Stairway to [Hell]

Image result for creepy stairway

Tristan has been itching for a new mystery to solve, and he has poked and prodded me for two months to find one. He said he can’t go alone, since I am the brave one, but I have been busy with finals and job applications. Tristan graduated a year ago and has a job freelance writing and editing for an online magazine. I am a junior, though, so I still have school to worry about. That doesn’t stop him from trying to persuade me to abandon my schoolwork and go on an adventure with him. My parents died in a car accident two years ago, and his parents got divorced and moved to opposite sides of the Eastern Hemisphere when he graduated high school, so we’re all each other has. It’s a good thing I am typically on board with his shenanigans.

“It’s winter break, Lexi. It’s time.”

He is right, I guess. Now is as good a time as any, and besides Halloween, December is the best time to go ghost hunting. I use that term loosely. Tristan and I grew up on scary movies, Stephen King, and all the folklore of things that go bump in the night. Ever since he could drive, Tristan has been dragging me all over upstate New York to supposedly haunted houses he finds in the library archives—since that’s where all the best mysteries are. We explore until one of us hears one-too-many unexplainable creaks in the floorboards, and then we jump ship. So far, nothing has ever come from our travels other than a good story to tell our friends.

Tristan says its our thing. Some couples go on exciting dates as much as possible, others stay in every weekend watching Netflix. But Tristan and I? We search for something worthy to be in the next Goosebumps novel.

“What death trap are we investigating this time?” I ask.

“I don’t know yet. Let’s just drive.”

I snatch the keys off the coffee table before he can. “Then I am the navigator today.”

He doesn’t protest, he just follows me into my dad’s old, black Cadillac. I pop in one of the Zeppelin cassette tapes I keep in the glove box, and the mood is set. Before we get anywhere, Tristan makes me stop at Charlie’s, the diner at the edge of town, for our classic pre-adventure meal: cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes.

I ease through the highway’s back roads in search of some sort of turn off that hasn’t been touched in a long time, at least by anyone sane. We encounter a few run-down estates, but they’re not good enough for Tristan.

We grew up in Manhattan together, and there was plenty going on there to keep us busy, but it wasn’t the right kind of adventure. So when Tristan picked the furthest SUNY from Long Island—so far away it might as well be in Canada—I couldn’t help but follow in his footsteps. Outside of the city, we could roam pretty much anywhere, and the easily forgettable, unpopulated part of New York begged for us to explore it. For the last few years, it’s been our favorite hobby. We haven’t found much of interest in our last few expeditions, and I know Tristan is looking for something extra-exciting.

We have been driving around long enough that the sun is nearing the horizon. I don’t want to tell Tristan that I think we should turn back and try again tomorrow, but my stomach is growling. I tell myself that if we don’t find anything in the next ten minutes, I will speak up, but the end of one long and twisting gravel road, there it is. It’s a grand, colonial mansion—or at least, it used to be. The pillars framing the door are overgrown with ivy, and the brick is crumbling. The windows are all boarded up from the inside. I can tell that in its heyday the red bricks were perfectly paved, and the trim and pillars around the entryway glowed in the daylight. That the windows dotting the exterior glittered, flowers bloomed in the window boxes, and the stones that made up the walkway were beautifully and strategically placed. The grass in the clearing was green and the mower lines could have been drawn with a ruler. Now it looks sad and unloved.

“It’s perfect,” Tristan says. “Let’s explore.”

Weeds make the walkway almost invisible, and my feet get tangled in them. On the off chance that the front door is open, Tristan tries the knob. Of course, it doesn’t budge. We walk around the side of the house, looking for a way to see the interior, but all the windows are well covered. It’s a race against the sun to find something we can work with.

I tell Tristan we are going to stay in the clearing the house is settled on. The forest surrounding the property already looks dark and full of secrets. I don’t want to know what’s hiding in there yet. Tristan agrees and focuses on the house.

“Wait, look at this!” I point to a window near the ground that isn’t covered by wood.

Tristan pries it open and points his flashlight into the dark space. It is a basement, flooded with grimy water. Neither of us can tell how deep it goes, so we give up on that option. It is getting dark, and we are not finding any way inside. I tell Tristan we can come back earlier another day so we can have more time.

“Just a few more minutes,” he insists.

“Tristan, please. I think it’s going to rain,” I say, but I let him have the extra time.

Back at the front of the house, he decides to chance the stability of the trellis near the door. The boards aren’t as thick there, so there is a chance he can see inside. I stand at the foot of it, ready to catch him if he falls—or at least, break his fall. He peers onto the balcony, and fear flashes across his face. When he climbs down, he is ready to go.

“What did you see?”

He doesn’t speak until we are both in the car and driving away. “I think it was blood.”

