Horror Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

I finally understood the point of funerals. It’s the “moment of clarity” you wouldn’t expect to happen before dying. But I guess it helps that my death so far has been long and drawn out. Hours melted away like the wax on my candle, and the sun should’ve been beaming through the attic window by now. I’m still surrounded by darkness though, my legs painfully asleep, my eyes toasted from the light of my single candle, and my world cut down to just this small circle of salt around me.

It’s just me and her now. Me and It.

Almost ten years ago, I skipped my grandma Lou-Anne’s funeral. I made a fuss getting into my kid's suit, only to never wear it again because a growth spurt hit afterwards. I cried and refused to get out of the car when we arrived at the church. Aunt Shirley was impatient to get in the church, annoyed that her sister couldn’t train her kid better. I guess my mom ended up having the same frustration and told my dad to wait in the car with me. He ran through the typical “Oh, are you sure? I wanna be there for you dear,” routine but was shot down. He breathed a sigh of relief when the two women went in the church without us boys. 

He turned around from the driver’s seat to look at me, with my eyes red and suit wrinkled, and he chuckled. “You know Dax, you’re lucky your grandma loved you. Always buying you toys. You know what she got me? She almost got me a divorce.” And that’s all he said about her that day.

That’s probably why he was killed first.

None of this would be happening if I had just gone into that church. Not to sound overly Christian or lean into the “born again bullshit” as my dad called it, but that church was important. The point of funerals is to come together and remember your loved one in the best light you could. That’s why in movies and books and stuff the grizzled detective always goes like, “Ma’am, you don’t wanna see the body,” and the mother breaks down because the guy is right, there’s no reason to remember your loved one as horribly disfigured. Hindsight really is twenty-twenty.

A week ago, I came home from football practice drenched in sweat, reeking of teenage cockiness, but my mother pulled me into the kitchen. My dad and Aunt Shirley were sitting at the table looking stern. I immediately thought this was an intervention, maybe they found out about their precious high school quarterback smoking weed on the weekends. Pretty naïve in retrospect compared to what they wanted.

My mom slammed the damned book on the table. Literally a damned book.

“It’s called the Gospel of Eden, Dax, don’t be disrespectful and call it a B-movie prop.” My mom was in no mood for my sass. Her patience with me had sprung a leak ever since I skipped the funeral.

“Jackie, baby, I love you, but…” My dad wasn’t enthused with the crusty book in front of him either.

“Grow a spine Jonathan,” Aunt Shirley snapped. It turns out both her and my mom were in on this plan together for a while. Someone at their church spoke to them about grief and regret. One thing led to another and-

“I swear to you all it works. Me and Shirley have seen it with our own eyes. All we need are some candles and a moonless night. But we need your help to do it. The more people that remember her, the stronger her connection to this world is. The four of us can bring her back, just for a night.”

“Born again bullshit,” my dad said. Not then, of course, not to his wife, but just to me later on.

I’m sure at one point, my mom and Aunt Shirley were beacons of kindness, raised by a single mother who worked her ass off to make ends meet for her two girls. If I had just gone into that church, I might’ve heard more stories about the “Invincible Lou-Anne, the one woman army,” or something like that. But no. I wasn’t too sad to go in. I was too scared.

Getting incurably sick with a disease even the doctors struggled to pronounce is some reward for working so hard all your life. I’m sure the injustice of it all corroded my mom’s and Aunt Shirley’s faith in humanity, God, karma, whatever. I do have nicer memories of them from when I was really little, I swear. But it’s funny how those memories just corrode away, rust growing over it, holes breaking in them.

That’s kind of what happened with my memories of grandma. Kind of like what happened tonight.

Holes breaking in rust.

“Look mom, it’s not disrespectful. If anything, it’s a sign of respect, like, ‘Oh, you’re coming from heaven, we’re not worthy to touch you’ or something.”

“If anything, it’s a waste of salt.”

I tried my best. I really did. Spent the whole week arguing against the idea. Why? Because I’ve seen a fucking horror movie before, that’s why. But my mom placed more faith in a stranger from church than her own son. Both she and Aunt Shirley did live through a séance already, so I wasn’t convinced I would die. But I figured a ring of salt around us would just be a failsafe. An unnecessary precaution. Why salt? I wish Google provided a foolproof explanation why, but it kept coming up, so why not? As the adults shuffled into the attic, candles and book in hand, I stayed behind and snuck two saltshakers in my back pockets. I felt stupid as hell sitting on them cross-legged on the creaky wooden floor.

