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My Writing Journey

Reprise: The Punishment

“Hey, Tommy, look at this!” With fiendish fervor, Butch Abernathy hurled a rock against the front of the old Pomeroy house. “That oughta wake the dead!”

“No!” Tommy cried.

But it was too late. The sound of shattering glass splintered the night. The old Victorian house shuddered, sighed, and groaned a low, mournful cry.

Butch bolted down the street. “Sucker!” he yelled over his shoulder.

Tommy turned to run, but invisible fingers grabbed his ankles. He kicked and stomped, struggling to break free but the Hands gripped tighter. They dragged him, screaming, along the weed-infested sidewalk and up the crumbling stairs into darkness as black as molasses. Then down, down, down into the cavernous depths below. A flickering lantern revealed the awful punishment that awaited him.

The Hands shoved him onto his knees, rammed his head into a wooden cradle, and yanked his wrists behind his back.

“But I didn’t do anything!” Tommy screamed.

The blade of the guillotine came slashing down.

The End

Story by Dawn Pisturino.

Graphics by Rebekah Joy Plett. Click photo to enlarge.

Published October 18, 2011 on Underneath the Juniper Tree.
Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino and Rebekah Joy Plett. All Rights Reserved.

Published on The Brooklyn Voice, June 25, 2012.

Troberg Punishment ill

Artwork by Asheka Troberg, The Brooklyn Voice. Click photo to enlarge.

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino and Asheka Troberg. All Rights Reserved.

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The Seance: A Short Story

The heavy iron gates of Bellemont Cemetery stood open like silent sentries, daring her to enter. Lila hesitated, fearful that once she passed through those gates, they would close behind her, trapping her in a cold, dark, colorless place forever. Thick brick walls enclosed the historic cemetery on all sides, walls much too high to climb if she became trapped. She forced herself to close her eyes and take a deep breath, squelching the rising wave of panic inside her. Then, heart pounding, she hurried through the ominous gates and breathed a sigh of relief when they remained open behind her.

A thick line of trees leaned wearily against the walls, their branches swaying in the cold wind. All around her, the trees were alive with sound: raindrops drip, dripping off rain-soaked leaves onto the rich, mossy soil below; a merry chorus of tiny birds chattering in the treetops, flitting here, then there, delighting in their wet, dewy bower. Overhead, the sky was heavy with white and gray clouds moving rapidly with the wind. More rain threatened to fall. But suddenly, long beams of shimmering sunlight broke through the clouds, caressing the earth with wraith-like fingers, providing a glimpse of heaven, and the possibility of angels breaking into song. Raindrops glistened like silver beads of light in the trees; the last of the autumn leaves burst into fiery red and gold flame; and she was alone, blissfully alone, in a magical world.

Lila breathed in the pure, rain-washed air; inhaled the heavy odor of decaying leaves; the spicy scents of cedar and pine; and the delicate perfume of roses, pink ones and black ones, which she carried in a large bouquet in her hands. She held them to her nose, luxuriating in the sweet aroma, and felt the wetness of raindrops on their velvety petals.

A damp chill rose up from the earth, making her shiver, and she pulled her heavy, black velvet cloak closer around her. The heels of her black leather boots echoed on the pavement. The skirt of her long, black velvet dress clung to her with dampness. But she didn’t care — she was nearly there.

At a fork in the path, she stopped. Gingerly, she stuck one booted foot onto the rain-soaked autumn grass, turned stubby and brown. But the ground held firm, so she continued through the grass, feeling the cold dampness penetrate into her feet.

She walked among the ancient headstones with care, noting with sadness how they leaned and crumbled in the shadows, their weathered faces obliterated over time, their stories forever silenced, forgotten, erased from the world. But a few remained to tell their tales: Baby Emma, dead of pneumonia after two days of life in 1842; Mary Whitehead, Beloved Wife and Mother, died age 27 in childbirth, May She Rest in Peace; Harold Whitby, who died a local hero in the Civil War; and Hope Blaisdale, born 1767, Asleep in the Arms of Jesus since 1857.

So many lives, come and gone; so many hopes and dreams passed away; so many joys and sorrows extinguished forever; so many years gone by. Both the hardness and frailty of life were represented in this place, and she was overcome, once again, with the stark realization of life’s shortness and the finality of death.

She found what she wanted in the newer section of the cemetery, a gentle, grassy slope once sparsely populated. But ten years had witnessed the gradual appearance of many smooth, cleanly-engraved marble headstones, and the open, park-like feel of this section was disappearing. Many of the more recent headstones were simple oblong markers embedded in the soil, flush with the earth, to make it more convenient for the mowers. They lacked the character and history of the older stones. But here they were, and here they would stay, until decades from now they, too, would appear weathered and worn, a testament to the passage of Time.

She had insisted on a more enduring headstone to honor the memory of her dead husband. She stood before it now, examining the clean whiteness of the weeping angel’s marble arms flung mournfully over the shiny, black marble headstone where her husband’s vital statistics were deeply engraved. It was not a new idea. The Victorians had doted on the image of weeping grief. She had borrowed the idea from William Wetmore Story, an American artist who sculpted the original monument for himself and his wife in 1894. It now stood in the Protestant cemetery in Rome, where they were buried. Lila had kept most of the original design but paid the sculptor to sculpt her own image onto the angel’s face — and it was her own grief represented in the statue.

