Let me tell you a story...
It’s fiery, red hair glowed like the tail of a meteor careening through outer space. It was wild and frizzy. The ringlet curls had lost their definition and were now thick coils with no pattern. Its makeup was dull. The blue had faded to a hue that resembled the color found in old photographs from the 60s. Its round crystal-blue eyes were wide as if it had drunk too much of the thick, pungent coffee Willow’s mom guzzled every morning. They peered into Willow’s hazel ones as if silently squealing over a terribly funny joke. The porcelain cheeks had tiny black scuff marks that someone had attempted to clean. His raw, red nose, like a bubble, begged to float on the breeze—yet, there was nothing amusing about the doll. Willow turned it over and over in her hands—examining every inch of its snagged, sad yellow and red polka dot costume. She couldn’t see the appeal.
“Swing and a miss, Grandma,” Willow said and ran for the pink, castle-shaped bounce house.
“Willow!” her mother, Diane, yelled after her. She brushed her bangs to the side in exasperation and picked up the discarded doll. “It is kind of weird, Mom.”
“It’s an antique,” Ruby said snatching it away. “I thought it would be a unique gift.”
“It’s creepy. Besides, she’s ten, not ten-months. She isn’t all that into dolls anymore.”
Ruby fiddled with the clown’s matted curls, “I know, I know. They want electronics and gift cards. That’s exactly why I picked this. She’ll appreciate it someday.”
“It’s,” Diane sneered, “so unsettling. Where did you even get it?”
“On the way here I stopped at an old antique store. Oh, what was it called.” Ruby looked to the pinking sky as evening neared. “It was ‘Wildest Dreams’ or something like that. The lady said it belonged to a circus performer back at the turn of the century. I just loved it.”
“And I hate clowns.”
“Well,” Ruby said holding the doll out to Diane, “he isn’t for you.”
At ten years old Willow had a developed mind that craved knowledge. She sought out books that were well beyond her years. She enjoyed Kerouac and Vonnegut. She especially enjoyed reading the works of Poe—the macabre being highly fascinating as well as entertaining to young Willow.
Her grandmother, Ruby, had been active during the Women’s Rights movement of the 60s and 70s. She frequently reminded Willow that the history books tended to misrepresent the truth of the movement. That there had been no enormous rally during the ’68 Miss America pageant—just a small “Freedom Trash Can” with various items to make a miniscule bonfire. Never the spectacle it was made out to be.
Diane had become a Wiccan. She believed in incense and oils. Daily meditations, communing with nature, and that woman was an overwhelming dominant force. She taught her daughter empathy and love, but also strength.
Willow was a hodgepodge of both of these women with a dash of darkness tossed in for good measure. She could see beyond the light that Diane practiced to where the others dwelled. Willow liked the darkness.
“Momma,” Willow asked tucked in beneath her black butterfly comforter, “where is Hooplah?”
“I don’t know.” Diane ran her finger along a shelf packed with old stuffed animals seeking out the purple, ratty bear. “I don’t think I’ve seen her all day.”
“I can’t sleep without her,” Willow huffed.
Diane kneeled down beside the bed and wedged herself into the gloomy crevice beneath. Empty. Not a single shadow belonging to a misplaced bear or long-forgotten toy. Willow was truly immaculate about housekeeping. “Nothing sweetie.”
“What about your new one?” Ruby said from the doorway.
“Oh, hi Grandma. I just really need Hooplah.”
Ruby walked into the room grinning. She removed the shabby clown from its shelf and carried it to Willow’s bed where she sat. “Have you named him?”
“How about we do? What would be a good name for this guy?”
Willow thought. She hated the toy but didn’t want to tell her grandma. Willow hated the way the thing looked at her—its big blue eyes—the odd color of them. Nothing about the thing was natural. Nothing about it resembled reality. It was all off, like the artist that created it was looking at a model through a funhouse mirror. The soul of the clown definitely hovered behind the veil of night. She grimaced, “Maybe, Jinx?”
“That’s a peculiar name, but I like it.” Ruby kissed Willow’s forehead. “Here, why don’t you show Jinx a good first night. You must be tired after your birthday party, Miss Ten-Years-Old. Goodnight.”
Diane walked over to Willow and kissed her goodnight and flicked off her light. She checked to see that her mother was gone, “You don’t have to sleep with him.”
“It’s fine. He isn’t so bad, I guess.”
“Ok. If you’re sure. Goodnight, honey.”
“See,” Ruby said as she sipped coffee from a worn mug at the kitchen table, “she’s warming up to him.”
“She didn’t have much choice in there. Hooplah is missing.” Diane stood over the sink washing dishes. “I wonder where that bear is. It is never far from her bed.”
“I know,” Ruby chuckled. She pulled it from her lap and sat the soft purple bear on the table.
“Mom, that’s low. For all the women’s rights stuff, you took Willow’s bear so she’d cuddle your gift?”
“I just wanted her to give it a chance. It was expensive.”
“You give her Hooplah back tomorrow,” Diane scolded as she dried her hands.
Ruby padded down the long hallway to the guest bedroom carrying Hooplah in her armpit and a glass of water in her hand. The floorboards creaked in the ancient house as Ruby snuck to Willow’s bedroom door. She gazed in, Willow, illuminated in moonlight, was lit up like a woodland fairy. Her pale skin and golden hair glittered in silver beams. Where was the clown? Ruby’s eyes darted around the room searching for the unkempt doll. Ruby looked for the moon’s reflection to bounce off its eyes and alert her of its location. She found it sitting among rumbled covers at the end of Willow’s bed. Ruby sighed in defeat, Willow had abandoned her gift.
The guest bedroom was frigid. The heater did a piss poor job of warming the room and Ruby rushed to change into her night clothes. The frosty air bit at her skin like an invisible school of piranhas. She washed her face with cleansing wipes and stuffed herself into the bed as quickly as she could. Hooplah stared at her from the nightstand behind her glass of water. Ruby wondered if the bear could feel the chill, absent from Willow’s arms. Ruby rolled her eyes and went to sleep.
