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!

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A to Z Challenge: Attacked

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The creature plunged its icy hand into Anna’s chest and thrust straight for her heart, squeezing it and making it beat even faster. Pain radiated through her as she tried to writhe free of its grasp, but there was nothing she could do. Her heart hammered away while stuck in that cold grip, and her veins filled with ice.

She had really believed that she would escape this time. That she would find a way to evade the beast. But she had underestimated it. It found her and, within moments, she was cornered. Unable to escape. Trapped. Her breath reduced to cold gasps, desperately seeking air to fill her deflating lungs.

And now it was all over. The beast had won. Anna could feel the color fading from her vision, her body growing ever colder. Soon all would be –

“Anna, are you ok?”

Kate knocked again on the door of the bathroom stall.

“Anna?”

Anna gulped in a deep breath, her body drenched in a thin film of cold sweat.

“I’m…I’m fine, Kate. Just need a minute.”

Anna locked eyes with the beast, staring in to fathomless void. She couldn’t let it win. There were people she cared for, a life that, however imperfect, she had to live. She grabbed the beast’s wrist and slowly, painfully, extracted its hand from inside her. She would not succumb today.

 

Written for the April A to Z Challenge. Four days late, but I’ll catch up.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 16: Prophecy


Bashir fell to his knees and shut his eyes. He knew it was over. The man in the black cloak towered over him, boring into his soul with his dark, fathomless eyes. Death would finally claim Bashir, but he refused to face it. It wasn’t time yet.

Bashir woke up gasping for breath. He was soaked in sweat even though the sun had not yet risen and the air was still cool. His wife, Rukhsana, was fast asleep. Bashir got out of bed and went out into the courtyard. His goats were tethered to the tree that stood in the center of it, idling around.

For the third night in a row, Bashir had had the same dream. The same vision of death. It was an ill omen. The first time it happened, he told his best friend Farzan about it as they were setting up their stalls at the market. Farzan was troubled, but told him not to dwell on such dreams. Death would hardly announce his arrival, after all.

But the dream would not leave him. Whether it was a vision or just a nightmare, it snatched the peace out of Bashir’s mind. He hadn’t told Rukhsana about it, as he didn’t want to worry her, but he wouldn’t be able to hide his anxiety for long. Either death or madness awaited him. Bashir went back inside and lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling until the break of dawn.

That morning was one of the busiest Bashir had seen, as customers surrounded his little spice stall, haggling for the best prices on what they sought. It kept his mind occupied for a while. Bashir was pouring some ground cloves into a small bowl when he saw him.

A man dressed all in black, with a black scarf covering his face. His eyes, dark and fathomless, locked onto his, and he started walking towards him. Bashir panicked. His nightmare had come true.

His heart was trying to ram itself out of his chest as he ran from his stall. The man stopped, but his eyes followed Bashir. On every street, around every corner, Bashir could see those black orbs watching him. He ran, ignoring the pain welling up in his sides, until he reached his house. Rukhsana was feeding the goats and looked up at him, alarmed.

“Bashir! What are you doing home? What’s wrong?”

He stopped, doubled over, trying to catch his breath. In between wheezing gasps, he told Rukhsana everything about his visions and the man dressed in black who was after him.

Rukhsana listened to his tale in shock. She couldn’t believe that her husband was about to die.

“We cannot stay here,” she said, trying to remain calm. “We must leave. We will go to another village, where he will not find you.”

Bashir shook his head. “No…we – ”

Rukhsana took his face in her hands. “I will not let Death take you so easily, husband. We must go.”

Before they had a chance to move, they found their path blocked by a tall shadow.

Bashir fell to his knees and shut his eyes. He knew it was over. The man in the black cloak towered over him, boring into his soul with his dark, fathomless eyes. Death would finally claim Bashir, but he refused to face it. It wasn’t time yet.

“NO!” Rukhsana screamed. “You cannot take him! He still has a long life to live! He will be the father of my children! We have so many years ahead of us…please…you cannot take him…”

Death turned his head to gaze at her and spoke in a soft, clear voice that rose above the dusty wind.

“I have not come to claim your husband, child.”

