Into the Woods

Greg awoke to an upside down world of shadows.

His heart must have somehow moved to his head because that’s where he felt its pulse. He squeezed his eyes shut and grimaced at the pain gripping his temples and forehead. It was hard to think, but a tiny voice at the back of his mind warned him that something was very wrong. A sudden jolt of clarity helped him realize that he was hanging upside down from the ceiling with his hands tied behind his back. He peered through the darkness, trying to get a feel for where he was, trying to remember how he’d gotten there and what he had been doing before.

The memories returned slowly. He’d been driving home after work in the pouring rain. The main street he usually took was closed for repaving, so he’d taken one of the back roads. As he’d bounced along the poorly paved street and rolled his eyes at the irony of the situation, an animal of some kind had skittered across his headlights. He’d swerved and hit a tree, and now he was here. The rain rapped against the ceiling and beat the windows, like a crowd of unwanted guests. He couldn’t see much of the outside but, if it was this dark, he had to be in the woods somewhere. A hunting cabin maybe? He wriggled and twisted about, hoping to free himself.

The wailing of the rain died down for a moment and he was able to hear the sound of harsh breathing.

A shiver ran down the length of his spine, a cold finger tormenting him with visions of serial killers. He tried to push his fear aside and find his voice.

“H-Hello? Who’s there?” He waited for a fraction of a second before continuing. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing but my wife is waiting for me at home, and if I don’t show up tonight—”

Smacking lips made him falter.

“I-If I don’t show up tonight, she’s going to call the police. She knows my usual route. She’ll tell them where to look for me.”

A flash of lightning illuminated the room. The walls were covered in spider webs, intertwined, overlapping, reaching across the ceiling and dangling in corners. Spiders of all shapes, colors, and sizes dotted the misty white webs, thousands of eyes staring at the man hanging from the ceiling. A human-like figure stood by the door, machete in hand.

“Don’t forget, my lovelies,” the raspy voice of an older woman said. “I get the head.”

Greg screamed and thrashed about as the spiders and their deranged keeper advanced.

 

Officer Beau hated the rain. Rain made mud. Rain made his knee ache. Rain caused car accidents. Rain made his roof leak. Rain made everyone either paranoid or strangely romantic. Rain made it hard to do anything outside, even the simplest of tasks. He scowled at the wiper blades as they swooshed back and forth. Rain also made it harder to see. Beau was fifty-eight years old, two years away from retirement. Why couldn’t he be assigned the easy calls, the ones that could be resolved in town?

“You need to get out more,” his superiors said. “You don’t want to spend your last two years cooped up in the precinct!”

Oh, yes, he did. He loved the precinct. Not that anyone would listen.

“There’s been an accident reported on the old highway. Why don’t you check it out, Beau? It’s been quiet all day.”

Officer Beau liked the quiet. After thirty years on the force, he’d seen enough and heard enough to appreciate a quiet day. The other old-timers at the precinct didn’t seem to understand that. So here he was, driving out to the old highway to look at a crash in the middle of a storm. Who still drove on the old highway anyway? The new highway was nicer, with more than two lanes and going through an actual city instead of the wilderness.

Officer Beau grumbled to himself as his cruiser meandered down the pot-hole littered street, eyes narrowed as he searched for signs of a crash. Finally, he happened upon black streaks against the road and the mud tracks of a car going off the embankment. He stopped, put the car in park, and fumbled with his umbrella before climbing out. Still grumbling, he flicked on the flashlight and began his trek through the mud. His boots made eerie sucking sounds as he walked. The beam of his flashlight caught the raindrops while they fell and illuminated the wall of trees he was headed toward. Soon enough he found the car, a bright red lemon with its front crushed against a particularly large pine.

The driver’s side door had been wrenched open somehow. There was no one in the car. Officer Beau reached for the radio attached to his belt when a skittering sound drew his eyes to the trees. It had been soft, like the flapping of wings or spider legs dancing across a bed of leaves, but he’d still managed to hear it over the storm. A set of footprints and drag marks could be seen in the mud, heading deeper into the forest. Officer Beau snagged his radio and called it in.

