Phantom Gains - by Marlow ~BBW, ~MWG, paranormal, intrigue

Discussion in 'Fantasy/Science Fiction Archive' started by Marlow, Dec 7, 2014.

  1. Dec 7, 2014 #1

    Marlow

    Marlow

    Marlow

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    ~BBW, ~MWG, paranormal, intrigue - A long, cold winter in a house with some restless, hungry spirits

    Author's note: This one goes out to the state of Minnesota, which is a wonderful and creepy place.

    Phantom Gains

    a ghost story


    by Marlow​


    Chapter 1

    A pair of cross-country skiers glided slowly over the landscape. They grabbed the eye easily, being the only moving objects in the otherwise frozen white field. Their wide, awkward strides—for they were skate-skiing, like proper Minnesotans—were thoroughly mesmerizing.

    Raleigh, who was new to Minnesota, watched them and shivered. “Just amazing,” she said, her breath billowing in the crisp air. “I can’t believe all this snow. We aren’t even halfway through November.”

    The whole world had been whitewashed. White ground, white roads, white skin…the only outliers were the dark, twisted limbs of trees and Raleigh’s red scarf. A stiff wind blew in from the prairie with a grim howl and it seemed to Raleigh that she had entered a land of the dead.

    “Isn’t it beautiful?” replied Ms. Magnussen, her new landlady. “And believe me, Raleigh, winter hasn’t even started with us yet.” The rotund old woman smiled knowingly and peered up at the grey sky. “Heck, it’s still warm enough to snow.”

    Raleigh’s mind struggled with that statement. She pulled her scarf tighter. “Warm. You’re saying it gets colder than this?”

    “Oh ya, you betcha.”

    Raleigh frowned, already regretting having left the west coast. She stared out at the frozen wasteland before her and wondered how much more frozen it could possibly get. The skiers had disappeared; presumably they had been eaten by a yeti.

    Ms. Magnussen continued: “Now, in the summer there’s a fitness trail going around the lake. And as you can see they groom it up for skiing in the winter.”

    “What lake?” Raleigh gaped, folding her bundled arms. There was nothing in sight but snow and dead trees.

    “Lake Porte. The shore comes up right by that signpost across the street. Beautiful beach in the summer.”

    Raleigh squinted at the signpost. “Beach,” she murmured.

    “But ya don’t want to go out there in a bikini this time of year, no, haha.”

    “No, probably not the best time for a swim.”

    “Oh ya, fer sure. All frozen solid. Good for skating, though. Do ya skate?”

    Raleigh shivered in reply. Her peacoat was fashionable but rapidly becoming insufficient.

    Ms. Magnussen smiled at her, overflowing with Midwestern goodwill. “Now sure, you’re not used to the cold, but I know you’ll be just fine. And the house is plenty warm on the inside, even old as she is.” She turned to glance up at the house. It had been an inn back in the mid-nineteenth century and still looked the part: snow-covered stagecoach wheels greeted guests on the walk up.

    It had a gloom to it, though, like a lonely widow missing her lover. Long shadows hung under the eaves.

    “I’m sure I’ll be fine, Ms. Magnussen,” Raleigh sighed. “But I’m starting to understand why so many animals hibernate through winter.”

    “Oh ya. But ya need a layer of fat on ya to hibernate, doncha know?”

    The diligently slender young woman winced. She had only been in Minnesota for a week and already regretted applying for the internship. She also definitely regretted signing up to live in a rotting old shanty in the woods instead of an insulated downtown apartment.

    “Besides,” the landlady continued, “the ghost wouldn’t let ya sleep for that long anyway.”

    Raleigh glared at her, aghast, shivering even more violently.

    “It’s a joke, dear! My goodness. Heck, you should see your face! Oh, fer cute. Come on inside and we’ll get you warm and settled before I have to leave.”

    The house was indeed quite warm in comparison. As soon as Ms. Magnussen had shut the heavy glass door and turned on the lights Raleigh’s shivering ceased.

    Everything in the house seemed to promote warmth. Yellowish incandescent bulbs illuminated curtained walls, a huge, fluffy couch piled with blankets, a rack of down-stuffed winter coats, and wood-paneled walls reminiscent of a Scandinavian sauna.

    Ms. Magnussen didn’t stay long. She helped Raleigh bring her bags inside and went over a few details of their agreement, prattling along happily. But when Raleigh began poking her head around the various corners of the house the landlady grew quietly anxious. When Raleigh pulled open the door to the basement, Ms. Magnussen cleared her throat and announced that she was leaving.

    The landlady uncovered a plate of cookies on the kitchen table before she departed and wished Raleigh well. Her Midwestern cheer persisted as she hugged her new tenant and trudged back out into the cold, but Raleigh noticed a nervousness beneath it.

    Raleigh watched Ms. Magnussen’s SUV rumble out of the driveway and disappear down the farm road into the woods. She munched on a cookie as the last of the sun set and shuddered as darkness surrounded the lonely old house.

    “Cold as fuck,” she hissed into her phone a few minutes later. “I thought it was like a stereotype or something, but it is seriously an arctic wilderness up here.”

    She stomped around the house while she unloaded her complaints, the old floorboards creaking. “Augh. It’s so old it’s not even quaint…just creepy as shit. The floor makes all this noise every time I take a step. I know, right? I’m not heavy enough that any floor should even notice me.”

    Pondering this, she made her way to the bathroom while the voice on the other end responded. She rifled through a bag until she found her scale.

    “Yeah. And she’s like, ‘the ghost’ll keep you awake, haha,’ like that’s an okay thing to say to someone moving into your house.” Raleigh shook her head at the thought and set the scale down. She paused to look out the bathroom window. “Yeah, terrifying. I mean, I’m looking out the window right now and there’s seriously nothing to see but snow and trees. And it’s the same thing in every window. I’m in a creepy old house out in the middle of a forest at night and she tells me about a ghost. A fucking ghost.

    “No, she lives in town with her family. Just owns this place and rents it out to poor, unsuspecting young women, apparently. Yep. All alone in a haunted fucking house.”

    She stepped onto the scale. It blinked ‘145’ at her in happy, flashing numerals. “Oh, fuck me. What? Oh, sorry, I just found my scale. I’ve put on like ten pounds since I left home. Ugh. Everything about this internship sucks and it’s only been a week.” Her tall, slender body showed no evidence of the added mass, but the number weighed on her mind.

    She stormed out of the bathroom. “Yeah, you’re right. Yeah. I’ll go do something. Stay active; keep my mind off it. Sure. Talk to you soon.”

    The phone call terminated, Raleigh threw the phone onto the giant couch, made her way into the kitchen, and spent a few minutes banging her head on the table.

    That task complete, she resolved to do something more active, as she had promised her friend. She located her exercise mat, spread it out on the floor of the living room, and sat down on it with a heavy sigh.

    She stared out the window. Snow had begun falling and she could see it accumulating on the windowsills, barricading her inside. Twisted, bare tree branches waved in the wind. They waved almost purposefully, as if trying to point somewhere, but the only thing in that direction was the kitchen.

    Raleigh shook her head. “Yeah, this isn’t gonna happen tonight,” she announced to herself. “I am in no mood for situps.”

    She climbed to her feet and left the room, her lanky body echoing the windblown tree limbs outside. The plate of cookies awaited her in the kitchen and she chomped down on one.

    The floor creaked. She turned around, eyes wide—she hadn’t moved her feet and the creak had come from somewhere else in the house. She stood frozen, listening.

