Shadow Muse

Submitted into Contest #149 in response to: Start your story with the flickering of a light.... view prompt

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Mystery Horror Suspense

The only car they saw this far up the mountain skidded around the curve, drove directly at them, and lurched back into its lane. Its left headlight flickered like the twitchy eye of a madman. Adam held his foot over the brake in case it swerved again. As it gunned past them, little Lucy waved from the backseat of the van. The car’s taillights blinked back at her and disappeared around the bend.

Adam cursed the driver under his breath and sat up. The drive had taken longer than usual. His wife had told him to stop for snack breaks every hour and let Lucy run around. A four-hour, non-stop trip with a fussy five-year-old would have been faster. Adam tapped the button on the floor for the high beams. On the horizon, a silhouette of the mountain top kept the starry sky from reaching the road.

Lucy hummed “The Wheels on the Bus” to herself so the men in the van and the new woman couldn’t hear. Daddy wouldn’t sing when his friends were around and Daddy’s friend, Zeke wanted to listen to his music. The smelly man sang horribly and said bad words and didn’t care if Daddy asked him to stop. After one song, Zeke closed his eyes and snored next to her.

Zeke pretended he didn’t care that he’d been stuck in the backseat with Adam’s princess. This weekend was supposed to be a guy’s retreat at the cabin. The last three-day weekend for a while. It was supposed to be a trash-talking, beer-burping, fun-filled time of skiing, drinking and watching sports. A tradition since college. And then Adam had to bring his daughter and Brian brought his new girlfriend. Zeke released a pebble-sized burp tainted with acid.

Adam parked the van at the top of the driveway near the street. The last time he parked it in the garage at the bottom of the slope, they had a freezing rain in the night and a nearly impossible time trying to back out the family car. He needed to keep the van in a ready state in case of an emergency. Weekends were just different with kids.

Everyone grabbed their bags, except Zeke. He twisted open a beer and took a long swig. He set the bottle on top of three cases and carried them to the cabin.

“Grab my bag will you.” Zeke yanked his chin at Brian.

“Get it yourself.” Brian wasn’t going to let Zeke boss him around this weekend.

“I’m carrying something much more important.” Zeke puffed out steam like a locomotive as he strained to balance the cases and keep his footing on the slippery slope.

“No, your clothes are more important. I don’t want to spend another weekend with you hanging out in your sweat-stained, flannel shirt.”

“I’ll go naked if I have to.”

“He’ll do it,” Adam warned.

Brian went back to the van.

“Where are you going?” Maureen asked. She grabbed him by the elbow.

“I’ll be quick.” But he knew she wasn’t worried about being left alone. She worried her new boyfriend got no respect from an unemployed, fat slob. Brian caught up with Zeke and brushed him aside. The beer bottle toppled off the cases and landed upside down in the snow.

Zeke laughed. One lost beer was not going to piss him off. “Snow cone anyone?” He scooped up the beer-stained ice and ate it.

Adam’s sports-minded family had decorated the living room with two, large sofas arranged in an L-shape with one facing the fireplace and the other facing a 40-inch flat panel TV.

Kendrik dropped his bag in the hall, blocking everyone’s path. “You said you had a 60-inch TV, Adam.”

“I do, at home.” Adam shoved him aside and adjusted the thermostat on the wall.

“How are we going to watch the game on this?” Kendrik pointed at the TV.

“With beer goggles.” Zeke held his empty bottle up to his eye like a telescope.

Adam and his daughter took the master suite. Brian and his girlfriend got the other room. Zeke and Kendrik were left with the sofas. Kendrik chose the one closest to the TV and flipped on the pre-game show.

Zeke kicked off his shoes and pulled of his clothes. Underneath was a swimsuit. “Hot tub time.”

“Wait for me to turn it on.” Adam had a routine when arriving at the cabin. Last on the list was the hot tub.

“I got it.” Zeke left through the sliding glass door, out to the deck.

Adam set a pot of water on the stove for spaghetti and hot dogs. Lucy cut up the hot dogs with a butter knife while singing “Baby Shark.” Adam let her open the spaghetti sauce after loosening it for her. She pretended it was tight and grunted to open it. The lid flipped open and sauce spilled on her shirt.

“Oh great.” Adam grabbed the jar and set it on the counter. He took a deep breath. His wife had insisted Lucy go on this little trip to get her out of the house, but Adam knew it was to keep the weekend from getting out of hand.

