Spooky Short Stories: Keeping Judge Spencer

October 19, 2018

Most of you know I participated in a writing contest a few months ago, in which we were assigned different genres, characters, and subjects to write about in each round. I shared my first round story here. For the second round, I was assigned "Suspense, Judge, and Medicine," and came up with Keeping Judge Spencer. Enjoy!

KEEPING JUDGE SPENCER


The roses are too pink. He wants the blush shade. They’re her favorite. The flower shop by his apartment has a wide array of pink roses—pepto bismol, cotton candy, bubblegum—but no blush.

It’s okay. There’s still time. He pulls his phone from his pocket to search for nearby flower shops. He needs blush roses. Tonight has to be perfect.  

She deserves that.

He opens Facebook to visit the event page again. Campaign Kickoff to Re-elect Judge Rebecca Spencer. Seventy-two people say they’ll be there, and another twenty or so are interested. He smiles at the photo at the top of the screen, spreading two fingers across it to zoom in on her face. It was from the day she was sworn into office. He’d taken several pictures of Rebecca that day, but she’d chosen a more formal photo for the fundraiser page.

Two flower shops later, he finds exactly what he’s looking for—roses with perfectly pale pink petals that grow darker toward the edges, perched on top of long, dark green stems. He buys a dozen. He imagines her dark hair falling across her face as she leans forward to inhale their scent before smiling up at him through her thick lashes.

He can’t wait to see her. She’s worked so hard to earn the right to wear that robe. There have been many late nights, working tirelessly for her clients, proving her commitment to the families she serves. At least three times a week he receives an apologetic phone call asking him to meet her when she’s leaving work. He doesn’t mind. She shouldn’t walk to her car alone after dark.

Pain throbs behind his eyes. He rubs his forehead and pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingers, exhaling slowly. Headaches are par for the course whenever he skips his morning pill, and it will only get worse when he skips his next one. Still, he isn’t going to take them today. He wants to be as clear-headed as possible tonight.

She deserves that.

He stops at the dry cleaners on his way home. His dark gray suit will look perfect with her strapless pink dress, the one that matches her flowers. The perfect roses to match the perfect dress on his perfect woman.

Everything is going according to plan. She’s going to the restaurant early to help set up, and he’ll surprise her there before everyone else arrives. Their schedules have made it difficult to spend much time together the last couple of weeks, but a few minutes alone always seems to make everything right again.

***

He drops his keys on the table just inside the front door as he enters his apartment, and then pulls a pitcher from his cabinet for the flowers, running a bit of water in it to keep them fresh. He fills a glass with ice water while he’s at it, and presses it to his forehead, trying to ease the pain. It’s settled deep behind his eyes now, but he’ll push through, like always. Watching her body, hearing her laugh, inhaling her scent—that’s all the medicine he needs.

Facebook is still open on his phone when he unlocks the screen, and this time he goes to her personal page to swipe through her photos again. He loves every side of Rebecca. The professional, successful Rebecca in her courtroom attire, first as a lead prosecutor and then in her judge’s robe; the pretty, girl-next-door Rebecca, playing with her kids in her backyard; and fun, sexy Rebecca, enjoying girls night out with her friends. It doesn’t bother him that she goes out with her friends sometimes. She belongs to him—nothing will change that. 

He especially loves the pictures that show Rebecca back in college, long before they met. He finds her album of throwback pictures, and flips through every single one, imagining, again, what it might’ve been like if he’d gone to college, how they might have met, what their life together might look like if it had started earlier.

Not that it matters. The past is the past. At least they have each other now.

He takes his time getting ready. The suit will make her happy. She’s so used to seeing him in his security guard uniform each day. The suit will be another nice surprise. He trims his beard, remembering how she’d complimented him the last time he’d trimmed it up a bit. It’s not just Rebecca he wants to impress. Rebecca’s mother will be there tonight, and it’ll be his first time meeting her. He’d hoped to meet her last week. Rebecca’s Facebook page had alerted him to her mother coming to town for lunch. He thought for sure they would’ve swung by the office so he could say hi, but they didn’t.

He shrugs off the light irritation he feels. It’s fine. She may not have been ready for him to meet her mother that day. He didn’t press her about it. Besides, he’d meet Rebecca’s mother tonight, dressed in his suit, beard trimmed, looking the way the boyfriend of a successful, powerful family court judge should look.

She deserves that.

