Welcome to the Attic!

News and Notes

Happy New Year!

Hello! I hope 2017 is off to a great start for everyone. I have a few things coming down the pipe on here, so I thought I’d post a short update.

First, I wanted to highlight two additional narrations for Devil in the Details. The first is a Youtube narration by Khostic, which you can listen to here! The second was part of a podcast by The Mad Catter (got to say, I love the name!), and you can catch it in episode 105  on SoundCloud here.

Going forward, I’m going to create a page that lists narrations just to keep them organized. It also allows me to more easily link between stories and narrations, so you can find audio when you want it. Again, I am so grateful for those who have taken the time to record things I wrote! It’s really been a great experience. If anyone is interested in narrating any of the pieces I have on here, just send me a note on the contact form and give me the info when it’s posted so I can give you the credit!

So, for this year, I have some things I’d like to accomplish. First, I plan on starting up a short series on writing tips covering various topics that I find come up when I’m doing beta-reading. I’m, of course, no expert, but I have a few years experience writing and getting solid feedback, so I’d like to pass along that information. And hopefully generate discussion with some of you as to what you agree and disagree with me on. I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned and learning from you as well! If you have topics you’d be interested in, leave me a comment or let me know, and I’ll see what I can put together.

Additionally, I want to continue with Milgram. I’m really enjoying that story arc so far, and I hope I can smooth out some of the issues to finish it strong. Right now, I’m considering it a much longer piece, moving out of short story realm and towards novella. But we’ll see what twists and turns my writing process takes.

I’ve also enjoyed doing some longer pieces, even longer than my admittedly wordy short stories. I’m trying to figure out a good balance. Because I really still enjoy the shorter, one-off stories as well. I also enjoyed the 13 Stories of Halloween, so I might try to work in more shorter, consistent writing events like that. They are a bit stressful, but I also really enjoy the end product.

Well, all that to say Happy New Year! Thank for reading, and I hope I can continue to entertain you throughout 2017!


Youtube Narration: Devil in the Details

Devil in the Details has been narrated on Youtube! You can check it out here. It is narrated by Vendasoul, so make sure to check out their channel, like, and subscribe if you enjoy what you hear.

I am so excited about these narrations and the communities around them. What a great creative outlet! I’m always amazed by how people take these, put their own spin on it with sounds, music, and images, and create something wonderful. Not only that, but it also gives all kinds of people more ways to get exposed to different stories and styles. Having really gotten into podcasts recently, I like the idea of being able to listen to a great creepy story, because the experience is so different compared to reading. And the people who make them put so much work and energy into them! So, I’ll continue to post and share about these as they come in. If you like to make narrations, please let me know if you ever want to narrate something. I’m almost always game!

 


Barter Youtube Narration

Hello there! I just wanted to drop a quick note to let you know about an absolutely fantastic youtube video (<– click here)! Okay, I’m being a little boastful because someone took Barter and narrated it. Natenator77 contacted me shortly after Barter was posted and asked to put together a narration. I’m excited to say it’s done!  A lot of different narrators came together to take this story and bring it to life. I’m so excited to see different people using their talents to all tell scary stories in their own ways. And it’s pretty cool hearing someone read my story! I hope you will give it a listen and enjoy!

Also, if you like the work don’t forget to like and subscribe to Natenator77’s channel. They post high quality work on a regular basis, so I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Happy…listening!

 

(And sorry for all the exclamation points. I’m excited.)


13 Stories of Halloween: Tresspass

Hello there! Welcome to the 13 Stories of Halloween in the Attic. I know, it’s not an original concept, but I thought it would be fun. What it means is, for the next 13 days, I’m going to post a short story relating to the season. Being a predominantly horror/supernatural writer, this is kind of like my Christmas. So I thought I should celebrate!

The stories will be short one-shots dealing with seasonal themes. Expect to see classic monsters, trick-or-treaters, jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, and ghouls. Some will be funny, some scary, and most of them a little campy. I have written a few of them over the past two days, and there is quite a bit of variability in the style and tone of them. Hopefully there will be something for everyone! All the stories will be available in the 13 Stories of Halloween tag, so you can catch up anytime. Without further ado, I give you the first story. Happy reading!


“How long do we have to stay here?” Alex asked, his eyes trying to take in the decrepit setting all at once but only succeeding in bouncing wildly from one corner of the room to the other.

“What, are you chickening out already?” His friend Dean threw his backpack onto the floor as he stomped in.

“No, I just—it’s hot out, is all, and this place definitely doesn’t have AC.”

The two boys stood in the entryway to the abandoned house. Like every town, theirs had its haunted house. They were certain, however, that their haunted house was actually haunted. Unlike all those others. A sweeping staircase stretched in front of them and up towards the second floor. There was a room to either side of the entryway, neither decorated in a way to suggest any previous use. Everything was simply covered in a hefty coat of dust and broken glass. The windows had been boarded up, but only after the town hooligans had managed to smash most of them.

Dean knelt down by his bag, the dust swirling around him as he disturbed it. His hands swam through the bag before escaping with two flashlights. He had replaced the batteries before leaving home, and they shone brightly as he tested them out.

“Trust me, Al, you aren’t going to melt.” Dean shoved a flashlight toward Alex, who took it and rapidly clicked it on and off as if afraid it would reject his commands. Dean took a few steps forward, venturing further into the house along the hallway running parallel to the stairs. “Guess we should have a look around?”

Alex nodded and turned his light on. While the moon was large and bright outside, almost none of that light made it past the plywood sheets on the windows. The floors creaked under their feet, obviously unused to being walked on. How long had such a place lain dormant, Alex wondered. There were no signs left of the original occupants. Of course, that made sense. He never understood why the houses in movies and TV shows were always furnished with antiques. He knew enough to know that was like burying cash in a house and leaving the door unlocked.

The hallway led back and into what appeared to be a kitchen. There were old hookups from something, plus the sagging remains of countertops. Dean tapped his flashlight against a hole in the wall. “Someone beat us to the pipes and wiring,” he said with a smirk. Alex just nodded.

There was a small pantry off the kitchen, but nothing inside besides rat droppings and an old pull string light. Despite its rather imposing presence on the street, the house itself was beginning to feel rather cramped. And, if Alex was honest, boring. Hearing the stories, he had expected bloodstains and skeletons, maybe some screaming ghosts and at least a general feeling of unease. But it felt like an abandoned house. Nothing special.

Dean took the lead, walking back towards the entryway. The two rooms off the entrance were large and open. One had a fireplace in the middle of one wall, the brickwork crumbling away. Dean shone his light inside it and leaned close to inspect what was left. Expecting perhaps some charred bones or the remains of a secret diary, he was disappointed to find nothing more than some burnt newspaper—probably from the last bum seeking shelter—and bird droppings.

