Horror and Thriller Fiction posted January 28, 2017

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A short spooky story.

The man in the photo...

by Rasmine

“Mom, who is this?”

I held up the photo of her hugging this very weird looking man.  He was older than her.  I knew it wasn’t my grandfather or anyone in our family.  Of course, I could be wrong—maybe there were some invisible ghosts in our bleached-white closet. 

She came over and reached out her hand.  My mother was a beautiful older woman, but she was young in this photo.  She still had a young figure, now, firm breasts and curvy hips, but of course, I didn’t notice this—it was my best friend, Ryan, who did.  I always thought he had the hots for my mother.  I often teased him about this. 

She took the photo and dropped it like it was on fire.  She swallowed.  “I…I,” she turned and ran out of the room holding a hand across her mouth like she was going to vomit.

“Mom, where are you going?  What’s wrong—it’s only a photo.”  I bent down and picked it up.  Staring into the eyes of the strange man, I sunk to the floor amidst all the dust in the attic. It was only a dumb picture.
I walked into the kitchen.  Mom was preparing lunch.  I sat down at the table, not offering to help like I usually do. 

“Ma, who was that man?  Someone in a circus or in a Halloween costume?”  The person in the photo with my mother was in a black cape and a matching top hat. 

She turned to me.  There were worry lines that made her eyes look older and more tired.  I could also see she had been crying. 

“Never mind who that is, honey.”  Her lower lip trembled.  “Just,” she turned away, shrugged, and raised her hands, “someone from the past that, hopefully, will never trouble us again.”

I didn’t question her anymore.  We ate a lunch that had the elements of a dinner feast.  Before we ate the main meal, there was crackers and cheese, then the main course.  She had made her famous chicken pot pie, and we feasted.  For dessert, there were lemon squares that she made from scratch. 

During the meal, not a word was spoken.  I sat in contemplation, wondering and making up scenarios about the man in the photo.  One scenario—he was a man from the future that came back and impregnated my mother with me.  I smiled at that one; I looked too much like my dad for that to be true.  Another scenario—he was an alien from outer-space that tried to take over the world and she saved the planet by pretending to be in love with him.  I smirked a little at that one, and she gave me a peculiar glance but didn’t comment.  I just went on dreaming up stories about the strange person.  Maybe if I wrote fiction, I could come up with a best-seller.

When we were done eating, she just started clearing away the dishes and hauling them to the sink.  I got up to help an idea forming in my mind.  I would ask my father.  Thing is, I would have to drive way to Portland, Maine—we were in Unionville, Connecticut.  They had divorced when I was fifteen.  He settled in Maine wanting to be near his mother and sister.  I hardly saw him—maybe once a year.  I wouldn’t tell my mother about my plan. 
I drove up with the pretense I was going to Ryan’s apartment for the weekend.  I arranged it all beforehand—he would have my back if my mother called.  If she wanted to speak to me, I would conveniently be in the shower, sleeping, or out at the store.  We always had each other’s back ever since I had known him. 

The drive up was uneventful.  It took me six hours—I just drove straight not taking breaks.  Well, I didn’t really count bathroom breaks and fast-food meals as a ‘break’. 

I put the photo in the glove compartment.  When I turned on my father’s street in Portland—funny how I remembered it—it was like I was led there—I took it back out.  There was something about this man’s eyes--they looked like evil embers.  I laughed and put it in my coat pocket.  It was summer, but still jacket weather in Maine.  I drove the long street and finally pulled into my father’s driveway. 

He didn’t know I was coming, and I bit my lip in anticipation.  He would be surprised—would it be a happy surprise or a ‘shit my son’s here’ surprise.  I wonder if he had married that woman he was bragging about last year.  Blowing out a breath between tight lips, I got out of the car and slowly walked to his door. 

After fighting the urge to just turn around and get back into the car, I forced myself to knock. He is my father, I should matter at least a little bit.

A woman I took as my stepmother, answered the door.  She smiled before I could say ‘hello’, and introduce myself. 

“Hello, Kevin.  I recognized you from your photo.  Come in.”  She held the screen door open as I walked through.  I wondered if her son was home, my stepbrother.  I visited last year—all my father talked about was his new bride-to-be and her son.  He wanted me to attend the wedding, but that was the last thing I wanted to do. 

I sat down on the couch in the living room.  I noted that there was a lot of differences from last year.  One of them were the vast array of fake flower arrangements scattered throughout the room. 

“Would you like some coffee or soda?”  She brushed a long blonde strand of hair back from her face.  Blue eyes twinkled at me. 

