“To Drive a Spirit In” Supernatural Dark Fiction by Aly Rusciano

"To Drive a Spirit In" by Aly Rusciano

I take a deep breath, letting the musty air from the dark parlor burn my lungs. There’s nothing pleasant about this place. If I thought it had looked bad on the outside, it was even worse on the inside. A beat-up air conditioning unit clunks away in the window in front of me. I wipe my hands on my equally sweaty thighs as I stare at the chipping paint caked on the top windowpane. “Fuck this” and “Brad was here” are etched into the black, along with several crude images. I couldn’t agree more with Brad, whether he wrote the former or not.

A blinking, bug-filled fluorescent light pulls my focus away from the screeching window. It dangles on a metal chain. It looks new. The old one probably snapped and smacked the last client in the head. Let’s hope I’m not so lucky.

I squint through the palpitating blink at the dingy ceiling tiles tinted yellow from decades of cigarette smoke. Stars spot my vision, and, for a moment, I second guess everything. How did I end up here, sitting on this torn vinyl table that’s sure to leave a heat rash on my legs? Was I really going to go through with it?

And it’s the silence under that God-forsaken howling air conditioner that reminds me why I’m here, what I need to do.

I take another deep breath, making myself savor the damp smell. I have to remember the plan. I’ve watched this tattoo parlor for months. I’d calculated the perfect time to waltz in, memorized what I would say, practiced how I would carry myself. I’d gotten this far. I couldn’t back out now.

An ear-piercing scream tears through me. Figures they’d show up now. They always show up when I have something important to do, or I’m using the bathroom, or I’m trying to pass an algebra exam.

The ghost wants me to flinch, to fall to the floor and cradle my head and scream for my mommy. Twelve years ago, I probably would’ve. But not today. All I do now is roll my eyes and put up another wall, taking my time with each invisible brick so they can watch and scream and beg. If they’re not the scream I’m looking for, they don’t deserve my time of day.

Before I place the final brick, I listen, waiting.


The familiar feeling of disappointment tugs on my heart as I place the final brick in front of the door.

And then the shift and squash of someone large plopping down on a chair brings me back to the physical world.

I blink to find Jeffery “Bear” Johnson sitting in front of me—legs splayed, tatted arms nearly reaching the floor, scraggly beard grazing a broad leather-coated chest. Even though I’d seen this boulder of a man enter and exit the building a thousand times, sitting across from him was an entirely different story. His reputation preceded him. Everyone in Stagnant Hill knew who Bear was, and although I’d lived in this washed-up town my entire life, I’d only ever heard rumors. And staring at him now, I wouldn’t doubt a single one.

“Yer sure about this, Madison?” the gorilla asks. His voice is strangely mellow considering his rough features. “I could add er few lines to even—”

I don’t give him a chance to finish. “No. That’s what I want. Exactly that.”

He shakes his head. “Teens,” he grumbles as he spins around to the stained table. “Some freedom and money and nothin’ changes yer minds. But at least I get er decent buck out er it.”

I hold my tongue. I wasn’t like the other 18-year-olds in Stagnant Hill, and not because I’m some cliché book trope—I highly doubt any of those characters could see ghosts. I haven’t been like other girls or boys or people for twelve years. But this was going to change that. This was going to set things right.

A small smile tugs on my lips at the thought of her being happy again. I search for her voice, but all I’m left with are flashbacks.

I watch as I point up at the tree to the cat only I can see.

I watch as we scale the branch. Her arms held out in a T.

I watch as I reach out, her shoulder blades warm in my palms.

I watch as her brains splatter across the pavement.

I watch as the light leaves her eyes and freezes her face in a silent scream.

I hear the utter silence as her spirit slides under the door without a sound. 

Claire’s been quiet for twelve years. Every other ghost in Stagnant Hill haunts me. Every one except Claire. I’ve tried everything to bring her back—rituals, chants, dark magic—but nothing works. My twin sister refuses to haunt me, to forgive me, and this is my last hope to fix what I’ve done.

“Any meanin’ behind er tattoo?” Bear’s question startles me, and I let the guilt shake away with my thoughts.

Not a chance in hell I’d tell him the truth. “Would you be disappointed if I said no?”

A faint smile tugs on his lips. “Nah. But it’s like nothin’ I er seen before.” He shrugs. “Thought it’d be some family thing er somethin’.”

“You’ve known about my family for years,” I say with a roll of my eyes. “Have you ever seen something like that around them?”

“It’s not fer Claire, is it?”

My throat catches. “No. It’s not.”

Bear grunts, eyeing the piece of scrap paper with my etched design. He opens his mouth to speak again, but I don’t let him. “Just do it already. I’m not paying you for conversation.”

This causes him to chuckle and shake his head. Guess not many 18-year-olds are willing to talk back to him. Add that to the “Ways Madison Isn’t Like Other Girls” list. 

I close my eyes as he begins to transfer the design to the inside of my forearm. A shrill of cries and shouts billow out as I open the door to the souls. Please, just answer me.


“How’s that?”

I open my eyes and glance down at my arm to see a blue crisscrossing of sharp angles. I’ve memorized every line of this rune—designed it myself after months and months of research and deep dives into the dark web. It’s the rune that’ll bring my sister back. “Perfect.”