Bashir’s eyes opened as relief slowly washed over him, but the knot in his stomach refused to untangle itself. Rukhsana was taken aback.

Death pointed a long, pale finger at her.

“I have come for you.”

20 Tales of Terror – Day 12: The Cursed Stones

  
Crawley knew he was close. He checked the notebook again. According to the crudely drawn map, he should have been standing right on top of the stones. He smiled in spite of the exhaustion that was threatening to overtake him. He had finally done it. Years of research and fruitless expeditions had finally led to this.

His knees threatened to give out from under him, so Crawley appeased them by sitting down on a wide flat-topped boulder. He would rest for a few moments, and then he would find the stones and achieve his ultimate triumph.

Devon Crawley had been obsessed with the mysterious stones of Jankara the very first time he heard about them as a young man. The last relic of a long-forgotten North Indian tribe, the stones were said to have an inscription in their ancient language, and there were always the stories of mystical powers that accompanied these artifacts. Crawley didn’t care for any of that, however. He just wanted the thrill of being the first to find them, to have his own name etched into the fabric of history.

During his college years, he had accompanied his former mentor, along with some fellow grad students and a few avid treasure hunters, on an expedition to find the stones. They all had a general idea of where to look, an area near the border of Nepal, but nothing exact. The trip had ended in failure, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Many of Crawley’s companions, including his mentor, had died. Some had fallen ill, some had been the victims of brutal accidents, and some simply disappeared. It didn’t take long for rumor to spread: the stones were cursed, preserving their own secrets by warding off outsiders. But Crawley wasn’t deterred. No curse would keep him from what he deserved.

As he grew older, Crawley developed a reputation as a brilliant but ornery historian, eventually taking a teaching position at a local university. With access to even greater resources, he pursued his old dream anew.

After 25 years of extensive research and a lot of bargaining with some well-connected friends, he was able to fund an expedition of his own. He had recently acquired a logbook from a marine vessel that had sailed in search of the stones in 1760; it had a map that pinpointed the exact location of the stones. Someone had inscribed a skull-like shape into the book’s cover, perhaps as a warning. Crawley though it best not to share that information with anyone, keeping the book’s presence a secret.

The expedition, like all previous ones Crawley had been on, went poorly. A few of the graduate students that had accompanied him fell ill; their ailments proved to be deadly. When they were climbing a steep hill, their guide met with a gruesome fate. Each time, Crawley forced everyone to press on. There was no turning back anymore. Against all protest, the expedition continued. Eventually, Crawley was the only one left. It didn’t matter.  The stones were his prize. He alone deserved to claim them.

Sitting in the middle of the clearing, Crawley couldn’t help but laugh. Everyone was too busy worrying about curses and mysticism to see what was right in front of them. Crawley was ambitious, more ambitious than anyone could have guessed. He had carefully planned out the deaths of his crew members, to propagate the story of the curse. Forgotten relics were all well and good, but cursed forgotten relics would really make it into the history books. And if Crawley were the sole survivor of a doomed mission? His story would live on forever. The last time he had tried that, he went home empty-handed. But now, he would finally get what he was owed.

After a little digging, Crawley unearthed the stones. There were three of them, no two shaped alike. Various symbols had been roughly carved into the stones; the last living words of a dead tongue. Crawley smiled. He had done it. His smile vanished at once when he saw the symbols started glowing. A sickly green light emanated from the stones, almost blinding in its intensity. Crawley dropped the stones and backed away. It was too late.

With mounting horror, Crawley noticed that his hands had taken on the same sickly green tint. It was spreading over his body. At the same time, he launched into a violent coughing fit. Blood was pooling up in his lungs. His vision was starting to blur. Crawley slid to the ground, which was spinning all around him.


News of Crawley’s doomed expedition spread soon enough, arousing much curiosity. Everyone wanted to know about the mysterious stones of Jankara. The stones came to be recognized as significant historical artifacts, and Professor Devon Crawley became famous as the obsessed historian who had been chasing the relics, and had succumbed to their horrific curse.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 11: Plague


Joanna kept running, even though she could feel her lungs burning. The sheriff’s office was within sight. She stopped just in front of the door as a creature bounded in front of her, screeching in an unnatural pitch. She wasted no time in snuffing the light out of its soulless eyes.

