Tuesday, October 27, 2015

House of Horrors by guest author Kelly Hashway

Not all carnivals are evil, but when they are, seeing really is believing—and a whole lot worse.


            The sun dropped below the horizon, leaving the carnival bathed in the eerie glow of
neon lights. Josh tugged on Stephanie’s hand, pulling her toward the World of Wonders exhibit. He grinned at the pictures of the unbelievable wonders promised inside.
            “I can’t wait to see how they pull that one off,” Josh said, pointing to the Cyclops.
            Stephanie tugged on his bicep. “None of this is real. It’s just a waste of money.”
            “Oh, it’s real all right,” said a low voice from inside the ticket booth.
            Stephanie jerked her head to the right and met the stare of a greasy-looking man with dark hair and a beard that came to a point about six inches below his chin.
            Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Sure it is.”
            “A disbeliever,” the man said. He tapped his finger on the booth as he looked Stephanie up and down. He leaned forward, pressing his nose against the thin glass and speaking through the circular opening. “Perhaps this isn’t the right exhibit for you…yet.”
            “Try never,” Stephanie said, tugging on Josh’s arm again. “Can we please go?”
            Josh smiled. “Don’t tell me you’re not curious.”
            Stephanie nodded her head slightly to her left. “He gives me the creeps.”
            Josh laughed. “He works the ticket booth for the freak show. He’s got to play the part and get people spooked enough to enter the exhibit, right?”
            Stephanie shrugged and glanced at the man again. She jumped when she saw he was staring back at her. His lips curved in the most sinister smile she could imagine. “Yeah, well he’s a little too good at his job.” She turned away. Over Josh’s shoulder, she saw the sign for the House of Mirrors. “Let’s go there instead.”
            He followed her gaze. “You probably just want to check your reflection in all the mirrors.”
            Stephanie playfully lifted one shoulder. “Maybe.” She   took Josh’s hand and pulled him across the parking lot. They walked through the archway at the entrance to the House of Mirrors and heard a cheerful voice over the loudspeaker.
“Step inside and see yourself in a way you’ve never imagined.”
            “Is this a maze or just a lot of crazy mirrors?” Josh asked as he took his wallet from his back pocket.
            “Both actually,” the man in the ticket booth said.
            Stephanie squeezed Josh’s arm at the sound of the man’s voice. It sounded exactly like… No way could it be the same creepy guy from the freak show.
            Stephanie peered through the dirty glass. The booth was dimly lit, but she could make out the shadow of a pointed beard. Her nails dug into Josh’s arm as she squeezed him tighter. “It’s you,” Stephanie said. “Did you follow us?”
            He laughed again. “You must be thinking of my twin brother. He runs the booth at the World of Wonders exhibit.”
Stephanie turned away, trying to shirk the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
            “Enjoy,” the man said, pressing a button that unlatched the door.
            Stephanie practically ran through it, wanting to put as much distance between her and the ticket guy as possible. The door slammed shut behind them, making Stephanie jump.
            “Why are you so jumpy?” Josh asked.
            “You didn’t find that guy the littlest bit—?” She shuddered. “I can’t even describe it.”
            Josh smiled. “Look around. You’re surrounded by mirrors. This is like heaven for you.”
            Stephanie turned in a full circle, watching her reflections twirl with her. “You’re right. And I could use a touch-up on my lip gloss.”
            Josh walked over to a mirror that made him look pregnant. “Hey, check this out. I think I’m going into labor.” He turned sideways and rubbed his belly.
            Stephanie walked over to see. “Yeah, you definitely look like you’re going to pop.”
            “You try it.” Josh pulled her in front of the mirror.
            “No thank you.” She waved him off, without even looking at her reflection, and continued through the maze.
            A voice came over the intercom and Stephanie had no doubt whose voice it was. The ticket seller’s. “In every mirror find a different way to play. But be careful not to lose yourself along the way. Because we’ve saved the very best mirrors for the end. And your opinion of the exhibit just might bend.”
            “Well, that’s—”
            “Creepy,” Stephanie finished.
            “I was going to say cryptic, but I think it means they save the really cool mirrors for the end of the maze. I wonder what they’ll make us look like.”
            Stephanie didn’t really care. Coming here had been her idea, but now she just wanted to leave. “Maybe we should turn around and get our money back. This doesn’t seem like a good idea after all.”
