Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Hi gang.  Halloween approaches.  Time to get creepy.

By Andrea McDonald

A dying fly buzzed futilely against the grimy window pane as Susan scanned the yard.  She wrapped her arms tightly around her waist, clutching her knobby green cardigan in her fists, but one hand found its way up to press tightly against her mouth as her eyes riveted on the spot at the end of the long lane where the school bus would stop.

A van approached, and braked.  She tensed.   A man with a mailbag slung over his shoulder jumped out, pried open the mailbox, and pushed in a letter.  She didn’t exhale until his van rumbled down the gravel road out of sight.  She chewed her lip and waited.

When the school bus stopped and the doors folded open, she strained to hear if there was laughter as her daughter stepped down and trudged up the rutted lane toward the house; the trapped fly buzzed too loudly. She watched Amy, twelve years old, blonde head down and with arms crossed, kick the dust as she plodded up the hill. Were the kids making fun of her, and the house?

Susan didn’t call to Amy to ask her to go back and fetch the letter.  She’d face that herself.

The screen door squealed. “Hey,” Amy said, shaking off her jacket. Susan glanced down at the murky bruises on both her daughter’s arms where her husband Derrick had grabbed her.  They were fading at least.  Soon they’d be gone, and she’d never be hurt again.  She pulled her own sweater tighter.

“How’d it go?” Susan asked, looking away.

“Okay I guess,” Amy muttered. She turned toward the table.  Her shoe caught on a scrap of raised linoleum and she tripped. “I hate this house,” she mumbled, and shivered. “It gives me the creeps.”

Susan sighed but said nothing, and after peering across the yard and into the woods, scurried down to the mailbox.  As usual, her thoughts turned back to the day- the day that had led them here to this run-down house: the day Amy’s twin Amelia was taken.  The girls were only six then.  A man had lured them to the curb with a lame puppy.  Amy had sensed something wrong and run home, but Amelia stayed and was gone when a frantic Amy returned with her mother.

Amelia was never found, alive or dead.  Amy was cut in half without her twin.  Susan never forgave herself for not protecting the girls. Derrick crumbled, but over the years the evil that had befallen his child, the evil he couldn’t fathom, somehow crept into him.  He began to drink, and then his fury erupted.  The pushing, the grabbing, the slapping started.

The tin flag on the mailbox squeaked as Susan yanked it down.  She peered in the dark box, and pulled out a letter addressed to her.  She turned it over.  No return address. 

No one knew she and Amy were there.  She’d been so careful not to say a word to anyone. When her widowed and childless sister died of cancer, Susan kept her death secret from Derrick, and when the small inheritance came, she knew she had a way to protect Amy.  Strangely, she had spotted the ad in the newspaper that same day.   Private sale. House on two acres. Secluded. Furnished. Owners transferred. Priced to sell. 

It was a shell of a house, grayed, with shreds of old paint hanging like psoriasis flakes on infected skin. It smelled like old cheese.  Dense, dark woods surrounded it and it was far from town.  

It was all she could afford, but more importantly, it was safe.  She and Amy packed up a few belongings when Derrick was out drinking, and left without telling him their whereabouts.  She knew it was cruel, but heartache and stress and fear had scraped away any love she had felt, and she swore she’d never see her daughter cower under the stairs again. 
The letter burned in her hand as she hurried back up the hill.  Once in the kitchen she slit it open with a knife and began to read.

Dear Mrs. Wilson,
My name is Mary.  My husband and I sold you the house.  He made me swear not to say anything to anybody, but I haven’t slept since we moved out, since before we moved out in fact, but when I saw that it was just you and your young daughter who would live in it, all alone, I knew I had to say something.

Susan slumped into a rickety chair.  Her stomach twisted.

I’m so sorry, really I am.  But you see, and I’m sure you can tell by the house, my husband and me, we don’t have much money.  We never got insurance or anything like that.  And my husband, he’s a good man, but he got in trouble with the police a few times, and he couldn’t risk the cops coming around in case they thought he did it.  He might lose his job, or even go to jail, and then where would we be?

