Marion Wood: The Haunted House and Our Scary Night

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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The Haunted House and Our Scary Night

By Marian Wood

The haunted house on the hill

Stories have been told about the haunted house on the hill. Tales of strange sightings, of ‘Shadow people’ coming and going. I hadn’t been near there in years till the day that my partner arranged an evening hike in the woods.

George had started a hiking group and on this night in October, the trail led through the ‘Great Woods’. We were all excited, had our torches, warm coats, scarves and woolly hats. Had anyone known what was about to happen then our expedition would have been cancelled or no one would have come. A night in, in front of the television, was preferable to what was about to happen.

A walk in the woods

Here we were together, a party of six adults and five children, walking through the leaves, Freddie and Izzy taunted each other with stories of ghosts whilst Lizzie ran on a little ahead. Though we could see her, their parents were more preoccupied in their own conversation. On reflection, the fact that it was a dark wood on a cold night, someone should have been holding her hand. The other two children, Joe and Harry were with their parents, happily talking to each other, ignoring the rest of the party. On a cold night like tonight that was the best way to be, caught up in their own family bubble.

As I walked, I could hear the conversations going on around me, but I was not focused on them. My mind was preoccupied with what I had read on ‘Facebook’ tonight. Children in our small town of ‘Cradle Marsh’ had gone missing. A group of twelve-year-old boys who were last seen on their bikes playing in their small cul-de-sac. I thought now and realised that ‘River Court’ has a footpath that leads to the woods. I then dismissed this because surely if they were in the woods then they would have come home.

Lizzie

It was now I heard a shriek up ahead, Lois, Lizzie’s mum, now started to run. I could feel my heart racing faster and it was now I noticed the lights up ahead. Lois was now crying as she was holding her child’s woolly hat, Lizzie had vanished.

George now tried to take control of the situation, but no one was listening. Lois now hugged Freddie and Izzy tight, they were both crying and convinced that a ghost had taken her. The panic was now escalated by their dad, William.

“What are you going to do George? My daughter is missing, and you are giving orders.”

“I’m trying to prevent hysteria, she can’t be far away, we are alone out here.”

“Are we George, are we really? You know the rumours of the old haunted house.”

“Yes, but that’s just nonsense, they are just stories.”

I interrupted now, “George, he does have a point.”

“Oh, Rach, not you too, don’t be daft.”

“George, look straight through the trees there, what do you see?”

“I see lights, okay, so where are they shining from.”

William irate now said, “It’s the old house, it should be empty but there are lights on, something is going on here.”

I thought again about the missing boys and my mind now started to drift. What if something was happening at the house? And where was Lizzie?

 * * * * * * * * * *

The missing boys

A few days earlier, Miles, Ellis and Ryan had been playing on their bikes in ‘River Court’. It was late afternoon and starting to get dark when Miles noticed a dark shadow on the footpath leading into the wood.

“Come on lads, let’s check this out. What is that?”

Following their friend all three pedalled into the woods, all fuelled by wild curiosity. As they reached the edge of the wood, they could see a group of shadows watching them. The shadows now moved as if urging the boys to follow.

With no sense of danger, the boys followed, with a sense of adventure they wanted to know more about the shadow people. Bravely, the boys standing up on their pedals, followed them further into the wood as if pulled by an invisible thread, they wondered where they were going.

Their parents had forbidden them from playing in the woods, believing the stories of the haunted house, they had warned them to stay away. If they knew where their children were, they would not have been sitting relaxed watching ‘Neighbours’. They believed that they were still happily outside playing in the close.

* * * * * * * * * *

Panic

Here we were, all shivering, the Mills family crying about missing Lizzie. George trying to be rational whilst the others laid into him. The Wildishes were panicking, holding onto their children, Joe and Harry. What should have been a friendly walk in the woods had turned into a disaster. I wasn’t sure what to say as William Mills stated,

“You must have heard all the rumours about the haunted house.”

“Yes, of course, but that’s rubbish,” George said.

“Face facts man, there are lights on in that house and our little girl is missing.” 

I now chipped in, “There are boys missing too.”

“Boys, what boys.”

“William, it was on ‘Facebook’, they were riding their bikes in ‘River Court’, then they vanished.”

“But that’s impossible Rach, apart from that you can’t believe what you read on ‘Facebook’.”

“Believe it or not George, right now Lizzie is missing, as if she has vanished, just like the boys.”

The haunted house

“Right I’ve heard enough, we need to go to that house. We need to see who’s in, if they don’t have Lizzie, maybe they have some ideas about what is going on.”

“Is that really wise, William? Maybe we should call the police.”

“Rachel, you can call the police, but I’m going in.”

“I’ll come too, you will see this is crazy, maybe Lizzie is just hiding.” George was shaking now, it was obvious that he was starting to wonder if there was truth in the theory of the haunted house.

“Okay, I will phone the police. If you go by yourselves, make sure you phone if you find her, we will stay here.” The Wildishes now decided it was time for them to go home. They still had their children and were scared of something happening to them as well. I understood but at the same time couldn’t help feeling annoyed. I tried to smile as I shivered and did my best to be friendly as we said goodbye.

Now left alone with a frightened Lois and two small children, I tried to remain positive. However, I couldn’t help but be scared, I had heard the stories, the haunted house was infamous in ‘Cradle Marsh’.

The ghost stories

Residents of the town had reported seeing ‘Shadow people’ during early evening around the town. When seen, adults would run in fear; it now occurred to me that children might act differently around them. They might be less fearful than adults, unaware of the danger that they might be in.

I had phoned the police and they were on their way to the wood. We sat beside a tree, Freddie and Izzy were sat cuddling each other, both crying and keeping each other warm. The stories had worried me for weeks but not being a mother, I hadn’t been so concerned about children. George had just dismissed them all, hence not having any fear of tonight’s hike.

Lois now disturbed my thoughts. “Rachel, do you think the shadow people are dangerous?”

“I don’t know, but Lizzie is not the only missing child. I’m hoping the men find them; to be honest I’m too scared to go anywhere near that house.”

“Do you think the men are safe?”

“I don’t know, the police will be here soon, something is not right. If the ‘Shadow people’ do live in that house then I’m sure they will find something.

* * * * * * * * * *

Inside the haunted house

William and George had arrived at the haunted house. All the lights were on, and they could hear ‘Guns and Roses, Sweet child of mine’ playing. Nervously they rang the bell, what was really going on here? After five minutes and no answer, George looked in a downstairs window. He couldn’t see anyone, there was just the sound of the music on repeat. Hearing a scream behind him, he could feel his heart beating so fast it hurt. Feeling sick he turned round, there with his arm around William was a ‘Shadow man’.

The man was silent, but he now opened the door and motioned them into the house. Too scared to say anything they obediently walked in, neither prepared for what they were about to see. Nothing could have prepared them for what they saw, ghosts, spooks, the supernatural, they both felt certain that ghosts were not violent.

The sight that faced them made both men feel sick, and William started to cry. Things had just turned darker beyond anything they had imagined.

The three boys

There sat in jars on the table were the remains of the boys, they knew this as three heads sat on the table looking at them. Wanting to run but both feeling glued to the floor, they stared in shock. Both wondered where Lizzie was, but were relieved that her head was not there, suggesting that it was still attached to her body.

A ‘Shadow man’ now motioned them to sit down as his friend now started to bind and gag them. Now surrounded by an army of ‘Shadow people’, George wished that he had his gun with him, however he was sure that the bullet would go straight through him, who were the ‘Shadow people’?

Now hearing sirens, the two men looked at each other, how were the police going to take them down? Were they all going to end up dead? 

William now nudged George. “Do you smell something?”

“Possibly, I’m not sure.” Around them the ‘Shadow people’ started to fall to the floor as the door was bashed down and a group of men in army fatigues came through it.

“The army, not the police, my god.” George was grateful to see them. The soldiers now saw the heads on the table, and a tall officer now spoke to them.

“We have been studying the ‘Shadow people’, we can’t tell you much, but we have learnt that Ammonia puts them to sleep. We will now be capturing them and working out who they are and why they are here.”

William interrupted. “Officer, my daughter is missing.”

“Don’t worry the men are searching the woods. I will take you back to your families.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Two days later

I will never forget the events of that night. Lizzie was found, scared, hiding in a ditch in the wood. She had seen a ‘Shadow man’ and had been sensible to not follow him where other children had. The haunted house was possibly no longer haunted, the ‘Shadow people’ had been transported to a secret government facility. We were not privileged enough to hear any more about them, but at least the town was safe now.

The army had been trying to work them out for months, but a missing child and two men walking into the house had changed the case from investigation to a rescue mission.

Lois and William Mills have not spoken to us since that night, still upset about George planning his hike. I’m not a parent but I don’t understand why you would take a child on an evening hike in a wood near a haunted house. It had been their decision, I wondered now if Halloween had made any difference to the ‘Shadow people’ and their mission.

Reflections

We will never know why they killed the boys. The army found evidence of other dismembered children and I was glad that Lizzie had hid. Other children had followed them, and the consequence had meant that they had been cut to pieces.

I sat now, holding my old teddy bear, drinking a mug of tea and watching the traffic go by outside. I know when I have children, I will be too scared to let them out of my sight. We don’t know why the ‘Shadow people’ are here and we can only assume they are alien. I’m not sure now if the haunted house is haunted, surely ghosts can’t be captured or put to sleep with ammonia. Though thinking about it maybe the ‘Shadow people’ had chosen the haunted house because of ghosts, we will never know.

There is so much in this world that we don’t know; I had thought the ‘Shadow people’ were ghosts. I now know that I was wrong; I wondered what else I am wrong about. However, I’m also glad that I don’t know everything, the knowledge of dismembered children was already too much.

George walking in the room woke me from my daze. I walked over and put my arms around him. If it wasn’t for him and his evening hike, we would have been none the wiser about all of this. To most of the town, the haunted house was just a haunted house, we now knew better. However, to the town, it was nice for the belief of the haunted house to continue, especially at Halloween.

