The man answering the door looked harried – hair uncombed, stains from more than one meal spotting his shirt, still in bedroom slippers at 10:20am. His eyes darted from one uniformed officer to the other as he repeatedly moistened his upper lip with nervous flicks of his tongue.

“Yes?” he asked without opening the storm door.

“Mister Jackson?” Officer Makely asked, raising his voice to counter the closed door.

The man inside looked none too sure of it when he replied, “Yes.”

“Can we speak to you please?” Officer Reanot asked, causing the man to swing his head in an almost comical exaggeration from one policeman to the other.

“Speak… to me?” His voice almost squeaked.

“Yes, sir. Would you mind opening the door?” Reanot pointed to the latch for emphasis. “And we’d like to see Mrs. Jackson. Is she in?”

The color washed from Jackson’s face. He started to turn away when a loud crash from the kitchen made him jump. Officer Makely put his hand on his gun.

Instead of retreating Jackson stood where he was, pinching the bridge of his nose. Then, with a slump of his shoulders and a sigh audible through the glass he nodded his head.

“Yes. Yes. Come in. I can’t take this anymore.” He unlatched the door and took a few steps back to allow room for the two policemen to enter.

The stench from within nearly knocked the men over as they opened the door. Makely swallowed hard to keep down his gorge. Reanot drew his gun and hurried to the kitchen.

“Jesus Christ!” A mountain of dirty dishes was stacked in and about the sink. Debris was scattered on the floor. The stench was coming from the overflowing trash can. Looked like this was more a case for the Health Department than the Police. He holstered his gun and rejoined the two men in the front room.

“Nobody in there,” he explained to Makely.

“Mr. Jackson,” Makely said, taking the lead. “We’d like to talk to your wife please. We’ve got a 10-57, uh, a missing person report. Your wife’s sister says she has not been able to speak to her for over a week. She is quite concerned about her well-being. Is she around?”

Jackson looked at the floor and shuffled his feet. Then he slowly shook his head, no.

“Can you tell me where she is?”

Jackson looked up at Makely with something very close to desperation in his eyes. “Oh, she’s here,” he said in a tentative voice. “She’s here. She won’t leave me alone. Not one moment of peace.”

Another loud crash came from the kitchen.

“Alan, what a mess!” a shrill woman’s voice shouted from the kitchen. “You never finish anything. Anything at all!”

Makely and Reanot exchanged glances as Reanot darted once again for the kitchen doorway.

Again, the room was empty, but now a stack of dishes was scattered across the floor. Several pieces were broken. Reanot moved quickly to the dining room, but it was empty too, then tried the back door, which was locked.

Jackson watched him from the other room as he approached the basement door.

“Don’t go down there!” Jackson squawked, his voice breaking on “there.” Makely put a hand on the man’s shoulder to restrain him when he took a step toward the kitchen.

“What’s in the basement, Mister Jackson?” Makely asked, trying to bore into him with his eyes. It had no effect. Jackson was far too distraught to even notice the steely glare.

Reanot tried the door, and it too was locked.

“You have the key for this?” he asked.

Jackson raised his hand, index finger extended and jabbed upward several times.

Reanot looked up and saw a key hanging on a nail in the cornice.

“Please. Don’t.” The man’s high squeak was barely audible. Reanot ignored him.

The stench that roiled from the opened door sent Reanot reeling. “Call for backup,” he managed to croak as he staggered for the back door.

“You’re worthless, Alan. Worthless.” a woman screeched from below. “You have never finished a single thing. Couldn’t even finish my grave.”


© 2015 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.


We are celebrating the fourth year anniversary of Frdiay Flash (#FridayFlash) via a blog hop over at FFDO. The idea is to write a piece of flash fiction of 400 words or less which deals with a 4th year anniversay, link back to the hop (just click on the little green guy), and enter your story in the Blog Hop Collector for a chance to win a one year membership to Duotrope, one of the best market guides for writers you can find. I am taking myself out of the running for the prizes, but did want to participate with my own little tale. The hop is open until the end of the month, so it is not too late to enter !

We also have a prize for readers, so leave a comment on this story and you could win (again, click on the green guy for details).

The Setting Sun

I stomp my feet again, impatient, raising small clouds of reddish dust which drift lazily away. The nearby trough is nearly dry, forcing me to stretch my neck to barely wet my tongue. From inside the saloon I can hear Randy Garnet’s brash voice and guttural laugh over the general din. From the sound of it, he has plenty to drink. Typical of Randy, to leave me tied this way – the bastard never did think of anyone but himself.

Drink up, Randy, the more the better.

This year I’m a horse.

I have no say in the matter. Each year, on the anniversary of my lynching, I come back.

