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Haunted House Series- Where Theres Smoke

J Campbell

By Joshua CampbellPublished 5 months ago 16 min read
1

"If you're gonna do that, then take it outside."

Rita was about two and a half sheets to the wind, but the sound of Dominic's less-than-doser tones brought her back down to a half sheet. She had the cigarette in her mouth, the flame inches from sparking the tip, and she was left in tableau as the other patrons of the Lucky Stool stood and looked at her.

If there was one thing Rita hated, other than the cravings she got from not having a cigarette every twenty minutes, it was everyone looking at her.

"It's a bar, Dom. You telling me you can't smoke in a,"

"Yes, Rita. For the thousandth time since the city passed the ordinance. I will lose my license if I let you smoke in here, so either take it outside or put it away."

People were talking behind their hands now, and the band had stopped mid-song to listen.

Not good, not good at all.

"Fine," Rita said, pushing away from the bar as she headed for the door, "I'll just,"

What she just did, however, was trip over the power cord that one of the band members had forgotten to tape down and go sprawling on her face. She wasn't hurt, not really, but as she came up, the cigarette that was still in her mouth was bent into an L. She cursed, pushing the hands away that tried to help her up, and that's when she heard the chuckles towards the back of the bar.

Were they laughing at her now too?

"Rita?" Dominic asked, trying to help her up, "Are you," but she elbowed away from him and practically ran onto the street. The tears, she could already feel the tears. They were hot and heavy and on the verge of breaking and she did not want these people to see her cry. She was embarrassed enough as it was, and if they saw her cry then she would have to go find another bar to drink herself stupid at five days a week.

More than anything else, she wanted a cigarette.

As she came onto the sidewalk, she was already teasing a new smoke out of the packet. She shivered as the autumn chill rankled across her arms, and wished she had thought to wear her hoody. The forecast had called for it to be slightly warmer than the night before, however, so she had left it lying on her bed and walked to the Lucky Stool with nothing but a half-pack of Luckys and the twenty she had in her front pocket.

She raised her lighter to spark the cigarette, but as the wheel clicked and the flint threw up little more than useless discharge, she growled in frustration. It had likely gotten damaged in the fall, and as she walked along hoping for a decent spark, she felt her frustration mounting. This kind of thing always happens in bunches. She had been having a good time drinking and listening to the Maverick Men as they played the sort of slow rock she enjoyed. She had been talking with her friends, she had been getting deliciously buzzed, and above all else, she had been forgetting about life for a while.

Rita had a lot of problems, but forgetting about life was the one thing that made them all tolerable.

Rita gasped, nearly losing her smoke, as one of the clicks sparked a usable flame and the warm smell of cigarette smoke filled her nostrils for a moment before the wind blew it back out.

Rita loved that smell.

It always reminded her of home.

It was her earliest memory, and it always made her think of her parents.

Randy and Kora Dabber, Dad and Mom to their daughter, had been veteran smokers even before their daughter came along. They had smoked since before they met each other, and they had seen no reason to quit just because Kora had caught pregnant in their sophomore year. Kora's father HAD seen a reason for an impromptu marriage, shotgun or not, and the two had started playing house instead of going to algebra class. Randy had gotten a job, Kora kept busy keeping their two-bedroom trailer that sat at the back of her parent's property, and the two had been happy enough. Neither had lamented their lost youth, neither had blamed the other for unfulfilled dreams, and both of her parents were simple creatures that were content to exist.

Rita remembered the old trailer fondly. It had been the backdrop for many of her fondest childhood memories, but Rita chose to blunt those memories rather than try to live in them.

The one thing she did remember was the smell of cigarettes.

Rita's parents were chain smokers, two packs each a day sometimes, and the trailer always possessed a thick smell of tobacco. Rita didn't mind, though she knew other kids who did. Most of her friends told her she stank, and that her clothes smelled smokey, but it always brought Rita comfort. She was like a child who has long ago learned to ignore the smell of litterboxes or a favorite food as it cooks and finds a sense of homecoming in the smell.

That being said, sometimes the smoke reminded her of something else.

Sometimes, when she couldn’t use the booze or the nicotine high to forget, the smoke reminds her of that night when she came home to find her parents weren't the only thing smoking.

Those thoughts had been what drove her to drink, and what had ultimately driven her to the bar again.

Rita was only twenty-four, too young to have thrown her whole life away, but that's what she had done. She had let the dreams of that burning house and those helpless coughs bring her gasping from sleep every night since she was sixteen, and over the years it had taken a toll. She had gotten lucky, and someone had noticed her art in high school. They had extended her a scholarship to Praemore, a little art school in town that worked with up-and-coming talent. She had been taking classes, and working on her craft, and her aunt had been proud of her for making it on her own. But the longer she came awake with the smell of that burning house in her nose, the more she had been nursing those burns with cigarettes and liquor.

