Smoke… Fire

For Fandango’s Story Starter #11, where we build something around the following phrase:

Peeking through the window, her surprise turned to horror when…

“… and to this day, that girl has never been seen again.”

The children gasped in shock. There were six of them that night, gathered at their favourite meeting place, the swings on the recreation ground. After dark, there wasn’t much else to do, and the younger children hung onto every one of Tommy’s words.

And Tommy looked the part, a paraffin lantern held underneath his chin, casting eerie shadows over the group as its flame ebbed and flowed.

“Are you sure, Tommy?”, asked one of the children, a terrified look on her face. “Does he really chop up little girls, and eat them?”

“I’m telling you, Clarissa, don’t you be going up near Mr Gruber’s place after dark, or you’ll be finding out.”

An older girl gave a sceptical huff. Annie had just moved into the area and had not long joined their band. The tone of her voice made it clear that she was unimpressed by Tommy’s tall tales, which were designed solely to strike fear into the youngsters.

“Don’t be teasing her, Tommy. You know you’re only trying to scare them.”

“Hey, Annie, you’re new to this area. If you don’t believe me, go take a look for yourself. I dare you!”

There, Tommy had played his joker. If Annie did not take up the challenge, then as a new girl, her cred would be zero. She realised, too late, that she had been backed into a corner.

“Don’t be stupid, Tommy, you know there is nothing up there. But I’ll show you. I’ll go to Mr. Gruber’s place, and I’ll prove to you there’s nothing scary up there. Then you’ll be sorry, because then nobody will ever listen to your silly, made-up stories, ever again.”

A short while later, the children were standing outside Gruber’s house, which lay still, in complete darkness.

“There, I told you”, whispered Annie. “There’s nothing to see up here. You’re a liar, Tommy Lawton, and now everyone knows it.”

“You’re not done yet, Annie Truman. Go into the garden and walk right around the house. When you get back here, then you can call me a liar!”

Annie weighed up her options. The house was in darkness, so there seemed little risk. Nobody was home. So, she agreed, and stealthily walked through the gate, to within six feet of the house. Everything seemed quiet, but all the same, she was not supposed to be trespassing in a neighbour’s garden. She’d be in big trouble if anyone caught her. Creeping forward, she almost jumped out of her skin when she heard a hoot.

Oh my god, she thought, that came straight from the house, as she instinctively ducked to avoid the owl, which she was convinced was flying straight at her. She crouched silently for a full two minutes, before one of the children hissed, “what’s the matter? Are you chicken?”

Convinced that any immediate danger had passed, Annie started to move, but more timidly than she had before. She got a quarter-way around, the children were no longer in sight, then halfway. Everywhere, the house was dark and silent, although she kept her distance, just to be safe.

 At three quarters, she came upon a small window and her curiosity finally overcame her.

But instead of darkness, this time, she saw a room, lit dimly by candles to show… was that some kind of altar? She saw five or six robed people, standing in a semi-circle, and there, in the centre, was Mr Gruber. Through the pane, she could just about make out the chanting. Then… it looked like somebody, a young girl, was hog-tied, bound hand and foot, and gagged. Annie could see the terror, though, in the girl’s eyes.

Peeking through the window, her surprise turned to horror when she saw the glint of the candlelight and heard the heavy thud as Mr Gruber quickly brought the cleaver down on his captive’s neck.


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