Yellow Mama Archives II

Brian Barnett

Acuff, Gale
Ahern, Edward
Allen, R. A.
Alleyne, Chris
Andes, Tom
Arnold, Sandra
Aronoff, Mikki
Ayers, Tony
Baber, Bill
Baird, Meg
Baker, J. D.
Balaz, Joe
Barker, Adelaide
Barker, Tom
Barnett, Brian
Barry, Tina
Bartlett, Daniel C.
Bates, Greta T.
Bayly, Karen
Beckman, Paul
Bellani, Arnaav
Berriozabal, Luis Cuauhtemoc
Beveridge, Robert
Blakey, James
Booth, Brenton
Bracken, Michael
Burke, Wayne F.
Burnwell, Otto
Campbell, J. J.
Cancel, Charlie
Capshaw, Ron
Carr, Steve
Carrabis, Joseph
Cartwright, Steve
Centorbi, David Calogero
Cherches, Peter
Christensen, Jan
Clifton, Gary
Cody, Bethany
Costello, Bruce
Coverly, Harris
Crist, Kenneth James
Cumming, Scott
Davie, Andrew
Davis, Michael D.
Degani, Gay
De Neve, M. A.
Dillon, John J.
Dinsmoor, Robert
Dominguez, Diana
Dorman, Roy
Doughty, Brandon
Doyle, John
Dunham, T. Fox
Ebel, Pamela
Fagan, Brian Peter
Fillion, Tom
Flynn, James
Fortier, M. L.
Fowler, Michael
Galef, David
Garnet, George
Garrett, Jack
Glass, Donald
Graysol, Jacob
Grech, Amy
Greenberg, KJ Hannah
Grey, John
Hagerty, David
Hardin, Scott
Held, Shari
Hicks, Darryl
Hivner, Christopher
Hoerner, Keith
Hohmann, Kurt
Holt, M. J.
Holtzman, Bernard
Holtzman, Bernice
Holtzman, Rebecca
Hopson, Kevin
Hubbs, Damon
Irwin, Daniel S.
Jabaut, Mark
Jermin, Wayne
Jeschonek, Robert
Johns. Roger
Kanner, Mike
Karl, Frank S.
Kempe, Lucinda
Kennedy, Cecilia
Keshigian, Michael
Kirchner, Craig
Kitcher, William
Kompany, James
Kondek, Charlie
Koperwas, Tom
Kreuiter, Victor
Larsen, Ted R.
Le Due, Richard
Leotta, Joan
Lester, Louella
Lubaczewski, Paul
Lucas, Gregory E.
Luer, Ken
Lukas, Anthony
Lyon, Hillary
Mannone, John C.
Margel, Abe
Martinez, Richard
McConnell, Logan
McQuiston, Rick
Middleton, Bradford
Milam, Chris
Miller, Dawn L. C.
Mladinic, Peter
Mobili, Juan
Mullins, Ian
Myers, Beverle Graves
Myers, Jen
Newell, Ben
Nielsen, Ayaz Daryl
Nielsen, Judith
Onken, Bernard
Owen, Deidre J.
Park, Jon
Parker, Becky
Pettus, Robert
Plath, Rob
Potter, John R. C.
Price, Liberty
Proctor, M. E.
Prusky, Steve
Radcliffe, Paul
Reddick, Niles M.
Reedman, Maree
Reutter, G. Emil
Riekki, Ron
Robson, Merrilee
Rockwood, KM
Rollins, Janna
Rose, Brad
Rosmus, Cindy
Ross, Gary Earl
Rowland, C. A.
Saier, Monique
Sarkar, Partha
Scharhag, Lauren
Schauber, Karen
Schildgen, Bob
Schmitt, Di
Sesling, Zvi E.
Short, John
Simpson, Henry
Slota, Richelle Lee
Smith, Elena E.
Snell, Cheryl
Snethen, Daniel G.
Stanley, Barbara
Steven, Michael
Stoler, Cathi
Stoll, Don
Surkiewicz, Joe
Swartz, Justin
Taylor, J. M.
Taylor, Richard Allen
Temples. Phillip
Tobin, Tim
Traverso Jr., Dionisio "Don"
Turner, Lamont A.
Tustin, John
Tyrer, DJ
Varghese, Davis
Verlaine, Rp
Viola, Saira
Waldman, Dr. Mel
Al Wassif, Amirah
Weibezahl, Robert
Weil, Lester L.
Weisfeld, Victoria
Weld, Charles
White, Robb
Wilhide, Zachary
Williams, E. E.
Williams, K. A.
Wilsky, Jim
Wiseman-Rose, Sophia
Woods, Jonathan
Young, Mark
Zackel, Fred
Zelvin, Elizabeth
Zeigler, Martin
Zimmerman, Thomas
Zumpe, Lee Clark

