Category Archives: Issue 9: Crossroads—Realms of Death
This issue is all about ghosts, ghouls, the undead, and the places they haunt.
I’d like to thank all the readers and especially the authors for their patience while I dealt with computer issues these past few months. Hopefully things will go smoother now that my new computer is up and running.
I may be putting out a call for some editorial help in the future. Stay tuned to the website and Twitter. Follow The Were-Traveler on Twitter by clicking on the sidebar on the right.
Meanwhile, I’m currently accepting submissions for the steampunk monster issue and anything listed on the Calls for Submission page.
I hope you enjoy these stories.
Maria Kelly, editor
Crossroads—The Realms of Death
Josh figured he would hurt a lot more than he did. He didn’t feel much at all. Wasn’t it supposed to be painful when you got hit so hard that you went to sleep for a little while? Uncle Lenny would have pretended to be sorry, but he’d only be worried that Josh remembered the story: he’d been clumsy and fell down. But when he woke up, Uncle Lenny wasn’t around. Probably out burning his memories with the Devil’s Juice, as Mommy called it.
Both the hands on the clock pointed at the twelve when his vision cleared. Usually he left Uncle Lenny’s house when the little hand pointed at the nine. Maybe the clock was broken. No matter how forgetful Uncle Lenny made himself, he always pushed Josh out the door. And if not, Mommy would pick him up. It’d make her mighty mad, but she’d do it. But no Mommy, so Josh walked home like every night.
Usually when he passed the cemetery, the girl stood on the wall, far enough where he couldn’t touch her, but close enough that he could see her scars. She had some of the same ones, so she must have an Uncle Lenny of her own. Or did. She was a ghost, he knew that. If he looked hard enough, he could see right though her body. Mommy said it wasn’t polite to stare, but this girl didn’t seem to mind. She stared right back. She wouldn’t talk, but that didn’t stop him from talking to her. He told her about Uncle Lenny, how he hit him with his fists or belt or anything else he could find, and how he threw him against the wall or pushed him down the stairs. If he told Mommy about any of it, Uncle Lenny promised he would pop one of Josh’s eyes out, or rip off an ear. He wanted to keep all his parts, so anytime Mommy saw a new mark, he told her how clumsy he was. Uncle Lenny just laughed and swore he’d never seen a kid so accident prone.
The girl always listened, but when he asked about her marks, she’d shake her head and run away, disappearing after a few steps. But he didn’t mind. He was grateful she let him talk. It made lying to Mommy easier.
Tonight, like every night when Uncle Lenny hurt him, she stood in place, waiting. He wasn’t sure where to start. Should he tell her how Uncle Lenny smacked him a good one upside his head, or about the strange state of the clock. Maybe she’d know why it read midnight but Mommy hadn’t come. Not that she’d answer, but Josh would feel better for asking. Since questions made her go away, he decided to start at the beginning.
“Uncle Lenny hit me so hard tonight that I blacked out.”
She took a few steps forward, coming closer than she ever had before, and spoke for the first time. “Necks aren’t supposed to bend like that.” Her voice came out creaky, like her throat was dry and she needed to swallow some water.
He reached up and touched his neck. Sure enough, it tilted at an odd angel. He hadn’t noticed, figuring he was still woozy from Uncle Lenny’s smack.
The girl sat down on the wall, her feet dangling in front of him. He fought every urge to reach out and touch her to see how solid she was. That wouldn’t be polite, though, and Mommy, if she found out he’d been rude, would punish him. Not near as bad as what Uncle Lenny did, but Josh preferred to stay on Mommy’s good side.
“My big sister used to babysit me,” the girl said. With each word, her voice cleared a little more. “She wanted to go out with her friends, but Mama needed her to stay home with me. She wasn’t happy about it, and hated me a great deal. She beat me almost every night, like your uncle does to you. One afternoon, while clipping my bangs, she got a phone call. A boy asked her out on a date, but she couldn’t accept because of me. She was awful angry when she hung up, and I didn’t want her cutting my hair anymore. I tried to cheer her up, and told her she could play with my dollies. She sneered at me, yelled that everything was my fault, and slashed the scissors across my neck. You can still see it.” She lifted her chin, and Josh indeed saw a long, jagged rip in her throat, though no blood leaked out, not anymore. “When I woke up, I was here.”
She stood, and Josh expected her to walk away and disappear, but she didn’t. Instead, she put her hand down for him to grab, and she lifted him as if he were made out of that floaty air in balloons. He’d seen inside the cemetery once. It looked like a huge park filled with smooth rock slabs with writing carved into them. Headstones, he thought they were called. But this time the park and rocks were gone, replaced by a shimmering white light shaped like a door.
“We’re supposed to go through that,” the girl said, “but I’m too scared to do it by myself. Maybe you can come with me?”
