Tis the season for ghosts and goblins, so thought I would share with you my two Halloween short stories. However, be forewarned, there is a dark one. That is why I am starting off with a light-hearted one, so as not to scare you off.
Enjoy and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
by Madge H. Gressley
A ten-year old’s perspective walking home on All Hallows Eve 1946.
It was a dark ’n stormy night. Well … almost dark anyway, ’n the wind was blowin’ them red ’n gold leaves from the old oak trees linin’ the dirt road I was walkin’ down, headin’ home from my best pal Billy’s house. An’ close enough ta stormy, I was thinkin’, considerin’ what I figured was waitin’ for me when I got home. I gave a loose rock in the middle of the road a hard kick sendin’ it bounin’ and tumblin’ down the road.
It was Halloween eve ’n I knew I wasn’t gonna get ta go Trick’er Treatin’ since the class tattle tale, ol’ ‘rat-’em-out’ Johnny’d pointed out, it was me, that’d dumped a can of fat, juicy Night Crawlers in old lady Morris’s lunch pail. The class had whooped and hollered when they’d heard her screamin’ in the cloakroom. ‘N I was feelin’ pretty cool ‘till old lady Morris came tearin’ back in the room, screechin’, ’n demandin’ ta know who’d done it. That was when ol’ ‘rat-’em-out’ Johnny stood up ’n pointed at me with that nasty, snide grin of his spread all over his skinny face. One of these days I’m gonna rearrange that skinny little face of his ’n wipe that grin sideways. The thought of Johnny’s mouth windin’ up somewhere around his ear some how made me feel better.
Walkin’ on, kickin’ the rock, I could still feel old lady Morris’s spinney claws as she’d clammed onto my left ear so fast I didn’t even have time ta duck. She yanked me up ’n marched me, yelping all the way, down the hall ta Principal Bailey’s office. He just glared at me with them little beady eyes of his ’n waved his hand as if ta say, ‘I can’t be bothered.’ Then he told old lady Morris ta sit me on that rock-hard wooden bench outside his office ’til the last bell rang. Didn’t get any feelin’ back in my butt ’til I got ta Billy’s house.
I’d went back ta collected my books, scrunchin’ up my nose as I did every time I stuffed ’em in that old, flower-covered, hand-me-down book bag from my sister, all the while keepin’ an eye out for old lady Morris who, thankfully, was nowhere to be seen. I found Billy waitin’ outside by the old pump, makin’ circles in the dust with the toe of his shoe. He grabbed his bag ’n we headed for his house where I was ta stay ’til Ma got off work. I made Billy promise on penalty of two black eyes ’n a broken nose, that he wouldn’t say nothin’ ’bout them worms or that visit ta Principal Bailey’s office.
Billy had shrugged and said that it didn’t make no difference no how if he told or not. Old lady Morris ‘n Principal Bailey had probably already called Ma anyway, ’n I s’posed he was right ‘bout that.
Seemed like I’d just got ta Billy’s when his Ma said it was time I should be headin’ on home. I started out walkin’ slow, draggin’ my feet in the thick dust of the road, leaving small gullies in my wake. I figured that if I walked slow Ma’d have time ta cool down ’n maybe I wouldn’t get grounded ’n I could still go Trick’er Treatin’.
Guess I hadn’t been payin’ much attention ta the time, ’cause all of a sudden, I noticed it was getting’ dark, I mean really dark, ’n I still had a long ways ta go, ’n there was that rickety, old covered bridge with it’s missin’ floor boards that I still had ta cross. Why, some of them holes is so big that old man Crowley’s cow could fall right through. Don’t know why the county don’t fix it. Seems ta me they outta be more concerned ‘bout people’s safety. Sometimes down at the grocery I’d stop ’n listen ta the old guys sittin’ ’round the potbelly stove tellin’ stories ’bout a somebody that’d up ’n hunged his self off the side of that old bridge. Course that was afore it’d started fallin’ down. Bests as I remember, that somebody was s’posed ta ‘a kilt his wife ’n then hunged his self right off the side of that old bridge. Them old guys said sometimes you could hear him a groanin’, ’n if you listen real close, you could hear the rope rubbin’ on the side of the bridge as his body jerked and jived just a ’fore he kicked off.
