The following is an excerpt from my short story “Sonic Fear” from Breaking Fate Publishing’s latest anthology Lost in the Witching Hour. Released in August, Lost in the Witching Hour is a collection of 13 ghostly tales from up-and-coming authors including myself, Ryan Tandy, Amelia Cotter, Jason Hughes, Walter Conley, Nicky Peacock, and many more.
Fifth Avenue was empty as well, and only a handful of cars sat in the parking lot of the Fifth Avenue Pub. Not a very inventive name, but this was where James found himself for the past couple of nights. The pub was as dimly lit as the street. Its interior was mostly wood—wood paneling, wooden tables, a heavy oak counter—but decades of patrons had carved messages in the walls and tables until they were colored in red, blue, and black ink. The messages chronicled proclamations of love and hate, phone numbers and addresses, and some were scribblings only decipherable by their long-departed artists. The whole place reeked of the beer soaked into the tables and the body odor of the old men who sat at the same table in the corner, at the same time, every day. James picked an empty bar stool and sat down.
The bartender was a clean-cut black man in his mid thirties, dressed in a silver shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Sweat and oil glistened on his forehead. Every few minutes he spat into what James hoped was a sink or trash can. “What’ll it be tonight?” he asked.
“Don’t you want to see my ID?” James replied as he reached for his wallet.
“Nah, I remember you from last night,” the bartender said. “Haven’t seen you around before though.”
“I just moved near here a few days ago. I grew up on Harlem Avenue, but this apartment is my first place on my own.”
The bartender laughed. “Maybe I do need to check your ID. How old did you say you were again?”
“Twenty-three,” James mumbled. “I’ll take whatever you have on special.”
“312 Urban it is.” The bartender stuck a glass under the tap and filled it to the brim. He looked James over. “I’ll just start a tab for you.”
James rubbed his eyes and took the glass, spilling some in the process. “I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since I moved into that apartment,” he said. “I thought I would get used to the train, but it keeps waking me up. I think I’m losing my f—ing mind.”
“Where’s your place at?”
“On the other side of Fifth Avenue, past the truck rental, right next to the railroad tracks.”
The bartender’s grin deserted his face, and he spit. “Shit, you live over there? Forget about the train, man. I couldn’t live next to that lot.”
James was confused. “What are you talking about? What lot?”
“The tow lot. Don’t tell me you’ve never seen it. That shit would creep me out.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen it,” James said. “What about it?” His voice became agitated, and he slammed his glass down on the counter, splashing wheat ale on his t-shirt.
The bartender seemed not to notice. “My friend’s cousin died in nasty collision a couple of years ago. It took her head clean off. They said they found it in the backseat. No joke, man. That lot is where they towed her car. My friend said her blood stains were still in the seat cushions when the guy came to appraise the damage.” He shivered and stepped toward a middle-aged couple at the other end of the bar. “I’m glad I don’t live over there, that’s all I’m sayin’.”
James buried his forehead in the palm of his left hand while he took a drink with his right. Before he knew it, five glasses stood empty in front of him and his head swam. He slapped a crinkled twenty-dollar bill on the counter and slid off the bar stool. “Al’ight, I gotta get some sleep,” he announced to no one in particular.
The alcohol and exhaustion made every step seem laborious as James stumbled back onto the street. His eyes began to close, but jerked open when the familiar sound of a 100-decibel train horn pierced the night air. He crossed Fifth Avenue and instinctively took the long way to his apartment—a route which he hoped would minimize his exposure to that damn train and its screeching breaks and sickening whistle, which the Federal Railroad Administration had required the engineer to blow at all crossings, at any time of the day or night.
The whistle—it kept getting closer and louder with every step.
James tried to remember the song that had been playing in the bar just before he left, or any song that might drown out the noise. I wanna, wanna, wanna touch you… you know you want to touch me too? I wanna, wanna, wanna…
That’s when he saw the wreck. His route had taken him directly through the tow lot, where a crippled Toyota RAV4 sat beneath a single street lamp. The soft yellow light illuminated the tangled mass of fiberglass like it was a museum artifact on display. The driver’s side window was shattered and the door twisted upwards in an unnatural arch, exposing the vehicle’s insides. The front windshield was spider webbed. Curiosity drove James forward, and he strained his inebriated eyes to get a look inside.
The rhythmic clatter of the freight train echoed down the alley.
Like this story? Find out what happens next, plus read more great ghostly tales in Lost in the Witching Hour!