Josh stared at the light, feelings of peace and joy coursing through him. He looked down the street towards Uncle Lenny’s house. There were flashing red lights, like when an ambulance and fire truck went past. He thought of Mommy, and though he would miss her, he wouldn’t miss getting whooped by Uncle Lenny. He took the girl’s hand, shared a smile with her, and they floated all the way in.
Kira leaned against the bathroom sink, carefully avoiding the mirror’s gaze, knowing what she’d see. The unwashed hair, puffy eyes and cracked lips she could handle, could control, if inclined. It was the smile she feared.
That unwholesome smile didn’t belong to her, never appeared on her face, but beamed from her mirror.
Steeling herself, she glanced at the reflection; her own ravaged face grinned maliciously back as it had for months.
Her frustrated fist shot towards the mirror, shattering it.
Wincing, she chanced another look and her heart sank. Even without the mirror, that evil smile remained.
Brandon Barrows primarily writes comic books. His award-nominated detective series JACK HAMMER is published by Action Lab Comics, and his sci-fi series VOYAGA by AAM/Markosia. His prose has been published by markets such as Cruentus Libri Press, Fiction365, Linguistic Erosion and Daily Love, and his poetry has been accepted by Scifaikuest. Find more at http://www.brandonbarrowscomics.com/.
Sid Sagendorf always attends the Salem Comic-Con. The convention is a small event, attracting mostly local collectors and comics aficionados. The convention’s organizers invite comic book artists to meet with admiring fans, but few noteworthy artists attend.
Sagendorf, the creator of Curtis, the Cute Ghost, is the exception. Who doesn’t remember the humorous Curtis comics? Or the cartoons? Who didn’t once have a Curtis lunchbox, or know someone who did?
Fans often ask Sagendorf what inspired him to create Curtis. When asked, he usually sighs, looks up, and points to the disquieting, not-so-humorous, not-so-cute specter that always follows him around.
Reed Beebe writes fiction and poetry in Kansas City, Missouri. His stories have been published by The Were-Traveler, Flashes in the Dark, and Fever Dreams.
The first clod of dirt hit the top of my plywood coffin with a hollow thud. I rolled my eyes and sighed. This was hardly the first time I had been buried alive, so I could say with certainty that this was a pretty sloppy showing. I was being generous when I called the makeshift box a coffin. There wasn’t a square corner anywhere on the thing, and enough light came through the top right seam that I could clearly see the amateurish knots that were meant to keep my hands tied.
“This is why nobody messes with the ghouls, dead man!” yelled one of the young men filling in my shallow grave.
“The ghouls” fancied themselves the newest contender for scariest gang in the Chicagoland area. I was currently willing to give them a gentleman’s C in the scary department. The whole burying people alive thing was the cornerstone of their “hey, take us seriously” PR campaign. Hell, maybe they did it so sloppily on purpose so that their victims could escape and tell everybody just how spooky they are. But, I doubted it. I found them approximately as spooky as freezer-burn, so I probably wasn’t their target audience.
“God above me, what a fool I was! Why did I ever dare to question the unquestionable might of the ghouls!” I yelled out in my best damsel in distress falsetto.
“Too late for that man.” I heard one of the ghouls say with triumph in his voice.
Wow, these guys really have no sense of sarcasm.
My plan, such as it was, was to let these idiots bury me before I got out of this ridiculous box, but they were making it very tempting to use this hole for other things –things like burying my leftovers.
I started steadily moving my wrists apart and the rope hissed, frayed, and snapped. The exertion made my fingers elongate a couple of inches, and I had to steady my breathing or risk a full frenzy –a full delicious, intoxicating, blissful frenzy.
I am in control. I don’t have to eat people. Not anymore.
The dirt stopped raining down for a moment. I had to assume the gangbangers on the rim of the hole had heard something. I really need to work on my patience. But, seriously, I only came out to this “turf” because when someone talks about ghouls, I tend to take it literally. After all, I am one.
“What was that?” said one of the young men in a hushed voice.
Great. I had a plan. I find out if these guys are actual monsters and if so, eat them. If not, I play unlucky human and wait for them to go on their merry criminal way. Stick to the plan, Sal. Stick to the plan.
“Help! Is someone out there?” I squeaked, trying to reaffirm my role as doomed guy in hole.
“I think it came from over there,” whispered a nervous sounding young man.
Seriously? They’re ignoring me? Well, how do you like that?
I heard the ring of chain-link and had to assume someone had just scaled the fence that mostly surrounded this charming vacant lot where I was being amateurishly murdered.
“Who the hell are you? Do you know who’s ground you’re standing on kid?”
The gangbanger was doing his best to sound confident, but the predator in me could hear the uncertainty in his voice.
The newcomer didn’t answer.
