Enjoy this free sample of my new horror book, Eyes in the Walls, and stay tuned for more:
I couldn’t shake that horrible thing from my dreams. It didn’t help that I had to go to the funeral home at least once a week. I did my best to focus on my homework, but I could never get rid of the feeling that the thing in the morgue was watching me, waiting. At night I imagined him following me home and sneaking into my house, standing at the foot of my bed in the darkness, licking his lips. I could even feel those twig-like fingers hovering over me, touching only the faint hairs on my cheek, somehow never actually touching me.
I frequently slept against my own will, succumbing only once all my tolerance for wakefulness had departed. This was especially true if I had to meet my mom at the office. Some nights, though I fought to stay awake, I would fall asleep as if I had been drunk. It was like my body refused my mind’s insistence that I must stay awake.
I never felt that when I was at my dad’s apartment. For some reason, his half-messy, half-furnished living space seemed like the last place in the world I would see a walking corpse. I was supposed to be there on the weekends, but that sometimes fell through. My dad had to travel for work a lot.
A few weeks after the incident at the morgue, staying with my dad fell through. My mom, though, was super busy on Saturday. I guess things line up that way – a bunch of funerals and then a date at night. I had to spend the day with one of my cousins. My father wouldn’t have allowed it if he knew, because my Aunt Mavis (my mom’s sister) was a real piece of work, and her kids were, too. Her eldest was a few years ahead of me and had already had to go to some kind of special school for the emotionally disturbed.
My mom said they were all fine, that my cousin was doing much better with therapy, and that my aunt was now very stable. I knew from experience what that really meant – she was stable because she was currently single.
My cousin – his name was Jeff – was my company on Saturday, and my aunt seemed perfectly willing to let me go out with him while she watched TV with her baby. I didn’t protest, despite the weird vibe I got from Jeff, because her house was a bit creepy on its own, and I knew Jeff liked to torment me physically if he wasn’t getting his way.
We hit up the corner store and grabbed a few comics. I would have bought one of the horror comics – there was a really good one about zombies, I remember, that got into the “thoughts” of the zombie (which was mostly nothing but standing in the swamp for who-knows-how-long before shambling off in search of brains), but my cousin insisted I get the latest X-Men. Turned out he wanted it but didn’t have the scratch to collect it and Amazing Spiderman.
He had a whole extra huge stack in his bag, though, so we went to the park and read. It would have, to my surprise, been a fine day with Jeff, but some of Jeff’s friends showed up.
They were really hard up about some horror movie they had seen – Day of the Dead, I think. I didn’t pay much attention, just read the comics and turned down cigarettes, until the subject of my mom’s funeral home came up.
“Yeah, the last owner was into black magic,” said Mikey, a lanky kid who was always rubbing a stuffy nose.
“Funny, that’s where Billy’s mom works,” Jeff said. “Actually, I think she owns the place?”
“What?” I said, realizing they were talking about the funeral home.
“We were just talking about Danny Fiskar,” Jeff said.
“Who?” I said.
Tim, a big fat kid with a permanently sour face, said, “Danny Fiskar was a kid around here. He lived above the funeral home with his parents, who owned the place. He disappeared one day and was never found.”
“Yeah, and they sold the place to Billy’s mom after that,” Jeff said.
Mikey laughed. “They raised him from the dead, first. But he came back all wrong. He was a monster. He was the Night Stalker and was a cannibal. So his parents buried him and sold the place for a fraction of what it was worth.”
“They buried him alive?” I said.
“He wasn’t alive,” Mikey said. “He was always dead. Or just undead. You bring a soul back from hell…” Mikey stopped laughing. “Nobody knows where he was buried.”
“The story is he was buried under the home,” Jeff said. He was smiling. Apparently, he enjoyed getting my goat.
“Not possible,” I said. “The floor is solid concrete. A huge slab.”
“You can cut slabs up,” Tim said. “I heard they buried him in one of the mausoleums so that they could keep the door always locked.”
“I heard,” Jeff said, smiling at me, “That they put a curse on him, so he could never leave the home.”
“Stop it,” I said.
“But he’s still there,” Jeff said, laughing. His friends started to chuckle, too, “Waiting around to eat whoever stays over there at night!”
“Stop!” I said.
“Are you scared?” Jeff said.
“He’s there,” I said.
I remember the laughter died away just like that.
“He’s still there,” I said. “I saw him. He’s horrible.”
