PWTP4-6

Jonathon

Maria caught her brother’s eye as he passed the stuffing over the top of the turkey. “Theodore?” Maria always called her brother by his full name, ever since they were children. “Do you remember the vacation that we took as children? To the lake?”

Theodore’s face turned from its usual serious demeanor to grave. “Yes, of course.” The rest of the family’s conversations buzzed around them.

“Do you recall how much Tommy enjoyed the lake? And how much fun that day was when we explored the cave by the rock pile?” Theodore’s face had turned to stone, but Maria continued.

“Tommy said he saw someone. He tried to point him out to us, but neither of us saw him. You remember the ghost photographer?”

Maria would have kept on, but Theodore hissed at her, “I remember my brother, Maria. Is there a point?” It was meant to be a whisper, but the entire table heard.

Maria paused, and the conversations around resumed, although family members would sneak a look at their end of the table every few moments. Maria leaned in. “I found this. It was in a drawer of an old end table that I have. I don’t know where the table came from anymore. I don’t remember it from mother’s things that I got. I don’t really remember it at all.” Maria handed Theodore a yellow photograph.

After a moment, Theodore spoke again. “Is this supposed to mean something to me, Maria?”

“Look at it, Theodore. That’s clearly me. That’s my lantern. And my hat. So that’s you in the back. And so that’s T…”

Theodore’s voice was lower this time. “Stop it, Maria! This is just an old picture! Tommy’s dead! He drowned and it’s nobody’s fault! There’s nothing left to solve!”

Maria looked like she’d been slapped in the face. “You can deny all you want, Theodore! But Tommy wouldn’t have left in the middle of the night, and you know it! He wasn’t so dumb that he’d go swimming by himself after dark, and you know it!”

The family had stopped pretending that they weren’t listening.

“Besides, look on the back of the picture.” Theodore flipped the photo over. On the back, shakily inscribed in unfamiliar handwriting was ‘Rebecca, Theodore, and Subject 12. Lake Black Sioux, 1972.’

Theodore began to cry. Aunt Doris put her arms around him, and the family moved in to try to help him, but he stood up and ran out of the room, photo still in hand.

Rebecca sat back, satisfied that this would be the last year she would be asked to host Thanksgiving.

DK: The name change – I think that’s what happened – makes this a little confusing, but otherwise a funny take on the image.  I’d take any way out I can get from hosting Thanksgiving.

DG – It was appropriately creepy through the first bit of things, but I was waiting for it to pay off, and the last line didn’t scratch that itch for me.

Zack

We looked everywhere we could. The last place it could be was the bottom of the lake. Sam said she would try to light the area from the shore. The light didn’t travel much past the surface, so we were feeling around blindly. We couldn’t wait any longer so we trudged on.

I desperately needed to find more time.

DK: Don’t we all.  I’d have been interested to see where this went (or maybe given the placement, where this came from).

DG – This last line on the other hand, really gets to the heart of the conflict.

Margaret

Belle stopped at the water’s edge, her swaying lantern washing the stones in light.

“Darren!  Clint!”  The whispered names darted over the misty water and disappeared in the gray fog.  “She’s coming!”  She peered blindly into the veil of mist, hoping for a glimpse of her brothers’ shadowy arms and heads.

She felt their presence before she saw them.  A shiver touched her neck and twitched across her shoulders.   Two boys emerged from the water, beckoned by the light.   Mischievous and carefree, they didn’t share her haste.

“Mom’s coming!”  Belle gestured toward the trees with the lantern, silver light streaking across the black branches.  “Come on!”

Darren reached shore first, a splash of water against rock.   “Why would she come here?  How does she even know we’re here?   Wait!”  He followed the light as it swung toward the burnt out boathouse.

Clint appeared much more slowly.  He had only a dim awareness of his surroundings, of his sister on the shore, of the pale lantern light.  He shook off the fog and dragged himself onto the stones.  He followed the light as it danced between the trees.

He caught up to his siblings in the charred skeleton of the boathouse.  They sat in the corner, and Belle set the lamp before them.

Their mother approached haltingly, eyes fixed on the lantern.  When she spotted the children, she groaned and fell to her knees, her sleeves dragging across the ashes and splinters.

