A Halloween Short Story: Dark Shadows

Short Story Prompt: “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe.

Think about it. There are shadows, and then there are shadows. Each man, each woman, each child has their shadow, must have their shadow, must carry it with forbearance, with patience, without complaint. They are our companions whether we like it or not. And whether they like it or not.

You see, shadows are lost souls who serve time for past evils. They are chained to our bodies with invisible links. But there are those who resist their punishment, their purgatory. They are the restless ones. Shadows who won’t follow the rules. Shadows who won’t behave. Shadows who will do evil. And some of these shadows with sheer willpower break their chains and escape to go hunting.

Now I am not one to say that you have one of those shadows. But have you asked yourself, what is your shadow up to when it disappears? I don’t want to unnerve you, the Reader, but think about it. And keep watch. Keep very very close watch.

William Clarence Monroe had not thought much about his shadow. Though he had spent forty years, bearing the thing  around. Then he came to reside in the House.

William Clarence Monroe was a parapsychologist out to prove that the supernatural, that evil, that the occult did not exist. He was certain his investigations of the House would finally correct that misconception. When he told his colleagues of his plan, they urged him to stay away from the place. From the stories they had heard, it sent shivers down their spines. It had a history, a reputation for evil occurrences. No amount of pleading would stop William. He had a mission. He had a calling.

He would prove that things that go bump in the night are simply things that go bump in the night. There are no monsters under our beds, simply wooly boogers that make their way like tumbleweeds across a room and under the bed. They were not things to fear, rather things to laugh at. William never came across a thing or an event that could not be explained as a natural phenomenon. There was a logical explanation for the stories about the House.

The House stood on Spectre Hill, had stood there for over one hundred and fifty years. Some said it was cursed. All, who came to sleep within its walls, never left. At least, not alive. It was a dark and lonely house with vines and overgrowth covering its walls and hiding it from the road. Where there was not black, there was gray or a dark sickly green. It had no neighbors. It stood alone on that hill.

From time to time, people aways off in the town nearby would hear screams emanating from its halls. Some suggested that the House be torn down. Others said that it be best to leave well enough alone. Besides no one knew who owned the House. Perhaps the invisible inhabitants of the House were the proprietors.

William Clarence Monroe arrived at the front gate of the house early in the morning. The front door was unlocked. When he went to open it, he saw the head of Anubis, the Jackal God, carved into its wood. He stopped for a moment to study the carving and acknowledged that it was incredibly detailed.

He unloaded his equipment in the ballroom-sized room on the other side of the front door. He stood in the middle of the room and surveyed his surroundings. There were several sets of stairs leading to a second and a third story. From the ballroom, there were also three halls leading deeper into the House.

“Yes,” he said and smiled. “This should do. This should prove my premise. When I get through, maybe we can turn this place into a theme park. People do love scary things.”

He went to work wiring his wires. He plugged things into his generator that plug into generators. He set up his instruments. And he got ready for the night. He unpacked his food and ate his first day’s ration. He planned to stay for three days just to get a measure of the place.

Once he finished eating, William Clarence Monroe started exploring. He found a huge dining room, then a kitchen that was right out of the nineteenth century. Next he discovered a library with thousands of dusty volumes, tomes from bygone days that no longer existed anywhere else as far as William could tell. Some were books on the occult but not more than a small percentage. Many were books of biological science. Some works of cosmology. Nothing to make one suspect that the former residents were particularly interested in the occult or witchcraft or unlawful practices. Then he moved on to the second and third floor, counting fourteen bedrooms. Nothing out of the ordinary.

William made himself a large pot of coffee and settled in to wait through the night. The first night and the second day went by without incident. He monitored his instruments, taking the readings at random once an hour. All was quiet. All seemed peaceful, calm. Then he noticed that his shadow had disappeared. “Funny,” he said out loud, then went on to monitoring his instruments. The second night passed. He got his forty winks from time to time, then went back to his routine. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Early on the third day, William Clarence Monroe’s shadow returned. His instruments, at first, took notice, making small movements. Then other shadows. With each new shadow, the instruments moved a little more, then a little more. By dusk on the third day, the House was filled with dark silhouettes. The instruments were jumping. It was as if a seismograph was registering a ten-point earthquake. One instrument after another shut down from overload. William hurried from room to room, each room overflowing with shadows.

