Category: Short Stories – Read for Free


Donald was in the process of fixing dinner, or rather, he was opening cans and dumping the contents out onto the two plates sitting on the small table.  The light from the battery powered lamp threw dim shadows on the walls.

“When do you suppose this will end?” asked Lacey trying to see out the small opaque, round window.  It was pointless, though.  The window filter wasn’t made to be opened.  “It’s already gone on longer than before.”  It had lingered for a week previously, then stopped for two days before coming back worse than ever.

Donald eyed her.   “Since it’s lasted this long, you know the score as well as I.  Come on, eat your dinner.  It’s time for the daily broadcast.  Maybe there’ll be some news.”  He clicked on the radio.

Lacey settled at the table and they picked at their food in silence, listening to the government announcer.  Neither had an appetite.

“We’re now in day twenty of the crisis,” came the generic male voice of the announcer.  “Again, no one should go outside unless entirely necessary, and all filters should be kept in place.  According to Dr. Horton Sullivan of the Department of Meteorology at the Miller Institute, there is some disagreement among scientists as to how long this will persist.  It is agreed though, that if all citizens follow the directives, they will remain safe and unharmed until the danger is over.”

The radio went silent.  The broadcasts were never long but this was the shortest and the most useless message they’d gotten to date.  Disgusted, Donald reached over and turned it off.

The two meteorologists stared at each other.

“We need to look,” said Lacey, quietly.  Donald agreed.

They got up from the table and went to the door.  Donald gripped the top edge of the filter and when Lacey nodded, he pulled it open.

Lacey stuck her head out, stared up and quickly drew it back in.  Tears coursed down her cheeks, leaving tracks in the sooty film covering her face.  She wiped her burning eyes with a sleeve, smearing the residue.  She held her breath against the foul air being admitted.  Donald looked intently at the sky then hurriedly slammed the filter shut.  He and Lacey stared at each other again, dirty faces ashen.

Some few days had been better than others.  More light, less smog, and easier breathing.  But no more.  With the filters in place, the air conditioning inside their smog survival capsule would sustain them for a while longer, and they had plenty of canned food.  But to what purpose?  The hazy, silvery orb in the darkened, roiling skies told them what they already knew in their hearts: the danger would never be over.  The inversion was worsening, becoming permanent.  It wasn’t clearing.  The moon was gone, and soon, the sun would not be visible either.

And it never would be seen again, as all life expired in a man-made heat death, and Earth became a twin to Venus.

End

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I walk into the quiet dark house.  “Hello!” I call, flipping the light switch by the door. “Where’s everybody?”

No answer.  I walk to the kitchen.  The back door is open but nobody’s in the moonlit backyard.  I’m puzzled.  Gracie wouldn’t go off and leave the door open.  I feel uneasy.

I haul my cell out to see if maybe I’ve missed a call.  It’s not showing any, so I shove it back into my pocket.

I look around and see something on the floor by the counter.  I look closer.  There’s an overturned container on the counter and the contents have spilled out.  I glance around the kitchen.  One chair is pushed back from the table.  There’s an odd odor lingering in the air.

I start next door to see if our friend, Marcie, has seen her and the kids, but I know something’s wrong.  Gracie wouldn’t leave a mess in the kitchen.

As I cross the lawn, I catch a motion in the shadows near the back.  A large figure is sprinting toward the trees at the edge of the property.  My heartbeat quickens.  I grab the rake leaning against the house and follow.

“Hey!” I yell, “What’re you doing in my yard!”

It’s fast but I’m faster, and I’m catching up when a moonbeam illuminates the loping form.  I fall back gasping, almost dropping my makeshift weapon.  It’s a monster!  Suddenly I see drag marks in the grass and fear strikes my heart.  I resume pursuit, knowing it’s taken my family, and tackle the monster before it reaches the trees.  I turn it over, its face is horrible.

“Where’s my family?” I scream, sitting astride it.

It’s big but I’m strong, and I hold the rake handle against its throat.  Its hideous eyes are wide, staring up at me.  I scream again and it manages to point toward the woods.  I bash its head to knock it out, and I take off.

I find a strange aircraft and approach the open door.  I peer in.  I hear a noise, a soft whimper.  I go in, and find my wife and two kids stuffed into a cage!

They’re groggy but okay.  Relieved, I release them.  We return to the monster lying unmoving in the grass.  We can plainly see the thing, because, now, both moons have risen and are full.  They shine full on its dreadful, one-tone, pallid face.  I must have hit it too hard because its ghastly blue eyes stare sightlessly at the sky.