I want him to elaborate, but he won’t say anything more. Usually, this is just the kind of thing that makes Tristan more curious, but now he is just scared. I almost want to turn around and investigate myself, but I won’t since he is so shaken.

“If there was blood, shouldn’t we do something about it?” I ask. “That’s a much bigger discovery than those scratched out eyes in portraits at the Hansen Estate last summer. We’ve never seen blood before.”

“It was kind of brown, actually. Might have just been dirt or mud or something.”

It’s not like Tristan to lie to me. I know him too well, and there is definitely more than he is saying. I drive through town and park in front of the little police station.

“Are you going to say anything, or am I? Because I can overlook a lot of things in this little hobby of ours, but not this,” I tell him.

“But what if it’s nothing?”

“What if it’s not?”

He sighs. We both know I’m right, and after a staring match, he says he will leave an anonymous tip. It’s a good enough compromise for me, and I wait while he makes the call.

He is silent the whole drive home and refuses to speak about it for days after. I know he saw something else he isn’t telling me about, but I can’t get it out of him. He voices no desire to go back or to explore elsewhere.

Christmas morning, he wakes up more frazzled than usual. “Lexi, I have to tell you something.”

I stop spreading frosting on the cinnamon rolls we always eat for breakfast on this day. “What is it?”

“I’ve been having these dreams about that house,” he tells me. “Every night, the same one. The house is beautiful and pristine, and I am standing at the end of the walkway. Then this girl comes out of the front door, she’s maybe sixteen. Beautiful, skin like the ‘after’ photos in those acne commercials, and white blonde hair. She’s wearing this white dress. She walks towards me, and as she does, she starts deteriorating. The house, too. I’ve been waking up before she can completely disintegrate, but last night, she fell into my arms and asked me to help her before she turned to dust.”

I lean against the counter. “I don’t like the sound of that, Tristan.”

“We have to go back.”

I stop him right there. “How are you so sure it means something?”

He is finally ready to let me in on his little secret. “There was a picture of her. I could kind of see it through the boards on the window. I mean, it wasn’t clear or anything, but I know it was her. Please, can we go back?”

Part of me says it’s a bad idea. If he is getting these weird vibes, then we should stay far away from the peculiar mansion. Only I have never seen him more invested in something.

“Okay, we can go tomorrow morning.”

Relief washes over his face, but I’m still unsure about this. But as skeptical as I am, curiosity plants itself in my brain. There is something more to that house than we originally thought, a reason it has gone untouched for so long.

We open presents and watch Christmas movies. A couple of our friends who couldn’t go home for the holidays come over for dinner, and Tristan and I pretend like we don’t want to be anywhere else. Like we’re not only thinking about the house and the mystery surrounding it.

It’s late by the time everyone goes home, but I stay up and start searching for some answers on the internet. I spend hours clicking through the library’s digitized files, Google, and old newspaper scans. I wish I had time to dig through the actual library. I work there during the school year, and the woman who runs the place loves me. If only I had taken her up on her offer to hold onto the spare key over the break.

Tristan finds me in the kitchen a little after dawn, and I am on my second cup of coffee and my gazillionth Google search. I had expanded my search to the town where we found the police station, and that is where my research took a turn I could I work with. Apparently, the town had been founded by refugees who escaped the witch hunts in the seventeenth century. It was built upon this cult’s ideals and had a long history of strange happenings. Of course, that stuff was history by now.

While I didn’t find anything about the house, I did find a family tree that dated back two centuries. The last of the founding families had died off almost a hundred years ago, but one picture catches my attention. It’s a scan of a portrait of a mother, father, and their daughter. The mother is a Marilyn, blonde and beautiful, and the father has a full mustache and gold-framed glasses. He’s not particularly handsome, but he does look intimidating. Between them sits a young girl, blonde like her mother, with pale skin and eyes like a gloomy sky, sad and gray.

“This is her, isn’t it?” The girl from your dream.”

He nods. “Good to know I wasn’t just imagining her. I was starting to doubt I’d seen anything in the window at all.”

“I wish I knew what it meant,” I say, and I give him a quick summary of what I had discovered about the town.

“That’s crazy. Did you happen to find any news from the tip we gave?”

I tell him I haven’t. Based on the history of the place, maybe whoever took the call just assumed it was a prank. If anything had come from it, I would have found a story.

“We’re still going back today, right?” I ask.

“We have to. I can’t stop thinking about it.”

I gulp the last bit of my coffee. “Then let’s get this show on the road.”

It takes us a little while to find the house again, as if it disappeared since we stumbled upon it the first time. I know we hadn’t been looking for it before, but we should have passed the turn-off by now. A road couldn’t have just disappeared. I know I don’t actually believe in magic or the supernatural, but this seemed fishy.

Tristan flips over the Led Zeppelin IV tape to the B side. “We’re in the right place, aren’t we?” he asks.