***

It takes a couple trips around the block before he finally finds a parking spot he likes. Close enough to see the restaurant, but far enough so she doesn’t see him before he wants to be seen. He loves watching her when she doesn’t know he’s there. He gets to see the real her, the Rebecca she is when no one is looking. As far as she knows, anyway.

There’s a banner in front of the restaurant that reads Keep Judge Spencer. He smiles at the words. He intends to do just that.

Tonight he’ll make Rebecca his forever. He closes his eyes and pictures it again—the two of them, side by side in perfectly coordinated attire, frozen in time. Hopefully her dress won’t get too dirty.

When Rebecca had asked for suggestions for event spaces to host the campaign kickoff, this restaurant had been at the top of his list. He remembered how she’d thanked him for the idea. She calls him her Downtown Expert, because he lives in one of the high-rise buildings near the courthouse, while she lives in a neighborhood on the edge of town.

He loves her house. The two-story brick home sits on a corner lot with lots of giant, old trees. The front porch wraps all the way around on both sides, with a wooden swing tucked into the left side. He’s only actually been inside the house once, last summer when she was on vacation, but he knows the interior pretty well from her Facebook posts. The last time he’d driven by he noticed she had repainted the room inside the left front window. Rebecca has such great taste. 

Her silver Volvo pulls up in front of the restaurant and he leans forward. She flips her visor down, reapplies her lipstick, and smooths her hair with her hand. He smiles, like he always does when he sees her. The car door opens and she climbs out, one long leg, then the other. His smile fades. She isn’t wearing the pink dress.

His shoulders fall and he flops back in his seat, slapping the heel of his hand against his steering wheel. He strokes his beard with his other hand and presses his tongue against the back of his teeth, forcing himself to take slow, deep breaths.

It’s fine. Everything is fine. She still looks beautiful, of course. He just has to adjust the scene he’d envisioned in his mind.

He squeezes his eyes shut and presses his fingers into them, relieving some of the pain in his head. With his eyes still closed, he sees her turn at the sound of his voice, watches her expression light up, the smile spread across her face. All that’s changed is the dress.

Everything is still perfect.

He opens one eye and peeks at the roses lying in his passenger’s seat. They won’t match the black dress she’s wearing. Now she won’t match him at all.

He exhales slowly through his nose.

He pulls his phone from the dashboard and goes to her Facebook, scrolling until he finds the post he’s looking for—the one where she’d bought the pale pink dress. If the dress wasn’t for tonight, then what was it for? His fingertips grow white as they dig into the edge of his phone. He tosses it into the passenger seat, crushing the cellophane wrapped around the roses.

Rebecca stands in front of the restaurant, talking on her phone while she watches the road.

He looks at himself in his rearview mirror and shakes his head. It’s fine. The dress is black. His suit is gray. The flowers are blush. He’ll hand them to her. She’ll be delighted. She’ll kiss his cheek. He’ll meet her mother. He’ll reach into his suit pocket, and—

A red BMW slows down in front of the restaurant, and Rebecca waves to it, pointing the driver toward a parking spot near hers. She smiles at the man in the black suit who steps out of the car.

No.

Even in heels, Rebecca has to place her hands on the man’s arms and rise up on her toes to kiss his cheek.

No. No. No.

This is not the plan.

He smacks the steering wheel again. Then again, and again.

His head pounds. He presses his fist to his mouth and bites down on his forefinger.

The man in the black suit places his hand on the back of Rebecca’s black dress, just below her waist, in that familiar way that men touch their women. They walk up the steps to the entrance side-by-side, and he holds the door open for her to go before him. The door closes, and they are gone

His gaze blurs. He wraps his fingers around the steering wheel, straightening his arms and pressing his back into his seat. Her Facebook photos play on a loop in his mind, and he scans them for signs of the man in the black suit.

Nothing.

But there must have been a sign somewhere, right? Something he missed. He erupts with anger, screaming and thrashing with rage. By the time he regains control, his voice is hoarse and his knuckles are swollen. He removes his coat and relaxes, allowing his fury to melt away. He can’t give into it completely. That will ruin the plan.

Keep Judge Spencer.

He doesn’t know what Rebecca is doing tomorrow, but if he knows anything at all about her, it’s that she’ll wake up tomorrow morning and announce her plans for the day to all 2200 of her Facebook friends.

Her plans will become his.

Tomorrow.

He throws the car into drive and pulls out of his carefully selected parking spot, cutting off a blue truck in the process. A horn blares. He raises his middle finger in response.

