Category: Halloween

Number 13: A Noir Ghost Story K. A. Laity

‘Why me?’ Kriste asked, knowing it didn’t matter.

 

‘Because you’re the littlest. And because I said so.’ Bishop smiled at her, but it wasn’t a nice smile and not just because of the teeth knocked out. Mum said his dad did it, but Bishop said he was fighting with a copper and got the better of him.

 

None of them would argue.

 

‘I bet she’s too scared,’ Nielsen said, his voice rising to a mimicking sharpness.

 

‘It’s haunted you know,’ Anderson added. The eyes behind his dirty glasses looked bored and cruel. ‘That’s why the money is still there.’

 

‘What if it’s too much for me to carry?’ Kriste had to try something. The sun was setting and she was going to be late for her tea.

 

‘Throw it out the door to us,’ Bishop said waving a hand around the checkerboard tiles of the lobby. A wind stirred through the derelict building and it creaked all around them, as if it were warning the interlopers.

 

‘Or else we’ll throw you out the window from the top floor,’ Nielsen said, sniffing and laughing.

 

‘If you go to the top floor anyway—’ she said, but Bishop’s flat palm stopped her reasonable objection. It didn’t matter. Everybody said he had killed the Nicholas’ dog. They had all seen it down in the ravine by the rail line. Poor Boris, dead in a ditch. He was a dumb dog, always chasing his tail but Millie Nicholas was sad.

 

Kriste climbed the rickety stairs. Her mum had said this place was build when she was a little girl. It had gone to rack and ruin. She didn’t know what rack meant, but the ruin was obvious. On the fifth floor she had to skirt around huge holes in the steps. Everything was so dirty and made funny sounds as she climbed.

 

Most of the floors had an A and B flat, but the top floor just had number 13. Everything looked grey outside the door: the floor, the walls, the door. Even the ceiling. The sun was going down. It was getting dark. She leaned over the railing. ‘I’m here.’

 

‘Well, go inside, you eejit. Find the gold.’

 

‘What if it’s locked?’ Kriste looked around. She didn’t think anyone had been there in years. There weren’t even any footprints in the dust. Not even bird droppings. They had covered the other floors and most of the steps. Pigeons were filthy and persistent, her mum said.

 

But they didn’t come up here.

 

She turned the knob and the door opened inward. Kriste wasn’t sure if she was hearing her own breath or the room exhaling. It took a few moments to let her eyes adjust to the dim light. Where would the money be?

 

The sitting room had some broken furniture. The cushions of the sofa lay like dead bodies, their stuffing vomited out on the floor. Had people done it or animals? It was impossible to say. Kriste walked through the kitchen and dining room. A single window gaped, its glass in shards. Yet no light seemed to reach where she stood.

 

She sneezed.

 

Kriste looked down at the footprints behind. She was the only one to have stepped in here in years. If it were brighter it might be fun to explore, to play in the kitchen or stack up the furniture for a fort. But her steps echoed in the silence and she did her best to make no sound.

 

The flat breathed on around her.

 

The first room had a bed overturned. Just the frame. There was no mattress. The wall was full of tiny holes. The air in here smelled different—sharper like some kind of metal. Maybe it was the bathroom, next to that. It almost looked usable, if not for the thick fur of dust covering everything. Her mum would never let her use a toilet like that one.

 

The last room was darker, smaller. Kriste pushed the door open. A small shaft of light fell from the single window and hit a spot in the middle of the floor. This room had all its furniture. There was a tiny bed, a chest for toys, a little wardrobe and even a tiny table with a lamp.

 

‘Hello.’

 

Kriste jumped. ‘Sorry, I didn’t think anyone was here.’

 

‘Just me.’ A little boy maybe four years old stood there with a Tonka truck in his hands. ‘Wanna play?’

 

‘I can’t just now. My…friends are waiting for me to bring them something.’ Kriste wondered if the little boy’s family would be away long.

 

‘Is it money? They always want money.’ The little boy seemed disappointed.

 

‘I don’t care about it, but the lads downstairs. They’re expecting some.’ Kriste felt bad. The little boy looked as grey and dusty as the room. And sad. He needed some cheering up.