“Whatever. Looks like we got another one for the hole, boys,” said the apparent de facto leader of the bunch. I heard the click of 9mm’s safety being disengaged, and then a noise that sent an electric shock through my system. It was like the soft laugh of a young man, except it didn’t come out of a young man. And before my brain could catch up to my instinctual reaction, my nose did the rest of the work. Vampire. I could smell it; nothing else smells like that –like a combination of mildew and jasmine. That smell has the clever trick of bringing a pleasant kind of heartache followed swiftly by self-disgust. At least that’s what it does to me.
God I hate vampires. The pretty monsters. Sipping on blood, half in the human world. Undead yuppies. Plus, they are almost as strong as me and don’t have to eat pounds of flesh every day to keep from coming apart at the seams. And, sure, I can look human, but it’s like flexing a muscle. At least I can walk around in the sunlight. It gives me a migraine headache of epic proportions, but it’s better than bursting into flames.
Worst of all, I’m told they have great parties.
“You think this is funny?” spat the leader, but the game was up. There was real fear in his voice. It made me tingle with hunger.
There was the sudden crack of a shot, and then everything went incredibly still.
For a slow moment, I couldn’t hear anything beyond the men’s nervous breathing.
“Do you have any notion of how much this shirt cost, trash?” said the vampire with exaggerated incredulity.
What a tool.
Sigh. Am I really going to have to save these idiots? Really? Isn’t there some kind of Darwinian caveat to my new do-gooder lifestyle? Probably not. It really hasn’t been that long since I turned over a new leaf –after I discovered that there was no secret monster police making sure that I was being evil. This probably isn’t the time to be jaded about my new worldview.
Ah, well. At least I get to hurt a vampire.
“What the…!” said the shooter. “What are you?”
“What am I, filth?” answered the young-looking vampire. “I am the most dangerous thing you will have ever seen in your short, pointless life.”
“I’ll call bullshit on that one, twilight,” I said erupting from the coffin and leaping to the rim of the hole. The gangbangers fell backward in a shower of flying dirt and splintered wood. The vampire stared expressionless. I had a strong impulse to make fun of his over-styled hair, but it’s hard to crack jokes when your jaw is elongating to make room for erupting rows of serrated teeth.
Within a handful of heartbeats I had changed, my true form filling out the ragged clothes that hung ridiculously large on my human shape. My hands lengthened and my fingers grew black, hooked claws. My skin greyed. My eyes lost all their color. And I felt like I had just sunk down into a favorite chair after a long day of work, or like I had finally been able to reach a nagging itch. I felt home.
The vampire went utterly rigid. Wooden.
I took a few steady steps forward, wondering if the little guy would bolt on me. It’s pretty common knowledge that you shouldn’t run from a ghoul –any predator for that matter –but, this guy looked pretty fresh. Plus, I love a good chase.
I cocked my head a bit, the universal sign for “your move.”
The vampire blinked at me, as if he wasn’t particularly inclined to accept that this situation was taking place. Then, he moved a slow, steady hand to the back of his belt and produced a curved blade maybe eight inches long.
Good enough for me.
The vampire was fast, but it wasn’t really a fair fight. I had the distinct impression that I was in the monster game before this guy’s great great great grandparents were born. Ol’ pointy fangs barely had his knife raised before I tore his expertly coiffed head from his shoulders and unceremoniously downed it in a single gulp. Most of the rest of him followed that first appetizer in rapid succession. Ghouls adhere to the great white shark theory of dining. Maybe we don’t manage to get it all in our mouths, but we get the big chunks.
It’s weird. Vampire flesh looks like human, but it tastes a little like fish.
I shook the leftover vampire bits off like a dog emerging from water, then I grudgingly packed myself back into human form. It was a long way back to my home, and it’s polite to look at least semi-human while using public transportation.
There was a whimper behind me and I whirled around. Three very pale men cowered on the ground fifteen feet behind me.
“Uh, oh, right…” I said aloud. I kinda forgot about the gangbangers.
“So, do you guys want me to get back in that hole… err…”
The leader managed to shake his head. One of the other young men vomited.
“Yeah, well,” I added eloquently, “you guys should probably stop being jerks or, you know, I’ll come back and eat you.”
Uhg. I felt like an afterschool special. A really odd afterschool special.
The leader nodded at me. He looked half-insane at the moment, but I think the general message got through.
“Yup, my work here is done. Sal away!” I yelled in my best Superman voice, and with that I hopped the fence and headed for the nearest bus stop. Sal the ghoul: saving the kids one meal at a time. I whistled the public service message jingle as I went. Ha, this good guy stuff isn’t so tough. I’m a natural.
J. Kelley Anderson is a fan of comic books, John Milton, tattoos, pulp detective novels, herpetology, folklore, video games, and all things sci-fi and fantasy. Growing up, he wanted to be either a ninja or a maple tree. These aspirations led him to teach college English. He lives in Ohio. Find him online at: www.jkelleyanderson.com
“Can’t you sleep?” August asked his little brother from the open balcony where they would normally play and watch the streets of the grey ghetto.
