Grounded

The stars winked in the night sky, taunting William. They knew he was bound to the earth. He was no pilot or astronaut. He couldn’t soar to great heights or touch the sky. All he could do was stand on the balcony of his apartment and gaze at the celestial panorama above him.

They said the city was most alive at night, yet to William it felt so lifeless. The neon glow that lit up the streets paled in William’s eyes compared to the natural splendor of the stars. William wondered what it would be like to unshackle himself from gravity, to float off into the clouds and see the stars face to shining face. It was a childish fantasy, but it gave him solace on long, lonely nights.

He had no friends in the city, and what little family he kept contact with were also miles away. It was funny, William thought, that he couldn’t see the people that lived in the same country but the furthest stars were always in his sight. He chatted with people on the bus, laughed at his co-workers’ jokes and even had lunch with a few of them, but at night, the stars were his only companion.

As lovers walked the streets hand in hand and friends laughed at each other’s raucous jokes on the way to some late night hangout, William floated through violet clouds tinged with the silvery glow of the moon. That was where he belonged, where he would truly feel at peace. He just knew it. Ever since he was a boy.

William’s father was an amateur inventor and would often spend his evenings in the garage, working on his fanciful machines. On those evenings, William’s mother took him out for a walk under the stars. He remembered the cool night air, the warm comfort of his mother’s hand, and the majestic sky that twinkled with delight at the sight of him. It was a ritual William continued into adulthood, though after moving to the city, he preferred to watch the sky from his balcony. He felt closer to the stars that way.

As the years passed, William grew more and more isolated from the world around him. He was seen but rarely heard at work, and his neighbors often wondered if his apartment was empty. His hair had grown thinner and grayer. His shoulders stooped and his knees ached. But William still shuffled his way on to the balcony as the sun set, his neck craned upwards. For as long as the light still shone in his eyes, he would not miss an opportunity to gaze upon the stars. They were his friends and his family now. Soon enough, he thought, his body would fail him and would fall to the ground in a useless heap. But that didn’t bother William. He knew then that he would finally be free of the earthly realm. He would at last be able to join the stars, as he had dreamed for so long.

As pin pricks of light formed against the night sky, William took in one long shuddering breath. It was almost time.

13 Tales of Terror: October Chill

The night was quiet. Not a whisper among the trees. No chirping crickets. Just the soothing sound of silence. Jacob would have felt content on a night like this, but he knew that quiet wouldn’t last. It was All Hallows’ Eve, after all.

In moments, the moon would hide its face in the clouds. The dead would be roused from their slumber and would climb out of the earth. For one night, they had free rein to do as they pleased. To attend unfinished business, to right the wrongs of their lives, or simply to sate their undying lust for blood.

Most people would not know about it. Most people would write it off as myth or legend, a scary story to tell on Halloween. Any sightings of the dead would be considered a work of imagination or, more simply, a well-made costume.  Any act of violence would be attributed to human brutality. Screams of anguish would be drowned out by shouts of revelry. Death’s macabre symphony would echo through the night and people were too deaf to hear it.

But not Jacob. He knew what was coming, as he did every year. While the fools celebrated the occasion, thinking that they were honoring the dead, Jacob knew that the dead didn’t care for honor. Their desires were much more basic.

He stood over the cemetery, letting the late October chill wash over him, and opened the book. Jacob read aloud from it, speaking the sacred words that would keep him safe. The words that would render him invisible to the shambling army.

As he finished and closed the book, the moon disappeared. The night was dark. The trees were one with the sky. There was darkness, but not silence.

The earth shook, groaning and rumbling under Jacob’s feet. It was time. Hell had opened its gates and the dead were coming.

“Happy Halloween,” Jacob muttered as the first decaying hand tore its way up through the ground.


And there you have it! The final Tale of Terror to greet All Hallows’ Eve! Thanks to everyone that stopped by and read my little tales! I hope you enjoyed them and, more than that, I hope they made you shiver…just a little.

I won’t be posting daily stories now, as that’s hard to manage along with my other tasks (though I just had to do it for Halloween!), but I will try to maintain a regular posting schedule. Probably weekly posts, or two a week. Let’s see how that works out.

But for now, I’ll bid you farewell, dear reader, and wish you a terrifyingly Happy Halloween!

13 Tales of Terror: Dearest Son

“Hi Dad!”

“Hey kiddo! How’s your day been?”

“It was ok. Kinda boring.”

“Yeah? How come?”

“Well, Mike left today.”

“He did?”

“Yeah. His parents came to see him. They talked about some stuff. Then Mike was really happy. I’ve never seen him laugh so much before. Then he left.”

“Oh…I’m sorry, buddy.”

