My Continuation of Gothic Fiction

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This is the third part of a Gothic short story I’m working on. I recommend reading the previous posts if you wish to catch up.

The Music Box Pt 3
Copyright Jonathan Scott Griffin

Anna awoke in cold sweat to the sound of the music box chiming in her dresser. Not even the closed drawer could do much to muffle the sound. The setting sun caused the sky to burn orange and red, darkening her room in mild shade. Anna felt sick hearing the sad music play from the music box. She tossed aside her covers and opened her dresser to retrieve the accursed antique. She was about to toss it outside, but something in her mind prevented her from doing so. She got the impression that to do so would be to murder the dancer a second time. From what she saw in her dream, she was guessing that the ballerina had indeed been murdered. Still, she couldn’t just have the music box start playing by itself. There had to be some way to jam the mechanism.

               Anna went to the old pantry, now being used by her mother as a tool shed, and got a screwdriver, a wrench, and other tools. She worked as carefully as she could, in the hopes that she wouldn’t damage the music box to an extent that it couldn’t be repaired. She managed to crack the box open and then proceeded to remove all the parts inside, thus putting a stop to the torturous music. Anna breathed heavily, sweat dripping down from her forehead, her sweat stained shirt clinging to her like a cold, clammy rag.

               She took the broken apart music box back to her room, and shoved all the parts back in her dresser. It was just in time, too, as the front door slammed to indicate her mom had just come back home. “Anna, are you okay?” she called to her.

               Anna scurried back under her covers, pulling them over her head. Her mom had knocked, but had still opened the door without giving her time to answer. Her mom walked over and sat down beside her. Anna felt her slowly draw back the covers. “Feeling any better, kiddo?” her mom asked before putting a hand on Anna’s forehead. “You’re burning up. You were right. It’s good that you stayed home from school today. Well, get some rest. If you need anything, like, I don’t know, maybe chicken soup, don’t be afraid to holler.”

               “I can’t sleep,” Anna said weakly. “I’ve been sleeping all day. Can I stay up and read one of my favorite books or watch one of my favorite shows?”

               “Sure, honey, that will be fine. Can I get you anything?”

               “No. I’m not hungry.”

               True to her word, Anna spent the rest of the evening reading from one of her favorite books and then watching some TV. She had zero desire to think about the events that had just transpired. She knew that she would have to eventually go back into the attic in order to help the dancer. But for the time being she didn’t want to think about it at all.

              

This desire to block out the frightening memory extended for the next five months, during which she came close to forgetting about it. Anna lived those months going to school, hanging out with her friends, reading, and watching TV. She had dinner with her mom in the evening, and her mom fixed her breakfast in the morning. Life for the most part was normal and uneventful again. And for the time being, Anna wondered if she had just imagined the frightening ordeal. Either way, she was enjoying the monotony.

               It was too good to last.

               One night, shortly after Anna had fallen asleep, she heard the ballerina whisper, “Help me.” This time the ballerina was even whiter than before, standing in a black abyss. She looked at Anna, tears of scarlet blood seeping down her eyes and blood trickling down her mouth. The ballerina opened her mouth wide into a blood curdling scream that shook the very frame of Anna.

               Anna awoke in a state of near petrification to the chimes of the music box playing. But how could that be possible? She had taken apart that infernal piece of junk. She wanted to get out of her bed. But she was frightened. Too frightened.

               Her mom opened the door, a look of anger on her face. “What are you doing playing music this time of night?”

               Anna didn’t answer her, opting instead to stay under her covers and cry.

               “Oh, honey, I’m sorry,” her mom softened her tone. “What’s wrong, sweetie?” She sat down by Anna, removed the covers, and held her in her arms.

               Anna couldn’t speak, but she did manage to point, her hand shaking violently, to her dresser where the music was coming from. Her mom walked over to the dresser and slowly opened the drawer. To Anna’s shock, she took out the music box in perfect condition.

               “Where did you get this?” her mom quizzed her. “Was it from the attic?”

               Anna sobbed. Her mother rushed back to her to again hold her tight. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” she whispered in Anna’s ear. “I’m not angry. I promise.”

               “I saw a ghost,” whimpered Anna, finally mustering up the courage to look up at her mom.

