Mally (Horror)

Mally (Horror)

The house needed work, but it came cheap and had a grassy back yard for Sara to play in. I’d signed the mortgage contract two days before, and as my daughter and I walked on the cracked sidewalk to the dilapidated front door, I knew this would have to do until I could pay off the medical bills that had almost wiped us out financially. All the money in the world wouldn’t have saved my wife, though. Watching her waste away from cancer almost did me in. Only the thought of my four-year-old daughter stopped me from going into a dark hole of depression. Sara needed me.

She clutched my pinky with one hand and her favorite doll with the other. Behind us was a small rental truck with our belongings. Since this house came furnished and we’d had to sell just about everything we owned to pay bills, there wasn’t much to bring in. Inexplicably, the realtor had told me, the previous owners dashed off one night without any of their things.

“Let’s go see your new bedroom,” I said, trying to smile.

The two-story house had been built during the seventies. The furniture was well-used but functional, and the appliances worked. It would be enough.

I let Sara pick her bedroom, and as I thought, she selected the room with yellow paint on the walls and a wooden toy box by the door. “I have to bring in your sheets and clothes and things,” I said. “We’ll make it look just like your room in our other house, okay?”

“Okay.”

She didn’t look upset, which was good. As she opened the toy box, I trotted out to the truck to grab boxes. A few minutes later, I lugged a big box of linens and towels up the steps. Sara sat in front of the open toy box, holding a matted, dark brown lump.

I set down my box. “What have you got there, sweetie?”

She held it up. It had four legs and a long neck. “It’s a horsey.”

I looked closer. The thing was filthy and half flat, like it had been dragged through the mud and run over by a car a few times. “I think it’s a giraffe.”

“He’s mine.” Sara smiled and hugged it.

It was all I could do not to snatch it away. I didn’t know what was on it, and I didn’t want her getting sick. “Why don’t we give it a bath,” I said. “It looks a little dirty.”

“No. He doesn’t want a bath,” she said, and buried her face in its matted, grimy chest.

I gritted my teeth. As soon as I could, I’d throw it in the washing machine. “Look,” I said with forced cheer, pointing into the toy box. “There are more toys in here. There’s a doll like yours, and a teddy bear, and…um….” A smashed train car, some scattered puzzle pieces, and two Barbies with no clothes and no heads. “I’ll bring up your toys.” I turned toward the door.

“I love you.”

I swung back to tell her I loved her too, but she wasn’t looking at me.

She held the giraffe out in front her, nodding. “Hi Mally, my name is Sara.”

Sara carried Mally with her the rest of the day, but I got my chance to wash it at bedtime. She fell asleep as I finished up her favorite story. I began to gently pull the giraffe from under her arm. Then, I paused. Its black plastic eyes gleamed, smooth and shiny and not at all scratched and scuffed like they’d been earlier. The moonlight from the window made them look alive, and they stared right into mine with a malevolent coldness. Like the thing dared me to touch it. My breath hitched. I pulled back my hand.

At that moment, Sara brought it up to her face.

No, this would not do. I didn’t want my daughter breathing against the dirty thing all night. Ignoring its eyes, I lifted it and carried it from the room, then made my way down to the basement. As I started to toss it into the washing machine, it seemed to… no, I refused to believe that. It didn’t wriggle. It didn’t move at all.

Into the washer it went, with double the amount of soap.

Sara asked about it first thing when she awoke. I had just made coffee and was still groggy, and now realized I hadn’t put it in the dryer. “I washed it last night, honey,” I said, trying for an excited tone. “Let’s go see how clean it got.”

Sara’s eyes filled with tears. “He didn’t want a bath!”

“Sure he did. Every giraffe wants to be clean. Let’s go check.”

Downstairs, I opened the washing machine, and my smile faded. I reached in and pulled out pieces of the giraffe. White fluff lined the barrel of the washer. From limp brown and tan fur dangled legs, a body, a neck, and a flat head. It had certainly gotten clean, but had ripped apart in the process.

Sara sobbed and ran upstairs. I felt bad and made plans to buy her a new toy giraffe and name it Mally the Second.

In the kitchen, I glanced at its eyes, still intact. They stared at me, hard and livid. Dangerous. I flung the pieces into the trash can. Good riddance.

I made breakfast for Sara and called her down to eat. She danced into the room carrying the giraffe.

“You fixed it, Daddy. You fixed it!” She held it out.

My body went rigid. The thing had been re-stuffed and crudely sewed up. Its evil gaze locked with mine. I lifted the lid to the trash can. It was empty.

“Mally doesn’t like you, Daddy, but he loves me. Forever and ever.” She kissed it.

My lips stretched in a grimace. “Sure, honey.”

Mally would like me even less when I cut out his eyes.

The Queen’s Portrait (Vampire)

The Queen’s Portrait (Vampire)

It’s not right. It’s not right. My brush falters on the canvas.

The queen’s hair needs a glint of sunlight. I close my eyes, trying to remember the sun. Slowly, an image from deep memory surfaces: my love, Colette, standing in front of me, the morning sun glistening on her auburn hair and turning it red-gold. In my memory, I slide my hand down the warm tresses. “Samuel,” she whispers, and raises her face for a kiss. Her full lips are soft. We are going to be married soon.

“You! Keep painting.”

I open my eyes to the damp gray stones in the torch-lit dungeon room. The guard who spoke stands beside the iron door. He glowers at me, an expression of hate on his weathered face. I dip my brush into cadmium yellow. Moments later, the queen’s hair is touched by subtle streaks of gold. The red rose she holds is lit by the sun and dotted with dew that sparkles like diamonds. Colette loved roses.

Our village was raided long ago on the night before our wedding by monsters who drank their fill of most of the people. They took Colette, screaming, with them. In my struggle to get to her, I scratched and bit my attacker. His blood filled my mouth. I did not die, but instead, unwillingly became one of his kind.

I never found Colette. After two hundred years, I still grieve her death.

Four other vampire artists are with me in this dungeon. The queen scours the land and brings the undead here to paint her portrait. She does not show her face. Inexplicably, we paint a woman we have never seen.

Hunger gnaws at me. We have not fed since we were brought here. The queen may decide at any moment that she’s waited long enough, and so our brushes fly over our canvases.

A rat appears through a space in the crumbling stone and scurries along the floor. We all stop, our gazes riveted on the rodent. My mouth opens with desperate need. I can imagine my teeth sinking into the rat’s heart. I can sense its blood spilling into my mouth, providing sustenance, however small. But I dare not move from my spot.