“We should be. I remember that road sign with the graffiti on it a few miles back.”

“Wait, it’s right up there!”

I weave up the drive, and it is wilder than I remember. I fill my tire tracks from our last visit. I don’t see any others, so I know the police didn’t take our tip seriously. I take my knife out from underneath my seat and give Tristan the one in the glove box. You know, just in case.

“Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Tristan says.

It is eerier than before, but I walk forward. Something tells me to try the front door one more time. The rusted over knob is freezing in my hand, but it turns easily this time. If there is ever a time to about-face and run for my life, it is now, but Tristan and I walk into the dark foyer anyway. The only light that comes in is that through the doorway. As a whole, the first floor is dark and musty. It smells like mold and dirt and death. Dust particles float in the open air down to the rotting wooden floors. To the left is a library and to right the kitchen.

Thump, thump, thump.

I think the sound is Tristan knocking on the walls. He likes secret passageways and is always looking for hollow spots. But he is standing under the archway in the library. Cobwebs droop from shelf to shelf of untouched books. An ornate desk sits in front of a marble-cased fireplace. Above the mantle hangs a family portrait. It’s the same one as I saw online with the girl. She looks even sadder. Tristan shutters and backs out of the room to explore elsewhere.

I glanced over the spines of the books at my eye level. Shakespeare, Voltaire, Tolstoy, and other classics, encyclopedias that probably weighed more than I did, books I had never heard of, and…bingo, books on witchcraft. I picked one of them up and opened it to the middle. It was about the history of a coven in Germany. The next detailed various levels of witchcraft, from cults who believed to actual magical beings.

Thump, thump, thump.

The sound is far away, and I can’t tell which direction it is coming from. My focus is on the books. I follow the voice in my head that tells me to investigate the desk, completely ignoring the alarms in the back of my mind. A few dusty papers are messily spread on top. Some are blank, and some look like letters. They are so old I cannot read them, though, so I decide to pry open the drawers. There isn’t much except dust, but in the bottom drawer, shoved deep in the back, I find a small but thick leather bound book. It’s not as dirty as it should be, I think.

Thump, thump, thump.

The sound stops me for a moment, and I listen for it again. Nothing comes. It sounds like a warning, but I can’t stop yet. The book in my hands is full of incantations, recipes with strange ingredients, and ritual practices. My eyes are glued to the pages.

Tristan’s voice pulls me from my trance. “Find something good?”

“Something great! Come look at this.” I show him the page I am currently opened to.

“Wow, Lex. This is probably the most interesting and simultaneously creepiest place we’ve ever found.”

I agree and ask him if he’s found anything promising. He says that the kitchen is pretty empty, save for some herbs and spices. It smells like something died in there recently, but he couldn’t find what.

“Every other door I’ve tried is locked except for the one right next to the library. It leads to the basement, though,” he tells me.

“Should we check upstairs? That’s where you thought you saw the blood.”

Thump, thump, thump.

Tristan looks towards the ceiling. “It sounds like it’s coming from the second floor.”

We both walk out of the library to where the sweeping staircase leads to the daunting upper level. Neither of us make a move to climb it. It doesn’t look safe at all, and I start have a bad feeling about this. I can’t figure out what drew us here so strongly, but I suddenly don’t like it. Tristan looks nervous, too.

A panel of wood underneath the staircase doesn’t look like it is connected to the rest, and with closer inspection, I realize it’s a hidden cabinet. As soon as I pry it open, I wish I hadn’t. A pile of mutilated cats lay inside. The stench hits me like a bus and I gag. Tristan shuts the cabinet quickly and looks sick.

“Rats and squirrels I can deal with,” Tristan says with a disgusted look on his face. “But cats are a new one.”

“And those ones didn’t just die here. Someone put them there.”

“We should get out of here.”

I am on board with the idea. This really doesn’t feel right anymore. In fact, it feels so horribly wrong that I can’t imagine why we came here in the first place.

Thump, thump, thump.

Tristan and I look up again. It’s definitely coming from upstairs.

Thump, thump, thump, thump.

It doesn’t stop now. The sound is closer and stronger and matches my heartbeat. Fear rises in my chest.

At the top of the staircase, black hooded cloaks file in. They are shadows in the darkness, and my flashlight does nothing to curb the fear that now bubbles inside me. My fight-or-flight instincts kick in, and I run for the back door. It is closer, and the cloaks stand stationary on the landing. The knob is stiff.

I take a deep breath and bolt for the front door. Tristan remains petrified, and slowly the figures start for the first floor. I grab his arm for him to follow me, but he won’t budge. The horror movie I am living in takes a new level when I go to yank the door open and the knob breaks off in my hands. My throat closes up. Tristan finally comes to, and his body slams into mine as he follows me to escape.

