Let me tell you a story...
The newborn sun peeked above the mountains and scattered beams of orange upon freshly fallen snow. The powder, crisp and cold, crunched beneath the feet of the huntsman and Snow White as they trudged through the woods beyond the castle. White crystals clung to the delicate, porcelain flesh of Snow’s feet, but she had no reaction to the blistering chill of the tiny frozen embers as the two traveled through puffs of mist spat out from their lungs. In fact, the princess wore only her blue gown and black kitten heels while the huntsman was bundled tight to keep warm. Snow White no longer felt the cold, not in her state of hunger.
“Why was it necessary for me to accompany you?” Snow White said, her temper hotter than the fire burning in the queen’s quarters. “I’ve never been asked to collect before.”
“Your Majesty,” the huntsman huffed, “your mother thought you could learn a lesson if you saw where your food came from. It wasn’t my request.”
Snow White stopped suddenly and whipped around, “She isn’t my mother!”
“Besides, I know where it comes from.” In the morning light, the princess’ skin shone a pale green. Her face, arms, and chest all revealed a color that looked something like swamp moss. Snow’s green flesh had begun to crack and peel. Tiny flakes crumbled into the gusting wind and floated away like a flurry. She was stiff—her jaw popped when she spoke. “It won’t change anything. I need to eat. It’s the price everyone must pay if I am to be forever young and beautiful.” Snow White’s stomach growled, low and ferocious, like a wolf.
Deep in the forest the sun’s brilliance was cancelled by a black thicket. Here, it seemed, the huntsman and Snow White traveled in the darkness of night. Long, withered branches reached out and tugged on the princess’ dress, snagging and tearing at the delicate silk of which it was made. They yanked at her long, coal-colored hair, tearing the curls from the pins that held them in place. The huntsman only walked slowly behind her, his hand on the golden hilt of a long knife.
“Couldn’t you have chosen a better route, Huntsman?”
“I’m afraid it had to be this one, Princess.”
Snow White stopped momentarily to detach herself from a thorny bush which threatened to shred her dress and her torso. “This is dangerous terrain,” she said, “I’ll have to eat twice as much to recover from the wounds I am receiving.” A trickle of thick, oily blood seeped onto the surface of Snow’s dress and pooled like a small lake.
The huntsman used the moment of distraction, under the cover of darkness, to move on the princess. He was a skilled, swift hunter. He grabbed the steel blade from his waistband and lunged at Snow White’s back, expecting to plant it deep in her spine. The princess heard the snow crunch beneath his boots.
The queen stood in a ray of yellowed morning light that cascaded through the big window of her chamber. On the wall in front of her hung a large, ornate mirror. She dipped her finger in the reflective surface where it undulated, like gelatin, sending the room into chaos.
“Mirror, show me the fairest in the kingdom. Show me the one who feeds.”
The image in the mirror swirled like a whirlpool, and when it stilled, it revealed Snow White on her hands and knees in the thicket. The girl was covered in rich, hot crimson that steamed and fogged the air. It rose up from the body of the huntsman. Snow dug her pallid hands deep into his chest, ripping and tearing flesh echoed around the queen’s chamber, and Snow held the huntsman’s heart aloft in victory just before she pressed it to her lips and bit into the warm, sticky muscle. Blood dribbled down her chin as her skin began to return to glowing ivory.
“She lives,” the queen cried, “I must end this terror.”
to be continued…
#HumpdayHorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
“I’m hungry,” she wailed, as she flung open the gilded doors of the queen’s chamber. Her black kitten heels clicked on the marble floor, echoing wildly around the dark, open space.
Her breath was shallow, desperate. The flesh stretched across her face was pallid, made more so by her onyx-black hair. The candlelight revealed a pea-green hue beneath her reddened eyes, and the skin below her left one drooped as if it were terrified and scattering—wax running from a flame.
Ruby lips shouted once more, “I’m hungry!” as she shuffled around the queen’s quarters.
The queen lifted her head, cloaked in emerald, and peered at Snow White over her bubbling, iridescent potions. “I can see that,” she said coolly, “but you’ve eaten every ounce of flesh in the castle’s stores.”
“Then get more,” Snow White said as she leaned into the warmth of the fireplace.
“Princess, you eat ravenously. Each time you eat, an innocent must die. Can’t you go just a while longer without?”
Snow White swung around, her brilliant, blue dress catching the light of the fire. “No!” she wailed. “Look at me. If I go any longer, I’ll be nothing but a puddle. I’ll be hideous. I simply must eat. Send your huntsman to collect. The people know what the castle requires.”
The queen’s face was ice as Snow White rolled, like a thunderstorm, from the room slamming the chamber doors behind her. She breathed deeply and exhaled, knowing she was bound by duty to guard the wicked girl left in her care. The dying wish of her husband, Snow’s father, was that she’d watch after the cursed girl—feed her, protect her, care for her as if she were her own. But Snow White’s destruction was her own doing, and the queen had grown tired of putting innocent people to death to ward off an unrelenting appetite.
Ten years had come and gone so quickly. Snow White would never aged past sixteen. The girl traveled through the dense wood that surrounded the castle, alone. Fallen branches cracked under her shoes which reflected the full moon in their glossy, pointed toes. Leaves of vibrant, dazzling colors drifted from overhead as she trudged through the forest and to the rippling spring where she intended to ask for eternal youth.
Snow White had watched her mother die—she’d grown weak, dull, tired. Snow had seen the signs of age begin to mar her father’s once handsome face. As she gazed upon her own reflection—delicate and beautiful—she feared those approaching years. She felt the terror well up deep within her, churning like lava inside her, and it made her desperate enough to do anything to stay young and radiant.u
Now, on the night of the harvest moon, Snow White sought out the black fairy. She’d heard tales of her granting eternal youth to those who could make a good bargain, and Snow had gold. Her short, fat heels poked through the mud surrounding the spring. The water glowed in the moonlight, tinkling like carnival music.
“Oh, Black Fairy, hear my call—” Snow began to bellow as she dipped a fingertip into the frigid water. It rippled into infinity. “I’ve come to offer you a bargain. It’s Snow White, the princess.”
“I know who you are,” a lilting voice called down from the glittering rocks.
“Dark one!” Snow White curtsied.
“So formal,” the fairy hopped down into the mud. “What exactly is it you’re after Princess? You’re already royalty. Your kingdom is strong, wealthy. I can’t bring people back from the dead. You’re beautiful. Ah! A prince is what you’re after?”
“What then?” the black fairy asked as she circled Snow White.
“You say I am beautiful, but beauty is fleeting. I want to be fair forever. Eternally young.”
The black fairy shuttered and turned her back to Snow White. “You don’t know what you ask. This isn’t a spell, but a curse.”
“It comes with the requirement to do awful, unthinkable things. Beauty everlasting has a steep price, one that not even all the kingdom’s gold can accommodate.”
Snow only considered the warning for a moment. Young and foolish, she was willing to sacrifice everything she had to ward off the invader called age. “I’ll pay the price. Just preform the spell.”
“The curse,” the fairy corrected.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Snow White, you won’t age, it’s true, but—”
“Do it, fairy!”
The black fairy swallowed hard, manifested a shimmering, black wand from thin air, and twisted and twirled it in the moonlight. Snow White didn’t understand the words that the fairy chanted as her wand began to radiate an odd purple aura that encapsulated Snow and cooled her body, as if it were encased in ice. The princess’ form began to pulsate faster and faster, colder and colder, until she shivered so violently she thought she would shake right out of her skin, leaving her flesh a puddle of ivory on the mud. Then, everything stopped.
“You’ll need to eat,” the fairy grimaced.
“Fine,” Snow smoothed her dress. “I have a castle full of truffles, pastry, roast. I can have anything my heart desires.”
“From now on, the only thing your heart will desire, is the flesh of the innocent.”
“No, Snow White,” the dark fairy scolded. “You’ll eat only human flesh, eternally. That is the price. If you fail to do so, your own flesh will deteriorate like that of a corpse.”
Snow White’s crimson lips parted, allowing a choked gasp to pass them. “How? I couldn’t.”
“That’s the price, Princess. I tried to warn you.” The black fairy was gone.
“Your majesty,” the huntsman murmured as he entered the queen’s quiet chamber. He was a tall, muscular man. He looked wild, untamable, with long golden hair and a scruffy beard, wrapped in animal pelts.
The queen stood, gazing out her window at the village that stretched beyond the castle walls. A thick blanket of snow covered the crooked rooftops. Streams of gray smoke rose from chimneys, swirled about, and dissipated into the falling darkness. Innocents, all of them, and they were all fated to be fed to a starving, vain princess.
“Thank you for coming,” the queen turned.
“Another life for the princess?”
The queen moved across the room to warm herself by the orange flames lapping at the chilled green marble. She closed her eyes. “Huntsman, I need a heart.”
“That will hardly be enough to appease her, Your Highness.”
