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The Girl In Green - Ch1 Part 1
Chapter 1

1

I'm sitting in the railway station.
Got a ticket for my destination.
On a tour of one-night stands my suitcase and guitar in hand.
And every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band.
Homeward bound,
I wish I was,
Homeward bound
-'Homeward Bound' by Simon and Garfunkel



Growing up in Pennsylvania, winter came and went like an unwanted relative visiting for the holidays. It was loud, crass, intruded itself on everyone else's joy, and helped itself to whatever goodies it so happened to find lying around. It made people lock their doors, turn their lights out, and pray with every waking breath that soon the beast would have to go home. Of course when it did finally leave the world seemed better in its wake. The trees all over the mountains blossomed, the girls shed layers of unwanted clothing, and people rested easy knowing the next visit was a long way off.

Ohio, on the other hand, was a weather nightmare of Biblical proportions. From the moment Shawn Keating and his family crossed the state line, they'd seen sunshine, a blizzard, people outside wearing shorts, a rain shower, and even witnessed flashes of lightning just outside downtown Cleveland. None of them had ever experienced weather as messed up as Ohio's, and Shawn couldn't help but shudder at the thought of this being a sign of things to come.
Middlebrook was a small town about twenty miles west of Cleveland. On a map it would be one of the small blips that prove infinitely frustrating to a dedicated eye determined to spot it. Although his father thought otherwise, it wasn't intended to be a smart ass remark when Shawn told him he was unable to see it even after it was pointed out to him. It really was just that damn small.

Yet despite Gary Keating's frustrations with his son, driving past the "Welcome to Middlebrook, Ohio" sign put a wide grin on his face. In the last ten miles his excitement grew so much that he didn't pay any attention to the indifference of his passengers, or the worsening weather.

"Well, gang, we made it," he said, glancing over at his wife and son. Beverly sat comatose in the passenger seat snoring lightly while Shawn sat in the back with a pair of headphones on blaring music loud enough to be heard in the front seat. Shawn saw his father say something and turn to face him, but in an act of defiance he turned the volume up on his CD player and kept his eyes focused out the window. In the distance he could see the faint outline of Lake Erie on the horizon and shuddered at its similarity to the land: cold, barren, and pure icy white as far as the eye could see. To Shawn it looked like a perfectly white desert, and he wondered how long it would take for someone to die out there from the cold. He half suspected to see a tumbleweed blowing across the surface in an arctic breeze.

Gary reached back and tapped his son on the knee. Reluctantly. Shawn removed his headphones.

"I can hear that screaming crap all the way up here. You keep that up and you'll be deaf before you're twenty."

Good, then maybe I won't have to listen to you speak anymore, Shawn thought bitterly.

"Screaming crap? Funny. Isn't that similar to what grandpa used to say about your music?"

"My music tells stories. In your crap I can't even understand half of what they say, not that I would probably want to."

"He says, 'Load up your guns and bring your friends, it's fun to lose and to pretend."

"Gee, sounds lovely,' his father muttered sarcastically.

"What do you want, Dad?"

Shawn kept his voice level, but the aggravation still came across clear. He hated his father's lectures about his music. It had begun when he turned twelve and realized there was more to music than the golden oldies his father constantly rammed down his throat. He hadn't taken it well when 'My Generation' by The Who was replaced with Nirvana's "Smells like Teen Spirit." He reacted even worse when Shawn let his soft brown hair grow down past his ears and wore it parted down the middle of his head. To this day he couldn't bring himself to forgive his son's infatuation with baggy black pants, grunge band t-shirts, and oversized flannels that were badly faded from too many trips through the wash. It was the beginning of the inevitable rift that was bound to happen sooner or later with a child in his teens.

His father regarded him angrily for a moment then turned back in his seat. "Never mind."

Shawn, thankful the exchange was over, put his headphones back on and cranked up the volume.

As they drove through the streets of Middlebrook, Shawn was surprised to see all the roads and driveways were still smothered beneath a blanket of snow. Most of the houses lining the streets were either dimly lit or loomed like forgotten ruins in some ancient land. In the town square there were only a handful of stores that were open, but each parking lot stood empty of anything save the occasional dumpster collecting snow. He also found it odd that they hadn't seen a single car on the street or person out walking around in their yards. It was only five o'clock in the evening.