Ludwik was standing inside, by the doorway of the room they shared, stretching. “I couldn’t sleep at all,” he replied. “Are you spitting again?”
“No,” said August, who then sighed instead of laughing.
“Where’s your arm band?” asked Ludwik.
“I was getting tired of it.” August added, “Because the night felt like forever.”
Ludwik nodded in understanding. “Where’s mama, papa?”
By their parents’ bedroom, the door was shut. “Still sleeping, probably.”
“Let’s go wake them.”
“You know we’re not allowed to go in there,” recommended August.
“Close the balcony door, then,” said Ludwik, shivering. “It’s getting cold.”
“First come see here,” said August.
“What’s going on?”
“Remember what mama and papa said, the rumours?”
Ludwik leaned on the railings with his brother. The lamp posts were still lit below. “Hm?”
“The ghetto’s been talking about a purge lately.”
“A purge? What did mama and papa say?”
“I think the rumours are true, Ludwik. They’re coming to take us to the camps after all. I knew it.”
“Who?” Ludwik’s voice trembled a bit, his teeth chattering.
August pointed to the leftward horizon, where the sun was only beginning to rise. It was there, up the street, from which a rumbling noise, commands, could be heard. The smoke of transport trucks parked there made it seem as though there was a new mist. Shadows emerged, becoming figures. Rows of infantry could then be seen, urgent in their march, intent on occupying the street. The soldiers gathered neatly on the pavements both sides of the street and readied their rifles, taking orders from a pair of frothing commandants. All of them wore the swastika on their uniforms, and the two boys knew this symbol well, too well.
“The monsters,” said August. “The monsters have come.”
Ludwik looked up at his brother, distraught. “Are they going to kill us, August? Tell me they’re not, brother.”
“Don’t panic,” said August, holding Ludwik’s hand. “They can come and try, but we’ll fight back.”
“Are you sure we can take them?”
“I promise you, we’ll be fine.”
“I can’t fight, August. We should really wake up mama and papa.”
“Don’t be silly. Leave them.”
“But this is important, August. This is our lives.” Ludwik’s heart was beating out his chest. He couldn’t bear August’s composed demeanour. He didn’t understand it. He wormed out of his brother’s grasp and stormed back inside.
“It’s no use,” said August, solemnly.
“They can’t be asleep,” protested Ludwik. “Not at this hour, surely?” Half sobbing, Ludwik turned the handle of their parents’ bedroom door several times, then gave up.
“Do you see?” said August.
Ludwik, slumped, returned to his brother’s embrace. “What do we do?”
“We hope.” August pointed to the building opposite theirs, the one the soldiers were instructed to first enter. “Look.” Lights were turning on in some of the apartments.
“What are the monsters up to? They better not come here.” Ludwik was trying to sound menacing. But when that bloodcurdling scream came from their neighbours, Ludwik couldn’t help but sob more violently.
The soldiers came back out of that building, this time escorting fifteen of the ghetto’s tenants, who had their hands touching the backs of their heads. They were shoved, mocked, and then told to get on the ground, on their stomachs, on the gravel of the street, where old death lingered. An elderly man was shot first, and then a child, who couldn’t have been older than Ludwik. And then a pregnant woman.
Ludwik was on his knees, clutching his ears against the gunfire, so stunned he didn’t notice the dribble hanging from his mouth, the tears pooling on the balcony floor, the wetness in his pants. August forced his brother to his feet and hugged him, and wouldn’t let go. There was a river of blood in the street, a strange quietude that even the commandants were inclined on assuming for a forever-minute. The bodies went into the trucks.
“The monsters won’t touch us,” said August. But this time August wasn’t so sure; he was trying to convince himself. As he held Ludwik’s head, he saw that his own hands were shaking involuntarily. “They’ll go away. They’ll leave us alone.”
“Breach the fifth,” they could hear a commandant say. Unit five—that was their building.
There were sounds of footsteps on the stairs, in the passage. Then hammering. At the front door. Once, twice, and there wasn’t time for the boys to think, and the door came unhinged, and the monsters were inside their home, stalking their prey with their big guns.
“Hide,” August told his brother. Ludwik did what August was doing, hiding by the walls of the balcony beside the door, where they couldn’t be seen from the inside. They didn’t dare breathe. They didn’t dare spy, although they could hear the destruction the soldiers were wreaking on their possessions. With every crack and shattering, the boys were jolted, and as they could hear the soldiers nearing, their knees grew weaker.
Ludwik wanted to hold his brother’s hand, so he reached out, despite August shaking his head, telling him not to. Then they were found. They were staring right into the cold, blue eyes of one of those monsters, one who had come to the balcony for a brief smoke. It happened so fast.
He had them in his sights.
And he was doing nothing, but they swore the monster could see them. Yet the soldier turned away, flicking his cigarette into the air before going back inside, having had his name called. August and Ludwik looked at each other, in awe, wondering if they had been made invisible by prayer.
“They must be in here,” said a voice inside; another monster.
