The Lakehouse: A Horror Story (@KA_Raines)

As it turns out, horror stories aren’t just for Halloween. To all my romance readers, I apologize. I’ve been doing a lot of shorts for a writing class, & if I have to keep it on a PG-13 level, my instincts steer toward sci-fi or horror.

No warnings for this one. I wrote it for my daughter, Bella. My little artist.

The Lakehouse

Katie always had a vivid imagination. She liked to draw and tell stories. When she was a little girl, she would write plays and perform them for her mom and dad. It was through her drawings, though, where her imagination really took flight. Her mom let her paint on her walls. Her entire room was a mural. As she became older, she would paint over the walls and start over. First, there was an enchanted forest filled with pixies and faeries. Then a tropical rainforest with all the animals her mind could conjure. Lastly, an ocean filled with tropical fish, mermaids, and even the Kraken. She imagined they were real. Sometimes, she immersed herself in her imaginary worlds so completely she forgot where one ended and one began.

When she was a teenager, her parents began fighting more often. Sometimes they drank. Sometimes they drank and fought. Those times were the worst. Katie would curl herself into her mattress with her sketchpad and draw. Sometimes it got so bad that not even drawing helped drown out the noise, even when she wore headphones.

One night, it got particularly bad. She was listening to music in her room when she heard her parents come home, and of course, they were arguing. When weren’t they arguing? She tried to ignore it. She turned up her music and continued drawing. She needed an escape; she envisioned a lakehouse. Perhaps it was from a dream, or maybe it was an almost-forgotten childhood memory, but she couldn’t be sure.

Her parents’ voices grew louder in the next room; Katie’s hand moved upon the drawing pad more quickly than ever. She drowned out all the rest, focusing on the lakehouse.

Her eyes drifted closed, yet her hand moved faster still upon the page. She concentrated on the smooth weight of the pencil between her fingers and ignored the cramping of her hand. A blister was forming between her second and third fingers, but she didn’t care.

The lakehouse. The lakehouse.

She could picture it so clearly. A summer breeze rustled the leaves on the trees bordering the small cabin; she imagined she could feel it. Through the trees, the water glistened in the setting sun while lapping the shallow banks. There was a rickety dock with a loose board; Katie’s hand moved faster across the page as the images came to her.

Her parents’ voices faded away. The music faded away until there was nothing but silence—deafening, resounding silence that rang in her ears. The ringing grew louder until her eardrums felt like they might explode. Katie gasped and dropped the pencil; she grasped her ears with both hands as the ringing grew to an unbearable crescendo before ceasing abruptly.

She felt sunshine on her face. Her eyes flew open—

She was no longer in her bedroom. Impossibly, she now stood on the rickety dock from her imagination, facing a setting sun over a crystal-clear lake. She stood immobile for several stunned moments, observing the sunset; its hues of burnt orange, pink, and yellow were just as stunning as she’d imagined. Turning, she looked toward the house. It was just as she’d drawn. Just as she remembered. She had been here before—of that, she was almost certain. Or perhaps it only felt so familiar because she’d invented it years ago in her mind. Perhaps it had always been there in her head, lying dormant.

When she began walking toward the house, the boards felt solid and real under her shoes, but the closer she got, she realized that something was off. No chirps of insects or calls of birds reached her ears. No breeze rustled the leaves of the nearby trees, and when she focused on the backdrop behind the house, it seemed synthetic, like a green screen in an old movie.

By the time she reached the cabin, the sun had set entirely, and every light inside was ablaze. The house beckoned her, and she answered its call, opening the sliding glass door and stepping inside. The room was familiar yet not. Cozy-looking furniture and a fireplace that would warm the room on a cold day. But it wasn’t cold. Nor was it hot. Katie crossed the room and picked up the framed photo on the mantel. It was her and her parents, smiling from the frame, but this wasn’t a photo that Katie recalled taking, and it gave her the heebie-jeebies. The smiles were artificial. Like everything in this room, she realized suddenly. When she picked up the old rotary phone from the side-table, she realized it was fake—a prop, like they used in the theater department at school.