Amy was sitting on the stairs, ripping up the linoleum with her heel.  “What is it Mom?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Susan replied.

We weren’t really transferred.  I can’t tell you where he works.  He made me swear.  We couldn’t have a real estate fellow sell the house because he’d ask questions, and we’d have to tell what we found, and then he’d have to tell anybody wanting to buy the house, and who’d buy it then?  We’d be stuck in that place, and I couldn’t live there a minute longer.  Not with what we found.

“You’re sweating Mom.  Are you okay?”

“Yes. Yes Amy.  There’s nothing for you to worry about.”

My husband made me swear not to tell.  He said if we didn’t get enough money out of the house we’d be broke.  He doesn’t make much and I can’t work on account of my knees.  So I’m real sorry but we had to do it.  But I never thought in a million years that someone like you would buy it.

Susan felt a familiar sick dizziness coming over her.  It was the feeling she had when the street was empty and no matter how loudly she yelled her name, Amelia didn’t answer.  It was the same as when Derrick hit them, swinging and yelling and crying.  The same as all the times she discovered Amy, wide-eyed and staring from between the treads of the basement stairs.  Utter helplessness. A fly buzzing against the glass.

“It’s about this house, isn’t it Mom?  I can feel it.“

Susan ran her hand through the strings of her hair and looked at her daughter.  She saw Amelia there too.  She dropped her head and tried to read, but her vision was blurring.

God, I hate to tell you.  It’s just so awful.  Promise me you won’t sue us or anything.  I know we should have gone to the police but my husband said no.  Just get out, he said.  Let someone else deal with it. So we did.  I’m so sorry. Really I am.

We bought the house private-like, from a man with a crippled dog, because it was cheap and it was all we could afford. One day a few months ago, when we were trying to put in a sump pump under the basement stairs, my husband was digging out the dirt floor and he found- God I hate to tell you- he found a little skull with long blonde hair.  You know that little girl, the twin, that was abducted some years back? We think it might be her.

“Mom! What’s the matter?! Mom!”

Susan dropped the letter.  She collapsed onto the floor.   Amy stared in horror at her mother’s face and backed silently toward the basement stairs.

“Amy!” Susan wailed, as she watched her trip and tumble backwards.

Amy screamed as she thumped and rolled down the steps. Susan froze, her mouth gaping open. Then, in a frenzy she crawled to the edge of the basement stairwell and stared down, straining to see into the dim light.
Amy lay still and silent, at rest in the disturbed dirt by the bottom step.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

In Poppa’s Car
By Andrea McDonald

This morning, just after Mom left with the man, it rained for a while, so I could make faces with my finger on the steam inside of the car window, and watch the drips race each other to the bottom.  That was fun for a while.  My baby sister Emma was still asleep on the back seat, so I didn’t have anyone to talk to.

We share a little sleeping bag.  She gets one end and I get the other.  I try not to kick her but I’m much bigger than her and my legs hit hers if I stretch out.  They start to hurt after a while if you can’t stretch out.  She gets the head end and I get the other end, so the zipper rubs my face, but Mom says I’m bigger and so I have to suck it up.  It’s hard to keep covered when you can’t zip it up.

It’s getting cold at night now.  For a while it wasn’t bad sleeping in Poppa’s car, but now it’s too cold to open the windows, and the inside gets all wet and drippy.  I like that I can draw pictures, but my clothes get all kind of soggy and that makes me shiver.

Emma is awake now.  She’s crying but I tell her it’s alright.  It’s alright Emma.  Mom’s coming back soon.   She has a stinky diaper, so I look all over the car for another one.  I can’t find one, so I just take off the dirty one, wipe her bottom with an old napkin that’s on the floor, and leave her bare.  I roll all the yucky stuff into a ball.  I wish I could put it outside so it wouldn’t smell so much, but Mom said no, you can NEVER open the doors.  She said there are bad people out there.  People that would take us away.  I wonder where they’d take us, but Mom just yells shut up at me when I ask her.

