Trial by Fire
By Lucas Carroll-Garrett
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai Podcast
Rough boards tilted beneath Eulice’s bare feet. The air grew hotter. Shackled to a sunken post and knee deep in piled wood, she tried not to move lest she fall into the fire.
If the villagers murmuring around her simply wanted her to leave, Eulice would have run. Even if it meant stumbling through the sudden scratching of branches that her blind eyes couldn’t see coming. But the chains around her wrists offered no escape. Eulice knew where they all wanted her to go. The chains were heating up too.
The next hiss of pine sap sounded much louder, sudden as a feral cat in her ear. The crackle of kindling rose towards her, almost drowning out the villagers’ uneasy voices.
“Please,” Eulice called out to them, to the voices she had known all her life. “Please stop, I don’t want to hurt anyone, I promise! Please, before—” Pain licked at her toes and her words ended in a hiss.
“It’s working,” came the voice of Katrina, the butcher’s wife. “The fire is driving it out, we’ll be saved!” The woman had soft, puffy hands and often gave Eulice her shop’s offal to eat when the other villagers couldn’t—or wouldn’t—spare anything. Now she sounded relieved that the wretched, motherless girl would soon be gone.
A wave of queasiness rose in Eulice’s belly: the power she had found out in the woods under the full moon and centered in a ring of mushrooms—the type that would make her sick. Sometimes, the power’s mirror-voice threatened to overwhelm her. The river of hatred wouldn’t quench the flames, she knew. But it would drown those that had kindled them, bringing them into her dark little world and choking out their fever pitch: “Burn her! Burn the witch!”
The board Eulice balanced on shifted and she seared the soles of her feet. The hatred swelled higher, acrid in the back of her throat. “Stop it,” she told herself, trying to scoot her feet back and arch up onto her blistered toes to keep ahead of the fire. “Don’t do it…”
“And why not?” Her voice whispered, though she hadn’t spoken. “What does it matter?”
“I don’t want to hurt them,” she whined back, her real voice strange in her own mind.
“They want to hurt you. They want to burn you, see you suffer. Isn’t that enough?”
The voice rose and fell in time with the flashes of fire against her ankles. Eulice bit her tongue, focusing on that pain: sharp and clear and close. Pain she could control. “If I let you kill them, there will be no one to put out the fire. We’ll still die. What would be the point?”
She bit back a scream as the tops of her feet blistered. Her voice snickered. “The same point as this pyre, little one.”
Eulice clenched her fists and strained the chains forward to their limit. That would keep them out of the fire. Maybe they would stop cooking her wrists. “Then I refuse.”
The power drained down, churning in her stomach. But now all she had to think about was the pain. Burning, along her wrists, the backs of her calves, around her feet. She could no longer feel her toes, and they made a scraping sound against the boards. Wishing the rest of her would hurry up and burn too, Eulice tried to focus on the sound, on any sound or sensation other than the fire. By now it howled like a stormy night.
But the chanting was loud too, enough to distinguish individuals. There was Genson’s rough voice, scraped hoarse by time. Whenever the farmer would come into town, Eulice asked him for something from his squeaky cart, just one vegetable or potato. All she ever got was a sticky glob of spit.
Near him chanted the softer version of his voice, his son Frederick. Once he had driven the wagon instead. That day, she got all the apples she could eat. He even sat her up on the bench with him, above the snuffling horse with its velvet nose. Eulice had ridden with him all the way back to their farm, where he had bathed her with steaming water and soft towels, so soft she thought she they must be magical. But then his bed was even softer, full of the little feathers she would sometimes pluck from birds in exchange for hot soup in winter.
And his arms had been so warm, nothing like this fire creeping up her thighs. His hands had done that too, but it had felt good, even more wonderful than the towels. But she most remembered drifting to sleep afterwards, tucked under the stubbled strength of his jaw. The next morning, Frederick drove her back to the village, leaving her to wonder if it had all been a dream.
Those big arms certainly had the strength to tear apart this pile of kindling and pull her from the fire. But Frederick’s voice was twisted high in fear, chanting with the rest of them. It sounded wrong—off—though Eulice couldn’t focus well over the searing, Searing SEARING--
“He only used you.” The mirror-voice returned. “Taking advantage of the poor blind girl no one would defend. If the man really cared, you would still be in that farmhouse.”
“Shut up, shut up” Eulice tried her own chant, over and over again. After all, it helped the others ignore her suffering. It helped them put her in this fire after the priest saw her sicken that dog with her power, even though she’d just wanted the animal to let go of her arm. It didn’t matter if they hated her. She had known that, lived with that for as long as she could remember. That didn’t mean she hated them back.
But the murderous feeling shifted within her, undeniable. Hatred swelled along with the fire blistering her shaking knees. The mirror-voice had always hated the villagers. So surely the feeling all belonged to the power from the woods--
“Of course not,” the voice assured her. But it had lied before. Under those trees, it had promised her sight like the others if she broke the circle, freeing it. But nothing had changed. She still couldn’t see how high the fire was getting, how her bindings were fastened, how the other villagers viewed and understood the world. All Eulice had learned was that there were things like her power out there, things she couldn’t even hear or smell, things that scared her.
The power rose again and Eulice thrashed against it, straining at the baking chains and whipping her head about until her own tangled hair lashed her face. the crowd gasped, chanting halted. A hush settled like the dead of winter, when one of them—eventually—would open a door for her to sleep out of the cold. For one foolish moment, hope flared in Eulice’s heart.
The board she teetered on cracked and she plunged down, into the depths of the pyre. First there was only confusion as planks scraped at her legs and the shackles wrenched her arms above her head. But the overwhelming fire came a second later, clamping onto her entire body. The heat clung and burrowed, split and peeled—everywhere, all at once. Eulice bit through her tongue, the iron taste like the rats she ate only when she was truly, desperately starving.
Still, she barely held back the swell of power, clinging to the thread of sensation: the tang of her blood, the bitter scent of cooking meat seasoned with burning hair. Groping out for something, anything to set her fraying mind to, the girl heard a new sound above the hissing fire. The villagers’ voices came to her again, this time high and jubilant.
They were cheering.
Her voice laughed horribly—brokenly—and rode the swell out of her screaming mouth. For a blissful moment, a numbing chill gripped the air and there was silence.
The fire washed back over her and Eulice could no longer care what happened to all those familiar voices. Dimly, she was aware of their howling and jabbering as the frigid power spread from her pyre. Katrina’s voice rose shrill until it broke. Frederick and Genson shuddered together with sounds beyond language. Even the old priest who had set the fire heaved and wretched like he was trying to get something out, something that was killing him.
The sounds all blended into the maddening pain and Eulice lost track of the seconds creeping by. Eventually there was only the quiet crackle of fire and the deep, hot ache of her cooking innards.
Eulice wanted to reach out, to find what remained of the others, maybe feel that stubbled jaw again. But her arms no longer worked. Her cracked lips wouldn’t open and even the crackling became distant and muted. Under the smoke and ash wafted the wet and faintly acrid smell of fresh sweat. Whatever that power had done to the villagers, they were silent now. Regret itched at Eulice, from both directions. There was no one to put out the fire, no one to share her suffering. It left a coldness deep within her, a chill her deepest thoughts clung to as the rest peeled away.
And so the witch burned on alone.
Lucas is an emerging writer out of the hills of East Tennessee. He writes mainly speculative fiction, from a good old swordfight to a pondering of human nature after the heat death of the universe. Raised in an environment with a rich storytelling tradition, one might say his transition from the Biological Sciences to writing was inevitable. He has recently finished an MFA in Popular Fiction in Maine. His work appears in the Chlorophobia Anthology and in Galaxy's Edge Magazine.
by Arpad Nagy
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai Podcast.
A singular source of light shone between the pillars of the North Carolina pines; the cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but once more, the night flickered with a beacon from Josephine to Stanley, her forbidden love.
Josephine’s father delivered his daughter, a virgin bride, in trade for land to Cyril Hyde, a man of known ill-temper and cruelty. With her tainted blood, Josephine’s father felt fortunate to get what he did for her spoiled soul. She was born a half-breed from her French mother and her slave lover. Her slave father met his fate with a noose; her mother followed soon after, but not before her body and soul had been broken at the hands of her husband, who exacted his toll for her transgressions.
Knowing her worth lay in her ability to placate her husband, Josephine tried to be the wife Cyril wanted; obedient, subservient, silent, and free to use at his whim. Still, nothing she did could soothe his anger, and for nine years, Josephine bore the brunt of Cyril’s rage and disgust. Josephine’s life existed in the darkness, dissolved of all hope for happiness.
That all changed one fateful summer afternoon when Cyril brought a carpenter onto the estate. Contracted to build new stables to house Cyril’s growing herd of prize stallions and mares, Stanley the carpenter would stay through the fall to complete his work.
When Stanley first laid his eyes upon Josephine, charged with seeing to his lodging, the spike of love pierced his heart before his hammer struck the first nail. By the time the leaves of the oak forest turned color Josephine’s heart would belong to Stanley.
The howls and barks of the dogs echoing from the woods behind her were a shock to Josephine. She realized then that leaving the letter for Cyril, begging him to forget her and let her go, had been a dreadful mistake. She had slipped away in the hush of the night while Cyril lay snoring, sprawled across the sitting room couch, spent from too much drink and the exertion of sex. But, it created Josephine's opportunity for escape.
All that remained was for her to make it to the old trapper’s cabin hidden in the woods. Josephine pictured it in her mind, Cyril waking and stumbling to bed, looking to take another turn with her body, only to find their bed empty and her note on the pillow. Josephine knew that Cyril’s rage would make him sober and focused.