            “No way. I want to see those mirrors at the end of the maze. Maybe I’ll look like I grew boobs or something.”
Stephanie rolled her eyes, but Josh took her hand and pulled her through the maze. After a few turns, Stephanie stopped. The hair on her arms was standing on end. “I really think we should go back.”
            Josh turned all around, looking for the open space indicating where the path was leading them. “That’s weird. I guess this is a dead end.”
“Good, then let’s head back.”
            The lights went out, leaving them in darkness. Stephanie screamed and hugged Josh.
            “What happened?” she asked.
            “I don’t know. Power outage, maybe.”
                        A low humming sound, like a bunch of buzzing bees, filled the air. After a few more seconds, dim yellow lights came on from above.
            “Must be a backup generator,” Josh said.
            “Let’s find the exit,” Stephanie said, the terror on her face reflected in the mirrors all around her.
            Josh turned around, trying to retrace their steps. “Isn’t this the way we came?”
            “I think so.” Stephanie gawked at the row of mirrors blocking their path. “How can that be?”
            “I guess we got turned around somehow when the lights went out.”
            “But we didn’t move.” Stephanie swallowed hard. Something was wrong with this maze. Something was wrong with this whole place.
            “Well, there’s no use standing here.” Josh took her hand and headed back the way they’d just come.
            “We know this path is a dead end. We were just—” Stephanie couldn’t finish. The path wasn’t blocked anymore. One of the mirrors was gone. “No.” She stabbed her finger at the empty spot. “There was a mirror there.”
            Josh let go of her and ran his hand along the sides of the mirrors. “They must move. You know, change so that people going through the maze more than once don’t know which way to go.”
            Stephanie wasn’t convinced. “Why would a fair attraction go through all that trouble? How many people actually go through the House of Mirrors more than once?”
            Josh shrugged. “Beats me, but at least we aren’t stuck here anymore.”
            Stephanie couldn’t argue with that, but she couldn’t help getting goose bumps as she walked through the opening and followed the path. After about twenty feet, the maze turned to the right, and there weren’t any more mirrors. “Where are we?”
            “Looks like a maintenance entrance or something. The power outage must have made the sliding mirrors go all screwy. This passageway probably opened by mistake.”
                        They followed a long narrow hallway to another door. Stephanie sighed. “Oh thank God! I’m never stepping foot in another House of Mirrors. In fact, I may not look into another mirror for a long time.”
            “Oh, come on. This is you we’re talking about. You’ll be adjusting your lip gloss in the car on the way home.”
            Stephanie playfully smacked his arm. “Just open the door.”
            Josh turned the knob and found himself looking into another room. “Huh?”
            A crackling sound came from a speaker above the door. “Things look different in the dark, and monsters come out to play. But if you find yourself once more, you might be back on your way.”
            Stephanie bit her bottom lip to keep it from trembling.
            “I thought that thing was off,” Josh said. “Do you think the lights shutting off are part of the exhibit?”
            “I think that guy is seriously deranged. He knows we’re trapped in here. He’s probably watching our every move.”
            Josh looked around for hidden cameras. He waved his arms above his head and yelled, “Hey, we’re a little lost. Some help would be nice.”
            “He’s not going to help us. He’s trying to scare us, and he’s doing a really good job.”
            Josh stopped waving his arms and grabbed Stephanie by the shoulders. “You need to calm down. I bet that’s a prerecorded message that plays on a loop.”
            Stephanie took a deep breath. Josh was probably right. She was overreacting. She hated being lost, and her fear was getting the best of her. “Okay, let’s keep moving.”
            They stepped into the room, which was empty except for a group of sheet-covered objects in the middle.
Josh grabbed one end of a sheet and lifted it. “It’s just a normal mirror. Nothing funny about it.” He raised the sheet on the one next to it. “This one’s normal, too.”     He turned around and pulled the sheet off another mirror. This one was different. “Now we’re talking. A goofy mirror.” He uncovered the last one. “This one, too. Nice.” He positioned himself in front of the second mirror. “Hey, try that one.”
            Stephanie moaned. “Then can we please leave?”