“How could you still be here?”  She reached for Darren and Clint, but they held back.  “My loves.  So small.  So much trouble.  We couldn’t… I couldn’t keep you out of trouble.  I…” Her voice dropped to a whisper.  “…couldn’t keep you safe.  I am so sorry.”  Dry anguish seized her throat and choked her.

The boys looked at each other.  They vaguely remembered trouble.  Their father’s hard face, the terror and pleading in their mother’s eyes.  They had prodded and taunted until his anger finally snapped around their necks.

Silent sobs shook her mother’s frame as she turned to her daughter.  “Silly, brave Belle.  The fire…  I had to…  He would have gone to jail…”  Her voice rasped in the cold light, tormented.  “It was too late for the boys!  But you…  I’d do anything…”  Thick, sad silence blanketed them.

After a moment, she spoke again.  “You kept some of the fire.”

Belle leaned into the light.  “The fire ate my hair and skin.  It broke my eyes.  I couldn’t see!  I took a flame so that I could see.  I saw many things.  I saw him.  I saw the boys.  I saw you.  Alone, so sad.  I saw, and waited.”

Belle slowly rose to her feet, lifting the lantern to her face.  The boys stood too, and put their arms around her hips.  Belle beckoned to her trembling mother, and took hold of her hand.

Entwined strands of white mist rose skyward from the boathouse.  Extinguished at last, the lantern clattered to the floor.

DK: I like a lot of the pieces here.  The imagery – especially in the descriptions of the childrens’ deaths – is pretty strong, and of course this concept is suitably dark.

DG – I like the way these characters and their setting is drawn.  It’s a dark story, but not really gratuitously so.  A good ghost story. SILVER

Pete

I was laying in my bed. It was a Thursday night. Usually, I go out on Thursdays, but Jeff was sick, so I didn’t go out. I decided to go to bed early instead.

I was about to fall asleep, when suddenly ghosts! I said “What do you want, ghosts??”

THey didn’t say anything, they just pointed at my yearbook. I pulled out my yearbook, and set it on the table, and suddenly a gust of wind blew the cover open and blew over some pages and a marker fell off my desk and accidentally drew a circle around one photo.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was Jessica Phillips. She had died. They said ghosts got her, but no one believed them. I asked the ghosts if they wanted me to put Jessica’s soul to rest, but they didn’t say anything. They just pointed at the keys to my car. I was all like “let’s have us a road trip, then.”

I drove to the graveyard to check out Jessica’s grave. Someone had just planted flowers by the gravestone. They were red flowers – red like blood red. I felt a chill go up my spine. Then I turned and saw the ghost of Jessica. She had creepy blood red eyes.

“Jessica! What do you want?” I asked. Jessica’s ghost didn’t say anything, though, she just pointed at a nearby empty grave. “Is there something in the grave?” I asked, “something related to your murder?” She didn’t answer, she just kept pointing at the grave. So I hopped in and started investigating.

“What’s with this?” I asked, “there doesn’t seem to be anything in here.”

Jessica’s ghost pointed at the gravestone. It had my name.

The first shovelful of dirt had a rock in it, it knocked my to the ground. “Jessica! What are you doing!?” I asked.

Jessica didn’t say anything, she just kept shoveling dirt on top of me.

DK: I definitely laughed enough at the leaps in logic and assumptions our protagonist makes here that I was all like, let’s give you a bronze.  BRONZE

DG – I can’t decide if the style hurts this story or helps it.  I’m not sure there’s enough there beyond the intentional hackiness for me to completely buy into the method of storytelling here.

Christina

Mysteries for $200

Gram wants something, but I can’t figure out what it is.

“A pitcher of water?”

She looks at me slack-jawed and shakes her head. Ugh. Why did they leave me alone with her? I turn down the TV.

“Everyone else went into town,” I announce. “Mom and Dad are at some meat raffle thing and Aunt Sally took Zoey to a movie.”

“Pic-tchurr,” she tells me, waving her hand in the direction of the living room (or whatever the cabin equivalent of a living room is).

“A picture!” I say, momentarily pleased with myself. “Gram, there’s like a million photo albums out there.”

She nods, unconcerned.

Death and Dying for $400

When I return with an armful of albums, I notice the room smells vaguely of urine. God, I hope Gram didn’t wet herself.

I always thought people died in hospitals, but apparently I was wrong. Gram moved into the cabin after the doctors said there was nothing more they could do.

