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The Willows, Part 1

A horror story in four parts

By Algernon Blackwood

Adapted to Chat Story format by Captivated Chat

Tap on arrow above to here the story read aloud.
Click arrow above to play carefully selected, cinema-style, theme.
Me
What a river! To think of all the distance and varied waters we’ve traveled from its source.
Swede
The river won’t stand much nonsense now, though, will it? That first week in the Black Forest, in contrast, was all getting out and slogging through shallows and pushing our boat, eh? We’ll have scary chat stories to share on our phones for years!
Me
But today we were only concerned about the boat being ripped open by the jagged shale beneath those rapids. Yet despite it all, we made it! Now you rest on the sand right where you are. You single-handedly tugged our boat ashore, and I’m sure you’ll need a few minutes rest. I’ll survey this little willow island of ours in preparation for camping here. *********
Me
I’m back, and it really is a small place and quite as overgrown with willow bushes as the shopkeeper warned. It’s enough to make walking unpleasant, but I made the tour. The island is triangular, wind-swept — with almost no trees — and somehow unwelcoming.
Swede
Certainly, I could see those last two features from here. Any luck?
Me
Yes, there is a slight depression in the island’s center, where we may pitch the tent. The surrounding willows break the wind quite a bit there. ********** The rising flood
Swede
A poor camp it is, with no stones and precious little firewood. This sandbar won’t hold up against the flood for many hours; I’m for moving on early tomorrow — you?
Me
Sure. Later this evening we can set about collecting a store of wood to last until bedtime.
Swede
With that incessant cold wind, this is not a fit place for a man.
Me
What’s worse, willow bushes drop no branches, and so driftwood will be our only source of fuel. I hunted the shores pretty thoroughly. Everywhere the banks are crumbling as the rising flood tears at our tiny island and carries away great portions of it every few minutes.
Swede
The place is much smaller than when we landed. It won’t last long at this rate. 
Me
We’d better drag the canoe close to the tent, and be ready to start at a moment’s notice. I shall sleep in my clothes. Tried to call to us
Swede
Ho-ho-ho, ha-ha-ha! By Jove!
Me
I heard your laugh, but now you are hidden by the willows, where are you?
Swede
But what in the world’s this?
Me
Suddenly you sounded quite serious. Stand still; I’m coming right over.
Swede
Good heavens, it’s a man’s body out there! Look!
Me
All I see is that black thing, turning over and over in the waves.  It keeps disappearing and coming up to the surface again.
Swede
No, it’s an otter, by gad! Ho-ho, ah, ha-hah!
Me
It is an otter, very alive, and out on the hunt, yet it looked just now like the body of a drowned man turning helplessly in the current. 
Swede
You saw it too? Thank heavens, for the mind plays tricks when you’re tired. Look, there goes a boatman along the far shore!
Me
He’s crossing himself! Look, he’s making the sign of the Cross!
Swede
I believe you’re right.
Me
He tried to call to us beforehand, but the wind rose up and drowned him out.
Swede
But what in the world is he doing at nightfall on this flooded river?  Not welcome
Me
Where is he going at such a time, and what did he mean by his signs and shouting? D’you think he wished to warn us about something?”
Swede
He saw our smoke, and thought we were spirits probably, ha-ha, ha-hah! These Hungarians believe in all sorts of rubbish; you remember the shopwoman at Pressburg warning us that no one ever landed here?
Me
She said it’s because it belonged to some sort of beings outside man’s world!
Swede
I suppose they believe in fairies and elementals, possibly demons, too. That peasant in the boat saw people on the island for the first time in his life, and it scared him, that’s all.
Me
Heh. If they had enough imagination, they might very well people a place like this with the old gods of antiquity.
Swede
The river’s still rising, though, and will be under water in two days. The psychology of places
Me
True, two days at most.
Swede
I wish the wind would go down. I don’t care a fig for the river.
Me
The scarcity of wood will make it a business to keep the fire going. The wind that’s driving the smoke into our faces right now will make a fierce cross draught. 
Swede
We can take turns fighting it and making expeditions to grub in among the bushes for wood. **********
Me
When this next bundle of branches is in camp, I shall turn in. So I’ll make this final expedition brief.
Swede
Good. I’m dog tired.
Me
Glad to hear you are tired, it proves you can get tired. I’m bushed and all your loads of wood have been twice as heavy as mine. So long for the moment, Swede!  
Me
(Thinking) The psychology of places is vivid for the wanderer; thus camps have a note, either of welcome or rejection. And the note of this willow-camp has become unmistakably plain to me; we are interlopers, trespassers; we are not welcome. The damn willows are against us.
Me
(Thinking) And talking of bad omens, I could swear that boatman, if it was actually a man, was warning us against some danger, warning us off this filthy island.

Look for Part 2 soon!

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The Tell-Tale Heart, Part 1

By Edgar Allan Poe

Click arrow above to play a carefully selected musical accompaniment while you read, a creepy, cinema-style tune titled Lurking, by Silent Partner.
Click arrow above to hear this story read aloud.
Me
You are nervous, but I must say, as an experienced detective, nervousness could be sign of madness.
Suspect
TRUE!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? 
Me
Not  I, it is just possible. Doubtless you have a nervous disorder, some disease no doubt dulling or destroying your ability to sense what is real.
Suspect
The disease has sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. 
Me
Please explain. And pray tell how then you did not hear anything of the old man’s destruction and disappearance?
Me
Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

The whole story

Suspect
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object? There was none. Passion? There was none. 
Me
You did not dislike the old man?
Suspect
I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire.
Me
You must have disliked something about him! What could it have been?
Suspect
I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
Me
But it’s so trivial, so pointless! And yet you say you are not mad?
Suspect
Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. 
Me
I did see you. 
Suspect
Now that seems mad. You are the detective, as you stated, although how you came here so quickly after—
Me
You were saying?
Suspect
: You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. 
Me
Ah! So, you admit it!
Suspect
And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it—oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in!
Me
But I dared not laugh in observing you! Any audible sound might have been your undoing, or the old man’s, who we loved! The lantern revealed an angelic face in slumber.
Suspect
I moved it slowly—very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this?
Me
Doubtless it seemed wise to you at the time, I know. But does it still seems wise after your confession? But I digress; pray continue your own account, and tell us why we have not found the corpse.

***********

Look for Part 2!
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Death Shares

Me
Look, that kid caused all of this. I was coming through the revolving door at the Hotel Moravia’s front entrance when the boy handed me this doll. Have a look.
Sargeant
This was given to you?
Me
Yes. Nothing supernatural or magical about it. It was a ten-year-old kid’s prank. Except the scrawny kid didn’t talk to me. In fact, he looked away from eye contact and made a sign of the cross as he handed this to me.
Sargeant
And he told you that you have only two more days to live, you say?
Me
That’s right, Detective Partruse.
Sargeant
It isn’t pretty, but it’s not unlike a lot of these dolls in N’Awlins. But as a doctor you see how absurd this is, right?
Me
Sure, a bit of bone and feathers, but it gave me a cold chill. I stuck it in my pocket, and the momentary distraction helped lead me to trip and fall through a section of plate glass window.
Sargeant
And that’s how you got cut up like this and landed in the hospital?
Me
Yes. The nurse said a piece of glass just missed my carotid artery, and I also got a nasty infection. But it’s not why I called you guys: being out of circulation means I can’t check into what I came here to consult on.
You accepted that doll
Sargeant
Which is?
Me
Above all, to find out why a perfectly healthy man is dying in the next room, dying of some unknown cause.
Sargeant
Listen, Doc, if you believe in these curses, you can make ’em come true. I have interviewed your patient, and he does one hundred percent believe. And he had been failing fast.
Me
I know. His doctor has consulted with me, although I have not seen the patient. Fortunately he seems to have turned the corner.
Sargeant
Yes, and you seem to have gotten a bit worse since you came in here. So what do you want us to do about it?
Me
The point is, I want you to find that kid who gave me the doll, and ask him to lift the curse.
Sargeant
Look, Doc. No can do.
Me
But why?
Sargeant
There was no kid. I’ve seen the security camera footage of that incident at the front-door. You accepted that doll from the man ahead of you at the door, and that just happens to be the guy in the next room!