I don’t put no stock in that kinda stuff. I kicked the rock again ’n heard it rattle onto the wooden floor of the bridge. A slight chill blew across my shoulders. I stared into the inky black innerds of the bridge. “Ain’t nothin’,” I muttered ta myself. I could hear the water gurglin’ as it rushed under the bridge floor, ’n I tightened the straps on my sister’s ol’ book bag. The wind picked up ’n a blast of ice-cold air came from inside the bridge ’n hit me square in the face. My goose bumps had goose bumps. I swallowed hard, gripped the straps of that ol’ book bag tighter, my knuckles turnin’ white, and placed my right foot on the bridge floor. I coulda swore I felt that old bridge move.
Squintin’ my eyes, I tried ta see the other side, but couldn’t make anythin’ out ’cept it was dark. I looked behind me ’n it was still pretty light on this side, but pitch black on the other. Now, I wasn’t really wantin’ ta cross that old bridge, but there just wasn’t no other way around it. ’Sides how many times had I crossed it ’n nothin’d ever happened. ’Course, considerin’ this here was Halloween eve, I was gettin’ a little concerned that maybe, just maybe, there might be somethin’ ta them old stories after all.
I forced my left leg forward, so that now, I had both feet on the bridge floor. My feet felt like lead weights as I tried walkin’ forward.
“Come on. You ani’t no sissy,” I said, outloud, tryin’ ta sound brave. “A … Ain’t nothin’ in there ’cept them dang holes.”
I took two cautious steps forward, then two more, ’n two more, keepin’ a sharp eye out for them holes. I looked behind me and the darkness had closed in. I couldn’t see daylight in back or in front of me. Holy crap, I thought as my heart pounded like Uncle Thomas’s jackhammer. I closed my eyes. Don’t know why I did that, ‘cause I couldn’t see fer nothin’ noway. Then I took a deep breath and held it, hop’n it would steady my shakin’ knees. Sometime, close ta my passin’ out point, I exhaled. Didn’t do nothin’ ’cept make me light headed and still scared shitless. ’Course, I’d have ta check my drawers ta be for sure once I got home—if I got home.
At that point, I figured I must be ’bout half way ‘cross the bridge, probably close ta the spot where that somebody had hunged his self. I tried not ta think too long on that, just in case there was somthin’ ta them old stories. ’N then I heard it. That creakin’, squeakin’, rubbin’ sound of rope against wood. I turned ice cold, my spit dried up, ’n my heart jumped into my throat. Did I stand still or run? What about them dang holes? I couldn’t see for nothin’ ’n with my luck, I’d drop right through one of them things. The creakin’ ’n squeakin’ got louder ’n a bone chilling whoosh, whoosh started up right behind me. I jumped nearly two feet in the air ’n that old flower-covered, hand-me-down book bag slipped from my shoulders. It bounced once then disappeared through one of them holes. Good riddance I thought as I started runnin’, my feet barely touching the bridge floor as that evil squeakin’ ’n whooshin’, followed me.
I could almost make out the other end of the bridge, ’n then, I saw it, ’n my heart started tryin’ ta beat its way right outta my chest as I stared at the dark figure loomin’ in the openin’, wavin’ its arms like a banshee. ’Course I’d never seen a banshee, but I s’posed that’s what one would’ve looked like. While I was debatin’ on what a banshee looked like, I was suddenly hit in the face by a blindin’ beam a light.
“Duck, ya dang fool!” the banshee bellered at me. “Them danged bats are right behind ya!” Heart pounding and out of breath, I ran straight into my Grandpa’s arms.
