In the Shadow of the Seam (excerpt) by Robert Birkhofer

The following is an excerpt of the short story: In the Shadow of the Seam by Robert Birkhofer, which you can find in the anthology The Hawthorne Project. Inside you’ll find ten dark and creepy stories written by him and other amazing authors. I hope you enjoy this little snippet. Oh, and click any of the links below to buy.

Esther sat outside the Milwaukee Art Museum, perched on a bench along the shore of Lake Michigan. Marigold skies above reflected in unperturbed waters below, and between the two sat Esther, eating her dinner and watching the day die.

Esther had visited the museum to see a special exhibition featuring the woodblock prints of Hokusai, the Japanese artist. Specifically, she had wanted to see The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai’s most famous work, in person. She had spent all afternoon standing in front of the image, lost in its every detail.

In the print, a blue behemoth of a wave towered over three fishing boats. The wave reared its foamy crest and spat briny spray at the sailors below it. The men on the boats were resolute, but surely doomed, because the wave was poised to crash down on them with all the fury of the sea.

On her bench outside the museum, Esther ate a few berries and listened to the gentle undulations of Lake Michigan. She took a sip from her green smoothie and tried to imagine what the Great Wave must have sounded like as it engulfed the fishermen and their boats, claiming them all for the deep.

“Nice pants.”

Esther choked on her mouthful of smoothie. She hadn’t even noticed the stranger approach her bench. “I—I’m sorry?”

“Those are nice pants,” the woman repeated. “Where’d you get them?”

“Oh, um.” Esther cleared her throat. “I made them, actually. I’m a clothing designer. I have a shop just around the corner.”

The newcomer was a handful of years older than Esther—late thirties, maybe—and from her jacket to her boots, she was dressed completely in gray.

“Tore my favorite pair of pants at work the other day,” the woman said. “Was a real bitch.”

Esther smiled apologetically. “Life’s a bitch, right?”

The woman snorted. “Life is bullshit, is what it is.” And then, without asking for or waiting for an invitation, she sat down beside Esther and gazed out at the water. “Don’t mind if I smoke, do you?”

Esther did mind, but she didn’t say anything. Instead, she ate another berry and studied the stranger on her bench out of the corner of her eye. Like Esther, the woman was slender and had short hair. Unlike Esther’s neat buzz, however, the older woman had more of an unkempt pixie, and it was a lighter shade than Esther’s raven. Her all-gray look wasn’t an entirely unpleasing aesthetic, but she would have benefited from a splash of color in there somewhere.

“What, um, kind of work do you do?” Esther ventured, for lack of a better thing to say.

The stranger sighed out a smoky cloud, looked at Esther, and with more than a little pride, said, “I kill ghosts. Send the fucking cunts straight back to wherever the hell.”

Esther opened her mouth to reply, could think of nothing to say, and closed it again.

“Most ghosts are harmless, but there are some murderous ones out there, just like there are murderers among us here in life. Stalkers and psychos that prey on the helpless. My team and I track those ghosts down, and then we put them down.”

Esther took a drink from her smoothie.

“Most people don’t even know they’re being haunted until it’s too late,” the woman went on. “There are lots of early warning signs, but people usually don’t recognize them for what they are. Pictures that won’t hang straight, mirrors that don’t reflect right, lights that flicker. Haven’t noticed anything like that at your place, have you?”

“Um, no.”

“Well, like I said,” the lady in gray went on, “life is bullshit. But I figure that if I can bring a little bit of order to all the chaos in this messy world…then maybe it will all be worth it in the end. Life, I mean. Killing ghosts is my way of bringing order.”

Light had been steadily fleeing the sky above the two women. Esther made a show of looking at her watch and making an oh-is-that-what-time-it-is? noise. “I should, um, probably get going.”

“Yeah. Good talk. Hey, I’m Dimeter by the way.”

