Halloween

It’s Halloween and it’s still one of my favorite times of year. When I wake up on that day, a myriad of words and images fill my mind and take me to recalling my childhood and the childhoods of my children and grandchildren. This evening, my grandchildren and their friends will take to the streets in costumes and go home with candy and other treats, just as their parents and grandparents did when they were young.

Halloween has been an event for families and communities all my life. When I was a country boy, hayrides, corn mazes, carving pumpkins, and bobbing for apples happened days before Halloween, leading up to the event that took us to town with excitement in our hearts. I don’t remember a time when kids in costumes didn’t fill the streets of my hometown for tricks and treats.

For me, Halloween is the closing of autumn. The season came with the usual sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of summer’s end, when the days shortened and whispered to me the approach of winter. Yet, I bathed in sunlight and the gold, brown, and red when the first leaf of autumn turned color (here in the north) and grew to a crescendo when Halloween finally arrived.

So, I arose this morning and peeked out my window, because Halloween comes with surprises. Will it be sunny, rainy, or snowing when the carved pumpkins are alit with candles one last time and the little trick-or-treaters ring our doorbells tonight?

We shall see. Meanwhile, have a safe and happy Halloween everyone.

Image courtesy scholastic.com.

Halloween III

It rarely happens that I have two days in a row off from work, so I took advantage of it and dusted off some old DVDs to get in the upcoming Halloween spirit. One of the movies I watched was John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s 1978 classic, Halloween, the one with a young Jamie Lee Curtis playing babysitter Laurie Strode, and Donald Pleasence playing Dr. Sam Loomis, Michael Myers’ psychiatrist.

I saw the movie in the theater and loved it. Until then, Psycho was my favorite scary movie, followed by The Birds and Carrie, respectively.

After I watched Halloween, I watched its sequel, 1981’s Halloween II, which, after great consideration, led to watching Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the one without Michael Myers, the one so many of my friends and I disliked when Universal Pictures released it in 1982. They disliked it because it omitted the Michael Myers storyline. I disliked it because of a faulty script. But after all these years, I gave it a second chance and watched it again. And again I felt bad that the movie could not have had better script supervision.

Image courtesy Universal Pictures

This was Carpenter and Hill’s last Halloween movie and it came with a twisted and morbid plot: The owner/CEO of a novelty toy company, Conal Cochran (played by Dan O’Herlihy), wants to kill children all over the United States on Halloween by using witchcraft and computer chips in the Halloween masks the company makes.

Why does Cochran want to kill children? Because it is the ultimate trick he can play on kids.

Why does he hate kids so much? The movie never reveals the answer. If it’s our first viewing, we wonder if the protagonist, Dr. Dan Challis (played by Tom Atkins), will stop this madman and save the kids. Spoiler: We never find out. The movie ends with a cliffhanger.

My biggest problem with the movie is the ticking clock thrown in to add suspense. During the days leading up to Halloween, TV commercials play across the country and tell children to wear their masks during a special commercial, which will air at 9pm on Halloween. That is when Cochran plans to activate the killer masks and his sinister plot. It’s up to Dr. Dan to stop it from happening.

Problem: Dr. Dan is in California and he is racing against a clock—a clock that reads 8pm and later during the movie’s final chapters.

Did no one among the movie’s production crew realize that if it is 8pm in California, then 9pm has already hit the three other time zones in the U.S.?

And that is the main reason why Halloween III is a disappointment for me to watch.

But don’t feel too bad for me. There are plenty of better movies to watch. And you can bet I will view the first Halloween movie again before October ends. And I will enjoy it all over again, even though some of my friends are still disappointed that there are no buckets of blood in it.

Ghost Lights (A Halloween Story) [fiction]

A spine-tingling tale for Halloween.

Happy Halloween, everybody.

This story © 2002 by Steven Campbell.

I write this alone somewhere within the outer bowels of Myers Ridge. I hope I will survive to get this to the proper hands for publication. And as implausible and of unsound mind as it will seem, what I am about to write is true.

Myers Ridge is haunted.

I made that claim thirty years in my last book about Myers Ridge: Ghosts of Myers County. I was twenty-seven when I wrote about the supernatural events around my hometown of Ridgewood, Pennsylvania, citing references to stories from the town’s newspaper and the Myers County Historical Association, and investigating the contributions of dozens of friends. Little has changed since that book’s publication. Things still go bump in the night. Reports of strange lights and noises on Myers Ridge and at Ten Mile Swamp still come from people who live there. And every five years or so someone mysteriously disappears from one of those areas.

