The rumble of Chase’s run-down Chevy announced his arrival in White Lily Valley. A small, quaint town, of a few thousand people. Known for nothing and no one. The perfect place to start over. He’d left the city behind him and with it, all of the past. With him, he carried only his backpack, wallet, and whatever he could stuff into an old suitcase that had been smushed into the trunk.
He turned into the gas station at the edge of town, the first sign of civilization he’d seen for miles. His car was desperately thirsty, and the snicker bars just ten feet away were calling his name.
“Hey there!” a tall, but plump man with a tomato-red face said to him from behind the counter. Chase gave the man a nod before heading to the bathroom. He’d waited hours to stop, and couldn’t wait a second more.
Once finished, he laid a snicker bar, a soda can, and a $50 bill on the counter. The man took it and quickly figured out his change, handing it back.
“New in town, huh?” he asked.
“Yup,” Chase said, trying not to sound too enthusiastic. “Wanted a fresh start.”
“You buy that old place down Hickory Road?”
He nodded, “That’s the one.”
The man smiled, “I’m Bill. Come by anytime if you need anything.”
Chase nodded again and headed back to the car. It was only a few minutes before he made it to his new home. An old farmhouse, white with green shutters, in a quaint neighborhood. It was a fixer-upper, he’d admit, but still, it had a charm about it that the city just didn’t offer.
Dragging his few belongings inside, he sat in the middle of the big open living room. In his mind, he imagined how it would look once he had time to decorate. His parent’s covered the cost of the house, but the rest was on him. Furniture, renovations, the works.
He imagined a couch along the wall, and the dining table to the right. He could picture just how his new life would turn out, and it excited him.
This was exactly the kind of thing he needed. No reminders of his past life, no one to keep him stuck in the person he was before. No longer would he be held back. This was a future filled with unlimited potential.
A knock on the door took him out of his daydream.
“Hey there, neighbor!” a man, about ten years older than Chase stood in the open doorway, his wife at his side. She had rich deep brown hair, and wore bright red lipstick.
“Hi!” Chase said with a smile. This was exactly one of the reasons he moved to White Lily. Neighbors who cared. Who brought over casseroles when they made too much, and wanted to play charades on the weekend.
“We saw you pull up this morning, and thought we would bring this over,” the woman said. “I’m Amy. And this,” she gestured to her husband, “is Wren.”
“Nice to meet you both. I’m Chase,” he said, taking the plate of cookies from Amy. They looked delicious, with large chocolate chunks and a few pieces of sea salt sprinkled on top. Chase’s mouth watered at the sight.
“We own the Meat and Greet Restaurant, just down the road. You should swing by sometime.”
“I’d like that,” Chase said.
“You look awfully young to be living out here alone. You got a wife with you?” Amy asked.
“No,” he replied. The comment struck him as odd. Chase was only 24, and while it might have been weird to move out somewhere new by himself, it was necessary—but he couldn’t tell them that.
“My parents helped me get this place. I wanted a fresh start,” Chase continued.
Amy smiled, “Don’t we all.”
Wren put a large arm around his wife, “Well, we better get going. The restaurant is calling our names.”
Without thinking, Chase asked, “Are you hiring?” He figured he’d need a job eventually if he was ever going to get his house fixed up. Couldn’t live on his parent’s dime forever, and working at a restaurant seemed like a great way to meet some of the locals.
“Sure,” Wren smiled. “Come on by whenever you can. We’ll get you all set up.”
Chase closed the door behind them, a happy warm feeling in his stomach—not just from the cookies Amy had brought over. He finally felt like he was doing something right. Making a change in his life.
“Table 35,” Wren said through the kitchen window, sliding a plate with an oversized burger and fries across to him.
Three months had passed since Chase first moved to White Lily Valley. The faces around him were starting to seem familiar. He felt like maybe, just maybe, things in his life would finally be at peace.
Of course, that is rarely how life works.
“Can you take this out to the trash for me?” Amy asked him as she tied up a large trash bag. “These are always too big for me to throw over the side.”