    Hearing nothing further, she shook her head at herself and bit into the cookie again. Another creak sounded, longer and louder and so much like the creaks of her own footfalls she yelped and dropped the cookie.

    The sound faded, leaving only the wind. Raleigh exhaled slowly.

    “It’s gonna be a long winter.”
     
  2. Dec 7, 2014 #2

    Sulla

    Sulla

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    Color me interested.
     
  3. Dec 8, 2014 #3

    Marlow

    Marlow

    Marlow

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    That's my favorite color!



    Chapter 2

    Raleigh slept late the next morning. It was the weekend, after all, and she had nothing to look forward to save unpacking. She lounged in bed until the guilt of laziness overtook her comfort and finally she heaved herself up.

    Outside her cocoon of blankets, the room was suddenly staggeringly cold. Goosebumps flashed over her skin and she hurriedly tugged on a long sweater and tights.

    The tights were noticeably tighter over her thighs. “This winter is gonna be hell on my figure,” she grumbled, poking the side of her leg. “I suppose going for a jog isn’t going to work well in this snow. What am I supposed to do?”

    Her stomach answered with a malcontented rumble.

    “Oh, don’t you give me that. You still feel bloated from dinner. And dessert.”

    It remained nonplussed, and said so.

    “God. Fine. You can have breakfast.”

    But there was no breakfast to be had. She found the cupboards bare and a stack of plates in the sink. Even the cookie-plate was empty.

    “Damn. Thought I had packed enough for at least the weekend.” She jabbed an accusatory finger at her stomach. “Look what you’ve done. Taking advantage of my stressed-out-ness. Can’t believe I let this happen.”

    The recollection was faint. There had been dinner, and then dessert, but also a midnight snack she could barely remember. She must have been half asleep; her only memories were of intense hunger followed by deep satisfaction. He stomach burbled at the thought.

    The burble was answered by a loud thud behind her, from within the living room. Raleigh froze, stomach tightening in sudden terror.

    She tiptoed to the entryway and peered into the room. It was small for a living room, but no less cozy. It jutted out from the rest of the house like a pregnant belly and looked out onto the wintry landscape through three large picture windows.

    Raleigh gazed out the center window at the frozen lake. With the late morning sun on it, it finally looked more like a lake than a field, a depression in the snow marking its shores. She didn’t want to admit it, being morally opposed to all things cold, but it had a unique beauty to it.

    A bird smacked into the window. Raleigh shrieked and flung herself to the floor, crawling to the opposite side of the enormous couch for protection.

    There she waited awhile, the flash of feathers and the loud crack replaying in her mind as her breathing slowly calmed.

    “Bird,” she panted to herself, daring to stand again. The floor creaked as she rose and she ignored the second creak that answered from somewhere deeper in the house.

    A hesitant peek through the window revealed a plump little songbird, likewise picking itself up. It spread its wings—miraculously undamaged—and looked straight into Raleigh’s eyes before flitting away.

    “Man, this is a weird place,” she muttered. Her stomach, the ordeal quickly forgotten, rumbled again. “Fine. Yes. Breakfast. Calm down.”

    The roads were clearer than she expected. Raleigh marveled as she made the short drive, remembering that the one time her hometown had seen snow the whole place had shut down. This town, despite being covered in white, bustled on as though nothing were wrong.

    She was on the edge of the suburbs, where the farms and forests began to take over for stripmalls and housing developments. The only grocer was a small food co-op with only a few cars in the parking lot. There were equally few people inside: a bored young man at the cash register, a wispy woman stocking one of the shelves, and an old hippie couple wandering the aisles.

    The cashier glanced up to greet her. He was unexpectedly handsome and when his glance lingered slightly longer than was warranted Raleigh turned with a blush. She regretted bundling up as thickly as she had. She was wrapped in several layers of sweatshirt and coat and it suddenly made her feel too puffy to flirt.

    She mumbled a polite reply and scuttled down an aisle. She quickly returned, having forgotten to grab a basket.

    A few minutes later she returned again and traded the basket for a cart. When she returned once more, with a dazed look in her eyes and a far-off sense of divine purpose in her head, the cart was filled.

    “Well, uh, welcome to Minnesota,” said the cashier.

    She shook herself out of her trance. “Shit, is it that obvious?”

    “I’m a detective.” He winked and began scanning her items. “There were a few key clues, you see. For example: we’ve only got four inches of snow and it’s still over twenty degrees outside, but you’re dressed for Antarctica. And you’ve done so by layering lots of useless clothes instead of just a few useful ones. So you’re new to cold weather.”

    “Splendid observation, Mr. Holmes,” she grumbled.

    He shrugged and continued scanning. “Plus you’re not blonde, you swore in public, and you locked your car when you got out. Dead giveaways that you’re a non-native. And since you’re clearly stocking up what appears to be an entire kitchen—” (Raleigh flushed at the comment as he peered into the cart) “—I’m guessing you just moved in.”

    “Uh, just yesterday, yep. And at what point am I allowed to be creeped out by this?”

    “Well, let’s see. You’re about my age and you’re driving an old Civic, so you’re probably renting a place. The only place for rent in this town that wouldn’t break a bachelorette’s bank is Ms. Magnussen’s old property in the park…so I’m gonna guess you’re already creeped out plenty, because that house is creepy as hell.”

    “That’s very encouraging, thanks. So this town is even smaller than it looks, huh?” She squinted out at the vacant buildings across the street.

    “Oh yes. Small enough that we’ve only got the one haunted house and you’ve moved right into it.”

    “How do you know it’s haunted?”

    “Haha, my neighbor thinks he’s a ghost hunter,” he answered sheepishly, ringing up the last of her items. “He used to go out there all the time in search of spookiness.” He noticed Raleigh staring and shook his head. “Never found anything, though. I’m pretty sure you have nothing to worry about.”

    “Good,” she snorted, “I’d hate to have to start believing in that sort of thing.”

    “That’s the spirit.”

    “Spirit,” she echoed, drifting into a brief daze.

    He began bagging her items. “Never went out there, myself. Always wanted to see it, though. Maybe I—”

    “So, what do you people do for exercise around here?” she said suddenly, the daze broken. “I mean, what with all the snow. And please don’t say skiing.”

    “Well, skiing, mostly. Oh.”

    “Thanks. I’ve just got to find something. I’ve been here a week and I feel fat and out of shape already.” Her stomach gurgled impatiently.

    “There’s lots of things, if you’re creative. Skating, snowshoeing, shoveling the driveway…snow’s kind of a workout all on its own sometimes.”

    “Hm. Well, I guess it can’t hurt to try new things.” She was staring at the pastry rack as she spoke, suddenly fixated on some new things she’d like to try.

    “There you go. And look, just to be frank: you should probably accept that you’re gonna put on a few pounds over winter. It just happens. Nothing wrong with that.”

    She turned and eyed him for a long, awkward moment.

    “Anyway,” he said at last, “welcome to town, Raleigh.”

    “Thanks,” she replied with a flattered smile. “Wait. How—”

    He tapped his forehead. “Detective.”
     
  4. Dec 8, 2014 #4

    Phrozen

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    Please, please PLEASE continue this. You are an excellent writer and you have our intrigue. I am also a huge fan of the genre and there aren't too many quality pieces out there like this!
     
  5. Dec 9, 2014 #5

    Marlow

    Marlow

    Marlow

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    Much appreciated! Thank you for reading.