Katie went from room to room. Everything seemed homey and inviting on the surface, but underneath, everything was hollow. A prop. The flatscreen in the living room. The apples, bananas, and pears in the fruit bowl. The blueberry muffins left on the countertop.

She ascended the stairs. Studied the pictures on the walls. More trips she never took, with artificial smiles and artificial backgrounds. This was what she wanted, she realized quite suddenly. The perfect life she craved. But her imagination hadn’t been able to correctly fill in the gaps—or maybe perfection simply didn’t exist.

She hesitated outside the first bedroom door she encountered at the top of the stairs, deliberating on whether she should knock. Would her artificially perfect parents be awaiting her? Did she want to know?

Maybe she should try to wake herself. I am dreaming, right? She ignored the nagging voice telling her this was too real to be a dream, the details too precise. Either way, she had brought herself here. Surely she could get herself back?

Steeling herself, she flung open the door. The harsh overhead lights revealed a country-chic bedroom suite and two human-sized lumps beneath the duvet. Katie’s heart pattered in her chest as she approached the bed, eyes locked on the oddly-still forms. Were they dead? She didn’t wanna know. She didn’t wanna know. Yet her feet propelled her forward, and before she could stop herself, she was reaching out for the edge of the comforter. Her hand shook as she grasped it, and then, bracing herself for whatever was to come, she yanked it aside.

Staring unseeingly up at her were two mannequins, plastic replicas of her mom and dad. Dummy-Mom wore a sundress and pearls. Dummy-Dad donned khakis and a button-down shirt. Her parents never dressed like this, like…like some Leave it to Beaver weirdos. Was that what her subconscious wanted? Assimilation? Artificial perfection?

At least, like this, they can’t argue, a snide voice sounded in her head.

As she stared at the mannequins, she became fascinated by the intricate details. They resembled her parents, but all imperfections had been erased. The scar on Dad’s jaw and the gray at his temples were gone. Erased, the mole above Mom’s lip and the deep purple beneath her eyes. Strangely—and eerily—their eyes were lifelike. Almost human, but not quite.

Abruptly, something hard latched onto her wrist. Katie started, jerking back when she realized that Dummy-Mom’s hand had her in a firm, cold grasp. As she wrenched her arm away and stumbled back in shock and horror, Dummy-Mom focused on her with those eerily lifelike, human eyes. “Isn’t this what you wanted, darling?” she asked in a falsely sweet voice, so like Mom’s—yet so different. “You wanted things to be perfect. Now they can be.”

When Dummy-Mom sat up, Katie roused herself from her stupor. She turned and sprinted for the door, needing to flee this nightmare. She flew down the stairs, and the portraits mocked her with their smiles. Stay, stay, stay, they seemed to be saying. Heart pounding, she half-expected the back door through which she entered not to open—Katie had watched enough horror movies in her life—but to her relief, it slid open with no trouble, and when she stumbled across the threshold—

She sat up on her bed with a gasp. She was clutching her sketchpad with both hands, and on it—her drawing of the sunset lakehouse. Two figures in the upstairs window—Katie didn’t recall drawing them—stared out of the page with falsely cheerful smiles. With trembling hands, she tore the drawing to shreds and tossed the sketchpad in her rubbish bin.

As her breathing steadied, she became aware that the house was now silent. Her parents must have called a ceasefire and gone to bed. Katie stood and changed into her shorts, almost managing to convince herself that she’d dozed off and that the entire incident had been a nightmare. She’d had vivid nightmares as a child, but it had been a while. In the bathroom, she brushed her teeth and rinsed her mouth. As she spat out the mouthwash, she realized quite suddenly that the house was too silent. The air conditioner had clicked off, and she discerned not even the chirp of a cricket.

Heart hammering in her chest, she shut the medicine cabinet—and was greeted not by her own reflection in the mirror but by her Dummy-Self.

Katie tried to scream, but the image in the mirror merely smiled, its plastic visage a horrifying mockery of joy.

Isn’t this what you wanted, Katie? To be happy always?