Jeff laughed at me. “Man, we was just playing.”
“I wasn’t,” Mikey said. “I wasn’t. When my aunt died, I went there, for the viewing. I swear I felt something. I asked around. Lots of people felt or heard weird things that day. I wouldn’t stay. I got the hell out of there as soon as I could.”
“Believe me,” I said. “I wish I was playing. I’ve seen him once. I also know he knocked something over one time.”
“You know, sheesh,” Tim said.
“The morgue is always locked. One door in, one door out. There was a cart knocked over. Nothing’s knocking anything over in there!” I realized I was almost shouting at the time, and I was standing, so I sat back down quickly. “But I saw him once, too. God, I wish I hadn’t.”
I remember I was crying, but nobody was willing to make fun of me for it.
“You probably imagined it, man,” Mikey said. “I’d be creeped out being there, too. Shit, I was creeped out when I was there.”
“I think he knows me now,” I said. “I don’t know if that means he’s trying to get me.”
“What a bunch of bullshit,” Jeff said.
I remember Jeff’s smile. I should have heeded the chill running up and down my spine – it was a sociopath’s smile.
“Let’s find out,” he said. “Let’s go there, and we’ll have a look-see.”
“No way,” I said.
“Why you so chicken?”
“You’ll be the one who’s chicken,” I said.
“Prove it. We’ll go tonight. Mikey’s brother has a car.”
“Hell, no,” Mikey said. “I ain’t going there. Especially at night.”
“I’ll make it fun, man. I got a few beers stashed away. Come on!”
Jeff teased me about his plan on the way home, but I didn’t think much of it. My mom would be by to pick me up, or so I thought.
When we got to my cousin’s apartment, my Aunt Mavis told us that my mother was going to be later than she thought. I would apparently be spending the night. Normally, this wouldn’t bug me too much. Jeff had a lot more Nintendo games than I did, and was actually pretty decent about letting me play or picking the two-player titles. We had a lot of fun (he had just gotten the new TMNT game, which was like the arcade version).
But then, around midnight, Jeff made us stop. He had that devilish look in his eyes, and I knew something was wrong. He snuck out of his bedroom and made me wait. He came back a moment later.
“We’ll have to be real quiet,” he said. “My mom passed out in her chair again.”
“She hasn’t already woken up, we can still play,” I said.
“No, you doofus, we’ll have to be quiet when we sneak past her. Even when she’s totally blitzed, she’ll wake up easy. She usually goes to bed to pass out. Come on, get your shoes on.”
“Where are we going?”
Jeff gave me that smile, that awful, fake-sweet smile. “The funeral home, duh.”
It was no use protesting. If I had thrown a fit, and woken up my aunt, she would probably have hit me as much as she would hit Jeff. So, I went. Against the protestations of my own sanity, I went.
We snuck past my aunt, who was asleep in a recliner, the TV playing a screen of silent static. Each of us had a backpack full of keystone cans from Jeff’s closet and we had a hard time keeping them from clunking together as we stepped through the mess of the kitchen to the front door. The lights in the hallway outside the apartment were dim and flickering, making it hard to see anything. Once we got out to the street and the constant humming orange of the lamps there, it got easier.
Mikey’s house was close, in the neighborhood just around the corner from Jeff’s complex. When we got there Mikey was standing outside, hunched over on the curb, nursing a cigarette he didn’t seem too interested in finishing. Mikey’s brother, John, was there too, talking on the porch on a cordless phone. His voice was kind of sickly-sweet, like he was talking to a girl, but it was quiet enough I couldn’t make out the words.
“You look sick,” Jeff said to Mikey.
Mikey just shook his head. “I can’t believe we’re doing this.”
“Don’t be a wuss. Besides, this will prove there’s no such thing as ghosts. Where’s Tim?”
“Probably eating fried chicken,” Mikey said.
“Or maybe he chickened out. What a pussy.”
I kept my mouth shut until John walked over. “Let’s go guys. Jeff, did you bring the beer?”
“You bet,” Jeff said, patting his bag.
Jeff opened up his bag and tossed a beer to John, who opened it up and chugged it. “Warm.” It didn’t seem to upset him. “Want one, Mikey?”
Mikey shook his head.
“Let me say that a different way. Drink up, Mike.”
Mike held his head in his hands as he stood up, but he did as his brother commanded him. He took a beer out and began to drink it, nursing it down slowly like the cigarette.