“Esther,” Esther replied, extending her hand. After they shook, Esther discovered that Dimeter had pressed a small card into her palm.

“If you notice anything weird,” Dimeter said, nodding at the card, “call me.”

Esther nodded.

After Dimeter had walked away, Esther looked down at the business card she held. It was creased in the middle, and one of the corners was folded over. It said:

Experts in paranormal activity
Experienced ghost exterminators

On the back, there was a phone number. Because Esther didn’t want Dimeter to see her tossing it in the trash, she slipped the card into her purse.

As Esther finished her supper, the sky above her faded to black. The reflections in the water surrendered their glittering luster to the night, until all that remained were murmuring waves in the darkness.

You can find Robert’s story, along with nine additional ones, in The Hawthorne Project. Each creepy tale interweaves with the others for a week of terror on Hawthorne Drive, a small cul-de-sac in Greenfield, Wisconsin. Buy it at lulu, Amazon, or on your Kindle.

Notes from a Dying Woman

Tossed and turning
I am worn out, wrung out
Like a dirty dishrag done its work
The beauty of youth, faded
The wisdom of time, unreachable
A tear on the cheek, wasted
Replaced by liars and outward appearances

Love whispered from the corner of lips
At convenient moments in the dark
Love unreciprocated
Love that was not love at all
What’s it all for? It’s dissolving from memory
Art for art’s sake, seldom
Art as a healing potion, vanity
Art to speak the unspeakable, unsatisfying

The stench of it all fills my nostrils
My own ineptitude
Their disgusting games and revolting lies
Self sacrifice like a martyr
Hand to forehead: woe! woe! woe for me!

All I really wanted, elusive
Sick and dying and past my prime
Yes, wrung out and smelling sour
The sun grows dim and colorless
Sheets cling to my ankles
I find myself weeping again
For naught, for naught, for naught

tara caribou | ©2021

The Woman in the Window (excerpt) by Mark Towse

The following is an excerpt of the short story: The Woman in the Window by Mark Towse, which you can find in the anthology The Hawthorne Project. Inside you’ll find ten dark and creepy stories written by him and other amazing authors. I hope you enjoy this little snippet. Oh, and click any of the links below to buy.

The roar from what seemed to be the loudest lawnmower in the world escalated the intensity of the blood pounding in Chris’s ears. Morning light seeped through the threadbare curtains, spilling across his eyes like acid. Quickly, he turned away, a burst of pain exploding across his forehead as he connected with the wooden leg of the couch. His stomach churned then, accompanied by a bolt of fiery reflux that eventually exploded in his throat, providing an unholy concoction of tobacco and garlic. Fuck this! Chris stayed completely still, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the world to stop. In the background, in a well-practiced morose tone, the reporter on the television spoke of a neighborhood dispute, resulting in one man getting a crossbow bolt lodged in his neck.

It was all too much for him. “Fuck suburbia,” he said under his breath as he finally began pushing himself up, unwittingly slipping his fingers into the soft gooey leftovers of last night’s pizza.

Carnage surrounded him; empty beer bottles, greasy pizza boxes, ashtrays spilling over like volcanoes, and on the coffee table next to him, a plastic bag containing four mushrooms. The dampness of his right leg brought the night flooding back, and at that moment, he wanted nothing more than to be back at home in the comfort of his bedroom where everything was safe and familiar. He’d been missing home a lot of late, but events last night had given the yearning a physical ache in the pit of his stomach.

The urgency for headache tablets overturned the temporary melancholy, and Chris began stepping over the bodies sprawled across the carpet, two of which he didn’t even recognize. Adam was asleep on the couch, fingers still wrapped around a bong, a slice of half-eaten pizza resting on his already considerable belly.

“Adam,” he hissed. Nothing. “Adam!” he repeated. There were a couple of moans from behind, but no sign of life from his friend on the couch. Only when he intentionally collided with his friend’s feet hanging over the edge did Adam let out a snort and open his eyes.

