It’s the end of October, and of course, what better time for a creepy story that leaves you chilled? But this one isn’t about the green monsters and ghosts that seek us, but the internal ghouls that can haunt us and the monsters within. Diane Nelson is the author of DRAGON ACADEMY, a fantastic story of a teenager whose summer job is to wrangle not horses – but dragons. Diane has an uncanny ability to make the fantastic very real – and her writing can be humorous or terribly creepy – like you’ll read below.
Jon could barely see his hand in front of his face. The air had weight, sound distorted and amplified, and the two men ghosted to the bridge unsure of their soundings, the craft undulating on the long rolls. Both knew fear, for names had power and they knew not what they’d find under Suicide Bridge.
“Gimmee the oar, boy.”
Jon handed Marcus the rough-edged oar, spade end, striated and pitted and slimy from the incessant rain the last two weeks. Wet that had kept them all stalking the banks of the Wye, though she seldom flooded unless on an unseemly tide that would gush up the gullet of the Bay, then spread like a brine curtain over the low-lying areas.
Marcus poked at the sludge they’d kicked up, the narrows shallow this far upriver, hardly enough tide left to even cover the muck. He’d motored his skipjack from past the last landing, then killed it, afraid of hitting … something.
“Why are we here, Marcus? She was last seen over by the Calder place. This is miles from there.”
“Got me a feeling, Jon-boy, is all. Jes a feeling.”
Jon angled the tiller hard to port, ramming the bow onto a shallow bank overhung with new growth maple and oak, thick with brush. He jumped onto the graveled bank, thankful it had a bottom.
“Tie ‘er off, boy. That’s a good lad.”
Silently Jon complied, then stood in the indistinct haze, listening intently. Traffic bound for the shore on distant route 50 thrummed in a steady beat. The sun worshippers should have checked the weather station. They were all likely to be disappointed this foul day. Jon thought about the beach he’d never seen and never would. Once his part in this surfaced he’d be on the run, though where he’d head he couldn’t begin to imagine.
Then he thought about her and his groin tightened. Marcus knew, he was sure of it, his eyes canny though he’d never say it, never say the damning words it’s your fault, boy, you did this. Marcus kept his own counsel, he and the others, and they’d taken him in and made him one of their own. If they could, they would make it right.
But right wasn’t something he knew anymore. Right had been buried in her sweet embrace, lost in the tangle of her hair, a child rushing to the woman and he’d gone eager and lost to the pleasure, immune to the warnings. He’d been in deep waters yet they smirked and gave him leave to be the man he fancied. They were wrong.
She’d sat at the window in the boathouse, the rain sheeting on the wavy glass, lantern light reflecting off its surface in trembling patterns on the oak floor.
“You knew what you were doing, girl,” he’d spat out, “this is none of my affair. You do what you need to do.” Not his words, he was sure of it.
“Jonny,” she’d gasped, “you can’t mean that.”
He didn’t, knew it in his gut but he hadn’t the means, hadn’t a clue how to handle this. So he went for the kill, “I might’ve been the first but I wasn’t the last. Don’t lay this on me.”
Stunned the girl curled into herself, clutching her bulging belly, silent sobs sending shudders along her thin shoulders. Lank blonde hair covered a face blotched from endless rounds of misery.
Harshness came easy now so he’d twisted the dagger, enjoying the jolt in his belly. “You think I don’t know about you … and him?” He liked the cringe, it fit somehow, nestled there in her palms, stretching outward in supplication. His aunt would use that word, the Methodist in her strong. Too bad auntie hadn’t shared some of her wisdom with them. But it was too late for that, too late for all of them.
The girl moaned, “What will I do? It’s not like we could …”
Jon cut her off, “No, we can’t, ‘cause everyone knows and I ain’t running burdened down with the likes of you.”
“They’ll send me away, like they did you.”
He mumbled, “… for the best,” then spun on his heel and stomped into a drowning downpour, wrapped with a chill tight band around his heart. He’d vowed never to say goodbye again though his life stretched into a thin line of words unspoken, neverending.
Jon shook his head, spraying water droplets over his oilskins. He rubbed angrily at the dark stubble on his chin, then shrugged, “I’m on it.” He stepped lightly over the anchor rode and chain securing them to the spit of land and angled his way toward the pilings, thick with algae and unmentionable detritus.
“You look over that way, boy. I’ll take the port side.”
“Yes sir. What’er we looking for, anyways?”
“You’ll know when you see it.”
Truth was … he didn’t want to know, the suspecting part was bad enough and he’d lived with that for more than two days as the frantic calls and moans of the women and their husband folk pulled them tight together, knowing in their hearts it wasn’t meant to end well.
“Marcus, it’s just a goddamn name. Why here?”
“’Cause it’s gone down like that before, boy. Just me and a few others remember.”
Jon sneered at his would-be uncle and tasted his first hint of wrong. Shadows, swaying in a grey haze, dark on dark.
“Marcus?” Jon choked, then jumped as the older man lay a gnarled hand on his shoulder, pulling him away.
“Not for your eyes, boy.”
“But she was mine first.”
Marcus grimaced his assent, his grip strong. “She belonged to both of us, boy.” Releasing Jon, Marcus turned away, his shoulders slumped.
Jon moaned, “Not anymore,” as the oar splintered into shards of agony, bits of bone and brain imbedding into the slime.
Lowing his sing-song refrain of revenge and freedom, he murmured, “… mine, all mine.”