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Scare It Forward: Undertow (2011)

Scare It Forward: Undertow (2011)

Note: Scare It Forward is a form of storytelling in the same vein as telling ghost stories around a campfire.  This year, there will be three different tales of terror written by 13 different authors who will contribute a chapter as they scare the story forward.  Every fourth day a new chapter will be published.

Chapter One

Brian Lane

July 24th, 2011

From the Piedra Gazette:

“RIVER CLAIMS FOUR ARIZONA TEENS, ONE REMAINS CLOSE TO DEATH

Four teenagers from the Piedra area were pronounced dead at the scene and another remains in critical condition after falling into a local river yesterday afternoon. Police have not released the names of the victims pending notification of next of kin. The remaining teenager, when asked what happened, blames the legendary ‘La Llorona’ (la yoh-rone-ah) stating that the creature pulled them under the water and held them there. Police believe shock, stating that a fisherman saw the group caught in a whirlpool before an undertow pulled them under. The fisherman is credited with saving the last teen. This has been one of the deadliest summers on records due to drowning in the area. This year alone, there have been…”

July 23rd, 2011

Grant felt his t-shirt clinging to his chest like drenched paper towels that had vainly attempted to clean up a gallon of spilt milk. The muggy air coated him with a damp blanket of moist heat. It felt as if he were going to melt like an 85-pound stick of human-shaped butter preheating in the oven loosely disguised as a truck bed. The stop sign was only a fleeting obstacle, however, and they began to resume their voyage down towards Rio de Serpiente.

The speeding truck created a formidable air stream, though this was not really a reprieve from the assault of summer heat. It only served to switch the blow drier to high, blasting his hair and clothing about violently. The gust made his inner tube buck ferociously in an attempt to become airborne, forcing Grant to grasp the scorching black surface with his bare arms. The exposed flesh was already red from his previous efforts at restraining the rubber behemoth.

Aside from the promise of floating partially submerged in cool water, his solace was the oversized, unfurling shirt of Lisa. It danced about seductively from the wind, revealing momentary glimpses of skin and bikini-clad breasts. Her long blond hair was like electricity, frenetically moving about in chaotic fashion as if trying to free itself from the confines of her beautiful head. She was breathtaking.

Next to her was Aaron. He was seventeen and played Lacrosse at Lincoln High. He was muscular, tan, and had short cropped jet-black hair. He was also Lisa’s boyfriend, and the two of them sat as close as you could while atop separate inner tubes.

Aaron was using his shirt as a shield from the scorching surface of the black rubber, leaving his chest bare and glistening from the summer sun. He wore dark sunglasses, which were secured around his neck by a fluorescent green cylindrical cloth. A darker green bead was cinched up in the back of the cloth tightly against his neck.

Lisa rolled over and opened the nearby ice chest, which was surrounded by an inflated smaller ring of inner tube. As she moved, Grant saw a gap in her white cutoff shorts open up in the movement and reveal the round shape of her buttocks, which were inadequately covered by her bikini bottoms. Grant felt secure in his anonymity with the darkness of his own sunglasses and the raging wind that conspired with him to mask his pleasurable sigh.

Lisa withdrew an ice cube and rubbed it over surface of her tube to keep it tolerable as a chair. The water dripped down in small rivulets along the bulging sides of the tube. She took the remainder of the melted ice and dripped it along her face and into her mouth, suckling the ice like a precious frozen delicacy. It was going to be a good day, Grant thought.

Grant felt his body react to the situation, his face burning flush with embarrassment. He crossed his legs the best he could without burning them on the exposed metal of the truck bed. In an effort to distract his mind, Grant looked through the sliding glass of the rear truck window at his sister Marleen. Marleen had flaming red hair and porcelain white skin; genetic traits shared with Grant. However, these features suited her much more than they did Grant. Marleen’s features were complimented by heredity. Conversely, Grant felt like the underbelly of a frog –a carrot-topped frog stomach with an overbite and raging hormones which chose to manifest themselves in a plague of acne. Grant sighed again, this time out of self-pity.

Soon, they had arrived. The old green Chevy pickup squealed on almost non-existent brake pads to a halt at the apex of March Hill. The sheer cliff face in front of them abruptly quashed the progress of any road. It was a sheer drop and Grant was thankful that the Chevy had been able to stop in time.

Kyle, Marleen’s boyfriend, jumped out from behind the driver’s side of the vehicle. Marleen followed suit, wailing in delight. More hoots and hollers emitted in reply from Aaron and Lisa. Grant opted for silence rather than risk being ostracized. It had suited him thus far. He was not about to break his cover, revealing what he feared his physical appearance already had. He worried that the others would guess his secret – that he did not belong in this group.

In fact, Grant felt like a kid who had snuck past a carnie worker by standing on his toes. “You must be this tall to ride”, the sign read as he skirted by. Only in this case, “you must be at least this cool to join”. He hoped the others didn’t notice he was standing on his tiptoes.

The gang was giddy with the promise of sexual tension and rebellion. By mere proximity, Grant could feel the mixture of raging hormones mounting within him through the process of osmosis. He grinned and clumsily hopped down from the tailgate to the asphalt below. He felt older, anyway, even if he didn’t entirely fit in.

Torrents of heat shimmered from the surface of the road. Grant could see the watery illusion on the horizon and could almost feel the waves of heat cooking the flesh of his feet through the flip flops. It prompted him to run, despite the wall of humid air that pounded down upon them.

Grant held firmly to his tube in one arm. Behind him, Aaron and Kyle grabbed the ice chest with one hand each and wrangled their own tubes with their free hands. Fleetingly, Grant thought that he should demonstrate his masculinity to the ladies by assisting with the ice chest. That intent quickly evaporated, though, as he realized he would be able to walk down to the river with Lisa unescorted by her boyfriend.

They jaunted off past the road and through the beige sand of the desert. The ground was devoid of all but the heartiest of weeds. The light, pebbly surface of the ground reflected the blearing rays of the sun back so brightly that even through sunglasses, Grant had to squint. It was hot. It was bright. Summer, in all its possible fury, screamed at them.

Grant walked in between Marleen and Lisa. Lisa had her free arm exposed to him and he held the inner tube in his opposite arm, shielding him from his sister. It was almost like Lisa and Grant were alone. If it weren’t for the occasionally giggling and chatter between the girls, and the crunch of rocks from labored footsteps behind, the illusion would be complete. It was the closest Grant had ever come to a date.

Suddenly, Grant felt his footing give with his loose flip flops and tried to correct. It was too little and too late. His arms flailed, sending the inner tube careening out of control and rolling towards the river – unmanned. Grant took a spill down the searing and jagged rocks of the steep embankment. Like hot sandpaper, flesh peeled away from his backside and the palms of his hands where he had attempted to cushion the fall.

The group laughed collectively, sharing in the misery of the fallen boy. Grant tried to laugh, too, but he was mortified. He couldn’t believe that he had done it again. Just when things were really getting good for him, he had to go and do something stupid by “pulling a Grant”. That is what Marleen had always called it when he did something that embarrassed her (and usually himself). He “pulled a Grant”, she would always say.

The hot ground continued to burn, but Grant felt like he deserved a little more pain. It would take his mind off of the fact that Lisa had seen the whole thing. Finally, Lisa herself broke the awkward moment.
“Are you okay, Grant?” She asked, sounding slightly ashamed for having laughed uncontrollably.

Grant’s hearted soared at hearing Lisa speak his name at all. It was almost worth the pain to hear her talk to him directly. “Yeah, no problem.” He said, smiling and gazing into her beautiful face. He could imagine her sparkling blue eyes behind the frames of her black sunglasses rimmed in white plastic.

“Too bad your tube is halfway to Phoenix by now.” said Kyle.

Grant felt flushed again, forcing himself to break Lisa’s gaze and focus on his inner tube. It had rolled all the way into the water and was, indeed, floating away without him. More laughter punctuated his misfortune. Grant was relieved to see that Lisa was not contributing this time, but was genuinely concerned for him. “Go fetch it, Grantster.” taunted Aaron.

Rather than attempt to run and risk falling again (or worse), Grant opted for the illusion of apathy and shrugged his shoulders. He took it even further, shouting out after the tube, “Have a nice time!”

The gang laughed, and Grant got the feeling that they were responding to his joke and not laughing at his expense. It felt good. Marleen said, “Aren’t you going to get it, Grant?”

“No way I can catch that thing” He replied.

“Well, what are you going to do?” Marleen asked, voice tinged with frustration.
If she had considered taking her brother along a mistake, then this had cemented the deal. If it hadn’t been for their mother, Grant probably would have been left at home. Grant’s purpose, of course, was to chaperone Marleen through the mere fact that she wouldn’t “try” something with her little brother in tow. Marleen resented him for it and Grant knew that.

Grant looked away from the group, trying to quash tears forming in his eyes. Through the watery filter, he saw a woman upstream on the bank. She was covered in muck and weeds. Her skin was white and filigreed with spidery blue veins, portions of flesh flayed with bone showing through. Her eye sockets were gaping black holes, loose tendrils of hair clinging to an otherwise bald scalp. She beckoned to Grant.

He gasped in shock. He turned to the others, eyes wide with fright. Marleen noticed Grants face had grown pale. “Grant, what’s wrong?” She asked.

Grant looked back to the frightening woman, his finger already pointing out the wicked specter. Only, the thing wasn’t there. In the creature’s place was a small cottonwood growing on the bank of the river. “I thought I saw…” He began.

“What?” Lisa asked.

Grant shook his head, not wanting to elicit any more laughter at his expense. “Nothing.” He replied.

Chapter 2

Dan Dillard

Aaron shook his head and patted Grant on the back.

“You rattle something loose in that fall, G?”

Grant laughed halfheartedly at the statement and threw an uncomfortable glance back to the cottonwood tree. It was definitely not a river-slime covered dead woman. He breathed deeply and after a few blinks for reassurance, he determined it was just a tree all along. The girls followed his gaze wondering what he was looking at.

“It’s just water, bro,” Marleen said.

He cut his eyes at her, clear of his daze.

“No, I’m cool.”

As soon as the crew reached the water, Grant leaned down on the bank and dipped his hands, cooling the sting of the scratches in his palms. The water rushed over his skin, taking the orange dust of the desert along for the ride. The pain in his hands was quickly replaced by a calming, alluring sensation. For a split second, he wanted to dive in, then Marleen checked on her little brother one more time. They fought a lot, and she resented his presence. But she would resent it exponentially more if something happened to him.

“You sure you’re ok? You’re so pale, more than usu…”

“Fine,” Grant interrupted, shrugging off her hand. “I’m fine.”

Marleen rolled her eyes and then sunk back in and under Kyle’s muscular arm. He obliged with a G-rated shoulder level hug and kissed her on the cheek. Grant cupped water in his hands and brought them to his face to cool his pale skin and slick back his hair.  The cold liquid refreshed him and brought him back to the relaxed state he was entering just before the fall.

A primal scream startled Grant and the others. The sound resembled something you might hear in a jungle scene of a bad adventure movie. Aaron screamed by them wailing like a fire-engine before leaping at the bank into the river and entering the water with Olympic level form.

Lisa screamed, “Aaron!” Then she stomped her foot in a huff.

“He’s going to hurt himself,” she said.

A moment later, he broke the water’s surface, swimming a practiced freestyle and gaining ground on the refugee inner tube. Kyle let out a hoot and the group began cheering him on. Even Grant, who was jealous of everything about Aaron, mostly the fact that he got to put his hands on Lisa.

“Aa-ron, Aa-ron!” they yelled as he swam.

One final push put him within arm’s reach of the tube and he grabbed it triumphantly. Aaron flipped the tube up over his head and pulled himself up to rest the rubber under his armpits. He’d moved down river far enough that he had to yell back, “What are you shits waiting for? Water’s great!”

Lisa smiled wide displaying perfect teeth and waved at her champion. Aaron kicked against the current and brought Grant’s tube back to the shore and Grant was there to help him out.

“Thanks, buddy,” Aaron said.

“No problem,” Grant said.

Then he watched Aaron receive a hug from his dream girl. The pain in his chest stemmed not just from his desire for her, but also because Aaron had always been friendly to him. It wasn’t enough to be popular, athletic and dating Lisa… he was a good guy.

The sun amped up the energy and the rush of flowing water became that much more enticing. Kyle was hungrily smearing sunblock on Marleen’s creamy skin. She only let his hands go so far before finishing the job with a smirk. Then she tossed the tube to her brother. He dabbed his face and the tops of his ears and feet. He opted to keep on his t-shirt to hide the candy-cane look of his farmer’s tan against his pasty skin.

Aaron popped open the cooler and pulled out a six pack of light beer. He popped one open while still attached to the plastic rings and took a long drink.

“Where’d you get that?” Lisa asked.

“Dad’s fridge in the garage. There’s usually two or three cases in there, he’ll never notice.”

He popped his can loose and handed the rest to her. She took one and tossed them on to Kyle and Marleen.

“You have a Coke in there—maybe some chocolate milk? Not sure Grant can handle a beer,” Marleen said.

“I’m not the one who was pukin’ in the sink last Friday, am I?” he replied.

He stuck out his slight chest at the victory, which was met with ooh’s and aah’s from the rest. Aaron and Kyle clapped their hands in appreciation. Grant winked at his sister and pulled a beer from the pack. He walked the last one back to the pickup truck and opened the lid to the cooler.  As the wind blew across the top of the ice-filled container, the cool air sent a chill down his spine. He turned around and joined the rest, but was met with dead, hollow eyes and rancid, ancient smelling breath.

“Where are they?” the woman-thing hissed.

Her long bony fingers gripped his shoulders. The blue veins pulsed inside the skin of her clammy white cheeks and she repeated the question with more desperation, more anger.

“Where arrre theeeyyy?!”

The question turned into a screech, like a hawk flying overhead, and as the awful noise faded, so did her apparition. Grant turned the can of beer up and emptied it, then reached back in the cooler for the second one before joining the others.

