National Public Radio (NPR), my mainstay for news and information, recently held their fifth annual "Three-Minute Fiction" contest where they ask for original works of fiction that began with the line, "Some people swore that the house was haunted," and ended with the line, "Nothing was ever the same again after that."
Some people swore that the house was haunted. But most people figured the late-night lights and occasional sounds from the abandoned corner building on top of the knoll were kids messing around and no one really gave it much thought.
Which is probably why Jack's text says to meet him there at midnight if I ever want to see my i-Pod again.
The jerk. The football Neanderthal.
I can see a glow from the second floor so I slip through the front door and move to the stairs.
I begin stepping lightly and closely to the wall as I can so the prickly wooden steps do not squeak.
The flickering light is coming from down the hallway; it looks like candlelight.
He knows I am coming so I run down the hall yelling “Jaaaaaaaaaack, you jerrrrk! Give meee myyy i-Pooood!”
Bursting into the room I run right into him and we both go down in a surprised tumble; me on top of Jack so I see his face as we fall and when the back of his head hits the fireplace stone.
I jump up and Jack stays down. He is groaning and rolling his head. I think I see a dark spot that could be blood but it quickly disappears into the rough grey stone and I am not sure because now the dusty old clock on the mantel is bonging and distracting me.
Jack is sitting-up and I grab him by the arm to pull him to his feet.
Then I punch him in the shoulder as he is saying, “Kate, it was supposed to be a surprise.”
Looking where he points I see the table, the chairs, the candles, the dinner, the care.
I am smiling, thinking, “Oh, Jack, you big jerk.”
And the clock is getting louder. It seems the glass face is bulging out on each stroke and I am feeling a pressure to my ears like I am on the bottom of a pool.
It is midnight.
A silent explosion of oily negative night is shooting up behind Jack. It is nasty and shimmery like gasoline on tar.
My eyes go round and Jack turns to see what and a finger-spear silently shoots from the bubbling black mass through Jack’s shoulder and he is yelling in pain when he shoves me away and falls to his knees.
My face is burning and I can no longer hear anything except for a roaring in my ears as I watch the darkness pierce Jack through the wrist, his waist, and arm. It is pulling him closer.
I am screaming, I am raising my arms, and I am burning.
I am incandescence against the roiling blackness that is shrinking away from Jack. Back to the fireplace. Back to where it came. Until it is gone.
And I am falling to the floor. Spent and empty.
Jack’s arms are sliding under me. We are floating down the hall, the stairs, and out the door.
He is whispering in my ear how much he loves me and will never leave me.
Nothing was ever the same again after that.