Bear grunts again, obviously taking my need for no conversation seriously.

I slam the door to the spirit realm and ignore the distant shouts for help as I innocently ask, “You’re going to use my ink, right?” I reach into my back pocket and pull out a vial of a murky, dark substance. The edges glow a deep brown under the flickering yellow light.

He stares at the vial, utterly unreadable. “Madison, I—”

I toss a stack of bills onto the table. There’s nothing Bear wouldn’t do for a buck.

He flips through the wad with his thumb, the edges fanning out before him. A pleased smile stretches across his lips as he tucks the stack into his pocket. “It’s er pleasure doin’ business with er,” he says with a wink.

With no questions asked, Bear takes the vial. Its a good thing Im not planning on using my college savings, I think to myself. The thick, practically clumpy, liquid drips from the vial slowly, and I can feel Bear’s annoyance. I was lucky to snap off enough of Claire’s fingers and set her coffin back in the ground without getting thrown into jail. But I wasn’t about to buy a heavy-duty blender to whip up my concoction of bone, food coloring, and ancient herbs.

I lean back on the table as the final drop leaves the vial, close my eyes, and open the door once again. It’s now or never. 

I call out to her, racing past unfamiliar faces and mists of smoke. They cry and cry and cry. They beg me for help, but I’m not searching for them. I’ve never cared about them.

I feel the first prick drive into my skin, but I keep diving. The buzz of the gun is a distant whir. 

Each thrum of the needle sends me further and further until I’m the farthest I’ve ever been.

I suddenly stop, the phantom wind easing at my sides. It’s quiet. Too quiet. There’s nothing but gray. This is it. I’ve reached the gate, the final door to the spirit realm.

I sink to my knees, chanting the ancient words I’ve memorized into the chill expanse. Is this where Claire’s been trapped? In an endless pit of nothingness?

My body buzzes, and I can’t remember if that’s the feeling of the tattoo gun or something new.

The gray around me blurs. But it could’ve been that way before.

Forbidden words mumble out of my lips, but I can’t hear them.


I’m saying my name.


I’m singing.


I’m taunting.

But I haven’t called myself that in years. Twelve, to be exact.

The gray thickens to a sludgy black until it’s covering my hands, filling my lungs, and coating my eyes. The gate is taking me too soon. I thought I’d have more time. I want to hear her voice. I want to see her. I want to say it should’ve been me all along. But the only thing here is my reflection. 

Except she has a dimple in her left cheek. 

Relief washes over me as the image fades. My sister is free, and so am I. I sink down and down until I fade away, becoming nothing more than a whisper in the dark.

Aly Rusciano is a Creative Writer based outside of Nashville, Tennessee. She graduated from The University of Tennessee at Martin in 2021 with a BA in English, focusing in Creative Writing. Aly’s publications can be found on her blog: https://alyrusciano.wordpress.com

“The Flat Share” Dark, Supernatural Fiction by J.L. Corbett

"The Flat Share" Dark, Supernatural Fiction by J.L. Corbett

“You’re having a laugh, mate! How was I supposed to know my bank account was about to go into default? I was in Thailand! Absolute con artists, you lot are, slapping on charges whenever you fancy it!”

“I understand your frustration, sir. Did you notify the bank of your change of address so that they could redirect your letters?”

“What do you mean, “change of address”? I didn’t move to Thailand, ya numpty, I was only there for six months! I had loads of letters when I got home!”

Working in a call-centre is hell.

“…so you can go back to the bank and tell ’em I’m not paying a penny! It’s not right, sticking on all these charges when I wasn’t even in the country! And you know what? If you won’t help me, I’ll go to the ombudsman! I’m not being funny, but I’m gonna stand up for my rights and I…”

The digital clock in the bottom-right corner of Oscar’s computer screen ticked over from 19:29 to 19:30. His shift was finally over, only not really.

Not only is working in a call-centre boring, it’s also bad for your health. The rotating shifts obliterate any chance at a work-life balance, and for what? Most shift-based jobs are designed that way because the work is so important that it can’t ever stop – nurses, firemen, suicide hotliners – but that’s not the case with call-centres. The only reason they open so early and close so late is because British culture is built upon complaining, and there always needs to be a faceless drone clocked in to eat shit.

All too often, Oscar had left the call-centre at nine o’clock at night only to drag himself, bleary-eyed, back into the grey building at eight o’clock the following morning, wondering if he should have perhaps just slept at his desk.

The digital clock on his computer screen now read 19:45 and Oscar’s customer was beginning to run out of steam. Oscar began to gather his belongings whilst reeling off a dull paragraph about the collections process that he could probably now recite in his sleep.

Minutes later, Oscar had raced down five flights of stairs (the lift was tiny and packed full of other tired drones) and was striding out of The Maltings business park. It was Friday evening, he had a whole sixteen hours until he needed to be back at work, and he was going to spend as many of those hours as possible away from his silent, empty flat. He and the lads were going to get absolutely wankered.

The Lion and Key pub in Old Town was alive with the excitement of the weekend. Drunk patrons were crammed into every inch of space in the small pub, most of them getting rowdy in a benign sort of way. Ordinarily it would be quite difficult to find one’s friends in such a dense crowd, but Oscar moved through the revellers with purpose. His friends would be sat at the same corner table they’d been at for the past decade.

