The Monster and the Ghost

 

“So, what do you think’s waiting on the other side of the door?” Tommy asked.

“I’m sure it’s scary, whatever it is!”  Jason’s voice quivered with fear and excitement.

The older boy looked down at the younger one.  “Think so?  Monsters, maybe?”

“No, no monsters.  Ghosts.”

Tommy squinted.  “Ghosts?”

“Yea, of those boys that went missing a few months ago.  No one ever found them.”

“Could be.” Tommy cocked an eyebrow at Jason.  “You sure you want to open it?  See what’s on the other side? You brave enough?”

Jason hopped from foot to foot.  Hesitating only for a moment, he nodded.

Tommy curled his fingers around the handle. He pulled it up, then down, but it didn’t yield.

Jason sagged his shoulders, and kicked at the door. “Damn it! We’re locked out!”

Tommy shook his head and shrugged.  Releasing the handle, he turned slowly to Jason.  “Doesn’t really matter, though.”

“Why not?”

“Because the monster isn’t on the other side of the door.” From his jacket, he pulled out a long, serrated knife.  “He’s right here.”  Even in the semi-darkness, the blade gleamed.  “And you’re gonna be the ghost.”

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  © ELIZABETH MICHAUD JOHN.

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Saying “Boo!”

As a writer, I love to write.  At any moment, at any time, whenever the inspiration hits me.  In the springtime, if it’s raining and the rain splatters on the rooftop in just the right way, I may write a poem.  When it’s hot and muggy outside and the mosquitos and the flies are buzzing around, I might grab my pencil and turn out a lazy bit of prose to match my summer day.  I’ve been known to tweak out a verse or two based on lyrics of a song that intrigued me.  And bearing witness to an act of kindness or malice has often demanded that I make my way to my computer and adapt my testimony into words of warmth or tales of woe.  On my phone I have a note pad app that allows me to tap out a line or two when I’m in my car and a bright idea hits me (when I’m stopped somewhere, of course!), and in my purse, I have a small, spiral-bound writing journal that I always keep handy so I can write when I take the kids to soccer or to Barnes & Noble (I mean, it’s Barnes & Noble, for Pete’s sake!  How can you not find inspiration there???)

Yea, I’m always ready to write, and lots of things move me to do it.

But nothing so much like the month of October.

October signals the time for witches and goblins, ghosts and ghouls.  It’s time for scary movies, horror specials, and dark novels.  It’s when the monsters in the closet seem a little more real, the creatures under the bed are more determined to get you, and that obscure shadow in the corner is not really a shadow at all…but something far and significantly more sinister.  Friday, October 13 is the ominous date on the calendar, and crossing the path of a black cat is a little creepier.  When the window is open but a crack, you hear the wolf howl at the moon and in the light of a fire—campfire or other—flames dance and prance the steps of the wicked.

October marks the time for fear.

As any horror writer will tell you, October is the month for our craft.  This is the season when people are not as afraid to take on the dark; in fact, they challenge it, consequences be damned.  We allow ourselves to fear with both amusement and trepidation, with both giggles and shudders.  We squeal with dark delight at the terrors that flicker across our TV screens in the safety of our own homes, but at night, we shake with anguish when the floorboards creak and the windows rattle.  And it’s this curious mixed acceptance of fear that horror writers thrive on and makes it easier to write than any other time of year.

Ah, October.

It’s the beginning of the celebration of the macabre.

In the mind of the horror writer—at least mine, anyway—this month is almost sacred.  There is a heightened sense of terror during these four weeks, and I am keenly aware of the darkness and treachery that is lurking.  Things speak to me during this month and I find inspiration everywhere:  from the little old lady hanging giant spiders on her porch to the dime-store monsters on sale at the local drugstore to the pint-sized ghouls that roam the streets forever in search of Halloween treats.  Michael Jackson’s Thriller plays on a loop on the radio and its spooky beats help set the mood for thirty-one nights of chills and thrills.

October.

Terror abounds in this corner of the calendar, and for those of us who like to pen dark, twisted tales, it’s ripe for the picking.  Sometimes the ink in our pens spills a classic story of evil witches looking to dine on naughty children.  Other times our pens will speak for the dead, recount their haunting, and deliver their revenge.  At still other moments, our pens scribble the random, incoherent thoughts of the insane, only to leave the sane wondering, bewildered and terrified.