The Black Rider’s Gold


by Brian Barnett



          Aaron blinked his eyes repeatedly trying to flush out the dirt again. That’s all the deserted town has, he thought. Dirt.

          He was excited when his parents first booked the tour of an Old West Ghost Town. But so far all he’s been able to see is old worn out buildings and, of course, dirt.

          There were two rows of buildings separated by the dirt road that ran through the middle of them. All the buildings were side-by-side and shared a long wooden walkway. There was a well, a wagon with a broken wheel, and a parking lot at the end of town - which is where he wanted to go. But the tour was only halfway over.

          “Right over there is the town saloon, but seeing as we have some youngins, I don’t think we’ll be going in there.” the old tour guide named Silas said. Most everyone laughed. Not Aaron. The joke was lame and he was hot and miserable.

          “Alright folks, that concludes our tour of the town of Grimstead. Shall we proceed to Devil’s Valley to see where they mined the gold?” the tourists seemed moderately interested until Silas added “Come along and I’ll tell you the legend behind the infamous outlaw, The Black Rider’s, gold.”

          Everyone oohed and aahed with that announcement. Even Aaron perked up. The grin on Silas’s face told Aaron that he probably expected the tourists’ reaction.

          Silas walked backwards toward the bus and talked at the same time. He seemed to really know his stuff. “Yes, the west was full of adventure and opportunity. And you can bet anytime gold was discovered, trouble was sure to follow. The Black Rider was more than enough trouble for the residents of Grimstead. There were gunfights, robberies, and outright murders. No sheriff could tame him. In fact Grimstead had to replace at least three sheriffs after failed duels with The Black Rider.”

          “What was The Black Rider’s name?” asked a lady who was about to board the bus.

          “Nobody ever knew for sure. He never told anyone his name. But if you ask me, it’s probably better that way. It makes for a better legend. I mean, what if his name was Marian or something.” The group laughed again. Silas took a step up into the bus. “Alright folks, single file if you please. The mine is only about fifteen minutes from here. We’ll be there in no time.”

          Once everyone was loaded and in their seats, the bus drove away from Grimstead and toward Devil’s Valley. Silas had a special rear-facing seat where he had a microphone that worked the speakers that ran the length of the bus.

The bus was even hotter than it was outside in the sun. Aaron reached for the window latch and Silas’s voice boomed on the speakers. “Please leave the windows up. I know it’s hot, but we don’t want lots of dust swirling around making the heat that much worse.”

          Aaron plopped back into his seat. His dad raised his hand.

          Silas pointed at him. “Yes sir?”

          “What ever happened to The Black Rider?”

          “Excellent question. I guess now is as good a time as any to talk about him.”

          Aaron’s dad smiled, proud at his question.

          “The Black Rider died in the mine shaft we’re headed toward right now. He was absolutely gold crazy. He often stalked around near the mine just in case of any strikes. Evidently one day he was tired of waiting around so he confronted a prospector, assuming they must have been holding out on him. They weren’t. The mine had practically already been picked clean. But that wasn’t a good enough answer for The Black Rider.”

          Aaron found himself leaning forward, caught up in the story. Maybe the tour wouldn’t be so boring after all.

          “Well a fight broke out between a prospector who had been pushed to his limit and The Black Rider. The prospector got a good hit in and knocked one of The Black Rider’s teeth out. His one and only gold tooth. Being as gold crazy as The Black Rider was, he stopped fighting immediately and frantically searched for the tooth. Not realizing how close he was to the mine shaft, he fell to his death.”

