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An Encounter with the Loveliest Dead

The home they thought would be their safe haven already had ghosts of its own.

loveliest dead ray gartonPhoto Credit: Sarah Hopewell / Flickr

The loss of a child. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare–and one that you can’t escape with a change of location.

But Jenna and David Kella tried anyway.

After their 4-year-old son Josh died suddenly, the family moved to a house on the outskirts of Eureka, California. Unfortunately, the home they thought would be their safe haven already had ghosts of its own … literally.

In the chilling ghost story The Loveliest Dead, horror author Ray Garton weaves a harrowing tale in which a house’s secrets don’t want to die.

Read on for an excerpt and then download the book on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iTunes.


 

loveliest dead ray garton

Thursday, 2:42 A.M.

Jenna sat up and listened. Had she been dreaming, or had she heard … There it was again: children laughing, boys, in the backyard, and the shriek of the swing’s chains. They were back.

She carefully got out of bed without disturbing Miles. She wore a long yellow cotton nightshirt that fell to her knees, with a giant panda on the front. Putting on David’s robe, she poked her feet into her slippers, then hurried down the hall. Halfway down the stairs, she faintly heard the music again. She stopped on the stairs and listened a moment to be sure.

It’s not Josh, she thought.

The plinking notes of Brahms’s “Lullaby” grew louder and clearer as she turned left at the bottom of the stairs and went down the hall. Light fell through the kitchen doorway, and the sound of Martha’s radio playing clashed with the delicate tune.

Martha sat in the breakfast nook. She hummed quietly, head low, elbows on the tabletop, and hands pressed over her ears, eyes closed.

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As it had the last time she’d heard it, the music came from the laundry room—from behind the basement door.

The laughter sounded just outside the window and the swings screeched. There was no wind blowing tonight.

Jenna went to the back door. She turned on the porch light, picked up the flashlight, and went out on the porch. The flashlight sent a bar of light through the misty yard. After hurrying down the steps, she stalked through the weeds and passed the beam over the slide and the swings, all around the yard, and found no one. The swings swept back and forth on wobbly chains, as if just abandoned. But she could still hear them—their laughter was directly in front of her … just behind her … to her left, her right. She stood in place and turned all the way around. There was no one there.

In the damp night, Jenna was already cold, but the phantom laughter chilled her bones. She turned and went back toward the house. Before going up the porch steps, she turned around and aimed the flashlight out at the yard one more time.

loveliest dead ray gartonPhoto Credit: Alexi Kostibas / Flickr

The laughter stopped and the light passed over empty eye sockets and rows of small teeth exposed by rotting flesh that had peeled back over the cheeks. The image of the group of dead, rotting boys lingered for a moment after they disappeared, like the visual echo of a camera’s flash after a snapshot is taken.

In her eagerness to get into the house, Jenna tripped going up the steps and nearly fell through the door. She closed the door and locked the deadbolt. Still holding the shining flashlight, she turned to the laundry room. Brahms’s “Lullaby” still played from behind the basement door. She turned and looked at her mother in the breakfast nook at the other end of the kitchen. Martha’s head was still low, her hands still covering her ears, eyes closed. Jenna was not even sure if Martha had noticed her yet—it seemed Martha was trying hard to avoid noticing anything.

In the laundry room, Jenna jerked the warped basement door open and shone the flashlight down the stairs. The light shivered ahead of her as her hands trembled, and she could feel her heart throbbing in her throat. She took a few steps down and shot the beam over the rail, down into the basement.

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The twinkling music was clear, coming from the filthy old teddy bear lying facedown on the dirt floor. The tarnished key in its back turned slowly.

I shouldn’t have been able to hear that from the stairs, she thought. It’s not loud enough to be heard beyond the basement door.

She moved the beam through the small basement, over the stacked boxes and crates and bags. Jenna half expected to see the little boy with the hooded jacket—

Mommy—

It’s not Josh.

—but there was no one down there.

loveliest dead ray gartonPhoto Credit: Antti T. Nissinen / Flickr

The teddy bear’s music gradually slowed to a stop as Jenna’s flashlight fell on the bear again. David had said he wanted it to stay in the basement, but Jenna found herself wanting to rescue the poor old toy. It might have been the tune it played—Brahms’s “Lullaby” conjured pleasant memories of a gurgling infant Josh. Jenna carefully made her way down the stairs. She heard a small clicking sound and stopped halfway down to listen.

Ticka-ticka-ticka-tick. Ticka-ticka-ticka-tick.

Jenna tipped the flashlight to the right, over the rail, and back and forth through the basement.

Ticka-ticka-ticka-tick. Ticka-ticka-ticka-tick.

It was a tiny, insignificant sound, so she ignored it and continued down the stairs to the basement’s dirt floor. She turned right and found the bear with the flashlight. A moment after the beam landed on the bear, it began to play Brahms’s “Lullaby” again, clearly and at a faster pace than it had been playing earlier. She watched the key turn slowly in the bear’s back. Jenna realized the sound she’d heard on the way down had been the key being wound up.

Her knees bent and she reached down with her left hand to pick up the bear. A large fleshy hand closed on her wrist, cold and powerful, and Jenna sucked in a breath as she reflexively stepped backward, still clutching the teddy bear. As she moved, the light sliced across a fat belly stretching a dirty T-shirt, flanked by an open denim vest, flashed up over a white, forward-tilted cowboy hat. She swung the long, heavy flashlight like a club, but it connected with nothing. The hand on her wrist was gone and there was no one standing in front of her.

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“Get outta here,” a low, whispered voice said from the darkness to her left. “You got no business down here.”

As Jenna hurried clumsily backward to the stairs, the light found him standing among the stacked boxes and crates, but the beam bounced around as she got onto the stairs. There he was again, standing near the foot of the stairs. Each time the flashlight’s beam fell on him, he melted away like paper-thin ice in the hot sun.

Still holding the teddy bear in her left hand, she stopped a third of the way up the stairs and passed the light through the basement. He was gone. She continued up. Jenna felt the cold, fat hand close on her bare ankle …

Want to keep reading? Download The Loveliest Dead on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iTunes.

Photos: Sarah Hopewell / Flickr [CC]; Alexi Kostibas / Flickr [CC]; Antti T. Nissinen / Flickr [CC]

Published on 12 May 2016

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