Terror-stricken and panicked, Josephine ran as fast as she could, following the trail
Stanley had marked out. The old trapper’s cabin was far enough from the estate and no longer on Cyril’s land that they were sure he had no knowledge of it.But now the dogs were on her scent. Cyril would kill her if he caught her. The only question was if he would use a rope, his hands or let the hounds tear her apart.
Anticipating the possibility of a fouled getaway, Stanley had coached Josephine on
masking her scent and losing her trail. First, she would have to slog her way through the slough; the muddier and smellier she could get, the better. Then she would follow the outlet stream to the river, jump in and let the current carry her to the flat pool. Their sanctuary lay hidden on the other side of the willow thickets tucked against the slope of the rising tamarack forest.
The cold of the river cut through the panic, and Josephine focused on following the route. When she pulled herself from the river and scampered along the pebbled shore, she could no longer hear the dogs' barks or howls. Shivering and soaked to her bones, Josephine stumbled through the brush to the cabin.
Pulling the satchel of supplies from their hiding place beneath the floorboards, she
changed into dry clothes. Then, devouring a tin of sardines and crackers, she listened between bites for any sound.
Too terrified to light a fire and exhausted from the stress of her ordeal, Josephine
retreated to a darkened corner and covered herself with a blanket. She fell asleep dreaming of Stanley’s voice in her ears and feeling his strong hands on her shoulders.
“Just two days, Josie. I’ll come to get you in two days.”
Days earlier, after having finished his contract for Cyril and taking his pay, Stanley
thanked him, said his goodbyes, and made for the town in search of another contract. In order to escape Cyril’s grasp, Josephine would have to vanish, and Stanley must be seen leaving town on his own.
But he was secretly making arrangements with an acquaintance, a bootlegger. For the right price, the bootlegger would smuggle Josephine and Stanley safely away.
Having planned only a short two-day stay at the cabin, the cache of foodstuffs was sparse, and by the fifth day, it was gone. Seven days had passed since Josephine had eaten anything more than the few berries that she found in the woods nearby. Afraid to venture far and miss Stanley, Josephine remained where she was. Too terrified to light a fire and signal her position by smoke rising in the sky, she sacrificed warmth for safety and kept herself huddled in the blanket.
The small candle she set on the windowsill and lit each night was the only sign of her presence, telling Stanley she still waited. She did not understand how or why Stanley would abandon her. Josephine was certain Stanley loved her, despite her being half black and him white.
She could not have known that Stanley was already dead. Josephine's husband, humiliated and angry, posted a bounty for information on his runaway wife and her forbidden lover. The bootlegger betrayed Stanley for a heavier sack of coins from Cyril. Stanley was quickly captured and his death was extreme in violence, but
to his very end, he refused to reveal where Josephine waited in hiding.
In the remaining weeks of her tragic life, Josephine went mad. The forest mushrooms she foraged twisted her stomach and poisoned her mind. In her madness, she saw Stanley everywhere — coming from the river or out of the
woods. Her wailing for Stanley echoed off the cliffs and carried through the valley. It was the shrill cry of a woman gone insane.
Her death came slowly from starvation and sickness. She lay curled in the corner,
unrecognizable as the beautiful young woman, vibrant and full of life, only a few weeks ago, now barely more than skin and bones. The candle in the window flickered and smoked. It was the one thing Josephine had held onto, lighting the candle each night for her Stanley to find his way.
It flickered and burned, flickered and burned as Josephine drew her final breath.
“This better not be lame!” Devon said to his sister, Simone.
“It’s not lame. It’s a lot of fun! You’ll see.” she answered.
School was out for the summer, and the siblings were packing for their Adventurer’s
Camp, a week-long excursion into the woodlands of North Carolina. It was Devon's first time camping. He was far more interested in spending his free days camped in their basement gaming than playing survivor out in the woods.
Devon’s whining and pleading nearly got him out of it too, but his mother, an ACLU
lawyer, denied his appeal. Making the excursion even more annoying was that his sister, who had attended the camp five years in a row, would be there as a camp counselor and guide. Translated, that meant she was a spy.
“Marshal was there last year,” Simone said, “He did great, and I know he had fun.”
“Marshal did not have a great time,” Devon answered. “When he came back, he told me that the camping trip was the whitest thing he’d ever done. Camping isn’t for Black people, Simone! We don’t camp!”
“That’s racist,” she replied. “And ridiculous.”
“You don’t know anything,” he argued back. “It’s not racist. First of all, we can’t be
racist against white people, dummy. Second, it’s a compliment; camping is their thing; white people love to camp. I’m happy for them-they can have it.”
“That’s very generous of you, Devon,” Simone replied, shaking her head at her brother in disappointment. “But it’s still inappropriate.”
“You know what is racist?” Devon said, continuing his argument. “Have you ever
watched a horror movie where kids go camping in the woods?” he asked. “If there’s a Black kid in the bunch, they die first. We always die first, and who makes those movies? White people!”
“Not true; it’s usually the blonde cheerleader that dies first,” Simone answered. “But this isn’t a movie, Devon. It’s real life. You might even learn something, and if you’re not careful, you might even meet someone-a girl!”
Devon paused at the mention of meeting a girl and was about to ask about what kind of girls would be at camp, then changed his mind. “Fine,” he answered, “But if something gets weird out there, you and I are the first ones on the bus! Let the white kids search for where the scream came from; we ain’t investigating shit!”
Simone laughed, then said, “Well, there’s nothing to be afraid of out there.” But she
paused for a moment as she double-checked that her flashlight had batteries and added, “Well, almost nothing.”
Devon stopped in the middle of stuffing his pack and looked at his sister to check if she was smiling. She was a terrible liar and could never pull off a prank, but the faraway look in her eyes made him nervous.
“What the hell does that mean?” Devon blurted out.
Lost in her thoughts, Simone finished packing.
“What. Are. You. Talking. About?” Devon asked in his habit of talking in one-word
sentences when he wanted undivided attention. Dropping his pack on the floor, he sat on his bed, arms crossed, staring at his sister.
“It’s only a ghost story Mr. Murphy tells around the campfire.” She explained.
“But it scared you,” Devon said. “I can tell. You thought it was real. How come? Is it
kids getting murdered? Kidnapped? Attacked by Werewolves?” Devon shot back with his rapid- fire questions.
Simone shook her head. “Get your bag together, Devon. Mom’s dropping us off by four.”
“Oh no!” he said in defiance. “You better tell me!”
“It’s part of the experience. I’ll ruin it for you if I tell you now. Mr. Murphy does such a good job. He’s been scaring kids with that story for decades.” Simone explained.
“Tell me the story, or I’m not moving,” Devon demanded.
Simone looked at her brother and considered his stubborn streak. Once, when Devon refused to eat eggplant lasagna, their mother told him it would be served as breakfast, lunch, and dinner until he finished his plate. Living on juice and water for the entire week, Devon lost five pounds. Finally, his mother relented.
“The story is about Josephine Krandle,” said Simone, beginning the story. “And some of it is true. There was a Josephine Krandle, from the time of the Civil War. The story starts with a poem.
“Josephine Krandle lights her candle, waiting for the man who let her die.
And deep in the woods on windless nights, you can still hear her cry.
Alone in the cabin, she went mad, they say and pulled out all her hair
And anyone that follows Krandle’s candle gets caught in her deadly snare
So if you hear her call your name and see the candle’s flickering light
Turn your back and run for your life, or she’ll snatch you in the night.”
“And this lady was real?” Devon asked. “Wait! You said there’s almost nothing to be
afraid of. Which means there IS something to be afraid of!”
“Kids! You better be packed and ready!” Their mom’s voice called, “We’re leaving for
the bus in five minutes and not a second later! I’m not fooling around!”
“Simone!” Devon pleaded.
“Mr. Murphy will tell it tomorrow night. He likes to get the kids spooked right from the beginning of camp,” Simone said. “Grab your stuff, and let’s go. It’s only a silly, regular campfire story,” Simone said, zipping up her pack, slinging it over her shoulder, and walking to the door.
Devon eyed his sister, suspicious of her holding back. “It better be! I’m telling you right now; we ain’t meant to go camping! It is not our thing!” Devon announced while quickly stuffing his pack.
“Oh, come on, Mr. Murphy! That wasn’t even scary!” one of the new girls sitting around the campfire called out.
“Yeah!” Another voice joined in. “My brother came to this camp and said you had the
scariest ghost stories. He said you made him too scared to leave his tent at night!”
“Maybe that’s why he made it home,” said Roy “Old Man” Murphy. The grandfather
leader of the troop poked the fire with a charred fire staff that had seen many seasons of campfires and kids. But, while the coals always glowed with the same red fire, the kids changed each year, and every new batch seemed harder to entertain and more challenging to scare-not impossible, but harder.
“You kids ought to be plenty scared of a blood moon and a man-eating mountain lion!” Murphy snapped back in a huff, referring to the story he’d just told.
“I want to hear about the Hendershot kid who disappeared,” said one of the older boys. Then standing up and jabbing his stick into the coals, the boy turned to his fellow campers, “It’s a true story. I Googled it before coming out here.”
Mr. Murphy bristled, then pulled the collar of his flannel coat tighter across his chest as though hit with a sudden chill. “You don’t know nothin’ about that,” said the veteran leader.
Grumbles and murmurs began sounding off amongst the circle of kids. Some looked surprised, others uncomfortable, but all were curious.
“I heard he wandered off the trail and fell down some old mine shaft,” a voice
“Nah, that wasn’t it. I heard he fell down the bank and knocked himself out, fell in the river, and drowned,” countered another boy.
