Brittany Foley, BFR Editorial Staff

Walking back up the stairs towards her apartment door, she held her head high, determined to enter her new home feeling confident and prepared. Yet, once the door shut behind her with a bang, a noise much different than the one her door at home made, the breath rushed out of her and so did the tears. She leaned against that unfamiliar door and wished more than anything that she was home with her family, that she could have gotten into the car with her mom and left her unfurnished apartment standing vacant and far behind her.

Frustrated at her weakness, she wiped the relentless tears from her face and headed towards the bathroom. A shower would rid this unwanted homesickness from her skin and leave her feeling ready for the school year. At least, she hoped it would.

After getting undressed and stepping into a shower also tainted with a foreign feeling, her mind focused on the hot water cascading over her. Before long, she was oblivious to the sadness and unfamiliarity that awaited her beyond the shower curtain.

Unfortunately, she was also unaware of the sounds emerging in the darkness beyond the curtain. Within her apartment, a creature moved slowly, tracking the girl’s movements and searching for a place to hide. It was exalted to have new and apparently vulnerable prey to hunt. Just as the shower shut off, the creature slid into a more concealed position, its heart pounding in expectation of the hunt to come.

The girl stepped out of the shower, steam clouding around her and reached for the towel that rested on the toilet. Wrapping herself quickly in an attempt to keep the heat in, she rushed to her room, cringing at the wetness seeping down her back from her hair.

After getting dressed and feeling more herself, she walked into the kitchen to get lunch started. As she grabbed a pan from the lower cabinets, she felt as if someone was watching her. With the pan in her hand, she turned and surveyed the apartment.

The closet door was open but she couldn’t remember if it had already been that way. Instead of playing into her feelings, she decided to leave it how it was. Of course she’d be paranoid during her first time alone in the apartment. She turned back to the cabinet to grab a pot as well and hoped the act of making lunch would calm her frayed nerves.

Upon seeing the girl return to her work, the creature leaned out of its hiding spot once again and grinned, its sharp teeth gleaming in the darkness. It licked its lips in anticipation and returned to its own mental preparation of the meal it was to have later on.

It had been a long day and several times the girl felt as if she were being watched. She told herself she was only being paranoid but the feeling was persistent and each time, she could not help but want more than ever to be in her old house. She was expecting her roommates to arrive at eleven the next day but the morning seemed very far away.

Laying drowsily on her bed, she picked up the book she was halfway through. A King book, one of her favorites. However, as she read, she realized that she could not have picked a more horrible genre to read alone in a dark apartment. The talk of demons and dead bodies chilled her to the bone.

Just as she reached the section in her book when the character confronts his demon, the girl heard a front door slam. Heart racing, the thought that it might only be her roommates arriving early ran frantically through her mind. She took a deep breath and walked into hallway.

Before she could enter the living room, she heard a scraping noise coming from within the apartment. She could not stop her feet from moving towards the room, knowing that it was not her roommates but still trying to convince herself that it was. Turning the corner, she peered into the darkness, cursing herself for not getting a lamp for the living room.

Looking around the bare room, she was about to go back to bed when she noticed that the closet door was closed. She was positive that she did not close it. In fact, she knew it was open when she went into her bedroom.

Just this once she’d do what her instincts told her. She’d allow the fear to settle in and overcome it. Determined to prove herself wrong, she reached for the closet door knob.

Just before opening it, she held her breath and listened.

Light breathing. She swore she could hear breathing coming from from inside. Steeling herself, she opened the door.

Her breath flew from her chest, and she clutched at her neck instinctively, attempting to protect it from what was within.

Nothing. There was nothing in the closet. No creature ready to rip her apart and consume her. No stranger looking to assault her. Nothing.

She laughed at herself, brushing her sweaty bangs away from her forehead. It was all in her imagination. She could sleep soundly tonight knowing there was nothing in her closet.

She did not hear the vent opening above her.

