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Killing the Dead: A Short Story, Part One. My Response to Bill Holland's Photo Challenge

Updated on February 29, 2020
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Chris has written more than 200 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.


The "Rules" of the Billybuc Photo Challenge/Prompt: Installment #3, According to Bill

This is my response to Bill Holland's challange to write a story using a series of five photos which he has provided. Thanks for the fun challenge, Bill.

In Bills own words:

Oh hell, there are no rules, folks. I’m just tossing out some photos and hoping they resonate with you. If you want to write a story or poem based on one photo, great! If you want to build a story around all five photos, great! If you want to write 200 words, great! And if you want to appease the HP editors and go for 1250, I say, once more, great!

I’m just trying to help your muse. Nothing more, nothing less!

Killing the Dead

Amy Carter backed her travel trailer into the driveway of a farm that her family had owned for nearly two-hundred years. For most of that time, no one had lived there or farmed the land. Something terrible happened to her great-great-great grandparents and their five children.

She asked the extended family for permission to move onto the farm and bring it back from neglect and ruin. Some had laughed with the cynicism that said she deserved every evil thing that might happen. Others pled with her, even wept, telling her not to put herself in such danger. They told stories about a boogeyman named Gunny. But the majority gave her their blessing.

As far as Amy was concerned, there was no evil presence on the farm that committed those atrocities. She was a modern woman, a woman of science, technology, without superstitions who believed in a rational explanation for what happened all those years ago.


One morning, a cattle truck delivered ten, four-month-old Hereford steers, a young bull, and a bay Morgan horse she named Star for the shape of the white patch on his forehead. She would feed the steers out until they were about 1800 pounds and sell the bull’s services when he matured.

On another day, Amy was brushing Star when she decided to saddle up and go for a ride around her property. She would check the health of the trees in the woods, which was also the location of the family cemetery.

The ash trees were suffering from the Emerald Ash Borer. Most, if not all, would die. Hadn’t this farm seen enough death? She also found the cemetery. A path led from the pasture, through the trees to the top of a hill where a ramshackle wood fence stood guard over two generations of Amy’s family. Her great-great-great-great-grandfather had squatted on the land around 1840 and raised a family on the farm. Around 1862, his son officially claimed the property under the new Homestead Act.

This second-generation experienced a horrible tragedy. Over several months, someone bludgeoned the heads of six members of the Carter family. Examinations of the injuries suggested a heavy, square-shaped object like some kind of hammer. In a foolish attempt to save the farm, they stayed and endured the attacks.


Amy’s heart went out to her kin. She read each headstone. The engravings were sometimes challenging to make out. She came to the final marker and began to read as she had the others. But someone had very recently tagged on an addendum to this one. It read Amy must die.

She was terrified to the point of immobility. She stood over the grave, looking at the inscription. Who had ventured out here and carved this message into the stone?

Storm clouds gathered in the west and rolled her way as she rode Star out of the trees into the pasture. She let the stallion break into a smooth saddle-rack gait. Amy considered the threat. Who had written it? Why would anyone want her dead? Dark clouds gathered. One flash of lightning revealed to Amy that she was not alone.

Standing on a hilltop just one hundred feet away was a man whose head seemed to be covered with some kind of hood because she could see no features such as ears, eyes, nose, or mouth. His arms were held at his sides slightly away from his body. His feet were spread shoulder width. One hand gripped what appeared to be a hammer. Behind the man, a young woman, or an older child, wearing a floral dress and carrying something close to her body, ran toward one of the outbuildings. All of this, she saw in a single flash of lightning.


Amy pulled up the horse. She waited. The wind blew, and the clouds threatened, but the storm blew over. Who were the people she had seen? Vagrants from the city who had claimed the farm as their home? If so, she would help them find a new home.

She let Star walk forward. Nighttime sounds resumed. But woven into the fabric of the chorus of the spring peepers was the crying of a baby. The sound came from the outbuilding where the woman or child had run.

