THE HELPFUL GHOST

I never believed in ghosts. I always thought they were a figment of a crazy person’s imagination. That all changed a few years back. Here I was, minding my own business, traveling down scenic Route 48 from Chicago to Goodeville, Illinois. The trees were blooming in shades of orange, brown, and yellow. Ah, November, the month where it’s smoldering hot one day and icy roads the next. Well, on this day, I mean night; it was different.

I was driving my 1000 horsepower Peterbilt rig named Big Red. Let’s say I was hauling ‘flammable liquids’ to a ‘secret’ destination in Goodeville. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary hit the first chorus on the radio when the song turned static. The lights on my semi flickered, and the truck came to a dead stop. On top of that, Donder and Bliksem were racing each other high in the night sky, signaling the clouds to gather to bring on a freezing rain storm.

I tried the ignition, nothing. I turned in my seat and saw my bright orange raincoat on the bed. I snatched it up, along with the matching knee-high galoshes that were lying next to it. I turned back and reached for my flashlight from the dash. I opened the door and climbed down. Ice forming under my feet caused me to slip. I almost went under Big Red; then she showed up.

An icy hand grabbed my wrist and pulled me up. I turn to say thank you, but what can I say, it stunned me. She was a beautiful goddess, her long red hair weighing heavy on her head from the rain. Her white nightgown soaked clean through, outlining her full perky bosom. It took a minute or two before I came back to my senses. I ripped my raincoat off and placed it over her. The poor young woman lost herself in the bright plastic; you could fit two or three of her in it.

Listen, I don’t pick up hitchhikers. For one thing, it’s illegal. For another, I could lose my job. But how could I resist a woman in need? For God’s sake, this is someone’s daughter. So, I held the door open, and she floated up to the cap. I climbed up and saw she was already on the passage side, peeking at me from under the hood of the raincoat. Those eyes, one can get lost in a green pasture full of dandelions.

I shut the driver-side door and crawled into my sleeping compartment. I opened my suitcase and shifted through the clothes until I found a towel and a thermal shirt. I handed them to her and motioned for her to come on back. Then, of course, I went back to the driver’s seat. After all, I am a gentleman.

After a few minutes went by, I turned around to ask her name. There, I saw her in my bed, sound asleep. I reached into my jeans pocket and slid out my cell phone. To my surprise, it, too, like the truck, was not working.

Upset, I took one last look at my unexpected companion. Her eyes flicker open, her pale lips smiled, revealing the pearly white of her teeth, and then she was asleep once more. With that, the truck’s electronics started up, and my phone beeped on. The engine started right up. The radio popped on, starting where it left off. I didn’t question any of it; I wanted to take her to a safe place.

I was a mile or so from turning on to South Cherokee Street when a loud voice from behind me said, “NO!”

I pumped the brakes and pulled to the side of the road, and stopped. I flipped on my hazard lights and turned to her, and asked, “What’s wrong?” I notice her smile turned into a frown, hiding the sparkles from her teeth. The green pasture in her eyes turned into death and decay.

“Please,” she said. “Let’s stay the night here.”

“Why? We’re so close to town. Why stop now?”

Her body trembled, and I knew, in my heart, it was not from the cold. She was scared, but I did not know from what. So, I agreed with her and her smile, and the green pastures returned. She fell back asleep in my bed as I fell asleep in my seat.

The heat of the sun caused the temperature to rise in my rig, waking me from my dreamless sleep. For a minute, I thought everything from the night before was a dream. I turn my seat to view my sleeping quarters, and there she was sitting up in bed — her waving red hair, green eyes, and smile. She climbed out of bed and slipped into the passenger seat. I offered a drink of water, but she refused. All she said was, “We can go now.”

I started the truck, and off we went. It was a few minutes when we arrived at a turn on South Cherokee Street. Turning onto the road, I noticed police officers and a cleanup crew. A semi was towing away another semi. I had to stop until I could go. I turned to the young woman and said, “Stay here.” She nodded at me.

When I climbed down from the cab and walked to an officer, I asked him, “What happened here?”

