Welcome to the Attic!

Latest

First Draft: Milgram

So, I’m studying up on social psychology for my licensing exam and got to read over the Milgram study again. Decided to use it for a story, and this is what happened. It’s a first draft, as usual, but I really enjoyed this one. Let me know what you think in the comments. As always, critiques, suggestions, positives, and negatives are all welcomed! Happy reading!


Toby sat alone in his monitoring booth, just as he had done day in and day out for the past seven and a half years. The booth was comfortable, but not spacious. He had his ergonomic chair, a desk to house his input terminals, a small refrigerator for his lunch, and the display panel. Unfortunately, there were no windows, which was why he made sure to take his lunch outside—at least when the weather permitted. It had been a long stretch of bitterly cold, breezy days, so he was resigned to staring at the three walls and display screen for the rest of the day.

The screen moved with the digital images of the shopping plaza patrons. He had been around when the system was just green, x-ray like images. Now they had at least created a few standard images that roughly assured him there were humans milling about there. They were all smiling people, dressed and styled ambiguously enough that he got nothing but a rough estimate of who they might be. There was one form for adults, one for children. Another for pets that sometimes appeared to stroll through the plaza. He liked to imagine the little groups of two adults and one or more children were a family enjoying a nice day out. In the evenings, he created stories for the two adults walking slowly through, imagining them on a first date.

Of course, that was more to simply make the time pass by more quickly. It was a good job, but painfully boring. Stare at the screen, watch for any aggressive or illegal activity, provide appropriate redirection, record the incident. Most days he redirected only minor infractions—littering, running in undesignated zones, loitering. Some days it was more significant. Once, he had to redirect a shoplifter, which was quite an experience. His hands grew clammy and his heart rate picked up just thinking about it.

There was a soft bell from the screen, and it highlighted one patron with a red aura. A pop-out replayed the last fifteen seconds of action, and Toby clearly saw the person take their napkin and drop it to the ground before continuing on. He reached out to the inputs, turning the dials down to their lowest setting—it was, after all, a minor infraction—and depressed the grey button down briefly. The image of the person on the screen briefly flickered to a red image with a frowning face, then returned to normal. The shock was delivered, the action redirected, and Toby watched the person walk over and retrieve their trash. He almost imagined the other glanced up angrily at the watching cameras, but there was of course no way to know that for sure.

Tedium is how he described his job usually. Most people abided by the rules, so there was rarely anything for him to do. The change was not necessarily welcome, because he did feel conflicted about causing pain even if it was for clearly outlined infractions; however, it also meant he had something to occupy the time. Toby dutifully recalled the recording in a portion of the screen, eyes jumping from the new activity to routine patrol, and began his report.

He attached the recorded images, watching as the generic adult figure faded and was replaced with a young man sitting at one of the plaza tables. He dropped his napkin and continued on, only to pause a minute later. Toby smiled. Sure enough, the man turned and offered an irritated glare at the camera as he picked up the discarded napkin. Toby recorded the voltage and duration of the redirection, associated it with the clip, and submitted it to Central Office for review and verification.

It was quiet as he opened his lunch box and unwrapped his sandwich. He sipped water from his bottle, letting his eyes close for a few brief moments. Dana was watching his screen while he was on break. She was always good about that. At least, he assumed she was. Her messages were always filled with exclamation points and smiley faces, so he got the feeling she was eager to help. He chewed his sandwich, thoughts wandering to Dana. He wondered what she looked like. What she brought for lunch. Where she was located.

He wondered where his plaza was located. Not in his city, that was for sure. Had he ever met someone who had walked across his screen? Neither of them would know if he had.

Had he ever met Dana?

There was a reminder tone as his thirty minute lunch ended. His screen flickered back to life, and he returned to his post. Hopefully spring would come soon and he would be able to go back outside to the park bench for lunch. He liked people watching—actual people watching—much more than being alone with his thoughts.

Time passed with minor infractions resulting in brief, routine redirection. He watched the screen and the clock with equal interest, waiting for the end of the day. It was nearly time to go home when the final redirection came in.

It was after school, so the number of children had dramatically increased. Most with parents, a few wandering alone. Teenagers, he told himself. He always kept a close eye on them, but they seemed docile today. On the other side of the screen, a region flashed as the chime sounded. He watched a child run across the plaza, leaving behind an adult figure. He looked down at the inputs, preparing the appropriate level for a child infraction, but his eyes bounced back up as there was another tone.

“Infraction limit exceeded. Increase redirection to level: 2,” read the note hovering over the still running child. Toby sighed. This was the part he hated. Begrudgingly, he increased the dial to 2 and depressed the button. There was a flicker over the screen as the child figure turned red and stopped running. The image stayed for a three seconds, then faded back to the normal, happy child image.

The adult figure bustled over, hands waving in a lecturing motion. A parent scolding with “I told you so,” he imagined. The recording later confirmed. It was a much younger child than he imagined, too young to have already exceeded infraction level 1.

He was late leaving the office, having gotten the paperwork completed a full fifteen minutes after the end of day tone. It always took him longer on redirections like that.

Thus passed the like of Toby, day in and day out. He watched his screen, ate his lunch, and administered redirection as required. The days eventually warmed again, and he enjoyed his sandwich on a bench beneath a tree where people walked about smilingly in the sunshine. He always made sure to dispose of his trash properly, and he was a moment late back to his post.

And then, the routine changed.

It was summer, a time when the plaza was even busier and the clientele more active. He always noticed a surge in redirections in the summer, which he attributed to kids out of school and the carefree attitude that permeated the season. The rules still applied, though, and he did his job to enforce them.

He had taken a later shift, an attempt to build up some vacation time so he could spend a few days relaxing on the beach. The plaza was now much quieter, having emptied of the majority of patrons. Instead, his screen now rotated between five locales, each more deserted than the last. Toby drank his coffee slowly, yawned, and did his best to stay focused even as his lids grew heavy.

He had drifted farther towards sleep than he intended when an urgent chime from the screen snapped him back to the moment. He saw his plaza before him, feeling a familiar swell of anxiety and protectiveness. There were a handful of people on the screen, all of them frozen in time as they faced the center. There was an adult emblazoned in red. He did not need to see the replay to know what was happening. The person had broken through the boundary of the closed shops, only to return moments later carrying something. A break-in.

His hand was shaking as he moved the dial, setting it up for a shoplift redirection. These hurt him each time, because they were automatically a level five. And they seemed to get longer each and every time.

Before he could press the button, there was another chime. He looked up, his eyes stumbling over the words on the screen in disbelief.

“Infraction limit exceeded. Increase redirection level to: 10.”

The bubble of anxiety swelling in his chest finally burst, drenching every part of him with its refuse. His hands were shaking over the dial, glancing down at the innocent numbers. There it was, sitting just beyond the nine, looking perfectly innocent in its malevolence. He had never done something like this. He had no idea what he was even about to do. But his hand shuddered as he tried to turn the knob.

The door to his office clicked open, and he released a breath he had unintentionally been holding. In walked a man in a suit, a thin smile plastered on his face. Toby stared. Not only had he never seen the man before, but no one had ever intruded on him during a shift.

“Mr. Georges,” said the man, his smile stretching just a bit, looking almost pained now.

Toby nodded. His hand was still hovering around the dial, and he could see the perpetrator moving on the screen from his peripheral vision.

“Quite a scene, eh? Go on, set the redirection and deliver it, just as instructed.”

Toby’s mouth opened and closed and his looked between the man and the screen. Eventually, his words caught up. “But, I’ve never—what if it—“

“Come on, Mr. Georges. They made their decision. We have rules here.” The man took a couple of confident strides forward, placing a hand gently on Toby’s shoulder. There was a gentle nudge, turning him back towards the screen. “Now, you do your part.” The smile widened, a gash etched across the face of a grinning corpse. The eyes were dead, Toby realized. Or not dead, but so very far away. “You have to keep order, Mr. Georges.”

The man reached across Toby, gently turning the dial from its position up to 10. He then waved at the console, indicating the smooth grey button. Toby’s hand trembled as it reached toward the button. He paused, and the hand on his shoulder tightened just enough to remind him it was there.

“Are you sure?” Toby asked, his fingers finally having found the familiar groove on the button.

“Our system doesn’t make mistakes, Mr. Georges,” said the man smoothly.

The button was down, and it took a moment for Toby to realize his fingers had pressed the button. The image on the screen changed, the person frozen in the moment. It was not a few seconds, and his eyes were glued to the screen, waiting for the normal adult image to return and assure him everything was going to be okay. It stretched on for seconds more, each one ripping itself from beats of Toby’s heart. And then it was over.

Only the image did not return to normal. It vanished completely.

The man in the suit patted Toby’s shoulder proudly. “Well done, Mr. Georges.” He turned smoothly on his heel and marched toward the door.

“Wha-What happened?” Toby blurted out, rising from his chair and taking a step toward the man.

“You provided the needed redirection,” responded the smiling man, only half turning to face him.

Toby looked back at the screen, now seeing new figures moving onto the screen. These figures were running, but had the emergency designation glowing around their images. They clustered around the spot the shoplifter had been moment before. The spot where the image disappeared.

