“It’s Not Mama” – Advent Ghosts 2016

dark

 

It’s Not Mama

 

When she was out of town, he slept with Jack..

An unexpected, steady thump. Had she made it home? Christmas Eve. Flipping on the light, he rolled over to see the last wag. His companion’s body went rigid, he lifted his head, his ears flat against the skull.

Beyond the window there was no car. No footprints. No one. Just the snow.

“Quiet, baby. It’s not Mama, yet.”

The animal stood, emitting a nearly silent howl, sound he felt in his stomach.

Jack leapt off the bed, his face to the wall. His trembling body was the only sound now.

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This is an exactly 100-word flash fiction piece for a tradition of writing ghost stories on Christmas Eve. We acknowledge a sinful and hopeless world, and welcome the dawn in full awareness that Christmas day brings us light.

Advent Ghosts 100 Word Storytelling is put on by Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall. See other entries there.

Flash Fiction WINNER: “Darkness” by Rob Boone

CONGRATULATIONS to Rob Boone, winner of the Esse Diem flash fiction contest to write a great story under 1,000 words about this photograph:

What made Rob’s story the winner?

There are the simple things that anyone who wants to have his writing published anywhere needs to have in place. He followed directions. His work was in on time, in the submission format requested, topical, and within the word limit.

But that’s just enough to not get thrown in the round file. Rob’s story goes well beyond the minimums with a variety of effective narrative techniques.

Rob knows to put the reader right into the thick of things from the beginning, especially when you only have 1,000 words. Who is “she”? We never really know. Neither does the narrator. Maybe. Maybe he does. How do we define who someone is, anyway?

And how about those four caves . . .

How’d she do it, exactly? They seem so young. We know why she did it. She changed his life forever.

Forgoing the quotation marks around dialogue is not something that would work for every story, but it works beautifully here by creating a kind of quiet that supports the setting and overall tone of this narrative.

That’s all I’ll give you for now.Read on and enjoy this terrific spooky, gorgeous tale by Mr. Boone. You won’t forget it.

“Darkness” | by Rob Boone

She always felt more comfortable in the darkness, she said. Said it was more honest than the light.

We spent a lot of time in those woods back then. We relished the freedom of it: no walls, no parents, no rules. We hiked during the day, though- that’s the thing.

We’d converge at the corner of the neighborhood, where the asphalt gave way to the pines. Where the road—and, as far as we cared, the rest of the world—ended, there was a small patch of grass and dirt, about 20 yards square. Just beyond that, the woods opened up into three dirt trails that forked off in different directions, then descended over the hillside that couldn’t be seen unless you walked to its edge.

On the Other Side, there were four caves. These were our destinations, on those days that we chose to have a destination. We named each one: Fisherman’s Cave was the nearest and sat next to a creek bursting with small fish (we didn’t know which kind of fish back then).

Dwarf Cave made everyone feel small; it was cavernous, but dry, which made it a good spot for making out. Angel’s Cave was a hike, and when the sun shone through the trees after a rain, it produced a halo effect just above the cave that you could see if you stood 28 feet northeast of it.

Billy’s Cave was miles out. We’d named it after Billy when he got lost trying to find his way back and was grounded for being out three hours past curfew. By the time he got home, he was covered in mud up to his knees and scratches up to his elbows.

But that was daytime. The few times we ventured into the woods at night was always on a dare. Boys will be boys, we said, but the girls never backed down from the challenge, though they were always the first to give in and head home.

So when she came along, I didn’t know much about darkness. Just that most people didn’t want anything to do with it.

She’d come from Wisconsin, some said, but the guesses were numerous: Alabama, Oregon, Maine. Some even said she was born in Russia but had moved to the States so young that she’d lost all trace of an accent. Her mother was a psychiatrist. No one knew what her father did.

It was June, and I was trying to find my way back to Angel’s Cave. I’d made a rare wrong turn, and was lost.
I heard her before I saw her. Don’t move, she said, and I turned to find her sitting on a lopsided rock with her knees in her chest, a drawing pad resting on her knees.

I didn’t move. Two minutes later, she stood and started towards me, holding out the drawing. She’d been drawing the forest, and since I’d entered the picture, she drew me, too.

Now you’re part of it, she’d said.

We met in the woods every day for the next three months. We met later and later, until one September night when she asked me to meet her at one in the morning.

There’s not a boy alive who would admit to a girl that he’s afraid to go in the woods at night, so I went.
She’d built a fire to help me find my way, and that tiny glimmer of light was my compass. When I reached her, she was laying on a blanket, reading a Nancy Drew novel.

Trying to sound more curious than afraid, I asked her why we were meeting at night.

