Thereby Hangs a Tale
By Jerry Rogers
When they had passed Park Hall, Steve finally broke the silence. “So where is this secret place?”
“Just seconds away.” The old man ran his hand across Steve’s buttocks.
Steve pushed his hand away, whirled around and snapped at the old man. “Campus security is probably everywhere on Halloween night.”
“Not where we’ll be.”
The old man stopped. “Right here, my lovely.”
“Joe Brown Hall?”
“You’re crazy as hell. It’s a damned dormitory.”
“Was…. Remember hearing about that kid staying there alone over the Christmas holidays who hanged himself? Wasn’t discovered ’til everybody came back for winter quarter. Rumor is that they’ve never been able to get the smell out of that room—out of the whole building. It’s been sitting empty since the last student left in June.”
“I’m not so sure about this.”
“C’mon.” The old man put his hand gently on Steve’s elbow and guided him up the steps. At the door, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a key. “This may be the only one still in captivity.” He grinned at Steve as they entered.
“It does smell rank in here,” Steve said.
“Let me show you where it really smells rank.” The old man led Steve down the hallway. “In this room—where the boy died.” He pushed the door open and held it for Steve.
“My God, it reeks of death!”
“Quite an aroma, but you’ll get used to it.” From behind, the old man thrust a chloroformed handkerchief over Steve’s face and locked his arms around his head. As Steve fell, the old man kicked the door shut.
The coldness of his lower naked body and the shrill smell awakened Steve. Still disoriented, he realized he was hanging from the ceiling with his arms tied behind him. He frantically jerked them.
“So you’ve awakened, my Sweetmeat. I was wondering if you would before I finished visiting all my friends.”
“Well, actually nothing. I’m quite finished for now. But don’t worry, I’ll be back soon to see you—and all these other guys you’ll be hanging around with.”
Steve’s vision cleared enough for him to look around. Six boys hung from the ceiling in the double room. He continued to stare, speechless, until the old man walked toward the door and Steve became frantic. “No! don’t leave! Please.”
“Be patient. I’ll be back soon. Meanwhile, I’m leaving you with plenty of company.”
“But they’re all dead.”
“Not all. Maybe none. Nobody’s truly dead until no one cares whether they are or not.” He chortled while heading toward the door. “Enjoy the ambience.”
“Hey…anybody! I say, hey, is anybody alive?”
“What do you want?”
“You heard the bastard. If someone still cares for you, you’re not dead. So, are you still alive?”
Steve twisted to face the boys. The strain of the cord around his neck tightened and he felt his throat closing. He had to catch his breath after every word. “I have a plan. I always keep a knife in my pocket. After I cut myself free, I’ll unbind you and we’ll deal with the old man when he comes back.”
“I want to go now.”
“My family. They need to know…I’m alive.”
“My mother does.”
Steve continued to face them. The searing pain in his neck made him realize their extreme agony and why none of them had turned toward him or even opened their eyes.
“We can’t let this happen to anyone else. He’ll come back soon with another would-be victim. When he does, there’ll be an even stronger evil smell coming from this room.”
“This place gives me the willies every time I have to clean in here. Sometimes it smells like something’s dead even with the top floor closed up with the stairwell that leads to nowhere.”
“The willies? How about the chillies? Stand under that stairwell and you’ll feel a cold spot. Stare at the wall long enough and you’ll see blood slowly trickling down it. Sometimes it makes a spot on the floor.”
“What’s that from?”
“Story is they found a body in that room where the student hung himself. What little that was left of it was carved up like a piece of meat being served.”
“Did they find out who it was?”
“Man, it happened over 40 years ago. Who knows? Who cares?”
By Brad Rosson
“Life is pain, kid. Get used to it.”
I was nine years old when my father spoke his final words. Just before he blew his brains out right in front of me. Sure, I cried a little at first. It wasn’t long, though, until those words sunk in and I took them to heart. My old man was a vet whose short life was a meat grinder of misery and betrayal. He was dragged into a slaughterhouse jungle, saw things that would make the Devil himself puke up his pancreas, and only to get spit on and forsaken for his “service.”
He hated weakness, but in the end it was his own he couldn’t stomach. “Kill or be killed,” he said. A man of his word. I used to think his bellicose one-liners were just trite admonishments. I never gave them much thought. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the truth hidden behind those quips. Everything is war. School, jobs, sports, business, politics—no matter the arena, the goal is the same. “Stand your ground. Stay alive. Protect your own. Kill the enemy.”
My Mom had split already, so I got sent to live with my Aunt Deanna in her junk-stuffed trailer off Tallassee Roadd. I spent most of my time alone in the woods. I became a student of pain. I started out with the basics. I smacked myself. I pinched my arms. I poked myself with thorns, scissors, broken glass. I made sure to do it in areas that wouldn’t show. I carried around a little bottle of rubbing alcohol and a pack of Kleenex.