“No problem,” Chase picked up the bag and walked through the back door out to the large metal bin. Flies swarmed and buzzed over top, they loved the sticky sweet soda that always ended up coating the bottom and sides of the trash.
He threw the bag over his shoulder to launch it into the heap.
A sound like snapping branches or cracking knuckles came from the bin. Chase leaned over the edge to get a closer look, but couldn’t see anything. Toward the bottom, a pool of cherry soda leaked from one of the bags, but nothing was out of the ordinary.
“Hey,” Amy called from behind. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Chase said, dusting his hands on his apron. “Just thought maybe I hit an animal or something in there.”
She nodded, “Yeah, we get raccoons a lot. Be careful, wouldn’t want you getting rabies.”
That night, Chase couldn’t get the sound out of his head. He kept replaying the moment over and over. Amy was probably right, it was just some raccoon that was in there, and maybe he hit it with the trash.
But still, he thought. It doesn’t seem right.
In bed, he dreamed of raccoons covered in red cherry soda, accompanied by the screams and squeals of dying animals.
“Chase!” Wren was snapping his fingers in front of Chase’s eyes. He’d drifted off into his head in the middle of his shift.
“S-s-sorry,” he stammered. “Don’t know what’s going on with me today.”
“Why don’t you take a lunch? Clear your head,” Wren suggested. Chase nodded in agreement, and took his apron off. He slid into a corner booth and looked out the window. The restaurant was empty, and they were cleaning up after the lunch rush.
Chase opened his phone, the news had a missing person search happening a few towns over. He clicked on the link to watch the report.
A police officer was speaking into a microphone from the news station, “Doug Thatchett went missing three days ago. This is the third missing person over the last 10 months from this area.”
The clip switched to a young blonde woman crying into a microphone, “Please come home dad,” she said. “We miss you.”
“Water?” Amy interrupted, she set a glass on the table.
“Sure, thanks,” he said, taking a sip. “Did you hear about this missing person?”
“Yeah, it’s a shame,” her eyebrows furrowed and she shook her head. “Probably ran off with some girlfriend. Seems to be how it happens these days.” Chase nodded in agreement.
“I need a favor,” Amy said. “Wren and I need to step away for a few hours today. We are almost out of buns, and need to stop by the bank. Do you mind helping with some of the prep this afternoon? I’ll have someone else cover the dining room.”
“Sure,” he said.
Looking back, that was the beginning of the end.
Wren stood next to a giant meat grinder, “We grind our own meat here so we can control the fat content. Makes them nice and juicy,” he laughed. “All you have to do is feed the meat up here, and catch it in this bowl.”
“Got it,” Chase said.
“When you’re done, you’ll prep the patties. Section it off, form the meat, then put it in the freezer.”
“He’ll be fine,” Amy said, reassuring him. Wren was sweating more than usual. The kitchen was hot, and the weather was unseasonably warm. His face was beet red and shiny under the fluorescent lights.
“Call me if you need anything,” Wren said before leaving to wash his hands.
“We’ll be back in a few hours,” Amy waved goodbye, and Chase got to work.
The next weeks passed by much of the same. Chase would go to work, come home, make dinner, and go to sleep. He’d finally saved up enough to buy a rickety old bed frame and a mattress. In the living room, he had a small TV and a small used couch he'd found on the side of the road. It was modest, but soon it would become home.
Wren and Amy began leaving more and more often during work. Always for some errand or another, leaving Chase to grind the meat and prepare the restaurant for the next day. He didn't mind the work, it allowed him to clear his mind when he wasn't dealing with customers.
In the back corner of Amy and Wren's yard, near the edge of their property was a tree line that led to a small wooded area. In front of it stood a broken-down tool shed. It looked out of place in such a pristine area, but Chase couldn't be bothered to think much of it.
Wren would work in that corner of their property for hours. Doing… Chase wasn’t sure what. And he was too afraid to ask, fearing that they’d wonder why Chase was watching them.
