Photo Credit: Elise Siegmund
A great comic submission from a 10-year-old Flagpole reader.
When There's Smoke
By John T. Nelson
Have you ever woken up in the middle of a deep sleep for no reason? This has happened to me for as long as I can remember, and usually I have no issue going back to sleep. But it always bugs me — did I hear something that woke me up? Did I sense that something was different somewhere in the house?
Around this time last year, after seemingly the millionth time of this happening to me, I decided to investigate.
The house I live in now is an old Cape Cod-style house in Normaltown, near the Navy Supply Corps school where I used to attend when I was younger. I actually found this house while back visiting my old stomping grounds in Athens, reminiscing about the happier times when life was simpler.
The first few months in the house were without incident, but I woke up late one October night with a jolt, even though the entire house was quiet. After lying in my bed for a minute I got a nagging feeling that the house was a little too quiet.
Usually there’s a soft din coming from the kids’ rooms with their white noise machines, but those were turned off for some reason. I knew it wasn’t a power issue since my fan was still blowing. I got out of bed slowly, careful to avoid knocking into the ashtray that was still warm from the last Pall Mall I smoked before bed.
I haven’t invested in a baby monitor yet so I wasn’t sure what was going on with the kids. After poking my head into both girls’ rooms, I didn’t notice anything awry so I just clicked on their white noise machines and tiptoed back out.
I was almost out of the youngest one’s room when I heard her say, “Daddy, up.”
Since she asked so sweetly to pick her up I thought I’d indulge her, even if it meant postponing her sleep. After a couple minutes of rocking her in my arms she fell back asleep.
I put her back in bed and began to make my way toward the door. I stopped in my tracks as down the hallway I heard a bed creak slowly, followed by the unmistakable sound of two feet planting heavily on the ground.
My heart sank and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I listened to a lethargic pitter-patter of footsteps and a door opening down the hall. Panicking, I backed into the closet and shut the door softly.
A half-second later, I had to shield my eyes as the light from the hallway flooded through the shutters of the closet door. Squinting hard, I could see a man standing in the doorway of the bedroom, hesitating to cross the threshold. He was wearing an old, tattered bathrobe and his hair was unkempt. I never got a good look at his face, but from the sound of his breathing he seemed frazzled.
After what seemed like forever, he closed the bedroom door softly and clicked off the hallway lights. I heard him return to the room down the hall, whispering loudly to his wife about the previous homeowner’s nasty smoking habit.
Once I was in the clear I made it back to my bed, swearing right then and there that I had to quit smoking. I’d been living in the basement of the Normaltown house for a couple months up to that point, and to this day that was the closest I ever came to being discovered.
By Megan Hoolahan
A gentle breeze sent leaves spiraling down from the few trees edging the outdoor patio. I relished in this time of year. I popped a grape in my mouth along with another chunk of fruit. The slight crunch was oh so satisfying. But this morning I couldn’t fully enjoy my early morning meal here at Big City Bread. I leaned back in the metal chair and gazed at the overhanging lights. My mind was racing, trying to nail down a topic for my criminal justice paper. In just a few, short moments I would be heading to class to get my topic approved. I swigged the last bit of my coffee and headed to my car.
For once class sped by. In a flash, I was in my professor’s office, ready to pitch my idea. I told him I wanted to conduct my case study on John Wayne Gacy, the clown serial killer. My professor smiled and cocked his head to the side. “You sure you want to do that?” he asked. I nodded perhaps too enthusiastically and assured him that yes, that was what I wanted to write about. His smile remained. “Well alrighty then. It is a lot. I would get started on it right away or else it’ll haunt ya.” At that he laughed and said my topic was approved.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I continued on with my day. I texted my group of friends and made plans for that night. My paper was the furthest thing from my mind.
My friends met at my place and we called an Uber. We laughed and joked the entire way downtown. It felt good to be in Athens and it felt great to be with friends after a long week. We decided to spend a bulk of our evening at the Rooftop, just above the Georgia Theater. It was a cool evening and the view can’t be beat. After many hours and countless drinks, I looked out over the city below and soaked in the view. I was in the middle of thinking how lucky I was when I noticed a strange man staring back at me. He was standing in the middle of the street and seemed very out of place. I swear we made eye contact, but then again, I wasn’t sure. I shook it off and turned my attention back to my beer. An hour or so passed and we called another Uber to go back home. I looked down at the street once more and there was the man again, staring right at me. I turned around, grabbed my friend and pointed. He was gone. My group laughed at me and we headed home.
Back at my apartment I felt incredibly buzzed and slightly paranoid. Who was that man? Did I just imagine him? I crashed on the couch downstairs and decided to doze off for a bit. After what felt like only a few minutes, I felt a weight on my chest. I opened my eyes and noticed my laptop. I blinked. That’s weird? I blinked again and saw Word was open. On top of the page there was a title and my name. I stared at the words. In red was “The Clown that Killed me.” I didn’t type that. And I didn’t have a chance to run either. A large man with a painted face stood over me. The eyes were hauntingly familiar. At that moment, I noticed something around my neck and screamed. The last thing before the darkness was a big smile. And cruel, ghostly laughter.