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THE RAVEN

By Edgar Allan Poe

Adapted by Captivated Chat

Press play button above to listen to Audio reading authored by Librivox.
Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
Poe
Tis some visiter, I muttered,
Poe
tapping at my chamber door — Only this, and nothing more.
Me
Nothing more.
Poe
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December, And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Poe
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore— For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Poe
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before; So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
Poe
Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door— Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
Poe
This it is, and nothing more.
Me
Nothing more.
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
Poe
Sir, said I, or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore; But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping, And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door, That I scarce was sure I heard you —here I opened wide the door;——
Poe
Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before; But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token, And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, Lenore! This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word,
Me
Lenore!—
Poe
Merely this, and nothing more.
Poe
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning, Soon I heard again a tapping somewhat louder than before.
Poe
Surely, said I,
Poe
Surely that is something at my window lattice; Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore— Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;— ‘Tis the wind and nothing more!
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore; Not the least obeisance made he; not an instant stopped or stayed he; But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door— Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door— Perched, and sat, and nothing more. Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
Poe
Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou, I say, art sure no craven, Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore— Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Quoth the raven
Me
Nevermore.
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly, Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore; For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door— Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door, With such name as Nevermore. But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour. Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered— Till I scarcely more than muttered:
Poe
Other friends have flown before— On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.
Poe
Then the bird said
Me
Nevermore.
Poe
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken, Doubtless, said I, what it utters is its only stock and store Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore— Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore Of “Never—nevermore.”
Poe
But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling, Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door; Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore— What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore Meant in croaking
Me
Nevermore.
Poe
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core; This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er, But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er, She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Poe
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer Swung by Angels whose faint foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor. “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore; Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!” Quoth the raven,
Me
Nevermore.
Poe
Prophet! said I, thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!— Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore, Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted— On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore— Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore! Quoth the raven,
Me
Nevermore.
Poe
Prophet! said I, “thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or devil! By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore — Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn, It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore— Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.” Quoth the raven,
Me
Nevermore.
Poe
Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend! I shrieked, upstarting— Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore! Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken! Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door! Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door! Quoth the raven,
Me
Nevermore.
Poe
And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door; And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming, And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor; And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor Shall be lifted — nevermore!
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The Cask of Amontillado, Part 1

by Edgar Allan Poe

Adapted to chat story format by Captivated Chat

Listen to the story
Me
The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.
Luchesi
Knowing you so well, and the nature of your soul, I will not suppose, however, that you gave utterance to any threat.
Me
I? No! At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely settled—but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved, precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity.
Luchesi
You have said, a wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser.
Me
It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.
Luchesi
You obviously have felt and thought deeply on this question!
Me
It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.
Luchesi
Burning alive? Surely not that!
Me
He had a weak point—this Fortunato—although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. Wine connoisseur
Luchesi
We all know he overly prided himself a win connoisseur.
Me
Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit.
Luchesi
So you have often stated!
Me
For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity—to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires.
Luchesi
But surely that’s not true of Fortunato! He is famous for his taste in many things!
Me
Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack in painting and gemmary — but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially: I was skillful in the Italian vintages myself, and often bought largely.
Luchesi
So I am aware.
Me
I encountered my friend as it was about dusk one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season. He accosted me with excessive warmth, lost  in drink.
Luchesi
The poor fellow has a known proclivity for excessive drinking.
Me
The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him, that I thought I should never be done wringing his hand.
Luchesi
You wore the mask, eh?
Me
In every way. I said to him—”My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day! But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts.” As I remember it…

* * * * * * * * *

Here’s the deal

Fortunato
How? Amontillado? A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!
Me
I have my doubts, and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain.
Fortunato
Amontillado!
Me
I have my doubts.
Fortunato
Amontillado!
Me
And I must satisfy them.
Fortunato
Amontillado!
Me
As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If any one has a critical turn, it is he. He will tell me—
Fortunato
Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry.
Me
And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own.
Fortunato
Come, let us go.
Me
Whither?
Fortunato
To your vaults.
Me
My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature. I perceive you have an engagement. Luchesi—
Fortunato
I have no engagement;—come.
Me
My friend, no. It is the severe cold you are afflicted with, not the engagement. The vaults are insufferably damp. They are encrusted with nitre.
Fortunato
Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado.
Me
Fortunato, you have possessed yourself of my arm. Unhand me so that I may put on my mask of black silk, and draw my roquelaire closely about my person. I too suffer from the cold air.
Fortunato
Surely, but do hurry along with me to your palazzo. We must not tarry!
Me
There may be no attendants in sight; they have absconded to make merry in honour of the hour.
Fortunato
Do try to keep up.

Into the vaults

Me
I must first take from their sconces a couple of these flambeaux, and give one to you Fortunato. Now follow me and we will bow through just a few suites of rooms. You may recall this is the archway that leads into the vaults.
Fortunato
At last!
Me
Be careful on this staircase, too, it is a long and winding one. Be cautious following me.
Fortunato
I am glad that you are leading the way.
Me
We now come at length to the foot of the descent.
Fortunato
A damp ground.
Me
The hallowed ground of the catacombs of the Montresors!
Me
Your gait my friend is unsteady, and the bells upon your cap jingle as you walk. Silly, is it not!
Fortunato
The pipe.
Me
It is farther on, but observe the white web-work which gleams from these cavern walls.
Fortunato
Nitre?
Me
Nitre. How long have you had that cough?
Fortunato
F: Ugh! ughh! uggh!—ughhh! ughh! ugh!—uggh! ughh! ughhh!—ugh! ughh! ughhh!—ugh! ughh! ughhh!
Me
My poor friend, you have been coughing so long a time!
Fortunato
It is nothing.
Me
Come, we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved, and happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. Therefore, we must go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchesi—
Fortunato
Enough, the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.
Me
Indeed you shall not!

That’s not all…

Watch for Part 2 of the story!

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The Cask of Amontillado, Part 2

by Edgar Allan Poe

Adapted to chat story format by Captivated Chat.

Me
I had no intention of alarming you unnecessarily—but you should use all proper caution. So a draught of this Medoc will defend us from the damps. (Knocking off the neck of a bottle drawn from a long row of its fellows.)
Me
Drink.
Fortunato
I drink to the buried that repose around us.
Me
And I to your long life.
Fortunato
These vaults are extensive.
Me
The Montresors were a great and numerous family.
Fortunato
I forget your arms.

Signs

Me
A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.
Fortunato
And the motto?
Me
Nemo me impune lacessit.
Fortunato
Good!
Me
(Seizing Fortunato by an arm) The nitre! See, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river’s bed. Hence the drops of moisture trickle among the walls of  bones. Therefore, come away ere it is too late. Your cough—
Fortunato
It is nothing, let us go on. But first, another draught of the Medoc.
Me
Here is a flagon of De Grave.
Fortunato
As above, so below. Your health!
Me
But why did you make that grotesque gesture in flipping aside the bottle. (Fortunato repeats the movement.)
Fortunato
You do not comprehend?
Me
Not I.
Fortunato
Then you are not of the brotherhood.
Me
How?
Fortunato
You are not of the masons.”
Me
Yes, yes — yes, yes.
Fortunato
You? Impossible! A mason?
Me
A mason.
Fortunato
A sign — a sign.
Me
It is this. ( Producing a trowel from beneath the folds of his roquelaire)
Fortunato
You jest. But let us proceed to the Amontillado.
Me
Be it so! Hence I shall replace the mason’s sign beneath the cloak and again offer you my arm.
Fortunato
Thank you.
Me
Here we are at the family crypt.
Fortunato
Note how the foulness of the air causes our flambeaux to glow rather than flame.

Look:

At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris. Three sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this manner. From the fourth side the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size.

Within the wall thus exposed by the displacing of the bones, we perceived a still interior recess, in depth about four feet in width three, in height six or seven. It seemed to have been constructed for no especial use within itself, but formed merely the interval between two of the colossal supports of the roof of the catacombs, and was backed by one of their circumscribing walls of solid granite.

Me
It is in vain that you uplift your dull torch to pry into the depth of the recess.
Fortunato
But at its termination the feeble light may enable us to see.
Me
Proceed, herein is the Amontillado. As for Luchesi—
Fortunato
He is an ignoramus! (Stepping forward)
Me
I am with you! And at your heels.

In an instant he had reached the extremity of the niche, and finding his progress arrested by the rock, stood stupidly bewildered. A moment more and I had fettered him to the granite.

In its surface were two iron staples, distant from each other about two feet, horizontally. From one of these depended a short chain, from the other a padlock. So by throwing the links about his waist, it was but the work of a few seconds to secure it. He was too much astounded to resist.

Finally withdrawing the key I stepped back from the recess.