She had been drinking since high school, more so after the accident, and the cigarettes had become more than a guilty pleasure once she didn't have to sneak them. She didn't enjoy them, well, that was a lie. She enjoyed the euphoric rush of nicotine as it filled her, but that wasn't what she craved. When she lit the tip and smelled the burning tobacco, she was transported back to that old trailer, to a time when she sat between her parents on the couch and smelled the aroma of stale cigarettes, and for those few minutes, she was home. She too became a chain smoker, especially when she drank, and with everyone she lit, the peace in her mind became more and more fleeting. The alcohol helped too, especially when it came to sleep, but it had been a self-destructive combination.

Eventually, between cutting classes to smoke or showing up drunk from the night before, they had little choice but to put her out.

"Sort yourself out, Rita. You're a talented artist, but you have picked up some self-destructive habits. We want to see you succeed, and we wish you wanted the same."

That had begun Rita's spiral, a spiral that had taken her to this very spot on the sidewalk, with her bum lighter and her unlit cigarette that was just waiting for a...

"Need a light, ma'am?"

Rita jumped as the stranger's face was lit momentarily by the dancing flames of his silver lighter. She turned to find a carnival barker standing two feet from her. She had come up the sidewalk, not really looking where she was going, and had found herself in front of a shabby-looking haunted house. It had been covered with a stage curtain and looked to have been built into the mouth of an alley. From the streamers to the decorations, the whole thing just screamed "Dollar General rush job" and it all looked very cheap.

Rita leaned down to accept the light, however, before thanking the strange man in the over-the-top suit.

"No problem, young lady. I wonder, however, if I might interest you in a trip through our haunted house. It's only a five-dollar donation and we guarantee your money back if you do not have an authentic life-changing experience."

Rita took another look at the, frankly, lame-looking haunted house and reached into her pocket to see what she had available. She had drunk up a lot of her folding money already, but she found eight crumpled ones in there and tossed five into the box. She wasn't planning on experiencing much of anything in here, but it was October and she'd take advantage of a free haunted house.

"Splendid," the barker said, "Off you go, best of luck."

"Best of luck," Rita scoffed, shuddering as the crate paper streamers brushed her, "No luck to," but her next words were lost in a cough.

The fog machine had clouded her vision, and she was left pawing at the air as she tried to get past it. She suddenly wasn't so sure of herself. The smoke had turned into a fog bank, and the acrid fumes smelled less like party store smoke juice and more like the thick, choking smoke from a house fire. The same miasma she had inhaled that night. The same thing that had...

Suddenly, Rita was standing in the driveway of her parent's lot, the home she had grown up in on fire!

Rita was sixteen again, and the little shorts she had worn made the wind easily able to prickle the hairless flesh. She had her cork sandals in her hand, her bandana clashing with her pixie cut, and the white crop top that had seemed so cute for the party seemed ill-advised for what lay before her. She could do little but stand here and watch the house burn, just as she had done that night, knowing that she would probably be in there too if she hadn't disobeyed her mother.

She had snuck out to go to Jamie's party, mostly because Marissa had told her Frank was going to be there. Frank Cartright, the hunky theater kid who played all the "Tough Guy" roles in the school plays, had been the object of her desire since eighth grade. Frank Cartright, who had played the Danny to her Rizo in last year's production of Grease, had come swaggering in like some pagan god who had decided to mingle with the mortals for a change. She had gone up to him, wanting to catch his eye before any of the other trailer park disasters could steal him from her, and he had apparently liked what he'd seen.

Frank Cartight, who had turned out to have Russian Hands and Roman fingers couldn't keep up with his animal lust.

Frank Cartright, the guy who had taken her virginity and left her unsatisfied after a solid forty seconds of performance.

Frank Cartright, whom Rita had left sleeping in Frannie's guest room after deciding to walk home in her dissatisfaction.

That was why she was standing there at all, sandals in hand as she prepared for a lecture from her mother. Her mother wasn't a fool, and everyone in the trailer park knew the sort of parties that went on at Fran's house when her parents were out of town. She had forbidden Rita to go, but Rita had been sneaking out since middle school and was pretty sure she could get back in without waking them. If her mom was waiting up, however, there was likely to be an ass chewing. As she watched the trailer go from a campfire to an inferno, Rita wished she could take that chewing now as opposed to what was to come.

She dropped her sandals and ran for the door, hoping to save her parents but already knowing she couldn't.

In reality, the chain had been on and no amount of beating would get her inside.

Whatever this was, the door had opened easily, and Rita walked inside coughing as she called for her mom and dad.

She found her Dad first, and she wished she hadn't.

The fire marshal had told the insurance company that her dad had been the epicenter of the blaze, or more specifically the cigarette that had fallen into his lap had.

Her father worked as a grease monkey at the Lube Pro, and he hadn't come home yet when Rita snuck out. It appeared that hadn't bothered to take off his jumpsuit when he came home and had crashed in his armchair to have a smoke and watch the end of The Late Show before cleaning up. He had fallen asleep and the cigarette had tumbled into his lap, igniting whatever chemicals he had worn home that day. The blaze had been out of hand by the time the smoke woke her mother up, and by then that smoke had nearly done for her as well.

