Category Archives: Original Stories

Dybbuk

Dybbuk

My mother is quietly crying at the breakfast bar. She’s not making any sound, but every few minutes she brings a quick hand up and brushes it across her eyes.

There’s a bright red mark on Dad’s cheekbone, and I suspect it’ll swell and darken as the day drags on.

“Clint,” my dad says. “Hey, we gotta talk.”

My father stands at five foot eight, and speaks so evenly no one outside the house would ever suspect that the words he throws at my mother reach the abusive cannon bursts that they do. He’s a good man, generally speaking. He’s a good dad. He’s good at his job, managing logistics for a delivery company. He’s a good Methodist. He only diminishes when it comes to his marriage.

He runs a thumb along the red spot my mother must have given him. She doesn’t speak with nearly the cruelty he exhibits when they fight, but you can measure the zenith of his abuse by the size of the welt her hand leaves on his face. Sometimes her palm is open, sometimes her knuckles are clenched.

I don’t really listen because this should have ended well before now. They tell me vague plans regarding the immediate future. With my move-out date only a week away, none of this really affects me. My mother’s retaliation tells me she’ll be the one moving out. She can afford it. She makes a little more than Dad anyway. Besides, my dad has fumigated this house with too many insults. Mom wouldn’t be able to breathe with the vapor of his words hanging in the air.

***

The plan is to keep the decision between the three of us until after Granddad’s estate is managed. My parents sit shiva holding hands and leaning against each other. They are the image of love in grief.

I sit with them. An enlarged photo of my grandparents on their wedding day sits above the couch, over my parents. If the photo had been in color it would still look grim. Neither my grandfather nor grandmother smile. In another picture, beside the portrait, are the bride and groom lifted high during the horah. They smile here but out of minimal obligation. My great-grandfather hoists his new daughter-in-law high and proud. When she was alive, my grandma would speak fondly of Great-Grandpa Anton. Grandpa would scowl at the praise. I never met my great-grandfather, but from what Grandma Beth told me he was very devout. “A very good Jew.”

When I was ten I found a small handful of yellowed photos in the back of my Grandpa’s wallet. In them he smiled in a way I never saw whenever I was around him. In one he sits alone, a common state for the old man I knew. But the dark youth in the picture smiled so widely his mouth was open. He was probably laughing.

In another there was a woman. She was laughing too, sitting alone in a 1920’s bathing suit. She had a plump face, and hair so blond her eyebrows were nearly invisible. Despite the differences, when I think about her now she makes me think of Greta Garbo. She’s alluring despite the heavy black suit’s attempts to subdue her figure. A silver cross shines on her bust, the chain coiled lazily against her neck.

There were three more photos. In one of them my smiling grandfather wipes at his chest with a towel. In another the blond woman stands ankle deep in the water, her back to the camera. She’s bending down, not to entice, but to examine something in the water the camera can’t pick up. The last photo showed nothing but a sepia-toned shot of the beach.

There’s a name on the back of the photo where the woman stands in the water. “Ethel.”

***

Nick comes to help me move. Dad scowls in the kitchen, drinking small glasses of Glenlivet and forcing himself to be personable whenever Nick or I are around. “Need any help?” he keeps asking, staring at the microwave over the stove.

“Is he okay?” Nick asks me, and I just tell him he needs time alone. “They’re separating,” is all I tell him.

“Oh, my God! Baby, why didn’t you tell me?”

I reach out and squeeze his hand. His skin is soft and the color of stained pinewood. He teaches first grade and then lifeguards in the summer. His blond hair has become bleached with streaks of white from all the sun. Touching it is what I imagine clouds feel like. He wears khaki shorts and a polo shirt, modest but not so loose they don’t show off his body. He doesn’t mean to be, but he’s kind of a total gay man. I love him just as totally. He teaches me Hebrew during quiet moments when we’re alone. I wear the pewter Star of David he got me for my birthday under my shirt.

“It’s no big deal,” I tell him, which is true for everyone but my dad. He met my mom when they were in middle school. Their first dates involved him going to church with her family. He never cared much for shul, so converting in high school seemed normal enough. It was an easy way to integrate himself into her world. Grandpa never attended temple without telling Dad he’d missed a great service. Always unsaid, you missed this, missed that, over some girl. Left the synagogue. Got new friends. Over some girl. Married some girl.