For the first few weeks I didn’t notice any real progress. It seemed silly sometimes, but I kept my patience and gradually it became kind of fun. I remember how it felt to puncture my skin, to feel it pop and start to burn. Every time I drew blood I got this rush that I can’t describe. I laughed at the electrical fire lighting up my nerves. It was fascinating. After a few months, I had worked my way up to cutting. Anything I could find lying around to break the skin. Steak knives, a box cutter, a slice of sheet metal. I could definitely tell that I was getting better at withstanding the pain, but it still hurt the same. I wanted to get numb.
All through my time at Clarke Central, I was improving. I started noticing bruises in places where I hadn’t done intentional damage. I would find abrasions and not remember what had happened. I was accidentally injuring myself and without feeling a thing. It was working.
That’s when I started getting into burns. The first time I held a lighter under my elbow I lasted 14 seconds. Burns were weird. It didn’t hurt at first, but got worse with time. Even after I took the heat away, it still kept getting hotter. Flesh smells pretty bad when you get down to the third degree. I was getting better, though. Burns really helped me take it up a notch. I decided to try breaking bone.
Right before graduation, before I lost the medical services of the county, I decided to make a leap to the next level. Literally. Between classes, as I was walking through the hall on my way to calculus, I came to the stairs and “tripped,” bouncing off the concrete all the way down to the bottom. I heard my skull crack like an egg. My ankle bent over and my nose split open. When I stopped moving, I could see my tibia. It caused quite a ruckus. A few of my fellow classmates got caught up in the melee. I laughed to myself as I saw them rubbing their skinned knees.
“Life is pain. Get over it.”
It’s been over a decade since that compound fracture, and I am finally free. I have completely lost all physical sensation and with it all fear. Most people spend their whole lives avoiding pain and thinking they’re free. They never get the irony. It’s only after you lose the fear of pain that you become truly free. And the only way to lose the fear is to face the pain. They need to earn their freedom. They need to learn pain.
Halloween is next week. Time for all the little sissies to swarm the streets.
And I used to be such a sweet little girl.
By Sophia Saffan
Rose peered into the mirror by the front door of the apartment. She finger-combed her hair, pursed her lips.
“Won’t it be nice when I can afford my own place?” she mused, “I’ll finally have the time to be the mother Elijah deserves.”
“Oh right. I always forget you have a kid,” mumbled her roommate, Margaret.
Rose glared at her and flung the door open. Through gray after-rain mist she stomped indignantly. She waited for Margaret to unlock the car door.
“You know,” said Margaret, scooting into the driver’s seat, “if you want Elijah back from your mom, you could work, focus on school, instead of being a…practically a call girl.”
“That’s not what this is. Howard just needs a conversation companion. And besides, I would do anything for my son.”
Rose hopped out of the car as soon as they reached Lumpkin Street. She found Howard alone at a table for two. After a brief greeting, Howard polished off his drink. He looked up from the coarse place on his nail bed at which he’d been picking.
“Rose, I need your body.”
Disgust rose up from her gut in the form of laughter. She watched him biting his nails; she found it grotesque.
“It’s not how it sounds. My interest is in a woman my own age.”
Rose drank while Howard explained that he had invented a technology that would allow him to operate her body as though from within. He simply had to insert a microchip behind her ear.
“If it doesn’t work, you will still be paid in full. Forget about working and going to school. You can focus all your time on your son.”
On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, Rose would allow her body to be used by Howard between the hours of 7 p.m. and 8 a.m. Those 13 hours would feel to her like a sleep. Howard asked politely that Rose blindfold herself on the ride to his house, where they could settle a contract and insert the chip.
Rose started awake. Her heart throbbed, her head swam, and the clock read 2:13 am. She hugged her cold, damp body. Had Howard been there? By 8 a.m., when her dry eyes sprang open and her heart again threatened to burst from her chest, she could feel her pulse in her fingertips. They were raw and bleeding. That bastard had been biting her nails. She called Howard, hoping to modify their contract; she’d add a clause prohibiting him from ruining her manicure. As Howard’s voicemail picked up, she noticed an envelope on her nightstand with a note: Rose, try not to drink so much on my nights. It makes it difficult to control. Thanks, Howard. Rose shuddered, but instead of exiting through her spine, the chilly sensation remained all day. As she counted the money in the envelope, as she plucked out a one hundred dollar bill, as she walked to the liquor store to break it, the sensation remained.
Dreams of her mother’s voice and Elijah’s laughter warmed Rose. She was crushed when she gasped into consciousness again at 2:13 am. Margaret stood wide eyed in her doorway.
“What the hell Margaret! I’m trying to sleep!”
“You haven’t been asleep.”
Rose sat up in bed, and Margaret flinched.
“Your drinking…you need help, Rose.”
Remembering that Howard might reclaim her momentarily, Rose shooed her roommate away, vowing never to drink again.