“Sorry, bud,” Chris said.

“What time is it? What day is it?” Adam croaked.


“Yeah. Second drawer down,” Adam said, closing his eyes again.

“I know where they are,” Chris said, stepping over Jon, noting the peaceful look on his face. He pushed the kitchen door open, sighing as the carnage confronted him. “You’ve got to be kidding,” he said under his breath.

Trying to ignore the mess, he filled two glasses with water. Only six pills left. He made a mental note—the same one as last week—to get more from the supermarket. He washed two of them down. The water didn’t taste like home; it was harsher.

“I had a weird one last night,” he said to Adam, handing him the other glass and more pills.

“Oh man, me too!” Adam replied, pushing himself up and grimacing as the pain took hold. “Pills first, though,” he said, reaching for the glass.

Chris sat down on the arm of the adjacent chair, being careful not to disturb Becky. “Those mushrooms, man; who brought them? Strong stuff, and—real dark. I mean, d-a-r-k.”

“Tell me about it! That’s why I started on the bong, just to try and take the edge off.”

“I remember going upstairs to the bathroom,” Chris started. “I kept thinking someone was behind me, and I thought I could hear whispering. But it wasn’t normal whispering; it was like, in my head. I turned, but there was nobody there. I just put it down to the wind whistling through the cheap-ass door that the landlord installed. Even when I got upstairs, I could feel it, though—a presence—you know, a vibe that something wasn’t right.”

“Oh man, you thought that was bad, just—”

“Hey, I’m not finished!” Chris snapped. “I looked down to unzip, and then I heard someone whisper again, or at least I heard it in my head. It was a man’s voice, Adam. He said my name.”

“Well, I thought it might be one of you lot playing a prank at first, but when I looked down the landing, I couldn’t see anyone. Anyway, I shut the door and tried to take a piss. Another whisper—my name again. No way was I going to be able to go, so I zipped up and threw some water on my face. When I reached for the towel, I saw him—in the mirror, standing behind me. He was—”

“Faceless,” Adam offered solemnly, his suddenly pale face exposing the dark circles under his bloodshot eyes.

“How the hell did you know?” Chris spat.

“I saw him, too,” Adam said.

You can find Mark’s story, along with nine additional ones, in The Hawthorne Project. Each creepy tale interweaves with the others for a week of terror on Hawthorne Drive, a small cul-de-sac in Greenfield, Wisconsin. Buy it at lulu, Amazon, or on your Kindle.

Voices in the Flames (excerpt) by Joshua Marsella

The following is an excerpt of the short story: Voices in the Flames by Joshua Marsella, which you can find in the anthology The Hawthorne Project. Inside you’ll find ten dark and creepy stories written by him and other amazing authors. I hope you enjoy this little snippet. Oh, and click any of the links below to buy.

A shrill, resounding bark accompanied by the smell of searing meat snapped Priscilla out of her daydream. She leapt up from her seat at the kitchen table as fast as her old legs would allow. Her nightgown barely moved as the soles of her slippers shuffled along the linoleum floor. Elvis continued to yip at her ankles, herding her to the stove.

“Oh, be quiet, you. I have everything under control,” she scoffed, shooing the Bolognese away.

Elvis did as he was told. He tucked his fluffy tail between his legs, then sat down in front of his food dish. She had forgotten to feed him again. Not intentionally, of course, but her memory was getting worse by the day. Sometimes a little bark was enough to remind his forgetful master that he was still around.

Priscilla turned the knob on the stove, switching off the burner. The leftover ham was blackened on one side and dry as a sponge. There was no way she’d be able to eat it now. Letting out a sigh of disappointment at her mistake and the realization that she was likely to go hungry this morning, she looked down at her little white dog and smiled. His tail wagging excitedly.