What’s the real end?

Look for the 3rd and final part soon!

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The Cask of Amontillado, Part 3

By Edgar Allan Poe

Adapted to chat story format by Captivated Chat

Me
Pass your hand over the wall; you cannot help feeling the nitre. Indeed, it is very damp. Once more let me implore you to return. No? Then I must positively leave you. But I must first render you all the little attentions in my power.
Fortunato
The Amontillado!
Me
True, the Amontillado.
Fortunato
That scraping sound, what are you doing?
Me
Mixing a quantity of mortar.
Fortunato
Is this wall unsound, then?
Me
Not high enough to suit me.
Fortunato
New stones! Muhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Uhhhhhmmmm.
Me
Your intoxication has in a great measure worn off.

Bottom line?

(5 mins later)

When at last the clanking subsided, I resumed the trowel, and finished without interruption the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh tier. The wall was now nearly upon a level with my breast. I again paused, and holding the flambeaux over the mason-work, threw a few feeble rays upon the figure within.

Fortunato
Heeeeelp! Someone! Help! Heeeeeeeelp!  Aaii!-Aaah!-Aaaah!
Me
Heeeeelp! Heeeeeeeelp!  Aaii! Someone!

It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth tier. Indeed, I had finished a portion of the last and the eleventh.

There remained but a single stone to be fitted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight; I placed it partially in its destined position. But now there came from out the niche a low laugh that erected the hairs upon my head. It was succeeded by a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognizing as that of the noble Fortunato.

Fortunato
Ha-ha ha!—he-he he!—a very good joke indeed—an excellent jest.
Fortunato
We shall have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo—he! he! he!—over our wine—he! he! he!”
Me
The Amontillado!

Getting late

Fortunato
Ha! ha! ha!—he! ha! ha!—yes, the Amontillado. But is it not getting late? Will not they be awaiting us at the palazzo, the Lady Fortunato and the rest? Let us be gone.
Me
Yes, let us be gone.
Fortunato
For the love of God, Montresor!
Me
Yes, for the love of God! Why do you not answer? Me: Fortunato!
Me
Again, no answer? Fortunato—

No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in reply only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labour, forced the last stone into its position, and plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat.

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The Monkey’s Paw, Part 1

Part 1 of 3 scary chat stories
By W. W. Jacobs

format by Captivated Chat

Click ‘play’ to hear story read to you!
Me
Perfect weather for a visit from our friend from my old regiment, and to listen to his scary chat stories from India. Hear that wind!
Herbert
I’m listening . . . Check!
Me
I almost doubt that he’ll come tonight in this rain.
Herbert
Mate.
Me
That’s the worst of living so far out. Of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live. Pathway’s a bog, and the road’s a torrent. I suppose because only two houses in the road are rented, the council thinks it doesn’t matter.
Mrs. White
Never mind, dear, perhaps you’ll win the next one.
Herbert
There he is now. I hear heavyweight footsteps.
Me
I should like you both to meet Sergeant-Major Morris.
Me
Have a whiskey?

Taken much harm

(Ten minutes later, at a third glass, the visitor’s eyes brightened and he began to talk, and the family regarded with eager interest this visitor from distant parts. For he spoke of wild scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange peoples.)

Me
Twenty-one years of it. Now look at him.
Mrs. White
He don’t look to have taken much harm.
Me
I’d like to go to India myself, just to look round a bit, you know.
Sergeant-major
Better where you are.
Me
I should like to see those old temples and fakirs and jugglers. What was that you started telling me the other day about a monkey’s paw or something, Morris?
Sergeant-major
Nothing. Certainly nothing worth hearing.
Mrs. White
Monkey’s paw? Another one of your scary chat stories?
Sergeant-major
Well, it’s just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps.
Me
Have one more.
Sergeant-major
Here it is. To look at, it’s just an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy. Have a look.

A spell on it

Herbert
Thanks! Vile-looking thing, this!
Me
And what is there special about it? Let me see it, son.
Sergeant-major
It had a spell put on it by an old fakir. A very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so three men could each have three wishes from it.
Me
Heh-heh-heh, Ah-hem.
Mrs. White
Well, why don’t you have three wishes yourself, sir?
Sergeant-major
Because I have done, sad to say.
Mrs. White
And did you really have the three wishes granted?
Sergeant-major
I did, uh, yes, in a way.
Mrs. White
And has anybody else wished?
Sergeant-major
 The first man had his three wishes. Yes. I don’t know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That’s how I got the paw.
Mrs. White
Oh dearie, dearie me. Sad, that is, the poor man going mad!

Enough mischief

Me
If you’ve had your three wishes, it’s no good to you now, then, Morris. What do you keep it for?
Sergeant-major
Fancy, I suppose, uh, I did have some idea of selling it, but I don’t think I will. It has caused enough mischief already.
Sergeant-major
Besides, people won’t buy. They think it’s a fairy tale; some of them, and those who do think anything of it want to try it first and pay me afterward.
Me
If you could have another three wishes, would you have them?
Sergeant-major
 I don’t know, now. I don’t know…

Don’t blame me for what happens

Me
It’s no good throwing it in the fire. Ouch, ouch, hot, but no real harm to it.
Sergeant-major
Better to let it burn.
Me
If you don’t want it, Morris, give it to me.
Sergeant-major
I won’t. I threw it on the fire. If you keep it, don’t blame me for what happens. Pitch it on the fire again like a sensible man.
Me
How do you do it?
Sergeant-major
Hold it up in your right hand and wish aloud, but I warn you of the consequences.
Mrs. White
Sounds like the Arabian Nights. You and your scary chat stories! But it’s meal time. Don’t you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?

If you must wish

Me
I guess I would wish for…
Sergeant-major
Hold up there, that man. If you must wish, wish for something sensible.
Mrs. White
Dinner is ready in any case. Come and be seated, please.

(30 minutes later)

Me
Well, thanks for visiting, and goodbye Sergeant-Major!
Herbert
If the tale about the monkey’s paw is not more truthful than those he has been telling us, we sha’nt make much out of it.
Mrs. White
Did you give him anything for it, father?
Me
A trifle. He didn’t want it, but I made him take it. And he pressed me again to throw it away.

But wait!

Herbert
Why, we’re going to be rich, and famous and happy. Wish to be an emperor, father, to begin with; then you can’t be henpecked.
Me
Why you young upstart! I’ll have your guts for garters!
Herbert
Put down that carving knife! A man’s entitled to have a little laugh.
Me
Quiet! I must think of the wish. Look at it now and help me think upon it proper.  I don’t know what to wish for, and that’s a fact. I’ve got all I want.
Herbert
If you only cleared the house, you’d be quite happy, wouldn’t you?
Me
Certainly.
Herbert
Well, wish for two hundred pounds, then; that’ll just do it.
Me
I wish for two hundred pounds.
Me
 Eww-ugh!
Herbert
What is wrong?
Me
It moved! As I wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake.
Mrs. White
You dropped it!
Herbert
Well, I don’t see the money, and I bet I never shall.”
Mrs. White
It might have been your fancy, father.
Me
Unh-uh, but never mind; there’s no harm done. But it gave me a shock all the same.
Herbert
I expect you’ll find the cash tied up in a big bag in the middle of your bed. And something horrible squatting up on top of the wardrobe watching you as you pocket your ill-gotten gains.

Read Part 2 of the story!

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The Monkey’s Paw, Part 2

format by Captivated Chat

Me
Last night’s fancies do seem silly in the light of day.
Mrs. White
I suppose all old soldiers are the same. But the idea of our listening to such nonsense! After all, how could wishes be granted in these days? And if they could, how could two hundred pounds hurt you, father?
Herbert
Might drop on his head from the sky.
Me
Morris said the things happened so naturally, that you might, if you so wished, attribute it to coincidence.
Herbert
Well, I’m off. Don’t break into the money before I come back. I’m afraid it’ll turn you into a mean, avaricious man, and we shall have to disown you.
Mrs. White
Ha, ha, ha. Have a good day, Herbert.

(Eight hours later.)

Mrs. White
Herbert will have some more of his funny remarks, I expect, when he comes home.
Me
I dare say. But for all that, the thing moved in my hand; that I’ll swear to.
Mrs. White
That is, you thought it did.
Me
I say it did. Certainly there was no thought about it; I had just—- But what’s the matter?

