The shout echoed aloud as boy ran stark mad in fear, barely able to hold his feet to the ground as behind him the heavy, dark shadow of a man, hell bent on exacting revenge on the lad, gained ground. “You stole from me,” the shadow shouted into the dark streets, his voice returning in echoes like demons playfully copying the madness of the man. “You stole from me.” The boy, keeping close to the buildings to avoid the slick, shit stained streets, glanced back, breath heavy as the man, the shadow, seemingly as big as the cathedral that stood in the darkness behind him, gained slow ground. The cathedral. If he could reach the cathedral it might offer him safety, he grabbed the demon headed water trough outside the bakers and used it to swing himself around. The street was wide, he could double back, past the man, out of his reach. But he didn't see the thick wooden cudgel the man held close. A dull, nasty crack on the head brought the boy down in a graceless fall. The man was upon him, his weapon again brought hard down upon the boys head. “You stole from me.” Again the demons voices returned from dark corners. "You stole from me.” as the blood, barely visible against the dark cobblestones, splattered with each new blow. "You stole from me.” The demons, no longer content with their game of Chinese whispers, just giggled like children. And so it was on this hot beastly night in the city of Lincoln, summer 1605.
The sound of wood against bone carried high in the air to the window of the Bishop who looked down trying to stare through the darkness to catch a brief glimpse of the show that was unfolding on the dark streets below. The hardened crack became dull with each blow to the head until the shadow man stopped, his anger shed. Reaching down taking back the bread from the pocket of the boy, now dead. The Bishop laughed and muttered, “There by the grace of god go you.” He closed the window on the stink of the street and in a feeble attempt to keep out the heat he pulled off his nightshirt and let it drop to the floor and stood full naked as then at the door was a gentle knock and a sweet nervous voice saying. “Your bread and your wine, sir. Should I leave it outside, sir?” “No," said the Bishop. “Bring it in here.” And so she did. Oh, she did, with her eyes cast down in fear of this man, she made herself small, ugly, bland. “Will that be all?” the young maid said, placing down the tray of wine, pork and bread. "Perhaps desert," the bishop replied with a wry little smile and a nod of his....head. The girl, she well knew the bishops intent, and so quickly backed off, turned and then went to hide herself away, lest he follow her that day as he does on occasion, on the worst nights of her life. The worst nights, on her back, in the kitchen, her hand inches from the knife that would give her sure freedom from this sad pathetic life. But how could she kill a man of the cloth. Who would understand, who would believe. No. “Suffer little children, to come unto me.” The Bishop hauled his fat body on to the bed. Drank wine, farted and muttering said. "The sins of the flesh are a great delight, but gluttony is my sin tonight." He brought the wine glass up to his thick, sweaty lip and drank the blood of christ that then began to drip as from an open wound to the sheets below, like an omen, a blood oracle to show the bishop his fate on this hot night, this hour so late. With a deep, ugly sigh he tossed the glass onto the bed, then flopped back on the pillow, his large bulbous head staring up at the ceiling as he fumbled below in a drunken attempt to make it...grow…but no. Too much wine had put pay to that pleasure today. And in that moment he became uncomfortably aware that something had changed, a stillness in the air, an unnatural heavy silence that only the dead can hear. His breath was the shallow, slow breath of fear as he turned his head to the darkened room to see what lay within the gloom. The weak pools of yellow candle light barely pushed back the shadows. The shadows. The shadows that then began to move like furtive demons crawling with evil intent across the floor, taking shape, taking form, hell bent on snuffing out what little light gave comfort to the bishop, who in his dark fright clutched the sheets to his face like a child again. Innocent again. Beautiful again. The shadows stood tall, then fell like a black mist. And there revealed was an angel. With golden, naked skin. Tall, radiant, thin with a glow