I like the darkness. I’m comfortable in it. It’s so much more honest than the light, you know? The light makes everything visible, it lays everything bare, but life isn’t like that. Life is mystery, it hides things from us and leaves us to fill in the gaps.

I nodded and muttered, not knowing how to answer.

I’d looked at girls, but had never really seen them. That night by the fire, I saw every movement she made. She moved her hair our of her eyes, tucking it behind her ear, letting the shadows dance on her face. I watched her eyes, normally brown, but yellow by the firelight, move towards the fire, and I found my eyes moving with hers.

The middle of the fire was a slightly darker orange than the ring of light that surrounded it. I inched closer to get a better look. Eventually, my eyes settled on an object in the fire pit: the smouldering bones of a rib cage.

I looked at her with the obvious question in my eyes.

I killed it a few days ago, then skinned it and took it apart, she said. I feel like if you want to know about life, you have to know about death.

We said little before I walked her home. That night, I lied in bed thinking about the fire, about the deer that had been sacrificed in the name of knowledge, and about the shadows dancing on her skin.

We moved the following year, but I still consider that place home. I went back as an adult, fifteen years later, and made it official. My wife, my three kids, and my terrier now call this place home, too.

She left ten years ago, and no one knows where she went. Some say she went home, but I think this is still her home. I think she belongs here.

If one day she does come home, I’ve made sure she feels welcome when she gets to the place where the asphalt gives way to the pines. Dangling from the U-turn sign that marks the end of the road, a ribcage hangs, the darkness made visible.

Rob Boone loves silence, coffee, and great books. He hates small talk, despair, and game shows. He believes that we each have a duty to be a better person than we were yesterday, and he believes that laughter is the most fundamental element of life. Connect with him on his website, http://www.rboone.com, or on Twitter, https://twitter.com/robertsboone. He pretty much rocks.

The Legend of Paint Creek: A River Town Halloween Treat

Lillian let Hayden walk ahead of her. She liked to fall back sometimes, pretending she was looking at the autumn leaves or tracking the rustling of a squirrel behind a fallen tree. In truth, she wanted to look at him, watch the way he walked in the woods. It was different from the way he moved in River Town. In town he was tall, his shoulders squared, his hands hovering at his hips with open fingers. She knew about the knife he carried. Sometimes it made her feel safer, other times less so.

But in the woods, Hayden had a different energy and gait. His shoulders loosened. His hands seemed less poised to act. His long body was more at ease than Lillian ever saw it in town. She liked to see him in this different state of mind and body. It felt like a privilege, and she wondered if anyone else ever saw him like this.

In an instant, her calm shattered. There was a scream, a sound she had never heard before, like the devil himself had opened a gate in hell. The scream made the air vibrate, and Lillian felt the inside of her ears throb with pain.

“Hayden! What is that?!” She was running to catch up to him but there was no need. He’d already spun back to her and was at her side before the echoes stilled and the woods were void of sound. It was a chilling silence. No little creatures skittering, no leaves moving, no birds speaking. The quiet was thick and unsettling.

Hayden’s hand was on her arm now. “Lill, stay at my side. It’s going to be all right, but don’t leave me.” Lillian had no intention of leaving him. The scream had almost stopped her heart. Whatever else was with them in the woods wasn’t going to get her alone, she knew that much.

“Hayden, oh . . . Hayden, what was that?” her voice was a whisper.

“I know what it should be, but . . . .”

“But WHAT?” Lillian was moving from fear to annoyance. Her sharp mind didn’t tolerate not getting information quickly. She could tell Hayden knew something about the scream. Why was he waiting so long to tell her?

“It’s a paint. But she shouldn’t be out now. It’s the middle of the day.”

Lillian furrowed her brow so hard Hayden laughed in her face. “Your face looks like a plowed field.”

“What on earth is a ‘paint’?” asked Lillian, ignoring his mockery.

“Oh, right. You’re so society. You wouldn’t know that word. Paint, you know, like a panther. A mountain lion. There are plenty in these parts. If I’d known you didn’t know that I’d never have let you walk around in the woods with me.”

“Oh, hush,” said Lillian. I know about mountain lions. My father killed one once.”

Hayden stood back and looked at Lillian with what appeared to be new respect. “Not too shabby. I didn’t think the old man had it in him. I don’t know many bankers who can kill a paint.”

The sounds of the woods had returned to normal. Whatever it was had passed.

“Should we get home?” Lillian asked nervously.

