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

You can read part one here and part two here.

Over the next few weeks, Cora heard nothing strange in her new home beyond the usual creaks associated with older houses.  With her father gone on the road during the weekdays, he had hired contractors to begin work on the house.

Among the people who were in and out of the house was an exterminator.  He’d set traps and poison down for the rats and mice.  (“Rats and mice!” Marcy had exclaimed, nearly fainting when the infestation was confirmed.)  The bill for the exterminator grew about as fat as the man himself, for Mr. Rue also planted a bug bomb for cockroaches toward what Marcy hoped was the end of his frequent visits.  Cora tried not to snicker when the robust man flirted with her mother.  As for Marcy, she was relieved when Mr. Rue finished up on a Friday evening. Tom pulled into the winding gravel driveway, and she darted out of the house to her knight come to rescue her.  Cora followed at a slower pace.

“Should all be taken care off, but you’ll need to stay outta the place for the next day to let it air out from the bomb,” Mr. Rue informed Tom the moment he stepped out of his car.  His eyes shifted to Marcy and he winked.

Tom shook the man’s hand.  “Thanks a million, Mr. Rue.”  He kissed Marcy and said, “That should take care of the smell, darlin’.”

Marcy stepped closer to Tom, took his hand, and smiled.  “A weekend away will be welcome after all the work we’ve been doing.  More than a day, Mr. Rue.  Now, if you’re all done…”

Tom’s phone beeped, and he reached into his pocket.  “Sorry, gotta take this,” he murmured, stepping away from his wife.

Marcy frowned.

Cora couldn’t agree more about getting away.  The hotel would have WiFi.  She’d used up her month’s allotment of data on her phone, and her signal was weak and the connection slow.

“I told Erin we’d be over at 8:00 to pick her up,” Cora said.  “She hasn’t been to Cedar Point since she was ten.”  She cast her mom a meaningful look.  Erin was the one friend she had in the northeast Ohio farm town, a place she couldn’t yet call home.  She’d met Erin while working at the one screen cinema.

“All right, Cora,” Marcy said, forcing a smile.  “As long as we’re finished up here…”  She tried not to sigh as she glanced at Tom, who was busy tapping away on his phone.

“All good to go, Mrs. Marson,” said Mr. Rue, winking again.  “You’re paid up.  Just let me know if there’s any problems.”

“Yes, we’ll be sure to do just that,” Marcy murmured as the exterminator got into his truck and pulled out.

Tom was suddenly at his wife’s side as he watched the pickup pull out of the driveway.  “Problem, honey bunny?”

“So long as that man’s done with his job, there’s no problem.  Important work stuff?”

“Yep.  Well… Lemme just take a quick shower,” Tom said, tugging at his pants along his groin.  “Ev’rything packed?”

“The car’s loaded,” Marcy said, eyeing Tom with a strange look.  “I’ll do a sweep through the house to make sure.”

Cora followed her parents inside, wishing she could erase the last couple of minutes from her mind.  After wading through drop cloths and dust from sanding, she went upstairs.  Upon reaching the landing, Cora was about to turn to the right like she always did to go to her bedroom, but the air to her left was cool in the August humidity.  She pivoted in that direction.  The hallway was shorter that way and only boasted a single unoccupied bedroom.  But at the end of the hallway rested another door.  

“Just goes to the attic,” Tom told Cora weeks ago.

Cora shrugged it off until that moment.  The chill in the air seemed to brush past her, and she shivered.  Goose bumps covered her arms and exposed neck and shoulders.  She wondered if she ought to change out of her tank top into something with sleeves.  Shaking her head, Cora marched down the corridor with determination and stopped when she came to the attic door.  She tried the handle.  Locked.

With a scoff, she turned away and went to her room to grab her phone before they left this dingy pit of depression.  The attic doorknob jiggled an eighth of an inch, counter-clockwise.

 

Poetry Tuesday – There I Abide

Will you remember me
In some distant land,
Where we walked by the sea,
Hand-in-hand?
Will you feel my kiss
Tender on your lips,
Though years amiss?
Green to red turn tips,
As autumn claims her lot.
Time slips away,
And I am not
The same as yesterday.
Weary and worn,
Years upon years,
Tattered and torn,
Bittersweet tears,
But hope has a hold
On my heart evermore,
For no matter how old
Our souls, they soar.
Remember my word
From long ago.
I keep it — heard
By you, so just know —
My love for you only grows,
No matter what and why,
For wherever your heart goes,
There I abide and never die.
03/08/17

Excerpt from Latent Infection (continued) – Short Story

You can read the first part here.

The first floor had a living room with furniture covered in sheets, the perfect hiding place if Cora had been ten years younger.  When Tom pulled open the heavy dark green drapes covering the large front window that overlooked the front lawn of weeds and overgrown grass, dust particles swarmed in the air for several seconds, causing the family to erupt in fits of coughing.

