These are the most testing times the human race have faced since World War II. This time the enemy is unseen, an enemy so powerful it’s forcing many of us to retreat back into our houses. It’s here that people will try to continue to live as normal a life as they can and it’s here that the wonderful art of storytelling may blossom. Be it, young children sitting in front of a parent, or a person sadly on their own listening to the radio, stories will be spread and remembered, to be told to future generations once this horrible virus has faded.
I wanted to be able to share some stories with the fiends of Kendall Reviews, stories to help people get through these difficult times.
I’m incredibly proud of the talented people that contribute to Kendall Reviews. Four members of Team KR have worked together to bring you a chilling Isolation Tale.
So, sit back and let Miranda, Fiona, Michelle and Silvia tell you a story.
The House Of Bones
Silvia Brown, Miranda Crites, Fiona Dodwell, Michelle Enelen
The wind had picked up to a nearly howling speed. Sleet pelted against the windows, waking Sombra in her sleeping bag on the dusty hardwood floor. Reaching for her phone to see what time it was, she quickly remembered where she was when her arm protested with pins and needles. Her entire body ached.
Once blood flow was restored to her tingling limb, she picked up her phone and saw it was slightly after 5:00 a.m. She had finally fallen asleep only a couple hours before.
“Enough of this,” she mumbled to herself and got up to turn on her battery-powered lantern.
Sombra had signed the final paperwork for the house only the day before. It felt good to hold the keys in her hand, to actually own her home. She couldn’t stop smiling. She had stopped to pick up some supplies from a sporting goods store and then at a grocery store for some non-perishables before filling up her Tahoe’s gas tank and heading out on the three-hour journey to her new home for the very first time.
She’d bought the house sight unseen. The few online photos showed an old, sad-looking, white house with a wraparound porch. It was supposed to be in decent shape, meaning the roof didn’t leak and the foundation was sound. The steps needed replacing, and it required painting inside and out. The house had previously caught fire in the kitchen and had been boarded up afterwards. It would definitely need all new appliances, and the exterior wall would need to be properly repaired, but the two biggest concerns were the plumbing and wiring. When Sombra had called Elk River Power to see about getting the electric turned on before her arrival, Robert Gulf, the man who had answered, nearly laughed at her. After telling Mr. Gulf she had purchased the house, he opened up and told her a little about the house’s history.
“Do you know how long it will be until I can get an electrician to inspect it, then?” she had asked.
“Well, Miss, it’s a little more complicated than that,” Robert had begun. “There was a small kitchen fire when it was still in the Town’s hands – it used to be a halfway house before they got the new building. They were in the process of moving when it happened, and the repairs were overlooked. Not long after it caught fire, scavengers made their way in through the hole in the kitchen wall. Some were homeless and stayed there awhile. Then, they started to rip out the wiring and copper plumbing to sell for dope money. Toby from over at the recycling place is the Sheriff’s brother-in-law, and they were talking one evening and put two and two together. Sheriff Crates went over to check out the house later that week, and sure enough, Toby had been right. Wally, that’s the sheriff, arrested the squatters, and had a couple guys from the Town of Barton to get some materials and seal the hole. But the damage was done, Miss, and it’ll take a good chunk of change and some time to get it all back up to code, I’m afraid.”
That had been disappointing, but Sombra was determined to make this work. She thought it would be a little like camping, and it had been too long since she’d been on a camping trip.
It was early, but she decided to get the day started. She lit her small camp stove, poured some bottled water into her kettle, and dug through one of the boxes she’d brought inside yesterday evening in search of her instant coffee and powdered creamer.
She didn’t notice the tall figure standing in the shadows.
He watched her doctor up the instant penance, that’s what the shrink used to call it, his state-appointed doc was an iced Caffe Mocha Trenta sort and snorted his dislike for the cheap coffee supplied by NAMI. Penance he’d moan I’m doing my share by helping these fortunates. I shouldn’t have to be tortured too! Nobody knew he was taking his pound of flesh from everyone he “helped”. Nobody except the patients and who would believe them? These thoughts were provoked by the smell of her coffee. Cheap or not, he wished he could taste it. He’d drink it right out of her mouth. Best to keep hidden for now. Something he was good at, that’s how he’d found out she was now the owner of his home.
She drank it down hot and kept the kettle going knowing she’d need the jolt to get through today. The electrician hadn’t exaggerated. She’d be living this camp lifestyle into fall, hopefully not longer. She was determined, but not foolish enough to think she’d stay through winter with no heat. At least it was the tail-end of freezing season. Though she wished she’d checked out the place first-hand, it still held charm. The best part was no-one knew where she was, and no-one here knew who she was. Starting over in a house of bones; luckily, they were good bones. The structure was intact. The strays had begun taking out the copper using whatever they could find, junkies weren’t known for keeping adequate tool bags together. The framing had survived their pilfering. Right now, that was her strength, she decided to tackle the main floor and work her way up. Worrying about the cellar would be a long way off unless she heard too many scrabbling feet. She said as much to the darkness as she peered down the stairs.