“I need the heart of a young girl,” the queen turned. “With hair as dark as coal, skin as pale as moonlight, and lips as red as a rose. Do you know a girl like that, Huntsman?”
His eye were large, black pits, “I do. The fairest in all the kingdom.”
“I can’t watch my subjects die for the greedy whims of a hungry girl any longer. You’ll take her into the forest, and you’ll cut out her heart. Tomorrow.”
to be continued…
#HumpdayHorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
On November 26th my very first novel, “The Blood in Guthrie,” released on Amazon for Kindle and on paperback. I wish I had been prepared to announce it in a more thorough way, but as many of you know, I live with bipolar disorder, and I have been fighting a “down-time”. That doesn’t make the release of my novel any less exciting, but it does make my participation in promoting it a little less than all-in.
Guthrie was born after a five-hour car ride, while listening to Robert Johnson’s “Crossroad Blues”. It takes place in 1934 Louisiana. While it does have many of the hallmarks of a horror novel—blood, gore, murder—it also has a great deal of detective work, some dark humor, and a hint of a love story. So, I’d like to think there might be something nestled in Guthrie for anyone who just likes a good mystery/thriller.
Here is a synopsis of “The Blood in Guthrie” that will give you a better idea of the story.
1934 Guthrie, Louisiana: population 577—make that 571.
Severed heads, caked in blood, are piling up in the sweltering Louisiana sun with no trace of the bodies they were once attached to. The town is run by dimwitted Sheriff Elmer Avant. His new deputy, a Cincinnati transplant with a dark past, Jack McMann, is trying to ward off his demons by hunting down the killer and saving the people of Guthrie. Unfortunately, the folks in Guthrie don't take kindly to outsiders, and Jack can't seem to drag the truth out of anyone no matter how hard he tries. With a killer roaming around, pecking folks off with no rhyme or reason, it seems everyone in town is averting their eyes to anything that might be considered suspicious. Nothing makes sense in the small town filled with dirty blood and dark secrets, but Jack will have to figure out the brutal be-headings and strange clues before Guthrie is left with a population of zero.
What this synopsis fails to mention is the amazing Minnie, who plays a great part in the story and who, as I love women in horror, is a crucial element.
I have received a lot of support from the women at Ladies of Horror Fiction (www.ladiesofhorrorfiction.com), and I am so grateful for their posts about Guthrie as I continue to try to get my feet wet in the land of horror. I will be making an appearance on their wonderful podcast (Ladies of Horror Fiction podcast) on Tuesday, December 11th. I hope you’ll tune in. Also, Olly, at Sci-fi and Scary gave me a wonderful review, which I am very grateful for.
Self-publishing is a long and winding road, but I chose it for “The Blood in Guthrie” because I wanted the story to be told just as I wrote it. No major edits, no changes in plot, for better or worse. So, I hope you’ll check out my very first novel and leave a review. I hope you enjoy it. I hope you’ll come back to let me tell you more stories in the future. You can find a link to “The Blood in Guthrie” on my published work page, or you can search it on Amazon.
All the best, and until #HumpdayHorror!
for the irksome night that
breathes the frigid air that
keeps my sinful soul
for the baying beasts whose
sorrowful music tickles
my ears and aids my
for the agony that
creeps like ivy upon my heart
quickening the beats
with savage pain.
for my blood-soaked bed where
despair and wicked words have led
my head to rest upon this pillow
in this coffin
Crickets. Music of a Northern
summer night engulfed me.
Girlish giggles, in the background,
Beneath starry night, silver—maybe--
gold nugget moon.
And whispering behind those rattles
the water. Tiny splashes. Trickles,
beckoning me to glory.
Goosebumps tickle the soft bare flesh
of my long legs as they
jut out from flowered panties.
Like me, they shiver with the excitement
carried in the chilly night breeze.
Like me, their bruises breathe
a sigh of relief.
I can hear the water speak to me.
Tell me to let go
of the year I suffered, a broken doll
fractured and glued,
then broken again.
Trickles and drops echo words that I
longed to hear, but never came.
I can hear the water.
“Be whole again”.
I did not go with grace or with
a dainty toe dipped, but plunged
with the fury of
all the hounds of Hell
nipping at my heels for long, long years.
The water sang my
And I was baptized in the town reservoir.
All the dirty parts washed away
purified by the water, the machinery, the chemicals.
And I will always be famous,
because that night
the whole town showered in me, drank me,
brushed their teeth with me.
Those eyes, bright and reflective
yellow and green,
like mossy Southern swamps,
peering, peering through the darkness.
Hypnotic eyes that charm me
to answer your decree, against my
What are you? Lurking in the
darkness, in the quiet corners of my
halls, my bedroom, my mind.
Are you liberator or barbarian?
Are you friend or foe?
Are you simply a piece of me that
has escaped, taking on a life
of its own?
Suckling on my soul.
Nursing on fractions of my nightmares,
my hopes, my dreams; until we
become one in two separate forms.
Half of me stalking the other
until the day
it is too weak to play
the watchman of half-life.
And I gape soundlessly into those
sapphire, neon eyes. Reading your
as you read mine.
Sleep Mother Soul, I am the
guardian of the watchtower, the
thing that goes bump in the night.
Ink & Needles is available on paperback at Amazon.com or by clicking the link on my works published page.
#HumpdayHorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Twinkling white lights wrapped around the carcass of the once majestic pine tree and flickered on and off, on and off. The antique ornaments that my grandmother had rescued from her mother were chipped, but shiny. Probably leaving tiny traces of lead paint all over the Santa shaped tree skirt beneath the sacrificed piece of nature brought inside so my family could celebrate another banner Christmas.
Mother sat wrapped in a terrycloth robe, it was well past noon, but she had already taken her fistful of Xanax that morning, and Father drank his fourth cup on coffee. Grandma rocked away, staring off into space, while her index fingers did a wild dance to a melancholy Bing Crosby Christmas tune. I sat cross-legged on the floor next to the wrapped boxes under the tree. I knew what they contained—a sweater, some socks, maybe a new, fancy journal—if I was lucky. But there was one gift that Christmas I never asked for. One I never dreamed would fall into my very unskilled hands.
“Knock, knock,” the front door flew open and upon the incoming winter winds cackled the voice of my Aunt Cindy. “Ho-ho-ho, Merry Christmas!” she chortled as she flung herself through the entrance with two arms full of packages.
I sprung to my feet to close the door behind her, suppressing the blustery chill that wafted in. “Hi, Aunt Cindy,” I said and wrapped an arm around her frigid shoulder.
Of all the people in my family, I loved Aunt Cindy the best. She was like the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda had a love child and sent it off to Woodstock for a higher education. Her chestnut brown hair was wild and untamed. It stuck out in every direction, and it had a gleaming silver streak at the temple that glittered like moonbeams. Aunt Cindy’s smile was mischievous, and the gap between her two front teeth gave her a child-like quality that mocked her age. She was the only one who knew what I was. She accepted me. I could breathe in her company.
“Happy Yule,” she whispered in my ear. “I hope you weren’t waiting for me. The roads are terrible. Hell of a blizzard outside.”
“No trouble at all, Sister,” Father grinned through coffee-stained teeth. The man might have been a robot for all the emotion he dared to show.
Aunt Cindy rifled through the boxes she’d tossed on an ottoman. Each of them delicately wrapped in silver or gold paper. Each of them adorned with a magnificent, billowy bow. She shuffled around the room dropping packages in laps, as if she were Kris Kringle, and circled back to me.
“I think,” Aunt Cindy muttered with breathy secrecy, “that you will find this—amusing.”
I smirked and furrowed my brow. Aunt Cindy had a special talent for gifting me objects that seemed innocuous to my parents but were unfathomably wonderful in my practice and education. I slid the green silk ribbon from the package and shredded the paper. The contents immediately puzzled me. Aunt Cindy had gifted me a worn, ancient leather-bound Bible. It had the remnants of a brass lock, but it was broken, the mechanism that welcomed the key missing. The writing indicating the name of the book was worn, all that was left was the impression of the tool used to mar the leather—which was hard and brittle.
“It isn’t what you think, dear Alice. Look inside.”
“What?” I opened the cover gingerly, the spine of the antique book protested against the force. Bits of stiff thread broke away and toppled onto the cracked and folded pages. I flipped through, but all looked as it should.
“The back cover, Alice.”
The pages flipped violently, and I was certain they were going to give up, like a desperate man on the top of a skyscraper, just leap from their chains to the hereafter. But the book stayed intact. A prickly heat started in my scalp and then spread through my trunk, my extremities, when I saw the back cover of the book. Etched in the paper that had been bound to the leather was a pentagram. Sigils carved into each of the corners. My heart was a symbol, clanging away in ecstasy and excitement. What did they mean? What had this witch been up to?
