Tag Archives: nightmare fuel

25Oct/12

Good News! And some Nightmare Fuel…

Those who follow me know I’m pretty familiar with rejection by this point. I’ve been putting my stories out there and getting all sorts of great letters from editors about my writing, but none of them have been acceptance letters.

Until yesterday. I spotted the email in my inbox and could see that the first few words included the word, “Sorry” and I almost didn’t even open it. I’m glad I did, because it wasn’t a rejection at all! They’d held onto my story for an extra month because they liked it so much and wanted it for another topic they had coming up. And you can bet this rejection-laden writer did some serious happy dancing yesterday!

I’ve also had some really kind encouragement from others, especially in the Google Plus writing community, that has lifted my spirits the last few days. The writing is really hard some days, especially when trying new things. It’s  nice to know others out there going through the same things.

Without further ado, here’s today’s story, for Nightmare Fuel on Google Plus.

Marissa leaned against the doorway with a soft smile on her face. Four-year old Sylvia was finally asleep, her arms and legs sprawled across the Hello Kitty sheets, her dark eyelashes brushing across her pudgy cheeks. It was Marissa’s favorite sight of the day, when her daughter transformed from wild terror to peaceful angel. Even Judas the cat looked content, tightly curled at one end of the bed.

“Sweet dreams,” Marissa whispered. She pulled the door closed, then leaned against it and closed her eyes. Marissa didn’t consider herself a religious person by any means, but she spoke her request to the darkness just as she had every night for months.

“Please let her sleep,” Marissa said. “Please.”

Marissa had taken Sylvia to every doctor her insurance could afford, and then some. Night terrors, the doctors called it. They told Marissa to make sure Sylvia was eating properly and to limit time watching TV. Even the sleep clinic told her that it was a passing phase that would resolve on its own. Marissa wasn’t so sure. The episodes had been happening several times a week for months now. She just wanted her daughter to be able to sleep in peace again. Children shouldn’t have such terrible nightmares, she thought.

Marissa trudged down the hall to her bedroom, nearly tripping over a box on her way in. For a moment she thought about unpacking, but there were too many boxes, still in piles all over the half-empty house. Marissa had no energy to go down that road tonight. Maybe if Sylvia slept tonight, she could try tomorrow. She tumbled into her bed and was instantly asleep.

It wasn’t Sylvia’s screaming that woke her. She could tell because she was still in bed. When Sylvia screamed, her mother instinct would kick in and she’d be halfway out the door before she actually opened her eyes. Marissa sat and listened. What had woken her?

She heard it again, a high-pitched wail like a baby crying. Marissa felt a tingle run up her back. Then there was a sharp spitting sound, followed by a low growl. It was Judas the cat. Somehow, the realization didn’t make Marissa feel any better.

She stepped out of her bed and toward the door just as Sylvia woke. Sylvia’s screams blended with Judas’s yowls, making an otherworldly sound. Marissa felt a prickling all over her body where her hairs stood on end, and as she ran towards Sylvia’s room she was hyper aware of everything around her. The red light of the digital clock shown like blood as it flashed out the time. Marissa thought she smelled fresh dirt and cinnamon along with something like boiled eggs.

Marissa threw open Sylvia’s door. A black figure dashed out the room with a yowl. Judas. Inside, Sylvia sat as she did with every night terror, with her blankets tucked under her chin and her eyes squeezed shut. On other nights, Marissa had gone to Sylvia and shushed her until she stopped crying. She always thought it was just nightmares afflicting her daughter. Tonight she stood in the doorway and searched the room. She saw nothing but a few shadows.

“What is it, Sylvia?” she asked.
“It’s him, Mommy.”
“Where is he? I can’t see him.”
“He said to tell you he can see you,” Sylvia said, her eyes still tightly shut.

Marissa’s scalp tingled. She walked into the room, her eyes running over every nook and cranny.
“Can you see him, Sylvia?”

Sylvia squinted into the darkness, toward the closet, then quickly shut her eyes again. She nodded. Marissa glared toward the closet, trying to get a look at the intruder, but she saw nothing but shadows.

