I didn’t really think much about the title, so don’t let that affect you. As usual, this is a first draft with very little attention afterward. That’s where you come in. There are a few questions at the end as well as a little bit about what inspired the story.
It’s about 3,000 words, slightly longer than most of my short stories. Hopefully, you won’t even notice. Warning – I know it needs more work, but I’m hoping your reactions will help me out with that. Have at it.
Two young women stared out through each of two windows that faced the expansive but neglected front lawn of a home in a small, exclusive neighborhood. Stuck in the hard ground near the sidewalk was a faded “for sale” sign, the same one that had been there more than a year. Few people had seen the home in the past year, and few realtors made any effort to show the home despite the amazingly low price for five bedrooms, three bathrooms, three-car garage, and 4,000 square feet sitting on a full acre.
The girls watched as a school bus slowed to a stop and allowed half a dozen children, some in shorts on a September day, to step off and scatter left and right to parents standing or waiting in cars nearby. The bus, the same one the two girls had ridden only a year ago, rolled away to another neighborhood as the cars drove to their respective nearby homes. One boy, however, didn’t move. He stared back at the two windows through which the women watched.
“That kid gives me the creeps,” said Mary as she sat on the dusty window sill and leaned against the frame.
“He always creeped me out too,” said Sara, “even if he is my brother.”
A woman approached the boy, took him by the hand, and led him away. His eyes, however, did not easily leave the windows.
“Your mom looks like hell,” said Mary.
“Don’t remind me,” said Sara. “Barely a week goes by without her walking by, cursing and throwing rocks.”
“Yeah,” said Mary, “but when you consider everything.”
Mary turned from the window and walked around the pool table that filled half the room. She pretended to hold a pool cue, took aim at the eight ball, and thrust her right arm forward as if to sink it.
“Let’s go for a walk,” said Sara.
“But what about – ”
“I know,” Sara interrupted. “I meant out back.”
“It’s better than nothing.”
They walked to the kitchen at the back of the house where French doors led to a stone patio, a post fence, and then over one-hundred acres of farmland gave its name to the development known at Mullica Farms.
They stood on the patio and peered at what seemed like endless rows of corn. Between the house and the corn, between the houses left and right was a dried, dusty yard. Lawns everywhere else were as emerald green as the private golf course on the other side of the small, upper class town where residents paid extra to be surrounded by farms instead of more neighbors.
“Think there’s any deer out there?” asked Mary as she moved slowly towards the fence that separated the neighborhood from the farmland.
“Deer don’t bother me as much as the turkeys,” said Sara.
“Oh, right. I hate those things.”
“I’m bored,” said Sara, “and we’re not getting any younger.”
Two young women, two pairs of white knee socks not so white anymore, strolled carelessly through cornstalks that towered over them. Every so often they jumped and tried to smack an ear or two, but the sturdy crops looked down as if nobody was there.
“What if Tubby comes back?” asked Mary.
“How many times do I have to tell you?” said Sara. “He can’t hurt you.”
“But,” Mary stopped.
“He hurt you once, I know, but I promise you it won’t happen again.”
Mary stopped walking, tilted her head, and rose up on her toes.
“What is it?”
“Farmer. I hear the tractor.” She continued walking but turned away from the distant hum of the tractor.
“You think he knows we’re out here?” asked Sara.
“You think he knows when Tubby is out here?”
“Probably,” shrugged Mary.
Not long after, Sara stopped.
“What is it?”
They squatted low.
“Tubby?” whispered Mary.
Sara shook her head.
Sara slowly stood and pointed through rows of stalks. Mary followed her finger, then relaxed.
“They’re beautiful,” smiled Mary.
“Sadly beautiful,” said Sara as she followed Mary towards six deer snacking on lower leaves of cornstalks. A six-point buck and a doe stopped chewing and turned slightly, cautiously towards the two girls. Four fawns, white spots scattered across their sides, waited for their parents to object to the girls before stepping closer.