“Not a bad idea,” said Hayden. “Still, that was really strange. Paints hunt and mate at night. It’s only after lunch.” Lillian’s face went hot. She felt embarrassed by talk of wild animals screaming and mating, but Hayden didn’t seem to notice. They walked on without speaking. Finally, Hayden said, “You know Paint Creek, right? It’s not that far from River Town.”

“I’ve heard of it,” said Lillian. “I never thought of where it got its name. From lions?”

“Well, yes and no,” said Hayden. “There’s a legend about it. It’s not something you probably should hear . . .” His voice trailed off and she saw him try to hide a smirk. They both knew the best way to get to her was to suggest she wasn’t smart enough or strong enough for a story.

“I most certainly should hear it!” she insisted, taking the bait. She had to know.

Hayden stopped smiling and looked at Lillian. “All right,” he said, “I’ll tell you. But if you can’t sleep later, don’t blame me.

Paint Creek in Ash Branch Park, Kanawha County WV

They say it was a long time ago, maybe fifty years or more. There weren’t that many white people living around here. Houses were really far apart. There was a man, he was called Anselm. Lived up on Paint Creek alone. Or so most people thought.”

Hayden paused. Lillian’s eyes were fixed on him. “What do you mean, so people thought? Did he or didn’t he live alone?”

“He said he did. But the story is that he would show up in town every few weeks, trying to get things that seemed odd. Like he wanted to barter for bolts of calico cloth and lavender water. That’s not what stinky old men are known to like, you know?”

“No, that’s what a woman would want.” Lillian couldn’t take her eyes off Hayden. “What else?”

“One time he came into town near frantic, or so they say, crazy to find a doctor. Except he wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t ill. He wouldn’t say why he needed a doctor so bad. He never found the doc and went home wild eyed. Rumors started that old Anselm had a woman up there. Maybe more than one.” Hayden looked at Lillian. “Do you want to hear the rest?”

She said simply, “Yes. Yes I do.”

“Some of the women in town started bothering their husbands to go up to Anselm’s property to see what was going on. The men didn’t want to go, they figured they didn’t want anyone bothering them, why would Anselm want anybody bothering him. Live and let live. Then the screaming started.”

Lillian couldn’t breathe. She just nodded to Hayden to go on.

“In the middle of the day for three days in a row, people in town could hear paints screaming over by the creek. It was an awful sound, just like today. And no one had ever heard it before when the sun was up. The town women insisted something was not right up at Anselm’s. The men finally formed a group and went to see what was what.

When they got up to the house and banged on the door, no one answered. They decided to break down the door.”

Lillian, normally so composed, could not control herself. “What? What? What did they find?”

“They claimed to find several pieces of a woman’s clothing and a wooden cradle. But there was no one in the house. A door out the back of the house was ripped clean off, what looked like claw marks all over it. There was blood on the ground but not in the house, like something or someone had been dragged away. The men followed the trail until it disappeared into the creek.

No one ever knew what happened. Some people said the three days of screams must have been the three people in the house being attacked by paints, one after the other. Others claimed they saw human footprints near the drag marks, like it had to be a person who took the bodies. Others started a rumor that Anselm was a paint, changed at night and didn’t take too kindly to his woman locking him out, and ripped the door off with his claws.”

“That’s enough,” said Lillian, shuddering. “I don’t want to hear any more. That is horrible. The baby . . . ” She couldn’t continue  and looked away.

“It’s not good, that’s for sure,” said Hayden. “Though some tell the story that the dragged off body was Anselm’s and the woman was the paint, come to claim her baby and she finished the old man off and left his body to sink into the creek. The daytime screams are her victory cries. When you hear her during the day, she is reminding every man around who really owns these woods.”

Lillian smiled. “I like that version better. Let’s go with that.”

“I’ve always liked it best myself, too. I know better than to try to mess with a strong woman.”

The two friends walked on, their hands not touching but close together.

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This tale is entirely fictional and inspired by the characters Lillian Conley and Hayden Lowe from the collection of short stories that make up River Town. Want to know more about Lillian, Hayden, and the many other characters who live in River Town? Cool! Check out this link as well as the links below: https://essediemblog.com/2013/08/14/river-town-buzznuggets/

You can hear some cougar screams and calls here. Many people believe that some of the more blood-curdling cries sound like a woman screaming.

Read about the real Paint Creek, West Virginia, here.

Buy and read River Town here. You can join Facebook fans of the book, too: River Town on Facebook

Happy Halloween!

An Esse Diem Halloween Story 2013: The Man by My Bed

Last year I posted a rambling ghost story from a dream I had. You can read it beginning here.

This year my friend Eric Douglas posted his own (Call of the Raven Mocker), and I was inspired to share another dream. At least, I hope that’s what it was.