“I would like to see my father if he’s here.”

She nodded as a young man walked into the living room.  I looked at my stepbrother and nodded curtly at him.  He was a curly haired blonde like his own mother and nothing like my dad or mom. 

“Honey, this is Kevin, your stepbrother.”

“Hello, I’m Mark.”

We were about the same age, and his warm blue eyes melted a bit of the frostiness I had around my heart.  We could be friends, even if he was a rival.  I saw him as this because he wasn’t my mother’s son.  I felt that my parents could have worked it out, but it wasn’t this young man’s fault.  I stuck out my hand and stood up.  We shook and he took a seat next to me. 

“Right now, Dads at work.”

“Okay.”  Let it go, he isn't a blood son.

Mark looked down at his hands, obviously nervous at meeting his stepbrother in such an unexpected way.  I stared at him, and then sighed, trying to see him as a would-be friend instead of someone that stole my father from me. 

“So, what do you do?”

Mark raised his eyes to mine and a small smile played on his lips.  “I am in the theater department at my university.  I’m a graduate student.”

I suddenly realized that we had a lot in common.  I was also an amateur actor in the community theater.  We talked on and on about all the plays we had done.  Before I knew it, the pot of coffee that my stepmother had brewed was gone, she had dusted the whole house, and my father was opening the door. 

He walked in and looked around the place.  It was so like him—I remember when I was a young boy and he would come home from work and do the same thing.  His eyes landed on me. 

“Kevin!”  He came over to me and I stood up.  We embraced.  “This is a cool surprise.  Your stepmother called me at work, but I never got back to her.  I was too busy, and you know,” he leaned close to my ear, “we could talk when I got home.” 

I smiled.  I recalled him doing that to me whenever Mom would want him to bring out the trash on his way to work or something.  He would lean over and whisper in my ear, usually saying ‘why can’t she do this?  You have school, I have work, she is a stay-at-home mother.’ 

I stayed for dinner which was delicious.  Not as wonderful as my mother’s, but scrumptious enough.  Afterward, we all settled on the sofa.

“Dad,” I pulled out the photo and handed it to him.  I tried to wait until Diane, my stepmother and Mark had left the room but they never did together, so I pulled it out in front of them.  “Who is this man?  Is this a relative or someone I never met?”

My father’s smile melted into a scared expression.  “Son, leave this alone,” he whispered seriously—too ominously.  It just made me want to know more. 

“But, don’t I have the right to know?”

My father shook his head furiously from side to side.  “No, you don’t have a right to know.” 

I put the photo back into my jacket pocket and stood up.  “I have to go home,” I said with my lips in a thin line. 

“Kevin,” my father stood up, “you just got here!”

“Mom probably needs me.  You have people—well, she’s all alone.  She has only me.”  I quickly gave him a hug and shook Diane and Marks’ hands and walked briskly to the door.  I held back angry tears.  I felt betrayed. 

I got into the car and quickly pulled out of the driveway.  About a few houses down, I stopped and sobbed uncontrollably.  How could he have a new family?  I always thought he would come back to Mom and me.  I always thought that he would never marry.  When he mentioned Diane and Mark last year—I really didn’t think a union would ever happen.  I did like Mark, though, he was funny and interesting.  Diane was okay, too.  I didn’t feel animosity feelings toward them.  I put my head back on the seat and closed my eyes.  

I must have dozed off because I was woken up by a knock on the passenger door.  I swallowed, probably the police.  I looked out the window at Mark.  He held up the photo of my mother and the strange man, that is when I noted the large gym bag he had.  I opened the door with a question. 

Mark simply got into my car.  He handed me the photo.  “Listen you dropped this out of your jacket on the way to the door.  I picked it up.”  He pointed at the person with Mom.  “I know this man.  I mean, I don’t know him personally, but I did dream of him.”  He licked his lips.  “I was walking down the street when I came across your car.  I was going to take the bus to your house.”  He frowned, apparently, he saw that I had been crying.  “Kevin, you okay?”

I simply nodded, suddenly very grateful for my new stepbrother.  I smiled.  “Yeah, I’m okay.” 

He indicated our father's house.  “They think I’m going to a theater camp for a week.  Well, I was supposed to, but this is more important.”

As I turned onto the highway, I asked Mark about his dreams with the man.

“Well, they were more like nightmares.  He was always a man with a black cape on and a top hat.  His eyes, they almost hypnotized you, like ‘The Pied Piper’, or something.  Children would be following him.  Then it would change, it would be the end of the world, bombs would be exploding, people would be lying dead, there was blood everywhere.  I would wake up then—but it was the same every time.”