    Chapter 3

    The internship kept Raleigh out of the house for most of the workweek. The commute to an industrial park in the next suburb wasn’t overly long, but it felt like a journey back to civilization. There were shops and restaurants and cafes full of people. It reminded her of home, but covered in snow.

    It only took a few days to settle into an easy rhythm: a big breakfast at home in anticipation of a long day, a midmorning snack to keep the energy up, a power lunch at one of the local eateries, some office pastries as the afternoon wore on, a big dinner at home to reward herself for surviving a hard day, and a rich dessert simply because the temptation was there and she was worth it.

    Settling into the new life left her little spare time. The week passed in a blur of work, food, and restless, dream-filled sleep.

    The dream she woke from the following Saturday morning remained vivid in her mind for several minutes as she sat rubbing her eyes. She had been carving in the dream, carving ice. She had been carving a giant ice sculpture of herself, but ice-Raleigh was rounder, wider, heavier…fat. But the expression on her frozen, shining face was blissful satisfaction.

    Shaking away the image, she reached for her phone to check the time. Her hand hit the plate that had carried her midnight snack, however, and it clattered noisily to the floor.

    “Fuck me,” she growled, flinging off her blankets.

    She made the mistake of looking down. Now uncovered, she could see that her stomach had creased into a few tiny rolls as she sat up. Her tank top had become noticeably snug and a thin band of flesh curled gently over the waistband of her shorts.

    “Okay, with this whole day off ahead of me, I have got to get some exercise.”

    Her stomach rumbled. It seemed greedier every day.

    “Yes, breakfast first. Calm down.” She slid out of bed. “Let’s see the damage.”

    “155,” the scale announced a few minutes later.

    Raleigh swore again. “Unbelievable.” She stormed out of the bathroom, wincing as she felt her thighs wobble with each step. “Okay, we’ll go jogging with something, as long as the weather’s…clear…”

    She glared out the window. Big, soft snowflakes were falling. They drifted lazily to the ground, occasionally swirling about in a puff of wind. It was mesmerizing and beautiful and Raleigh resented it deeply.

    “Fuck you, winter,” she spat, violently tugging on a puffy knit cap and a pair of mittens, “you are not stopping me today.” She took a step toward the heavy glass door, but caught her reflection and had to stop.

    She was wearing the hat and mittens, but beyond those had on only the tight pajama shorts that pinched her thighs and the tank top that rode up from her softened waistline. She sighed.

    “I am falling apart,” she muttered, turning back toward the bedroom.

    Her stomach rumbled.

    “Shut up. We’re at least going for a walk before I feed you again.”

    Her new winter coat was not where she had left it. It typically lived on the back of an antique chair next to the front door, but had disappeared.

    “Curious,” Raleigh remarked, glancing around. “Ah, there you are. But…” She narrowed her eyes. “…how did you find your way over there?”

    The coat lay sprawled on the floor in front of the old side-door, which she had yet to use. It opened up toward where the street turned and the woods grew thicker.

    Raleigh squinted out the door’s frosted little window as she retrieved the coat. Somewhere in the distance, just visible through the bare trees, stood what appeared to be a huge snowman. It was difficult to make out, but it was definitely there and definitely not just a natural snowpile.

    Her stomach gurgled and she nearly screamed.

    “Seriously, gut, what is your problem? Listen. I have to do something that resembles moving around today or I’ll be obese by the end of the month. Calm down…we’re gonna take a walk, visit the snowman, and then we’ll come back and can get you a snack. But you have to earn the snack, alright?”

    It seemed fairly satisfied with this plan and stopped complaining long enough for her to pull on the coat and her other winter garments.

    Shuffling around in thick layers made her look and feel puffy. Feeling already bloated and softened beneath the layers, walking around so bundled-up seemed like a nightmarish preview of the obesity she had mentioned. It was good motivation. She set off trudging into the cold with purposeful strides.

    It was Raleigh’s first real foray into snow. Certainly snow had been present throughout her few weeks in town, but it had merely been a vaguely annoying part of the scenery and an excuse to not exercise. Now, as she stepped alone into the wintry wood, she couldn’t help but marvel at its purity and elegance.

    Falling snow creates a soothing silence, like a blanket that blocks out the noise of the outside world. The ringing phones of her office were far away, the chatter of other human beings was forgotten, and even the distant roar of the highway was muffled. The only remaining sounds were the breeze in the branches and the crunch of Raleigh’s cautious footfalls.

    She slowed her power-walk to a leisurely stroll. The snow had quieted both the voice in her head that clamored for exercise and the voice in her stomach that clamored for food. She simply wandered, open to whatever she might encounter.

    The cold caught up with her as she meandered, seeping gradually through her layers and tickling her skin. She bristled, sensing it, but realized it was not so painful as it had been the first day. It almost seemed that she was growing more accustomed to the climate, or somehow more prepared to cope with it.

    Perhaps Ms. Magnussen had been right: a layer of fat was needed for winter survival. Perhaps those temporary extra few pounds were not the catastrophe they seemed. The muted voices in her head and stomach began to behave more cordially toward one another as an understanding was reached. The loss of the new weight could be postponed until spring, for the sake of survival, and in exchange for this her appetite had to agree to calm the hell down.

    “Sound okay?” she asked her stomach, “do we have a deal?”

    While her stomach mulled the compromise, Raleigh looked up to get her bearings. She had arrived at a small clearing. At the center stood the snowman she had seen from her house.

    “Hi there,” she panted to it, “I’m Raleigh. I’m not from around here. But you probably already know that, seeing as everyone here can tell right away.”

    It loomed over her, huge and round, which seemed unnatural. There wasn’t enough snow on the ground to provide the giant boulders and the snow that was in the clearing appeared totally undisturbed.

    But it smiled at her with a mouthful of acorns. A tattered, ancient-looking red scarf flapped in the breeze.

    “That’s a nice scarf,” Raleigh remarked, feeling it. “Looks good on you. I’m sorry I’m the only one here to see it, man. It looks like nobody’s visited you for a while.” She folded her arms and circled the snowman, snickering at herself. “Listen: I’m way the fuck out here on my own, too. I don’t even know why anymore. This internship sucks and I’ve stuck myself out in this stupid frozen wasteland for no good reason.”

    The breeze gusted up resentfully for a moment.

    “Okay, I’m just whining. I’m out of my comfort zone and all alone.” She paused in front of the snowman and smiled up at its face.

    The scarf flapped about and thwacked her in the mouth. She grabbed it and pulled it tight.

    “So, hey. Let’s be buddies. You and me, best pals.” She patted the giant snow-boulder that formed its abdomen. “You can be the fat one.”

    She released the scarf and it flapped happily once more into her face. She batted it away and writhed to the side, but tripped and knocked off the large stick that represented the snowman’s arm.

    “Oh shit, sorry, dude.” She plucked the arm out of the snow and jammed it back into its body, but at a new angle. “That’s probably a more dynamic pose, anyway. Pointing’s very fashionable.”

    He did indeed appear to be pointing now. The arm stretched out in a regal gesture. Raleigh followed its direction, curious—he was pointing at a small inlet on the frozen lakeshore.

    She plodded cautiously over to the shoreline, studying it. The lake spread out ahead of her, a perfectly flat field of white.

    In part of the nearby inlet, however, some of the snow had been cleared from the ice. At the center of the cleared area lay an out-of-place chunk of ice. It was round, unlike the jagged chunks she'd seen broken off elsewhere, and clearer.