“Alright, boys?” Oscar took a swig from the lukewarm pint of beer that had been left in his vacant space at the table. The beer had been there so long that a wet ring was soaked into the cardboard coaster beneath it and the glass was sweating water droplets.

“Oh, now he decides to show up!” Mankey grinned. “I was just about to neck ya pint, mate.”

“Cheers, boys. I’ll get the next round in,” Oscar said. His friends laughed and waved their empty glasses in his face, to which he grinned and downed his beer in a few seconds flat. As he jostled his way through the Friday evening crowd to the bar, a memory whispered into his mind – Izzy’s face of concern, telling him that he needed to slow down his drinking.

“It’s getting bad, Ozzy…”

Nope. Not thinking about that tonight.

As the night wore on, talk turned to the weeks they’d each had. Josh regaled the group with dodgy stories of how he and the other solicitors on Parliament Street had been hazing their new apprentices. Luke, who was exhausted, described the tiring week he’d had at Hull Royal Infirmary’s A&E department, where they’d had to deal with a slew of hypochondriacs. Even Mankey had a few interesting anecdotes from his life as a secondary school teacher.

If there had been a moment in which Oscar could take his turn to talk about his job, he’d intentionally let it pass by, unspoken. When he had started working at the call-centre four years ago, he had delighted in telling his friends funny stories about weird callers and the insane things that they would complain about. But now that he was nearing the end of his twenties, he no longer enjoyed telling these stories. Far from being funny, the stories were markers of an adult stuck in a juvenile job. Everybody he had started with had long since left the company, moved onto brighter prospects.

All week long, he had been looking forward to being in the pub with his mates, but now that he was there, he felt stale and awkward.


It was almost one o’clock in the morning by the time Oscar fell through his front door after struggling to slot his key into the lock. He found himself face down in the grey carpet of his hallway, his ears ringing with pub noise and his eyes blurring with alcohol. He suddenly became aware that his bladder was about to burst, and so he used all his concentration to flop onto his back and relieve the pressure.

Don’t piss on the floor again!

Thankfully, this turned out to be one of the nights where he managed to make it to the bathroom without defiling the carpet along the way.

As he was relieving himself, he became dimly aware of an irritating noise; the soft, rhythmic sound of water dropping against ceramic. The shower head was dripping. That was strange, because whilst it was an ancient shower head that always dripped for about an hour after use, it hadn’t been used since Oscar’s rushed shower that morning. There was nobody else in the house – Izzy was long gone.

He flushed the toilet and staggered to the sink, where he found that the mirror was fogged up.

Oscar staggered to bed, too drunk to pay any notice to the sense of unease buried deep within him.


Over the next few days, the atmosphere in Oscar’s flat grew increasingly strange as the sensation of unseen, unwanted companionship persisted. On Sunday evening, he walked into the kitchen to find that one of his mugs (the one with the cartoon pig) was sitting next to the sink – he knew that he hadn’t put it there, and there certainly hadn’t been anybody else in his flat that could’ve done it. Stranger still, there were tea dregs in the mug. Oscar didn’t even drink tea – the dusty box of PG Tips had been bought out of obligation for guests.

On Tuesday morning, before his late shift at the call-centre, he drew back the curtains in the living room and was hit with the acrid stench of old cigarette smoke. Confused, he rubbed the curtains between his thumb and forefinger and found that they were grimy with smoke, as though somebody had been smoking indoors for decades. Oscar only smoked when he was out with the lads and certainly never indoors.

About an hour later he stepped outside to drop a full bin liner into the communal waste bin, only to be accosted by Maeve Doherty, the elderly lady who lived below Oscar in the lower half of the maisonette. She was furious and accused him of having his music too loud the night before.

“I don’t want to be listening to that racket, all guitars and high-pitched nonsense!” she had yelled from her doorstep, before slamming her front door shut.

Her complaint struck Oscar as strange, because not only did he not tend to listen to the sort of music she was describing, but he had been working so late the night before that he had simply come home, eaten a Pot Noodle and fallen asleep before being woken by his alarm early the next morning for work.

She’s old. Must be losing it.


It didn’t take long for Oscar to see the man for the first time. It was a gloomy night with an unusually heavy amount of rainfall. Oscar had crashed into the flat, soaked and frozen to the bone, shaking the rain off his broken umbrella and tracking mud into the hallway carpet. He had ripped off his sodden jacket and kicked off his waterlogged trainers only to find that his socks were also soaked through. He’d peeled them off, intending to put them in for a wash.

He trudged into his sitting room and found an older gentleman sitting on the sofa, smoking a cigarette and watching what looked like a World War Two documentary on the television. A beagle was curled up at his feet, asleep, and the pig mug was balanced on the arm of the sofa.

Oscar stood in the doorway, frozen in fear and confusion, and dripping rain onto the carpet.

Suddenly, the man noticed Oscar. He leapt from the sofa, knocking the half-full mug to the floor, tea splattering everywhere, including onto the beagle. The dog awoke with a start and began yapping and darting about the room in an attempt to understand why her master was yelling, why she was covered in lukewarm tea and who the stranger in the doorway was.

“Who the flaming heck are you?” the man shouted.

“What? I’m… this is… I live here!” Oscar spluttered. “Who the hell are you, pal?”