“Well, this is a bit of a letdown,” muttered Dean as he rose back to full height. Alex leaned against the opposite wall, his flashlight off and bouncing softly against his knee.

“I did expect something a little more interesting from the scariest house in Four Clovers,” agreed Alex.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure my Aunt’s house after chili night is a lot scarier than this old place.”

“But I’m guessing you still want to stay?”

Dean looked at Alex as if he were the dumbest person in the room. “Of course,” he said, stating the obvious, “it’s a dare, isn’t it? We have to stay until after 3:00am. The Witching Hour.” At the last phrase, he flipped his light up so it cast his face in shadows, taking one long, stalking step towards Alex. It was less effective than he hoped.

“I bet the asbestos in here is terrible for cell service, too,” bemoaned Alex as he slid down the wall and pulled his phone from his pocket.

“I don’t know if that’s how that works,” stated Dean, “and either way, we still have to check upstairs.”

Now was Alex’s turn to return the stare. “I’m sorry, upstairs? Have you seen the state of this place? You go up there, you will fall back through the floor. And I’m not carrying you to the ER for a busted leg.”

“We can’t just half explore the house.”

“We can. We agreed to stay here, not choose it for our summer home.”

“Oh, come on, what if all the scary stuff is upstairs?”

Alex made a show of leaning away from the wall and out the doorway, just far enough out so that he could barely look up the staircase. “You’re probably right, bro. I bet the ghosts like to hide up there. But hey, we wouldn’t want to scare them.” He returned to typing on his phone, probably telling Amy how much of a bust Dean’s Halloween plans turned out to be.

“We said we’d take a picture in the attic. They’ll never believe us without it.”

Alex sighed and rolled his eyes, then pushed himself to his feet. He grumpily shoved his phone in his pocket and retrieved his abandoned flashlight. “Fine. We’ll go to the attic. But if I fall and die, you have to deal with my parents.”

The two slowly started up the stairs. They groaned and sagged a bit, but none of them gave way as they stepped carefully up one at a time.

“This is what my grandpa calls true craftsmanship,” said Dean with an exaggerated smile. He eagerly stomped once, twice, three times on his step, which responded with a hollow thud.

“Just climb the stairs.”

The landing branched off to three bedrooms, with a fourth door closed at the end of the hall. Alex walked toward the closed toward and supposed staircase to the attic while Dean turned the opposite way.

“Dude, attic?” snapped Alex.

Dean shrugged and continued on his way. “If we’re up here, we might as well check out the rooms. I think this one,” he waved his flashlight at the open room at the end of the hall, “was where the father murdered his daughter and her boyfriend.”

Alex waited, hoping he could call the bluff, but Dean vanished into one of the rooms and did not reemerge. “Dean?” he tried after a few seconds of silence. No response.

“Dean? Come on, did you fall in or something?” Alex began taking slow, measured steps down the hall, leaning against the all as he tried to peek into the bedroom. But Alex was nowhere to be seen.

“It’s not funny. Come on, let’s go to the attic!” Slow and steady, he made his way down the hall and found himself face to face with the doorway. He leaned around the doorframe and spotted Dean, face pressed against the intact glass of the window.

“What are you doing?”

“I can see in the Davis’s house from here. They’re watching Saw tonight.” Alex shoved him, and Dean pulled away from the window with a wide grin.

“I thought you were bored?”

“Can we just go up to the attic? Before this place collapses?”

“Fine,” Dean acquiesced, making their way out of the room and toward the opposite end of the hall. “They say after he killed the two of them, he strangled his wife because she wouldn’t stop screaming. And then his son tried to stop him, but the dad pushed him down the stairs.”

“Yeah, Dean, everyone knows the story. Dad goes crazy, kills everyone. The American Dream.”

“But isn’t it crazy? We’re walking where they died. Those stairs? Those were the ones he threw his son down! That front door? He shoved some neighbor guy’s face through it. I mean, there aren’t any ghosts, but still…”

“Yeah, and when you sit on your couch, you’re sitting where your parents conceived you.” Alex stopped, underlighting his face and waving his free hand about his head. “Isn’t that spooooky?”

“You’re an ass, you know?”

They tugged open the door to the attic, staring up at yet another set of stairs. These were noticeably less dusty, likely, Dean reasoned, due to the closed door. Still, cobwebs hung thick around them.

“Ladies first,” offered Dean. Alex shoved him forward onto the first step.

“No, I insist, after you,” said Alex with a smirk.

The attic was as much of a letdown as the rest of the house. Nothing up the stairs, not even an old treasure trove of discarded junk. Whoever had moved them out took everything with them. Alex snapped the picture with little fanfare, and they began their descent.

“Do you think there’s a basement?” asked Dean, hopefully.

“You can check. I’m going to watch some videos until we can finally leave in—“ Alex quickly checked his phone—“two hours and seventeen minutes.”

“You’re so lame.”

“You’re the one who still says lame.”

They reached the bottom of the stairs and turned the doorknob, but it was stuck.

“So much for craftsmanship,” muttered Alex, giving the door a solid push. It protested, but did not move.

“Let me try. Probably just warped.” Dean put his hand on the doorknob, turning it sharply. He leaned back, then shoved his shoulder into the door. It released suddenly, sending him stumbling out onto the decrepit landing.

Only this time it was different. The dust was gone, replaced by a stylish carpet runner down the middle of the floor. The rooms had doors on them now, and light seeped out from under the far door.

“What the—“ the words died on Alex’s lips. Everything was clean and new, or at least newer than before. Someone was snoring behind one of the doors. “We’ve got to get out of here,” he said when his voice returned, pushing past Dean toward the stairs.

“What do you mean?” hissed Dean. “We’ve been looking for something to happen, and now you just want to leave?”

But Alex was already halfway down the stairs. The door squealed open, then closed with a final thud. Dean stood dumbstruck at his post. Shaking his head, he slowly began walking along the hall towards the door with lighting. The daughter’s door, he told himself. Maybe he could talk to her ghost.

The door swung open quietly, so quietly it did not immediately alert the occupant. She sat at a table under the window, writing thoughtfully in a small journal. He could see her face reflected in the dark glass of the window, a smile on her lips at whatever she was writing down. After a moment, her eyes caught his reflection in the mirror, and she turned with a start.

“Ricky?” she asked, eyes wide with surprise and a little fear.

“Uh, my name’s not—“

“You know better than to come here. What if my dad finds us?” She stormed across the room, peeking her head out the door before closing it quietly.

