Ellen Datlow has been editing sci-fi, fantasy, and horror short fiction for more than thirty years. She was fiction editor of Omni magazine and Scifiction and has edited more than fifty anthologies, including the annual Best Horror of the Year; Poe: 19 New Tales Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe; Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror; Lovecraft Unbound; Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy; Blood and Other Cravings; Supernatural Noir; Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy; and two YA anthologies: Teeth: Vampire Tales and After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia. She’s won nine World Fantasy Awards, plus multiple Locus, Hugo, Stoker, International Horror Guild, and Shirley Jackson Awards. She was the recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for outstanding contribution to the genre, and was honored with the Life Achievement Award given by the Horror Writers Association, in acknowledgment of superior achievement over an entire career.
Nathan Ballingrud was born in Massachusetts in 1970, but spent most of his life in the South. He studied literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at the University of New Orleans. Among other things, he has been a cook on oil rigs and barges, a waiter, and a bartender in New Orleans. He now lives in Asheville.
Alice Hoffman is the author of more than thirty works of fiction, including The World That We Knew, The Rules of Magic, The Marriage of Opposites, Practical Magic, The Red Garden, the Oprah’s Book Club selection Here on Earth, The Museum of Extraordinary Things, and The Dovekeepers. She lives near Boston.
Stephen Graham Jones is a Blackfeet Native American author born and raised in Texas. An NEA Fellow, and Bram Stoker and World Fantasy Award–winning author, Jones is the Ivena Baldwin Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder. Jones is into werewolves and slashers and zombies. If he could, he would wear pirate shirts and probably carry some kind of sword.
Seanan McGuire is the author of Every Heart a Doorway, the October Daye urban fantasy series, the InCryptid series, and several other works, both standalone and in trilogies. She also writes darker fiction as Mira Grant. She was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and in 2013 she became the first person ever to appear five times on the same Hugo ballot.
Joyce Carol Oates is the author most recently of the novel A Book of American Martyrs and the story collection DIS MEM BER. She is a recipient of the National Book Award, the National Humanities Medal, the PEN/Malamud Award in Short Fiction, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from PEN America, among other honors. She has been a professor at Princeton University for many years and is currently Visiting Distinguished Writer in Residence in the Graduate Writing Program at New York University; in the spring term she is Visiting Professor of English at University of California, Berkeley. Her forthcoming novel is Hazards of Time Travel.
Echoes Ice Cold Lemonade 25¢
Haunted House Tour: 1 Per Person
I was such a loser when I was a kid. Like a John-Hughes-Hollywood-Eighties-movie-typecast loser. Maybe we all imagine ourselves as being that special kind of ugly duckling, with the truth being too scary to contemplate: Maybe I was someone’s bully or I was the kid who egged on the bullies screaming, “Sweep the leg,” or maybe I was lower than the Hughes loser, someone who would never be shown in a movie.
When I think of who I was all those years ago, I’m both embarrassed and look-at-what-I’ve-become proud, as though the distance spanned between those two me’s can only be measured in light-years. That distance is a lie, of course, though perhaps necessary to justify perceived successes and mollify the disappointments and failures. That thirteen-year-old me is still there inside: the socially awkward one who wouldn’t find a group he belonged to until college; the one who watched way too much TV and listened to records while lying on the floor with the speakers tented over his head; the one who was afraid of the Jaws shark appearing in any body of water, Christopher Lee vampires, the dark in his closet and under the bed, and the blinding flash of a nuclear bomb. That kid is all-too-frighteningly retrievable at times.
Now he’s here in a more tangible form. He’s in the contents of a weathered cardboard box sitting like a toadstool on my kitchen counter. Mom inexplicably plopped this time capsule in my lap on her way out the door after an impromptu visit. When I asked for an explanation, she said she thought I should have it. I pressed her for more of the why and she said, “Well, because it’s yours. It’s your stuff,” as though she was weary of the burden of having had to keep it for all those years.
