Horror23 shambles along.
Writing about #horror23 is starting to feel like documenting my failure. I am okay with this. Some of us do not have the wherewithal to sustain a calendar year of creativity and there is nothing about that to be ashamed of. Perhaps it doesn’t help that I have approached this project in the same way that I create content for the games that I run: I’m just fucking winging it.
I have written nine entries for March so far, which means I have at least beat out February. February had six. I realize the bar is pretty low, but you have to take any wins you can.
The theme I came up with for March was to create a background story that could be gamed one-on-one with a little effort and provide story elements and contacts that could be used going forward. That theme lasted six days and then I ran out of ideas, so I struggled through a seventh day and started to come up with a different theme.
And that theme, which I had planned to use for the next seven days, was to create a small town and detail some locations. While you could slot these locations into games, I have completely abandoned the pretense of these being anything more than writing exercises and am going to be churning out stories for this ‘week’ of content. I’m totally not inspired by my hometown.
I should probably actually write about TTRPGs soon…
Here are the first two entries for this ‘week’:
March 8 - The Town
The town is all of three miles long, a brief stretch of civilization along a highway cutting through the middle of nowhere. It is an unremarkable and unmemorable dollar store host of a place. Drive on through and it’ll be forgotten by the time the next one pops up out of the ether.
Small though the town may be, the highway sees only a small part of it. Little roads, most paved by now but many still very much not, spread through the forest surrounding the asphalt artery like mycelium. Logging brought people here decades ago and here they stayed, even after the industry gave up and left its mills to be overgrown by the forest it failed to fell.
Generations have been raised straddling the poverty line in a town that lost its reason to exist when the great grandparents of many were still in diapers. Despite the struggle, this town and its denizens persist. Like the forest, they defy their end. The town does not, will not, and can not diminish.
The forest will not let it.
The town’s fate is to be sustained. It exists much as it always has, it’s population barely fluctuating and new construction rare despite the real estate signs just off the edge of the highway’s shoulder. Existing buildings get new names and new purposes and sometimes they find their way back again after a while. That mycelium network of roads probes deeper and deeper into the forest. A house here and a trailer there, but mostly just more rough forest road to ride through and get lost on.
The forest hungers and it feeds and this town has always provided.
March 9 - Haunted
There stands a lonely house along the stretch of highway leading to the bridge out of town. A person could drive right by it in the night and not think a thing about it. Might not even see it the headlights fall short.
It sticks out like a sore thumb during the day.
The house has been boarded up for as long as just about anyone can remember. The lawn has been left to grow wild and tall and it stays that way for most of the year, a verdant screen shielding the eyesore from view. Occasionally someone comes by and cuts it all back to nothing again and brings the house to everyone’s attention again.
The house is known to be haunted.
A good fire and a couple of beers is all it takes to get people telling stories about how they broke into the place when they were younger. There is always someone and there is always a story, though that story is often ripped from whichever horror movie the storyteller can best remember.
Not that it matters. The audience eats it up.
Jack leans close to the fire, squints past at the folks sitting on the other side. He waits a beat, lets that look settle on over them, before asking, “Y’all want a story?”
The man’s son gets a good whiff of alcohol off the man’s breath from his seat on a nearby log and wonders to himself if Jack ought to be sitting that close to the fire. He doesn’t say a thing though. Knows better. It’s too late at night and his dad’s drank too damn much. He reaches over and tugs on the man’s overalls instead, pulling him back away from the fire. Good enough. Won’t last, but good enough.
A pipsqueak of a kid pipes up in answer, “A scary story?”
“You goddamn right a scary story,” replies Jack. “Ain’t no other kind of story for a night by the fire! This one is real though.” He leans in close, gets tugged back again, and launches into his story without further ado.
“You know the house out by The Mule?”
They knew the house and some of them even knew of The Mule, which is what the restaurant across the street from the place used to be called about a decade prior.
“Well, when I was youngin like y’all, me and my friends broke into it. Can’t for the life of me remember why we did, but hell, boredom is enough. If it wasn’t that, then someone probably dared us. We were always daring each other to do some stupid shit. Anyway. We snuck up through the grass in the middle of the night and pried the plywood off one of the windows. Snuck right on in, easy as can be.
You expect a place like that to be a mess on the inside, right? Hell, I did. Been boarded up and left to rot since my dad was a youngin! I tell you what though, the place was clean as can be. Spotless! No dust in sight, not even a cobweb. Pretty damn disappointing for a haunted house.
But hey, good for us. We were going to spend the night in there and I ain’t none of us going to complain about a clean floor. Pretty sure it was cleaner than my own house has ever been.