August and Ludwik could tell where the ensuing bang had come from: the door to their parents’ bedroom. They winced with the noise.
“Bastards,” said the same voice with a chuckle. “They’ve already done themselves in. All four of them.”
“9mm Luger,” said another voice, scoffing. “Where could they have gotten this?”
“Never mind. Get to the next door. On the double.”
There was complete silence in the home when the monsters left. The brothers stood in the doorway of the balcony, peering in. The dining table was split in two, the cupboards undone. What remained of the family cutlery, shards. Their photographs on the wall, on the ground.
“Do you think we can go see mama and papa now?” said Ludwik, wiping away his last tears.
“No, Ludwik,” replied August. “Let them sleep.”
“What about us? Where do we go? What do we do?”
“Imagining things will help us through the rest of our journey.”
“You mean like when we play?”
“Yes. We can imagine fun things, what can be.”
“What could’ve been,” said Ludwik.
“That’s right, brother. We can imagine what could’ve been.”
David Edward Nell writes from Cape Town, South Africa. http://www.davidedwardnell.blogspot.com
“Mother?” Bobby whispered to the darkness.
His old house had been boarded up for years, but he came back as regularly as he could, sneaking in through the broken window that led to the basement. There he sat with a lit candle waiting for his mother to come.
They all said she was dead, but he knew they were lying. She had come to him so often in the darkness as a misty white form that he knew she had to be alive. And she missed him.
The candle flickered. Went out.
“Now you’re mine. Forever,” the darkness whispered back.
Casey Murphy has been writing fiction since the fifth grade. She enjoys writing short stories about werewolves, zombies, and all things fantastical (with some general fiction and creative non-fiction mixed in). Her pieces can be found in Referential Magazine, Z Composition, CoffinMouth, Prism, among others. Feel free to visit her at: simplydelete.wordpress.com.
You could not really say that I was a non-believer, maybe a reluctant non-believer. My universe had been quite nicely organized and comprehensible, yet still there were shadows in the dark. Above all else, I wanted to look directly into them before they had a chance to disappear. And that, I can honestly say, I did.
What had started as a lark, quickly became the outline for a quest of sorts. I had found an old book years before. It would be misleading for me to refer to this book as if it had the appearance of a grimoire or some arcane hornbook, or to imply that it was bound in some suspiciously soft and fine leather binding. It wasn’t. The book–still sitting on my shelf–is cloth bound with a time-dulled acorn squash and tan cover. Inside the cover tendrils of fraying threads snaked from the spine. And a squat crudely drawn map of Ireland, much wider than tall, extended oddly from the inside cover across the first page.
As distorted as the map clearly was, it held clues to what we were looking for. That is to say, clues to find the houses with stories attached; history that insisted on being heard; history that refused to die. As I said, I am a reluctant non-believer. But if anywhere in the world, there where bits of my DNA swirled through the blood of the island, I would find the shadows somewhere on the Old Sod.
Once the seed had been planted, everything else fell into place.
“I tell you, Brad, the trip will be great,” I said. With a sweep of my thumb nail across my upper lip, I squeegeed away the cafe-au-lait foam from my last draft of Guinness. We were already getting into the spirit.
If there was anyone to travel with, it was Brad. He is the strongest man I have ever met, and one of the nicest. That is to say, sitting together over a pint or standing back to back, Brad is good people.
He nodded, smiling, then took his own deep swallow of rich, black stout. “So, let’s decide which one,” Brad said using his pint glass to gesture toward the open book sitting on the varnished table top.
The map was hardly visible. It contrasted weakly on the yellowed paper. The pub’s hanging Tiffany lamps, designed with harps, shamrocks and brass-buckled high hats — Ireland’s own cultural invasion — spread colored shadows through the tenebrious clouds of tobacco smoke. Spinning the book toward me, I squinted at the hand-penned town names. This was not the first time we had spoken about the goal, and a name seemed to rise again.
“Somewhere in there,” I said, poking the map between the names Kinvarra and Ballyvaughn, “is Kerrigan’s Keep. I still vote for Kerrigan’s Keep.”
In a time in Ireland when all that was needed to be a king was a castle and someone to fight, Kerrigan built his battlements on the Atlantic coast and quickly got to the business of bloodshed. During a treaty negotiation at his castle, Kerrigan had a visiting king and all of his gallowglass retainers murdered, their bodies hidden in the keep.
A tale unforgotten is a tale for the day. It is said that across the centuries the treachery of their deaths at the hands of Kerrigan’s men has served to bind those fallen to the earth. Exorcists and adventurers sought out the Keep and the souls trapped within. The slain gallowglasses killed those who entered, drove to madness those that managed to escape. But if eyeless sockets cannot clearly differentiate friend or foe, the dead should be forgiven for that.
The story of Kerrigan’s Keep has surely changed through the centuries; it is something the Irish do. But nevertheless, the keep is there and something did happened inside; they say things still happen today. We wanted to know.
