Pumpkins, Ghosts, and Goblins, Oh My

Hello readers! ‘Tis the season for spooky stories and if you’re like me you’re always on the lookout for good ones. I especially love haunted house stories, which is why I wrote one. Here’s an excerpt from my novel Magnolia Run to get you in the mood for Halloween. If you like it head over to Amazon or B&N and pick up a copy. Happy reading!

It was pitch dark on the mountain.  He had his father’s flashlight but it was still difficult to see the path in front of him.  He stepped carefully, afraid of snakes.  The woods were dense on either side of the narrow road and clouds obscured the moon.  He heard thunder rolling in the distance but he didn’t care if it rained.  He had come this far and he wasn’t turning back.

Private James Adams had been eager to enlist in the army.  He went to the movies to see the newsreels more than anything else.  He saw the soldiers already overseas battling the Germans, taking the fight to Hitler.  He and his friends talked about how they would be once they got there, bantering about how many Germans they would kill and how many French women they would kiss.  As soon as he turned eighteen James went to the nearest recruiting office and began his journey to immortality.  Surely he would be in a great battle and surely people would write songs about his battalion.  He joined the airborne and he finally made it to France but he didn’t do much kissing.  The war was loud and frightening and very real.  His friends from basic were dying all around him that day.  He huddled in a fox hole praying for it to be over.  It was muddy and damp and the earth under him smelled foul.  He heard his commanding officer yell for them to advance.  Everything inside him resisted but he knew it was his duty to follow the order.  People on the home front were counting on him.  Seeing the faces of family and friends back home, he leapt out of his fox hole and joined the other sprinting soldiers. 

Suddenly, he was on the ground.  His ears were ringing, he couldn’t see, and pungent smoke filled his nostrils.  He didn’t know how long he lay there.  It was as if time was standing still.  Then very faintly he heard someone yelling, “Medic!”  Hands grabbed his shoulders and legs, lifting him onto a gurney.  They were running with him, away from the gunfire and the screams, the horrible screams.

He woke up in the hospital, his eyesight and hearing restored, but something else was missing.  The explosion had taken his left arm clean off at the shoulder.  All that remained was a raw stump and a bloody bandage.  He eventually traveled home and his parents met him at the station.  His mother wept and his father just shook his head.  There wasn’t anything to say really.  After the war he found work as he could, whatever anyone would let a one-armed vet do.  He despaired of ever finding a girl to marry.  Who would want damaged goods like him?  The nights were the worst, though.  That’s when he felt it.  He would wake in the night with shooting pain down his left arm and he would clap his right hand down expecting to feel flesh there but he just felt the bed sheet.  He knew his arm was gone yet he could still feel the pain.  Doctors gave him sad looks and told him merely to “give it time.”

It was this pain that had driven him out of his house, out into the black woods and the gathering storm.  He had heard of a woman who could cure people.  Two men in the back of the barber shop had been whispering about her three days before.  When he approached them, they tried to put him off but he insisted.

“She lives up the mountain,” one of the men said.  “She’s got a little cabin up there.  They say she can make a potion that can cure whatever ails you.  You just tell her about it and she’ll make it up right there.”

“What does it cost?” James asked eagerly.  He didn’t have much but it would be worth it if this woman could help him.

The man hesitated.  “No one whose been up there ever talks about what they had to pay.”  He cut a look at his companion who looked away hurriedly.  “Let’s just say it’s expensive.”

James thanked them and turned to leave when the other man grabbed his bereft shoulder.  “Son, you were in the war.  You’ve already lost enough.”

James pressed on down the road.  He heard the terrified squeak of a small rodent.  An owl had found dinner.  It felt as if he had been walking forever and he was starting to think those men were having him on when he finally saw a small rectangle of light in the distance.  His heart leapt.  There was a cabin up here.