“My name’s Dean,” he finally managed.

“This is not a time for jokes. My dad cannot know you were here. He didn’t see you, did he?” All the warmth had drained from her face, leaving behind nothing but the very real fear. It seemed to be contagious, because Dean felt it bubbling through his chest as well.

“No, no one saw me. Everyone else was asleep.”

“Good, then you’ll just climb out the window and go home. We’ll talk at school.” She grabbed his hand and practically dragged him across the room. The window squealed in protest as she raised it, and they both froze. Nothing but silence in the house.

She released a small sigh, followed by a half smile. “Don’t pull something like that again,” she said as she kissed him softly on the cheek.

Dean got one leg out the window before the silence exploded into noise. The door to the room flew open, an angry giant of a man filling the frame. He crossed the room in what could have been no more than two long strides, grabbing Dean by his shirt and dragging him back into the room.

The two eyes that glared down at him were bloodshot, and the smell of alcohol rolled off of him in a tangible wave. “You think you can come into my house?” he roared, angry enough that spittle coated Dean’s face.

Dean’s lips were moving, trying to get words out that would solve the problem. But nothing besides air made it through.

The eyes moved from Dean to the girl cowering beside the window. “You think you can whore in my house?” he bellowed. She covered her face defensively, a tiny sob escaping her lips as she prepared for an incoming blow. Instead, the man threw Dean like a rag doll against the wall.

“I guess I’ll have to teach you both a lesson.”

_

Alex waited outside, breathing heavily as he eyed the once again dark house. He was not sure what he had seen inside, but something had happened. It wasn’t until he made it off the porch that everything returned to its prior state of disrepair. But, Dean had not followed. And now, he paused and listened closely, he imagined he heard some mumbling voice.

The mumble grew until it was a definitively audible roar from the back corner of the building, accompanied now by a wet smacking noise that he could not place. It made his skin crawl, and his concern for Dean shot up a few more degrees.

Then someone screamed, a brief and piercing noise that cut off halfway through. The silence after was deafening. This was a prank, Alex assured himself. Dean must have recorded some spooky noises and saw this as the perfect opportunity to scare him. There probably hadn’t been a dare after all. He expected some new effect after the scream was silenced, but there was nothing for a minute. The silence stretched.

Alex walked back up the stairs of the porch and tentatively turned the door knob.

“Dean?” he asked as he gently opened the door and stepped inside.

The door opened onto a lovely furnished entryway, this time. In shock, he felt the door slip form his hand and fall gently closed behind him. Alex looked up along the stairs to see a young boy kneeling and crying, as some dark shadow paced from down the hallway. The boy sobbed and screamed in terror. Then, in a fluid motion, the shadow grabbed the boy by the neck and flung him down the stairs, almost as if discarding a dirty rag. The body bounced about halfway down the staircase, rolling the rest of the way to land at Alex’s feet.

He was rooted to the spot, eyes wide. His mouth opened and closed like a fish, and he felt just as breathless. “Do not meddle in my business,” roared the shadow at the top of the stair. It suddenly barreled down the stairs, taking them two or three at a time. Alex felt his muscles free in time for him to spin to the door, hands scrambling for the knob.

Just as his fingers wrapped around the doorknob, strong fingers wrapped around his skull.

“It’s my house!” growled the man from the stairs, punctuating the statement with a knock on the door using Alex’s head.

“It’s my family,” he added, giving another firm knock.

“I’m the man—“ the world was grey and full of impossible pain for Alex with the third knock—“of this household.”

The man’s fingers seemed to seep into Alex’s skull know, pressing on his brain from all sides until it felt like it was simply going to explode.

“I will. Be. Respected,” he growled, each word punctuated by another rapid conference between Alex’s head and the door.

Alex welcomed the relieving darkness, the man’s word turning into nothing but mumbled nonsense.  The pain faded as he got one last glimpse at the outside world before that massive hand pulled his head back through the door to continue his tirade.


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Settling In

Just an update, but I have successfully completed the cross-country move and unpacked all the boxes that are getting unpacked. I hope to get some writing done this week as I have it off, and then get back to a more regular schedule once I start my job (with regular hours!) and no impending moves from one side of the US to the other.  I will also be getting caught up on emails and editing requests, so apologies for delays. Thanks!


Update + First Draft: the Lonely House

Hello there! Let me clean off some cobwebs and give an update.

The short story is my life is a tangled mass of chaos right now.

The longer, whinier story follows. Not only am I trying to collect all the data from 40 participants for my dissertation, but also hold down a current assessment/therapy case load, finalize paperwork for my new position, pack my entire apartment for a cross-country move, spend time with my friends before said cross-country move, exercise a bit more, and remain relatively close to a functioning human being. In a month, almost all of these things will be done. Because I move in a month, which means everything has to be packed, paperwork finalized, dissertation data collection done, and friends hundreds of miles away. I can hopefully do some writing then, in between unpacking my apartment and starting a new job. At least that one has regular hours, so I don’t have to work until 9pm.

You know, just outlining all of that made me feel better. It did not make me any less stressed, but it at least affirmed that my stress is well-justified. So, I apologize for no updates. I have a couple ideas rattling around, but I’m definitely not performing at my peak right now. I’m a bit weighed down by stress and feeling a hefty wallop of general fatigue. Combine that with grieving for the people and places we are leaving behind, and it does not make for a very good creative environment. Not for me, anyway. I also keep making really dumb mistakes when writing (I spent about a week using the wrong form of who’s/whose before realizing it), which tells me my brain is about at capacity. If you have sent me something and I ignored it, I am sorry. I just am having to spend some time focused inward, keeping myself together. All day I am surrounded by others, wearing my outward-focused face. It wears me out. When I get home for the day, I just retreat and let the introvert in me recharge. Long story short, I cannot promise regular updates until after mid-July. Hopefully life will have some sort of pattern after then.

That all said, I am stuck in an office for about 6 hours today with little to do. I had a client reschedule, so I can’t go home (I will not miss my hour-long commutes), but I am in a holding pattern on a few cases right now. Can’t work, can’t go home, can’t do testing, can’t pack. And I’ve made all my phone calls for the day, just waiting on returns. So, I can write a little something, at least.

I’ve had a lot of ideas recently, which is nice. I’m thinking about starting a writing prompts page. I think some of them are interesting, and I would rather someone use them if I’m going to be too swamped to do it! We’ll see.

So, here is what I got done today. I’m pretty pleased that I got something  like this done between 11am and 3pm. It’s rough, but it has the makings of something pretty entertaining, which is what I aim for! Most of all, I hope you enjoy this little piece. There are probably some things I don’t know about filming a movie that could be helpful, so let me know anything I got wrong in the comments. Happy reading!