“Are they okay?”

“They’ve been redirected,” said the man, hand on the door knob.

Toby felt the coffee surging in his gut. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“If you need a break, you have your fifteen minutes,” the man said, his hand on the door, “but we’ll expect you back at your post for your shift. You’ve got to file your report, Mr. Georges.”

“I can’t, I just—“ His head swiveled from the screen to the man, trying to piece together what was happening. The idea of watching the images in real time, of selecting his clip, of numbly filing the report. The room spun around him.

“You will, Mr. Georges.” He opened the door and had one foot out when he paused, breath catching briefly in his throat. When he turned back around, the smile was gone, replaced by a stern, concentrated expression. “And if you think you’re not on someone’s screen right now, Mr. Georges, you are quite wrong. Which is why I know you’ll be back to work after your fifteen minutes.”

The door closed behind him, and Toby sank into his chair, staring at the wall. He heard a chirp as his screen clicked off. Someone named Jordan was now watching his screen, not knowing what had just occurred. He stared at his hands while they trembled. What he wouldn’t give for tedium again.


Part 2 

Part 3

Creative Commons License

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

Advertisements

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!

 

First Draft: A Story About Dragons Because Who Wants to Think About the Election

I thought about writing a horror short story today, but I looked at the news and decided that was horror enough. And then I thought about ranting into the void about the election, but I know the void is noisy today with all kinds of opinions.

And so, instead, I think I’ll write a bit of fantasy. The fantasy genre is probably my first love, full of all that puppy dog infatuation and idealization. I don’t think I have the stomach to write a grand fantasy epic, but I do think those are some of the stories I am most intrigued by. Specifically, the idea of dragons and dragon riders has always been a favorite theme of mine. So, today, when I need to write something for me, that’s where I go.

Disclaimer: While this dos deal with “election,” there is no hidden meaning behind these. It is not some sort of metaphor or anything. It is literally a story about dragons and people and how that happens.


I carried my pack into the Hatchery Barracks, feeling a swell of anxiety and excitement. They blended so purely that it was hard to distinguish where one began and the other ended. Perhaps, I thought, they were the same thing. Anticipation of the future, one anticipating future good and the other future ill. But the same.

My thoughts spun in a flurry of ideas, each one blending into another, leading me down paths with no destination or reason. And then I was standing before my bunk, the one carrying a tag with my name scrawled on it, and set my pack down. Suddenly my thoughts were silent.

And suddenly the room was loud, full of people shuffling in and finding their position. Each full of hope and terror. We were all so much the same.

I was tired that first night; I was tired most nights in the Barracks, which I suppose meant training was proceeding as intended. Each day was full of drills, combat training, conditioning, and tactical education. I cannot separate one day from another, as they were all renditions of the same symphony. But I know I was tired.

I was especially tired that first night after carrying the burden of anxiety for so long, crawling into my bed and pulling the thin sheets over my shoulders while others chatted and whispered in the dark. Their whispers diminished over the days, as the fatigue caught up with each of us.

That night, I dreamed of home. It had been two weeks since I left there, and I would not return until next spring. The house was as I remembered it, standing proud on its stone foundation, new thatch on the roof. Smoke puffed from the chimney and I imagined I could smell my mother’s cooking even from the path outside.

Inside, my mother and father sat around the table while my brothers sat in front of the hearth, building with the blocks father had carved from them two winters ago. Words and hugs were exchanged. I remember laughter from the dream, as well as a feeling of intense contentment.

And then those feelings faded back into reality with the sound of the alarm, signaling another day of training. Even now, only the barest images and sensations from that dream exist, even though I have held them tightly all this time. They are worn like an old notice hung in the town square. I can still at least make out the details to know what it once said, even if the words have vanished.

The anxiety dwindled over the next two weeks. The alarm woke me each day, and each night I fell asleep lying next to the slumbering eggs, waiting for them to awake.

It was day nine of fourteen when I felt the connection. Exhausted as I was, my sleep was often deep and dreamless. But that night was different. That night my dream was of light half glimpsed through some semi-transparent barrier. I could watch firelight rise and fall around me, a soft dance along the walls. I felt the steady flutter of my heart, felt the soft brush of my breath over scaly skin. Sounds floated through the sounds of someone sleeping, muted footsteps on patrol. Somewhere, I heard quiet weeping. That night, I slept in the shell with the one I would later bond with.

I felt refreshed the next morning, filled with a unique energy and vitality. The day quickly sapped that, but I managed enough energy to inspect the eggs that night. I walked past each bay, glancing briefly in to see the cream, oval eggs resting in their nests. And then I walked up to number 43.

If you’ve never experienced The Connection, I’m not sure how to explain it. If you’ve ever held an instrument as it reverberates and felt that energy meld with your hand and pass through your body as well as the air, that’s like it. It’s like existing as a giant tuning fork for the entire world, so that, for a moment, everything flows right through you. You feel joy and despair and anger and fear and everything at once. You are land and sea and sky, plant, animal, and human. And then it’s over, The Connection dwindling until there is just a thin trickle of that massive river surging through you. And if you follow that trickle, it leads right back to your bonded.

The anxiety that had plagued me for weeks disappeared in that moment. Not everyone is bonded—in fact, most people leave to fulfill their duty in the infantry rather than join the Bonded Ranks. I had always hoped that I would be chosen, that I would receive the glory and esteem that came from such a role. But I never dared to believe it would happen. Until I stood in front of egg 43 and felt my breath flow in through my nose and out through theirs.

I reported The Connection right away. Sir Conaway raised an eyebrow at the number. “Ol’ 43, eh? That one’s been here a while. Waiting on you, I guess.” He pulled out a large book and scribbled the event on the last page. “All right then, miss, we’ve got it and you will be at the hatching at the end of the training.”

By the end, fourteen of the ninety-two who had begun the training remained for the hatching. We stood in formation, awaiting our next orders. The tension was palpable. We were all steps away from what would be the most significant event of our short lives so far. Sir Conaway stood before us, chewing on the end of his pipe as he read over the event log again and again. After what seemed like ages, he pulled the pipe from his mouth and spoke.

“Larena Dougan and Tallesor de’Trie, please come with me.”

Chills chased through my body as I heard my name, but faded as we walked past the bays and toward Sir Conaway’s meeting room. This was not protocol, growled the knot of anxiety roiling in my gut. I walked into the room, shaking as Sir Conaway closed the door behind me. He walked to the other side of the table, dropping the log book in between the three of us.

“Alright you two, somebody’s not telling me the truth.” He ran a large hand over his forehead, massaging at his temples. “I had hoped the fraud would chicken out before tonight, but one of you is foolish enough to push on ahead.”

Tallesor jumped to alarm. “What do you mean, sir? I’m here for the hatching.” He was sweating heavily, perhaps because of the fire roaring in the grate beside him. But his eyes seemed too wide, too jumpy. I had trained alongside him for two weeks, long enough to know that things rarely broke through his veneer of arrogant surety. I was not sure what to do with this uncertain, nervous comrade.

“Of course you’re hear for the hatching,” exclaimed Sir Conaway with exasperation. “We wouldn’t have a problem if both of you weren’t here for the hatching!”

“I’m sorry,” I said, my voice tiny in the large room, “but I don’t know what’s going on?”

Sir Conaway sighed and stroked his beard once, weighing his words. “You’ve both claimed egg 43. Which means one of you is lying and trying to sneak into the Bonded Ranks. And there are serious punishments for such deception.”

His eyes moved evenly over the two of us, measuring and looking for any weakness. We both dripped with anxiety and fear, and I suddenly felt myself doubting everything I had experienced up until that point.

“Could we—has there ever been two bonded to one egg before?” I squeaked out.

“Never,” came the solid reply. He continued studying us both. The only sound was the snapping of the logs in the grate. Finally, he spoke wearily. “You both know what happens if you try to bond to a dragon you’ve not connected with, right?”

My head shook, and fro the corner of my eye I saw Tallesor do the same.

Sir Conaway sniffed. “Of course not. You wouldn’t try something this stupid if you did. The dragon will hatch bonded t its true connection. It’ll reject the impostor. Aggressively.”

The anxiety that had been my constant companion now swelled into a monster of its own, turning the room into a chokingly small dungeon. Tallesor appeared to feel the same surge of anxiety, but I watched as it slowly faded from his features. He was watching me, a half smile now on his lips.

“So, before I turn one of you over to the beast, can you both confirm your Connection to 43?”

Tallesor was ready with his answer. “Of course. I would never be deceitful with such vita information. I just can’t believe she,” he looked over to me with a sneer, “would stoop so low to claw her way into prestige.”

Maybe I was wrong, I thought. Perhaps all of these experiences were just me wishing it could be different, creating something that was not there. But I could reach out, follow that thin trickle of the world still running through me, and feel someone at the other end. 43.

“I can confirm.” The words were out of my mouth before I had even processed what was happening. I was sure Tallesor turned a few shades paler after I spoke, but perhaps it was simply the lighting.