I wonder if they’d take us to a house like Nana and Poppa’s.  I liked it there.  It had a wooden swing hanging from the big tree outside, and a creek where tadpoles swim by.  Poppa gave me a net once, and showed me how to catch them.  Just like he showed my Daddy when he was a boy.  That’s what he said.  He said my Daddy was a fine man before he got killed.  I don’t know.  I don’t remember much.  Poppa said I had to put the tadpoles back though, because they’re baby frogs and babies need to be ‘tected.

I miss Poppa and Nana.

Nana made chocolate chip cookies for me.  She said that my Daddy always liked them, even if my Mom didn’t.  Mom got mad at her for letting me eat too many.  She yelled at Nana.  She said mind your own beeswax.  Nana threw her tea towel on the table. I was only trying to show the girl some love.  That’s what she said.   My Mom got really mad then.  Madder than all the other times.  They’re my kids, she yelled. I don’t need you in my face. Then she said the bad words Nana said I should never say.

Mom said that Poppa wouldn’t mind us taking his car, but I don’t think he can drive the tractor all the way to town to get the groceries.

Emma’s really hollering now and the sun is making it hot in here.  I wish I could open the door and get out, but Mom locked it.  I think Emma’s hungry.  There’s no milk in her bottle.  I looked around but all there is to eat are the crusts in the pizza box.  I hate crusts but I’ll eat them now ‘cause I’m hungry too.  I held one up to Emma’s lips but she just shut them tight and cried harder.

Where’s Mom? I ask Emma.  Why isn’t she back yet? Emma doesn’t know how to talk yet, so she just cries.  

The man from the trailer park came by real early.  We’re parked close by, behind a hedge so that we can go into the bathroom there and no one knows it.  The man must live there, in that old, dirty trailer on the end, the one with the old boat and all the other junk around it.  Mom says he has work for her.  I don’t know what she does, but she always comes back with her hair all mussed and smelling like stinky cigarettes.  And she always leans her head against the window of the driver’s seat and cries for a while.  Then she sneaks into the shower and comes back with some food from the food machine.

Yesterday we got potato chips and Coke.  She and me.  Emma got some milk and animal cookies.

Mom’s taking a really long time, I say to Emma.  I’m bored.  I wish she’d come back.

There’s nothing to do but bounce on the back seat, but that makes Emma scream, so I climb into the front seat and push all the dials and buttons in Poppa’s car.  Nothing happens, so I make pretend noises like someone singing on the radio and horns beeping and stuff.  Emma stops crying.  She likes my funny sounds, but as soon as I stop she bawls again.  I try to jiggle her up and down but she’s awful heavy and I hit her head on the door handle.  I didn’t mean to, honest.

I wonder when Mom’ll come back.

Then the lady that I saw yesterday came along with her little dog.  He’s a cute little dog.  He runs along beside her on his little leash and keeps looking up at her, just like Bones looked up at Poppa.  I miss Bones.  He licked my hand and my face all the time.

She’s stopping.  She’s telling the little dog to shush, I think.  I can just barely hear her ‘cause the windows are all closed.  Now she’s coming over.  Uh oh.  Mom’s going to be mad.

“Hello little girl.”  Her voice is all muffly.  She looks kinda like Nana, with a big smiley face and big boobies and hair all curled up tight.  “Are you alright in there?”

I shake my head.  I’m not supposed to talk to anyone.

“Where’s your mother, dear?”

“She’s at work.”  I know I shouldn’t have answered, but she looks nice and I haven’t talked to anyone but Mom for a long, long time.

“At work.  I see.  What does she do at work?”

“I dunno.  She goes with a man.  Sometimes it’s a different man.  She’ll be back soon.”

The lady pulled the little dog in closer.  It sat at her feet, just like Bones.  She looked kind of worried. 

“And where is your father?”

“He’s dead.”

She motioned for the dog to follow her as she came closer and peeked in the car.  Then she jumped back and put her hand on her boobies.  “My goodness, there’s a baby in there.”

I nodded. “She’s my baby sister, Emma.”

She frowned.  I guess I made her mad.

“And what’s your name, dear?”

