Tiny Tales Podcast Ep. 40: Haunted

Tiny Tales is a weekly podcast of short stories spanning horror, fantasy, comedy, and everything in between. Written and narrated by R. E. Rule. Music and production by Frank Nawrot (www.franknawrot.com).


This Week’s Episode:

A skeptical paranormal investigator enters an abandoned house, oblivious to the dark secret hidden within.

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More soon!

~ R. E. Rule

Haunted

Like the ancient curses of the pharaohs, the multitude of explanations for the hysteria and hallucinations of those who have spent extended time in old houses far outweighs the possibility of the paranormal. Drafts and cold spots from wind finding its way through rotting walls, illness caused by mold or gases caught in rusty pipes, strange noises triggered by the introduction of a foreign body into a delicately balanced ecosystem, or simply the habitation of a stray cat or nesting pigeon: I had yet to find a symptom without a cause. Still, each new investigation began with the hope that this time I would find the exception to the rule. As I gazed up at the house, perched on its tree-covered hill like a vulture eyeing its prey, the familiar tingle of possibility crept up my spine.

A century of abandonment had clawed the flesh from it until only bare bones remained, bleached and crumbling, listing to one side. To the untrained eye, it would seem only a sad monument to an era long since passed, but I noticed with some fascination the unbroken windows and the strange chill in its shadow. I attributed that to the changing seasons, but the windows… Perhaps things back then truly were built to last, or perhaps its reputation was sinister enough to still the hand of even the most destructive youth.

A metal fence topped with sharp spikes circled the grounds, rigid against the grasping hands of the vines seething up it. The gate swung open with a raucous squeak, and I waded into a tangled garden. Brittle and browning stacks lay in heaps, weeds smothering all other plant life. The lone survivors, patches of small purple flowers, huddled in their shadow. Vines swarmed over the path, clutching at my ankles as I fought my way to the door. Not a bird, not an insect stirred. Even the leaves seemed frozen, afraid to move, and every step, every rustle of undergrowth beneath my feet felt sacrilegious, like the garden itself winced at the noise.

Crumbling stone steps led to a dilapidated porch and a heavy door with an ornate handle and doorknocker clamped in the fang-filled jaws of a fiendish face. A melodramatic touch but the modern screws holding it to the decaying wood set my skepticism firmly back in place. The door creaked open at my touch to reveal a dusty hallway and a staircase leading up to a small landing. Motes danced in the sunlight filtering down through cracks in the roof, and the stench of mold and stale water filled my nose until I could taste it. I hung my pack over the leaning banister to retrieve a flashlight and mask. While any so-called spirits who had taken up residence here might not be killers, asbestos was.

As I slid on the mask, a breeze rushed down the hall, hurling the door shut. The house shook with the impact, the walls shaking themselves free of dust and cobwebs. I jumped at the deafening noise, but I had spent enough time in drafty houses to know the ominous welcome was little more than the work of an open door or window at the back of the house. Waving the hovering dust away, I began my explorations, the floors moaning in protest under my feet.

It would have been a charming house, but now it had fallen into decay, each room standing silent, holding its breath, until my creaking footsteps passed on. Lace curtains hung limp from brass fittings. Tarnished wood and moldering florals sat primly under its veil of dust. Time and moisture had shredded the contents of the gilt frame over the hearth like the work of angry fingers. Chairs stood casually pushed from tables as if their occupants had merely stepped away.

A study, a parlor, and a kitchen and dining room connected by a low door lay on the ground floor. A heavy door was built into the wall beneath the stairway, but it hadn’t opened when I had tugged on the handle and I assumed it to be locked. Up the creaking stairs were three bedrooms, the beds within covered with sewn quilts starched with dust, and a sitting room lined with windows overlooking the garden. I sat in a rocking chair, gazing out at the small town in the distance, citizens weaving through its streets like toiling ants. Night was falling, and soon my work could begin. But for now, I waited. The wood creaked nervously under my weight, but all around me, the house stood silent.

