I never liked my spooky books to be too safe. I much preferred creepy tales with unexplained, somewhat twisted endings or, better yet, the possibility of it being a true story, to the neat, Scooby Doo endings. Tucked into my safe bedroom, I savored the fear, the unforseen, the uneasy.
On the night before we got married, David and I hiked in through the old growth forest, about an hour before midnight, with the full moon up above us. On Hallowe'en night. We wore our flower crowns the entire night so that we were in disguise, and we left a candle burning outside our tent, a little dish of wine set out for the spirits while we soaked in the hot springs in the dark.
contest on Absolute Write. I never write short fiction. I'm terrible at it. I can't stop, and every piece I write wants to be a novel all its very own. So...I struggled a bit with the five hundred word limit, and eventually, that little story is now in the process of inspiring not only one novel but TWO! One, currently without a title and known simply as "My Cassandra WIP", features all three of the characters from the short story and the purple hearse as well, but in a slightly less terrifying story. The short story also inspired my very first Middle Grade WIP, a ghost story about summer camp on the shore of Arrowhead Lake and the desperate ghost of iron miner Otto Jarvi and his long-drowned daughter Lucia. In this book, the Ouija board and its frightening messages make another appearance.
I'm very excited about both WIPs, so I thought I'd share the story that started it all. It's 499 words, including the title.
“Put out the light, and then put out the light…”
“I thought a hearse would be appropriate.” Kayla slaps the handmade invitation down on my desk and peers into her compact, adding another layer of black eyeliner. “You’d better come.”
“You’d better pass.” I pick at my nail polish. Kayla’s birthday is on Halloween, and tonight will be the first year that one of us can drive. If she doesn’t screw it up.
“You’d better bring the Ouija board.”
I look at the little hearse. Perfect. “Séance in the grocery getter?” I say. Kayla’s driving her mom’s old station wagon.
She laughs. “Drew is going to piss her pants.” It’s true, but Drew’s like that. She’ll dress up in a princess costume so she doesn’t scare the crap out of herself.
“Be ready at eight,” Kayla says. “Plath’s Lookout.”
Last winter a car full of kids skidded off the edge of a hairpin curve driving down from the Lookout. Six dead. We’re hoping they’ll talk.
“You’d better be driving,” I say.
Drew squeezes closer to me, and the sharp point of her glittery pink wing stabs me in the neck. “God, Drew. I’ll be bleeding for real. Relax. It’s a toy. Look.” I hold up the little piece of triangular plastic.
“Cassandra, stop!” Drew snatches the planchette out of my hand and slaps it back on the ouija board. “We didn’t say goodbye. The spirit could escape!”
Kayla and I exchange a glance, but we touch our fingers back to the planchette and slide it across the word “Goodbye”. Halfway through, the little triangle jerks away, and my fingers almost slip off. “Kayla, stop it. You’re freaking Drew out.”
“I’m not doing it.”
I look at her face to be sure, but I can tell by her voice she’s not kidding. The planchette swings in erratic circles around the board, and then it settles on a rapid succession of three letters.
D-I-E! D-I-E! D-I-E!
Drew whimpers. The air in the back of the wagon grows colder; the two candles are flickering. My eyes are drawn to the little paper hearse Kayla taped to the window. “Live it up,” says the invitation.
When I’m scared I get reckless. “You’re not real,” I say. “You can’t kill us. You can’t even blow out our candles.”
D-I-E! The triangle flies across the board.
“Blow out the candles, if you’re so powerful! Put out the light! You can’t even do that!”
“Cassandra!” Drew screams and grabs my arm. “GOODBYE!”
We wrestle the planchette across the word, and it falls silent and dead. We stare at it.
“It’s just a toy,” I say.
“Let’s get out of here,” says Kayla. She climbs up to the driver’s seat and starts the engine, spinning the tires in her haste.
“Be careful,” Drew gasps, reaching for her seatbelt. “The curve--”
We’re going too fast. The corner ahead, the abyss beyond--nothingness lit up by our headlights.
“DIE!” screams Drew.
The headlights go out.