Welcome to our October issue!
The nights are longer. Howls call at the full moon. And A Muse Bouche Review digs into the Supernatural. The creepy, the strange, and the unknown converge in this month’s exploration of the unreal, and we are delighted to have you join us. Enjoy some wonderful fiction, some enlightening essays, and find out what is so special about the fantastic piece that won this month’s Flash Fiction Contest.
As always, feel free to let us know how we did on Twitter or by contacting us directly through the info in our individual articles!
The Amuse Bouche Review Team
Feature: Portals (Aedyn Brooks) Essay
Contest Winner: Live to Work, Work to Live (Chris Ritchey) Fiction
The Meaning of Forever (Crystal L. Kirkham) Fiction
Not Without Our Names (A.P. Miller) Fiction
Supernatural (Louise Sorensen) Essay
The Spirit’s Staircase (Norm Boyington) Fiction
A Walk in the Garden (Renée Gendron) Fiction
A Lesson (D.W. Hitz) Fiction
Team Showcase from AMBR Contributors (October 2020)
Flash Fiction Contest from AMBR Contributors (Contest Announcement)
by Aedyn Brooks (@aedynbrooks)
In the August issue of A Muse Bouche Review, I shared that I grew up in a haunted house. It wasn’t the only haunted house I’ve lived in. When I moved 2,600 miles from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest, USA, I moved into a house that would take all of my other haunted experiences and make them child’s play. Eleven hundred square feet of never knowing what was coming next.
It all started on the March equinox. Something woke me around 4:00 AM. I opened my eyes and there standing outside my bedroom window, in silhouette, was a WWI doughboy, complete with rifle resting on his shoulder, with his left eye missing. A round hole was piercingly bright from a cloudless moonlit sky. Logically, I knew he wasn’t real. There was no way a human being was standing outside my window with a hole through his head and helmet. Yet, I was too terrified to move, blink, or scarcely breathe. I stared at him, as he stared at me, until the sun rose and he disappeared.
Not long after, when I’d go to bed at night, I’d hear footsteps walking on hardwood floors in my carpeted living room. Whoever it was walked in circles for what seemed like forever, before they’d come down the hall toward the bedrooms. The closer they got, I’d close my eyes and pretend like I was asleep, and they’d keep walking through the wall at the end of the hall.
I moved my bed after that, put it under the window so I couldn’t see the soldier, and if something was coming down the hall, I’d get a good look at them. If I had the courage to open my eyes. I was scared spitless because whatever was there, wasn’t flesh and bone.
You’d think I’d be used to this by now, right? No. Nothing can prepare you for a ghost highway. That’s what it felt like. Someone had to have opened a portal to the other side. I explored ley lines and verified none ran under my house. I was eager to find any logical reason why spirits passed through or decided to stay. On TV, usually when a portal was opened, it seems only negative energies passed through. We had the usual light flickering and doors open and closing on occasion, nothing major. I’d explain it away like it was the wind, or I’d forgotten that I’d shut a door. Until I was on the phone one evening with a friend. The lights started flickering like crazy. Out of anger, I shouted, “Could you please stop doing that? It’s giving me a headache.” It stopped. That got my attention. No matter how many times I’d spoke to spirits before, they’d never responded. Maybe these ghosts were different?
Not long after my oldest was born, she was sleeping in her crib when I’d hear the usual hard-soled boots walking in the living room. They’d come down the hall, but a new sound started. A crackling noise came from under the baby’s crib. It sounded like someone was wadding up a dozen plastic grocery store bags. This went on night after night for months. Something about a baby in the house increased the activity. (By the way, I should mention that my now ex-husband worked nights, so I was home alone with a baby.) Then one night, my daughter wasn’t feeling well and I put her in bed with me. Up until that night, I’d heard ghosts in this house, but hadn’t ever seen them. The ghost made their usual trek in circles around the living room floor, and as the footsteps came down the hall, I saw him turn and stare into my daughter’s room. The crackling under crib resumed, and there he was, looking like Daniel Boone with his coonskin cap, complete with tail, leather breeches and coat with fringe, and knee-high boots with a buck knife tucked in at the top. I said, “She’s in here.”
