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Adventure Coming of Age Fiction

“Where do you think you’re going?”


“Uh, the library.”


“You’re supposed to stay here and watch me.”


“Camden, don’t you have homework?”


“Don’t you?”


“Um, library?”


“You’re not that kind of . . .”


“Okay, okay. Camden, if I tell you, you can’t breathe a word to anyone!”


“Allie, you can trust me. I never told anybody about you and, who was that guy . . .”


“All right, all right. Well, this is an even bigger deal than that.”


“I’m all ears.”


* * *


Just my luck, my little brother has big ears; I can’t get away with much having him around.  It’s tolerable only because, I had to admit, his mouth is not as big as his satellite-dish-for-ears. My brother can keep a secret. Not a bad plus if you have to have one – a brother, that is.  Everyone has secrets.


He’s a few years younger than me, seems older at times.  We’re both about to learn there are some secrets best not kept and, if possible, never known to begin with.


* * *


It all began in the cafeteria. Camden and I were the new kids and both looking for a place to land. I was the sort who kept my distance, took my time scoping out the terrain. I took mental notes and hung back to see what came my way.


Camden, on the other hand, landed on both feet and made easy conversation.  In no time, he’d be answering questions you hadn’t even asked, and you’d find yourself listening, then genuinely interested.  That’s a chromosome I completely missed out on from the family gene pool.


So, seated at a corner table with my back to the wall and the entire student body before me, I could tell I was being surveilled by one group in particular: the Goths. Given the fact I was not wearing one stitch of black clothing nor accessory, it piqued my interest that a group who wore nothing but, including makeup, nails and book covers, should suddenly look my way. 


As expected, one of the Goth gals finally addressed me.


“Your name is Allison?”


Interesting approach.


“Allie is preferred. And you . . .”


“Your family bought the old Anderson place.”


“Are you asking me or telling me?”


“There’s an old barn on the property.”


“Would you like to sit down? You look pale.”


Goth gal gave me a stern stare, then broke into a wide grin.


“Thanks. Hi. My name’s Chrissy.”


“What’s with the automaton bit?”


“We always start out that way, keep people off their guard. You’re a little too bright for that, I can tell.”


“Well, thanks? So, what are you all abuzz about over there?”


“You have a golden opportunity right in your back yard.”


“I do?”


“Did the real estate agent or anyone tell you or your family that the barn is haunted?”


“Chrissy, maybe you should eat something.”


“Oh man, you don’t know, do you.”


I looked into Chrissy’s eyes and, though she presented freaky, her expression was fully earnest.


“I’ll look into it.”


“Wait, Allie. The thing of it is . . . we would like to see for ourselves. 


“We?”


“See the three staring and glaring this way? Plus me.”


”And what do you expect to find?”


“Something.  Truth is nobody knows for sure.  I felt it though, standing outside even. We’ve tried getting inside before and cops came and ran us off. They kept an eye on the place after that. But since you live there. . .”


“I don’t think my parents would appreciate you unleashing evil on the property. I already have a brother.”


“Ha! Well, you’re welcome to join us.”


“I’ll think about it.”


Chrissy looked deflated.


“Oh. Okay.”


“Not sure black’s my color.”


*  *  *


I checked the time on my phone. Parentals due home in 58 minutes, 30 seconds. Little brother subdued with snacks, homework and a fresh ten dollar bill.


I crunched my way in rain boots through overgrowth and dry leaves that littered the grounds outside the periphery of our yard.  The property housed a red tool shed to the right of the driveway and just beyond, the barn with adjacent silo.


I came up to the barn door, embedded in weeds and vine that had held it in place for years. I tried sliding the door to the side; it gave just enough so I’d be able to squeeze in and avoid the cobwebs that laced and traced the doorframe.


If haunted meant dust thick enough to fill your pores and air acrid and dry enough to close your throat, this qualified. I brought out a bandana and tied it around my nose and mouth. There was something decidedly repugnant about being here.


Let’s get this over with.


The only light available snuck through cloudy glass. I could just make out a barely noticeable pathway tamped on the floor of sparse hay and grime. I followed it past empty stalls that once housed livestock.  I knew in my mind they were empty but still felt eyes on me.


Behind the last stall was a gap in the ceiling and a ladder leading up to a loft. It looked dark up there and I hesitated, considering . . .


“Whoa! What’s up there?”


My heart jumped into my throat and struck me hard. I froze, a metallic taste spreading through my mouth and teeth.


“Oh, man, Allie! You look like you’ve seen a ghost! It’s only me.”


“Camden, I am going to remain calm and ask you what in the name of God are you doing here after we . . . I . . .”


“Right! Here’s your ten back. I changed my mind.”


I checked the time.


“You’re lucky, there’s not a lot of time before mom gets home and I really want to get this over with.  I’m going up and I want you to stay here.”