Chapter 3

Alan Berger

Sunset hit the sky like a bucket of blood. Camping out would never have been an option under ordinary circumstances. But the dumb battery crapping out gave them the perfect excuse. Their cell phones worked fine and they could have called triple A right then and there, but this was too good an opportunity to let pass. The plan was they’d say they were in a dead zone by the river and only after they’d walked a mile back toward the highway were they able to call for help. They didn’t dare walk in the dark because they were afraid they’d get lost and they heard the coyotes out there. You wouldn’t have wanted us to risk running into a pack of coyotes, would you ma?

It was a jackass six-pack of teen lies but they figured they’d be able to fill in the holes during the inevitable parental cross examination as they always had. As long as Grant didn’t fold under questioning. Grant who they wished wasn’t there. But he was, so he needed to become a partner in crime.

Lisa, Marleen, Aaron and Kyle were in the water splashing and dunking each other while Grant gathered scraps of sagebrush for the fire in the fading light. This was his initiation into their giddy venture, the hazing into their fraternity – do the work while they played in the river.

The cooler contained another six-pack, a pack of hot dogs and several huge bags of chips. Darkness fell fast and the five roasted the dogs over the crackling fire and stuffed their faces with chips.

“I don’t know …” said Grant.

“That’s right, you don’t,” Marleen said. “Shit, my stick’s on fire!” They all laughed. She pulled off the charred dog to chants of “Eat it, eat it!” She did and it tasted great like an animal kill, even better than the carne asada and the shot of Johnny Walker Black Label her dad bought her at El Zarapes in Nogales every other weekend when he had custody.

“Don’t tell your mom and all that shit,” he’d always say. He’d been buying her drinks since she was thirteen. They were buds. She’d had to put her big girl pants on early. She was okay with the divorce. Grant though, Grant never talked about it and held it all inside.

“How’s Grant? her dad always asked. “How’s he doin’?”

“Fine,” was all he got and all he really wanted.

The five of them smoked dope in the back of the truck. The cold air rushed in replacing the day heat before their sweat had dried. The radio was on to a Spanish station, the only one they could find. In the machine gun Spanish they could pick out an ad about a supermarket, something about a wedding, followed by a ranchera song, achingly sad and dedicated to Juanita or maybe that was the singer. Kyle made up a story about the poor girl left behind by the guy who married her high school rival and how she blew her brains out and made them all sorry they messed with her. When it got cold, they crowded into the truck cab, engine running, heat blasting, radio on loud and continued to smoke, leaving Lisa and Aaron in the truck bed.

Grant was jealous and the weed made him paranoid. “What if they call the cops? What if they think we’re dead?”

“You’re gonna be dead if you don’t keep your story straight,” Kyle warned. “We couldn’t help it, remember? The battery died.”

Marleen had a coughing fit. “Gotta cough to get off,” said Kyle.

They were on a laughing jag, high. In the background the patter of the Spanish DJ and the music with the ragged horns and beer beat turned the desert into a sawdust bar and the stars into the flare on the black jackets of the Mariachi.

Grant couldn’t take the smoke. Coughing, he stepped out and slammed the truck door. He breathed the cold night air into his lungs. He could see his sister and Kyle starting to make out in the truck cab. He walked past the back of the truck and saw Lisa and Aaron’s feet sticking out from under the ratty tarp they were using as a blanket, a thin gold chain around Lisa’s ankle. Maybe he’d just walk home. They’d never miss him.

Aaron heard Grant’s foot snap a manzanita twig and stuck his head out.

“Grant? What the hell do you want?” What Grant wanted was to be the thin gold chain on Lisa’s ankle, the silent witness to her sleeping and rising, putting on her makeup in the mirror, doing her algebra homework, partying, watching TV in her PJs, doing it with Aaron. Hating the thought, Grant slunk into the dark.

Aaron ducked back under the tarp and resumed an interrupted kiss.

“Lisa… Come on…”

” What are you doing?” There was a war of hands going on. Territories once possessed were lost then won again. Aaron made his way up under her half-unbuttoned shirt, across the silken battlefield to breasts without bra that had been his in her bedroom one hot afternoon, her mother in the kitchen calling “You alright in there?” while they stifled giggles.

“What about LeeAnne?”

“What about her?

“You think I’m stupid?”

“I don’t care about LeeAnne. She’s just messing with you.”

The top button of her jeans was already unbuttoned. Somebody on the inside had unbarred the door. He slipped out of his jeans. A few words about protection, assurances he’d be careful and he was in.

He stopped and listened to her heartbeat, listened to the night sounds, coyotes, probably a mile away, and the radio sounding close and far away at the same time. Then blood racing, forgetting her, forgetting everything, he came. When he woke up a minute or an hour later, she was asleep up against him. He heard the radio playing faintly from the front cab. It was some lucky somebody’s birthday. He could pick out the words with his High School Spanish. Feliz cumplianos. And then faintly…

Estas son las mananitas que cantaba el Rey David

He felt the truck rock slightly and looked out. The back gate was open. He must have left it that way. Grant? He thought he saw him sitting far off by some distant chaparral. Lisa stirred sleepily. He put his hand on the curve of her hip.

Faintly from the radio: Hoy por ser día de tu santo te las cantamos a ti

He lay back relaxing against her when suddenly somebody grabbed his ankles and pulled him out from under the tarp and off the truck bed. He hit the ground hard. He grunted in pain and tried to sit up but was thrown back and dragged.

“Grant, you motherfucker!” It wasn’t Grant.

Cold bony hands dragged him feet first toward the river. He caught a glimpse of something black and flowing. It was a she, he saw lips and eyes and a blur of long dark hair that lashed him as he struggled. Rocks and manzanita cut into him. Greasewood made long, bloody scratches on his naked legs and butt. He yelled but no one heard and the radio played…

Despierta mil bien, despierta, mira que ya amaneció…

The children danced around the fire, holding sparklers in their little hands. Waving sparklers in the night air, mixed with the sparks rising from the fire. Maria felt such love for them. It was the little one’s birthday. She and mother and the neighbors sang

Ya los pajarillos cantan, la luna lya se metio

Was it possible to love two children so without your heart bursting? It was, because she did.

Aaron couldn’t break the steel grip of her bony fingers.

“Lisa!”

The woman pulled him down into the icy current. He gasped for air and water filled his lungs. He flailed his arms and was pulled down deeper, drowning. The last thing he saw were two sparklers criss-crossing the surface of the water above him.

Chapter 4

Kathy Gori

The sparklers of the children flickered through the dark, flashing and darting  like the candles that night in the chapel. She could hear other revelers in the distance even from here, wrapped in the cocoon of the cottonwoods and willow trees that her husband had brought from Mexico City, down the fine gravel drive  that was silver in the moonlight, through the great iron gates mounted with his Arms. Hers now too. She was his wife after all.

Down the sloping red rocks, across the river and down along its’ banks, families like hers gathered round their fires celebrating the feast day. The birthday of the Masters’ sons. Her sons. But these families weren’t like hers. Perhaps once they were a long, long time forever ago. Before she came of age. Before she grew so beautiful. Before Him.

Once she had been like her children, sweet, innocent, running barefoot through the fields, splashing in the Rio de Los Almas. It was how he had first seen her that day. In the river. The beads of cold silvery water sparkling in her hair. She had undone her braids and the black curtain of hair had fanned out behind her like dark wings.

At first she hadn’t noticed him as he sat upon his horse on the opposite bank. She sang to herself as she enjoyed a rare moment away from her family away from the cares of tending the younger children, away from the cooking and washing and the thousand other cares that consumed her young life.

It was the sudden silence that first let her know she was being watched. The absence of birdsong, the rustle of the leaves, even the wind seemed to have stopped. There was a silvery jingle and flash of something silver in the sun and  she saw him on the opposite bank, the harness of his palomino glittering with silver. She gasped and stumbled backwards toward the bank.

In one swift movement his horse stood ankle deep in the water barely 10 feet from her. She held her breath trembling, wrapping her hair about herself. Every muscle tensed as she prepared to run, and then just as suddenly, he wheeled the horse with a great flare of water and silvery glare, thundered up the bank  and vanished in the scrub oak and manzanita.

She quickly scrambled for her clothing and hurriedly dressing in the water, always looking in the direction he’d ridden off into, backed up the bank and tore home.

She said nothing of what had happened and no one asked her about why she was so wet, where she had been. She hastily braided her damp hair, wrapped her apron around herself and set to making supper. The heat of the fireplace quickly dried any traces of the afternoon and the flushed face she wore home. That night in the bed she shared with her small brothers and sisters, she dreamed of flying through the river like a fish, breaking the water with a scattering of diamonds.

The next morning a basket was found on the doorstep. Inside was tobacco for her father, a silver thimble and colored threads for her mother, some sweets for the children, all of it wrapped in a piece of soft ancient lace. A crested card was enclosed, his crest, written on it one word, her name.

The courtship, if it could be called that, was a mere formality. For all intents and purposes, her family being tenants on his land, he already owned her. That he would go through the formality of giving her his name and taking her to wife seemed to  be to his family and friends a form of insanity. But he was young and proud and would not be dissuaded, and she was a good and honest girl. He would have what he wanted. Documents were drawn up. Her father was given title to the little piece of land had worked for 20 years, her mother given some new gowns befitting the mother-in-law of the Don, the brothers and sisters sent off to Santa Fe to school with the nuns and priests.

They were married quietly and soon in his family’s chapel. His mother wept through the ceremony. His sisters had taken themselves off to Mexico City to attend a family baptism and so sent their regrets. Her family of course did not attend, but they were sent an ox and wine from the hacienda and had their own fiesta in the village for their family and friends. She stood at the window of her bridal chamber that night in the lace and silk he had ordered from Paris and through a parting in the heavy velvet curtains, watched the faint glow of lights through the tops of the cottonwoods on the other side of the river. If she turned her head just so she could almost hear music.

Their honeymoon was spent in the Big House. Unlike the traditions of his class, there was no bridal journey, no wedding trip. No visits by the happy couple to friends and relations. He wanted to share her with no one. She thought perhaps he was ashamed and regretted his choice, but he seemed happy. He called her his rough diamond, his rose in the mud.

Soon she was with child and he gave her a heavy strand of pearls, a treasure from the great ocean to grace his queen from the river, he said. To his great delight she gave birth to twin sons. Dark haired dark eyed. Dos Arbolitos she called them as they lay on either side of her in the big, carved ebony bed.

Han nacido en mi rancho dos arbolitos,
Dos arbolitos que parecen gemelos,
Y desde mi casita los veo solitos
Bajo el amparo santo y la luz del cielo.

Two little trees have been born on my ranch,
Two little trees that look like twins,
And from my little house I see them alone,
Under the holy protection and the light of the heavens.

He came into her room that evening, the lamps were barley lit, and saw in the fading light she was nursing them. The next morning a wet nurse was sent for from the village. “Great ladies do not nurse like cats or sows” she was told.  And she contented herself with rocking the boys to sleep after they’d been fed, but he came to her room less and less.

The boys grew sturdy and strong and he brought a tutor from Mexico City to school them in the ways of gentlemen. They sat at a great wooden table in the library, their feet not touching the floor, swinging below their chairs. He began to spend greater and greater amounts of time riding his land, out till all hours. He dined alone late and did not return many evenings until early morning.

Her life was her children. In the evenings she would sit by their beds and tell them stories of growing up on the other side of the river, of  Borreguitta and Coyote, and The Trickster and The Serpent and The Sun. They would show her the brightly colored images in their story books and tell her what was written there. Her mother came to help a bit with the boys and she begged her, “please, don’t go, stay another few days or a week.”

In the afternoon they would play games in the walled garden, hide and seek. They would chase her, and even though she was always found, she began to feel lost. He didn’t like his boys running barefoot “like common mestizos” he would say, her boys too, but that hardly mattered now. She knew what he meant by “common mestizos.” He talked of sending them away to school at the end of the year. Perhaps to Mexico City, perhaps to Spain.

And so here they were, the last night the twins would be at home. Their little trunks were packed. They were being sent to who knows where. Certainly she was not told. The big ivory colored envelope packets might have been in Mayan for all the meaning they had for her. He would not answer her questions. He wasn’t there to answer them.

He was staying away for longer periods, and stories would come back to her from the servants who had ways seemingly of knowing everything.

He was in Santa Fe where he bought a fine blooded mare and a silver mounted ladies’ saddle. He was in Taos where he gambled into the night and danced at a fandango till dawn. He was in San Antonio where he attended a bailer with the niece of the Governor of Monterrey. The letters that came were few and far between, and never addressed to her as she could not read. They mentioned the land and the livestock and the servants and the crops, always the Twins, but never a word for her. And now tonight she was alone with her boys for who knew how long. She was already fading out of her husband’s life, out of her boys’ lives like some pale ghost.

She was startled out of her reverie by a bang. Across the river, a missile shot up from the trees and exploded in colors over the water. Fireworks. The boys squealed in delight. “Mama! Mama! See! Look! The fireworks!”

They raced down the path toward the river. They tore through the big iron gates and stood at the side of the road that ran along the river, open mouthed, gaping at the riot of colors exploding above them in the sky. She knelt beside them holding them near, enjoying the touch and smell of them close to her for one last time.

Suddenly one of the boys wrenched himself away from her and darted down the road toward a fast moving one horse chaise drawn by a tall chestnut horse.

“Papa papa!!!”

The other boy ran after his brother. The hanging carriage lamp swung an arc of light. It was him. He slowed the chaise to a stop. The children were ecstatic with excitement. They chattered about the fireworks and their upcoming journey.

She glided up behind them. She was glad she had put on a fresh gown this evening, the white one that showed off her tawny skin. He had always liked it. When she wore it he called her his dark angel.

She ran her fingers across her pearls.  “Calmate ninos, calmare.”

“These are my boys,” he announced. “My treasures.”

To whom? There was a second figure in the carriage, a tall slender young woman, dark of hair, fair of skin. She was elegantly dressed in silks and satins. Small diamond earbobs peeped out of the looping coils of her dark hair. Her eye was drawn to one graceful be-ringed white hand; it rested gently, possessively, on his arm. As the woman leaned forward to greet the boys, she caught the fragrance of gardenias.

Her voice was soft, caressing.  The children each took her hand and gave a sharp little bow as they had been taught.