“You boys don’t know anything!” a girl piped up. “My brother used to be a counselor at this camp, and he told me that one night the kid got up to pee, and when he turned around to go back to his tent, something was there, and it scared him stone stiff until the morning. The camp leaders couldn’t do anything, and then the kid took off running into the woods. Even though they saw where he went and sent search parties for weeks-they never found a sign of him. Hendershot
vanished into thin air.”
Roy Murphy pushed the logs apart, sending a column of sparks into the black sky. He listened to the arguments around the fire rise like a wave. Murphy knew it was better to let the kids squabble themselves into frustration and watch them march off to their tents in their small groups of allies without adding more speculation to the story. He would have left it alone if it wasn’t for that little punk trying to make his mark.
“Come on, guys,” “Sticky,” the tall, sandy-haired kid said to his cohort. “It’s all just
bullshit anyway. If it really happened, old man, Murphy would have said something, but all he knows is how to make a campfire.”
The kids glanced at Mr. Murphy, who sat still, poking and spreading the fire around the pit to snuff it out, but the old man stayed silent.
The kids rose from their seats and gathered to walk to their tents when suddenly old man Murphy was standing before them. The orange firelight reflected in his glassy, black eyes. Looking past the boys and staring off somewhere in the dark woods, Mr. Murphy spoke.
“Josephine Krandle lights her candle, waiting for the man who let her die.
And deep in the woods on windless nights, you can still hear her cry
Alone in the cabin, she went mad, they say, and pulled out all her hair
And anyone that follows Krandle’s candle gets caught in her deadly snare
So if you hear her call your name and see the candle’s flickering light
Turn your back and run for your life, or she’ll snatch you in the night.”
The boys stood silent, looking at the catatonic Mr. Murphy and then at each other.
“Stay behind the horseshoes if you go out, or she’ll snatch you in the night!” Old man
Murphy repeated. Then, Mr. Murphy took a step toward “Sticky” and laid a hand on the child’s shoulder; Murphy leaned in and spoke. “I wouldn’t go being too brave now, Stanley. It’s probably bad luck to have the same name as the murdered love of Josephine Krandle.”
“Sticky” Stanley stood silent, watching the old man disappear into the night.
“I think my sister knows the truth,” Devon said, speaking up for the first time. “I mean, she knows about Krandle’s candle, but she might know the truth about the kid-if there even was a missing kid.”
Sitting on the edge of a bench near the fire, Simone rocked slowly from her toes to her heels. Staring into the coals glowing orange with their final pulses of life, she saw the memory again.
“It’s real,” she said, her voice cutting sharply through the quietness of the night. “Dustin Hendershot.”
“Oh yeah?” said Sticky, “Why should we believe you?” he asked.
“Because I was there. I was with Dustin when we-when we saw it.” Simone’s voice
trailed off as her brother came and sat beside her.
“Saw what, Sis?” Devon asked.
Simone turned to look at her brother and the group of boys that had moved in close
behind him. She didn’t know why she felt compelled to tell them, but before she could change her mind, the words spilled out of her.
“Krandle’s candle,” Simone said. “After Mr. Murphy told us the story, the boys, Dustin, and his friends decided it was a mission to find the cabin. They dared each other to see who would chicken out from going to look for it.
“It was already getting late when we found it,” Simone continued. “It was blind luck.
We’d been hiking for so long that we’d emptied our water bottles, so we went down to the river, but it had rained for a couple of days before, and the water was dirty. Then that’s when the boys found it.”
“Found what? The cabin?” Sticky asked.
“The creek,” Simone answered. “We saw a creek, clear water running into the river. Then Dustin and another boy followed the creek further upstream to look for a deeper spot to fill our bottles.”
Shaking his head, Devon asked, “Why would you even be out there, Simone?”
Simone couldn’t answer that she and Dustin had fallen for each other. She remembered how Dustin wanted to keep it a secret. She was never certain why and Dustin never explained. Was it because he had a girlfriend back in town, or was it as she suspected — because she was black?
“There wasn’t much left of it-the cabin.” Simone continued, “The rotten timbers were all over, and if it weren’t for the stacked stones of the foundation, you’d probably never notice it at all.”
“That doesn’t sound like a big deal to me,” Sticky said, “So you found some old cabin in the woods, that doesn’t prove anything.”
“That’s what we thought, too, at first,” Simone replied. “But then someone pointed out that the only parts still together were a few boards under the frame of what used to be a window.
“We laughed at Dustin when he said it must be Krandle’s candle window, but even then, I knew something was wrong.” The story was coming from her automatically now. Simone looked back to the fire, and Devon saw that even with the amber glow of the coals casting light on his sister, her face was ashen.
“Simone?” Devon asked, “Are you ok? What happened?”
Simone turned to face her brother, water pooled in her eyes, and her lip quivered. She turned to the boys and looked at their slack expressions.
“Dustin ran up to the cabin and the window,” Simone explained. “He turned back to us and shouted that melted wax was all over the window frame, and he waved us up to take a look. But none of us moved. I don’t know why, but we seemed stuck there as we watched Dustin walk around and step into the cabin.”
“The sun was about to slip behind the hills, and I told him we should get back to camp before it gets too dark — I told Dustin he shouldn’t be in there,” Simone explained. The panic and fear in her voice increased as she spoke.
“Dustin laughed at me and said there was nothing to worry about; it was only a broken-down old cabin. I remember him flapping his hand at me like I was overreacting.” Simone continued, “But then it suddenly got so cold. We all felt it. The air turned icy. We shouted at Dustin that we needed to return to camp, and it was getting late. But I only wanted us to get out of there, and when Dustin stepped out of the cabin — that’s when everything changed.”
Simone pulled herself closer to the fire. The flames licked at the last of the coals, and everyone stood silent. The sarcastic sneer from Sticky vanished, and the rest of the boys stood, their eyes wide, mouths closed, and ears open, transfixed on Simone.
“I saw it first but didn’t say anything. It didn’t seem possible. I told myself it was the
sunset playing a mind trick.” Simone looked up, and now that she’d begun her confession, there was no stopping it.
“I think it was Brad who saw it next. Then Estella. Dustin was only a few steps
away when she screamed.” Simone said.
“Who screamed?” One of the boys asked.
“What did you see?” asked another.
“Dustin turned around, and he froze stiff. We all did. We couldn’t move. We were all
staring at the candle burning in the window.” Simone said, her breath ragged,, her words rapid.
“That scream! That awful scream! It was Josephine, her ghost; her spirit was still
there, still waiting for her Stanley to come and fetch her.” Simone began to sob. “But it wasn’t Stanley, Josephine’s lost love; it was Dustin standing there. It was Dustin who went into the cabin, and now it was Dustin that Josephine wanted.”
“Holy shit-is this for real?” Devon asked.
Simone seemed to have fallen into a trance; her eyes looked glossy and glazed as she stared into the glowing fire pit.
“Simone!” Devon called out. “What happened? Simone!” Devon shouted and grabbed his sister by the shoulders and shook her.
“We saw Josephine walk out of the cabin with the candle in her hand. She kept calling out to Dustin, but she was calling him Stanley, louder and louder, she screeched his name.”
Simone said in bursts of tears and sobs. “She looked awful! Hideous! Her face was grey and blue, with shriveled skin and only a few strands of hair on her head. I’ll never forget it, and I wish I could.”
“We ran, Devon. We ran through the woods as fast as we could, keeping to the trail, but each time we looked back over our shoulder, the burning candle kept following us. I don’t know how long it took, but we ran until we saw the light in the camp tower. Then I remembered what Mr. Murphy said at the end of the ghost story-stay behind the horseshoes!”
“That’s what old man Murphy mumbled tonight when he left us,” one of the boys said. “Stay behind the horseshoes. But what horseshoes?” he asked, “What do the horseshoes do?” he asked, spinning around, his eyes searching the dark.
“On the trees,” Simone answered. “All around camp. The horseshoes are nailed into the trees, and spirits can’t go past horseshoes; they can’t cross a line of iron.”
Simone took a breath and continued. “I could see the edge of camp and started yelling to get past the trees. As soon as we crossed beneath the horseshoes, we turned around and called the others to hurry; we could see the candlelight getting closer."
“Did everyone get past the horseshoes?” Devon asked his sister.
Simone looked up at her brother, tears falling down her cheeks. “We all crossed and made it onto the camp field, except Dustin, but we could see he was coming and yelled at him that we couldn’t see the candlelight anymore. We thought the
horseshoes must have scared Josephine away, that she’d given up the chase. We were all so relieved.” Simone explained.
“But we were wrong. When Dustin turned around and took his final steps before getting to the horseshoes, the candle suddenly appeared right in front of him. Josephine came out of the woods, and all we could do was watch,” Simone paused and inched closer to the firepit, wringing her hands, her legs shaking. “We just stood and watched as she dragged Dustin back down the trail, screaming and kicking. That look on his face — the night she dragged him away was the night I knew that evil was real,” Simone said, wiping tears from her eyes.
“We knew that no one would believe us if we told them what really happened, so we told our camp counselors that we got lost and separated. They searched for weeks but never found a trace of Dustin. He vanished.”
Simone rose, turned away from the fire pit and the boys, and headed to her tent. Devon quickly jogged to her side. The group kept tight to their pack and moved along. The story frightened them and left them filled with questions that they tossed amongst each other.
Then, Sticky halted the gang’s procession. “That’s some bullshit cover story,” he declared. “First of all, everyone knows that ghosts and shit aren’t real, and second, I bet Dustin fell in the river, and it washed him away, drowning him somewhere.”
