Urban Legends: Sickly Sweet by Mary Rajotte
Welcome to Urban Legends: Author & Artist #SpookyShowcase. This autumn 2019, the strange and unusual is unleashed! Featuring the best authors and artists in the horror landscape, come back each day the month of October for a scare. You can find the master posting schedule here,
Expect dark stories, myths, legends, and creepy creations that will make your spine tingle. Remember, urban legends aren’t true…are they?
by Mary Rajotte
Inspired by Clara Crane (The Candy Lady) from Texas.
No matter how hard folks in Plum Grove tried to keep things hidden, their ugliest truths festered just below the surface and threatened to disintegrate everything from within. Marcy Bishop knew that better than anyone.
The wet season came early that fall with a persistent rain that gripped the small town. A week before Halloween, a thick curtain of fog suspended over the countryside. It obscured everything from the parish church at one end of town to the post office on the other, muting all sounds but the persistent patter of rain.
One night while their parents were doing the after-dinner dishes, Marcy’s younger sister Jill convinced her to sneak out the back door. After they’d piled into the family car, Marcy drove them to the edge of town where the forest grew thick and the rhythmic song of the katydids found a way to pierce the stillness.
When they came to a lone gravel drive, Marcy slowed the car. Like restless observers, the mist-shrouded trees lingered in the near-beyond.
Marcy gripped the steering wheel and tried to make out the shapes in the darkness, but her headlights gave off nothing more than a dull glow. “I don’t know why I let you talk me into this.”
“No one’s had a party for years,” Jill said, checking her makeup in the mirror.
“Yeah, because we’re not allowed.”
“Since when has that stopped us? Come on, Marce. As long as we keep it under wraps.”
“Things like this never stay under wraps. Some jerk will post about it online and then mom and dad will lock us in our rooms for a month, just like last time. Don’t you remember how it was?”
Marcy’s stomach turned over at the thought of what life was like then, when everything good they had dissolved like sugar in water.
“But it’ll be so worth it. Besides, you think mom and dad don’t realize we all get together sometimes? They do, too. What do you think all those town council meetings are about?”
“That doesn’t make it right, Jill. You know the rules.”
“How could I forget? You try to shove them down my throat every chance you get.”
“Then you know it’s forbidden,” Marcy said, ignoring Jill’s bratty attempt at picking a fight. “No candy. No Halloween. No parties. Especially not here.”
“It’s one innocent little party.”
Marcy spun to face her sister. “Things are never as innocent as they seem, Jill. You should know that better than anyone.”
The silence between them allowed memories of that night 10 years ago to seep into the car like a chill through the gap in the window. Marcy’s gaze darted to the family photo pinned to the sun visor above her head. It was taken a year ago when there were still three Bishop siblings. Between them, their older brother, Brandon, stood with his arms wrapped around his sisters. He’d been heading out for what was supposed to be another innocent party that later took a turn that no one expected and changed the lives of everyone in Plum Grove, the Holmes family especially.
When Jill finally responded, she spoke so softly, Marcy barely heard her.
“Of course I do. But we deserve this, Marce. Just a bit of fun so we can forget. For just one night.”
Marcy closed her eyes. Jill sure knew how to push her buttons.
“If things get out of control…” Marcy regretted saying anything before she’d even finished, “I’m outta there.”
Jill squealed and turned in her seat to hug Marcy. “You won’t regret this, Marce! This will be an unforgettable night.”
Even though she’d had enough of those in her life already, Marcy ignored the gnawing feeling in her gut. She wanted nothing more than to hold on to just a sliver of Jill’s excitement. But something else had climbed up the back of her neck and settled there, a sense of doubt she hoped wouldn’t turn into regret.
Turning the car off the main road, Marcy headed up the gravel drive. When they came to a small worn patch, she stopped and turned off the engine and looked up at the last place anyone in their right mind would go on a good day, let alone so close to Halloween.
