A House and a Heart and a Ghost and a Box

Submitted into Contest #133 in response to: Start your story with a character finding an old heart-shaped box in their house. ... view prompt


Horror Fiction Contemporary

I have a house.

There’s a box.

Would you like--

Would you like to see--

I saw.

I saw a ghost.

I saw a ghost of a heart in the box.

The parade came through and I chiseled a statue of the ghost.

The ghost and not the ghost of the heart.

Up to the steps came the parade.

Turrah, turrah--tangle me up.

That’s how it sounded.

My ears play tricks on me, but never my mind.

Never my eyes.

I can see the fire trying to lick up the heart-shaped box and it won’t.

It can’t because it doesn’t know the combination.

Everything has a combination at which it can be destroyed.

If your combination is complicated enough, complex enough--

Take mine.

You have to put in thirty-seven numbers to destroy me.

Some are as long as four or five digits and that’s just one of thirty-seven.

That’s just one!

One but not one.

No ones in my combination.

No one can guess.

If someone can guess my combination, I’ll be destroyed and I’ll have to pick up the heart-shaped box out of the fire and deliver it to whoever it is that destroyed me.

Here you go, I’ll say, This belongs to you now.

You can have the house as well.

Do you like parades?

Am I talking to you?

I bet you don’t know.

I bet you don’t know who I’m talking to.

Do you like chocolate?

Inside the heart-shaped box there’s Malaysian caramel and apple dumpling dipped dotted dustberry from the region where they, where they, where they--

Don’t go plucking your eyebrows!

It’s bad luck.

If you’re going to do it, do it in some other bad luck house.

This is a good luck house.

When a heart-shaped box won’t burn in a fire, it means good luck.

It means no need for sage.

No point in priestly machinations.

Not that we ever had much use for religion.

I put up plum curtains and for a week we drank plum wine and the girls all wore plum and we did that to occupy ourselves and our time and then Daddy came home and asked what all this bullshit was with the plum and the picking and the plum-picking and he tore down the curtains and he dashed the wine bottle against the wall and all the girls went and hid, but I didn’t, because I wasn’t afraid of him.

Daddy comes home on Thursdays and I was never afraid of anything on Thursdays.

Only the rattlesnake that lived in the backyard.

Will you go out in the backyard and tell me if you see a rattlesnake?

He’s green by the tail and red by the eyes.

That’s how you know it’s him.

The people in the parade tell me that a rattlesnake would be dead after all this time, but I know a snake that lived to be a hundred, and so why should a rattlesnake be any different than a regular snake? Why? Do you know why?

I should get you some chocolate.

We could put it in a tin cup and warm it over the fire and melt it down so it’s hot and it goes down smooth and we’ll tell ghost stories like the one about the heart in the box and how somewhere there’s a ghost without a heart.

You can leave anything behind if you’re broken enough, you know?

Sometimes sometimes I’ll stand up against the window and look at my reflection in the church glass we borrowed to build the house and I’ll be surprised because you aren’t meant to see yourself in church glass unless you’re a saint.

That’s what Daddy said sometimes sometimes.

Daddy was a smart man, but he hated our little games and that was all we had to entertain ourselves while he was out on the road laying hands. Telling stories from the Bible. Asking if people had met Jesus and what was he like?

Daddy was told he was special from the time he was a little boy and he had seven girls and not one of us was special, according to him.

Not that he didn’t love us, but he was looking for a light to come shining into all these empty rooms and instead he got bunk beds.

He got bed-wetters.

He got wet blankets.

He got prom dresses and then wedding dresses.

I watched my father go stand out in the backyard and wait for a rattlesnake to bite him.

That was a year ago.

The rattlesnake didn’t bite.

Turns out even a hungry snake won’t bite a bad man.

My father screamed at me--

Light the fire, light the fire.

But the box was already on the fire.

And the ghost.

The ghost in the box.

What was I meant to do?

I had to protect the ghost.

There are other houses.

Nicer ones.

If you drive out a ghost, what’s to say it won’t go haunting one of those?

I hear it again.

The parade.

It’s coming up to the door.

I can’t hear the music again.

What if I just light one room this time?

Not all of them, just one.

I love the house, but the house doesn’t need all these rooms.

And I can’t burn the box.

The box won’t burn even if I tried.

I want the parade to walk up and see fire.

I want it to walk up and see everything red and orange.

Then they won’t come back.

They’ll tell everyone that the house is haunted and that one-by-one the crazy lady inside it set each of the rooms on fire until there was nothing left to light.

And what did she do with her father, they’ll ask.

But I won’t tell them that.

That’s nobody’s business.

You’re entitled to chocolate, but not the truth.

The truth won’t burn either.

I saw a ghost inside the truth once.

It wasn’t a heart though.

It had no heart.

It was a pair of eyes.

We had so many days when Daddy wasn’t here and we could do plums or we could do pineapples or we could do anything we wanted.

But when he was here, there were those eyes.

You couldn’t tell a lie to those eyes.

He’s gone, but his eyes aren’t.

The same way somebody left their heart in that box.

They wanted somebody to find it.

And I found it.

I found it and I protected it.

The same way I protected this house.

But that means I can burn it too if that’s what I decided to do.

All before the parade shows up.

All before I hear the music and the match won’t light.

Sometimes sometimes.

Sometimes you can never find a match--

When you need one.

February 19, 2022 01:38

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Kenzy Ammar
19:47 Feb 27, 2022

this is different to what i normally read but woah its so intriguing


Story Time
00:39 Feb 28, 2022

Thank you Kenzy


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Valerie Vince
16:19 Feb 24, 2022

Critique Circle has asked me to comment. Wow, this is a very different read. I enjoyed it. I made my own story from it and have no idea if it's what you intended. it requires the reader to do some work, like making meaning out of an abstract sculpture. Unlike K below, I reckon the narrator is now old, having sort of survived a dysfunctional toxic family life with a tyrant of a father. I think the ghost might be the mother, but not sure, since she's never mentioned. I'll be pondering this reading experience all day.


Story Time
17:09 Feb 24, 2022

Thank you so much, Valerie.


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K. Antonio
02:12 Feb 21, 2022

I think writing in verse can be so difficult, because it can either cause a reader to read slowly and absorb the piece line per line, or they just find it daunting and give up. I actually find verse very interesting, specially if it packs a punch. I actually enjoyed how elusive the beginning is, this sort of otherness where the narrator seems a bit "up in the air" or boggled by what's going on. It made me genuinely curious. The voice was also really interesting, from the diction I assumed the narrator was young. I definitely think this w...


Story Time
04:36 Feb 21, 2022

Thanks K. I definitely felt a little rushed with it so if I could do it again I'd probably want to get into each line a little more.


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Shea West
03:16 Feb 19, 2022

I have to say, last time you said that this style of writing is what folks know you for... And I'm quite happy to see more of it. It really made me think and slow down. To process the meaning and the metaphor. I loved this line the most: You can leave anything behind if you’re broken enough, you know? Oh, I know. I really liked this so much❤️


Story Time
18:38 Feb 19, 2022

Thank you. This week was more a matter of time than anything, because I really do want to get better at more standard prose, but as soon as I can go into this structure, the story comes to me with a lot more ease.


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