Inside, the lights flickered and went out. A chorus of gasps and disgruntled moans erupted from around the dining room.
“It’s okay,” Walt said, pushing his chair away from the head of the table. Barely visible in the firelight, he stood up, “This sort of thing happens now and again out here, it’s nothing to worry about.” His voice had the soothing timbre of a kindly grandfather.
Dim firelight crept in from the lobby, but it was light from smartphone screens that pushed back the darkness enough so everyone could see each other’s faces again. Joss and Nikki, sitting next to each other and across from Charlotte and Natalie, shared one phone.
“No signal here,” Joss started.
“Me either,” agreed Natalie.
Charlotte tossed her hands up in uncertainty, “Guess we’re stuck?” she teased. “I hope there’s more wine.”
“I’m sure we have something back there in the kitchen,” Walt answered.
“Oh, we sure do.” Eliza, Walt’s diminutive wife and fellow innkeeper volunteered as she walked in from the kitchen. In one hand she held a flashlight, and in the other a plate of freshly cooked brownies. “Not to worry,” she shined the flashlight on her face from below her chin and raised her eyebrows feigning spookiness, “we’re prepared for a little – lights out.”
Natalie rolled her eyes, “Great. Just what I was hoping for.”
“I don’t like sitting in the dark. It freaks me out.” Nikki’s fork clanked on her plate. She scooted her chair out and grabbed Joss’s hand, squeezing it tight. “But I do like it when a big strong man protects me,” she snuggled close to him.
“A man?” Joss questioned.
Nikki shot him a provocative grin.
Joss deepened his voice, “It’s okay babe, it’ll be fine,” he proclaimed with false authority. “They usually get things back online fast,” he passed a hopeful glance at Walt and Eliza, “…don’t they?”
“Sometimes these things can take a while.” Walt pushed his chair in. “Depends on how bad the storm is and why it went out. All this rain could’ve washed-out roads. And these high winds probably downed power lines. They’ll have trouble getting out to fix things tonight in a storm like this.” Walt didn’t seem concerned. Calm and confident, he walked away from the table, “We just don’t know.”
“They’ll get around to fixing it,” Eliza waved her flashlight signaling everyone to follow her, “so until they do, why don’t we all gather around the fireplace in the lobby?” Eliza’s matronly demeanor was almost commanding. “We can have some brownies and a little chat. The fire’s warm and lights up the whole room. How about that?” Thunder struck again, closer this time, rattling the windows harder.
“Something smells good!” Natalie took the napkin from her lap and tossed it on the table. “I’d love a brownie!”
“Sounds good to me,” Joss and Nikki spoke at the same time.
“Same here,” Charlotte pushed away from the table and stood, “I love chocolate.”
“Everyone, grab your wine glasses and follow us.” Walt picked up his and walked through the double doors into the lobby. Everyone followed.
While keeping its old-world charm, the parlor, and foyer had been made into a lobby and front desk area when the old house was converted into a bed and breakfast many years ago. It was still adorned with all the late 19th-century touches, and furniture to match. The high ceilings, detailed wood trim, beveled glass doors, and picture rail, all harkened to an era long past. The original hardwood floors creaked beneath footsteps as they all walked into the room.
Built-in cabinets and mahogany paneling surrounded the lobby with comfortable elegance, greeting visitors entering from the front door. A hand-carved banister next to the front desk led up the stairs to the guest rooms. The many windows all around the Inn, though beautifully original, provided little in the way of insulation from the wind and rain.
Centered between two large windows at the opposite end of the lobby, a magnificent fireplace was the focal point of a plush velvet couch, two wing-back chairs, and a coffee table. A giant gold framed mirror hung above the ornate mahogany mantle, reflecting the red-orange glow of the fireplace back into the room. Inside, above the old stone hearth, a roaring fire cast dancing shadows about the room.
“This should be cozy,” Walt stood next to the fire rubbing his coarse hands together, “there’s plenty of seats. Sit anywhere you like.”
Joss, Nikki, and Natalie took the couch, and Charlotte, one of the two wingbacks, while Eliza sat on the stone hearth next to Walt.
“There. Now isn’t this nice?” Eliza pushed the brownie tray around the table, gesturing for everyone to help themselves. “Walt, dear, why don’t you get your portable radio?”
“I can do that,” Walt replied. “Be right back.”
“We don’t usually get to be so cozy with our guests all at once,” Eliza began, probing the group’s level of anxiety, “usually people all do their own things.” Smiling, she put her hands on her lap. “So, what brings you all here?”