The moon slid sleepily across the speckled sky. Ruby snored quietly when the sound of a glass shattering stirred her awake. As Ruby’s eyelids opened like the steel doors on a bank vault she was greeted by a pink snout, glittery plastic nose, disheveled purple fur. Ruby creased her brow and reached for Hooplah precariously seated upon her chest. Her arm was stiff at its position under the patchwork quilt at the side of the bed. Ruby’s elbow was severely hyperextended—painful. She yanked and pulled at her arms, neither would come loose from their hostage-like positions. “What’s—What’s happening?” Ruby muttered.
The smiling bear’s head tilted mechanically to the side as if it were cracking the vertebrae in its neck one-by-one. The blank expression on Hooplah’s face contorted into an unsettling grin. Its lip lifted exposing what appeared to be razor-sharp fangs, glinting in the pale light.
Ruby shook her head violently. She must be dreaming—a terrible, awful dream. The bear stood, its paws behind its back, and took a step toward her face. Ruby called out in the dark, her voice uncertain, shallow, in the night. The bear shook its head, “No”. Ruby pulled brutally at her arms and legs, realizing all of her limbs had been tied to the four-post bed with sheets. She had been rendered totally helpless. Ruby called out again in the staticky darkness—no response. No approaching footsteps.
Hooplah pulled a shard of glass from behind her back. It came to a wicked point that captured iridescent, white rays that bounced like laser beams into Ruby’s corneas. She held it aloft, grinning barbarically. Ruby begged her, “No, please. Don’t. I’m sorry.”
The improvised blade sunk into Ruby’s neck like a child’s fingers into Play-doh. Hooplah slid it along the flesh and muscle and arteries—carving Ruby as if she might make her a meal. Ruby choked and sputtered. Hot liquid flowed from the wound, her mouth, like pancake syrup. She was unable to stop it, to dam the river as it gushed forth. Hooplah hovered, licking the moisture from the glass like a lollipop. Ruby’s eyes still searched for help before the blood left her body dry, and she saw him, standing almost invisible in the doorway. Jinx, with his glass eyes—watching.
“Has your mother ever suggested suicide?”
“Absolutely, not,” Diane sat on the front steps with her head in her hands, a clove cigarette, which she only used when she was anxious, sending squiggles of smoke into the air. “Did you see her? That wasn’t suicide.”
“Ma’am,” the overstuffed cop said as he adjusted his belt, “I understand this can be difficult. You’ve told us no one else was in the house. There were no signs of forced entry. When we came in to investigate, she—the deceased—was holding a bloody piece of glass.”
Diane looked at the commotion around her. Lights flashed blue and red on the tops of police cars. Cops stood whispering back and forth over notepads. A black coroner van sat ominously—like Death himself planned to sit at the table for breakfast.
Two men in white, button-up shirts bounced a sheet-covered gurney down the front steps, “Excuse us, Ma’am.” Blood seeped through the paper-thin material.
“She was a damn activist for goddess’ sake.”
“You already said there was no one else in the house. Isn’t that true?”
“Just my daughter,” Diane wiped away a tear.
“She couldn’t have—”
“NO! What about an intruder?”
“We’re sweeping for fingerprints, but it’s unlikely.” He closed his notebook and put it in his navy-blue uniform pocket. “Listen, if she were my daughter,” he looked to the window where Willow poked her face out accompanied by Hooplah, “I’d set her up with a therapist. Maybe you too.”
“Yeah. Ok.” Diane said watching Willow.
Diane stood in Willow’s doorway as the young girl crawled into bed. It had been a long and anxiety fueled day. Calling family and friends, making arrangements, scrubbing and bleaching blood that had once pumped her mother’s heart had eaten away at Diane’s strength. No amount of oil or meditation could restore what she had lost. She needed to sleep for a week, a month, and forget the world was still turning. “Do you have Hooplah?”
“She’s on the rocking chair.”
“I’ll get her.” Diane shuffled to the chair and lifted the bear. Its fur was matted, crusty. She inspected it to find blood thick in the purple. Diane gagged and tossed the bear in the corner.
“How about we sleep with Jinx again tonight? Hooplah needs a bath.”
“No, Momma, I want Hooplah. I don’t like Jinx.”
“Grandma got you Jinx. Let’s do it for her, ok?”
Diane handed Willow the porcelain clown—worn and tired as if he had spent a life-time, or several, either forgotten or loved. Ruby knew the history, Diane hadn’t wanted it. Not feeling the way she did about clowns.
“Sleep with me?”
“It’ll be like a slumber party.”
Diane sighed, but gave in. They could both use a little supportive energy right now. The two of them together could charged the other. Willow was strong, Diane might need to borrow from her daughter.
As the night wore on a clatter woke Willow. She sat up in the darkness of her room, the overcast sky outside didn’t offer much light, and sought out the source of the noise. The bed jumped next to her. Willow’s head shot to her mother. Hooplah stood on Diane’s chest, a big shiny cleaver in her paw.
“No, no Hooplah!” Willow screamed and lunged for the bear. It slapped her away.
Diane attempted to scream, but the noise was muffled. The bear had forced a dolls head in Diane’s mouth as a ball-gag. The pretty face of the thing looked out at Willow’s, its eyelids bobbing up and down, and its long brunette hair streaming from her mother’s mouth. Just like Ruby, Hooplah had tied Diane’s arms and legs.
Willow rose to her feet and leapt for the cleaver wielding bear. She turned and slashed at Willow’s arm, striking her. Blood seeped from the gash. Hooplah raised the silver metallic blade, preparing to destroy Diane, when a flash of red and yellow removed her from the bed.
Jinx now straddled the bear—wrestling the overstuffed toy as he attempted to gain control of the weapon. Willow darted for her mother, jumped upon the bed, and untied her shackles. “Mom, what’s happening?”
“I don’t know,” Diane heaved as she clutched her daughter.
Jinx now stood on Hooplah’s face and chest, brandishing the kitchen utensil like an award. The bear squirmed and squeaked. Jinx dropped the cleaver on Hooplah’s belly revealing fluffy clouds of cotton—he tore it out like a bear devouring prey. Then, all was still. The clown went limp, a porcelain ragdoll meant for display and strange stories.
The house was silent.