His spine snap straight. Shoulder’s squared. Turned. He had no eyes. Just murky gray spaces, like an old photograph negative. He then started walking toward me. In my mind, I’m chanting don’t come in here, don’t come in here, don’t come in here. He stood in the doorway and stared at me. I was as stiff as a statue, too terrified to do anything. He looked at my daughter, turned, and walked through the wall. Now that I’d met “Daniel Boone, the guardian,” I wasn’t afraid of those footsteps anymore.
Fast-forward eleven years. My daughter was at that awesome pre-pubescent age of zero tolerance and all-worldly knowledge. As a parent, I was getting dumber by the day. By then, I was a single mom of three kids. An elderly ghost couple had moved into the attic over the garage. They loved turning the lights out as you were half-way to the freezer. But, if you asked them nicely to turn the lights back on, they always did. However, my daughter refused to speak to anything that didn’t truly exist. One night, as she made her way to the freezer, the lights went out, and she unloaded her at-ti-tude with both barrels. I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t report a domestic dispute. From that day forward, if she walked into the garage and turned on the lights, they immediately went out even though the light switch didn’t move, and they never turned back on for her again. I told her she needed to apologize. She refused. Little Miss Stubborn learned to carry a flashlight…even that went out on occasion and it’d turn back on once she came back into the house.
On the final day in that house, I sat alone on the empty living room floor, recalling the many ghostly encounters. The time they brushed my hair away from my face while I cried, or turned on the TV just before a stranger knocked on the door. Small moments that helped me realize that these ghosts never intended harm. They may have startled us, but in the end, we’d learned to get along and maybe even enjoy each other.
The room filled with a million voices like a crowded restaurant. Like they’d all showed up to say good-bye at the same time. I let them know I appreciated them watching over me and my family, but now they were going to have to break in a new family with a baby on the way. I asked them to be kind and respectful—and not turn out the lights—at least not right away.
p.s. We never heard the footsteps or saw Daniel Boone ever again. #myhauntedlife
by Chris Ritchey (@AuthorCRitchey)
Swirls of stars dominated the night sky, some so brilliant that they seemed to break the 5th dimension. William remembered when they used to go camping when he was younger, and his mother sneaked him out of the tent in the middle of the night. She would set a blanket down and they’d trace the stars in the sky, making new constellations and the stories behind them. He sighed deeply, turned his shovel over, and patted down the dirt a few more times, wondering if the new residents underneath appreciated the atmosphere or if they were only worried about their depleting oxygen.
When he took over the family business, one of the things his father made sure to imprint on him was that customer service was paramount. “You are never going to get repeat customers, so you need to build a repertoire with the family and community.” He would make sure he said it every visit. Willam took that to heart and spent years making their funeral home the premiere final destination in the entire county. He often spent his down-time networking in the various business and social gatherings, ever the charmer as his wife would say.
Sure, he had to put his nocturnal hobby on hold while he made sure the business stayed viable, but the last six months proved that he created a sustainable business model. He laid down on the dirt with his ear to the ground and sighed contently as the muffled screams began to fade.
by Crystal L. Kirkham (@canuckclick)
“I want to spend forever with you.”
The words broke the silence of their peaceful walk and Amelia stopped and stared up at Jon, her tongue struggling for a response in surprise at his words. “What?”
“I know you heard me the first time and I know it’s only been a month since we met, but I seriously have never met anyone like you. You’re amazing.” He gazed down into her eyes as he spoke and a shudder ran through her. She glanced up at the full moon overhead and then smiled at him.
“I didn’t know you felt that way, but I feel the same.” Amelia wrapped her arms tightly around him and shoved her chilled face against his chest. “Thank you.”
Jon laughed and kissed the top of her head. “Want to keep walking?”
She nodded, knowing he would feel it and peeled herself away from him, except for still holding his gloved hand in hers as they continued down the quiet street. It was almost time for her to return home but here was a promise that meant she might not have to go alone. She shivered with anticipation at the thought.
“Are you cold?” Jon gave her hand a little squeeze and she smiled wanly. “I can call a cab, I just thought it was a nice night for a walk.”
“It’s a gorgeous night, it’s just…” She let the sentence trail off as a landmark caught her attention. Peaceful Hill Cemetery. Her eyes widened and she dragged Jon towards the gate without a word. In the bright and ghostly light of the full moon, tombstones had an ethereal glow about them.
