Fire and Ice

Photo by flickr user "KatKauer."

Photo by flickr user “KatKauer.”

I will state the obvious. I like writing about creepy things. So October is a particularly creative time for me since everyone is in the mood for scary movies, candy corn, witches, and pumpkins.

About a week ago, I put an APB out on Facebook asking my friends for some fun ideas for scary short stories…and I got flooded with crazy, creepy, wonderful stuff.

The following is a product of that call for short story inspiration. Holly, this one’s for you.

Read at your own risk. Muahahahahaha!

(A quick disclaimer – I do not pretend to speak or understand Spanish, but I wanted to use it in this story. Here’s hoping Google translate didn’t leave any glaring errors!)

Fire and Ice

By: Tiffany Michelle Brown

“Trust me, guys go crazy over this stuff,” Victoria said and spritzed me with another coat of body spray. It was the kind my older sister Clarissa bought every time we went to the drugstore, the bottle with the silver label and a mermaid under a waterfall. I held my breath and let the mist settle into my clothing. A moment later, I smelled like gummy bears, floral ones.

“I just hope Eddie likes it,” I said.

“He will,” Victoria said.

She gave me a sharp nod, sprayed her wrists, and then rubbed them together. Her cell phone buzzed, but she didn’t look at the message. Instead, she slipped the phone into the pocket of her jeans and zipped up her hoodie. I buttoned up my pea coat and then followed Victoria to the door of her bedroom.

“Remember,” she whispered, “we have to be really, really quiet. If my dad wakes up, he’ll kill us.” She mimicked slitting her throat for emphasis.

I nodded.

Victoria and I crept through the kitchen. The digital clock on the microwave read 11:38 and I thought about how upset my mother would be if she knew I was up.

Magdalena, sleep is important,” she would say. “How will the angels look over you if you are not in bed?” Then she would cross herself, expectant I would do the same.

In the living room, Victoria dropped to her knees and crawled through the doggie door, careful to reach back and catch the plastic flap so it wouldn’t fall and make noise. I marveled at how her slim body twisted to navigate the small space. She’d clearly done this many times before.

When it was my turn, my hands grew clammy and I wiped them on my jeans.

I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be sneaking out.

Victoria frowned at me through the glass and then rolled her eyes. I sighed and got down on my hands and knees. I shimmied through the small opening and tried to catch the flap the way Victoria had, but my fingers slipped and the plastic banged. Loud.

Victoria and I froze, eyes locked on each other. I counted to ten. Nothing happened.

Victoria gave me a nod, stood, and walked around the side of the house, her blond hair an ice sculpture in the moonlight. I followed, my Keds making soft crunching sounds on the gravel. The stucco on the walls of Victoria’s house looked like bright, cream cheese frosting and the cool night air crept beneath my jacket. I crossed my arms over my chest and glanced down at the newly-formed bumps there. The “new” bra under my shirt was a hand-me-down from my sister, because my family never threw anything away. They’d saved it for four years, knowing I’d need it someday. It was itchy.

“You’re growing melones, Maggie,” Clarissa had said, her laugh filling the kitchen as we prepared tamales.

Later that day, in my room, I stood in front of the mirror wearing nothing but the bra and a pair of underwear. I looked at myself from every angle and then gave up. I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was.

It was more apparent to Victoria.

“You’re wearing a bra! Finally!” she exclaimed. “Show me. Right now.”

When I lifted my shirt, Victoria looked disappointed for a moment and then smiled.

“Welcome to the club,” she’d said.

Victoria raised the latch on the wooden gate and then swung the door open. She ushered me through and then closed the door behind us.

“We’re free!” Victoria squealed. She took a few steps down the cement driveway and started dancing, humming a pop song.  

I smiled and looked down the street. Black streamers hung from tree branches and Jack-o-laterns glowed on front porches. Looking at their craggy, misshapen mouths, my stomach felt like a shriveled raison.

Victoria’s dance ended and she stood with her hands on her hips, staring at me.

“You look like you’re going to poop,” she said.

