Category Archives: horror

Short Story Time Again!

Gather ’round. This little horror story puts a different twist on “roadside shrines”.

The Lore

ROADSIDE SHRINES

Roadside shrines can be seen on almost any major highway in the world. In the United States, they are common throughout the Southwest, especially on Highway 86 between Tucson and Why, Arizona. This two lane road cuts through the lands of Tohono O’odham nation.

Shrines on the reservation serve multiple purposes. Many are placed as memorials to loved ones who died while walking or driving at a specific location. Others are to honor a vow or prayer. And still more offer tribute to the Virgin Mary. The shrines for highway deaths are also referred to as “descansos”.

On some unpaved roads through the reservation, you might see an elaborate grotto or altar built into a mountainside. These are usually family or special group shrines that feature statues of the Holy Mother or a saint. Often, during a religious feast or celebration, a ramada is set up nearby to serve food to attendees.

Not all shrines look alike. Some are simple white crosses etched with a name and date. Others are elaborate stone or brick grottos filled with religious figurines, candles and offerings. They might be located a few feet from the highway shoulder, or elevated high on a hillside. It’s not uncommon to see shrines and grottos in residential yards.

The unwritten etiquette for viewing shrines is If the front  faces toward the road, visitors are allowed to pay their respect. If it faces away from the road, especially on private property, it is intended for that family’s personal use and not mean for public visitations.

The Story

ROAD KILL

by Debra S. Sanders

I’m a thief. Big deal.

I never stole from the poor – just from those who have more than they need. There’s a point where these rich bastards got so much money, they stop counting. Then when they die, their families put on a show with a big funeral, dressing up the dead with things they can’t use when they’re six feet under.

My mama used to say “waste not, want not” so I decided to help myself to a few trinkets just so they don’t go to waste. I guess that makes me a grave robber. At least, I was until Shorty Long spilled his guts to the feds about a gold necklace I showed him.

Some partner he turned out to be. Now I’m on the lam and I got nobody to fence my goods.

So I was thinkin’ . . . if I gotta lay low anyway, I might as well be someplace warm. Who wants to huddle around a fire with a bunch of homeless guys on the banks of the Mississippi? Everyone thinks Memphis is great until they spend a winter here. The wind blowing off the river is cold enough to freeze a gargoyle’s ass.

It took three days of hitchhiking but I finally made it to southern Arizona. It ain’t exactly the tropical paradise I imagined but at least it’s warmer than Memphis. I left Tucson yesterday. Figured I’d put my thumb out on the two lane highway that heads west through the Indian reservation . . . Tohono oooooodham, or however the hell you say it.  The back roads are safer but man, there ain’t nothin’ out here except cactus, coyotes and border patrol.

Nobody’s offered me a ride, not even the tourists driving their big motorhomes. Damn Feds got people scared to death. They think every hitchhiker is a freakin’ illegal from Mexico. Well, take a look, assholes . . . I got blonde hair and blue eyes.

I may be a thief but at least I’m legal . . . hahahaha!

Last night I slept in a wash under an Ironwood tree. Kept a small fire goin’ to chase away the chill. I had no idea the desert could get so cold at night. I’m so hungry, my ribs are beginning to rub against my backbone. I ain’t had nothin’ to eat since yesterday when I snatched a loaf of bread out of some chick’s cart in a Walmart parking lot. My mouth tastes like I swallowed a handful of dust. If I don’t get some money soon, I could die out here.

Geez, it’s hot. I need some water. Hey, ask and you shall receive! What’s this up ahead? A pump house?

Hang on, nope it’s a . . . shrine? You gotta be kiddin’ me.  Look at this cross and religious shit. And . . . oh, my. Ain’t this sweet? Somebody put a silver bracelet next to these flowers.

I bet I can pawn it for a few bucks. Dumbasses. Who would leave a perfectly good bracelet like that out in the open? Whoa, check out this photo. Cute chick. Isabelle Sa . . . . whatever. Some kind of Indian name, I guess.

I reckon your family musta built this little memorial thingy after you died. I heard about people doin’ stuff like that. You don’t mind sharin’ the wealth, do you, darlin’? It’s not like you can use it on the other side. Let me take a look at this picture again. Damn, baby, you ain’t bad lookin’, at all. If’n you was alive, I might just show ya a good time.

Oops, there’s a car comin’. Gotta scoot. See ya. Wouldn’t wanna be ya. Hahahaha…..

Phew, that was a close call. I barely had enough time to hide behind those bushes before the driver saw me. No matter, I scored good on that shrine. Candles to keep me warm. A silver bracelet to pawn. And a photo of a pretty girl to look at when I jack off. Not bad.

*****

Okay, this is gettin’ old. I’ve been walking for over an hour. Found two more of those little shrines. Didn’t get nothin’ from the first one. Pissed me off, too, cuz I had to climb over a bunch of damn rocks to reach it. But I got a jar of coins at the last one – came to just over five bucks and some change. I figure that will buy me a burger and beer.