The old Crane House sat far back from the road in a copse of weeping willows. They were the perfect tree for this perfectly creepy house that should have been razed to the ground years ago. Like a line of marionettes with broken backs, the branches hunched to the ground. A chilly breeze took hold of their lithe tendrils and sent them swooping and dragging across scattered dry leaves in the dirt.
There were no lights in the time-smudged windows. No cars. No footsteps in the layers of dirt on the front steps to show anyone had been here in years. Marcy had a hard time believing anyone had set up this so-called party. Someone was playing a sick game luring them here and Marcy wasn’t falling for it.
Chipped, stained shutters hung lopsided from rusted hinges. So much ivy had grown around the house, it hung like living, breathing curtains around the windows. Barren soil encircled the foundation like nothing good could grow here. If the stories their parents told them growing up were true, nothing ever did.
With one last check of her makeup, Jill was out of the car and headed for the front steps. Marcy jumped out after her.
“Oh, come on. We came this far. You can’t chicken out now.”
“This place looks as empty as it has the past 125 years.”
“That’s the point! This is a Halloween party, Marce. It’s supposed to look creepy. Come on!”
Jill held out a small bundle wrapped in bright orange and purple tulle but when Marcy shook her head, Jill shoved it into Marcy’s hand.
“Bobby obviously went to a lot of trouble to impress you by setting up this party. They least you can do is eat a little candy to get in the spirit.”
“Who cares. We broke up. Remember?”
“So what! This must be his way of getting back on your good side. He knows you like all this Halloween crap.”
Marcy looked up at the house. If Bobby really knew her at all, he’d realize this was the last place she wanted to be on a night like tonight.
Fog seeped ever closer to the house, but Marcy didn’t believe it would protect her from the outside world and memories of the cruelty it inflicted on others. The closer the mist encroached, the more it felt like a threshold between where they’d been and what lay in store for them.
“Look, you can stand out here all night if you want. I’m going inside.”
Before Marcy could stop her, Jill bounded up the stairs and went to the front door. Marcy chased after her, but the toe of her boot got caught in one of the worn boards. She lost her footing and fell forward on both hands. By the time she’d righted herself, Jill had already opened the front door and disappeared inside.
Marcy scrambled after her.
“Jill!” Marcy hissed.
Marcy edged inside the door. Someone grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her inside. She swung both arms to knock them away. When she tried to run, her sister burst out laughing.
Marcy spun around, it surprised her to see the inside of the house lit by soft candlelight from glass votives scattered around the room. A bunch of their friends were already inside enjoying the festivities.
“What the hell, Jill?”
“Oh, come on! Lighten up, Marce!”
Jill opened another candy bar and ate it in two bites.
“You better slow down or you‘ll hurl,” Marcy said bitingly.
Jill turned and headed inside where the party was already in full swing.
Cheesy horror music played from a set of scratchy speakers set on one a folding table. Gauzy material hung from the corners of the room. Fake spiders poked out of white webbing intertwined with purple fairy lights draped across the old stone hearth.
Yellowed shades offered only dim lamplight, but that was probably a good thing. Like dressed-up decay, there was so much dust on every surface in the room, Marcy’s eyes itched and her nose tingled.
Before she could blend into the crowd, Bobby spotted her. He stood in the doorway and smiled at her, the devil to her angel. Why had she caved to Jill? And why did she wear her half of the couple’s costume she and Bobby had picked out when they were still together?
He moved toward her. “You wore it,” he said.
Marcy crossed her arms over her chest and looked past him. “It’s a party. I needed a costume. Nothing more.”
“It looks good on ya.”
Marcy shrugged and started past him but Bobby leaned into the entryway to block her. When she looked up at him, he smirked.
“Don’t think this changes anything. I’m still pissed at you.”
“I know. I get it. But…you came.”
When she didn’t respond, he offered her the bowl of candy he was holding. She shook her head.
“That little care package you left on Jill’s windowsill was plenty.”
She ignored his frown and pushed past him into the room even though she wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of there.
Her sister was standing next to her boyfriend, Scott, at a makeshift drink station. He poured something into a red cup and handed it to Jill, who kissed him on the cheek before taking the drink from him.
