Qualified Entry: Fiction Category
By: James Southern
The cool evening air stirred and rattled a few left over leaves in the old oak tree. Timmy Masden walked along and wished his friends were already with him. It was nearly dark and the long shadows of night changed everything. Fence posts reached out like long skeletal fingers and trees appeared to dip down to envelope him in their spindly branches.
In the daylight the Wilson’s old barn was like every other, but now it stood as a dark temple, weathered double doors fell away to reveal the pitch black interior that beckoned to anyone to come in or allow horrible things to come out. Timmy walked a little faster, the legs of his Halloween costume rubbed against each other and created a swishing sound. At least this year his grey and blue Batman costume fit, which made it easier to run if he had too. He wore the plastic mask, even though he wasn’t officially trick-or-treating yet. It made him feel safer, as if nothing could get him.
As he walked steadily along he realized just how far apart the street lights were. Only one more block to Sarah’s house. He stopped under a street light and looked up, the bright light shown down on him as mosquitoes and moths swarmed around the bulb. He wanted to stay there, protected from the darkness that waited for him just outside the ring of light. All manners of hideous monsters awaited him, hidden in the blackness of the night. I have to go, Sarah’s waiting. With a deep breath Timmy summed up all his courage stepped into the dark.
Much cooler, he walked on, and swung his plastic jack-o-lantern back and forth with each step. The soft yellow porch light of Sarah’s house peeped through the thick pines that surrounded it. Almost there. A sound caught his ears, a rustling noise, was something there in the leaves tracked him, just out of sight. Timmy stopped, peered into the darkness and tried to make out what stood a few yards away. The noise stopped too. His heart pounded like a drum and echoed in his ears. A wave of cold terror washed over him and he ran with everything within him. Racing through Sarah’s yard he leapt onto her porch and pounded on the door.
“Help!” he screamed. Sarah and her parents rushed to the door and as they opened it Timmy heard laughter from the yard behind him. The Thompson brothers, hung off each other and laughed uncontrollably.
“Did you see him run?!” Nick said as he held his stomach.
“Yea, I bet he peed his pants!” Seth answered.
“Did not!” Timmy shouted. “I knew it was you.” Trying to cover his embarrassment. Sarah gave the Thompson’s a very unhappy look while her parents stifled a snicker.
“It’s only a little harmless Halloween fun Sarah” Her Dad said. Tommy stood mortified as sweat ran down his cheeks, the Batman mask now on top of his head. The Thompson’s continued their howl of laughter.
“Well I don’t think it’s the least bit funny. Come on Timmy.” She reached out and hooked her arm in his and strode off the porch. The Thompson’s immediately stopped laughing and fell in line behind them and walked out of the yard. Sarah Daniels was the prettiest girl in school and it was no secret that the Thompson boys had a crush on her, as did most of the other young men. Timmy’s cheeks flushed red as he walked close to Sarah, his arm wrapped in hers. The Thompson’s cheeks were red too, but not from blushing.
“I should’a popped him when I had the chance.” Nick said.
“I heard that” Sarah called out over her shoulder. “If you boys don’t behave you can’t trick-or-treat with us.” The darkness, with all its terrors faded away under the power of Sarah Daniels. Timmy walked beside her and felt ten-feet-tall, he was invincible. They began to officially trick-or-treat when they walked up the first driveway that led to a small red brick ranch house. A blazing -white porch light and a carved pumpkin that sat in a rocking chair greeted them. Sarah rang the doorbell and a middle-aged lady with a hugh blond bee-hive hairdo answered the door. She smiled brightly at the four of them, Timmy as Batman, Sarah as Snow-White and the Thompson brothers as two army men dressed in fatigues.
“Trick-or-treat!” they shouted.
“Oh my, what an interesting group” the lady answered barely getting her beehive through the door. She reached into a large plastic bowl and dug out an assortment of candy which she dropped into each bag and Timmy’s plastic pumpkin.
“Thank you!” they each responded, as they turned and left the porch.
“Man it’s really dark tonight” Seth said to everyone.
“Yea, no moon.” Nick answered. “It makes it really hard to see witches flying by.”
“Stop that!” Sarah scolded. “We’ve had enough scares for tonight. I just want to have fun.” She slipped her hand into Timmy’s, laced her fingers with his, and caused his cheeks to erupt again. This is the best Halloween any twelve-year-old ever had he thought. House after house they continued until their legs were tired and their bags full. The four now sat on a fallen maple tree at the edge of old man Miller’s corn field. Seth produced a flashlight from his pocket and they examined the contents of each bag.
“I got several Reeces’s cup’s, I love those.” Seth said.
“I got a popcorn ball from Mrs Gresley” Sarah added.
“Hey, those are my favorite” Nick announced. “Wonder why the old bat didn’t give me one?”
“Maybe she knew you liked them” Seth teased.
