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He could see her from where he stood on the street below. She was halfway out of the tall window and though he couldn't hear it she seemed to be screaming. What in God's name was going on? Dodging traffic Pike crossed the street to see if he could get a better look. He wasn't being nosy; he was just a journalist out looking for his next photo op. But now he didn't have his camera loaded. The Nikon hung around his neck empty and useless. Pike patted his jean pockets and felt one familiar round canister against his leg. Well at least he had a extra roll, but did he have time to snap it into the camera before the girl disappeared. He'd have to try.
        He pulled the canister from his pocket, popped the top with his thumb, clicked the button on the camera to open the film door and loaded it quickly. The lens was off and he had the view finder to his eye in a matter of seconds, head
thrown back, searching the row of windows for the girl.  They were empty. 
        He let the camera hang back around his neck and sighed, maybe he should just keep walking. No, something about that girl didn't feel right. But what could he do now that she was gone; he had no idea how to find her in such a large building. Then he heard a scream and his eyes darted back up the flight of windows. She was there, screaming and physically fighting with someone. Quickly Pike counted the floors and windows from the ground to her and was inside the building and taking the elevator to the seventeenth floor. His photo op forgotten Pike rushed through the elevator doors and into the hallway. He ran to his left, counting doors and praying he'd get there in time. As quickly as his legs ran, thoughts flashed through his head. Why was he the only one here? Why weren't others stepping into the hall, confused and frightened, trying to determine the source of the screams? The hallway was wide and deserted, dark and dingy, and his thudding footsteps jarred the desolate air.
        Room 1713 almost flew by, but Pike backpedaled to the door and began banging on it. Nothing but the echoes of his fist answered him. Raising his voice, he yelled, “Hello? Ma'am? Ma'am, can you hear me? Hey!”
        
1709's door was flung open, and a portly fellow stuck his head out into the hallway. “What's goin' on?” he called.
        Pike stepped back and shot him an incredulous look. “There's a woman screaming in there!” he told him. “Didn't you hear her?”
        “Din't hear nothin',” the man commented, and ambled out the door to investigate. Together, the two men stood before 1713, their heads cocked like the RCA dog, and listened for well over a minute. They heard nothing but their breathing, and finally the portly fellow gave Pike a look that suggested he visit Bellevue, and quick.
        “Din't hear nothin',” he repeated, and went back to his room. “Maybe you was hearin' stuff.”
        “Well, I heard!” Pike said, indignantly, but the man only slammed his door shut, leaving him alone in the hall. He knew he had. Again, he raised his fist.
        As he pounded a tenth time, a scream sounded: one of such agony and despair that Pike's heart leapt into his throat at the same time his stomach plummeted down to squash his kneecaps. Wildly, he looked about, but no one else ran outside their rooms to see who was in trouble, who was interrupting their soaps, who sounded like they were being throttled to death, and only his eyes flew back to the closed door.
        “Oh, God! Don't take her! Oh, God—NO!” the woman howled. Pike stared at the door and took a step back, unconsciously placing one hand protectively over his camera.
        “Stand back! I'm coming!” he shouted, and a second later, his shoulder had rammed into the dark paneled wood of the door, breaking the lock loose from its flimsy hold. Pike stumbled and almost fell before righting himself and glancing around.
        She stood silhouetted in the window, a fragile woman with thin red hair and features so pale they seemed to swim on her face. The bottom of her silvery slip hung crookedly below the navy blue dress she wore, and one of her black pumps was missing. In her ears were small diamond chips that nonetheless glinted in the dim light. He saw all this in the barest of seconds. She was sobbing uncontrollably, and panting, Pike ran across the dark, bland room to her.
        “Are you all right?” he asked, reaching out to touch her, but she jerked back, hugging her arms to her wasted torso as tears continued to stream down her face. Hectic red patches were high on her cheekbones.
        “My baby!” she screamed, and Pike was momentarily dumbstruck. That was the last thing he'd expected to hear; rather, he'd thought that she'd been battered, or mugged, or maybe even raped, but… a baby?
        “Your—baby?” Pike asked, when he'd finally found his voice.
        “He threw her out the window!” the woman sobbed, pointing away. Pike's gaze followed her finger to see another door standing ajar to the right of the double bed, and realized that was where the mysterious man he'd seen with her must have fled.
        Oh my God, he thought, as his gaze crawled back to the window, his panic again welling up. A baby— As he began to lean over, to peer down at what he knew he couldn't handle seeing but had to confirm, the woman grabbed him. Pike gasped aloud as his upper arms were seized in agonizing clamps of pain.
        “You have to get her,” the woman pleaded, her grips viselike, her fingers icicles. “Please! You have to get my baby! PLEASE!”
        