“Well buddy, looks like you’re eating like a king today,” she picked up the hunk of meat with a fork and dropped it into Elvis’s bowl. He immediately sunk his teeth into the ham steak without hesitation. “May as well get you some water while I’m down here.” She picked up the empty dish and straightened back up. Her spine let out a few pops and crackles. With her free hand cupping the small of her back, her stomach growled as she made her way to the sink.

Letting the water run for a minute to get cold, she gazed out the window into the front yard. A shimmering frost coated the grass and dead copper-colored leaves that had fallen overnight from her beloved sugar maple. She had planted that tree shortly after the house was built. This was before the cul-de-sac had been constructed then named after her husband, before the other houses were built, but several years after the massive fire.

A light was on at the house across the street. The men who lived there seemed to always wake up early which she saw as admirable. She had never spoken to them, so she had no idea what they did for a living. She couldn’t decide whether they were snobs or whether her demeanor was too cold and uninviting. Didn’t matter either way. She enjoyed being alone most of the time. Besides, she had her Elvis.

Autumn was in full swing. She recognized the amber glaze of the late October sunrise which meant only one thing—Halloween was coming up.

Setting the bowl down, Elvis immediately took several gulps of the cool tap water to wash down his dry, yet sumptuous breakfast. Priscilla stroked the curls on his back a few times before going about her day.

Leaning over the kitchen sink, she grabbed the bottle of medication off the windowsill, popped it open, and removed the cotton ball. Tapping the bottle, she dropped two blue pills into her palm and chased them with a glass of lukewarm water. She was behind on her weekly cleaning and preferred sticking to her routine.

Two cups of black coffee later and she’d perked up enough to get the floors swept and mopped and the curtains pulled down for a washing. She always loved the way the house felt after a good tidying up. It was so welcoming and cozy. A record was spinning on the turntable, filling the old house with the familiar sounds of The Everly Brothers, then The Duprees, followed up by Elvis Presley, of course. Her musical tastes had never evolved beyond the days of doowop and who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp. To her recollection, those were the best of times.

After picking at it for most of the morning, Elvis had had his fill of the ham steak and skittered through the living room to the front door to be let outside. He let out a yip that startled Priscilla who was emptying the dustpan into the garbage can.

“Dang it, Elvis! You know that scares me every time. I’m coming, boy, just hold your horses,” she said, giving the dustpan one last shake before clipping it to the broom handle. Walking to meet Elvis at the door, she retrieved the leash from the wall hook and clipped it to his collar.

“Just let me grab my coat.” Elvis barked once more, pacing anxiously in a circle. As she slung her coat over her shoulders, a hard knock came at the front door. She gasped and slid her back against the wall. Elvis retreated to the living room, dragging the leash behind him. “Some guard dog you are,” Priscilla scoffed in a loud whisper. “Coward.”

She stood still, waiting to see if the person would leave after no one answered the door. She could feel her heart pounding. A few more kicks to the old ticker might just do me in for good one of these days, she thought, holding her hand to her chest.

Another hard knock sounded at the door. Priscilla inhaled deeply, trying to build up the courage to peek out the window. For as long as she could remember, she suffered from an extreme case of social anxiety and did not appreciate uninvited visitors, especially solicitors. She had nothing to offer anyone and appreciated being left well enough alone.

She stepped in front of the door and positioned her good eye in front of the peephole. Letting her sight adjust to the tiny fisheye lens, she was surprised to see there was nobody standing on the other side the door. Moving her head around trying to get a better look, she couldn’t see anyone. Was this a prank? Even more than uninvited visitors and solicitors, she loathed pranksters. She turned and glanced at the calendar on her wall. October 30. Of course. This was nothing more than a pre-Halloween prank being played by one of the handful of children that lived on Hawthorne.

Still, she couldn’t shake her timidness over the thought that it might be something else. Mustering up some courage, she decided to take a chance and open the door. She unlocked the deadbolt, then waited with her hand gripping the knob for just a moment before swinging open the door. A rush of refreshing autumn air met her as she stepped forward and looked around the yard. Still not a soul in sight.

