The Horror Zine
Cynthia (Cina) Pelayo

The August Featured Story is by

Cynthia Pelayo

Please feel free to email Cynthia at:

Cynthia Pelayo

by Cynthia Pelayo

The old man with the clouded eyes stared straight ahead as Carina pressed a dollar bill into his hand. He murmured, “The woman said ‘They’ll get stuck in them corners.’”

She took the Streetwise magazine out of his other hand. “What’d you say?” she demanded, and then lowered her voice, feeling guilty for getting loud with a homeless man.

Not only was he over retirement age, but he was blind. Standing outside of the Walgreens on Michigan Avenue across from the journalism wealth of the Chicago Tribune Tower, she saw how this man had resorted to asking anyone who would listen for dollar donations for Streetwise. Carina probably had less money and material belongings than he did. Everything she owned was given to her by some governmental agency while living in foster care. In a week she was scheduled to age out of the system on her eighteenth birthday. She would likely end up in another institution, mental or criminal, a few weeks after.

She rolled up the warm magazine and shoved it in her book bag. She figured he had likely held in that right hand for hours under the sun. His eyes looked ahead toward groups of people who held up their cameras and cell phones; families taking pictures together in front of the city skyline.

She hated them all.

Carina asked again, “What did you say? About the corners?”

The old man stood still a moment and then said. “What was that? At the corner? Up ahead is Wacker, if you going that way. Maybe you going up to Union Station? That right?”

There’s no way he could know where I’m headed, she thought. “Never mind. I know the way.” She stepped away from the curb and the homeless man.

When she arrived at the Michigan Avenue Bridge, she paused and then turned around. The old man was still standing there, an ignored statue among the crowd. His messenger bag remained slung over his shoulder, a fresh magazine held out in his left hand, and his right hand out of view.

Carina took a seat on the second level on the Union Pacific/Northwest Line train out of Union Station. She didn’t want to risk someone sitting beside or in front of her, striking up the type of conversation that she considered filler: weather, sports, destination, employment, relationships, pets, school, family. It was all filler. Leave me alone, were the words her mind screamed whenever anyone tried asking her anything about the family she didn’t know, the family she blamed for allowing her to rot in foster care.

Carina’s last school was Benito Juarez in Pilsen. She was a Columbian girl in a predominantly Mexican high school. It didn’t matter if they were all seen as Hispanic to the outside world, because inside she was different. They all snickered about her, the foster girl who jumped from school to school, and they made sure she could hear their comments as she walked past them in the hall.

I heard they took her out of her parents’ house because they were both drug dealers.

I heard she’s had three babies and she’s tossed them all in dumpsters.

I heard she’s just crazy. She talks to herself in the bathroom. Watch next time when she’s in there. She sees things and mutters to herself when she fixes her hair in the mirror.

Agnes, her therapist, had gotten her a job at a pizza place down from the home, punching in delivery orders. Carina was fired her second day for calling a customer an idiot. 

“I’m trying,” was all Carina could say in her next session with Agnes.

“No, you’re not trying. You have a week. You graduate. Once you turn eighteen, that’s it, honey. You are then supposed to live on your own and be a reasonable, responsible adult.”

She only attended the graduation ceremonies because of Agnes’ insistence. When Carina looked into the audience of beaming mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends the only one of them she recognized as being there for her was her therapist, Agnes.

When the assistant principal called her name and handed her the leather case that didn’t yet contain a diploma, as those came later in the mail, he lowered his head slightly and whispered “You’re going to wind up like your parents.”

She didn’t know anything about her parents other than her father killed her mother in a domestic dispute that was deemed a murder-suicide that lead to the deaths of fifteen other people. Their apartment building was set on fire, by her father. Carina had managed to crawl out of the blaze.

Since she was now graduated, she didn’t have to spend the rest of the day at the home, even though she was still seventeen for a few more weeks. Instead, she decided to spend it on the bus, riding up and down the streets of Chicago, repeatedly circling the stretch where her parents’ apartment building once stood.