“It’s ok. I heard something about a new kid coming in.”

“New kid?”

“Yeah, he’s s’posed to come in the afternoon, I think. His parents aren’t around so his uncle’s bringing him.”

“Well, that’s not so bad then. At least you’ll have someone to play with again.”

“Yeah. I hope he’s nice.”

“I’m sure he will be, buddy.”

“How was your day?”

“Oh, you know. The usual. Work. Got some new projects coming up so I’ll be working late for a while.”

“You won’t come visit?”

“Sure I will! I’ll always make time for you, son.”

“Daddy? When are you gonna take me home?”

“I..uhh..well, don’t you like it here? You’re meeting so many new people, and you’ve got so much place to play.”

“It’s nice. But I’d like to go home again. I wanna see Mom. Why doesn’t she visit?”

“Your mom just…has a lot going on. She’ll visit soon, I promise.”

“Ok.”

“Hey. you know we both love you a lot, right?”

“I know.”

“Things are going to be difficult for a little while. But it’ll all be okay soon. We’ll spend a whole day together as a family. I promise, son.”

“Ok, Daddy.

Hey, I think that’s the new kid! He’s coming! He’s coming! Can I go say hi?”

“Sure thing, son. Just don’t disturb anyone else, ok?”

“I won’t! I’ll just say hi and see if he wants to play right now!”

“Alright, have fun!”

“Bye, Dad!”

“Bye, son.

I love you.”

He sprints across the grass, bursting with excitement. You’d think he was getting ready to open Christmas presents. A hearse pulls up near the gates. Soon the mourners and the pall bearers will be coming in. I wonder how old the new boy was, and how he died.

Poor kid. At least he’ll have company here.

 

 

 

 

13 Tales of Terror: In Her Eyes

In her eyes,

I see love.

I see longing and desire and passion.

We are lovers, young and eternal,

Two hearts with one beat.

In her eyes,

I see bliss.

New beginnings,

Our dreams shimmering into reality,

Souls linked by two rings.

In her eyes,

I see fear.

Gray creeps along a golden horizon.

Our youth slips away,

Lives shift in different directions.

In her eyes,

I see pain.

A storm rises in the distance.

Our love is a faded photograph,

Finding color in another’s arms.

In her eyes,

I see rage.

A broken ring, an unforgivable betrayal.

Our world has crumbled in my fingers,

Both on a road with only one end.

In her eyes,

I see death.

A knife blade flashing in the dark.

My life bleeds out one drop at a time.

As darkness approaches,

Hate is all I see

In her eyes.

13 Tales of Terror: Bound

A striped blue sweater.

That was Ben’s first memory of Anna.

A striped blue sweater, alternating between dark and light shades, with a turquoise collar. It was a couple of sizes too big for her, making her look like a little girl in her sister’s old hand-me-downs. But Anna loved it.

All these years later, the colors had faded. The fabric, which Ben remembered as soft and fuzzy, was rough in his hands. He worried it might crumble if he held it too long, but he couldn’t put it down. Not just yet. It was the only connection he had left to her.

Ben and Anna had met in college. He was a freshman with dreams of becoming an English teacher and she was a junior with a passion for chemistry. Their classes were on opposite ends of the campus and they didn’t have any friends in common. The one place where their paths did cross was the library. It was there that he had seen the girl in the blue striped sweater hurrying off, her library card still sitting on the checkout desk. He returned the card and she thanked him. That one exchange turned into a conversation. That one conversation turned into several, and before they knew it, they were going out for dinner.

Ben remembered that night well, including the stunning purple dress Anna had worn. She had torn one of the shoulder straps a couple of years ago, but she still kept the dress around. It was somewhere near the bottom of the pile, still as vibrant as the first time she’d worn it.

Many more dinners followed, along with other outings. The picnic where she’d worn the polka dot dress, the beach trip with the yellow sarong and blue swimsuit, the graduation dinner with the gray gown. Ben picked up each in turn, feeling the fabric knot itself around his fingers, twist around his limbs. He fought the encroaching numbness in his extremities and picked up the box. Inside was Anna’s wedding dress.

They were married on a crisp autumn day, when the leaves were turning but the air was still warm. Anna looked resplendent, shimmering in the late afternoon sun. Ben could still feel the warmth on the dress. He half expected to find his hand circling Anna’s waist, for her to turn and smile at him as he whispered his love to her. Instead, the dress wrapped around him, squeezing his ribcage.

Two years later, Anna gave birth to a son. Daniel was so beautiful, swaddled in a blanket the color of the summer sky. As Daniel grew, there were birthday parties, school functions and family vacations. Gray streaks crept their way through Anna’s hair, but her clothes were as vivid as ever.