Myers Ridge is a large hill outside of town known for its caves, abandoned mines, and cozy hillside where teenagers park with their dates. It is not as popular as it used to be and the state has been slowly selling the land for its timber. A Michigan recreational tycoon named Mort Jacobs recently purchased parts of the south side and put in ski slopes and a lodge there. But those of us familiar with the hill know the area is populated with sinkholes—the kind of thing you do not want to fall into while skiing down a five-mile slope.

Also plaguing the hill are mysterious lights seen at night. Local legends call them will-o-wisps, jack-o-lanterns, and phantom orbs. Earth scientists claim they are luminous protean clouds rising from deep within the hill. However, eyewitnesses allege that these glowing clouds sometimes emit arrays of flickering hypnotic strobes of lights, causing confusion among people who witness them.

Long before Ridgewood was founded by settlers, the Seneca people living along the fertile lands below Myers Ridge knew well of the lights and spoke of them within their oratory, which was later recorded to text by early settlers. The Seneca knew never to look upon the lights lest their flickering dislocate the mind from the spirit and cause the victim to live the rest of his or her days tormented and mad.

The first recorded casualty made by a white settler was in 1702 when, upon viewing the strange lights, he killed his wife and children and stuffed them in the belly of a slaughtered cow.

In 1852, some miners looking for gold allegedly stumbled upon the lights and went crazy. One survivor, an Irish fellow named O’Grady, claimed Goblins, Trolls, and Boggarts cursed the hill.

Famed geologist Norman Myers discovered gold in the deforested hill in 1901. In a dash to become rich, he and other miners hauled out millions of dollars in gold, ores and other precious metals until Myers disappeared three years later. During a manhunt through the mines, sightings of strange lights in the hill caused over seventy men to lose their minds and kill each other. Reports to law officials state that several people saw Myers’s ghost among the lights, and that he searched for his murdered body inside the mines.

Reports about the mysterious lights and Myers’s ghost continue today, although our police force no longer fields those calls. Those calls come to me. I received a telephone call last week that finally gave me a chance to see the famous poltergeist myself.

The call came from Melissa Laine, the town’s art gallery director who wanted me to see a piece of coal that her father had left her. Curious, I went to her gallery and saw what appeared to be a copper coin protruding from the black rock. Melissa took the odd artifact to the state university’s science department for analysis. Their official finding, which I saw in a letter, was that the coin and coal were more than twelve million years old.

I analyzed the coin, which looked like an American penny. Its exposed flat surfaces were worn, but its round edge had that familiar ridge caused by stamping. While I puzzled over the coin and wondered how it got there, Melissa told me that her father had given the coal to her the day before his death. He had told her that when he was a boy and during a visit to one of the old abandoned mines, Myers’s ghost appeared to him and gave it to him. Melissa never truly believed her father’s story until this past April when she happened upon my book at the library.

She and I immediately readied for a trip to Myers Ridge, and despite inclement weather, she directed me to the old coalmine. To the side of the mine we found a cave. The entrance was small but big enough to allow us to crawl inside it. Our flashlights revealed a large vein filled with marble and limestone, and white flower-like formations called cave pearls grew on the walls. Dripstones hung from the ceiling and white puttylike flowstone called moon milk covered the floor.

That was when I saw Myers’s ghost.

To write it now sends chills down my back, but it was a far more chilling event to stumble upon a ghost, even a friendly one.

My fear soon passed to a feeling of accomplishment. Melissa, however, remained frightened. When I finally calmed her, the ghost said to her, “Did your father like the gift I gave him?”

I knew he referred to the piece of coal. So did Melissa after a false start.

“Yes,” she finally said, forcing some calmness into her voice. “My father cherished it. When he died, he gave it to me.”

The spirit seemed pleased that Melissa now owned the gift. I felt him leave us before I saw him disappear. At the spot where he had stood, a chunk of gold the size of a soccer ball sat on the floor.

Upon inspection, I found the initials NWM carved in it, something miners did to mark their property. I must only believe that the initials stand for Norman Wesley Myers.

There was no possible way for us to carry out the gold, so we headed out into a downpour. As we ran toward our cars, a wall of rain hit us. I turned to tell Melissa to stay with me, but the ground suddenly sloped away. I fell from one of the cliffs and plummeted on my back. For a moment, I thought I was floating. Raindrops hung in the gray air all around me. Then my landing came abruptly and bristly, yet softer than I expected. Boughs of pine and spruce bent and broke as I tumbled from tree limb to tree limb. Branches snapped off in my hands as gravity pulled me down to a mattress of pine needles. Unable to breathe for moment, I gasped for air until my lungs and stomach hurt. When my breathing became normal, I closed my eyes and rested. I may have napped, for when I opened my eyes, the storm had lessened and evening had fallen.