A few years back she took this same bus route and swore upon her soul that she saw a woman looking out at her from a window who looked a lot like what her mother looked like from the image she found in the Chicago Tribune newspaper archives. Ever since then, she took the Milwaukee bus and looked up at that same window, wondering if that woman would appear again. Instead today, a sign on the window read:

“Take Control of Your Life. $20 Tarot Reading.”

It was irresistible, so Carina went inside. She figured it was as good a place as any to spend the graduation money that Agnes had given her.

“Three card spread,” said the young woman. Carina learned her name was Ree, and after the deck was shuffled, the woman asked Carina to cut the cards into three piles.

“Past,” she lifted the first card from the first deck. “Present,” the next. “Future,” the last.

Lovers reversed. Moon. Tower.

Carina could see Ree drawing in her eyebrows, and her lips parted and closed. “Are you sure you concentrated on your question?”


“Just a single question?”


“Is there something you’re seeing?” Ree blurted.


Ree looked over Carina’s head. “Did you hear that?”

Carina turned around but saw nothing there. “No.”

Ree asked, “Can I know the question?”

Carina frowned. “I thought you weren’t supposed to know my question until after you told me what you saw in the cards? I don’t know much about this, but I’m guessing you’re not very good at what you do.”

Ree seemed to puff with anger up in her seat. “I am the best! Just give me a minute.”

She gathered the cards together and began shuffling yet again. Carina could see a film of sweat had gathered on the young woman’s forehead. Conversely, the room felt cold.

Once again they repeated the cutting of cards and once again it was…

Lovers reversed. Moon. Tower.

Ree had shuffled the cards much longer this time than the last. Carina began to wonder if this was some psychic scam that was failing.

“You really didn’t hear that?” Ree asked again.

Carina listened for a moment but heard nothing. “I think that was the train. Or, do you normally hear things?”

Carina watched as Ree wiped her forehead with her wrist, looked at the cards once more and then stood up, excusing herself as she left the room.

Carina was surprised at being left alone so suddenly. Unsure of what to do or say, she just sat there. She moved closer to the table, rested her elbows on the surface and examined the scene on each of the cards.

The Lovers card was upside down. It was a card of a nude man and woman, standing apart. There was a mountain in the background with an angel in the heavens above them. Its wings were outstretched, with the bright sun above its head.

The Moon card showed a weary looking golden orb, its face frowning down on a barking dog. A howling wolf and a lobster crept out of a stream.

The Tower was of a tall gray structure. It made her think of a fairy tale. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.

And then suddenly picture in the card moved.

Flames sent the tower’s golden cupola tumbling downward. Fire rained out of three windows, and in the center, two people—what appeared to be a man and a woman—were covered in flames and were hurtling to their death.

She was stunned, and her heart beat almost out of her chest. She blinked and looked again at the Tower card, but it was still and contained no movement. Although her heartbeat slowed, she still felt apprehensive and on edge.

There was a soft buzz in the room, as if electricity was surging through the light bulb, but when Carina looked up, there was no light bulb, there was only the light from the window and a small lamp that was turned off.

She stood and moved to the window. She looked outside. The buzzing in the room continued. She spun around, but it was silent again.

A photograph hanging on the wall caught her attention. It was a simple black and white image of a country house. It was a conservatively-sized home, nothing immense. It was constructed of white brick and featured three arched windows that looked out on prairie grass. A white door in the center was flanked by two other windows. But what made this house stand out was that it seemed to be round.

“The Stickney Mansion in Bull Valley,” an older woman in the doorway said. “I’m Ree’s mother, Farrah.”


“That’s a pretty name.” Farrah rubbed her arms as soon as she stepped into the room. “It’s freezing in here. Listen, have a seat. Please, sit down.”

“What happened to Ree?” Carina asked as she sat back at the table.

“She’s not feeling well, so I will finish your reading.”

“I kind of felt a little ill a second ago myself, but it passed. Maybe something’s going around.”

“You’re all right, then?”