The boys looked up at him, not convinced but relieved that logic had entered the
“Yeah, I bet he drowned. A floating candle chasing you in the woods? Some old cabin and a witch or whatever? That’s not real,” said one of the boys.
Not long after, Sticky lay awake in his tent. The night was still and windless. Dead.
Hardly a sound carried, not a cricket’s chirp or a frog’s croak. Most of the boys, gullible and scared, had scattered from their cots and packed themselves together in one tent. Left alone, Sticky snickered at their fear. Finally, he started to doze off, but just as his eyelids fell closed, he heard a voice call his name.
It was quiet, coming from outside-behind the tent.
No one at the camp called him Stanley and only the counselors and leaders knew his full name. Stanley “Sticky” Stickerson.
The call seemed closer now, just outside the tent.
“Simone,” Sticky said to himself. “It’s got to be Simone.” She’s a counselor and would
know his name, he mused.
“What do you want, Simone? I know it’s you!” Sticky called back from his cot.
Simone didn’t answer but the voice continued calling out his name. “Stannnleeey….”
Refusing to take the bait of childish pranks, Sticky flung the sleeping bag off and jumped to his feet. Then, grabbing his flashlight from beneath the cot, Stanley “Sticky” Stickerson stepped out of his tent.
No one was there. No Simone. No kids. Only darkness. Turning around slowly,
Sticky surveyed his surroundings. The voice had gone quiet.
Someone was playing a gag on him; he was sure of it. So instead of turning on his
flashlight, Sticky crept silently around his tent. That’s when he saw a fleck of light from the corner of his eye.
Whoever was joking with him was hiding the beam of their flashlight behind a hand or tucked inside a sweater. But he saw it. He knew where they were. Moving stealthily, Sticky crept along behind his tent and stepped into the woods.
“They’re not scaring me,” Sticky said to himself, “But I’m going to scare them! Just a
few more steps to hide in the woods, and when I see the flashlight, I’m going to rush at them screaming from the woods. Ha ha, they’ll piss themselves.” Sticky smiled at having turned the tables on them.
Leaning against a pine, Sticky waited for the light to give away the culprit’s hiding place. His fingers touched something cold and metallic. Something in the tree.
His fingers followed the contours of the object tracing the metal line along a curve until its shape turned and fell back down the other side. At the bottom, his fingers
touched the base, where he could feel the subtle form of a boot.
A sudden jolt of fear struck his heart. It was a horseshoe, and Stanley was on the wrong side of it.
“Stanley!” The raspy voice of a woman brushed his ear.
Unable to stop himself, Stanley turned.
The last thing Stanley saw was the flicker of a candle and the horrible face of a withered old woman.
When Sticky didn’t show up for breakfast at the mess hall, the troop leaders went looking for him. A half-hour later, a full-scale search was underway. The only clue they found was a flashlight lying against a tree in the woods behind the
The name on the flashlight read, “Stanley Stickerson.”
Arpad Nagy is a proud Hungarian-Canadian throwback romantic man who loves to write. After sustaining work injuries and being relegated to desk work, he dove into writing and has been doing so full-time since 2021. His passion is fiction writing, and his niche is romantic fiction, although he branches out into many genres. Nagy writes personal essays, memoirs, pop culture, and anecdotal stories about being a father, husband, and former careers as a chef, oil man, and civil construction. He is editor of four publications, three for nonfiction and one for short fiction at Medium, where he has nearly 400 published pieces.
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The Suicide Barn
by William Presley
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai podcast.
It’s nothing special – another old horse barn, in another hay field, at the end of another dirt road. I could send you a picture of the view from my window, and you wouldn’t know if I were in Ohio or Oregon. (Slayton, 1992)
I put the letter back in my notebook with a nod. Shades of brown striped the unevenly worn structure, clashing with the purple sky above and golden field below in a way that seemed so… generic. It was like stepping into the painting of everywhere and nowhere that hung in any great-aunt’s living room. Perhaps that was what drove everyone who lived in this barn insane. Or, perhaps, there was something far more sinister lurking around the property. The families of the many previous tenants had hired me to uncover the truth, and after reading the letters that they had provided, even my rational mind was starting to suspect the latter option.
With a mix of curiosity and apprehension, I trudged over to the adjacent farmhouse. An elderly woman built like a fillet knife answered the door before I even had a chance to knock. Deep lines rippled through her powder-white face, and her pin-curled red hair leant her an almost Elizabethan sternness.
“Are you the one who called earlier? About the hayloft apartment?” she asked in a dry alto.
“Yes, I’m Burke! I didn’t catch your name, though.”
“Let’s start with Ma’am. I-”
A groan drew my attention through the entryway and to an equally aged woman with a pudgy, yet sunken face. She was hunched over in a wheelchair, her stringy white hair dangling limply around her shoulders, her arms resting on the kitchen table to reveal a patchwork of burns and scars. ‘Ma’am’ slammed the door behind her before I could take in any more.
“Don’t mind the invalid. You won’t see much of her.”
“Are you two… sisters?”
A grunt was all I got in response as she beckoned me off of the porch. “I’ll give you a little tour. If you like the place, you can have it today, but I need two months up front. And the security deposit. That’s another month and a half.”
The old woman flung open a side entrance to the barn, leading me up a staircase and into a surprisingly well-maintained apartment. Even with furnishings that hadn’t been updated since the 70s, it was hard not to find appeal in the completely open floor plan and cathedral ceiling. I wandered over to the twin bed in the corner and pulled another letter from my notebook.
Once is a bad dream. Twice is a recurring nightmare. But three times? That’s real. It has to be. I wake up every night with the shadow person standing over me. That’s it, just a shadow. It’s got no features. I can see it, though, because it’s somehow darker than the loft. I can feel it, too. It’s got nails. It runs them up and down my face just hard enough to hurt without leaving marks. (Quinn, 1992)
I next turned my attention to the window by the kitchen table; it had been referenced by several of the former residents.
You sit there, eyes stinging and head heavy, trying to down your third cup of coffee. Everything around you is snapping in and out of vivid focus. Breezes become whirlwinds, creaking boards sound like shrill squeals, and raindrops remind you of cannonballs launching against the tin roof. Then a crow lands on the windowsill, and you see the intent to kill glinting in its eye. It wants to dig its talons into your flesh and drive its beak into your eardrum. It wants to recruit a shrieking army to overwhelm you, to drain the blood from your body until you’re a dried-up carcass on the floor. Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it’s just a bird, and you’re paranoid from the lack of sleep. Of course, there’s also the possibility that the shadow woman planted those horrible images in your mind. It’s hard to know what’s real anymore. (Lane, 1993)
Eventually, I circled back to the front door and examined the knob, asking the same question I’m sure any sane person would: Why not leave?
I already told you that I can’t come home. She won’t let me. Last time I tried, the doorknob got so hot in my hand that you can still see bits of my fingertips seared to the brass. I guess I could jump out a window. What’s a broken leg if it means getting away from her? But whenever I get near one, a set of nails digs into the back of my neck as she blows a quick, raspy sigh into my ear. That must be her way of saying, “I go where you go.” And I can’t bring her back to you. (Hayward, 1994)
I then looked to the only other door in the apartment. It led to a cottagey, brown-paneled bathroom and adjoining closet.
I do everything I can to avoid the bathroom, but… well, the kitchen sink can only take so much. Eventually, I have to go in and bathe. That’s her favorite time to catch me – when I’m wet and naked in front of the mirror. She’ll turn the glass into some sort of… television… that plays the worst moments of my life on a constant repeat. All the beatings from Dad. All the Thanksgivings Uncle Gil took me into the back bedroom. Even the day Grandpa died. It’s like she grows from my misery. Each time I see her, she’s just… a little bit more formed. She’s actually starting to look like a child’s clay sculpture at this point. Her blue, naked body is womanly in all the right places while still androgynous enough to not be obscene. Her face, the part you can see through the veil of white hair, has only nondescript craters where the eyes, nose, and mouth should be. And her breathing… it’s so labored. (Martin, 1994)
There was a clear view of the bed from the bathroom doorway, and a shiver ran up my spine as I realized I was standing where she had stood.
I can feel that little gremlin of a woman staring at me every night through the crack in the door. At least in the dark, I don’t have to stare at her liver spotted folds in all of their nude glory. Too bad there’s nothing that can disguise her breath. She’s got lungs like a damn exhaust fan. Every gasp sends a gust of rotting meat whipping around the apartment. In and out, in and out. It’s almost hypnotic to watch all of the bodies hanging from the rafters as they sway with the rhythm. I know it won’t be long before I throw a rope around my neck and join them. (Hyde, 1995)
Notes tugged snuggly under my arm, I began to examine some unusual scratch marks on the far wall. “Have you had… many renters?”
‘Ma’am’ arched an eyebrow. “A few here and there.”
“And do they tend to stay long?”
I was about to ask if there’d been any unusual deaths on the premises when a single page fell from behind my elbow. The old woman’s expression morphed from curiosity over my letterhead to disgust at all of the names written down beneath.
“You have no idea what you’ve walked into,” she sneered. “No hack with a PI license could understand the kind of force at play in a place like this!”
I picked up the piece of paper, waving it in front of her face. “Twelve young men and women! All missing. All lived here. And yet, not a single death reported on the grounds! You mean to tell me that every single one of them packed up and disappeared without a trace?”
“Wherever they went, they went willingly.” She pulled out a handgun and trained it on my forehead. “I suggest you put those notes over in the fireplace and forget you were ever here.”
I pulled out my own gun, yet her only response was a low, throaty laugh. Loud footsteps began to encircle us.
“Mother,” she called, “you have a new guest!”
