Mom is Gaga Over Her New Crush

Chapter 18

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

The blue Beetle pulled into the drive and Kassandra and Auntie Jo burst through the front door to escape the rain. The iPhone sat charging on the counter with no sign of Mom, probably holed up in her room. She was kind of like Bigfoot. There was proof she existed, but sightings were rare.

Auntie Jo kept Kassandra busy in the kitchen, cleaning up olive pits and tomato scraps, and wiping down the counter. The knife was off limits, even though Kassandra had chopped veggies hundreds of times before. Did Auntie Jo really think she’d pull down her gloves and get started right there? But there was no room to complain. At least Mom was still in the dark.

With dinner ready, Auntie Jo called everyone to the table. Kassandra cringed. Mom hardly ever joined in—usually opting for the room service option. Auntie Jo must’ve hoped for a family meal bonding experience, where everyone shared what they did that day. All smiles and giggles. Well Mom revoked her family card the day she dragged Kassandra to this crummy town. 

Mom waltzed in, phone in hand, and flopped into a chair. Not the least bit hungry, Kassandra curled one noodle around her fork and popped it into her mouth. Maybe she could chew this for the rest of dinner and not have to talk.

“The rain’s really coming down, wouldn’t you say?” Auntie Jo smiled, hooking the apron on the chair and sitting.

“Uh huh.” Mom positioned the phone next to the plate as if it were a new addition to the settings: spoon, fork, phone. If Kassandra tried the same thing, she’d find her phone locked up. Of course, she didn’t even have one to lock up. 

A new message popped up with a chirp. Mom inspected the screen and giggled. She was texting her boyfriend—Jim or Mat? Shouldn’t that be a Kassandra thing? She was the teenager here. But if Mom stayed distracted, then there was hope for surviving dinner. 

“How’s the pasta?” Auntie Jo smiled a little too wide. “I got the recipe from one of my clients.” 

Kassandra enthusiastically chewed the one noodle in response.

Mom nodded. Though she could’ve been responding to the text. Her gaze was glued to the tiny screen.

This wasn’t how dinners used to be. When Dad was around, Mom wouldn’t shut up. She’d go on and on about her day. Sometimes it really bored Kassandra, but now she missed it.

“Everything we’re eating is fresh.” Auntie Jo mixed the sauce into the pasta. “Since Kassandra left school early, we rolled by the Co-op.” 

Kassandra’s stomach twisted into new and interesting pretzel shapes and she shot Auntie Jo a look. Why had she let that slip? 

Mom surveyed the dinner table as if it were some new restaurant. “Why’d you leave school early?” She wasn’t angry yet, but a motherly tone infected her voice. “You should have called me.”

Kassandra nearly laughed. Like Mom cared. “It’s nothing. Just got sick is all.” 

“Oh. Must be this cold weather.” Mom forked an olive and popped it in her mouth. “You need to wear a jacket.”

Yeah, that was it. Because Kassandra didn’t know cold coming from Seattle. She liked Mom better when she didn’t pretend to care.

Mom twisted toward the phone, fingers making clicky noises as they tapped on the screen. 

A wave of tension crested inside Kassandra, peaking at the base of her skull. What was Mom typing? Wish you were here? No, probably the other way around. Something like: I’m stuck here with my stupid family. 

Normally Kassandra tuned Mom out, but tonight it felt like an insect burrowed just beneath the skin. Every time the phone clicked or binged, the bug dug an inch deeper. 

“Would you stop that?” Kassandra tossed her fork down. Mom whipped her head up. “It’s ridiculous. You’re too old to be all gaga over some guy. Give it a rest.”

Mom stiffened. “I don’t believe I asked your opinion.”

“Listen guys.” Auntie Jo flashed Kassandra a look. “I know no one’s feeling top notch tonight.”

Kassandra squeezed the fork until the metal dug into the skin. “It’s rude. We’re having dinner and all you can do is text.”

Mom slapped the table causing her silverware to clank against the bowl. “Why can’t I have anything for myself? I work hard…”

“Yeah right. And who bought you that new toy?” 

“Now Kassandra…” Auntie Jo tried to assume a parental tone.

Mom gave Kassandra a look that sizzled the air between them. Then the phone buzzed and Mom glanced down.

“Jesus, Mom. Did you just forget Dad?”

“Kassandra!” Auntie Jo half stood out of her seat.

“I’d sure like to get over him as quickly as you did. Can you give me your secret?”

“Go to your room!” Mom’s whole body trembled.

“Not a problem.” Kassandra shoved her chair out. “Dinner was great Jo. Save me some.”