“Such delightful boys” she said

“Are you ready for your journey my fine lads?”

“Yes, Papi, we’re going in the big carriage and then on the big ship, and Manuel is afraid that the sea monsters will pull him down into the ocean and eat him”

“No I’m not afraid, am I Mama? Tell him.”

His eyes brushed across her, barely seeing her. He gave the reins a shake.

“Walk on,” he said to the horse. The carriage passed by them; he never looked back.

Later when they asked her, shouted at her, when he screamed at her, shook her, struck her, she could never explain what happened that night. All the rage, all the fury, all the loneliness poured out. In a long agonizing primal wail. She bent double, and fell to her knees wracked as though she were giving birth.

She hated him, she hated herself for believing him, for believing that he could want her as a wife, as an equal and not just as a brood mare for his family name. She would punish him. She had no power. He would throw her out, he would find a way. He could get their marriage annulled if ever it was a marriage at all. Already he was taking her children from her. She had bored him, she was not worthy. All he wanted was the children. The children.

She heard the voices raised in singing from across the river. Dos Arbolitos.

The boys were at the river bank poking with a stick at the rapidly rushing water. There had been a heavy snow melt in the mountains that year. The water was running black and silvery in the moonlight. And cold.

They were still chivvying each other about sea monsters, and stating their courage. She stepped up softly behind them. Listening to them. Smelling them, feeling their warmth. Missing them. They were already gone. One turned to her and smiled, he had the eyes of his father.

“Mama I.. why are you crying?” They turned to her putting their little arms about her waist. She held them close, tightly, one in each arm, and gripping them, launched herself into the swiftly flowing current.

The frigid water cut like a knife. She was screaming, the children were screaming. Flailing about in the water. They were being pulled toward the center of the river, all of them. They were already gone. With a gasp she let them go.  She wrenched herself back toward the bank clinging to a rotted stump and stones and anything else she could. Her hands were cut and bleeding. She didn’t feel them. She didn’t feel anything. Behind her in the water two small dark heads were swept under.

Nunca están separados uno del otro
Porque así quiso Dios que los dos nacieran,
Y con sus mismas ramas se hacen caricias

They are never separated one from the other
Because God wanted the two born that way,
And with their very branches they caress each other.

Chapter Five

Heaven Liegh Eldeen

Dawn broke bringing with it the stale, dry heat of the desert. The cab of the old truck was quickly becoming an oven, broiling Marleen and Kyle inside. Marleen stirred, nestling her head into Kyle’s lap in hopes it would give her the comfort to fall back asleep. Unfortunately, the beer from the previous night was weighing heavy on her bladder, preventing her from doing so.

Unable to hold her body’s natural morning urges, Marleen hopped out of the truck, letting go of the loose hinged door. The sudden slam startled Kyle out of his dope induced slumber. Another slam rifled through the calm as Kyle exited the parked jalopy.

“What the hell babe?” Kyle said through a stifling yawn as he stretched his masculine form towards the Heavens.

“I gotta pee. I’ll be right back.” Marleen stalked off into the brush. Sneaking a glance behind her to make sure she had as much privacy as you could expect in the barren land. Behind her, Kyle jumped up and down on the back bumper calling for Aaron and Lisa to awake.

A few more paces and Marleen would be clear of any prying eyes watching her as she relieved herself. Her foot planted down on what she thought a fallen Cottonwood branch that felt oddly pulpous and stiffly rolled under her sandals. The branch released a painful moan as she pressed her foot down to solidify her step.

“Ow!” Branches don’t moan! Marleen stumbled back. Unable to correct her balance she landed butt first, scraping the bottom of her oval buttocks and erupting a mushroom cloud of hot orange sand. Through the dust a thin hand appeared reaching towards her. Instinct kicked in overriding her need to expel the pressure on her bladder. Had she had less control of her internal organs she may have just let it go. Marlene’s feet began back peddling with the speed of a road runner, dragging her butt across the desert floor. The echo of laughter broke through her silent terror. Marlene’s feet stopped cycling through the sand.

Her anger rose hotter than the mid-morning sun when she realized she had simply tripped over her brother’s leg as he slept under the umbrella of towering Cottonwood. Kyle and Lisa bared witness to the debacle. Their rolling laughs were just an irritation but the smirk on Grant’s face and unnecessary remark as he reached out to help her up was the final straw.

“Pulling a Grant?” Grant reveled in his slight comedic crack.

Marleen always took advantage of any situation to add further ridicule and embarrassment towards Grant and though he by no means made up for all of the times she laughed at his expense, he felt empowered with his small victory.

Marleen would have none of it. Smacking his hand away, she surged up dusting herself off. A million and two vile names raced through her head as she readied herself to blow up on her annoying, tag-a-long, little brother when Lisa called out.

“Hey is Aaron with you guys?”

Taking in a brief survey of the surrounding area both Marlene and Grant felt comfortable in saying that Aaron was in fact not with them.

“Not over here. Thought he was in the back of the truck with you?” Marleen hollered back to Lisa

Grant didn’t need the reminder of his lovely Lisa sleeping with Aaron. It was the reason he distanced himself from the smooching duo, finding solace in the brush of the river embankment, out of ear shot of Aaron’s overly ape-ish grunts as he mounted the object of Grant’s affection. There he could dream it was he who caressed her creamy soft skin while their dueling tongues battle to a war drum only they heard.   In his dreams Lisa was indeed his and his alone. He just prayed no one noticed the stiffened seam of his short where he wiped away the evidence of his fantasies.

“Dude probably got lost going to take a piss.”  Kyle hooted while he did his own version of watering the plants.

“Well we should go look for him.” Lisa’s seemingly worrisome tone gave Grant an idea. He saw an opportunity like no other to have just a few moments completely alone with Lisa. Maybe that would be enough time for her to see past the boy’s pocked up cheeks, lanky lean build and awkwardness and see that he was her soul mate. It was a long shot but a shot none-the-less.

“I’ll help you look Lisa.”

“Thanks Grant.”  Lisa directed a demure smile Grant’s way. It was the zap he was looking for. He felt now that he alone carried super human powers. He would single handedly defeat any evil that dared presented itself before him. He would find Aaron, forever solidifying himself as a worthy suitor in Lisa’s lavish baby blue eyes.

“Uh…you coming?”  Lisa snapped her immaculate fingers nails in the day dreamer’s face, startling him back to reality.

“Yeah. By the looks of Marleen’s pee-pee dance, I think we should look up stream.” Grant enjoyed the small giggle that fluttered from Lisa.

Marleen bounced in circles squeezing her hands between her thighs, awaiting Kyle to escort her into the sage thickets. A few effortlessly bounds, Kyle’s agile figure made his way to Marleen’s side. The two lovers went off downstream in search of nature’s port-a-potty before beginning their search for their missing friend.

Grant took the lead of the search party of two, in a desperate attempt to prove some unseen manhood, and calling for Aaron as they made their way toward the bottom of the embankment. Grant’s flip-flop gave way under the rocky sloped landscape. The bedrock tore at his thigh as he descended on the gradual incline. Just feet from the water’s edge Grant’s body lost all momentum and came to a still.

Pebbles pummeled his head as Lisa rushed to his aide in perfect Bay Watch form. Grants face turned redder than crimson of Lisa’s bikini.  The feel of her warm skin of her palm grasping his as she struggled to help him up off of his hip, eradicated all feelings of contrition. He was willing to fall a thousand times if it meant her touching him with each fall.

In mid pull of his wrist, Lisa suddenly halted all movement.

“Don’t move.” Lisa’s voice was just above a church mouse’s whisper. Steadily she knelt down, picking up a large sandy beige rock. Grant’s attention was diverted from Lisa to the sound of an inner tube slowly deflating. What he found was no inner tube but a thick coil of blackened green scales mere centimeters from his right ankle.

“Okay now!” Lisa called as she hurled the stone at the venomous serpent. Grants scurried up the slope barely escaping the life threatening bite. Before a breath could be caught between them,   an ear shattering scream sent desert swallows fleeing from the trees.

The scream came from Kyle and Marleen’s direction.  It wasn’t the screaming of finding a friend who may or may not have gotten lost. It was the scream of urgency and danger.  Fueled by adrenaline Grant and Lisa bolted towards the area of the unknown emergency.

They pushed through the brush and found Kyle lifting Aaron’s limp but conscious body from the river shore. A discombobulated Marleen stood off to the side with her hands folded in front of her.  Her hands were too dainty to cover the wet ring on the front of her khaki shorts. The blazing sun above baked the aroma of sage brush and urine in air. Marleen had pissed herself.

This would seem like the perfect time to take revenge for the years Marleen punished Grant for being the younger sibling but Grant knew all too well what she must have been feeling. Shortly after his parents’ divorce he experienced a dreadful period of bed wetting on a nightly basis. Though it had been years since he felt the shame of putting on his big kid diapers just to sleep, he never forgot what it was like when someone found out about his nightly gushing’s. No. This one was off limits. No words or commiserations needed be spoken. They wouldn’t help anyways. Grant put his arms around his sister, giving her shoulder a squeeze.

“I thought he was dead.” She said under her breath, just enough that only Grant could hear her.

“Hey G give me a hand.” Kyle’s bulk couldn’t carry Aaron’s dead weight on its own. Grant was hesitant to touch another naked man’s body but he was the better candidate since Marleen was practically catatonic and he definitely didn’t want the thought of Lisa touching it. He had heard enough of her doing that last night.

Grant slipped his head under Aaron’s dangled arm, pulling it over his shoulder. Lisa led the way back to truck while Kyle and Grant struggled getting a semi-conscious Aaron up the lithic, chalky riverfront, Marleen somberly followed.

“eh-uh-gno.” Aaron moaned an inaudible grumble. The motley crew ignored the mumbles of their in capacitated friend. With a heave Kyle and Grant lifted Aaron in to the bed of the Chevy.

“We na-eed ta ga-go. We ha-hafta ta lee-leave.” Aaron’s slowly articulated, warily trying to sit up.

“No way, bud. Not ‘til you sober up some or we’ll all get busted for sure.”   Kyle shoved a bag of deep fried, processed potatoes in his friends lap.

“We have to go now! She’ll kill us all!” A fully revived and panicked Aaron pushed off the bed onto his feet. Ferally he scratched on the handle of the locked truck door.

“What’s wrong?” Lisa gently laid her hand on his back in a futile attempt at soothing the wild Aaron. Aaron violently lashed his back at Lisa, flinging her into a boulder. A fraction of a second was all it took for Grant to be possessed by the full power of rage. Images of murder flashed in his eyes. Before he could register what he was doing, Grant lunged towards Aaron, slamming him into the truck with the hurricane force before pinning him by the collar of his chest against the truck door. Their eyes locked.

“Whoa G. Relax! Damn how much did you have to drink last night Aaron?”  Kyle entered the fray between the boys.

“Eyes so black. Never seen eyes so black.” Sheer terror fought tears for position in Aaron’s eyes. Obviously the four ill-equipped teens were dealing with a person who quite possibly hit his head in a drunken stooper, suffer from heat exhaustion or somehow transformed from normal, well-adjusted, hormone driven teen to a mentally unstable lunatic in a matter of hours.  Whatever the case, Grant knew they needed to contain the wild beast before anyone else got hurt.

Chapter 6

Dan Dillard, Will Newell, and William Castle

Grant and Kyle helped Aaron to the bed of the truck and laid him down carefully. The early evening was silent, save for an occasional and unforgiving hot breeze. Even the insects, it seemed, had run for shade only to emerge later and forage. All four watched in stunned silence as Aaron drifted in and out of consciousness. When he was not out he was sleep-talking something about a crazed woman and  fireworks.

“Is he ok?” Marleen asked.

Tears began to form in the corners of her hazel  eyes. Her parents had been her citadel in any and every difficult situation and Kyle showed neither concern, nor any distinguishable notice for her at all. Grant patted her on the shoulder as he rounded the couple to check on his true love.

Lisa rubbed her hip where a bruise was already starting to show. Grant watched her with unyielding determination. He wanted to be the one to take care of her. He wanted her to know how he felt. But even as he came into her field of view, her beautiful eyes never moved from Aaron’s slumped, semi-conscious form.

“Are you ok?” Grant asked her.

Staring at Aaron she said, “I’m fine, really.”

Then, dutifully, she climbed onto the truck bed and placed her hand on Aaron’s chest. Apart from his mumbling and heavy breathing, he didn’t budge. Lisa quickly glanced over at the others.  It was a look that said, “I have first watch.” The others walked a few steps away so their whispers wouldn’t disturb Aaron’s tortured rest.

Kyle stood in front of Marleen and Grant. Grant’s back was to the truck.

“You gotta stop drooling over Lisa, bro. It’s getting kinda weird.”

Grant’s face flushed. “We need to focus on Aaron. He’s hurt.”

“What happened? What do you think he saw?” Marleen said, tears now running down her sunburn cheeks.

“He just drank one too many beers. He’s dehydrated, that’s all,” Kyle said. “We got to get him home, but it’s gonna to be a bitch explaining everything to our parents. We’re gonna be in a shit load of trouble.”

Grant shook his head, gesturing wildly with his hands, “Maybe we shouldn’t move him. What if he’s really injured, man? Moving him could be bad. Or what if he freaks out again while we’re driving?” Grant’s concern caught Marleen’s eye.

Marleen took a deep breath, inhaling through her nose and exhaling through her mouth. She then grabbed her brother’s arm to slow him down.

“Kyle, he’s right. We should give him some time.” Marleen said, in a hushed, concerned tone.

“But if he’s hurt, he needs a doctor.”

Marleen’s whisper rose to an audible, not quite angry tone.

“If he wigs out in the truck, it could kill us all. You saw what he was like before, didn’t you?”

Kyle squinted his eyes and clenched his jaw before conceding. He sighed his audible disapproval, glanced quickly at the pick-up truck and then began to bark out orders, as he usually does.

“Grant, get some wood and start a fire before it gets dark. We have to keep everyone warm while we wait. Then we need to scrape together whatever food and water we have left.”