               Her mom’s face turned briefly pale, though she tried to sound stoic. “Nonsense. It was just a bad dream.”

               “It was in the attic,” Anna protested. “About five months ago, late at night.”

               “Well, maybe you feel asleep in the attic if it was late. There has to be a rational explanation. But I don’t believe for one moment that this house is haunted.”

               Anna wanted to tell her mother that what she just said wasn’t true, that the house was very much haunted. But her mom had spoken her view in such a firmness as to end any room for debate. Besides, how could she hope to tell her mom that the music box was now repaired after being taken apart?

               “I’m going to take this,” her mom said – the music had now stopped playing – and I am going to put it back in the attic.”

               “No, don’t!” cried Anna, throwing herself in the way of her mom. Her mom tried to assuage her fears by telling her that it was her wild imagination and that they’d both be fine.

               Those five minutes that Anna waited for her mom to come back downstairs seemed like an agonizing hour. She was grateful when her mom finally returned, wished her good night, and retired to her room.

               Yet, it was a small comfort only. Anna knew what she’d have to do. She’d have to return to the attic and save the ballerina if this nightmare were to end.

 

It was a cold fall day, the trees losing their leaves to bare their crooked limbs, when Anna returned to the attic. Though it was daylight this time around – her mother had left for an errand – the attic was still fairly dark, and cold. Only a few windows allowed for a little bit of light to pass through.

               Anna wasn’t sure what she was supposed to be looking for exactly. Nor did she know how much  she would have until her mom returned. She looked over at the door to the storage room. She still felt a sense of terror from it, but she didn’t feel like she was in any immediate danger.

               The only thing she could do was to look through the different chests and boxes. What she found was 19th century and early 20th century novels, old china and silverware, and some more old clothing. It could have been exciting had it not been for the pressure Anna was under.

Finally, she came across a smaller box, a shoebox. Inside the shoebox was a pile of old letters incased in envelopes, brittle to the touch. Anna feared that if she touched them they would turn to dust. But she had no choice. She felt that whatever secrets this house held would be partly revealed in the letters. Her heart froze when she noticed the address on the envelopes were for outward mail, but had never been sent out.

Hands shaking, she opened one of the envelopes, scared that she might rip it. She didn’t, and she composed herself enough to gently unfold the old paper. The letter was written in cursive, but it was eligible. The letter was dated 1876. She read it.

 

Momma, Poppa,

Please help me. If I was ever in need of succor it is now. I am a prisoner in this house. I fear that old Karl is going mad, and is fit for nothing more than to be sent to a sanitarium. His behavior grows increasingly more erratic. One moment he is jovial with a cheerful and pleasant countenance, the next he is despondent, his demeanor absolutely melancholic. Sometimes he is even prone to bouts of extreme rage, to the point I think he is going to give me a whipping I can never recover from. But that is not the worst of the demons he manifests. He is at his worst when he is happy beyond comprehension. What I mean by that is he will be overcome with bursts of laughter for no reason. I know it is said that it is a good thing to laugh, but his laughter has a sinister ring to it, and he smiles as if to disguise a dark heart.

If only this were the least of my concerns, but suffice to say it is not so. I fear that I am not the first woman he has married and I fear that I won’t be the last. I found three old wedding rings in a drawer, as well as the shredded remains of an old wedding dress in the attic.

Mama, Papa, I am beside myself. Eating is a burden. Sleeping is a burden. I want to go out and get fresh air, but he will not let me leave the house. I am hoping to give this letter to a friend of his. His friend, I think, is sympathetic to my plight.

Love,

Your dutiful daughter Eileen.

 

               Anna felt a sense of terror that she had never felt before. Anna didn’t want to read all the letters, seeing as this one was already taking an emotional toll on her. However, there was an old red notebook under all of the letters. It caught her eye like freshly spilled blood on freshly fallen snow. She opened it to learn that it was a journal of some sort. She had turned to the middle of the book and found herself reading a nightmare in words.

January, 6 1885.

They think I murdered those women. But I am not to blame. The parents cannot prove anything. I am an innocent victim. This house wants blood. It demands a sacrifice. So I oblige. But it never leaves me alone. I hear the voice at night. The voice that calls for blood. It calls me to the storage room in the attic. That storage room is hungry. It calls me to me.

