Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Genre: Horror

By Daniel Skye

            John Ross never fancied himself as anything special. He was just another average Joe, a yellow-collared slob who appreciated a cold beer after work. He enjoyed watching hours of mind-numbing sitcoms and indulging in copious amounts of junk food.
            He never fathomed that something as paltry as a dead car battery would drastically alter the course of his future. But as the song says, it goes to show you never can tell.
            John had left the office late that crisp October evening. Of course, John didn’t really work in the office per se. He occupied one of the many studios located behind the office.
But when he got to his car and twisted the key in the ignition, the Plymouth refused to start. He tried the headlights but they were dead. Not even the overhead lights inside the car worked.
            He didn’t have any jumper cables handy, so John caught up with one of his co-workers in the parking lot as he was leaving.
            “Hey, Dean,” John called out as Dean Pittman trotted to his red sports car. John caught up with him and asked if he had any jumper cables.
            “Sorry brah, can’t help ya,” Pittman told him, got into his car quickly, and peeled out of the parking lot. Right before he sped away, John peeked through the passenger side window and saw a pair of jumper cables in the backseat.
            Dean Pittman was the bane of John’s existence. The first issue of Dean’s comic, Hell Warriors, sold 3.5 million copies. The publishing company was so impressed they give him his own private, all inclusive studio. The biggest one on the lot.
            John’s first comic, Bad Chemistry, had barely sold 50,000 copies. He brainstormed day and night, trying to come up with the next big thing. The one idea that would launch his career as an artist and get him the recognition he felt his work deserved.
            John spotted Nino Corelli leaving and caught up with him after Pittman took off. “Hey, Nino, got any jumper cables on you?”
            “Afraid not,” Nino said. “Your battery die?”
            “Yeah,” John sighed. “You think you can give me a lift home?”
            “Sure, I just gotta drop Simon off first.”
            Nino and Simon Cantwell worked together in one of the many studios adjacent to the studio that John occupied, and they often carpooled to work. John didn’t mind though, even if it meant squeezing in the back of Nino’s tiny Trans Am. At least he had a ride home.
            “There’s just one little detour,” Nino informed John as he started the car and they felt the engine vibrating. “Simon’s been hounding me all day to swing by the witch house on our way home.”
            “Witch house?” John asked, one eyebrow arched at a quizzical angle.
            “Yeah, you’ve never heard of it?” Nino asked as they pulled out of the lot.
            “Can’t say that I have.”
            “How long have you been living in Eden Harbor?” Simon asked from the shotgun seat.
            “Apparently not long enough,” John said and shrugged his shoulders.
            “I can’t believe you’ve never heard of the place before,” Simon said, shaking his head as if to emphasize his disappointment. “Well, you’ll see it when we get there.”
John’s heavy eyelids fluttered, and if it wasn’t for the cylinder misfires causing the car to shake every time Nino stepped on the accelerator, he would’ve curled up on that backseat and called it a night.
“You look like deep-fried shit.” Nino said from behind the wheel. It wasn’t eloquently stated, but it was an apt description. John hadn’t slept a good night’s sleep in five days. His eyes, dark and unfocused, were crying out for rest. The reoccurring nightmares of his own fiery demise were enough to induce many sleepless nights.
In some nightmares, the accident occurred during the day, sometimes at night. But the outcome was always the same; John died.
The accidents always occurred while John was driving his Plymouth alone. That’s why he actually felt relieved riding in Nino’s shaky Trans Am. He recalled most of them vividly. He’d wake up in a cold sweat, remembering how it felt when the steering wheel slipped from his hands and the Plymouth would careen off the road, crashing into a ditch or over the side of a bridge. In one nightmare, his car rammed head-on into a utility pole. He could feel the impact as his Plymouth collided with the pole and burst into flames suddenly, giving him no chance to escape the burning wreckage.
And these weren’t the only nightmares he’d been having. Some nights, he’d find himself in a dark house, staring at one end of a long, narrow hallway. At the end of this pitch-black hallway, there was a door, slightly ajar. A source of bright light emanated from that room. But he’d wake up with the chills before he ever got a chance to investigate and see what was waiting on the other side of that door.
“I haven’t been sleeping too well,” John muttered, trying to be vague.
“You should try Xanax,” Nino suggested. “Knocks me right out. I take it whenever I need a quick nap.”
Nino grew up in Brooklyn, as if his accent wasn’t any indication. It really showed when using particular phrases For example, instead of saying “you guys” in reference to John and Simon, he would say “youse guys”. It was an annoying habit, but it was a habit that John could tolerate.
What he couldn’t tolerate was Simon constantly referring to himself in the third person. “Simon says this”, “Simon says that”. It’s funny and clever the first few times you hear it, and then after the tenth time you hear it, you want to knock his frigging lights out.
Nino had John’s respect. He was a talented artist who dedicated all his time to his work. Simon was another story.