“He’s laughing, Mommy,” Sylvia said. “Make him stop.”
“Get out,” Marissa said. “This is our house.”

A ghastly face appeared suddenly before Marissa, a skull with empty eye sockets. A broken jaw hung loose from one side of its yawning mouth. Marissa screamed as the figure floated closer to her, its cloak floating in tatters around it as though it walked in water. She took a step back. A box on the floor caught her foot and she tumbled backward.

The face hovered over her and she heard a scratchy whisper.

“It’s my house,” the thing said, then disappeared.

Marissa got on her feet and rushed to Sylvia. The two of them cried together for several long minutes before Marissa rose and carried Sylvia out of the cursed room.

They slept in the car that night, and moved out of the house the next day. Sylvia’s night terrors never returned.

15Oct/12

Nightmare Fuel Day 15: At Dusk

I’ve still been keeping up with daily writing, although I feel like I’m starting to lose momentum. I have learned a lot from this process though, and greatly appreciate those of you who have read and commented on my stories the last two weeks!

Today, you get a prosem in the style of Kary Gaul, who is also doing the daily prompts on Google+.

image by daviniodus on Flickr

The children played baseball in the hot evening
Their shouts filled the thick summer air
The mother watched from inside
Smiling to herself
She might have joined in if she could
But instead let the sound
Wash over her

The window was open to let the air in
The mother called out,
“It’s getting dark.”

An ancient phrase
Full of meaning
Full of foreboding
It’s getting dark
The monsters are coming
Come inside

But the children didn’t hear
the warning

The window was open to let the screams in
when the monsters arrived
in a swarm

The mother was out the door
before she knew she was running

but no amount of flailing could frighten
the killer bees

11Oct/12

NF Day 11: Burning Coals

Today’s Nightmare Fuel prompt turned into something a little different. It’s not as suspenseful or scary as some of the others, but has more of a serious feel, I think. The first line came to me and wouldn’t leave me alone, so even if it seemed a little strange, I had to go with it.

Think happy thoughts. Imagine rainbows. Intend kindness.

These were the messages scrawled in the wood of our crowded bunkhouses, behind the wood where only a prisoner might see. I had no idea what they meant at first. Who in their right mind could follow such instructions in such a dreadful place?

There was no end to the horrors enacted upon us in that place. There was no end to the pain, the hunger, the brutality. At first, my thoughts were focused on hate. The guards stood over us on a kind of deck that overlooked the yard. Strange devices like small tubas sprouted from their heads. As they watched us, I thought how angry I was. I wanted to be up there instead, watching those men squirm in wretched, muddy nakedness below me.

The men smiled as I imagined their torment.

I was the last one delivered to the camp. When I arrived, I wondered if the other prisoners still had tongues or if they’d been cut out at some point. No one spoke. Every so often, someone would hum a quiet melody, but otherwise, they made no sound. It seemed to be a kind of tacit agreement between everyone imprisoned there. I wondered if it was because of the devices on the guard’s ears.

On my first night, one of the men pointed out the scrawled notes behind the bunk. He placed his finger there and looked at me, commanding me to read.

Think happy thoughts.

It boiled my blood, it really did. That type of wishful thinking was just the opposite of what the men needed. They needed to understand the reality of the situation. They needed to find a way to escape, find a way to win, find a way to fight back.

I imagined escape routes. No one spoke to me, so I planned them out for myself. There was a loose piece of chicken wire in one corner of the fence. I thought about digging under it during the middle of the night and running for my life. I told no one, just planned in my mind how I would get myself out. The next day, the wire was repaired, replaced with a row of fencing dug deep into the hard earth. I know how hard the earth was, because I was the one forced to dig the trenches. The other men, too, had to help build the new fence. No one spoke. They just hummed quietly to themselves and did the work. I daresay they seemed cheerful. The guards watched us and scowled.

In bed that night, one of the men came over and pointed at the scrawled letters in the wood again. There was meaning in his gesture. These are the rules, he seemed to be saying. Follow them. Obey them.

Imagine rainbows.