“You’ll go now!” Mom jabbed a finger down the hall.

“What’s the point trying to talk to you? It’s not like we’re even a family anymore.” Kassandra marched down the hall and into her room. 

Leaning against the door, she sucked in a long breath. It did nothing to calm her. Kassandra’s body felt tense and jittery. The argument with Mom jabbing at her brain. 

She spied the purple Doc Martens in the corner and knelt by them, pulling out the sock. Red lines marked the places where blood had stained the fabric. She cradled the razor in her hands. Such a small thing. Yet it had caused so much trouble. The handle of curved metal was flecked orange with rust. Kassandra held the blade over her arm. No intention of actually cutting. Just a familiar action, long ingrained in her memory. The length of the razor seemed the perfect size for the scars peeking through her fishnet gloves. 

Kassandra looked at the door. Auntie Jo had been too gung-ho about dinner to search in here yet. But it was only a matter of time. Just as soon as Mom left red alert status.

“I need to stash this.”

Options around the room were limited. There was the bed, the massive trunk coated with dust, and the books lining the walls. Sweat beaded on her forehead. She should have thought of a place earlier. Everything looked so obvious. Kassandra glanced at the door, fingers rubbing the handle of the blade. Just a few minutes was all she needed.

Back to the book shelves again. Auntie Jo hardly touched them since Kassandra moved in. Though she’d probably tear the place apart during school tomorrow.

Dust caked most of the shelves, but some spots were disturbed where Auntie Jo had removed books recently. Kassandra kept scanning until finding a section blanketed in dust, and spied three books on poetry, nestled on the end of one shelf. Two were thick anthologies, but the third was a slim volume tucked into a cardboard slip case. Perfect. The case could hold the blade during inspection. Unless Auntie Jo decided to tackle the books page by page, the razor would be safe.

Kassandra gingerly lifted the book out without disturbing the dust and then slid it from the case. Flipping it open at random, Keats’ name appeared smack at the top of the page. Only the last two lines of the poem were there, but it was one Kassandra had read hundreds of times: Ode to a Nightingale.

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

       Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

A trembling sensation spread into Kassandra’s arms and legs. Everything felt mixed up now, like a nightmare, except she was wide awake.  It all used to be so simple. Poems weren’t loaded with meaning. And she had been a normal girl. Back when Dad was alive.

Kassandra wedged the razor near the binding. Just before snapping the book shut, she noticed some red from the blade rubbed off on the page—a scrawl underlining the last line. She wiggled the book back into its slip case and positioned it on the shelf to match the dust footprint. 

Then the sock went straight into the purse. Kassandra couldn’t risk throwing it out here. She’d have to toss it at school. Her hand brushed the Tarot deck. In a moment, she had the deck out and found the Death card. Lying on the bed, Kassandra set the card on the pillow. It was good to see Dad, even if it was only a picture that looked like him. 

“I wish you were really here,” It felt weird saying this out loud. Kind of like she was speaking to a person and not some rectangle of paper. “When you were around, Mom was still Mom.”

Chin settled on the bed, she stared at the illustration, waiting for Dad’s head to move again. Drowsiness curled around Kassandra, willing her eyes to shut. If she was patient enough, Dad’s head would move. 

Her fingers tingled as if falling asleep. But then the tingling picked up in her toes too. She tried to shift positions, but couldn’t let go of the card. Her arms prickled as if someone had dragged a comb lightly along the skin. Sleep tugged at her eyelids. The world faded away and her mind switched off.

Just before Kassandra dissolved into slumber, something shifted on the card. The room darkened, but the illustration glowed. A bitter coppery taste filled her mouth. Then Dad turned his head to stare.

Luke Seems to Know What Kassandra is Thinking

Chapter 15

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

Drawing nearer to class, Kassandra’s pace accelerated. Every step brought thoughts of bolting for the nearest exit. But she couldn’t abandon Luke. Walking next to him felt great.

They rounded the corner and the door to Honor’s English loomed. Kassandra halted. The squeak of Ms. Beehive’s marker on the whiteboard penetrated all the way into the hall. Luke stepped forward, gripping the door handle. “It’s only high school.” 

Easy for him to say. He’d probably blink and have twenty friends.

Luke opened the door and strolled inside. Ms. Beehive paused, the marker hovering above the board. Rather than head straight to the teacher, he stepped to the side to allow Kassandra to enter. Now Lindsay and her flock had an unobstructed view. Thankfully, the socialites seemed fixated on Luke. At least Mr. Good Looks could act as a distraction. Kassandra slid into the room, dropped the tardy slip on the desk, and hauled butt to the back of the class.