With a quick pump, Sheriff Joanna Wheeler ejected the spent shells from the shotgun and barged into her office. It was empty, except for the blond man, who was still in the holding cell. She pointed her gun through the bars of the cell, breathing hard.

“What the hell’s going on here? What are those things?”

The bedraggled prisoner shook his head sadly. “I toldja you should have let me go.”

“I’m gonna need a better explanation,” Joanna growled.

The blond man looked her square in the eye. His eyes were very blue, the irises standing out against the bloody veins that surrounded them.

“Shoulda let me go, Sheriff,” he repeated.

Perhaps she should have. When Deputy Earl Mason had brought the stranger in for driving drunk, Joanna had expected it to be a fairly routine case. They’d let him sober up in the cell while they tried to find someone to get him. But he didn’t have any ID and was too incoherent to give them a name. He had screamed about how they had to release him and babbled on about monsters before passing out. They didn’t give him a second thought. Until sundown.

Joanna had received a call about some sort of disturbance at the Wilburs’ farmhouse. She knew something was wrong the moment she pulled into the driveway. There was pin drop silence. She walked toward the house, taking her pistol out of his holster. There was some sort of sound coming from the barn just adjacent to the main house. Joanna slowly walked toward it, noticing the door was ajar. She pushed the door open and almost threw up.

All of the animals were dead. Their mutilated pieces lay scattered around the barn, the floor thick with blood. The Wilburs lay near the entrance. Most of the meat had been stripped off May Wilbur’s body, and Henry was in the process of being disemboweled by some sort of troll-like creature. It whipped its head around to look at Joanna, licking its bloodied gums. She emptied an entire round of ammunition into it and ran. As she was getting into her car, she saw more of those same creatures on the roof of the farmhouse. They leapt off and ran towards the town.

Joanna drove after them, hoping she could prevent them from hurting anyone. But she was wrong. Within minutes, there were hundreds of them, attacking anyone in sight. They overwhelmed the squad car and Joanna barely managed to escape, taking her shotgun and a couple of boxes of shells with her. She had come running to the office to collect some more ammunition, and hopefully some answers.

She kept her gun trained on the blond man, contemplating whether to just shoot him and get it over with, when a thought struck her: where was Earl? She heard a screech behind her and turned around just in time to blow the head off the creature trying to attack her. There was blood pooling under the door of the evidence room. Inside, Joanna found what was left of Earl. This time she did throw up.

Composing herself as best she could, Joanna unlocked the cell door and dragged the blond man out.

“Alright, you’re free. Now what?”

He shook his head again. “It’s too late.”

“The hell it is.” She grabbed him by the collar and led him out of the station. The blond man’s car was parked outside, apparently untouched. As they walked toward it, she realized the whole town was silent and completely dark, except for a few flickering street lights. She caught sight of a tall figure under one of the lights by the station. He was dressed in a preacher’s outfit with a wide brimmed hat covering most of his pallid face, leaving only a grinning mouth exposed.

“Good evening, Sheriff,” the creature said in a low twang. “He’s right, you know. It is too late.”

Joanna stepped in front of the blond man and raised her shotgun.

“Is it now? Well, why don’t you step into the light, stranger, and maybe we can talk about that.”

The figure grinned wider, jagged teeth glinting. Its eyes remained hidden.

“I appreciate the offer, Sheriff, but I’m much more comfortable here.”

“What the hell are you?”

It responded with a soft laugh that snaked its way up her spine.

“You may consider me a harbinger. This town is on its last legs, Sheriff. It’s beyond saving now.”

Joanna tried to keep her hands steady. “Why? Why here?”

The figured looked thoughtful. “Well, to be honest, Sheriff, we just wanted him.” It pointed a long finger at the blond man.

“But then your friend came along and took him in. We thought we might wait for his release before continuing our pursuit but, well, we got hungry.”

The figure’s grin widened into a ghastly rictus. Joanna cursed loudly and fired a shot as the street light flicked off. When it came on again, there was nobody there. She snapped her head around to look at the blond man.