Sir Conaway lifted the book from the table, stepping around to the door and dragging it open. “Then let’s get this over with.”

Upon returning to the others, doing my best to dodge their accusing, questioning stares, the bay doors were opened. Slowly, with reverent grace and patience, each of us stepped forward toward our identified bay and the waiting egg. The rest of the room disappeared around me, replaced by the simple wooden walls and straw floor of the egg bay. Egg 43 sat in front of me, the same shade of pearly white that I had watched for so long.

“Leave and I’ll pay you heartily, make sure the punishment is waived,” hissed Tallesor once we were in semi-privacy.

“What?” I asked, too loudly. He quickly raised a finger to his lips, shushing me.

“I need this more than you. I’ll be the first in seven generations not to be in the Bonded Ranks. If you leave, I’ll ensure you are well cared for.”

“I’m not going,” I said, surprising myself with my unusual confidence. Now I knew who the impostor was, the anxiety turned into pure excitement. “And I hope you’re not stupid enough or stubborn enough to go forward after the warnings.”

He smiled a dark, angry grin. “I’m sure the dragon will recognize greatness when it sees it. Lt’s just hope you manage to survive this.”

Sir Conaway’s voice echoed behind us. “Place your hand on the shell of the egg. I will come through and pour the Hatching Serum onto each egg in turn.”

I placed my hand on the egg as Tallesor did the same. It was softer than I thought, feeling less like an egg shell and more like skin. It seemed to give slightly as I put pressure on it, almost as if returning the touch. A slow, steady heartbeat pulsed through my hand and into my body, providing an echo to the one that had flowed through me since The Connection. I would not be abandoned, it assured.

There were sounds of cracking shells all around us. Of course, the view was entirely blocked, but I heard shots of joy, followed by soft rumbles and yips. Through it all, Sir Conaway’s voice giving polite, practiced congratulations.

He stood in the doorway to our bay for the span of a few breaths, studying us both. There was resignation in his voice when he finally spoke. “So you’re both going through with this?”

“Yes,” was Tallesor’s confident reply. I nodded my head weakly, and I could tell by the pity in his eyes Sir Conaway thought I was the liar.

He lifted a bowl over our hands, spilling out a thick, warm, honey colored liquid. The substance oozed over our hands, then trickled down along the shell. After a moment, there was the sound of cracking as the egg moved for the first time. It rocked strongly, and I feared I would be thrown against the back wall. But the liquid held my hand to the surface with surprising strength, almost as if my hand and the shell had somehow merge in that moment.

Then there was a louder crack. Like a lightning bolt, one large, green eye found me. It was like a jewel, colors folding on top of colors to form a deep, ageless pit of emerald. The trickle of connection I had felt surged into a river again, but this time it was not the whole world. This time it was just myself and—

“Khandar,” answered the dragon’s voice in my mind. It flowed through me, the name sounding like thunder and tasting of smoke. There was a moment that the world was doubled and I saw from four eyes, felt two hearts. I felt my muscles strain against the shell before finally bursting free.

And then he was standing before me, our eyes locked the world having resolved to one perspective again as the river steadied its flow. The Connection was there, but it was restrained. Manageable.

I looked at Khandar, studying the long line of his neck, the strong limbs of his body, the thick wings folded. In an instant, he stretched those wings, the tips reaching from one corner of the room to the other. He was the same early white as the egg shell—I knew that, somewhere in the recesses of knowledge. All dragons are born without color. His would develop as we trained together over the next few months, reflecting our role within the Ranks.

I was dimly aware of Sir Conaway still standing, slightly shocked, in the doorway. I was also aware of Tallesorlyaing in a heap on the far wall, his hand still stuck to a fragment of the shell. Rage flowed through me, not from myself, but from Khandar. I watched as he turned, steam billowing from his nostrils. I could feel the power flowing through both of us as he reached out one clawed leg and struck at the stunned impostor.

Sir Conaway looked concerned, but stood immobile. “Such is the way,” he whispered to himself as he watched.

There was blood on the ground, blood in the straw, anger in the air. And I could see Tallesor’s shocked face, now sporting a bright red gash across his cheek.

There was fire building in my belly, and I could hear strong words, ancient words passing through my mind. I was at once witness and actor. “Thus to usurpers,” whispered Khandar’s voice. This was the way it had been determined, I ould feel it in my bones. Those who attempted to deceive or disrupt the ancient ritual were dealt with harshly. Still, I felt sorrow and guilt rise up.

“No.” The word brought the world crashing back down around me. Khandar eyed me, his mind probing my own and uncovering every detail he sought. We were not of two minds any longer, but one shared.

“No,” his voice repeated in my mind. The fire dulled as he took the few steps to my side. Tallesor sat with blood dripping down his chin, eyes wide.

Sir Conaway watched the scene curiously, finally waving over his shoulder to alert the waiting guards. They shuffled in and grabbed Tallesor under the arms, dragging him from the room.

“He got off far better than most others who have tried that,” he said with a hint of disappointment and respect.

“What will happen now?”

“The doctor will patch him up, he will be disbarred from all military and public service, and as such he will be fined a portion of his income each year to atone for his negligence.”  He looked at both of us. “You let him off too easy, I’d say.”

I felt a nudge of agreement from Khandar, but it was good-natured. We had a difference in temperament, I could see, but certainly that could be a strength. Right.

Khandar leaned against me, so I could feel the puffing of his chest with each breath, the thunder of his heart as it pounded in time to my own. Connected. Bonded. The next few months and years would be full of training, of honing our bond and our work. But we had conquered time and space to unite together.

Excitement bubbling in our mind, we stepped out of the bay and into the Bonded Ranks.


Creative Commons License

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

13 Stories of Halloween: For Old Time’s Sake

You made it to the end! If you missed any of the previous Halloween stories, you can find them all here! Thanks for reading!


The cemetery after midnight was creepy. I guess I would have been disappointed if it were otherwise, but the fact remained. All those lone sentinels standing over their graves, it gave off the vibe that I had stumbled into some frozen moment of grief. The angels bowed their heads low to study the markers at their feet. Crosses rose and stabbed up into the night sky. A few larger mausoleums stood as squat, stubborn guardians holding court. It was enough to send chills up my back.

I’ve never been superstitious, but that was not enough to prevent me from feeling uncomfortable in the cemetery. My friends were supposed to meet me but were, as usual, running late. Somehow it seemed far less intimidating to stand in that place if I had the warmth of human companionship.

As if on cue, I heard the clatter of the metal gate at the entrance, followed by a thud and muted laughter. I recognized Calvin’s laugh immediately, and Suzanne’s joined shortly after. The tension uncoiled from around my neck, and I began walking toward the gate.

Calvin was lying in an uncoordinated pile on the ground, looking back over the gate and laughing. Suzanne had paused with one leg thrown over the gate, her head bent low and she chuckled as well.

“You guys suck as sneaking in,” I said, stepping from behind a grave stone. Calvin’s laugh turned into a short yelp, but Suzanne seemed not to notice my arrival.

“Jesus, Lynn, you can be way creepy sometimes.”

I shrugged. “Nothing I can do about that. Guess you just need to toughen up.” He laughed and shoved himself up from the ground. Suzanne finally finished her climb, dropping with far more grace to the ground.

“Yep, same old Lynn,” she said as she dusted off her pants, shaking away the collected dust and rust.

We stood in a small circle, everyone unsure of how to proceed. It had been a year since we last met together, and some of the uncertainty from that gap lingered between us.

“I figured we’d do the usual thing? Drink a bit, gossip, scare ourselves silly?”

Calvin held up his backpack, the sound of bottles clanging about inside. “That’s the sort of evening I came prepared for.”

Suzanne reached into her backpack and pulled out a slightly crushed bag of assorted candy. “And it’s no good to drink on an empty stomach.”

I smiled and turned to walk toward a spot in the middle of the cemetery. “I found this spot earlier, thought it might be good for us to palaver.” There was a large oak tree, leaves still clinging on to the branches. Beneath it was a couple of benches, arranged to provide a meditative spot for visitors. The plaque on the benches revealed they were dedicated to Jeremiah Brown, “a kind husband, father, grandfather, and friend.”

The three settled in, Calvin pulling out a bottle of something dark while Suzanne ripped open the bag of candy. I reached out a grabbed a piece of chocolate, unwrapping it and savoring the sweet, bitter taste as it melted in my mouth. I washed it down with the too bitter alcohol, feeling it burn its way down my throat. My eyes watered as I sputtered, apparently more unused to the strong drink than I had anticipated.

“Maybe you should take it slow,” suggested Calvin, taking the bottle and eyeing me with motherly concern.

I grabbed it back, more so to prove a point. “Listen, it may burn, but we all know I can handle liquor better than either one of you.” I took a long drink, holding my face in a stoic mask despite the sensation.

“Can’t argue with that,” said Suzanne as she took the bottle and sipped from it herself. “I mean, we all know that’s a competition I can’t win. You going to challenge the title?” She tilted an eyebrow and the bottle toward Calvin. He took it, laughing.