            Stephanie stood in front of the other mirror. Her reflection was ridiculously tall and skinny. Without even realizing it, she laughed.
            Josh glanced at her reflection. “We need to fatten you up. Better get you some ice cream with all the toppings.”
            Stephanie smiled and looked at Josh’s reflection. He looked like a short round blob. “Whoa! No ice cream for you!”
            As they laughed, Stephanie couldn’t help feeling silly for getting so scared. This was kind of fun after all.
            “I’ve got to get one of these for my living roo—” Josh’s face twisted in pain.
            “What’s wrong?” Stephanie reached for him, but she felt like her arms were being stretched and pulled right out of their sockets. Her eyes flew to the mirror again as she felt her body being pulled in two directions at once. She screamed as her muscles tore, shredding into paper-thin strips. She struggled to stay on her feet, and if something wasn't pulling her upward, she was sure she would’ve toppled over. Her skin stretched, leaving long purplish-brown lines running up and down her limbs. She tried to talk, but all she could manage were screams. The pain was unbearable. She felt herself rising higher in the air and wondered why the mirror seemed to be getting smaller.
            Finally the pain died down. She forced herself to look away from the mirror. Her legs were wobbly, and she had to reach her arms straight out to keep her balance. When she finally managed to turn around, she found herself facing the mirror behind her. The regular mirror. Only, her reflection was exactly the same as it had been in the distorted mirror. Her body was stretched and bone thin.
            Her head whipped to the side, searching for Josh. Her eyes dropped to the blob on the ground next to her. Josh’s body was short and fat. His face was lopsided from the waves of rolled skin and blubber. He was nothing more than a blob, exactly how he’d looked in the mirror.
            And then everything went black.
            Stephanie was vaguely aware of the cool cement floor on her back. She knew she’d fainted. She opened her eyes and tried to focus on the room. The almost shapeless form next to her wasn’t moving. Josh. That was Josh. She remembered everything. Somehow the mirrors had changed them. She and Josh had changed so they resembled the images reflected back at them.
            A door slammed, and the glow of a streetlight filtered into the room. Stephanie saw a figure in the doorway, but the light was to its back and she couldn’t make out who it was. She waited there, not knowing if she should call out for help. But the figure turned slightly, and she was able to make out the shape of a pointed beard. The man from the ticket booth! But which booth?
            He stepped into the room, and suddenly the doorway was filled with another figure—identical to the first. Stephanie struggled to sit up. Her head pounded from the fall, and her muscles ached from being stretched well past their limits. Still, she did her best to scoot away from the two men. She nudged Josh’s shapeless body with her foot, but he didn’t budge.
            “Easy there,” the first twin said. “You’re liable to get your foot stuck in all that blubber.” He laughed as he and his twin dragged Josh out of the room.
            “Where are you taking him?” Stephanie yelled. “What have you done to us?”
            The door slammed shut behind them. Stephanie awkwardly pulled herself to her feet, using the mirror to help her. Every part of her body was in pain, and she could feel warm blood tricking down the back of her head. She tried to walk, but her long legs were completely foreign to her. She stumbled and fell forward, crying out in pain.
            The door opened again, and the twins stepped inside. “It’s going to take some time getting used to those new legs,” the first twin said.
            His brother laughed. “Oh, she’ll have plenty of time to get used to them. Plenty of time indeed.”
            “You did this to me!” Stephanie said, her voice laced with hatred.
            The men walked over to her, grabbing her under her arms. She didn’t want to go with them, but she didn’t have the strength to fight back. They dragged her out the door and into the night. The fair was deserted. Not a person in sight as they pulled her across the street. In a moment of horror, she realized where they were taking her. The World of Wonders.
            “Stop! Please, stop!” She tried to fight them, but it was no use. She didn’t have control over her body. Stephanie gasped when they dragged her past cage after cage of creatures that could only have been created the same way her new form had been. Each person—thing—was more hideous than the one before. “You used your mirrors to make these people for your exhibit!”
            They threw Stephanie into an empty cage and slammed the door shut. The freak show attendant smiled and said, “Are you a believer now?”