Requiem of A Nightmare
Co-authored – Dana Summers, Madge H. Gressley
I feel my black stiletto heels sink deep into the soft earth with each slow, unsteady step I take. A gentle breeze lifts the black veil from my face revealing my empty, heroin-high eyes beneath. After decades of holding hopelessly to my belief that my daughter would be found alive, I am finally making the dreaded journey to witness what I can no longer deny—my daughter’s grave.
The late afternoon sun casts eerie shadows across the headstones as I stumble my way to the family plot. I stop briefly, to pay my respects, to my father-in-law, the man who made me proud to be his daughter-in-law. However, I feel some regret for not being there to tell him goodbye. I sigh and close my eyes. It has been years since we last spoke. I’m ashamed of my cowardice. But, I have nothing left to offer anyone. I’m empty inside. So, I let myself believe it was self-preservation that let me isolate myself from the rest of the family. I know it was only selfishness. I open my eyes. Reaching out, I touch his cold headstone. An unbidden tear of remorse slips down my cheek.
I straighten up. Disgusted at my moment of weakness, I rub the tear away before turning toward my husband’s grave. The cold stone that marks the place where his body rots is only a few steps away, but I stand still. Hatred boils inside of me as I remember his indifference toward the loss of our daughter that drove me mad until there was nothing left in my heart but hate. I spit on the ground.
My feelings soften as I turn away from his grave and look upon my mother-in-law’s plot. The lovely lady died painfully. Sad tears flow as I kneel before her headstone. My finger traces the words carved into the stone— “Kindred spirit to everyone.”
I allow myself a moment of reflection before I push up and take the first unsteady step toward my reason for being here. My stiletto heels slip easily into the soft earth slowing my steps as I make my way to face my worst nightmare—the grave where my daughter lays cold in her coffin. I draw a ragged breath and step closer. The little girl, whose toddler’s face is all I can remember, had grown into a young woman according to the police report I had been allowed to read. It described in detail the torture, abuse, rape, and drugs she had been forced to endure before she finally took her life.
Slowly, I drop to my knees onto the cold ground in front of her headstone and pull a framed photo of her at age four from my bag. I place it on the headstone next to a holder filled with withering flowers. I stare at her headstone a long while remembering what little my heroin soaked mind will let me. When the memories dim, I decide it’s time to go.
Struggling to my feet, I brush the dead grass from my dress. An overwhelming feeling of sadness fills my soul as I take one last look at the innocent angel face in the photo. Suddenly, everything in my view fades to black as the decades of anger, fear and pain engulf my tortured mind. I lash out and scream the things I dared not say these many long years. Shaking my fist at the photo, I blame her for all the things that have gone wrong in my life. I feel the hot, bitter tears begin to fall as I collapse to my knees again and rage at the innocent face in the photo. I plunge my fist into the glass covering the photo. Large shards of glass splinter and fall out onto the ground. I reach out and pick up the largest shard and hold it in my hand as I notice the dark red blotch of blood forming on the back of my gloved hand. I turn my hand over to examine the blood spot that is now expanding into the glove’s fabric. I don’t notice the shard drop from my hand onto the grass. The blood is all that matters. I suck the blood from my knuckle.
The sun hangs low in the sky as I struggle to stand again. I am completely irrational now from grief and the heroin—my crutch to make it through the day. I peel my coat off. In a fit of anger, I throw it on the ground. Selfishly, I conclude that I have endured enough pain in my life and, by God, I won’t stand for any more. It is time to end the pain. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remember that death by blood loss is supposed to be the most peaceful way to die. That is what I need—peace.
Falling to my knees again, I pick up the glass shard where it fell. I thrust out my left arm. For many seconds, I consider the delicate crook of my arm and the dark blue vein pulsing just below the surface. The spot where nurses draw blood. Yes, it will work for what I have in mind. Holding the shard, I angrily plunge the point of the glass deep into my skin, twisting and turning, desperately searching for the vein. The glass pierces the muscle and exposes that large, dark blue, silvery pulsing vein. I quickly slice it in half. Hot blood so dark that it looks black shoots out and splatters the picture and the headstone. Fascinated, I watch the dark crimson liquid trickle down my arm and onto my black dress. It pools on the ground in front of my knees. I’m surprised it doesn’t hurt as the blood pulses out of the artery with the rhythm of my heartbeats. I stretch out my legs and lean back against the headstone. Sighing, I fix my eyes on the last rays of sunshine fading from the sky and wait for the blood to drain.