“Allie, dear, I think we both know that’s not going to happen.”


“Then don’t get in the way, and don’t make a sound. I need to be able to listen.”


The little heathen zipped his lip and made a peace sign. I was frankly relieved to have someone else around.


“Let me test this ladder first, Camden. Stay.”


The ladder was nailed to the loft and sturdy enough.  I went to the top and looked. The walls were lined with furniture, enough to furnish a home or two, provided they were of a different century.  


I gestured for Camden to follow and stood up. The ceiling just accommodated my height. Not trusting there wouldn’t be inhabitants in the eaves, I crouched and began inspecting the loft's contents. The air was especially cloying up here. The only natural light came from two skylights at either end of the loft. The sun was beginning to fade. I kept a flashlight handy as I looked around.


There were glass cabinets of toys, books, knick-knacks. There were desks, tables, chairs, headboards.  Some items had drapes or tarps strewn over them. Something told me I didn’t want to see what might be living under those coverings.


I don’t know what those ridiculous Goth girls were talking about. There’s nothing haunted here. It’s creepy, filthy and the air is certainly toxic . . .


“Camden?”


Camden was at the opposite end of the loft under the skylight.


“Camden? What is it?”


Camden didn’t move.


As I got closer, I could see that Camden had found a floor mirror, an atrociously ornate one.  The glass was cloudy from both dust and time. Camden’s reflection in it frightened me.


“Camden? Look at me.”


I took him by the shoulders and forced him to face me.  His eyes were blank; he wasn’t there.


“Camden? Camden!”


And, like the flip of a switch, he was back.


“Allie, yuck! Let me go.”


“Camden, what happened to you?”


“What . . . nothing happened. I’m right here. What happened to you?”


“Nothing. I . . . are you sure you’re all right?”


“Yes. Are you sure you’re all right?”


“Let’s get out of here.”


* * *


That evening, I kept Camden within sight as much as I could. Something happened in the barn, a shifting, I could feel it; but that’s all I had was a feeling. At one point, Camden snapped at me to stop hovering.


I couldn’t help myself.  Maybe it was nothing. Please, let it be nothing.


That night, as I brushed my teeth, I caught a glimpse of something in the mirror that made my blood curdle. It was shadow, a dark outline with cutouts for eyes. It was in the corner of the bathroom watching both my reflection and me.  


I turned around.  Nothing.


I turned back. Nothing.


I hurried to Camden’s room. 


“How’re you doing, Cam?”


When he didn’t answer me, I went to where he sat looking into a blue computer screen.


“Camden?”


He turned his head and looked at me.


“Why did you let them in?”


“Who?” I whispered.


“Why . . .”


Camden’s face contorted into an angry mask.


“. . .did. . .”


I backed away as he started to stand.


“. . .you. . .”


His eyes were locked on mine.


“. . .let. . .”


He wasn’t Camden anymore.


“. . .them. . .”


For just an instant, his eyes flashed red.


“. . .IN!”


I ran to my room and locked the door.


* * *


I didn’t unlock my door until I heard my parents down the hall saying good night to Camden. I listened carefully.


Nothing unusual. Maybe he was just messing with me? Have I lost my mind? That thing in the mirror. I know I saw it. I know . . .


I lay awake most of the night, thinking wayward thoughts that brought me to the edge of sanity several times. I had to fight not to let the shadow people push me over.


I was grateful when the first hint of morning came and I could hear birds outside my window.  Normal. New Day. Hope.


I got out of bed. I knew exactly what I was going to do first thing today at school.


Chrissy had some explaining to do.


* * *


The first thing to go wrong on this day, Camden was nowhere to be found.  He’d left a text saying he’d signed up for extra help and forgotten he had to leave for school extra early this morning. 


Not true.


I didn’t let on to mom and dad that it was a lie. 


I finished getting ready for the day, kissed my parents goodbye because I felt like I should, and began the walk to school.


We lived in a neighborhood with trees, front walkways, porches and sidewalks. School was five blocks away and, when the weather was nice, Camden and I would take our own sweet time and goof around on the way and sometimes arrive late. 


Today I marched. That is, until I was passing by a grove of trees, part of a vacant lot.  At the same time I felt a pebble hit my back, I heard a voice.


“Don’t be in such a hurry.”


Camden waved me over from behind a tree.


“Camden?”  


“I thought it best I break it to you away from prying eyes.”


“What are you doing?”


“It will serve you best to think of me as your brother.”


A chill ran down my spine.


“Who are you?”


“I wanted to thank you for offering your brother. The vessel will do.”


“Where’s Camden?”


“What about Chrissy? Isn’t that where you were going?”


“Chrissy? How . . .”


I only had to lift my eyes to see black boots, black tights and that it was Chrissy’s body hanging from a tree branch.