“A semi full of gas for the local gas stations slipped on the ice during the storm. The driver crashed into a car, and his rig flipped. He lived. The container of gas wasn’t damaged. But a young woman died. Her car blew up.”

I thanked the officer and went back to my rig. The young lady is still there. Fifteen minutes later, the officer let me through the crash site. After I passed it, I turned to the woman sitting beside me, but she vanished. I slammed on my brakes and looked around my cab; she was nowhere. I looked in my review mirror, and there she stood, on the spot where the car blew up.

If she did not stop me that night, the wreck could’ve been worse. I was in my own world and would’ve run right into the tanker, blowing everyone in the surrounding area up.

They buried her in the graveyard near the accident site. So, every time I go through Goodeville, or close to it, I visit her grave and leave a handful of dandelions. Then, before I get back into my truck, I look back, and I swear I see her standing there, holding the flowers and smiling. Her name was Brianna.

HENRY BLAISE MEETS THE BABYSITTER

Josephine Blaise picks up a black eyeliner from her makeup counter.

I need to make these eyebrows darker. And now, for the eyes. She thought while moving the brush down to her lashes.

I need smokier gray eyeshadow.

“Looking good,” Josephine says, leaning back to study both eyes.

Blood red lipstick will look great. Josephine scratches her head. “Something’s missing. I don’t look dead enough. Ah, white powder.”

There we go. Now for the cherry on top. She looks around the bedroom. Now, where did I put the black and white wig?

“Are you looking for this, Lily?” Josephine turns towards the deep voice.

Standing before her is a seven-foot-tall gray-green creature. Wearing black platform boots, deep brown slacks with a matching overcoat, and a black sweater underneath. His head is flat, with a scar on his forehead and a bolt sticking out on each side of his neck.

Josephine slaps her palms together and smiles. “Oh, Thank you, Herman.”

Matthew jumps in excitement, rattling the home. He hands his wife a Lily Munster wig and watches her put it on and struggling to fit it right. He captures his reflection in the mirror.

“Do you think we’ll win the best couple costume tonight, Lily dear?”

Josephine looks at him through the mirror. “I don’t see why not? We look authentic enough to be the real Munsters.”

A tap came at their bedroom door. Matthew stomps his way over, knocking pictures off the sky-blue walls. He opens the door to find Batman sitting on the brown shag carpet with a pumpkin container on its side spilling candy all over. “What are you doing down there, son?”

John’s chestnut eyes glance up at his father. “Did we have an earthquake?”

“Sorry, son. That was me and these darn boots.” Matthew shuffles his boots to show John the weight.

John scoops the candy into his pumpkin and stands up to study his father. John shakes his head and shuffles to the front room.

“What’s up with that?” Matthew says half to himself and half to Josephine.

Josephine glides to the door and places her hand on Matthew’s arm. “He is sleepy, that’s all.”

And tired of living in this trailer. She thought as her eyes scan the room.

“What was that you said?”

“Oh, nothing, Herman dear. I didn’t say anything.”

Matthew was about to ask again but is interrupted by a knocking at the door.

Knock, knock

“I’ll get that,” Matthew says, turning for the door.

“No, you won’t. Stay here and practice walking without causing everything to fall.”

“Yes, dear.”

Josephine went to the front room, stopping by John. “Hey, Batman? Can you help your mother open the door?”

John did not answer. He continued staring at the television, watching It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Josephine went on to the door.

The stave-core door screeches open. Josephine reaches for the storm door, unlocks it, and the wind blows it out of her hand, almost hitting the babysitter. “Oh, I am so sorry, Tiffany.”

“That’s okay, Mrs. Blaise. The wind is picking up. I think it will rain.”

Josephine sticks her head out and smells the air. “Yes, a storm is looming.” She peers down at Tiffany. Her golden hair sways in front of her blue eyes, staring up at Josephine.

“Well, come on in, Tiffany.” Josephine smiles and gestures her inside.

Tiffany steps in, finding herself surrounded by bright but soft colors. The front room is a pale purple and trimmed in white. The kitchen is a peachy glow, adding warmth to its small size. A wooded bar divides the kitchen and the front room.

“Thank you, ma’am.” Tiffany says turning to Josephine, “What a nice home you have here.”

