The Other House

“Don’t look back!” Joanie shrieked, her petite face a picture of horror. “We can’t go back that way. They’ll get us!”the other house
Bill glanced nervously behind him. Only a pitch-black void greeted his eyes. He didn’t know whether to feel worried or relieved. He leaned toward worried.
“I don’t see them,” he said between gasps for breath. “Maybe were not being followed anymore.”
“Oh yeah right,” Joanie countered. “You know very well that those things are still after us. We have to keep climbing!”
“Will you two just shut up,” Carol snapped. She’d only known both of them for an hour or so, and was already tiring of their bickering. The things chasing them were probably attracted to their voices, and the last thing she needed was giving away their location because they didn’t know how to keep quiet.
“She’s right,” Bill said quietly. “Let’s just keep moving.”
The dark mass swooped in at that instant, neatly plucking most of Joanie’s right arm from her body. A thin stream of coagulated blood pulsed from the raw stump, slicking the rungs of the ladder with slippery gore.
Carol screamed, the cacophony of terror echoing into the blank space all around them. Bill groaned in disbelief, his widened eyes reflecting the shock of the moment. And Joanie fell, her mutilated body collapsing into itself before slipping away into the oblivion below them.
“She’s gone Bill. We have to keep moving.” Carol felt bad for Bill. She truly did. Seeing your girlfriend torn to pieces before your very eyes would be tough on anyone, but she also wanted to live, and she wasn’t going to jeopardize her chances at survival because of him.
The dull gloom surrounded them and like a dust storm swallowing a small town. There was nothing in the featureless abyss to indicate where they were or how far they’d come. They were merely two survivors clinging to a ladder in a vain attempt to stave off whatever cruel fate the creatures had in store for them.
The creatures.
Despite the dire situation she was in Carol found herself pondering what they could be. Were they some type of demons? Zombies perhaps? Or maybe simply some weird flying bird, obviously carnivorous, and intent on using them as their next meal.
“We have to get moving,” Bill said. His expression was uneven.
Carol nodded and reached for the next rung on the ladder. Her hands were shaking and glistened with grime and sweat. She had to steady herself just to keep from falling.
“I hope she’s all right,” Bill mumbled to nobody but himself. “I really miss her, but I know she’s okay. That’s why she got off the ladder, to escape.”
Carol tried her best to ignore him. He was slowly losing his mind, of that there was no doubt, and she felt if she talked to him she could make it worse. Better to simply keep moving.
“Do you see anything?” Bill asked, a flash of lucidness on his face. I mean, I thought I saw a light below us. Maybe it’s Joanie signaling to us that she’s all right.” He stopped moving and gradually began to lean toward the darkness.
“Bill! Stop it right now! Do you hear me? Joanie is gone. We have to make it to the other side.” Carol hardly believed her own words, but knew she had to be strong.
Bill was gazing downward in silence. His eyes were locked on something there, something which captivated him, dulling any common sense or instinct to survive he still possessed. “I…I can see her! There in the darkness. She’s down there! I can see her! It’s Joanie!”
Carol paused, and against her better judgment, glanced down. Shock literally paralyzed her when she saw a face… Joanie’s face, staring up at her, a macabre and impossible expression floating in an inky sea of black.
“It can’t be,” she sobbed through clenched teeth. “It just can’t be.”
And then the sudden shift in weight as Bill flung himself off the ladder jolted Carol back to the cold, dark tale her reality had become. She could only watch helplessly as her new found escape companion hurtled to his death, his flailing body growing smaller and smaller as it spiraled away from the relative safety of the ladder. She could have sworn she saw a flash of joy on his face before he disappeared completely.
And then he was gone.
Carol did her best to ignore the seething fear bubbling up inside her gut, but focused her attention back on the task at hand: reaching other side.
It’s all right Carol, just think of each rung on the ladder as a type of stepping stone, a platform which will help you reach your destination. Take one at a time, and soon you’ll see how easy it is.
Her mother’s words of the encouragement floated through Carol’s head like birds soaring in a clear, blue sky. Their clarity was matched only by their sincerity.
“I hear you Mom,” Carol sighed into her forearm. I hear you, but I don’t know if I can make it.”
Her words trailed off into oblivion, unanswered, unheeded. The memory that spawned the words slipped into her mind: her mother in her food-stained apron as always, encouraging Carol to ascend a small ladder into the tree house her father had built for her.
It had pink curtains and yellow flowerpots decorating its two oversized windows, and a narrow walkway which snaked around the small rectangular building.
Carol was nervous about the climb, she wished her father had been there; he was at work at the time. She tentatively took one step up the ladder, and then another. She remembered the sanctuary of the ground drifting farther and farther away from her with every rung she climbed. But eventually she had reached her destination: the tree house.
And now here she was trying to reach another destination, although this one wasn’t the pretty little tree house her dad had built for her. This was the most of profound destination one could ever hope to reach: survival.
