“The Fog” Fiction by Lauren Jane Barnett

She chose green for the baby’s room to feel natural and soothing, but by night it looked sickly. The entire room – and the entire house – was chosen with the child in mind. She moved away from the city, her work, her friendships, the restaurants she knew; all in order to give her child a life in the country.  When she first saw the house, nestled in a blanket of vibrant green, it was exactly what she wanted for her child. Days running in the lawn, picking flowers, walking down to the river. It was the best any parent could offer.

The first morning after she moved in, she looked out as the fog retreated from the valley and imagined telling her son or daughter how it had kissed the grass with dew. Now that the child was here, the fog seemed to creep in on them at night, cutting them off from the green surroundings, and the open air.  Cast in the shadow of night, it seemed impossible this catacomb could be the same house. The fog pressed in on her, making it hard to breathe. The barren walls became an echo chamber for the shrill screams of the creature in her arms. And the sour green of the nursery walls made Katherine nauseous every night.

Tonight, with the cries of her child bouncing off the walls, the entire room seemed to collapse in on her with rot. The putrid green, the fog pressing in the glass, it turned the open modern space into the cavers of a tomb. The gaping windows conspired to mock by mimicking another wall of thick, tumbling grey. Everything in the house pushed in on her. Just like her wailing child. And the cried never seemed to stop. They bored into her brain as they ricocheted off the walls, forced inward on her by the pressing grey of the fog that pressed against the window panes.  In the first week she felt she was an animal in a cage. That was normal for nursing mothers, wasn’t it? But after a month, she dared to wonder if there was something inhuman about her child. 

It didn’t have cholic. The doctor had told her so on every visit she made. Each time he said the same thing: the baby was healthy; the baby was happy. The doctor had the gall to tell her “it’s normal for babies to cry” as though she was a scared teenager who found herself accidentally caring for something completely alien. She was nearly forty. She knew babies cried. She’d read every parenting book they published – in the two languages she spoke. She read the blogs and did mommy-baby yoga. She was an intelligent, capable, responsible adult. And she knew this behaviour wasn’t normal. Children didn’t cry every time you tried to feed them. Maybe it wasn’t cholic – that was only her best guess – but something was wrong. Of course, the medical profession didn’t agree. Instead, they sent her home with pamphlets on postnatal depression, websites on insomnia and no option but to endure hours of whimpering screams and refusal to feed. Alone.

How long had it been, she mused, since she brought home the pink mass with its fragile egg-shaped head and its tiny pink mouth? How long had it been since the baby seemed so quiet or so peaceful? On the island of maternity, there was no way to mark the weeks and months. Even the last feeding was something of a mystery. The “ideal baby schedule” torn from a book was lost somewhere in the house, long since memorized by Katherine and rejected by the baby. The child had melted time into a single unified blob. It was never, and it was always, feeding time. It was perpetually just after naptime, or maybe just before. The crying would last for hours. Longer than was natural. Or healthy. Or humanly possible.

Her mind seemed to be filled with fog. Or maybe it was the room? Could the night air be seeping in at the window seems? She reached for the light and the room came into sharp focus. Shadows sprung up on the walls around her to form prison bars. She nearly laughed in agreement with the image. Until she noticed the state of the floor.

Paralysed by the sight, her eyes took in the scattered debris of toys, books, and diapers. A ring of baby powder puffed onto the rug where the bottle had fallen, nearly five feet from the changing table. A cold sick clutched her chest. It had happened again. Her mouth went sour. The jagged angles of books spiked up from the carpet reminded her of the glass shattered before. This was not haphazard or chaotic. Every object felt like a boobytrap laid out for her.

