The Way It Was, Pt. 1

Three empty glasses sit on the table in front of me. They were filled with beer earlier. The dark wooden table hides the stains of spilled booze well, but the stickiness gives it away. Sticky tables, sticky floors. I really hope it’s just dried booze. Then again, I don’t care much right now. It’s Saturday night at Donaghan’s and I have at least three more beers to get through before closing time.

The place is pretty full. Lots of people standing around near the bar, waiting for someone to leave or just pass out. It’s a good thing I got here early. Not like I have many other place to go. I haven’t been working for the past two months and it’s been about a year since my last semi-serious relationship. My apartment is a cage, tiny and rectangular. There’s just enough space for me to breathe, but my thoughts get stifled there. Donaghan’s is a much better place to think. And nobody judges you for drinking by yourself in a bar. That’s kinda why it exists in the first place.

I suppose I could approach some of the people here, attempt to make new friends. Who knows, we might even hit it off and have a fun night. But then they would leave, going back to their lives and their jobs. And it would just be me again. As it always is. There are a few regulars around here, but I’m the goddamn customer of the month. And I probably will be for a while.

Another beer lands up on my table. It won’t last long.

As I take a swig, savoring the smooth bitterness of it running down my throat, I see two women head to the bar. Tall brunette and her redhead friend, both dressed to kill. And I’m a dead man. Under better circumstances, ones that didn’t involve being unshaven and walking around in a greasy hoodie, I would put on my most charming face, strut over to those two beauties and chat them up. Oh who am I kidding? I’d probably still be nursing an empty beer glass.

Still, they’re a welcome sight in this dingy rathole. And of course, they’re not by themselves. A man joins them soon enough. Dark tailored suit, looking so sharp it almost slices through the smoky air. Hair cut short and gelled. Clean-shaven, the scent of his aftershave filling the room. I’ll bet his teeth sparkle too. Typical Mr. Perfect, probably an investment banker or financial advisor or something that keeps your pockets full.

I can’t stop looking at him, though. There’s something familiar about him. In fact, as I push back the bleariness clouding my vision and really pay attention to his face for the first time, I realize he looks a bit too familiar. Is he an old high school friend? Or a former co-worker? No, that’s not it.

I sit up, eyes wide.

I know why his face looks so familiar. If he had a scraggly beard and bloodshot eyes, I would have recognized it right away.

It’s my face.

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Blood Red

Don’t go into the forest at night.

That’s what the townspeople say.

It seems like common sense, or folksy wisdom, but there’s more to it than that. Nobody will say anything further.

Find a man in a tavern and buy him enough beer, and he’ll start to talk. He’ll tell you about the town and its secrets, of the mayor’s affair with the baker’s daughter and how nobody makes eye contact with Farmer Hill anymore, not after the rumors spread about the sounds that come out of his barn.

Buy him a few more beers and he’ll tell you about the girl. His eyes, though glazed with drunken pleasure, will show a flicker of fear. His voice, loud and jovial, will drop to a trembling whisper. He will beckon you closer and tell you about the red-hooded girl of the forest. Or at least, what appears to be a girl.

It’s believed that she is a spirit of some sort. She is definitely not of this world, and even her human guise is not without its flaws. Her eyes are too big, some say, and her teeth are too large. On nights when the moon is a pale shimmering disc in the sky, she is seen roaming the forests surrounded by wolves. They do not harm her and she does not mind them. They move as one.

He looks around, even though nobody is paying the old drunk any attention, then locks his glassy eyes on you. And if, he says, if you disregard the townsfolk’s warning, if you find yourself wandering through the trees in the darkness and you come face to face with the red-hooded apparition, tell her you’re going to grandma’s house.

She may let you live.

He runs a finger across the twisted scar running from his throat down to his chest and takes another swig from his beer mug. He will tell you no more.

As you leave the tavern, having paid for the old man’s booze, there is a sound of howling. The pale yellow moon shines down upon you, full and bright. Wolves. You turn away, but another sound follows the howls, a sound made by no man or beast of this earth. It is the sound of lost souls or vengeful demons or horrors yet unknown, wandering the land cloaked in a red hood.

The Caretaker

In anticipation of this year’s Halloween festivities, I figured I’d share some of my favorite creepy stories from last Halloween. This is a good place to start!

 

Today marks the beginning of 20 Tales of Terror, where I’ll be featuring a scary tale every day until the end of the month! Why 20, you ask? Because I got a bit lazy earlier in the month…

But anyways, here’s the first spooky tale to get us started.

Caretaker

I was lost.

The tour map didn’t show anything remotely close to what I was looking at. It was a dismal looking manor house made of stone that had probably been white once, with a black metal fence running around it. It had no windows and one large door. On closer examination, I realized it was a mausoleum. I looked at my map again, hoping to find an answer it couldn’t give me.

“Can I help you, friend?” a voice like old rustling paper asked.

“Um, hello,” I said, looking at the man that stood before me. We were in a wide open space and the gate leading to the mansion was still locked. I hadn’t heard footsteps or seen even the flicker of a shadow, yet there he was. “I, uhh, I appear to be a bit lost.”

“It would appear so,” he said, in his cracked parchment voice. The man was hunched over, dressed in a dark furry coat that seemed to be writhing around his stooped shoulders. His sallow skin was stretched tight over his face, as if his skull were a few sizes too big for it. He smiled, showing off crooked teeth the color of curdled milk, while his hungry eyes were the color of milk that was only a day old.

He extended a bony hand with dirt-colored nails. “I’m the caretaker,” he said.

Not wanting to be rude, I shook his hand, which was as cold as the autumn air around us. I wondered how much care he took of anything, given the decrepit appearance of both the building and its keeper.

“How long have you been watching over this place?” I asked him.

“Oh, I don’t take care of the building.”

I could feel a shiver snaking its way along my spine. “What then?”

His ghoulish grin stretched wider. “Tourists, mostly.”

I didn’t see the shovel until it was inches from my face. I could feel droplets of blood shooting out of my mouth, along with a few teeth. Then there was blackness.