Ghost town tales: Garnet, Montana

One of my early experiences with the paranormal came from visiting a ghost town in the northwestern USA while on vacation. Now, you’d expect a ghost town to come with the prerequisite residual hauntings or at least a spooky outhouse. This town of Garnet, Montana had its share of rundown buildings as it nestled in a wee valley in the mountains. A gold mining town, it once held the riches of the mountain in its palm and miners flocked to pluck it from between the fingers of the hillside. It grew fat and rich for a time but when the gold ran out, so did the miners, leaving behind a hotel, a general store, small houses and large pockets dug into the nearby hills (plus the aforementioned spooky outhouses).

My family wandered through what was left of the town, along with other curious tourists, trying to get a sense of what it was like in its heyday. Imagining dirty, desperate men coming from inside a mountain wasn’t difficult, what remained of their cabins told the story better than any signage the BLM had provided. Ruined furniture, rusted pans left scattered about filthy cabins and the feeling of failure permeated the broken walls of the houses, why wouldn’t there be a haunting? It seemed as if that was all there ever was here.

I entered the hotel slowly. Once there was grandeur of sorts, now it looked like a woman ruined by too many men and not enough self-respect. Plaster flaked from the walls and heavy tables stood in the middle of the first floor dining room, looking strangely proud of weathering time and being able to show off their wounds left by drunken gunshots and the flying glass of old arguments. I followed my family upstairs to see the rooms. Plexiglas partitioned them off so you could peer inside but not enter. In some of the rooms, the windows were left bare, sunshine squeaked in through the dirty glass and fell onto beds salvaged from the hotel and covered with old quilts. In others, the windows were covered, dusty light shone through the boards that swallowed the glass. These rooms held what seemed to be 100-year-old garbage. It covered the floors and rose up the walls, it smelled like decay and made you want to turn away. I, naturally, couldn’t.

As I got closer, my heart started to beat louder in my ears and my nose started to twitch. I felt lightheaded and wanted to run. I poked my head into the room and at once felt something rushing towards me. I am not particularly psychic, just enough to know when to get the heck out of a place. If I could describe it, I’d say it was pain, screaming and confusion coming at me all at once. I backed away quickly and my investigational gene kicked in. I checked out the other rooms to see if I experienced any similar occurrences and casually asked my husband if he had seen anything out of the ordinary. This man is as intuitive as a brick. “Nothing that a Dustbuster couldn’t help…” he replied.

I knew what I had felt was unusual; I tested it again before we left the building. Again, my heart raced and my nose tingled but this time there was no attack of emotion towards me. I could feel that it sat huddled in the corner, amidst the rubbish and filth, and watched as I moved out of sight and down the stairs, escaping into the light.


Where the Shadows Lie

by Bill Mullis

Maybe it was the dark paneling in the den, or the way nobody went into the living room, or the long dark hallway that led to the bedrooms. Whatever it was, I hated Aunt Margie’s house. I couldn’t stand to be alone in any part of it, especially the hallway. On our annual visits, I would lay awake at night in Joanne’s room, watching the headlights from the highway play against the walls and ceiling, making monstrous shapes that never, ever were still.

On one of these visits – I must have been eight or nine – Grandma and Aunt Margie went into Columbia to do a little shopping, leaving Joanne, six months my junior, and me in the care of the two older boys, my heroes, while they cut what passed for grass.

The very air was baked, caught between the sunlight beating down from above and its reflection flailing from the white sand below. Jimmy and Bobby were covered in sweat and dust as they struggled with a machine that knew it was built for fescue and resented the scrub grass it was being applied to.

But it was cool on the porch, shaded as it was from the oppressive July sun. I played some silly game with Joanne, who was pretty cool for a girl. The game was interrupted by the sound of insulted machinery and teenage voices. Jimmy, who was old enough to drive a car, had a date, and had to know what time it was.

“I don’t know!” I yelled back.

“Go in and look at the clock!”

The door stood blank and incomprehensible. Beyond it lay an unfathomable dread that I had no words for. And my heroes had ordered me into that wrongness. They didn’t know. If they had ever felt what I felt, they had kept it very quiet. And so had I.

“I can’t tell time!” It was a blatant lie, and Jimmy knew it.

He turned off the lawnmower and leaned on the handle. “Fine. Go with Joanne and get the clock in Mom’s bedroom.”

Down by the bank Bobby was whipping a sling blade through waist-high scrub. Joanne put her doll down. “C’mon,” she said.

And because no boy wants to be called baby, I opened the door and crept into the den.

It was dark and cluttered, the single window having long since been replaced by an air conditioner. The dark paneling was interrupted by framed photographs and an ugly painting on the wall. Light from the kitchen window seeped through the gloom. I tiptoed through the den towards that light, afraid to disturb the darkness. Joanne followed sullenly behind.

Past the kitchen was the center of the house, where dining and living rooms met the bedroom hallway. I would have to go down that hallway. I paused to listen to the house breathe.

I’ve been in a lot of houses, some occupied, some empty. There’s a special feel about an empty house, a waiting expectancy, a space to be filled. There’s another feel in a lived-in house, where the very walls take on the personality of the occupants. This house had neither. There was a whole complete family here, and the house, built expressly for that very family, cared not a whit for any of them. It was dead. And a dead house is fundamentally wrong. I stood there in its very center. The air was thick, pressing around me like hatred, and I hated it back.

I tiptoed down the middle of the corridor, unable to breathe in the absolute stillness. As I passed the room the boys shared I peered into the open door and saw little except a teenagers’ mess and the translucent white rectangle of the curtained window beyond.

The short stretch between that bedroom and the end of the hallway was the longest distance I ever had to creep. The mean little bathroom stood off to the left, in an alcove perfect for lurking. Then there was the end, a dead end, and Aunt Margie’s room on the right.

My hand closed around the portable alarm clock by the bed, and what little thought I had left disappeared. I had a visceral need to be quit of the place. Not caring if Joanne was with me, I quick stepped out into the dark oppression, held my breath, and headed toward the kitchen light.

As I passed the boys’ room I glanced into it for the comfort of the white-curtained rectangle of sun.

And screamed.

