Tag Archives: original horror story

There Is No Moonlight

moonlight

 

June 1967

Gracie Ellington didn’t know she’d backed over the boy until she saw him twisted and wriggling before the nose of her car. She almost didn’t even see him then, with her tires kicking up the hot Alabama dust.

Nothing worked right for Gracie. The little boy had black hair and the kind of skin that looked like it never darkened, no matter how much summer sun it got. She hated the boy in the dust, the mangled little bully. There would be problems because of this. Gracie Ellington was a meek woman, and the world took notice when you didn’t bite back.

She hit her head on the horn a few times and started crying, huffing with frustration through her tears. She felt like she was drowning in them. They trickled over her lips and teeth and dripped down her mouth. She could feel them pooling up inside her. Nothing was on Gracie’s side.

The morning shopping never got done. Gracie was still crying and slapping the steering wheel when a passing trucker knocked on her window. The man was black, scared to be in the presence of white people experiencing tragedy. Such people had a habit of inventing blame to level against the blameless.

The black man eventually radioed for the police, and a trooper on his way to Birmingham came by near sunset. He scolded the trucker, saying if he’d known the man was calling on behalf of a white woman he’d have gotten there sooner. It was sundown before the cold boy was hauled away, in a white pickup the county used for dead bodies and hurt blacks. The trucker was given a citation for unlawful trespass.

Ms. Gracie was given a pill and driven to Doc Shore’s house. The doctor wasn’t there, but his wife gave Gracie some bourbon and another pill. It wasn’t until after ten when Gracie mentioned her husband wouldn’t be there to pick her up.

Gracie sat through the night on the doctor’s porch swing, drinking coffee with chicory. Her shaking hands made her slop a lot of it. By sunrise the dried coffee had formed thick stains on the whitewashed boards.

Doc Shore drove her home. They had to go through the side door so as not to cut through the police tape out front. Ed’s hand lingered on the side of her bottom after he’d gotten her into bed, and when he realized it was there he snatched it back with a jerk.

Later, the stains in the dirt driveway looked a lot to Gracie like coffee spilled on whitewashed wood.

June 2014

Delia is crying over the shriveled woman in the hospital bed. Gracie does her best to quiet her daughter. She can’t bear the idea of anyone morning the lifeless creature before them.

This dying thing corrupted Delia for ten years. There were nights where Gracie had been violently ill by the involuntary understanding of what her daughter did with Naomi. The woman was a predator, twenty years older than the girl she’d stolen. She’s defiled her in probably every way, tasting her and being tasted by her, a communion taken over the course of a decade.

Naomi is forty-seven, but the lymphoma has edged her closer to two hundred. Her skin is red and dry, peeling off in little square flakes, cracking wide wherever natural lines have formed. A little less than a dozen tough, wiry hairs are stuck across her head. Her eyes were closed long before the coma; it had been a hard fight before then just to keep them open.

The nurses come, and disconnect the machine that breathes for Naomi. The monitor records her slowing heartbeat. A doctor marks the time of death. Delia weeps in her shuddering mother’s arms.

“We did all we could,” she coos to her daughter. It was even easier than it’d been with Ed.

***

Children make faces as they pass Gracie’s house. Sometimes if they see her in the screened-in porch they’ll yell and call her “Murder Lady!”

In her kitchen, Gracie balances her checkbook, scribbling in the pink notepad she’s favored for two decades. Garish red and purple flowers overcrowd the cover, matching the rose vines etched in the heavy pen Ed gave her their first anniversary together.

The passing children throw rocks at a stray cat in Gracie’s yard. They think it belongs to the old woman. They’re excited by the excuse for cruelty.

The cat doesn’t run away. It hisses, charges, cuts a boy on the leg, and then darts into the woods. Later an angry mother pounds on Gracie’s door, yelling to the old woman to control the animals she doesn’t have.

“Do you want to kill the rest of the kids around here?” the middle-aged woman yells. Her slaps excite a yellow jacket resting on the doorframe, and it stings her above the ear. She flails her arms and runs back to the road.

***

Delia won’t stay with Gracie. She’s got her awful red cases packed inside the dead lesbian’s Volkswagen, red cases the lesbian bought for her. There’s almost nothing left of Delia that the dead woman’s lust didn’t conquer.

