Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (Opening Scenes – WIP)

“Mr. Williams, please take your medicine, and we won’t have a problem,” said the middle-aged nurse with the poofy hair. The hair he hated. It drove him crazy.

“How many times do I have to tell you, Poodle, that I’m not Mr. Williams?”

The nurse sighed. “Please call me Nurse Stephens, Mr. Williams.” Her tone almost sounded bored.

Behind him in line, another man nudged his shoulder. “C’mon, Jimmy, just take them. You’re not doin’ yourself any favors here.”

The old man called Mr. Williams frowned, snatched the tiny paper cup from the nurse, and downed the pills. He shoved it back at her. “Here, you happy?” He stepped out of line and returned to the common area and took a seat.

His friend from the line joined him a moment later. “Jimmy, why do you gotta be so difficult?”

The old man stared at his friend. “Fine, call me Jimmy, just like you always do. It doesn’t seem to matter what I say. No one believes me, Charles.”

Charles clapped his hands and ran them over his buzz cut. His young face broke into a grin. “Right. ‘Cause you’re completely sane, bro. That’s what everyone in here believes.”

Jimmy shook his head. “You wouldn’t understand. How could you possibly? Look, I know you mean well and all, but if you don’t believe me, maybe it’d be best if you just left me alone.”

Charles chuckled. “Aw, leavin’ you alone’s the dangerous thing, Jimmy-boy.” He stood and walked away, twitching his neck every so often.

Jimmy watched the younger man go. Charles was younger, true, but according to Jimmy’s calculation, he was only sixteen years his junior, not forty.

The old man called Jimmy sighed. Of course everyone thinks I’m crazy. I’m in a damn nuthouse. He gazed toward the barred window at the sunshine beyond his world. The more time that passed in here, life passing him by, the crazier he got, he supposed. He hated that.

He also hated the side effects of his meds. Drowsiness. A great way to keep from thinking too much about his predicament. Jimmy stood and returned to his room like a good patient and fell asleep.

Later that day, he sat in his psychiatrist’s office. Dr. Winslow leaned back in his swivel chair, his bulk spilling over either side. He kept an ashtray on his desk from days gone by. The good doctor surveyed Jimmy over his half-moon glasses perched on the end of his bulbous nose. The grease from his lunch hung on his chin as much as oil clung to what remained of his greying hair.

“So, tell me how you’ve been, James.”

James. It was worse than Jimmy or even Mr. Williams. The doctor chose somewhere between familiar and formal. Jimmy didn’t know how to read him.

Jimmy shrugged. “You tell me, Doc. Aren’t I supposed to be up for my board review to tell me if I’m reformed enough to return to civilized society?”

Dr. Winslow leaned back further in his chair. Jimmy wondered how the hell that was possible. The doctor rested his beefy forearms on his ample belly and steepled his fingers. He had all the appearance of a sage contemplating the meaning of life. “Yes, that’s true, but one step at a time, James. If you are, in fact, determined to not be a danger, your next move would be to a fully supervised facility. What will you tell them at the time of your hearing?”

“The truth.”

“Ah, the truth or your truth, James?”

“My names isn’t James Williams. I’m Randall Davis, and I’m–”

“Yes, you’re a millionaire, successful CEO of Randall P. Davis Innovations, making a better future for us all. James, have you seen the news recently?”

Jimmy nodded. “Yeah, I’ve seen it, too many times.”

The doctor smiled. “Then you’ll know and understand that Mr. Davis isn’t a guy you’d wanna be even if there were possible. His name isn’t so hot in the industry these days, and I’m afraid his company’s image isn’t the empire he built, either.”

The old man shifted, something dropping in him. “You think I haven’t seen those damn biased news stories? They just love any sort of gossip that’ll ruin a man’s life. There’s no proof it’s true that he’s anything but faithful to my wife.”

“You mean his wife?”

“No, my wife. I love Danielle. We’ve been married for over ten years and–”

Dr. Winslow held up his hand. “That’ll be enough, James. I’m done entertaining your delusions. Besides, why do you care about a man’s life who has nothing to do with you own? Now, let’s get back to discussing you. If you were one day deemed successfully rehabilitated, what would you like to do with yourself?”