The window was still there, but in front of it now was a shadow, a deep miasmic darkness that was worse than if the window had not been there. Through it I could make out the dim sunlight, and around it the curtains glowed with the sun. And though I saw no head, arms, or legs, there was the unmistakable, deep-rooted conviction that it was a man. The malevolence was palpable and threatening.

I screamed again and broke into a full, flat-out run. Behind me I heard Joanne scream and felt her rushing behind me.

I was still screaming when we hit sunlight. Jimmy stopped the mower and caught me, and Bobby came up from the road, still clutching the sling blade. He took the sling blade and went in to see what was there, while Jimmy calmed me down. Joanne said she didn’t see anything; she’d screamed because I’d screamed.

Bobby came out and swore there was nothing in the window. They carried me back in, to show them; and all I could see in the window was curtains.

Forty-five years later, the house is still there, and Aunt Margie still lives in it. Her family still gathers there on holidays. Nobody ever died there; no curse follows its occupants.

A few years ago I drove past it on the way to somewhere else.

I didn’t stop.

Bill Mullis lives in the South Carolina Upstate, in a house devoid of wee ghosties, perhaps because it’s overrun with Labs. You can keep up with him on the Captain’s Log feature at Mind Over Mullis


The Writing in the Mirror

I’m the kind of person who can’t watch a scary movie without tucking the comforter under my feet when I go to sleep for fear the monsters under my bed will gnaw off my toes. Walking out of a dark room also proves itself as a form of entertainment for anyone else in attendance as I inch my way away from the bogeyman hiding in the shadows. He’s never actually reached out and dragged me back into the darkness, mind you, but that’s only because I’m so vigilant.  I mean, how’s he going to surprise me if I’ve trained myself not to blink as I dart my eyes back and forth while keeping my back pressed to the wall until I’ve made it to the stairs and run like a crazy woman while everyone laughs at me?

I’m also the kind of woman who isn’t ashamed to admit I saw a ghost once or that my grandmother smiled at me when I gave her a kiss in her casket. The ghost we call Fred and my in-laws believe he came with the property. He wears a Fedora and a suit and his tie is undone and only shows up to let you know he’s still around. The smile happened when I was six and I thought my grandmother was sleeping and I didn’t understand why everyone was crying. When it was time to go, my mother lifted me up as I requested so I could kiss her and when my lips touched her cheek, she did what she usually did when I kissed her in her sleep and I left the funeral home content in the knowledge that she loved me. 

The point is that I’m a believer. I’m not sure if it’s my open mind or my writer’s imagination or some combination of the two, but when the hair stands up on the back of my neck, I listen. And I can guarantee you that I would not be the chick trying to make my dramatic escape from the ax-wielding maniac while in my high heels if I was a character in a horror movie. I’m not an amateur, you know.

So when I found myself waiting for my boyfriend to come home because my key wouldn’t let me unlock the front door, my first thought (naturally) was that the house was possessed and the evil spirit residing in the home we shared with my future brother-in-law just didn’t want me there. This line of thinking was only reinforced when my boyfriend came home, laughed at me because he thought I had forgotten my house key, and quickly unlocked the door. I let it go the first time it happened, hoping it had just been a fluke, but the next day I found myself on the front porch again furiously trying to make the key work before I had to explain to anyone outside of my own head that I was afraid we were going to have to call in a priest. This time, my boyfriend’s brother rescued me as he let us both in upon his arrival from work. Obviously, the evil spirit in residence only had a problem with me. I was relieved. That meant no one else was in danger.

I was jumpy and hyper vigilant when home alone, always waiting for something to reach out in the darkness. I tried convincing myself it was just new house nervousness. I hadn’t even familiarized myself with the layout enough to not walk into a wall on the way to the bathroom at night yet, so maybe I was just over-reacting? But this theory fell by the wayside as I stood in the bathroom one night, drying off after a hot shower. At first I thought I was imagining things. I wasn’t really seeing letters forming in the steamy mirror, was I? I froze. I may have blinked a few times. And when I opened my eyes the last time, I almost screamed.

“Get Out,” was now clearly written on the mirror. I ran, naked and terrified, across the hall and into the room to wake up my sleeping boyfriend to tell him we had to move and we had to move now before anything terrible happened. I told him that something didn’t want me there and wouldn’t let my key unlock the door there was something evil here and to go look at the mirror. So he did.

And that’s when he started to laugh.

“You need to come see this,” he choked out when he could speak again. I found him in front of the mirror where the words “When you get out of the shower, please make sure to clean up after yourself,” greeted me on the mirror. It had been a household reminder from his brother, written in dry-erase marker and wiped off with a napkin. Obviously, not well enough. The residue from the marker had blocked the condensation from forming where the letters had been, allowing the words to slowly reappear as if written by invisible fingers.

“But..but…how do you explain the key? Something doesn’t want me here!” I insisted. 

He didn’t answer. My boyfriend simply grabbed my hand, led me into the bedroom, and handed me the shiny new key he had left for me on the dresser that I had forgotten to put on my key ring.


Courting Poe

By Jason Tudor

Slumped in the plastic cafeteria seating of the Deep Space Communications Station Maupassant, Yeoman Bierce slurped in the last minutes of oxygen swirling around him. Each gulp of air ground against the walls of his throat rasping like sandpaper against pine, the sawdust collecting in his lungs. The final moments of the dying station’s generator power provided lighting from the few LED bulbs that weren’t shattered or smeared dark.

Maupassants compliment of 213 communications technicians and naval officers fell when a virus sudden and quick invaded and buzz-sawed through them. Outside making repairs to a long-range radio antenna, Bierce watched for hours through one of the station’s windows as germs exploded and swarmed crew members like a fierce hornets from their nest. They ran around, screaming in terror though Bierce heard nothing  … and could do nothing. To stay alive, he huddled outside the station. Eventually, as the oxygen supply in his suit weaned off, he knew he would have to go inside where he would have to take off his helmet.

In a cruel twist, he was not infected. Instead, he waited alone amongst ravaged bodies strewn like rag dolls. Hours turned to days. The stench of rotted flesh pushed through every air duct. Silence.  Moreover, there was the unfortunate notion that there would be no resupply shuttle. Still incoming message traffic told Bierce that Naval Command knew of the Maupassant’s fate. Assuming all had been lost, Navy decided to let the station die, a process done remotely and taking less than 48 hours. Days turned to weeks. Air thin, food eaten and only minutes of life left for the once vibrant military post, Bierce whimpered.