Catherine is visiting her parents on the Cape and she took our daughter Izzy with her. I stayed home to finish edits (which remain stubbornly unfinished) on a manuscript that was due last week. Catherine and Izzy would’ve torn through this box-of-me right away and laughed themselves silly at the old photos of my stick figure body and my map of freckles and crooked teeth, the collection of crayon renderings of dinosaurs with small heads and ludicrously large bodies, and the fourth grade current events project on Ronald Reagan for which I’d earned a disappointing C+ and a demoralizing teacher comment of Too messy. And I would’ve reveled in their attention, their warm spotlight shining on who I was and who I’ve become.
I didn’t find it until my second pass through the box, which seems impossible as I took care to peel old pictures apart and handle everything delicately, as one might handle ancient parchments. That second pass occurred two hours after the first, and there was a pizza and multiple beers and no edits between.
The drawing that I don’t remember saving was there at the bottom of the box, framed by the cardboard and its interior darkness. I thought I’d forgotten it; I know I never had.
The initial discovery was more confounding than dread inducing, but hours have passed and now it’s late and it’s dark. I have every light on in the house, which only makes the dark outside even darker. I am alone and I am on alert and I feel time creeping forward. (Time doesn’t run out; it continues forward and it continues without you.) I do not sit in any one room for longer than five minutes. I pass through the lower level of the house as quietly as I can, like an omniscient, emotionally distant narrator, which I am not. On the TV is a baseball game that I don’t care about, blaring at full volume. I consider going to my car and driving to my in-laws’ on the Cape, which would be ridiculous as I wouldn’t arrive until well after midnight and Catherine and Izzy are coming home tomorrow morning.
Would it be so ridiculous?
Tomorrow, when my family returns home and the windows are open and the sunlight is as warm as a promise, I will join them in laughing at me. But it is not tomorrow and they are not here.
I am glad they’re not here. They would’ve found the drawing before I did.
· · ·
I rode my bicycle all over Beverly, Massachusetts, the summer of 1984. I didn’t have a BMX bike with thick, knobby tires made for ramps and wheelies and chewing up and spitting out dirt and pavement. Mine was a dinged up, used-to-belong-to-my-dad ten-speed, and the only things skinnier and balder than the tires were my arms and legs. On my rides I always made sure to rattle by Kelly Bishop’s house on the off-off-chance I’d find her in her front yard. Doing what? Who knows. But in those fantasies she waved or nodded at me. She would ask what I was doing and I’d tell her all nonchalant-like that I was heading back to my house, even though she’d have to know her dead-end street wasn’t exactly on my way home. Pesky details were worked out or inconsequential in fantasies, of course.
One afternoon it seemed part of my fantasy was coming true when Kelly and her little sister were at the end of their long driveway, sitting at a small fold-up table with a pitcher of lemonade. I couldn’t bring myself to stop or slow down or even make more than glancing eye contact. I had no money for lemonade, therefore I had no reason to stop. Kelly shouted at me as I rolled by. Her greeting wasn’t a Hey there or even a Hi, but instead, “Buy some lemonade or we’ll pop your tires!”
After twenty-four hours of hopeful and fearful Should I or shouldn’t I?, I went back the next day with a pocket full of quarters. Kelly was again stationed at the end of her driveway. My breaks squealed as I jerked to an abrupt and uncoordinated stop. My rusted kickstand screamed You’re really doing this? embarrassment. The girls didn’t say anything and watched my approach with a mix of disinterest and what I imagined to be the look I gave ants before I squashed them.
They sat at the same table setup as the previous day but there was no pitcher of lemonade. Never afraid to state the obvious, I said, “So, um, no lemonade today?” The fifty cents clutched in my sweaty hand might as well have melted.