“What is it?” asks Gracie.

“It’s ugly!” exclaims Ellen, our six-year-old.

Four-year-old Bill stares, mouth agape.  My neighbors have heard the commotion and are running over, concerned.  They stop and stare, horrified.

I regard the beautiful green, white, and purple faces of my family, with perfect, round, red noses, generous red lips, and sharp, white teeth.  I smile, thankful I’ve saved them from whatever kind of monster this was.  I pull out my cell and call the authorities.

End

 

It hung on a string from the rack in the yarn shop, its red beanie button eyes staring out at the world.  It was constructed of black yarn twisted and wound into the general shape of a person; a boy, I thought.  It’s nose and mouth, such as it was, consisted of red yarn stitched loosely down the face between the eyes.  It was an art project gone wrong.

I knew immediately that I wanted it.

“Mama, may I have the doll?” I asked.

She looked down at me and frowned.  “Why would you want such an ugly thing?”

“Please?”

Her face softened as I knew it would. “Well, let me get my yarn and I’ll see how much it costs.”

The proprietor laughed when Mama asked, and patted my cheek.  She gave it to me for free.  We left the shop with me happily carrying the doll in my hand.

I set the little figure on the small chair in my bedroom, turning it so that it faced the room door.

“What are you going to name your doll?” asked Mama when she came to tuck me into my bed that night.

“I don’t know, but I’ll think of something.”

She smiled and gave me a kiss, turning out the light as she left.

Later, I awakened to hear the noises that came more often lately; the sound of a raised voice as Papa shouted at Mama, then the terrible sound of him striking her and her quietly crying.  The house grew still for a while after that but my stomach clenched because I knew what came next.

I watched fearfully as my door quietly opened and Papa, outlined in the hall light, edged into my darkened room.

He came and sat on the side of my bed and leaned over me as usual but this time was different.

I looked past him to see a large dark figure looming over his shoulder and before he could do the things he usually did, he made a muffled noise as a pair of black arms wrapped around his head and snatched him away from me.

I sat up and watched as he became entirely covered by the huge figure, his struggles getting him nowhere, his voice unheard.

I knew that he would never hit Mama or slip silently into my room again, and I smiled.

The next morning when Mama called me to breakfast, I picked my small yarn doll up from the otherwise empty floor and carried it to the kitchen with me.

Mama’s eyes were red and swollen and her face was bruised but she smiled at me as she placed my breakfast before me.  “Did you think of a name for your doll, yet?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I told her.  “His name is “Good Friend”.

I was five years old when Papa disappeared, never to be seen again, and life was much better for us afterward.  I’m well-grown, now, but Good Friend protects me still.

 

End

“No.  I cannot.”

“Oh com’on, Max!  You already have some of the right colors.  Why, that pink is perfect! And the blue – it’s the exact shade needed!  All you have to do is put this on–”

“No!”

I did not wish to be harsh with him, as he was a friend, but I still had bad memories from the last time I agreed to impart such aid.

“Do you recall what occurred when I assisted Nick when his leg was broken?” I asked.  “I would not care for a repeat of that, and this is a similar situation.”

Everyone had heard of the problem that arose during that event.  It had not been a pleasant  moment.

“Aww…the kids will be so disappointed!  If only my foot hadn’t got snagged in that thing.”  He shook his head, and sighed.

He sat down and stretched out his leg, observing his bandaged appendage.  It had been caught in a trap.  He sighed again, rather sadly, then peered at me.  His large, brown, watery eyes appeared to beseech me.

I beheld him.  He was truly a woebegone sight, and a sudden feeling of compassion arose within my chest.  I felt contrite.  I had known him for years, and he was an excellent friend.  My brain was telling me it was not a good idea, but, I reconsidered.  And so, with a sigh, I surrendered.

“I will do it, but I do not think the suit will fit.  It appears to be much too small.”

There was relief on his expressive face, and it lit up with elation.  He hobbled – with a little hop – over to hold the suit up to me.

“Hey, no worries, Max.  It’s adjustable.”

So I struggled into the suit and he handed me the items I would need to implement the job.  I felt foolish.

“I feel foolish,” I said.

“Oh, you look fine!” he said, waving me off down the walk.  “Don’t let anybody get a close look and you’ll be good.”