A visitor

Mrs. White
That man by our gate peering through the window just then. Appeared to be trying to make up his mind whether to come in.
Me
He’s finally deciding to come up.
Mrs. White
Come in, sir.
Stranger
I, uh, I—was asked to call. So I came to tell you, from Maw and Meggins.
Mrs. White
Oh, no! Is anything the matter? Has anything happened to Herbert? So what is it? What is it?
Me
 There, there, mother. Sit down, and don’t jump to conclusions. You’ve not brought bad news, I’m sure, sir.
Stranger
Above all, I’m sorry— .
Mrs. White
But, is he hurt?
Stranger
Badly hurt, but he is not in any pain.
Mrs. White
Oh, thank God! Thank God for that! Thank–
Mrs. White
You mean?
Stranger
 He was caught in the machinery.
Me
Caught in the machinery. Yes. (taking his wife’s hand between his own)
Me
But he was the only one left to us. So it is hard.
Stranger
(Coughing) Finally, the firm wished me to convey their sincere sympathy with you in your great loss. But I beg that you will understand I am only their servant and merely obeying orders.
Me
Oh.
Stranger
I was to say that Maw and Meggins disclaim all responsibility. They admit no liability at all, but in consideration of your son’s services, they wish to present you with a certain sum as compensation.
Me
H-H-How much?
Stranger
Two hundred pounds.
Mrs. White
I-Aiii!

(The old man smiled faintly, put out his hands like a sightless man, and dropped, a senseless heap, to the floor.)

Look for part 3, the finale of The Monkey’s Paw!

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Chance, Part 1

Me
The boat ride was fun.
Stan
But it’s too bad it drifted off. Guess we’ll walk back.
Me
It’s getting so dark!
Stan
I’m worried.
Me
What have you got to be scared about? Wait. We’ve got to go the other way!
Stan
Listen, Brain, I’ll do the pathfinding!
Me
But you’re wrong; it’s the other way!
Stan
We’ll flip for it as usual.
Me
I have a nickel. Heads we take the right-hand path, tails we take the left-hand path.
Stan
All right.
Me
OK, call it.
Stan
Heads.
Me
Ugh, heads it is! OK, Eagle Scout, lead the way!
Stan
No. You go first! I never made Eagle.
Stan
But if this path leads us up to the middle of nowhere, so help me, I’m gonna pull you apart like a sardine! So, uh, keep movin’ dude!
Stan
Wait up!
Me
Dude, what’s the matter now?
Stan
Listen, you hear that? I swear, it’s a fiddle. See, I told you we were heading the right way!
Me
Keep movin’ pal! After all, I’m hungry.
Stan
Well, that’s funny. That’s awful sad music, and the house has a scary look up on that hill with the headstones all around it. Somehow my heart sank at the sight.
Me
But it’s just a family plot. I just care about food!
Stan
Maybe we shouldn’t disturb whoever’s playing.
Me
‘Disturb’ is right! One side, Sir Walter Raleigh. I’ll do the knocking!
Stan
They don’t seem to hear us.
Me
But they’ll sure as hell hear this door knocker!
Stan
I think that did it. The music stopped. Tell horror stories
Me
It’s kind of fun isn’t it?
Stan
Okay you enjoy the fun and you do the paying if they can’t find our boat.
Ms. Kurtz
Good evening! Welcome to the Kurtz residence.
Me
Oh, how do you do! We’re sorry to bust in like this, but we lost our way, I mean our boat, and thought maybe you could direct us.
Ms. Kurtz
Of course. Won’t you step in? I’m more than glad to see you. Sorry, I still have the chain on.
Stan
Okay, it’s going to rain.
Me
Yeah, we certainly were lucky to find this place!
Stan
We heard you playing the violin, and so very well!
Ms. Kurtz
How kind. If you’ll step this way.
Stan
Oh God, isn’t she the strangest girl?
Me
Yeah, turned her face away before we entered.
Ms. Kurtz
Step in here. I have a small fire going.
Stan
It’s so dark.
Ms. Kurtz
Yeah, the fire is dim now but still warm. Your eyes will adjust. Do me the honor of being seated.
Me
All right. Oh boy what a chair!
Ms. Kurtz
Yes, it’s comfortable. Now if I might be permitted to introduce myself, I’m Henrietta Kurtz.
Me
Pleased to meet you, Ms. Kurtz. I’m Bob and he’s Stan. Believe me, Ms. Kurtz, it’s a pleasure!
Stan
It’s good to sit. Results from an illness
Ms. Kurtz
I’d like to sit and talk with you both. There’s so very much to talk about.
Me
Well, we should be getting back home.
Stan
Yeah.
Ms. Kurtz
Oh, with the storm upon you, we’ve got plenty of time.
Stan
Anyway lady, you don’t know what a lifesaver you were.
Ms. Kurtz
Is that so?
Stan
Everything gets Bob scared.
Ms. Kurtz
I must apologize for not having more light in here. But you see, my eyes.
Me
Oh that’s all right, Ms. Kurtz. I guess I don’t really mind it being dark in here. We can chat and tell horror stories.
Stan
If you have a candle?
Me
Don’t bother. He was hit on the head by a candlestick when very young.
Ms. Kurtz
Oh will you listen to that wind? The storm will come through in just a few more moments.
Stan
That thunder gives me the shakes. Is your husband home, Ms. Kurtz?
Ms. Kurtz
No, I’m quite alone in the world.
Me
Sure must get lonely out here!
Ms. Kurtz
It was very lonely.
Stan
Getting awful dark in here.
Ms. Kurtz
The power went out as you arrived. But don’t be alarmed at that sound, its a door banging in the wind.
Me
If it’s a bad time to visit, sorry.
Ms. Kurtz
If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’ll go close it.
Me
Stan, you’re shaking!
Stan
I’m not scared. It looks so odd, and those shadows keep moving.
Me
That’s the fire. But what’s that funny smell?
Stan
Yeah I noticed it, like medicine. She walks and holds her head so strangely.
Me
People do have infirmities, however, maybe it all results from an illness. That could be why she’s hiding.
Stan
Still it’s kinda creepy. So let’s just get out of here.
Ms. Kurtz
On the contrary, I suggest you stay!
Me
Is that a gun?
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Taps for Earthlings, Part 2