Meredith knew that her daughter had a drinking problem, but when Rose burst through the front door in hysterics, she could not imagine what drugs the girl had gotten into now. Her disappointment was deepened by the fact Rose had been so sweet the last two days, coming over early in the morning and late at night to see Elijah. She thought, perhaps Rose was taking her classes at the University of Georgia seriously. She never thought that Rose would succeed academically, but maybe she would catch a good man with that pitiable beauty of hers. After all, Meredith had met the man of her dreams in Athens—not Rose’s father, of course. She never told her daughter about the car accident that had killed the love of her life and their unborn child, and so she thought it strange that Rose knew his name.
“Howard!” she screamed, as she collapsed, clawing at a place behind her ear until blood poured. Meredith held Elijah firmly at her hip, and darkness fell on Rose.
The Velvet Hat
“Why…” I groan with a futile pound on the dashboard. My fickle Honda has refused to start again, and on Halloween of all nights. It is my first year in Athens, and all I’ve heard about is this awesome “Wild Rumpus” event, and I can’t even make it downtown. I don’t feel like I know anyone well enough to call for a ride, and I live just decently on the outskirts to make it a nuisance to come fetch me. With a disappointed sigh, I step from the car and stare out at the misty autumn night.
Might as well take a walk. Maybe there will be some cute trick or treaters I can admire. I trudge up the walk and back into my house for a quick shoe change. A soft canine whine greets me. “Sorry, pal, not this time” I mutter as I pass UGLA, nestled in his crate. Acquired recently after the move from New Orleans, I’d named my bulldog with the convergence of old and new towns in mind. He’s a good dog, but tonight I opt to avoid the chance he might try to break away and chase after a princess-clad toddler. I head out to ramble, and my thoughts do the same. I feel a twinge of detachment as I compare the atmosphere of Athens with the rich culture and folklore of Louisiana. I miss the odd stories, voodoo rumors and mysterious sightings. All this college town has is a “haunted” sorority, and even that is said to bring marital fortune. Some story.
Suddenly, I see an impossible figure: UGLA. How could the dog have managed to get out of the house, or even out of his crate? And where is he going? I look ahead to his large shadow and catch an eerie gleam of his eyes through the darkness. I take off after the dog, who ignores my shouts and trots ahead. I break into a jog as I approach the woods behind our neighborhood, and the bulldog glances back with an uncharacteristic howl as he bounds into the trees. I can’t help but think, as I trudge over the uneven dirt, how very much like a graveyard this back lot seems. But I focus on UGLA.
The trees rustle to my left and I veer swiftly, shocked when I see not the dog but a man, ornately dressed in antebellum garb, his head topped with a velvet hat trimmed smartly in scarlet. I marvel at the detail of his costume as I gaze back at the African-American gentleman, wondering if he is fresh from a party or maybe a product of my imagination.
“Best be careful in these parts, unless you aim to help the cause,” drawls the man. Something seems strange. The hairs at the back of my scalp begin to prickle. I manage to stutter, “the….cause?” It seems the man hardly blinks as he answers: “Those that lie here struggle to properly rest. Ain’t no coincidence all them raised dirt patches. Full of souls forgotten, deprived of respectable burial. Too long they’ve been silent.” He almost chuckles with a wry grin. “Someone’s gotta speak up. Spread the word out there. Get some right titles here. Otherwise, well…anything might happen.” My mouth has suddenly turned to cotton, but I nod as agreeably as possible, hoping I can convince the stranger that I will heed his warning. I glance at the ground, half-expecting a skeletal hand to emerge. What should I say now? Could it truly be an old, forgotten burial site in need of discovery? Is this guy crazy? I force my head back up to ask more.
He is gone. I take several steps in each direction, straining my eyes for a glimpse of the red hat. Not a sign. With a dismaying shudder I realize that I have also lost track of UGLA. I know that I will only get disoriented if I attempt to traipse deeper into the trees. Biting back tears, I head back toward the dimly glowing streetlights, trying to console myself with hope of a morning search or some neighborhood posters.
It hasn’t been my ideal Halloween, and it’s with a heavy heart that I creak open the door and shuffle through my kitchen, prepared to face the empty crate. But the crate isn’t empty. There, snoozing as pleasantly as you please, is my dog. And perched above is a scarlet-trimmed, debonair velvet hat.
Zac and the Sorority Girl
By Daniel Schmidt
Zac sat on the edge of his bed. This was what he did every night. Every day. Always. Zac sat on the edge of his bed, staring blankly at the wall. The glass of whiskey in his hand did nothing to give him focus, perspective. He was stuck in a hellish state of existence, lingering in a fog, never fully awake or asleep. This had become his life ever since the last night he had gone out, the last night his life was normal, before he spiraled into a state of hopeless mental sterility.
It was a Saturday night, and Zac was out in downtown Athens. He enjoyed a couple liters of beer at the Trepenhaus. He then met up with his friends at Allgood.