The sun glided across the sky just below the horizon and the temperature slid along with it. Grant gathered a bundle of twigs and some driftwood that was dry to the touch. He angled his eye glasses to catch the sun, and had a small fire blazing within moments. He sat with his sister. Without their parents around, he was her protecter that night and she was thankful to have family present.

..ooOOoo..

Nothing was ever darker. No matter what direction he turned, and no matter how hard he squinted and opened his eyes, he saw nothing…no movement whatsoever, not a glimmer of anything. Aaron struggled to find a guide in the emptiness that surrounded him. He screamed, straining his dehydrated throat and lungs, for help.

“Anybody! Where are you!?! Lisa!”

All he heard was the sound of his own labored breathing. He blinked repeatedly in hopes that a glimpse of light would squeeze its way into his blackened scope of vision. He felt like a blind man. Then he strained his ears to hear, ending in the same empty results. He heard his own voice, but nothing else. Not even the gushing water in the nearby river. He touched his hands together and was thankful at the feeling, then touched them to his chest, kneeling and touching the ground beneath him.

“Lisa! Grant!” he screamed.

He waited and listened. He counted the seconds between each breath, praying for some response. It came in the form of wet, trudging footfalls and dripping water. The noise cut through the silence with ease and startled him with each vivid step. His body shuddered. He knew who or what was coming.

“No,” he whispered. “Not again.”

His feet scrambled for purchase in the soft earth, the sand sliding and providing no traction. The thuds came closer, and the smell of river muck and decay soon enveloped him. Aaron clawed into the grainy, harsh soil and pulled his body forward with all his strength, smacking his face squarely into a pair of slime-covered, ice cold legs that stunk of death. Before he could even recoil, she was on top of him, breathing that wet stink in his face.

“Where aaaare they?” she hissed.

Light from some unknown source shrouded the hideous female head. Her eyes, murky blue at that slight distance, pierced into his own as she grabbed at his clothes and pulled him to a standing position. Then she shook him, harder with each word.

“Where….are….they?” she shrieked.

Aaron did all that he could to struggle free, but her grip was as strong as the odor she gave off. Her unflinching grasp was as merciless as her piercing eyes that rolled over white, like a frenzied shark.

She shook him again. Again. And again.

Then, he reached out, and his hands finally found her neck. He squeezed. It felt like a twig amidst a handful of JELL-O. He squeezed until he heard screaming. Horrible screaming from all around him. Many voices. Then many hands… The light came back to the world.

As they dragged him from the bed of the truck, he saw Lisa staring back at him. Her neck was twisted in an unnatural way, her deep blue and unblinking eyes watched him as he was pulled away, Marleen on one arm and Kyle on his other… Grant crying at Lisa’s side, trying his feeble best to resurrect her.

Chapter 7

Nathan Thomas Milliner

Grant’s daydream future began to erase itself piece by piece in his mind’s eye.  All of the dates; kisses, hugs, love making, prom, wedding, children, and grandchildren that he had imagined sharing with Lisa were falling away from him as he sat there on his knees in the bed of the truck, embracing the most beautiful girl he’d ever known who’s soul had just left its vessel.

He had never learned CPR and cursed himself for the fact.  That didn’t matter to him at this moment.  He tried to undo the damage Aaron had done.  It had to work.  He had to save the love of his life.

On top of her, Grant’s hands pressed down upon Lisa’s lifeless breasts.  Her cold lips finally touching his own but not in the way he’d always dreamed about.  No, this kiss was meant to deliver air to lungs that could no longer accept or use it.  He knew it was hopeless but he was fighting for their future children.

No longer thinking clearly, Grant could not see through the liquid that had flooded his eyes as he cried harder than he’d ever allowed himself to do so before, when he wasn’t alone.  He called out to God to assist him in his efforts.  When the calls went unanswered, he began to hate and curse God all the same.

Nothing was happening.

She’s gone, Grant.

He finally knew he had to stop, that he had lost the battle.  Lisa was dead and his sorrow quickly turned to wrath.  He had just been robbed of happiness with the perfect woman and it was time for someone to pay comeuppance.

Grant wiped away his eyes with a sandy arm, finally coming back to the world as the white noise in his ears began to transform into the sounds of his sister screaming in horror as she fought Kyle’s comforting embraces.  Grant never really thought much of his sister’s boyfriend but right now he was doing his job in taking care of her and Grant began to love him for it.

His eyes focused on Aaron–the villain–who was standing at the foot of the tailgate looking at Lisa as if in a trance.  There was no recognizable expression of humanity left upon his perfect face.  No weeping.  No remorse.

Nothing.

This fueled the fire in Grant more than he could contain and without even realizing it, his feet were acting on their own.  He felt himself unleash a guttural yell as his body suddenly carried him from Lisa towards her killer.

WHAM!

The two boys collided and hit the sandy rock below them.  Aaron’s head bounced violently off one of the rocks sticking out of the ground and Marleen noticed the spray of red from between the meeting of flesh and earth.  Her little brother was sitting on top of Aaron and was punching him in the face with tight closed fists like a madman.  She had never seen such anger or fearlessness in him and it scared her.  What scared her even more was that she began to feel the urge to join in and help him in the beating.

Her best friend was gone.

The little girl who decided to sit next to her in the fifth grade when all of the other children chose to make fun of her for being ginger was dead.

Marleen had luckily grown into her looks but those early school years had been filled with nights where she cried herself to sleep and thought of jumping off the bridge she crossed every afternoon on her long walk home.  She wanted to cry for her friend but the fear was much more overwhelming and survival had definitely kicked in.

No time for tears.

Grant had no idea of what he was doing or saying at the moment, he just kept pummeling and pummeling what was beneath him which at this point felt like a mound of beef that needed to be tenderized for the grill.  All he could see was splashing dark crimson as his fists rose and dropped again and again until he finally felt the hands of his sister and Kyle dragging him away.

Grant fell flat on his ass as Marleen lost her grip. But the fall seemed to shake him awake.  It was night again.

Stunned, he suddenly felt the intense pain in his hands that were wet and sticky and throbbing like when he was nine and he missed the nail building the tree house with dad. This felt like he’d missed a thousand nails.

“You killed him.” gasped Kyle.

Marleen looked down at Aaron who wasn’t moving; his face no longer recognizable amidst the blood that looked almost black in the moonlight.  There was shredded flesh and broken skull under the blackness.  She couldn’t see if Aaron was breathing and had no interest in checking to find out.

“We have to leave.  We have to call the police.” Marleen was wiping her bloody hands on her shorts.  She wanted to be clean.  She wanted to be home.  She wanted to be safe.

“What do we do with him?” Kyle asked her, motioning to Aaron on the ground.

Marleen looked at the murderer of her best friend, “Leave the piece of shit!  He killed Lisa!”

“We can’t just leave him…”

“I’m not driving in that truck with that psycho!”

“We’ll put him in the bed with Lisa.”

“The hell we will!  Leave him for the animals.” Grant said, finally out of his daze.

“He’s our friend.” Kyle pleaded.

“We barely know him, Kyle.  Lisa’s only been with him for a few weeks.  He’s practically a stranger.  A dangerous stranger and we’re leaving him here!”  Marleen reached for Grant’s hand to pull him toward the cab of the pick-up.  Grant yelped when she gripped it.  Marleen looked down at her brother’s hands and panic overtook her.  His hands were swollen, bloody, broken and twisted.  She could see bone sticking out through torn flesh; fingers bent in unnatural ways.  She feared he’d be handicapped for life.  They had to get him to a hospital!

“Get in the truck Kyle, or stay here with that asshole, I don’t care. Grant and I are going for help.  Give me the keys.”

Kyle was torn but he’d seen that look on Marleen’s face before and he knew there was no negotiating with her.  He felt bad about leaving Aaron out here for the elements to exploit his body but he had to admit, he wasn’t entirely comfortable having him in the truck with him either.

Kyle gave in. Grant tried to climb in the back with Lisa but Marleen quickly drug him off the side of the truck and forced him to get in the cab with her.  Nervous about their decision, Kyle latched the tailgate, entered the cab and reached into his pocket to retrieve his car keys.

Three hearts stopped as the sound of the tailgate being unlatched and pulled down attacked them from behind.  Aaron or what was once Aaron was on his feet and was dragging Lisa’s body out of the bed by her left ankle.

“Shit!” Kyle screamed. He was instantly out of the truck, moving to the back to stop the maniac from doing anything more to their former friend.

Kyle wasn’t going to admit it but he was scared to death and not really sure what he would do once he reached the alpha male with the broken face.  Could he really do much to stop him if Aaron was determined enough?  He decided to ignore self preservation and play the hero for the sake of his relationship with Marleen.  He really liked her and at that moment, the thought that he might actually love her entered his brain.  The realization surprised him at first but he quickly felt comfortable with it and decided that he would tell her so as soon as they got out of this nightmare.

Marleen and Grant held their breath as they watched Kyle march towards the rear of the pick-up.  Aaron finally pulled Lisa completely clear of the bed and her corpse hit the ground with an ugly sound.  The mistreatment of her body angered Grant once again and he felt himself moving for the door only to feel his sister’s firm grip hold him back.  He knew he could have escaped it but he decided not to fight her.

What could he really do with his hands in the condition that they were in?

He wondered if he’d ever be able to draw again.  He was a pretty good artist and had wanted to be a professional comic book illustrator since he was very young.  It had been Marleen who turned him on to comics.  She had been a big Wonder Woman fan as a young girl.  Their grandmother, June, had introduced them to Marleen when she was only five.  Grant hadn’t cared much for Wonder Woman but in some of the issues, Superman made an appearance and he had quickly become a major fan of the man of steel.

It seemed that most of the superheroes were geeks by day and larger than life at night when they donned their suits and fought evil.  He often daydreamed about flying around Phoenix with Lisa hanging on to him and passing those loving glances his way.  Superman was always there for Lois Lane.  Whenever she was in danger, he sensed it and always saved her in the nick of time.

Too bad you couldn’t do the same for Lisa.  You’re no superhero.

Kyle was about five feet away from Aaron as they heard him make his verbal demand that he leave Lisa alone.  Aaron didn’t speak but let Lisa’s ankle go and moved toward the bed of the truck.

It was all happening so fast that they didn’t realize why Aaron had gone back to the bed until it was too late.

Marleen and Grant saw the metallic flash catching the moonlight as the tire iron in Aaron’s hand came down on Kyle’s forehead, denting it in like a grapefruit.  They heard the crushing of his skull and saw the bright red spray of plasma release itself from the wound.

Kyle’s life drained out of his body upon impact and they watched in terror as it fell to the sand like gravity was working overtime tonight.  Aaron raised the tire iron once again and brought it back down to the ground where they had seen Kyle fall but luckily they could no longer see what was happening to him.  They only heard the sound of something being thumped.

Each time Aaron raised he was covered in more of the dripping ruby mess.

Time seemed to stand still.

Marleen and Grant could not move.

Aaron stopped thrashing Kyle’s lifeless body and stood up straight.  He turned his neck towards them and they could see the whites of his eyes through the dark red void that was his face.  They saw the white appear in the darkness beneath the eyes and they realized that he was smiling at them.

“Lock the doors!”  Marleen leaped across the seat towards the driver’s side of the cab and locked the door as Grant turned around to lock the passengers.

Aaron began to walk slowly, seeming to take pleasure with every step he took towards the driver’s side of the truck.  He entered the blind spot, disappearing from their view temporarily.

Where is he?

Sneaking around to their side of the truck?

Marleen was backing herself into Grant, almost crushing him into the door behind him but he didn’t care.  He put his arms around his sister, trying to be a man and protect her.

Aaron appeared in the window frame of the driver’s door and stopped in the middle of it, his gaze falling upon them both.  He stood there, looking through the pane of glass with his lifeless eyes that seemed to be pale blue now.

Was it the moonlight or had Aaron become possessed?

His visage was the stuff of nightmares; as if he had been thrown from a motorcycle and had landed on his face.  He tilted his head to the side in an inhuman manner.  He opened what was left of his mouth and spoke…

The voice was not the voice of the same young man they had come to this riverbank with yesterday evening.  It was higher, strained and painful sounding, and to their great surprise–slightly feminine.

The thing said, “Where aaaarreee theyyyyy?”

Grant felt the chills run down his spine as the three words he was all too familiar with hit his eardrums and he felt his broken hands tense around his sister’s biceps despite what pain it caused as the thing in the window raised its arm and brought the tire iron crashing into the glass between them and it.

Gail Petersen

Chapter 8

It’s hard to believe in ghosts even if you are one.  Even when your own body feels nothing but the continuous agony of being cold, wet, and homeless.  Even when you have no need to eat, drink or sleep but only the unrelenting drive to keep on searching for things that are lost.  Even when time no longer moves forward and you are left with only your memories and no hope of ever finding a future again.  Then the idea that there are spirits haunting this world becomes a possibility even when you don’t want to believe, but know, deep down in your dead lifeless body, that you are one.  And have been one for a very long time.

Part of the time, Maria knew that she wasn’t alive and existed in an in-between world between life and death.  And part of the time, it seemed like it was years ago and she was searching for her twin boys who were lost.  She knew they had to be somewhere near the river.  Like most children, that’s where they loved to play especially when the weather was so warm or at least warm to them.  She had enjoyed the river herself when she was young, innocent, and hadn’t been married to a man who no longer loved her.  But unlike her twin sons, Maria knew how to swim.  She bitterly regretted that she had not taught her own sons the same survival skills.

She walked along the riverside calling their names.  She heard a soft echo but never a reply.  She began to suspect that her search was hopeless.  Suddenly she was filled with a vision of her boys screaming for help as they were pulled down underwater by the power of the river.  She had tried to save them.  Any good mother would do that.  But then she also remembered her husband shouting at her and calling her a horrible mother.  And then she remembered what no mother should ever have a memory of – she had killed her own children.  Angered by her husband’s arrival back home with a new wife and his intention to send his two sons away to school, Maria had reacted without thinking.  Her original intention had been to kill herself and her two boys.  But when she felt the river reaching for her life she surprised herself by fighting for her life.  And then she wanted to fight for her sons too.  She couldn’t let them die.  But they were already gone.  She could feel their lifeless bodies in her arms and instinctively she let go.  She watched as they floated downstream and away from her forever.