Kelly said, “Lemonade was yesterday. Can’t you read the sign?” She sat slumped in her beach chair, a full body eye roll, and her long, tanned legs spilled out from under the table and the white poster-board sign taped to the front. She wore a red Coke T-shirt. Her chestnut brown hair was pulled into a side-high ponytail, held up by a black scrunchie. Kelly was clearly well into her pubescent physical transformation, whereas I was still a boy, without even a shadow of hair under my armpits.
Kelly’s little sister, with the bowl-cut mop of dirty blond hair, was going to be in second grade. I didn’t know her name and was too nervous to ask. She covered her mouth, fake laughed, and wobbled like a penguin in her unstable chair. That she might topple into the table or to the blacktop didn’t seem to bother Kelly.
“You’re supposed to be the smart one, Paul,” Kelly added.
“Heh, yeah, sorry.” I left the quarters in my pocket to hide their shame and adjusted my blue gym shorts; they were too short, even for the who-wears-short-shorts Eighties. I tried to fill the chest of my NBA Champs Celtics T-shirt with deep breaths, but only managed to stir a weak ripple in the green cloth.
Their updated sign read:
ICE COLD LEMONDADE 25¢ HAUNTED HOUSE TOUR: 1 PER PERSON
Seemed straightforward enough but I didn’t know what to make of it. I feared it was some kind of a joke or prank. Were Rick or Winston or other jerks hiding close by to jump out and pants me? I thought about hopping back on my bike and getting the hell out before I did something epically cringeworthy Kelly would later describe in detail to all her friends and by proxy the entire soon-to-be seventh grade class.
Kelly asked, “Do you want a tour of our creepy old house or not?”
I stammered and I sweated. I remember sweating a lot.
Kelly told me the lemonade stand thing was boring and that her new haunted-house-tour idea was genius. I would be their first to go on the tour so I’d be helping them out. She said, “We’ll even only charge you half price. Be a pal, Paulie.”
Was Kelly Bishop inviting me into her house? Was she making fun of me? The “be a pal” bit sounded like a joke and felt like a joke. I looked around the front yard, spying between the tall front hedges, looking for the ambush. I decided I didn’t care, and said, “Okay, yeah.”
The little sister shouted, “One dollar,” and held out an open hand.
Kelly corrected her. “I said ‘half price.’?”
Little sis shouted, “Fifty cents!” with her hand still out.
I paid, happy to be giving the sweaty quarters to her and not Kelly.
I asked, “Is it scary, I mean, supposed to be scary?” I tried smiling bravely. I wasn’t brave. I still slept with my door open and the hallway light on. My smile was pretend brave, and it wasn’t much of a smile as I tried not to show off my mouth of metal braces, the elastics on either side mercifully no longer necessary as of three weeks ago.
Kelly stood and said, “Terrifying. You’ll wet yourself and be sucking your thumb for a week.” She whacked her sister on the shoulder and commanded, “Go. You have one minute to be ready.”
“I don’t need a minute.” She bounced across the lawn onto the porch and slammed the front door closed behind her.
Kelly flipped through a stack of note cards. She said she hadn’t memorized the script yet but she would eventually.
I followed her down the driveway to the house I never thought of as scary or creepy, but now that it had the word haunted attached to it, even in jest . . . it was kind of creepy. The only three-family home in the neighborhood, it looked impossibly tall from up close. And it was old, worn out—the white paint peeling and flaking away. Its stone and mortar foundation appeared crooked. The windows were tall and thin and impenetrable. The small front porch had two skeletal posts holding up a warped overhang that could come crashing down at any second.
We walked up the stairs to the porch, and the wood felt soft under my feet. Kelly was flipping through her note cards and held the front screen door open for me with a jutted out hip. I scooted by, holding my breath, careful to not accidentally brush against her.
The cramped front hallway/foyer was crowded with bikes and shovels and smelled like wet leaves. A poorly lit staircase curled up to the right. Kelly told me that the tour finishes on the second floor, and we weren’t allowed all the way upstairs to the third, and that she had written “1 Per Person” on the sign so that no pervs would try for repeat tours since she and her sister were home by themselves.