#Toys #HumpdayHorror Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Henry Guiles—or inmate 09756—at Pennsylvania State Penitentiary was not a dangerously smart man. In fact, Henry Guiles was not dangerous at all. He came to cell block B by way of armed robbery. Guiles never intended to harm anyone. His pistol wasn’t loaded. He did intend to rob the Dubois family of heirlooms, mostly family jewels owned by Mrs. Dubois, and sell them later for quick cash on Baker Street behind the carpet sweeper repair store. Inmate 09756 had never heard of a burglar alarm and had no idea that the Dubois family had recently invested in one. He was certainly caught red-handed when the police arrived shortly after he’d broken in.
“09756,” a guard in a freshly pressed uniform commanded, “get up. You’re needed—in there.”
Henry Guiles jerked himself from his cot mattress, stuffed with sawdust, and stretched his legs. His black and white striped jumpsuit hung baggy over his scant frame. He shuffled to the barred cell door. “Another one this morning?” Guiles smiled through rotting teeth. Since he had been assigned the job, Henry lived for being called to duty.
“Don’t get too excited. Isn’t much to clean up since they made the adjustments.”
The thick, tall guard jingled his keyring and slid open the cell door. He didn’t bother placing the cold steel cuffs that hung from his belt loops around Henry’s wrists. He was in no danger. Henry scurried into the walkway, rubbing his greedy hands together, and sniffed at the air. He was searching for electricity. The air always reeked of it after. The leftover jolts that lingered in the atmosphere tickled Guiles’ nose hairs and made the ones on his forearms stand straight up, as if they were their own living creatures, separate from him.
“Who was it today?”
“06752,” the guard said as he marched down the echoing corridor.
“Moyer? I thought they commuted him to life.”
“Until he shanked another inmate two weeks ago.”
“Two weeks? A trial?” Henry Guiles looked at the guard with concern.
“Quickie. Too many witnesses. He was guilty as a pig in shit.”
They stopped outside a heavy, blue steel door dotted with black rivets. The guard unhooked his keyring and jammed a worn silver key into the lock. The door skidded open.
“Wasn’t self-defense? Original charge was self-defense,” Guiles muttered as he entered the big, hollow room.
“Doesn’t matter much, does it?” the guard answered. “Sonofabitch woulda died in here anyway. Now, you get to visit your best friend.” He laughed a throaty, vicious laugh that would have unnerved anyone but Henry Guiles.
“Sure do,” Guiles said as he eyed the chair. “Two hours, Tony?”
“Sure, 09756.” Tony left and locked the door.
She sat there, in the middle of the room, beckoning to Henry Guiles. Her wood frame had been lacquered, as if she were going to be placed at the head of the dinner table at the White House, and the wood glinted in what little light entered from the tiny, barred window. Her steel cuffs, used to hold down the wrists of dead men, made Guiles salivate. The cap that rested upon their brains, quieting their memories, their knowledge, their rage made his heart palpitate with excitement. She was so young—the mistress of murder—and yet she had consumed so many souls. Guiles was envious of her, he would never be brave enough to do what she had done.
He tip-toed toward the chair whispering, “Hello, darling. Long morning?”
The seat was covered in human excrement. Tiny drops of blood dotted the seat and reminded him of women’s blouses in church on Sunday morning. A tin bucket of cold, soapy water sat on the floor next to the large, wooden chair. A stiff-bristled scrub brush near-by.
“I’ll make you sparkle again. Don’t you worry, dear.”
The electric chair had only been invented and refined a few years earlier—more humane than hanging—they said. It was such a curious thing, so fill a person with something so new and foreign. Allow a body, a brain, a heart to be encompassed by something that no one totally understood. The zapping current, mini bolts of lightning, struck at the pull of a lever. They leeched into a human, thrilling all of the little pieces they touched. Sure, it was too much stimulation. Sure, the prisoner died, but to what effect? Guiles wondered what that kind of excitement felt like. Being close to her—touching her—stirred up his own synapses.
09756, Henry Guiles, lustfully scrubbed the back of the pine wood chair, humming merrily to himself, when a tin ping began to bounce from wall to wall in the small room. It was as if a metal ball were being flung in every direction. Guiles lifted his head and raised an eyebrow. He glanced around the room, but Tony had not come back. He was still alone. He smirked and continued to scrub at the drops of ruby that threated to stain her finish.
Only the sound of bore bristles scraping wood filled the room containing Henry and the chair, until the sound of rolling tin crescendoed on the air. Guiles leapt from behind her, murky water dripped from his soaked cuffs, and he watched as the bucket tipped, flooding the floor with urine and feces and blood.
“Christ!” he shouted. “Damn floor must be uneven.” Guiles mumbled as he rushed to right the bucket.
He lowered himself to his knees and stared at the noxious pond, contemplating how to manage its cleanup. Henry took a deep breath in, and felt a heavy hand thrust him to the floor—smash his gaunt cheek into the muck. The invisible force held him there, swill seeping into the side of Guiles mouth as he screamed for help, Guile’s skull feeling as though it might crack under the weight.
The heavy door flew open and Tony appeared in the frame, swinging his club. Henry still lay on the floor, his arms and legs flailing wildly, shrieking.
“What the hell are you doing, 09756?”
“Help me, please!”
Tony ran to Henry, but before he grabbed him by the shoulders and yanked him to his feet, Henry felt the hand release him. Guiles breathed manically, as if he had just been running for his life. He used the sleeves of his prison uniform to wipe the shit water from his face, tiny pieces of matter clung to his skin anyway.
“What do you call that?” Tony asked.
“Something was in here. Something had me just now.”
“There wasn’t anyone but you in here.”
“There was something. Something besides me. It was—it was Moyer. So violent, it had to have been.”
“You lost it Guiles. Back to your cell.”
“Can I go to infirmary?”
“You aren’t sick,” Tony prodded him with his night stick.
“Sick enough,” Henry Guiles protested.
“Wash the shit off you first.”
The prison infirmary was just as hopeless as the rest of the place, except there was no window, and the sick men and those with festering wounds made the place rank with death and decay. The one shining light was Miss Lark, the nurse.
“How did this happen, a fight?” Miss Lark asked Henry as she dabbed his scuffed cheek bone with an alcohol-soaked cloth.
“No, Miss Lark. Well, yes, maybe. It’s hard to explain.”
“You don’t want the other fellow to get into trouble?”
“I don’t know who the other fellow was.”
“Didn’t get a look at him? I think it’s so awful the cowardly way some men will attack another from behind.”