The dream was always the same. It did not happen regularly, but he knew each time just what would happen, as soon as he saw those oxidized gables rise into view. As far as he knew, Keith had never seen that house before. It had no correlate to his waking memories, though he knew it like a childhood friend in his dream. The feeling of familiarity was so strong, he had once described it in great detail to his mother, certain it had to be some relic from his early childhood years.

It was green, he had stumbled as a child. Now, he understood that the roof was copper, but old and weathered. Vines snaked along the brick front, giving it a fuzzy, organic appearance, the dark ivy leaves only adding to his fumbling insistence on the green building. Tall, dark windows leered down at him, all centered around the imposing black door in the front of the home. Up a set of weathered stone steps, the vines tracing along the cracks here as well, and face-to-face with the glimmering gold knocker.

His mother had smiled, praised his imagination, and assured him they had never been to such a house. She did not listen to him explain the many rooms inside, all eerie with their emptiness. It was not simply an abandoned house, but it was cavernous and grieving its lack of inhabitants. Each room was as unsettling as an empty eye socket. Yet he could read the impressions left in the home enough to realize it had once been extravagant. The trim around the ceilings, the plush carpets and glistening wood floors, the rich walls covered in dark paint of thick wallpaper all spoke to extravagance. It was like the shadows of a young debutante in the face of an aged widow.

Inevitably, the clock would begin to ring in the house. It was the only piece of furniture left, a stately grandfather clock at the end of the hall. It boomed throughout the empty house, the tolls redoubling over and over again. Try as he might, Keith could never count them. He could not distinguish the echoes from the real chime, and simply ended up muddling through wave after wave of thunderous hours.  As the sound filled the empty house, he felt it begin to press again his eardrums, threatening to smash him. Every time, he knew he had to leave the house in order to prevent the sound from crushing him entirely. It could not hold the clock, its sounds, and the echoes with him inside. And so he raced out to the backyard, into a world of spindly evergreens and withered grass.

Whenever this dream began, he knew where it would end. His feet invariably crunched through the grass, still putting distance between himself and the now-dim peals of the grandfather clock. Each step lessened his fear that the noise would come spilling from the house and yet again overwhelm him. If it filled the outside, how would he ever find a place to escape that sound? It was not until he came around the corner and saw the tiny pond that the sound would vanish, swallowed up by the impossibly dark water.

It was not a natural pond, but one crafted and placed in the midst of the garden, supposedly to be ringed by merry flowers and restful spots of repose. However, it was now lonely in the midst of overgrown bushes and looming evergreens, their branches jagged fingers pointing to the unholy spot. The water was still and black, seeming to promise unreachable depth. The sky and trees were reflected perfectly, a dark mirror showing a shadowy world.

A cold feeling always wrapped around him at this point as his feet drew inexorably closer to the edge of the pond. Eventually, he would be standing over it, looking into his own eyes reflected back. Only it was not quite his face. There was malice in the eyes, a subtle smirk in the mouth that intimated something sinister. Keith would watch himself, watch the clouds whistle by and the trees bob in the wind.

The next moments played before his eyes like scenes from a home video, never altering in the slightest. The ring around his finger—his father’s wedding band, gifted to him by his mother after his passing—slipped off of his finger. He could feel it inching down, but could not risk breaking eye contact with his reflection in the pool. It would bounce on the stone, its ring a sharp counterpoint to the weighty bellows of the clock from before. The noise hung in the air as if frozen, even as the ring tumbled and sparkled into the water. Then, he could see it sitting just below the surface, betraying the shallow depth of the pool. He’d lick his lips, worry and sadness on his brow, while his reflection sat immobile, watching and smiling.

Finally, he dove forward, his hand plunging into the icy depths of the water. It was cold, thick, and sluggish around his hand. His skin looked pale and distorted in the light, almost as if it were greying and rotting in the water. As his fingers closed around the ring, his prize won, bloated fingers surged from the darkness, wrapping around his wrist.

Keith would fling himself backwards, landing on his back against the stone. As he looked up, the head of something would appear above the water, skin waterlogged and hair dripping with oily water and pond scum. Its eyes would look like his, the mouth curled in that smirk.

Keith woke up with a start as the thing put one rotted hand onto the lip of the short retaining wall just as he always did. As usual, he was freezing, his toes almost aching with the chill. While the dream did not come at regular intervals, it came often enough to fix a routine. Keith slipped from his covers and wrapped a robe around, stuffing his feet into battered house shoes in his closet. He dutifully went around to each window and door in his house—twelve windows and two doors in this one—to make sure he had left nothing open that could cause a draft. He checked the thermostat and read it was sitting comfortably at 72 just as it should. Finally, he moved to his dresser, pulled his father’s ring on for comfort, and returned to his bed with an extra blanket. In the morning, he would wake in a pool of sweat, the blanket thrown aside and his robe shrugged off during the remaining hours of sleep he had left. Still, he had to do what he could to shake the biting chill that currently bound his addled body.

The morning came early, and Keith woke up just as he predicted. It at least made the cool water of the shower feel all the better as it jolted him to alertness. He had a long day ahead, and so the jumpstart made it at least seem possible. Still, he poured an extra bit of coffee into his thermos, sacrificing room for cream in order to pack in the extra molecules of caffeine. Keith smiled, banking on the placebo effect to get him from his front door to Natalie’s without winding up taking a nap in some neighbor’s ditch.

Keith picked up his equipment from beside the front door and chucked it into the back of his SUV with little ceremony. When this was still a new, daring hobby, he had treated each pieces with special dignity, setting it affectionately assigned spots. Now the cameras, tripods, cabling, lights, and other paraphernalia ended up in a tangled heap that he would sort out at the film site. Checking his watch one last time, he leapt into the driver’s side and sped off to make up time lost contemplating various shower thoughts and the miracle of coffee.

Natalie was waiting for him when he showed up, a hint of irritation shimmering through her otherwise friendly smile. Having known her since grade school, he appreciated the restraint required for her not to express her annoyance. Though, to be fair, having known him since grade school, he assumed she expected him to always run five minutes late.

“Did you get my text?” she began as she swung into the car. She tossed a messenger bag into the back seat and immediately moved to turn the air conditioning up.

Keith patted his pockets quickly, finally locating his phone. The messenger icon was in the top corner. “I did, but I assume you wanted me to read it,” he shot back as he thumbed open the message.

Don’t forget extra cabling. Place is old. May need extension cords.

“I’m guessing no luck?” she said with a sad smile.