          A lady gasped somewhere. A murmur ran through the bus. Even if The Black Rider was a bad guy, that’s a scary way to go.

          “Now, I don’t exactly know how deep the mine was,” continued Silas, “but I know it was deep enough. Let’s just say the town never had any more trouble from The Black Rider.”

          The bus pulled to a stop in front of what looked to be a cave. The doors screeched open and Silas stepped out.

          Everyone climbed down from the bus and stood around him in a semi-circle.

          “Now I know I don’t have to tell all you good folks this, but I’m going to anyway. Please don’t touch anything in there. It’s perfectly safe, but I’d rather not risk anyone touching anything. Plus there are still old mine carts, tracks, and the like in there that we’d all like to preserve for future tours.”

          Everyone seemed to agree and Silas turned and led everyone into the mine entrance.

          Just like Silas had said. There were lots of old tools and equipment that were just abandoned and covered in dirt. Of course, more dirt, thought Aaron. But the mine was different from the town. The town was just a bunch of abandoned buildings. This used to be a working gold mine! People used to bring gold ore out from those dark tunnels.

          “Alright, folks. If you will direct your attention over here, this is the infamous mine shaft where The Black Rider died.” Behind Silas was a hole in the floor behind a thin chain to keep people back. “Now, that is a pure absolute fact. He did die here. But beyond that, the legend is that The Black Rider still roams these tunnels looking for his missing gold tooth.” Silas shrugged. “You can either choose to believe it or not. Personally, I think the history of the mine is interesting enough as it is. But that never stops an interesting legend from being born from time to time.”

 Silas led everyone across the cave to a set of tracks that led into a dark tunnel. He began talking about the tunnel carts or something. Aaron wasn’t paying attention. He was still at the old shaft. Large wood supports framed the hole. He leaned over the chain a bit to look down into the darkness. Maybe somewhere down there is a pile of old bones with a missing tooth. But he couldn’t see more than maybe two or three feet down before it was too dark to see anything.

He leaned a little further and his foot slipped on the loose powdery dirt on the stone floor and he lost his balance. He swung his arms out and caught himself on one of the wood beams. His heart and stomach nearly came up into his throat. He imagined himself falling hundreds of feet to his death, like The Black Rider had all those years ago. Once he caught his breath, he pushed against the wood to stand upright again. But when he did, the wood shifted and cracked.

Suddenly large boulders slid aside and the wood collapsed into the shaft slamming against the chain and dragging it into the hole. Some of the boulders fell in too, but one especially large one landed at an angle to stop the shaft from fully collapsing in on itself. The sound was deafening in the cave. It was hard to see from the dirt that was stirred up in the already dark area.

Aaron’s parents rushed over to check on him. Aaron was shaking and sat on the floor, afraid he might fall over out of shock. He was maybe a few inches from certain death only a few seconds ago.

“This is why I ask people not to touch things!” yelled Silas. He was furious. “Are you okay, boy?”

Aaron nodded quickly, unable to find the right words to properly apologize.

Silas pointed at Aaron’s parents and continued yelling. “This is why anyone under the age of eighteen is to be accompanied at all times by an adult. I specifically said not to touch anything. He might have been killed. We all may have been killed.” He took out a handkerchief from his back pants pocket and dabbed his beet red forehead. “Okay, folks. I think it’s time we all head back to the bus. We’re heading back to town.”

Though he was just staring at the partially collapsed mine shaft, Aaron felt everyone’s eyes on him as they shuffled out of the cave and back to the bus. It was going to be a long fifteen minute ride back to Grimstead.

“We had better head out, Aaron.” Aaron’s mom said. She sounded disappointed. Maybe she was disappointed that the tour was cut short, or maybe that he had destroyed the mine shaft. He couldn’t quite tell which.

“I’m on my way.” Aaron said. He placed his hand on the ground to push himself to his feet. He felt the grit of the dirt under his palm and something else. It was something hard. He thought it was a rock until he turned his palm over and saw a shimmering gold tooth.

