(Inspired by Cover Art Pictured Above)
"Housekeeping" by Emily Diaz
Amongst all other things, he was very proud of his house.
He had lived in the house for over a century, now. It provided shelter during the rainy season, food when the birds came flocking to the rickety trees outside, and often lacked an owner. He was accustomed to long periods of time in which the house remained still, no sound to fill its corridors. In fact, he preferred it that way. There was no one to chase him away, to call the ones with weapons and forcibly remove him. And, most importantly, there was no one to disturb him while he lied amidst the sunrays that shone through the old, rotting wood of the house.
Those were perhaps the best times, he found. When all was quiet, he could laze about, doing what he wished, and the house was the perfect place to inhabit.
It was old and dilapidated, white paint peeling underneath layers of plant growth, but the ones who had built it long ago had made it to last, and last it did; when all other houses had burnt to the ground in the 1926 fire, it was the only one left untouched. And although other roofs collapsed in the blizzard of 1958, this house stayed sturdy. It had surely seen better days, but he didn’t care that it swayed in the wind, or that the garden from the herbalist had overgrown its section in the front yard. All that mattered was that it was his house.
He knew that the others in town were afraid of his house. After years of “freak” incidents in which his house was the only that remained, the others vacated the immediate area around the house, leaving it to grow alone in the woods. Perfect, he thought.
Previous residents had expressed their distaste with how he had taken care of the house and how far it was from the rest of “civilization,” as they put it, and one day he heard them mention a so-called curse put on the house. Pah! How ridiculous! The only ‘curse’, so to speak, was that the other houses simply neglected a marvelous owner such as himself.
The house was everything he could have wished for, and as such, he protected it fiercely. Any useless crows he chased off, and when he decided the current dweller was simply too idiotic to put up with, he safely and kindly hinted that they leave--by killing all sorts of animals and leaving them in their mugs, by their pillows, and, on one eventful occasion, inside the fridge.
Perhaps the only inhabitant he had been able to stand was the kind old woman who had lived there briefly. She seemed to be able to perceive him and left him all sorts of food, left her blinds open during the day, and kept water readily available. She even planted a wonderful smelling plant outside--something she referred to as ‘nepeta cataria’.
Unfortunately, certain… ne’er-do-wells took it upon themselves to escort her out themselves. They insisted she was too old to be living on her own, and had packed up her bags and thrown them into an automobile. They called her the strangest names, as well--things like ‘mom’ and ‘grandma’. How odd!
Now, the house remained largely untouched. It was right around the time that the air cooled and the wind took on a sweet, earthy sort of smell--autumn, as the others called it. He spent most of his days sleeping amongst the cobwebs or chasing the birds in the sky.
It was one such day--or, rather, night--that they came.
They came in a group of three, with the leader in some strange suit somewhat resembling that which an astronaut wears, and the other two following him in candy-corn uniforms. They mumbled to each other as they approached the long, winding road to his house, elbowing each other in the ribs and goading each other into knocking on the door.
He simply ignored them; it wasn’t the first time hooligans had come to his house in the name of bravado, but none of them had the guts to actually come inside.
Of course, this group proved him wrong.
With a shaking hand, the astronaut opened the rickety door. “Hello? Anyone here?” he called out, voice echoing in the empty house.
The candy-corns entered after him. They looked around, peering into rooms and giggling away their nerves.
This was much too trivial for him, but so long as they didn’t disturb him, he would let them explore.
“Why’d your dad choose this place, of all places, to buy?” asked one of the candy-corns.
The astronaut shuddered. “No clue, but he says he’s gonna tear it all down and make a hotel. You know, like the ones on television?”
Tear it down? A hotel? Surely these children weren’t talking about his house!
“This place is a dump, anyways. Nobody’s lived here since that old lady left, which means nobody’s taken care of it, which means it gets torn down. That’s what my dad said, anyways.”
The shine of a flashlight flickered briefly over where he rested. Careful to not be seen, he pushed back into the darkness of the house.
One of the candy corns hissed, “What was that?”
“There was just, like, a shadow! Or… something. You guys didn’t see it?”
“Nuh-uh, no way. Nothing’s lived here in over a decade,” retorted the other candy-corn.
The astronaut shushed them. “Whatever, let’s just keep exploring.”
They made their way upstairs, into the main bedroom. They sat on his king-size bed--which, really, belonged to the kind old lady before she left--and got their nasty smell on it. There they sat, simply chatting.