“Hm. Come on ya big chicken,” she called to Elvis. “Let’s go potty.”

Elvis scurried back to the front door and paused at Priscilla’s feet, allowing her to grab hold of the leash. They stepped out into the yard together and Elvis lead her onto the grass to relieve himself. Feeling anxious after leaving the safety of her house, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being watched from all directions. The cul-de-sac was always quiet on Friday mornings. Some of her neighbors appeared to be home.

Elvis finished, then turned and scraped at the grass with his hind legs. This always made her chuckle. Looking around the yard, she noticed the frost had burned off in the mid-morning sunlight. The fresh air felt nice after cleaning all morning.

“Pssst,” a noise sounded from behind her. She turned expecting to see one of the children that lived on Hawthorne peeking from around the corner but saw no one.

“Pssst,” she heard again, from the opposite direction. This time it was followed by a childlike giggle. She turned towards the noise and again, seeing no one. A chill ran down her spine and she gently tugged on the leash to hurry Elvis along.

“Come on, boy. That’s eno—” she froze as she felt a rush of warm air blow onto her neck and ear. The smell of sulfur and spoiled milk permeated her nostrils. She could sense a presence standing within inches of her, breathing down her neck. Snapping her head around, she screamed, “Leave me alone!” Swinging her hands up around her head, accidentally jerking Elvis forward in the process. He let out a pained yip and ran to her feet.

You can find Joshua’s story, along with nine additional ones, in The Hawthorne Project. Each creepy tale interweaves with the others for a week of terror on Hawthorne Drive, a small cul-de-sac in Greenfield, Wisconsin. Buy it at lulu, Amazon, or on your Kindle.

Thoughts on a Windy November Afternoon

For nineteen years, I was beat and belittled into quiet submission. I was trained to understand I would never measure up. I laughed too loud, I talked too much, I read the wrong things, I didn’t fit in, I didn’t understand my peers. I was chubby and awkward and a weird loner who even the weird loners didn’t get. I walked barefoot in the snow and lay on a sled staring up at the stars in the woods. I stood in the bitter Alaskan ocean up to my neck and felt the shifting sands swirl around my toes. I watched you being you: intelligent, funny, charismatic and unreachable. I loved from afar and wished I was loved in return.

For nineteen years, I learned to keep my mouth shut and don’t share my intellect or my ideas. No matter what my thoughts, no matter what my plans, no matter what my passions or desires, no matter what: I was wrong. It was less important than anything you had to say or to dream or to create. And so your dreams became my dreams. Your hopes became my hopes. Something, anything to hold on to. I molded myself into what you wanted so to keep peace. I stepped carefully and hid away the darkest parts of me. I buried myself in the worlds others had conceived. Fantasies upon fantasies.

I slipped further and further away from who I really was deep inside to become who you wanted me to be. My art became less and less as I was ridiculed and berated. The lack of respect with the roll of eyes and a turning away. A pat on the head and a “sure, honey, sure”. I examined my art. Why was it wrong? Why wasn’t it good enough? Was it lacking?Maybe it wasn’t the art. Maybe it was the artist. The artist was wrong. The artist wasn’t good enough. The artist had too many opinions. Too much passion.

And so the artist slipped away. It wasn’t me. I stayed. The artist, it was she who withdrew, beneath the dirt and the mud and the wind and the waves. The artist wept. The artist keened. The artist fell asleep.

When I opened my eyes again, I saw where 38… now 39 years, had brought me. I looked around myself as if waking from a dreamless sleep. Living in the cold north will do that to you. One day, in the quiet morning, looking out on untouched land with snow all around six feet deep, you wake up. You wake and ask yourself, is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life? I realized then, I didn’t. I still wanted to be loved. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to lift the artist from beneath the snow and dirt and allow her to discover and invent and compose and imagine. It was what she had been created for, after all.