“She’s not always an easy woman to be with,” Mom told me. “But this is your last chance to get to know her.”

The tumors in her belly are pumping out fluid, swelling her abdomen even as she eats less and less. I try not to look at her body.

Musty Old Photos for $600

We flip through page after page until we finally find what Gram wants. It’s a strange old photo with a girl in the foreground holding a lantern and two more girls only dimly visible farther out in the lake.

“You want to tell me about it?” I ask, not sure if this is what I’m supposed to say.

She points at the girls and names them. Clara, Louise, Evelyn. I try to recall my genealogy assignment from last year, but none of those names is familiar.

Alternate Plans for $800

I was planning to go to Justin’s party. I said I wasn’t doing anything because I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble, seeing as how Justin’s parents aren’t around this weekend. But Chris might be there and I haven’t seen him hardly all summer. Not that I’m interested in him or anything.

Unexpected Revelations for $1000

“Beautiful,” Gram whispers.

“Gram, I can’t really see those girls very well, but I’m sure they were beautiful.”

Her expression suggests this is not the response she was looking for.

“Beautiful pic-tchurr,” she informs me.

“Oh, the picture! Did your father take it?” I think I remember hearing he had an interest in cameras.

She shakes her head and points at herself.

“Oh, you took it!”

She motions for me to lean closer.

“I was going be a photographer. Don’t get knocked up if you’re not ready for it, girlie.”

She gives me a hard look.

Oh. Oh.

I look over at the TV. “Hey, it’s your favorite show! How ’bout we watch Jeopardy! together.”

I turn up the volume before she has a chance to respond.

DK: This was funnier overall, though, and a nice use of narrative connective tissue to build to a strong punch line (of a sort).  I think the character is well-constructed for the adolescent mindset, as well.  SILVER

DG – This one is put together well.  I like the structure (the Jeopardy thing doesn’t add a lot to the story plot-wise, but it divides it nicely).  “I try not to look at her body.” is a perfect line for that situation as well, it conjures up that sour stomach feeling. GOLD

Colin

The face tugged at his memory like an unruly child. He swiped at cobwebs with bruised hands. His shoulder hurt. Everything hurt, but only just enough to remind him every so often how shitty it is to start to grow old.

He hadn’t walked this far into his mind for some time. Maybe since the last challenge. The face haunted him, not because of some ethereal quality that hinted at  a vague past longing, but because it seemed so out of place with the figures emerging from the frame.

It was time.

He had no choice.

This was his fault, and he knew it.

He was going to have to go meta, and take a beating from the judges.

He looked at his tired, bruised hands.

It was time to submit.

DK: This sounds like the way Pete might deal with a Zero-Time-Meta situation.  So if you’re Pete, good job, me.  If you’re not Pete, I hope you take it as a compliment that I compared you to a past writing Survivor winner.

DG – My favorite part is the first sentence that has only a very tenuous relation to the rest of the entry.  At least we’re getting some well set-up last-minute meta submissions.

Will

Olympic swimmer George Duffy, who died Friday at the age of 83, just had to be near water.

His father served in The Royal Navy during the First World War and fell for his grandmother-to-be Sarah – a nurse – as he recuperated from injuries suffered on board the HMS Irresistible. His grandparents reared his father, Desmond Duffy, who was an engineer for the Cunard Line.

At seven years old, George was diagnosed with asthma, and his doctors prescribed physical and outdoor activity. For that reason, George and his sisters, Mary and Patricia, were frequently brought on holiday to the Isle of Wight. George learned to sail, but his greatest joy was always swimming.

He traveled to Helsinki for the 1952 Summer Olympics where he competed in both the 400 and 1500 meter freestyle for Great Britain. In the 1500 meter race, George was second through the first 1000 meters, but he tired and ultimately finished fifth.

Two years later, George won the bronze medal in the European Aquatics Championships in the 1500 meter freestyle in Turin, Italy. In a disputed finish, judges determined that George finished a split-second before Vladimir Lavrinenko of the Soviet Union. The judges’ decision caused the Soviet delegation to walk out on the final two days of competition.

After failing to qualify for the 1956 Summer Olympics, George retired from competitive swimming. He and his wife Abigail moved from Southampton to Truro where he worked for Unilever.

Abigail, who died in 2009, was the daughter of Group Captain Charles Winchester, commanding officer of RAF Eastchurch during World War II.

