Kristen Houghton

The June Featured Writer is Kristen Houghton

Feel free to email Kristen at: khoughtonauthor@outlook.com


by Kristen Houghton


“What?” Lara looked up from her phone and glanced at her boyfriend Brett who was driving her back to her dorm room at Laxly Hall in the farming town of Alenville. She looked out the window. After a life in Los Angeles, it was hard to get used to the miles of empty and open spaces in Vermont.


“I said padiddle. Look.”

A car with one headlight was coming towards them. Lara’s father was a retired police officer back in LA and he would’ve been quick with a ticket for that infraction. She stared at the approaching car and noticed something strange about it.

The one headlight looked weirdly big, almost like a glaring eye that was searching for something. Good God! She shivered and asked, just the slightest bit annoyed, “What the hell is that?”

“Oh right,” said Brett, “I forgot, you’re not from around here.”

“California born and bred, dear boy. So, what is a pad—whatever you just said?”

“Padiddle, p-a-d-i-d-d-l-e. It’s a Vermont slang term for a car with one headlight out. Every time you see one you’re supposed to kiss someone. Or,” he laughed and nudged Lara, “some people say that when you see one, you’re supposed to remove one very personalarticle of clothing.”

Lara dropped her phone in her bag, and laughed with him then said, “You wish.”

“Worth a try.” He pulled over to the curb outside of her dorm. “Pick you up tomorrow for that seminar at the planetarium.”

Lara leaned over and gave him a quick kiss, opened the car door and ran toward the building. Upstairs in her dorm room, Lara kicked off her sneakers and collapsed on the sofa. Without turning from her computer screen, her roommate Callie said “How was the movie?”

“It was all right. All slasher, blow-em up, feed-em to the zombies stuff that some guys like.”

Callie stood, stretched and went to get beer from the small ‘fridge they had. “Get used to the fri-sats.”

“What’s that?”

“Friday movies and Saturday frat parties. That’s called livin’ it up in Vermont.”

Lara mulled over the phrase. “Whoa, be still my California-surfer-girl heart. Hey, listen, Callie, did you ever hear about something called a padiddle?”

Callie walked to the couch two beers in hands and offered one to Lara. “Oh, you mean the one where there’s only one front headlight on an oncoming car? Of course. That’s as old as the first cars cranked out by Henry Ford.”

“I saw one with Brett tonight.”

“Jesus. Did he tell you that every time you see one you have to take off a piece of very personal clothing? Boy wants to get you naked, girl! You didn’t fall for that, did you?”

“Of course not. I just never heard of a padi-whatever in California. You guys have some strange ways here.”

Lara began to sing:

One padiddle, two padiddles , three, padiddles,  four,
Five padiddles, six padiddles, and so many more
Coming down the road, pass us on the way,
One-eyed monsters taking us away,
Padiddles find you here, padiddiles find you there,
You can’t escape padidlles, because they’re everywhere.

“That’s downright scary!”

“Relax. It’s a kids’ song. Silly.”

“Yeah, right, silly.” Lara downed her beer thinking that people around here should just get their headlights fixed. In California, you’d get a ticket for having only one working headlight.

A car with one headlight slowly drove past the dorm, stopping directly under Lara’s window. As it moved away, the one headlight seemed to wink in the dark like a human eye.

A human eye that was hungry.


 “Padiddle.” Brett leaned in and kissed her.

That’s the third one tonight, thought Lara, sitting on the grass outside Laxly Hall. The third one tonight and the fifth one in the last week. What the hell? She moved back from the kiss. The cops here needed to start handing out tickets for this kind of stuff.

The truth was that it was kind of spooky. No matter where she went with Brett, a car with one headlight seemed to appear. Leaving the movie theatre, the park, even outside a favorite pizza hang-out, Lara could count on one to appear seemingly out of nowhere. No matter how many other people might be around, the cars that had only one headlight always seemed to be heading right toward Brett and her and only toward them. Almost as if they were out searching for the couple. It was creepy and Lara, for some insane reason, had come to think of the one headlight as a swollen eye, an eye that was dangerously lethal if you got too close.