Lindsay muttered, “Daddy’s girl,” just loud enough to hear.

Kassandra faltered, almost nosediving into a row of chairs. Tears built up, ready to gush. She plopped in the chair and kept her head down. Just breathe. Survive this class. 

Ms. Beehive introduced Luke. Kassandra heard some desks scooting and looked up to see Lindsay clearing a spot next to her. She banished a minion to a farther orbit to make room. Shocker.

Luke strolled down the aisle and stopped at the seat. Then winked. Not at Lindsay, but at Kassandra. She instantly looked down. What was the point in watching? Luke would get sucked into the cinnamon-scented vortex soon enough.

Ms. Beehive resumed the lesson. Kassandra tried to focus on taking notes, but instead imagined Lindsay leaning in, maybe even letting her hair brush his shoulder.

A chair screeched across the linoleum loud enough for even Ms. Beehive to stop lecturing. Oh God—it was Luke. He headed straight for Kassandra. Scanning the class showed Book Girl in attendance, so no empty seats back here. Luke stopped right in front of Kassandra’s desk. 

He leaned next to The Browless One. “Would you mind if I sat here?”

The Browless One glared at Kassandra, as if she had something to do with this. Then he bundled up his things and scuttled over to the only seats left, those ringing the social elite. Lindsay winced when the boy sat one chair over. 

Luke plunked down in the now empty seat.

“Are we ready?” Ms. Beehive folded her arms.

“Certainly.” Luke grinned.

Ms. Beehive continued the lesson.

Luke tilted his head to speak softly. “The view’s better from back here, don’t you think?”

Kassandra nodded, but didn’t dare look up. She didn’t want to encounter the laser beams of pure hate, sure to be emanating from Lindsay. 

The bell rang and the class exploded into activity. Kassandra shoved the notes into her purse. She needed to beat Lindsay to the hall. Maybe Auntie Jo had called. Luke grabbed her arm. “You said you’re new to this school. Where from?”

“Um.” How did she blow off a guy who was kind of cute? “Seattle.”

“Really?” He tossed a beaten up binder into his backpack. “I think I have you beat though.”

“I didn’t know it was a contest.”

Luke raised one eyebrow. “Of course. Everything is.” He whispered one word: “England.”

This stopped Kassandra. The boy didn’t have the slightest accent.

Luke held up one hand in defense. “Yeah, I know. I don’t sound like the Brit type. But I’m well traveled. Haven’t been back there in years.” He slung his backpack over one shoulder. The torn strap hung on by only a few threads. 

“Now, you wouldn’t know where I could find this class?” He showed a schedule with all the same classes as Kassandra’s, down to the crappy P.E. and shower just before lunch.

“I guess we’re going to the same place.”

“Lucky me.”

She frowned. Why would this guy want to spend time with her when someone like Lindsay Barker was throwing herself at him? With absolute despicable timing, Lindsay sauntered over, complete with the usual entourage. Diana was back too. This was so much fun. Kassandra wanted to charge into the halls, screaming.

“You know,” Lindsay leaned toward Luke, “you really shouldn’t associate with girls like Kassandra. I Googled her name and you won’t believe what popped up.” She flipped her bangs so they grazed her perfect eyelashes. “Let’s just say this girl will leave you hanging.”

A fluttering sensation started up in Kassandra’s stomach like she might retch. 

“Good one.” Marco high-fived Diana. Apparently he was fully recovered from yesterday’s fit of extreme boredom.

“Leslie, right?” Luke scrunched his face up, thinking.

“Lindsay.” She sounded miffed.

He waved a hand to brush off the difference. “Why are you so keen on me? Word is you’re going out with some guy named Marco.”

Diana spun on Lindsay. Her gaze burned hot enough to melt lead.

“What?” Lindsay glanced from Diana to Luke. “Who told you that?”

“Hey, I’m new here. Don’t really know everyone’s name.” Luke readjusted the strap of his backpack. “But I heard you two were making out the end of last semester.”

Diana shoved Marco. “You told me you were just tutoring.”

Marco held up his hands to fend off a punch. “It’s not true babe.”

“He’s right. You know I wouldn’t…” Lindsay said.

Diana cut her off. “I knew you were a sneaky bitch, but keep your paws off my boyfriend.”

Luke tugged Kassandra toward the exit. In moments, they escaped into the hall.

“How’d you know about that?” she asked.

“I’m good at reading people. They can say a lot without speaking a word.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” He turned and gave Kassandra a look. “What you have to say is fascinating.”

“Okay? Do I want to know?” 

