Tony’s Halloween: Late Home

It’s starting to gather down to dusk, the world smudging and blurring like a finger brushed charcoal painting. And still there’s no footsteps coming along the path and no key turning in the door. Where is he?

I try his phone again; still it goes to his insane
(Hey, hey, hey! Try again later!)
voicemail, and I leave another message. Ten seconds after I hang up, I’m at the window. When I open it, the chilled night air rushes to me like a cloying relative at a funeral, eager to console me with its coldness.

I slam the window closed. Pace back and forward, an animal
(wolf)
in a cage. Hating about what I’m doing, I’m about to dial the police when I hear footsteps outside, the crunch of gravel. I drop the phone and beat Gerry to the door, throwing it open and my arms around him before he’s more than a shape before me, almost screaming into his ear about much I was worried, where was he, what’s going on, what’s happened.

But his arms aren’t going around me in return, only hanging limp at his sides, and he’s not answering me. I take a step back and look at him, my husband of three months standing on the doorstep of our home as though he’s a stranger.

“Gerry?”

A thousand yard stare, no recognition. His new coat is torn and there’s something
(blood?)
on his shirt, smudged. His tie is gone.

“Gerry, honey, you’re scaring me. What’s happened, baby?”

I take his hand and pull him inside, trying to tell myself that the sticky wetness on his hand is not blood, no it’s not, not at all, no way, and that’s not the metallic coppery smelltaste of it making my nostrils flare.

Gerry moves forward enough so I can close the door behind him, and I slam a hand on the hall light, showering him with brightness.

He’s covered in it. Drying to burgundy and maroon, on his coat, his hands, his
(mouth!)
face and neck.

Still the stare doesn’t see me, even when I start to strip the clothes from his body, tearing the coat away, then the shirt, my hands growing sticky as I fumble across his muscles. No injuries; the blood isn’t his, anyway.

I’m not sure this is a good thing, but he still doesn’t answer me when I ask him what’s happened. Dear God, Gerry, have you
(killed someone?)
done something?

He’s down to his boxers when he finally moves, responding to the intimacy of my fingers if nothing else. He grabs my hands tight, finally breaks eye contact with the horizon and stares at me.

“Lou?”

My hand caresses his cheek, trying not to see the blood on his
(teeth)
face.

“Yes, it’s me. Talk to me, Gerry. What’s happened?”

He shakes his head, looking down at himself. “I did…something. I need…”

“Need what, baby? Come on. Let’s get you showered, okay? Cleaned up, get that
(evidence)
mess off you.”

“No. I need.” He inhales. “I need to see the news.”

I blink. It can’t be… “What? The news can wait, let’s -”

He squeezes my hands a little tighter, then releases them and turns towards the den. “No. The news. Right now.”

He shuffles out of his pants, kicking them away, putting a hand on the wall to balance, leaving a bright burgundy handprint on the cream wall.
(We painted that wall together, argued over the color, that was the only thing we argued over, the color, now look what he’s done)
But Gerry isn’t done leaving drying bloodstains over everything. He stumbles into the den and reaches across the white sofa, leaving a scream of red on the arm as he picks up his tablet. No doubt I’ll get the job of cleaning all this up before
(the police come with forensics)
the night is out.

Gerry falls into the sofa, scrolling with a stained finger, smearing it over the cream of the tablet in his hands. I open my mouth to ask what he’s looking for, but he raises his finger for quiet.

I settle for sitting next to him and watching him scroll. Zookeepers are puzzled about an apparent wolf attack on a bear yesterday – But he skims and reads past the story and several similar ones, dated about a month apart, stretching back three months or so. I realise he’s filtered the stories down to wolf and attack.

He shakes his head and drops the tablet on the end table. “Nothing. Nothing at all. Must be too early. Maybe they haven’t found him yet.”

“Found who?”

“I can’t…can’t…”

My slap on his cheek startles him back to some sort of sense. “Listen, Gerry, if you screwed up tonight, I need to know. Right now. Where’s the car?” I squeeze his shoulder tight enough for him to want to wriggle away, but I only tighten the grip. I’ve dealt with bigger
(animals)
men than Gerry.

“Chambers Park. That’s where it happened.”

What happened?” I need to hear him say it, then we can move forward. Maybe. I’ll come to what happens if we can’t get past this when I have to.

When Gerry hesitates, I slap him again, leaving a red welt on his cheek. He raises a hand to rub it, but I have his complete attention. He begins to speak.

“I was cutting across the park after work to get to the car. Such a beautiful sunset…I stood there to watch it settle in the ocean for a minute. People walking past, some of them watching the sunset with me. But then…then a man walked by. Nothing different about him…but…but. Oh, God, the smell. I can’t…can’t describe it. Most amazing thing…it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever felt. I wanted to chase after him and smell him more. Taste him. Lick the smell from his skin. God, it made…made me so horny. I’ve never felt so turned on in my life.”

I can see the memory stirring him through his boxers as he speaks, and I give him an intimate squeeze of encouragement. “Go on.”

“I started to follow him. It wasn’t hard…he was like…like a bright light in a dark room. Everyone else was grey, and he was bright yellow. And his smell just kept getting stronger and stronger. I had…I had to have him.”

He shudders in pleasure. My fingers haven’t left his boxers, and they continue their slow massage.

He closes his eyes and continues. “He turned into a secluded pathway. I knew where he was going, could trace his route…I dove into the bushes, onto all fours, snuffling along. It wasn’t like the movies…I mean, I didn’t turn into a wolf or anything…”

There’s the word I’m looking for. I lean over him and take the tablet while he talks. “Go on,” I prompt again, returning my fingers to his boxers.

“…I got ahead of him on the path. Oh, the smell of him, that aroma…” He stiffens as his desire increases. “I…jumped out…started to tear…to rip…oh, God, the smell of his blood drove me into a…a…frenzy. My mouth was on his throat. His throat, the pulse of him just under the surface, and…and I bit. I bit and I tore and he went down and I drank him down, drank the sweet blood, ripped open his ribcage with my fingers and ate…oh, Jesus, Louise, what are you doing?”