The roses make his headache worse, taunting him from their spot in the passenger’s seat. Their scent fills the car, taking up all the air, until he’s sure there isn’t any left for him to breathe. He jabs his finger into the button on his door to lower the window, and hurls the roses into the street. They hit the pavement behind him, rose petals flying, crushed beneath the tires of passing cars.

His gaze falls to the pistol in his passenger’s seat, no longer hidden by the roses.  

The pistol would wait for another day, another perfect plan.

She deserves that.

Spooky Short Stories: Some Portion of Sure by Kelsey Macke

October 18, 2018
When I decided to throw a little blog party for October, I reached out to a few of my writer friends to see if they had anything they'd like to contribute. This short, lyrical piece was written by Kelsey Macke, author of Damsel Distressed, and regular contributor to my happiness and keeper of my sanity. Learn more about her at kelseymacke.com.

SOME PORTION OF SURE

Sometimes, you peel away from sleep,
like pulling up the clear film that clings to the screens of brand new electronics.

Other times, you jerk away from it flinching,
rejecting that state which renders you so utterly defenseless.

If you’re lucky, you’ll wake--eyes wide but unseeing.
The room around you still perfectly dark.
You’ll take that thirsty breath, sipping air loudly into your lungs. The sound of your inhale between parted teeth will be the only one you hear.

If you’re unlucky though, before your exhale, you’ll hear something.
A something that’s almost nothing.
But not nothing.
The sound of a shoe coming down on the carpet.


You’ll hold your breath, burrowing deeper into silence. Doubt swells as your lungs burn, silence filling up the room.
And just before you relax and let your breath slip out through taught lips, you’ll hear another step.
You’ll hear the carpet fibers crush under heel and up to toes.

There’s no one in your bedroom.
You’re some portion of sure.
Just enough to try to fall asleep again.
Not quite enough to turn on the light.

GIVEAWAY: Asylum by Madeleine Roux and Monster Island by David Wellington

October 11, 2018
I never thought I'd be a person who'd think, "Man, I have too many books," but here we are. A few years of book events and festivals means I've wound up with a pretty impressive collection. I've forced myself to go through them and look for books that should be passed along rather than hoarded in my office. 

So, my refusal to give in to my hoarding tendencies means I'm going to give away several books this month. This week's giveaway includes two horror novels: Monster Island and Asylum.



Monster Island is book one of the Monster Island series by David Wellington. 

It's one month after a global disaster. The most "developed" nations of the world have fallen to the shambling zombie masses. Only a few pockets of humanity survive — in places rife with high-powered weaponry, such as Somalia. In New York City, the dead walk the streets, driven by an insatiable hunger for all things living. One amongst them is different; though he shares their appetites he has retained his human intelligence. Alone among the mindless zombies, Gary Fleck is an eyewitness to the end of the world — and perhaps the evil genius behind it all. From the other side of the planet, a small but heavily-armed group of schoolgirls-turned-soldiers has come in search of desperately needed medicine. Dekalb, a former United Nations weapons inspector, leads them as their local guide. Ayaan, a crack shot at the age of sixteen, will stop at nothing to complete her mission. They think they are prepared for anything. On Monster Island they will find that there is something worse even than being undead, as Gary learns the true price of survival.

Asylum is book one of Madeleine Roux's Asylum trilogy. 

Featuring found photographs from real asylums and filled with chilling mystery and page-turning suspense, Asylum is a horror story that treads the line between genius and insanity, perfect for fans of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, the New Hampshire College Prep program is the chance of a lifetime. Except that when Dan arrives, he finds that the usual summer housing has been closed, forcing students to stay in the crumbling Brookline Dorm—formerly a psychiatric hospital. As Dan and his new friends Abby and Jordan start exploring Brookline's twisty halls and hidden basement, they uncover disturbing secrets about what really went on here . . . secrets that link Dan and his friends to the asylum's dark past. Because Brookline was no ordinary mental hospital, and there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.

Note: Asylum is YA, Monster Island is not. 

This givewaway is going to take place on Instagram! Find me there at @megan_whitmer.

To enter:

Follow me on instagram.
Like the instagram post featuring this giveaway and follow the instructions there.

In the meantime, comment below with your favorite scary book! 