For five years I beget art. Symbols and representations of who I was. Who I am. I let the artist free. I allowed her to express her passion and gave her no bounds. I opened my mouth and I spoke my thoughts and opinions, my dreams and my hopes. I gave my heart freely and often. The artist reveled and entertained. But part of me, the part who I had been forced to be for so long, suddenly became idle. A tussle broke out. A war within. Skirmishes and swearing. Thrusts and parries. The passionate dreamer was no longer content to sleep. The subservient follower-of-rules demanded to stay on top. I fractured.

Clinging to anyone who glanced my way. Reading in deeper meaning than was actually there. Believing in a hope which was stillborn from the start. Listening to liars and tricksters and modern-day witches who spun twisted fairy tales of their own; giving them power. In the end, cutting the soul ties and some days forgetting they even existed. Reaching out again and again. Ghosted. Assumptions made. Rumors stung, having been started by pathetic narcissistic women on social media. Friendships ended before they could grow. Wishing for more, knowing it’s not meant to be.

Wanting just once. Just. Once. To be loved and accepted for who -I- am, not who you want me to be. Coming to the realization only today, nearly five decades in, that this desire is an impossibility. You can say what you want. I know the truth. See, there has got to be a melding of the inside me and the outside me. I must be wholly true to who I was for the first forty years and I must also be completely authentic with the inner, wild artist. I can be both. I must be. Fully one and entirely the other. Perfectly, lonely me.

tara caribou | ©2021

SALE on all Paperback Books – ends today

Dear friends, I hope those of you who celebrate the US Thanksgiving holiday had a great day. Hopefully with friends and family and good food and better company. Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday. Not only is it a time of food and friends, it’s a time where we set aside a few moments or hours to just be THANKFUL! Being grateful is so good for our minds, our attitudes, even our bodies. I am super thankful for each and every one of you who reads my website, buys the books that Raw Earth Ink publishes, comments, and supports with all your love. YOU are the reason that this website still exists, because there have been many days I’ve wanted to give up and disappear. It is the continued kindness and friendliness and art that keeps me here. So, truly, Thank You.

Now, I just realized that my distributor, is having a three-day sale through Monday the 30th, 30% off all printed books. If there are any books from me or my authors that you’ve had your eye on, I would say NOW is the time to grab some great reads at a nice discount! You can see all the books Raw Earth Ink has published in the Published Works section.

But here are a few to whet your appetite:

  • Static Dreams Volumes 1 and 2, short story anthologies, each around 230 pages long and nine stories each.
  • The Year that Stole the Light Away by Brandon White, poetry moving through grief
  • Creation and the Cosmos, a stunningly beautiful anthology of poetry, art, and photography all inspired by Nature
  • Tangled Together by emje mccarty, a collection of dark yet humorous short stories
  • A Fistful of Ponies by Dan Provost, gritty thought-provoking poetry from everyday
  • The War for Solace by V.R. McKoy, poetry calling out abuse and moving forward
  • Derecho by J Matthew Waters, in 2020, the author’s hometown was struck by hurricane-force winds which shook the area, these are his initial thoughts during the crisis
  • Growl from the Sun by Braeden Michaels, deeply layered and unapologetic poetry delving into politics, without taking sides
  • Four by tara caribou, rich poetry with an undercurrent of passion and nature alongside black and white photographic art
  • and MORE!!

You can get to lulu by clicking any of the lulu links on the Published Works page or else go to and when you check out, use the code SAVE30.

Share in the comments something that you’re thankful for! ~tara caribou

The Hole Truth in the Yellow House (excerpt) by Tristan Drue Rogers and Sarah Anne Rogers

The following is an excerpt of the short story: The Hole Truth in the Yellow House by Tristan Drue Rogers and Sarah Anne Rogers, which you can find in the anthology The Hawthorne Project. Inside you’ll find ten dark and creepy stories written by them and other amazing authors. I hope you enjoy this little snippet. Oh, and click any of the links below to buy.