Me
How did I get here? Excuse me mister, how did I get here?
Stranger
I don’t know.
Me
I can’t take time for pleasure trips.
Stranger
Don’t ask; I may have been murdered.
Me
You mean we’re dead?
Stranger
Don’t ask me. Ouch! I don’t think we’re dead, after all. That much I can tell you. You’re standin’ on my toe!
Me
Some of those people complained they had families to take care of, others about leaving their businesses. And they all went quiet when a man climbed up on a big platform in front.
Sam
Politician? 
Me
No, it was a very tall and dignified alien and he had formal clothes and a white beard, like the chief mourner at a politician’s funeral.
Tall Guy
Welcome to you all. If you were here and listening carefully to this orientation lecture you will know where you are and why.
Me
What is it?  
Stranger
It’s a pitch!
Tall Guy
I know you are puzzled at all this, now let me explain. You’ve been chosen, yes, carefully screened and selected to help us in what is undoubtedly the greatest cause of all human history. You will learn more about it as we work together in this vast and noble experiment.
Me
Experiment? I don’t like the sound of that.
Sam
What was it?
Boss Tunney
These guys out for something? Smells like a con.
Tall Guy
Now you know that there are billions of stars in the universe and that the stars have planets, and a good many of these planets are inhabited. In almost all instances the dominant form of life is quite different.
Me
I knew it; they are among us!
Tall Guy
Very different from yours. I am NOT of your planet or solar system. I am not formed as you see me; my true appearance would seem to be rather confusing to human eyesight.
Sam
Get to the point.
Me
He was trying to!
Tall Guy
Truth is we are not “here” and neither are you. Here is a projection of a hypothetical point in space, a place that exists only by mental force. Actually our bodies are on our own respective planets.
Boss Tunney
What was he saying? What did he mean?
Sam
Wait, they always give the convincer after the build-up.
Me
It’s not a con!
Tall Guy
For many centuries we’ve explored the universe physically and telepathically and during this we discovered your planet. We tried to establish communication, but difficulties arose.
Stranger
I’m not getting’ it. Where am I?
Tall Guy
Last time it was the era of your dark ages; and I’m sorry to report that those people we did make contact with were generally burned at the stake.
Sam
Here it comes. He’s getting ready to slip us the sting.
Me
I don’t think you want to say a thing like that about a fine decent gentleman. He was obviously very sincere.
Tall Guy
The problem we face is that the human race is doomed. The history of your race is a record of incessant wars, each more devastating than the last.
Sam
Typical repent and join us pitch.
Tall Guy
And now finally man has tamed the power of worldwide destruction; the next war or the one after that will unquestionably be the end, not only of civilization but of humanity.
Sam
So they’re saying “join us instead,” eh?
Boss Tunney
I can feel his hand in my pocket now!
Me
Money has never been mentioned.
Tall Guy
Then why have we brought you here? Because man, in spite of his suicidal blunders, is a magnificent race! He must not vanish without leaving a complete record of his achievements. This is our joint task.
Sam
Did you join up?
Me
Not at that point, but it turns out it’s legitimate!
Tall Guy
Each of you has a skill, a talent, a special knowledge we need for the immense record we’re compiling.  Every area of human society must be covered. Your data will become part of an imperishable social document!
Sam
Boy he had a slick con! I’ll bet he had that crowd in the palm of his hand.
Boss Tunney
Like a guy I saw sellin pearl necklaces on Sixth Avenue.
Me
No! True, we all cheered; we were all flattered to think we were joining in this vast project to make a record of the human race, just in case.
Sam
What happened then?
Me
After a while they broke us up into divisions and I got herded into a building marked Sports and Rackets. They took my name and my occupation, like I was applying for unemployment insurance.
Alien Two
Now here’s our problem, Mr. Locke, we’re making two kinds of perpetual records. One is written precisely on microchips. The other is a wonderfully exact duplicate of your cerebral pattern, preserved in more durable material than brain matter.
Me
Of course, of course.
Alien Two
The substance we use in place of brain cells absorbs memory quite slowly. But you’ll be happy to know the impression, once made, can never be lost or erased.
Me
I am tickled by that idea, to be honest.
Alien Two
I knew you would be! Well, let’s proceed, shall we? First a basic description of this baseball specialty, please.
Me
I started telling him about advanced metrics in baseball, beginning in one sentence I had to repeat so they could record it. They projected a picture of my body back on earth, just repeating that sentence.
Alien Two
Well that’s enough for the day! Isn’t it amazing we have a more detailed record of human society than man himself ever had? Your life. . .  
Me
My life?
Alien Two
and the life of this girl, Elena, whom you came here to rescue, are trivial. For we must all die eventually, but the project, the project will last eternally.
Me
You’re telling me you know what I’m here for?
Alien Two
To secure the return of your wife! I would naturally be aware that you’d submitted yourself to our control voluntarily. It was in your file sent to me by admissions.
Me
And why did you let me in?
Alien Two
Because, my dear friend, we always allow for the ‘friend’ pitch.
Me
I’m here on business.
Alien Two
As you wish. We ‘let you in’ because you have knowledge that we should archive. We had hoped you’d recognize the importance of it. Most people do once they’re told. Be told!
Me
I see that, certainly. But Elena?  
Alien Two
Oh yes, yes. Elena’s extremely cooperative, quite convinced! Would you like to see her?
Me
Yeah, sure I would!
Alien Two
Well that can be arranged!
Me
Now!
Alien Two
I’ll call the Arts and Entertainment section and arrange an instant meeting.
Me
Elena! Elena, baby!
Elena
Clark! Give me a kiss!
Me
You bet! Er, but let’s get out of here!

***********

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Taps for Earthlings, Part 3

Elena
Hello, Clark.
Me
Aren’t you glad to see me? I’ve spent weeks searching, just thinking that I’ve got to find you!
Elena
Well sure I’m glad to see you, hon, but I can’t waste any time. This work is so important!
Me
I want to talk to you without that con artist with the white robes.
Elena
Isn’t he wonderful? Molatta. Aren’t they all wonderful? Regular scientists devoting their whole lives to this terrific cause!
Me
What’s so wonderful about it? When it’s completed they could let the earth go boom,and it wouldn’t mean a thing to them!
Elena
Everybody wiped out? Gee, wouldn’t that make you feel simply awful?
Me
I wouldn’t feel a thing. Well I am worried, though, but it’s about us, baby. Who cares about the rest of the world doing a disappearing act some day?
Elena
I do, and so do they. They aren’t selfish like some people I could mention!
Me
Selfish?
Elena
You’re almost done here right?
Me
I am, but Elena, listen! I am selfish because I’ve got a wife and I’m nuts about her, and I want her back. What about your vows?
Elena
I have to help out on this project; it’s the least I can do for history.
Me
History? What did history ever do for us? Go turn in your time card, baby.  Tell them you got a date with me back on earth.
Elena
No! This is my job as much as the others’! They don’t ever keep anybody here against their will. I’m staying because I want to, dear.
Me
What?
Elena
Honey, excuse me, I’ve got to get back. I’m teaching them the soft shoe now.
Alien Two
You satisfied, now, Mr. Locke?
Me
Listen, take away your prediction of doom and this racket folds like a cheap umbrella.
Alien Two
OK, I wish we could, but it is a genuine prediction.
Me
You’re knocking yourself out because your guess is we’re going to commit planetary suicide.
Alien Two
Is there any doubt of it? Do you honestly believe a world holocaust can be averted?
Me
I think it can be stopped, yes. Between these catatonics and me, we could change it.
Alien Two
Tell me what your suggesting.
Me
I notice you’ve got people from all over the world here. They get along fine because they have a vital job.
Alien Two
Certainly, but…
Me
So they don’t have time to hate each other. Well, it could be like that back on earth.
Alien Two
Mr. Locke, we have experimented in the manner you suggest. But a human psychological mechanism defeated us.
Me
Yeah? What was that?
Alien Two
Protective amnesia. They completely and absolutely forgot everything they’d learned here.
Me
Well, what are the odds on me remembering?
Alien Two
Well, you are our first volunteer.
Me
Look, I’ll give you a deal. You let me out and maybe I’ll be the first case that didn’t get amnesia, and I can tell the world of this. I am a writer…
Alien Two
Harmless enough idea.
Me
Sure, I’ll come back! If I fail you can pick me up any time you want. But if I make headway you gotta let Elena go too.
Alien Two
That’s a reasonable proposition. We will lift our control and if you can arouse a measurable opposition to human racial suicide…
Me
I am just the boy that can.
Alien Two
Measurable, mind you! Then we will agree to release your wife and revise our policy completely.
Me
I awoke back on Earth, up at Glendale. It took me about two weeks to convince them that I was all right again. But I had to convince the world that they were throwing the ultimate World Series.
Boss Tunney
We know that you wrote some stuff on that topic, and I had to print something, but I thought you was jokin’ with that stuff.
Me
No! I started to write it all out in my tip sheet, in and around the player rankings. You did publish it, though.
Boss Tunney
In future I need more rankings and less aliens. But I kept it in the paper, just for human interest.
Me
Thanks! You may be saving the world, Boss. Then I ran into Sam.
Sam
My boy! How anxious we were about you! Reading your stuff…
Me
Why?
Sam
I remember I first said you were looking fit.
Me
Yeah, and I said “Thanks, wish I could say the same about you, and a rest of the world.”
Sam
Again, no need to worry about us, we’ll muddle along somehow.
Me
Oh you think so, huh?
Sam
I’m glad to see you’ve got your tip sheet going again. As long as my Sam Yankees win who cares what happens to anything else!
Me
Gosh, has nobody listened to me?

* * * * * * * * * *

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Not Dead, Part 1

Me
I stopped the bleeding! It looks like just a cut on his forehead from when he hit the ground.
Chad
It can’t be that bad, officer. I didn’t hit him hard. I was inching along and then I hit the b-b-brakes.
Bystander
Yeah, that’s right it looked like just a little bump.
Me
That’s all right. All right, now, clear back, clear back! Let’s have a little air in here.  I have to take down some information. What’s your name?
Chad
Chad Kohl. Here’s my license.
Bystander
Hey, you kids there!  
Me
Yeah, you, stay back!
Bystander
Those kids, they picked up something off the street. I saw it.  
Me
Where’s that ambulance? Oh, here it comes, and not too soon! It doesn’t look like he’s breathing!
Chad
My gosh, he ain’t b-b-breathing!
Me
I told you kids to get back there! Come on now, get back.
Me
I’m glad you got here, doctor, he’s out cold.
Doc
Let’s have a look here.
Chad
Yeah. I know some good injury lawyers.
Me
Don’t say yeah.
Doc
All right, let’s get him packed away; he’s dead. Well, at least it didn’t happen in the ambulance.
Me
Keep back, will you!   
Bystander
Sure officer. The guy’s dead, he don’t need air or injury lawyers.   
Chad
D-d-d dead!
Bystander
You might have to Donate Your Car for Kids!
Me
Back! It’s the second one today.
Doc
Yeah, I know. Bye.
Bystander
Hey who’s coat was that under his head? He was laying on a coat.
Chad
I don’t know.
Bystander
Did you pick it up?
Chad
No.
Bystander
Well you’re gonna need a new car insurance quote, PA! Hey officer!  
Me
Yeah?  
Bystander
Where’s the coat?
Me
Oh my gosh, it’s gone!