His recital has excited me and my hand has been moving faster. Unwillingly, I pull it back, needing to stay focused. I turn my attention back to the tablet and move away an inch. “I’m…I’m sorry, Gerry. I should have told you earlier.”

“Told me what?”

I bite my lip. “When we got married, the first night, our honeymoon. I…I bit you.”

“You…bit…me? You mean you’re a…?”

I show him the news story he skipped. Zookeepers are puzzled about a wolf attack on a bear yesterday. The wolf appears to have scaled a fifteen feet wall and to have torn out the throat of the bear, then escaped the same way.

“That was you?”

I nod. “I’m sorry. And the attack the month before. I try to attack wild animals. Zoo ones if I’m really…stuck. They are endangered, after all, most of them. The police don’t get as suspicious with wild animals.”

Things start to click together for him. “So every month, when you say you have that knitting circle, you’re…?”

I nod.

“When…when were you planning on telling me this?”

“Well, I didn’t think the stories about biting were true, you see. I did wait until we were married. It was either that or tear your throat out the first time I…smelled…you. The first time we were together…I nearly killed you while you slept.”

“I don’t…I don’t know what to say…”

I try to still my rising desire, the urge to bite and claw. But the scent of that drying blood is driving me wild, the thought of licking it from his body…

I snuggle closer to him and breathe into his ear, returning my hand to between his thighs. “That sensation you had as you…bit and…tore. Sweetie…you should try it when I’m beside you. Or beneath you. God, you smell so good right now.”

I should really be fetching the car and scrubbing the blood from the walls, but Gerry’s breathing accelerates and his voice slows, his eyes close and his head rolls back. “Oh, yeah…tell me more about that…ripping…and tearing…”

I decide that fetching the car can wait a while, after all.

‘Underhill’ – Halloween Short Story

Yesterday afternoon I messaged Tony to see if he fancied doing a random short story challenge for Halloween  – as you’ll already have seen, he stepped up to the challenge and has posted his story 🙂 So, here’s mine now, posted on my own blog a few minutes ago, because I’ve only just finished it!

After deciding to do this yesterday, I’ve not done too badly with it, although I massively over-ran the original 2-hour timescale I’d given myself to write this. It ended up being more like 5-hours. But, overall, I’m quite happy with it – I’m never any good at writing short stories…every time I have an idea for something short, I end up fleshing it out so much that it becomes a whole new book idea! 🙂

Anyway, I hope you like it and you’ll have to let me know if I got anywhere close to spooky with it 🙂

Mel x

Underhill

 

I peered down into the dark rock crevice and took a breath. A deep one.

Why did I do this to myself? Why did I ever listen to that silly voice inside my head that told me doing something new would be fun and interesting.

Standing here now, with cool metal clamps in my hands; rope at my feet and an excitable friend bouncing at my side, I realised it was a mistake. And a big mistake, at that. Where was the little voice now, telling me this would be fun and interesting? It was hiding, because my tougher sounding logical voice was now yelling and it was scared.

I hate small spaces, I don’t like being damp, I’m not really the outdoor-adventure-girl-type… That’s what was running through my head right now. Rock climbing was one thing, but rock climbing inside the ground – that just seemed crazy.

“Can you tell me again why we have to go under the mountain, not over it?”

“Because it’s fun,” Emily shrugged, as if fun was some kind of explanation.

“Fun – OK,” I nodded, taking another look at the tall-ish rock face above us. “But, that looks pretty fun too. And we don’t have to mess around with all of this extra equipment, we can just carry on climbing.”

“Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“Exactly where yours is: standing here, waiting to get started.” I scuffed the toe of my boot against the stone ground. “I’m just more inclined to climb up and over than drop down, crawl, probably swim and possibly find a giant pile of guano poop that will give me bat madness.”

“Wow, you have a vivid imagination.”

“English student, what do you expect?”

Emily grinned. “Well, as a Geography student, I’m hoping for some nice rock formations, interesting post-glacial features and possibly some nice underground waterways.”

I pouted. “I told you there’d be swimming involved.”

“You’re such a freak,” Emily said.

“I know.”

Sigh. This was happening, wasn’t it?

“OK,” I said, resigned to the fate I’d inflicted on myself. “Get me kitted up and we can get going. I don’t want to be coming out the other side of the mountain in the dark.”

“Why? Are you scared because it’s Halloween and everything is s-p-ooooooo-kyafter dark?”

“Nope. I want to get back to the hotel and out to the pub at a decent time to drown out the symptoms of my guano madness.”

“Ha ha, oh yeah? Now you mention that, I think it’s more to do with that gorgeous bar man you noticed last night, than the bats.”

“Maybe,” I agreed. “Either way, I’ll need time to wash bat poop from my hair when we get back – so let’s get going!”

 

*   *   *

 

“How tight was that gap?” I asked Emily as I caught up with her in the next cavern. In the light from my helmet lamp I could see dark dusty-mud marks smeared across my chest – and I assumed I would have the same across my butt – where the widest parts of my body had squashed through the crack in the rock.

“I know.” She patted her stomach. “It made me wish I hadn’t had pie and chips on the way back from the pub last night.”

I laughed a little, waiting with my hands on my hips as I caught my breath. Although it was hard work at some points, the caves hadn’t been as bad as I’d expected really. Most of them had been large, round caverns, with the odd puddle and small pools of water, but nothing that needed wading through. I watched the beam of light from my helmet bounce around the latest space, taking in the dark crevices and dangling rock formations. It was mildly creepy maybe, but not terrifying and no bats – as far as I could see.

“What was that?”

I jumped at Emily’s sudden question, caught up in my own little bat-finding world. “What was what?”

“That noise. Sort of like a snuffling, grunting noise.”

My chest turned to ice. “Are you kidding me?” Please say yes, please say yes….

