As this Halloween Flash Fiction event is winding down, and we’re getting ready for an evening of holiday festivities, Bestselling Paranormal and Contemporary Suspense/Thriller author Heather Graham brings us a little shot of something spooky! Her short story was inspired by this image…
Don’t forget to check the info for the Rafflecopter giveaway below the story!! Print books, ebooks, and giftcards are all parts of SEVEN different prize packs!
The Hearse by Heather Graham
Connie Adair was scared.
She hadn’t needed to hear the story about the eighteenth-century hearse, bearing a skeleton in a coffin and driven by a skeleton, to be afraid. The woods that grew densely in so many areas of the Blueridge Mountains were creepy enough once the sun had gone down.
But her friends had wanted to search for the hearse—and determine the truth of the legend. It was true enough that now and then, hikers could come upon old graveyards, their stones now entwined with the trees and the brush. The hearse had supposedly made it to the old family graveyard when shots had suddenly been fired, a feud rekindled, and all had scrambled away or lay dead or dying and no one had come to that area of the mountain again for years and years and even then, just the occasional woodsman who had let it all be.
It hadn’t seemed so ridiculous at first. They’d all grown up in a valley of the Blueridge Mountains; the story sounded plausible enough and it could be seen as a fun adventure to find out whether it was a true story—or an urban legend.
None of them had counted on a flat tire—or that Thayer Grayson could have forgotten to fix his spare and return it to the trunk of the car before they had headed out on their journey that night.
Or that, in this area of the mountainous region, not one of them could get a signal on their cell phones.
And they certainly couldn’t have imagined that Chrissie—Justin’s little sister—would shout excitedly she’d seen something and then disappear into the woods!
“Someone has to stay! Someone must be here, by the car,” Thayer said. He glanced at Justin. “Chrissie is going to be fine and make her way back to the car eventually, and if no one is here . . . well, she could be terrified. And Chrissie might be lost out there; someone needs to stay here, someone needs to search for her, and someone has to go back to that gas station at the last valley and ask for help.”
He was angry with himself Connie knew. Thayer was a great guy. He had been a high school football hero, and he was already proving himself in college. He was also a good student and all-around decent guy. He prided himself on logic and care and . . .
Well, forgetting about a spare tire wasn’t logical.
“She isn’t finding her way back out there!” Justin said. “She’s my sister. I’m going to look for her. My God, that kid sister of mine is crazy. I’m so sorry. I never should have brought her—she’s convinced the woods here are haunted and the hearse with the skeleton is real . . . and she’s been out there too long! We should all be looking for her.”
Connie had known Justin—and Chrissie—most of her life. They lived on the same block. Justin wasn’t a jock—he was a computer whiz. But he and Thayer were good friends and part of a group that often hung out together at their college’s coffee shop/cafeteria between and after classes.
“I can’t! I can’t—I can’t go into the woods!” Janet said. “I—my shoes. I’m wearing sandals. And I—I must go with you, Thayer. I can stay on a path, but . . .”
She had always been a basic coward. Not with people—she liked people. But the cheesiest horror movie could scare her.
She hated darkness.
It wasn’t so much that it was dark—it was that it wasn’t. A full moon was beaming down a glow that made trees into moving shadows, visions of evil.
She had only come out in the car that night with the group because of Thayer.
She and Thayer weren’t a couple, though she’d happily be part of a couple with Thayer, he just didn’t know it. She’d had a crush on him forever.
Janet Lodge had gone to high school with them, too, as had Justin McDermott.
Janet knew that Connie cared about Thayer. And Connie was never sure if Janet had any real feelings for him, or if she just liked to let Connie know that she could . . . take him.
None of that mattered right now. Chrissie was out there and the night was terrifying. Connie longed to be the one walking with Thayer, the tall, dark, handsome—and protective—man. But she cared about Chrissie and she knew Justin was worried and it had been just the five of them who had set out.
So, Janet would walk with Thayer. Justin would head out in search of his sister . . .
And she would stay by herself at the car.
“It’s fine,” Connie said to Thayer. “Janet can go with you. Justin needs to be searching, and I’ll stay here.”
“Janet, we’ll need to move fast,” Thayer said.
“Hey, cheerleader here!” Janet reminded him. “Fit as a fiddle and I can move like the wind. Really, it’s best we two go.”
She looked back at Connie. Janet was a tiny little blond, pretty, and popular—and a cheerleader, as she had said.
Connie had never been a cheerleader. She was an excellent guitarist and could play a mean violin—the school band had just never been on a par with the football team.
She smiled. She swam and exercised. She just wasn’t going to play games with Janet that night.
Thayer looked at her apologetically, Connie thought. She liked to think he was telling her, with that look, he’d have preferred to have gone with her.