“Do you want to go in?” Jon asked and she glanced up at him, surprised at his boldness.
“It’s closed but, yeah, I do want to go in. It’s so beautiful.” Amelia bit her lip and hoped that Jon wasn’t joking around to try and scare her. This was the last thing she was scared of with him by her side.
“Let’s break the rules.” He tested the gate, but it was only latched, not locked. Despite the hours clearly posted on the sign, there was nothing to stop them from entering.
With a half-muffled giggle, she followed him through into the graveyard. They walked past the newer rows; all neat and tidy, each grave marked with shiny, carved headstones. Amelia tugged on Jon’s arm, urging him towards the older area. Still grinning, he followed.
This was the part she liked. Here the rows were almost haphazard, the stones were covered with moss or missing entirely. Not a single bit of artificial light touched this area. It was a world awash in greys.
She knelt down and brushed her fingers across a small stone, topped with the form of a lamb. A child’s grave. She could barely make out the year carved into the stone, 1918. That alone told a story of its own.
“It’s sad, isn’t it?” Jon asked, kneeling beside her as she stared at the stone.
“Death comes for us all without a care of how much life was lived—if any.” Amelia gave the grave a little pat and stood, walking over to see the next one.
There was no lamb here, nor had it disintegrated past the point of legibility. She cocked her head as she studied the marker, a small grin on her face.
“Same year, I wonder if they’re related,” Jon said, taking her hand in his. “And same name as you, any relation?”
“Yes,” Amelia said and laughed heartily.
“Shhh,” Jon whispered urgently as he looked about. “We don’t want to get caught!”
“We won’t,” Amelia insisted, taking a step closer to the stone, standing over where the grave itself would be.
“And how do you know that?” Jon rolled his eyes but didn’t resist as she pulled him closer.
“Because I do,” Amelia said breathily as she leaned in to kiss him. She could have stayed in this embrace forever, but she could feel the lateness of an hour. It was time to go.
“I need to go back home now, come with me?” she asked, nearly begged.
“Then welcome home.” Amelia clutched Jon tightly and he gasped. Midnight had come. He struggled to get out of her grip, but he’d said the words. She didn’t let go, not even when the ground pulled them down.
And before it had swallowed them completely, she whispered in his ear. “I want to spend forever with you.”
by A.P. Miller (@Millerverse)
There are so many ways to trick the mind into engaging in something related to sleep when you have insomnia and Holden Banes was getting good at it.
In the hours between his wife going to sleep and the acceptable hour to begin the routines of the day, Holden tried everything. He was reading, but he was just tired enough that he couldn’t make sense of the words. He tried writing poetry, but the fog of the mind was too thick for the muscles of his hands to write legibly. There were only so many shows he could binge watch on streaming services. He tried exercising, but other health issues were preventing any routine from being successful.
Eventually, in the wee hours before the dawn, a forty-five minute respite from being conscious might arrive. After that, his medically distressed bladder would drive him to the bathroom, and the vicious cycle would repeat itself.
On the eighty-seventh day of having to occupy the overnight hours in a room separate from his wife, Holden pondered just how long a human being could go without sleep. Surely, the sleep deprivation would take him into a much more fulfilling state of being such as death.
Holden scolded himself for thinking that way. There was a life to live and people who would miss him. Things were bad at the moment, but they would pass too and everyone could move on. He reached over to turn out the light and hoped the boredom of staring into nothing but darkness would bore him into a synthetic slumber.
Holden’s eyes opened slowly — the clock beside his bed said it was four in the morning. Not early enough to start making noise in the kitchen, but his bladder was demanding a trip to the bathroom.
The signals from the brain told Holden’s legs to move, but they wouldn’t budge. Alarmed, Holden tried to see what was wrong with his body. That’s when the realization arrived: Holden wasn’t alone in the room or the bed.
Something dark and massive was in the bed behind Holden. Low, rumbling, guttural sounds were emitting from deep in its throat. Judging by the sound alone, the invader’s mouth wide. Hot breath cascaded over the back of Holden’s neck and clouds of invisible stench invaded his nose. Sharp talons traced the path of his spine from his sacrum to the base of his skull.