“I’d like to find myself.”

“Well, that’s all very enlightening and all, but I’m afraid I’ll need you to be more specific. How would you contribute to society? If you do will in a group home setting, the board may one day deem you ready to be set up with some sort of work and living independently. You would be monitored regularly. Some sort of meaningful hobby or way to give back would show that you’ve made a good recovery.”

“You mean, reflect well on the institution’s part for not just putting another nutcase out on the streets?” Jimmy gripped the handles of his chair. A vein throbbed in his forehead. His face heated.

“Now, James, there’s not need to refer to yourself as–”

“I don’t care!” Jimmy stood, the chair clattering to the floor. He came at the stupid doctor who thought he was so smart. I’ll strangle you, I swear it. You and your ugly mug and your wrong perceptions.

The doctor momentarily panicked, but pressed a button on his wearable alarm. Jimmy screamed and lunged at the doctor, his arthritic, knobby hands clutching at the guy’s thick neck. Seconds later, two big men entered and grabbed Jimmy.

“I’m not Jimmy Williams! I’m not!” he cried as the orderlies hauled him out of the psychiatrist’s office.

Dr. Winslow righted himself in his chair and averted his eyes from the old man. The door closed on Jimmy’s raving. The doctor scrawled on his paper: “For the consideration of the review board, my recommendation is further rehabilitation.”

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post an excerpt every Saturday.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (Opening Scene – WIP)

Eighteen-year-old Cassie Meadows was riding her bike to Jefferson High that early May morning when a light blinded her. She shielded her eyes as the bike spun out of control. When she opened her eyes, a wall of old books stared back. She blinked, taking in several of the titles: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Ulysses, The Odyssey, La Commedia… The bindings were old, yet pristine.

She tried to focus, turning her head a bit. The shelves extended from ceiling to floor, the whole length of the room. Sunlight filtered in through thick parted drapes along a wall of windows. Unlike her house, where dust particles danced in the sunlight, the stagnant room was devoid of even that much life.

But how did I get here? she wondered. One moment I was riding my bike, then the next…

Her thoughts drifted off as she gazed across the room. Awe overtook fear in the moment. Marble pillars stood on either side of an archway leading into another room across the vast space. A large Oriental rug covered most of the hardwood floor. The wall opposite the windows housed a mammoth stone fireplace with a mahogany mantel. Cassie was remained of the ski lodge’s fireplace at the place in Calgary her parents had taken her and her younger brother last Christmas.

A wrap-around leather sofa dominated most of the central space. End tables with Tiffany lamps perched on either end of it. The room was the library in some wealthy person’s house, the type of place she’d never visited.

After her eyes settled on her surroundings, her hearing tuned in to a faint noise in another part of the house. Curiosity claimed her caution as she took a step. She glanced down and nearly fell over. Her hands were thick, hairy, and covered in blood!

She gasped, but the croak of a deep voice reverberated out of her mouth. Reaching for her throat, she felt her Adam’s apple bob. Her breaths came short. She was being doused with ice water, the burn throbbing through her body with each step. But her steps were short-lived. She halted as she noticed a trail of blood on the otherwise spotless floor leading to an archway. Her nerves fired in overtime, her head spinning. She followed the trail, exited the elaborate room into a hallway.

The sound was louder now. The unmistakable sound of running water.

“What’s going on?” Cassie whispered and stopped in her steps when a man’s voice came from her mouth.

Something moved out of the corner of her eye. She turned her gaze to the right and landed on her reflection, only it wasn’t her face. A tall, well-built man of about forty stared back at her. She ran her hands through the trim brown beard that contoured her strong jawline. Liquid brown eyes under a deep brow held confusion, panic. Her hair was wavy, thick, greying only at the temples. She was dressed in a black business suit, like a high executive wore to meetings overseas and then dined on caviar and Champagne under the lights of Paris. But against the black of her suit the blood that was on her hands extended, weaving an unknown horror story in her mind.

She shook her head. “This is impossible.” Yet the voice that wasn’t hers told a different truth.