Emily shook her head and moved her gaze more slowly around the cave, allowing the light from her head lamp to spill across the rocky features. “It must have been me, just hearing things,” she said after a few tense moments of suffocating silence.

“There’s nothing there? It wasn’t bats, was it?”

Emily sighed. “For the fifteenth time, there are no bloody bats!”

I held up my hands. “You were the one that heard snuffling, grunting things – not me.”

Emily looked around again. “Yeah, well – I’d hate to see the size of the bat that would make the noise I heard.”

Apparently satisfied that there were no giant bat-things crawling around the cave we were standing in, Emily pulled the cave map out of her pocket and clicked on a hand-held torch. I watched over her shoulder, as she swung the light over the plastic-wrapped page, following the path we’d taken to get here.

“We’ve only got another three caverns to go through then we’ll be at the passage that leads to the hillside.” Emily said.

“Sounds good to me – I should have plenty of time to clean up AND get to the pub!”

“Come on then,” Emily flicked off the torch and began folding up the map. “The middle cavern looks like it’s got a river running through it. You may still get wet.”

“Great,” I muttered and set off, following Emily’s silhouette as she began leading the way to the next cave.

We walked and climbed in companionable silence for a long while. I was happy to follow in Emily’s shadow, as she bounded off into the unknown darkness ahead of us. In some ways – being the jumpy character that I was – I didn’t like being at the back of the group, as much as I would have hated being at the front. Although, with just the two of us down here, there wasn’t much choice in the matter, was there?

Emily’s voice broke the silence.

“Don’t you find it weird how quiet it is down here? You could imagine that there was nothing else left in the world except us, right now.”

I pulled myself up the last couple of metres to join Emily at the top of the small outcrop she was standing on. “Yeah. That’s not a comforting thought, you know. Remember my vivid imagination? Saying things like that tends to send me in to a mini-meltdown – especially when we’re alone, in a cave, in the dark….”

“Don’t worry, we’ve not got far to go now.”

She set off again as soon as I reached her.

“Watch your footing as you come down this bit.” Emily said. “It’s a bit – “

Her words cut off, followed by a surprised squeak and then a moment or so later, there was a loud splash.

“Emily!” I stumbled, trying to find a safe pathway forwards in the dim, bouncing light from my lamp. “EMILY?” I saw shiny black ahead of me and knew it must be the river from the map. Stepping carefully, but quickly, I made my way to the nearest edge and scanned the water.

“It’s OK, I’m here.”

Emily was standing on the opposite side to me, drenched from head to toe, but otherwise she looked fine.

“What happened? Are you alright?” I noticed her helmet was missing.

“My feet just went from under me,” Emily waved her arm in the direction we’d come. “I slipped straight down and landed in the water. It wasn’t that deep though.”

I nodded, watching as Emily’s face waved in and out of the shadows made by my light.

“Your helmet’s gone.”

“I know. It came off in the water – I don’t know if the light went out or got broken when I fell, but I can’t see it now. Can you?”

I looked away and tried to see anything other than the empty blackness around us. I couldn’t find anything in the water at all. “It must have sunk or floated away. I can’t see anything down there.”

“Perfect! I’d borrowed it from a girl on my course.”

“Sorry.” I told her, scanning the water again. “It’s probably going to be expensive to replace.”

“Yeah well, at least it wasn’t the map that got washed away.”

Holy shit. My stomach immediately knotted up at the idea of being lost down here. “You still have it?”

I saw Emily patting her pocket as I flashed the light back onto her.

“Don’t worry – it’s here. And I’ve still got my torch.”

With those words, she clicked on the small, bright handheld torch she’d been using to read the map earlier.

Shaking my head around, I found a narrow point in the stream a few meters further on. I headed in that direction, thinking it should be easy enough to jump across where my side was slightly higher than the opposite bank.

I cleared the narrow gap easily enough and began walking back in the opposite direction to where Emily was standing, consulting the map. “Which way now?” I asked as I drew closer.

There was no answer. And I noticed Emily wasn’t actually looking at the map at all.

“Em, are you OK?”

Emily didn’t move and her eyes stayed blank and staring – looking past me to a far corner of the cave.

“Emily?” I tried again. “Did you bang your head or anything when you fell? Do you want me to take a look?”

For a long moment nothing happened. Emily stayed silent, eyes glazed over.

“Emily!” Her sudden behaviour was making me panicky.

When I called out this time she reacted at least. With the slowest and smallest of movements, she gradually turned to look at me. Her eyes still looked weird – a little confused, surprised maybe – but blank at the same time. She looked like I’d just woken her up and she wasn’t sure where she was.

It was a small relief. “We need to get you out of here,” I told her.

need to get out of here. I cast my eyes around the empty darkness, which suddenly felt small and close, like there was something I couldn’t, and wouldn’t want to, see hiding in every shadow. The vague discomfort I’d felt coming down here and been holding in check whilst we were climbing, was now moving full throttle towards terror. There was obviously something wrong with the competent, confident leader of our little party, which left me to sort things out.

I have sarcasm, metaphors and a wild imagination – not orienteering skills and bravery.

Why did I agree to this?

I knew full well that I preferred reading about adventures and living vicariously through feisty, daring characters in books.

Get a grip. It’s not too far from the outside now, just get your friend sorted, work out which way you need to go and then get the hell out of here. And never listen to your fun, exciting side, ever, ever again.

“Em,” I prompted, using my extra calm voice, as she’d still not said anything whilst I had a mini-breakdown. “Do you want to show me the way we need to go to get out? I can take the map.”

When she didn’t answer, I moved around to stand beside her and peeked at the map in her hands. Whilst I was there, I checked the back of her head and other visible parts for any sign of injury, but couldn’t see anything obvious.

Turning my attention to the chart now, I was surprised to find it was easy to follow. It looked just like a normal map really, only with some markings, which I imagined showed depth, rather than relief as they would above ground.