We sat in silence for a couple of hours.  My phone rang about halfway to Connecticut.  “Damn.  Could you look to see who it is.”  The phone was in my pocket.  I fished it out and dropped it on the seat not really wanting to take my hands off the steering wheel. “Sorry to drop it like that.”

“That’s fine.”  My stepbrother picked up my phone and glanced at the caller id.  “It’s your mother.” 

I knew I had to get it, but there was nowhere to pull over.  I nodded, thanked him, and kept driving for a while, then my phone rang again. Mark was still holding it, so he glanced down. 

“It’s Ryan.”

“Okay, my mother probably called him.  He’s my cover right now.  She doesn’t know I came to see my father.  If she did, like I came out here last year, she would have thrown a hissy fit.”

Mark smirked.  “Good thing I didn’t answer it then, I’m not your friend Ryan.  If she is like my mother, she would have a thousand questions.”

“Yeah, mothers.” 

I drove on until I could finally get over to the lane closest to the breakdown lane.  I pulled over.  The lights of Connecticut were in the distance.   

Mark handed my phone to me.  I pushed ‘listen’ to hear the messages. 

“Hello, Kevin!? This is Mom.  I couldn’t tell you who the man is because—oh hell, I’ll see if Ryan can get ahold of you.”

I squeezed my eyes shut and then opened them.  I saved the call, then listened to Ryan’s message.  He sounded very anxious.  That caused me to feel a bit panicky. 

“Kevin!  I think you need to get back here—your mom, she is very upset and wants to talk to you.  I told her you were in the shower, but I wouldn’t put it past her to come here.  Give me a call ASAP.” 

I didn’t say a word to Mark, just pulled out and joined the fast lane.  There was no time to call Ryan, hope he understands.  I stepped on the gas being mindful to watch out for patrolmen on the side.  I was going a bit faster than other cars.  I really didn’t want a ticket at that time.  It wasn’t so much the money as the time stopping for a cruiser.  I wanted to get home to make sure she was okay.  I glanced at Mark—I would say he was another friend I made at school.  No need to tell her the truth, yet. 
I was just crossing the border into Connecticut when my phone rang again.  Mark picked it up from his lap where it was laying.  “It’s your mother again.” 

“Shit!”  I swerved over to the breakdown lane.  It had been dark for a while now, and the highway was practically deserted.  I glanced at the phone as I took it from Mark.  It was twelve-thirty. 

“Mark, I’m sorry, this is a pretty strange way to meet your stepbrother.”

He just shook his head.  “It’s fine.  I now have a key to finding out who that strange, spooky, man is in my nightmares.”  He turned his head to look out at the night.  “He just may be real,” he whispered probably more to himself than me. 

I pushed ‘listen’, and heard my mother sounding more panicky than before. 

“Kevin, please, come home.  You aren’t a kid any longer; I don’t think he will try--.”  The phone just went dead.  Oh god!  I had to get there, now!  There wasn’t anyone on the highway so I decided to floor it. 

“Mark, keep an eye out for the cops.  Call my mother, okay?  Just tell her,” I shrugged, “um, you’re a theater friend from school.”  I then proceeded to drive for a while doing ninety-five. 

He dialed our house phone but never got through.  “I’m sorry, there is no answer.”

I stepped on the gas until it was over a hundred.  After a minute or two, I glanced over at Mark.  “You okay, Mark?”  I noticed he seemed to be holding tightly to the seat.  I slowed down to seventy-five.

“My best friend in high school was killed while speeding—he had just got his license.”

“I’m so sorry.  That’s awful.”

I slowed down to the speed limit but still didn’t relax until I pulled into my driveway.  The house was eerily dark.  Looking at Mark, I got out.  He followed. 
Opening the door, I called for my mother only to be greeted with silence.  I turned around and noted her car was still in the driveway.

Mark and I walked into the living room.  I flicked on the light and gasped.  The man that was hugging my mother in that old photo, was sitting on our sofa. 

“Hello, Kevin.”

I stood there and looked at Mark.  I had just met him but I felt kinship developing quickly.  We both loved the theater, and we both had ties with this odd man.  I had to know the location of my mother—if this man hurt her…  I took a menacing step closer to him.

“Where is my mother?”  I tried to sound and look fierce, but I think I sounded like a little boy wanting his mommy. 

“All in good time, Kevin,” he glanced at Mark, “and Mark.”

Mark’s face had gone ashen.  “How—how do you know our names?”