Aaron gasped and quickly hid in his palm what he had found. Could it really be The Black Rider’s gold tooth? All that time and nobody could find it. It must have been lodged in a crack in the wall or something. Aaron slipped it into his pocket and slowly made his way to the bus.

He boarded the bus and walked with his head down until he reached an empty seat in the back. Again he had felt everyone’s eyes on him. All of them were angry, he could tell.

The bus trip back to the town was a quiet one. The only sound was the engine for fifteen minutes. Even his parents sat in their seats silently, probably embarrassed. Aaron just kept rolling the tooth between his fingers in his pocket. It was a treasure for sure.

Once the bus finally stopped, Aaron let everyone else leave the bus before he got to his feet. Even then he was slow to join them. Hopefully his parents would quickly usher him away to their car and they’d leave this place behind. The fiasco in the mine would forever be an awkward memory. But he would also have his prized tooth. Maybe he could sell it or loan it to be displayed in a museum. He’d be famous.

          Aaron’s dad quickly pulled him aside and whispered “Aaron, you need to apologize to Silas.”

          Silas was dabbing his forehead again with his handkerchief as he shook disappointed people’s hands good-bye.

          “I thought I already did.” Aaron said, knowing he didn’t. But it would be a lot less embarrassing to just disappear into the car and never come back here again.

          “No, I’m pretty sure you didn’t. And even if you did, it would be for the best if you did again.”

          Aaron sighed and slowly walked over to Silas.

          “I’m really sorry for destroying the mine.”

          “It’s alright, young man.” Silas said. He still had an angry edge to his voice. “Just as long as you weren’t hurt.”

          “No, I’m fine. It was a complete accident. I just lost my balance and tried to catch myself.”

          “Yes, well…”

          Silas stopped talking mid-sentence after being distracted by something over Aaron’s shoulder. Aaron turned to see what it was.

          In the distance there was what looked to be a person riding a horse next to the road. The rider was passing the tourists who had already driven out of town on their way back to the highway.

          “Who on earth…” Silas said. “There’s no other towns for miles. Who could be out riding in this heat?”

          Aaron looked around the town. He didn’t remember seeing any horses or reenactment actors. The livery was abandoned like the rest of the town. Even the horseshoes tacked above its entrance had rusted from years of neglect.

          The only people left in the town were Silas, Aaron and Aaron’s parents. The only two cars in the parking lot belonged to them.

          As the rider came closer, Aaron could see he was wearing all black. His duster billoweed behind him. He sure was in a hurry. The horse was creating quite a plume of dust as it galloped toward town.

          “Oh my. Oh no.” stammered Silas. “This simply cannot be!” he dabbed his red forehead again.

          Aaron suddenly noticed the horse was a skeleton. The rider was too. It was obvious at this point that he was The Black Rider.

          “Get inside! Quickly, get inside!” Silas pushed Aaron’s parents toward the general store. Aaron ran along with them, barely able to take his eyes off the ghostly outlaw riding into town.

Silas removed a wad of keys from his pocket and shakily tried one after another until he finally found the one for the store. Aaron wondered why an abandoned town would even need locks. Silas flung the door open and practically shoved everyone inside.

“Everyone hide! Keep your heads down. I just can’t believe this is happening.”

Aaron’s parents rushed behind the clerk’s desk where an ancient cash register sat. A jar of peppermint sticks sat to one side of it and a tip jar on the other. Silas finally locked the door and slid some crates in front of it to create a feeble barricade.

Aaron ducked down behind a clothing rack in the gift shop area. One of the shirt slogans read: “Grimstead: Where History Comes to Life”. You don’t say, thought Aaron.

Silas rushed over next to Aaron. He dabbed his forehead again. His handkerchief was close to soaked by now.

“It’s him. It’s The Black Rider!” said Silas.

Just as he said his name, The Black Rider’s horse passed in front of the store window. It’s hollow eye socket in its skull glowed red. Steam blew from its nostrils.

The Black Rider dismounted and walked up to the window. He punched through the glass causing Aaron’s mom to scream. The entire window shattered and rained onto the floor. He slowly stepped inside. The glass shards crunched under his boots.

When he walked across the floor his spurs clinked and clanged with each step.