“You should stay,” Gracie begs. She was always short, but stooped as she is she could tumble into Delia’s chubby stomach.

“I can’t Mom. Naomi had affairs I said I’d settle…”

“Damn the affairs. What does she have left anymore?”

“Mom, I owe it to her.”

“You’re finally loose of her and you still can’t let anything of hers go.”

“I love you, Mom. I’ll call when I get there.”

“What kind of woman flees from family this way?”

Delia tries to kiss Gracie’s cheek, but her mother slaps at her, missing her with her palm but grazing her with stained nails. Red marks that will vanish in five minutes flare on her daughter’s cheek.

“I love you,” Delia reminds herself, and goes to the car. “I’ll call you soon.”

“You’d be better off dead!” Gracie shrieks. “For God’s sake baby, don’t you see…?”

The Volkswagen mutters to itself and bounces down the clay road. Gracie’s scared. She knows they give jobs to women up in Massachusetts, even those who submit to other women. Hell, she could get a job anywhere; things are different nowadays. Her ties won’t bind much longer. Gracie pulled her money from Delia’s college fund, but Delia graduated anyway. Soon it won’t matter how many dollars Gracie hides away behind invented shields of poverty.

***

There’s a nest of baby birds that won’t stop squalling, and Gracie takes Bobby’s air gun and shoots a pellet into the dark. There’s a squawk, and she hears wings flapping. The baby birds squall louder.

Gracie goes out. It’s after nine, during that summer hour when the sun fights with all it’s got to stay above the horizon. In the dim dusk Gracie sees a single wing slowly wave to her. A thrasher is on its side, its beak wide open. It doesn’t breathe. Something like water is spilling from its mouth, staining the concrete porch.

The other thrasher won’t go up to the nest when it returns. It flicks about, chirping and beating the dead bird with its wings. There’s a long moment when it bends down, like it’s listening for something. Gracie shoots it through the eye. The bird flops on its back, its legs making slow, swimming kicks while the rest of it lies prostrate and stiff.

The baby birds keep Gracie up all night. At some point she hears the growling of a cat and the hiss of a possum. In the morning the dead birds are still there.

***

Mothers pull their children away from Gracie while the old woman walks through the Food Tiger. A tall trooper with a skinny build and a lumpy gut comes up to her.

“How’re ya today, Ms. Gracie?”

“Can’t you people just leave me alone?” she begs, looking to the floor. She whispers it almost; any louder and she might cry.

“We won’t hurt you, Ms. Gracie,” the trooper tells her, almost like he’s sorry for her. He tips his hat and moves over to the meat cooler.

The cashier wrinkles her nose like Gracie smells bad, and practically throws her change to her. The trooper stands by the door while the bag boy loads the food into her car. On her way out of the parking lot she passes a red Impala. There’s a teenage boy behind the wheel, with a faint pink line on his cheek that was fresh about ten years before. He watches her as she turns onto Harris Road, and resists the urge to scratch the old scar. It only itches when he thinks about her.

Gracie unloads the groceries, yelling at the baby birds with every bag she brings in.

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” she screeches. The last bag contains the Tylenol she takes about ten times a day. She shoves one bottle in her purse, puts the other five behind the bathroom mirror, beside the old straight razor of Ed’s. She carried that razor for awhile after he and the kids left, but for the last decade it’s sat on the same dusty glass rack, the chrome blade stained an ugly spilled brown.

“It was only a dog,” she mutters. She shuts the mirror with a slam.

***

She puts crumpled flowers pulled from her backyard on Ed’s grave. Cancer’s convenient. All you have to do is pull away. There isn’t a simpler weapon in the world. Even the old razor was never that easy to use.

Bobby’s grave is next to Ed’s. The town keeps the marker shining like the day it was bought. Yellowing notes are staked to the ground. “You poor little lamb.” “God bless the blighted children.”

Her plot is marked beside Ed’s, her space on the stone still blank. The grass here is always dying, washed as it is in piss. Maybe she could bury the birds here.

When she gets home the baby birds are still crying. The carcasses of the parents are gone now, leaving only ruffled feathers and chewed bits of skin.

