and she says that she and her friends were having a seance in the cemetery, something spooked them and…

“Well, she says she saw…a ghost, I guess. And she’s so terrified, more scared than I’ve ever seen someone in my life! I went to get my phone, so she could call her parents, but when I got back to the living room, she’d left. I was up all night, worrying about this girl. And today I noticed t-these red marks on my couch, where she’d been sitting—they look like blood to me—then I heard the news, about the girl found, found—”

He held up a hand. “Let’s calm down a minute here. What was this girl wearing?”

“A costume, reminded me of Little Red Riding Hood, and she had long, dark hair and pale skin.”

The stern man’s face froze in shock for a mere, fleeting second. He adjusted his collar and flashed a smile in an attempt to quell my anxiety, but I knew by his reaction that the dead girl matched my description.

“OK. OK, sounds to me like we have us a little coincidence going on here.”

“Really?” I asked, hopeful. “Oh, God, that makes me feel a little better.”

“Listen, I’m going to tell you something else that I shouldn’t because I see how concerned you are. Couldn’t of been the girl found this morning—”

“Wait a second, I saw your face when I described how she looked!”

He dismissed my observation.

“Couldn’t of been her, I say, because the girl found this morning was already dead by 10:30 last night. She was…she passed around 8:30.”

I scoffed. “Just how accurate is time of death, though?”

“Pretty damn accur—uh, it’s pretty accurate, ma’am. So, there, it couldn’t of been the same girl, unless you’re wrong about the time?”

“No, it was 10:39. I know because I looked at the clock and thought about how trick-or-treating had already ended right before I went to the door. I’m one-hundred percent sure. But what about the red stains on my couch?”

He clucked his tongue and tipped his head to indicate Olivia on my hip.

“Ma’am, toddlers are professional mess makers. She probably got ahold of something you didn’t even realize she had and leaked it all over your couch. Don’t you think you would’ve noticed if this girl from last night was wounded? I mean, was she acting hurt?”

“No,” I mumbled. “I even asked her if she was hurt, and she said no.”

“There, it’s settled then. Nothing but a coincidence.”

I left there feeling a tad foolish, despite a nagging voice in my head insisting that something was wrong.

I needed so badly to trust in Sheriff Hugh’s argument that I convinced myself I was fretting over nothing. With a little time, and some avoidance on my part of the news in any form, I settled back into normalcy and soon rarely thought of Halloween night. Not until Thanksgiving.

At Thanksgiving dinner, my aunt’s husband, a sheriff’s deputy in a neighboring county, brought up the cemetery murder after he was three drinks deep.

“You just wouldn’t fucking believe the sickos running around, pretending to be fucking normal, standing in line behind you at Wal-Mart—it just turns my stomach. Like, that, uh, girl they found here at what’s-it-called—what’s it called, babe?” He looked to my aunt for the answer.

“Park Hills—”

“Yeah, yeah, Park Hills Cemetery—”

My blood turned to ice.

“That crazy fuck, that vermin—listen, I know they kept the gory fucking details outta the papers, out of respect for the girl’s family and all, but I gotta tell you, because it is a perfect fucking example of exactly the kinda sickos I’m talking about! This guy—who they’ve never caught and probably never will—actually axed the poor girl’s arms and legs, just hacked ’em right off. Yeah, that’s right, axed them off, to make it look like that woman’s murders from way back when—”

“Honey, maybe—”

“C’mon, Paula, I’m telling a story here, lemme finish.”

“Wait, are you talking about Tallulah James? They made it look like Tallulah James killed her, really? Remember, we used to tell each other the story of Tallulah when we were kids, Laura?” my cousin interrupted, wide-eyed and fascinated.

I said nothing.

“Whatever, Lula, whoever. Point is, the fucker actually stole her arms and legs! I mean, he’s got ’em at home, stashed in a fucking closet next to his umbrella or some shit—sick fuck! And he’s just walking around, buying cat food and pumping gas at Flash Foods—oh, and, and he *bit* into her neck, took a great big chunk of fl—”

Robbie!” Aunt Paula barked.

Robbie blinked and shrugged at his wife. “Paula?”

“It’s Thanksgiving. Maybe we should find something more pleasant to talk about. Besides, Laura looks as if she’s seen a ghost.”

Around the dinner table, all eyes on me, my family’s soft voices fused together in a gentle auditory breeze. Their faces tilted and grew hazy as I passed out of consciousness.

When I opened my eyes, my mom was leaning over me.

“Easy, baby. You fainted. I just want you to rest right here—I’ve got Olivia. Do you need anything?”

I shook my head.

“Robbie doesn’t know when to shut up. I mean, I’d rather not hear about that gruesome murder, either, especially on a holiday.” She sighed. “How are you feeling? Do you think you need to go the hospital or something?”

