Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Ghost In the cottage

The ghost in the cottage

Furious Fiction
First sentence must be 3 words exactly. Story must have a “first” and a candle. Must be less than 500 words. Due 72 hours from 8am Sydney AU Time on 2/1/19

Keira is afraid.

Something is pounding on the walls of the cottage outside, like the fist of an angry giant; insistent, demanding to be let in. There is a ghost outside as well, trying to squeeze in through the window. Candle light flickers on the window pane, and in it Keira can see her reflection, a four year old girl as pale as the ghost she imagines. Outside she can see trees, like monsters, looming and swaying in the wind. Knocking on the walls of the cottage. Bang. Bang. Bang.

Keira huddles in her overstuffed chair, clutches the thick sheepskin to her pounding chest as if it offers dear life. The ghost squeals like a banshee, wailing and screeching through the space between the wall and the window, and Keira feels like screaming in turn.

Mum had told her about banshees. Whispered yarns told by the dim light of a smoking peat fire; after supper was finished and the dishes put away. Da would scoff and tell Mum not to go on with such nonsense; “why frighten the wee lass with yer tales?”

The banshee screeches again, a deep keening sound that reverberates throughout the cottage. It reminds Keira of the awful wailing her Da had made, when the spirits had come for Mum at the first hint of spring. Had taken Mum and the babe to be with God in heaven above.

And now it seems they have come for Keira.

Her tummy clenches, roiling against the awful porridge Da had made her eat for supper. She is tired, but too frightened to sleep. She knows she is supposed to climb up to her bed in the loft, but she wants her Da. Wants him to come carry her in his strong, protective arms and reassure her that all will be well. Keira pulls the sheepskin up over her shoulders, shivering, and chewing on the frayed ends of her braid.

Suddenly, the candle is snuffed out and the cottage plunges into darkness. The door flies open with a gust of wind and rain. A dark billowy figure looms in the doorway, as if hovering in the space between the realm of the living and the dead. Keira screams in panic, certain that death has come to claim her. She finds herself frozen in terror as the apparition approaches; screams again as its icy fingers reach under the sheepskin and touches her skin. She feels herself raised in the air, and thinks her heart might burst from her chest, so fast does it beat.

“Shh, lass, shh,” a familiar voice cooes, and somehow she is in her Da’s arms, and he smells like horse and sweat and peat, earthy living smells that send the ghosts away, as her Da murmurs reassuring words in her ear and carries Keira up to her bed in the loft.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Tell No One

Challenge Prompt: No One Can Know | Word Count: 1500 words exactly | Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Due Date: 1/30/2019

Warning: Contains violence; may be disturbing to some readers

The door to the shed creaked in protest as Suzi Bishop slid it open just far enough to take a cautious step into the dark, windowless room. A mysterious call had led her to this place, an unknown number on her iPhone and a male voice she didn’t recognize. "You'll find Haven behind the old condemned house where you played as children. Tell no one. Go there alone." 
She noticed shovels and rakes and other gardening tools hanging on racks and propped along the nearest wall. A riding lawn mower divided the interior of the shed. Dried, molding grass mingled with other fetid odors, and Suzi gagged at the overpowering scent of shit and vomit and blood.
She picked up a hefty, half-length shovel and forced herself to step around the lawn mower. She tripped over a rusting gas can and sprawled to the ground, where she fell upon a cold, hard body. She stifled a scream.   
Haven was dressed only in a filthy camisole and torn nylon panties. Blood and urine and feces had run down and dried on her bare legs, and there was new skin forming over wounds on ankles and wrists. The skin was raw and pink and puckered. Her face was bruised and beaten; mostly unrecognizable. Only the blue opal pendant that hung around her neck clearly identified her to Suzi, who had given the present to her sister on her nineteenth birthday.  
The day before she’d gone missing. Five weeks ago.   
Reason deserted her, and she sank back onto her knees, gathered her battered sister into her arms. Haven wasn’t breathing. Suzi’s chest and throat constricted with grief and anger and unacknowledged fear. "Oh God. Oh Haven.” The words came out as a whisper, yet they screamed and echoed inside her head. Haven remained as still and ridged as a corpse. 
“Oh God!” She repeated, trembling uncontrollably, rocking and stroking Haven’s hair. “Who did this to you?" 
Whoever had done this, it hadn’t happened here. There was no sign of struggle, no accumulation of waste or excrement or other debris. The stench came solely from Haven’s body. The space around her was clean except for dirt and cobwebs and mouse droppings.
Suzi tried to make a mental list of anyone she knew who might be capable of committing such atrocity, but failed. Not even the sick bastards at the behavioral health facility where she had been confined last year could have carried out such brutality, of that she felt certain.

