It was about the size of my bedroom at home had the square footage been in a rectangular form, rather than in an “L” shape, as my bedroom was, making it large enough to hold the three beds it contained without the need for any great discomfort.
Two beds were unoccupied; the third held my roommate for the night. He snored horribly, but I was too cold and tired to care. I curled up on a bed, allowing myself to be hypnotized by the glow of the candle.
I must have drifted off at some point, for when I woke my roommate was sleeping quietly, and someone had considerately made up a fire in the previously dark fireplace. Gratefully, I got up, stood by the fire and warmed myself for several minutes; I could hear the rain pounding against the “wall” the tree’s exterior provided for this room, and was appreciative all the more for the old woman’s hospitality.
I turned around, intending to gaze at my companion’s now contented slumber before trying to do the same – only to gasp, as my blood froze and my heart pounded.
He’d probably been an elderly man, once upon a time, but it was impossible to know, for his mouth and eyes were now gaping holes and only a few wisps of gray hair clung to the papier mache skin that surrounded his otherwise skeletal form. There was a brown stain emanating from the top of his head that seemed to cascade down the rest of him: blood, from long ago. I remembered the old rhyme:
It’s raining, it’s pouring,
The old man is snoring.
Went to bed and he cracked his head,
And he couldn’t get up in the morning.
It had indeed been a long time since he’d been able to get up in the morning. What I’d heard hadn’t been his snoring but, in all likelihood, the wind howling about and down the chimney.
How he’d come to be this way was anybody’s guess, but I wasn’t sticking around long enough to find out if it would happen to me too,
I quickly slipped out of the room, tore downstairs, and ducked through the toe back into the shoe. The place was surprisingly still and empty, but the light was still on in the Old Woman’s upstairs rooms. I was taking no chances – better facing the elements than a cracked head. I bolted to the front door, relieved, when I opened it, to see that, at least for the time being, it had stopped raining.
Only I’d forgotten the next part of the Old Woman in the Shoe rhyme – the part usually held back from little children:
When she came back
They were a’lying dead
She went to the wright
To get them a coffin
Only they weren’t lying dead – they were living dead, their corpses shambling about, as if in a zombie movie – perhaps that’s why she thought she’d only need one – at a time. Great – I’d the Hobson’s choice of being outside, dealing with the children of the living dead, or inside, with Lizzie Borden’s grandmother. The zombie children started coming for me – reflexively, I ran back inside the shoe, shutting and bolting the door, before I’d had the chance to think matters through.
© 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) and Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall are each now available from Amazon Books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be available shortly. The next novel of the series, By Good Angels Tenanted, will be available later in 2018