Ghost stories from hell, p.28

Ghost Stories from Hell, page 28


Ghost Stories from Hell

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  Joel licked his lips nervously, his heart beating faster.

  “Is it left then, little one, behind the Stones of Coffin’s Stand to Blood’s dark orchard?” Jack raised an eyebrow. “Or perhaps you shall run by me, into the forest’s dark heart where things worse than old Jack await the sweet taste of man?”

  “What are you?” Joel blurted out.

  “What am I?” Jack chuckled. “I’m Jack, a humble baker.”

  “A baker?” Joel asked, his blood pounding in his ears.

  “Yes, yes. A baker,” Jack grinned. “You’ve not heard the rhyme then, little one?”

  Joel shook his head, confused.

  Jack laughed, broad yellow teeth catching the firelight. “I’m sure that you have, and you’ve just forgotten.” In a singsong voice Jack called out softly, “Be he live or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”

  Joel stiffened the full horror of the situation rushing through him.

  “See there, little one,” Jack winked. “Now you remember. Old Jack’s a baker.”

  Joel bolted.

  He ran towards the giant, leaping the brook and cutting hard to the right to stay—

  The cudgel caught him in the stomach. Joel folded over it, the breath rushing out of him as ribs cracked. He felt himself flying backward and in a moment he splashed into the brook. He struggled to stand, but Jack was there, plucking him out of the water. Pain ripped through Joel as Jack carried him to the fire. The giant dropped his cudgel to the ground. He started to casually peel Joel’s clothes off of him.

  Pain wracked Joel’s body, but he couldn’t move. He was terrified.

  Jack made a neat pile of Joel’s sopping wet clothes, and then he stood and held Joel at arm’s length, examining him. Joel was limp in Jack’s grasp, unable to bring himself to do anything.

  Jack nodded and set Joel down, turning his attention to the fire. Pain spiked in Joel’s ribs, and he shuddered, the pain jarring his mind out of shock.

  Jack turned away to throw more wood on the fire, and Joel scrambled to his feet and ran.

  He sprinted past the giant, aiming himself towards the game trail which he’d followed in the morning. In spite of the pain in his ribs, he rushed towards the

  tree line.

  And something struck him in the back of the knee, sending him rolling onto the hard forest floor. He struggled to get up, but Jack was there. The giant picked him up easily off of the ground, shaking his head as he brushed Joel off with a huge, calloused hand.

  “Don’t run, little one,” Jack said, carrying Joel gently to the roaring fire. “You will only die tired.”

  * * *

  Hungry Ghosts

  Chapter 1: A Night to Remember, September 5th, 1979

  Connor Mann sat on his bed and looked out the window at the cemetery.

  Pale moonlight drifted down through a heavy bank of clouds to illuminate the gravestones scattered throughout Pine Grove Cemetery. The headstones, new and old, had a devilish gleam to them, as if the dead lurked in the markers rather than beneath them.

  Connor hated the cemetery, and he had for as long as he could remember.

  As he looked out through the open window and past the screen, a shape caught his eye. A small creature moved from headstone to headstone, head down, nose to the ground. Connor squinted as the animal moved into a shaft of moonlight and gasped at the sight of a silver fox.

  It took him only a moment to realize that the fox wasn’t silver, but a ghost. The light of the moon as it reflected off a tall headstone caused the curious color of the fox’s fur.

  The animal’s nose lifted, the head turned, and dark orange eyes stared at Connor.

  Horrified, Connor watched as the fox’s lips curled up to reveal long, jagged teeth. A tongue, black and worm-like, snaked out of its mouth and glided across the stretched lips.

  Connor screamed, tried to wrench the blanket over his head, and tumbled out of bed.

  In less than a minute, the light in his room snapped on, and Connor heard the gentle tread of his mother as she came to him. He wiped tears out of his eyes as she removed the blanket and helped him back into bed.