Her body trembled, and she realized for the first time that her whole being felt different. Her eyes, if she could call them that, fell on a picture frame on the table below the mirror. With shaky hands, her ridiculously thick fingers fumbled to pick up the picture. The man in the photo was a younger version of the body she inhabited. He was smiling, his face next to a gorgeous auburn-haired young woman. The woman’s hazel eyes crinkled around the edges, her freckles standing out against her fair skin in the sunshine. This was a wedding photo of a happy couple.

Cassie returned the picture to its place, the frame now coated in blood, and swallowed, hating the feel of her Adam’s apple constricting. Her insides clenched with every step down that hallway. A drop of blood marked the floor every few inches. She knew this body must have taken this trip in the opposite direction, for how else could she explain the blood everywhere? She rested a hand on the railing at the base of the stairway and gazed up the twisting steps. The water was coming from upstairs. She took the first step and steadied herself. Something was drawing her to the source of that sound. Like drifting through a hazy dream, she moved without thought or purpose.

She reached the top of the landing and glanced behind her. Her mark was on the railing, another path of blood. The occasional drop of blood decorated the floor as she went down the hallway toward the sound of running water. Her knees wobbled as a dizzy spell overtook her. She steadied herself with a hand to the wall and blanched at the bloodied handprint she left.

Just call the cops. What are you doing?

The cops. Right. I don’t even know what the hell’s going on.

She questioned her sanity as she argued with herself. Either outcome, she’d lose this battle.

She pushed herself from the wall and arrived at the bathroom. Water leaked out from under the door.

What am I doing?

She turned the knob, and it slid under her slick hand. She used the end of her sleeve to grip it and pushed the door open enough to peek inside. Pinkish water covered the entire marble floor. Her gaze traveled to the bathtub, the source of the running water. A woman’s body lay sprawled in the tub, her vacant eyes staring at the ceiling, her mouth open in a silent scream. Her head lay at an odd angle, her neck nearly severed in two. Blood ran from the gaping cut into the water.

Cassie tried to scream, but her stomach tightened. Bile rose to her mouth, and she puked. She slammed the door shut and collapsed against the outside of it, pulling her knees up to her chest. The tall frame of the man’s body convulsed with the sobs of a teenage girl as she cried into her hands, which weren’t hers.

“I want my mom,” she whispered. “This…this can’t be happening.”

She couldn’t get the dead woman’s face out of her mind. As the scene replayed through her head, she realized where she’d seen the woman before. She had been this man’s wife.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post an excerpt every Saturday.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

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Excerpt from Flushed (Horror Short)

When I wake in the morning, I start for a moment, forgetting where I am. Greg shifts in the bed. I turn, imagining Mom lying there, but then a grin spreads across my face. I take in his messy dark hair and two days of beard growth on his strong jaw. His brow furrows like he’s deep in concentration. His light snores are a comfort.

And I realize Mom didn’t plague me last night.

I lie there for a while, just taking him in, my mind at ease. His eyes flutter open. He smiles.

“You stayed.”

“Of course.”

He sits up with a jolt of energy like the chirpy morning person he is. “Coffee?”

“Yeah, sure.” Meanwhile, I swing my legs over the side of the bed and stand with greater effort than a 25-year-old woman should feel.

The evidence of our lovemaking is in the scattered clothes. I grab my shirt and underwear, tug them on. The coolness of the hard floor under my feet feels good in the summer heat. I stumble into the bathroom and stare at my reflection. The circles around my eyes aren’t as pronounced, but my pallor could use some sun. Maybe a day at the beach soon, even if Lake Erie isn’t the same as the ocean…it’s a beach. I rake my hands through my tangled dark blond hair. The limp strands hang around my face. Greg tells me I’m pretty, but I don’t see it. Not lately.

By the time I enter the kitchen, Greg has a cup of coffee on the counter for me and is brewing his own in his single-serve coffeemaker. He takes the vanilla creamer out of the fridge, passes it to me.

“Sleep well?”

I nod. “Yeah, probably the best sleep I’ve had since…you know…”

Greg grabs his cup of coffee and joins me at the island. “You know, you could just pour, sprinkle, whatever her ashes somewhere.”

“I tried to throw them away. Somehow, I couldn’t.” I take a long swig of coffee, allowing the warmth to calm me on its way down.

