Jeff Parsons

The March Selected Writer is Jeff Parsons

Feel free to email Jeff at: jeff_95630@yahoo.com


by Jeff Parsons

The humid summer night was full of terror for Spencer. Three hoodlums from school were chasing him. He’d outsmarted them once already by dodging across a busy highway, giving him a short lead ahead of them while they waited for the continual traffic to ease up.

He didn’t even know what he did to cause their anger, but now, since he undoubtedly made them feel like stupid cowards, they’d probably want to beat him into a bloody pulp, perhaps even kill him. These particular juvenile delinquents had a reputation for extremely violent behavior.

Not much time, he thought. They were fast runners. Two school grades above him, they were wiry teenagers with long, limber, strong muscles. He was a skinny ten-year-old.

A few adults had watched him through curtained windows but didn’t come out of their houses to investigate why a young boy was running for his life through their neighborhood. Gasping for breath, he ran past the last row of houses and entered a cracked pavement side street that wove through a lightly wooded area. Nowhere to hide! The available scrawny trees and skeletal bushes wouldn’t be enough to conceal him. From the salty aroma, he knew the sea was close by.

Approaching a small, crested hill, he clearly saw in the distance that the road led to an old, rundown Victorian house protected by a high wall, its back and sides surrounded by ocean-side bluffs. It was a peninsula—there was nowhere else to run. 

He couldn’t turn back. Their wild voices weren’t far behind. He had maybe a two-minute head start.

The woods ahead were just as pathetic as before when it came to hiding spots.

He bolted to the house. Two stories tall, its many shingles and window shutters hung loose. Once painted white, it was now as desiccated a grey as the stone block walls surrounding it. Chipped and peeling paint flaked on the ground around its foundation; the wooden front porch, greatly neglected, led to a windowless, tough-looking front door. The front gate was a wrought iron masterpiece adorned with flower patterns – its arched halves were locked together with thick chains and padlocks. More iron, in the form of spearhead spikes, sprouted from the top of the stone walls, making any attempt at climbing difficult at best. Oh my God… He realized that this was the house… it was on the news… the house they took that mental patient away from years ago. Spencer hated creepy old places.

No! He heard raucous taunts coming from the other side of the hill.

He noticed that the space between the two gate halves was enough to squeeze through if he held his breath. With a burst of desperate adrenalin, he slipped through the gap in the gate, chains grinding as they stretched apart. Rusty scrapes tore his tee shirt and gouged bloody furrows into his skin. He ran up the porch steps to the front door.

The floorboards creaked. He stopped. Looking down at his feet, there was a broken chain and padlock on the porch. What if I fall through the floor? A vision of his twitching, impaled body flashed in his mind.

“Got you, you little weasel!” he heard from behind. He looked back. They were running down the hill to the gate, howling like a pack of feral dogs.

Run! He forced himself to push against the front door. It begrudgingly gave way.

He opened the door a crack and slipped into the house.

The darkness inside was profound. The shutters, windows, and blackout shades provided little in the way of light. The musty air felt difficult to breathe in. A sneeze threatened to explode from him. His stumbling footsteps seemed to invade the complete, smothering silence of the place.

Wait! He remembered that his keychain had a penlight!

Fumbling in his pocket, he found the penlight and pulled it out. Switching it on, he immediately wished he hadn’t. His heart did a sudden lurch before rapidly accelerating its beat. He’d been running, but now, even more sweat beaded and rolled down his body. Finally, after he breathed normally again, he started to tremble.

Everything was covered with a fuzzy blanket of grey dust, making the linen-covered furniture look like ancient monoliths. Shadows and massive cobwebs waited beyond the meager scope of his penlight beam, feeding his active imagination with ideas of movement seen and unseen.

Large rooms branched off the main entrance and an elaborately wide wooden staircase led up to the second floor.

There was something wrong here, but he couldn’t quite figure out what it was as he whipped his penlight about, sending shadows to shift and writhe. Then he saw it. Overall, the place had been untouched for a long time, but there were recent scuff marks that had disturbed the dust on the floor. Footprints were everywhere.

