Saturday, October 01, 2011

An October 1 "Gift": Whose Story? by Emily Barton

Happy October 1st, everyone! In honor of my favorite month of the year, I give you a short ghost story I've written. Any feedback you'd like to share will be gratefully received.

Whose Story?

Emily Barton

March 18, 1978

This isn't my story to tell. My creative writing teacher would write "cliché" above that, but, then again, it's a cliché for a sixteen-year-old girl to keep a diary. Besides, who else is going to tell it? Jenny and Van don't want to talk about it. Tony’ll forgive me for telling. He was that kind of guy. The thing is, I'm just not sure who to tell, who would believe me.

I won’t waste time with long, descriptive passages. The story's plot is this: Tony didn't kill himself. I know he didn't. He never would've killed himself. He loved life too much, everything about it. Well, almost everything. He hated school. Not the classes. He was always reading ahead in his textbooks. He liked most of the teachers, too. What he hated were the other kids, the cliques, their mob mentality, their cruelty.

He was tall and thin and awkward and nonathletic. In other words, he was a prime target for bullies, but he could fight back when pushed too hard, because he was passionate. Those morons didn't understand passion. They'd have bullied Byron and Wordsworth, too, probably did in some past life.

Yeah, he was bullied and picked on, and everyone thinks that’s why he killed himself, but he didn't, not after eleven years of this, when he only had a year and half to go. That would've been letting the bullies win just when he was almost done. He told me, "Another year and a half of these assholes, and then I'm free." And he would've been free. He was gonna apply everywhere in New York, just in case he didn’t get into Columbia, but who are we kidding? He would’ve gotten into Columbia. He just wanted to be in New York, though.

I know it looked like a suicide. His father's gun, his body up in the tree house they'd built together. How come no one gets that he never would've killed himself there? The tree house always made him happy. A guy like Tony would've chosen somewhere significant, the boys' bathroom at school, the baseball field at the park, not the tree house.

Something else killed Tony. His house is a weird one. He used to tell me about the strange scratching noises, locked doors unlocking themselves, things like glasses going missing and then reappearing. I used to think he was teasing, that he made up the crazy old guy who'd committed suicide in the basement back in the 1920s just to spook me when we were alone at night. He swore he wasn't making it up, but he always seemed to think it was funny, not scary. He'd laugh when I got jumpy.

When he stopped laughing, though, a few months before he died, I stopped wanting to go over there. He'd come to my house and tell me he'd felt an eerie, evil presence, something more than unlocking doors or glasses disappearing. He swore he was being watched, both inside the house and outside, in the woods around the house. One night, when his parents were out of town, he came over and told me he just couldn't go home. He was so shaken, so different. We asked Mom if he could spend the night in our guest room…

They stared at the sort of scene they’d both hoped they wouldn’t find. The young girl's body was pale and naked in the bathtub full of crimson water. Soon, they’d move her arms to find the angry slashes on her wrists. Razor blades found in the bottom of such tubs, once drained, shouldn’t be allowed to shine so insultingly.

"I never thought we'd have to worry about teenage suicide pacts in this town," the taller, heavier one said, sadly, to his partner.

"No," she admitted. "Funny, though. Don't they usually do it together? Did you read the note?"

"Yes. Her mom says it’s her handwriting.”

"We'd better keep a close eye on any other friends they had."

The journal tucked beneath the loose floor boards at the back of the bedroom closet wouldn't be found for thirty years. By then, the four suicides that had rocked the small New England town had become the stuff of late-night storytelling at slumber parties all over the country. It often morphed into a staged crime, the work of school bullies, or of a one-armed asylum escapee whose ghostly missing arm came knocking at doors of future victims, or even of Bigfoot. The town itself, however, had chosen to forget. No one ever talked about it.

The house had stood empty for so long, at least ten years. No one could remember exactly when Cassandra's parents had moved down to Florida, leaving it to the care of their two older children, who rarely came to town. It was such a shock when that doctor from Boston decided to move up here, taking over old Dr. Hartman's patients at Town Hall Medical Center and buying the house. The renovations took a few months, but the family came that summer.

The doctor's daughter found the diary, along with a small water pipe and some condoms, the loose floorboards in such an out-of-the-way place having been missed by the carpenters. No one had told her about the girl killing herself in the bathtub.

The diary of another teenager thirty years ago was fascinating, stories of four friends, young love, heartbreak, rebellion.... But then she came to the final entry, and a cold chill ran through her body. The entry began, "This isn't my story to tell." It continued "We asked Mom if he could spend the night in our guest room..." It ended right after that. The handwriting was different, much darker, almost menacing, mesmerizing. She couldn't stop reading it,

"This was not her story to tell."


Stefanie said...

Yummy! Thanks for sharing the story!

Emily Barton said...

Stef, you're welcome. Thanks for reading!

Jodie Robson said...

Got to worry about the doctor's daughter - oh dear! I liked it, especially that despite the bullying, Tony wasn't at all doomed. And the reason for the diary entry felt plausible - so often in ghost stories the narrator's recording of the event doesn't quite convince, or is done as a stream of consciousness. This worked, and the diary-as-a-trope plays nicely against diary-as-cliche. Lovely way to celebrate your favourite month - I'm rather fond of October myself. The booklover's month, I think!