“No, I’m OK. I just got lightheaded…I guess the, you know, gore and…I’m fine, really.”

“Yeah, OK. I’ll be back to check on you in a few.” She pecked my cheek and departed.

Lying on my childhood bed, the story from my youth sailed back into my mind. I had always thought it was just a fun, scary story, made up by some kid with an imagination the size of life.

In the dark, one of us would whisper the tale of Tallulah James, the pastor’s wife who first poisoned him to death, then kidnapped a dozen children, murdered them, and axed their arms and legs off. Angry, suspicious townspeople discovered the rotting, limbless corpses of the missing children in her cellar. When they asked her what she did with their arms and legs, she smiled and replied, “I had to keep them from running, of course.” Her own niece buried an ax into her neck.

I hadn’t made the connection because up until then I hadn’t known how the teenage girl was killed. I’d never even contemplated whether Tallulah had really existed, not until Uncle Robbie spoke about the graveyard murder and “that woman’s murders from way back when.”

I rolled onto my side, pulling my knees into my chest.

Tallulah James had extinguished one last child’s life. And her unfortunate victim, both of us unaware that she was already dead, paid me a visit on her final Halloween night.

 

 

It Came With The Storm.

Hurricane Matthew traveled to the U.S., reminding me of things I’d rather not think about. My eccentric aunt lives in Louisiana. Back in 2005, she survived Hurricane Katrina. In the days leading up to the storm, I remember begging her to evacuate, but she wouldn’t hear any of it. She was close with her stubborn neighbor who wouldn’t entertain leaving, and she refused to abandon him. That man is now her husband.

We talked briefly a few days after the storm had come, just long enough for her to let me know she was alive. The following night, she called to check in again. It was the strangest conversation, ending in two nerve-fraying sentences.

She didn’t speak of winds, storm surge, and flooding. She breezed over the topic of weather altogether, simply stating, “I’m fine, everything’s fine. I’m fortunate. It’s nothing I can’t handle.” From that point, she rambled about her dog, her neighbor, and being in need of a good hot toddy. Before she hung up, she added, almost as an afterthought, “Oh – and it came. It took six that I know of.” Then she was gone.

I tried to dial her again, but she wouldn’t answer. Frustrated, I slammed my phone down onto the counter. I needed an explanation, but it didn’t look like I was going to get one. I scoured the house until I found the newspaper clipping I’d saved from a couple years back.

“Eleven Dead, One Missing After Record-Setting Tornadoes and Storm,” was the title of the article from the local paper. I nibbled on my thumbnail as I read through it for the hundredth time, eyes magnetically drawn to three names on the list of the dead: Norbert C., Mary H., and Carrie H. The single name on the missing list was Denise J. I omitted their last names for the protection of the town and its people.

Had it happened again? Had my aunt lived through the same terror I’d endured years before? What did that mean for the world? How many other towns were remaining tight-lipped, swallowing the same secret down like bitter medication? How many natural disasters had it visited, cloaking its presence in the chaos and destruction? What was it?

I’d lived through that record-setting storm. It swooped in suddenly and lasted for an entire evening. Tornadoes are eerie phenomenons, and not just because they have the power to kill. There’s something almost supernatural about them. Then again, I’ve had recurring nightmares about them since I was a kid, so that night was like a dark and horrifying dream given the breath of life.

I was gardening when it rolled in. The sky was dark, warning me of the potential for a storm. I only had three more Canna lilies to plant along the fence; I could beat it. I stabbed the earth with my spade, digging another hole. I plopped one of the bulbs into its new home and rested my hands on my thighs.

It was awfully quiet. I whistled, just to lend a sound to the air. No birds sang. No breeze blew. No insects chirped. I was uneasy. I got up off my aching, dirty knees and looked around. Lightning flashed across the ominous sky, lighting up the cotton field across the street from me. Forget the bulbs. It was time to go in and check the weather.

I plodded towards the house, my ears popping like I was on an airplane. I didn’t like the atmosphere. It was too calm. Why was it so God damn quiet?

Goosebumps tightened the skin on my arms. The air felt electric. You’re being paranoid. It’s just a storm, relax. A sound interrupted my thoughts – the tornado siren’s chilling crescendo. Then came another robust noise, like a train passing on the nearby railroad tracks.

I spun on my feet as yet another sound accompanied the shrill siren and deafening rumbling. Cracking. Slapping. Smacking. Thudding. On the far side of the field, trees snapped and splintered as a tornado chewed through the landscape. Thunder clashed, but it was overpowered by the volume of the enormous tornado and its violent spree.

I was transfixed by the awe-inspiring sight of it. It was beautiful and terrifying, and it was headed my way. You can’t stay here. You can’t be here. You have to seek shelter. Go.

My legs quivered. I craned my neck to see if anyone else was outside their house, mystified by this destructive force, but I was the lone audience member. It was at the road now, about to cross diagonally, directly to my house. It was close – too close for comfort. I no longer had the option to scurry into my basement. The only place left for me to go was the shed.