For a moment, the two men stood opposite one another utter confusion, both too flabbergasted to know what to do. The man looked like he was a few decades older than Oscar. His face was weathered with a lifetime of hard work, and what was left of his hair was wispy and grey. His outdated clothes were slightly oversized, old, like he had lost some weight and not updated his wardrobe. There was something about him – perhaps his stance, or his pattern of speech, or even just the way he looked – that gave Oscar the anxious feeling that he was from a different time.

The dog was now crouching behind her master and growling at Oscar.

“I dunno who you think you are, ya jumped up little idiot, but I’ve lived in this bloody house for longer than you’ve been alive!” The old man began to stride towards Oscar, pulling back an arm as if to strike a blow. Incensed at the man’s audacity, Oscar threw his sodden socks to the floor and raised his fists to his face, ready for a fight. The man threw a fist, only just before the moment of impact he abruptly vanished into a puff of grey smoke, taking his noisy dog with him. The cigarette that he’d been holding between his fingers dropped onto the carpet. Oscar stayed where he was with his fists raised and his eyes squeezed shut. Eventually, he dropped his fists and opened his eyes.

He was alone again.

Did that really just happen?

The cigarette was burning a hole through the carpet. Oscar instinctively tried to stamp it out but yelped in pain – he was barefoot. He quickly picked up the cigarette and stubbed it out on the coffee table (Izzy definitely would’ve moaned about that, the wood would never look the same again). He glanced at the television, which was still playing The History Channel. Oscar hadn’t even known he got that channel.

Yeah, that really just happened.


Over the next few weeks, the old man kept popping up at odd and inconvenient times. Sometimes several days would pass without him making an appearance, but then he’d appear again, watching television or staring out the sitting room window at the street below. As soon as he noticed Oscar watching him, he would always start shouting at him, which always set his dog off too.

One time, the old man particularly full of rage. He was yelling at Oscar to “get the flaming ’eck outtuv my ’ouse!”, when he worked himself into such a heightened state of ire that he stomped into the spare bedroom, where he slammed the door behind him like a teenager having a tantrum. When Oscar wrenched the door to the spare room open, he found the room was empty, but that familiar cigarette stench hung in the air.

Oscar decided that he needed to get to the bottom of the issue. What was the alternative? Become reluctant flatmates with an angry ghost bloke in his sixties?

He had the following Wednesday off work, so he made time that afternoon to sit down with his laptop and research the history of his flat. It was surprisingly difficult to find much information in this age of technology, but after almost an hour of varying his search terms and falling down a rabbit hole of old Hull news stories, he found the obituary.

In loving memory of Fred Welton, who sadly passed away at home on 9th January 1963, aged 68, at the side of his beloved dog, Clover. Loving husband of Maggie Welton, he is now reunited with her once more.

The sad little paragraph was accompanied by a grainy, black and white photo of the angry ghost man, before he became a ghost. He still looked rather angry.

Oscar closed his laptop and stared at the wall for a long time.

He’s not been reunited with her though, has he?


The following evening, Oscar slumped face down onto the sofa after a long day of customers screaming at him (his ears were still ringing, which was sadly not unusual). On evenings like this one, he used to text Izzy during the bus ride home and by the time he got in, she’d be waiting for him with a heated up ready meal and a cold bottle of San Miguel, and she would sit opposite him at the table and listen intently whilst he unloaded his troubles.

He wondered what she was doing at that moment.

“Din’t I tell you ta sling yer hook, kid?”

Oscar groaned and yelled into the sofa cushion, “For god’s sake! Not today, Fred!”

He whipped up into a seated position and saw Fred staring back at him blankly.

“You know my name.”

“Yeah. I Googled you.”

“You did what to me, kid?”

“Oh, I, uh… I looked you up.”


This revelation seemed to have completely disarmed Fred, who had sunk into the armchair by the window and seemed to be contemplating something. Oscar stared at his feet and felt extremely awkward. The air in the room had shifted.

“You go so many years without hearing it,” Fred said, suddenly. “Your name, I mean. You go that long without hearing your own bloody name, and then one day, out of nowhere…”

Alarmingly, he appeared to be tearing up. Oscar froze in horror. Was he supposed to comfort his poltergeist now?

Luckily, Fred straightened up, took a deep breath, and pushed the emotion back down. Slowly, he took in the room. It was as if he was only now noticing how different it looked – realising that Oscar’s belongings had replaced his own. When he next addressed Oscar, his voice was less combative.

“How long’ve you lived here, pal?”

“Couple of years. I moved in with my girlfriend. She doesn’t live here anymore.”

Fred nodded gravely. “I know that feeling.”

“Yeah, I read about that online. Uh, when I was researching you. I’m really sorry.”

Fred smiled into his lap. “She was… my light.”

“I wish I knew that feeling,” Oscar muttered. He was still staring at his feet, and so he didn’t notice the intensity with which Fred was studying him, taking in his waxen complexion, his greasy hair, his trembling hands. He didn’t notice that for a brief moment, Fred’s face broke with the realisation of what he was seeing. 

Empty beer cans were everywhere – on the coffee table, strewn across the floor, there was even one on the end of mantlepiece like an ornament. Full beer cans were in the fridge in place of food.