***

A dog is calling from down the road. Probably the mutt the Davisons keep for their screaming kids. Gracie has a steak in the freezer for the dog, one she’s never gotten around to preparing. The days are always so short.

It’s after nine and the baby birds in the old hickory tree won’t stop squealing. Something has to be done. Gracie stomps to the bathroom in her old pink slippers and fishes the straight razor out from behind the mirror. There’s a half-moon out, and it’s bright enough to see by. Gracie turns the bare porch light on anyways.

There’s a stump left over from an oak Ed cut down, back before he left. Gracie uses it to get a leg up, then steps onto the small, leaning trunk of the dehydrated hickory tree, using the knobby bark for footholds.

The razor glints in the moonlight. Bobby once told her there isn’t any moonlight, just sunlight reflected off the moon. Gracie must not think about that too long. Too much consideration and she’ll spin. Life must be a pliable thing.

The blade shines in the light despite the puppy’s brown blood. Ed had railed at her for that, grabbed her even. Then she’d put the razor to his shoulder and he’d let her go. He’d planned to take Bobby with him when he left the next day, but of course there was only Delia to take away afterward.

The Black-Eyed Susans still grow where they’d put the nipping puppy, though how much was left of it to grow on Gracie couldn’t imagine. Weren’t mummies made from hot, dry dust?

Gracie grips the razor like she did on that day ten years ago, when the ice cream truck had stopped by her car, and the children had been bumping against her. The razor had flashed like cold lightning against the boy’s cheek. Afterward, tenderness to women had delivered her back into her home, but the judge had warned her: “I think now we know the kind of woman you are.”

But that boy hadn’t even died. If he had they wouldn’t have let her keep the razor. People were so eager to condemn the meek. Angry tears come. The world is a creeping vine. All she left him with was a little pink line on the cheek. Was that worth so much?

She thinks of Bobby in the dust. In the sunlight afforded to us at night, incidents and accidents enjoy mixed company.

She’s looking down into the nest now, her old arms shaking as she fights to keep hold to the shaking branches. Her white hair hangs loose, and she tries to shake it over her shoulder. The motion throws her off-balance, but she finds a lump of bark and steps down on it.

Except it isn’t a lump of bark, just a sprig of leaves poking out from a budding new branch. They yield to her weight instantly. Gracie scrapes at the bark of the tree with the razor as she falls.

She hits her face against the oak stump, and lands on her side with a sound like a wet bag of rocks. Her hip actually does hit a rock, and there’s so much pain that for a second she panics, thinking she won’t be able to face it. But she lucks out. The pain disappears, replaced with a heavy feeling of icy cold.

The wires to the porch light aren’t great, and the bulb goes dark. The moon beholds her, but doesn’t care. That’s alright. The moonlight isn’t there. Its indifference doesn’t hurt.

The razor is stuck a little ways into the palm of her hand. It’s folded against the ground, the handle split down the middle from the impact. She’s surprised the cut isn’t bleeding much, so maybe it’s not too bad.

She gets sleepy, but never actually falls asleep. After a couple hours she feels cool, but she doesn’t shiver. The right side of her face is so puffy she practically has a pillow to rest her head upon.

Her phone begins to ring in the kitchen. Delia is back in Boston now.

The phone rings and rings, and then goes quiet. Half an hour later, it rings again. Gracie, feeling cool in the summer heat, is content to let it ring.

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House, and On All Sides There Are Thorns

thorn

 

“We need to get you a gun,” my old man says. The dining room table is littered with pistols, all shining with oil from a fresh cleaning. Mom hates seeing this but it’s been Dad’s Saturday ritual since before I was born. He’s careful not to make a mess or let the oil soak through into the wood. A small stain under the centerpiece very literally almost cost them their marriage.

“You’re growin’ up, and boys are gonna start noticin’ soon.” He takes a cotton ball wrapped in wire and slathers it in gun oil, then slides it down the barrel of .32. He repeats this for each empty chamber, then takes another cotton ball with fresh oil, holds the revolver by the stock, and carefully polishes the brushed steel exterior.

“Older boys are gonna notice it too,” he goes on. “And I know you’re plenty wily, but if one of ’em manages to get his hands on you, you might not be able to slip away.” He looks me up and down and winks at me. “Not so easily, anyway.”

