Gary Robbe

The January Selected Writer is Gary Robbe

Feel free to email Gary at: grobbe53@gmail.com


by Gary Robbe

Jake Olmstead closed his dry-cleaning shop early in the evening, feeling feverish and weak. Most of the shops and businesses on Main Street were already closed and dark, and there was no one about at all. A cold wind met him as he walked towards his house a quarter mile away, the yellow moon not quite full, indigo clouds cutting across it like slivers of dark glass. He thought it unusual that things were so empty and desolate looking, as if he was the last person on earth. His heartbeat raced, and his bones ached to the marrow. Perhaps everyone in the little town of Mount Healthy had already succumbed to an outbreak of influenza.

Emma would be at her book club meeting which met every other Wednesday night, and wouldn’t be home till late. He was going to have to fend for himself. 

Trees shuddered and leaves skittered across the sidewalks as he walked, the wind in his face. He passed the woods on his right, no houses for a good stretch, and with the night coming down hard Jake had to strain to see where he was going. In his weakened condition the last thing he needed was to trip and fall over a dead branch or an uneven crack.

The woods. The woods defined the town, surrounded it and cut it off from the rest of the world.  The woods held many secrets. He thought, as he always did when he walked home alone at night, of his little daughter Rebecca. Sleep well, he said to her, looking into the dense shadows of the silent woods. Sleep well.

The house was completely dark when he finally made it to the front steps. Leaves were brushed up in a pile against the front door. His nose had started to run, and his head already felt clogged up, but Jake still was able to smell something dead in the air. Must be something big, he thought, if I can smell anything. He caught a whiff of it as soon as he turned up his walkway and entered the yard. It became stronger as he neared the house. Get inside quick.

He unlocked the door, thinking back to the time years ago when one didn’t need to lock doors, everything way safe then. No, that was wrong. It was never safe. Crazy fucked up world.

He was deteriorating fast. All that was on his mind now was taking his temperature and getting in bed. No need to call Emma. She won’t be home for at least a few hours, and there was really nothing she could do for him. He would be long asleep hopefully.

Jake entered the house and closed the door quick behind him, hoping none of the noxious smell followed him in. Then he flipped the front hallway light switch. Nothing. He was a little dizzy. He felt his way to the kitchen, flipped that light switch. A dull, uneven light came on, just enough to bring out the shadows. He went straight to the kitchen sink, found a glass in the cabinet above and filled it with water. He spat it out immediately. “Damn!” What the hell? It tasted like sewer water. He held the glass up to his watery eyes. In the dismal light it looked normal. He dumped it out, refilled it again after letting the water run awhile. His arm holding onto the sink for support, he felt so weak.

He smelled the water before putting the glass gingerly to his lips. Water tasted like shit. Like something had crawled into the pipes and died there.

He put the glass in the sink. Well, he would have to deal with this issue tomorrow. Call a plumber and get him out here first thing to look at it. Right now, he needed to just get in bed.

“Simpson!” he called out. Where was that cat? He noticed the bowls on the floor, one filled with cat chow, untouched. Unusual. Simpson ate anything, anytime, which was why he was so fucking fat, and he always crept out from wherever cats hide to see who came home. Even fat lazy cats are curious. Maybe he was upstairs. Or in the basement.

The basement door was closed. Of course! The door somehow closed on the poor guy, trapping him down there. Jake opened the door and called Simpson a few times. He didn’t have the strength or desire to go down the steps to look. His head was humming, his ears were now plugged from the congestion. He left the door open and decided to just go upstairs. Cats do what they want to do.

The house was so dark. The kitchen light did almost nothing. Why didn’t Emma leave any lights on when she left? He tried another hallway switch. That one didn’t work either. Probably burnt out, like the other one. Well, lived in this old house for over thirty years, ought to be able to find my way to the bedroom.

He was still dizzy and scolded himself for not getting something to drink from the fridge. It took forever to make his way up the steps, and once he did, the walls and ceiling of the upstairs hall, barely discernable, seemed impossibly long and forbidding.

Jake took slow unsteady steps. Things appeared darker than they should have, as if whatever light that escaped from downstairs was bottled up and placed out of reach. He couldn’t ever remember being this tired and thirsty. It made his brain fuzzy. He sensed the blackness in the hall matching the blackness growing inside his skull.

He felt along the wall, his shaking hand sliding across the cool plaster. Should find the door opening soon. Where the hell is it?