I started awake in a darkened room. I thought I had heard a door slam, but everything was silent now. The town had faded to a soft glow. I shivered at the cold of nightfall and reached for the pack I had left by my feet, but my flashlight illuminated only dusty floorboards.

“Damn.”

I winced as my voice echoed in the blackness, offensive in the silence. I swept my light across the room, hoping my pack had slid away on the uneven floors, but my search yielded nothing. Out of the corner of my eye, a patch of gray flickered in the blackness of the open door, and I whirled to face it. But my flashlight revealed only an empty doorway.

“It’s your imagination,” I whispered, trying to ignore the prickling nerves itching up the back of my neck.

My pack had vanished, so I felt my way down the stairs to the door, picking around rotten floorboards as I went. I tugged the handle, but it wouldn’t budge, the frigid cold wedging it shut. I braced a leg on the door frame and heaved, praying for the screech of wood as it released, but it wouldn’t move.

“Damn!” I defied the silence again, kicking the door angrily.

Hoping to find the backdoor more accessible, I stumbled down the hall to the kitchen. Cupboards and tall cabinets full of dusty dishes lined the walls, but no backdoor revealed itself. I stumbled through the rooms, searching more and more frantically as I found only peeling wallpaper or shelves of rotten books. I paced the perimeter of the kitchen, my ragged breathing deafening, the house shrinking around me. My flashlight beam hovered over the heavy door beneath the staircase. Presumably, it led to the cellar. The thought of descending into a darker, danker pit turned my stomach. But the need to get out twisted inside me, and I forced my feet forward.

As my fingers brushed the rusty handle, something shifted beneath my feet. From the bowels of the house, a low thud echoed through the floorboards, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck.

I strained to hear in the utter silence that followed, my heart pounding in my ears. With a thunderous crash, an unknown force slammed into the door, and I reeled back, my flashlight clattering to the floor. The door shuddered on its hinges under the violent beating, and an unearthly wailing floated through the decaying wood. I sprinted down the hall toward the front door. A shadow shifted at the foot of the stairs, and I slammed into it, tumbling into a heap.

Scrambling back, I stared at the tangle of limbs sticking out from under a pale summer dress. A mass of black hair, barely visible in the darkness, spread out on the floor, and a terrified young face set with wide eyes stared back at me. With a sob, she threw herself against me, clinging to my clothing.

“How long have you been here?” I asked, instinctively moving to comfort her.

Our collision had shaken me out of my panic, and the silence that had fallen since I crashed to the floor made me wonder if I had imagined the whole thing.

“I don’t…” Her sentence disintegrated into a teary mumble, and she buried her face in trembling hands.

I shrugged off my jacket and wrapped it around her shivering form, rubbing her arms to warm her.

“What’s your name?” I asked, more gently this time, seeing that she was in shock.

“Violet,” she murmured, her frigid hands clutched to her chest.

“Why are you here?”

“He locked me in the basement!” she sobbed. “I tried! I beat on the door, but he wouldn’t let me out. He came down to—” Tears overwhelmed her again. “I ran up the stairs and locked him in, but he’s going to get out!”

“Who?”

She violently shook her head, as if the fear of acknowledging her attacker was worse than the deed itself. The beam of my flashlight was splashing against the far wall of the kitchen. I pulled us both up, taking her clammy hand in mine.

“I’m going to get us out of here. Is there another door?”

I started toward the kitchen, but she yanked me back.

“No! He’ll find you!”

Her voice reverberated down the hallway, and something again slammed into the door, shaking the walls with renewed force. Flashlight abandoned, I tugged frantically at the front door. Splintering wood cracked behind us, and I grabbed Violet’s hand, dragging her up the stairs into the parlor where I had so foolishly fallen asleep only hours before. Heavy footsteps and a wordless garble echoed up the stairs behind us. I wedged the door shut with a chair, and our attacker slammed into it, shaking dust from the rafters.

“Get behind me,” I told Violet, herding her into the far corner.

The risen moon filled the room with a faint white light, and I snatched an antique poker from the hearth, gripping it in shaking hands. Each impact against the door sent adrenaline coursing through me, my heartbeat pounding in my mouth. A low sob floated through the door, swelling to an incomprehensible shrieking as the door shuddered on its hinges until the rotted wood gave way.

