HAUS: Anthology of Haunted House Stories Ft. “Rest for the Wicked”

The abandoned plantation and ancient mansion have remained empty for 120 years, until three delinquents decide to investigate the haunted property one night

An author of ghost stories decides to visit the spookiest place in England, Dartmoor. He wants to write a terrifying story, but ends up embroiled in a horror story instead!

To find out the reason behind Chris’ strange death, his brother begins to piece together audio recordings and journal entries chronicling events leading up to it

Hungry and lost during a journey, the sparring couple Andy and Claire come across a house for sale. They are greeted by a strange woman who welcomes them inside No 16


HAUS – CultureCult’s anthology of Haunted House stories features 34 pieces of fiction from 33 authors around the world!

Published by CultureCult Press, Oct. 2022 and available here.

NOM NOM: A Black Hare Press Anthology Ft. “I Take” & “Ghost-Knocking”

Hallowe’en Horrors in tiny tales.

Vampires, djinns, spirits, werewolves, trolls, banshees, elves, mummies, skeletons, carnivorous jack-o’-lanterns, evil-seeking clowns, Halloween purges, sexy-but-hungry succubi, genius loci scarecrows voraciously guarding their pumpkin patches, revenge of the Hallowe’en candies.

But don’t worry, between 100-word gory bites you’ll have a moment to catch your breath before the next soul-eating creature climbs out of the grave…

Published by Black Hare Press, Oct. 2022, and available here.

“Falling to Pieces”

Published by Defunkt Magazine in the Anatomy issue, September 2022.

***

It was a tiny tear at first—barely noticeable.

Just her left ring finger detaching a bit. No big deal. Leah added a strip of silver duct tape and hid that with a flesh-colored bandage, then she got back to work, answering the phone and greeting customers and hustling hustling hustling at Giovanni’s Ristorante in the city’s second-trendiest neighborhood.

[Click link for more!]

“Makeover” (AUDIO)

Read on the Blood & Jazz Podcast by Last Girls Club

“What are we doing with this one?” asked Janine, Bernard’s uncertified surgical assistant.

The Sculpting Clinic was world known, at least in certain, whispering circles. Clients were mostly women, but men came in too—not that the clinic’s services came cheap for any body. Patients submitted willing flesh and blank checks to Bernard, The Body Sculptor, agreeing to a carte blanche plastic surgery makeover. Perfectly legal, at least in this country. Bernard was an artist, after all. If people wanted basic nips and tucks, they could stay in the U.S. and pull over at any suburban L.A. stripmall.

Janine circled that afternoon’s client, the woman’s naked, unconscious form laid out on the operating table like a spring picnic. Janine was more than an assistant, really—she was an apprentice. At least that’s how she thought of herself, here to learn from the master. Ever faithful, she’d followed him from state to state and then country to country, outrunning laws and lawsuits and license revocations until they’d found this blessed safe harbor where they could work in peace and impunity.

But with freedom to practice came a certain boredom for Bernard. Janine heard it lately in his sighs and caught him, often, staring out his office window at the back alley’s brick wall.

She saw it again now. “Doctor?” she said. She only called him Bernard in her head.

He spoke without looking at her, his eyes assessing the corpse-like figure on the steel table. “I’m sick of breast augmentations and removals. Ass injections. Facial rearrangements.”

“You’re evolving,” said Janine, liking the way the word wrapped around her tongue.

Silence.

Then, “I’m evolving,” he repeated. And again. “I’m evolving.”

And just like that it was back—the fevered, glorious look of an artist inspired by a blank canvas and his own simmering genius. The look that gave Janine’s life direction and purpose so long ago. She felt a throb low in her sea-green scrubs. But she told herself it was mostly professional admiration she felt for him, the awe of a rapt student. Mostly. She swallowed and gave her capped head a little shake. Focus, she told herself, on the art. The process. She pressed play on the stereo in the corner; barely perceptible acid jazz seeped into the room.

Then Bernard grabbed the purple surgical marker Janine held out to him like a baton. He drew in a frenzy, long slashes across the woman’s chest, dotted lines on her thighs, squares on her sagging stomach. Something like a spiral on her neck. Then he stood back and looked to Janine, waiting.