“Don’t move,” his commanding officer said. “I’m sending backup.”

Don’t have to tell me twice, Beau thought, already making his way back to the cruiser.

An ear-splitting howl had the officer spinning around with a curse. What was going on in those woods? It sounded like someone was being tortured. The instinct to protect, that damn instinct that had prompted him to join the force so many years ago, palpitated within him. Beau shook his head and backed away, firmly shoving that instinct aside. He didn’t know what was out there. It would be stupid to go traipsing through the woods and into a dangerous situation without backup.

But as the scream sounded again, the old officer found himself racing forward. The footprints and drag marks in the mud led the way through the twisting trees, even after the terrible screech had been abruptly cut off. Huffing and puffing, Officer Beau found himself at the front door of an old hunting cabin.

He tossed his umbrella aside and pulled out his gun before shouting, “Hartford Police! I’m coming in!” Getting a strange surge of adrenaline, he threw his shoulder against the door. The lock burst and the door swung open to reveal a scene out of someone’s worst nightmare.

A person was tied up, hanging upside down from the ceiling, covered in spiders. A thin elderly woman sat on the floor a little ways away, slurping something out of a giant bowl. When the door opened, the woman dropped the bowl and uttered an animalistic growl. The ‘bowl’ rolled toward Officer Beau, leaving a trail of some dark, thick substance. It came to a stop at the officer’s feet. It was a head, probably belonging to the poor man hanging from the ceiling, being slowly devoured by spiders. Beau gagged and might’ve looked away if he wasn’t frozen with horror. His mind told him to run, to shoot the woman, to do something.

But he was still standing there when the machete came flying toward him and sank into his chest.

My worst nightmare

“I feel it physically—half of me turns to smoke. The corners of the room go dim, and from about the rig cage down, my body feels numb as the ghost limb of an amputee. It’s what happens when I’m about to write something that frightens me. Freaking yourself out is an occupational hazard for a horror writer. It’s also, if you rise to the challenge it presents, a great opportunity to hone your craft.” -Michael Marano


Something woke me up that night. To the day, I’m still not sure.

When I opened my eyes, the room was completely silent. It wasn’t until I rolled over that I saw the clown standing at the foot of my bed. He wore a pale white face mask with a big, red nose, pink cheeks, crazed blue eyes, a large eerie smile, and frizzy orange hair attached to the back. He was even dressed in large, colorful clothes. My heart leapt into my throat and still I managed to scream. I’d had this nightmare before, but this wasn’t a dream. The knife in his hand glinted in the moonlight, revealing a smear of blood. My first thought went to the children. Which one of them had been ruthlessly murdered in their sleep? But then I remembered the silence. The dog! The intruder must have killed her first to be sure she wouldn’t warn me.

My stomach turned at the thought of my Australian shepherd, but I couldn’t dwell on that. I had to act. I threw myself over the side of the bed, snatching my phone from the bedside table before I could hit the ground. The clown was on me in a second. His knees hit the floor as he straddled me and then proceeded to jab the knife at my face. I squirmed and screamed some more, releasing the phone to wrestle the knife out of his hands. We struggled, but not for too long. He was stronger than I was. The knife came down before I could stop it and nicked my cheek, burning like a deep paper cut. I twisted my hips, yanking his wrists down and away from my face. The clown crashed into the wall with a curse. I scrambled away, crawling as quickly as I could on my hands and knees until I reached the door. Then I jumped up and ran out of the room.

“Simon! Corey! Deliah!” I half-sobbed, half-shouted. “Wake up!” I dashed across the shadowed living room, almost tripping over the ottoman. I made it to my eldest’s room and threw the door open.

Simon sat up, instantly alert and afraid. “Mom? What’s going on?” 

I gripped him by the shoulders, heart hammering painfully against my ribs. “There’s someone in the house. I need you to get your brother and sister, and—”

Simon’s blue eyes bulged as he stared at something behind me. I spun around, arms out to my sides to protect my ten-year-old son. The clown’s mask was hanging crookedly on his face, revealing curly black hair and a sliver of pale skin. Despite his terrifying appearance, he was human and able to be reasoned with.