He could hardly believe this. These…children, really, had come to his house, proclaimed that his house was to be completely destroyed, and then proceeded to trespass on where he slept, of all places! He couldn’t--no, he wouldn’t stand for this!
Hissing, he allowed himself to slink out of the darkness and appeared on the ground by the foot of the bed.
“You guys heard that, right?!” cried the candy-corn.
The astronaut flicked his flashlight on and scanned the bedroom. When he was illuminated by the light, the astronaut guffawed. “Aw, it’s just a little cat! You were scared by a cat, you scaredy-cat!”
Just a cat? JUST A CAT?!?!
Yes, these children had certainly overstayed their welcome.
The house around them began to shake violently. The bed they sat on moved up the room with the force of the quake, and they exclaimed in fright when the wood of the frame creaked ominously.
Scrambling to their feet, the children ran out of the room. Shadows melted down the walls and chased them down the hallway, down the stairs, into the entryway, where they pooled at the base of the stairs. The kids leapt over the pool of shadows, screaming as they neared the entrance.
The main door swung open, and after the kids left, it slammed shut.
The cat watched from the windowsill in the bedroom as the children dashed down the road, wailing. Lights flickered in the far-off neighborhood that they came from as they approached, but he didn’t care.
He licked his paw, grooming himself and watching outside. It was about time for a catnap, wasn’t it?
(Inspired by Cover Art pictured above)
Deadman’s Halloween by Jaime Salazar -
The night has finally come, I stretch out from my bed and give an enticing yawn, I have not felt this good in a long time. I'm excited, it is Halloween after all, my favorite night of the year. Around this town, everyone dresses up, both children and adults. All in their costumes, some scary and some cute, most with the intention of bagging some sort of treat tonight. I am typically not one to partake in tonight’s events, after all a couple of years ago there was a mishap where everyone would look at me frighteningly and run off. I think it had to do with my costume, maybe it was a bit too much. I would tend to wear a rigid and torn up suit. I don’t want to ruin people’s Halloween, so I would often take a less active role and simply enjoy the festivity of the night, the decorations set upon the yards and porches. Most of the time, the decorations remind me of myself, it is a nostalgic feeling that emerges. This year feels a bit different though, it feels as if I can take a more active role. I decided I will participate in trick or treating this year. What’s the worst that could happen? I think to myself.
To no surprise, not everyone feels the same way towards Halloween as I do, for example, my neighbors tend to sleep through Halloween night, the noise and ambience disturb their peace they say. My friend Matt doesn’t participate either, but he likes to spend the night with me. A good friend he is, tonight he let me borrow his suit. It is nicer than the one I typically wear. He is newer. I appreciate Matt’s kindness, maybe I will bring him some of the candy I earn as a sign of gratitude.
I now wander off to the neighborhood nearby, rumors have it there is a nice old lady giving some delicious treats this year around. I walk up to my first house, it’s slightly decorated. At the same time, a family of four, all wearing matching costumes, Wizard of Oz themed, are walking away as at a moment’s notice they turn to me with looks of disgust and fear. They walk away faster without saying a word. Rude. I feel a bit ashamed, maybe the suit isn’t appealing enough or are people weirded by the fact that I am alone, it is hard to say the reason why. Regardless of their reaction, I do not let it bring me down, I walk up to the door and ring the bell. A child and mother open the door with the child holding a bowl of candy with his hands. I’m excited to receive my first treat in what feels like decades. My eyes start to glisten, my jaw drops to the floor. The child looks amazed at me, I feel complimented, however, the mother pushes her child away and slams the door shut. I take it she was not a fan of my attire. I pick up my jaw from the floor where it fell and move on to the next house.
Now the next home I visit is one where you can tell the neighbors are fans of the holiday. They went all out with inflatable skeletons and giant pumpkins, the yard filled with a dark gray fog and spider webs decorated everywhere. I am a fan. I walk up to the door and ring the bell once. A middle aged gentleman opens up, he is wearing a grim reaper costume, and he compliments me. He says, “Nice costume man, looks real”. I reply by saying it is. We both laugh. I appreciate his work and go forward to shake his hand, he reaches out as well and grabs a little too tight, rips out my arm. I say it’s no big deal. His face begins to turn green. He drops my arm and slams his door too. Maybe going for a handshake is rude in his culture. I pick up my arm and move on.