from deep within. Shimmering wings stretched wide-like to embrace the world and keep it safe. But not tonight. Not in this place. For within the beauty of the Angels face were eyes of pure black, like little pearls of night, that sucked in every ounce of truth, every gram of light. Staring down at the bishop the angel folded its wings. "A dream, a nightmare?” said the bishop to himself. "Too much wine, it's gone to my head, I'm really all alone, here on my bed.” He shut his eyes, held his breath and waited and waited. A brief moment of peace. Until he felt the hot breath of death upon his mouth and snapping open his eyes in sudden surprise, the angels face was upon his an inch away with its black, deep eyes staring down into his soul. Now this, for the Bishop, was an unexpected little twist. For the bishop you see, actually was really quite the atheist. Yes, he had thought that seeing how god wasn't real it would be excellent cover under which he could steal from the coffers, from the poor, the Church orphanage next door. Ah...the orphanage next door. What a source of a little Cherubs that turned out to be. “Nobody,” he had said to himself, “will be suspicious of me, not me. Because now I'm a respected, upright, erect member of society.” But the Angel, oh the Angel now here with it’s God given right to paralyse in fear the bishop who now began to see the dark deep shit he was in. So he cast down his eyes with a pretence of shame in the hope for forgiveness, the hope that the blame for all of his sin could be laid at the door of the demon within. "The devil made me do it,” seemed an appropriate excuse. But the angel wasn't inclined to forgive his abuse. No. Looking much, much scarier than angels really should, it reached out its hand and silently stood with it's finger outstretched, pointing down at the bishop who instinctively wretched as the cold, gold hand wrapped tight around his soul, in a grip that sent iced dread deep through the whole of his fat and turgid being. "Remember" said the angel, with a voice as dark as night, "Remember now the past so that all be put to right.” The bishops catalogue of sins then played out before his eyes, each dirty, once treasured memory, now elicited dark sighs of a man so very guilty that no pretense of innocence will shield him from the wise and knowing servant of The Lord that at this particular moment was …actually….looking rather bored. When done the bishop understood. “Oh, fuck.” he said. And looking up he begged, "Please, please forgive me for yes I have sinned, I've strayed off the path of goodness I've been a little lax in my ways, yes I know, but really I...I can honestly show you how good I can be, if you give me the chance to prove it it p…please.” The angel, now it liked this bit, when they piss themselves and are full of shit, but the angel you see, it was pretty restrained it didn't crack a smile, didn't complain, It just cocked his head in that annoying way that angels have when they want to say "My son, be not afraid, for I bring you good news“ or some other such bullshit phrase that they use. Anyway, it said: “My son, be not afraid, for I bring you good news. I will grant you one wish, so be wise and choose.” The bishop just whimpered and wiped the sweat off his head then looked down in embarrassment at the shit-stained bed. Clambering off he knelt low on the floor. A pathetic old man quite changed from before. He stared up at the angel with scared eyes blood red, skin white as the dead and with a voice that had aged an eternity said, “My cold and lead grey icy heart has brought me here to this you see. What I want is..is a heart of gold, yes, to set my soul, my spirit free.” The angel smiled. The wish had been made. Though with a somewhat unfortunate choice of phrase. It placed its hand over the bishops head and from its fingers a sharp light spread with the colours of heaven as bright as the sun casting shadows of silver that meshed and then spun splashing light upon light with a focus so bright that the angel he closed his eyes tight because he was getting a bloody headache as he always did with this damn incantation. And then all was dark again with a silence as deep as time. The bishop felt his heart grow warm as the angels spell took effect. He closed his eyes and bowed his head, said “Thank you lord.” and wept. The angel didn't wait to hear the scream, it headed for the door, as a fist sized lump of the purest gold went crashing to the floor.