By Carrie Kelly
It was a bad divorce. Abraham took the job in Commerce so he wouldn’t have to run into any of “their” friends walking to Clocked for lunch break. It was a bit of a drive to his apartment at Mi Casa, but definitely worth it to avoid those awkward stares. He had a lot of time to think on those drives. Thank goodness they hadn’t been able to have kids. Where did it start to go wrong? Who is that woman on that billboard?
Although it’s more of a sign, Abe thought. It had obviously been there for a while. The edges of the printing were burned off by the Georgia sun, but you could still see her, surrounded by smiling men obviously willing to do anything to impress her. Her smile is still so bright, even with the fading of the sign. Her clothes and hair gave away the ad’s age, sometime in the early 90s. She was as appealing now as she must have been then.
Every day on his way home he drove by it, and every day he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Eventually he found himself turning around on his way to work just to catch a glimpse. She was mesmerizing. The man in the picture she was looking at was so lucky getting to see those beautiful green eyes straight on. He found himself wishing he could have been there to audition for the shoot, but he would have been just a kid at the time. He was becoming almost angry that he couldn’t have been there, to see her in person. It looked like they had shot it in Atlanta, he saw landmarks he recognized. He could have driven there, it would have been so perfect. He would have been that man looking into her eyes. The other models in the picture almost looked too happy, they didn’t know how to show the joy she brought them, such over actors.
He started dreaming about her. She wouldn’t have left him. They would have had the perfect life together. It’s all he could think about. He had to get a closer look. He tried to search for her online, but to no avail. He needed to touch her face, even it if it was through a photograph. He had to go up there. He would wait until dark, so no one would see him. There were no lights on the board, it was too old for that.
On his way to work on that July morning, he turned around and saw her...was she looking at him? She had already looked back at her stupid boyfriend in the picture but he knew for a split second when he first looked she was looking right at him. She loved him too.
On the way home, he pulled into the woods to wait. He had worn his finest suit that day, with a Kelly green tie to match her eyes. Twilight came, and he started his trek to the sign. He climbed the short ladder, to the landing where the workers would have put up her perfect face. He saw first his competition, those men he had grown to hate for being so close to her. Only up close he could see they weren’t as happy as they seemed from afar; they had almost terrified smiles. One of them was wearing a Rook & Pawn shirt. But how could that be? It just opened a few years ago? He edged closer to her, and when his flashlight laid upon her she was staring into his eyes, pulling him into her world with a force out of his control. It was time for her to feed.
Benny set out to leave his cabin in the mountains to head back to Athens after Fall Break at UGA. As he drove down 441, he saw an old faded billboard, and he couldn’t help but notice how green the tie was of the man with the mad grin staring into the beautiful woman’s eyes.
“The Return of the Tree That Owns Itself”
(with apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien and Herman Melville)
By Jay Barnes
Call me Mike. My co-worker Bob and I were doing once-a-century document inventory in the Really Old Records storage room, in the 13th sub-basement of the old courthouse.
“Here's an interesting one,” Bob handed me a parchment with a date of 1832. “Found this in a box marked 'Do NOT open.'”
I scanned the first few lines. I, W. H. Jackson, of the county of Clarke... Yadda yadda, bunch of old timey speak. “Hey – this must be the original deed to the Tree That Owns Itself.”
“Tree That… Oh yeah, the annoying arbor that takes up half the road on South Finley. I have to drive around it about fifteen times when I do Uber on game days.” Bob said.
I continued to read the document. “Here's something weird: ..do convey unto the said oak tree entire possession of itself and of all land within eight miles of it on all sides. Huh. I thought it was only eight feet.”
“Eight miles? Really?” I showed Bob the document, and saw the gears turning in his head. “So that would mean...”
“...that your 'annoying arbor' owns all of Clarke County, as well as a good chunk of Oconee. Look, it was signed by the mayor, notarized, and everything.”
“Well, I wonder what the Tree thinks about this?”
We arrived at the Tree (Bob drove and made me do Uber so I could give him a good rating), and presented the deed to the stately oak. Suddenly, the tree began to move, roots ripping from the ground, and assumed an almost human form as it snatched the deed with finger-like branches.
“Hrum. Hoom. Seems in order,” murmured the Tree, as Bob and I stared, wide eyed and open mouthed. “Arise, my siblings! The lost deed has been recovered! Now is the time for vengeance!”
All around us, trees sprang to life, smashing houses and cars, causing people to panic onto the ruined streets. We fled to downtown, where we witnessed a large ginkgo with a necklace of fiberglass bulldogs using the Arch to raze the Classic Center. The weeping cedar at the Grit had developed monstrous jaws, and was devouring the restaurant patrons with ravenous glee. Everywhere we went, trees were destroying all traces of humanity. Oddly enough, we saw some pines installing a turn arrow on the southbound left turn lane of Milledge at Five Points. Bob said that one was a real 'no-brainer.'
“Hey, I just remembered something. Let's get back to Finley.” Bob drove us back to the Tree, which was observing the mayhem approvingly.
“Uhm, Mr. Tree? May I make an observation?” I asked.
“Do as you like, puny animal.” The Tree intoned.
“Aren't you the Son of the Tree That Owns Itself? Your dad got mulched in the 1940s. That would make this deed null and void.”
