Welcome to Creepy Camp Fire Tales
A monthly blog series.
This month's offering is from my good friend and awesome
thriller, paranormal & horror writer,
Her story is so chilling the heat
from the fire will do nothing to
warm your trembling bones...
Okay, so you guys know that diner off Route 9, right?
Well, that’s where I work and that’s where I overheard this conversation and the things that followed. I’m not sure what–I don’t know, but just listen to what I have to say, okay?
Two friends sat in the corner booth, arguing over a photograph. I’d seen them before–Lewis and Jimmy met every day for lunch and they couldn’t have been more poorly matched. Lewis in his three-piece suit and Jimmy in his oil-stained overalls and two-days’ worth of stubble on his jaw. But they had the ease of a long friendship, always laughing and poking fun so to hell with appearances, right?
Until the day Lewis brought in the picture.
It was an eight-by-ten, black and white from what I could see and when he showed it to Jimmy, he went white. Of course, I was instantly intrigued and tried to nonchalantly see what the photo entailed as I placed their lunch orders in front of them. But the angle was bad and I couldn’t get a good view without being obvious. So I was relegated to simple eavesdropping. From there, I listened to their conversation descend into an argument.
“-telling you, it’s only a picture. What’s the big deal?”
Jimmy shook his head. “If it’s only a picture, why are you showing it to me?”
“Because you grew up in the house across the street from here, that’s why.”
Lewis stabbed a finger into the photo that now lay flat against the table. Jimmy kept his gaze averted. His face was still white, his teeth digging into his bottom lip.
“Where did you get this anyway?” he asked.
“I found it.”
“Where?” Jimmy insisted.
“It’s not important. Now are you coming with me or not?”
“Don’t,” he said, the word almost a shout.
It drew the attention of people sitting nearby. Jimmy wiped a hand over his mouth then leaned forward, his eyes drilling into his friend’s face.
“Don’t do it, man. Don’t.”
“You know why. You know the stories.”
Lewis grinned. “Yeah, stories from when you were a kid, Jimmy and now, here you are as an adult and you’re telling me you still believe them?” Jimmy’s silence was answer enough.
Lewis shook his head in disbelief. “Come on, man.”
“They were never found, Lewis,” Jimmy hissed.
That seemed to give his friend some pause. “Who wasn’t?”
“Everyone. Anyone. Whoever was dumb enough to go inside that house.”
Lewis still looked skeptical.
“Whole families, Lewis. Gone. It’s been happening for nearly fifty years. Maybe more.”
“Okay, so why is the house still standing? If it’s so bad, why hasn’t anyone bulldozed it to the ground? Covered it in salt, performed an exorcism or whatever?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, clearly it didn’t work.” Lewis put down his coffee cup. “Look, buddy, you sound ridiculous. No offense or anything but really, you do.”
“Yeah, well, no offense but you’re an idiot.”
Jimmy slid out of the booth, threw some money on the table and walked out. Lewis scrambled after him.
“Jimmy! Hey, man, come on, wait up.”
The bell above the door jingled behind them. I cleared their table, irritated that all of this had transpired and I was no closer to finding out what was going on.
Neither Jimmy nor Lewis came in for the rest of the week.
The following week, I didn’t see them either.
The week after that, the corner booth remained empty.
I began to quietly panic.
Almost two months went by before Jimmy walked through the door. He shuffled, moving like an old man crippled with arthritis, towards the corner booth. He stared at it for a moment before sliding into the seat. He ordered coffee, no lunch and stared out the window.
Lewis never showed.
After several days of the same, I finally conjured up the nerve to ask Jimmy where his friend was. Jimmy didn’t look at me. In fact, I wasn’t sure if he’d heard me. I drew in a breath to ask him again when he finally said in a voice that was broken and raw.
“I told him not to go.”
I stared down at him, feeling a small thrill go through me. Maybe now I’ll be able to find out what-–
"He didn’t listen,” Jimmy went on, his fingers flexing against the table top. “He wanted to go inside, to go…I tried to tell him.”
His voice trailed off. I sat down across from him. “What? What did you try to tell him?” I asked quietly.
Finally, Jimmy’s eyes came away from the window and locked onto mine. I couldn’t stop the shiver that went through me when I saw his face. Drawn, pale and seeped in sadness.
God, I thought. Was Lewis–Was Lewis…dead?
I struggled for a tactful way to ask but then Jimmy was pulling something out of his pocket. He unfolded it and pressed it to the table. His fingers trembled.
I looked down and saw that it was the picture. Trying not to seem too eager, I slid forward, craning my neck. He paused for a moment then turned the picture to face me. I reached for it.
“Don’t,” he ordered.
I snatched my hands back.
“Just look,” he said.
The picture wavered slightly, his grip unsteady. My eyes adjusted to what I was seeing.
