#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

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#MicroMondays: Haunted Wood

I am curious too. Enough to follow his flickering match between trees. Monsters aren’t real, but the low growling behind my ear still frightens me.

word count: 25

—Nortina


Written for #MicroMondays, click here for challenge details, and here to read more “curious” tales at 25 words. 

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!

Recurring Nightmare

It was only a dream, but when I see him in the checkout line, three aisles down, my heart quickens, and I remember his eyes shooting bullets through my chest, two thumbs applying pressure to my throat.

The air in here is stifling—I can’t breathe. Leaving my groceries on the conveyor belt, I dash for the exit, nearly colliding with a woman steering two shopping carts; one carries the children who will devour the food in the other within a week.

The humid air of the late summer afternoon is a surprising relief to my lungs. But the reprieve is brief. A whisper of sliding doors behind—he’s followed me.

He doesn’t even know how much he should hate me. Suspicion of what I have done far from his imagination. Yet it haunts me every night while I sleep.

He’s seen the woman with the three kids. That will be us soon, he tells me, with his two and our one on the way.

Only, it’s not on the way. At least not his third. And it’s only after he bends to hug my expanding stomach that I notice who is with him.

His companion shakes his head, knowing what I want to say. How long can we keep this secret? Until the baby’s born? How long before family resemblance can no longer hold as an excuse for why his child looks more like his brother than him? And would he ever believe me if I tell him it was rape?

He stands to kiss me, lips dry and rough like the first time I told his brother no.

He says he’ll be working late tonight but will come by after his shift—the ex watching the kids. As much as I love him, I tell him no. I must sleep, don’t want the truth of my nightmares to slip out while he holds me.

A friend once offered me sleeping pills to make the nights more bearable—at risk of hurting the baby, but I’m desperate to do anything. I’ll bury my head underneath a mountain of pillows because I fear his hatred more than never waking from a dream that kills me.

—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?

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?

V is for Visitor

I love a good ghost story, but this haunting excerpt doesn’t quite fit in the “Love Poetry” novella. While Jessica will still face something close to a haunting as she tries to come to terms with Whitmore’s suicide, she won’t almost be killed by a vengeful poltergeist. 🙂


They drove in silence. Jessica folded her hands in her lap and glued her eyes to the glove compartment in front of her. Occasionally, at a red light or stop sign, Bruce turned to her, opened his mouth to speak. Jessica’s body immediately tensed upon hearing his intake of breath. She pinched her eyes closed, braced herself for his pathetic apologies and condolences. She wouldn’t accept them. What they had done was unforgivable. A man was dead because of them. A man who loved her. A man who would’ve done anything for her. Either Bruce recognized his culpability, for he didn’t say a word the entire drive back to her apartment, or each time he attempted to speak, his tongue caught at the back of his throat, and he choked on his words.

The flashing cameras, the uniformed men wearing white latex gloves, the caution tape, and the red and blue flashing lights were all gone when they arrived.

“Well, we were at the police station for a while,” Bruce said. His voice was hoarse, as if he’d been screaming.

Jessica nodded.

“I guess they would finish up quickly. There’s not much to investigate when it’s a su—”

Jessica flinched. “Don’t say it.”

“I’m sorry. That was stupid of me.” He reached over to cup her cheek in his palm, but she jerked her head back. “Are you hungry?” he asked, squeezing the steering wheel until his knuckles were white. “We can find a place that’s still open. Get something to eat.”

“I don’t want fast food. I have food inside.”

“Look at me.” He leaned over the dashboard, lifted her chin, forcing her to look at him. “You don’t have to go in right away. You don’t have to go in at all. You can stay at my place tonight.”

“No, I have to do this.”

“Ok, I’ll walk you—”

“No. I’m fine by myself.” Before he could speak, Jessica scurried out of the car, slamming the door behind her. She hiked the stairs two at a time, however, once at the top, she couldn’t move any further.

Her vision blurred, but from eight feet away, she could still see the blood. The authorities hadn’t cleaned it up. They’d left it for her as a haunting punishment. She shuffled her feet forward, but as she slowly approached her apartment, a sudden spell of vertigo swept over her. She was halfway to her door when her view of it began to skew. Her once white door was painted the color of a blood orange. Thick blood pooled from the crack at the bottom. She felt a bar of weights drop onto her shoulders and pin her to the ground. Down on her hands and knees, she coughed and retched at the reeking smell of Whitmore’s decomposing body on the other side.

Jessica crawled to the door and pounded against the wood. “Whitmore!” she screamed. “Whitmore, please! I’m sorry!” She called his name repeatedly. The pool of blood gathered around her legs, and she started to sink. She frantically wiped and scratched at her arms, coated from elbows to finger tips in an even red. Suddenly, she could no longer feel the ground beneath her, and she went under. Her cheeks swelled as blood filled her mouth. Hot iron singed her taste buds.

Something grabbed her hair at the crown of her head and pulled her up just as she was beginning to lose consciousness.

“Help!” she said as blood drained from her mouth. She blinked her eyes open, drops of blood clinging onto the ends of her eyelashes. Through the red curtain, she looked up and saw a cocked smile and thin, uneven eyebrows. “Whit—” she began, but before she could finish, he pressed his palm flat on her head and dunked her under again. She flailed her arms and legs. She tried to scream, but the blood poured into her mouth, filled her lungs. She couldn’t breathe. She coughed and gurgled. All around her, she saw red. A black veil crept down over her eyes and from the sides until all she could see were tiny circles of red as if she were looking through binoculars. Then then those vanished, and her body fell limp.

“Jessica!”

Jessica opened her eyes. She was back on her hands and knees, the dry concrete cold underneath her fists. She tilted her head toward the door of her apartment. Only the single slash from where Whitmore’s head slid down covered the white-painted wood.

“Jessica!”

She turned around. Bruce was running toward her. He fell to his knees beside her and pulled her into a tight hug.

“I heard you screaming. Is everything alright?”

“He tried to kill me! He tried to take me with him!” she cried. Her shoulders trembled from her sobs.

“Come on. You’ll stay with me tonight.” He stood to his feet, picked her up, wrapping her arms around his neck, and carried her down the stairs back to his car.

Jessica buried her face into the crook of Bruce’s neck, afraid that if she looked up, she would still see Whitmore’s murderous ghost standing outside of her apartment, waiting for her to return.

—Nortina

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.

Haunted Cemetery

Byron lifted his shirt, bent forward under the kitchen light, revealed three lines of raw, inflamed skin on his back.

“Who scratched you?” Shannon asked.

“Not who. What.” Byron tucked his shirt into his faded denim jeans, winced as the fabric grazed his wounds.

“But we were only gone a minute. Are you sure you didn’t—” Harold started.

“I know what I saw.”

“You saw a shadow,” Shannon said.

“It growled.”

“An animal?” Harold said.

The cabinet behind them swung open. A glass salt shaker flew from the shelf and shattered on the floor.

“I think it followed us.”

word count: 100

—Nortina


jhc5Today is Veteran’s Day, but alas, I decided to go in a different direction with this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt (courtesy of J Hardy Carroll). I like to do the opposite of what’s expected of me. Besides, this Friday is Friday the 13th! 😉