“Genius idea covering the windows with black paper, guys,” she said, taking a swig.
“Figured it would keep everything on the down-low if any of our parents drive by,” Scott said. “Wouldn’t want them to put a damper on our plans.”
“Oh, yeah what plans are those?” Jill said. She turned to him and took a step but she staggered and fell into him, then let out a giggle.
“Geez, how many have you had? We just got here?” Marcy said.
“Just one, mom.” She laughed and then let out a massive burp.
“Classy.” Marcy turned and headed away from her sister. Looking around the old Crane place made her shoulders tighten. Growing up, every parent in Plum Grove had warned them away from the Crane house with stories about the crazy little old lady who once lived inside.
Marcy still wasn’t sure how much of what they’d told them was real and how much was just a bedtime story they cooked up to keep them from poking around the decrepit old Victorian. Obviously, it hadn’t worked, not for Marcy and her friends. Not for Brandon, either.
To think her older brother had taken his last breath here, at a party just like this one, made Marcy’s pulse race and her eyes burn with tears she had no intention of shedding in front of everyone.
When she turned away from the group to wipe her eyes, Bobby moved between her and Jill.
“I’m surprised you showed,” he said, edging closer.
“Yeah, well, you can thank my sister. She’s the one who twisted my arm.”
“Good. This is all for you, Marce.”
He leaned in and took her hand but she pulled away from him.
“I didn’t ask for this.” She pulled out the wad of candy Jill had given her, or at least what was left of it, and shoved it at him. “Or this.”
He looked down at the bundle of tulle and candy.
“What do you mean?”
“I guess I thought you’d be a little more sensitive, given what happened to Brandon.”
Bobby shook his head. “This is totally different, Marce.”
“Is it? You know what happened to him. At that party. How he…” she bit her lip. She hadn’t talked about this forever. It was too much. “This was a bad idea.”
“I know what happened to him, how much it hurt your family. But I just don’t get what this has to do with that.”
She shoved the candy at him. “You know how he died. Poisoned by whatever was in that candy. His eyes…the forks…And you leave this at our house? Then invite us to the place it happened? How sick are you?”
He held up both hands. “Marce–“
“No. I shouldn’t have come tonight. This was a huge mistake.”
She spun around and scanned the crowd for Jill. She stood cuddled up to Scott in the middle of the room, the two swaying to the music.
Marcy strode toward her and took her by the elbow.
“Come on, Jill, we’re leaving.”
“What the hell? I’m not going anywhere.”
“Yeah,” Scott said, staggering a few steps before nearly falling into her. “You just got here.”
“This is exactly what I thought would happen. Everyone getting wasted and acting like idiots.”
“God, you’re such a tight ass.” Jill turned away from her, which made Marcy’s blood boil.
“Look at Scott! He can barely stand. And everyone else?”
Marcy turned to see a few others collapsed to the floor, laughing, giggling, some groaning, others moaning.
To make it even worse, Bobby headed toward her and took her by the arm. Marcy yanked away from his grip and shoved the candy at him.
“First you send Jill this and now you guys are drinking?”
“Look, Marce. No one’s drinking and I didn’t send you this candy.”
Marcy spun to face him. “Bull! You thought you’d be cute by doing these creepy candy bundles and then having your party here at the Crane house of all places, after everything that happened here.”
“Come on. That story is all bull and you know it.”
“No. I don’t know it.” Marcy kept one eye on Jill behind him, who swayed to one side and could barely keep herself upright.
“This is exactly what our parents wanted. Telling us that idiotic story about Old Mrs. Crane and what she did to those kids. It’s just their way of keeping us from having any fun.”
“Oh? Is this what you call fun?”
Marcy gestured to the party-goers behind him. A few of the others had collapsed on the dusty old couches in the middle of the room. Others staggered around listlessly, holding onto one another for support.
“I…I don’t know what’s wrong with them. But I did nothing to them, and I know nothing about that candy, I swear!”