After a while, Dad started saying those things too. To Mom.

“Hey,” Nick says later, while we empty out my chest of drawers. “Is this your great-grandpa?”

He’s holding a little gray photo. In it the image of my grandpa stands in a long wool coat, wearing a flat cap. He’s in the doorway of a shop, Cyrillic lettering plastered on a nearby window.

“Nah. That’s his brother. From the old country.”

“Is this before they moved here?”

“He didn’t come. It was just my great-grandpa.”

“Rest of ’em still in Russia?”

“Not anymore.”

“Where’d they move to?”

“They didn’t. They were killed in a pogrom.”

Nick screws up his eyebrows and looks at me. “Jesus!”

“People forget that shit happened outside the Nazis too.”

Nick stares at the photo a little bit longer. “You wanna keep it?”

“Maybe. Just put it back in the box it was in.”

Eventually Nick’s truck and my car are both full. There’s a small load left, so I’ll have to come back in the morning to finish up. I go into the kitchen and hug Pop.

“Love ya, kid.” He holds onto me a little longer than I expected. The sharp odor of whiskey steams from his empty glass.

“Love you too, Pop.”

“You sure about this?” he asks when he pulls away. “You sure you and Nick are gonna be okay?”

“I guess we’ll see.”

“If…if for whatever reason, things don’t work out…you know you can come back here, right?”

“I know, Dad.”

He hugs me again. “I guess I’ll see you on Labor Day.”

“I’ll be back in the morning. I got one more carload to go.”

“Sounds good. I’m gonna miss ya, you know.”

“You left us all behind!” my grandpa sometimes yelled on the phone, whenever my dad would decline to take us to temple with the old folks. “You left us the way your grandfather left his own!”

Guilt is a knife built of small needles.

“I know, Pop. I’ll miss you too.”

I hug him and kiss his stubbly cheek. When I walk outside I roll my shoulders. The sun warms them through my shirt. Beneath the blue sky, there is no foothold on my being for anything to hold to.

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Original Fiction – “Rest. Stop.”

Something I wrote alone in the park, during those hours between sunset and closing, when I’m the only one I can see braving the dark and the October chill.

All original material posted here is the intellectual property of the writer. All applicable copyright laws apply.

***

Rest. Stop.

Rest. Stop.

© Copyright 2013

Sean Ganus

I sit in my old Honda for about five minutes before I decide to go into the men’s room. I was kind of hoping to get the drop on somebody, but I’m the only one here and the fast food coffee is getting to be more than I can handle.

So I’m going on minute two of peeing before I hear the door open. A guy sidles up to the urinal beside me. Short, chubby Latin guy. In my peripheral vision I see the bill of his ball cap swing from side to side, and the movement makes me curious enough to look up, ‘cause maybe the guy’s having a seizure or something, I dunno.

Nope, no seizure. As soon as I look over he looks me in the eye and smiles, nervous-like. He has a moustache that’s too sparse to keep, and crooked teeth that somehow matches his sorta offset eyebrows. Poor dumpy bastard grins even wider, but I roll my eyes, shake off, and flush. He follows me with his eyes as I walk to the sink, hoping maybe I’ll look back. Fuck. So I got a witness, I guess.

I like this place because there aren’t any cameras around. Weird, really. Georgia has three times the police budget Tennessee has, but their cops only do about a third of the work. No privacy from the cops north of Chattanooga; there’s a trooper or two at every rest stop until Kentucky.

I kick open the door, turn back to the guy, see he’s still at the urinal, probably only just now getting to business. I whistle, a quick generic two-note to get his attention. He looks over his shoulder, hopeful at first when he sees me, starting to smile even. The smile drops when he sees me wave the knife.

I wiggle it in my fingers, rapping the point against the particle board door. I motion outside with my eyes, hoping to convey that I’ll be waiting when he comes out. The look of terror is absolute. Here is a little man trapped in a box, his only crime the desire for a blowjob. And now for reasons that can never be justified, someone wishes him dead.

