April 18, 2014
Time for another free story for Flash Fiction Friday. I wrote this one ten years ago after visiting my favorite haunted place in America for the first time, which just happens to be in my own town: Waverly Hills Sanatorium - an abandoned tuberculosis hospital that opened for business back in 1928. Thousands of men, women and children died there in the forty years it was operational. Some very strange things happened to me during my second visit, but that's a long story for another time.
"One Last Night at Waverly Hills"
The sudden spray of watery blood stained the skirt of Nora’s crisp, white uniform. She caught the glass as it fell and laid a comforting hand on her patient’s shoulder. When the violent coughing spell had ceased, the woman met Nora’s sympathetic gaze with tear-filled, sunken eyes.
“I’m so sorry, hon.”
“No need to apologize. I’m quite used to it.”
Mrs. Davidson only had a few more weeks to live. Nora recognized the signs.
“What was I saying? Oh, are you leaving Waverly to get married?”
Nora smiled. “No. I’m transferring to a regular hospital downtown.”
The woman closed her eyes and sighed. “You’re young and attractive. You should find a husband to take you away from all this suffering and death. You’d make a wonderful mother.”
Nora didn’t bother to reply. She covered her patient with a clean white blanket. “Goodnight, Mrs. Davidson. I’ll check back soon.”
Nora’s last twelve-hour shift had begun five hours earlier at 6:00 p.m. She would take a break around midnight and run back to the dormitory to change her uniform. Bloodstains upset her littlest patients.
The children – they were the reason she had to leave. She couldn’t bear to watch any more of them waste away and die from the “white death” that was tuberculosis.
At midnight, she left the third floor nurse’s station and headed down the hallway to the elevator, her soft-soled shoes making no noise on the red and black tiles. It was quiet now except for the occasional hiss of a radiator, or the sound of a patient coughing.
Nora rode the elevator alone down to the first floor. When the doors opened, a hideous screeching noise assaulted her ears. She stepped out and looked to her left.
At the end of the dimly-lit corridor, the heavy metal door that led to the draining room was standing wide-open. A little girl with long, black hair appeared from behind it. She was dressed in a white hospital gown.
It couldn’t be. Eight-year-old Katie had died on the operating table two weeks before. It had been a last-ditch effort to save the orphan’s life. Nora had been off-duty at the time and had not had a chance to say goodbye.
No, it must be Molly, Katie’s friend. The two had looked incredibly alike.
Nora watched in horror as the little girl entered the draining room.
She sprinted down the hall. No child should see what was in there. No adult could remain unaffected by the sight. The room was the last stop for infectious TB victims before they were carried through the death tunnel to waiting hearses.
Nora paused in the doorway, gasping at the sight and the overwhelming stench.
Two bodies – one male, one female – hung upside down from metal poles. They’d been sliced open from groin to sternum. Little rivers of blood, mixed with other bodily fluids, snaked across the sloping cement floor to trickle down one drain.
Nora caught a glimpse of the little girl behind one of the hanging corpses.
“Molly, honey, you should be in bed. We can’t stay in here.”
It was Katie’s voice that replied – accusatory and full of unshed tears. “They cut me, Miss Nora. You promised me you wouldn’t let them.”
The overhead light flickered and went out just as the metal door slammed shut behind Nora. She screamed and threw herself against it, pummeling the unyielding surface with her small fists.
“No! Please, somebody let me out!”
“Don’t leave us, Miss Nora.”
Nora felt little hands tugging on the bottom of her skirt. The pitch-dark room was filled with the sound of labored breathing.
She let out a blood-curdling shriek and fell forward as the door suddenly opened. She shielded her eyes from the light and looked up into the stern face of a security guard.
Nora didn’t give him a chance to speak. She brushed past him and flew down the hall to the lobby. She leaned against one of the wooden pillars for several minutes, catching her breath, trying to think rationally.
One last night at Waverly Hills…she’d get through it somehow. Stress, guilt, and grief had led to that horrifying hallucination. It was that simple. She’d take a break and then get back to her rounds.
On her walk back from the dormitory, Nora noticed a light shining in Room 502. Only mentally ill TB patients were kept up there. They didn’t like to sleep.
She would check on them and see if anyone needed a sedative.
Nora took the elevator to the fifth floor – the rooftop. Room 502 was isolated and the open space around it was used by patients to take in the healing rays of the sun.
She crossed the roof under the night sky, shivering in the chilly March breeze. She fished the room key out of the pocket of her sweater, but the door was unlocked.
Nora entered cautiously and was met with silence. All ten patients were awake, sitting on their beds. The men and women stared at her with blank, pale faces.