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Please visit Marian on her blog: https://justmuddlingthroughlife.co.uk

Jenny Booker: No Escape

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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No Escape

By Jenny Booker

The day was perfect for her, a much needed break away from all the stress and drama that unfolded in the past few days.

The holiday camp was peaceful and all that she thought it would be like. They found their cabin after checking in and unpacked as quickly as they could so they could set off for lunch and a bike ride before dark.

The sun was blessing them and all was well.

Or so it seemed…

Little did she know that during all this, a car was slowing down and with a grunt stopped. The rusty vehicle had gone well off the beaten track.

Glancing at the rearview mirror he saw the cabin behind and saw her going inside.

“Found you,” he said with a sense of relief.

He got out a flask of hot coffee and waited — he wanted to savour the moment. As the sky changed colour and the air turned cooler he started to tap his fingers on the steering wheel.

Eventually, he saw the light turn on, alerting him that it was time. He got out and the noise of the car door broke the silence of the forest — scaring some woodland habitants away. He started to walk along the stoney pathway with a gun in his hand.

A few moments later a scream and a few shots sounded the air, then the light went out.

It’s midnight now and two bodies are lying on the cabin floor next to a gun…

All was not well at Camp Roxwood.

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Please visit Jenny on her blog: https://itsjennythewren.wordpress.com

D. A. Ratliff: The Invitation

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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The Invitation

By D. A. Ratliff

Candice Webb forced herself to take a deep breath.

What was she thinking? She had just driven three hours from the city to her hometown based on the cryptic words written in a letter from a woman she had never met. Since the day after she graduated high school, she had not set foot in Martinsville and had no expectations or desire to return. Then the letter appeared in her mailbox bearing no postmark, only her name scrawled in precise cursive writing with a fountain pen across the ivory envelope.

Twilight was falling as she arrived at the house and in the dim light of the car’s overhead dome, she reread the letter. She needed all the courage she could muster to exit the car.

Miss Webb:

We have never met but you have been to my home. I am Glenda Addison and I reside at the Addison Estate in Martinsville.

I will be leaving my home soon and while preparing to leave, I noticed a locket wedged in the floorboards on the second floor. I did a bit of investigative work, and I discovered it might be yours.

I would like to return the locket to you. Would you please join me for tea tomorrow evening at seven o’clock? You know the way.

Glenda Addison

Her heart caught at the word locket, her grandmother’s locket. She was ten when her grandmother died and her grandfather had pressed the locket into her hand and told her to wear it always. She had lost it only a week after he died, and her mother had cried for days. She never told her mother where she lost the locket. But she knew. She had lost it in the house at the end of the stone-paved walkway. And Glenda Addison had found it.

Her fingers trembling, she opened the car door. Leaving her purse under the seat, she locked the car and slipped her key fob into her skirt pocket. Time to face her past.

Her leather-soled boots echoed on the old stone pavers as she headed for the house. Fog clung to the tops of the tall pines and she shivered in the chilly late October air. Should have worn a heavier sweater. Her heart raced as memories of the last time she walked along this path flooded her thoughts. She was twelve and was with Jimmy Liston and Randy Parks. They had cajoled her into coming with them to check out the abandoned Addison house. A night she would just as soon forget.

A soft glow shone through the windows of the ground floor, but the bright light coming from a second-floor window illuminating the path caught her attention. A moment of sheer panic rushed through her as her heart pounded like a bass drum. That was the room. That was the room where… no, she put it out of her head. She was here to get her locket. That was all.

As she approached the house, her amazement grew. When she, Randy, and Jimmy had come to explore, the grounds were overgrown, the paint on the front door and window sills peeling, and the shutters falling off.

Now, even in the growing darkness, she could tell that the grounds were immaculate. As she reached for the doorbell pull, she noticed the paint looked fresh. What a difference fifteen years could make. She held her breath until the door opened. A pair of ice-blue eyes met hers.

“Miss Webb. You came.”

Standing before her was a slender woman in her forties, Candice guessed. Her raven black hair pulled into a severe bun with an ornate pearl and emerald hairpin sticking through it. 

“I did. Thank you, Ms. Addison, I am grateful that you found my locket.”

“Come in, dear. We will discuss what you have lost.”

The interior, in shambles when she was fifteen, was well furnished. Elegant lamps and polished wood filled the room where broken lamps and layers of dust had existed fifteen years ago. As she followed Glenda into the parlor, she attempted to tamp down her growing unease. The only sounds she heard were the rustling of Glenda’s silk dress, the ticking of the Grandfather clock, and the beating of her heart. 

“My dear, please have a seat.” Glenda gestured to a beautifully upholstered settee, while she sat across in a small armchair, tucking her black silk skirt around her legs. On the table between them sat a china teapot and two delicate bone china cups.

“May I pour you tea?”

Candice cleared her throat, worried she could not talk but she managed a thank you. She waited as the woman poured the tea. Taking her cup, she took a sip of the hot liquid before she spoke.

“You have done a remarkable job remodeling this house.”

Glenda’s eyes bored into hers, a slight smile curling the corners of her mouth. “You would certainly know about the condition this house was once in. How many years ago was it now since you were here?’

“Uh… I — I was twelve, so, fifteen years.”

“Yes, the house was certainly a disaster then. No one had lived here for many years.”

“Was it your parents who lived here?”

She smiled at Candice. “In a manner of speaking…” She sipped her tea. “This house has been in the family for many years. My parents were among the many that lived here.”

“I am surprised that you found the locket after all of these years.”

“Ah, the locket. It was a surprise for me as well. I only found it a short time ago.”

“In your letter, you said you were leaving here. It seems a shame after making this house so beautiful.”

Gazing around the room, Glenda’s eyes fell on a portrait of a man that hung over the fireplace mantle. “My time here is at an end. Just this one small task left to do.” She sat back in the chair. “My dear, why don’t you tell me about that night that you came to explore.”

Candice’s palms were clammy, and she was trembling. She did not want to recount that night but had known since she got the letter that she would have to tell what had happened. She inhaled such a deep breath her chest heaved. “It was a dare. We were twelve. I had a crush on Randy and he and Jimmy wanted to come here. The house was rumored to be haunted. Of course, it wasn’t but I came with them to show Randy I wasn’t scared.”

“Were you scared?” Glenda’s voice was taunting, and Candice’s chest tightened. Coming here was a bad idea.

“I will admit to being apprehensive, but I didn’t believe in ghosts. I was afraid some homeless guy might be living here.”

“But there wasn’t a homeless person, was there?”

“Uh… no, there wasn’t.” Candice stared at her host. Why had she not noticed how gray Glenda’s skin was.

“Tell me exactly what you did here.” This time her voice was different, weaker, sharper.

“We came in the front door which was barely hanging on its hinges. We walked through the first floor. Jimmy got the idea that there could be something of value left. So, we started looking through drawers and closets. Randy and I didn’t want to, but we were scared of how crazed Jimmy was becoming. We didn’t find anything, and we wanted to leave but Jimmy wanted to go upstairs.”

“Yes, upstairs, where you lost your locket.”

“Yes, but we didn’t find anything up there.” Candice realized her voice was shaking and higher pitched than normal. She took a breath and tried to keep her voice even. “I really need to start back home, Ms. Addison. Could I have my locket?”

Glenda rose. “But of course, my dear. It is upstairs. Follow me.”

Upstairs? Candice did not want to go upstairs but she wanted her locket. She had no choice other than to comply. As they climbed the stairs, she thought how effortlessly Glenda navigated the stairs.

Her heart pounded furiously as she followed Glenda. They turned at the top of the stairs and headed to the room. The room. The room where the light that shone so brightly on the path was located. Glenda entered and turned toward her.

“Come in, my dear.”

She took a step into the room and felt relieved. Glenda had redecorated the room as well. What she had feared was not there. Glancing about the room, she spotted the locket lying on top of a low chest. As she started to walk toward it, she panicked. She could not move. In vain, she struggled to move her legs, paralyzed with fear.

“Not what you were expecting, is it?

“Wha…. What is happening?”

“I only want to hear the truth of that night.”

“Truth? I told you, we came here on a lark. Then Jimmy got all crazed and wanted to find something to take.”

Glenda moved closer to her. “Oh, my dear, you saw him, didn’t you?” 

“Y—yes, we did.”

Walking to the area of the now highly polished floor, Glenda pointed to a spot. “He was right there, fell where I stabbed him. He wanted the family money, the only reason he married me.” She raised her head and turned toward Candice. “He poisoned me, but I discovered what he had done. It was too late then, but I wasn’t going to die alone. He came up here to find my jewelry box, but I hid it. I walked in as he was tearing the room apart looking for it.”

Candice could barely take a breath but when she did, her breath was visible as the room turned frigid. As she watched, Glenda’s skin was grayer, her face thinner as if she was wasting away. She managed to eke out a question. “You—you killed him?”

An evil grin stretched across her mottled skin and the older woman laughed. “Yes. Yes, I did. I thrust the sterling dagger my father gave me for protection into his chest and watched him die. Then a few hours later, I died.”

A small scream escaped Candice. Her voice trembled but she managed to speak. “Why are you here? What do you want?”

Her face more skeleton than flesh, Glenda balled her bony fingers into fists. “His soul was able to leave this plane. But not mine, his family forced to me stay here because I’d killed him. His family was powerful, and that power extended into the astral plane. I cannot cross into the otherworld. I am cursed to remain here or enter the netherworld.”

She spun around, the silk dress now loose and swirling around her diminishing frame. “That night, I welcomed having guests, even if they were three bratty children. I was lurking in the house, but you couldn’t see me. I watched as you touched my things as if they had no meaning. I grew tired of you and the greed. Just like him. Looking for something of value, something that was mine. I followed you upstairs and almost cackled with glee when you spotted his body. Only a skeleton then, the flesh long gone, his clothes dusty and tattered from age.” 