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Day 72 The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Read this story here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1952/1952-h/1952-h.htm
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Day 73 Hell Hath No Fury by Margaret Pearce
“It’s a real beudy,” George gloated. “What a prize! What a bargain! What a darling! What a sweetheart!” His wife leaned against the garage and glared at his newest acquisition. “What is it and how much?” “Nineteen forty-eight Morris in as new condition. It’s been up on blocks for the last fifty years. Part of old lady Singley's deceased estate.” “How much?” “It’s not as if I need to spend any money on repairs,” George said. “A set of new tyres and a bit of a grease and oil change and Bob’s your uncle.” “Hope it runs better than the old Holden you bought last year,” Cynthia said as she went back to the house. She had come to accept that George had a weakness for older model cars and was grateful she had her own modern little four-cylinder job to run around in. Cynthia had snooped around with the other neighbours to watch the public auction of the house contents before the old Singley place was demolished and the rambling grounds subdivided. “There was some incredible kitchen stuff on offer,” Cynthia had reported. “All that heavy solid iron cookware. There was a wedding portrait of the Singleys. Hard to imagine her as a young woman. Mal Singley was a good-looking guy, but looked a bit full of himself.” “Old Jackson said he liked the ladies and marriage didn’t stop him liking them,” George said. “A bit ungrateful, as the Morris was her wedding present to him.” “Some wedding present,” Cynthia agreed. “Heard he and his Morris had a great time together,” George continued. “Wouldn’t you have thought he would’ve taken it with him when he nicked off?” “Maybe he wanted a clean break.” “Maybe,” George said doubtfully. George got the Morris back on the road with new tyres, a new battery, fitted indicators, brake lights and seat belts and drove the car around proudly. “Having trouble with the steering,” he grumbled one night. “It turned left on me instead of right and I ended up on the boulevard.” George spent that weekend delving into things like kingpins and steering. “Seems all right,” he reported at last. “Funny though. It felt as if the wheels had locked and turned left.” “I don’t think it’s safe to drive anything that old,” Cynthia worried. “Anything could go wrong.” “Garbage! It’s as reliable as the day it came off the assembly line.” “I haven’t found it that reliable,” Cynthia snapped. There had been two separate incidents. She had been running late and had taken the Morris. It had stopped in the middle of a busy intersection. Electrics, the RACV had said when they arrived and the engine turned over faultlessly. She ended up missing her morning tennis. The second time she had borrowed it; it had coasted down the hill and over-heated. She unscrewed the radiator cap and the steam exploded in a dramatic and dangerous geyser. She was fortunate her head hadn’t been blown off. George swore he had filled the radiator and that there wasn’t a leak in it. Cynthia was unconvinced. She suspected that the car had a sulky unpleasant personality and disliked her. After the last incident, she took a bus or walked if the access to her own car was blocked. The following weekend, the Morris parts were all over the garage again. “It did it to me again,” George said. “As I was going past the boulevard entrance the wheels turned into it, but I can’t find anything wrong with the steering.” “Maybe the boulevard was Mal Singley’s favourite parking spot,” Cynthia suggested. “Maybe the car turns in from force of habit.” “It’s a car, not a horse and cars aren’t into force of habit,” George said. “There must be something wrong with the steering.” George didn’t find anything wrong, so the Morris got put together again. After a while George accepted the fact that the Morris steering went slack every time he passed the entrance to the boulevard. “ I reckon that the wheels must catch in the speed hump,” he said at last. “It is in such immaculate mechanical condition that nothing else could be wrong with it.” Cynthia decided she had disliked the Morris right from the start. George gave it too much of his time and admiration. He referred to the car as his own sweetheart and spoke proudly of its abilities. He gave the impression of being besotted, and although Cynthia wasn’t jealous, his affection for the car annoyed her. The Morris was too glossily black and shiny and the narrow old-fashioned windscreen gave the impression of a simpering personality. The Singley man and his Morris must have looked like a matched couple; she decided remembering the wedding portrait. He had been all shiny black hair and narrow furtive eyes under too close black eyebrows wearing his immaculate dark suit and with a smug simper to his mouth. He looked like what he was, a guy with a roving eye. Although the young Mrs Singley with her strong jaw and steady eyes looked as if she would cope with any womanising