WELCOME TO THE 13 DAYS OF HORROR –
It’s Samhain, the end harvest of 13 excellent tales of terror that have spun us to the middle of the web. At the heart of this horror festival is one writer whose talent is truly frightful and inspiring at the same time. She’s been published on Yellow Mama(Hollow Secrets), Flashes in the Dark (Creepy Crawly and The Next Step), Full of Crow, Six Sentences, The Absent Willow Review, and more, with her latest release at The New Flesh, Rigged. With a flair for smooth dialogue, convincing elements of fantasy, and original story lines, all written into a sharp, clean style, I know this cool lady could write herself out of exile if she were in Timbuktu.
I’m pleased to announce my next and last guest in the 13 Days of Horror, the fabulous writer of mysteries deep, Jodi MacArthur and her eerie tale, Lovely Creature.
by Jodi MacArthur
Janks snatched Charissa around the waist and pulled her against his open locker. “I need some of your expertise.”
She clutched her books to her chest and twirled around to face him. He could tell by the flirtatious set of her mouth, he’d get his way. Her friends laughed and kept walking. They envied her, and everyone knew Charissa liked to be envied.
Charissa giggled and pushed his hands off her waist. She flipped her hair over a darkly mascara-ed eye. “What do you need my expertise in?”
He put his arm up on the side of the locker door, closing her in, and turned on the charm. “ Aren’t you looking hot today, Chrissi.”
“Come on, really. I know that isn’t what you were going to ask…” Charissa flipped her hair again. The smell of hairspray filled the air.
Flashing a smile, he said, “What’s up with all these ribbons you girls are wearing?” He fingered the red silk around her neck.
Charissa rolled her eyes and swatted his hand. “Is that all captain of the football team needs my expertise for?”
“Well,” he hesitated, the thought of being with Charissa honestly made him want to puke. Her face was orange cake, a mixture of fake bake tanning and easy breezy girl makeup. There wasn’t any ice cream sweet enough for him to want taste that. “That and… more.” He smiled.
She smiled back. “White ribbon for innocence, Pink for crush, Blue for spirit – go Finches!, Yellow for peace, and Red for love. Do you notice the color I’m wearing, Janks?”
“What about black?”
“I guess black would stand for death…or perhaps,” she made large skeleton eyes at him, “the un-death.” Janks thought she could wear herself as a Halloween costume and win first place at the masquerade dance next week.
He thought about Briar when he first saw her in the coffee shop, the black velvet adorning her pale skin. The ribbon held a silver locket in the shape of a heart. He supposed it held a picture of someone special. Perhaps a boyfriend she’d left behind? She’d just moved to town the week before. Didn’t seem to hit it off with the local kids. He had a feeling that it wasn’t unusual.
“Janks? I can so read your mind. Get it out of the gutter.”
“Wha-“ He realized he’d been staring at her chest. Oh, this was bad.
“Although,” she ran a manicured finger up his ribs and around his shoulder, “I wouldn’t mind after the masquerade ball next week. That is, if you ask me.”
He raised his eyebrows and before he could squeak out an excuse the school bell rang.
She said, “Think about it.” Kissed her finger, placed it on his lips, and strutted off.
Straggler sophomores hurried down the halls. Janks grabbed his geometry book, slammed the door, locked it, turned…and there she was. Briar Vaile walking in that quiet, ghostly way she had about her.
Her black hair tapered from her chin into a vivid v down her slender frame. He looked for the ribbon. It stretched across her throat like a scar, slender and thin. The silver heart sat at the base of her collarbone. He didn’t know why he felt so obsessed over it or her for that matter. She stopped at the water fountain to drink. Janks sidled up beside her.
“Hi,” he said watching Briar wipe a water drop from her lower lip. The locket quivered. He thought he heard it jingle. Briar didn’t say hello in return – didn’t say anything. She just stood there.
“Um, you’re new right?” That was stupid, he thought as soon as he said it.
With the faintest hint of a smile, Briar turned and walked away.
Janks caught up. “Well, I guess that’s obvious, huh? What I meant to say is…” Janks was baffled. He’d never been treated this way before.
She kept walking. Her slight slip of a dress rustled as she moved. He grabbed her arm gently, “Hey.”
The hallways were empty now. A light whisper flitted down the hall as a door closed.
Briar stopped. “What is it?” Her shy voice was gentle and if she was annoyed, she didn’t show it.
“I was…wondering if you’d go to the Masquerade Ball with me next week?” There, he’d said it. He said what he’d really been thinking since he’d spied her at the coffee shop two weeks earlier.
Her hazel eyes darted at the clock high up on the wall, then met his. “Okay.”
“Okay? I mean. Alright. Cool.”
Their eyes met briefly. A rush of heat stirred him. “You live in that old Victorian on Opera alley, right?”
Briar looked away and rushed off down the hall. He let her go, happy to get a yes.
“Two days before the dance and you still haven’t asked me. What’s up with you and that Briar girl anyway?”