What a ludicrous phrase to write in that dull, grey place. Nothing had color anymore. We were caked with grey mud, our eyes gone black with hunger and grief for the ones we lost before. Even the wood that built the bunks was faded grey with age and sadness. I tried to remember what color looked like, but it was too easy to listen to the lulling sounds of the rain dripping through the roof and onto the floor. Drip. Drop. There were no rainbows here.

The guards made us dig a grave the next day for one of the men who had died in the night. The rain made the ground slippery, and filled the hole as quickly as we could dig. I looked at the guards, smiling down on us with their grim satisfaction. They enjoyed our misery. I hated them. I imagined burying one of them in our water-logged hole. One of the guards looked right at me and grinned maliciously. That look made me shiver even more than the cold rain.

One of the men started to hum. It was a pleasant tune, one I remembered from before. Before the war, before this camp, before the guards. I was instantly transported to another time, to a place where there was color and warmth. I looked at the humming man in my astonishment, and the man smiled at me. It was more than a smile, more than a baring of teeth. It was more of an embrace of souls across that rainy, muddy hole. I glanced up at the guards again and saw them staring on in disgust. I smiled back at the humming man, and watched as the guards turned away.

The humming man had done me a great service; he had scoured clean a memory. As I stood in muddy water up to my knees and shoveled heavy dirt until my arms ached, I mulled over that memory in my mind. Soon, I was there, in that dance hall, dancing with the girl who would become my wife. I could see the bright blue of her dress, the red reflected in her dark hair under the lights. I heard music that made me want to move. Before I knew it, the job was done. I had escaped, at least for a moment. It was brilliant really.

As I went to bed that night, the humming man came with a determined look, and pointed at the scrawled words.

“I get it,” I said aloud. “I understand.” My voice sounded loud and alien in the sanctuary of the bunkhouse.

The humming man shook his head and stabbed his finger at the third phrase.

Intend kindness.

What was I missing? I had escaped today. The happy thoughts, the rainbows. I got it. I understood. What more could be gained by this final commandment? Besides, I had always heard that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. We should take action.

I woke to the sounds of struggle. No words were spoken, only grunts and cries and the horrible hollow thud of boots against flesh. I rose from my bunk and dashed out into the yard to see what the commotion was. The guards were on a rampage. They had come down from their tower and were in the yard, brandishing long pieces of metal as weapons and using them against a pair of men crouching on the ground.

I ran out to the yard. The guards stopped and looked at me, ready for my attack. They had some sort of energy about them, as though they were excited I had come. Sick, that’s what they were. They were sick monsters. They grinned as they turned their weapons on me.

Think happy thoughts. Imagine rainbows. I went back to the memory of that dance, the memory of that song. I tried to hum a little. Still, the beating continued, and not even the memory could take away the pain.

Intend kindness, I thought. How could I intend it when I was being beaten bloody, when my body screamed out against it? I tried to concentrate. I thought kindly of the humming man, who had given me the song to help me escape. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to think of it, I knew. I had to intend it.

I thought of the monsters above me, in their murderous rage. I could tell they didn’t want to kill me. They only wanted to hurt me. I looked up at them, and wondered where they had come from. What a wretched job this must be for them, to watch us grow thin every day, to eat the same tasteless gruel, to order us to build fences and dig graves, to watch us in our silence day after day. What had happened for them to deserve this job? Did they have wives, children, families somewhere waiting for them? Or were they prisoners like us, prisoners of the system of war? As I considered the guards, they stopped and stood very still, their horn-like machines sticking out from their heads like mouse ears. How uncomfortable they looked, in their stiff uniforms. The more I thought about it, the more I came to pity them.

The other prisoners began to gather around, and I stood. The guards watched us warily, backing away. I felt sad for them, these lonely, angry young men who had nothing but their fists. Did they even have happy memories to look back on? I imagined them at that dance, the music playing, the guards in comfortable civilian clothes, smiling into the faces of some lovely young women. We could have been friends once, in another life.

The guards stared at me, horrified. Were they understanding this? Is that what the devices were for? Could they read my mind?

If I had food, I would give it to you right now, I thought as loudly as I could.