    Raleigh stepped as close to it as she dared without stepping onto the lake—she didn’t dare test the ice underfoot—and reached out to pick up the little chunk.

    She turned it over in her hands and bit her lip. It was carved ice: a perfect miniature of the sculpture she had seen in her dream, rounded and smiling.
     
  6. Dec 9, 2014 #6

    Marlow

    Marlow

    Marlow

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    Chapter 4

    “Ice carving, huh?” the handsome cashier mused as he scanned Raleigh’s groceries. His nametag, now that Raleigh remembered to look at it, introduced him as ‘Rory.’ He scratched his beard. “Nah, I don’t know much about it. I get that you think our only recreation up here is frozen water in its various forms, but I promise there’s lots more to us quaint northern folk.”

    “I’ll bear that in mind,” said Raleigh, unloading more items from the cart. “I was just curious. Seemed like a weird place to leave a carving.”

    “Yeah, I guess so. I’ve seen plenty of ice carvings, but they’re usually big statue things at parties or events or something.”

    “Weird place for a party. Off the trail. Not even on land, actually. I had to pull it in off the ice with a stick.”

    He snickered. “You can walk on the ice now, you know.”

    “Yeah, no thanks. I can’t get over the possibility that I’d fall right through.”

    “You are nowhere near heavy enough. Trucks can drive on that ice. And frequently do.”

    She narrowed her eyes, not sure if she believed this. “If I don’t get more exercise I’ll be heavy enough in no time. I put on like ten pounds in the last week.”

    “Hot,” was Rory’s only response, delivered so dryly that Raleigh almost failed to notice its strangeness.

    “Annoying.”

    “So what was it?”

    “What was what?”

    “The carving. I assume it was a carving of something.”

    Raleigh bit her lip. “Uh, you know, just, like, a person, or something like that.”

    He eyed her. “Uh-huh. Well, weird. A mystery.”

    “Thought you would enjoy one, Mr. Detective.”

    “Much appreciated. Love a good mystery. For example: is there someone else up in the house with you?”

    “Excuse me?” Raleigh spat, dropping her purse.

    “Well, I was wondering if you’re actually alone up there.”

    She seized him by the apron, nearly dragging him across the counter. “Are you telling me there’s someone else in my house? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

    “What? Holy shit, sorry. Pump the breaks, Raleigh. I’m sorry. I was trying to coyly ask you if you had a boyfriend or anything. Whoa.”

    She released his apron and made an embarrassed, hesitant attempt to smoothe it.

    “Ah,” she said. “Oh. Um. Well, then, to answer your question, uh, I’m living alone. At least to the best of my knowledge…starting to wonder about the whole ‘ghost’ thing, though.” She gave a nervous laugh.

    “Spooky house. Well, let me know if you need a ghost hunter. My neighbor’s bored out of his mind these days and now that his sister’s at college he’s got no one to talk to but me.”

    “Thanks, but I’d rather not feed my imagination any more.” She began loading her filled grocery bags back into the cart and murmured under her breath, “I’m too busy feeding my appetite lately, anyway.”

    “What’s that?”

    “Nothing. Just mad at myself for letting things get to me. I think I’m just homesick, you know?”

    “Sure. That’s a rough time for anyone. Listen, not to be forward or anything, but if you’d like a home-cooked meal and some friendly faces, I do dinner with my parents every Sunday. You’d be welcome to join us tomorrow.”

    “Family dinner,” Raleigh echoed, thinking back to her own health-conscious mother’s dietician-approved cooking. If this was even half as healthy, it would be a perfect escape from her recent lack of portion control. “Wow, absolutely. That’d be great, Rory, thanks. Sounds like just what I need.”

    Raleigh returned home from Sunday’s family dinner stuffed to the gills. Rory’s family had fed her more than she had thought she could handle and had been throughout so hospitable and so friendly that she hadn’t realized her fullness until she had left.

    It was the kind of fullness that took over her whole body, as though her stomach had overflowed. Her legs felt heavy and lethargic, her arms were stiff with starch, her throat was sore from the effort of containing everything she’d forced down it, and a pressure behind her eyeballs made it difficult to focus.

    She eased herself out of her car, leaned against it for a moment, and heaved with a stifled burp. Her house loomed over her, waiting.

    “That did not go as planned,” she groaned, clutching her distended belly and making her way inside.

    Slamming the old door behind her, she shrugged off her coat and just let it fall to the floor. She belched again, in too much discomfort to stifle it this time, and collapsed into a chair. She sat there for a few minutes, massaging her midsection.

    Her head was pounding, too, which seemed unfair. But she soon realized why: all the family cooking was rich and salty and now she was dehydrated. She remembered her glass of water sitting untouched throughout the meal. Why had she ignored it? Oh, what she would do now for that water…

    She rose, wincing, and hurried to the sink. There weren’t any glasses out, but there was a pitcher nearby and she filled it.

    Urged by some desperate thirst in the back of her head she raised it to her lips and began gulping. The water flowed into her, a rushing stream of relief. She could feel its coolness flood down her throat and splash into her overfilled stomach, calming the indigestion.

    She kept gulping, inexplicably parched, until the water spilled down her face. She coughed suddenly and the rest of the pitcher poured itself down her chest.

    Swearing and setting down the pitcher, she let out a watery burp and shook her head at herself. Her wet shirt clung to her skin beneath, stretched over a bra that had been growing tight and showing off a deepened navel.

    “Ugh, what is wrong with me?” She asked as a hiccup bubbled up. She plucked at the soaked shirt and had to smile at the sound as it slapped back against her skin.

    It was actually kind of a pleasant sensation, she had to admit, being so lovingly hugged by the fabric. Gently squeezing her bloated stomach, she lamented the thin layer of softness it had accumulated but couldn’t deny the weird satisfaction of its fullness; it was gently intoxicating. With a swift tug she pulled off the wet shirt and draped it over a chair. She closed her eyes and massaged her fully exposed food-baby, her thoughts beginning to drift.

    The house shook with a muffled crash. Something below her in the basement had fallen. Raleigh yelped and fell back into the chair, knocking the pitcher to the floor. It shattered spectacularly, sending sparkles of glass in a wide arc.

    The arc stretched toward the western window, twinkling in the early moonlight. Raleigh caught her breath, fullness and wetness forgotten.

    She hopped to her feet, steeled herself, and tiptoed to the basement door.

    Raleigh had only ventured downstairs once before, giving it a cursory exploration on the day she had moved in. It was a simple, wide-open room, too dim and cluttered to be inviting. She had cataloged it as existing but irrelevant to her use of the house.

    She saw now as she descended the creaking steps that one of the old wood panels on the west wall had somehow fallen off. Behind it, where she would have expected masonry, was a dark emptiness.

    A gentle scent, like the memory of a fragrance, greeted Raleigh as she approached the opening. She tugged her phone from her pocket (an effort in tightened jeans) and flicked on its flashlight.

    Through the opening the flashlight revealed another room, more furnished that the rest of the basement. Raleigh could make out a table and chairs, some shelving, and decorations on the walls. A hundred years of dust coated everything.

    Raleigh glanced around the basement clutter to an old toolbench and located a shoplight. A few minutes and an extension cord later, she had the new little room lit enough to examine.

    It was cozy. It looked like a miniature dining area, probably from one of the house’s previous incarnations as an inn. Three chairs waited around a round dinner table. An empty candle-holder stood at the center of the table next to a stack of platters, dishes, plates, bowls, and cutlery. The shelf was lined with serving pans and knickknacks. The wall was decorated with paintings of loons and geese and old framed sketches of a happy young couple.