Spooky Short Stories: Potter's Blooms

October 5, 2018
Most of you know I participated in a writing contest a few months ago, in which we were assigned different genres, characters, and subjects to write about in each round. For the very first round, I was assigned "Horror, Flower Shop Owner, and Texting." I took those three things and came up with Potter's Blooms. These two creepy sisters are my favorite, and I apologize for what happens at the end.


POTTER'S BLOOMS

Potters Blooms’ reputation as the Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory of flower shops automatically raises the expectations of any first-time visitor, including Aaron Fleming.

He’s not sure what to expect when he opens the door, but it doesn’t matter. Whatever he’d been told before about the shop, whatever he’d believed, the shop exceeds it. He stops to take it all in.

Every surface bursts with life. To his left, a forest of flowering trees, planted directly into the floor. To his right, blooms in a variety of hues grow on vines that slope down from the ceiling and loop over his head. He walks slowly, taking care not to step on any plants. Finally, he peers over a rock garden lined with succulents and spots the shop’s Willy Wonka herself, tending to a few rose bushes near the sales counter. “Mrs. Potter?”

She turns, but he can’t tell if her milky blue eyes focus on him. She is impossibly old, with nearly translucent skin that looks like a piece of aluminum foil that’s been wadded up and stretched back out, pulled tight around her frame. He steps closer.

“I’m Aaron,” he says. “We spoke on the phone yesterday about renovating your basement.”

“Oh, yes.” The crease between her eyebrows disappears and she smiles. “I’m Ruby. You spoke with my sister.” She brushes a long strand of silver hair from her face and rises on her toes. “Penny? The contractor is here!”

“Already?” There’s a rustle in the lilies to his left, and Aaron turns as an equally tiny woman emerges, with striking white hair and the same shriveled skin. “I didn’t expect you so early.”

Aaron extends his hand. “Hi, I’m Aaron. I like to be on time.”

Penny rubs her palms down her apron before shaking his hand. “Well, that makes you better than the last one.”

“Last one?” he asks.

“We’ve had several contractors,” Ruby pipes up behind him. “The last one was perpetually late.”

“And then he dropped off the face of the earth,” Penny adds, eyeing his empty hands. “Did you bring your tools?”

He pulls his pencil from behind his ear and pats the tape measure on his belt. “This is all I need today. I’ll be back tomorrow to get started.”

“Very well,” Penny says. “Come on, Ruby. Let’s show him to the basement.”

Rather than a chocolate fountain, a stream of water runs across the floor. They walk alongside it, and Aaron admires the lily pads floating on its surface, marveling at the engineering that must have made this place possible.

They reach an old door at the back of the shop. Ruby pulls it open, releasing a gust of cold air before she descends the wooden stairs. Penny motions for Aaron to go ahead of her. There’s no handrail, so he drags his hand along the cool cement wall as he moves downward, his eyes adjusting to the darkness with every step.

Ruby flips a switch on the wall before Aaron reaches the bottom. Three dim light bulbs appear in the darkness, illuminating bags of potting soil stacked along the wall, mounds of empty flowerpots, and piles of old newspapers. Penny crosses in front of him to lead him through the clutter. She gestures at her surroundings. “We’ve been here nearly seventy years.”  

He waves a hand in the air, dismissing her implied apology. “This is what my daughter’s room looks like after one day.”

Penny stops. “You have a daughter?”

He nods. “Yes ma’am. Ellie. She’s six.”

“How delightful,” Ruby replies, but the crease between her eyebrows is back.

Penny and Ruby exchange glances. Aaron waits for one of them to say something. When neither of them does, he looks past them to a wooden door in the far right corner with one step leading up to it. “Is that the room you mentioned?”

“Yes,” Penny responds. She continues, leading their tiny parade through the maze of boxes, pots, and bags.

When they reach the door, Penny presses it open and steps backward, allowing Aaron to enter first. Light from the basement throws his shadow across the dirt floor. A lone bulb hangs from a string in the middle of the room. He yanks the chain twice, but nothing happens.

“Old bulbs,” Penny states. “I’m sure there’s a new one around here somewhere.” She vanishes from the doorway, and he hears her rummaging through boxes. Ruby stands beyond the door, watching him.

The room isn’t much: dirt floor, low ceiling, four uneven walls. There’s an old-fashioned school desk in the corner, and he steps closer to take a look at it. He hears the familiar buzz buzz buzz of a cell phone, signaling a text notification on silent mode. He pulls his phone from his pocket before he remembers his phone isn’t on silent. He always leaves the ringer on in case Ellie needs him. 