More than any other month in the year, I am inspired by the whispers that float on the air, the undertones of death that waft on the breeze, the stark, bleak silhouettes of bare trees backlit by the ghostly light of moon and the owl’s haunted hoot.  They are stage and prelude to a symphony for the damned, where the screams of innocents and the slippery slide of blood upon the walls are the grand overture.

And I am inspired to write.

But more importantly, I am also even more inspired to share.  Because let’s face it, who doesn’t like to share the fear?  Who doesn’t like to go into the haunted house with friends so we can all scream together, laugh together, be scared together?  Who doesn’t like to sneak up on their best buddy and say “Boo!”?

Because really, that’s what horror writers do—certainly that’s what I like to do.  Writing horror is about sneaking up on someone and saying boo!—in the grandest way possible—and the month of October makes it both legitimate to do and lots of fun.

Yep, yep, I love October.  It motivates me like no other time of year, and despite all that I have going on and the troubles that plague me, October is calling me, winking at me, telling me it’s time to write.

There is inspiration everywhere and it’s time to say…

BOO!

EMJ

 

The Language of Writing

I am a student of language.

In my own childhood home, foreign language was very much a vital thread in the fabric of our everyday lives.  My family is Haitian, so I heard French and Creole in my house all the time when I was growing up.  As a result, I think that my family experience made me very receptive to nature of foreign languages. When you grow up in a bilingual household, it’s very easy to see the world with a larger, broader view—as well as your place in it—than if perhaps you grow up in a monolingual one, especially if that language is part of the dominant culture.

As such, when I got a little older, I decided I wanted to be an interpreter.  I was going to stand between two foreigners and unite them through the vehicle of language, telling their stories, sharing their concerns, recounting their fears or or exalting their joys. I had all these great, dreamy notions of living in New York City and working at the UN, meeting exotic people, and speaking a multitude of foreign languages, much to the amazement of my peers and the friends of my social circle.

But beyond the lofty goals I envisioned for helping others bridge their communication gaps, for me personally, I loved the idea of communicating with people from all over the world, in their respective language, and sharing a piece of their lives and their world that was so different from my own.  I imagined myself sitting in cafés in Paris, sipping on an espresso and watching les français stroll by, with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop.  Or I’d be lounging in a tapas bar in Spain, flirting with a dark-haired, dark-eyed Antonio Banderas-type (figure Antonio Banderas as he was in Desperado), secretly planning my wedding to this swarthy, sexy caballero.

I’ll be honest:  I just thought it would be pretty fucking cool.

Well, I didn’t quite realize that dream.  That’s not say that I didn’t try—I most certainly did.  When I was in college, I studied five foreign languages:  Spanish, French, German, Japanese, and Portuguese.  My studies granted me an opportunity to travel abroad and I was fortunate enough to study in France and Japan.  My travels did afford me the chance to realize part of my dream:  I did sit in those cafés in France, and while sipping on café au lait, I got to flirt with a lot of Spaniards who happened to be there learning French.

Go figure.

And in Japan, my eyes were opened to a world of wonder—there’s no other way to explain it.  The country was pristine, immaculate perfection.  The landscape of the country was manicured  flawlessness.  The careful art of bonsai really seemed to describe an entire people:  small, careful, beautiful, rich.

And through it all, the real focus of my dream manifested itself everyday, no matter where I was:  I was communicating with people from around the world, sharing bits of history and culture, food and fun, life.

I told stories of my world in the language of my hosts, and I listened to them regale me with their own stories in my language.

So it wasn’t a total loss, my dream.  If anything, I took my first steps forward.

But like with anything, sometimes life gets in the way.  I got a job, then I got married, and then I had kids.  A life abroad with three kids began to seem farther and farther out of reach, and I think I kind of let my dream go.  Not with any regret, mind you, but more out of a sense of necessity.  Interpretation is not a profession that is in high demand in this country to begin with, and living in the Deep South, it’s almost non-existent.

Such is life.

But one day, I picked up a pen and I began to write.  Not in French or in Spanish.  Not in German or Japanese or Portuguese.  But in English.  In the language that I had mastered long ago.