A week ago – or maybe a few nights ago – she had come into the room to feed the baby. By some miracle, the room was quiet and still. She crept over to the crib and tripped over a stuffed horse that was usually up on a shelf. She staggered forward and knocked her ribs into the changing table. Had she not caught herself she could have cracked her head. When she blinked though the pain, her eyes were foggy and blurred.  She struggled to see around her until finally, in a moment that still froze her spine, she noticed the bedlam. A warzone of bears and blankets made the floor impassable. Amid the debris only the lamp’s bulb was broken. Picking the glass out of the rug had taken twenty minutes, and she still managed to lodge a piece in her knee. There was a scar to remind her it was real.

This time she refused to clean up the mess. She had done enough, cleaned enough. If her house was being invaded she didn’t have the energy or the will to fight it. And the child was screaming. And her eyes ached with the pain of exhaustion. As she felt tears and snot of her baby against her breast she looked up to heaven, not really praying. What was there to pray for? Every person she had gone to for advice or help had told her nothing was wrong. That it was all in her head. And maybe some of it was.

Maybe she was too tired to remember the last feeding.  And maybe she was always tripping over things because she was half-asleep and disoriented. Maybe she had thrown the child’s toys around the room and forgot why. Twice.  No, three times. Although that could have been a dream.  She thought she saw in the hall mirror a tendril of fog slip over the walls and shake the changing table as it passed behind, casting the diapers and towels and powder to the floor.

It must have been a dream. She lived in the constant company of nightmares ever since she came home from the hospital. One nightmare: the fog pressing in at the windows until her lungs, and the house, exploded.  She remembered waking up screaming.

The nightmares made Katherine more open to the idea that she was depressed. It made sense. She was on her own all day. The only one to care for the baby, mummified by maternity leave that left her stranded from the real world except the occasional call. Exhausted and aching, she barely slept anymore. Anyone would be upset, even lost. But if she took that for granted, she still couldn’t ignore that something else was going on too. Even in her muddled mind, she was certain.

If you explained away everything else, you couldn’t explain the baby. It only cried when she held it. This wasn’t a matter of opinion; no matter what her friends said. The child never cried until she touched it. She tried once to leave the baby completely alone, ignoring feeding schedules and playtime until it cried. Her plan was to pretend the baby wasn’t even there. She had dinner, watched something for a while, and took herself to bed. She turned off each feeding alarm on her phone (even the act of sliding that glowing circle felt liberating), although it didn’t stop her from waking up at three in the morning.

In the pitch black of the night, she started to think. She last fed the baby before dinner, at seven. Usually, she would try another feed before bed, although it never seemed interested. Now would normally be her next attempt. How long could a child go without food? In her exhaustion, she had to count the hours out loud. Eight. No baby could go eight hours without food.  An adult would be fussy after eight hours without food – unless they were asleep. A sudden sick swell of anxiety shot her bolt upright on the bed.  It wasn’t possible. She must have tuned out the cries.

She tried to steady her mind. She took a breath in, but it made her dizzy. She needed to check on the baby. It must be crying. But as she got closer, she heard no noise from the nursery. She crossed the threshold and the room smelt sickly sweet. Any minute the baby would cry, she told herself. But, still, there was no noise. Her stomach started to turn sour. She thought she could smell burning (was that the sign of a stroke? Or was that anxiety?). She looked at the crib from the door, frozen. Terror hit her in the spine and rose into a cold heat that snapped like a rubber-band. What if the baby was dead? What would they say if she starved her child? How could you explain that to your boss? To your friends? To the police?

She stood there for too long. The green walls turned hallucinogenic in the sunrise. Her head spun – had she hit it? – and she stumbled to the crib. Her vision clouded with tears she stared at the silent bundle of sheets, completely still in the middle of the crib. She couldn’t see even the tiniest movement of breath. She fell to her knees. She’d done it. She’d killed her child. She reached out to touch the small corpse. Tears ran down her face as her fingers gently for that tiny little hand. She felt the warmth of its skin at the moment the scream pitched into the air. It was alive. But how could it be alive?