               It matters not. If I’m convicted I will get the chair. But I won’t let them. I will die here first. Besides, maybe then the voices will stop calling me.

 

Ann couldn’t read anymore. This wasn’t an attic. It was a portal to Hell. She wanted to leave and never come back. But she couldn’t just yet. It was irrelevant how afraid she was. Though she felt a sense of hopelessness that she hoped to never feel again, she had to know what was in the storage closet.

Hesitantly and in trepidation she walked over to the door and slowly opened it. It creaked loudly. It was almost pitch black inside, but Anna heard something clatter against the floor. Alarmed, she looked down to see a skull frozen in a deathly grin, its eyeless sockets staring up at her. A quick look into the closet also revealed, with the little light there was coming from the windows, mounds of human bones.

Anna screamed and ran down the attic stairs, slamming the door behind her. But she didn’t stop there. She didn’t stop screaming until she was out of the house and in the foggy woods that surrounded it.

Amongst a grove of trees, Anna fell on her knees, about ready to throw up. The thick fog laid heavily on her and upon the trees, silhouetting the trunks and the limbs into shadowy shapes gasping for air out from the choking grey blanket. The only thing that stood out from the gray of the fog, and the gray and black of the earth and trees, were the remaining leaves, burning orange and red like fire, on the branches. 

Anna tried to compose herself. She wanted to get lost in the fog, to disappear in it and never return. As she was wishing for the fog to envelope her in its cold embrace, the sounds of the music box began to chime again. The ghost of the ballerina stepped up to her. Anna almost didn’t see her because of how well she blended into the fog. The ballerina looked at her with sad eyes.

“What do you want from me?” Anna asked her.

The ghost pointed back to the direction of the house, its spires and weathervane rising like tombs above the sea of fog.

“I’m not going back there,” screamed Anna.

“Help me, help us,” the ballerina pleaded in a voice that echoed from another dimension. “You’ll find your answers at the library.” Upon this advice, she faded away into the fog, the sounds of the music box fading with her.

 

More Writing Gothic Fiction

Here’s part 2 of the Gothic short story I am working on since it’s October. To those who haven’t read part 1, read it first here.

https://anauthorstravails.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/the-challenge-of-writing-gothic-fiction/

Now, on for part II.

The more she thought about it, the more she wondered why she was waiting around. She could handle staying up a night. When her mother was in bed, she’d go to the attic. It was a long wait, at least over two hours. But finally, she heard her mom open the door to her room and shut it. But it wasn’t time yet. She had to wait at least another hour to make sure her mom was asleep. After an hour, Anna carefully opened her own bedroom door to the hallway. Her mother’s door was closed and the light to her room was off. That was a good sign. Next Anna grabbed her flashlight stowed away in her dresser. She was good to go.

               She tiptoed down the halls, annoyed at the old floors groaning under her feet. With this noise it was certain that her mom would wake up. But she didn’t. Anna slowly walked up the three flights of stairs to the final hallway that would lead to the attic. Until then, she had felt her way around the house. Now she turned on the flashlight, shining it on the doorway to the attic. Trepidation, she had not felt prior, now shot up her spin. After all this time of being determined to explore the attic, Anna was now asking herself if this was a wise decision.  She shut the door of her fears and locked it tightly. Of course it was a good idea! With a house this old, who knew what secrets were waiting for her at the top of the stairs. The attic was her King Tut’s tomb, waiting to be explored and excavated of priceless artifacts. That settled it. She opened the door and walked slowly up the steps.

               The attic smelt archaic, a musty smell that was almost suffocating. Anna felt a sense of excitement partly birthed out of rebelliousness and partly out of wonder for what was waiting for her in the attic. Her flashlight shined a beam cutting through the dust and the darkness as she quietly made her way up the stairs.

               She found a spacious room when she reached the attic, stuffed with boxes and chests overflowing with all manner of trinkets, and old furniture scattered about, some in a state of decay. A couple of antique lamps, dating to the early 20th century, sat upon a couple of tables. Paintings lay on the side of the wall, their canvas torn, their frames rusting. Some of the paintings were those of landscapes, others of portraits. The portraits were unnerving. The people on them looked despondent, some even dour. Anna looked away from the paintings to find that one of the couches had an old blanket covered in mildew spread it across it, as well as a late 19th century porcelain doll of a girl.

