Tomorrow is Halloween.
To prepare for the occasion, I perused some of my old spooky tales, and now I’m posting two stories for your reading pleasure. “Secrets” is a quickie about someone with secrets sitting with a fortune teller. It began in the 1980s and grew only so far and stopped, so I left it there. “Haunted” is a tale from the 1990s and a dream. It still gives me goosebumps when I read it every Halloween.
The old woman hovers near the kitchen’s woodstove and drags a calloused hand across her crinkled forehead as if wiping away smoke and sweat. She pauses, looking; her eyes flash at me and strike my soul.
I sense her in my mind, searching through my past and the secrets there.
Where have I gone, if anywhere, on the avenues in my life?
Her gaze leaves mine, floats to the stove and the glow of hot ash beyond its open door. Her hand rockets into the ash, then rockets back with an ember seized between finger and thumb and etches a jagged pattern in the air.
Her voice cracks. “You. Look.”
She drops the ember. It falls like a small red star to the black oak table and knocks fear in the depths of my heart.
She enters my mind again, sailing over the city streets of my smoky past, wafting a sweet perfume that led me to intelligent light that once meant something.
A violent motion—a palm strikes the black table. Her twisted fingers stab at, then snatch a pile of bones lying white: old knuckles, toes, vertebrae—some with fur and flesh intact. She holds the bones in her palm, close to her dark eyes that spark with a million stars on cloudless nights.
I squirm in my chair, on edge by my nerves trembling like electricity coursing through bare wires spilling heat.
“Suojata,” she barks; a wave of gnarled arm and the bones fly like shooting daggers at my heart.
I clutch my breast while her cavernous mouth cracks a laugh before the telling of secrets begins.
* * *
How could such a beautiful house be haunted? To know the place, it looked no different from any other Victorian country house in Ridgewood.
Reverend Gloria Jackson walked the estate’s sunny grounds that October evening and sensed the leftover energy of a time when wealthy Victorians spent an incredible amount of time socializing inside their homes. In Victorian America, nothing displayed your status like your house, and the house of a successful Victorian family was more than merely a home; it was a statement of their taste, wealth, and education. This house was one of them, preserved to remain impressive through time by superb artisanship and great care. Sprawling over half an acre, with its neatly manicured lawn and shrubbery, it seemed at first glance the most unlikely of places to house demonic spirits.
“Fiona was calling forth the dead,” Melissa Bay told Gloria after dinner later that Friday night. Melissa, a strong-backed woman, sat across from Gloria at the long table. Husband Richard sat to Melissa’s right inside the spacious dining room.
“That’s an alarming statement,” Gloria said.
“It’s true.” Richard hung his head and sounded ashamed. “She wrote all about her occult doings in her diary.”
Melissa said, “As you know, Reverend Jackson, when her husband Charles died this past summer, Fiona withdrew. But she seemed happiest inside her library, so we left her alone to paint and read there. It was the library she withdrew to after the funeral. She barely ever left that room.
“Then I discovered this morning that she had locked herself inside. She refused to let me in. She sounded agitated … upset, so I called Richard.”
“I had to kick in the door,” Richard said. “And that’s when, crazy as it sounds, she wasn’t there. But all the windows were closed and locked from the inside.
“Even crazier was when we found a Ouija board and tarot cards inside, as well as her diary. Her last entries tell of how she was trying to conjure up my father’s spirit.” Sadness and confusion twisted his features into a horrible grimace. “What’s happened?” he asked. “What has she done?” He shook his head and groaned before Gloria could answer. “Until today, I never believed in the paranormal, the metaphysical.” His gaze focused on Gloria’s face. His eyes were wide with fear. “Tell me what happened to my mother. Please.”
Gloria’s wine glass flew from the table and shattered against the stone fireplace across the room. The Bible she had brought with her—which she had placed on the white tablecloth in front of her—followed her glass.
“Mother,” Richard cried out. He jumped to his feet. “Is that you?”
The air turned frigid and burned against Gloria’s cheeks. A winter-blooming nipped at the tips of her ears and nose.
Richard yelled at the room. “Where are you? Show yourself. Please.”
Large and heavy books thumped to the floor inside the library across the hall from the dining room. Then the chill left and all quieted.
Richard snatched the wine bottle and gulped heartily from it—glasses and etiquette be damned, Gloria reckoned, considering the circumstances. He went to the library door where either he or Melissa had nailed a cross to the damaged door as Gloria had instructed earlier during their phone conversation. Then he cursed all that is holy and said, “Exorcise the place, reverend. Whatever my mother has done, fix it. Please.”