Debbie scanned through every room, unable to find her son, Choice. That mix of movement and breathing kept scratching at her eardrum and her heart. She was starting to panic.

Swinging the door open into the backyard, she winced at her inability to sneak up on whatever was going on. Debbie saw the old man next door in the beige house just standing there on his back porch, hardly moving at all, but definitely glaring at her.

He doesn’t wave back anyway. Maybe he doesn’t see me, she thought to herself. Or just old and pilled-out or whatever. She was ashamed of that thought, but kept on pursuing her son. No reason to let manners, or lack of, get in the way of finding Choice.

.Debbie turned her head back to her yard, still unable to see much of anything. She looked back at the old man, now realizing that he barely looked like himself. He was more a shadow now than her own silhouette against the pavement. She had seen the old man on many occasions. The old man seemed to frown while his sights were set on the tree on Debbie’s side of the fence. He turned just then, stepping through the backdoor, and disappearing for the rest of the night. She didn’t recall him opening the door, though, she thought, the night can play tricks on people.

Running to the tree—each footstep crunching into the dead leaves—Debbie tripped and fell onto the ground, but finally reached the other side as she slammed into the dirt through the piles of leaves where she discovered what those strange noises were and what they had to do with Choice.

Her son was digging rapidly. Silently, carefully. He created a hole that had gotten to be knee deep for any adult who stepped down into it, almost at the waist for Choice.

Debbie lay there on the dirt like a collection of chopped wood tossed about the yard. Her body was frozen, however, her intensions were to stand and hold her little boy. Nothing could stop that.

“Choice! What are you doing?”

She didn’t receive any kind of answer or acknowledgement. Debbie tried to lift herself up. She fell back down due to the pain that her arms and wrists felt when holding the weight of her body. She hadn’t thought her fall was that serious before, now she wasn’t so sure. Realizing that she was running out of time before something crazy happened, even though she didn’t know why her internal clock was counting down, or to what, the adrenaline kept her going enough to crawl into the hole.

Now that she was within arm’s reach of her son, Debbie grabbed him and pulled him in close. Half of her body was hanging down into the deepening hole with her son in her grasp and the other was uncomfortably set onto the high ground.

“Baby,” she said. “What are you doing?” Debbie saw little knickknacks and items that were lined up in a row from where she had pulled him. There was an old rusty pocket watch, a wooden fishing lure, and a knife with the blade out and ready to use.

She pulled Choice’s face to hers, attempting to align their eyes. Choice didn’t look like he was all there, more like sleep walking. Debbie had seen this exact face before on her brother, which is why she considered this likelihood, but that was so long ago and she wasn’t positive how her parents handled it, if at all. The one thing she was aware of was that she shouldn’t shake him awake or he could freak out.  

“Mine,” said Choice.

Debbie’s heart sunk. “What—” She tried to ask a follow up question.

Choice interrupted. “My totems,” he said. “They’re mine. For safe keeping.”

Debbie stumbled to find her words, but pressed on until she found them. This time, she lessened her grip on her son, allowing him to go about whatever his sleepwalking compelled him to do. “Safe keeping for what?”

He started to dig again, only now he simply covered the items with the dirt, packing the ground with his palms. “To hide from mommy,” said Choice. “The Shadowy Man says she won’t understand and might take me away from him.”

Debbie was silent.

Choice kept going. “I’m scared that if I don’t keep quiet, I’d stop getting to see The Shadowy Man and then no more stuff to play with.”

The wind began blowing in the dead of night.

Debbie built up her strength, finally able to rise to a stand. “Choice,” she said. “Where is this shadowy man?”

“He was at home,” said her son, now climbing out of the hole.

“Where is he now?”

“He’s with us behind the tree,” he said.