She knelt before the marble monument and placed the pink and black roses in the bronze vase embedded in the marble base. Pink for everlasting love; black for everlasting death. It was an annual ritual which had consumed her life for the last ten years. She uncovered her head, feeling the damp, misty air all around her, and traced the carved letters of her husband’s name with one gloved finger.

“Happy birthday, Jonathan,” she said softly, and tears filled her eyes. With loving hands, she brushed away a few dead leaves clinging stubbornly to the cold, wet marble. Ten years ago, she had vowed to keep his memory pristine and shining. She would not allow him to be forever silenced.

The dull ache of her everyday grief filled the empty loneliness of her life, reminding her listless spirit that she was still very much alive and obligated to remain so until either God or the devil decided otherwise; but today, on the most special day of her year, when the ritual of her grief found its most sublime expression, she needed no reminder of the separation that lay between herself and her husband. The hardness of the marble headstone felt all too real beneath her fingers; the shortness of his precious life felt all too bitter in her heart:

Jonathan Harkins

Born October 31, 1952

Died June 21, 1997

Beloved Husband, Lover, and Friend

She leaned over and kissed the cold, hard stone, unmindful of the clinging dampness or the tears streaming down her face.

“Tonight,” she said hopefully, and believed it in her heart.

* * *

At nine o’clock, when she felt certain there would be no more Halloween revelers at the front door, she stoked up the fire in the fireplace, turned down the lights, and placed a small, round mahogany table in front of the fire. She covered the table with a large square of deep purple velvet cloth and set out the wooden Ouija board and plastic planchette. She placed a small silver candelabra on the table next to the Ouija board, filled the candleholders with pink and black candles, and carefully lit each one. The effect was charmingly romantic, definitely Gothic, in keeping with her annual birthday ritual; and she said a silent prayer, hoping that this would be the year when Jonathan’s promise would come true. Then she changed into a long, black velvet gown embroidered with tiny silver stars and waited for her guests to arrive.

It wasn’t long before she heard a brisk knock on the front door, and she opened it with a large smile to admit two women of varying ages and costumes. They removed their coats, handing them to their hostess, and looked around the darkened room in expectation.

“How charming!” exclaimed a young woman with blazing red hair and large, green eyes dressed in a long-sleeved, forest green gown with red embroidery on the tight bodice. The material clung to her slender figure, emphasizing her plump breasts. “Lila, you’ve absolutely outdone yourself!” She leaned up and kissed her hostess on the cheek.

Lila crossed her fingers. “This year, Maureen; it has to be this year!”

“We’ll do our best, my dear.” She turned to her companion. “This is Madame Angeline, our guest psychic, just arrived from Boston, Massachusetts. Her reputation is impeccable!”

The older woman with platinum blonde hair and faded violet eyes was dressed in a long-sleeved, lavender-colored gown adorned with vintage cream-colored lace at the wrists and throat. An old ivory cameo was pinned to the starched, Victorian-style high collar, and Lila wondered how the woman could breathe. She stretched out her hand, and the woman took it gently, turning it over to examine her palm.

“Madame Angeline sees many things, my dear,” she said with a slight French accent. “But for you, I see a long, happy life — if you will allow it to be.”

Lila removed her hand from the old woman’s grasp. “Thank you, Madame,” she said nervously. “We will see tonight if that prophesy comes true or not.”

Madame Angeline shrugged. “A cup of hot tea with cream would be lovely. The air is quite damp outside.”

“Certainly. And you, Maureen?”

“I’ll pass. I’m nervous enough without adding caffeine.”

“Then, I’ll be right back,” Lila said. “Here, the table is all ready. Please take your preferred seat, Madame.”

Merci.” The old woman seated herself in front of the Ouija board where she could easily reach the planchette. The chair opposite was left for Lila, and Maureen took the third chair to the side.

Lila returned shortly with a serving trolley bearing a large pot of black tea and a small, white birthday cake decorated with pink and black candles.

Madame Angeline observed the cake with a strange look in her eyes, but said nothing. Maureen smiled apologetically. “Lila, dear, you really must explain to Madame what this is all about.”

Lila poured cups of hot tea for herself and Madame Angeline and sat down in the empty chair. She took a few sips of the strong hot liquid and began:

“My husband, Jonathan, was a psychologist who became interested in the paranormal when he took on a young man with schizophrenic tendencies as a patient. This young man was a gifted artist who had visions of another world after death. He painted beautiful canvasses depicting a world full of light and angels and unearthly spirits. His paintings sold well, but the young man’s visions grew in frequency to the point where he could no longer function in the real world. He began to drink and use street drugs, and he finally sought counseling for his substance abuse.

“Jonathan took the young man under his wing, so to speak, and became convinced over time that the young man’s visions were real. He became obsessed with the idea of life after death, reading every book he could find on the subject.

“When Jonathan was diagnosed with brain cancer, we were both devastated. Right from the beginning, the doctors told us it was hopeless. We tried chemo and radiation, but nothing worked. We finally turned to hospice, and Jonathan died in this very house ten years ago.