Man, this sun is brutal. I’m roastin’ like a chicken on a spit. I had to tear off the tail of my shirt to use as a head band. Damn sweat kept drippin’ in my eyes. At least I got this bottle of water somebody tossed out. It was half full. God, I hope nobody slobbered in the damn thing. <sniff, sniff> Smells okay. Tastes okay. Alrighty, then, guess I can keep goin’.

What the hell? Another frickin’ shrine? Ain’t these Indians got nothin’ better to do than build shit for dead people? I hope to God there’s somethin’ good inside. I mean, hell, I’m usin’ my time and energy to check these damn things so somebody better make it worth my while. The jerk who died was probably a drunk, anyway. There’s broken whiskey and beer bottles everywhere you look. I guess when these folks aren’t building shrines, they’re drinking. Can’t say I blame them. This place has gotta be the ass crack of the nation.

Okay, what have we got? Flowers. Check. They all got plastic flowers. Ain’t worth nothin’. Crucifix. Don’t need no religion today, thank you very much. Some kind of bird feathers. Yuck. Hmmm . . . and this. A little box. Jewelry box?

Well, hell yeah! Looks like a silver charm. Maybe I can put it on the bracelet and sell ‘em together. At this rate, I’m gonna be a millionaire before I reach the other side of the reservation. Hahahaha…..

I gotta eat somethin’ soon. All this shrine robbin’ worked up a fierce appetite. I ain’t passed a town or nothin’. Wait a sec . . . is that a light? I think there’s a house way back there. Maybe I can talk ‘em into giving me some food. I bet they get lost travelers all the time.

“Hey, old man!” Dang, he looks like he’s been knockin’ on death’s door for about ten years. <snicker> I crack me up some times. “Hey, mister. Can you spare something to eat?” Well talk, you old fart. Don’t just stand there and stare. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I’ve been walking for most of the day. I’m hot, hungry and thirsty. Think you could help out a stranger in need?”

Aw, hell. This guy ain’t got no teeth and his face looks like boot leather. He’s one ugly SOB. “I don’t have any money but what if I give you this bracelet? It’s gotta be worth a sandwich and soda.”

That’s right. Take it. Okay, you can stare at it as much as you want . . . after you get me somethin’ to eat. Wait . . . come back here. “Hey, don’t take that unless you aim to give me some food!”

Oh, good, he’s coming back. What the hell is he carrying? It don’t look like food. And it smells like . . . somethin’ dead. Stupid old fart is putting his hand in there. FUCK!!!

“Whaddya blow that crap on me? It’s in my eyes . . . and nose. What the hell is this? Dust? Ash? You son of a bitch!”

I can’t see. My eyes are burning like crazy. Where is the old cuss? If I get my hands on you . . .

“Hey . . . dude . . . get up. I didn’t mean to punch you so hard. Dude. Old man . . . get up . . .”

Aw, hell. That’s blood. He must have hit his head on a rock when he fell. Okay . . . okay. Breathe. Go inside. Grab some food and water and get out of here before someone shows up.

*****

It’s not as cold tonight. Or maybe I’m not feelin’ it ‘cause I got a full belly. The old man had some decent food, I’ll give him that. I don’t even feel bad about him dyin’. He was ancient. If it’d been me, I’d rather go quick like that than linger around fighting off cancer or some old people’s disease. Guess that makes me the angel of death. <snicker>

Ahhhh, now this is a good. I got a warm fire, a thick blanket and a sack of grub. Look at them stars. Damn! You never see stars like that in Memphis.

Huh? What’s that? “Somebody out there?”

Somethin’ moved by that cactus. There it is again. Friggin’ illegals are tryin’ to steal my food. I ain’t got no gun. Nothin’ to defend myself. Geezus!

“Okay, amigos . . . you can have my food. I’m just gonna back away. No harm. No foul.”

What the hell is that? “W . . . who are you?”

Fuckin’ shadows are moving. Everything is moving. How many of these fuckers are there? Huh? It can’t be . . . my eyes are playin’ tricks. But it sure as hell looks like . . . “Isabelle?” Who’s that behind her?

Go, go, go. Need to get out of here – shit’s goin’ down.  What the hell? “Hey . . . old man . . . I thought you was dead. I thought . . .”

Oh . . . God . . . that hurts. Feels like someone ripped open my chest. What the hell is he laughing about? “This ain’t funny, assholes!” I can’t move. Can’t breathe. They’re circling me. All I can see are their painted Day of the Dead faces, laughing . . . at my heart in the old man’s hand.

Aw, fuck . . .

*****

Three weeks later.

“Look, Daddy. There’s another shrine. That’s the sixth one we’ve passed since we left Tucson. Can we stop?”

“Okay, kiddo, but just this once or we’ll never reach Organ Pipe National Monument.”

The little girl bolted from the car as soon as her father stopped and ran to the arched shrine. Her eyes widened with awe.  “Why do they build these, Daddy?”

“I think it marks the place where someone died. But other people can visit and light candles, or pray for their souls. Would you like to do that, honey?”

