Welcome, Coffin Hoppers! Before we get started with the “main feature”, a little introduction to my regular readers. This year I’m participating in the Coffin Hop Blog Extravaganza, which brings together over 100 horror authors in a week deadicated (see what I did there) to terror, all leading up to Halloween, naturally. This is why I’ve had that annoying little sticky at the top of the site for the last few weeks.
The Coffin Hop is not just about discovering new authors (though we have that aplenty), it’s also about fun prizes, and I would be remiss to not offer some myself. Now I’ve done giveaways with elaborate rituals before, you know, dig up grave dirt at midnight on a full moon, mix it with blood from fruit flies, that sort of thing. If you haven’t read to this point, here are the rules for entry: all I want is your comment. One comment is one entry, at a limit of one person per post. Don’t worry, I have at least five posts lined up for the next week so you’ll get at least five entries.
What are the prizes? Glad you asked…
This banner actually needs to be updated, as we’ve added a fifth book to the collection – Penelope Crowe’s 100 Unfortunate Days, a brilliant book that’s very much worth your attention. So that’s right, five eBooks from the Emissaries of the Strange. That’s package #1. I’m giving away three of these.
Package #2 is a complete collection of my works, including the Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of Room 3, due for release on November 12th. I’ll also happily replace your ARC once the book launches, but this is a chance to read something a bit early. I’m giving away five of these packages.
All entries must be in before Midnight EST on Halloween night. I’ll be drawing the winners on November 1st and announcing them right here. So be here for it all!
Okay, so, this is the fifth and final installment of my serial short story Abby the Hero. Wednesday Fiction is my ongoing attempt to write serial shorts “off the cuff”, a way to prime the pump and share some fiction as well. Each entry can only be edited once – and no more. So every version you see here is a second draft, warts and all. The cleaned-up, fully edited versions will be available in a collection next year, but this experience is designed to be very different from that experience; in a way, you can share in the creation of these stories.
Abby the Hero is the story of Abby, a teenage girl who loves urban exploration. For weeks she rides by an abandoned house that catches her attention, but never has a chance to explore it under the right conditions; that is, until the fateful day that the story begins. As she explores it, she discovers a personal link to the house that she never expected, along with a shocking revelation about the nature of herworld. If you’re interested, you can read the other parts here: 1 2 3 4
For those who have followed to this point, well hey, thanks for sticking around. This has been a fun one, and I’m looking forward to releasing the full version sometime in the coming months. I’m discovering an odd affinity for these stories where kids and teenagers stumble across secrets and ancient horrors (in fact, I’m working on a story that does something similar with a group of middle school boys). I suppose it makes some sense, as The Talisman and IT are two of my favorite stories.
Just a note, this will be the final Wednesday Fiction for a few weeks, as my plate is currently full with prepping Room 3 for release and writing the aforementioned story for an anthology. Look for the next story to debut in just under a month, on November 21st, and do expect a holiday theme. I’ve been dying to write a holiday story for ages.
So let’s get on with the end, shall we?
Abby heard her father before she saw him. As he spoke, he became clearer to her. He sat in the corner near the stairs (she didn’t understand how she had missed him), wrapped in a well-worn yellow blanket. “What do you mean, she’s back?”
Daniel raised his head and Abby recoiled. Someone had wrapped his head in a bandage that stretched from ear to ear, covering his eyes. She thought of a horror movie that she had seen once where a man had dug out his own eyes.
He didn’t seem to mind, though. He just cocked his head, searching with a vision beyond any of theirs. “Abby. She came back again.”
Her mother moved now, in the corner opposite her father. “Where?” she said. Abby studied her closely, but her features refused to resolve into more than a muddled mess, like a face glimpsed in a dream.
A voice whispered in Abby’s head. She can’t cross over into our world as easily.
Daniel turned his head and Abby imagined those sightless eyes set upon her mother. “She’s right here. In front of me.”
“If you’re not making this up, ask her why she keeps coming back.” That was Paula, her voice distorted, as if she lay underwater.