Thump, thump, thump, thump.

The two of us back up against the door. The black mob moves in the shadows toward us at their hauntingly slow pace, like it doesn’t matter how quickly they go, they are going to get us.

Tristan grabs my hand. “Quick the basement!”

It is the only open window and our one chance to escape. The stairs down here a rickety and the wood is soft from the water. It’s not safe by any means, but it’s our last hope. We slosh through the chest-high water. I am pretty much doing the breaststroke. Tristan lifts me up so I can crawl out first. By the time I am safely on the dirt outside, the thumping stops, and the quiet rippling of water replaces the noise. I reach for my best friend’s hand, and he slips from my grasp. We are both soaking wet.

I plant my knees in the dirt and take his hands in both of mine. It’s not easy, but soon Tristan is almost halfway out of the window. I really think we are going to make it out of this when I start to lose him again. He screams. This time, though, it’s not him slipping. These mysterious people have him, and they are pulling him back. Tristan tries to leverage himself against the window frame. My knuckles are white and my heart is pounding. Both of us are crying.

If I believe hard enough, I can pull him out. I have an iron grip on his wrist, and he pushes against the side of the house. The adrenaline is enough to save us.

Until it isn’t.

It takes all of half a second, but he is gone. Tristan slips from my grip and disappears into the blackness. Everything is silent. There is no sound coming from the basement, no water rippling, no screams, no words. I want to hear him struggling or fighting—anything to know he is alive—but there is nothing.

I can’t move, and I can’t breathe. My best friend is gone. I throw up in the dirt and wait for some sign of life inside the basement.

Finally, I am tired of sitting there waiting. Waiting isn’t going to save Tristan. I gather up every ounce of strength I have and drive to town. I need help. When I get to the police station and frantically tell them what happened, no one quite believes me. I am wet, filthy, and out of breath. I look crazy.

Hell, I feel crazy.

Somehow I persuade a few officers to come back to the house with me. I don’t think any of them believe me, but they want to calm down a distressed girl. I lead them up the walk to where the door now hangs wide open. Flashlights and guns at the ready, the officers scour the house. I am too afraid to go inside again.

“Miss, nobody is here,” an officer tells me. He is careful with his words as to not upset me.

I blink at him, dumbfounded. “What do you mean nobody is here?”

“Exactly that, miss. There isn’t even evidence of anybody being in this house.”

“No blood?”

“No, miss.”

“Dead cats?”

“Not one.”

I take a deep breath before asking the question I fear the most. “You didn’t find Tristan’s body weighted to the bottom of the basement?”

“I’m sorry, but no.”

“That can’t be possible.” I storm past him through the door. I am still terrified, but I need Tristan more than anything.

The portrait in the library glares at me, and I want to tear it off the wall. The girl in it was supposed to give me answers, but all I have are more questions. The cats are gone, like the officer said. The basement stairs look more menacing than ever, and I don’t dare chance them to investigate myself. I don’t go upstairs. I don’t need to to know that I will find nothing there.

The police had knocked down the back door, so I step outside. The clearing is barren. My heart aches, and I wonder if I dreamed up the whole thing. But Tristan is very real, and he has to be here.

Then I see it. At the edge of the clearing, right past where the dead grass turns to trees, I see something out of place. I break into a sprint toward it. My knees are weak, but somehow they carry me the whole way. A few officers call after me, but I don’t hear what they are saying.

I run into a stone alter hidden among the trees, where Tristan is bound and gagged and barely conscious. He has unreadable symbols and markings carved all over his arms and face. His feet and his hands are tied together so that his back arches in a painful and uncomfortable way. His lips are moving, but the sounds are inaudible.

“Tristan,” I say through tears. “Tristan, what happened to you?”

I know he won’t answer. It is more a question for myself. I am at a loss for other words, and violent sobs erupt from my chest. Everything is a blur. Someone pulls me away from my boyfriend’s body, and I don’t have the strength to fight back. I can do nothing more than crumble. All I can see are his dark and lifeless eyes.

Something in the Water

Imagine this:

It’s a little past midnight, dark and cool. A breeze wakes goosebumps on your skin. A trillion stars glitter the sky. There are so many that they could almost form a white blanket. They are not so bright, though–that is where the moon comes in. It’s full and giving off enough light to see your surroundings.

You are at the lake. It is silent and the water is like glass. Every once in a while, the breeze is strong enough to create a ripple over the surface. You are just laying on the dock, watching for shooting stars. On a clear night like this one, it is not that difficult. You almost cannot keep up with them. Your eyes dart around, counting them off, but you definitely miss some.