And it was downright dangerous, too. A car with only one headlight could be mistaken for a motorcycle, it threw off another driver’s judgement, and accidents could occur. It might be some dumb game up here but it is definitely against the law.

A car driven by an old woman slowly approached Laxly Hall. This car had no lights on at all. Now that was really dangerous to be sure.

Taking advantage of the fact that the driver’s side window was open to the summer breeze, Lara yelled, “Hey! Hey, ma’am! Your headlights are off. Turn them on before you cause an accident.” The woman seemed surprised but she smiled, waved, and obeyed Lara’s demand. A hazy light lit the street in front of the car.

“Thanks!” yelled Lara. But as the woman drove away Lara noticed something wrong; there was only one headlight that beamed onto the road. “Doesn’t anyone in this godforsaken place have two damned working headlights?” Lara huffed. Brett just laughed and went in for another kiss.

Two more padiddles came down the road each one seeming to slow down for a brief moment in front of where Lara and Brett were sitting. She nudged Brett who laughed. When she turned to look at him and say there was nothing funny about the one headlight, Lara noticed that his face looked strangely odd, not at all like the face of the cheerful, mischievous Brett she had been dating for two months.  He had a sort of mysterious knowing smile that made Lara just a little bit uncomfortable. She told Brett that she was tired and was ending the night.

Brett walked her to the door of Laxly Hall and, after telling her he’d see her tomorrow night, walked away. As he walked to the parking lot, she heard him begin to hum something.  It sounded vaguely familiar.

Shaking her head, Lara raced up the stairs to her dorm room. She was alone. Her roommate had texted her earlier that she’d be spending the night at her boyfriend’s frat house for some party and would be back in the morning. Saturday frat parties!

For some reason, Lara didn’t turn on a light as she walked over to the window which faced out onto the street. She stripped off her top and shorts. Hidden by a dark drapery, she could see out but no one could see her inside. She watched Brett walk to his car. He was singing and his voice carried on the still night air.

Padiddles find you here, padiddiles find you there,
You can’t escape padidlles, because they’re everywhere’.

She backed up from the window. Weird. Despite the summer heat, Lara felt a cold chill run down her spine.

Later, Lara found it hard to sleep. That stupid padiddle song kept going around and around in her head. A children’s song, Callie had said. A silly song. Right. Silly. Then—why did it sound so ominous when Brett sang it?

To top it off, the night was filled with an eerie silence sporadically broken by the sound of cars coming up the hill past Laxly Hall and pausing for a minute or so in front of the Hall itself. Peeking out the window, Lara saw that every car that stopped in front of the Hall had only one headlight. She wished she wasn’t alone here and had to fight the urge to text Callie to please come back to the dorm now. Daybreak couldn’t come fast enough. Tossing and turning, Lara made the decision that she was going to do something about the danger of the number of cars with only one headlight. After all she was the daughter of a cop. Tomorrow morning, she’d go to the local police station in town and make a citizen’s complaint about the dangers of driving on these country roads with only one headlight. Damned, effing padiddles!


“Can I help you, miss?” A weary-looking officer asked Lara. She explained about the complaint she wished to make and was directed to a desk where a sergeant took down her statement and complaint. The woman said very little while Lara was detailing all the cars with one headlight that she had seen in only a week and how dangerous it was to other drivers. She then told Lara she’d have her officers look into it.