His mouth sags in the kind of toothy frown only horror can inspire. He looks like he’s about to cry. I go out and leave him to his urine-soaked prison.

I get in my car, move it far down the lot where the safety lights can’t reach it, park it, and wait. Thirty minutes go by. His ride, a beat-up Civic from the eighties, sits lonely and forgotten by the building’s entrance. I wonder what he’s doing in there. Crying, maybe, probably praying, though that’s probably bigoted of me to assume. I doubt he paid much attention to my vehicle before he came in. Really I just needed him to stay back long enough to move myself out of sight.

A family pulls in, their minivan’s brakes squealing so loudly I cringe in my seat. They pour out like beer from a shaken can, children practically rolling onto the asphalt. The father speaks as though he has a megaphone shoved down his throat. The mother is liberal in her use of the term “smartass.” They file inside, half a dozen at least, and trickle back outside over the next ten minutes, refreshed from emptied bladders and assaulted vending machines.

They sip coffee and soda, nibble pretzels and orange curls of not-quite dough. While they hover around their van I see the Latin man emerge. He’s glancing around like a squirrel who smells a cat, taking small, hopping steps, emboldened by the family’s presence but not impatient enough to lose his caution. He reaches his car, hurriedly climbs inside. I catch him scan the backseat before the lights come on, and he must be flooring it when he makes for the interstate.

The family stays behind for another five minutes before piling back into their roving fortress and going on their way. I’m alone again, left to my thoughts and the humming sodium lights.

***

            The trooper comes in twenty minutes after the family leaves, and for a moment I’m nervous. I guess the Latin guy called the cops. Can’t blame him, I guess. The trooper stops in front of the restrooms for a moment, seems to be considering going inside, then a glare shines from his cruiser and I realize he’s turned on his spotlight.

He twists it slowly, scanning the empty lot. The light is strong, and he sees my vehicle tucked away in its little dark corner. The light stops, and the trooper ponders his next move for several minutes. Eventually the cruiser turns, its overworked engine groaning as it mounts the incline and inches forward. The trooper keeps the light steady on my Pontiac.

I pull the knife from its nest between my flesh and my belt and I wait.

The trooper, he’s a plodder. Takes him forever to make up his mind. I wait, crouched so uncomfortably my thighs begin to cramp. The knife is cold in my grip. I breathe slowly through my nose so that no mist will give me away. I lay the warmed blade against my free palm. No fall leaves to step through. Good. The trooper opens his door.

He climbs out, a thick, log-like man, long legs, long arms, long face, everything thick and heavy looking. A man who is strong by nature. He rests a hand on his sidearm prematurely and approaches my car, his bland face showing neither focus nor confusion. It’s a face unused to processing emotion or thought.

He shines a flashlight through the windows, inches closer until he can reach out and rap a knuckle against the glass. He gets bolder, knocking even harder, scrutinizing every corner he can. After a little too long it becomes clear to him no one is inside. He straightens up, looks into the darkness beyond the trees.

There is a moment between him and me. There is an instant in which one step forward or one step backward will make all the difference. Another few inches, and I can spring and knock him down with the whirlwind of my madness, my toothed knife grinding through bone and organ. I can scream and scream into his empty ears and spill myself down the dark road that always opens in those moments. I’ll see the blessed empty highway I take to escape the unrelenting anger that bites at my heels and threatens to suck me down whole. The street will roll through the unlit fields of my mind, and I will be lost and free of the animal for a little while, the mutt busy feeding on gasps and split veins.

A step backward, and I will be stuck here with the nagging wasp that is my will. He’ll leave me to slowly sink down its throat, ground by bullying teeth into a paste that could once cry and scream and flow with spilled blood. He’ll leave, this fighting buck that could have held back the Great Little Thing long enough for me to have a little peace in a cold black corner of my mind. I can’t take little people or those already pushed around. The stalking boar in my spirit has great need to exert itself, to smash against the sinews of pride and allowance.

The trooper’s breath mists in the light. He turns, and walks away.

The cruiser backs down the inclined parking lot, the trooper killing the spotlight before swerving the wheel and aligning the Crown Vic with the onramp. He guns the motor and leaves, and I am once again alone.