“But why? If she was such an awful person, why not just get rid of the bitch once and for all?”

“There’s a reason…well, lots of reasons…why I never introduced you, Greg. My mom was clinically insane at the end, kept in an institution since I was 22. I never wanted to tell you all that shit, all that went down growing up with her.”

“You told me some stuff.”

“Yeah, but it was better that way. I wanted to bury her with all the memories, yet I just can’t. She’s still my mom, you know? As fucked up as that is…”

“So there must’ve been something redeeming about her?”

I shrug, push the coffee away as my stomach churns. The heat intensifies around me, a thick cloud wrapping me, suffocating me as Greg stares at me. Imploring me. “Why are you looking at me like I’m the one who’s crazy? She was likely off since who knows when. She wasn’t fit to raise a kid, but there you have it. The damage’s been done.”

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post an excerpt every Saturday.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Special Sneak Peek at My Next Horror Short Story


Mom sleeps in my sock drawer. I suppose if I were a better daughter, I would clean out the socks that don’t have matches or the ones with holes in them. At least the socks are clean, which is more than I can say about my old mother. She is a courteous inhabitant of my sock drawer, taking up only a six-by-four inch corner.

    As I climb into bed, I stop to stare at the tattoo on my inner wrist–a semicolon. Mom’s voice disturbs my concentration.

    “What a stupid idea. Why the would you waste your money on something like that, Julia? Something that never comes off. You’ll be old and wrinkled, and it’ll look like a piece of shit on your skin.” Here words echo through time, a memory from five years ago as fresh as the day I got the tattoo.

    Yes, Mom, some spots never come off, like the stains you put on my life, imprinted on my soul.

    “It’s a semicolon, not a period, symbolic that my life isn’t at an end. There’s still more to come,” I said the day I got inked.

    She snorted–then later snorted some crack and drank a bottle of vodka. “Aw, how sweet. You just failed at killing yourself, just like you failed at everything else in life…high school, one job after another. How many boys have you fucked? Don’t tell me you’re a dyke now. Screwing girls is probably the only option you have left. If you haven’t gotten into the pants of every guy in Pepperville yet, I might just have a heart attack.”

    “Please do, Mom…have a heart attack, that is. And I learned from the best. You wanna talk failure? How about your failure as a mother?”

    Slap! Her hand made contact with my cheek. The sting didn’t hurt as much as the further confirmation of her betrayal to the only person she was supposed to love. I suppose she did love me, in her own messed up way.

    I blink into the darkness now, willing the memory to die like my old mom. Ironically enough, it was a heart attack that did her in. With the chemical abuse she did to herself for years, to die of natural causes was a surprise. Of course, dowsing herself with booze and drugs likely contributed to her heart turning on her, but who knows? That her heart killed her, an organ she didn’t seem to possess in the figurative sense, well, that was more irony.

    How sweet, as Mom liked to say.

    “Shut up,” I mutter into the black.

    A switch flipped off the light five minutes ago. Why can’t I flip off a switch in my mind to turn it off, too?

    I glare at my dresser, what looks like a dark blob in the corner of my room. Next to the blob in the shadows, slightly darker than the rest of the room, a mass seems to detach itself from the dresser. I shake my head and lie down, closing my eyes. Every night since the funeral, it’s been like this. Two weeks, only two weeks, but it could be two years for the infernal haunting of Mom’s voice from that drawer.

    Some people speak of feeling a presence climbing into bed with them when trying to sleep. It’s more than a cat or a dog jumping onto the bed, but something so human-like as it moves across the surface, settling next to the victim. I can feel Mom sidling up next to me in bed, pulling the covers over us and grinning at me with her yellow nicotine teeth and dull skin. Every time I close my eyes, her bloodshot eyes glare at me. She smiles at me like a Halloween decoration and asks me who I’m in bed with now. She blows out smoke into my face.

    You, Mom? In bed with you? How twisted is that?

    Not by choice, Mother.

    I groan as I bolt up in bed, throwing the covers off. The humidity of summer sticks to my goose-bumped skin, and I wonder why the hell I was trying to stay warm only moments ago when it’s so hot. That’s right. Because I was shaking when I got into bed. Yes, downright freezing.