A hunched creature lurched inside, tripping over the broken chair and crashing to the floor. A hand, fingertips bloodied and dripping, reached for me, and crazed eyes peered out from under matted hair. It was inhuman. Monstrous. Animal. Violet whimpered behind me, and the creature’s gaze snapped to her. With a muted shriek, it hurled itself at me. I clenched my eyes and swung.

Impact shuddered up my arms. When I looked again, the creature had crumpled to the floor, and I beat at it wildly until the bloody fingers twitched and lay still.

The poker clattered to the floor as silence again fell over the house. I stumbled back, sagging against the wall and sliding to a seat. Tears of relief and fear blinded me as I gasped uselessly. As my panic gradually subsided, my awareness returning to me again, a soft singing filled the room. I wiped the haze from my eyes to see the girl kneeling over the body, swaying with the strange melody.

“Mur-der-er… Mur-der-er…” the raspy sing-song continued.

 “Violet?”

Her head swiveled toward me. Moonlight illuminated sunken eyes, black veins snaking across her skin. She grinned wolfishly, a pale tongue pinched between her teeth. Her hand dragged through the growing pool of blood as she crawled toward me on spider legs.

“Drip, drip, drip. Through the floors, through the boards. Down, down, down to the dark.”

I shrunk back against the wall, the breath frozen in my throat, a hot tear running down my cheek.

“Stop crying,” she hissed, her cold breath in my face stinking of death. “Fell and hit her head. Stupid girl. Always was a stupid girl, just like you.”

“Stop it!” I reached for her to shake her, to force this hallucination out and her humanity back in, but an iron grip, impossibly strong and cold as ice, closed around my wrist. White teeth bared against pale gums as she sneered at me.

“Dirty shoes. Slamming doors. Toys on the floor. Watch your mouth. Back to the darkness. Back to the darkness!”

The sing-song resumed, swelling to a shriek.

“Shut up!” she screamed, and her head jerked violently to the side.

She collapsed to the floor with a whimper. Behind her, pale moonlight washed over not a monster but a human face, bloodied and beaten almost beyond recognition. The nails of the bloodied hands had been torn away, torn from clawing at the wood of their dark prison. Terror took control, and I barreled past her, slipping in the blood and tumbling down the stairs as I ran. I yanked wildly at the door, but it stood silent and impassive against my pleading. When I turned, she was standing behind me, her dark hair hanging over her face, the bloody poker clenched in her fist.

“Please…” I whispered. “Please, don’t kill me.”

“Don’t make me,” she snarled. “Don’t make me hurt you! Don’t make me—” her body tremored violently, and the poker clattered to the floor. Her eyes lifted to me suddenly, wide and full of terror. “No more! I’ll be good, I promise! Please! Don’t make me—”

With a shriek, she ran down the hallway leaving bloody footprints in her wake and the basement door slammed. I pounded uselessly at the sealed door, screaming, my voice lost in the silence of the house.

Aftermath

Leaves skittered across the cabin floor, caught in the whirl and eddy of a night-time breeze. The door creaked on broken hinges. On the hearth, graying embers hissed and spat as cooling tea crept from the shattered mug into the red glow.

A chair lay on its side, one leg mangled. The end of the heavy bed jutted out into the room, lines in the dust where it had reluctantly moved from its place. Blankets lay crumpled over deep grooves carved into the heart of the wooden floor.

A scarlet drop ran along the jagged glass in the windowsill. With a soft moan, the tattered curtains gave way and fluttered to the floor. A red splash was painted there, leading out into the darkness, across the soft dirt, disappearing among the brooding trees.

Through the oppressive night shuddered a mournful cry.


Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Tiny Tales Podcast Ep. 25: The Monkey

Tiny Tales is a weekly podcast of short stories spanning horror, fantasy, comedy, and everything in between. Written and narrated by R. E. Rule. Music and production by Frank Nawrot (www.franknawrot.com).


This Week’s Episode:

Once wild, always wild.

