#SpookyShowcase: A Frightening Thought by Elizabeth Perry

Welcome to the 9th annual #SpookyShowcase, a Halloween artist and author showcase. A full schedule of submissions can be found here so you don’t miss a single entry for THESE DEADLY CURSES. Now, on to today’s submission!

A Frightening Thought by Elizabeth Perry

Real people are born from need and I was no different. People seek each other to satisfy an inescapable imperative. They make children that way. I’m still a child of humanity, but I was never born and I’ll never die. I perform violent death and rebirth each night. I am a creature created by fear, and I’m trapped in terror just like the people who made me. This is my curse. Flesh is born of flesh. I am something else; an idea that takes shape in the moonlight.  

I exist in the corner of their eyes. 

The first thing I remember is the bugs and the dirt that fell in my mouth as I cried out, using words no one had ever taught me. I crawled from the earth, keening in agony. I heard them screaming at the sight of me—two young women walking alone in the woods. I knew then that they were my parents. Their words made me real. I was just a story but somehow by telling it they’d created me. Beside my new form lay the body of the decapitated man. Just like me, he had no name. He was my silent partner in the story. A prop to my agony.

I reached my hand out to the girls and they recoiled, beating a path out of the woods and away from me.

After that, I reached out to others, but each time they reacted with horror. Slowly, I learned that was what I’d been made for, so it was no surprise. Still, it hurt a little every time. 

Two boys moved through the thicket, their pale skin light in the moonlight. Beams of unnatural light bounced with them and their footfalls disrupted the leaves scattered in their way. They laughed at some unspoken joke, until they caught sight of me.  Then they fell silent.

The beams of light trained on me, but I continued to scrape at the earth with my hands unflinchingly. My black hair covered my face, and my narrow shoulders shook with the effort of digging.

“Hey, are you okay?” One of them asked.

I lifted my head, which made my blood-clumped hair shake. They saw the red staining my white dress. One of the boys had silver glinting in his mouth, the other wore spectacles that obscured his eyes. The one with spectacles was much shorter. Perhaps he still had milk teeth. So small.  Both so small to be out in the woods alone. 

“Leave me be,” I whispered.

The intent of my soft voice was to bring them closer to me, and it did. My slumped shoulders and gentle voice are a lure. The smaller one stepped toward me, talking fast as he went.

“Were you in an accident? We have a first aid kit and our leader could call 911 for you.” He fell silent when he saw the body beside me, which had been decapitated, its head nowhere to be found. The other saw it too. I lifted my hands from the earth.

“Leave me be!” I screamed as I leapt toward them from a crouch, filthy fingers pointed and nails like black claws. Before I was able to touch either of them, I vanished from their sight. Both boys screamed. They ran cattywampus through the trees, back to the path.

Of course, I had not gone anywhere. Invisible, I watched them run away. Where would I go? I was made for this bend in the wood, this dark night, this passing moment.

Instead, I returned to my patch of ground, scraping out a grave for The Headless Man. My fingers brushed over something buried, something soft. I stopped my frantic motions and looked down. Carefully, I smoothed the dirt away, uncovering a face. Flesh clung to it, but raw bone peaked through, too. The mouth popped open

For the first time since my birth, I was startled. I fell backward. This buried person fought out of the ground, slowly rising from the grave, throwing off dust in its wake. Beneath the dark soil, his skin was brown; a creature that appeared to be formed from the earth just as Adam had been. What story made him? It towered over me as it shook dirt from its hair. The particles showered down on me.

“I think I am meant to be your lover.” He knelt beside me and then he touched my cheek, leaving a muddy smear. When he said this I knew it was true. My lover, for the story shifted around us, growing and then contracting as living things do, while we were the dead things at its center.

He stooped to kiss me and I tasted his lips. I could see the stars through the hollow sockets of his eyes. He was so beautiful. 

“Do you have a name?” he asked.

“The bloody woman.”

“No, a real one.”

“That’s all.”