“We don’t have much, but you can take whatever you want,” I said, voice wavering. “Just, please, don’t hurt my children.”

“I don’t want any of your crap!” the clown growled. “Pedro Hernandez sends your husband his regards.” And then he lunged. 

I heard my son cry out and hoped he was diving out of bed. I tried to duck around my attacker, but he snatched me by the front of my nightshirt and threw me back onto the bed. The knife was coming down again. I blindly reached out, snatched the first thing my fingers touched (it felt like Simon’s batman alarm clock), and smashed it against the side of the clown’s head. He roared in pain and dropped the knife. I elbowed him in the face and kneed him in the groin as I wriggled to get free. My son was crawling frantically for the door once I had disentangled myself from the clown.

I raced after him, grabbed him by his armpits, and hauled him to his feet. “Get your brother and sister to safety, and call your dad!” Then I gave him a shove out the door.

The sharp end of the knife burst from my abdomen, splattering the back of my son’s shirt with blood. I gasped as my brain registered the pain. I stumbled forward.

Simon must’ve felt the wetness on his back because he turned and screamed. “MOM!”

I collapsed against the wall in the hallway, struggling to breathe, heart stuttering in fear. The knife was roughly tugged out from behind me. I tried to keep moving, tried to get away, but a hand grabbed a fistful of my hair and yanked me back. This time the end of the knife pushed through my chest. The world was growing fuzzy at the corners, my mind wild with panic and pain. My son stood frozen just a little ways away, face pale, mouth open in a silent scream. Then anger was twisting his mouth into a snarl and he came charging down the hall to take out my assailant’s knees. 

I wanted to yell at him, tell him to run away, tell him to find his siblings and run. Instead, I made a strange gurgling sound and slumped to the floor. I could hear them wrestling behind me, my son shouting, the clown swearing. Then two other pairs of feet were running toward me. I looked up into the faces of child number two and three. Deliah was crying as she fell to her knees and reached out to take my face in her little hands. Corey, dark hair falling in to his eyes, looked around wildly, as if searching for some way to help me.

“Get…Dad,” I managed to croak. “Simon…stop…”

“Call 911,” Corey told his little sister and then he was running over to help his brother.

“No.” I clawed after him but he was already out of reach. 

“Daddy,” Deliah sobbed as she jumped to her feet. “I-I’ll call Daddy.” She ran into the kitchen, bright pink Hello Kitty pajamas fading into the darkness.

It was getting increasingly harder to breathe. I knew at least one lung had to be collapsing or filling with blood. I coughed and wheezed and fought to remain conscious. I had to help my children. I had to do something. But then, quite suddenly, the darkness swallowed me up.

 

I came to when my husband called my name. I peeled my eyes open to see him sitting beside me, holding my hand, leaning in anxiously. He was still in uniform; his badge winked at me in the bright fluorescent light shining from above. He looked exhausted. There were stress lines across his big, handsome face, his blonde hair was askew, and the hazel eyes that were always so quick to smile were dark with worry. Wherever we were was rocking and rumbling. There were two other men in there with us, hooking me up to machines and pressing wads of gauze against my wounds. I could distantly hear the wailing of sirens.

My husband let out a choked laugh when he saw that I was awake. He kissed my forehead and managed to say, “You’re all right. Everything’s going to be all right.”

I couldn’t speak. They’d put a tube down my throat or something. I wanted to ask about the children. He must’ve read my mind because he added, “The kids are fine. One of the neighbors heard the screams and called 911. Some guys from the station got there just in time to pull Simon and Corey away from that creep. We got him, babe. We got the clown.”

That was all I needed to hear. I gave his hand a squeeze and closed my eyes.

A horror story for ya

As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, I’m taking an Intro to Horror Writing class this semester. The genre has never really appealed to me but I believe a good author is a well-rounded author, an author who can write several different genres successfully. (I don’t care too much for poetry either, but I’m taking a poetry writing class too. I’m even writing a science-fiction story, just to see where it goes! It’s actually a lot of fun to stretch my mind and leave the comforts of fantasy writing.)