(Wright Lauer had lost his medical alert ID; that is, he had lost the identification telling of his condition, and a similar letter that was in the inside pocket of his jacket. The silver chain he wore on his right wrist had snapped and fallen to the pavement. Two youngsters had picked up the chain: Roberto Pinella, aged nine and one half, and Tommy Stoner, eight.)  

Me
Hey, maybe we should give it back.  
Bob
Yeah, what for?
Me
Bob, it sure is a nice chain. Hey there’s writing on it!
Bob
Maybe it’s the guy’s name.
Me
Was he hurt bad?
Bob
He died, and it was just a little bump.
Me
What’s the name?  
Bob
Just a second, we’ll be out of the alley.
Me
Yeah, Pop’s gone home to eat.
Bob
Well, let me see it.
Me
Wait a second will you? Give it back!
Bob
“Do not — something — me, I am not dead,” that’s Phooey!
Me
What we doing with it?
Bob
Sell it, fool!
Me
That’ stealin’, Bob!
Bob
It ain’t stealing! We found it, didn’t we? When we sell it, I’ll swear we found it on the street.
Me
What else do we tell them?
Bob
Nothin’ more! You know what we’ll do?
Me
What?
Bob
We’ll use Pop’s welding torch to melt the writing flat.
Me
He told us not to use it!
Bob
Pop ain’t here. And it’s not like the dead guy’s gonna need this thing, is it?
Featured comfy woman's feet propped up before warm fireplace and hot drink

No Lights, Part 1

Bernice
So what if we must work overtime, Mary! What are you afraid of? That a ghost will puff out of the pages you’re typing and turn your head upside down?
Me
If you don’t stop it right now… Wait, how do ya like that?
Bernice
What’s the matter now?
Me
My screen is blank and I can’t move a key! I’m moving to a different workstation.
Bernice
Just when we were getting comfortable.
Me
I’m going to use Evelyn’s. She’s gonna be away anyhow.
Bernice
Good choice, she’s always talkin’ about how big the screen is.
Me
Why it’s frozen at this one, too.
Bernice
It’s the computer gremlin. Mary, what’s the matter? Your face!
Me
Bern, let’s get out of here now!
Bernice
Well, what’s the matter? There’s no reason to panic.
Me
I’m getting out of here, and you better come with me!
Bernice
You’re crazy! Now what are you standing at the door with your back to me for?
Me
Come here, quick!
Bernice
Why are you standing there with your hand on the knob?
Me
It’s not moving, it’s locked…
Bernice
Oh you’re crazy!
Me
Let me out!
Bernice
Let me try. Why, it is locked! But why?
Me
They thought everybody left.
Bernice
The boss must’ve locked the door out of habit, that’s all. Who are you calling?
Me
All I gotta do is call building services! They’ll get us out of here.
Bernice
Sure, good idea, call them.
Me
I’ll tell them we’re not all right! Hello, hello?
Bernice
What’s the matter?
Me
Thanks for nothing! Somehow the phone’s gone dead!
Bernice
That’s all? Of all the things to cry about! Why panic?
Me
Call it a feeling. You don’t understand!
Bernice
I’ll say I don’t. Stop crying.
Me
Something terrible’s going to happen.
Bernice
What are you talking about, we’re in a major film company here, remember?
Me
But something froze the computers, something locked the door and killed the phones! And something just flattened me.
Bernice
I never knew you had bats in your belfry. It’s nothin’! Why did you stop talking? Answer me!
Me
This phone cord, it’s torn off the wall!

Look for Part 2!

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Rented Ghosts, Part 1

Me
We’ll have to get some help in to clean this place. Looks like my sorority house after we all went through our monthly allowances!
Chuck
We rented this place with service. I mean, according to what’s-his-name, Old Jeff Hawkins, the real estate guy! I have a receipt for the next two months.
Me
Yeah, I know.
Chuck
Well, the news is, you have a caretaker!
Me
Yes?
Chuck
As I was saying, this is a real palace.
Me
Hah!
Chuck
Well it is! Except that real estate guy said there hadn’t been anyone living here regularly for 13 years, and those people all died. So I figured that’s what frightened off all the buyers.
Me
Oh, yes, the Reynolds family. But how did they die? . . . Wait a minute, what was that? Oh man, oh man! 
Chuck
Imagine that! Creaking noises from an old house. That’s just settling. We did get a bargain, a house with entertainment built in!
Me
A haunting and 23 rooms, all for only $650 a month!
Chuck
Why was Hawkins so angry?
Me
Don’t ask me; I’m no psychiatrist! But let’s pop up to your crackpot salesman tomorrow, put a few bucks in his hand, and I’m sure he’ll be all right with letting us out of the deal, provided we trade up for another house.
Chuck
Well . . .
Me
Now let’s wake up that snoozing son of ours and..
Chuck
Look! Why you little faker! How long have you been sitting there watching?
Me
You all right, Billy?
Chuck
We’re in a great big house. You and dad are going to have a good time for the next two months, isn’t that good news?
Me
Why don’t you answer?
Chuck
Billy, aren’t you glad we’re gonna be staying here in the country?
Billy
Dad?
Chuck
Yes?
Billy
Please, let’s get out of here!
Chuck
I wonder —
Me
Keep your voice down.
Chuck
Billy is picking up on your vibes, Judy! I don’t want to have him grow up into a lily that falls over at the sight of his own shadow.
Chuck
Oh no, Mrs. Cook, he sleeps in that room across the hall and likes it.
Me
That didn’t sound like your voice! Anyway he’s not been asleep, so that could be a problem. He may not feel relaxed enough to sleep.
Chuck
I’ve locked all the doors and windows, so we’re safe.
Me
Yeah I’m sure, but —
Chuck
Please tell me if that crazy old ghost decides to come back to continue his talk.
Me
But Chuck, I want to know why the ghostly noises? That sounded like a voice just now!
Chuck
You shouldn’t get so excited. What’s been worrying you?
Me
Nothing. Are you sure it’s OK? Is it just because the house is so big and old?
Chuck
Forget it! Go to sleep.
Me
It gives me the jitters.
Chuck
Save the ghost talk until tomorrow morning when the sun is shining.
Me
Oh Chuck, I’m scared. I knew something was wrong the minute I walked in!
Chuck
You mean you’ve been having a funny dream.
Me
Would you say? — What’s that? It’s Billy’s voice!
Me
Billy listen to me. What are you talking about?
Chuck
Son, answer your mother!
Me
I’m coming to see you. Now, who were you talking about?
Me
Let me get this around your shoulders! Kind of a strong wind blowing in from upstairs.
Me
We should have stayed upstairs.
Billy
No, not there!
Me
No. You may be right!
Chuck
Now don’t get upset again. Here we three are, and here we stay until daylight.
Me
What was that thumping noise in the wall? See Part 2 for the story’s exciting conclusion!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