There was no question after that horrible night that something was wrong. For hours the child was silent. Until she touched it. When she told the doctor he dismissed it as a dream. Elisabeth, her best friend, called it pregnancy brain. They both used that saccharine phrase: “I’m sure it seems that way.” The way you talk to a child or an invalid. Yes, it had been a nightmare, but she had been awake for it. It isn’t my fault she mentally screamed at them. The child was possessed. It had to be. How could you explain the long hours without feeding? The hatred of her touch? How could you explain…

But that may have been a dream too. It couldn’t have really happened. She had been burping the baby, nestled in the crook of her shoulder, head lulling on the handmade burp cloth as it screamed into her ear. The pats and jostling finally seemed to produce some kind of results as she felt the warmth trickle on her shoulder. But she pulled the baby away and there was no sign of spit around its mouth, face still scrunched in discomfort. And a lock of long, brown hair in its clutched fist, clotted and red at the ends. The burping cloth stained with a blossom of blood.

She’d thrown the cloth away, so there was no way now to check if it had been real. She didn’t want it to be, even at the time. The baby could barely close a fist around her finger, it couldn’t have pulled out her hair. And it hadn’t even hurt. She should have felt the pain of it. Still, she had no other explanation for the scab buried in the hairline just behind her ear. She never told the doctor about that. Every time she thought about it heat of anger and shame flooded her body. She wasn’t sure who she blamed: herself or the baby.

Suddenly, something caught at the edge of her mind. A sound. A muffling. She looked down to see her hands red with pressure, forcing the child against her chest, screams muffled breathlessly into her. In a flash she pulled her hands away, nearly losing her grip on the infant. Its screams at least showed it was breathing. She nearly suffocated it. Just as quickly as it came, the sharp stab of fear in her chest rotted into anger.

“Why won’t you feed?” She screamed at the child. The immediate silence cut through the air. Large watery green eyes looked up at her, mouth open in a miniature gasp. At the sight of the fragile little face, guilt crept in. Katherine had waited for ages for the child to be silent in her arms, and now it was silent because it was afraid. 

Suddenly she couldn’t get enough air. She was pulling gulps of it through her mouth, but it didn’t make it to her lungs. Tears burnt in her eyes and the image of her child blurred. She needed to put it down before she did something else. Something awful. She lay the baby in the crib (had it fed?) and she ran out to the bathroom. Without the light, she stumbled toward the sink. The tiles were so cold it was painful. It did something to slow the tears, but not enough to clearly see the taps when she turned them on. She could tell by the sound the rush of water was in front of her and she dove her hands in and splashed the water against her hot face. The second she felt it against her skin she regained her breath.

She wasn’t sure how long she smoothed water over her face, but each splash helped. She remembered talking to the doctor.

“Most mothers have no idea what they are doing… You may feel like you are failing but you are just learning… As a single mother you may feel more pressure, but you are just as capable.” She willed herself to believe it, and to repeat her overused chant: Everything is fine. Being a mother may be frustrating, but it will all turn out fine.

As the heat in her face cooled and the air returned to her lungs, she turned the taps off. She let the water drip down her face onto the cotton shirt of her pyjamas. She would try again. And this time it the baby would suckle. She patted off the water on her face with the towel and glanced at the mirror to see how badly her eyes were swollen. She was relieved to find it was barely noticeable.

But something caught her eye. A fleck on her chin. She leaned forward to look closer in the shadows of the night. There was barely any light in the bathroom save the slivers that leaked in from the nursery, but she could just see a little something hanging off her chin. Like a crumb. She brushed at it with her hand, but it didn’t budge.

A flick of the switch revealed the flake of dried skin at the point of her chin. She gently took it between her nails and pulled. As she did the fleck expanded out, unraveling a smooth, transparent sheet taking on the shape of her jaw. She stared at the shred of her own skin, like a fine sliver of mica or a delicate lace.  Her fingers parted and she watched it float to the white surface of the counter, where it crumpled.