“There’s the river…so, we need to be heading straight across there to where that passage is…” I glanced across the cave in that direction and could just about see the outline of the next tunnel. It was quite large and didn’t look like it would be quite as tight as some of the previous ones. I looked back at the map. “And then, once we’re in the last cavern, we follow the wall around to the left and then come up the main passage that leads to the surface.” That sounded simple enough, although the size of the upward tunnel did not look too large or appealing.

I took the map from Emily’s hand and she made no move to stop me. Folding it and putting it into my pocket now, I pulled out a plastic-wrapped silver thermal blanket from my backpack. Freeing it from the small package, the sheet billowed out, crackling loudly in the echoing space. Taking one edge, I wrapped it around Emily’s shoulders and held her close to my side.

“Let’s get you out of here and into some dry clothes, OK. You’ll feel better soon.”

I thought Emily nodded, but I couldn’t quite be sure. We set off together, me pulling Emily along slightly, as she walked forwards with unsteady, mechanical steps.

 

*   *   *

 

“Are you sure you don’t mind me going downstairs for a bit? I can bring you some food back up, if you don’t feel like sitting downstairs.”

Emily was lying down in bed, her face turned towards the window. She didn’t answer.

“Emily?” I prompted.

This time Emily’s eyes moved to look at me, her head turning slowly to follow the direction of her gaze.

“Yes?” She said, pronouncing the word in a drawn out sigh.

“I asked if you minded me getting some food. I can bring you something back, if you like?”

Emily stared at me for a few seconds, almost as though she’d never seen me before that moment. I was about to say never mind, when she spoke again.

“I want you to go.”

“To the bar?” I asked, not exactly sure what she was trying to say.

“I want you to go.” Emily repeated; still in that slow, drawling voice.

“OK – if you’re sure. Do you need me to get you anything at all? You still seem a bit – ”

Emily swivelled away from me, looking out the dark window again. “I am tired, I want to sleep.”

I was going to say a bit weird, but to be honest, this isn’t just a bit weird…it was a lot weird. Maybe there had been bat-poop in the water and she was getting a strange guano-flu…? Or, maybe Emily was right and I should leave the bats alone.

“I’ll be an hour – tops,” I told her back, as I picked up the room key and headed to the door. “I’ll just grab something warm to eat and come back up to keep you company.”

There was no response.

“Alright, well, see you in a bit then.” I closed the door behind me, hearing it clickand began walking towards the lifts.

The corridor was long and empty. Decorated in a deep maroon and cream colour scheme, the only features in the corridor were the occasional windows I passed by, which gave a view of black nothingness. All the windows faced onto the mountain we’d crawled through that afternoon, and with nothing much between the hotel and the hillside, there were no lights out there at all.

I shivered. Knowing that there was something so big, made invisible by the darkness just a short distance away, was odd somehow. It felt as if anyone who left the lights of the hotel behind them, could be swallowed up by the world outside, never to be seen again.

The lift stopped on my floor, with the usual ping and I stepped inside, pretending that I wasn’t checking my reflection in the mirror as I reached over to press the button for the ground floor. I felt quite drained after our expedition this afternoon and was glad that I didn’t have to put on a show and go on another drinking binge tonight. Emily normally wouldn’t pass up an opportunity for going out, she must be feeling really ill. And it was no wonder she was behaving oddly: she’d done everything I had, but soaked to the skin for the last part after falling in that stupid river.

“Bloody geography students,” I muttered to myself. They always had to get into the middle of everything.

The lift doors opened directly into the main reception. Flicking a polite smile at the older lady standing behind the ornate reception desk, I turned in the direction of the bar, following the muted sounds of people and smell of warm food.

There weren’t many people sitting around in the bar tonight, although, from further along the corridor I could hear the faint pulsing beat of music and the sound of a lot of voices.

I should have brought my book. I didn’t really like sitting on my own in public with nothing else to do.

“Hello there.”

I turned toward the voice – a lovely, warm deep voice, with a hint of a Scottish accent – Mister Barman was back.

“Hi.”

“It’s pretty quiet in here tonight,” he said, needlessly waving his arm towards the empty room.

“Halloween party?” I guessed.

“Yeah – they’ve got their own free bar in there, so there’s no way anyone’s going to come and pay for drinks in here.”

“Probably not. I just wanted to grab something quick to eat, if that’s OK?”

“Sure,” he started fiddling behind the counter, then produced a small, folded cardboard menu. “It’s just the basic bar menu tonight, but there’s a decent choice on there if you’re just looking for something quick.”

“Do I have to sit at the bar?”

“You want to sit and talk to me?” Mister Barman threw me a cheeky smile.

Wow. I was being pretty brain-dead this evening. Of course you didn’t have to sit at the bar to have the bar menu. For someone who was pretty good with words, I didn’t use them well sometimes! I was about to turn away and pick another seat, when I realised there was no point. Why not talk to the cute guy behind the bar while I waited for my dinner? At least I might have something interesting to tell Em when I got back upstairs.

“I’m pretty tired,” I said, pulling out a stool from the end of the bar and lifting myself onto the seat. “So, maybe I can have a drink and you can talk to me about interesting things.”

He laughed. “Deal. What are you drinking?”

I tried not to notice how handsome he looked, when his eyes crinkled up with his smile. Instead, I turned my attention to the drinks and began scanning the shelves and fridges behind the bar. “A large glass of rose would be good.”

He turned around, reached into the furthest fridge and pulled out a half empty bottle of a pale-coloured rose wine. As he stood up, I noticed the name badge on his waistcoat. Tom.

“So,” Tom said as he began pouring my drink. “What kind of interesting thingscan I talk to you about this evening?”

“Anything you like really,” I shrugged. “Although, maybe not anything too spooky, even though it is Halloween. I’ve been creeped out enough for one day.”

He placed a white paper coaster in front of me and slid the glass of wine onto it. “Creeped out – with what?”

“Oh – it’s just me being a big girl I suppose. My friend and I went pot-holing this afternoon, up on Pendle Ridge – it’s not really my thing and those caves just got a little bit… eurrrgh…after a while.”