One night, Chase sat on the edge of his bed, looking out his window, down at his neighbor’s house. Golden light flooded their backyard from the back porch light. The moon was a perfect crescent, hung in the sky.
“Are you out of your mind?” Chase heard Wren yell.
Amy gave a shriek, which forced Chase to stand. His heart beat in his chest, but he hesitated to get involved just yet. Couples fought. Lord knows his parents had gotten into a few dozen screaming matches, and no one called the police on them.
“Get this cleaned up,” Wren said. His voice was deep and harsher than he’d ever heard it before.
Wren exited his house and carried a large black trash bag out to the shed in the backyard, flinging the rotting wooden door open and throwing it inside. Even from far away, Chase could hear the thump as the bag hit the ground and clattered against the metal tools inside.
Chase gasped as Wren turned around and their eyes locked. He knew that Chase was watching. A lump formed in his throat, and he tried to swallow it back, but it was relentless. There was something very wrong with what he witnessed, he knew it. He just didn’t know what it was.
To clear his head, Chase tip-toed down the stairs and into the kitchen, grabbing a glass of water. He drank it all, and then filled the cup again. After his second glass, his heart finally began to slow.
Think rationally, he told himself. There is no reason to suspect anything. You know these people. It was probably just a bag of trash, that’s all.
He tried to convince himself that it was perfectly reasonable for his boss to be carrying a large bag of trash at three in the morning out to his toolshed. There was probably a normal explanation, and the night was just wearing away at his sanity.
Chase grabbed the remote for the TV, and clicked it on. Sleep was no longer on his mind, and drowning out any bad thoughts with the mindless hum of the television seemed the perfect way to keep himself busy.
Outside, his motion sensor porch light went off.
Probably just a rabbit, he told himself, closing his eyes and leaning back onto the couch, his feet propped up on a coffee table in front of him.
A glimmer of movement outside caught his eye. The yellow porch light flickered, and out in his front yard, a shadow could just barely be seen.
It was bigger than a rabbit. Much bigger.
Chase stood up and rushed to the window to get a better look, but by the time he was there, the shadow was gone. Whatever it was had vanished into the dark night.
Chase stayed awake the rest of the night, too scared to sleep knowing that shadows lurked outside. Even after triple checking the locks on the doors, he didn’t feel alone in his house. It felt like someone was there. Watching him. Waiting for him to slip up.
Now, Chase stood in the kitchen, pouring himself a cup of coffee, as the news station announced the weekly weather and events.
“I’m sorry, I have to stop you there, Rob,” a blonde reporter said. “We have breaking news coming out of Orange County.”
Chase watched intensely at rolling text scrolled along the bottom of the screen, “Albert Madden has been declared missing by the police. He is most known as being a lead suspect in the recent Whitlock murders. They are asking that if you have any information on this man to contact authorities immediately.”
The screen showed a picture of Albert. He looked like an average middle-aged man, someone that would not be distinguishable in a crowd. Save for his bright snow-white hair. Chase flipped the channel, after last night, this kind of thing was not what he wanted to focus on.
Still, with how close they were to Orange County, something brewed inside Chase. A bubbling of worry that always seemed to be simmering in his gut.
Could it have been Albert outside my window last night? he wondered.
Chase shook his head and took a swig of his coffee before dumping the rest of it down the drain.
At work, Wren and Amy were not speaking. Whatever fight they had last night had been major, and Chase did not want to get involved in any way. Instead, he busied himself bussing tables and running orders. It was a particularly slow day at the restaurant, leaving lots of room for the couple to fight.
“You’re beginning to be erratic,” Wren said. Chase didn’t want to listen to their fight, but through the walls, every word could be heard. “You promised you wouldn’t bring it home to us.”
“You are overreacting. It isn’t a big deal. I handled it, didn’t I?” Amy retorted.
“If he suspects anything…” Wren’s voice tailed off to a whisper Chase couldn’t hear.
Amy burst through the swinging doors to the kitchen and found Chase sweeping the floor. Her face was red, and sweat beaded on her forehead. She took in a sharp breath as if surprised to see him there.
