Tag Archives: fear

Jasper’s Lamp – full story

This past Wednesday, I did a Friday Fictioneers story called Jasper’s Lamp. It’s a creepy story about five generations of women and their relationship to a lamp that has something growing inside it. The problem is, that the Friday Fictioneers stories are 100 words and I wanted to say more about it. So I wrote this one to tell the whole story. It’s a bit long, but if you like creepy, then enjoy.

lamp

“I brought it,” my mother says, and with those three innocuous words, a shiver of terror goes down my back. This is the moment I have been dreading since my grandmother showed me the lamp and told me it would one day be mine.

“I don’t want it,” I say. “How dare you bring that thing here?”

Her eyes are filled with the wearied horror that comes from years of caring for a monster. “Look, I promised my mother I would do this. Throw it away if you want. I don’t care. I’m sorry to do this to you, Sarah. God knows I’m sorry, but now I’m done. I’ve fulfilled my promised. I brought the papers too.”

With that, she stands up and walks to the front door. “I don’t want it!” I shout after her. I know it is useless; the front door clicks shut.

I go to the door in time to see her drive away. The lamp is sitting next to the door, covered loosely by a canvas bag. I am tempted to leave it there, but of course that is impossible. What if Evelyn, my daughter, sees it? What if the wind blows the bag off and the neighbors see the monstrosity that is underneath?

It takes all my willpower to knowingly bring that thing into my house; to actually put my hand under the glass globe and lift it, holding that terror so close to my body. A folio bound with a string is next to it, and after I bring the lamp inside, I get the papers and bring them into the kitchen.

They smell old, with a mustiness that reminds me of sickness. I make some coffee and then open the folio. My mother has told me about these papers, which my grandmother collected as a history of the lamp and an ongoing record of it. She loved it, my mother said, although I cannot understand why.

The papers on top are a bundle of yellowed, type-written transcriptions of an interview between my grandmother Ursula and her mother, my great-grandmother Celeste.

Ursula:  Tell me about my father, Jasper.

Celeste: Jasper, he was quite the dashing young man. He was dark-skinned, and my parents didn’t approve of him, but he was a romantic. Always talking about places he’d been all over the world. He said he’d take me with him sometime, but I didn’t want to go. Getting malaria in some sweaty, God-forsaken jungle, no thank you.

Ursula:  And when did he give you the lamp?

Celeste: The lamp. He sent it to me, if you can believe it. I don’t how it didn’t break, but he packed it tight into a crate with straw and paper and bits of rag. It was an oil lamp back then, not the electric lamp you’ve made it now.

Ursula: Can you describe the lamp?

Celeste: Describe it? You know damn well what it looks like! Fine though, I guess it has changed over the years. When I first opened the package, it was a brass oil lamp, with a glass chimney and underneath, a large glass globe. Inside the globe, there was a single eyeball floating, about as big as a cow’s eye. Gave me one hell of a fright. I found the note he sent with it. ‘I need you to look after this for me. Promise you will, it’s important. I’ll be back for it soon, but for now, keep the lamp burning. Keep it warm!’ That’s all he said, no ‘I love you’ or anything.

Ursula: And that was the last you heard of him?

Celeste: That was it. He was heading for Indochina when I said goodbye to him for the last time, but that note and the lamp was the last I got from him. Five months later, you were born. I did as he asked though, taking care of you and the lamp, keeping it lit, although I covered up the bottom most of the time. I couldn’t abide that big, staring eye just looking, always looking. I kept expecting it to fall apart, just decay, but as you know, it didn’t.

Ursula: When did you first notice it growing?

Celeste: you were about three at the time. You were toddling around and you grabbed at the skirting around the lamp and yanked it off. You screamed when you saw the eye first, but then you couldn’t keep away from it. You named it George, I remember. It was then I noticed it was growing, that there was more flesh behind it and another eye growing next to it, though at that time, it was dull and undeveloped.

Ursula: What do you think about the lamp?

Celeste: [sighs] I didn’t like it and I still don’t. It still gives me the creeps and if you didn’t have such a connection to it, I would order you to destroy it when I die. But Jasper’s last letter to me made me promise to take care of it and I did it for him. You can do what you like with it. For years, I kept imagining he’d come back and take it off my hands. I don’t suppose he will now though.