I take a breath, allow it to fog the chilled knife. I wait, spring-loaded, for bait. I feel worn tusks behind my eyes, steamed breath within my ears.

When you come, you will never know I’m here.

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Original Fiction – “Pen”

This is another flash fiction piece I did for “Post the Horror,” because I’m a lazy bastard who’s been neglecting the page lately. I was pretty proud of it, and thought I’d put it up for a week or so. Enjoy!

 

***

“Pen”

Copyright 2013

Sean Ganus

The old man scribbled so fiercely his pen tore through the paper in places. The scratched desk absorbed the slashes of ink.

Two weeks of no food had whittled him to dry flesh and creaking bones. But he was almost done.

There was the stink of decay in the room, wafting from the buzzing and crawling pile of feathers and green meat in the nearby birdcage.

The writer ground his teeth as the last words came, and when he was done, the last drop of ink in his leaking fountain pen was splashed into a period.

Finished, the old man’s body gave in, folding on itself like a faded robe. His ratty coat wafted to the ground, and where the writer had been seated, there was now only bone and ash.

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Melissa

Please, take me back.

I know I ain’t been attentive, baby, but c’mon, I’ll treat you real good.

I’ll make all that stuff you like in the kitchen, I’ll talk real good to you, baby.

C’mon, lemme show you what I can do.

***

Melissa

© Copyright 2011

Sean Ganus

            Melissa sat, crying.

Then she doubled over so violently she rolled out of bed, pulling sheets down as she fell. They buried her as she curled up. God, she thought, please help. It felt like a fire poker was twisting in her gut.

She could feel it burning. She imagined her stomach hissing, steaming as it twisted like meat on a spit.

She could see in her mind the pink tissue browning and charring, sizzling and roasting. She cried without effort, choked but didn’t breathe.

She dug into her sides, hoping to scoop the fire out, toss away the pain like smoldering embers.

And it stopped. So suddenly it rocked her, left her breathless. She gasped for air, and her small body shuddered as she started coughing.

Mommy and Daddy were asleep. She could cry and try to wake them, but Casey and Lucy were very good at keeping them asleep.

She tried to call, couldn’t, thought it anyway. Please Momma, Daddy, please come and help…

The little girl caught her breath, climbed back in bed with shaking arms and sweaty hands. Her hair glued itself to her burning forehead.

She calmed down enough to fidget into a trembling sleep full of the usual nightmare images.

***

            She woke to hear her door shaking in the jamb. Something beyond it was scratching and huffing at it.

She heard the snuffling breath of a dog. She smelled the sick foulness of rotting meat.

She thought of the dog.

Casey and Lucy had shoved her towards it when they found it. It had been hit by a truck and thrown into the ditch behind their backyard. It was big, black, and Melissa had thought it was a bear at first.

They scowled and told her to jab it with a stick. They were triplets, but she was the smallest, the weakest.

“Do it,” they told her, with the command of children. So she did.

She walked to the dog, the great stinking thing. Its eyes were gone, eaten out by insects who were already peeling the gums from its teeth. She pressed the end of the stick into its stomach, pushed.

The flesh gave like jelly, and small white things wiggled in the hole.

Lucy and Casey laughed as Melissa ran home crying. Momma and Daddy had comforted her, but they didn’t really believe Lucy and Casey had done what she said they did. Their girls didn’t do that.

Melissa heard the scratching, the quiet barking. She thought again of the dog. She heard her sisters giggling down the hall.

It can see me without its eyes, she thought.

The dog rammed its soft body against the door, mashing its jelly flesh against the white paint.

Melissa curled up in bed, kept the blankets over her knees. She would not let it in, it couldn’t get in if she didn’t let it…

The giggling started again, and Melissa saw the lock turning on her doorknob. The round shiny brass turning on its own.

The thin door swung open, and behind it stood the dog. Its mouth hung open, more slack with rot than gaping with hunger. It looked wide-eyed and eager, even though the flesh around the eye sockets was eaten back by insects.

The dog barked, a wet hacking sound, spraying flies and worms across the floor. It charged, bounding over the floor and onto the pink satin comforter.

Melissa screamed, threw her blankets over the awful smelling monster. She hopped out of bed, ran for the door.