“Yes, please.” The little girl put her hands together and bowed her head. After a few seconds, she swiveled to meet her father’s bemused expression. “The man who died here said I could have the silver bracelet and coins. Is it okay, Daddy?”

“No, you must never take anything from the shrines. The mementos were left for those who passed on. They contain a little piece of their soul. If you take it, you might bring them home with you.”

“Oh . . . okay.” She turned back around, lowering her voice to a whisper. “I’m sorry, mister. You have to stay here – with your friends.”

 

FISH BAIT

The Lore:

Crazy Woman Camp, Why, AZ

In the far reaches of southern Arizona, just north of Organ Pipe National Monument, lies the tiny hamlet of Why. Little more than a wide spot in the road, the town’s main attraction is a rustic market and gift shop –  aptly named “The Why Not Store”. One can purchase fuel, snacks and Mexican insurance before traveling across the border. Some partake of homemade biscuits and gravy at the restaurant next door, and many of those folks are winter visitors who populate the nearby RV parks and BLM land in campers and RVs.

Gunsight Wash is a favorite of those “dry campers” – people with self-contained rigs who prefer solitude to a crowded RV park.

The local Border Patrol division maintains a strong presence in the area, monitoring the adjacent Tohono O’odham tribal land providing campers with a sense of security. Well traveled routes are used by illegal immigrants and Mexican drug cartels. Unfortunately, many illegals venturing into the U.S. with a backpack of canned tuna, a change of clothes and dreams of wealth face harsh conditions in the desert. Hikers and OHV riders often stumble upon shallow graves or sun bleached skeletons.

On a day hike near Gunsight Wash, I discovered a primitive but elaborate campsite with an odd history. It was located in the middle of nowhere, next to a dry wash, which made the find even more astounding. How could anyone survive out there for any length of time?

At first glance, it was obvious the occupant exerted great effort to make the area “homey”, circling bushes and trees with carefully placed stones.

A four-foot tall rock oven with metal grates had been built beneath a sprawling Ironwood tree. Positioned on top of the fireplace was an empty liquor bottle bearing a hand-written card – “Crazy Woman Camp”. Upon closer inspection, I found a note inside which read:

“The way the story goes is this – A woman and her son lived in town where the son got into drugs and such. Determined to free her son of his demons, she set camp on this spot. Days filled with desert solitude, loneliness & hard living, the son was forced to give up his sinful ways. Living in a tent, they built the stonework you see & buried their horse in a grave just to the west of here. Locals called her Crazy Woman but far from crazy, I think she was a loving mother who was willing to suffer along with son to bring him to a better life.”

After wandering around the area, I discovered two graves a short distance away which may or may not have been the final resting places of Crazy Woman and her son. Closer to the camp was a large mound where their horse allegedly was buried. Scratched into the surface of a flat stone read the words, “A Man’s Best Pal”.

I often wonder what happened to Crazy Woman. The desert and isolation can magnify irrational thought. Perhaps she could no longer function in society and found peace with her own reality in the harsh elements. Regardless, I feel there is more to her legacy than what was written inside that empty liquor bottle.

The Story:

Fish Bait

by Debra S. Sanders

Jack Brody eased back on the accelerator, bringing his ATV to a halt near a barren patch of desert next to an Ironwood tree. Removing his helmet, he glanced around the primitive campsite before shutting off the engine and disembarking.

She’s not here.

Walking to the back of his vehicle, he removed a case of water strapped to the rack and placed it next to the tree. A tiny puff of smoke emanated from a rock fireplace a few feet away, suggesting Crazy Woman might be hiding. He grinned. She was a feisty old gal.

“Hey, Nana . . . where you at?”

Jack sauntered to the edge of a wide wash and slid down the four-foot embankment to soft sand and gravel. It was hot and dry this time of year. Even the rattlesnakes stayed underground during the day. His brows drew together as he searched the dusty landscape. What if Nana was sick? Heatstroke  wasn’t uncommon during the summer months in southern Arizona, especially for the elderly. Why the hell an eighty-year-old woman would want to live out here was beyond his comprehension. Maybe she didn’t have any money or family – at least none who cared.

Jack scratched the back of his head, eyes running up and down the wash. One of his buddies said she moved to the desert with her son ten years ago. The teenager fell into dangerous habits involving drugs and she thought the isolation would cure him of his “demons. If that were true, the kid must have hauled ass a long time ago. And ho would blame him if he did? This place was as close to Hell as anyone could get without dying.

He crawled up the embankment and headed for the shade, still worried but needing a cooler place to think. Nana was tough but not that tough.

After discovering the withered old woman during his first week working at the local Border Patrol division, Jack took it upon himself to bring her care packages on a regular basis, keeping his off-duty activities a secret until another agent saw him in the desert.

“She’s loco,” he warned Jack. “We stay away from Crazy Woman’s camp. You best do the same.”

Jack refused to heed his co-worker’s advice, continuing to make weekly visits to the woman he nicknamed “Nana” and establishing an uneasy trust similar to feeding a feral animal.

As he brushed dirt from his jeans, a low, husky voice crept over Jack’s shoulder like a slithering serpent.