As he hurried, first his shadow, then the others made their way toward him, threatening. Then his hurrying turned into running. They were chasing him. Desperately he made for the front door. He turned the knob but the door wouldn’t open.  The shadows pushed him toward the Jackal head, carved into the wood of the door. The Jackal opened its mouth.

In the town nearby, they heard a scream. The scream sent shivers down the townies’ spines. The pastor of the First Church dropped to his knees, supplicating his God to save him from the hell he knew he deserved. The mayor of the town turned to his son and said, “Oh, it’s just the House. Never go near it. As long as you stay within the borders of the town, you will be safe.” Parents hushed their children and told them that it was the Boogeyman. “Be good or he will get you.” Some of the older folks recalled the last scream they heard.

A uniformed police officer daily passed the green Ford parked on the street in front of the House. One Wednesday afternoon he pulled up behind the car. He had not noticed before that there was no tag on the Ford. He got out of his car and checked out the car. The car had not moved for some time. He radioed in for a tow truck to haul the vehicle away. Several months later, it went on auction to raise money for the elementary school.

William Clarence Monroe was not missed. None of his colleagues seemed to recall where he had gone. He had no close friends, and he was without family. In his fanaticism for his mission to disprove ghosts and the occult, he kept others at a distance. When he didn’t show up for his next round of classes, his department head at the college decided that, for whatever reason, Professor Monroe would not return to teach.

Think about it. There are shadows, and then there are shadows.

Next Wednesday’s Prompt: “Twilight of the Superheroes” by Deborah Eisenberg.

Short Story Wednesday: How to make a horror movie

Short Story Prompt: “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe

Some students say they believe the three story building of The California Film School is haunted. Some students say it isn’t. Quincy doesn’t take a side. All he knows is that six Oscar-winning Directors and beaucoup Academy Award winners have gone there. Although students report a ghost sighting from time to time, he pays the stories no-never-mind.

Quincy, known to his friends as The Q, drops his book bag on a desk and takes a seat at the back of his Intro to Film classroom. He is the last of the twenty film students to arrive for the 8 p.m. class. It has taken him a good twenty minutes to find the room deep in the chasm of the building. While the professor, a thirty-year-old Pauline Betelgeuse, babbles on about the course and its requirements, he checks out the Facebook pages of several of his buddies, typing a snide remark on one, a congrats on another.

Listening with one ear, his interest perks up when the teacher says, “So I want you to sketch out a scenario, showing how you make a horror film. You can use the rest of tonight’s class to work on the assignment. Oh, and if you have any questions, I will be in my office for the rest of the class. Just zap me an email.” Then she slips through the wooden casket lid of the classroom door, disappearing into the hallway.

The Q closes his Facebook page and opens a blank document. He types his title, “Three Zombies”, centering it on the top of the page, then smiles. He is sure the instructor will be pleased with his story idea. He begins pouring words onto the page as fast as he can. Ten pages later, he glances up from his laptop. The room is empty, almost dark with the lights dimmed. The clock on the wall says midnight. If the silence was molasses, it would be  thick. There would be no pouring it. The windows of the classroom are like dark eyes spying on him. A chill slithers through the room like a snake after its prey.

He hurriedly saves his text, shuts his Mac, stuffs it into his backpack and slips out into the hall. Across from the door is a framed copy of Hieronymous Bosch’s painting, “The Last Judgement”. He doesn’t remember it there when he came to class. Scary stuff, he thinks, and makes his way left and down the hall. The lights flicker as he continues past paintings of the Grim Reaper, a Goat’s Head and a One-eyed Cyclops. No way they are going to scare him with this crap. He’d seen all thirteen of the “Friday the Thirteen” movies, and he just laughed his way through Jason’s antics.