“Before he died, however, he promised to come back on his birthday and prove to me that there is life after death. We chose a special number code that only he and I knew, and if that code was revealed during a seance or Ouija session, that would be his message to me that life after death is real and everlasting.

“It sounds crazy, I know, but I have celebrated his birthday and honored his death every year for the last ten years without fail. We have hired a different psychic or medium every year, to no avail. There has been nothing but silence from the grave. We were hoping that tonight would be different.”

She reached over and squeezed Maureen’s hand. “Maureen has been my loyal friend through all of this. She has been right here with me through all the disappointment and pain for the last ten years. He has to come tonight, Madame, he has to! I don’t know how much more of this I can stand!”

Madame Angeline listened to her gravely, then closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. Then she placed her fingers gently on the planchette.

“Place your fingers lightly on the planchette, and do not force it to move!” The two women complied. “Now, open your minds and hearts to the celestial realm and join me in calling on the spirit of Jonathan Harkins!”

Lila’s heart leaped in her chest in anticipation. Please, God, let tonight be the night, she prayed silently.

Madam Angeline continued. “Jonathan Harkins, ten years ago, before you passed on to the other side, you made a promise to your wife, Lila, that you would send a message to her from the other side on the anniversary of your birthday if — and only if — you were able to do so. Please come to us tonight, on the anniversary of your forty-fifth birthday, and deliver that message!”

The fire crackled in the background, and the candles softly flickered. Outside, the wind howled gently against the windows. Then the soft patter of rain could be heard upon the roof. The lighted jack-o-lantern sitting on the hearth grinned a snaggle-toothed grin, and the odor of burning wax and pine logs filled the room. But the planchette did not move.

Once again, Madame Angeline took a deep breath, let it out, and continued. “I call upon all the spirits of Heaven and Hell to dissolve the veil between life and death, spirit and flesh, darkness and light, and allow the spirit of our beloved Jonathan Harkins to break on through to this material world on this holiest of nights, when the barriers between life and death are at their weakest, so that he may impart the message he promised to give to his beloved wife, Lila.”

Lila’s heart pounded in her chest, and a thin film of sweat dampened her brow. Her fingers trembled, but the planchette did not move. She looked nervously at Maureen and smiled faintly. Maureen smiled back reassuringly, her eyes glowing like green emeralds in the candlelight.

Once again, Madame Angeline closed her eyes, threw back her head, and said loudly, “I call upon the spirit of Jonathan Harkins to appear in this room and deliver the message he promised to give ten years ago!”

Lila and Maureen each held their breath as they waited for the planchette to begin moving idly across the board, slowly at first, then gathering speed. But instead of searching for alphabetical letters or numbers or touching upon the oui or the ja or even good-bye, the little plastic instrument sat there silently, mocking them both.

Lila stared at the planchette in disbelief. “It’s no good, my dear,” Madame Angeline said quietly. “Jonathan is not going to appear.”

“I don’t believe it,” Lila said, gripping the planchette tightly. “You didn’t try hard enough. In fact, you hardly tried at all.”

Madame Angeline reached for her hand across the table. “Remember what I said, cherie. You will have a long and happy life — IF YOU ALLOW IT. Ten years is a long time to wait. You are still young — only 42, am I right? Young enough to remarry — have a child, if you like. This obsession with grief is unhealthy. Life was meant for the living. For some unknown reason, Jonathan is not able to reach you from beyond the grave. That does not mean he’s lost to you forever or that he’s suffering in any way. It simply means that it’s not God’s will that he contact you. It’s time to let it go.”

“I can’t let it go, especially when he promised –“

“People make a lot of promises on their deathbeds, my dear; sometimes, not very wise ones.” Madame Angeline stood up and prepared to leave. “If you will bring my coat, Lila, I will say good-night to you.”

Lila stared at the little plastic planchette held tightly in her hand. Ten years of grief and frustrated hope burned inside of her, and she wanted to scream. She squeezed the planchette until the plastic cracked in her hand, and she threw it on the floor in disgust. Then she grabbed the Ouija board and flung it into the fireplace, making the fire sizzle and pop.

Lila stood up and pointed an accusing finger at Madame Angeline. “You don’t believe me! You never believed that Jonathan would come back! You’re nothing but a fraud!”

“Lila!” Maureen cried. “Madame Angeline is just trying to help you!”

“She’s not receptive to help,” Madame Angeline said sternly. “Please get my coat so I can leave.”

When they heard the knock on the front door, they were all startled, then annoyed. It was too late for visitors. Cautiously, Lila opened the front door without releasing the safety chain. She peered through the open crack at a stranger visible under the porch light. He was standing in the rain holding his brown overcoat over his head. He smiled at her apologetically.

“Excuse me, ma’am, but I seem to have run out of gas, and my cell phone battery is dead. Can I please use your phone? I know it’s late, but I have no other way to get home. I live about two blocks from here, at 12145 Maplewood Court. I could walk, I guess, but the weather isn’t too good out here. I’d really appreciate it.”

Lila stared at him, not believing her ears. “12145, you said? Did you say 12145?”