The soft gray light of the moon replaces the last bit of twilight. As I contemplate the moon, I rationalize that God will forgive my suicide based on His compassion for emotional and physical pain I have suffered all these years. I figure that God knows my turmoil and will empathize with my wish to find peace through death.
When what seems like a long time, I wonder why I am still alive. I look at my arm and see the vein has clotted. I search my other arm to find an artery, but my left hand doesn’t possess enough strength to penetrate deep enough. Instead, I reopen the sliced vein to allow another stream of crimson life to escape. I force myself to be patient, occasionally I manipulate the vein to force the blood out when it starts to clot again.
I look heavenward and demand to know why it is taking so long. I receive no answer.
The evening dusk cloaks me as I anticipate my demise. Suddenly an intense desire for water overtakes me. This desire is so strong that I feel like I am going to pass out. Haphazardly I reach over and drag the dying flowers from their holder and gulp down the stagnate, moldy water. However, it does little to satisfy my thirst. It leaves only a taste of decaying vegetation in my mouth. I lay still as time slips by.
It’s been too long, and I’m still alive. I realize my only choice now is to take myself to the hospital to get sewn up. I struggle to pull my partially numb legs under me and stand. Halfway up my legs crumple, and I fall. A searing pain shoots through my face as it grazes the edge of the headstone. I touch my face and feel a long gash down the side of my cheek.
In frustration, I pound on my legs with what little strength I have left in my arms. I can’t believe my legs won’t work. Again, I try to stand, only this time as I collapse, I hit the edge of the headstone hard. Through a cloud of pain, I hear the distinct crack as my collarbone snaps. Although my body is too weak to function, my mind has become completely sober and alert, capable of all senses. I panic. There is no one to call for help. It’s dark, and I have lost so much blood that I can’t walk. I take off my belt and struggle to make a tourniquet above my elbow. It’s then I realize it’s only a fruitless attempt to prevent the inevitable. I can’t move. In a last-ditch effort, I scream until my lungs burn. No one hears. Exhaustion soon consumes me, and I fall unconscious in the dewy grass beside the headstone.
Shrill barks awaken me. My mind registers the sound. Dogs! Not too primal. Not domestic. Coyotes. I panic realizing they will smell the blood and come for me. I’m defenseless. The possibility of being eaten alive turns what little blood I have left to ice.
In my now desperate and crazed mind, I decide that if I can just bury myself, hide from the beasts, I will be safe. Frantically, I claw at the dirt at the base of the headstone. This only drains the rest of my energy. I fall unconscious again. Sometime later I feel a hot puff of air on my face and hear sniffing. My eyes flash open, hoping I am hallucinating. No such luck, as the coyote bites into my breast. It doesn’t bleed. My body has long since emptied the blood from its smaller veins. That doesn’t stop the pain of every jagged tooth that pierces my flesh, though. I scream and weakly punch at the beast.
“Help me, God, please help me,” I pray. I make another weak swing with my good arm and connect with the coyote’s nose. It gives a startled yelp and backs up, its teeth bared.
More coyotes come to explore. They view my crumpled and bloody body as a fresh, warm meal. They bite into my legs, arms and nip at my neck. They tug and pull my limp body like a bloody dog toy. I watch as coyotes fight fiercely over my flesh, my mind vaguely processes the pain. The last thing I feel before I die is the flesh ripping from my face. Possibly my lips severed from a violent, back and forth motion. I feel very little pain now as I take my last breath. In that moment, my soul is whisked away, separated from my dismembered body by the arms of a glowing angel. I have finally found peace.
The coyotes are satisfied.