It smells like pine trees and fresh air, scents you never got in the smog of the city. There is the faint stench of fish, too, but the trees mask it pretty well. In your head, you add the smell of boat fuel and it throws you back to age five, when you spent every day jumping off the dock, tubing around the lake, and adventuring with the neighbors kids. You grew up on it, and you wish there was a Yankee candle that could recreate it.

You close your eyes to give them a break. The easy rocking of the dock is soothing, for once. It doesn’t make you feel sick or give you a headache like it usually does. Your breathing is deep and easy. It is cliche, but this is the most at peace you have every felt.

You are not thinking about books to read, shifts to work, conversations to have. You are not worrying about that rumor you heard about yourself or what that boy thinks of you. Your phone is back on dry land, and it doesn’t matter how many texts it has–or doesn’t have. Whoever might be trying to get a hold of you can wait…maybe for forever. Maybe you just won’t leave this spot. Maybe time will just stop right now and leave you be for all of eternity.

Cricket chirp in the trees along the water and a frog ribbits nearby. It does not quite bring you back to reality, but you do return to the present. You open your eyes, and the world is still quiet. It’s a little too quiet, though, so you dip your feet into the water. You expect it to be cold, but it’s not. It is actually very warm, and it feels much better than the breeze between your toes had. You slowly kick your feet back and forth to create a constant ripple on the lake. It goes out pretty far, but would never reach the other shore.

You wish you could jump in, clothes and all, but the Mama Bear in you says, “You should never swim alone. That would be just stupid.” So you settle for just your feet.

For a moment, you wonder if this would be better if someone was there to share this memory with you, but it is fleeting. Any other soul would ruin it. Another time, maybe, when you are ready to share this place with another. Someone who can squeeze your hand and share this moment with you in the calm quiet. Someone who can count the shooting stars you miss and makes the wishes you can’t.

But for now, it is just you. You and the water and the wind. The only things you need, really.

Your feet splash when you take them out of the water. You track little footprints over the wooden panels. You take a deep breath…and then another. The goosebumps prickle your skin again, and you close your eyes. Take one more breath.

Hold it.

Hold it…

And jump.

 

The World We Knew

My breathing was heavy, and I was sweating up a storm. It was hot and humid underneath the trees. I felt like bugs were living on my skin, sucking my blood right out of me. Trevor did not look like he was having nearly as much trouble as I was, and I trailed a good six feet behind him.

“Are you sure you know where you are going?” I asked.

He stopped and turned around. Somehow, even sweaty and tired, he still looked like he could be on the cover of GQ. “Yes, Jenna, I do.”

I caught up to him. “Well, are we almost there?” I didn’t mean to sound whiny, but this was taking a lot longer than Trevor had said.

“Of course, we are. Are you not enjoying this quality time together, just you and me?” He put his backpack against the trunk of a tree and took mine off for me. “You don’t like these beautiful trees and chirping birds and being so close to me,” he whispered, carefully massaging my aching shoulders.

“It’s gorgeous, Trev. I love it and I love you. But can we please dip into the snacks that you brought? Pleeeease?”

He laughed and kissed my temple. “Okay, just a little break. You won’t regret this, though, I promise.”

I believed him. He was always dragging me on adventures: hiking, biking, boating, you name it. Being such an introvert, I was always wary of it at first, but the views were more than worth it. He knew just how to bring me out of my shell and show me the wild and wonderful parts of life. I may have been tired now, but once we got to wherever we were going, I would be thanking Trevor for this trip for weeks. Maybe months. This place was supposed to be particularly special to him, though he would not tell me why.

As we ate our granola bars, Trevor named off various plants and birds to me. I was listening, of course, but I was also taking in all the sights and sounds and smells. A light breeze circled around the two of us, rustling the leaves. A critter was runnign around nearby, crunching leaves under its little feet. Sunlight poked through the tree branches and a sliver cast itself across Trevor’s face and neck. It hit his watch, too, and made it sparkle.

“Are you all set?” he asked, smiling his goofy smile at me.

“Very much so, my love,” I replied. The short break gave me a boost of energy and excitement–although, that could have been because the flavor of my granola bar was sea salt caramel and chocolate. A little sugar rush was much needed.

Trevor had been right about being close. It was only about twenty more minutes before we came to a clearing. Like magic, the trees stopped at an invisible line and the sun shined down on the grassy green clearing dotted with pastel purple flowers that fluttered in the wind. It was breathtaking. So tranquil and idyllic.

“There it is…” Trevor whispered.

At the other end of the clearing, closer to the trees on the other side than to us, was a large structure made of wood, stone, and red bricks turned gray and white from time and weathering. The windows were glassless and there were no doors. I could not see inside, but I could tell that there were probably more than six rooms, even big ones. In fact, you might be able to fit my whole apartment into just a fifth of the building. It was pretty magnificent for being out in the middle of nowhere. I forgot about the long hike and the bugs and the sweat. There was only this house.

