Part I: The House of Cybill Langlert

Leaves swayed against the ebony sky. The front door rattled and creaked with the wind. The front light to the house pulsed with a white glow before it descended back into darkness.  At some point that night, the light would never return again.

Untrimmed hedges surrounded the house. It provided the perfect cover for an intruder. Except the intruder wasn’t outside now – he lived within it. This was his home. The new owner, Cybill Langlert – was the intruder!

Cybill fidgeted in her bed.  She was annoyed the light never stayed on. Her decision to purchase the house a few months ago seemed like a good idea in the daylight; it was a steal with a rock-faced exterior, four big bedrooms, three bathrooms, real hardwood floors, and with dark cherry wood kitchen cabinets that were beginning to peel. The house for sure, was a fixer upper. But most of the hardwood could be restored with a little hard work. But the outdated wallpaper would definitely have to go.

Thud!

Creak.

Cybill raised her shoulders up from the mattress. A stabbing pain ricocheted through her neck by the jarring motion at which she had raised it. She took one moment to rub it and then…

Creak…

Cybill leaped out of bed! She grabbed her baseball bat that she kept in the corner of her room and slowly opened the door. One eye peered around the corner into the darkness. Very slowly, she swung her whole head out to determine where the sound was coming from.

This house, since she purchased it, had done nothing but terrify her.  Originally, Cybill believed the house may need some work but it wouldn’t be that costly. She was handy with tools and had some knowledge of how to complete the renovations, thanks to her father and her ex-husband, who were both in construction.

But she soon realized it was a bargain for a reason. There were stories in town about the house. According to the town rumor mill a man once lived there by the name of Jocklyn Raydon who had committed some crimes: theft, robbery and murder.  But it wasn’t actually his house; he had simply moved in to the abandoned building and took up residence there. However, the police caught up with him on this land and Jocklyn refused to surrender.  A shoot-out in the house made a quick end to the miscreant.

The original building that stood here after Jocklyn’s death was torn down. The house Cybill lived in now, replaced it. But the new building was on the same land.  The home changed hands multiple times and there were rumors Jocklyn’s ghost, unwilling to surrender the home to the new owners, haunted it.

Stories told by the residents in town recounted common ghostly acts: a tossed dish across the room in the middle of the night, a doorknob that turned with no one on the other side of it, and lights that commonly flickered.

But it was the bigger things that he did. One man while on a ladder replacing a light bulb described how he felt it pushed. Some said it was just the wind. But others said it was Jocklyn’s ghost. The man suffered a broken leg. Hastily, he put the house on the market for sale after being tormented for months by other paranormal occurrences. The last owner who Cybill purchased the home from fell through a glass window. (Some in town said it was the ghost again.) The woman required multiple stitches to her face.

Oddly enough, if there were children in the house the ghost never harmed them. The ghost went to great lengths to ensure he never caused them distress. One child recalled how he woke one morning with earplugs in his ears. His mother deeply shaken by a night when windows were slammed every few hours, and framed photos along the staircase were knocked to the floor, didn’t understand how her son slept through it. That is – until the morning.

A compassionate ghost to children, he cared nothing for adults.

Cybill never believed the stories. An educated woman in law she belonged in the realm of reality, versus that of paranoid fantasy.

There was an explanation for everything.

Her feet wobbled along the uneven floorboards on the second level of her home. Just then, she glanced over. A window slowly was raised upwards. In front of the open window she made out the white outline of a figure with a malevolent grin who wore 1970’s bell bottom pants and a long-sleeved plaid shirt.

Cybill tightly clasped her baseball bat as sweat gathered on her temples. With it raised, she stood there, motionless.

The ghost’s eyebrows were bent downwards. His face twisted with rage. With a rush, he slammed the window down and shattered it. He screamed at Cybill, “Get out of my house!”

Glass sprayed everywhere across the hardwood floor! The wind blew the larger pieces and a clinking sound of it being dragged across the floorboards was heard.

Cybill stood there with her baseball bat raised and said, “No! This is my house! You leave!”

“Ahhhhhh!!!!” Jocklyn shouted as he charged at Cybill.

Cybill always stood her ground. She didn’t move. Some said it was because maybe she believed a ghost couldn’t harm her. Or, perhaps she believed mistakenly, Jocklyn couldn’t move her.

Cybill felt a rush of coldness. All of a sudden she was pushed backwards. She rolled at first easily down the steps of her home with bumps on her head and arm. But once on the bottom of the stairs, she lay there for a moment trying to make sense of what just happened.

A few seconds later, above her stood the white outline of a man in bell bottom pants and a plaid shirt. The baseball bat that she planned to use for protection, he raised it ever so slowly above her.

