Last year, Blumhouse Books held a short story contest, and the winners are featured in our book, THE BLUMHOUSE BOOK OF NIGHTMARES: THE HAUNTED CITY (now available). The story posted below is one of our fantastic and spooky runners-up.
Blumhouse.com is proud to present:
By Blair Kroeber
Like most girls in Los Angeles, Gisele was skinny, but thought she was fat. Let’s just say she was more or less constantly dieting, and never in doctor-recommended ways.
There’s another fact, too, you should know going in, and it’s this: I didn’t make up any of what I’m about to tell you. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, S.U. students have been swapping rumors of Black-Eyed Susan since forever. Girls, mostly. The ones with body issues. Hold up, let me amend that – most girls have body issues. I’m talking about the ones who take action on it. You can bet they know the legends.
But you just wanna hear about the accident, right?
That’s correct, Patty, but feel free to come at it any way you like.
So it was Wednesday, day before Thanksgiving. Campus was clearing out for the long weekend. I’d just finished my last midterm and was looking forward to some alone time that evening. My mom – so scatterbrained – she’d booked my flight home for the wrong day, so I couldn’t leave town till Thanksgiving morning. But that was fine. I planned to veg in my room, stream some shows on Netflix, and order up Papa Johns. They deliver to the dorms – I don’t know if you know that – and they accept Munch Money.
Okay, nice. Go on.
But when I got back to the room, Gisele was still there, which caught me by surprise. For weeks she’d been talking to her friends about how she planned to spend Thanksgiving in Tucson with her boyfriend Devin’s family.
I was real casual as I mentioned it. “Thought you were going out to meet Devin’s folks this weekend.”
She was standing in front of the mirror, the big stand-up one she’d brought from home, turning sideways and inspecting herself. “Change of plans. Devin and I split up a couple days ago.”
“Aw, sorry to hear it…”
“Thanks, it’s cool. He’s kind of gauche anyway.”
That was the word she used: “gauche”. I remember because I had to look it up later on the dictionary app on my phone. Gisele’s always using fancy expressions like that. Even though she grew up in New York, her mom’s French and her dad’s Basque, so she’s super-cosmopolitan. She’s done a bunch of runway modeling, a bit of acting. Since arriving to Los Angeles, she’d even started attending casting calls, meeting with agents. Point is, she’s the most sophisticated person I’ve ever met.
As for the boyfriend, Devin, that was the last we spoke of him. Evidently Gisele wasn’t too broken-up about the split, because she just plunked down at her laptop and started clicking through thinspiration blogs – page after page of thigh-gap photos, red carpet snapshots of Rooney Mara, Allegra Versace, Victoria Beckham in bare midriffs and scoop-back gowns. Ribs and shoulders and protruding thighbones. Gisele sat all hollow-eyed in the computer-glow, picking at her scalp, studying the images.
She was fighting off cravings, I could tell. She always pulled up these sites when she felt hungry. Either that, or she thumbed through her Yuck Book, this homemade journal chocked with hi-res photos of obese people, animal carcasses and gross-looking food.
So you knew she was struggling.
Oh, for sure. Why else would she opt to stay on campus by herself over Thanksgiving weekend, if not to steer clear of all the turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie? But she and I weren’t exactly besties, so it’s not like I was planning to stage an intervention anytime soon. I mean, hell, I made a point of avoiding the subject entirely.
And so it went that day, as afternoon crawled toward evening and the building fell silent. Finally Gisele pulled herself away from the computer and crawled out of her chair – then went swooning. I leapt from my bed to catch her, but she had already steadied herself.
“All good, just a head-rush,” she said. “Poor circulation runs in the family.” A lie, of course. We shared a living space – I’d heard many of them. But after a moment of recovery, she perked further. “You feel like going out, getting a drink?”
I didn’t know what she meant. Getting a drink? We’re both eighteen. Then again, it seemed sort of expected that we’d hang out, being the only ones there. So I agreed.
Outside the campus was deserted, this weird stillness hanging over the place. A cool wind scattered leaves, fast food wrappers across the lawns and walkways. I kept waiting for one of those zombies from The Walking Dead to appear, but nope.
Gisele and I wandered along College Park Loop to the edge of campus and then out to the empty streets beyond. Even here, the boulevards were vacant, but in the distance you could see the glowing ribbon of the Harbor Freeway, all choked with cars.
Turns out “getting a drink” meant stopping into the first liquor store we could find. Gisele picked out a bottle of Absolut, another of Perrier, and flashed a fake ID at the clerk. I’d long-since aborted my Papa Johns plan: the notion of stuffing my face in Gisele’s presence left me feeling intensely self-conscious. Instead I dug a microwaveable Lean Cuisine from the freezer case and paid for everything with my parents’ credit card.
So the two of you consumed alcoholic beverages that night?
We did. Gisele mixed up vodka sodas, strong ones. Empty stomach like hers, she got wasted pretty quick. Or maybe she wanted to purge the excess calories once the alcohol had hit her bloodstream? I’ve heard Ana/Mia girls do that. Either way, before long she went scooting down the hall to the bathroom. I grabbed my Lean Cuisine and headed for the kitchen to nuke it, but moving down the corridor, something about the quiet of the place brought me to a halt.