“I’ve been watching them,” said Sara. “Notice how they don’t eat too much in one area? It’s like they know if they eat too much in one place, the farmer will know they’ve been out here and might go after them.”
“No fear,” repeated Mary as she reached out to pet a fawn’s head just between its ears. The other three moved closer but not close enough to be petted. “Amazing.”
“More like stupid,” said Sara. “Someday they’ll learn. The hard way.”
Sara stood about ten feet from the buck. Left, right, left again. The buck’s black eyes didn’t follow immediately but eventually caught up to her.
“Not stupid,” answered Mary. “Kids only know what they’re taught.”
“Don’t remind me,” said Sara, teeth tight. “Or what they experience themselves.”
The buck and doe raised their heads and snorted. The four younger ones stopped chewing and paid better attention as the two adults, then all six, headed through the rows and into the distance.
“Aww,” said Mary.
“Relax. They’re more afraid of the farmer than us.”
Before the girls could take another step, the deer thundered back past them into the opposite direction from which they had just gone.
“What the,” began Mary.
“Tubby,” whispered Sara.
“What do we do?” Mary whimpered as she ducked low. “If we’re not in the house, he’ll be pissed.”
“He can’t hurt you,” said Sara. “Be stronger. He can hurt you unless you let him.” But before she could say more, Mary was already running back to the house.
“Wait!” tried Sara, but it was too late. She couldn’t catching up to Mary but was barely able to see her friend’s pleated, plaid skirt moving through the light green rows of corn. By the time she reached the back of the house, Mary was standing at an open door, unable to step through. She flinched when Sara put her hands on Mary’s shoulders and her lips near her ear.
“You don’t have to go in there,” Sara whispered.
“He’s looking for me,” whispered Mary.
A thunder from behind caused Sara’s head to turn. In the light of the setting sun she saw the same six deer charge through the end corn field and into the bordering woods. In the distance a plume of smoke rose from the farmer’s tractor. Something else moved through the cornfield, but she couldn’t see it clearly, only a line of stalks shivering in their direction.
“He’s not looking for you.” She turned back to Mary. “He’s – ” but Mary was gone before she could finish.
Sara entered the kitchen and started towards the front of the house. She was about to climb the stairs up towards the bedrooms until she heard a muffled voice beneath her. She went back to the kitchen, found the basement door open, and stood still.
He can’t hurt me, and he can’t hurt you, Mary.
She descended the stairs, each foot placed carefully as more and more of the basement’s expansive but empty cement floor came into view. Dust danced in a shaft of light crawling through the two basement windows that looked down on her like two rectangular eyes in the basement wall. She checked left and right, but the two west corners were empty.
Sara took half a step and was about to round the bottom of the steps to check the other two corners behind her, but she stopped. Blood on the floor. It was only a few drops, but blood was blood. She turned and faced up the stairs and saw the drops she had not seen on the way down. Someone was up there, and she quickly turned to her right to see Mary standing, hands over her mouth, body trembling like a child in winter. Something sat on the floor in front of her.
A round man sat mostly in shadow wearing a stained t-shirt that did come close to containing his protruding belly. His face glistened from sweat and dirt. His hands and fingers moved randomly, as if he had just learned to use them. He touched his face, wiped his hands on his dirty shirt, and reached as if he might scratch his back, though his puffy, pudgy arms could never get close enough. His eyes darted in all directions before finally finding the girl in front of him.
“I didn’t mean for it to happen,” he spat, causing Mary to freeze and put her hands over her mouth.
“He can’t hurt you,” called Sara, stepping closer.
“It wasn’t my fault,” he spat again, this time towards the ceiling. His eyes squinted, his mouth drew tight, and his back arched as if in great pain. “It wasn’t me,” he cried.
“Let’s get out of here,” said Sara.
“No,” said Mary. “He needs me.”
“Do you hear yourself?” said Sara somewhere between scolding or pleading. “Do you remember what he did?”
“It wasn’t his fault,” Mary whispered. Had she been able to cry, she would have.
“The only reason we’re here is because of him,” said Sara, stepping closer to the shadow that began just past Mary’s shoes and tried to hide the round slob twice their age.