He shone his flashlight over the gate.  It was tilted and rusty and squealed when he swung it open.  He could only see the front steps and door of the house in the yellow circle of the flashlight as he approached.  It looked old, like it had been there since the 1800s.  As he drew near the porch, he stopped and listened.  It was deathly quiet.  There was no thunder or sound of animals, only a light breeze rustling the leaves on the trees and he was suddenly afraid.  Something was telling him to turn back.  He did turn around but then caught himself.  This is ridiculous, he thought.  She’s just an old woman.

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

James cried out and dropped his flashlight.  He whirled around and saw a black figure standing on the porch.  The door was open and a dim light was pooling around the figure’s feet.  He could barely make out that it was a woman.  She turned and headed through the door, seemingly confident that he would follow.  He hesitated, a chill running through his body but then he felt a twinge in his phantom arm and scurried up onto the porch and into the cabin.

The front room was lit only by a fire in the grate.  The woman walked over to the chair next to it and sat down.  She turned to look at him and he could see her face properly.  She was older but not as old as he expected.  She looked to be in her sixties.  Her drab brown dress was oversized but he could see she was round in the middle and her shoulders were stooped.  Her dark hair was pulled back in a bun with frizzy lengths falling around her wrinkled face.  Her eyes were a very dark brown.  To James they looked black and very deep.

“Come and sit.”  She gestured to the chair on the other side of the fire place.  He could hear an accent but he wasn’t sure what it was, possibly Russian.  He sat.

“I brought some money – “ he started but she waved her hand.  “I care nothing for money,” she said.  Thunder cracked outside and James jumped.  The storm was closer now.  The woman stared into the fire.  “I know why you have come.  Your arm hurts you.”

“Well, yes, but not this one.”  James held up his right arm.  “The other one,” he finished sheepishly.  The doctors he had seen hadn’t understood his problem and he was worried the woman would think he was crazy and maybe laugh at him.

“I know that,” she snapped.  “Would you have come all the way up here if it was that one?”  She sounded insulted.  “Idiot doctors can handle that.  You require something more.”  She turned and stared into his eyes.  As he looked back, her left eye slowly turned back towards the fire but her right one continued to bore into him.  “Isn’t that right?”

“Y-yes.”  He shifted in his seat.  “Can you help me?”

“Perhaps.”

It had started to rain and the wind beat it against the window.  Lightning flashed, briefly lighting up the rest of the room.  James wasn’t sure what he had seen out of the corner of his eye but a chill went up his spine.  He stared into the dark corner straining to see.  When he turned back the woman had closed her eyes and was chanting in a foreign language, rocking back and forth gently.  As the thunder rolled and the woman chanted, James started to get the feeling they were no longer alone in the room. 

She suddenly stopped chanting and opened her eyes.  “The spirits say they can help you.”

The mysterious presence seemed to be getting closer to him and he could feel eyes watching him.  Terror was rising in his chest.   He felt rooted to the chair and was too scared to look around.

“I told you I don’t care for money,” the woman was saying.  “There is something I value.  If I ask the spirits to heal you, you must give me something in return.”

“What – what is it?”  It was sweltering by the fire but James shivered.  He felt like he had a fever and he was starting to feel queasy. 

The woman smiled.  It was a horrible smile.  Her teeth were yellow and slightly pointed at the end.  James thought that might be his imagination.  He was feeling a little light-headed.  Again he sensed someone moving closer to him across the room.  She reached up to the mantle and pulled down a small wooden box.  She held it out to him and opened the lid.  He leaned forward and peered into the box.

The scream that escaped him was foreign even to his own ears.  It was worse than the screams of the dying men on the battlefield.  It seemed to come from a place he didn’t know he possessed.  He jumped to his feet knocking over the chair and staggered to the door, jerking it open and dashing out into the rain.  He tripped on the flashlight he had dropped in the yard and went face first into the mud.  He screamed again, certain the shadow in that room was pursuing him.  He scrambled to his feet and bolted out the gate and ran full speed down the road not caring if he collided with anything.  He knew he had to get away from that cabin at all costs.

Inside, the woman chuckled to herself.  She closed the lid and set the box back on the mantle.  “There won’t be anything tonight,” she said.  She felt that she was again alone in her cabin.