Then, something quiet; a shimmering light in his peripheral vision cast against the frost -covered station windows; something pleasant above the gore. Moaning through the pain, he turned his head to see its full resplendence, and sat awed.

Crewman Poe. Bierce managed a smile. He always held a fondness for Poe. Stunning blue eyes. Curling, shiny red hair. Thin fingers and wrists. Soft, unintended touches across communications consoles and repair stations. Seven light years from Earth, the compliment split 70-30 favoring the men. Space stations, despite their technological marvels, were cramped, logistical tea kettles. Intimacy and kindness came in short quantity, often sneaked in uncomfortable places at awkward moments.  He now wished that he had acted more boldly, recalling his timidity on so many accounts.

No matter. All of that corporeal … gone. What remained of Poe – what the disease decided it would leave behind -- lie two meters from the heels his blood-stained boots, mouth agape, her last look a frightened, sad one, piled amongst the bacteria-riddled corpses of his comrades. So, seeing her blurred, sad smile glimmering in this spectral light before him gave him both peace -- and worry.

Eventually, the spirit circled and settled before him. He squinted, trying to better make out her face.

“You died unhappily,” he croaked, air becoming harder and harder to find.

“I’m happy now.” Her voice soothed him, like hot chocolate solving chills.

“Where are you?”

“Here. With you.”

“I mean … are you … in heaven?”

“I came back to help you.”

“I wish you’d come sooner. We could have …” he strained to raise his arm and wave it around, “… fixed the station.” He laughed. He didn’t mean that. A tear dribbled down his cheek. “I don’t want to die.”

“I brought you something.” The apparition shifted its form. A small picture frame fell into Bierce’s lap. He turned it over. A beautiful color photograph Bierce and Poe at one of the station’s off-duty functions. Bierce shot the photo himself by sticking out his arm and turning the camera to face them both. Both smiled wildly, looking like freshmen at a Friday night frat party.

“I don’t remember ever shooting … did we … ?”

“This was my favorite,” she interrupted. “It reminds me of how happy we were.”

Bierce’s slid his index finger across the smooth glass over Poe’s face. “We were? You’re so pretty. I wish I had … had …”

“Had what?” The form stirred and moved closer.

Bierce strained extending a hand. Ethereal glimmering tendrils spiraled toward and wrapped around it. He shivered as it entered him, something visceral and codifying. His mouth opened, his back arched and every memory from his birth to now charged into his consciousness. In his mind, the cacophony of recalled sensations played in a colorful, confusing diorama reaching zenith on something near sexual and then careening into the sad as the sensations wound back to the reality of his demise, his weakened shell slouching back in the cafeteria chair.

He drew his hand away from the spirit. Bierce sat for a moment collecting his thoughts again. As he did, the last of the LEDs burned out and the Maupassant went dark. Poe’s fluid visage remained the only light in the room, staring at him as he faded in and out. He wasn’t sure what to say. He spat out the first thing that came to mind.

“What’s heaven like?”

She weighed her response. “Remember that moment we shared. Your hands were warm. Your lips, succulent. My heart almost beat out of my chest. Do you remember?”

“I don’t … warm …?”

“Heaven,” she purred, “is that.”

“When … ?”

“I’ve done what I came to do. I’m being called back now. I’ll miss you.”

With a sad smile, the specter dissipated. Bierce drew a breath, clutched the picture frame and chased after her.

Jason Tudor is a writer and illustrator. He is also the creator and co-host of the Science Fiction Show, a weekly podcast delving into all things Science Fiction in entertainment, books and other media. It’s fun and funny, and you can subscribe to it on iTunes or through the web site at www.myscifishow.com. He can also be found at www.jasontudor.com

Image courtesy Narrenkoenig of DeviantArt


Zombie and Ghost Cake Pops

by Lisa Dovichi

I’m going to just come right out and say it. I’m a sucker for baking.
And anytime Nearly 4ft has a school function that requires baked good donations, I’m the first mom on the sign up sheet -- as a matter of fact as soon as I hear about a function, I e-mail the head cheese and ask if they need any baked good donations. Well there’s a Halloween Bazaar coming up and sure enough they need donations for a cake walk -- anything Halloween themed.
I’m also going to just come right out and say I’m a competitive over achiever. So the idea of blending in with all the other cupcakes covered in black and orange sprinkles or plastic spider and skull rings stuck in them is unacceptable. I got to thinking, “What could I do that would be fun, have kids wanting mine first, and not cost a small fortune in showing up the other parents?” (Yes, I’m that competitive.)
Halloween Cake Pops!
I’ve never actually done cake pops before but have wanted to for awhile now. The Halloween Bazaar isn’t until the 28th of October and I figured I needed a test run to make sure they would be as awesome in real life as they are in my head. Let me sum up with saying: They are MORE awesome in real life. The cake is moist and decadent, the candy coating is delicious, and they are so much FUN to make!
Try them out for yourself!
Spooky Treats -- Zombie and Ghost Cake Pops
Things you will need:
Lollipop sticks
Parchment paper
A Block of Styrofoam
Edible Ink Pens
Decorating Plastic Squeeze Bottles
1 box of cake mix (any flavor)
1 16 0z. can of frosting (any flavor)
Candy Melts (green and white)
1.)    Make the cake mix according to the directions for a 13x9 sheet. Let cool completely, remove any crunchy crusty pieces, and then crumble into a large bowl.

2.)    Add in 1 can of frosting and with a big spoon mash and mix it all together until its well blended.

3.)    Line a cookie sheet with parchment and roll the cake/frosting dough (will be sticky) into the shapes and put on the cookie sheet. Ghosts are cones and Zombies are squares. Stick them in the freezer so the shape will set. (I froze mine for a couple of hours) Depending on the size of your cake shapes you should get at least 40 to 50.

4.)    Melt Candy Melts in a microwave safe bowl for 30 seconds at a time -- stirring between times until melted. (Microwaves vary -- mine took a minute to melt an entire bag of Candy Melts). 