Joss reached for the plate, grabbed two brownies, and handed one to Nikki. “We’re on a little romantic getaway.”
“I found you guys online, saw the reviews, and just had to book it,” Nikki said as she chewed on a brownie. “It’s so nice to just turn the world off sometimes, ya know?” She swallowed the rest of her mouthful.
Everyone agreed. Natalie raised her glass. “To the happy couple! May your romantic weekend be full of fun in the dark.” She laughed and raised an eyebrow.
“Cute,” Charlotte brought her glass close to her mouth, “but I prefer to have the lights on so I can see who I’m having fun with.” She took a sip, sucking in air to aerate the wine before swallowing.
“Wine connoisseur?” Natalie turned to Charlotte with a twinkle in her eye.
“No, I just like the stuff.” Charlotte licked her lips, “takes the edge off. Loosens me up.”
Another crash of thunder. This time, it shook the windows and doors even harder. Startled, everyone scanned the room to see if anything had broken.
“That was close!” Nikki squeezed Joss’ hand harder.
“I’ll say.” Joss pretended not to be startled.
“This old house does snap, crackle, and pop when there’s a storm like this,” Eliza confirmed.
“I need more wine.” Natalie lifted her glass hoping someone would fill it.
“I’ll get it.” Charlotte volunteered. “I think there are still unopened bottles in the dining room.”
Just then, Walt made it back to the lobby with a small portable radio in one hand. He set it on the table and turned it on. “Now, let’s see how bad things really are.” Popping static cut the air as he spun the dial trying to get a better signal.
Kshhft… “record-breaking storm hitting all over the northern” …krnklsht… “rain and flash floods have washed out bridges and roads” kzzshh… “trapping many residents” …zzkshh… “In other news, the Sheriff’s department is” …khspffsh… “officials are warning everyone to shelter in place” …pffkshh… “do not attempt to” …kshhzzff…
“Well, I guess that answers that,” Walt let out a tsk and lowered the volume to a pleasant background level when music began to play again.
“Let’s see now, where were we?” Eliza invited Natalie, “Ah yes, and how about you?”
“Me? I’m here despite myself.” Natalie set her almost empty glass in front of her. “I was supposed to be here with a girlfriend. You know, having a girl’s weekend in the country,” she tilted her head and fluttered her lashes at Nikki, “but things don’t always work out how they’re planned. Sometimes life, and husbands, get in the way.” With an eye roll and a sigh, she reached for a brownie.
“Oh, well, yes, I suppose sometimes they do, at that.” Eliza smiled at her husband, “But not my Walt, he’s always a love.” She patted his hand.
In sync with another boom of thunder, the front door burst open. Wind and rain blew in, scattering the flames in the fireplace, startling its audience. Shocked by the sound, and the rush of cold wet air, everyone turned to the doorway.
“Holy shit!” A loud voice shouted from the darkened foyer, “It’s fucking pouring out there!” The young man slammed the door shut behind him. He leaned forward and shook his head like a wet dog after a bath, spraying water in all directions.
“Can I help you?” Walt stood up and walked toward the front desk.
“Yeh, I gotta get outta this storm. You got a room?” The young man was wearing a black leather jacket, jeans, and motorcycle boots. He made muddy tracks on the floor where he entered and left puddles of dirty water where he passed.
“I’m sorry, we don’t have a room available tonight. But you’re welcome to join us by the fireplace for now and dry off.” Walt grabbed a card from the desk, holding it out to the young man. “There’s another Inn a few miles back. I could call—”
“I don’t think so, brah. I’m gonna stay right here.” The young man walked in further. “I’ll just stay on that couch right there,” he said pointing to where Joss, Nikki, and Natalie were seated. He scanned the room and everyone sitting around the fire, “unless one of you pretty ladies want some company tonight, eh?”
His wry smile beamed over a cleanshaven face revealing perfectly straight shiny white teeth. His black hair, wet and tousled from the rain, framed sharp and attractive facial features.
“No way am I driving anywhere in this storm.” The young man walked toward the fire holding his hands out hoping to catch some of the fire’s heat. “You guys got any food?”
Perplexed, Walt looked at Eliza, “Well, I guess we can’t just throw you out in the storm, so—”
“So here it is then, eh?” He shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head to the side, checking out the reactions of the others.
“W-w-would you like a brownie?” Eliza pushed the plate toward him.