The dog thrashed its way free, leapt. She felt its soft weight knock her down.

It breathed in ragged, fuming bursts. The smell seemed to char something in the back of her mouth.

She thrashed under the heavy paws, slapping behind her and feeling soft, warm dirt cakes under her fingernails. She squirmed, even as she felt the heavy jaw close on the back of her neck.

It squeezed, then there was a sucking, tearing sound. Something flopped to the floor, and spilled down her back.

The dog wasn’t biting anymore. Couldn’t. Half its mouth saw moldering on the hallway floor.

Meliassa bucked as powerfully as a girl of eight could, threw the dog just enough to scramble away. It moved to give chase, but she grabbed the door and slammed it behind her.

The wood caught it by the neck in the jamb. There was a wheeze, and attempt at a whine, then a splattering mess .The jawless head bounced to the floor, leaving three wet spots until it finally stopped.

In her bedroom, she heard the rest of it collapse as well. Her sisters could have kept it moving if they’d wanted. It seemed like they were done with this game.

***

            Her parents weren’t mad, just terrified as they usually were. Their disturbed little girl regularly horrified them. Wallowing in her vomit, screaming of her sisters firing demons from their eyes. The spattered, putrid pieces of the dead animal was unique, duly shocking. Nothing to be angry about, but something new to fear.

She cried and whined in her little world. Her sisters were angels. They put up with her petulant accusations and still loved her. They offered her bits of their toast as they ate their breakfast.

Daddy whispered about the psychiatrist with Momma. She sighed and said she’d call. She looked sadly to her three girls.

They could be so perfect. The two on the far side of the bar were angels, fair skinned, fair haired, always smiling. If only Melissa would grow, if only she weren’t so skinny and scratched.

She watched the unhappy ball of tangled hair as it nibbled miserably at its breakfast, and sighed again.

***

            The teacher was careful to quietly escort Melissa out as soon as she began slapping at scratching. The little girl’s fits were routine by now, and some time in the Resting Room by herself usually got her back under control.

Melissa was sullen as she always was when she returned to class. The sisters snickered in the back, out of sight of anyone not bound by age or blood.

Melissa did her best to ignore the ants they sent crawling over her hands and biting into her wrists.

***

            The bed sheets strangled her again. They twisted around her like a hungry snake, crushing her waist and holding gown her arms. She snatched and clawed, but the blankets held.

They giggled again, amused at their game. They were so clever, they thought. One to keep the parents sleeping, one to turn her thoughts to Melissa.

They always took turns. Neither could stand missing a chance. The attacks always came in pairs.

She fell off the bed and out of the blankets. They twirled and reached, but she crawled away before they could get a grip.

She curled against her dresser, sitting in the dark, weeping but unaware of it through pure repetition. She reached into the bottom drawer, pulled out the only defense she had.

An old, crumpled item, but potent in what it held. A snapshot, the only thing she could safely aim her hatred at.

Her two sisters, standing together, alone without her or their parents. Just Lucy and Casey, the demon angels.

Beautiful, powerful, always bigger than her. She hated their faded, creased image, hated it until it faded behind a white hot, fading flair.

She hated it until they disappeared from sight.

***

            She always hated them, always thought on the hatred. The hatred grew stronger every day, and its strength kept her from dying.

The rage came in flares, brighter than day. It scorched colors, it bleached whiteness into everything.

She fell asleep, and dreamed of pretty smiles erased from a polluted world.

***

            She woke up to screams. Two small, shrill screams.

Two screams impotent against the pain they rang.

There were panicked shouts. Momma and Daddy always came when the angels sang.

Then they screamed too, shouted and cried and wailed to get the police, get an ambulance, oh God, oh Jesus, what’s happening?

Melissa peeked down the hall, saw Lucy and Casey’s bed in their mirror. Saw the shaking, screaming lumps of crumbling, spewing meat in the polished glass.

Saw the blond hair dyed in death, the heavenly smiles twisting and peeling. The fair skin falling away, disappearing.

She looked to the photo, still in her hand. Lucy and Casey’s photo.

All she could see was the flicker hint that two little girls may have been there, sometime long before the photo was taken.

