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Their favorite color is blue. That’s what they tell the people who ask, and everyone is delighted that yet again, the twins share identical tastes.
But blue is not their favorite color.
Joanna prefers the gray shade of dead pupils. She’s spent a lot of time staring into them, searching for proof of life after death. She’s only seen herself in those eyes, though. She wonders if that means she’s dead, too.
Nelly’s favorite color is pink, the kind of pink you get from mixing blood with pus. She collects it beneath the bodies, or directly from the wounds. She’s considered bottling it for later and mixing it with her shampoo, but she has to work fast because it smells funky after a while.
They wear the same outfits. They style their hair the same way. But they kill people in very different ways, even though they share the same enjoyment from it.
Sadly, there’s no way to explain this to people without them getting upset. It’s simpler just to say they both like blue.
Is anyone going to believe him?
He fears not.
He looks around hopefully anyway, but the nearest person is the disinterested-looking saleswoman who doesn’t pay him any mind. At the other end of the store is a couple who move from sofa to sofa, testing out the cushions by bouncing on them.
The side of the store where he’s at features bedroom furniture—mostly scuffed dressers, headboards, and the occasional armoire. The problem he has is with one of the armoires.
It looks like nothing special. It’s old and beaten up like the rest of the furniture in the consignment shop, but it’s one of the rare pieces that’s made of genuine wood and not particle board. That’s what drew him to it. It’s a quality piece, the kind that lasts through generations.
The armoire doors are still open the way he left them. He can see the multiple shelves inside and they’re empty. He doesn’t care about them. His gaze lifts to the top of the armoire.
A pair of glowing red eyes stares back at him.
There must be more to the entity, but he can’t tell. The armoire stands against the wall and the ceiling of the store is low. The three feet above the armoire is unlit, creating a box of shadow. The eyes seem to hover within it.
It’s a demon, he thinks. Someone’s cursed this armoire. Or it fell on someone and killed them.
He waves his arms urgently for help. Finally, the saleswoman sees him and reluctantly shuffles over.
“Yes?” she asks with a sigh.
“That piece is haunted!” He stabs a finger at the armoire and its bloody, staring eyes. “How much will you knock off the asking price?”
“Listen to me, or I’ll drown you in the well just like last time.”
It’s a whisper he hears every night around midnight. He doesn’t know where the voice comes from or if he’s only imagining it. What he does know is that if he falls asleep right away without ‘listening’, he wakes up in the morning with his hair soaking wet.
There’s no well on his parents’ property. He checked after the first few times this happened to him and found nothing. There’s not even a stream. Water comes from the hand pump, but he doesn’t know where it originates from. Somewhere deep underground, he thinks. Somewhere he can’t get to.
If the well is down there, that might be where the voice comes from, too, and that scares him. That scares him a lot. After his parents tuck him into bed, he pulls out the needle he hides beneath his pillow. He pricks himself with it to keep himself awake.
Because the message he needs to listen to only comes in the darkest hours of the night when he’s sleepiest. When his eyes burn with tiredness. Poking himself keeps him awake while funny words he doesn’t understand tickle his inner ears. Then, only after the sun comes up, can he fall asleep. Otherwise he’s taken to the well.
He doesn’t know how long this will go on for. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to understand. Whatever it is that happens to him when he’s taken to the well is a mystery, but he guesses that it’s bad.
So he keeps poking himself. He continues praying that his tormentor will finally be satisfied. He hopes he’s never taken to the well while he’s awake.
She’s got the hammer. That’s got to be an advantage. That’s what Erica tells herself as she crouches beside the woodshed and listens to the screaming from inside the cabin.
Joy, who told everyone that He didn’t exist and wouldn’t come, had the axe. At the time it had seemed like a good choice to take it, but Erica saw Joy go down beside the TV. The axe hadn’t helped her.
There’s a high-pitched yelp that sounds like it came from Ashley. Erica struggles to remember what Ashley had. Oh, right. It was the chainsaw. That should have been good, too, but Erica never once heard the sound of its buzz. It must have been broken. Or Ashley didn’t know how to use it. Doesn’t matter now. Not to Ashley.