I wrote stories and I then I dabbled in verse.   The words seemed to pour out of me, as if I had opened floodgates that were holding back an ocean of water that I didn’t know was there.

I created worlds and characters and events and lives, and then I shared them with the world (a small world, I readily admit, but I have hopes that that world will become ever larger).  And as I wrote, I made an accidental discovery.

My dream had returned to me.

When I was younger, I aspired to communicate with the world through foreign language, but that opportunity would slip through my fingers.  But through my writing, the opportunity had re-presented itself to me.  I could still communicate with the world, only the means of delivery was different.  The stories may not be true, but they were engaging, nonetheless, and they captured a slice of life that could be given to another for their own personal inspection, whatever their perception.

I wonder sometimes why I didn’t see it before.  The language of writing is as complex as any other foreign language that I have ever studied.  Of course, there is the technical side:  the grammar, the mechanics, the study of function and form, syntax and process.  But there is also the creative side of language, where the technical aspects merge with creative thought and expression to deliver messages, ideas, or even…stories.

I can’t believe now how easy it was.  Certainly, the language was unexpected.  It never occurred to me that while using English I can still interpret, only instead I’m interpreting life events through writing, because let’s face:  much like live interpretation, storytelling is just taking an event and retelling it in a way that you see fit.  Granted, when I write, I clearly have more leeway to bend the facts as I wish them to be, but nonetheless, I still get to play with words, manipulate meanings, fool around with syntax.  As I write my stories and scribble my verses, I tweak tone and intonation, meaning and nuance.  And I love it.

I’m realizing that writing allows me to do the one thing that I always wanted to do:  experiment with language.   My dream was never really gone from me; in fact, it was always there, lurking in the recesses of my mind, just waiting for me to make this connection.  And now that I have it back, I think I’m going to do everything I can to realize my dream to its fullest potential.

Warum nicht?

EMJ

Free Story Preview from Darkness…in a Flash

The Vampires That We Know

“I can’t take it anymore, Chris.”  Though Anna tried to keep her voice even, it quivered nonetheless.

His eyes narrowed to slits.  “What is that you can’t take, Anna? Do tell.”  His tone was cold and dangerous.

“Chris, look, don’t get mad.  It’s just…I mean….maybe we should…”  She hesitated and in that moment, he saw her weakness.  He closed in on it.

“Are you unhappy, Anna?  Is that it?” He spoke in a whisper, and she knew immediately the deed was done.

“No, Chris, wait, that wasn’t what I meant…..I just I feel a little tired, kind of drained, and…”

He hit her then.  The closed fist smashed against her cheek with a force like bricks.  She collapsed to the floor, crying out in shock.  Pain exploded across her cheek and instinctively, she reached up, to protect her head and face, but this left her mid-section was exposed.  His foot, encased in a reinforced steel boot, smashed into her stomach, once, twice, three times. The force of the kicks pushed her back a foot, almost to the wall behind her.   She wanted to scream, but there was no air; so instead she coughed again and again, her body writhing on the floor in pain.  Blood spilled from her mouth with each hacking cough.

At the sight of her blood, Chris stopped his assault.  Squatting next to her, he reached down and trailed his fingers in the blood.  When they were lightly covered, he brought his blood-stained fingers to his mouth and licked them delicately until they were once again clean.  Then he reached down and yanked Anna up by her hair until she was semi-upright and looking him in the eye.  Flinching visibly, she tried to look away, but with his free hand, he took her chin in his hand and studied his handiwork.  The bruise on her cheek had swollen to almost the size of a golf ball, turning the tender flesh an ugly purplish-black and blood spotted her lips and teeth in ugly, heavy patches.

Chris licked his lips again, still reveling in the coppery, metallic taste of her wounds.  “Did you see that?  Did you see what I did?  I just took a taste of your blood.  Do you know what that means?  It means that you are inside me, and you are a part of me.  You and me, we’re one, and we’ll always be together, Anna.  So I don’t ever want to hear you say that you’re feeling tired, or that you’re feeling drained, Anna.  Because if I ever decide to drain you, honey, I’ll slit your neck from ear to ear and then you’ll know what it really means to be empty inside.”   Then, with a sudden vigor, Chris slammed her head downward onto the floor, where it hit the tile so hard that she blacked out.