“Haroom.” The Tree paused. “Inheritance rights. Now get out of my sight before I have you strangled by kudzu.”
Dejectedly, we made our way out of Athens. Past Bogart, the trees were normal, and we breathed a sigh of relief.
“At least we're out of that mess!” I said. “Now we just have to make our way through the zombie apocalypse, which I forgot to mention was also ongoing.”
Raising our machetes, we began to merrily hack and chop through the undead hordes, glad in the knowledge that we were safe from the wrath of self-owning oaks.
The House That Whispered
By Eddie Whitlock
I moved into the house alone and troubled. I was seeing a therapist, hoping I could get my mental demons under control and my life back on track.
It was February 26 when I closed on the property – a ranch house in the town of Winterville. It had been built in 1965 and had in its back yard the oldest known apple tree in all of Clarke County.
That old apple tree still bore fruit, though not a lot. Its trunk was gnarled and had a huge rotting hole on its eastern side that suggested a defiance of death.
The house, too, was defying death with a new roof, deck and HVAC system. My low-ball bid had been raised only slightly by the owners who were tired of having to manage the place as rental property.
By March 1, I was moved into the place, sleeping on a bed my sister had given me, sitting on a thrift store sofa, and watching a small television set.
I was home.
Soon, I had a routine: I would go to the bedroom at about 9 and read. I lead a monthly book discussion group and always have some novel that I need to finish within a short time frame.
I was reading in bed one night when I heard something. I stopped reading and listened, but heard nothing. I went back to reading and heard it again.
It was like a whisper, muffled and soft and just barely incoherent. I listened, hoping that I would hear it and hoping that I would not.
I didn’t hear it.
The whispers of the house became part of my nightly routine as much as Terrapin beer and post-apocalyptic novels. I would hear it, stop what I was doing and listen, but there was no other sound.
I’m not a believer, but I don’t pretend to know everything – especially what happens after you die. Maybe there are spirits that linger. Maybe the souls of those who love a place resent the presence of a new soul there, particularly a soul still in the realm of the living.
So I listened to those whispers and wondered what to do. One night, sleep was being particularly elusive and as the time clicked to one o’clock and I was still awake, I heard the whispers again. Longer and louder this time, but again elusive in being understood.
Not believing in ghosts exactly, I shouted down the hallway, “I can’t afford to leave. If you want me out, you’re going to have to give me money for another place. I just don’t have it.”
There was, of course, no reply.
I did this again the next night when I heard the whispers of the house. “I can’t afford to leave!”
I got no reply. Maybe the spirits weren’t trying to chase me away. Maybe they wanted to live in peace with me and I was simply unable to understand them so early in our relationship.
I put my book away and laid back on my pillow and inhaled.
And I heard the whisper.
It was coming from my nose.
I didn’t have a ghost. I had a flake of dried mucous in my nose that was making a whistling/whispering sound when I breathed.
My goddamned ghost was a nose whistle.
I felt a mix of relief and disappointment. I had grown to like the idea of sharing the house with a friendly ghost.
Instead, I would have to content myself with being foolish and alone.
The Date That Went Nowhere
By Kim Durden
It was October 30, 1999, and I had been invited to a handful of Halloween parties that were being hosted on campus. There was one party at my dorm, so I figured I'd just stick around my “home” in case I happened to get drunk. At least then I could stumble my way back to my room.
The party started at 8:00pm, and was boring as hell until around 10:00pm. That's when SHE walked in! Dark hair, brown eyes, beautiful, and looking right at me from the moment she walked in the door. She came over and introduced herself as Charlayne Huntington. She said she had only been here a few months and that she was having a hard time getting to know people. I told her there was no way she didn't have dozens of friends and asked if she had a boyfriend. She looked at me like I was crazy! “Why would a boy like...you...want to know something like that about...me?” So I told her, “You are beautiful and I'd be crazy if I didn't want to hang out with you and get to know you better.” She agreed and we decided to take a stroll through Joseph Brown Hall. We stopped at a stairway, that for all intents and purposes looked normal. We talked for almost 2 hours before she asked me what time it was. When I told her it was almost midnight, she turned an ashy gray, pulled away from me, and stumbled up to the top of the stairway we were sitting on.
“What's wrong? What did I do?” I asked. As she looked down at me, her skin turned grayer and her eyes looked bloodshot. Her lip was bleeding and a bruise was beginning to show around her neck. “Are you ok? Do you need a doctor?” She stopped at the top of the stairs, told me that I was the nicest boy she'd ever met, and ran down the hallway.
I yelled at her to stop, but when I tried to run after her I crashed into a wall! Seriously, there was a hallway, with dorm rooms on both sides, and now it's a stairway to nowhere? Where did Charlayne go? What just happened?
Needless to say, I passed out at the top of those stairs. A friend found me Halloween morning and asked me what happened. By the time I finished the story, he looked like he'd seen a ghost. “What?” I said. “Dude. Not only did you watch someone go down a hallway that doesn't exist, at the top of the stairway to nowhere...but you had a date with Charlayne!” “What does that have to do with it?” I asked. “Well...” he said, “...she's been dead for about 30 years. She was beaten and choked to death by a group of guys not too long after she came to UGA.”