The doorway of the outbuilding was black. Amy entered using her cell phone to light the way. The building housed four pens for cows giving birth. She looked into one stall, but there was nothing. She looked into two more with the same result.

In the last pen, she saw the girl who wore the floral dress, no more than fifteen or sixteen years old. She sat on a milking stool, her head down, holding something close to her chest.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Amelia, and this is my baby, Bonnie.” She looked down at the bundle in her arms.

“My name is Amelia, too. But most people call me Amy.” Amy walked around so she could face the girl. “Why are you here?”

“This is my home,” said Amelia.

“It seems odd that I would meet you here. Your names are the same as those of my great great great grandmother and my great-great-grandmother?

The girl stood. “My dear Amy, I am your great-great-great-grandmother.”

“I’m serious. I know this must be hilarious to you, but…”

Would you like to see what your great grandmother, many times over, looks like today?” The girl transformed in an instant to a grinning skeleton with a smashed skull.

Amy screamed and stumbled backward.

Just as quickly, the corpse became the same young girl.

Amy wanted to run, but she also wanted to know what was going on. “How can this be?”

“Our farm is a portal between this world and the underworld. Bonnie and I can come here whenever we want to take on flesh again.”

“Who was the man with the hammer that I saw today?” said Amy.

“That is my brother, Jonas. He wants to kill you.”

“Kill me? But why? I haven’t done anything to him.”

“You are a blood relative. That is all that matters. To him, you are as guilty as anyone for sending him to the asylum.”

“Asylum? Why was he sent to an asylum?”

“It was obvious from birth that he wasn’t normal. He misbehaved all the time and beat up other kids at school. When he was fifteen, he burned down a farmer’s barn.”

“So your parents sent him away?” said Amy.

“Yes, and after about a year, Jonas escaped. That’s when members of the family began to die, each one from a crushed skull. Sometimes, one of us would see a man wandering across the property wearing a hood over his head. It looked like one of the feed bags we called gunny sacks, only smaller.”

“So that’s how the killer got the nickname, Gunny.”


“We learned that at the asylum, Jonas spent most of his time in isolation. He had to wear a hood like that when he was around other people. The doctors believed that if they kept a bad person from contact with other people, they would turn to God for help. Then they would be forgiven for the bad things they had done and learn to live a good life.”

“So you finally realized that Gunny was your brother, Jonas,” said Amy.

Amelia nodded. “One by one, he killed us until my husband and I with our baby Bonnie were the last ones left. One day, I packed our stuff while my husband ran an errand to town. We were going to leave even though we had nowhere to go. Before he got home, Gunny showed up.”

“You don’t have to tell this part, Amelia.” Amy put her hand on Amelia’s shoulder.

Amelia disregarded Amy’s offer. She was intent on telling her story. “He grabbed my arm, swung a hammer at my head, and, as far as he knew, put an end to the Carter family, except for himself. A few minutes later, I watched from the other side of death as my brother swung from the end of a rope tied to a maple tree in the woods. No one ever found his body.”

Amy wrinkled her forehead. “What happened to little Bonnie?”

Amelia hugged the bundle close. “She was sleeping in the back of the buckboard. Jonas didn’t know I had a child. Later that day, my husband came back from town. He found me dead and Bonnie crying in the wagon.”

“Jonas was my great-great-great-uncle.”

“And you must kill him before he kills you.”

“How can I kill a man who is already dead?”

“While he is in his physical body, he can be killed. It is called the second death, total annihilation. Amelia got up from the milking stool and brushed the dust from her dress. “I am able to sense my brother’s presence. I’ll let you know the instant he crosses over from the underworld.” The girl paused and then added, "You must kill him."


