GHOULFRIEND 2, 251 words
By David Perlmutter
Gary knew he shouldn’t be going outside that late at night, but he wasn’t afraid. He knew that most of the talk he had heard about the place was just that- talk. How could it even be possible, in his young mind, that there was the kind of life after death there that he was being warned against all the time in there, anyway? Curiosity, in his mind, won out against all that, since he was, a young boy nearing adolescence, still of an age to be curious about things in the word, without adding anything remotely resembling cynicism to that mix.
If there was anybody living in the old Hawthorne place, up on the hill, after all the years since it had been abandoned, they weren’t advertising it much by going out. The last member of the family had died out long before, and no one had come to take over the house since then. There was too much that was necessary, particularly, in order to restore it to a decent living condition, as the later generations of the Hawthorne family had allowed it to become decrepit. As decrepit as they had become themselves, so it was said.
Not that Gary himself was in any way put off by this. As just noted, he was curious about the place, and the more it was mentioned, the more he thought about it, and the more it seemed to intrigue him. He had gotten a fixation on the supernatural world at a very early age and it still consumed his thoughts regularly. So, if he was to perish through the actions of any otherworldly beings who now called the Hawthorne estate home, that was just fine by him.
Besides, if there was such a thing in that place living after death, he knew he wouldn’t be alone. He had friends and relatives there who had passed on before him, so he found an odd sort of comfort in the place no one else in town seemed to have. At least, that was the impression he got when he told others about it.
Which might have been one of the reasons he kept being spurned and shunned by others in the town.
As if that mattered to him, anyway.
Once Bevis arrived at the spacious ruins of the estate, he took in the air, and admired the sculpture and carvings on the graves and tombs of the family members buried there with the eyes of a burgeoning art critic. Not wishing to disturb them, he kept a safe distance, in the unlikely event that someone- or something- might jump up and attack him.
He entered the house next, and surveyed the barren, empty rooms with the same careful eye. There was not a soul there now. Nor any sign that anyone had ever lived in the place, though this was obviously not true.
In prior days, when the Hawthorne family had been alive, well and wealthy, the spacious building housed them and the treasures they had collected in world-wide globe-trotting with gracious ease and overwhelming size. Gary knew this even as he entered the majestic hallway with its oversized rooms and ceiling even as he entered the room via the unlocked, ajar door. Not troubled in the slightest by the layers of dust and cobwebs that lay upon everything that had not been torn up or disassembled, he tried, in vain, to see through the fogged-up windows at the top of the large stairway, which led to the smaller rooms on the second floor. As he believed in otherworldly creatures, Bevis had determined that this was where they lived within the building, and he would not dare disturb their privacy by going up there and disturbing. He’d made this judgement the first time he’d visited the place, and had kept his vow for the several similar visits he had made since then.
Finally, having finished his reverence-filled visit, he zipped up his jacket and prepared to leave.
That was when he heard the voice.
“Hey!” it said.
Gary turned around, in shock. He wasn’t used to being here when other people were there. So who was this person?
It was a girl, about his age, but bigger and stronger-looking than he was. While he was dressed in long sleeved clothes for protection against the chill, she sported a bare-armed shirt, almost as an act of defiance against the weather, although she wore the same kind of long pants and shoes that he did. Her hair was black and short, and her eyes black as well. Her face had a sour and menacing expression that he typically only saw in girls when they were angry, so he guessed he had offended her by his very presence. Still, there was something in her that somehow made her attractive in a certain way he could not explain in words, so he stared at her intently. At least until she saw him doing it.
“What are you looking at?” she growled.
Being no good at public speaking, Bevis struggled to find the right words to say.
“Don’t bother!” she said, cutting him off. “I know your type. You got lost on your way home, and you need help getting back. Well, don’t ask me to lead you there, dumb-ass. You bumbled your way into this house, by the looks of it, so you can just bumble your way out of it again.”
“I’m not lost!” Gary said, in defense of his honor. “And I’m not dumb, either. I wanted to come here.”
“Wanted to come here?” she exclaimed. “That’s a new one.”
“Sure. I come here every chance I get.”
“You’re not serious.”
“I am. I don’t feel like I fit anywhere else. Communing with the deceased gives me a feeling that there’s an existence beyond life that’ll be way better than all the hurt I deal with here and now…”
“Cut out that crap!” she ordered.
“Huh?” he answered.
“Being dead ain’t no better than being alive. It’s as much the same sort of crap as being alive- except you get told you don’t matter at all, and you can’t have the kind of “real” life you living people always have.”
“And how would you know what being dead is like?”
“Because I am dead, you moron!”
At this, Bevis suddenly realized his life was in peril- even though he was not entirely certain why. He shivered and shook deeply- and not from the cold. She was dead, so was he, now, also….
“Yeah,” the girl responded, cynically. “That’s the usual response.”
“What are you?” he said. “A zombie?”
“No. I still have my brains, so I’m not one of those losers. I’m a ghoul.”
“Don’t you know what that is?”