A shiver ran though Fred’s entire, dead body as he realised what he had stumbled upon.

He and Maggie had always longed for children. He imagined that this was the feeling of which parents spoke, that intense feeling of being innately protective of another person. He hadn’t meant to haunt this poor young man. But perhaps in doing so, their souls had become linked somehow?

Subconsciously, Fred gently passed his thumbs over the thick, raised scars on his wrists.

He rose out of the armchair and marched into the kitchen. Oscar sensed this but didn’t bother to look up. All the energy in his body had been gradually sapped over the past few weeks. He could feel tears welling in his eyes, but he didn’t want Fred to see him cry. Fred was from the 1960s, he’d probably deck him and tell him to stop being a stupid poofter.

“’ere y’are.”

Oscar looked up, blinking away tears that Fred pretended not to see. He smiled weakly and took the cup of tea that he was being offered.

“So, tell me, pal. What do you do for a living?” Fred asked, easing himself back into the armchair and setting the steaming pig mug onto the armrest.

“Nothing interesting. I work in a call-centre.”

“A what, now?”

Oscar laughed despite himself. “Oh Fred, we’ve got a lot to talk about.”


It was a strange sort of relationship. As the years passed, Oscar came to view Fred as an older friend, not a father, simply a strange companion of whom he had become very fond. Fred remained protective of Oscar and fancied himself a guardian angel from beyond the grave (he wasn’t religious, just in need of a sense of purpose). Deep down, they both knew they were living in a sort of purgatory, a comfortable stage of life (or death?) that would not last forever.

J.L. Corbett is the editor of Idle Ink, an online publisher of all things curious. Her stories have been published in The Daily Drunk, The Cabinet of Heed, STORGY Magazine and others. She owns more books than she can ever possibly read and doesn’t get out much. To read more of her work, visit www.jlcorbett.org. Twitter: @JL_Corbett


“The Park Bench” Fiction by Curtis Bass

The Chamber Magazine

“I think I’ll wear my blue polo shirt today,” muttered the elderly gentleman. He was going on his several times weekly walk to the park. Ellie might be there. She always said his blue shirt made his eyes sparkle blue. He said his eyes were green, but Ellie said the shirt made them turn blue. She loved blue eyes. He also felt he needed a sweater. It was a little chilly this spring morning, so he pulled on a navy sweater to ward off the cold and set out.

            Reggie, the doorman, held the lobby door open for him. “Good morning, Mr. Dawson,” he said as he always did.

            “Good morning, Reginald. Lovely Friday for a walk.”

            “Sure is, Mr. Dawson.” The kid always had a smile for him. I need to tip him more next Christmas, he thought.

            The park was only a block away. It was a lovely oasis in this mammoth city. His apartment building wasn’t the Excelsior or the Dakota, but it was in a nice neighborhood. He crossed the street and shuffled onto his little patch of green. He could have dressed more casually, but today he felt like wearing his charcoal pants and shiny tassel loafers. He wanted to look sharp in case Ellie came along.

            He found his usual park bench and settled down. The seat was a little cool to his behind, but soon warmed. He opened the little bag of breadcrumbs he always brought and began tossing little bits out to the pigeons. The birds were so used to him and others feeding them that they had become quite tame. They would sit on your arm or shoulder and let you feed them. He did NOT let the birds get on him. They were filthy, carrying God knows what kinds of germs. And they would poop on you without a moment’s notice.

            The sun came out from behind a cloud and he could feel it warming his face. He closed his eyes, leaned his head back and inhaled.  A nearby blooming lilac bush covered the automobile smells of the nearby traffic. It was so nice and peaceful.  A simple getaway from the hurly-burly of life. He relaxed with the gentle cooing of the pigeons. This is nice, he thought, so nice.

            As he soaked in the sun’s warmth, he noticed movement coming from the other side of the park. A lady was coming his way. He would recognize that walk anywhere. It was Ellie. His Ellie.

            She approached him strolling sexily. She was wearing a green sundress. It was cool for it, but she didn’t seem to mind. It fit her beautifully. He always thought of her in the summer. She was a summer creature. Beautiful and blonde.

            “Good morning, Henry. I’m so glad you came today,” she said by way of greeting.

            “It’s a beautiful Friday morning. You knew I’d be out today.”

            “Yes, I can always count on you. Do you mind if I sit for a while?”

            “Oh, where are my manners? Please, please, have a seat.” She settled on the bench beside him, her hip touching his. She always liked to sit close. He did, too.

            They sat in companionable silence, each enjoying the other. After a bit, Ellie tilted her head and rested it on his shoulder. Oh, he loved it when she did that. It made him feel so close to her. It brought back all the memories of their love.

            She stroked his arm lying along her left thigh. Snowy white hairs covered his arm. Her skin looked so young in contrast.

            “Ellie, you are so beautiful,” he said. “It’s been, what twenty years, and you’re just as beautiful as the day I killed you. You know how much I regretted that, don’t you?”

            “Henry, it’s been more like sixty years. You’re starting to slip in your old age. Yes, my skin is still as supple as it was when I was thirty. And no Henry, I don’t blame you. What I did was unpardonable. But I was so angry, and you knew I was always a bit unstable.”

