Short Story—A Chill in the Chimes

Here is a suspense/horror story I wrote about a year ago. I have it for sale on Amazon and Smashwords for 99 cents, but I thought ‘what the hell?’ why don’t I just share it, cause if you like it, you might go and buy Dark Spaces, my book of short, suspenseful stories. Please read and enjoy!

A Chill in the Chimes large copy

The cottage at 124 Cook Street huddled in darkness. Bony twigs intermittently tapped on the window. Yellowed curtains trembled, as cold gusts poked teasing fingers through the cracked panes. Nature’s epilepsy shook the Smith’s wind chime, sending otherworldly notes ringing into the storm.

Serrated light slashed and blinded, and deep, sonorous thunder vibrated the home to its foundations. A bone-breaking crack tore a muscled appendage from the scribbly gum. The timbered weight fell; a guillotine slicing, sending shards of red tiles stabbing into the rain. Water bled into the wound. The chimes lay strangled on the front porch while 124 Cook Street waited in waterlogged silence for morning.

***

Andrew stood amongst the carnage of last night: shredded leaves, broken branches, strips of bark from trees skinned alive. He stared at the wounded weatherboard cottage. 124 Cook Street needed help. He resisted the urge to rub his hands together as he trod up the two steps to the front door. A wind chime lay tangled on the porch, its silver fingers mangled and arthritic. Andrew prodded it with a booted toe and knocked on the door.

When no one answered, he rapped again. Still nothing. He looked over his shoulder. An SES car inched past, surveying the damage. No one else was about. He turned the handle and gently pushed. The door creaked open, and he extended his head into the gap. ‘Hello?’ His voice croaked. He cleared his throat, ‘Hello? Is anyone home?’

An elderly lady shuffled through a door at the end of the hallway. She smiled the too-perfect smile of dentures. Deep lines ran from the corners of her mouth to her jaw, and Andrew was reminded of an animated, yet lifeless, ventriloquist’s dummy.

‘Can I help you?’  She reached the front door and her wrinkled lips settled closed.

‘I’m with the Emergency Services. The branch that fell through your roof has done heaps of damage. You must be flooded. I need to come in and take a look, make sure it’s safe.’ He slid his hand into his pocket and ran a thumb along the hilt of his knife, feeling the smooth bumps, which suggested the torso of a mermaid.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Phillip Baker.’ He extended the mermaid-fondling hand, and she shook it.

‘Pleased to meet you Mr Baker, I’m Gladys Smith. Please come in.’

Andrew understood why her hand was so cold when he stepped inside the dimly lit hallway. Green floral wallpaper peeling at the cornices, and spotted with stains of rising damp, complimented the shag-pile carpet, which reminded him of dead grass in its brownness. As mould spores tickled his nose, he was six years old again, crying and waving goodbye to his mother from his grandparents’ hallway. She never returned.

As he followed Gladys he wondered if he’d picked the wrong house. What could they possibly have to steal? He hoped to find some of the old woman’s jewellery, or maybe the clichéd stash of cash under the mattress. Stupid old people.

Both his hands sought the warmth of his pockets as they reached the lounge room.  The ceiling shed flakes of dandruff over everything. A brown velour sofa sat facing an old walrus of a television; the type that you’d have to pay to have removed. He scanned the contents of a dusty wall-unit and saw the crap it had taken Gladys a lifetime to accumulate. Not much to show for her existence: lace doilies, two ceramic figurines—pink ladies with parasols—and a row of faded floral plates on stands. He turned to speak to the old woman, but the room was empty.

He hadn’t seen or heard her leave. Was he so caught up in looking at nonsensical knick-knacks that he’d forgotten what he was doing? The quicker he got this over with, the better. Looking forward to the bottle of Jack Daniels and few hours of oblivion he’d buy with part of the proceeds, he turned back to the hallway, thinking Gladys’s bedroom would be one of the front rooms.

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

Andrew stopped and brought a hand up to his chest, goose bumps peppering his arms. When he turned back, Gladys stood right behind him. What the hell? ‘Um, ok. That would be great thanks. I was just looking for the damaged ceiling. I need to see it so I can let you know what it will take to fix.’ If she didn’t leave him alone he’d have to let the knife do the persuading: it wouldn’t be the first time he’d used it.

‘That can wait young man. I’d rather you didn’t go in there right now. My husband’s asleep.’ Her dark eyes picked at something within him, something he refused to acknowledge as fear. ‘Now sit down. How do you take your tea?’