“Jaaaack . . .”

He whirled around, smiling at the hunched figure eyeing him from a few feet away. White hair stuck out in tufts from under a sweat-stained cowboy hat. Coppery wrinkles lined her face, the result of too much time under an unforgiving sun.

“I brought you a case of water.”

“I see. You good boy, Jack.”

He wiped his brow with the back of his hand. “It’s gonna be real hot for the next few days. Why don’t I take you to Ajo? One of the churches opened a shelter for people with nowhere to go.”

“I got a place. This my home.”

“It’s a tent, Nana, not a home.”

She jutted her chin and looked away. “Home.”

“When was the last time you ate?”

“Yesterday. Maybe longer. But today, Jack, I eat good. Let me cook for you.”

He arched a brow. “What you got to cook?”

The old woman flashed a broad smile. Most of her front teeth were missing, evidenced by a gaping hole. “Big surprise. You stay, Jack. I cook.”

His mouth twisted to one side, contemplating the invitation. He was off work until Thursday. It wasn’t as if anyone was waiting at home. Why the hell not? “Okay, Nana. I’ll stay but I want to work for my supper. What can I do to help?”

“Rocks. I need more rocks for my garden.”

Jack bit his tongue to keep from laughing. No wonder all the agents called her Crazy Woman. She’d gathered stones from the desert and boxed in every bush and tree around her camp. Some of the edgings were shaped in hearts, others a linear border. Further away, small bits of white quartz formed a maze. Or walk. Or some kind of odd shape she’d dreamed up in her head. Not that it mattered because in Nana’s mind it was pretty.

Pulling a backpack from his ATV, Jack wandered a short distance into the desert and began filling the bag with baseball sized rocks. Damn, it was hot. How did the old gal keep from getting heat stroke?

He looked up just as she removed something from inside a ragged piece of old canvas. What the heck was she up to now?

Jack dumped his bag of rocks near the Ironwood tree and grabbed one of the waters from the case. He drained half the contents while watching her place a slab of pink meat on the grill. “What ’cha got there?”

“Fish.”

His brows shot up. “Fish? Where’d you get fish, Nana? There ain’t no water around here.”

“I know where to go but not as many fish as there used to be. Harder to catch.” She stoked the coals without looking up. Smoke curled around her hunched figure, hiding her face.

He shook his head and walked back to the ATV. That wasn’t fish. Maybe rabbit. Jack stopped and looked back. Aw, hell . . . it was probably coyote.

“Jack, come here. Eat.”

His first instinct was to leave but he didn’t want to hurt the old woman’s feelings. Wiping his hands on a faded rag, Jack turned and made his way back to the masonry fireplace.  “Smells good.”

She shot him a toothless grin. “I smoked this piece just for you. It real tender. Sit on that rock.”

He did as requested, easing his large frame onto a flat topped boulder. A few minutes later, gnarled fingers handed him a six-inch strip of meat on a mat woven from grass. A gooey sauce lathered its surface topped with what he guessed were dried herbs.

Jack stared at the charred meat for a full minute before tearing off a sliver and sliding it into his mouth. He rolled it over his tongue before swallowing, surprised by the flavor. Not gamey at all. And tender, just like she said.

“This is good, Nana. I really like the sauce.”

The old woman cackled. “See. I tell you.”

He needed no encouragement to finish the meal. “It was nice of you to share your food. I know you don’t have a lot to eat.”

She shrugged. “It been slow fishing with all this heat but I got good bait. I know how to catch ’em.”

“Well, you’ll have to tell me your secret. The last time I went fishing, I didn’t even get a bite.”

Blue eyes twinkled beneath the brim of her hat. “Used to be easier. You soldier men chase the fish away.”

A thick line formed between his brows. Was she talking about the Border Patrol agents? “How did we chase the fish away?”

Nana didn’t answer, her pinpointed gaze tracking his movements as Jack reached for his water bottle..

“Man, you must have coated that meat in red pepper. It sure is spicy.” The back of his hand swiped across his forehead. “I’m sweating even in the shade. How do you stand this heat?”

“I like it hot. Good for jerky. Dries the meat real fast.”

Jack handed her the grass mat before struggling to his feet. “Whoa, I’m feeling a little dizzy. Mind if I stay for a bit? Just until it cools down.”

“No, no . . . you sit. Feel better soon.”

His knees buckled as he tried to sit, causing him to miss the boulder and land in the dirt. Something was wrong. The fish must have been tainted. “I . . . I think I got food poisoning. I don’t feel so good.”

“Not poison. That ruin meat. Just herbs to make you sleep.”

Jack blinked several times as his vision blurred. His tongue felt thick, swollen. Opening his mouth, he gasped for air. Words gurgled in his throat but never made it past his lips. Pushing to his feet, Jack took one step before collapsing.

“He asleep?” A man with long hair and a scraggly beard emerged from a deep hole covered with brush.

The woman nodded. “Get the rope, boy.”