Who knew that she and Haven had played here as children? She thought of the many foster homes they had lived in during their youth, but holding her sister in her arms as she was, Suzi found it difficult to connect cohesive thoughts together.
She pulled her phone out of her back pocket.
There was a text on the screen: TELL NO ONE
Panic struck. What was she to do? She looked down upon Haven’s battered face, overcome with a sudden rush of rage and resolve that overrode her fear.
Screw that!
She couldn’t just leave her here. She had protected and cared for her younger sister all their life; she would not leave her now. She unlocked the phone with her fingerprint, was just about to press the phone icon when footsteps sounded outside.
The small hairs on the back of Suzi’s neck prickled. At the same moment Haven heaved a huge gasping breath. Haven’s eyes popped open, and Suzi sensed raw fear emanating from the abused girl.
“Josh.” The name wheezed out of torn lips. 
“Shh, Haven,” Suzi pulled her sister up, protectively, to sit against her chest. Haven’s eyes, full of pain and fright, widened in recognition at the sight of Suzi. Her body relaxed ever so slightly, but immediately stiffened when a large man appeared, silhouetted in the doorway.
“Well, well,” his voice was low and insolent, “we meet again. Sister.”
Sister? There was only one person who would call her sister.
“Joshua Shelby,” she pulled the name out of memory, twelve years distant. “You did this?"
Motionless and silhouetted as he was, it was impossible to see the details of his face.
“We used to play in the old house, here, before they condemned it; do you remember?” He spoke in a soft, conversational tone. “We’d play hide and seek, and I’d always seek out Haven. It wouldn’t have been much fun to hurt you, since you were already broken.” His voice had a sneer to it, condescending and, Suzi thought, irrational. “But Haven, she was a bright star and I couldn't stand to see her shine. God, I hated her. With her pretty smile and her sweet ways.  She didn't see me like you did, like Mother and Father did. No matter what I did to her, she always came back, full of faith and trust. Like a damned puppy. Stupid, stupid girl.”
Haven had become extremely still and heavy against her. Suzi risked a quick glance and saw that her eyes were open and staring; forever unseeing. A fierce ache gripped Suzi’s chest.
“Why?” The question escaped out of the emptiness that had begun to descend upon her, like a fog. She found it difficult to breathe, and her eyes stung with unshed tears.
“Can’t you guess? I was ten years old, and already I knew my father hated me. And then you came along, you and your sister, and you were the apples of his eye. No one can know what it was like, when you came into my family and stole everything that was mine. My toys. My friends. My parents. You could do no wrong; he gave you everything. Everything I ever wanted, and never got.”
“We were just kids in need of a family.”
 “So was I!” The declaration came loud and deranged. She could hear the deep breath he took, as though calming himself. He took a step into the shed.  “Father never looked at me with anything but loathing, he couldn't stand the sight of me. As if I reminded him of something distasteful or shameful that he was forced to tolerate. Mother was just as bad. She never trusted me to do what was right, always watching me, as if she just knew I would do something bad.
“So I gave them what they expected. And why not? They seemed almost relieved when I started acting out, when I did cruel and selfish things, for wasn't that what they expected of me? It's why they sent you away, did you never wonder?”
She remembered. “But that was twelve years ago! Surely you haven’t harbored this hatred for all these years? You could have gotten therapy or counseling or…”
“Shut up!”
He took another step into the shed. Now that he was no longer silhouetted, she could see him more clearly; blood stained shirt; pallid skin; a tic twitching at his left eye. Spittle on his lip after his last exclamation. Cut, swollen knuckles.
It was this last sight that galvanized her into action. God, she wanted to hurt him! With fists and knuckles, like he’d done to Haven. Pushing herself away from Haven’s body, she grasped the shovel, but it had caught under Haven’s legs and Suzi couldn’t free it. 
He had just passed the lawn mower.  He was right in front of her now; laughing at her. His derision pissed her off. She wondered if he had laughed when he beat Haven to death.
Sorrow and panic and rage fought for right of place in her emotions, as she struggled and failed again to pull the shovel free. “Damn it!” she screamed, manic energy infusing her muscles. In a single, hurried motion, she barreled into him, knocking him off balance. With focused intensity, she grabbed hold of the gas can. It was heavy and sloshed with fluid. With both hands, she smashed it into his knees.
He fell into the lawnmower, clutching at his legs. “Ah, you bitch,” he screamed.
She swung the can up and behind her, allowing it to gather momentum and strength, when she saw the gun flash in his hands. The bullet grazed her arm just as the gas can pounded into his face, connected with a satisfying thud.
He was sprawled on the ground now, beside her dead sister. His gun a short distance from where he had fallen. Suzi barely registered the blood that dripped from her arm. Adrenalin pumped through her body. She felt the fuel sloshing in the can and in another burst of rage she lifted the can, pointed the nozzle down, and splashed the fuel over his head and shoulders.
Considering her next action carefully, but quickly, Suzi set the gas can down, pulled her phone and cigarettes from her pocket. She said a silent, heartfelt goodbye to Haven and tossed a lit match onto her murderer.
“Burn in hell, you bastard!”
She slid the door closed as the fuel ignited, and dialed 911 just as the screaming began.