He comes  to an exit. Thinks, “Good, this place is about to give me the willies.” He opens the door and steps into more hall. The door slams behind him. The hairs on the back of his neck rise. Maybe it’s not a good idea to go this way. He turns and pulls on the door. It doesn’t budge. It seems the only way to go is down this new hall.

Everything is as quiet as a grave yard. Through the several windows, he sees the moon a blood red. He shivers with a chill. In the distance, the howl of a wolf. Good thing there is no such thing as werewolves,” he comforts himself. Something scratches on a window. He checks it out. Only his reflection stares back at him. The scratching stops as suddenly as it began. He steps up his pace to the door at the end of the hall.

The exit leads into a narrower passageway. On the wall more paintings. Werewolves tearing open the throat of a man. A vampire biting the neck of a woman in a black negligee. A decrepit house barely holding onto a hillside. A cemetery under the light of a waning moon and several pallid residents shaking themselves free from the grip of their graves. He passes each of these with the beginnings of a trepidation driving him onward. Then he comes to another door, and hope. Maybe this one will take me outside. He grasps with the rather large doorknob of a gargoyle figure. As he attempts to turn the knob, teeth bite into his hand. Then he wrenches it open and rushes through the door.

A spider’s web nets his face. His pushes through it. This door slams behind him like the others, sealing him inside another hall. He moves slowly onward, passing under a man hung from the ceiling, a hangman’s noose around his neck. The smell of death rises from the floor in a fog. A nervous agitation takes control of him. His feet, now the weight of lead, moves sluggishly past the caskets lining the wall

It is then that he realizes these halls he is traveling, these same halls are found in his story, “Three Zombies”, and he is the one living character. Just like in the story, the halls seem to be streams of madness leading to he knows not where. But where are the three zombies, their dead sockets for eyes to gaze upon his body, then attack him with a furiosity that he can only imagine? It is then that his feet break free from the lead holding them down and begin a fast walk, then a dead run toward the exit at the end of the hall.

This door easily gives, and he emerges into a new passageway, its walls painted black, its ceiling pressing down on him. An invisible steel hand tightens its grip around him. Cold sweat pours out of him.

Like the man in his story, he feels that he is traversing through a maze of passageways, a deadly labyrinth which leads him from one door to another, each a false lead. Fear fills his head with the chatter of questions. What is there to be afraid of? How did he get himself in this mess? Why can’t he find his way out of the building? Why does one door lead him into another narrower hallway? What did he do to deserve this? With each step, another question. His heart pounds louder and louder and louder. Each footstep is a drumbeat, signaling the unknown that he is available for terror.

Finally The Q hears a soft hum. It sounds like voices. Maybe it isn’t voices. He slips off his shoes and progresses through yet another door on padded feet. The sound changes from a hum to distinct voices and some laughter. Is he imagining the voices? Maybe it’s something else, some unknown, unnamed terror. He takes a deep gulp and tries to slow himself down, but some invisible hand pushes him forward. To the next door.

Forced to open the door or be crushed against it, he steps into a classroom. He finds himself facing his Intro to Film classmates and Professor Betelgeuse’s back. “And that is how you make a horror movie,” she says, then turns to welcome her victim into the classroom.

A Halloween Short Story Prompt: “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

Just the facts…historians on the case.

When Sgt. Friday said, “Just the facts,” he wasn’t talking to an historian. It is well known that, for historians, most history is supposition and innuendo. They haven’t even decided if the Shroud of Turin is the Shroud of Turin. So you can imagine how hard other stuff is. Like who killed Kennedy, much less King Tut.

Or should I say, Queen Tut. For years, it was thought that she was an underage male. Just look how sickly he was. Recently Egyptologists invited a forensic detective in to do a complete autopsy on the mummified corpse. Lo and behold, they found that the boy pharaoh was really a pharaohess and she was five months pregs. They still haven’t determined who the father of the child was. There are a number of suspect, most named Rameses with a Seti or two thrown in for good luck. One even believes it was Moses who done the deed. It is only gossip among those in the know. I am not here to spread rumors. I am simply stating that there are those. Who am I to challenge an expert. Guess the National Enquirer of the Two Lands had a field day with that one.