Janks bit into his apple and shrugged. He watched Briar from across the lunchroom tables. The tiny heart jangled at her throat as she looked up and met his eyes; he swore she smiled before returning to the book she was reading. Since when did black ribbons mean death? He Googled it, Wikied it, hadn’t come up with anything, yet Charissa’s guess seemed right, felt right. A story he heard when he was sophomore probed his mind, just out of reach.
“She’s so lame, Janks. Never date a bookworm. Boring,” said Charissa.
Janks took another bite.
“Look,” Charissa’s voice rose to near panic. “I wore red for you. Doesn’t that matter? I wore this stupid red ribbon to show I was in love and you just ignore me. What don’t I got that she does?”
Janks felt a twinge of guilt and set his apple down. He had been leading her on after all, but that was before Briar. Mostly.
“Charissa, you’re a nice girl…”
“On no, you are not going to feed me that nice personality B.S. Na uh…” Charissa turned to stomp off. Then froze. Squinted in Briar’s direction. “Hey, I know why you asked me about the ribbons before…”
Janks looked away.
“Briar’s wearing a black one, huh? You weren’t interested in me, you were pumping me for information so you could find out about her!”
Janks sighed and looked at Charissa. He nodded.
She picked up his half eaten apple and threw it against the cafeteria wall. It made a loud smack, but no one paid attention. Picking up her tray she said, “I’ll get you for this Janks.”
Janks sighed and hoped she got a fake eyelash stuck in her eye. There was nothing Charissa Harris could do to ruin his life. Briar was going with him to the Masquerade Ball and perhaps she’d even share her little secret about the ribbon and the locket.
He rang the rusty doorbell. No buzz. He knocked. Silence. Stained glass windows flanked the door; all the lights were out. He hoped she was home. He knocked harder, then heard soft footsteps fall on creaky stairs. He held the corsage box nervously in one hand.
The door opened. Janks was taken by the lovely creature. She wore a black and white pinstripe dress pooling out at the bottom. Red ribbons criss-crossed a black corset showing a hint of cleavage. Long dark hair spun into curls and loosely piled on top her head. Her face was painted white, while three little hearts adorned one cheek. She held a sparkly black mask to her eyes.
“Wow.” She was enchanting, intriguing and her entire costume seemed to only accentuate the black ribbon tied to her throat.
Her red glossy lips smiled. “We match.”
He wore a black and white pinstripe suit as well with a skull as a mask. He held out the corsage he had searched everywhere for, and finally had to ask a florist to paint.
“They’re beautiful, Janks.”
He slipped it over her wrist. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw tears in her eyes.
The night smelled of pumpkin spice and magic. He started the car and finally decided he couldn’t resist asking. “I’ve noticed the ribbon you wear. It’s lovely.”
“It must be special, I see you wear it all the time.”
“Yes, its sort of a family hand me down. My mother gave it to me when I was born, the same as my grandmother had done to her.”
Strange. “From the time you born?”
“Tradition?” Janks asked.
“Why black I wonder?” The words slipped out before he could stop himself.
“Death,” she said simply.
“What is that suppose to mean?”
Briar clamped her mouth closed and looked out the window. Then she said quietly, “It’s a secret.”
“What about the locket? Is that a secret too?”
Briar held it between her fingers and shook it. It jingled.
“So I will remember,” said Briar.
They swirled across the floor to wicked Halloween music. Charissa, dressed as a red she devil, had been eyeing them all evening. Janks didn’t have a good feeling about it.
She was harmless, at least he hoped. When Charissa grabbed the nearest ghoul and sweet talked him into dancing close to he and Briar, Janks began to worry.
“What’s wrong?” asked Briar.
“Nothing,” Janks said.
“Listen, I feel like I owe you an answer about the ribbon. You’ve been looking at it ever since we met. I’ve never told anyone before. I’ve never really had a friend before…”
Janks attention was drawn from Charissa and back to Briar. Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper played over the sound system. Janks and Briar danced close to a standstill.
He watched the heart rise and fall with her breath. “I promise to keep it a secret.”
“Well, you see,” Briar hesitated, “if one were to-“
Charissa bumped against Briar pushing her into Janks.
“Watch it!” he called out.
“Woops,” Charissa shrugged her red devil shoulders and kept dancing with the ghoul guy.
Janks bent toward Briar’s ear so she could hear him above the music and whispered, “You were saying…”
He felt Briar’s frame melt into him and she whispered back, “If one were to untie the ribbon…”
Suddenly, there was a push from behind Briar, then a pulling. Briar clasped her throat and looked to Janks in horror.
“I have your ribbon now, Briar. Who’s the looser, huh? Who’s the looser- “Charissa broke off into a shrill high pitched scream as Briar’s lovely head rolled from her throat and onto the dance floor.
Charissa tossed the black ribbon in the air, the locket flashed in the strobe light, then was lost amongst the shrieking and trampling feet of devils, ghouls, and masqueraded faces.
Janks held a headless corpse in his arms. Her last words echoing in his mind, then filling in the blanks.
If one were to untie the ribbon…
Jodi MacArthur blogs here: Fiction Writer ~ Jodi MacArthur