Lately I’ve been working on the overwhelming task of thinning out my book collection; it’s something no book lover likes to do, but let’s face it, every once in a while it has to be done, either to clear clutter or make room for more.
It’s no surprise that a good portion of my collection is devoted to short story collections. I’ve read my share of Read the rest of this entry
I’m a story-teller. I tell stories. It’s what I do. So sit back, relax, and let me tell you a story about my house. Is it a true story? Well, I’m going to tell it to you the way it happened and then you tell me if it’s true or not.
We moved into our house in a sweltering hot August ten years ago. It was not our dream house. It was a “best we can afford right now”—in the height of the real estate boom—fixer-upper with “potential charm” but no actual charm. The day I first went to look at the house, there was six inches of water in the basement and I joked that it came with its own indoor swimming pool. However, it was still the best we’d seen in our price range and so we bought it.
At first there were only “oddities” that made the house seem interesting: it was the only historic property not included in the town’s thorough and detailed book and files of the town’s historic properties; none of the neighbors seems to know the history of the house even though it’s the oldest house in the immediate area (in fact, this was the main homestead/farm in the area and all of the neighboring properties AND the state highway that runs past the house were all sub-divided off of this property); I couldn’t trace the deed for the property beyond 1850 though the construction of the house indicates it is much older; Mapquest and GPS devices have no record of the house’s address (despite the fact that the house has been here for at least 200 years)—using our address sends visitors to an empty field in a neighboring town. The address of all of the surrounding properties (some built only fourteen years ago), however, works fine with Mapquest and GPSes; the gold crucifix hanging on the chimney in the basement (a dirt-floored, fieldstone-walled, low-ceiling, spider-infested, fancy root cellar type deal
typical of an ancient farmhouse); the black flies covering the third-floor windows that always returned no matter how many times we killed them and vacuumed up their dead bodies; and, perhaps strangest of all, the various people—contractors, repairmen, area store clerks, and even the state highway inspector who, when told our address, always replied, “Oh, I know *that* house.” When probed further they always answered, “Oh, nothing. I just know it is all.”
There were no overt indicators of strangeness at first. Just a lot of forgetfulness on our part—“Honey, have you seen the flashlight? I thought I left it right here“ or “Honey, have you my keys? I can’t find them.” That sort of thing. Invariably, the missing item would show up several days later, usually right where we thought we had left it (and had looked several times). We had just moved in and most everything we owned was still in storage, so it seemed that it should be very hard to misplace items, but misplace we did. My husband, who doesn’t believe in ghosts, finally said, “Things seem to move around a lot in this house.”
Our forgetfulness increased. My husband locked himself out of the house three times; each time he had stepped out for a minute and had no recollection of locking the door behind him. Once I came home to find him shoveling snow with no coat on. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was trying to keep warm—he was locked out and waiting for me to come home.
Then the noises began. The sound of a crying child in the hallway when I was in the spare bedroom. The sound of someone in the next room calling my name when I was home alone.
Then one night, I had a very vivid dream—the result of an overactive imagination, stimulated by the noises, no doubt. I dreamed that I awoke and standing at the foot of the bed was a young woman with frizzy red hair, wearing an old-fashioned lavender-colored dress and an elderly man dressed in a black stove-pipe hat, a black suit, and a black, many-caped overcoat. They didn’t speak and I had no sense of malevolence from them. They just stood there, observing me. So I closed my eyes, rolled over, and went
back to sleep.
Finally, there was “the incident.”
I was home alone. My husband was traveling for business. I awoke in the middle of the night to the light in the hall—visible through the bedroom doorway—tinged a strange, greenish color, a noise, a crashing, clanging, banging, as if someone was throwing pots and pans down the hall stairs, and my bed was shaking, as if it was vibrating in time to someone’s cranked-up bass.
I threw back the covers, jumped out of bed, and ran across the hall to the spare room, where the telephone was. I frantically dialed my husband, who thankfully answered his cell. He said, in some confusion, “What are you doing up? Isn’t it like one a.m. there?” In a panicked jumble I explained what had happened and told him that I was scared, I wanted to leave and go to a hotel.
“Oh, honey,” he said impatiently. “Nothing is going to happen to you. I don’t believe in that kind of thing.”
The logic of this statement stopped me cold for a moment. I remember very clearly, standing there, blinking in stupefaction, my jaw hanging open. Thinking perhaps he hadn’t understood properly, I explained again that there were noises and lights and shaking beds and I was leaving for a hotel.
“Look, honey, I can’t talk right now. I’m at a party,” he said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” Then he hung up on me.
Now, for most women that probably would have been grounds for divorce; however, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was over-tired—it WAS one a.m. after all—I had been frightened (which always puts me in a bad mood) and now I was mad. In fact, I was very mad and since my husband—the target of my anger—was there to choke, my anger sought another target. Slowly, the crashing, clanging, banging noise, which I had apparently blocked out while talking on the phone, filtered back into my consciousness.