I dropped to my knees, wanting to retch. My stomach was empty so I had nothing. I breathed and spat, trying to calm myself. Tears came and went.


“So dramatic!”


“But why Chrissy? Why. . .”


“Simple.”


Not-Camden leaned in my face closer than I liked. I fought not to close my eyes as he punctuated each syllable with special emphasis.


“I will never go back. Ever.” 


I couldn’t speak.


“Come now, sensitive Camden wouldn’t want to be in the presence of such a ghastly scene. Nor should you.”


He tried reaching for my hand. I scrambled away as quickly as I could and ran to school without looking back.  I went straight to the public lavatory and ran water to wash the dirt off my hands. The cool water felt good. I took wet paper towels and dabbed my face.


I watched as two dark shadow hands wrapped themselves around my neck. I could feel my neck muscles constrict as I began choking. I couldn’t scream so, with every ounce of energy I had, I twisted around and pushed. In my mind I screamed, No!


Nothing.


I hurried out of the lavatory and away from the mirrors.


The hallway was filled with kids changing classes. It was loud, a whirling blur, and it went on all around me, without me. I was the calm in the center keeping my eye out for something to save me and Camden from some . . . thing that had already killed once.


Then I saw her. Shock filled me like an electric current.


“Chrissy!”


Chrissy glowered at me, then winked. She said something to her companions and then came my way.


“Chrissy, you’re . . . I can’t believe you’re alive!”


“Is there a reason I shouldn’t be?”


I studied her face. Same earnestness.


“Let’s get a seat in the library. We need to talk.”


*  *  *


By the time I’d finished, I was exhausted but felt better getting it out of my head.


“Have you figured out yet why I’m not hanging from a tree?”


“I swear I haven’t a clue.”


“He lies.”


“Oh, great. Do you know who ‘he’ is?”


“Not specifically, but demons hate shadow people because they take from their powers.”


“Why are they here?”


“They’re attracted to fear, your fear, and combined with demon energy, they thrive. But I know how we can deal with the shadow people.”


“We?”


“Same thing reversed. No fear.”


I stared at Chrissy for an indeterminate period.


“You’re saying . . .”


“You have to get over it.”


“How am I supposed to do that? I haven’t eaten in 24 hours, I can’t sleep, my brother’s possessed. I feel like I’m losing my mind.”


“Allie, it will come down to what you choose to believe.”


“I believe hanging you in the woods, but not really, could be a warning . . .”


“I wouldn’t worry too much, not while the shadow people are around. Here.”


Chrissy produced a granola bar from her backpack and handed it to Allie.


“Sugar and whole grains can overcome any fear anytime.”


“Really?”


“Believe it.”


*  *  *


Fear. What is fear, really? Why be afraid? Primal. Survival. It’s a trigger for action: flight, fight, even freezing. A choice. So, fear’s a catalyst, a jumping-off point for action. Now, a step further, overcome . . . or control my fear, my thoughts . . .it’s not going to not happen, so own it. Shadow people want my fear? Well, what if I say no, you can’t have it? 


Gulp.  


* * *


It took 14 trips to a bathroom mirror to overcome my terror of the shadow people. I found it got easier each time I tried. It was a little like trying to rid yourself of hiccups. By the end of these fear-free exercises, I was taunting, “You know, I really wouldn’t mind seeing one of you shadow puppets. Hah, just kidding. Just stay put in shadow land, okay? Great.” 


*  *  *


Learning to “control” my fear galvanized me to want to try something similar with demon/Camden.  I shared my idea with Chrissy and the two of us joined forces to set it in motion.


A few days later, we were ready. 


That day after school, demon/Camden was in the kitchen when I got home.


“Hey, don’t hog all the peanut butter.”


“You don’t think I could conjure up as much as I like whenever I like?”


“I know you couldn’t.”


“Little girl wants to play, does she?”


“Tired of playing. Not interested.”


I made a show of snatching an apple off the counter and turning to leave.


“I have more important things, like homework.”


As I began to climb the stairs, I almost ran into my father’s lower legs. He hung from the ceiling slowly swinging.  I turned.


“You’re not a very good listener, are you?”


I turned back to an empty staircase. I continued up the flight until I reached the top. I could sense another obstruction in my path, probably my mother’s corpse. I closed my eyes, counted to three, and then opened them.


Nothing.


I went to my room and closed the door. My bedroom window was left slightly ajar where Chrissy had climbed in, as planned.  We took positions and waited.


Then, heavy steps on the stairs and a knock at my door.


“Come in,” I trill. 


“Now, listen. . .”


Demon/Camden is met by his reflection. Chrissy and I hold onto the ornate mirror as the glass vibrates. There is a noticeable shifting in the air. As it begins to subside, Chrissy throws a tarp over the glass.


“What’s that ugly thing doing in the house?”