She paused, closing her bulging eyes for a moment. “I decided to scare you. I moaned. You were so startled that you fell, and that other boy grabbed you, yelling that you needed to get out of here.” She pointed to the dresser. “The necklace caught on a raised nail in the floorboard and ripped from your neck as the boy pulled you up. The three of you ran. I followed you as far as the front door.”

“Jimmy…. What happened to Jimmy? He left us at the end of the path. Randy made me come with him. We never knew what happened to him.”

“He was a foolish boy and was going to steal from me. He came back. He had spotted the sterling-handled dagger, his prize. I was not going to allow him to take it. I flew out of the shadows. He was so scared that he fled. But he tripped and fell down the stairs, dead before he reached the foyer. I didn’t mean for him to die but I didn’t want him to steal from me.”

“Why are you doing this?” Candice tried to move, filled with horror as Glenda’s skull was beginning to show under disappearing flesh.

“I am not an unkind person. You did nothing to me, and the locket is of value to you. I could sense that. I accepted my fate. The netherworld awaits me. But…” She paused. “I felt a need to return what was of value to you. I had my belongings taken from me. It was the least I could do.”

Glenda was now only a skeleton. “I created this illusion so that you would feel at ease. I cannot maintain it much longer. Take your locket and go. Now..”

As the control Glenda had over her released, Candice nearly fell to her knees. Struggling, she made her way to the dresser and grabbed the locket. It was icy cold. Turning, she was looking into Glenda’s rotting eyes. Those eyes looked toward the floor where the man’s skeleton, the dagger visible, was now lying. She screamed and ran from the room as the beautiful house began to turn into the ruin she had visited fifteen years before.

Reaching the top of the stairs, she tripped over ripped carpeting. Grabbing the banister, she descended as quickly as she dared only to stumble over an object at the foot of the stairs. She tumbled onto the Oriental rug, dust flying from the impact. She turned over and screamed again. It was a skeleton, and it was wearing the shirt Jimmy was wearing that night. As she scrambled up, Glenda’s voice echoed from the second floor …flee now.