“Trev, what is that?”

He could not stop smiling as he said, “That is my grandparents old vacation house. Come on!”

Like a little boy running towards the gates of Disneyland, my boyfriend rushed for the old house. To me, it looked beyond deserted. I could not imagine anyone having lived there in a hundred years. I followed him anyway–I always did.

“What happened here?” I asked him. He was standing in the doorway, almost afraid to go in.

He laid his hands on the wooden doorframe, as if trying to put life back into it. “A fire. When I was nine.”

It explained the accelerated age of the house, for sure, and why Trevor had been so intent on coming here. I knew a lot about him in the present, but his past had never failed to be a dodgy subject. I knew that he had a sister, two years older, and his parents were still happily married. He was born in Oregon, grew up in Wales, and had lived in Seattle sign the age of seventeen. He never opened up about the details, other than raving about the Welsh landscapes. He said one day he would take me there, but we, in his words, had to settle for rural Washington, sometimes Canada. This was the first time I had gotten to see him nostaglic about anything.

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I touched his arm. “You okay?”

He stuttered for a moment but replied, “Yeah. I just haven’t been here since then.”

“You were here?” I exclaimed.

He nodded slowly, still only looking into the cold, empty interior. I could tell that he was looking into the past, not seeing the bare walls and floors, but seeing his younger self running from room to room, weaving between the furniture, maybe chasing his sister.

“Are you going to go in?”

“You know, it’s been so long, I don’t know if I can.”

I squeezed by him into the house. Trevor looked almost shocked, as if I had stepped into the past, into his memories. My footsteps echoed, boucing off the walls. If he wasn’t going to wander around, I was. I hoped it would bring him inside so he could face this fear so clearly resonating in him.

“Oh, Mr. Adventure can’t walk into his old stomping grounds? That just doesn’t seem right.” I slowly walked towards him, hoping he would meet me in the middle.

He didn’t.

So I brushed the hair from his eyes, the eyes of a lost boy who just found his way home, and I kissed him. Nothing too special, but enough that when I took a step backwards, he came all the the way through the doorway. Probably the most effective way to lure him in, I’d say.

The change was instantaneous. Suddenly there was a warmth within the walls. It did not feel so lonely anymore. He could tell, too. He began telling me where all the old furniture went, the exact placement of the coffee table to the couch, how close the rug came to the walls, how he could peer his head through one doorway and see his mother in the kitchen, baking with his grandmother.

“Oh, it smelled like Christmas! Nonna made the most wonderful gingerbread cookies. It was summer, but she would always make sure we had a little something sweet to sneak to our rooms after going to bed. She used to stand at the counter, mixing everything, not adding in the cinnamon until almost the end–that was her secret–and singing an old Nordic lullaby,” Trevor explained excitedly. He closed his eyes and hummed the tune, mumbling the foreign words to himself. I could almost hear music along with it.

He rambled on about the fire, how it came out of nowhere–“Maybe old wiring, I don’t know”–and how everything was lost. It took too long for anyone to get here to save it. The downside of such a scenic location. His grandmosther had been stuck in the basement at the time, and his grandfather died trying to save her. Neither of them made it. “We couldn’t do anything more than watch it burn.”

“It’s why you came back to Washington, isn’t it? After all that time?” I wondered.

He nodded. “I just hadn’t have the courage to come back until now. Until you.”

“Me?” I was confused. He was the wild one. Any night spend outside of my apartment–off my couch even–was a social win.

“Yes. You remind me of what it was like to be here. To have love, to be loved. To be home. Being with you brings me back to the happiness I felt here.”

It was, by far, the best compliment anyone had ever given me, and I was unbelievably grateful he was sharing this piece of himself with me.

And just like that, I could see it all, too, like Trevor’s memories had come alive. I didn’t need pictures to see what it all was like, his words were enough to paint the scenes for me. I was seeing him as a child, racing around and licking the spoon of gingerbread batter, like they were my own memories.

“Thank you for bringing me here, for letting me see this part of you,” I told him.

Trevor smiled, his eyes bright in the darkened room. “Thank you for bringing me home.”


Prompt here.

xx Ash

Helter Skelter

So I’ve been a little busy. Car rides and baseball and Helter Skelter. Repeat. That is really all I have been doing–well, that and eating. After Spring Training over the weekend and then a hop, skip, and a jump to San Diego for my brother’s tournament, I was thinking only in baseball jargon. In between driving and cheering on the Indians, I had my nose buried in Vince Bugliosi’s documentation of the Manson Murders. Heck, I want to abandon trying to write this post right now to snuggle up with it again.

Helter Skelter marks the beginning of my research for a book I want to write about a serial killer (or maybe a few, I don’t know yet). Charles Manson is one of the most famous criminals in American history, and I find his life quite fascinating. Reading about the Family and his power over them…the only way I can describe it is crazy. I keep having to remind myself that all this is true. Vince Bugliosi did a fabulous job chronicling the case.