“So, you’re going to send more cars out to patrol the country roads and issue summonses to these drivers, right? I mean, no one should be driving with only one headlight visible, and—”

The sergeant leveled a hard look on Lara stopping her in her tracks. “Miss, I said I’d have my officers look into it. What they find and how they want to deal with it is up to them. We got other things to think about, you know. Damn college frat parties and wild kids running around doing God knows what. A boy and a girl, who were last seen at one of those frat parties, got reported missing by their parents. Probably went off God knows where. Happens every so often, horny hormone-raged kids running away together. Goes back quite a number of decades too. Boring small farming community, kids hook up at the college, dream about a better life, and run away. Problem is the parents are bugging me twenty times a day for any updates and I got the upper brass on my back about it too. So, miss, you can see that I am up to my eyebrows with real issues. A few padiddles aren’t high on my list of important stuff to look into right now.”

“I said cars with one headlight. You just called them padiddles.”

“Yup, that’s what we call them. Been around quite some time.” With that she stood up, shook Lara’s hand, and dismissed her by walking away.

As a confused Lara left the station she passed two young officers. One of them held the door for her and she walked toward the road back to Laxly Hall. She heard the officers laugh and one of them began whistling a tune. Her heart beat faster as she recognized the tune.

It was the padiddle song.


Laxly Hall was a mess of students coming and going between classes but Lara went straight to her dorm room. She had skipped her morning classes to go to the police station and decided to skip her afternoon ones as well. Tired from lack of sleep last night and the irrational dread she felt, she texted Brett that she had to finish a paper and would see him tomorrow. Then she opened the windows to get some air, swallowed two over-the-counter sleep aids, and promptly fell asleep on the couch.

While Lara slept, six cars, each one with only one headlight, drove slowly up the hill and paused briefly in front of Laxly Hall. It seemed as if they were waiting, waiting for something—or someone. The padiddle song played in her drug-induced sleep.You can’t escape padidlles, because they’re everywhere.

The insistent ringing of the old-fashioned landline phone dragged her up from a hazy, thick sleep. A glance at the digital clock on the desk told her it wasn’t even dawn yet. Who calls anyone anymore on those old things? she thought irritably as she stumbled up and tried to find the phone. It was hidden under a pile of clean laundry that she’d meant to fold.

“Hello?” she said as she reached for a bottle of water she had left on the desk. Her throat was parched. “Hello?”

“I’d like to speak with Callie, please. This is her mother.”

“Oh, um, hello, um,” she tried to remember Callie’s last name, “Mrs.—Monroe. I’m Lara, her roommate. Callie isn’t here. She’s with her boyfriend but she should be back soon. You can try her later. I’ll tell her you called.”

“Lara, is it? I have tried to reach her since last night. I’ve texted her, called her—she’s not answering. Do you know where she is?” The voice was worried.

“This is the last text message number I have.” Lara read it out.

“No, no that won’t work. I already tried that several times. Look, please, when she comes back, have her call me immediately. Please!” The woman sounded terrified.

Lara agreed and hung up. Then she texted Callie. Fifteen minutes went by with no return message. Another text, WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU? CALL ME! No response. She called her roommate and it went right to voice-mail. She’s okay, she’s got to be okay, Lara, breathing hard and fast, tried to reassure herself. Callie’s just irresponsible and probably way too involved with her boyfriend. Probably fell asleep at that frat party and—Wait! What had that police sergeant said about a frat party and another couple? Lara shook the fuzziness out of her head.
‘A boy and a girl, who were last seen at one of those frat parties, got reported missing by their parents. Probably went off God knows where. God knows where. God knows where. Maybe God doesn’t know where!

Sounds of laughter and running steps got her attention. That had to be Callie coming home. Grabbing her water and carrying her cell phone with her, Lara went over to the window to yell down to Callie that she was a bitch for not texting or calling her mother back. But the laughter and the running feet belonged to a bunch of other students coming back to Laxly Hall after a night out. There was no sign of Callie. Where the hell are you, Callie?

The sound of an engine caught her attention as a Jeep pulled up in front of the Hall, paused and made its way down the hill. Lara was not surprised to see that it had only one headlight. The eye of the car as Lara had come to think of it, looked swollen, as if it had been searching all night long for something.

Or someone. Coming down the road, pass us on the way. One-eyed monsters taking us away.