“I think you have an unfair advantage, Lynn. But you can have your title.” He set the bottle between us. It was not really the reason for us coming together. The reason was just to be together. As friends again.

The moment caught up with me. “Hey, I don’t want to make this too sappy, but I’m really glad you’re both here. I know this is kind of weird and all, but…”

Suzanne smiled at me. “Of course we’d be here. It’s been too long. A girl needs her best girlfriend.” She tossed another piece of candy towards me with a wink. I caught it and turned it over in my hand. Calvin was quiet, turning the words over in his head.

“You know, after that accident, when we thought we’d lost you for good—“

I cut him off with a wave of my hand. “That’s the sappiness I was talking about! Listen, I’d rather not talk about the accident. I think about it all the time. But tonight’s all about enjoying our time together. I mean, I almost never get to see either of you anymore. You two have moved on to bigger and better things, but I’m still stuck here.”

My words caused more hurt than I intended; I could see it on both their faces. Suzanne’s face twitched, and I saw her gathering words for an apology.

“No, not like that. I’m not upset with you about it,” I tried to laugh it off, but the sound was empty. “I just meant, let’s have fun. No point in dwelling on the past.”

They smiled, glancing at each other with guilt in their eyes. I tried to ignore it. This was not going as planned.

“Have you guys heard about Old Man Stevens’ ghost?” It was a poor, erratic distraction, but it brought their four eyes back to me with curiosity rather than pity.

They shook their heads, almost in unison. “No, but I’m guessing you have a story?”

I smiled at Calvin. “Of course. It’s Halloween and we’re in a graveyard. I feel like I of all people should have a ghost story to tell.”

Calvin and Suzanne leaned in close, Suzanne tucking her jacket tighter around her body as the wind picked up. It was the ambiance I wanted, but could not control.

“So, like all ghosts, Stevens likes to hang around the cemetery, never straying too far from his grave. Also, as we all know, that means that he can interact with and be seen by mortals on one night of the year.” I paused for effect, even if the conclusion was obvious. “Tonight.”

They smiled, Calvin rolling his eyes. “Come on, maestro, get on with the story.”

“You have no respect for the art of storytelling,” I added full of mock offense, then took a deep breath. “Edward Stevens was a bitter, sullen old man when alive. He lived out beyond the town limits on a tiny little farm. It was him, his wife, and their three children out there. Now, his wife was a pitiful woman, worn down to nothing by his constant abuse. Nothing she did was every quite good enough, from the dinners she made to the children she bore. That kind of life can eat a hole right through you.”

Suzanne crunched into a hard candy, the sudden sound making Calvin jump. He gave her a playful shove, and she shook her head. “Barely any story and you’re already jumpy,” she tossed back.

“We are in a cemetery at one am,” he countered.

“Or maybe I’m just that good of a storyteller? I’ve had plenty of time to practice.”

There was the uncomfortable silence again. I mentally kicked myself, constantly putting my foot in my mouth. I wasn’t upset, but it was certainly getting harder to convince them of that. “Well, either way, back to the story. Mr. Stevens was also one of those sort who seemed to dodge every bit of bad luck to come his way. Unfortunately, it seemed to land squarely on his children. When the equipment malfunctioned, he managed to repair it and narrowly saved his hand from the tines when it started back up. His youngest son, unfortunately, was not as lucky when he fell from the barn loft and landed on the cursed machine three months later. Old Man Stevens said he was never sick a day in his life, but his middle son seemed to catch everything. It was the Measles that finally got him.

“Mr. Stevens was not a kind man, and he had more than his share of enemies. These weren’t the kind of people you could easily settle the score with, either. They were the kind who operated far below the law, and did not take kindly to being cheated. Especially out of money they felt was theirs. Stevens somehow avoided having to pay up, but his family was not so lucky. His eldest daughter, the one people thought might just manage to overcome the evil that her father poured out on a daily basis, was walking home from town one night. It was a different time, a time where people thought they were safe. She had been sent to run some errands for her mother, and time got later than she anticipated. So it was full dark when she was walking along the country road. Full dark was also when her father’s associates were known to make their own trouble.”

“No,” Suzanne gasped. Calvin grabbed another piece of candy and began chewing slowly.

“Now, when the facts started coming out a trial, those three men claimed it was an accident that must have caused those injuries. But no one could quite piece together what kind of accident would have left her face bruised and swollen beyond recognition. They had no idea what could have broken all her fingers and three ribs. And the greatest mystery of all was what kind of accident would have dragged her naked, lifeless body from the scene to her front porch.

“That was the last straw for Mrs. Stevens. Always a quiet woman, folks say she became even quieter. She was concentrating down all the rage that had built for all those years, compressing it into a pinpoint so dark, it sapped all the good straight out of her. Her husband continued on his own way, whistling while he worked about the farm. And then, one night, she got her revenge.

“They had an old cellar off from the house, one where Mr. Stevens kept his personal supply of whiskey. She knew he would go down there every night after his long day of work, just like clockwork. So she prepared. And one night, he went down, and the doors swung shut behind him. She locked it up tight, leaving him down there with nothing but his whiskey, an old lantern, and the exhumed corpses of his three children.”

“Ugh,” exclaimed Calvin, making a face and pushing away. “That’s sick.”

I smiled. “Perhaps, but so was he. ‘You can come out once you make it right,’ she told him, though she had no intention of letting him out. The only way he could make it right was to die in there. That was the atonement she sought. He hollered and raved for the first day, certain the power of his blustering would bring her to heel as it usually did. She sat on the front porch, working on her sewing, never batting an eye at the force of his words. After another day, he was begging. ‘When you make it right,” was all she would tell him.

“Folks finally got suspicious and showed up at the farm. She showed them to the cellar, not a hint of shame in her. They opened it up, not expecting to open up a crypt. Inside, they found him lying in a half formed grave, one other already dug and covered. His two sons sat in their chairs, at least what was left of them, right where Mrs. Stevens had placed them. The walls and doors were scratched and bloodied, but he had apparently saved enough of his fingers to dig up the dry, compressed ground, trying to make it right. She just shook her head when she saw it. ‘It wasn’t right when we put them in the first time,’ she was recorded as saying. She died in prison a few days later, though no one quite knew why.”

There was a creak in the branches above us, bringing us all back to the present. Calvin and Suzanne stretched and adjusted their position, trying to shake off the story. We were not on that farm or in that cellar, but seated safely beneath the tree. I smiled. Safety was relative.

“They say he wanders the grounds, looking for anyone out of their graves. Only he has a bad habit of mistaking the living for the dead. Rumor has it, if he catches you, he’ll bury you in his grave, where no one will ever find you. You’ll be buried alive, deep underground, where you can try to scratch and claw your way to freedom. But he already knows that never works.”

“Is—Is he buried here?” queried Suzanne, glancing around the cemetery as if every headstone was waiting to pounce.

I nodded. “Yep, a couple of rows over. I’ve paid him a visit a time or two, just to investigate this legend. Sad he didn’t seem to learn a thing from his wife.”

“We should try to see him!” said Calvin, jumping to his feet. I glanced at the bottle and noticed he had been comforting himself with it throughout the story. There was a subtle wobble to his stance. Not drunk, I thought, but certainly not sober.

“I can show you where he usually is, if you want. But—“

“Isn’t it dangerous?” Suzanne interrupted.

“Not if you’re with me. I can keep you safe.”

Calvin was already a couple of strides down the hill toward the grave. Suzanne and I hurried to catch up, climbing along the paths until we got closer. I held up a hand to stop them, placing a finger over my lips. “He’s just over there.”

From the gloom, there appeared a specter. He was a frail, emaciated man wearing a baggy pair of overalls and a checkered shirt. His beard was long and tangled about his face, eyes sunken. He held his arm up as if carrying a lantern about, but it emitted no light. As the wind turned, we could hear his mumbled ravings, words about graves and wives and revenge. He peered between the trees and gravestones, scouring his territory obsessively. When he reached the end, he looped back to the beginning, constantly waving his empty hand from side to side as he sought a way to finally make it right.

“Woah,” breathed Calvin, his eyes wide as he stared down at the spectacle before us. I, too, felt a certain awe at Old Man Stevens. So many years, so much time spent seeking, and still not at peace. Suzanne simply looked, well, like she had seen a ghost. Eye wide, face pale, lips trembling.

“Maybe we should go back,” I offered. She nodded, scrambling back the way we came. Calvin trailed behind us, casting glances over his shoulder to ensure the specter was still there.

“Are there more ghosts around here?” he asked, catching up to us.

I nodded. “I assume so. Every grave has a story, right? I just imagine most of them have no interest in pestering the living.”

We settled back under the tree, words flowing between us again. Finally, I realized, we were back into the swing of things. We laughed and talked. They told me what their life had been like since we last met, filling in all the gaps and details. We shared urban legends and spooky stories, working our way through the supply of candy and booze.

And then, on the far horizon, the sun began to crest, turning the black night sky into a fuzzy grey.

“I guess that’s our cue to leave,” said Calvin with a sad smile. “I’m glad we could meet up again.”

I smiled and nodded. “Yeah.” There were tears in my eyes and more words were going to bring those out.