“Thank you. It’s not much, but it’s home.”

Tiffany hears a noise from the hallway. The night light gives off a glow, forming a shadow of a colossal creature creeping towards them. The shadow hits the soft light of the kitchen, revealing Matthew.

“This is my husband, Matthew.”

“Hi, sir.”

“Well, hello there to you, too.”

Tiffany stares at Mr. and Mrs. Blaise. “What are you two supposed to be?”

The couple looks at each other and back at Tiffany.

Matthew claps his hands together and bounces up and down, making the trailer shake. “We’re the Munster’s.”

“The who?”

Josephine shakes her head and flutters her hands. “Never mind. I want you to meet my son, John.”

John looks down the hallway, shaking his head and murmuring to himself.

“What is he doing, Ms. Blaise?”

Josephine smiles down at Tiffany. “He has an…” she forms air quotes, “imaginary friend.”

Tiffany nodded. “My little brother is the same way. He is four-years-old.”

“John is six-years-old, and it is bedtime for him.”

Josephine walks John to his bedroom.

“Can I sleep in my costume, mommy?”

“Sure, you can. Now, get in bed.”

John climbs into his Batmobile bed, clinging to his Ironman plush doll. He drags his Superman sheets up to his chin.

“Do you want mommy to read you a story?”

“No, mommy. Henry wants to tell me a story.”

“Henry.” She takes a deep breath and lets it out. “Okay.”

Josephine kisses John on the forehead. She switches on his Spiderman light, which casts shadows of Spiderman in various poses upon the greige wall and white ceiling. “Now, you be a good boy for Tiffany. We won’t be home until after midnight.”

***

“Here is the number where you can reach us in case of an emergency.”

Tiffany holds up her cell phone. “I got your number in my cell, Mr. Blaise.”

“Yeah, okay. Well, we have a landline on the kitchen wall. So, in case your cell phone stops working.”

Tiffany nods. Landline, really. She fidgets with her cell phone. “Do you have Wi-Fi, Mr. Blaise?”

“Hum.”

Tiffany heads to the tan couch and sits down. “No worries, Mr. Blaise. I found a hot spot.”

Matthew nods. Okay. “Well, there is food and soda in the refrigerator if you need something to nibble on.”

Tiffany nods while playing on her cell phone.

“John should sleep through the night. We’ll be home after midnight.”

Tiffany nods, still playing on her cell phone. “Sure, Mr. Blaise.”

***

Josephine walks into the front room. “All set, dear?”

“Sure am.”

“We’ll see you later, Tiffany,” said Josephine.

Tiffany stands up, nods, and escorts them to the door. She waves goodbye to the Blaise’s and locks the storm door and the front door. Next, she checks all the windows, making certain they are locked. When she reaches John’s room, she notices his window is open. She strolls over and closes and locks it. She swings around and finds John sitting up in bed, glaring at her.

“What is it, John?”

“Henry doesn’t like you.”

“I really don’t care what Henry thinks. He’s not real, anyway. Plus, you’re too old to have an imaginary friend.”

John shakes his head. “He’s not imaginary.”

Tiffany walks towards John and guides him back down. “Now, lay down and go to sleep.”

She heads back to the front room. She flips through the channels until she stumbles on a classic television channel. Her phone goes off, and she video chats with a friend.

“How’s babysitting?”

“This job is a breeze, June.”

“Wish you were at the Halloween party.”

Tiffany rolls her eyes. “June, Halloween parties are lame.”

“Really? Then what is that grotesque prop behind you?”

“What grotesque prop?” Tiffany turns around. “There’s nobody there, June.”

“I’m not kidding you, Tiff. There was something there.”

“Stop trying to scare me, June.”

A low growl comes from the hallway.

“Did you hear that, June?”

“Hear what?”

“That growl. I bet John is playing a Halloween prank.”

“You better check on him, Tiff.”

Tiffany stands up. She switches the screen on her cell phone so that June can see. She tiptoes down the hallway to John’s room. She sees him sleeping.

“Tiff, it‘s all in your head.”

“Shut-up, June.”

“What is it?”

“Scratching from under his bed.”

“What?”