“I’m nervous,” I confessed.

Victoria shook her head, grabbed my arm, and pulled me down the driveway and onto Price Lane.

“Jason’s house is five blocks away,” Victoria said. “They said they’ll have sleeping bags and some beers.”

“We’re going inside?”

“No, we hang out on the driveway,” Victoria said. “They might have some smokes, too.”

“How?”

“Jason’s older brother smokes. His mom, too.”

I frowned.

“You’re such a prude, Maggie.”

 ********

My coat and the light sweater underneath were riding up and Eddie’s hands on my waist felt like ice, but I didn’t care. He was touching me and that’s what mattered. A song by some band I’d never heard of played on Jason’s iPhone and all four of us swayed on the Somerset’s driveway—Victoria’s idea, of course. She really liked school dances.

I looked at my feet, too nervous to look at Eddie, but when he cleared his throat, I didn’t have a choice. I looked up and he smiled. He jerked his head to side and I looked to my left. Jason and Victoria had stopped dancing. Instead, they were making out, a mess of sweaters and elbows. My cheeks burned and my gaze returned to my Keds.

“Hey, do you want to grab a beer?” Eddied asked. He squeezed my waist when he said it.

I nodded, grateful he hadn’t asked me to make out.

Eddie let go of my waist, but the coldness remained, proof that his hands had been there. I waited a few seconds and then rubbed the cold spots on my hips. Eddie stooped, picked up a couple of beers, and gestured toward the side of the house. I took a few steps and then felt his fist holding a beer on my shoulder, guiding me. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth.  

We walked into the shadows and I had to squint hard to see Eddie’s silhouette in front of me. I heard him twist the tops off the beers and then he held one out to me. In the dark, he missed my hand and hit my chest with the cold bottle. I stepped to the side, startled, and he moved back immediately.

“Maggie, I’m sorry,” he said. “I promise I didn’t do that on purpose.”

My stomach was on fire.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I know you didn’t.”

I reached out and took one of the beers. I held it for a moment and debated whether to take a drink. Eddie’s outline shifted from one foot to the other.

“So, uh, do you like Halloween?” he asked, gesturing to the night around us.

“Not really,” I admitted. “It kind of creeps me out.”

Eddie took a sip of his beer.

“My parents are really weird about Halloween,” he said. “They’re super religious, so they don’t like any talk about ghosts or demons or the devil.” He let out a low laugh. “Maybe that’s why I like it so much.”      

“Mine, too. I mean, my parents. We’re Catholic,” I explained. “And they’re weird like that all year. Well, mostly it’s my mom. She’s always telling me to ‘Watch out for the devil’s footprint.’ I don’t really know what that means.”

“Maybe it means…” Eddie’s outline scratched his head. “Maybe it means…evil is everywhere.”

I could feel him smiling. I shivered.

Eddie’s shadow leaned forward.

“Or maybe it’s your mom’s way of saying you should watch out for boys who want to kiss you.”

“Huh?”

Eddie took a step closer to me and I clutched my beer bottle to my chest, afraid I’d drop it.

My first kiss was like stepping a little too close to a campfire, a singe of heat that made me dizzy. And then it was over and I could feel my own breath on my lips as Eddie stepped back into the darkness.

 ********

“Did he kiss you?” Victoria asked. “Because Jason said he thought Eddie wanted to.”

I smiled as we walked, remembering the taste of fire and ice. Victoria ducked down to see my face.

“Oh, he totally did, didn’t he?” Victoria asked. “I knew it!”

“Ssh.”

“Oh, who cares! You’ve been kissed. Boobs and a first kiss in the same month!”

Victoria jogged ahead on the sidewalk, turned, and stood in front of me, not allowing me to pass.

“How was it?” she asked, hands on her hips, expression curious and excited.

 I shook my head no.

“Does that mean it was bad…or that you aren’t going to tell me anything?”

I shrugged.

“Maggie, you have to tell me.” She poked me. “I promise I won’t tell—“ she started.

Victoria looked over my shoulder and her eyes widened.