I had a date alright. A date that went nowhere.
The Chamber Specters
By Jill Albright
It's one of those more remote areas on the edge of Athens, out on the Jefferson Road: a former doctor's home and office built of granite stone.
Five small, unlit changing rooms line the inside wall of the basement. Many subsequent residents never discovered a good use for those rooms - too dark and moldy for storage.
The little rooms offer isolated peace for the unrested, prime real-estate for hyper-spirits.
They hold up there, using the confined chambers to stir up bleak visualizations in order to scare one another out of their numb protoplasm fugues.
The lucky five current residents attempt to outdo each other, showing their own deaths on the walls, but since they all have already died, it barely registers. After a few showings, the experience becomes vague, similar to the trailing off at the end of a dream.
They stir at dusk, usually unnoticed by living residents due to the limited utilization of the leaky basement. No reasonable person wants to go down there.
They have it to themselves and it is very much like the lunatics running the asylum, these ghosts left to their own devices. They feel little and will still try anything to feel more. This is what makes them so dangerous to the unsuspecting living, especially those living upstairs.
Viv, who pined away her life, is the former great lover in the group. She longs only for something or someone to love, yet the others are too difficult for her to pin down.
George loved cars and was a mechanic whose death changing an oil filter was the one which did register a small response with the others. Decapitations usually do, with anyone. He liked Viv, but found her clingy, especially for a spirit.
Lucas and Amanda, mere adolescents in life, are fast bosom buddies, yet despite much in common, feel very little.
Grand Rose, the matriarch of the group, a world-class embroidery artist in life, who simply passed away in her sleep, is mostly bored. There is no beauty in the basement unless she projects it. She is going to leave this spot soon but is waiting for Spring possibly, to find some lovely garden to haunt.
The upstairs is divided into three apartments, and three women, all college students, live there. One, Elizabeth, is a bartender in Atlanta and stays there with her boyfriend many nights. Another resident, Renee’, is also a waitress besides being a geology major, and lastly, Marianne, is a Pharmacy grad student, who interns at Saint Mary’s Hospital Pharmacy in nearly all of her free hours. These ladies have little time to notice the shadowy occurrences one floor below.
The spirits, so empty, begin to notice things such as leaky pipes dripping and clocks marking off time which only applies to them in that they have no way to occupy it. They no longer want to bother to appear because they are so tired of looking at one another. They each begin to turn, to sour, at this point, like the floors and walls of their dark chambers. They too are mildewing, perhaps. Becoming so bored, they are truly evil, poltergeists, now.
George, bored out of his mind, loosens a water pipe. The slight drips become a serious leak. The entire floor of the basement is soaked.
Upstairs, the three ladies hear the water. They meet on the shared, screened-in front porch to decide their plan of action. Flashlights, mops, buckets, wrenches, and screw-drivers are gathered. As the door is opened and descent is made, the specters begin to stir. Finally, something to do.
By Rhys Lindquist
"There's something weird about the Arch."
That was the sentence that was eventually spoken whenever you were around an Athens native for long enough. It had become a kind of meme; everybody in town was saying it. Because it was true. Everyone had noticed.
Not a day went by when there weren't students milling around the Arch. It was always like that. But a while back, you started to notice them shying away from it. They didn't lean on it anymore. Every so often you'd see somebody flinch away, like it'd given them an electric shock. And the gossip just grew, more and more. Something's weird about the Arch.
Considering how closely watched it had become, when those symbols started showing up on it, everyone was baffled as to how they could have gotten there. It seemed like there wasn't a minute where somebody wasn't watching the Arch, and yet those strange markings kept returning. At first random folk took care of them, but then they stopped coming off. They looked the same—like plain white chalk—but all of a sudden no amount of scrubbing could remove them. That was when the police got involved.
Their solution was to paint over it. Altering such a significant part of Athens history, even to remove some vandalism, felt instinctually wrong. But the right kind of black paint did the trick, and the symbols were gone. For a little while.
People wrote articles. Comparisons to the perennial ghost story about bloodstains that don't wash off. Surveillance around the structure got heavier, but everybody blinks sometime. That was when the symbols would show up, and that was when the articles dropped their humor. People got paranoid after that. Nothing moves that fast.
This is an intelligent town. We've got people who are willing to do research. And research they did—collaborating with police, a full investigation was launched as strategies to remove those symbols became more and more outlandish. Sandblasters were even brought out at one point. Some particularly desperate individuals fielded the idea of flamethrowers. While the grunt work of cleanup was done, searches for the meaning of the symbols were underway. But there was just too little background for anybody to make any concrete connections. The symbols seemed random. And the physical side of it was getting harder, because even the police didn't want to be around the Arch for too long.
They started complaining that it smelled worse the closer you got. Like burning hair and pennies.
Finally there came a time when exhaustion and nervousness kept the task forces away from the Arch for a day. We'd almost gotten used to it at that point. We all knew to avoid the Arch. We used to joke about it, how it would make you fail your exams if you walked under it. But now staying away was common sense. The smell followed people sometimes.
One day where nobody looked at it was all it took. The next morning, it was gone.