            “Yes, my beautiful Ellie was so flighty. One of the many things that made me love you,” he grinned with the memory. Then his face darkened. “But, Ellie. Little Leonora? How could you? She was to be the best parts of both of us.”

            “But she wasn’t. She was sickly. She cried all the time. It became so I couldn’t bear it anymore. And then, you and that secretary.”

            “Now, Ellie, don’t misremember it. My secretary had nothing to do with it. That was all your imagination.”

            “I know that now, but it was so real. I knew you loved her more than me. You would leave me and take Little Leonora away. Even though she cried all the time, I couldn’t lose the only piece of you I had,” Ellie said through sniffles.

            Henry kissed her hair. “Well, it’s all in the past now. We had to move on.”

            “Some of us,” she said. He could just catch a mischievous tone in her voice. He looked down and saw she was grinning. “I’m glad you got away with it. As much as I would have loved to have you here, I’m glad you had a good life and could come and tell me about it.”

            “It was touch and go there for a bit. Good luck it was shoddy police work.”

            “I didn’t come near you with that shot. You shot yourself after you took the gun and shot me.”

            “You know how hard it is to shoot yourself? You’re trying to pull that trigger knowing it will be the worst pain you’ve ever felt. Only the grief I felt for Leonora and you was worse. I never thought I’d get over it. If you hadn’t been able to meet me in the park, I would have gone crazy.”

            “I was the crazy one, remember? The ‘crazy heiress who killed her baby, tried to kill her husband and then shot herself’. A murder-suicide gone bad.”

            “And thanks for the money. It has helped the business.”

            “Oh, Henry. Let the business go. Stay here with me. It’s beautiful here. There’s a little Argentine bistro across the park. They have a band that plays tangos at night. Remember how we used to tango? Stay with me and we can tango again.”

            “Ellie, you know I can’t stay. I have too many people counting on me. Maybe someday I can put it down, but not now. I’d feel so irresponsible.”

            “Am I that unimportant to you now? Have you forgotten me totally?”

            “No, Ellie. You’re the love of my life, the center of everything. But how could you respect me if I just chucked everything? That’s not who you or I are.”

            “I know. It’s just that I miss you when you’re gone.”

            “And I miss you. I miss you so much. Without you here in the park, I might have picked up that revolver long ago and finished what you started.”

            “Do you still have it? Oh, do it, Henry. Do it.”

            “No, Ellie. The police took it. And I’m getting old. We’ll be together soon enough.”

            “I hope so, Henry. I do so miss you.” She laid her head back on his shoulder and sighed.

            “And I you, my love.” He patted her hand.


            Reggie Harris, in his sparkling white orderly uniform, stood looking out the window into the courtyard. A light snow was beginning to fall. It wasn’t sticking yet but would soon cover the dismal little patch of weeds with the bench in the center.

            “Shouldn’t you go get your vegetable?” Orderly Denny Haskell asked, with a smirk.

            “Don’t call him that. I like Mr. Dawson.”

            “He’s a nutcase. Look at him. Sitting there in the snow wearing his pajamas and a ratty old bathrobe. He’ll probably catch pneumonia out there,” Denny said.

            “He doesn’t know it’s snowing. Where he’s gone, it’s beautiful and warm and there are people who love him. He always comes back saying, ‘It was a beautiful day in the park. Ellie wore her sundress.’ Doc wants to force him back to reality. I say let him stay there. He’s happier there. All that’s left for him here is sitting in this dingy dayroom waiting to die. He’s over 90. He’ll die soon, anyway. Let him be happy.”

            As they were talking the old man got up from the bench and shuffled into the dayroom of St. Anthony’s Hospital.  

           “Good day, again Reginald. It was a lovely day in the park. I saw Ellie today. She wore her sundress. Yes, she looks beautiful in that dress. Carry on.” And he walked off to his room.

Curtis A. Bass (Curtisstories.blog) is a writer of short stories in a variety of genres from the American South. He has been published in several online and print journals. When not writing he prefers to stay active ballroom dancing or downhill skiing. He is currently working on his second novel.

 This story originally appeared in October 2019 in Ariel Chart Review.

“The Cold Spot” Fiction by Janea Speer

“I have a story about ghosts,” Marie said to Dalton and the others while trying to search for something meaningful to say in that awkward moment.  Becky, Davis, Kyra and Dalton looked at her with amusement.  “I mean…I never have seen… a ghost but…I experienced something strange one time.”  She stated as she peered again with hesitation at Dalton and surveyed the darkness of the forest beyond their warm campfire. 

“I was younger.  I went to the city with my Dad.  We went to a summer festival that day.  There were festival tents all around this old Victorian mansion.  It loomed above the wide lawn. It was all brick and three stories tall.”  She paused briefly and looked at the campfire.   

“I didn’t like the house. It gave me an odd vibe I couldn’t shake. But my Dad asked me if I wanted to go on the historical home tour with him.  I said yes.  We got in the house and were led into the living room space.  It was an elegant old home and well furnished.” 

“The tour guide began explaining the history of the house to us.  She talked about the owners and the number of times it had transitioned from family to family.  In the early 1920s, it had been turned into an orphanage for kids after the Spanish Flu epidemic.  Their parents had died from the flu.  The place was run by nuns and priests.  Then for a while, it was supposedly a psychiatric hospital.  In the 1980s, it was turned into a historical home and they began giving tours and stuff.”