husband, especially one financially dependent on her. Came one Sunday and a vintage car rally. Cynthia went with George in the Morris. It was a pleasant sunny day. They had taken a run up to the hills and had a picnic lunch with the rest of the club. There were the usual breakdowns among the other vintage club cars and George gloated about how beautifully his sweetheart had behaved. Cynthia made an effort to suppress her irritation and jealousy. George turned for home in the late afternoon, content and well pleased with their day out. “May as well come home along the boulevard,” he decided. “It’s a nice scenic run, and the old girl is behaving herself beautifully.” They turned into the deserted boulevard. The car's steady purr raised into a confident roar. Cynthia sneaked a look at George. He was a good driver and she had every confidence in his judgement, but he was suddenly well over the speed limit, the car rocking dangerously as it sped around the curves. “You are going a bit fast to be safe or legal,” Cynthia volunteered, with a nervous look at the river below. “The accelerator cable’s snapped,” George muttered, looking worried. He switched off the ignition. The roar of the engine muted, but the car kept speeding. George steered skilfully around the next curve and pressed the resistless brake pedal to the floor. Then he pulled the hand brake. Something snapped and the hand brake came away in his hand. “Do something,” Cynthia shrieked. “Why isn’t it stopping?” George tried to change down gears. The gears grated, but the speed of the car was unchanged. It was just on dusk. There was something eerie and chilling about the way the car rolled in such a fast and deadly manner around the curving road. Cynthia took out her mobile phone and rang the RACV number. “The brakes and accelerator cable have gone on the Morris and the car won’t stop,” she screamed into the phone. “We’re going along the boulevard.” “What is your nearest cross street?” “Coming up to Rowland Park,” George reported. “I’m going to try to bog the car in that swampy patch directly opposite.” Cynthia repeated the information. Then she watched in horror as George tried to turn the steering wheel towards the swampy patch of low-lying land by the river and off the boulevard. “The steering's gone,” George gasped. The Morris growled deep in its bonnet and spun around. It seemed to gather itself for a hurtling leap across the road and into the river. It went into the water nose first and headed straight down. George helped Cynthia out of her seat belt. Fortunately the windows were down. As soon as they car flooded they pushed through, surfaced and George swam to shore supporting Cynthia. The RACV, the police and ambulance arrived together. George and Cynthia were taken to hospital. Cynthia stayed several weeks, what with her pneumonia and her broken leg. George’s broken collarbone was discounted as trivial and he was sent home the next morning. “The RACV had to send down a diver,” he reported on his hospital visit to his wife the next day. “The Morris bumper-bar was caught on a snag and they had to free it and guess what?” “What?” Cynthia asked. “They found human remains under the snag, wired around a camp oven and a set of iron scales. Mal Singley hadn’t nicked off after all. The cops reckon his old lady did him in and told everyone he had cleared out. Reckon she turned nasty about him using her wedding present to womanise in.” “I don’t feel very well,” Cynthia said. She clutched George’s arm and suddenly came out with a lot of hysterical garbage. George made soothing noises and wondered if the hospital resources extended to therapy. The idea of a car brooding for forty years about the murder of its owner while trapped on blocks just proved how traumatic the accident had been to poor Cynthia. The fact that the car landed on the last resting place of its previous owner was just one of those odd coincidences. Cars didn’t really have personalities or reciprocal love affairs with their owners. George recovered from his broken collarbone, stripped and rebuilt the Morris. He kept to himself his puzzlement that he could find nothing wrong with the accelerator cable, the foot brake or the steering. Of course he had jerked the hand brake a bit hard and that was why it had broken. He polished up and panel beat the Morris to its original undinted glory and sold the car very cheaply to an unsuspecting vintage car lover. Personally, George didn’t believe in ghosts or haunted cars and it had given him a pang to sell such a beautiful car, but you never knew. The next owner ended up in hospital shortly after taking possession of the car. The brakes and steering went haywire on the curve of a steep hill. Of course vintage cars were always a bit suspect about their brakes and steering. The fact that the Morris crashed through the guard railings to land on Mal Singley’s fresh new grave in the cemetery below was just one of those odd coincidences. A car with that much passion and loyalty to its first owner could be dangerous. Maybe not as dangerous as a jealous woman, George pondered as he drove Cynthia home from hospital.
