Story A Day May: With Friends Like This…

It’s hard to believe April’s behind us already, along with the A to Z Challenge! It was my second year participating, and I’m happy that I actually managed to stay on schedule this year (except for one minor delay).

And, because I’m a glutton for puni…err..thoroughly passionate writer, I’ve also signed up for Story A Day May. So without further ado, let’s launch in to the first tale:

The Prompt

You attend the funeral of an old friend.
Afterwards, in the mail you receive a postcard. It’s from the friend, and it reads “I’m not dead. Meet me Tuesday night at 8 at ____________.” And signed by him/her.
First make a list of possibilities for how this could be the case.
Begin your story with, or after, the arrival of the postcard.

The Tale

David Fairweather and I had been friends since high school. We sat together at lunch. We laughed at jokes nobody understood. We went on a double date on prom night. And somehow, despite the distance that separated us during our crazy college years, we managed to stay in touch. I was there at his wedding to congratulate him. And just two days ago, I was there at his funeral to console his widow.

So when a postcard arrived this morning with David’s signature on it, I was surprised to say the least. Though not as surprised as when I read it.

“I’m not dead. Meet me Tuesday night at 8 at Lonnie’s.”

I spun the postcard in my hands over and over, my fingers tracing its sharp corners as my mind tried to make sense of it all.

David Fairweather was dead. I read a goddamn eulogy at his funeral.

Was it some sort of prank? A sick joke perpetrated by…I couldn’t even imagine who would be that twisted. I looked down at the postcard again. It was definitely David’s handwriting. I’d recognize that looping script anywhere. I’d seen it on so many postcards he’d sent from his trips. David loved to travel and, even more than that, he loved to document his travels.

The last postcard he sent me was from somewhere in Nepal. He was trekking in the mountains and visited a monastery. Went on about some mystic mumbo jumbo. He always did love his tall tales. David just got back from Nepal a week ago, and then…the accident. The one that sent him to his next grim destination.

Seemed only fitting he’d send a postcard from beyond the grave. Except the grave was empty, apparently.

Who the hell did we bury then?

It was a closed casket funeral because of the horrific injuries David had suffered in the accident. It hurt so much to say goodbye to my old friend without getting to see him for one last time. Was that all a ruse? A carefully orchestrated fake funeral? Why?

There was only one way I was going to get any answers.

On Tuesday, I went straight home after work. I put on a heavy overcoat, thankful that the weather was still brisk, and paired that with a scarf and the biggest pair of sunglasses I could find. I hoped it would be enough for David, or whoever wrote the postcard, not to recognize me right away.

At 7:45, I was sitting at the bar counter with a beer in hand. I took a couple of small sips as I looked around. No familiar faces. No one that looked suspicious. Though in this case, I had no idea what ‘suspicious’ would even look like.

At 8:05, I was already getting antsy, my beer half-drained. Most of the people in the bar were with friends. There were a few loners, but it didn’t look like they were waiting for anyone. No sign of David at all.

By 8:20, I was convinced it had just been a very bad joke. Some bored jackass mocking a grieving man. I pulled out the postcard from my pocket. The handwriting. Would someone really go to the trouble of replicating it so precisely just for a laugh?

“I wasn’t sure you’d come.”

The voice sent a jolt up my spine, almost causing the card to slip out of my fingers.

David was sitting on the stool next to me. Not somebody that looked like him. Not a guy with a bad makeup job or a mask. David. Looking very much not dead. I had no idea how to react to that, no idea what to say. There were so many questions running through my mind, begging to be asked.

“What the hell, Dave?”

That was a start.

He motioned to the bartender, then turned back to me with a grin.

“You’re probably gonna need a few more drinks. What I’m about to tell you can…get a little weird.”

“Weirder than me talking to my friend days after his funeral?”

He laughed. “Fair enough.”

“I – I don’t understand, Dave. What’s going on? How are you alive? Are you alive? Am I going crazy? Talk to me, man.”

The questions came pouring out of me as the relief over seeing Dave alive evaporated and was replaced by a cocktail of worry, fear and curiosity.

“Whoa!” he held his hands out.” Easy there, bud. All of your questions will be answered in time.”

He picked up the beer that the bartender plonked down in front of him and took a long sip.

“You remember the monks I told you about in Nepal? Did you know they’ve been over there since the 5th century?”

I scratched my nose, more confused than ever. “Okay…so you went to some really old monastery. What does that have to do with – ”

“No, no. Not the monastery. The monks. Those monks, the ones I met. They’re the really old ones.”

I must have misheard him. “What?”

“The monks that I met in Nepal,” he repeated, as if explaining it to a child, “have been around since the 5th century.”