Anyway, we’ve read a few short stories and discussed the elements that make up a good horror story: terror, horror, and the gross-out. As Stephen King said, “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out.” So I’ve been challenged to focus on these three elements. For one of our most recent assignments, we were asked to write a short story. Our teacher gave us the opening lines of a few well-known horror stories, asked us to pick one, and roll with it. See where the line would take us. The line I chose was “The door had been nailed shut for a reason.” This is what I came up with:

 

The door had been nailed shut for a reason.

It was only logical. Why would someone waste their time pounding nails into a door if there wasn’t a good reason? Maybe the house was separated into sections and rented out to different families. Maybe the previous owners of the house had a kid who thought nailing his little sister’s door shut would be a hoot. There was a dog-door-like square cut along the bottom of the wood. Maybe there was something sinister lurking in the room on the other side.

Gwen rolled her eyes at her own whacky imagination. Still, there was something strange about that door at the end of the hall, the door everyone else was intent on ignoring. Or maybe she was just the first one to notice it? The music was incredibly loud. So many bodies were pressed together into the living room of this old house. The only sources of light were the spotlights sweeping across the room, the candles lit in the open bedrooms, and the moonlight streaming in through the curtain-less windows. Whatever furniture that might have been there was long gone, having been tossed outside to make room for the party.

Gwen took a swig of her soda and finally tore her gaze away from the door. Why did it matter if the door was nailed shut anyway? Was she just looking for an excuse to leave the crowd? Parties weren’t exactly her idea of fun. She was too shy to talk to girls she didn’t know and the only boys who seemed to notice her were always creeps. But her sister was home from college for the weekend and had guilt-tripped her into coming so she was stuck in this creepy old house until Macy was drunk enough to forget her own name. Which might be sooner rather than later. Macy had made a beeline for the keg as soon as they’d arrived and had been parked there ever since, chatting up all the cute guys who came for refills. Gwen weaved her way through the dancing throng to get to her sister.

“Hey, Mace?”

She turned away from the boy she was flirting with to give Gwen a wide-eyed look. “You’re not here for a beer, are you? I told you; you’re the designated driver tonight.”

Gwen waved the soda can in her sister’s face. “This is all I’ve had tonight. Relax.”

“Okay. So what do you want?”

“What do you think is behind that door?” Gwen asked, gesturing to the door in question.

Macy adjusted the straps of her fairy wings and blew a raspberry. “Don’t know, don’t care. Justin said he found this house abandoned last week and decided it would be a good place for a Halloween party. I think he’s only been here, like, twice to decorate and stuff. Go ask him.” Then she tossed her dirty-blond hair over her shoulder and smiled flirtatiously to her toga-clad stranger as if Gwen had already left. The guy gave Gwen the once-over out of the corner of his eyes, making her regret her slutty nurse’s costume immediately. She blushed and looked away, tugging at the hem of her little skirt as if that would suddenly make it longer.

Gwen’s eyes fell on the door again. She hadn’t seen Justin since she and Macy had arrived. He’d paused in his mingling to give them each a one-armed hug and comment on their costumes before he resumed his host duties. That was almost two hours ago. She set her drink aside and marched back across the room, getting a spurt of un-Gwen-like bravery. She didn’t need Justin. She’d unravel this mystery on her own. It wasn’t until she stood directly before the door that she realized she had no way of opening it. She dug around her white satchel (part of the costume she’d decided to use as a purse for the occasion), and pulled out a large nail file. Maybe she could pry the nails out? Doubtful but still willing to try, Gwen came closer to the door.

It was already open. Gwen blinked at the sliver of empty space between the door and the frame, wondering when that had happened. She could’ve sworn it was shut…

She shoved the nail file back into her satchel and gripped the warped door knob. The door opened with a spooky creak that made her shiver. The smell hit her then, the acrid odor of decaying meat. She slapped both hands over her nose, swallowing hard to get rid of the bile. But she couldn’t walk away. Morbid curiosity made her bump the door open wider with her hip and inch into the room. Darkness greeted her. She released her nose with one hand to search for a light switch along the wall. It flickered on a moment later.