Candice ran through the overgrown yard and across the crumbling stones of the path to her car. Shaking she tried the car door. Locked. Key? What did she do with the key? Pocket, in her pocket. She managed to get the door unlocked and sighed with relief as the car started. She drove away.

~~~~~

Two days later, she remained in her darkened apartment in the city. Drapes drawn to keep out the sunlight. The heat turned up because she could not seem to get warm. Why had she gone? She remained shaken by what she had witnessed. She thought about contacting Randy, but he was now an accountant in their hometown and married. She decided telling him would not change anything.

She didn’t believe in ghosts. It was a hallucination. The only explanation that made sense. Her eyes drifted toward the coat closet. No, no hallucination. When she arrived home, she had placed the locket in a box and tucked it away on the closet shelf. It had happened.

Deciding she needed a distraction, she turned on the TV. The local noon news was on, but she barely listened until a word caught her attention. Addison. She raised the TV volume to hear a reporter, standing on the path in front of the Addison house.

“That’s right, David. This is a bizarre story. This house has stood empty for over sixty years. Sheriff Pratt said that no one, not even kids came out here. However, this is where it gets bizarre. Two nights ago, a man who had taken a wrong turn drove down this little-used road and spotted a light coming from an upstairs window and a car here. He mentioned it to the owner of the town’s only restaurant who told the sheriff. Sheriff Pratt held a press conference a few minutes ago. Let’s listen.” The TV switched to an image of the sheriff. 

“The man told us it was too dark to tell what kind of car, but I sent a deputy out to check on it the next morning. He found the remains of three people, Marcus and Glenda Addison and a twelve-year-old boy, Jimmy Liston. Rumors were that the Addisons abandoned the house after his family suffered a huge financial loss about sixty years ago. Jimmy Liston’s parents reported him as a chronic runaway about fifteen years ago but never found. We believe he may have been seeking shelter and at some point, fell down the stairs and broke his neck.”

Shivers raced from her core to her extremities. It was real. She had been there, and Glenda was a ghost.

She rose from the couch and retrieved the box. She needed to make certain the locket was real. Opening the lid, the soft rose gold of the antique locket glinted the glow from the TV. She touched the oval locket with a fingertip and drew her hand back rapidly.

The locket was icy cold.

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Please visit D. A. on her blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

Amber Williams: Mill Girls

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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Mill Girls 

by Amber Williams

A light glowed in a window of the old millhouse. Hunter lay on his bed covering his eyes from the beams that almost looked aimed at him. Odd they’d have electric power hooked up, he thought sensibly. He was not prone to superstitions other than wondering about his father. All he knew was that his dad had something to do with that old millhouse at the top of the hill at the end of the old railroad tracks.

He navigated his way through the house in the dark. His mom stirred on her couch next to an empty bottle of sweet wine decorating their coffee table. At least she made his favorite dinner, lamb stew. And she called him her favorite son even though he was her only son and only child.

Hunter grabbed his backpack full of safety supplies and headed up the abandoned tracks into the forest of wind pruned trees. It was dark in the mist and moist enough to feel clammy. Dead tree branches broke off, some scraping Hunter’s arms. How could I have forgotten my flashlight? He cursed himself having remembered everything else, a compacted aluminum blanket, work gloves, and a crowbar in case he had to break in. His school’s emergency preparedness course was coming in handy.

As he got closer to the top of the hill, the old millhouse light provided enough visibility to see where he was putting his feet at least. He stood before the stone steps leading up to the front door. A pair of yellow eyes gleamed in the bushes. Something big pounced out and scampered past him with raised hackles. It stopped and looked back. Covered in thick black fur, it was nearly invisible except for those small, close-set light eyes. Hunter grabbed a stick and threw it at him, grazing its side and bouncing off.

The beast ran after it. Hunter put his ear against the front door and could make out muffled sounds like cogs, pistons, and valves churning away.

Someone must be in there. He remembered rumors of hauntings and claims that it was a recluse hideaway for the criminally insane but knew in his rational mind that the old factory had fallen back into the hands of the city. No one would buy the place, allegedly due to toxic waste.

Anyone in there would be trespassing, like when he walked in on his mom and her new boyfriend, an unwanted outsider. He felt that way at school too and had asked his mom repeatedly if they could move to another town, any other town. He hated it here where folks looked down on him. He didn’t even know why.

Hunter took out his crowbar and wedged it between the door and the jam. The door opened unexpectedly with a force that made him have to steady himself.

A paper whooshed out and he caught it under his shoe. “LEAVE!” it said.

“Hello?” Hunter made his presence known.

“Hello-o-o,” his own voice echoed back at him. Only an echo. That’s okay.

Hunter rationalized that the door sounds were nothing more than the noise produced by the covering of one’s ear hard like when you wear earplugs and can hear your own heartbeat or hear the sounds of the sea in a hollow shell.

He went three steps down onto the factory floor. Rows of toppled over machines in disrepair littered the room. Cylinders, drive wheels, condensers, pressure and temperature gauges were strewn about in parts.

Battered wheels started up, grinding round and round, sounding like women weeping and children chattering. Chugging along without wheels the one machine left standing sent a boiler’s steam a whistling, pushing pistons back and forth, whoosh-whoosh, spinning and twisting cotton and wool into yarn and thread, filling tall spools and bobbins.

Hunter jumped when the floorboards vibrated. Dust and soot rose and settled over the tiles. There were dishes and glassware in the open cupboards and broken ones on the counters and floors. The owners must have left in a hurry.

Hunter noticed his hands tingling as if he’d just pilfered a cactus garden. He looked for thorns to take out but got sidetracked by the weakness in his ankles like he’d pedaled his bike all day.

A man’s low voice sputtered, “Ga-unt—” and faded into the machine’s chug-a-lug

“Who’s there?” Hunter looked around holding his crowbar up as a warning.

No one was there but the dust and debris of abandoned industry and its discarded trash. He kicked a huge vent duct, sending it rolling and scraping over long rusty half-inch pipes. The interior walls and ceilings were stripped of copper wires leaving gaping holes where their empty sheaths hung down. Thick spiderwebs covered the corners and doorways. Doors and cupboards hung on single hinges and many were simply missing.

Shadows flickered under a faint light, a candle or kerosene lamp in the first room upstairs. Hunter approached the old dilapidated stairway. The noises abruptly stopped.

“Gun-ter,” the voice called more clearly this time.

“Tell me wha—” The machine started up again with a hair-raising resurgence, masking Hunter’s voice. He threw his crowbar at it to stop all the creepy noises. It ricocheted off an old brick chimney, scorched and chipped, and fell to the floor with a clang.

“Tell me wha—” A delayed echo came back but in the twang of a stranger. Hunter knew he’d never be able to tell anyone he heard an echo that sounded like another person’s voice, he’d be labeled crazy like the last owner of this place.

“I’m Hun-ter with an ae-cha. I live down the tracks.” Hunter answered as quickly as an innocent man under a murder investigation.

“I am the la-sit wa-ne.” Windows slammed shut. “LEAVE!”

A rejection replayed in Hunter’s mind of his mill father being too rich to care about them. His mother was pretty but never married, and her mill baby stigma was never removed. The old factory used mill girls and children for the bulk of their labor since its humble beginnings as a spinning-wheel factory and later when the machines replaced pedal-operated wheels. Hunter hated his father for leaving them.

He perused the old picture frames on the brick wall of peeling paint as he went up the steps. Many of the glass frames were cracked and there were bare spaces of lighter wall color where frames were missing. He stopped at a picture of a gruff old man who looked familiar but the caption under the photo read, “Gunter, Floor Master, 1889.”

“No,” he whispered, glimpsing his reflection in the glass. He gulped down a horrid feeling. The picture looked like him only with a mustache and thick glasses. He had the same long nose and thick bottom lip, an unmistakable resemblance.

Years ago a cousin had called him a half-breed. “Half of what?” his mother had joked dismissively like none of that mattered.

“Were we slaves?” Hunter had asked her. The cousin looked so far down his nose at him he had to hold his head at an uncomfortable angle, likely injuring himself just for that small pleasure.

“I call it slavery,” his mother had said. “Twelve hours a day, six days a week for one dollar after lodging? What would you call it?”

“I’m confused. Didn’t you say the girls liked it?”

“That’s how bad the times were then, yes.” His mom had ended up screaming at him for some stupid thing, then she cried all night. After that Hunter started clamming up when anyone asked him questions about his family.

Hunter hated his heightened fears in the dark and his reluctance to stand up for himself. He stood determinedly in place focusing hard on the fact that he’d grown a little taller, a little stronger and a little older since he’d heard the old stories. Still, his head told him to RUN.

His palms were as wet as a little girl’s as he continued up toward the unseen voice. At the last step, he called out, “Who-who’s there?”

A bony hand jutted out of the first door on the left and dug into the scrapes on his arm. Hunter’s heart leapt against his ribs so hard it hurt. He reached at its bony calcified elbow and it gave him a shove so hard he jumped back on the disintegrating wood of the top step. It gave way a crack at a time. Once split it was only a matter of seconds till the weight of his body fell through.

Hunter gave a powerful scream and held on with one hand securely over the edge of the next step down, enough to grapple his other hand over it too. He kicked up his legs and got both feet around the decorative railing and started to inch his feet to the tip so he could pull them around. He got one leg around to the inside and used the railway for leverage to bring his other foot up.

The railway fell away. Metal bounced off cement.

A thin pale girl peeped out. Thick brown braids hung out of a baggy white bonnet cutely tied under her chin. She ran to him with open arms and tripped as if she were blind. Reaching for the railing that was no longer there, she fell. Hunter reached for her little hand, almost touching the tips of her fingers but his hand seemed to go right through hers. She flew headfirst onto the floor below with an audible snap.

I’m at the beach, I’m at the beach, he told himself, trying not to vomit. The dizzies got to him. Visualizing his safe place, he held on tight and slowly looked down in horror. The girl was gone.

It’s not real, he told himself, shaking his head out hard.

A bitter cold chill blew in and the steps iced over like the ground in winter. Hastily he dug his fingernails into the worn old carpet. The carpet was drenched and stretched out with his weight. It ripped from one end, slow at first. Hunter held on as the rip continued till he dropped one story down with a thud.

“Damn it!” He tried to get up on his feet. Wincing down on his backside in defeat, he looked up to see a huge cotton bale coming down on him. It was heavy and full of wires, crushing his legs.

The room was pin-drop quiet. An ominous creaking came from the front door. Hunter struggled to push and kick the heavy thing off him with his one foot that wasn’t in pain. Coughing and choking, he raised his head to see a bristly whiskered snout nose its way in, followed by the kind of piercing eyes that bore fear into the hearts of grown men. A low growl emanated from behind bared teeth. It looks hungry.

Hunter pushed himself to his knees and up into an agony of pain like he’d never experienced before. He presumed it to be a badly sprained ankle and sucked it up, tore through the spider webs blocking the kitchen door frame and limped in. Hiding behind the wall, catching his breath, he grabbed a bolt off the floor and rolled it into the big room hoping the creature would give chase.

No luck this time. The creature continued its slow approach unfazed. It stalked around the corner, sniffed and examined Hunter’s pant leg. Hot flashes zoomed up his spine. Hunter hoped against hope that the fetch trick might work better with a smelly old shoe. That was his only weapon besides the crowbar. The crowbar. 

The day’s soda pop came up in a burp and the hairy beast jumped up on Hunter and put his nose to Hunter’s nose, peering directly into his eyes. Hunter froze. Long, mournful calls outside made it obvious there was more than one. The wolf put all fours on the ground and returned a deep howl. Great, the whole pack will know I’m here.