Ben remembered the indigo shirt Anna was wearing, in stark contrast to her silver mane, when she collapsed. From that point, she was reduced to lifeless hospital gowns until the end. Dark blue veins climbed along Ben’s neck, bleeding out of the shirt in his hands.

It had been six months since Anna’s passing. Everyone urged him to move on with his life, to keep Anna alive as a memory rather than dying alongside her. Finally, after many discussions with Daniel, Ben decided he was ready. He put all of Anna’s clothes out in the living room, to be donated or sold off. But each article of clothing was a memory, and memories weren’t so easy to erase. Ben was struggling to breathe as the clothes tightened their grip on him; his lungs were collapsing. The sleeves of Anna’s sweater wrapped themselves tightly around his face, and Ben closed his eyes.

***

“Dad?”

Daniel’s voice floated through the hallway.

“Dad? Are you there?”

“Danny…”

He walked into the living room and looked around.

“Dad?”

There was no response, but he noticed someone sitting in the armchair facing the window.

“Oh, Dad, there you are! I’ve been looking for – ”

Daniel stopped as he reached the chair. His father wasn’t sitting in it. There was just a pile of his mother’s clothes, stacked all the way up to the headrest.

 

13 Tales of Terror: Creature of the Night

The fat man continues to run, wheezing and gasping for breath. His whole body shakes from the strain. Soon enough, he stops and doubles over, retching onto the pavement. The rancid odor of his puke contains traces of fried meat, beer and grease. His insides are as disgusting as his outward appearance, it seems.

He tries to say something in between wet, gurgling gasps. He probably wants to beg for his life. They always do. It doesn’t matter anyway. This isn’t a negotiation. It’s a hunt.

 Another smell soon joins the putrid bouquet of sweat and vomit: urine. The poor bastard is really in bad shape. Best to just put him out of his misery. Especially before he attracts any attention with his pathetic mewling.

A lunge, more for dramatic effect than anything else. He isn’t going anywhere. A few slashes to deflate that bulging belly and make him bleed, adding a much more palatable smell into the mix. One swipe across the throat to remove his voice. And finally, the big finish. Biting right on the neck to suffocate. He struggles against the teeth, limbs flailing in protest. It doesn’t last long. He’s done.

The hunt is over. Time to eat.


 

Janine sat up in bed, half screaming. Her whole body was coated in a film of cold sweat, her sheets drenched. She hated it when she had the dreams.

She closed her eyes and sat still, wrapping her blanket around her shoulders and waiting for her breathing to slow. Over the years, she’d learned to control her reaction to the dreams, but she still felt sick.

After a few more minutes, when her heartbeat was thumping at a steady pace again, Janine went into the bathroom and splashed some cold water on her face. A haggard young woman stared back at her from the mirror on her medicine cabinet. Dark, bushy hair that was strewn across her head, skin that was almost grayish in the dim light and dark circles under her hazel eyes.

“You look like shit,” she muttered to the woman in the mirror, and she agreed.

Janine downed two glasses of water, though her throat still burned, then walked back to her bed. In the silver rays of moonlight streaming through her window, she saw something glinting on the floor. Had she dropped an earring? No, she hadn’t worn any jewelry that day.

Curious, Janine bent down to examine the object. It was a silver wristwatch, attached to an oversized wrist that was sitting at the end of a severed arm. Janine swore and fell back onto the floor. It was the fat man’s arm.

She quickly scrambled to her feet and flicked on the light. The arm was lying on the carpet, a rusty stain underneath. The rest of the room was clean. No blood, no body parts, no bones.

Janine let out a huge, relieved sigh that almost bent her body in two. She got a garbage bag from the kitchen, put the arm in it, wrapped it around tightly, sealed it, put the whole thing in another garbage bag, and dumped it in the trash can. She’d deal with it the next morning.

She washed her hands and her face again, double checked all the rooms for traces of gore, and finally went back to bed.

Finally, Janine could enjoy a dreamless sleep again. Until the next full moon, anyway.

 

13 Tales of Terror: The Snake Charmer’s Bargain

The crowd applauded and dispersed. A few people dropped a handful of coins into Bansi’s plate, barely enough to buy one meal. Snake charming wasn’t the attraction it used to be when he was a young man. Bansi packed up his flute and slung his basket over his shoulder. He could feel Katraj slithering around inside, restless now that the show was done.

Bansi had been a nomad his entire life, moving from town to town and entertaining passers-by in the streets. He had no family to ground him, nor any companions on his journey. Except Katraj.