George was cremated after a funeral conducted at St. Hilary Church. The congregation sang There is a Green Hill Far Away set to music by John Gower, a distant cousin of George’s. He is survived by his son Clarence, daughter Olivia, who lives in the United States, and seven grandchildren.

DK: Maybe you’re wearing me down, or maybe I’m just feeling differently this week, but I got into this.  George’s life turned into a pretty interesting story, and thematically it’s pretty thorough.  BRONZE

DG – I choose not to google this and see whether Duffy is a real person.  I liked the detailed passage about the controversial judges decision more than the broader parts that made up the rest of the story/obituary.  I think this does a good job of mimicking the obituary style, but it doesn’t convince me that this is a style conducive to telling a story.

Brian

Lulu slid the match across the stone and used the small flame to light the lamp.  She then crossed herself, whispered a quick prayer, and headed toward a pair of wooden doors at the back of the church.

Once she was outside, Lulu walked quickly down a stone-lined path that brought her to the edge of the sea. She held the lamp high with her right hand, and lowered her left hand to her waist,  thumb touching forefinger and palm facing outward.  Then she waited.

Soon she saw them out in the water.  Three boys, standing tall.  Lulu knew their names:  Martin, Thomas and Stephen.  She had seen them just yesterday, though they had worn different clothes then.  Here they were dressed in soldier’s uniforms, bayonets propped against their shoulders.  Lulu had not known them well; they had lived in a distant corner of the province.  Even so, her heart ached at the sight of their round, pale faces.

Lulu breathed deep and began to sing:

<i>In spring comes the robin to the plum tree

In summer, flowers of crenata and the cuckoo

In autumn, maple leaves and dear

In winter, the sparrows among the grass bamboo</i>

The boys stared straight ahead.  A few moments passed, and then they lowered their eyes and turned around.  Slowly, they walked back out into the waters until they finally disappeared.

A tear rolled down Lulu’s cheek.  She had been singing this song for ten years now, but still she cried every time.  Not for those who had passed,  whom she knew had gone somewhere beyond sorrow.  Instead, she grieved for the mothers who would not share these last moments with their children.  Or for those she did not know at all; that nobody knew.  Those who died on some far shore of the sea, alone and without any family or friends.  She was the only person that would ever know what they looked like, and the burden of that thought weighed heavy on her.

Lulu gently blew out the flame in the lamp.  She walked back up the stone-lined path, humming softly and wondering who would sing to her when she finally stepped out into the sea.

DK: A couple different stories here use kind of a unique-person concept for their situations, but I find it pretty consistently powerful in this context.  Making sure the reader recognizes the singularity of the perspective draws out the emotional impact in then creating the relativity to the character.  SILVER

DG – I do feel like this one tells us a lot in the ending couple of paragraphs instead of showing us.  I like the circumstance Lulu finds herself in, that makes for an interesting story at least. BRONZE

Annette

Every summer it was the same. No matter how hard she tried, she could not ignore what went on at the lake. She never spoke of it, not even to her best friend.

As soon as school ended for the year, she knew it was coming. Her father always reserved the same cabin at Mirror Lake. Apparently, it had special meaning for her parents. He proposed to her mother there a hundred years ago, or whatever. Ugh.

One year, she campaigned heavily for Disneyland instead. She thought she had her mom almost convinced, but then dad had given mom a significant “look” and mom had demurely patted her hand and told her “not this year, dear.”

The first time she had realized something horrible was happening at the lake, she was eight years old. She loved the dollhouse feel of the tiny cabin and the overgrown trail leading down to the lake. The lake was really nothing more than a glorified pond and wasn’t even deep enough to swim in until you got almost out to the middle. She spent the hottest part of each day wading, splashing and lounging in the cool, green waters.

Her dad manned the grill that night. Clean air and a belly full of burgers and dogs sent her to bed early and she quickly fell asleep.

She awoke sweaty and disoriented. It took several minutes to remember where she was and why the bed felt foreign. As her heart slowed, she realized that noises had woken her: a low growling followed by the sound of a baby mewling.

She put on slippers and left her room. She groped along the kitchen countertop for a flashlight but could only find the Coleman lantern. Though forbidden to her, she lit it and took it with her.

Quietly, she left the cabin to stand on the small front porch. It was a three quarter moon and fairly bright outside.