Next thing, he was stumbling. Tripped over something on the floor, something soft and with both hands flailing he went down. Not hard. He was able to break his fall, somewhat, but he felt his knee twist, same knee that always gave him trouble, a tearing pain stabbing him there. He groaned and pushed against the wall. “What the hell?” he mumbled, now rubbing his knee, feeling a single extra-large needle jab just beneath the kneecap, then numbness radiating out from that spot. “Really did it this time,” he said. A flash of pain deflected the next thought for a moment, which was, what did he trip over?

He groped about. Reached over toward the center of the hallway. The pain excruciating as he moved. His hand found a puddle of wet fur.

Jake screamed.

Panting. Collect yourself.  Felt around the mass, definitely fur, definitely wet, mushy, like a soggy stuffed animal. About the size of…

“Simpson?” He nudged the unmoving thing, tried to lift part of it off the floor, shifting his own body to get a little leverage, but the throbbing in his knee, and the dizziness, kept him from doing so. He didn’t think he could get up. Crawl to the bedroom and turn the light on. Surely that light would work. Damn.

Using his arms, he dragged himself toward where he thought the bedroom should be, pushing with his good leg wherever he could get traction. The wood floors were wax- slick and it seemed to take forever. He was totally out of breath by the time he reached an empty space along the wall and could feel the door frame. “Jesus,” he said, slowly squeezing into the room. He pushed up with his leg, pressed his body into the frame, then tried to grip enough of the wood to pull himself into a somewhat erect position. As he did so he swung his right arm out trying to find the light switch. Nothing. Damn it all. He swallowed, tasted bile, and slid to the floor again.

There was a noise downstairs.

Jake’s first thought was that it was Emma, and he almost called out. But something wasn’t right. He stopped moving and listened. Something was downstairs. Something was dragging itself across the linoleum. He thought he heard the slightest moan almost drowned out by a soft thump and creak of the floorboards, as if whatever was moving was shifting its heavy weight around in the kitchen.

Come on, he thought. I’m delirious, hearing things. He put his hands to his ears and felt the sticky wetness from the thing in the hall, then wiped them on his trousers. Closed his eyes tight to make it all go away.

Maybe it was Emma. Home early. And since the lights weren’t on, thought he wasn’t there. Jake took a few deep breaths, then called out, “Emma? That you?”

Silence. Whatever had been moving around down there stopped.

He was breathing rapidly. His legs pins and needles. Arms weak. Am I having a heart attack? He tried to call out again but all that spilled from his mouth was a groan. The dragging downstairs started again. Then a thump, thump, thump, growing fainter as if a sack of potatoes had been dropped down the basement steps. Panic mixed with fever delirium took over and he pushed his frail body tight against the wall. He waited. The voice in his head that urged him to stay calm and think rationally was now screaming and saying things in languages he had never heard before.

He pounded on the floor. The screaming in his head stopped. His calm voice was back. Intruders. Had to be. They had already been upstairs and killed Simpson, why he couldn’t fathom. Now they were downstairs looting his house.

Interesting that he thought it was more than one intruder. He must have surprised them when he came in, and again fear swept over his thoughts. Why were they still here, knowing he was here too? He had to do something. Find the phone, call for help.

On his elbows, and drawing his good knee in, he managed to crawl to the nightstand by the bed. He pulled the phone off and down to the floor. No ringtone. Dead.

Now anger replaced the panic and fear. He crawled to the doorway. Adrenalin overpowering whatever illness had been crippling him before. He might go down, but by God he would go down fighting. He had served in Vietnam. Saw a fair amount of action, maybe even killed a man. He was never sure. But no matter. Whoever was down there was in for a fight.

Gathering up as much phlegm in his throat as he could he bellowed out, “Hey!”  He pounded the wood floor again with his fist. The pounding echoed in his head like the sonar ping inside a submarine. He thought he heard a whooshing sound as if air was being squeezed out of a balloon.

Steps. Slow. Methodical. Heavy on the wood floor, muffled when crossing the area rugs. The footsteps stopped at the bottom of the steps. Jake stayed completely still. His breathing clipped rasps. A pain in his chest eclipsed the needle pain in his knee. He had to move. If he was going to die, he wanted to be moving, not cowering in the doorway.

Jake pulled himself forward into the hall, crawled the best he could, panting, heart racing. He made it past the muddled remains of what he assumed was Simpson. Hands slipping in wet goo as he passed. The smell of death and decay greeting him as he reached the landing.

Whoever, or whatever, was waiting at the bottom of the steps was silent. Jake felt a presence there, and somehow it seemed familiar. He took hold of the railing and pulled himself up, tottering, not sure he could put any weight on his leg to move downward. To engage whatever awaited him at the bottom of the stairs. He stopped and caught his breath. Even with his heart out of control, spasms of pain, and a useless leg, he prepared for battle.