    I throw on the light next to the bed and wince at the brightness. My dresser sits as it always does–unmoving. The air smells of stale cigarettes and alcohol-vomit. That’s ridiculous. I leave the bed and make way for the dresser like I’m about to attack. Grabbing the top drawer, I swing it open with such force that my socks spill out all over the floor. Mom’s wooden box clatters to the faux-wooden floor, unharmed.

    I pick up the box and glower. “Just shut up, won’t you? I couldn’t afford to bury you, and no one else wanted to deal with you. God, why am I still putting up with you?”

    The box of ashes clutched in my shuddering hands, I move to the closet. I yank clothes off their hangers in my haste to dig through the bottom of the closet for it–my safebox. I haul the heavy thing out of the closet, set it on the dresser, then plop Mom on top of it.

    I flip on light after light as I make my way down the hall and into the living room, then finally the kitchen. Pulling open the junk drawer, I rifle through it until I find it–my box of keys.

    I return to my room with the box and begin my search for the key to the safebox. Grumbling to myself for not throwing away old keys, I spend the next few minutes trying every key like a mad woman. When one clicks the safebox open, I laugh in triumph. I remove the important papers from the box. Nothing is more important than locking Mom away, imprisoning her. How funny that her ashes will be protected in the event of a fire.

    Satisfied with my work, I leave the mess of keys and put the safebox back in the closet. I pull the door shut, but it gets caught on a dress half-hanging out. With a groan, I snatch the dress from the hanger, throw it down, and slam the door all the way shut.

    I flick off the lights and return to bed. The dresser is a formless mass in the darkness once again, but the shadow beside it is gone. I toss and turn for the next hour and find myself staring at the closet. Does the door seem to be open a crack? Just enough for Mom to peek out?


Beginning of Auditorium 6(66) – Horror Short Story

“Hill Valley Cinema – Grand Opening,” proclaimed a banner spread beneath the marquee.  Jesse Franklin pushed his black hair out of his face, stepped back, and marvelled at the newly renovated theatre.  As a boy, he had frequented the old cinema, seeing all three original Star Wars movies, Indiana Jones, and E.T.  Those had been the golden years of the only movie theatre in the county, but then the newspaper headlines claimed: “Rapist and murderer Randall Hines found dead in Appleton Cinema.”  

Jesse caught a movement to his left and turned to see Rob Garrison next to him.  

“Big day,” Rob said in that over-the-top voice of his.  His dark eyes and tan skin glowed.  He flashed one of those grins that rumor had it could coax most girls into his bed in less than twenty-four hours.

“Yeah,” Jesse breathed, his head still swimming from the night before of a smoky bar infused with shots.

Rob clapped his buddy on the shoulder.  “Well, you did it.  Your old man’d be proud.”

“I’d like to hope so,” Jesse murmured, his eyes falling to the keys in his hands.  “We saw a lot of movies here over the years.  Big, successful guy like him might not think owning a movie theatre’s that huge.”

“Nah, he’s be proud, Jesse.”

Jesse smiled in pain, memories of frequent visits to the nursing home surfacing.  Ron Franklin lay staring straight ahead, his eyes vacant.  His whole right side hung limp, his mouth drawn.  His answer to any question was “twenty-three.”

“Still can’t believe you did it, man.”

Jesse laughed.  “Audrey isn’t happy about the second mortgage we had to take out on the house, but she supports my dream…crazy movie-lover that I am.”

“Still, d’you think, you know, people will remember the rumors?”

“It’s been years, you superstitious freak.”  Jesse scoffed.  “Those were rumors, nothing else.  Besides, we were kids.  The old folks loved to say ‘a series of unfortunate events,’ like that new book series by that Lemony guy.”

“Yeah, but you can’t deny the past.  Look it up, buddy.  The articles are real.  After old man Hines up and croaked, too many people followed in his footsteps and all in auditorium six.”

“Superstitions.  Coincidence.  Call it what you want.”  Jesse shrugged.  “It’s opening day and I have a theatre to run.”

“It was dubbed auditorium 666,” Rob called after him as Jesse approached the building and waved his friend away.