Fifteen years ago, when Bansi was taking his first steps into manhood, he had been taught the art of snake charming by his father. He displayed his skill in his family’s streetside shows, back when there was a bigger audience for such a thing. It was then that he had first come across Katraj, a mere hatchling then about to be devoured by a wild mongoose. Bansi saved the young cobra and took him in, caring for him as a pet and soon making him a partner in his act.

He had no illusions of friendship, though. Bansi knew that the creature owed him no loyalty; the several bite marks dotting the snake charmer’s hands bore testament to that. He merely played his part by dancing to the tune of the flute. Still, he was the closest thing to family that Bansi had after the passing of his parents.

Together, they traveled through towns, cities and villages, putting on a show for anyone willing to watch. They earned just enough to keep Bansi from starving, though he was still more bone than flesh, while Katraj helped himself to the local vermin. Business had been slow of late, and the crowds much thinner. Bansi had lost weight, but had gained a slight limp and an increasingly frequent cough. He was hoping his luck would turn around soon, but that wasn’t to be.

The monsoons hit the city hard that summer. The streets turned into streams, people splashing to and fro to find shelter from the endless downpour. Bansi found a roof when he could, but spent most of his time drenched and with an agitated snake on his back. Performing was impossible and his money had already run out. Trudging through water and grime over long hours was starting to catch up with him, the cold air whispering into his bones.

On yet another wet afternoon, he set off in search for food and lodging. He was trembling from head to toe, clad in a thin blue shirt and white pants with only a pair of worn brown sandals on his his feet. The weather had finally caught up to him. Burdened by hunger and fatigue, he slumped under the meager protection of a tea stall awning. His cough sucked the air out of his lungs with more force than ever before. He lay back against the empty stall, trying to catch his breath, but it hovered out of his reach. There was no one to see him or help him. Katraj was the only companion he had.

Bansi’s eyes grew heavy. He was tired, and it was time for him to rest. As his vision blurred, he saw a hazy silhouette advancing toward him. It was a man, sitting atop some great beast. As the figure drew closer, Bansi’s eyes cleared and widened with fear. The rider was the color of a starless sky with eyes that could see through worlds, and his steed was a buffalo that would tower over the largest elephants Bansi had seen. Bansi bowed his head before Yama, the Lord of Death, who carried with him a great lasso to ensnare souls and take them to the realm beyond life.

“Oh great Lord,” he said, voice quivering. “Why have you come to me? The path of my life still stretches far ahead of me. I have many wonders to see, many challenges to face. Why, Lord Yama, would you snatch that away from me?”

Yama’s gaze was stern, but not cruel.

“Your journey in life ends here, my child. As is written in the law of the universe, you must come with me now to Naraka, where your soul will begin a new journey.”

“Please, great Lord, do not take me just yet. I know there is much more for me to do. Spare me, and I shall become your devotee, and sing praises in your name until my strength fails me. Then, my Lord, I shall accompany you without hesitation.”

Yama unfurled his rope.

“It is my duty to take the dead where they belong, my son. I cannot change that anymore than Brahma can change the stars.”

“Please!’ Bansi cried out, his voice feeble. “I am not ready! I am not ready! If it is a life you want, take Katraj! He is old and has lived many years as a captive. Let this be the end of his struggle!”

“Do not presume to bargain with a god!” Yama’s voice was sharp as a thunderclap. “You think I will be satisfied with your pet snake? I have come for you, Bansidhar, and it is you I shall take!”

Yama flung his rope at Bansi who, with the last ounce of his strength, threw the basket at the enraged deity. The lasso wrapped around Katraj and pulled him onto the buffalo’s back.

“So,” Yama roared, glaring down at the prone snake charmer, “when bargaining fails you attempt to trick me? Very well, mortal. I will accept your bargain then. I was sent here to take a life and so I shall. As for you, Bansidhar, you shall live. And you will not forget me or our bargain until the end of your days!”

With that, Yama rode off into the storm, leaving Bansi cold but still living.

When the rain let up, Bansi felt lighter than he ever had. He was alive! He had given up the creature he once considered a friend, but it was a necessary sacrifice. And, as he reminded himself, the snake saw no friendship. Happy at a second chance, Bansi attempted to stand up, but could not. In fact, he couldn’t feel his legs at all. What happened? Had Yama crippled him? Was that his punishment?

As Bansi tried to make sense of his current situation, a man came along. He started at the sight of the young man and immediately rushed at him with a stick. Bansi fled without a moment’s hesitation.

“Leave! Go on!” the man shouted. “Starting the evening with a snake at my stall. It’s bad luck, I tell you!”

Frightened and confused, Bansi slithered away. He had a full life ahead of him now, and plenty of time to ponder the price of that life.