He took off his smelly shoe, grimacing as his ankle turned. Teasing the wolf with it, waving it in front of its nose he threw it as far as he could, hoping at least for a split-second distraction. When the wolf turned its head, Hunter hobbled out a side door and slammed it shut as quickly as possible. He stopped, leaned back on it and breathed, scorning himself for risking more than a sneak of wine back at home where it was safe.

He limped around to the front tracks with one shoe off. There was no sign of the creatures, but another hissing pulsed in his ears. Smoke rose up from the tracks. It was an old steam engine making its way uphill. The engine’s noise grew deafening as it continued upon direct approach.

A man dressed in a two-toned suit looking half soiled ran down the tracks heading right for the train. Hunter ran after him. “Stop. Wait. I want to talk to you. Please!”

The stranger veered to depart the tracks just as the train was upon him and his pant leg caught on a railroad tie. Hunter staggered off the tracks as fast as he could. He grabbed the nearest tree and hid to brace himself from the impact.

When he heard nothing he looked out, but the man was gone. Only his pants were left on the tracks alongside one lone shoe. Hunter looked up and down the tracks and saw no engine coming or going. Maybe a special display of the old line was being made, he tried to assure himself until he saw the railroad tracks all but disappeared under sections of dirt.

Freaked out and in pain, he grabbed the two biggest tree limbs he could find, pulled off the side stems and used them as crutches to make his way back down the tracks.

His underarms took on scrapes as the whistling winds whipped at his back chasing him down like that old engine. He sped up as fast as he could, tripping, falling and summoning the might to get back on that painful shoeless leg again and again. He had to look down to see if it was still there at one point, but it had just gone numb.

His phone played his favorite ringtone. It was his mom. “What on Earth have you done?” she scolded.

After seeing his condition she insisted on taking him to the hospital. The doctor said, “It’s a good thing you brought him in here, ma’am. His fibula was fractured in two places.”

“Oh my gosh.” Hunter’s mom gave him a big sloppy kiss and a bear hug and gazed into his eyes. “Now you tell the doctor everything you saw up there,” she demanded after hearing his bizarre rantings on the way over.

They sat on the waiting room chairs under the bright fluorescent lights. Hunter reached for the “LEAVE” paper he’d tucked in his pocket and pulled out only a big leaf that crumpled in his hand. It was all so strange.

“Mom, did you ever work in the old millhouse?  I know I’m not supposed to talk about it, but—”

“What? Who told you you couldn’t talk about it?”

“You did. I mean you get so upset whenever I mention anything about Dad or the family.”

The doctor butted in and encouraged Hunter to share anything he wanted, and Hunter was eager for explanations.

“Son that’s a very polluted place with old dyes and oils leaching out half-life chemicals we don’t even know about. There could be mercury and lead in there, for sure asbestos. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were high on pollution. Just to be on the safe side though,” the doc stopped and addressed Hunter’s mom. “Do you have any history of mental illness in the family?”

Hunter’s mom looked hypnotized. “It’s important, Mrs. Millhouse.”

“Well I wasn’t ready to tell Hunter yet but since it’s all coming out anyway.” She took a deep breath. “Your father and I were unable to save up for a wedding much less anything else after the automation took over. He ran in front of a train when you were just a baby. Strange thing is they never found the body, just his pants, and a shoe with a foot still in it. They think the wolves took him.”

“Oh, my gosh mom. Did you know a man named Gunter?” He knew more questions might send his mom into a tantrum, but he had to break the old myths open.

His mother looked up wide-eyed. “I guess you’re old enough to handle it. Gunter was said to be your grandfather and your grandmother was a millhouse chaperone. The chaperones were the ladies hired to watch over the safety of the mill girls. All the working girls were to remain unmarried and childless. Any couplings resulted in banishment. Two chaperones disappeared mysteriously one particularly cold winter. Your grandfather never acknowledged a pregnancy and mill girls received no dowries. Your father was quickly adopted out with a stipend to avoid a scandal. We were raised as brother and sister.” Mrs. Millhouse paused. “Are you shocked?”

“No mom, no. I feel better knowing the truth. Crazy is in the family and on the supposed good side too.” Not just me.

Speeding home in the car, Hunter’s mom said, “I’m glad you finally asked me about your father. I just didn’t know how to bring it up. You always got so distant whenever I tried.”

“Did grandma wear a bonnet?”

“Women kept many secrets under their bonnets.”

Wolf dogs crossed the road. The last one looked over with its close-set yellow eyes, pointed its snout towards the three-quarter moon and howled. Hunter felt the tugging of kinship, something that would always remind him of the night he found out about his father. He looked back and the light was out at the old millhouse.

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Dr. Paul’s Family Talk: Les Edgerton

Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on Impact Radio USA

Host Paul W. Reeves of “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on Impact Radio USA has provided many interesting and informative interviews with authors, some members of Writers Unite!, who have impacted the world of writing. We will be posting these interviews periodically so that you can enjoy listening to the experiences and advice these authors offer.

Join host and WU! admin, Paul W. Reeves as he talks with award-winning author and writing coach Les Edgerton from the first interview they did on February 26, 2018.

Click to listen to the podcast of the radio show interview:   https://pod.co/impact-radio-usa/author-les-edgerton-2-26-18

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Les Edgerton, a highly prolific and gifted author and teacher from Indiana, called in to discuss his books, the writing process, his life, and his writing classes.

From his Amazon page: “Les Edgerton has published eighteen books, the latest being “Bomb!” from Gutter Press and the black comedy crime novel, “The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping” from Down & Out Press. One of his most popular books is the writer’s text, “Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go.” His own favorite is his collection, titled, “Monday’s Meal,” which received a glowing review from the NY Times in which he was compared favorably to Raymond Carver.”

​To learn more about Les Edgerton and to order his books and register for his classes, please visit the following websites:

http://www.amazon.com/Les-Edgerton/e/B000APH7SI/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1519653083&sr=8-1

http://lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com

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Host Paul Reeves

A product of the Detroit area, Wayne State University, and Eastern Michigan University, Paul W. Reeves, Ed.D, has spent over 30 years as a professional educator and musician, as well as his work as a radio talk show host and author.

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IMPACT RADIO USA provides the best in news, talk, sports, and music 24 hours a day, 52 weeks per year. Launched in the spring of 2017, their goal is to keep you as the most informed Internet Radio audience. Click on the link below for the station’s complete show lineup!

http://www.impactradiousa.com
(click on the LISTEN NOW button)

Calliope Njo: Baxter

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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( Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)  

Baxter

By Calliope Njo

I suppose I should have expected it. Baxter hadn’t been himself for a while. He didn’t greet me at the door like he used to or find the ball so we could play fetch at the park. I’d like to think the squirrels missed him too. About the only thing he did was eat and sleep. The final decision was done out of love.

When I bought the house, the furniture went in first but it still needed something. I got a dog and he fit in perfectly. The house was complete. 

Since his death though, no familiar pair of brown eyes when I peered down the hallway or the noise he made while he slept. My once warm bed turned cold. The house felt incomplete again.

I complained every morning I had to wake up early to be sure he got his daily walk in. It felt funny to sleep in and it still did. I went back to the old schedule and became a member of a gym instead of sleeping the extra hour. Funny how it worked out.

I had two weeks coming, and that’s what I did. Grandpa had a cabin up in the woods and I took advantage of his offer. He warned me though that come Halloween, I had to be wary of the Nightmare Hound. An evil dog that if seen, would kill anyone and take away their soul to his master. Even though the story was hard to believe, I gave Grandpa a big smile. “Okey-dokey.”

He laughed and gave me the keys.

I smiled when I imagined Baxter running around chasing all the squirrels up into the trees. He would have loved this cabin.

Grandpa never mentioned wolves in the area, so when I heard howling, I wondered. Could have been the Nightmare Hound, but he spoke of no noise the hound would have made. I went back to sleep with that thought in mind.

Between hiking and fishing, I kept busy during the day. Made a trip down the hill to the local town. Scarecrows, Jack O’Lanterns, and decorated shops spoke of the coming holiday.

The cafe had a Halloween special. Mummy meatloaf, spooky scalloped potatoes, and ghostly green beans. I couldn’t stop laughing and only hoped that it tasted better than it sounded. The waitress told me I had better be careful because the cook was looking for brains. She pointed him out and he poked his head out. No mask but he had enough makeup on for me to believe he turned into a zombie.

The dessert sounded perfect, Goblin Berry Pie. The goblin berry was a mixed berry filling but delicious with a scoop of ice cream. A little too much to devour, and may have to pay for it by waddling, but it was all good. Baxter would have inhaled the potatoes and the green beans with a modified recipe of course. That mixed-up mutt would have had it, anyhow.

With all that food in my stomach, I had to do some serious hiking the next day to work it off. About halfway there, that howling came again. It sounded louder which made me think it came closer. Could it be after me?

I turned on my flashlight and quickened my step a little to beat that beast back home. I got in and secured the door. It might not have made a difference but it made me feel better.

A dog barked from somewhere. “Hold on a minute buddy boy you’re—” What did I say? Baxter died so how could that have been him plus it was lower in pitch. Maybe I needed sleep.

Changed my clothes and cleaned up a bit, and I climbed into bed with thoughts of sleep so I must’ve been tired. Something woke me up. I couldn’t quite place the noise. Something in between a hiss and a growl. I opened my eyes to see bright red eyes boring into me. It was dark but the strange thing was that I could tell a dog was staring at me. I never thought it was possible for something to be darker than dark.

No, it couldn’t be. An old story from an old man. That’s all. Get to sleep and it’ll go away. Yeah, and if I told myself that enough times, I might’ve believed it.

I could tell it was going to be an excellent day with the birds singing and the sun shining. A new day lay ahead. Whatever happened last night must’ve been something created from my loss of Baxter. 

Another day spent hiking up into the woods. A shame nobody was around. I thought it would’ve been perfect to get a fire going and roast some marshmallows with someone. “Hey, Bax—” I had to stop. Sixteen and a half years of doing the same thing. I wasn’t sure if it was a good habit or bad.

After reality reminded me, I put away the marshmallows and went into the cabin. After the fire came alive in the fireplace, I couldn’t help but see Baxter as he would beg and yelp for a marshmallow. Well, time to call it a night.

No supper but I didn’t think I was hungry either. Maybe I ate too much the night before. On the other hand, eating wasn’t so much fun anymore without my partner.

I had to shake him. Maybe that’s not right. How about trying to let him go? That would be better. Otherwise, I would’ve sounded like a cruel human.

Needed to close my eyes and think good thoughts. The trees, the birds that seemed to find me and snatch whatever food I might’ve brought with me, and the atmosphere. Clean and clear with a good breeze that blew across my face.

Where did that stench come from? Beyond description sort of smell. The need to see overrode the need for sleep and those same red eyes bored into me again. Except it wasn’t from a distance. Its nose touched mine. Back up and crawl out of bed as fast as possible and be sure to keep it in your sights or else it might strike.

I forgot all about the floor. After a hard drop, I somehow stood up and ran. It snarled as it chased after me. The bark it had told me it meant business. So any thoughts of throwing anything to distract it wouldn’t work.

Behind the couch would’ve been a good place to hide, but that thing weighed a ton. The bare cupboards in the kitchen were the only place left. I crouched under the sink and waited. It got cold, and I knew it wasn’t because of my hiding place. It had to be that monster.