Maria dragged herself to the shore in the white gown that she would wear in the real world and the next and tried to shake some of the water from her hair and her body.  But even though she was standing in the sun – no moisture would leave her body and an intense cold overtook her body.  Her husband ran to her side with several of the servants and began screaming for the whereabouts of the boys.  Maria pointed to the river and shook her head.  But her husband wouldn’t believe it.  He continued to search for them until the dawn of the next day when the bodies of the two boys washed up on the shore almost a mile away.

At first, he didn’t want to blame her but guilt was written all over her face.  He shook her harder than he ever had and finally she admitted what she had done.

Her husband, Antonio, had been a hard and somewhat cruel man before but now he became the epitome of torturous vengeance.  It would have been easy to just strangle his wife and throw her in the river.  But he thought she needed a more terrifying death.  So he killed her a little bit at a time over the course of three days.  He forbade his new wife to watch, but he allowed the servants to observe as long as they were able to stand it and not vomit at the sight of real torture.

The first day, he took the whip that he used for the horses and used it instead on her.  He ripped off her white gown and tied her naked to a post in the stable.  Then he beat her back as she cried and begged for mercy.  Maria had never felt such pain in her life and thought she would not be able to bear it.  She prayed to God that she would die but no one answered her prayer.  When night fell, her husband brought the bodies of her two sons into the stable and laid them at her feet.  He forced her to spend the night with her two dead children as the absolute proof of what she had done.

The next day, Antonio dragged Maria by her feet close to the river.  He found a tree, forced her into a standing position, and tied her tightly to the tree.  Then he put a mound of broken branches at her feet and lit them on fire.  He let his wife burn until the fire reached her waist while she screamed in agony.  But before the fire could claim her life – he put it out and wrapped her in wet towels so that she could live one more day.  Maria spent the second night moaning in unending pain but gave up on praying to a god who wouldn’t answer her and had probably abandoned her due to her crime.

The sun rose on the third day and Maria was still alive.  Half of her body was ripped apart by the damage of a whip and the other half was burnt to a crisp.  Antonio pulled the white gown back on her and tied her hands behind her back.  He also bound her wrists together.  Then he opened her mouth and shoved two of the river stones in her mouth and then tied her lips closed with rope.  He cursed with the fury of a grieving father who can only feel pure hate—that his wife would have to walk this earth forever searching for the two sons that she had drowned.  Then he picked her up, walked over to the water and threw her in.  Despite all her injuries, Maria took almost five minutes to die.  It was an excruciating death and at the last moment when she was gasping for air as water rushed past the stones in her mouth she truly knew what a horrible thing she had done by dragging her sons into the river and leaving them to a horrifying end.

When she woke up the next day, Maria was dead but didn’t know it yet.  She wandered up and down the river for hours calling her boys’ names hoping to find them and save them.  When she couldn’t find them, she walked back up to the big house that had been her home but found she couldn’t get closer than five feet as if held back by some unseen force field that kept her away.  Instead, she headed back to the river and that’s when she found the two graves.  She saw the names on both of them and with an overwhelming force began to remember what she had done.   Maria began to cry and cry and finally fell into an uneasy sleep.  Only to wake the next day to do the same thing.

Sometimes she saw other people by the river but she rarely approached them.  If she did, she would only beg them to help her find her children by asking:  Where are they? Most of the time whoever she would ask would look at her in horror and then begin to run.  Maria would chase them as far as she could before she forgot what she was doing and had to begin to search for her sons again.

She had no idea how long she had been a ghost.  Maybe seventy years? A hundred? More?  And never did she feel any relief. Never. And she always felt cold.  But recently a group of teenagers had invaded her haunting ground with their silly tubes for swimming, giggling, smoking funny cigarettes, and other real reminders of what it was like to be alive.  At first, she tried to approach them cautiously with only a question:  Where are they? And when they ignored her or laughed and thought she was just a white plant hanging over the river she tried another question:  Will you help me?

Still they didn’t reply and instead two of them had engaged in sex when they weren’t even married.  So Maria focused on the two of them.  She decided to attack the boy first – the one they called Aaron.  He was sleeping so it was easy to grab him by his legs and drag him outside.  At first Aaron thought she was his friend playing a trick on him but then he realized that she was a woman in a white gown, dripping wet, with no thought of mercy on her mind.  Maria possessed the strength of the dead and was able to pull the boy all the way to the river.  He was hyperventilating with uncontrollable fear and it was likely he would die of a heart attack very soon.  But Maria decided to help him along.  She pulled him into the river and held him down against the muddy stones below.  He struggled for a while but then she opened his mouth and kissed him with the kiss of death.  Water invaded his throat and then his lungs.  He tried to scream but all he did was let the water become part of him.

Maria felt the life leave his body and she was glad.  Now she was not the only one left in this unmentionable place.  She pulled his body out of the river and waited.  It was only a few minutes when Aaron opened his watery eyes.  He looked at her in confusion.  But Maria only shook her head in reply.

Aaron reached out and was able to touch her and she could feel the pleading in his hands.  “Where am I?  What happened?” he asked.

“Now you will have to search with me.  Every day.  Every night.  For eternity.  But first we will find your friends and have them join us.”

Aaron nodded in reply.  He knew what he had to do.  Together they walked hand-in-hand back to the truck where his friends were waiting.  He let them show their concern and help him into the back of the truck.  He lay down with a small smile on his face knowing that Maria was lying next to him but they couldn’t see her.  Then he saw Lisa standing in the sun looking more beautiful than ever.  Aaron stood up and with the new power that now inhabited his body he put his hands around Lisa’s neck and began to squeeze.  He pressed harder and harder and was delighted when he felt the life leave her body.  Now Lisa would have to join the search.  Maria smiled at him agreeing that it was a job well done.

But Grant, idiot that he was, wouldn’t leave well enough alone.  First he tried to revive Lisa but it was pointless.  When he finally accepted that she was dead, Grant turned his energy towards Aaron. He threw himself onto his former friend and began to hit him as hard as he could.  Grant smashed Aaron’s face over and over again with his fists doing himself more harm in the end.  While he felt no pain, Aaron was oozing blood as part of the haunted nightmare he needed to create.  Finally, Aaron collapsed and appeared to be dead once again.  Grant immediately was horrified at the damage he had inflicted and regretted what he had done.  His sister began to scream at him that she couldn’t believe her own brother had killed someone.

Aaron knew what he needed to do next.  He stood up from the dirt looking like the horrible ghost that he was and walked around to face his three remaining friends.  Kyle suddenly lunged at him but Aaron was ready.  He took down Kyle as easily as he had Lisa.  But he didn’t know or really care about Kyle that much so he left him dead in the dust.  Maybe he would come back for him later?  But Lisa was a prize that he had no intention of leaving behind.  He grabbed Lisa’s feet and began to pull her toward the river.  That’s where they needed to be so they could share their afterlife together.  As a last goodbye, Aaron ran back to the truck picked up the tire iron and crashed it though the window so that Grant and his sister would never think of following him.  Then he resumed his journey to the river with Lisa in tow and Maria by his side.  It wouldn’t be so bad being dead as long as Lisa was with him forever.

Jesse Orrall

Chapter 9

Aaron carried Lisa’s dead weight down to the shoreline where he was met by the cold, wet, rancid figure of La Llorona.  She stood ankle deep in the dark water, and beckoned Aaron to follow her.  He draped Lisa’s lifeless body over his shoulder, and obeyed.

In the dark, wet silence of the deep, La Llorona took Lisa by the hand, and woke her up, showing her how to live the life of a ghoul, as she had done with Aaron.  Aaron sat and watched, waiting for the reanimation of his immortal bride.  Lisa gasped as her neck was snapped back in place, and her lungs filled with water.

Her eyes bulged open, and the first sight she took in was that of Maria, looking quite well considering everything she’d been through since the untimely death of her children.  In fact, she was beautiful.  As the moonlight trickled through the depths, it made her dark brown eyes shimmer.  Her long black hair was splayed out beautifully behind her.  Her skin was bronzed and soft.  And she wore a white gown that gently swayed in the current.  She looked like a dark angel.

“Welcome back, Lisa,” she said with a friendly smile, her soft hand still resting on Lisa’s neck, as she had just snapped it back in place.

Aaron watched from a distance, as the hideous La Llorona spoke privately with the newly revived Lisa, her wrinkled, bony hand at Lisa’s throat.

“Where’s Aaron?” Lisa asked, afraid to know the answer.

Maria’s face contorted angrily, “Why is it that the first thing you do is ask about that beast?  He murdered you!”

“Aaron loves me!  He could never do that!”

Maria let out a bitter cackle, and Lisa felt her heart sink as Maria spoke, “I was loved once, by a man.  He doted on me, embraced me, and whispered to me sweet nothings, as men often do when they are in love.  But alas, men cannot escape their animalistic, instinctive, selfish nature.  I wasn’t enough for my husband, and once he had had children by me, I was discarded, without even a kind word.  Then, he punished me when I took back my children from him.  He tortured me, he killed me, and he cursed me to live the life of a wandering, wailing ghost.  Can’t you see that your ‘Aaron’ has done the very same to you?”

Lisa’s face became solemn as she remembered Aaron’s hands choking the life out of her.  The love she thought they had once shared, seemed to shatter and fall to her feet in a million pieces.

“He killed you and brought you down here so that you could share my fate… and his.”  Maria said as she turned to look at Aaron, whose now disfigured face looked longingly at Lisa.  “He ended your life so that you could join him in his cursed existence.  If he really loved you, he would want you to live out a normal happy life, not be forced to wander the earth for all eternity, trying desperately to reclaim the treasured innocence and childish love you so carelessly discarded so long ago!”  Maria had worked herself into a frenzy of rage and despair, which she seemed barely able to contain.  However, she calmed herself before continuing, “Love only conceals man’s true nature.  He may love you one moment, but he can transform at the drop of a hat to an emotionless brute.  You’ve seen the transformation for yourself.  Your friend, Marleen, is still up there, alive and healthy.  It’s not too late for her to realize the truth.  That the men around her, who claim to love her, as a lover or sister, love only themselves, and she can never be safe, or truly happy, until she is free… and neither can you.”

Maria whispered that last part into Lisa’s ear, as she slipped a jagged stone into her palm.  Aaron watched as La Llorona finished her secret talk with Lisa, and drifted away, allowing the two lovers to be reunited.  Lisa stood as Aaron walked towards her.  The moonlight danced on their faces in the clear dark water.

Their reunion was presided over by black eyes of La Llorona.  However, neither Aaron nor Lisa saw La Llorona for what she really was.  Each saw but one side of the same desperate, miserable coin.  Aaron, as a man, knew her as the hideous, rotting carcass he had been chosen to serve under, helping her with the impossible task that was her punishment.  Lisa related to her as a woman, seeing her for the beautiful soul she once was, filled with pride, and looking to seek revenge on the man who wronged her.

With one hand, Lisa gently ran her hands through Aaron’s hair.  As she looked into his eyes, she did not recognize the boy she once loved, only the wild-eyed monster that took her life.  In a rage, she gripped a handful of Aaron’s hair and pulled his head back.  She raised her other hand, gripping the jagged stone Maria had given her, and plunged it into his already disfigured face.  He twitched violently as she removed the stone and stabbed him repeatedly, as the moonlight trickled through the translucent, crimson cloud growing out of Aaron’s face.

With a final thrust, Lisa lodged the stone into Aaron’s mouth, and then released his limp body, which drifted slowly into the darkness.  Leaving hardly a moment to ponder what she’d done, she turned her attention to the shore where Marleen and Grant were taking care of Kyle.

Despite Grant’s pleading, Marleen insisted that taking care of Kyle and sticking together was more important than rescuing Lisa’s corpse from the depths of the lake.  Still, the idea of her best friend’s body in the hands of that monster sent chills down her spine.  Kyle was still breathing after Aaron’s attack, although the tremendous blow to the head had him completely unconscious, with a fraction of his skull missing.  Grant helped Marleen lift Kyle into the back of the truck, where he could lay flat, and they could keep gravel from getting into the hole in his forehead.

Marleen resolved to spend the remainder of the night with Kyle’s head resting in her lap so she could keep an eye on his breathing, and be with him in case he woke up.  More than ever, she also needed the feeling of reassurance she got when he was close to her, though she kept it from Grant.

Grant slept in the cab of the truck.  He put his glasses on the dashboard and tried to lie down, though there wasn’t quite enough room for him to stretch all the way out.  Thoughts of Lisa were both keeping him awake and lulling him to sleep at the same time.  Sadness, rage, and longing consumed him, as he tossed and turned restlessly, going in and out of consciousness.

Marleen had just nodded off to sleep herself, when Lisa’s gorgeous face broke the surface of the water, looking as good as any dead teenager could possibly look.  She wrung out her hair, before continuing up the sand bank towards the truck.

As Lisa passed the truck window, she stopped momentarily to look in at Grant.  Her face seemed to warm ever so slightly as she heard he was whispering her name.  However, she soon noticed the protrusion coming from his swim trunks and any shred of humanity melted right off her face.  She turned to walk on with a snort of disgust.

Marleen looked angelic in the light of the moon.  Innocently asleep, her arms resting on the shoulders of a wounded boy.  She needed to be saved at all costs.

Like a phantom, Lisa maneuvered herself right up to Marleen’s side without disturbing a thing, and began to whisper into her ear.  And although Marleen was in a deep slumber, she absorbed every word Lisa said, and felt their truth at the core of her being…  She would live, even if others had to die.

Chapter 10

Liz Bird

Marlene bolted out of a deep dream sleep, her body wet with what? River water? Sweat? It was hard to tell. Kyle was burning with fever and she had been resting against him for hours. A light breeze carried the fetid smell of rotted leaves from the river beyond. She stood up and danced the numbness out of her feet. Red ants covered her bare legs and bit them as she brushed them off.

She looked at Kyle and gasped. The hole in his forehead was gone, the skin smooth and tanned. Impossible!