She hesitated. The heart rate monitor beeped once, twice, three times.

“Wow,” she said finally, because that’s what she always said, and why rock the boat now? The woman would stand out in a crowd. That’s what all Bernard’s clients wanted, anyway—not to fade into the background. “So… Avant-garde,” she continued. “Almost… Cubism? Expressionism?” She bit her lip. Her turn to wait.

Silence.

But it was the right thing.

Bernard grinned and pulled up his face mask. Janine let out the breath she’d held trapped in her chest and got ready to suction.

“Not Yet”

Published by 50-Word Stories (fiftywordstories.com)

***

Where the creek bends is as good a place as any, pills in your pocket, short note signed. Cold in January, lonely too, but that feels right. Until you notice those bare stalks are forsythia, dried seed heads—rudbeckia? Ironweed? And you think you can wait, like them, for spring.

“A Bargain at Twice the Price”

Published by Etched Onyx Magazine by Onyx Publications. Honorable Mention in the Winter Contest, 2021. Onyx Publications

If you had known Beth would leave two months after the closing date, you never would have bought the shoebox starter home on Oak View Drive in a sleepy commuter town with one shitty pizza joint and two convenience stores and nothing to do on weeknights but hang out at the rat-hole townie bar drinking too much bottom-shelf whiskey. [Click link for more.]

“Rockets”

Published by Neworld Review, Vol. 11 Number 76 (NewWorldReview.net).

***

We ate charred hotdogs and yesterday’s leftovers at the picnic table on Grandma’s covered patio. It smelled like rain even in bright weather. Rot had seeped into the thin layered wood of the awning and up the legs of the paint-chipped table. I chewed my potato salad carefully, spitting pimentos onto the cement floor, but only when my mother wasn’t looking. It was July 5, 1987.

My brother Ben saw me turn and spit. He grinned. “Lolly’s spitting out food!” he yelled, gleeful to be the tattler. He reached into the metal chest cooler behind him and fished a can of root beer from the ice-flecked water.

Our mother stopped talking to Aunt Rena and turned to me. Then she scanned the ground and saw the dozen or so pimentos freckling the cement. “Lorena Grace. If you don’t act like a big girl you will not go to the beach with your cousins,” she said, her mouth turned down in the way we had all gotten used to.

Sometimes she called me her big girl and sometimes she accused me of being little; the conflicting statements left me wondering which one I should want to be. That day, I almost opened my mouth to say so, or some child’s version of that. I shut it and looked at my plate instead. I knew she wasn’t done so I waited, trailing the tines of my plastic fork through the ketchup and mustard smothering my hotdog, swirling one condiment into the other until I had a Spirograph of red and orange and yellow.

“Is there something wrong with the potato salad I spent so long making yesterday morning?” She stressed the word wrong, and for whatever reason, morning, too.

I stopped making art. No answer would be the right one. I knew this even at six years old. So I shoved another bite of dry potato salad into my mouth and chewed, not hunting out the sour-tasting pimentos with my tongue, mashing it together and swallowing. I choked down three bites before she turned back to my Aunt Rena, satisfied that I learned my lesson.

My mother and aunt resumed their discussion of my father, who had stayed inside with my uncles to watch a baseball game on television. Between crunching black hotdog skin and listening to Ben chug soda, I thought I heard my mother whisper something about my father “having a fair.” Immediately excited, I interrupted her to ask if there would be elephants to ride, then, too foolish to stop, I added that I hoped there wouldn’t be painted clowns, or at least not the sad kind. I had been chewing and a pimento slipped from my cheek and stuck to my chin.

She glared at me. “Eavesdropping is for church gossips,” she said. She habitually put down church gossips—still does—and I didn’t want to be lumped in with them. She didn’t mention talking with my mouth full, but I knew that was also bad manners. I slouched, ashamed. I tried to freeze, but my bottom lip betrayed me.

Little puffs of air came from my mother’s nose, and her chest heaved. She didn’t look away.