“I was named for a man called Tom. He was killed here. By the neck. You will be the reason from now on.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Never.” He combed his bony fingers through my matted hair, making it smooth and clean at the suggestion of his touch. “Now I’m no longer alone.” 

When people saw us, we would be kissing over the body of the headless man. Depending on the story they believed, he would hold me down, or lift me up. We would be reveling in the blood or clinging to one another and trying to run away. We were innocent or guilty.

Over the weeks, the weather got colder, which brought more visitors to our wood, before they stopped coming entirely. It was the pattern I’d noticed and told him about. He explained to me that there were months and years. It was November.  Animals returned to the thicket. Then snow began to fall. In the quiet, when we were alone, we danced above the forest floor, my bare feet floating above the pine needles. This was happiness.

In daytime, we slept in each other’s arms, invisible to the odd person who might venture into our woods. This was bliss.

Our existence continued on and on. With Tom I began to mark time in a way I had not before. The months blended to years. We did our nightly pantomime with the corpse of the headless man. The seasons changed, but the heat and cold could not touch us. We danced above the forest floor. This was love. 

One morning we were woken by a man in a blue coat approaching our plot of earth. He spoke to the woman beside him, dressed in red. They wore hiking boots and knitted caps. Their breath hung in a vapor in the cold air and their steps crunched the snow. 

Though we were invisible during the day, our presence was said to be felt. 

The man in the blue coat stopped abruptly. “You can feel it, can’t you? There’s an energy shift or something.”

“It’s quiet. Maybe somebody came here before us and scared the animals away,” she said.

“No, this is where they hung Tom Goggins. All the sightings are here.” He took a camera out of the bag on his hip and then brought it to his face. I looked at my lover, whose face had changed since we learned his last name. Gone were the holes in the flesh of his cheek. His skin was unmarred and perfect. For the first time I could see his brown eyes shining with love. It made me want to cover the horror of my chalk-white face and my bloody mouth. He saw my pain and kissed me. 

This would be a last kiss.

“So, you think his ghost haunts these woods?” The woman smirked. I did not like her. 

“There have been over a dozen credible sightings over the past fifteen years.”

“Those all include a ghost of a woman and a headless man. That legend predates the Civil War. It was supposed to be an indentured servant girl who murdered her master, decapitated him and buried the body in this spot. Except I’ve done the research. No such person existed. They didn’t have indentured servants during the time period when the murder supposedly took place.  Somehow Tom’s real murder got folded into the legend, and they turned into these star-crossed lovers. That wasn’t real, though. The real story was he’d been dating a white girl and her ex didn’t like that. Jim Palmer and his friend dragged Tom out into the woods and killed him. That girl is still alive. I interviewed her. It’s tragic that he’s been reduced to a ghost story.”

I looked at Tom and saw the panic shimmer through his new eyes. Then he disappeared. I screamed so loud that the birds took flight from all the trees. Wind blew. The know-it-all woman, who stole my love shivered in her red coat. The man in the blue coat furrowed his brow.

“When is your article coming out?”

“Next month.” She hugged herself and I willed her to feel my sorrow. She turned away. “Maybe it is haunted. I just got the weirdest feeling.”

The man whooped. “What?” 

“You heard me.” 

They walked away, leaving me alone. I looked up at the trees. For a moment, I saw Tom’s body swinging in the air. Then he vanished.

Since then, I wander the wood, searching for Tom though I will not find him, dragging the body of the headless man behind me. I cannot go to my patch of earth, for there stands a plaque marking the spot where Tom Goggins was murdered. The fact of him has wiped away my lover. Now that the truth is known, he cannot return to me. Sometimes, through the weave of branches I glimpse his shadow hanging from the limb. 

He lifts his head, but doesn’t know me. 

He’s not the same man anymore. 

About the Author

I am a Pittsburgh-based, former journalist with a degree in English Literature. Currently I am a content/line editor with a skill for helping authors improve continuity and plot. I am also seeking an agent for my first novel.

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