“Actually,” he began with an exaggerated flourish, “you are very much in luck. I decided to pack some extra just in case. Just using my good ol’ boy scout’s preparedness skills!”

She rolled her eyes and fell back into the seat. “Well, at least one part of it stuck. I’ve got the directions, so just head to the highway. I’ll guide from there.”

As they had on so many morning. Keith and Natalie set off down the road. He kept his eyes fastened to the asphalt while she calmly led him through the steps. As usual, they stopped for breakfast sandwiches at the diner right beside the highway and munched on those as they traveled out of town. Somewhere along the way, Natalie got bored and began scanning radio station while Keith repeatedly asked her where the next turn would be. They missed it, looped back around, and eventually pulled off into a gravel drive way.

Once the shadows of the trees fell over his front windshields, Keith felt an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu mixed with anxiety. He felt as if he had seen these shadows before, as if they had previously traced their way over his face. And it was invariably tied to something he did not want to experience again.

“Where’d you find this place,” he groused,” because it is seriously creepy?”

She raised an eyebrow and laughed, “Creepy? The place is beautiful. Just wait until you see the house.”

He did not have to wait long. The gables rose into view, standing proudly in their familiar green. Keith could feel his heart begin to crash against his chest with slow, heavy beats as his eyes grew wide. The car rolled to a stop as he stared, mouth agape, at the specter before him.

“Keith, what’s your problem? Drive on up, I don’t want to walk through the mud.” She smacked his shoulder, hoping to pull him out of it, but he simply ignored her. “Keith?” she tried again.

His head suddenly spun around to face her. “Why are we here?” he snapped. His eyes danced like a cornered animal.

“We’re here for the filming. I told you, I think this place will be great—“

He put the car in reverse, and she grabbed his arm. “Hey, stop! What are you doing?”

“Natalie, we can’t go traipsing around abandoned properties. First, that’s trespassing, and second, you have no idea what could be in there. There could be wild animals or hobos or bad floors or—“

“What are you talking about?” she yelled over his flurry of words.

His response was merely to slam the car into park and point at the house. “That. That’s what I’m talking about. We can’t film here. It’s dangerous and illegal.”

“It’s not illegal. I talked to the owners and they gave us a great rate to use it. We just have to clean up after.”

“Owners?” Keith knew this house had no owners. It could not have owners. It devoured those that tried.

“Yeah, I’m not going to have us traipse into some unknown place. Give me some credit.” She crossed her arms, making no effort to hide her irritation now. “So, if my papers are in order, can we drive up to the entrance or am I going to have to walk?”

His fingers itched along the gear shift, wanting to finish backing out of the drive and speed back down the highway. But he felt rationality pulling him back. This was ridiculous. How would he explain to Natalie why he floored it away from a perfectly good filming location, one that came at a steal it sounded like? He imagined the words out of his mouth. ‘I had a nightmare about the house.” He would never live it down, nor should he. He was being unreasonable, the rational, human part of his mind reminded. The animal part continued to growl and back into the corner, hackles raised.

“Sorry, I just—“ there was not a good way to recover from the moment other than just moving on like it never happened. So he did. “Are we renting furnishings for it or keeping it empty?” he asked, hoping to change the subject to something less bizarre than his behavior.

Natalie’s words were short, reminding him she was not going to let the moment just fade. “It comes fully furnished. I mean, I’m not terrible at my job and you have not even seen the place. So how about I worry about those details?” Her tone stung him, but he nodded in silence.

The feeling did not leave as he drove up to the front of the house, seeing the dark windows and black door. He reminded himself that the house was very similar to the one in his dream, but probably not the same. Even if it was, he probably saw it in some movie somewhere. Yeah, that was probably it. The family seemed willing to rent it out for filming, so maybe he saw it on television when he was a kid. It just lodged in his dreams and followed him here now. A coincidence, to be sure, but nothing worth ruining a friendship and appearing crazy over.

“Its overcast today,” said Natalie, more to herself than anyone else. Her eyes were focused out the window, studying the clouds as if they handed her their weekly schedule. “Maybe we get outside shots later, when the sun’s out?”

“I definitely don’t want to get set up and rained on,” replied Keith as he looked up at the house looming in his front window. He still felt the temptation to turn the ignition and run, but he carefully quieted that voice.

They were the first there so they could start set up for the shot. Keith knew he was Natalie’s right hand man when it came to these sort of things, which is why the other crewmembers would not get there until later. She trusted him to get it right and not mess it up. Before the courage could leave him, Keith shot out of the car and towards the trunk to retrieve his gear. Natalie squeezed in beside him and began grabbing odds and ends, carrying the lighting rigs and various tools that he would have to set to her specifications in just a few minutes.

“I’m thinking we’ll find a good parlor room and shoot some of the opening dialogue shots.” Keith nodded. Now he as a worker following orders, and that helped to lessen the creeping terror seated in his gut. “Put it here,” she commended once they got inside, “and let’s go find out room.”

The house was furnished with period-appropriate pieces. Seeing the house in its almost lived-in state was reassuring. The lonely hunger did not lurk in each room. In fact, it almost seemed inviting, as if it wanted him to have a seat on one of the couches and gaze out the window at the trees swaying outside.

His anxiety peaked again as they climbed the stairs. At the end of the hall would be the tall, menacing clock with its resounding bell. His breath caught in his throat as he spun on the final step, but he released it in a sudden sigh when there was nothing at the end of the hall. He had simply imagined the clock. It was, after all, a dream.

Natalie had a notebook in hand, jotting scribbled notes into it as they examined each room. She noted the furniture, position, window direction, space, and suggested use for each room, her head snapping from the room to her notebook with avian speed.

Finally, the climbed back down the stairs and she designated the room. “We’ll start in the first room on the left, and I think we’ll have good lighting for some afternoon shots upstairs later. Can you get started down here?” she said, but was almost out the door before he could respond. She knew he could handle it, as did he.

There was a car door slamming outside, and Natalie rushed out to get the cast and costume crew set up. She wanted to be filming in two hours, which was a tall order. Still, if anyone could rally the troops, it was Natalie. Keith set to work.

There was a zen quality to the set-up that always seemed to center him, The actual filming could be harried and chaotic, but doing this work ell always made him feel ready for whatever bizarre request Natalie would next throw his way. After an hour, the rest of the crew arrived and began to move about. They helped him adjust the lighting, get the sound set up, and position another camera. It was a generic set-up for the room, one that would have to be refined once Natalie finally got the lead actress placed, but it did a nice job based on the limited information in the script. With about thirty minutes remaining, Natalie scurried in with a cardboard box and began placing her own set pieces, including a tumbler and handwritten letter for the desk.