I called for Melissa over the drizzle. No answer. Cold rain dripped on me through the towering canopy of pine and spruce branches stretched over me. I called again for Melissa and waited.

Still, I wait.

Six hours after my fall and further into the night, I have tried to stand, but my legs refuse to work. Pain knifes through my lower back and left hip. My left leg is numb and looks twisted. I am certain it is broken.

I used pine branches to pull myself into a seated position so I can write. My backpack has given me food and drink as well. And beyond the trees is something I do not want to face.

The lights are out there. Five of them. I fear they are the lights that have driven other men insane. And I fear that they are coming for me.

During the past hour, one of the pulsating lights has moved within twenty yards from me. I have tried not to stare at it, but an attractive humming sound emits from its bluish white center.

I turned off my flashlight ten minutes ago in hopes that the light would change direction. It has not altered its course.

Its pleasant sound is difficult to ignore. It sings to me, almost lulling me to sleep. I feel my eyelids growing heavy. I—Dear God, I must have dozed—the light is upon me.

I pray that it is friendly.

I—

Halloween Contribution [fiction]

Hello and Happy Halloween. My younger grandkids are excited about trick-or-treat tonight: Candy, candy, candy. While I break from working on my writing project, I am posting an old story for Halloween.

Benefactor deals with crazy people and arson. Happy reading, heh-heh. And have a Happy Halloween, of course. Whether you are in it for the tricks or the treats or the scares, have a safe and fun one.

I hope to post again before Thanksgiving. Until then, peace and love be with you always.


“He’s out there,” Sarah’s mother said. She rushed from the front window and snatched her cell phone from the dining room table. Her hand trembled while she dialed. She almost dropped the phone twice before she put it to her left ear. “Hello? Police?” Jessica’s face contorted into a mask of disappointment. “Yes, I need the police,” she said. “Hurry. Send someone right away. He may be crazy … my ex-husband. He’s been angry ever since the divorce.” Her bottom lip trembled as she forced herself not to cry.

Something heavy pounded against the front door. Thump thump thump. This time she did drop the phone.

“Don’t answer it,” Jessica said to Sarah. She scooted behind Sarah’s chair.

Sarah sat with her laptop on her lap. The screen showed her Facebook wall where five new updates waited for her to click on them. “Is the door locked?” she asked.

“Yes.”

The pounding started again, louder.

“Is the back door locked?” Sarah asked.

“Yes … NO.” Jessica hurried away to lock it.

The pounding continued. Sarah’s stepfather shouted for someone to let him in.

“Are all the windows locked?” she asked when Jessica returned.

“It’s January. Of course they are.”

The pounding stopped. Jessica grabbed her phone from the living room carpet and dialed 911 again. She gave her address this time. “You tell them to get here right away. They don’t want me calling the mayor.” She hung up, paced the floor, and watched the front door.

“Where are the sirens?” she asked a minute later. She went to the front door and peeked through one of the three diamond shaped windows. “I don’t see him. His car’s still there but he’s not inside.”

“He should be behind bars for terrorizing us,” Sarah said. She glanced at the back door past the kitchen. He stood there, large and dark, peering through the glass. She ran and closed the yellow blinds. The hulking shadow of her stepfather silhouetted the thin plastic.

“Let me in,” he growled, “or I’m going to break the glass and unlock the door.”

“The police are coming,” Sarah yelled. She hurried back to her mother.

“Where are they? Why aren’t they here yet?” Jessica asked. She stopped pacing and sat on the sofa next to Sarah’s chair. “This is a small town.” She lit a cigarette from the pack of Marlboro Lights on the coffee table and sucked menthol-flavored smoke into her lungs. She held her breath for several seconds, then forced it out. Smoke rushed to the ceiling.

Sarah closed her computer, breathed in the pleasant smoke, and waited for the police.

Three minutes later, her mom’s cigarette was in the ashtray and Sarah was at the front door. Her stepdad’s blue Impala from the 1990s was still there. Rust had eaten into the doors and fenders. Howard loved that car more than he loved her mother. It was shocking to see it like that. But Sarah knew times had been hard on him since the divorce. The plastics factory where he once earned premium wages had closed. Someone said he now worked as a maintenance person at one of the Walmart stores near Buffalo.

