After spending the last couple of years neck deep in science fiction and urban fantasy, I’ve been dying to write horror again. My current work in progress is about ghosts, revenge, regret, neighborhoods, social media, Appalachia, the deals we make with ourselves and Others, and why we can’t go home again even if we wanted to–and we distinctly do not want to. The working title is Perfect Virtue, but the working title changed about twenty times before I even started it so who the heck knows what it’ll be called in the end? Also, WordPress kind of mangles the formatting, but whatevs.
Anyway, here’s the first scene. Enjoy!
Reginald Voth’s dead mother first appeared to him at a quarter to four in the morning on a Tuesday as he sat in bed trying to read.
He knew he had not nodded off and dreamt it. He, wide awake, held a cigarette in one hand and the book in the other. Reginald was reading an old paperback novel he’d picked up at the thrift store, and reading always kept him awake rather than put him to sleep. As he reached to tap ash into a big glass tray on the nightstand beside him he jumped halfway out of his skin at what sounded like a shotgun going off in the room. Reginald might have screamed, might have awakened the man snoring softly next to him, perhaps have called 911 or reached for his old Louisville Slugger or something in response if Dorothea Voth, his long-suffering and long-inflicting-suffering-on-others mother, had not appeared standing at the foot of the bed in a bright purple bathrobe, its lapels embroidered with lilies, and a too-loud orange and yellow nightgown patterned in stars and moons. Her chosen layers clashed horribly. Reginald was surprised to see his mother wear something so daring, then doubly surprised that was what he noticed first.
Dorothea stood holding her hands up and out as though reaching to catch whatever the stars might toss down to her. She bore an ugly expression of agonized beseeching on her face, her neck craning to look in the direction she reached. Her eyes stood out wide and solid white. Reginald saw no pupils, no irises. Many small cuts and scrapes had bloodied Dorothea’s skin and scalp. Blood matted her hair, ran down her face, and stained the lilies of her lapels. Leaves and twigs were pressed into her bathrobe all over, and pine needles stuck to her fresh-flowing blood. Dorothea Voth was clearly and unmistakably dead.
Light surrounded Dorothea like a spotlight on a stage, a light so bright and sharp it almost hurt to look at her as she stood frozen in it. Her mouth gaped in a scream, but Reginald could not hear it. He realized time passed for him, but not for her. Smoke from Reginald’s cigarette drifted through the light, but the cloud of smoke or dust or whatever airborne detritus drifted around her stood still as a stone, fixed as a photograph.
My mother is dying, Reginald thought. He took a long drag from the cigarette, held the smoke, let it out. My mother is dead.
What surprised him most was how this didn’t surprise him. Surprises come to us from outside. Reginald felt this from deep within, like a thing he’d already known and forgotten.
Reginald listened to the old grandfather clock in the hallway as it ticked away, talking with itself. It was part of the background machinery of life one eventually forgets to hear until it’s all one can hear. Five seconds passed while he counted, then ten. He took another drag off the Virginia Slim and stage whispered, wanting to speak but afraid of waking the sleeper beside him. “Mother,” he hissed. “Mother, speak to me.” When she neither said nor did anything, Reginald reflexively went for the insult. “Mother, your light’s coming from the wrong direction. Pretty sure you’re supposed to take the elevator down.”
Dorothea Voth spent 37 seconds standing at the foot of her son Reginald’s bed, 37 miles away, and never took her not-eyes off whatever she saw in the place where she stood dying.
It would be three months before Reginald noticed that coincidence of time and distance.
The light on Dorothea went out.
A silhouette of Dorothea lingered a moment longer, a shadow in the dark room, perhaps no more than that reverse-imprint one can get from staring at a lightbulb. Then it, too, was gone.
Reginald stubbed out the Virginia Slim and took another from the pack.
The man next to him stirred in his sleep as Reginald lit the new cig. “Are you awake?”
Reginald didn’t look down at him. “Couldn’t sleep,” he said.
“Hard to say,” Reginald answered. He picked up the little glass of whiskey next to the ashtray and drained the last from it. “It could be things are getting better, though.” Now Reginald finally looked over in the direction of the man’s voice. His eyes had started adjusting to the darkness again and he could make out the dark formlessness of the man’s long, straight hair and the curve of a shoulder. “Tell me your name again?”
Three hours later, Reginald’s phone rang to tell him what was no longer news.