Check out our website: www.tinytalespodcast.com
Support us on Patreon: www.patreon.com/rerule

More soon!

~ R. E. Rule

What Happened That Night at Greymouth Manor

This story was shortlisted in the Reedsy Prompt Contest (#64): https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/64/submissions/39402/


               It was a dark night, and I was motoring home, rumbling along the twin ruts that led past Greymouth Manor. Masses of inky cloud had banished the moon from the sky. My headlamps dimly lit the trees lining the thin lane, casting a thicket of shadows across the road. I watched eagerly for the golden glow from the rows of stately windows, a beacon of prosperity and tradition in an ever-uncertain world, but through the gap in the hedges guarding the main entrance, I saw only a black shape against a black night. The windows were dark, and the manor stood brooding.

               A ghostly figure darted in front of me, and I slammed on the brakes. My motorcar shuddered to a stop. A face, deathly white and set with wild eyes, glowed in the light of the headlamps. The young woman stumbled to my door.

                “Please,” she said, lips trembling. “Help me.”

                The breath that had lodged in my throat from the fright of her appearance rushed out. “Are you hurt?”

                “Please!” She was clinging to the motor car to stay on her feet. “There’s no time. They’ll kill me!”

                When I opened the door, intending to get out, she scrambled over me into the empty seat. “Go!” she said, shoving my hands toward the wheel. “Go, now!”

                Her voice was urgent, frantic, her eyes panicked. I hurriedly obeyed, and the motor car jerked forward. Through the last gap in the hedge before the trees swallowed the manor, I caught a glimpse of dark figures, framed against the light of an open doorway, watching us.

                We sat silent as the motor muttered and the road rumbled past. I didn’t know what to do with the white-lipped woman next to me. She sat frozen, hands clutched in her lap, staring ahead unblinkingly. No respectable young woman would get into a strange car with a strange man unless some worse fate awaited her, and from her dress, I knew her to be respectable.

                “What’s your name?” I finally asked.

                The trees marched steadily by, and a sliver of moon managed to escape the oppressive clouds before she answered. “Elaine.”

                “Elaine Greymouth?”

                She nodded. I’d heard of her but only as a footnote to her father, the Lord Greymouth. What she was doing running into the road after dark, I couldn’t fathom.

                “Does your family know where you are?”

                She buried her face in her hands and wouldn’t say another word.

                My landlady was visiting family, so the narrow house where I lived, wedged into the tight row lining the street, stood dark and silent when we arrived. Elaine sat mutely. Not knowing where else to take her, I helped her inside, half-carrying her as she stumbled along, clinging to my arm. I set her on a chair in the kitchen, tucked a heavy blanket around her shoulders, and pressed a steaming cup of tea into her hands.

                “Now, tell me,” I said, sitting across from her. “Who’s going to kill you?”

                She tentatively sipped the tea, smoothing back her disheveled hair with a fluttering hand. “We recently discovered we had several distant cousins. My father wasn’t clear on the details, or perhaps he simply wasn’t forthcoming with me, but”—she took a shuddering breath—“they had a line of inheritance.”

               The tea in her cup wavered in her shaking hands, nearly spilling.

               “They came to visit,” she continued, the composure she’d mustered slipping away. “Mother was in bed, Father in his study.” Her teeth chattered. “Only, Mother was cold as ice, staring. The study… Empty. Auntie was gone. I tried! I looked.”

               I leaned closer. “Where were they?”

               “They killed them, don’t you see?” she cried, eyes wide. “They wanted the manor! Uncle was last. I begged him, said it was just a house, but he wouldn’t go. There was so much blood, pouring out of his mouth, then it was just me and—“

               The teacup slipped from her fingers, shattering on the table. She gasped in horror, but I caught her trembling hands. “It’s only china. I’ll clean it up, but first, I’m calling the police.”

               When I came back, she was trying to mop up the mess with a linen napkin. She cut herself on the shards and stood there, uselessly, blood pooling in her palm. I quickly wrapped her hand up and set her back in her chair, grateful my landlady wasn’t here to see the state of her linens. “The police are on their way.”

               She nodded quickly. “Who are you?”