She looked around at the others.  “The tour guide began telling us about the hauntings there.  Supposedly there is a Lady in Red that haunts the place, a young woman who had a botched abortion and died.  She is crying and she begs at the front door to see a priest.  There are some other ghosts there too.  There are children from the orphanage.  And they say there is an evil ghost there too on the first floor.  He was a psych patient that committed suicide.”

She reflected on her memory for a moment before continuing, “That day, I followed the tour group into the hallway.  I was standing in the hallway on the wood floor and I felt cold air coming up from the floor.  It felt good cause it was summer.  It was real cold like air-conditioned air.  I felt it all around me but the others didn’t seem to notice it like I did. I remember looking down at the floor thinking the cold air was coming from a hole in the floor leading to the basement. I stood there for quite a while in the cold spot.”

“We continued to the dining room and I stood off to the left of the big table.  The tour guide was talking but all of a sudden, I felt faint.  I felt extremely faint.  I was not sick but like I was gonna pass out. And I was having trouble seeing…. like the room was darkening before my eyes.  I was so worried that I would faint on an antique chair and break it.  So, I rushed over to the next room to the right.  It was a library or den or something. My vision was getting worse and worse and I knew I had to get out of that house immediately.”

Marie no longer looked at the others around the campfire as she talked, “I stumbled my way to the front door, jerked it opened, and rushed down the concrete steps groping for the handrail.  My vision was narrowing, the blackness was overtaking my sight.  I bumped into a few people awkwardly and went around the corner of the house stumbling. With my hands in front of me reaching out to grasp air, I could barely see. My vision was decreasing to a tiny pinhole and then suddenly…… wham!  I hit my face on the concrete sidewalk.  I blacked out about one foot away from a tent spike sticking out of the ground and tied to one of the festival tents.  I didn’t just faint like they do in the movies.  I slammed my face into the sidewalk really hard as if I had been pushed by someone. When I came to, there was a crowd of folks gathered around me asking if I was okay.  I was trembling and the whole right side of my face and neck was bruised, swollen, and bleeding from cuts.”

She looked up now at Dalton and said, “I had barely missed putting my face through a tent spike. If I had hit that tent spike, I would be dead for sure.”

Everyone at the campfire listening to the story was now silent.  She continued, “The cops and ambulance came.  They asked me what had happened.  I told them about the cold air in the hallway.  I told them I thought maybe there was some chemical in the air and maybe there was a hole coming up from the basement.  I asked them to check because I was worried about it. Maybe it was carbon monoxide. They checked the entire hallway.”

Marie shook her head slowly back and forth, “There was no hole in that hallway. There was no explanation for the cold air at all.”

She shrugged.  “I didn’t think much of it.  I figured over the years, I’d just blacked out but one day I told a friend that was big into paranormal TV shows about it.  She said…well, she said I might be something called a sensitive.  She said maybe I was empathetic to ghosts, that I could feel things deeply…more than others.  My friend said I experienced a cold spot in the hallway that day because I felt the presence of a ghost standing beside me, lingering around me.  I felt it but could not see it. And the others, could not feel nor see either. My friend said it might have been the bad one, the evil ghost. It may have been trying to hurt me intentionally and pushed me towards the tent spike on purpose…”

She trailed off.  “To this day, I still don’t really know what happened. I have never ever seen a ghost but perhaps, I felt one nearby that others did not feel. My friend said this ability to sense their presence was a gift.”

She stopped telling the story and looked up to see what the reactions were on the faces of her campfire friends.  No one spoke at first.  They all looked around uncomfortably.  Then Davis interjected with a nervous laugh, “That story is crazy!”   

“Good one, Marie.  How long did that one take you to make up?”  Asked Kyra and she smirked at the others.    

Marie responded timidly, “It’s actually…true.” The others around the campfire exchanged quick sudden glances but said nothing further.  Becky grinned some in disbelief and looked down to hide her expression.  Davis took another swig of the Jack Daniels and looked to the forest to his right.  Kyra pretended to be focused on warming her hands.  Marie stopped smiling and looked down awkwardly.  Dalton placed his hand on hers again and moved closer.  She grasped his hand then and looked beyond the others to the forest and the moonlit sky. 

J. Speer grew up in Lawrence, Kansas and is familiar with the Stull Church legend.  She was later stationed at Germany and Virginia while working for the military.  She now resides in Pittsburg, Kansas and works in photography/art framing.  She has 4 books on Amazon and writes a blog at www.jspeerwritings.com.  

Janea says about this piece:

“These two stories are actually part of a longer story I am working on and go hand in hand.  The overall story is about a young woman who is a sensitive.  She is able to sense or feel the presence of paranormal beings.  The first story submitted is titled The Cold Spot and is a true-life ghost story she recounts to some friends around the campfire on a weekend trip to the lake.  The second story is called Stull and happens the next evening as she and her boyfriend are returning from the lake and encounter the strange and mysterious small town of Stull.  This is a real place located outside Lawrence, Kansas.”

“Stull” Fiction by Janea Speer

smoking ghost

They had come back early from camping at Lake Clinton but it was now dark outside.  It was late October and the autumn breeze was cool on her face as they drove the Jeep Wrangler down the highway.  She held her brown hair back as the curls whipped here and there wildly in the wind.  They were listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  The volume was turned up quite a bit so they failed to notice anything out of the ordinary when they stopped at the little town named Stull.  No one lived there anymore.  It was just old buildings, forgotten and faded with time. 