The man got up and walked slowly back and forth tracing the top of the couch with a single finger like he was glove-testing for dust. 

“My name is Lhiswil.  I come from a vast distance from this planet, dimension and time. My job is to find children that we bring to our planet in another dimension to fight with their minds.  Our enemy will become Earth’s enemy in the far future.  So, you will be defending your own planet’s future ghouls.  The attack on Earth will be a few decades from now.

“I have known your mother for years.  She had promised me, before meeting your father, that she would help us to help herself and the future of her family letting her son come with me to help in the psychic battle.  When the time came, she refused to give you up.  We had all trained you, Kevin, to use your mind to move things, and so on, when you were a toddler.  But, we can’t force anyone to give up their child. 

“Thing is, the parents would also come.  The children were never just coldly taken away.  And they would be given back when the war was resolved.  We come to this planet now, because it is the Age of Aquarius.  This is a magical time full of great psychic energy.  Your planet and dimension were chosen because this is where the strongest minds in the universe reside; what makes you so powerful is your mind is ruled by emotions.  Lots of beings in the universe have forgone emotional binds thinking it weakens the mind, but that is simply not true.”

“Where is my mother? Please!”

“Your mother is safe.  She has agreed to go with me.  I transported her to our galaxy and did a dimensional transfer during a phone conversation with you.  I apologize for that.”

Mark stepped next to me.  “Why did I dream of you—you were destroying the planet—our planet.  Why should we trust you?” 

The man simply smiled.  “Mark, that wasn’t your planet being destroyed.  That was ours.  If you were to come with us--.”

I laughed.  “Wait…wait, what?  I know you want me—but Mark?”

He continued to stare at me.  “Your mother is there, she had agreed to come.  If you both,” he looked at me and then Mark, “come for advanced training and then join in the battle.  We will return you to your time, right to this very minute, after we win.”

“If we fail?”

Lhiswil picked up a black cape and put it on.  He put the hat on his head.  “If you fail, we will all cease to be.” 

“But you said you trained him—I only dreamed of you.”

He smiled showing a row of white teeth.  “Mark, you were trained as a toddler, you probably don’t remember.  Your mother also refused to come with us.  So, we just adjusted our time to travel to now and decided to try to persuade everyone again.  We have most of the children we need.  Some refused as adults, too.”  He shook his head.  “It is up to you.”

“Why did my mother go, what about Mark’s mother?  My stepmother.”

Lhiswil walked around the sofa and then sat on the back of it.  “I worked with your mother, Kevin.  She was involved with the training of the toddlers—she was, how do I say it?  My partner in this.”

“I’ll go."  Mark glanced at me with a shocked look.  “Mark, my mother is there.  If you want to stay, I’ll understand.”

Mark nodded.  “No, I’ll go too.”  He indicated Kevin to come into the hallway.  When they got there, Mark spoke.  “How do we know this guy didn’t just off your mother and then is going to murder us, too?  I said ‘yes’, but,” he looked towards the living room, “are we sure?”

Suddenly Kevin heard his mother in his head.  “Kevin, everything he says is true.  Just come for a time—we will win this war.”  We could always communicate this way--maybe it had been the training?

I smiled.  “I’m sure, Mark, but still,” he shook his head, “if you want to back out, go ahead.”

“No."  he looked at the floor.  "You're the brother I never had."


Kevin, Mark, and Lhiswil returned to the dimension far away in distance and time.  Kevin was reunited with his mother.  Both young men were trained for about six Earth months for mental battle.  Then they joined the ranks of hundreds of Earthlings fighting for Kedec, a planet in the Andromeda system. 

They mentally fought for many years.  Kevin’s mother was killed by the enemy that caused a sudden aneurysm to burst in her frontal cortex.  He was informed that when they return to their own planet of Earth, she would not be able to be restored to life.  When that happened, and only then, Kevin was angry and sorry that he ever asked about the man in the photograph. 

When Kevin and Mark, now middle-aged, were returned to their time, their youth was restored.  Both concocted a story about Kevin’s mother running off with another lover.  It was difficult, but he grieved silently. 

Kevin went to live with his father, Diane, and Mark.  Both stepbrothers opened their own theater when they graduated college. 

Last Words writing prompt entry
Writing Prompt
You're cleaning out your attic and stumble across an old photo of someone you don't recognize, hugging your mom. When you ask her about it she becomes very upset and runs out of the room.

Thank you, Liilia, for your art. Also, thank you, for the edits reviewers.

A short horror, science fiction story. One rule: ENJOY IT! :P
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