She tied it to Jack’s feet. The man threw the other end over a sturdy limb and hoisted the unconscious body into the air. He walked away, returning a few minutes later dragging an empty metal drum which he centered under Jack’s body.

Nana grabbed Jack’s hair and pulled his head back, revealing a wide expanse of neck. “I stick him. He bleed out quick. You get rid of motor car.”

“Can’t I keep it, Mama?”

“No, no, not good. Someone might see it.”

“But I want it. None of the other fish ever have anything we can use.”

“You get rid of it like I say!” The old woman whirled around, pointing a bony finger at her son. “I’ll sharpen the knife. We get lots of jerky outta this one.” She tugged on Jack’s arm, examining the muscular tone of his shoulder. “This white meat. Not like those dark ones we catch in the desert. I feed you good, boy.”

“Do ya want me to bury the bones in the same place as the others?”

She nodded. “Now you know why I say dig that hole wide and deep. Gotta cover up these fish guts afore they start stinkin’!”

SHORT TALES

Great Balls of Fire

The Lore:

The Hornet Spook Light, Near Joplin, Missouri

I was raised in Northeastern Oklahoma and knew about the Hornet Spook Light long before investigating the area for my book. As a child, we referred to the mysterious phenomena as the Joplin Spook Light because sightings occurred along a rural county road just 12 miles southwest of Joplin, Missouri. Those who viewed the light describe it as a ball of fire the size of a basketball. Others say it is a blue orb that hovers in mid-air with the ability to divide or separate. While descriptions vary, one thing most people agree on is the spook light’s capacity to frighten unsuspecting travelers.

Explanations for sightings typically lean toward the paranormal – the ghost of two young Quapaw Indians with a Romeo and Juliet type ending. A decapitated Osage Chief looking for his head. A miner with a lantern destined to search for his missing children through eternity. But skeptics will tell you it’s nothing more than swamp gas or headlights from a passing car.

Most local residents believe the light has been around since the late 1800’s. Others say it was first documented in the mid 1930’s. As with most legends, origins are murky and details vary. During the 1940’s, the Army Corps of Engineers conducted a study on the Spook Light, hoping to curb the intense public interest. Their final determination only created more questions when they cited it as “a mysterious light of unknown origin.”

If you’re ever in northeast Oklahoma near sundown, wander over to East 50 Road, four miles south of the tristate junction. Stop and sit a spell. Chances are you won’t be in the dark long.

The Story:

Great Balls of Fire

by Debra S. Sanders

Henry Tuttle peered through heat radiating off the road in a scintillating haze. It was hot. What Okies call the “dog days of summer”. He dropped his chin so the bill of his faded John Deere cap blocked the afternoon sun from his eyes then watched a white Prius slow and turn into the long drive leading to his farmhouse. Dust formed in a thick, brown cloud behind the vehicle as it crept over potholes and ruts on a road more suited for high clearance vehicles. The right side of Henry’s mouth lifted. Settling into a corner of the wooden porch swing, he began to rock back and forth in a slow, steady rhythm.

The Prius stopped in a wide gravel area next to the house. A young man emerged, running his finger across a layer of dust coating the shiny paint. Seconds later, the passenger door opened and a girl with puffy red lips and large sunglasses stepped out.

“City folk,” Henry muttered with a quick assessment of the man’s baggy pants and loose t-shirt. The woman wore skinny jeans over even skinnier legs. Massachusetts plates confirmed his suspicion.

The man looked up, spotted Henry on the porch and waved. “Hello,” he called in a distinct Bostonian accent. “Fine day, isn’t it?”

“Almost over,” Henry grunted.

“Yuh, it is.” His chuckle sounded forced. “You lived here long?”

“All my life.”

“Ah, that’s great. I wonder if I could ask you a few questions.” The man glanced at his companion. “We’re journalists, researching a bit of local lore.”

Henry took a deep breath then let it out with a whoosh. He knew the minute they pulled into his drive what they wanted – information about the spook light. It wasn’t as if they were the first out-of-towners who fancied themselves ghost hunters.

“I reckon I got a few minutes.”

“Super! Do you mind if we join you on the porch?”

“Suit yourself. Supper’s in an hour. You need to be gone by then.”

The woman giggled. “Yuh, suh. We promise.”

They brushed dried leaves from two wicker chairs before settling onto the worn seats. The man leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “My name’s Peter. This is Emily. We’re writing an article for our travel blog about Devil’s Promenade . . .”

“The spook light,” Henry corrected. “Figured that was it.”

“Yuh, well, we’re researching paranormal activity in the heartland and this particular myth kept popping up so we thought we’d look into it.”

“Have you seen it?” Emily chimed.

Henry pursed his lips, staring at a spot above her head as if conjuring up a memory. “I’ve had my share of run-ins with the damn thing. Most everyone around these parts has seen it at one time or ‘nother.”

Peter licked his lips. His pupils turned to pinpoint as he shifted in his seat. “We’ve read several theories about the light but since you live right here on the road where it is seen most often, we hoped you would have the inside scoop.” His laugh faded into silence. “What is it? Swamp gas? Light refraction? Some sort of geophysical anomaly?”