               “My name is Clarence,” I said, squeezing her fingers to stop the bleeding. “But you can call me Clancy. All my friends do.”

                I offered a small smile. She didn’t return it, but she leaned her forehead on my hands, still clutched in hers.

                A weary-looking and skeptical sergeant soon appeared at the door to hear her tale. His demeanor changed when I presented “the Honorable Elaine Greymouth,” and we were rushed back to the manor, the police car droning and clanging in the still night.

                The manor was a massive affair of brick and twisted metal. The dark windows soon flared with light. Electric torches flickered and bobbed on the grounds, and voices shuddered off the brick as they searched. Elaine and I waited outside: she refused to get any closer. A peevish Inspector, his tie half-tied, arrived, gnashing an unlit cigar and barking orders at the uniforms.

                “We found blood!” came a call from the doorway, and he stalked inside, shoving his cigar back in his pocket.

                Elaine buried her face in my lapel. “You’re safe now,” I murmured, stroking her hair, but she shook her head.

                It was nearly dawn before we were taken back to the narrow house on the crowded street.  They had found blood but no bodies and no killers. Uniforms came and went all day, and Elaine told and retold her story until I thought she might go mad. She answered each question calmly, with composure, but when they finally left that evening, she looked transparent, like she might fade away.

                Besides my landlady’s rooms, which were strictly off-limits, there was only my rickety bed, but I could make do with the parlor. Elaine sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, vacantly apologizing for the imposition. I gathered up spare blankets and a change of clothes before bidding her goodnight.

                “Clarence!” she called anxiously as I pulled the door shut behind me. She was watching me, eyes wide and fearful.

                “I’ll be downstairs.”

                After a moment, she seemed to accept this, and I left her tugging at the buttons on her dress.

               I tossed aside my jacket and collapsed in a high-backed chair, not bothering to turn on the lights as the sky darkened, and tried to make sense of the past day. One moment I was driving home, the next, the potentially last member of the Greymouth family was asleep in my bed. My home was humble compared to her standard of living, but she’d made no complaint and shown no desire to leave. The police seemed to think we were already acquainted and didn’t question it when she clung to my hand, knuckles whitening, while they questioned her.

               I was nodding off when the floor in the hall creaked. Night had settled over the house, clumping in the corners. A dark figure appeared in the doorway. I started to call for Elaine but hesitated. Elaine would glow a soft white in the darkness, like a pale moonbeam, like she had when she appeared in front of my car. Whoever this was, was a shadow against the night, standing silent.

               Men who tend to motor after dark also tend to carry revolvers. I slid the small weapon out of my vest pocket. The figure didn’t seem to notice me and turned to leave. I stood up, and the blankets piled in my lap slid to the floor. The figure whirled, and I fired. The room blazed bright as daylight, leaving me blind, ears ringing. I crept forward, feeling around on the floor until my fingers found warm wetness. Blood.

               There was no time for relief. The floor above me moaned. I sprinted for the stairs, taking them two at a time, and crashed through her door. Another dark figure stood over Elaine’s bed, framed against the moonlit window. My gun flashed and crashed, and they crumpled to the floor. When I turned on the lights, Elaine was sitting up, white and stiff as a gravestone, coated in a red mist of blood.

               “Elaine?”

               Her wide eyes stayed fixed on the figure in the spreading red stain until I pulled her chin to face me, relieved to see the blood she wore wasn’t hers. Her dress had been laid over a chair, and she had on only a thin lace chemise. I wrapped a blanket around her, ushering her downstairs. She froze at the bottom of the steps where the other figure lay, sprawled halfway inside the parlor.

               “He’s dead,” I said, guiding her into the kitchen.

               The police were again called, and the house swarmed with uniforms. Elaine stared down at the bodies as they were carried out, the black masks they wore peeled back.

               “The sons,” she murmured before she went back into the kitchen and sat, staring ahead, the blanket sliding forgotten from one delicate shoulder.

               The Inspector, his cigar dangling from one corner of his mouth, hesitated by the door, glancing into the kitchen before he pulled me aside and dug a photograph out of his pocket. “Thought it best you see this.”

