30 Days of Indie Horror continues with G. H. Komali’s The Strange Case of Suzanna. Check out the excerpt and then go to the bottom of the page to enter the drawing to win one of the 3 Bards and Sages prizes packs.
About the book
When Clara decides to become a foster parent, she has her own doubts about her capabilities. Susanna-an eleven year old girl comes into her care after her entire family perishes in a suspicious fire. Susanna’s mother, prior to her death suffered from a severe mental illness and believed that the devil possessed her daughter.
After a shaky start, just when Clara thinks that things are going well with Susanna- strange things start taking place. Susanna has severe mood swings and starts talking to an invisible entity. An unexpected shocking incident sends Clara into a devastating downward spiral, threatening her own existence. Unknown to Clara, a terrible secret has both their lives irreversibly intertwined.
As Clara desperately tries to claw her way out of the yawning black chasm her life has become, her only hope lies in uncovering the terrifying truth about Susanna and the dark secret that binds them together. Is Clara ready to face the truth?
“Help me, Father. Please help me!” A desperate scream echoed through the normally peaceful church. The Sunday morning service had finished a few minutes ago and most of the attendees had already left. The few stragglers left behind, stared in shocked silence at the lone figure who had just burst through the church doors. The distraught middle-aged woman seemed haunted by some kind of a terror.
John, who was one of the senior citizens in the town, was in mid-conversation with Reverend Baines. He was going to invite the Reverend over for dinner that weekend when the woman interrupted them with her sudden plea for help. He recognized her as his neighbor. Her family had moved into town just about a year ago and was not very sociable. They preferred to keep to themselves barely greeting him whenever they bumped into each other in the shops. Everyone knew each other on a first name basis since they lived a small rural town in Australia with a low population. But his neighbors for some reason never attempted to blend in or be friendly with the locals.
Arms outstretched, she ran the entire length of the church to approach the Reverend. Breathing heavily and panting, she stood before the Reverend and wailed. “You are the only one who can help – you are my last hope.” The woman’s disheveled hair stood out unkempt, and she wrung her hands in a kind of obsessive way.
“My husband does not let me get out of the house. He keeps me locked in, I managed to run away to get help. We are in a lot of danger,” she said urgently.
John excused himself and stood several feet away watching the drama unfold. Reverend Baines tried to calm her down. “I’ll help you. It’s going to be fine. Why is your husband locking you up?”
“It’s not about my husband, but my daughter,” she wailed.
John remembered the children- a girl and a boy playing on the street and on the way to their school. The girl was very young; she couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10 years old.
“What about your daughter? Isn’t she well?” asked the Reverend.
“The devil has gotten into her,” whispered the woman in a low voice. Her wild eyes bulged out and darted about in different directions while she spoke to him.
The manner of the woman made the hair rise on John’s neck. He watched the conversation in astonishment. “What makes you think that?” asked the Reverend who was equally surprised at her admission.
“I know that – right from the day she was born, she was out to get me. First she drove me into a depression and made me suicidal by screaming day and night, refusing to let me sleep. Then I slowly sensed the real extent to her wickedness ….the way she stares at me. No one believes me, they think I’m mad. She can fool the others, but not me. I know what she really is,” she said. Her mouth involuntarily twitched as she spoke and she could not maintain eye contact. The woman was clearly out of her mind.
Reverend Baines took her arm and made her sit in one of the chairs. John, who was eager to help in any way possible, got some water from the water filter and approached her. She jumped in fright when she saw the glass of water and smashed it to the ground in one swift motion. “Are you trying poison me?” she shouted. “What’s in the water, it looks funny?”
John went red with embarrassment and stayed rooted to the ground, having been taken by surprise at the unexpected action. He could only mumble, “It’s just water. Thought you were thirsty.”
Just then the woman’s husband strode into the church swiftly through the doors. The woman instantly became hysterical when she saw him. “I’ve come for help. Your daughter is going to kill us all…. She has the devil in her.”
The man looked apologetic and told Reverend Baines. “I’m really sorry, Father. My wife has been suffering from a mental illness from a long time. I thought that getting her to this town, to a more laid-back existence, would make her better. Unknown to me, she had stopped taking her medication. As a result, her hallucinations and paranoia have taken a turn for the worse.”
“I think she needs good psychiatric care more than the country air,” said the Reverend firmly.
“I agree. I’m going to take her to the big hospital in Melbourne to admit her in if necessary. I’ve reached my wit’s end too.” He gently took his wife’s arm and started leading her away.
“Mark my words all of you, we will be dead in a few days – my daughter will kill us all. And it will be all your fault for not helping,” she growled ferociously, glaring at the bewildered bystanders. The woman’s eyes blazed with a mixture of fury and intense fear. Her husband took her away from the premises but her words reverberated through the church long after the couple left.
