Ghost stories from hell, p.33

Ghost Stories from Hell, page 33


Ghost Stories from Hell

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  His thoughts were cut off by a dull thud from the basement, followed by a heavy crash, then a soft scratching sound in the room with him.

  Cody had learned not to worry about the random noises in the house. Especially those coming from beyond the iron and salt. The scratching sound was irritating, so he focused on that.

  It came from beneath the old dresser upon which the television was set.

  Cody stared at the piece of furniture, trying to decide what was making the noise. The boy had cleaned the kitchen, and Cody knew there had been mice in it, living under the trash.

  He had decided it was the displaced mice when a rattle joined the scratching.

  The bottom drawer of the dresser shook. A gentle, almost probing motion. The old television shivered and moved a fraction of an inch towards the edge.

  Cody watched, fascinated.

  The drawer eased out a little, then a hair’s breadth more.

  Cody leaned forward, grinning and wondering what was hidden in the drawer. He knew it couldn’t be a mouse, and it couldn’t be the dead. The iron around his doors and windows had kept them at bay for over twenty years. They had never been able to pass through the basement door, or descend the stairs from the second floor.

  He chuckled and dropped back into the sprung comfort of his chair.

  The thought crossed his mind that he wasn’t even awake.

  I’m dreaming, his words slurred even in his own thoughts. Passed right out, didn’t I?

  Before he could answer his own question, the bottom drawer slid out.

  Cody held his breath, waiting to see what would emerge.

  A small, silver nose appeared. It was followed by a snout, equally silver, which in turn was attached to a head of the same color. Soon a fox was before him, sitting upright in the drawer and looking at Cody.

  Cody let out a giggle.

  Then the sound died in his throat.

  The fox was familiar.

  Somehow, he had seen it before.

  Then the memory came to him unbidden.

  The night Ida Lavoie had died, on the porch. Connor had been in the kitchen, and the silver fox had been there, sitting in front of the side door with the same patience it was showing from its seat in the drawer.

  Then the fox shimmered, shifted, and grew. By the time Cody had drawn in a shuddering breath, a man stood in front of him.

  The stranger was as silver as the fox, his skin rippling, and fluid. He was middle-aged, a sly smile on his face. A chill filled the room, accompanied by the stench of decay.

  And Cody understood that he wasn’t dreaming. Along with that understanding came the knowledge that Connor probably hadn’t secured the basement door properly. That the crash he had heard wasn’t a noise made by the ghosts to irritate Cody, but the sound of the dead getting into the house effortlessly because of his mind-numbingly stupid son.

  Whimpering, he tried to get to his feet, but the man stepped forward, a single, graceful motion that brought him to Cody’s side. The man reached out, brushed Cody’s hair out of his eyes, and then thrust his hand into Cody’s mouth.

  The pain was immediate and complete.

  Gagging, Cody tried to escape, but he couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe.

  And in a moment, it didn’t matter anymore.

  Chapter 20: Magpies in the Window, August 9th, 2016

  They stood on the street with their backs to the cemetery, the wrought iron fence separating them from the graves as the two men looked at Connor’s house.

  Despite the warmth of the sun upon him, Connor felt cold. He crossed his arms over his chest and clasped his biceps, trying to keep himself from shaking.

  Hu stood beside him, hands behind his back and moving a string of beads through his fingers one at a time. The older man examined Connor’s window with a critical eye, remaining silent for a long time.

  Rex paced back and forth on the street, his claws clicking on the pavement.

  Connor glanced at Hu. The man’s face was tight, his lips pressed close together. Finally, the beads ceased their movements through Hu’s fingers. He looped them around his left wrist and let out a small sigh.

  “What is it?” Connor asked. “That isn’t good, right?”

  “Correct,” Hu said after a moment, “that is not good, Connor. In at least two ways.”

  Connor waited for the man to clarify his statement.

  “Those birds,” Hu said, gesturing towards the dead animals, “are magpies. They are often viewed as a symbol of great joy. To kill them in such a way, to use them so callously, well, let us say that we can assume that you are not being wished happiness.”

