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The Severed Head
“That’s ridiculous!” I said.
“No it’s totally true!” Sam reaffirmed his sincerity.
“And who did you hear this from?” I asked.
“Some guys said they heard it from Mr. Schwartz,” Sam said.
“Oh yes. Mr. Schwartz, the coach that moonlights as a history teacher, is obviously the authority on haunted houses,” I rolled my eyes.
“Okay, Ted, if you’re scared...”
“I ain’t scared!” I interrupted him.
Sam chuckled. “I bet you a hundred bucks you can’t stay there the whole night.”
“Fine. I’ll do it. In fact I’ll do it right now,” I said, grabbing the flashlight off the mantle. “It’s almost ten o’clock, so I can quickly wrap this up and be a hundred dollars richer by sunrise. You just better have the cash ready tomorrow morning.”
“Oh don’t worry. I got it covered,” Sam grinned from ear-to-ear. Oh the things I do for money. I decided not to press the issue any further, lest he decide to make this worse than it already was, and walked out the door to complete his stupid task.
You’re probably wondering what the hell is going on. Well, according to some second or third-hand information obtained from the immaculate wisdom of Coach Schwartz, there’s a haunted house in Garland, Texas; and it just so happened to be in the very same depressing subdivision we happened to live in. Apparently if you spend the night there at precisely the stroke of midnight a severed head will tumble down the chimney and bite the arms off of whomever happens to be there. The whole story sounded a little far fetched to me.
With the current economy there were several houses sitting around with no one in them. If I was a squatter I could live like a king...provided I didn’t mind the mediocre surroundings. The houses weren’t mansions on hills like in all those stereotypical horror stories. They were just simple mass-produced dwellings built side-by-side on one-acre lots in the 1980’s. I reached Holy Cross Lane, which was an ironic street name for a haunted house to be on. This neighborhood was called “Camelot” so all the streets were named after something medieval.
I stopped in front of the run-down wreck that used to be a livable home; it seemed a lot creepier now that I was standing in front of it in the middle of the night. The front yard was bordered on two sides by a long row of tall evergreen bushes, however the years of neglect made them puff out like mutated porcupines. I went around to the side and pressed my face against the bedroom window to take a peek inside...I think it was a bedroom window. Once you take all the furniture out it’s hard to tell what kind of room it is. The window was rusted shut and covered with what looked like six years worth of grime, but with a little bit of jimmying I got it open and slipped inside.
There is a certain feeling you get when you’re in a place you know you’re not supposed to be, a definite inhospitable chill that runs down your spine. That feeling was surprisingly absent here. For an empty and dust-ridden haunted house it was quite welcoming. After checking all the equally empty rooms for any signs of squatters or stray animals I plopped myself down in the middle of the living room. In any normal ghost story there would be a cellar door around here, however the Texas soil is much too rocky for that to be practical. So this haunted house is just a dull old design of wood and sheetrock chucked onto a slab of concrete. Not a very fitting place for a severed head to tumble down the chimney each night. I just hoped we could get the arm-biting over with quickly.
I checked my watch...11:58. Without warning a grandfather clock chimed in, scaring me half-to-death, especially since there was no furniture in this house. I kept my eyes fixated on the blackened fireplace, waiting for a head to come tumbling down. Of course I didn’t notice the spectral horror standing behind me until it put its bony hand on my shoulder. Naturally I did what any respectful red-blooded American male would do and screamed like a little girl.
Once I finished scrambling over to the other side of the room, and nearly crapping my pants in the process, I asked the ghost “W-Who are you?”
“Help...me...” she said, her voice sounding as though it was passing with the wind. It was a young girl, or at least what was left of her. Her hair was tangled and torn. The skin on her face was slowly sliding off her face, exposing her cheekbones and a bit of her jaw. She had no eyes to see me with, however an eerie blue light glowed from deep within her sockets.
“My husband...killed me,” she sobbed in a spooky ghost-like way.
“Okay?” I said.
“I was very wealthy...but he killed me, and took my money.”
My ears perked up at the sound of ‘money’.
“Find my bones in the attic...and bury them in the churchyard.”
“Look, ma’am, I don’t know if I’m the right person to do this...” I started.
“Do this and I will tell you where the money he stole is hidden.”
Now she was definitely speaking my language. “Ok, I’ll do it,” I said. I picked up my trusty flashlight, which I had accidentally kicked into the corner during my brief panic attack, and searched the house for a way to get in the attic. I easily found it in the garage, flipped the fold-out stairs down, and headed up.