Of course, nothing ever actually started on time, despite Natalie’s best preparation. The sound guy was sill tweaking his setup when the hour rolled around and passed, but the lead was also still finishing up her makeup. Keith just sat on one of the couches, staring out the window at the beckoning trees. It was as if everything swirled around him, but he rested safe in the middle of the eddy, unmoving. The house was no longer threatening, but a sheep in wolf’s clothing. He had spent so long afraid of it, but it was just a childhood memory packaged up in some generic anxiety. Now that he was in the house, he felt peaceful. At home. Welcomed.

Eventually, already well behind schedule, they were rolling. Natalie’s pet project was this period piece drama that she swore was going to be accurate down to the minutest detail. It was not necessarily Keith’s preferred genre, and he found the dialogue even less entertaining after what felt like infinite shoots. Each time, Natalie had quick comments, little changes, and nit-picked details to highlight. Each time, the actress smiled, nodded, and seemed to give the same wooden delivery.  You get what you pay for, Keith smirked.

Finally, they had managed to eke out a few acceptable takes, and Natalie was on the war path again. “Up the stairs while we have the light,” she barked as she brushed past Keith on her way to the designated room. He sighed and began gathering what he would need. It was a much smaller space, which meant less room for equipment. He hoped that would speed set up rather than bogging him down in the tight quarters.

They lost the light during set-up, but Natalie was not to be dissuaded. She steamrolled on ahead with other scenes, which required Keith to spend much of the evening switching out filters and lighting apparatus to make sure the lighting stayed just right for a candlelit scene. He was exhausted by the end, and the actress was grumpy. Natalie was fueled by indefatigable energy and vision.

“Come one, let’s just get in one more scene and then we can wrap this for tomorrow,” her voiced pleaded with them, as if she could wring out enough passion from within her to inspire the others.

“I have a forty minute drive home and still have to go to the gym,” whined the lead, a usually smiling blond woman by the name of Amicia.  “I can get here earlier tomorrow, but I really need to go home. My dog’s going to have to be let out, too.” She was already taking off layers of her costume while they stood and debated, effectively silencing any further debate.

“If you tell us where, we’ll set up for tomorrow before we leave,” offered Claud and Gladys, the sound and second camera crew.

Natalie was being worn down, and her drive was quickly leaking away. She ran a shaking hand through her hair, and Keith remembered to ask her if she had stopped for lunch or dinner at any point. He had snarfed down a turkey sandwich in between scenes, but he had not seen her with much more than a half-empty bottle of water. “No, we’ll need a few shots in here tomorrow morning. Especially the letter arrival scene. No need to move it tonight. Just get here on time tomorrow.”

The house emptied rather quickly, and Keith had a chance to notice the disarray. There were pieces of paper and tape all over the floor, as well as some empty soda cans, facial tissues, and plastic bags that seemed to float around wherever the film crew stepped. Natalie was draped into a nearby chair, furiously scribbling notes in her notebook before the last of her energy finally did give out.

“Ready to go home?” The new quiet in the house revitalized Keith’s uneasiness. In the dark and shadows, the house seemed to take on more of its nightmare qualities, furnished or not.

Natalie looked up, bleary-eyed, and then peeked at her watch. She sighed. “It’s almost eleven and I want to be back here by 5 tomorrow.” She closed her eyes as she did the mental math. “I think I may just sleep here tonight. There’s a bedroom at the end that we probably won’t use for anything.”

“Come on, you can’t stay here!” There was an edge of anxiety in his voice that he had not intended, but he suddenly felt very afraid of what might happen if she remained there. He could feel the hunger creeping from the walls now that the rest of the crew had left. Sure, it had put on a pleasant face, but the house was still not satisfied.

“Why not? The doors lock and the water works. I might as well get a little extra sleep. If you could get here by seven that would be great.”

“I’m not going to leave you alone in some creepy old house in the middle of nowhere,” he offered firmly.

“Why are you so hung up on how creepy this place is?”

Keith shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s a nice house, but no one lives here. Probably haunted or something.”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s not haunted. Geez, Keith, I never took you for such a superstitious guy.”

“Well then why does nobody live here? I mean, it’s a great house. But no one uses it except for ragtag film crews?”

Her voice got quiet as she gave the news. “The family said their son passed away a few years ago, and they could not stand to live in the same house. But it’s a family home and they figured they’d pass it down. I just saw it and asked about it, so they let me come in. It’s the first time they’ve had a crew in here, so I thought it would give us some unique backgrounds and scenes.”

“So it is haunted,” he shot back, oblivious to her argument or the apparent sensitivity of the moment.

“What!? No, Keith, it isn’t haunted. Some kid just died. It’s sad, but don’t go starting rumors like that. They’re a nice family, and I don’t want anything like that getting out.”

“How’d the kid die?” He was onto a scent and unwilling to let it go.

“Keith, that’s none of our—“

“How can I know it’s not haunted?” He attempted a smile, halfhearted as it was, to remind her that he truly was looking out for her safety. The nagging sense of dread would not let go of him, however. Worse, that creeping sense of déjà vu had returned in full force.

She shrugged, her defenses overrun and inhibitions lagging behind. “He had seizures. Seems like he had a pretty big one and fell into some pond out there. They spent about three days looking for him before they found him. It was in the papers at the time, when we were just kids. I found it at the library.”

“That seems like the kind of thing that would inspire a haunting,” he pressed again.

She pressed her fingers to her eyes and sighed. “I’m not getting into this with you. If you want to believe it’s haunted, fine, it’s haunted. Get out of here and go home. I, who does not believe in ghosts, will stay here and sleep. Goodnight.” She got up from the chair and began walking out into the hallway. Keith caught up with her, grabbing her wrist.

“I really don’t think it’s a good idea for you to stay here alone.”

“Great, but I’m going to. Let go of my hand and let me get some sleep.”

“I’ll stay, too.”

She threw her free hand up in exasperation. “Fine, you’re a big boy, do what you want.”

She continued down the hall, now free, while Keith felt apprehension tingling over his entire body. This was a very bad idea. But it was also the only way he could keep her safe. Suddenly, she paused and spun around.

“Oh, if this is some ploy to get into my pants, you should know I don’t sleep with crew,” she deadpanned, then broke out into a broad, sleepy grin.

“You might just force me to quit, then,” he snapped back. She laughed, waved him off, and closed the door to the extra bedroom.

Keith sat and stared at her door for a bit before thumping down the stairs to another as of yet unused room. He knew that Natalie would let him sleep in one of the beds, but she would also gripe when she had to fix it in the morning. And it would never be quite right. He opted to spare her the stress and sleep on one of the many couches spread throughout the rooms. It was hard to imagine a family with a little boy living in the gargantuan house, especially with its dated furnishing. Ten again, perhaps the family simply set it up this way to preserve the history. It was a family home, Natalie had said. Maybe these were family pieces. Or maybe it was just a frozen memory. Or maybe they were just creepy and weird.