“Get in the car.”

“Don’t you see? There’s no point! They’re everywhere!”

“Get. In the goddamned. Car.”

“It’s too late…”

The blond man lunged at Joanna and managed to wrap his fingers around her throat. Reflexively, she pulled the trigger and the back of his head exploded in a shower of blood, flesh and bone. Bloody spittle flew out of his mouth, staining her jacket and her cheek.

“Dammit!”

She stared at the blond man’s corpse and then looked around. She could hear humming. It was a low rumble, like several car engines idling at once. It was coming from every direction, pounding itself into her skull, sapping the energy from her body.

Things were about to get much worse.

Joanna slid into the driver’s seat of the car, taking slow, deep breaths. She laid the shotgun across her lap and started up the engine. The street lights started coming back on, casting deep shadows across the street. She could see that the creatures were perched on the rooftops and crowded along the sidewalk, watching her with unblinking eyes. They were humming in unison. The ground vibrated beneath her. She put the car into gear and drove off, with the creatures still watching.

Joanna said a small prayer under her breath. She was going to drive as far as she could go before the car broke down or was attacked. After that, all she could do was take out as many of the bastards as possible before they ripped her apart.

WEP Halloween Challenge – Childhood Fears

I had a lot of fun participating in my first WEP Challenge a few months ago, and I was eagerly looking forward to their Halloween Challenge, which is here at last! As with the previous challenge, this one is split into two parts. The first part asks us to describe a childhood fear or phobia that haunts us to this day. For the second part, we have to write an original piece of horror fiction in 1,000 words or less. That fits perfectly into my own horror-themed plan for the month!

When talking about childhood fears, I don’t even know where to begin. I was scared of a lot of things as a child. There were, of course, the ghosts, ghouls and other assorted monsters that make the hearts of children go thump in the night. For example, after watching The Witches (based on the Roald Dahl book) for the first time, I was worried that my mother might actually be a witch in disguise. For a few short weeks, I got nervous whenever I was left alone with my mother, expecting her to transform into her true self and turn me into a rat. And catching even a glimpse of a horror film would leave me convinced that our house was haunted and whatever spirit inhabited it would only make its presence known to me.

But there were also the slightly more abstract fears. I’ve always been a bit afraid of the ocean. It’s a bit odd, because I like swimming and beaches just fine, and I’ve always wanted to live in a coastal town. But the ocean as a whole, a vast fathomless body whose depths we haven’t fully explored, frightens me. The idea of being in the middle of it, with no land in sight, is horrifying. Just an unending, infinite stretch of water, teeming with life that’s fairly alien. Add some sharks or other aquatic predators into the mix, and it’s a perfect recipe for a sleepless night.

In fact, the ocean was the subject of a short story I wrote a couple of days ago, as part of my 20 Tales of Terror series.

And now for my WEP submission, a variation on a classic ghost story.

The Stranger on the Path

Jeremy raised his lantern a bit higher and quickened his pace. He hated the idea of walking home in the dark, but it couldn’t be helped. Kara would be waiting and he didn’t want to worry her. Jeremy was the village school teacher, occasionally tutoring some of the boys in the neighboring villages. His tutoring session had longer than expected this evening, and it was well past sundown when he left.

The path between the villages was straight, with open fields on either side. On this night, the moon chose to lay hidden behind a thick curtain of clouds, and Jeremy’s lantern was the sole beacon of light in the darkness. Forbidding silhouettes loomed in the distance, but Jeremy knew they were just the trees and the hills. His heart still thudded in his chest. He had never walked the path so late before, and he didn’t know who or what he might encounter. He found himself thinking about the stories he’d heard as a child. Stories of spirits that terrorized unsuspecting travelers, leaving only petrified corpses behind.

His eyes darted around, searching for movement in the shadows. He was bathed in sweat in spite of the chill in the night air and was breathing in short gasps. He took a few moments to calm himself, swinging his lantern around as he did so. All he had to do was get home. There was no point worrying himself to death.

Presently, he approached the river that ran halfway between both villages. He didn’t have much further to go. As he stepped onto the wooden bridge that spanned the river, a voice rang out from the darkness.