The transcript ends there. I heard hints of this from my grandmother, but not everything. The next thing in the folio is a battered,spiral-bound notebook. On the cover, it says, “The Book of the Lamp, by Ursula McIntyre-Willis”. I didn’t know about this.

June 5, 1958: I’ve decided to call the thing Jasper instead of George. Not that it’s Father, but I never met him and this is all I have from him. Sometimes when I look into the lamp, I can imagine those eyes speaking to me as they look unblinkingly into mine. I can almost understand, but not quite. It’s frustrating. Both eyes are full size now and a body is growing behind them.

I flip through a few pages. My grandmother Ursula has made detailed notes about its development and her feelings about it.

August 19, 1961: The body is taking on a definite shape now and I can see a head forming around the eyes. Last night I had the insane thought to open the globe, even though I knew it might endanger Jasper. I pried off the lamp part, but the globe is totally sealed, as if it was made whole. I don’t know how they did it. I will replace the lamp with an electric one, I think.

July 29, 1964: My husband Randy tried to smash the globe with a baseball bat. He’s always hated Jasper,  but the bat didn’t even make a scratch. He knows not to try to touch Jasper again though. I made sure of that.

February 3, 1968: The kids never want to go near Jasper. I don’t care about Brody, but if Rose is going to take care of him after me, she needs to love Jasper as much as I do. An hour a week in the closet together should help their relationship. If she looks into Jasper’s eyes, he’ll speak to her.

March 28, 1970: I got the good idea to record my mother’s recollections of the lamp. She never loved him as much I did. I’m glad she let me take care of him.

July 2, 1973: The area over his eyes has been thickening for almost a year now. At first, I thought they were fading, but now I see it is the eyelids growing. Last night, I saw my dear Jasper’s eyes for the last time. Now they are shut and he is sleeping.

November 6, 2003: I am going into a nursing home tomorrow and I can’t keep Jasper anymore. My heart is breaking, but now it’s Rose’s turn.

At the top of the next page, my grandmother has written my mother’s name: Rose Willis-Hunter. But the pages afterwards are blank. At the back of the notebook, I find a letter from my mother to me. It has been crumpled up, but then smoothed out again. It is dated June 20, 2007, the day after my grandmother’s funeral.

Dear Sarah,

I feel like I’ve been living in a nightmare most of my life and the last thing I want to do is pass it on you. You were there for the reading of the will, but there was a secret clause about it. She left it to me along with her papers and a book of things that the thing inside has supposedly told her. She wants me to pass it on to you when I get old.

My darling Sarah, forgive me. I will keep it away from you as long as I can, but you have no idea what it was like living with her. She broke me, slowly but steadily. I hate that thing, but I can’t destroy it and I can’t abandon it. I dream about my mother even now and about that thing she loved. The hours she locked me in the closet with it before its eyes closed changed me somehow. I hate it and I hate myself for being so weak.

Your mother,

Rose

At the bottom, in red pen, my mother has scribbled, I threw this letter away, but decided to show it to you anyway. It was a moment of truth I don’t think I can bring myself to repeat. I burned the book of things it told her. I made the mistake of reading it and I may be weak, but I couldn’t let that survive. I left the notes she made of its history, so you’ll know the truth and be warned.

I close the folio and go out into the hallway, where the lamp is sitting. With a deep breath, I pull off the canvas bag.

The monster, Grandma Ursula’s Jasper, lays curled up inside. It is more developed than the first time I saw it, that time when Grandma brought me up to her secret library when my mother was away. This is Jasper, she said, as if introducing me to a friend. One day, he will be yours to take care of. Now, I can see a whip-like tail curled around the bottom, curved spines along its back and its hundreds of little legs curled up, each ending in a single claw. Its closed left eye is pressed against the glass now. I have a sudden image of it opening and I throw the bag back over the lamp. Somehow, I get the lamp down to the basement and bury it behind boxes.

I go out to do errands and come back that afternoon to find, with horror, my 8-year-old daughter Evelyn reading the papers about the lamp I have thoughtlessly left out on the table.