The young man grabbed a brownie and sat in the empty chair. He shoved half of it in his mouth. “Name’s Kilo.” He said, chomping on it as if he hadn’t eaten in a week.
“Kilo? You mean like the weight?” Natalie rolled her eyes and chuckled.
Smacking as he chewed, “yeh, as in—it weighs a kilo. Wanna see?” He gave her a groin thrust and laughed.
“Well, hello Mr. Kilo,” Eliza adjusted herself on the hearth, “I’m Eliza—”
“And I’m Walt. Walt Bernard.” Walt put his hand out to shake. “We’re the owners of the Cozy Cottage Inn.”
Kilo watched Walt’s hand reach toward him but left it hanging, turning instead toward Charlotte, who just entered the lobby carrying an open bottle of wine in one hand.
“We have wine,” wide-eyed, Charlotte looked at Kilo quizzically and cleared her throat. She turned toward Natalie’s empty glass and began pouring. “Anyone else?” Natalie regarded her with a smile.
The yeses were silent, but unanimous by gesture.
Leaning in, Kilo’s eyes undressed Charlotte as she continued filling the glasses. As she bent over to pour, he stopped at her top, which was open three buttons below the collar. She could feel his eyes reaching into her shirt.
“So how about you, kitten? What’s your name?” He ogled her with bedroom eyes.
Standing straight, she adjusted her blouse before closing one of the buttons. “Charlotte.” She pursed her lips and gave Natalie a pensive glance.
“Well hell-o, Charlotte.” Kilo’s voice was smooth and deep. “Ooo, how I’d like to get stuck in your web.” He snickered. “Nah, I’m just teasing, I know you’re a kitten, too.”
Natalie sat forward, “Relax, pal, there’s no kitties for you to play with here tonight.”
“Really?” Kilo surveyed the room. “I count three,” he regarded Eliza, “no offense Nana.”
Eliza blushed with nervous contempt and turned her whole body sideways away from Kilo.
Lightning flashed outside followed close by another crash of thunder. Now just another layer of white noise, the sound of rain pouring outside, melded with the crackling fire.
“Shh.” Hearing a voice on the radio, Walt shushed everyone with a finger and turned up the volume, …
“as major pile-ups are preventing emergency services from accessing rural areas” …kffhht… “meanwhile, county residents have reported,” …khffpt…pffkhht… “stay tuned for more updates.”
“Damn, we missed most of the broadcast, but it sounds like a mess out there.” Walt frowned.
“Oh, it’s a mess out there all right. Ain’t nobody else getting through tonight,” Kilo snickered, “it’s real nice in here though.”
“Not that nice now,” Natalie murmured. She reached out and put her hand on the chair next to her, signaling Charlotte to have a seat. Charlotte sat and crossed her legs.
“Oh, I see how it goes. Okay.” Kilo shot a sly glance at Natalie and leaned back in his chair. “You don’t have to be jealous, kitten, there’s enough of me to go around.” He laughed.
There was an awkward moment of silence. “Why don’t we change the subject,” Eliza broke in, “the guests were all talking about why they’re here.”
“Oh, I see,” Kilo chuckled, “I interrupted something here.”
“We were just all getting to know each other and talking about why we’re here.” Walt lowered his hand and sat next to Eliza on the stone hearth. “We want to keep things warm and friendly.”
Ignoring Walt, Kilo was checking out Nikki, “Hey girl, you with that guy?” he asked, tipping up his head toward Joss.
Before Nikki could respond, Joss intervened, “Yes, uh, we’re together. I’m Joss, and this is my wife, Nikki.” Nikki scooched closer to him.
“Oh, wife!” Kilo smirked, taking a seat. Nodding, he put his hand up for a high five, “She looks hot, brah. I can see why you married her. I’d put a leash on that chicka too. Fo sho!” Kilo’s laugh was like a fuse.
Natalie’s jaw dropped, and before Joss could respond, Walt stood up, “Okay, okay, Mr. Kilo, that’s about enough of that kind of talk. We’re having a nice time here and if you’re going to be rude, storm or no, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave.” Walt’s voice was as stern as his deep-set eyes were serious, “We’re all having a tough enough time with the power out and all, we don’t need a troublemaker in our midst.”
Nikki slapped Joss on the thigh. Her eyes flared and her jaw clenched. Joss shrugged, “Yeh man, th-that’s pretty rude. Uh, you should—”
“Apologize. I know.” Kilo put both hands up, feigning surrender. “You’re right, gramps. I’m being kind of an asshole,” he admitted. “Just bustin’ in here and mouthing off like that. I’m just kidding around. I’m just tryin’ta have some fun in the middle of this shit storm.”