Henry kept a straight face as he met the young man’s gaze. “Ain’t none of those things.”

“Well, what is it . . . exactly?”

“Riley Crow’s ghost.”

Silence greeted Henry’s announcement. Emily was first to respond, keeping her voice low and pleasant. “We’ve actually heard a few of those myths. I think one source said it might be the spirits of an ill-fated Native American couple. Another suggested it could be a Civil War soldier. However, I don’t think anyone mentioned the name Riley Crow.

“Riley passed on about ten years ago.”

Peter cleared his throat. “But people first reported seeing the light during the 1800’s.”

“Oh, I’m sure it was around back then. Some say this area is cursed so I figure it holds a lot of souls who won’t move on, just like the Quapaw lovers you heard about. Legend goes they wanted to get married but her pappy didn’t think the young brave had enough dowry. He refused to let them join up so they eloped. Pappy sent a hunting party after ‘em. Rather than be separated, they ran to a cliff and jumped off. Died right away.”

Peter cast a condescending smile. “Part of our paranormal research involves debunking stories like that. I mean, there’s really no factual evidence to back up the myth. Is it true the Corps of Engineers investigated the light?”

“Yep, back in the thirties or forties. They ran a bunch of tests and came up empty handed. Look, son, if you talk to ten people around here, you’ll probably get ten different stories about the spook light but one thing’s for sure – anyone who has seen it, don’t want to see it again.”

“Why do you think that is?” Emily inquired. “What makes it so frightening?”

“The unknown, I reckon. I’ve had the damn thing run right in front of my truck. Then in a matter of seconds, it was behind me. One time, it floated towards me, broke into four different orbs and then went and sat in a tree. It’s a crazy sight to see.”

“Have you ever touched it?”

“Nah, but George Stoddard tried to shoot it. He can’t hit the broad side of a barn in daylight so I don’t know why he thought he could hit a moving fireball in the dark.”

Peter chuckled. “Tell me about this Riley Crow. Why do you think the light is his ghost?”

Henry pushed his cap back, scratched the top of his head then reset the hat to its original position. “I have a theory. I think this area is a sort of purgatory for souls who can’t rest.”

“That’s an interesting concept. Why do you think Riley is not at peace?”

“He’s searching for his balls.”

Emily’s eyes widened. “His . . . balls?”

“Yep. Old Riley was missing his testicles when he died.”

Once again, Emily and Peter exchanged looks. “I don’t suppose you’d care to expand on that?” Peter said.

“It’s a pretty gruesome story. Sure you want to hear it?” They both nodded. “Well, okay, then. Riley was a bit of a womanizer. Everyone around here knew he had a strong appreciation for the ladies – everyone except his wife, Lulabelle. She was a big, full figured gal. Good looking in her own right but real jealous. Needless to say, she watched Riley like a hawk.”

“One night, he came home after cozying up with Nancy Brown. Lulabelle took one sniff of the perfume on his collar and knew it wasn’t hers. After an all-night brawl, Riley finally confessed to his indiscretion. He promised never to see Nancy again. ‘Course, Lulabelle’s green eyed monster was all riled up by then. She just couldn’t find it in her to trust him.”

Henry paused to catch his breath. Peter instantly encouraged him to continue.

“About a month went by before Riley got the itch and started tom-cattin’ around. One night, he told Lulabelle he had to go back to the office for a late meeting. She decided to follow him and sure ‘nuff, Riley met up with Nancy at the No Tell Motel up in Joplin.  Lulabelle was fit to be tied. She hid in the backseat of Riley’s car and waited. When Riley came out and started the engine, she popped up and scared the poor man half to death. He listened to her rant all the way home. There was no denying his tomfoolery. She’d caught him red handed.

After they got home, Lulabelle kept readin’ the riot act to him, not even pausing to take a breath. Riley finally told her to shut up. He’d had enough. Vowed to file for divorce the next day . . . which sent Lulabelle right over the edge.

From what I heard, the first thing she did was knock the poor man unconscious with a cast iron frying pan. When Riley woke up, Lulabelle had duct taped him to a kitchen chair. He was nekkid as a jay bird and scared half to death. He tried to reason with her but she didn’t want to hear it. Taped the poor man’s mouth closed. All he could do was sit there and listen. She’d cry, then curse, then cry some more, accusing him of all sorts of things. I’m sure he was guilty of most of ‘em but that weren’t no reason to do what she did next.”

Peter leaned in even further, eyes wide. “What did she do?”

Henry shook his head, staring at the toe of his boot for a full minute before conitinuing. “It was awful, just flat out mean. Lulabelle ran down a list of names of every woman she could think of in a fifty-mile radius, asking Riley if he’d slept with them. I suppose he said yes to just about all of them. He probably thought if she got mad ‘nuff, she might get so disgusted she’d let him go. But there ain’t no one more vindictive than a woman with a broken heart.”

Emily’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, dear. What happened?”

“She castrated the man. Cut off his balls with a kitchen knife right where he sat.”