               I stared down at the grainy image of brick walls lined with shelves, a low ceiling, and a dirt floor. Four figures wrapped in gaudy drapes lay in a neat row at the bottom of a dirt hole, bound up by tasseled cords. “No survivors?”

               “Only the girl.”

               “What is it?” a thin voice asked behind me.

               Elaine stood in the doorway, her face pale.

               “They found your family,” I said, handing the photograph back to spare her the horror.

               “Where?”

               “The cellar.”

               She nodded. “And the killers? There were two more, the mother and the brother.”

               “Not a sign of them, ma’am,” the Inspector said, fiddling with his cigar. “I imagine they’re long gone by now.”

               I tugged the blanket back over her bare shoulders. “It’s over. You can go home.”

               “No,” she said flatly, her face expressionless. “They won’t rest until I’m dead.”

               She went back into the kitchen, her gaze turned to the ceiling to avoid seeing the blood on the floor. I shrugged helplessly, and the inspector laid a sympathetic hand on my shoulder before he strode out the door.

               I made the best bed I could for her on the chaise in the parlor and covered the bloodstains with sheets, but she wouldn’t sleep or eat. I couldn’t blame her for that. I tried my best, but I was no cook.

               “Please try,” I said softly, kneeling at her feet where she sat on the makeshift bed and setting a tray of food, long since cold, on her lap.

               She nudged the fork despondently, but we were interrupted by a loud gasp from the hallway that could only be Mrs. M. returning home to find one of her finest sheets laid over an enormous bloodstain on the meticulously cleaned carpets. If she was horrified by the state of the floors, I trembled to think what she would do to me when she discovered the kitchen.

               “What did you do?” she shrieked at me when I appeared in the doorway, shaking the bloody linens in my face. “Three days! I left for three—”

               She stopped, mouth open, staring past me. Elaine hovered in the doorway, her eyes seeming two sizes too large in her drawn face.

               When Mrs. M. heard the whole sordid tale, she insisted Elaine stay with us and would hear no argument. The only protests Elaine made before she agreed were halfhearted and I think more for propriety’s sake than anything else. The days fell into a bizarre rhythm. The search for the remaining killers swept the city, and soon there wasn’t an ear that hadn’t heard what happened that night at Greymouth Manor. Curious visitors, well-wishers, and gawkers tried to call when they learned where Elaine had disappeared to, but I sent them away, saving her from their prying and shallow sympathies.

               Mrs. M. fussed over her like an anxious mother. Elaine herself kept a brave face. Through all the horrors and fear she’d endured, she never shed a tear, but I heard the floor creaking as she paced at night. It was only at my coaxing that she picked at her meals and on my arm that she would venture from the house to stroll down the uneven street.

               “Poor dear,” Mrs. M. sighed as we stood in the parlor doorway, watching her halfheartedly play the out-of-tune piano in the corner. “One can’t fathom what kind of monster would do such a thing and to such a sweet girl.”

               “One never knows, Mrs. M.”

               “And heaven only knows what would have happened to her if you hadn’t been there!” She wrung a dishtowel in her hands as if she might strangle the killers herself.

               “A coincidence to be sure, Mrs. M.”

               “Don’t pretend you aren’t pleased,” she said, eyeing me. “I see the way you look at her when she takes your arm, like a man who’s found lost treasure.”

               “Mrs. M!” I said indignantly.

               My protest only seemed to confirm her suspicions, and she raised an eyebrow before bustling back into the kitchen.

               Elaine was sitting silently now, gazing at her hands in her lap. Her fair hair hung over her shoulders: she hadn’t bothered to pin it up. She turned to me, her eyes forlorn, before the golden locks again hid her thin face, and with a sigh, she began to play, picking out a mournful and naked melody.

               Three weeks after a crazed woman darted into the road ahead of my motor car, the last two killers were found on a steamer bound for America. The trial that followed, while a necessary course of law, seemed superfluous. No one doubted their guilt or the word of the thin, pale woman who accused them. One only had to look in her face to see the horrors they’d brought upon her. It was no surprise then when they were sentenced to hang. Elaine insisted on attending, dressed in stark black, and refused to leave until the hoods were removed and she could see the bloated faces of her family’s killers. She sobbed against my chest, though whether from horror or relief, I couldn’t say.