Except…there should only have been nine.
Nora’s hands began to tremble as a tall, gaunt woman stood and faced her.
No. Alma Hanson was dead. She’d committed suicide rather than watch her daughter die.
“You can’t leave us, Miss Nora.”
Nora whirled around, stifling a scream. The front of Katie’s gown was soaked with blood.
“Mama knows how to make you stay.”
Nora felt an ice-cold entity invade every fiber of her being. She had no control of her limbs.
The ghost made her walk towards a darkened corner. Nora could see a wooden chair, a white sheet draped over one of the ceiling pipes, and the noose.
She tried to scream, but couldn’t make a sound.
Alma forced her to climb onto the chair and slip the noose over her head. Nora’s stiff, white cap tumbled to the floor. Hot tears streamed down her face.
“Don’t worry.” Katie looked up at her with an innocent smile. “Mama says it’ll only hurt a little.”
Alma kicked away the chair.
April 08, 2014
I'm quite pleased about the fact that my plans to attend the World Horror Convention this year in Portland, Oregon finally look solid. It's just a month away now: May 8 - 11. (Here's to hoping no last minute obstacles ruin my fun.)
Once again, the Bram Stoker Awards banquet will be held during WHC, and will also take place at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel-Portland on Saturday evening, May 10. Luckily for all who'll attend, author Jeff Strand will be returning as emcee for the sixth time. Writer Brian Keene will also be on hand to receive the 2014 Grand Master Award.
Special guests at World Horror this year will be Jack Ketchum, Nancy Holder, John Shirley, Paula Guran, Norman Partridge, Victoria Price, Greg Staples, with Toastmaster Alan M. Clark.
Check this link for more info.
Portland is a unique city and I look forward to exploring it more thoroughly. Of course, I'm excited about the prospect of seeing some West Coast friends again, and finally being able to meet many other online pals. I'm thinking about ordering a special "coffin" filled with Voodoo Doughnuts to share with my besties. If you see me there, don't hesitate to say hello, okay? Perhaps we can take a field trip and get happily lost at Powell's Books.
In the meantime, be glad that winter is over. Enjoy spring!
March 14, 2014
Happy Friday. Here's another flash fiction tale - also a reprint from 2003. If you're checking this out on Goodreads or Amazon, click on the link to my website to make sure you get the latest version. (Whenever I make changes/corrections to a post, they don't show up on my various feeds, unfortunately.)
Hope you like this one. It's a sequel to "Mr. Kroll."
It was the night of the midsummer moon.
Sebastian Kane stood silently in the warm, mellow darkness, gazing upon the pile of burnt debris that had once been his protégé’s cottage. Twenty years had passed since the young witch’s murder, since she’d cursed the villagers of Devington with her dying breath.
No innocent soul could live in the once prosperous town. All the babes were stillborn. Any child who stepped foot inside the boundaries of that poisoned place suddenly fell ill with mysterious maladies.
The warlock smiled. His lovely Marantha had punished the villagers well, and rightfully so. How unfortunate it was that he must now end their suffering.
That hypocrite and blackmailer – the Mayor of Devington – had given him little choice. Free the town or he would be hanged as a witch, along with his entire family. Succeed and he would be allowed to live in exile.
Sebastian was tired of running. It did not matter if one used The Craft for good or evil; one was considered damned for practicing it regardless.
The Mayor be damned as well – along with his late wife. The first Mrs. Hartwicke had been a member of the mob that had ended Marantha’s life – even though she had not deserved a death sentence. Now the Mayor’s second wife hoped to have his child, a son.
Sebastian sighed. It was time to complete the cleansing spell. And for that, he needed blood.
Why her bones cried out to me, I did not know. But I was compelled to heed the calling, to make my way back to the sad place that had once been our home. So great was the guilt and grief I carried after that fateful night that I had wandered aimlessly for several years, refusing to seek out another mistress.
I am a familiar – a feline endowed with demonic powers and human-like perception. And I had failed my beloved Marantha. The careless actions I had taken to save my own life had led to her execution.
Whatever her restless spirit required of me now, I was willing to endure.
Sebastian had discovered Marantha’s blackened bones in the rubble. He could not let himself dwell on the pain and degradation she had suffered, or he would not be able to undo the powerful curse that vengeance had crafted.
The warlock stood over her skeleton for the third midnight in a row. He pushed back the hood of his long black robe and raised his arms to the starlit sky.
“Call to him again, child. Summon your familiar. Bring him to me this night.”
An ethereal mist spiraled above the witch’s remains, and then snaked out into the surrounding darkness.