“Once you take out the trash, you can go,” she said.
Chase nodded and silently exited, tying up the plastic bags of food waste and other garbage. He lugged the large bags out to the metal bin, throwing them over his shoulder to toss into the container.
“Hey,” Wren appeared from behind him. “Sorry about Amy and I, these days things are just… well… marriage is like this sometimes.”
Chase nodded, “It’s all good. Is… everything okay?” He picked up another bag to toss in. When it landed, Chase heard that familiar crunching sound.
Perplexed, he looked from Wren to the garbage. This time, Chase pulled himself up and looked over the side and into the container.
Blood, he thought. There was no way to mistake the rusty metallic smell of it.
Though, that wasn’t too out of the ordinary. They ground meat in the restaurant every day. Meat had blood in it, right? Maybe some just leaked through a bag.
But the smell. He wasn’t sure how he hadn’t noticed it before. Were they throwing away that much raw meat that it could smell like that?
A large black bag—unlike the opaque white ones from the store—was shoved into the back corner. Flies swarmed it, and Chase couldn’t believe what his eyes saw.
White hair, bright against the black bag. He blinked, Stay calm, it’s probably nothing, he told himself. You're just seeing things.
“Everything okay?” Wren asked.
“Yeah, of course. Thought maybe we had raccoons again,” Chase cleared his throat. His mind felt foggy, confusion and anxiety swarmed like bees in his head.
“Well, you get home safely, alright? Amy made a fresh batch of cookies the other day, I’ll be sure to have her bring some over.”
“That’d be great.”
At home, Chase couldn’t get his mind off of what he saw. Curiosity gnawed at his stomach like a hungry dog. He had to know what was in that bag. It was the only way he would rest easy.
Once it hit 2:30 am, Chase got back in his Chevy and headed to the restaurant. He’d go into the bin, check the bag, realize that it was nothing, and then go back to sleep. The next day, he could pretend like nothing happened and everything would go back to normal.
The nice thing about living in a small town was everyone trusted everyone. There was no locked gate around the garbage and no security cameras outside the restaurant. If he did everything right, no one would even know Chase was there.
He lifted the top of the garbage container, and the rancid smell of meat hit his nostrils. Chase looked away to stop himself from gagging. He pulled his shirt up over his nose and mouth and hoisted himself in.
The bag was still where it sat before, stuffed away in the corner, a small tuft of white hair sticking out of the top. Chase closed his eyes for a moment, Am I really going to do this? He thought.
But he did. He ripped the bag open to reveal the head of Albert Madden alongside the rest of his dilapidated body. It looked like he had been skinned, most of his muscles removed. Chase couldn’t even fathom where the rest of his body was.
“What the fuck,” he said aloud before proceeding to vomit. His body had already begun to rot, bugs and worms forming homes in his skin and bones.
Chase scrambled out of the garbage, and slammed the container shut. He couldn’t go back to work tomorrow. He couldn’t pretend he hadn’t seen this.
In a way, he figured it was his fault. He could have just pretended not to see anything, and gone on with his life. As if nothing ever happened.
Headlights pulled into the parking lot, Shit.
“You okay there, Chase?” It was Amy.
“Hey Amy, sorry I…” think think THINK. “Thought I lost my watch in the garbage earlier. It was my granddad’s so I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow to find it.”
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Chase swallowed, She knows.
“Why don’t you let me drive you home?” she offered. Chase wanted to refuse, to run away, but he couldn’t. He was trapped. There was no going back from what he had seen.
He got into the passenger side of Amy’s car, and the low rumble of the engine hummed and filled the silence the whole drive home.
“Come inside,” she said. “I’ve got some cookies you can take home with you.”
Chase nodded, unsure what refusing would bring him.
Amy walked ahead towards the kitchen. The house smelled like a bakery and made Chase’s mouth water the instant he was inside. On the table was a plate of cookies. Amy reached the plate out.
“Here, take one now, and I’ll wrap up the rest for you.”