“Aunt Cindy, this is, so cool!” I squealed and wrapped my arms around her neck—taking in a mouthful of that untamed hair. I immediately ran off to my room for more exploration.
“Glad you like it, kid,” Aunt Cindy called after me.
I went straight to my altar, which my parents believed to be some sort of strange teenage angst filled decoration despite the fact that it was decorated for Yule, and lit the candles representing God and Goddess as well as the elements and myself. To this day, I don’t know why I called upon them except, perhaps, for knowledge or safe guidance. That was probably my first mistake.
The books about spellcasting that I had collected were safely stored away under my bed, like secret passengers on a vessel. I couldn’t let anyone else in the house find my secret stash, and no one would venture to peer into the abyss that was everything I shoved under there for safe keeping, or because I was too lazy to put it away. I spread the tomes out across my crimson carpet and began scouring the pages, hunting for sigils that looked like those I saw in Aunt Cindy’s gift. Hundreds, thousands of pages flipped as my eyes began to go blurry in protest. I rolled anxiously on the floor—flipped from belly to back holding books precariously above my face. Towers of them teetered next to me. Finally, I found what I was looking for.
My eyes darted back and forth as I attempted to decipher the meaning of what was carved in the Bible I had received, but I was desperately inexperienced. The whole thing was like reading computer code. Something about a horned God, eternity, shadow, fire, and primal law. Whatever the hell primal law meant. The symbols and meanings seemed a secret code that I just wasn’t qualified to crack. And as I sat, pondering over the puzzle before me, something new appeared just below the etched pentagram. It was written in what must have been pencil, a very long time ago, because it was nearly invisible.
“She who trespass upon this book, also trespass upon me.
Let the Gods break her will
Her flesh be spoilt
Her tongue burn out.
May the Gods intervene where I cannot. So mote it be.”
That was mistake number two. I don’t know why I read that out loud except that I was compelled to. Except that it seemed totally and completely innocent at the time. Until it was over. I was suddenly overcome by an intense and unidentifiable feeling of dread, panic. As if the world had spun off its axis and I was the only person in all of humanity that was aware of the cataclysmic doom bearing down upon us. My heart began to beat rapidly. My head was numb, spinning, as if I had just removed myself from a carnival ride.
When I stood, the floor swirled beneath my feet, a vortex ready to suck me in. I bent to pick up one of my books. I needed to find an answer for the mayhem overpowering my senses, but when I gazed down upon the open pages, I saw my arms. The tender, creamy flesh covered in black boils. I screamed and threw the book aside—rushed to the vanity mirror that rested in the corner of my room. The boils trailed all the way up my arms and disappeared under my t-shirt. I pulled frantically at the collar—more boils just below my collar bone.
“Holy shit,” I said into the mirror, “was that a curse?”
“It was,” a deep, smooth voice answered from behind me.
Oxygen caught in my throat and I sprung around to find the owner of the voice. He stood in the shadows surrounded by a thick fog of noxious black. What I could see of him was interesting, alluring even. Despite the onyx darkness that fell across his face, in the glow of the candlelight, I could see a square jaw, a set of full pink lips, eyes that sparkled out of the bleakness, and horns—were those horns protruding from his forehead?
“Who are you?” I choked, pressing myself hard against the edge of my vanity.
He took a step forward into the light. He wore a well-tailored suit. I glanced at the ‘Gone with the Wind’ poster above my nightstand.
“It was a good decade,” he winked. “Alice, come now. How long have you been studying? One year, two? A witch should know her master.”
“Pan?” I gasped.
“Ugh. No.” He scoffed and picked up the Bible that I had left on the floor. “I am Satan, Alice. You can call me Lucifer if you like.” He smiled a coy, flirtatious grin.
“Oh no,” I protested, “I didn’t sign up for Satan worship or deals with the Devil. Gods and Goddesses is what I’ve been studying.”
“Yes, I can see that’s worked out well for you.”
The pus-filled boils that marred my skin had begun to fester and grow. A few exploded, releasing vile, fermented ooze that slithered down my arm like a serpent. As if the stench and the spectacle weren’t enough, the liquid scorched and scarred what was left of my porcelain arms. I could feel the boils creeping up my neck. “So, what? You’re here to help?”
“Of course, Alice. For a price.” He sniggered.
“It’s not as if you’re some mystical oddity, ya know.” I gripped the edge of my vanity. My fingers were slick with green slime. “What do you want? My eternal soul? My first born? Do you want me to slaughter a town or something?”
He laughed, “No, nothing like that Alice.” Satan took a few careful steps closer to me. I could see him now, really see him, and his irises glowed like fire. “I just need a teeny tiny favor. What I require is very specific, you see. I simply don’t have time to get the items myself. If you can procure them for me I can wipe away the curse. And make no mistake, the witch who set this into motion was quite powerful.”
“S-So, what do you want? The blood of a virgin, because that’s pretty hard to come by these days.”
“No, Alice. What I need is wood from the tree to which the false God was tied, and a blade not unlike the first. Can you get those things for me, Alice?”
“What are those things? You’re speaking in riddles.” I pleaded.
“Get them and call for me before the rest of the curse has a chance to work.”
And he was gone.
Gauze is incredibly helpful when you’re trying to conceal witch curses. I spent a lot of Christmas money over the next few days visiting the drug store, buying armfuls of gauze, and changing my dressings several times a day. The pharmacist seemed suspicious at the corner drug store, so, I started walking two extra blocks. in the other direction to visit the big box store where people cared a whole lot less.
Satan’s request was confusing at best. I wasn’t raised in a church-going family. I knew nothing of Biblical stories, nothing of who did what when, and let’s face it, that thing would take forever to read through. I didn’t have that kind of time. I did a lot of computer searches, and a lot of them turned up some perplexing answers. What was clear was that, according to the Bible, Caine killed Able—brother on brother crime. So, I figured I needed a blade used in the same manner. The tree was more difficult, but a lot of sleepy nights and puddles of pus later, I found that what Satan—Lucifer—wanted was a piece of an olive tree. What was he planning to do with a knife and a hunk of wood?
The fact that I was but a lowly teen be damned, because one can find anything if they look hard enough on the internet. Olive tree wood is easy if you search enough hippie pages. I ordered that cheap and had it in no time. The real issue was the knife. That took time, patience, and prowess.
There is a place where sane people don’t tread. A place called the dark web, where criminals lurk and will do nearly anything—sell nearly anything—for the right price. It is not an easy place to find, one does not just stumble upon it, but it does hold the answer to many of life’s dilemmas. Inside, I made contact with a man who happened to have the murder weapon used by a man who killed his family some twenty years back. A brutal stabbing, and this former officer took it as a souvenir. As the boils began to cover my cheeks, and even my long black hair struggled to hide them, I had no choice but to use my father’s credit card to purchase the weapon of murder.
“Lucifer, I have what you asked for. It’s Alice. Lucifer, I summon you! Satan!”
A loud pop and more of the sulfur scented smoke filled my room, “Keep your pants on, Alice. I heard you.”
“Here, here,” I shoved the small chunk of wood and the rusty knife into his hands. “Now, please, undo the curse.”
“Yikes,” he sneered, “you’re looking a little worse for wear, aren’t you? Well, I have to be sure these work first. You understand.”
“But—” I attempted to protest, but Satan had already begun his task.
His hands moved so swiftly that they weren’t much more than a blur. One held the knife, the other the piece of wood, and he appeared to be whittling the wood into some shape that I couldn’t quite make out. I gazed at him, in awe of the precision with which he crafted the sculpture. The wood had begun to glow a fierce gold under the murderous blade, and he was finished and held aloft, a tiny, delicate toothpick.
“A toothpick!” I shouted in disbelief.
Satan poked the thing between his molars and dug absentmindedly. His eyes rolled back in his head, the fire gone, replaced by stark, unseeing white. He spit. “Ah. There we are. That long-pig has been stuck in there, driving me crazy for centuries.”
“Seriously? All that for a toothpick?”
“I’m very particular.”
I could feel my eyes bulging from their sockets, “Can you fith thish now?”
“Uh oh, last of the curse is taking effect, huh? Yes, yes we better fix that. Do you have the book?”
I retrieved the book from my bedside table. At the same time I felt the sensation of fire ripping through my tongue. It was as if it were nothing more than serrated paper and someone was giving it a good tug. Blood dribbled down my chin.
“Hurry,” I slurred.
He handled the book as if it would give him warts. “Do you have a pencil?” He took note of one atop my vanity.
Lucifer sauntered, in no real hurry, to the pencil whilst mumbling a little tune, “Tyunum rabash dictum tidur”. He then began to scrub away at the pentagram and sigils, the curse written on the page. Again, I gazed upon him, unsure where all this was going, until he blew the eraser shavings from the book, slammed the covers closed, and tossed it on my bed.
Remarkably, the boils, the ooze, the scars were gone. “That’s it? You did a spell and erased it?”
“No spell. I just erased it.”
