“The Park Bench” Fiction by Curtis Bass

The Chamber Magazine
thechambermagazine.com

“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.


Bio:

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.