This story is most like Kelly Hashway’s Touch of Death series.

Kelly Hashway fully admits to being one of the most accident-prone people on the planet, but that didn’t stop her from jumping out of an airplane at ten thousand feet one Halloween. Maybe it was growing up reading R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books that instilled a love of all things scary and a desire to live in a world filled with supernatural creatures, but she spends her days writing speculative fiction for young adults, middle graders, and young children. Kelly’s also a sucker for first love, which is why she writes YA and NA romance under the pen name Ashelyn Drake. When she’s not writing, Kelly works as an editor and also as Mom, which she believes is a job title that deserves to be capitalized. She is represented by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary Agency. For more information about her works, visit her website:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Last Rites in Beckham County by Stuart R. West

     Country living can be peculiar; dying is worse...
     The summer afternoon had been a bright one, hotter than a three-alarm fire. Hardly a proper send-off for Mrs. Sauers, town witch and killer of cats. At least those were the stories around these parts. And around these parts, the stories grew taller than well-tended stalks of corn, gossip fattening the tales until they were good and plump and ripe enough to scare.

     Pa made sure I didn’t buy into such nonsense. It was hard enough growing up in a funeral home without all the campfire tales burning a path into my nightmares.

     But the day Harry (“Harry’s Hearses: Going out in Style”) rolled Mrs. Sauers in through the back door proved to be anything but ordinary. The cluster of cats gathered at the back door should’ve been enough to tip me off. They mewed and hummed the way cats do, rubbin’ up against one another, their tails swattin’ at the flies that had gathered.

     A feline clowder of mourners; or maybe well-wishers.

     From my upstairs bedroom window, I watched. Pa’s red scalp peeked through the long spider legs of hair he combed over, fooling absolutely no one except maybe himself. He conferred with Harry, grown-up talk with down-turned faces. Harry helped usher Mrs. Sauers down through the cellar steps into Pa’s work area. An area Pa only let me visit if invited. Not that it was a nifty place to hang out, mind you (although I’ve had more than several passing acquaintances—around here, my friends don’t tend to last—beg me to take them down there), but sometimes I got the feeling Pa kept secrets from me. Even though as a man of mountain-tall pride, he claimed he was an open book, as honest as ol’ stovetop Abe.

     But Mrs. Sauers held a special fascination for me. In life, she was a peculiar person; death only cast more mystery upon her. The legacy she’d left behind had been built on stories most people only reckoned to be true. But true or not, the tales were enough to keep me out of her pasture, off her front porch at Halloween, and dodging her at the general store.

     Suzette (a rightly beast of a different kind, expensive braces hiding her fangs) swears to the fact that one night, while bicycling by Mrs. Sauers’ house, she saw the body of Tommy Talipin swinging from the ol’ elm tree in the front yard. Most folks say Tommy—a handsome teen of a movie star fashion, but troubled by wander-lust—just took off, tired of the country way. I might’ve believed it, too, if Tommy’s folks hadn’t done got Sherriff Landry involved, sniffing out the less-travelled woods. I can’t imagine a soul just up and leavin’ one night without letting his folks know his whereabouts.

     Other stories meandered on at great lengths about her practice of witchcraft, the details muddier than a country road after a rain. Take, for instance, the tale about ol’ Sy Norton. Everyone knew Sy liked to tip at the bottle, no secret there. But rumor had it he made the mistake of sayin’ some mighty disparaging words about Mrs. Sauers down at his favorite tipping hole. Once word got back to Mrs. Sauers (and ‘round here, word travels faster than electricity), ol’ Sy found his foot rotting away, the end shriveled up like a sun-baked walnut. Course, Pa brought me up to believe in science, explained Sy’s leg away with an educated diagnosis. It sounded good to me, science being much more preferable than witchcraft.

     It was hard to know what to believe.

     But the stories that remained constant about Mrs. Sauers, the ones that rarely changed, all had to do with the cats. Now, a missing cat in the country isn’t an unusual occurrence. Like Tommy, cats are prone to wander, following lust of a different sort. And in Beckham County, cats are mighty plentiful. You can’t swing a, well, a cat without hitting another. But story has it, every time Mrs. Sauers fancied dropping a spell on somebody, she’d sacrifice a cat to her god, who I assure you was a far cry from my God.

     Guess what I’m sayin’ is even Job himself would surely have his patience tested by having Beckham County’s biggest mystery lying flat on her back in his basement.

     So, that night, after Pa’d tucked himself in with a nightcap, I stole downstairs, quiet as a whisper. Two flights down and I entered Pa’s workshop. The cold air struck me first. Pa never said it, but I imagined he kept it that way to preserve the mortal remains for as long as possible. I flipped on the light switch, hoping to chase away a chill of a different sort.

     Clak, chak, chak

     Like dominoes of lightning, the overhead fluorescents clacked on, one after the other, painting the room in a moon-glow of white.