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Down in Flames, Part 1

Artie
The dead do talk, Sam. They’re all around you, but you won’t listen to them.
Me
You’re mad as a March hare!
Artie
A match for you, then. Speaking of matches, take one out, strike it. Beautiful flame, isn’t it?
Me
So?  If I throw it away, it’s horrible: it may cost me my life.
Artie
Don’t worry, be happy!
Me
You know you ought to be just about the happiest guy in the world: great grades, a fine career ahead, money, now Barbara.
Artie
Yeah, I know.
Me
She’s the loveliest girl in town.
Artie
In the world Sam, in the world.
Me
My fireplace agrees with you, Art.
Artie
So who’s to disagree? Therefore, let’s Talk more about my idea.
Me
When are you going to grow up! I don’t mind you risking your own neck, but think of Barbara. What does GQ say about a wedding in white tie and bandages?
Artie
Well, fires have always fascinated me.
Me
That doesn’t mean we have to jeopardize our lives chasing them all the freakin’ time.
Artie
Maybe it does seem odd, chasing fires. Look though, Sam, don’t flames get to you?
Me
What do you mean?
Artie
Look in your fireplace; look at those flames, orange and red, like small living things.
Me
We need to change the topic!
Artie
What’s the matter, Sam, did I scare you?
Me
No, you were talking like an idiot! Living things?
Artie
Was I? I said that flames seem alive; others have said that. Earlier generations. They worshipped flame as a living thing, a god-like thing.
Me
Artie Nicolas, are you out of your freakin’ mind!
Artie
I’m talking facts!
Me
That’s lame! Contrary to your statement, fire is not a living thing.
Artie
How can you, or I, or anyone else, say that it isn’t alive? How do we know that it isn’t?
Me
Because it isn’t intelligent, there is no evidence of intelligence.
Artie
No? Do you know the definition of life? It is a living thing, moving about; it not only moves by itself but it feeds by itself!
Me
Big deal. So what?
Artie
When a man chokes to death, why does he die?
Me
Because, well, because his air supply is cut off.
Artie
Exactly! That’s just how you kill a flame, by cutting the air supply. I tell you, I’ve sat for hours watching flames. Flame is a living, breathing, entity.
Me
Yeah?  You’re talking out of your head! Come on, let’s meet up, and I’ll buy you a drink.
Artie
Wait, Sam, there’s something I want to read to you, a book I just found. Spirits?
Me
While you’re getting it, do you mind if I throw another piece of wood on this living entity of mine? It’s getting chilly in here.
Artie
I have the book, listen. But first let me say, it tells of a race of fire worshippers who lived in medieval times, people who believed that every flame held its own godlike being.
Me
I still want to go to Joe’s Bar!
Artie
In here is a prayer these fire worshippers used to call up the spirit of the flame!
Me
Wait a minute, Artie! They did what with that prayer?
Artie
Conjured up the flame spirit, so that they could see it.
Me
You mean they’d recite some hocus-pocus and have something pop out at them?
Artie
Yes, but I need to find just how to read this prayer to the fire in a fireplace, say! If I knew just what inflections to use, I would be able to see the spirit of the flame, too, Sam. Joking
Me
In other words, you think it exists?
Artie
Maybe, I’m not sure.
Me
Good thing you’re not sure, dude. Or I’d call for a straitjacket! Come on, buddy. Let’s bust out of our cabins and go meet for a drink someplace!
Artie
No thanks, Sam, I’m not going.
Me
Oh, okay. Go ahead, sit at home and stew, but don’t let anyonewho isn’t a friend of yours hear all that stuff about flame spirits or you’re gonna find yourself in front of a looney doctor.
Artie
Don’t deny the possibility.
Me
But all this nonsense, you were just kidding me along, right!
Artie
What? Yeah, yeah, that’s right! LOL!
Me
And you wanna marry my sister!
Artie
That’s so. Well, you know how it is.
Me
But a joke’s a joke, huh?
Artie
Of course, ha, ha. So I’ll be in touch, bud.
Me
Later, man! “Beautiful flame,” huh? LOL!
Artie
…and I humbly give unto thee this sacrifice. A sacrifice? But what? Barbara’s ring! I have it here. Oh yeah, and I humbly give unto thee this sacrifice, Great Most High! I beseech thee to reveal unto me the life within life, the heart of life that beats within the heart of fire, as I repeat the sacred words…”

Look for PART 2.

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No Place Like Home

By Karen Adkins

Sylvia stretched and wriggled her toes, still pleasantly aware of wearing slippers at ten a.m. Retirement agreed with her. Being home agreed with her. She took another sip of coffee and looked happily around the kitchen. After years of re-modeling and re-decorating, everything was exactly the way she wanted it.

Recalling the junk she had thrown away, she wished every irritation could be disposed of as easily. She had in mind a particularly nettlesome one: her neighbor Agnes Braxton.

Agnes was an annoying woman who always scheduled noisy outdoor projects for the break of day, often on Saturdays and, almost psychically, on her neighbor’s days off. Also, she conducted one sprawling, ongoing garage sale from April to December.

Agnes would wrap up business early in the evenings so she could get what she dubbed her “beauty sleep.” Her calls complaining about Harry’s barking, other sounds and bright lights could be expected shortly after eight o’clock.

For once Agnes’ early-to-bed habit was about to benefit, rather than disturb, her neighbor.

Walking Harry, a wire-haired terrier, Sylvia checked to see if Agnes’s lights were out. All but one. She always left the light in the bathroom turned on “so burglars will think someone’s awake.”

By eleven-thirty, the surrounding homes would be dark, despite Mrs. Braxton’s complaints of late-night parties. At midnight, Sylvia slipped out her freshly oiled side door, crept close along her juniper bushes, then darted across her neighbor’s yard and onto the front porch. Patches of ice still remained there.

Sylvia planned to turn the woman’s front porch into a skating rink and cause one of those accidents she had read about so often. She laid a section of her garden soaker-hose over the porch, supported by a pair of stone gnomes. She turned it on.

Sylvia had found it all too easy to get used to sleeping late again. She had to force herself to open her eyes and keep them open. Ten-thirty! She jumped out of bed and tore open her curtains. Nothing had happened. The street was deserted.

She pulled on sweats, attached Harry to his leash, and strolled out. To Harry’s dismay, Sylvia stopped abruptly. Everything was melting — it must be at least forty degrees!

She had called for the latest forecast before setting her plan in motion. The robust voice had advised her to expect “flurries tonight and much colder temperatures toward morning, well-below freezing, and wind chills in the single digits.

“What did we ever do to deserve such great weather?,” asked Mrs. Darby brightly as she surveyed the world from her driveway.

“Just lucky I guess.”

Returning home, Sylvia noticed the light flashing on her answering machine. So she pressed the message button releasing a booming voice.

“Hello? Are you there? (A large pause. . .I know you’re there, pick up the phone!) This is Connie Braxton. (Another pause. . .now that you know it’s me, I’m sure you’ll want to pick up.) Aunt Agnes had an accident. . .she fell down the escalator at the mall. They took her away in an ambulance! It was just a bad sprained leg and some deep bruises. Of course, she’ll be on crutches and painkillers for a while. I know you’ll want to get her mail and help her out. Aunt Agnes said you wouldn’t mind, with all the time you have on your hands now. Bye-bye.”

She watched the light blink, dumbly. Her plan ruined, only to be drafted to help Agnes. Pushiness thy name is Braxton! She considered her next move.

Sylvia’s mind drifted back to last summer:

“What are you up to Syl? Pulling weeds I hope. I was wondering why I have so many dandelions this year. . .must’ve come from your yard. While you’re at it, yank those tiger lilies—they’re over for the year—I wish you’d dig ’em up and plant something nice.

Now that the pain was lessening, Sylvia could think. Press your advantage; she’ll be more wobbly than ever; any accident now will be put down to her injury.

Many of the next-door neighbors held each other’s key as insurance against being locked out; Sylvia had Agnes Braxton’s.

The rusty black box sporting the name BRAXTON in curling plastic letters was stuffed with catalogs, bills and ads. No letters.

She remembered the times Agnes had said she was so sorry but the mail carrier must have made a mistake. She’d already opened it before realizing it wasn’t addressed to her.

Now Sylvia let herself in, dropped the mail on a dusty entry table and went into the kitchen.

Dirty coffee cups smeared with lipstick dotted the counter and table. Smatters of dried egg and bits of burnt toast decorated dishes stacked in the sink.

In the midst of the clutter, four throw-rugs caught her attention. The worn chenille had not been attractive when new. She tested one rug with her foot. It immediately bunched and slid forward. Sylvia knew just what would set things in motion: the silicone spray she used to lubricate her treadmill.

But how could she get Agnes to come out here? She needed her to come tearing into the room, not paying attention to what she was doing. She would not be moving around much, let alone racing into rooms.

Something would have to demand her attention. Something impossible to ignore. The smoke detector!

She had seen one in the kitchen. It didn’t take much to set these older models off: dust, a wisp of smoke or steam from the stove. The ear-splitting noise had led many people to remove the batteries, including Mrs. Braxton.

Sylvia wondered whether she had the right batteries at home. Her gaze wandered to an empty humidifier. Its mist could set off the smoke detector. The rugs could be arranged just so. Hurriedly, she straightened the room. She refilled the humidifier and then darted home, undetected.

She gave Harry food and water and retrieved the silicone spray and some thin latex gloves. Next she found a fresh battery. She shoved everything in her coat pockets and popped next door.