“Sorry,” I managed, but it was barely a mewl, muffled by the hotdog rind in my mouth. I swallowed the scratchy bite hard and tried again. “I’m sorry.” Aunt Rena saved me by having a very sudden and loud realization that she hadn’t yet told my mother about her bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes. My mother turned back to her and stopped huffing. I was always extra nice to my aunt after that.

Across the table, Ben finished his third hotdog and belched. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, trailing an orange smear of ketchup-mustard on his knuckles. He left it there. I thought about telling our mother that he hadn’t eaten any potato salad, with or without pimentos, and adding that I saw him take two dollars from our grandmother’s dresser earlier. Forgiveness by deflection.

But next to me, my mother twisted a paper towel in her lap, tighter and tighter until it looked like a thin white whip. Aunt Rena was still talking; I caught “Early boy” and “Beefsteak,” but my mother didn’t seem to hear her. I decided not to tell on Ben, who belched for the second time without saying “Excuse me.” He got up to chuck his empty plate in the black garbage bag tied to the end of the table. Then our cousin Will came running from the front yard, smacked Ben on the shoulder and yelled “It!”

Ben’s heels kicked up dirt clods as he ran after Will, and they disappeared around the side of the house. Will is my Aunt Rena’s youngest. As boys, when Ben and Will got together they formed a secret club, and I wasn’t allowed to play their games. Another cousin, Jennifer, was there that day, but she was a teenager; all she did was read magazines, stretched out on Grandma’s old fold-out lawn chair in a two-piece bathing suit. When I finally finished my hotdog and hid the rest of my potato salad under a napkin, I ran off to play alone. My mother didn’t notice when I got up.

A flagstone path wound from the patio to the front yard and I followed it, avoiding the cracks between the stones. Closer to the road, a Virgin Mary statue stood weeping, her pale arms stretched out like she was asking the slow-passing cars for help. I posed next to her, mimicking her stance, wondering what the people blurred behind windshields could do for us.

The Pakisandra planted around Mary’s feet spilled outward like tar tipped from a bucket, its thick growth unchecked since Grandpa died two summers before. I waded into the knee-high creepers, liking how my feet disappeared, ignoring the small clouds of gnats I disturbed. I pretended it was quicksand, that Mary was a sad orphan sinking in it, that I had to save her and if I did she would grant me three wishes and then we would become soul sisters. I renamed her Magnolia, since I thought the name Mary was boring. But after a sharp rock I didn’t see slipped into my sandal, I abandoned the game and her.

For a moment, I considered looking for the boys, but they’d only accuse me of being a tag-a-long, like always. I spent a few minutes wishing I had a puppy, or a baby sister, or a mother who’d paint my nails when she painted hers. Like always. Then I wandered into the backyard.

A three-sided fireplace squatted in the corner of the shady lot like a surly toad. A rusted grate rested on its stone walls, cooked on by my uncles but never cleaned. I watched as a crow landed there and pecked at a piece of aluminum foil stuck to the grill. He seemed uncertain, like he wasn’t sure he really wanted the bright piece of metal. He cocked his head, regarding it with his right eye and then his left, adjusted his position, pulled at it and let go. He ruffled his wings, exasperated. He repeated this until a larger crow landed next to him and in one smooth, quick motion, ripped the foil from the grill and flew away. The smaller crow pulled his head back and cawed, indignant or bereft. I felt sorry for him and hurried back to the covered patio; my mother and aunt were gone. I dug in the picnic trash until I found the piece of foil that Grandma had used to cover the fruit salad. I pulled it out and ran back to the fireplace but the crow was gone. I looked up, trying to find his sleek black body in the branches of the walnut trees overhead. I spotted two squirrels but no birds. I crunched the foil into a ball and set it on the grate in case he came back.