“Okay. Let’s try keeping things nice then, shall we?” Walt grabbed the fireplace poker and stirred the logs. He grabbed another log from the stack and threw it into the fire. Sparks popped and flew as it hit.
“So, where were we? Charlotte, would you like to tell us why you’re here.” Everyone looked her way. Grinning, Kilo cocked his head her way.
“I’ve been traveling around the country, just looking for a place to land.” She eyed her empty wine glass. “Life’s too short to hang around places with people you don’t want to be with.” She could see Kilo smirking derisively in her peripheral vision.
“Amen,” Natalie took another drink of wine and put her glass on the table next to Charlotte’s.
The storm continued to rain down on the Inn. High winds, rattling windows, and pelting raindrops on the roof became an ambient background to the conversation, now and again, highlighted by the crash of thunder or a loud pop from the fire.
Walt cleared his throat, “And how about you, Mr. Kilo? What brings you out tonight?”
There was a moment of silence. “It’s just Kilo.”
Walt shuddered apologetically. “Oh, yes, of course.”
Kilo stared into the fire, “I’m looking for someone.”
Another pause. “Oh.” Eliza scooted closer to Walt.
Kilo’s eyes narrowed. He turned to Eliza. “And when I find her, there’s gonna be trouble.” His voice sounded grave.
There was a pregnant pause as rank discomfort hung in the air like a rotten egg. A couple of seconds went by and Kilo let out a robust laugh, breaking the tension, “Hah!” his vibe relaxed, “Nah, I’m just out looking for my girl.”
Squirming in place, everyone let out a silent breath of relief as their uneasiness waned.
“So, let’s hope it all works out okay then.” Nervous, Eliza’s kind voice faded to a mumble.
“Well, that was fun”, Nikki rolled her eyes, “now what? Charades or something?”
“No, I’m not doing that,” Natalie shook her head and started to get up, “how about we just wrap this up and all go to our rooms and get some—”
“No,” Charlotte cut in, “I really think we should stay together.” She touched Natalie’s arm, “at least for a little while longer?” she appealed, tilting her head with a persuasive grin. “Just until we know more about what’s happening out there.”
Natalie considered Charlotte’s pleas, and with a deep breath, sat back down. “I suppose I could do with another glass of wine.”
“Well, let’s check the radio again and see what’s going on.” Walt turned up the volume. The announcement was distorted with intermittent static.
Kzzshht… “efforts of local authorities” …khhppfft… “are being thwarted by the severity of the storm” …kshhzrt… “are urged to” …khhzzt… “doors and windows…”
“Still raging out there,” Walt turned the volume down again. “And the signals no better.”
“Hey, I got an idea.” Kilo moved closer to the coffee table. The fire cast flickering strands of light over his face. “How about a little game of strip poker.” He leered at Natalie and Charlotte.
“Ew, no!” They both exclaimed in unison.
Uninhibited by the rejection, Kilo tilted his head toward Joss and Nikki. Joss turned away, nervously avoiding Kilo’s gaze. Disappointed, Nikki shook her head, noting Joss’ reluctance to stand up to the bully.
Charlotte blurted out, “Stories. How about scary stories?” She looked around the room for a response. “I mean, it’s a dark and stormy night. The power is out. We’re all stuck here.”
Everyone regarded each other waiting for the other to respond.
“You mean like things that scared us?” Nikki asked.
“No, I mean scary stories. You know, as in urban legends we heard when we were kids. The kind from camp or whatever. The kind that scared us!” She waited a moment and spoke again. “Well, whaddya think?”
Mumbles and sighs rode atop the noise of the storm and the sputtering fire.
“Sure, that could be fun.” Eliza hesitated, “But nothing too crude or violent.” She watched Kilo roll his eyes and shake his head.
“That kinda takes the scary out though, doesn’t it?” Joss put his hand to his chin.
“I don’t like scary stories.” Nikki fumbled with her necklace. “The real world is scary enough on its own. I say we just tal about our favorite vacations or what you’d do if you won the lottery or something.” She started, “If I won the lottery I’d have—”
Kilo interrupted, “I’ve gotta go last.” He grinned like a Cheshire cat.
“And why is that?” Natalie held up her empty glass sending a queue to whoever would pour her more wine.
“Cause mine’s guaranteed to be the scariest. It’ll make you shit where you sit.” Kilo’s demeanor shifted to a serious tone. “So, who’s gonna go first?”