One of the artists bolts toward the rat and grabs it. Within seconds, it is emptied of life. The artist holds the limp corpse and wipes the blood from his lips. A drop falls, and I watch its tiny splash onto the filthy floor. By sheer will, I remain in place although I would give anything for just a taste of that wasted blood.

Two other guards rush in. The rat’s limp body drops forgotten to the floor as the artist is forced from the room. A moment later, his agonizing screams echo off the walls.

“Keep working!” the head guard demands.

Bitterness at the queen’s cruelty compels me depict her as a vampire like me. I add a delicate touch of red paint under one corner of her mouth. The moments just after nourishment are bliss. Under my brush, her full lips curve up in a soft smile. Her eyes become half-closed in rapturous delight.

I paint the finishing touches on the queen’s cobalt-green satin dress. The color enhances her eyes – amber like Colette’s. The memory has not faded from my mind. I am painting Colette’s portrait, and the queen be damned.

Suddenly, the door to the dungeon is thrown open. The head guard shouts, “Everyone out! The queen is ready to see the portraits.”

We artists share a dark look. We have no doubt that all the paintings will be rejected. After all, artist raids have been occurring by successive queens for over a century.

We shuffle from the dungeon and through the underground corridors, clutching our canvases.

Eventually we reach an opulent room with marble floors and rich mahogany furniture. A gold throne sits facing away from us. I can only see hands resting on its arms.

We are ordered to keep our heads lowered. Anyone who dares look at the queen will be executed.

One by one, we walk forward and stand in front of the throne to present our paintings. One by one, they are rejected by a dismissive wave of the queen’s hand. The artists are dragged out.

I am the last. I expect that I, too, will be shoved into the sunlight, but I am no longer afraid. I’m ready for this lonely farce of my existence to end.

I step forward and turn to face the throne, staring at the floor, the painting held out for inspection.

Silence. Then, a whisper. “You know my face.”

I shake my lowered head. “I swear I do not see you.”

“Look at me.”

Slowly, I raise my gaze.

Auburn hair. Amber eyes. Full, lovely mouth.

My legs fail me, and I fall to my knees. “Colette.”

“Samuel.” Her voice is a sigh. “After all these years, I have found you. And you have not forgotten me.”

“I searched for you.” My voice breaks. “I thought they had killed you.”

“I was captured and made one of them, then given to the king for his amusement,” Colette says. “He kept me imprisoned and enjoyed watching me feed on his enemies. As he grew older, he spent much time with me. I became powerful as he weakened with age. On his deathbed, he named me his queen.” She takes my hand. “But I am still your Colette.”

I shake my head. “But you have killed our kind. The other artists…”

“They have always been given a choice to end their existence.” She smiles. “Most refuse the offer and are freed.”

I am relieved at this information.

Colette holds her head high. She has changed, become strong and commanding. She is forever my love.

The search for artists has stopped. My portrait of Colette hangs in our bedroom.

After two long centuries, we are finally married.


This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, dialogue, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to a person, living or deceased, events, or locations is purely coincidental.

The idea for this story came from a writing contest I entered. I was given an image of artists painting on a cobblestone street, with the sun shining above. The instructions were to write a flash fiction story under 1,000 words that could use one or more of the items depicted in the image. I chose the artist at his canvas, and added the twist of the vampire artist raids in the queen’s search for her lost love.

A Haunting Tryst (Horror with romantic elements)

A Haunting Tryst (Horror with romantic elements)

The old streetlamp cast a dim yellow glow over the front of the aged funeral home. Along the lower side of the stone building where it was darkest, Mia Langston stood holding hands with her boyfriend, Lucas Forester. Lightning seared the sky, and they cringed at the immediate thunderclap that followed. The wind had kicked up, and the first rush of raindrops washed over them.

“Come on,” Lucas said, laughing, and pulled Mia into the dark recess of the side entrance. “Can’t change our minds now, anyway. We’ll get soaked.”

“Nope.” Mia giggled into Lucas’s broad chest, then raised her face for a kiss. Having sex in the funeral home had been her idea, just like most of the places they’d broken in to do it. They needed some kind of fun in this boring town, where all they did was work in the lumber mill during the week and drink on the weekends. Three months ago, breaking into a car at the local used car lot at midnight and steaming up the windows had been Lucas’s idea, but Mia had loved it, and from then on they’d found various businesses that seemed easy to enter after dark. They’d even hidden under the stairs in the lumber mill until closing time last month, and then had sex three times on the plant manager’s desk.

The basement entrance to the funeral home would be good, if the lightning would let up. The darker, the better. Mia hoped Lucas’s lock picks would work. This door had no bolt, just a doorknob that looked ancient.

As if reading her mind, Lucas bent down and studied the knob, then said, “Just an old fashioned lock on this one.”

A familiar thrill ran through Mia’s body, but she wondered at the strange undercurrent of fear. She’d never done it in a place that held dead people. Even thinking about death was scary, but that was why they were here — because doing this type of thing made them both feel alive. Plus, they’d started to run out of places to break into. The town was only so big.

Mia heard the lock click, and Lucas straightened. “You ready for this?” he asked.

“Hell, yeah.”

Lucas nodded and then put on gloves before grasping the door knob. He turned it slowly and pushed open an inch, and they listened for any sounds of an alarm. If there was an alarm, it would be hard to hear over the crazy thunder and pounding rain. Lucas opened the door wider.

“Nothing,” he said.

They crept inside. Mia’s heart raced. Sneaking into a building was her favorite part — besides the sex, of course.

Lucas eased the door shut and turned the simple doorknob lock. Mia jumped at a blast of thunder that seemed to shake the building. She usually didn’t let storms bother her, but they were in a funeral home, and this added a whole new level of scary thrill.

Mia pulled her cell phone from her pocket and turned on the cell’s flashlight, shining it around the upper walls. “Cameras?”

“Don’t see any. Not in this little room, anyway.”

They stood in a room barely bigger than a closet, with a door directly in front of them and another on their left. Still wearing the gloves to avoid fingerprints, Lucas opened the door on the left. They peered inside and saw a small storage room that held trash cans, cleaning supplies, and gardening tools. Boring. They backed out and Lucas closed the door.

The other door opened to a huge room with a cement floor, almost like a garage. They did a quick check to be sure no security cameras were present that they could see, and then Mia drew in a quick breath as her cell light shown on a row of five caskets along one wall. “Ooh, doing it in one of these would be weird, and so fun! As long as the lid stays open.” She hesitated then added, “And as long as there are no people in them.”