Abby got up from her seat, desperate to see her sister, but could find no hint of her presence in the room. If her mother couldn’t “cross over”, what did that mean for Paula? Abby spoke. “I’m not dead.” Let them hear it. Let them know it as the truth.
But it’s not, is it?
Daniel translated it for her.
Her father shook his head, drawing the blanket tighter against his body. “Nothing survived that. We’re lucky we did.”
“I don’t know if ‘lucky’ is the word,” her mother said.
“I’m not dead, daddy. I swear,” Abby said, and took a few steps toward him. She swore that her father flinched, even if just for a moment. Could he sense her?
He senses nothing, that voice said, and she found it harder to push aside this time.
Daniel turned toward Abby, giving her a long, empty gaze with those bandaged eyes. “Why do you keep coming back?”
Her father moaned. “Good lord, he’s lost his mind.”
“Feel like I’m about to lose mine,” her mother said, but did nothing to stop their son from speaking.
Abby shook her head. “So you can see me and hear me, but they can’t?”
Daniel shrugged. “I guess. Never have before, anyway.”
Paula rose, and now Abby could see her, albeit just barely; she looked like an angry black smear on the world, approaching her brother with contained fury. “Stop it now. She’s not there. She’s dead. She’s not coming back.”
Daniel held up his hands to ward off a blow. Had Paula hit him? Abby thought that might be possible. “I swear, she’s here.”
You’re just torturing them, said the voice in Abby’s head.
Her father moved, stretching his legs out on the cold cellar floor. “Leave your brother alone, Paula.”
The smear turned; Abby imagined her extending a hand toward Daniel. “He’s making all this up. She keeps ‘coming back’ and he’s never got any answers for us.”
Her father moaned. “So what if he is making it up? Let him alone, Paula.”
The smear crossed its arms and stormed away, settling against the far wall.
Abby focused on Daniel. “You said I was ‘back’. What does that mean?”
He shifted, adjusting the bandage with one hand. “I shouldn’t talk to you.”
Easy on the young one.
Abby cocked her head, at last unable to ignore the voice. Who are you? She thought, and wondered if the voice would hear.
You extend their misery. You must join us.
Join you? Abby thought, and something touched her the right side of her chin – gentle, but insistent, turning her head to the left.
Her eyes widened as she set eyes upon that which the force had wanted her to see. The basement behind her had vanished, subsumed by a bright white circle that contained all the light in the world and yet cast very little of it onto the rest of the room. The other end of a black hole, maybe?
Not quite. But close, the Other Voice said, and she thought she could hear it issuing from the circle.
She approached the circle, cocking her head.
“No,” Daniel said. “You can’t.”
Her mother spoke, and Abby heard her moving at the back of the room. “Can’t what?”
Abby tried to push her mother out of her mind. Who are you?
You must step into the light to find out.
Daniel rose from his seat on the floor, approaching her. “Don’t trust it, Abby.”
She looked back to her brother, eyebrow raised. “You can see it, too?”
“Sort of. I don’t think I’m seeing the same thing you are, though.”
“What’s it look like to you?”
He shrank back a little. “Darkness. Evil.”
This was the thing that led her here. She had no doubt of that. Abby opened her mouth to ask her brother another question – what she might have told him before – but her mother put a hand on Daniel’s shoulder, interrupting them.
“What are you seeing?” she said
Abby’s stomach churned at the sight of the sick optimism on her mother’s face. How could she feel that way when her son talked about evil? Abby didn’t understand. This was her mother, yes, but unlike she’d ever seen her. She didn’t see the plump, rosy-cheeked woman that had prepared her breakfasts and signed her report cards; no, this woman’s body had deflated, a balloon subjected to a slow air leak. Her eyes had a strange, desperate look that pierced right through to Abby’s soul.
Daniel ignored her. “Don’t trust it.”
The boy doesn’t understand. You have passed here. You must move on.
Abby tore her eyes away from her mother’s sick spectacle, settling on Daniel’s blank white stare. “How many times have I been here?”
“Lost track. At least five,” he said.