5.)    One at a time -- dip the tip of a lollipop stick in the melted candy and then insert the stick into the bottom of a cake shape. Gingerly dip the cake into the melted candy, rotate until fully covered, and then gently tap the sides of the bowl with the stick (while still rotating) to get the excess candy off.

6.)    Stick into a block of Styrofoam and let the candy harden.

7.)    For Ghosts -- after the candy has hardened take edible markers and draw on the ghostly faces. 

8.)    For Zombies -- Make eyes by taking some white melted Candy Melts and pouring it into a squeeze bottle. On a cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper, make little candy “dots” and stick them in the freezer to set. Use green melted Candy Melts in a squeeze bottle as “glue” for the eyes. After the candy has hardened take edible markers and draw on the eyeballs and the mouth. 

9.)    Voila! Delicious Spooky Treats!
Lisa Dovichi is cackling over her cauldron knowing that you'll become the next addict to Cake Pops. When she's not evilly plotting to take over the world with baked goods, she is a cover artist for Musa Publishing, a writer, and a web designer.


The Vestibule

by Jennifer L. Caddell

The pull was excruciatingly long. It felt like thousands of minibots were invading his body and tugging on every organ, every nerve, even every follicle of hair with needle like talons; trying desperately to pull them through his flesh an into the oblivion beyond. He wanted to scream at the dark but he couldn’t, not when his breath was being sucked from his lungs.

Then, everything stopped.

The pulling, the tingling, everything ended immediately and he gasped for air. He tried to focus his eyes on the figures before him but they where merely ghostly blurs of light and dark shadows fading in and out of his vision. They would not come into focus. But the figures saw him. He knew that instantly when they began to shout at him. They were alarmed by his presence and it didn’t take long for the figures to throw objects at him. The objects didn’t hurt though. They seemed to sail right through him, but the shouting, that hurt. He couldn’t understand what they were saying, they all sounded as though they were underwater, but the noise was so amplified, it shook his ears and his head was ready to bust apart from the sound waves reverberating in his skull. He ran away from the blurred crowd, he didn’t care which direction he ran since nothing seemed to be in his way. He ran through walls, through fences, even through other people until he was once more yanked back into that excruciating pull. The imaginary minibots invaded his body again and all the visions and the shouting figures disappeared. The shadows replaced them with darkness. Once more, he couldn’t breathe until it was over.

The experience never got easier. Every time was just as painfully long as the last. Every damn time it was like this. But he knew he would put himself through it again, and again, because it was a small price to pay for genius.

Eventually the pull faded from his body and the darkness once again faded from his vision. However, instead of seeing blurred figures, he saw a familiar woman peeking at him with a documentation tablet in her hand. She was smiling.

“Well, anything different happened?” The woman was wearing an ancient looking dress, complete with bustle under her stark white lab coat. A wireless communicator was embedded in her forearm. The flashing lights on the communicator told him she had three messages waiting for her, but he also knew she had a habit of ignoring incoming calls.

It took him a moment to shake the nausea from his mind and gut. He tried to step forward but had to brace himself inside the metal vestibule. Lights along the sides of the walls flickered out as the machine shut down.

“No, nothing different.” He managed to crumple into a chair beside the machine. “The same thing, every time. It is always the same exact reaction.”

“Could you at least hear what they were saying?” She handed him a metal bowl and although his stomach turned, he denied the bowl.

“Nope. Just the same reverberating speech.”

Disappointment wavered for a moment across her face before she smiled again.

“I think I know what will work this time.”

“I am not going back through that again today.”

“I’ll do it.” She began to take her lab coat off. “This time, I am going to use one of these primitive hearing aids.” She held a small flesh colored device in her hand and inserted it in her ear.

“It not only amplifies sound, it also filters out sound waves from extraneous noise. I believe it helped people during that millennia to focus on a single sound wave, for example one person’s voice in a crowd.” She paused before entering the vestibule.

"I'd be willing to try anything now." He said while rubbing his own ringing ears.

“See you when I get back.” She squeezed into the vestibule making sure every bit of her dress was tucked safely inside. Once she was ready, he closed the door and flipped the switch. The familiar high whine of the engine’s magnetic turbine vibrated in his ears and his brain. If he kept this up, he would need one of those archaic hearing aides…indefinitely.

The flash of light signaled she had vanished inside. He peered into the small peephole window just to be sure she was gone before opening the vestibule’s doors again. Then he waited while listening to the whine of the engine and making further notes in the documentation tablet. After ten minutes, the shadows of her skirt could be seen reappearing on the floor of the vestibule, then the faded image of her continued to strengthen until she was back to a solid form. She looked ill, but she was also smiling.

“Well?” He asked while grabbing the nearby bowl.

“It worked.” She managed the words just before emptying her stomach into the bowl.


“I heard them as plain as I can hear you.” She threw up again, but still managed a smile.


“Well, I could hear exactly what they were saying. It was the same word over and over. However, I have never heard this word before, and I’ll need to look it up.” She set the bowl down and slowly walked over to the data base system.

“What were they saying?” His curiosity peaked with excitement. Hearing their words was a HUGE step in their research. He was thrilled.



“Yes, ghost.” She typed the word into the database.

“What is a ghost?”

“According to the database, centuries ago civilizations thought a ghost was a spirit or soul of the dead that stayed visible to those who were still living.”

He furrowed his brows, “Um… ok. So what is a spirit or a soul?”

“I have no idea. I’ll need to look that up too.”

Jennifer L. Caddell is a published science fiction short story writer who is currently writing her first book in a space trilogy. Jennifer lives in the wet and wonderful Pacific Northwest with her superhero husband, stellar children, and two crazy chickens. Come and check her out at http://jcaddell.wordpress.com


A Smurfy Package

by Melanie Hooyenga

Halloween is one of the few holidays where creativity is encouraged and pointing and laughing by others is not only considered to be a good thing, it's the ultimate goal. Having been the center of more than my share of jokes (tripping over thin air tends to draw attention) I get a thrill in that breath of a moment between first glance and the spark of understanding that crosses a person's face when they behold my creation.