My mom went around the circle, lighting each of our candles, the only way we could see in this pitch black attic. The Gospel of Eden sat in the middle of our four person circle. I had taken a peek at it earlier in the week, but it wasn’t written in English, or any language I recognized. No pictures either. Whoever the stranger was that taught my mom how to use it definitely knew something regular people aren’t supposed to know.

“Now, all we need to do is to focus our thoughts on Lou-Anne. Our memories are what will reform her. When I start the chant, just remember all the good times you had with her. How she used to be before…” My mom trailed off, holding back tears. Aunt Shirley grabbed her hand, the two seeing eye to eye for the first time in a while. They missed their mom, and nothing would stop them now. But me and my dad were just there, trying to support them, trying not to feel like set dressing. At least I was.

From Eden we come, and to Eden we return. We ask for the Eternal Gates to open for us tonight. May the Lord of Hosts take our memories and bring-

I think at that point in the chant I knew we were fucked. “Remember all the good times,” – I was seven when she died. I had the least amount of good times in the circle, and I feel like a piece of shit for thinking that. I know she hugged me and smiled when she saw how big I was getting. I know she got me the best Christmas presents, plus she brought over a toy every time she visited like ten times a year. Hell, she gave me my first football – how can I ignore how that started a domino effect leading to me being the star quarterback at high school?

But… when she got sick, my mom insisted grandma stay with us in the upstairs spare bedroom. She refused and refused, wanting to stay strong and live on her own. She only gave in toward the end, spending her last month alive in that bed upstairs.

“Don’t let Dax see me,” I heard her rasp while listening from the stairs. The door was closed by the time I snuck to the top of the stairs. A month of doctors and church members and mom and Aunt Shirley going in and out of that room. Never letting me in.

On the last night, the ambulances came. Paramedics rushed upstairs. The red lights streaked into the living room, dashing across my face, the red drowning my world in what looked like blood. My dad was on the phone downstairs, furiously trying to get my mom and Aunt Shirley to come home from their quick grocery run. No one stopped me from going upstairs.

My candle is almost out. The sun hasn’t risen yet but it definitely should’ve. I’m laughing at the absurdity of it all. I should’ve gone into that church and stayed out of the bedroom. It was really that easy.

I didn’t even realize I had closed my eyes while my mom was chanting. I opened them when I heard Aunt Shirley gasp. In the middle of our circle, hovering above the Gospel of Eden, was Lou-Anne. Just like a ghost, almost see through but not quite, a grey wispy aura around her. She wasn’t facing me but I could tell it was her from the way her hair curled and was kept short to the floral dress she always wore. Her attention was fully on her daughters in front of her.

“My baby girls,” Lou-Anne spoke, choking back tears just like my mom had just done. Her daughters were fully crying now, hands over their mouths.

Aunt Shirley started to rise, going in for a hug, but my mom grabbed her quick. “R-remember, we gotta stay in front of our candles.” Shirley nodded and sat back down, still crying.

But Lou-Anne started to flicker in and out, like a dying lightbulb. My mom gasped and immediately turned to look at me and my dad. My dad had started to crawl backwards away from the ghost, away from his candle. My mom shrieked. “Jonathan, get back here! You have to remember her or else!”

“Or else” – that’s what my mom said. I don’t know if she knew the consequences of breaking the ritual, or if she was threatening my dad afterwards with words that would cut like knives. I’ll never get the chance to know for sure now.

My dad shuffled back toward the candle, ass on the floor like a dog, muttering, “L-Lou-Anne, I- I- I missed you.”

Her ghost paused and slowly turned around, letting me see her face for the first time. She was smiling, with the same twinkle in her eye as when she’d pull a toy out of her big purse for me. “Oh Jonathan, I missed you too. You’ve been treating Jackie well, I hope? Someone’s gotta now that I’m not here,” she chuckled.

Something snapped in my dad. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, except this time it might as well have split the camel into bloody pieces. “Of course I’ve been treating her well Lou-Anne. Y-you, you- you know, you always assumed I don’t treat her well.”

“Jonathan, knock it off! She didn’t mean anything by it!” my mom scolded from across the circle.

But he wasn’t having it anymore. There was a weight on his chest that he needed to get off, so he hijacked the whole séance to do it. I should’ve seen it coming. In some ways I did since I started to form the salt circle around me. But in the important ways I didn’t see it coming; otherwise I would’ve been anywhere but here tonight.

“Lou-Anne, I take good care of your daughter, and I raised your grandson to be a fucking good young man, but you didn’t get to see that. All you did was criticize and- and-“

His confidence went out like his candle did. Her daughters couldn’t see it, but we did. My dad’s memories stopped being good ones, started to gravitate around the bitter arguments they had while she was alive. Bad blood that I wasn’t even alive for, but he still dragged me into his argument. So he stopped remembering her as a good person, and for a second, just for one goddamn second, he thought of her as he truly felt.