You can find Tristan and Sarah’s story, along with nine additional ones, in The Hawthorne Project. Each creepy tale interweaves with the others for a week of terror on Hawthorne Drive, a small cul-de-sac in Greenfield, Wisconsin. Buy it at lulu, Amazon, or on your Kindle.

Manteo (excerpt) by Mark Ryan

The following is an excerpt of the short story: Manteo by Mark Ryan, which you can find in the anthology The Hawthorne Project. Inside you’ll find ten dark and creepy stories written by him and other amazing authors. I hope you enjoy this little snippet. Oh, and click any of the links below to buy.

When she was young, around nine or ten, Olivia and her sister had begun to be looked after by a Mrs. Langford who lived around the block from them. Up to that time, their mother had been taking them to their grandparent’s house when she needed to work. The life of a single mother gave her the added stress of holding down two jobs, and much of the time she would have to drop her kids off with her parents. This was only up to the time when her own father passed away, and her mother struggled both with his passing and then in being able to look after the kids. The demands of a nine and six-year-old were too much for her and the onset of dementia. Olivia loved her grandparents, and enjoyed staying with them with their giant yard, plentiful and delicious food, and the tender moments only a family could provide.

Mrs. Langford offered no tender moments, her food was minimal and foul, and she lived in a small unit that smelled of cat piss. Both she and her sister hated going to her house, as Mrs. Langford – though it was never known of a Mr. Langford – refused to come to theirs. In hindsight, Olivia was somewhat thankful of this as she had been a cruel and suspicious woman, and Olivia could only imagine her sniffing about her home and forcing the chores upon them. As it was, they did very little when they stayed with her, as she seemed not to care about her own surroundings. Being told to keep quiet and out of sight surprisingly worked for both parties when they would stay with her. Olivia and her sister Rachel would usually take to the only other bedroom in the unit, and were thankful for the wall and dividing door between them and the older woman, who would while away her time watching television and smoking away on her Camel cigarettes as the tiles above her caramelized.

It was rare, but sometimes they would have to sleep over when their mother worked, Olivia could recall only a handful of times, but one stood out more than any of the others. She and Rachel were in the small single bed that was pushed up to the wall beneath the tiny window. The cold air would seep in, but it gave them a sense of a world beyond the realm of Mrs. Langford and the smoke-filled unit. Rachel had fallen asleep, something Olivia struggled to do there. She had heard Mrs. Langford go to bed earlier, for once not spending the night on the couch with the tv blaring.

All was somewhat quiet when she heard a small sound coming from the other room. The cat usually went where Mrs. Langford went, but Olivia was sure she was in her own bedroom. Listening harder, she watched suddenly as the door of their room clicked open and slowly pushed itself ajar by an invisible hand. Olivia had sat up then, scared and unsure what to do. She wanted to wake her sister but was too scared to make a sound. She saw it then, a dark figure looming in the crack of the door. Its head started low and then moved upwardly as if independent from any body. It had no features, and even in the dead light she could see it was not human, the head was pulled back in an unnatural fashion. It hovered there, seeming to have noticed the girls in the bed.

She heard it then, a low breath, like steam out of a heated pipe. Not from the figure, but next to her, breathing in her ear like a dead tongue. Motionless she sat there; her hands gripped to the duvet. The door nudged open a tiny bit further and it seemed the figure were about to cross the threshold of their little protected sanctuary. Just then, she had seen a light go on in the other room, and she heard Mrs. Langford stumbling out to go to the bathroom. One of the only times Olivia was ever grateful for the old bag. Though the figure disappeared instantly, in the moment that the light was on she had seen the faceless image clearly; and with eyes that she knew weren’t there, she knew it had looked deep within her and marked her for something. 

You can find Mark’s story, along with nine additional ones, in The Hawthorne Project. Each creepy tale interweaves with the others for a week of terror on Hawthorne Drive, a small cul-de-sac in Greenfield, Wisconsin. Buy it at lulu, Amazon, or on your Kindle.

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