 

‘I’ll tell you a secret. I usually just hide. But there is some money but it’s, I dunno. Wrong. It’s bad for you.’ He looked confused and opened and shut the door of the little dumptruck.

 

Kriste thought. ‘You mean like poison?’

 

The little boy smiled. ‘Yes, skull and bones. Poison.’

 

‘Maybe I can take it to the boys down there and they can sort it out.’ Kriste thought at least they would not beat her up or throw her from the top of the stairs.

 

The boy looked at her for a moment and kept playing with the car door. Finally he said, ‘It’s in the wardrobe. In the box. But I wouldn’t open it up.’

 

Kriste walked over and opened the tiny wardrobe. The door was red, though it was furred with dust, untouched until her fingers smudged it. Among the rotting clothes, there was a small box. When she picked it up, she could feel its weight. ‘This?’

 

The boy nodded.

 

‘Do you want to come downstairs?’ Kriste asked, feeling awkward. What if his parents came back? ‘You don’t have to see the mean boys. But you can watch them open the box.’

 

He nodded and the two of them walked down the steps silently. When they were within sight of the gang, Kriste held her finger to her lips and the boy melted into the shadows. She walked the rest of the steps to the catcalls of the boys and held the box out before her. ‘Is this it?’

 

Bishop ripped the box from her hands and tore it open. The gold gleamed. He yelled with delight and plunged his hands in. Anderson and Nielsen grabbed the other sides of the box and the yellow coins rained down on the black and white tiles of the lobby. Then there was only the panting of their excited breath as they fought for their share of the loot.

 

Kriste stepped back to watch their frenzied motions. None of them could decide between stuffing their pockets and hitting each other to try to grab more of the gold. Their breath laboured with the struggle.

 

Slowly she realised their breaths were getting shorter and shorter. Their faces were turning blue. The lads’ movements became more frenzied and then they began to slow. Finally they stopped. Kriste looked down at Bishop’s purple cheeks.

 

‘You should take their money,’ the little boy whispered at her shoulder. He started to gather up the gold into the box once more, holding its edges together.

 

‘I think I will,’ Kriste said. There was quite a roll of bills in Bishop’s pocket. Maybe she and her mum could go out to the movies this weekend.

Bio: K. A. Laity is the award-winning author of White RabbitA Cut-Throat BusinessLush SituationOwl Stretching, Unquiet DreamsÀ la Mort SubiteThe Claddagh IconChastity FlamePelzmantel and Other Medieval Tales of Magic and Unikirja, as well as editor of Weird NoirNoir Carnival and the forthcoming Drag Noir. With cartoonist Elena Steier she created the occult detective comic Jane Quiet. Her bibliography is chock full of short stories, humor pieces, plays and essays, both scholarly and popular. She spent the 2011-2012 academic year in Galway, Ireland where she was a Fulbright Fellow in digital humanities at NUIG. Dr. Laity has written on popular culture and social media for Ms., The Spectator and BitchBuzz, and teaches medieval literature, film, gender studies, New Media and popular culture at the College of Saint Rose. She divides her time between upstate New York and Dundee.

white rabbit

The Muse by Sebnem E. Sanders

Sharma’s passion was writing, but she had to toil at a boring job. She devoted any free time to her work in progress, trying to adhere to her daily word count target of 1000. Always scribbling in her notebook, at lunch break and after dinner at home, she immersed herself in stories instead of going out with friends or watching TV. At weekends, she transcribed her work onto the computer and spent her time editing.

On a sunny weekday, she could be found on a bench in a remote area of the park, next to the woods. It was a niche, a pocket, surrounded by trees, with a small opening in the front. Sharma considered this to be her private patch, since visitors preferred to mingle on the wide lawns with the lunchtime crowds. Sharma felt comfortable, undisturbed by the commotion beyond. Sometimes she would close her eyes and listen to birdsong or gaze through the trees, lost in thought.

There came a day when she saw a lady, wearing an elegant wide-brimmed hat. Crunching the dry autumn leaves underneath her feet, she strolled in the woods. Sharma immediately felt a closeness to her that she could not explain. Another lover of nature on a solitary walk.