“Where is my gold?” His voice was raspy and deep. It was almost more breath than voice.

The boots and spurs came closer to the shirt display. They stopped just on the other side of it. Aaron could see the ornate design stitched into the sides of the leather boots. The spurs were silver and shiny. The bottom of his black duster nearly reached the floor. It was frayed at the bottom and dirty.

The clothing rack was violently thrown aside. Both Aaron and Silas stumbled backwards.

          Aaron looked up and saw the empty eye sockets. Somehow they looked angrier than any eyes he’d ever seen. A black Stetson sat on the top of his skull and a black bandana was tied around his boney neck. It hung loosely since he was only bones. Aaron noticed one of his front teeth was missing. Suddenly he was even more aware of the gold tooth in his pocket. 

          The Black Rider extended a hand. It was covered with a black leather glove. He pointed at Aaron. “You!” his voice was angry and almost sounded like when two sheets of sandpaper rubbed together. “You stole my gold!”

          “I didn’t mean to.” he fished in his pocket to find it. He wanted nothing more than to give it back so The Black Rider would disappear again to wherever he came from.

          “You stole my gold. Now you will face me!”


          “No!” Aaron’s parents protested.

          The Black Rider’s head whipped around in their direction. In the blink of an eye he drew a revolver from its holster and fired a shot that shattered the peppermint jar and ricocheted off the ancient cash register. It’s bell rang, ching, and the cash drawer flew open. Aaron’s parents quickly ducked back behind the desk.

          “Outside, boy.” The Black Rider demanded.

          Aaron raised his hands and walked past The Black Rider who still had his revolver in his hand. Aaron carefully climbed out through the broken window and made his way into the dusty street.

          He turned and The Black Rider had stepped out into the street as well, maybe thirty or so feet away. He replaced his revolver back in its holster. “Any last requests?” The Black Rider asked.

          Aaron looked at the old well on the opposite side of the street from the general store. “I sure would like a drink of some water, if that’s okay. It’s hot and I haven’t had a drink for hours.”

          “Quickly, boy. I want my gold.”

          Aaron walked over to the well. He tilted the bucket and looked into the well. It was completely dried up. He swallowed dryly but an idea popped into his head. He pulled the gold tooth from his pocket and carefully dropped it into the bucket.

          “I said quickly, boy.”

          “There’s no water. It’s all dried up.”

          “Too bad. You’ll be dried up soon too, boy.”

          Aaron walked back into position in the middle of the street. “Wait just a second. How is this fair? I don’t even have a gun.”

          The Black Rider slid a second revolver from his left holster and tossed it toward Aaron. It landed at his feet with a thud in the dirt. The sun caught reflected off it and it gleamed brightly. The barrel was as silvery as The Black Rider’s spurs. The handle looked like it was made out of pearls. Several notches were cut into it.

          “Pick it up, boy.”

          “This still isn’t fair! I’ve never fired a gun before. You should let me take at least one practice shot first.”

          The Black Rider curled his hands into fists. His ancient bones crackled. “No.”

          “But that’s not fair!”

          “You should have thought of that before you stole my gold. Now pick it up or don’t. It won’t matter in a few seconds anyway.”

          “But do you want everyone to think you’re a coward or something? Everyone will say The Black Rider is such a coward that he shot a boy in the street who had never even fired a gun before.”

          The Black Rider shook with anger. His bones rattled slightly under his baggy white shirt and black vest. He barked with his gravelly voice. “Fine. One shot. No more!”

          Aaron picked up the revolver. It was much heavier than he thought it was going to be. He had to use both hands to just steady it and both thumbs to pull back the hammer. Once he pulled the hammer into position he raised the barrel as best he could and aimed it toward the well. He slowly pulled the trigger and it fired, sending him backwards. He nearly fell to the ground from the recoil.

          A patch of dirt about three feet away from the well went up in a puff.

          Aaron’s ears rang terribly. His hands were stinging from the recoil. When he could finally hear again he noticed The Black Rider’s raspy laughter.

          “What were you aiming at, boy? That was pathetic.”

          “I was trying to shoot the rope holding up the bucket.”