It started clicking into place. It still didn’t make any sense, and I could feel more questions trying to push their way past my lips. I gestured to the bartender.

“You’re right. I’m gonna need several more drinks.”

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#AtoZChallenge: Dead End Romance

Delilah Stokes had always been told that dead men tell no tales. She learned that was a lie when her ex-husband refused to shut up.

Frank was the kind of guy that young girls were looking for: roguish, charming and spontaneous. He had the sort of face that looked just as good with a smile or a brooding frown, and he knew how to use each expression for maximum effect. When they met, Delilah was a twentysomething free spirit on a journey with no end in sight and Frank was a twentysomething dreamer who couldn’t tell a speed bump from a milestone. Sparks flew the first time they locked eyes at an old gas station, and they burned for each other.

They were young and energetic, living each day as if tomorrow were just a myth. Their wildfire romance led them to the altar, followed by a steamy honeymoon. Using the short-sighed gift of prophecy that all young lovers have, they knew they’d be together forever. A year later, they realized ‘forever’ had an expiry date.

Once the scorching layers of passion, lust and proclamations of everlasting love had burned away, they realized they had nothing left. Frank was still living in his dreams without a penny in the real world and Delilah was hopping from one dead-end job to the next, trying to find a reason for their marriage to survive another day. With time and a few changes, they might have stuck it out. But then Frank had a plan.

Even when she’d first met him, Delilah knew that Frank was a man who saw laws more as rough guidelines. It was a charming trait at first. But as their relationship went further and Delilah craved a degree of stability, Frank’s wayward ways became harder to bear. So when he suggested armed robbery as a solution to their money problems, she wanted nothing to do with it. But Frank, for all his faults knew how to exploit his charm.

It was a simple plan. Masks. Guns. A trail of gas stations. Hold up the convenience store clerks at gunpoint and clean out their registers. They would skip a few along the way, make it seem random, hard to track. Nothing could go wrong.

After their third robbery, things seemed to be looking up. They were a pair of anonymous crooks on the run, but that initial spark of passion was back. For a little while, Delilah forgot her ideas of married life and craved the freedom of the open road again. But Delilah had always been told that crime doesn’t pay. And she discovered how true that was when the long arm of the law finally stretched far enough to wrap its fingers around them.

After an hour long chase involving three cop cars, Frank’s car couldn’t take it any more. They were stranded, holed up in the gas station that would have been next on their list if the cops hadn’t shown up. Frank was holding a gun to the old cashier’s head. Delilah was trying to find another way out. The fuzz was closing in. It was over. But then Frank took it too far. He was going to shoot the hostage. Delilah just knew it. She couldn’t let that happen.

Delilah lunged at Frank, managed to loosen his grip o the old man. He still had the gun in hand, though. And Frank wasn’t happy. He shoved her aside and she could see the madness building in his eyes. He aimed the gun at her, started to say something. Maybe he was going to convince her to kill the hostage. Or maybe he was going to say his final goodbyes before killing her. It didn’t matter. He never finished. Delilah found the shotgun hidden under the counter and fired it right into Frank’s chest. The sound was deafening. The sight of exploding flesh and organs made her throw up. But it was done. She had shot the hell out of ‘happily ever after’.

Delilah turned herself in. She confessed to everything. Told the whole story. The jury was sympathetic, but she was still a criminal. She got five years and served three. It was just long enough to watch her dreams shrivel away to nothing. Even after being released, she felt like she was in a cage. Guilt didn’t wash away no matter how often she showered. Her only consolation was that she was rid of Frank and his madness.

On a warm summer night, Delilah couldn’t sleep. She was plagued by strange thoughts and visions, nightmares that evaporated into smoke whenever she opened her eyes. She got up and went to get a glass of water. When she came back, Frank was sitting on the bed, waiting for her.

“Hey Del,” he said, flashing that same charming smile she’d fallen in love with all those years ago. He looked exactly the same as the last time she’d seen him. Slicked back hair. Fine line of stubble along his jaw. Gaping hole in his torso.

Delilah gulped down the rest of her water with her eyes closed. When she opened them, Frank was still sitting there in the dim moonlight.

“Dammit, Frank,” she said, wiping a trickle of water from her chin. “What the hell do you want now?”

 

 

20 Tales of Terror – Day 17: Beyond The Veil


Dearest Candice,

I hope this letter finds you in good health.

It has been scarcely two days since my departure, and already I find myself missing you deeply.

This morning, I was formally introduced to Dr. Cavendish, who gave me a personal tour of the institute and explained my duties in greater detail. I cannot describe to you the thrill I felt on meeting such a great man, and knowing that I will be working alongside him to broaden the horizons of human understanding and knowledge.