They had heard the rumors about this place but they didn’t care.  They were young.  Why should they care?  As they pulled into the little gravel parking lot behind the abandoned old grocery store, she looked hesitantly, however, around in the dark.  He turned down the music.  She looked off to the north past the road to the crest of the hill where the ruins of the old church sat solitary and still in the dim moonlight.  She looked again at the dark around them and she shivered a little. 

“We might want to hurry.” she said with a twinge of uncertainty.  With the music turned off, she listened for any small noises around the vehicle.  It was hard to see much past 30 or 40 feet to her right.  Everything was so dark over there, pitch black almost.  The beams of the headlights shone on the exterior back of the old store.  Once again, she looked at the church.  It was the 7th gateway to hell…that’s what the locals said it was.  It was a secret portal according to the rumors.  Supposedly, if you threw a bottle against the wall of the church, it would not break.  The devil’s portalJust an urban legend she thought to herself. 

He got out of the jeep and rummaged among their bags in the back looking for his cell phone. 

“I know I left it in here,” he said as he dug through a camo green backpack.  He found it and returned to the driver seat. 

“Maybe we should put the hard top up,” he said to her. 

She just shrugged, hugging herself a little.  “I’d rather not do it here.”  She smiled feebly.  “Perhaps down the road a bit.”

He smiled at her then and nodded towards the old church.  “Nervous?” he asked with a slight smile. 

She didn’t say anything.  Just shrugged. 

“Relax, there’s nothing to worry about.  It’s just a dumb story.  Nobody even goes up there anymore.  It is fenced off.” He grabbed her chin and tugged her head slightly to the left.  He grinned at her.  “Calm down.”

She smiled bigger this time and leaned in to kiss him.  She closed her eyes as she felt his warm lips on hers.  He cupped her face in his gentle hands.  She placed her hand on his waist and he pulled her in deeper.  They pulled away for just a moment, enough for her to lean her forehead against his and say softly, “I had fun last night.” 

He grinned.  “I did too.” 

They embraced again.  This time with more youthful urgency and passion.  Eventually, he pulled reluctantly away and grinned.   He licked his lip slightly and took her hand in his.  He said, “We need to get back.”

She just watched him in the darkness.  She loved him.  She knew it. 

He turned to start the ignition of the Jeep.  She looked forward to the hill once more.  She shuddered.  As the engine started up and her boyfriend shifted gears, she looked casually to the right.

That’s when she saw it…in the darkness beyond.  It was there maybe not twenty feet from the car.  In the darkness she saw the slight red light.  It was very small.  Silently, it was there…suspended in air.  She blinked.  She looked closer.  It was still there.  She knew instantly what it was.  She watched it more intently.  She kept watching.  She was staring now without blinking and she felt a sudden fear.  And then… it moved.  The light moved with intention, as if making its presence known only to her.  It was just a slight movement but just enough to let her know, they were not alone.   

A cigarette.  It was the light from a cigarette.  Someone was watching, had been watching them silently in the dark distance as they kissed.  Someone was standing right there. 

Her eyes flickered swiftly to the church and then back to that same spot.  The cigarette light was now gone. 

Her boyfriend pulled the jeep out of the gravel parking lot and back onto the main road.  She watched that spot, the spot where the cigarette light emanated briefly.  She watched for it as long as she could until Stull and its eerie presence faded into the dark distance behind them.

As the jeep disappeared into the east, the stranger stepped out of the shadows and onto the moonlit road.  He watched the jeep curiously, studied the license plate numbers, and dropped the dead cigarette butt onto the concrete beside him.  The others were nearby too.  He could sense them behind him.  They could not be seen but they could be felt. 

He continued to watch the vehicle.  His eyes gleamed ever so slightly. 

He had wanted her to see him there in the dark.  There was something different about this one.  Perhaps it was her scent as he stood invisible and next to her door when they first entered the parking lot.  She didn’t notice him there.  They never did….until, it was too late of course.  And yet, she turned her head suddenly towards him as if she sensed him.  He looked right into her light brown eyes as she spanned the darkness with caution.  She looked through him but she seemed aware of him oddly.  She looked frightened…vulnerable.  He watched her eyes.  He smirked and he pulled back, motioned to the others to wait, and they watched deliberately. 

When she saw the cigarette, he had expected her to show fright.  He would have delighted in a scream, in fact, as he cued the others to pounce, to rip her apart.  But she didn’t react…not at all.  She silently studied him even when he moved the cigarette intentionally. 

Smart girl he thought to himself. 

The others were waiting behind him in the shadows.  The jeep was now gone.  No one traveled the dark road.  No one at all.  All was silent in the moonlight.  He remembered the license plate numbers and he figured he would pay them a visit perhaps very soon.  Then, he walked back into the shadows whistling.


J. Speer grew up in Lawrence, Kansas and is familiar with the Stull Church legend.  She was later stationed at Germany and Virginia while working for the military.  She now resides in Pittsburg, Kansas and works in photography/art framing.  She has 4 books on Amazon and writes a blog at www.jspeerwritings.com.