She stayed still and listened hard. There was a heavy splashing sound coming from the lake and more growling.

She had decided it was probably just an animal and was about to run back inside when she heard the baby whimpering again. Without thinking, she bolted off the porch and started running down the path.

Heart pounding like a kettle drum, she lifted her lantern high and peered into the darkness. A huge animal was writhing in the shallows of the lake, growling and whimpering, with too many eyes reflecting the lamp light back at her. She screamed and dropped the lantern, turning to run.

“What are you doing out of bed, young lady?” Her father roared at her. Her mother’s gasp was audible. “Get back to bed this instant!”

She turned in time to see the monster separate into two glistening naked bodies that were unmistakably her parents.

Her mind refused to acknowledge what she had seen as she fled up the path, desperately hugging herself and breathing hard. If only it really had been a monster.

DK: Spooky and funny all rolled into one, really.  This has a great suspense build throughout with a classically amusing reveal of relative normality at the end.  Good stuff.  GOLD

DG – I think you’re using CdL’s penchant for darkness against itself here.  Nicely done. BRONZE

Kelly

Suzette the Lamplighter held Henrietta’s wizened hand tightly and slogged through The River of Satan’s Trials, keeping the old woman safe from harm.

    “I’m scared,” Henrietta said.

    “I know.  But there will be light, and soon,” Suzette said, preparing for the difficulties ahead that had claimed their share of travelers.

    The two of them turned a corner in the tunnel, and Henrietta recognized the shadows immediately.

    “My sons!”  Henrietta was overcome with joy at the facade, and escaped Suzette’s grasp.  As she ran alone, away from the lamp’s light, grimy hands reached up through the slog and attempted to drag her down.

    “NO!  No,” Henrietta wailed, still reaching for the shadows.  “Please don’t take my boys from me again.”

    Suzette rushed to Henrietta’s side and bathed her with light.  Demonic hands disappeared back into the wet earth.  “You must ignore the illusions, Henrietta.”

    “They’re my sons -”

    “No.  They are Satan’s tricks.”

    “You can’t say that about my -”

    “Stop, Henrietta.  There will be more light at the end of The River.  How long have we walked together?”

    “…for a year.”

    “Do you trust me?”

    “Yes.”

    Suzette dragged Henrietta up from the muck and brushed her off.  She again held her lamp forward to guide the old woman home.

    The shadows spoke softly in the voices of the boys.  Suzette entreated Henrietta to shut off her senses – she wouldn’t lose her after how far they’d come.  Henrietta fought every earthly desire and did so, sobbing as she crept forward.

    Soft voices became cries for help.  <i>Get us out of the rain.  It’s not safe, Mom!</i>  Henrietta reached her arms out as her sobbing turned to wailing, and Suzette did her part to keep Henrietta far from the walls where the shadows lurked.  After one more devastating hour, they emerged from the tunnel, the trial complete.  The voices dissipated and there was nothing but an irritated growl behind them.

    “Oh, hush,” Suzette replied.  “I beat you all the time.  You can’t be surprised.”

    Henrietta opened her eyes.  These were the clouds she’d expected.  She was there.  “Suzette!  Is it…”

    “Yes, it is.”

    “And are my -”

    “Yes.”

    And they were.  Craig and Richard were there – not shadows, but real – and they came bounding to her.  Henrietta ran to them, and as she did, her youth came back and she embraced them with the body of the young woman she’d been when she lost them.

    It rained.  The flagpole was there, and the boys played around it.  However, this time, no lightning struck, and the awful earthly memory melted away as a new one was made.

    Henrietta looked back to Suzette.  “Come.  Come in with us!”

    Suzette shook her head.  “I’m a Lamplighter.  It’s important work,” she said.  “But one day I’ll retire, and I’ll see you again.”

    Suzette smiled warmly, if wistfully, at the three of them and walked back into The River of Satan’s Trials, prepared to bring another soul home.


DK: Here’s another unique perspective I like.  Suzette is a really interesting concept to me, and I also particularly enjoyed the idea of her “banter” with her Satantic opponent.  BRONZE

DG – I love a story that sets up a world with it’s own rules in just a few words.  This one does that and tells a nice story as it happens.  Solid.  GOLD

Ben

He had died on a Tuesday in September, 1904. The heat in Covington had held a steady six digits for nearly a month, not unheard of in that part of the country, but certainly a rare enough thing that Aunt Molly had reluctantly agreed to let me take him swimming down below the millrace. It was the only water deep enough for a person to fully submerge in within a quick walk of the big house and we’d tired of the cattle trough; too warm to be a relief, with a layer of green slime on the bottom and sides prevent you from doing any more than tread water.