I begin to feel discouraged as the night goes on, perhaps I am no longer meant to participate in Halloween, maybe my time has passed. I decide to walk home with a look of defeat. As I turn the corner, there is a house with a red light almost calling to me. I decided to muster up the courage and try my luck once more. The decorations are all over the place, but I do not mind. I ring the bell, and out comes an old lady, she looks to live alone, she walks out with a red and white cane, I can tell she is blind. She asks me, “what is your costume meant to be hun?”. I tell her, I am simply a deadman walking, all I have on me is a nice suit and some beat down dress shoes. I explain to her how my night is going. I tell her all about Matt and how he lent me the suit. She looks at me and smiles. She gives me loads of goods, almost as to indicate that this is her final year doing this. She gives me extra for my friend Matt. I am as happy as I could ever be. I lean forward and whisper in her ear, “It seems you will be joining me and Matt down the road very soon. We’ll make sure to make some room for you down by the graveyard”. Her smile fades away and I say my thanks, I head back home.
I arrive back home with the goods from the old lady, I tell Matt about my experiences tonight, we exchange suits once more and I share some of the goodies with him. It does not digest well for either of us, but we don’t care. I tell him that we’ll be having a new neighbor soon and that we should start making some space. The night comes to an end and we close our tombs looking forward to next Halloween.
(Inspired by Cover Art pictured above)
Margaret’s Playthings by Brandon Shane
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” - Sylvia Plath
The old house overlooking Sparrow’s Cliff was dim after Margaret and Franklin Walton’s untimely deaths. No light could shine through the open windows, even on a hot summer’s day. There was a disturbance in the air after their passing. It was a stagnate depression. It was a shared vision among those left behind. The blue ocean looked perilously dark. The fluffy clouds were nothing more than rocky edges suspended from the sky that threatened to fall at any moment. Even the dust became dangerous, like little spider webs fluctuating through the air, floating and falling, not even needing a hand to send them going. Sarah, their youngest and only daughter, no more than seven years old, watched as her uncles bickered over the remnants. They gave little Sarah kisses and frequent presents, treating her like the living image of their fallen sister, as if her mother existed in a chamber of the young girl’s heart. She did, and that’s why they only argued from afar.
“What will you do today?” An unseen man put his hand on Sarah’s shoulder. She rubbed her eyes and opened them wide. “Take a gander at the toys. Margaret has left you plenty.”
There was no-one when she looked ahead. She turned her head and saw just the same. Whatever, or whoever the man was, was correct in his suggestion. Mother had left thousands of toy’s to Sarah in her will. Margaret was a toy collector who had been passed down an exquisite collection from her mother, who owned a toy factory, her mother owned a toy workshop. The Walton’s were a family that loved everything jovial and holiday, their history was steeped in such tradition. It was such a sadness that Margaret, the one who loved winter festivities more than anyone living perhaps, had to die the week before Christmas.
And now her daughter played alone on Christmas Eve, in a room surrounded by four high walls and a ceiling painted in patterns of candy canes and mistletoes. It was grim to be in a room so happy, without the happiness. Sarah crawled over to an unfurling chest of stuffed animals, most of them emanating the smell of unfettered age. The smell did not bother her; it reminded her of Margaret, an old soul hitched to a body somewhere in the thirties, a weathered voice emanating from a voice box unfettered by time. Sarah grabbed one that especially caught her attention, a plush gray monkey with nothing special but an agape mouth and oversized hands. It had opal eyes and wide nostrils, something of a mystery, perhaps the builders had their fun with this one, resulting in something preciously abominable. It quickly became Sarah’s favorite, prancing around the room with it high in the air. She could imagine the ooh’s and aah’s coming from the little monkey as it pranced with her.
“I will take ownership of the house. It will lie in my hands. I will take care of my birthright!” Uncle Williams said in a roar of teeth and spittle, promptly shoving Uncle Clayton to the ground where he stood over him like an ominous statue. “It is what mother would have wanted. It is what sister would have wanted. It is even what she wrote in her will.”
“Margaret has written no such thing! You’ve falsified her good word and claim it truth.” Clayton says, and rolls over to his side, where he brings himself up to stand once more. Williams growls and pushes him back down onto the floor. Clayton clenches his fist and says from his back. “Curse you!”