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Day 74 The Uninvited by Phillip Frey
Back in our early twenties, Jerry and I found a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan's West Village. We had been friends for a number of years, and as aspiring actors could not afford to rent alone. We would be subleasing from an artist named Lee Gatch. Near our move-in date we met with Lee Gatch at the 50 King Street apartment and signed the papers. He looked to be in his late-fifties, with a trim figure and a full head of gray hair. Without a dining room, we sat at the kitchen table, in a small area at one end of the living room. "Do you have your own furniture?" Lee Gatch asked. "No," Jerry said, "we've been looking for some." "My daughter lived here," he explained. "She works for the airlines and has been transferred to Atlanta." He took a moment to gaze into the living room, at the blanket chest at the foot of the Hollywood bed. Unless I misread the look, it appeared to carry a touch of dread. "It's my furniture," he went on, "so if you like, you can keep it until you move out." An offer Jerry and I could not refuse. Lee Gatch seemingly as pleased as we were. "Be kind to the furniture," he said. "The blanket chest, mirror and dresser are from the Eighteenth-Century. Same with the dresser in the bedroom." Then added, "Whenever you're ready to move out, be sure to call me and I'll pick it all up." The day we moved in, I chose the living room with the Hollywood bed to sleep on. Being an early riser it gave me easy access to the kitchen and bathroom without disturbing Jerry. On our first night I lay ready for sleep. In the dimness of the room, my tired eyes made out a wispy cloud creeping across the old mirror that hung above the dresser. Soon as it had passed the mirror, it vanished. In the morning, when Jerry came out of the bedroom, I told him what I had seen. He had a methodical mind; I trusted his analytical abilities. In bathrobe and slippers he approached the mirror and gave it a quick study. He then turned to the open blinds that covered the window between my bed and his bedroom. "Last night were the blinds open or closed?" "Closed. I opened them around a half-hour ago." He went to the blinds. "Maybe car lights bounced off the windows across the street and shone cloudy through the edge of the blinds and the window frame." "And hit the mirror as the car moved slowly forward," I added in agreement, and that was that. A few months had passed when one night I turned the lights out and got into bed. I lay there whispering the lines I had learned for an audition. When ready for sleep I rose up and adjusted the covers. Something caught my eye at the foot of the bed, where the old blanket chest sat. Its lid rippled like pond water on a windy night. I thought I had gotten dizzy, sat forward and gazed at the lid—at the face of a woman with open dead eyes, hair splayed under the rippling water. "Jerry!" I hollered. He rushed out of the bedroom. I turned to him, then flicked my eyes back to the chest—the image gone. The lights on now, I told him what I had seen. In his robe he thoughtfully patrolled the room. "You must have been asleep and dreamed what you saw. There's no other explanation." "I was awake, sitting up when I saw it." Thinking then that it would be useless to try to convince him. "I don't know," I breathed, "maybe your right." "Well, of course I'm right," he said with a yawn. I kept the lights on and slept in stops and starts, sitting up occasionally to check the lid of the chest. Another few months later I was falling asleep on my side, facing the open bedroom door. In the near-darkness, I made out Jerry in profile before the mirror of the antique chest-high dresser. He wore dark slacks, a white shirt with billowed sleeves and appeared to be putting on cufflinks. As I wondered why he was getting dressed with the lights out, he came toward me and stopped in the doorway. With tortured eyes he dropped to his knees, arms pleading toward me—it wasn't Jerry! "No!" I cried out. The figure evaporated as Jerry leapt from his bed. He snapped the light on and came through the doorway. I sat at the edge of the bed, voice shaking while I told him what I had seen: the tortured eyes, the figure pleading desperately. "Has to be another dream," Jerry said. "Nightmare is more like it. But I saw it," I went on. "I wasn't asleep—I know I wasn't." I kept the lights on and stayed awake the rest of the night. A few