After seeing her a couple more times, Sharma noticed the mysterious lady always wore the same outfit. A charcoal hat over blonde hair pulled into a chignon, and a long, black coat. The next time Sharma escaped to her den, the woman was sitting on her bench. Her bench. Pale blue eyes looked up at her and the lady smiled. “Good afternoon. It’s a gorgeous day, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Sharma said, unsure whether to find another seat.

“Come,” the woman said, patting the bench. “Sit by me and let’s talk.”

Sharma obeyed.

“You’re a writer,” the lady said.

“I try to be.”

“But you have little time, right?” The woman raised her eyebrows.

“Yes,” Sharma nodded.

“I’m Marsha Vavenza. Nice to meet you-”

“Sharma, Sharma Wells.”

“An Indian name?”

“I was born there. My father worked with an IT company in Mumbai.”

“Charming. The story you’re working on, do you need help?”

“How?” Sharma asked, pushing back a wayward dark curl from her forehead.

“I’m a retired editor. I only take on works by reference.”

“Really?” Sharma clung to her bag, holding her notebook.

“I can edit your work, but only if you wish me to.”

Sharma budged in her seat, looking into the pale blue eyes of the handsome woman.

“It, it’s only in shorthand, unedited, raw. For my eyes only. I couldn’t.”

“Dear, girl. I’m used to deciphering writing more obscure than hieroglyphics, more illegible than those on medical prescriptions. Most people didn’t use computers until the late 80’s, and impoverished writers couldn’t afford one.”

“I see, “ Sharma said, still resisting, yet her gut feeling said to trust her. Though showing her scribbles to a stranger seemed odd, something made her pull out her notebook and hand it to Marsha.

“Thank you for trusting me.” Marsha smiled, as she fished a pen from her handbag. She skimmed through the pages, writing notes in red. By the time Sharma had to leave, she had finished reading the entire contents. Marsha handed the notebook to Sharma and winked. “See you at the next chapter.”

At the weekend Sharma read over Marsha’s notes and edited her work. Marsha’s handwriting was clear, her comments and suggestions worth taking into consideration.

 

Winter had already arrived when Sharma finished writing her story and handed the last chapter to Marsha. After reading and jotting notes, Marsha said, “If you need me, this is where I live,” and wrote her address on the notebook. “I shan’t be resuming my walks in the cold. See you again in springtime, perhaps.”

Marsha walked into the woods and disappeared into their depths.

Sharma had Googled Marsha’s name, but hadn’t been able to find anything during the past two months. Marsha Vavenza did not seem to exist.

After editing and submitting her work, Sharma went to the address Marsha had written on her notebook. The residents at the block had never heard of her. Sharma was intrigued and asked around the neighbourhood, going in and out of the shops.

A pub called Angel’s Bliss looked old, perhaps Edwardian. The man behind the till, most likely the landlord, from the way he managed the staff, appeared to fit the old worldly scene. Sharma ordered a drink and a packet of crisps, and tried to attract the man’s attention. When their eyes met, she asked, “Excuse me, sir, do you know anyone called, Marsha Vavenza who lives in this area?”

“Why do you ask?” The man stared at her.

“I have an address, but no one seems to know her. Here,” she said, pulling out her notebook, and showed him.

The man’s eyes darted between the writing and Sharma’s face. “Who wrote this?” he whispered.

“Marsha,” Sharma replied.

“It’s not possible. She died in 1988 and is buried in the cemetery by the woods.”

Sharma’s heart pounded. She shivered and goose bumps covered her arms.

“I-,“ she said, but something made her stop. “Did-did you know her?” she asked, voice quivering.

“She was my lover. A great woman and writer I lost to cancer.”

“I’m sorry.” Sharma, said tapping her fingers on the bar.

“You saw her?” he muttered.

“Yes,” she whispered, holding his wet-eyed gaze.

 

Sharma placed a bouquet of flowers underneath the tombstone and read the engraving. “M.V. Clarkson, writer, lies here. 1938-1988”

A warm breeze touched her face. She closed her eyes and whispered, “Thank you, Marsha.”