I studied the controls of the waiting vehicle and ensured that all the packages were properly affixed.  I sincerely hoped that matters would proceed much better while making deliveries for him, than they had when I substituted for Nick at Christmas, wherein I was discovered by the family at my final stop.  They had not appreciated an eight-foot tall, horned, blue demon in a red velvet suit, placing presents under their holiday tree.  They dialed 911 and I had nearly been exposed.  Had that occurred, I would have been dispatched back to Hell.

As I prepared to leave, Bun Rab called to me, “Don’t forget to hop!  It helps keep you unnoticed!”

I made sure the hoodie-type head covering with lop-ears attached, was straight; felt to confirm the cotton-tail was in place, cranked up the Easter cart, and set off down the Bunny Trail to begin the delivery of Easter baskets.

At least the color of the rabbit suit matched my pink eyebrows.    ###

 

tower_of_babel Artist: Paul Gosselin, Description Belgian painter Impressionist

The Experiment

 

The colossal entity watched as the small beings struggled to finish their tower.

“They work diligently,” remarked his companion who was observing the ongoing construction with him.  “Will they be allowed to complete it?”

“No,” was the reply.  “I have been ordered to stop them.  They seek to challenge us; they even think that by remaining there together, they can successfully war against us.  But, they must disperse out into the world as commanded.  If permitted to finish this building, that will not occur.  They will stagnate at this level.”

“Perhaps if you were to demonstrate to them that they cannot win at such an action, and tell them they must scatter in order to grow–”

He shook one of his middle heads while turning the far left one to consider his companion.  “Demonstrations do not convince them for long, and they have been told; however, they have no understanding of the meaning of a stagnant society, and see no merit in separating.”

His companion contemplated this in silence for a moment, the three eyes in her farthest head on her right blinking at him thoughtfully, then she shrugged her many shoulders, her rows of iridescent wings shifting slightly, and said, “I suppose you are right.  Still, they are resourceful, and, occasionally one will listen.”  She chuckled with five of her throats.  “I thought surely they would all be washed away when our project head became angry and decided to terminate our handiwork.  I am glad he relented and allowed the building of the ark.  At least some survived.”

“Yes, it is also good that they are prolific, otherwise they would be too few to be viable.  But now, they must disband into separate groups for diversification, or this will still fail, and they will never become that for which we are striving.”

He surveyed the little bipeds scurrying up and down the path that spiraled up the side of the brick-built tower, urging their work animals on.  They were nearly finished.

He sighed with regret as he activated the neuron scrambler that would disrupt the language center in their brains, causing their one language to become many.  He would not have minded seeing the tower completed.  Though crude, it was quite an interesting artifact.

He was impressed that these creatures they had fashioned from microscopic organisms and cultivated over such a short span of time, had already been able to do this.  But, the tower had to go.  This action was imperative in order to enable them to advance and reach a certain level.

He switched on the teleporter and began shifting the tiny individuals to different areas of the small blue globe.

Then, he and his companion watched with satisfaction as the miniscule beings, who believed them to be gods, oriented themselves and began to band together in small groups.

The project head would be pleased.  The experiment to prove this a good method of bringing their necessary food to a nutritious fruition was back on track.

 

END

 

extra image 37

And God said, “Let there be light!”

And Mrs. God said, “Wait!  Not yet!”

But it was too late.  The whole thing started glowing, shooting out beams in every direction.  It began bulging, and suddenly, the infinitesimal point ruptured, exploding with a big bang.

Mrs. God looked over at Her impulsive Husband with disgust.  “Now why did you do that?  I was trying to tell you to wait! It’s too soon, it wasn’t quite ready.”  She gazed at the nascent little universe expanding in front of Them.  She shook Her head and sighed heavily.  “It’s going to have a tough time after such a premature start.”

God stared down at what He had wrought, thinking.  He drummed his fingers against His leg.  He was thinking very hard.  His Wife was right – as usual.

Finally, He said, “Well, I guess I have two choices here: I can either wipe it out and start over, or let it ride, see what happens.”  He glanced at His Wife sideways, trying to judge from Her expression which way She might want Him to go with this.

Admittedly, He had jumped the gun on this one.  He hadn’t meant to, it’s just that He’d been a bit distracted, and hadn’t been paying attention to the time.

He wasn’t getting anything from His Wife’s noncommittal face, so He turned back to look at the little growing universe, which by now had spread even further and had coalesced all sorts of galaxies with stars and planets, and was in the process of trying to fill itself up.  Which wasn’t happening because it kept spreading out in all directions, leaving more space in its wake.