“That’s what I said.”

Lila’s heart leaped in her chest. “12145!” she exclaimed, clutching her hands to her breast and laughing ecstatically. She turned around. “That’s it! That’s the code! Did you hear, Madame Angeline? He’s come back! Jonathan’s come back!”

Maureen and Madame Angeline stared at her in stunned silence.

“Did you hear me?” Lila cried. “JONATHAN’S COME BACK! That man out there just gave me the code!”

But Maureen and Madame Angeline just looked at her in disbelief.

“Here, I’ll prove it to you!” Lila fumbled with the safety chain, released it, and threw open the door. But the stranger was already down the walk, disappearing into the rainy darkness. “No!” Lila cried. “Please don’t go!” She hurried after him, arms waving wildly, and calling frantically, “Come back!” until the rain and darkness engulfed him, and she was alone.

* * *

NOTE: This story is about Lila’s fear of death, her attachment to grief, and her inability to accept her husband’s death. Sometimes, authors get attached to their own words – “their little darlings,” as Stephen King would say. I would really like feedback from you, The Reader! Is the story too long? Too boring? Too wordy? What needs to be cut out? Or is it okay as it is? Please leave your feedback in the comments below – and, thanks!

Dawn Pisturino

October 15, 2021

Copyright 2009-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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From Movie Score to Jazz Standard: “Stella by Starlight”

The Uninvited was released by Paramount in 1944 as a classic ghost story based on the novel and play by Dorothy Macardle. If you like ghost stories, this movie is for you! The movie contains all the elements of a good ghost story – the abandoned mansion, windswept and crumbling, built on the edge of a steep cliff overlooking a raging sea; the beautiful young girl haunted by her past; the handsome young musician determined to save her; and a family mystery involving adultery and murder.

Stella by Starlight was written by Victor Young as a serenade for the movie. The original score reflects the plot of the movie: the developing romance between Milland and Russell; the mounting tension between the ghosts and the tenants of the old house; and the dark, moody character of the rugged Cornish coast. The serenade became a hit, drawing movie goers everywhere. Two years later, Ned Washington added lyrics and turned it into a jazz standard that is still popular today. It has been performed by such greats as Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, John Williams, and Liberace. No fake book would be without it.

Liberace performing a stylized version:

Jazz version by Miles Davis:

Enjoy the relaxing mood of Stella by Starlight!

Dawn Pisturino

September 20, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Halloween Treat

The Van Emmerick house was the most feared house in the neighborhood. For ten-year-old Tommy James, it was a dark reminder of things long ago and best forgotten; a relic of the past, old and mysterious, built by people who had lived and died many decades before he was born. He was curious about the past; fascinated with history; and the more he became aware of the house, the more he longed to explore its hidden secrets.

Tommy walked by the old Van Emmerick place twice a day, before and after school. Over the years, he had noticed many interesting details about the house. In the morning, when the sun shone full against the front of the house, two arched windows marking the second story seemed to smile at him with a “good morning!” kind of smile. The dark green paint didn’t seem so faded and cracked. The old stone porch, rudely assembled from local rocks, didn’t seem so forbidding and uninviting. The big plate glass window with the frilly white curtains seemed to sparkle in the morning light.

But in the afternoon, when the sun was low in the sky, making shadows lengthen across the old frame house, the peaked roof with the two small smoke stacks and faded red shingles gave the barn-like appearance of the house a more sinister expression. The entire structure seemed foreign and out of place. The old Victorian ornamentation, placed squarely between the two arched windows, reminded him of death and wrinkled old ladies dressed in black. The tall wrought-iron fence, set in more local rock, surrounded the property with deadly grace, effectively keeping out the curious and unwanted.

Tommy shivered, made the sign of the cross as he always did, and hurried home as fast as he could.

~

“The old Van Emmerick house, you say? Why, sure, I know all about it,” his grandfather told him one crisp afternoon in October. They were raking leaves in his own backyard while his mother prepared dinner in the kitchen. His father was still at work, and his oldest sister had left for her ballet lesson.

His grandfather had lived in Blakeville his entire life and knew a lot about the history of the town.

“Peter Van Emmerick built that house in 1880,” he recalled. “Folks around here have always called it a monstrosity. The architecture isn’t right — doesn’t fit in with the rest of the town. But Peter, being Dutch, was homesick for his own country and built the house to remind him of home. He had six children in that house by two different wives. It’s never been empty, that’s for sure. Old Amy Van Emmerick lives there now. Inherited the house from her mother. As far as I know, she’s the last of ’em. They gradually died out around here, as all old families do. The cemetery is filled with their headstones. I’ll take you there sometime to see the old graves. Would you like that, Tommy? Halloween’s coming up!”

“Sure, Gramps, any time. You know how much I like history.” But privately, Tommy wasn’t so sure. The idea of visiting a cemetery for fun, especially on Halloween, gave him the creeps.

“That’s my boy. Someday, you’ll be teaching history at the high school, just like your old granddad.” His grandfather winked at him, and Tommy stopped raking.

“Say, Gramps, how come nobody ever sees Amy Van Emmerick? I mean, how do you know she’s still alive? She could’ve died and nobody would even know it!”