He considered himself strong, but he was a ninety-pound weakling compared to this slip of a creature. It was as if she had hidden wells of bottomless strength. Pike struggled uselessly as she turned him toward the open window, until his head was outside, the breeze fluttered his black hair, and the traffic below sounded more like death bells. His forgotten Nikon thudded painfully against his chest.
        “I—I can't!” he breathed, wriggling futilely, his heart jackhammering hard enough to splinter his ribcage. Still she hung on, her hair limp in her face, her pale blue eyes fixed and dilated.
        “You have to,” she breathed. For the first time, she did not raise her voice, and finally he smelled her: a rank, damp smell that grew underneath mossy rocks and flourished in caves.
        Pike moaned as she told him, “He took her from me and you have to get her back.”
        “NO!” he screamed, as he realized that the only way she meant for him to save her baby was to follow it down.
        “STOP!”
        The second before Pike would have plunged over the sill his arms were released. In a flash, he lifted himself up, only to bash his forehead against the edge of the raised window. A lightning bolt ripped through his head, and he really would have fallen out of the window if not for a new pair of bigger hands that gripped his upper arms and helped him back into the room. Wincing, Pike cautiously opened his eyes and saw a tall man with a mound of white hair staring curiously and sympathetically at him. The woman was gone.
        “Who're you?” Pike asked, straightening up. “Are you… real?”
        
“I'm Mr. Taunton, the manager,” he answered, and stepped back, satisfied Pike wasn't going to take a header out the window. “Are you okay?”
        “Yeah… yeah.” Carefully, Pike touched his forehead. A goose egg was growing there.
        After studying him, Taunton quietly asked, “So… did you see Stella before or after her baby fell?”
        Sharply, Pike looked up. “Stella?” he bleated, as the shakes began. “Was that her name?” Loudly, he added, “Did you see her?”
        “This time, but it's been years… hardly anyone ever sees or hears her. I saw her a long time ago,” Taunton answered. “She tried to do to me what she tried to do to you.” He paused. “We both got lucky; someone found us before she killed us. Mr. Dingle in 1709 called me, said some nut was snooping around up here.”
        “Ah, God,” Pike breathed, wiping a hand over his face, not realizing until he pulled it away that he was covered in sweat. Her eyes… her smell… they kept coming back to him, like a permanently looping nightmare.
        “She came here fifty years ago,” Taunton explained. “To escape her husband. As I understand it, he beat her constantly, and hadn't wanted the baby. One night he found her here, and they had a fight. When he finally saw that she wasn't ever coming back to him, he paid her back.” Mr. Taunton stopped abruptly, as if the next sentence was too heinous to utter.
        But Pike said, dully, “He killed the baby.”
        “Yes,” Taunton softly affirmed. “And her. Strangulation.” He looked around the room. “Now she's here forever, constantly reliving it, if you can call it that. She wants someone to bring back her baby.”
        Pike was exhausted from terror and his first ghost sighting. Taunton said, “We'd better get out of here before she comes back.” He put a strong hand on Pike's arm and began steering him toward the door. “We don't rent out this room anymore.”
        Pike let out a slightly hysterical laugh as they entered the hallway. “Afraid of a wrongful death suit?”
        “Afraid of someone dying, period,” Taunton said seriously, and Pike shut up. Taunton shut the door as best he could, but it would not close all the way. “Have to get that fixed today,” he murmured.
        Pike stared at him, and felt something heavy on his chest. Looking down, he saw his trusty camera, his old friend. Taunton noticed it and asked, “Did you get a picture?”
        “I forgot… I don't even think I would have had a chance,” Pike muttered, picking it up, staring into the lens. His reflection was shocked and pale, even in its dark eye.
        “No,” Taunton agreed. “Stella really wants her baby back.”
        As if to accentuate this statement, another hellish, tormented scream ripped through the air. Taunton jerked and stared at the door, but Pike could take no more. With legs that felt as if they were made of Jell-o and rubber bands, he took off for the elevator, forsaking it a moment later for the emergency stairs at the end of the hall.
        Even for a seasoned journalist, he'd seen enough for one day. And definitely no more helping out damsels in distress.


------
"S is for SUSAN who perished of fits
T is for TITUS who flew into bits..."--The Gashlycrumb Tinies, by Edward Gorey


Related Items

Comments

The following comments are for "That's What You Get for Lending a Hand"
by Elphaba

Elpha
How'd I know you'd go with the ghost theme? =D Let me be the first to say good luck, although you aren't in need of it. Very strong story, I feel honored (yet again) to be writing against someone who's writing I adore. Happy trails!

( Posted by: Darkshine Raven [Member] On: November 12, 2003 )

Ding-a-ling! We Have A Winner!
Coupla unrelated things will be mentioned towards the end. Sorry. Gave you the win on this one. Thought it was good and spooky, and I liked the way you didn't cop out with the classic protagonist-dies-anyway scenario. Also, the ethereal description of Stella rocked.

“'No,' Taunton agreed. 'Stella really wants her baby back.'”
Here's where I thought the cop out would be. If you've seen the Ring, you'd get me. (And horror addict that you are, I bet you have.)

Gunslinger; excellent. Is it just me, or do they get longer and longer? Ack. Wolves on the Calla, coming soon to a bookshelf near me.

How do you get italics in there? e-mail or something please.

10/10

( Posted by: Washer [Member] On: November 12, 2003 )

A good little story!
This is a very entertaining little ghost-story. Well-paced from beginning to end. Sorry I haven't visited your area before. I'm still getting this site figured out.

( Posted by: gsmonks [Member] On: November 14, 2003 )

chillingly good
Elphaba~

I enjoyed the tightness of your prose on this piece. You certainly didn't waste words, and that efficiency is what makes this story shine.

I would have enjoyed seeing you take this story in a different direction than your previous work would indicate, but "writing what you know" is always good advice.

I also agree that not having the protagonist meet an untimely end was a nice touch. Most folks would have killed the poor guy out of hand. All in all, excellent work, precise yet atmospheric. A difficult combination.

Bart

( Posted by: Bartleby [Member] On: November 14, 2003 )

Writeoff/Elphaba
This also, was well written. Like I told DS, I am going to vote for the both of you. With me, you both are winners, although there can only be one.

Blessings

{{{Jeannie}}}

( Posted by: JEANNIE45 [Member] On: November 14, 2003 )

Thrilling
That was a lovely read! I didn't and won't get a good chance to read it throughly for a while, but at first read it was richly described, and vividly tangible. A few lines I didn't really understand, and it seemed a bit rushed in some places, but neither were really enough to take away from the overall story. Despite the limits, you made it intriguing and exciting. I'll return for a better review at a later date. Good job!
-Kitten

( Posted by: Kitten Courna [Member] On: November 14, 2003 )

Comments
Is it all right to say something now? :)

Thanks so much for reading this. It was extremely nerve-wracking for me; volunteering in the first place, then actually sitting down to write it. But that's how I am.

Pen-- Glad you liked the name Stella. I actually contemplated putting a reference to "A Streetcar Named Desire", but didn't have the space.
Washer-- I never contemplated killing Pike at all. That's been done to death. And I haven't seen "The Ring"... horror movies terrify me. Don't laugh.
rcallaci-- Thanks for the compliments. I tried to make it as atmospheric as possible, but I think it was harder because of the constraints.
gsmonks-- You made a comment! ;) Thank you.
Jeannie-- Very sweet. Thanks.
Bartleby-- Thanks for the praise. Hrm, I actually thought this was a bit of a departure for me, to write something featuring a tangible ghost. I feel I have to protest that some of what I have here isn't horror, although most does have a darker tone.
Kitten-- Thanks for reading. I would like to know, what didn't you understand?
Jessica-- I haven't been around here too long, so I don't know much about the Write-Offs, and didn't realize that ghost stories had been done. If I had, I honestly would have tried to come up with something else.
“He threw her out the window!” the woman sobbed, pointing away. Pike's gaze followed her finger to see another door standing ajar to the right of the double bed, and realized that was where the mysterious man he'd seen with her must have fled."-- That's the reference to the man she'd been struggling with. And I thought it was alluded to afterward, when Taunton explains that Stella's reliving her husband throwing the baby out the window in the room. It's a point that I forgot about until I started tinkering with the story.