So we get our shit unpacked and we’re settling in for the night—had to be near midnight by then—when things start getting weird. First we hear thumps upstairs. Like someone’s got some work boots on stomping around. It freaks us out a bit, of course. It’d freak anyone out. But we were already in the house, so we weren’t about to turn tail over some stomping. We head up to check it out.
Well, let me tell you, that wasn’t a great idea. We run up the stairs hoping the catch the bastard in the act and there ain’t no one up there. Then we hear the thumping downstairs. It ain’t a big house and there was only one set of stairs. No way someone got around us. We head back. Ain’t no one there.
We decide we’re going to do some poking around to make sure no one’s pranking us. We split up. I head upstairs and I swear those steps creaked more with just me on them than when we all went up. I’m halfway there when I hear another thump and I take off on up those stairs and into the room I thought it was coming from.
No one there. I checked the closet and under the bed—the place was still furnished. Nothing. There was another thump behind me as I dragged my ass up off the floor though. More than a thump. I once had a teacher who’d slam a book on the desk by your head if you fell asleep. Was like that. Sure as hell got my attention.
I spun around and nothing. Still just nothing. My heart was beating near out my chest and I was cursing up a storm. Couldn’t tell you if I was more mad or angry. I was sure as hell done with it though and decided to head back downstairs.
I made it all of one step toward the door before all hell broke loose. A gunshot went off right behind me, near where the bed was, and I fucking scrambled for the door. Damn thing slammed closed right before I got to it. Another gun shot sounded from behind me and I swear it was followed by something wet hitting the wall.
No part of me wanted to turn around and look at that room, but I had to. I tell you, that was a battle. Slowest I ever moved. If there was someone with a gun in that room with me, I’d be toast. Wasn’t anyone there when I finally got a look, but I already knew that.
Then my eyes went to the wall. Now, there wasn’t anything on this wall when I came in. I’d shone my flashlight everywhere searching this place. I was absolutely sure then. I’m absolutely sure now. Not a doubt in my mind.
There was blood on that wall above the bed. A big splash of it, still wet, even starting to trickle on down behind the mattress. I took a step back toward the door. I wanted out and I would beat the thing down if I had to. Turns out, I ain’t seen nothing yet.
I was ready to run, but my eyes hadn’t left the wall yet. More blood began seeping out of the wallpaper. In no time at all the whole damn wall was dripping blood. I panicked. I wanted out of the room. Out of the house. I just wanted to be away. I whipped around to get out of there and my flashlight bounced all over that room.
Fucking blood everywhere. Leaking from the ceiling and the walls, either pooling on the floor or bubbling up from it. I don’t know. I didn’t care. I ran for the door and the floor was slicker than owl shit, but I still made it. The handle was stuck fast and slick with blood, too, so twisting it got me nowhere. I beat on the door and blood splattered on me every time I hit it.
Then there’s this squelching, thumping sound behind me. Like footsteps. I ain’t about to turn around, so I keep slamming my fists into the door even harder. Whatever is walking up behind me is right on me, so I grab that door handle with both hands and start yanking.
Two things happen at once. One, the thing behind me touches my shoulder and I about jump out of my skin. Two, the door flies open. Now, I’m yanking at this damn door when it opens, so I fall right on my ass. And that ain’t what was supposed to happen, right? There was something right behind me.
Well, I’m on the floor about to lose my fucking mind, when I see my pal Gordy in the door frame. Ain’t any blood in the room, no nothing coming up behind me. All Gordy sees is me on my ass in the middle of the room, pale as a sheet and freaking out.
Gordy and the others heard the commotion and he came running to see why I was banging on the door. Not a one of them heard the gunshots or the other thumps after the first. They thought I had lost my damn mind.
No chance in hell I was staying there for the rest of the night. Hell, I didn’t even want to spend the time to explain what was going on. The others wanted to stay and, I don’t know, get their thrills or win their bet, but I had all I could take. I wasn’t spending another minute in there. I wished them luck and got on out. Damned if I didn’t find out later that not a single one of them had anything weird happen to them.”
Jack’s son pulls his dad back away from the fire again and sighs as much for having to do it as he does for hearing the story again. His old man’s a believer in all that paranormal stuff and pushed that interest on him growing up, but he doesn’t share his father’s faith. He finds it kind of silly more than anything.
Someone hands Jack and a beer and he readily takes it. He needs a good buzz to tell the story and needs more alcohol after the telling. It’s a fun little story for the folks around the fire. It’s a pretty awful memory for Jack though, one he can’t help but relive over and over again. He takes a swig of his beer and tries to hide the tremor in his hand, wishes his heart would calm down already.
He knows the story will send someone into that house. It always does. Most of them come back out like nothing happens. Some don’t come out at all though and nothing feels good about that. The compulsion to tell his story is too strong for Jack to overcome.
And since I apparently only put three of the other entries in my last post, I’m going to follow up with the other four in another post.