Sebastian could feel the creature close by. He masked his own presence so as not to alarm the black cat known as Mr. Kroll, who was as old as he was, and nearly just as savvy. The warlock did not look forward to the task that awaited him. He had brought his dagger for the ritual, and a tightly woven sack to be used for the burial. Marantha’s bones needed to be splattered with the blood of her familiar. Then the two would have to be interred together at the nearest crossroads before dawn.
Sebastian watched, hidden by an oak tree, as the familiar approached the ruins of the cottage. Mr. Kroll shifted direction, making his way towards his mistress’s remains. Sebastian quickly stepped into the feline’s path and mesmerized him with a wave of his hand. He pulled the dagger out of the deep pocket of his robe and knelt in front of the mystical creature.
I recognized the old warlock on sight. It was futile to struggle against his magic.
“Dear friend,” he said, “you can still see into my mind, as I see into yours. Believe that you served your mistress well. Know that we have a common enemy, and that I break this spell with a heavy heart.”
Yes, I understood survival. I had lived many lives at a great cost to others.
Sebastian Kane struck swiftly. I barely felt the sharp bite of the blade upon my neck. He carried me gently as I bled, and held me above Marantha’s bones. My life force covered the remains, my vision faded. I knew my spirit was slipping away.
I welcomed the release.
As I floated above my body, hovering unwillingly, I heard the warlock recite an incantation in a language unknown to me.
His derisive laughter echoed across the night sky. “Your memories will live on, Mr. Kroll,” he shouted. “The demon inside you will never die.”
I seemed to escape, then, into the ether. Peace and silence were my only companions in the beginning. After a time – I know not how to measure it – I felt myself enveloped by a warmth that was oddly familiar. The soothing murmur of voices kept me company.
I wanted to stay in this safe haven forever, but one day I found myself violently thrust into another world – one that was cold, bright, and filled with anguished screams. My lungs filled with air and I used them to convey my fear and displeasure.
The voices returned, louder. I opened my eyes reluctantly and gazed upon the face of a man I already knew.
My father. The Mayor of Devington.
February 21, 2014
Happy Friday. How about a free story? I've decided to post one of my flash fiction tales (most likely a reprint) at least one Friday out of the month. This month it's "Mr. Kroll" - the short story of a witch's familiar. Hope you like it.
I believe I was once a man. That would explain the strange memories that live in my dreams. My special awareness, my ability to understand humans, comes from the demon spirit that resides in me now – though I am not certain if I was reincarnated for this purpose or changed into a feline and a familiar through witchcraft.
Only black cats like me have nine lives. It’s a mystical ability and, truthfully, it would be more accurate to call them nine chances. But there is only one way for us to cheat death.
Oh, yes, I am much older than I should be.
My beloved mistress, Marantha, died far too soon. She was born a witch, and if that made her evil, it was not by choice. She studied spells and curses, but also healed the sick.
What happened to her was my fault.
We were living a peaceful existence in a cottage just outside of Devington. In the summer of 1701, that English village was still growing, and it bustled with great activity at week's end.
One Saturday afternoon, as I lay on a sunny windowsill sniffing the lilac-scented air, my mistress entered the tidy kitchen and addressed me with her musical voice.
“I need to sell some herbs and tonics today, Mr. Kroll.” She stroked the sleek fur along my back and smiled into my knowing green eyes. “Would you like to be my company?”
We could read other’s thoughts whenever necessary.
The two of us started off on the mile long walk and took the dusty dirt road that led to Devington. My mistress swung her large, round basket to and fro, and sang a lilting tune in a language I did not understand. Her lustrous long hair – as black as a moonless midnight – fanned out behind her in the warm breeze.
Marantha’s perfect features always attracted attention in the village. Men of all ages would pause in their daily activities to watch the young healer’s graceful, shapely figure as she carried out her errands. They openly admired her wavy dark tresses, her heavenly blue eyes, and the creamy fairness of her skin.
All the women stared at her with jealousy in their hearts. Soon I would give them a reason to be rid of her forever.
“Meet me here before sunset, Mr. Kroll,” my mistress said, as we reached the edge of town.
I went my own way, exploring the underbelly of the noisy village, scrounging for interesting food scraps and hunting rats that were almost tame. The mongrels running loose did not concern me. My presence terrified them.
It was the shiny crystals that caused my carelessness. They hung in a shop’s open window across the way, swinging gently in the wind, glinting in the sun. They mesmerized me.
I sprinted into the road and was caught up under a carriage wheel. It threw me clear, leaving me in agony. An ordinary cat would have died outright.
I forced myself to lie quietly for several minutes, gathering my strength and gaining control over the pain. No bones had been broken, but the damage to my organs was considerable. Finally, I struggled to a standing position and limped down a cluttered alley, using my powerful sense of smell to find what I needed.