               When we stepped out of the courthouse, a pudgy man with a briefcase in one hand and a damp kerchief in the other that he kept wiping across his brow was waiting for us.

               “Lady Greymouth?” he asked.

               Elaine’s body jerked at the address, but she politely greeted him in response.

               “I oversaw your father’s matters. Now that this… beastly affair is dealt with…” He dug around in his stuffed briefcase.

               “Now really is not a good time,” she said.

               “I’m sure it will only take a moment,” I said, squeezing her hand. “Let’s hear the man out.”

               He presented her with a large envelope. “As the last surviving member of the Greymouth family, the whole of your father’s estate passes to you, including Greymouth Manor.”

               Her face contorted. “Board it up. I never want to see that horrid place again. I can’t… I can’t go back. I want none of it!”

               She dropped the envelope like a snake and rushed past him.

               “Sorry,” I snatched it up and shoved it under my arm, hurrying after her. “It’s been a long… month, really,” I called over my shoulder.

               I found her standing on the street corner, distractedly twisting her handkerchief, and took her dear little face in my hands. “You’re safe now, darling.”

               It was improper, and I knew it, but she smiled up at me, laying her hands over mine. “I don’t know what would have become of me if you hadn’t found me.”

               “Don’t you think about that. Not for a moment.”

               The horror of that night finally seemed to lay behind us, and there was a future to be looked to, one I had an increasing interest in. When she left the narrow house for furnishings more suitable for her station, I was a frequent visitor, feeling very out of place, but I needn’t have worried. Her solemn face lit up and she rushed to greet me whenever “young Mister Clarence” was announced at the door.

               Three months later, we were married and settled into the stately but modest Greymouth townhouse. It was a quiet life. As I told the few visitors we had before asking them to call again another day, the darkness still lingered. While a tragedy, it was less a surprise when six months later, my dear little wife, driven mad by what she’d endured, killed herself. She was too young and innocent to survive the horrors brought upon her.

               She was buried on the estate beside her family in a small fenced garden at the edge of the trees, and to stay close to her, I took possession of the manor, pulling the boards from the doors and letting light into the windows once more.

               But the truth of it is, when she came down the stairs that last night and I kissed her hand as I always did, she smiled happily up at me, never for a moment suspecting there was strychnine in her tea.


Photo Credit: The Building News, 16 July 1875
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Haseley_Manor_-perspective_including_ground_plan-_The_Building_News,_16_July_1875.jpg

The Monkey

                Oranges were the only thing that damn monkey would eat. The lettuce and apples were flung away, but the orange he’d take in his wrinkled feet, retreating to the highest perch he could find. There he’d sit, ripping off hunks of the rind with his fangs and spitting them onto the floor, his piercing gaze fixed on me.

                The dealer had parked in the dusty parking lot of an abandoned building and was lounging against the side of his unmarked van when I pulled in. It was the kind of van you thought twice about parking next to, with dark curtains pulled over its barred windows, but a friend of a friend told me he could get you any pet you wanted, no questions asked. Calm and low maintenance, the dealer assured me, pulling a cat carrier out of the back of the van. Through the mesh door, I could see a small mass of brown fur curled up in the corner, the thin ribs etched into its fur heaving. He looked so fragile, so frightened, so vulnerable. I handed over my envelope of cash without another thought.

                I set my TV to play jungle sounds and talked to him whenever I was home, acclimating him to the sound of my voice, but I was given little reward. He refused to play or groom. His fur grew matted and frayed. He only sat and stared at me, lurking in the highest corners he could find, and as the weeks went on, it began to drive me crazy. Everywhere I went, he eventually appeared: on top of bookshelves, huddled under furniture, always staring, until I felt like I was being hunted in my own home. If I tried to get near him, I was greeted with glistening fangs, and bristling fur, and that black gaze prickling up the back of my neck.

