Childhood Ghosts

Photographer: Press photo

“I talk like a sailor,” Kelli Owen says. “Sorry if I’ve been swearing.” Owen is a (somewhat) mild mannered accountant by day. But by night she switches from numbers to letters writing thriller and horror novels. “I’m one of those rare left- and right-brained people,” she says. We haven’t seen what she does with numbers but she does some scary shit with letters.

“Me likey horror,” Owen laughs. “I think it makes you feel alive.”

Owen moved to York from Wisconsin in 2009. “I like it here. It’s kind of like Wisconsin except it’s not 40 below,” she laughs. As a five-year old she fell in love with horror. “I brought Frankenstein home from the school library and it was all downhill from there,” she says. In 2010, she published her first novel, Six Days, about a woman named Jenny who wakes up in total darkness and realizes she’s been kidnapped. The reader joins Jenny as she tries to figure out what to do next.

kelliowen-300dpi Owen prefers creepy to gory. She writes about everyday events that you don’t think about. “I like to write about the guy next door that you don’t know what he does. I take reality and turn the key one notch,” she says.

Before Owen began writing novels she worked as an a reviewer and editor for some of today’s best horror writers including Brian Keene, author of The Rising, “Brian and I are best friends because I was the only person on the planet who said The Rising sucked,” she laughs. “I gave him three out of five stars. I was a mean reviewer.”

Owen’s next novel The Hatch is due out this December. Click here to read more of her work and to purchase her books.



Childhood Ghosts

by Kelli Owen

I hate Halloween. I haven’t enjoyed it for years. The last time I participated I was six years old. That was the year Luke Brown died.

The year we killed him.

My dad had left the previous spring, or rather he just didn’t come home after work one day. Mom had started working two jobs and tried hiding the fact she cried herself to sleep almost every night. We didn’t have much back then, just each other. But mom still had spunk. She risked her new waitress job in the name of Halloween and stole a white tablecloth for my costume.

At that age you believe in all the monsters you mimic in costume, the monsters that beg for candy and giggle. At six years old, it’s exciting to become one of them for a night, and I absolutely believed in the ghost I was to become. Mom cut eyeholes and draped the stolen cloth over my head. I stood on a chair as she cut some from the bottom so I wouldn’t trip. I was the happiest little ghost in the world that year.

Or at least I started the night that way.

After skipping my way to every lit porch in my neighborhood, I stood on the sidewalk with several kids from school, our parents gathered further down at the corner.

Kids are cruel and will pick on others for any little thing. My father had decided we weren’t good enough for him, which made me a pretty easy target to other first graders. Fortunately, Luke’s dad had been arrested the night before–for something I didn’t even understand back then–and the other kids had a new target. I went along with it all, happy to be off the hook for the moment.

Until I became the center of attention.

“You just gonna stand there, Sarah?” Josh glared at me through his Spiderman mask. I had been nodding my approval at their remarks, staying on the good side of the miniature lynch mob, but I hadn’t actually said anything.

“No, I just…” I had no excuse. At six you’re not quick enough to react when afraid, so I did the next best thing and diverted attention back to the other target. “I heard they’re coming to get Luke’s momma next.”

The crowd of over-sugared under-mannered six-year-olds turned back to Luke as one. They were like creepy little Village of the Damned kids, except they didn’t look alike–they were a circus version in their Halloween costumes. Spiderman was the leader, but the homemade princess was definitely next in the ranks. The juxtaposition between Bailey’s glitter-covered innocence and the sneer that curled her painted lips around sharp teeth and a sharper tongue was startling. Next to her stood Zack, in a homemade pumpkin outfit which would be silly by today’s standards, but as the playground bully he could dress as whatever he wanted and no one would have said anything. Rounding out the crew was little Kelsey, appropriately disguised as a witch. A twig of a thing, she didn’t need words to intimidate–her stark black eyes were all it took to quiet a person.

Zack started the next round of Luke’s punishment by shoving him toward Josh. The girls closed ranks and formed a circle around the sheepish boy ironically dressed as Dracula. They giggled as they took turns pushing him like a Bop Bag. The back and forth turned into a round-the-clock motion, and I worried I was going to have a take a turn. The reality of that was painted in blue eye shadow, as Bailey lifted a glitter-covered eyebrow at me and used only a fingertip to shove Luke my way.

I was afraid. I know that now. But that night I only cared about being part of the crowd without being the victim. I pushed Luke toward Josh. I pushed him hard. I think I was hoping he’d fall and stay down. Looking back, I think I was apathetic to his situation. I have to think so. I have to hope I wasn’t really responsible for what happened next.

I never expected Josh to sidestep.

And I didn’t think Luke would stumble outside the circle and off the curb.

Mr. Boardman never saw him. Later he told everyone the black costume and black cape against the night was too hidden, too dark, even in headlights.

I’ll never forget the way Luke’s body folded over the front of the Cadillac when it struck him. I’ll never forget the way it sounded when his limp body slid up the hood and slapped against the windshield like a flyswatter against a sofa. I’ll never forget the way his mother’s scream echoed in the night, covering the roar of Mr. Boardman’s engine and subsequent squeal of his tires.

That was ten years ago.

I’ll be seventeen in December, if I make it through tonight.