She glanced back toward the circle again, and she swore it pulsed for a moment, betraying something darker behind its cheerful veil. Five times, and it still felt like she beheld this for the first time. It must have something to do with the tricks that it had used to draw her here – the phantoms, the hidden key.
Their mother finally lost her patience and stepped between her son and her dearly departed daughter (Abby found herself adapting to the idea with frightening speed), her murky eyes searching the darkness. “Baby, I’m here. Momma’s here.” She looked to Daniel. “Can she hear me?”
Daniel sighed. “Yeah.” Abby knew what went through his mind. Abby had always been her mother’s favorite; none of the others stood a chance.
Those haunted eyes turned toward Abby, though thankfully not right on her. “Where is she?”
“Right in front of you.”
She stumbled toward Abby, hands extended. “Baby, I’m here. What do you need? What can Momma get you?”
Abby’s heart ached despite – or maybe even because of – the hungry look in her mother’s eyes. “I’m here,” she said, and reached for her mother. As their fingers made contact, a buzzing sensation passed through Abby’s body. Her fingers met resistance for a moment, and then passed on through.
Abby cried out, anguish racking her. She hadn’t completely understood until this moment.
She was dead. No question now.
You knew this to be the truth. Abby thought she detected some glee in that voice.
Abby looked over her shoulder at the light. She thought she saw something moving in there – something dark. Something she didn’t want to see.
Why keep coming back and making them more miserable than they already are?
She stared at her family, a hollow feeling in her gut. Could this really be her only choice? To linger on the Earth forever, revisiting the same places over and over again, torturing those who had lost her, or to settle into the embrace of this…thing?
She couldn’t accept that.
Don’t be foolish.
She turned toward the light, fists clenched. Why should I believe you? Tell me who you are.
You know who I am.
No. I know you want me to think you’re God, but you’re not. And you’re not Jesus. They wouldn’t talk like you. They wouldn’t scare Daniel.
Sensing that the ruse was well and truly up, the thing behind the circle spoke. You cannot save them. If you leave here, you will just repeat the cycle, over and over again. I am your only escape.
No choice at all. She turned her back on the circle, heading for the cellar doors.
She saw Daniel as he began to follow her, moving in the corner of her eye. “Where you going?”
She paused at the bottom step. “I don’t know. Not here.” Steeling herself, she turned to face him. “I love you. I love Mom, and Dad, and even Paula, but I don’t belong here.” She had never spoken words like this; she wondered if death could be too late to find out that the right thing could also be the hardest thing.
The thing in the circle spoke again. You said this last time. And the time before.
I’ll keep saying it until I figure it out.
Daniel hung his head, and then nodded. “You’re right. I love you…we all love you, always, but please…don’t. For all of us.”
It cut right to her heart. Without Daniel – without the family – what did she have left?
The thing in the circle chuckled. She will return. Again and again. Until she knows her rightful place.
The thing might be right; she certainly belonged to a different world now, one that didn’t involve her family. But that didn’t mean she belonged in that thing’s world any more than she belonged in Daniel’s anymore. She would have to find her own way now.
Besides, if this circle existed, there might be another out there somewhere, some circle that led to a place where the birds sang and the sun shined all the time.
A place that didn’t include this malevolent spirit.
When she found it, she’d cross over, and wait for her family on the other side.
“I love you. Don’t forget it,” she said, and turned, climbed the remaining stairs.
The sun had just begun its descent over the sea when Abby arrived at the house on the ridge. A seasoned urban explorer at all of 16 years old, she knew that exploring this house at twilight might not be the smartest (or safest) idea, but…
Calculated risk, she thought, and paused at the top of the ridge, facing the house. Once, she might have loved the atmosphere of this place, felt a certain kinship to its desolation. Now she regarded the thing with a superstitious dread that she couldn’t explain. Some part of her felt that she had been here before, and that she must respect and fear the place as much as she idolized it.
She fiddled in her messenger bag, withdrawing her tiny black camera. This was, after all, the entire reason for being here: the hunt. The photographs.