The day caught up to him, and he fell asleep, still trying to piece together the kind of family that would live in such an odd home.

_

Waking up in the house was shocking, especially with complete darkness wrapped around everything. For a moment, he was certain he was caught up in the dream again, as the same sense of knowing washed over him. Only after a few deep breaths was he able to remember he was merely spending a night in his nightmare house. In hindsight, it was not the best idea. Keith thumbed the side of his watch, and his eyes bathed in the pale green light, eager for anything in the pitch black night. 3:43am.

In the dark, the house felt cavernously empty. Even though he knew it was fully furnished, he could not help but feel it was gaping just as hungrily as it did in his dream, begging to devour anything that might fall into its maw. The feeling was certainly unsettling, especially as he saw himself lying patiently behind its teeth. Yes, this sleepover was certainly a bad idea. But, he reminding himself, it was for Natalie. Keith knew the place was not as harmless as she thought, even if he could not convince her of that.

He laid in the silence. Natalie would be getting up soon if she planned to start work at five. He strained his ears, but heard no sound of stirring from upstairs. Then again, it was a very large house. While sound travelled, it did not go that far.

His watched gave a soft beep for the hour, the face lighting briefly, and then stilled. As if on cue, Keith’s head began to pound. He felt the headache explode in his temples, a relentless pulse that ebbed and flowed with his heart. It swarmed him from the silence, throwing itself against his skull. His ears were ringing, and he felt as if his head would simply explode from the sudden pressure. Keith felt fireworks going off inside his head, bright flashes that forced him to screw his eyes shut.

He sat up, then stumbled towards his bag of gear. Despite his feeble hopes, there were no pain relievers to be found. Giving up on that, he stumbled into one of the bathrooms and splashed water on his face, as if that would magically wash away the pain. It did nothing to dull the crushing sensation in his head, but simply teased relief. Keith looked up at his relfection in the mirror, but felt as if his head was swimming. He could not focus, but was able to see well enough to know he was in pretty poor shape.

Back on the couch, the pain continued. It beat continuously, like a stampeded running from one side of his brain to the other. Dimly, he remembered being told that there were no pain receptors in the brain, so it could not feel pain. Right now, it felt as if there must have been billions and they were all on fire. Perhaps, he thought, this was what an aneurysm felt like.

A brush of breeze from outside caught his pained brow, its touch almost impossibly soothing. He stumbled to his feet and made his way to the open door, aware that his feet travelled what felt like a well-worn trail from the room to the door. Outside, the din inside his head began to calm. With each touch of the wind, it seemed as if the pressure cut in half, until he was finally able to open his eyes and breathe deep of the night air. There was a lingering ache behind his temples, a reminder of what he had endured, but that was pleasant compared to the prior pain. The trees whispered in the wind, tossing back and forth.

Then, footsteps. There was a sound of crunching leaves up ahead of him, the pace slow and methodical. Keith froze. No one should be out here at this time of the night. Maybe it was an animal?

The open door surged into his memory, easily quieting his momentary fears. Natalie must have gotten up early to scope around outside. He also knew she liked a morning jog, and this was probably the only chance she would get today to work out.

“Nat?” he called out. There was no answer, but the steps continued to draw further away from him. He pressed on, looking around by the light of the mostly hidden moon. “Natalie?” he tried again as he caught sight of person disappearing behind a wall of evergreens and low-lying shrubs. Keith began to jog a few steps, then caught on a tree root and nearly skidded across the crackling grass. He caught himself on a nearby concrete bench, and moved more cautiously.

He had opened his mouth to call for her again, but the sound died on his lips. He turned the corner to find himself staring at that ill-fated pool, its water an impenetrable black in the scant moonlight. Worse, Natalie was standing in it, her eyes locked on the surface with a vacant stare.

“Natalie?” he whispered, the words barely shuffling through his windpipe as fear clamped down around it. She did not respond. He crept closer.

There was a ripple on the water; it spun around her calves, lapping up against her knees though she did not move. From a couple feet in front of her, a bubble rose, then formed into a solid face creeping slowly from the water. As Keith watched in horror, shoulders and arms followed the head, water clinging to them like mud as the figure struggled to break free.

There was a wheezing noise as it broke the surface, a ragged, breathy sound that seemed to come from its half-open mouth. Natalie did not move, but her eyes flicked from the surface of the water to the thing’s eyes. Her face was an impassive mask, peaceful in its imperturbability.

Keith scrambled over the ground. He leaned over the small edge of the pond, stretching his arm as far as it could go, but still missing her by inches. “Natalie!” he yelled. It sounded as if the thing laughed, the wheezes coming in short, rapid bursts before smoothing back to the jagged rhythm. It reached out a hand towards Natalie, and Keith watched in horror as she lifted hers to it, her slender fingers joining its waterlogged, blackened ones.

Instantly, Natalie began to sink below the surface. At first, she seemed at peace. Keith continued to try to reach her, sitting on the edge and reaching out as far as he could over the water. She was always a few inches from his fingers, just out of reach. By the time Keith realized it was going to require more risk, she was already down to her waist. With a single, steeling breath, Keith swung his legs into the water and made toward her.

With his entrance, Natalie seemed to wake up. There was a jolt of confusion across her face, followed by fear. She looked to the thing, and a short scream ripped from her lips. Then, her eyes found Keith’s, and she reached her hand to him.

“Keith! Help!” she called, though he was already doing all he could. As he made his way to her, she began to fight to free her hand from the thing that held her.

The water wrapped around his legs like syrup. It was as cold as ice, and weighed more than he could ever recall from water. It was a chore to shift his foot forward a few inches, but he pressed on, even as it sucked at his legs. A few more shuffling steps and he was able to brush his fingers against Natalie’s. There was relief on her face at the touch, though her other hand was still captive.

One more step, the effort like dragging weights through wet sand, and his fingers knotted around hers, though she was now up to her chest in the shallow pool. “I got you, “he said, half to himself. Her eyes were desperate and he could not look away.

Keith wrapped his other hand around her arm, pulling and tugging at her. She fought back, thrashing in the water and doing her best to lose the creature with its vice-like grip. But the water continued its relentless charge up her body, wrapping around her shoulders and neck.