Seconds later, I felt the trigger jam up behind my finger. The footsteps grew louder, as did the laughter. But it was no longer coming from the woman before me.
William Presley is a scientist and author whose short stories have been featured by a variety of publications, including Scare Street, Timber Ghost Press, the Creepy Podcast and Homespun Haints. He also writes the Apprentice's Notebook Series.
by Ian Salavon
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai Podcast.
Odie and his twelve younger sisters ran out of the beat-up farmhouse to greet their Pa when they saw his rickety wagon pulling up the dirt road. They were dressed in patchwork clothes that were too big on the younger children and too small on the elder ones. Their faces and hands were clean, but their shoeless feet were filthy. Pa was pulling a wooden tank that looked like the water tower in town but much smaller.
“Pa’s home! Pa’s home!” They squealed and sprinted down the road to meet him.
“Stay back!” Pa shouted. “I’ll be along straight away.”
Odie could hear the sloshing of water every time a wheel hit a rut or rock. Pa maneuvered Renaldo, the old, scarred up gelding, to pull the cart up to the edge of the pond. He opened the rear of the tank, and its contents gushed out. Something large splashed into the water.
Pa pulled the wagon up to the house. He was smiling with his head held high. He climbed off the cart and onto the porch, the boards creaking under his feet. The younger siblings showered their father with kisses and questions, while Odie unhooked the horse.
“What did you bring me from the coast, Pa?” “Did you see any monsters on the road, Pa?” “Pa? Were there any elves in the city?”
Pa answered the questions as best he could, laughing and enjoying his family. He was a broad-shouldered, tall, tan man with brown hair that was starting to pepper grey. He had kind, twinkling brown eyes and a bushy moustache and beard. He looked exactly like what he was, a fourth-generation farmer.
“Now children. Leave your father be. He just got home, and I’m sure he is tired from his trip. All of you go wash up and get ready for supper.” Ma said. She was not an overly comely woman, but she was handsome in her way. She had strong blue eyes and hands that were worn with hard work.
The younger children left to wash up as Odie returned from tending to Renaldo.
“What’s in the pond, Pa?” Odie asked. He was practically bouncing from foot-to-foot waiting for an answer.
Pa’s naturally jovial face went dark for a second, and he leaned in with a low voice.
We’ll talk after supper.” He put his finger to the side of his nose, which was Pa’s signal for ending a discussion. Odie knew better than to press, even though he was practically exploding.
The family ate their supper of a small scoop of bean stew and crusty bread while Pa regaled them with stories of his trip to the coast. The children were enthralled when he told them about the argument he had with a goblin merchant over the price of a bushel of cabbages. The night went on with more tales until Ma saw the fatigue in the children’s eyes and ordered everyone to bed.
Pa whispered to Odie. “Come to the porch with me.” Odie turned to Ma, and she nodded her permission.
The night was clear and cool. Pa pulled out his pipe and a bag of tobacco that smelled like berries and old parchment, then stuffed a wad into the bowl. He motioned for Odie to sit next to him on the old bench facing their barren fields. The farm used to by bountiful with corn, oats, and peas. Now, it lay dead, unable to grow much of anything except weeds.
“I got this tobacco from an elf merchant. It’s magic!” Pa’s eyes were wild, and he smiled mischievously, then laughed. Odie laughed too. Pa took a puff of his pipe and let out a cloud of lavender smoke that smelled like roses. He took another puff that was orange and smelled like mixed fruit.
“Odie, in that pond is something that’s going to change our lives.” Pa was watching the water with his jaw set.
“What is it?” Odie asked, hardly able to sit still.
Pa took another puff of his magical tobacco. This time it was blue and smelled like something Odie couldn’t recognize, but he liked it.
“It’s a mermaid,” his dad answered.
Odie’s eyes went wide, and he used every morsel of self-control he had to keep from running to the pond and looking.
“Truly?” He said giddy and short of breath.
“Calm down, son.” Pa said. “Yes. Truly. And I am telling you because I want you and you sisters to stay away from it.”
Odie’s face sagged like something was pulling his skin to the ground.
“Son, you don’t realize how valuable that thing is.” He pointed to the pond with his pipe as yellow smoke wafted from it. “Do you know how much gold we could get from selling it?” Odie shook his head. “Enough to where we don’t have to be farmers anymore. Plus, if I can figure out what she wants most” He paused to take a long pull off his pipe. “She will grant us a wish.”
“But I like being a farmer!” Odie said. “And I’m good at taking care of the livestock. Even better than you.” Odie paused and saw Pa raise an eyebrow, but he went on. “Who brushes the mule-icorn twice a day? Who’s in charge of the harpy aviary?”
If he was being honest, Odie didn’t like taking care of the harpies. Their shrieking gave him a headache at least once a week.
“Who nursed Renaldo back to health when that dragon got hold of him? I even won the blue ribbon at the fair for that cockatrice I raised from an egg! I can take care of one mermaid! Please, Pa?” Odie had made his point. It was up to Pa to agree
“Odie, I know your heart is in the right place. And I admit, you have a way with the animals, but this is different. Mermaids aren’t domesticated. They’re dangerous and devious. Don’t you remember all the stories when you were little about shipwrecks because of merpeople? Those aren’t fables. She’s smart. She’ll try to manipulate you. She will blind you with her beauty. I’m telling you, for your own safety, stay away from her.”
Pa softened when he saw the genuine disappointment in Odie’s face. He reassuringly put his hand on his oldest child’s shoulder. “Son, this is something we must protect. I’m barely making ends meet as it is. We lost money with our crops this trip. Think of her as an investment we don’t want to jeopardize. Trust me. Stay away. Its man’s work, not for a boy.”
“But Pa…” Odie pleaded.
“No, son. You’re not to go near the pond until after we sell her. Shouldn’t be more than a few days. I’ve already got some buyers. You’ll get to see her then.” Pa pressed his finger to his nose, and the chat was over.
Odie went to his room and laid on his bed without changing or washing up. He stared at the ceiling breathing deeply through his nose. His jaw was clenched so tightly his teeth hurt. Who was his father to tell him he couldn’t handle taking care of a mermaid? Pa had been gone for weeks. Didn’t everything get taken care of in his absence? He was the man of the house while his father was at market. Odie made sure everything ran smoothly. So what if Ma and his sisters helped him. He’d still been the one to get up before the suns and get the day started. He was thirteen now. Almost an adult. If he couldn’t help caring for it, at least he could look. What would that harm?
Odie waited a few hours until all the moons were up. By then everyone in the house would be sound asleep. He opened the shutters to his window and climbed out. The dewy grass squished quietly under his bare feet. He chose his footsteps carefully, being as silent as he could until he was far enough away from the house to walk. Odie wasn’t concerned about waking up his parents or his siblings, but if the harpies heard him, they’d start a racket. The sky was clear, and Odie could see the reflection of all three moons on the surface of the pond. Only the gentle wind moved the water.
He picked up a small rock and walked closer to the edge of the water.
“Hello?” his voice came out softer than he’d intended. Odie cleared his throat and said again, “Hello?” Not forcefully, but loud enough to be heard. Nothing.
He couldn’t blame her for not wanting to talk. She was probably angry to be captured. Odie wasn’t even sure if mermaids could talk. He made a sound halfway between a grunt and a sigh and threw the stone into the pond. It skipped twice and landed close to the middle. Odie turned to walk back to the house. He took three steps when he felt something hard hit him in the back of the head. It made his ears ring. Odie shook his head to clear it and turned back to the pond.
The water wasn’t moving but something was floating in the center that hadn't been there before. He stepped toward the water's edge when he kicked something. Odie looked down and saw the same stone he’d just tossed into the pond.
The thing in the pond raised up. It was a head. He was breathing faster and bouncing on his feet. The head was moving to the water’s edge. Odie took a step forward then remembered Pa’s warning. He wouldn’t let some sea creature beguile him. He was stronger than that, and he was determined to show his father that he could be a man. He decided to stay at arm’s length no matter how close the mermaid came to the shore.
As she got closer to the grass, Odie could see details. She had unblemished skin the color of toasted wheat and a long mane of golden wavy hair. Her eyes were soft and so green they made the wet grass he was standing on envious. Her body was supple and curvy, and she moved with unpracticed grace. Her breasts were bare and heaved in the moonlight.
Odie took two steps toward her before he realized he’d moved. Once again, he forced himself to step back.
At her waist was the beginning of a long fish tail. The scales started out bright silver, faded to bronze toward the middle, and ended in a mixture of purple and pink. She was the most beautiful anything Odie had ever seen, and it took all his will not to run to the water and embrace her.
“Hello.” She said. “I did not hurt you, did I?” Her voice was a combination of song, wind, rain, and lust.
“I…uh…I…” Odie’s thoughts were somewhere else as he stared at the creature.
“The stone.” She giggled and pointed to the rock on the ground. “I did not mean to hurt you. I was only trying to play. Is that not what you wanted?” she said and pursed her lips.
Odie thought he was familiar with beauty, but this was different. She stirred something in him. “No.” His voice was shaking, and he couldn’t take his eyes off her.
“You didn’t want to play?” She pulled her shiny hair behind one of her ears. They were pointed.
“Yes!” Odie said eagerly. “I mean, no you didn’t hurt me.” He rubbed his head where the stone hit. Gods, Odie thought, it was like looking at Heaven.
“Good. I’m Druadina, but you may call me Drua. What is your name?” she said and pushed her body up to the moons. She slapped her fish tail in the water. Odie tried to look away, but he ogled her even more.
“Odie.” He managed to mumble out.
“Odie. That is a cute name for such a strong young man,” Drua said batting her eyes. “What shall we play?” she licked her full pouting lips.