She heard Lucas’s low laugh. “I doubt it, but we’ll check.” They looked around the room and saw a garage door that stood to their left, probably there to let in a hearse. That made sense since the driveway sloped down alongside the building and around to the back.

To the right were two doors, one of them wide and made of metal. This door reminded Mia of the refrigeration unit in the fast food restaurant she’d worked at during high school. The other door was nondescript but had a sign on it, too dim to see from where they stood.

Beside the row of caskets was what looked like an elevator door, and beside that one, another door with a sign. Lots of doorways, but no windows.

Mia moved toward the caskets. “Do you think there’s dead people in these?”

“That’s a lot of dead people.”

Mia held her breath until Lucas had lifted the lid of one at the end of the row, then she sighed in relief. “Empty. Good. She climbed in, folded her hands on her stomach, and closed her eyes. “Let’s do it in this one. I’ll pretend I’m dead.”

Lucas leaned down and kissed her. “I prefer you alive and moving. And maybe we should check the other rooms first, make sure no one’s here.”

Another blast of thunder, this time sounding like it was right on top of the building, made Mia sit up and hop out of the coffin in alarm. The thunder was followed by a crackling and buzzing sound from outside. Lucas went to check outside. He was only gone half a minute, but Mia imagined someone was near her at the coffin. Then, she swore she heard a voice, sounding tinny and far away, but definitely there in the room with her. She trotted to the door that would lead to the little room where they’d come in and opened it, sure she was imagining things but wanting Lucas to hurry up.

He was just shutting the outside door and locking it. “Lights are out,” he said. “There’s a transformer down the street that looks like it exploded.”

“All the more darker for us,” Mia said, her breath in a slight pant. “I got a little spooked in there.”

“Spooky sex will be good,” Lucas said, and grinned.

In the distance, a siren sounded and grew louder. There were no windows, but Mia and Lucas turned off their cell lights anyway and stood silent in the dark, holding hands, listening. The siren peaked and then weakened as the vehicle passed the funeral home and went on its way.

Both turned on their cell lights. “Okay. Let’s see what’s in here,” Lucas said, and led Mia to the metal door. He grabbed the latch and pulled the door open. Cold air swept out at them. They directed their lights onto long metal shelves, where two cardboard boxes, each in length about six feet or so, lay on opposite each other. At the end of each box was a nameplate and a short series of numbers.

Mia held the door open. “Oh, wow. So this is where they keep the bodies.” She grinned and mimicked holding a telephone to her ear. “Thank you for calling Mia’s mortuary. You stab ‘em, we slab ‘em.”

Lucas laughed. “That’s the trouble with this town. There haven’t been any stabbings in years. Just old farts kicking the bucket.” He lifted each of the cardboard lids. “I don’t recognize these old farts.“

“Betty Dickens,” Mia read, then looked at the nameplate on the other box. “Michael Bransley. Hey, I heard about him on the news. He’s not old at all. He’s that teenager who drowned when he fell out of his boat. They couldn’t find him for a few days.”

“Yeah, seventeen I think. He’s all puffy and gray.” Lucas held the lid open. “Want to see?”

”Nah.” For some reason, Mia’s palms had gotten clammy. She backed out of the refrigerated room. Another waft of air, this one seeming to ride on a soft sigh, chilled her face in a cold caress. She touched her cheek. “I don’t want to do anything in here.”

“Me neither. And the power’s off, so these guys won’t stay cold for long.” They shut the door, then approached the old wooden door next to the refrigerated room. Lucas tried the handle. “Locked.”

The sign on the door read, “Preparation”. Mia pointed her light at the doorknob so Lucas could see as he picked the lock. She glanced over her shoulder into the darkness. Sure, she’d figured there might be dead bodies in the funeral home, but seeing them stored in a fridge in long cardboard boxes was kind of weird.

A soft click sounded, and Lucas opened the door. There were no windows in this room either, so after entering, Mia closed the door and found the light switch. She flicked it a couple of times, but the room remained dark. “Yup, power’s out,” she said.

A stainless steal exam table stood in the center of the room. Against one wall was a stained white porcelain sink with a spotted faucet. A table against another wall held a toolbox, and beside this, in a neat row, lay brushes and combs. An empty garment rack stood beside the table.

The room smelled like lavender and roses, and something else that made Mia’s nose tingle. She rubbed it and said, “Pickles.”

Lucas sniffed. “That’s the shit they use to embalm people. It’s called formerhide.”

Mia decided she wouldn’t correct her boyfriend’s usage of formaldehyde. Lucas had barely passed his classes in high school, and he’d always felt like he was stupid. He wasn’t — he was a good machine mechanic and kept most of the mill saws and belts running — but there weren’t too many opportunities in the area to gain advanced certification or a journeyman’s card.

She strode to the toolbox and opened it. “Just as I thought. It’s makeup and hairspray. This must be where they fix them up for a viewing.”

Lucas tapped the stainless steel table. “Hop on up, lady. I’ll fix you up good.” He loosened his belt.

“Wait.” Mia had spotted another door at the far end of the room. This one had two signs on it. She approached the door. “Embalming Room,” she read. “Danger, flammable liquids.” She tried the handle. To her surprise, the door was unlocked. They entered.

This room was a truly creepy part of the funeral home. She didn’t know much about embalming, just that it involved pumping chemicals into someone’s body to keep them fresh-looking for days, maybe weeks. The smell in here was pungent, and Mia rubbed her nose again as she looked around.

A stainless steel gurney, angled with one end sloping slightly lower than the other, was bolted to the floor. Two metal buckets hung at the end of the gurney. On a chipped countertop nearby sat a machine, a little taller and wider than a restaurant coffeemaker, with dials and thin orange hoses. Near this was a double sink. The countertop also held a metal tray with hooks, scalpels, scissors, tweezers, long, thick needles, and small rounded things that looked like spiky oversized contact lenses. On the wall next to the door hung lab coats.

“So this is what it looks like,” Mia said.

Lucas sneezed, then picked up one of the domed, spiky pieces. “What are these for?” He tossed it back onto the counter, where it rolled into the sink. “Wait.” He lifted it and put it over his eye. “Whatcha think?”

Mia laughed, but it sounded forced. Being in here made her perspire. If they’d broken into the funeral home to have sex in an unusual place, the embalming room would be perfect. But the idea of doing it in here, with needles and knives and scissors nearby, would make her feel like she was in a slasher horror movie, where the set was a gurney in an embalming room instead of a cot in a cabin at Camp Crystal Lake. She opened the door and said, “I don’t really like it in here, baby.”

