HEARTHSIDE STORIES: A Holiday Burner, by D.M. Siciliano
As they entered the abandoned house, the floor creaked and groaned, lamenting their intrusion.
“I told you we shouldn’t have come. It’s haunted,” the last word fell away from Danny in a whisper.
“Yeah, and it’s Christmas Eve, we should be having eggnog and toasting our feet by the fire,” Clint added. The room was dim, as the sun outside was setting in the gray cloud of winter night. The icy air sliced through them. He fought back a chatter of his teeth.
“Don’t say fire, douchenozzles!” Heather’s dramatic eye roll was lost in the darkness of the one-roomed house.
With that mere mention, a spark ignited in the fireplace. First a crackle, then a faint light like a match flicking to life.
“A single flame to light the darkness,” Alex said, the words rolling off his tongue robotically.
Everyone knew the story. Everyone knew to stay away.
“You’re all a bunch of babies, go home and cry to your mommies!” Reid shoved past the crew and peered into the old fireplace. “Wait,” his voice quavered, losing confidence. “Look here.”
There was indeed a fire growing from within the fireplace. And above it, hanging without care, were five ratty stockings.
“Wicked cool!” Heather scooted close, reaching for a stocking, but her brother Alex batted her hand away.
“Don’t touch anything,” he chided.
She disregarded him, as usual and pushed closer. Each stocking a different size, they were all dirty, old, and charred, as if singed by a fire. Sooty excuses for stockings. “Whoa, like we all live here—”
Reid finished her sentence. “Our names are on each one.”
Heather snatched hers up and opened it to peer inside. A hairy black spider, the color of ash crawled out and across her hand. She yipped and shook it off. “That… burned.”
“That’s impossible,” Danny whimpered.
“Maybe it’s radioactive and bit you,” Clint pushed up his glasses and leaned closer. There was black smudge across her hand, as if something had smeared ashes across it. “Or maybe—”
“Maybe this place is haunted, and we shouldn’t have come!” Danny started to cry. “And now the evil did something to Heather.”
Shrill whispers began, “Watching. Waiting.”
The stocking fell from her hand to the floor. “It’s getting hot in here, isn’t it? It was just freezing cold.” Alex kicked the stocking into the fireplace, as if he were afraid it too would begin to scurry. It sizzled.
Everyone backed away from the fireplace, as the flames grew bigger, brighter, hotter.
Reid stomped on the spider, rubbing it into the dusty wooden floor. “Babies!”
He turned, and out of the corner of his eye there was a shadow crouched in the corner of the room. It unfurled its smoky body, its long, claw-shaped fingers dragging across the floor with the tiniest screeching sound as they went. It tipped its head back and showed its face, if one could call it a face.
Made of smoke and shadow, only its eyes were discernable.
Ashen. Like coal.
Whispers began again, “Watching. Waiting.”
Shadows shifted across the base of the floorboards and up the wall beside the fireplace. Casting the strangest of shadow. Like some combination of misshapen bats and fairies.
The whispers continued, “He sees you when you’re sleeping…” They chittered and chirped and swirled around each other, shadowy little demons across the wall.
“He knows when you’re awake...” The whispers were followed by raspy cackles, more like carrion crow.
“What’s a bunch of crows called?” Alex thought to himself, or at least he’d meant to, but it came out for everyone to hear.
“A murder,” Clint replied.
“He’s gonna burn you from inside…” The whispers grew louder, and the Shadow unfolded itself entirely. Arms too long to be arms, they draped well past the Shadow’s knees. The claws were like wisps of smoke, moving and shifting and growing longer, then shorter. The Shadow was in moments like some odd amorphous thing, shifting and reshaping itself like a puff of smoke. It stood well over seven feet tall, looking down upon them.
“And there is no grand escape!” The whispers grew shrill and piercing. The Shadow began to move towards the group in a blur.
The frightened kids turned to leave through the door they came in, except there was one big problem.
The door was gone.
"I hope you’ve been good this year, because the Shadow (I mean Santa) has been watching. Happy holidays everyone, and thanks for stepping back INSIDE with me."
~ D.M. Siciliano
This short is based on the world of Inside by D.M. Siciliano. Inside released with The Parliament Press on October 15th, 2019, and is available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Parliament Press website! Discover the haunted house of your dreams, and add it to your TBR here on Goodreads!