“It’s strange, June. They have the Batmobile bed on blocks.”

“Do they have a pet?”

“I don’t think so. They would’ve told me.”

Tiffany gets on her knees and turns on the cell phone’s flashlight, and heads closer to the floor. She gets disconnected from June, and the light flickers. She turns her head and peers under the bed. Long arms with sharp talons grip her arms. She screams and thrashes, struggling to break free. Red eyes stare at her. Its mouth, with slime dripping down, opens wide, revealing its razor-sharp teeth.

John hears the crunching bones from under his bed. “Henry, don’t leave a mess this time.”

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

The first day of school did not go off so well. To start, I woke up to a thunderstorm. Then, the wind gave a roar that sounded more tornado than wind. When I walked to my closet and opened the doors, I found all my clothes… wet. A leak in the roof, great! I borrowed my mother’s clothes. Thanks to all this happening, I missed the bus, and mom took me to school on her way to work.

As I walked through the school’s double doors, a feeling of dread washed over me. Everyone is whispering to each other and avoiding me. The avoiding me part was great. It’s nice not to get picked on because you’re different. The whispering, though, drew my attention to eavesdropping. Every time I tried, everyone noticed and gave me dirty looks. But, at least they know I’m still alive. So, I gave up and went to homeroom.

Sitting in the back of the class, my teacher, Mr. Fulmar, our History and Mythology teacher, paced in front of his desk. Watching him walking from one side of the room to the next. I felt like I was at a tennis match. Finally, he stopped in the middle of the room and faced the class to say, “students, I have bad news.”

I saw the students looking at each other; of course, none looked at me.

“Four of our students, well, former students, have gone missing. A few weeks back, they went to Manners State Park for the weekend. They went camping before heading off to college. No one’s heard or seen them since,” Mr. Fulmar went on to explain.

Nathan Goode, our star quarterback of Goodeville, Illinois High School Scorpions. His short, light brown hair looks as soft as a feather. His eyes, as brown as mine. Well, he raised his hand.

“What is it?” Mr. Fulmar asked, pointing at Nathan.

Nathan’s strong voice penetrated the classroom. “I heard there’s a family of cannibals living in the blocked off part of the woods. Rangers told people not to go into the Devil’s Backbone.”

“Yes, Nathan. I have heard of that story.” Mr. Fulmar paces, his hands in his pockets. “I shouldn’t be telling you all this.” He stops at his desk. His chest rises from taking a deep breath and lowers when he releases it. He continues being a tennis ball between the two walls. “But all I know is, they were camping in the wrong spot.” His right hand slips out of his jeans pocket and over his salt and pepper hair. “They were at the Devil’s Backbone. The police found their blood at their campsite… and at a burned down make-shift cabin.” He stops in the middle of the room. “They found body parts, but they’re still conducting DNA testing to see if it matches any of the missing girls.”

The crackling of the loudspeaker in the room made everyone cover their ears. Then Principal Davis’ voice boomed out of the speaker. “As of further notice, Manners State Park is off limits. I repeat, Manners State Park is closed. Thank you.”

The four missing girls were the talk of the day. Unfortunately, the weather did not help much in raising anyone’s spirits. I bet it washed away all the evidence out there. Something tells me they will not find them.

Before school let out, we had a brief assembly. They told us the school counselors are available if anyone needs to talk. Plus, Principal Davis reminded us to stay away from the park. Like anyone will do that. I wonder how many kids from school will go into those woods tonight?

The weather was looking up. No sun, but no rain either. I walked a mile to MAC’s, the local fast-food place. When I walked in, I saw my mom at the cash register taking orders. We nodded to each other on my way to the bathroom to change into my uniform. I need to get this thing washed. Yes, I work with my mom.

I clocked in as my mom was clocking out. That is the good thing; we work different shifts. But, she always gets me at the time-clock.

“Candy, sweetheart, please call for an Uber or Lyft or ask someone from work to give you a ride home tonight.”

“Yes, mom.”

During my shift, I felt like I was the only one working. My “co-workers” were too busy chitchatting and playing on their cell phones to work. I cleaned, took orders, and put those orders together. They think they’re so popular that they don’t have to do any work.