  “Connor,” she whispered, brushing his hair out of his eyes. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”

  Connor’s breath hitched in his throat as he tried to speak and his mother’s hand went to his back, rubbing it slowly.

  “Shh,” she said, “catch your breath and tell me.”

  Connor did as he was told, and then he reported to his mother what he had seen.

  She nodded as he spoke, pausing the back rub to tuck her long black hair behind her ears. Her thin face wore a broad smile, love and care filled her eyes.

  When Connor had finished with his story, his mother looked out the window, a frown wrinkling the smooth, pale skin of her brow.

  “I’ve asked your father to fix the shades in your room for about three years now,” she muttered. “The only thing he can be bothered to do though is get himself a pitcher of beer at the social club.”

  Connor had heard this complaint before, and he kept silent. There were many repairs and projects that needed his father’s attention. Few, if any of them, would ever get done. His father was more concerned with beer than anything else.

  “Well,” Connor’s mother said, looking out the window, “I’m sorry you saw something frightening out there, honey. I don’t think it was a fox. You probably just saw a dog. We’re too far in the city for foxes to be popping up. Even in a cemetery as big as Pine Grove.”

  She turned to face him again.

  “Now,” she said, “here’s the deal. You go back to bed without looking out the window again, and tomorrow, as part of your birthday present, we can pick out some new curtains. Something to cover this window a little better. Deal?”

  “Deal,” Connor said, grinning as he shook his mother’s hand.

  She stood up, helped him lie back down, and covered him with the sheet and blanket. His mother leaned forward, kissed him on the forehead and said, “Now go back to sleep, my birthday boy. Just a couple more hours and it will be time to get up, and the birthday celebrations can begin!”

  Connor smiled, turned his back to the window, and watched his mother leave the room.

  She paused in the doorway, blew him a kiss, and turned out the light.

  In the darkness, Connor’s eyes grew heavy, and as he was closing them, he heard a sound, like the clicking of small claws on the asphalt. He yawned, sank deeper towards sleep, and wondered what dog was out so late at night.

  Chapter 2: Happy Birthday, September 6th, 1979

  Debra Mann left the house at a little before six in the morning, as she usually did. She liked to walk through the cemetery, enjoying the peace and quiet she could find there. The early morning strolls helped clear her mind and focus on the day ahead.

  Debra found herself relying on the walks with a greater frequency. The new manager of the Indian Head Bank was a stickler for all sorts of rules, which was a far cry from the lack of office policies of Mr. Frost, who had recently retired. Added to the stress of a new boss who was nothing like the old, was the concern over Connor’s happiness.

  A concern her husband did nothing to alleviate.

  She shoved thoughts of Cody out of her mind, focusing instead on what she had done, and what needed to be fixed.

  A twinge of guilt rose up within her, but Debra smothered it as she walked into the cemetery. Less than a month earlier, she had begun to fret over Conner’s birthday. What little money she was able to bring in on a regular basis went to keeping the utilities on and the foreclosure notices at bay. More often than not, Cody managed to get to the social club and drink his earnings away.

  When it came to a choice between a beer and anything else in the world, the beer always won out where Cody was concerned.

  Then Mr. Frost had announced his retirement, and the following morning, when Debra was in the cemetery, she had an idea. She could borrow some money from the bank, buy Connor that
new BMX bicycle he had been so excited about, and then slip the money back in once she got paid.

  Because Debra was going to have to steal the money to get Conner his birthday present.

  And the strangest part about it was that the idea didn’t seem to be her own. It was almost as though a voice had whispered it into her ear when she walked through the cemetery. She had been a conscientious and dedicated employee of Indian Head bank for almost ten years, and she had never once thought of taking even a penny from them.

  But she knew she had to.

  Connor needed his present.

  All boys need a bike.

  Debra smiled, thinking about the new bicycle, hidden away in its box in the basement.