“Oh, they’d know it, alright. She has a woman who comes in once a week to clean the place up and run errands for her. Selma Baintree — that’s the woman’s name. I ran into her not too long ago, and she told me that the old lady’s not doing too well, getting more frail as time goes by. It’s just a matter of time before the house will be empty, she said.”

“I’m sorry. How old is Amy Van Emmerick? I mean, you must’ve known her, Gramps!”

Yep, that’s right, Tommy. She was my first love.”

Tommy blushed. He couldn’t imagine his grandfather ever being young enough to have a first love. “Why didn’t you marry her, Gramps?”

His grandfather stopped raking and looked at him with a faraway expression on his face. “Oh, I don’t know. The Great War started, and I went off to Europe to fight the Germans. Getting married wasn’t on my mind back then. And Miss Amy went off to school in Chicago. I heard later that she was engaged to a young man from an old Chicago family, but he was killed at Dunkirk. She must’ve loved him very deeply because she came home to take care of her mother after her father died and never got involved with anybody again. She hardly left the house after that and became a regular recluse. Poor Miss Amy! She was the most beautiful girl I ever saw. The biggest blue eyes, and long golden hair like spun flax. She’d beat out the likes of Paris Hilton any day of the week!”

Tommy laughed, then stopped, when a sudden thought struck him. “Hey, Gramps, I just had an idea. Why don’t you go visit Miss Amy before she dies? I bet she’d like that a lot!”

His grandfather stroked his white-whiskered chin thoughtfully. “You know, Tommy, I never really thought about it. It seems like an invasion of the old lady’s privacy. She probably wouldn’t even know me after all these years!”

“Aw, I bet she would. She’s probably lonely shut up in that old place.”

“Maybe so,” his grandfather said. “You might just be right.”

~

“Hey, Tommy, watch this!”

Butch Abernathy pulled an egg out of his trick-or-treat bag and hurled it against the front of the old Van Emmerick house. “That’ll wake up the dead,” he shouted with glee.

The two boys hung onto the wrought-iron fence with sticky fingers, peering through the bars with eager eyes, their hearts racing with excitement. But no lights appeared. The house stared at them with black, lifeless eyes, its silhouette rising silent and dark against the cloudy night sky.

“Let’s go,” Tommy whispered. “It gives me the creeps.”

“What’re you whispering for?” asked Butch. “The fun has just begun.” He rummaged through his trick-or-treat bag and pulled out a large rock.

“No!” cried Tommy, grabbing at Butch’s arm. But it was too late. The sound of shattering glass filled his ears. His heart pounded in his chest until it hurt.

“I’m outta here!” Butch shouted; and grabbing his trick-or-treat bag, he bolted down the sidewalk.

Tommy stood alone on the sidewalk, paralyzed with fear. I never should have come here, he thought. My parents are going to kill me. And Gramps will be so disappointed . . . He couldn’t bear to disappoint his grandfather. But if he left now, who would know? Butch would never tell.

I’m going home, he thought; but as he turned to leave, the wrought-iron gate suddenly creaked open, and Tommy screamed. He ran as fast as he could to the corner, then stopped and looked back. The street was silent and deserted except for an old stray cat. A few jack-o-lanterns grinned brightly in the darkness, but the trick-or-treaters had left long ago, hurrying home before the rain started. A strong gust of wind hurled itself against him, kicking up dead leaves and dirt into his face. Coughing and sputtering, he wiped the dirt out of his eyes and headed down the sidewalk.

The old wrought-iron gate stood open before him, an invitation too tempting to resist. After all, what was the worst that could happen? He would apologize to the old lady and take his punishment liked a man.

Bracing himself, he walked slowly up the weed-infested sidewalk toward the old stone stairs. There was nothing but blackness at the top of those stairs, blackness so deep and dark, it was like a giant mouth waiting to engulf him and swallow him whole. Trembling with fear, he wanted to turn around and run as fast as he could to the nearest, brightest light. But he knew in his heart that he could not face his grandfather as long as the broken window went unpunished.

Heart pounding, he trudged up the stone stairs, peering into the blackness. As he stepped onto the porch, the moon suddenly peeked out from behind a cloud, throwing a pale, silvery beam of light into the darkness and revealing a solid oak door. He raised his hand to knock on the door, when it suddenly opened with a slow, painful groan.

Tommy gasped, and his heart pounded in his ears. Breathing heavily, he stepped over the threshold, hanging onto the door for dear life. He stood still for a moment, listening hard, and waited for something to happen. But nothing did.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he realized he was in a large foyer. He rapped his knuckles against the door and shouted, “Miss Amy, are you here?”

Absolute silence filled his ears except for the ticking of an old clock. He pushed the door open wider and stepped cautiously into the room. He felt for a light switch on the wall but found none. Why didn’t I bring a flashlight, he berated himself angrily.

Tommy crossed the old wooden floor and opened a set of double doors to his right. The sweet scent of roses filled the air. Outside, the wind began to howl, and raindrops splattered against the large plate glass window on the other side of the room. Tommy thought he could make out the curved outline of an old Victorian sofa under the window and the globe-like shade of an old lamp next to it. Groping his way carefully in the darkness, he was about to reach out for the lamp when a loud clap of thunder split the air, making him jump, and a bright flash of lightning lit up the sofa through the gauzy white curtains.