It waited right outside. That growl and those eyes were clear even with the door closed. I didn’t know what to do.

I wish you were here, Baxter. I loved you buddy boy.

I heard a dog bark. Not that evil thing but a dog. It had to be Baxter. I’d know that noise anywhere.

The door opened enough for me to look and that thing turned around as well. At last, my chance to get out and run back to the room.

With the door secured, I breathed. Sounded silly but I had no idea if I did at all. That thing found me and it broke through.

I somehow broke away and climbed on top of the bed. I watched as Baxter bit the dog’s leg. The dog turned around and went after Baxter.

Baxter jumped high in the air at the same time that demon dog did. He got a hold of that demon’s throat. I screamed his name. I didn’t want him to die. Not like that.

The demon dog howled and a black substance escaped its throat. A bright light flashed and the two disappeared.

I knew what happened and that Baxter saved me. The problem was how to explain it without sounding like I lost my mind.

I sat on the bed and cried. “Oh, Baxter. Buddy boy. You saved me. Thank you and I do love you.” 

The pillow felt so good under my head. Maybe, at last, I could get some sleep.

It wasn’t time to go home yet, but it didn’t feel right staying there. The events lingered in my head as I tried to sort out the events while my heart screamed and cried. Life had to go on and so did I. Some things couldn’t be forgotten and this event would never be forgotten.

I made it back home and got around to cleaning everything and throwing away Baxter’s things. Since I didn’t have a dog, there was no sense in keeping it. I could always get new stuff when I got a new dog. That would only be right.

Oh, what was I thinking? The laundry had to be done, Baxter’s old bowls and bed needed to be thrown out and all of his hair needed to be vacuumed up.

Before I could start though, someone rang my doorbell. I opened the door. “Oh, Grandpa. I was honestly going to drop by tomorrow. I wanted to get some cleaning done before then. Come in.” I waved him in.

“Well, I’m not alone.” I didn’t notice before he brought my attention to it, but he had a dog in his arms. “I brought this little one with me. She’s a year and a half, potty trained, loves liver, and a bit of a snuggler. If it’s too soon, I understand and I’ll keep her for you. Oh and her name’s Biscuit ’cause she’s biscuit colored.” He smiled.

Oh, Baxter. You had a sister and you didn’t tell me. “Tell you what. I have to get some cleaning done. So how about if I come to pick her up on Sunday morning. It’s Friday, so by then I should have everything cleaned and all of the supplies I would need. How’s that?”

“That’s perfect. See ya then.”

“Bye, Grandpa.” I closed the door. Then that night flashed in my head. I didn’t need to bring it up with him. He might think I went bonkers. That night was between me, God, and Baxter. More cleaning to get done if I was going to make it by Sunday.

* * *

Grandpa closed the door behind him. “Biscose, do you promise to protect my granddaughter for all that you are worth? If not, I will find another to take your position. That demon will not take my family.”

Biscuit transformed into a woman. “Yes. I do. I will protect her from the demons that linger. That is my duty.”

“Good. Sunday, your duty will begin. I suggest you rest until then.”

Biscose nodded and lay on the couch.

Grandpa poured himself a brandy while he looked into the fire. “No demon will dare take away the only thing that I hold dear. I would sacrifice myself before that happened. He must find another way to satisfy his greed.” He drank his brandy and stared into the fire.

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Please visit Calliope on her blog at https://calliopenjosstories.home.blog

Sarah Anne Steckel: A Vintage Affair

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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( Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)  

A Vintage Affair

By Sarah Anne Steckel

Newo had fallen asleep in Vortex’s arms as he walked the long city blocks to the motel they were staying at. Clutching her body tightly to his chest with one arm, he used his free hand to search for the keys in his pocket and unlocked the door. Gracefully he carried her over the threshold and placed her gently on the bed, but when he turned around to close the door, he found an unwanted bystander in the door frame.

Vortex sighed loudly, and unknowingly to the other person, rolled his solid black eyes. “Oh, of course. You always show up when it’s the most inconvenient, don’t you?”

“It’s only inconvenient for you,” Calamity snorted as he laughed, and walked into the center of the ratty motel room. He glanced over at the sleeping Newo, pulled his flask out of his pocket and shook hits contents gently, then shot Vortex a conniving grin. “She’s always safe and secure with big brother Vortex around, hm?”

“Definitely not her brother,” Vortex quipped as he closed the door. He watched Calamity carefully, as a frown formed on his face. “But I’m yours.”

Calamity smiled, and silently opened his flask and took a large gulp. As he put it back in whatever pocket it had come from, his smile managed to grow even larger. “Sure are, brother.”

An uncomfortable silence filled the room. Calamity’s gaze was glued to Newo, and Vortex couldn’t help but stare at him as he stared at Newo. He watched as Calamity idly began to drum his fingers against his thigh, and as soon as he began to bounce one of his legs, Vortex sighed loudly and groaned. “Why do you still do this?”

“It’s my mission,” Calamity promptly replied, as if he knew Vortex was going to ask it. “I have to complete it to please the Elders.”

“Do you really think they’re still up there, Cal?”

“Why wouldn’t they be? They created us, sent us down here to do a job, why wouldn’t they want us back?”

Vortex raised his left hand up and pinched the space between his browline with his thumb and index finger. He withheld a sigh that he wanted to express, and wound up shaking his head from side to side instead. “I don’t think you’ve realized how long it’s been since you last made contact, why would they wait around for you this long? They didn’t wait this long to send me, or you! I think once you went AWOL, they would have sent a fourth! They’ve given up… You need to take the hint and give your mission up. You won’t get to her — it’ll never happen as long as I’m around.”

Calamity raised his gaze to the sleeping Newo and clenched his jaw tightly as he said through gritted teeth, “Of course, always safe with big brother Vortex…”


The stone that struck Newo’s windowpane was barely audible, even in the still of night, and failed to rouse her from her light slumber. The second and third strikes were much louder and caused her to stir from her bed and stumble over to her window and open it. Down on the ground below stood a tall man wearing a dark cloak and a wide-brimmed hat. With swiftness, he lifted up a jug that was hidden at his side and shook the contents inside and whispered loudly, “Newo, I stole this jug of bourbon! Sneak outta the house and come drink it with me!”

“It’s best that I don’t, my husband—”

“It’s Vortex!” Calamity hissed loudly. “Don’t give me that bullocks, Newo! Come on!”

She glanced over her shoulder to catch a glance of the sleeping Vortex; his feet were sticking partially off the bed due to his long frame. Closing the window she spun around and placed a soft kiss on his forehead before exiting the room. Grabbing a cloak, she quietly opened the front door and silently slipped from the house. She turned to face Calamity and excitedly giggled at him before she wrapped her arm around his elbow and took off alongside of him in a brisk walk.

“Where are we going?”

“This abandoned house I found,” Calamity replied. He drew the arm that Newo was clutching tighter to his body, in turn pulling Newo closer to him. As the trail they were walking on eroded away, he pulled his arm from her grasp and wrapped it around her shoulders nonchalantly. The treeline began to grow denser, and soon enough Newo only saw the moon’s light through the scattered gaps between the jack pines as they continued to walk. Up on the hill in front of them, there was a bright yellow light that seemed to be floating in the sky, a beacon of light that was guiding their way, but as she marched closer she realized that it was only a lantern in the second-story window of a small farmhouse.

“It’s up here.”

“I thought you said that it was abandoned…” Newo motioned to the light.

“I put it there before I came to get you. Don’t wanna be wandering around the woods all night, when we could be up there drinkin’.”

The empty first floor was completely dark, but the light from the lantern on the second floor illuminated the stairway, and with ease, she walked over to them. Following Calamity’s lead, she tip-toed up the stairwell to an open second floor. In the corner of the room, by the window the lantern was perched in, lay a large straw mattress that he flopped onto. As he opened the jug of alcohol, he patted the spot beside him. “Come, sit.”

She glanced around the walls of the empty room, perhaps a bit nervously, before she walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. “I apologize again that I didn’t recognize you at first. It’s strange because I always recognize Vortex…”

Calamity shrugged, took a swig from the jug, then handed it to her. “We hadn’t seen one another in a long time… Since the temple fell, right? You see Vort a lot more, don’t you?”

“Almost every lifetime.” Newo smiled warmly and took a small sip.

“Damn,” Calamity snorted. “And you’re not sick of him yet?” He took the jug back and took a second drink, gulping the bourbon down this time.

“No, I—”

“Tell me,” Calamity interrupted her, ignoring the vague look of annoyance on her face. “Do you remember everything from the last time we saw one another?”

“I…” Newo closed her eyes and tried to dredge the memories up from the bottom of her memory. “You two were in the same army platoon… You were staying at the temple I was at for sanctuary. I saw you both talking to the monks, then Vortex approached me like he always did. And you…”

“I sat and observed, I listened to you two as you caught up, watched as you embraced. I ate alongside you in silence; it was hours before you inquired as to who I was.”

The open bourbon jug was pushed into her side, and this time she was more carefree with the gulps she drank down. Sputtering liquor as she fought back a laugh she ashed, “Calamity… were you jealous?”

“I… I, uh…” His gaze dropped to his lap and he sighed.

His mind wandered to his own memories, the feelings of captive enchantment he felt when he looked upon Newo for the very first time; she was the walking embodiment of the sun, her tawny skin and bright pink hair caused him to feel butterflies flapping around in his stomach. The first time she turned to him and smiled, he recalled a feeling of overwhelming exuberance. Then the oppressive feeling of dread overcame him as he realized that it was his mission to eliminate her. In that very moment, Calamity was dreadfully torn between a growing lust, a gleaming hope that there was someone else on this planet who was like him, someone who had similar experiences as him… or to his sworn duty, the only obligation he was required to complete so he could return to his creators and make his name as the only successful experiment.

“Hey Newo…” He broke the silence with a change of subject. “Tell me a story.”

“A story?” She watched as he nodded his head, and she couldn’t help but see him as an excited child right in that moment. “Oh, well I suppose. Let’s make ourselves comfortable, and I will.”

She leaned up against the wall, and as soon as she was situated, Calamity crawled over next to her and placed his head in her lap. She began to protest, but he rolled on to his back and closed his eyes, as if not seeing her face was his way of ignoring her. Newo only sighed, shook her head, and tried her best to think up something creative.

“At the beginning of time there was a lonely planet; it brimmed with the essentials of life but it had no creatures inhabiting it. The planet cried to God, ‘give me life!’ And so God gave it hairy bipedal creatures. The creatures fared not well, dying of famine and sickness quite quickly. Again, the planet cried out to God, ‘you gave me life, but it knows not what to do with my gifts of food or water, please, help them, teach them!’ And again, God complied. Black rain fell upon the planet and coated the dimwitted bipedal creatures; although they became sick, those that survived grew stronger and began to advance. The planet grew quiet, quite content with its slowly thriving life.”

Newo found herself running her fingers idly through Calamity’s dark hair; she could hear him softly breathing and softly smiled.

“What next?” he asked in a whisper.

“God grew curious about how the planet and its creatures were doing, so it sent a newly created experiment down with the sole directive to observe. At first, the experiment was more than happy to be useful, and do its duty. But as she observed the bipeds and their growth, their love of community and communication, she began to grow lonely. Her mission complete, she attempted to return home to no avail. God forbid her back, in fear that she would contaminate heaven. Lonely beyond belief, God’s experiment began to learn a new directive, to want. A want to feel included with the growing people, to live amongst them and perhaps try to even be one of them.”

She looked down at Calamity’s relaxed face and pulled her fingers gently from his hair. In a low voice, she mumbled, “And there was a newly formed guilt that resided there, as well…”