I knew no one would take me home after closing, and I didn’t feel like calling for a ride, so I walked. Dark clouds, rolling thunder, and streaks of lightning filled the night sky. I took a shortcut down Archer Road. When I approached the German Church Bridge, a fog floated in, covering the entire bridge. I had to step on the bridge; I didn’t have a choice. I wanted to get home, and fast.

I grabbed the side of the rail to help guide me through the fog. Plus, I’d be out of the way of any passing vehicles. As luck would have it, as soon as my hand latched on to the railing, I heard a car approaching. I felt the wind as it went past me. Tires squealed to a full stop ahead of me. The car door squeaked open, and boots hit the pavement. The car door slams shut. Heaving boots are pounding their way around to the trunk. Keys jingled to the sound of the squeak of the trunk opening. A thump, boots on pavement, a grunt, a thud, then boots on pavement. The movements repeated a second time. The trunk slams shut, and the boots thumping sped up. The car door squeaked open, the engine roared, tires squealed, and the car gone. I heard and felt it all, but saw no car lights or an outline of the car.

I walked to where the car stopped on the bridge and looked over. The Devil’s Creek is running underneath. The fog lifted around the water, revealing two naked girls with black eyes looking back up at me. I jumped back. I couldn’t believe what I saw.

I heard a horn; I turned to see my mother’s blue Jeep and an unhappy mother inside, but no fog.

I walked back to the railing and looked over. Nothing, no naked girls, no bodies. I turned, ran to the passenger’s side of the Jeep, and got in.

“Do you know what time it is, young lady?”

“Hum, 11:30 pm?”

“No, try 1:30 am!”

Yep, I lost a few hours. Mom asked me what had happened. Like, I’m going to tell her I saw two ghosts.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK

The dark summer clouds devour the sun’s rays, bringing an early nightfall to the city of Chicago. Leaves on the trees dance in the wind, swaying like lovers on the dance floor. Mother Earth rumbles as thunder rolls through. Lightning streaks across the sky, causing the city lights to turn off. Not a second later, the cold stinging rain pelts down, causing people to scurry about to find shelter.

The rain is coming down hard, and Drake must find a place to pull over before an accident happens. Up ahead on the right, he sees a flickering sign, “All-Night Diner.” He flips on his right turn-signal and turns into the diner’s parking lot. He turns off the engine of his rustic blue Chevrolet Malibu. The wind and the rain break through his makeshift plastic window, giving him a cold shower.

Drake kicks the rusted door open, gets out, and slams it shut. He runs inside, every step he takes lands him in a puddle of water. He swings the diner door open and steps inside and wipes his boots on the wet rug. While scanning the room, a waitress walks up to him and asks, “May I help you?”

He takes a deep breath and looks down at himself. He looks up and peers deep into the waitress’s eyes. “Yeah, I’m wet. Can I use your bathroom?”

The waitress adverts her eyes and points to the public bathrooms. “The bathrooms are over there, by the kitchen.”

Drake bows his head. “Thank you, ma’am.”

The waitress giggles. “You’re welcome.”

Drake walks to the bathroom, his boots pounding on the diner tile floor. He knocks on the men’s bathroom door. No one responds, and then opens it. The bathroom is small and dimly lit. He turns and locks the door. He walks over to the sink and stares at the mirror; everything goes dark.

Drake opens his eyes and finds himself lying on a paved road. No. Not this again. Not another blackout. Flashes of red and blue lights, appearing between the bolts of lightning, blur his vision. Rain hits the road. The thunder pounding echoes in his head. A faint voice comes from the side of the road, through the trees. “Are you okay, mister?” Another thunderous pounding and with it another faint voice, “Mister, are you okay?”

Drake opens his eyes, and the light from the ceiling blinds him. The pounding comes once more. Turning his head towards the door, he hears the waitress. “Are you okay in there?”

Drake places his left hand on the bathroom sink, using it to help him stand. He waves at the door with his other hand. “Yeah, I’m okay. I just slipped on the floor.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes… yes, I am. Thank you.”

“Okay, mister.”

He hears the waitress walk away, and he breathes a sigh of relief.