    Raleigh toured the room, looking at the pictures. The couple seemed very pleasant: both thoroughly Scandinavian, both modestly dressed in frontier attire, both wrapped in matching scarves, and both exceedingly plump. The woman seemed to stare directly at Raleigh from every angle, a warm smile dimpling her chubby cheeks.

    Raleigh smiled back at the dumpy lovers and the dining room they had presumably shared. “This is so…quaint. It is absolutely adorable. A little nook all to themselves.” She brushed some of the dust from a chair and sat down. Another watery burp escaped as she settled in. “Maybe I’ll make this my little project. Restore the cute little old-timey dining room. Ms. Magnussen would probably appreciate that, I bet,” she mused, absent-mindedly stroking her food-baby.

    She leaned back in the chair—ignoring how her abdomen began to bow out—and her eyes fixed on something at the top of the shelf.

    Sitting on the highest rack, smiling down at her, was a whittled block of wood. It was covered in dust and wore a tiny red knit scarf, but there was no mistaking it—this wood carving was identical to the ice carving Raleigh had found the day before and the one she’d seen in her dreams.

    She stared up at it, suspicious.

    “Is this like some Russian doll-type thing? Like some weird Minnesotan-Swedish-whatever tradition?”

    A shadow passed behind her. A sudden, cool draft made the carving’s scarf wave and reminded Raleigh that she was topless.

    “What a weird place,” she concluded, stifling a burp.
     
  7. Dec 9, 2014 #7

    Phrozen

    Phrozen

    Phrozen

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    You've got me hanging in suspense, teasing me with imagery. Can't wait for the next bit!
     
  8. Dec 9, 2014 #8

    Phrozen

    Phrozen

    Phrozen

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    As an aside, you deftly teased me there in the final seven lines. I do prey that alongside your general awesome storytelling there will be scrumptious details of our heroine's expansion :)
     
  9. Dec 9, 2014 #9

    Sparrow

    Sparrow

    Sparrow

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    This is great! I can't wait to read more. We need more stories like this!
     
  10. Dec 9, 2014 #10

    Sulla

    Sulla

    Sulla

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    Great ghost story as well as a gaining one.
     
  11. Dec 10, 2014 #11

    SkinnyToChubby

    SkinnyToChubby

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    This is extraordinary. I've been working on a few variants of a ghost story for years and this is inspirational.
     
  12. Dec 10, 2014 #12

    Marlow

    Marlow

    Marlow

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    Chapter 5

    Raleigh spent what little free time she had over the subsequent few weeks in the little basement room. There wasn’t a great deal of free time, as the workload of her internship was steadily increasing, but she put it to good use.

    She was supposed to be somewhat creative, after all—the internship was at a graphic design firm—so restoring a quaint little pioneer dining room just made sense as a hobby. She spent most of the first week simply removing all the dust and cobwebs. The second week had been devoted to some careful maintenance as she patched cracks in the wall, re-fastened the chair legs, and un-jammed the door of the little pantry. The third week was dedicated to lighting.

    It was work that kept her feeling active and gave her something to do besides eating, for which her conscience was grateful (her stomach less so). Nonetheless her weight continued to rise, which was frustrating. She took solace in the fact that she was no longer gaining quite so rapidly and now had some hope that her weight would soon level off, but continued to see a slightly higher number on the scale each week.

    She had checked in at 165 on the day she finally installed a light fixture in the little room. It was a jury-rigged fixture, since she had no desire to cut into the ancient ceiling, but it was a big step up from the shoplight.

    She was hanging it in the center of the room, right over the table. She had stood up on the table to reach and as she stretched her arms over her head her loose work-tee lifted up to reveal her awkwardly protruding tummy. Arching her back to gaze up, it slipped out from her waistband and hung there in the air, faintly bulging in the direction of the little wood carving on the shelf.

    Her stomach rumbled.

    “Quiet,” she hissed, not looking down. “We’re leaving for Rory’s house as soon as this is done. And you know how that family rewards your patience.”

    It groaned impatiently.

    “Yes, I know we’re late. But you’re the reason it took so long to put these pants on, so quit whining.”

    It whined.

    “Oh my god, fine, yes, we can have an extra dessert.”

    She plugged in the fixture and the light burst to life. At the same moment something below her snapped and the table suddenly collapsed.

    It took a few moments for Raleigh to get her senses again. When she finally did, she found herself lying sprawled on what remained of the antique table, watching a cloud of dust settle. She pondered what had happened: her first instinct was that her heavier body had been too much to support, but on review it had almost felt like some force had jerked a leg out from under the table.

    Her shirt had flown up in the fall and her softened belly gleamed in the light of the new fixture. She sat up with a groan, ignoring how it bunched into rolls as she did.

    “I guess we’ll add ‘table repair’ to the list,” she muttered, rubbing the back of her head. “But that’s gonna have to wait. We’re already late.”

    She lifted herself back to her feet. It was a slight struggle, since her jeans had begun to hamper circulation through her growing thighs. She shook her head at the splintered table, shut off the light, and left it broken in the dimness.

    The dining table at Rory’s childhood house was in far better condition. It was long and ornate and sturdy enough to support the three-family potluck upon it.

    This week’s family dinner was apparently a special occasion and both neighboring families had been invited. Fortunately there was more than enough food for the sizable households and it wasn’t long before more than enough food had found its way into Raleigh’s insatiable gut.

    She stifled a burp as she pushed away a plate of something the Minnesotans had called ‘hot dish’. Another plate suddenly replaced it, however, as Rory dropped into the chair beside her.

    They were at a card table in the corner of the living room, where Raleigh had found some privacy from Rory’s over-friendly family. Her only other company at the table was a bored toddler and a large, neck-bearded young man—presumably someone’s creepy cousin—who was snoring steadily after his large meal.

    “Thought you might like seconds,” said Rory.

    “Well, I guess,” Raleigh managed, massaging the pressure in her midsection, “except seconds was like two or three plates ago. Urp.”

    He shrugged. “You seemed hungry.”

    “Ugh, I know. I don’t understand it,” she moaned, leaning back and making sure to hold her shirt down. “I’ve been absurdly hungry all the time lately. I’ve never felt like this before…hell, I used to be vegan for a while.” She pulled the plate closer, though, and reached for her fork.

    Rory smirked, watching. “Could be homesickness, like you said. Everyone deals with, uh, stress differently, right?”

    “Yeah, but it just feels out of control. There’s some weird voice in my head that just wants me to eat constantly…sorry. I’m being super weird. We should probably go watch some football.”

    “It’s okay, really. This is the Midwest—weird is our specialty. And if you need to talk, hey, I’ll listen.”

    She swallowed a bite and smiled. “Thanks. Everything just feels so…not-normal.”

    The bearded stranger to her left snorted in his sleep.

    “Of course, nothing’s been quite normal since I moved into that creepy old house.”

    Rory grimaced, thoughtful.

    “Sometimes I have these midnight snacks and I don’t remember doing it when I wake up. Like sleep-fridge-raiding.” She took another bite and shook her head. “Maybe I’m possessed or something, haha.”

    “Unlikely, but possible,” said a gruff voice to her left. The stranger had leaned over and crossed his hairy arms on the table. “The house certainly has a history of not-normal activities.”

    Raleigh straightened up and studied him. “Gosh, that’s encouraging. Thanks.”