“Jesse, you be sure they stay away from the old mill site.” She’d warned. It hadn’t been a mill since Grant’s army had made the rounds, going on four decades prior, but the rumors had persisted. In all likelihood, they’d probably gained steam. Whispers of the burning of the mill and the young girl within it were too titillating to be dismissed or fade into irrelevance.

“I know. I won’t let him cross to the Hitchens’ side. We’ll stay well away from it.” And I meant it too…when I said it. I suppose all children mean to do as they say, or at least believe they’ll do as they’ve said while saying it. I know I was in earnest, being given the high rank in our little adventure, but things have a way of developing quickly when children of a certain age and temperament are given some freedom.

After a few hours of rope-swinging, splashing around and horseplay, and another half-hour of floating in the cool, cloudy water, he had become restless. In all honesty, so had I. The tumbled-down fieldstone walls, covered in creeper and honeysuckle, seemed to catch the rays’ of late afternoon sunlight in a more tempting way than seemed possible. Indeed, a nearly-unseen movement near the base of the old tower (though in actuality seen clearly by both of us) made the decision to investigate all but foregone.

Just a little shy of halfway across what remained of the dam, Lucas had lost his balance and sat down hard, a startled cry slipping from his lips as the force of the water caught his torso. He held there for a second, without making another sound, before he was tugged sideways and twisting backwards down towards the base of the wall where the wheel once mounted. He disappeared in a swirl of greenish grey water and foam and didn’t resurface. For a moment, I had a tear-clouded vision of Lucas…and maybe a small girl? standing on the edge of the pond downstream. When they dragged me away from the creek four hours later, the hook and chain had still not produced a body.

DK: I like the feel here, although I think there’s a bit of imbalance between the setup and the resolution.  The emotional impact from the ending seems a little rushed (although it’s also signaled from the beginning).

DG – I like the desciption, but the story doesn’t click for me.  Maybe it’s because the characters don’t have names until the very end, but they didn’t seem to stick out.

Melissa

Andy Hensen said there’s a ghost in that lake, but we never seen nor heard it.  He says it speaks to him sometimes, when it’s super foggy, and when the cicadas ain’t singin’.  I say it’s boo-honkey, which is why, when mama and daddy fight, we go to the lake.

It don’t matter what time a day or night.  I take a lantern when it’s dark, and I hold it whil the boys go out and dive around.  It ain’t safe none, but it’s safer’en home with daddy.

I tried to take mama out there once.  I found her hidin’ under the porch.  She wore my foavirte dress of hers, the red one with flowers on it, and she shivered.  All alone under that porch.

    “I’m playin’ hide and seek,” she said.  “Don’t tell daddy where I am.”

    She looked so cold and desperate.  She wouldn’t let me hug her.  She just pushed me away and said to run, so I did.  I went to the lake.  I went every day there after, too, ‘cos it was too quiet at home.  Mama found a good place to hide ‘cos she didn’t come back, and daddy ain’t said nothin’ ‘bout it.

    Nobody said nothin’ about it.  Only me.  But I only said it to the lake ghost.

    “I think she’s dead,” I said.  “Is Mama out there with you?”

    The fog creeped up over the lack, wrapped ‘round my lantern.  I dipped my toes in the cold-as-hell water, and then…a whisper.

Annie.

My name.

“That you, ghost?” I said.

…your mama…

“Is she with you?” I asked.

…your mama…help your mama…

“Where is she?”
The lake echoed with insects, but the ghost never answered me.

I sat there all night, listenin’.

Andy Nelson came a-pounding on our door early next mornin’.  He said, “Come to the lake!  Someone’s killed the ghost!”

“How’d they do that?”

“I dunno.  But the police are there. They sayin’ it’s dead.”

“They sayin’ what’s dead?”

That question came from Daddy, who came up behind me at the door.  Scared the bejesus outta Andy.  He turned white.  Daddy had to repeat himself.  “What’s dead?”

“The ghost.  At the lake.”

We went to the lake.