Suddenly a beautiful young lady locked eyes with Zac. It was nothing short of a miracle that she was able to seek him out amongst the endless sea of interchangeable, shaggy haired, khaki-shorts-clad guys out on the town.
The girl, Susie, walked up to Zac and initiated a conversation. She wore a striking white gown that was outside the normal fashion, but then again it was a time when nothing was particularly in or out of fashion. Their conversation ended with Susie inviting Zac to walk her home.
They walked from downtown to the Alpha Gamma Delta Sorority house at the corner of Milledge Ave and Baxter. Susie invited Zac up to her room. He followed her in a state of aroused elation. They entered an upstairs bedroom.
Zac found the commonly known implications of whiskey to interfere with his, um, social agenda. He quickly fell into an unusually deep sleep, preventing anything further from transpiring between him and his lovely new lady friend.
He woke up to something. Something repeatedly bumping up against the side of his face. He opened his eyes. He looked up. There was a foot. There was a cold, white foot swinging back and forth, repeatedly hitting him in the face. Terrified, he looked up and saw the body of Susie hanging, swinging, directly above him.
He screamed. The door to the room swung open. There was a veritable army of woman standing before him. All wore black yoga pants and oversized t-shirts, although none of them looked like they had any intention of exercising in the near future. They were demanding to know how he got in. He was trembling as he reluctantly looked back up and saw…nothing. He mumbled a feeble attempt at an apology as he rushed out of the house.
Zac started the walk home. He forced himself to accept the conclusion that what he experienced was nothing more than a bad dream. Of course he had not been waked up by a vanishing dead girl’s foot. It was just a nightmare. That was the only thing that made sense.
Just as he had himself calmed down, a dismaying question overwhelmed him. What about Susie? He knew she was not a dream. His mind spinning, he ran to the library, hoping to find answers. No, of course that didn’t happen. This story takes place in 2015; Zac didn’t even know where the library was. He just took out his iPhone and got on Facebook. After pouring through an endless stream of tasteless selfies and ill-informed political rants, he had learned entirely too much about too many people but had failed to find anything about Susie. There was nothing.
Zac returned to his apartment in The Standard, a newly constructed apartment complex apparently named for the fact that it established an absurdly high standard of living that sets up its residents for inevitable disappointment later in life. He desperately searched for a distraction but found himself nervously pacing his bedroom, obsessing over Susie. He finally fell into a restless sleep.
He woke up and was relieved to see sunlight. Day had broken and done away with a terrible night. Everything was back to normal. He started to rise, and as he did, he felt cold skin slap against his face. Filled with trepidation, he looked up. There it was. The cold dead foot of a cold dead girl. Susie was still wearing her white gown as her lifeless body hung from Zac’s ceiling.
Midnight in Athens
By Sumi Seissinger
Athens is a college town. During the day the light hearted chatter of college students drown the cosmic sounds of an ancient town heaving, groaning and writhing under the backlash of its secrets of two centuries.
In the still of the night of Halloween, as the clock strikes 12 and many of the sorority Cinderellas are making their way back to their dorms, the whispers begin. It starts in the groins of the ancient graveyard, conveniently located in the center of the University grounds. Its wrought iron fences might keep curious humans at bay, but lacks serious ability to keep mischievous spirits tethered to their graves. Nothing and no one can keep them out of Morris Hall, their favorite haunting ground.
It was here that it all began. A tiny room that is squeezed between the larger rooms. It is rendered inconspicuous by its bare walls, a few antique chairs, a dried bloodstained altar table, a small prison-type window and dusty stone floor. For centuries it has had no door but a secret passage that leads into its core and its lingering thirst for blood. It is privy to one of the greatest secrets of Athens, the annual ritual of the abduction of the modern-day goddess Persephone, the daughter of Ceres.
A golden-haired goddess by the name of Cindy Hitchcock, is giggling into her i-phone 6. She has just left the arms of her Lothario; a tanned and pimply youth, whose freshman dreams of endless sex, beer binging and nonstop video gaming are coming true. Cindy, dressed in the sorority sister uniform of tight shorts almost completely covered by her oversized T-shirt (where’s your fashion sense, y’all?) is in a dazed state of euphoria. Thanks to her recent episode of meaningless sex and a few joints of weed, her bedazzled mind has no clue that she is the chosen one. As she passes the Founder’s garden she trips, falls heavily to the ground, and disappears into the night.
As the moon swells in the dark Athenian sky, Hades the Lord of the Underworld watches curiously as a repeat Greek tragedy unfolds. The anointed of the secret society of Athens, Alpha Eleusis Omega, gather for their Halloween tradition, the final night of freshman hazing. The ceremony begins and the ghouls of Athens are milling round to partake. There is jostling. The best seats are not the ones in the circle but one mile away in the bowels of the Morris Hall dorm.