Damp dead leaves had collected in and around the base of the fireplace, too wet and thick to burn in the small fire my uncles had started there earlier to cook the hotdogs. I poked the toe of my sandal into the musty pile, flipping back a few layers. Potato bugs scurried away from the light. A curl slipped out of my ponytail when I crouched down to look at them and I tucked it behind my ear. A fat potato bug curled his body into a tight ball when I caught him on the run. I rolled him between my fingertips like a piece of clay. Then I balanced him on a dry leaf, rocking him back and forth while humming “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” He only fell off the edge twice. I put him back in his wet home and covered him with leaves, patting the top into place like I’d never been there.

I walked around the house to the driveway, noticing where burn marks from last night’s fireworks blackened the concrete. One of my uncles had bought them at a discount shop over the Pennsylvania state line and half had been duds. But we cheered for the ones that lit and whistled, their bright lights reflecting in my father’s glasses. The lawn chairs were still out on the driveway, and I sat in one. The canvas cut into my legs so I moved to the flat concrete. It was warm from the sun but not so hot that it burned, and I lay there pretending to be a pie baking. I would be apple. My mother never made cherry and Dad was allergic to rhubarb.

***

My cousins had gone down to the rock-and-grit beach at the end of the road and I was supposed to go with them. I meant to. My mom had helped me into my stretchy turquoise bathing suit with the neon straps and warned the bigger kids not to let me go in the lake past my waist and not to take their eyes off me. I had grabbed my sand pail and my pink shovel, hung a bright orange towel around my neck. I was going to build a fort for the rocks in my bucket that I had drawn faces on with a Sharpie. There was a whole family and a cat and an elephant. A couple houses down the road, though, lagging behind on short legs, I realized I had forgotten my floaties. I couldn’t go in the water without them—it was a rule. So I turned back. I thought I could catch up after.

The adults were in the kitchen, the sounds of running water and Rod Stewart and Aunt Rena’s laugh coming clear through the screened window. I walked beneath it, crossed the patio and went into the garage, finding my floaties in our beach bag. But one had deflated. It would take forever to blow it up by myself, and I knew my cousins were getting farther away. I walked out of the garage, intending to go in through the back door and find a grownup.

Then I saw Ben crouched low over a cardboard box next to the fireplace. The box had words on it printed in bright yellow. I couldn’t read them—they were too big for me. I recognized the pictures, though. It was the box of leftover fireworks from the night before. My uncles had put it on a high shelf in the garage and told us not to touch it.

“What are you doing?” I asked. I wasn’t tattling. I just wanted to know.

He put his finger to his lips and smiled—he never smiled at me, and now we had a secret. So I smiled too, dropped my floaties and my shovel and my towel and my sand pail, and walked over to him. My footsteps didn’t make a sound on the soft moss.

“What are you doing?” I asked again, whispering this time. I looked toward the kitchen window.

“I didn’t want to go to the beach,” he said. “And Will was scared to get in trouble. I told Jennifer I’d come back to look for you.” He held Grandpa’s old Zippo lighter in his hand, the silver one with the American flag stamped on it. He didn’t ask why I’d fallen behind. I didn’t ask where he’d gotten Grandpa’s lighter.

“Can I do one?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “You’ll mess it up.”

I was hurt.

“I mean, you’re too little,” he said then, “and I think it’s better if I just do it. But you can watch, okay?”

I nodded, agreeing to the terms of being there.

He picked a bunch of firecrackers out of the box. To me they looked like colorful cigarettes all tied together on one end, with a string trailing down by my brother’s knee.

“Get back,” he said. “Watch this.”

I moved a few feet back.

He flicked the Zippo and blue fire spit out near his thumb. He lit the long wick and let the flame dangle for a few seconds. When it was just an inch from the firecrackers, he threw them into the stone fireplace. The noise they made was like loud popcorn. I jumped up and down, giggling.

We both looked toward the house. No one came

“Do it again!” I said, forgetting to whisper. He forgot too and picked something else out of the box. It was bright purple and shaped like a top, with a needle in its center. A wick stuck out of its side.

He pushed its needle point into a raised clump of moss on the ground and lit the wick. The disk fizzed, then spun, orange sparks flying from it in a circle like a UFO getting ready to take off. It broke free of the moss and began to move, first toward me, then away toward my brother. It bounced off his sneaker and sparks hit his ankle before it slowed to a stop against the base of a nearby walnut tree.