                I tried taking the oranges away, to force it to eat something else or better yet to take its precious oranges from my hand, but it would only angrily fling away the undesirable food before retreating to its perch. It would rather starve to death than come near me. I shut the oranges away in the refrigerator with a slam. I had given it food, water, toys, ropes to climb, and a place in my home, but the ungrateful thing wanted nothing to do with me. It left claw marks in the refrigerator while I slept.

                The dealer said it needed time to adjust, like all animals put into a new environment. He laughed when I said it was staring at me, whispering into the phone as I met the black gaze. He wouldn’t take it back. He even had the gall to suggest I get another one of the vile creatures. ‘Company,’ he called it.

                The thing moved closer now. I hurled slices of apple at it, screaming at it to stop staring, jumping, thrashing my arms, trying to chase it away. But it never flinched. It gazed blackly, unwavering, its tiny fists clenching.

                Tomorrow. Tomorrow it would stop staring. A black trash bag would see to that. And I shut my bedroom door to keep the creature out.

                I woke to the light from the hallway spilling through the open door, illuminating the face of the monkey perched on my chest. Black lips curled back to reveal glistening fangs. It peeled my neck like an orange.

Tiny Tales: An Announcement, A Contest & A Teeny Tiny Tale

Writers! There’s an important announcement in here for you!

The latest episode of Tiny Tales is now live on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Buzzsprout, and the Tiny Tales webpage.

Tiny Tales is a weekly podcast of short stories spanning horror, fantasy, comedy, and everything in between. Written and narrated by R. E. Rule. Music and production by Frank Nawrot (www.franknawrot.com).

This Week’s Episode:

Episode 51: Rsska Tiny Tales

 “Rsska,” she said, and he winced slightly at her hiss. “That is the who. As for the what, we are the people of the swamp, just as you are the people of the land.”The voice of Rsska was performed by the incomparable Gretchen Pille – http://www.gretchenpille.com/Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/rerule)

More soon!

~ R. E. Rule

Tiny Tales: A Brief Interlude

Tiny Tales: A Brief Interlude is now available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Buzzsprout, and the Tiny Tales webpage.

Tiny Tales is a weekly podcast of short stories spanning horror, fantasy, comedy, and everything in between. Written and narrated by R. E. Rule. Music and production by Frank Nawrot (www.franknawrot.com).

This Week’s Episode:

Episode 51: Rsska Tiny Tales

 “Rsska,” she said, and he winced slightly at her hiss. “That is the who. As for the what, we are the people of the swamp, just as you are the people of the land.”The voice of Rsska was performed by the incomparable Gretchen Pille – http://www.gretchenpille.com/Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/rerule)

More soon!

~ R. E. Rule

Tiny Tales: Episode 8 – Reunited

Episode 8 of Tiny Tales is now live on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Buzzsprout, and the Tiny Tales webpage.

Tiny Tales is a weekly podcast of short stories spanning horror, fantasy, comedy, and everything in between. Written and narrated by R. E. Rule. Music and production by Frank Nawrot (www.franknawrot.com).

This Week’s Episode:

Episode 51: Rsska Tiny Tales

 “Rsska,” she said, and he winced slightly at her hiss. “That is the who. As for the what, we are the people of the swamp, just as you are the people of the land.”The voice of Rsska was performed by the incomparable Gretchen Pille – http://www.gretchenpille.com/Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/rerule)

More soon!

~ R. E. Rule

Tiny Tales: Episode 7 – The Curse

Episode 7 of Tiny Tales is now live on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Buzzsprout, and the Tiny Tales webpage.

Tiny Tales is a weekly podcast of short stories spanning horror, fantasy, comedy, and everything in between. Written and narrated by R. E. Rule. Music and production by Frank Nawrot (www.franknawrot.com).

This Week’s Episode:

Episode 51: Rsska Tiny Tales

 “Rsska,” she said, and he winced slightly at her hiss. “That is the who. As for the what, we are the people of the swamp, just as you are the people of the land.”The voice of Rsska was performed by the incomparable Gretchen Pille – http://www.gretchenpille.com/Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/rerule)

More soon!

~ R. E. Rule