Only now it wasn’t scary—it was annoying! Annoying as hell! I wanted to sleep, damn it!
“Shut up!” I screamed to the house, the air, the world in general. “Just shut the hell up!” I stormed back to bed, screamed “Shut up!” once more, and pulled the covers over my head to block out lights, noises, and all other sensory inputs. In a minute, I fell back to sleep.
There were other attempts to get my attention over the following months, but I was no longer in a mood to be receptive. The sounds of a crying child in the hall were met with, “I don’t care. So you can just shut the hell up,” and the sound of someone calling my name was met with a simple, “Bugger off!”
Soon I had the sense the house was puzzled and then finally resigned. My husband and I finally regained our memories—tools and flashlights and keys stopped being misplaced and we stopped getting locked out.
Only the mysteriously recurring black flies on the third floor remained. Finally, several years ago, we decided to do some renovations to the third floor. As we were pulling down sheetrock, my husband called me over to where he was working. “Uh, honey, I think you should see this.”
There, nestled IN the wall, hanging on wall stud, was a crucifix. A feeling of dread and horror washed over me—crucifixes are something you hang ON the wall, not IN it. Even to a non-religious person such as myself, putting a crucifix in the wall at the top of the house, as well as one in the basement, seemed to indicate a protection spell of some sort, an attempt to guard against something.
“I think I’ll just leave that where it is,” my husband said.
“Damn straight!” I said. “It’s there for a reason. It’s doing something.”
Oddly enough, after that day, the black flies disappeared from the third floor, and all has been peaceful ever since.
But my house still doesn’t show up on Mapquest.
P.S. For more of my real-life experiences with ghosts, visit my guest post at Happy Tails and Tales (http://magluvsya03.wordpress.com/) on August 31st for the story of an encounter I had with one of my cats after she had passed away
An excerpt from Terri Bruce’s new novel, Hereafter
At that moment, the front door of Mrs. Boine’s house opened and two little girls in long pigtails pelted down the stairs, leaving the door hanging ajar.
“Grandma! Grandma!” they cried, tumbling across the lawn. “Push us! Push us!”
“Oh, they want their buggies,” Mrs. Boine said, her face going soft with fond indulgence.
Each girl threw herself onto a three-wheeled toy—the preschooler version of a tricycle—and continued to cry for Mrs. Boine like a chorus of baby birds at feeding time.
“Okay, I’m coming.” The old woman heaved herself out of her chair.
Before she could reach the children, though, the silhouette of a woman appeared in the open front
door of the house. “Girls? What are you doing? Get in here.”
“Grandma’s going to push us!” the girls cried in unison.
“You know you’re not allowed in the yard when I’m not there! Get in here this instant!”
The girls reluctantly complied, climbing off the “buggies” and dragging themselves back to the house, whining, begging, and pleading the entire way. The front door closed with a decided snap. Irene gave Mrs. Boine an inquiring look. The old lady beamed. “My grandbabies.”
“They can see you?”
“See? No, but they know I’m here.”
“How do you know they know you’re here?”
Mrs. Boine didn’t seem in the least bothered by the incredulity in Irene’s voice. “They talk to me and leave me little presents. See here…” She drew a wilted dandelion from her pocket and held it up for Irene’s inspection, beaming as if she’d just pulled a lump of gold from behind Irene’s ear. “I tuck them in and sing them to sleep every night. Oh, they know I’m here alright.”
“What about your daughter?”
Mrs. Boine set the flower down and then waved a dismissive hand, her smile disappearing under a heavy-browed frown. “Oh, Gloria was always too stubborn by half. Thinks the girls have too much imagination.” She said the word as if it was something catching. “It’s a damn shame how the living only see what they want to see, but that’s life, I suppose.”
A car rattled by. Mrs. Boine swore.
Mister MacKenzie appeared in his yard, closely inspecting his lawn, and seeming not liking what he saw. Mrs. Boine raised a hand in greeting. “Yooo-hooo!” she called.
Mister MacKenzie didn’t notice.
Mrs. Boine dropped her hand with a wistful sigh. “That man,” she said with a regretful shake of her head, as if she deeply pitied Mister MacKenzie.
Irene was still thinking of Mrs. Boine’s daughter. “Well, can’t you just write Gloria a note or something? Provide irrefutable proof that you’re still here?”
Mrs. Boine looked at Irene over the rim of her glasses. “Let me give you some advice, dear. Don’t upset the living and they won’t upset you.”
Irene gave a stubborn shake of her head. “There has to be a way to make people believe that we’re here. I can’t believe that I’m just…stuck. That I…I just have to hang around…forever…doing nothing.”
Mrs. Boine gave Irene another disapproving look. “There’s plenty to be doin’. Who’s gonna watch over your mother now that you’re gone?”
“My mother is just going to have to learn to take care of herself for once,” Irene snapped without thinking and then instantly wished she could take back the words.