“Looks like we’ll have to change your shirt, little one.” He took her back to the bedroom.

Brian and Maureen decided to join Zeke in the hot tub. This was not the romantic weekend Brian had hoped for, but Maureen insisted on meeting his friends. She promised they would visit Napa another time. He draped a large towel over her to cover her two-piece bikini and followed her out to the deck.

Kendrik looked around at the empty room. He learned long ago that his friends were fair-weather sports fans. He’d wait until the second half to call them in. Three minutes into the game, Steph Curry took a three-point shot, but before the ball could swish through the net, the TV signal started to scramble and the image turned into an array of colored dots and random patterns.

Kendrik waited for the picture to come back. An announcer’s voice shouted, “What a play!” then the TV hissed out static. Kendrik checked the wires in the back of the TV and followed the cable to the wall. As far as he was concerned, it all looked good. Then he remembered what happened the last time they were up here. A bunch of snow had dropped off a tree and landed on the satellite dish. Adam had gone up on the roof and swept it off to get the signal back.

Some fussing and crying came from the bedroom where Adam was changing Lucy. Kendrik didn’t want to interrupt. There was a danger he’d get roped into singing a happy, joyful nursery school song to calm her down. He went to the garage and got the ladder.

Zeke stretched out in the hot tub and watched the new couple get in. He marveled at the contrast between the thin bodies before him. Brian’s lanky frame paled next to Maureen’s lithe, olive figure. The difference between sexy and nerd was not the body, but how you moved with it. He clung to that believe for the sake of his own gut-busting physique.

“You guys gonna drink or what?” Zeke grabbed two beers sticking out of the snow.

The love birds toasted each other and Maureen started chugging her beer. She got through half and belched with pride.

“Damn, Brian. This one knows how to drink.”

Maureen wiped her mouth. “I was thirsty after that drive.”

They drank steadily through a six pack when Maureen got out of the tub. “Gotta pee, sweetie.”

She gave Brian a long kiss and grabbed her towel off a deck chair. When she reached out to the sliding glass door, the sudden rush of heat loss and beer went to her head. She collapsed on the welcome mat.

“Maureen!” Brian jumped out of the tub. He lifted her up in his arms and patted her cheeks. “Maureen.”

Her eyelids fluttered. Her face paled.

Zeke stood up to help, but his own head rush pulled him back down. He remained at the edge of the tub. The cold did that. Couldn’t be the beer. He’d only had three.

Brian lifted Maureen up and took her inside.

Her eyes rolled forward in their sockets and she inhaled deeply. “What happened?”

“You passed out. The sudden cold. Let’s get you a hot shower and warm clothes.

Brian helped her into the bathroom and stood by until she insisted she was fine. He left to get some clothes when Lucy screamed down the hall. Brian rushed to the bedroom. Adam had given her a bath and was trying to comb the knots out of her hair.

“What’s going on?”

“She’s being fussy tonight.” Adam untangled hair from her brush.

Lucy pointed over by the bedstand. “Clock radio. Clock radio.”

The display on the clock flashed on and off like a warning light.

“Yes, honey. That’s a clock radio. Daddy hasn’t had a chance to set the time yet.”

“That’s not the time, Daddy!”

The lights on the clock did not form a coherent pattern of numbers but instead flashed random sticks of crimson light.

“It doesn’t want us here, Daddy. It says to get out.”

At home, Lucy talked to the lights like an imaginary friend. She said they told her things – which children were friendly, which were not. She said the lights told her secrets. Secrets no one else knows.

The display on the clock radio readjusted to a number. One hundred. And then with each flash, it started to count down.

Zeke finished his fourth beer and stared up at the star-filled sky. At this altitude and far from city lights, you could see the Milky Way. He wished he could live here year-round. The thought of going back in a few days and searching for a job soured in his stomach. A man with a PhD should not have to beg for a job. Upper-level managers and CEOs should be lining up at his door. He let his beer buzz coast over him.

“Hey guys!” He shouted. “When’s dinner?”

No one came to the patio door.

Zeke cursed and climbed out of the tub. His heart felt it first. A thick, frozen thud in his chest. Water dripped from his hair and trickled down his back. He wrapped himself in a towel too small to cover his body and danced on the welcome mat to sweep his feet dry.

The sliding glass door wouldn’t budge. And not a single soul in the living room to see his sorry ass outside. He pounded on the frame. No one came. He bent his knees and yanked on the door but his fingers slipped off the handle. Zeke fell back and landed in a pile of crusty snow.

