Welcome to the 2012 COFFIN HOP! This fantastic blog tour (which features over 100 incredibly rad writers) starts today and lasts until October 31st AKA the day I shower next.
That was a joke...kinda.
Each day, I will post horror entries, on which you should leave a comment. At the end of the Hop, I will throw all of the commenters' names into a hat and pick a winner. The winner will receive a prize pack containing autographed copies of "PINS" and "Play the Way Home," as well as an ebook copy of the Collector's EP for "Death By Drive-In," which features stories by Jessica McHugh, Red Tash, CW LaSart, Amy K. Marshall, and Axel Howerton.
Please include your email address with your comment so I can contact you if you win. If you'd prefer not to leave your email address, make sure you're following my author page at www.facebook.com/author.JessicaMcHugh. I will make the announcement there following the end of the Hop.
Without much ado, here is today's fun-filled horror installment: my creeptastic story "IN THE SILT." I've included the story below, but if you're in a listening mood, I've also included an mp3 copy of the story read by author Nelson W. Pyles on his show "Story Time at the Wicked Library." Enjoy!!
Listen to "In the Silt" HERE
In the Silt
By Jessica McHugh
A week before I was born, my father died in the creek behind our house. Growing up without a dad wasn't ideal, but through my mother, I grew to know and love him as people love dead celebrities. When she told stories to acquaint me with this man I'd never meet, she spoke so highly of him, what could he become but a legend in my eyes? To me, my dad was James Dean. He was Yul Brynner and Cary Grant.
In reality, he was nothing like those men. He didn't drive too fast, smoke too much, or have a bad tan. He was just a man who never wanted to be a father. But my mother hadn't known that. She'd only known what he'd allowed her to know, which wasn't much. So, she fabricated the rest. Or, she was so deluded that she actually believed he was a good, caring man. Either way, as I aged, I came to realize just how inaccurate her lauding stories were.
They never discussed marriage or children—I was an accident. My mom says I was a “blessing,” but now I know my dad would've argued that claim. I was no blessing to him, and I certainly haven't been a blessing to anyone else but her. “Accident” always seemed more appropriate, especially after the secrets in the creek shone some light on who my father was, and consequently, who I am. The latter is still up for debate, I guess. I'm still just dough, as people put it. But Dad is done: fully baked and risen—and fallen, of course. He was the kind of bread that was too burnt to be eaten, so much so that he took the ruined pan to the trash with him.
I'd played for years in the creek before my mother told me how she'd found him there, drowned in the shallow water—or so she'd thought before flipping over his body and seeing the bullet wound. That fact clearly distressed her; sometimes she wouldn't even acknowledge it as fact. When I broached the subject, she would sometimes shake her head, as if amused by my wild imagination, and say, “Shot? No, sweetie, your father drowned. What a terrible accident to happen to such a sweet man.” But those times were unconvincing. When she trembled, when she paled, when she spoke about the bullet hole, that perfectly round tunnel in my father’s temple: those were the times she was easy to believe.
You'd think I wouldn't want to visit the creek after learning my father had died there-not to play anyway. But the truth is I was more compelled. Instead of simply strolling through or splashing in the stream, I started digging in the silt. I lifted the rocks to uncover the creatures beneath, marveling at them breathing the same water that took my father's last breath. Holding them, I felt like I was holding him. Could those creatures be pieces of the soul he left behind? Surely, his last breath had to have done more than bubble.
I understood that my feelings about the creek were what people called “morbid fascination,” but I didn't understand why it was supposed to be a bad thing. In the creek, I had a father. I could touch him in the stones and hear him speak, like water rushing through reeds, “Take off your socks, sweet girl. You don't want to ruin them.”
At first, I had to listen hard to catch his whispers but the more I visited the creek, the louder he became. One day, on my way to the water, I heard my father sounding an alarm like none before. Up close, I realized why. There was a boy in the creek, in my creek: throwing my rocks, crushing my crayfish, and stomping his fat feet through my father's shrieking memory.