Her eyes went back to the mirror She leaned in closer to find the next edge, just below the pout of her lip. The thin layer of skin drew away, following the curve of her lip in an ethereal smile. Where it broke another flap lifted and her fingers followed instinctively. This time tracing her nostrils along the bridge of her nose and flaring in a triangle at the arch of her eyebrow. Strip by strip, her skin piled on the counter, building its ghostly layers. Each one a large section, marked with fingered veins showing the lines and plates of her skin. Before long Katherine peeled back the surface of her face. Staring back at her was a mottled web of blue, purple, and red veins.

She didn’t scream.

She ran out into the night. Into the fog. Her eyes clouded with mist as she stumbled into the ground. She registered the cold dew against her hands and the grass spiking into her knees, melting her body into the dirt. She begged the fog to wash over her, to rinse her away; for every inch of her skin to fade into moonlight. To dissolve completely. She was nothing anyway.

She had been too long a shell, a husk. A dead thing walking and living; forced to be alive. Forced to breathe. Forced to feed. Forced to care for something else. And how could she when there was nothing to her? She needed it: the fog. Breathing it into her nostrils, she urged it to sweep over every inch of the skin lining her lungs and pull it out from her. She willed it to seep into her blood, dissolving every cell until she could evaporate into complete and blissful nothingness. Her breath stopped taking control as the fog poured into her, flitting under her fingernails beneath the skin; peacefully spreading her out into a million tiny fragments until she could completely fall into air.

As she waited for it to come – for that bliss of becoming air – she realized she could still feel the cold dew on her skin. Her all too solid surface had not cracked. Goosebumps appeared in response to the chilled air. Nothing could save her now.

And she dragged herself back into the house.

*

Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear.

The child’s rhyme kept appearing in her head as she made her rings of paper. The baby was in a rocker beside her, gently swaying with the tap of her foot. The kitchen table was covered in papers. Newspaper sheets, pastel pages from picture books, glossy strips from magazines; all were torn into strips strewn over the kitchen table. It reminded her of childhood. Her mother taught her to take each strip and bring the ends together to form a little circle. Each circle was connected inside the one before to make a paper chain. You could make them as long as you wanted, as long as you had the paper.

Her mother had never told her so, but you could do the same with dish towels by tying the ends together. They sat in the sink soaking in the acrid liquid, which made Katherine dizzy. But it was only a pint or two. And she got used to the scent.

Round and round the garden, like a teddy bear. One step, two step, tickle you everywhere.

It was too simple a song to leave her head, and too repetitive to keep there. But it got her through the daylight. She was nearly ready as the sun began to slip from the sky. An energy made Katherine’s entire body seem light.

The kitchen ran with strings of these chains in every color. It could have been a birthday party. They hung from the ceiling, draped over the counter, and snaked their way to the pine chairs, each with its own paper chain coiled around it like a snake. The rags made their sodden chain from the kitchen to the stairs. A less buoyant but equally impressive sight.

Katherine filled a pan with oil and placed it on the cold hob. She went upstairs to dress, adding a layer of long-johns under her clothing, and a second onesie over the crying child. She settled it down on her bed in the hopes it would get a small amount of sleep. Looking through the window she could see the last yellow rays of sunlight. The day had passed so quickly.

Light on her feet she shoved her phone, laptop, and a few small pieces in her purse. She didn’t want it to be too suspicious. She double-checked the diaper bag and added a quilted blanket. Shadows spread into the house making it harder to see, but she only wanted to turn on the kitchen light. She put the bags by the door. Looking around the house, it seemed to be covered in slithering creatures as the shadows poured in. But she wouldn’t be there long.

The hob ignited with its usual click and she carefully steered a chain of paper just below the pan. It caught in a brilliant glow of orange, but she waited until the next chain caught. The rags finally ignited. Then it began to spread. The oil sputtered out of the pan and caught. She didn’t have much time. She ran upstairs and grabbed the small bundle from the crib, nestling it in the nook of her arm. For once the child didn’t scream. It was the sign of hope Katherine didn’t realize she was looking for. They were finally connected. Her baby knew she was being saved by a loving mother. She jumped down the stairs to a surprising billow of smoke. She ducked below the surface and ran to the bags. She hooked both on her arm and pushed through the door into the open air. The fresh cold smell mixed with the growing scent of smoke.