“Do you—do you believe in ghosts, Miss Lark?”
She paused for a moment and then went about seeking a bandage in a drawer filled with medical supplies. Miss Lark leaned her body to a severe angle to glance at the patients hidden by a billowy, white curtain. Then, she sighed. “Medically, scientifically, no. Personally, though, I don’t know.” She puckered her creamy red lips.
“I think Moyer got me in the chair room,” Henry blurted.
“Wasn’t he electrocuted this morning? Did he get you before?”
Miss Lark batted her curly lashes at Henry Guiles, “I always knew those chairs would be trouble.”
Henry didn’t respond, but he pondered that single sentiment for several days.
Inmate number 09756—Mr. Henry Guiles—was now acutely aware of every sinister noise that reverberated down the corridor of cell block B. As he sat alone on his stiff mattress and attempted to learn to read by candlelight, every foreign water droplet, every footfall on dense concrete, every paper rustling, every tin cup scraped on iron bars pricked at Henry’s eardrums and caused his spine to rattle.
Guiles placed his book upon his mattress as his bladder screamed for relief. While Henry hovered over his cell’s toilet, he felt an icy wind tickle the hairs protruding from his neck and then, he heard a loud thud behind him. When he turned around, the book lay face-down on the floor.
Henry furrowed his brow and stumbled in his sleepy state to retrieve the book. A force like a bull crashed into his protruding ribs and threw him against his cell wall. Guiles made contact with a sickening crack. Sharp, stabbing pain radiated through Henry’s chest. His breath whistled from his lungs as he took short, shallow gulps of air. Another blow from an unseen force connected with Henry’s chin. It knocked his teeth together, chipping one of his incisors. He yowled in pain as blood from a gash on his jaw leeched blood. Henry felt pressure, as if someone were wiping the wetness away, and then noticed it was being transferred to the pages of his book. Kill her, it read. Kill who? he wondered as he writhed in pain.
“Oh Henry, poor Henry, what are you doing back?” Miss Lark said as Henry limped into the infirmary. “Another fight?”
“Same as the last.”
“Henry, come now. I can’t be expected to believe some ghost story.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Henry hung his head. He knew enough not to push the subject, or he would end up in a nuthouse. Those were worse than prison. “Miss Lark, what did you know about Moyer? If you don’t mind my asking.”
She sighed. “Henry. He wasn’t a good man. He deserved what he got. He was a murderer. The state doesn’t condemn people to death for nothing.” Miss Lark’s hands shook as she tried to examine Henry Guile’s ribs. Her face had grown pale, her eyes glassy.
“Are you ok, Miss Lark?”
“You just seem—”
She sniffled, “Moyer came for me too. One winter night, two years ago, he faked an illness. He tried to strangle me, Henry.”
Henry’s mouth hung agape. He stared at her in wide-eyed wonder. Miss Lark had been an intended victim, but she escaped Moyer’s assassination plot. Unfinished business. That was what Moyer wanted with Henry. He wanted Henry to complete his Earthly work—finish Miss Lark. Maybe then, Henry could live in peace.
“Guiles,” Tony’s voice shattered the silence of the cell block. “Guiles wake up.”
Henry shifted in his bed. His ribs were still purple, and the bone was far from healed from its fracture. His lungs still whistled when he breathed. “What is it, Tony?”
“They’re letting you go. Good behavior. You’ve been a model prisoner, and the place is packed. So, you get to go home.”
Henry shot up, he instantly regretting the motion, a fiery pain pierced through his torso. “But I—”
“You wanna stay?” Tony smirked.
“What about her?”
“Someone else will do it. Let’s go.”
Henry Guiles stood smoking a cigarillo outside a parlor on 7th and Main. It was a dirty district. A place where refuse lined the gutter along with drunks and working girls who’d had too much opium. Women strode freely in and out of places without escorts and everyone knew they would be imbibing or partaking in reckless behavior. Henry giggled to himself. So peculiar that she’d be her—that the idea was like a feather floating across his temporal lobe. Miss Lark with her tight hair and demure demeanor liked a little hoopla in her spare time.
She’d been oblivious for months as he’d watched her. Henry had followed her to and from work. He’d followed her on weekends, on dates, watched through the window of her rented room. He knew her schedule—every move she’d make and when. Henry knew exactly what time her right stocking would be slipped over her big toe. He could have taken Miss Lark any time he’d pleased to finish Moyer’s work. It just happened, he wanted to do it tonight.
“Goodnight,” Miss Lark said to her friends as they hugged and parted ways. She laughed and waved, stupidly. Her boots shuffled across the sidewalk as if they were cinderblocks too heavy to carry.
Henry stepped out from between two buildings. He kept his distance and trailed slowly behind her, whistling. Miss Lark stopped, suddenly, turned, and nodded her head at Henry. She didn’t recognize him. She kept walking. Henry followed. Lark turned a corner—Henry’s footsteps gathered speed, echoing in the crisp night air. She turned again.
“Evening,” she said, taking a look at Henry. “Henry, Henry Guiles? Is that you?”
“Oh,” Henry had been caught off guard. This spot was too public. Occasional pedestrians still lingered. “Miss Lark. Yes. Hello.”
“How are you? Staying out of trouble?”
“Yes of course,” Henry laughed. “Going this way?”
“Yes.” Miss Lark walked with Henry. “I’m glad you’re well.”
The two came to a dark alley, and Henry looked around the area to see if anyone was nearby. Deserted. Henry used his little force to push Miss Lark into the black alley. She screamed. The sound crumbled against the brick and mortar of the buildings. Miss Lark shoved Henry away. He ran at her like a wild cat—pinned her to the wall. He pressed his knee into her stomach forcing her to squirm under the pressure. She was a mouse in a trap, she slapped and wiggled. She squealed, but Henry ended that with a pocket knife. He pulled the shiny silver blade and ran it across Miss Lark’s pretty, porcelain neck. The sinewy muscles jumped and jiggled as hot crimson flooded forth like Niagara Falls. It covered Henry’s face and clothes—soaked him to the bone, but he wouldn’t be tormented anymore. He’d go on living.
“Let’s go Guiles. It’s about that time.” Tony said as he swung open the door of inmate number 10238’s cell.
“I get to see her now?” Henry Guiles asked expectantly, his eye black and blue.