All in all, this was a very good exercise for me. I've really been striving to write shorter pieces, and this helped with that. Thanks all!

( Posted by: Elphaba [Member] On: November 14, 2003 )

You win
Y'know, I walked into this thinking I'd probably end up giving the nod to Darkshine, but here I am giving you a point more. Man, did you two ever take your stories in different directions! Both were entertaining, but yours was spooky while hers was lighthearted, so I liked them for different reasons. I was able to visualize more of your story as well, which is mostly why I gave it the higher score. I also appreciated the way in which you generated tension -- bits and pieces, images, sounds, all coming together at the end. Wonderful.

Nice job with the twist at the end too (as with DS). Damn you people and your twists! Teach me your secrets!

Excellent work.

( Posted by: Boy Howdy [Member] On: November 15, 2003 )

good 1 2
Really enjoyed this Elphalpha. The first paragraph you took over was really dynamite. There's a bubbling ethuasism running right thru it. I think i'll have that last line tattooed on my inner eyelids. 9.85 for the interesting directional changes and spooky feel.

( Posted by: smithy [Member] On: November 15, 2003 )

didn't scare me
Well, I've just read some of the other comments here, and it seems like a lot of people found it spooky or scary or whatever. I'm afraid I didn't. (though I'm sure I would if it actually happened to me...)

Maybe the reason for that was that, to me, it didn't seem particularly original. I don't read many horror or ghost stories, but even so I felt like I was reading a plot that I've seen many times before.

It was well written, though, and on that count I think it wins the write off.

Outside the write off, I would have given this 7/10, but I already gave Darkshine 7, so I'll give you 8/10, to break the tie.

( Posted by: Spudley [Member] On: November 15, 2003 )

Good.
I liked your story. Though both the stories start on the same note, yours took another track altogether. I should tell you that it was a nice ghost story that i had read off late.My rating 9/10. You just miss by one point compared to Darkshine's story. Better luck next time.

I also would love to read more of your stories in the near future.

( Posted by: g.s.vasukumar [Member] On: November 16, 2003 )

Comments
smithy-- "a bubbling enthusiasm"... I like that. Thanks for reading.
Spudley-- Ah, sorry you didn't like it more, but thanks that you thought it was well-written.
g.s.-- Thanks for reading, too, and glad that you thought it was a nice ghost story.

I will take the time to comment here that I never got, or will get, how ghost stories can ever be old or tired. If they're written well, they never fail to scare the bejesus out of me. And I'm not the only one. Even though I've read it twice, "Ghost Story" is still a nail-biter. I think on one level it's a primeval fear, and for horror fans, it's the equivalent of pulling on an old, comfy sweater. I'm not saying my story is on that level, far from it, but just wanted to offer my two cents on the subject.

Thanks to all who read, and voted. :D

( Posted by: Elphaba [Member] On: November 19, 2003 )

completely
Elpha, I have to give you my very honest congratulations. I don't know how I beat you out in this write-off but in my mind you're the real winner. Your story was interesting and so vivid. I got halfway through it and realized I was toast. =D I admire your writing style and my sole critizism would be that the ghost theme was a bit trite. However, you pulled it of with grace (not surprising).

So, once again, congratulations my friend I hope maybe we can compete again someday! =D

( Posted by: Darkshine Raven [Member] On: November 19, 2003 )

my comment
although a little late, sorry about that.anyway, this really was a good story, although in my opinion the whole story didnt hold any surprises.also, i think that having the hero survive IS the cliche and not the other way around.but thats only my opinion of course.good story nonetheless

( Posted by: northerain [Member] On: November 20, 2003 )

HMMMMMMMM
BEFORE I FINISHED READING I THOUGHT...THIS PERSON (WHO I THOUGHT SOUNDS/WRITES LIKE A MALE)LIKES JAMES HERBERET OR STEPHEN KING...LO AND BEHOLD. YOU SHOULD ATTEMPT A LENGTHY STORY...TRY 500 WORDS A DAY. YOU'D SOON HAVE A BOOK BUT IF YOU DON'T DISCOVER YOU'RE OWN STYLE TO IT'S FULLEST, YOU'LL BE LABELED (POSSIBLY) AS KING/HERBERT ET AL COPY (NOT THAT IT IS A BAD THING BUT SURELY YOU CAN ADD YOU'RE UNIQUE TWISTS, ESPECIALLY IN TODAY'S SOCIETY - COMPUTER POLTEGEISTS, SATELITTE'S THINKING INDEPENDENTLEY, ETC).I MAY WELL BE TALKING CRAP...IT'S JUST MY OPINION.KEEP IT UP.