Another mystery has been recently solved. Why did Guinevere run off with Lancelot and screw things up in Camelot? I mean, from all the photographs we have of him, her husband, King Arthur, was a tall, handsome dude. Add to that, he had a magical sword. It was called Excalibur. It was not likely that he needed to take viagra. You can see that Gwen was more than likely a happy camper at Camelot, Arthur being Arthur the manly man he was. And there is a pretty good case to be stated that he was a very virile dude too. Morgaine Le Fay may have had her complaints but it was not in the virility department. They had enjoyed each other’s company, tripping the olde light fantastic so to speak. No wonder the OED coined a phrase for what they did. Rumpus dilecti.

So if it wasn’t Arthur, what was it that pushed Humpty Dumpty off the wall and broke Camelot into a thousand pieces? Recently two new bits of evidence have appeared to bring insight to the issue. A shepherd in the hills of France was looking for a sheep one day. He never found the sheep but he did find a cave. In the cave was a lost chapter of “Le Morte d’Arthur”. When they translated the chapter from its Latin text, an interesting tidbit came to light.

Seems Gwen often had a case of the boredoms. After all, what was there to do in the olden days of the Knights of the Round Table? There was no TV. No video games. No movies. No internet. There wasn’t even any books. And, if there had been, Gwen couldn’t read anyway. She never got passed the fourth grade. So, for fun, she had a two way glass installed in the knights’ showers. The knight’s side was a mirror. Gwen’s side was a window, so she could take a little peepsee when the fellas washed down after an especially sweaty tournament joust.

Arthur didn’t mind Gwen’s little diversion. It seemed to help her with her fortnight foreplay. So what the hey, he thought. Little did he know how much trouble that “what the hey” would get him into. The first time she saw Lancelot in the shower she went hog wild.

At first historians questioned the translation. Then archaeologists found old Lance’s corpse underneath a moat. It was confirmed that Lance had a very large…how shall I say it? Sword.

It’s nice to know that historians are on the case and after just the facts. For that, we can all be thankful.

Short Story Wednesday: A Nice Day at The Beach

Short Story Prompt: “The Swimmer” by John Cheever

It’s a beautiful summer morning when you arrive at the beach. You thought you would get here early for some Me-time, just you and the sand and the water and the sun. And your companion, of course. But the beach is already beginning to fill with its daily allotment of sun worshippers.

You find just that right spot in the sand. Not too close to the water and not too far away. You throw your towel down and raise your umbrella for some protection from the heat. You turn to your partner and ask them to glop some SPF 50 on your back. Don’t want to get a burn, just a nice tan, so you can prove to your friends that you spent a day at the beach. They rub you down like some greased pig, ready for a luau. You laugh at the thought and ask, “Where’s the pineapple?”

Your companion gives you that look they always give you when they haven’t a clue as to what is going on in your head. It’s good to give them a little mystery. Makes life interesting on a boring kind of day.

Last time you were here, you spread out on the sand like some cowboy in an old Western. The Indians staked him there for ant bait. You were sun bait and you didn’t bake nicely. You burned like a piece of toast left too long in the toaster. No amount of butter would save that toast and no amount of lotion soothed that burn. You’re not about to let that happen again. No, you’ve come prepared. You have your SPF 50 and you have your umbrella. It’s going to be a nice day at the beach.

Now it is your partner’s turn to be greased. You squirt some of the fluid on your hands. It’s got a nice cool feel to it. You rub their back and admire their lean physique as you do, how straight their back is, the muscles in their arms. Makes you happy that you don’t have to be ashamed of the person you’re with. Makes you feel like others can look at you with envy, their minds whispering, “Gee, why can’t I be so lucky?” When you finish, your companion leans over and gives you a thank-you kiss. Then they head for the sea.

You look out at the water, glistening from the light rippling across the small waves that come in from the sea. It makes you feel that there is magic in the world. That water reaching out toward the end of the world where the unknown exists. What great liners have followed that highway. The great ones like the Titanic and the Queen Mary. What ships have taken boys off to war on foreign shores. What sailors have followed the stars to discover exotic lands. What chantys the sailors have sung to pass their time in the rigging, searching, hoping for a South Sea island and some Polynesian girl to seduce. What sail boats have gone out to sea, freeing their captains of the troubles that all landlubbers face, giving them a sense of the grandeur and the awesomeness of nature.

