Haunted Memories

Submitted into Contest #215 in response to: Set your story in a haunted house.... view prompt


Horror Fiction Thriller

The one thing I can’t stand more than anything else in this world is the smell of rotting corpses, and that foulest of stenches consumes every part of my nose. This is supposed to be a haunted house, not a graveyard. Or did they simply up the scare factor by making things all too real?

I can’t see anything. I tiptoe through what feels like an endless underground tunnel, each step inviting a new level of uncertainty. Sometimes I imagine I’m on a railroad track because a hard metal digs into the soles of my feet. Other times it’s a squishy mess. I can’t even imagine what my shoes look like. I bet they’re covered in blood from stepping through an ocean of decomposing parts. Or maybe someone just made the world’s biggest serving of mashed potatoes and spread it out across the ground. Yes, let’s go with that. But mashed potatoes don’t give off such a rancid odor. Mashed potatoes don’t make stomach acid lurch up my esophagus.

A white flash like that of a camera and nothing more. The after image sticks to my vision long after it is gone. A low, guttural howling sends goose flesh sprinting across my body. There’s the flash again. I stop. What am I doing here? Nobody told me to come here or what I am supposed to do once I got here. I just saw the neon sign at the front: “Haunted House.” Was it really though? Or was it some cruel game that I was falling victim to because I willingly decided to fly right into the spider’s web? Maybe I should turn around. Stop being a coward, I hear my mother say. Why can’t you just follow through with something for once? That’s something my father would say, but he’s dead. Perhaps she was trying to fill both roles but was doing a terrible job at it. Fine, mom. I’ll keep going. Just still love me, okay?

“I see you,” says someone in a low whisper. “Your eyeballs look so juicy… and delicious.” The person, if I can even call it that, hangs on that last word as if unable to contain his salivation.

I ignore it. Maybe it’s just all part of the display. Some college kid actor trying to pay the bills and going a little too overboard. He’s probably staring at me right now with night vision goggles. Just then, my feet start hitting hard rounded objects not attached to the ground. I start to stumble as they begin rolling beneath my feet.

“All those dead ones made the perfect stew,” the voice said. “You look very sweet. Luckily I made room for dessert.”

I’ve had enough. “Hey, I’ve got something for you to eat! Just check the toilet after I’ve been sitting on it for half an hour.”

A fully lit bed of red spikes flashes before me in an instant. I teeter over the edge and then scramble backwards. “But first,” the voice continues. “Let us have a bit of fun. I have always been one to play with my food before eating it. I know. Guilty habit.”

There’s no way this is real. If I just dive head first right now into those spikes, they would all just bend over like rubbery grass. Then all the corny actors would come out and escort me to the exit. But I wasn’t going to give them that satisfaction. Now to find a way across. Everything behind me is black. Hunks of what look like flesh hang from my shoes. I can’t tell if the thick liquid coating them is blood. Real or not, I will show these people that they’re never going to get me to just lie down and beg.

You won’t know if you won’t like football until you’ve tried it, mom had said.

But I don’t want to.

Your father was a star quarterback and a state champion. The least you can do is go to tryouts!

Okay, mom. Jeez! I will. I thought something else that I often did after that but never ever said out loud: Just don’t hate me.

Follow through. Follow through. Follow through.

I brush off my shoes and then leap toward the side wall, using it as a spring board to propel me all the way to the other side. I make it easily, the perfect parkour move that I’ve been training every week for over a year to master. “Is that the best you got?” I say, arms raised in the air.

Then I feel arms grabbing me from all directions. Well, either the show is over, or my life. I’m sorry I didn’t do more to impress you, mom. I tried to make up for all my years of disappointing you in these final moments, but I guess it was too little too late. She has no idea where I am right now anyway. I haven’t spoken to her in years. I’m alone. I close my eyes and flop my arms down at my sides, ready to resign myself to whatever fate awaits me.

I am being dragged along more metal tracks. Nothing to see in the pitch black. My captors’ hands are icy cold to the touch. Each of their bony fingers digs into me like nails. Finally, I’m tossed to the ground in a dimly lit corridor. There are two doors. One to my left and one to my right.

“Bravo on getting past the spikes,” the voice says from nowhere in particular. “Now here is your final test.”

“I think we’re at the part where I throw you down into that bed of spikes.”

The voice ignores this. “You will open one of these two doors. Once you choose, you will be unable to turn back. One of them leads you to freedom and the other leads you to unspeakable horror.”

“Some haunted house this is. I’m going straight to the police once I get out of here. You’re not allowed to touch me. I didn’t sign a waver!” I reach out blindly and clutch at the empty air as if I would somehow find that person’s neck. I kick and scream and run blindly until I hit a wall. Then I try the other direction and this time I feel arms pushing me back. I charge forward and someone shoves me to the ground. I get up and start swinging. My jaw feels instantly dislocated as knuckles connect with my chin. I stumble backward and try again and again. Each time they push me back further and further toward the two doors. Toward where I’m supposed to go. Toward the continuation of their cruel game. I am not going to play along anymore. I keep charging ahead, but each time, they grab me and shove me back. It’s useless. I’m growing weak. I can feel a drip of blood running down my leg from a scrape of my knee. Some part of my other leg feels fractured.

I can only hobble forward at this point. Then the sound of my mom’s voice echoes through my head. Jason, just make a choice already and stop being so goddamn stubborn! It sounds as if she is nearby just like that voice. But it could just as easily be my imagination. You don’t want to disappoint me anymore, Jason? Then just make a choice and stick with it already.

I face the doors. Okay, mom. This is for you. I play a quick game of eenie meenie miney mo before opening the door on the left. Complete darkness. I step through. The door slams shut behind me. I try the knob, but it doesn’t open. Just as I suspected. I walk in a straight line away from the door. The air grows musty and colder with each step. I can see a bright light shining from around the corner at the end of this passage. As I approach, I swear I catch a familiar scent. A very distinct smell from my childhood. Freshly cut grass mixed with clean laundry hanging on clothes lines in the front yard. The memory floods back. Mom is sitting in the glider with me on the front porch helping me with my homework while dad drinks a beer on the step. It was the last time I remember us all together. Before dad got into his car the next morning to go to work and never came home.

I round the corner and expect to be absorbed right into this memory. But instead I am shocked by what I see. There’s my mom sitting on the glider that used to sit on the front porch. But there is no house. No yard. No clothes line. Just her on the glider at the only end of this hallway.

She is much older. I haven’t seen her six years and it looks like she’s aged about fifty. Her skeletal features make her look like a ghoul. I would have thought she is dead if she didn’t raise her head up to look at me. Those sunken, deep socketed eyes shine with the most radiant of recognition. She raises an almost skinless hand toward me. I can see every bone. I walk toward her very slowly.

As I approach, the earlier smells from before vanish and are replaced by the smell of a rotting corpse. I breathe through my mouth and try to contain the stomach acid churning inside.

“Mom?” I say. “Is that you?”

“Come sit next to me, Jason,” she says. Her voice is hoarse and raspy like a chain smoking zombie. “Let’s wait here together for your father to return home from work.”

September 12, 2023 06:18

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