Erica looks down at her right palm. It stings like a bitch. It had been Monica’s idea to cut their palms rather than a body part they used less frequently. Worst idea, ever. It hurts to grip the handle of the hammer, and the wood is slippery with her blood. She worries that the blood might allow Him to track her. After all, He’s only alive because of their blood…and because they said those words and repeated His name.
If Monica wasn’t already dead, Erica would have killed her for talking them into playing this game. What a stupid, stupid idea that was.
For now, she clutches her hammer and hopes she doesn’t drop it. The sounds inside the cabin have died down. He’ll probably come outside now if He knows she’s still alive.
She slows her breathing and hopes for the best.
The door of the cabin swings open.
There aren’t many people Mike can’t get along with, but Greggory from Accounting is one of them.
They don’t socialize. They don’t even greet each other in the hallways. But although Mike doesn’t know anything about the other man, he knows he doesn’t like him because of the copier.
Greggory hogs the use of it. He doesn’t care about taking turns. Back-to-back days of finding the copier shuddering as it prints out his copies is the last straw for Mike. He yanks the printed sheets from the trays to see what the hell the man is copying so relentlessly. He’s no wiser after having looked at them.
They’re pages full of numbers. Numbers in several different fonts and spaced strangely all over the sheets. Mike can’t make sense of them. It makes him even more annoyed.
When the machine prints its final copy, Mike pulls out all the sheets and slaps them on a nearby chair. He’s in no mood to wait for Greggory to come clear the machine.
While Mike is in the middle of printing his own copies, Greggory comes in. His dark, sunken eyes look to the copy machine and then to the sloppy stack of his papers. One sheet had fallen to the floor at one point and Mike stepped on it. It’s crumpled and bears the impression of his dress shoe.
Greggory doesn’t utter a word. He simply gathers all his papers and walks out.
The next day, Mike goes to the copier and finds it in use. There are fewer sheets in the trays this time, but he still suspects that they’re Greggory’s. Mike lifts a sheet to check, but again doesn’t understand what he sees.
He plucks out sheets from the other trays. They’re also confusing. As he’s reaching for the bottom tray, he accidentally knocks his arm into the upper trays. Papers slide off onto the floor, making a puddle of printed images on the carpet.
Crazily, all the sheets put together form a single cohesive image.
They form a black and white, hazy portrait of Mike.
A ripple along his spine makes him spin around. Greggory looks at him and then at the image on the floor.
“What the hell is all this?” Mike demands, pointing at the sheets. “When did you make that picture?”
Greggory doesn’t say a word. He kneels beside the scattered images and punches his fist into the center of them.
Mike gasps and clutches his chest.
Greggory winks as he takes two sheets in hand and tears them in half.
Mike’s left hand falls off, spouting streams of blood.
The tired wheeze of the copier can’t drown out the sound of Mike’s screaming. When co-workers come to investigate, Greggory is calmly tearing up sheets as though he’s got all day to do it.
“It’s a Venus Flytrap,” he tells the old lady.
This is her fourth time visiting the Walmart Garden Center, and just like those other times, she doesn’t appear interested in purchasing anything.
Unlike her, he’s got better things to do than wander aimlessly amid the pots and plants. Another shipment of fertilizer came in that morning and though he pretends to dislike it like his co-workers do, he secretly enjoys the fragrant smell of the bags. They’re much better smelling, anyway, than this old lady, who smells like how he’d expect someone who’s slowly rotting from the inside to smell. The stench seems to get worse with each visit. He hopes this isn’t his fate when he gets old. He’d rather die young and get it over with.
He waits for the old lady to shuffle off like she has the previous days, but she surprises him by pointing at the Venus Flytrap.
“Will it eat meat?” she asks.
He glances at the plant, dubious. “I mean, it’ll eat flies and stuff. I guess that’s meat.”
“Meat,” she says, and nods.