          The Black Rider turned sideways, withdrew his revolver and aimed at the rope from behind his back. He shot his revolver, twirled it on his finger and returned it to his holster. The bucket had dropped into the well.

          Aaron smiled. “You probably shouldn’t have done that.”

          “And why is that?”

          “Your gold was in that bucket.”

          The Black Rider gasped and ran over to the well and dove in head first.

          The sound that came from the well reminded Aaron of the time he had accidentally knocked over his mom’s terra cotta pots from the garden shed shelf. They had shattered all over the floor and left potting soil everywhere.

          The Black Rider’s horse reared up, blew flames from its nostrils and disappeared in a puff of red smoke. Aaron felt it was safe enough to look into the well. There was nothing but a pile of scattered bones and a skull looking up at the sky. Its gold tooth was back where it belonged.



Brian Barnett



“All right class, does everyone have their gift baskets ready?” Mrs. Thompson asked.

Kate quickly ran the edge of her scissors down the last three strands of ribbon causing them to form into tight bouncy curls around the handle of her basket. She rearranged the cellophane wrapped cookies again to make them as presentable as possible. A couple of them had burnt and most were sure to explode into crumbs after the first bite, but Mrs. Thompson had insisted for everyone to make their own care baskets. A quick look around the room told her that most everyone had just bought soaps, candies, house slippers, or books.

The class was destined for Willow Shade Retirement Community. The specific assignment was to bring gift baskets to its residents to, hopefully, bring them some holiday cheer before the Christmas season.

Kate glanced at the name on the card attached to her basket. Cybil.

She hoped Cybil would appreciate the cookies, or at least the effort.  Kate had never baked before, and aside from wrecking the kitchen, she ruined two batches before finally making a dozen or so that was at least passable.

Her dad had tried to hide the fact that he spit his samples out from the first two batches. At least he choked one down from the final batch with only a slightly bitter face.

“Line up, we’re heading to the bus.”

“Kate! Here’s my half.”

Kate sighed as Carlie tucked a hand-made card between a pair of cookies.

“So you just made a card?”

“Well, yeah. I spent almost a half an hour making it.”

“Do you have any idea how long it took me to bake these cookies?”

“Some of us don’t have time to bake.” Carlie flipped one of the cookies, exposing its too-brown underside. “Man, you must be terrible at baking.”

They joined the line leading out of the classroom and made their way to the bus where they shared a seat. After a brief safety instruction, the bus drove the class around to the Willow Shade Retirement Community building.

Kate and Carlie waited their turn to exit the bus and followed the other students into the building. Mrs. Thompson and a few of the retirement home’s staff divided up the class to escort them to their assigned resident. A lady whose name tag read Anna led them down a hall.

“I sure hope she likes burnt cookies.” Kate sighed.

“Maybe they won’t allow her to eat any. She could be on a special diet or something. But hey, at least she has a card.” said Carlie.

They reached room 13 and Anna knocked on the half-open door.

“Ms. Cybil, these two ladies would like to spend a little time with you, if you don’t mind a visit.” she announced in an overly cheerful, sing-song voice.

The overhead light buzzed and flickered a bit as Anna led the girls into the room. Kate noticed a large number of dead bugs collected in the glass covering the lightbulbs.

Anna huffed. “The lights in here are so stubborn. I’m going to have to call maintenance again.”

A lady sat alone in the corner near the window. The curtains were closed and despite the lights being on, the corner somehow seemed darker than the rest of the room.

It was hard for Kate to make out the lady’s features. But she didn’t seem happy to have visitors. Anna gripped the curtains and pushed them aside allowing the mid-morning sun to brighten the room.

Kate nearly gasped now that the old Lady’s face was clearly visible. It was a mass of wrinkles, and her eyes were so dark. They were like two sinister beady voids that glared at the nurse.  

The lady spoke with a voice of gravel. “I like the curtains closed.”

“I know that, Ms. Cybil, but now these two ladies can see your beautiful face.”

Kate had hoped that this lady wasn’t Cybil. She had hoped she was a roommate or maybe a relative who was visiting. She wanted to hide the basket of burnt cookies.

Cybil slowly turned toward the girls. “What are your names?” she demanded.