“What’s this?” she asks.

“Nothing,” I say, grabbing them.

“Do we have this lamp?” When I don’t reply, she continues, “Where is it? I want to see it.”

It’s like I don’t have a choice. With mute horror, I lead her downstairs and move aside the boxes, aware that I am continuing the chain. Show her now and she will be revolted by it, I think, to comfort myself.

“So this is Jasper. Wow, he’s so cool,” she says, gazing into the globe.

“It’s just a thing and it’s not cool.”

“But great-grandma Ursula called him Jasper,” she says. “He’s almost done, right?”

“Done?” I ask with alarm. “What do you mean?”

“Well, from the notes on the table, he’s been growing for years. So when he’s finished growing, he’ll wake up, right?”

“What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know. I guess I just assumed.”

“Look, Evelyn. Don’t come down here, okay? This thing is evil. I’m going to get rid of it, okay?”

“But I want to be there when his eyes open,” she says and my mind revolts at the smile on her face. Not for this! I want to shout. Not for you, Jasper. You can’t have her.

I lay awake in bed that night, thinking. I am all by myself since my husband left two years ago and I need to do something to stop this. I need to destroy the lamp, carry it to a dump, drop it into the ocean, anything to get it away. I fantasize about doing it, day after day, while I keep the basement door locked and an eye on my daughter. But I feel that time is running out. It’s almost done,” Evelyn said, and I feel it too. So I keep on, think about destroying it and do nothing and hate myself for doing nothing, around and around, in a maddening spiral.

But I have to do something. I have to. Before the eyes open.

lamp 2

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Tecumseh’s Pariah – Friday Fictioneers

copyright Renee Heath

copyright Renee Heath

Tecumseh’s Pariah

I haven’t returned to Tecumseh, Michigan since. That hydrant and its sour-sick memories still haunt me: the night 16-year-old me staggered home from partying and crossed the abandoned tracks.

The sudden rush of a steam engine. The scream of a whistle. Hot, sooty wind.

I cowered behind the hydrant—felt it suddenly twist and grasp at me with steely arms. All I could do was scream.

The police found me, jeans wet and hysterical. No one believed me. “Been drinking?” they asked.

I became “that kid”, the one who pissed himself over ghosts.

Sometimes all you can do is leave.

 


The Lake – Visual Fiction

Taken in Gosan, Korea

Taken in Gosan, Korea

It looked so close, he felt he could almost touch it. On hot days, the water looked oh so refreshing. He could be on the shore in an hour if he wanted to.

But this was his domain, up here on the mountainside, with only the snakes, chipmunks, and pheasants as company, and food when he could catch them. There were springs where he could drink but they were small, muddy trickles, fit only for a monster like himself.

His mother’s words spun repeatedly through his mind: “You have a curse, my son. People would not accept you, if they saw you.” She had never shown him to anyone. Even his father, who was an officer in the army and was rarely home, had never known he had lived through childbirth. His mother had made him run and hide in the mountains whenever his father visited. Finally, when she had died of the fever, he had run to the mountains.

He looked down at the water from the shelter of a rock that was cutting the scorching summer wind. He could go at night, but even then he would have to cross the road and there were always cars driving back and forth, as if guarding the lake from his cursed touch.

Someday, perhaps he would risk it, if fear gave him a reprieve and unchained him even for a night. Someday.


Blue Storm – Visual Fiction

For those who are new to my blog, I do a Visual Fiction flash fiction every Sunday, based around a picture of mine that I find inspiring. If you’d like to join me in this, feel free to use the picture to write your own story. Just give me the link to yours in the comments, since I’d love to read it. I write stories of all genres and moods, although this one happens to be rather dark.

Taken in Jeonju, South Korea

Taken in Jeonju, South Korea

I knew that magic had a price, but it never occurred to me that it might extend beyond the one foolish enough to try to wield it.

*

“Jules, you’re mad! Quit it!” I shouted, trying to be heard above the rising winds. Jules was standing in the circle he had drawn in the forest clearing, shaking convulsively. At the time, I thought it was some sort of ecstasy of unholy power, but now that I reflect, it looked more like a person who has grabbed onto an electric fence and has tapped into a source of power far too vast for them to handle.