“What was that you said a minute ago?”
“Just a song I like. Well, dear Alice, our time together is over. You don’t owe me, and I don’t owe you. Unless, of course, you continue on the path you were on.”
And he was gone as quickly as he’d appeared the first time he came, but I kept the toothpick, because imagine what a witch could do with that. Best, and worst, Christmas ever.
#HumpdayHorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Aubree hummed solemnly—the vibration formed in her throat, built just below her jaw, and escaped into the autumn wind through her nose. That odd, melancholy tune was reserved solely for the completion of the year, the harvest, the dead.
She teetered precariously on her toes as she plucked crimson apples from a tree in the village’s small orchard. The nip in the air threatened frost, threatened the apples with the same death brought to the souls they’d soon be celebrating—or avoiding. Aubree’s hair—a shade nearly matching that of her prisoners—whipped furiously in cinnamon scented air, a chill burrowed, like a groundhog seeking winter shelter, down her spine, and frozen tears formed in her reddened eyes. Aubree tucked her face into her shoulder. The basket containing the sweet, red apples swung unsteady, to and froe, and before she could right herself, a series of thuds, like children running, smacked upon the hardened ground.
“Donovan,” Aubree huffed, “come help Mommy pick up the apples.” Aubree hiked up her long dress and stepped cautiously from the stool she had been perched upon. “Donovan?”
The young boy had escaped, again.
Among the commotion in the small village—the harvesting of corn, men dragging lumber for the evening’s large bonfire, women scurrying about leaving bread and wine on their doorsteps—there was no sign of the small dark-haired boy who had a habit of following daydreams and flights-of-fancy. Aubree rushed to retrieve the now bruised apples from the ground and jogged back into the heart of the village, nearly tripping on her skirt. The sun was beginning to droop, sleepy, in the pinking sky and they’d soon be out of time.
“Donovan!” Aubree shouted through thick inhales that stung her throat. She weaved deftly through crowds and logs and wheelbarrows. “Donovan McCollough where are you?”
Aubree shifted and turned there in the heart of the village, taking in all of her surroundings, looking for the little boy in the tattered green sweater with bare dirty feet. She groaned and began sprinting to their meager house, hoping he’d gone home looking for a crumb of bread.
“Donovan!” Aubree cried as she strode the dirty path.
“Aubree?” a thick, hard hand grasped her shoulder.
Aubree swung around, startled. “What?”
Michael O’Conner stood gazing upon her. His smile was wide and glowed in the neon of the setting sun. “Are you ok, Aubree?”
“I can’t find Donovan.”
“I just saw him down by the willow. He was fiddling with an old mask.”
Aubree leaned her head back and blew out a long stream of air, “Thank you, Michael. Thank you.”
“You shouldn’t worry yourself so much. I know how difficult it’s been, but, it won’t happen again. Not to Donovan. We’re all watching out for him.”
“Donovan isn’t nearly as strong as his brother, and he invites trouble. Tonight, of all nights, I have to keep him safe.” Aubree’s face was stone as she shuffled away, the basket clinging to her hip.
On the outskirts of the village, next to a glassy lake, sat the ancient, mottled willow tree. The trunk bent, like the back of a withered old man, and its limbs dangled thick and empty and blew like tired arms reaching out for one last chance at life. Beneath the thin, whip-like branches sat the shadow of tiny Donovan. His sweater so big that it enveloped his meager frame—his knees pulled up to his chest inside of it so that only his dirty feet poked out. In his hands, Donovan held and examined an old rabbit mask. It was made from deep maroon cotton, ivory around the snout, strange wires for whiskers. They eyes of the mask were black, hollow, and seemed to peer right into nothing. The thing, from a distance, looked as if he had decapitated a giant rabbit. As Aubree approached, the song she, herself, hummed burrowed deep within her ear as it passed on the Eve’s breeze.
“Donovan, what are you doing?” Aubree called as she approached her son. He hadn’t heard her feet shuffle through the fallen red, yellow, and orange leaves. He hadn’t heard the crunch as she bared down upon him.
“Mommy,” Donovan stood, untangling himself from the sweater. “I want to wear this mask tonight.”
“Absolutely not,” Aubree ripped the rabbit mask from Donovan’s hands. “And don’t you run off again. You can’t run off again. Especially tonight.”
“But I want Danny to recognize me,” Donovan whined. “If I wear this mask, when he comes back, he’ll recognize me.”
Real, hot tears poked like flames at Aubree’s eyes. She fought back a sob, she didn’t want to cry. Not here, not today. “That isn’t how it works.” Aubree grabbed Donovan’s hand and jerked him along beside her. “When the dead rise tonight, it isn’t to make friends, son. It isn’t a reunion.”
“What’s a reunion?”
“Nevermind. We really have to hurry now. You’ve wasted too much time. They’ll be starting soon.”
The glowing sky turned purple over the tiny village and the great fire in the center of the meager homes was lit. It burned a crisp, decadent orange that illuminated the small circle of cottages that surrounded it. Women shimmied close with torches, ignited them, and scuttled back to their domains to light their hearths for the new year.
When this ritual was complete, the village elders took their places in rotting, oak rocking chairs around the bonfire—the rest of the village’s men, women, and children sat on logs or in the dirt—and begun weaving tales of long ago, the celebration of the harvest, the deception—the trickery of the dead.
“I don’t think Danny would try to trick us, Mommy.” Donovan whispered, pulling down the brown mouse mask Aubree had sewn for him.
“Hush, not now.”
“What’s that?” Elder Rodrick wheezed through a tattered, frayed raven mask with a long, stuffed beak. “Donovan? Do you have a question my boy?”
“He’s fine, Mr. Bryan,” Aubree spouted.
“Nonsense. We have time. The boy has had a trying year, and it’s his first with visitors. What were you saying Donovan?”
“Mr. Bryan, I—um”
“Rodrick is fine boy. No sense being formal now.” The gray-haired man’s voice came muffled through the bulging beak. He didn’t turn his head to look at the boy, but only stared with the strange, blank bird eyes into the lapping fire.
“Mr. Rodrick. I want my brother to recognize me when he comes. T-That’s all.”
“I’m sure you do, boy. I’m sure you do.” Rodrick Bryan let out an ominous, guttural laugh. It only lasted a second and then disappeared like the memories Donovan had of his father who’d wondered off into the night with a bag on his shoulder when Donovan was just forming sentences, and then never came home to put his clothes back in the dresser. “Spirits, Donovan, aren’t the same as the loved ones we’ve lost. No. They are only a small piece of them. They can’t love us or tell us they miss us. On this night, they have just the smallest bit of time to touch this realm, and when they do, they are chaotic—uncontrollable. They don’t think clearly on this side anymore. Do you understand? Because they don’t belong here.”
“But Danny—" Donovan started.
“I know you miss your brother. It was a shock to all of us what happened to him. If you see him tonight, if you see anyone tonight, you must stay under cover, Donovan. Just like always.”
“That’s enough,” Aubree said through her brightly colored hummingbird mask as she placed a hand on Donovan’s shoulder.
The stories continued well into the night. The moon hung full and white over the crowd in the heart of the village as the fresh, frozen breeze began to gust furiously. Offerings were brought to the bonfire—chickens, pigs, pies, and other handcrafted specialties—in hopes that the spirits would do as little harm as possible. That they wouldn’t destroy the crops that had yet to be harvested, would leave homes where they stood, wouldn’t take any souls back with them.
Shadows descended on the village, first, one-by-one. Then, in pairs, groups, hoards. Each of them lurked just beyond the light cast by the enormous pit of flame. They were untouched by the howling wind that thrust the villagers from their seats. They didn’t fight to stand against the galing winds—not even their clothes shifted in as the scent of the air changed from cinnamon and pumpkin and ripe, harvested apples to rot and decay. As the villagers looked on, frozen in terror, the shadows crept forward—out of the inky night and into the expectant orange glow prepared for their arrival.
“To your beds,” Rodrick murmured through his raven beak, but the villagers stayed immobile, as if they had been encased in amber, as if they hadn’t done this very thing year after year. “Now!” he clapped his hands loudly.
Chaos erupted as if a sharp shooter were taking aim and unleashing bullets, like bees, upon the unarmed village. Shrieks and gasps and wails echoed in the open field, bounced off the maple and oak trees and amplified, filled the entire wood with the sounds of torment and despair. The sound of fear joined when the people saw the faces of the spirits who had come for their offerings—covered in their own bloodied, gruesome versions of woodland masks—hollow black eyes that oozed rich ruby blood. It dripped from the faces of squirrels, goats, and mules that used to belong to loved ones—sons, mothers, brothers. The spirits descended as those still tethered to the earth frantically fled.
Aubree extended her hand for Donovan, “Hurry, we have to get to our beds,” but there was no one to reach back for her. Aubree’s head darted down to where Donovan had just been, but the space he had been occupying was now cold, empty. The boy had disappeared, again. “Donovan!” she screamed.
“Go home, Aubree. Surely, that’s where the boy has gone to wait for Danny.” Rodrick Bryan’s withered voice groaned into her ear. He patted her shoulder and hobbled toward the door of his own crumbling wood cabin, just outside the fire’s circle, giving one last look to the meager offerings on his doorstep before disappearing inside.
The dirt and leaves and dried grass gave way to loud grinding beneath Aubree’s boots as she ran for home, leaving the dark spirits to gather around the enormous glowing fire to collect their seasonal gifts. Some would be appeased and leave, others would finish and wreak havoc in the quiet village—torment—travelling door-to-door. Aubree flung open her green, wooden door and quickly closed it behind her.
“Donovan?” she whispered, her eyes darting back and forth. She held her breath—didn’t dare light a lamp and call attention to their home. “Donovan,” Aubree called again into the darkness. Silence.
She stumbled through the rooms of the cottage, feeling past tables and chairs lit only by slivers of moonlight that seeped in through the few slender windows. Aubree hoped her son was already in his bed and was relieved to see a mop of cocoa hair just above the patchwork quilt atop his bed.
“You shouldn’t have run off. Stay put til morning,” she scolded him through her mask and tip-toed to her own bed.
Yet, beneath the round, battered kitchen table sat Donovan, peering into the darkness of his home. His breath was heavy and hot inside his brother’s old rabbit mask—condensation and sweat collected on his upper lip and he swiped at it with his tongue. Donovan swallowed hard against the excitement of seeing his brother and the salt of his own skin.
Time passed slowly under the table, and soon, Donovan found himself humming his mother’s strange, otherworldly tune as he picked at the skin next to his toenails. A loud creak startled Donovan from his task, and freezing air encompassed him as the cottage door shuttered and opened. Nothing. Nothing was there as his eyes searched for whomever had turned the knob and pushed open the door. When Donovan had finished holding his breath and his lungs felt sufficiently burned, he released the breath that had turned them into balloons only to sharply inhale it again when two pale, muddy feet appeared in the doorway.
The feet wandered slowly, the floorboards squeaking under their weight, as they drifted from shelving where books were kept, to knick-knacks, to the table under which Donovan hid in Danny’s rabbit mask—where they stopped, turned, and lingered silently. The only sounds left in the room were the whistling wind and Donovan’s shaking gasps, until that song, his mother’s song, quietly wafted down from above in a gravelly, guttural tone.
Without warning, Danny’s face appeared under the table. His eyes were hazy, white—no longer the bright green Donovan knew. He had no mask. His skin was pale, pale as moonlight, save the red-brown freckles that dotted his cheeks. Danny smiled, still missing his two front teeth, and that gap poured shimmering water like a spout until he closed his mouth again.
Donovan began to scream but muffled it with his hands before it could alert his mother or any other adults. “I knew you’d come,” he whimpered through cracked fingers.
Danny tilted his head back and forth, his white, glossy eyes revolving like globes, as if they were lost, confused.
“It’s me. It’s Donovan. You recognize me, don’t you?”
Danny continued to search absently, unable to make a connection.
“Here, see.” Donovan slowly reached up and hooked his thumbs under the bottom of the mask. He lifted it carefully, revealing his chin, his skinny lips, his button nose—until finally Donovan’s blue eyes stared into Danny’s translucent ones. “It’s just me, Danny.”
Danny smiled again, more water streamed from the hole in his mouth, and he choked. He extended a long, skinny arm and reached out for Donovan, but his brother scuttled away like a horseshoe crab on the sand. Danny tried again, extending just a finger and bending it inward. Then, he twisted his head and peered out the window into the night.
“You—You want me to come? Where are we going?”
Danny didn’t answer but stood from his hunched position and stalked out the front door. Donovan replaced the rabbit mask, crawled out from under the table, and chased after Danny.
“Where are we going?” Donovan whispered after his brother as they moved through the village and neared the woods.
Danny didn’t speak but turned and looked at his brother as if to say ‘stop asking so many questions’. Then, he hurried the pace.
Goosebumps covered Donovan’s skin and the wind whipped his neck, yet his head stayed toasty warm covered by the mask that kept him safe from the spirits that drifted through the village and the forest. He wasn’t aware of where Danny had led him until he looked up and saw the full moon dancing on the flat surface of lake on the outskirts of the village. The same lake where Danny had drowned a year before.
“Stop, Danny!” Donovan screamed through the wool stuffed mask. But Danny kept going. Soon he was knee-deep in the icy water. “Danny, you have to stop! You’ll—” but Donovan couldn’t find the right words, so he ran into the water after his brother. It splashed around his thin trousers, soaked them, and the cold went right to the bone.
Donovan’s teeth chattered—slammed together like two raging bulls—a result of freeze and fear. But he wasn’t scared for himself, he was horrified for Danny. He’d lost him once, he didn’t want to lose him again. “S-Stop Danny. You w-won’t come back if you go in too far. The water is too c-cold.”
Danny wasn’t phased by the water, though, it had already done its damage. He’d already lost all he could to it. Danny turned, his eyes—almost mechanical—seemed to be searching again. It was as if, somehow, he’d lost Donovan in the water.
“Danny,” Donovan shouted, understanding the problem. He hooked his thumbs to the rabbit mask and slowly began to slide it from his face, but his limbs shook so badly from the cold that he couldn’t peel it from above his lips. “Danny!” Donovan’s muffled cry rang out.
Thunderous footfalls resounded on the bank of the lake. Danny’s head shot toward the noise as Donovan’s body sunk, succumbing to the chill.
“Donovan!” Aubree’s shrill scream rang like a siren through the night as she and Michael O’Conner ran into the water.
Michael swept Donovan into his arms as Aubree yanked the mask from his face and kissed his cheek.
“I told you not to wear this,” Aubree said.
“Danny came,” Donovan murmured into her shoulder.
“What?” she gasped as she shifted and surveyed the lake, and she saw him, her boy, standing just where the men had pulled him from—floating face down wearing the damn rabbit mask. “Danny?” Aubree said as she waded out for him.
Danny turned, reached out a long, green, decayed arm and open his mouth wide. It was as if someone had opened a dam. Putrid, murky water spewed forth like all the words Aubree never got to say. Aubree inhaled sharply but regained her composer and reached out to caress her son’s face.
“My boy. I should have done better this year. Here, you’ll be needing this.” Aubree handed Danny the rabbit mask.
The boy took it, placed it over the deteriorating flesh of his face, and in the blink of an eye, was restored standing on the shore of the lake. “Thank you, Mother,” the young boy whispered, and disappeared into the fading moonlight.
#HumpdayHorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Please enjoy another excerpt from my upcoming first novel "The Blood in Guthrie". It is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, and releases for print and Kindle on November 26th. You can find a clickable link on my Published Work page.
Jack rounded the corner of the alley right next to Conrad’s Candy behind little Billy Weston, who was anxious to lead the way. A hoard of curious men and women tailed him, all patrons of Minnie’s who had promptly shoved the last of their meals into their mouths and scurried out the front door for a look at the decapitated head. Way, way in the back lumbered the bovine-like Sheriff Elmer who had plenty enough trouble walking a few yards, let alone running two blocks to the crime scene. He snorted and huffed, soaked to the bone in his own foul-smelling perspiration.
The alley was dark and damp, lined on each side by moldy, red brick walls and empty wooden crates. Aluminum garbage cans stuffed with refuse made the place stink like roadkill rotting in the sun, or was that the head that had been neatly placed in the center of the corridor?
Jack and the rest of the mob stopped short when they caught full view of the commotion the thing was stirring up, like a film at the theater down in New Orleans. Loud meows bounced around the bricks like church bells. Stray cats circled the thing like vultures. A fat orange tabby with blood on its jaws yanked at the lips of the head. A little calico sat atop the deceased, fuzzy auburn head and kneaded away like she was tenderizing meat for Miss Minnie to throw on the smoker. She looked right at Jack and said, ‘Meh,’ and then continued on about her business. The crowd of on-lookers were both captivated and horrified. Some sneered, some had their mouths hanging open in shock or terror or maybe both, a few people averted their eyes. Jack could have sworn he heard someone giggle.
Heavy footsteps padded around the corner matched by equally heavy breathing and Jack knew without looking that Elmer had finally arrived at the scene. Elmer put a hand on Jack’s shoulder for support and tried to talk through gasps.
“Alrighty. I made it on over here. We can start investigatin’ now. What do we got?”
Sheriff Elmer Avant finally got to smelling the pungent odor that hovered in the narrow alley and then looked up just as the ginger tabby successfully shredded a hunk of bottom lip from the head. The flesh shuddered as it dangled from the cat’s mouth and then the cat slurped the meat in like a wet spaghetti noodle, gnawing away happily. It might have been the running, or the smell, or the head, or the cat—maybe it was all of them. But at that moment Sheriff Elmer’s guts revolted against him and he doubled over, spewing his lunch like a fancy marble fountain against the brick wall of Conrad’s Candy.
The crowd stepped back as Elmer splashed and flung chunks of Minnie’s ribs, coleslaw, potato salad, and sweet tea in every direction including onto his own cuffed uniform trousers and those belonging to Jack. While those foods may be a delightful combination of flavors going on down the gullet, they sure do not create a pleasant aroma when they have mixed together and returned back to daylight.
“Alright, everyone,” Jack announced with his hands in the air, “that’s all there is to see. Go about the rest of your day. We’ll handle this.”
The crowd didn’t move. They just stood there ogling him, watching Sheriff Elmer try to regain his composure.
“Go on now,” Elmer choked, still hunched over, “listen to ol’ Deputy Jack.”
Elmer waved his hand at his side in a shooing motion like a mother does her children when she’s trying to gossip with the lady next door and the kids won’t quit pulling on her skirt. The people understood and, for whatever reason, listened to Elmer and kicked stones as they shuffled away whispering and turning the wheels on the rumor mill.
#HumpdayHorror #TheBloodinGuthrie Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
This room, in this house, is like a soap bubble. Fragile and iridescent, it floats along the breeze in autumn or summer, winter or spring, and pays no mind to the temperature of the wind. Inside, the air is constant, reliable, though—at times—it is heavy and the weight of it crowds my lungs like bodies at a bus station, eager to depart. From my perch inside this warm, open chamber I can hear the calls of life, though I seldom find the energy to participate in their activities. Footfalls echo down the halls, little boys giggle from the living room and the sound swells in my ears like an approaching locomotive, cats scurry across the floor, and outside nature is wildly singing the praises of freedom.
Yet, I persist in solitude. A tiny whisper among a crowd of voices shouting life’s daily demands. Here, in my soap bubble, I cower in terror, as the world threatens to pluck me from safety with the shiny, sharp tip of a sewing needle.
It was seven years—and yet eons ago—that we clambered into this place. Boxes full of our meager possessions, one child teetering on tiny feet, the other perched upon my hip. My husband dragged armfuls of hope through the front door, a door that would eventually serve as a barrier between myself and reality, but we aren’t there quite yet.
These were still years churning with dreams and promise. Days of sun and whispers that danced on a warm, delicate breeze whispering optimistic daydreams into every nook and cranny—every piece of cracked drywall and yellowed paint. The house had been vacant, alone, as houses should never be. They are built to embrace life—feel it move about inside their walls and upon their floorboards, like a woman’s womb, to keep the ghosts of the past at bay. But this house had been lonely, listless, for far too long. It greeted us with enthusiasm and burnt out light bulbs only days after we’d installed a new one. The house on Evergreen Lane was just as alive as we were.
“Honey,” I said, after flicking the switch in our bedroom one evening, “we have another burned out bulb.” I continued to flick the switch up and down, fruitlessly.
My husband, Justin, left our eldest son to watch cartoons among the boxes on the living room floor and marched down the hallway. “I just replaced that one last night. That’s the fourth bulb I’ve had to change in two days. There must be some kind of short in the wiring.”
“Maybe we should call the landlord?” I asked. My concern was wrapped in sudden fires caused by faulty wiring while we all slept. The whole place enveloped in smoke and fire, and none of us waking in time to get out alive.
Justin’s eyes softened as he observed the fear flash across my face. His eyes studied mine, and he smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m sure it’s nothing. I’ll get a new bulb.” He kissed my cheek and shuffled off to the kitchen.
I flicked the switch, uselessly, a few times for good measure, knowing that the bulb would not burst to life before Justin returned with a fresh one. Each and every dead fixture, now buried like a rotting carcass in the trash bin, had been guaranteed a long, quiet life illuminating our family’s activities. But they had died quickly, unexpectedly, in their sockets. Replaced, and tossed with the remnants of our previous life. The ghosts we didn’t wish to carry into our new home on Evergreen Lane.
Those former ghosts had ridden us like jockeys. Always whipping our haunches, reminding us of their presence, their choking grasp over our lives. Long before Evergreen, I had been ill—suffered under the weight of dark, oppressive clouds that suffocated my will to carry on. Just after our oldest son was born the visions began. Where most new mothers see vivid scenes of little league victories, fishing trips, and wedding dances—I witnessed my sedan careening from the side of a bridge, plummeting into icy water, my son and I trapped—strapped into our respective seats—unable to unhook the latches before we were overcome by the frigid, murky water. In my mind we were blue bodies dancing in an icy lake, entombed by a Ford we still owed on, and the city would pull us out, bloated and bitten by hungry fish.
In another, I was blinded by florescent grocery store lights. The walls and the floor swirled, like a whirlpool, around me. My head was a helium balloon, escaping to some other place, some other plane of existence. I lost my footing as my eyelids fought exhaustion, and I tumbled onto the tile floor while holding Braxton, and he’d make contact first. White tile turned red as the contents of his skull scattered upon the floor, seeping onto it, and I tried to sweep it up in my hands, tried to put it back. And I screamed a terrible, helpless scream while everyone around me watched—chattered about my inability to mother correctly.
They had pills for that, post-partum depression, but I couldn’t understand how any real mother could be depressed after giving birth to what everyone else considered a miracle. Then, there were job losses and money problems. Illnesses, because my little miracle seeped the wellness from my body and used it for himself. Of course, any mother would give it all away for her children. Reduce herself to a worn-out pile of flesh for their happiness.
“Honey, do you smell that?” I asked from the living room couch as Justin and I watched a movie, our Saturday night ritual.
“I don’t know. There’s a weird smell,” I sniffed the air hard. “It just smells weird.”
“Smells weird, how?” Justin asked me.
“Like, burning and rotten pumpkins and dirt.”
He chuckled, “I can’t smell anything.”
“You never can,” I grumbled.
This was the beginning of a new ritual, because that odor mocked me. It followed me and manifested whenever it felt I could be caught off-guard. In retaliation, I burned incense. The kind that is supposed to clean the air and relax haggard nerves—mostly sage and lavender. I sent powerful streams of cold mist containing fragrant essential oils into the air. They wafted on the air-conditioned breeze, and floated in the heated oxygen, and they all should have masked the smell, but it persisted. Just as death persists no matter how much living you do, it is always there in the shadows.
I was never quite calm after Braxton was born, but the birth of our second son, Rohan, had done something to steady the visions that terrorized my mind. If I believed in angels of mercy, he’d surely have been one. I’d suspect, that with his birth, he’d dragged the demons that possessed me out with him. For the first time in two years, I didn’t live in a constant state of fear, but could instead look upon my children with the love and wonder designed for new mothers. And instead of horrific, gruesome death, I could glory at the possibilities of their future, because prior to that moment, I hadn’t believed there was one. Of course, fear, as it goes, clings to a soul once it finds comfort there.
The Evergreen house had always seemed a peculiar place to me. We had slapped fresh paint upon its stained, dirty walls before we’d placed our belongings in their respective places, and yet, the grime resurfaced time and again without reason.
“Boys,” I shouted as my now toddlers ran through the halls, “let me see your hands. Do they need washed?”
“Hands aren’t dirty, Momma.” Braxton would tell me and hold out his hands for the twentieth time that day. Rohan squealed impatiently from the hall as I checked his palms.
“Justin, do the air filters need changed?” I’d huff as I wiped down the walls, again, with a Lysol soaked rag.
“Just changed them last week.” He’d answer busy with some other task I’d assigned him.
“Why do the walls always look filthy?”
“It’s an old house.”
Our four cats acted strangely once being introduced to the environment as well. They were loafers, seldom active, spending most of their days asleep in my lap or on the kitchen table. That was until we moved to Evergreen Lane. Suddenly, they prowled endlessly. They stared, fixated, at those light fixtures where bulbs constantly needed to be replaced. They hovered in corners watching invisible forces move with their heads cocked to one side for long periods of time. The cats congregated in the hallways, peered into Braxton’s room, as if there were some dark force drawing them to the entrance but forbidding them access—or they were smart enough not to enter. They sat on guard, at the end of my bed, mewing at nothing but the empty air of the hallway.
The longer we resided at Evergreen Lane, the more ill I became. Whatever little miracle Rohan had performed on the morning of his birth had been stripped away. The mornings brought with them excruciating pain. It wrapped itself around my joints, made walking nearly impossible as I stretched a foot to the floor from beneath my comforter, and shot bolts throughout my body. The doctors poked me, withdrew my blood, ran tests upon tests, but could find no answer for my affliction. Waves of exhaustion washed over me, making me bed bound, and I slept for what felt like years—consumed by dirty walls and strange energy and cats that chased invisible shadows.
As the boys grew and went off to school I was faced with the truth of Evergreen. Alone in the innocuous looking house, I learned the true depths of its secrets. As I sat in my bedroom, in front of the large antique mirror placed on the wall, I saw the black figure of a man hovering just beyond my shoulder. I froze, unable to unstick myself from my mattress, eyes gaping and studied the thing. It did not move. It did not come for me. It only stood, a black emptiness where closet doors should have been. Finally, I found in myself the courage to wheel around, but he was gone.
“How was you’re day?” Justin asked breezily as emptied his pockets into a drawer.
“I saw something today.”
“Yeah?” he said, “What did you see? Anything good?”
“I saw a ghost. I think it was a ghost. It had to have been.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “A ghost? What do you mean?”
“It was a shadow of a man, in the bedroom. It scared the wits out of me at first.”
“Show me,” Justin said.
He demanded I explain the details—where I had been sitting, where the thing had appeared, what time of day it was, what size it was, what it looked like, exactly. Justin moved around the room waving his arms attempting to recreate the shadow, attempting to show me that I had imagined the whole thing.
“This is all fine, except—”
“Except what?” he asked.
“Except I saw it in the living room too.”
I looked down the hallway, a cat was standing in front of the bathroom door, staring. “He’s standing in the doorway of the bathroom right now.”
Justin rushed to the hallway and gawked down the darkened corridor. “I don’t see anything. Just the cat.”
“Honey, there’s nothing.”
I sighed, exasperated, “You aren’t looking hard enough.”
“How have you been sleeping?”
“Not great,” I answered meekly.
The doctors and the diagnoses and the pills followed. There was always a reasonable explanation for what happened at Evergreen, and usually it was hallucinations. Ceiling fans spun on their own without coercion from a passing gust of wind. Televisions throughout the house turned on at random. It had become a constant game of hearing courtroom reality shows and soap operas streaming from my sons’ rooms just as I’d gotten comfortable, then padding down the hall to extinguish them. The house only played with me. Only awakened for me. The shadows, the smells, the electricity was alive—pulsating—in my unique presence. When the others arrived, the house went into hiding. Evergreen quieted as if it were frightened of them, an orphaned child hiding in a gutter, terrified to reveal itself.
Soon, the fear Evergreen felt seeped into me. In my dismal, weakened state I was overcome by unreasonable horror. I peered from behind gold curtains worried an intruder might come for me, for the house. Every unknown noise lit the match of dread that burned like a bonfire deep inside my belly. I hid from mailmen and political representatives. I no longer accepted phone calls. Every stranger was a threat to my very being—and so I blew the bubble that formed the barrier between myself and reality. It protected me from all the things I was afraid of, but it couldn’t protect me from myself.
“I don’t feel good about this,” I told Justin the evening before I was scheduled for a major but routine surgery. It was my fourth surgery in two years. It seemed that as my mind collapsed, so did my body. The two were synchronized in their relative destruction. The delusions had become more frequent, mood swings had left me in either in a state of constant inertia or motionless under a pile of blankets in the dark, my body no longer processed food correctly and my clothes hung like drapery from my thin frame.
“You’ll feel better after this one,” he reassured me, pecking my forehead as he always did. Leaving the tingle of his lips to linger on my flesh.
“A body can only take so much.”
“You’re the strongest person I know. You’ll be fine.”
I went to sleep the next day on a silver metal table, in a cold operating room, with a plastic mask encompassing my nose and mouth. The time between waking up in that cold hospital and arriving home was a blur of pain medication and muttered words and pinpricks. I was never warm again.
“Why is it so cold in here,” I muttered into the thermostat that hung in the darkened hallway. Justin stood outside the bathroom listening to Rohan chatter about his day at school.
I pressed the button to raise the temperature of the house, the heater kicked on, and Justin turned on his heel. He walked to the thermostat and readjusted the temperature. He never did like it too warm, so I resigned myself to sweatshirts and carrying a blanket wherever I went. I did this even though it was summer. It was impossible for my body to gather enough energy to warm itself.
I soon found it impossible to leave the bedroom, as if some unseen barrier kept me from passing the threshold. I was a prisoner. The world beyond the door, even inside the house on Evergreen Lane was too much for my brain to process. The limitless terror, the potential for catastrophe too great to risk leaving safety.
Braxton and Rohan seemed to forget my existence entirely, as if they couldn’t relate to me. They no longer knew the vague outline of the woman who once called herself their mother. Like breadcrumbs, drawings and school assignments found their way into my safety net, and for a brief moment I glimpsed their growth—could see a snapshot of their lives, of the people they were becoming. They all withdrew from me. An unrelatable fragment of my former self, bound by caution to foam and padding, sheets and blankets. I was a voice screaming for acknowledgement in a sea of deaf ears.
Justin stood adjusting a silver tie in the antique mirror in our bedroom. I perched on the bed, looked over his shoulder. He never wore ties. “What is this thing you’re going to?”
He didn’t answer.
“I’m sorry I can’t go with you. You just, you know how hard these things are for me. I can’t leave. What is it that you have to dress up for?”
He cleared his throat and brushed the hair from his forehead. On his way out, he pulled the car keys from his pocket, but something, a paper, drifted from it as well. I rushed to pick it up and choked on the thick, heavy air of the bedroom. An obituary, my obituary. I hadn’t made it through the surgery—a fatal asthma attack while under anesthesia.
So now, I am the house on Evergreen Lane and it is me. Encased inside the walls of my glittering orb are the lives that I once protected inside my body. I can no longer protect them except to watch from my corner of eternity as they grow and change, but the scent of sage and lavender that floats upon the air, and the unseen thing that causes the cats to scurry in the night is me. Ever watchful for the real shadows that haunted me before my brief engagement with life expired.
#humpdayhorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
This cold, humid place is nearly nothing but shadow—gray air that raises goosebumps on my flesh and makes it wet and sticky at the same time. Obscurities, blacker than the darkness that surrounds me, are like ever present gargoyles guarding the singular door that might serve as an escape route—if my legs weren’t secured to this moldy chair, my hands tied with twine in front of me. The stone walls dripping with water, the table on which the thing has served stale bread and gritty, murky water, the chair itself—none of these things have been useful as a means of escape. My cell phone has no reception in this stone shack. I wonder if anyone is looking for me, or if they have given up the search. I dig the cell out from under me, hold it up, and let the light from the LED screen wash over my face—a sea of blue-white in an onyx abyss—the battery is at twenty percent. It’s now or never. I prick my ears to listen for the echo of footsteps. Silence except the tinkling of water petering down the wall. I sit the phone on the table, turn on the camera, and press record. I pause for a moment as I observe my face, smeared in mud, tracks that had once been tears look like veins running down my cheeks. My face is pale, sick, my eyes red and swollen. If I am not dead yet, it’s clear enough, I will be, soon.
“H-Hello. My name is Angela Baker. I-I have been gone for two days. My husband is Brad, Brad Baker. He—We live at 157 Newry Lane—Altoona. If-If you find this,” I begin to weep. The words get hung up in my throat like the family photos that line the halls of our house. Photos I’ll probably never see again. A faint sound catches my ear. I panic. “If you find this,” I rush, “I’m probably already dead.”
“Did you remember your meds?” Brad asked as he turned down the annoying kid’s song that had been playing on repeat for the last half-hour. I thought it would be permanently etched in my brain.
“Last time you stopped for gas,” I smiled from the passenger seat. “Do you think there will be that many? It isn’t a theme park theme park.”
“I checked the website. There’s definitely a mascot. It’s a squirrel named Toby.” Brad looks at me, sticks out his front teeth, and raises his eyebrows. Idiot.
I grimaced, “A squirrel? How lame is that? It feels like they aren’t even trying.” I stared out the window and watched the fall leaves swirl by in a cascade of colors. They intermingled and became a blur of reds, yellows, and oranges. It was as if someone rushed to get all the colors onto a painting and simply splashed them all on a canvas.
“It’s a park in the middle of the forest. Apparently, they didn’t need to get creative. Would it change anything if it were an alien in a blonde wig?”
I laughed a little, “No.”
The boys had started to get uncomfortable and anxious in the backseat. They squirmed like ants under a magnifying glass on a hot summer day. Justin shouted, snatched a toy from Ronny’s hand. Ronny smacked him.
“Boys, knock it off or we’ll just go home.”
Brad was great at empty threats, and I smiled when he doled them out. The boys stopped, but they’d be at it again in a few minutes. They were, at least, a good distraction from my phobia. “What if I can’t do it, Brad?”
“You’ll be fine. Dr. Peters said you have to face it head-on. One foot in front of the other, or whatever. You don’t have to touch it, just be in the same park as it.”
I could feel bile rising in my esophagus. It boiled like lava in my gut and threatened to spill over into the front seat of our car. My hands shook like leaves in a gusty autumn wind. “Brad, they’re just so—disturbing.”
“They’re just people in costumes, honey. Teenagers, probably. Nothing to be scared of.”
