Friday Flash: A Family Ghost Story

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Much of my life has played out in one rehab circle or another, so you can take my story or leave it. All I can do is tell it, tell the truth…and the truth is, I’m not even sure I believe it.

My mother was one of those people who collected souls. Vagrants, husbands kicked out for the night, down and out relatives, everyone and anyone was welcomed to grab a meal or a bed in her old farmhouse. As you can imagine, this opened up our world–me and my two brothers—exposing us to endless possibilities through stories and illegal substances. Instead of our minds being stuffed with skewed parental beliefs, closed off and capped…we soared, we expanded, we soaked up lore and logic, creating an environment where anything could happen. And eventually something did.

It began with a dream.

I could see myself sleeping; blanket tossed on the floor, one arm thrown over my head, chest rising and falling in soothing slow motion. Then I could see the wall alongside my bed breathing; white plaster pushing out, sucking back in. IN. OUT. Eventually, the bulge expanded like a balloon and began to move. It slid toward the adjacent wall and turned the corner, ending up behind my headboard. I watched beads of sweat form on my sleeping self’s forehead. My breathing became jagged, more like panting. Suddenly, large hands pushed through the wall as if the wall was giving birth, stretching out, reaching for my sleeping self. Blood trickled down the arms in thin channels, rolled over the knuckles and dripped from the fingertips onto my white pillow. I tried to scream, ‘Wake up!’ No sound would come. My sleeping self whimpered as the hands wrapped around my throat. I wheezed, my air cut off, my eyes bulging under the pressure.

Brrrrring. Brrrrrring. Brrrrring.

Startled, I jumped up and slammed my hand down on the alarm, knocking it to the floor. Something wet remained on my face. I ran into the bathroom and collapsed in relief. Tears….no blood. I checked my neck.  No signs of being strangled by some lunatic behind the wall.

“Just a bad dream.” I reassured myself. “A really bad dream.”

My hands were still shaking as I buttered my toast at breakfast.

“You all right, Joan?”

“Fine, Mother.” I rolled my eyes. Why was she always so observant?

A week later, I wasn’t feeling so fine. I was still having the dream, only it was starting to cross some kind of barrier. What do I mean? I really have no idea. All I know is, it was becoming stronger, breaking through to the physical world. The hands were beginning to leave marks. Finger imprints on my neck that I would wait to fade before heading downstairs for breakfast.

I decided to move my bed to the center of the room.

There was a new guy at the table that morning. He looked like I felt: sleepless and scared out of his mind. I glanced at him as I reached for the butter.

“He’s your cousin, Marti, from New York. Say hi.”

“Hey,” I waved. He looked fried. Mother smiled and began to make small talk with him about his bus ride, some family up north, whatever. I was just glad she had someone else to worry about that morning. I was in no mood for her scrutinizing. I glanced at my older brothers, realizing they were unusually quiet.

“What’s wrong with you two?” They both looked drained of blood.

“Nothing,” Jacob answered without looking up. Bobby ignored me.

No snappy comebacks or cut downs? Something was definitely wrong.

Brrrrring. Brrrrrring. Brrrrring.

I jerked up, gasping for air. It hadn’t worked. The bloody arms had just stretched, gotten longer to reach me. This time they tried to drag me from my bed. I ran from the room and slammed the door behind me.

That morning at breakfast, I had an idea.

“Mom, I think Marti should sleep in my room. I’ll sleep on the couch for awhile. It doesn’t look like he’s getting much rest.”

“How thoughtful of you, Joan.” She beamed at Marti, who really did look like he could use somebody to knock him on the skull and put him out for a few days. Anyway, I knew this would work because mother was always trying to instill unselfishness in us. She looked at my brothers and I noticed her smile wane.

“You two sick or something?”

“Can’t sleep, stupid nightmares,” Bobby grunted. Jacob reached over and popped him in the arm. “Ow!”

“Jacob, don’t hit your brother.”

At this point, I had dropped my toast and my jaw. Nightmares?

“Hands?”

With that one word, I had silenced both my brothers and watched terror widen their eyes for the first time in my life. I nodded. It felt good not to be crazy, at least.

A week later there was a new guy at the table. He was tall, pale with minty, round eyes; almost otherworldly.

“This is Samael.”

We all stared at her. Just ‘Samael,’ no long lost cousin, uncle, friend, grocery store bum?

       “You all right, Mom?”

“Yes, of course.”

We glanced at each other and then at Samael.

He was calmly reaching for the butter, with mom smiling beside him like she was on something. I felt my face drain, my heart begin to race. His hands were large, each knuckle and vein very familiar to me. I glanced up the stairs.

“Mother? Where’s cousin Marti?”

“I don’t know.” She looked confused suddenly. “I guess he decided to move on.”

Samael’s eyes gleamed. My brothers and I excused ourselves from the table, making our way upstairs one at a time, trying not to draw Samael’s attention.

Then we all stood around my bed, staring at the blood spots dried brown on the pillow. Bobby began to cry.

Bobby doesn’t remember it happening like this. He became a psychiatrist.  Jacob remembers it being worse. He became a priest.

And me? Well…I became a writer.

(photo credit: Hendrike)

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  1. #1 by Jon the Storyteller on October 23, 2009 - 4:13 am

    It’s because we write that we are able to survive. My #fridayflash is loosely based on a real experience — I hope for your sake, this one is not!!!

    This story had me pulled in, though I knew it was going to creep me out. And I LOVE the aweome ending. I look forward to your stories, Shannon!

    • #2 by soesposito on October 23, 2009 - 4:28 am

      Very loosely based on a dream my mother told me about, not based on my family though.