I scratch my shoulder. I don’t want to be here, but I wandered in without thinking, and now that we’re talking I can’t think of a reason to break away. I could feign a text message but my phone’s in my room, and that could set him off on a tangent about cell phones that would delay my imaginary meet-up by an hour or two. It’s a little after eleven. There’s every possibility that I’m stuck in this chair until two.

My mother silently shuffles to the kitchen from the living room. I hear the cupboards and the clack of oven dials as she makes herself some instant coffee. The phone rings, and in her irritable muffle my mother answers it.

“We need to take you out to the range sometime soon,” Dad says. He checks the sights and lays the .32 on the towel. Usually I implode inside when he suggests this. The shooting range almost always buries an entire weekend in gun trivia and sight adjustment. But now that he’s retired he has a habit of letting time slip by. “Sometime soon” could be next year.

“Melissa!” Mom growls. “Phone for you!” Dad looks surprised that I’m getting a call. He goes on about how my friends haven’t called for awhile, forgetting I have the cell phone, while I get up for the kitchen.

“It’s that boy,” she spits, shoving the phone at me. It’s my phone but she has a habit of answering it if it rings near her. I barely catch it before it can clatter to the tile. “Hello?”

“Hey.” It’s Richard. Mom didn’t like him because she thought he was sniffing after me. Now she doesn’t like him because she thinks he’s gay. “You wanna go out into the Badlands today? I’m bored.”

Gay or not, Mom will lose her mind if I’m alone with him. “I gotta work,” I tell him.

“Cool!” He sounds excited when he hears the code. “Alright, I’ll be by the creek in a bit.”

“You gotta work?” Dad asks. He sounds let down.

“Ms. Parker asked me to cut her grass this Saturday. She wants to keep it short before fall hits, she says.”

“Oh.” He lowers his gaze to the .45. If he wants to guilt another hour from me it won’t work.

“Anyway, I should go.” I go to hug him. He stares at my chest the whole time I walk forward, then lowers his eyes and gives me a one-arm.

“Love you,” he tells me. “Don’t work too hard. It’s still hot out.”

“I won’t.” I turn to leave, decide to leave my phone in my room. They wouldn’t think to call even if I had it on me. I pass through the living room where my mother watches the news. “Love you Mom!” I say without stopping.

She gives me a suspicious look and mutters “Love you too.”

Outside I walk through the opening in the driveway, then cut around to the backyard, running my hands across the old fence. The vines have only gotten thicker, and needle sharp thorns poke my fingers. Behind the house, beyond the wall of thorns, I feel the guilty relief that comes with knowing I am beyond their reach.

***

He kiss for a little bit, then fumble until our pants are off and I’m sitting on top of him. We’re hunkered down low, by a section of the creek cut low into the earth. I’m hugging him and quietly looking around in case someone walks by. He’s breathing hard, and where his nose is against my neck I feel sweaty.

I hear the huffing of coyotes, but other than that we’re alone. I’m not worried about the animals. They never bother us, just hang around until they smell the bowls of food my parents put out for them. I feel Richard squeeze my shoulders and tighten up.

Finally the low tickling warmth fades from my stomach and I climb off, wrinkling my nose at the smell. It always feels a little itchy when we’re finished, but I just ignore it and put my jeans back on. Richard pulls the condom off and shoves it into the leaves.

“My brother keeps asking me why I want those,” he says for no real reason. “He thinks you’re my girlfriend.”

I straighten my waistline and sit down against a tree. “Am I?”

He shrugs. “Do you want to be?”

And I just say: “I don’t know.”

We just sit around for an hour, then we’re kissing, and maybe a couple of hours later we do it again.

***

When I get back to the house Mom is filling big metal bowls with dog food. She slides them under the brier fence, and yipping coyotes fall all over each other to eat. I stay back until I see her tighten her robe and head back inside. The coyotes completely ignore me as I walk the perimeter to the driveway.

“Took you awhile to cut that grass,” Mom growls when I walk in. I ignore the look she’s giving me.

“Yeah, Mr. Parker had to go get oil for the lawn mower.” I round the corner into the hall before she can ask me how much I got paid.

In the bedroom I see my sister on the floor, playing with my phone. Her face is lit up and she seems to be playing some kind of game.

“Hey Melissa!” she chirps.