Sylvia took a stepladder from the laundry room. She climbed up, attached the battery and pressed a button. The shrieking was immediate. After resetting the detector, she returned the ladder and took out the silicone. She sprayed the linoleum and rearranged the rugs in the path to the detector.

While admiring her handiwork, she heard a car pull up. From the peephole, she watched Connie attempt to help her aunt out of the car.
Sylvia bounded outside. “Sorry to hear about your accident, Agnes. How do you feel?”

“How d’ja think I feel? Damn pills. Want to go to bed.”

Connie rolled her eyes and muttered: “She’s a load.”

“Stop griping and let’s go. I’m cold,” snapped Agnes.

Connie looked as though she might use what energy she had left to push her aunt onto the driveway before peeling out.

“I’ll get her inside,” Sylvia said quickly. She offered a shoulder and arm to Mrs. Braxton who leaned on them heavily.

Connie fished around in her aunt’s bag for her medicine with no success until, exasperated, she took it to the more brightly lit bathroom and dumped it on the counter.

“It says `take one pill every four hours,’” yelled Connie. “I’ll get some water.”

“If that doctor thinks I’m wakin’ up just to take his damn pills,” said Agnes.

Connie returned with the water and medicine.

“I heard that. Just take this pill and I’ll set your alarm for four hours. You must follow the doctor’s instructions,” said Connie.

“I can cope,” mumbled Agnes. “Gonna sleep late. I’ll call when I want you.”

“I’d be glad to check on her tomorrow morning.”

“Thanks Sylvia, but I have some early errands to run anyway.”

“Quit gabbing and go! I’m tired!”

They laughed their way to the front door as Connie regaled her with a less-than-flattering anecdote about Aunt Agnes.

“I’ll lock up.”

Sylvia waved as Connie sped away. Then, she turned off all but the kitchen light and glanced at the clock. The second hand lurched between ceramic bunches of now-gray grapes. Her gloved hand switched on the humidifier, pointed the nozzle at the smoke detector and adjusted the mist to high. She turned off the light and locked the door behind her.

Sylvia made coffee and waited. She wasn’t sure how long it would take. She decided she’d return in two hours. If her plan failed and Mrs. Braxton was still alive, she’d say she’d come to check on her. If her plan succeeded, everything would have to be cleaned up and put back. Nothing must seem out of place.

She tried to read but couldn’t concentrate. The coffee wasn’t helping her nerves. How could she have thought she’d need it to stay awake? She began to pace and, with increasing frequency, to stare out her bedroom window at Mrs. Braxton’s house.

The house sat as quiet and dark as any other on the street. An hour crept to an end. Sylvia couldn’t stand it any longer. She would get Harry and take a closer look from outside. Then “hearing something,” and being the good and concerned neighbor she was, she’d go in to check on Mrs. Braxton.

Harry strained at his leash, determined to go everywhere, smell everything and claim new territory. Sylvia struck a pose of annoyance mixed with boredom at being dragged out of bed at this hour by her dog, in case any wayward neighbor might be driving by or looking out a window on the way to get an antacid. She was anything but bored, however, and all her senses were primed for any clue as to what was happening next door. But it was no use. The only one getting anything out of this expedition was Harry. She couldn’t detect anything from the front.

Harry didn’t need any prodding to redirect his operations to the back of the house.

The kitchen window shouldn’t be dark. She should have turned on the light when she went to disconnect the alarm. So what is going on?

Sylvia took Harry home, then returned and let herself in through the back door. The only sound she heard was the muffled whooshing of the furnace. From the kitchen doorway, she saw the steady stream of mist continue its climb towards the smoke detector. On the floor lay an overturned stepladder and a crumpled heap of flannel that had once been Mrs. Braxton.

It had worked. Finally.

“I wondered when you’d get here,” said a familiar voice from the darkened living room.

Sylvia jumped. Trying to keep her voice calm, she said, “I didn’t know you were here, Connie…I was out walking Harry and thought I heard a noise so I came over…”

“To check on my poor aunt,” Connie finished. “That’s very neighborly of you. I think that’s the main reason I’m going to enjoy living here. . .the neighborliness.”

“Living here?”

“My aunt objected to relatives living too nearby, but that obstacle has been removed…thanks to you.”

“Me? I was just coming by to check on her and see about the noise…”

“Oh yes, the noise,” said Connie as she shifted her position on the couch and drew her aunt’s afghan closer around her. “Do you think it might have come from something like this?”

Connie held up something small that Sylvia had trouble making out. She had a sinking feeling she knew what it was.

“In case your eyes haven’t adjusted, it’s the battery you installed in the smoke detector tonight.”

“I didn’t…”

“Don’t interrupt,” snapped Connie. “She always used to interrupt: another of my aunt’s lovable traits. The smoke detector used to go off while she was cooking, so she disabled it years ago. Said she’d rather take her chances. But when I came by to check on her, it was blaring away.

I found her on the floor. Thought she must’ve lost her balance, but when I got out the stepladder to stop the noise, I slipped on one of those damn throw rugs I’ve been asking her to get rid of for years and almost broke my neck.”

Sylvia, who was periodically wiping her sweaty hands on her jacket and eyeing the nearest door, managed an “oh?” 

“When I went to put the rug back, I slipped again and noticed the floor there was slick. I checked under the other rugs and found the same thing. I assume that’s your doing, also? It sure isn’t from cleaning. My aunt was never one for cleanliness…I don’t know the last time she mopped the linoleum. A lot will have to be done to bring this place up to my standards.”

Sylvia could only nod as though hypnotized. Connie seemed to know everything; what was the point of denying it?

“I don’t see any reason why you should have to spend your retirement in prison…if you do as I say.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Sylvia eased herself carefully onto her couch, groaning as she did so. She was stiff and sore all over, as if she’d been in a gardening marathon. She was engaged in a type of marathon, though it involved nothing as enjoyable as gardening. Every day now, beginning at dawn, she started a long-distance relay race whose seemingly unreachable goal was to carry out Connie’s wishes.

Connie’s wishes, her orders, were relentless and exacting. From morning til night Sylvia had to divide her time between the moderate sprucing up of Connie’s soon-to-be previous residence and the extensive, cleaning, repainting and redecorating required to make Agnes Braxton’s home habitable.

It was just past nine now; pleased with her progress, Connie had let her knock off early.

A real treat, thought Sylvia, bitterly sipping her cup of decaf. She gathered a week’s worth of unread newspapers toward her and began skimming them, starting with the oldest. In a matter of minutes she tossed it aside. The news was stale. The radio she listened to while working kept her abreast of major stories. She was just looking for items of local interest: weddings, divorces, births, deaths. A couple more, then bed. (Now that mornings were so ridiculously early, bedtime had to be too.)

Sylvia skimmed several more papers and yawned. Responding to the noise, Harry rearranged himself on the floor but still slept with his back to her, silently protesting all the recent departures from his routine.

Sylvia was about to toss the last paper on the pile when a small item caught her eye: “Accidental overdose causes death.”

She read on: “The coroner’s jury, Wednesday, ruled an accidental overdose was the cause of death of Agnes Braxton, age 76. Braxton was found dead in her home at 64 Laurel Lane, February 23. Autopsy results indicated an overdose of a painkiller recently prescribed for injuries received in a fall. Interviews with relatives led to the verdict of accidental overdose.”

Sylvia was suddenly wide awake. An overdose killed her, not the fall. She read it again. There was no mention of injuries from a fall as the cause, or even a contributing cause, of death.

She took another gulp of coffee. Sylvia tried to recall exactly what happened when they were getting Agnes ready for bed. She remembered Connie saying something about how often the doctor wanted her to take the pills, then Agnes arguing, Connie bringing in the medicine and the water to take it with…

“Interviews with relatives led to the verdict…” 

Connie had been Agnes Braxton’s only living relative. And she had handled the medicine. And the water. Plus she was there waiting for Sylvia that night. And wasn’t Connie with Agnes when she had that fall on the escalator? 

Sylvia jumped up and began to do a little jig, until her sore muscles reminded her who was boss. She was free! 

Tomorrow she would sleep in. Have a big breakfast. Read the morning paper at an unhurried pace. Not dress until noon. When Connie called, threatening her for being late, Sylvia would inform her she had recently caught up on her reading and found it most interesting. So would her attorney if ever anything should happen to her. 

Sylvia smiled and (painfully) bent down to pat Harry before turning out the light. 

So, Connie Braxton was going to be living next door. 

Did she say living?

© Karen Adkins