The room went quiet as everyone contemplated. They searched their memories for a tale to tell until Joss finally spoke up.
“Okay. I’ve got one, but I’m outta wine.” He peeked at Nikki hoping for enthusiasm.
“Whatdya looking at me for?” Nikki pushed back.
Charlotte got up, “I’ll get another bottle. Go ahead and start, I’ll be listening.” She lit her smartphone and walked to the dining room.
“Okay. I heard this one when I was a teenager and it always creeped me out.” Joss set his glass down, narrowed his eyes, and lowered his voice. “So, there’s this young woman who goes out for drinks one night with her girlfriends and gets really, really, drunk. She’s worried about driving home so she decides to take the back roads to avoid the drunk driving checkpoints.”
“Who drives drunk these days? She should just Lyft home.” Nikki cut in.
“Yeh, well this was before all that, okay?
“Still, they had cabs.”
“Okay, but she didn’t get a cab, she drove!” Joss waved his hand as if shooing away a fly. “Okay, so, she’s driving along the back roads and hears on the radio that an escaped serial killer is on the loose somewhere in the area. Suddenly, she sees headlights in her rear-view mirror coming up fast. As the car gets closer, she sees its blinkers go on like it’s gonna pass her. It gets right up on her tail. Then suddenly, it swerves back behind her and gets right up on her rear, flashing its lights and honking!
She doesn’t know what’s going on or what she did to piss this guy off. Maybe this is the serial killer from the radio! So, she puts her hand out the window and tries to wave a friendly ‘its ok to pass me’ message to the guy. He’s toggling his lights on and off, still honking and flashing his brights, and getting dangerously close to her rear end.”
“I’d have slammed on the brakes and made him crash.” Nikki made a defensive gesture with her hand. The others muttered in the background.
Joss continued, “She runs every light and stop sign just hoping a cop will be there to stop her, but of course, where’s the cops when you need em? Right?”
“At the donut shop, arresting donuts?” Sardonic sighs followed Walt’s comment. He shrugged. Eliza grabbed his hand and they smiled at each other.
Joss continued, “So, she’s really scared now, but she’s close to home. She takes a couple of fast turns toward her house hoping to lose the guy, but he’s still following her, honking and flashing his brights.
Finally, she makes it home and screeches into the driveway. She throws the car door open and runs to the front door as fast as she can. The car speeds around the corner and skids into the driveway behind her. She’s standing there fumbling for her keys when the driver jumps out of his car screaming, ‘Get in the house! Lock the door and call the police!’
“Oh my, this is scary,” Eliza’s shoulders rose, “What did the poor girl do?
Joss acknowledged Eliza’s fear with raised eyebrows, “she makes it into the house and calls the cops. They arrive a few minutes later and tell the lady that the guy in the car chasing her saved her life!”
Eliza gasped, putting one hand to her mouth. “What? How?”
Joss’ tone intensified, “because when he first pulled up behind her on the road, his headlights lit up the inside of her car and he saw a man holding a butcher knife in the back seat, ready to stab her! When the cops got there, the only sign of him left was a butcher knife laying on the back seat!” Joss folded his arms on his chest and sunk back into the couch.
Just then, Charlotte returned with two bottles of wine. “Anyone?” She gestured around tipping the bottles slightly toward them.
“Took you long enough,” Nikki held her glass out immediately.
Everyone but Kilo grabbed their glasses and held them up for a pour. “How about you?” Charlotte tilted the bottle toward Kilo. “I can get you a glass.” Charlotte encouraged.
“Nope, I’m good,” he swiped his hand to the side like a pass signal at the blackjack table.
“You sure?” Charlotte pressed, “It’s good wine. Seems like you could probably use something to help you—”
“I said no.” Disregarding Charlotte, he gave Joss a pathetic look, “Dude, that was lame. Not even scary.” He shook his head and laughed. “My baby sister tells scarier stories than that. You guys are gonna have to do way better than that.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Natalie was annoyed.
Kilo whispered a hissed response, “If you want to scare someone.”
Walt cleared his throat, “Well, I think it was just fine. It was creepy. And who wouldn’t be afraid of someone hiding in the back seat with a butcher knife? How about we check on the storm?”
Nikki agreed. She grabbed her glass and another bite of brownie.
“I’m bummed I didn’t hear the whole thing.” Charlotte poured more wine into Natalie’s glass and passed the other bottle around.