From underneath the bed, a powerful arm gripped Holden by the wrist. The hand was wide and the three phalanges on the hand were slender. Like the entity in bed with him, the hand had claws of razor jutting from the end of the fingers. The arm pulled on Holden, slowly at first, but with increasing force.
The creature in bed with Holden wrapped its limbs around him — the other appendages were serpentine and scaly, like being constricted by a snake.
Holden tried to thrash against the force restraining him, but was frozen.
In the corner of the room most ignored by the ambient light coming in from outside was a sinister chuckle — whatever existed in the corner was amused by Holden’s resistance. The disembodied laughter was hollow, echoing throughout the room.
A shadow crawled across the walls from the corner, like ink had spilled and was spreading its suffocating darkness along the surface. The hollow laughter was coming from the center of the spreading abyss, and becoming more hysterical the more the absence of light spread across the room.
“In God’s name,” Holden sputtered, “I demand you leave! In the name of the Almighty, I cast you out!”
“No!” The being behind Holden hissed into his ear. The aural assault felt like it punctured Holden’s eardrum. The entity constricted tighter.
“That only works if you know our names.” The entity pulling at Holden from below the bed said. It’s voice was concussive, and made Holden sick to his stomach.
The being from the corner had completely enveloped the room in darkness. Holden couldn’t see, or hear. The skin of his arms and legs were searing where the entity was constricting Holden’s body.
Dread and defeat filled Holden’s heart.
“Our father, who art in heaven…” Holden whispered in his mind, reciting the prayer in anticipation for suffering unfathomed, to be torn apart in ways undreamed of.
In the suffocating abyss, light returned. It was a small pinhole at first, but grew to the size of a nickel, then a quarter, progressing to the entire room being filled with light. It wasn’t just light, it was warmth.
In the light, faces appeared, then bodies. Three hardened men stood in the room, wearing the light like armor. The taller of the three breathed in deep, and exhaled a torrent of sound. Whatever the din had been, it caused the entities to shriek, and then dissipate into the obscurity from which they came.
The men didn’t say a word. They looked at Holden, and then left.
The clock beside the bed still read four o’clock. Exhausted, Holden collapsed into sleep.
Still unnerved by the experience the next day, Holden went looking for answers, turning to online forums and message boards. By all accounts, Holden had experienced an episode of sleep paralysis — his subconscious manifested the fear of being unable to move as something sinister, and the relief of paralysis as avenging presences.
Eventually, Holden came across a message board about Demonology. The description of the forum read “When it comes to Demons, no names = no hope.”
Holden shut down his computer and left for the book store.
Each room in his house had a bible in it that evening.
by Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)
If you google the word supernatural, the TV show Supernatural appears at the top of the list.
I’ve never seen it, but I know many who have loved it.
Other shows that easily come to mind are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, and the Twilight Zone. I’ve never seen Buffy either, but I’m a big Files and Zone fan. What can I say? We live in the backwoods of eastern Ontario, Canada. Our limited selection of TV programs is beamed in by satellite. That in itself sounds a little supernatural.
Supernatural is defined as ‘of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe especially: of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil, or departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature.’ The laws of nature like gravity, that superheroes regularly defy.
Ghosts, vampires, shifters, demons, gods, demigods, enchanted gargoyles, witches, their familiars, fae, superheroes, and magic, make great supernatural stories, and there is a huge selection of movies, books, and TV shows.
They’ve been around forever and we all have our favourites. Frankenstein and Dracula started the current ball rolling and we’ve never looked back.
I’ve been binging on women’s paranormal for the last eight months. It helps take my mind off Covid, and all the other horrible things happening in our real world.
The thing about supernatural stories is that there is always a way, or a person, to fix any problem. And although the forces of evil are strong and worthy opponents, the forces of good usually, eventually prevail.
Sometimes it takes a triple trilogy. May the Force be with you.
Sometimes there is the One, and only he can save the world. Neo.
When the threat is just too great, there is the team, all with special powers. Thor and company.
Or things get too spooky. You call in your favourite paranormal investigators. Mulder and Scully.
Speaking of who you gonna call … Ghostbusters.