The chief officiate is a graduate student. A keen mind, they say, but sadly saddled with a lethargic body. The usual Jeffry Dahmer story. A cruel twist of fate, and an obsession for the occult has made him mentally deformed to a point that he had no other course but to become a serial killer. The only career choice for a man with his special set of talents. His assistants are nobodies, just individuals with a lame sense of empathy, anxiety disorders of every hue and weak moral fiber.
He adorns his insanity with a hideous Hades mask. Hades grimaces. He is neither ugly nor scary, in fact, he is said to be even more handsome than his brother Zeus. Damn those Medieval Greek mythology graphic artists. The freshmen “hazee” is wriggling upon the bloody skins of animals slaughtered for the occasion, albeit drugged (numerous Jaeger bombs combined with an eclectic dosage of a popular date rape drug) is showing signs of some resistance. After further reassurance through the hypnotic chanting spells, and the curse of silent lips, he is set free to do as he is ordained.
The moon is bright as its silver ray streams through the tiny, barred window of the secret room at Morris Hall. The bloodcurdling scream is silenced as Cindy’s head is abruptly separated from her body. She is fated to join the other skeletons in the cupboard. The headlines scream as they often do, “Student Missing.”
Life in exciting Athens goes on. Another year passes. It is midnight, the tiny rip between Earth and the invisible world widens, and Hades lets the souls of 190 skeletons in the Morris Hall secret cupboard leave on their annual vacation. They come out soaring, on a mission to find their modern-day goddess Persephone, bride of Hades and soon-to-be cupboard companion. A glorious soul enveloped by a rocking body. At Athens, the choice is vast.
But this Halloween, will YOU be the chosen one? Muahahahha!!!
Don’t Forget Me
By Cliff Shelton
They were celebrating their engagement with dinner and cocktails. Heirloom was good as always; the dinner was delicious, and they’d enjoyed the drinks. Their friends Mike and Jen were there with the new baby, and they’d all had a great time. But it was getting late, and Heather wanted to get home. Danny was happy to oblige; he hoped to continue the celebration at home.
As usual, they’d walked through the neighborhoods, but as the evening wore on it had gotten quite late and was very dark. A chilly wind had started up, and as they left, Danny helped Heather put her coat on.
She held up her hand, and looked at the white gold and diamond ring sparkling on it. She jumped up and down, the way she always did when she was excited, and leaned into him. “Ooh, Danny, I can’t believe we’re gonna be married!”
Danny grinned and was about to reply when Mike said, “All right you two lovebirds—we’re gonna go on ahead. Congrats again, and we’ll see you soon!”
Jen waved as they crossed over and went down Boulevard, rolling the stroller off into the darkness.
They started after their friends, and then Danny realized he’d left his card on the table.
“Hang on, honey, I forgot the card.” He turned back and went inside to the table they’d just left.
She stood near the street and waited near the vintage blue truck, and a sudden gust of wind brought the scent of rosemary growing in the cafe’s herb garden. Heather shivered and looked down the street. She could just make out Mike and Jen wheeling the baby home through the darkness.
“Okay, ready?” said Danny, startling her. They started walking, and the wind rattled the dry branches of the trees overhead. Heather couldn’t see Mike and Jen ahead any more. As they crossed over Chase Street and headed down Boulevard, Heather stopped on the corner.
“I don’t want to walk this way this late at night. It’s dark and a little scary.”
Danny put his arm around her. “Well, don’t worry, I’m here to protect you from the boogeymen.” He grinned. She smiled at him. They started walking again, but as they got farther and farther away from the restaurant, Heather seemed more agitated.
She stopped again. “Danny, I’m serious. I don’t wanna go this way. My gram used to tell us this story about one of the houses down there and I’ve never forgotten it. She said if you walked past it in the dark, you’d disappear, and no one would even remember you!”
Danny laughed. “That’s just an old story to scare you. We”ll be fine, we don’t live far.”
“Yeah, but look—most of the streetlights aren’t on!” She pointed, looking away down the darkened street.
Suddenly they heard a loud, horrible shriek from up ahead. “See? I told you!” she said, but Danny was already off, running towards the noise. “Somebody needs help!” He shouted. She ran after him, cursing.
They stopped in a pool of light given off by one of the two working streetlights. An empty baby stroller sat there.
“Why would anyone leave a stroller out here?” Danny asked her as she ran up.
Heather looked confused and then shrugged. “No idea.”
Danny looked inside. “There’s still a blanket inside.” He frowned. “It’s still warm.”
Just then they both heard a noise. A door creaking open, perhaps, or a shutter banging in the gusty wind, but whatever it was made Heather shout. “That’s it, Danny. I told you about what my gram said. I don’t want to be forgotten! I want to be home safe!” She turned and ran.
“Wait, Heather!” She ran ahead; he could see her silhouette against the streetlight ahead. He started to run after her, but he stumbled on an errant tree root and fell headlong onto the sidewalk. Just then he heard another horrible scream that was suddenly cut short. “Heather!” he shouted.