They hadn’t put up no yellow tape like you see on TV, but Deputy Stevens was keeping people back from the water.  He said, “Be respectful.  Stay back, ya’ll!”

When he saw Daddy, he went white.  He took him away, over the police car to talk. They didn’t notice me leave.  I wanted to see the ghost, which I could just see, floatin’ near a tree.

Only it weren’t no ghost.

It was mama.

Bruised and bloody, a few feet away from where I’d sat all night.

I looked over at Daddy, and even though the Sergeant was talking to the Deputy right in front of him, Daddy was looking at me.  I could see his eyes over the Sergeant’s shoulder, and I could tell he saw mama, too

He smiled.

DK: I love the dialects, and the story is great, too.  This has just the right balance and flow and the ultimate in a dark ending.  GOLD

DG – The idea of the ghost being dead (you know what I mean) is a cool one, and this story works it in pretty well.  SILVER

Bret

Meredith stared at the blank wall of her room and centered herself again, breathing deeply and calmly.  It does no good to panic, she ordered herself.  No good at all.

The orderly continued recording random details of her health status.  He had visible scales highlighting his cheekbones and his beaked nose, but his eyes were human.  When he held out the cup to her, she took it and dry-swallowed without flinching.  She waited for him to leave before drawing in a long, shuddering breath.

**********

Shelley was eager to try out her new Polaroid camera.  Maxwell had surprised her with it just before their vacation to the beach, which she was so looking forward to.  A little getaway to relieve Max’s stress from his job at Boeing, and maybe Merry would get knocked out of her funk with a little exploring in the outdoors or making some new friends.

**********

Meredith welcomed the cottony fuzz that clung to her thoughts.  She slowly made her way to the common room and looked for Keith, a grunge rocker who had smoked too many LSD-laced joints.  He liked to play chess with her, ‘cause she took just as long between moves as he did.  He’d also given up hitting on her, so that helped.  Plus he didn’t have any extra parts or anything.  She ignored the mass of severed fingers floating in the corner and sat down across from him.

“Hey, psychic-girl,” Keith greeted her, his standard since she’d told him she saw things.  “See the new doc?  I’m thinking of askin’ her out.”  His raspy laugh was an uncomfortable half-beat late, but she was used to that.  She followed his eyes to where Doctor Fellowes was sitting with a blue-skinned man with no ears, and would have flinched except for the fluff subduing her senses.

“I’d advise against it, Keith,” she replied, dropping her gaze back to the chess board.  “Those spines on her head look sharp.”  And the yellow puss oozing from her armpits is nasty, she thought to herself.

**********

“Come on, Merry, just wade in a bit, okay?  It’s cold, but I want a picture of the first day of vacation, alright?” wheedled Shelley.  Merry stood on the edge of the water, storm lantern held high, frozen.  She shook her head no, a frightened tremble from a scared animal.  Exasperated, Shelly lifted the camera and took the picture anyway, pulling the photograph out and waving it gently up and down to develop while stepping towards Merry.

“Little lady, you get to be more of a scaredy-cat every-“Shelley glanced at the photo and stopped dead.  “What the heck is this?” she asked, glancing out at the water.

“No, Mama,” said Merry, softly.  “They don’t like it when you notice them.”

Shelley stared out at the water, and raised the Polaroid to take another picture.  The first stone struck high on her forehead, peeling back skin and revealing bright white bone for a second before scarlet blood covered it.

DK: The cuts back and forth are perfectly placed, and there are just the right amount of hints of weirdness to augment the story without overwhelming it or being too vague.  GOLD

DG – I’m not sure I see the connection with the asylum bits, unless Meredith had a psychotic break after the incident at the lake?  I’m not sure, but the story that’s there is told well, with some good description. SILVER

Erik

A cunning summer storm rolled across Georgia plains.  The atmosphere, thick and sticky with moisture, was exploding in the heavens off to the west towards Fort Benning.  Currently in the swamps outside of Macon, only a lumbering tide of thunder washed over the land, ricocheted off of the sparse buildings and trees, and receded back into the gloom.

Mary-Stuart Addams was strolling along the Okmulgee River.  The main channel of the river still ran clear, but it fed the murky backwaters inside of Walker Swamp; the clear water corrupted inside of its dark recesses.  Mary stopped at a rogue weeping willow among the oak.  Its outermost branches itched the surface of the placid water, near as still as the air.