Looking at himself in the mirror; his deep brown eyes see a middle-aged man. He places his hands on his head. The pain. He reaches into his jeans pocket and pulls out a bottle of Imitrex medication. These damn migraines. Popping the lid off the medicine bottle, he looks down and shakes his head. One pill, damn it. Smacking the faucet handle on, he scoops a handful of cold water. He pops his last pill into his mouth and washes it down with the water in his hand.

Drake looks back at the mirror and runs his hands through his short hair. The graying hair is fighting for dominance over the brown hair, who will become king of my hair. Laughing to himself, he reaches for the paper towels. Ripping a few sheets from the roll, he dries his face, hands, and what he could on his shirt and jeans. He pitches the wet towels into the trashcan by the toilet.

Taking a deep breath and letting it out, he opens the bathroom door and walks out. Looking around, he spots a corner booth, walks over to it and slides in. The waitress walks over to him and places a glass of water on the table and hands him a menu. “Do you want to hear the specials?”

“No. Just burger and fries.”

“What you want on the burger?”

“The works.”

The waitress, in her blue jeans and a red t-shirt with the words “All-Night Diner” plastered on the front, smiles while writing out his order. She looks up at him, cheeks red. “Anything else?”

“No, thank you.”

She turns towards the kitchen when he says, “Ma’am? I do have a question.”

She turns around and faces him, a smile growing on her face. He asks, “Where’s everyone?”

She stiffens and blinks her eyes.

“You okay, ma’am?”

“Yes… yes, I’m okay.” She looks down at her order pad and doodles. “People, they don’t come this way much anymore.”

“Why?”

The waitress shifts her weight from her right foot to the left. She taps her order form with her pencil. “People think it’s not safe here. With all the disappearances.”

Drake picks his glass of water up and takes a drink. He returns the glass to the table and looks up at the waitress. “What disappearances?”

The waitress’ hazel eyes widen.

“Ma’am?”

“Listen, mister. My advice to you is to eat and get. The longer you stay, the worse it may get.”

Guess I hit a nerve. “Yes, ma’am.”

The waitress returns to the kitchen to place the order.

Drake watches the rain pour down harder. The wind picks up, blowing the dancing leaves off their dancefloor. Thunder shakes the restaurant windows. The lightning illuminates the sky, revealing a woman standing in the parking lot.

Drake’s body stiffens. Ti… No, it can’t be. Impossible.

He watches her take small steps, her hips wiggling. She moves closer to the door. The fry cook standing there holding the door open for her. She walks in, her blonde hair is dripping wet. She walks to the opposite side of the diner and slips off her red raincoat revealing her black mini bodycon dress. She hangs the coat on the coat rack by the bathroom and walks to a nearby booth, her black thigh-high heel boots clicking on the floor. Sliding into the booth, she looks over at him, her ruby-red lips smiling.

Drake turns his attention to his cell phone, avoiding all eye contact with the woman. He hears the waitress walk over to her. He peeks over his cell phone. The waitress brought the woman a glass of water and a menu. “Order when you’re ready.”

The ding of the cook’s bell signals his order is ready. The waitress turns, but the woman’s concupiscent voice stops her in her tracks. “I’m ready to order now.”

The waitress backs up and turns towards the woman and nods. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Hamburger, rare, plain,” she flicks her right wrist, “and no bun.”

The waitress nods and returns to the kitchen.

Drake returns to his phone and tries to get online. Damn it, no reception.

“Hello.”

Drake’s eyes shot up over his phone. There she is, the woman in black, sitting across from me. Her fingers slither over his phone and push it down. “Sweetheart, no reception out here.” She sits back in the booth and flicks her hair. “Hell, the landlines don’t work half the time.”

“May I help you, ma’am?”

“How sweet, a gentleman. Don’t see many of your kind around these days.”

Drake takes a deep breath. What does she want?

“What I want is you, Drakey dear.”

Drake, caught off guard, drops his phone on the table. He tilts his head. “I didn’t tell you my name.”

Her blood-red lips smile at him. “Let’s just say… I’m gifted.”

Something is not right about this woman. “Okay…” He leans back and places his hands on his lap. “You know my name. What’s yours?”