“It’s not a fucking bottle, Mike, sheesh,” John said. He laughed with Jeff, who had already opened up a beer and downed it. John nodded at me, as if finally seeing me.
“This is my cousin, Bill,” Jeff said.
“You gonna drink, or what? Beer is free.”
“He’s just a kid,” Jeff said.
John shrugged. “Yeah.”
“I’ll have one,” I said, feeling a sudden need to prove myself. I opened up my backpack and took out one of the beers. When I opened it foam spilled everywhere and all of us had a good laugh. “Must have shook it up on the walk.”
It tasted utterly foul, easily the worst thing I had put in mouth up to then. For years that’s what I thought beer was supposed to taste like, only realizing when I was close to adulthood that Keystone isn’t even considered beer in most places in the world. Hell, it’s not considered beer in most of the country.
I drank as much as I could, but quit before the end. John finished my beer off. We got into John’s car, which was an old Chevrolet Caprice from the 70s that had half its paint job missing.
Riding in the backseat of the car was when the alcohol began to hit me. It was the first time I had really had any alcohol, and three-quarters of a beer was apparently enough. The lights started to shimmer on the road, and things got hazy, hard to see. Sounds got quieter. Before I knew it, we were at my mom’s office. All the orange lights in the parking lot were on, and we couldn’t see the cemetery behind it at all.
It looked blank but horrible, and my drunken eyes couldn’t see it right.
“That’s it, huh?” John said. “Doesn’t look so spooky.”
“It’s the inside that’s weird,” Mikey said.
“Let’s go,” Jeff said. “Billy has a key.”
“No, I don’t,” I said.
“You got us in that one time.”
“That was the spare key.”
“Well, we can get in, then.”
I couldn’t argue the point anymore, so we stumbled out of the car and up to the door. With some effort, I found the fake rock that hid the front door key. We were quickly in the lobby, which was completely dark except for the light spilling in from the parking lot. We looked around for a minute. Nobody wanted to go too far from the light. Even John, who was drinking another beer. Eventually, I found the main switch panel and lit the place up. Somehow, the clean, white lighting didn’t help. It only accentuated the reality that we were somewhere we shouldn’t be.
I led the others down the hall to the offices, and also to the elevator to the morgue. Every time I turned on a light I half-expected to see the creature there, in full detail, smiling at me, but each time there was just emptiness.
We took the stairs down to the morgue in single file, everyone else following me. At the double doors, we stopped.
“I don’t have a key to the morgue,” I said. “Sorry, I didn’t think of this.”
“Eh, it was fun anyway,” John said. “Good for some creeps.”
“Hold on,” Jeff said. He pulled a little black bundle out of his backpack. Inside there was a set of lockpicks.
“You don’t know how to use those,” John said.
We stood there for a long time, watching Jeff try to rake the tumblers and failing to get them to stick well enough to turn the bolt. I saw the lights turn off at the top of the stairs, and Mikey, who was leaning against the first steps, nearly jumped into his brother’s lap.
“Someone’s here!” he whispered.
“It’s the automatic lights,” I said. “Mom put in a switch that turns them off to save power when nobody is in there.”
“You sure?” Mikey said.
“Yeah. Goes off when I’m sitting real still, too.” Something occurred to me then, and had I been sober, I would have stuffed it and kept my mouth shut. “I think there’s a key in the desk upstairs.”
“Well go get it,” John said. “Come on, I want to see these corpses.”
“You can’t look at the corpses.”
“Just go,” Jeff said. “I think I got this either way.”
“Someone come with me,” I said.
“Don’t be a wuss,” Jeff said.
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I started up the stairs. On the second step, Mikey said, “I’ll come, too.”
We marched slowly up to the top. When we stepped out into the darkness of the office, the lights didn’t immediately come on.
“Sometimes you have to turn them off and back on again,” I said.
“Well, fucking do it,” Mikey said.
I side-stepped to where I knew the panel was, leaving Mikey looking like a shadow against the faint glow of the light fixture downstairs.
“Hey!” I heard Jeff from below. “I got it!”
“It wasn’t locked!” John said. “Open the whole time.”
“Ok just a sec,” I said.
I watched Mikey’s shadow disappear as he grunted. He stomped loudly down the stairs.
I felt for a nearby desk to help steady myself and get back to the stairs. I slipped a little when a car with bright lights drove by, lighting up the windows in the other room and showing the office for a moment in stark detail.
That was when I saw him.