I look at Camden, who is now Camden, then at Chrissy. We smile.


“How did I get here? Allie? What’s going on?”


“Help us tie and bury this thing and we’ll tell you. You won’t believe it.”


July 13, 2023 18:43

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15 comments

Russell Mickler
14:50 Jul 18, 2023

Hey there, Susan - I'm like, OMG Goths, my old high school friends, must read, so let's read. I do like the Goth interest in Allie's home. "Sit down you look pale," funny! I liked the goth dialogue with Allie. What on earth is a floor mirror? I mean, not very appropriate for people who wear dresses? Maybe it's a disco or sex thing? But even then, what value would you get from that angle? OH maybe it's a full-body mirror that rests on the floor? I also liked the technique of interlacing Camden's "You let them in" with Allie's thoughts...

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Susan Catucci
15:20 Jul 18, 2023

Hi back, Russell I will say it does concern me that "floor mirror" took you out of the barn for a blip - your question's a legitimate one, and I admire the flare with which you posed it - no pun. yeah, yeah, it's a free-standing thing, upright. Antique, gothic. Setting that aside (though, rest assured, I'll be pondering it for a while), you had a lot of great feedback, all of it actually, and I appreciate your taking the time and stopping by. :) I frankly hope my story is half as much fun as reading your comments.

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Russell Mickler
02:48 Jul 19, 2023

Snicker - thumbs up! R

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Ellen Neuborne
23:01 Jul 16, 2023

Well done. I especially liked the sibling dynamic.

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Susan Catucci
12:06 Jul 17, 2023

Thanks so much for the good words - :)

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Michał Przywara
22:11 Jul 16, 2023

A fun story! It starts quite chipper, but then banks dark hard. Especially when we get to Chrissy hanging in the woods - suddenly the stakes were cranked right up. Of course, we didn't know he was lying at the time. I like that there's multiple complications too. It's not just a demon, it's also shadow people. And of course, there's the work of figuring out what's happening. Mirrors are a classic device for horror. Do we fear ourselves on some level? Are we afraid of what a mirror might show us? Well, this was a haunted mirror so it was r...

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Susan Catucci
12:13 Jul 17, 2023

Hi Michal - I enjoy hearing your thoughts like you wouldn't believe. It so happened I read this last night before sleep; that one third-person sentence I missed - arrrrrrrgh. I hardly slept! But, I guarantee I won't let my tenses trip me up again. I'm still slapping my forehead. Ultimately, I'm glad you liked the storyline and I enjoyed writing it. I'm really having fun with dialogue these days. Ah, live and learn. :) Thank you again, Michal. All good.

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Helen A Smith
14:02 Jul 16, 2023

Engrossing story about overcoming fear, whether it be the shadow people or something else. Was able to clearly visualise the characters and scenes. It held my attention right through. Interesting idea.

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Susan Catucci
14:53 Jul 16, 2023

Super feedback - much appreciated, Helen. So glad you liked :)

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Delbert Griffith
12:39 Jul 14, 2023

Love the concept of the shadow people as a symbol for how we are affected by fear. I especially like how Allie overcame her fear and regained control over her life. That was a terrific premise, and it played out beautifully. Your dialogue just keeps getting better and better. I feel like I know these characters through your excellent dialogue. Masterful stuff, my friend. All in all, a captivating tale that hangs together so well. Nicely done, Susan. Nicely done indeed. Cheers, my good friend.

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Susan Catucci
15:00 Jul 14, 2023

Good stuff, Del. It worked out well. I'm very fortunate on so many fronts. I grew up with brothers - that's a wealth of material right there that continues to contribute to my cabinet of absurdities and odd thoughts. That, along with the kind encouragement and seriously helpful suggestions and examples I get from talents I respect, like yours, is awesome - and (usually) fun! So, a thousand Cheers back your way, Del!

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Lily Finch
22:04 Jul 13, 2023

Hey Susan, what a great story about the mirror demon who possesses people. Poor Camden never knew what hit him. Chrissy seemed well informed. The MC followed Chrissy's lead well. I liked the voice in this one, Susan. Your plot was interesting. You have suspense and held the readers' attention with this one. Just wondering if you are missing the word black in the sentence below. it piqued my interest that a group who wore nothing but, makeup, nails and book covers, should suddenly look my way. Thanks for the good read. LF6

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Susan Catucci
12:10 Jul 14, 2023

Oops, sounds like a typo to me, Lily! Thank you, my friend. I appreciate it - and all the lovely things you said. Checked but, no, it's intended to read as it does. Odd but true. :)

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Lily Finch
15:11 Jul 14, 2023

Cool. Just wanted to make sure. You know how it is when we write. LOL. Loved the story. LF6

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Mary Bendickson
20:21 Jul 13, 2023

Take a ride on the far side.

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