Ruby appears at the door, holding a light bulb. Penny appears on the step behind her, nudging Ruby until the two of them are standing shoulder to shoulder in the doorway. “Do you need to make a call?” Ruby asks, handing him the bulb. “Sometimes the signal is poor down here, especially in this room.”

“No ma’am. I thought I got a message.” He tips his head toward the school desk as he twists the new bulb into place. “Ellie would love that,” he says. “She loves to play school.”

Penny’s close-lipped smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “That was mine when I was little.”

He tries to imagine the two elderly sisters as young girls. “Did you play down here a lot?” he asks.

“Oh no,” Ruby replies, staring at the wall behind him. “We were never allowed to play in the basement.”

Aaron follows her gaze. There’s a dark spot along the top of the drywall that creeps down into the middle of the wall. “Did you have a water leak?” he asks.

Ruby rubs the back of her neck and looks to Penny, who replies, “I don’t think so.”

“Well,” he moves to the wall and runs his hand over the discoloration. It’s odd—it seems almost greasy. “I can remove some of this drywall and see what’s going on behind it. You want me to knock down these two inside walls, right?”

Ruby nods. “Yes. Take down the two walls, and add a couple of outlets along the other outside wall.” She takes a deep breath. “You don’t need to bother with that spot on the wall, dear.”

He eyes the wall. “I’d feel better if I did,” he says. “If moisture is trapped there and begins to mold, it could cause a bigger problem.”

buzz buzz buzz

Aaron freezes, trying to figure out the source of the vibration. The sisters don’t seem to notice it. Maybe it isn’t a text notification at all. Something else in the shop has to be making the tiny sound, maybe even something upstairs.

Penny gives her sister a look before bringing her gaze back to Aaron. “Of course you’ll need to fix that wall.”

“I know you’re ready to have all this work done,” Aaron says, looking over Penny’s shoulder to Ruby. “It’s a shame the last contractor disappeared on you.”

Ruby swallows. “That’s what contractors do around here, I suppose.”

He smiles at the two women. “I promise to finish the job.”

“We’ll let you get started,” Penny says. She turns and places a hand on Ruby’s elbow, pushing her toward the door. She looks back over her shoulder, nodding toward the school desk. “You should bring your daughter tomorrow. Let her play.”

Beside her, Ruby goes rigid, jerking her head toward Penny.

“Oh, pish,” Penny says, dismissing her sister’s wide-eyed stare. “I know you don’t like kids running around but I’m sure she’s old enough to be careful. Isn’t she, Aaron?”

Aaron clears his throat. “Ah, yes, she’s very well-behaved. I may see if she wants to come by.” He squints, trying to decipher the change in Ruby’s demeanor. “Thank you.”

Penny nods and presses Ruby out the door.

***

The next morning, Aaron carries his toolbox down the basement stairs and makes his way to the room. He pulls the chain to turn the light on, and sets his metal toolbox on the floor by the school desk. He’d mentioned it to Ellie last night, and even now he smiles remembering how she’d hopped around her room, gathering her teaching supplies. He’d asked his mom to drop her off at the flower shop around one o’clock. He checks the time on his phone before tossing it onto the school desk. Nine o’clock. Time to get started so he can play with Ellie when she arrives.

He ties his blue bandana around his face to cover his mouth and nose and picks up his crowbar. He swings it backward and hears the buzz of a text notification again, stopping his swing mid-air. He looks over his shoulder at his phone, still dark on the desk.  His arm drops to his side.

Where’s that sound coming from?

He steps forward and leans into the wall, placing his ear right next to it.

He holds his breath, listening.

buzz buzz buzz

Aaron jumps backward.

It’s inside the wall.

He laughs at himself and shakes his head. So there’s something on the other side of the wall making a weird noise. So what? In an old building like this, it could be any number of things.

He lifts the crowbar again, plunges it into the drywall, and drags it down and outward. He repeats the movement again and again until he’s made a sizable hole. There’s another wall behind it, covered in wallpaper. He pulls more and more of the first wall away, alternating between his hands and the crowbar, and steps closer to examine the wall he uncovered.

The wallpaper is gorgeous. It’s velvet and filled with flowers—deep reds and pinks—and rich green vines and leaves, all against a cream background. Metallic gold lines highlight flowers here and there.

“Making progress?”

Aaron spins to see Ruby in the doorway, holding two mugs. She lifts one in his direction. “I thought you might like some coffee.”