“Well, first off, you look like you could use a friend.”

Great, so now she gave off the desperate vibe. “Just because I’m new here, doesn’t mean I haven’t met anyone.”

Luke shrugged. “I’m just saying… it’s good to have someone to talk to, you know.” He pointed down the hall. “Is it this way? I don’t want to be late.”

Kassandra shook her head and indicated the other direction. Then they were walking. Together. To math class.

What just happened? One moment her life sucked and then Luke appeared. It felt like a movie with the credits about to roll any second.

She bit her lip. This was only one period. They’d chat and Luke would discover the real, and totally boring Kassandra Troy. Then he’d be off for someone new. Maybe not Lindsay—burned that bridge. But he was handsome, so it wouldn’t be hard. 

Kassandra’s hand slipped into her purse to grab some lip screen, but brushed up against the Tarot cards instead. The last card, the one where the image went all disappearing act in the bathroom, that was the Magician. She glanced at Luke. Was he something conjured up by the deck? He seemed a lot less supernatural than all the other cards. Cuter too.

Luke reached down and grasped Kassandra’s hand. A tingle scampered up her arm. Then this god-awful smile sprang to life. She couldn’t help it. Maybe he wouldn’t get bored. Maybe she didn’t care. Kassandra could enjoy this ride as long as it lasted.

The Deadlock Between Survivor and Monster

My story, Deadlock, has just been published by Ripples in Space. I originally wrote this for a contest titled “Monsters in Space” but by the time I was ready to send it in, the window closed (I didn’t miss the deadline so much as they filled up early). Here was my dilemma, I needed to use a classic monster (vampire, zombie, mummy, etc) to chase some poor schleps in space. As I chewed this over in my mind, I kept circling back to Alien and how the Xenomorph terrorizes Ripley. Of course I don’t use a Xenomorph, but there is a classic Hollywood monster involved. I decided to pick a realistic space monster (no Jason in Space for me) because I thought I might need to send it out to other venues (which, in fact, I did).

The key to this story is the standoff, the deadlock, between the monster and the final girl. Neither can kill each other because… Well, that’s the twist, right. I can’t spoil that. But if you like classic monsters, and certainly if you dig Alien, check it out. (Scroll down the page and look for Tim Kane or Deadlock).

Tim Kane

New Stories Published (or soon to be)

I’m very excited to announce that three new stories will see publication. The first, “Pardon Me, but I Believe the World is About to End” is already live over at Drunk Gekko. This was inspired by reading Terry Pratchett and the recent Catherynne M. Valente novel, Space Opera. Its a bit absurd and not my typical style. It involves the end of the world and fig newtons. In that order. Click over to read it now.

I have a Xmas story coming out with Deathlehem around, well, Christmas. “Away in a Manger” deals with a house filled with nativity scenes that come to life to attack their inhabitants. (See, this is more my style). I wrote this story about eight years ago, on Xmas Eve. So glad it will finally see publication (there are not a lot of horror related Xmas markets out there, but there should be).

Finally I am proud to publish “Maggots from Heaven”, a steampunk short horror in the vein of Hammer films and Victorian gothic. This story has seen so many revisions over the years and only the core science concepts remain intact. The question: what if you could capture a bit of the human soul. But instead of it being all glorious and majestic, your soul is simply little bits of ethereal maggots. Or to be more precise, the maggots come to nibble on your soul (the same way the real life fly larva feast on dead flesh). This will be printed in the anthology Fearrington Road (short stories in a Lovecraftian / Steam Punk / Diesel Punk vein).

Looking forward to posting more upcoming publications.

Tim Kane

 

How to Write Creepy Scenes to Make Your Readers Squirm

Most writers who delve into horror hit the prose with a bag of clichés and heavy handed stage props—swirling fog, glowing eyes, wicked laughs. Don’t get me wrong, camp can be great (if it’s intentional). However, a more subtle approach can work wonders.

Add Details One by One

Use disturbing details or reversals when describing your scenes. Each one, taken by itself, does little, but in combination, they imbue the reader with unease. Consider Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol. Here an unnamed narrator just inhabited a weather station on a deserted island.

Just then, I heard a pleasing sound far off. It was more or less like a heard of goats trotting in the distance. At first, I confused it with the pattering of rain; the sound of heavy and distinct drops. I got up and looked out of the closest window. It wasn’t raining. The full moon stained the ocean’s surface in a violet hue. The light bathed the driftwood lying on the beach. It was easy to imagine them as body parts, dismembered and immobile. The whole thing brought to mind a petrified forest. But it wasn’t raining.