I jogged towards the metal shed, the wind whipping my hair around. At the door, I struggled to tear my gardening gloves off. Finally, my hands were freed, and I was able to pull the door open and slip into my refuge.

I knew the shed wasn’t safe. It was no match for the tornadic fury that was stomping all over my home, but I could think of nothing else to do but cower in the corner and watch through a dingy window. The roof was sucked up and spit out, and the walls caved in.

I don’t know how much time passed…two minutes? Ten? The tornado moved on, seeking something else to chomp on. I was safe, more or less.

The incessant noise continued on down the road for another minute or so before it faded away. The siren cut off a few minutes later. My body vibrated, and my heart pounded. I felt like my limbs weighed a thousand pounds. Outside of the shed, I lowered myself to the ground after a few paces. Thunder snarled as the charcoal-colored sky opened the floodgates, pouring sheets of rain down onto the rubble.


Soaked to the bone by the torrential rain, I floated through what was left of my home, surveying the destruction. My neighbors were out now. Some cried while others quietly digested what had happened. One marched over to ask after me, as my house was the only to suffer a direct hit. I assured him I was OK as he scratched at his head, obviously unsure of what to do or say.

A scream broke out. The good-intentioned neighbor sped back over to the small assembly of townsfolk. It occurred to me that someone may be dead or injured as I lifted my grandmother’s pearls out of a mass of splintered wood.

SHE’S DEAD! OH, GOD, JESUS…HELP ME, SOMEONE!

I was right. Someone was killed. I jerked my head to attention, shoving the necklace into my pocket. Mary was seated on her lawn, the rain slicking her hair against her face and neck. She cradled her girl’s limp body in her arms, rocking back and forth as she announced her tragedy to the swarm of stunned neighbors.

Her house was fully intact. Debris littered the yard, but the house was unscathed…so, what happened to poor Carrie? I got up the courage to walk over to the distressing scene.

IT KILLED HER, MY BABY! MY BABY!” the woman moaned.

“Mary,” said a timid voice. “Honey, let me help you. Let me get you and her out of the rain.” It was Denise, the spinster who lived next door to Mary.

Mary sputtered and nodded. “Yes, I need to get her out of the rain.” Denise nodded at Norbert, who stepped forward and gently lifted the girl into his arms. The whole crowd gasped as the child’s face flopped into view; she had the appearance of an eighty year old woman instead of an eleven year old little girl. Her eyes were sunken in, her nose was clipped off, and trenches of deep wrinkles were etched into her gray skin.

No one spoke as Norbert, Denise, and Mary disappeared into Mary’s house. After they’d gone in, the crowd dispersed, more people openly weeping now. I barely had time to process what I’d seen before a noise like a car window rolled down on the interstate erupted. “Not again!” someone shouted in disbelief. “Get inside!” someone else commanded. I wiped rainwater out of my eyes and gazed out at the dark horizon, where another tornado had materialized.

As the siren belted its warning, I flung Mary’s front door open and rushed inside. I told the others about the second tornado, and we all ventured down into the basement, where a battery-powered lantern cast dim light onto us. Mary settled onto the floor and took her daughter’s body from Norbert. She whimpered quietly as she held the little girl close.

The wind howled ferociously outside; the ceiling shook and the windows rattled, straining against its tremendous force. Denise’s mouth was reduced to a thin line of deep concern as she lowered herself beside Mary. Norbert sat in a corner holding a spare flashlight and staring at his shoes, as I paced the far side of the dank basement.

“Surely it will all be over soon,” Denise said.

“Saw on the news there’d be severe weather all night. Might as well get comfy,” Norbert said.

After a short impregnated silence, Mary whispered, “It’s coming back.”

“We know, honey, but we’re safe down here,” Denise assured her.

“No one’s safe. No where’s safe,” Mary replied.

I shivered. I couldn’t imagine the pain and shock that Mary was feeling, but her behavior was starting to disturb me. She rocked back and forth, back and forth, her dead eyes unseeing in a flash of purple-blue lightning. From somewhere in the room, there came the constant drip drip drip of leaking water.

I resigned to sitting after Norbert switched on the battery-powered AM/FM radio he’d found on top of a box of Christmas decorations. The weather forecast reaffirmed what Norbert had said. The meteorologist told people to stay hunkered down; a rare series of tornadoes and severe storms was hitting the area hard.

I was lost in thoughts of insurance claims, Carrie’s mysterious death, and the curious bout of dangerous weather when I saw that Denise was now mimicking Mary’s rocking. I met the troubled eyes of Norbert, who had noticed it, too.

“It’s coming,” Denise mumbled.

Nonchalantly, I increased the distance between me and the other women.