“You should tell one, Kitten.” Kilo insisted.
“I’m more of a performance artist,” Charlotte paused. “Not really a storyteller.” She filled Nikki’s glass with the remains of the second bottle.
“We’ll, I’d love to see you perform sometime,” Kilo leaked. “So, what’s scary to you, kitten?” Black as coal, the reflection of the fire danced in Kilo’s eyes as he stared at her.
The wind rattled the windows harder and in a ‘saved by the bell moment,’ Walt cut in, “Wait a sec.” He turned up the radio.
…Kffzzhht… “of several people in a remote gas station” …shhkft… “local law enforcement has” …fshhkt… “to the north county area, warning residents” …khhsst… “Hospital authorities are”…pkhht… “strongly suspect a” …khhzzt…
Frustrated, Walt turned down the radio.
“I have a story,” Nikki said. “It’s a folk tale I heard from my cousin when I was a little girl. It’s kinda creepy, but kinda sweet too.”
“This should be good,” Joss rolled his eyes. He flinched and laughed. Nikki smacked his thigh with one hand and shushed him with the other. “Seriously though, Nikki is such a great storyteller.” Everyone responded with nods and ‘uh huh’s.
Nikki raised her hands, palms down as if calming the water in a bathtub. “It’s nearing sundown. Driving alone down an old two-lane country highway not too far from here, a traveling salesman was looking for a cheap motel to stay in for the night. Just before getting into town, he comes to an intersection. Across the way sees a beautiful young girl in a lavender gown standing alone on the side of the road. He thinks, this is a strange place for a teenage girl to be standing alone at this time of night.”
“Girl on a corner?” Kilo laughed, “Not so strange.”
“Funny.” Natalie faked a silent laugh, “douchebag.” she muttered under her breath.
Nikki continued, “So, worried she’s out there alone, he stops and asks if she needs a ride.
Happy to see him, she gets in the car and tells him she’s been waiting there for hours. Her date to the senior prom ditched her and just wants to go home. It’s pretty cold out, and she’s been standing there shivering, so the guy tells her she can put his coat on to warm up.
She tells him her address and how to get there. They don’t talk much while driving, except for directions and stuff. When they arrive, he drops her off. She thanks him and walks up the walkway to the house. Glad she’s home, he goes on his way. After about ten minutes he remembers she was still wearing his coat when he dropped her off. So, he decides to go back and get it. When he gets there, he rings the bell.”
“I wouldn’t answer the door that late,” Natalie shook her head and glared at Kilo, who was staring hard at Nikki as she spoke.
“So, a woman opens the door. It’s the girl’s mom. The guy explains who he is and why he’s ringing the bell this late at night. The girl’s mother begins to cry. She tells him that exactly one year ago tonight, her daughter was killed by a hit-and-run driver while waiting for a ride home from her senior prom, at the very spot he said he picked her up.”
“Ooo,” now that’s creepy, “Eliza shivered and cozied up to Walt.
Nikki started, “Wait, here’s where it gets creepy.”
“So good, so far.” Charlotte poured Natalie, Walt, and Eliza another glass of wine.
Nikki continued, “The guy doesn’t believe the mom, and insists she’s mistaken. So, to prove it, she tells him where her daughter is buried.”
“What? Now that’s ridiculous,” Joss interrupted. “No one’s gonna do that.”
“It’s a folk tale, Joss!” Nikki pushed at him.
“Anyway, he’s curious. So, he makes his way to the local graveyard and searches for her grave. Finally, when he finds it, chills run up and down his spine, because neatly folded and set atop the gravestone, was his coat.” Nikki finished with a satisfied grin, clasped her hands, and sat back.
“Not bad,” Kilo made a temple of his fingertips and cracked his knuckles, “sweet, and eerie, but not scary.” His eyes darted around the room. “Anyone else?”
The fire crackled and popped as Walt tossed another log on top. The wind and rain pounded against the doors and windows, rattling the glass in their old wooden frames.
“Hold on a sec,” hearing a voice on the radio, Walt turned it up.
Kzhht… “efforts of local authorities are being thwarted by the severity of the storm” … khhfft… “making further investigation all but impossible” …khhkt… “Area residents are urged to shelter in place and keep their doors and windows locked.” Stay tuned for updates.”
“Still nothing new.” Walt turned the radio down and took a deep breath, “Okay, I guess I may as well join in. You’ve probably already heard this one.” He shook his head.
“Tell us anyway, darling,” Eliza insisted.