Danny got up and ran towards the noise. He skidded to a halt under the next streetlight. He looked puzzled. “Why was I running?” he thought. Then he spied something glittering on the ground. He bent down and picked up the white gold and diamond ring he found there.
“Wow. Someone must have dropped this,” he thought, as he held it in his hand. “Shame I don’t have a girl to give it to. Oh well. Maybe I can sell it for cash.” He pocketed it, and walked home.
By Brett Thurmond
Halloween had been a good night, by James’ standards. It was a Saturday this year, the Wild Rumpus was rumpusing down outside the Nowhere Bar, and he was presently sitting on the chair by the dumpster behind Biotest, feeling slightly sick. He had started at the Rook and Pawn, Flicker, then Max, and had just left Little Kings, finishing off what he had taken to calling a “Clayton Street Compromise,” which was drinking Tropicália until you couldn’t taste it and switching to PBR. He called it that primarily because “Clayton” and “compromise” both started with “C,” but also because he had to be at the tail end of one before khaki alley started sounding like a good idea.
James fished in his hoodie for his cell phone, pulling up Tina, his sister’s number. Best to call her when I’m reasonably sure I won’t throw up in her car, he thought.
“Uggh, you better not be asking me for a ride, James.” she answered, sounding less than pleased.
“No, I was um, asking about…the weather. Do you have someone there?”
“Look, I’m not coming to get you. I’m helping Courtney inventory her antique shop; I already told you.”
“I’ll walk over there and meet you; it’s fine.”
“You’re not walking over here, it’s in Bishop. Look, just get one of your dumb friends to give you a ride, or at least don’t get arrested, I’ll come by when I can. But it will be late.”
He put the phone away and tried to stand while thinking of Flanagan’s, but sat down again for the same reasons. A girl giggled, and he looked up to find a dark haired woman dressed for a ‘50s sock hop.
“Can I help you?” he got out.
“Are you alright? You look sad,” she said.
“No, I’m…” He thought about it. “I guess I am.”
“Would you like to walk with me?”
James looked at her smiling softly down at him, and nodded. She was probably going to tell him about Jesus, but she was pretty, so, whatever.
“Isn’t it lovely downtown?” she asked, looking around smiling and wide-eyed.
“Yeah, I guess when you’re not stranded without a ride,” he said, being salty and sour enough to do a tequila shot with. “Why don’t you explain it to me?”
“Well, all the buildings are so tall, and the lights.” She pointed at Fuzzy’s. “Look at all the colors!”
I guess tacos have never moved me personally. Is that all you’ve been doing all night?”
“No, I went in a few places. There’s a music group called Young the Giant at the Georgia Theatre. I hadn’t heard of them before, but I like them.”
“You just…went in? That show’s been sold out for months!”
“I also went to the 40 Watt.” Her nose wrinkled. “But the act there is called the Booty Boyz. I don’t think I fit in.”
James looked her up and down: the pale skin, constant grin and bright, excited eyes. She was gorgeous.
“I’m pretty sure you exactly fit in at a Booty Boyz show.”
Her smile widened, then dipped a little. “No one noticed me.” The smile came back as she looked into his eyes. “But I’m having fun with you. Oh, let me show you something!”
She grabbed his hand, pulling him towards the West Washington parking structure.
“This is my favorite building. The doors are glass, and the whole thing is made of mortar!”
On the 6th floor, next to the always-there silver-blue Cadillac Eldorado, she produced keys to a red mid-’60s Mustang in perfect condition. On the streets, he asked her where she lived.
“In Big Springs, next to the tavern.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Eagle Tavern? It’s the reason they refused the university. The immorality of libations.”
“Watkinsville? They haven’t called…”
“I forget about Uncle Robert. It’s too exciting tonight: 200 years, exactly. Fifty years ago I got this car; some drunk university boy.”
“Ha, you’re telling me you’re a ghost? OK, I’ll bite; how’d you die?”
“A musket shot. He was a Creek boy, maybe, or Cherokee. He must’ve not seen me, I think. When he got close, his eyes…he held me until the end. It was the first time a boy ever put his arms around me.” She brightened. “But now I have you!”
A week later, Tina watched the security tapes of her brother, talking to no one, walk into the parking structure and never come out.
By Gary Towers
Andy Marshall loved to read.
Age 11 and the newest kid in town, Andy was reading just to relax. Because he was terrified. Because of a defect in his appearance.
Andy’s big brother, Brent, wasn’t concerned. Brent made C’s. Andy got straight A’s, being a voracious reader.
On school’s first day, Ms. Matthews, the fifth grade teacher, announced, “I want to introduce a new student. Andrew Marshall, please stand up.”
All eyes blazed at Andy as the class checked him out.
The medical term for such an abnormality is cleft lip or cheiloschisis, a defect that occurs in approximately one in 700 children.
