#LyricalFictionFriday: On the Other Side

Kyle picks up the board and splits it over his knee, but it won’t erase from their minds the message that was just spelled out.

“Do you hear that?” Lisa asks.

“Shut up!” Kyle snaps. Even he doesn’t recognize the squeal that exits from his mouth.

“There’s no point.” Ryan clears his throat. Given that it might have been his dead brother calling for help from the other side, he seems the calmest of the three of them. “The door’s already been opened.”

“I’m not staying to see what walks through.” Kyle turns to leave but stops in the foyer in front of the closet. It’s cold outside, still winter, there’s wind, freezing rain in the forecast, he would need his coat.

“What is it?” Lisa asks, trepidation in her voice.

Kyle puts his ear to the closet door.

“You hear it too.” Ryan says it more as a statement than a question.

Kyle swallows hard. He won’t confirm or deny the echo of his own breathing on the other side.

—Nortina


I had to take a brief hiatus while I got some things back in order. But I’m back, catching up on some prompts that I missed while away. Here’s my contribution to a previous Lyrical Fiction Friday prompt: I’m trying to erase you from my mind…you’re my religion and my belief…

Sam Speaks

There’s talk of tearing him down, along with all other monuments of antebellum, of Southern pride and Confederate valor.

Nine miles down the road, the General was snatched from the chapel entrance. “So students can feel safe to come worship,” the school president explained. Massacres in Charleston still fresh on everyone’s minds.

After careful consideration the board has voted. During Fall Break, while campus is void of supporters and counter-protesters who could potentially become violent, Silent Sam will become the latest casualty in the ongoing war against a revived Confederacy.

Tonight we drink to the downfall of white supremacy, to the total destruction of Neo-Nazis, to the death of the Klan.

But after everyone has returned to their dorms, I still can’t sleep.

Alcohol sloshes around in my stomach. All I’ve had to eat today was toast for breakfast. I walk down Franklin Street, barely able to step in a straight line. I turn up toward McCorkle Place and come face to face with the statue legended to only speak to virgins.

I don’t expect an answer, but I ask anyway, “Who do you point your gun to?”

A statue of a Confederate soldier nicknamed Silent Sam stands on the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S. August 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
REUTERS | Jonathan Drake

He stares over my head, eyes set on the North, on a mission to save the Anglo-Saxon race in the South.

“We never asked to be here!” I scream, making myself dizzy, all the blood rushing to my head. I climb a step, lean forward against the concrete base, touch the bronze shoulder of the boy leaving his studies for war. It’s cold under my fingers, and maybe it’s due to the fact that I’m too drunk to focus that I feel it flinch.

“You brought us here. Why do you hate us so much?”

I try to see his face under the moonlight. Did he just wink, or was it a shifting shadow from the surrounding trees? If he wasn’t memorialized by racists for killing and terrorizing my ancestors, I would think him attractive.

But it could also be the liquor impairing my eyes.

“Is it because we’re not your slaves anymore? Because we actually want to be treated like humans?”

I hear the clinking of heels against the brick sidewalk behind me. My dorm adviser must have followed. Or maybe it’s the campus police. I touch a corner of the monument, and my fingers slide down to something wet. UNC has no place for racism, in a fresh coating of white paint. It couldn’t have been done no more than an hour ago.

I look up and notice a curl at the corner of his mouth. He would love to see me accused of the vandalism. He would love to see them shoot me.

I clinch my fist, flare my nostrils, stamp my feet like a three-year-old child. “I’m glad they’re getting rid of you! And I hope the crane drops you and slips you in two!”

I spin around, prepared to meet my fate by the bullet. But I find myself alone in the quad. A sudden breeze chills me too the bone, a mass of air behind me stills my breathing, overhead, the trees, with their leaves barely hanging on, whisper.

A large shadow stretches out before me on the sidewalk, looming like a tower.

“Will you kill me?” I ask trembling.

On a low sigh, softly exhaled past my ear, he says with the wind, “No,” then dissipates, and with him, my legs go numb, collapse under my weight in a drunken heap until dawn.

—Nortina

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Murky Waters

On this last Throwback Thursday of the haunted month of October, I’m giving you arguably one of the scariest stories I’ve ever written. “Murky Waters” was originally featured on Latashia Figueroa’s blog for Halloween 2015. Check it out here.