He remembered her as a monster.

She lunged forward toward him, nails growing longer into claws. He yelled as they sunk into his neck, veins snapping and blood streaming out. My mom rushed out from behind her candle to try and pry the ghost off him. I was frozen, the air sinking to what felt like subzero temperatures. I saw Lou-Anne’s ghost grow sharp teeth as she snapped at my dad’s face.

“THIS IS WHAT YOU THINK OF ME???” she yelled in between taking bites.

“No, please no Mommy!” my mom cried out, gripping the ghost- though at this point, she was fully solid, so I don’t even think a “ghost” is what she became. Blood gurgled in my dad’s mouth as he thrashed and revealed his nose was missing, a wreck of flesh and blood around a hole in his face. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Aunt Shirley pick up her and my mom’s candle.

“Jackie, I’m ending this shit!” she yelled, blowing out the candles. For the briefest second, I saw my mom’s horrified face turn around, too late to stop her sister. Then, my candle was the only light left in the world.

Something about the chant rattles around my mind now. “Eternal Gates to open…” – like letting a dog out of the yard. If that’s the case, then the candles are the chains around the dog’s neck, making sure it can go back to where it belongs. Just a theory… but I’m sure as hell not letting my candle go out after seeing what happened.

With three out of four candles out, the entity shook, trembling with a surge of power. It threw my dad to the ground and turned and grabbed my mom by her throat. By my flickering light, I saw Aunt Shirley turn to run down the stairs, leaving us behind. But the entity chased after her, still gripping my mom by the throat. They disappeared out of sight down the attic stairs. I heard a loud tumble as it sounded like the thing caught up to Aunt Shirley, and all three crashed down the wooden steps.

“THE SACRIFICES I MADE FOR YOU GIRLS!” I heard it yell amidst the panicked screaming of the other two.

My dad’s body laid by my side, face turned away, but the gash where his nose was burned into my memory. I stood to run toward my mom, drops of courage greasing my muscles to move, but as soon as I stepped out of my salt circle, I heard footsteps come racing back up the stairs. My nerves gave out and I fell back into my circle, thankfully keeping my candle upright. The screams had stopped by the time it made it back up the stairs.

And then it stood before me.

I never told my parents why I was scared to go to the funeral. I was convinced that for some reason, we’d all have to look at my grandma’s body the whole time, that the casket would be upright, and she’d be facing us the whole time. And I couldn’t bring myself to see that face again. That face I saw on her last night alive.

“Dax. Dax. Please look at me,” it spoke. That’s how I knew it was no longer Lou-Anne in front of me. Not even an ounce of her soul left in this vessel. She went out of her way to make sure I couldn’t see her dying but I did anyway.

The paramedics were taking her pulse and blood pressure, watching her convulse while trying to get the stretcher upright in the room. Her face was toward the ceiling but as soon as I naively stepped in the room, she turned to me.

Skin crusted, discolored patches. Holes. Holes amidst the rough patches. Cheeks and forehead covered in them. Eyes sunken in. Not even able to look at me. Never to twinkle again like they did when she handed me that football.

That’s how I remembered her. That’s the only way I could remember her. So that’s the only way she could appear before me now.

I only took one glance at the entity in front of me, but it matched what I remembered. But it was amplifying all of it, feeding off of my fear, the holes in my memory. She didn’t have eyes at all this time, instead empty caverns where stale wind blew through. The holes in around her face were more prominent this time, forming a twisted mask pattern, the edges bleeding and angry purple skin showing.

“Dax, look at me. Let me in,” it spoke, just standing there, watching me.

I’ve spent what feels like a lifetime just sitting in this circle, crying in silence, not letting my tears touch the candles, knowing it’s watching me through empty holes. The salt must be having some effect, but I can’t risk what might happen when the last candle goes out, if it’ll cause another surge of violence.

I wish I could remember her any other way, but I’m all that’s left. I’m the last one here alive. “Lou-Anne” can’t exist any other way except how I remember her.

“I’m sorry grandma,” I whispered to myself, hoping she could hear me wherever she was, hoping she knew I remembered the twinkle in her eye. Hoping she’d forgive me for remembering the holes more than that.

January 09, 2024 23:26

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S.M. Sykes
03:34 Jan 18, 2024

I loved the story. The way he had to keep the candle burning was a very nice touch.


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Terry Jaster
04:32 Jan 21, 2024

I'm really sorry. I just couldn't finish the story. I was very confused as to what was going on. I just couldn't follow the path. Again I'm sorry


Show 0 replies
Mary Bendickson
05:09 Jan 10, 2024

Don't mess with eternal gates.


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