Carol reached out for the next rung on the ladder. Below her she could still hear the guttural moans and convulsing movements of whatever was lurking in the darkness. Occasionally, although she tried valiantly to block them out, she heard people’s voices mixed in with the inhuman snorts and growls. Some she recognized.
Jim was urging her to join him in the dark, telling her that they were mistaken, that there really wasn’t anything to fear. And Joanie was singing joyfully, mumbling lyrics to a song Carol didn’t know.
“They say that a slow fall is easy enough…”
And there were other sounds as well, the sounds of flesh being torn apart; of teeth mechanically gnashing, of bones clacking together as they are discarded after being picked clean.
Carol clenched the rungs of the ladder tightly. She found that it made her situation a little easier.
Just a little.
“As long as you’re watching world up above.”
Joanie’s singing was growing deeper; the lyrics to her private song drawing out into a mocking threat.
Carol tried to estimate in her mind just how far it was to the other house. A ladder suspended fifteen feet up, precariously connecting two bedroom windows was hardly a foolproof escape plan, but she was just glad that Bill had managed to secure it before the things attacked. He had found it in a workroom, unfolded it, and thrust it through the window. With the girl’s help he was able to ram it through a small window in a neighboring house, thus creating a bridge to freedom.
A swirling breeze was picking up from the east, bringing with it an aroma of tangy pines mixed with car exhaust. Occasionally, the wind caught the stench of the things in the darkness, wafting their odor into Carol’s face. The smell made her dizzy.
Just a little bit further. The other house had to be close. It had to be.
With each movement she made Carol felt more isolated, more alone than ever before. Foggy memories of that day so long ago when she was suspended on that ladder, half way between the ground and her new tree house, drifted into her mind.
A sixth sense alerted Carol to the presence of something in front of her, something big.
The other house?
It’s there! I made it! I made it!
With shaking hands Carol slowly, delicately felt for the next rung on the ladder. Her body tensed when she failed to locate it, her hands grasping at the air, but relaxed when she felt the comforting feel of the cool aluminum in her fingers. Immediately she inched herself forward and began to feel for the next rung. Below, the mocking voices started again.
“They say that a slow fall…”
Carol focused on her destination. The other house couldn’t be more than five or six feet away, maybe less. All she had to do was concentrate and keep moving.
The tree house lit up in front of Carol like a Christmas tree. It had bright pink curtains and yellow flowerpots perched on the sills of the two oversized windows. A narrow walkway wound around a small building.
It was her tree house! The same one her father had built for her! The same one she had been so frightened to climb the ladder to reach!
Carol shook her head, trying to dispel the illusion. She knew perfectly well what she was seeing wasn’t real.
Just think of each rung as a stepping stone.
It can’t be real.
Cold shadows flew by, brushing Carol’s face with their hungry stench.
Take one at a time, and you’ll see how easy it is.
It couldn’t possibly be real.
A razor-sharp talon scraped the side of the ladder; tiny metallic shavings drifted down into the darkness.
That’s it Honey, take one at a time.
Carol inched closer and closer to her tree house. Her mother’s words pulled her forward, gently guiding her to the pink curtains and yellow flowerpots. The soaring black things around her began to slowly slip into obscurity. Their screeching growls and bloated moans diminished with every move she made.
They simply were vanishing. Or at least they were in her mind, which, in many ways, was good enough for her. She knew that they were still there, and her only hope would be to reach the tree house. She’d be safe there, just like she was when she was a little girl.
Take one at a time.
And when she looked at the tree house, really focused on it, she saw someone inside, someone in a food- stained apron who was waving to her, beckoning her to come closer. More shadows flew by. Many more. The things filled the blackness. The pulsating slit far below that allowed them to enter the world so long ago sealed itself back up, forever confining them to their new hunting grounds.
Carol was so close to the tree house she could hear her mother humming.
“They say that a slow fall is easy enough…”
“I’m coming Mom. I’m taking one step at a time now. I’m coming.”
A cold rush of something gritty and yet soft, threaded over Carol’s face. It felt like woven silk dotted with innumerable specks of dirt. Instinctively, she brushed away the threads, but only succeeded in getting entangled in the strange substance even more.
The vague form of her mother stopped with its sweeping. It flicked the broom away and turned to face Carol, it’s increasingly alien form squatting like a diseased cow, bloated and sick. It fastened numerous yellow eyes on its prey. Slowly, it lumbered forward.
And behind the thing’s nest, scarcely noticeable in the gloomy dark, stood the other house. The ladder led straight into its tentative safety, to an upper story bedroom, which until recently, had been occupied by a small girl. She too had ventured out onto the ladder in hopes of escaping the terrible things that had attacked and killed her family. She too had seen something that caused her to leave her bed and go into the night. She too had met her fate at the hands of the thing in its nest.