The attic was pretty straightforward; thin wooden beams running across the floor, with pockets of fiberglass insulation just waiting for someone to step in them and fall to their doom. The entire attic was cleared out except for a burlap sack in the far corner. I opened it up and found a pile of bones. This guy must’ve been really stupid, or maybe just in a hurry. If I was going to kill a girl I could easily find a better hiding spot than this. I could’ve chopped her body up into very small pieces and systematically disposed of them over time in the unattended municipally-issued garbage bins. Or I could’ve buried it in the backyard and planted a tree over it so I was taking care of the corpse and doing something for the environment at the same time. Really just about anything other than stuffing it in a bag in the attic.
I grabbed the sack, then went down the stairs and out the back door. I guess I was rather thankful that the killer thought to conveniently put the body in such a durable and eco-friendly bag. I wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible, but first I needed to head back home to get a shovel. At one o’clock in the morning in the quiet suburbs of Garland, Texas there isn’t much to worry about in the way of getting caught. The only one I really had to answer to was Sam, who would be wondering why I wasn’t still at the haunted house. Yeah I know I’d lose a hundred-dollar bet, but I had bigger game in mind.
“Couldn’t take it, huh?” Sam said with a smile. “That’s a hundred bucks!”
“Can’t-talk-now-gotta-resolve-a-spirit’s-untimely-death-I’ll-get-your-money-later,” I quickly stammered out as I rushed past him and into the garage. I grabbed a shovel and marched out the door in the direction of the nearest cemetery. There was one off of Shiloh Road about half a mile away. I figured that was a good enough place to lay a body to rest. I just had to make it there and back and not get cau...
“Hold it!” a voice from a passing patrol car shouted out.
“Evening, Officer,” I muttered, trying to avoid the blinding flashlight in my eyes.
“What’re you doin’ out here this late, son?”
“Just heading home, sir,” I whimpered.
“You mind tellin’ me what that sack n’ shovel are for?” he curiously asked.
The game was up. I might as well tell him the truth.
“Well you see, Officer, many years ago there was a young girl that was killed by her husband, which is not me, and he put the corpse in a sack in the attic, so she’s been forced to haunt the house until her bones can be buried in a proper cemetery. So I’m doing that now, cause...I wanna do the right thing.”
There was a moment of silence.
“You stay out of trouble, son. Have a good night.”
I don’t know how I got out of that. Maybe he thought I was just spinning a ridiculous story. Maybe he believed me. Maybe he was just tired and really didn’t want to do all the paperwork on something this bizarre.
I got to the cemetery and quietly climbed over the chain-link fence, which if you know what that sounds like is not very quiet at all. I found a spot in the back underneath a tree and started digging. The shovel cut through the earth like a knife through butter, and within fifteen minutes I had dug a deep enough hole to bury a human-sized burlap sack of bones. I stuck the bag in the hole, covered it up, and quietly scrambled back over the fence. Now I just had to make it home, while covered in dirt and suspiciously holding a shovel.
I passed through a small turnip garden on my way home. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a figure get up from the corner of the garden and follow me down the sidewalk. It looked like a tall skinny man who walked with a slight limp. He wasn’t going very fast, but I decided to keep a safe distance away. When he passed under a streetlamp I could see that he was dressed in a white button-up shirt, with black pants and black suspenders. I increased the distance between us, constantly looking back while trying to appear inconspicuous and failing at it. The road curved and the limping figure faded from view. Of course at this moment, as customary in any cliched horror story, the figure appeared right in front of me. His eyes were sunken deep into his skull, and his lips wasted away to reveal a full set of grinning teeth. He looked like a skeleton.
“Uh...” I really couldn’t say much, considering I was paralyzed with fright.
The skeleton held his bony hands out as though he wanted something from me. “...please...help...” he let out a guttural growl. I bolted before he could do...whatever it was he was doing, and ran home as fast as I could.
I shut the front door behind me; my heart was pounding wildly in my chest. I was exhausted. I showered, had breakfast, and got some much needed sleep. I had another date with the ghost girl at midnight, and I didn’t want to be late.
I went back to the haunted house. For some reason the window to the bedroom I had opened the night before was sealed back up again. Apparently there actually were people who checked on this place. I made my way to the living room and waited for midnight. This time there wasn’t the ghostly chime of a grandfather clock; just the low humming of a man’s singing.
“Mee...tie...doe...tee...walker..” the faint voice sang.
Something wasn’t right. This wasn’t how it went the night before.
“Mee...tie...doe...tee...walker..” the voice was closer. I got an uneasy feeling in my gut.
“Mee...tie...doe...tee...walker..” the voice was coming from up inside the chimney.