All that silence, it was like a sound unto itself.
Till I realized there was a sound: a group of rowdy students hollering and laughing upstairs. But then the wind shifted outside; the noise faded into the distance, and I realized I was hearing voices from someplace far away. The dorm was empty, like I thought.
But then an echo – for real this time, and close by – came carrying down the hall. Muffled sobs. Was it Gisele? I glanced toward the door of the big communal bathroom. Was she weeping in there?
So did you go investigate?
Totally. I mean, how could I leave her ugly-crying in a bathroom stall? I went pushing through the door. Except, as I moved toward her stall, I could see Gisele wasn’t crying. She was knelt at the toilet bowl, sure, but finishing up a purge – hacking, sputtering, a thread of vomit dangling from her lips. The whole space thick with that acidy smell.
“Hey, um, Gisele…?” I said.
She shooed me away. “Leave it alone, girl. I’m fine. Just need a minute is all.”
“But… was that you crying in here?”
“Nobody’s crying – now get out, okay?”
I moved to the door, opened it, let it clunk shut so that she’d think I’d left. Meanwhile, I tried to think how to handle all this. No way could I leave my roommate alone all weekend in that sort of shape. Maybe it was time to say something?
She noticed me lingering there. “What’re you doing, Patty? I said go.”
But as I began to speak, her body went taut and she shushed me abruptly. “There it is, yeah,” she said. “Someone’s crying.” Her head tilted as she strained to listen. “Holy shit, you hear it?”
Going very still then, I heard it again.
Muffled sobs, sounding from every direction.
Gisele turned toward me to speak, but her movement tripped the toilet’s motion sensor. It roared – flushing itself. Gisele started, blinking back toilet water. She braced her hands on the bowl to lift herself, but the toilet flushed itself again, the gulp of water catching her pony and sucking it down the drain. Her head wrenched down, clanked against the porcelain. She shrieked, gripped her hair, tried to tug it free.
“PATTY, HELP!” I remember how her voice reverbed off the tilework.
Shock grabbed me hard. I gawked at her, then finally lurched forward, caught her free hand – pulled. She wailed in agony. I heard a tearing like Velcro, and a hank of blond hair ripped from her scalp as the toilet swallowed it up along with her ponytail.
We hit the floor together, hard. The toilet gurgled and spit. Then all of them – all six or seven toilets in that row – were sputtering out a chunky pink lava of human vomit. It splattered the floor, lapped toward us. Gisele and I fumbled to our feet, screaming, and stumbled to the door.
Out in the corridor, the air was heavy with those sobs.
We sprinted the hallway to our room and clapped the door shut.
Gisele, gasping, moved to the mirror to inspect herself. A whole patch of her back head was pink and meaty, stippled with torn-out root follicles. She gaped, eyes huge.
That was when the glass exploded.
I can only tell you what I witnessed. The glass popped out of the frame. First from that stand-up mirror, then the mirror on the back of the closet door, and finally the one over my desk. Glass, just rocketing from every direction. I felt a tickle along the back of my neck, a hot sizzle across my forehead, then warm blood trickling from both. Gisele and I were screaming as we crouched to the carpet, glass clinking all around us.
I don’t understand. What caused all the mirrors to shatter simultaneously?
You’ve heard what they’re saying – seismic tremors, all that bullshit. But I can only tell you what I saw that night. And mini-earthquakes, whatever kind of mumbo-jumbo, it doesn’t explain what came next.
And what was that?
So we got moving out the door, glass crunching under our feet. We’d both been drinking, remember, and I tripped on the doorjamb, hit the cinder block wall of the corridor. There was this fleshy thunk, and the hallway went all colorful for a few seconds. Gisele made no sound, and as the colors passed away, I saw why.
Black-Eyed Susan was there, far end of the hallway. Watching us.
What did she look like?
Youngish, grotesquely thin, her legs like broomsticks. Lots of sharp angles, too – shoulders, elbow knobs jutting. And those coal-colored eyes watching us from the grooves of their sockets. Trickling tears, too, the droplets heavy-looking against the gauntness of her face. Both of us were deep in shock as Susan crossed to us, her movements flickery, like sped-up film.
And then she was gripping Gisele. Her fingers, I remember, were yellowed – from too many nights shoved down her throat, it seemed. Then those sobs turned to shrieks, Susan’s lips pulling back from acid-burned teeth. She pressed her face toward Gisele’s, and I thought she meant to suck the life right out of my roommate, but instead it was some darkness and agony that came gusting out of Gisele’s mouth and eyes. Even with her face all dribbly with blood, her hair clumped with gore, I could see the haze of torment and fatigue and starvation clear from her face. And then Black-Eyed Susan was rounding past us and herky-jerk vanishing around the bend in the hall.
You’ve read the police report, right? When it was done, they dropped us at the Marriott on Exposition, where we booked a room till our parents could get to town the next morning.
We ordered room service. I managed to get some tomato soup, french fries, even a bit of cheeseburger into Gisele. She was brightening, gradually. We both slept easy, too, because Black-Eyed Susan didn’t want either of us, really. She’s an exorcist. And the demon? Was Gisele’s illness.