“I’m Steph.”  I shouldn’t have told her.  Mom said not to.

“Have you had anything to eat today, Steph?” she asked.

I shook my head yes, then no, then yes.  I had a pizza crust, but I was still hungry, so I didn’t know what to say.

“Why don’t you open this door, Steph, and we’ll just let some fresh air in.  It must be very hot in there.”

I shook my head no.  Mom said there are people who take children away.  I was feeling a little scared, so I turned away from the lady and hid under the sleeping bag on the back seat.  Where are you, Mom?  Why don’t you come back?  It’s hot under here.

When I thought I couldn’t breathe ‘cause of the sleeping bag and all the windows up, I had to sit up again.  The lady and the dog were gone.  There were some people walking far away, but no one came near the car, and Mom still hadn’t come back.
Emma wasn’t crying anymore.  I guess she was asleep.

I looked under the seat and found a potato chip.  I ate it, but it didn’t stop my stomach hurting.  I’m too hot.  I wish I could go to sleep too.  Maybe I can go to sleep.  Maybe when I wake up, Mom will be back with some. .  .


The door opened and the rush of cool air made me jump awake.  Mom threw a bag of potato chips at me and her hand grabbed around behind the seat for Emma’s bottle.  She had a little carton of milk in her other hand.

“What took you so long Mom?!” I asked, wiping the wet from my mouth.

“Never you mind,” she said.  Her hand shook as she poured the milk in.  I saw her face in the little mirror.  There was blood running down the side of it.  She stared back at me.  Shut up was what her eyes said.

I started to cry.  I couldn’t help it.  I thought that’d wake up Emma and she’d start hollering’ and that would make Mom madder but I couldn’t help it.  I just couldn’t stop crying.  I was so hot and my face felt like it was on fire and I didn’t want to eat potato chips.

“I don’t- want- po- tato- chips.”

“Well, it’s potato chips or nothing, Steph!” Mom said.  “The bastard didn’t pay.  I’ve got no money- “  Mom started to cry.   We were both bawling but still Emma didn’t wake up.

And then the door opened.  A policeman stood there.  The lady with the dog was behind him.

“What the hell!” Mom said.  She wiped her face with her sleeve and got it all bloody.  She started to grab at me and Emma.

“Are you Sandra Louise Wellington?”  the policeman asked Mom.  The lady with the dog was holding her throat and the dog was barking at us.

Mom closed her mouth and shook her head no.

The policeman looked at me.  “Are you Stephanie Taylor Wellington?”

I shook my head yes.

“The baby-“ the lady with the dog said.  “There’s something wrong with the baby-“

Mom screamed at them then.  “You keep your blasted hands off my baby!”  She reached into the back seat and grabbed my shoulder hard.  “What’d I tell you about speaking to strangers?!  What’d I tell you?!  Now look what you’ve done!”

I cried even harder.  The policeman lifted me out of the car and handed me to the lady.  She held me against her legs and her dog licked my knee.  I watched as the policeman held Mom back with one arm and scooped Emma up with the other.  Then he laid her on the ground and started breathing into her face.  Mom got out and stood there frozen like, with her hand over her mouth.  Her eyes were scary.

Another policeman ran up.  He said something I couldn’t understand about other people coming. “The grandfather is also on his way.” I knew he meant Poppa.

Mom was kneeling beside Emma when Poppa got out of the taxi and ran down the hill.  “Steph, oh thank God! How’s Emma-“He saw the men all around my baby sister, the big tank and the mask covering her little face.  “Oh God, no-“  He turned on Mom.  “How could you?!  These are your children!”

Mom was crying.  The policeman led her toward his car, but I heard him talking to her.  “The baby should be alright.  She’ll be taken to the hospital.  Another hour. . .”

“Poppa?” I said.  I was hanging on to his legs tight.

He stoked my hair.  “It’s alright sweetheart.  Nana and I will take care of you from now on.  You and Emma.”

The lady with the dog smiled at me, and wiped her face.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Halloween's coming..


The Listing
                                                                                                                       By Andrea McDonald

Stephanie was two blocks from home when her cell phone rang.  She glanced past the steering wheel to the number displayed on the car monitor and cursed.  