Calamity broke his transfixed stare of the sleeping Newo and walked over to the small folding table set by the window and sat down. The light from the streetlamps in the parking lot flooded in between the small blind slats, drenching him in a zebra-striped light pattern across his face and torso. Instead of a flask, Calamity pulled a pack of cigarettes out from his pocket and lit one. As he exhaled a plume of smoke he asked, “Why’d you do it?”

“Do what?” Vortex furrowed his brows and wrinkled his nose.

“Let me rephrase, why didn’t you do it? Your job? What made you turn against your programming?”

“When I met Newo she was completely deranged, the people she had longed to be with had shunned her; she was unable to return home. Through a few lifetimes, I watched her regain her sanity and want to go on living once more. I was unable to tear that away. And…” Vortex’s gaze wavered between Calamity and Newo, before settling on Calamity and saying with an obvious tone, “Well, I fell in love.”

“Huh.” Calamity took another drag from his cigarette, snickered, then exhaled. He stood up from the chair and walked over to the front door, turning the knob all the way before turning back to look at Vortex. “Something that sounds so trivial, strong enough to make you go against your only prerogative… A crazy thing, love.”

With the door now partially opened, Calamity stared through the crack between the door and the frame. He lingered there for several long seconds as if he were thinking of something witty or melodramatic to say, but instead all he was able to muster was a “Well… good night, then, brother,” before he slipped out of the door. Vortex stood in the silent room for several long quiet seconds before he sat down in the chair that Calamity was formerly sitting in, and sighed deeply.

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*Feeling lost? Go back to the start!*

Paula Shablo: Wherever it leads you

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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Wherever It Leads You

By Paula Shablo

Daddy was never blessed with a son, but that didn’t mean he would have nothing to teach his six daughters. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing we couldn’t do that a boy could do — except pee standing up.

Growing up, we spent a great deal of our time out in the wilderness, camping, and fishing. Mom was always up for an adventure and had no objections to having us learn how to bait a hook, clean a fish and start a campfire.

My parents believed that everyone should know how to survive in case survival became necessary. I learned to shoot a rifle when I was eight, but only on the shooting range. I had no interest in hunting. Like Mom, I would stay at camp while Dad and my sisters went after deer or elk. Dad never forced the issue; you like to hunt or you don’t, he always said.

The point was if I had to hunt, I had the skills to do it. I could hit a target with a gun or an arrow, and I actually won a few ribbons in archery when I was younger. My older sister and I took police firearms classes so we could improve our skills with moving targets, various light conditions and more.

She’s a cop now, a good one. Her shooting skills far surpass most of her peers.

I’m still shooting too, but these days I mostly use cameras.

Dad gave us compasses and made sure we knew how to use them. We could read maps. We could find our way back to our camp no matter where Dad left us — and he used to really go out of his way to get us lost because he wanted us to know how to find our way if we ever really had to.

Sometimes it was a little scary, trying to get back to camp alone. The truth was, we were never really alone. Dad was always nearby, watching and ready to rescue us if we went off track. We didn’t know that until later, of course; he’d tell Mom the whole story of one or the other of us being lost in the woods, once we’d rejoined the family in camp.

By the time it was my turn to be “lost,” I had heard enough stories to know Dad was taking care of me. Even so, it was scary. What if he took a wrong turn and lost sight of me? Then we’d both be lost!

Well, that never happened, of course.

We all grew up; got jobs; found loves and lost loves; found new loves or gave it up as a lost cause.

That last would be me. Get it wrong enough times, you decide all you really need is a dog.

Now, all that is history in my life, but it’s important, because of where I am now.

I never believed I would actually have to use the lessons I learned growing up, but now I’m tramping through this dense growth of woods. I’m using the compass I always carry with me as a reminder of the beloved father who has gone on to the next world. I have a handgun tucked into the waistband of my jeans, wishing it had been there earlier instead of in my backpack. If it had been, I could have killed that stupid black bear before he snapped my poor dog in half.

God, I loved that dog! She was my best friend. The young girl who refused to hunt instantly turned into a woman who had not one qualm about shooting a bear dead as a cold stone. Didn’t think twice about spitting on the damned thing, either.

Killed my friend, you stupid bear, take that!

Thanks, Dad, for making sure I could shoot.

The private plane went down hours ago. Everyone else is dead. I don’t know how Jo-Jo and I made it out alive. She was lying on top of me when I came to. We were in open air, because half the plane was gone. We found the other half about an hour after we started walking east.

I don’t want to talk about what we found in either half of the plane, except for the food and drinks I was able to salvage from the galley. I stuffed my backpack with as much as I could carry without dumping too many extra clothes. I figured I might have to layer them for warmth later.

I’d left the gun in a side pocket of the pack — damn my hide. Too many wasted seconds dropping the pack and digging out the gun. Poor Jo-Jo.

At least I have my gun and some ammunition. Flying private has some advantages, including having my dog in a seat instead of a crate. We were headed for a photo shoot. Some government thing that wasn’t clearly explained to me, which makes me wonder what really happened with the plane.

I have no idea where I am. Damn my secretive agent for sending me on this job! The pay sounded great at the time…

My phone is useless. No signal. I record a bit of what I’m doing now, but mostly, I keep it turned off to save the battery.

Well.

Dad always told us to find a path, or a road, or a stream or river, and follow it wherever it leads you.

Good advice if you can find one of those things.

He also said to use the compass, choose a direction and keep to it. No going in circles. Walk a straight line.

I chose east, God knows why. I’ve walked a long way alone. I miss my best friend. I keep talking to her and then remembering she’s not here. I want to cry, really cry, but I can’t.

So I leak, and I walk. I count my steps and every 100 paces, I check my compass. Weaving through trees can put a person off track if they’re not careful — another of Dad’s lessons.

I can’t see the sun through all this foliage, but the quality of light is fading fast when I finally find this track.

Find a path, and follow wherever it leads you.

Okay, Dad.

But it’s a strange track. I thought at first it was a railroad line, but when I got close enough, I could see that it was lined with wood, not iron. It’s some sort of path. Maybe a hiking trail. That would be good.

The bridge just ahead doesn’t look so good, though. The light shining through should look welcoming, but it’s making me nervous instead.

Is it a bridge? Does this path lead through it — or past it?

Why would there be a window, if it is a bridge?

Is somebody in there?

I make up my mind: Not tonight. Nope! Not me.

I back off the trail and into the trees. I settle behind some bushes. There are berries, but I can’t see well enough to guess if they’re safe to eat. Maybe in the morning.

I can still see the path; I hope no one can see me.

I eat airplane pretzels and drink a coke and finally have a good cry over my little Jo-Jo.

I’m not going any farther right now. I can wait until daylight. Wherever it leads you, be damned — at least for tonight.

I layer on extra clothes and using my backpack for a pillow, I cry myself to sleep.

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Please visit Paula on her blog: https://paulashablo.wordpress.com

Lynn Miclea: Swirls of Mist

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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Swirls of Mist

by Lynn Miclea

Cassie frantically looked around at the trees, her heart pounding. How could she have gotten lost? She had followed the path into the woods and explored a little to spend some time in nature. And somehow she had gotten turned around.

Now she looked at all the trees surrounding her. A layer of mist covered much of the ground, swirling in places, making it hard to see. Everything looked the same. Which way did she come in? Which direction was the way out?

She walked a little farther and hesitated. Was she going in the right direction? A sound reached her, and she wasn’t quite sure what she heard. Looking around, she noticed a cabin a short distance away. Her body shivered as she gazed at it, trying to decide what to do.

A scream pierced the air. It was a man’s scream and it came from the cabin. Her throat knotted up. Not sure what to do, she hid behind a tree, eyes glued to the cabin.

A young man suddenly raced out of the cabin and into the woods to her right. He looked terrified and desperate.

A minute later two older men rushed out of the cabin. “James, where are you?” one of the men shouted in an angry, gruff voice. “You know we’re gonna find you.”

“And you’ll be sorry when we do,” the other man yelled. “We’re not finished with you.”

“Come on, James, don’t make this harder on yourself. Where are you?”

They waited, listening.

Silence.

“Well, he couldn’t have gotten too far,” the first man said.

“I’ll go this way,” the second man said, turning to the left, “and you go that way.” He pointed to the back, behind the cabin. “We’ll find him.”

The two men split up and headed in different directions. Cassie didn’t move, careful to not make a sound.

She knew she needed to help James. Trying to be as quiet as possible, she crept after him. Where was he? She heard a soft rustle and saw him move near a tree a short distance away. She could hear his ragged breathing as he limped.

Keeping her steps as quiet as she could, she followed James. When she got closer to him, she whispered, “Don’t be scared.”

James gasped and turned to face her, his eyes wide with fright.

“I won’t hurt you. Please don’t be scared. My name is Cassie. I can help you.” She kept her voice low. “Are you hurt?”

He nodded. “A little. But we need to get out of here. Now.”

“Lean on me if you need to,” she whispered, moving closer and offering her arm. “Do you know which way is out? I am lost myself.”

“I’m not sure. But they went the other way, so let’s go this way.”

They slowly made their way through the woods, stepping over roots and walking between the trees, trying to stay quiet. The mist spun in circles around the area, making it difficult to know where to step.

They paused for a moment and listened. The men’s voices sounded far away. They turned and kept walking. The mist curled around them as they tramped over the ground, trying to make as little noise as possible. Mist settled on the ground and whispers filled the air.

Cassie shivered. “Do you hear that?”

James nodded. “Yes. Let’s just keep moving.”

The mist swirled in front of them and thickened. “This way,” the mist seemed to whisper.

Goosebumps rose on Cassie’s arms. “Did you hear that?”

“Yes.” James looked around, searching the woods.

“This way.” A dense swirl of mist rose up before them. “I can help you.”

Cassie gasped and grabbed James’ arm, and they took a step back.

The mist swirled and thickened. “Trust me. I will help you.”

Cassie leaned toward James. “Should we trust it?”

James hesitated. “I don’t know which way to go on my own. Maybe it can help us.”

The mist swirled and led the way through the trees, and Cassie and James followed as they continued deeper into the woods. The mist led them over the rough ground and then veered to the right toward a small clearing.

Shouts from the two men sounded closer now, and Cassie shivered.

“Why are you helping us?” Cassie asked the mist.

The mist swirled in front of them. “This is my woods. I choose who lives and who dies here. Those are bad men. I will take care of them. But first I will save you. Leave those men to me.” The mist then moved forward again, scooting around the clearing and bringing them to a path. “This path will take you out. It is not much farther.”

“Thank you,” James said, as he grabbed Cassie’s hand. They scurried down the path, Cassie trying to support James as he limped and they made their way forward.

After a short distance they reached a small, familiar parking lot. Cassie’s car and a dark van were parked in the lot. As they entered the parking lot, the screams of two men split the air. Cassie and James looked at each other.

Cassie quickly unlocked the doors and they got in her car. She turned to James. “I know it’s none of my business, but why were they trying to kill you?”

He let out a long breath. “I had witnessed a crime.” He paused for a few moments. “I saw them kill someone. They knew I saw them and they did not want any witnesses who could identify them.” He rubbed his face. “I’m sorry you were part of this. But thank you for helping me.”

Cassie nodded. “Do you need to go to the hospital?”

James hesitated. “Later. First I need to go to the cops. Please.” He laid his head back on the headrest and closed his eyes.

Cassie started the car and slowly drove over the gravel through the gate and approached the two-lane road. The mist swirled around the car and the parking lot and the hair stood up on her neck. She heard the gate creak shut behind them as she turned onto the road.