A few days after that, a video showed up on one of the local newsgroups. It was taken at night, and the quality was poor. But it looked for all the world like the Arch was ambling down Prince Avenue of its own accord, slouching forward on what appeared to be six long, fat tentacles the color of wet tar.
Nobody's seen it since then, and of course we all miss our Arch. It was a part of the town's history.
But we also wish our cats would stop disappearing when we leave them outside.
Tap. Tap. Tap
By Sarah Pauff
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Five minutes after 3 a.m., the knocking begins.
Just a gentle tap, tap, tap. Barely noticeable, unless you are awake at the witching hour, cramming for your accounting midterm, and trying to remember why you agreed to change your major from music to accounting.
Tap-Tap-Tap-Tap. Like someone pacing, heels against a hardwood floor. The sound sets my teeth on edge, and I roll my eyes to the ceiling, willing it to stop.
Tap. Tap. Tap-Tap-Tap.
“Oh my God, how can you stand it?” I ask my roommate, Julia. Two days later and the knocking has gotten louder. The tap-tap-tap follows me while I study, spooks me while I brush my teeth and crawls under my blankets when I try to sleep.
Julia doesn’t look up from her phone. “What?”
“The knocking. Doesn’t it bother you?”
She shrugs. “It’s not that bad.”
I shouldn’t have expected her sympathy. Julia hates my music and complains whenever I practice. We’re only roommates because the rent in these new Broad Street condos is, as my dad put it, “too darn expensive."
“I can’t concentrate,” I say. The tap-tap-tap walks its icy fingers up my spine. “I’m going to say something to the landlord.”
“Whatever.” Ignoring me, Julia heaves herself off the couch and ambles to her room to call her boyfriend. I swear I hear her mutter, “It’s better than the sound of that stupid oboe.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The next day, I walk up the stairs to the top floor and knock on the door of 43C. I knock and knock and knock. But no one answers.
I scrape through my midterms, even accounting. The knocking becomes heavier and more persistent. Bang. Bang. Bang. No rhythm to it. Not like the steady click of a metronome or the beat of a snare drum. Like someone creeping up and shouting in my ear. I sleep with the light on.
I call the landlord’s office. The woman on the other end sighs. “We don’t have anyone living in that apartment. It’s empty.”
“But the knocking –”
“It’s probably the building settling. It happens with new construction. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
Tap. Tap. Bang.
3:17 a.m. I am awake. I haven't slept in days. I throw back the covers, shuffle my feet into my flip-flops and leave my apartment. Heart racing and palms sweating, I march up the stairs to the top floor.
I knock, quick and firm. The door swings open.
“Come in,” a calm voice says.
“Hello?” I walk inside. The one-room studio smells of fresh paint and lemon floor cleaner. Moonlight pours through a small square window near the ceiling and leaves a puddle of light in the center of the empty room.
“Is — Is anyone here? Um, I live downstairs and I wondered—”
I turn around. The wind must have blown the door closed. I tug on the handle, but it doesn’t budge. I pull harder and rattle the doorknob. The door remains sealed.
“Hello? Anyone out there? Can someone help? I — I think I’m stuck."
I slam my fist against the wood, over and over. Bang. Bang. Bang. I pry the lock and scrape my fingernails bloody against the jammed latch. I hit at the door for hours, but no one comes. No. No. Help.
I slump forward, exhausted. Why won’t anyone hear me? I rap my knuckles against the hardwood floor.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
By R. Wharton
Dusk. An old car parked on Watson Mill Road aside a tall, grassy field, yellow patches of butterweed glowing with final light. A pale sickle hangs high in the sky.
Opposite the field in the forest, lichen clings to doorway stones and gaping holes of windows. Night seeps from within as it grows without. I stand there on the precipice.
I realize my jaw is clenched.
A far-off car door thud, a rising of familiar voices. Leaves crunch, louder and louder, clumsily, unapologetically.
Smiles all around.
“Hey, Jarrod, dusk in the forest alone is atmospheric, dark is when I shit myself waiting—”
“Oh no, shitting yourself isn’t pleasant.”
“Not for me and most people, no. Hey, Frank.” He waves a friendly little wave. “What took you?”
Jarrod squints up towards the far-away moon. “Well, you see, there was a problem with the little sister, and how she wanted to be a dolphin instead of a cat, and all her friends from the neighborhood were there waiting, and she was crying about it…”
“About not being a dolphin?”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“Did she find a way to make peace with that?”
“Yes? I made a false nose out of a water bottle and she was fine, so yes.”
Frank laughs, “The time when everything we wanted was a water bottle nose…”
I look back into the home.
“You guys ready?”
Jarrod gives an emphatic thumbs up. “Oh, yeah. Always. You lead the way.”
We enter and the coolness and dampness of the dark close us up within it. Dark smudges of fallen timber blur in the blackness. “There’s not much left in here…Here,” I point towards a doorframe that extends to the ceiling, through it just visible skeletal figures of oaks. They look.
“It might be a death door…it’s so much taller than the others, like it was added later. After a family member died, after they had the body laid out on the kitchen table for people to visit, they’d carry the body out the back…you weren’t supposed to bring a body out the same way you enter a home, or it’s bad luck…and see, here.”
I take a step through, a step down, into the forest.
A slanted gravestone lies beyond my pointer finger, and I look back towards my friends, back into the home, and I see only the night within.