In the night, John discussed the happenings of the morning with his wife, Martha. “Maybe that’s why he didn’t want to socialize with anyone- due to his wife’s mental state. I feel sorry for the children, it must be so hard living with a parent who is so ill,” remarked Martha, combing her silver hair which was neatly cut into a bob.
“You should have been there in the morning,” said John. “Everybody was shell shocked, and when she accused me of trying to poison her with the water, I just stood there like an idiot-not knowing what to do.”
“Oh you poor dear. Accusing you, of all people of trying to poison someone. You are the biggest softie in the world,” she chuckled.
John joined her in laughter, yet somewhere in the back of his mind, there was a lot of uneasiness about the whole episode. “I hope her husband has her checked up by a doctor real soon. She’s in a very bad state and could be dangerous for the children,” he said.
“Yes, I hope so too. We can probably ask Rev Baines to check on them over the weekend just to make sure,” Martha echoed his sentiment.
John stepped onto the porch to smoke his cigar. An eerie calmness enveloped the whole vicinity, and it was inky dark. Inhaling the smoke from his cigar, he peered up the sky searching for the moon. “Of course, it’s a new moon today,” he remembered. John couldn’t shake that unsettling sense of foreboding that something horrible was about to happen.
“I must be getting too old.” He thought to himself, brushing away his silly thoughts and went back to join his wife. She was fast asleep and looked very peaceful in the dim light of the night lamp. He settled himself beside her and drifted off into a deep slumber.
Sometime in the middle of the night, a high-pitched scream pierced the night, shaking the tranquility. Martha opened her eyes, momentarily confused, not sure as to what woke her up. She looked beside her to find her husband still sleeping. After putting on her glasses, which were lying by the bedside, she switched on the lamp.
Supporting her body with her elbow, she squinted at the watch, holding it with the other hand. It was still twenty past three. Her mouth was parched and she needed to drink some water. Dull pain shot through her knees when she tried to maneuver herself out of the bed. “I need to see a doctor about this knee pain, it’s getting worse by the day,” she muttered to herself.
Sliding her feet into her warm woolly slippers, she ambled into the kitchen. Martha heard the long drawn out wail again just as she lifted a glass of water to her lips. “Aaaaaaaaaa”. She stiffened instinctively and stood alert, concentrating hard to hear any sounds. Could it be from their neighbor’s house? She heard it again- another distant blood curdling wail punctuated the silence. There was no doubt, it was a scream and someone was in trouble.
Walking towards the bedroom, as fast as her painful joints would let her, she called out to her husband. “John, wake up. Someone’s screaming, maybe the neighbors are in trouble,” she said. She ripped the sheets of her husband with one swift motion and nudged him awake.
John sat up, rubbing his eyes. “What’s going on, Martha?” He still had a full head of hair even though he was well in his seventies. One look at her face and he knew something was wrong.
Martha repeated her words. “I heard someone screaming, something’s terribly wrong.”
John leaped out of the bed and retrieved his shotgun that he kept in the closet. Living in an isolated rural area was fraught with its own dangers and he liked to have the gun handy, in times of an emergency. He marched outside the house with Martha following him, trying to match his quick pace.
John opened the front door and stepped outside cautiously. A pungent smell of smoke hit him head-on. It was so strong that there was no doubt in his mind that something was burning nearby. A quick scan in the darkness showed no sign of a fire.
He hurried down the driveway, where he could get a better view of the neighbor’s house in the distance. An eerie orange glow surrounded the house in the darkness and billowing yellow flames engulfed it completely.
“Quick, call the emergency services, the neighbor’s house is on fire. I’m going around to help them,” he shouted urgently.
Jumping into his car quickly, he drove at full speed through the dark lane lined with tall pines on either side, tires squealing on the paved road. John knew that with a fire, every second was precious. He stopped outside the neighbor’s house in less than two minutes.
The main gate was closed shut with a chain and lock. The house was built about 50 meters away from the fence. It was a wide, single storied wooden structure and had been newly painted white. But now with the roaring flames devouring it mercilessly –it was hard to make out anything. Small explosions erupted from the flames time to time and red embers shot out randomly, swirling in the air like thousands of red fire flies surrounding the burning house.
John squeezed himself through an opening in the fence and sprinted to the house, hoping to find anyone from the family- he fervently prayed that they were not inside the house and that they were somewhere away in a safer place. The yellow flames were blinding and tinted the surroundings in a sinister yellow orange light. The intense heat generated from the flames made him sweat profusely and he used the back of his hand to wipe it off. His breathing was labored as the thick black smoke suffocated him and stung his eyes.