weeks later Jerry and I entered our building with groceries. We stood waiting at the elevator. Jerry stepped across the lobby to where an eighteenth-century map of Manhattan hung. He studied it, then muttered, "I've never read this." He turned toward me. "You ever read the fine print at the bottom of this map?" "No, never noticed it," I said as I joined him there. Squinting, I read that on this property had stood George Washington's Manhattan wartime headquarters. "Well," Jerry said, "if you actually did see those ghostly things, this could be the reason." "You really think so?" "No, of course not, but I have to admit this is quite a coincidence, and pretty creepy." At the end of our year's sublease I called Lee Gatch and told him we would be vacating. Jerry and I were now able to afford our own apartments. Lee Gatch came with movers to collect his furniture. He and Jerry and I sat at the kitchen table sipping coffee while the movers performed their chores. There was a lull in the conversation, Lee Gatch lost in thought, eyes on the old dresser under the mirror, then shifting to the blanket chest at the foot of the Hollywood bed. "In this apartment," he said hesitantly, "did you ever see anything strange?" Jerry and I exchanged a glance. I answered, "Yes, a number of times." "When my daughter was little, she had her own bedroom and kept her toys in the chest. There were times she'd awake in the middle of the night and rush scared into our room. The reason was always because of the chest." I told Lee Gatch about the face under the rippling water. Without any sign of surprise he said, "In the late 1700's, my ancestors came here from the Isle of Wight. The chest was on their ship. Its legs had to be cut off so it would fit into one of the storage bins." Jerry asked, "What would the legs being cut off have to do with the chest being haunted?" "No idea," Lee Gatch said regretfully. "What about the mirror," I asked, "the dresser under it, and the dresser in the bedroom?" "They were aboard the same ship." Then said, "We kept them stored in our basement." I had never seen Jerry so troubled. It was a dilemma for this particular man of methodology. The three of us left the apartment and went down into the street. Where Jerry and I said our goodbyes to Lee Gatch. He drove off and Jerry said, "Guess we can also say goodbye to the George Washington theory." Some years later, Jerry's acting career had blossomed. Mine had not. We remained close friends while I worked at a small record store. It was a wintry evening when I arrived to relieve Brian. He had the newspaper open on the counter, reading his favorite section, the obituaries. We exchanged greetings as I went into the restroom where I hung my coat. As I did, I heard Brian call out, "What do you know about that—Lee Gatch died!" Stunned by the news, I went to him. "How do you know Lee Gatch?" "Never heard of him," Brian said. "Just thought I'd yell it out."
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Day 75 The Closet Horror by Lynette Esposito
Janice loved shoes but they did not love her. They ate her little toe and gave her such pain. Sometimes they pinched her big toe on her left foot so bad, it bruised. Then, the black pumps started eating her feet. First to go was the skin on her heels. Then her arches disappeared. Everyone she told said it was normal. Shoes do this. Her friends suggested she go to a podiatrist. He suggested she cut off her feet and wear prothesis. Janice thought this was a terrible idea and never went to see him again Janice went to her family doctor and he suggested she go barefoot everywhere and let the shoes starve in her closet. They wailed so loud after a week, she took them out and tried each pair on. She claimed you could almost hear them purring. She tried cuddling them individually. She tried separating the pairs. Nothing worked. The shoes still nibbled at her feet. In desperation, she took all the shoes to the thrift shop and set the boxes outside because it was closed. She almost made it to her car before she heard hollering for her to home and take them home. Then it happened. In the middle of the night in front of the thrift shop while she was putting the shoe boxes into her trunk, the mother ship shaped like a stiletto, beamed the babies home. A receipt dropped from open toe of the hull. Thanks for babysitting. Here’s some ghost slip-ons. They will never hurt your feet. But they do like to creep up your legs when it rains.