She ran to the truck where Grant was still draped over the steering wheel in same position as last night. The doors were locked and she noticed a bloody smear across the chrome handle. Her legs shook beneath her as she banged on the window, “Grant! Grant, wake UP…wake up, I need you.” Nothing.

There was an unfamiliar heaviness in her front pocket; she reached down and pulled out a jet-black stone with a strange jagged edge. “This may come in handy”, she thought and banged it against the window–then threw her body against the cab, rocking it with the adrenalized force of her weight. Grant rolled off the wheel and slumped across the front seat. He lay still for a moment then tried to sit up. She ran to the passenger side and he opened the door for her. She was so relieved to see him moving she hugged him tight and started to cry.

Just then they heard a deep moaning sound coming from the woods beyond the river and it got louder. Marlene saw a shadowy movement next to a stand of pine trees. She locked the doors then looked around for something to use as a weapon. Grant was just staring ahead and not acting like himself at all. He must be in shock, she thought.

“I don’t know what the hell is out there stalking us brother, but I’m not waiting around to find out”! She climbed over to the driver’s side and jammed the key into the ignition; the engine cranked but wouldn’t turn over. She waited and watched the trees for movement then tried again. The cranking sound of the engine slowed and grew fainter.  Something white flashed by in the distance.

“What was that”? She gasped as she saw a pale white hand slip behind a huge pine trunk less than 20 feet away. “Oh, GOD!  Please, please start!”

She threw the truck into neutral, opened the door and tried to roll it forward down the hill while Grant just sat there–limp and silent. She turned the key again and this time the engine came to life with a roar.

Marlene slammed and locked the door and gripped the wheel. It was getting dark and starting to rain. Sweat pored off her as she flipped on the headlights to navigate the narrow, winding road. They drove about a half-mile when Marlene saw a girl running on the road ahead of them at what seemed an impossible speed. She accelerated but could only catch glimpses from around each hairpin turn.  The girl looked familiar from the little Marlene could see and now Grant was perking up.

“LISA!” he croaked. “It’s HER!”

The girl ran down a dirt path barely wide enough for a car but Grant grabbed the wheel and turned a hard right that set the truck on two wheels.  Marlene shoved him back and recovered control. As the Chevy bumped through the brush and potholes, she was too afraid to stop and had nowhere to turn around.

“Are you CRAZY Grant? It can’t be her…she’s dea…

Then Marlene remembered the dream and felt for the sharp black stone in her pocket.  The road stopped abruptly and sent the truck over a small embankment and into the icy cold river beyond.

Chapter Eleven

Cheryl Vatcher-Martin

Marlene awoke with a start as her shivers racked her body with icy fangs.

Wait a minute, Grant and I tumbled into the tumultuous river inside of the truck.

“Grant where are you?, “ Marlene shrieked, as she felt a musket under her leg.  It was in the spot of her raw skin where the sting from the red ants bit her continuously.  The blood drained from her leg, and  the swelling ballooned as each minute passed.

“Marlene, I can’t feel my foot, “ Grant said.

Screaming, Marlene saw a severed foot laying near Grant’s foot.

Struggling to stand upon her swollen feet and legs she saw that next to the severed foot was an arm with a bloody arm band with the insignia of the Grand Army of The Republic.  What the heck was that?

“Grant I can see blood draining from your left foot; we’ve got to tie a piece of this coat around it to slow the bleeding, then we’ve got to get out of here, “ Marlene screamed.

“That stings!  Why are you stabbing me?  What are you wrapping my leg in?  Stop!!!  I mean it, Marlene!” Grant screamed.

“Oh my gosh, There’s a brass button, no a handful of buttons on this sleeve stuck here in your leg.  I’m so sorry, “Marlene shrieked.

“What is this, a battlefield?  Where’s Lisa and Kyle, “ Grant moaned.

“I hope they aren’t being stabbed by brass buttons and whatever sticks and  branches are now stuck inside of my leg and foot, “ he said.

“Ulysses!” a man screamed deliriously nearby.

Grant tried to get up and tumbled towards the icy hand of death.  The blood stained rain fell around him as heard an urgent cry of Ulysses again.

The stench of rotting flesh knocked him down as he rolled towards the pick-up truck at the edge of the embankment.

“Marlene, where are we?  I see dark blue wool uniforms everywhere.  I believe this is my flashback to hell,” Grant screamed as he got back up and stumbled across a uniformed body.

“Kyle is that you?” Granted yelled.

Kyle laid there with a musket in his hand.

“No, I am in a civil war nightmare,” Kyle screamed back.

As Grant stumbled across another, his heart lunged as Lisa lay there still dressed like a normal teenager of whom he desired.

“Grant can you help me up?” Kyle screamed.

Grant ignored him, reaching down to touch Lisa’s face.

In that instant, Lisa lunged at him full of rage.  Her ghostly appearance un-nerved him as he tried to comfort her.

“Get away from me, you Confederate,” as she peeled out a sword, stabbing him through the heart.

“No, Grant screamed, as he fell backwards on top of a headless body.

Yet, Grant felt a strange peace as he landed near another dead body, as he knew he really wasn’t dead, he just was in a dream from the past.

Marlene caught his head before it smashed into a sliced open jagged rock containing blood drenched shreds of military uniforms.

“Grant, Grant, can you hear me”, as she pulled the sword out of his limp body.

Miraculously as the raven stained sword exited his flesh, the wound closed up, and Grant shrieked in pain.

“Back from the dead, Grant?” Marlene exclaimed.

“We have to get back home, bring Lisa and Kyle with us too, dead or alive.  The consequences will be costly, and that’s if we even make it out of this hole alive, “ Marlene screamed.

The ground shaking explosion filled the air with the grimiest, thickest black smoke.

“Grant, where are you?” Marlene screamed as she thrust her head through the grunge not knowing what or who she’d find in it.

A blast of a cannon ball re-arranged the layers of the earth around her.  This explosion racked her body as she became buried alive with a black hole that swallowed her up.  Face covered with soot, she clawed at the earth while more ash like dirt buried her.

Grant stumbled next to the pile of heavy soot, as his sister labored towards her last breath.

“Marlene, I’m digging you out ,”he screamed as his maniacal movements secured her freedom even if it was too late.

Marlene wasn’t quite ready to die yet.  She needed to rescue Lisa and Kyle still even if they were unaware of the nightmare they were all intertwined into.

Around her the smothering scent of smoked human flesh made her keel over for a minute.  As she crashed into unconsciousness she vaguely remembered Grant dragging her somewhere.  Her skin became a tack board for sticks, stones, spent ammunition and more.  She cursed as the coughs rendered her virtually unconscious once again.

The ghostly apparition blared a horn in her direction.

“Get up, the Confederates are storming by us, young lad,” the flittering ghost wailed.

Marlene never thought she’d pass for a boy in her lifetime, yet looking down at her battered and tattered clothes and matted and swollen skin, not much surprised her.  She longed for a drink of anything at this point.  She chose to ignore the noise and stampede that was closing in around her.

“Marlene do you hear a pulsating thud nearby?” Grant screamed in her direction.

“YES, We need to get out of here!” she hollered.

Just then more screams and shouts were within ear shot, and, the sound of Lisa’s voice raised above the chaos.

“Kyle, take me home, I am near the truck over by the river.  There’s too much blood around here, and too much weird stuff and I have seen a number of ghosts,” she screamed.

Just then an apparition of a haggard old woman cackled from the river and blew up into the backdrop of the sky and reached out and grabbed at Lisa.  Her jagged fingers grasped a hold of her crushing her arm into splintered pieces as she plucked her up like a dead Barbie doll and threw her deep into the river.

Staggering out from a brush filled with dead soldiers, Kyle yelled for Lisa,

“Lisa, I’m over here, I will get us out of here, I promise,” he said.

Once again, a thud scattered through the quiet grey haze as Kyle’s last words were muffled by the bony green eyed witch who was hanging from a tree.  She bent down, scooped him up, and thrust him with cannon ball force into the green and red river as another cold icy hand that resembled a limp puppet reached out to greet him.

As Marlene and Grant caught up with one another, they were amazed to find that the truck that pummeled them in and out of the river was still there.  They figured they’d try once again to get out of the nightmare that had consumed them for too long.

“Marlene get in the truck now, I got the engine to run again,“ he said.

Just as Marlene was about to jump into the truck, an icy hand plucked her from reaching the passenger’s seat and pummeled her into the dark ravages of the dank river.  Her screams were greeted with Kyle and Lisa’s pathetic moans as Grant’s world flipped over into another unconscious moment of hell.

Chapter Twelve

Brian Lane

“Grant!  GRANT!” Marleen screamed.

Grant turned his head, vomiting what seemed to be a gallon of putrid river muck.  Marleen began to laugh.  Grants vision blurred in and out.  Marleen was on top of him in a position that would have been alluring had it been anyone other than his sister.  She straddled his chest, her head turned upwards to the sky.

“Thank you, Lord.” She said through bouts of laughter.

Grant remembered fighting in a Civil War battle moments earlier.  The Confederates were after them, and they had to rescue Lisa and Kyle and then…

Lisa.  Grant remembered.  She was dead.  He closed his eyes, fighting the tears.  His love for her now forever forlorn.

Grant felt Marleen get up and off of him.  She had stopped laughing, cackles changing to whispered prayers of gratitude.  For what? Grant thought?

As if to answer him, Marleen said, “I thought you were dead, Grant.  I thought she got you.”

Grant opened his eyes and looked at Marleen.  Her expression immediately turned from relief to horror as she stared at her brother.  She backed away from him in terror.

“What?” Grant asked.

“Not you, too.  Oh, God, please no,” She begged.

Grant stood, though through no small effort.  Every muscle in his body cried out in anguish.  His joints creaked.  He ignored his pain, worried about his sister.

“Marleen, what is it?  Why are you afraid of me?” Grant asked.

Marleen grabbed a small, football-sized river rock from the muddy shores and held it up defensively.  She looked around frantically, and Grant could tell that she was planning her escape route.  Grant’s stomach lurched.  Was she becoming one of those things?

“Marleen!  Stop it!  You’re scaring me.” Grant pleaded.

Marleen looked confused, but held tightly to her makeshift weapon.  She raised it as if to hurl it at Grant.  “Marl, I’m your brother.  Come out of it!”

Marleen shook her head, obviously confused.  She slowly lowered the rock, but didn’t drop it.  “Grant?” She said, barely audible.

“It’s me, Marl.  Grant.  Are you…you?” He asked.

Marleen seemed to relax, stone slipping from her fingers with a wet sloshing noise as it fell into the muddy shoreline.  Her legs gave way and she fell to the ground with a similar slimy splash.  Grant reacted, dashing to her side.  To his relief, she didn’t resist as he tried to lift her out of the sludge.

“What happened to your eyes?” She asked, her face turned away.

“I don’t…what are…?” Grant asked.

Marleen looked at him again, her gaze meeting his.  She saw the compassion in his features.  She sighed, and he had to catch her in his arms so she wouldn’t collapse again.  “I thought you were like Aaron…Lisa.”

Grant questioned, “Why?”

“It’s your eyes, Grant.  There isn’t any white in them.  They are all red.” Marleen explained.

“I don’t understand.” Grant replied.

“You have red eyes, bro.”

“Am I going to…?” Grant’s voice trailed off as he imagined becoming an inhuman, twisted façade of his former self with no free will and bent on destruction.

Marleen emitted a single guffaw, which sounded so alien within the circumstance.    “Sorry, G.  Just me reacting to the craziness.  That ghost-thing…and our friends.  What they’ve become.  It wasn’t much of a stretch to think you had gone all ‘Evil Dead’ on me after I saw your eyes.”

Grant didn’t react.  He loosened his grip on his sister.  She stood on her own and continued her explanation.  “I saw something on one of those crime investigation shows, Grant.  When someone is strangled, their capillaries burst in their eyes.  It makes all the blood fill the whites of the eyes and turn them red.  It’ll go away, though, Grant.”

A cannon blasted in Grant’s ears again.  Musket fire erupted behind him.  He heard a bugler blowing the signal for an infantry charge.

“I thought you drowned after she let you go.  After she strangled you after the truck filled with water.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to bring you back,” Marleen continued, her voice muffled and echoed as if from a distance beyond the battlefield.

Thunderous hoof falls roared past Grant as he heard the cacophonous battle cry of the Union Calvary as they charged forward.  Musket fire filled the air with an acrid smoke.  Grant heard the bullets whooshing through the air all around.  He stood motionless as the battle rose to a crescendo.

“Your body floated to the surface, Grant.  Your back came up first.”

Marleen was barely audible, and certainly her speech no longer registered in Grant’s mind.  She continued to talk, but it was only coming through on a subconscious level.  All around, the Union engaged the Confederates in a bloody fight for supremacy.

“I dove back in.  I’m so ashamed, Grant.  I am so sorry I left you.  I never should have ran, or swam I guess, away like that.  But I dove back in, Grant.  Please forgive me.” Marleen sobbed.

Grant felt something tug at his light blue trousers.  He looked down and saw a wounded officer, covered in a mélange of mud and gore.  One empty eye socket wept a lilac-colored fluid, the other eye bright sky blue, piercingly glared at Grant.  “What’s your name?” He said.

Marleen continued, though now totally drowned out by the violent conflict surrounding Grant.  “I pulled you up on the shore and just kept hitting your chest until you threw up.  I can’t believe that actually worked and…”

The soldier found purchase on Grant’s trousers, lifting himself up.  “I asked you a question, soldier.” The officer stated as he rose to his feet.

Grant looked down at the officer, confused.  “Shell shocked, boy?  I asked you your name.” He said.

“Grant.” He replied.

“Just like our Colonel?” The officer asked.

Grant answered, “My mom named me after Ulysses S. Grant.  She loves the Civil War.  She is a history teacher and-”

The officer began shaking him.  “Grant.  That’s our commander, boy.  I asked you your name.” He demanded.

“Grant! Come out of it, Grant!” Marleen screamed.

She shook Grant even harder.  He mumbled something about the Civil War.  Marleen slapped him, screaming his name even louder.

The officer slapped Grant’s face.  “Soldier, I need you to help me.” The officer commanded.