“Hey Sammie. Whatcha doin’?”

“I put this game on your phone,” she says, swiping her finger across the screen.

“Oh. Hey, can I see that for a second?” I take the phone from her and check the data. Fuck. It’s several hundred megabytes over the limit. No more emailing Richard until I can afford to add more.

The irritation I feel shines like a full moon, threatening to swell into a tidal rage. But I keep my tone calm and just pocket the phone. “That all ya been up to today?”

She rolls over on her back, bored. “I don’t wanna go outside. I hate it when they feed the coyotes.”

“I know you do, kid.” I turn off the internet on my phone and hand it back to her. “Knock yourself out.”

***

That night at dinner Mom complains about me cutting grass. “I mean, I guess I understand. Boys like to walk down the street on the weekend.”

It’s a clumsy and awkward thing to say, and I’m almost embarrassed for her so I overlook the attempted insult. Dad left one pistol on the table, an old .38, and despite Mom whining about it he insists on keeping it out until it’s cleaned.

Sammie’s playing with my phone still. Mom looks irritated about that but is determined to elicit some kind of comment from Dad about me being outside so much. Seeing my little sister so absorbed breaks my heart. I remember the fear and fascination that came to me with the phone. It is a chain link reaching beyond these walls. No wonder my mother hates it so much.

Mom continues to complain about the gun, and Dad just silently stares into his plate while he eats. Outside, coyotes howl.

“Melissa, could you feed them?” Mom asks when I get up to wash my plate. Her usual sourness becomes concern whenever she hears “her babies.”

“That cop said we’re not allowed to feed them,” I tell her from the kitchen.

“What? Speak up when you talk!”

“I said we’re not allowed to feed them! They’ll write you guys another citation.”

“I can’t believe they did that!” Dad pipes up. “What do they expect us to do? Let ‘em starve?”

“They won’t starve, Dad. They’re wild animals. They feed themselves.”

“They’ve gotten too used to us feeding them, Melissa!” Mom condescends with her tone, like I’ve overlooked something obvious. As though I’m the one threatening them with fines. “They can’t feed themselves anymore!”

“Sure they can. I see dead animals outside all the time.” I rinse the plate. “That cop said the coyotes were the reason those dogs disappeared.”

“Oh, I don’t believe that! Those things are just big babies!”

Outside I pour kibble into dog bowls, and squeeze them through holes in the brier fence. The coyotes scramble the instant the food clears the thorns. In their frenzy, I feel teeth brush against my wrist. Their breath smells like blood.

***

After school on Monday Richard and I make our way to the creek bed. We do it and then try to kiss for awhile. The kissing is okay. If we kiss while he’s still inside, it distracts me from the weird emptiness that comes after we finish.

I kind of want to stop but it doesn’t seem like I’ll be able to. I keep making up my mind to tell Richard we shouldn’t do this for awhile, but then we’re alone and it’s the first thing both of us start to do.

I don’t really want to go home. It’s getting cooler and the sun is prettier in the afternoons than it was in the summer. I untie my braids and talk to Richard about the coyotes. At some point my head is in his lap, and he starts to snore. I close my eyes.

***

I open my eyes to the cries of coyotes, and now it’s dark. I jerk upright, and hit Richard in the arm. He takes a deep breath and wakes up, rubbing his eyes and looking confused. His hair falls in his face as he tries to sit up.

“Shit,” he mumbles.

“Fuck! My mom’s gonna kill me!” I get up, wiping dirt and leaves off my butt. The barking is getting closer. It must be close to feeding time.

“Mmm…you gonna be okay?” Richard stands up, catches his balance. He’s tired and breathing heavy.

“I don’t know. Hey.” And for no reason I kiss him. “You should be my boyfriend.”

“Why?” He’s only more confused now.

“Because.” And I climb out of the dip. He follows me.

“So we’re together now?”

“I guess so.”

“Okay.” He stands for a moment, then kisses my cheek. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay.” And we’re both running home.

***

Mom’s still pouring kibble behind the house when I walk through the driveway. I go inside without letting her know I’m there.

Dad’s cleaning a pistol on the couch, and when he sees me he jumps up. “Oh, Jesus!” he gasps, and runs over to hug me. He holds on long after I’m comfortable with it, and kisses me on the neck. “Where the hell were you?”