I ran, just as the clouds overhead began to seethe and spread a poisonous blue hue across the sky. It moved faster than I, and by the time I returned to my apartment, it had covered the city. A rift of dazzling light appeared in it and the last thing I saw before I shut and locked my door was a rain of dark objects beginning to fall.

*

It has been two days. I have not heard from Jules, but if he is dead, he is lucky. The city is in a panic at the unearthly scourge that has overrun it. There are many names for them: imps, goblins, demons. No one knows what they are, only that they are incredibly hard, if not impossible, to kill.

I sit and cower at home now, regretting any part I played in Jules’ mad schemes. I know that if they should find me, the concrete walls of my apartment will offer me little protection. Still, I wait and pray that this storm, like all others, might eventually pass.


Ghoulish Dilemma – Friday Fictioneers

Another story for the Friday Fictioneers writing group. I had several ideas for this picture, but ultimately went with this one. I have another one that is a bit longer I might post later, which is also based on this picture.

Ghoulish Dilemma

Ghoulish dilemma

Bruce looked up from the note, to the high stair where a scrap of cloth hung. He started forward, but then hesitated.

What if the shirt was an illusion too?


The Circle of Unbeing, Part 4

Click to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the story.

midnight courtyard

The wind was fierce and the cold was numbing, but Pavel did not mind. It numbed the conflict in his mind, blocking out all but simple directives. Go to the castle. Climb the tower. Find the dagger.

The streets were deserted as he made his way through the town and started up the wooded hill. He wondered where the creature—he still could not think of it as human, much less as his father—was now.

Inside the castle, he made his way up the steps of the keep and inside the unroofed hall. He had no light, but the full moon shone a phantasmal light over his path. Parts of the castle had been burned in the revolt, but the floor of the main hall was stone. He came to the high tower, its door splintered and rusted, and began to climb.

The steps were wet with slime and circled up and up until they ended in a wide chamber. Its roof had been burned away and part of its walls were gone, but Pavel could still see the remnants of broken glassware and rusted instruments that had once filled his grandfather’s study. He wondered now if his grandfather had been a monster too, or if he had found a way of transforming his son into one before he died. Whatever the case, it had happened in this room.

Pavel started searching, clearing away old bird’s nest and the accumulated detritus of fifteen years of exposure. He cut himself on a shard of glass, but kept going. His numb fingers were groping along the floor underneath a collapsed shelf when he felt the outline of a small box. He pulled it out and opened it. Inside was a dagger. Its handle and blade were black and a large ruby nested in the pommel. This had to be it.

He made his way back down, stepping carefully on the pitch-black stairs. He had just stepped out into the courtyard, when a dark shape slipped through the gate. As it crossed into the moonlight, he saw that it was the creature. It had seen him and was shambling towards him with surprising speed.

“Do it . . . son,” it rasped. “The mayor has . . . found me. He is coming. He will . . . imprison me again . . . if he can. Quickly . . . before he comes.” The creature pulled its thin garment away, exposing its skeletal chest.

Pavel held the dagger, willing himself to strike. As he looked at the monster in the moonlight, he could see more of its features. He had never known his father, or seen a picture of him, but now he could almost imagine what he had looked like when he was a young, handsome man. For the first time, he saw it as a person, who had lived in tortures unimaginable for fifteen years: locked away, starved, fed human flesh and blood. This was his father, who needed him. He set the point of the dagger between the exposed ribs and pushed the blade into his father’s heart.

“Stop!” a voice cried from behind him. Pavel looked up to see the mayor stepping through the gate, a lantern in his hand. Wadim, the night guard stood behind him. The mayor’s face was frenzied. “You release my prize from his cell and now you try to destroy him.”

The mayor stopped and let out a cry. “Crina! Crina! If it were not for this whore’s spawn, you would still be alive.” He looked back at Pavel. “You unlocked the door. You let the thing escape! My Crina was on the point of death when I brought her here. No medicine could save her, but this creature’s blood would have kept her alive, alive forever. She would have been changed, but she would have been stronger and mine still. I would not have starved her and kept her weak. No, she would have been well-fed, and powerful—powerful enough to help me. Oh my lovely daughter!”