“Kerrigan’s Keep it is!” he said, raising his pint glass.
* * *
We rendezvoused in Paris and left by car for Ireland. Somewhere along the way la Manche became the English Channel, then beyond the Straights of Saint George and the Irish Sea. Finally the car rolled down the iron ramps at Rosslare, leaving the sleek hulled catamaran behind.
In front of us fluttered a large banner, “Fáilte!” it welcomed in runic lettering. Ireland has experienced a reawakening of interest in its culture, both from the inside as well as out. Consequently we, two Americans in a French registered car, found ourselves in a long line of tourists in line to go through immigration.
We drove to town and walked along the waterfront while waiting for the banks to open their exchange bureau. Delivery trucks, or lorries now I suppose, rumbled along cobbled streets. Drivers, whose hats sat close to their scalps slung at precise angles, lugged huge trays of steaming bread or dented aluminum kegs. And everywhere English transformed to music by the brogue.
At 9 am we made our way to the bank: “Oh, man, look at that,” Brad said, indicating a pair of lines snaking along the sidewalk. “We should have come over right away.”
The sudden and unexpected crush of tourists at the exchange bureau promised to keep us in line for almost an hour. But we had just arrived in Ireland and so I for one felt no need to rush.
“We’ll be out of town soon enough,” I said. “I’m sure once we get outside the city it’ll be great.”
After what turned out to be a much shorter than expected wait, we took our handful of new Irish Punts to a tiny corner restaurant where the air was surprisingly thick with American, British and French accents. After a heavy Irish Breakfast, we took the winding road west toward Limerick. Just outside of Rosslare we saw directions to the new John Fitzgerald Kennedy Arboretum. The world loves JFK, and the Irish would beatify him if they could. Later, entering Limerick, we drove along the reconstructed battlements of King John’s castle still brooding above the city and glaring across the River Shannon with silenced cannon. This had been one of the last strongholds of British rule in the Republic, and yet they have rebuilt it as well. For the tourists.
Ireland’s roads are not designed to accommodate the traffic that has suddenly descended from the Continent. Approaching each of these attractions the main arteries tended to slow and even stop.
“This is not what I expected,” I said, tapping my claddagh ring against the steering wheel. “I don’t know, Brad. Maybe we want to stop at a few of the sights along the way? It’s better than waiting in lines just to hurry up and get to the next traffic jam.”
Brad was in the process of refolding the map to a new section. “I think we aught to stick with the plan for now. We might not find Kerrigan’s right away. And anyway, after we do we can come back if we want to.” I knew he would say this. We had fallen into the pattern of keeping each other on track since the dreaming stage of the trip. And for now, double-decked tour busses stopped in the road or no, we just kept the car rolling ahead as best we could.
In early afternoon we arrived at the Cliffs of Mohar, where we did stop. Past the crowded souvenir shop, we went to hang our heads over that granite precipice above the sea. Fog-laden winds blew in from the Atlantic where the cliffs redirected them into a vertical river of super-saturated air, as if a rent had opened in reality. Wheeling sea-gulls faded in and out of view like fey voyagers through that mist. Suddenly Kerrigan’s Keep felt very close.
For the rest of the afternoon we hugged the coast road until arriving at the brightly painted town of Ballyvaughn. Here we took our second stop, for food, directions and a camp site. We hoped the final leg to the Keep would be on the following day. Then we got a break; the waiter that served us the steamed fish and potatoes knew just where we needed to go.
“Sure I know where is the Keep. ‘Tis a dark place people should’ve left alone,” he said as he placed a pint of black porter in front of each of us.
“We’ve come a long way,” Brad explained, “too far to turn back now.”
After taking a long swallow of porter, I took up the story: “We want to see for ourselves if the story about . . .”
“I know well the story,” he interrupted, nodding his head. For a moment he fixed his gaze on me, then he said, “I see the very map of Ireland in your face, boyo. Don’t go there.”
I looked over at Brad, whose eye-brows had climbed painfully high on his forehead. The pit of my stomach had fallen away and the porter I poured into myself seemed never to hit bottom. For a moment we might have decided to abandon the Keep then and there, but too much jolly-bravado feedback prevented it. And after all, we did come for the fear.
Later, the dreary grey sky seemed to reach down and press our shoulders as we pitched the tent. We set up camp in a tiny patch of lawn squeezed between two in-town houses, amid dozens of other brightly colored nylon domes and A-frames. In spite of the fact that it was not raining, the mist had soaked us both to the skin by the time we crawled in and zipped the door and rain fly shut.
* * *
In the morning, we wandered to the corner where we had noticed a tea-room the previous night. A tour bus had just pulled in and disgorged gaggles of loud American tourists. Fortunately they all seemed to want scones and Irish breakfast tea and so left the espresso machine free for us. We gulped and were gone.