The barman whistled through his teeth. “You’re not being girly – that place creeps me out: above ground, during the day.”

I snorted quietly and took a long sip of the wine. “I don’t believe that. You look like you spend plenty of time outdoors doing adventurous things.”

“Yeah, well, not there I don’t. I know it’s stupid, but I think it’s the history of the witches that used to use the caves on that hillside that bothers me.” He shrugged his shoulders in a miniature shiver. “Half the time I don’t really like working here, just in the shadow of those hills.”

“Witches?”

Tom nodded, leaning forwards on his arms and lowering his voice, as if he was going to tell me a secret. “There have been a number of covens over the centuries that have used the caves on that hillside – there’s a whole section about it in the village museum. If you go down there tomorrow, you can read about them.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“No, it doesn’t. But, there are other stories I’ve heard, from people who’ve lived around here for a long time. They say that there’s been a history of people – women – disappearing on Pendle Ridge, ever since the last coven of witches were driven out and burned at the stake, by the old crossroads.”

I pulled back and picked up my wine glass again. Women disappearing…. Mister Barman was beginning to sound slightly creepy himself now. Maybe he was trying to spook me after all?

“Surely, the police would investigate if people were disappearing.” I pointed out.

“They have and they still do. They just don’t ever find anything much.”

I picked up on his words. “Still do? How recently has this happened?”

“There was a girl last year, on a field trip from college: Jessica Farley. During the day, she’d fallen into one of the rivers that runs through the hillside – it goes into the caves and comes out over land on the other side. At first she seemed fine, but by the time the group got her back to the hotel, she was barely talking, not moving properly. It was like she wasn’t working right or something.” He looked away, across the room as if he was picturing her. “I hadn’t been here that long – seeing the way she was, so…strange and blank…I’ve never forgotten her.”

“How did she go missing, if her group brought her back here?”

“In the morning, the girl she was sharing with found the door to their bedroom wide open and Jessica was gone.”

“And no one saw her leave?”

“She was seen,” Tom pointed over his shoulder towards the reception area. “In the middle of the night, she walked out of the hotel on her own, in her pyjamas – they found it on the CCTV.”

That sounded so bizarre. “Where was she going?”

He shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “She walked off into the darkness beyond the hotel grounds, in the direction of Pendle Ridge.”

I shook my head. It was such a weird story, but in fairness, the bar man seemed genuinely bothered by the story he’d repeated to me.

“In the museum, it tells you about some of the rituals the covens had. They used some of the rivers on the hill to baptise new members of the coven when they joined. It was a ritual that bonded the new witch with the rest of the coven – washing away their old life, joining them with their new family, which like the river, would flow forever.”

I shivered. This was getting a bit intense. “You seem to know a lot about this stuff.” I tried to diffuse the tension.

“I just have a good memory for things I’ve read,” he said. “Nothing major. Anyway,” he clapped his hands together, making me jump. “Enough of this morbid stuff – you said nothing spooky, didn’t you?”

“I did.”

“Well, I’ve already kind of messed that up, haven’t I? Let’s get you a menu and some food sorted.”

I smiled. “That sounds good.”

He smiled back at me, placing the menu on the bar near my drink. “Are you going to wait for your friend to come down to order, or do you know what to get for her?”

“It’s just me,” I tapped the menu. “She didn’t feel like coming down for anything.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, she was a bit tired and flat when we got back. In one of the last caves we came through, she managed to fall into a small river and got soaked through.”

Tom’s eyes widened. “She fell into one of the rivers in the caves?”

“Yes. She was OK: I had one of those thermal sheet thingys, so we got her warm and back here pretty quick. I think she was just tired.”

I heard my own words come back as me. She was just tired…

   Suddenly, everything felt…wrong. A sliver of ice cut through my chest, sending freezing currents up my spine. I shouldn’t have left Emily alone; I should have made her come with me.

“I – just – give me a minute.”

“Are you OK?” I heard Tom call out, as I bolted from the room.

I didn’t wait for the lift. Half of me felt stupid – crazy, even – as I ran up the stairs two at a time. But, there was another part of me that felt scared, as if there really was something to the stories I’d heard tonight…something that could affect us.

Reaching the fourth floor, I was fumbling for the room key in my pocket as I opened the door from the stairwell to the main corridor. Pulling it free, I looked ahead to our room – number 418 – and realised that I didn’t need the key: the door was standing wide open.

“Emily?” I called out as I ran towards our room.

There was no answer.

Banging into the doorframe as I entered, I scanned the small space quickly, seeing no sign of my friend. “EMILY?” I shouted, moving forward to knock on the bathroom door. “Emily – are you in there?” The door opened onto a dark, empty room.

“Hey.”

I screamed, jumping out of my skin in surprise at the voice behind me. It was the bar man – Tom – from downstairs.

“Are you alright?”

My hands were shaking as I looked at the empty bed, where Emily had been, ten minutes before when I went downstairs. “It’s my friend,” I told him. “I think she’s gone.”

 

Happy Halloween from TonyT: The Long Walk

The campfire was down to its last embers before Jonas turned to me and asked me to tell my tale. I smiled, but it didn’t reach my eyes.

“It’s not really a ghost story, Jonas,” I replied. Circled around me, the kids of class nine yawned and rubbed their eyes. Billy McAllister was the only one really still awake; the rest struggled and stared vacantly at the fire, eyelids drooping.

They were a little old for campfire ghost stories anyway. What would I tell them? The story of the hitchhikers and hook hand? They’d laugh that one out of the ballpark.

For an answer to my complaint, Jonas only shifted and tossed some more sticks on the fire, shrugging away my denial. “Give it a shot anyway,” he said.

I started at the fire, not seeing it.

“I was about the same age as you kids when it happened. But before we get to that, you need to know what happened before…if that makes sense.”