Marcy glared at her husband as she fanned the air in front of her face.  “It smells like something died in here.”

Tom chuckled.  “Probably just mice…or rats…maybe something larger.”

“Something larger?”  Marcy glanced toward the front door after her eyes shifted about the room.

“We’ll call an exterminator.  Pest removal.  It’s not the end of the world, darlin’.”

Cora rolled her eyes and walked over to the winding staircase.  Spilling out into the front entrance, the wooden balustrade ended with the head of a lion with its mouth open, its canine teeth like vampiric fangs.  She brought a finger tip to one of the teeth and smiled, marvelling at the decor.  Cora swung her head upward to gaze upon a chandelier hanging from the second storey ceiling.  In another time, it would have been beautiful with its thousands of crystal prisms, each an icicle reflecting the artificial light.  She tried the light switch.  Nothing.  

With no interest in exploring the first floor with her annoying parents, Cora took the first step.  The wood shifted and moaned.  With every step, she kept her left hand on the smooth surface of the rail, a security her subconscious desired.  When Cora reached the second floor, she glanced down the steps from the balcony.  The drop was at least fifteen feet — the perfect place for the desperate degenerate to end it all.

The hallway afforded little light, even in the middle of a sunny afternoon.  When Cora flicked the switch, she was awarded with the faint buzz of the old bulbs in the cobweb-laden sconces lining the walls.  Even then, only about half of the sconces worked, their lights flickering, as if protesting having to do the work of illuminating a stale corridor.  

“So the electricity isn’t completely out in this oversized shack,” Cora murmured.

As she walked down the hall, her right hand trailed along the raised contours of the wallpaper — some hideous floral design from at least eighty years earlier.  She stopped when she arrived at the first door.  An easy turn of the tea house doorknob revealed a stagnant room filled with crates.  Cora’s nose wrinkled at the mustiness as she clicked the door shut.  That room would definitely not be hers.  A vision of peering into an off-limits room at the funeral parlor when she was eight surfaced — boxes of bodies.

She tried the next door and discovered the bathroom, which could be rendered charming if cleaned and restored.  A claw foot bathtub sat opposite the door in the oblong room with black and white tiles on the floor.  A pull chain toilet and a pedestal sink covered the wall to the right, both ringed with grime.

Cora left the bathroom door open and proceeded farther down the hall.  She found her room — plenty of space for her bed and dressers.  No leftovers from previous owners and two large windows that let in light.  She could watch the sunset.

Every footstep reverberated across the floorboards and up the walls in Cora’s new bedroom.  Clomp.  Clomp.  Clomp.  Cora stomped on the floor with her sneaker three times just to hear the sound again.  After the echo faded, in the silence of this closed up house, she heard it…

Clomp.  Clomp.  Clomp.

Barely there, like an imprint.  A faded picture.  A vague memory.

Cora’s heart skipped a beat and then sped up.  

She shook her head.  “No,” she whispered.  “Don’t be stupid.”

Yet she dared not stomp her foot again.

Book Review of Finding Kate by Pamela Humphrey

Kate Westfall thought she was done with her family’s secrets.  Think again.

Finding Kate is the second in the Texas Hill County series by Pamela Humphrey.  It immediately follows the first book, Finding Claire, which I highly recommend you read before diving into Finding Kate.  Otherwise, Finding Kate won’t make much sense!

You can read my review of Finding Claire here.

Kate, after discovering the truth about her background and identity, including her real family, decides to move from Denver to Schatzenburg, Texas.  In the first book, she met Alex Ramirez, a lonely widower, and they spent a lot of time together under dire circumstances.  Alex and Kate developed feelings that were more than just the friendship-type, and at the beginning of this book, they are still sorting those feelings out.

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The beginning of Finding Kate seems a bit slow.  The reader feels like the dust has settled for Kate and Alex after how Finding Claire ended with such a bang, and now it’s just a matter of them figuring out their lives going forward.  Kate moving to Texas to be closer to her father and Alex, in addition to moving into the home she inherited, is the focus at first.  Alex comes with Kate to Denver to meet her friends and help her pack up her apartment.  Putting things in boxes and harmless talk feel mundane after what they have just been through a few days ago, but that’s part of getting back to real life.

Kate’s neighbor, Keith, stops by and is surprised she is leaving.  I detect jealousy in Keith, as he seems to like her and doesn’t care for Alex, who is hanging around the apartment.  The neighbor feels out of place, but maybe he’s just a weirdo.  Kate and Alex hit the road for Texas, and then things start to unravel when Jeff, the husband of Kate’s best friend (LeAnn), gets kidnapped, and it’s tied to Kate.

Poor Kate just can’t seem to get a break.  In addition to this new kidnapper who wants something from her, Kate starts to feel like things have moved too quickly between her and Alex.  She wonders if their attachment is simply the result of being forced together and going through stressful circumstances.  Whenever Alex tries to physically get close to Kate, she pulls away, and the reader starts to get the sense that there’s something else in her past that’s haunting her.