In reading the book in various public places this week, it has sparked a few conversations, mostly with people my parents’ ages–people who were around and living in LA at the time. Today I got my hair cut, and my hairdresser (one of my favorite people in the whole world) told me about a few close encounters. She raised horses growing up (and even got to do stunts with them for movies!), and one of her horses mated with another man’s horse. They had to register the baby with the breeder, and in this processes, ended up at Spahn Ranch. Her mother told her to stay in car because a bunch of hippie girls were hiding around in the bushes. “Hippie” had not quite become a term yet at the time, though, so she had described them more as hobo-looking. Turns out, the breeder was one Mr. Shorty Shea, one of Manson’s victims. Shea had been killed and chopped up into pieces and buried in various places on the ranch. Needless to say, they could not get the horse registered.

Could you even imagine?

It makes me wonder about Garretson, the caretaker of the Tate residence. He could have easily been the sixth victim, had they checked the guesthouse. And the fact that he did not hear the screams or the gunshots has my mind racing.

The number of other close encounters has me reeling as well. My dad has been filling me in on incidents where the intended victim was saved by a green light or a flat tire. A family friend told me she grew up just minutes from the LaBianca residence. I could not even imagine what it would be like to have had the Family pull a Creepy Crawler mission on my house. In case you do not know, a Creepy Crawler is when some Family members dress in all black and break into houses to crawl around and move various objects around slightly, just enough for the owner to notice in the morning.

It is so interesting to read the confessions and interviews with Manson and the Family. They feel zero guilt or remorse. Hell, they liked what they did. “Crazy Sadie” giggled when talking about the Tate murders. I cannot even imagine what it felt like to be working on the case or to be a member of the jury. It sends shivers up my spine.

Quite a few people have told me that after reading the book, they could not sleep at night. I have not gotten to that point yet, which almost makes me nervous. Shouldn’t I be more afraid than this? Probably. Maybe I have not gotten to the worst of it yet–I have a feeling it is about to take a step in a bad direction. I am a mixture of anxious, excited, and a bit afraid.

I am gathering a lot of interesting information to use in my own story. Point of view, methods, emotions, and so on. I found a couple of really fabulous passages about crime scenes and Manson’s back story. Bugliosi does such a great job with the details and the story and the proper way to solve a crime and convict the guilty party. I would have loved to sit down with him and ask him about a million questions about the case and Manson himself. I am so weirdly fascinated by him. And serial killers in general.

On a side note from that: dear all boys who friendzoned, ended relationships with me, and avoid me in general, you dodged a bullet!

I am getting to set the scene of my Pulitzer Prize winner (I can dream, right?), and it is wild. True crime + my obsession with crimes shows = a bestseller? Let’s hope!

If you know anything about Manson not mentioned in the book or have thoughts about his crimes and the Family I would love to hear about it. Any input or advice on writing a story like this or other book recommendations are also appreciated. Compiling an arsenal of information, basically.

I’m crazy, I know.

-Ash

Because of You – Celebrating 1 Year of my Greatest Accomplishment

As I write this, it is March 2, 2016. As I write this, I am thinking of all the homework I have to do still and how stressed I am to have three finals in one day this quarter. As I write this, I am trying not to think about the way this sickness I have acquired is making my whole body ache and turning my nose into Niagara Falls. And as I write this, I am incredibly stoked to say that I get to go to Spring Training in just a few weeks!!

But something else is on my mind today, and yes, it is because of one of those Facebook “See Your Memories” things. For once, I was so happy to see a memory.

On this day one year ago, I finished the first draft of my novel.

I know, it is nuts. It is nuts that I wrote a novel and had the patience to draft it three more times. It is nuts that it is currently in the hands of a literary agent. It is also nuts that it has taken me this long to get this far, but I am still deciding on whether or not it is a good thing or a bad thing.

Basically, life is crazy. I cannot believe that it has already been a year since I finished writing a freaking novel. Time has flown by so fast, and I kind of thought I would be further along than this. I would love to get it published before I turn 21, but that is happening in five months (!!!), and I don’t think it will happen. This is a long process, I know.

Sometimes, I think I am not good enough to be a great writer–or even a good one. There is so much talent out there, and I feel like my work is subpar. I feel like my novel will fizzle out and I will not be able to come back from that and create something new and worthy. Novels are hard. As I have gone through draft after draft, I wonder if anyone will even like this story. I wonder if it makes sense. I have put my heart and soul into this story, and I am afraid that it will get lost in the world of Chick Lit and YA fiction. I am afraid that it won’t be published at all.