A rich kid in his mid-twenties, Simon didn’t need to draw comics for a living. He had a trust fund that could buy him a private island, and he’d still have cash to spare. While Nino was doing most of the work, Simon was busy partying and fooling around on his sailboat half the time.
John had worked at a marina for a brief period in his teens. They had a special term down at the docks for sail-boaters. WAFIs–Wind Assisted Fucking Idiots.
“So where is this place?” Nino asked Simon, the only one who knew the directions by heart.
“Simon says turn left on Oak Street.”
Nino stopped at the end of the block and cut the wheel to the left, turning slowly onto Oak Street. “Now what?”
“Simon says drive four blocks and make a right on Fir Street.”
“Are you going to do that the whole ride?”
“Yup,” Simon said and chuckled obnoxiously.
“So what is this place exactly?” John inquired.
“They call it the witch house,” Nino explained. “It’s on Rosewood Lane. People say the old bat who owns the place is well over one hundred years old. I can’t say how old she really is for sure, but one thing is a guarantee; she always has candles burning in the window. People say the candles represent the number of passengers traveling in each car. For example, Simon and I have passed the place ten times. Every time we pass it, there are always two candles in the window. But the one night I passed the place by myself, and there was only one candle in the window.”
“What if two cars are driving by in different directions?”
“It’s different for everyone. People have reported seeing two different sets of candles with two different amounts. If a car of three passes, they’ll see three candles. If a car of five passes, they’ll see five. Even if they pass at the same time.”
“Freaky,” John said, trying to play along. But he wasn’t entirely convinced. “It’s almost like a mirage.”
“Trust me,” Nino said as he turned right on Fir Street, “It’s no mirage.”
“Simon says make a left on Sycamore Avenue, and then a quick right on Rosewood Lane.”
John didn’t believe at first, but he grew more convinced when Nino pulled up along the curb on Rosewood Lane and he saw three candles glowing in the window.
“What did we tell you?” Simon said, motioning with his head toward the gleaming candles.
“How… How is it possible for her to know?” John asked, baffled.
“That’s why they call it the witch house,” Nino remarked, peering out at the gothic structure. Everywhere he glanced, the house showed signs of rust, rot, and decay. Even through the night’s gloominess, the signs of neglect were evident. It was almost as if the occupant went out of their way to neglect the property and make visitors feel unwelcome. “I’ve always wanted to go inside.”
“Maybe if we knock and ask politely she’ll charge us five bucks and give us the grand tour,” Simon laughed, then stopped abruptly as if he had reached a sudden epiphany. “You know what, fuck it. What have we got to lose? We’re here. There’s no shame in trying.”
“I don’t know youse guys,” Nino shook his head. “This house gives me a bad vibe.”
“Come on,” Simon egged him on. “Don’t be a chicken. Besides, we got John here. We’ll make him knock.”
“What?” John said, sounding groggy. He just wanted to call it a day and try to get some sleep.
“Yeah,” Simon said. “Nino was nice enough to give you a lift. The least you can do is knock.”
“I don’t see you volunteering,” Nino pointed out.
“Fine you bunch of wimps,” Simon said. “Let’s all three of us go up together and knock. Okay?”
“Sounds alright with me,” John shrugged, just wanting to get this over with. “Like you said, what have we got to lose? What’s she going to cast a spell on us?”
Nino sighed and looked uneasy as the three exited his white Trans Am with his bumper sticker that read ASS, ASS, OR ASS. NOBODY RIDES FOR FREE. And John was hoping that sticker wasn’t literal.
In the center of the red door was a brass ring that dangled from the mouth of a metallic lions head. After some slight persuasion from Simon, John gripped the ring and rapped on the door several times.
A voice boomed from the speaker of the intercom beside the door. They hadn’t even bothered to take note of it because they were all too distracted by the candles. And secretly, the three of them were all a bit spooked. The house gave off a very deterring, unsettling vibe.
“What do you want?” was all the raspy female voice asked.
“Ma’am,” Simon spoke, trying to feign politeness. “My friends and I were hoping to speak with you. We had a few questions we wanted to ask you.”
“Are you a reporter?”
“No ma’am.”
“You with the police?”
“No ma’am.”
“Well, come in if you’re coming in. The doors unlocked. It’s always unlocked… when I want it to be.”
“You can do the honors,” Nino nodded to Simon. “It was your bright idea.” Simon twisted the loose knob and the door pushed forward.
The house was dark and difficult to navigate their way through. The floorboards chirped and screeched with every step. The curtains and fixtures were stained yellow with nicotine. They could smell the stale cigarette smoke as soon as they walked in. The whole house reeked like a VFW Hall.
“Ah,” Simon said, breathing in. “The smell of America.”
They found her waiting in the dining room, arms folded in front of her.
The skin of her face was drawn back tightly. Purple veins jutted from her dense forehead, throbbing under the taut skin like writhing worms struggling to escape. But her dark, shoulder-length hair and lack of astonishing lack of wrinkles made her true age indeterminable.
“Are you a witch?” Simon asked and Nino’s palm grazed the back of his head for being such a dope.