Between the map and the directions from the waiter, we were confident we would find the old castle as we drove away from Ballyvaughn and into the surrounding hills. The road got smaller the farther into the Burren we went, and more lonely. Ireland rolled to the sea in great fractured slabs of stone and tumbles of shattered boulders. Brave trees, anchored in rare pockets of top soil, bent to the perpetual wind from the ocean in twisted, hunched shapes. Clouds of heavy mist scuttled over the stone sweeping open pockets across Ireland’s spectacular desolation.
Away from the crowds, away from the busses and traffic, far from the pandering, the Burren seemed immune to the invasion. And it was there that rose the lichen covered tower of Kerrigan’s Keep. As we rolled through the foothills, it dipped beneath the mist bathed horizon, jutting again as we topped the next rise, as if it were diving in and out of time.
And then we saw the sign.
“Welcome to Kerrigan’s Keep,” it proclaimed in bold green lettering. “Come see the haunted Castle!”
“Shit, Brad,” I said, “so much for that.
“You’re not kiddin’,” he said leaning closer to the windshield.
The closer we got the worse it looked. Kerrigan’s Keep did exist, very much as I had pictured it. Only we found it to be flanked by a new asphalt parking lot, souvenir shop and soft ice‑cream stand. We parked in the still empty lot and wandered toward what appeared to be a ticket booth.
There was a ten punt entry fee, expensive but we paid. After the freckle-faced girl stuffed our bills into a shiny new strong box, she pointed toward a hole in the stone wall. Descending steps disappeared in shadows within the Keep.
“Right through there, with yea,” she said. “Don’t be too afraid.” She smiled for us.
Down we went. Shiny handrails were fixed into the stone walls. Fresh mortar shown white between the old rocks. Deep-red light lit the chamber below, as if not to disturb sleeping bats. And our rubber-soled hiking boots squeaked on the time polished granite steps.
In spite of the months of preparation for this descent, when the rumbling began my footsteps faltered. And when the moaning started out of the murk below I stopped outright. Somehow I knew it was not a “Pirates of the Caribbean” down there. My brain stem knew and shrieked at my reptilian brain to run. But I didn’t. I paused and we continued down.
They were still boiling from the earth when we reached the bottom of the stairway. Stones flew through the air and crashed against a thick barrier of plexiglass. Waves of hatred and despair transmitted from those expressionless bone faces of all but forgotten soldiers. Rusted weapons pulverized and skeletons disarticulated battering against the barrier wall; then they reintegrated to hurl themselves to dust again in a relentless drive to defend the ancient castle. I watched the cycle of resurrection roll impotently against the plastic.
And no, before you ask, they did not frighten me, those ember-eyed revenants. As I stood watching them, my fingertips just touching the plexiglass wall, I was acutely aware of the banners snapping in the wind outside the refurbished keep, the flickering shadows of bloody neon glow within. I even wanted to release them, let them out to rage across a world guilty of betraying a devotion and honor more powerful than the passage time and deaths cold grip.
I turned away from the pounding on the plexiglass wall as a tour‑bus pulled in, spewing a hoard of Japanese tourists. With their mouths covered over by cotton air filters and cameras swinging from tethers around their necks, they flowed past me as if I wasn’t there. In the darkness below, the viewing chamber filled with their chattering and the whirring of electronic cameras that almost — almost — drowned the frenzy from beyond the wall.
I couldn’t sure, but it sounded as if the pounding on the plexiglass grew louder.
Rob Furey earned his doctorate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in the Life Sciences program with a specialization in ethology. His work was centered around social aspects of spider behavior, but his interests have broadened to include areas of astronomy, physics, geology and forensics. Before coming to Harrisburg University Dr Furey has been associate professor of behavioral science at the Université Henri Poincaré, Vandouvre les Nancy, France, visiting European researcher at the Free University of Brussels, and assistant professor in New Century College at George Mason University. Dr Furey won numerous awards for innovative teaching from both academic and business groups, and was invited to present a broad integrated science course to a pedagogy group at NASA Ames. He has been working closely with the Dauphin County Coroner’s office as a sworn deputy since January 1, 2006. His current position in Integrative Sciences at Harrisburg University is well suited to his interests and teaching style. Complimentary activities include director of the environmental education center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, guide and science adviser to a Partridge Films film crew in Equatorial West Africa and regular science columns in Aeon Magazine and IRoSF. Is fiction has appeared in several anthologies; he is a member of the ElectricStory community, and a Clarion West alum.
I’d never seen a haunted house until that moment. I was made a ghost, and I was the one haunting the house. It was the house I’d spent my childhood in.
It was my hell.
My father molested me in that house. I could hear his breathing from the doorway. He was passed out on the couch, a luke warm can of Bud Light attached to his fingertips. I wished desperately that I could shove the can down his throat, crushing it as I did so the metal would slice open his insides.
Maybe then I could rest in peace.
Katie studied screenwriting in college and is hoping to pursue her MFA in creative writing. She has previous works of fiction scheduled to be published in Down in the Dirt, Prospective: A Journal of Speculation andBewildering Stories. She is also a guest blogger for Grads.Co.UK. When not writing, she is busy planning trips for her clients at her travel agency, From Here to There Travel. She currently lives in NC with her husband, son and their dog named Corona.
This story was previously published in Something Dark in the Doorway by Static Movement.
Michelle sat under the crumbling gray eaves of the old house and waited.
She supposed she was waiting for the woman to come back. But the woman, her ‘mother,’ had been gone a long, long while now. The house had been white when the woman last left it, and there had been doors which opened, and stairs and floors. Now, if there were doors at all, the hinges were rusted shut and they were impossible to open. The stairs had long since rotted away and the second story had collapsed and was now just piles of decayed rubble in the rooms of the first floor. None of this troubled Michelle.
The house was an empty shell without a middle. Michelle thought this was just fine, because she was an empty middle without a shell. In this way, she and the house complimented each other. She had no great love for the house, however.
She came to the house in the morning, and returned to her place down by the creek at dusk. She spent all of her moments from dawn to dusk at the old house, waiting.
She was also searching.
She sat on the sagging porch, or went inside the house and drifted like a pale shadow from room-to-room and dug a deep well in what passed for her memory, each day trying to dig a little deeper.
Sometimes she found objects in the house that triggered memories. Like the poker by the fireplace, for instance. And the old blood stain on the kitchen floor.
But the precise memory she was looking for had no attachment to the house, or her time spent here. She was trying to go back to the time before. Before coming to the house. Before the outbursts of an ill-tempered woman. Before the violence of fists and pokers.
She was digging deep in the well today, tracing time backwards (there was only backwards-time now, no more going forward for her). She was in a car. Crying. Playing with a dirt-smudged dolly. It was raining. The woman was shouting at her. “SHUT UP” screamed in time with the thudding windshield wipers. A stinging slap. The first of countless other blows.
Before that…dimly…another woman, and a man. She tried to dig deep enough to see their faces. It was all silver mists and shadows. She tried to see in her mind’s eye the house…the other one…the one she’d been in before the woman had picked her up at school.
“I’m your Aunt Sally. No, you’ve never met me before now. I just got into town. C’mon, I’m here to take you home,” she’d said.
Of course, they hadn’t gone home. They’d come here.
Michelle was sixteen years old when it happened.
By that time a part of her had come to believe the woman really was her mother. But another part of her rebelled at the idea…a vision of a red-brick townhouse swirling in the mists of memory, something of pink hydrangea and a foggy image of a blond-haired man and woman. Hair as blond as hers.
When the argument escalated (Michelle had wanted to go on her first date with Bobby Allen, but her ‘mother’, always overly protective, said ‘no.’) the mists cleared for a moment and she’d voiced her suspicion.
“You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not my real mother! You’re not even my Aunt Sally!” She’d stomped angrily off to her room. She’d crossed the line, she knew it, and she waited fearfully for the woman’s footfalls on the stairs. The reprisal. It didn’t come that night.
In the morning, she went downstairs to a quiet house and entered the kitchen in search of breakfast.
She caught a split-second glimpse of the swinging poker in the corner of her eye, a dull CRACK! and she saw no more.
She woke up on the creek bank. She could hear the woman somewhere nearby.
Michelle stood up and when she turned around, saw herself lying on the ground.
“I’m dead,” was all she could think.
The woman was digging her grave.
She did not stay to watch her burial. Instead, she strolled along the creek bank, watched autumn leaves floating in the current and marveled at the way the sunlight made everything it touched look like liquid amber, and wondered why she never noticed these things when she’d been living.
She returned to the house the next morning, consumed with rage. She devoted all her ghostly energy into tormenting the woman. Her favorite was walking through her, causing her sudden chills. She rapped on doors and windows and made loud noises at night, keeping the woman awake and terrified. This made Michelle very happy, to see her former tormenter propped up in bed, lights on, teeth chattering with fear, with the pouchy gray bags of sleeplessness under her eyes. Finally, the woman moved out, leaving Michelle alone. Other people lived in the house over the years, but they never stayed long. It was devoid of living dwellers for over fifty years now, left to fall into its current state of disrepair.
It’s the memory of that car trip she most longs to recover from her deep well. But she’d spent most of it crying. She has snippets, though…hydrangea bushes…a turnpike…a long bridge over a wide river…but then the vision grows hazy and the mist closes in. She keeps trying, though. Every day she glides through peeling walls and digs desperately for each new vision along the road…and when she finally has it…the mists will part and there she will see it…
Like a signpost…pointing the way home.
Maria Kelly is an author, caffeine-drenched college student, and the editor of The Were-Traveler. You can read about her writer ninja adventures and her plans for world domination on her personal blog at http://mariakellyauthor.com.