By Rick McQuiston

Three Poems by Paul Tristram

Sitting Under The Aching Tree Where I Almost Chewed My Little Finger Off In Adolescence

Here I am again,
the skull between my feet
a resting place for the small axe.
The mace in my right hand
fingersand cleaver in the left
are draped invadingly
upon the opposite sides
of where they should be.
I chew the gravel
selectively no more
and spit over the disgust
that stretches away in front of me.
You are sleeping now,
like stupid pigeons,
ignorant to the lightning
waiting above you.
Yet here I sit
chewing on the stump of memory,
my mind always there
two feet away from your face,
waiting for my conscience
to evaporate,
God Help You!

Slaughter Stones

Blackened by experience
I once more unsheathe
the sword of aggression,
standing back to back
with self preservation,
I hack and slice
into the oncoming hoards.
Masks of terror split,
bones and blood spill
from the walls of flesh
that once secured them,
I am the howling winds,
the midnight woods
alive and approaching.
The seed of Slaughter Stones
full grown and strong,
suckled upon the death
you brought to my crib
and now addicted
to this nightmare.
I shall give it back to you
a hundred fold.

The Bucket

She cringed,
crying silently “Why!”
Eyes fixed forward
into the greyness
there would be no looking down
that’s where hell waits.
Her fingers were claw like,
white knuckled and shaking.
1, 2, 3, 4
She counted her footsteps,
madness lay in thoughts
and memories
so once again
1, 2, 3, 4
She was now used to the clanging
in the metal bucket
she levelled at her waist
but the squishing noises
made her soul cave in
every time she heard them
for she knew it must be his nose,
his beautiful nose.
1, 2, 3, 4

By Paul Tristram

A Dead Man Tells No Tales

hauntingHave you ever heard the saying, “A dead man tells no tales”?  I have, numerous times.  Between my father and grandfather, I have been hearing this saying my entire life.  I thought I understood the meaning of it, but here lately I know I was misled on my interpretation.  The way we use this particular phrase in my family is simply an acronym for keeping a secret.