Ever thought about what makes a great ghost story? Well, I think it all starts with a visually haunting image and a very distinct setting. This story takes place in Burgaw, North Carolina, by Burgaw Creek, which often spits up more than just water whenever it rains . . .


Murky Waters

Uncle Macon had been dead a year when Aunt Bessie saw bodies rise from Burgaw Creek. Her ankles rolled as she turned to run, and she fainted behind the house. Bedsheets clipped to the clothesline sailed in the wind gusts, sheltered her from the drizzling rain. Or so, that was what she had told us.

Mama and I drove three hours to Burgaw to check on her. When we arrived, the toilet was backed-up, the water shut off.

“We had a really bad storm come through last night. You know Burgaw Creek floods every time it rains,” Aunt Bessie said. I squirmed in my chair at the kitchen table, squeezing my inner thighs together as warm urine bled through my jeans.

“How have you been using the bathroom?” Mama asked.

“I been makin’ do,” Aunt Bessie said, which meant she hadn’t been flushing. Two days of Aunt Bessie’s waste clogging the commode with what was buried in Burgaw Creek—natural or supernatural—caused the bile to rise at the back of my throat. I feared that if I sat to pee, a hand would reach up from the feces and mud, pull me under. There was no place outside for me to relieve myself. The backyard was flooded from the creek. The treeless front yard faced highway 53, where peeping Tom truck drivers could catch a passing glimpse of me naked from the waist down as I squatted in the overgrown grass.

Before the highway was built, the area had been farmland. Uncle Macon’s father grew corn, green beans, okra, snap peas, turnips, and potatoes. He also had a few animals—chicken, cows, pigs. He didn’t budge when the government came to buy his land. He refused to sale the home he had built with his own hands. However, the pressure and money was too great for his poor family, and the government eventually plowed the road down the center, dividing the farm, separating the animals and crops. It was difficult to tend to the other side with a two lane highway standing as barrier. The weeds grew up over the front porch of the old farmhouse, concealing the lost rural era from mass consumerism.

***

We checked into a hotel in Wilmington, and Mama called the plumber, who promised to pump the septic tank the following afternoon. I was thrilled that we didn’t have to stay at Aunt Bessie’s. Burgaw was hot. It was only a thirty-minute drive from Wilmington, but the temperature differential was easily fifteen degrees. Wilmington had the breeze from the ocean, but Burgaw was situated in a pocket of humidity. With the backed-up sewage in Aunt Bessie’s yard, it made for a sweltering stay.

“How are you doing, Aunt Bessie,” Mama asked after we had settled into the room, turned the television to channel three so Aunt Bessie could watch Eyewitness News.

“I been alright,” she said, dragging out her vowels with her nasal voice. “Wish you’d come see me more often.”

“You know I have to work. And Cassandra’s still in school.”

“You ain’t graduate yet?” Aunt Bessie asked looking in my direction.

“In May,” I said. “Gotta study for exams so I can pass.” I sat in the armchair by the window, reading Toni Morison’s Paradise. I had reached the haunting final chapter after the elder men of Ruby lay siege on the Convent, gunning down all of the women, only to discover their bodies vanished hours later.

Aunt Bessie pulled a slim red photo album with black trimming from her oversized pocketbook. “I finally got the pictures from Macon’s funeral developed,” she said, flipping through the pages. “They did really good with the flowers.” She turned the album to Mama, pointed to a picture of Uncle Macon in the casket. “That’s his favorite suit. I made sure to have it dry cleaned before the wake.” Aunt Bessie brought her fist to her mouth, coughed into the tissue to camouflage her voice cracking as she spoke of her deceased husband.

Mama jerked her head away. She pressed her lips together into a thin line, pinched her eyes closed, a single tear gliding down each cheek.

“What can you tell me about the people you saw in the creek?” Mama asked, switching to a different, though no less disturbing subject.

“I saw them through the sheets, just standing there. You know, Macon used to see people around the house. I just thought it was his sickness, but now I see them too.”

“Did they look scary?” I asked.