Peter’s complexion paled. For a minute, Henry thought the kid might vomit but then he swallowed and urged Henry to continue.

“Riley passed out, of course. I think any man would. He was bleeding real bad. While he was unconscious, Lulabelle took his testicles, pounded ‘em out flat with a mallet, rolled ‘em in a little cornmeal and flour and fried ‘em up in lard– just like calf fries. I think she intended to feed them to Riley.”

“Nuh . . .” Peter ran to the far end of the porch, leaned over the railing and heaved. When he returned, his shirt tail was wet and stained. “Sorry, man. That was more than I could handle.”

“No problem. I had the same reaction when I first heard it.”

“What happened to Riley?” Emily’s voice was barely more than a whisper.

“He bled out right there in the kitchen while Lulabelle was cookin’.”

“Was she arrested?”

“Nope, and that’s the curious part. She really loved the old scallywag. Once she realized Riley was dead, she slit her wrists and died on the kitchen floor next to him.”

“That’s an . . . interesting story but what makes you think the spook light is Riley Crow?”

“I hear Lulabelle wailing some nights, usually when the spook light is out there bobbin’ around. I think she’s chasin’ Riley, trying to beg forgiveness. Ain’t gonna happen, not for a while. He’s still pretty mad. I reckon they’re stuck in purgatory for the time being.”

Peter sucked in a deep breath and glanced at Emily. “I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.”

“But you don’t believe me.”

“It’s not that I don’t believe you. The legend of Devil’s Promenade has been around for over a hundred and forty years. Logically, it doesn’t make sense it would be Riley Crow’s ghost.”

“Son, nothin’ about that spook light is logical. You kids believe what you want. That’s all I got.”

Emily was first to stand. “It’s getting late. If we’re going to film the light, we should be going.”

“Don’t keep anything sharp in your vehicle. Lulabelle has been known to throw knives and scissors through the air. Wouldn’t want y’all to get hurt.”

Peter swallowed, joining Emily at the top of the steps. “Perhaps we should discuss our research at the motel. We can return in a few days.” His suggestion met no resistance.

Henry waved as the Prius drove away, travelling down the lane much faster than when it arrived. He lingered on the porch after it disappeared, staring off into the distance. The front door opened and a grey haired woman emerged, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.

“Supper’s almost ready. Better wash up.”

“Sure thing, Mama.”

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Who were those people?”

Henry shrugged. “Just some city folk wanting to know about the spook light.”

“Have you been making up stories again, Henry Tuttle?”

“Now, Mama . . . I was just havin’ a little fun. No harm done.”

Her eyes rolled upward. “I swear, old man. Some days I don’t know what to do with you.”

“I was tryin’ to keep the peace. I don’t think those kids will be back,” he chuckled, “but if they do park down the road, I’ll get out my big spotlight and really give ‘em something to write about.”

His mirth was met with a warning scowl from his wife. She turned on her heel and marched inside, slamming the door behind her.

Henry waited a few minutes longer, enjoying the quiet of the early evening. As he turned, a hazy blue orb bobbed near the far end of the porch. Henry paused, arched a brow, then shooed it away with his hand. “Go on, now git, Riley. I ain’t got time for you and Lulabelle tonight.” He watched the orb float into a tree followed by a low wail in the distance. “I don’t reckon you two will ever get along.”

Shaking his head, Henry shuffled inside and closed the door.

Welcome Back, Jack – Gritty, Gutsy, Good!

jack bannerREVIEW:

Welcome Back, Jack starts as a slow moving police procedural that subtly wraps around you like a constrictor, keeping you snug and comfortable with the story and characters. . . until it starts to squeeze. By then it’s too late because you’re morbidly fascinated by this psychological thriller bordering on a horror novel.   You can’t put the damn book down.

I admit, my love affair with Welcome Back, Jack did not start on the first page . . . or even the first chapter. While I usually enjoy attention to details, I felt the story stalled a bit as author Sweeny set the stage. Granted, there is a gruesome murder with graphic descriptions of the mutilated bodies. No one is going to sleep walk through that! But the initial investigation and introduction to the many characters seemed to take a long time and did not reel me in as quickly as I like.

However, once you get past the slough, this is an intriguing tale with some darned good twists. The story starts off like a gumshoe detective novel but soon gets in your head and stays there until the final page. Jack is a gruff detective who smokes too many cigarettes and keeps his emotions under lock and key. His wife, Mary might be the only one who truly understands him since she hails from a family of cops, but even that is debatable at times. As the investigation unfolds, clues reveal something even more terrifying – the killer is tied to Jack’s own biological parent’s murders from years earlier.  Things go from murky to dark, spiraling to a conclusion that will leave you breathless.

Fans of police procedural, crime or horror/thriller novels will want to put Welcome Back, Jack on their must read list, as well as anyone who likes dark psychological whodunits. It’s a good read.