Armed with the skills acquired in an eighth-grade home economics class, I've turned myself into a flamingo (two pink feather boas and a box of safety pins that didn't stay closed nearly as well as advertised), Wilma Flintstone (red beehive wig, white Styrofoam balls, and a dress I literally sewed myself into), Little Sprout (felt, nylons, felt, felt, and more green paint than will ever come in contact with my face again), and a blow-up doll (best comment from a fellow partygoer: How'd you get out from under my bed?), but the costume that drew more snickering than I anticipated goes back to my college days:


Between my long blond hair, somewhat capable sewing skills, and a plethora of bright blue clothing at my disposal, I figured I could whip together a costume after class and still make it to happy hour on time.

The hat was easy: white knit cap with enough extra material on top to list gently to one side. Earrings? White plastic shower rings ripped from my roommate's bathroom. Add a pair of blue leggings, white socks, and god-awful white pumps I borrowed from some fashion-disaster down the hall and all I had left was the dress.

This is where my creativity shined.

After cutting the sleeves of a men's undershirt, I pondered the flimsy shirt pooled on the table. The lack of shape and quasi-transparent material seemed a stretch from the overly-starched dress sported by the Smurfette in my youth.

Solution? A wire hanger, unraveled and sewn into the hem of the shirt. The metal hoop kept the "dress" from clinging to my legs and hid the fact that if you looked closely you could probably see my Smurfs.

I headed to the party arm-in-arm with my roommate, ready to dazzle the drunks at my boyfriend's fraternity party, certain they would all be amazed by my ability to turn a few items from my closet into a cartoon masterpiece. Things went as expected for the first hour — me charming and gracious while accepting glowing praise — but then one boy stumped me.

"Where are the other two?" he asked.

"What other two?"

"The other two condoms. Three-pack, right?"

Yes folks, in the dark, black-lit basement, all people could see were my white "rimmed" dress and floppy hat, complete with a reservoir tip.

Never one to let a miscommunication ruin my evening, I strutted my stuff, lamented the early demise of my partners, and managed to win best costume.

Melanie Hooyenga is a salsa dancing graphic designer writing her way to publication. When not chasing her Miniature Schnauzer in circles around the living room, she’s dodging woodland creatures who insist on swooping in front of her car. She’s still looking for a costume idea and asks that you send suggestions to @melaniehoo.

Find Melanie on a regular basis at Hoosblog.


Handyman’s Special

by Patti Wigington

The house sat waiting, and watching.

It had been a good two decades since anyone had dared set foot within, and the house was getting lonely. The last people to inhabit it had left long ago, fleeing in the middle of the night, taking only the clothes they had worn to bed and nothing more. Their name had been Olsen. Before the Olsens, there had been the Romaletti family. They had fled in the night too, sometime in the spring of 1991, as had the Cosgrays and the DeLaHoyas before them. But despite the influx and subsequent rapid outflux of Olsens, Romalettis, Cosgrays and DeLaHoyas, Geigers and Terhunes, and even a solitary Smythe, everyone in town called it the Winter House.

It sat high on a hill above the town of East Liberty (there was no West Liberty), a silent and crumbling sentinel on two acres of overgrown brush. The front porch had collapsed on one side, giving the house an off-center appearance, like an old man after a stroke. The windows had long since been broken out by teenagers brave enough to throw rocks but not quite daring enough to open the doors. On the right side of Winter House, a squared-off turret rose to meet torn and tattered shingles, many of which had been scattered by the four winds. The red paint hadn’t been touched up since the Cosgrays bought the place in 1979, and the wrought iron of the widow’s walk hung down like sharp black teeth.

On the east side of the hill, a small cemetery overgrown with magnolias lay. The main crypt held the mortal remains of old Josiah Winter, who had built the place during the Civil War (or as the locals would have it, the Late Unpleasantness). Josiah had met an early demise when it was discovered that the slaves he claimed had run away had in fact been cooked and eaten by Josiah and his family.

Back in the 1920s, one of the grandsons of Josiah Winter decided he should restore their ancestral home to its former glory. The grandson, one Hubert Winter, had made a great deal of money in stocks, and spent a significant amount of it on chandeliers, champagne, and fancy cars. For four glorious years, Winter House was once again a place where the upper echelon of East Liberty’s society came to hobnob with one another. At least, until the night when Hubert Winter hacked his wife and their three children to death with a garden scythe, and then flung himself headfirst from the widow’s walk into the concrete driveway below.

Down on South Grant Street, what was left of the driveway coasted down the hill to the road, where a simple chain provided a barrier between the house and the rest of the world. And yet, that barrier was merely a chain with a faded “No Trespassing” sign dangling from it, not a fence or a wall, and so occasionally, people managed to find their way in.

Far less occasionally, they found their way back out.

East Liberty had, like many small towns, its share of drifters. Transients came in, seeing East Liberty as a nice place to stop for a while. The climate was good most of the year, and folks were friendly. If someone happened to wander into town, a rucksack on his back and looking as though he needed a shave and a hot meal, everyone knew to send them on down to the South Avenue Church, where Reverend Delbert and his flock would make sure they had dinner and a bed for the night. If they were interested in doing a bit of labor for their keep, they could earn a few dollars by sweeping out the VFW hall.

And on their way back out of town, headed west, inevitably the drifters would move down South Grant Street. The soft and lush growth of the azaleas would call to them as they passed Winter House, the smell of lilacs in the air even during the cold months. Any wanderer with a sense of adventure would ignore that chain completely, pushing it aside, climbing over it or under it, and eventually make their way up the driveway.

It was often noted, with some degree of satisfaction, by town elders, that transients never stayed long in East Liberty. They were always gone by the next day. This made everyone happy, especially Mayor Titus Meador, whose wife Lois had a thriving business as a realtor. In fact, no one was as thrilled as Mayor Meador the day that Lois got a thick package via certified mail, full of notarized papers with signatures she had trouble reading. Because despite Lois’ inability to make heads or tails of who was authorizing it, she had enough of presence of mind to know that she had just been offered the chance of a lifetime, to list the Winter House for sale.

Lois happily made her way to South Grant Street to pound the blood-red “For Sale” sign into the ground at the foot of the cracked driveway. She even drove up to the house for a quick look and to take a few exterior photos, which would come in handy when she marketed the house at a low price as a handyman’s special. In fact, everyone in town was pleased when they saw Lois’ sign.

After all, Winter House was waiting, and watching.

And it was hungry.

