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In the Qualm of a Storm This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

It was mid-autumn. I was not sure whether to be relieved that the chokingly humid summer had loosened its grip on my respiratory system, or dread the coming of winter. Grey clouds congregated overhead as the trees whispered warnings of a nasty storm. I hurried my step; practically pulling a desperate corgi behind me.

What began as a gentle breeze began to rush in furious gusts by the time I reached Mrs. Barne’s house. I snatched up the dog and shuffled up the disarrayed garden path. I did not even need to knock before she swung open the door and took the squirming dog into her arms.



“Quick! Get inside before the heat escapes the house!” She shouted over the gusts of wind. “Now,” a warm silence washed over the room as she shut the door. “Come into the parlor and sit by the fire, dear.”

“That’s quite a storm out there,” I said breathlessly.

“It certainly is.” She poured some tea. “I knew that I should have picked Mr. Ruffles up directly from your house last night when I returned.”








“I did not anticipate this storm to be quite so bad, Mrs. Barne.”





“Well I certainly didn’t either! If I had, I wouldn’t have allowed you to walk him over here!” She patted him worriedly. “You could have caught cold or something.” She said, looking at Mr. Ruffles.

“Well, how was your trip?” I sunk myself deeply into the peach-colored armchair.

“Dull,” she handed me the tea. “Most of the women left the resort a few days early on account of ‘household obligations.’”

“Oh?”


Mrs. Barne hesitated.

“You see, I didn’t understand what really had upset their stay until I read the paper this morning.”

“ I wouldn’t worry that much until…” I interrupted.

“Until more murders are committed? Right here, in our little town? It’s just terrible, Susan!”

“It certainly is…but you know how newspapers stretch details…”

“Have you even read the details?” Her teacup rattled in its saucer as her eyes widened into a terror-stricken gaze. “Three women murdered in three days! Why, I’m afraid to even go out into my own yard!”

“The whole town does seem to be in a fright.”

“Well, what about you?” She squeaked. “You of ALL people should be frightened. Aren’t you ever afraid to be all alone in that house of yours?”

“Of course I’m frightened. But I don’t see how being frightened ever does any good.”

“Well, I’m frightened for you. You just never know who it could be that is committing those dreadful murders. “Her eyes narrowed. “Why…even Colin is…”

“Mrs. Barne!” I scolded. “I’ve known Colin since we were kids together.”

“I was only suggesting that you should be careful.”

“And I will. But Colin is my dearest friend. I trust him like a…”

“He DID set fire to your shed last Halloween,” she interrupted.

“Well…yes.” I recoiled. “But that’s just who Colin is. He’s always been the jokester.”

“That is exactly my point,” she clucked. “You know, it is just like this town to go into a huge scare when the women go on a retreat.”
The room tightened around me.

“I suppose I should be going.” I said, exasperated.

“What? In this storm, and with a murderer running about? “Her voice softened slightly. “Why don’t you stay here until it calms.”

“I’m sure that I’ll be fine. There isn’t even any lightning.” I reassured her.
Just then a flash of lightning complimented the gust of wind that blew the great window open. Mrs. Barne hurried to close it.

“You just CAN’T go out in that, dear,” she said.

“Very few people in this world are ever actually struck by lightning.”

“That’s just because most are smart enough to stay inside during a storm.” She locked the window. “What if you should…you know…encounter that killer!”

“He’s probably not running around on a night like this.” I laughed. “I’ll be fine though.. I promise.” I headed for the door.

“Oh…” She rushed after me. “Call me as soon as you get home, will you dear? I should never be able to forgive myself if something was to happen to you because I let you out in this…”

“Alright,” I opened the door, and the wind curled around my body with cold, gripping tentacles.

“Oh, and Susan!” She called.

“Yes, Mrs. Barne?” I shouted over the storm.

“Thank you for taking care of Mr. Ruffles this week!”
I nodded before plunging into the raging darkness.

As I walked, blindness enveloped me in gripping uncertainty. I shoved my cold hands into my jacket pockets for consolation. I could only hope that the storm would not get any worse before I reached my house. As I silently walked on, squeals of wind devoured my footsteps and made me regret my bull-headed decision to refuse Mrs. Barne’s kindness.

She has always been good to me…in an irritating sort of way, I admitted. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I focused my gaze onto the rocky path that would lead me to my house. The gray outline of Mrs. Barne’s house disappeared behind me as the forest began to close in. I hurried my step, my eyes catching the jutting rocks in the path. As I went deeper into the woods the storm became more distant and I gained the comfort of the crunch of my footsteps along with the quick intakes of my own breath. The trees rustled. After about ten minutes of plowing through darkness I could see the hint of light from a lamppost that marked the path to my home. Encouraged, I fixed my mind on its comforting glow along with my solid footsteps.

It was when I glanced at the half-moon poking through the trees that I heard an extra crunch of steps behind me. I stopped. My breaths quickening, I pushed all premature fears to the back of my mind and continued walking. Slightly shaken, I noticed that the crunches behind me became louder and more frequent. By now, my heart was racing and the comforting glow of the lamppost in my mind flickered, and died. Alone to myself, I was surrounded by cold silence. Even the trees seemed to begin tugging at their roots to escape the rasping stench of fear. I stood silently.