She felt sorry for him. Divorce had been brutal on the guy. Her mom had made out, getting everything in the settlement, including the small, gingerbread-style Victorian house that had belonged to Howard’s parents. The only thing he loved more than that car was this house.

A floorboard above her head squeaked.

Howard was in the house.

Jessica rushed past Sarah, heading to the stairs. Sarah caught up to her at the bottom step and stepped in front of her.

“Don’t go up there, Mom.”

“I have to. Let me pass this instant.”

Howard’s voice bellowed from upstairs. “Don’t come up here, Jessica. I have a gun.”

“Get out of my house, you son of a bitch.”

“Not your house,” Howard yelled.

Sarah pulled her to the front door and unlocked it.

“This is so my house. I hope the police lock you up for a long time for breaking and entering, you lousy—”

“Come on,” Sarah said, opening the door. She pulled Jessica outside into a winter chill. It clawed instantly through the back of Sarah’s sweatshirt. She shivered. Her mom complained that she was not inside, taking care of Howard with her fists.

“It’ll be okay,” Sarah said. “The police will take care of it. Meanwhile, everyone’s safer out here.”

An upstairs window broke and smoke rushed to get outside. Flames leaped from the curtains at the window.

Jessica screamed. “NO.”

When the first police car drove up, foul smelling smoke billowed from the front door Sarah had left open. That’s when she heard a gunshot. By the time the fire department arrived, the house was ablaze and burning the branches of two maple trees in front of it.

Blistering heat sent Sarah and Jessica into the street, which was a sea of emergency people and their vehicles with pulsating blue and red lights. A police officer led them across the street to the sidewalk, away from the firehoses and their house. Some of the neighbors who had peered from their homes joined them to watch the house burn. It was a giant, gloomy bonfire. No one spoke.

When part of the roof collapsed, Sarah ran to Howard’s car and kicked the front passenger’s door, denting it. “We’re homeless,” she yelled. She wept and Jessica pulled her into an embrace.

“We have nothing,” Sarah said.

Jessica released her and went to the driver’s door. “I thought I had lost them at the restaurant. We had been drinking.” She got into the back seat, took off her diamond engagement ring and handed it to Sarah. “The night Howard proposed to me at the restaurant, he gave me a matching set of earrings.” She dug around inside the seat. “I remember now that I took them off back here because I didn’t want to lose them while we … you know. So I wrapped them in a Kleenex. A-ha.” She backed up and staggered from the car. In her hand was wadded tissue. She unfolded the Kleenex and showed Sarah the diamond earrings. “These and our homeowners insurance will get us back on our feet.”

A well-dressed man in a fur coat and hat hurried to where they stood. “I’m so sorry, Jessica.” He looked at Sarah sadly. “You too, Sarah, you poor child.”

“Howard was inside, Ronny,” Jessica said. She took him by the arm and he steadied her. “He did this. A twisted act of revenge.”

Mayor Ronald Peters shook his head. “If there’s anything I can do,” he said.

Jessica pushed herself closer to him. “I don’t know what Sarah and I are going to do.”

The mayor put an arm around her. She rested her head against his shoulder. Sarah stood behind them and eyed the ring finger of his left hand. It no longer held the gold wedding band. Lucy Peters had died of cervical cancer more than ten years ago. It had taken him this long to let go. She looked away and watched plumes of water from several hoses douse the burning house.

It will be okay, she thought. Mother will provide.

For Halloween [fiction]

Benefactor, a creepy arson tale for Halloween!


“He’s out there,” Sarah’s mother said. She rushed from the front window and snatched her cell phone from the dining room table. Her hand trembled while she dialed. She almost dropped the phone twice before she put it to her left ear. “Hello? Police?” Jessica’s face contorted into a mask of disappointment. “Yes, I need the police,” she said. “Hurry. Send someone right away. He may be crazy … my ex-husband. He’s been angry ever since the divorce.” Her bottom lip trembled as she forced herself not to cry.

Something heavy pounded against the front door. Thump thump thump. This time she did drop the phone.

“Don’t answer it,” Jessica said to Sarah. She scooted behind Sarah’s chair.

Sarah sat with her laptop on her lap. The screen showed her Facebook wall where five new updates waited for her to click on them. “Is the door locked?” she asked.

“Yes.”

The pounding started again, louder.

“Is the back door locked?” Sarah asked.

“Yes … NO.” Jessica hurried away to lock it.

The pounding continued. Sarah’s stepfather shouted for someone to let him in.

“Are all the windows locked?” she asked when Jessica returned.

“It’s January. Of course they are.”