“Same time, same place next year?” asked Suzanne.

I nodded.

“If not before,” Calvin said with a fatalistic chuckle.

“You better not!” I responded, anger mingling with the good-natured joke. I was always on a tightrope, trying to stay perfectly balanced. Sometimes I succeeded.

“Good seeing you, Lynn,” he added as we stood at the gate. He shoved his backpack through the bars and hoisted himself up.

“Take care,” offered Suzanne as she followed.

I watched them leave, the sun rising along the far horizon. It slowly reached out toward me, and I felt my form begin to vanish, burned away like an early morning fog.


And with that, I too shall bid adieu (to the challenge, not the blog!). Tune in for more stories over the next few weeks. I’ll also talk a little bit about what this 13 days series was like for me.Until then, Happy Halloween!

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

Devil in the Details

Hello! If you’ve  been following along with the 13 Stories, well, this is not one. I just found out that his story has been published on creepypasta.com, so I wanted to add it here as well. If you landed here after reading my story on Creepypasta, Welcome to the Attic! Take a look around. If you’re interested in some spooky/funny/creepy/weird Halloween stories, just check out the 13 Stories of Halloween tag here. The final one will be posted later today (around noon Central time), so check back to read it. 

Alright, enough babbling from me. Here’s the story and, as always, Happy Reading!


Trevor looked at the sweaty, crumpled paper in his hand, reviewing the instructions yet again. Soon it would be too late to read over them, but until then every rehearsal could be the one that saved his life.

Four pale candles, he read, and then glanced over to the four candles sitting on the floor. He had arranged them in a perfect square, just as instructed. The line of crisp white chalk connected them, and he mentally marked the next item off the list.

His hand was shaking, making it harder to read the scrawled lines of pencil on the paper. With a deep breath, he looked away from the paper and out the window. There was a swell of nervous energy bubbling in his chest. He had prepared, he reminded himself. He had read and studied. He had memorized every line of text and done his research. Now was no time to have second thoughts or doubts.

“Remember, the entity will know your thoughts. If you enter with doubts, he will use these to his advantage.”

Trevor closed his eyes and smiled, trying his best to think confident and reassuring thoughts. What he needed to do, he realized, was find something else to think about. Every review of the instructions only deepened his anxiety, and it obviously wasn’t helping. It reminded him of cramming for final exams. He had always overdone it and worn himself out, so that he ultimately spent a week sick and dreading the impending tests. Now was not the time to weaken his mental or emotional defenses. It was, instead, the time to finally achieve something with his life.

Trevor walked away from his preparations, shoving the paper in his pocket and trying to prevent his mind from running over and over the instructions. They always hung on the final words.

If you successfully complete the ritual, he will grant you one request for whatever your heart desires. Choose wisely.”

As if he could dislodge the thoughts, he shook his head sharply and turned his attention to his surroundings. He was sitting in the front of an old chapel, the wooden pews cracked and listing in the shadows. What had once been lovely windows were now either caked with dust, webbed with cracks, or lying broken on the floor. The moon sprinkled silver light around the interior, light which somehow only made the shadows darker. He wondered briefly about those who had once gathered here bowing penitently and singing their hymns. But churches dried up when a town did, and it was nothing more than an artifact cast out.

“Find a place of religious significance. It may be a church, temple, synagogue, mosque, sanctuary, blessed space, or area of miraculous happenings. Any place where people come to demonstrate faith will suffice.”

Trevor smirked remembering the words. He had considered going to his hometown’s football stadium, because that was where he had witnessed the greatest religious fervor. But somehow he thought such secular praises were not what the ritual intended. He had lucked upon this place on one of his trips to and from university. It was off the beaten path, well removed from the rest of civilization. Soy bean fields were the nearest attraction, which meant he would be mostly free to conduct his activities in peace. Assuming, of course, local kids did not wander in, drawn by the same isolation and freedom that had brought him. Given the lack of beer bottles and vandalism, he assumed it was not a popular place for such activities.

His legs were shaking up and down, whether from excitement or anxiety he was not sure. He checked his watch, noting that it had slipped five minutes closer since his last inspection. It was now 11:50, which meant his waiting was almost over.

“It must be begun at precisely midnight. Too early or too late and you will have no results but feeling like a fool.”

He had set and reset his watch just to be certain it was exact. Now he just needed to rely on it. He had also selected this position because it was just close enough to hear the church bells from a couple of towns over. Come midnight, they would toll and assure him he was on time.

The wind kicked up outside, tossing a few stray leaves through the opening. The many holes in the roof howled pitifully and the rest of the building creaked with the gusts. It seemed almost as if the building was in its final days, waiting for nothing but a strong storm to destroy it once and for all.

Giving into his worries, Trevor pulled the paper from his pocket and reviewed the important parts again. He skimmed over the materials, certain he had everything he needed. Instead, he reviewed the cautions to ensure he did not make any deadly mistakes.

”First, never speak your name. Such a being will seek any way to gain power over you. Should this creature find any weakness, he will use it to possess you. This is akin to being split apart from the inside out, slowly and over several days. Most unfortunate souls are also forced to watch as they slaughter family, friends, and other victims.”

It was simple enough. No names. That was an easy pitfall to avoid.

“Next, do not answer his questions. They are intended to trick you. You must only say what you have been instructed and your request. If you engage in questions, he will trap you in his game. You will slowly waste away, caught forever in his web of lies.”

Trevor had always been taciturn, so he was not concerned. Remaining silent was his primary skill in life, and he looked forward to putting it to good use. He also could not help but wonder who in their right mind would try to best a demon in a duel of wits. It seemed like one of the oldest follies.

“Third, ensure all barriers are maintained for the duration of the ritual. He will be unable to touch or harm you physically while the barriers are active. Adhere to the guidelines for your own safety.”

Another easy warning to heed. Who would ignore the barriers? Why would they even be in the ritual if they were not vital to its safe and successful completion?

“Finally, believe nothing of what he says. He exists only to lie.”

Rereading the warnings made him feel safer. These were so obvious that he could not imagine anyone making such grievous errors. He certainly knew better. And if the direst warnings in the ritual were so clear to him, it seemed impossible that he might fail.

The clock hands spun closer, and he moved back to his prepared space. There were the four candles, a fifth, and black candle setting to the side. There was a silver bowl of blessed water, secured from his local cathedral some days before. Also, a lighter, a scrap of cotton cloth, and a steel knife. It was everything he needed.

Trevor knelt beside the chalk square, arranging and rearranging items for the most practical set up. He wanted everything in arms’ reach, but also in the order it would be needed. Which meant, he thought, the lighter, the bowl, the knife, the cloth, and finally the candle.

It was midnight, he saw. As soon as the thought crossed his mind, he heard the bells ringing. Right on time, he brought the lighter to the first of the four candles, slowly moving clockwise and lighting each in turn. They flickered and snapped in the breeze, but remained strong.

His hands were unsteady as he picked up the bowl and set it in front of him. With a deep breath, he gripped the knife in his hand and drew it smoothly across his palm, just like they did in the movies. Only it seemed to hurt worse than those actors let on.

“Let a few drops fall into the water, and then bandage yourself carefully. The scent of blood can attract other things you may not wish to deal with during the ritual.

Trevor followed the instructions to the letter, turning the water a cloudy red with his own blood before tightly wrapping his hand with the cloth. He knew the next steps by heart, moving through them almost robotically. Each step had been dutifully practiced—with the exception of cutting his own hand—many times in the bright light of day.  Now, he lifted the bowl carefully with both hands, watching the way it rippled and changed. His blood diffused through the water, leaving darker and lighter patches that were quickly settling into the same pale shade.

“I summon you here with this dedication. Arrive.” With the last word, he tipped the water into the middle of the square. Unlike in the practice sessions, the water rolled and then stopped at the chalk outline, forming a tiny pool that defied the laws of gravity and surface tension. Trevor’s mouth hung open briefly, but he knew he had to continue.

The black candle was already in his hand, and he lit it despite the increasing wind. Gently, he placed it in the middle of the square, watching the tiny flame flicked on the surface of the water.

“I give you light to seek me,” he said, the words trembling from his lips. “Arrive.”

Barely were the words out of his mouth than the black candle began to sink below the surface of the water before disappearing completely. A dark, shadowy face emerged on the surface of the water, grinning widely. The face was hard to discern, but appeared dark and scaly, riddled with scars and fresh wounds that seemed to seep blood into the water around him. There were also many, many teeth. Trevor felt a cold pit of fear settle solidly in his stomach.

“Who summons me?” came the deep, gravelly voice. It came not from the thing’s moving lips, but from the air all around Trevor. The whole building seemed to vibrate with the voice.

No names, no questions, he reminded himself. Trevor’s mouth was dry thinking just how easy it would have been to make that mistake.

“You have been summoned, and I will instruct you. Speak your name.”

The church chuckled in time with the reflection in the water. He was smiling, showing even more teeth than Trevor thought could physically exist in the span of that face.

“Who are you to think you can command me, mortal?” came the bone aching words. They seemed to vibrate through Trevor’s body, as if he was being pulled apart by the reverberations alone.

