Here is my entry for the semi-finals of the NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge. I’ll admit, I wasn’t happy to be assigned ghost story, but I ended up having fun with it. It’s always a hoot to write something creepy around Halloween. (If you care to read about my experience writing this piece, click here.)
As a reminder, I had 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story based on these prompts:
Thanks in advance for reading, and thanks for any feedback you might have!
By Jenna Willett
Brief Synopsis: Emma stares outside at the raging blizzard and prays for her husband’s safe return from his hunting trip. Unfortunately, an unwanted guest shows up instead.
The blizzard rattled the cabin. Howling gusts and darting ice slammed into the windowpanes and snuck through cracks in the walls and roof.
Emma rocked back and forth. The dusty floorboards beneath her wooden chair groaned in time with the raging storm. A burning candle bled wax on a table next to her, and cast a faint glow on the withered walls. She stared at the flame’s dancing silhouettes and took comfort in their lively company. She hugged a homespun blanket around her delicate shoulders and focused her gaze across the room, through the window at the dense forest. She prayed for the towering pine trees to stop swaying and bending. To release her from their icy prison.
“He’ll come back.” She shivered and rocked back and forth, back and forth. “He’ll come back.” At any moment, her husband, Jesse, would arrive, sweep her into his arms, and admit she had been right. Hunting during a snowstorm was foolhardy.
A thud outside startled her.
Emma tilted forward and mouthed a silent prayer. It had to be him. Please, let it be him.
The rotting deck squeaked. Emma’s rocking slowed and the blanket slipped. A shadow passed the window. She sat up taller. Please, please.
The shadow paused. Her eyes widened. Her heart swelled…then wilted. Too tall. Too big. Not Jesse. Not Jesse.
The hairs on the back of her neck rose. She glanced down at her lap, at the only remaining weapon she had: a keyhole saw. The rusted teeth on the knife-like tool caught the glow of the candlelight.
A ragged bellow quivered through the tempestuous wind.
Emma looked up. The shadow returned. Puffs of steam fogged the window and a guttural growl echoed through the panes. She leaned over and extinguished the candle’s flame. If the intruder couldn’t see her, it would go away. It had to go away. Wisps of candle smoke coiled and vanished into the dank air. Something sharp scratched the window.
Emma stifled a gasp and wrapped her fingers around the saw’s slim, wooden handle.
The shadow crept away. Its footsteps crunched through the snow until they halted at the front door. She held her breath, closed her eyes, and prayed for the intruder to leave.
The doorknob rattled.
Emma’s eyes flashed open.
Fingernails scrabbled against the wood, and moans drifted through the gap beneath the door. A dry sob erupted from her throat and she shrank into her rocking chair. Where was Jesse? Why hadn’t he come home? Cold and hunger tortured her day and night. He must know that.
Something slammed into the door. Emma winced and straightened. The door shook in its frame, again and again. Thump after thump until—
The wooden barrier burst open and a man staggered inside. “Fucking storm.” He brushed snow off of his massive shoulders and stomped ice from his boots.
A hiss slithered from Emma’s throat.
The man’s head snapped up. He squinted into the cabin’s darkness. “Hello?” His eyes roamed past her and halted on the thin stream of smoke wafting from the candle’s blackened wick. “Someone there?”
Emma glared at the intruder, at his ruddy cheeks and bulging gut. Nothing like Jesse. Her beloved, sweet Jesse.
She squeezed the saw and slid from her chair. The frigid wind blowing through the open doorway flattened her threadbare gown against her skeletal body and lifted her gray, wispy hair. She crouched low, her joints creaking and cracking like the trees in the forest, and willed the man’s attention back to her. Willed him to see her. To feel her desperation and fury.
Why wasn’t he Jesse? She needed Jesse.
The man’s gaze jerked from the candle to Emma. “Shit!” He jumped and grabbed his chest. “You scared me.” A cracked laugh trembled from his lips.
Emma bared her blackened teeth and dug her yellowed fingernails into the saw’s handle.
The man’s grin faded. “Uh…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I was, uh, hiking and–I didn’t know anyone was–The cabin looked empty from–” He stepped sideways and tripped. “What the…?” He looked down and recoiled. “Holy fuck!” He stumbled away from a pile of bloodied clothes, shriveled flesh, and broken bones.
His horrified expression fueled her rage. He didn’t know how long she’d been waiting, suffering, hoping.
“I–I’m sorry.” His chest rose and fell, faster and faster. “I shouldn’t have–I won’t tell anyone–I’ll go.” He spun around and lunged for the open door.
Emma shrieked and, in a single, fluid motion, launched herself across the room. She slammed the door and pressed her wraith-like hands against its rotten wood.
The man whimpered.
She cackled, swiveled around, and drifted up to the ceiling. Higher and higher. She hovered above him, her shabby gown fluttering and her bony hands caressing the saw.
He backed away. “No, don’t! Please. Just–Shit, wait.” He raised a hand. “Wait. Wait!”
Emma howled and swooped downwards. She landed in front of him and drove the keyhole saw into his gaping mouth. The rusted teeth sliced through the side of his cheek and sunk into the back of his throat. Blood spurted and gushed from the wound and pooled onto the floor. She grinned and shoved the saw deeper and deeper until its vicious point burst through the back of his skull.
The man stiffened and collapsed on top of the other intruders who had given her hope. Yet again. Hope Jesse had come home. Hope she’d been saved from the forest’s frozen grip. From starving to death. From dying alone.
Emma glided to her rocking chair, relit the candle, and scooped up the blanket. She sat down and hugged the moldy fabric to her. The candle’s reassuring glow glinted off the bloody saw in her lap. She sighed and stared through the foggy window. The blizzard raged on and on, howling through the cold, cruel forest.
“He’ll come back.” She rocked back and forth, back and forth. “He’ll come back.”
Round 1: La Jolla
(Assignment: Action/adventure, underwater cave, a dumbbell)
Round 2: Kleine Mäuse
(Assignment: Historical fiction, a secret laboratory, a mouse)
To read more stories, visit the Jen’s Pen Page.
5 thoughts on “Waiting Shadows – Semi Finals – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge”
LikeLiked by 1 person
What a wonderful ghost story! I’ve had to write three for NYC Midnight now, but none of them have had the amazing setting and character development as this one. Well done! I figured out just before halfway what was going on, but loved how it played out! Unfortunately, I have no criticisms for you, hence the reason I’m posting here and not on the forums. I’m sure you’ll do well this round again!
Thank you! I wasn’t in the mood to write a ghost story, so I’m glad people are enjoying it (and my lack of enthusiasm isn’t too apparent, lol). I applaud you for dealing with three ghost stories for NYCM. This was my second, so if I get it again…ugh. I won’t be a happy camper :-p
LikeLiked by 1 person
This was a wonderful melding of creepy and poignant. Well done! Good luck!
Favorite line: “The man stiffened and collapsed on top of the other intruders who had given her hope.”