Suddenly there was a KA-THUMP! I looked onto the floor in front of the chimney, and saw the bloody pale-skinned head of a bearded man. This must’ve been the severed head that Sam was talking about. It was snapping its jaw over and over again, possibly trying to crawl around and only accomplishing a slight turn. His eyes met mine, as we stared each other down.
“Where’s the girl?” I asked.
“Wrong house,” it growled. “Next one over.”
I was in the wrong house. It didn’t help that all these homes were made by the same developer, using a lot of the same plans. Without all the furniture to give it personality these homes looked almost exactly alike.
I quickly ran over to the OTHER haunted house. The ghostly girl was waiting for me, and she looked a bit upset, which is difficult to determine since she had almost no skin on her face.
‘Okay I did what you asked,” I said to her.
“Take the little finger from my left hand...” she started.
“Hey wait a minute...”
She continued. “...put the bone in the collection plate at church.”
I rolled my eyes. “Y’know this would’ve been good to know BEFORE I buried your body.”
She wasn’t listening.
“So what church do I do this in?” I asked.
“...the bone will tell you who the murderer is...”
“So are you Baptist? Presbyterian?... Episcopalian? I need to know this!” I said, as this was a big buckle in the bible belt and there was at least five different churches within a mile of here. She said nothing else, as she sobbed and faded away.
To say I was upset would be a bit of an understatement, as no words could really express how I felt. I quietly stormed out of the haunted house and marched down to the cemetery, grumbling to myself all the way.
I passed through the turnip patch. The skeleton got up and started to follow me again.
“...please...help..” it moaned.
“Get a job, you lazy skeleton!” I shouted, uttering a series of words I never thought I’d ever use together. The skeleton went back and sat down in the turnip patch. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get the finger and figure out which church to go to on Sunday.
I got to the cemetery and climbed over the fence. I didn’t have the shovel with me, but the ground was soft enough I could dig through it with my hands. I opened the sack and rummaged through the bones to find the left hand, or at least what I thought was the left hand. When there’s no skin on them both hands kinda look the same. I broke off the pinky finger and slipped it in my pocket, then closed up the sack and buried it.
The next Sunday I went to a nearby Lutheran church. I was taking a gamble, because this was just one of a half-dozen different churches within walking distance, and I had only one shot at this, since I doubt they’d give the finger back. I sat around the middle of the congregation, waiting patiently for the collection. When the plate came to me I discreetly slipped the finger into the plate.
“Did you just put a chicken bone in the collection plate?” a old lady sitting next to me asked.
“No no. That was already there! I had nothing to do with that,” I said.
“You did! You did put that in there! Why are you trying to ruin our perfectly good service with your pranks, young man?!” she handed the collection plate to one of the ushers, and then proceeded to scold me some more in proper Christian fashion.
“Hey! This isn’t a chicken bone; it’s a finger!” the usher said, and as he picked the finger up it stuck to his hand. Other people started gathering around me.
“That terrible teenage boy is trying to make us look stupid!” someone said.
“Oh Jesus!” the usher dropped the collection plate, but the finger was still stuck to his hand, “This finger’s real!”
The others in this group were closing in.
“He murdered some innocent young woman, and chopped off her fingers!” the usher pointed at me, the finger still stuck to his hand. “Now he’s putting this in our collection plate as some kind of sick joke!”
“Someone call the police!”
I tried to get away, but the crowd tackled me to the ground.
“This is a mistake!” I tried to argue.
“Shut up, you monster!” and they pressed my face into the chapel carpet. They were ready to string me up and burn me at the stake for something I didn't do, so I was quite thankful when the police showed up and hauled me off to jail.
Apparently I was sloppy in my discretion. The caretaker at the cemetery saw me when I came back the second time to dig up the finger. The police also went to the house I broke into and found my fingerprints all over the place. And on top of that this finger-in-the-collection-plate business just put me deeper in the hole I’d dug. I tried to explain my situation to the judge, but the truth was stranger than fiction. They didn't believe me, declared me legally insane, and shipped me off to the mental hospital.
So let this be a lesson. The next time someone dies through nefarious means and they want you to help them out just run away and don’t look back.
You want more?
- Devil at the Crossroads
My name is Marius Jackson, and I want to be a world famous writer, and that’s why I’m here sitting in the back of my pickup truck out in the middle of the night where two dirt roads cross... waiting.
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A shapeless entity that is five-hundred feet across, which could only be described as “the creature”, had risen out of Bachman Lake earlier that morning and is currently rampaging throughout downtown Dallas.
They labeled me insane. I grip my six-shooter, press it to my chest, and stroke the barrel like it was a swaddled child; it is cold, clean and unused. Welcome to a brief peek into the mind of a madman. Best read at night, in a dark house, alone.