“Hey, check out this psycho,” she whispered and turned me around by my shoulders.

On the next block, a man sat cross-legged and hunched over on the front lawn of a house, a lit candle in one hand and something I couldn’t make out clutched in the other. In the quiet, I could hear him mumbling. Once in a while, a syllable echoed through the empty streets. He began to rock forward and backward, steady as a ship.

“He’s completely Looney Tunes,” Victoria whispered. She sounded like someone pressed against the glass of the monkey exhibit at the zoo.

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s just go home.”

“No way,” Victoria said.

She started down the sidewalk.

“Victoria, what are you doing?”

She didn’t look back.

I closed my eyes and shook my head, willed Victoria back to me. Of course, she didn’t come back and I had to follow her.

Victoria had stopped on the curb at the end of the block. Now only a few yards of asphalt and another curb separated us from the man on the lawn. He wore black jeans and a black hoodie, but his feet were bare. In his right hand, he held a candle, its glass casing printed with a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In his left hand he held a rosary with red beads.

“He’s speaking in Spanish, Maggie. What’s he saying?” Victoria asked.

I closed my eyes and listened hard.

“It’s…it’s The Lord’s Prayer,” I said. “But he’s saying it wrong.”

 “Nuestro padre que estas en el infierno…”

 “Our father who art in hell…” I whispered, staring at the man.

 “…temia sea tu nombre…”

 “…feared be thy name…”

“…venga to reino…”

“…thy kingdom come…”

“…tu ira se conveirten…”

“…thy wrath be done…”

“…en la Tierra como en el infierno…”

“…on Earth as it is…in hell…”

Victoria’s hand found mine and squeezed hard. I could feel her shaking and wished I could do the same. I felt like lead.  

“Maybe we should go,” she said.

The man stopped talking. We watched as his spine straightened and he sat up, his eyes closed, his hands gripping the candle and the rosary with such force they started to shake. His mouth opened and then opened some more, his jaw detaching from the rest of his face and sinking lower and lower. That’s when the winds began. It started with Victoria’s hair. A few blond wisps brushed forward on her face and then reached out in front of her like eager fingers. Soon, I felt my jacket billow and I leaned back to keep from rushing forward, my own dark hair reaching toward the man across the street, blocking my vision.

“Maggie!” Victoria yelled and her fingernails dug into my hand.

The hurricane was warm and humid, and I feared we’d both be sucked up it in and swallowed by the man across the street. Just as I was about to let go of Victoria’s hand, the winds died. I gasped for breath and Victoria started to cry. The man across the street sat stone still for a moment and then the rosary fell from his hand. We should have run then, but we didn’t. I stared at him, paralyzed, while Victoria whimpered next to me.

The man’s eyes opened, except they weren’t really eyes. Where two eyes should have been were lumps that looked like muddled cherries. The thing started to climb to its feet, holding the candle out to us. Its limbs cracked like kindling thrown into fire.  

I found my legs, turned, and started to run, pulling Victoria behind me. She rattled along like a can tied to the back of a bike with string. She almost fell a few times, but I didn’t care. My legs pumped and my stomach cramped, but I refused to stop.

After sprinting a block, I glanced over my shoulder, sure I’d see that thing ready to take a bite out of me with its detached jaw. But all I saw were black streamers hanging from tree branches and carved pumpkins that no longer glowed in the night, their candles snuffed out.

I took a deep gulp of air and coughed. Victoria sat on the pavement and her small, square shoulders heaved.

When she could manage, she asked, “What the hell was that?”

I thought for a moment and took a deep breath.

“Evil is everywhere,” I said and then crossed myself.

 ********

 “You girls are awfully quiet today,” Victoria’s dad said.

 I took a careful bite of Captain Crunch and glanced at Victoria.

 “We were up late,” she said.

Victoria’s dad closed his Sunday morning paper and looked like he had a follow-up question, but the doorbell saved us. He set down the newspaper and rose from the table. I heard his footsteps retreat down the hall and then the front door squeaked open. Wisps of unintelligible conversation floated into the breakfast nook and then Victoria’s dad yelled, “Ladies, there’s an Eddie here to see you.” Eddie’s name sounded like a question mark.