“Not my – fault,” he stammered.
His arms reached out towards them but moved so awkwardly that Sara was unsure if he could see them. She stopped close enough to Mary to touch her, then placed her hands on the younger girl’s shoulders. Mary’s trembling slowed, then stopped.
“Why do you care about him?” said Sara.
“He needs our help,” said Mary.
“Don’t be stupid. How many times did he bring you here? How young were you the first time? Did he give you the lost puppy story he gave me? How many times before that last time?”
“But it wasn’t him,” said Mary.
“Bullshit. Don’t listen to him. He’s dumb. Turn your back and he’s dangerous. And besides, he can’t even see us anymore.”
Just as Mary said that, Tubby slowly turned his watery, vacant eyes her way.
“Yes. I can.”
Sara gasped. Mary took a step back to be closer to her friend. Her only friend.
“Red,” slurred Tubby, sounding drunk. “That red dress. I hated that dress. Why are you still wearing it?” His voice grew louder. “I told you never to wear it. It makes me mad.”
He leaned on his left elbow and moved his legs, attempting to stand.
“You said he can’t hurt me,” cried Mary. “I think you’re wrong.”
“You might be right,” whispered Sara.
A door slammed. All three of them looked up to the ceiling as if they might be able to see through it to the floor above. Light no longer streamed in through the windows. Darkness had arrived.
“Someone’s coming,” whispered Mary. “What do we do? What do we do?”
Sara took Mary’s hand and led her to the furthest, darkest corner of the basement. She raised a finger to her lips. Mary nodded to acknowledge. Footsteps paced slowly above them.
“Where the hell are you?” called a voice muffled and dampened by the floor above.
“Who is that?” whispered Mary.
“Not sure,” whispered Sara. “She sounds familiar.”
“She?” said Mary.
“She’s coming,” winced Tubby as his face contorted and his eyes closed tightly.
As clunky, old shoes descended the bare, wooden steps, Sara and Mary retreated to the darkest corner of the basement. A cone of light from a flashlight traced the floor, then the walls of the basement. It stopped on the traces of blood that Sara had seen earlier, then it continued.
Unlike Sara, who turned left at the bottom of the stairs, she and her flashlight turned right.
“I know you’re down here, boy,” she growled. “Caught you here enough times when you ran off. I’m mad, you know. You made me mad. You made me punish you. It’s your own fault.”
Sara and Mary flattened themselves into the corner where two cinderblock walls met. They kept their heads down, their eyes averted, and the mouths. As the rounded spot of light scanned across where they stood, Mary lifted her chin and opened her eyes barely a slit. The light, almost past them, stopped and returned.
“What the hell?” she said.
Mary dropped her head again just as Sara silently stabbed at her with an elbow.
The bright light held by a confused, quivering hand approached the corner. Neither Sara nor Mary breathed. They could not see the spot, the hand, or her, but they knew without even trying exactly where she was and what she was thinking.
“Who’s there?” she called. She didn’t hear an answer, but she felt one. She aimed the flashlight at the floor where a large square of cement was different, darker than the rest of the floor.
“Stupid house. They shoulda knocked this place down when they had the chance. Nobody will ever buy it, not once they find out about – everything. They’ll find you troublemakers.”
She turned back towards the other corner, where Tubby lay on his side in the corner. As she stepped away, Sara opened her eyes again but only barely. Even with her eyes closed, Mary knew that Sara insisted she put her hand over her own eyes as a precaution.
“Why do you make me do things?” she snapped at Tubby, her voice cracking. “Such a bad boy. Always making me clean up after you. You gone too far this time. Too far.”
She stood over Tubby, his fleshy face against the cement floor, his eyes fixed on her blue, gingham dress that nearly reached her ankles.
“Bad boy, staring at my legs like that.” She pushed the toe of her shoe against his shoulder, rocking him gently. “That’s what gets you into trouble. First you’re staring. Then touching. Then. Well, then you go too far is all, and then I have to clean up the mess.”