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Day 76 Ghost Writer by Renata Pavrey
Maureen came up here a little over three months ago, to write in the solitude and serenity of the mountains. Or at least that’s what she told everyone who asked where she was off to all alone. A cabin in the midst of nature that had a long-standing history of its own was an intriguing prospect for a person with a curious mind. Maureen heard about this place from a fellow author friend, who spoke highly about the inspiration it provided her in crafting a new book. “Things happen there that no one can explain. Even words don’t do sufficient justice to that place,” Bella had said. “But as long as it gets the creative juices flowing, it sounds like a wonderful place to live in,” reasoned Maureen. Especially for a writer looking for a drastic change of genre and theme for her next book, she thought to herself. Swayed by Bella’s testimonial, Maureen took the plunge, or rather the leap up to my home in the mountains. So, that’s how I met Maureen. She doesn’t seem too perturbed about the creaking on the stairs, or windows that open and shut by themselves, or chairs with dents in their cushions. She’s observant, though, and thinks out loud about the things she notices — like the time I was ruffling through her drawers looking for a pen, and then finding just a pencil which needed to be sharpened, resulting into further ruffling in search of a sharpener and eraser as well. I’ll admit I’m noisy, but work needs to get done! Maureen thinks up scenes and characters, and then gets distracted (not scared, yet) so easily by the slightest footstep or sigh. For a writer trained in the arts of narrative and structure, her own mind seems to unravel with revealing plot holes. For all her thinking and conceptualizing and coffee drinking, Maureen hasn’t written anything at all in the last hundred days. I’ve been keeping tabs. In fact, that was one of the things that did spook dear Maureen, when she saw the calendar with dates marked out and months turning pages that she definitely had nothing to do with. But that novel isn’t going to write itself. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and write Maureen’s story for her. It’s easy to eavesdrop in this cabin — there’s no one else around, and I’m the one responsible for most of the sounds that do occur. I hadn’t heard about Maureen or any of her books when she first came here. But her laptop opened a whole new world for me, as I googled her name and found out that she was a bestselling romance writer with books translated into over twenty languages around the world. She has made millions, apparently, on a particular series of love stories she’s been writing for over a decade, and wanted a change in scenery and genre. The trip to my home has been Maureen’s little act of rebellion against her literary agent and publisher. This world famous author in my midst has had enough of recycling the same tropes during her entire writing career, and being told what to write her whole life. She now wants to try her hand at horror — a genre she loves to read and talk about, but has always been dissuaded from writing professionally. That’s what I deciphered from her phone call with Bella the other day. Bella was my guest a few years ago — a thriller writer who came up here and was “inspired” to conceive a complete roundabout of genre, and wrote a memoir of living three months in the solitude of the mountains. At least that’s the story promulgating around literary circles when Bella (who had never won any major award before) suddenly lapped up all the non-fiction awards in the memoir, autobiography and nature categories that year. I wrote that book for her in my own home; Bella just lived the good life and took away all the credit (and awards, too). Not that awards are of any use to me. I chuckle imagining it — going up on stage to an astonished crowd of readers, writers, bookstagrammers, publishers, and the rest of the literati, as they stare wide-eyed at the trophies swaying in front of them, held up by invisible hands, swimming in air. Surely I’d be trending on social media, but whom would they tag or post about? No selfies to click with or hands to shake. So here I stay, up in the mountains, doing what I do best. I write. I write for those who cannot. I write for those who want to but don’t. I write for those who write but do it so badly. I write for my love of the written word, for the things I cannot say and my words that can’t be heard. From feathers and ink bottles, ink pens and ballpoint pens, sharpened pencils and blunt stubs, bulky computers and sleek laptops — my words have seen many writers and many implements, travelled through space and time, across genres and languages. I tell stories that are not only my own, but let my creativity burst open with the things I have seen, the people who have passed by, and the lessons of time. Your historical fiction was my present, your science fiction will be my past, your present my future. I know the horrors of the world and the kindness of strangers, the thrills of escapism and the crimes of those who think they're alone up here, the innocence of children, and the humor of animals. Fiction, non-fiction, essays, short stories, novels, novellas, poetry, true crime, thrillers, speculative fiction — I write them all. I know all the Maureens and Bellas of the worlds gone by and the ones we live in. I’m in your head and outside it, creeping about for information, probing and persisting until the best of you is scooped up and translated into words on a page, the worst of you hidden in recesses away from readers’ prying eyes. Everybody might not be a storyteller, but everyone has stories to tell. And I consider it my duty to help tell those stories. So here I am, intuitively picking up every sound and movement Maureen reacts to. Creaky hinges don’t bother her, but she does worry when her coffee mug seems to change location by itself. No, I don’t drink coffee. I just get carried away with the hauntings at times. I saw a chill run up her spine on a hot Tuesday afternoon and knew she found out about me rummaging through her diary. Bella hadn’t mentioned anything about creepy occurrences. When she said inexplicable things happened up here, Maureen assumed they were life-changing experiences from living in nature. Maureen knows she’s alone, but also knows that she’s not. This cabin houses someone else. Or something else. Malevolent or benign, she isn’t waiting to find out. She’s packed up and gone soon enough, just like they always do. Came to write a horror story, but chickened out so quickly. Fortunately my literary prowess far surpasses their imagination. By the time Maureen reaches home and is fielding admonishment from her agents and publishers about wasting months over an unfinished dream project, and who demand another romance novel, Maureen will also be treated by a call from a horror literary agency about pitching her work to a publishing house that churns out Bram Stoker award winners every year. Like I said, I’m very meticulous about my writing, and carry it through until the end. From drafting to publishing, Maureen has been well taken care of. Her only fear is if anyone finds out she didn’t write the book herself. But what’s a little fear for an aspiring horror author? Well, my work here is done! It’s time to move on to the next project. Or rather, have the project come over to me. A satirist, I heard, attempting to write his first novel. Received great reviews about a cabin in the mountains that helps churn out bestsellers and award-winning books. He’s already joking about writing a funny book in a spooky house. Let’s see if I humor him or scare him off. This ghost writer is always up for any wordy task.