The pounding stopped. Jessica grabbed her phone from the living room carpet and dialed 911 again. She gave her address this time. “You tell them to get here right away. They don’t want me calling the mayor.” She hung up, paced the floor, and watched the front door.

“Where are the sirens?” she asked a minute later. She went to the front door and peeked through one of the three diamond shaped windows. “I don’t see him. His car’s still there but he’s not inside.”

“He should be behind bars for terrorizing us,” Sarah said. She glanced at the back door past the kitchen. He stood there, large and dark, peering through the glass. She ran and closed the yellow blinds. The hulking shadow of her stepfather silhouetted the thin plastic.

“Let me in,” he growled, “or I’m going to break the glass and unlock the door.”

“The police are coming,” Sarah yelled. She hurried back to her mother.

“Where are they? Why aren’t they here yet?” Jessica asked. She stopped pacing and sat on the sofa next to Sarah’s chair. “This is a small town.” She lit a cigarette from the pack of Marlboro Lights on the coffee table and sucked menthol-flavored smoke into her lungs. She held her breath for several seconds, then forced it out. Smoke rushed to the ceiling.

Sarah closed her computer, breathed in the pleasant smoke, and waited for the police.

Three minutes later, her mom’s cigarette was in the ashtray and Sarah was at the front door. Her stepdad’s blue Impala from the 1990s was still there. Rust had eaten into the doors and fenders. Howard loved that car more than he loved her mother. It was shocking to see it like that. But Sarah knew times had been hard on him since the divorce. The plastics factory where he once earned premium wages had closed. Someone said he now worked as a maintenance person at one of the Walmart stores near Buffalo.

She felt sorry for him. Divorce had been brutal on the guy. Her mom had made out, getting everything in the settlement, including the small, gingerbread-style Victorian house that had belonged to Howard’s parents. The only thing he loved more than that car was this house.

A floorboard above her head squeaked.

Howard was in the house.

Jessica rushed past Sarah, heading to the stairs. Sarah caught up to her at the bottom step and stepped in front of her.

“Don’t go up there, Mom.”

“I have to. Let me pass this instant.”

Howard’s voice bellowed from upstairs. “Don’t come up here, Jessica. I have a gun.”

“Get out of my house, you son of a bitch.”

“Not your house,” Howard yelled.

Sarah pulled her to the front door and unlocked it.

“This is so my house. I hope the police lock you up for a long time for breaking and entering, you lousy—”

“Come on,” Sarah said, opening the door. She pulled Jessica outside into a winter chill. It clawed instantly through the back of Sarah’s sweatshirt. She shivered. Her mom complained that she was not inside, taking care of Howard with her fists.

“It’ll be okay,” Sarah said. “The police will take care of it. Meanwhile, everyone’s safer out here.”

An upstairs window broke and smoke rushed to get outside. Flames leaped from the curtains at the window.

Jessica screamed. “NO.”

When the first police car drove up, foul smelling smoke billowed from the front door Sarah had left open. That’s when she heard a gunshot. By the time the fire department arrived, the house was ablaze and burning the branches of two maple trees in front of it.

Blistering heat sent Sarah and Jessica into the street, which was a sea of emergency people and their vehicles with pulsating blue and red lights. A police officer led them across the street to the sidewalk, away from the firehoses and their house. Some of the neighbors who had peered from their homes joined them to watch the house burn. It was a giant, gloomy bonfire. No one spoke.

When part of the roof collapsed, Sarah ran to Howard’s car and kicked the front passenger’s door, denting it. “We’re homeless,” she yelled. She wept and Jessica pulled her into an embrace.

“We have nothing,” Sarah said.

Jessica released her and went to the driver’s door. “I thought I had lost them at the restaurant. We had been drinking.” She got into the back seat, took off her diamond engagement ring and handed it to Sarah. “The night Howard proposed to me at the restaurant, he gave me a matching set of earrings.” She dug around inside the seat. “I remember now that I took them off back here because I didn’t want to lose them while we … you know. So I wrapped them in a Kleenex. A-ha.” She backed up and staggered from the car. In her hand was wadded tissue. She unfolded the Kleenex and showed Sarah the diamond earrings. “These and our homeowners insurance will get us back on our feet.”

A well-dressed man in a fur coat and hat hurried to where they stood. “I’m so sorry, Jessica.” He looked at Sarah sadly. “You too, Sarah, you poor child.”

“Howard was inside, Ronny,” Jessica said. She took him by the arm and he steadied her. “He did this. A twisted act of revenge.”