Marcy spun on her heel at the sound of Jill’s pained voice and found her sister coming toward her with an empty candy wrapper in her hand. She held it out to Marcy, but then dropped it to the floor before she went down on her knees.
“Jill!” Marcy bolted for her but her sister fell to her side. “Jill, what is it? Tell me what’s wrong!”
Jill’s head lolled to one side, and she slid down even further until she slumped to the floor.
Scott stood over them, his face white, his eyes wide.
“What did you give her, Scott?”
Beside her, Jill groaned.
“What did you put in her drink?”
“It was just punch. Nothing more, I swear!”
Marcy jumped up and yanked on Scott’s arm to pull him closer.
“Look after her! I’m going to get her some water!
She tore through the partygoers, some who watched the chaos, a few others totally out of it and oblivious to what was going on.
In the kitchen, Marcy pawed around on the counter for a clean glass. Bowls of candy, like the bundle Jill had found on her windowsill, sat in wicker baskets set around the kitchen. Marcy picked up one of the bundles, being careful as she lifted it to her nose. It didn’t smell bad. She didn’t really expect that Bobby had done anything to it but that didn’t mean Scott hadn’t.
When she finally untied the twine to reveal the contents inside, she gasped and threw everything onto the counter. Inside there were three pieces of candy shaped like teeth. They were black, rotten to the core, stained with blood. They looked so realistic, her arms crawled with gooseflesh,
“Marce! Where are you?” Bobby called from the living room.
Pushing the growing sense of alarm that prickled her skin, Marcy grabbed a cup and filled it with water at the sink before she headed back into the living room. But when she got there, the vibe had completely shifted. Half the party-goers stood hunched over, crying out in pain or collapsed on the chairs, the couch, some even on the floor.
Scott knelt over Jill muttering to himself with her head cradled in his hands. But there was white foam bubbling on her lips. Bobby stood there catatonic.
“What the hell! Oh my god, Jill! Can you hear me?”
Marcy shoved the cup at Bobby and knelt down. Jill’s lips were blue. Her eyes had rolled back into her head. She looked dead.
“That’s it!” she said, jumping up. “I’m calling my parents!”
She fully expected Scott or Bobby to stop her but the looks of desperation on their faces said enough. They were too chicken to do it themselves and they wanted someone more responsible to take over.
Marcy tapped her mom’s number on her phone and held it up to her ear. She pressed the fingers on her free hand to Jill’s neck. She was still breathing. Barely.
“These candies! What did you put in them?” she shouted as she waited for her mom to pick up.
“I didn’t even buy the candy,” Bobby said shakily.
“Then you!” she said, turning to Scott. “What did you put in them? Drugs? What was it?”
Scott looked up at her, still cradling Jill’s head in his hands. “I…I didn’t. I wouldn’t!”
“Where did you buy it then? There’s something wrong with it. We have to tell someone. Warn others!”
“I didn’t buy it, Marce!” he shouted.
The phone kept ringing without her mom picking up. She tapped the screen and shoved it in her pocket.
“Okay enough of this now! This is serious, you guys! People are sick. Stop lying and tell me what you did!”
Neither of the boys responded. Bobby spun away from her, practically hyperventilating, scrubbing at the back of his neck. Scott leaned over Jill and whispered to her she would be all right.
“Well, someone bought it and brought it here. It’s in the kitchen by the basket-full. The same crap Jill found at our house with her name on it and an invitation to this party.”
Bobby stopped pacing and turned to her.
“We didn’t send out invites,” Bobby said. “It was all via text.”
“Look! Jill found this bundle of candy and this address on the windowsill of her bedroom. It had to be you.”
She pulled out the tulle and ribbon bundle Jill had shoved into her hand before them came inside. When she held it out to Bobby, he recoiled, refusing to touch it.
“It wasn’t us!” Bobby said.
Bobby burst out crying. The sound of him sobbing made Marcy feel sick and the fact that her mom didn’t answer her call made it even worse. He had no idea what she was talking about. Neither did Scott. Someone else had done this.