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Horror Short Story: Unmarked Graves

Check out my “other” blog, OlDogandMe.com for new short story series, The Lost Highway – beginning with a free read, “Unmarked Graves”. As you may (or may not) know, I’ve embraced LostHighwayCoverthe nomadic life. Hubby, dog, cat and me are wandering full time in an RV. I research local history and lore along the way, converting those tidbits into short stories that will eventually find their way to a novel length anthology. In the meantime, I’ll post a few shorties on my travel blog along with posts about our travels.

I’m still working on my other novels: Book 2 in the Daisy Red-Tail Novel series, a thiller – Dark Mountain, and by request – Book 3 in the Clans of Tagus paranormal fantasy series. Until then, enjoy this short tale about “Unmarked Graves”.

http://oldogandme.com/the-lost-highway-tales/unmarked-graves/

 

Like Horror? Read “Beneath” by Robin Heggelund Hansen

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Beneath

Eldritch City Shorts 

Book 1

Robin Heggelund Hansen

Genre: Crime/Horror

Date of Publication: March 21st, 2015

ASIN: B00V0R5QYW

Number of pages: 15

 Word Count: 5100

Book Description:

Nine years have passed since the tragic and mysterious deaths of Mr. Phillips and his daughter. A new clue surfaces, one which the lead investigator will follow to the brink of insanity.

Available at Amazon

beneathREVIEW:

Reading the first few paragraphs of short story “Beneath”, I was reminded of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell Tale Heart” and its lyrical prose. The narrator is tortured by his own actions, consumed with guilt and disbelief of unmentionable horrors. He even questions his sanity.

For lovers of the horror genre, it’s a great hook.

“Beneath” ends with a beginning, leading me to think it’s a prelude to an interesting novel.  This short story packs a lot of wallop into a few pages, 15 to be exact, but don’t think of it as a detriment. Rather, consider this a choice morsel you want to roll over your tongue and hold there, enjoying the burst of flavor for as long as it lasts.

That’s not to say the story is without flaws. It could use a good edit. The word “that” appeared much too often, and certain phrases were repetitious – but those things are only a nuisance in an otherwise well told story. Mr. Hansen understands less is more. While there are a few gory scenes, they are not sensationalized and contribute to the main character’s discovery later in the tale.

My only regret is that I read this late at night – before I took the dog out for last potty call. I did not stray from the sidewalk, and will avoid walking on the ground in the future. <shudder>

Excerpt:

To whoever reads this: I feel that I must apologize if what you find on these pieces of paper appears to be nothing more than a collection of near-indecipherable words. I can assure you that I have tried everything I can think of, and yet I cannot keep my hands from trembling. This, however, is only a symptom of my much greater problems.

I cannot eat, or sleep, or even close my eyes for longer than the briefest of moments. I feel as if I’m about to lose my mind, but I’m clear enough to realize that I have to get this story off my chest, before it consumes whatever sanity I have left. Unfortunately, the only recipient I can trust with a story as bizarre and horrible as this are the same pieces of paper upon which these words are written.

For officers of the Eldritch City Police Department, no two days are alike. Even with this in mind, yesterday morning would still single itself out as peculiar. As I entered the precinct to begin my shift, I met a man who I realized was from out of town. It was clear that he was uncomfortable since he was constantly scratching his arm and shifting his gaze. It was as if he was trying to view the entire room at once.

There are many things that can be said of Eldritch City, but the one thing people always remember is the air. It’s not that it has a particular smell, but it has a way of sticking to your skin, like wet clothes on a rainy day. Us locals usually say that it is due to the humidity that comes with being in a warm coastal city, but humid air does not leave you with a feeling of being watched, or that something terrible is about to happen. Given time, one learns to hide this discomfort. People from out of town, however, usually haven’t learnt the knack.

The man introduced himself as Deputy Swanson of the Heartbrook Sheriff’s office. Upon learning my name, he raised his eyebrows in surprise. “It would seem I am in luck,” he said. “It is in fact you that I have come here to see.”

Before continuing the conversation, I invited Swanson back to my desk — I have yet to earn my own office — and offered him a choice of coffee or tea, of which he chose the latter. When we were both sitting comfortably, I asked what had brought him all the way here from Heartbrook. To this he responded by handing me a newspaper article, dating back nine years. The article was an interview with a younger me regarding a murder case out by Mirkwood. I knew the article well, not just because I was the subject of the interview, but also because the case in question had been troubling me ever since I had been assigned to it.

Nine years earlier, for their summer-break, the Phillips family had gone out to their newly built cabin in Mirkwood, on the outskirts of the city. Only a day into their vacation, Mr. Phillips and his daughter, Julia, were brutally murdered. Their bodies had been mutilated to the point of being barely recognizable — large portions of flesh were missing. It was almost as if something had fed on them. The coroner couldn’t rule out an animal attack, but thought it unlikely since the wounds were inconsistent with the bite of any species known to be living in Mirkwood.

robinAbout the Author:

Robin was born on a cold winter night in Oslo, Norway, 1989. Growing up, he was always fond of telling stories, leading people to wonder when, not if, he would move on to writing stories of his own. Inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, he wrote his first short story, ‘Beneath’, in 2015.

Blog: http://insideeldritchcity.tumblr.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/eldritchcityauthor