“If you say so.”
The park was old, ancient, as far as amusement parks are concerned. The roller-coasters were made of wood, not iron or steel—none of them went upside-down. Most of the rides were chipping paint. The Ferris Wheel cars had big, faded clown faces hand-painted on them. The whole park was shaded by big deciduous trees. The game booths were littered with fallen leaves that were wet and had begun to decay. Every squealing child caused me to lurch into Brad’s shoulder and jerk my head from side-to-side in search of the thing that I knew would surface at any given moment.
The boys were sticky with cotton candy and funnel cake. They bounced like popcorn in a foil pan. Justin and Ronny had been looking for Toby all day. Luckily, they had yet to find him, or her, I wasn’t sure of its gender.
“Hey boys, you want to ride the Ferris Wheel?” Brad asked them.
“Yeah!” they answered gleefully nearly tossing their sugary foods onto the concrete.
“You ride too, Daddy.” Ronny tugged on Brad’s flannel shirt and pointed to the giant spinning wheel.
Brad looked at me and squinted, “Do you mind, honey? I know you aren’t a fan of this one.”
“It’s fine,” I sighed and smiled at the same time. “Someone has to stay behind to hold the snacks. They aren’t going to give up their treats for a quick ride.”
“You’re the best,” Brad said and pecked my cheek. “Give your treats to Mom, boys. Let’s go.”
The boys handed me their half-eaten food, which had begun to get soggy and cold, and chased after their father toward the slowing Ferris Wheel, dodging popcorn and souvenir vendors, families walking to other rides, and other darting children. I stood and watched them take their place in line when I heard a commotion behind me. I wheeled around hastily, dropped half of Justin’s remaining funnel cake—powdered sugar flurries blanketed my boots like snow—and I just saved the remainder, when I saw it. Surrounded by excited children was a six-foot squirrel. Its beady eyes looked from one child to another as if it were sizing them up for dinner. The faux fur tail behind it bounced ominously, as if it were real, as if the thing inside the costume owned the tail, commanded it to sway to-and-froe, perch high, wiggle with glee. Toby the squirrel did a little, vile dance. Waved merrily at the watching children. Toby handed out balloons in an assortment of colors.
And all I could think was that those balloons were poisoned. That they were laced with arsenic and those children would die if ever they should pop. Inside the balloons oozed the fermented blood of Toby’s last victim, bludgeoned and tortured and butchered. Stored for safe keeping in a child’s precious toy. Before I escape my internal anxiety, Toby has made his way to me, hovering over me, has shoved a blue balloon toward my face.
The synapses in my brain fired off—triggered my fight or flight response—and I have already dropped the boy’s food and sprinted in the opposite direction. My fear birthed by the inability to know who lurked inside that sweaty, germ-covered costume. Who controlled it. The inability to see a face, recognize a person, a human. There can be no safety in lack of control.
A restroom sat in the shadow of a red-leafed oak tree, behind a rickety roller-coaster which was closed for repairs. I heaved open the black, painted door and locked it behind me. I ran down the line of stalls, checked to be sure the place was empty. Nobody was there but me.
My heart thumped in my chest, pushed the searing, hot-soup blood through my dilated veins which made me light-headed, made my vision foggy—like milk painted glass—and I breathed ragged gasps of putrid bathroom air in a useless attempt to calm myself. The orange bulb in the over-head light fixture made my reflection look green, corpse-like. Brown-to-blonde hair stuck out, sweaty and wild, in every direction from the braid that I had so carefully styled that morning. Mascara formed grocery bags beneath reddened blue eyes.
“B-Breathe,” I said in a shaky voice to my mirror image. “In, out, in, out.”
I couldn’t get control. It was time to employ the calming tactics Dr. Peters had taught me. “Let’s see. Ok. Alphabetize. Foods. Shit. What starts with “A”. Um. Ok. Avocado, black berries, cantaloupe, “D”—what the hell is a “D” fruit?”
A loud groan reverberated from the handicap stall in the back of the bathroom. I swiveled and patted my back pocket to check for my cellphone, a habit I had acquired that made me feel safe. It let me know I could reach Brad any time I needed him. Silently, breathlessly, I tiptoed to the guttural noise, unsure what could have created it, I had been utterly alone. I used my foot to kick open the stall door, and, standing like a statue before me, was Toby, wielding a long, shiny butcher knife. I opened my mouth to let loose a banshee wail of a scream, but Toby intercepted me. The squirrel huged me with one arm, placed the tip of the blade under my chin with the other, and slowly shook its head ‘no’.
My body instantly began to quiver uncontrollably. I felt my knees buckle, but before I hit the floor, the mascot scooped me up and dragged me through a backdoor that I had previously missed in my inspection. I twisted and writhed in the thing’s grasp. When it hauled me through a hole in the perimeter fence and into the dense, wet forest I screamed a shrill, terrified call for help, but we were too deep and the rides and music too loud for patrons of the park to hear my cries. On a makeshift stone table lay flesh and blood and entrails—half eaten or played with or God knows what.
“What is that! What is that?” I shrieked.
The mascot shook me into silence and continued to pull me through wet, sticky mud and leaves. We stopped at a stone and mortar building deep in the woods where he shoved me in and locked the door. He has kept me here for days, bringing me putrid meat and moldy bread, water that looks like it was dipped from a stream.
“If you’re looking for me, Brad, I’m sorry,” I weep into the dark screen of my phone’s camera. It has a giant crack across the glass, broken when Toby tossed me on the floor of the stone shack. “I-I love you Justin, Ronny. Mommy loves you so much. I’m so sorry. What was that?” I hear a noise outside the door. “He’s back. Oh, God, he’s back.”
The door creaks open and the giant shadow of the squirrel appears. It lumbers inside, slowly inching closer and closer, and I realize it has the knife.
“Please don’t. You can still let me go. Just let me go,” I cry as my image is cast back on my still recording phone.
Toby stands over me, and I can take no more. Knife or not, I must fight because the very electricity in my brain demands it. I use my two hands to form one giant fist and fling it into the thing’s abdomen. Without hesitation, I strike another blow to its groin. Toby doesn’t double over, perhaps the padding, so I go for the head. But my blow isn’t severe. It knocks the head from the costume. Finally, I can see my captor. I can identify whoever will end me, perhaps if someone finds my phone, they’ll identify him. I watch with bated breath as the googly eyes, and big teeth, whiskers toppled from the limited light into the darkness. My eyes like magnifying glasses, ready to see, search for the rest of it, but when they find him, there is nothing. No face, no eyes, no mouth—there is only emptiness where a human should have filled the October air.
“No!” I say in disbelief.
The headless thing comes for me, knife raised in preparation to strike, and it lunges. The bitter surge of steel enters me, over and over again, spilling my blood onto the floor, tossing it onto the stone walls like a grisly fall abstract—and the real darkness descends. I know, finally, it was all real—fear is real. And, then, it is gone.
#HumpdayHorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
When I graduated from Arizona State in May I didn’t really have a game plan. I had been working on some horror poetry, it was therapeutic, it helped me deal with my own demons. When those poems revealed a much bigger story to me I decided to put them in a book with some fun photographs—because posing is my second love—and made the book available on Amazon. It was called “Ink & Needles”. I didn’t promote it much. It was just kind of there, incase someone wanted to check it out.
I quickly realized my work wasn’t done. There were more stories to tell, more monsters—human or otherwise—writhing around inside of me shrieking for freedom. That’s why this blog exists, and I presume, why you choose to be here reading it. So many stories were birthed in such a short time, so many lives lived, and lost, that I wanted those immortalized inside the pages of a book. I wanted them in ink, on flesh, in physical form that we could all hold and smell and put on a book shelf. I think once a monster is loose, it’s best to contain it. I was once their captor. I walked the long, desolate halls of their cells while they rattled their cups and shook their bars. Now, they’re free. So, it’s my job, again, to put them somewhere safe. So, “They Come from the Shadows: A Collection of Horror” was born. It contains twenty stories. The first fifteen from my blog, polished and pressed, but still just the way you’d remember them. I’ve also trapped five new stories inside. They run the gamut from horror to a mix of horror/sci-fi and horror/fantasy and some even have a little comedy thrown in for good measure.
This is my first collection of short stories, and I am sure others will follow in the future as long as someone is here to read them. It is us, after all, that let the monsters live on. Today, you can order your paperback copy of “They Come from the Shadows” on Amazon. The Kindle version releases on October 15th—that is available for pre-order. My first novel, “The Blood in Guthrie” is out next month, and I really hope you will all join me for its release. It’s a real doozy of a tale. Until #HumpdayHorror friends. Thanks for all of your support!
They Come from the Shadows paperback
They Come from the Shadows Kindle
Welcome to my blog. Sit back and enjoy a short story, a poem, or some flash fiction--whatever I have recently cooked up. I will post a new piece as often as possible. Check back once a week to see what's new.