            Do I believe it’s true?  Well, let’s see.  On the one hand, it is impossible for a dead man to tell tales.  Right?  Yes.  However, on the other hand, I do believe in life after death to a certain extent.  You know, spirits, ghosts, hauntings, things like that.  So if life after death is indeed real, then I suppose it could be possible for a dead man to tell a tale.  Even now, after having time to examine both sides very closely, I guess my childhood nostalgia just takes over because I truly believe my father and grandfather had it right.
            I was born and raised in a small town known as Grayson, Louisiana.  I actually lived there until I was sixteen years old.  I suppose most people consider it to be rural area, but we always referred to it as the country; God’s country to be more precise.  My parents owned a farm, a very prosperous farm for where it was located.  We were never exactly rich, but my father always made sure that my mother and me had everything we ever needed.  Looking back, things were great then.  They got even better when my father’s habit of buying a weekly lottery ticket finally paid off, and he hit it big.  He won the jackpot.
            Dad sold the farm.  He said simply that he had worked hard his entire life, and it was about time that he was able to take a break.  He went on to say that it was time for a change, that other than farming, Grayson didn’t really have anything prosperous for us as a family.  He and my mother explained to me that it was time for a change of scenery.  They were planning on uprooting our lives and moving, in other words.  We moved out of the state of Louisiana, bypassed the rest of the southern states which I never, in a million years, would have thought my dad would do.  He was southern proud, and up until then, he had referred to any northerner as a damn yankee.  He never had anything even remotely nice to say about anyone from up north.  However, that did not stop him from moving us all the way up to New York.  Dad did not put much thought into the move before he decided to do it.  In fact, we barely had any heads-up whatsoever and because of that were unable to find a house.  So we had to settle for an apartment in what some considered being slums in Manhattan.  Yeah, Dad could have easily gotten us something better once we got there, but for some reason or another, he chose not to.  He kept saying that there was no point in upgrading to a better apartment or even shacking up in a hotel when it was only going to be a matter of time before he bought us a big beautiful house in the suburbs somewhere.  This was something else that I never would have imagined he would say.
            I had never been outside the state of Louisiana for more than a couple hours and only when we were taking a heifer to an auction or picking one up until that day we left for good.  So unfortunately, I had no idea of anything about a big city.  I had no friends outside of Caldwell Parish.  Mom and Dad were constantly gone:  running errands, searching for insignificant jobs for some type of disposable income, hunting for houses, and checking out some of the best high schools in the surrounding neighborhoods.  I missed the small town life very much.  I missed my friends.  I missed the rest of my family.  I missed everything about the state of Louisiana.
            Anyways, I awoke one day around noon.  Having no responsibilities for the first time in my life, I could stay up as late as I wanted and sleep for as long as I wanted. Those were two of the very few perks of selling the farm.  I wandered into the kitchen in search of my parents, licking my lips at the thought of what that afternoon’s meal would be.  I was disappointed, though.  I discovered only a note attached to the refrigerator:
            We found a house just a few miles away.  Surprise, its actually out in the country.  The realtor would not be free for another couple of days, so we had to go check it out now, and you were sleeping so peacefully that I didn’t want to wake you. There is some money on our dresser.  You can go get you something to eat and find something to keep you occupied for a little while.  Be back shortly.
                                                Mom & Dad
            I took a quick shower, grabbed the money, and left.  I was not really hungry at the time.  Well, not hungry for any of the things around the neighborhood.  Hot dog stands and cheesesteaks paled in comparison to the great food back home.  I just needed to get out of that cramped, little apartment.  I felt smothered when I was there.
            Our building was actually owned by an infamous slum lord.  The place was horrible, although it was said to be his best building.  Still to this day, I would hate to see some of the other ones that he owned.  On the stoop leading into the building, there always sat some of the neighborhood kids.  My parents thought they were gang members. They forbid me to even talk to them.  So I didn’t.  I was afraid to talk to them anyways because I, too, had conformed the same opinion of them that my parents had.  After all, every one of them dressed in nothing but blue everyday.  They were covered in tattoos, and some even carried guns.