“No, just lonely.” She didn’t say anything else, and we didn’t badger her for more details. After Uncle Macon died, Aunt Bessie shocked everyone when she asked to be taken home instead of spending the next few days at a friend or family member’s house. She’d said that she had to get used to living by herself; that if she left, she wouldn’t be able to come back.

The heat hadn’t yet arrived when we returned to Burgaw late the next morning, the dew still on the grass in the front lawn.

“Who cuts your grass, Aunt Bessie?” Mama asked, looking at the tall blades.

“I have someone come and do it,” Aunt Bessie answered.

“Well, whoever that is, you need to call them. You don’t want to worry about snakes.”

We waited in the kitchen while the plumber worked on the septic tank. Aunt Bessie stood in front of the window overlooking the backyard and Burgaw Creek.

“I hope it don’t come up a thunder cloud,” she said. I straightened in my chair, looked up over her shoulders through the window, seeing nothing but blue sky.

Mama touched her at her shoulders, guided her to the kitchen table. “Why don’t you sit,” she said softly. “I’ll check on the plumber.” She eased Aunt Bessie down into her chair and left out of the back door.

The kitchen was silent save for the ticking of the clock on the wall. Aunt Bessie sniffled, wiped her dry nose with her knuckle. “Sometimes Macon comes to visit me.”

Unsure if she was recounting pleasant memories of Uncle Macon alive or if she had actually seen his spirit, I asked, “What do you mean?”

“Sometimes I would be in the den watching TV, and I’d hear him coming down the hall.”

The wooden floorboards creaked behind me. The sound of boot heels approached the kitchen from the front bedroom, echoing through the hall.

“He’d come to the door and say, ‘It’s gettin’ late, Bess. Cut off that TV and come on to bed.’ ” She smiled and looked at something over my head. The hairs on my neck pricked up. I sat frozen in my seat, afraid to turn around and see who or what stood behind me. I nearly wet myself to the sudden slam of the screen door as Mama reentered from the backyard.

“Girl, why you so jumpy?” she asked.

I swallowed air, my throat dry as if dust had been poured into my mouth. “Is the plumber done yet? I have to pee.”

“Yea,” Mama answered. “It cost me 300 bucks.”

I ignored her rant and scrambled to the bathroom, ripping off my pants and falling onto the toilet, nearly tipping it forward, prying it from the mildewed tile floor. To my left, the white lace curtains on the window ruffled in the air flowing up from the vent below. I never liked windows in bathrooms. They denied me privacy. I felt I was being watched in my most vulnerable moments.

In the distance, I heard a low rumble. I stood, holding the zipper of my pants at my knees, and looked out the window. The grayish-blue clouds had accumulated. The wind had picked up. The bedsheets hanging on the clothesline flapped furiously. I watched the creek just behind them, half-expecting to see a person, maybe Uncle Macon, emerge from its murky waters. I licked my dry lips, the movement of my tongue tickling the back of my throat. If I were to see a head, or a hand, or a soggy bedroom slipper, would Mama dismiss me as we had Aunt Bessie, and she Uncle Macon? What were the odds that three people would hallucinate the imprint of a face—eyes, nose, an open mouth—through the thin bedsheets along the banks of Burgaw Creek?

—Nortina

1MinFiction: Suicide Forest

Part 1

“Have you considered your options?”

He speaks as if I’m changing careers, or switching insurance providers, not choosing to end my own life.

But then, I guess it’s a therapist’s job to remain calm. And he has been patient, followed me all the way to Japan, to Aokigahara, where the hopeless living disappear to join the forest’s ghosts . . .

Part 2

Look! There’s the back of one’s head, though her body is turned to me.

I tighten the noose around my neck. It’s so quiet, I can hear Dr. Bowman swallow.

I hesitate to jump right away, but a sudden gust of wind blows the figure’s hair forward, snatches the chair from under me, and the rope squeezes the scream from my throat when I see she has no face.

—Nortina


I tried, I really tried to squeeze all of this into one minute. Alas, my fingers don’t move that fast. But the story just wasn’t complete without a part two, so today I’m giving you two stories written in two minutes. Feel free to bend the rules this week for the sake of some scary good micro-fiction!