The mayor drew his sword and advanced towards Pavel, who backed up the steps into the main hall. The mayor stopped and laughed.

“Yes, stay here. Stay here, Lord Pavel, with the ghouls of your ancestors. Stay here, where I burned your grandfather and kept your father as my pet. I will keep Wadim at the gate to make sure you stay, until hunger or cold lofts your soul on demon’s wings to join them. I am off to see your mother. She will burn tonight, in that hovelish prison where I have kept her.”

Pavel ran down the steps as soon as the mayor had left. He had to get back to help his mother, but he did not know how. The main gate was the only way out of the castle and he could see Wadim just outside the gap, spear in hand. He would have no sympathy for Pavel, not when it meant risking the mayor’s wrath.

He looked down at the dagger in his hand, still wet with his father’s blood. He could not defeat Wadim with such a small weapon. All he could do was kill himself. Yes, he would kill himself, but not yet. First he would drink his father’s blood and be changed. Didn’t the mayor said it would make him strong? His father had been old and starved, kept weak by design, but Pavel was young and strong. He would go save his mother and then kill himself with the dagger, ending their unfortunate line forever.

Pavel bent over the figure of his father. Dark blood was still welling up from the wound in his chest. He bent down and began to drink, sucking it into his mouth. It was cold and bitter, but burned like fire as it went down his throat.

His father’s eyes flickered open and then widened as he saw Pavel. “No!” he said, in a voice that was little more than a breath. “Do not do this. You . . . do not . . . know. I did not know . . . when my father told me . . . to drink from his . . . veins. Flee this hideous . . . unbeing.”

“It will not be for long, I swear,” Pavel said. “I must save my mother. Then I will join you and all will be finished.” He continued to drink, forcing down the foul blood until it stopped bubbling up from the wound.

The first thing Pavel felt was the cold, as it seemed to melt away from him. He still felt the wind, but now it held no bite. He stood up and looked around. The darkness had lightened and he could see into every corner of the dark courtyard. A wave of strength came over him. He looked at the cut on his hand and as he watched, it closed and disappeared.

A surge of joy went through him and he was off, running through the narrow gap in the gate, slipping past Wadim before he could even react. Pavel felt like the wind, moving effortlessly along the ground, devouring the distance. Ahead of him, he saw the mayor walking uncertainly down the path. He turned just as Pavel reached him and Pavel was glad to see the look of terror in the mayor’s eyes as he stabbed the dagger into his chest.

“You will never touch my mother. This I promise you. And this is vengeance for my grandfather, whom you murdered, and my father, whom you tortured.” With each name, he stabbed again. The mayor collapsed, dead on the path.

It was over. His mother was safe. Pavel turned the dagger to his own chest, preparing to end his own life. Then he stopped. It wasn’t over. There were still the thane and master of lands, both of whom were wicked men who had shared a part in his family’s misery. He would take care of them as well. But then? The town would be leaderless, defenseless against the next petty lord or robber baron who could seize it and use it for their own purposes. He could lead them well. He could do good, and help those who had been so oppressed under the mayor’s rule. He was, after all, the rightful heir. It was his duty.

Pavel dropped his hand to his side and was turning to go up to the castle when he felt a vague discomfort in the back of his mind. It was a hunger for something he had never felt before. He remembered the taste of his father’s blood on his tongue, so repellent then, but now . . . now he had a need for it, a thirst.

And it was growing.

ruined castle

 


The Circle of Unbeing, Part 3

Click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of the story.

fireplace

When Pavel reached the house, he took the axe from behind the door and began to sharpen it. His mother looked up from the hearth, where she was cleaning out the ashes.

“What are you doing home? What’s wrong?”

Pavel looked at her, hesitated. “Wolves,” he said.

He stayed home all day, sharpening knives, watching, and fidgeting, until his behavior began to frighten his mother and he left. No one from the mayor’s manor came to summon him, which both relieved and worried him at the same time.

Night eventually came and Pavel and his mother sat silently in front of the fire—her with her mending and Pavel staring into the fire, the axe on his knees. He looked up to see her gazing at him.