“Did you take that picture?” Carina pointed to the photograph she had been admiring moments ago, hoping she just needed some sort of distraction to clear her thoughts.

“Yes, some time ago. It’s a police station today, but at one time it was a single-family home. The home was constructed in the 1800s with strict instructions by its owners, George and Sylvia Stickney, to be round. They wanted to omit any corners.”

“Corners…” she murmured, thinking back to the homeless man. “Why would they do that?”

“The Stickney’s were spiritualists,” Farrah said as she gathered the cards into a pile.

“Is that so? But what does that have to do with corners?” Carina asked, still looking at the photograph. The buzzing returned, it was softer now, but still there, constant.

“It’s why they were so adamant that every room in the house be round. They received spirit messages warning about corners. Still, there’s a story that says that a 90-degree corner was built into the back of the house anyway, and years later that’s where Mr. Stickney was found dead of sudden heart failure. Belief is a powerful thing.”

From the corner of her eye, Carina thought she saw red hair, floating horizontally. The strands quickly began to pulsate through the color of crackling fire, red, then yellow, then with flakes of blue. She turned her head, and nothing was there.

Farrah didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. “Is there a lot of anger that surrounds you?”

“I guess,” Carina said. The room felt hot. “I got into a lot of fights at school or in the group home. I just, you know, have a temper.” She thought of the time a new girl at the home used her hair brush without asking. After the girl fell asleep, Carina held her down and repeatedly smacked her face with the bristle side up of the brush until the girls’ cheeks were covered in bloody splotches. It took two security guards to pull her away.

“Let’s see what the cards have to say.”

For the third time a deck of cards were set in front of her.

Farah instructed, “Cut the deck with your right hand, from left to right into three piles.”

Being careful to keep her left hand from moving, Carina took several cards off the top, set one down, another, and another, all faced down.

Lovers reversed. Moon. Tower.

Farrah regarded each card for a moment and then asked, “Has anyone ever read your cards before, Carina?”


“I see a lot of violence and anger all around you.”

Rattled, Carina shrank back.

“Wherever you’re going, wherever you’re heading, you need to stop. It’s only going to lead you to disaster.”

Under her shirt, Carina felt sweat beading on her chest and rolling down her stomach. She thought she saw floating hair out of the corner of her eye again. “Are you doing that?”

“Doing what?” Farrah looked around the room.

Again Carina turned around, only to see an empty room. She didn’t know if she felt fear or anger, but she wanted out of this strange place. “I’m done, and I want my money back.” Carina swept the cards off the table and stood up.

Farrah pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and set it on the table. Carina shoved it in her pocket and when she put her hand on the handle of the door to leave, Farrah called her name.      

“Your mother…she’s all around you. I can sense her.”

At that, Carina turned back and kicked the table. “Don’t you mention my mother again! Don’t you ever say a word about her!”

She stormed out and slammed the door so hard that she could hear the windows rattle behind her.


Carina smoothed out her hair, and stood staring at the Stickney house. It had taken her two hours to hike here from the Metra station. It was further out than she thought. After that meeting with the psychic this house was all she could think about. It had come to her in her dreams, her nightmares, and even in her sessions with Agnes.

It was late now; the sun had set and the sky was a velvety blue. The building looked as it did in the picture at the psychic’s. White brick was set out upon a vast land of open, desolate prairie. Indeed, all of the corners were rounded. A single light glowed in the lower right hand side window. A police car that read “Bull Valley Police” across the doors was parked in front.

She waited outside for a moment, and then reached into her bag and pulled out her digital camera. She walked around the home, taking pictures from various angles. When reviewing a few of her shots, she spotted something in the window: a woman wearing white, with hair the color of fire.

Up the front four steps she opened the door of the police station but there was no one seated at the desk. The light was on and a small television was turned to the local news. She heard humming and the sound of a toilet flushing a few doors down.

Carina had researched this building, learning its layout. She wondered if she could sneak up the stairs and find the room once used by the Stickney’s for séances. After all, no one was manning the front desk…

She spotted a stairway at the end of the hall and followed it, climbing several wooden stairs she thought would surely creak but didn’t.