Mrs. God was looking at the thing closely, when She noticed something.

“Isn’t something moving on one of those planets it’s formed in the middle?”

“Where?”

“There.  See the big star in the middle?  It’s got four planets, three big ones, and that one little one.  There’s something moving on the little one.”  She pointed it out to him.  “See?”

He peered at the planet and saw that She was right.  There was something moving there.

“Well, darned if You aren’t right again!  That’s definitely a living creature!” He sighed with frustration.  That shouldn’t have happened, yet.

The tiny universe was taking on a life of its own.  He looked out over His creation, taking in the stars and worlds that had formed and were still forming, noting how many had developed life.

After a few minutes, He noticed that one little yellow star that had arisen out near the edge of its galaxy, had accumulated eight or nine planets.  God looked closely at the third one out from the star, and saw it had spawned some familiar looking creatures.

With exasperation, He saw all manner of dinosaurs, some small, some large.

Tsk.  Dinosaurs never made anything of themselves.  He watched them for a while but soon began to lose interest.  As He’d thought they would, they just went around eating, sleeping, and procreating.  It was the only thing these types were ever interested in doing.

“What’s going on with that world, Dear?” asked Mrs. God, curious as to why Her Husband was staring so.

“Nothing much,” He sighed, with a shrug.  “Doesn’t look as if anything of interest will ever happen there.  It’s one of those worlds that will just spin until its star burns out in a few billion years.”

“Hmm,” said Mrs. God.

She knew He’d originally had great plans for this universe, and was disappointed that it had been birthed too soon.  She hated to see him so out of sorts, so She thought about it for a moment, and then got an idea.

She carefully scrutinized the miniscule planet, and saw something else there: some very small creatures that stole the eggs of the larger ones whenever they got the chance.  These little guys were different but they were never going to get anywhere with all those lumbering titans around.  At least not the way things were going for them now.

When God wasn’t looking, She stretched forth Her hand and flicked some space debris toward the planet where it hit with a crunch.  She smiled to Herself and sat back to see what Her Husband would do.

“What happened?” asked God when he turned back to look and saw the puffs of smoke on the little planet.  He studied it for a moment then realized something had rammed into it.

“Oh, looks like some meteors have taken out the dinosaurs.  Well, no loss.  They weren’t doing much of anything anyway.”  He shrugged, and turned to leave.

“Wait!” exclaimed Mrs. God, annoyed He was merely going to turn away. “Look.  Another creature has risen up, something different.  Aren’t You Interested in seeing what they’ll do?  They seem to be at least a little swifter in the mind than the dinosaurs; interested in a bit more than just the basics.”

He stared at the new creatures for a few seconds, debating with Himself on whether to just get it over with, finish the whole thing off right now and start over.

Mrs. God could see Him trying to make up His mind.  “Well, what are you going to do?”

He thought for another second, contemplating these new beings.  He looked around the little universe, shrugged and reached out to begin wiping the slate clean, but then, He saw one look up.  That was new, and it made Him smile, so He made his decision:  “I’ll just let it ride”.

End

The Door Part 1: Down the Alley

Summer was good.  Late spring, okay.  So was early fall.  But winter was dying time for the homeless.

Sammy followed the two boys through the snow and stopped on the sidewalk peeking around the corner and down the alley they’d entered.  He watched as they stopped at an oddly shaped door, opened it and disappeared into the lighted interior.

He ran down the alley wanting to see.  The door was closing but what he glimpsed caused his mouth to drop open.

He raced back to the shallow doorway where his little sister, Maddie, huddled.

Perhaps they wouldn’t die after all.

 

The Door Part 2: Leaving

“Where we goin’?”

“It’s a su’prise.”

“We goin’ to th’ mall to git warm?”

“Uh-uh.  Told ya, it’s a su’prise.  Wait ‘n see.”

“’Kay, Sammy.”

He hurried his little sister into the alley halting in front of the strange, wooden door.  He twisted the knob and pushed.  A brilliant light swept into the alley.

“C’mon,” he said, smiling.

They stepped into a warm, sunlit landscape filled with wondrous things.  Maddie squealed with delight, eyes wide, as the door slowly swung shut on the frozen world behind.

Outside, only small footprints in the deep snow ending at a blank wall remained.