            There were five of them on this particular day.  Once again, their clothes were all blue.  One was shirtless with navy blue cargo shorts, one wore a blue tank top, one had a blue bandana wrapped around his head, one had a blue baseball cap turned around backwards, and one had on a blue jersey of some sort.  They were very intimidating even when they were just sitting there joking around as they were on this day.  So, I took my parent’s advice and steered clear of them.  The only problem was that on this day they didn’t steer clear of me.  When I reached the bottom of the stoop, one of them spoke.  This was a first.  I had never seen them talk to anyone outside of their little group.
            “Where you goin’, white boy,” the guy in the bandana blurted out.  He was the biggest of all them and looked the meanest.  He also appeared to be their leader.  What confused me most of all was the fact that he was also white.  They all were.
            I tried my hardest to ignore them but could not.  The guy in the tank top hopped off the side of the stoop and stood up in front of me blocking my path.
            “The man asked you a question, white boy.  I suggest you answer him real quick,” he demanded.
            “Uhhh… I’m just going to get something to eat,” I managed to stammer out.  “Please, I don’t want any trouble.”
            “There’s no trouble to worry ‘bout here, man,” the guy in the bandana said calmly.  “I was just hopin’ that you could front me five dollars ‘til I get paid Friday.”
            “I would, but I don’t have any money on me,” I lied.  Why did I ever lie?
            “So how you gonna get food if you have no money?” the guy in the jersey blurted out.
            “I am going to meet my parents for lunch,” I lied again.
            “Okay, white boy,” the guy in the bandana says.  “You’re free to go.”
            The guy standing in front of me calmly took his place back on the stoop.
            I felt so relieved as I walked down the sidewalk.  The more space I put between myself and them, the better I felt.  I didn’t want to look back.  For some reason though, I just could not help myself.  I took a quick glance back.  They were all gone.  Well, two of them were now coming down the sidewalk behind me.  The other three had disappeared.  I wasn’t really sure if they were actually following me, but I assumed they probably knew I was lying to them and that I had gotten off very easily.  I was petrified.  I didn’t know exactly what to do.  So I jogged into the alley on the side of the building.  I was hoping to make it around the back and just go up the stairs back to our apartment and wait for my parents to return home.
            I sprinted through the alley and finally made it to the back.  The stairs leading up were at the other end of the building.  I had time.  Since I was running short of breath, I decided to slow down and walk the rest of the way hoping not to draw any extra attention to myself.  Surprisingly, the three guys that had disappeared were now waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs.  I turned to head back the other way, back towards the alley, but the other two guys were now behind me.
            I shut my eyes, hoping to wake up.  I couldn’t.  This was no dream.  It was a nightmare came true.
            “I think you lied to me a minute ago, white boy,” the guy in the bandana yelled.
            My stomach dropped.  I feared for my life.
            “Empty your pockets, white boy,” he spoke again as all five of them began rapidly approaching me.  His voice was full of anger; rage.
            I emptied both back pockets first, revealing only my empty wallet.  I emptied my front right pocket next revealing only my small pocket knife.  One of them, still to this day I’m not sure which, ripped it from my hand and shoved it into his own pocket.
            “Now the other,” Bandana demanded.
            I pulled out my cigarette lighter first.  I was now praying that I had kept running and maybe screaming to draw some attention, any kind of attention.  I was praying that someone was watching and would stop them.  But I knew better.  I could only hope that something would happen to prevent me from pulling out the money that my parents had left.
            Unfortunately, nothing out of the ordinary happened.  No one showed up.  The gangsters didn’t just up and decide to leave and leave me alone.  Yeah, my mind wandered to some pretty unrealistic probabilities, but I couldn’t help it.  I just wanted out of the situation.  Having no other choice, I dug deep down into the bottom of my pocket and wrapped my fingers around the twenty dollar bill.  I thought of just balling my fist up around it, concealing it, and hoping for the best.  Who was I kidding though? They still would have eventually found it, and that probably would have just made it worse when they did.  No, I just pulled it out and threw it to the ground at Bandana’s feet.
            “There.  Are ya’ll happy now?” I said.  I tried my hardest to sound angry, but fear continued to thrive in my voice.  “I swear that’s all I have.  Now, can I please just go?”  Did I really expect begging to get me out of this?  Yes.  I guess I did.