Using her cell phone as a flashlight, she illuminated the floor of the space that was built as a small room. This was the room she had learned that was used solely for séances, where women and men would invite the spirits of the dead to possess their bodies.

And more importantly, this was the only room in the house that contained a corner. She could almost hear the things that were once chanted here: We come here tonight to call the spirits… Are you there? Can you hear us? Is there something you wish to say?

The housed seemed to inhale and exhale with each of her steps as she searched for that corner.

They believe that spirits get stuck in corners of the home, the good ones and the evil ones, she thought. Where is that 90-degree corner?

The light swept over the floor and windows, and then up toward the front of the house by the window where she thought she saw the woman, where indeed, now, there stood a woman.

She was pale as paper, with red, flowing hair. Her arms rested at her sides.

Carina dropped her phone. Its light remained on, illuminating the woman, a spotlight on a ghost.

The world seemed to flash and move around her, and Carina realized that she was a little girl of four seated at her parent’s kitchen table.

A mother and father looked weary-eyed and exasperated. Little Carina banged her fists on the table, scraped a fork across its surface, and knocked a glass of orange juice on the floor. When her father went to slap her hand, she stood up, and pushed the chair out of her way. It crashed, not on the floor, but on top of the head of a small, fluffy white dog with a loud bang. The animal’s head cracked open.

Blood flowed on the yellow, tiled floor. The animal convulsed. Foam bubbled from out its mouth. The mother’s hands rose to her face and then she screamed. The father reached for Little Carina’s hand and she reached for a butter knife on the table with the other. The father slapped her hand away.

He yanked her toward her room, put her in a closet and locked the door. Little Carina pounded and kicked at the door, causing wood to splinter. In her fury, she pulled down dresses and jackets from their hangers. She stretched and tugged and tore at fabric, and then a cold, hard object fell into her palm.

A lighter.

She struck the wheel. A flame sparked in her little hand. She giggled.

When her father opened the closet door Little Carina lit a dress. The father pulled her out of the room and as he fanned the flames, others were born. The mother reached for the phone on the wall, dialing and screaming for help to whoever would listen.

Little Carina eventually found herself outside with a blanket over her shoulders. A building, her parent’s apartment building, lit up the sky.


Back in the Stickney house, Carina opened her eyes. She remembered now. She had killed her parents. Her anger, her tantrum, kindled her rage.

She wailed. She felt sick. She reached down to pick up her cell phone but it was gone. The woman with the moon-white skin and red hair was gone.

Carina called for help, but no one came. How could no one respond in a police station?

Hours seemed to roll by but she could not find a door, could not locate those stairs. Stomping her feet on the floor until they grew numb, did nothing. She could hear police officers talking downstairs, but no one came upstairs because no one down there seemed to hear her.

Walking in circles, she couldn’t even find the windows. She shouted but couldn’t hear her own voice. After days in darkness she smelled smoke. Reaching out with her hands, she tried to find a wall. Her finger tips reached a surface and she walked this way and that, following it, knowing she was close. The stairs were just a few more feet, and then, she hit another wall. She found herself in the corner, the only 90-degree corner.

And she was no longer alone.

The woman in white was suddenly beside her. Her skin was black and burnt, patches of skin glowed auburn where flames licked for hours. Another figure, her father who was the color of ash and smoke, stood there as well. His eyes opened and a milky white substance oozed from his sockets and rolled down his torched cheeks.

Both parents opened their arms, welcoming their daughter. 

Cynthia (Cina) Pelayo is the author of short story collection Loteria and the young adult horror novel Santa Muerte published by Post Mortem Press. Her short stories and poems have appeared in Danse Macabre, Flashes in the Dark, SNM Horror Magazine, Seedpod, Static Movement, and more.

She is the Publisher/Gravedigger of Burial Day Books, and is a member of the Horror Writers Association and serves as the Assistant Editor of the HWA YA blog. You can find her on Twitter at @cinapelayo or at

Santa Muerte


















































































































































Santa Muerte