Billy nodded and the rest turned sleepy eyes towards me. I couldn’t have been much more than a shadow to them against the light of the fire, and that was fine by me. “Before…

 

…then. My brother had been killed in a car crash a few summers before, and my family was still picking up the pieces and wondering where we all went from here. We all had our ways of dealing with it.

Me? I went for long walks. Twenty five mile, six hour long walks. I was out from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon. Once a week I’d find a day and walk. Solitude was my silent partner, and a welcome one at that.

Through sleeping fields of corn and wheat, I looked for some answers, and tried to come to terms with what happened. It was good to get out of the house and away from it all for a while. On a long walk, I’d slip into a quiet Zen state, my feet moving automatically over what become well-known footpaths and fields. Long walks and silence. It was beautiful.

Except the countryside is rarely silent; there would always be a tractor or a car moving somewhere in earshot. Radios playing, or people moving in the dozing villages and hamlets I passed through without stopping. Always moving, always walking, that was me.

Something you should know about the car crash – there was another car involved. Yes, my brother was racing – new car, hot pair of wheels and a feeling of invulnerability. All it needed was a wet road and the laws of physics took over. Seatbelts don’t help when you roll a car that fast. The other driver – Andy, I think his name was – survived. Death by dangerous driving. Five years in jail.

Anyway, I walked and I walked, and I dropped into a Zen sleep. You walk a footpath often enough, even a twenty mile one, and you don’t even need to look at your feet anymore. Or think anymore.

Except this day was different.

 

I paused in my story, and the kids shifted and fidgeted. They were all listening now, more awake. Some of them had brothers, after all. I looked away from the fire and up at the night, endless and infinite before I told them…

 

…I was on my way home that day. A route I’d taken a dozen times before. A narrow road with high hedges, a gate, a farmer’s field. Five miles from home. Nothing I hadn’t seen or experienced before; nothing out of the ordinary in any way. A little quieter than usual, that was all.

I stopped to take a drink of water from my backpack when it started: That feeling on the back of your neck, the one that stretches its way up your spine and down your back. You turn, and there is no one there; but the feeling remains. The footpath and the field you stand beside are empty, the sky a deserted blue apart from the islands of floating clouds. Not a soul in sight.

You tell yourself it’s nothing, but the feeling stays there.

The feeling of being watched. The feeling of being followed.

And it’s a feeling that gets stronger the more you stay and the more times you look back. Whatever it is comes closer, and whatever it is, you don’t want to meet it. Even in broad daylight on a hot summer day, you do not. Want. To. Meet. It.

The silence behind me was thicker than usual, the bird song muted and the trees silent and watching.

So I picked up my pace a little…and the feeling faded again. Until I stopped, and there it was again. Still nothing behind me but emptiness and solitude. Only that solitude felt like a threat now, a danger I never recognised.

I turned my back on that feeling and walked on and on.

Then at about three miles from home, something odd happened. From nowhere the thought popped, complete and relating to nothing:

Maybe I’m needed at home.

But that’s not the extraordinary thing. The instant the thought about being at home came into my head, the feeling of being watched vanished instantly as though it had never existed.

I still didn’t look back though, or pause to rest. I must have made those three miles in record time.

It would be simple now to check something like that…a text message or a phone call, and you’d have such a random thought cleared up in a few minutes. But this was twenty years ago, kids. Nothing so advanced back then. I was alone and no one knew where I was. I was three miles out and an hour away from knowing.

 

I made it home, of course, with no one following me. There wasn’t anything out there but my imagination. Nothing at all.

Except:

When I got home, my mother told me that the other driver in the car crash – Andy – had received an early prison release that day.

 

Billy was the first to ask, the others turning to him as though they’d forgotten he was there.

“You think it was your brother, sir? Haunting you or something?”

I could have lied to them, I suppose. I could have told them something. “I don’t know, Billy. I really don’t. I only know it scared the life out of me.” I stretched. “I’d been walking twenty miles a week until then…but I didn’t go for a walk the week after.”

Billy nodded, seemingly satisfied. “What was your brother’s name, sir?”

I coughed and cut my eyes to the empty log to my left. “Jonas.”

 

(Excluding the framing story of the campfire, this did happen to me – all of it. What was following me that silent summer day? I really don’t have a clue…but it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.)

Happy Halloween!

Cute Ghost  To those of you that love all things spooky and dark, Happy Halloween! 🙂 And if you don’t like things scary, then have a light party instead and make yourself brighter and happier than ever.

Last year we did an October-fest spooktacular (I know – I’m sad, but I love puns, even the cheesy ones) on Aside from Writing, with lots of short stories, features and posts from people about all things spooky.

I’ve not had time to do that again this year – but yesterday, I decided to set myself the challenge of writing a quick, short and (hopefully) spooky story to post today. Think of it as a warm up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which starts tomorrow… Come back later today, if you want to see what I managed to write in the hour time limit I set myself…and hopefully I can get some other surprise posts for you today as well. Flash-fiction? This is flash-blogging, surely 🙂

Horrorfest – It’s over ’til next year!

witch1Thanks to everyone who took part in our first ever Horrorfest – I really enjoyed putting together the features and reading the spooky short stories you creative-types wrote for the event. Hope you all enjoyed it too – I definitely think this will be coming back next year – a bit like an undead,  zombie feature, it’ll keep going until you take out the brains 😉

 

Horrorfest Short…The Mountain of Souls

witch1Author Georgina Morales joins us again today, for her second feature in Horrorfest 2013. After ‘Talking Horror’ earlier in the week, here she is writing it, with short story ‘The Mountain of Souls’.

This piece is a shortened, re-working in English of “El monte de las ánimas” a tale written by Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, a Spanish romantic writer, famous for his poetry and a central figure in Spanish literature. The title roughly translates as: “The spirit’s mountain”. You can read it complete in Spanish here and in English here. This tale is often read in Spanish-speaking countries as a ghost story, so prefect for Halloween. Blogger Pandapon talks about it in more detail in their post here: http://blog.mangamagazine.net/?p=1106.