  Connor swallowed, and a dry click sounded. He cleared his throat and said, “Okay. That’s the first.”

  Hu nodded. “The second inauspicious aspect of this message is the number of birds used. Four is an unlucky number in China, the unluckiest, in fact.”

  Connor looked at Hu. “And that’s bad?”

  “Yes,” Hu said in a soft voice. “It is bad. Worse, in fact, than I originally thought.”

  “Worse?” Connor asked, laughing in disbelief. “What the hell do you mean?”

  Hu raised an eyebrow at the note of panic in Connor’s voice, but Connor didn’t care. He pressed on.

  “Seriously,” Connor said, “how bad is this going to get?”

  “That, I do not know,” Hu said, “but the symbolism tells me that we are dealing with a hungry ghost who is well aware of what they are, and what they want.”

  “And what’s that?” Connor demanded.

  “Evidently, you, Connor,” Hu said.

  Connor’s stomach twisted. He tried to speak, but couldn’t. His mind didn’t accept what Hu said. Connor had heard the dead say it, but he hadn’t believed.

  They were dead. He had a difficult time believing in them.

  But Hu’s pronouncement had such an air of finality, of truth that Connor had to accept it.

  He had no choice.

  As the cold mantle of realization settled over him, the house seemed to shimmer. He cast the idea away from him, dismissing it as a reaction of his mind to the strange reality Hu’s statement had thrust him into.

  And then Hu spoke.

  “What was that?” the older man asked.

  “You saw it?” Connor asked in reply.

  Hu nodded, a grim look on his face. “Is your father home?”

  “I don’t—” Connor started, then caught himself. “Yes, yes, he’s home.”

  “Come,” Hu said, crossing the road and hurrying towards the porch, “we must make certain he is safe.”

  Connor didn’t care if his father was well or not, but he didn’t want to be outside without Hu. He found himself jogging to keep up with Hu, the older man far sprightlier than Connor would have thought.

  Hu reached the porch a few steps before him, sped up the stairs, and tore open the screen door. It slammed against the side of the house as he forced his way in.

  “Cody?” Hu called as they entered the kitchen.

  Connor came to a stop, and his father shambled out of the den. His gait was stilted, his movements awkward.

  “He’s drunk,” Connor said, his voice filled with bitterness.

  “No,” Hu said. “He’s not.”

  Rex growled, snapping at the air as Connor’s father took another trio of steps towards them.

  Hu yelled at Cody Mann in Chinese.

  Connor’s father laughed and answered in the same.

  Chapter 21: A Warning Unheeded, August 20th, 1986

  Avery Christiansen pulled into the small, dirt parking lot behind the caretaker’s office in Pine Grove Cemetery.

  There were no other cars.

  And the curtain was still down in the caretaker’s office, which meant Mr. Strafford wasn’t in.

  Avery was the newest hire, having been with the cemetery for only a month. When Mr. Strafford had informed him that there would be no work on Wednesday, Avery had assumed it was a joke. The other guys in the
crew had pulled some good ones on him.

  And when Mr. Strafford had said they had a paid day off in the middle of the week, at the end of August, Avery had figured his two coworkers had gotten the boss to go in on a gag.

  Frowning, Avery put his Volkswagen into park, turned the engine off, and got out. The August air was sticky and uncomfortable, and it was only a quarter to seven in the morning.

  He got out of his car, stuffed the keys into his pocket, and went to the back door. Avery jiggled the handle and twisted it to the right, which was what Danny had told him to do if Avery ever needed to get into the building after hours.

  The lock popped, and the door swung in.

  Avery hesitated, listened, and when he didn’t hear anything, crossed the threshold. Mr. Strafford’s office door was open, and Avery went in, flicking on the light as he did so.

  His boss’s desk was neat and organized, nothing out of place on the leather blotter, not a speck of dust to be found on it. A large calendar, devoid of any pictures or decorations, hung on the wall closest to the desk. The calendar was separated into weeks and each week into days. But the blank squares were huge, information regarding burials and schedules filling them.