Her hands shaking, Marcy pulled out her phone and tapped her dad’s number. It took everything in her not to lose it. She waited. One ring. Two. Three. Jill’s chest moved up and down with short, rapid breaths. At least she was still breathing. But for how long?
Bobby continued blubbering beside her, and the groans from the other party guests made her want to scream. She jumped up and headed into the foyer to think.
It was cold and dark, like someone had left the door open, even though the lock was secure.
When held her phone out, the screen offered only a dim blue-white glow by which to see. Marcy dialed her dad again. There was no response. The call wouldn’t connect.
She jabbed at the screen, redialed, and waited. There was a slight breeze coming from somewhere, an almost imperceptible shushing like whispers through clenched teeth.
Finally, the call connected.
“Marcy, where are you?”
“Dad, I need you. Jill and I…”
“Taking the car and sneaking out? You two girls are in a lot of trouble. Get your butts home. Right now, Marcy.”
Marcy closed her eyes, tears stinging the backs of her eyelids.
“Dad. Jill’s sick. She’s bad, dad. Really bad.”
“I think it’s something she ate. Candy. I don’t know how much.”
“Marcy. Where are you?”
She swallowed hard. “The Crane House. At a party. Dad…you have to hurry.”
There was a brief pause, the longest pause in the world, before he spoke again.
“I’ll be right there,” he said. And hung up before she could explain further.
She didn’t need to. He knew about this house.
She clenched her phone as if it would offer some comfort, some protection, her only lifeline to the world outside this wretched house.
She bolted to the front door and peeled away the black paper the boys had hung. Headlights. All she wanted to see were headlights. But they were so far back from the road and the fog even thicker now that she could barely see her own car, let alone the main road.
20 minutes. It would take him 20 minutes to get there. 15 if he sped. Which he would because he’d heard the panic in her voice when she’d told him where they were. The Crane House. He needed no other explanation. He knew better than anyone. He would hurry. He had to. But he hung up before she could tell him everything he needed to know.
About the candy. How it showed up on Jill’s windowsill, even though none of the boys had sent it. How the note had Jill’s name on it. How the candy in the bundles looked like teeth.
The thought of them, of touching them, made Marcy’s stomach contents threaten to come up. She needed a drink, something to calm her. She needed to check on Jill, to get out of there, to never come back to this place.
She turned and started up the hallway. She hadn’t noticed when she came in. Dolls of different sizes. Some placed on a dusty sideboard near the staircase. More perched on the steps leading upstairs.
Unable to stop herself, Marcy took a step toward them. And then another. They looked strange. Too real.
One of them had red hair. Hair like hers. She took the strands between her fingers, lifted the doll, so cold to the touch. A rusted fork protruded from its belly. When she turned the doll over, she hoped to find a manufacturing tag from some big box craft store but the stitches were irregular, crooked, and the body fashioned from torn pieces of fabric sewn loosely together. Crude eyes and mouths stitched with black thread. By hand. Someone had made this, made all of them. She knew it now. The same someone who sent the candy to their house. Who’d decorated this place. Who’d made the bundles of candy. Who’d put in the teeth. They weren’t candy at all. They were real. Real teeth. It was the reason she felt sick to her stomach from the moment she got here.
The secret. The one no one talked about. The one all the adults in town whispered about, warned them about. The Crane House. Clara Crane.
It wasn’t just a story. It was real.
There was a sound in the foyer. Footsteps coming closer, but Marcy couldn’t move. Breathing suddenly near. A shift in the air like someone behind her. A hand touched her on the shoulder. Marcy stifled a scream and then spun around, prepared to strike.
It was her father staring back at her. Her father. He’d come in without her hearing. Her mother, too, standing behind him. Other parents filed in behind them, some too cautious so they stood in the entryway. Others bolted into the living room and tore their kids out of the house, down the steps and away from that place for good.
“Dad, I…I know I shouldn’t have…we…we shouldn’t have come here…but…”
“Shh. Honey, it’s okay. You called. You told me where you were. That’s what’s important.”