I ran over to him. He rubbed at his ankle and I smelled something awful, but he just laughed. I leaned closer. Little blisters bloomed on his skin and the blonde hairs there curled black. I looked at the house and inhaled, ready to yell for our mother. But he grabbed my arm. He said, “One more, okay, Lol? Then we’ll run down to the beach and catch up with Jen and Will.”

I considered my limp floatie. Maybe he would blow it up for me. I exhaled my ready breath and nodded.

He walk-limped to the box and picked up something that was about the size of a Flintstones Push-pop. I thought it was beautiful. It had a pointed top like a castle tower and rocketship fins on the bottom.

“Yeah,” said my brother, but not really to me.

He set it on the ground, pointed end up, working its base into the same moss that had braced the spinning top. He felt around the bottom until he found a coil of string and stretched it across the ground toward him. Then he motioned for me to step back again and pulled the Zippo out of his pocket.

He reached to light it, then looked over his shoulder at me. “Farther,” he said.

I took one step back. He shook his head.

“I want to see,” I whined.

Ben stood and walked over to me, grabbing my thin shoulders. He walked me back and to the left, so I stood next to the fireplace. “Here,” he said. “Stay.”

I stuck out my lip but didn’t move.

He lit the wick and stepped back. The little firework crackled and hissed, then shot up with a whistling sound. I tried to track it in the air, but lost it in the tangled tree branches. Ben couldn’t see it either. Both of us were looking up, hands shielding our eyes, when we heard a pop and roar.

The rocket had come back down, several feet from its launching pad, and straight into the box still half full of sparklers, firecrackers, and snappers. Flames darted from the cardboard and rolled down its sides. Ben turned around and tackled me, flattening me on the damp ground. Then he squished me between himself and the stone fireplace, tucking my head into his chest and pinning it there with his forearm. I couldn’t see and the stone grated against my back. I knew Ben was peeking over the fireplace, watching the display. I could tell by the way he drew in his breath and held it.

I listened to the pinging and popping of the fireworks for what seemed like a long time, imagining their wicks catching one after another as the box burned. I could hear crackling and wondered what color sparks and smoke they gave off. I wanted to look but couldn’t move. Then I heard our uncles cursing and my mother screaming. We were dragged out from behind the fireplace.

Our mother slapped Ben. His head flopped to the side, face turned to the ground. He left it hanging like that.

“What were you thinking!” she yelled, her voice sounding like someone else’s. “She’s just a baby! She could have been hurt!”

Ben cried without making noise; I could tell by the quivering of his shoulders. I thought of the shiny white blisters on his ankle then, but he didn’t point them out. Our father stood to the side, his mouth opening and closing. The two of them looked like actors in a silent film, but then my mother broke in again.

“You know you are forbidden to play with fire Benjamin! You know that! We agreed!” Her voice rose in pitch and volume. There was a looseness about it that frightened me.

I retreated a few steps, back to the safety of the fireplace. I wanted to speak up, to tell her to look at me, that I was fine, that he was hurt and not me. That he had saved me. But my voice wouldn’t work

She kept screaming. “How could you do this? How could you disobey me like that!”

Then she remembered me. I thought she might hug me, or slap me too. I braced myself for either, but she didn’t touch me. “Why in the hell aren’t you with your cousins?” she said.

I pointed to my deflated floatie on the moss behind her, hoping it would do for an explanation. I looked at my father for help, but he was watching my mother.

She walked over to the remains of the cardboard box, its wispy edges curling into white ash. She picked the whole mess up with her bare hands and chucked it into the fireplace, then went into the house through the back door.

Grandma and Aunt Rena followed her, arms crossed tightly over their chests. Our uncles walked into the garage, muttering to one another, and I heard Grandpa’s old fridge clink open. Dad noticed Ben’s leg.

“Christ,” he said. “That needs ice.” He put a hand on Ben’s shoulder and led him over to the patio. Ben sat on the picnic table and Dad scooped a chunk of melted-together ice cubes out of the cooler. When the ice touched Ben’s ankle he cursed. Instead of scolding him, Dad just said “Take it easy.”