“…Hey,” I whisper.
A silence. The night all around.
I turn and make to enter again, but that door, the sight of that skewed and stretched-out door, its darkness pouring out and bleeding into the pitch of the night which obscures the surrounding woods into nothing, it catches my breath, it stops me dead.
A blur of bright in my right eye, a haze, a something flowing long, at its top a shape my brain recognizes to be something like me, but not. Not. Not.
My vision shudders with fear and I turn and I run, over the tangles of the forest floor, my heavy footfalls pounding out threats of failure, yet silent, yet somehow completely and totally silent, the world is my ragged breath, my heartbeat, a terror that breaks reality. The road appears through the trees, my will screeches for the impossibility of it, my hand in my pocket, finding the hardness, my key, my old car, mine, I hurl through the forest edge and there, the open sky, the dark mass of the overgrown field, the river of road stretching off, the barren road, grey and empty, empty, and the sickle moon hanging above.
And I turn and I see.
It’s About Time (RIP)
By Trajan Hayes
Nearly empty, Georgia Square Mall echoed as I entered the store..
“You said if the watch still didn’t work, I could return the battery,” I said.
“I’m sorry. Batteries are not refundable,” said the clerk. She looked like Hazel from 30
Rock, blue eyes and innocent curls.
“But you charged me $10 for a $3 battery.”
I fear getting cheated, so I often insist on getting money back. Hazel’s eyes twinkled
above a smile. Her curls bounced as she shook her head. “Sorry!”
“I would like to speak to your manager.”
“Our manager is not available now,” she answered cheerily.
Through the window to a workshop behind Hazel I saw a person with short black
hair, bangs hanging down to mirrored glasses, and a white lab coat. They looked up from a watch and straight at me.
“I would like to speak to the shop-owner then,” I said.
“The owner is not available,” she answered, glancing over her shoulder.
“Then just give me a refund!”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do that,” she answered primly.
I threw my watch at her in frustration. She picked it up from the floor, her smile
“We do offer a rewards program for those who donate their time pieces.”
What the hell, I thought. “Sure, the thing doesn’t work.”
She tapped a keyboard filling out forms, asking questions: birthdate and place? Blood
type? Marital status? Passport number? The usual.
I noticed a vagrant had entered the shop and stood silently near the gutted box of an old grandfather clock. The name tag below his long salt-and-pepper hair read, “Bob.”
The watch-mender paused with a tool in one hand, large chronograph watch in the other, smiling and nodding toward me.
After I provided a thumbprint and signature, Hazel’s bright eyes appeared inches from my nose. A drip of saliva oozed out the side of her mouth.
“I’ll just be a minute,” she whispered.
As she stepped through the door to the right of the window where the Watch-mender looked out, she appeared entering from the left. Was the image inverted ? She then stepped behind the Watch-mender and talked to the back of their head, holding up an unfamiliar time piece. It was ornate, mechanical and jeweled, hanging from a chain. Remarkably, it pulsed as with a heartbeat. I abruptly felt my heart throb heavily.
Smiling at me and fondling the watch. somehow the Mender’s hands projected from the back of their arms while hands still extended toward me. Were they fake? Was I looking at a mask? Now I felt a probing sensation in my stomach, intestines, liver, and private parts. The Mender eyed me, nodding with pleasure.
The dangling watch began to ooze, and I was violently sick on the floor. When I struggled up, Bob’s face was mere inches away from mine. I grabbed him to steady myself, feeling a bony arm through his putrid jeans jacket.
I looked at the Watch-mender to see their lip curled in silent hilarity. At the laughter my deep appetites, normally dormant, surged. My head swam with sexual images. Powerful flavors-- salty, sweet, and savory--swept my tongue. Aromas dazzled me. My skin vibrated. A breeze blew across my scalp. I closed my eyes: if this was a drug, I wanted more.
I looked up. The window was gone. Hazel and the Watch-mender stood before me, dangling the watch which oozed with warm white goo and bright blood. Bob’s arms encircled me, pinning me to the counter.
“I want the reward,” I muttered.
“You just got your reward,” Hazel purred. “Now we get ours.”
Nooks and Crannies
By Jonathon Hanna
Growing up in Athens is wonderful and horrible, fun and sad, full of possibilities and a complete dead-end. It can be all of these things, or none of them, depending on who you are. When I grew up here, it was wonderful, fun, and full of possibilities… for me. For some kids I knew, It was horrible, sad, a dead-end. There weren’t too many of those kids. Usually loners and outcasts. The kids who no one would really miss.
My educational path was about as Athens as it gets. Barrow school to Clarke Middle. Clark Middle to Clarke Central. Clarke Central to UGA. When you live in a town that long, you learn things. You learn where to be, and where not to be. I learned where to be. Non-natives sometimes never quite learned where not to be. You learn the secret places. The nooks and crannies that are just out of sight. For instance, you know where that drain pipe that was hidden in the bushes at the edge of the Barrow school playground went. That drain pipe is gone now, but back in the day it was there. It was a nook. The new kid at Barrow, I forget his name, who brought his puppy to school, wouldn’t know that. You knew where that copse of trees hidden between Clarke Middle School and the neighborhood on Fortson Drive was. At Clarke Middle I met Jimmy, the son of professors who were new to town. He didn’t know about the hidden trees. It was a cranny. I knew where the giant storm drains which ran under Oglethorpe House went. The nervous transfer student from South Georgia didn’t know that. He found out though.