“You get to do a lot more than see her, Guiles.” Tony chuckled. “What I don’t get is why you did it. You were a free man. Coulda stayed that way. Why Miss Lark? Doesn’t make any sense.”
“Moyer wanted it,” Henry answered as he skipped down the hall with his ankles and wrists in shackles. “Wouldn’t leave me alone until I did it, I thought. Hasn’t left me alone anyway.”
“That’s your story, huh.” They walked into the room containing the electric chair. A priest and a few employees of the prison stood in attendance.
Henry Guiles sat down in his beloved chair. It was stiff—unforgiving. The steel bars wrapped around his wrist and they were cold, lifeless. “It’s the truth.”
One of the men placed a black leather bag over Henry’s head. He wasn’t scared, he just never did understand why Moyer didn’t leave him alone after he did what he did to Miss Lark. Henry had finished Moyer’s business and Moyer had kept on abusing him—kept on throwing him around until the police had found Miss Lark’s sliced and drained body. Until they’d found Henry. Until they’d tried him for murder. Until last night when Moyer had bashed Henry’s face on the corner of his cot.
Henry breathed one last musky breath and heard the switch on the wall click. The lighting came quicker than he’d thought, and then he was there. Moyer, a shadow tinged in blue dust specks, swimming in the nothing. He held his hand out to Henry imploring him.
“Why?” Henry asked. “I killed her for you.”
“I meant the chair.”
#HumpdayHorror #TheChair Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
Today, for #HumpdayHorror, I wanted to do something special. My 4th book, The Blood in Guthrie, releases on November 26th, and today, I want to give you a sneak peek at the world I created in that novel.
In this excerpt, you will get to meet a few of my favorite characters. Sheriff Elmer, Deputy Jack McMann, and Earl Grover. I chose it because it lets you get to know the characters, just a little, without giving away too much of the plot or any very important details. It does, however, show you that the novel is not only chalk full of horror and mystery, but that the characters are also quite humorous as well. So, without further ado, here is your sneak peek of The Blood in Guthrie--find it on Amazon and Kindle in November.
Elmer sat at his desk at the Guthrie police station, his uniform shirt unbuttoned revealing a yellowed undershirt. His face in a metal desk fan. The sheriff’s wispy, brown hair blew back and tiny beads of sweat caught on the breeze and scattered into the air for some unfortunate soul to absorb or swallow or get pegged by.
“It’s hotter ‘n Satan’s armpit,” Elmer whined into the fan making his voice sound robotic. “I’m hungrier than a dog ‘n I might be too hot to eat. Ain’t that a cryin’ damn shame?” Elmer reached across his desk, grabbed the last piece of pecan pie that sweet old Mrs. Heady Boudreaux brought in, and stuffed it into his mouth.
“You could help me examine this,” Jack said.
Jack held the recently discovered head of Bernard Duperon. He had convinced Elmer to let him store the head with some dry ice to keep it from decomposing. Now he had it laid out on a metal tray with some scissors, tweezers, and paper bags with the hopes he might find something to help him catch the killer.
“I ain’t a touchin’ that thing there. Couldn’t pay me to do it,” Elmer said.
“That’s literally what they pay you to do,” Jack said as he poked into the flesh of the neck with the tweezers. He extracted four long strands of hay. Some had burrowed themselves deep into the muscle, but one piece had only penetrated the fat a little. The rest of the strand was clean as it was when it was cut. Jack put the three blood-soaked ones in a bag and marked it ‘Hay—Duperon’. The other piece he sat carefully on a folded paper towel. “Would you look at that. This one is pretty clean.” Jack took the scissors and cut off the bloody tip. He was willing to do a lot, but he wasn’t about to put coagulated dead man’s blood up to his nose.
He twisted and turned the little stiff piece of hay between his fingers releasing any oils that might still be intact within it. Jack slowly lifted it to his nose and gently inhaled. A mild scent caught him. Slightly sweet and woody. He knew that scent but couldn’t place it. He sniffed again. “Hey, Elmer,” Jack said, “come over here and smell this.”
“Ain’t gotta. Can smell it all the way over here. Ain’t no peach.”
“Not the head. This hay. I can’t place it.”
“Didn’t you just dig that outta Bernard’s skull! Uh uh. Ain’t no doin’. No way, no how,” Elmer argued like a child.
Jack sighed and stood up out of his chair. He paced around the station sniffing and rolling the hay between his fingers, trying to place the familiar odor. He walked behind Elmer, still sitting in his chair, and in one quick motion wrapped one arm around Elmer’s fatty shoulders while he shoved the piece of hay up under Elmer’s nose with the other. Elmer arched his back the best he could and tried to hold his breath.
“You can’t hold it forever, Elmer. Just smell it.”
Elmer shook his head fast back and forth.
“One one-thousand, two one-thousand. I bet you could use some lunch, Elmer. Three one-thousa—Minnie’s food isn’t the best in town.”
“Hey, now you take that back,” Elmer shouted.
“Well, that there’s alfalfa,” Elmer said suddenly.
“Shit.” Jack ran over and bagged up the rest of the hay, then he bolted to the bathroom and soaped up his hands and face, but he figured the whole mystery out just a hair too late.
Poor Deputy McMann learned at the age of thirteen, when he spent the summer at his grandparent’s farm in Sandusky, Ohio, that he was terribly allergic to alfalfa hay. His grandparents were the proud owners of two beautiful painted horses, and he had broken out in itchy, ugly hives when he volunteered to give those horses a flake one night. Much like that day, when Jack emerged from the restroom at the Guthrie police station, his nose, upper lip, and fingers were covered in nasty looking red welts.
“Lotta good that done ya,” Elmer laughed.
“More than you’ve done. We have a lead now, anyway. We can look into who’s using alfalfa hay.”
“Jus’ ‘bout everyone with a farm I suppose.”
“It’s a start. We can narrow them down from here,” Jack said.
Jack sat down at his desk and boxed the Duperon evidence back up carefully. Sheriff Elmer never took much time to go over crime scenes or evidence. It was as if he wasn’t even trying to solve the murders in Guthrie. Jack was determined to figure it out, with or without Elmer’s help.