Emma came to his mind. He was glad she was not here, but he thought of the anguish it would bring if things didn’t go well, and how she would react finding him the way he found Simpson. And he remembered the pain, so many years ago, when Rebecca disappeared without a trace. Beautiful, bright flower, Rebecca. Emma took it so hard. They both did. Their little girl went to school one day, an Autumn day like this one, and never came home.

Suspicions naturally fell on Jake and Emma, their lives effectively over from that day on. The entire town seemed to come out to search for her, but Rebecca was gone, gone to the wind and the swirling dead leaves in it.

Emma never gave up hope. And Jake went along with her, what else could he do? They went on with their lives. Rebecca forever a seven- year old; to Emma a smiling child with bristling blonde hair as in her school picture, to Jake a bruised and skull crushed child lying at the bottom of the steps.

It was an accident. He didn’t know why he thought this, now, as he stood broken at the top of the stairs, something dark downstairs taking shallow rasping breaths. It was an accident.

He had come home early, sick with the flu. Rebecca also came home, earlier than usual, and snuck up the stairs. She was going to surprise him, somehow knowing he was there, not knowing that her mom had run off to the drug store.

She did surprise him, jumping out of the shadows in the hallway, and Jake reacted. She went down the steps. When he stumbled down after her, when he saw her neck bent and her head shattered, he panicked.

It was an accident. But once he put her in a remote place in the woods and covered his tracks, once he played along with the missing child story, it became something else.

Now all he had left was Emma. And there was someone at the bottom of the steps, maybe more than one person, waiting, and he had to do something. He decided to slide down the steps, into the intruder, end it once and for all. The death stench was overpowering. The faint kitchen light that he used to check the water was now gone and it was completely dark. He knew his eyes would adjust given a little more time. He moaned and turned his leg to the top step, an awkward angle, ready to make a controlled fall.

“Go away,” he said. “Just go away.”

As his eyes slowly adjusted to the shifting grays and blacks, he made out a silhouette below the stairs, motionless. It was smaller than he expected. A sliver of light crept in behind it, what little moon there was slipping out of the clouds into the decorative glass on the front door.

The form below him nodded its head. Jake could see fine strands of what appeared to be hair, silver in the minimal light, threading upward with static excitement on an invisible breeze. And it was familiar. Waiting. Wanting. Needing.


Oh my God Oh my God Oh my God. Tears erupted as he pushed forward and came down, momentum taking over, somersaulting and crashing all the way, the steps deep and forever long. There was snapping like brittle twigs crushed underfoot, and the emotions of terror, love, guilt and surprise melding into one before everything went completely black.


Emma Olmstead approached the house at ten thirty. Her good friend, Mary, had just dropped her off, and was waiting in her car for Emma to get safely inside. Emma thought for sure she had left the outside light on, as well as the hallway light, but the house was completely dark.

Emma unlocked the door and waved Mary off. She waited for a second until Mary’s taillights disappeared along with the fading hum of the Buick’s engine, the only sound remaining the scratch and skitter of fallen leaves and the groan of tree branches against the wind.

She wasn’t used to being out this late. She noticed the sliver of moon across the street, rising above the gnarled trees. So peaceful, she thought. So lonely.

This was always the hardest part, coming home at night, opening the door, flipping on the hallway light. The first thing she would see would be the bottom of the steps. Where she discovered the broken body of Jake so long ago, along with Simpson. He had apparently tripped over the cat and fallen down the stairs. Both were dead. Sometimes, in the instantaneous eruption of light, she saw a flash of him crumbled before her, the way unscrupulous film editors would splice an image of popcorn or coca cola to plant hunger in unknowing filmgoers. She could never lose the thought that he was always there, still, waiting to be discovered.

She stared at the stairs a long moment, longer than usual, thinking of Jake, then Rebecca, out there somewhere. She was sure she was alive, and, as she did every night, she turned the outside lights on so that Rebecca could find her way home. It was why she never left this awful place. She couldn’t bear the thought of Rebecca coming back without her being here.

Emma sighed. So many years alone in an old house with nothing but bad memories. She slowly crept into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water being going to bed.

Gary Robbe is an educator and writer currently living in Colorado. He has published numerous stories in magazines, e-zines, and anthologies, and is one of the editors for an anthology coming out soon titled Terror at 5280'.

He is a member of HWA, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and the Denver Horror Collective, as well as an Associate Editor for Bewildering Stories.