 

Short Bio:

Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have appeared in the Harper Collins Authonomy Blog, The Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Three Drops from the Cauldron, The Rye Whiskey Review, CarpeArte Journal, Yellow Mama Webzine, and Punk Noir Magazine, as well as two anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. She has a completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven and two works in progress, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child. Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, was published in December 2017. More information can be found at her website where she publishes some of her work:

https://sebnemsanders.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

Ripples on the Pond

 

 

 

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https://www.linkedin.com/in/sebnem-sanders-b3593263/

Pork Pie Hat by Frank Westworth

pork pie hat 2

Something suitably sinister for All Hallow’s Eve…

The door slipped silently closed behind the last happy customer. She left singing, her departing tune humming on the condensing air, her own take on the last verse of the last song she’d heard. The last song she’d hear; the last song she’d sing.

The Chimp left his post behind the bar, took a turn towards the stage and leaned with dramatic effect against an invisible wall while the members of the band stretched, flicked amplifiers from power-on to standby, grinned at each other, wondering whether there’d be an after-hours sit-in that night. Faces drifted from the shadows, from the more intimate seats, and approached the stage. Quiet compliments filled the air, more hum, more buzz. Clicks and ticks from the amps, at least from the few which still lit heated valves to get their own tones. A cymbal or several fizzed softly. A saxophone sighed, a lady in waiting. Eyes turned to Chimp, the barkeep, the man of that moment.

He looked down at his feet. The floor looked almost clean. No layer of ash, no pools of drink or worse. A man could take pride in the state of his bar floor. He smiled slowly.

‘One for the road; one from the house, then.’

The air sang relaxation. A piano – a real natural piano with metal not electronic strings and a real natural player playing it – staggered out the opening bars to something honky-tonk. Everyone was smiling.

‘Played good, you did.’ The piano player called across the stage. A bassist smiled in reply, threw back her curls and dropped a few discordant bass notes into his honky-tonk jangle. Lights stayed low. A deep quiet voice strolled out from the darkest of the dark corners and silenced the crowd.

‘Nice. Nice evening. Nice to hear the blues played by you young white folk. Well done, y’all.’

Deep burned black American tones – noteworthy in a small English city – clear diction, quiet and calm. Bass register, whiskey and gravel. Everyone turned. Everyone stared at the shape in the gloom. A man arose. A very black man viewed against a very dark background.

‘Drinks for y’all, huh? My call.’

He towered across the room to the bar, spreading a little dark and a little quiet in his wake. Placed a nigh denomination bill on the counter. Then another. Then another.

‘No need for change.’

And across the room, through the tables. All eyes followed him as he left the bar and his banknotes, and returned, shedding a peace-filled darkness in his wake, and approached the stage.

Puis-je? May I?’

The room agreed that he may. He did, nodding and walking up the few steps to the stage with the gait of a heavy man, which he appeared to be in the dim heated light, and approached the piano.

Puis-je, ami noir?’

This time to Stretch, whose honky-tonk had fallen silent and who stepped aside, allowing the dark man to sit. He rested dark, long hands on the keyboard. Sighed.

‘So it begins…’ the open microphone caught the quiet words as long black fingers picked out the opening triplet to Goodbye Porkpie Hat. G, followed by C, followed by E-flat. The big black man, evident wearer of an old shiny pork pie hat, muted the strings; the notes cut off before they could fade, echo away. Everyone stared, glances were shared, feet shuffled. Those fingers played those notes again, somehow louder, and this time the piano did its best to sustain them. The next phrase followed, hard suddenly, and emotional. He let them drop into the hush.

As the notes faded to black there came a loud report, an impact against the main door. A hammering of hands. Followed by a scream. A loud cry. A shot. More hammering, fading in time with the piano’s notes.

Chimp flew from his bar, unlatched locks, pulled handles and flung the doors open with such violence that they broke against the walls, dislodging dust and flaking paint. That last happy customer to leave fell back through the doorway, missed Chimp’s embrace, landed face first at his feet, sighing, crying and, while he stared, bleeding around a buried blade across the floorboards. His floorboards.

‘At least it’s not the carpet. Christ!’

JJ Stoner, the night’s guitar player, sprinted into the semi-dark outside the doors to the Blue Cube, ran for the shadows along the enclosing walls and moved fast and silent to the street. Turned and returned, pausing to pick up a gun, a small gun, from the porch. Held it by the muzzle, which smoked, but only a little.