“Speak your name,” he said again through gritted teeth.

The demon stretched, his arms stabbing through the surface of the water and entering this world. The water trickled off them, stumbling over protruding scales and nodules. Cruel claws shone in the candlelight, covered with water and a viscous red liquid that Trevor knew by sight. The smell of rot and decay followed quickly after, threatening to bring up Trevor’s meager dinner.

“I have summed you, and you will obey my commands. Remain within the summoning area.”

“Oh, shall I obey you and remain here?” asked the beast mockingly, planting one hand one either side of the puddle—outside the thin chalk lines. A deep, rolling chuckle emerged this time as he pulled himself slowly through the pool and into reality. The floorboards of the church appeared to buckle and steam wherever the claws pierced.

“He will try to intimidate you. Stay strong.”

“Remain within the summoning area. Speak your name.” Trevor tried to force all of his courage and confidence into his voice, but it only made the demon laugh all the louder, now standing at his full height.

The beast looked down on the pale boy before him. “You can call me Trevor,” came Trevor’s voice from his monstrous visage.

Trevor froze, his mouth agape and eyes wide. For an instant, the demon appeared almost sympathetic, but the façade cracked into merciless anticipation as the shadows flickered over his face. “You have meddled with something you do not even understand,” it said, voice again deep and roaring, but now mimicking the disappointed tone of a school teacher.

“I–I never told you my name. You can’t know my name,” Trevor stammered, his fear getting the better of him. His eyes flickered from the face to the arms to the rooted feet, never sure where to stay or linger. Everywhere he looked, there was impossibility.

“You think I need you to tell me your name?” Casually, the demon stretched, muscles and joints popping and cracking as if it had been millennia since he moved about. His eyes, dark with unholy light, fixed on Trevor with predatory amusement. He answered his own questions with a deep shake of his head, sending water sizzling across the sanctuary.

Trevor began scooting backward, whimpering with fear as the monster before him took one broad step forward. There was really nowhere to escape. The candles slowly snuffed themselves out, leaving only the moonlight to glint off those smiling teeth.

“But,” Trevor gasped as his hands scrambled along the floor for anything that might help, “but I followed all the instructions!”

The creature paused to survey the assembled implements and the chalk square. “Yes, you certainly did.” The building trembled with the force of the laugh.

From the cloying darkness, an arm shot forward. In the next breath, Trevor was off the ground. The demon slowly drew him close until their eyes were level.

“Who do you think wrote the ritual in the first place?”

“He exists only to lie.”


Creative Commons License

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

13 Stories of Halloween: Right and Wrong

Read the rest of the series here!


They parked their car in the gravel lot, positioning themselves as close to the tree line as they could. The corn maze was closed this time of night, and no one wanted to be caught lurking around after hours. However, being equal parts bored and broke, the chance to explore the maze in complete solitude was too much to pass up.

Joel, Erica, Mandy, and Alvin stumbled across the ground as they headed for the dark line on the horizon that marked the entrance. It was incredibly dark out, which made it even better. Eventually, their eyes would adjust.

Drawing closer, the small group saw the closed up outbuildings. The windows to the ticket booth were closed and locked, the petting zoo was deserted, and the snack truck was dark and silent. They hung close together, laughing in whispers as they made it finally to the entrance. A tall, cut-out of a scarecrow smiled down at them, holding in one gloved hand a signpost with the rules. The writing on it was childish, printed on in a font that resembled broad brushstrokes.

“Rule 1: NO RUNNING! No one wants to leave with a skinned knee!

Rule 2: NO BAD LANGUAGE! Keep it fun for EVERYONE!

Rule 3: DO NOT CUT THROUGH THE CORN! Now why would you want to ruin all the fun?

Rule 4: NO FLASHLIGHTS! It’s better this way, promise!

Rule 5: NO PICKING OR THROWING CORN! Keep hands, feet, and objects to yourself!

Rule 6: COMPLY WITH ALL STAFF MEMBERS INSTRUCTIONS! They’re just here to help!

Rule 7: HAVE FUN!!!!”

They were a corny set, but a staple at any event of this sort. There was a rope stretched across the entrance, which made their illicit entry even easier. The four of them slipped beneath the braided rope, the corn rising up around them and blocking out everything but the starry sky above. The moon was thin and pale in the sky, providing only the minimum of light. It turned everything into a misshapen shadow of reality.

There were creaks and groans from the buildings, the whisper of corn bending and swaying in the wind. It set the scene for them, and they all adopted whispers despite the fact no one would be out this far in the wee hours of the morning.

“Left or right?” Joel asked as they faced their first split in the path.

With two votes for left and one for right, they followed that trail straight to a dead end, turning around and laughing as they retraced their steps and proceeded down the right path. The maze led them through twists and turns, each one promising some new reveal. There was an edge of the forbidden to the whole operation which kept them on edge and on their toes. It was as if some angry farmer with his shotgun were about to burst from the corn to chase off trespassers. The four of them proceeded through the maze, taking more wrong turns than right, drunk on the thrill and risk of it all.

After about an hour, more hopelessly lost than they had been for a while, the excitement began to fade. The cold also began to set in, as the temperatures dipped from what had been a pleasant fall evening into the early nips of winter.

“Left, right, or straight?” asked Joel, fatigue creeping into his voice.

“Right,” said Mandy. Erica agreed.

“What are you talking about? That will just lead us back to where we came from. We have to go left.” There was an edge of frustration to Alvin’s voice as he spoke.

“Majority rules, so we go right. We’ll take the left if we’re wrong.”

“What about I just go left and we see who gets to the end first?” there was a prickle of competition in Alvin’s voice. He had a bit of an aggressive streak which led to him turning most events into some sort of game or championship. This was no different.

“If you want to, go ahead.” Mandy pulled her phone from her pocket and shook it at him. “We’ll text you when we beat you,” she said with a sly smile. She knew him well enough to know that he needed only the tiniest bit of goading to throw himself headlong into a perceived race.

He smiled and took off at a run through the field.

“Hey, didn’t you read the sign? No running!” called Erica after him laughing and rolling her eyes. “Geez, I wouldn’t want to be off on my own here. It’s creepy,” she said more quietly, pulling her jacket around her shoulders.

“No kidding,” returned Joel as the three moved through the stalks.

After a moment, a new sound joined the rustle of the corn and the stomp of their feet. It as a rhythmic, pounding sound, like a heartbeat echoing across the field. The three paused to listen, none of them quite sure how to place the noise.

“Is someone playing drums?” offered Mandy. Erica and Joel simply shrugged.

“Maybe Alvin is listening to music or something?” There were mirrored shrugs following Joel’s suggestion. Either way, they pushed on. The sound grew closer, but seemed to be coming from a handful of rows away.

“What the—“ came a shout from within the corn. Alvin’s voice, starting low and reaching up into a high pitch yelp. The pounding noise had stopped, and now there was something new, an up and down chorus of what almost sounded like a cartoon character. The three strained their ears, trying to pick up on what sounded like words, but they could not piece them together.

“Get away from—“ more yells from their friend.

“Alvin?” called Mandy, beginning to turn back to where they parted ways. Joel and Erica followed behind.

“If this is some kind of joke, it’s not funny,” added Joel. He wasn’t sure if he was worried it was and he would look foolish, or if it wasn’t and something truly terrible was going on. Maybe that farmer had shown up after all.

The pounding noise resumed, filling in the echoes from the rise and fall of the cartoonish voice, and they could hear Alvin calling out, warning off whatever he was facing down. His voice grew closer and closer, the remaining three following it through the rows as they tried to trace his steps. He had gotten impressively far away in the few moments they had separated.

The second voice slowly began to fade into coherence as they grew closer. “No one wants to leave with a skinned knee!” chirped something in a voice overly full of cheer. Thud, thud, thud, thud, ran the constant drone in the background, followed again by “No one wants to leave with a skinned knee!”

Alvin’s cries turned from words to general shouts broken by panting breaths. They were close now, just a couple of rows from where he was at the very least. Mandy raced ahead along the path. There was the feeling of something large and imposing galloping along the paths to their side, a ripple through the corn that left an echo of whatever it was.

Turning one last corner, Mandy came to a sudden stop. Alvin could be seen rushing down the long row, glancing over his shoulder every few moments to look at the monstrosity in pursuit. Mandy’s eyes followed his, landing on something that her mind struggled to fit within her previous frame of reality. Loping along the rows of corn behind him stood the grinning scarecrow from the entrance, no longer a mere cardboard cut-out. He towered over the corn, the tallest stalks coming just to his waist, lanky arms and legs spinning as he hurtled along the path. Each step was another beat of that imagined drum.

“Run!” called Alvin as he spotted his friend, panic etched into every muscle of his face.

Almost as if in response, the creature spoke, “No one wants to leave with a skinned knee!” Its face did not move or change, the same smile stretching from ear to ear. The voice echoed out, mechanical in its cheer.