  2. #4 by Marisa Birns on October 23, 2009 - 4:18 am

    Oh, no! Read this just before I was going to sleep! Now I have to stay up.

    Spookily good…

  3. #5 by ganymeder on October 23, 2009 - 9:35 am

    Loved it, especially how you tied up the ending with everyone’s chosen occupations. Great job.

  4. #6 by Chance on October 23, 2009 - 2:07 pm

    Chilling stuff,

    like the way Jacob who rememebrs it worst ends up becoming a priest

  5. #7 by Laura Eno on October 23, 2009 - 2:43 pm

    You start out with a build-up that makes it completely plausible and real. Awesome story! I’m glad I’m reading it in the morning, unlike poor Marisa!

  6. #8 by Jodi MacArthur on October 23, 2009 - 11:17 pm

    This nightmare is going to give me nightmares. Excellent build up of suspense – and boy did you deliver in the end. There are writers and story tellers and girl, you do both. Scary as hell.

    • #9 by soesposito on October 24, 2009 - 2:20 pm

      You’re so right, Jodi-there is a difference and I’ve had to really work on the storyteller aspect, it doesn’t come easy, so I really appreciate your comment. Thanks.

  7. #10 by G. on October 24, 2009 - 12:19 am

    Great ending. Kudos.

  8. #11 by ~Tim on October 24, 2009 - 12:39 am

    I really like the way you ended this one. You ARE a writer!

  9. #12 by Anticrombie on October 24, 2009 - 1:14 am

    You know…this is the best pseudo-horror allegory you’ve written to date. I felt like I was back in the eighties, reading my first Stephen King novel. Fast-paced, and slimmed-down, the cadence of ‘A Family Ghost Story’ made it fly by too quickly, leaving me wanting more of the tale.

    But the ending was placed just in time, so I cannot complain about the length.

    …You know I’m a tough critic to impress when it comes to horror, so kudos to you! 🙂

    • #13 by soesposito on October 24, 2009 - 2:22 pm

      Wow. 🙂 Maybe if I would have been reading Stephen King in the 80’s instead of Danielle Steele, it wouldn’t have taken me this long to figure out I like horror…lol.

  10. #14 by David G Shrock on October 24, 2009 - 5:39 am

    Nice introduction leading into the main story and ending connects back to the beginning well. The pale otherworldly Samael implies a creature reminding me of Samael the archangel mostly by name. I like this Samael and his position in the story.

    • #15 by soesposito on October 24, 2009 - 2:25 pm

      Samael, Yes. Aka The Grim Reaper, The Angel of Death. Interesting character.

  11. #16 by Deanna Schrayer on October 24, 2009 - 3:24 pm

    Perfect title Shannon, perfect story altogether. I agree with everyone else – you did a great job wrapping the beginning with the end.
    You DO have a great storytelling ability! I want to hear more of these.

  12. #17 by karen from mentor on October 24, 2009 - 3:30 pm

    Wow. wow. Ok, yes, I know a lot of fancier words….but wow really works in this instance. That blew me away. Great pacing. Very believable.Excellent excellent flash Shannon.
    Karen :0)

  13. #18 by Chris Chartrand on October 24, 2009 - 8:27 pm

    This is really very well told. Spooky without being cliche. I love the ending, learning how all the siblings dealt with the trauma was a great way to end it. Well done.
    ~chris

  14. #19 by Laurita on October 25, 2009 - 12:40 am

    Creepy as heck and thoroughly engaging. Loved the ending.

  15. #20 by John Wiswell on October 25, 2009 - 1:37 am

    Becoming a writer seems naturaly after that.

  16. #21 by KjM on October 25, 2009 - 2:24 am

    Oh, this was quite something. I was completely drawn into the world you created. I was sorry to read about poor cousin Marti. Guess he didn’t have the resilience of the three children.

    And I loved the last six sentences and how each of the three children remembered, and dealt with, the experience.

    Very well done.

  17. #22 by Olivia on October 25, 2009 - 3:04 am

    Shannon, I just love your writing! I’m new to #fridayflash, but your past two posts have been really good. Your writing is clear, accessible, and interesting, and your stories are beautifully paced and creative, but also completely believable. I’m not generally a horror fan, but maybe now I’m crossing over. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • #23 by soesposito on October 25, 2009 - 3:42 pm

      Thanks, Olivia! And welcome 🙂

  18. #24 by mazzz_in_Leeds on October 25, 2009 - 10:35 am

    Oh very good – very scary. Absolutely adore the ending with their career choices! Very nicely done 🙂

  19. #25 by Carrie Cleaver on October 25, 2009 - 3:36 pm

    Shannon, this story was super awesome. A touch of creep, a lot of fear, and nice tie up at the end!

  20. #26 by ditty1013 on October 25, 2009 - 4:02 pm

    Creepy, and nice conclusion! The dream image reminded me of Freddy pushing through the wall in A Nightmare on Elm Street. *shiver* Good work!

  21. #27 by Mark Kerstetter on October 26, 2009 - 2:03 am

    Strong writing – again, simple as that.

  22. #28 by Eric J. Krause on October 26, 2009 - 3:57 am

    Dreams that turn out to have a hand in real life. Very cool. Good story!

  23. #29 by Alex Carrick on October 26, 2009 - 8:49 pm

    Good to see you’re not afraid to explore “the dark side.” That’s where some of the best stories reside. And as for families – they can creep one out the most. An eerie read. Thanks.

  24. #30 by Al Bruno III on October 26, 2009 - 11:07 pm

    Great story as always…

  25. #31 by Cecilia Dominic on October 28, 2009 - 5:54 pm

    Laughed out loud at that last line. Great story, absolutely creepy, and the fact that the two brothers were having the dream/experience as well totally works and makes it scarier.

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