“I would think that somebody who hangs around haunted places like this one would know of my kind intimately. We aren’t exactly the sociable type, so these kind of set-ups help us out.”
“Not me. I’ve never seen a ghoul before in my life.”
“Fine. Here’s what a ghoul does.”
She went over to him and whispered a phrase into his ear. Which caused him to withdraw from her in even greater fear than before. But also with a desire to condemn her verbally.
“That’s disgusting!” he snapped. “How can you possibly live, such as you do, by knowing that it’s only by doing that horrible practice you’re going to survive to another day? The thought, just the thought of that, makes me….”
She suddenly grabbed him aggressively by the arm, with strength he found impossible to resist.
“I figured you for one of those hypocrite humans the moment you came in!” she snapped. “Paint me as a monster, will ya? I’m just trying to get sustenance- the only way I know how. And it ain’t like you guys are all the way innocent about what you eat, either! Think about all those animals you slaughter, those plants you put in the ground, the tree fruit you scavenge. And all the land you wrecked trying to make ‘em all bigger and better for ya. It’s not like we’re any different than some of the ones of you who are more particular about what you eat- and where you get it from!”
As she dropped his arm, Gary suddenly felt ashamed of himself for condemning her, knowing that she had a point. At least he could understand why his vegetarian and vegan acquaintances had some difficulties with finding ways of adhering to their diets- and politicizing them when they felt their rights to have them in the first place weren’t being adhered to.
But what she lived on? Was that correct and proper, at all? No wonder she and her kind were shunned. You couldn’t possibly make friends with someone if you knew that they were that kind of horrible monstrosity, now, could you?
Nevertheless, he felt he should apologize. Even if you are faced with such a monstrous possible opponent, you should at least play fair with them, in the hopes that they will do the same with you.
“Bronwen. Bronwen Hawthorne. If you must know.”
“You mean….you’re one of the…?”
“Sure. You want to make a big deal out of it or something? All of us were. That was our big secret. We used to be big wheels around here, you understand?”
“I know the story. There was something about you guys being….”wrong” in the head….”
“By human standards. That’s what made us fall from grace. Our family made a ton of money being in the funeral and embalming business. That way, we had free and easy access to all the dead bodies we needed or wanted. Total satiation. And, if we’d stayed isolated and alone and kept to our own affairs, our downfall wouldn’t have happened.”
“How did it happen?”
“About fifty years ago, a bunch of us got tired of being isolated up here without any access to “civilization”, you know? It wasn’t good enough for them to be with their own. They wanted the humans to accept us and embrace us and be involved in their world and what not. So what better way to get attention and be embraced and so on than to throw one of those fancy shindigs those wealthy human people always throw to flaunt what they have. Everything went fine for the first hour or so, during the meeting and polite conversation stage. Then came dinner.”
“Dinner.” Bevis thought for a moment about that, and then realized what she was implying.
“You mean,” he said, in shock, “they served….”
“Well, what else were they gonna serve? We were giving the party, so it beheld us to provide the food for it, didn’t it? Only, once the snooty creep humans found about it, they just up and left without saying goodbye. They didn’t say nothing, but it was pretty well understood what was going to happen.
“Next night, a mob swarms on the place, trying to kill us and burn the house. We fought them off, and killed a couple, and take them into storage. But the damage had been done. Our funeral business went belly up, and we had no money to help us get the corpses we needed to survive. We ended up having to kill and eat each other just to survive, generation to generation. Until me. I’m the only one left, and it’s getting kind of hard for me to find the right food. I’m probably just gonna starve to death if I don’t get help.”
There was a short silence, as the two continued to eye each other, though now with more compassion.
“Bronwen,” said a bashful Gary, “I’m sorry about insulting your…..diet. I shouldn’t have….”
“Wouldn’t have expected you to know from the start…..uh….”
“The thing is, Gary, you got to understand is that we so-called “creatures of the night” ain’t all the things you make us out to be. And, to be honest, you’ve convinced you humans ain’t all judgemental jerks either.”
“Besides, I actually think that I kind of like you….in that dumb old romantic way you humans have of looking at each other. You being all handsome and all.”
“You think so? Well, honestly….I was kind of attracted to you to begin with. None of the other girls I know want to be near this place. They don’t…understand….”
“I do, buddy. I always will.”
To his surprise, she started kissing him. He kissed her back. They embraced, tenderly….
And that was when he felt a huge piece of steel making a loud “klonk” sound on the middle of his head. Unprepared, he fell down to his knees. Bronwen, of course, had wielded the weapon- a heavy spade that was perfect for digging in hard, packed in Earth. Such as graves.
Before Gary could recover, he felt and saw her powerful hands around his neck. He was no match for her other-worldly strength. Within moments, she had broken his neck, and he passed out, his eyes slowly closing into the sinister sleep of death.
After she had checked to see that no one was approaching, she tore off a strip of his clothes, ripped a piece of his flesh from his body, and started to consume it.
“I knew he’d fall for it,” she declared. “These young boys are so stupid and gullible. But they always have such good meat on them.”
This story originally appeared in Crypt Gnats (2019).