Lucas placed the piece back onto the tray with the others, and they left the room. Lucas wiped any fingerprints Mia had left on the door knobs since she wore no gloves. “Where to next?” He asked. “Upstairs?”

“Sure. Let’s explore up there. Might be more comfortable than the prep table, but that coffin was comfy if we don’t find anything else.”

As they left the preparation room, they listened for any sounds. Outside, the storm raged on, and another emergency vehicle passed, siren blaring. Ignoring it this time, they moved to the elevator. Mia almost pushed the button, then stopped. “Maybe we should take the stairs? In case somebody is up there.”

“Yeah,” Lucas agreed. They found the staircase at the far end of the wall. The heavy door’s hinges creaked, sounding far too loud. Lucas opened it just enough for them to slip in. Quietly they crept up the concrete steps, which led them to a landing and then another short set of steps that ended at another door. This one, also made of metal, had no lock.

Standing behind Lucas, Mia looked over the rail, and pointed her cell light to the downstairs door. “I hear a sound,” she whispered. “Like someone’s down there…breathing.”

Lucas froze with his hand on the doorknob. Both turned off their lights. Heads cocked, they listened. After a moment Lucas murmured, “Maybe it was our steps, just echoing or something.”

“Maybe.” Mia took his hand nonetheless and looked down again into the blackness below. She felt watched, somehow. It was much worse without any light. “Hurry and open the door.”

This door’s hinges had been well-oiled and made no sound as Lucas opened it. A quick flash of light made them both stiffen, and then they each let out a sigh of relief. Up here, there were windows along the walls that showcased the storm outside. Lightning lit the sky and rain pounded down.

Feeling better now that they were away from the preparation room, the refrigerator, and the embalming room, they explored this upstairs area. It was a chapel of sorts. Rows of chairs faced an empty space in the front. A podium stood to one side. Mia’s mind went to the reason they’d broken in here in the first place. She smiled as she opened a door along the side near the podium and looked into a closet with white cloths folded neatly on shelves. She jumped at Lucas’s hand on her arm.

“Easy,” he said. “Let me do it. We don’t want fingerprints.”

“Right,” Mia said. She rubbed the doorknob with her shirt. “How about in here?”

“I want to check the rest of the place, make sure no one’s here,” Lucas said. “Probably just offices and storage. I’ll be quick.”

She should go with him, but she didn’t feel nearly as spooked up here as she had downstairs. Besides, he probably wouldn’t be long, and he was quick and light on his feet. Mia figured the rooms up here were just what Lucas suggested: boring offices, bathrooms, and closets. “Okay, but hurry,” she said.

Lucas disappeared through a door behind the podium. Mia looked around. Right in the center, in the empty space where the coffins currently sat for services, would be a good place to fool around. It wouldn’t be completely dark up here, and there’d be enough time for them to escape if anyone came in. She walked to the front door of the chapel, looking again for cameras and finding none. Narrow windows on either side of this door faced the street. The streets were empty, and a little ways down, she could barely make out where the transformer had fallen. Surprisingly, no firetrucks had come yet. But they might.

The chapel was a good a place to do it as anywhere. She returned to the front and removed her clothing, and tossed them within easy reach. She stood facing the front door, bathed in flashes of lightning. After a moment, she moved to stand behind the podium in case anyone happened to look through the windows flanking the front door. Her back was to the door Lucas had gone through, so that he’d see her naked butt first thing. Lucas loved her butt.

She could bet that no one had ever stood here completely naked before. Not even the dead, who were always dressed up in their coffins. The thought made her excited, and she reached down and touched herself. After a moment she emitted a soft moan as she worked her fingers. “We are gathered here today,” she panted to the empty chairs, “to fuck.” Lucas needed to hurry. She wanted him.

As if he’d read her mind, she felt him behind her. “Ready?” he whispered, his voice lighter in pitch but no less sexy.

“Yes,” she breathed, closing her eyes. “Wet and ready.”

His hands — he’d removed his gloves and his hands were cold, she vaguely noted — squeezed her breasts and then slid down her waist and hips as she continued to arouse herself. Lucas liked to watch her do that, too. His erection pressed against her. She shivered with a sudden, strange chill.

“Damn, you’re sexy,” Lucas said. “Can I join you, or are you good with getting off by yourself?”

“What?” Mia whirled. No one stood stood behind her. Nothing pressed against her.

Lucas stood leaning in the doorway where he’d disappeared a few minutes before. He was grinning in satisfaction, his gaze roving down her naked form, taking her in. Mia gasped and crossed her arms over her breasts in a protective gesture, and darted her gaze around the chapel. Who had touched her? Who had whispered?

Lucas approached her. “Sorry to keep you waiting. No one’s here. I had to check, sorry.”

Yes, something else was here, and it had caressed her like a lover. “I…I thought you were behind me.”

“Nope.” he undid his belt. “But I want to be behind you. Keep touching yourself.”

Were they really doing this? After what she’d just experienced? Mia nibbled at her lip with equal parts anxiety and arousal. When Lucas pressed himself against her back and his warm hand turned her face toward his for a deep kiss, she gave in to the intoxication of passion even through underlying fear that simmered beneath.

Frightened yet aroused, Mia’s senses were heightened by what someone or something had done to her a moment ago and what Lucas was doing to her now. This juxtaposition of emotions only made her skin more sensitive to his touch. Her body clenched with desire. Lucas ended the kiss and moved down her body, sliding his tongue down the groove of her back, her thighs, and finally turning her toward him to pleasure her with his mouth.

Someone watched them. The awareness pierced her increasing ecstasy. Even as she climaxed, Mia opened her eyes and looked for the interloper who dared to stare at her during her most intimate moment.

“Who’s there?” she panted as waves of her climax engulfed her and threatened to make her legs buckle.

“Just me,” Lucas said as he straightened and kissed her. He turned her toward the podium and put a hand on her stomach. With his other hand, he gently pushed her upper back forward so that she rested her forehead on the podium. He gripped her hips and entered her with a moan, and began to move with rhythmic thrusts.

Mia tried to focus on her body’s enjoyment and was successful for only a moment. Everything had become deadly silent. The lightning storm had ceased. An impenetrable blackness, so intense it felt palpable, filled the chapel. Her senses filled with foreboding. The air seemed to grow more oppressive. Suffocating. She closed her eyes but immediately opened them again, and lifted her head to look around the chapel and at the twin narrow windows flanking the front door. No one stood there looking in that she could see, but what was watching them didn’t seem to be human anyway.

Mia’s body chilled; she could see the goosebumps on her arms. Lucas, busy behind her, apparently had no inkling of what was happening.