A figure dressed in white lay on the sofa, its long white hair spread neatly over a pillow, the wrinkled old face glowing white in the lightning flash, the large, faded blue eyes open and staring at him. The mouth hung open wide, revealing a cavernous blackness, and Tommy waited for the scream that would surely come, but no sound issued forth between those dark, thin lips. The figure’s arms were crossed over its breast, like a corpse, the fingernails long and blue. It was the most horrible thing that Tommy had ever seen in his life, and he screamed and screamed and screamed as he turned and raced for the double doors, tripping over an old ottoman in his path.

But when he looked up, something blocked his exit, a tall figure dressed in white, reaching out for him with long, clawed fingers . . .

When Tommy woke up the lights were on, and his grandfather was cradling him in his arms. “It’s okay, Tommy, it’s okay.”

“It was you!”

“Yes, it was me,” his grandfather said; “And old Miss Amy. I went to visit her, as you suggested, and we cooked up this little Halloween treat for you! Here, I want you to meet her!”

He helped Tommy to his feet, remarking on the wonderful acting job Miss Amy had done. And that make-up! Could anybody else have done a better job?

But when they leaned over the sofa to tell her it was all over, and she could stop playing around now, his grandfather suddenly became silent and felt for a pulse in the old lady’s wrist. Tommy stared, horrified, into those dead blue eyes and the slack, open mouth, and the scream rose up from his tightening throat . . .

Dawn Pisturino

2009

Copyright 2009-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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The Egyptian

egyptian-cat-goddess-statue-

The Egyptian

Four large black cats rushed to greet him when he opened the apartment door. Four pairs of gleaming yellow eyes watched him curiously. Four shiny, custom-made rhinestone collars flashed at him. Four soft, furry bodies rubbed themselves affectionately against his grey flannel-clad legs, purring loudly. He stood still in the doorway, afraid of tripping over one of the sleek black bodies or stepping on a long black tail.

“Cleopatra . . . Hathor . . . Horus . . . Anubis!” cried a familiar voice. “Leave the poor man alone!”

The cats meowed loudly as a tall woman with honey-colored skin entered the room. She was dressed in a long-sleeved, full-length black silk caftan embroidered with shiny gold thread. Her thick black hair was piled high on top of her regal head. Her heavy gold earrings, necklace, and bracelets shone brilliantly in the bright sunlight streaming through the open windows. She clapped her hands together, commanding the attention of her feline pets, and waved them toward the open kitchen door. The cats scampered off, eager to please their mistress.

He entered the apartment cautiously, closing the door behind him.

“Emanuel!” She greeted him with a warm hug, and he inhaled the sweet, heavy Arabic perfume which she always wore. “Light a cigarette for me, won’t you, darling?”

He pulled a pack of expensive Turkish cigarettes from his pocket and held one in his mouth while lighting it for her with a slim silver lighter from Rome. Remaining silent, he handed it to her, and she took a long, slow drag.

“It’s been so long,” she said, after exhaling a small white cloud of smoke. “I’ve been trying to quit, you know. But today calls for a special celebration. Thank you for responding to my call.”

She looked at him intently with large dark eyes which turned up slightly at the corners. The effect was accentuated by the heavy black eyeliner she always wore. Then, smiling with pleasure, she suddenly grabbed his hands and pulled him down next to her onto the elegant gold brocade sofa. “Kiss me, you fool!”

He turned away from her. “That’s not a good idea, Fatima. Please, just tell me why you called.”

She leaned over and turned his face toward her with long, slender fingers, looking deeply into his eyes. Her soft lips brushed against his neck, then opened up eagerly to his own, and they embraced with a familiar passion. When she had gotten her fill, she pushed him gently away, laughing.

“Ah, my talented Emanuel – no man has ever kissed me the way you do. How I shall miss it!”

“The divorce was your idea,” he quietly reminded her. “I would have endured any agony to be with you, if only you felt the same!”

Her face darkened. “Such pain,” she said bitterly. “But there was no choice. I could not allow you to be hurt by my foolish folly.”

“But you have never explained that to me! You owe me an explanation,” he pleaded. “To throw away twelve months of bliss is also folly!”

She tapped the cigarette with her right forefinger over the ashtray, letting the ashes fall, then took another drag. “It’s quite simple,” she said, avoiding his probing eyes. “I’m leaving for San Francisco with another man.”

A cloud slipped over the sun, darkening the room. He stood up and abruptly turned his back to her, afraid of the tide of emotion rising up inside of him. He walked over to the fireplace and leaned against the mantel. The mirror hanging on the wall could not conceal his flushed face, smoldering dark eyes, and tight, white lips. Suddenly, the truth seared through his brain like an exploding lightning bolt. He was a fool alright, a stupid, ignorant fool who had run after this magnificent harlot like a pathetic little boy, promising her the whole world.