Jack forced old Elmer to button up his uniform shirt and remove himself from the fan, and they headed on down to Grover’s Feed Store on County Road 586 on the west side of town. Grover’s wasn’t much of a place to look at, but it was the only place a local farmer could get farming supplies, it was the only place the ladies got their spades and flower pots and hyacinth seeds, and it was surely the only place alfalfa hay came in through.
The little brass bell above the door chimed brightly when Jack and Elmer walked through the door. Jack’s face read business and allergies. Elmer’s read heat, hunger, and naptime. Earl Grover sauntered right up to the front of the store when he heard the bell call him. Grover wasn’t a fancy man. He shuffled around in faded overalls and a cotton t-shirt that appeared to have seen too many washes—it was nearly transparent. Earl was older than the dirt the cotton grew in. His face was pot-marked and wrinkled, like a dress shirt at the bottom of the laundry basket. He had white whiskers that stuck out in every direction and close-cropped white hair that matched. He wore thick, black-rimmed glasses that looked about two sizes too big for his sunken face, and his nostrils were big enough to encompass a grown-man’s big toe. When Earl opened his mouth to speak half his teeth were missing.
“What can I do ya fer gentlemen,” he slobbered, slow and thick.
“Are you the owner, sir?” Jack asked politely.
“Always I have bin ‘n always I will be.”
“Grover’s Feed’s been ‘round since my daddy was little. Ain’t that right, Mr. Grover,” Elmer said playing kiss ass.
“That you little Elmer Avant?” Earl Grover said adjusting his glasses and squinting.
“Sure as the day is long,” Elmer answered and slapped the old man’s back, too hard.
Earl Grover stumbled and nearly tipped over. Jack grabbed him. “To what do I owe tha pleasure,” Grover slurred.
“Mr. Grover, I’d like to ask you a few questions,” Jack said.
“And who are you?”
“Jack. Deputy Jack McMann. I just need to ask you a few questions about your deliveries.”
“I ain’t never heard a ya. I don’t know no McManns.” Grover grumbled and shook his head.
“I just moved here a few weeks ago. It’s about the murders. Elmer and I…”
“Elmer’s a good boy. Strong.”
Jack sighed. “Mr. Grover, I just need to know who in Guthrie uses alfalfa hay.”
“Alfalfa hay?” Grover blew a raspberry through his purple withered lips and rubbed his stubble. “Fancy shit. Let’s see.”
Finally, Earl hobbled over to the counter and used it to prop himself up while he circled around it. Earl Grover moved like a sloth while he searched with his fingers under the register, then in a tin can, then in some shelves overhead. Eventually, he convinced his rusty old knees to bend and he dug through old ledgers and papers in a cupboard under the counter and, after several long agonizing minutes during which Earl mumbled a litany of cuss words, huffed, and snorted, he popped up with a leather journal in his hands.
“Here we go. This ‘n here’s ma order book.”
He slowly opened it and thumbed through pages of dates and names and orders. The handwriting in it was shaky and difficult to read. It was made worse by the fact that it had been recorded in pencil, by a sweaty hand, and was terribly smudged. Earl Grover leaned in close, his nose nearly scraping the ledger. Jack watched with trepidation, terrified that Grover would smear his only hope of finding a lead. Elmer stood whistling Dixie while he examined flower seed packets.
“Now who in Sam Hill wrote this dagum thing? Can’t barely even make out tha writin’.”
“Do you mind if I take a look, sir?” Jack suggested politely.
“If’n you think you can do better’n I can, go on an’ make a go a it.”
Jack examined the book and, although the script was difficult to read, he could see that there were only five people in town that had alfalfa hay delivered to their property. He pulled paper and a pen from his uniform pocket and took down the names and addresses from the book. Then, he turned the ledger and slid it back to Earl Grover who was presently staring off into space.
“Thank you, Mr. Grover. Elmer and I appreciate your help,” Jack said.
“Elmer? Elmer Avant? You tell yer daddy I said to stop feeding ya all that cake. Growin’ boy needs meat or he’ll git slow ‘n fat.”
Jack looked at Earl Grover with a furrowed brow. Earl Grover looked into space. He had clearly gone somewhere in his mind that was not 1934, because he was trying to save Elmer from something he had already become. Elmer looked across town to the smoke rising from the brisket cooking out back at Minnie’s.
Jack was satisfied when Elmer pulled the police cruiser into its usual parking spot in front of the station. It was late in the afternoon. Bessie had already ended her shift for the day and headed off to the beauty parlor to gossip with the rest of Guthrie’s pretty young singles before they went on over for dinner at Minnie’s and drinks at The Delta. Elmer was less satisfied because hunting down leads at Grover’s Feed Store caused him to miss lunch hour at Minnie’s and that meant his gullet was rumbling and hollering like a volcano near explosion. Elmer had protested and pleaded with Jack to allow him to stop for a chopped beef sandwich, at least let Minnie wrap it up for him so he could carry it back to the station. But Jack wouldn’t budge for Elmer’s crying belly.
“Ain’t ya got no sympathy for a starvin’ man,” Elmer whined as he waddled up the cement stairs to the doors of the police station.
“Elmer, you could live for a month without a morsel.” Jack swung open the door and walked straight to his desk. “Don’t you have any sense of urgency?”
“I got a urgent need to eat’s what I got.” Elmer plopped down like a child whose lollipop was prematurely taken away, turned his fan back on and stuck his face in it. “You want me to wait out supper? That’s three hours away, I reckon. I ain’t gonna make it that long.” Elmer’s voice was robotic again as he spoke through the fan, “You tryin’ to kill me, Jack?”
“Elmer, you should have joined Vaudeville,” Jack sighed. He dug through the drawer of his desk and pulled out a sandwich wrapped in brown paper. He tossed it across the room, smacking Elmer in the side of the head.
“What’s this?” Elmer voraciously unwrapped the sandwich and looked between the two pieces of bread, his face drooped. “Jam? You keep a jam sandwich in yer desk?”
“I was planning to eat it for lunch.”
“For lunch? This ain’t no lunch. This is barely a snack.”
“Better than nothing,” Jack said taking out the paper he had written the names and addresses on at Grover’s.
“This strawberry,” Elmer sniffled at the sandwich, “or raspberry jam?”
“Does it matter?”
Elmer grimaced, “Where’d ya get it?”
“The corner store.”