“Oh yea?” Nick said as he pounced on top of his brother and spilled the contents of his bag. The two rolled around on the ground until Sarah picked up a stich and threatened to hit the boys.
Embarrassed,Seth pushed free from his brother and demanded,“Pick up my stuff!”
“Pick it up yourself crybaby” Nick shouted, snatched up his bag and walked away from the group.
“Where’s he going?” Timmy asked.
“I don’t know” Sarah answered. After Seth hastily crammed all his candy into his bag, the three took off after Nick.
“Where ya going man?”
“Down to the creek” Nick said to the group several paces behind him.
“No way! You know the bridge crossing the creek is haunted!” Seth shouted to him. “Especially tonight.”
“Bunch of frady-cats!” Nick taunted.
“Timmy I can’t go that far, my Dad will kill me” Sarah implored.
“Nick, let’s stay here in the neighborhood, there are still plenty of houses to hit” Timmy said.
“Frady-cats and your the biggest frady-cat of all, Timmy!” Nick increased the speed of his steps, he felt the others would follow. When they didn’t he yelled,
“I double-dog dare ya!” This was the incentive the others needed.The darkness deepened as the group continued down the two lane road that lead from the subdivision. Seth used his flashlight to illuminate the road ahead as Nick continued to march along twenty paces ahead of them. Cool damp air swept up from the dense woods as the road began to drop down hill, descending to the creek.
They passed dimly lit driveways until there were no more houses, only woods. The sounds of rushing water began to fill the air as they rounded a small curve and made out the silhouette of the bridge. Recent rains had swollen the creek from waist deep to the point where it almost touched the bottom of the bridge. Nick was the first to arrive with the others close behind.
The four stood next to the rail, the turrets surged underneath them like a wild, dark beast. Seth shined his flashlight onto the black water which reflected it’s beams in a thousand directions.
“Well we’ve seen it now lets go.”Sarah said, a chill caused her to tremble.
“No way” Nick said “I’m staying to see if any ghosts show up” Sarah reached into her bag and grabbed the popcorn ball in an attempt to mask her nervousness. A stray beam of light caught her, and Nick rushed to grab the popcorn ball from her hand.
“Give me that!” he shouted as his full weight crashed into her. The half-rotten rail behind Sarah gave way and with an ear-piercing scream Nick, Sarah and Seth tumbled into the raging stream. Timmy grabbed for Sarah’s hand but the swift current tore her from him. In horror he watched as the three rolled and tumbled in the water, screams stifled, Seth’s flashlight beam bounced in every direction. Then, they were gone.
Sarah’s piercing blue eyes stared deep into his soul as the raging river tore her from his grasp. In slow motion he ran to the opposite rail and tried to scream but nothing came out of his mouth. Sheer, un-merciless pain ripped him apart as she was swept away. He lurched upwards in bed and howled to the ceiling as tears streamed from his eyes. Short of breath, perspiration covering his body, he buried his face into his hands and sobbed uncontrollably.
Over the past twenty-five years Timmy has grown into Tim Masden, CEO of one of the largest Real Estate firms in the country. Masden Reality has handled everything from the smallest family homes to the largest corporate office buildings. To the outward observer he is the model of success but inside, his soul aches from the loss of Sarah. How proud she would be of him, of the success he now enjoyed, how he wished he could share it with her. The only thing he can share with her is the nightmare of her death.
The bright morning sun reflects off the gloss black Mercedes-Benz as Tim exits his condo and headed to work. The commute is terrible as usual with all the main thoroughfares clogged. Bach’s sonata number three filled the interior of the car with a soothing melody that helped to escape from the tortures of the expressway. Traffic is completely stopped, with no signs of moving. Tim closed his eyes, reclined his head, and allowed the air conditioner to blow filtered air against his face. He began to imagine a beach with perfect temperatures, a cold Margarita, and a hot woman. The image in his mind caused a small smile to creep across his face. Out of nowhere Sarah’s face bursts into his mind, skin pale, eyes cloudy, dead, wet and cold. Her arms reached for him as her voice filled his head.
“Timmy!” He screamed, arms flayed in the empty air. Sounds of car horns and angry shouts were all around him as the traffic began to move. Tim grabbed the steering wheel and released the brake. At the office Tim’s day isn’t any better. Over the past week he had lost two major rental clients and an office building contract fell through. The elements of the dream are forefront in his mind which kept him from concentrating. A second cup of black coffee helped to clear the cobwebs. Why hadn’t he stood closer to Sarah? Why hadn’t he fallen into the creek instead of one of the others? His mind drifted a thousand miles away from the office. Lori, his office assistant, came into the room. For years she had tried to get close to him, but he wouldn’t let her in.