So closed her eyes, and asked for them.  Through the stagnant ether of the swamp, she could just make out horrible and mournful wailing, inhuman in pitch and sorrow.  It was beginning to reach a crescendo as the first bubbles began to emerge from the depths of the river.  Standing on the banks of the Okmulgee, Mary-Stuart frocked in a simple, Savannah summer dress of white cotton, smiled as the first silvery bubble reflected in the range of her lamp.

The boys, soggy and bloated, rose from the water, their jerked as though their limbs flicked by a careless puppeteer.

WHY!!? they pleaded.  Why do you wake us!?

“I want to play,” she told them.

The deadlight in their eyes shone with fear and panic.  Please, leave us to rest, they begged.  We have not found peace since the first time you played with us! Their limbs shook and flecks of mud and dead leaves slid off of their clammy skin.

“No!” she yelled, “We get to play whenever. I. Want.”

Their inhuman anguish raged as the sky opened forth a deluge of electricity and driving rain.

Mary-Stuart smiled even wider.

DK: The setting is really great here.  Also, it’s a pretty interesting twist to show the spiritual/supernatural beings as puppets of someone else (the ostensible protagonist).

DG – Another good character here, the reader realizes something isn’t quite right when she smiles at the bubbling swamp, and the rest of the story plays out just how correct that premonition is. GOLD

Joe

Suzanne awoke with a start in a cold sweat.  Her heart was racing in a panic.  She glanced around her room, and slowly her heart paced back to normal.  She sat there a moment, gathered her thoughts, cold and damp.  She stood up automatically, as if she were not controlling her own body.  She lumbered to the bathroom, filled a cup with water, raised it to her lips, then splashed the whole thing in her face.

This was the third dream in as many nights.  Shadows surrounding her in a dark, damp alley.  Monsters arising from a lake to taunt her on the shore.  Devils following her around a foggy campus.  In every dream, she would start to run for help, but their whispers would stop her, convince her that she could not save herself.  The demons taunted her in the day, as if it was not enough to hound her while she was asleep.  She saw them.  Eric and his evil smirk, Jonas and his dark eyes, Mitch and his cold stare.  They had her in check, and no matter how she turned it over in her mind, she could not think of an escape.

She had gone to the Younce’s house with the intention of talking to the others, forging relationships, opening her mind to their point of view.  She was already an outcast, the Jesus freak.  She wanted to be like Jesus, dining with sinners and such.  However, she crossed a line Jesus never crossed.  He was in the world, but not of the world.  She postulated that in order to understand her peers, she must take a sip here, take a hit there.  Be part of the crew, part of the gang.  Sips turned into gulps, hits turned into long drawn out drags.

She ventured out to the pond on her own, needing some air.  The three demons followed her down, hunting fresh prey.  They started as demons usually do, with sweet talk and flattery.  The honey that they dripped was poison.  The words they spoke were a trap.  They convinced her to walk around to another side of the pond, away from the party.  Away from her savior.

She picked up the phone a dozen times, but every time, their words shouted back at her, convicting her of her sins.  She had no defense.  She couldn’t convict them of theirs.  She was only one, they were three.

She fell to her knees in the bathroom.  Cried out to her Lord.

Forgive me!

He can’t forgive you, you whore!  You’re just like everybody else, steeped in sin.  It’s all your fault anyway.

Forgive me!

You are unforgivable!

Forgive me!

Whore!

Nooooooo!

She doubled over and sobbed.  “Please!” she whispered.  A soft brush of wind touched her shoulder.  She heard a new voice now.  Calming.  Soothing.  “I’m here” it answered.

She walked back to her room, stood by the night stand.  “Go on, I am with you.”  She slowly reached out and picked up the phone.

DK: Using photo demons as an extended metaphor for succumbing to vice (even if the religious context isn’t usually my favorite) is the kind of thing that usually wins me over, and hey, it did so again.  SILVER

DG – A lot of demons in one story, it creates a real conflict and a satisfying resolution.  Perhaps a little rushed at the end, but we’re still dealing with pretty small word count here, so that’s understandable. BRONZE

——————–

No double golds.  Turns out DK and I are not the same person.  Weird.

Spreadsheet

New challenge.  Let’s scale back again, 350 words inspired by the picture below.  Due Thursday, at 8 PM Central

PWTP4-7

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