               Anna picked up the doll gently, for fear it would fall apart in her hands. The doll had many cracks in the face, as well as grime coated onto it. Most unnerving were the stains coming down from the eyes. They were a dark black, but it still looked like she had been weeping. The doll’s dress, once a vibrant white, was now stained a sickly orange and yellow.

               Anna placed the doll back onto the couch and looked for other things she could find in the attic, maybe something more pleasant. A chest, brimming with clothes, in the corner of the attic popped out at her, the light of her flashlight dancing off the rainbow colors of the cornucopia of different fabrics. She searched through the chest, finding a myriad of different dresses dating back from the 19th and early 20th century. The dresses were elegant, and Anna even tried some of them on, finding that many were too big for her.

               When she was doing looking through the chest of dresses, she pulled out one of the boxes. Opening it, she found an old canteen, a rusted knife, a worn out wallet, and a small box currency from the 1880s. Tired of that box, Anna looked through another chest to find lots of brittle notebooks. But it wasn’t a waste. There were many photos in the chest, too. They were black and white photos of people whom Anna assumed were the old tenants. They were dressed like proper Victorians, with their nice suits and dresses. Anna wondered who they were, what their life story was, and if she could find out, or if the story of their lives was buried under the years gone by.

               Deciding to continue her exploring, she stood up causing the beam of the flashlight to land upon a door she hadn’t noticed before near the back of the attic. Curious as she was, Anna couldn’t muster the courage to open the door. There was something ominous about it, something sinister that she couldn’t put her finger on. She grew frightened just looking at it. She asked herself if perhaps there was a curse in the house, some horror laying dormant under the sands of the years that passed by, something hungry for darkness, something whose hunger could never be quenched. Anna told herself that her imagination was getting the better of her. Those were just silly stories that illogical adults believed and immature children believed in.

               Still, the darkness of the attic was palpable, and the little amount of light from her flashlight couldn’t chase away all of the shadows that smothered the attic like a thick black cloak. Anna decided it was wise to come back another time when she was feeling more rational, perhaps during the day when her mother was out.

               Anna was making her way towards the door when she accidently knocked over an object upon the table. She had not seen it initially, and was only alerted to it when it landed upon the floor with a clack followed by music playing. She looked down to see a music box, which she picked up and examined. The lid had come open to reveal the figurine of a ballet dancer, wearing 19th century ballet clothes consisting of a tight-fitting bodice and a long tutu – certainly not like the short ones of the 21st century – that poofed out like a white rose in full bloom. Upon the figurine’s head was a floral crown. She danced upon a pedestal that rotated, a mechanism causing her to spin around with one leg stretched out in the back of her like a swan. In truth, the mechanism for the music box was very intricate, as one moment she’d be leaning her body forward, leg outstretched in the back of her and her arms outstretched as though she were getting ready to fly, the next standing tip toe on one foot, the other leg lifted up and bent so that the other foot could lightly touch the knee opposite as she spun around. The chime of the music that the mechanical ballerina danced to droned despondently out of the music box in an embodiment of pain and sorrow, sending a chill into the deepest recesses of Anna’s heart, filling her mind with images of shattered wishes and broken dreams. The sorrowful symphony melted like ice into the darkened attic that was voraciously feeding off of it.

               As the music box sadly sang on, Anna at first didn’t notice the apparition in front of her. It wasn’t until she felt a gust of frigid air that she looked up to see the white luminescent form of a ballerina dancing around her. Anna would have gasped if her breath had not of been glued in the back of her throat out of fear and wonder. She also would have dropped the music box, but it was frozen to her hands in fright. The ballerina looked just like the dancing figurine of the ballerina within the music box. The pale specter danced around Anna, her dress like the petals of a white rose blown gently in the wind, while the sad tune of the music played on. As the ballerina danced on, flowers fell from the wreath on her head, the petals withering away in twisted pain within the agonizing abyss of shadows.