Then they were gone, and the photo finally died and fell apart at its folded seams. Momma let out a wail of horror when she realized she would not wake up from what she’d dreamed.

Daddy made grunting sounds, heaving his way through every breath. Then his footsteps pounded down the hall.

Please come, Daddy…

The relief was small, but there in potency. His little girl was there, smling and ignorant of the horror ten steps down.

Melissa sat, smiling.

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Two Questions…

…and I’ll give you guys at least a week and a half to respond, since I know you both lead busy lives. (At least compared to a man who sits in his apartment for ten hours at a time working on rewrites. I literally don’t think I’ve consumed anything other than coffee and cheap burritos for about two weeks.)

Question #1: Should I write an epilogue “Long Weekend,” just to wrap everything up without ending the story like a guillotine?

Question #2: Halloween serial, yes or no?

Right, I’m off to Atlanta! Huzzah, traffic!

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A Knocking at the Door

I’m considering making this a “First Sunday” kind of deal, maybe even giving it a clichéd name like “The Sunday Story,” despite this first attempt being on a Monday. I never said I was a perfect man.

Last week was crazy, hence the radio silence, though maybe a little sparsity wouldn’t be a bad thing. Regular posts don’t mean jack if there isn’t any substance to ’em, so from here on out I’ll only post as frequently as relevancy allows.

Anyway, back to the experiment. This is an original tale I spun last night, solely for the sake of this post. If you like it, maybe it’ll be a thing. If not, I’ll probably still enjoy it, so maybe it’ll be a thing anyway. So there, BRAD.

***

A Knocking at the Door

© Copyright 2011
Sean Ganus

            Another knock. This one definitely from the door.

It had been happening off and on all night. Every time she closed her eyes, there was a singular rapping on the door.

She’d told herself it was a dream. This happened occasionally, dreaming of ominous sounds just as she began to drift away. It was something that used to plague her mother. She stared at the door, still trying to decipher dream from reality, and thought of those nights when she was a little girl. She would listen to her mother shuffle through the house, chasing phantom sounds only she had heard.

Felicia kept her eyes focused on the door, but their occasional fluttering became heavier and heavier, and soon the little patches of blackness began to stain her vision.

Another knocking, as soon as the dark had become permanent.

It stopped as soon as she opened her eyes. Literally, right when her eyes opened.

Mid knock, it stopped. As soon as her eyes opened.

“Bullshit,” she whispered to herself. It hadn’t stopped. The dream was just over, the way they always are when you awaken.

She turned over, closed her eyes.

Knockknockknock.

It was like the muscles in her back were spring-loaded. She sat up, twisted herself to look at the door.

Quiet.

Despite the January chill, she tossed the comforter back, turned so that she was on her hands and knees. It occurred to her how silly she probably looked, but something about the predatory nature of the pose appealed to her. She felt like some kind of feral creature, scrutinizing a potential threat.

An imaginary, potential threat.

She laughed at the realization, shook her head, scratched her neck where the loose hairs from her bun tickled her. She got back in bed, reclined under the comforter.

Knockknockknock.

Out of bed, bare feet on the carpet, body tense, hand reaching for her phone. She took slow, deep breaths wanting everything to be as motionless as possible. Her breasts sank and bobbed inside her tank top with each nervous breath.

Knockknockknock.

She grabbed her phone, unhooked the charger, dragged her finger over the screen to turn it on. The screen stayed black.

Dead. Fucking impossible, but it was dead.

Taking three quick, light steps across the carpet, Felicia reached out and flipped her light switch. Nothing.

The power was out. That seemed odd to her, considering it didn’t sound stormy. Maybe another fuse was blown.

Thunder rumbled in the distance, and the wind wheezed through the trees.

Shit,” she whispered, to no one but herself. The last thing she needed was a storm to rattle her even more.

Felicia stood there, in the dark, hearing only the sound of her breath in the still nighttime.

KNOCKKNOCKKNOCK.

The door shook with each pounding.

KNOCKKNOCKKNOCK.

She shook too. Those little hairs started to tickle the back of her neck again.

KNOCKKNOCKKNOCK.

The whole apartment seemed to rattle. She brushed aside the hairs, calmed herself until the walls seemed to stop vibrating.