“Don’t you have a girlfriend or something to get back to?” Jesse called, his back to Rob.

“Maybe…one or two.  See ya around, pal.  Let me know if anyone dies today.”

The heat of June beat down on Jesse’s shoulders as he fumbled with the keys to unlock the door.  The humidity was awful that first year of the new millennium in northeastern Ohio.

As he stepped inside, the phantom smell of popcorn assaulted Jesse’s nose.  He rubbed his rough chin and studied the lobby.  He beamed.

The place was unrecognizable.  Jesse had a job in the concession stand in high school, back when the old owner stopped using auditorium six.  The lobby now was mostly a new addition, with a closed-in box office.  No more complaints about freezing in the wind while waiting to buy tickets.  No more cramped lobby with lines out the door for popcorn.  

Jesse went to the room behind the concession stand and turned on the lights.  Neon signs came to life in the lobby.  He stepped into the hallway that led to auditoriums one through nine.  A whole other wing held ten through eighteen.  Only the first nine had been here back in the day.

Jesse walked down the carpeted hall toward the infamous auditorium six, unsure why except for curiosity.  He hovered near the doors, the wood shiny and unblemished.  He entered and walked to the front of the auditorium.  The seats were stadium-style now.  No sticky floors or dark, depressing colors.  Jesse chuckled to himself, shook his head, and left.  He had work to do.

After the doors closed behind him, the projector turned on and illuminated the screen, but no movie played.  The speakers hummed, whispered…  “Come to Papa, darling.”


Excerpt from Latent Infection – Part Five (Horror Short Story)

You can read part one here, part two here, part three here, and part four here.

Note: This is the last installment I will be placing on my website, which equates to the first third of the story.  I will be publishing the entire story at a later date (for purchase).  I hope you’ve enjoyed this preview.


Cora was sitting on her bed, willing Facebook to load faster on her phone as she let the music take her away from this dungeon.  The song where a young woman wailed about her broken heart ended, another on the cusp of starting, when she heard the thud.

She stopped her iPod and removed the earbuds.  “What the hell?”

She listened, but nothing came.  Still, there was no mistaking the noise.  It sounded like something heavy had fallen.  With all the people working on the house, it was possible that someone had gotten hurt.  With a sigh, she left her room and went to the top of the stairs.  Over the balcony, she gazed down into the empty foyer.  No voices drifted upstairs.

“Mom?” she called.

A few seconds later, Marcy stepped into view.  “Did you hear it, too?” she asked.

“Yeah.  What happened?”

“I thought maybe you’d fallen off the bed.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Well, there’s no one else here except Mr. Rue.”

“The exterminator?”

“Yes.  He was supposed to be checking the attic for a dead rat.”

“The attic?”  Cora lifted her gaze from her mother and turned to the left.  “The door’s shut.”

“What’s that man up to?”  Marcy took the stairs in a hurry, agitated.

Mother and daughter stood side by side and stared down the hallway, transfixed.

“It was locked,” Cora said, swallowing thick saliva.

“I know.”  Marcy took her daughter’s hand, as if Cora were the scared child.

They walked to the door.  The knob turned for Cora, but something kept the door from opening.  Both Marcy and Cora leaned into the door with all their weight, but whatever was on the other side didn’t give.

“Come on.  Open up, you fat fu–” Marcy started to say, but then they gained just enough momentum to push the door in.

Slumped back on the steps like an overlarge sack of potatoes was Mr. Rue, his eyes frozen like all the times he’d gazed upon “Funny Lips.”  Between his legs, wetness.

Marcy screamed.  Cora slammed the door closed.

“Mom, for the love of God, calm down.  So he fell down the steps…  We’ll call the police.  It was an accident.”

“Right, right… Call the police.  And I suppose the police will be able to get rid of that smell?”

Cora sighed shakily.  “Mom, there’s no smell, but there will be if we don’t get him outta here.  C’mon.”

Cora led her mom away from the attic door, wondering why she was suddenly relegated to playing the role of parent.  Before reaching her room, she glanced back at the door on the end of the hall.

That door was locked.


Excerpt from Latent Infection – Part Four (Horror Short Story)

You can read part one here, part two here, and part three here.