Mayor Ronald Peters shook his head. “If there’s anything I can do,” he said.

Jessica pushed herself closer to him. “I don’t know what Sarah and I are going to do.”

The mayor put an arm around her. She rested her head against his shoulder. Sarah stood behind them and eyed the ring finger of his left hand. It no longer held the gold wedding band. Lucy Peters had died of cervical cancer more than ten years ago. It had taken him this long to let go. She looked away and watched plumes of water from several hoses douse the burning house.

It will be okay, she thought. Mother will provide.

Nightmare [fiction]

3 chapters from a story I worked on several years ago. I never finished it, but I have rescued parts for a story featuring Vree Erickson.

Happy Halloween!


~ 1 ~

The rush of icy air filled Sarah’s lungs and brought her senses back. She was in her bed, but the dark creature from the tree had followed. It hovered above her, levitating by the magic it used to lure her to its lair. Her scream burst from her mouth. She thrashed and kicked at her bedcovers to get away, but they held her fast.

The creature disappeared when her bed lamp clicked on. Mother’s worried face replaced the spot the creature had occupied moments ago. Her warm embrace took away the cold shivering through Sarah.

She helped Sarah out of bed, led her to the bathroom, and left her to undress and shower away her chills. Sarah felt the place on her forehead where the ghost of Susie had touched her. Her warning about Julie echoed in her mind. “She has the power to be inside you. She’s using you to look for me.”

Sarah fell to the floor and wept. She had gone insane. There was no other explanation for the strange dreams. She pounded a fist to the floor and yelled, “Ghosts and monsters aren’t real.”

They couldn’t be real. If they were, then what was Julie? A ghost? Or a monster?

Bile rose in her throat. She vomited into the toilet, watched the yellow sour liquid spread tendrils and flow like ooze to the bottom of the bowl, and wondered what was real. She pinched her right cheek to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. She felt nothing, so she dug fingernails into flesh and made her left forearm bleed.

“I’m not real. Or maybe I’m dead.”

But the delayed pain of her pinches and scratches told her she was alive. But she didn’t want to be. Not after what Julie had done to her.

Another odor, not as sour as the vomit, drew her attention to her armpits. She was very much alive and in need of a shower, now.

She let the shower’s pulsating spray of hot water massage her back. She shivered and shuddered as the anxiety of her recent ordeal left her. She closed her eyes to the warmth running through her. When she opened them, Julie stood in front of her, naked and radiant. Sarah yelped in surprise. She hadn’t heard the shower’s glass door slide open or close.

Julie smiled.

“Get out,” Sarah said.

Julie reached out. Sarah yelled louder. Pain crossed Julie’s face.

“Don’t you love me?” she asked.

“No. Never. So get out. Now.”

Julie’s gaze seemed to harden then, the way they had when Sarah had rudely used the F word on her.

“Why not?” She grinned, then licked her lips as though delicious syrup covered them. “My Sarah doesn’t know what she’s missing.”

Sarah flew open the door and stumbled out. Julie’s voice erupted from inside the shower. “Get back here.”

Sarah’s legs wobbled as she went to the towel rack. She wrapped a long towel around her.

Julie laughed. When Sarah turned back, the shower was empty. Water from the showerhead spilled to the floor. Sarah turned off the water, then sat on the toilet and shook. She tried to cry but the tears would not come.

A hand stroked her left cheek. Susie stood in front of her. Sarah bolted through her and ran to her room, threw on a pair of sweats and her tennis shoes, and ran from her mother’s haunted house. She was never going back. And no one was going to make her.

 

~ 2 ~

Sarah knew the way back to Clearview. She also knew the many miles that lay ahead of her.

When she reached the highway, she didn’t slow down. She popped up a thumb and prayed for someone to pick her up. No one passed by.

After walking for nearly three hours, her stomach complained of hunger. She was well into the countryside and had passed several cornfields. It was three weeks past July fourth and the cornstalks were barely above knee level. Rain had been scarce this year, but a storm brewed somewhere nearby. The humidity smelled ripe with impending thunderstorms, and the white sky had turned to a gray and green bruise. She glared one last time with all the hate she could muster at her mother’s house behind her, and hoped her anger could somehow inflict pain on Julie.

Her stomach yelled at her, so she scanned the area for food. It was too early in the summer to find any ripe fruit, berries or nuts, and she had no clue as to what lay inside the woods on either side of the highway. She spotted an apple tree with green apples along the edge of a field. The hard ones on the ground were dry and bitter, and the soft ones were rotten. She climbed the tree and found softer, juicier apples there. They were sour but helped ease away the thirst and soften her hunger pangs.