“Do you think you will need that here? Do you think the wolves will come into the village—break into our house?”

“I—I’m not sure,” he said.

“It’s not wolves you’re worried about, is it?” she said.

There was a clattering outside, like wood falling off the pile. Pavel jumped, then went to the small window by the door. The moonlight was shining on their small path and garden but there was no movement.

At that moment, the chickens behind the house began to scream. Pavel had never heard them make such sound—did not know they could make such a horrible, rending shriek. He put his hand on the door handle but could not will himself to open it.

“Well, are you going?” his mother cried suddenly. “You got the axe. If wolves are at the chickens, you’d better go now or they’ll all be killed.”

Still, Pavel could not make himself open the door or explain why. He felt paralyzed. The chickens stopped abruptly and there was total silence for a space of several breaths. Just when he thought it was safe, there was a thump against the door. It came again. Someone, or something, was knocking with heavy, irregular strokes on the outside.

Thump . . . thump . . .

“Are you going to open it?” his mother asked. “Pavel, are you okay? What’s wrong? If it were wolves, they wouldn’t be knocking. Pavel, let the poor person in and out of the cold. Pavel?”

His hand was still resting on the door handle, but all he could think of was some way to barricade the door. Pull the beds across and push them against it. Block the window. Anything and everything to keep the evil outside. He looked up to see his mother next to him and before he could do anything, she pushed him aside and threw the door open.

A gust of frigid wind burst into the room, causing the fire to gutter. Pavel heard a rasping, croaking sound and then that hideous deformed face he had seen in the dungeon emerged into the light of the fireplace. His mother gasped and stepped back. The creature shuffled over the threshold.

Pavel stepped in front of his mother, brandishing the axe, but he was too transfixed with horror to strike. Now that he could see the monster in better light, he saw that it looked like a man, although one shriveled and twisted by some evil force. Its skin was yellow and thin and its eyes were bloodshot and roving. They latched onto his mother’s face and the mouth opened.

“Ah . . . An . . . Anca.” Pink spittle dribbled from its mouth as it expelled the word. Pavel’s mother was staring at the creature, her eyes growing wider and wider until she started to scream. She fell back on the floor, covering her face with her hands and screamed and screamed. Even when she fell into a coughing fit, she continued to writhe and tear at her hair.

“Mother!” Pavel ran to her side, trying to make her stop. He kept his eyes on the monster. It pulled itself a little closer.

“Pa . . . vel,” the monster rasped, staring at Pavel with its bulging eyes. And then, in a moment ghastly revelation, Pavel knew what the slavering ghoul in front of him was. It was his father.

It had been, at least. Now, one could hardly call it human. Pavel felt nothing but loathing for it and he wished he had the resolution to cut it in two with the axe. But he could not. Not now.

The monster that been his father saw the swaying of the axe in his hand and moved closer. “Kill . . . me,” it said. “The axe . . . will do nothing. In the high . . . tower there is . . . a dagger. Only it . . . can . . . kill me. I will . . . meet you . . . there.” It stopped and started to hack in short, sharp croaks. Pavel could barely look at it. “Kill me . . . son,” it said again and then, suddenly, it pulled itself around and was gone through the open door.

Pavel shut and locked the door. The fire had sunk low and the room was dark and icy. “Mother, sit up. Please,” he said, going to her and helping her up. All the strength seemed to have left her, but she got up, unresisting, and let him guide her to her chair by the fire. She picked up her mending and started to cry. The sobs came, stronger and stronger until they were shaking her thin body. The dam she had built triple-strong against the grief of her life had finally broken.

Pavel stayed by her until she finally quieted. He was putting more wood on the fire when she finally spoke. “You must do it, Pavel. You must kill him.”

“I don’t want to go near that thing again,” he said. “That is not my father. He died when I was a baby.”

“You must!” she said again. “I said good bye to your father a long time ago, and I cannot live now, knowing he is being tortured like that every moment of the day. You must kill him or I will never have peace. Do it for me, if not for him, son.”

Pavel nodded slowly. “I will go now,” he said.

moonlit night

(to be concluded tomorrow)


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