Voices in the Flames (excerpt) by Joshua Marsella

The following is an excerpt of the short story: Voices in the Flames by Joshua Marsella, which you can find in the anthology The Hawthorne Project. Inside you’ll find ten dark and creepy stories written by him and other amazing authors. I hope you enjoy this little snippet. Oh, and click any of the links below to buy.

A shrill, resounding bark accompanied by the smell of searing meat snapped Priscilla out of her daydream. She leapt up from her seat at the kitchen table as fast as her old legs would allow. Her nightgown barely moved as the soles of her slippers shuffled along the linoleum floor. Elvis continued to yip at her ankles, herding her to the stove.

“Oh, be quiet, you. I have everything under control,” she scoffed, shooing the Bolognese away.

Elvis did as he was told. He tucked his fluffy tail between his legs, then sat down in front of his food dish. She had forgotten to feed him again. Not intentionally, of course, but her memory was getting worse by the day. Sometimes a little bark was enough to remind his forgetful master that he was still around.

Priscilla turned the knob on the stove, switching off the burner. The leftover ham was blackened on one side and dry as a sponge. There was no way she’d be able to eat it now. Letting out a sigh of disappointment at her mistake and the realization that she was likely to go hungry this morning, she looked down at her little white dog and smiled. His tail wagging excitedly.

“Well buddy, looks like you’re eating like a king today,” she picked up the hunk of meat with a fork and dropped it into Elvis’s bowl. He immediately sunk his teeth into the ham steak without hesitation. “May as well get you some water while I’m down here.” She picked up the empty dish and straightened back up. Her spine let out a few pops and crackles. With her free hand cupping the small of her back, her stomach growled as she made her way to the sink.

Letting the water run for a minute to get cold, she gazed out the window into the front yard. A shimmering frost coated the grass and dead copper-colored leaves that had fallen overnight from her beloved sugar maple. She had planted that tree shortly after the house was built. This was before the cul-de-sac had been constructed then named after her husband, before the other houses were built, but several years after the massive fire.

A light was on at the house across the street. The men who lived there seemed to always wake up early which she saw as admirable. She had never spoken to them, so she had no idea what they did for a living. She couldn’t decide whether they were snobs or whether her demeanor was too cold and uninviting. Didn’t matter either way. She enjoyed being alone most of the time. Besides, she had her Elvis.

Autumn was in full swing. She recognized the amber glaze of the late October sunrise which meant only one thing—Halloween was coming up.

Setting the bowl down, Elvis immediately took several gulps of the cool tap water to wash down his dry, yet sumptuous breakfast. Priscilla stroked the curls on his back a few times before going about her day.

Leaning over the kitchen sink, she grabbed the bottle of medication off the windowsill, popped it open, and removed the cotton ball. Tapping the bottle, she dropped two blue pills into her palm and chased them with a glass of lukewarm water. She was behind on her weekly cleaning and preferred sticking to her routine.

Two cups of black coffee later and she’d perked up enough to get the floors swept and mopped and the curtains pulled down for a washing. She always loved the way the house felt after a good tidying up. It was so welcoming and cozy. A record was spinning on the turntable, filling the old house with the familiar sounds of The Everly Brothers, then The Duprees, followed up by Elvis Presley, of course. Her musical tastes had never evolved beyond the days of doowop and who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp. To her recollection, those were the best of times.

After picking at it for most of the morning, Elvis had had his fill of the ham steak and skittered through the living room to the front door to be let outside. He let out a yip that startled Priscilla who was emptying the dustpan into the garbage can.

“Dang it, Elvis! You know that scares me every time. I’m coming, boy, just hold your horses,” she said, giving the dustpan one last shake before clipping it to the broom handle. Walking to meet Elvis at the door, she retrieved the leash from the wall hook and clipped it to his collar.

“Just let me grab my coat.” Elvis barked once more, pacing anxiously in a circle. As she slung her coat over her shoulders, a hard knock came at the front door. She gasped and slid her back against the wall. Elvis retreated to the living room, dragging the leash behind him. “Some guard dog you are,” Priscilla scoffed in a loud whisper. “Coward.”

She stood still, waiting to see if the person would leave after no one answered the door. She could feel her heart pounding. A few more kicks to the old ticker might just do me in for good one of these days, she thought, holding her hand to her chest.

Another hard knock sounded at the door. Priscilla inhaled deeply, trying to build up the courage to peek out the window. For as long as she could remember, she suffered from an extreme case of social anxiety and did not appreciate uninvited visitors, especially solicitors. She had nothing to offer anyone and appreciated being left well enough alone.

She stepped in front of the door and positioned her good eye in front of the peephole. Letting her sight adjust to the tiny fisheye lens, she was surprised to see there was nobody standing on the other side the door. Moving her head around trying to get a better look, she couldn’t see anyone. Was this a prank? Even more than uninvited visitors and solicitors, she loathed pranksters. She turned and glanced at the calendar on her wall. October 30. Of course. This was nothing more than a pre-Halloween prank being played by one of the handful of children that lived on Hawthorne.

Still, she couldn’t shake her timidness over the thought that it might be something else. Mustering up some courage, she decided to take a chance and open the door. She unlocked the deadbolt, then waited with her hand gripping the knob for just a moment before swinging open the door. A rush of refreshing autumn air met her as she stepped forward and looked around the yard. Still not a soul in sight.

“Hm. Come on ya big chicken,” she called to Elvis. “Let’s go potty.”

Elvis scurried back to the front door and paused at Priscilla’s feet, allowing her to grab hold of the leash. They stepped out into the yard together and Elvis lead her onto the grass to relieve himself. Feeling anxious after leaving the safety of her house, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being watched from all directions. The cul-de-sac was always quiet on Friday mornings. Some of her neighbors appeared to be home.

Elvis finished, then turned and scraped at the grass with his hind legs. This always made her chuckle. Looking around the yard, she noticed the frost had burned off in the mid-morning sunlight. The fresh air felt nice after cleaning all morning.

“Pssst,” a noise sounded from behind her. She turned expecting to see one of the children that lived on Hawthorne peeking from around the corner but saw no one.

“Pssst,” she heard again, from the opposite direction. This time it was followed by a childlike giggle. She turned towards the noise and again, seeing no one. A chill ran down her spine and she gently tugged on the leash to hurry Elvis along.

“Come on, boy. That’s eno—” she froze as she felt a rush of warm air blow onto her neck and ear. The smell of sulfur and spoiled milk permeated her nostrils. She could sense a presence standing within inches of her, breathing down her neck. Snapping her head around, she screamed, “Leave me alone!” Swinging her hands up around her head, accidentally jerking Elvis forward in the process. He let out a pained yip and ran to her feet.

You can find Joshua’s story, along with nine additional ones, in The Hawthorne Project. Each creepy tale interweaves with the others for a week of terror on Hawthorne Drive, a small cul-de-sac in Greenfield, Wisconsin. Buy it at lulu, Amazon, or on your Kindle.

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