© 2020 K.A. Raines


Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed and that you’ll leave a comment & let me know you were here. 🙂

My debut novel, The Infiltrator, is available HERE ~ Only $2.99 and always FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

“What an awesome story! …Derrick…he’s a sexy, gruff, foul-mouthed, gun-toting, cigarette-smoking, mentally-unhinged country boy, and he’s absolutely perfect.”

-Amber Daulton, author of the Arresting Onyx series

3d Hardcover on transparent

A virus has rendered humanity mostly extinct. Keira Starr is alone, staying alive by staying on the run, sleeping in empty gas stations and the trunks of cars long abandoned on the highway. The world is overrun by “Ghosts,” the mindless, bloodthirsty dead, but they are the least of her problems. She is being hunted by ragtag groups of ruthless men, independent contractors working for a mysterious human trafficking ring. When she is finally captured, she discovers that Derrick Caine, despite his gruff demeanor and appearance, may just have a different agenda altogether.

The Well: A Ghost Story (@KA_Raines)

Happy Halloween! I hope you all like ghost stories!

Warnings: This story depicts some domestic violence and cursing, but nothing too graphic.

The Well

I hadn’t slept well since learning that my mother had passed three days ago. We were never close. Actually, I hadn’t seen her since my wedding seven years ago, but that somehow didn’t make things easier. She’d had a difficult childhood, and so she’d raised me sternly, the only way she’d known how to bring up a child. I suppose death made it easier to be forgiving.

Seven years. I contemplated the number. That’s how long I’d been married. Chris and I were engaged for a year. Picked out this house after we’d been married for two when Chris deemed it was time for us to start trying for children. I’d learned that going along with his plans was simply easier than arguing. At any rate, it’s a lovely but modest four-bedroom. One bedroom is my office, one’s a guest room, and one’s the nursery.

It was the room I liked the most. It was my haven—the place where my demons didn’t seem to follow me. I spent hours there, rocking in my new glider chair, swollen feet propped on the ottoman. I read aloud. Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! was my favorite. I liked to think that the baby could hear me and was soothed by my voice. Chris thought I was a bit nuts, of course, but I’d been reading up on it. There was a lot of evidence suggesting infants are positively affected by voices and tones outside the womb.

I met Chris at a Christmas party a decade ago. He was an orthopedist and more than a bit close-minded. He didn’t put much faith in anything, really. His job was to mend bones, but I happened to know that he was rather adept at breaking them as well.

“There you are.” I looked up Chris’s appearance in the doorway. One hand drifted protectively to my swollen belly as I lowered the book. “Ready to go?”

I forced a smile. I’d become adept at forcing smiles. Placing the book aside, I looked one last time at the crib and pretty ivory farmhouse bedding I’d selected. Reluctantly, I followed my husband down the stairs and out the door. He placed a hand on my back possessively, not protectively—I’d learned the difference years ago—and guided me into the passenger seat. Chris always drove. Like everything regarding my husband, it was easier not to make a fuss about it.

As the BMW pulled out, ushering me to my mother’s funeral, I glanced up at my lovely white-slatted home and the nursery window one last time. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, but there appeared to be a figure hovering beyond the white lace curtains. I pressed my hand against the cold glass of the car window and blinked to clear my vision, but then we were pulling away, ambling down the bleak path on this likewise bleak day.

*  *  *

The funeral drained me physically and emotionally. At almost nine months pregnant, I couldn’t handle being on my feet for long stretches. My back and feet ached. The child in my womb—my baby girl—felt like she was squishing all of my internal organs, which made it difficult to breathe. I couldn’t handle relatives—mostly distant, virtual strangers—offering their condolences while Chris stood idly by, playing the part of the supportive husband.

The wake was held at my mother’s house, which she’d left to me—and which I planned on selling. I never thought I’d set foot in here again. It was a modest three-bedroom in a ramshackle neighborhood. Poor but well-kept. It was one of those old houses with a floorplan with no hallways; the rooms simply boxed in the main parlor. My father left when I was just a little girl, and my mother busted her butt as a nightshift nursing assistant to make sure there was food on the table. She was meticulous, organized, and highly religious. When I rebelled as a teenager, she hadn’t known how to handle me.