It was very wrong of him. The boy didn't know, of course, but his ignorance didn't stop my father's screams—or his own. The water did that quite nicely. Before I knew what was happening, I had the boy's hair knotted in one fist and the other full of silt—just like the boy's mouth when I smashed his face against the bottom of the stream. That was when I found the first earring in the creek. It tickled my palm and caused me to release the boy's head. I didn't notice what happened to him after I let go; I assume he set off to change his Jockeys. All I could focus on was the pearl earring on my sandy palm. Who did it belong to? What was it doing in my dad's belly? How long had it been there, waiting?
No one believed the boy's story of my assault. Why would they? I was always so quiet. Like Dad, my mom often said. But he wasn't quiet to me. When I delved deeper into the creek and plucked out three more earrings, he became louder, as if trumpeting my gumption.
After amassing quite a collection, my curiosity finally got the best of me. I brought the jewelry to my mother, hoping for answers. I'd never seen someone burst into tears so instantaneously. She tore the earrings out of my hand and hurled them across the room, screaming a name followed by a string of profanities. She took a few shots of rum and shook herself like a wet dog, staring at the earrings on the floor as if praying for the laser vision to incinerate them.
“Where did they come from?” I asked her.
She shuddered a sigh and replied, “Felicia Moore.”
“Who's Felicia Moore?”
“Oh,” she whispered. “She's the one who killed your father.”
When I asked how Dad knew her, I expected more tears from my mother, but she clenched every muscle in her body instead. Her jaw moved as if being pried open by a vice. Then, six words creaked out.
“I imagine they had an affair.”
I urged her tirade, but all at once she softened and smiled. She went on to explain that although there were indiscretions, my father's conscience wouldn't allow him to cheat on his wife for long. Unfortunately, she laid it on too thick for the story to be more than a mask for the sad truth. My father had had an affair with Felicia Moore, probably a long one, and my mother refused to admit that. There was little else she was willing to disclose, especially after I asked her where Felicia Moore lived. She shook her head and said “I have no idea” with such sincerity, but her tears appeared again, fast and heavy. She could wear a mask, but she couldn't lie outright. It wasn't difficult to see the truth in her breakdown.
As it turned out, locating Felicia Moore wasn't difficult, either. I found an address on the internet that wasn't too far from my house. That Saturday, I rode my bike to the other side of town to find the woman, who as far as I knew, had an affair with my father and couldn't keep her jewelry out of my creek.
Felicia Moore came home while I was chipping away at the paint on her shed. I wasn't nervous about meeting her, but the activity calmed me as I waited. It reminded me of digging at the silt in the creek, peeling back the layers to get closer to the pulp: the gold. She was no doubt surprised by the young girl standing at her door, but her shock was tenfold when I opened my jewelry-filled palm. She blanched so completely even her green irises appeared to pale. She didn't have to ask me who I was or why I was there. She just opened her door, told me to take a seat, and brought me a glass of iced tea.
Over the next hour, I heard the whole story: from the moment Felicia first laid eyes on my father, to the last one, minutes after she shot him dead. I expected the story of an affair gone wrong, a tale of a jealous mistress, a man trying to be devoted, and my mother caught in the middle. I expected something like I'd read in books and seen on TV, but what I got was so much worse…in the long run.
Before my father died in our backyard creek, he'd had a certain appetite that he couldn't drown. An appetite for women, mostly. Felicia Moore made that part very clear, but the other aspect of his appetite took her a few tries to clarify.
“He'd take me to the creek,” she whispered. “Not right away. It took a little while to convince me—the others too, apparently—but in the end, he always got his way. Even after I knew what waited for me at the creek, I followed him down there like a lovesick puppy. Like a stupid, goddamn dog. I assume it was the same for the others.”
It was clear she didn't want to tell me the truth, but it was also clear she did want me to know it. I couldn't deny the strange excitement building in me. All of the creek talk made me grin, which seemed to make Felicia Moore uneasy. I urged her on as thoughts of the neighborhood boy's breath bubbling in the water filled my mind.
She told me bluntly—to shock me out of my smile, I suppose. But it didn't work. I stayed serene as she told me about bending over the stream, and my father's instructions to hold her breath. Even when she described him pushing her head underwater as they had sex, I didn't crack.