Yohey Cho, BFR Staff

A slimy, oatmeal-like, little blob is reacting to the edgy riff of the electric guitar. ”The very unpleasant little creature” from the Flight of the Navigator. Its cells are just beginning to awaken from their inert slumber as they begin to do little flips and contortions, throbbing together as they bathe in the fluid that is secreted from every corner around them. The rugged sound of my electric guitar fills the empty room. Leftovers of yesterday’s meal are standing there, smelling like a grimy drain and vegetables that are too green to eat. Today, I would eat an egg for breakfast. I fixed it and swallowed it down with some coffee made from deep-roasted beans. Inside the gooey stuff, a soul was pulsating. It was my soul. Satisfied with my breakfast, I played a few more cords. The goo inside me began to throb again. It was gradually growing, fusing with my body from inside.

There were trees outside. I and the goo had been walking under their needle-shaped leaves for a little while. These trees used to be different. Until the dictator put a spell on them. He took their personalities away and made them uniform.

The goo was expanding inside my body. I could tell that my membranes were being used by it as places for it to gradually siphon my bodily fluids into without interfering too much with the rest of my body.

Everyone knew that the dictator himself was just a spell. It was said that Someone, some higher being, was responsible for it.

We came close to the cliff. By then, I had turned into the goo. A waste pipe was opening up to the ground where we stood. It led along the side of the cliff to the top where the fortress stood. We went into it and crawled upwards for about half a mile. Inside, it was dark and gunky. A faint sound of music was coming from the direction of the cliff itself. As we went up, the music became louder and louder until it turned into the hum of a machine. We found an exit, and it let us into an enormous room. There were windows on all sides that were looking out onto the clouds. We walked around. Nobody was there. Just thousands of machines lined up all over the place. Some looked old and some new. Many of them looked like they were made of components from different ages put together. Others looked like they were ancient but with little fixes and extensions from all different ages. Someone had spent hundreds of years continuously adjusting and revising, probably as a way to deal with countless exigencies as they came up one after another. Some places were so covered with the footprints of fixes and adjustments they looked like the evidence of ages of sedimentations of minerals recorded in the cross-sections of land. It was hard to tell which parts were functioning. In the middle of the place, we saw a platform that seemed to be wired to the rest of the machines. It looked like a control deck. We walked up to it. There was another blob of gooey stuff. We fused with it and became rulers of the world.

Clare Suffern, BFR Editorial Staff

I have never read The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. Since I spotted it for the first time in my parents’ bookshelf sometime in grade school, I have regarded it more like a piece of furniture than a book – a staple of the house, too heavy for me to lift let alone read. I still glance at it suspiciously and wonder, “Is this directed at me?” Whomever it was intended for (let’s be honest, it was my middle sister), I’ve certainly lived up to the title.

For the most part, I’ve embraced my sensitivity. Many would balk at my sentimentality and nostalgia, but I relish the feeling of being moved by the slightest thing. Still, there is one aspect of being highly sensitive that has become rather embarrassing: my irrepressible fear of horror films.

This week, I watched The Silence of the Lambs through the slit of my joined palms and still had a panic attack. And I am twenty. TWENTY. I hyperventilated at the slightest swell in the soundtrack, and screamed bloody murder when others only winced. Despite my numerous attempts, I cannot suppress my imagination like everyone around me and make it through horror films. But this doesn’t mean that I want to miss out on an entire genre.

I negotiate this dilemma by engaging in a practice common amongst children: telling ghost stories. I solicit oral accounts of movies I am too scared to see.

From the first time my best friend gave me a shot-by-shot account of a horror movie, I was hooked. The summer after fifth grade, Helen watched The Grudge. Sitting on top of the monkey bars at the pool, she confided that she was too scared to shower alone. (Her mom stood in the bathroom during her speedy rinses for a week.) Then, out of some strange necessity to rehash her fear, she launched into the plot of the film. I hung on every detail in silent fascination.

My love of listening – to music, books on tape, horror by word of mouth – began when I was four, and coincided with my fascination with scary stories. My parents bought a copy of Classical Kids: Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery, which I listened to everyday on the couch in the attic. The bursts of the frantic violin during an eerie night scene on the waters of Venice terrified me so much that I refused to leave my spot on the cushion. I was petrified that someone might be lurking beneath me.

As I got older, I would sit with my mom in our minivan listening to Radio Mystery Theater while we waited for my older sisters to finish soccer practice. I remember crawling over the console and onto my mother’s lap, imagining the world that the story constructed while staring out of the open window onto scrimmages and the evening sky. As much as the broadcast scared me, I garnered some perverse enjoyment from the fear, the kind of enjoyment I imagine horror movies give many viewers.