Then, she heard something.

A creak of the old wooden floor. A sound of footsteps approaching. Mia strained to see who it was, but the chapel was empty.

Then came a grunting moan. It wasn’t the sorrowful, horror-story type moan Mia had heard in the movies. This moan sounded like whoever made it was in the midst of a superb orgasm.

Mia jerked backwards. Lucas gave a surprised shout. “Ouch! What the hell?”

“Lucas!” Mia’s voice cracked with terror. “Someone’s here.”

They became quiet, trying to listen through the sound of the rain on the roof. “I don’t hear anything,” he whispered after a moment.

The scrape of a chair on the old wood floor made them both jump. In the blackness of the chapel, Mia felt Lucas pull up his pants, then heard the click of his cell phone as he turned on the light and pointed it toward the chairs. Mia cried out.

A teenaged boy sat in the front row near the podium. His eyes were milky, his face bloated and gray, clothing torn. As the couple stared, he stood. His tongue pushed out and roved his fleshy lips. He shuffled toward them. He didn’t quite seem solid.

Lucas grabbed Mia’s arm. “Fuck!” he cried out. “We need to get out of here. Now!”

As Mia, sobbing in terror, snatched up her clothing, the boy reached them. His oppressive presence seemed to close in around them, trapping them.

“Stop.”

The voice was feminine and thin, and came from directly behind the boy. A woman came into view and stood beside him.

Clutching each other, Lucas and Mia stared at the ethereal forms.

“Betty Dickens,” Mia said, her voice trembling.

“And Michael Bransley,” Lucas added in a half whisper. “Are you…ghosts?”

They ignored Lucas. “You were young,” Betty said to Michael.

“I just wanted to fish,” Michael said, his voice sounding far away. He indicated Lucas and Mia. “And to watch them.”

“And I wanted to wait for my children so I could say goodbye.”

As they spoke to each other, Mia pulled on her shirt and pants.

“You are done fishing,” Betty said to Michael. “And my children arrived too late. They have their own lives, you know. They live far away.”

Mia looked at the front door. Her intent was to make a wide swath around the ghosts and head out through the front entrance. “Come on,” she whispered. “This way.”

“No,” Lucas said. “Someone will see us. We should go back the way we came in.”

They began to creep toward the door leading to the stairway, trying to be quiet so that they ghosts wouldn’t notice them.

“I have not seen my newest great grandchild,” Betty continued. “He is very sick and may die.”

“The boat capsized. My father is sad,” Michael said.

Lucas and Mia had almost reached the door. “She sounds so nice,” Mia whispered to Lucas. “But he’s a creep. He stood behind me and pressed up against me. It seemed so real. I thought it was you.”

“What?” Lucas stopped and spoke to Michael, his voice sharp. “You messed with my girlfriend, punk?”

Michael ignored him and focused on Betty. They continued their conversation while Lucas and Mia stood in indecision, torn between wanting to bolt and the surreal experience of watching two dead people talk to each other. She could see them in the light of Lucas’s cell phone, ethereal shapes that seemed to shimmer and fade, and then return in almost solid form. Michael and Betty should both be lying in the refrigerator downstairs, yet here they stood as spirits.

“I went out to the lake by myself after my dad told me not to. There was a storm coming,” Michael said to Betty. “Am I really dead?”

“You’re both dead,” Lucas said. “You should go into the light, or whatever.”

Both ghosts turned to them, their expressions disapproving.

“You should not be here,” Betty said.

“You shouldn’t either,” Lucas said. Mia nudged him to be quiet. Lucas always did like to run his mouth when he was agitated, and sometimes it got him into trouble. He continued, “Ya’ll are rotting in the fridge downstairs with the power being out. I guess they haven’t put that formerhide in you yet.”

Michael turned his head slowly toward Lucas, and his opaque eyes somehow became darker. “I’m not dead. I can still feel. And I want her.” One hand rose and pointed at Mia.

Mia gasped, and her throat burned with the icy chill that permeated the chapel. She grabbed Lucas’s arm and they bolted to the door that led downstairs. Within a few seconds they were racing down the stairs, footsteps echoing loudly. Lucas’s cell light moved crazily along the walls as he ran. Mia’s heart pounded in her ears.

Reaching the bottom, Lucas’s fingers fumbled at the latch of the door. Mia stood beside him, her cell phone clutched tightly in her hand. The latch refused to budge.

“It’s stuck!” Mia cried out, her voice trembling with terror.

“Locked.” Lucas worked the latch, but the door remained firmly shut. Panic washed over them as they realized they were trapped.

“What do we do now?” Lucas whispered, his breath coming in shallow gasps.

Mia’s mind raced. “We go back up. We find another entrance in the back. Or we try to make it to the front door.”

They retraced their steps up the the concrete stairs, slower this time, hushed and listening, trying be keep their footsteps quiet. They reached the upstairs door and stopped. Slowly Lucas turned the doorknob and opened the door a crack. He peeked into the chapel.

“I don’t see them,” he whispered.

Mia looked. “I don’t either.”

“On the count of three, we run to the front door. If you see them, ignore them.”

“You too,” Mia said. “Don’t get into a squabble with Michael.”

Lucas counted in a low voice, and then they bolted through the chapel, past the podium and down the aisle. Mia’s gaze was riveted on the front door. No sound came to her but their pounding footsteps.

They reached the door and stopped, then looked through the window beside the door. A car drove past the building but then slowed and turned into the parking lot on the side of the building, the same side that had the door Mia and Lucas had entered.

“Someone’s here,” Lucas said.

“Open the door. They won’t see us from here.”

Lucas reached for the bolt, and for a second Mia was sure that the door would be stuck, or there would be a hidden lock, or the ghosts would come at them, or whoever had come to the building would find them and have them arrested.

The bolt turned, and Lucas opened the door.

Rain and wind greeted them as they stumbled out into the storm. Their clothes clung to their bodies, drenched within seconds, but Mia didn’t care. Being outside, away from the dead teen Michael’s resentful presence, was a welcome relief.

They ran through the rain, their feet splashing in puddles, until they reached the safety of Lucas’s truck parked down the block. With trembling hands, he fumbled for his keys and unlocked the door.

“Drive,” Mia urged as she got in, her voice trembling. “Just drive far away from here.”

Lucas started the truck and they sped away from the building, leaving behind the ghosts of Betty and Michael, and whoever had come by.