Chimp stood and stared at the woman at his feet. Motionless now, crumpling and fading before him. Stoner reached down, fingers against her neck. Stood. Looked down at her. No expression on his face. None at all.

‘Get an ambulance!’ Loud advice from within the club.

‘No rush.’ Stoner appeared at a loss.

‘Bring her here.’ An instruction more than a request. From the stage, from the black man with the suddenly huge hands and the misshapen pork pie hat. The man with the piano. Those huge hands replayed the last line from that old tune. C. E-flat. F, E-flat.

‘Do not take out the knife. Save the blade for me.’

Worried hands carried the white woman, the faded white woman, and laid her on her back at the edge of the stage. The black man did not even glance her way, but played more of the ancient tune. Slowly, developing it as a bluesman can and as a jazzman will into something greater. The stunned quiet in the club was at first diminished, then destroyed by the one-man music show at the piano.

The saxophonist raised her instrument to her lips and looked to the black man. He shook his head, eyes closed but aware of her. She silently replaced the sax on its stand. Stood still and listened, watched, like all the others.

The song reached its climax and moved to its close. The piano flowed notes under the pressure of those big hands, the broad fingers which no longer pressed the keys, floating somehow above them.

‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,’ intoned the big black man in the tall black hat. The white woman coughed. She shook. She raised a forearm and its pale hand grasped at nothing. The killing blade, the long knife was resting on the keys of the piano. The player had not moved. The white woman pulled the trigger of the pistol she no longer held. Again and again.

Chimp reached her first. Her eyes were open, staring. Her dry pale lips moved, he leaned in to her.

‘My gun. Where’s my gun?’

Her voice creaked and strained, her breathing was arrhythmic and harsh. And she held Chimp’s hand with ferocity. She pulled herself towards him, dragging the rest of her, pulled by the single hand and powered by her stare.

‘Here.’

Stoner dangled the weapon from its trigger guard. Well away, well out of reach. She groaned.

‘I ache.’

A statement. And abruptly she sat up. Stared around her. Soaked both hands into the blood on her blouse, on her jeans, ripped apart the blouse and rubbed the blood from her side, revealing an angry red line below her left breast. A line filled with pain, but a shining dry line all the same.

‘What the fuck just happened?’ she shouted with sudden force. ‘And who the fuck are you?’ to the black man, as he left the stage, moving smoothly, silently and implacably to the door, suddenly diminished, attenuated, luminous, drifting, translucent.

Stoner stood aside, cleared his path and stared at him in sharp recognition. The pork pie had was gone, replaced by something taller, something shiny and worn – a top hat, frayed a little. The face below it was gaunt, wide-eyed, smiling through too many teeth – too many, yellow, and too long.

Rend-moi Samedi. Count your Saturdays, monsieur. Et puis, Dimanche.’

He’d paused by Stoner for a moment, leaned to him, spoke softly, and was gone into the strangeness of the night.

‘Who was that? What did he say?’

Stoner stood in silence for several long slow heartbeats.

‘He said he’d see me again. On a Saturday. Always on a Saturday. He is Samedi.’ His voice was lost, cold. Fading. And he followed the shade of the black man into the night. There was no one there. Only a soft darkness. Rain fell, silently.

 

<<oOo>>

 

The Blue Cube nightclub and its shady inhabitants form the backdrop for Frank Westworth’s Killing Sisters trilogy and the JJ Stoner quick thrillers.

All are available at Amazon: www.amazon.co.uk/Frank-Westworth/e/B001K89ITA/

You can follow Frank’s exploits on Facebook: www.facebook.com/killingsisters

Or at the MMM site: www.murdermayhemandmore.net

Frank Westworth

 

Recommended Read: Satan’s Sorority by Graham Wynd

In 1950’s America, Sandra’s parents send her off to a small town university in order to keep her out of trouble. While there she encounters Trixie Faust and the rest of the Sigma Tau Nu sorority. Blood, sex and satanism quickly ensure.In spades!

Satan’s Sorority by Graham Wynd is a smart, witty and marvelously well written slice of pulp fiction. Full of great lines and clever asides, Satan’s Sorority is another winner from Fahrenheit 13 and Fahrenheit Press.

satan s