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Day 77 Unshapely Friends by Snigdha Agrawal
Under the shade of the Big Banyan Tree, Baba sits all day reading horoscopes of village folks. Some ask "Baba will my next born be a son? My ancestry will stop without one". Baba looks worried, shakes his head, as if to say your stars are all mixed up. Still others want him to check if the next harvest will yield bumper crops. He does some calculations and writes down on a slate "there will be floods". Farmers fall at his feet pleading "Please Baba pray for us". And so the Baba in all sincerity tells what the stars foretell. He is regarded by the villagers as an enlightened person. How else could he, a man without a degree, predict sorrows, floods, famines to all and sundry who visit him. But none know, Baba, every night, meets up with four of his village ghost friends, who have taken up residence in the branches of the Banyan tree. Once night descends and villagers are tucked in their beds, the party begins, unseen. Four of Baba's best buddies, frustrated with the life they lead, took the easy way out. They jumped into the river and drowned. Their bodies were found floating downstream, mutilated, arms missing, and therefore, denied a fitting burial. They appear in Baba's dreams lamenting their deeds, They ask him to pray for them, so their souls are released and thereby allowed entry into the gates of heaven. Baba agrees on one condition, they help him with his predictions. After all they are in close touch with all the elements, and must have access to future happenings. Therein lies the secret of Baba's success. Thus Ganesh, alias Baba, takes on the the role of the village Saint, bearded, clothed in saffron kurta, dhoti and topi, for a living. He spends his earnings on partying with his departed friends. In the quiet of the night, when all are asleep, he lays out five plates for dinner on the cemented bench around the banyan tree. Delicious Kebabs, Chicken tandoori, Biryani and Gulab Jamuns, everyone's favourite, washed down with few bottles of a toddy sourced from another village, and delivered by a boy, who is sworn to secrecy. Thus, Baba keeps his saintly image. The party goes on till the wee hours of the morning. His four friends disappear as the sun slowly starts rising above the horizon. Sixteen year old Mahesh, the milkman's son, has the habit of sleep walking. The village doctor gives him medicines, but it doesn't work effectively. Sauntering out of his home one night, he reaches the sacred Banyan tree and is taken by surprise at the sight before his eyes. Four unshapely objects, dancing and singing, and carrying their dinner plates to the branches where Baba issues instructions to “be quiet. You'll wake up the living dead with your ruckus". The unshapely figures pay no heed, drunken on toddy and happiness. Mahesh narrates the incident to his parents. They say it’s rubbish, just his wild imagination. Then one night, when the party is in full swing, gang of dacoits from another village arrives, armed and cloaked to loot the sleeping village folks. Baba and the ghosts decide they must save the inhabitants. The ghosts jump on the bandits, snatching swords from their hip pockets, flying to heights unreachable. The bandits scream at the apparition and make a hasty retreat. They spread the word, not to step into the haunted village. Baba is so impressed with his ghost friends. He arranges for special prays to be held, for their soul's easy passage to heaven. He invites the elders of the village to participate without disclosing the actual purpose. They are made to believe it's to bring the rains. The rains arrive just when the prayers are concluded. Baba's image remains unsullied, untainted. His friends had done a great service. Quid pro quo between Baba and his four ghostly friends.