One of the guards put his hands up to the device on his head. I looked at the men gathered around me. I could tell by their faces that they had similar thoughts to my own. We would feed you. We would clothe you. We would take care of you and teach you our songs. You wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore. You wouldn’t have to be angry anymore. Some of the prisoners held their hands out to the guards in a gesture of offering.

The guard with his hands near his head suddenly started shrieking. With a great heave, he pried the machine from his head. Blood poured from the place where his ears should be, and he ran screaming from the yard.

The other guard knelt in the mud, tears filling his grey eyes. I dropped to my knees beside him and wrapped an arm around him. The other prisoners followed suit, until we were a single mass of intertwined humans in that dirty yard.

All of us escaped that day. We took the guard with us, and after having his mind-reading device surgically removed, we hid him in our basement until the end of the war.

###

Thanks for reading. I’d love to know what you think if you feel inclined to comment. 🙂

07Oct/12

Nightmare Fuel 7: A Walk in the Park

Thanks to those of you who have read, liked, plussed, and/or commented on my posts so far. I’m enjoying this exercise much more than I thought I might. It is forcing me to improve my writing and to come up with more stories than I thought I had. It’s also providing some sort of therapy as I flush out all of my own nightmares.

Every year, I take a weekend trip to Lake Quinault and the Hoh Rain Forest with my aunt. It’s one of my favorite places on earth, a place both ancient and newborn and fully alive. The trees there are hundreds of years old, and it always puts me in a state of awe when I’m there. And once in a while, it puts me in a state of fear. This is a story inspired by one of my fears.

“Keep at least one hundred feet away from elk at all times,” Alyssa read aloud. She snapped a picture of the sign. “Are they that dangerous?” she asked.

“You know how these places are,” Matt said. “The animals eat junk and get sick. So they tell people to stay away instead. Come on, the trail head is this way.” Matt’s familiarity with the area was part of the reason Alyssa had asked him to bring her here. She had heard Matt rave about how beautiful it was in the rain forest  She had planned her photography project as a nature study specifically so she could hire him as a guide.

She put her camera up to her eye and watched him walk away through the viewfinder, admiring the view. His bright red jacket disappeared behind a giant tree. Alyssa’s heart quickened, and she had to jog a little to catch up with him. She didn’t want to be left behind in this place.

She hoped that concentrating on the photos would help her relax, but the forest made her nervous. She had never been this far from civilization before. It was eerily quiet. The moss hung down from the tree branches like ancient beards or ghastly slime and the roots appeared to be slithering under the bare earth. Everything about the place seemed heavy and full of foreboding.

“Isn’t this great?” Matt said, looking back at Alyssa with a grin. He took a deep breath. “You can actually breathe out here.”

Alyssa managed a smile. It was the first time she had set foot in a forest in her life. All those old fairy tales about children lost in the woods haunted her mind. She remembered the rumors about bear attacks and lost people dying of hypothermia. Alyssa swallowed the thick feeling in her throat.

“Yeah, it’s pretty awesome,” she said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. She took a picture of Matt’s photogenic grin. At least her photography project gave her an excuse to spend the day with that piece of eye candy.

The forest was hypnotic in a way. Soon, Alyssa felt herself in a kind of trance as she walked the path looking for more photo material. She found an orange fungus shaped like a brain growing from the side of a tree. There was another type of fungus that looked like blood droplets. Everything seemed alien, like she had been dropped into an alternate universe where ugly things were supposed to be beautiful.

She saw another elk warning sign through the camera’s viewfinder and tried to read it. There was a line in smaller print at the bottom that she couldn’t make out. She let the camera hang from the strap around her neck and walked up to the sign.

If you are chased, run away and keep running.

“Matt,” Alyssa called. He was at least twenty feet ahead of her, kneeling to examine something on the ground. He didn’t hear her call. She put the camera up to her eye again to take a picture of the strange sign. When she looked back to where Matt was crouching, he was gone.

The hair on Alyssa’s neck stood on end. She didn’t want to be alone in this strange forest. She didn’t even know the way back to the car from here. She told herself to relax. He couldn’t have gone far. She walked quickly up the path, looking for a sight of his red jacket through the thick trees.