Walt nodded. “Okay. There were two teenage lovebirds out on a date one night at make-out point, having a French kissing session—”
“I don’t think that’s what they call it anymore dear,” Eliza giggled.
“I’d call it a skull session.” Kilo laughed.
“Ahem,” Walt continued, “well, whatever you call it, they were doing it out in the middle of nowhere in the pitch-black of night in the front seat of the car. The boy is eager to get things rolling and get past first base, so he turns on the radio to help set the mood. After a few compliments and soft massaging touches, he leans over and starts kissing the girl.
The mood’s a-goin’ and the juices are a-flowin’. But halfway into the song, the music is interrupted by a news bulletin. They’re warning everyone in the area that a crazed murderer has just escaped from the high-security state asylum for the criminally insane, which is very near the make-out point. They’re warning everyone to be on the lookout for a strange-looking man lurking about with a hook in place of his right hand, and if spotted, not to approach him and to notify authorities immediately.”
“Don’t they usually take the hook off their hand when they put them in there?” Natalie mocked.
“Oh, right, well I guess it maybe wasn’t an escaped convict. So, I guess it was just a serial killer who had struck in the area very near the make-out point.” Walt went on, “So, the boy tells her it’s ok, but the girl is very frightened and wants to go home. Trying to impress her, he assures her they’ll be safe and locks all the doors. He tries to keep making out, but the girl isn’t going for it. She gets mad and pushes him away, demanding that he take her home.”
“Bummer,” Kilo chuckled, “I’da kept makin’ out wit her anyway, haha.”
Charlotte regarded Kilo with a frown. “Are you sure you don’t want some wine? It might help you relax.”
“Nah, I’m good.” Smiling, Kilo put his arms up, clasping his hands behind his head.
“Okay, so, bummed out, the boy sits back in his seat and starts the car, spinning its wheels in the dirt as he drives away. When they finally get to the girl’s house she gets out of the car. When she goes to close the door, she starts screaming in terror. The boy runs to her side to see what’s going on, and dangling from the passenger door handle is a bloody hook.”
Walt’s eyes scouted the room. Faces barely nodded in the flickering light. Walt stretched, letting out a dull moan. “I’m feeling a little achy.”
“Me too,” Eliza whispered.
“That was scary,” Natalie yawned and sipped her glass. “I hate the bloody-hook thing, so gross.”
“If you think that was scary, wait till you hear mine. It’s gonna scare the shit outta you!” Kilo’s eyes were excited to see discomfort spread around the room. “That is unless you wanna go first, kitten?”
Charlotte shot back a dull smile, “Go ahead, see if you can make anyone jump.”
“Okay,” he started. “Here’s something urban. Maybe a legend, maybe not. I don’t know. When I’m finished, you tell me. Maybe it really happened.”
Everyone remained still, looking at Kilo.
“These two college girls roomed together in a dorm. One night there was a frat party and the two decided to go. They figured they’d meet some guys to hook up with, you know. So, they get there and start dancing and drinking, having a good time and all, until one of ‘em starts to feel sick. The sick one tells her friend to just hang at the party. She says she’s gonna go back to their dorm to sleep it off. Thing is, heh, heh, to get back home, she has to go through the woods. And there’s been this rumor going around that some crazy dude just escaped from the looney bin for the criminally insane—”
“Oh, great, and so you ended up here instead of staying in the woods?” Natalie chided and looked away.
Ignoring her, Kilo’s eyes widened, the glint from the fire reflected in his pupils. He continued. “Like I said, rumors were going around that a crazed killer might be lurking around the woods, but she didn’t know. She felt bad but didn’t want to spoil it for her friend, so she told her to just stay at the party and enjoy herself. She’d get someone to walk her home. But she didn’t. Nah, she just went on her own. So, the party goes on and the friend hangs out a bit and parties some more. But then she figures, hey, I better go check on my friend. So, she leaves. When she gets to the woods, she’s walking, and she hears rustling in the trees and heavy panting coming from somewhere in the dark, behind her.”
Kilo made heavy panting sounds to illustrate.