Her father had been little more than a burnt husk by the time they found him, but as she looked at him now, Rita saw him screaming as his chest burned inward. His flesh was turning to ash before her eyes, his mouth open in an everlasting scream as the fire devoured him like a candle. The flames spread quickly over the room, cooking him as they took his life, and Rita heard him calling her name as his skin fell away like char from a log.

"Rita! Rita! Rita!" he screamed, and she backed away as he cooked.

His screams sounded more like a dying animals below as the fire took his throat and face. Suddenly he was nothing but a braying skeleton, his skin gone but his voice remaining. Rita backed away, wanting it all to stop, and turned to flee deeper into the house. What the hell kind of haunted house was this? Rita wasn't even sure she was still in the haunted house, and the more she ran, the more she wondered if she was having a stroke? Had she fallen into some kind of psychotic episode and was frothing on the ground while her brain played the worst day of her life on repeat? Had she been drugged at the bar and was hallucinating? Whatever was happening, Rita really wanted it to stop.

She came running not into her room, but into her mother's room and saw her mother smoldering on the bed as she coughed her life away.

Her mother had actually died in the hallway, the smoke inhalation having done for her, but Rita found her in bed as the floor burned like a winter fire around her. She was hacking, coughing, calling Rita's name as she reached for her. She needed help, she needed Rita's hand to get out of bed and stop the coughing, but before her eyes, her mother began to melt. Her skin puddled on the bedspread like hot clay and she fell inward with a pater like boiling oil. Her eyes fell out of her head, rolling like marbles as her skin cooked, and Rita screamed as she backed out into the hall.

She had to get out of here, she had to run, but the fire was everywhere, and there was no escape now.

She was trapped, just as her parents had been trapped, and as she fell to her bottom on the island of carpet in that sea of heat, she reached for her smokes. She needed a light, she needed a cigarette, she needed to fill her lungs with that sweet heat and forget all about this. She needed to forget, to find her reprieve, she needed to escape all this and just be herself for a while.

Someone took the cigarette out of her mouth before she could light it, and she looked up to see her father standing over her.

He wasn't the burning pyre he had been earlier, and though sooty he was more as she remembered him in life.

"No more of that, moonbug," he said, sitting beside her as she sobbed in the hallway, "You need to stop obsessing about this and get past us."

She looked at her father through teary eyes, trying to understand what he was saying.

"B..b..but,"

"Not buts, kid. This isn't healthy. You aren't responsible for what happened to us. If anything it was my carelessness."

"But, but if I had been here," she started, but as the bedroom door opened, she saw her mother come gracefully out of the room. She was in her plain nightgown, her hair in curlers like she had been when they had their last fight, but she was all smiles now as she took her seat on Rita's other side.

"You'd be dead too, very likely. Rita, this wasn't your fault. You can't blame yourself for what happened to us, and theres no reason to smoke yourself to death trying to remember us either."

Rita put her head against her knees, the tears now silent as they wet her skin.

"But," she started, trying to articulate how they made her feel, "But for those few minutes that I smell the smoke and taste the burn, it's like we're a family again. I can remember being happy in our trailer, happy with myself, and I can forget that I had to wait alone for the firetruck as I listened to you cough yourself to death."

Her mother put an arm around her, and it was so real that she had to look up to make sure she was actually there.

"It doesn't matter, Rita. The longer you wallow in the past, the longer it will be before you get over it. Throw these away, live your life, and let us go. You could be so much more if only you would let us die."

Rita reached into her pocket, pulled out the Luckys as she looked at the comfortable red and white package. Lucky's were the brand her father smoked, and she always remembered seeing the top poking from his shirt pocket. Her hands trembled as she tried to make them work, and Rita was afraid for a moment that she wouldn't have the strength.

"Do it," her father said, smiling as her mother nodded, "Cast it off and live your own life."

Rita felt fresh tears as she tossed the package into the fire, and when she wiped them away, she was alone in the dark, dirty alley.

There was no fire, no ghosts of her dead parents, but that didn't mean she hadn't found something.

She wobbled a little as she walked through the smoke and crate paper, walking up to the Barker like someone in a dream.

"I hope your experience was satis," but she cut him off as she wrapped him in a hug.

"Thank you," she whispered, pulling away as she walked down the sidewalk, heading for home.

She could email the school tonight and begin taking classes next semester.

It would be hard work, but she could manage it.

Rita was stronger than she knew, and she felt lighter now than she had since she was a kid.

The Barker smiled as her stride gained confidence, losing the unsure sway it had held when she began, "Another satisfied customer."

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About the Creator

Joshua Campbell

Writer, reader, game crafter, screen writer, comedian, playwright, aging hipster, and writer of fine horror.

Reddit- Erutious

YouTube-https://youtube.com/channel/UCN5qXJa0Vv4LSPECdyPftqQ

Tiktok and Instagram- Doctorplaguesworld

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