Something scraped against the floor in the room to his left – a dining room that had a large uncovered table with shiny, clean, decorative china place settings atop. His penlight wobbled in his shaking hand. Nothing there. Nothing… there.

The boys were now at the main gate, rattling it in frustration. One of them, Alphonse Narti, bellowed, “He went in the house. I saw him.” They always talked loudly – some kind of tough guy stuff.

“Oh yeah? I didn’t see nuttin’,” the voice of Jerry Malone said.

The third said, “You afraid?” That would be ‘Sully.’ Pete Sullivan.

Need to hide. Spencer padded up the carpeted stairs, raising dust clouds as he went. None of the steps squeaked. His every sense was painfully aware of his surroundings – he didn’t want the boys outside to hear him.

“Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout?” Malone said. “Ain’t no such thing as ghosts,”

Spencer froze halfway up the stairs. Ghosts? A cold wisp of air chilled the sweat on the nape of his neck.

“Yeah, I know, but something scared those cops away.” Sully said.

The gate’s chains rattled. Narti said, “Nah, they just took that guy away. Crazy loon - he said he saw ghosts. Youse can follow me or be wimps. Whas-it gonna be?”

“Okay, don’t getcha undies inna bunch.” Sully said. The chains rattled twice again. They were through.

An electric sweat broke out again across Spencer’s body. His lower lip trembled, a spat of crying threatening to break loose. I need to move!

He ran up the remaining steps as quietly as he could. His young legs hopped two stairs at a time, taking him to the top of the staircase. His thighs burned from the exertion. His lungs were slow to process the thick, stale air at this height.

Seeing closed doors spaced along a hallway that extended to his left and right, he ran to the left, penlight highlighting glimpses of old paintings, oil lamps, flower carved wainscoting, and several thin tables placed against the walls. He chose the bedroom at the end of the hall – furthest away, door already open, less noise involved, he’d just have to close it.

The bedroom window shade was fully closed. A quick scan of the dark room with his penlight showed a canopied bed, two dressers, a vanity table, and its accompanying chair. He eased the bedroom door closed as the front door of the house crashed open, probably kicked in.  

The boys were inside, talking amongst themselves in low growling voices. The sounds of their footsteps separated, probably splitting up to find him quicker.

Slowly, purposely, lifting up the window shade, he could see city streetlights flickering across the bay through the dirty window and partially open shutters. The window, however, would not open! It had been nailed shut from the inside! He tried to pry a nail loose, but it refused to budge.

If he broke the window, the goons would soon be upon him.

Need to find… a letter opener or nail file…

“They’re chasing you?” The sudden, softly quiet voice startled him, causing him to wet his shorts. A trickle of warmth crept down his leg. Gasping, he stared into the dark corner where the voice had come from. Not a ghost. It was an older man wearing a blue linen jumpsuit sitting on the floor next to an open wardrobe closet. Clean shaven, his eyes were kind and his demeanor calm, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. 

“I know you,” Spencer whispered. “You’re on the news. You escaped from Pilgrim State...a…a…”

“A mental institution.”

“You’re crazy.”

The man nodded sadly. “When I lost my wife…I loved her so much...I couldn’t…I went crazy as you’d say. They locked me up. I finally escaped, hoping to see her again, my wife. One last time.”

The hoodlums had apparently heard the conversation, even as subdued as it was. They charged up the stairs.

“Please help me. Those boys are going to hurt me. Maybe kill me!”

The man stood up shakily. He was very tall and rail thin. Touching Spencer’s shoulder briefly, he stood in front of Spencer, facing the door which flew open with a savage kick from outside.

The teenagers sauntered into the bedroom, blocking the way out, laughing wickedly.

The man spoke, “This is my house. Leave.”

Narti snarled, “It’s our house now. You’re not welcome here. And the brat, he’s ours.”

“I won’t let you harm him,” the man said, stance widening.

Sully barked out, “Whaddya gonna do? You’re just a filthy old bum.”

“What you’re doing is wrong. I can’t let that happen,” the man stated.

Narti picked up a candlestick from a dresser. Sully lifted up a wooden chair near the door.
Malone already had a fireplace poker.

They advanced.