I’m not sure what propelled me to open the door to her room, which was the one to the right of the parlor. The same old patchwork quilt, faded with age, was spread neatly across the double mattress. A single cross adorned the wall above the wrought-iron bed frame, the only piece of décor on the yellowing walls. Her bible was open on the old oak dresser, and I briefly wondered if it shouldn’t have been buried with her. I experienced a pang of guilt that I hadn’t been the one to decide the funeral arrangements. I realized, quite suddenly, that I had no idea who had since I’d found out about her death. Her church friends who were hosting the wake? The nice neighbor lady I’d just met?

 She might not have been an ideal mother, but it struck me at that moment that I was a terrible daughter.

 A movement in my peripheral caught my attention, and that’s when I noticed the young girl sitting at my mother’s vanity. Dressed in black funeral attire and with a head of long, light brown hair, she couldn’t have been older than six or seven. I think I’d noticed her at the funeral. Had to be the child of one of my cousins.

When she smiled at me in the mirror, I attempted to return it, but I knew it didn’t reach my eyes. “Hi, sweetie, you really shouldn’t be in here,” I said as gently as I could manage. I was a bit taken aback that I hadn’t immediately noticed the child’s presence in my mother’s room. She must have been sitting unusually still.

Nonplussed, the girl hopped to her feet and straightened her black dress. She smiled at me as she passed, leaving me alone with my mother’s things. Once she was gone, I approached the vanity that the child had just vacated. There was an ornate box I recognized from my childhood. I recalled sneaking in here and going through it more than once, and as such, I knew it contained photos, jewelry, and other knickknacks that my mother had saved over the years. I hesitated for only a moment before taking the box. I’d have to go through my mother’s things at some point before selling the house. Or maybe I’d just hire someone to clear it all out. This was all I really wanted of my mother’s.

* * *

Even though it was barely after six o’clock by the time we left my mother’s house, it was so dark out that it might as well be midnight due to the shortened days. The temperature had also dropped considerably. As soon as we got in the car, I could smell the alcohol on Chris. Since it hadn’t been served at the wake, he must have brought it.

I bit my tongue as he pulled onto the darkened county road that cut the shortest path home. I knew better than to say anything. However, as the bends became sharper, and he narrowly avoided driving us into a copse of trees—he was going way too fast—I could no longer hold my tongue. “Chris, honey, would it be all right I drove for a change? I’d really like to. I’m just restless from the funeral.” I held my breath.

“Why don’t you just take a nap, dear? I’m sure you’re exhausted.” He only ever called me dear in a sarcastic, deprecating tone.

As he took his eyes off the road to look at me, a car came around the next bend, and Chris had to swerve to avoid hitting it; he honked, let out a string of curses, and rolled down his window to flip off the other driver, even though Chris was the one who’d impeded the other lane.

My heart was pounding in my chest at the near-miss. My arm curled instinctively around my belly. “Chris, please,” I whispered. I hated the desperation in my voice. I hated the tears in my eyes. More than anything, I hated that this is what I had become—a simpering woman, afraid of her own husband and who had abandoned her mother.

The backhand came so quickly I didn’t realize it until the pain exploded behind my eye in a rippling haze and split my lip open.

“Goddammit, Elsie!” he roared as I cowered against the door in fear and pain, one hand shielding my face, fearful of another attack while my other stayed curled around my belly. “Look what you made me do! And you could go into labor anytime! How the hell are we supposed to explain your face, huh? Don’t you think?”

Yes, I thought. I thought I might vomit from the pain or pass out, but just as that entered my mind, I noticed something on the road. Sitting upright, I wiped the tears from my eyes, and which promptly widened at the sight of a person, a small child in the headlights—

“Chris, stop!”

He cursed loudly as he slammed on the breaks.

I waited for the impact that never came, simultaneously thankful for my insistence on safety as the belt kept me firmly in place when the car squealed to a halt.

“Where’d she go? Where’d she go?” Chris was mumbling.

I shook my head. I was trembling as I unlatched the belt and clamored out of the car.

