I did a little horror piece on a prompt from a messageboard community that no longer exists. We had a private writing group and did these exercises to keep our minds fresh with ideas. So I created The Dark. Betas loved it, and I sent it into the shark tank. Eight rejections later, I hung it up. It wasn’t because the piece was horribly written. I actually got good personal rejections for the story. The problem? It didn’t break any barriers.
When it comes to the horror genre, publishers don’t want the same old same old. They want you to push the barrier and break into new ground. I can get behind that and have done a few pieces that do that. Fate Whispers for one.
Instead of putting The Dark in the closet to rot, I’ll share it with you on the world wide web.
As the axe buried deep into the skull of another victim, I winced. Blood squirted out, accented by a sickening crunch of bone and snapping sinew. Grisly images flickered on the flat screen. My eyes stayed glued to it as the killer stalked toward the camera, his instrument of death dripping crimson from the blade. His eyes, maddening and wide, were vivid in the dark imagery. I’d have applauded the cinematographer for his work if my hands would have released the death grip on my popcorn bowl, not that I could eat it with my heart in my throat.
A crack of lightning accompanied the booming thunder outside my home, the killer raised the axe. A high-pitched scream erupted through the surround sound. The axe made its horrific descent and the television winked out. The crackling of ozone filled the room and all became still. I clutched the bowl closer to me, my heart pounding in my chest. Again the sky outside lit up like day and I heard the splintering of a tree across the yard. Popcorn went airborne as I screamed. Gathering my courage, I went to the light switch and flicked it on.
Okay, I told myself, you’ve walked this house a dozen times in the dark. I knew it like the back of my hand and the flashlight was in the kitchen. I started forward, the creaking of the old floorboards loud in the silence underneath my feet. My hands stretched before me, touching every nook and imperfection on the wall as I tried to force the large lump in my throat down.
My hand reached up for the flashlight on the top shelf and something soft brushed against my leg. I yelped and the flashlight tumbled to the floor. Talbot, my cat, hissed voicing his displeasure.
“Talbot!” I hissed back. His quick-pawed descent into the basement responded.
Down I went, to the floor, my fingers searching for the precious light source. The dark never bothered me but the scary movie and my cat suddenly appearing—I was on edge.
Another peal of lightning came and the thunder shook the walls. At the moan of the loose board on the basement steps, I froze. The beating pulse of rain against the windows assaulted my ears. I tried to chalk the noise up to my overactive imagination playing a practical joke but the sound came again. Closer.
I fumbled around for the flashlight, a fine bead of sweat forming on my brow. Steady footfalls echoed in the house and I jerked, my hands trembling. My fingers made contact with the flashlight, sending it further away.
I tried to convince myself no one was in the house. The storm just enhanced the creaks in an old house.
The groan of a door opening had my breath in short huffs and I surged forward to find the flashlight. I got it in my hands and pointed it toward the basement stairs at the other end of the kitchen. I flicked the power switch.
Panicked, I moved the switch back and forth hoping I just didn’t push it far enough. A faint light pulsed and faded away.
A whimper escaped my lips. Again the sky outside lit up and I saw a shadow. Long stringy hair lay thinly on the head of a pale figure standing near the window. I crawled back from it, clutching the flashlight to my chest. Rain lashed against the windows and tree branches scraped along the glass. The splattering of liquid, a steady drip, beat in a precise rhythm and the floorboards groaned under a tremendous weight.
I willed my body to move and started to crawl for my life toward the dining room table. Footfalls tapped in time with the weather.
As I reached my destination, I felt a cold clammy presence on my ankle.
I screamed as another rash of thunder and lightning drowned me in my terror and fed my fear. Those eyes, cold and methodical, bore their full weight on me as I jerked away. An axe oozing with blood rose above him. I rolled to one side as the wood beside me splintered from the blow. One hand choked up on the axe while the other struggled to keep a hold on my ankle. His clothes heady with the scent of copper, I gagged and kicked with my free leg. He released my ankle and tried to pin me to the floor. My hands flailed trying to fend him off.
The flashlight clanged to the floor.
My chest constricted and I sobbed, trying to wrestle away. I landed a blow to the side of his head. The rain hammered harder on the roof and a cold chill swept through me. The axe came up again and I couldn’t move out of the way this time. A scream of terror ripped out of me. As I tried to shield myself with my arms, the power flickered on.
Blinking at the sudden harshness of the light, I fell back to the floor. Wrapped around me was the tablecloth from the dining room table. The beady eyes of Talbot stared at me from the breakfast nook. His ears laid back and he hissed again, his tail twitching.
Cracked laughter spilled out of my throat mixed with tears. Was it a dream of my wild imagination? I choked down the sobs and peeled the cloth off me. Crimson blotches saturated the fabric and I trembled. My eyes widened, and the storm stole my hope and cast me into the dark again. Hot stale breath caressed my skin. I shuddered, praying I would wake as the touch of cold metal slid across my throat.
It’s just a dream. It’s just a dream. It’s just a…