“Your parents aren’t home?” My voice cracked, as if on cue.
If Kelly answered with a nod of the head, I didn’t see it. She reached across me, opened the door to my left, and said, “Welcome to House Black, the most haunted house on the North Shore.”
Kelly put one hand between my shoulder blades and pushed me inside to a darkened kitchen. The linoleum was sandy, gritty, under my shuffling sneakers. The room smelled of dust and pennies. The shapes of the table, chairs, and appliances were sleeping animals. From somewhere on this first floor, her sister gave a witchy laugh. It was muffled, and I remember thinking it sounded like she was inside the walls.
Kelly carefully narrated: The house was built in the 1700s by a man named Robert or Reginald Black, a merchant sailor who was gone for months at a time. His wife, Denise, would dutifully wait for him in the kitchen. After all the years of his leaving, Denise was driven mad by a lonely heart and she wouldn’t go anywhere else in the house but the kitchen until he returned home. She slept sitting in a wooden chair and washed herself in the kitchen sink. Years passed like this. Mr. Black was to take one final trip before retiring but Mrs. Black had had enough. As he ate his farewell breakfast she smashed him over the head with an iron skillet until he was dead. Mrs. Black then stuffed her husband’s body into the oven.
The kitchen’s overhead light, a dirty yellow fixture, flashed on. I saw a little hand leave the switch and disappear behind a door across the room from me. On top of the oven was a cast iron, black skillet. Little sis flashed her arm back into the room and turned out the light.
Kelly loomed over me (she was at least three inches taller) and said that this was not the same oven, and everyone who ever lived here has tried getting a new one, but you can still sometimes hear Mr. Black clanging around inside.
The oven door dropped open with a metal scream, like when an ironing board’s legs were pried opened.
I jumped backward and knocked into the kitchen table.
Kelly hissed, “That’s too hard, be careful! You’re gonna rip the oven door off!”
Little sis dashed into the room and I could see in her hands a ball of fishing line, which was tethered to the oven door handle.
Kelly asked me what I thought of the tour opener, if I found it satisfactory. I swear that is the phrasing she used.
Mortified that I’d literally jumped and sure that she could hear my heart rabbiting in my chest, I mumbled, “Yeah, that was good.”
The tour moved on throughout the darkened first floor. All the see-through lace curtains were drawn, and either Kelly or little sis would turn a room’s light on and off during Kelly’s readings. Most of the stories featured the hapless descendants of the Blacks. The dining room’s story was unremarkable as was the story for the living room, which was the largest room on the first floor. I’d begun to lose focus, and let my mind wander to Kelly and what she was like when her parents were home, and then, perhaps oddly, what her parents were like, and if they were like mine. My dad had recently moved from the Parker Brothers factory to managing one of their warehouses, and Mom worked part-time as a bank teller. I wondered what Kelly’s parents did for work and if they sat in the kitchen and discussed their money problems too. Were her parents kind? Were they too kind? Were they overbearing or unreasonable? Were they perpetually distracted? Did they argue? Were they cold? Were they cruel? I still wonder these things about everyone else’s parents.
Kelly did not take me into her parents’ bedroom, saying simply, “Under construction,” as we passed by the closed door.
I suggested that she make up a story about something or someone terrible kept hidden behind the door.
Kelly to this point had kept her nose in her script cards and jotted down notes with a pencil when not watching for my reaction. Her head snapped up at me and she said, “None of these are made-up stories, Paul.”
There was another bedroom, the one directly off the kitchen, and it was being used as an office/sitting room. There was a desk and bookcases tracing the wall’s boundaries. The walls were covered in brownish-yellow wallpaper and the circular throw rug was dark too; I don’t remember the colors. It’s as though color didn’t exist there. The room was sepia, like a memory. In the middle of the room was a rolling chair, and on the chair was a form covered by a white sheet.
Kelly had to coax me into the room. I ke...