Soon they came across Elmhurst, the road that led to their new home. The neighborhood was a typical suburb. The houses were distinct by the same four designs, and the yards were tiny patches of grass that Shawn thought he could walk across in three steps. The houses shared a quality of new-ness, one that transcended the layers of snow falling around them. Theirs ended up being one of the two story models that resembled a giant cube. There were two windows upstairs, one bay window downstairs, and the front door flanked by an attached garage. All in all, Shawn didn't much care for it, not that he expected to. At least he could relax at the probability that they wouldn't be there for too long.

As they pulled into the driveway, Gary told them to wait before getting out of the car.

"I want you guys to savor this. This is it- our new home. Think about it. This time we'll never have to move again."

"Like we haven't heard that before," Shawn murmured bitterly.

"What'd you say?" his father asked, half turning in his seat.

"Nothing Dad. It looks as awesome as the last five houses we lived in. Can we go inside now?"

Shawn smirked at his father's wincing. This move, like all the other ones before it, was very much against his and his mother's will. And it didn't matter how many times Gary explained the reasons behind it. After ten years there were no more excuses that could be accepted. They'd lived out of too many boxes and logged too many hours behind the wheel of the car to give a shit about the reasons. There were too many empty promises of one day settling down in one place and making a life together. How many times had his father sat him down and told him, "I understand what you're going through, I do. This is it, I promise." What bullshit. Shawn stopped believing in him a long time ago.

Of course his father either couldn't or wouldn't understand that simple truth. There was no explaining to him how his word wasn't worth a damn anymore. That's why Shawn enjoyed tweaking his father every chance he got. He deserved every bit of it.

"Fine," Gary scowled. "Let's go in then." He was already out the door and strolling up to the house by the time Shawn and his mother were out of the car. Shawn opened the trunk to get his guitar case and backpack while his mother grabbed a couple suitcases. Before she stood back up he caught a glimpse of the tiredness on her face, and for a second debated if he should say something to her. Yet despite feeling compelled, Shawn closed the trunk and followed his mother to the front door of the house without saying anything. Although she'd never said otherwise, deep down Shawn knew his mother felt exactly the same as him in regards to their lives. Despite her attempts to hide it, this wasn't the first time her face shriveled under the stress of her worries. He remembered specifically the time he was eight years old and where she'd held a glass of orange juice so tight after a fight with his father the glass actually shattered in her hand. To his amazement she didn't scream or curse, but simply grabbed a towel and started pulling shards out of her hand. Out of respect he'd never said anything to her about it, nor did she volunteer any of her thoughts on the subject either. In the end Shawn guessed most families had their way when it came to dealing with things, which for his family meant burying deep and mourning alone. So he let the look go without uttering a word.

At the door Gary fumbled with getting the key into the lock.

"What's taking so long?" Shawn asked with a shiver. "Did we come to the wrong house or something?"

"No, I just can't see the damn lock!"

"The movers could've left a porch light on," Beverly suggested.

"Maybe they did and it burned out," Shawn offered sarcastically. "This place looks like it was so carefully built and all."

"Keep it up and I'll smack that smart mouth clean off your face."

Shawn grinned but held his tongue. As much as he liked pushing his father's buttons, there did come a point where any sane man knew it was best not to keep going. Although at times Shawn had been slow to learn such a lesson, and for his fun he was treated with a hard smack of the belt.

When Gary finally unlocked the door, he pushed it open to reveal a long, narrow hallway leading off into darkness. From what little he could make out, there was a stairway immediately to the left of the front door and a wide room of some sort a few feet down the hall and to the right.

"You smell that?" Beverly asked wrinkling her nose. "They could have aired the place out a bit too. There's no excuse for this."

Gary ignored her and instead felt across the inside wall to find the light switch.

"Let there be light!" Gary cried as he flicked the light switch up. Shawn couldn't help but giggle when nothing happened.

"I guess they don't replace light bulbs either."

Gary gritted his teeth, pushed past Shawn and walked down the dark hallway feeling across the wall for another switch.

"The kitchen is down here so there's got to be another switch. Ah, there it is!"