It was not long until the brothers realized Sarah was watching them from the hallway, where she stood with Ru-Ru. Ru-Ru was the name she gave the monkey. It was in her arms as blood was in her veins, mouth agape and hands large as always. First came Williams who was spry, and then Clayton as he rubbed his sore head and swiped the dirt from off his long sleeves.
“There is only one true inheritor. That is you, Sarah.” Clayton says, as he bumps into Williams.
“In any case, this home belongs to the daughter of Margaret and Franklin.” Williams looks at Clayton, sweat running down both their brows. “Are you ready for the responsibility of guardianship?”
“Where’s daddy?” Sarah says, palming Ru-Ru's soft head. “Where’s mommy?”
“They’ve both passed, my dear. You will know more of the circumstances with age.”
Clayton groans at Williams. “She is just a child.”
“She is a child born into tragedy. Nothing can free her more than the truth.”
“Then why not tell her everything as she stands before you?” Clayton asks.
“Because I have yet to realize the truth myself.”
After the last words are spoken, they come to realize that Sarah is gone. Williams yells out her name, followed by Clayton, but nothing comes in return. They walk down the unlit hallway repeating Sarah! Sarah! Where did you go? It is soon time for dinner! until a roaring crash of something abundant sends them jumping. It came from a nearby room. It came from... they look at each other in horror. It came from Sarah’s new playroom. Without a single light, they rush to her door, turn the knob, only to realize it has been locked from the other side. Then comes a second tumble, this one shakes the entire house like an avalanche that had just been unleashed on all sides of the estate. Their roars for Sarah’s name become louder and louder, and then concluded into fervent kicking and even punching of the door, until the locks snap and it is sent whipping to the side, barely hinged to the frame.
“Sarah? Are you in here, darling?” Clayton is first to enter, soon followed by William. They both explored opposite ends of the room, entranced by the fact that absolutely nothing had fallen. Behind them, the door creaks casually to a close, where they hear turning locks, final clicks and yawns of metal. Even though the locks they had just broken were lying on the floor beneath their feet.
Sarah sits with Ru-Ru on the porch of their home. She heard William and Clayton fighting the door until there was nothing left to hear but the frigid winds of winter. She doesn’t know when the monkey’s mouth closed, but it had. It wasn’t just his mouth, but his hands had shrunken to normal size. Although something had grown, his feet were large and studded like a creature bred to adventure the wilderness. Its eyes changed too, the opals had now shrunken to teardrops like hers, although sharper and emanating a brooding intensity made it difficult to look at him for over a few seconds at a time.
“Sarah. My love.” An unseen man’s voice says from behind. It was the same one from before. This time when she looks around, it’s a fully-fledged man. “Town isn’t too far away from here. Walk down the road until you find someone who can help Uncle Clayton and Uncle William.”
“Daddy?” Sarah says, dropping Ru-Ru and leaping into his arms, only to fall onto the cold floor. “Why can’t I touch you, daddy? Why can’t I hold your hand? Daddy, where’s mommy?”
“Something very bad happened to us by the shore.”
“We were swept away by the waves.” A softer voice came from behind him, from inside the home. It was the voice of Margaret. She kneels down beside Sarah, kneading her daughter’s hair even though her fingers pass right through her. “I made a mistake of leaving something behind.” “Something quite evil.” Sarah and Franklin look at one-another. “Sarah’s brothers put him in the wrong pile. Nothing but a simple mistake, with extraordinary consequences.”
“I don’t understand what’s happening mama, papa.” Sarah turns around and trots towards RuRu, picking him up and placing him steadily in her arms. The monkey’s mouth is once again open, but this time wide enough that his nose has disappeared behind his teeth. His eyes are now boulders emanating rage, his hands are larger than his entire chest, protracted like sharp talons.
Both Sarah and Franklin scream from beyond the grave at the same exact time.
“Put him down, Sarah!” Franklin shouts.
“Honey. That doll is not what you think it is!” Margaret yells.
Ru-Ru's boulder eyes turn a blazing red, and out his mouth comes a voracious roar that dissolves the ghosts of Margaret and Franklin. Sarah drops him and screams. She runs towards the winding path ahead, knowing that it eventually led to a long road which would take her to town. She hears a primal roar, the rough smacking of a broad chest, followed by powerful feet which vibrate the earth. Sarah’s feet hit the dirt, and she goes running, running, running.