By Zachary Mack
Third Annual Spooky Fiction Contest Winner
“Don’t forget, a minimum of one hour volunteering at Shady Hill Retirement Community before the end of the month, ladies!”
I was overwhelmed with these requirements. Volunteering was necessary to boost my chances for university. I signed up for five o’clock, the 30th of October. I set a reminder on my phone before heading home to catch up on my AP science.
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A week later, I got the reminder. I rolled my eyes and said goodbye to my friends, promosing to see them later.
I arrived through the doors of the retirement home and checked in with the desk clerk. She wore a floral pattern dress from the ’70s. I was handed the sign-in papers and a pamphlet. She motioned toward a hallway.
“Room D13,” she said in a raspy voice.
I headed toward D13 skimming the pamphlet. It emphasized the importance of listening to the resident. I heard a few door creek slightly, and faint whispering. I’m sure others were hoping for a visitor. I arrived at D13.
The door opened slowly from the weight of the knock.
I sat on a faded love-seat. The room had no wallpaper or family pictures on the walls.
“How are you today?” I said loudly, in case the woman was hearing impaired.
She didn’t turn to face me. The woman had gray, sunken eyes, a pale complexion and hair tied into a bun. There was severe scarring behind her ear, extending over the entirety of her neck, and disappearing underneath her blouse.
“It’s OK if you don’t feel like talking,” I said, verbatim from the pamphlet.
We sat in silence the entire time. Her eyes transfixed on the autumn scene.
My phone beeped, ending the mandatory session. Feeling unaccomplished, I stood and thanked her for sitting with me. As I started to leave, she lunged and grabbed my wrist.
“The kettle whistles, water runs, the cat needs milk .... Fire will burn.”
I pulled my hand away. I walked briskly out of the room, through the hall and back home. I tried to relax before my parents got home. The old lady had creeped me out. I felt a ringing in my ears. The ringing grew louder. It wasn’t a ringing at all. I walked into the kitchen and found the kettle whistling full force. Confused, I turned the burner off hurriedly. I felt a cool sweat drip over my temple. I swallowed hard, trying to rationalize the strange occurrence. I heard the bathtub faucet roar with water.
“Mom? Are you there?”
The bedroom door was open and I walked onto the tile floor. The water poured into the bathtub drain. I walked over to the tub and switched off both handles. The water ceased, but my anxiety rose when I recalled the woman’s words. I turned around and looked at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I looked pale. I splashed water on my face from the porcelain sink. I tired to recall the next phenomenon the woman said. The screeching of a cat jogged my memory. I broke from my paralyzing fear and had to act.
Fire burns. I ran from the bathroom and broke toward the front door and ran into the front yard. Heaving and gagging, I lay out on the grass. The last image I had was the windows of my house billowing with smoke. I heard my neighbor’s voice, but everything faded to black.
I woke up a few hours later in a hospital bed. My mom and dad hovered over me.
“We’re so happy to have you safe. There was an electrical fire. The firefighters said it spread faster than anything they had ever seen. Thankfully, you were in the bathroom closest the front door.”
My mom had tears running down her face. My dad was texting furiously on the phone.
“I need to call the retirement home,” I belted out, followed by a cough.
“I think you need to rest dear. They said that if you were in the house any longer, you could have died.”
I grabbed my dad’s phone and searched the number. My parents watched bewildered.
The phone rang twice and the receptionist answered with a sunny voice.
“I need my call transferred to room D13.”
“D13? That wing of Shady Hill was rebuilt into a recreation center after the fire … 30 years ago.”