  Avery walked to the calendar and leaned in, squinting a little to read the words written on August 26.

  C. Lawson’s funeral, East Orleans, Massachusetts.

  Shaking his head, Avery straightened up and turned away.

  He still couldn’t believe there was no work, just because of a funeral for someone Mr. Strafford knew. Frowning, Avery called out in a loud voice, “Hello?”

  The walls of the building deadened the impact of his voice, and Avery grumbled before he yelled, “Anybody here?”

  No one answered him.

  He left the office, wandered down the hallway and went into the kitchenette. The coffee pot was off and cold. A sure sign that no one had come in and then hidden from Avery.

  They all needed their coffee in the morning, except for Mr. Strafford, who drank tea. At least a gallon a day from what Avery had seen.

  He walked over to the two-burner stove, where Mr. Strafford’s teakettle sat, and gave the metal a cautious touch.

  It too was cold.

  Avery shook his head, confused.

  The rear door rattled, and Avery backed out of the kitchenette, looking down the hallway to the open door.

  “Hello?” a female voice inquired. “Is someone in here?”

  “Yeah,” Avery said, walking down the hall. “Come on in.”

  A shape appeared in the doorway, silhouetted by the daylight. The stranger stepped in, closing the door behind her. Avery blinked, his eyes adjusting to the change in light. His breath caught in his throat and he licked his lips self-consciously.

  The stranger was indeed a woman, young and beautiful. She wore a simple summer dress of light green, and her blonde hair was piled in a loose bun on the top of her head. Her limbs were slim, and when she took a step closer to him, she moved without sound, almost as if her feet didn’t touch the floor.

  Goosebumps rippled along his flesh, and Avery smiled at her.

  She came to a stop a few feet away from him, her fingers interlocked in front of her. From beneath long lashes, she looked at him, her lips parted slightly.

  Avery had a difficult time hearing his own voice when he asked, “Do you need some help, miss?”

  “My name’s Ethel,” the young woman said, and her voice caused him to tremble with excitement.

  Avery stuttered as he introduced himself.

  She gave a crooked smile that weakened his knees.

  “Are you the only one here today, Avery?” she asked.

  He nodded, noticing the pale gray color of her eyes.

  “When are your employees going to be here?” Ethel asked. “Later in the morning?”

  “Oh, they’re not mine,” Avery whispered, unable to keep his eyes off her lips. “In fact, my boss, Mr. Strafford, he gave us the day off. I thought he was joking.”

  “You’re the only one?” she asked, taking a small step forward.

  Avery’s heart hammered against his chest as he nodded.

  “Well,” she said in a husky voice, “I’m a lucky girl then.”

  Before Avery could respond, Ethel transformed in front of him. Her youth and beauty were torn away by some unseen hand, leaving behind a face and body ravaged by time and disease. The gray eyes vanished, sinking into her skull as her teeth yellowed, blackened, and dropped from her mouth.

  Avery turned to run, but Ethel sprang at him, far too fast and strong for him to get away. She slammed into him, sending him sprawling into the wall. The plywood panels cracked beneath his weight and he twisted as he fell, landing on his right elbow. Pain tore through his arm, and he felt the same shoulder dislocate.

  Before he could get to his feet, Ethel scrambled onto him, ripping his shirt off him.

  “Give it to me!” she shrieked, long, cracked nails digging into the flesh of his chest.

  Avery screamed as she struck bone and broke his sternum. She dug through it with the tenacity of a dog, his blood splashing up and through her. He took another breath for a scream and then choked on it as she tore into his lungs, shredding them as she ripped them out of his body.

  “No!” she howled. “There is nothing sweet about this one!”

  Then her cry of anger shifted into a shout of pure, animalistic joy as she held his heart aloft.

  My heart is so small. Strange, Avery thought and closed his eyes as Ethel squealed with pleasure.