Victoria’s face lit up and her mouth dropped open in surprise. Blood flowed through my arms and made them feel electric.

“Come on,” Victoria said. She stood, grabbed onto my elbow, and took me with her to the front door.

Victoria’s dad stood to the side of the door, a suspicious look on his face. Eddie stood just inside, his hands behind his back.

“Maggie,” Eddie said. At the sound of his voice, I blushed.

Victoria’s dad looked at me, then at Eddie, and his expression relaxed.

“Stay in here,” he said.

He nodded at us and left the room.

Victoria pushed me a step forward and said, “Maggie, I’m going to, uh, finish my breakfast.” She waved at Eddie, gave me a big, obvious grin, and left us in the foyer. I smiled at Eddie and then down at my bare feet.

“So, uh—“ Eddied started and then scratched his head. I wanted to kiss him again.

“I had fun last night,” I said.

“Me too.”

A moment of silence washed over us.

“I, uh, have something for you,” Eddie said.

“What?”

“I brought you something.”

“You did? Why?”

Eddie shook his head, smiling, and took a step forward. His hands came out from behind his back and my surprised smile was washed clean from my face. My blood ran cold. Eddie held out a Virgin of Guadalupe candle to me. The wick was black and the wax was marred.

I stood stunned, unable to move, unable to breathe. Could it be?  

Eddie’s face reflected embarrassment.

“Oh shit,” he muttered. “I know, it’s not the best present because it’s been used, but…it’s really about the idea behind it….It was my brother’s idea.”

I looked up at Eddied and frowned.

“I told him about you this morning,” Eddie said.

I looked down, embarassed that he’d told his brother about our kiss.

“Well, not about that,” Eddie said quickly. “More about how our parents are both crazy and religious and stuff.” He ran his free hand through his hair. “So, you know, this is for you…to ward off evil…”

I reached out slowly and took the candle. It felt like ice.

“Wow, I must sound really stupid right now. This was so much cooler in my head,” Eddie said. His face fell.

“No, no,” I said. “I’m, I’m just surprised. Thank you. Really.” I mustered a tight smile for him.

“Okay,” Eddie said. “So, see you at school?”

“Yeah,” I said. “See you at school.”

“And maybe Jason’s driveway sometime?”

Heat rose on my cheeks and I nodded.

“Good,” Eddie said.

He closed the gap between us and kissed me.

“See ya,” he said.

I pressed my face to the security door and watched Eddie start toward a silver Mustang parked at the curb. An older guy, Eddie’s brother I assumed, lounged in the driver’s seat, one arm hanging out the open window.  

Eddie glanced back. I awkwardly held up the candle in response and immediately felt stupid. He smiled and jogged the rest of the way down the driveway. 

My stomach tightened as my gaze drifted back to the driver of the Mustang. I locked eyes with Eddie’s brother and as if in response, he leaned out the window toward me so his face and shoulders were in the sun. My breath caught in my chest and I gripped the candle so hard I thought the glass might shatter.

Muddled cherries stared back at me, oozing and wet and terrifying in broad daylight.

I closed my eyes and crossed myself. When I looked again, Eddie’s brother was waving to me from the car, a sweet smile on his face, no muddled cherries. I didn’t wave back. Eddie climbed into the passenger seat, the engine caught, and a rap song sounded through the quiet neighborhood.

As I watched the Mustang drive away, the cramping in my stomach continued and adrenaline made me lightheaded. The glass of the candle grew warm and then much too hot to touch. I looked down. The candle was lit with a flame as red as rose petals. I dropped the candle and the glass shattered, little fragments of the Virgin of Guadalupe scattering across the foyer. Much too quickly, the molded wax melted and spread out across the floor like hot syrup. A few moments later, I could make out a phrase. I shook my head, a tear sliding down my cheek.

En todas partes.

Everywhere.   

Photo licensing – KatKauer

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