#LyricalFictionFriday: Waiting Up for Ghosts

Shut up, and put your money where your mouth is,” Darin says.

If I had money, I’d be paying a taxi to get me the hell out of here. But my money is in my wallet, which is in my purse, with my phone, in the trunk of Darin’s car, parked half a block from here.

The whole point is to be completely cut off from the rest of the world—no distractions so we don’t miss anything. Just me, and Darin, and this dead tree stump, where three weeks ago a group of teenagers supposedly spotted Midtown’s prom night ghost.

But I don’t believe in ghosts, or so, that’s what I’ve tried to convince Darin of, but right now, I’m having a hard time convincing myself, because at every creep and crack, I’m shivering to my bones in Darin’s lap. And he seems to like it, let his hand slip under my skirt the last time I jumped.

“We’re supposed to be watching for ghosts.” And I recall this was how our particular ghost got herself killed. Alone in the dark woods with a man she didn’t know. And here I am, alone, in the dark, on the year’s unluckiest night, sitting by the edge of the forest with a man who pretends he didn’t see me when he touches my breast.

And I have to pretend I don’t want him to touch me again.

“It’s just the animals,” he says.

He reclines on the blanket, tugs the back of my blouse for me to lie down too. I tell him I’m not afraid— but I should be.

When he’s on top of me, the hem of my skirt drawn up to my navel, that’s when we hear the distant scream. A gust of wind splits through the tall grass, and Darin’s face flashes brilliantly, like lightning.

—Nortina


For Marquessa’s Fiction Friday song lyric challenge. Today’s prompt is: Shut up and put your money where your mouth is… She also asks us to tag one fellow writer to join the challenge. Since we’re trying to motivate each other to write more, I’m tagging my Nigerian sister from across the pond, Amina from Ameena’s Musings. I can’t wait to read what she comes up with!

#1MinFiction: Poltergeist

“Do you hear that?”

“No,” I lie. Has he been awake as long as I? Up an hour listening to the knocking on the roof, trying to write it off as insomniac squirrels, acorns falling from the oak tree in our backyard.

“Do you see that!”

He doesn’t answer, pretends to be asleep, but I can’t shut my eyes to the mist approaching from the foot of our bed.

—Nortina


Monday’s One-Minute Fiction challenges you to write a story in one minute, no more, no less, based on the prompt provided. October will be full of terrifying Halloween-themed prompts. Today’s prompt is: poltergeist.

Red Sky, Ghost Cries

I glance out the window at the red sky. It’s just the way the setting sun hits the cumulonimbus clouds, I tell myself. But when a sudden clap of thunder rattles the legs of my bed against the hardwood floor, I wait for it to rain blood.

Suiting for the time we live in. A live-action horror film. When cars speed through crowds, crush the skulls of babies. When aged statues are brought down on their worshipers’ heads.

I plug in my ear buds, play a track from my deceased father’s rock band. Lately I’ve had the desire to listen to his ghost. Sing to me about the power of love. Overcoming political corruption, separation by race, pointless fighting in streets. When the world will know peace.

I play it over the thunder, nearly deaf after three repeats. When the song ends, I turn everything off. The house silent, the storm passed. I hide under the covers, knowing I’m alone. But my bedroom door is slightly ajar, and after lying still for over an hour, unable to fall asleep, I hear a light tapping on the other side.

Now I know the dead have done more than turn over in their graves. Our callousness has brought them back, absorbing energy from the uncanny storm to manifest.

I only pray this one sings to me.

—Nortina

Meeting Place

I don’t believe in ghosts, but I nearly jumped out of my skin when I received the postcard in the mail three weeks after her funeral.

I’m not dead.

Impossible. Jenna is dead—I saw her. I was the one to identify her body. I touched her cold, dead flesh. I picked out the cherry blossom scarf used in her open-casket funeral to hide the purple-red strangulation marks around her neck.

Jenna hung herself. She was was found by our RA spinning from the ceiling fan. She’s dead.

Jenna is dead.

Yet I find myself driving to Boxcar Bar & Arcade to meet her ghost by the four-person Pac-Man gaming machine.

I don’t know what to expect—a translucent manifestation; a member of the undead, slimy residue on her skin, limbs hanging on by a thread; a flesh and blood human being, the flush of life showing under her skin.