Image credit: aishagrace.wordpress.com


The Ghost of the White Masque

by Amy Mullis

When I was a kid, other children were forbidden to run with scissors or guzzle
strychnine. I was forbidden to watch Dark Shadows or Alfred Hitchcock movies.

My parents instituted these rules out of self-preservation. A scary commercial or two and
I would hide all the knives in the house to prevent passing marauders or random serial
killers from dropping in to decapitate me. For weeks after, nobody could make a

But it took more than a set of unsupportive parents to hold me back. I had the entire
collection of Agatha Christie murder mysteries on a bookshelf in my room. And the
folks always went out on Saturday night. It was their date night.

*Cue scary Psycho music*

One Saturday evening, after sloshing through a particularly delicious parade of Christie-wrought bodies, complete with a psychopathic grandmotherly-type poisoner, I stayed up to catch an old Alfred Hitchcock film with my sister. This particular sister was a troll when it came to sharing a bedroom, but her willingness to let me stay up to watch a forbidden flick was endearing. I was 12 and able to take care of any threatening
circumstances that should arise.

On a totally unrelated note, I’d been watching Dark Shadows every afternoon, an activity
banned by my mother, who was a coward. But just now she was off munching movie
popcorn somewhere with Dad, and Alfred Hitchcock ruled our black-and-white airwaves.
At 11:00 the movie wound down and I glanced nonchalantly under the couch cushions
for drooling monsters. I headed to my safe, comfortable bed, but was delayed by a sudden

I had to go to the bathroom. I had to go with that special urgency that could resolve itself
upon sudden contact with the undead.

There were two doors into the bathroom, and only one of them had a lock. The other lead
to the kitchen. I slunk past axe murderers peering in the kitchen windows and
disappeared into the bathroom. My sister sighed and used the kitchen sink to wash her

I didn’t know she used Noxema.

If you’ve never witnessed the Cold Cream Face, just imagine a cross between the Joker
and Ghosbuster’s Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. After the meltdown. Then throw in a
touch of Frankenstein’s finest for good measure.

I peered out of the bathroom door to make sure the path toward the bedroom was safe,
and clear of homicidal maniacs. I couldn’t help but notice that a bizarre form had
possessed my sister’s body and was staring at me from a pasty white face. To an
impressionable young girl pursued by serial killers, a female with a face full of Noxema
is as close to zombie as she’s likely to get; especially if it’s a sister who’s stingy about
sharing her room.

I screamed.

The face screamed, the horrible white skin cracking around terrible dark eyes. Luckily I
was holding my belt, a fashionable white number typical of the 1970’s, with double rows
of metal eyelets.

A weapon! Slinging the belt like a whip, I attacked the alien form. It screamed louder.
So did I. If any old deranged alien zombie swamp monster thought it could pass me on
lung power, it was mistaken.

“It’s me!” screamed the deranged alien zombie swamp monster.

“AAAAIIIIIEEEEE!” I answered, wielding the belt with ferocity and a certain amount of

There’s a little dance that generally accompanies the shrieks of a terror-stricken belt
wielder. Although it is difficult to describe without a visual demonstration, aficionados
of the horror genre or random passers by with even a brief familiarity of the work of Mr.
Hitchcock can appreciate the steps.

The monster lunged at me, hideous hands outstretched. It spoke. “It’s me. It’s ME!”

The monster had taken over my sister’s body. And it was after mine.

I did the dance. I screamed louder. I beat the air with enough fervor to split atoms.
The monster began to laugh. It called my name. I’m pretty sure it wet its pants.

At some point, it occurred to me that if a zombie was going to eat my brains, it would get
the matter over with instead of convulsing in snorting heaves on the kitchen floor. I
screamed slower, paused in the belt buckle aerobics, and studied the situation.
Sis was leaning against the kitchen sink, holding her sides while she laughed and thought
up ways to use the whole episode against me.

“It’s Noxema!” she snorted, wiping the white cream with a tissue. “You should have
seen the look on your face. I’ve never seen anyone so scared.”

There’s a moment directly following total humiliation when you try to salvage any shreds
of dignity that may be wisping by like cobwebs. Chin up, I headed toward my room.

“Too bad you can’t tell anyone.”

“And why not?” Noxema zombies don’t take direction well.

“Because Mom will know you let me watch Alfred Hitchcock. You’ll be twenty years
past the Pond’s Seven Day Beauty Plan before you’re allowed to watch television again.”

She snorted one last time and turned her back.

And that’s how I got a room of my own.

Amy Mullis hides from Things That Go Bump In The Night at her blog, Mind over Mullis.

Join her there to munch chocolate chip cookies and swap stories. The scariest stories
involve teaching the kids to drive.


Highway Robbery

by Terri Coop

I saw the white flash just a moment before the collision reverberated through the car and sent my
Doritos and ice tea flying.

What the hell was that?

Grabbing a flashlight, I got out to check for damage.

Not even a dent.

Walking down the road looking for a wounded animal, I saw nothing save a few scraps of litter around a signpost and my tire tracks in the gravel. Turning the beam onto the sign, I laughed.

“Hey, Wolfman! It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the House of Screams. Gave me nightmares for a month. Glad to see you’re such a responsible corporate citizen.” The tension relieved, I looked at my watch just as the numbers turned over to midnight.

I heard rustling and panned the flashlight toward the sound. Hands, dozens of them, skittered along the roadway. Some picked up bits of paper and others smoothed out the gravel.

This is insanity. I’m asleep or unconscious from the crash, I thought, backing away. I caught a whiff of cold rot and an icy hand grabbed my wrist. Raising my eyes, I saw a nightmare. The wrecked mouth moved in a chant while the dead eyes looked to the moon. She tightened her grip on my wrist and I saw a bracelet on her arm glow, disappear, and reappear on my arm. Then, with what looked like a smile, she dissolved into mist. The hands retreated into the night, leaving me alone on the side of the road.

“Well, that’s ten bucks I lost.”

In the dark silence, the cultured voice sounded like thunder. I turned and saw a slender well-dressed
man in the shadows.

“Let me introduce myself. Call me . . . “


“Ah, you flatter me. Glad to see I’m recognized. Welcome to the staff of the House of Screams. I can’t believe you fell for Lila’s stunt. Most people don’t swerve. They run her down and keep going. But, you...” his voice trailed away as he pointed up the road.