Joel and Erica arrived, taking a shared moment to take in the scene as Mandy had. Now Mandy was yelling, urging Alvin to run faster, to get away. In slow motion, the three friends watched as one of the scarecrow’s large feet rose up, trailing straw in its wake, and came down on Alvin’s back. Alvin fell forward, face pressed into the dirt, still yelling for his friends to run. The sound grew muffled as the foot pressed him further down, the words turning back into indistinguishable yelling. There were snaps and pops, the whine of mechanics compressing the scarecrow’s foot deeper and deeper into the ground.

“No one wants to leave with a skinned knee!” it continued to repeat, words never faltering or changing.

Erica grabbed at a rock on the ground, hurling it up at the smiling face. It hit with a dull thud, then bounced off into the corn. She was back at the ground, grabbing at any fallen ears of corn and stones within reach.

“Leave him alone!” she screamed, her voice harsh and raw. “Get away from him!”

The scarecrow lifted its foot from the indentation in the ground, and Joel tried not to look at the sticky material stretching behind. Alvin was quiet now. So was the scarecrow.

It slowly lifted its smiling face from Alvin’s fallen body, scanning the remaining three as Erica flung more and more projectiles. Mandy was sobbing now, and Joel just felt numb.

“Keep hands, feet, and objects to yourself!” chimed the scarecrow with forced glee. It took a step towards them, and Joel and Mandy stumbled backwards. Erica continued her assault, rage plastered on her face. In a few short strides, she and the Scarecrow were face to kneecap, poised like two fighters about to battle.

“Keep hands, feet, and objects to yourself!” droned the cartoonish voice of the scarecrow as it bent down closer to her. She flailed out with arms and legs, fingers morphed into viscous claws that scratched at the fabric and paint covering the monster even as it grabbed her shirt and lifted her in the air.

“Erica, run, go!” said Mandy over her sobs. But Erica was blinded by battle lust, continuing to swing and strike out at the giant foe. It was almost as if she truly believed she could win.

“Keep hands, feet, and objects to yourself!” said the scarecrow once more, then, with a flick of his wrist, sent Erica flying out across the stalks of corn. For a moment, she was silhouetted in the sky, then again swallowed up by the darkness.

Mandy wailed, turning and gripping Joel by the collar and drawing him close. “We have to go!” she said, serving to snap him out of frozen immobility. Fight, flight, freeze.

Mandy took off at a run, dragging Joel along by one arm.

“No!” he said, suddenly fueled by terror. He ripped his arm away and stood in the field. Despite having finished with Erica, the scarecrow had not begun pursuing them. “Don’t run,” he gasped, the reality finally settling on him.

“What? Are you kidding me? We have to get away.” She took a few steps back and grabbed Joel by the arm again, trying to pull him from his spot.

He fixed her with wide eyes set firmly in his ashen face. “We will. Just don’t run. It won’t find us if we don’t break the rules.”

Her face was puzzled, then awareness struck. “Okay,” she mumbled, sniffing back tears. “Let’s just get out of here.”

As they walked through the rows upon rows of corn, they strained their ears for the steady thunder of the scarecrow’s feet. But it was quiet again, save for the rustling of the corn in the wind. After what felt like days of trekking through the corn, Joel finally cracked, sinking to his feet.

“We’re going in circles,” he mumbled. “It’s like there’s not even a path out anymore.”

Mandy knelt beside him, grabbing his arm and trying to bring him back to his feet. “Come on, Joel, we have to keep going. We probably just took a wrong turn.”

He shook his head, eyes staring unfocused at the ground. Everything was darkness. “No, don’t you get it? He’s trapped us here. There’s no path out.”

She was crying again, still tugging on his arm. “There was a path in. We just have to retrace our steps. Come on, we can do it.”

There was a violent swing of his head toward her, his eyes blazing with fury. “You think that’s how this works? That we’ll just walk out of here? We already broke the rules, Mandy. We’re going to fucking die here!”

He seemed almost as shocked as she was as the words spilled out of his lips. Shock turned to horror as the sound of footsteps began again in the distance.

“No,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to. It was an accident.” Suddenly, Joel was on his feet again. “It was an accident, I swear. I’m sorry!” His eyes scanned the rows and rows of corn, searching for a reprieve.

“Keep it fun for everyone!” echoed the response, followed by a childish giggle. As the steps came closer, the voice repeated its mantra, followed by what might have been a friendly laugh in other circumstances.

“No,” yelled Joel as he turned to face the direction of the sound. “I said I was sorry. I’m sorry!”

Still closer. Mandy grabbed his arm again, pulling him towards the path. “Come on, Joel, we have to get out of here before it finds you. We have to—“

He yanked his arm away, eyes filled with despair. “No, it’s too late for me, Mandy. I broke the rules.”

“We can figure it out, let’s just move. We can stay ahead of it.”

“Keep it fun for everyone!” Now it was distinct.

“Get away from me!” roared Joel, shoving her into the darkness. Mandy stumbled, landing hard on the ground.

There was a pause in the unstoppable steps, a brief whirr of electronics, and then it spoke again. “Keep hands, feet, and objects to yourself!” A momentary pause. “Keep it fun for everyone!”

“Run,” he said, turning his back on her to face what was stalking down the rows.

Mandy finally gave in, turning and walking slowly down the rows of corns. Don’t run, she reminded herself. Don’t curse. Don’t throw corn. Don’t cut through the rows. She tried to remember all the rules on the sign. Taking the first turn, Joel disappeared from sight just as the scarecrow turned onto his row. She winced at the sound of screaming coming from him, tried to block it out as it became muffled. When it finally stopped, the silence was far worse.

Her tears laid a marker of her progress, ephemeral breadcrumbs that did little to show her physical steps but were everything to her emotional unwinding. She walked until here feet were sore, then continued until they faded into numbness. The moon never moved and the sun never rose. Eventually, she looked at her watch, seeing the numbers click from 6:00 to 10:00 to noon, but her world never changed.

She stopped at another dead end, staring at the impenetrable wall. She had walked every possible path, but none of them led any further to freedom. Perhaps, she allowed herself to think, Joel was right.

She had held the thought at bay, afraid it would finally dissolve what little hope she had left. True to her fears, it did just that, but left a firm streak of defiant determination in its wake.

“If that’s the game, then,” she whispered, stealing her resolve. With a deep breath, she plunged through the rows.

Almost instantly, the footsteps picked up again, rocketing towards her. ”Now why would you ruin all the fun?” mocked her predator. She heard corn crunching beneath his feet as he crashed toward her. Every step was closer, the voice repeating its phrase again and again with maddening consistency.

Mandy imagined she could feel the ground tremble with each of its steps. She heard the echoes of its voice and felt phantom whispers of breath, hot and rancid, on her neck. But looking behind, the monster was not yet in sight.

She also imaged that there was a break up ahead. That she could see something besides more corn standing beyond those far rows. It was hope, she said with defeat, hope trying to reassert some little flame to keep her going.

“Now why would you ruin all the fun?”

And then, she was stumbling out onto grass, corn falling away behind her. The sun was bright and high in the sky. Mandy stumbled, falling to the ground as her eyes reeled from the transition between total darkness and total light. She scrambled along the ground, turning to look back at the hole from which she had burst. But there was nothing but golden stalks of corn.


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

13 Stories of Halloween: Merely Players

Want more of the 13 Stories of Halloween? Click here!


Darren barely felt human. In fact, he felt more like a monster built purely of anxiety and tension, one that just happened to ooze into a human form for the night. Everyone said such feelings were normal. That as all well and good, he reasoned, but it did nothing to quiet the awareness that he was sweaty, nauseated, jittery, and hyperventilating.

Stage fright. It sounded so innocuous, but it was far from it. Still, he reminded himself, this was all about becoming a better him. After his last breakup, he recognized a few facts. First, he had terrible taste in partners. Second, he deserved better. And third, perhaps most painfully, he was no longer the kind of person he would want to date, let alone anyone else. His journey of self-discovery had led to a brash, spontaneous audition for a local play. And that audition dragged him all the way to that very moment, sitting backstage as the audience filtered in. The play would go for one night only. Halloween, of course. And the festive date meant they had a full house as well. If he quieted his breathing and the pounding of his heart, he imagined he could hear the murmur of hundreds—well, perhaps tens—of voices.

“You look like a first timer,” said Jean from the seat next to him. Her face was painted with almost gaudy makeup, but everyone assured him it would look lovely from the audience. He flexed his own face, feeling the foundation shift like a mask.

“That obvious?”

She reached over and pulled his water glass from his hand. “That’s your sixth glass of water. You’re going to piss yourself on stage if you keep it up.” The smile was genuine, understanding.

Until that moment, Darren had not considered needing to hold his bladder through at least Act One. That brought up all new anxieties. “What if I can’t do this?” he blurted out.

Her words were a cool breeze soothing his brow. “Hey, you’ve practiced, right?”

He nodded.

“You know your lines?”

He swallowed, trying mentally to run through his lines, then nodded. “I hope.”

She just smiled. “Then, I suppose you can do this. Not like you have much of a choice now.”

It was reassuring. Of course. He only had a few lines, a good number of which were written sneakily in the book he was to read from. Even if he got stuck there, he would just have to push through it.