Two days later, they attended the memorial services of Betty and Michael. Call it morbid curiosity or wanting to return to the scene of their break in, but they each had their reasons. Mia wanted to see Betty in her open casket. The old woman, although sort of waxy looking, appeared as if she could open her eyes at any moment and get up to fix a batch of breakfast biscuits. Mia was glad to see that the power outage, which had lasted through the night, didn’t seem to have done any damage. The memorial service was warm and celebratory, and Mia was glad to hear stories from her children, grandchildren, and friends.

Lucas wanted to attend Michael’s service. The photo on the display table showed a dark-haired teen with laughing brown eyes. There were photos of him and his father holding up fish they’d caught, and photos of him camping and playing baseball. This service was much more somber and sad. Family, school friends, teachers, and others wept. Stories were told of his dry sense of humor, his willingness to volunteer in his community, and his love of nature. His father looked inconsolable.

“I like him more, now,” Lucas said to Mia when they left the service. “I needed to see that.”

Mia squeezed his hand and kissed him. “Babe, let’s take a break from finding places to do it, okay?”

“Yeah,” Lucas agreed. “Especially a funeral home. I’ve had enough. For now.”

Mia smiled. “For a little while. Right now, our bed will do just fine.”


This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, dialogue, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to a person, living or deceased, events, or locations is purely coincidental.

The idea for this story came from the notion that some couples, like these two darlings, are bored with the same old routine.

A Mutt Named Jackson (Suspense)

A Mutt Named Jackson (Suspense)

“Come here.”

Randy’s deep, rough voice demanded immediate submission. The dish Lilly had been washing slipped out of her hand and floated down into the soapy water. Turning, she faced her husband and pressed her wet hands onto her belly.

She knew what was coming. When she’d married him two years ago, he’d been a little rough around the edges, but promised he’d never hurt her. She’d thought she could change him, make him gentler, make him into a good man through her love and attention.

What a fool she’d been.

“You’ve been feeding a stray, haven’t you. Feeding him behind my back. I saw the bowl outside.”

Lilly tried to swallow her fear. She’d forgotten to pick up the bowl. “He’s a nice dog. Has the name Jackson on his collar. I’m trying to find the owner–”

The back of his hand struck her face with hard and swift authority. Her body hit the counter and then the floor. Her cheek throbbed, but it was the sharp pain shooting through her womb that made her cry out.

He’d promised to never hurt the baby and hadn’t hit her there in the seven months she’d been pregnant. Lilly stared up at him through pained tears. “I’m sorry. I’ll stop feeding him.”

Randy stuck his chin out toward her stomach. “The kid’s fine. Get up.” He headed toward the front door, then stopped. “I ever catch you spending my money on a stray, you’ll find out what sorry really means.” The door slammed behind him.

With soft sobs, Lilly reached up to grasp the counter and got to her feet. The pain was dissipating. Maybe she’d strained a muscle. Even so, she should see a doctor. But Randy might not allow that. He was the king of tightwads, a hoarder of cash. He’d just said the baby was fine, and Randy believed every word he said as soon as the words left his lips.

“Your money,” she murmured, looking out the window at him driving his battered pickup down the dirt driveway. The man thousands of dollars tucked in cans and plastic bags, all buried around within fifty yards of the trailer. She’d secretly watched him dig holes at night and bury the cash, and pretended she believed him when he said they had no money to spare. She had no idea where the money came from and didn’t dare ask him.

One day she’d dig it all up and run away, and then divorce him. But she knew he’d make good on his promise to come after her and kill her for leaving him.

A soft whine sounded at the door. Lilly gave a rare smile. They had no cell service, only a landline. Randy didn’t want her to have friends, and he never let her be alone with her two siblings on their rare visits lest she give a hint of the abuse she suffered. They thought that despite living in a dilapidated trailer on an remote lot surrounded by woods, she was happy and loved.

She hadn’t seen her family in months. They didn’t even know she was pregnant. Randy had successfully isolated her to the point where he could have her under his complete control.

But Lilly had Jackson. She went out onto the cracked cement porch and lowered herself to her knees, and the mutt moved into her open arms and licked her bruised cheek. She hugged him, then reached into her pocket for the small plastic bag of leftover hamburger. The dog ate out of her hand with polite delicacy although his ribs showed against his filthy black and brown fur.

She’d first seen the dog sniffing around the yard, and Randy had thrown rocks at him. But the dog had come back several times, looking more emaciated as the weeks passed, and Lily had snuck food and water to him. One day, he got close enough that she could pet him, and she found his tag. Jackson. No owner information. She’d taken a risk and called the local animal shelter, and was informed that no one had reported a missing dog with that name.

To Lilly, the dog was hers.

“Jackson,” she said, scratching him behind his ears. “You are a good boy, aren’t you.”

Jackson wagged his tail and looked at her with intelligent amber eyes.

The roar of a motor up the driveway had Lilly on her feet, heart racing. Randy should not be back from his road crew job so soon. Maybe he’d been fired. “Go,” she said to Jackson. “Don’t let him see you here.”

Jackson stayed put. His ears flicked toward her and then to the sound of Randy’s truck.

“Go!” Lilly pushed him away.

The dog trotted out to the corner of the trailer, pressed his ears to his head, and stared toward the driveway. A low growl emitted from his chest.

“Oh God.” Lilly peeked around the corner and saw fury darken Randy’s face as he left the truck, his gaze going from the dog to her.

“I’m gone for five minutes and look what you do.”

Lilly raced back onto the porch and fumbled for the door handle. There was nowhere she could hide, but maybe Randy would follow her inside and leave the dog alone. She made it to the kitchen. The sound of Randy’s boots pounded the dirt. Then came a dog’s savage snarl and her husband’s yell of pain.

Randy escaped inside, his eyes wide and crazy, lips in a pained grimace. Blood soaked through his gray shirt sleeve. Lilly backed toward the stove.

“I’m going to kill that dog.” He reached above the refrigerator for his shotgun.

“No!” Lilly tried to grab his arm and he shook her off. With a sob, she followed him outside.

Jackson stood panting and growling. Randy cocked the gun, lifted it to his shoulder, and aimed.

“No, Randy, please,” Lilly begged. “Don’t.”

Randy paused, eyes narrowed. He lowered the gun. “I’m not going to waste a bullet on him. He’ll die too fast.”

He swung the shotgun around and grasped the barrel, then brought the stock down onto the dog’s back. Jackson yelped and whimpered but stood his ground. Lilly tried again to grab Randy’s arm and he pushed her down onto the concrete. Jackson made a snarling leap toward Randy, but Randy brought the gun down again, and again. The barrel glistened with sweat from his hands. The dog’s legs collapsed. Lilly lay on her side, reaching toward Jackson. Fresh pain speared her womb.