His father's smile was gone once and for all the moment the light clicked on to reveal a kitchen that appeared as if it had gotten into a fight with a tornado and lost. Boxes and bags were emptied out all over the table, counters, and chairs. Frozen food sat spoiling on the floor and cabinet doors were left hanging open. Even the walls appeared to have been splattered with some sort of food like (Shawn hoped anyway) substance. From what he could make out beneath the damage the room seemed like a standardly dull kitchen. White walls, white cupboards with black trim around the sides, green marble counter tops, and what Shawn assumed was once a solid white tiled floor. Such blandness just begged for a smart ass comment.

His mother's face wrinkled in disgust as his father fumbled for words.

"Well Mom, you wanted things unpacked."

"Not funny Shawn. Not funny at all."

"Sorry."

"What the hell happened?" his father asked. He walked into the kitchen with his arms spread as if he were going to try and lift the entire kitchen. "What the fuck?"

"Gary! Language!"

"To hell with the language! What the hell happened to our house?"

"Break in or incompetent movers. Take your pick."

"Shawn!"

He zipped his lip. Sometimes being a smart ass had a tendency to run away with itself. At least he'd been lucky enough to argue successfully to keep his guitar with him instead of giving it to the movers. God knows what he would've done if someone had stolen it. It'd be the same as cutting off an arm.

"Check everything. Everything! Make sure nothing's taken. Shawn you stay with me."

"Why?"

"Because we don't know if whoever did this is still here."

"Bev, this food's been sitting out for hours, maybe even a couple days. I'm sure they're long gone."

"I don't want your 'assurances', Gary," his mother spat. "You've already 'assured' us this would be a great house and 'assured' us about your job. Just...enough, okay?"

His father left the room without a word, disappearing up the stairs to supposedly check the second floor. Shawn hoped he stayed up there.

"Help me clean this mess up," his mother said pulling the box of garbage bags off the floor. When they were finished putting the spoiled food into the trash his father returned from upstairs.

"Boxes and stuff knocked over upstairs, though it looks like nothing's broken or stolen."

"That's a relief."

"Why break in then?" Shawn asked tossing a bloodied chicken thigh into the garbage bag. "What's the point if you aren't going to take anything?"

"Most of our expensive stuff was with us in the car. Or maybe they just get a kick out of wrecking things, who knows. I'm just glad things weren't any worse. Bev, there's a dishwasher behind you for those dishes. That was going to be one of the big surprises."

Shawn glanced at his mother, who'd been busy scrubbing down the countertops, waiting for some sort of snarky retort, but she didn't say anything.

"What about my new room?" He asked looking back at his father.

"Seems fine. Only a small mess to clean up."

"Why don't you head on up and take a look, Shawn?" his mother said. "Your father and I can get the rest of this."

"It's okay, Mom. I don't mind."

"No Shawn, go ahead. Really. We've got this."

He understood now what she wanted. She was doing one of her 'read between the lines' bits again. Over the years she'd used it as code for Shawn to clear out because his father was about it get it.

Give him hell, Mom, he smirked to himself.

Grabbing his book bag and guitar case, he headed up the stairs to check out his new room. Once on the landing, he stopped, unsure of which room was his. On the right side of the hall was a single door that stood open, revealing the master bedroom. Curious, he went down to the room and flicked the light on. Immediately a nice decorative ceiling light clicked on, displaying all the unpacked boxes lining the edges of the room. In the far right corner was a door which he discovered led into a large walk in closet with four sets of racks for clothes and shoes. Across from the closet door was the biggest personal bathroom he'd ever seen. Not only was there a shower, but there was also a Jacuzzi built into the far wall with a gorgeous decorative skylight above it. To his surprise, Shawn actually found himself impressed with his father's choice for a house. For once he'd managed to pick out a place that had something worth enjoying.

Although he hated to admit, part of him felt excited about the prospect of his room. He turned the light off behind him and made his way down the hall to the two doors off to the left of the stairway. Randomly he chose to check the room on the left and saw that it was currently serving as a junk room for the boxes the movers couldn't decide where to put. Shawn was also glad to see the room was tiny in comparison to his parent's room, which filled him with hope that the movers put his stuff into the bigger room.