“Huh?” was all Kate could answer.

“Your names, child. What are your names?”

“I’m Kate.”

“Of course you are. And who is that?” she gestured toward Carlie with her shaky, vein-covered hand. Carlie was on her hands and knees looking under Cybil’s bed.

“That’s Carlie.” Kate finally noticed Carlie on the floor and nudged her with her foot.

“Oh, hi! I’m Carlie.” She climbed to her feet and dusted her knees. “I thought I saw a cat.”

“You did see a cat. Her name is Bella Donna. Don’t go near her. She doesn’t like people.”

“Well, I can see you are all acquainted,” Anna said. “I’m going to check on the other rooms and I’ll be back a little later.”

Kate tried to use her eyes to plead with her to stay. Whether or not Anna caught the hint, she left the room, anyway.

Kate turned back to Cybil, who hadn’t stopped scowling.

“So, uh, we brought you a gift basket.”

Cybil continued to scowl.

A tinkling bell caught Kate’s attention. Bella Donna had jumped onto the bed. Carlie tried to pet her.

“I warned you once, girl.”

Bella Donna swatted Carlie and left deep scratch marks on the back of her hand.

“Ouch! Your cat scratched me.”

Cybil chuckled under her breath. Her crooked smile exposed brown teeth. “Bella Donna is a pretty one, but she is dangerous to touch,” she whispered.

Carlie disappeared into the bathroom and began washing her wound.

“Um,” Kate tried to salvage the visit. “I brought cookies. I made them myself.”

Cybil peered into the basket. With surprising quickness, she snatched it from Kate and placed it on the bedside table. “Thank you, girl.”

Kate found herself staring at the old woman, not knowing what else to say. Cybil sat almost perfectly still in her wheelchair. Her long gray hair had been pulled into a braid that nearly reached the floor. Her eyes, Kate noticed, were a mottled gray-green. They somehow looked younger than the rest of her.

“In my day I would accuse someone of being rude for staring at me like that.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just daydreaming. I do that when I’m tired. I was up late baking the cookies and I guess I didn’t realize I was staring.”

“I see you like to ramble when you are nervous, too.”

“Yeah, I do that, too.”

Carlie returned from the bathroom with a paper towel held against her hand. “Did you see my card? I made it myself.”

“I’ll look at it later.”

Bella Donna hissed as Carlie passed the foot of the bed.

A sharp double knock started the girls. It was just Nurse Anna returning to the room. “All right, girls. I think it’s about time for Cybil to get ready for mealtime. I hope everyone enjoyed the visit!”

Leaving the room was a relief for Kate. It was an even bigger relief riding the bus back to school. That was, until Carlie showed her the card she’d made.

“You took back your card?”

“Yep. If she can’t keep her cat under control, she doesn’t deserve my card.”

Kate felt uneasy again. She couldn’t shake the scowl on Cybil’s face. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think she was a witch.


          Kate finally made it home after basketball practice and a quick trip to the grocery with her mom. It was past seven o’clock and the sun had gone down a couple hours before. Fortunately, her dad had stayed home to prepare supper. She was starved.

          The house seemed extra quiet for some reason. Kate thought maybe it was because it had been a long day and Cybil’s weird stare still had her nervous. She sat at the table after her dad slid plates of food in front of everyone. Chicken, macaroni and cheese, and peas. Dad’s specialty, she thought.

          “How was practice?” he asked with a mouthful of food.

“It was good. I hit fifteen free throws in a row at one point, so I guess I’m getting better.”

“Wow, I guess that hoop I put up on the garage must be coming in handy.”

The hoop was crooked and only eight feet high, but she nodded, anyway. “Yeah, I think it has been. Thanks again for putting it up.”

Just before taking a bite, Kate’s mom asked, “How was the retirement home visit? What was her name? Cybil?”

The light over the dining room table flickered.

All three looked up at the same time.

“Well, that’s odd.” said her dad. “I wonder if there’s strong wind outside or something.”

“I don’t hear any wind,” said her mom. “Anyway, did she like your cookies?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t try any while I was there.”