Grant shook his head.  “Yes sir.” He obliged.

The officer smiled revealing teeth yellowed and uneven.  His breath stank.  His eye socket continued to weep.  “You’re going to help me?” The officer confirmed.

“Yes sir.” Grant replied.

“Good.  There’s just one thing I need to know, son.” The officer said.

“What’s that, sir?” Grant prompted.

“Where arrre theeeyyy?!” The officer hissed, his one good blue eye popping out in a gush of blood and leaving another gory hole behind.

Grant shook himself, clearing his head.  The Civil War evaporated around him, replaced by the dim twilight of desert landscape.  “Where arre theeeyyy?!” Kyle demanded, his skeletal fingers grasped tightly around Marleen’s throat.

Kyle’s face was concaved, giving his features an impossibly asymmetrical appearance.  Marleen screamed and then fainted.  She slipped through Kyle’s bony grasp.  Kyle hissed in frustration and grabbed the prostrate girl by her long, red hair.

The Kyle-thing drug Grant’s sister through the muck back towards the river.  Grant understood something at that point.  Whoever was killed had to go back into the water to be resurrected.  Their lifeless bodies had to be drug underwater in a blasphemous bastardization of baptism.  The demonic forces of whatever the ghost lady had become transformed her victims into unholy slaves.  Grant knew all of this in one horrific epiphany.

Grant found that he could control his limbs once again as consciousness returned fully to his body.  He ran at Kyle in an attempt to rescue his sister.  His beloved sister who faced unspeakable terror to save his life.  Since their parent’s divorce, Marleen was the only person in his pathetic little life that he still considered family.  His sister.  He loved her, he realized.

Grant tackled the creature and knocked it down just before they reached water.  The creature hissed, limbs flailing and fingers curling furiously in frustration.  Grant miraculously found the football-sized rock Marleen had dropped earlier.  He pummeled it repeatedly against Kyle’s sepulcher-esque form.  Instead of blood, mucky river water gushed out in numerous spots from the onslaught.  Grant’s attack was embolden by fear, chivalry, sibling protectiveness and more than just a little insanity as he fought with superhuman strength.

Grant raised his arms, clutching the stone like a battleaxe poised for the deathblow. Suddenly from behind him, Lisa seized his arms.  She spun Grant around to face her.

Grant felt perverse and horrified as the thing that had once been Lisa pulled him in close for an embrace.  Her pale, previously beautiful face contorted into a semblance of a pucker.  Grant felt powerless as Lisa kissed him.  Her frigid, indigo lips tasted foul.

As Grant closed his eyes in horror, he heard Kyle dragging Marleen into the river.

Chapter 13

By Malcolm Orrall

The moment Grant’s tongue tasted the foulness of Lisa’s kiss it was too late.  She bit down hard, clenched his face in her teeth and dragged him lip and tongue down to the river.

Marlene had her own problems, but she heard Grant scream as Kyle wrestled her toward the river and was about to pull her under.  In a final attempt to free herself, she reached for the jagged rock she had been saving in her pocket, and slammed it down on Kyle’s arm with a blow so decisive, it snapped the bone in his upper arm, leaving only rotting flesh to hold it in place.  As he screamed in anguish, she ripped the wounded arm clean off and bludgeoned him to the ground, followed by another crushing blow to his already weakened forehead.  The river water flowed from him, and he fell silent.  Tears erupted from her eyes as she put the bloodied stone back in her pocket.

“I’m sorry, Kyle…I know it’s not you.”  She turned ran after Grant and Lisa, trying to head them off at the shoreline.

Grant grappled with Lisa’s body for a handhold, unable to gain his footing.  He’d never been this close to a girl before let alone kissed one, and every part of her that offered itself up for his grasp felt too soft, too warm, too familiar, and too close to his constant fantasizing about her that he recoiled for fear of offending the one he loved so dearly.  He was losing precious time.  It was all happening too fast for his hormone addled post-tweener brain to handle.  He didn’t want it to be like this.  And besides, his sister was right there! She might see! It was all too much.

Stuck in the French kiss from hell with the girl he loved more than life itself, his instincts clouded by love when he should be fighting for his life, even he knew this was bad.  He didn’t stand a chance.

“Punch her in the boob, Grant!!!” “She’s already dead!”  Marlene yelled in a vain attempt to break the spell that had befallen her pathetic lovelorn brother.

Grant cocked back his fist, but just couldn’t.  What if she was still alive?  What if she was just possessed and one day when they were married after a long, long time when they’d had kids and a house and a dog maybe they could laugh about it—No Grant!  Stop it!  She’s killing you! He tore the end of his tongue free from her lips just long enough to issue a final warning to his sister of what he had learned.  Lisa bit into the flesh of his cheek.

“I’m sorry Marlene!”  He screamed with blood gurgling from his lips.  “Don’t let Kyle get to the water!  It brings them baaaaaaaack!…..”  Lisa’s superhuman strength crushed Grant’s face to her.  His blood soaked into her blouse.  He felt her closeness. They disappeared into the swift-running flow of the river, and suddenly Marlene found herself alone.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Aaron’s now bloated body wavered unnaturally in a tiny eddy by the edge of the river, his belt caught on a dry cactus skeleton protruding into the flow.   The swirling currents attempted to drag him down and under, but the gases that had built up in his body resisted submersion.  When his foot hit the river bank the current would flow over parts of him, drawing him under momentarily, flexing the branch that held him, only to bob him back to the surface, jolt him back into line with the flow, and the whole morbid cycle would start all over again.

La Llarona sat by the bank watching, planning her revenge.

“Maria?” It always started this way. She had tried to run from it, but her only relief now was to wail out into the night a cry so hideously lonely as to drown out all other sounds, especially the ones in her head.  It was the same voice that cut through the last of the thoughts flashing before her as the world around her dimmed by the riverbank those many years ago, the sound of water rushing in her ears, fading into the light as though carrying her toward it.

“Maria?” She both loved and hated that voice.  How arrogant to use such a warm and kind voice to mock her.  How could it not know that it also gave her hope?  To be so near and yet so close! Was it the way of heaven and hell to first envelop one in infinite kindness and mercy only to then rip away its sheltering embrace?  She longed once again to feel the comfort it first brought.  How it came upon her gently with the sweet death, how it gradually loosed the grip of pain that had racked her tortured body, how it moved her from brutality to a glimpse of everlasting life.  She prayed it would also release her from the pain she could not escape in her bosom, the soul-crushing guilt that smothered her, yet it wouldn’t let her die.   A gnawing ache that commanded her every moment, in the very bosom to which she once held her boys fast, knowing they would do what they were told, knowing their goodness would be the end of them.  And when they began to doubt, struggling to free themselves, kicking at her, lunging for branches that hung low over the river, clawing at her hair, searching her eyes for something, any sign of the sheltering tenderness that had nurtured them from birth, their pleading eyes wide open just inches from the surface, green, innocent, promising to be good, eyes now slowly stripped of the very light that made them so precious to her.  No mother should have to endure such memories!

La Llarona pushed them from her consciousness and tried to bring herself back to those moments of the first light when goodness, knowing only goodness, enveloped her.  Ah, there it was.   A palliative to all her horrors, she came once again to know its touch, and in a wishful dance of hopeful redemption, she struggled once more for her last breath, and once again, she let go.  She felt the now familiar all-knowing light once again try to enter her, its sweet goodness seeking its likeness inside her.  She prepared herself once again as a bride for her wedding day.  Maybe this time it would be different.  And just as it had a thousand times before, the light that entered her recoiled at the touch, like oil meeting water, and in its parting left a void so deep nothing but that light itself could fill it.

“Maria?  Something’s wrong.  Where are your children?”

The sudden darkness, the total absence of light, collapsed inside her as violently as the day her children were taken from her.  The memory of her earthly betrayal by her husband became as one with the betrayal of heaven itself.

Oh how to her ears the voice feigned understanding.  “How like a man?” she thought. Anyone could see she was driven to do those awful things, but oh how it seemed to delight in mocking her.  In one last desperate attempt at salvation she threw herself at its mercy, and in her softening once more she took on the appearance of the young green-eyed Maria.

“But Father, you know there is nothing I can do!”  She whimpered like a small child, her mind racing for a place to hide her shame.  “I have looked for them.  You must know where they are, please help me…you know I can never find them.”

“Maria, I’m sorry.  You cannot pass this way without your children.”

With the weight of those words, Maria broke down into uncontrollable tears.  She imagined the voice was taunting her, toying with her.  She would show Him.  As her ire grew the memory she once carried of the light faded, the last traces washed clean by the blood of this cutting emptiness.  The more enraged she became the more her beauty faded, and she grew in stature to reveal the full horror she had been holding inside all those years alone.

“Children!!?  Oh, I see it now!  You’re just like all the rest!  You think children are all I’m good for?!”

She rose to her feet and let loose a rant in her native tongue that darkened the skies, sent flocks of birds to scatter, and all manner of desert creatures running for the shadows.

Aaron’s body twitched at the sound.  Her guttural cry caused his distended abdomen to burst.  Its acrid gasses poured into the now acutely keen senses of La Llarona’s towering rage. Her fall from grace complete, she slammed back into her present among the damned.

“You’re no different than my husband!…Or any other man!!!  I bear children for you,  more souls, and then you cast me away when you are through!!!”

“You want children?!…I’ll give you children!!!

La Llarona reached down into the water with her bony fingers and snatched Aaron’s carcass from the river, grabbed him by the lock of hair that remained on the back of his head and lifted his body over hers, aiming the part of his head that used to be his face at the sky.

“And I’ll have my husband, too!!!”

Turning to Aaron, she laid his body down, folded a piece of loose flesh back over the bony structures of his face.  He looked remarkably at peace.

“Ahhh, that’s better.  You’re starting to look quite a bit like my husband.  If I trim a little off of your ears and the end of your nose…a little stitching here, a patch of flesh there.  You’ll be good as new.”

She dragged an old chest out from behind a log, opened it and pulled out a musty, moth-eaten waistcoat and pants, and stretched them out beside him.

“And see?  I’ve brought your favorite suit.  Things will be just as we’d always dreamed. “

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Marlene watched hopelessly as Lisa and Grant disappeared into the river.  She hit the water right behind them and swam blindly into the darkening currents.

Down and down she went, first following one sign of motion, then another, feeling her way as she became blinded by silt freshly stirred from the death struggle somewhere beneath her.  Suddenly she felt a deep love for her brother that she hadn’t felt for as long as she could remember.

She would free him.  He would not suffer this hellish fate.  No matter the cost.

La Llarona watched from the bank as the river swallowed the last of Marlene.

“She’ll never do…that red hair of hers.  My boys have black hair.”  Then turning to Kyle, “…And this one…so pretty…but much too tall.  That can be fixed.  Oh, but his face, so boy like…just like my first born.”

She knelt down and caressed his cheek, tears forming in the rotting well of her one remaining eye…the other socket draining in sympathy.  She sniffed through her bony protrusion of a nose.

“I have a needle and thread…I can fix that awful wound!  Ohhhhh my mijo!!!! What have they done to you!  I’m so sorry! I have searched for you for so long!!!!”

She dragged his body down the riverbank and laid it alongside Aaron, whose face had been stitched up, and his clothes changed into her husband’s Sunday best.  Aaron’s hair was combed in the style befitting the status of a wealthy Patron.  His waistcoat buttons had been polished, and a hat was neatly tucked under his right arm.

La Llarona went over to her trunk, the hope chest her mother had given her before her wedding day, the one her husband had thrown out into the desert after she died along with many of her belongings and other things she had collected over the years that reminded her of home.  Through the years she added to it anything that she might find useful, some she had stolen from the very house where they lived.   She reached inside and pulled out an old Civil War issue bone saw that she had found half buried at the site of an old battleground nearby.

She ran her finger along Kyle’s arms, measuring them with the sleeve of a small white shirt.

“Forgive me, mijo…you are so beautiful…perfect, and I know one day you will thank me…Oh it hurts me so. But I know you will be delighted to see your Mama so happy.”

She kissed Kyle’s cheek, and caressed his leg as a mother giving a healing touch to an injured boy.  She measured his leg with a young boy’s dress pantaloons, and making her mark, aligned the bone saw perfectly just below the knee.

“You were always such a good boy.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

The current carried Marlene downstream.  She dove down several times, but Grant was nowhere to be found.  She came up for air and made her way to the bank to run back upstream and make another sweep of the depths.

She ran barefoot over sand and mesquite thorns, brushing them off the soles of her feet as she ran.  She stepped up onto a fallen log, and leapt through the air, catching her leg in low a hanging clothesline draped with children’s clothing, and fell flat onto a pile of discarded chunks of human remains.

Her face covered in blood, she stifled a scream when she heard the sound of a sweet voice singing a beautiful lullaby, coming from just over a thicket of sage at the top of a rise nearby, and the steady sound of sawing.  La Llarona was hard at work.  She stopped singing for a moment, turned her head at the sound, but was so entranced at the long awaited sight of her little boy, she went right back to the task at hand.

Marlene shuddered in horror at what she saw, Kyle and Aaron looking like a father and son, dressed as if from another time.  Her Spanish was just good enough to make out the meaning of the hideous monster’s words, “Oh mijo, if you are good, when I am done I will find your brother and we will all be together again, just like it was before…So happy.”

Marlene knew that could only mean one thing…she had to get back to Grant.  She got up to run, but found herself tangled in the clothesline with one end tied to La Llorona’s hope chest.  Next to the chest was an old bayonet knife.  Marlene grabbed it and stuck it in her belt just as the lid came crashing down.  She ran.  Startled, and gripped with rage, La Llarona spun around and carelessly tore the stitches from Kyle’s leg and sent it spinning into the sand.  She screeched.

Marlene was already halfway up the bank before La Llorona got to the top of the rise and saw her.  She screeched again, sending a prickling jolt of adrenalin through Marlene’s body, and in an instant she was back at the curve of the stream where she last saw Grant.  In one smooth move she dove back in to find him.