Janet turned to wag a finger at them. “Be careful! We were here all together and safely in a crowd because these are supposed to be haunted woods. And don’t forget, the police are looking for a killer—a secretary in town was found with her throat slashed. Of course, I’m not worried because a slasher wouldn’t be out in these woods because no one is usually here and who do you slash? But stay by the car, Connie!”
Janet and Thayer started walking.
“Slasher?” Connie said nervously, looking at Justin.
“Yeah, but she’s right, it was in town. They found a young woman . . . I don’t know the details. It was on the news when we were leaving. I meant to look it up on my phone, but . . . we started talking, laughing, and looking for the haunted and spooky old hearse in a forgotten cemetery.” He shook his head, looking at her worriedly. “I’m sorry, Connie. I’m so sorry. I have to try to find Chrissie.”
“Of course, you do!” she said. “Go, Justin. Find her. I’ll try calling her name every few minutes, too. Poor thing. She’s so brave—but she’s probably scared now. We know how these trails wind around and around, some decent, and some all overgrown. Go. I’ll be here—and, as I said, I’ll call her name, and maybe, if she gets close, she’ll hear me.”
He nodded and gave her a fierce hug. “Janet should have stayed, too. That would have been logical!”
Connie shrugged. She was scared and not happy; it was what it was.
Thayer moved off the road, following the visible trail Chrissie had taken when she’d run off.
As promised, Connie leaned against the car.
She pulled out her phone, but no matter what she tried, it reverted to, “No signal.”
She remembered to shout out Chrissie’s name, telling her to head for her voice, to come back to the car, every few minutes.
She’d been leaning on the car and she straightened when she heard a rustling at last.
But she stared off into the brush where the moon created a sudden glint of light on something as a shadow shifted.
She hadn’t been happy; she’d already been scared.
But then terror filled her. It wasn’t Chrissie.
It was a man. Medium height, medium build. Scruffy brown beard and hair.
He held a knife. A Bowie knife, she thought. And he was staring at her, smiling.
They were wrong! A crazy slasher had come out into the middle of nowhere! Oh, God, what if he had gotten Chrissie?
She couldn’t worry about that because he was coming at her. She had to run. The tire iron lay on the ground; Thayer had thought he would need it before he realized he didn’t have a spare.
Connie picked it up as she ran, into the bushes, into the darkness, into the encompassing shadows created by the moon. She found a huge oak and slid behind it, daring to look back.
And there he was. Smiling salaciously. She hadn’t gotten far enough.
“Help me!” she whispered aloud, though there was no one to hear.
She backed away. And the strangest sensation seized her. She felt as if she had backed into something . . . odd.
She turned and saw it.
Truth, not urban legend.
She had found it. She had run into the small old family cemetery with its broken stones. And the hearse was there, leaned at an awkward angle. The broken-down historic hearse was real. But . . .
It was still being driven, now by a skeletal man.
She was going crazy. Crazy with fear. Because she was sure the skeleton looked at her, that he had heard her . . .
Great. She was about to be murdered by a flesh and blood killer and she was seeing ghosts.
“Honey, I’ve got you. Just come to me and we’ll have some fun!” the knife-wielding man called out, laughing. “No where to run, no one to help!”
But she dashed around the broken-down old hearse, her tire iron in her hands, ready to fight to the death.
“Run!” she heard.
It was the ghostly skeleton, speaking to her.
Well, running was a good plan.
But the killer was fast. He had almost reached her when she heard something crashing; she thought she had jarred the old hearse and pieces of it were falling apart.
The killer was almost upon her and then . . .
He dead–stopped; his knife high—then falling—as something hit him in the head.
A bone? She thought incredulously.
He wavered but reached down for his knife. She took that opportunity to slam him in the head with the tire iron, using all the strength she could muster, and screaming loud enough to wake all the dead in the region.
As she did so, Chrissie suddenly came flying at her from behind a large broken obelisk. She flew into Connie’s arms, deliriously thanking her. She’d been hiding from the killer since she’d seen him lurking by the road when she’d tried to come back to the car.
Or course, Justin heard her scream. He ran to them both, holding them, then looking at the downed man and decided they had to tie him up whether he was unconscious or not.
They tied him up. And in time, Thayer and Janet returned with a van from AAA and the sheriff’s deputies who were going to help them find Chrissie. They were stunned to find the trio left behind had nabbed a killer, and the night became one in which they gave statements to the police, the man was hauled away, and they were finally able to go home.
But Connie managed to steal away for a minute, returning to the hearse. The skeleton sat as it had, high atop the driver’s seat.
“Thank you, thank you!” she whispered. “Thank you!”
She thought it nodded.
Thayer found her there.
“My God, you’re here. You must be terrified now of these haunted woods!”
She turned to him with a smile.
“The woods aren’t haunted. They’re guarded!” she said softly.
“You’re amazing,” he told her, taking her in his arms. Shaking. Holding her.
And after that night, they were a couple.
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