     For what I imagined to be one of the messiest jobs in Beckham County, Pa always kept his work space cleaner than fresh laundry. His tools were lined up, biggest to smallest, orderly like soldiers, on his cart: all manners of scalpels, something he called a trocar, various ointments and disinfectants (both for him and his projects). Several tubes snaked from the great chugging, grey beast of an embalming machine. The sink, longer than the tallest fella Pa’d ever buried by a foot, remained sparkling, good-as-new looking. On my few visits down there, I’d never seen nary a drop of blood.

     But the body beneath the blue blanket drew me, surely as a magnet attracted metal shavings. Mrs. Sauers’ brillo-pad grey hair stuck out, wiry and mean. Her toes peeked out the bottom, tiny blue veins wrapping around them and exploding into corns the size of thumbs.

     I didn’t know what I expected to see but was pretty dang sure what I didn’t want to see. Sometimes you don’t get what you want.

     Slowly, I tugged the blanket down. Her eyes stood open, milky and nobody home. Peculiar. Pa always closed the project’s eyes first thing. He said he did it out of respect for the deceased. But after seeing Mrs. Sauers’ open eyes, I suspect he did it to keep the dead from watching him.

     I wanted to stop, I really did. But I’d come this far, and if nothing else, I wanted to prove to the nay-saying voice in my head that I could do it, wasn’t a chicken at all.

     The blanket rode the ridge of Mrs. Sauers’ nose, a crooked blue snow jump, until her nose popped out. Little tiny hairs drooped from her nostrils. And I swear what I saw next was only a trick of the bad blinking overhead light. One hair pulled inside a nostril, blew out again.

     That’s what I thought I saw, at least. That’s what I didn’t want to believe I saw. My brain told me to run, go crawl into bed. But my feet didn’t listen, holding to the old adage, “In for a dime, in for a dollar.”

     As I pulled the blanket down below her chin, my hand shook worse than ol’ Sy’s three day tremors. I withdrew my hand fast as a jackrabbit, afraid of things that might bite.

     Her mouth opened. Not an involuntary movement caused by gas either, the way Pa explained sometimes happened. She gasped. No, that wasn’t quite right. More like a hissing radiator.


     Spit gathered at the corner of her mouth like condensation. It ran down her pale chin in teary streaks.

     I slapped my hand over my mouth and turned tail outta’ there, forcing my legs to cooperate.

Behind me, the gurney rattled. A rustling of cloth. I didn’t want to look, but…

     Now, she was sitting up. Head turned at a sharp, unnatural angle. Chin cocked. Looking at me. The milk had siphoned out of her eyes, now fully clear. And full of anger.

     “I…didn’t do this.” That was all I said. All my addled brain could muster, a weak apology so I could stay out of Hell, for surely that’s where she intended on sending me.

     Varicose veined legs swung over the side. Meaty toes dangled above the linoleum. I was doomed, damned for messing with things beyond my ken. Had I not been so terrified, I would’ve dropped to my knees right then and there, and prayed loud enough to wake even the snooziest of angels.

     My heart jumped. Something scattered across the room. Soft pitter pats of hesitant rain. No, not rain. A golden cat, walking toward Mrs. Sauers, white paws prancing about like horseshoes. Striding toward her, more determined than Mr. Jones and his prized pig at the fair.

     Mrs. Sauers framed an ugly oval with her mouth and hissed between gaudy red lips, part feline herself. The cat took no heed. Jumped right on top of her, claws digging into the blanket. Mrs. Sauers gasped again, then lay back down where she belonged. The cat strolled up to her face, lowered its head, a strange mouth to mouth resuscitation ritual. Only it had the opposite effect. Mrs. Sauers’ eyes closed. Her chest rose once more, dropped and stayed that way.

     The cat looked at me. Licked its chops like it’d just eaten the plumpest mouse in the county.

     As soon as the cat hopped down, I bolted like lightning out of there. Straight up to my room. Blankets over my head. I don’t recall (as you may well imagine, there were quite a few other things to recall) sleeping, either.

     I never told Pa what happened that night down in the cellar. Not only did I not want to get punished, but I reckon I wasn’t rightly sure what did happen.

     It’s hard enough being young, deliberating between science and religion, navigating the rough and turbulent waters of school, without having something new introduced. Something no one could explain, something horrible.

     They say that life in the country is different, I reckon so is death.