Brian left the master suite to check on Maureen. She wasn’t in the bathroom or the bedroom. And no one was in the living room. Seriously? The practical jokes over the weekend were juvenile but this seemed beneath them. He wasn’t going to play hide-n-seek. He went to the kitchen to check on dinner and stopped in front of the kitchen window. An uneasy feeling came over him that Maureen might be out on the deck flirting with the guys. Before he could look, Lucy let out a shrill scream. Brian sprinted back to the bedroom.

Adam had just got her pajamas on when Lucy’s eyes rolled back and she fell to the floor, her little body convulsing. Adam’s heart stopped. What to do? Call for help. Call his wife. But that would prove he couldn’t take care of his daughter. This was just a simple tantrum.

Lucy’s face began to break out in hives. Tears rolled down her cheek. Adam tried to calm her with a song and stroke her hair. A red bump grew on back of her hand. A bee sting. She’s allergic. What to do? Rush her to the hospital. Too far. The kit. They had a bee sting kit in the van. Adam asked Brian to stay with her. He rushed outside and knocked over the ladder blocking the front door.

Zeke brushed off the snow and got back into the hot tub. He would warm himself up and then make a mad dash around the house to the entrance. It wasn’t too far.

Another wave of dizziness hit him.

Stay in the tub, Zeke. A voice spoke to him. It’s warm and safe. Your friends will come and get you. Eventually. You can wait for them here. A man with a PhD doesn’t ask for help. He delegates. Make them come to you. Stay. Relax. Sleep.

A green mist covered the deck’s halogen light and snuffed it out.

Kendrik baby-stepped his way up the side of the roof, checking each foothold as he went. It wasn’t steep but ice had formed on the shingles. At the top, he stepped over the ridge to straddle both sides, but his trick knee gave out. He fell on his back and slid down the roof headfirst with arms and legs flailing to connect with something. His hand caught the gutter and he spread his legs out to stabilize his position. His body inched toward the edge. To stop the slide, he pushed down on the sheet metal of the gutter. It started to bend.

Adam reached the van and jumped in. He searched the first aid kit in the glove compartment but he couldn’t find the bee sting kit. He couldn’t read the writing on the labels. He couldn’t take care of his daughter. His wife was right. She had to do everything. He started to hyperventilate.

Go to the hospital. Get help. Don’t call your wife. She can’t help you. Get a doctor. Have them come back here and take care of your daughter. The voice calmed him.

Adam turned the ignition on the van and backed it out onto the road. He sat in the driver’s seat with the headlights off. You don’t need the light. I will guide you. Just drive. Drive to the hospital.

Adam put his foot on the accelerator.

Or, the voice whispered, you could just go and not come back.

Kendrik stared up at the starry sky. His back had melted the icy shingles and stabilized his position. His feet were still above his head. He needed to calm himself before making a move. Ice particles rolled down the back of his shirt. Up above, a star flickered and brightened. It blew up to a green bubble and popped. Two more stars flickered and popped. Others began to explode. Soon, every light in the sky went out.

Your friends don’t understand you, a woman’s voice whispered to him. It takes work to be an athlete. You deserve to be up high on a podium. Like a champion. Your dreams are real. If you climb back down, step off that ladder, you’ll have to go back to that ordinary life. It’s beneath you, Kendrik. Stay up here where you belong.

Brian looked everywhere. The garage was the only place left where Maureen could be. He took Lucy by the hand. Whatever spooked Adam about Lucy’s arm had gone away. But her breathing was fast and erratic.

He opened the door to the garage and jumped back. A shadowy figure with green eyes and no legs floated above a swirling dark hole. Its whisp-like arms reached out and pulled in rays of light shining from the hanging fluorescent bulbs. The figure saw Brian and beckoned to him as it lowered itself into the hole. Brian followed. The green eyes spun in a circle. Maureen’s green eyes. The first thing he noticed about her. And her deep voice. A voice calling to him now.

Lucy let go of his hand and grabbed a flashlight off the shelf. She shined it on Brian. The black part of his eyes grew big and he stared into the hole, whispering, “Just us. All alone. In the dark.” The beam of light bent away from his face and entered the hole. A shadowy arm reached out and took the flashlight from Lucy.

Lucy didn’t scream. She was scared but she knew what to do. She grabbed Brian’s hand and sang a song, really loud.