A lot of people, especially at a polytechnic school like mine, think english is easy. They don’t give it any credit. It is pointless in the world they live in. Even adults give me condescending looks and say “At Cal Poly?” when I tell them my major. A lot of people don’t think I belong at this school. And while I could never do what they do, they can never do what I do either. It is a two-way street, bud.

And then they come to me with there puppy-dog eyes and ask me if I can edit their papers for them.

That is when I remind myself that the world needs minds like mine. Not everyone can work so logically all the time. Sometimes we need to take a break from the real world and immerse ourselves into someone else’s. This is how I feel about writing.

I want to tell you about how I feel in love with writing because it forever changed my life.

I grew up wanting to be in the spotlight; actress and singer were my chosen professions. I had always dabbled in writing, but I never took it very seriously, which is why all my novel ideas and beginnings of drafts ended up on the drawing room floor.

In the eighth grade, my teacher (Ms. Lauren Pinto, whom I love. A fab woman, if you ask me.) gave us a creative writing assignment. I wrote a few pages of a spooky Halloween story that ended on a To Be Continued… cliffhanger. I was going to end it there–let the reader’s mind wander where it may. Until I came up with more to the story.

It became a four-part saga of this wild almost Pretty Little Liars-esque adventure the protagonist, Allie, went on with her four best friends, Dani, Candace, and Ava, who at the time, were my real-life squad. It may have only been about ten pages total, but to me, it was everything. It was the first seed I planted in my own Garden of Eden.

I loved it so much that I had to share it with everyone I knew, specifically, my Uncle Steve, who was a professor and co-founder of Cal State Channel Islands. If anyone should read it, it was him. So I emailed him the document and waited. It was not until the next time I saw him that I heard anything about my story.

My uncle had taken it upon himself to print it all out and write out feedback for me. There was so much red on the pages that I almost did not want to read what he said. I wondered how he could be so mean to his favorite niece! Why wasn’t he praising me for a job well done? I only half listened as he told me he like the story but had a few points of criticism. All I thought was that I was no good. There was no point in me continuing to write, if this was what it was going to be like. Clearly, I was not good enough. I only skimmed through his marks before putting the pages away in my desk. I did not look at them after that.

During my freshman year of high school, I decided (actually, my mother made me) to clean out my desk and make room for all the high school stuff I would acquire throughout the next few years. In my cleaning, I came across my old Halloween story again. I felt a twinge of anger, but I sat there on my bedroom floor and started looking through it–partly because I wanted to take a break, partly because a piece of me knew my uncle might be right.

I read through his comments with an open mind and realized that he was totally right about a lot of things I had written. His feedback would have made it better, I just had not wanted to see it at first. I took this notion and ran away with it. It was time for another draft of the story.

It was not long before I realized I wasn’t just running with it, I was going for the marathon. I took his feedback and added in my own, doubling the length of the story. To be honest, I think I liked this part more than writing the first draft. It was so much fun to see how I had grown as a writer and as a person. I knew Uncle Steve was only trying to help me, and I should have never taken his advice in a negative way. I could not wait to show him everything my story had turned into.

In September of my sophomore year, Uncle Steve lost his battle with cancer, and he never got to read the final draft of Fright Night. I had been working so hard on it that it almost felt pointless to continue if he would never get to see it. I remember reading his feedback and comparing it to the new and improved story. I wanted to put it all away again and not look back. It didn’t feel right. But I read over the original one more time and touched where his pen met the page, I knew I had to finish it for him.

I will always dedicate that story to him, and he will always be the reason I fell in love with writing again. Later in my sophomore year, after a failed half-draft of Fright Night, Volume II, I began my novel. This one, I would commit to. It may have taken me almost four years to finish, thanks to writer’s block, loss of motivation, SATs, school work, AP tests, college applications, etc, but I did it. And one year later, I could not be more grateful.

Every time I feel stuck or that my writing is not good enough, I close my eyes and I think back to that very first draft. The images of his comments are ingrained into my brain. Seeing his handwriting reminds me why I did this. Why I love this.

Of course, I am sad that he will never get to read my first novel. I am disappointed that he will never get to see my name in print. I tear up a little when I think about that first story. But I just take a deep breath and I remember the rush of the first draft and how falling in love with an idea feels like I am five years old on Christmas Day. Uncle Steve did that for me. He helped me discover my love of writing, and I am forever thankful for that. I know how proud he is of me.

I miss him every day, but that gives me strength to keep writing, to keep following my dreams. Whenever I forget why I picked the world’s most hated my school’s most hated a major/career with such a dicey success rate, I just remember that I can do anything. I can be anything. And one day when I am accepting my Pulitzer Prize, Steve Lefevre will be at the top–and quite possibly the most important–on my list of Thank Yous.

xx Ash

PS “My Story” got an upgrade! Check it out 🙂