    Rory cleared his throat. “Raleigh, this is my neighbor, Adam. He likes to listen to people’s conversations while he’s pretending to sleep.”

    Adam smiled. “Gotta learn things somehow. We can’t all read minds like Rory here.”

    He and Rory glared at one another for a long enough moment that Raleigh—glancing back and forth, fork in her mouth—could no longer tell if this was friendly banter.

    Adam turned and shooed the toddler away. He straightened his collar, leaned back over the table, and inquired in a lowered voice, “I presume we’re talking about Ms. Magnussen’s place?”

    Raleigh’s stomach churned as he stared her down. “Uh, yep.”

    “Yes, of course. It certainly has a history of what you might call ‘not-normal’ activity.”

    “Adam,” Rory cautioned.

    “I myself,” Adam continued, ignoring him, “am an investigator of the not-normal. The paranormal, you see.”

    “Yep, got it,” said Raleigh, biting down on another forkful.

    “I’ve always been interested in Ms. Magnussen’s place. Always wanted to give it a thorough investigation, analyze its spiritual energy and such, since there have been so many reports over the years…”

    “No wonder it was such—urp—such a cheap rental.”

    “…but I just haven’t had the chance. And I can’t get my clairvoyant neighbor here to come look at it with me.” He nodded at Rory, who winced.

    Raleigh looked to Rory.

    “Adam thinks I’m psychic,” he explained.

    “He is a medium,” Adam corrected him.

    “I have observational skills.”

    “Anyway, he’d be helpful, if he weren’t too cool for it. And so could you. I’ve been hoping for fresh reports from the house. Maybe you can fill me in on your experiences?”

    Raleigh, whose experiences in the house were filling her out, gave him an embarrassed smile. “I’ll think about it. Mostly I’d just like to put it out of my mind…I’d rather not start believing in that stuff, no offense.”

    Adam frowned, but nodded. “None taken. The paranormal is not for everyone. But sometimes it doesn’t care if you believe in it or not.”

    “I’ll keep that in mind.”

    “Please do. And keep me in mind, as well: if you find that you ever need a consultation, or just an ear, perhaps, feel free to get in touch.” He handed her a business card. It identified him as a ‘parapsychologist,’ but was handwritten in colored pencil.

    “Will do.”

    Alan heaved himself up, bowed cordially, and shuffled away.

    An hour later Raleigh heaved herself up as well, belching quietly, and staggered out. Rory walked her to her car, trying in vain once again to flirt.

    She wasn’t in the mood to flirt (or to do much of anything but massage her gut and fall asleep) but conceded to give him an appreciative hug. As her midsection pressed up against him, it occurred to her that he was surprisingly muscular underneath the loose northwoods flannel. Part of her became a little more curious, but curiosity would have to wait until after the food coma.

    “Are you really psychic?” she teased as he opened her car door, “or a medium or whatever?”

    “Not anymore,” he joked. "But yeah, no, I was just really good at guessing games when I was a kid and it freaked Adam out. And maybe I played along for a while, haha."

    "He seems pretty serious about this stuff," she laughed, waving the business card.

    "Deadly serious. You should see his basement. Wait. No, maybe you shouldn't."

    "Don't worry," she assured him, "it can't be creepier than mine." She shut the car door and waved good-night.

    The drive was short but uncomfortable and she was glad to see her own driveway. She was annoyed, however, to see as she drove in that she had left the basement lights on. Turning them off would mean another flight of stairs and her bloated stomach gurgled at the thought.

    But she found herself heading downstairs nonetheless, perhaps out of some sense of environmental consciousness. She clutched her food-baby as she descended the old stairs, moving slowly and burping with each jostling step.

    Not only was the main basement light on, but so was the fixture she had just installed in the little side room. She squinted at it, sure she had turned it off when she’d left. She made her way to the room, peeked in, and caught her heart in her throat.

    The light was on, but the bulb looked different. It shone with a more amber tone than the harsh fluorescence of the bulb she had installed. And beneath the light stood the dining table, fully repaired, restored to its proper place, and looking sturdier than she’d found it.

    “Not-normal,” she whispered.
     
  13. Dec 10, 2014 #13

    Tom the pig 8

    Tom the pig 8

    Tom the pig 8

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    I am really enjoying your story. Thank you for your efforts
     
  14. Dec 11, 2014 #14

    Joel

    Joel

    Joel

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    I really hope this doesn't jump the shark its looking like the best story I've seen here in a long time.
     
  15. Dec 11, 2014 #15

    Phrozen

    Phrozen

    Phrozen

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    Bravo, you continue to capture our intrigue and imagination! Looking forward to the next installments :)
     
  16. Dec 12, 2014 #16

    oxxnard

    oxxnard

    oxxnard

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    This is a very entertaining story, so far. I love it!
     
  17. Dec 12, 2014 #17

    Marlow

    Marlow

    Marlow

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    Chapter 6


    Raleigh’s mind wasn’t sure how to deal with the table’s miraculous restoration. She wasn’t quite prepared to accept it as entirely miraculous, despite the creepiness of the house. Therefore someone must have been in the house.

    This conclusion of course invited a new host of concerns. Someone had been in and out of the locked house without Raleigh’s knowledge.

    Ms. Magnussen was the obvious candidate, since as far as Raleigh knew no one else had a key. But the rotund old landlady lived on the other side of town, had only visited once since Raleigh moved in, and was supposed to call the day before any visit.

    Rory came to mind, but he had clung flirtatiously to Raleigh the whole time she was at his house. There was no way he had driven over, fixed the table, and returned. The odd neighbor, Alan, seemed creepy enough to do something like that and seemed familiar enough with the house, but again the timing didn’t work. The only other people Raleigh knew were her co-workers and none of them knew where she was staying.

    She eventually decided to play it cool and leave the mystery unsolved. It was probably a weird practical joke and if nothing else whoever had done it had done her a favor. The table had been repaired with more skill than Raleigh possessed, she had to admit, and on testing it she found it sturdier than it had been previously. Plus, a kind voice in the depths of her mind assured her that the strange happenings in the house were nothing to worry about.

    The room seemed cozier and more welcoming overall, somehow. In her dreams over the next few nights she was throwing lavish parties in it, impressing everyone she knew.

    As the weeks wore on into December she found herself down there more and more. She began taking her increasingly large meals at the old table, storing her knickknacks on the shelf, and leaning back in the creaky wooden chair to watch scary movies on her laptop.

    She kept the little room and its repaired table a secret, even when Adam later pressed her for signs of weirdness around the house. Rory, as always, seemed to know that she was hiding something but was too polite to drag it out of her.

    It was a quick succession of weeks, a blur of routine: eat, work, eat, sleep. And she was doing each of these things better than ever.

    Her deep slumber was filled with vivid, strange dreams from which she would wake intensely aroused. Her work during the day was set to earn her a promotion within the internship. And her eating grew steadily heartier as her body grew steadily heftier.

    On the day of her firm’s Christmas party the scale had shown 185 and Raleigh had had to accept that her growth had not slowed after all. It took most of the afternoon to find something to wear to the party; she tore the seams of her slacks trying to haul them over her thighs, the button of her nice skirt popped off within a second of being forced to contain her hips, and none of her blouses could be tugged down far enough to safely cover her gut.

    She eventually settled on what had once been a loose sundress. It squeezed her now like a bodysuit and what it couldn’t contain was spilling out almost to the point of indecency. It showed every bulge and curve of her softened body, but it would have to do. She concealed as much as she could with a long cardigan and reminded herself to move carefully, lest she tear the strained fabric.