          Kate was about to stab at her macaroni and cheese when the light flickered again. Between flickers it seemed as if her macaroni was moving. She leaned closer and saw that it wasn’t macaroni. It was a pile of writhing maggots. She screamed.

          The light came back on, and her dad reassured her. “It’s all right. It’s probably a windstorm or maybe it’s lightning somewhere.”

          “No, it’s not the light. It’s my food. It was moving!”

          Both her parents were looking at her as if she’d lost her mind.

          “So, where was it going?” her dad asked.

          “I’m not joking! My macaroni was squirming like maggots or something.”

          Her mom dropped her fork and pushed her plate away. “Well, there goes my appetite.”

          “It was just your imagination!” Her dad tried again to reassure her. “Sometimes your mind can play tricks on you in the dark. See, look . . .” he stabbed some macaroni and took a bite. “Mmm, I made the three-cheese variety.”

          Kate nearly gagged at the thought of tiny maggots bursting between his teeth.

          “Can I just eat a little later? I have homework and I’m tired.”

          “Yeah, I’ll wrap it up for you,” her mom said. “Do you feel okay?” She reached over and felt Kate’s forehead.

          “I feel fine. I’m just tired and I just freaked myself out a little, that’s all.”

          Kate went straight to the bathroom to brush her teeth. The flavor of the food was still in her mouth, and it turned her stomach.

          While brushing, she thought she heard a tinkling of a bell. It reminded her of the sound of Bella Donna’s bell. That’s impossible, she thought. She brushed faster so she could leave the bathroom and get to her room where she felt the safest and most comfortable.

          She spat into the sink and rinsed her mouth. When she looked back up, she saw a shadow shift on the wall.

          She turned and scanned the bathroom. Of course, she was the only one there. So, what could have made the shadow move? Or was it just her imagination again?

          Kate rushed away from the mirror and jerked the bathroom door open. She ran through the door and immediately ran into someone.

          “What on earth, Katie!” said Kate’s mother, who was rubbing her forehead.

          “I’m sorry! I was just in a hurry to get my homework done.”

          “That must be some exciting homework. Please be more careful.”

          “I will,” Kate said as she jogged to her room.

She closed the door behind her and immediately slipped under her covers. She didn’t have any homework. But it made for a good excuse to get some privacy.

Kate stared at her ceiling, wondering what was going on. Had Cybil traumatized her that badly to cause her to hallucinate? Or maybe she was just really tired and making something out of nothing. Or maybe there was a third option. But it was crazy. Maybe Cybil was a witch.

That can’t be possible, Kate told herself. Witches don’t exist. She just looked like one and she was a grumpy old lady. Nothing more.

Kate felt herself getting sleepy. It was only nearly eight o’ clock but it had been a long day after a late night of baking cookies. She turned off her bedside lamp and slid further under her covers. She began to doze.

Somewhere in the room she heard a tinkling bell. It’s your imagination, she scolded herself. Get a grip!

She doubled up her pillow and rolled to her side, determined to go to sleep.

The bell tinkled again, and something jumped on her bed.

She clenched her eyes tighter. I’m not going to look. There’s nothing there. I’m imagining it.

She felt the weight of a paw climbing up the blanket onto her hip. About the weight of a cat! Her eyes opened wide with panic.

But she didn’t see a cat. Instead, near the bed she saw a shadow that was darker than the darkness of the room. It was in the shape of an old woman in a wheelchair. Cybil.

The shadow’s eyes were two glowing gray-green points of light. It reached out its arm and placed something on Kate’s dresser.

In a moment of pure adrenaline, Kate quickly reached over and snapped on her bedside lamp.

The room was empty.

Nobody was in her room. No cat. No shadow. No Cybil.

But there was a basket on her dresser. Kate slowly slid out of bed and walked over to look into the basket.

There was a note in the bottom covered in burnt cookie crumbs.

It read: Thank you for the wonderful cookies.

Brian Barnett is the author of the middle grade novellas Graveyard Scavenger Hunt and Chaos at the Carnival. He has over three hundred publishing credits in dozens of magazines and anthologies, such as the Lovecraft eZine, Spaceports & Spidersilk, Blood Bound Books, and Scifaikuest.

Site Maintained by Fossil Publications