My eyes followed his gesture and a veil of ice descended over me. My car was wrapped around the tree. Smoke crept out from underneath and through the window I could see a figure slumped over the wheel.



I dropped to my knees waiting for tears that didn’t come.

“Yes, you are quite dead and the dead don’t cry, so stop trying. And Lila was able to bind your soul when you went for a stroll, meaning that you took her place. This section of road now belongs to you. Stand up and meet your crew.”

Realization dawned in my soul. It wasn’t cold that I felt, it was lack of heat. I exhaled and saw no vapor cloud. I touched my hand and felt the smooth cool sensation of a marble statue. A noise interrupted my musing. The rustle of hundreds of hands dropping from the trees and emerging
from the weeds.

“Ah, here they are. Ready to get to work. I’ll cut you some slack tonight because you are new. However, from now on I expect this mile to be spotless.”

“Or what? You’ll kill me?” I said, watching what looked like my own blood trickling from a wound in my chest.

Wolfman came close enough for me to smell his warm fetid breath. As I watched, two tendrils of his
breath formed into small snarling beasts.

“Mocking me is a poor choice.”

Despite my new cold countenance, I drew back. Instinctively, I knew I didn’t want to press the matter.

“Smart girl. There are things worse than death. Now, I need to get back to the House of Screams. I have a show to organize. After you prove yourself, feel free to ask for an audition. You are a lovely thing and Marie Antoinette is starting to get a bit . . . um . . . scruffy.”

“What? Those were real ghosts?”

“Of course. Anyone can use projections. However, the real ones are so much scarier. You, yourself said you had nightmares for a month. Music to my ears. However, you need to get to work. First order of business is to clean up that mess,” he said, looking toward what was left of my car.

“What do I do?”

“Just tell them what you want. They are quite well trained,” he said, disappearing into the night.

I looked down. For a moment I had forgotten the hands. Row upon row of white hands. Not knowing
what else to do, I pointed and said, “Go on.”

The hands moved as one, swarming over the wreck, dragging and pushing it into the underbrush.
Dozens more followed picking up glass and smoothing out the ruts. Watching my body sink into its final resting place, I felt nothing. I belonged to the night now and I had work to do. This section of road wasn’t going to clean itself.

Terri Lynn Coop is a lawyer and writer who just scared herself. She’ll never drive Route 171 into Joplin again after dark. Come keep her company at http://www.whyifearclowns.net


The Vanishing

by Kathy Tirrell

Hi there. My name is Janet. I’ve always been a sensitive sort of girl. In fact, a psychic once said I have a light blue aura surrounding me. I did a little research and found out that means I am keenly sensitive, which just confirms what I already knew.

Anyway, about a year ago, I fell in love with this married guy at work named Johnny. We spent a lot of time together, working on projects, and there was plenty of flirting, but no actual affair. However innocent the whole thing may have been for him, it was dead serious to me. I found myself constantly thinking about him and fantasizing about his big strong arms wrapped around me at night.

I had a friend at work named Molly who was totally into candle magic, witchcraft, and all things paranormal. So one day over lunch I brought up something I’d been pondering.

“So listen,” I began. “If someone wanted to make a certain someone fall in love with her, how might she do that?”

Molly nearly choked on her sandwich.

“Are you serious?”

“I’m dead serious.”

“You want to try to make someone fall in love with you?”

“I didn’t say I was talking about me, but either way, can it be done?”

Molly dabbed her mouth with a napkin and contemplated the question. “There are all sorts of spells. I know a candle magic spell you could try, but I can’t guarantee it will work. And I should warn you, it’s probably not a good idea for you to even try it.”

“Why not?”

“Well, it has to do with the idea of messing with free will. What if the guy doesn’t want to fall in love with you? If you’re trying to put a spell on him, he might try to fight it. Or…I don’t know, it might have very negative consequences.”

“I want to do it. Please? Could you write down the steps for me?”

Molly heaved a heavy sigh and said, “Sure. I’ll write down what you have to do and give it to you today before we go home.”

That night I set up 7 red candles in a row on my bedroom bureau. Red was supposed to be the color for passion; I figured that was close enough to love. The idea was to start out with the lighted candles spaced a couple of inches apart, then each night I was supposed to move them closer and closer until at the end of the week they were all touching. I also made up a little chant to say while I lit the candles. It went like this: “Johnny and Janet are too far apart; let them grow closer and closer in heart.”

And I’d fall asleep each night dreaming of Johnny.

On the last night of that week around midnight, wanting to ensure Johnny would fall madly in love with me, I took out a photo of him I’d clipped from our newsletter at work. It was a small picture I could easily fit in the palm of my hand.

Clasping the photo tightly between my hands, I rubbed it in a circular motion while chanting my little love mantra. I did this for a couple of minutes, really concentrating on Johnny and then, all of a sudden, I’m not kidding, the photo…

Vanished! I swear to God, it vanished into thin air. I searched all around the room, everywhere I could possibly look, but that photo was gone.

When I finally mustered enough of my sanity back, I grabbed my cell phone and punched in Molly’s number.

“Hu--lllo,” came her half-asleep voice.

Talking really fast and probably sounding hysterical, I explained to her what had just happened.

“Holy crap!” Molly sounded wide awake now.

“Yeah, really! So how do you explain this? What does it mean?”

Molly exhaled into the phone.

“It means… somebody or some thing does NOT want you getting involved with this guy.”

Needless to say I quickly got over my fascination with Johnny. But that picture of him has never reappeared again.

Kathy Tirrell loves ghost stories and lots of other kinds of stories. She also likes to blog, so if you’d like to read some of her thoughts on what goes on in this crazy world, visit her at It Bloggles the Mind.

Image credit: blog.timesunion.com


Lights! Camera! Ghost!

by Beth Bartlett

We knew the hotel was haunted. The hubby and I had worked off and on at the old hotel for years, and we both witnessed enough weird stuff to fill dozens of campfire ghost stories. But when we drove up to the hotel to celebrate a wedding anniversary, we realized the hotel was infested with weird, scary pests of an entirely different type: TV people.