She keeps staring at the plant but doesn’t say anything more, so he rolls his eyes and walks off. He’s got fertilizer to stack. When he looks back to check if she’s left, he’s mildly surprised to see her still standing there.
An hour later when he returns to the floor, his supervisor tells him to clean up Aisle 20. He pushes the mop and bucket over but once he arrives in the aisle, he can only stare. There’s a huge puddle of blood on the floor and a pair of ratty shoes that seem familiar. Almost as an afterthought, he looks at the nearby shelf.
The Venus Flytrap seems to be a lot bigger, and propped against its pot is a faded old photograph of a smiling young couple.
“One day it’ll be so hot your shadow will burn into the ground.”
Gracie thinks about her older brother’s warning as she plays in the park. It’s another scorcher and the sun feels like it’s only inches away. If her shadow is going to be burned permanently into the dirt, she wants it to be a good one. A shadow that looks cool, maybe. Or like it’s having fun.
The park is empty on account of the heat, so she’s got plenty of areas to choose from. She selects a sunny spot past the merry-go-round, where there’s more dirt than grass. Her shadow is sharp and clear here. It’s easy to read.
She tries a couple of poses. Eventually settles on one that makes her look like a superhero. The pose is kind of boring, though, she decides, and she thinks about how to change it.
Something happens in the meantime.
It’s subtle, like if she were to look away and then back she wouldn’t notice it. But she doesn’t look away, so she sees her shadow’s fingers curl in toward its shadow palm. She sees the feet of her shadow spread wider apart, the triangle between its legs growing larger as though it’s bracing itself.
She sees that it can grow shadows on its own: a single one that’s thin and tubular. She thinks it might be the shadow of a snake, curling around her shadow’s hands with its tail trailing down.
But it turns out it’s not a snake. It’s a rope. It lengthens, and though the shadow is flat, Gracie can tell that it’s reaching toward her. She backs up but she doesn’t get far.
There’s a tug on her left wrist where a thin shadow now lies.
The sun begins to slide. Her shadow stretches across the ground. It’s taller than her now. Denser. Gracie watches the horizon and tries to remember when sunset is supposed to be.
Her shadow is a giant. The rope pulls on her wrist.
There’s a treehole that acts like a monster, and the weird thing is, everyone in town knows it.
They say, “Oh, you stay from that old gnarled tree. It’s got an appetite.”
Or, “Lots of kids and dogs go missing when they go sniffing around that wicked tree. Don’t you be one of them.”
Devin’s heard it all, but he’s not stupid. He’s eight, after all, not a baby. He knows what that treehole is for, alright. He’s been using it since he was six.
His first pet, Petey the Gerbil, went in there, along with his first goldfish Goldie. The neighbor’s dog, Sam, who tried to bite Devin that day after school—he’s in there, too, and he deserves it more than the others.
And there are others: the yapping Chihuahua from two doors down that used to make a racket when Devin walked past its yard; the rabbit from his class—not because it did anything wrong but because Mrs. Marple gave Devin two stars on his assignment instead of four. It felt good to see Mrs. Marple cry when her rabbit went missing.
There are other animals in there, too, some that annoyed Devin but most of them stuffed in there just because they were easy to catch.
The funny thing about the treehole is that it’s never full. No matter what Devin shoves into it, there’s room for more. So he tries his best to fill it with all sorts of things, just to see if he can finally plug it up.
So far he’s had no luck, but he’s bringing Mandy’s little sister out to the treehole this afternoon. She’ll be the biggest thing, especially since she’s so chubby. Maybe the old people are right and it’s kids the treehole wants. Devin is going to find out.
‘Tis the spooky season.
Haunted houses stir with the falling leaves, but in truth they never sleep.
As the windows crust with scaly frost and snow creeps over the ground.
As mama birds stab wriggling worms into gaping, voracious mouths.
As bare skin bubbles beneath a searing, uncompromising heat.
As the skies grow cool and the trees drip off their leaves.
Gravestones spend more time in the dark.
Houses are always awake.