“It was easily the most frightening moment of my life,” I began. The glow of the fire danced on the faces of the other women huddled around it – not for warmth, exactly, but to better hear the stories.
It’s all we seem to do these days. If you ever see a fire in the woods, chances are we’ll be there. Wherever one or two are gathered, you’ll find us. We love telling our own stories, but what we love even more is hearing the misery of others relived over and over again.
“The water kept rising, but I couldn’t move,” I continued. “Daddy told me I’d be safe in the storm cellar. I wanted to go with him, but he had to find my baby sister. It was my first tornado. We didn’t have them back home in New York, but Daddy’s company moved us out to Wichita, and I hated it.
“I waited for him to come back, but he didn’t. I yelled and yelled, and could hardly hear myself over the storm, which was louder than anything I’d ever heard. It sounded like a train was rushing by right over my head, rattling the doors of the storm cellar. Then I heard something crash above me, and suddenly water began rushing into the cellar.
“I panicked. I ran up the stairs to the cellar doors, and tried to push them open. They wouldn’t budge. I started pounding on them and crying for help, when I lost my footing on the stairs and fell down them backwards, catching my leg in between one of the open slots.
“The pain was unbearable. I found myself nearly upside down, with my broken leg wedged between the stairs. I could see bone poking through my jeans, and my leg hung at an impossible angle. Water was pouring in and accumulating on the floor. My mind and heart raced, and my leg screamed any time I even moved.
“The water had reached my hair, and was so cold I cried out in shock. I tried to pull myself up to stay out of the water, but the pain was so bad that I think I passed out for a minute. Everything went black and I was dizzy, and when I woke up, my head was nearly under water. I sputtered and splashed and pulled myself up just barely enough to keep out of the water, which was rising at a frightening rate. I knew that soon, it would cover me if I didn’t get up and out of there.
“I cried out again for help. The noise from the storm had passed, and all I could hear was rushing water. I couldn’t move any more than I had. My head was above water, but it had risen to my chin, and wasn’t stopping.
“‘Help!’ I shrieked, over and over. And then I heard a voice — or at least, I thought I did — calling my name. I called out again, screaming for my Daddy, and I coughed and spat out water as it tried to get into my mouth.
“I heard pounding at the cellar door, and heard someone yell for help. The water kept rising, as I kept gasping for precious bits of air.”
I stopped talking and watched their faces. They were all bent over, intently listening; hanging on every word of my terrifying ordeal. I grinned. Their attention was delicious. It was why I kept coming to these little gatherings.
“And then what happened?” The girl with the permanent creepy grin demanded.
“Why, I drowned, of course,” I finished. “By the time they moved the wreckage that had fallen on the cellar and pulled my pale, bloated body out, I’d been dead for hours.”
My tale finished, I looked around the fire at my companions. There was the girl with the strychnine smile, her face tight with rictus and her gaping eyes. I didn’t need to hear her story again. It gave me nightmares even now. To my left was a young woman whose face was all shades of purple and yellow in the firelight, and her mouth was still stitched shut. I remember reading about her. She was the third victim of the twin killers the papers called The Walrus and The Carpenter, on account of the messages they left sewn inside their victims’ mouths — snippets of Lewis Carroll. The victims had been dubbed ‘Oysters’ by a shameless tabloid reporter, who wrote that the killers shucked their victims like oysters. I looked at the poor ghost, with a hollow place where her belly should have been, and decided I didn’t want to hear her story.
Then there was the girl with the mush mouth, teeth all splinters and shards, her tongue like a piece of raw liver that a dog had chewed up and spit out.
“What about you?” I asked her.
When she opened her mouth to speak, you could see the moonlight shining through the messy hole in the back of her head.
“Oh,” she said shyly, “you don’t want to hear my story.”