Grocery Ghost: Short Fiction by C.L. Hesser


C.L. Hesser will be featuring four short stories on Popcorn Horror. Check out Dead Girl Talking

Bio by C.L. Hesser

I’m not one to speak about myself unheeded, but here goes. I guess I’ve always been a storyteller, from before I can remember… and I’ve always written horror, in a way. Creatures getting eaten alive by dinosaur ape-men? Is that horror? I guess my relations didn’t mind until I kept coming up with tale about eyeball slaughters. And insane, beautiful teenagers trapped in a madhouse, living out their nightmares. 

Er, I was an odd kid. 

But I finally stumbled upon some inspiring work – horror novels, to be exact. And stories, so many stories. Short stories always have called to me – they’re just enough to tantalize but not enough to overwhelm the horror. So I consumed these novels and anthologies by the dozen, gulping them down like so much super-sweetened ice tea. 

All under my parent’s self-righteous noses. 

Anne Rice, Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Bradbury, Thomas Harris. Even a touch of Dean Koontz. And then I found the movies… 

From there, it’s all history. Found my love for horror and cultivated it, and pushed through despite the chiding tones of some quite smart English teachers. I’m sure I appreciate every nugget of literary gold I’ve stumbled into over the years. 

I live in the suburbia wilderness to the south of Atlanta, Georgia, and spend my spare time hunting for killer mermaids in nearby lakes.  So far, I’ve not had much luck. 


Grocery Ghost

The first time Marianne saw the ghost, she’d just come up through the frozen food looking for eggs and butter. One of the fluorescent tubes began to flicker fitfully and went out; the rest popped away in turn until Marianne was left in a pervasive gloom. Only lit by her dying cellphone screen, the aisles upon aisles of food loomed up like cardboard-paper-plastic monstrosities from the dark.

And then the whistling began, a low and tuneless whistling that send tendrils of fear through her. She started to shiver and felt the hair at the back of her neck prick up.

Cold, ever so cold. Colder than the frozen foods. Goose pimples erupted on the backs of her arms and an impossible breeze rustled her hair as she stood there among fallen-down canisters of yogurt. Yesterday’s baked goods sat in a shapeless lump somewhere to her right, molding away.

Then the lights began; just tiny, flighty lights at first – like lost spirit-fires on the moors. All throughout the now-darkened store, winking. A ghostly wail rose and fell, swelling and waning like ocean waves.

The grocery ghost.

She’d heard the stories, countless times. She knew the slow feeling of panic that would overtake her heart and force her into a state of insane terror. It would grip her by the soul and not let go.

The grocery ghost, a thing like an old woman in rags with her hair pulled back tight from a time-ravaged face. She wandered the aisles, pushing a rickety cart that had seen better days.

Her bird-bone fingers would spin little webs, scatter them throughout the store and block the exits in silver thread.

Marianne saw her at last, just a shape in the dark hobbling down the cheese aisle. Bent over and broken, less than five feet tall, with a distinctive rattle whenever she moved. Chains. A heavy ball-and-chain linked to one ancient foot, slick shiny metal gleaming.

The wailing had emitted from this ruined creature, and now she turned her face to the blue glow of Marianne’s phone. Oh, the horrible thing… a dead face, like a freshly dug-up grave dweller. Rotting from the inside out, just horrific.

Eyes like black hollows, where little spiders made their way out over her cheekbones.

She wailed again, and it swelled to an unbearable pitch while the temperature dropped ever further. Marianne began to cry.

The tears came, unheeded and hot, and she couldn’t make herself move to swipe them away. Frozen with terror, her feet nailed to the floor. Marianne willed the thing to just disappear… just disappear. But it wouldn’t; it wasn’t like the nightmares of childhood. You couldn’t just close your eyes and make it go away. Eventually her knees gave way and she sunk to the floor, heart thumping wildly in her chest.

A murder. Terrible murder most foul. Death in a grocery store, by the hands of a beloved son gone mad. She’d been in the bread aisle, deciding between barley loaf and honey wheat; he’d followed her here, followed her from the sickest part of the city. She’d left him to die in that place, that horrible place where they lashed you to the bed and screamed, laughing.

The place where they forced those little pills down your throat until you choked. The place where you could scream all you want but they won’t listen, won’t care.

He had the gun, now, a slick black thing like a deadly snake. She wouldn’t hear him, not in this low rumble of pre-Thanksgiving shopping. His footsteps on the wide grocery tiles couldn’t make a sound compared to the bustle of shoppers. She had her back to him, little white head bent over the loaves of mass-produced bread.

Little heart beating forward, rowing onward into next year, and next year, and next. She pounded forth every New Years, not wanting to die. At this rate she’d reach ninety unscathed. Well, maybe not unscathed. Certainly not unscathed. The scars he’d left still glared, pale, over her neck and forearms.

She still had that bruise on her right eye; he could see it when she shifted her weight. It had gone blackish-purple, rimmed in green. Swollen eyelids clamped shut. He let out a low whistle through his clenched teeth and slowly gripped the gun where it lay hidden in his pocket. The other patrons took no notice of him; they only flowed past, occasionally bumping against him and quickly making a retreat.

His lank, black hair hung in filthy tangles and some weird skin disease had ravaged his once-handsome face.

She had started toward the end of the aisle, bread in hand, with that all-too-familiar paisley shawl pulled tight about her shoulders.

He remembered that shawl. He remembered it quite clearly. Actually, if he looked hard enough he could still see the burn-marks from it on his neck. Of course, she wouldn’t remember; she blocked out those memories, the painful ones. But he couldn’t.

He couldn’t let go.

Couldn’t let her get away with what she’d done to him; she sent him to that place, drove him to it. She’d ruined him, terrorized him. She’d pried with those deadly-soft fingers into every part of his young soul until he had nothing left but the shell of a broken doll.

And now, more dead than alive, he’d take her. Blow out the back of her head and splatter her pretty grey brains all over this stinking linoleum. Probably he’d be arrested and die in prison, but he might be given to the state institutions.

Handed off.

Just like something not-alive.

He raised the gun until it was level with his shoulder, lined it up and closed one eye. Took in a steady breath and released it again.

She couldn’t even sense him. He thought she ought to remember the fucking pain she’d inflicted on him, the way she’d even broken his wrist once. Fallen down the stairs. Of course.

She fell slow, into a crumpled heap with the back of her head just a ruined cavern. Brains leaking out. He fell, too, while the other people gasped and screamed. Someone dialed the emergency numbers. His mother just lay there, a dead and broken thing, but he had this creeping feeling… she couldn’t die.

She wouldn’t.

She would never leave him; even now her dead bone-fingers clamped over his cold wrist, strong as steel.

The grocery ghost. Here forever, trapped, tormenting him forever.