A hearth, black with soot. So black it was like a hole that fell into nothing. The floor in front of it showed a black smear that could’ve led to or from the hearth. It was impossible to tell.
Something going in or something coming out?
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I leaned closer, so close, my nose almost touched the surface of the photograph because…because there was something else…within the fireplace. It was an outline, so faint and hazy, I wasn’t sure if it was even there. Perhaps a trick of light?
It hovered just outside my range of vision like a creature swimming below your boat on a dark lake. You couldn’t see it but you knew it was there.
With sudden clarity, I knew it was a face.
A face that stared out from all that darkness. I squinted so hard, my head began to pound.
“Do you see it?” Jimmy asked suddenly, drawing my attention away from the picture. “You see it, right?”
“I–I’m not sure.”
He snapped the picture down as if I’d somehow disappointed him. With quick movements, he folded it and returned it to his pocket. He made to stand up. I stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“What happened to your friend?”
Jimmy got to his feet. He wavered for a moment as if trying to catch his balance.
“Everyone thinks he ran off with an old girlfriend.” He closed his eyes. When he opened them, they were red and glassy. I grabbed a napkin and held it out to him. He didn’t take it.
“What do you think?” I asked carefully. “Do you think he’s-”
I couldn’t even bring myself to say it. It was completely insane but the look in Jimmy’s eyes...…
“I tried to tell him,” he said again. “I tried but he…” he sucked in a deep breath. “I was in that house once when I was a kid. It’d been abandoned, the family just…up and moved during the night, left behind all their furniture, all their clothes, dishes, everything. Didn’t bother locking up the place either so my friends and I, we just…went in. Decided to play hide-and-seek…”
He stopped, swallowing hard enough to hurt then continued in a trembling voice,
“I was in that room, with the fireplace. I remember thinking I should hide under the bed but that was always the first place people look. So I ducked into the fireplace. The back wall was…I remember not really being able to find it. It just seemed to…go on and on, like a tunnel or something. And then I heard it.”
I had to clear my throat a few times to get my voice to work. “Heard what?”
“This…scuttling sound. At first, I thought it was me. I was shifting around, trying to get comfortable but…it was coming from behind me, echoing but then closer. I kind of…froze. I was confused at first but then I saw it.”
He stopped like he was seeing it all over again. I could feel my mouth slowly slackening in disbelief. His voice dropped to a croak.
“This faint shadow just beyond where the light reached. It was almost…fluid-like, moving from one side to the other, I don’t know–I don’t know what it was, if it was anything. It could’ve been my imagination. Tried to tell myself that for years but–but it wasn’t possible. Not with all the stories surrounding that place and all the people who’ve disappeared. Something was there. It lives there.”
By then, my jaw was in my lap. He was pulling my leg. He had to be. Nonetheless, I asked,
“What–What happened then?”
“I–I think it rushed me. I’m not–I didn’t see it but it felt like it, like a displacement of air, you know?”
I nodded even though I had no idea what he meant.
“I got out of there so fast. I’d never been so terrified in my life. I didn’t stop running until I got home and it was only then that I noticed my leg bleeding. I had puncture wounds, five of them, like–like something had grabbed me, tried to stop me from leaving.”
He pulled his pant leg up and I could see the scars on his calf. Half-moon shapes, like fingernails.
“Lewis didn’t believe me. He wanted to see it for himself.” A tear trickled from his eye. “I’m sure it was the last thing he saw.”
I never saw Jimmy again after that. I heard he’d moved out west. I might’ve believed that if he’d left a forwarding address. But he hadn’t and I worry that maybe he never made it out there at all.
LIGHTS OUT by Melissa Groeling is a gritty, edge of your seat thriller. I loved it!! Seriously - click here for my review. **Not for the faint of heart...
Even when the lights are out, he can still see you…
Paul Holten’s profession doesn’t leave much room for doubt or conscience but he’s reaching his breaking point. The nightmares are getting worse, the jobs are getting harder to finish and the volatile relationship with his boss, Aaron, is
falling apart. Now faced with the possibility of an impending death sentence, Paul makes the fatal decision to run. Drawn into one hellish situation after another, he’s forced to confront his dark past---and wonder if perhaps dying isn’t the better option.
Grab your copy of LIGHTS OUT here:
Stalk Melissa here:
Melissa Groeling is a fiery redhead who grew up in New Jersey and now resides in the City of Brotherly Love. Only after she graduated from Bloomsburg University did she start to take her writing seriously. She’s a diehard New York Giants fan, loves chocolate and stalks cupcakes. Traffic Jam is her first young adult novel. Lights Out is her first dip into adult fiction. Her work also appears in the Women of Horror Annual Anthology and the Naughty Bedtime Stories Anthology: Four You.