A few nights ago I opened my eyes in the dark to see a man standing beside my bed.

The man was not anyone I knew. My husband lay beside me, sound asleep. Only he and I and our child live in our house. I knew this man was an intruder.

He was illuminated by a strange orange light, and it appeared to emanate from something he was holding his hand. He was scanning around by the head of the bed, and on the floor. He didn’t see me looking at him.

I held my eyes wide open. I felt as if I blinked or closed my eyes or moved in any way, that is what would allow him to see me. He might think I was still asleep if I just didn’t move at all.

In my mind, I wanted to scream. I wanted to scream to my husband, to wake him to face this man, to help me. But inside I knew I was too frightened to make enough noise to do anything but alert the intruder to my awareness of his presence. The whole time, my heart rate was steady. I could not figure out why it wasn’t pounding.

Finally I realized it was a dream of some kind. I forced my eyelids closed. I knew when I woke up this would all be gone.

I waited a minute and opened my eyes.

The man was still there. He looked right into my eyes. I started blinking my eyes as fast as I could. Wake up wake up wake up this is not real. Wake up wake up wake up.

Each time I opened my eyes, he was still there. I finally closed my eyes as hard as I could and eventually the sun came up.

Last night when I was giving my daughter a bath, for the first time ever she stopped playing  and said, “I want out. I want out now.”

“Why?” I asked, confused.

“Because I do. I just want out right now.”

I took her out. I put her to bed.

Two weeks after I first saw him, when I open my eyes I still see his shadow beside my bed. Not the orange light. Not his eyes.

But he is still standing there.

“For Later” — Advent Ghosts 2012

From the back of the church the crèche scene glowed softly from the manger. A lone wise man shuffled, heavy, and knelt. “Where are the others?” whispered the pastor but there was no response. Lifting a leaden urn, the sheet-wrapped stranger only whispered, “For later.”

There was supposed to be gold. There should have been frankincense. There should have been more to praise the child. Where were the shepherds, the angels, the gifts? Instead, left behind was an analgesic known to numb pain and heal wounds.

As he passed me in the pew, I heard him say again, “For later.”

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You can read some background thoughts on this 100-word story here: Light is the First Thing to Go. Read other entries in this annual storytelling event here: I Saw Lightning Fall.

“Unwanted” — Advent Ghosts 2012

“I don’t like this one,” my daughter said, handing me the perfect, brand-new doll. “There’s something wrong with her.” The doll’s hair was glossy black, her clothing immaculate, each tiny fingernail a flawless oval.

I sighed and carried the last toy of Christmas over to my husband. “I didn’t know you bought her this one. She doesn’t like it.” He looked at me, eyes wide, then at the empty space under the tree. “I didn’t buy that. I’ve never seen it before.” I turned the thing’s face to me, saw eyes with scars, and dropped it to the brick hearth.

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You can read some background thoughts on this 100-word story here: Light is the First Thing to GoRead other entries in this annual storytelling event here: I Saw Lightning Fall.

Light is the First Thing to Go: My Advent Stories

Last year I wrote a piece of flash fiction for Loren Eaton’s Shared Storytelling – Advent Ghosts project, and it was difficult. Writing exactly 100 words is not especially hard, but purposefully dredging up fear and loss at Christmas time feels ugly; I wondered last year and I wonder again this year — especially this year — how people will react to this kind of writing.

Then I reread Loren’s words:

Light is the first thing to go as we near the year’s nadir, the days dimming earlier and breaking later. The dark is truly rising. So as Advent approaches, flip every switch in the house, break out the blankets and steel yourself to outlast the gloom. But in all your preparations, pause for a moment, just long enough to peer up into a firmament black and cold as flint. See the frosty flecks of stars? See how the borealis coils its frigid fire around them, eldritch and writhing? What speech do they pour forth to us, and what unearthly knowledge do they show night after endless night?

I have 2 pieces for the Advent Ghost project this year. Following Loren’s example, I am writing one secular story and one sacred story.

Unwanted explores the terror we feel when an unexplained and damaged presence penetrates the safety of our families and our homes; I wrote it before Newtown, but I think like every parent I wrote it from a place of fear of the idea that this presence has designs on our children.

For Later is my take on what I’ve always seen as a poetic and disturbing element in the gifts of the three kings to the baby Jesus.

Advent is about waiting for the light of the world. It is about waiting for God with faith, even on the darkest days. I hope you will read these pieces of flash fiction with a heart and mind willing to look into the dark, so that the brilliance of Christmas day is truly a day of love, gratitude, and salvation for you and yours.

The stories will post later today.

Peace be with you.