“What do merpeople like to play?” Odie asked, rubbing his chest to calm his stampeding heart.
“Let us play Questions!” Drua’s tinkling voice rose. “You ask me a question, and if I do not know the answer you get a point. Then I get a turn. The person with the most points after we ask ten questions each wins. Ok?” Odie nodded in agreement.
“What do we win?” Odie asked.
“I am certain I can think of something.” Drua said and winked. “Oops!” she said and covered her mouth. “That’s not an answer. You get a point.”
“You are so beautiful,” he said. His hands were trembling.
Drua giggled again and Odie took a step closer. “That’s not a question, silly. One point for me.” Drua licked her finger and made a mark in the air as if keeping score. “My turn.” She put her finger to her chin. “Have you ever kissed a girl?” she said with a coy smile.
“Of course!” Odie blurted and threw his chest out. “Lots of times.”
Drua raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms but did not cover her breasts. “Mermaids can tell when someone is lying, Odie.”
His face turned red, and he looked at the ground shuffling his feet. “I am only teasing.” She laughed. “But if you did lie, that is a point for me.” He nodded and she marked the air again.
As the game went on Drua shared her story about how she was captured in a fishing net while hunting mackerel, about how much she missed the sea and her family.
“I thought mermaids had legs on the land,” Odie said, but Drua told him that he listened to too many bards. She fascinated Odie with stories of wrestling squids and races with dolphins. She told him about her life, and Odie realized it wasn’t all that different from anyone else’s. Food, safety, security, a family. That’s all anyone, on the land or sea, wanted in the end. Thoughts entered his head that he never expected to have: How could Pa do this to her? Is there a way I could get her back to her home? Would she love me if I helped her?
Hours went on and the moons started to set as dawn approached. Odie was sitting next to her on the ground with his feet in the water brushing against her tail. It was quiet as they watched the sky start to turn colors. She wiggled closer to him.
“You said you kissed a girl before?” Odie gulped and shook his head. She leaned into him, “It is alright to be shy,” Drua said as she pressed her body against his skin, “but, do you want to?”
Odie wet his lips and said with all the confidence he had, “Is that your question for the game?”
“We are not playing anymore,” she said. Odie’s eyes almost rolled back in his head. He decided right then to do whatever she asked. He didn’t care if he was being charmed or bewitched. He was going to follow her commands as best he could. The idea of not listening to her caused him pain, so he banished the thought along with everything else that was not Druadina.
“What did your Pa tell you about me?”
“He said he was going to sell you and make enough money to stop being a farmer. He told me to stay away from you,” Odie said in near rote memorization.
“What else?” she asked tracing her finger around his ear.
“He said you would grant a wish if he could figure out what you wanted.” Odie’s mind tingled at her touch.
Drua squeezed Odie’s ear and gently pulled him to her whispering “Do you know what I want?”
Odie’s skin ignited with goosebumps. He shook his head.
“I have always wanted a boy of thirteen years.” Her smile was as graceful as the approaching dawn.
With lightning speed, her hand clasped around Odie’s wrist. He heard the bones snap before the pain registered. He gulped in a breath of air to scream, but Drua’s other hand shot to his mouth so hard, he felt several of his teeth shatter. He struggled to get away, but the mermaid’s grip was like iron clamps.
She gave him a bigger smile. Her mouth grew unnaturally wide showing rows of needlelike teeth dripping with saliva. Her face morphed into jagged sharp angles, and her eyes turned completely black and lifeless, like glass.
Odie’s cheeks were wet with tears. “Do you ssssstill want that kissssss?” She hissed demonically and dragged him into the pond. There was a sharp and brief thrashing at the water’s edge, and then everything was silent again.
A short time later, Pa walked out of the house and stretched his back. A series of pops accompanied his movements. He surveyed the farm as he did every morning, taking note of how still the water in the pond was. Ma joined him on the porch with a big earthen mug of steaming coffee. He took it, blew on the surface, and sipped. Pa put his arm around Ma’s shoulders, and she hugged him back. They stood together enjoying the dawn. The suns were low on the horizon and the sky was lit up with pastel colors of a new day. Birds were chirping. The scent of jasmine was on the wind.
“Gorgeous morning,” Ma said gripping Pa more tightly. He grunted in agreement. As they both watched the slow activity of the morning build on their dilapidated home, they saw the surface of the pond ripple. A brown skinned, golden-haired, storybook beauty of a mermaid emerged. She looked at the couple on the porch and waved, giving them a thumbs up. She patted her stomach. Pa raised his coffee mug in greeting. She spun once then leapt clearing her entire elegant body from the water and splashed back down.
“Well,” Pa said. “That’s that. One less mouth to feed.”
Ma clutched her husband “What are we going to wish for?”
They smiled and gave each other a little peck on the lips.
“Everything!” Pa said. He took another sip of coffee and tapped his finger to the side of his nose.
Ian Salavon is a professional chef by trade and a lover of speculative fiction in every flavor. When he is not writing, he spends his time at the Fort Worth Judo Club where he is a black belt and coach. His work is mainly featured in long road trips and family bedtime stories.
by Harold Hoss
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai podcast.
Joe Ross Gibson checks his arms for scratch marks and his shirt for any flecks of blood. Satisfied he’s clear, he climbs into his "new" car, adjusts the seat to move it way back, and looks around. No matter how many times he does it, the shift from a backseat passenger to a front-seat driver always feels awkward. There's an adjustment period where the memory of the car's previous driver lingers like a footprint in the mud. It’s not just one thing, but a hundred little things, like the smell, the coins in the cupholder, and the curve of the seat.
Most of these ties to the past are easily severed. It’s easy for Joe Ross to move the seat way back to make room for his long, gangly legs, just like it’s easy for him to dump the coins from the cupholder into his pocket and the candy out the window. But even after Joe Ross rolls down the windows, the mixture of human odor and a cornucopia of fruit scents emanating from the rainbow of Christmas tree-shaped deodorizers lingers.
He grunts and rips the air freshener free, the tiny elastic bands giving way together with one a muted snap. Then he peels the congealed ball of Christmas trees apart one by one, each layer revealing a new smell and a new color underneath.
When he’s finished tossing all the air fresheners out the window, Joe Ross taps his fingers on the steering wheel. He gives the sunset playing out like eye-scorching technicolor on a movie screen through his windshield only a passing glance. Instead, he looks at the flowing grass, watching the way it rolls in the wind. In the fading light, the grass looks like the rolling waves of the ocean. Squinting at it now, he pictures a shark fin poking out of the surface. At first, he sees only the fin, but then through the blades of grass he catches fleeting glimpses of the coral gray skin against the white underbelly, and he knows it’s a Great White. Nature’s perfect predator, pushing through the grass with great sweeps of its tail.
Joe Ross thinks of a photo he once saw. It was of a crowded beach filled with people taken from above, but at an angle. Maybe by a plane, or one of those drone things. Either way, it’s close enough to see that everyone on the beach and out in the water was just existing. Not a single one of them aware that just between a fat man pushing his son on a raft and a pair of bikini-clad teens splashing in the waves, swam the twelve foot shadow of a Great White.
Joe Ross can’t remember the caption beneath the photo, or anything else about the book. He can only remember the stupid expressions on the people’s faces. He’s seen that same expression on a lot of people’s faces. People on the street. People in cars. Rude people in lines. Bored waitresses at diners. He sees that look everywhere he goes – and it makes him mad. It makes him want to hurt them.
Joe Ross feels his hands clenching into fists and he takes a deep breath. He blinks and the ocean outside his windshield is gone, replaced by an empty field. The ocean is gone, but the anger at all those stupid people living their dull, stupid lives remains. He looks around the car, although he isn’t sure what he’s looking for until he notices the decals bordering the car’s windshield like a frame. Decals for every rideshare company in existence, from the original OkTaxi to the newer ones like SafeRide and HomeSafe.
An idea forms in Joe Ross's head. It isn't a new idea. It's a tried-and-true idea, and those are always better. It's an idea that will work better at night, so while Joe Ross waits for the sun to finish setting, he reaches into his jacket pocket for his Moleskine.
Joe Ross doesn't have a calling card. He doesn't have a clever nickname or taunt the police with ciphers and letters. He just has the Moleskine where he keeps score. He pulled the Moleskine off a college kid in Stillwater, so the first few pages are doodles and notes about due dates that have long since passed. But after that are the tallies.
Tally, tally, tally, tally, and then the sweet release of a long line through all four. The first four tallies are just like the others. There’s nothing unique about them. But the fifth? The fifth is always special. He’s only done it twice before, in all the years he’s been doing this, but there’s no feeling like it.
He adds a fourth tally now and almost sighs with regret that he doesn’t have a fifth to add. He’s so close. Just one more and then he can scratch his pen down through the other four.
Joe Ross closes the Moleskine book and starts to put it away, then stops. He opens the book again. He’s so close to that fifth tally. So close he can taste it. Almost feel it, like a charge of static electricity running up his arms and down his spine. He knows he shouldn’t. This too he learned from sharks. One shark attack is an isolated incident. Any more than that and suddenly it’s open season on sharks.
Still, Joe Ross wants that fifth tally. He wants it bad.
Closing the book, he tries to push the thought from his mind. It’s dumb. Not only that, it’s risky – but he can’t stop thinking about it. It would feel so good. He reaches into his other pocket for a can of Red Man Wintergreen. Even after all these years, he can't pack a can. He can't flick his wrist like that. He has to be patient, kneading the tobacco between his thumb and forefinger, working it until he has a small, packed clump big enough to jam in his lower lip. Joe Ross may not be able to pack a can, but he isn’t a spitter. He doesn’t need a cup. He was raised to be tougher than that. Swallowing the spit is way more impressive than just being able to flick his wrist and pack a can. Everyone knows that.
