I Know What You Did Last Halloween: Part 2

“Like, I Know What You Did Last Summer? Hmm, sounds original.” Mike crams the last Krispy Kreme donut into his mouth without offering me a single bite, but it’s probably better that I don’t start my morning with a pound of sugar on my stomach.

Especially after that email.

I need absolute clarity of mind to get through this day. And not only because of the tedious work I do as an Editorial Assistant—tracking submissions, ensuring that authors meet journal guidelines, pushing automated messages through the workflow, processing invoices, not nearly enough copyediting of manuscripts, which was what I was expecting when I initially went in for the interview, the impression I still had when I accepted the offer fourteen months ago. I should’ve quit then. After Sam, it’s a wonder I haven’t bailed before now.

I pour myself a mug of lukewarm coffee from the pot and try my best to refrain from gagging when I put it to my lips. It’s bad enough that Dana, the office assistant and someone else who apparently hates her job, still hasn’t restocked the sugar and cream in the breakroom—which were the two things that made the coffee somewhat bearable—but for God’s sake, when will we ever replace that aged coffee maker? It’s seen a better day, and I can’t afford to buy Starbucks every day just to keep my head on straight whenever I receive a cryptic message that makes my hairs stand on end.

Mike finishes his breakfast with a large, audible gulp and says, “I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s probably some internet troll too obsessed with the holiday. Can’t even come up with a better prank.”

“In any other situation, I’d agree with you, but—” I lower  my voice when our co-worker Trisha walks in. “I did do something last Halloween. We both did.”

“Can we not talk about this here?” Mike snaps under his breath.

“What are you two whispering about?” Trisha lifts the lid to the empty donut box, frowns, and immediately whips her head toward Mike.

“Early bird,” he says, smiling.

“I’m the one who bought the damn donuts,” she says, clearly unamused. She snatches the box off the counter, stomps onto the petal controlling the lid to the trash can so hard it cracks, and stuffs box inside.

I wait for her to leave, but she lingers, obviously more interested in our conversation than what to eat for breakfast. She reinserts herself into the space between me and Mike and reaches over his head for a bag of pretzels and a granola bar from the cabinet behind him, shooting me a death glare at the same time.

It’s no secret she has a thing for Mike and thinks I’m creeping in on her territory. Before me, it was Sam.

I guess she doesn’t have to worry about that competition any more. A year later, and the same flowers still enshrine Sam’s abandoned desk. Plastic—giving off the illusion of immortality. Too bad Sam wasn’t so lucky.

A part of me wonders why the company hasn’t hired a replacement yet, why, even though I push it in every afternoon at five before clocking out, her chair is still slightly pulled away from her desk every morning as if expectant of her return.

Every morning the same. This morning no different. In fact, this morning, the chair was pulled all the way out, and turned facing the aisle, as if someone had been sitting there and had briefly stepped away.

Which is why I’m currently hiding out in the breakroom with Mike, the only other person who—before the email—knows what really happened to Sam. The only other person who can assure me that it won’t be Sam who comes back to that chair.

I admit the breakroom, which is more like a breezeway that connects the office suite to the conference room next door, is the wrong place to be discussing our previous indiscretion. There’s too much foot traffic. Anyone can hear us. And since our current predicament is that someone else in fact did hear us, or saw us, or knows something about what we did, enough to send that email, I have to be careful with my words.

Everyone’s a suspect. Even—though I hate to think it—Mike.

When Trisha is gone, and I’m sure she’s out of earshot, I say, “So you didn’t get anything.”

“No.” He exhales loudly through his nostrils. “And I’m sure it’s nothing. You’re overeating to something that’s just a coincidence and nothing more.”

“Fine.” I swiftly leave before he can say anything else. Like I’m just being a woman. Curse our overeating, overemotional selves. Calm down. It’s only a coincidence, I repeat. It’s more settling on my stomach than the former, which causes the bad coffee to bubble and rise.

But I’m still not convinced, and when I return to my desk—directly across from Sam’s—I’m even less convinced. Propped on my keyboard, carefully balanced between the Q and A rows, is a handwritten note. I look to Trisha, who sits next to Sam. The chick is always scowling, but this time, it isn’t at me, because Mike, emerging from the breakroom, has the same look on his face. Four of us share one of five workstations in the suite—one that still has friendly reminders of different processes written on scattered Post-its by the fourth and only absent member of our group.

However, we all feel her presence now. Because those are Sam’s swirly squiggles on the folded sheet of copy paper in front of my computer. They form two words:

“I know.”

So much for coincidences.

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#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.

Transparent

Kiss me with urgency
the way you did before
your foot slipped from
the sleet-slick bridge
and turbulent ocean
waves swallowed your
lungs. Your lips feel
like ice on my tongue.
I stare into your eyes—
my mirror behind you—
see myself licking air.

Nortina


 

Fright Night Fridays:  Every Friday night, dare to venture into something spooky, something paranormal, something suspenseful, something that would surely give you a fright. Are you brave enough to stick around?

Haunted Honeymoon

A sigh.
A drifting exhale.
An echo of a moan.
A creak,
back and forth,
rocking—or bouncing—
like bed springs.
The whine of the mattress
yields to your convulsions.
A book falls from the shelf—
you don’t stop,
bury yourself underneath
my skin, and there’s a knock
on the wall—hollow—
a whistle down the hall.
A small opening between your
lips where I fit my tongue,
and you bite and you keep going
and you suck the blood as
our bodies slap and the sticky
air sinks on top of us—
Was the door always open?—
And my foot flips off the edge,
toes unfurl in the carpet,
feel the vibration get stronger—
You clamp my thighs,
hips tense to fill me—
and in the silence after, suddenly,
the room feels crowded.

—Nortina



Fright Night Fridays:  Every Friday night, dare to venture into something spooky, something paranormal, something suspenseful, something that would surely give you a fright. Are you brave enough to stick around?

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