Keith threw himself forward, falling to his knees to get a few more precious inches of reach. He wrapped his hands around her shoulder, but felt her continue to sink deeper and deeper into the darkness. The water was so cold, leaving his fingers aching with the effort. They were clumsy as they grabbed at her, holding on to whatever he could find to keep her above water. Still, there was nothing he could do to stop her descent into whatever lay beneath the pond.

He could not look away, even as her eyes screamed at him from below the water. Even as the thing hissed with glee and melted back into the surface of the water. Her fingers were finally yanked away from him, sending him tumbling back into the water.

He sat there in shock until the sun came up. The water lapped at his legs and chest, returning once again to the smooth, flowing liquid he was used to. It no longer clung to him or pushed him back, but simply moved in lazy ripples to the time of his breathing. His eyes never left the water, the place where hers disappeared moments before.

The crew found him out there when they returned to an empty house. His babbling did little to help them understand, as he raved about things in the water, clocks, dreams, and drowning. It was a jumbled mess of what sensations and fears were able to escape his addled mind.

The police swarmed the property, looking for any sign of young Natalie. Likely killed after refusing the advances of her longtime friend, the rumor went, who was then driven mad by guilt. However, the story took a turn when they found her lying at the bottom of a shallow pool, one that had been walked past time and time again by officers, dogs, and even the witnesses. She had been there three days, they said, but no one had seen her.

Except for Keith. He saw her every time he fell asleep. The dream had changed, but it was always the same.


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


I’m Back! And with Something New – First Draft: Of Neighbors and Deceit

So, I did decide to take a month off and relax. During that time, however, I did some writing, including editing some old pieces (which I will be posting soon) and starting a few longer things. I’m also trying to iron out some HTML things so I can get an index up of the Card Challenge stories. So, I have one long-ish piece in the works, just trying to decide what to do with it. I’m not going to promise I’ll finish it, because I’m worried that in tone, it is way too similar to the piece I’m posting today. We’ll see how it goes, but the narrative tone is so similar, I’m not sure they work as stand-alones, even if the ideas are very different. Then again, I can just post both and see which one feels better.

Now that I’m back, my goal is 1-2 pieces per week. That will either be something new, edit of something old, a chapter of a longer piece, or a reflective-style discussion post from me. I’m not sure which days of the week I’m going to post, so I’ll have to work that out based on my general schedule. With classes over (and almost over for my entire life!!), I have more time, but I’m also starting data collection for my dissertation. Things may just have to be in flux right now.

All that aside, here is a new piece I’ve been working on the past few days. As usual, it is a first draft, so it has some problems that need to be worked out. However, I have been editing as I go and reworking aspects of it throughout the process, so I feel like it is a pretty solid piece. It is very long (5000+ words), so I have cut it behind a click-through. If you have strong feelings about such “Read More” tags (“I never click through to those” or “I wish this was always the case so long pieces don’t clog things up”) please let me know so I can plan accordingly in the future.

Without further ado, here is the piece. A bit of realistic horror. As always, happy reading!


Of Neighbors and Deceit

Marty and Dan—a pleasant, Midwestern couple from all appearances—moved in a bit too early one Saturday morning. I remember the sound of their couch thumping against our outside wall around 8:00am, followed by Dan’s short bark to the movers. I suppose he was concerned about waking the neighbors. Just not concerned enough to wait for a more reasonable hour. As strangers stomped through our tiny hallways, I sluggishly drifted from bed, to my closet, and then out the door. This was during an exercise kick, and so I was ruthlessly dragging my protesting limbs to the gym. If I had to be up early, I could make use of it.

Marty was coming up the stairs as I was going down, carrying a box with a handful of books stacked precariously on top. They shifted and slid to the floor as she reached the final landing, and I heard her mutter a soft curse before dropping the box down beside her. Her hair appeared to have once been tucked into a neat, tight bun. Now, it danced around her head or laid plastered to her sweaty brow. She had the look of a typical suburban mom, dressed in a pair of unflattering jeans and a pale blue blouse, darkening every moment as she sweated a bit more. It was July; they knew the risks when they decided to move. And apparently their gamble to beat the heat and move in early was not helping.

I stooped to pick up one of the books that had skidded to my feet. It was the neighborly thing to do, after all. Marty smiled at me and took it.

“Not how I wanted to meet the new neighbors,” she sang, a hint of breathlessness escaping through the cheer.

I laughed politely. I am not a good adult; I do not handle small talk and forced participation well. But I put on a smile and did my best. “You caught me in workout gear. I’d say we’re even. I’m Lyla. Uh, apartment 322.”

She took my hand, nodded. “And I’m Marty, apartment, um,” her eyes grew distant for a moment, and she squinted as she shuffled through her memory, “apartment 312!” she finally exclaimed. “We’re across-the-hall neighbors!”

She was obviously more excited about this news than I was. I smiled, and tried to creep down the stairs around her with a brief, “then I’ll be seeing you,” but she called out before I could escape.

“Dan! Come meet our neighbor, Lula!”

“It’s Lyla,” I whispered, mortified at the encounter. I had chosen a quiet apartment just so I would not have to meet my neighbors. I had a good streak, three years strong, without more than a friendly nod or holding a door. Now I was frozen on the stairs.

Dan was a large man, easily filling the doorway. He had that steelworker, cattle farmer look that I always associate with the Midwest. His arms were meaty appendages wedged onto his body, and they hung tensely at his side, reddened by the work of moving in. His face was flushed, speckled with its own sheen of sweat. I suddenly became acutely aware of the sweat prickling in my underarms as the awkwardness of the situation increased. There was a desperation in Marty’s voice as she called for him that made me feel responsible and terrified all at once.

One giant paw wiped Dan’s face as the other reached toward me. I took his hand, feeling his grip settle around like a vice as he nearly crushed my smaller one. “Well, Luna, nice to meet you.”

“It’s Lyla,” I meekly offered again, smiling and trying not to wince at his grip.

“My apologies, Lyla!” He beamed, and I watched a bead of sweat trickle from his forehead, down his nose, and crash against the slight bulge of his belly beneath the damp t-shirt. “Sorry for the noise this morning. We should have it all out of your hair in just another few hours.” He jutted a short thumb back towards the hallway where I could see two spindly movers—high school students scrounging for a summer job, I assumed—trying to find a way to wedge a dressed in the narrow space between the door and wall.

This was my chance, and I nabbed. ‘It’s no problem. Got me up early for the gym. It was nice to meet you Dan and Marty,” I offered them both a smile. Marty’s mouth began to open again, but I was three stairs down before she could begin.

“Would you—I guess we’ll see you around!”

From the bottom floor, I could hear her still going, her attention turned to Dan. “Nice girl.” I could hear her pick up the cardboard box again. “But what kind of name is Lyna?”

(more…)