“Transformations, Stephanie Hall speaking,” she said brightly, then held her breath.  

“Hi baby doll,” a raspy voice answered. “It’s your favorite real estate agent calling you with a golden opportunity.”

“Hi Jerry,” she said, dropping the professional tone. “I hope you don’t want me to look at something tonight.”

“Now would I ask you to do something like that? Before you answer, just remember how much you love me and how much business I’ve thrown your way.”

Stephanie thought of the candy sitting at home waiting for the trick-or-treaters.  It was almost six o-clock.
“You do realize it’s Halloween, don’t you?” she asked.

“How could I forget, with the image of you in that French maid’s outfit at the industry shindig last year still making me do things that make the cat blush.”

“Jerry, we’re professionals, remember.”

“Yeah, so you keep telling me.  But a guy can fantasize, can’t he?”

Stephanie shook her head, but then inhaled the smell of her brand new car. Two payments a month.  “No comment,” she said.  “What have you got?”

Jerry snickered.  “A real Halloween humdinger.  You know the Hepworth mansion up on Senster Street, corner of Wizzen? Big old Victorian place, with the tower and the stained glass and the whole deal.  Well, the old lady that lived there has kicked the bucket, and her son has been on the horn to me from Boston, and he wants it cleaned up and on the market, pronto.  Says every day it sits empty is money out of his pocket, and he hates the place.  Says he won’t pay to hold on to a hellhole.”

“Really?  That’s a magnificent old house.  It needs some work, granted, but I’m sure the bones will be good.”

“Bones? Yeah well, good or not they’re sure to be rattling tonight.  I need you to do your thing - go in and see what needs to be done – he’s willing to have it painted and staged.  But it’s a rush job.”

“Couldn’t it wait until the morning when I can see it better?  It’s dark and it’s raining, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“Nah, he’s the pushy kind.  If I don’t get on it straight away, I’ll lose the listing, and that means you’ll lose the job, baby doll. But hey, if you’re scared, I’ll come on over and protect you.”

The thought of being alone with Jerry in a deserted house after dark was just too creepy, so Stephanie put him off, but turned the car around and headed toward Senster Street.  

“I’ll call you later, keep you company,” Jerry said then, just as Stephanie heard a beep on the line. “Got to take this call.  It’s the guy from Boston.  The key code’s 8888. Later, baby doll.” 

The street was like a black tunnel under the tangle of tree limbs; the streetlamps cast jagged shadows.  Stephanie leaned forward to peer past the windshield wipers into the darkness as she neared the house; she spied sagging verandas and bleak kitchen lights in the neighbours’ homes.  She knew there were few buyers out there willing to take on a massive restoration project and then pay enormous taxes, but it was her job to whisk away the years of neglect and create a marketable product.  On a shoestring budget no doubt, she thought, judging by Jerry‘s comment about the client.  She shrugged, pulled up alongside the carriage house, and turned off the ignition.

For a minute she hesitated, staring at the shifting shadows reflecting off the dark windows.  Her eyes travelled up from the wide veranda to the balcony above, and finally to the tower with its iron-railed widow’s walk glistening like a spider’s web against the cloud-filled sky.  She took a big breath, and ran through the rain to the wide front steps.

They were slippery, so she clutched the bannister, then scurried to the front door, which stood before her like a curved tombstone.  She slid her key card into the electronic lock box and punched in the code.  The key dropped into her hand.  She slipped it into the keyhole and turned. The latch clicked.  But when she twisted the doorknob it resisted, as if someone was holding the knob on the other side.  She pushed harder.  The door gave way and swung noisily on its hinges.  She tiptoed into the dark foyer and glanced around.

A broad staircase rose in front of her.  To her left there was a wide doorway, with paneled doors standing half open.  Beyond them she could just see a mass of heavy furniture in the gloom.  She had expected a Victorian parlor with the furniture facing off in rigid formality, but from what she could see, it looked more like chaos.