I’ve only told our RA about the postcard. They took Criminology together. Jenna had missed their midterm exam, worth 20% of their grade. Rebecca went to her dorm room to see if she was OK and found her . . . like that.

“Someone has a cruel since of humor,” Rebecca said.

“But maybe we got it wrong. Maybe it was her twin who died.”

“You’re her best friend. Does she have a twin sister?”

I couldn’t answer her. Because I knew Jenna didn’t have a twin sister, or any sibling, for that matter. And because her parents were at the funeral, and they sure were convinced it was Jenna in that casket—her mother going through three boxes of tissue over the two-hour service. And because “best friend” stung me right in the heart. How could she kill herself when she had a best friend? And if I wasn’t good enough to confide in when she was alive, why contact me after death?

Once inside, my eyes try to adjust to the dim lighting, but I already know where I’m going. The Pac-Man machine is in a separate room, in the back corner between Dance-Dance Revolution and the air hockey tables.

My throat has gone dry, my palms sweaty, my heart beats in my stomach. I don’t know who or what to expect when I turn the corner. A ghost? A demon? My best friend? My legs feel like Jell-O, I can barely stand. I bump into a guy’s rear end by the pinball machines. He probably thinks I’m drunk. I wish I were. I wish this were all a dream, that the postcard was nothing but a hallucination, that my prayers to see her again remain unanswered. I didn’t know what I was asking for; I didn’t recognize the dangers in bringing the dead back to life.

The morning I received the postcard, I went to the cemetery, straight for her grave. The Hunan-Smith Funeral Home tent cover still shielded the fresh mound of dirt, growing patches of grass. The flowers from the service were beginning to die. Her headstone—with a quote from her favorite Emily Dickinson poem, “Because I could not stop for Death”—still had not arrived.

The only marker was the blown-up picture from her obituary, posted on an easel in the ground. It was her high school senior portrait. A black shawl was draped across her bare shoulders, and she was looking at something off camera, smiling faintly into the distance. I never asked her why that particular Emily Dickinson poem was her favorite. It seemed so depressing. Was she trying to tell me something? Had she been depressed? We were all law school students. We were all depressed by the overwhelming workload of assignments. That’s why Boxcar had become our escape so many Friday nights.

There’s a group of people playing Pac-Man, a line for the air hockey tables extending into their game. I scan the room for Jenna and find no one who looks like her. I don’t know if it’s relief or disappointment that makes me fall back dizzy into the bar behind me. I press the back of my hand against my forehead. The neon lights from the machines, the stomping of feet at Dance-Dance Revolution, the slapping of the puck across the air hockey table, the beating of the buttons by Pac-Man, the screams of winners and losers all come together like an off-key marching band at concert that just won’t stop.

“Dammit, Jenna, why torment me like this?”

Behind my ear, I hear a whisper. “Faking your death is against the law. Criminology 101.”

I spin around just to catch a vanishing mist, and it is all I can do not to faint.

—Nortina


It is Short Story A Day May, and while I said I would only write 100-300 words a day, I got carried away with this phantasmic prompt from Gregory Frost: “The Dead Friend.” Will the same happen tomorrow? We shall see…

Guardians

“Daddy’s always watching over you.” It would’ve been less creepy if I didn’t believe in ghosts.

Grandpa’s been watching me since I was nine. He’s like Santa, he doesn’t come until I fall asleep. I woke up one night to the familiar smell of cigars and butterscotch and discovered him standing at the foot of my bed, hands folded over his round belly. He wasn’t the jolly Grandpa I remembered; he stared at me, expressionless.

Now Daddy’s joined him. Every night, they stand by my bed and watch me sleep. It’s been quite difficult sneaking boys into my room.

word count: 99

—Nortina


moral_mondays_logoJoin Moral Mondays, a new weekly challenge to write a 100-word fable or story based on the moral/lesson provided in the prompt. This week’s moral is all about lessons from dad: no kissing on the first date.

Haunted Harry

I splashed cold water on my face and stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Why was I so jumpy? I had to remember where I was; a nursing home, where most of the elderly residents came to fade away from memory, like ghosts, but that didn’t mean I’d seen a ghost—just a weird old man. This place was full of those, and like Grandma, all they wanted was attention, some needier than others, and I suspected he was one of the needy ones—they were often ignored.