She turned a curve in the path and then froze. Matt stood near one side of the path, not too far away, his hand outstretched toward the largest animal she had ever seen. It looked more like a horse than a deer. This one had no antlers, just large fur-lined ears that moved like satellites, listening for danger all around.

One hundred feet, Alyssa thought. They were supposed to stay one hundred feet away from the animals.

“Matt, I don’t think you should be so close,” she said.

“Take a picture, Alyssa! This is amazing. Look at her.” Matt reached further, almost touching the creature’s nose.

Alyssa hesitated. “I think we should go, Matt. Remember the signs?” The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, and she felt angry at Matt for disobeying the warnings.

“She’s just hungry,” he said. “Aren’t you hungry, you big sweetheart?” Matt crouched down and picked up a small chunk of green lichen from the ground. He held it out to the elk. The beast took a step forward into the path.

Alyssa raised her camera to her eye. She had to admit it was a perfect opportunity. The photo might even become the centerpiece of her project. She was imagining it as she lined up the shot, how she would emphasize the relationships between men and beasts. She pressed the shutter. Instead of a soft click, she heard a wet thunk, followed by a terrible groan.

Lowering the camera again, Alyssa saw a new creature standing boldly in the path. He had antlers like trees growing from the top of his head. Wrapped in its terrible branches was Matt, or a distorted and broken version of what Matt should have looked like. The great bull tossed his head, and Matt’s body was thrown into the air like a leaf in the wind. He fell in a broken heap, but made no sound.

Alyssa screamed. The huge beast turned to look at her. She froze. She tried to remember what the signs had said. One hundred feet, she remembered that. How close was the elk? Judging distance was hard, but she thought he might be thirty feet away. Too close. She took a step backward. The elk lowered his head and pawed the ground.

If you are chased, run away and keep running. The words screamed into Alyssa’s brain. She turned and ran for her life. Fortunately for her, the bull gave no chase.

Alyssa’s perfect picture never made it into her project, for instead of recording the hallmark moment of man feeding a gentle creature, the camera captured the moment when Matt’s chest was pierced by the horn of a wild beast. She never stepped foot in a forest again.

The following year, the forest ranger increased the size of the font on the warning signs and hoped that this year someone might actually read them.

03Oct/12

Nightmare Fuel, Day 3: Money Machine

Photo credit: maydaymassacre on Flickr

*Note: This is part of the Nightmare Fuel series of prompts running on Google+. What follows is another attempt at a horror story. Read at your own risk.

 

Money Machine

Sarah shuffled toward the employee lot nestled in the back corner of one of the hospital’s oldest buildings. When she got to her car, she could cry, she told herself. For now, she had to appear strong. No one wanted to see a crying nurse, especially not near the emergency room. People had enough worries of their own. She tried to think of pleasant things, not the family of the young cancer patient gathered around his bed to say their goodbyes, not the elderly woman who gripped her husband’s liver-spotted hands and begged him not to leave her. Sarah especially tried not to think of the woman who had been in a tragic accident outside a local convenience store.
Sarah couldn’t get the images of the woman out of her mind. Sarah had seen terrible things before. She had seen burn victims and gunshot victims and what remained of the hand of the man who had held a firecracker as it exploded. This woman was an exaggerated version of all of them. No one could tell what had happened to her, or how she continued to survive the ordeal. Sarah had never seen anything like it. Nor had Doctor Parkins, from what Sarah could tell. It was the first time she had seen the man visibly shaken, and he’d spent thirty years of his life in that hospital emergency room.

It was Doctor Parkins’s expression that scared Sarah the most. In even the worst accidents, he kept a professional demeanor. He was the one that made lighthearted jokes and smiled warmly for even the most difficult patients. Nothing shook him. Nothing phased him. Until tonight.

Sarah tried not to think of it. She tried to think of happy things. Baxter would be waiting by the door for her, frantically wagging his tail and trying not to jump on her in his happiness. She looked forward to getting home and letting his affection overcome the day’s troubles.