Don’t worry about that he thought, still watching her, everything down there is dead.
She went outside to relieve herself of that first cup of coffee; he took a swig of the lukewarm dregs then stole upstairs knowing he could watch her from sporadic holes in the flooring. It had been a drifter’s haven for some time now, the authorities would likely wash their hands of this place now that it had an owner. He didn’t want to leave this place, nowhere else to go. They’d questioned him once about the missing psychiatrist, but the man had so many clients, both state-assigned and the moneyed honey’s that paid his bills. The theory was that a cuckold husband had finally realized he wasn’t the only one supporting a lover and had found a way to take the problem out of the equation. A quiet man hears a lot.
Sombra stretched, watching the sun through the grimy glass, she’d venture outside today only when necessary. It was going to be a cold one. She’d start by cleaning out all the trash. When Robert mentioned drugs and squatters, she’d gotten herself a pair of thick leather gloves to layer with the long rubber ones. Better to be prepared for needles and broken bottles, tough or not she loathed being stabbed by doctors and wanted to avoid the tetanus shot. In her opinion doctors had too much in common with willful teenagers, their handwriting was chicken-scratch, and their descriptions were less than honest. A little pinch, a little sting would mean whatever they were doing was gonna hurt like Hell.
Soon she’d need to venture out for more fuel. The batteries she’d brought would be sucked up too soon and experience had taught her that such necessities were always more expensive the further from the city you went. Thinking ahead, she’d sunk a little money into a gas generator, but traveling light (everything she now owned) hadn’t left room for extra fuel. The closest town, Barton was still forty-five minutes away, she hadn’t slept well enough to feel safe driving through the frigid howler and didn’t trust herself not to slip up if someone asked where she was from. She’d get used to it though, she’d better. And fast. For now, concentrate on cleaning while wishing she had some music to get her through. Maybe tomorrow. For now, she’d whistle or sing whatever it was those fairy tales claimed got you through the work. Maybe it was a spoonful of sugar? Well, she still had a couple mason jars of Kilju stashed and that definitely counted as sugar. After she picked up her fuel she’d celebrate with a few nips, it might even help her get a little more sleep tonight.
He watched her through the morning, first with disdain (she was taking his home!) then with curiosity and a growing admiration. She was stronger and more determined than any other woman he’d known. Too bad the doctor hadn’t met up with her! She may have been able to save some of his patients from the brutality of his “experiments”. The screaming would never leave his mind. They were a long way out from anything resembling a town – exactly what the doctor had wanted. Since they were voluntary patients on the state’s dime, no-one really cared when they dropped off the sign-in sheets. No one paid attention to the trips he took them on or checked for their return. In fact, no one really paid attention to much of anything the doctor did. That’s how he got away with it so often. The quiet man towered above him, making an imposing target. He liked them easy, so he hadn’t even tried, but he had taken liberties with people the tall man considered friends. It took a while to track the doctor, when he finally found the house in the woods, he didn’t know what to do. There was no turning the bastard in. A man of good standing, a community leader especially one that charitably gives his time and expertise to the indigent must be a saint. The tall man was nobody. A drifter with a different story for each person that questioned him. A ward of the state since childhood was all anyone knew for certain. Too tall, too quiet, and stared too intensely for anyone’s comfort. They left him alone. That was how he came to call this place home. He and the house were invisible to most people. He liked that just fine. Could’ve stayed that way too. Even the squatters had left him alone, but now a woman had moved herself into his sanctuary. He didn’t want to hurt her, but he had no other place to go. Not one to rush, he decided to watch her for a season. According to her and the condition of the house, he had time.
Sombra shifted uneasily beneath her sleeping bag, the coldness of the house seeping over her skin. She shivered. It was late – probably after 2 a.m. now – and she’d been trying to sleep since she’d crawled into her makeshift bedroom a few hours earlier. Had this whole thing been an incredible mistake after all? Could she really imagine herself camping in an empty, old, and freezing cold building for several more weeks like this? At first she had felt attracted to the idea (excited, even) – not least because it served as an escape from her life (and relationships) where everything had become such an awful, nightmarish mess – but also because there was something so alluring to the idea of starting over. A new chapter. People often, at least it seemed to her, acted as if the life they were in was unchangeable. What crap that was. Nothing was too late until the end, that’s the truth that Sombra held onto.