    When she was dropped back off at the house several hours later, the cardigan had disappeared and two slits in the dress had opened up triangles of flesh along her wobbling thighs.

    Her bloated belly strained the fabric stretched across it to translucency. She had earned the promised promotion and had let herself go all-out that night as a reward.

    Still pretty tipsy from one too many celebratory cocktails, she weaved her way up the driveway, waving a sloppy goodnight to her co-workers. They snickered to one another as they drove off.

    Leaning against the door with a loud hiccup and struggling to get her key into the lock, she grinned mischievously to herself. “Oh man, did I need—hic!—did I need that,” she murmured, stumbling inside. “Raleigh, you’ve been letting the…stress get to you. Hic! Wound too tight.”

    She had left the furnace on and the house greeted her with a soothing warmth. She tossed her keys into a corner somewhere and fumbled her way out of her shoes.

    “…tight,” she repeated, pondering the word. Humming cheerily to herself between hiccups, she carefully peeled off the overtight dress, hurled it across the room, and leaned back against the countertop in her underwear.

    Her bloated gut swelled outward as she reclined. She tugged her lace panties down another inch to give it more room.

    Its uncomfortable fullness was dulling to a cozy satisfaction. Enjoying the buzz, she stifled a burp and gave her midsection a loving caress.

    “Yeah, I bet you had fun tonight. I’m sure I’ll regret letting you—hic!—letting you cut loose like that but man, I figure we deserved a night off to—hic!—to have a good time. And some of those cute boys were staring our way, hm?” She traced light circles around her navel and belched.

    Her stomach rumbled and whined.

    She giggled. “You’re kidding me. You can’t possibly want—hip!—more.”

    It gurgled. She could feel it reverberate through the softness of her muffin-top into her massaging hands.

    “Oh, alright. But only because I’m too drunk to make responsible decisions right now.”

    She pushed herself off the counter, tottered for a second, but steadied herself on the refrigerator door.

    “Hmm. Hic! Munchies,” she lilted, tapping her fingers. “Oh, hey, I think we left that big bag of chips down—hic!—downstairs.”

    The stairs took some time and effort. She made herself take each step with care. Her body wobbled every time she dropped to the next step; the rippling sensation in her thighs eventually caught her attention and sent her into a giggling fit that carried her the rest of the way into the basement.

    The lights were off in the little room this time. It took her a few minutes of tripping around and swearing to find the switch. They blinded her for a second when they at last flashed on and when her glazed eyes finally adjusted they widened in shock.

    On the old table was spread a full meal, with a lone place setting at the chair nearest the door. Raleigh leaned against the doorframe and gaped at the arrangement: meat, bread, vegetables, and what appeared to be pudding.

    She hiccupped sharply. Hand to her chest, she staggered over to the chair and plopped heavily down.

    Her stomach groaned at the sight of the hearty, homey dinner. She whistled, impressed.

    “Did I make dinner tonight and forget to eat it? Jeez, didn’t think I was…that drunk. No, well, I wasn’t drunk before I—hic!—before I left. Was in a big hurry, though.” She giggled and slapped her thigh. “Big hurry because of my big hams. Hmm. Hiccup! Ham…”

    Her eyes landed on the thick slab of pink meat waiting before her.

    “Another mystery,” she concluded. She patted her belly. “Well, buddy, what do you—hulp!—what do you think? Second dinner? I’d say we’ve earned it.”

    Her stomach didn’t respond, but something inside her said ‘yes’ and she was already reaching for the fork.

    The ham was succulent, flavorful, and (somehow) still warm enough to seem freshly prepared. The question of its sudden appearance would have to wait until morning and sobriety; at the moment there was only ecstasy and gratification.

    She could almost feel her stomach swelling, its skin stretching tauter. It was glorious.

    The last bite of ham disappeared to the sound of smacking lips. Raleigh licked the juices from those lips as they curled into a contented grin. She leaned back in her chair, stomach jutting out. She closed her eyes, massaging her food-baby, and loosed a long, deep belch. She tried to decide what to try next; the scent of the pudding called to her.

    Something in the room creaked. It wasn’t the chair.

    Raleigh opened her eyes. Standing across the room, just on the other side of the table, was a frail young woman in a pale nightgown.

    Adrenaline flooded through Raleigh. A noise like the wintry gusts outside filled her head. She pushed herself awkwardly to her feet, knocking the chair over. She stood frozen, grappling with the idea of confronting an intruder while bloated, drunk, and in her underwear. The light above her flickered.

    The young woman’s malnourished face glanced down at Raleigh’s engorged belly and broke into a welcoming smile. She turned slightly and reached a hand across the table; Raleigh could make out a faint, crescent-shaped scar on the palm. The woman spread her fingers and the sound of the wind hit a deafening crescendo.

    Raleigh hurried out of the room. The lights suddenly died, though, and as soon as she crossed through the doorway she stumbled and rolled out into the open basement with a crash.

    The noise abruptly ceased and the lights flickered back on. Swearing and trying to shake the haze out of her head, Raleigh looked back at the intruder.

    She was gone. The room was empty and calm. The table was entirely clear, save for an unopened bag of potato chips.

    Raleigh cautiously inspected the room. There was no sign of the girl or the meal, though the taste of juicy ham lingered on Raleigh’s lips. Her overfull stomach was beginning to get queasy, though, and her hunger had finally abated. Goosebumps flashed across her exposed flesh. The fat wood-carving smiled down at her from its perch on the shelf.

    There was blood, too, she realized. The palm of her hand was bleeding; she must have scraped it when she fell. She went back upstairs and washed the cut clean; it left a red crescent in her palm.

    She took a cold shower, bandaged her hand, and slept until the next afternoon. Her dreams and nightmares were filled with of the slender young woman who reached out for her with desperate starvation in her eyes.

    The next day Raleigh pushed a heavy armoire in front of the door to the little room and for the rest of the week avoided the basement as much as she could.
     
  18. Dec 12, 2014 #18

    Tom the pig 8

    Tom the pig 8

    Tom the pig 8

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    Nice chapter!
     
  19. Dec 13, 2014 #19

    Marlow

    Marlow

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    Chapter 7


    Raleigh winced as she tugged the seatbelt across her lap. It cut into her little muffin-top no matter how much she wriggled around.

    She looked around at the other passengers as they filed into their seats. It looked like a full flight and the seats on this cheap airline weren’t particularly roomy. Raleigh watched a big three hundred pound woman squeeze her way down the aisle, shuffling her girth almost sideways, and bit her lip.

    The large woman was of course seated next to Raleigh. Raleigh twisted around some more in her seat but found herself unable to avoid the woman’s overflow.

    The flight to California was five hours. It afforded Raleigh time to make several decisions: she planned out the warmer wardrobe she’d be putting together, she worked out the details of her new diet plan, and she determined that when she got back to Minnesota after the holidays she would bite the bullet and call Rory’s weird neighbor for a paranormal consultation.

    Hopefully the house would keep until then. The armoire that now blocked the little room seemed relatively secure and during her last few days prior to the holiday break Raleigh hadn’t heard any of the house’s usual creepy noises.

    The fat woman next to her pulled out a cinnamon bun from the airport food court. Raleigh caught herself staring at it and drooling.

    “No, Raleigh,” she muttered to herself, turning to stare out the window at the frozen wasteland she was about to escape. “No.”

    “No Raleigh?” Adam asked.