‘Look, it won’t take long, and I’ve got other houses to look at.’

She stared at him, eyes narrowing.

‘White and one please.’

She nodded, and her mouth curled up ever so slightly.

His need itched, but he ignored it and lowered himself onto the dusty lounge. How could anyone sleep in a saturated bed? A clammy miasma enveloped him, and the room darkened. He remembered his grandparents’ wrath, and waiting for his mother; always waiting. Still waiting.

The sharp smell of freshly turned earth was so strong he could taste the grit. He looked down and imagined he could see thousands of dirt-encrusted worms writhing within the graveyard of ancient carpet.  Fuck her and her tea. He jumped up and strode to the hall, pulling the knife out of his pocket as he went.

Two closed doors waited for him to choose. The tree had fallen on the room to his left. He reached for the handle and added Xanax to his to-buy list. He looked over his shoulder. Gladys wasn’t there. He breathed out and turned the knob, muscles tensed, waiting for the squeak of the door as he inched it open. A stronger smell of earth, mildew and something else, crawled out of the darkness—he gagged. Covering his mouth with a sleeve, he paused and thought of giving up for real this time, walking out, maybe finding another house; but the thought of being so close, and the voice that called him a pathetic coward, goaded him to continue.

He ducked in and closed the door. His fingers felt for the light-switch. Click. Nothing. He pulled the knife out of his pocket and strained to see. A large shadow hulked in front of him. His heart raced, and he stepped forward, the carpet squelching under his boots. He could just make out the outline of a bed seeping out of the gloom, and the bigger shadow was most likely the ceiling collapsed on top of it, still attached by a plastered crease to the beams above.

With the door closed, the smell he couldn’t define fleshed out and became something he recognised: the syrupy tang of decay. He coughed through his sleeve, and his eyes watered. Stealing from the bottle-o would be easier than this. He found his excuse and hurried to the door, waving the knife in front of him, trying to swipe away the dread that pushed through his pores.

As he reached for the handle, the door opened in a rush, the putrefied air sucked into the void. Gladys. Her wrinkled hand, with its paper-thin, liver-spotted skin, grasped a carving knife. She smiled her wooden smile. ‘I told you not to go in there. You came to steal, didn’t you? You picked the wrong house, sonny boy.’ She cackled and thrust herself forward. Andrew dropped his knife and grabbed at her arms, his fingers sinking into wrinkled folds of flesh.

The strength of the old woman surprised Andrew, and he screamed when the knife pierced his skin. Gladys’s gurgling laugh accompanied the blood seeping out of Andrew’s stomach. He sank to the floor, gasping his demise, while his clothes soaked up stagnant moisture.

The old woman stood over him. She reached down, pulled the knife out and lifted her arm to strike again. Footsteps sounded on the porch, and Andrew screamed. The front door burst in. The knife came down.

***

Andrew woke as they finished strapping him to the gurney. He listened, eyes closed, to the voices around him.

‘Crazy shit indeed. Some SES workers heard him screaming.’

‘Lucky. How long do you reckon that old couple ‘ave been dead?’

‘Looks like at least a month. The guy we got here stabbed himself. God knows why. We found I.D. and confirmed his grandparents used to live here, before that other old couple, Gladys and Bob. He was a ward of the state for a while. Stuffed in the head I reckon.’

‘Ha, you can say that again. Anyway, better get him out of here before he bleeds to death.’

The ambulance drove down Cook Street, past injured houses, ruined gardens, ravished trees. The damage would be cleaned up, patched, made new again. What couldn’t be fixed would be taken away, dumped, and forgotten.

At 124, a policeman noticed the silver reflection of sunlight hitting the wounded wind chime. He picked it up and smiled. It would look great all polished up and hanging from his front porch. His wife would love it. As he dangled it from one hand, he brushed the chimes with his other; discordant notes sounded a lament.

A chill licked the back of Andrew’s neck. The wailing of the siren drowned out his screams.

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Dionne's Blog, Dionne's books, Short stories

3 responses to “Short Story—A Chill in the Chimes

  1. Great story Dionne. Thanks for sharing. I’m reading it at night with the wind blowing up a storm and something banging against my front stairs. Scary!!

  2. Pingback: Co-Host Dionne Lister Release a New Horror Short Story “A Chill in the Chimes.” | Club Fantasci

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