“What’s that, Denise?” Norbert asked in a soft tones.

She said, ‘it’s coming.’ You’ll feel it, too,” Mary answered.

I bit my lip. I thought about going up to assess the weather, but the storm sounded intense, and I was worried about more tornadoes, so I stayed put. Every so often, I could hear the clatter of debris.

The nasty whispering began right after something big smacked into the side of the house. Denise was in Mary’s ear, lips moving non-stop. Mary was motionless, squeezing her daughter to her chest. Norbert cleared his throat as his eyes bounced between me and the women. “It’s here,” Mary said.

“Uh, Denise?” I called, dismissing Mary altogether. Denise ignored me. “Is everything OK over there?” The whispering stopped. Denise slowly faced forward as she and Mary commenced rocking in unison.

The walls felt like they were closing in. My shoulders tense, I rested my head on the wall behind me and shut my eyes. A few minutes later, Norbert shouted my name.

“What – what is it?” I asked. He pointed at one of the windows of the basement.

“Something was out there,” he said. His thick eyebrows were sharp angles on his forehead.

“What was it?”

“I don’t – I could’ve been seeing things – yes, it must have been my imagination,” he answered, barely managing to convince himself.

My eyes skipped over to Denise and Mary, and my heart lodged itself into my throat. Denise was still rocking, but Mary was frozen. Her eye sockets were hollowed out, leaving empty black holes in place of her watery brown eyes. Her skin was a greenish-gray color, and her pruny lips were split apart in a jovial grin.

I didn’t react as Norbert gasped loudly. “Mary! Denise, what happened?” he yelled. Denise giggled. “It came,” she explained. Then, she got on her hands and knees and crawled right up to Norbert, until her nose was only about an inch away from his. “You’re next,” she told him.

Norbert gently pushed her away and jumped up. “We gotta go! I can’t stay here any longer!” he declared. Denise, stretching catlike on the ground, rolled her head around in circles.

I hopped to my feet. “Norbert, calm down -”

No, you didn’t see what I saw out there! I feel like I’m suffocating – we can make it to my house, I know we can. Please, come with me!”

Denise cackled and flipped onto her back, kicking her legs in the air. “He’s so funny, Mary – isn’t he a hoot?” Mary’s grin seemed to agree.

“OK, let’s go. Uh, D-Denise, are you coming?” I asked. Norbert side-stepped around her writhing body and sneered at me. “No. Not her. She stays,” he said firmly.

“Go, go, go, before it’s back for Norbie. Not me, though, I’ll stay. Yesss, sssir, I’ll keep Mary and her child company. I don’t mind,” Denise said. The light of the lantern flickered, and in the fleeting moment of darkness, the woman’s eyes glowed like a deer in the night.

I darted up the stairs, Norbert trailing close behind. As we ran, Denise called, “I can still get to you at ole Norbie’s, ya know! NO ONE’S SAFE. NOWHERE’S SAFE. You heard the woman!” Maniacal laughter followed us up into the house.

Outside, Norbert’s flashlight swept over downed trees and random objects that had been regurgitated onto the lawn. The rain pelted us as we rushed to his door. We didn’t stop running until we were locked in his basement. .

“What the fuck is going on? Excuse my language,” Norbert asked, panting to catch his breath.

I didn’t answer. I snatched the flashlight from him and shone it at a window across the room. Grinning menacingly on her hands and knees, her neck bent at an impossibly sharp angle, was Denise. I’d seen her eyes glowing in the dark. I screamed.

Faster than she should’ve been able to, she scampered away, her neck remaining locked in that unnatural position. “NORBERT!” I cried out. When I turned the flashlight on him, I quieted. He was standing in the same spot he’d been in when I’d taken the flashlight, only now his skin was gray and folded into ripples of thick wrinkles. It looked like his skin was melting right off his skull. His eyes were shriveled, and his mouth was curled down in an expression of utter misery.


After it got to Norbert, I couldn’t stay in the basement. Stupidly, I rode out the rest of the storm upstairs, my only company a handgun that I’d found in Norbert’s nightstand. In the morning, his house remained standing. I contacted the local police, who, oddly enough, seemed unruffled by what I told them. That’s the last time I’d spoken about it until now. In fact, no one in town talks about that night, other than to say that it was, “One helluva storm. Made history, that one did.”

When the dust settled, a total of 11 dead bodies were found – nine of which were grotesquely aged. Two of the eleven had perished in the storm, but the autopsies of the nine were all inconclusive. Denise was never found. We try to forget, to leave the unknown buried with the victims. It’s our little secret, and we carry it together.

Is our secret really so unique? As Katrina’s death toll rose, I was left wondering how many of those unfortunate people were really killed by the storm. My aunt never would talk about it. It’s fine, though, because I never shared my experience with her, either. I understand. There are some things you want to go on pretending never happened, even when it’s impossible to forget.