Whew! I almost didn’t think I was going to make my own deadline! But then I sat down to write and this little bit of ridiculousness flowed onto the pages with very little effort. It’s not terribly spooky, but I hope you enjoy it anyway…
In other news, Happy Halloween, dear Reader! Check out our first-ever pumpkin carving attempt! The girls each picked a design and helped Derek where they could. I think they turned out rather well!
And now, for the story. Don’t forget to link to your own spooky stories HERE by the end of today (Oct. 31), and check out the other stories in the link-up. They’ve all been quite good.
It wanted to be a spooky story. Wanted it so very much. If wanting were enough, it would have been terrifying. It would have sent chills down your back just to look at the cover. It would have kept you awake all night with the lights on, peeping out from under your covers and praying for dawn. If wanting were enough.
As time passed, the book was checked out less and less frequently. Newer, more gripping tales were preferred, and so the book sat listlessly on the shelf, gathering dust, and wanting. Hungrily wanting.
Then, one day, the book found itself picked up once more, but no friendly face appeared above its pages. Instead it sat on a table and waited, a sticker pressed uncomfortably over its spine, a price marked upon it in black ink. As days passed, the sticker was covered with another and then yet another, and each time, the numbers on the sticker were smaller. And still the book sat and waited. Growing hungrier. And hungrier.
At long last, a new hand picked up the book. Unknown fingers eagerly paid the quarter the librarians had deemed the book was barely worth, and suddenly the story found itself shoved into a dark space, uncomfortably wedged between unfamiliar covers of other books.
The bonfire crackled, throwing sparks into the darkness and lending warmth to the chilly night air. A group of ten year olds gathered around the fire, laughing and toasting marshmallows. Two older girls were helping the kids with their s’mores.
When everyone was happily munching on their gooey, sticky, crumbly treats, one of the older girls pulled out a book and held it up.
“Who’s ready for a ghost story?” she asked in a high-pitched, wavery voice.
The kids grinned and nodded, their mouths too full of melted marshmallow and chocolate to respond loudly.
“All right.” The girl grinned and blew dust off the cover of the book. “This is one of my favorite stories from when I was about your age.”
One of the children raised a hand. “Yes, Lenora?”
“It’s not… too scary… is it?” the little girl asked timidly.
The older girl grinned evilly. “No, it’s not too scary, I PROMISE.” Then she chuckled. “No, Lenora, it’s not that scary at all.”
Lenora grinned and went back to working on her s’more.
The girl opened the pages of the book and began to read, her voice bringing the words of the book to life, painting pictures in the dancing flames for the children to see.
The book awoke.
It heard its words being read aloud. The whispers and gasps of children as they listened sent flutters of pleasure wafting through its heart. It felt the chill of the night air on its pages. And it wanted. It hungered. But wanting had never been enough.
The book rippled quietly in the girl’s hands as a log cracked and sent a shower of sparks flying into the air. The children screamed at the unexpected noise. One spark landed on the book’s page, another on the girl’s hand. It wasn’t hot enough to hurt, but the girl shrieked and flung her hand instinctively. The book sailed through the air and landed in the middle of the fire.
“Quick, save the book!” came a shout, but it was too late. Already the book’s pages were curling and turning to blackened soot. The fire licked at the dry kindling hungrily, as hungry as the book’s own yearning had been.
Sarah stared into the fire, watching as the book turned to ash.
“B… but… how does the story end?” one of the children asked in a timid voice. “Is the girl safe? Or does the ghost get her?”
Sarah turned to the children. “Oh, the girl isn’t safe. The girl is never safe,” she intoned in an eerie voice, “she disturbed a ghost, after all, she set it free. How can she ever be safe again?”
The children gasped and then giggled nervously.
“And so, you should never release a ghost,” Sarah continued, the firelight flickering across her face, telling the end of the story from memory.
“But she didn’t know there was a ghost,” one of the children protested. “So how do you know if you release one?”
“You’ll know because you’ll get the feeling that someone is watching you, someone you can never quite catch a glimpse of, no matter how quickly you look. And you’ll feel a chill running down your spine, like a drop of rain that drips inside your collar. Then you’ll know… you aren’t safe.” Sarah paused, the crackling of the fire and the distant hooting of an owl the only sounds in the darkness. “But of course, it’s just a story. You all know ghosts aren’t real, right?”
Later that night, the girl biked home. Her legs pumped in rhythm, her backpack slung over her shoulders carrying the remnants of the makings for the s’mores and other odds and ends she had brought with her. She paused at a corner and looked both ways before she crossed the street. A sudden chill shook her body and she shivered in the cool October air. The eerie feeling that she was not alone pressed against her, and her legs pumped up and down on her pedals a bit more rapidly than usual.
As she got to her house, the lights were on inside. She parked her bike in the garage and got a strange feeling that someone was watching her from out in the dark night. She glanced through the door quickly, but could not see anyone… or anything outside. Trying to shake off the sudden fear that clasped her in its arms, her hand pressed the garage door button a bit more quickly than usual.
“How was your campfire with the kids?” her mom asked as Sarah entered the living room. Her voice was so unexpected that Sarah jumped.
“It was really fun,” Sarah replied with a relieved sigh, chuckling ruefully. “I’m glad Emily and I volunteered to help out with the group this year.”
“They didn’t get too scared, did they?”
“I don’t think so,” Sarah said. “But I’m tired, I think I’m going to go to bed early.”
Sarah gave a half-hearted smile and retreated to her room.
It watched hungrily as the girl stood at the doorway, her hand hovering over the light switch. It could hear her heart pounding, the delicious sound of fear as her pulse raced and her breath came in short, shallow gasps. It could taste her hesitation, read in her darting eyes a reluctance to be alone, to be in the dark. She was right, the dark was a fearsome thing.
“Sarah, you’re being silly,” the girl said aloud, her voice shaky. “You know there’s no such things as ghosts.”
But there were.
And she knew it.
There in the dark, the thing watched her, savoring every shake, every shudder. It watched with malicious glee as the girl flipped off the switch and walked across the room with hurried little steps. It delighted as she threw herself under her covers. Its glee faded as she began to calm… the hunger reemerging, it was so hungry.
Slowly, ever so slowly, her heart stopped pounding and the girl began to relax. The blankets were warm and comforting and she snuggled deeper down into them. It had been a long night, she assured herself. The story she had told the children was getting to her, but it was only a story, and not even a very scary one, after all.
As she rolled over on her side, she felt again that someone was watching from just outside. Her eyes darted to the window, but nobody was there. Despite the warm covers, she felt a shiver run down her spine, like someone had spilled a drop of water down her collar.
A shriek erupted from her throat and she sat up, her gaze darting about the darkened room, but nothing was there. No sound disturbed the calm of her room, nothing but… was that a rustle of pages? The sound of a crackling fire? The lingering smell of smoke? Her heart sped up once more, throbbing in her ears as she tried to reason with herself and calm down.
The book felt a joy it had never experienced before.
Haunting was enough.