I stayed where I was, watching the last of the cardboard box crumble and fall into the damp leaf pile. I wondered if Ben would talk to me when we got home, but figured, like always, that he wouldn’t. I wanted to tell him that going to the beach hadn’t seemed that fun anyway, and that I wouldn’t squeal on him for still having Grandpa’s Zippo in his pocket, or about the two bucks, or about anything else, ever. I wanted to look at his cheek, to see if Mom had left a mark, to say I was sorry, in a way, that she hadn’t hit me instead, or at least, also. I wanted to ask if his ankle still hurt. What color smoke the fireworks gave off. How bright the sparks really were.

“Stations”

Published on redbirdchapbooks.org.

***

Inside the broken-necked chapel, kneeling in the debris of other people’s faith, she held up a stained glass fragment outlining Mary’s perfect suffering.

“I could be like this for you,” she said. “I could mourn you so hard it would bring you back.”

I saw her then, in blue, lips bit ragged and bleeding, eyes luminous with the power of a loss unaccepted. A sunrise or bomb blast would turn the world into her halo.

But there, in the church, she brushed dust from her cheek with a pilled sweater sleeve, then held the colored glass flat between her palms. It disappeared like a street magician’s trick.

She was supposed to wink. I was supposed to clap. But I took her empty hands in my own and to anyone looking through the rafters’ gaps, it would seem like we were praying.

“Recall”

Published by Rivet: The Journal of Writing that Risks.

***

When constituents expressed, via text message and Facebook, the desire to speak directly to one another even less, the government helpfully stepped in.

“It’s sort of like the Electoral College,” the President explained, via Tweet. “Or the Fifth Amendment.”

They sold mandated Mood Skin™ at pharmacies and supermarkets, offering deep discounts to those who brought documentation of college debt, steep alimony, or hard times.

The Mood Skin™ fit over a person’s real skin, snug but comfy like a ballet leotard, with enough give to allow its wearer to rake leaves or salsa dance or eat a lot at Thanksgiving.

“It will streamline communication!” top sociologists and talk show hosts assured their audiences. “No more pointless ‘How are yous,’ no more explaining how your day went!”

And for a while, things seemed to get better.

Wives avoided bringing up money at the dinner table when their husbands’ Mood Skin™ flushed russet.

Fewer women got hit.

Lovers knew that a cool blue meant “Not tonight, baby,” and no one felt the sting of bedroom rejection.

Stray dogs even learned to seek out people the color of yellow legal pads, which indicated a penchant to pet and the likely sharing of leftover gyros. Yellow meant nice.

But the Mood Skin™ had a shelf life, or the people’s feelings had a shelf life.

Soon the jungle greens and sassy oranges faded, the colors ebbing away until everyone’s Mood Skin™ became tapioca-dull.

No one fought in tavern parking lots or yelled from car windows on expressways. No one kicked the stray dogs and no one took them home. No one held hands with anyone else. Nicholas Sparks stopped writing books.

Exports slowed to a leaky-faucet drip—just Marilyn Monroe calendars and the occasional shipment of Elmo dolls, left un-tickled. Consumerism died alongside economic competition. No one needed retail therapy, and rom-coms were good for nothing.

So like with immigration and the Temperance Movement, the government tried to backtrack. They ordered the glitchy Mood Skin™ returned, peeled off—“As you were,” they said.

Law-abiding citizens turned in their Mood Skin™ for a tax credit. They dropped it into biohazard receptacles set up at police-patrolled polling stations.

Some rebelled and kept it, reserving it like sexy lingerie for when they were in the mood to be in no mood.

The few people who refused to ever wear it came out from their hiding places in barns and bunkers and holes in the ground. They taught workshops on how to say “I’m sad” and “I love you” and “I resent the fact that you used the last of the coffee creamer.” These group sessions included face-stretching exercises in front of hand-held mirrors. The first person to laugh shocked the others back into silence.

Yesterday, I saw a mangy terrier approach an old man in the park. The man pet the dog, and they both smiled.

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