Bones and chunks of meat littered the floor. Blood was sprinkled across the faded flowery wall paper. The windows were boarded up from the outside; the glass had been broken ages ago and scrapes cut jaggedly across the wood. As if someone had tried to claw their way out of the room at one point. A single bed mattress was shoved in the corner, covered by a ratty black blanket. A hole in the floor drew her eyes to the center of the room. Her mouth gaped open even wider when she realized its purpose.

This was a prison cell.

But for who and why?

A splash of blue among the meat and bones forced Gwen to look at the carnage again. She grimaced and turned with the full intention of walking away, but she paused. Something about that shade of blue struck a chord of familiarity within her. She took a hesitant step forward. It was a torn shirt made of fake, blue fur she was looking at. And it was smeared with blood. Gwen’s knees gave way. She would have fallen onto the filthy floor had she not locked her legs just in time. Suddenly, she knew where she’d seen that fur before. It had been exactly two hours earlier, when Justin had given her that one-armed hug and said how great she looked in her nurse’s costume. He’d been dressed like an alien from Star Trek. The remains of his mask could be seen on the floor, pressed up against the wall. Hair and brain matter freckled the edges.

Bile climbed up her throat again. The world grew fuzzy at the corners.

The door creaked, causing Gwen to spin around with a squeak. A little girl stood behind the door, pale hand pressed against the wood, pushing it closed. Gwen stepped back, the bile finally winning at the sight of the child. Her short blond hair was matted with grime, her face streaked with dried blood, her wide eyes holding pupils that were permanently dilated. She wore a large, gray sweatshirt with rips and a faded logo, but nothing else. Her feet were bare, exposing torn, black toe nails.

How long had she been imprisoned in that room? Had she eaten Justin? Gwen heaved and groaned until there was nothing left in her stomach. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and slowly turned to face the child again. The little girl was smacking her lips and swaying slightly, watching Gwen with wide, unblinking eyes.

Gwen managed to shake her head. “No.”

The girl grinned, exposing blackened teeth.

 

The scream cut through the music. Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned toward the door at the end of the hall. The DJ killed the music after being prompted by some of the dancers. Soon there was silence and a low murmur of confused voices. Then there was the unmistakable sound of tearing.

 

I know this is pretty mild for a horror story, but it’s my first one. I’m going to get better. I promise!

Something else I read about in the Book of Horrors textbook we’re using for this class is that, in order to write something that truly terrifies and leaves an impression, we should write about things that scare us. So that’s what I did.

The most memorable (and terrifying) episode from Supernatural for me was the one about the twins living in the walls of a house. An abusive father had impregnated his daughter with twins. The girl gave birth and had died shortly afterward (from her own hand or her father’s hand, I can’t remember). The father didn’t take care of them at all. He locked them up in the basement and fed them through a laundry-shoot-like hole in the wall. The twins had never seen the light of day, had never set foot in the house above them. They wandered the crawl spaces between the walls of that house until the day their father/grandfather became too old and careless. Then they emerged and exacted their revenge.

Nobody in the surrounding area knew how bad things had gotten between father and daughter. Nobody knew about the twins. It was a big mystery to the local law enforcement when they happened upon the old man, or whatever was left of him anyway. They scratched their heads for a moment, then shrugged their shoulders, and cleaned the place up as best they could. Several months later, a new family moved in and started hearing strange noises through the walls.

“Oh, don’t worry, dear. They’re probably just rats. We’ll call the exterminators.”

In come Sam and Dean Winchester in disguise, thinking this family has a ghost problem and they can quickly fix it for them. They do their research and find out about the poor girl and her father. They assume it’s her ghost that’s haunting the place so they get ready to banish a spirit…only to find that the killers are real live people. Naturally, it becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse. The family and the Winchesters want to get out alive, while the twins are hungry for blood. These kids have been abused and in-humanized. Technically, they have a right to be angry and homicidal. But they’re so out of control and beyond reason that Dean and Sam have to kill them.

The end.