The rest of the preparation was a blur of activity. People were checking and nitpicking at his costume, reapplying makeup where he had sweated through. The backstage crew checked and rechecked props, reviewed their cues, and ensured each character knew where to find what they would need. His fellow actors squeezed his shoulder, whispered encouragement, and always concluded with the famous “Break a leg.” For his part, he mostly nodded out of the way, eyes skimming over his lines one last time.

Then, the lights dimmed and the director stepped out to welcome the audience. While he expected his anxiety to crest again, send him into an even greater tailspin, it surprised him. His body likely panicking, he found his mind growing surprisingly clear and focused. Perhaps this is what those lunatics meant when they said they worked better under pressure.

Applause, then the curtains went up on the opening scene. It was your typical gruesome, gory plot for a seasonal play. The first scene was Michael and Linda, young and happy couple in the prime of their life. They were on a walk through the park, discussing future plans. Michael took an aside, looked at the ring in his pocket, and waxed poetic about the powers of love to the audience. The audience was not fooled, of course, by the saccharine opening. They were simply biding their time.

As he returned to Linda, purportedly studying the flowers while he was convening with the audience, the lights dimmed. Someone stepped from the shadows. It was Trip, a perennial figure at the community theater, bedecked in a hat that covered the top half of his face and a trench coat that concealed the rest of him. He brandished a weapon, Michael stepped forward to protect his one true love, and then there was a crash. Michael collapsed, Linda screamed, and the house lights went down.

A funeral was next, Linda the grieving partner. Jean played it beautifully, appearing devastated and completely unpredictable. The next few scenes displayed an obsessive, frantic turn in the lovely Linda, who’s only thought was to restore what had been taken from her.

Darren took a deep breath, stepping onto the scene while the lights were dimmed and finding his place. The set behind him was a curios shop, featuring the comical shrunken head that had become the unofficial mascot of the show. He smiled seeing it, feeling a bit more of the anxiety melt away.

Linda approached, and he looked up from behind his counter as the effects crew rang a simple bell.

“Afternoon,” he said, his voice cracking just a bit. There were no loud guffaws from the audience.

Linda looked around the shop, appearing distracted, uneasy, and yet hopeful. He was amazed Jean was as talented as she was, especially at a community theater that drew no more than 150 people at a time. She deserved to be famous, he thought.

“They told me you could help me,” she said, stepping up to his counter.

“Well, I don’t know who they are or what I’d be able to do to help.” He turned a shoulder to her, appearing to study his inventory.

“Please,” Linda responded and reached out to grab his arm.

He looked back at her and sighed. “What is it you want? And I don’t work for free,” he said tersely, wagging a finger in her direction. The audience seemed to hang on their every word.

“I’ll pay whatever you want, you just have to help me get him back.”

Darren looked her up and down. “Yes, you will certainly pay. Now who is it you are wanting?”

Linda stepped away, the spotlight following her as she gazed up toward the rafters. “My Michael,” she said with a sob. She went on to recount the story as Darren did his best to appear grumpy, but moved.

“Are you sure about this?” he cautioned as she finished her tale.

“Yes, anything you ask. I can’t go on without him!”

Darren turned, peering over the row of books behind him and selecting one that appeared sufficiently old and dusty. “Take this and make your preparations. Return to me by the next full moon.”

Linda rushed from the shop, clutching the book to her chest. “Thank you,” she said passionately. “Thank you. I will return, I swear.”

Darren stroked the fake beard on his chin as he watched her leave, lights dimming again.

Backstage, Jean grabbed his hand quickly as she swung past. “You did great. Keep it up,” she whispered, then swept back into the stage. She read slowly from the book, appearing to ponder the different items needed. After a moment, she set off with resolve. The next few scenes detailed her preparation, culminating finally with her taking a shovel into a set designed to look like the graveyard, an almost full moon hanging heavily on the backdrop behind her.

The lights turned to black as the sound of a shovel piercing the earth echoed in the theater.

In the brief pause, there was a flurry of activity. The ritual scene had to be set. In Act Two, the ritual was completed, bringing Michael back. Like most stories, his resurrection went well until his insatiable bloodthirst was revealed. Act Three dealt entirely with how to kill someone who had already been dead once before. But, Act Two was Darren’s big scene, and the nerves returned to flutter through his stomach.

He walked on stage while it was still dark, bending to “light” the flickering electric LED candles. For a few brief seconds, they were the only light on the stage. Slowly, the house lights came up. That was Jean’s cue, and Linda came hurrying in from stage left.

“I have him,” she gasped. Darren nodded.

“Well, bring him in then. Set him here between the candles.” He stretched his arm widely to indicate the circle around him, then stepped over to rearrange the implements on the table. The stage directions had not been very clear on this point, but had indicated he needed to busy himself while she was gone.

Linda hesitated, opened her mouth to speak, and then was gone. She returned moments later carrying a withered bundle in her arms. A decaying, emaciated hand slipped from beneath the wrappings, cluing the audience in to what her large parcel truly was. Linda set Michael’s body gently on the floor, peeling away the fabric and stroking his hair gently. She looked on the corpse with true love.

Darren shooed her away. “You must prepare the article of binding. It is the only way to hold his spirit here.” He stepped over to inspect the body. This was one part they had improvised on. The props crew had an awful time finding a suitable corpse, and so they had been completing rehearsals using everything from a manikin to a blow-up doll. But now he saw the true extent of their creativity and skills.

The corpse looked like someone who had been buried for quite some time. There was dirt on the clothes. The body was tiny in the confines of the neatly pressed suit. Skin clung along every outline of bone. It was so realistic, Darren almost imagined he could smell the decay and rot, but pushed the thought aside. Just nerves, he told himself.

Linda returned with a lock of her hair tied around a sprig of flowers. She bent to the corpse and tucked it into his mouth. Darren caught a glimpse of teeth, then the long darkness of the dummy’s throat. It gave him a sense of vertigo.

He stepped over to the table with the prepared items, grabbing the book and the chalice. He handed the chalice to Linda, who began to dip her fingers in and sprinkle blood across the corpse and the ritual area. A speck landed on Darren’s lips, and he licked it away. That assured he would not make that mistake again. He had presumed it would taste sweet, given it was just food coloring and corn syrup. However, it was rather bitter and tangy. Apparently the props crew had not been too careful about how it was stored. He hoped they had not mixed anything more toxic into it. It strangely resembled paint, and he had to quickly remind himself that ingesting a drop of paint would not kill him.

Darren read from the book. The words were mostly gibberish to him, but he did his best to form them precisely as the director had instructed. She was visible from the corner of his eyes, mouthing the words with him. He spoke louder, more forcefully as he proceeded, letting the energy of the scene take him over. It was exhilarating; the words moved through him with a renewed vigor, almost as if the play had taken control. He simply knew what had to be done.

Crossing the stage, he grabbed the knife from the preparation table and brought it down forcefully on the chest of the corpse, aiming squarely for the heart. Now, Linda was supposed to weep as nothing happened. It would be later in the night, when they had both left, that Michael would stir.

Only, that was not what happened. The corpse on the stage seemed to let out a gasp, a strand of hair escaping its lips and fluttering through the air. Darren and Jean both froze, caught off guard. But Jean was never one to let a scene die.

“Michael, is that you?” she asked, pressing her head to the chest of the corpse.

Her face grew pale, and even Jean, the real talent on stage, lost her place. The silence stretched on, finally broken from a low groan coming out of the corpse’s lips.

Darren stepped back, eyes wide as the body in front of him regained its flesh. Colored returned to the skin, and it pulled away from the bones. It was almost as if someone were inflating the body, reinstilling life into it. Darren’s mind scrambled for reason. Surely this was a stage trick. But he could not come up with any possible way to create such an illusion.

He could hear the audience gasp, a trickle of applause spreading throughout as they witnessed what was surely a marvelous illusion. Mirrors, they thought. A display screen, perhaps. Maybe a trap door?

Darren saw the director, a look of frenzy and joy in her eyes, grab the rope for the curtains and begin to stretch them across the stage. The body began to move, reaching out toward Jean. She sprung to her feet and raced towards off stage. But the director caught her, arm surging forward with something bright. Jean curled around the woman’s arm with a gasp, almost like a child getting stopped in Red Rover. She hung there for a moment, then collapsed to the stage, unmoving.

“All good things require sacrifice,” said the director with a smile, moving quickly over the stage and kneeling by the now alert body.

“Andrea?” he asked. She nodded and kissed him.

“But how? What did—Why am—“

“Sh,” she whispered, smoothing his hair from his forehead. “You need your strength.”

She moved quickly, too quickly for Darren to really know what had happened. In one moment, he was standing in shock, watching some impossible scene play out in front of him as the audience murmured curiously from behind the curtain. The next, there was blood pouring from his neck as he tried to stop the flow.

He fell to his knees, blood pooling around him. The man on the ground seemed at first shocked, then repulsed. Then intrigued. As the lights faded one last time, Darren saw the once-corpse begin to eagerly lap the blood from the floor, eyes closed in ecstasy.


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