I slowly climbed a stack of broken wooden crates to reach the ledge of an open window. Inside the stuffy room, an infant slept unattended on a cot, surrounded by rolled up blankets. I crept over to the bed and pulled myself up.
His damp gown smelled of sweat and harsh soap. I straddled his wee chest, but he did not awake. The crustiness on his lips was dried mother’s milk. When I began licking it off, the baby opened his mouth, and I covered it with my own.
I sucked my breath in and pulled his life force out. The invisible hot stream flowed into me and I could feel my injuries begin to heal.
Then I heard the mother scream. She knocked me off her baby with a broom handle and chased me out the window.
I was well enough to flee, and I headed for home in the gathering darkness. If I had not been interrupted the internal healing would have been complete. Eventually I would have to seek out another life force.
I entered the cottage through the open kitchen window and found my mistress in the front room, reading a thick, leather-bound book by candlelight.
She looked up in relief when I sauntered in. “Mr. Kroll, I knew you’d be all right, you naughty, careless feline.”
I curled up in her lap and allowed myself to purr.
Less than an hour later they came, surrounding the cottage, holding their fiery torches high.
“Show yourself, witch! You and your familiar!”
That was Hester the nosy seamstress. I recognized her deep, croaking voice.
Marantha opened the heavy wooden door and faced the angry mob. Most of them were women, with a few harried husbands standing in back.
“Friends, why are you here?”
“Oh, ain’t we the innocent one now,” Hester sneered. “Your demon cat was caught stealing a babe’s soul this very night.”
The women surrounded Marantha and held her prisoner while the men searched the cottage. They found the evidence they were looking for – a book of witchcraft.
Hester took the tome from her husband and held it high before the crowd. “The witch must burn! She must pay for her sins in Hell!”
I slipped past the mob and climbed an oak, watching helplessly as they bound Marantha’s hands and feet and carried her back into the cottage.
They set the house ablaze and then stayed to watch the spectacle. The women’s hard faces were lit with malicious glee. I heard Marantha’s agonized, heartrending screams, felt her blinding fear, and I couldn’t bear to linger.
There was someplace I needed to go, something I needed to do.
Hester had a baby daughter.
February 01, 2014
A fellow horror-loving friend of mine recommended I watch “You’re Next,” and suggested it was a cross between “Home Alone” and “The Strangers.” Yeah. Okay. I like my humor black, thank you.
Luckily, this flick – directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett – delivered the evil giggles. The plot isn’t anything new, since it involves a home invasion, but some “tweaking” was done, and it held my interest all the way through. I’ll even admit that a couple of times during those 96 minutes, I jumped violently enough to spill my favorite beverage.
The Davison family’s night of terror begins with a chilling message being scrawled in blood on their murdered neighbors’ wall. It’ll be their turn next, as the four siblings, and their significant others, gather at their parents’ secluded mansion to celebrate the couple’s milestone anniversary. The family is annoyingly dysfunctional, and I got a little impatient waiting for the slaughter to begin. The first arrow crashed through the dining room window and interrupted their squabbling just as I was about to hit the MUTE button on my remote.
As much as I disliked the spoiled siblings, Crispian (A.J. Bowen), Drake (Joe Swanberg), Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and Aimee (Amy Seimetz), their significant others were considerably more interesting. Well, at least the women were – Erin (Sharni Vinson), Zee (Wendy Glenn) and Kelly (Margaret Laney). Aimee’s boyfriend Tariq (Ti West) isn’t around long. I tried to feel some sympathy for the parents, Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton), but then I decided they needed to pay the ultimate price for raising so many obnoxious kids.
The invaders are three men wearing animal masks (tiger/lamb/fox), because we all know that makes vicious killers more intimidating. When the gory attacks begin, so does the dark humor. Right away I started picking up on clues from the dialogue and figured out the reason behind the invasion well before the end of the film. But that was okay because I had a favorite character to root for and I wanted to see how it all played out.
Crispian is unaware of his Australian girlfriend’s survivalist upbringing, and to everyone’s surprise, Erin turns out to be one feisty little Outback sheila. She quickly takes charge of the situation, helping to protect the clueless and the undeserving. The crossbow killers are in for a bloody big challenge. And, for me, that’s what made the movie worth watching.
I like a horror film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Despite some noticeable flaws, this one provided decent acting to watch, some wicked chuckles and “gotcha” moments, and at least one cool character to care about. I even liked the Dwight Twilley music that accompanied much of the mayhem. Since the flick is definitely worth a DVD rental, I’m willing to give it three and a half goblins.