 

The Door Part 3: Otherland

A small, smiling elf greeted them as the door closed.  “Welcome, Sammy and Maddie!” it exclaimed.  “I’m Tony.”

“Where we at?” asked Sammy.

“A great place!  Always warm, plenty of food, lots of toys.  It’s called Otherland.  Look around, check it out!”

“How long kin we stay?”

“Forever, Maddie.”

It was wonderful.  All manners of delicious food grew on trees, incredible toys waited for them.

They were hungry so they ate first then played happily.  Until the fiery monster came.

Maddie screamed, Sammy grabbed her hand and raced back the way they’d come.

The door was gone.  Flames licked out.

 

The Door Part 4: The Monster

Fire washed over them.  Sammy held Maddie close, sorry he’d brought them here.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” came a voice from above them.

“Huh?” Amazed, Sammy realized they weren’t burned.

He looked at Maddie and saw she was clean and sparkling.  So was he.  He looked up at the white haired, red monster.

“Whut’d you do?” he asked, puzzled.

“Gave you a bath, what else? You were dirty. Didn’t Tony tell you?”

“No.”

“Darn that elf!  Well, come on, it’s time for bed.”

Taking them both by the hand, Santa led the children off into their new life.

 

*Note: This was written as a drabble series.  Each part is exactly one hundred words long (not counting the titles).

christmas-wallpaper-Blue Demon

“You look great, Max.  Thanks, I owe you one.” Leaning on a crutch, he favored his broken leg.

I felt ridiculous.

“What if I am seen?”

“Don’t worry about it.  Just be careful and you’ll be fine.  I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve always gotten clean away.”  He explained how I was to get in and out.

“Why that way?” I asked.  “Why can I not just –”

“It’s traditional,” he replied.  He patted me on my back and sent me on my way.

I was dubious, but I climbed into the vehicle and took off.  I was somewhat worried, I mean, a lot of people kept firearms.  What if I were seen and someone was to fire upon me?  Or called 911? After all, it was breaking and entering.

I did not care for the outfit he had given me to wear, either, even though he insisted it was what he always wore for this particular activity.  He said it was wonderful at helping keep him concealed in the dark.  And it was traditional.

As I worked through the night, things were going well, so I began to relax.  I arrived at my last assignment, finished up and stooped to get my bag and leave.  Then, I heard soft footsteps.  I did not have time to go back out the way in which I had come, and there was nowhere to hide.  I was discovered.  I hoped they did not have a firearm.

Two small pairs of eyes peered up at me.

“It’s him!” squealed a small voice.

“No it’s not!” cried the other.

A man entering the door behind the children stopped and stared at me wide-eyed, his mouth agape.  The cup in his hand clattered to the floor.  He shoved the small ones behind him and out the door, backed slowly away from me, then turned and ran.

A woman’s voice sang out.  “What is it, Honey?”

I heard him shout,  “Get the door, I got the kids!  Let’s go!”

“What?”

Get the door!  And call 911!”

She glanced in as he hustled them away, saw me and emitted a piercing shriek.

It appeared the clothing I was wearing were not such good camouflage after all.  Of course, the bright, unblinking tree lights were somewhat revealing.

They rushed off and I felt it was time I also left.  As I passed the window, I saw them dashing frantically down the driveway dragging the children with them.  I could hear a siren in the distance.  I did not have time to hold to tradition.  I needed a quicker way out.  The chimney was not going to be fast enough.  I teleported to the roof, leaped into the sleigh, grabbed the  reins and gave a whistle to the deer.  We took off expeditiously.

I suppose seeing a big blue, horned demon dressed in a red velvet suit putting gifts under their Christmas tree was a bit surprising, but, gracious, I was merely aiding a friend.

 

End

dollwpcopy2

Sherman had no intention of getting stuck in the mud, so he drove his pick-up into the clearing and brought it to a halt on the dry stretch of packed earth several feet from where the water lapped at the edge of the swampy shore.

He jumped from the cab and hustled around to the truck bed, opened the tailgate, and, muscles straining, tugged the heavy barrel out.

He rolled it the short distance to the water’s edge and shoved it in.  He gave a smug smile as he lit up a smoke and watched the gray barrel sink with hardly a ripple into the dark, murky depths.  It barely disturbed the ragged water weeds that covered a good portion of the surface.  A stray cloud occluded the full, rising moon, briefly casting the clearing into darkness, before drifting on across the sky.