“Their’s got too many seeds. They get all stuck in my teeth an’ I gotta spend the rest a my night pickin’ em out.”
This was officially the hardest Elmer had ever examined anything in the police station, including Bessie Gale’s long, slender brown legs.
“Look Elmer,” Jack finally cracked, “eat it or don’t. There are a hell of a lot more important things going on in Guthrie than the contents of your stomach. For instance, the dead people whose heads keep showing up all over town. Now, I don’t know about you, but I guess me and a whole lot of other people would like some answers about that. So, if you don’t mind, I am going to call the folks on this list and make arrangements to talk with them.”
Elmer’s mouth attempted to move, words attempted to come out.
“Shut up and eat, Elmer,” Jack said as he picked up the phone and rotated the dial.
#HumpdayHorror Copyright Kira McKinney 2018
Dani sat curled under a fuzzy teal blanket on her couch. Cottony flakes of snow cascaded from the gray sky outside her bay window, and a fire crackled as it attempted to live on, despite that only embers and charred kindling remained. Dani ran her hands along a tie-dye colored stuffed snake. Its vibrant neon purples and oranges and yellows nearly dulled the brilliant glow of flames emanating from the sooty fireplace.
The lines of grief on Dani’s face vibrated and flooded, like a tributary, as she stroked the toy. She closed her eyes—a man-made dam—but found neither her eyelids nor her will were strong enough to protect her from the memory of Jameson.
Nearly one year ago the boy had been stuffed in flannel underwear and a bright red down jacket—had complained his friend’s mothers didn’t make them dress in such a ridiculous way. But he had also gone sled riding, participated in snowball fights, and built igloos. Dani had piled extra marshmallow foam into an ancient Garfield mug.
Thick, raspy coughs had woken Dani up that night. Fever. Chills. “The boy has the flu, nothing to worry about.” Dr. Patton had smiled and patted Jameson’s head. Except that the flu had turned into pneumonia, and the pneumonia to sepsis, and by the time Dani had understood that there was everything to worry about, she had been captured in a tornado of florescent lights, and I.V. injections, and admittance forms. Twenty-four hours later, Dani had Jameson’s personal belongings in a plastic bag with Mercy Hospital’s blue logo on the side.
“An epidemic,” the national news anchor had called it. Thirteen-hundred hospitalized across the country with flu that had progressed past the threshold of antiviral drugs. Jameson was a casualty—a statistic. Jameson was simply one of the two-hundred thirty unfortunate souls who had died from complications.
A loud, high-pitched whistle blew from a dainty hand-painted tea pot on the stove. Dani attempted a weak smile across the table at Amber, and Dani’s chair skidded across the yellowed linoleum in the kitchen. Dani hurried to prepare the tea she had promised but would sooner toss in the trash bin.
“Is that the Earl Grey?” Amber asked.
“No. It’s a new one. Raspberry something-or-other.”
“Good,” Amber said flipping through her phone, “the Earl Grey has been giving me heart burn.”
“With a fruit tea?” Amber asked.
“Right,” Dani said as she rubbed her face. She picked up the tea pot and the cups and carried them to the table. “Sorry. My mind is somewhere else.”
“Almost a year, right?”
“Dani, won’t you please think about it?”
“About what?” Dani asked as she scooped sugar into her flowered tea cup. Fruity steam wafted into her face and reminded her of a more pleasant season.
“Come to my church with me. Look.” Amber shoved her phone into Dani’s line of sight. A big bright photo of a jumbotron with a handsome brown-haired man stared back at Dani. He had piercing, emerald green eyes. “See how fancy it is? Now, I know it’s big,” Amber flipped through more photos. There were long rows of seats with red satin covers, all of them were filled. A photo showed a choir with at least two-hundred members—hands high in the air in praise and worship. The last photo must have been taken from some long angle. It revealed that the structure was round, topped with a lid that rivaled Florence’s Duomo. It was a mega-church, “But don’t let the size put you off. Everyone is just great. Reverend Luke is just the best.”
Dani sighed, “Not interested.”
“Come on, Dani. It would be good for you.”
“Amber, you know I just don’t subscribe to all that Christian mumbo-jumbo. No amount of prayer is going to bring Jamey back.”
“And no one is going to suggest that it will,” Amber said as she placed her hand on Dani’s. Dani pulled her frigid hand away. “It’s not like we’re Catholic,” Amber laughed. “Reverend Luke won’t ask you to kneel.”
Dani shook her head. Combined with the steam from her raspberry tea the whole gesture looked like a B-rated movie effect. “Methodist, Lutheran—Mormon. It’s all the same. And if it’s all the same, Amber, I don’t want to go.”
“Look,” Amber averted her eyes—gazed into her tea as if she could see the future in the bright red liquid, “you’ll come because it would do you good to socialize. The people are friendly. If nothing else, ignore the sermon and the prayers, and just enjoy the view of the Poconos through the windows.” Amber lifted her head and stared into Dani’s gray eyes—her own half-lidded, lazy, but searing intent into Dani’s brain. Amber didn’t blink.
“Fine.” Dani blinked and nodded.
“Pick you up Thursday at seven.”
“Oh no,” Amber said scooting out from the table, “we don’t meet on Sundays.”
A subzero wind, and hot flakes of white snow that glistened in the glow of the street lights, enveloped Dani as she thrust herself into Amber’s black SUV. Dani shivered and put her hands up to the vents. The air rushed from them like a tropical wind. “It’s colder than Hell out there,” Dani shouted over some whiney pop band.
“Hell isn’t cold,” Amber said and grimaced.
“What? It’s just an expression.”
The inside of the stadium-like mega-church was dank and musty, like a gargantuan mausoleum. Bodies moved like waves, colliding and parting in every direction. A sixty-foot LED screen hovered over a black carpeted stage—a golden isle runner led to a glistening gold carpet that melted into the gaping blackness. Sharp, detailed candelabras were placed in an odd zig-zagging pattern around the stage. A pedestal adorned by glowing red candles and cascades of white roses and lilies spilled from the tower and onto the floor.
An old man insisted on removing Dani’s peacoat. Women with tight buns smiled too broadly as they greeted Dani and flung their arms open like wings—showing her the direction she should travel in.