A cracking sound made her teeth grind together from the blow. Cybill’s eyes widened. She took long gasping breaths of air but it was never enough. Jocklyn’s ghost stood above her, smiling.

Like the light on her front porch that no longer flickered, Cybill descended into darkness.

But darkness does not remain forever.

And after some time, a light came on again.

The Hero Mouse, Brob-Ding

“My foot’s stuck! My foot’s stuck!” A little girl’s scream rushes over the water, across the green grass, and is heard as high as the treetops of the forest.

Brob-Ding the mouse, with his mouth full of sweet apple, pops his head up when he hears her cries.  He swallows his food and glances over at Jacob the fox, and Mittens the bunny. There’s no movement from either of them. Jacob is fast asleep on his back with his feet in the air. Mittens is too busy sitting there, wide-eyed in her frozen-bunny mode, pretending as she does that no one can see her.

Brob-Ding looks down at his enormous, half-eaten apple that stands as tall as he is, but is MUCH wider. There’s a lot of food to be eaten there. The apple will keep him fed for the next few meals.

He glances up and says, “Hey, Mittens! Did you hear that?”

“Hear, what?” Mittens’ eyes shift in the direction of Brob-Ding but the rest of her doesn’t move a muscle.

“Ah, the scream… It sounded like it might be a little human girl?” He asks wondering if his mousy ears are playing tricks on him.

“I didn’t hear anything.” She says with annoyance as she maintains her frozen pose.

At that moment, Jacob swings his head in the direction of Brob-Ding while his four feet remain in the air and says, “Not our problem, kid. She’s a human. They would never help us. Why should we help her?” His two black eyes stare at him as if he really is waiting for Brob-Ding to answer.

“Help me!” A desperate scream echoes through the forest again.

Then, it’s quiet.

It’s an unsettling quiet for Brob-Ding because with his super-mouse ears he now hears muffled crying. It sounds like it’s coming from Stoney Stream.

Brob-Ding peers up at upside-down slumbering Jacob, and frozen-bunny Mittens. He blinks a couple of times at them and turns and swings his tail around and quickly scampers over thick grass, over huge black rocks, and occasionally stumbles over tree roots.

But Brob-Ding NEVER stops as he races in the direction of the faint sounds of a little girl weeping.   

Once he is at Stoney Stream he pokes his head around the corner of a rock so the human can’t see him. There, in front of him, is a little blonde-haired girl in a green dress. Her hands are held over her eyes. Brob-Ding has seen this before in humans – it’s a sign of panic, of desperation – when someone doesn’t know what to do.

Brob-Ding bends his body as close to the ground as he can. He slowly creeps closer to the small girl’s leg that’s in the water and is wedged between two rocks. He doesn’t want to scare her in case she removes her hands from her eyes and sees him. She may scream, because humans are afraid of him. Or, just don’t like him. It could be either one.

Or, she may swat at him like so many other humans have done! It’s a terrifying ordeal. Brob-Ding wonders why he’s helping. There’s a perfectly good apple that he left back there where Jacob was sleeping, and Mittens was –

Well, doing whatever Mittens does. The apple will probably be gone by the time he returns.

Sounds of whimpering come from the small human. She rolls over and now has her face in the dirt. Brob-Ding pauses. The fur on his forehead wrinkles with concern. He hates watching anyone cry; whether it’s a bird, a fox, a rabbit, a deer, a bear, another mouse – and even if it’s a human.

Brob-Ding stands before the swirling water of Stoney Stream. He hates swimming and he’s not very good at it, but no one else is around to help the girl. He pauses for only a second. Then he takes his two front feet and places them together, as he dives into the deep water! His eyes open, he pushes with all front and back legs as well as his tail, as he swims towards the large trapped foot.

The foot is wedged between two rocks. He heaves, and pushes, and pulls at it and then he notices he can squeeze his tiny fingers between the rocks. With determination he chips away and loosens the dirt around it. He gives the HUMONGOUS stuck foot a final push while wiggling the rock. Finally, after great effort by a very tiny mouse, the foot kicks free!

And then, it wallops Brob-Ding!

He begins to spin out of control from the force of the kick. His mouth opens from the pain causing him to accidentally swallow cold water. Brob-Ding’s feet and tail spin out of control, his eyes are wide. Just then he remembers the words fox said to him before he left: they would never help us. Why should we help them?

Brob-Ding realizes he made a mistake.

Then out of nowhere, a human’s hand reaches up and scoops him from the water and places Brob-Ding on the grass.

“Thank you, mouse, for helping me.” A child’s voice whispers to him. “Are you alright?” She asks with slanted eyebrows.

Brob-Ding can’t speak as he lies there for a moment, frozen with fear, like Mittens.  So, instead he nods his head up and down.