Readers are pretty canny these days. They don’t necessarily want formula stories, but they do appreciate a story that is clear, creative, unusual, entertaining, and even inspiring. Even if that message is ‘even witches and wizards have to work out to stay trim.’ Sometimes they do. Think Dresden and his parkour. And when they don’t have to work out to stay trim, the story has crossed the line into total fiction. But we still love it. Who wouldn’t want to be able to eat all they want and still be healthy and svelte?
And it doesn’t hurt if the characters are hot. Solo, Luke and Leia, Buffy, Angel, the Winchester brothers. Thor!
Although they don’t have to start out that way. Beauty and the Beast.
Like sports, supernatural stories are entertaining, escapism, and educational. They show us how to handle threats. They show us how to be skilled, nimble, quick thinking, persistent, brave in the face of overwhelming odds and horrible injuries.
What we need right now in our real world are Anti-Corona superheroes who could inspire the whole world to pull together and kick Covid’s ass. Of course they’d wear masks.
The reason paranormal stories are escapism is because in the real world, there is no magic fix. In the real world, we all have to muddle along in difficult circumstances, when all around us are losing their jobs, houses, lives. Even social media is a morass of arguments. No wonder we need a break every now and then.
So, the real world; difficult at the best of times.
The supernatural world; an oasis in a tough existence.
I love supernatural stories of any kind. Ghosts, witches, demons, magic, all do it for me. As I stood washing dishes this morning, it occurred to me that many of my stories cross that line. Whether it’s a haunted statue, a woman who saves the world by dreamwalking, or someone who cannot die, there are many real life questions that can be explored by journeying into that extra dimension.
I’ll leave you with a poem based on real life that came to me this morning. Yes, washing dishes. A mindless mundane task that opens the mind to creativity. Writers and other creatives, you could use this poem as a prompt. Readers, you can imagine all the stories, film, art, that could come out of these simple lines.
The Last Man,
went down to the beach,
and frolicked in the waves
with ghosts and memories
by Norm Boyington (@NormBoyington)
The boy, hardly five years old, lay in his room. The faint odour of stale urine permeating his mattress somehow oddly comforted his racing mind. It was earlier than usual that his mother had sent him to bed. A sliver of light from the hallway’s window showed that the sun had not yet excused itself from the evening’s sky.
He could hear his mother lifting her voice over the others, making sure she got in the last word. The black and white television’s volume turned up as if to drown her out, likely by his father and her cursing him for doing it. A question was asked. He knew that his oldest brother had just been elected to make everyone a snack for the evening’s entertainment. Popcorn was cheap. It was something his mother had no problem buying.
The aroma wafted up and into his room through the partially opened door. The boy could be afraid of the darkness and what crept about in the shadows. In his small mind, the old house’s creaks and groans were ominous, to be sure. The doorway then was always left ajar to comfort him, or maybe simply to stop him from crying about it.
He sat on the edge of his bed, resenting his exclusion from the collection of friends and family below. It was a familiar theme for amusements and snacks to be brought out after his nightly confinement. Yes, he resented this banishment to the upstairs, to the upstairs alone while under his feet records were spun, television was watched, and games played. The boy loved playing games; he loved the music his older brother would put on the cabinet record player.
Why was he up in his room?
“Why are you up in your room?”
It was a whisper that would, at times, come from the corner closet. Its questions and quiet comments seemed innocent enough. The boy didn’t fear the softly spoken messages. He rationalized that his imaginary friend Ducky was once again speaking to him. When the boy was rejected by his mother, he and Ducky would play games such as checkers and chess on the dining room floor. Ducky was always sure to go easy on him, as the boy barely knew the rudimentary rules of the games they engaged in.
“I like the smell of popcorn too.”
There was the voice again, its message hinting maybe some kind of action should be taken. The boy reasoned that he better take a look from the top of the staircase out in the hall. He thought to possibly spy on the happenings going on downstairs before Ducky grew agitated. His feathered friend had been known to knock things over when he didn’t feel included. So many times, the boy had been accused of damaging personal items when Ducky had been the one to do it.
Out of his bed, the boy quietly slid, his bare feet silently brushing the floor. He turned his face towards the bright slitted opening in the doorframe then crossed the room, his delicate fingers searching for the doorknob. The fragrance of the evening’s snack was strong in the hallway. He carefully set one foot after the other creating no sound at all as he attained the top of the stairway.
It was the stench of something burning that froze him in his tracks. He had just rested his left hand on the smooth wooden stair rail when the stink hit him, assaulting his senses. The sound of raspy breathing drew his eyes slowly downward. The boy, arrested in his steps, laid his eyes upon the impossible countenance of a creature that was roughly the same proportions as himself. Its face was rust-coloured with soot marks dirtying the fur encompassing its eyes. There were no teeth to be seen in or around the muzzle area, and its hands looked soft and human in appearance. The beast was clothed in a smoky blue button-up shirt with one pocket, an open ruff, and black and brown pants with a yellow patch on the right knee. The look was odd, but the yellow patch imprinted on his mind etching itself into his forever memories. Its feet were the evolution of something human and bestial. When asked later about the vision, the boy would not recollect if there was a hat or not resting upon the creature’s head. Nothing is his five years prepared him for what was barring his way to the downstairs, to the refuge of his father’s arms. His eyes grew wide as the abnormality opened it’s mouth and spoke.
“Will you be my friend?”
The boy’s mind could hardly comprehend what was transpiring in front of him, and he found that his tongue was stilled. The creature waiting for acknowledgment then changed tactics.
“Would you care for a cigarette?”
The secondary question was so out of place from the child’s metric of normalcy that he did what any other five year old would do in his place.
The scream was not one of want; it was something honest and terrifying. The doglike creature dissolved into the wall as the boy’s father dashed up the stairs to gather up his son. Words of comfort and assurance were spoken as the man held his boy tight. The whole family crowded around in concern. Only his mother remained indifferent, remaining in the living room to talk on the telephone.
“Yes, he’s crying.”
“I don’t know.”
“He’s insisting he saw something upstairs.”
It was responses of indifference and aggravation.
Many years later, the boy, now a man, looked back at the occurrence as he whispered softly with Keith, a man’s replacement for an imaginary friend.
“It’s all so blurry. The next year the garden shed burned to the ground for unexplained reasons. Sometime after that, my father fell while climbing the stairs. He claimed that something grabbed his ankle. My mother insisted he was drunk. A year later, during the heat of the summer, a fire broke out in the house while we slept. My sister awoke to something calling her name and pressing hard against her chest. She believed it might have been an angel. It was she that discovered the blaze.”
The man shook his head while he stared at the front door of the house he once inhabited as a child.
“Two days following the initial blaze, the house caught fire once more. Dad wanted nothing to do with the property after that. He said good riddance when he sold it.”
The boy who lived within the man turned away from his old home and began a slow walk up the tranquil street to where he had parked his car. His pace only increasing when a familiar voice whispered behind him.
“There you are, my friend.”
by Renée Gendron (@ReneeGendron)
Eileen looked at her youngest daughter Alice who sat beside the bed, knitting a pair of slippers. Bright pink and yellow wool knotted together for a baby shower.
“How many does that make?” Eileen asked.
“Grandchildren or socks I knitted for them?” Alice looked up from her work, glasses hanging on the tip of her nose. She had Sam’s eyes, round and discerning.
“It’s Becca’s third, and I think,” she peered down into the knitting bag, “this is my fifth pair of socks.”
“They know it’s a girl?”
“They do.” A smile peeled back on her lips.
“You know, I don’t understand that. Why spoil the biggest and best surprise of your life? When I was carrying you, everyone was convinced you were going to be a boy.”
Alice glanced down at her work and made a little ‘hmm’ noise. The same type of noise she made when she had heard a story or a fact dozens of times and hadn’t the heart to tell the speaker to stop.
“How are you feeling?” Sam’s breath caressed her ear. He sat perched on the side of the bed, one arm draped over Eileen’s shoulder.
She leaned against her husband of sixty-eight years. “Sore and tired, but that’s to be expected at her age.”
“The doctor says you need to walk,” Alice said.
Eileen cupped her ear and feigned deafness.
Alice gave her a flat look, the same one she inherited from Sam when Sam was tired of an argument but couldn’t find the words to end it. “You know what the doctor said. You should walk down to the end of the lane and come back a few times in the morning and in the afternoon. We don’t want you losing muscle tone.”