That week, classes were excruciating to sit through and, twice, her professors had firmly suggested that Lara make a choice about where her attention was to be directed—her phone or their lectures. She hid the phone between her knees, glancing down to see if there were any new messages from Callie. Nothing.

During lunch Lara half-listened to fellow students talk about the boy and girl who went missing.

“I heard her talk about going to Nevada,” said one student. “Really stupid.” The consensus was that they had run away to get married

That got Lara’s attention. Run away? She thought about what else the sergeant had said to her yesterday. Goes back quite a number of decades too. Boring small farming community, kids hook up at the college, dream about a better life, and run away. Decades, huh?

She skipped her 2:00 o’clock lab and went to the library. She told the librarian that she needed to research local town happenings going back thirty years. For two hours, Lara looked through old microfiche of newspapers going back to 1989.

Over the last thirty years, sixty-six college students had been reported missing. 1994 was the worst year it seemed; twelve kids were reported missing that year alone. Only one had ever returned home and it seemed that he hadn’t really run away; he only gone to see a ball game in New York City. The victim of a mugging in the Bronx, he was beaten unconscious in an alley, and didn’t wake for twelve hours at which time he, just like ET, ‘phoned home’.

Something was not right. What had happened to all those kids? She asked the librarian if there were papers that went back farther than thirty years and was told she could go back to the 1800s if she wanted. Lara did.

“The college wasn’t here back then. Just lots and lots of farmland. Boring stuff to read if you ask me.”

The librarian was right; it was boring, mostly about crops, harsh winters, animal husbandry, and church socials. And then, hidden in the back pages of the old newspapers, next to the obits, were accounts of people gone missing. All ages, just disappeared without a trace. Never seen again. What the hell? She copied everything she had read onto a thumb drive. This had to go to someone in the media, preferably a main TV station in the capitol of Vermont. Then she tried Callie once more. Nothing.

As she left the library and walked back to her dorm, she had the feeling she was being watched.

Turning around, she saw a car coming down the road. Padiddle. Jesus! That line in the song played in her mind.

You can’t escape padidlles, because they’re everywhere.

When she got to Laxly Hall, she rushed upstairs to her dorm room hoping against hope that she’d find Callie sitting at her computer and drinking a beer like she usually was when Lara came back from class or an evening out. Instead she found Brett sitting on the floor outside her door. He asked her how long it would take her to change into something nicer than her ripped jeans. She looked at him confused. “It’s tonight Lara, you promised.” Damn! She’d forgotten that they were supposed to go to his grandmother’s house for dinner. She asked if she could take a raincheck.

“No way. My gram’s been planning this dinner since I met you. It means a lot to her, Lara. I’m all she’s got.”He gave her puppy dog eyes and pleading hands, and she reluctantly acquiesced.  “Great. I’ll wait while you change and then we have to go.”

While she was changing out of her jeans in the tiny bathroom, she told him about going to the police station, having the sergeant tell about missing people, and then what she’d found online at the library. She told him she was thinking of sending all the information to a TV news anchor in Montpelier.

“Don’t you think that’s strange? All those people who simply disappeared?”  No answer. Brett was on the couch, texting on his phone.

“Brett? Say something. Weird or what?”

“It is strange, huh,” he finally acknowledged. “But that’s nothing new in these parts.”  He then asked her if they could talk about it later after dinner. They had to be at his grandmother’s house as soon as possible.

When she came out of the bathroom, dressed in a soft pink summer dress and asked if this was better than jeans, Brett smiled and said, “Lara, you look good enough to eat.”

On the drive to his grandmother’s house, five cars, all with one headlight each, passed them going in the opposite direction. Lara said nothing but when Brett began to hum that stupid song she told him to stop. It got on her nerves. Damned song!

The house was dark when they arrived. All around them was nothing but empty land and nothing else. “Where’s your grandmother? I thought we were having dinner.”