( Posted by: LEDS [Member] On: November 28, 2003 )

Sigh...
LEDS-- Since I wrote the story from the POV of a *man*, I'll take that as a compliment. That's the way the story should have sounded. Not only do I like SK, but a wealth of other writers, and I make no apologies for being influenced by them. Robert McCammon said we're influenced by every writer we read, and that's true. As far as comparisons, nowadays nearly every horror writer who manages to write a competent story (and who manages to be successful) runs the risk of being compared to SK. But I don't care about labels. As long as people enjoy my stories, they can call me anything they want (but don't call me stupid!-- "A Fish Called Wanda").

'Lo and behold'-- what?

And as far as writing 500 words a day, and writing lengthy stories, I have three 80,000+-word novels under my belt (only one of which I'm currently trying to find an agent for), and just finished a 33,000-word novella in two weeks. Lack of length, sometimes unfortunately, is not a problem I have.

And that last sentence sounded slightly pornographic.

( Posted by: Elphaba [Member] On: November 28, 2003 )

Predictable
Lots of cliches in this -- especially the description of the woman's scent, and the style of dialogue... however, I did like the 50's noir flavor the style of dialogue gave this piece.

Not too scary, since it was obvious the woman was a ghost from the get-go. This set-up is at least as old as "The Hitch-hiker."

Don't mean to be so tough... I'd be interested in seeing something from you that wasn't part of a constrained contest.

( Posted by: mwselz [Member] On: November 29, 2003 )

Not tough
mwselz-- No, not tough. You were honest, not presumptuous, in your criticisms. Thanks for reading.

Just click on the username and pick a story!

( Posted by: Elphaba [Member] On: November 30, 2003 )

LO AND BEHOLD
ELPHABA...IN CASE YOUR QUESTION REFERS TO THE MEANING OF LO AND BEHOLD, IT SORT OF MEANS "AND THEN LOOK WHAT I DISCOVERED NEXT!"
THE ONLY REASON I MENTIONED BEING COMPARED TO OTHER WRITERS IS THE FACT THAT I MYSELF WANT TO READ STUFF THAT HASN'T BEEN DONE BEFORE...NEW TWISTED PLOTS...THE HEROES DYING AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, THE FAILER OF REAL LIFE REFLECTED...THAT'S ALL.
I'M JUST REALLY A FUCK WIT WHO TRIES TO IMPRESS UPON THE WORLD THAT I KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT...FOR MY SINS, I APOLOGISE (AS I JUST DID TO DARKSHINE RAVEN FOR SIMILAR JUDGEMENTS), AND HOPE THAT A GIANT METEOR LANDS ON MY FLAT TONIGHT, ONLY KILLING ME AND NO ONE ELSE (HEY, THERE'S A STORY IN THAT SOME WHERE).

AS FOR THE PORNOGRAPHY, IT'S YOUR MIND THAT IS PORNOGRAPHIC AS I MEANT KEEP YOUR HEAD HELD UP IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY (OR CRAPPY JUDGES CALLED LEDS).STAY REAL.

P.S. A COUPLE OF NOVELS? WHERE CAN I SAMPLE THEM?

( Posted by: LEDS [Member] On: December 1, 2003 )

MY line
The last line of MY comments sounded pornographic, LEDS. :/

You still didn't really answer the "Lo and behold". I do know what the phrase means, but now I'm guessing that you're talking about my sig, which I'm about to change and pretty much forget it's there anyway.

No one hopes a giant meteor falls on you, no matter what you say.

AFA the novels, they're not published, and they're the few things I won't be putting on here. You can try "Picker", though-- it's a nice, sweet story. ;)

( Posted by: Elphaba [Member] On: December 1, 2003 )





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