She ate and for the first time since moving into that creepy Odinwood house, and was able to think with a clear mind. She looked out over the countryside, enjoying the view and the coolness of the fingerlike branches wrapped around her. Canada geese honked from a pond just beyond a grove of pine trees. Water glimmered from where she stood and she knew she needed to go there and replenish the liquids she had lost during her walk if she planned to—

What? What did she plan to do? She had no plans, only a longing desire to get to Clearview before nightfall. And to do that, someone would have to drive her there. But what sort of person would stop for a pretty teenage girl?

She realized she was on her own until she reached Clearview and the friends she had left there.

A crow cawed from a nearby pine and caused her to catch her breath. Suddenly, the branches seemed to take on a sinister feel, like fingers with claws closing around her. She scrambled out of the apple tree and ran toward the water.

A hawk screeched from overhead, scaring her and causing her skin to prickle. The air outside the tree felt hotter than before, so she lifted her T-shirt to let in the tiniest of breezes.

She staggered through the tall grass and scratched at the dust and flies settling on her sweaty neck and arms. She slapped at the flies biting at her arms, then stumbled upon a wide footpath. It led toward the pines, so she followed it to a log someone had placed across a narrow creek. The air was cool here and she swallowed it into her lungs. Beyond the creek and between the trees and scrub, the pond beckoned her to rid herself of the sweat and dust and flies that fouled her body.

There were no thoughts of snakes or quicksand or any other danger as she raced to a deserted clearing at the water’s edge. The pond was small and except for a group of Canada geese swimming in the middle, the place was deserted. Green brush and willow trees surrounded the area and there were large crops of rush along the shore that served as refuge from the highway behind her. She hurried out of her clothes and draped them across the rush. She enjoyed the cool air as it pleased her exposed body. Then she strolled into the cool summer water until it covered her breasts. Her feet sank into the dark ooze of the muddy bottom, clouding the water as it rose all the way to her chin.

She stayed there for several minutes and let her body relax and go with the gentle push against her. Her tired body came alive and she wept, sobbing away anger, hatred, and frustration until a fly bit at her face and forced her to submerge and scrub away the dirt and sweat. When she surfaced, a gentle wind rustled in the trees. The cool breeze prickled her skin.

Crystal jewels of water that glittered like diamonds adorned her body when she returned to the shore, and the cooling air brought relief to the welts made by the biting flies. She sat and stretched out in the grass at the water’s edge and basked under a willow tree until she could no longer deny her fear of Julie. She had to get to Clearview and to Annie Freemont’s house if she wanted to stay alive. The Freemonts would let her stay for a day or two, and then she would have to work hard at convincing her mother that she couldn’t return to the house in Odinwood until Julia Stillman was gone.

She managed to put on her underpants without too much difficulty of sliding the cotton over wet skin. And she was about to hook into her bra when a knife’s long silver blade flashed in front of her eyes. She turned and stared wildly at the blonde-haired girl who smiled at her with a beguiled look that twisted from ice blue eyes.

Sarah screamed at the sight of Julie and the hunting knife gripped tight in her right hand.

Julie put a finger to her mouth. “You’ll scare away the geese,” she said. She wore a blue cotton shirt and low-cut blue jeans. Fresh mud covered her black hiking boots. She smiled too kindly as she held the knife at her chest.

“Is this your knife?” she asked.

Sarah covered her breasts even though Julie stared into her eyes, which locked her gaze. Her jaw turned rigid and her mouth became useless. She shook her head no when Julie asked again if the knife belonged to her.

“Found it lying here in the grass. A real beauty, with no rust or nicks or any blood on it.” Julie held the blade close to Sarah’s face. “If it isn’t yours, I think I’ll keep it.”

Sarah tried to speak, but her mouth stayed closed.

“I could use a good knife like this,” Julie said.

Sarah thought of running until Julie pressed the tip of the cold blade against her throat and backed her against a willow tree.

“Finders keepers,” she said.

Sarah swallowed and wished Julie away.

Julie laughed. “Cat must have your tongue.”

Sarah pleaded with her eyes for Julie to release her.

“Lucky cat,” Julie said. “I love tongue.”

Sarah tried to scream but her voice was gone. She clenched her jaw as Julie stepped closer and touched her right breast with her left hand. She pinched gently at the nipple. “Hell of a shock I gave you,” she said. “Did I scare you?”