“Else? Where the hell are you goin’? Get your ass back in here.”

I ignored him as I walked around the car and stood in the twin beams. I was sure I’d seen a small child in the road. Chris had seen her, too.

I shivered as I glanced at the trees bordering the road. The air was calm, windless, and the cloud cover rendered it an unusually dark night. The effect was disconcerting. Ominous. “Hello?” I called toward the trees.

Not even the chirp of an insect returned my call. I hugged myself tighter and walked to the side of the road.

“Elsie. Elsie! The hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Just checking,” I called back.

He continued to call for me, but I ignored him as I stepped off the road and into the undergrowth. I’m not sure what propelled me to do so. I couldn’t explain it if you asked, but something beckoned me further into the forest like a siren’s call. Behind me, I could hear Chris finally exit the vehicle—his footsteps and cursing were loud in the preternaturally still night air—as I moved deeper between the trees, ignoring the scrapes of my skin on brambles and bark. I had left my jacket back in the car, and the chill bit my flesh, but I ignored it.

“Elsie, when I catch up to you, you’re gonna wish you’d listened!” Chris called from somewhere behind me, but for once, I wasn’t scared of him. I moved purposefully forward, propelled by that unseen force. Occasionally, I caught snatches of girlish whispers and giggles in the dark. And it was dark. And it was cold. And I was pregnant and alone. And I was being stalked by a predator who called himself my husband. Yet I wasn’t afraid because I somehow knew my life was about to change for the better.

I broke through the trees and emerged in a clearing. The clouds had parted enough that the child standing in the center was sufficiently illuminated in pale moonlight; it was as if she’d been waiting for me. It was the child from the wake. The one who’d been in my mother’s room. I approached her and stopped within touching distance. She was solid, but I wondered whether she was some otherworldly apparition. How had she come to be in this forest? Why had she been in the road?

“Who are you?” I settled for asking.

She merely smiled. And promptly vanished, as if she’d never been there. I stared for one stunned moment. Blinked. I couldn’t comprehend it.

Before my mind could attempt to process this event further, however, my lumbering husband broke through the trees, having finally caught up with me. He was winded and sweating. “Goddamit, Else. What the hell’s the matter with you? Look, I’m sorry about hitting you. I won’t drink as much. I’ll try to do better. Shit.”

He stopped in front of me. I smiled; reached up to touch his face, which I had once so adored. “I know. And I forgive you. Dear.”

In a swift motion, I grabbed him and shoved him into the old well directly behind me; it’s where the child had led me, for this specific purpose.

The well was deep, but not so deep that the fall killed him. He was screaming death threats at me as I calmly turned and walked back to the car.

At home that night, feet propped up on the ottoman in my nursery, I opened my mother’s box, using my swollen abdomen as a desk. In it was her rosary, several of my baby teeth, my first lock of hair, and some other odds and ends. There were faded photos from her girlhood. One was taken at her first communion. She wore a black dress with white lace trim and pearl buttons. She had long, light brown hair and a mischievous smile.

I returned the girl’s smile. “Hi, Mom. I’m sorry for being a shitty daughter. Thank you for saving my life.”

© 2020 K.A. Raines


Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed and that you’ll leave a comment & let me know you were here. 🙂

My debut novel, The Infiltrator, available HERE ~ Only $2.99 and always FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

“What an awesome story! …Derrick…he’s a sexy, gruff, foul-mouthed, gun-toting, cigarette-smoking, mentally-unhinged country boy, and he’s absolutely perfect.” 

-Amber Daulton, author of the Arresting Onyx series

3d Hardcover on transparent

A virus has rendered humanity mostly extinct. Keira Starr is alone, staying alive by staying on the run, sleeping in empty gas stations and the trunks of cars long abandoned on the highway. The world is overrun by “Ghosts,” the mindless, bloodthirsty dead, but they are the least of her problems. She is being hunted by ragtag groups of ruthless men, independent contractors working for a mysterious human trafficking ring. When she is finally captured, she discovers that Derrick Caine, despite his gruff demeanor and appearance, may just have a different agenda altogether.