“You understand me?” She asks as her large eyes get a little wider. It’s as if her eyes could swallow him up.

Brob-Ding says, “Yes.”

“Wow!” The child says. “You can talk! I’m Kayla. What’s your name?” She says as a small crinkle forms in her nose and dimples appear in her cheeks.

“Brob-Ding,” he says.

“That’s an unusual name.” Kayla says.

Brob-Ding begins to lick his feet to clean them, while cautiously keeping one eye on her. You can’t trust humans. He doesn’t really want to provide an explanation about his name; the grooming session is a stall tactic. But her blue inquisitive eyes blink at him and there’s something in those eyes; a certain kindness he’s never seen before.

He peers up at her and says, “Its short form for Brobdingnagian. It means giant. My parents, they liked to read.”

Kayla erupts in giggles. “You’re so small! Why would they give you that name? Are you bigger than other mice?”

Brob-Ding’s eyes get glossy. She’s not the first one to make fun of him about his name, and his size. At school the other kids would tease him too. Once Brob-Ding was old enough he could have changed his name. But he didn’t, because his parents named him. Brob-Ding hasn’t seen them in a long time because they got tired of reading about all those places in the world like the Eiffel Tower, and Stonehenge so they left to travel around the world once Brob-Ding was able to take care of himself.

He misses them…

“No, I’m smaller than most other mice. They said they named me Brobdingnagian because I was small, but I had a big heart.” His eyes shift back and forth along the grass that surrounds him. He won’t look at Kayla. “My friends call me Brob-Ding for short.”

Kayla gently places a finger on the top of his head. He raises his eyes, and notices Kayla’s head is slanted to the right side and she says, “I LOVE YOUR NAME! It fits you.” She says as she nods her head at him.

“Can I call you Brob-Ding?” Kayla asks as she wipes the mud from her face.

“Yes!” Brob-Ding enthusiastically shouts.

Diamonds in Space

“We’re going to the South of France.” Gwen states it with a red lipstick smile and eyes that sparkle like the diamonds that hang around her neck.

“That sounds wonderful. I’m sure you’ll have a great time.” Rebekah says it casually as her stomach drops as if she’s on a turbulent flight. It’s probably her imagination. Or, maybe it’s that other thing…

“We have a summer home there. We can’t wait to go! Sipping cosmopolitans in Nice…there’s nothing better!” She squeaks at Rebekah. Gwen waves a hand dismissively at Rebekah and continues with, “You should do it one day.”

“Maybe, one day.” Rebekah concurs with a catch in her voice. It’s like someone is suddenly strangling her and she can’t breathe. But she agrees with Gwen because agreeing with someone is the best form of flattery. Or, it’s something like that. Rebekah can’t remember right now. There are other things on her mind.

“Did you hear my daughter, Nancy, will be attending Harvard?”

She can’t keep it up. “Harvard? Really?” Rebekah tries her best to sound intrigued and cheerful –instead, it comes across as if she’s doubtful.

“Yes.” Gwen’s chin punches out as she stares up at Rebekah with eyes that flicker. “You shouldn’t be surprised. Nancy takes after me, of course.”

Rebekah twists her face and says, “I have no doubt.” With that she tilts her half-filled glass of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon back to her mouth, and hastily swallows the remaining wine. When she’s done she says, “Oh-oh! I’m empty! I’ll be right back. I just got to get a refill.”

As she walks away with a small smile across her face, shoulders pushed back, she’s pleased with herself.

Also, there’s absolutely no way she’ll be returning to that conversation.

“No, you won’t.” Gwen announces.

Rebekah stops. She typically avoids confrontation. But at this moment, on this day, she spins on her heel and says, “You’re right. I won’t.”

Rebekah’s heels clip-clop across the marble floor as she makes her way to the bar. Her head begins to spin with dizziness from the alcohol that she heaved back into her gullet. When she approaches the counter she says, “Could I get another of the Australian Cabernet Sauvignon?”

A brawny bartender (because they’re always brawny that way they can do double duty as a bouncer and can toss a belligerent drunk to the curb, if needed) with black hair, light brown eyes, and a five o’clock shadow says, “Sure.” His eyes sweep across Rebekah as if he’s assessing whether she’s already too drunk to have another glass.

“Rebekah!” An enthusiastic, cheerful voice shouts at her from across the room.

Rebekah’s face brightens and her mood is suddenly calmer. Her best friend, Stacey, wraps her arms around her and gives her a big hug. They wobble together in their heels and nearly crash to the ground.

“What do you think of the venue?” Stacey asks cautiously.

“It’s beautiful. It’s a great spot for a Christmas party! The food is delicious. It must have been so much work. But everything is fantastic!”