The very mention of her sister’s name made that last thread of strength fray. “I didn’t know what to do, Dad.”
He wrapped his arm around her and led her to the living room where her mom and a few of the other adults tended to Jill on the floor.
“It’s okay, honey. She’ll be fine. We’ll get her out of here and get her some help.”
“But her eyes. Her lips, they were so blue, dad.”
“It’s okay, honey, look.”
When her mother heard them, she turned. Her mouth was pulled tight and her eyes red but she nodded to Marcy. When she moved aside, Jill was sitting up. Her eyes were half-open, and she was talking to Scott’s dad, the town’s doctor.
Marcy broke down sobbing. She turned to bury her face in her dad’s chest. When he wrapped his arms around her, she released all the pent up anger and hurt and fear she’d been living with this past year. Everything she thought she should keep inside as a way to help her family heal. But she knew now they would never completely heal. What had happened to Brandon was a part of each of them, part of the entire town. She could see that now.
“Here, honey. Let’s move out of the way.”
When Marcy looked up, Scott’s dad and Marcy’s mom had Jill up onto her feet. She wavered, but was able to move in stagger-step toward them. Marcy allowed her dad to usher her out of the house and onto the porch. That first breath of fresh air felt like it was the first time she’d taken a breath all night.
When the group made it to the hallway, Jill looked up at her. Her skin was pale and her eyes red-rimmed but she was okay.
When they got Jill out onto the porch, Scott and his father took Jill, one by each arm, and carried her down the steps. Marcy’s mom rushed right past them, cupping Marcy’s cheek momentarily before she hurried after them to open the back door of her car. While they helped Jill inside, Marcy and her dad followed.
“Listen, honey,” her dad said, leaning into the driver’s side. “I’m going to ride with Marce. We’ll meet you there, alright?”
He kissed her mom and then looked in on Jill before he moved out of the way and let them close the doors and back out of the drive.
Marcy stood shivering and watched her mom pull away. Most of the other cars waited until they’d gotten to the main road before they, too, left.
Out of the corner of her eye, Marcy spotted a figure on the porch above her. She almost didn’t want to look but when she did, she spotted Bobby. He paused a beat and then came down to join her.
“Marce. I’m so sorry. About all of this.”
She nodded. She didn’t know what to say to him. Luckily her dad joined her so she didn’t have to think of anything.
“Mr. Holmes. You don’t know how much I wish I’d never decided to throw this party. Nothing like this was supposed to happen. It was supposed to be fun.”
Marcy’s dad wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close. “Best you head home, Bobby. Drive safe.”
Bobby stood there a few moments, looking like he wanted to say something more. Instead, he turned and headed to where he’d parked his car alongside of the house.
“Okay, honey. Why don’t you get inside and stay warm while I say my goodbyes, okay?”
He patted her on the shoulder and then turned and headed to where a few of the other fathers stood talking.
Marcy headed around the car to the passenger side. When she opened the door, she noticed something on the seat.
Snippets of conversation wafted toward her.
“Just like it was back then.”
Marcy stretched out her hand, hovering over the small white tag.
“Over a hundred years ago.”
Her fingertips grazed the tag.
“…just like it did back then. Someone’s been living here.”
She lifted the tag. The front was blank.
“Should’a burned it down when we had the chance.”
Wind rustled in the willows like whispers.
Marcy flipped the tag over.
“Thought it was done, that it had died when the last Crane had.”
“Evil never dies,” she heard her dad say. “Loss doesn’t either. It grips with all its might and never lets go.”
Leaves skittered around her feet, clawing for attention. Marcy lifted the tag into the half-light. Scrawled in thin script, her name.
She looked up at the window on the second floor. Something shifted for a moment, a shape or maybe a shadow, and then it was gone.
About the Author
Toronto-native Mary Rajotte has a penchant for penning nightmarish tales that haunt and terrify.
Sometimes camera-elusive but always coffee-fueled, you can find her at her website http://www.maryrajotte.com