Another flash piece originally posted during the month of October, 2015. It deals with a spooky old house and other things that go bump in the night. This broken statue, nestled in some bushes at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Birmingham, AL, was just creepy enough to be home to a demon. Kids are creepy, y’all.
Word limit: 1031 (to celebrate Halloween)
Forbidden word(s): child, statue
Required word(s): guard (any variation: guards, guarding, guarded, guardian)
Use the picture below:
Trista dug her camera from her bag and attached her best lens. The locals had warned her away, saying a few pictures weren’t worth the danger. A group of men muttered about dark rituals and blood sacrifices. Others swore the grounds were simply unstable, riddled with sink holes that formed without notice. The old priest, who was far creepier than the glorious old ruin they maligned, warned her she risked her immortal soul. She snorted and grabbed her tripod. The whole town was off their meds.
The old house was a beautiful testament of a by-gone era, with Gothic spires and intricate wrought-iron scrollwork on the rusting fences. The peeling paint gave it character. A single stained glass window sparkled like a brilliantly cut diamond. The overgrown lawn and drooping trees lent the place a properly spooky atmosphere. It was perfect in her eyes.
She framed several shots before setting up her tripod. The rising sun cast the house in warm hues of red and gold. Long shadows stretched across the lawn as the sun peeked from behind an elegant grotesque perched high on the roof. An hour later, she straightened, stretched, and dug a new SD card from her pocket.
Time for the back yard.
Satellite maps had shown an overgrown garden with a crumbling fountain. Pictures like that sold well, especially this close to Halloween. Magazines and websites were eager for creepy pictures they could build ghost stories around. Like the drive, the path around the house showed signs of recent activity, with broken beer bottles and fast food wrappers peeking from beneath the bushes. She shook her head. Looked like the local teens gave the rumors as much credence as she did.
The gate’s rusty hinges screamed into the silence when she forced it open. Odd. The path on both sides of the gate was trampled. She shrugged. The kids must have climbed over instead of risking being heard. It made sense, really. When she was in school, the local hang-out spot was an old cemetery everyone believed was haunted. Kids were pretty much the same the world over.
Kicking an abandoned mitten into the weeds, Trista hefted the tripod onto her shoulder and pushed deeper into the garden. The beauty of the property hadn’t stopped with the house. Broken sculptures lined the path like discarded toys. The first two were shattered beyond recognition with only a crumbling hand or booted foot to hint at their original forms. Dandelions swayed around a small dog whose ear and most of its tail were lost to time and weather. Across the path, a stone ball lay pitted and cracked from decades of rain and neglect. The destruction and decay were mournfully beautiful. She had to capture it.
Kneeling on the grass-covered gravel, she released her camera from the tripod and adjusted the settings. The faint light filtering through the trees gave the stone figures such a melancholy air, casting and banishing shadows as a faint breeze tickled the leaves above. Gorgeous. The shutter whirred and clicked and her world narrowed to the tiny square of her viewfinder until a kid’s laughter trickled through her concentration, much like the shifting light.
“Hello?” She rubbed an ache in her neck from holding an awkward pose to get that last shot. A few leaves fell from the swaying trees, but there was no answer. Grabbing her tripod, she snapped her camera into place and continued down the path. “Hey, kid. I don’t think you’re supposed to be here.”
The laughter echoed again. Closer. It started on her left but died away on her right. Something about its timbre raised the hair on her arms. It sounded…otherworldly. She shook her head. Damn locals and their ghost stories. Now they had her jumping at little kids playing hide-n-seek.
“I’m not falling for it, you know.”
She ducked beneath a tangle of vines and stepped into a small clearing. A cracked fountain filled with leaves and the detritus of apathetic humans huddled near the corner of the house. Surrounding it like defeated guardians lay the remains of more stone figures—some shattered into little more than gravel while others reflected the morning sun.
That was odd. City records stated the house had been empty since the early 60s. Everyone she’d met between there and here acted too scared to even look at the place, much less trespass to leave lawn ornaments. Partying kids she could understand. This was unfathomable.
She knelt and picked up a stone head. It looked straight out of a haunted house. Its mouth was open wide in a silent scream. The eyes were scrunched closed and a stone tear marred its youthful face. She dropped it with a shudder, but curiosity had ever been her downfall. Each face, whether broken and weathered or gleaming, was frozen in a scream, a cry, or absolute despair. What kind of place was this?
“Ring-a-round the rosies. A pocket full of posies.”
Trista spun in a circle, her heart racing. That voice! It skittered over her skin like a cluster of hairy spiders. Shuddering, she rubbed her arm with her free hand but it did little to soothe her. Where was the path she’d just used? The vines and bushes formed a solid wall around the clearing.
“This isn’t funny.”
Laughter echoed back from all sides. “Ashes! Ashes!” A ghostly boy appeared before her, his face a distorted mockery of a smile. As he reached for her, he finished his rhyme with evil glee. “We all fall down.”
Her scream ended with a gurgle. Her camera fell to the grass, grey stone creeping along the length of the tripod. Blood dripped onto the grass and collected in a small pile of stone droplets.
Beneath the shade of a sickly mimosa, a small stone boy clutching some sort of rope in his shattered and eroded hands watched from a tangle of kudzu. With each sickening crunch and slurp, more stone flaked away to reveal smooth flesh underneath. The shadowy figure tossed Trista’s corpse, now fully encased in stone, to the ground, where it shattered like fine porcelain.
Only a few more meals and he’d be free.
((author’s note: I pulled the title from a video game my kid loves to play. It’s not perfect, but I thought it fit))