Last year I was a rattlesnake, coiled up under the front steps of Garland Foster’s ranch house. The year before, a mad dog. My first year back I was jaybird. Never would have guessed a jaybird could be so deadly. Spooked Warren Henderson’s horse good. The rock under his skull did the rest.

One by one I’ve hunted them down.

I hear chairs scrape inside, and Randy’s name called out by several of his compañeros. His voice is louder, and though I can only understand a handful of the words, I know he is leaving – coming to me. I paw the ground in excitement, raising more dust.

Randy stumbles through the doors, eliciting a peel of laughter from within, steadies himself, gets his bearings. His eyes meet mine and I nicker, stomp my right foot, nod my head as if in greeting. Unused to such a warm response he studies me as if trying to work something out. Then he lets a long stream of tobacco laden spit fly, right into the watering trough.

I’m really going to enjoy this.

Randy shambles down the one step and fumbles with my lead. Once unhitched he steps to my side and firmly plants his left foot in the stirrup. I move with an unholy instinct, throwing him off balance, wedging his foot between the stirrup and my side. He lets out a yelp as I lower my head and run for the setting sun, dragging him behind.

Randy Garnet is the last one. Maybe now I can finally find rest.



© 2013 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.


A Victorina house, circa 1865, Tonbridge, EnglandEveryone thinks it’s all a big fake, the Winslow House magically reappearing every year right at midnight on Halloween morning, then gone in a flash at midnight of All Souls’ Day. We’ve had so many film crews in town I’ve lost count and I’ve seen enough tabloid photospreads that I could wallpaper our house with them. We’ll get a run of them sometimes three, four years in a row, always around Halloween, then everyone loses interest and nothing for years on end – hit market saturation, I suppose.

Horace Winslow used to throw a big Halloween gala each year. The tradition started with his kids, after they were beyond Trick-or-Treating age, for all their high school friends. Old man Winslow spared no expense, going so far as to hiring well know punk rock bands, decorating to the max, and hosting a killer of a haunted house in the basement. Once his kids moved out we all thought it would end, but it didn’t.

The annual Halloween party did become more staid – gone were the punk rockers – and instead of an all night bash he and Mrs. Winslow simply hosted about a dozen of the town’s business elite for a sit down dinner, usually followed by a professional magician. The town still talks about the time Mrs. Simmon’s diamond necklace disappeared right off her neck, only to show up on Wanda Greer’s desert plate. The little trick did nothing to still the rumors that Mr. Simmons was seeing Wanda on the side, and within a year their marriage ended in divorce.

After Helen, that is Mrs. Winslow, died old Horace kept on with the tradition, setting an empty seat at the table each year. It was a bit macabre, but people still accepted the invitation though with less enthusiasm. It helps when you are the richest man in the state, people somehow always managed to make it.

The haunted house in the basement became passe when the kids moved away, but in an effort to revive some of the former joviality of the evening, and at the behest of some of his old drinking buddies, it was revived, and man, was it incredible. Rich men can afford to be very extravagant. Animated dioramas, holographs, hell some of the stations were even manned by professional actors. I’ve been through it, and it scared the bejesus out of me.

The place was packed the night of the fire. Turns out some of the construction materials were highly flammable, and someone probably tried to grab a smoke at the wrong time in the wrong place. The whole house went up like a torch. Fifteen people in the basement were trapped and never had a prayer. Most of the folks on the first floor made it out, though three more died on the way to the door – smoke inhalation. They found old man Winslow on the basement stairs with two kids, one cradled in his arms, the other clinging to his back. He had died a hero, trying to save the Murphy boys.

Eventually the ruins were torn down, the estate and lawsuits settled, and the property sold. The next Halloween rolled around before construction started on the new place, and you can imagine the amazement when folks woke up to see the old Winslow house standing there as if nothing had ever happened. Word spread like wildfire, and the local news crews were all over the place. The Police decided it might be dangerous and absolutely forbade anyone to set foot in the place until it could be properly inspected.

Joe Dillon, the hot shot reporter from Channel 3, decided he was going to get “the inside story” despite the Police Line. He and his camera man, Ben Rames snuck in the back way just before midnight and started broadcasting live from the midst of an enthusiastic Halloween party. From outside the place was dead quiet.

You can still see the tape if you check the Channel 3 archives. It is quite chilling – all the people on the tape died in that fire. Joe and Ben were just making their way down the basement stairs at midnight when the house just suddenly vanished, their live broadcast along with it. Neither were ever seen again.

Two other houses have been built on this lot. They both burned down within the year. Now no one will buy the lot for any price. And every year, at the stroke of midnight, the Winslow House magically reappears. Enter, if you dare. And if you see Joe Dillon in there, tell him he still owes me twenty bucks.