“Tim, how are things going?” She asked
“About the same”
“Please go see my friend, she can help you find the answers”
“A psychic? Really? I may as well be seeing a witch doctor”
“Tim don’t be like that. This woman can help you find what you’re looking for”
Arguing is pointless.
“Set-up the meeting” He said in defeat. Lori slipped out of the room, leaving him alone with his thoughts. Maybe somehow this weirdo could help. Who am I kidding? This is another whack-job peering into a crystal ball looking for a twenty dollar payment. But still, if somehow he could contact Sarah, it was too much to hope for.
Two days later he drove to his appointment with Zelda. The small shop sat in the corner of the older business district of Chicago, tall store-front buildings with apartments overhead, the way it was in the last century.
Boy if it was the 1980’s again, I could make a fortune here. Tim thought as he pulled the Mercedes close to the curb in front of a red painted building with “Madame Zelda’s Magic Shop” in funky gold lettering overhead. Rain splashed against the windshield as Tim exited the car and headed for the door. The large glass door opened with a bell ringing over his head.
Inside, the shop could have been a voodoo den from Louisiana. It had wooden paneled walls and floors with displays of magic tricks, books and dvd’s on the left. To the right were containers of bat spleens, eels eyes and tottering piles of spell books, potion bottles, jars of indescribable items on several shelves mingled with chicken feet, packets of ingredients and incense burning throughout the store. A hodge-podge of magic and tourism all at once.
What a freak show
“If you want a freak show, go to the circus” a low, somber voice said to him.
“What? Who?” Tim stammered.
“I’m Zelda” A tall woman in flowing silk print robes emerged from behind the counter. She moved effortlessly, as if she floated across the floor. Dark curly hair crowned her head and piercing grey eyes captured Tim in her gaze.
“How did you know what I was thinking?” She stopped moving and stood directly in front of him.
“That’s not important. Why are you here?”
“My secretary suggested I come and see you. I have a problem.” Tim felt unable to move, as if her stare had him frozen in place.
“A lost love,” she answered.
“How?…..” Tim’s voice trailed off as he realized it was useless to ask.
“She can’t move on because of the feelings she has for you and the guilt you carry over her loss.” She took Tim’s hand in hers and looked deep into his brown eyes.
“You will need to face her, in the place where it all happened. There she can be set free.” Tears erupted from his eyes and burned down his cheeks.
“I don’t know how”
“Forgive yourself. There was nothing you could have done. Then release her.”
“No!” Tim tore from her grasp and turned to leave.
“If you do not, you will condemn her and you to an eternity of pain” Tim bolted from the shop and dried the tears on his coat sleeve. The rain had stopped, dusk approached, and as the street lights snapped on, the cool evening air brought a freshness to the neighborhood that removed the stale air of the shop.
How can I release her? The last time I did, she died. He unlocked the Mercedes and plopped into the seat, a feeling of hopelessness enveloped him. He felt completely trapped. Unable to move forward, can’t go back. The Mercedes engine roared to life and as he pulled away from the curb, Zelda’s shop grew smaller in the rear-view mirror until it was gone.
Sleep that night came in a restless glimpse of the past. His fear of the dark, the horror of the events on the bridge, cold fear that gripped him as he ran to the nearest house to get help, the scream’s of Sarah’s parents, the police and their endless questions. The first rays of morning crept into the bedroom to find Tim huddled in the floor, hair and clothing wet with perspiration, eyes bloodshot and moist from tears. Today’s Halloween. He must go. No matter what waited for him it couldn’t be any worse than the hell he was in. Tim rose, showered and packed a bag. He left Lori a short message, that he would be out of town a couple of days. As he locked the door to his condo he had the strangest feeling he wouldn’t be back. At this point, he didn’t care.
It was a bright, beautiful cloudless day as he left the Chicago and headed south-east, he would be in his home town in six hours. Tim rolled down the windows in order to enjoy the unusually warm October weather. Unexpected construction traffic delayed him so when he entered the city limits of Bardstown, Kentucky, it was sunset. He drove the familiar two-lane winding roads to Sarah’s parents house.
After her death things were never the same. Sarah’s Mom and Dad divorced and moved to different parts of the country. The home that remained was a shell of its former self. No one wanted to buy it, saying that they could feel the sorrow that surrounded it. The last rays of the evenings sunlight disappeared as the Mercedes headlights cast eerie shadows across weather-worn wood and broken windows. The paint had all but faded away, shingles were missing from the roof and the boards of the old porch were warped and curved upwards at the ends. Funny how small the house seems now. Tim turn off the lights and engine, got out and surveyed the area. Weeds and tall grass choked the once immaculate yard, the evening air brought a chill from the pasture. The night was clear and the stars twinkled in the heavens as a bright full moon illuminated the landscape.
Tim inhaled deeply and began to relax until he remembered why he was here. The night was almost identical to the one so many years ago when he lost her. No! He would stay focused, not let pain enter, not here. The deathly quiet echoed in his ears, he felt as if he were to scream that everything around him would break into a thousand pieces.
Slowly, he began to move as if some un-earthly force were pushing him forward. He walked the length of the gravel driveway and emerged onto the blacktop road. To his right the road intersected with Rangeland Road and traveled down-hill until it reached the bridge. Tim moved stiffly, shuffled along as if he were a zombie, eyes transfixed forward as if he saw into the future instead of reliving the past. The churning, gurgling sounds of water woke him from the trance he had been in.
There it was, the bridge that spanned the small gulf between two worlds, here and eternity. Carefully he stepped onto the wooden planks and stared in disbelief at the swollen river as if it were a deep, raging monster from some forgotten lore. It was here again, to claim what it hadn’t received before. Tim grabbed the rail and hoisted himself upwards, dangling precariously above the dark water below. Tears burned hotly against his cheeks, forever stood seconds away, a calm peace flooded his soul, giving him perfect solace, a feeling he had not felt since childhood. His life would be sacrificed to release his friends, the only person he had ever loved.
A brilliant, effervescent light illuminated the bridge behind him. Tim snapped his head around and saw a figure materialize into the middle of the bright light.
“Timmy,” a soft voice spoke to him. He slowly descended to the bridge, and stared into the bright light. There she was, just as before, a four-foot tall, twelve year-old Snow White. Her bright smile flooded the surroundings and bathed Tim in the warmth of heaven.
“Where have you been young man?” she asked jokingly.
“Chicago” Tim answered without thinking. Sarah covered her mouth and giggled.
“You’re so silly” she said and giggled again. Tim knelt in front of her.
“I can’t believe you’re here”
“Of course I’m here, this is where you left me” Sarah said with a little sass.
“But I didn’t know what else to do. I ran for help, but it was too late, you were gone.”
“Timmy, there was nothing that you could do to help me” The sweetest smile spread and made her face more angelic.
“You need to forgive yourself” The tears came again, in great rivers, and washed his soul clean from all the years of suffering and torment. From behind Tim a different light began to form, a mixture of red and green, deep and filled with rage.
“Duck!” Sarah shouted, and Tim fell to the bridge floor. A great eruption of fire and smoke came from the light that transformed itself into the images of Nick and Seth Thompson.
“Coward!” Nick shouted. A sneer crossed his face as he stared directly at Tim.
“Peed your pants yet?” Seth asked.
“I’m not afraid of you two anymore ” Tim responded.
“Well, we’ll need to work on that” Nick said as he raised his arms towards the sky which convulsed into a spasm of grey-black clouds and lightning. Winds whipped violently and Nick smiled deviously at Tim. The fires of hell burnt brilliantly in his eyes. Nick licked his lips in anticipation of what was coming next. Tim raised his hands in front of himself in a gesture of surrender.
“Nick, Seth, I know how angry you must be”
Nick shrieked “You don’t know anything about we feel!” As the winds became more violent.
“But you will”
“Nick, twenty-five years ago you died. I died too. You, your brother and Sarah were my friends, my only friends” Tim took a step closer to Nick and Seth.
“There hasn’t been a single day that I haven’t thought of the three of you. When my Dad was busy working you taught me how to fish, we had softball games and camp-fires with ghost stories. We rode bicycles and traded base-ball cards. I never had a brother, so that’s what you and Seth were to me. I love you both.” Nick threw his head backwards and screamed, “No!” Lightning ripped through the air and struck the bridge only inches from Tim’s feet. He never moved, only looked down at the smoldering black patch in front of him.
“You can kill me if you want, but it won’t change anything.” Tim stepped past the burnt spot and walked up to Nick and Seth.
“I’m not afraid and neither should you be. Forgive me.”
The winds began to close in on Nick and Seth until it swirled faster and faster. A tornado now reached from the bridge to the grey-black clouds that flashed with lightning. The tornado was sucked up into the clouds and with a great clap of thunder it all disappeared. The winds died down, leaves and twigs fell everywhere as Tim collapsed into an exhausted heap on the bridge.
He turned to Sarah and asked,
“What just happened?”
“You released them. When the fear and guilt within you left, Nick and Seth had nothing else to hold onto” She looked lovingly at Tim.
“You need to do the same for me”
“But I can’t lose you again” He felt a rush of pain in his heart at the very thought.
“You will never lose me. I will always be with you. And when your time is over, I will be waiting for you, on the other side” The radiant glow from her small form filled his heart with such peace, he finally knew it would be alright. He blew her a kiss and said softly,
“Go” The brilliant light that surrounded her increased until he could no longer look at her. She broke apart into millions of fireflies that swarmed and darted about in every direction. Tim watched until every single one disappeared. He sat silently, leaning against the wooden rail of the old bridge and stared at the endless stars above.