While I’m in the midst of working on my next novel, I had a bit of extra inspiration that I used to compose this short story. Hopefully, this will tide you over while I continue my work . . . .
“This is stupid,” Derek mutters again. He glances at the stack of papers in his hands and shakes his head. “This is so stupid.” Contrary to the words he speaks, his feet continue to walk on.
The newly printed manuscript he holds in both hands had started as a joke, a strange series of events that resulted in a stack of papers covered in slanted writing. Derek had written the fifty-seven thousand word monstrosity in only six days. Even now, looking back, he can’t fully understand how he did it. It took a full month and a half to edit it, and another two months to complete the first round of polishing. That was how the college sophomore ended up holding a draft of a book. From the outside, it seems like a pretty standard document. The contents of it, though, are anything but normal.
Books that authors claimed were “inspired by dreams” always struck Derek as silly and cliche. He’d heard it happen to a few writers that eventually had their dream-work published, but the concept seemed far-fetched. He rarely remembered his dreams and the ones he was able to recall were usually the stereotypical “falling” dream or “l’m late for something and can’t remember what.”
But the day before Derek started writing, he did have a dream. And months later, he can still remember every detail.
The dream started with Derek standing before a rickety house. The structure was aged, but seemed sturdy. His dream-self had an undeniable gut feeling that something bad occurred there.
Derek blinked once and he was inside the house. Night had fallen, cloaking the halls in darkness. He could just make out a long staircase that swept up to the second floor. On the floor in front of the bottom step, there was an odd discoloration in the wood. Like someone had scrubbed it with a strong cleaner.
Derek instinctively knew that someone had fallen, had broken something, had bled onto the oak floor. He shivered.
An accident, the walls seemed to whisper. An accident that ended in death.
Derek blinked again and he was back outside. He turned toward the mailbox and read the address.
17 Windy Drive.
And then he woke up.
At first he didn’t think much of it. He mentioned it as a passing remark to his friend, Jason, expecting nothing more than a laugh. But Jason took it seriously.
“That’s sick, man,” Jason replied much to Derek’s surprise. “Sounds like a scary movie or something. Maybe you should write a book.”
Derek had chuckled and jokingly agreed. As the day continued, though, his mind kept returning to the idea. Maybe it did have some hidden potential. That same night, he decided to try it. It was his first time writing something that wasn’t assigned for school, but he fell into a rhythm more quickly than he expected. He lost himself in the words, the pieces of the story falling into place with what seemed like divine inspiration.
Once it had moved from barely readable first draft to a more polished second, Derek made a spur-of-the-moment decision to plug the address of the house into his phone. To his surprise, he discovered it was a real place, only a half-mile walk from his home. How his unconscious mind had come up with an address that he had never seen or even knew existed weeks before, he had no explanation. He chalked it up to a passing memory that his mind had repressed and he subsequently forgot about. It felt strange to write about a fictional story about a real place he had never even visited. And that’s exactly what he decided to do.
Derek’s stomach drops as he turns onto Windy Drive. He doesn’t need to look at the numbers on the house. He knows which is the one. It’s slightly more weathered than what he remembers from his dream, but most of it is the same: off-white shutters, brick exterior, black shingles covering the roof like scales.
Derek is so enveloped in looking at the house that he doesn’t notice the figure standing behind him.
“Can I help you?”
The deep, gravelly voice causes Derek to jump. He spins around and finds his gaze locked with that of a tall, broad-shouldered man. His face is half-shadowed with scruff, eyes hollowed and slightly too wide for his face.
“Oh — um . . .” Derek stutters. He didn’t think of what he would say if anyone saw him. Come to think of it, he didn’t really think at all about what would happen when he arrived. “I was just . . . looking at the house.” Derek looks to the mail clutched in the man’s hand. He reads the address stamped on the top-most envelope. “You live here?”
The man follows Derek’s gaze and shifts the rest of the letters so they’re concealed from view. “Yes,” the man replies slowly. “Why are you asking?”
Unable to think of an alibi fast enough — and unable to stop himself — the truth tumbles forth from Derek’s mouth. “Well, um, this is going to sound a little weird. But I . . . I wrote a book about your house.”
The man raises one eyebrow. “Oh, really. What made you choose this house?”
“I . . .” Derek responds, struggling to explain. “I was . . . inspired, I guess.” He turns away as his face begins to flush. “You know what, I’m sorry I bothered you. This was a stupid idea.”
“No,” the man replies a little too forcefully. He smiles. “I want to hear about it.”
Derek can’t tell if he’s joking or not, but decides to go ahead anyway. “Um . . . okay.” He holds out the slightly wrinkled stack of papers. “Here.”
The man takes them, leafs through the pages. “The House on Windy Drive,” he reads. “What’s it about?”
“Well, it takes place in . . . your house. It starts with this accident. There’s a brother and sister that are playing, and the sister accidently falls down the stairs. She hits her head really hard and ends up dying.” It suddenly strikes Derek how morbid it all sounds, but he forces himself to continue. It’s too late to go back. “Decades later, the brother is haunted by his sister’s ghost. Her spirit is still in the house, and he needs to find a way to set her free.”
For the first time since he started speaking, Derek looks up. The man is staring at him. It might be a change in light, but he seems abnormally pale.
Unsure of how to respond, Derek continues, struggling to fill the uncomfortable silence. “The brother’s named Michael, but I’m not sure it fits the character –”
“William,” the man breathes.
Derek starts. “What?”
“The brother’s name is William.” The man steps toward Derek. “My name is William.”
Derek’s mouth hangs open, at a loss for words. He jolts when the man moves to grip his shoulder with his free hand. He pulls Derek toward him and lowers his head to whisper in his ear.
“My sister,” William murmurs, “she wants me dead.” The man’s fingernails cut into Derek’s skin. “It was an accident. I didn’t mean it. Maybe your story . . . maybe it can help me. Please, help me.” Receiving no reply from the stunned boy, his grip tightens. His next words steal the breath from Derek’s lungs.
“She’s coming for me.”