Chase took a cookie off the top and bit into it. The chocolate chips melted onto his tongue. It was the best cookie he’d ever tasted. It was sweet, with the slight tang of sea salt on the top. He finished it in seconds.
“Wow,” Chase said, crumbs falling out of his mouth.
Amy wrapped the plate of cookies and set it on the table. She handed Chase a glass of water.
In his mind, Chase wondered how he'd get away long enough to contact the police. Their station was far away, it would be at least another ten minutes before they'd arrive. Could he make it that long?
Sweat dappled his forehead, and Chase swiped it away before Amy could figure out just how uncomfortable he was.
“How have you been feeling, Chase?” she asked, her eyes searching his. “You’ve seemed… off these past couple of days. Are you alright?”
He cleared his throat, “I’m good. Just work, I suppose.”
“Are you going to tell me the real reason you were digging through our trash at 3 o’clock in the morning?” she raised an eyebrow.
What could he say? If he told her the truth, he’d be admitting that he knew something. But she clearly didn’t believe the half-baked lie that he told her earlier
“You know what? It’s okay,” she said. “I should just learn to mind my own business.”
The energy changed in the room when she said this. As if there was something… sinister lurking underneath it all.
“I just thought I lost my watch, that’s all. It really does mean a lot to me.”
“You and I both know that you’ve never worn a watch since you moved here. You never speak of your family or of home. I can only assume your ties with them are strained at best, and at worst, you’re completely cut off.”
Woah, he thought. How long had she been thinking about this?
“My family and I have a… complicated relationship.”
“But they buy you a house in the middle of a small town? Pretty generous.”
Chase’s eyes narrowed, “They wanted to help me get on my feet.”
“Where was it exactly you moved here from again?”
She laughed, “Right.”
She knows. He wasn’t sure she knew everything, but she knew more than what was safe. It was time to go. He needed to get out of there.
He turned to go, but at the slightest movement, his head began to spin. Shit. He pressed the heel of his palm into the side of his head. The room began to turn and fall lopsided.
“What did you…?” Chase fell to the ground.
Amy crouched low to get to his level. He looked up at her, his vision blurry.
“You know, if you had just kept your nose out of our business, we might have let you live.”
Just then, Wren entered the room, his bare feet slapping against the cool tile of the kitchen. He sighed, looking down at his wife.
“Oh Chase,” he sounded like a disappointed father. “Did you think we wouldn’t be able to figure out everything we needed to know about you?”
“See,” Amy began, “we only punish those who are deserving. And boy… did you do some nasty stuff in Anaheim. Was it worth it? What you did to that girl?”
“I’m sorry it had to come to this,” Wren said. Though, his voice did not match the words.
Chase’s stomach clenched, he felt the heat of bile crawl up the back of his throat, but he was too inebriated to move.
“What did you do to me?” he slurred.
“Cyanide,” Amy smiled. “Don’t worry, you have had enough that all of this will be over in a few minutes.”
“I told you that bringing Albert here was a bad idea,” Wren said. “We never were supposed to bring this all so close to home.”
“Hush,” Amy placed a finger on her husband’s lips. “It’s all over now.”
Chase’s head felt like it would explode into a million tiny pieces. That, plus vertigo, made him immobile. He felt the world spin around him and turn into darkness as he closed his eyes.
“Hope those grills are fired up!”
Bill announced his entrance into Meat and Greet the same every week. He patted his stomach, “I’m starving!”
“Be right with you,” Amy called from the kitchen.
Wren was in the back, churning the meat grinder. Amy placed a soft hand on his shoulder and gave his cheek a kiss.
Amy brought out Bill’s regular meal, a burger and fries with a side of cole slaw. He gave his lips a lick at the sight of the meal.
“Here you are,” she said, setting the plate down. “You’re lucky, we just had a fresh delivery of meat this morning.”
Thank you so much for reading my short horror story! If you enjoyed this, please feel free to check out my other work here on Vocal, or on instagram: @emil.yreadsbooks
This is the first story in a series where I pick random tarot cards and create a story based around them. Follow along for more coming!
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content