Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

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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Miss Lizzie’s Tea Party

lamug_miss-lizzie

Miss Lizzie’s Tea Party

by Dawn Pisturino

Illustration by Ken Lamug

I never wanted to attend Miss Lizzie’s tea party, but mama insisted I go.

“Miss Borden is a kind and gentle lady,” she scolded. “I don’t want to hear anymore nonsense about those grisly axe murders! Rich young ladies like Miss Borden don’t go around chopping up people’s heads.”

“But Mama,” I protested. “Miss Lizzie and the maid were the only ones at home. Who else could have chopped off her father’s nose and split his eyeball in two?”

“That’s enough, Olivia,” Mama warned. “You’re going to the party, and that’s final.”

* * *

I had often seen Miss Lizzie sitting in an upstairs window, beckoning the neighborhood children inside for homemade cookies.

Every time she waved at me, my body quivered like gelatin fresh out of the mold. After all, this was the woman accused of hacking up her father and stepmother with a hatchet!

And even though the jury found Miss Lizzie innocent way back in 1893, folks ’round these parts never forget.

But I always reluctantly waved back, as Mama had taught me, and hurried home.

Then the invitation came. Miss Lizzie was hosting an afternoon tea party for all the children in the neighborhood.

Mama was so thrilled, she cleaned and pressed my prettiest, frilliest party dress and bought me a shiny new pair of shoes. “Papa’s law practice has been falling off lately,” she explained. “He needs a wealthy client like Miss Borden to get going again.”

Annie, the housemaid, curled my hair. “You can’t go, Miss Olivia, you just can’t. My mama told me never to go inside that house. I mean, never! And she should know. Bridget Sullivan, the Borden’s housemaid, told her there was blood and brains splattered everywhere. They found Abby Borden’s hair braid lying on the rug, sliced clean from her head!”

Tears welled up in my eyes. “I have to go, Annie. Mama will whip me with Papa’s razor strap if I don’t.”

“Well, don’t eat anything. She never admitted it, but Miss Lizzie tried to buy poison from Smith’s Drug Store right before the murders.”

* * *

Miss Lizzie opened the front door with a wide, toothy grin.

Every muscle in my body screamed, Run! Now! While you can!

But mama’s voice kept ringing in my ears. Miss Borden is a kind and gentle lady . . .

So I followed Miss Lizzie down the hall to an elegantly furnished drawing room — an empty drawing room. None of the other children had come. Cowards!

And then I saw it, gleaming by the fireplace, a shiny new axe!

Gold paint glittered along the sharp edge, marred by dark stains that looked like blood. I clenched my fists, trying hard to ease the queasiness in my stomach.

“You’re admiring my new axe,” Miss Lizzie said. She stepped closer, her pale blue eyes foggy with distant memories. “My father was quite skilled with an axe. One afternoon, I went into the barn and found my beloved pigeons lying on the ground with their heads chopped off. My father was standing over them, holding a bloody axe. I screamed and ran into the house.

“That night, Bridget served pie for dinner. Pigeon pie!” she said as her lips twisted into a smile.

The drawing room door opened then and a fat cook with a red face entered carrying a large pie in her hands. “Sit yourself down, my dear. The pie is ready to eat! I got lucky, Miss Lizzie. I found our special ingredient at Smith’s Drug Store.”

Smith’s Drug Store! I grabbed my reeling head, ready to faint at any moment. Pie! Poisoned pigeon pie!

Screaming, I lunged for the axe and swung it around, knocking the pie out of the cook’s hands, slicing off her forefinger. She howled in pain as blood spurted from the wound. I swung the axe around again, nicking Miss Lizzie’s ear. Fluffy brown curls fluttered to the floor, sliced neatly from her head.

Miss Lizzie tackled me to the ground and held me there while the cook bound her bloody hand with a towel and telephoned the police. My chest heaved with great, gulping sobs as Miss Lizzie’s face drew closer and closer until her lips brushed against my ear.

You see how easy it is,” she whispered.

THE END

Published in the February 2012 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2012-2016 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! MAKE IT SCARY!

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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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