“Kinda freaked, she starts walking faster, but the panting gets heavier, and the rustling gets louder. Now she’s scared. She bolts. But all the way, the panting, and rustling is right behind her. She’s not wasting time looking back. She just runs to the dorm door and up the stairs. When she gets to the top, she hears the door open downstairs, and footsteps and panting again. She jets down the hall to her room and locks the door. Soon, she hears the panting, louder now, just outside the door! The lights are off. She hears the doorknob begin to rattle and shake like it’s about to break open. Freaked, she runs into the closet because there’s nowhere else to hide. She hears the door bust open. The panting is loud now and in the room. Then—scrape, scrape, scrape like claws scratching on the closet door trying to get in. And heavy, heavy, breathing, and panting, too. She screams and screams. The panting stops. She’s still screaming. Heh. Pretty quick, one of the dorm staff busts into the room and yells for her to come out.”
Kilo lowered his voice to a hiss, “And you know what? Laying there dead on the floor throat slit ear to ear, is her roommate.” Kilo’s expression became excited, “The dude followed her from the woods when she was on her way home. And she was afraid to let her friend walk home alone. Dumb bitch.” Kilo laughed and sat forward.
The room was quiet but for the snapping crackle of the fire, the raging storm outside, and the low static crackle of the radio. Everyone was still, staring at him, wide-eyed, with blank, mannequin-like facial expressions.
“And you know the worst part?” A crazed look came over his face, “I didn’t get ‘em both.” He pulled a large hunting knife from his jacket and stabbed it deep into the wooden table in front of him, “but the other one won’t get far.” He stood suddenly.
No one moved or even flinched. His smile was ear to ear as he scanned the room. “What the fuck is wrong with you people? Didn’t you hear what I just said? I said—”
“Oh, they heard you,” the sudden swipe of a straight razor flashed in the firelight from behind Kilo. His hands went up in a futile attempt to stop the blood from pouring out of his neck. Gushing red rivers of warm life spewed between his fingers as he fell, twitching, into the wingback. “it’s just that, it wasn’t very scary, dickhead.”
Charlotte emerged from the dark and stood by the fireplace. Everyone sat quietly. The howling wind rattled the windows, making its way into the lobby through the flawed nooks and crannies of the old building. Invisible tendrils of air gently caressed the crackling fire. Short gasps and bloody gurgles spilled from Kilo as he continued convulsing in the chair. The wine glasses, mostly empty and left on the table, flickered reflections of the waning firelight. No one moved. Everyone remained perfectly still in their places, silently flitting wide-eyed glances at one another. A few more moments went by.
“I know I said I was a performance artist, but I guess I’ll give storytelling a try,” she pronounced. “If any of you have heard this one, stop me.” She chuckled. “I think it’s scary. It happened not too long ago out in the boonies at an old bed and breakfast,” Charlotte began, “a bunch of people stranded together taking shelter from a storm, found themselves bored with nothing to do. Everyone gathered around the fireplace drinking wine and telling scary stories.” She paused, “Except of course, for this one dumbass,” she raised her foot and pushed Kilo’s limp, blood-soaked body off the chair.
No one moved. Silent as statues, they all stared at Charlotte.
She continued, “But what they didn’t know is someone poisoned their wine! Not with the kind of poison that kills. No. Something much more exotic and interesting. This poison just paralyzes the body so nothing can move but the eyes.”
Smiling, Charlotte drew a deep breath. “It takes a few sips, and a little while to take effect, but—once—it—does,” she sang, “—no more moving.” She winked and pranced toward the fireplace, putting a finger to her lips, “Shh, not even a sound. Lungs and all the other stuff keep going, but just enough to stay alive—for now.” She grinned. “So just relax and enjoy the show. Don’t you love audience participation!”
She walked along the fireplace holding the straight razor at eye level, gently gliding it across Eliza’s face. It cut her just enough to open a thin line of blood on her cheek. Unable to move, Eliza’s pupils widened as her eyes shook in their sockets. She stared wide-eyed at Charlotte.
“Anyone scared?” Charlotte licked Eliza’s blood from the razor. “Enough storytelling, now it’s time for some performance art!” And like the maestro of a gruesome orchestra, she raised her arms to introduce her crescendo. Smiling and swinging in a wide arc, she danced around the table. The twirling blade glinted in the firelight like a blood-spattered flash of lightning—slashing left—then right—then left again. The crackling fire and storm outside fused with Charlotte’s snickers and the screeching static of the radio in a grim cacophony of death. She paused, “by the way, I call this one, be still.”
Greg Beckham has been writing dark fiction stories and poetry since the early 1980’s, though his first published work was a non-fiction book in the arena of human excellence. Though, as an author his true love has always been dark fiction and horror. When not writing, Greg expresses his dark creativity as the singer of a heavy metal band, where he brings his dark verse to life through music. You can read more about Greg at www.DarkFiction.org.