“Just outside,” I tell him, wriggling free. He tries to tighten his grip and keep hugging me, and I almost have to shove to get him off me. “I was hanging out with Richard.”

“After dark?

“We didn’t mean to be out late. It was just that the sun was setting when we started walking back.”

I see him look outside, in the panicked way he does when he thinks of the world beyond his routine. How had he ever been a cop?

I walk out the room, ignoring Sammie’s scared look from the hall when I pass. I’m pouring a glass of water when Mom comes in. She freezes, but I refuse to turn around and see the stare she has to be giving me. Finally she slams the heavy bag of dog food onto the floor. I still don’t turn around.

Where the hell have you been?!” She’s so furious the question is screamed flat. “Who do you think you are to make me worry? How dare you be out this late!”

The microwave says it’s not even eight. I don’t bring this up. I can only weather this.

I feel her nails dig into both shoulders, and she whirls me around and hits me in the face. Her hand knocks the glass out of my grip and it shatters on the floor.

Dammit! Look what you’ve done!” And I hunch my shoulders as she keeps hitting me.

“You goddamn brat!” she shrieks. “You goddamn little brat! Who do you think you are?”

“Jesus, Susan, stop!” Dad yells, and he shoves himself between me and her. She keeps swinging, but now she’s beating on him.

“Oh, you always take her side!” She’s digging her nails into the flannel shirt he always wears. “I know what you want to do! You and her both disgust me!”

Dad grabs her wrists, and Mom makes this bellowing cry. She’s obnoxious about it, yelling like she’s terrified but doing so right in his face. “Get your hands off me! Don’t you dare lay a finger on me!”

And she pulls free and runs into the living room, still screaming.

“Goddammit!” Dad yells at me, running after her. “Why can’t you just keep yourself in line for a fucking change!” And he runs after her, because he never misses a step in this dance.

They scream, and scream, and Sammie screams too because that’s what she does when she cries, and I go outside to the snarling of coyotes.

***

I can still hear Sammie crying hysterically upstairs. When you’re eight a fight is practically a war.

I hear Dad yelling: “You want me to use this? You know what could happen if I pull the trigger?”

I’m outside, so I don’t know if he’s pointing the gun at himself or waving it at Mom. It’s around midnight, close to the last feeding of the day. I sit outside the brier fence and listen.

They’re yelling louder than they usually do. Mom keeps shrieking about the way people “look” at me. Sometimes she says Dad looks at me. Dad calls Mom crazy. He tells her she ruined his life. He calls her evil. Mom calls herself a child of God and says Dad is sick.

They yell and midnight becomes one in the morning. I take out my phone and look at Richard’s number. Coyotes wait around, snapping and huffing.Midnight has come and gone, and there wasn’t any food.

One becomes two. They’re still shouting. Then there’s a flash and something that sounds like a dull pop.

I freeze in the new September chill. Dad is screaming “Oh my God! Oh my God!” Mom isn’t shouting anymore.

I hear Sammie screaming too, almost drowning Dad out. Then there’s another pop. Now it’s just Sammie screaming to herself, over and over. I don’t hear any more shots.

Richard’s number glows on my phone. I hear Sammie weep into the kitchen phone. Faint lights, red and blue, begin to flicker through the trees. I hear heavy breathing in the dark.

Behind me, beyond the brier fence, the coyotes lie unseen in the night.

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New Halloween Twitter Serial: #theywontdie

About three years ago I began running serialized fiction on Twitter, telling my stories one tweet at a time. It was moderately popular, and for about a year I ran a new one each month, some with holiday themes, some without.

It’s been a minute since I was last on Twitter for any significant period of time. Life has been kinda hectic lately, but I’ve begun to realize that life is always kinda hectic. You can’t wait for calm to get creative. You have to get creative to spite the chaos.

So beginning today, I’ll be tweeting a new serial: #theywontdie, from my Twitter handle @TweetTheHorror. Graveyards are places for the dead, but that doesn’t mean the dead are there alone…

Keep them company here: #theywontdie.

Here I sit before my kingdom. Here I am the steward of this land and its decay.

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Filed under #theywontdie, Fiction, Horror, Miscellaneous