No place is safe for Kate or Alex — neither his cabin nor her new house (dubbed “the castle”), as they gave Alex’s address as the forwarding address for Kate when she moved away, and Schatzenburg is a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business.  The news of Kate’s family history has spread like wildfire in the small town, and everyone knows who she is, including someone who is following her and wants something from her.

Interwoven with the narrative are old letters written to Kate’s aunt Beth from a mysterious woman named “M.”  M and “Sticks” (who we later find out is Scott Bentley, Kate’s uncle) are the parents of a little boy named “Scooter.”  Sticks had an affair with M, and Scooter was the result.  When Sticks disappeared from Scooter’s life, the young boy became pent up with resentment and anger.

How do these letters tie into Kate’s story?  Who is following her?  What do they want?

And can Kate move past whatever it is that’s bothering her, so she can be happy with Alex?

19141955_10155375087713607_1447486949_nSo many questions, and I know the answers…but that would be spoiling the book for you!  Suffice it to say that as I got further into Finding Kate, I was definitely drawn into the story more and more, needing to know the resolution to these questions…and more!

The book has a satisfying ending and doesn’t leave any loose ends.  I would recommend this book to lovers of romance and suspense.

Four out of five stars.

 

Tuesday Poem – Rag Doll

A verdant symphony echoes

Above, around, below,

Encompassing her free form,

A tender touch,

An ardent dance,

But an embrace that withers

When blows the cold tempest.

Life is ripped,

Their brown, broken skeletons exposed

In a forest of death.

She stops — alone —

Falls to barrenness.

The floppy rag doll tears —

The final seam undone.

05/24/17

Excerpt from Latent Infection (Short Story)

The infection in the house’s rickety bones began as a latent virus.  Buried in the deepest marrow, the first stirrings were creaks, like a joint popping and settling.  Age hid secrets with wrinkles of peeling paint and a history forgotten by a foregone mind.  The disease was dismissed as the consequence of being time-worn, the house a skeleton, a dead thing sealed in a tomb.

Until the Marson family moved in.

“Ain’t she a beauty,” Tom Marson boomed in that Kentucky backroad twang he’d used to charm eighteen-year-old city gal Marcy twenty years earlier.  He removed his ball cap and ran a hand through sweaty, thinning salt and pepper.

“She’s a fixer-up, more likely,” Marcy replied, her pouty lips saturated in the newest striking red her daughter so detested.  She smoothed down her freshly trimmed brown bob.

Cora popped her gum and rolled her eyes.  “It’s a piece of sh–”

The three-storey house was large.  Cora would give it that much, but the faded yellow paint was flaking off in huge chunks on the wooden siding, revealing a non-virgin white underneath.  It reminded her of a stained toilet seat.  Black shutters hung on like a mountain climber clutching the edge of a cliff for dear life.  The roof was balding as much as her father.

“Language, young lady,” Marcy scolded.  She glanced toward her husband in the hope he’d have something to say about their only daughter’s choice of vocabulary.  Ever since getting her license to kill by driving on roads without adult supervision, the entitled child had developed a larger cup size and a fully-loaded arsenal of trucker language.

But Tom was ogling the 1830s house like a scantily-clad pole dancer.  He’d certainly be forking over enough dollar bills for her welfare.

Cora groaned.  She thought she saw something like drool on her dad’s week-long unshaven chin.

“When are you going to have time to fix this dump?” Marcy asked.  “You’re gone five days a week.”

“That’s what weekends are for, honey bunny.”  Tom wrapped a thick arm around his wife and pulled her toward him, planting a juicy one on her cheek.

Maybe in spite of herself, Marcy laughed.

“So are we just gonna stand around here all day, or are we going in?” asked Cora, twirling her purple hair about her finger.  Her middle finger, which was aimed at her parents.

“Let’s check her out,” Tom said.

“How about this, honey?  You can pick any room you like for your bedroom.  It’s a big house.  There are plenty.”  Marcy coated every word like maple sugar candy in the mouth.

“Yeah, whatever.  Sure.”  Cora followed her parents to the front porch.  The railing shook when she went to hold onto it, and when she released it, she nearly stepped into a rotted place on one of the boards.

Tom fiddled with the lock and began swearing under his breath as the July sun beat down on him.  Marcy knew where Cora had picked up her choice words.  The door opened with a sigh, a groan.

They entered.

Two storeys above, the eyes opened.

Poetry Tuesday – Always Hope

When doubts and fears are closing in,

And I feel I simply cannot win,

Let the Lord be the only portion for me,

To clear my blind eyes, so I can see,

More deeply the plans He has for my life.

We are not guaranteed no hardship or strife,

But rather than trying to demand control,

Allow God to take on that role.

Like little children, He holds us in His arms,

Protecting us, guiding us, keeping us from harm.

So when life is a struggle and you cannot cope,

Turn to God, with whom there is always hope.

03/25/13