Chris stood, looked at his wife splayed unconscious on the cold hard tile, and then made a comment that no one heard but him.  “Or maybe you won’t know.  Maybe you’ll just be dead.”

~~~~~

“He’s sucking the life out of you, Anna,” Georgia said.

Anna refused to acknowledge her sister and instead looked out the window to the gray day beyond.

They were in a private room at St. Mary of the Heart Hospital, where Anna lay in a bed, bruised and battered.   For a while, there had been a bustle of activity:  nurses and orderlies in and out, checking her stats, making notes in her file, and of course, the police.  They had come and asked questions, but Anna had declined to cooperate, insisting that she had just had an “accident”.  With a dubious look at Georgia, they had finally left, but had indicated to Anna—and  to Georgia, for that matter, because they could see where this situation was headed—that  if at any time Anna wanted to change her story, she could call.

Georgia knew she wasn’t going to change her story, and now sat, trying to convince her otherwise.

“He’s sucking the life right out of you, and you don’t even see it, Anna,” Georgia persisted.  “He’s like a fuckin’ vampire, taking little pieces of you, a bit at a time, and you’re fading away to nothing.”  Her sister paused, trying to find the words to reach her sister.  With one hand, she clenched Anna’s own listless one, and with the other, she turned her sister’s chin to her, so she could look her directly in the eyes.  Or rather eye, because the other above the damaged cheek was swollen shut.  “He’s gonna kill you if you don’t leave him, Anna.”

Anna’s face betrayed no emotion, and still she would not speak.

Georgia struggled to control her temper, but it was quickly becoming difficult.  “Damnit, Anna, what’s it gonna take?  Do you need to be buried six feet under before you come to your senses?  My god, what kind of man beats his wife, and then…then…”  Her voice broke a little at her next words, but she continued.  “I can’t believe he actually tasted your blood.  What is that about?”  She paused again, shuddering at the thought of her wounded, injured sister lying on a floor while her deranged husband actually stooped to lick her blood.  Maybe he was a vampire, after all.  Certainly, he was a monster.

Finally, Anna turned to her sister, and mumbled a pitiful, pathetic response:  “He doesn’t mean it when he does these things, Georgie.  I just sometimes make him angry–”

Georgia stopped her short and yelled, “Stop it, Anna, just stop it!  Stop making excuses for him.  This isn’t right!  He beats you, for God’s sake, and he is killing you, don’t you see?”

At Georgia’s outburst, Anna shrank back against the hospital bed, flinching, and Georgia instantly regretted her words and tone.  My god, she’s scared of even me now, she thought.  My own sister is scared of me.

“Oh, Anna, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell, honey.”  She gently squeezed Anna’s hand in a conciliatory gesture and Anna relaxed a little.  They sat like that for a while in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.

Georgia regarded the small, shell of a woman that had once been her vibrant, full-of-life sister.  She had met Chris right out of high school.  Tall and handsome and full of promise and fun, he had swept Anna off her feet, lavishing her with attention and gifts.  Anna had fallen completely in love, and when, after a few short weeks, he had proposed, Anna had said yes without a thought.

That had been seven years ago.

In that time, Anna had faded like a flower that had seen too little sun, and now was withering away to almost nothing.  The abuse had been subtle in the beginning, mostly verbal.  For a while, Anna had fought back, but somehow, his words had cut her to the core and extinguished the light that was her sister.  She started to believe him and his lies and to submit to his insanity, despite Georgia’s efforts to the contrary.  But Chris had a hold over Anna, and she would always defend him in the end.

And yet, for Chris, this domination over her spirit had not been enough and somewhere along the way, Chris had become violent.  Georgia remembered Anna with sunglasses late at night, and recalled suspicious stories of falls and accidents.  Over time, the incidents of violence of had increased both in intensity and frequency, and even though Georgia begged and pleaded with her sister to leave her husband, it was all to no avail.  Anna kept going back.

He really is kind of like a vampire, Georgia thought to herself as she reflected on the situation.   There’s that little dance, that seduction to lure them in, and then, they start taking.  Taking the blood, taking the soul, taking the life.  And as she looked at her sister, more dear to her than anything else in the world, she understood that Anna had fallen under Chris’ spell.  Maybe it wasn’t a mystical spell, something cast by a demon of the dead, but certainly not any less hypnotic, and definitely just as dangerous.

Anger rose in Georgia, and in that moment, she made a decision.  She rose from her seat, and moved to her sister.  “I’m leaving now, Anna.  I need to see Chris.”

Fear immediately clouded her sister’s one good eye.  “Oh, no, Georgia, don’t.  I told you, he…he…doesn’t mean these things.  He loves me, I swear…..” She paused, haplessly searching for a defense for the vile creature that was her husband.  “He’s….he’s nice to me, Georgie.”

Georgia shook her head at Anna, wondering who this woman was who looked like her sister but wasn’t her.  Her sister had been a fighter, a player, bubbly and vivacious.  This one before her succumbed to darkness, had no self-esteem, and was completely beaten down.  Georgia didn’t know if she could ever bring her sister back from this dark, horrid place she found herself, but she did know that she could take care of the one that put her there.  She leaned forward and kissed Anna gently on the cheek.

“Shhh, get some rest, I’ll be back later.”