The woman leans back in the booth, twisting a lock of her hair. “You can call me…” She leans forward and reaches for his glass of water with her free hand and takes a sip. Her lipstick stains the glass. “… Tina.”

Tina? That was my…. No… it’s just a coincidence.

The waitress brings the food to the table.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Yes, sweetie. Thank you.”

Drake watches the waitress nod at them both, turn, and walk back to the kitchen.

“What the hell is wrong with her?”

“What do you mean?”

“The waitress. She looks like she’s in a trance.”

Tina turns her head towards the kitchen and turns back to Drake, shrugging. “She’s must’ve been working all day. She could be tired.”

“Maybe.” He bites into his sandwich. His eyes, catching Tina taking her knife and fork and cutting into the blood-dripping hamburger like a piece of steak.

“How can you eat that rare?”

Tina giggles at Drake’s question. “Let’s just say… I have the stomach for it.” She places a bite-size piece into her mouth. Blood from the hamburger drips down her chin.

Drake’s jeans are getting tighter. Whatever she is doing, it is turning me on.

Tina takes a napkin from the napkin holder and dabs her chin.

Drake slides out of the booth. “I… I… got to go.”

Tina reaches for his arm; her claws wrap around his wrist. “So soon? We just met.”

Drake breaks her hold. “I just need to go.”

Drake heads to the counter and throws down a twenty-dollar bill, and sprints out the door. The rain is hitting him, bruising his arms. He climbs through his car window and sits down on his wet seat. He reaches over and opens the glove compartment. He takes out a flask and a prescription bottle for anti-depression medication. The pills are playing the jumping beans game in their bottle. The alcohol in the container swishes around. Get a grip, Drake. Deep breaths and calm down.

Drake places the flask on his lap and fights the medicine bottle’s cap. The cap breaks free. The pills spring from their entrapment and fall over the front seat and onto the floorboard. Shit! He feels around on the floorboard and finds two tablets and pops them into his mouth. He opens the flask and pours the whiskey into his mouth; it drags the pills down his throat and into his stomach. I’ll feel better soon.

Leaning back in his seat, he closes his eyes. Rain stinging his skin, sending him back, back to the night he lost everything. Tears fill his eyes, and he hits the steering wheel. Why? Why! WHY! His head droops, tears fall from his check. It should’ve been me.

He reaches into his jeans pocket and fumbles around, searching for his keys. Damn it, where are they? He slams the steering wheel with his free hand. There they are. Taking the keys out, he slips the key into the ignition. The car doesn’t turn on. He tries again… nothing. Fuck! Hell, maybe it’s flooded?

“Knock, knock, Drakey boy.” Drake jumps at the sweet sound of Tina’s voice.

“What do you want, Tina?”

“Looks like your car won’t start.”

“It’s flooded. I’ll give a bit and try again.”

The wind howls at the thunder and lightning while the rain drowns the fallen leaves.

“Listen, sweetie. The storm will not let up. Come home with me.”

“No.”

She opens the car door and holds out her right hand. Her smile takes his breath away. “Come on, dear. I promise… I won’t bite.”

He stares into her eyes. Why can’t I resist her? What hold does she have on me? Is it because she looks like? No. Her name… it’s the same? No. Both? Maybe. He reaches for her hand and takes it. He slides out of the car and walks beside her. She slams the door shut and grabs his arm, guiding him to her black Mustang. She opens the door for him, and he slides in. He looks out the passenger window. What is she doing to me? Why can’t I stop her?

Drake turns his head to the driver’s side. There she is. The car started. I didn’t even hear her open the car door.

Drake looks out the window and watches the trees, fighting against the wind, pass by. What the hell? He turns his attention to his left leg. Her hand squeezes his thigh. He turns back to the window. The tree limbs in the shape of a skeleton hand reach out to him. He jumps in his seat. What the… He blinks his eyes and shakes his head. I could’ve sworn I saw…

“Are you okay, sweetie?”

Drake turns to her, sweat pouring from his brow. “Yeah. I’m fine. The storm… it’s… it’s playing tricks with my mind.”

She smiles at him, nods, and returns her attention to the road.