Everyone froze in place when a soft white light sparked into existence in the middle of the room. Shining brighter and brighter, it also grew larger, capturing a vision of the supernatural forever in Spencer’s mind. The bedroom lit up as if daylight had blossomed inside with the sweet smell of honey and lavender. Within the light, there was a radiant apparition of a beautiful woman with long, curly, chestnut-brown hair, warm eyes, pleasant smile, wearing a plain yellow flower sundress, beckoning to the man. 

“You’ve come back!” he said, blinking through spilling tears. 

He reached out to her, not quite touching, his hand wavering close to her spectral hand. “I’ve missed you so much and—”

Narti started laughing. The other boys added their volume to the sarcastic cackling. 

“Some ghost,” Narti drawled. “A real terror.”

He swung the candlestick at the ghost. It passed through her, disturbing her image, much like the aftereffect of a car breaking through a morning fog, leaving behind turbulent swirls that sent everything askew into vaporous chaos.

“No!” The man screamed and rushed forward to intercept Narti’s next swing, catching and trapping the candlestick under his armpit with a dull thump across his ribs. In great pain, he turned his body, ripping the weapon from Narti’s grasp.

The man didn’t see Malone’s poker, but he felt it crack against his skull with a sickening crunch.
The man yelped and collapsed to his knees. The boys beat him repeatedly, viciously, knocking him flat to the floor, where he curled into a bloodied fetal position to protect himself to no avail.

Spencer tried to intervene, but was thrown aside, airborne, landing on the hard stone of the room’s fireplace. He’d hit his head; the room went blurry and horribly dizzy, he was on the verge of throwing up as a ringing noise grew loud in his ears.

The ghost re-formed above her husband, somehow pushing back his assailants by her mere presence. Mouths open, they glanced sideways at each other as they backed away slowly. 

Her eyes locked with theirs, staring intently with a penetrating gaze.

Something strange happened to Spencer. Despite the pain, he felt naked with every thought and action in his lifetime revealed, instantly relived again inside his mind, except they were experienced from the point of view of other people, every person he had ever met. Not perfect by any stretch of imagination, but, overall, he was a good person, so he felt deliriously exuberant by the happiness he’d helped others feel.

The hoodlums weren’t so fortunate—they ran away screaming from the truth of the ghost’s revelation.

The ghost descended close to the broken man and caressed his battered cheek.

“I’m so sorry, my love,” the man’s voice cracked from emotion, blood, and intense pain.

The apparition’s voice was like the comforting age-old sound of a light summer breeze touching upon the leaves of trees. “Don’t worry, my dear. We’re going to be together once again.”

The man gurgled once. His eyes became unfocused. He stopped breathing.

He’s dead, Spencer thought, feeling a great depth of sadness as he looked up at the ghost woman.

Sirens blared in front of the house. Distant voices shouted, “Freeze!”

A second apparition formed beside the woman. It was the man, but much younger in appearance, and smiling with beatific happiness. They both waved to Spencer and disappeared into a fading mist as footsteps thundered into the house. More yells occurred as Spencer and the body were discovered. 

Everything was hazy after that. 

“They killed him,” he told the police and paramedics attending him.

A policeman who was squatting nearby said, “We thought so, son. They had blood all over them.
Something scared them. Know anything about that?”

“The man, he used to live here, and he came back to be with his wife one last time…”

“Yeah, we thought he might show up here.”

“His wife, she was a ghost…” his body shivered as he tried to speak. He felt extremely nauseous.

“Okay son, you just lie still. We’ll talk later in the hospital when you’re feeling better.”

As he was wheeled out of the house on an ambulance gurney, he saw the three boys in the back seats of separate police cars. They all appeared to be traumatized: Narti sat stock still, Sully rocked back and forth, and Malone screamed incoherently. All their hair had turned stark white.

Jeff Parsons is a professional engineer enjoying life in sunny California, USA. He has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. He was inspired to write by two wonderful teachers: William Forstchen and Gary Braver.

In addition to his two books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, he is published in Bonded by Blood IV/ V, The Horror Zine, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst—The Inner Circle Writers’ Group
Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4.

For more details, visit his author page HERE