She fumbled for a light switch.  Instead, she found a knob and pushed it.  A wan chandelier flickered on and confirmed what she had suspected.  The room was a mess.  Okay, Stephanie, she said to herself, you’re a professional, take stock.  High Victorian, Italianate.  Electrical is still knob and tube.  Some furniture to work with, but that old stained wallpaper will have to go.  I’ll need to brighten it with cream walls, ivory on the crown molding and trim.

She moved across the hall, feeling a little calmer.  When she touched the wall knob a dusty chandelier cast a weak light over a long dining table, ringed by tall-backed chairs.  There was a bed in the corner, piled with quilts, with a small table beside it holding a lamp and stacks of books.  The old woman must have lived out her life in these lower rooms, she thought.

That conjecture caused her to tiptoe upstairs more timidly. Why be afraid of unused rooms, she asked herself, and the answer was there in a second: they were like tombs.  There was no life in a sealed room. She tried to push that thought away as she turned the knob and threw back the door of the first bedroom.  It banged against the wall, and she heard plaster crumble inside the lath.  She gasped and fumbled for the light.
The room was filled with furniture.  Good, she thought, trying to focus.  I can use those pieces.  I’ll need new bedding, rugs, and drapes.  She moved on, inspecting each gloomy room. Her footsteps brought the floorboards to life and they groaned.  When she had seen all five bedrooms on the second level, she tiptoed up the next set of stairs.

The rain tapped on the roof overhead. The hall was narrow, and the dim light coming in through the rain-streaked window over the stairwell showed lights hanging from the ceiling.  She moved her hand through the darkness, searching for the pull-cord.  When at first she couldn’t feel it, panic rose in her throat.

Her cell phone rang.  She jumped, and stifled the cry that leapt out of her mouth. 

“Hey baby doll.  You there?”

“Yes Jerry,” she said in a hoarse whisper.  She cleared her throat as she moved toward the tower room at the front of the house.   By not allowing Jerry to hear fear in her voice, she felt braver.  She turned the knob.  It resisted.

“Hey, I’ve just talked to the son again.  Seems he was holding back.  Where are you?”

Stephanie struggled with the doorknob before answering.  She yanked it hard and pushed her shoulder against the door.  It gave way in a rush and she stumbled into the room.  

“I’m upstairs, in the bedrooms.  Why?”  She flicked on the light and as her eyes adjusted she saw a child-sized bed, a chest, and rows of shelves, all empty.  The drapes were hanging in tatters from thick rods.  The windows were tall, and shone like black mirrors.  She tried not to look at them as she moved toward the wardrobe.

“Well, he can have his listing.  Seems the old lady was the only one who could live in the house.”

“Why?  What are you saying, Jerry?”

Her hand was on the wardrobe door, but she hadn’t turned the knob when the door flew open.  She jumped back, but not before she saw what was inside.

“I’m saying, it’ll be hell to sell.  Seems there’s spooks in there.”

Her eyes fell on a heap of dolls.  Their eyes were blank and glassy. Each one had a drapery cord noose around its neck.

“Seems there was a crazy little girl, a granddaughter.  She had a thing about strangling.  The cat.  The dog.  Seems she hanged herself, too.”

Stephanie felt something brush against her neck. “Where? Where did she hang herself?”

“In the tower room.”

Stephanie backed toward the door.  It slammed shut.

“Jerry!” she yelled.

“He says, get this, the old lady was the only one who wasn’t haunted by the girl, because she still loved her.  The old bag kept everybody out of the house, but now – “

Stephanie clutched her throat.  Something was squeezing it.  She struggled to breath.  “Jerry!” she rasped.

“Ahhh, you scared? I’m coming baby doll.  I’ll protect you from the ghosties.”

The pressure around her neck cut off her air.  She yanked at her throat but there was nothing there.  She felt her knees buckle and her eyes dim.

“Jerry”, she gasped, as the air left in her lungs burned.  She slumped down.

“Hah,” Jerry said. “The jerk doesn’t know it, but I’m actually thanking him.  You and me, alone, on Halloween. Hellhole? Hell no, that’s pure heaven.”