  She put her hands in her pockets and followed the asphalt road in the cemetery towards the newer headstones. Her favorite place to walk, and where the idea to borrow the money had first sprung up.


  The loud, abrasive sound of his father snoring woke Connor up, as it did on most days. Connor rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, yawned a few times and cast off his blanket. As he became fully awake, he smiled.

  He bounced as he walked around his room, pulling on his clothes before going into the hall. His footsteps became lighter, his mood more sedate, as he approached his father’s bedroom.

  Connor didn’t try to wake the man up. By the heavy, onerous tone of his father’s snores, Connor knew that he had gotten far drunker than usual the night before.

  Waking his father up for something as small as Connor’s birthday would earn him a beating. One his mother wouldn’t be able to protect him from.

  Connor stopped outside of the bedroom, reached out and took hold of the brass doorknob. Without a word, he eased the door closed and made sure that even the latch was silent as it settled into place.

  With his father secured behind the thin, plywood door, Connor picked his way carefully down the hall and descended in the same manner to the first floor. He smelled coffee and toast, his mother’s usual breakfast. When he entered the kitchen, his mother wasn’t there. Instead, Connor found a card at his chair.

  To my one and only, sweet Connor, his mother had written across the envelope. He slipped his small finger in between the envelope’s flap and the rest of the paper and tore it free. From within, he took out a note.

  Happy Birthday, to my boy, Connor! I’ve gone for my morning walk, and I will be back soon. I can’t wait to show you what I have in store for your birthday, my big, seven-year-old boy!

  Holding onto the letter, Connor went to the side door and opened it. He stepped out onto the porch and looked down the driveway into the cemetery. In the early morning light, he strained his eyes to catch a glimpse of his mother. After a moment, he did so, her tall, graceful body moving in long, easy strides along the cemetery’s asphalt road.

  She made her way to the Oval, the newest portion of Pine Grove. Around the Oval were new stones. Those with polished fronts and names carved in bold letters.

  Connor walked to the edge of the porch, stood on his toes, and rested his arms on the railing. He saw his mother as she followed the curve from the left, moving towards the most recent graves.

  She glanced back at the house then, and she saw Connor. His mother raised a hand and waved, and Connor returned it.

  A moment later, the fox attacked.

  Connor didn’t see where it had come from, or what it was doing, but he could hear his mother’s screams as she fell.

  In the stillness of the morning air, Connor heard the crack of her skull against a headstone and her sudden silence. Horrified, he watched as the fox’s body pulsated, expanded, shrank, and then violently transformed into a man.

  From where he stood, Connor could see the man bend down, reach out, and thrust his hands into his mother’s head. The screams started up again, and only when the man faded from view did Connor understand that the screams he heard were his own.

  Chapter 3: Therapy, August 1st, 2016

  The curtains were raised, the light of the stars visible through the clear glass of Doctor Waltner’s windows.

  “Connor?” she said, causing him to twitch.

  He flashed a nervous smile at her and turned away from the windows.

  “How are you feeling?” the doctor asked him.

  “The same,” he answered.

  Her frown triggered anxiety, and he looked down at his hands. She cleared her throat and said, “You’ve been here a long time.”

  Her tone was ominous, and he looked at her, suddenly wary. He didn’t respond, waiting instead for her to continue.

  She adjusted her glasses and said, “It’s almost time for you to leave this facility.”

  Fear caused him to straighten up, his hands to shake, and his mouth to go dry.

  “I can’t,” he whispered. “There’s no place for me to go.”

  “You can go home,” Dr. Waltner stated.

  “My father’s there,” Connor replied.

  “And that’s why you should go. You both have some issues that need to be worked out.”

  “Why now?” Connor asked.

  She hesitated and then said, “This facility doesn’t have the ability to care for you anymore.”

  “What?” Connor said, confused.

  “Your uncle passed away,” Dr. Waltner said in a harsh voice. “There are no more funds. You are fully capable of taking charge of your own life, Connor. No one else is going to do it for you anymore.”

