The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Scarlett R. Algee
Elise hasn’t been back to the old factory since the disappearances.
She’s never known what was made here; the gates were shuttered before she was born. But by her twelfth birthday the fence had been breached, and it’s been a late-night hangout ever since: a place to blast the music parents have forbidden, to smoke cigarettes and weed, to drink beer and have sex and try our fledgling spells copied out carefully in spiral-spined notebooks in glitter ink, protection against grounding or failing grades or unfaithful boyfriends.
Most of those hadn’t worked, though Elise has heard that Molly Tibbetts’ fiancé caught a weird rash one night.
Elise, though. Elise has always preferred to come here in daylight, on Saturday mornings, while her mom’s at work and her dad’s laid up drunk on the couch in front of some football game. To sit with her legs dangling over the edge of that huge, stained, empty rectangular pool taking up half the floor (what had filled it? Water? Chemicals? Blood? Elise likes to think it was blood), or sketch the graffiti and the rusted-out machine hulks, the patterns cast on the concrete by light streaming through broken and filthy windows. To think. To read. To be.
Then Mary Haskins had come here one night to meet her boyfriend, but had never come home. The same thing had happened with Sonia Smythe. Gabi Franks and Daniella Ramirez had come here for a party. Chalina Ramirez had followed, looking for her sister.
None of them have been seen since. Not so much as a dropped scrunchie or lipstick-stained Solo cup. The gap in the fence isn’t mended, but since all the searches have come up empty, the doors have been chained and padlocked shut.
Which does not, Elise has just realized, mean there’s no way in. One rear door has been missed. It’s locked, but that’s nothing, not when she can carefully punch the glass out of its tiny window with a rock and painfully scrape her arm through the opening to reach the inner latch and let herself in. The air in the old building is stale and musty and seems to coat her tongue; it’s like the smell in the reptile house at the zoo.
Elise covers her nose with one sleeve. She has to see. She has to know if she’ll find anything—and as soon as her eyes adjust, she does.
The empty pool has been filled. Water rocks gently beneath some unfelt breeze, reflecting the white cloud-puffs in the sharp blue sky outside, casting flickering caustics on the walls and floor.
And the statues. The statues are new.
There are half a dozen, maybe more, ringing the edges of the pool, facing it. All female; all standing.
“Weird,” Elise mutters, coughing into her sleeve, and approaches the nearest one. None of this has gotten here on its own. Some creepy artist type must have moved in after the teenagers stopped coming. Maybe that’s why that back door was accessible. She steps lightly, wishing she hadn’t dropped the rock.
But she walks up to the first statue regardless, her own creative curiosity getting the best of her. The hair is pitch-perfect, every strand in place. The clothing folds are realistic enough to seem pliable. Even the crookedly-laced shoe adorning one slightly pigeon-toed foot looks like it was taken from life.
Then Elise recognizes Mary Haskins’ face, and screams.
The cry echoes. Elise freezes, but in the split second before the noise dies, she glances around at the other statues, the other faces.
Sonia. Gabi. Daniella. Chalina. There are others Elise doesn’t recognize, but her friends are all here, as still as she is, their eyes wide with terror so exquisitely carved that even Chalina’s tears have been captured.
“What is this?” Elise mutters, and behind her, something moves.
She doesn’t recognize the sound at first; she clenches her fists and holds her own tears at bay. But then it comes closer, and with it a thickening of the reptilian musk, and Elise remembers being thirteen and finding a snake in the garage, how it had smelled, how its scales had whispered on the concrete as it moved. A hand touches the back of her neck, cool and scaled.
We’re all here, Elise thinks, we’re all here now, and she turns around.
Fiction © Copyright Scarlett R. Algee
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from author Scarlett R. Algee:
The Lift: Nine Stories of Transformation, Volume One
The hall is dark and the overhead light flickers. Sounds echo, and there’s a creaking and clanging that gets louder as you stand in the semi-dark. The elevator opens and you’re offered a ride. Step inside and ride it to the story chosen for your transformation. Don’t be afraid, for Victoria, the mysterious girl who operates The Lift, waits to guide you. Set in the same world as the award nominated audio drama, The Lift’s first written anthology features nine all new stories by fan favorite writers and special bonus content by creators Daniel Foytik and Cynthia Lowman. The collection is brought to life with beautiful illustrations by Jeanette Andromeda for each story.