—————————————————–

The Mountain of Souls

A Legend of Castile, by Georgina Morales

“Fasten up the hounds and give the signal with the horns for the hunters to gather. Let’s travel back to the town. Tomorrow we shall put an end to that pack of wolves.”

“So soon have you tired, my dear cousin?” Mischievous intent curled up her thin lips in a smile.

“Any other day, my sweet Beatriz, and I would never pass the challenge; but today it is All Hallows Eve, and we are in the Mountain of Souls, after all.”

“I didn’t take you for the superstitious kind, Alonso.” Though her façade remained under control, derision dripped from her words.

“You are unaware of what goes on in this county, because it’s not even a year yet since you graced us with your company. In a little while prayer will sound in the monastery, and the spirits of the dead will ring its bell.”

“The abandoned monastery up in the mount, you mean?”

“Indeed. Ride by my side, my beautiful cousin, and as the journey continues, I will tell you that story.”

And so they went ahead of the group with the Counts of Borges and Alcudiel following their firstborns in procession.

“A long time ago, Templars resided in that monastery; but Templars were not regular monks, you see. They were warriors, too. Once the town of Soria was rescued from hands of the Saracens, the King granted the land to the famous order to continue its defense. This caused bitter animosity with the Noblemen. Lastly, upon the Templars intrusion on restricted land while wolf hunting on All Hallows Eve, a bloody battle erupted.

“Not one side won but the wolves who instead of being hunted devoured a feast like no other. When silence filled the mount again, disincarnate corpses littered the scene and ravaged pieces of clothing swayed like broken flags in the brambles.

“The monastery fell out of use and greenery took over. Since that day, every All Saints Day the derelict bell comes to life; and with it, the hateful skeletons rise to fight in the mount once more.”

Beatriz dared not say a word, and in silence the cortege entered town. Perhaps had she been surrounded by the beat of the city, she wouldn’t have found the toll of the church’s bell so sinister.

That night after dinner, Beatriz sat in front of the fire recalling the amusements of life in court, the balls, the gowns, the art of trickery hiding behind hand fans.

“It’s extraordinary to see the rosy color on your cheeks when not eight months ago you arrived here so sick,” said Alonso, joining her contemplation of the peaceful flames.

“I have the air of Castile and its remarkable people to thank. How will I ever repay their kindness?” She bowed in his direction.

“Perhaps if you stayed…” Catching a sudden twitch of the feminine hand, Alonso went on, “Yet, I can vividly imagine the heartbreak your absence would bring to my dear uncle. Instead, I’ll be happy to offer you the brooch fastening the plumage on my hat. I saw it caught your eye earlier today.” The nobleman extended his hand and offered a blue velvet box. “May this small token forever bring you memories of your time in Soria.”

Beatriz faced Alonso and with disapproving tone, she said, “A well to do woman must never accept a present without compromising her affections.”

“But for especial occasions. Remember, today’s All Saints Day, and yours and mine are bound to celebrate amongst all the others.” Alonso opened the box where rubies sparkled voraciously under the firelight.

“If that would make you happy, very well then.” Beatriz took the box with apathy.

“Is there something, maybe, you may want to gift me?”

The green eyes twinkled. “Yes, indeed.” Beatriz’ long, delicate fingers searched for something on her right shoulder they failed to find. With a gasp, she then covered her mouth.

“Oh, Alonso. Remember the blue silken sash I wore today to the hunt? I had thought to give it to you, but I must have lost it!”

“Where could it be?”

“In the mount, I think!” There again, a gleam of life turned the emerald eyes ever greener.

Alonso paled and bit his lips into a thin line.

“Any other night I would go into the mountain and find it for you. They do call me the Boundless Hunter in these lands; yet tonight is All Hallows…”

“And to risk name and future in a mount full of wolves? Never! I shan’t ask you such a thing, no matter how important the sash were to me.”

Alonso turned away from her sight and after a moment of pause, he kneeled at her side. “I shall bring it to you. Remember me, lovely Beatriz, if we don’t see each other again.”

And with that, he departed the gathering.

The night went on and Beatriz waited for Alonso. Twelve chants bellowed the tower bell when exhaustion finally brought the lady to her bedchamber.

He has been gone for too long, now. It should have taken him no more than two hours.

She went into the oratory for her nightly prayers and came out when either fatigue or apprehension allowed her no further concentration. Away from her devotions and the company of others, Beatriz trembled at the sound of the howling wind. She climbed to bed and let the curtains fall.

Beatriz tossed and turned, unable to sleep. Images from the story Alonso related to her pounded her mind the way the storm battered her window. Hours passed and to the noises outside joined the groans from the inside.

Was that the deep whine of the front door?

A sorrowful cry traveled through the hallways, traversing the castle in her direction, concealing itself under the holler of the wind. The door to each chamber between Beatriz and the entrance moaned its particular tone before her own door creaked open.

Beatriz ceased to breath, her heart threatened to burst, and her mind conjured images of ravaging wolves and frightful skeletons.

The wood under the carpet squeaked as if under the pressure of inexistent feet, one and another, every time closer to her side. The wail again echoed softly through the thickness of her curtains; and they moved!

Beatriz gasped, for abject horror had imprisoned her throat. Darkness swallowed her whole.

The next morning, when the Count of Borges came to let his daughter know the dreadful fate of the Alcudiel heir, he came upon a tragedy of his own. Beatriz rested on the bed, but instead of the tranquil kiss of Morpheus, it was Lyssa who had visited her; and in a final paroxysm of madness and terror, she had taken Beatriz’ life.

No violence desecrated her beauty; she had died of fright. The evidence laid on the way her pale lips parted in a silent scream. On Beatriz’ blonde locks that were now a matted nest. But above all, it was evident in her bulging eyes that refused to stay closed, perchance avoiding in death the blackness that had swallowed her last moments of life.