Julie’s words felt numb to Sarah’s ears. Would the obviously insane girl actually kill her? The point of the knife pricked her skin. She stifled a cry and watched the geese swim on the pond, felt the wind breeze by, and saw it ripple over the water’s surface.

Julie took her hand from Sarah’s breast and held up a fat aquatic worm. “Can’t believe you didn’t feel this bloodsucker feeding on your tit.” She tossed it toward the pond. “That nipple will get sore. Why don’t you come home and let me take care of it for you?” She wiped blood from her long fingers down Sarah’s breastbone. “You do want to be my friend, don’t you?”

Tears flooded Sarah’s eyes. “Wh-What do you want?” she managed to ask in a raspy voice.

Julie licked the rest of the blood from her fingers. Then, “I came to see if you really think you can run away from me,” she said. “That’s all.”

“Please leave me alone.” Sarah struggled to breathe properly. The words felt dead as the pond disappeared beyond the wall of tears growing in her eyes. Her hearing stopped. Her tears fell away to let in grayness where Julie and the rest of the world no longer existed. She was unafraid in the grayness. Here she could move again, breathe again, speak again.

In the grayness, she screamed.

The pond hurried into view. She fell against the willow tree, then bawled as she hurried into her clothes.

Julie was gone. Across the pond, a goose honked. It sounded like her mocking laughter.

Then the first rumble of thunder traversed the sky.

 

~ 3 ~

Sarah could not believe Julie had followed her. Did Julie actually think scaring her with the knife would make her want to go back? How stupid was she?

Thunder growled.

Sarah stumbled toward the highway. She had to keep going.

More thunder growled. The storm was closer. A car passed before Sarah reached the highway. She wished she had remembered to bring her cell phone. She could have called Annie to come get her and be gone by now.

Sarah turned toward Clearview and the purple-gray sky. Escape from Julie and Odinwood meant going into the storm.

So be it. The thought of Julie following her did not slow her.

She scanned the woods for any glimpse of her. Her muddy boots were evidence she had come from the swampier part of the pond, which meant she had kept herself hidden by the woods on that side of the highway.

She flipped a middle finger at the woods.

A crow cawed from its perch atop a pine tree. Then the bird lifted into the sky with bulky wings as the first drop of rain struck the top of Sarah’s head.

The crow banked left, soared across the highway, and perched atop another pine tree. It pranced on a branch and positioned itself so it faced Sarah. Then it stared down at her.

She yelled at it, told it to fly away.

It cawed at her. A few more raindrops fell as she started up the highway. Sarah had gone about twenty yards when the crow flew past her head and landed a few feet in front of her. It turned, faced her and stood defiant.

Sarah refused to stop. As she passed to the left, it pecked the back of her right knee. She yelled out as pain burned there.

The crow struck her leg again with its chisel-like beak and sent more pain shooting through her.

She jumped away from the crow, then kicked at it as it came for another peck. It dodged her foot, spread its wings, and danced along the shoulder of the road as it squared off with her.

She turned and ran. More rain fell and struck her face. As she wiped rain and tears from her eyes, the crow flew past her head again and landed in front of her. Then it turned and charged.

Sarah screamed and kicked at it as it attacked her legs. Its beak made direct hits as she kicked and screamed at it to leave her alone.

Her legs throbbed in pain. The crow tore at her pants legs and at her tender flesh beneath the jeans. Her head swam and her knees nearly buckled. Her stomach lurched and she staggered to escape. Rain fell harder. A vehicle passed dangerously close. The driver blew its horn as the car whizzed past and continued on.

The crow continued its attack. Sarah kicked blindly, erratically, and uselessly. She stumbled, caught her balance, and looked up. A pair of headlights came at her, fast, and lit up her eyes in a painful, fiery red.

She leapt out of the way in time for the truck to miss hitting her. The crow took flight. Its flapping wings sounded like someone shaking sand from a beach towel.

When Sarah turned, the truck had stopped. Dr. Bisbee got out of the driver’s side and hurried to her.

“Sarah? Is that you?”

She nodded her head and sobbed.

“What are you doing out here on the highway?”

“The crow,” she said in a bullfrog’s voice. “It’s trying … to hurt me.” The pain behind her knees caused her to stagger.

Dr. Bisbee took her by the shoulders. “Where’s your mother?”

Thunder rumbled. Cold rain fell. Sarah lifted her head, opened her mouth, and let the rain quench her thirst.

Dr. Bisbee led her to the passenger door, away from the truck’s warm grill, and helped her climb into a dry seat. The allover warmth inside swallowed her immediately. Before the doctor closed her door, the crow cawed from somewhere nearby.