There, so small in the corner of the hollow forest I stood in stillness. It was then that a flicker of courage shot from my bosom to my temples. Turning around with the most pretense of assurance that I could muster, I quaked;

“I know that you are here!”
Seconds seemed to become hours as I listened for a response. However silence brought doubts that developed into feelings of absurdity. I turned to continue walking when I heard the rustling behind me once again. Panicked, I picked up a rock and backed into a nearby tree. My breathing quickened once again.

“Go away!” I whimpered, the tears streaming from my eyes. I clutched the rock so tightly that blood began to run down my arm.

“Susan…” the shrubs whispered.

Terrified, I dropped the rock and bolted for that familiar lamppost that was had become a lifeline. I heard an approaching crunch of twigs behind. The forest became a blur while a chilling breath curled around my shoulders as I ran.

“SUSAN!” Colin leapt from the shadow of the lamppost and clutched my arm. “Who is chasing you?”

“Colin! He’s out there!” I squeaked between heaving. “Let go of me! Let’s get inside…we’re not safe…just come on!” I fumbled for the key in my pocket before I reached my porch. I was shaking so badly that Colin took it from my hands and unlocked the door. I slammed it shut, cursing the uselessly rusted bolt.

“Who was it?” Colin gripped my shoulder before catching sight of my bloody arm. “Who did this to you!?”

“I don’t know!” I looked up at him, terrified.

“Did you see him?” His eyes flickered.

“I don’t know!” I stumbled out of the entry-way and collapsed onto the sofa. With my fingers pressing at my temples, I sobbed.

“It’s alright. Catch your breath.” He shook the locked door. “The doors are all locked, aren’t they?”

“No!” my voice cracked. “The lock on the door leading outside from the kitchen has been broken for years. I have a chair propped in front of it to keep it shut.”

He looked at me quizzically.

“What? I never use that door!” I said defensively.

“I really thought that you had this place more secured, Susie.” A hint of his familiar mischief returned to his eyes for a split second. I glared at him.

“I’ll go around and make sure I get the doors and windows are locked so that spook doesn’t get any bright ideas about getting into this place.” He picked up an axe from the fire-place. My eyes traveled from his face to the chipped axe he held loosely in his left hand. Our eyes met. He hesitated. “Maybe I’ll start by getting that kitchen door locked.” He left the room. I stared after him in bewilderment.

The veins in my temples began pulsing as I leapt for the fireplace. I met my own eyes in the bronze mirror that hung quietly over the mantle. Wiping the tears from the deep hollows of my face, I examined the bloody imprint the rock had left in my hand. His reflection suddenly appeared over my shoulder.

“Are you sure that you are alright?” He stepped closer.

“Colin. I…I think…” I looked at the floor and forced a smile. “I’ve been so silly tonight. Like a child.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” he put his hand to his side. “That murderer chased you to your front door tonight.” He took my bloody hand. “And he hurt you…somehow.”
I pulled away.

“I think that I may be over-reacting.” I glanced into his eyes. “This storm…it’s so eerie. I think that I’m playing tricks on myself.”

“Alright, but what if it really was the killer that chased you out of the night? We aren’t going to take chances with this one.”

“Please, I would rather deal with this on my own. How about you just go.”

“You’re kidding me, freckles.” He laughed. “You aren’t REALLY pulling this bravery stuff on me now, are you?”

“Colin! Just go.” I backed into the wall.

“No.”

“Please!” I whimpered.

“Wait…why DO you want me to leave? Do you really expect me to just abandon you like this?” His hand wandered to the poker that was standing in the fireplace. “Look at you, you’re terrified.”

My eyes narrowed.

“Well why are you here, anyway!?” I clenched my fists. “There is a damn tornado outside and you just happened to come calling on a night like this?!”
He stared.

“Wait…what? I came here to make sure that you were okay.” A glimmer of childishness passed over his eyes. “Okay, and maybe play a little joke if I got the chance…you know…the weather seemed to set a mood…”

“Get out, Colin!” I wrenched the poker from his hands and hurried for the door. “This time you have gone too far!”

“What’s the matter with you? I didn’t even….”

“Get out.” I growled.

“Alright, but don’t expect me to completely follow that order.” He reached into his pocket. “And here is your key, by the way.” I yanked the door open and once again the storm violently lunged for my throat. I cradled my bloody arm and pushed the door behind him. With the silence washing over the room, there I stood with my back pressed to the door while I shut my eyes.

“Susan…” an icy whisper seeped through the threshold.
That’s when I screamed.



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This article has 2 comments. Post your own!

1moreriver said...
Mar. 18, 2011 at 1:53 pm:
Creepy..... Great dialogue between realistic characters.  Ending is haunting.
 
PJD17 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 23, 2011 at 4:09 pm :
creepy story  very good, but i thought that the dialogue could have been a little bit better  i'm sorry, but i cant realyl give a specific example  i just felt like on some parts the dialogue didnt flow as it should  still a very interesting story though
 
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