In spite of her passionate declarations of love and exotic love-making, she had never really loved him. But she had played him brilliantly, taking him on the most exciting ride of his life. The marriage certificate obtained in New York City had paved the way to her U.S. citizenship. Then there was the brand new Mercedes-Benz (gold, naturally) which she had proudly picked out one Sunday afternoon; gifts of solid gold jewelry; and trips to expensive seaside resorts. She had used him, body and soul, then booted him out like a worn out old shoe when she was done. Even his pledge to give her a liberal monthly alimony had turned on him. She was going to share it with another man!

His jaw tightened, and he picked up a small plaster statuette of Bastet, the Egyptian cat goddess portrayed in the form of a black cat with gold earrings in the ears, a gold ring piercing the nose, and a jeweled collar inlaid with rainbow-colored stones. There were four of them lined up along the mantelpiece – souvenirs brought home from their trip to Cairo, her birthplace. He threw it angrily against the mirror, smashing both into a thousand pieces.

Clenching his fists, he turned to look at her. A wave of fear rippled across her lovely face – a face he had treasured and adored. She squashed the cigarette into the ashtray and began to rise from the sofa, but he rushed over and pushed her down hard against the cushions.

“Emanuel, no!” she cried, throwing her arms defensively over her face.

Consumed with rage, he raised his right fist and brought it crashing down against her arms. He kicked her delicate legs with his heavy Italian leather shoes and punched her in the belly with a furious, driving force. She screamed in agony, doubling over with pain, and the sound of her torture was music to his ears.

Suddenly, an ear-splitting yowling sound filled the room. A hundred tiny sharp needles seemed to claw into the flesh of his back, ripping the soft fabric of his grey flannel jacket. Tiny, needle-like fangs sank into his muscular shoulder. He screamed in pain and reached backward, trying to pull the angry ball of black fur from his back. But the enraged cat sank its fangs into his right hand. He screamed again.

Frantically, he jumped around the room, falling over tables and lamps, trying desperately to dislodge the hissing, spitting demon from his back. In the background, he was dimly aware of his beautiful, unfaithful wife dialing 911.

Three pairs of large yellow eyes watched him angrily from the kitchen doorway. Three long black tails twitched furiously. And when the hissing started, his heart seemed to stop in his chest. Three slinky black bodies padded silently toward him. And when they sprang on him, claws piercing his skin through his fine designer clothing, a terrifying shriek echoed through the apartment, and blackness closed over him.

* * *

Police sergeant James Watts had never encountered such a scene in his thirty years on the Hollywood police force. Nor could he explain to his satisfaction why four large black cats had so viciously attacked and killed their owner’s husband. The beautiful, grieving wife with the large dark eyes and foreign accent had wrung her hands nervously, tears streaming down her face.

Yes, it was true, they were going through a divorce. No, it was not what you would call a bitter divorce. They had both agreed to call it quits while they were ahead and to part amicably. No, she had no idea why the cats had turned on poor Emanuel. He had always treated them with such affection. Yes, of course, she understood that she was sole beneficiary to his estate. What was the nice police sergeant trying to imply?

The four large black cats were hauled off to the pound, where they were later executed for their crime.

The elegant Egyptian widow, dressed in filmy black robes, left for San Francisco with an up-and-coming architect, who left her two days later without leaving a forwarding address.

A week later, police broke into the San Francisco apartment of a mysterious black-haired woman after neighbors complained of a sickly smell permeating the halls. They gagged, covering their noses and mouths with gloved hands, as they surveyed the scene before them.

A corpse lay on the sofa, the bloated body of a dark-haired woman with purple-blue skin, who had evidently been mauled to death and then partially eaten by her feline pets. Four large black cats scampered into the kitchen when the officers appeared. They were never seen again.

  • * * *

Police sergeant James Watts of the Hollywood Police Department closed his newspaper, rubbed his stubbly chin, and leaned back in his swivel chair to think. Very strange, he thought, pondering this information. Very strange, indeed.

Dawn Pisturino

August 6, 2007

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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The Ethereal World of Sir Simon Marsden

Sir Simon Marsden

Sir Simon Marsden (1948-2012) was known as an ethereal British photographer who transported the viewer to a dark and phantasmic world with his eerie photographs. Introduced by his father at a young age to books and stories about the supernatural, Marsden developed a keen interest in the paranormal. He even grew up in two English manors that were allegedly haunted, Panton Hall and Thorpe Hall. Thorpe Hall, in particular, housed the “Green Lady,” the ghost of a woman who committed suicide in the 1600s.

Marsden became a fan of such writers as Arthur Machen, M.R. James, and Edgar Allen Poe. At the age of 21, he received his first camera and embarked on a lifelong love affair with photography. He traveled throughout Britain, France, and the United States, perfecting his signature style, and became known for his haunting images of haunted sites.

A number of books were published featuring his photographs, and his work was exhibited throughout Britain and elsewhere. He was a master in the use of infrared film and printing his own photographs, which gave him control over the quality of his work.

A staunch believer in the supernatural, Marsden described several paranormal encounters that he experienced at ancient haunted sites. At the Rollright Stones in Long Compton, Warwickshire, he was pushed by an invisible force, which knocked the camera out of his grasp. At Woodlawn House in County Gallway, he and director Jason Figgis heard the mournful wailing of a woman who could not be found anywhere on the premises.