“Hello, friend!”

Every muscle in Jeremy’s body froze. Outlined against the indigo sky was the silhouette of a man standing on the bridge. He stepped forward into the halo of light created by the lantern, smiling. He had a gaunt face, his hair was streaked with gray, and he carried a small trunk.

“Sorry if I startled you, friend. It’s just that I was headed to Felheim and I appear to have gotten a bit lost. Would you be able to point me in the right direction?”

Jeremy stayed rooted in place, unsure of what to say or do. Almost instinctively, he looked down.

“I..uhh…”

The man held out his hands in a placating gesture.

“I understand.  It’s late at night and no doubt, you’re wary of meeting a stranger on the road. Forgive my intrusion.”

With that, he stepped aside to let Jeremy pass. Feeling like a fool for letting childish fears overtake him, Jeremy stammered out an apology.

“I, uh, I was actually going to Felheim myself,” he said, his voice growing stronger. “And I suppose I could use some company. I must warn you, I have no money, though.”

He added the last sentence clumsily, still feeling cautious.

“No worries, friend,” the man smiled. “I will to my utmost to not rob you.”

Jeremy couldn’t help laughing, and resumed his journey.

“So what is it that takes you to Felheim at this hour?” he asked.

“I was to meet Dr. Fallon tomorrow”. Jeremy nodded in recognition of the name. “He and I were to discuss some business regarding his clinic. As it happened, I was able to come a bit earlier. But not quite early enough, it seems.”

The man indicated the blackness around them with a broad sweep of his hand.

“And yourself?”

“Well, I’m the local school teacher. I was tutoring at one of the neighboring villages and ran a bit late.”

“Ah, we are both victims of time, it seems.”

Jeremy smiled. As they walked on, he felt all the more foolish than ever for his previous doubts.

“This seems an unsafe place to be walking alone,” the man said, peering ahead.

“It’s safe enough I suppose, if you don’t let your imagination get carried away by ghost stories.”

The man laughed. “And what stories preyed on your mind?”

Jeremy cleared his throat loudly. “When I was a boy, I had heard tales of spirits that haunted the pathways. How people would often meet strangers on the road, who would request their help or pose a question. As the poor travelers stopped to talk to them, they would notice that the strangers’ feet were backwards. That’s when the strangers would shed their human disguise and reveal their true forms.”

“A gruesome tale indeed. Well, as you can see, my feet are quite normal.”

Jeremy smiled sheepishly. “Yes, it would appear so.”

At length, they approached the village, which was shrouded in darkness. It couldn’t possibly be that late. Surely someone had to be awake. Jeremy walked up to his house. Not a single light was on. He took out his key and started opening the door.

“How odd. It seems everyone’s gone to bed early tonight. Alas, I cannot introduce you to my wife, but I don’t think she would mind you staying the night. You can meet Dr. Fallon tomorrow. “

“Don’t worry about it, friend.”

Jeremy continued to fumble with the door, which refused to open.

“I can’t understand it. What’s going on here?”

“You really shouldn’t believe every story you hear, friend,” the man said, his voice seeming to blend with the wind. “Not all of us have our feet backwards.”

Jeremy turned around with a start. There was no one behind him. He raised his lantern high and looked around but there was no trace of the stranger. He also realized, on closer inspection, that not a single building around him looked familiar. He turned back to the house, which also looked alien, and which seemed to be disappearing into the darkness. The whole village was being consumed by the night.

Jeremy screamed for help, but it was no use. He was no longer in the world he knew. He had fallen into the realm of stories and legends, just another petrified corpse for parents to tell their children about on cold, moonless nights.

Word Count: 1,000 even! FCA

20 Tales of Terror – Day 10: False Friend

  
While walking to my house last night,

I was greeted by a chilling sight.

There was a girl in a bloody dress,

Who smiled through the scarlet mess.

As I approached the lane’s end,

She asked me, “Will you be my friend?”

This morning I walked down the lane,

And the girl was standing there again.

“Will you be my friend?” she said.

Without a word, I turned and fled.

For if I desired to be her friend,

I wouldn’t have brought about her end.