“Fucking dog! I’ll teach you to come onto my property.” Randy fumbled with the barrel and lifted the butt of the gun to strike the dog again.

A shot rang out. Randy jerked backwards against the side of the trailer and then slumped down onto his face. The spent shotgun clattered to the ground beside him. Lilly screamed as blood spread beneath him and into the cracks in the old concrete.

Whining, Jackson crawled to Lilly and lay his head on her belly.

Four months later

Lilly carried her baby girl to the car and carefully tucked her into the car seat. Born seven weeks premature, little Sara was healthy enough now to travel. They would spend some time with Lilly’s siblings and then buy a place in a nice neighborhood, a place with a big yard and a white picket fence.

Lilly opened the hatch and turned back toward the trailer. “Time to go, Jackson!” Smiling, she watched the dog do a hop-limp to the car, his best attempt at a run since his back and hip still gave him trouble from his injuries despite the veterinarian’s best efforts. Lilly helped him into the car and gave him a hug.

She spared a final glance at the trailer, the dirt driveway, and the dozens of holes she’d dug all over the yard. She had her family, freedom, and money, all because of a mutt named Jackson.

Lilly started the car and drove away without looking back.


This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, dialogue, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to a person, living or deceased, events, or locations is purely coincidental.

The idea for this story came from a writing contest I entered that had to involve a mutt and a house on an isolated property. I’d recently read news about a man who shot himself while hitting his dog with a rifle, and put the story together. Nothing like a little retribution, eh?

The Agreement (Horror)

The Agreement (Horror)

Another dreaded Thanksgiving.

Mr. Thomas has already taken his seat, and he strokes his beard with gnarled fingers as I set a bowl of mashed potatoes on the table. I’ve heard his hands are quite strong.

“Smells good,” he says, watching me. “I always eat too much.”

I give him a polite smile.

“And afterwards I always swear I’m going to get on my old ten-speed and ride it for five miles every day,” he said. His low, untroubled chuckle brought bile to my throat. “And then I think, how silly would that look? An old man on a bike. Old men don’t ride bikes. They swim laps in the pool or play golf. Bikes are for you teenagers.”

The strain of my smile hurts my face. “I guess.”

I hear sobs coming from the kitchen. They bring no reaction from Mr. Thomas. Perhaps he’s used to it. Ten years ago, he’d brought the town out of financial debt with his millions. All he demanded in return was an annual payment to keep the population manageable. The whole town had signed the agreement.

I escape to the kitchen to see Mom holding the basket of warmed rolls at arm’s length. They smell far too good. Mr. Thomas always brings the rolls and asks that they be warmed up. Mom’s face is turned away. “Take it. Just take it,” she says to my twin brother.

Jake takes the basket. “I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

“We weren’t fine three years ago,” my aunt reminds him. The plunk of ice cubes she drops into glasses punctuates her words. “Three years ago, your father–”

“I know what happened to Dad,” Jake says, and the strain on his face as he walks past me surely matches my own.

I point to the turkey cooling on the counter. “Do you want me to take that to the dining room?”

Mom’s eyes look old, haunted. “No. I’ll do it.” Her gaze darts to the broken clock on the wall. It had given up recently after years of use but hasn’t yet been replaced. We still check it out of habit. “What time is it?”

Aunt Grace glances at her watch. “Almost six.”

“We need to hurry,” Mom says. “Terri, get your little brother in here.”

If only he could stay outside. My eyes sting, and I blink away tears.

Eleven-year-old Alex has been raking leaves for over an hour so he won’t have to be near Mr. Thomas. I breathe in crisp fall air and approach him. “It’s time.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You have to eat. You know the rules.”

“Screw the rules!” Alex throws down the rake and rushes past me to the back steps where three rotting pumpkins sit, their shriveled carved faces collapsing inward, remnants of happier times just weeks before. We’d each had our own pumpkin to carve this year.

Alex stomps on each one. His furious, frustrated grunts at the effort break my heart.

The pumpkins flattened, Alex stands, panting. Tears roll down his cheeks. “Screw the rules,” he repeats, softer this time. He yanks open the door and enters the house.

Moments later we sit at the table. Alex is across the table next to Jake. Aunt Grace sits beside me, putting herself between Mr. Thomas and me. Mom brings out the turkey, a trace of old pride still in her step. We compliment her cooking, as is tradition.

On each of the holidays throughout the year, Mr. Thomas takes turns dining with the families left in the town. Our turn is every Thanksgiving at six o’clock. If a family has to make a payment during his visit, he will stop dining with families for the remainder of the year. Sometimes, the town gets lucky on New Year’s Day, and we can all relax.

He stands and carves the turkey, setting the juicy pieces onto the dinner plates stacked before him, and we pass the plates down the table. Bowls of vegetables and mashed potatoes go around. We pile our plates, then sit in silence. No one moves.

Mr. Thomas lifts the one item that hasn’t been passed. “Bread, anyone?”

At the foot of the table, Mom puts her hand over her mouth, closes her eyes, and gives a soft moan. Mr. Thomas hands the basket of dinner rolls to Aunt Grace without taking one for himself. Grace takes a roll and sets it on her plate, then passes the basket to me.

I stare at the five remaining rolls, willing myself to see through them.

Mr. Thomas’s voice holds a gentle, coaxing threat. “Terri.”

I take a roll and pass the basket to Mom. It makes its way around the table back to Mr. Thomas, who sets it in front of him. One roll remains in the basket.

“Eat now,” Mr. Thomas says.

First Aunt Grace, then Jake, bite into their rolls, eyes downcast. Mom is next. Alex stuffs his into his mouth and swallows it whole.

Mr. Thomas sends a piercing gaze to Alex. “We’ll find it, if it was in there. What goes in must come out.”

I bite into my roll and my teeth hit something warm and hard. Cold terror makes my heart slam my chest. With trembling fingers I pull the coin from the bread.

“Ah,” Mr. Thomas says, smiling at me in delight. “You got the lucky penny. I wondered if we would go the entire year without a payment.” He stands, looking satisfied. “Your family and I will eat this wonderful meal afterwards.”

My family’s faces hold sheer misery. It has happened to us again. First my father, and now me.

I gulp in shallow breaths and try to speak. My desperate gaze meets Jake’s, then my mother’s. I am alone in my terror. No one can help me. Fighting is useless. If I resist, all of us will die.

Mr. Thomas takes my hand and leads me to the front room. My family follows. Alex begins to cry, and Jake puts his arm around him. Aunt Grace and Mom cling to each other.