The wind. It was the wind, an eddy from the storm caught on her porch. A vacuum shaking it in its frame…

BOOMBOOMBOOM.

No, not the wind. The wind did not have fists.

BOOMBOOMBOOM.

Christ, what was he doing? Trying to knock the hinges off? Was he kicking it?

BOOMBOOMBOOM.

Felicia stood in place. A draft from the crack at the bottom of the door wafted past the ends of her pajama pants. The cool air felt like a beckoning whisper.

The electric tickle hit her neck again, and her body recoiled as though someone had grabbed the scruff of her neck. She felt shockwaves of trembling dread spread through her shoulders and drip down her spine.

She clamped her hand on the back of her neck, halting the shudders and shielding her piqued skin from the nervous strands of hair.

BANGBANGBANG.

Felicia literally hopped in place, both feet briefly leaving the worn carpet at the tremendous sound. The door shook from each blow. Hell, the door kept shaking after each blow.

The door settled in place. There was lightning, then low thunder. The windows shook a bit, but the door stayed still.

Then: BANGBANGBANG.

She could swear it was bowing around the deadlock, as though the tiny bar of metal was all that was keeping it closed. In her head she imagined the sight of screws spiraling loose from the hinges with each fresh strike.

The door hummed to a quiet still, and the apartment was silent again.

It was silent for a long time, actually. In reality, probably less than a minute, but in terms of fearful time it felt like more than an hour. Felicia stood in place for a good while, her toes clenching, clamping onto the carpet, anchoring her thin frame in place.

A phantom breath of nighttime air, and the tickling hairs again. She ran her fingertips over her neck, rubbing the tingle away and sweeping the hairs aside. She hated how they felt like tickling fingers.

Finally she took a long, slow, graceful step forward. Then another, and another, making less sound than an owl in flight. When she reached the door she stood before it like it would grow claws and slash at her. It took a long effort of breathing down the fearful little girl inside her before she got up the nerve to look through the peephole.

Nothing. No one there. Just the single, empty stoop, the yard empty on either side. The streetlight in front of her place flickering dully.

No one there.

Someone’s at the door.

            No one’s there, Mama. You just had a nightmare.

Go back to sleep.

She turned, deciding she was a victim of either sleepwalking or mean spirited pranking. Whatever it was there were two things which she was certain of: the door was locked, and she was fine.

The knocking again. Small, shy, nervous, polite. Tiptiptip.

A trick of the wind,” she whispered to herself, hoping she could convince the world in the same manner.

But the laughter? Yeah, there was laughter out there as well.

No. A trick of the wind, that’s all. A phantom carried by the storm.

But: tiptiptip. But not the laughter. She heard it, but told herself it wasn’t there.

There was a small metal tee ball bat she kept in the corner, for whenever she took her niece to practice. She grabbed it now, hefted it, reached for the door.

I really shouldn’t do this.

And she shouldn’t have, but she did. She kept the chain on, looked outside. The laughter stopped.

Absolutely nothing, except for the stormy breeze. It blew past her with a sweet scent, briefly chilling her. The gust seemed oddly insistent, as though the little eddy of winter air had been waiting to come inside. Dead leaves scraped against the walkway. The world outside was asleep, just as she needed to be.

She closed the door, noticing how the apartment felt so much cooler for having the door opened just now. The sweet smell even lingered a little.

She sighed, breathed so deeply her shoulders lifted, and put the bat back in the corner. Then she stood on her tiptoes, and stretched.

Ah, damn it! Those little hairs again, tickling the back of her neck.

She reached back to brush the rebellious hair away.

But this time, as she moved to sweep the tickling strands aside…

she felt fingers.

            Standing there, her blood colder than the January chill, Felicia heard a dark laugh in the nighttime. It blew from the shadows, wafted in the drafts, ebbed into her nightmares.

If anyone had been passing by at that hour, they would have noticed Felicia’s door rattling violently, as though someone was pounding on it. Relentlessy, mercilessly pounding.

Or they might have heard screams, if they bothered to listen to anything but the dormant storm. But even if they did, they would likely just shrug it off, assuming it was a trick of the wind, a phantom carried by the storm.

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