Rie Sheridan Rose

The May Chosen Writer is Rie Sheridan Rose

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by Rie Sheridan Rose

“You ever seen the old Jemsin place?”


“We’ll go after school then.”


It was the Friday before Halloween. The idea of going to see a real haunted house seemed like the perfect lead-in to the weekend as far as Betty Parker was concerned. Plus, it was almost a date, wasn’t it? She’d been trying to get Tommy Willis to notice her since she’d come to this school, and here he was asking her on an adventure. Could the day get any better?

When she stepped out of the school later, her heart sank. No one here. She should have known.

“Boo!” Tommy yelled, jumping out from behind a bush.

Betty barely stopped herself from screaming—that was no way to impress a boy. Her heart pounded in her chest so hard she was afraid it would burst. But she raised an eyebrow and sniffed. “That all you got?”

Tommy grinned. “I’m impressed. You’re the first girl who hasn’t peed herself over that.”

She was happy to have impressed him…but not sure how happy she was not to have been the first girl he pulled it on. “No big deal,” she replied, surreptitiously checking to make sure she hadn’t. “So…what’s the story of this Jemsin house?”

“Better to show you than tell you. Do you have your bike today? It’s kind of far.”


“Cool. Let’s get going.”

Betty dropped her backpack into the basket of her bike, and slung a leg over the frame. “Ready when you are.”

Tommy wasn’t kidding when he said it was far. By the time an old house loomed on the horizon, Betty was hot, tired, and aching to stop and rest. Gritting her teeth, she matched him pedal for pedal, determined that he wouldn’t think she was a wimp.

Tommy pulled off the road onto a weed-covered driveway. It was bone-jarring work pedaling up the drive, but he was still on his bike, so she kept at it until he finally skidded to a halt in front of the house.

“This is it. The ol’ Jemsin place.” He threw an arm out theatrically, like he was the ringmaster at a circus or something.

“What’s so special about it?” Betty looked at the splintering boards of the porch, the peeling paint, and the broken windows. It looked like every abandoned house she’d ever seen.

“I’ll show you,” Tommy said in a spooky voice. “Follow me, if you dare!”

She knew she was trapped. No way did she come all the way out here for him to think she was just a sissy. She leaned her bike against the porch and grabbed her backpack. If nothing else, it made a pretty good weapon if she needed to smack someone—or something.

Tommy led the way to the front door and felt above it on the door-frame, taking down a rusty old key. “Dunno why it’s locked, but it is,” he told her with a shrug, fitting the key into the lock and turning it. The door wailed in protest as he pushed it open.

Betty shivered. Doors don’t care if you open them, Betty.

They stepped into the house, and Betty was immediately engulfed by the musty scent of decay pervading the rooms. It was cold in here too, especially after the heat of the ride. The sweat she’d worked up was drying on her skin, making a clammy coat. She rubbed her arms, trying to warm up a bit.

“It’s always cold in here,” Tommy commented, taking off the long-sleeved shirt he wore over his t-shirt and handing it to her. “I always come prepared.” He grinned.

“Don’t you need it?”

“Nah. I’m used to it.”

“You spend a lot of time here?”

“Off and on.” He shrugged.

Betty liked the casual way he’d handed over the shirt. It was something you’d do for any friend. She slipped it on, wrinkling her nose at the odd scent that clung to it. She couldn’t quite place it, but it wasn’t bad enough for her to turn down the warmth.

“C’mon. I want to show you something.” Tommy started up the stairs.

She bit her lip. That sounded like a really bad idea. At least on the ground floor they could run outside if they needed. On the other hand, at least it wasn’t the basement he wanted her to explore.

Tightening her grip on the backpack, Betty started up the stairs after him—careful to test each riser before committing to stepping on it with all her weight. He might know where to step, but she didn’t, so she would err on the side of caution like her mom had taught her.

When she got to the top of the staircase, she had a moment of panic. Tommy was nowhere in sight. “Where are you?” she called, fighting to keep her voice light.

“In here.”

She followed the sound of his voice to a doorway at the end of the hall and stopped dead in her tracks, mouth agape.

This room wasn’t like the rest of the house. Time appeared to have frozen over the threshold of the playroom. It was bright and sunny, even though it had been getting on toward sunset outside. The walls were painted a light yellow, with white wainscoting topped with borders of flowers like a picket fence in front of a garden. The furniture was scaled for little kids…even younger than they were…but Tommy fit fine in one of the chairs drawn up to a table in the center of the room.

“Come over here, and look at this.”

She stepped across the threshold and into the room. Immediately the chill that had bothered her in the rest of the house disappeared. A scent of roses filled the air, and she breathed deeply, filling her lungs with the fresh, clean smell.

“It’s cool, isn’t it? This room is my favorite in the house.”