~~~~~

When Georgia arrived at her sister’s home, the sun was making its slow descent into the horizon, and in the wake of its fall, the sky began its darkening transformation.

“What’s up, Georgia?”  Chris asked her.

He stood in the doorway, groggy and disheveled.  It was obvious he had just woken up:  his clothes carried the rumpled look of sleep and he yawned and stretched, breathing life into his tired limbs.

“Sleep well?”  Her tone bitter, Georgia stood in disbelief.  Incredibly, while her sister was healing from the beating he had given her, Chris himself had probably spent the entire day sleeping and relaxing in his own bed.  She shoved past him to enter the house, and then turned to regard her brother-in-law with contempt.

He paid her rudeness no mind and instead, Chris shrugged, nonchalant.  “There was a party last night.  Got home a little before dawn.”

They moved to the kitchen.   It was a brightly-lit space, usually warm and homey, but Georgia sorely missed her sister’s presence, and with only Chris in the room, it felt cold and ugly.

Georgia wasted no words.  “I want you out of here, Chris.  Out of this house, out of her life.”

Catching her tone, he became fully awake. Chris sat down casually at the kitchen table, but his eyes glared dangerously.  “This ain’t your business, Georgia.”

“My sister is my business, asshole.  You’ve beat Anna for the last time.”  Georgia flushed with anger.  “You’ve taken everything from her, her money, her spirit, her love. Everything.  You’re a fucking vampire, and you’re squeezing her dry, but sure as I stand here right now, you won’t get all of her.  Not while I’m here.”

Despite her courageous stand and her bravado, she wasn’t ready when Chris leapt from his chair and grabbed her by the neck.  Startled by his attack, she stumbled backward, and smashed into the wooden table, bringing Chris down on top of her top.  The sudden weight on the table caused it to tremble and abruptly break apart, bringing Chris and Georgia crashing down onto the floor.  Through it all, Chris still maintained a tight grip on her neck.

“You fuckin’ bitch! You’ve always been in our fuckin’ business!  Well, not anymore, bitch!  Not anymore!”

Pinned under Chris as she was, Georgia fought for breath, clawing at the hand that held her in a vise-like grip.  Underneath her, she could feel the broken and splintered pieces of wood, the shards scratching and piercing her back and arms.  Struggling for oxygen, she reached out wildly with one hand looking for a something, anything, and then suddenly her hand gripped a piece of wood and with no other thought than to breathe, breathe, breathe, she struck, swinging, waving and then finally, when she was sure her lungs were going to explode, she made one final thrust, and abruptly, she heard Chris scream while at the same time he released his grip on her throat, and fell backward.  Georgia flipped herself over, breathing hungrily for much needed oxygen.

When at last her breathing returned somewhat to normal, she turned to see what happened to Chris.  When she saw Chris, she huffed under her breath.

“Serves you right, motherfucker.”

The dead man with a wooden table leg piercing his chest did not respond.  Blood gushed out of either side of the wound.  Georgia thought of Anna in the hospital and her last pitiful words to Georgia.  Georgia hadn’t responded then, but she did now:  “There are no nice vampires, Anna,” she whispered.  “There never were.”

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Copyright 2012 © Elizabeth Michaud John.  All rights reserved.

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