A girl screamed nearby. John looked around to find a small figure huddled on the ground. She was wailing- it was the little girl who lived in that house. She looked tiny and vulnerable against the fiery backdrop. Knees drawn up to her chest, she rocked back and forth. He ran to her in an instant.
“Are you ok, sweetie?” John gently lifted her face and looked for any signs of injury. She seemed unhurt but was in shock. Her body trembled and her face was streaked with tears. “Where are your parents, your brother?” he asked, fearing the worst. She pointed a quivering finger towards the house. The girl let out a shrill tormented shriek that dissolved into sobs racking her tiny frame. His heart sank. “Sweet Jesus,” he muttered in dismay.
“Stay here, little one. I’ll see if I can get to them,” he said, bolting towards the house. Desperate to find a way through any of the doors and windows, he ran around the house, looking for even a small gap to rescue the remaining family from the house. But the fierce fire was uncontrollable and was everywhere. Spotting the hefty rain water tank that was situated just a few meters away from the house, John ran and got hold of a nearby water hose and attached it to the rain water tank. Water shot out from the hose in a thick forceful stream, when he turned on the tap, full blast. He dragged the hose towards the house and started spraying the water on the fire.
The fire hissed loudly wherever the water came in contact with the fire and hot vapors of steam escaped into the air. Extreme heat from the blaze made his skin turn a crimson red and was unbearable. However, all his efforts to control the blaze turned out to be futile as the fire was by now unstoppable. Roaring like a ravenous monstrous beast it devoured everything in its path.
John turned his head to check on the girl, his wife had just arrived and covered the little girl with a blanket. She took care of the girl while he fought the fire valiantly. After a few more minutes, a fire engine, ambulance and police cars lined up outside on the street one after the other. Someone broke the lock to open the gate and let the vehicles inside. As soon as the fire engine stopped, the fire fighters swung into action immediately. A dozen men in yellow Fire Authority uniforms and helmets grabbed hoses and surrounded the house, trying to douse the fire.
In the meanwhile, paramedics from the ambulance approached the little girl and treated her for smoke inhalation. “I want my Daddy,” the girl cried pitifully. John and Martha exchanged agonizing glances. They both knew the untold truth that if the family is inside, there is no hope of finding them alive. The paramedics spoke to the girl calmly and tried to soothe her.
After battling the fire continuously for two hours, the firefighters managed to bring it under control and later were able to extinguish it completely. However, it was too late. The charred mangled mess that was now left, was a far cry from the immaculate white house that it once was. Long twisted metal, unidentifiable black mass and an empty shell, was what remained of the house. A large mushroom shaped plume surrounded the house as if a bomb hit the house.
The girl had already been taken away to the nearest hospital for treatment but John and his wife stayed back at the house to offer assistance. A firefighter came out from the gutted house wearily, his face was sooty and black with smoke. He ran his fingers through his hair nervously as he spoke with a grim expression on his face. “I’m sorry we couldn’t save the family, we found three badly burnt bodies.”
John shook his head sadly and put his hands on his wife’s shoulders. Martha looked very upset with the news and confirmation that people died in the house. She clutched at the cross that hung on the thin gold chain around her neck. Her eyes were wide with fear and grew misty. John hugged her. They barely knew the family, but a tragedy of this scale, happening this close to their house – was still hard for them to digest.
“We tried our best.” He said and he gently patted her back in a soothing motion. He knew, she felt helpless – maybe if they woke up a bit earlier, they could have made a difference. After a few minutes, she recovered and broke away from his hug. “Yes, we did. Yes, we did,” she whispered softly.
“At least the girl got away,” John said. “Poor thing, her whole family’s taken away suddenly. I wonder how she’ll cope. What will happen to her now?” he asked the fire fighter.
“They’ll try to find any close relatives to take care of her.” The firefighter reached out to get a drink from his water bottle and thirstily gulped the whole bottle down his throat.
“What if there are no close relatives?” asked Martha, still unable to register how something like this could have happened unawares, right next door.
“Then, she will go to foster care,” said the firefighter wistfully. “Don’t worry, she probably has some grandparents or uncles who’ll take good care of her,” he said trying to be optimistic.
The kind-hearted couple lingered on for some more time. Although John was sorry for the little girl, he could not help but recollect her mother’s words from that morning in Church. Her words had turned out to be prophetic. There was a fire in the house and three members of the family including the mother had been wiped out.
John remembered the innocent and sad face of the little girl and brushed aside those ridiculous thoughts; there was nothing wrong with the girl. Maybe the mother had completely lost her mind and set the whole house on fire, or maybe it was a tragic accident that occurred that day due to sheer coincidence. Either way, it was very sad. John and Martha took one long look at the completely gutted house and walked away slowly.
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