Most people referred to the deformity as a harelip. Today, Andy heard a new nickname. Ronnie Hooper yelled, “Hey Bunny-Boy!” Andy suddenly felt his face flush. He sat down and stared at his desktop.
In the principal’s office, Ronnie was given the usual choice; three hours after school or three licks with the paddle. Ronnie opted for the paddle blows.
Later, Andy found a gift on his desk; a huge, bright orange carrot. His new nickname had stuck: Bunny Boy.
That night, in bed, Andy slipped an arm under his pillow and felt something hard and cold. He withdrew the object, a carrot with note attached: I watch you when you sleep, Bunny Boy
Andy ran to his bathroom, gripped his hands on the cold toilet bowl and vomited explosively.
“Andy, you didn’t write this?”
A quiet week went by. But on a Tuesday afternoon, dark planets lined up.
Brent was slowly cruising on his bicycle, one hand steering, daydreaming.
“Oh yoo-hoo, chicken shit!”
Ronnie Hooper was in a fan group of four. “Oh, wait, it’s not a chicken shit. It’s Bunny Boy’s big brother!”
Brent put all he had into the right punch, hitting the boy square in the solar plexus. He dropped on both knees, fell to his side, and whispered, “I can’t breathe.”
Brent knelt beside Hooper and inserted the carrot into Ronnie’s mouth.
Two days later, a note had been clipped to the front of Brent’s math book.
Meet me the end of Canyon Circle, Friday at midnight.
Taped to the note was a lock of blonde hair, which smelled of sandalwood. Brent also smelled a potential rat.
Andy suggested that he, the small brother, get to the date spot just after sunset to hide and wait. Brent scouted Canyon Circle in the afternoon, came back and reported to Andy which tree he should climb. If the girl shows up,” Brent said, “just call 911.”
At 7 p.m., Andy hid his bike half a mile away and climbed the tree. The minutes slowly ticked by.
At 11:41 p.m., a blonde girl in a red dress walked out of the woods, spread a small blanket on the ground and lit a cigarette. At 11:56 p.m., Brent Marshall rode up on his bike, saw the girl and knocked the kickstand down near the curb, 30 feet away from his blind date. He began to walk toward the girl.
“Hello mystery lady,” he said.
Then they rushed him from the woods.
Two boys with baseball bats. Brent spinning just in time for the ash wood bat to break his skull under the left eyebrow. Brent going down, and the two boys beating the unconscious brother…one soon stopping, but the other one continuing for several fierce blows.
Andy tried to call 911, but the phone fell from his sweaty hand before the call was complete. The attack finally ended when the girl said, “For God’s sake, Ronnie, stop.”
Andy Marshall always loved to read. Immediately after the funeral, he holed up in his room for three days, reading, conducting research.
He killed Billy Ames first. Andy entered the empty Ames home through an unlocked window and spiked all the Cokes with cyanide salts. Billy died that evening, four minutes after his first soda.
Ronnie Hooper died at 10:35 p.m. Andy waited in the front yard and shot the kid in the back of the head with his mother’s Glock.
At his trial, Andy totally cooperated with the district attorney.
In prison, Andy got high respect. Nobody called him Bunny Boy. Most called him Mr. Marshall. And unlike what many people thought, Andy didn’t really mind prison that much. He was soon made head of the library, which brought him sufficient happiness.
Because Andy Marshall always loved to read.
By Philip Weinrich
…and then Brian was riding his bike, racing with his two best friends, Kyle and Josh. This was the first time he had ever beaten both of them as they rode home from Memorial Park. He remembered the exhilaration he felt that day as he looked over his shoulder at them, trying to catch up…except…Kyle’s face had changed. He no longer looked determined; now he looked frightened. Kyle kept looking behind him while he pedaled as fast as his legs could pump. Brian saw that Mrs. Jenkins’ poodle was chasing Kyle as it often did when they passed her house. This time, however, Daisy was joined by a pack of dogs, snarling as they gained on Kyle. “This wasn’t how it happened,” Brian thought. He wanted to shout to Kyle, but nothing came out. The dogs closed in on Kyle’s bike, and all Brian could do was watch…and keep riding. He turned back just in time to see Daisy sink her fangs in Kyle’s leg, and they all went down in a mass of hair, teeth and steel. Brian just kept pedaling…
…and then he was playing wide receiver for the State Championship game. The Gladiators had come from behind to beat the previous year’s winners. Josh was the quarterback, and Brian was his “go to” receiver. It was the crowning moment to his senior season, one shared with his friends that he had grown up with…except for Kyle. Kyle wasn’t there, even though Brian knew he had scored the winning touchdown. They seemed to lose another player to injuries with each series of downs. They were down to just 11 players when Josh called a fade route. Brian lined up to the left and then took off down the field with his defender in hot pursuit. He looked back as Josh released the ball just before a pile of defensive linemen swarmed over him and seemed to be pulling him apart. Brian reached for the ball and barely pulled it in. He could feel the defender clutching at him, trying to pull him down. The goal line seemed to be moving away from him, so Brian kept running, faster and faster…