I tore a paper towel from the dispenser, wiped my face, and checked myself in the mirror one last time. I still looked rattled, but most of the fear had gone away. Hopefully Grandma wouldn’t prod me about my sudden departure. She always said I was the emotional one of the family. Easily excitable, her exact words. It must have started with Pawpaw’s practical jokes—well, I guess they were Elliot’s first—I never got used to them. I went over the list of pranks Grandma claimed Elliot had invented: whoopee cushions, fingers, Jack-o-lanterns . . .

So I guess I could thank Elliot for Halloween 1999, when Pawpaw hurled a glowing Jack-o-lantern at my head across the neighbor’s yard on a clothesline. I stood there, frozen in terror, screaming my head off until the thing hit me dead in my face and knocked me out cold. Later, after I had woken up with a throbbing headache and a black eye, Pawpaw confessed that he was only reenacting a scene from a short story by Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow.” Meanwhile behind him, Grandma chided me about how I would be the reason why black people would never get to live past the opening credits of horror movies.

HWhen I finally emerged from the bathroom, Grandma was already on her next husband.

“Meg, sweetie,” she said when she saw me, “I didn’t mean to scare you like that.”

“N–no, I wasn’t . . . It wasn’t . . .” I stuttered. Our circle was back down to five: Grandma, Thomas, Winifred, Tammy, Marcos, and Frank. The nurse must have left when I bolted to the bathroom, but her empty rocking chair still teetered back and forth by itself, and I imagined the ghostly man was now sitting in it—all the energy he’d absorbed to manifest himself depleted, making him invisible once again—still watching me with those scared, worried eyes.

No, no. I shook my head. He was real. He was a patient here. That’s why the nurse was gone. She’d seen him and taken him back to his room. Maybe she would give him medicine that would put him down, keep him from harassing visitors unaccustomed to his haunting nature, at least until dinner.

“Come here, baby.” Grandma stood up to examine me closer. She pinched and stretched my cheeks like she often did when I was little. “Honey, all the melanin has drained right out of your face. You look bout as white as Winifred.”

“Like you seen a ghost,” Thomas jeered. The swooped side smirk on his face told me Grandma had been talking about my history of getting spooked.

“Did you see him? Did you see Gaston?” Grandma asked.

“W–what?” The old man was Gaston? That couldn’t be right. I thought Grandma had said Gaston was younger. Or maybe I’d just assumed that because he drew comics. Comic books were childish to me, but I knew of grown men who collected and also wrote them. Gaston could’ve been as old as Fred, or older, and like comic book writer,  Stan Lee, he could’ve been creating superheroes well into his nineties.

“I only ask because he haunted Harry too.” Grandma reached behind her, grasped the arms of her chair, and eased herself down in her seat. I followed suit. I should’ve known her concern wasn’t sincere. I couldn’t remember a time when she ever showed true concern for the things that frightened me. She was a storyteller first, and she often used me as inspiration for her scarier ones. Like the rest of her husbands, Harry probably wasn’t real at all, but because I was so spooked after she’d finished talking about Gaston, she had all the material she needed to continue on to husband number eight.

“The way Gaston died, I should’ve known he would come back. I didn’t think he would come back so jealous, though. He barely even paid attention to me when he was alive, but as a ghost, he was so loving and attentive. It was like he needed to die to be a good husband.”

“Ha!” Frank flapped his newspaper in front of him. “He gotta be dead to love ya ’cause you’re a piece of work.”

Thomas threw his head back and laughed, his Adams apple jiggling up and down. “That was a good one!”

“I’m serious,” Grandma protested. “He was sweet to me, but he terrorized Harry, like the poltergeists in his comics. I couldn’t leave Harry alone in the house . . . literally. I was just outside in the backyard pulling weeds from my garden when I heard him scream.”

“So you mean to tell me the ghost of your dead husband haunted your existing husband?” I asked.

Grandma nodded slowly. “To death.”

—Nortina


“Haunted Harry” is brought to you by the A to Z Challenge & Stream of Consciousness Saturday.