Fear, shame, whatever the reason, I didn’t talk to the other four again until five years after Luke’s funeral, when I saw Bailey crying in the bathroom at school the morning after Halloween. It was the first I’d heard of Kelsey’s accident. She told me she’d been with Kelsey the night before, when the old wooden garage door slammed down suddenly and killed her. Bailey swore Kelsey screamed “No, Luke!” right before she heard the crunch and watched Kelsey’s can of A&W Rootbeer roll down the driveway. We called her crazy. We said it was guilt.

We changed our minds when Zack texted Josh the following Halloween. The message was one word: Luke. Zack’s parents found him under the basement fridge; one of its wheels across the room like it had suddenly popped free and toppled the unit over, crushing Zack without warning.

When Luke died, the other four had continued to celebrate the holiday and tradition of Trick-or-Treating, as if nothing had happened. Not me. I stayed home and handed out candy. Mom tried to get me to play along. She bribed me with some great costumes over the years, but it was all wasted money–I wouldn’t budge from the house. I couldn’t. I heard the tires and the scream and the slap of Luke’s body every Halloween. Hell, I heard it every time I shut my eyes until I was eight.

The year after Zack died was the last time I even answered the door. Spooked enough by Kelsey and Zack’s unexpected deaths to become superstitious, both Bailey and Josh decided to stay home as well. It did Bailey no good. Luke didn’t care if we celebrated or not.

They say she lived long enough to call 911. They say her ribs were broken and lungs punctured by the tree limbs and broken glass the sudden windstorm sent through her bay window. Bailey’s final words on the police recording were supposedly, “I’m sorry.”

I never thought Josh and I would talk after that night on the curb so long ago, but we became friends out of necessity. The rest of the school thought the connections between the deaths were all an urban legend created by the bullies to keep younger kids in check. If they’d bothered to pay attention, they would have realized Josh and I never spoke of it—only others did. And whenever it was mentioned, our eyes showed nothing but fear.

Fear won’t keep you alive though.

Far from any type of perceived danger, Josh spent the next Halloween night in his basement rec room, playing Nintendo and trying desperately to busy his mind and calm his nerves. We called each other every hour on the hour to check in. When the sacks were full of candy and the street’s porch lights were all off, we thought we were in the clear. We presumed Luke only came back during the hours of Trick-or-Treating.

We were wrong.

I never heard anyone explain why the ceiling fan was even turned on in October, but it was. It was still going when the cops arrived, wobbling off center with a missing blade. No one ever said if it had a crack or loose screws, never explained how the fan blade broke free. They only talked about the decapitation my mother claims was pure gossip.

Four funerals in four years…

It’s Halloween again. The last year has sucked. This is not what sixteen should feel like. I’ve been completely pushed out of any and all cliques at school. I don’t have one single person I can call a friend. People are afraid to associate with me. They know I’m the last one. They know what I know–when I’m gone, the Halloween deaths will stop.

My mom doesn’t believe any of it though. She says there was a logical reason for each of them and the dates are just coincidence. While others call it a town curse, she smiles and reassures me there is no such thing. I thought she just said it to make me relax, but she believes it enough to have gone out with Cheryl tonight. Tonight of all nights.

AMC is playing a horror movie marathon but the television is only on as a distraction, background noise. I’m not paying attention to it at all. I’m babysitting Cheryl’s six-year-old, like some kind of karmic punishment, and watching the clock. Mom should be home any minute. It’s five to midnight and little Riley’s sugar high has crashed her into a crumbled heap of sleeping princess on the couch.

Five minutes. I just have to wait five minutes and I think I’ll be in the clear. At midnight, it won’t technically be Halloween anymore.

Except someone knocked on the door a minute ago.

The front light has been off since mom left, hours ago. But the streetlight is just strong enough to illuminate the porch. Through the curtains I can see a Dracula costume and pumpkin candy bucket. A pale hand reaches up and knocks again. Harder this time.

Four minutes. I stare at the grandfather clock in the dining room, willing it to tick faster. Headlights relax my jaw as I see mom’s car round the corner.

“Sarah.” The whisper comes from behind me and I spin to see Luke standing over Riley, his wooden stake prop raised high over his head.

“No!” I try to lunge for him but am frozen in place.

The ticking from the dining room is the only sound I hear. Time slows as I watch the stake come down. The pink of her princess costume slowly change to red as the puddle spreads. I hear myself scream as I regain control of my legs and run to the couch, grasping at the air where Luke stood.

I don’t even realize I’m crying as I look down at Riley, her eyes wide in silent shock. I don’t hear the front door slam open, or feel the hands that pull me away from Riley’s still form.

Later they’ll say it was me they saw in the window. They’ll claim it was fear and superstition and guilt. They’ll know the truth, but they’ll never accept it.

They’re too old to believe in ghosts.



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Posted in Articles, Arts+Culture – Harrisburg, Arts+Culture – Lancaster, Arts+Culture – York, Harrisburg Headlines, Lancaster Headlines, PROfiles, York Headlines

Mike Andrelczyk is a features editor for Fly Magazine. He is a graduate of Penn State University and currently lives with his wife Stacey in Strasburg. Interests include tennis, playing bad guitar, poetry (poems have appeared in Modern Haiku, The Inquisitive Eater and other journals) and oneirology – the study of dreams – mostly in the form of afternoon naps. His name appears in the title screen of Major League 2.

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