Joe Ross sits and waits, still thinking about that fifth tally and watching the sun sink down beyond the horizon. The Oklahoma skyline is completely flat, without even the hint of a mountain or hill for the sun to hide behind, so the sun gets to take its time. Joe Ross sucks the bulge in his lip, watching as the sky changes from pink and red, to pink and purple, then from purple to blue, and finally from blue to black.
When the stars begin to poke through the big black blanket of the night sky, Joe Ross turns the key in the ignition and pulls onto a bumpy dirt country road. With the headlights off, he feels even more like a shark. A Great White swimming silently through dark ocean waters, relying not on its eyes but its senses, feeling the road beneath his wheels the way a shark feels even the tiniest change in current. A higher power guides him. A higher power that has chosen him. That has a plan for him. The thought makes him smile until the road gives way to something else and the car begins twitching and shaking like a drunk, sending him scrambling for the headlights as he slams on the brakes.
Outside, bathed in the glow of the car’s headlights, sits an old stone well next to a rusty playground. They remind Joe Ross of sunken ships he’s seen pictures of, only instead of seaweed and barnacles, they’re caked in dirt and dotted with spots where the paint has chipped away to reveal the color underneath. Staring at them now, Joe Ross’s mind immediately fractures, one part cursing himself for being so reckless, while another half runs through, in detail, what could have happened if he hit the brick wall of the well. But another part, a stronger part, tells him that there’s no guarantee of a tomorrow. No guarantee he will ever get that fifth tally if he doesn’t act now. The strain of all these fractures leaves him paralyzed, fluttering from side to side like a flag caught in the wind.
He isn’t sure what happens next. One second he’s staring through the windshield at the stone well and the rusty playground, the next he’s driving north on I-35, passing signs for Riverwind Casino that promise whisky, women, and gold for those bold enough to take a chance.
This happens sometimes. It’s like his brain has to reboot sometimes, and while it reboots, he takes a backseat and the rest of the system goes into autopilot mode. He never does much when he’s in autopilot mode. At least, doesn’t think he ever does anything more complicated than driving or walking.
Up ahead, Joe Ross sees a sign that says “University of Oklahoma, exit Lindsey street” and he pulls off at the next exit.
Joe Ross has been to Norman before, although he likes Stillwater better. Stillwater is where the country kids go, while Norman is full of kids from the City, or worse, Texas. Norman is a city split into two halves by the highway. On the eastern half are the suburbs where the locals live, and on the western half is the college. Neon signs advertising fast food and promises to buy and sell textbooks line both sides of the street, while crimson and cream flags screaming “Boomer” and “Sooner” fill the air.
It all makes him sick. He longs for Stillwater, where the colors are orange and black, occasionally adorned with the glowering face of Pistol Pete. Joe Ross would stay in Stillwater if he could, but he knows he can’t. He thinks again about sharks. Joe Ross thinks a lot about sharks. He understands sharks much better than he ever understood humans. He understands the way they need to keep swimming or die, the way people fear them, and how they have to migrate from hunting ground to hunting ground.
The neon signs of the restaurants slowly drop off, giving way to the first layer of student housing. Joe Ross knows the University of Oklahoma is like an onion with the Greek houses and the university itself kept pristine and protected near the center, while the lower-income students, like the flaky tunic of an onion, form an uneven and unappreciated barrier around the outside.
Joe Ross passes Berry street and turns off down a side road. He passes a group of girls in heels, strung out in a wobbly line, and multiple pockets of students gathered on porches drinking.
Nearing the outskirts of the Greek houses, Joe Ross slows. Trolling for drunk students with his rideshare decals as bait. It doesn't take long for him to get a nibble. His headlights flash across a girl dressed in a short, black skirt that matches her jet-black hair, and what looks like a red bandana tied around her chest. She sways like a palm tree caught in a windstorm, squinting at him as he slows to a stop and rolls down his window.
Joe Ross lets her speak first.
“Samantha?” The word comes out slurred and she grips the windowsill to steady herself.
Joe Ross says it back to her, “Samantha?”
Samantha stares at him. Her green eyes are so glazed over they could be encased in ice, but she doesn't move toward the backseat.
“Your car is different,” Samantha says. She leans away from the car. “It’s supposed to be a red Prius.”
Joe Ross smiles. He wants to tell her to just get in the fucking car, but he doesn’t. He knows better than to scare away the fish by reeling in at the first nibble. He knows how to take it slow.
“Yeah, I got a new car. I need to update the app,” Joe Ross says.
He looks at Samantha. She's still clinging to his windowsill, still swaying back and forth. She squints at him like she's trying to read something far away.
Joe Ross waits another minute, then he repeats her name. “You’re Samantha?”
“I’m Samantha,” she agrees.
He considers asking if she’s going to the dorms, but decides it’s too risky. She could be going to one of the sorority houses or, even one of the apartment complexes on the opposite side of campus.
“You still need a ride?” Joe Ross says.
Samantha nods, but instead of getting in she says: “and your license plate is different.”
“Yeah, like I said, I got a new car.” Joe Ross lets himself sound a little annoyed. It isn’t an act. He is annoyed. He’s been parked here too long and like a shark, he can’t sit still. He has to keep swimming. If he stops, he knows he’ll die.
“Hey listen, Samantha, if you’re not getting in, will you at least cancel so I can grab another ride? I can’t do it on my end, you know?” Joe Ross has no idea if he can cancel on his end, or if each app is different, but it sounds good.
Just like the last time he used this line, he sees a sudden shift in the listener. Samantha’s eyes widen and Joe Ross knows he’s won. He’s forced the issue. He’s told her doesn’t care what she does, but she has to do something. She has to make a choice. He can see her weighing her options. If she takes the car she can be home in five minutes and in bed in ten. Nothing in Norman is more than five minutes away in a car. She pushes away, tottering on her high heels, then takes a step towards the back seat.
Joe Ross feels a pressure begin to release. It’s a pressure he didn’t even know was building, just behind his eyes. A pressure he can feel finally dissolving as she takes another step towards the backseat.
She’s reaching out a hand to grip the back door when Samantha stops. Her eyes bulge and, instead of gripping the door handle, her hand flies to her mouth.
"Shit," Samantha says. She stumbles back, careening off one parked car and then turning and stumbling towards a trash can in the front yard.
Joe Ross hears the sounds of Samantha’s stomach emptying itself, followed by a series of whoops and cheers from students nearby.
Joe Ross doesn’t wait for Samantha to come back. He peels down the road, a little too fast because the tires screech, and then he pulls, hand over fist, on the wheel to shoot down another side street. Joe Ross tries to get his breathing under control. Before, he was just a random car picking up a random student. Nobody, especially not a bunch of drunk college students, would ever remember that. People would remember a girl puking in the bushes. They would remember the car she got into. They might even try to help her into it.
The corners of Joe Ross's vision start to fray, glittering like silver fireworks before turning to darkness. The darkness starts at the corners of his eyes but quickly spreads, encircling his vision before tightening like a noose so that soon all Joe Ross can see is a tiny pinprick of light, like he's looking through a long tube. And then that flickers out like a candle.
When Joe Ross comes to, he’s back on I-35, still heading south. His hands ache from his vice grip on the steering wheel, and he has to strain to unclench his jaw, but he’s still moving. And a shark that is still moving is a shark that’s still alive.
Again his mind threatens to fracture, but the voices telling him it’s too dangerous to try again are drowned out by a deep yearning in his chest. An aching need to scratch that fifth tally out on the paper.
Shaken, and feeling a little weak, he pulls off at Harrison Avenue and follows the fork towards downtown. He lets the car cruise down 10th street, imagining it’s the tail of a Great White pushing him past the rows of empty garages, over a set of train tracks, and towards the twinkling lights of the downtown bars.
He sees a young woman with a hoodie thrown over a skirt fumbling with a lighter at the corner, stumbling back and forth like a drunk sailor trying to ride out the waves beneath her feet. When the young woman finds steady waters, she plants her feet, focuses on the lighter in her hand and gives it a firm click. A single flame flicks up before her face and, after one practice shot, succeeds in getting the tip of the cigarette lit.
She’s taking her first drag when Joe Ross pulls to a stop nearby and rolls down his window. The young woman looks at him blankly. She has the same glazed over, eyes frozen in ice look as the last girl, but the ice is thicker here. Any spark of intelligence is buried deeper.
“Did I call a fucking rideshare?” The young woman says, laughing to herself.
Joe Ross mimics it back to her. “Did you call a car?”
The young woman takes a few steps back, like she’s revving up, then stumbles head first onto his car with a loud thump, before sliding slowly down to look in his window. “I’m sorry. Are you here for Bobbi?”
Bobbi takes a drag of her cigarette and exhales. She tries to wave the smoke away, but succeeds only in pushing most if it inside the cabin of the car.
“Are you Bobbi?” Joe Ross says.
“Holy shit,” Bobbi says. Her laugh sounds like a revving lawnmower that’s broken by hiccups before the engine can catch. “I ordered a fucking car.”
The image of the shark’s shadow, bending quietly between the swimmers on the beach, flashes through Joe Ross’s mind. He imagines the girls splashing in the waves. Imagines their looks of terror when the shark’s head turns, its mouth opening wide to reveal row after row of sharp teeth.
Another voice, still feminine, cuts through the air. “Bobbi! Bobbi, what are you doing?”
Alarmed, Joe Ross looks up as another woman, dark-skinned with great, golden hoop earrings, comes around the corner.