Reversal: The narrator thinks it’s raining, but then there’s no rain. We wonder what’s creating that pattering sound, and the not knowing makes us uneasy.

Disturbing details: The water is stained violet, a bloodlike color. This idea is cemented in the reader’s skull with the driftwood, described as dismembered limbs.

Let the Character Freak Out

Nothing creeps out a reader faster than letting the protagonist freak out. Ever wonder why there are so many screams in horror movies? It’s the same thing. As an author, you must find the written equivalent to the scream.

In Bag of Bones by Stephen King, the protagonist, Mike Noonan, begins to believe that his house is haunted. He’s in the basement and hears the sound of someone striking the insulation, but no one else is home.

…every gut and muscle of my body seemed to come unwound. My hair stood up. My eyesockets seemed to be expanding and my eyeballs contracting, as if  my head were trying to turn into a skull. Every inch of my skin broke out in gooseflesh. Something was in here with me. Very likely something dead.

King lays it on thick here. Instead of one physical reaction, he dumps the whole bucket on us. He doesn’t dazzle us with a etherial decaying corpse. We won’t even see the ghost till the final chapters. No. He tells us how Noonan feels just in the presence of the thing and that’s what creeps us out.

Another example of the character freaking out can be seen in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

Now we are going to have a new noise, Eleanor thought, listening to the inside of her head; it is changing.  The pounding had stopped, as though it had proved ineffectual, and there was now a swift movement up and down the hall, as of an animal pacing back and forth with unbelievable impatience, watching first one door and then another, alert for a movement inside, and there was again the little babbling murmur which Eleanor remembered; Am I doing it? she wondered quickly, is that me? And heard the tiny laughter beyond the door, mocking her.

Here the character doubts herself and what she sees. This is essential to any horror story. When weird things happen, the character mysteries react accordingly. The stranger the situation, the stronger the reaction. And most of us would doubt our sanity in creepy situations.

Let The Reader Do the Imagining

Why should you, the author, do all the heavy lifting. Your reader’s imagination will often fill in the blanks for you. Take this example from Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

As she reached the driver’s door of the cab, which hung open with vines twisting in and out of its socket of a window, lightning flashed again, painting the whole world purple. In its glare Trisha saw something with slumped shoulders standing on the far side of the road, something with black eyes and great cocked ears like horns. Perhaps they were horns. It wasn’t human; nor did she think it was animal. It was a god. It was her god, the wasp-god, standing there in the rain.

Notice that the monster is only vaguely described. It’s called “something” twice. This lets the reader fill in the blanks. There is enough description that we at least know it’s a big hulking creature. This is the literary equivalent of when Ridley Scott only showed glimpses of the alien in Alien.

Use Strong Verbs

Finally, strong verbs will help any writer to shine, but they can also allow one character to shine over another. Take this excerpt from William Blatty’s The Exorcist.

Regan’s eyes gleamed fiercely, unblinking, as a yellowish saliva dribbled down from a corner of her mouth to her chin, to her lips stretch taut into a feral grin of bow-mouthed mockery.

“Well, well, well,” she gloated sardonically and hairs prickled up on the back of Karras’s neck at a voice that was deep and thick with menace and power. “So, it’s you … they sent you!” she continued as if pleased. “Well, we’ve nothing to fear from you at all.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Karras answered; “I’m your friend and I’d like to help you.”

“You might loosen these straps, then,” Regan croaked. She had tugged up her wrists so that now Karras noticed they were bound with a double set of leather restraining straps.

“Are the straps uncomfortable for you?”

“Extremely. They’re a nuisance. An infernal nuisance.”

The eyes glinted slyly with secret amusement.

Karras saw the scratch marks on Regan’s face; the cuts on her lips where apparently she’d bitten them. “I’m afraid you might hurt yourself, Regan,” he told her.

“I’m not Regan,” she rumbled, still with that taut and hideous grin that Karras now guessed was her permanent expression. How incongruous the braces on her teeth looked, he thought. “Oh, I see,” he said, nodding. “Well, then, maybe we should introduce ourselves. I’m Damien Karras. Who are you?”

“I’m the devil!”

Notice the verbs that Blatty uses with Reagan — gleamed, dribbled, gloated, croaked, rumbled. In contrast, the more calm individual in the scene, Karras, responds with simple verbs like “answered” and “saw”. The contrast allows the reader to see Reagan as disturbing.

If you want to make your readers squirm, reading only in daylight hours, shy away from the obvious gore and claptrap. Rather, take the quieter road of tiny disturbing details built up over pages and chapters. Show how your character reacts to what’s happening, and the reader will feel it too.

Tim Kane