“Am I to run a marathon?”
“No. You’re to get out of bed and stay active.”
Eileen glanced at Sam, who offered no sympathy. His dark eyes had a glazed quality to them, but they still held the same love they had had on their wedding day.
“You know she’s right.” Sam reached for her hand and stroked the back of it with his thumb. “Alice spent how many years a nurse?”
Eileen glanced out of the window to avoid conceding the point.
Sunshine spilled into the room, bringing with it warmth and the promise of spring. A robin chirped a happy melody.
“Do you remember those hooded warblers?” Eileen asked Sam.
“Hard to forget them.” He squeezed her hand.
They had honeymooned near Niagara and took a walk in Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens. On a tree-lined walkway, they had been surrounded by hooded warblers. One of the gardeners said it was a good omen for their marriage.
Talking came from the hallway, and Eileen turned her head to see her three other children, and four of their children come in. They each leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, then settled throughout the room.
Two of the grandchildren stood by the window, heads down on their cellphones. Their parents frowned and chided them, but moments after, the heads of the grandchildren were bowed over technology.
“How did we make such beautiful children,” Eileen asked Sam.
“We were fortunate they inherited your good looks.” He pressed his lips on her forehead.
“And your kind spirit.”
When Sam came back from the war, there was a time when she worried about him. He was sullen and withdrawn, and then the nightmares. Every night for months.
He focused on being the best father and husband he could be, and in time, the wounds scarred over, but never fully healed.
“I’m hungry,” she said.
“Want a sandwich or something more?” Alice asked.
“Something light, like a cucumber sandwich. But with bacon.”
“Then, it’s not light.” Sam stroked the line of her neck.
“Alright,” Alice said. She looked at one of her adult children, who took the hint and left the room to prepare a sandwich.
“Cold?” her oldest, Robert, son asked. He opened the wardrobe. “Blanket or sweater?”
“Blanket.” She didn’t feel much like having her hair done again.
Bobby laid the wool blanket over her legs and tucked her in.
“Remember how you used to do that?” Eileen asked Sam.
“Every night. Each kid. Without fail.” The corners of his mouth peeled back in a smile, and his gaze became unfocused, staring at the floor. “Each got a story and a hug, then to sleep.”
“Who is she talking to?” Bobby asked Alice.
The grandchildren returned with a sandwich and gave it to her. Only now, she wasn’t hungry.
“What’s wrong?” Alice asked, her fingers still knitting.
“Nothing.” Eileen took one bite of the sandwich and put it down.
“I think it’s time.” Sam kissed Eileen’s fingers.
Eileen settled deeper into the pillows that propped her up. She fussed with the blanket but still couldn’t keep warm. She looked over at her husband, his features now hazy, but the kindness in his eyes still present.
The mattress dipped, and Sam extended his leg on the bed, drawing her in an embrace.
Eileen smiled at her children and grandchildren, then rested her head on Sam’s shoulder, letting his touch and warmth guide her.
She drifted to sleep, and when she opened her eyes, she was hand in hand with Sam, walking down a path in the Botanical Gardens, hooded warblers chirping.
by D. W. Hitz (@dustinhitz)
Matt lifted his cauldron from the fire and placed it on the hearth. It’s contents boiled with the savory scent of rabbit and greens, bathing the small cabin in its steam. Four candles lit the room. Their flames bobbed, teasing light in and out of the corners.
The mixture seemed ready. Matt stirred it with a foot-long brass spoon, mumbling a chant to himself. He dropped in a comb and a handkerchief, the only items he was able to steal from Jeremy without being noticed during his earlier visit. The items sank slowly into the viscous liquid, and Matt gave them a push with a stir of his spoon.
“All right then, you bastard. This’ll teach you.” Matt scooped out several spoonfuls into a fist-sized wooden bowl. He walked with his dinner to the table and sat with a squeak.
His mouth watered. Despite the anger in his belly, Matt had become quite hungry while preparing his curse. The spell would serve him well as dinner and retribution against his damned neighbor.