He was sitting totally still in an office chair at a desk – the one I usually used for homework. He was staring right at me with the same dark, vacant eyes as before. I couldn’t see his mouth so well this time, but it was dark and big, too big. Just like before he was naked and his flesh was totally white. In the glow that made up his outline, I could barely make out spiderwebs of veins.
I was paralyzed. I was also suddenly cold sober. Never in my life since have the effects of any drug departed so quickly as that horrible moment when I beheld the creature contemplating me in the dark.
The lights from the car moved off, and I thought I saw movement.
“Help!” I screamed, falling to the floor and dragging myself desperately toward the stairs. “Help me! Help! Please!”
I heard the sound of stampeding feet as I dragged my suddenly useless legs to the stairs.
The other three were running up, bumping into each other. I looked right into John’s eyes and cried out again. “He’s right here! He’s right fucking here!”
John stepped over me into the dark and froze. He flicked a lighter and stepped past me to the panel. I watched him flip on the switch, bathing the office in bright, fluorescent light.
“There’s nothing up here,” he said. “But…” He frowned and rubbed his face, staring at the dark hallway.
“He was right there, at that desk.”
“There’s nothing,” Jeff said. He walked over to the chair and sat in it, then spun it around. There was a long few seconds of silence as I picked myself back up.
“Mikey, did you see him?” I said.
Mikey looked pale, but maybe it was just the lights. “I… I don’t know. I saw a shadow. Probably just the chair. But we need to get out of here.”
“Yeah, it was just a shadow,” John said. “Creeping us out.”
“Let’s go,” I said.
“Man, I only just looked in the morgue,” John said.
“I’m leaving,” Mikey said, and jogged toward the foyer.
“Fine,” John said. “Pussies win, I guess.” He stomped toward the door, then stopped suddenly at the entrance to the Foyer. “Shit, guys.”
“What’s up?” Jeff said.
“The cops are coming.”
“The alarm system,” I said. “Damn it, I forgot the alarm system!”
“Let’s get out of here!” Jeff said. With sudden desperation, he added, “I can’t go back!”
We all ran for the entrance as fast as we could. Mikey was already outside, in the bushes, watching the distant lightbars advance.
“Get in the car, we can cut through the lawn and get back to Second Street,” John said, in a flat run to his car.
“Wait!” I cried out, stopping. “We have to lock the morgue!” I turned to go back.
“Are you crazy?” Jeff said. He was grabbing my sleeve, practically dragging me.
“He can’t get loose!” I knew he would come and get me. I know it, though at the time I couldn’t articulate it. I shook Jeff’s clutch loose and ran for the front door before realizing he was already loose. Whatever was down there was out.
I froze. Through the lobby windows I could see something moving. A shadow. I turned around and ran like the wind back toward the car, jumping in the backseat, practically on top of Jeff.
John peeled out and turned, driving right past the funeral home building. I looked in the windows, not wanting to but seemingly unable to resist the compulsion.
“There he is!” I cried out, not knowing if what I saw was real or not. But I thought I saw him again, this time a blur of a flat white thing moving back toward the office.
John hopped the curb in his sedan and drove full pedal over the lawn, avoiding a fountain and threading through a set of trees. We bounced off the other curb and he twisted through an intersection. I could hear sirens, but I couldn’t see the lightbars anywhere.
The beer stupor returned slightly, and the next thing I knew we weren’t driving so fast, and we were in some neighborhood I didn’t recognize. John killed his headlights and pulled into an alley.
When he turned the engine off, I realized Mikey was sobbing.
“That was a close one,” John said. “Stop crying Mikey, we’ll be fine.”
“I saw it,” Mikey said. “It was in the window!”
“No, it wasn’t,” Jeff said. “I was watching. It was just…” Jeff slumped down into the seat.
“Yeah I think we’re just freaking ourselves out, guys,” John said. “Cops will do that. A fucking room full of dead bodies will do that. Chill.”
“Was the light switch off?” I said.
“Huh?” John said.
“Was the light switch off?” I repeated. “The one you flicked in the office. Did you turn it off and on, or just turn it on?”
John was quiet for a few seconds, just staring out into the dark alley. “Fuck, they were off. Jeff, get me a beer. Get me two of those motherfuckers.”
Only Jeff could get to sleep in that alley. The rest of us sat there until dawn, trying to talk about other things. I followed John’s lead and opened another beer for myself. It tasted so bad I could barely stomach it, but I drank every single drop, hoping it would kill the images burned into my mind.
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