…and then he was running down Milledge in the AthHalf. The day was beautiful, the fall air was crisp, and he was sustaining a good pace. Even though he had started in the middle of the pack, he continued to gain on other runners and ended up winning his age division. As he passed The Varsity, it began to rain. He was passed by one runner, and then another. “It didn’t rain that day,” Brian thought, as each successive memory took a dark, unexpected turn, almost as if a separate reality were intruding on them. A third runner almost knocked him over, and he noticed the man didn’t have a race number on. Brian looked behind him, and it seemed that the entire Athens population had joined the race. People were running in every direction, and he felt a sense of desperation in the air. He felt himself sprinting, just trying to stay ahead of the crowd…
…and then he and Susan were walking down the aisle of the Day Chapel at the State Botanical Garden; the strains of the Wedding March filling the air on the happiest day of his life. All of his family and friends were there, and they all laughed and danced the entire afternoon. Dusk began to settle a little earlier than he remembered, and every time he turned to look around, he noticed that another guest had disappeared. Soon, there were only a handful of people left. He felt Susan’s hand start to slip from his, and a look of horror came over her face as something tried to drag her into the shadows beyond the tent. He grasped her hand as tightly as he could, his eyes locked on hers as if that might keep her from being pulled away. Her hand inched out slowly, her fingers coming loose one by…
His optic nerve was severed with a single bite, effectively ending the flow of images. Not that it would have gone on much longer, since the remaining memories would be gone in just a few more mouthfuls.
By Chase White
Today’s the day. Madison’s beside me in bed, asleep for the first time I’ve seen in a week. Pretty soon I’ll be taking her to Athens Regional. “Pretty soon it’ll all be over,” I whisper to her.
It must be an ungodly hour. The only light’s what’s coming in through the skylight above the bed, and the moon’s hiding tonight; I hold the chair rail on my way to the bathroom.
I splash my face ‘til I can see. Even the days are a blur. I need sleep. I grab on to the sink while the room spins around me. Then I let myself look in the mirror for the first time in who-knows-how-long.
God, what so little sleep will do to a person.
Three months ago our son Arnold checked out of his rehab on the Eastside and moved back in with us. It was just until he could work things out with his wife. But she’s since made it clear that he isn’t welcome back, and changed the locks.
Arnold landed a job in receiving at Caterpillar and agreed to pay a third of our mortgage. That worked for about a month. Then he started making pit-stops on his way home from work, and coming home smelling like booze all over. It sent Madison for a fit. She stayed up late and waited for Arnold each night. When he stumbled in, they had these talks; certain things were said that kept Madison up even later. Most mornings, when I woke up for work, I turned over and saw her there listening for Arnold, “making sure he stays in bed.”
After about a month of that, it was time for Arnold to go back to rehab. He disagreed, so we had to have him committed. Madison didn’t take it so well.
She started having panic attacks during the day and had to stay at home when she should’ve been at work. At first, I thought they were just hot flashes. Nothing serious. I told her to give it a while before we give in and see somebody. No man wants to see his wife like that, but with her it’s hard to know when things are actually wrong. She worries.
But things didn’t get any better, so I ended up taking Madison in to see a shrink. He prescribed something to take the edge off, which did Madison a world of good during the day; she stopped having attacks altogether. Her sleep, however, never did improve. She didn’t have to wait up on Arnold anymore, but each morning, when I got up for work, she was lying beside me awake all the same, listening for him.
Two weeks of that, two weeks not sleeping: a person just doesn’t look right. So we went back to the shrink, and he upped her dose. This time, it put her down, but it didn’t keep her down. That’s when she started dragging me into it.
One night, she woke me up, squeezing my arm.
“What is it?” I said.
“Shh. Don’t move. Be asleep,” she said, staring wide-eyed at the doorway of our room. “We’re not supposed to be awake. Be asleep.”
She wakes me up and tells me to pretend I’m asleep! Ha!
And that wasn’t all. She said she saw this figure each night, standing in the shadows of our bedroom, waiting for us to—in her words—try and escape. I never saw a thing.
I told Madison, “You need to think it through before we go back and tell this to that shrink. What you’re talking about is serious. What is he gonna think about you? Or about me?”
Madison agreed, but night-before-last she wakes me up with bruises on her face.
“It’s getting violent,” she said. “I want to go to the hospital.”
“You know well as I do what they’d think about me if we did. I’ll call the shrink first thing in the morning.”
And I did. You better believe I did. But it was beyond him. He recommended us to the sleep clinic at Athens Regional.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s see somebody try and explain this to me.”
I turn out the light and start feeling my way around the room, back to our bed. But the bed is empty, and that’s when I see her there, obscured in the doorway.
Then her shadowy figure notices me.
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