© 2012 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

Public domain photo, Tonbridge – Ridgeland’s, via Flickr Commons, c. 1865 -1885


I woke in a cold sweat, my chest heavy as if someone were sitting on it. I reached for the phone, but not to call 911. I needed to get in touch with Doctor Heady – he’s my shrink. No kidding.

I’ve been seeing Doc Head (as I call him) for about three years now. I have dreams, very vivid dreams. They are prescient in nature, and often very disturbing. The one I just had left me shaken. I fumbled for my cell phone. The lighted numbers looked bleary in my half-awake state, but I could dial his number by touch, I’d called it so often. I glanced at the clock – 2:05am. My pulse rate was already dropping as the panic subsided. As the panic subsided the dream quickly began to fade. His phone rang. Once. Twice. On the third ring his voice mail picked up.

“Hello. This is Doctor Monroe Heady. You have reached me after hours. If this is a true medical emergency please hang up and call 911 immediately. If this is important, but not a true medical emergency please call the service at…” I clapped my phone shut. I should have known better.

He used to take calls after hours. He’s a shrink. Some of the folks he sees have suicidal tendencies. But after treating me for just over a year he switched to a service. He couldn’t take my constant night calls. I felt bad about that, the thought that someone might actually go over the edge and would not be able to get ahold of Doc Head because of me. So far no one had. At least I did not have that hanging over me as well.

Doc Head says I suffer from a severe case of survivor guilt, probably brought on by the collision. I don’t buy it. I feel bad that Randy died, but he was driving, not me. He’s the one who tried to beat the train.

It took six months for Doc to dig the collision out of me. He said the fact that I had buried it so deeply indicates just how much it disturbed me. Bull. I had not buried it. I simply dismissed it as irrelevant. I’ve never felt guilty about that wreck. Hell, I begged Randy to stop.

He says I am not prescient, that I have disturbing dreams about accidents because I was in one, and that when one of the dreams “seems” to play out on the news I latch onto it as an event I had predicted. It’s called selection bias, where you remember the hits and forget the misses.

But I don’t have misses.

But I have plenty of guilt. I see these things coming, then when I wake up they immediately start to fade. I’m left with a nagging sense of doom. Then when they do show up on TV I curse myself for not having remembered enough of the details to warn the people.

He had me start a dream diary. He told me that if I wrote down my dreams as soon as I woke up then I’d remember them better, and then I’d have an objective record of what I got right and what I got wrong. Said that in no time I’d see that I was no better than random chance.

He was right. And wrong.

I do remember them better if I write them down right away, though details are often still fuzzy. However, he was dead wrong about selection bias. Every single one of them comes to pass. That stumped the old fart.

But I still can’t do anything about them. I’ve tried warning people, but they think I’m nuts. Some even call the cops. I have three restraining orders on my kitchen table – those were recurring nightmares. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.

We’re doing hypnosis now. It seems to help. He is often able to drag out details I failed to capture in my diary. Plus he’s got me wired for a trigger phrase that helps turn down the panic and let’s me get back to sleep. It’s, “Go back to sleep.” No kidding. Can’t say Doc Head doesn’t have a sense of humor.

I flipped open my phone and pressed the Voice Memo button.

“Had another one. This one was about Doc Head.” I sat for a moment in silence. I had waited too long. The dream had faded to naught but a sense of dread. “I think he died.”

I flipped the phone shut and laid back down. “Go back to sleep,” I said, and immediately drifted off again.

I woke again at 4:17. I groped for my phone. This time I did not bother to call, I just pressed the Voice Memo and started talking.

“Doc Head, this is really important. You need to cancel your newspaper subscription or something. You get hit by a car out on your lawn when you’re stooping to pick it up. I’m not sure of the date, I couldn’t make that out, but it was so vivid. I think it will be soon. Your tulips are blooming. The idiot never even applied the brakes. Probably a drunk, like when the Fredricks girl got hit. I think it was a red Lexus…” I paused. I drive a red Lexus. I pressed the button again to stop recording. What the… My stomach did flip-flops.

No sense going back to sleep. I stumbled into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. Then I went out to pick up the paper.

I flipped through the pages as I ate my toast and jam. Doc Head would not be taking any calls until 9:30, which was way too late if this was the fateful day. I considered driving over to his house to warn him, but restrained myself. No way I was putting a red Lexus anywhere near Doc Heady’s house. I just wasn’t going to take the chance.

Then I saw his picture on page 2B. “Local Psychiatrist Hits It Big,” read the headline. “Saw it coming,” read the sub-head. He stood there smiling as the state lottery officials handed him a huge cardboard check made out for $270,000,000 and 00 cents!!! Exclamations included. The beginning of the second paragraph leapt out at me.

“When asked how he picked his numbers, Doctor Heady replied, ‘They sort of came to me in a dream.’”

I reached for my keys.

© 2012 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

© 2012 Mad Utopia Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha