Friday, September 9, 2011

The Flames

The Flames
Jennifer Feuerstein
Here is the first offering from my collection of short horror stories. Each begins with a journal entry. It’s up to you, the reader, to figure out how the entry applies to the story…

We did it, we really did it! Buh-bye apartment, hello paradise! I can’t believe we’ll be moving into the house of our dreams! It’s almost too good to be true.

They’d stumbled across the real estate listing quite by accident. Then, they’d driven by the place three times before realizing the property didn’t have a sign in the yard. Strange to have such a lovely house going un-marketed, but they’d chalked it up to the family not having the money.

The place was in amazing shape for the house’s age. The real estate agent had mentioned a total restoration the previous year, but stated the owners had changed their mind about country life. Whatever the reason, Melinda and George counted their lucky stars. They’d tossed out a number and been shocked when it came back accepted.

Again, they’d told themselves it was destiny. They were meant to have the property and start their lives there. Things got odder when no neighbors introduced themselves. There were no welcoming parties, cook out invitations, or friendly chats on the porch. Melinda had grown up in the country and she pointed out the peculiarity to George. He’d shrugged it off, telling her to give the people time.

Melinda sighed as she parked in front of the small building that served as the local post office to pick up the mail, for the fifth time. She wondered what excuse she would be given this time as she walked through the door and stood in line. There was an unfamiliar lady behind the counter. Maybe a temporary fill in, but it also meant Melinda might finally found out what was wrong.

She stepped up, introduced herself and explained the situation. The woman coughed hard enough to loosen a few gray hairs from her tight bun, drew a haggard breath, and took a sip of water. Melinda waited patiently, knowing time and transactions moved slower in the country.

“Ah, the place used to be part of the Smith Farm, biggest farm in the county it was. At least until Old Man Smith took ill and his kids began selling off plots. Yours is the only one I know of with a house still standing on it.”

“That’s all very interesting, but I wonder about the mail service?” Melinda tried to remain kind, niceties went far out here.

“I suspect they’ll keep telling you the box is in the wrong place.” The old woman grinned, her loose dentures slipping and causing a whistle to her words. “I’m guessing the real reason would be the place is haunted. Burnt a year ago, two years before that as well. Five years ago an arsonist set the place a blaze but was trapped inside. They say he relights his fire whenever anyone occupies the place. The last family was lucky, just lost a dog. The family before that, not so fortunate.”

The woman grabbed the small stack of mail and handed it over. Melinda reached for it. “Well, thank you for the information. Do you know where the box is supposed to be? Or should we just get a PO Box?”

The woman clutched her sleeve with surprising strength. “I know you don’t believe me, but you’ll see. I pray you see in time. Good day.”

Melinda hurried and sat in her car with the window down. She was counting the hours till George returned from work. She shook her head at the silliness. Haunted indeed! Probably another story to explain fires that were caused by faulty wiring or the house sitting empty for long periods. Superstitious lot, the whole village.
“Excuse me?”

The question startled her, and Melinda stared a woman about her age. “Yes?”

“I heard you bought the old Smith place. We’ll pray for you at church on Sunday and I hope you’ll attend. Service starts at nine am.”

The person walked away while Melinda sat there staring after her. The whole village was mental. There was no need to ask what church. Only one existed in what counted as their “city limits”. She threw the car into drive and headed for home, fuming about their old ways. So much for her dream of a tight knit community and friends; it just went down in flames.

“Flames,” she said aloud and chuckled to herself as she pulled into the driveway. Then, she noticed the smoke billowing out the open kitchen window. “What the hell?”
Melinda raced into the house and skidded to a stop in the kitchen. George stood there waving a towel over a burnt brick of unrecognizable meat. She doubled over laughing, and he cocked his brows at her. She shook him off, unable to speak.

When she could, she told him about the superstition surrounding their new home and he laughed with her. “I came home early to make dinner in celebration. The stove needs some maintenance apparently. It was way too hot for the roast.”

She poked the hard lump and giggled. “How about a trip to the town diner instead?”

“After the story you just told me? I think I’ll pass.”

“Sandwiches it is then.”

Melinda made them swiftly while George dug out the side dishes. Once everything was plated, they ate in the living room while watching Casablanca. She startled awake from his lap and shook him. Something was off.

George merely snored and turned, dumping her to the hardwood floor. She rose carefully and headed for the kitchen. The three candles she kept were all lit and Melinda looked around, scared for an unknown reason.  She ran back into the living room, shook her husband awake, and dragged him into the kitchen. The candles were out, no smoke giving away their previous condition.

“It was just a dream. Let’s go to bed.”

Melinda avoided the town, tired of hearing everyone’s ideas on their haunting. She and George fought more often. Her wonderful, once understanding husband refused to listen to any more of her stories about candles lighting themselves, smoke alarms going off, the toaster melting, and other countless odd things.

Oh no, steadfast George had a story to write off every occurrence. No matter, she still felt uncomfortable. She’d begun pacing the house with a fire extinguisher while he was at work, afraid to use anything that generated heat or flame.

She heard screaming outside and dropped the extinguisher as chills raced along her spine. Rushing to the back window, she threw it open to see flames dancing out of the garage. Melinda knew she saw the black shadow dancing through the sparks. She stared for a moment, and then reached for the phone.

She screamed as she turned, a man stared at her with glowing red eyes. Flames danced over his skin and he was almost unrecognizable. He cocked his head as she tried to move around him. Melinda could see the phone through him, but was too scared to reach for it.

His shape shifted as she moved to follow and track her across the dining room. He reached out and the candles on the table flamed to life.

“Please God, no…” She muttered as the tablecloth went up.

The extinguisher was under the table, blocked by the flames the ghostly arsonist had created. Still Melinda backtracked through the doorways, watching with rapt horror as everything the creature came across erupted. She sprinted as he reached the furnace, knowing the gas line might blow.

“Run, run, run…mine, mine, mine” came the ghostly taunt from behind her.

Melinda threw open the front door and her ankles burned as she dove through it. She crawled away from the property, tears streaking down her face as she prayed and prayed. A car driving down the road barely avoided her as she struggled to get away from the place.

She rolled over as someone approached, help at last. A blackened face hovered over her, its eyes glowing red. Melinda threw her arms up and screamed, a scream that never died in her mind…

“What do you plan to do?” the doctor asked.

George looked up from his seat next to his wife, and shrugged. “We’ll sell the land off. I have to move closer to be near my wife.”

He could no longer touch her and doubted she heard him. Her eyes stared blankly into space and her arms were strapped to the bed to keep her from harming herself. Melinda had uttered only two words in the months since the fire, repeating them like a chant until her medication was given.

As if on cue, her unearthly voice mumbled, “The flames… the flames… the flames…”

George moved out of the way as the staff of the psychiatric ward moved in to treat her. “I love you, my darling.”

Her head turned toward him and hope lit up within him. Until her face turned evil and her words chilled him to the bone with their icy threat. “The flames, George… the flames.”
~Jennifer Feuerstein~

Copyright © 2011 Jennifer Feuerstein
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.

No comments:

Post a Comment