Dr. Cavendish is a man of great vision. Through his work, we may definitively be able to prove the scientific roots of the supernatural. If we are successful, all those old myths and superstitions will take on a completely new light! I know how dangerous that must sound, but do not worry. Dr. Cavendish is very thorough in his methods.

His behavior can, at times, be quite unorthodox, but that is to be expected of any ingenious mind. They operate on a level of thought we cannot begin to comprehend. He is very fastidious about cleanliness. Why, he even wore gloves while shaking hands with me! During our tour, we came across a stain on the floor. At first, I thought it to be blood, but later reflected it must have been a chemical spill. Dr. Cavendish was absolutely livid, however. He stamped his feet and roared at the top of his voice at everyone in the laboratory, stressing the important of keeping every surface clean.

I must confess, in that moment I felt a pang of fear, and thought I detected madness dancing behind his eyes. Perhaps that is the price of being truly passionate about something. Only moments later, Dr. Cavendish was in a good humor again, and resumed our tour as if the interruption had never occurred.

It was a most uneventful day otherwise. We had many discussions on the afterlife and its scientific implications that were quite fascinating to me, but I shall spare you the details.

Tomorrow, my work begins in earnest, and I greatly look forward to it. The coming weeks will be demanding, but I shall write to you as often as I possibly can.

Do give my love to Annabelle, and let her know that the both of you will always be in my heart.

With love,

Nathan

20 Tales of Terror – Day 15: Haunted

  
She haunts me.

I see her face, jade eyes framed by raven locks, and I yearn for her.

The sight of her ruby lips curving into a smile would make the most arid desert blossom with life.

I remember the touch of her pale skin, like velvet. I can never forget the way she laughed when my fingers caressed her face. I would give anything to touch her again.

But I cannot.

Our love will only live on as a memory now.

All I can do is watch from afar as she walks by. She has a new life ahead of her, while I am doomed to wander the world, forever restless.

Forever haunted by memories of my life.

No Place Like Home

As she does every Wednesday, Kristi Simpson urged everyone to write something. One of her suggestions was a ghost story, so I thought, why not? I’d just published a creepy tale of desolation for the WEP challenge yesterday, so I thought I’d go for a different tone with this one.

Forlorn.

It was the only word that came to mind standing at the old train station. Greyhaven had never been a busy town, but it got its share of visitors. Back then. Only memories and echoes inhabited it now, haunting abandoned buildings and gliding along empty roads.

A soft breeze dislodged a few chips of mottled green paint from the side of the train carriage, revealing a bit more of the rust underneath. At the same time, unseen hands pushed the station doors open, bidding me welcome. It was a quaint little building with a dark sloping roof and brick walls that were probably bright red once. Shadows danced behind broken window panes, creating the illusion of activity inside, but there was not a soul in sight.

I walked through the the station, surrounded by vacant chairs, past a ticket window that was overgrown with cobwebs and through to the other side. The town of Greyhaven lay spread out before me, now true to its name. Had it really been twenty years since life had left this place?

Rows of desolate shops stood before me, their wares turned to dust long ago. Whatever hadn’t been stolen anyway. I walked past the old bookstore. Its shelves, once carefully arranged, were strewn about in chaos. Dr. Carver’s pharmacy was unrecognizable. A place of healing, now a marker of death. The post office had collapsed on itself a long time ago, before the town had been lost. There were plans to rebuild it, but perhaps it was an omen for the troubles to come.

Neatly trimmed lawns were now a tangle of weeds and shrubs. A fallen tree rested itself on what had been Mrs. Simm’s garage. The breeze picked up, whistling through the leaves and over the bare streets. The sun was making its way toward the horizon, painting the sky in hues of gold and crimson. Night would come soon enough, plunging the whole town into darkness. Truth be told, even the dawn didn’t bring much light here anymore.

Just before the last rays of sunlight disappeared, I arrived at the house. It was so beautiful once. Simple, painted in plain beige with a dark brown roof. A cozy living room decorated with family photos and my wife’s knick knacks. Two bedrooms upstairs; the kids always complained about not having their own rooms, but they got along so well together. The rooms were home to only dust now, the house’s decaying walls a sorry reminder of what once had been. In spite of that, I felt glad to be home.

Tomorrow, I would go out again and walk around the town. The same walk I’d taken for the past twenty years, through abandoned buildings and along empty roads.

Spooky Science

“Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

“That’s a bit vague, isn’t it?”

“…what?”

“How afraid is ‘very’? Is there an exact measure?”

“No! You’re just…very afraid!”

“But how much fear is that? Like ‘spider’ fear or ‘wetting your pants in public’ fear?”

“Hauntings were so much simpler in my day.”