Marsden became 4th Baronet in 1997. His collection can be viewed here:

http://www.marsdenarchive.com.

Dawn Pisturino

August 2017

Published in the Autumn 2017 issue of Psychic Magic e-zine.

Copyright 2017 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Concert for the Dead

Concert for the Dead image

Story by Dawn Pisturino

Artwork by Job van Gelder

Ariel knelt before the marble niche holding the remains of her dead older brother and placed a bouquet of roses in the stone vase. Six months had passed since the horrible night a drunk driver had taken Jonathan’s life. She would never forget.

“Coach Willis still talks about you, Jonathan,” Ariel said, tracing the carved letters of his name with trembling fingers. “Nobody’s beaten your track record. You were the best. You always will be.”

She pulled some sheet music from her backpack. “The opera club is doing Purcell this year. I got the lead role. I’m so excited!” She began to sing:

“When I am laid, am laid in earth, may my wrongs create

No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;

Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate . . .”*

The haunting elegy echoed through the halls of the Great Mausoleum, bringing tears to Ariel’s eyes. As the last melancholy note faded away, the mausoleum doors slammed shut. The lights flickered and dimmed.

Icy panic clawed at Ariel’s chest. She could hardly breathe. Then a long, agonizing scream tore from her throat.

She ran to the entrance and pushed against the heavy metal doors. Locked.  She searched for an intercom or emergency button. Nothing.

“Let me out!” she cried, pounding on the door. “It’s not closing time!”

Voices whispered all around her.

“No!” she howled, throwing her weight against the unyielding door.

The whispers grew louder. “We’ll let you out when the concert is over.”

 “W-what c-concert?” Ariel stammered, searching the empty air.

“The Concert for the Dead.”

And then she saw them, gliding down the dark corridors, the eerie inhabitants of this condominium for the dead.

They crowded into the main hall, hundreds of them, the ghastly and the beautiful.

Men dressed in military uniforms soaked with blood, arms ripped away, legs shredded at the knees, and heads split open, eyeballs dangling from their sockets.

Women gowned in rustling silk, faded and torn, ringlets framing faces eaten away by worms. Pale young mothers with tragic eyes, carrying shriveled up babies in their arms.

Dead children glared at Ariel with menacing faces, their transparent fingers clutching moth-eaten ragdolls and time-worn teddy bears.

An orchestra appeared. Skeletons with shreds of rotting flesh hanging from their bones. The conductor raised his baton, and the slow, plaintive strains of a violin filled the air. He

turned and looked at Ariel with one putrid eye, motioning her to begin.

I know this song. I can do it. Shaking with fear, she dug her fingernails into her palms and began to sing:

“None but the lonely heart can know my sadness

Alone and parted far from joy and gladness . . .”**

She sang until the sun disappeared and the stained glass windows lost their color. She sang until the moon ran its course and the stars began to fade. Finally, her throat too parched and raw to continue, she pleaded:

“The concert’s over. Please let me go.”

Hushed whispers rippled through the audience. Then a lone figure broke through the crowd.

“Jonathan!” Ariel cried, grateful to see a familiar face.

Smiling, he extended his arms to her. “We don’t want you to leave,” Jonathan said, drawing her close. “We want you to sing for us forever and ever and ever . . .”

Cold waxy fingers tightened around her throat. In the background, the orchestra played a quiet requiem.

* * *

When the groundskeeper found Ariel’s body the next morning, he noticed two peculiar things. Her throat was purple with finger marks, and her hair had turned completely white.

Copyright 2011-2014 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

This story is dedicated to my daughter, lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino

Published in the November 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree. Read it here.

Published on Brooklyn Voice, February 2012. Read it here.

Concert for the Dead ill-Troberg

Artwork by Asheka Troberg

*“Dido’s Lament,” from Dido & Aeneas by Henry Purcell

**“None but the Lonely Heart,” by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and J.W. Goethe

 Happy Halloween!

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The Punishment

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The Punishment

Click photo to enlarge, download, and read.

Story by Dawn Pisturino. Graphics by Rebekah Joy Plett.

Published October 18, 2011 on Underneath the Juniper Tree.
Copyright 2011 Dawn Pisturino and Rebekah Joy Plett. All Rights Reserved.

Published on The Brooklyn Voice, June 25, 2012. Read it here.

Troberg Punishment ill

Artwork by Asheka Troberg, The Brooklyn Voice. Click to enlarge.

Copyright 2012 Dawn Pisturino and Asheka Troberg. All Rights Reserved.

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The oak chest and the bride who rushed to her death

Everybody loves a good ghost story! Click on photo to read the story.

freaky folk tales

The Mistletoe Bride

“Within lay the body of his lost bride, now a fleshless skeleton, wearing the beautiful wedding robes in which he had last seen her. The wedding dress was yellow and stained with age and corruption. Her fleshless hand was raised in a pathetic attitude as it trying to open the door of her tomb.”

Read the whole story: http://freakyfolktales.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/how-a-new-york-society-girl-came-to-inherit-the-ghost-of-an-english-bride/

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