A huge sign was posted in front of the hotel. With all the warmth and friendliness of a Facebook Terms of Agreement page, it basically explained that if you went into the hotel, you gave your permission to be filmed for a ghost-hunting show. I suddenly had a vision of shuffling down to the ice machine in my PJs and someone shining a flashlight on my massive butt, saying, “My God, that’s the biggest ghost I’ve ever seen!”

I shoved my trepidations aside and made an oath to drink warm cola and tap water for the entire evening as we checked in. Other than seeing an odd number of people running around in black shirts, I didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary, and I looked forward to a romantic evening in the Jacuzzi suite. Once we set down our bags, my hubby wanted to “have a look around” which, after many years of marriage, meant he spotted someone with a piece of technology he had never seen before. I’ve never been afraid of losing that man to another woman, but I’ll be seriously worried if female androids are mass-produced.

After 15 minutes, he bounced back into the room, telling me the identity of the show. At that time, it didn’t mean a thing to me, but it was the favorite show of our friend.

“Can I call him?” my hubby asked, practically dancing in place.

“Oh all right.” Hey, I’m a good sport.

He put the phone on speaker and dialed our friend’s number. Our friend is a big man. 6’4, tattooed, bald, 400 pounds, and if he walked into a biker bar, they would call him sir. He picked up the phone. We told him the news. He giggled like a blushing schoolgirl, and I’m pretty sure he squeed.

Apparently he also possessed transporter technology, because he appeared at our door in fifteen minutes. He definitely missed his calling as a pizza delivery guy. Within seconds, the two men were off hunting the ghost hunters.

I amused myself by watching the Discovery Channel and hoping a ghost would show up, because at least then I could play a game of cards. Gin, maybe some poker. But not Indian Poker, since it’s very difficult to get a card to stick to a non-corporeal forehead. As the hours passed and I sat wondering if a floating
head could even play cards, I heard the doorknob jiggle. I ignored it, thinking hubby had left his key behind.

Jiggle. Rattle.

“Weird,” I thought. I called out his name, waiting to hear “Let me in!” Nope. Nothing.

Rattle. Twist.

I peeked out the peephole but couldn’t see anything. The doorknob was silent now, so I sat down in the buttery soft leather chair and decided to watch the door.

Five minutes passed.




A chill flared up the back of my neck as I approached the door. Of all the weird experiences I had in that hotel, nothing had ever tried to hurt me. Flying fuzzy balls of light, full-size apparitions walking past me into the elevator, paintings and furniture that would occasionally tip themselves had just been par for the course, but this was new.

I put my hand on the doorknob. I turned and yanked it fast in case someone was pranking me. The door whooshed open, and I was staring at the denim-clad backside of a cameraman losing his balance. Somehow he had perched one cheek on the doorknob so he could film into the room across the hall, but he lost his rear wheel drive when I threw the door open. Past him, the ghost experts were sitting in a dark room talking about electromagnetic fields and trying to maintain a spooky atmosphere while the hall lights blazed and tourists stumbled past. I blushed and muttered, “Sorry,” he apologized for freaking me out and they went back to their darkened lair.

The guys came back from their quest with autographs, our friend headed home with photos and the crew went away with some decent ghostie footage (captured later in the night) but I had the scariest story. I came this close to being on-camera, big butt, PJs and all.

Freelancer and humor writer Beth Bartlett has lots of ghost stories, and if you keep the margaritas coming, she will tell them all. The names in this story have been omitted to protect the clueless, the notso- clueless and the hubby who finally turned up to share the anniversary Jacuzzi soak. Visit Beth’s psychi -humorist side at www.wisecrackzodiac.com, and her nerdy side at www.puregeek.me.

Image: courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net


The Mystery of Nancy Drew and the Ghost Under Carrie’s Bed

by Harley May
         This entire essay will probably make our Erma Editor Stacey Graham (avid ghost hunter that she is) shudder.
In contempt.
See…I don’t like ghost stories. Before you gasp and unfollow me on every social media outlet available, PLEASE LET ME EXPLAIN. I hate being scared to the point of “TURN ON THE LIGHTS AND PLEASE DEAR GOD, HOLD ME.”
            I attribute this stifling fear of the ghostly paranormal (fictionalized or not) on my first sleepover. At the age of eight, my dear friend Carrie Franklin seemed so much more grown up than I was (also eight). She already had her own American Girl doll and she’d watched The Goonies and Grease. She led me in Nancy Drew adventures on the playground where we solved little made up mysteries. She was always Nancy and I was always Bess, which was fine. I guess. I mean, it really wouldn’t have killed her to let me be Nancy every now and then because people should share and take turns and my idea about the stolen umbrella wasn’t “stupid.”
I’m not bitter about any of this. Shut up.
Anyway, when I received the invitation to sleep over, I was thrilled. Everything went swimmingly as far as slumber parties go. We ate popcorn and watched The Sound of Music (which I brought from my house thankyouverymuch). After we’d Doe a Deer’ed to our heart’s content and giggled and been tucked in by her mother, Carrie told me a secret: a ghost lived under her bed. His name was Choon. The way Carrie told things so clear and matter of fact, I absolutely believed her and didn’t care for this information at all.
I started to cry. When Carrie’s mother came to see what all the fuss was about, I told her I wanted to go home. Only this wasn’t your typical small town America. My mother couldn’t come get me from four blocks over because my house was a thirty-minute subway ride away. No one in their right mind would or should travel the subways at this time of night.
Carrie’s mother explained all this to me, but still I cried. She stared at me sitting on the bed and said, “Well, we’re just going to have to get rid of Choon. I’ll go get a garbage bag.”
That stopped my crying right away. When she returned, she got on her hands and knees with the black garbage bag and said, “Choon, come here. Get in this garbage bag.”
My little girl self got as far away from the edge of the bed as possible while Carrie’s mother made a lot of noise as she shoved something into the bag. She stood up to walk out of the room and whatever was in the garbage back moved. It kicked and grumbled as she dragged the bag away.
So you see, that experience in my little girl mind felt just too real. When the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I feel the need to keep my back against a wall, I stop watching/reading whatever it is that makes me feel that way. Ghost stories and I just don’t go together. Got it? Good.
And no, I won’t help you clean out the stuff under your bed.