“Well, I can see why,” she replied, pulling out the chair across from him and plopping down on it. She dropped her backpack to the floor beside her. “What did you want to show me?”

“This,” he said, turning a model house on the table to show her the front. It was a replica of the house they were sitting in. “Isn’t it great? And listen…” He turned a crank on the side of the house, and the eerie tinkling melody of a music box filled the air. The tune was hauntingly beautiful, and disturbing at the same time.

“I’m not sure I like that,” she confessed.

“Neither did I the first time I heard it.” He began to hum along to the music, which was supremely creepy.

“It’s getting late, Tommy. We should probably be heading back to town.”

“Soon,” he replied, winding the box again. “I want to listen a little longer.”

He turned toward her, and the way the light hit his face made his eyes look black. She pushed back her chair.

“Um…fine. You stay as long as you want. I think I can find my way home.” She started for the door, but his voice stopped her.

“It’s too late now, Elizabeth. You’ve come home.”

She whirled. No one called her Elizabeth but her grandmother. She doubted Tommy even knew what Betty was short for.

He had changed somehow…not just his eyes. It took her a minute to figure out how.

The t-shirt and jeans he had been wearing were replaced by a short-sleeved buttoned-down shirt and pants that stopped at the knee. He was wearing boots instead of sneakers. He hadn’t had time to change between the time she pushed away from the table and the time he called her name…

The Tommy-thing cocked his head. “Don’t you want to play, Elizabeth? Mummy said we could have tea in the playroom tonight.” He gestured to the table, and it was covered with a cloth bearing little sandwiches, cakes, and other delicacies on china plates. A teapot sat in the center, steam rising gently in the still air.

Am I going nuts? she wondered.

The fresh scent of roses that had seemed so enticing when she entered the room now cloyed at her throat, and the decay that had perfumed the rest of the house was growing stronger. The shirt Tommy had lent her now seemed to be suffocating her, and she clawed at the collar, trying to get it off.

Glancing down, she saw that it had transformed into some sort of worsted jacket over the lawn dress that had replaced her own t-shirt and jeans. Her hair hung in braided pigtails, and her sneakers were also lace-up boots. “What the hell is going on, Tommy?” she shouted, her heart beginning to thud in her chest again.

“Mummy won’t like you speaking like that, Elizabeth,” he chided her. “Come and have your tea. Cook sent up some of those little sugar flowers you love so dearly.”

Betty saw her backpack beside the table. Maybe…

She darted across the room and grabbed it up, unzipping the pocket and pawing through the contents. Where is it? She felt a moment of panic before her fingers closed upon her phone.

Pulling it out of the bag, she fumbled through the apps until she found the one she wanted. She hit the button and the words of “Material Girl” blared out of the small speakers. The music overwhelmed the light tinkling of the music box, and she felt a shift in the room.

Tommy looked confused for a moment, and his clothes were shifting back to normal. She ran to him and grabbed for his hand, but hers passed right through it.

“Don’t be silly, sister dear, we can’t leave after Mummy has locked the door,” he murmured, shaking his head. “And what is that dreadful noise? Please turn it off. It’s giving me a headache.”

Desperate for a way to break the spell, or curse, or whatever it was that the house had over him, she leaned in and planted a kiss right where his face should be. Unlike his hand, she felt the solid firmness of his lips against her own. Maybe it hadn’t entirely consumed him.

Tommy gasped, and blinked. “Wha—?”

“Come on, let’s get out of here!”

She could grab his hand now, and did, pulling him toward the door. They had almost reached it when a figure appeared in the doorway.

The woman was tall and skeletal, dressed in stern black from head to toe. Her mouth was pursed in disapproval. The room shifted around Betty again. The music began blaring from the funny little box, and the phone in her hand was now a book of nursery rhymes.

“Elizabeth Jemsin, whatever do you think you are doing?” The woman’s voice was cold, and her eyes were hooded slits of ice. A perfume of lavender and death wafted from her worn silk finery. She reached fingers like clawed bone to take hold of Betty’s chin in a vise-like grip.

As if the touch flipped a switch, all that remained of Betty burned away, leaving only Elizabeth, who had always been a Jemsin in this house where she lived with her mother and older brother.

The woman gave her a brittle smile. “It’s all right, my child. Sometimes we all lose our way when the veil begins to thin. You were gone entirely too long this time. Now, sit and have tea with your brother. Now that you are home, everything will soon return to normal for us all.”

She turned and swept away, her skirts brushing the floorboards.

Tommy sat across from Betty, winding the music box once more.

Rie Sheridan Rose multitasks. Her short stories appear in numerous anthologies, including On Fire, Hides the Dark Tower, and Killing It Softly Vol. 1 and 2. She has authored ten novels, six poetry chapbooks, and lyrics for dozens of songs. Her most recent novel is the horror story, “Skellyman.” More info on www.riewriter.com. She tweets as @RieSheridanRose.