Like Radio Mystery Theater and Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery, Helen’s retelling of The Grudge satisfied my desire for a good thrill without propelling me into a panic. And recounting The Grudge helped her overcome her paranoia. It was a mutualistic relationship, where both listener and storyteller thrived.

When I ask someone about a comedy or drama they have just seen, they tend to give a generic reaction. “Oh, it was alright” or “It was so sad!” or some comment of a similarly vague nature. But when I inquire about a thriller, it is not unusual for someone to recount the movie in such vivid detail that I can imagine each scene as if I were there.

I believe that the desire to give such a comprehensive account of horror movies is telling of why scary stories are so compelling: Unlike even the saddest tragedies, where the catharsis occurs during book or play or movie itself, the emotional relief from horror does not come until well after it is over. It is as if in order to fully process the terror of what has befallen them, watchers of scary movies need to retell the disturbing events. The therapeutic narration serves as the denouement to the traumatic experience.

Perhaps it reveals my naivety, but the experience of listening to a scary story delights and terrifies my imagination in the way that watching horror does for many. And I love my role as the recipient of others’ eerie retellings. A highly sensitive child turned highly sensitive adult, I have the pleasure of engaging in the sort of raw storytelling usually reserved for adolescents around a campfire.

Alagia Cirolia, BFR Editorial Staff

Ritsa watched the witches gather.

The yew forest behind the hills bordered an absurd shade of green and were scattered with wildflower growths from the spring, which trilled with laughter in the warm dusk breeze. In a small valley within it there was dirt—a great brown clearing of soft decay that felt the absence of roots. The witches trod in all manners down to this nothing-patch, where a great yellow bonfire was stoked by the diligence of the dryad crones. Most of the women, age notwithstanding, pranced in unrestricted nudity down the hills. Some adorned their nakedness with a purple mud. Some kept the golden jewelry on their arms and ankles. Some simply sported antlers, tails, teeth. Cloaks and capes lined the forest like flags as the crowd grew. No witch need worry about her possessions, her enemies or alliances, her lineage. Tonight was Beltane.

The ash drifted over on the wind, the warm musk of dead branches casting a great cloud of heady perfume that settled on Ritsa’s wool skirt as she stood in a dense copse of pines upwind. She tugged at the neck of her dress, a dark pink shift coloured by the red berries that grew on the outskirts of town. She was nearly sweating, as if she could feel the growing heat of the fire beneath her. She swept her hair, a heavy curtain of wet straw, up into a bundle with a brown cloth ribbon she had tucked inside her bodice earlier that morning. She’d probably be in great trouble if Mam knew she’d left the Old Weaver’s house, and stolen ribbons at that. But she’d seen the specks in the sky—little black dots, hiding behind clouds in the distance like inverted stars. It was the Old Weaver’s fault, really. She’d spun enough tales, and now Ritsa believed them.

The incoming flurry of women dwindled, the surrounding forest left a spiderweb of abandoned clothing that seemed to make the bonfire brighter. Even naked, it was obvious who were sisters. Though dispersed, a taller bunch all had wild raven hair, decorated with sprigs of crimson berries that looked alarmingly familiar. They seemed strong as tree trunks, wise as old willows, regal and flexible as they stood unabashed. Ritsa felt she could see the glint of their luminous onyx eyes, searching for her. The older ones who stoked the fire were a merry, sinister bunch, a microcosm of mischievery composed of the oldest hags from each clan. Their skin hung like carpets of rotting leaves from frail branches, and yet they hefted logs from various piles in some chaotic dance, occasionally stopping for a brief bout of bickering over whether the next sacrifice should be Oak, Birch, or Holly. Another few were bulbous; all soft, spilling bellies and swinging breasts. Ritsa could almost hear them despite the distance, their words popping like sonorous croaks, laughter like muffled brooks bubbling over smooth boulders. These ones all wore streaks of brown dirt—the one closest to the fire had two long trails of mud, a sister’s palms dragged down her back, and close to Ritsa garbled one with brown hand prints pressed onto her chest, as if some sooty moth hand perched in her grand cleavage.