“Bobbi, what the fuck?” The woman says.
“Angie,” Bobbi says. “I ordered a rideshare.”
“Bobbi, no you didn’t, I have your phone,” Angie says.
She’s a few steps away from the car now. Her heels clatter along the pavement like she’s skipping stones across a gravel path. Joe Ross can see her hand, with the long, painted red nails raising a cell phone. He sees her matching red lipstick. He sees her lips moving as she says: “Bobbi, get away from the car.”
“What?” Bobbi says, leaning up unsteadily.
The panic, the animal instinct to flee, hits Joe Ross like a tidal wave. He doesn’t question it. He doesn’t take the time to think. He slams on the gas and pulls out into traffic, narrowly swerving as a pair of headlights, followed by the boom of a car horn, shoot past him in the opposite direction.
He chances a glance up in his rearview mirror and sees a purple sedan parked across the intersection light up, transforming in a flash of blue and red lights into a cop car as the shrill call of a siren fills the air.
Joe Ross tells himself to keep moving, as he tries to keep one eye on the road ahead and one eye on the rearview mirror, but it’s too late. His breathing is coming faster now, ragged in and ragged out, each gasp deeper than the last, but somehow his lungs remain empty. He feels a sharp prick at the corners of his eyes, then he feels hot tears begin to stream down his face.
He isn’t a Great White he realizes. He never was – and if you’re not a shark, then your prey. He’s always been afraid he was just like the others. Just like all those stupid people on the beach, living their stupid, pointless lives – and now he knows it’s true. He’s nothing. He’s small. He’s worthless.
He feels the edges of his vision beginning to fray again, the darkness closing in from all sides. Tightening his grip on the steering wheel, he tries to push the darkness away, to keep his eyes open just a little longer. As his vision shrinks to a pinpoint, he glances one last time up at the rearview mirror. Sure he’ll see the cop car racing after him, but instead he sees it stopped at the end of the block. The cop is out of his car and the girls are shouting at him and flipping him off.
Then his vision goes completely black.
Joe Ross wakes up to a light tapping at his window. It’s soft, almost like the rustling of leaves on an empty street. He blinks and looks around. He’s parked on the side of the street near a coin-operated parking meter that blink “no service.” The closest streetlight is out, and the only light comes from a circular, neon blue sign that reads “Nic’s Place” around a giant “N.” The neon blue from the sign bathes the street in a pale blue light, which through his windshield makes the street look like its submerged beneath the ocean.
He hears the light tapping again and turning; he sees a woman – a girl, really – standing just outside his passenger window. She’s wearing all black. Black pants. Black shirt. Black jacket. Even a ring of black ribbon, as thick as a belt, around her neck, visible between the parted curtain of long black hair that falls down her shoulders.
Joe Ross feels a smile pulling at the corner of his lips, and he wonders, in an instant, what happened to his dip. If he swallowed it or, during his blackout, he managed to claw it out of his mouth. The thought vanishes as quickly as it comes when he rolls down the window and the girl leans closer, her head just outside the window. She has the darkest eyes Joe Ross has ever seen. Pitch black, as if her pupils have somehow swallowed up the rest of her irises.
“You’re Carmilla?” Joe Ross says and then he frowns, unsure how he would know her name.
“And you’re my ride,” the girl, Carmilla, says, smiling. When she smiles, Joe Ross notices a pair of faint, pink lines stretching from the corner of her lips, like the faint tracing of a smile over her face.
Staring into her eyes, Joe Ross realizes it doesn’t matter how he knows her name, only that he knows it. That after a long night of nothing but disappointment after disappointment, he’s finally hooked one.
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” Carmilla says, her eyes crinkling at the side in a way that makes him wonder if she’s an Asian. He knows just by looking at her that there’s something different about her. She isn’t from around here, his old man might have said.
Joe Ross takes a breath, the Great White inside his chest stirring to life. He glances at the electronic clock on his dashboard. It reads: 2:15 am. Closing time for the bars. Feeding time for sharks.
“Oh yeah, of course,” Joe Ross says, reaching to the side and unlocking the door.
There’s a soft click in the silence of the night. The car’s shrugging reminder that the doors are already unlocked. Have always been unlocked.
Standing outside, Carmilla cocks her to one side, still smiling. She clasps her hands just below the waist in a way that’s almost childlike.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Joe Ross says. “Come on in.”
Hearing this, Carmilla’s smile widens. She reaches for the door and slips into the back seat. The action is so fast Joe Ross seems to blink and one second she’s standing on the curb and the next she’s nestled into the back seat, stretching her arms and yawning.
“You know where to go, right Joe Ross?”
Joe Ross starts to look at the rearview mirror, but something stops him. Some part of his mind, somewhere deep inside his brain, tells him that looking in the mirror is wrong. His face flushes with shame and embarrassment for even considering it, and instead he turns in his seat to look back at Carmilla.
Carmilla’s eyes are closed. She’s resting her head against the seat, with her knees tucked up underneath her chest. She’s breathing softly, close to sleep, so Joe Ross lets his eyes linger on her body. He can’t help but look at her. Not with disgust, in the way that he looks at his usual tallies, but something different. She reminds him of a porcelain doll, with her smooth, pale white skin, and he wants to leap into the back seat and pull her close to his chest, but he knows he can’t.
Where can he take her that no one will see? Where can they be completely alone? The question forms in his mind, starting small but expanding like a balloon to press against the confines of his skull.
Joe Ross turns back around, shifts into drive and pulls away from the curb. He doesn’t know exactly where he’s going, but he knows better than to question this feeling. This feeling of something pulling him forward. He knows his higher power has its hook firmly in his mouth and its reeling him in, all Joe Ross needs to do is give in and to not fight it. He drifts north up Robinson, letting the current carry him past a red brick church on his left and gray stone church on his right, before he turns right down a side street and heads for the highway as the answer to his question and his final destination slowly comes into focus. He sees in his mind’s eye the field from earlier, remembering the well and the rusted playground. He feels them pulling him in their direction as he takes the long, circular ramp past a hospital to merge onto the highway.
Joe Ross isn’t surprised to know where he’s going. His status as an apex predator isn’t the only thing he shares with sharks. Sharks navigate the ocean by reading the Earth’s magnetic field, using it like a built in GPS. Joe Ross has always had an excellent sense of direction, especially when he’s guided by his higher power.
The ride passes in silence. He stays in the middle lane, adjusting his speed between one and three miles over the speed limit to emphasize to any cops lurking in the shadows that he has nothing to hide. Outside his windows, the world is a silky black blur, broken only a handful of times by the headlights of a car speeding by on the left.
Although he never blacks out, Joe Ross seems to move from the smooth pavement of the highway to the bumpy country road in the blink of an eye. Again, he lets the car idle through the field without the aid of headlights, pushing through fold after fold of darkness until he slows to a stop. Fumbling to the left of the steering wheel, he flips on his high beams and grins. There before him, just as they were before, sit the old well and the rusty playset.
“You found it,” Carmilla says from the backseat.
“Of course I did,” Joe Ross says, staring through the windshield. He lets the car idle an inch or two forward before he presses down on the breaks, shifts into park and then, for a reason he doesn’t understand, he glances in the rearview mirror.
It takes Joe Ross an instant to process what he sees in the mirror. An empty backseat. The same empty back seat he’s been staring at all day. Joe Ross panics, his brain on red alert. He spins around in his seat just as a cold, tiny hand wraps around his neck. He sees Carmilla, smiling, leaning forward up over the seat, her head cocked to one side.
Joe Ross knows how to fight. He learned how to throw and take a punch from his daddy. He balls his left fist up and launches it forward with enough impact to take Carmilla’s head off, but she merely flicks it aside, and it takes him a moment to register that the sharp snapping sound he just heard was the sound of his arm breaking.
A soft, high-pitched giggle escapes Carmilla’s lips, before the tiny, pink scars he noticed before separate, her mouth opening wide to reveal row after row of sharp pointy teeth. Joe Ross realizes, suddenly, that he’s staring into the toothy maw of a Great White Shark.
He opens his mouth. Maybe to scream. Maybe to ask who she is. What she is. But the only sound that escapes his lips is a choked gurgle as he feels her teeth sink into his neck. He tries again to push her away, balling his right hand up and swinging it down against her shoulder. This time she doesn’t even bother to bat it away, instead she makes a gurgling sound of her own and Joe Ross feels her lips quiver, then pulse against his neck He tries again to push her away, but again the blow seems to bounce harmlessly off her shoulder.
Joe Ross knows then that he’s losing strength. He will only have one more chance to save himself. To push this human leach away from his neck. He gathers all of his strength into his right hand, focusing all of his energy and power into one final blow, and then swings.
He blinks, realizing his arm hasn’t moved. That his arm, like every other part of his body, is hanging uselessly to the side. He feels again his vision shrinking to a pinpoint as Carmilla pushes forward into him, sucking greedily at his neck. She’s suddenly heavy, far heavier than he could have imagined, and as his body crumples beneath her weight. Sinking down into the seat, he catches one final glimpse of his reflection in the rearview mirror through his pinhole of vision. There’s no sign of Carmilla, although he can feel her body draped across his. Instead, all he can see is his neck, torn wide open and quivering like a sea anemone in the current. And on his face a look of dumb surprise. The stupid expression of a beachgoer who turns around and finds a shark swimming just beneath the surface.
Harold Hoss is a film producer best known for "The Unheard" and "Creep Box." When he isn't reading, writing, or watching horror movies he enjoys hiking with his dog Margot. His work has won several screenwriting contests and his short story INGENIUM was optioned by award-winning director Patrick Biesmans.
Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.