The surfers are beginning to climb onto their boards and head for a distant wave. The swimmers splash and yell. Your companion returns and urges you to come on into the water. It’s such a beautiful day for a swim. But you’re enjoying things just the way they are, not a trouble in the world. You’re here on the beach and that’s enough as the morning makes its drift toward noontime.

You turn and see the lifeguard on his perch behind you. He is like some eagle, searching for his prey, waiting for his chance to prove his bravery. He turns his glasses slowly up and down the beach, like some doll on a carousel. His motions are like the movement of the music of a slow waltz.

Just what is he searching for? That woman with the large breasts he can meet and convince that he is her knight in shining armor? That girl on her first school break from college? That opportunity to yell at a swimmer that they have gone too far? To return to the shore so he won’t have to come and get them and ban them from the beach? Does his eyes search for the fin of that shark that is readying for its attack?

Or maybe he too is dreaming of the tall ships that went far into the world and never returned. Of pirates that haunted the seven seas, searching for their bounty. Maybe he is thinking of Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian and Tahiti. Maybe he is building a story of ships that search the stars. Maybe he isn’t a dreamer at all. Just some boy trying to make enough money to save for the fall. Then he will be able to eat through the next year of college. Or maybe all of these things run through the eagle’s mind.

Or maybe he is thinking, “God, when do I get a break? I gotta go pee. I gotta go pee bad.”

Next Wednesday’s Short Story: “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe

If you want to find out what God has to put up with,

get a cat. We have three. A Mama Peaches, a Sister Princess who thinks she is God’s gift to cats and Buster the Mighty Buzztail. I’ve always heard that cats are the independent sort. They are–they sure don’t like hugs or petting the way dogs do. But they do like to be around their humans from time to time. Perhaps it gives them a break from the hunting life or the sleeping life they love. And all those kitty dreams they have.

Sister0313Curled up on my lap, Sister snores. (But she has to choose to crawl up on my lap.) And she loves boxes to crawl into, the bigger the better. When we give the cats a treat–a can of cat food instead of the regular dried they normally eat–she is the one who will lick the spoon and the can. There are times she’ll look at me and her eyes will say, “Who the hell do you think you are?” Other times her eyes will say, “I’m so glad you’re my human.”

Buster the Mighty Buzztail likes to be left to himself. He’s a great one for running outside at Buster0313night. And he loves water. In the middle of a storm, he’ll be out in the rain, going, “Wow. This is so cool.” Then he’ll run into the house and expect me to dry him off. He loves that. When he sleeps in the house at night, he’ll wake me up at three in the a.m., wanting out. I’ll follow him through the kitchen. He’ll stop at the back door and take a gander at his bowl of food, then he’ll let me know that he needs a snack before he goes out. I have to stand there, at three in the morning and half asleep, and I have to watch him eat. He will settle for no less.

PeahesMama Peaches was a feral cat. She was half starved when she showed up at our back door with her two kittens. Since I am in no way a cat person, I had to be persuaded to take the three of them in. Since then, Peaches has enjoyed the good life. She is very sensitive, very skittish. She’ll run off for a day, then show back up at the house. She eats but never a lot. But from time to time she’ll crawl up on my lap or my bed and lie there, feeling for all the world that she is at peace and is loved. As she is. She’s earned her reward, a safe home and the right to go and come as she feels.

So there you have it. Three cats who live at our house. But what does that have to do with God?

I have come to realize that in a relationship between human and cat, God is the human, we are the cats. He lets us roam free and independent. He watches out for us but doesn’t interfere unless we are in real danger. We run wild and free and go chasing things the way cats do. But when we need a lap to lie on, He’s there.

Here’s one of my favorite poems about cats. It was written by Christopher Smart:

For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry (excerpt, Jubilate Agno)

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.