Mrs. Boine’s face twisted in an affronted pucker. “Oh, well…if you don’t have anything to keep you here, then I suppose you’ll be going off to the city to live again…” Mrs. Boine said coldly, her nose rising into the air as if catching a whiff of something unpleasant. “…or going off to look for your angels and harps
“Well, if there’s somewhere else to go, why wouldn’t we leave? Why would anyone hang around here?”
Mrs. Boine looked at Irene as if she’d lost her mind. “Why would I leave? I’ve got everything I want right here. This house has been my home for fifty years, and now Gloria and the girls live here. I would never dream of leaving.”
Terri Bruce’s Hereafter available everywhere. Amazon easiest? Just click here for the Kindle Edition: http://amzn.com/B008S6K8GE It’s also available in print.
Terri Bruce has been making up adventure stories for as long as she can remember and won her first writing award when she was twelve. Like Anne Shirley, she prefers to make people cry rather than laugh, but is happy if she can do either. She produces fantasy and adventure stories from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats.
What if you’re not a “People Person”? Find out in Stacey Longo’s short story on Scary Scribes tonight!
Reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People,” humorist-turned-horror writer Stacey Longo’s “People Person” just might make you think twice your summer paradise—this month on Scary Scribes.
Stacey’s short horror fiction has appeared in several scary anthologies, among them Malicious Deviance and Daily Bits of Flesh. She’s best known, though, for her zombie fiction—like “Wedding Day Blues,” in which a bride refuses to let her groom’s newly-dead status ruin her big day.
After the reading, we’ll chat with Stacey about the truth behind “People Person” and some of her zombie stories which have been featured in the anthologies Zombidays: Festivities of the Flesheaters, Rapid Decomposition, and Hell Hath No Fury.
Check Stacey out at http://www.staceylongo.com/, and listen live at 6 p.m. tonight here!
Welcome to winter…in my opinion, the best season in which to set a ghost story (that is, if your story setting is somewhere that gets cold, snowy, gray, and damp). While winter’s characteristics seem to make it an obvious choice, it still takes a great writer to exploit them properly to evoke the shivers.
No story does this better than Amelia Ann Blandford’s Victorian chiller “The Phantom Coach,” set in December on “a bleak wide moor in the far north of England.” Consider: “…the first feathery flakes of a coming snowstorm just fluttering down upon the heather and the leaden evening closing in all around. I…stared anxiously into the gathering darkness, where the purple moorland melted into a range of low hills, some ten or twelve miles distant.” It’s the “feathery flakes…fluttering” that creates the sound of snow in the reader’s ear, and even when our weary lost man is given shelter in the warmth of a cottage (complete with odd owner, creepy manservant, and scary tall tale), it’s hard to escape the press of the barren lands just outside the walls. By the time we reach that terrifying climactic scene (there’s one paragraph that’s so frightening the image it created is burned into my mind—I’d love to print it here, but I’d spoil it for all of you), we’re as damp, cold, and isolated as the narrator—and that chill is unshakable well after we’ve digested the story’s shocking last line.
Don’t miss reading this by the fireplace. For sure.
“The Phantom Coach” is found in 1996’s Wordsworth Classics publication Classic Victorian & Edwardian Ghost Stories (the edition selected by Rex Collings). You can purchase it here: http://amzn.com/1853261866
If you’re a ghost story lover and you haven’t read Ambrose Bierce’s classic “The Boarded Window,” then I’m surprised…but it’s never too late, and if you’re anything like me, then discovering a classic you missed can sometimes be more fun than reading something that was just published: you know you’re getting something so good it’s withstood the test of time.
I had read this so long ago I didn’t even remember it, and what a ride. What makes “The Boarded Window”—which deals with themes of loss and grief—so striking is how vividly it brings the foreboding newness of the American West to life for modern-day audiences by comparing it to the foreboding newness of widowhood. Bierce, through well-chosen words, conveys the maddening loneliness of the pioneering landscape and the lifestyle required to survive in it, lulling us into pity. And then there’s an ending you truly never see coming that drives you from pity to feeling this man’s suffering in your own gut.
Although “The Boarded Window” is popular enough that it’s probably available in a number of print and electronic collections, the copy that I have appears in Penguin 60s’ Three Tales of Horror with Poe’s “Hop Frog” and Stevenson’s “The Body Snatcher,” so if you want a triple-threat you can literally carry with you in your pocket or purse, this is the edition you want. Penguin 60s were issued in the mid-1990s and were limited and all out of print now, but inexpensive used copies are available at the Amazon Marketplace here: http://amzn.com/0146000900
Bargain Divas Jacki Brunson and Becky Schiffman write Skeletons is “filled with strange and spooky weirdness [that will] chill your soul and make you want more. It’s easy to read and flows effortlessly from kooky to spooky!”
And just in time for Christmas, you can WIN a copy of Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole over at the Bargain Divas site! Don’t miss this one – it’s the perfect gift for under the tree! To enter the giveaway and read the review, click here: http://www.bargaindivas.com/2010/11/giveaway-win-skeletons-in-swimmin-hole.html
Hurry! Giveaway ends December 6!