  Connor shook his head. “I can’t go out there.”

  “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Dr. Waltner began.

  “Shut up!” Connor screamed. “You don’t know that!”

  The door to her office was thrown open, and a pair of large, well-muscled orderlies rushed in.

  Connor didn’t shrink away from them as he normally would when he had an episode.

  He jabbed an accusatory finger at her. “You. Don’t. Know. You didn’t see it. You didn’t see her die.”

  “Connor,” Dr. Waltner said with all the warmth and affection of a piece of steel, “you need to quiet yourself down. These gentlemen will not sedate you. They will not bring you back to your room. They will, in fact, restrain you and hold you until the police can come. I would hate for your first day out of this facility to be spent in jail.”

  Connor shuddered at the thought.

  His shoulders slumped, and he dropped into the chair.

  Dr. Waltner nodded to the two men, and they left, leaving the door open behind them. She turned her attention to the file, his file, on her desk.

  “You have sufficient medication to last you the next month,” she said, closing the manila folder and looking at him. “I believe your uncle prepared for you in other ways, but you will have to speak with his lawyer about that. I am not privy to the particulars of it.”

  “When do I have to leave?” Connor asked, staring at his hands.

  “That’s why I called you in here tonight,” she replied, “I am well aware of your concern about daylight. I wanted to offer you the opportunity to leave at night. This would allow you to return to your family home or some other establishment before the arrival of the sun.”

  Connor nodded. “Thank you.”

  “You’ll leave tonight then?” Dr. Waltner asked.

  “As soon as I’m packed,” Conner stated, “which should be in a few minutes. I don’t have much.”

  She tapped her fingers on the file, and when Connor fixed his gaze upon her, she said, “You have an opportunity here, Connor. Don’t squander it. Some people have a golden future laid at their feet, and it goes to waste. Your uncle provided a safe place for you for decades. I suggest you make the most of the time he has given you.”

  Connor stood up, and as he did so, he noticed how haggard and careworn his psychologist appeared.

  “Are you alright, Doctor?” he asked.

  A grimace appeared on her face, but it vanished almost as quickly as it had arrived.

  “I am now,” she answered.
br />   “What happened?” Connor asked.

  “Let’s just say that you’re not the only one who was thrust into the cold,” she said with a tight smile. Dr. Waltner adjusted her glasses and said, “I honestly wish you the best, Connor.”

  Connor nodded and left the room.

  He never trusted anyone who used the word ‘honestly,’ and he hadn’t trusted Dr. Waltner to begin with.

  Stuffing his hands deep into the pockets of his sweatpants, Connor shuffled along the hallway towards his room. Behind him, the two attendants followed, prepared to thrust him into the night as soon as he was packed.

  Connor shuddered and wondered what his father looked like after all these years.

  Connor doubted it was good.

  Chapter 4: Home on Hill Street, August 2nd, 2016

  Connor had seen his father a handful of times after his uncle had him committed. The last had resulted in an angry exchange of words, and over three decades of silence from him.

  Life had been difficult with his father, and standing outside the family home on Hill Street in the evening reminded him of that.

  A single light shone in the den, as it had on the last night Connor had looked at the house. The yellow paint on the wooden walls, which had once been vibrant and inviting, had dulled and faded. Even in the light of the streetlamps, Connor could see how the paint bubbled and peeled. The windows glowed in a dull, feeble fashion. They were filthy, the curtains behind them stained with age and time and his father’s cigarettes.

  In the driveway was his father’s car, a Ford Mustang of dubious vintage, and of doubtful ability. From the leaves and debris gathered around the vehicle’s flat tires, Connor suspected it hadn’t been in drivable condition for some time.

  “You sure this is the place, bud?”

  Connor turned, switched his bag from one hand to the other and forced a smile as he answered the cabbie. “Yeah. Been a while. My dad’s not in good health.”

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