He pulls his bandana from his face and drops it to the ground by the wall. “Thank you,” he says, taking the mug from her hand as he follows her out of the room. Ruby takes a seat on the step outside the room, and he sits, too.

“Did you know there’s another wall behind there?” he asks. “It’s got this great old wallpaper on it. Lots of gold and flowers.”

She studies her coffee mug. “Oh yes, I’d forgotten that.”

“It’s beautiful.” He sips his coffee. “I can’t wait to show Ellie.”

She looks at him. “Your daughter is coming?”

“My mom is dropping her off around one.” He shifts, remembering how she’d acted when Penny invited Ellie yesterday. “Is that okay? I won’t let her get into your things. We’ll play a quick round of school and get out.”

“Of course it’s okay,” Penny barks, appearing from behind a stack of boxes.

“Penny!” Ruby hobbles to her feet, nearly spilling her drink. Aaron reaches up a hand to steady her. “I didn’t hear you come down.”

“I need you upstairs,” Penny replies, raising an eyebrow.

Aaron looks from Ruby to Penny. “It’s really something that you two still work everyday. It can’t be easy.”

“It’s our family business,” Penny says. “It’s all we have. Besides, the plants take care of themselves. Come along, Ruby.”

Ruby doesn’t meet Aaron’s gaze. He watches her follow her sister across the room and up the stairs and makes a mental note to be nicer to his brother.

buzz buzz buzz

He rests his mug on the step and climbs back into the room. Using a scraper from his toolbox, he locates a loose edge of the wallpaper and removes a large section to show Ellie. His cough reminds him to put his mask back on, but when he kneels to the ground where he’d dropped it, the bandana is gone.

He pivots, feeling the floor with his hands, but the bandana is nowhere to be found. He moves away from the wall for a better look. Still nothing.

buzz buzz buzz

With the first layer of wall gone, it’s even more evident that the buzzing sound is coming from behind the second wall. Aaron decides the Mystery of the Missing Bandana can wait while he solves the Mystery of the Text Notification. Besides, he has half an hour until Ellie arrives, and he needs to get the wall torn down by then.

He pulls his shirt collar up and over his nose, then slams the end of the crowbar into the second wall. When he drags it back, he reveals a tangled mess of vines. He takes his crowbar to the wall again and again, revealing a larger mass of roots, vines, and leaves with every swing. He tugs on them with his hands, but they won’t budge. He stands at the opening and stares. It’s not only the presence of the plants behind the wall that puzzles him, it’s their movement. They’re practically pulsing, slithering in and around one another, constantly in motion.

A piece of blue cloth appears a few inches in. His bandana.

“What the hell?” he mutters.

He pinches it between two fingers and pulls, but it’s in shreds, like something has chomped through it.

buzz buzz buzz

He spot the pale light of a phone buried deep within the vines.

He reaches for it, and a vine wraps itself around his wrist. He jerks backward. Another vine curls under his elbow.

Is his shirt hung on something? He looks down to see another vine curling through his belt loops.

buzz buzz buzz

His fingers brush across something unfamiliar, cool and doughy, near the phone.

It’s a human hand.

Aaron screams, and the roots pull him closer. He screams again.

The vines climb over his shoulders and slither between his legs, tighter and tighter, until he’s completely within the wall. Finally, they wrap around his neck, cutting off his screams.

Penny’s silhouette appears in the doorway.

Aaron struggles against the vines, gasping for air.

The old woman steps closer, her face blank. She tosses his phone into his toolbox and kicks it against the wall. His eyes widen as the vines absorb the box, until there is nothing.

“As I said, dear,” Penny says quietly, her gaze locking with his, “the plants take care of themselves.”

The roots pull at his arms and legs, stretching Aaron in every direction, poking his spine, twisting his feet. He feels his shoulders pop from their sockets; the balls of his hips slide out of place. The vines drag him deeper and deeper into the wall, enveloping him until only his two brown eyes, wide with horror, are visible.

Penny takes a step back to watch the wallpaper regenerate. The gold lines light up, tracing their path across the vines and creating a new closure. There’s a lot of rustling behind the new wall, and then everything goes still. She glances around the room and sighs, wiping the palms of her hands on her apron.

Tiny feet pound across the floor upstairs and the basement door creaks open. “Daddy?”

Penny leans out the doorway but keeps her eyes on the wall as she calls, “Ellie, dear? Come on down. He’s in here.”


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