As she lay there, twisting herself inside the sleeping bag, she winced. Her whole body ached, especially her back and upper arms. She’d spent the day sorting through some of the heavy boxes she’d brought with her, unpacking messily as she went along, and she’d begun organising the few bits of furniture she’d managed to fit in her vehicle. She’d made a start on cleaning some of the dusty, grimy rooms and had even started to clear some of the junk and overgrown mess in the garden to the rear of the property. After a few hours on those jobs, a lengthy trip into town to collect more fuel, she had decided to call it a day. Those were the types of tasks she could get on with without electricity – it wasn’t much, but it had kept her busy, at least, in the yawning silence of the sprawling property. Now, though, she ached, and the cold was stopping her from getting some much-needed rest.
Sombra sighed heavily. She turned from her side and onto her back, then opened her eyes. The dark room around her was a patchwork of indiscernible shadows and shapes. She peered over to the window that faced in and she inwardly shrank inside of herself: she hated that she hadn’t been able to put up a curtain there yet. It felt to her as if she was being watched, even though there was nothing there. It made her feel exposed, somehow, like easy prey to whatever might lurk out there in the night.
Pulling her eyes away from the exposed window, she yawned and sat up, shuffling her slim frame from out of the confines of the sleeping bag. She was giving up on sleep – for now. She slipped out of it, standing up slowly, and then pulled on her heavy, black jumper that she had left lying on the dusty floor beside her. She yanked it on, over the thick, winter pajamas she was wearing, and then just as she was about to reach for her flask, she heard a noise.
A movement. Like somebody had taken a step inside the house.
Sombra froze. Every inch of her body instantly felt taut.
What the hell? she thought to herself. Could it just be an animal that had gotten in from her jungle-mess of a yard out there? What kinds of animals were in this kind of landscape, she wondered?
Before she could even think anything further, another noise. The tiniest squeak, a slight movement – barely audible, but certainly there. Any movement was easy to capture in the silence of the house. Something moved inside the house with her. It sounded close. Too close.
Sombra looked around for something to grab; she wanted to feel like she had something to protect herself with, but it was too dark. Far too dark to even see where she’d left the tools. She needed to put her torch on to find where she’d left them… If there was anybody around, that would alert them to exactly where she was – was putting the light on a bad idea?
She inhaled deeply. Shit. This had to be her mind working overtime. No one was around this place for miles. Nobody. That’s why she chose it! It had to be some kind of animal. She was letting her imagination get the better of her…it wasn’t like her at all. Perhaps it was the isolation of the place twisting her into believing things that were surely not possible?
Thump. Creak. Shuffle.
Sombra let out an involuntary yelp and stepped back from the open doorway of the room she was standing in. She narrowed her eyes, staring at the wide door frame, her hands tightened into fists. She tried to see if there was any movement, but it was so dark, she could barely see her hands in front of her face. Damn it, I need my torch! Her face contorted in fear, Sombra did the only thing she knew how to: sound strong. Pretend you’re strong. Fake it til you make it.
“Is there somebody out there? Is somebody messing with me because I will call the fucking cops if -” Her voice fell to silence as a small figure stepped into view in the open doorway. It was hard to see in any detail, but Sombra could just about tell that it was a petite female form, a girl with long hair, wearing something long and white. A nightgown?
“I knew it!” she said, the girl’s voice sounding excited. “I knew our house was haunted!”
Sombra recoiled, taking a step back. Even though the place had felt cold to her before, there was now an unnatural chill in the air. “What the hell – what – who the hell are you?”
The girl took a slow step toward Sombra. “It’s okay,” she said softly. “I knew when mum and dad bought this house that there was something to it… some kind of weird energy… I mean, I knew the stories, obviously… about the fact that this place used to be a half-way house, and a couple of years ago, a young woman moved in here to try to escape her past or whatever… and anyway, she was killed by some kind of mad guy who was spying on her from inside the house… I mean, I knew this place had some energy. I knew you were stuck here. I was waiting for the chance to help you.”
Sombra cleared her throat and laughed. It was a humorless, dry laugh. “I don’t know who the hell you are, or why you are standing in my house in the middle of the night, but you need to get out right now, or I will -” Sombra swallowed and fell quiet.
Despite the fact that the young girl had sounded insane, something about what she said prickled at her memories. How long had she been in the house, exactly? One day? Two days? Two years? What was that about a guy hiding in the house, spying on her? A chill enveloped Sombra and she stood still, a deep fear invading her very being.
“It’s okay,” the young girl said. “Most people who die a violent death get trapped and keep living the same thing over and over. You keep waking up, and you think you have to do this house up. The house doesn’t look like that anymore, it’s just you can only see it through your own memories…I can help you move on. Nanna said I have a gift for it.”
“I – wait… I don’t understand….” Sombra didn’t even recognise her own voice.