Marlene swam into the depths, and there not twenty feet down at the bottom sheltered from the currents above, the silt having settled now, was her dear brother suspended before her, his wounds healed, locked in a passionate embrace with the girl of his dreams.  Lisa too, her wounds healed, eyes closed, the fullness of her lips pressed against Grant’s, her hands placed gently behind his head, both of them drifting blissfully.  She was really kissing him.  And Grant was no longer a hapless awkward boy, but rather somehow more manly, at his best in this moment as she might have imagined he would be in years to come.  And Lisa, too, was somehow more of a young woman in this moment than ever before.

Tears flowed from Marlene’s eyes and mixed with the river water.  She knew how much this would mean to her brother, but she also knew that life in the river was not the same as the life they had known, only a brief echo of a real life, and that this meant they both were gone forever.  He would never really live out his dream of a life with Lisa.  Neither of them would ever really grow up.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Suddenly Grant’s eyes opened as though he had been warned, just as La Llorona lunged at Marlene out of the blackness.  Grant swept Marlene aside as the monster rushed past fixing her ire on him.  He pushed Lisa to safety and grabbed the bony hand of La Llarona and twisted it back on itself and plunged it into her heart.  She let out a wail and grabbed Lisa by the hair and flung her to the bottom, making another lunge at Grant.

This time Marlene was ready, she pulled out the bayonet she had stuck in her belt, and slashed at the monster’s back.

Lisa came up from the bottom and grabbed at La Llorona’s feet, dragging her down, ripping at her exposed ribs.

“You lied to me!”  Lisa yelled at her, pounding on her chest.  Marlene was astounded by this change in Lisa, realizing that in this new form she could speak under the water.  “All men are not evil!  I did awful things because you said those things to me!  To us!  I hate you!” The monster listened, amused.  Lisa turned to Grant.

”I’m sorry I was so mean, Grant…I don’t know what happened down here.  I didn’t know I would love you, and we were different ages, but because of this chance…Even though we can never be together, I got to see what we would’ve become one day, possibly…with you as my husband.”

Lisa’s eyes welled up as she screamed at La Llorona, “You took my life and my love from me…when will you have enough!”

La Llorona spun around, snapped off one of her dangling ribs, and thrust it into Lisa’s neck.  Silenced…she sank, her gaze on Grant all the way to the bottom.

Grant tried to reach for her but La Llorona held him fast.  He called out to her, but the monster clutched tighter at this throat.  Lisa’s hand gave a knowing wave as she disappeared in the depths, and she was gone.

Marlene fixed the bayonet tightly in her hand as she swam to help him.  She wanted to tell him she was sorry, that she was so proud he was her brother.  She tried to say how much she loved him, too, but there were only bubbles, causing her to lose precious air.

La Llorona’s fingers closed ever tighter around Grant’s throat.

The waters were becoming muddy from the struggle.  Marlene was running out of air.  She thrust the bayonet once more into the heart of La Llorona, but the blade deflected off of her spine and went straight through, into the chest of her brother, nicking his freshly stopped heart in the left ventricle.   La Llorona screeched with delight, and she backed away to watch Grant die a second time, this time for good, for a death in La Llorona’s river is final, for everyone but those denied the sweet homecoming of death by the darkness of their deeds.

Marlene screamed at her mistake as the last of the air left her lungs.  Tears of love and grief for her brother flooded from her as she held him to her.  Marlene found that she no longer needed a breath of air.  Grant lifted up his eyes and tried to speak.  Thank you my sister. The last of the light in his eyes gave over to the love in his heart for her, and then he was gone.

La Llorona watched.  The dimming of the light in his eyes at the unwitting hand of his sister, reminded her of the dimming light in her own sons’ eyes at her hand, in this same river, near this same spot so many years before.

Marlene’s tears continued to flow, and drifted in the current to bring their sorrow and love for life into the wounded heart of La Llorona.  It calmed her.  And once again Marlene heard the sweet motherly voice that sang the lullabies.  As the monster sang, slowly La Llorona transformed into a beautiful young dark-haired maiden again, with the warmest green eyes Marlene had ever seen.

“You love your brother.”  “I loved my sons.” She paused.  Slowly the vengeful ruminations crept back into La Llarona’s heart, her eyes darkened, and whatever warmth Marlene thought she saw was now beginning to fade.  “And you can mark my words…I am going to bring them back!”

La Llorona’s thoughts turned back to her unfinished task.  She slipped back into the madness of her world, the beautiful dark haired maiden slowly turning back into the murderous beast it had taken years for her to become.

Her bony fingers again protruded from her wrist, and her one eye gave Marlene a final knowing look.  The transformation was complete, except for one tiny act of compassion, the best La Llorona could muster.

“I need your brother, really…but she will do.”

And with that La Llorona snatched Lisa one last time by the hair and dragged her off into the deep.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Marlene awoke on the beach to the sound of helicopter blades spinning nearby.  Paramedics hovered around her checking her vital signs.  She tried to speak but the oxygen mask on her face got in the way.  She pulled it off her mouth and cried out.

“Grant!…where are you!?  She coughed.  Her chest hurt.  She tried to sit up but someone held her down, “Where’s my brother Grant, where is he!?”

Marlene looked over and saw another team of paramedics working on a body nearby.   “Clear!”  Grant’s body jolted with electricity one last time.  “This one’s a goner…Time of death, 7:15 pm.”  They covered his face with a yellow police tarp.

“Grant!…Graaaaaaant!”  Marlene sobbed uncontrollably, unable to catch her breath.  A kindly woman paramedic who appeared to be in command of the task force kneeled down beside her and smoothed her hair.  Gently she put the oxygen mask back on her face.

“I’m so sorry dear, we were able to resuscitate your brother for just a moment, but his heart was too damaged from the wound, and we lost him.”

Marlene sobbed uncontrollably, “It’s all my fault!”

“No dear, he gave us just enough information for us to know that you were very brave, but he did have some words for you…He said you’re the best sister a guy could ever have, and he’s glad you saw him at his best.”  The woman smiled.  “Oh, and that you would know what that means.”

A cathartic smile broke through Marlene’s sobbing.  That was so like Grant. Her chest began heaving, and as the full weight of her loss was upon her, she folded into the fetal position.  The emergency crew tried to make her lay flat again, but the woman waved them away.   Finally safe, she let go with all of her tears, confused with the occasional bout of laughter that she knew her brother loved so much, and unleashed just about every emotion that she’d had to hold inside all those days.  She thought about his last words.  One thing for sure, he was the best brother she could ever have, too.

The woman stayed with her.  “You’re pretty lucky, my dear.  That fisherman pulled you out just in time.  We got some more questions for you, but they can wait.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Epilogue

Piedra Gazette:

NEWS UPDATE: RIVER CLAIMS FOUR TEENS, ONE CLOSE TO DEATH

“…In a hurried statement in which a Border Patrol spokesperson took no questions, officials stated that one additional victim thought dead, was initially found lying on the ground between two of the teens, but has since gone missing…that of an unidentified young woman, black hair and green eyes.  Any information leading to her whereabouts would be greatly appreciated.  There is some confusion as to the identity of the other bodies.  DNA tests are pending.  The lone survivor, and the fisherman who reportedly brought her to safety, could not be reached for comment.”

53 Comments

  1. Malcolm Orrall says:

    Thank you, Sheryl…you are so right. Thank you so much for giving it such a close read. I really love your observations…and so to the point…wow. When I read them it really hit me as I’m sure there is a correlation to what I wrote and what you say, and why it came out the way it did. Amazing.

  2. sheryl kubin says:

    Malcolm, our biggest fears realized…dying before we become what we desire to be and long before our time. Great ending as it is so scary for us all. We know the fear and sorrow all too well. Great ending. I hope we all beat the ‘BEAST’ as my good friend once called it.

  3. Me likey. Great job all!

  4. Malcolm Orrall says:

    Nice work everybody!…and I just wanted to give a shout out to my son Jesse for his terrific chapter, Chapter 9, and for everyone else, too. Awesome imaginations at work here…it’s really a pleasure to work with all of you…and Thank you Mr. Castle!…You’re the best!…:)

  5. Frigid, indigo lips.
    Ick.

  6. sheryl kubin says:

    Nice Jesse…perfect insanity of the damned…all will not be well this time. It’s all fun and games until somebody loses a life. Hell hath no fury….

  7. Brian Lane says:

    Phew, Cheryl’s chapter was a hard act to follow but it is done and on its way “to the grave”. All the authors have worked together seemlessly. I can’t wait to see what Malcolm does to finish it off!

    • William Castle says:

      Can’t wait to post yet another tale of terror.

  8. This has been so much fun to read!! I also enjoyed writing my chapter too!

  9. Dara Elliot says:

    Really enjoyable read by some very talented people. Chapter 8 (Gail Petersen) in particular was a real game changer! while this story began as the typical “dumb teens having sex and getting high before their demise” tale, Petersen’s look into the mind, feelings, and motivations of “La Llorona” is rare in the genre…and allows us to feel some empathy for the antagonist. It effectively ups the ante, which I can see subsequent chapters already taking cues from. In addition, while this is a horror story after all, what Maria endured at the hands of her husband were the most horrific aspects of the tale so far! Very well done (and hope Ms. Petersen contributes another chapter before the story concludes).

  10. Wow…what a great story this is turning into. Printed every chapter so I can read them whenever i want to. This is such great fun watching each chapter unfold. I can’t wait till the next story begins so I can help Scare It Forward.

  11. Heaven Liegh Eldeen says:

    @ Sheryl Thank you! OMGoodness this story is turning out great! I love reading the different voices each author has. I am so happy to be a part of it! I hope to do again soon.

    • William Castle says:

      Isn’t it fabulous?????

  12. Lisa
    Thanks for your kind words. Loved writing this chapter of Scare It Forward. Hope to do another one in the future.
    Gail

    • William Castle says:

      We hope you’ll come back again.

  13. Liza says:

    Awesome idea of story telling!

    Gail, you are an amazing story teller. I can visualize your words and want to see where this ends….or begins again!

  14. Cheryl says:

    Wow. What a story it has turned into. Phew.

    • William Castle says:

      I know. Aren’t these writers amazing?

  15. sheryl kubin says:

    Hello, Heaven Leigh, the one and only author to have been down at the Morton Cottage on Minor Lake. You were just a few doors from mine…yes you were… and a fine job you did on chapter 5 keeping Aaron alive. Thomas and I say Hello from Horseshoe cove…a story all its own. Cove Swans a swimming for a friend far across the world.

  16. And death comes from the darkness… the shadows of the cool shading trees… and the shadows that dwell within the crevices of our own minds…

    Great story so far! :D

  17. Malcolm Orrall says:

    …it’s getting spOOky!…:)

    • William Castle says:

      It certainly is. Just wait to see where we take this. I can’t wait to see where it ends!

  18. sheryl kubin says:

    Our apparition is a jealous, nasty one…oh but they all are, aren’t they? It’s getting a little creepy on that river bank…

  19. Malcolm Orrall says:

    This story is unfolding very nicely!…good work everybody! Can’t wait to read what happens next!…:)

  20. Kyla says:

    WooHoo! Getting good! Lovin it!

  21. Dan, you are an amazing wordsmith. Wonderful job! You really set it up nicely for the next author. This is getting good!

    • William Castle says:

      He certainly is! And right back at you.

  22. Great story so far guys! Can’t wait to read what happens next!!

    • William Castle says:

      I can’t until Monday. What do you think will happen???

  23. I’m sure we’ll find Aaron’s fault eventually… of course, if he is genuine, it will be that much harder to tear him to pieces… or something else could happen to bring out his primal, evil, nasty side… That’s the beauty, no one knows but the next author what’s going to happen…

  24. rich orth says:

    I kill him Bill..if I want perfection I only need go to the mirror.. :) Kill him slowly…very slowly…just saying

  25. rich orth says:

    great job Dan….enjoyed the character building…I am starting to get sick of Aaron being perfect, can somebody kill him soon :)

    • William Castle says:

      Very funny. But he’s also a nice guy. What do you do with a character like that? Interesting dilemma.

  26. sheryl kubin says:

    Can’t wait for everyone to hit the water and float, float and float. Loved the cold air from the cooler annoucing the apparition with blue pulsing veins and rancid breath! Thanks, Dan.

    • William Castle says:

      This next chapter is really going to take us on a wicked ride. Brian and Dan have built great characters. Now it is up to us to scare the pants off you all… Can’t wait!

  27. Barbie says:

    I knew there was a reason I never go tubing! Very Cool!

    • William Castle says:

      Never go tubing when La Llorona is near.

  28. Great start, Brian. Gave me chills!

    • William Castle says:

      Me too!

  29. Kyla says:

    Awesome start Brian! I’m so excited and relieved to be a part of Scare it forward! Next!? :[)

    • William Castle says:

      I can hardly wait.

  30. Heaven Liegh Eldeen says:

    Awesome start! My bain is already running a mile a minute about where this can go! hehehe I’m excited.

    • William Castle says:

      I can’t wait to see where this twisted tale takes us.

  31. Aleck says:

    Hello there Bill and Rich!
    Thank you for sharing a seat near the campfire! What a fabulous beginning to what will likely grow into a fabulous journey into terror! I’ll be here, with marshmallows, awaiting the next contribution!

    • William Castle says:

      We are delighted that you will join us.

  32. sheryl kubin says:

    Brian, I really felt in the awful teenage ‘mental chaos’ moment (ugh), especially ‘pulling a Grant.’ Thanks for posting on FB, Mal, something else to look forward to.

    • William Castle says:

      I know. I was always the kid “pulling a Grant.”

  33. Malcolm Orrall says:

    Nice beginning, Brian…you had me at “Aloha,”…with teen angst and a side order of tentacles!…:)

    • William Castle says:

      I can’t wait to see where this goes and where you take us Malcolm. Shivers just ran down my spine.

  34. Nicely done Brian.

    • William Castle says:

      I agree. Horrifyingly good!!!

  35. rich orth says:

    Great starting point Brian!!!! I almost hate waiting to see these stories grow…almost ;)

    • William Castle says:

      Thanks Rich. I can always count on you. You are the best.

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  1. [...] this year, William Castle is once again proud to present “Scare It Forward!“  This year, there was such an overwhelming response to his request for writers, that the [...]

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