“I’m with her,” Dani mumbled, keeping her head down. Her stomach was a capsized vessel—lurching and taking on water. It had begun to descend into the recesses of Dani’s guts, reminding her she was out of place—alone, when Amber clutched Dani’s shoulder.
“Let’s sit up front. There are a couple of seats in the sixth row,” Amber said standing on her tiptoes.
“I’d rather not. Can we stay up here in the nose bleeds. I’d like to keep my distance.”
“Spoil sport,” Amber huffed. “Compromise? Lower section, but in the back.”
“Fine.” Dani realized she had been using that word a lot lately. She was always just—fine. Coming here had been fine, even though she had said no. Sitting closer than made her comfortable would be fine as well, she supposed.
The giant dome roared with voices—clatter—until sparkly music popped over the PA system. The conversations snapped to a halt. The lights dimmed. A white orb shone on the stage, danced and revolved around an unseen target, and then Reverend Lucas was inside, dazzling, like the holy grail. The crowd applauded and cheered.
“Now, now. All you calm on down now. It’s just little old me, you’re friend and partner in the hunt for truth and glory, Reverend Lucas.” He spoke with a southern drawl so smooth and thick it was like freshly churned butter, and you might have needed milk to wash it down, because the whole charade was entirely too sweet. “Where have you all been this week?”
“Lost!” The word echoed out from every capable pair of lips in the arena. It wasn’t a cheer or an answer or a lament—it was a chant. “Lost, Lost, Lost,” the whole congregation repeated.
Reverend Lucas threw his arms up and crossed them—a motion to tell his parishioners to cease. “I know ya were,” he hung his head low, “but that makes it all the more miraculous that ya found your way here. It’s nearly impossible to see through the darkness at times, but rest assured, I’m here. I’ll always be here, friends. Watching, waiting to save you, just like He did for me.”
The audience broke into uproarious applause. They cheered and sobbed and wailed for their losses and joy and their souls—ripe for salvation. Dani sat watching, stiff as a board, uncomfortable with the concept of a man preaching his supernatural ability to wipe away tarnish and decay from a mortal body. The wide-open walls were beginning to inch closer, and Dani could feel her breath catch, like a fishhook, in her throat.
“I have to go,” Dani whispered to Amber. “Can you take me home?”
“What? We haven’t even gotten to the good part yet.”
“What do you mean ‘good part’?”
“The prayer,” Amanda said. “Just look at him. So handsome.”
“He looks like a weasel,” Dani said.
Amber shot her a death-ray glare.
“Now, my babies, I know you have brought me your friends, relatives, co-workers, children. Those who have suffered. Those in your lives who are trudging through the fog of fear and doubt.” Reverend Lucas descended the long stairs into the waiting parishioners now. They hung on his every word with baited breath—clutching their chests, leaning in, begging for his touch. “Rise and come to me. We will pray for change together, and you will be anointed anew in His mighty name!”
Congregants began to lift themselves gingerly from their chairs. Dani watched, her eyes widening, as they hobbled to Reverend Lucas with their eyes looking at the floor. The reverend placed his palm upon their forehead, they twitched manically, went limp, and sprang to life hugging and thanking him as he kissed their cheeks.
“I gotta get away from Pastor Psycho.” Dani said grabbing her purse.
“Reverend Lucas,” Amber said coldly.
“Whatever. Why would you bring me here?”
“Because Dani,” Amber began to yell, “you’re exactly what he described. Lost in a sea of darkness. Troubled. You need a damn light and if Reverend Lucas isn’t one, well, then, call me crazy!”
“What do we have here?” the reverend had appeared next to the two women. His smooth voice was so frozen you could have strapped on blades and skated on it. “Amber, everything alright?”
Amber looked at the floor, “Yes, Reverend. Dani was just asking me to take her home.”
“Now, why ever would you want to do that? Child, we haven’t prayed together yet.”
“I’d rather not,” Dani said. “I’m not interested.”
“Not interested in relief? You are hurtin’. The death of your son—” Dani attempted to interrupt him. “—No Amber has not mentioned you. The death of your son is weighing on you. Come, pray with me. If you don’t feel better after—you can go.” He held out is well-moisturized hand to Dani.
Dani closed her eyes. They felt as if they were being stung by one-thousand bees—hot pinpricks caused them to tear up. She put her hand in the reverend’s and followed him to the stage.
Dani stood facing the man. Her black ballet flats sunk into the gold carpet. His green eyes hollowing out her cranium. His palm slapped against her forehead and Dani began to relive Jameson’s death. Then, she went deeper. Dani floated down a long black tunnel set aglow by rotting hearth embers. It smelled like a freshly snuffed cigar. The tunnel twisted and turned, like a never-ending playground sliding board. Dani landed in a puddle of sewage and green ooze. Tarry ruby blood intermingled in the hideous mixture. Teeth and bones and leather-like flesh floated, like newspaper ships around the tiny fluid body. Dani felt warm, tingly—fine.
When Dani opened her eyes, a gray curtain sheathed the mega-church—Reverend Lucas. His eyes were red now—hers were black—she could see them reflected in his. “Carry on, now,” Reverend Lucas whispered, his words melted in her ear. Dani returned to her seat.
On the stage, Reverend Lucas closed the service, “And when you pray, pray then like this—Our Father who aren’t in heaven. Damned be his name—”
#HumpdayHorror #Contagion Copyright 2018 Kira McKinney
I’ve seen you, your beady eyes peering from the shadows, licking your cracked lips—wondering what I’ll do next. Waiting. Anticipating my next move. I feel you.
It’s coming. It’s time for me to announce the release of my first ever collection of short horror stories. It is tentatively titled, “They Come from the Shadows: A Collection of Horror”. It will feature all of your favorite short stories from my blog as well as a few never-before-seen stories available only in the collection. The anticipated release date will be right around Halloween so that all my fellow creeps can enjoy it for, what is, of course, our favorite holiday.
Here is where you come in—I want all of my loyal readers to have a chance to participate in the making of this collection. So, if you are an artist or just fancy getting to work with some drawing, painting, or computer graphic materials—then I would love for you to participate in my first ever fan art contest! I am seeking fan art to place in the book alongside each story. You may submit more than one image. I will need one for each story up to and including Dreamcatcher. So, if you aren’t already caught up on the stories, give them a read, and get creative!
Good luck dearies!
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.