The Marsons returned from their weekend trip in better moods than they had been in weeks.  Even Tom, who was optimistic to the point of absurdity, remarked that the break was just what he needed.

The family parked their Suburban next to the house and piled onto the driveway.  The stones crunched underfoot as they made their way to the porch.  When Tom managed to push the door open with a shove, he laughed — but not before cursing first.  “Prob’ly should’ve had that repaired first.  Damn door.”

“This house is a laundry list of repairs, Dad,” Cora said, shaking her head.

Marcy entered first and frowned.  “I thought that shifty Mr. Rue was supposed to have removed all the vermin from this place.”

Tom and Cora were right behind her.  

“I don’t smell anything,” Cora said, sniffing.  “Maybe it’s just in your head, Mom.”

“Well, it’s possible a stray rodent might’ve gotten caught in one of the traps,” Tom remarked.  “I’ll call him and have him come back tomorrow.”

“Ugh,” Marcy said.  “I knew my good mood wouldn’t last.  I hope he finds whatever’s making that smell and gets rid of it once and for all.  I don’t–”

“There’s no smell, Mom!” Cora snapped and stomped up the stairs before Marcy could protest.

x x x

Mr. Rue was only too happy to return on Monday morning.

“I can make an exception for a beautiful lady like you,” he told Marcy over the phone.

Marcy refrained from saying something snide.  “Just come out to the house and get the job done, Mr. Rue.  My husband would’ve called you himself if he didn’t have to leave so early.”  She ended the call and glared at the gutted kitchen.  “Tom, you’re in hot water for this.  This house was your idea.  Your project.  Now it’s become my problem, and that problem has a name — Walter Rue.”

Ten minutes later, Mr. Rue arrived at the front door.  Marcy hoped the workers would arrive shortly.  Being in a large house with a slithery man and a teenage daughter who tuned out the world with her music twisted Marcy’s insides into a knot.

“I think it’s coming from the basement,” Marcy said, letting him in.

Mr. Rue gazed around the house.  He stopped all pretense and frowned.  “You said there was a putrid odor, Mrs. Marson.  I have to be honest, I don’t smell a thing.”

“I’m telling you.  There’s a smell, and it’s all throughout the house.”

“Then why do you say it’s coming from the basement?  It could just as easily be the attic, in the walls–”

“Then check the attic!” Marcy shouted.  “What do I care?  Do something!  That’s what you’re paid for, isn’t it?”

Mr. Rue held up his big hands.  “All right, Mrs. Marson.  Whatever you like.  No need to yell.”

“I’m sorry, but you try living in this dump for three weeks with that stench and see how you feel.”  Marcy deflated and turned away with a throbbing headache.  

Mr. Rue nodded and backed away toward the stairs.  He reached the top and shrugged.  Funny thing about the attic was that it had been locked.  No one had a key, and to cut corners, he hadn’t gone up there — despite his claim otherwise.

He frowned at the door at the end of the hall, his every nerve on fire.  When Mr. Rue was Wally and about two hundred and fifty pounds lighter, he wet the bed every night.  He told Mama it was the “boy wit’ the funny lip” who scared him.  Little Wally knew a thing or two about old houses and how some of their inhabitants never really left.  He’d wake at 2:00 AM to find “Funny Lip” floating nose-to-nose with him, that broken grin on his lopsided face.  He’d piss himself yet again, knowing he was in for another lashing with Pop’s belt come morning.  A blink and “Funny Lip” would be gone.  

Years later, Mr. Rue knew “Funny Lip” had a cleft lip, which explained his strange smile, but that didn’t explain why “Funny Lip” visited him every night until he moved out the day he turned eighteen.

Something about the Marsons’ attic reminded Mr. Rue of “Funny Lip.”  That same tingle on the skin, like something was there but not.  But then deeper, a snake constricting his vital organs to the point of asphyxiation.  

He now stood in front of the door.  His hand trembled as he gripped the knob with his sweaty palm.  He could just stop and leave.  They weren’t paying him enough for this.  

The handle turned.  The door opened inward, a long creeeaaaak, as if just waking after a sound slumber.  The narrow staircase disappeared into darkness.  He tried the switch to no avail and took the first step.