By Coffee and Horror Contest Second Place Winner, Aislinn Forbes
It smelled like coffee. Like my mother on late Sunday mornings and college cafes. Like comfort. Which didn’t make any sense, because the backyard of my house usually smelled like a mixture of rotten leaves and smoke from the neighbors wood stove. Not bad smells, by any means. I’d come to love them in the early spring, because it blended the seasons together, fading winter into new growth.
That afternoon I was raking up the sodden leaves revealed by the melting snow. The ones I had put off raking up in Autumn, until the first permanent snowfall took the choice away from me. It was wet, slimy work, and water dripped from the trees overhead down the back of my shirt, no matter where I stood in the yard. The frigid water slipped down my spine like a clawed finger, pooling at the lip of my Carhartts.
Jacob usually helped me, but he was gone. Moved out to California to follow his dreams of writing a movie script, a passion I found too foolhardy to understand. Too foolhardy to support. And so, here I was. Sole owner of a two story home in rural Vermont, suddenly paying twice as much in monthly expenses.
And my backyard smelled like coffee.
I set down my rake against the gnarled tree Jacob tried to insist we cut down. The scent was getting stronger, and a cinnamon tinge I hadn’t noticed before came to the forefront. As if someone had reached into my mind and discovered exactly how I most liked my coffee.
I followed it into the damp woods behind the house, past the attempt at manicured lawn. The ground was spongy with revived moss and sprouting mushrooms. A spring chill whispered through the branches overhead.
I kept going, wandering around in circles trying to discover the source. The sun was beginning to set. I considered giving up, but it seemed like I had already put in too much effort to stop. It was getting colder, and the coffee smell had shifted from comfortable and fresh to dark and acidic. I was getting concerned that something was burning out here.
There. Tucked underneath the branches of a willow leaned a shack, one section of the roof caved in. That was definitely where the smell was coming from. Concerned that someone might be living there, I knocked.
The voice was old. Older than my grandmother, or so it sounded. It created an awful dissonance with the childish joy of the tone.
I pushed on the door. It was poorly built, but surprisingly gilded silently open. A coffee pot sat, unattended, in the middle of the floor. There was a brown crust, but no coffee, and no fire or burner anywhere to be seen.
“Hello?” I called.
Uncertainty sputtered in my chest. I knew I had heard someone. Had I imagined it? Was all of this in my head? Was I wondering through the woods following hallucinations?
“Don’t stand out there in the cold,” the voice chided.
The inside of the shack was no warmer than the outside. But I didn’t want to be rude. I needed this person to trust me so I could help them get out of there, if they were real. I closed the door behind me.
The shack still looked empty. Something icy gripped my stomach. The back of my neck prickled and I felt like vomiting. I turned back toward the entrance.
The little old woman was standing in the corner that had been hidden by the open door. Her hair was long and ratty, her clothes threadbare.
“It’s been so long since I had a guest. Would you like some coffee?” she asked me.
Her voice. Oh god, her voice. Like a cake left out long enough to rot. Sweet and cloying and wrong.
“No, thank you.” I replied.
She smiled. Her teeth were yellow with black cavity spots, “But isn’t that why you came here?”
I felt like I needed to rest my head between my knees. My armpits were sweating, the wetness running down my sides. I shivered.
“Is there someone I can call for you?” I asked.
My voice sounded shaky and unsure. She reached out a bony hand and grasped my wrist, her too long nails biting into the skin below my sleeve. It was a gesture that appeared like comfort, but felt like a shackle. She was so much stronger than I would have thought.
“You are all I need,” she said.
I ripped my arm from her grasp, feeling her nails tear my flesh. I broke through the rotten wood of the door, pumping my arms and running as quickly as I could. I looked back, to see if she followed me. She was only standing in the doorway, licking my blood from underneath her nails, eyes gleaming after me. Like yellow lanterns.
I ran faster. I ran until I saw the familiar faded white walls of my house. I ran all the way inside. I managed to lock the doors before I vomited into the kitchen sink. I spit, and drank water from the tap to swish the bile out of my mouth. I splashed some water on my face. I dried it with a towel usually reserved for hands.
I looked up, out the kitchen window.
She was there.
Looking at me.
Licking her fingers.
Aislinn Forbes is a Senior at UMF, with a major in History and a minor in Creative Writing.