He went to the door across the hall. This was it, the last door in the hallway. Behind there would be his new room, for better or worse. For the first time in a long time in a long time he actually felt a little nervous.

I don't know why you're worried, his mind chuckled. Even if you hate it it's not like you're going to be living here for long. You know how good your dad's word is.

He pushed the nagging voice away, and with a sigh, reached for the knob. As soon as the door was fully open a cold draft brushed by him, making him shiver in surprise. He felt along the inside wall of the room for the light switch and found it a lot lower than he had expected. Just as he went to flip the switch on, something large and furry shot across his hand scuttling full speed up his arm.

Shawn launched back against the wall, yelling in shock and letting the guitar case fall to the floor as he slapped frantically at his arm. He managed to knock whatever it was off, but in one spry move it landed on its legs darting toward him. Shawn dodged away from its charge then smashed it into the ground with the tip of his shoe.

Gotcha, you sonuva bitch, his mind cheered.

Yet his joy disintegrated when he moved his foot away and saw the beast was unscathed. It sat there glaring up at him with its numerous eyes, as if daring him to try that move again. Shawn went to step back, but as soon as he moved the creature's thick red and black striped body went rigid with anticipation. Together, its eight legs glided with ease whenever Shawn made any sort of gesture. For a tense moment each held their position, waiting to see which of them would be the first to move.

Downstairs he heard his parents rushing through the kitchen and up the stairs. The beast too heard them, and the moment their feet hit the stairs it lunged backward, pivoting itself around in a mad dash back for the room. His father crested the landing first, a baseball bat in hand and a look of terror on his face. Behind him came the face of Shawn's mother holding a copy of War and Peace up like a club.

"What happened? You okay?" Gary asked with a wavering voice.

Shawn, unable to speak, pointed down at the spider on the floor. His parents' eyes followed, and upon seeing the beast before them, recoiled in disgust.

"Oh, God, that's disgusting!" his mother wailed, pulling Shawn close to her. "Gary, that bat's not big enough. Go get your gun and shoot it!"

Shawn knew his mother was half joking, but in that instant, little did anything seem funny. Instead, he found himself lost on the struggle to peel his eyes away from the thing on the floor.

Gary quickly cut in front of where the spider was running, preventing it from escaping into Shawn's room. The beast hesitated as it panicked on where to go, and in that brief second Gary struck it with the tip of his bat, smashing it into the floor. The spider exploded in a mass of red and green goo that rippled through the carpet fibers like tiny tidal waves. Shawn fell to his knees with dry heaves while his mother wrinkled her nose and scolded his father.

"Did you really have to kill it like that?" his mother whined. "Talk about disgusting."

"What, you think I was going to touch that thing?" Gary replied incredulously. "And there was no way on God's green Earth I was going near that thing with only a paper towel between it and my hand!"

"You could have gotten it into a shoe box or something."

"The only way I'm willing to go near that thing is if it's dead. Next time you can get it into a box if that's what you want."

"It better not stain the carpet. Shawn go get me some toilet paper from the bathroom and bring it here."

Shawn didn't move. His eyes were glued on the remains of the biggest spider he had ever seen. He didn't even know spiders grew that big in Ohio. That realization scared the hell out of him.

"Shawn?" His mother asked again. "Listen to me- are you okay?"

When Shawn still didn't answer Beverly reached for Gary.

"He might be in shock," she said worriedly.

"He's not in shock." Gary snapped his fingers in front of Shawn's eyes, finally breaking his paralysis. "See? He's fine."

"Huh? What?"

"Your mother asked if you're okay."
"
Oh. Yeah, I'm fine."

"Did it bite you?"

"No. It ran up my arm."

"Oh God," Beverly shuddered.

"How about you and your mother head on downstairs while I clean this up? I want to make sure this thing doesn't stain the carpet," Gary said winking at Beverly.

"C'mon Shawn," Beverly said, taking his hand. "Let's let Conan the Barbarian here ready his trophy to be mounted," she sneered back.

******
The Girl in Green is a horror novel by Scott McCafferty, serialized for web publication through RivalCast Media. Scott welcomes comments and feedback below or through email at scott.mccafferty@rivalcastmedia.com


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Great read, good job!