—————————

Copyright © 2019 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

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Please also visit Lynn’s blog, like the story there, and follow her at – https://wp.me/p4htbd-pZ

Please also visit Lynn’s website for more information on her books – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/

Lisa Criss Griffin: The Granny Witch

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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The author asks….

Do we still have Appalachian Granny Witches???

Hmmmm. 🤔

The Granny Witch

By Lisa Criss Griffin

The trek across the Appalachian Trail had been a fun and pleasant experience for the three friends until the night of the attack. It was almost dark, and the campfire was mostly embers that glowed like dozens of tiny red eyes peeking out from the charred remains of the fallen branches the boys had gathered. A cool, damp fog had settled over the rural mountain, mixing the fresh smell of mist with the heaviness of the wood smoke. A barn owl hooted somewhere over in the next holler, waiting for an answer before hooting once again.

The boys were almost asleep when one of them heard the sound of branches breaking under foot close to camp. It was the stealth of the predator that captured Jason’s attention. He sat upright, reaching over to shake Brandon. “Hey man…do you hear that?” 

“What?” 

“Listen dude, something is out there!” 

Brandon stood up slowly, listening intently to the night sounds of the forest. There was another crunching sound, closer this time.

Brandon nudged Jeff, who was already asleep. “Wake up man, wake up!” Brandon hissed. 

Jeff rolled over and propped himself up on one arm. “What’s goin’ on?” he groaned sleepily. 

“Listen!” 

Another branch cracked close by and all three boys were on their feet. They heard heavy breathing just beyond the glow of the dying fire. “Aaaaiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeh!!!” With the screech of a banshee, a filthy man with wild, tangled hair and a matted beard ran into the camp, slashing indiscriminately at the boys with a wicked looking knife. His burning, red-rimmed eyes practically spun in their sockets as he tracked all three boys with a feral gleam.

The three friends almost fell over each other as they dodged the slashing blade and ran out of the camp, the lunatic following closely on their heels. They careened down the trail, barely able to see where they were headed. In their panic, they chose to veer off the main trail onto a narrow trail leading them into the cover of the deep woods. Low-lying branches loaded with pine needles battered their faces as they desperately tried to avoid tripping on the stones and exposed tree roots that littered the pathway. 

“This way!” Jason whispered as he disappeared behind a group of large, lichen-covered boulders. There was a hint of a path that led back through the boulders that shielded them from the main trail. They had just rounded the back side of the far boulder when they heard their nemesis crashing down the trail, cursing loudly as he passed by their hiding place. They waited behind the boulder until they could no longer hear him, pressed tightly against the cold stone.

Brandon exhaled slowly, realizing he had been holding his breath while the crazy dude had blustered by the group of boulders concealing them. He noticed his hands were shaking as he ran them through his hair, removing bits of twigs and pine needles. He looked at Jason, whose face was noticeably pale, even in the twilight. “You okay?” Brandon whispered quietly. 

Jason nodded, but pointed toward Jeff and shook his head negatively.

Jeff had slid down the side of the boulder and was slumped on the ground. The side of his face was bloody from the buffeting by the pine branches, but he was holding his left ankle with both his hands. Jeff let out a low groan and suddenly leaned away, retching into a large fern. Jeff wiped his face with his sleeve and looked up at his friends, his sweaty face pale green. 

“What’s wrong Jeff?” 

“I think I’m snake bit, fellas.” Jeff turned away and dry heaved into the unfortunate fern.

Jason looked closer at Jeff’s ankle. “Why, you don’t even have your boots on!” 

Jeff smiled weakly. “Well, there really wasn’t time to put them on, man.” He leaned back against the cool rock. “I don’t feel so good….” Jeff shuddered as another wave of nausea coursed through his body. 

Brandon looked at Jason. “We have to get him some help.” 

“We are out in the middle of nowhere with a looney tune chasing us around! Just what do you suggest?” 

Brandon sighed, stood up straight and gazed off into the forest, running possibilities through his mind. He noticed a hint of a small golden glow in the woods across a ravine. “Hey, Jason. Look at that. Does that look like a light to you?” 

“Where?” 

“Over there, to your left, up on top of the other side of the ravine.” 

“Yeah. Yeah, it does. We could get Jeff up there, I think.” 

“You don’t think that is where that whacko lives, do you?” 

“I doubt that dude has seen the inside of a house for quite awhile.” 

Brandon snorted and looked at Jason. “No kidding!”

The two of them hauled Jeff to his feet between them and placed his arms across their shoulders. “Come on Jeff. We are going to get you some help.” 

Jeff nodded in agreement, doing his best to stay upright. The boys made a beeline for the light through the woods. The going was slow as it was hard to see, and the ground was uneven and began to slope down into the ravine. The boys half slid and half fell down the side of the ravine, doing their best to keep Jeff from falling. Once they reached the bottom of the ravine, they stopped to rest by a trickle of a creek. Jason took out his handkerchief, wet it and washed off his friend’s pallid face, noting the dark circles that had suddenly appeared under Jeff’s eyes.

Jeff smiled his appreciation and closed his eyes. 

“Jeff, Jeff, don’t go to sleep now. We are almost there!” 

Jeff opened his bleary eyes as his friends stood him back up. “Hey Brandon, is that a rock staircase over there, or am I seeing things?” 

Brandon squinted through the darkness at the incline across the tiny creek. “Well, what do ya know! It sure enough is. Let’s go now!” The two boys helped their friend across the creek and made their way slowly up the stone staircase, pausing at the top.

There was a stone pathway leading to a small house in the woods. A buttery yellow light shone brightly out of a small window in the attic, illuminating the pathway to the house. The boys shored up their friend and dragged him to the front door. Jason reached out and knocked firmly on the wooden door, praying the lunatic wasn’t on the other side of the door. Jeff moaned and started to slide to the ground. “No man. Stand up for one more minute. Stand up, Jeff.” Jeff locked his legs and swayed, doing his best to help his buddies.

Jason and Brandon heard a bolt slide across the inside of the door and it opened slightly. The wrinkled face of an elderly woman and the business end of a shotgun peered out at them from the crack between the door and the casing. “What do you want?” she croaked.

“Please ma’am. Our friend here is snake bit and needs help! Do you have a phone, or a car or something?” 

The old lady shook her head sadly. “No, I don’t. But I may be able to help him if you care to bring him inside.” She lowered the shotgun and opened the light blue door.

Jason and Brandon lifted Jeff and carried him into the little house. It was a small, one room house with a kitchen in one corner, a round wooden table surrounded by four ladder-back chairs with woven seats in front of a fireplace, and a bed under the staircase leading to the attic. A handmade multicolored braided rug covered much of the wood floor. The walls were decorated with all different kinds of dried flowers and plants, suspended upside down from wires running the circumference of the room. Built-in shelves held small mason jars filled with different colored powders, dried berries, leaves and roots. Cheerful blue gingham curtains covered the downstairs windows, and the smell of freshly baked cornbread filled the room.

The elderly lady pointed to the bed under the staircase. “Put your friend over there.” She turned away to put a pot of water on top of the wood stove, and retrieved a cup and several of the jars off her shelves. Jeff sank down into the comfortable mattress gratefully and closed his eyes. “Have a seat over by the fire, boys,” she suggested as she measured some ingredients into a mortar.

The two friends sat down, suddenly realizing how cold and tired they were. The small fire popped cheerily, radiating light and comfort into the humble abode. Jason leaned across the small table and whispered to Brandon. “Hey, have you ever heard of a Granny Witch?” 

Brandon’s eyes widened and he nodded. “Yes, but I never met one. Until now.” Brandon stretched his arms behind his head and searched his memory to recall what he knew about the Appalachian Granny Witches.

The Appalachian people lived in an area that was not easily accessible, so it was necessary to be as self-sufficient as possible. That included treating illnesses and injuries, whether it be with herbalism, faith healing, energy work, prayers, chants or all of those things combined. The Scotch Irish who settled in the mountains as early as the 1600s blended their own ancient folk medicine with the healing traditions of the Tsalagi (Cherokee) people. This knowledge was only passed down through generations of individual families and was never shared with outsiders. Each Appalachian community usually had a Granny Witch to meet their needs. Granny Witches were generally regarded as helpful and were highly esteemed within their communities. The practice was slowly dying out as accessibility to the outside world had improved.

The Granny Witch finished blending the herbs she had chosen, and proceeded to make a poultice that she placed over Jeff’s snake bite. She wrapped it on with some clean white cloth, and returned to her wood stove. The boys watched in fascination as she made a tea from the herbs she had harvested and dried. She returned to Jeff’s side and had him drink the concoction. She wiped his scratched face clean with a damp cloth and covered him with a colorful handmade quilt.

She returned to her kitchen and sliced several pieces of fresh cornbread. The Granny Witch broke off a piece of the cornbread, opened a window and tossed the cornbread outside before closing the window. Brandon recognized this as one of the traditions Granny Witches used to engage the fairy folk in their work. She served the boys plates of fresh cornbread with creamy butter and spring water while she busied herself in the kitchen, humming a little song to herself as she worked.

Brandon and Jason grew sleepy from their full bellies and the warm fire. The Granny Witch noticed and took pity on them. “Why don’t you two go upstairs and rest. I’ll look after your friend,” she stated kindly. 

The boys stood up, noticing the light blue color of the ceiling for the first time. “Why is the door and the ceiling painted this light blue color, Granny?” Jason mused. 

The Granny Witch giggled softly. “Well son, I thought everyone knew that. It is to keep the Haints away.” She looked at their puzzled faces. “Haints…the evil spirits…ghosts and such. Now go get some rest. You are safe here with me.”

The two friends climbed the stairs to the attic lit by candlelight, kicked off their shoes and fell exhausted onto a large bed on the far end of the room. Jason looked over at Brandon sleepily. “Do you think that lunatic in the woods could have been a haint?” 

“I don’t know what to think anymore, man. I really don’t.” 

The boys both fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Morning broke in the forest with the sounds of songbirds and the chatter of scolding squirrels. Sunlight streamed through the colorful autumn trees, caressing Brandon’s face with the fresh warmth of a new day. He stretched out his muscles on his bed of spongy moss, blinking the sleep from his eyes. He looked over at Jason, who grinned at him groggily from his spongy moss mattress. Brandon sat straight up, scanning his surroundings for Jeff.

Brandon rose quickly as he spotted Jeff a few feet away, covered with a blanket of colorful leaves. He reached down, half afraid Jeff was dead. He shook his friend’s arm gently, highly relieved to find that the arm was warm. “Jeff. Jeff, wake up. Jeff!” 

Jeff’s eyes fluttered open and he focused on his friend’s face. “What?” 

“Are you alright?”

“Well, yeah. I feel okay.” Jeff sat up and pulled up the left leg of his jeans to look at his injured ankle. The white wrap was still there. Jeff looked at Brandon. “What is going on here, dude?”

Brandon looked around, noticing there was nothing but forest around them and a light blue sky overhead. His hand brushed something lying on the ground next to Jeff. It was a bundle of blue gingham cloth. Brandon untied the top of the bundled cloth to find three pieces of fresh cornbread. Just then, he heard a bird warble the same simple tune the Granny Witch had been humming the night before.

Had they imagined the whole thing? Had they been chased through the woods by an evil haint? Was there still such a thing as a Granny Witch? Brandon looked over at Jason and saw the same questions in his eyes. Maybe it was time to end their adventure on the Appalachian Trail. 

Brandon heard something giggle softly as he bit into the delicious cornbread. The three friends stopped chewing at the same time and looked at each other. Yep. It was definitely time to get out of the forest! Right after they finished their cornbread, of course.

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