Since then, it is said that on All Hallows night, after the monastery bells ring, Templars riding equestrian carcasses and Noblemen dressed in shrouds haunt a frail-looking woman that runs around Alonso’s tomb. All in direct line from the Alcudiel Castle’s top windows.

——————————————–

Georgina Morales - Profile Image Georgina has featured several times on our blog before, sharing her own horror genre writing, as well as her love for all things spooky. You can take a look at two of her previous features here, if you’d like to see her book Perpetual Night or her popular guest post My Letter to Stephen King  About the Author From early on Georgina Morales felt fascinated by the horror genre. The stunning covers tantalized her with promises of endless darkness and obscure tales. While other girls dreamed of becoming princesses, her young mind weaved stories of madness to fit those covers. Years later, after settling in New England, she felt perfectly at home surrounded by dark woods and abandoned buildings. It is from those places and memories that she writes, spinning stories from inside the obscure corridors of the mind where not many venture and very few come out alive. Her debut novel, PERPETUAL NIGHT, was published in 2011 alongside other stories. On Halloween 2013 the anthology GOTHIC BLUE BOOK III: THE GRAVEYARD EDITION by Burial day Books will include her most recent tale, A DIARY OF MADNESS. For more information about her shenanigans, stalk her here:

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Perpetual-Night-by-Georgina-Morales/159894374059399?ref=hl

 Blog- www.diaryofawriterinprogress.blogspot.com

Goodreads- https://www.goodreads.com/author/dashboard

Amazon- http://www.amazon.com/Georgina-Morales/e/B004L93XQE/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

 —————————————

We have several other spooky short stories coming up this week, so make sure you check back with us to see what has been lurking in the minds of our regular bloggers and author pals (mwah, ha, ha).

Horrorfest Post…Talking Horror

witch1Back by popular demand, our guest today is author Georgina Morales 🙂

Georgina has featured several times on our blog before, sharing her own horror genre writing, as well as her love for all things spooky. You can take a look at two of her previous features here, if you’d like to see her book Perpetual Night or her popular guest post My Letter to Stephen King

With Halloween fast approaching Georgina has joined us today to talk about – what else – horror!

———————————-

TALKING HORROR

By Georgina Morales

Come October and 70% of the world’s population is starving for horror consume. During this month, ranks of everything-scary lovers swell with seasonal fans joining in the adoration. Black and orange splash every window display and while stuffing our face with themed candy, we scour the surface of the earth for more horror. More books, more blogs, more movies, more stories…

But the field is growing beyond the bounds of a month. If the amount of shows sprouting on TV were to serve as a measure of the public’s interest in a subject, I’d say it’s fair to assume the spooky genre is en vogue. Maybe even entering a golden age. But really, how far back goes our fascination with the dark side?

These days we think of Horror as a genre that encompasses a wide range of nightmarish scenarios. From the classic haunted house, to the very real human monster that is a serial killer. However, as recently as the 19th century, humanity found the most reason to be scared in death and the deep darkness where demons dwell. And while ghost stories were part of oral tradition centuries before Guttenberg was even born, it was Romance and Drama that held a stronghold on literature.

Then, in 1764 Horace Walpole used the romantic elements of the time to write the story of a haunted castle. Oh, innovation! But he was no fool and fearing the rejection of the literary community—ever the snobs—he published the story in anonymity. Buyers were told THE CASTLE OF ORANTO was an old manuscript found in an abandoned monastery where a man of vision found it and decided to publish it.

And here you thought The Blair Witch Project had been the first.

Three things happened immediately after: 1. The book became a success among critics and readers alike. 2. Walpole could not stand to watch fame and money scape through his fingers and published the second edition with his name attached. 3. Critics realized they’ve been duped and held the story as literary garbage.

One would think that after two centuries the elite would’ve gotten over their spite, but no. Horror is still considered barely above picture books. Talk about holding a grudge.

But no matter what pundits said, the public demanded more and publishers were more that happy to supply. But what do you call these books that don’t fit on the known genres? Walpole offered an answer once more. He had subtitled his first book A GOTHIC STORY and the name caught up. For a century, Gothic literature rocked the world, and when it seemed about to die, Poe appeared and perfected it for our delight.

These are stories of abandoned castles, cemeteries, or monasteries infested with vengeful ghosts where the characters never question the plausibility of the supernatural, they simply know. Heroes have a tendency to madness, damsels faint a lot, and an overcast sky or raging storm betrays the dubious nature of the villain.

Gothic literature is a staple that every Halloween lover should try, even the young ones since, given the Victorian moral standards, most of the classic works could be considered PG13 at most. But, if you like a more modern approach and simply can’t stand fainting women, there’s plenty of modern gothic for you. These stories will feature contemporary characters in traditional settings. The poor souls… After all, how would you react to a haunted castle or a family curse?

So, this Halloween when you are looking for a moody read to set your spirit right, why not turn to Gothic lit, either modern or classic. Just beware of stormy weather and the dark.

——————————————–

Georgina Morales - Profile Image About the Author

From early on Georgina Morales felt fascinated by the horror genre. The stunning covers tantalized her with promises of endless darkness and obscure tales. While other girls dreamed of becoming princesses, her young mind weaved stories of madness to fit those covers. Years later, after settling in New England, she felt perfectly at home surrounded by dark woods and abandoned buildings. It is from those places and memories that she writes, spinning stories from inside the obscure corridors of the mind where not many venture and very few come out alive.

Her debut novel, PERPETUAL NIGHT, was published in 2011 alongside other stories. On Halloween 2013 the anthology GOTHIC BLUE BOOK III: THE GRAVEYARD EDITION by Burial day Books will include her most recent tale, A DIARY OF MADNESS. For more information about her shenanigans, stalk her here:

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Perpetual-Night-by-Georgina-Morales/159894374059399?ref=hl

 Blog- www.diaryofawriterinprogress.blogspot.com

Goodreads- https://www.goodreads.com/author/dashboard

Amazon- http://www.amazon.com/Georgina-Morales/e/B004L93XQE/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1