Sara put her hand up in front of her face, blocking her eyes from Tubby’s mother before opening them. Echoes of red and blue lights danced through the basement windows and off the cinderblock walls.
Clean up the mess, thought Sara, then Mary, then together. Clean up the mess, they repeated, to themselves and each other. Where did we hear that? I know I heard that. I know, me too. Where did we – oh.
“It was her? Not him?” whispered Sara.
“I knew it,” said Mary. “I knew it wasn’t him.”
The flashlight spun again in their direction. The girls froze, closed their eyes again, flattened against the wall again.
“Who’s there?” called Tubby’s mother. “Who’s there? I heard you, by God. I heard you.”
She moved towards the stairs without looking but keeping the light aimed towards the corner.
“I bet it’s those girls. Those whores. Those sluts,” said Tubby’s mother. “This is all your fault. You teased him. You walked around in your little dresses, your little skirts. You shoulda known better. You shoulda.”
Don’t listen to her, thought Sara to Mary. She’s wrong. It wasn’t your fault.
“If you little whores didn’t tease my boy like that, he’da behaved himself. You whores lured him to do what he did. You made him do it.”
“No!” called Mary. She opened her eyes and stepped from the corner. “We’re not whores!”
The flashlight shook as Tubby’s mother backed towards the stairs. She aimed the light into the dark basement and saw two orbs moving towards her. Two pale blue lights reflecting back, like headlights reflecting off the eyes of a fox or raccoon or deer at night.
“Your son did what he did,” Mary continued as the woman backed away. “I didn’t do anything. He did this. You did this!”
The woman reached her left arm behind her to find the railing while her right arm kept the flashlight on the blue eyes glaring back at her.
“Leave me alone!” her fragile voice cried. “Leave me be! Leave my son be!”
They listened as pair of clunky, old shoes stomped up the stairs and across the floor of the abandoned kitchen. They heard the back door slam and footsteps in the distance. They looked at each other and hugged tightly.
“What about Tubby?” whispered Sara.
They let go and stepped towards the round, sweaty body on the floor. His eyes were still open. Sara stepped around him and saw a knife handle in his back. The back of his once white t-shirt was soaked in blood.
“She did him,” said Sara, “just as she did us.”
They stood quietly, waiting for the other to say or do something.
“Hello?” said a voice behind them. “Hello?”
They spun quickly to see Tubby approaching. His hands and fingers fidgeted with each other as he stepped forward without wanting to but knowing he should.
“Tubby,” said Sara.
“Where am I?” he said. “How did I get here?”
Mary glanced back at Tubby’s body on the floor, then turned again to the frightened image coming nearer.
“Where am I?” he asked again. “Is it okay? Is she gone?”
Mary stepped towards him. Sara stepped sideways, between Tubby standing and Tubby lying on the floor.
“C’mon, Tubby,” said Sara. “Let’s go upstairs.”
“But I’m afraid,” said Tubby.
“We know,” said Mary. “We know. But it’ll be okay.”
Tubby’s hands trembled more.
“But Mama’s mad at me.”
Sara took Tubby’s left hand, Mary took his right, and they walked towards the stairs.
“Don’t worry,” said Mary. “She can’t hurt you anymore.”
Like most of my stories, this one was born from a casual observation while driving home from work. One of the streets I use contains a number of homes that were taken through eminent domain. I noticed one home with boarded up windows and something scribbled with spray paint. There was also a garage.
For some reason, I imagined that there were ghosts in the garage, and I wondered how they got there. Then I imagined a man who had killed them going into the garage where the ghosts were around him and talking about him even though he was unable to hear or see them. Then I imagined him dying for some reason, and then suddenly able to see and hear the ghosts of those he killed because he too had died. That’s about all there is to it.
- Is it evident that Sara and Mary are spirits?
- Is it evident that Sara and Mary were murdered by Tubby’s mother after Tubby had assaulted them and the mother had to get rid of them?
- Is it evident that Tubby was murdered by his mother and then became a spirit like Sara and Mary?