© 2020 Chris Mills


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    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      4 weeks ago from Hyderabad, India

      A very thrilling story, Chris! I wonder how you get such amazing ideas to craft stories. Enjoying it a lot. Now, I head to the next part.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      4 weeks ago from Beautiful South

      This is great, Chris. Great plot, good suspense, nice setting, I can hardly wait to move on to the next episode to see what happens.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 weeks ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

      The things I described to you about this story may not be so apparent to the reader. I wrote and rewrote this about four times from different perspectives. Of course, I understand it very well. You don't have access to all that is in my head. I tried to get the necessary elements into the final draft, but that may not have happened to perfection. So don't for a minute think you missed something. You comprehended this story very well, and I appreciate how attentive you were while reading. That really is the supreme compliment for a writer, I think, that a person will read with attention to detail. Thank you.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 weeks ago from Central Florida

      Chris, I'm sorry I missed all that. I did get that the farm was the portal, but I didn't connect that family members had to be there in order to be killed. I (wrongfully) assumed he had killed all family but Amy, since he left the "Amy" message on the tombstone. Of course, he would have had to have been in flesh form and would have seen her on the property in order to do so. Guess I didn't dig deep enough.

      No, I've not watched Friday the 13th. I can handle paranormal films but nothing bloody and absolutely nothing where people slaughter people. I'm a real wuss when it comes to that stuff! I can read it, but can't see it in front of my eyes.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 weeks ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

      Ruby, I think one way to use prompts is not to overuse them. Let them suggest things, not dictate the story. Bill is great to give us so much freedom with his photo prompts.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 weeks ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

      Shauna, Jonas wants her dead because she is a member of the clan/family, but not necessarily the last. In fact, I mention others at the beginning. He would like for every blood relative to be dead, but he can't go anywhere but the farm in our world. The farm is a portal to this world. He can only kill those family members who go to the farm, like Amy did.

      Jonas hanged himself. It was suicide when he thought he had killed the last member of the family. He didn't know Amelia had a baby.

      Amelia's husband (Jonas's bro-in-law) was not a blood relative. Jonas would not target him.

      Amy's mother never visited the farm. She lived a normal life. If Jonas was able to pursue the family members away from the farm, it would be a slaughter.

      Are you familiar with the film, Friday the 13th with the killer, Jason? Notice the names, Jonas and Jason. I thought since the characters were similar, I'd connect them somehow.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 weeks ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

      Pamela, hang on, part two is a wild ride.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 weeks ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

      Manatita, I'm glad you are enjoying it.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 weeks ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

      Becky, It is good to see you. Thanks for reading.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 weeks ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

      Bill, "But I'm not dead, I feel fine." That is funny. glad you liked the story. Thanks for the prompts.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 weeks ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

      Thank you Eric. Don't swallow the hook. Yes, part one. That implies a part two. Get going.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      4 weeks ago from Green Bay, Wisconsin...for now

      Liz, thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      4 weeks ago from Southern Illinois

      What a story! I admire your ability to create a jaw dropping story out of picture prompts. I am also hooked, ready for # 2

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 weeks ago from Central Florida

      I love the crossover from dead bones to human form in this story. It will be the only way Amy can put an end to Gunny. I'm assuming Amy is the last of the clan, which is why Jonas would want her dead.

      However, I can't help but wonder what happened after Jonas was hung. I presume it was Amelia's husband that killed him. Did Jonas come back thru the portal and kill his brother-in-law? And who is Amy's mother? Have all the bloodline been killed but Amy?

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      4 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      This is one of those good stories that make you keep reading until you know if Amy can or does kill Jonas. This story has a good plot and I look forward to the next segment.

    • manatita44 profile image


      4 weeks ago from london

      A pretty intriguing plot! A lot here and a great story

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 

      4 weeks ago from Hereford, AZ

      Looking for the next part, I am hooked.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Well I would say my prompts worked quite nicely for you, buddy! In the hands of a craftsman, stories exist everywhere you look. Great story...I'm reminded of Monty Python for some reasons...."bring out your dead!" lol

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Well I was "hooked" due to the writer. I got reeled in as I read. This is a good response to Bill -- Part One?

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      4 weeks ago from UK

      This is a great story. I admire your creativity, skillful writing and the ability to keep readers hooked to the end.


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