               Anna wanted to run, but she was too petrified by shock to do so. And yet it wasn’t just shock that held her captive. The ballerina, though ghostly, had a grace about her, moving nimbly throughout the air.

               When the music ended, the ballerina faded away into the darkness, leaving Anna perplexed.

               A low groan emanated from the doorway near the back of the attic. It could have been the house settling, but it sounded more akin to a human groan, like the groan from a man, one twisted and tormented. Slowly the door in the back creaked open ever so slightly.

               This time, Anna didn’t wait. Not even letting go of the music box, she ran downstairs. She didn’t care if she woke her mother up. She slammed the attic door shut and ran back down towards her room. It was a miracle that she didn’t fall down the stair and break her neck.

               She expected her mother to come in at any moment to ask her what sort of tomfoolery she had gotten herself into, but her mom was still fast asleep in her room. Anna had forgotten that her mom could be a sound sleeper. Anna shoved the music box into one of her dresser drawers in the hopes that she wouldn’t think about it.

               She didn’t know if she’d be able to sleep the rest of the night. Would what was ever in the attic’s closet come down to get her? For that matter what was in that closet? Furthermore who was that ghostly apparition of a ballerina she saw? Sure enough, Anna didn’t sleep that night.

               When the sun arose to kindly banish the shadows, Anna finally fell asleep. It was then that her mom woke her up to ask her if anything was wrong. Anna lied, telling her she was a bit sick. Though her mom told her it didn’t feel like she had a fever, she still convinced her that she was feeling sick. Her mom let her have the day off from school, and Anna, exhausted, fell back asleep.

               Sleep offered Anna no solace. In her dreams she found herself back up in the attic. This time the attic door was wide open, and standing in it was the ghost of the ballerina she had seen. She had fear in her eyes and she cried out, “Anna, help me!” before the door closed on her as if it was a mouth devouring her.

               Anna awoke in cold sweat.
That’s where I’m currently at. I have found the story to be a challenge to write, but I am eager to finish it up.

(C) Jonathan Scott Griffin

 

Writing Gothic Fiction

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Due to it being October, I have taken a break from working on most of my fantasy and science fiction stories and novels to focus on Gothic fiction. In this case I am working on a couple of short stories and the beginning of a novel. I am in love with Gothic lit, with such books as Dracula, The Phantom Ship, Wuthering Heights, The Haunting of Hill House, and the works of Edgar Allan Poe and HP Lovecraft, just to name a few. I am hoping that I can capture the gloomy and macabre mood of death and decay as these works of art do. Here is the opening I have to my unfinished short story The Music Box.

“Don’t go up into the attic,” Anna’s mom told her sternly.

               “Why not?” Anna pouted indignantly.

               “Because it’s not safe up there,” her mother answered. “I don’t want you hurt, my love.”

               Anna folded her arms in displeasure. Her mother was always so unreasonable. What was the point of living out in a beautiful 19th century Victorian home if she could never explore it all? She had explored the library, the pantry, the living room, and all the bedrooms. She so wanted to see the attic. The fact that her mother was making it off limits just made her all the more curious. It was like a parent telling a child that they couldn’t eat the cookies from the cookie jar. No matter. Anna was determined, one way or another, to go into the attic.

               When it was Anna’s bedtime, she tried to sleep but couldn’t. If she had been curious during the day she was even more curious now. What was up there? She had occasionally heard family whispering about it. She once eavesdropped on a conversation between her mom and her grandma debating it over fiercely. Her grandma had been trying to talk her mother into not moving back into the house. “Well, what would you have me do,” her mom had asked Anna’s grandma. “Bulldoze it,” her grandma had said. “Raze it to the ground.” Her uncle had been just as blunt. “The house is cursed, Irene,” he had said to Anna’s mom. “Everyone in the family knows it. The attic is especially cursed.” “It’s not cursed,” her mom had told her uncle. “And it’s a great place to raise a child.”

               Frankly, Anna didn’t believe in curses. Maybe she would have if she was six years old. But at eight years old she was old enough to know that adults said all sorts of outlandish things to scare kids. Obviously, there was something unsafe in the attic, though it wasn’t a curse. Maybe it was some lose floorboards or some rusty nails. Nothing she couldn’t handle.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Does the beginning of my short story show potential?