Ritsa watched the witches make rounds, a great circle of fire-tinted flesh joining and pulling apart. They had a peculiar way of greeting; one would take the palm of the other, face up, and the other would respond similarly, until both had one arm stretched out, one hand cradling the other’s palm, and with perfect synchronicity they bent to press their lips into them as a brief kiss. Ritsa’s skin grew flushed with jealous admiration from watching the women move around each other so fluidly, imbued with such enviable elegance. The sun had begun to drift below the line of trees behind her, soon to dip all the way under the ridge of hills where her village lay just outside the forest’s western edge—and still she felt smoldering, as if a million little embers had lit under her skin until her neck and cheeks and thighs felt aflame. It must be the magic, she thought, blinking hard, stumbling in a moment of dizziness. She couldn’t think, not when she was inhaling all the heat of their Beltane fire, letting the smoky sweet yew fill her lungs and flood her brain. She’d already rolled up her sleeves, feeling sweat collect in the creases of her elbows. The witches began the ceremony. The crones, each with a different branch, exotic boughs from their home forests, held them aflame in front of them and gave a yip, shriek, chatter, as the witches began to surge forward. Each stopped in front of their older sister, cupped her hands, took a bit of the Witch’s flame, which seemed to alight in her hands like a flickering sparrow, and douse herself, letting the fire roll like water over her neck, shoulders, breasts and bottom, until it slipped over the tips of her feet and disappeared into the brown soil, leaving her glowing.

At this, Ritsa was scorched. The wool was determined to suffocate her until she was gray, her bodice scratching heavily against the delicate skin of her shoulders. With a startled cry, she lifted the dampened cloth up over her knees, hips, back, until it was merely a dusky rose flag, caught on a branch, blending into the night.

Megan Lee, BFR Staff

He fell in love with her sitting on a park bench. Her skirt, decorated with small pink flowers, rustled and flowed softly in the wind as she sat alone, absorbing the chirps of the birds and the ripples in the pond. It seemed to him as if she belonged there, as if she were born to exist exactly in that moment. Her long, blonde hair shined in the fading daylight, flowing with the wind in wispy tendrils. Her soft red sweater blended into the burnt fall landscape. She was supposed to be there. Perfect.

Then a man arrived, and the beauty was broken. She rose from her seat to greet him, this man, this black mar on an otherwise unblemished painting. They walked away together, holding hands. He held her hand carelessly, as if not aware of the graceful creature in his presence! As if she were nothing.

He walked away, angry, inconsolable. Nothing ever stayed perfect forever.

He watched her again as she worked at the diner, the dirty, disgusting diner. She was clearing away grimy dishes, still filled with other people’s half chewed food and spit. She carried away the soiled cups and plates as their eyes followed her legs, extending from underneath her waitress uniform, as they debased her to something animal, something impure. He stayed for exactly two cups of coffee, then violently crumpled up his newspaper and left the diner, the two memories of her warring in his mind. One was perfect and beautiful, the other tainted with disgusting reality.

He needed to keep her in the park forever, where she belonged.

He couldn’t sleep at night. He could only think about her in the park. Her sitting, poised perfectly as the days turned to nights. Her sitting, as the moon shined on her skin, illuminating its whiteness. Her sitting, as the stars illuminated her eyes as they stared, unblinking. He imagined her sitting as fall turned to winter and then to spring, the dandelions blooming and fluttering in the wind around her perfect immobile figure.

He would take her away, he decided, to where she was supposed to be. It had to be quick and clean, he decided, or else she would be damaged, and it would not be perfect anymore.

She walked up to her front door, jingling her keys as her weary heels clicked up the steps. Just as the lock clicked, her mouth was covered with his hand, and a quick, straight incision was made across her neck. As she fell, he caught her in his arms, nudged the door open, and carried her limp body across the threshold.

The next morning, she was sitting on the park bench. In the same red sweater, in the same floral skirt, in the same heels, she sat unmoving. The sun shined on her hair as it twirled and danced in the wind again. Even from behind the caution tape, he thought she looked beautiful. The blood had all been cleaned, except for just a little that had soaked into her hair. The stitches around her neck were barely noticeable, and although her head drooped to one side, he could still see her eyes shining in the light. Perfect.