Drake looks back out the window. What the fuck is going on here?

***

“Here we are. Home sweet home.”

“Already?”

“Yes, silly boy. You’ve stared out that window during the whole ride.”

Drake shakes his head as confusion sets in. How is this possible?

The passenger side door opens. Drake snaps back to reality and looks up at her. He turns his head to the driver’s seat and back to her. How did she get over here?

Tina reaches for his hand and guides him out of the car. They walk together, hand in hand, into her home.

Drake looks around the Victorian home. Shadows from the candles’ flames glide along the walls in every room.

“You have a lovely home.”

“Thank you, sweetie.”

“You live here by yourself?”

“No. I have a…” Tina smiles. “… handyman that keeps this old home in shape.”

“Where is he?”

“The old man is around somewhere.”

“Oh.”

Walking down the hallway, he glances at the windows in the rooms they are passing by. “What’s up with the tinted windows?”

“I work nights. Trader, working in the stock market for overseas companies.” She tosses her hair. “And I don’t like the sun on my fair skin.”

Drakes nods. “Oh, I see.”

She guides him into the library and slips her raincoat off, letting it fall to the floor. She turns to Drake. “The bar is over there by the window. Why don’t you pour us some drinks?”

Drake walks to the bar and pours bourbon into two glasses. His eyes snap over to a wall. A shadow of a little girl dances across. He hears a faint voice in his head. “I miss you, daddy.” No, this isn’t happening. He turns from the dancing shadow and sees Tina on the couch unzipping her thigh-high boots. The top of her ample breasts popping through the top of her dress. She looks up and smiles. “Like what you see?”

Drake drops the glasses on the carpet. He looks down. “I’m sorry. I’ll clean it up.”

Tina stands and walks over to him. She places her index finger on his lips. “Don’t worry about it. Not now, anyway.”

She slides her finger down his chin, his neck, his chest, and grabs the top of his jeans and pulls him to her. “Let’s have a seat, shall we?”

Tina guides Drake to the couch, turns him around and pushes him down. She straddles him. Wrapping her arms around him. “Now, what is wrong with my little Drakey?”

“Nothing.”

“Now, now. Tell me.”

“Just life.”

Tina purrs. “You live in the dark past. Living there makes your future bleak.”

Drake stares into Tina’s ocean blue eyes.

“I can tell you’re hurting. Your soul’s damaged beyond repair. You feel empty inside.”

Drake, tears in his eyes, nods at her every word.

“It’ll be okay, Drakey. Come to me.”

Drake pulls the shoulder of her black dress down and kisses her milky white skin. He feels her lips on his neck. Ecstasy about takes him when a sharp pain pierces his neck. The room is spinning; he pushes her away. “Stop!”

He looks at her. Her tongue laps up the blood dripping from her lips. “I can’t, sweetheart. I need you… so I can live.”

“Why? Why me?”

She places her index finger under his chin. “I saw into your soul, dark… lifeless.” Her eyes are turning crimson. “And I know why.”

Drake stands up fast. The room spins. He is out of breath and losing his strength. “You’ve no idea!”

“Oh, but I do. You told me.”

Drake falls to his knees. “How?”

Tina stands and walks around Drake, tapping her fingers on his head. “You told me. With your eyes… with your soul… with your blood.” She stops in front of him and lifts his head up. “You loved your wife, Tina, and your daughter, Rose. “

“Don’t… don’t do this! Please… don’t?”

“It’s your fault they’re dead, Drakey.” Tina kneels before him, shakes her head, and taps him on his forehead. “Drinking and driving. What a bad, bad boy you are.”

Drake falls to the floor and lies in a fetal position.

Tina straddles him. “I saw what you wanted. You want to die, and I am here to oblige you.”

Tina rolls him over onto his back. He looks up at her. “Who are you?”

“I am whoever you want me to be. And tonight, I am Tina…” She leans into him. “… your dead wife.” Her razor-sharp teeth sink into his neck, rupturing the Carotid Artery.

Drake, losing consciousness, whispers, “I’m sorry, my love.” The last image he sees is his wife and daughter, arms out, welcoming him home.

Read a longer version today in the Coffee House Writers Anthology.