Matt drew the mark of his Lord into the wet surface of his bowl and dipped the spoon in deep. He recognized a leaf, a grain-sized piece of fat, and a bean floating in the brown broth on his spoon. He slurped the liquid and chewed on the solids, swallowing it all in a loud gulp. As the warmth worked its way down his insides, he felt a jolt of energy in his veins. He visualized his neighbor’s sizable muscular frame contract, just the tiniest bit.
Mmmm, Matt mumbled. He swallowed another spoonful. Surely, this would teach that fool across the field. It would be the last lesson he ever learned, but as his muscles shrank and contorted, as his heart condensed and finally popped, he would learn that killing a man’s wife would not be tolerated.
Matt sloshed another spoonful into his mouth and guzzled it down. He felt rabbit guts and liver slide down his throat and imagined Jeremy’s liver cramping and twisting in pain. Another bite, and his tongue and teeth felt heart and marrow. Slurp. Gulp. His arm tensed, and his heart raced.
The spell must have been working. His muscles felt tighter, stronger.
Thump, thump, thump. The cabin door rattled inside its frame.
Matt’s eyes widened. He looked down at his half-eaten bowl, and over to the steaming cauldron on the hearth. No one could see these things, not unless he wanted to be tried and drowned.
Thump, thump, thump.
His gaze shot to the door. “Go away! No visitors today!”
Thump, thump, thump. A low gasping voice shouted through the door. “Let me in, you son of a bitch!”
“No,” Matt shuttered. There hadn’t been enough time. He picked up his bowl and tilted it back against his mouth. He sucked, slurped, and guzzled, swallowing hunks of flesh, plant, spice, and charm.
Another thump pounded on the door, followed by a groan and a growl. Thump, thump, thump.
Matt swallowed the last sip in his bowl and gasped for air. He slammed the bowl onto the table and shook as his veins rushed with a jolt of energy.
Thump, thump, thump.
Matt chuckled. It wouldn’t be long, and that overgrown mongrel would drop to the porch, just skin and bone. Matt just needed to wait. His Lord would be pleased, and Matt would move on with a stronger back to tend his crops, and blessed rains would come.
Thump, thump, thump.
Thump, thump, thump.
It didn’t stop.
Thump, thump, thump.
“Open up, Matthew. Open the door,” the gravelly voice said.
Thump, thump, thump.
Matt’s veins had gone numb. His heart beat like a racing rabbit.
Thump, thump, thump.
The floorboards of Matt’s home creaked and cracked. The ground seemed to vibrate under his feet.
Creak. Crack. Thump, thump, thump.
Boards curled below Matt’s feet. He jumped onto his table. “No. He should be dead by now,” he muttered. He glanced at his cauldron. “He couldn’t live through that.”
Creak. Crack. Thump, thump, thump.
“Get out of here,” Matt roared. But it didn’t sound like him. The voice was raspy and low. His hand went to his throat. He looked down at his body. His limbs had become thin. His skin hung from his arms, and it was pale. “What is this?”
Creak. Crack. Thump, thump, thump. Crash. The front door reeled inward. The frame had cracked to shreds. Beyond the portal was the vast darkness of night.
Matt stared into the gloom. “Jeremy? Who’s there?”
Matt heard no response. He stepped from the table onto the chair. He lowered his foot to the floor and felt the chair roll beneath his weight. His hands outstretched to break his fall. His fingers touched the floor and shattered backward. His palms touched the ground and crunched, rolling up. His wrists and then forearms hit the wooden boards, stopping his fall and shouting with a loud crack.
Matt howled. Pain and anger screeched through his call.
Footfalls strode softly across the room from the door toward the table. Matt was on the wrong side to see. He struggled to look around the table, but each move paralyzed him from another.
Step. Step. The sound was coming closer. It was familiar and rode to him with a scent of earth and foulness.
Matt pushed himself along the floor and groaned. His fingers, wrists, and lower arms swung limply and fruitlessly from his shoulders.
“Who?” Matt shouted.
With the cold night wind, around the table, stepped the rotting corpse of his wife. She leaned toward him. Maggots and worms dripped from her two-week-dead flesh. She kneeled down beside him, her mouth opening.
A flash went through Matt’s mind. The comb, the handkerchief, they had looked familiar. They weren’t Jeremy’s. They were… hers.
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