“A man watched you from the shadows when you moved in all that time ago, and after a while, he gave in to his urges. He was a murderer – he killed people. He tried to resist his instinct, but he was insane. He killed you one night whilst you were resting in your sleeping bag. I’m sorry. You’ve been waking up in this house every day since, still believing you’ve just moved in. But it’s my house now, my family lives here”
Sombra opened her mouth wide, a terrible scream escaped it.
Sombra’s scream echoed throughout the old building, causing the witnesses to her realisation to take a step back. Their fear pulsing ahead of her as the vibration in her throat tore through her self-imposed veil of ignorance. Repressed memories flooding back to her mind while she froze unable to cope with the details she had fought to erase.
The clammy feeling of hands on her neck, the reek of breath, too close to bear. Yet there was something else. Perfume. A whiff of a familiar fragrance, soft hands, and the sharpness of manicured nails on her skin.
“Wrooooooong,” Sombra screamed through gritted teeth. Kicking as hard as she could, pushing her attacker away. Every movement played as if orchestrated by a higher hand, her knowing her fate didn’t deter her from trying to survive.
“Nana, what does she mean by ‘wrong’?” a soft voice asked in the distance and Sombra turned towards it in time to see the frowning face looking down on the young girl. Under years of wrinkled skin and bones, the same features stared back at Sombra, and she understood. The reason why she couldn’t stop coming back, reliving her tragedy over and over. She got it all wrong. They all had. A tale as old as time, a man taking on a woman, repeated over time, an abominable cliche becoming the unbeatable truth. One that Sombra’s mind clung onto. Until now.
“Youuuu!,” with the last of her strength, Sombra threw herself at the old crone, as the shadow of her attacker followed her suit and did the deed, ending her life once again. Only this time, her blood had not been spilled in vain. Before her ethereal body disintegrated, Sombra found closure in the form of her reflection in the dead woman’s eyes. Looming over the crone’s dead body, Sombra ascended towards the light and finally let herself go. Her spirit finding peace once and for all.
Silvia Brown is a Spanish-born Australian horror writer and poet. Silvia lived and worked in Ireland, Canada, The Netherlands, (and Melbourne) before moving to Canberra to focus on her writing.
Her current projects include a poetry collection, a couple of short story commissions and a literary translation.
Silvia enjoys long naps with her bulldog Patch and attending writing conventions.
You can find out more about Silvia by visiting her official website www.silviabrown.wixsite.com
You can follow Silvia on Twitter @SilvBrownWriter
Miranda Crites is a reader, writer, book reviewer, photographer, and lover of horror from the ghostly woods of rural West Virginia.
The writing bug bit Miranda at a very early age. She was pretty much born with a pen and a camera in her hands. She won the young writers’ contest in first grade and received her first camera as a gift when she was nine years old.
When not writing, Miranda enjoys spending time with her family. She and her family spend a lot of time off the grid where they are building a cabin in the supposedly haunted woods.
Miranda is self-employed. She and her husband create large and small vinyl decals, t-shirts, signs, and a plethora of creative customized items.
Some of her many hobbies when time allows are: making unique crafts and artwork, painting, hiking, and, of course, photography.
She has a diploma for Writing for Children and Teenagers although most of her current work is horror fiction and poetry.
Miranda is a member of Team Kendall Reviews at www.KendallReviews.com where you can find her horror book reviews and her monthly feature, Miranda Snaps, which generally contains horror fiction and photography.
Miranda is one of “The Thirty,” which is a group of thirty authors who are each taking a turn in writing a chapter of an in-progress horror novel.
You can follow Miranda on Instagram Miranda_C_rites
Follow Miranda on Twitter @Miranda_C_rites
You can find out more about Miranda via her website www.mirandacritesreadsandwrites.com
Fiona Dodwell is a horror fanatic who has been obsessed with the genre since she was a teenager. She has had several horror titles published, including Nails, Juniper’s Shadow, The Banishing and The Given. She also writes freelance for various websites and magazines, including Music News, Made In Shoreditch and Tremr.
Her new horror book, The Risen, will be released late 2020 with publishing company Arcanum Press. To find out more about Fiona and her work, you can follow her on Twitter at: @Angel_devil982
Raised by Pentecostal preachers, horror was not a readily available commodity. As her love grew, her parents were occasionally summoned to school to talk about book reports and various projects that weren’t quite appropriate for her age. They were lost as to where she’d gotten such “trash”. Luckily for her, there was a librarian that understood her insatiable hunger for darker worlds. Even now, if she could, she’d live among the stacks.
Her penchant grew to include ghastly movies and music, which she’ll happily share with anyone listening. The love of horror continues with her favorite videogame, “House of the Dead, Overkill”. She’s not the best gamer, except when defending herself against the wrong monsters. Head shots are her speciality.