An image of unrecognizable flesh screamed in Sarah’s mind. She saw the woman in her hospital bed, all tubes and wires, gauze covering what had once been a face. There should have been eyes and ears and softly blushed cheeks. Instead, there was a tangle of sinew and hair and burnt skin. Sarah wondered how long the woman might survive. In her heart, Sarah thought it would be a mercy if the poor woman passed on, but as a nurse she had to do everything in her power to keep the woman alive.

Sarah tried to shake the image from her mind. She looked around her, trying to regain reality. She was in the hospital lot. The city was around her. The air was cool and thick and with that odd combination of scents that identified an industrial district: burning oil and hot metal and mildewy plants.

Everything was as it should be. Except for an ATM standing a few feet away.

Sarah stopped mid step and looked at it, cocking her head to the side. Had there been an ATM here before? It was a dingy old thing, marked with rust and grease spots. It had a filthy piece of canvas draped over the top of it, for, Sarah assumed, a sun-screen. It looked like it had been standing for quite a while. Sarah thought it strange that she didn’t remember seeing it before.

Sarah kept walking.

“Spare some change for a war hero?” a voice asked.

Sarah spun around, expecting to see one of the numerous unshowered homeless men that prowled the premises. She was surprised to find Doctor Parkins taking long strides to catch up to her.

“Rough day, huh?” Parkins said. Sarah nodded. She tried not to think about the faceless woman’s tidy wool blazer and silk blouse, still tucked neatly into her skirt, even while the shoulders were burnt and exploded into tatters.

“Why don’t you let me take you out for a drink?” Parkins asked. He gave Sarah an awkward smile. If it was any other man, Sarah might think she was being hit on.

“I’m not sure what Mrs. Parkins would think of that,” Sarah said.

“I’ll invite her too. She’ll be thrilled that you asked.” He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket to make the call.

Sarah smiled. Baxter would have to wait a little longer tonight.

Another image flashed through her mind, this time of herself, still in scrubs, her face blown completely away. She shivered, and put her hand up to her face to verify she still had lips and a nose. She would have to talk to one of the trauma counselors if these terrible images kept popping up.

Doctor Parkins finished his call and pulled his wallet out of his back pocket.

“I’ll be just a minute,” he said. “The missus asked me to get cash.” He winked at Sarah and walked toward the ATM.

Sarah imagined the faceless woman at the convenience store, standing in front of an ATM, her hand outstretched to slide her card. The woman’s right arm had also been mutilated nearly beyond recognition. Sarah’s heart raced.

“Wait!” Sarah yelled. Parkins stopped, his fingers on the bottom of the canvas screen.

“Let’s use another machine,” she said.

“This is the closest one,” he said, and he started to lift the screen. Sarah imagined the doctor in a hospital bed, with the monitors slowly beeping, gauze covering his face, his wife and children surrounding his bedside and begging him to survive.

“Then let me go first,” Sarah said. “I… I need to get some cash too.”

The doctor let go of the dirty canvas and stepped aside with a polite smile. “After you, miss,” he said with a chivalrous gesture. Sarah managed a weak smile. She managed the steps it took to face the terrible machine. She managed to get hold of the rough canvas between her fingers. She looked back at the doctor. He was standing just behind her.

“Do you mind stepping a few feet away?” she asked. “I like my privacy.”

The doctor smiled and walked a few steps away, feigning interest in the ragged bushes that surrounded the parking lot.

Sarah stood in front of the machine. Her mind raced. She tried to tell herself that it was nothing to worry about. People used the machines hundreds of times a day. There was no evidence that the faceless woman in the hospital today had been using one. It was a simple cash machine. For all she knew, it had been here for years. There was nothing to be afraid of.

“Are you finished there?” Doctor Parkins asked.

“Just about,” Sarah answered.

She lifted the canvas screen. She heard a small click. She held her breath.

Nothing happened.

She breathed a sigh of relief and pulled her card out of her purse. As she fed her card into the machine, Sarah noticed that there was no computer screen on the ATM, only a gaping hole. As the light erupted from the blackness, Sarah hoped that someone would remember to feed Baxter.