“I hated doing it,” she said. “But I loved him. I wanted to make him happy. But sometimes he went too far. He held my head for down too long and scraped my face against the rocks. He got…violent.”
I nodded calmly, which appeared to frighten her. Soon after, she told me to leave.
“But why did you shoot him?” I asked as she tried to usher me out.
She made sure I'd understood everything she'd said, and again, I nodded calmly. “May God have mercy on your soul,” she whispered, pushed me outside, and locked the door.
God? There was no God in the creek. Only me and Dad. Maybe some women with bad lung capacities, too.
I pedaled home with new eagerness. I wanted to get to the stream and ask my father if everything Felicia Moore had said was true—even if I already knew. My father had to have had those desires, because I had them, too. I just hadn't been able to decipher them until that point. They were just fuzzy compulsions before: the creek, last breaths, holding someone's head until his feet thrashed in manic desperation. There was so much power in the act, so much passion. It was no wonder Dad didn't try to contain it. He let it spill across the bank, flooding his world with beautiful violence. Felicia Moore hadn't understood that; I doubted any of those women had. But I knew that power, and, at last, I understood it as well as my father had. The more I thought about it, the more I thought maybe God did exist in the creek. Maybe desire lorded us all.
There were many who disagreed with me on that: my mother, the police, the three boys who died while I was still honing my skills, which, unfortunately, never reached perfection. While I had a destructive mind like my father's, I had no mind for dealing with the occasional accident. I tried to hide my mistakes, but it wasn't long before the Missing Persons reports piled up and the police came knocking. My inability to lie, along with Felicia Moore's testimony about my apparent joy in learning of my father's fetish, did me in. I didn't even get to taste half of the fun had by my father.
After my arrest, I wanted nothing more than to return to my creek, but that changed once the trial began. So many condemnations fell upon me, but all the while I expected a certain defense to step forward, to step up and avow my innocence, to swear that I was born this way and had no choice in the shades of my desires. I expected his voice to save me, declaring between the waves of judgment, “She is her father's daughter. She is not to blame.”
But he didn't show to speak on my behalf. I was carrion before a murder of crows, and for some reason, I knew he was watching me suffer. From beneath the safety of our stream, he laughed at me, declaring that I couldn't be a daughter of his. No daughter of his would get caught.
I despised him—the creek, too. I longed to drain the water, pull up every stone, and watch every minnow drown in oxygen. They'd tempted me, changed me. They'd turned an inkling of compulsion into a full-blown psychosis. True, it was a psychosis I treasured, but that didn't dull my anger, nor did it comfort my poor mother who had to sit and listen to the truth about her husband and child.
When the verdict fell, it wasn't alone. One hour after I was committed for my crimes, my mother died in the creek behind our house. It would've been much quicker for her to go with a bullet like Dad had, but I suppose she wanted to know what it was like to be loved in the water, like he had loved so many others.
After her death, my anger with my father faded. I no longer wished to punish him for his silence, mostly because I knew my mother would do it for me. She's in that creek now too, and I believed that once she’d punished him for the both of us, I would be free of my unhealthy compulsions.
But as much as I craved that freedom, I had to admit my continued craving for the water. I still desired to pry up those stones and whisper to the man who raised me. But with such sturdy hospital walls around me, how could I ever think to see my creek again?
At first, I relished the walls for keeping madness at bay, but as time passed, they didn’t seem so sturdy. In fact, they seemed like illusions: the creek in disguise. I never saw the water, of course—that would be too kind—but I did see the crabapple trees that line the bank, sometimes even the bank itself. But not the water, not the silt, not the minnows or any other scrap of life to take Dear Old Dad's place.
I realize now that I will never be rid of these compulsions unless I'm proactive. I must take the creek into my own hands. I must face the beautiful monsters to save myself from becoming one. I must dip my face into the water and breathe deep.
Even in musing, I am almost there. I smell the stream. I feel the soothing splashes and hear my father's voice burbling beyond the bank. No one believes me when I say how close it is, but they will. I'll show the next orderly who comes in just how close my creek can be. I'll show him the water. I'll show him the silt.
I'll introduce him to Dad.
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HAPPY COFFIN HOPPING!!