Lara looked around confused as she exited the car. It didn’t look as if anyone was home even though there was an old car parked near the house.

“Here I am, dear,” said a voice behind her. “And dinner will most certainly be served.”

Lara turned and was surprised. His grandmother was the woman Lara had seen last week, the one she had yelled at to turn on her headlights. The one who had waved and turned on the car lights but only one had been working. A padiddle.

The husky sound of a car engine started up and the car slowly approached them. Brett held her hand in a tight almost painful grasp. A grasp that meant that she couldn’t run if she wanted to. The old woman was dressed in overalls and an old shirt that had splotches of red on it. Paint or—something else?

“I brought her, Grammy.”

“Good boy, Brett.” She turned to Lara. “You know, I was planning on having you for dinner next week, but Brett texted me that you were getting nosy about the missing people around here. You wanted to take the information to a TV station and we can’t have that.” She laughed roughly. “Did you ever hear the last lines of the padiddle song, Lara? You know, the padiddle song your roommate sang to you?”

“No, I never heard it.”

“Well, that’s a shame. It really explains a lot about the Padiddles.”

She went on to tell her that creatures called Padiddles, with a capital ‘P’, had lived in these hills longer than any humans. Her family had made a pact with them a long, long time ago.It was up to her as the eldest in the family to keep the pact. And keep the Padiddles fed.

“Brett’s my grandson and as long as I feed the Padiddles, they won’t touch him. Yes, they leave us alone as long as we feed them and oh! they must be fed. Last thirty years it’s been mostly college kids—the Padiddles seem to have got a taste for young flesh after the college was built. Before that, anybody’d do.”

She looked brightly at Lara. Grasping Lara’s arm in an iron grip, she gave a signal to Brett. He let go of Lara’s hand and walked back to his car.


“Oh, let him go, dear. He can’t stand to watch them feed.”

Lara stared at her, not fully able to understand. Feed? Padiddles were real? And they ate flesh? What is she talking about?  Suddenly the truth dawned on her. All those people who went missing. Oh, God! They hadn’t run away or disappeared—they were eaten! Everything that she had heard was unbelievable. No! No! It can’t possibly be true!

“Come along young lady. I can’t keep them waiting. They’re hungry and I don’t want them turning on me.”

Lara struggled and fought, bit and clawed at the woman. But farm work had made her surprisingly strong for a woman in her sixties. In the end Lara gave up the fight. She was exhausted and filled with a terror that was indescribable and sapped her strength. The old woman forced Lara to look at the one headlight.

“I’m going to sing the last lines of the padiddle song, dear. It’s so appropriate now.”

Look into the eye, fill your heart with dread,
Nowhere to escape, Padiddles must be fed!

The hungry eye of the car looked at her crazily as it slithered out from the its casing. The headlight was actually a hungry swollen eye attached to the body of a large snake with a huge mouth that was full of razor sharp teeth. With a hideous roar, the monster seized Lara in its jaws and began to feed.

Down by Laxly Hall a car with one headlight drove slowly past a couple sitting on the lawn.


Kristen Houghton is the author of nine novels, two non-fiction books, a collection of short stories, a book of essays, and a children’s novella. The first four books in her best-selling series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation, are now available in a boxset. The series has been voted one of the top five mystery/thriller series by International Mystery Writers. She is also the author of the Horror Book Club award-winning Quick-Read, Welcome to Hell.

Her latest book, Lilith Angel, was released in April, 2019. “Her parents are vampires, her boyfriend’s a werewolf, she has untried witchy powers of her own—but teenager Lilith is just trying to live a “normal” life and pass advanced calculus! Life can be difficult for the otherworldly.”

Kristen Houghton has covered politics, news, and lifestyle issues as a contributor to the Huffington Post. Her writing portfolio includes Criminal Element Magazine, a division of Macmillan Publishing, Hartford Woman, Today, senior fiction editor at Bella Magazine, interviews and reviews for HBO documentaries, OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, and The Style Channel.