Mr. Thomas pulls a small rock from his pocket and hits the window. The glass shatters in the middle and leaves long shards stuck in the sash.

He turns back and faces me. “You’d think a broken window means failure to those who see it from the street. But your payment is an honorable symbol of the agreement. The population stays as it should and the town is better off financially.”

Payment. I keep the word in my mind as I move my feet to the window. Mr. Thomas dons a thick leather glove in his right hand, grasps the back of my neck, and pushes my head out the window. My throat is inches above the shards.

Sobs and wails emit behind me. “Let me hug her, please,” Mom cries out. “Let me say goodbye.”

“You know the rules. The agreement has no room for emotion.” His warm breath wafts over my neck. “It’s all about payment owed.”

Payment. For them. For my family. They’ll be safe. For now.

I close my eyes. His hand tightens on my neck and shoves it down.


This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, dialogue, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to a person, living or deceased, events, or locations is purely coincidental.

The idea for this story came from a “what if” scenario involving a millionaire who owned a town and everyone in it as the result of a signed agreement to keep everyone financially secure. What would happen if one person per year was killed by the millionaire so that there would be one less mouth to feed? This story might remind you of “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, which is about an annual tradition in a small community where one person is selected via lottery and killed in order to ensure the harvest will be good that year.

Laughter is the Best Medicine (Humor)

Laughter is the Best Medicine (Humor)

Fifteen gifts, all placed in boxes of identical size, were wrapped and lined up side by side on my couch.

I’d completed the task with my usual meticulous efforts. After finding fifteen identical white boxes and inserting the gifts into a bed of gold tissue paper, I had wrapped red ribbon around each box using five pieces of tape, and topped each dead center with a red bow.

I stood, hands on my hips, gazing at my work and admiring my efficiency. Even though they looked identical, I knew who was getting what based on its place on the couch and my family’s alphabetical names. My sister Amy’s gift sat on the far left, my nephew Zeke’s on the far right. All I had left to do was write the names on tags and place them on the presents, something I couldn’t have done as I wrapped, for then my process would be out of order. I’d even marked the precise spot on each box where I would place the tags.

I considered myself simply splendid, even as I knew my obsession with order was the reason for this precision. A troublesome thought rose of how my family would ask whether I had taken my medicine lately. Shrugging it off, I proceeded to the next step.

The tags lay in an orderly stack on my writing table with my gold felt pen placed perpendicular to them. I sat and lifted a cup of ginger tea to my lips, sipped delicately, then set the cup back in the its matching saucer with the handle pointing at three-o’clock.

I lifted the pen and removed the cap and set it to the left of the cup. Zeke’s name would go onto the first tag, then William, then Thaddeus, Sarah, and so on until Amy’s tag sat at the top of the stack. From there, I’d start with her tag and work my way down the couch, taping each tags to its box.

As I wrote Zeke’s name, the doorbell rang. Startled, I messed up the ‘k’. It looked like a capital R. No, his name was not ZeRe. I would need to redo this tag, but I had brought only fifteen out of the storeroom. I couldn’t proceed without making Zeke’s tag. Everything would be out of order, even if I made it later and tucked it on the bottom of the stack. No, I needed to get another tag right now, and write his name. Zeke was first in the tag stack because it would be the last to go onto the present. That was the way it had to be.

The doorbell rang again.

Frowning, I capped the felt pen and set it above the tags, then corrected the slight angle. At the door, I peered out of the peephole to see the UPS man. I liked the UPS uniforms; they were such a pleasant shade of brown, and everything matched. I opened the door and signed for a wrapped package that held my medicine. I’d run out the week before. Later, I would take a dose.

The man nodded and bade me happy holidays. Even his eyes were brown. How nice. I watched him get into his truck, which was the same shade of brown as his clothing. He pulled away, and I shut the door and tested the deadbolt several times. Well, maybe half a dozen times. I don’t know how long I stood there turning it one way and then the other before remembering I needed an extra tag.

In my neat and tidy storeroom I took another tag from my supply, making sure everything was in order before leaving the room. I wrote Zeke’s name in my careful handwriting, then went through the rest of the tags in order. Amy’s name was on top. Perfect.

The doorbell rang again. I glanced at my watch and realized it was time for the family to arrive. And the tags were not on the gifts. I stood for a moment, my gaze darting from the door to the tags to the gifts on the couch. Panic rose within me and my breath hitched. Okay. I was okay. I would let them in and then finish my task.

Opening the door, I ushered in my sister, Janelle, and her husband and small children. Behind them came William and his family, then my parents, and the rest followed. All carried in gifts and food. Amidst the hugs and the greetings and conversation and directing the food to the kitchen and gifts to the tree, I forgot about the tags until I heard a ruckus from the family room.

Only then did I notice my empty couch.

In a daze I watched my young nieces and nephews stacking up my presents like bricks, seeing how high the boxes could go before they fell into a jumbled pile on the floor.

Gasping, I grabbed the tags and ran to the gifts and stood with both hands over my mouth. The children must have seen my expression, for they bolted to their mothers.

I held out the tags in despair, and sobbed.

My family surrounded me and sat me down. Each box was presented to me and I placed a tag on it in haphazard fashion, not knowing if it was teenage Greg’s favorite sports team jersey or Mom’s perfume or William’s scarf. Tears ran down my face. Christmas was ruined.

But then, with gentle smiles, each of my family members took a box that had the name on the tag. One by one, they opened their gifts, and laughter filled the room as little Beth tried on the jersey and William sampled the floral perfume and Dad held up a toddler’s pair of pants and declared them a perfect fit. Then came a merry exchange as each gift founds its true home. Afterward, everyone claimed I had started a family tradition and requested a tag mix-up every year.

And I was okay. Yes, I went to take my meds, but I knew that I had experienced the best medicine of all, and it was called laughter.


This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, dialogue, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to a person, living or deceased, events, or locations is purely coincidental.

The idea for this story came from a writing contest I entered where I needed to insert the concept that laughter is the best medicine. I combined that with my penchant for compulsive ordering of objects and maintaining organization. One weekend, when I was cleaning the basement and going through quite a few boxes and bins to organize everything, I kept finding adaptors (those things that plug into an outlet and connect to an electronic object). All the adaptors I found went into one drawer. Later, my husband stood, mortified, and asked where the items were that went with the fifteen or so adaptors I had put into the drawer. I had no answer for him since everything had been put into its own place all over the house. Three years later, we still haven’t re-matched some of the adaptors with their electronic mates. Oops.