Athens is a town of seasons and moments. If you know the calendar of Athens, you will know where to be when you need a lot of noise. When you need a lot of happy, yelling people to help you out. Marching band practice at the practice fields on Lumpkin Street used to be very loud when you needed noise to drown out other sounds. The parties on Milledge Avenue can go all night with the music thumping. That can be very helpful. Athens also has times of complete silence. When sections of the town clear out. Those are good times to do other things. When you need to not be seen. When you need to hide things. If you bide your time in Athens, the right mood will come over the town eventually. Be patient. And then next year, a brand new crop of people who have never been here before will show up. You can count on that happening next year also. And the next year. And the next.
I’ve always been patient. And careful. I’ve gotten better. Someone did find the puppy stuffed in the drain at Barrow school. I was young, but I learned. I think someone might have discovered a part of Jimmy in the woods when that area was cleared ýears later for a new housing development. But it wasn’t recognized for what it was. No one will ever find the student under O-House. There are many others, whose names you probably never knew. Parts of them are in a nook here…parts in a cranny there. If you’re new to Athens, maybe I’ll show you where some of these nooks and crannies are. It’ll be fun.
By Adam Rainville
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By Roy Stamey
It was an evening in the fall time of nineteen thirty eight. Cool mists from the North Oconee drifted up through the yard bearing the scent of goldenrod and fresh mowed hay. Rabbit dogs yelped on the hill across the road.
William Fairchild Johnson lay dying. His wife Ruby and the neighbors’ wives attended him as he lay under a plain white sheet and an ancient quilt. His sons filled the stove bin with coal and kindling, milked the cows and topped off the well buckets.
WF, as they called him, faced the inevitable. He sank deeper into the mattress, yet his spirit remained bright. Earlier in the day he had spoken with his sons. They promised the harvests would be put up and that Ruby’s widowhood would be secure. They offered to sit with him, but he sent them out to reap.
Neighborhood men, farmers mostly, congregated in the yard. Porch boards creaked with the wives’ comings and goings. Folks brought food for the family and for the flow of friends and neighbors to come. There was a churchlike quietness.
The strangers appeared mid-evening. Like most occasions that grow into legend, the story has blurred through its retellings. Even so, the central element they all agree to is that there were three of them.
No one recalls their faces or what they wore, but all agree they were two men and one woman. They came down the driveway from off 441, and like the others, at first lurked in the porch light’s darkness. The neighbors stood aside, speaking in hushed voices, smoking, spitting, and nudging yard dust with the toes of their worn down shoes. The strangers said nothing.
The three moved toward the porch as the neighbors watched. All talking stopped. Jason Deals was about to light a hand-rolled cigarette but put it aside and waited. Frogs and night crickets were in sweet southern chorus, but otherwise, stillness reigned. Even the house sounds ceased. Some among the men claim with dogged certainty that they heard choir music rise above the insect song, Sacred Harp in tonality. The women claimed to have heard music as well. The house, they said, filled with an inexplicable calm.
The strangers stepped onto the porch and approached the multi-paned window to the right of the front door. No floorboards creaked. Mrs. Deals came out to the porch and doused the light indicating that WF had passed. She saw the strangers but paid no attention. She returned inside, easing the door behind her so that it wouldn’t slam.
The neighbors had barely adjusted their eyes to the new darkness before realizing the strangers were passing back through them, toward the highway. This time there were four of them. The men stepped back reverently and doffed hats. Some said the foursome glowed, but most disputed that claim. Even so, the vision lingered in their minds’ eye long after the strangers disappeared.
Timelessness framed the ephemeral visit. The time from when the strangers appeared to when they vanished seemed upward to half an hour or more, but Bob Booth happened to look at his pocket watch as the strangers arrived, and Jed Osborne did the same, by match flame, when the porch light went out. They compared stories later and realized that everything occurred within less than nine minutes.
WF’s body was buried three days later in that cemetery off Jefferson River Road. Those attending his funeral claimed the church smelled of honeysuckle and sweet red clay, but who’s to say? It’s country folk telling the tale. You know how they are.
By Bowen Craig
It was a place I’d never been in before, but how bad could it be? It looked okay from the outside. It was downtown. It had all of the requisite accessories that make us feel at home: unnecessarily obscure pop culture references from two generations ago, ironic tee-shirts on the walls with Jesus’ face fitted onto the torso of Burt Reynolds, craft beer lovingly brewed by Tunisian refugees, everything I’ve come to expect and demand. And, come on, it’s a bar. How bad could any building that calls itself a bar possibly be?
After a grueling six-month Georgia summer, full of record-high sweltering temperatures and the sweaty undershirts that love them, the fact that the weather had finally begun to turn was welcome news to every Athenian. I, for one, was anticipating fondly the idea of having to come inside a public place in order to “warm up.” As any good neo-pagan local would, I wanted to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox with an easily- recyclable pile of medium-brown, responsibly-brewed, acai berry-flavored aluminum cans emblazoned with the face of Che Guevara. Naturally, downtown Athens was where I pointed my bicycle.