She needed to get clear of the house. Wrapping the blankets to hold her daughter against her Katherine ran, the other bags banging into her legs as she fled into the fog. The glow behind her grew large but faint as she tore away into the fog. At last, she dropped them to look back and the glowing house. Her heart was pounding in her ears. Her breath stabbed in her lungs. The cold hit her neck and she stared. The house she loved. The house in the countryside she chose for her family. The green lawns and rainy days she dreamed about. It all slowly burnt. She saw part of the roof fall in and a shutter of orange parks cascade into the air like fireworks. Within the clouds of grey, a single column of black smoke swirled upward. It stood out even from this distance like a snake leaving its hovel, Draining bile from the house, and escaping into the sky. The sight of it unlocked her heart. She broke into a laugh edged with tears. They were free. The tears on her cheek felt pleasant. In a flood of love and warmth she looked to the fragile body in her arms, and into the moon-tinted brown eyes of her daughter’s teddy bear.


Lauren Jane Barnett is an enthusiastic writer of horror fiction and non-fiction. Her short horror story “Toujours” appeared in BFS Horizons #12,and she was shortlisted for the 2021 Write Hive Horror Competition. Her first non-fiction book, Death Lines: Walking London’s Horror, is coming out with Strange Attractor Press in October 2021.  


“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.  

Special Feature: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

On Sunday, March 7, a friend of mine, Tim Stamps, whom I have known since college way back in the dark ages of the 70’s, sent me this link to a truly dark video. I thought it would make an excellent special feature for The Chamber. Here’s what he says about it:

“Hey Phil, check this out —A friend [Samuel Hanon is the name on the video] put this together. Playing the Twilight Zone version of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” with a Pink Floyd concert CD “Live at the Empire Pool, Wembley Park, London” recorded in November, 1974. Nothing is edited out or changed, except color effects added. All the lyrics and everything synchronistically match on queue. Play here: https://www.facebook.com/samuel.hanon.3/posts/545802596336504

As you will learn with Rod Serling’s narration during the intro, this is not a Twilight Zone production per se. This is a French telling of the classic tale “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce. It was the winner of the 1962 Cannes Film Festival and of several other international prizes as well. The original version is truly haunting, but the additional soundtrack and colorization take it to a whole new, nightmarishly surreal level.

What I find interesting about the story is that, when it was written in 1890, feelings about the Civil War were still very intense. After all, the Civil War had erupted only thirty years earlier in 1860. Many soldiers on both sides were still alive. Many African-Americans were still alive who had been slaves. Bierce had served with the Union Army and had seen combat several times including at Shiloh. He sustained a traumatic brain injury at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, whose effects he felt for the rest of his life. Nonetheless, Bierce penned this story about the hanging of a Confederate soldier told from the rebel’s perspective. Bierce did not see his former enemies as inhuman monsters, which I am sure many former Union soldiers did. He recognized the humanity in them and he brings this out in this story, making his readers, many of whom doubtlessly still had strong feelings about the war, feel sympathy for their suffering as well and made them see the former rebels as human.

In our current atmosphere of political turmoil (which cannot hold a candle to the turmoil before, during, and after the Civil War), there is a lesson for us in this classic work of American literature. It shows us that in spite of our feelings about current political and national issues, no matter how intense they are, we must not lose sight of the fact that our political opponents are as human as we are and feel as deeply and as intensely as we all do. We are people with differing opinions, but we are all still people. We must not lose sight of that fact.

I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did.

By the way, I will take submissions of links to dark videos or films so long as they meet the stipulations in The Chamber’s submission guidelines and so long as the person submitting owns the copyright. There are a wide range of formats to which I can link, so please query first and I will let you know if I can link to it.