01Oct/12

Nightmare Fuel, Day 1

I’m participating in a great series of prompts at Google+, called Nightmare Fuel. This is the second year Bliss Morgan has run the challenges, with a number of pictures from other plussers and the internet-at-large.

I’ve decided to spend the month of October taking a break from my other projects and just playing around with writing again. So I’ll also be taking part in another group of prompts from the Flash Fiction Project. I finished my story for that one and posted it there today if you’re inclined to read it.

Today is my first attempt at a horror story. If you’re squeamish, or not a fan of horror stories, then I will not be offended if you choose not to read this one. 🙂 If you do read, I’d love to know what you think. I want to get better at this.

 

Home Sweet Home

Her husband was waiting.

Mara thought about Daniel as she walked, increasing the pace of her tight steps. He would be angry if she was late. She dug around in her purse one more time for her cell phone. Why did she have to forget it tonight of all nights? She hated running errands after dark.

She mumbled curses under her breath. She hated the junker of a car that wouldn’t start. She hated her husband for not getting it fixed months ago. She hated the scratch of her wool skirt against her legs as she walked. She hated the echo of her shoes clacking against the ground.

She tried to walk more quietly, so as not to disturb the darkness. It was a strange thing about the night, that it always made her feel like whispering. Even her breath seemed loud, whistling through her nose in frantic bursts.

The sidewalk ended abruptly without her notice. Kara stepped off of it, twisting and tumbling to the ground in a rough patch of gravel and untended weeds. Sharp spikes of pain shot through her where the rocks pierced her skin. She rubbed them off, feeling the cold, moist dirt mixed with her warm, damp blood. She tried to stand, but her ankle turned beneath her.

Her cries echoed back at her, and her heart hobbled at the sound. Taking a deep breath of the sour fall air, she told herself it was only the night. She tried to conjure an image in her mind of this place in the daytime. Only when she realized where she was did she trust her suspicious heart.

She was outside of the cemetery.

It was no reason to get spooked, she told herself. She came near the cemetery every day. There were cemeteries in every city in every country of the world. People had to be buried somewhere.

Mara caught her bearings. If she walked through the cemetery, she could be home faster. It was a straight line across the sprawling park rather than a zigzag over paved roads. With another vision of her husband’s disapproving face, she turned and walked into the dark garden.

The park was eerily silent, as though sound itself had been buried in the still ground. Mara could feel her feet sinking into the earth, but her quick footsteps made no noise here. Something about it made her walk even faster, despite the pain in her damaged ankle. She put her hand in her purse again, feeling for some item that might offer her help or comfort. Her cell phone would make everything better.

“I’m not afraid,” she said to try to calm herself.

“I’m not afraid,” echoed a scratchy voice in the dark.

Mara stopped cold. Beside her, arms draped dramatically over a stone cross, was Daniel’s ex-wife Claudia. Mara closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to clear her mind of the image. When Mara opened her eyes again, Claudia was still there staring at her with colorless eyes. Claudia’s skin was blue with the sheen of death, dark circles around her eyes and cheeks, her dress hanging in tatters. But Mara knew it was her. There was something about her expression, about the cold hatred behind her eyes. It couldn’t be. Claudia had died three years ago.

“You’re a figment of my imagination,” Mara said.

“You’re a figment of my imagination,” the creature parroted.

“I have to get home,” Mara said, “or Daniel will be angry.”

“Daniel will be angry,” Claudia said, and a malicious smile formed out of the purple remains of her lips.

Mara turned and ran. She tried to scream, but the sound fell flat around her. Her purse fell from her shoulder and landed in the crook of her elbow with a frightening jerk. She tried to untangle herself from the twisting leather, but her movements toppled her off-balance. In her frantic dance, she did not see the freshly-dug grave near her feet.

She fell and landed with all her weight on her back. Her breath was forced from her lungs. Every cell of her body with screaming, soundlessly. The last thing she saw was Claudia’s dead eyes peering over the lip of the grave and a cascade of dirt falling on top of her.

Her husband was waiting.