No matter how good the CGI was when monsters and evil spirits were introduced on the show, none of that really scared me because I knew it couldn’t be real. But a story about people being treated so badly that they had to resort to creeping through the walls and killing others…That could be real. That terrified me. So I tried to incorporate some of that into this short story. I haven’t gotten my grade yet, so I’m not sure how well I integrated the elements of horror, terror, and the gross-out. But I’m fairly proud of this. Hope you guys enjoyed it!

On the subject of poetry

After acing my Intro to Creative Writing and Intro to Writing Fiction, I decided to take some more challenging classes. This semester, I’m taking Intro to Writing Poetry and Into to Horror.

I dislike poetry. I can’t say that I hate it because that’s just too strong of a word and I haven’t read nearly enough poetry to be able to say that I hate it. But I do strongly dislike it. I was forced to read and analyze a few poems in my high school English classes and all of them were strange, confusing, and frustrating. My dear older brother gave me a book of poems by a woman whose name I can’t remember for the life of me. She was one of his favorite poets and he knew that I liked to read so he wanted to share this book with me. I was touched by his thoughtfulness and determined to read that book for him. It wasn’t easy; whatever era this woman lived in, the people used odd vocabulary to express themselves and I didn’t feel too confident that I understood what she was trying to tell me. But still, I read. It was a short book. Once I’d reached the halfway mark, I must have decided I’d given it a fair chance and didn’t have to continue because it remains on my shelf to this day with the bookmark sitting right in the middle.

Still, I can remember my mother reading me the short rhymes of Alan Alexander Milne. He’s known for creating Winnie the Pooh but he wrote a few poems about those characters and several other make believe friends. These my mother shared with me and my siblings. I remember she’d use funny voices and read the rhymes in an almost lyrical way, to the point where the poems would get stuck in my head like songs. The Simpsons did a rendition of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” once, which was shared in my AP English class. That’s the only reason why I like that poem and remember Mr. Poe with fondness. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” was used in an episode of Boy Meets World that stuck with me for a while so I have a soft spot for him too. I’ve always known that there was such a thing as good poetry. I’d just come to the conclusion that they were few and far between.

Because of this belief and aversion, I’m not good at writing poems. In taking this class, I hoped to challenge myself and expose myself to better poetry. The instructor for this class is the same one I had for Intro to Creative Writing so I was confident he’d be able to present this dreaded subject with new energy and interest. The “textbook” for the class is about 160 pages long and looks like an average novel. The author is a poet by the name of Ted Kooser. Three pages in and I already liked the guy. He addressed all the reasons why I strongly disliked poetry and made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my opinions. He drew conclusions and gave tips that could be applied to any form of writing, not just poetry. He included some of his own poems as examples and I really enjoyed them.

My whole perspective on poetry has changed and I’m only on the third chapter! I’m super encouraged and can’t wait to learn more.

I don’t like scary movies. I’ve never understood the appeal of gore or the “thrill” of being scared out of my skin. I have a very active imagination. When I was younger, it would creep into my dreams and sometimes give me nightmares so I tended to avoid anything that was even remotely scary. (I love Lord of the Rings, but I couldn’t watch the scene in The Two Towers where Gollum is sneaking up on the sleeping hobbits until I was about thirteen years old.) Even now that I’m older, I’ve only watched two “scary movies” and they were more suspenseful than scary. I read once that, to write a really good horror story, the writer has to be a little demented. I tried reading a Stephen King novel once and it was really gritty. It was one of the few books I’ve picked up that I didn’t finish. I decided that line about horror authors being a little demented might be true.

Unfortunately (and fortunately) there’s nothing demented about me.

My sister and I tried writing a horror story together just to try something new. Our strengths lie in epic and paranormal fantasy and romance but we thought, hey, with our combined efforts, we can crank out a horror story. We created an outline and some characters, and wrote the first chapter…And that’s as far as our scary story went. Our attempts at bone-chilling horror were laughable. I haven’t tried writing anything scary since.

But in the spirit of bettering myself, I’m starting that horror writing class next month. The instructor for this class taught the Intro to Fiction class that I loved so I’m hoping for a similar experience. More on that later.