    “She’s home for the holidays,” Rory replied, opening a kitchen cabinet. The two-family Christmas gathering was in full swing in the next room; he and Adam had offered to set up for dinner in an attempt to avoid having to mingle with their respective families.

    Adam adjusted his ridiculous sweater and frowned. “Too bad. She seemed cool.”

    “Yeah, but she probably needed to go home for a bit. She seemed kinda on edge the last time I saw her. Like she’d seen…” He remembered who he was talking to and stopped himself.

    “I’m telling you, man, it’s that house. Bad mojo.” Adam resumed separating out the silverware. “But too bad she’s not here. I bet having another girl around would have been good for Scarlett.”

    Rory heaved a box of china out of the cabinet. “Definitely. Where’s she hiding, by the way?”

    “In plain sight. She’s in the living room, politely being too cool to interact with the aunts and uncles.” Adam chuckled. “You should see her outfit: I think she called it ‘yule-punk’, or something like that.”

    “She does have a unique sense of fashion,” Rory mused, opening the box. “Although...judging by your sweater, I'd say she gets it from her big brother."

    “My favorite sweater is deeply offended, sir. And there is no way in which my love of ugly sweaters inspired my little sister to dye her santa-hat black.”

    Scarlett was indeed a girl dedicated to the idea of grim, edgy uniqueness. Her appearance and demeanor were as nonconformist as she could manage at a family party. She had even found a way to make the jingle bells on her skirt seem cheerless.

    She was uncomfortably thin—barely 110 pounds on a short, bony frame—and the loose-fitting countercultural tatters she wore only added to the malnourished effect. She was a literature major at an out-of-state liberal arts college, a decision which she was indifferently defending to a pushy aunt when Rory and Adam mercifully called her away to the kitchen.

    “Oh my god, thank you,” she grumbled.

    “Our pleasure,” Rory replied, stacking plates. “No one should have to interact with aunt Hilda for more than two minutes.”

    “Also we do actually need help with all the silverware,” said Adam.

    She gave him a glare, but complied and followed them into the dining room.

    Rory hefted his stack of plates onto the long table. “So, Scarlett, how’s school?” He winced, realizing he has asked her the same question everyone else in the family presumably had.

    “Uh, good. Now that I’m a junior I can take more of the specific electives that I’m actually interested in.” She poked Adam. “I’m actually gonna take a course on 'the paranormal' next semester.”

    Adam looked up. “No kidding? I knew I went to the wrong college.”

    “I told you, Thalia has some cool options. It’s a weird school.”

    “You must fit right in. Well, feel free to consult your field-experienced older brother on the subject. Or Rory’s new girlfriend—she’s being haunted.”

    Rory sighed. “She is not my girlfriend and she is not being—”

    “Haunted?” Scarlett brightened up. “For real?”

    “Nope,” said Rory.

    “Yep,” said Alan. “And get this: she’s living at Ms. Magnussen’s old place.”

    “Holy crap, that place is so creepy.” Scarlett was wide-eyed with excitement.

    “And for good reason. And it’s apparently been more active since Rory’s new girlfriend moved in. She’s experiencing all sorts of phenomena.”

    “Oh no,” Rory muttered.

    “Strange noises, visions, sensations, objects being moved…”

    “Please stop.”

    “A few weeks back she mentioned fears of being possessed. The place has to be haunted.”

    Scarlett bounced with eagerness. Her grim jingle bells tingled. “Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. You guys…”

    Rory set his last plate. “Oh my god us guys what?”

    “We should go over there.”

    “What? No.”

    “Field experience! I could go into my class with real-world experience with a haunted house—I bet could make a whole independent study out of it afterward.”

    “Terrific idea,” Adam exclaimed.

    “Terrible idea,” Rory muttered. “We don’t need to feed her impulsiveness or your obsession.”

    “But this could be our best chance,” Adam protested. “You said Raleigh’s back home in California. That means we know the house is empty.” He grabbed Rory’s shoulders, eyes wide. “We have an open door to a haunted house at the peak of its spiritual activity.”

    “Aren’t you worried about your girlfriend?” Scarlett asked. "We could help her."

    “I’m worried that you two are going to imagine up more things for her to worry about.”

    Scarlett glanced over at Adam. “Let’s go tonight. Sneak out after dinner.”

    “I’m down,” said Adam. “Rory? Can’t go without you.”

    “You aren’t going to talk me into this.”

    They raised their eyebrows at him.

    “I can’t believe you talked me into this,” he said several hours later, adjusting his heavy knit cap against the cold.

    It had stopped snowing and the wind had finally died for the night, but the temperature was dropping under a clear, starry sky. The old house loomed in the darkness, daring the three visitors to approach.

    “We need you, buddy,” Adam assured him, clapping his shoulder. “You like to deny being a medium, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t one.”

    Rory rolled his eyes.

    “This is so exciting,” Scarlett whispered.

    “This is trespassing.” He looked back at her. “And since when do you let yourself show any emotion as positive as excitement?”

    She rolled her eyes. In the dark, her black outfit all but disappeared, leaving her a floating pale face.

    The driveway hadn’t been shoveled in Raleigh’s absence, so they had parked Scarlett’s pickup truck out on the street. They trudged slowly up the driveway, glancing about as shadows passed in the nearby woods and creaks sounded from the house.

    “Oh, my tummy,” Scarlett moaned, clutching her too-slender waist. “I ate too much at dinner.”

    Adam snickered. “That’s what you get for never eating enough, skinny. Your body freaks out when you actually have a normal-sized meal.”

    “Ugh. I’m never getting seconds again.”

    Rory tried the front door to no avail. A door they eventually located on the back porch wouldn’t budge, either.

    “Oh well,” Rory announced, turning to the car.

    Adam stopped him. “We’ll have to get creative.”

    “You mean illegal.” He rubbed his temples. “Can we just go? I’m getting a headache.”

    “Hey, guys!” Scarlett called from under the porch. “There’s a window to the basement down here. I think it’s open.”

    It was indeed open, and swung out into the dusty darkness of the basement when Adam nudged it with his foot. The surrounding snow spilled in after it. There was no screen, but the opening was fairly small.

    The men looked at each other. Adam was certainly too bulky to squeeze through and the tall, broad-shouldered Rory wasn’t a likely candidate either. They looked back at Scarlett, who was already unzipping her coat.

    “Good thing you’re such a skinny little thing,” Adam mused.

    Rory shook his head. “This is a bad idea.”

    Scarlett gave him a reassuring smile and handed him her jingle bells. “It’ll be fine, Rory. I’ll just find my way upstairs and unlock the door for you guys.” She dropped her coat and tugged off her sweater, too, revealing a sharp black corset.

    “Are you serious?” Adam scoffed. “What, is that so you can look even skinnier?”

    “It’s just part of my style,” she retorted, throwing the sweater at him.

    “No wonder your stomach hurts. There’s no room for a food-baby in that thing.” He shook his head. “Be careful in there, sis.”

    She sat down next to the window and swung her legs through. She winked up at the men, took a deep breath, and slid through, disappearing into the darkness.
     
  20. Dec 13, 2014 #20

    Phrozen

    Phrozen

    Phrozen

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    And the plot thickens! (hopefully our new lady protagonist does too!)

    As a commentary on your writing, I appreciate your pacing. It's not too slow where we end up lingering on one event for a while, but not too quick that we can't stop and appreciate what is actually going on. You move with a deftness that doesn't reveal too much and keeps us all intrigued. Bravo!
     

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