He tossed his half smoked cigarette butt into the water, climbed back into his pick-up, backed up cautiously, and headed out of the trees and onto the highway.

Later, he lounged on the couch in the living room of the old house, feet on the coffee table, watching TV and swigging his sixth beer.  Something Ida would never have allowed him to do.

He looked over at the chair where his wife usually sat playing with that damned doll, brushing its hair, straightening its frilly dress, talking to it.

He’d rammed the pickaxe through its eye, cracking one side of its face.  He chuckled, remembering Ida’s outraged screech.  She was looking at the doll, mouth open, when he brought the pickaxe down through her skull.

She couldn’t stop him now, not from the bottom of the swamp.  She and that stupid doll were down there together, forever.  He’d carefully cleaned up the mess, and with some judicious cramming, everything had fit neatly into the large barrel, including the doll, and his pickaxe.

He gave a wet, satisfied belch, flicked the TV off, got up and staggered upstairs to bed, still fully clothed.

A full bladder awakened him.  He opened his eyes to a pitch black room, confused.  Hadn’t the lamp been burning when he laid down?  Why was it so dark?  Bulb must have blown, he thought through a fuzzy brain, as he stumbled to his feet and began feeling his way to the bathroom.

He reached the door, pushed it open, and stepped in, fumbling the light switch on – and gaped in shock.  It wasn’t the bathroom.  It was the attic room of this ancient, decrepit house his wife had dragged him to months ago, and directly in front of him, close enough to touch, was the doll, somehow grown larger, nearly as tall as he was.  Her cracked, one-eyed face leered at him through her bloody, mud splattered hair.

Hot urine rushed from him as his bladder gave way, but he never noticed as the doll  raised the dirt-streaked hand that held his pickaxe, and brought it down through his skull.

End

placeholder wp

“Aw, it’s jus’ a stupid bird,” said Wally cautiously poking his head out the door of the mausoleum.

The large raven, its ebony feathers gleaming a shade of indigo blue in the light of the full moon, sat silently on the stone gate and cast a beady eye at the stubby, plump man peering out at it.  Wally ducked back in.  “Come on!  Don’t be so jumpy.  Ain’t no such thang as haints! Thinka all that shiny stuff they buried wit’ old man Brome.  We gonna be in the money!”

Bob, a frown on his pinched face, pulled his ball cap low on his forehead.  Jim, the third partner in crime, a tall thin man, held a battery powered lantern and led the way through the small entry.  They reached the stone steps that led down into the crypt.

Jim held the lantern out, peering into the gloom. “Y’all watch yer step.  Ain’t no hand rail.”

Single file, the three grave robbers started down.  It would be an easy job. They didn’t even have to dig. It was a private mausoleum on the old Brome estate, nobody around for miles.  They’d handily gotten over the stone wall onto the grounds, and even better, the door to the mausoleum wasn’t locked.

“Wha’ wuz that?” hissed Bob, pausing. “Y’all hear that? Sounded like footsteps!”

In front, halfway down the stairs, Jim stopped. He cocked his head listening. Then he shrugged and continued down. “Naw, ain’t heard nothin’.  It’s jus’ yo’ ‘magination.”

They headed into the gloom, peering around.  “Tha’s where they laid th’ old codger,” said Wally, eagerly shining his flashlight toward the back.

Jim went over, pulled the drawer out and lifted the lid of the coffin. “Wha’ th’- were’s th’ old bastard at?” he exclaimed looking down into the empty interior.

Upstairs, the door slammed shut with a loud bang.  Wally jumped, his heart thumping.

Bob sucked in a terrified breath and edged toward the steps.  He stumbled into Wally who dropped his flashlight as they both fell, Bob grunting out a pained “oof!” as Wally landed on him.  His hat flew off, his stringy hair flopping around as he scrambled to get to his feet.  His eyes rounded with fright as a shadowy figure stepped out from a corner, and old man Brome stood there, yellow eyes glaring balefully at the thieves.

Jim turned to run and fell over his partners huddled on the hard floor. His lantern went skidding off and fetched up against the booted foot of the old man.

“Hello, boys,” Brome rattled out in a dusty voice. “You’re right, there’s no such thing as “haints”. However,” he grinned, his pointed teeth glistening in the light of the fallen lantern, “did you ever hear of ghouls?”

The smell of urine permeated the air as he strode toward the cowering men.

Outside, the raven fluttered down from the gate, settling on the grass. It listened to the faint screams coming from the mausoleum.  It waited.

End

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