“This little light of mine,” she sang, “I’m gonna let it shine.”

Brian’s dilated eyes returned to normal and he hung onto Lucy tight. She continued to sing and led him to the door. A guttural voice beckoned them back and the shadowy arm shot out of the hole. It grabbed Lucy by the ankle. She slid toward the center of the garage.

The garage door fell over with a loud bang and landed on top of the twirling shadow. Headlights from the van lit the room like a spotlight. The lights bent toward the garage door window, but reflected off the glass and lit the rafters.

Adam ran up to them and pulled both into the van. He spun the car around and drove up the slope—one side of tires slipping up the icy driveway, the other digging into the lawn. At the top, two silhouette figures blocked the road.

“Run them over!” Brian shouted, but Adam tapped the brakes.

“Why would you do that?” Zeke shouted. He and Kendrik climbed into the van and they drove off.

Zeke stared at Brian. “Have I been that much of a jerk to you?”

The drive down the mountain was not a quiet one. Lucy sang songs to them and never tired. No one complained. The van’s headlights flickered like an exhausted survivor after a long night.

June 10, 2022 18:49

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14 comments

Tommy Goround
19:54 Jun 22, 2022

For me it flowed really well. Did Maureen get resolved? Nice use of suspense. I liked Kendricks dream on the roof. The story was told like it really happened, just the right amount of details. You took a rather basic sequence (van ride and unpack) and then made it interesting. Clapping

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Craig Westmore
01:06 Jun 23, 2022

Thanks Tommy!

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Kevin Marlow
00:56 Jun 22, 2022

The setting reminded me of old slasher films from the 80's. I would like to have read some foreshadowing early in the story about the supernatural ending. It took me a bit to get into the story.

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Craig Westmore
01:10 Jun 22, 2022

I'll definitely add some foreshadowing to draw the reader in. And enhance the setting to create a sense of impending doom. Thanks, Kevin!

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Scott Mc Cully
03:49 Jun 20, 2022

Great story I was chilled when Adam realized the lights on the clock were not showing the numbers (my favorite moment actually) and that lucy could speak with them. Really loved how you brought Lucy's singing into the story too rather than it being a throwaway character quirk. Well done.

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Craig Westmore
19:49 Jun 20, 2022

Thanks Scott!

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Vj Hamilton
00:30 Jun 15, 2022

OMG! What a roller coaster ride this one was! Great story... starting with "twitchy eye of a madman". You had a big cast of characters but were able to delineate each one with their particular vice, I thought. Thanks for a great read!

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Craig Westmore
00:52 Jun 15, 2022

Thank you, Vj.

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23:32 Jun 13, 2022

That's a great story. The ongoing gag with rude Zeke was great, and also Kendrik sliding off the roof felt very relatable and exciting. I like how little Lucy saved them all in the end. There were also many great sentences and turns of phrase in the story, which flowed really smoothly! As corbin said here were a lot of characters to keep track of, maybe Brian and Adam could be combined into one person as they weren't as extreme as kendrik the jock and zeke the drunk.

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Craig Westmore
20:51 Jun 14, 2022

Thanks, Scott! I was thinking of combining Kendrick and Adam but, you're right, merging Brian and Adam makes more sense. Good call!

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Corbin Sage
03:46 Jun 13, 2022

|This has a very creative plot, and I'm interested to know what exactly was happening with the haunting. |I was a bit confused during my first couple of read-throughs on keeping track of the characters. I would suggest possibly introducing them more clearly closer to the beginning of the story, or cutting out a character. Another thing that might help is separating when the POV changes by adding symbols or another space. |I particularly liked how you integrated Lucy's powers- the eery vibe was boosted by the fact that the child knew more t...

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Craig Westmore
19:56 Jun 13, 2022

Thank you, Corbin, for the long critique! It's very helpful. I guess I did cram a lot of characters into a short story. I'll see if I can introduce them in unforgettable ways. If not who do you suggest removing? I'll definitely fix the POV shifts. I was wondering if that was a problem. And I'll rework those problem sentences you mentioned. Thanks!

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Corbin Sage
01:20 Jun 14, 2022

Of course! I would suggest Kendrik, as he seems to be the most replaceable.

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Craig Westmore
20:54 Jun 14, 2022

I was thinking of combining two characters. Maybe Kendrick and Adam. But Scott made a better suggestion to merge Adam and Brian. I think I could flesh out Kendrick a bit more.

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