            “You know what, white boy?” Bandana asked.  No fear there whatsoever, just anger and rage.  I could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice, see it in his body language.  I knew something bad was about to happen.  “I hate it when people lie to me.  Too bad for you, it seems that you just lied to me.”
            He reached inside his coat pocket.  Now, as I have said before, I knew nothing of the city life, but there was no doubt in my mind about what he was hiding in that pocket.  There was a gun.  It had to be.  I had seen one too many gangster movies not to know what was going to happen next.
            There was no more begging or pleading.  It was simply time that I took the consequences for my actions.  I shut my eyes once more.  This time I was not trying to wake up from a horrendous nightmare.  No, I knew this was real.  I was simply dwelling on the finer things in my life.  I envisioned that I was back on that beautiful farm in north Louisiana.  It was unbelievable.  Everything looked so vivid.  It felt so real.  It was almost like I was having some sort of out of body experience.  I hoped that when I reopened my eyes that the guys had just scooped up the twenty and left.  I was hoping that I would be alone.
            Of course, that did not happen.
            I didn’t open my eyes for quite some time after that.  In fact, when I finally did, it was seven hours later.  I was no longer in the alley behind my apartment.  I was lying in a hospital bed looking up at my sorrow-filled parents.  My mind was blank after I shut my eyes.
            My doctor would later fill me in on what happened.  It turned out that my knowledge of movies had been right.  Bandana did have a gun.  He did pull it out as well. He fired two shots at close range, and then they all left me for dead.  Both bullets hit me in the chest.  One punctured my right lung.  It collapsed shortly after taking the bullet in.  The other stopped just short of reaching my left lung.  The doctor said that there was no way on Earth that I would have survived if that second bullet would have reached my other lung.
            The doctor also advised me happily that they were able to remove both bullets without harming me any further.  He also said that I would be back to normal within in a month or two.  Despite the situation, I was happy.  My parents were not.  My dad decided right then and there that city life wasn’t for us.  He told me and my mother that as I soon as I got better we would be leaving.  We would go back to Louisiana.  This made me even happier.
            So, I ask again, is the expression, “A dead man tells no tales” true?  I guess it depends on the situation.  I was pronounced dead three different times en route to the hospital on that day.  A fourth time while lying on the hospital bed in the midst of surgery.  So in my case, I guess it would be false.  After all, I lived to tell my tale.
            Three days, later something went horribly wrong.  I’m still unsure as to what exactly happened, but I guess the doctor lied to me.  It turns out that a small fragment of the second bullet had broken off and failed to be extracted.  It worked its way into my left lung over the course of three days creating a small puncture.  I know it doesn’t seem like much, but keep in mind that it had only been three days since the accident.  My right lung was still not at 100 percent, but they had chosen to let me breathe on my own. They said it would make my recovery that much quicker.  When the fragment reached my left lung, my body was still so weak that it collapsed nearly instantaneously.  My right lung couldn’t maintain proper functioning under the added pressure.  I flat lined so suddenly that there was nothing the doctors or nursing staff could do.  This time, I would not be revived.  Surgery could no longer help me.
            So I ask you a final time.  Is the saying true?  My answer:  absolutely not.  In some since, I am still here, searching for what to do next.  I wander the streets aimlessly. I am so lost, yet I have never felt so alive.  I spent years doing absolutely nothing after I flat lined that final time.
            Finally, one day I got to thinking, and yes, I can still think.  My father used to tell me ghost stories.  They always ended with me asking were ghosts real.  He would always tell me the same exact thing.  “Yes.  They are real.  A ghost is simply an extension of a person.  If a person dies with unfinished business, whether it be revenge or just simply an important message, they cannot rest in peace until their duty has been carried out.”  I grew up believing this, believing that ghosts all had purposes.
            So I ask you this, could this be false as well?  I would like to think not.  After all, I am still here.  Now I don’t know what my purpose is.  I have no message to forward on, but I thought this to be an interesting story, an important story, therefore I have relayed it to you.  Revenge?  Maybe.  I have sought my revenge on three of my five attackers.  I have haunted them, broke them down, hurt them, and left them for dead.  Two more to go.  Just two more.
By Jeremy Simons