  Chapter 22: An Unexpected Conversation, August 9th, 2016

  Hu managed to keep his face blank, hiding the surprise he felt at hearing his mother tongue spoken out of the dirty mouth of Cody Mann.

  But he knew, even if Connor did not, that Cody was dead and his corpse a host for a hungry ghost.

  “And what is your name, Little One?” the ghost asked in Chinese. “Do you speak your own tongue?”

  “Why would I not?” Hu asked in return.

  The ghost chuckled and switched to English, saying, “Excellent. And do you know who I am, Little One?”

  “I know,” Hu said, “that you are a Backdoor God, and nothing more than that.”

  The ghost let out a pleased laugh, nodding. “Let me give you a name, Little One. Backdoor God, while appropriate, is cumbersome. Feng, I think, shall suffice.”

  “And would you like to know mine, Feng?” Hu asked.

  Feng shook his head. “There is no need. You are a little one, a child to me, though you might be a hundred. I have marked the passage of decades when still alive, and after by the festivals I have seen.”

  “Why don’t you tell me why you are here, Feng?” Hu asked.

  Feng shook his head, then he smiled and nodded in the direction of Connor.

  “He is interesting though,” Feng said, his voice dropping to a barely audible whisper. “Strong. The younger ones, they are afraid of him. He can sense us. He saw me a full day before I butchered his mother, and still, he saw me for what I was when I killed the woman who lived where you do now, Little One.”

  Feng’s smile widened, and, still whispering, he asked, “How do you think he will act when he learns I have made him an orphan?”

  “I’ll show you!” Connor screamed from behind Hu.

  Hu pushed the younger man back and kept his attention on Feng.

  The dead man leaned forward and continued softly, “I think he’ll go mad with rage eventually. It is a pity I was not able to kill his father in front of him. The boy’s reaction would have been thrilling to see.”

  “Will you not step out, Feng?” Hu inquired. “Come into the air and speak with me.”

  The dead man sneered. “Too much iron, Little One, though I suspect it is why you made the suggestion.”

  Hu allowed himself a small smile.

  Feng chuckled.

  “No,” the dead man continued, raising his voice, “I will not be stepping outside. Even if there were no barrier, I w
ould refrain from such an act. The dog does not agree with me.”

  As if he knew that he was the subject of the statement, Rex let out a dark, low bark that caused even Hu’s hair to stand on end.

  “Yes,” Feng concluded, “I will stay here. Where I do not have to contend with the beast.”

  Then the dead man narrowed his eyes and grinned, asking, “Will you come in with me, Little One? You and your friend?”

  Hu shook his head. “No. I have no desire to die today, Feng.”

  Feng shrugged. “We all die sometime. Some of us even remain past our death. I could help you with both of those if you are so inclined.”

  “I am not,” Hu replied.

  “Ah well,” Feng said. Then he looked past Hu to Connor and smiled. “I wish I could linger in this meat, but it will stiffen soon enough, and then it will be far too unwieldy.”

  Feng stretched, let out a brief laugh, and focused his dead eyes upon Hu.

  “Look for me soon, Little One,” Feng advised, “for the Festival is coming upon us, and I will be stronger then.”

  As the last word passed the dead man’s lips, Feng turned and shambled towards the window over the sink. With a laugh ringing out, Feng launched Cody’s body into the glass, shattering it as he broke through. The ghost slipped out of the body, and the corpse of Cody Mann collapsed, hanging half in and half out of the window.

  Chapter 23: The Safety of Hu’s Garden, August 9th, 2016

  They sat on chairs in Hu’s garden. Each piece of furniture was crafted from dark wood, scenes of ancient battles carved into the surface. A gentle breeze made its way through the manicured landscape and carried with it the smell of flowers Connor had no name for.

  Only he and Hu were in the garden.

  Rex, his tail between his legs and a steady whine in his throat, had refused to enter it. The dog remained in the house, lying down at the back door and staring out at them.

  After several minutes of silence, Connor interwove the fingers on both hands together and said, “He’s made an orphan of me.”

  Hu looked over at him. “He was thrilled about that.”

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