“Is that what people say about me?” she laughed; the laughter turning into a fit of coughing. Simon nodded. When the coughing ceased, she added, “Then I guess it must be true. And is this what you came here to ask me?”
“I guess curiosity brought us here,” Nino shrugged.
“You know what they say about curiosity,” she said with that raspy tone. She never finished her thought but they all knew how the saying went.
“I’m Nino,” he said, trying to be formal. “This is Simon and that’s John. And you might be?”
“Call me Sabrina.”
“Like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch?” Simon chuckled.
“Do I look like a fucking teenager to you?” she chided and that seemed to shut Simon up. It also brought a grin to John’s otherwise tired face.
“What’s the deal with the candles?” Nino inquired.
“Whatever do you mean?” Sabrina asked and smiled peculiarly. It wasn’t a benevolent smile. It was the way a child smiles when they know something you don’t.
“The candles in the window,” Nino continued. “What’s the deal?”
“There’s no story behind them,” Sabrina said. “I just like to use candles. Better than running up the electricity bill, don’t you agree?”
“Stop jerking us around,” Simon said, growing impatient. “You know damn well what my friend is talking about. You’ve been playing mind games with this whole town for years now.”
“Mind games? Whatever do you mean?”
“Don’t play coy,” Simon snarled. “Every time we pass here together, there are two candles in the window. Tonight, John is with us and just coincidentally there happens to be three candles in your window? I’m not buying it.”
“People see what they want to see,” Sabrina shrugged.
“This bitch is getting on my nerves,” Simon said directly to Nino.
“I’d watch it if I were you,” Sabrina said, uncrossing her arms and standing as if preparing for some ugly confrontation.
“And I’d appreciate it if you stopped fucking with us. Now tell us the truth.”
“Careful what you wish for,” she warned. John could see her getting angrier, he could hear it in her voice.
“I know what you are,” Simon told her. “I’ll expose you. I’ll drive you right out of this town. Do you know who I am? Do you know who my parents were?”
“I know you might be joining them soon.”
“Is that a threat?” Simon said, the tone of his voice rising to a feverous pitch. John was ten seconds away from punching this WAFI in the face and shutting him up for good. “I don’t respond very well to threats. You don’t know who you’re messing with, you old bitch. I’ll burn this place to the ground if you dare threaten me again.”
John scrambled for the front door, but stopped when he saw something all too familiar. He peered down a dark, long, narrow hallway. At the end of the hall, a bright light emanated from the door that was slightly ajar. He desperately wanted to know what was waiting on the other side of that door, but he wasn’t going to risk it.
So John headed out the front instead and was the first to the car. Nino had to pry Simon away, who was still trying to stand his ground.
As they pulled away, John saw that only one candle remained, glistening on the windowsill. Simon and Nino had seen it too.
“Fuck is that about?” Simon asked.
“She’s just trying to screw with our heads,” Nino said, his voice cracking. He was speeding, driving erratically. He kept looking back in the rearview mirror, half expecting to see Sabrina pop up in the backseat.
John saw it coming before Simon or Nino did, just as he had time and time again in his nightmares. He saw the high beams flashing in the distance, heard the wail of the horn as the truck jammed on its brakes and slid across the wet pavement.
Nino tried to cut the wheel, but there was no time. The truck and Nino’s car went head to head. The front of Nino’s Trans Am was folded like an accordion. Broken glass, twisted steel, and debris from the wreckage littered the street. The airbags were deployed, but not much good it did when the front of the car was so smashed in that Nino was crushed between the seat and the steering wheel.
Simon had neglected to buck his seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle upon impact. Cops found his body fifty feet from the site of the accident, his spine twisted like an oversized pretzel.
John’s life was spared by his seatbelt and the fact that he was in the backseat. He walked away with a sprained ankle, a few minor lacerations from the shattered windshield, and a dull ache in his back.
He lost a good friend in Nino. He didn’t miss Simon half as much. The way John saw it, if Simon hadn’t gone shooting off his mouth, Nino might still be alive. The WAFI had sailed off into the sunset, and John found himself oddly relieved by that fact. And he even published a new comic out of the whole ordeal. He called it Nightmares in the Witch House. His company published more than five million copies of the first issue and it became their highest grossing comic to date.
John never crossed paths with Sabrina again. He went out of his way to avoid driving past the witch house. He didn’t even feel comfortable driving around in the vicinity of Rosewood Lane.
But two months later, when John attended the company Christmas party with his girlfriend, an envious Dean Pittman tried to spoil the fun. He insulted John in front of his co-workers, made a disparaging remark about Nino, and even attempted to put the moves on John’s girlfriend while John was preoccupied with greeting the other guests.
John spent the next morning writing a flattering letter addressed to Sabrina in Pittman’s name. A day later, Pittman was rushed to a nearby hospital. Not dead. He had stuffed both of his hands down his garbage disposal, one at a time, and hacked his fingertips to the bone.

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