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The Rat Collection: Short Horror Stories

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Still Ongoing: Various short gothic horror stories connected by the theme of rats. • Ragged Body: An inattentive maid takes care of her sickly mother. • Ceiling Cracks: Observations of a loving family.

Áine James Macargee
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Ceiling Cracks, Chapter One of Five

At the table was the family of four, eating their toast and eggs served on plates painted with dainty clustering flowers and curls of foliage. Grandmother Georgia pinches at the little girl spreading honey over her toast, and in a voice so sweet, she asks,“Are you excited for our outing today, little miss Georgia,”

“Yes, ma’am, I am,” the little girl exclaimed, “do ya think we’ll see any whales and crabs?”

“I most certainly hope we do,” was the reply.

The family finished their breakfast, set the dirty dishes in the sink to soak (there are more important matters than washing right now), then packed their wicker basket with a lunch of jam sandwiches cut to triangles, and fruit tarts baked the night before; they packed apples, boiled eggs, and little butter and lemon biscuits, then covered it with a folded up gingham, and they left without me. Leaving me alone only to think of what a wonderful thing it must be, to go to a beach. Grandmother Georgia and little Georgia, mother Beth and father John. Grandmother Georgia would hold little Georgia’s hand as they descend off the dock and onto the hot sands beneath their feet, the sweet girl marveling then at the sea and wondering how far it stretches. Forever, it seems, and though it is a perfect curvature you must wonder how far it really curves, and what an incredible thing it must be then to observe the islands and ships rising or getting lost in the horizon as so many sailors and sea captains would go on to sing or to scrawl in the margins of their notes. White birds would be flying across the sky while some perch on the rocks edging the waters, and in good humor, Grandmother Georgia and Little Georgia would offer a share of bread crusts for them to peck. All just above the gentle thrushes of waves, pulling in new piles of shells to lay atop the crusts already brought in, and whatever lies loose will be thrushed again beneath the waves. These seashells are all treasures. Perfect roundness of pinks and whites, purples and deep blues, rippled and textured; others smoothed either by anatomy of the creature it once housed or beneath the waves it lost all grit it could have had. All little things to fit in the palm of a sweet little hand that shifts through the sands and unthinking yet to cherish as souvenirs. But her father John knows perfectly well what sentiment they have and compliments his daughter on the beautiful shells she has found. John, such a kind gentleman fitting of fatherhood and his only troubles are to wonder what his sweetest Beth has cooking upon her stove top, he would warn little Georgia to not venture too far into the ocean for fear of getting swept away. Grandmother Georgia and mother Beth would sit on a red and white gingham blanket, folding back the lid of their basket, and divvying out their lunch. It would be a wonderful day for a wonderful family, the only I have ever known, and it is the only way I can imagine such a family to be.

But I cannot join them. I must unlatch the square wooden trap situated beneath me, unfolding the ladder to let me go below, and then climb down where the hallway starts and the bedroom doors stand between wall hung portraits of family new and old; some so stiff from the years when people sat serious and stuffed with dust, and some candid in a garden sitting upon an ornamented iron lawn chair and drinking from a fluted teacup and on their heads are large brimmed hats decorated with flowers and ribbons. I step upright onto the neatly lined floor and stretch my aching legs that beg to be either moved or unscrewed from their sockets and discarded. My bindle is untied when I reach the living room, this room I always observe from so far and can now interact so closely. This room with a fireplace in the middle, meeting with an old rocking chair embellished with a heart shaped carving upon its headrest and each surface is canvas to hand painted lavenders - and in this chair is where grandmother Georgia sits, tugging a yarn ball from her large wicker bowl, knitting with fast clicking wooden needles upon some half finished shawl in the morning and a blanket completed by supper. I seat myself at the couch where mother Beth sits and works at her cross stitchings; verses from the bible that father John reads most every night; and outlining the romantic swirls of these verses are where she ornaments with flowers and birds in flight, of animals at rest and supper tables set with feast. Wooden horses and little fabric dolls with painted faces are strewn about the rug which matches the curtains, and the curtains which match the upholstery. Every stitch is deliberate and neat, to last through the lifetime of this family and into the next if continued to be cared for well. I take a book out from my bindle. It was some boorish magazine I wish I hadn’t read, so it goes back on the shelf from where it was missing - unnoticed, because it has now been returned - and I search again upon this shelf for any musings to entertain my lengths of seclusive bore. I picked up a nature journal, shifted through for a short while and saw all that I could see, and I put it in my bindle. Into the kitchen. Well-stocked cabinets always greeted my constant hunger pangs. All the empty cans I had acquired are replaced with what can be scrounged: gravies, fruits, and soups. Gravies, fruits, and soups. Gravies, brown and muddy and meaty; fruits, unfresh and soaked in their own brines; soups, cold and brothy. I slice off a crust of bread from the counter, and from the lukewarm tea kettle on the stove top I pour a cup of tea and sweeten it with sugar, stirred with syrup, and topped with honey. I drank it completely, refilling it then to stretch the remnanting tea leaves further than they ought to go. My bread was eaten with a spread of butter and jam. But what I hungered for most of all were the apples sat in the porcelain bowl upon the counter. Red and round, no bigger than a fist and shiny without any blemish or bruise. I took a bite. I took another. My heart fluttered. Tart or sweet, I couldn’t taste to tell. It was both, or perhaps neither; it was crisp and it was fresh, and my stomach yearned for it more than my tongue could allow to taste it. A second apple gets put into my bindle, and I take out my odd collection of jars. Each is filled with water from the basin, the lids screwed on tight and each drop of it is treated as sacred. My hands and face are washed. I unbutton my shirt, and scrub further until the grime no longer festers and fouls.

All within a perfectly empty house. I tie my bindle back up, and look around now from this angle to what I recognize to be the souvenirs of their lives all collected into these few rooms I spend so little time in but know each of their tiny little movements that echo through the walls. I look outside the window, past the curtains and past the panes, where the weather is so fair and the sky is so blue and all the plumes of clouds and all the branches of the trees are swaying in the gentle driftings of a breeze. I stretch my legs. Only in this little time I am so free and unafraid of disturbances. I must return from where I came, now or later, but inevitably and eventually. I do not belong here. And I will live in a perfect silence, as unwanted dust upon the shelf that tarnishes their souvenirs.

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suzipuzi: will you continue with the story. very good book

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Ellanore: Very good Loved the plotAnd I loved the ending and the whole storie basically

Samantha Kulasinghe: So horrible experience she got Feeling so sorry for herI hope in real life such things are never happened

Sheila Krieger: That was really good and I so very much enjoyed reading it! Thank you for sharing your work!

Superstar No1: It is an awesome book .Please bring a part 2 . 😊

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