“Thanks, Rebekah.” Stacey says as she bends her head forward, blushes, and lowers her eyes to her friend.

Rebekah is such a great friend to Stacey. When Stacey’s grandmother who raised her a few years ago died, Becky took her out for drinks, called her all the time, and they bolted from work several times to have an emergency chat session when Stacey started to become unglued at work. For that reason, she tells Rebekah the next thing.

“Mr. Bracklen, said I did a good job too. He also said because I helped set up several conferences that brought in new sales, and did a good job supporting the Sales Team, he’s giving me a promotion! Can you believe it? Becky – a promotion!”

“Stacey…” Rebekah clears her throat, shifts from one foot to the other as her face reddens, and says in a whisper with words that break apart, “th-that’s won-nder-ful.”

Stacey stares at her friend and wonders, is she jealous? How can she be? She’s an Executive Assistant and has always been at a higher level than me?

Defensively, Stacey continues in a pleading voice, “Becky, I worked really hard for it.”

“Oh, I know!” Rebekah says in a voice that sounds too ecstatic. It’s as if she’s suddenly become a salesperson who in desperation to make a sale, says and does everything with just a little too much energy. She sounds insincere, and she knows it.

Although, technically, Rebekah is trying to sell something – she’s trying to sell the fact that she’s deliciously, joyful this holiday season.

“I’m really happy for you.” Rebekah continues. “I’m sorry. I just need a little food. I’m tired tonight.”

Stacey grabs her by the elbow and says, “Ok. Let’s go chase down some of those chicken satay things! They’re SUPER YUMMY!”

“Good idea!” Rebekah straightens her back and attempts to stand taller. Everyone knows that if you slouch you look defeated. Slouching is not the way to communicate how ridiculously, brilliantly, happy you are.

In her mind, Rebekah begins to break apart as she thinks, it’s all soooo much work.

“Rebekah, Stacey!” Kyle cheers at them as they approach. He’s standing beside the table with the hors d’oeuvres with his hand poised in the direction of the appetizers.

“These things are delicious.” Kyle continues as he grabs the end of a chicken satay skewer, and casually dips it into the peanut butter sauce. Then he proceeds to nibble on the meat attached to the stick.

“Well, we’ll decide that for ourselves.” Stacey says with one of her sunny smiles and a wink at Kyle so he knows she’s kidding.

Rebekah reaches for one too and the taste of garlic mixed with smooth, delicious peanut butter dances in her mouth.

Rebekah glances around at the high ceilings where a painting is drawn on it reminiscent of the renaissance age. A ten foot Christmas tree, positioned in the middle of the room, greets each guest. Beneath the branches are presents wrapped in a mix of red, blue, green, gold, white wrapping paper and each one looks to have been carefully placed in its position under the tree. White linens are draped over chairs and tables. There are large red poinsettias in glass bowls on each table. Beside the plants are candles that sit inside golden holders.

“Where’s your wife?” Stacey asks.

“Oh, she’s not feeling well tonight.” Kyle says. “She’s in her first trimester.” He says with a bashful smile.

“What? OH MY GOD!!! THAT’S SO WONDERFUL! I didn’t know you guys were expecting!” Stacey squeals at Kyle.

Oh my god, there’s too much good news here tonight.

Brave face. Must wear brave face.

“Rebekah, isn’t that wonderful?” Stacey prods her friend.

“Absolutely! Fantastic news, Kyle! I didn’t know either.” Rebekah says as she reaches in to give Kyle a congratulatory hug.

After the hug, Rebekah eyes her glass of red wine. It’s too full. She can’t possibly drink it all in one shot (again) without making a fool of herself at the company Christmas party.

There’s only one other way out.  

“You know what?” Rebekah says. “I’m really not feeling well. I think I need to go home.” She says as she places her wine glass down on a nearby table.

“Oh.” Stacey says as her face falls.

“I’ll be alright,” Rebekah giggles resassuringly at her friend. “It’s just been a long day.” She says as she wraps her arms around Stacey and gives her a hug for a few seconds too long.

Within a few minutes Rebekah has crossed the floor, grabbed her coat, pushed the button for the elevator, and now she waits for it to arrive. A time management skill that she’s honed after years of working, Rebekah pushes the button to turn her phone on and unlocks it to see if she’s missed anything.

Missed Call. The display shows.

She flips through her text messages, Voicemail, it reads.

Rebekah clenches her jaw at the voicemail. She breathes out, enters her passcode, and raises the phone to her ear and hears…

Hello. This message is for Rebekah Standard. We’ve booked your appointment with Dr. Mertul who will be your oncologist on Friday, December 22nd at 3:45 PM. He’s located at…