 Here I am, talking about myself, pretending not to. Ah, I'm probably not fooling anyone, but play along anyway, 'kay? Just imagine Morgan Freeman narrating and we'll all get through this just fine.

For more of Stuart R. West's adult and young adult suspense tales filled with light heart and dark humor, check out his Amazon page.
And please do check out Stuart's blog featuring weekly rants, failed stand-up comedy routines and incisive author interviews: Twisted Tales From Tornado Alley

Brand spankin' new and creeptacular trailer for Ghosts of Gannaway:

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Ghostly Dare

Three friends take on a Halloween Dare to disprove an Urban Myth

image of the stairs Helena fell down...from 
WED Morning.

Dear Diary,

To celebrate ten years since we left school and went out separate ways, Alison, Sarah and I have agreed to a dare. We are going to disprove an urban myth. The one that surrounds the ghost cam website in Dublin. You might have heard of it. The myth focuses on the warehouse where Helena, a young girl died when she fell down the stairs. People who spend too long watching the webcam, waiting for Helena to appear, go  missing.

Our dare is to watch the site for the next three days, for an hour a day, and at the end of the week, which will be Halloween, we will post our reports and diary entries onto the Urban Myth blog. Thus we will prove beyond doubt, the myth is busted.

Sarah doesn’t believe in ghosts. I am not sure if I do or not. Alison does, and she’s quite worried by our dare. Being in London, you can understand her apprehension. Sarah in Olso, isn’t worried. Me, here in sunny Oz, can’t see the problem. I will have the advantage of watching the webcam during daylight hours. Nothing scary there.

Anyhow… today is day one. I will set up my spare monitor to show the warehouse site, for at least an hour. Then will report tonight if I have disappeared, or if I saw anything interesting. That is anything more interesting than the empty room where they once stored casks of wine before delivery. The old musty racks, shelves and vintage office. It looks like a perfect place for a ghost to haunt, but not the sort of place one would want to visit.

Till then…

WED evening.

Well, today was strange. I did my webcam watching, surreptitiously, I thought. Tony, my supervisor from work, though said he found me mesmerized watching it. I didn’t believe him. Well, not until he had to nudge me to answer my phone.

I turned the monitor off at morning tea. But when I returned to my desk, it was back on. I think Tony is playing tricks on me.

Three times he said I had missed phone calls. I found that hard to believe, but my answering machine had messages… as though I was not at my desk.

Tomorrow I will be more careful.

Then tonight when I came home Rufus, my cat, yowled and seemed agitated. He rubbed himself all over my legs, demanded a cuddle, but refused to enter my apartment. He’s gone to visit Delilah, my neighbour. She loves him too. So, he’s safe enough.

The apartment seems cold. It was a lovely warm spring day outside, but it feels as though I left the air conditioner on. I have made myself a hot pot of tea. I think I will turn the a/c onto heat. Maybe I am coming down with the flu.

Alison and Sarah have checked in. Alison says her boyfriend is freaked out already. She’s arguing with him, but thinks she might have to back out of the dare. Sarah’s email was short and sweet. She loves the webcam. Is convinced she saw movement in the warehouse. Alison says it’s probably cars passing by. I said I didn’t see anything, but relayed my missed phone calls.

Till tomorrow.

THURS morning.

Woke feeling cold. Found my winter blankets but still think I am getting the flu. Everything smells musty. Rufus won’t come into the apartment for his breakfast. Weird cat.

This morning Sarah said she watched the webcam for a while last night. She’s done some research into Helena’s history and thinks she’s seen her ghost.

Alison says she might get to watch for an hour today, but is worried her boyfriend will find out.
I am off to work.

THURS evening.

Feeling cold still. Work was a nightmare. I challenged Tony. Blamed him for the webcam always being on, even after I turn it off. I logged my hour, but somehow every time I looked up, the warehouse with its shadows and haunting low light is back on my monitor. Tony and I had a fight. He said I was obsessed, it was interfering with my work now. I had ignored repeated phone calls, staff interaction and client meetings. He accused me of doing nothing but stare at the monitor. I tried to blame him for being an ass, but Reagan and Jill stood by him and said he was not exaggerating.

I think it’s the flu. When I got home the place was definitely chilly. Smelt too. Still smells like a damp mop. I am burning some scented candles. Hope it helps kill the stench. Nothing is wet. I checked the laundry. There is no reason for the smell. Probably a problem with the plumbing outside. Will have to call the landlord, tomorrow. I am curled up in bed, with a hot pack. The laptop feels warm where it rests on the blankets. I feel like a blimp, wearing my winter clothes in bed, but I can’t get warm.

Sarah hasn’t checked in tonight. Alison says she has to drop out. I sent off my email. Mentioned how it is weird I don’t remember watching the website. I guess Tony and the others wouldn’t lie to me.

Anyhow… I think I will try to get a good night’s sleep. Throw off the flu or whatever ails me.

FRI morning.

Woke from a dream. Really strange. Woke to find myself sitting up with the laptop open and the webcam of the warehouse running. As though I had linked to it in my sleep. I swear I haven’t even opened it on the laptop. Only at work. During the daylight hours. I made that part of my deal to myself. I don’t want to say I am a coward, but hey, living alone isn’t the best time to tempt ghosts. At work… that was my deal.

Yet, here I am, waking up with the website open.

That’s not the weirdest thing.

The cold… okay, I reckon I can see frost on my windows. Now, for spring in Australia, that is really not right. It’s been 25 to 30 deg during the day. Only dropping to 13 overnight. Not cold enough for frost. That’s Celsius. We don’t do Fahrenheit here. So, apart from the cold, there is my dream.

Now my room smells like old wine and that’s not from the candles I burned. It’s not a bad smell. Sweet, like when we went to the vineyard and toured the cellars.
But that’s not the weirdest thing either.

I dreamed I saw Sarah.

She was in the warehouse, smiling, beckoning me… as though she wanted to share a secret with me.

She looked happy, unperturbed by the lonely room, the shadows, the aura of ghostly menace I thought the room held. Her expression was calm, blissful, and she wanted me to join her.

Alison just checked in. She said Sarah hasn’t emailed. Sarah’s mother phoned Alison. She is worried. Sarah missed work yesterday and she didn’t call or email for her sister’s birthday.

Reading Alison’s email sent shivers down my spine. I wonder if I should tell her about my dream. It was just a dream. Wouldn’t it sound stupid? Sarah probably slept in. She’s been doing research… been watching the webcam. I feel wrung out. Maybe Sarah has the flu too. Or something. Something logical. Nothing weird. Nothing ghostly.

I wish I could get warm. I have taken paracetamol for fever. Rufus is outside yowling. He won’t come near me. Strange cat. I should be getting ready for work. I think I will take a moment to check the webcam again before I go. I want to convince myself I was only dreaming. I didn’t see Sarah. There is nothing freaky going on.

What can one last look do? If I see Sarah while I am awake though, it will scare the living daylights out of me. Won’t happen. What could she possibly want to tell me? How can she look so calm, so beautiful…

One quick look… can’t hurt.


Rosalie Skinner resides on the east coast of Australia when not totally immersed in the fantasy world of her writing.
Rosalie’s love of the ocean, nature, history and horses has enabled her to give her books an authentic air. Her latest achievement has been to ride through the Australian Snowy mountains and see the wild brumbies run. When not watching the migrating whales pass her doorstep she has more humble pastimes.
Other than being a published author, her greatest thrill is being a grandmother. Born over fourteen weeks early her granddaughter’s perfect development and growth are a miracle and joy.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Death Goes Trick or Treating by Crystal Collier

If you’re a normal person, bad caramel corn with give you a stomach ache. If you’re Death, it means there will be Hell to pay. 

Halloween. No one blinked twice as I strolled down the street among the crowd of trick or treaters—all twelve feet of me. The occasional grandparent watched with wide eyes, clearly recognizing I was more than just a big kid in costume on stilts. And really, who doesn’t want to see me? I’m a nice guy. Great sense of humor. Shiny scythe. Not to mention, when we come face to face your troubles are over. Really. I should be a welcome guest in anyone’s home.

But speaking of Halloween…

I swung a glowing pumpkin pail at my side, more excited than I cared to admit and knocked on a door along side several unruly children. They bounced from foot to foot and giggled. I chuckled inwardly with them. They loved tonight almost as much as me, but of course they wouldn’t after this moment.

The door popped open and an elderly woman lifted a hand full of candy. Her eyes jumped to me and grew the size of doughnuts. 

“Trick or Treat,” I said, batting my eyes…which she couldn’t see.

Her hand trembled as she offered me a cellophane wrapped ball of caramel corn. Still warm. Melty caramel overwhelmed me, and I was in my own personal heaven. It was like she knew this was my favorite treat—never mind that I had come to take her through Death’s doorway. 

Maybe I’d let her live another hour for the generous gift.

I tossed a handful into my mouth and savored its caramely goodness, gliding down the suburban street. German caramel. Sticky corn and…something slightly off…

Children flooded around me, dwarfed by my stunning height. That’s when my eye started to twitch. My tongue watered. 


I NEEDED candy.


Shoving kids out of the way, I sprinted up to the next doorstep. I held my bucket with all the other kids and shouted, “Trick or Treat!” 

The middle aged woman dropped a tootsie roll into my bucket. 

A tootsie roll.

One tootsie roll.

The insult to all things candy. The penny of the money world. The roach of the animal world.

A tootsie roll.

Rage exploded through me like dynamite in a Venetian vase. I lifted a finger and pointed right at her. “Die!”

She swallowed the wad of gum she was chewing, gagged and choked. To death.

“Death to tootsie rollers!” I grinned like a madman and trotted on to the next house like a little girl with pigtails on a spring day. 

Candy bars survived. Licorice depended on my mood. Gum and sucker givers suffered heart attacks, one got death by vacuum cleaner. Smarties got an aneurism, two from me shoving their treats back up their noses. I stretched taffy givers insides until they ripped in half. Hard candies got beheaded, one by the chainsaw he was wielding to scare kiddies, another by the fire hydrant I threw at him. Tootsie rollers spontaneously exploded, bits and pieces flying everywhere like confetti. One even got death by lava lamp, right through the chest. A deliriously happy Death skipped from door to door, loving every moment.


I woke from my psychotic haze. The streets were empty and dark. Sniffles carried on the wind, doors shut tight and windows covered. I had singlehandedly destroyed Halloween.

How many souls had I sent on before their time? How many traumatized kids memories would I have to wipe? What a mess. 

Caramel corn.

I made my way slowly back up the street, taking note of the names and addresses of my untidy fatalities. Fifty two.

The door cracked open when I knocked a second time, the caramel corn giver’s door. Her silver-gray bob trembled as her doughnut eyes lifted, blood draining from her cheeks. She looked almost as transparent as a spirit. 

Louise Johnston, due to die two hours earlier.

I tapped impatient fingers against my scythe. 

“He said he knew how to cheat death,” she croaked, falling back and lifting her hands as if they could protect her. “I did exactly what he said, put the white powder into the caramel.”

“Do you have any idea what kind of chaos I have to clean up?” I gestured down the street. “I’m not even sure I can put some of them back together.”

Her trembling amplified to a full body shake, the rolls around her jowls jiggling.

I sighed. “Look, Louise, I’m a reasonable guy. Just tell me who it was that gave you this white powder so I can move on here.”

Her Adams apple moved like she was swallowing a cantaloupe and might choke on it. “He said his name was Tom.”

Flames could have spewed out of my ears. They might have. Mr. Undying pain-in-my-rear. The guy who always stayed one step ahead. The annoyance who slit my throat, stole the keys to Hell to rescue his dead girlfriend (who didn’t want him as it turns out), and then tossed my scythe in the ocean. I ended up wrestling an octopus for two days to get the dang thing back. All the while people lived past their death dates and my schedule piled so high that I didn’t get unburied for months. Not that I had to worry about time, but it was non-stop work until every last soul was where it belonged. With approximately 107 deaths a minute, they really stack up. 


If it wasn’t enough that I couldn’t kill him, now he was seriously messing with my happy time. 

My teeth scraped across each other like chalk on a board. Time to pin him down in a piranha infested pool. Or maybe chain him to an earth-bound asteroid. Drop him in a steel box filled with flesh-eating amoebas and sink it to the bottom of the ocean. Stuff him down an active volcano… The possibilities were endless.

But first, I had this dung heap to clean up or Hell was going have my skin. I hoped some of those candy givers could survive without bits of ear or lung, because I really wasn’t sure I could scrape the pieces out of carpet and ceiling vents. Although I’d try.

One thing is for certain: I’d never eat caramel corn again.


You can read more of Death and his adventures here:

Crystal Collier is an author who pens dark fantasy, historical, and romance hybrids, with the occasional touch of humor. She can be found practicing her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, four littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her HERE.