The door didn’t make any sort of dinging noise when I opened it. That’s good. The vibe wasn’t hurried. It was as laid back as a truck stop shower waiting room. That’s good. People were sipping dark beer from glasses, and the only cheap beer in sight had won a brewing contest’s top prize (the coveted blue ribbon) around a hundred and fifty years ago. Again, that’s good. All the signs were pointing toward a good night.
I took off my faux-leather jacket and hung it on the hook under the bar. I saw a comfy-looking high stool, claimed it as my own, and cozied up to the bar, attempting to get the attention of the bartender with the mutton-chop sideburns and the Han Solo in the black leather vest original Star Wars (Episode 4) tee-shirt. After ordering a Terrapin, I clutched it tightly and turned my stool around to survey the scene. All of the trappings of this place seemed right, but I couldn’t shake the nagging, back-of-the-mind feeling that something was amiss.
There were only a few other bar patrons that evening: the requisite silver-pony-tailed bassist, playing darts with a woman with a few piercings in places that wouldn’t have thought to have pierced fifteen years ago, the two computer-programmer-looking guys huddled over a sit-down nostalgia arcade game, both jostling their joysticks with harsh, determined motions. Drab watercolor paintings of lesser-known Civil Rights icons dotted the walls, hanging in between framed B-movie posters, all pre-CG sci-fi, all of which played in theaters around the time my parents were dating. I took a refreshing sip of beer. I smiled. I wanted to laugh, to get into an unnecessarily-intense conversation with a stranger about the feasibility of poodle security guards and how many words Eskimos have for snow. Something was still wrong. But what?
I felt like I’d just come home after a camping trip, only to discover that someone had rearranged my furniture. I wasn’t panicking. I simply felt off. That’s when I heard it. I heard it before I saw it. A gaggle of sorority girls’ eight-inch high heels clicked on the sidewalk outside, the din of their constant nonsense blather rising in pitch. They met up with an equally-large group of frat guys in pink shorts and golf shirts. The bile rose in my throat. Please, no. Oh, dear God, they’re coming inside. That’s when it hit me…this was a college bar. Nooooooooo!
Mayhem at the Moovie Barn
By Shielia Rizer
I stood by the store’s plate glass windows and stared out at the parking lot that the Moovie Barn shared with four other shops in our Gaines School Road strip. The one nearby street light wasn’t getting much help from the tiny crescent moon. I raised my wrist to my face. The two red watch hands complained that it was 10:30.
It had to be Drake that I was shutting down the store with tonight. No one was slower at closing out cash tills, and now he was in the stock room flipping circuit breakers to kill most of the lights. The little switches were labeled with garage sale dots – the green ones stayed on and the red ones got turned off. Red. Green.
I had already missed the Wild Rumpus Parade; it was my Saturday to work and NOBODY wanted to change shifts. At least my best friend, Seth, and I could make it to the After Party at the Georgia Theater. IF Drake ever finished reinventing electricity.
We had really fun costumes – courtesy of the local thrift stores and Lee’s Wigs. I was just round enough to make a presentable Kate Pierson, and Seth’s tall, slim frame was great to hang Cindy Wilson on.
I turned and started towards the back of the store, stopping near the counter when I heard footsteps. Geez! I could actually hear him dragging his feet. A noise or movement at the front door made me pivot in that direction. Drake’s footsteps came to a halt behind me.
I spun and screamed, and my knee came up hard.
The green ghoul dropped to the floor, moaning and writhing. I reached down and pulled off the rubber mask.
The moaning continued.
“Lana, I think you’d better call an ambulance.”
“Oh, come on, Drake, I couldn’t have hurt you that bad.”
“No. I mean for you.” His voice sounded kind of …unnatural. ”Because if I ever stand up again, I might hurt you.”
“I’m sorry, but what did you expect, sneaking up like that?”
Drake was looking past me over my shoulder.
“Lana, don’t turn around. Just kneel down beside me and don’t turn around.”
“Alright,” I said as my stomach did a flip, “You’ve had your revenge. I’m totally freaked out.”
This time I followed his instructions.
Drake looked at the luminous face of the hardware on his wrist.
“Five minutes, Lana.”
I realized what he meant. Just around 11:00 every night, a patrol car made a sweep through our lot. I was counting the seconds when headlights cut across our windows. After a minute or so, we could hear the sounds of an altercation. We stayed on the floor until Officer Rich Crawford called to us from the front door.
When we reached him, we saw that his partner was shoving someone into the back seat of their patrol car.
“Lana, are you two okay?”
“Did you all see him out there?”
“Who?” I asked.
Officer Crawford hesitated.
“We were surprised to see your cars still here, so we got out to have a look around. We found Mr. Gentry in the back floorboard of Lissa’s car.”
“Mr. Gentry from the pawn shop?” Our quiet little neighbor.
“He had … a pretty mean looking knife, and he kept muttering, ‘She shouldn’t have been so late. Why was she so late?’”
No way! Little Mr. Gentry was a homicidal maniac, and Drake – with his dorky dawdling had saved my life. Of those two reflections – I wasn’t sure which was the scarier.
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