Gloria retrieved her Bible and joined him at the large oak door. It had taken great force to open it. She fingered the splintered wood and said, “Tell me about the voices.”
“Whispers,” Melissa said as she joined them. “Vague chattering whispers.”
“And laughing,” Richard added. “A woman’s laugh, but not my mother’s.”
Gloria removed the cross from the door and stepped inside the library. A chandelier lit the room and seemed to turn the oak bookshelves and furniture to gold. She helped Richard and Melissa replace the toppled books, many of them art history texts and artists biographies. Outside the room’s tall, rectangular windows, the night had become pitch black. A clock inside the dining room chimed seven o’clock.
A painter’s large easel stood near a window. The canvas on it showed an unfinished portrait and the deft strokes of a seasoned artist. Fiona Bay had sketched her subject with lines of umber and sienna, whisked in golden hues next to gentle blues and pink, and had started forming the glow of flesh with buttery mounds of gold, ruby and sapphire paint of a woman’s face. Her eyes sparkled emerald green and sky blue, and her long hair flowed down a plump body of shapely beauty dressed in multicolored satin and silk linens.
“Absolutely beautiful,” Gloria said of the painting and the subject. “She looks familiar. Who is she?”
“I don’t know,” Richard said. “No one has been to the house to sit. My mother likes her time alone when she paints, even before father died.”
Gloria looked back at the painting. The cheeks and mouth were refined, as though someone had added paint to the portrait while she had looked away.
Upon closer inspection, there was no mistaking it: The painting was painting itself.
Gloria stepped back and raised her Bible over her head. “Show yourself,” she called out. “I command you with the power of all that is holy.”
Melissa screamed as Fiona appeared in front of the easel. She painted, concentrating on her work, while behind her, the portrait’s model grinned at Gloria.
“Keeley.” The color fell from Gloria’s face.
“Who is she?” Richard asked.
Gloria’s throat tightened. “Someone I thought I’d never see again.” She thrust the cross and her Bible at arms’ length. She had to save Fiona, no matter the consequences. “Set her loose, demon. Set her loose and leave this house. Never set foot in it again.”
Keeley laughed. Tittered, actually. “The lost lamb is a ministrant. Oh, my long-ago lover, what have I done to you?” She took a step forward and her multicolored chiffon robe flowed with her.
Gloria told her to stay back, but she advanced slowly, her gaze fixed on Gloria.
Melissa grasped Gloria’s left arm. “Reverend, what’s happening? Who is that woman?”
Gloria pulled from her. “Go. You and Richard get Fiona out of here while I distract the demon. Then lock the door and bar it with another crucifix.”
Richard ran to his mother. Melissa followed, looking back once before helping him pull Fiona from the easel. Keeley rushed at Gloria and batted the Bible from her hand. Then she pulled her into an embrace that was strong, yet soft and warm. Evil was not always rough and cold.
“I knew I’d find you again,” Keeley said. Her fervent kiss fell upon Gloria’s lips. Her spicy smell and taste were more delicious than Gloria remembered. Her long, soft hair—now a gorgeous mélange of burnt sienna, gold, and black—brushed Gloria’s face. It kindled a flame she thought she’d doused more than twenty years ago when she and Keeley were theology students.
The flame spread through her. She pressed the cross against Keeley’s back but the demon’s mouth writhed wickedly against hers. Her knees weakened and she almost fell but Keeley’s hold was strong. She managed a glance at the door as Richard and Melissa pulled Fiona from the room. The door slammed shut and she sighed: Fiona was safe on the other side.
The kiss ended and Keeley took the cross from her hand and dropped it to the floor. “We won’t need this where we’re going,” Keeley said. Her teeth penetrated Gloria’s neck.
Gloria’s concerns fell away as she plunged into a familiar darkness that she found both sinful and heavenly.
# # #
That’s all for now.
This post “Two Short Stories 004- and 005-2022-1030” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.
3 thoughts on “Two Short Stories 004- and 005-2022-1030”
I like the Haunted one Steve….painting of the picture by itself was eerie,
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That one was a fun story to write, Max. I have to admit that I was stuck for an ending until I got together with friends and we discussed different fears of people. Thanks for reading, liking, and commenting.
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My pleasure Steve
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