Shaw House by Donald Conrad

The only time anyone ever saw them was on Sunday morning when the garage door would open and their car backed out. Everyone referred to them as the Shaws and I wondered if they were all related. There were two well fed women with gray hair and a slender man who seemed to be the oldest and wore clergyman’s garb.

I often wondered what they did inside that house. It was impossible to imagine their dour faces participating in any activity. The three were reclusive.

All the neighborhood kids avoided the Shaw house, even on Halloween — especially on Halloween. The few who did ring their bell received a single lolly-pop or an apple. All treats from the Shaw house were suspect for their potential to harbor maliciously applied changes, such as straight pins and razor blades in the apples and poisons applied to the candy. The Shaws were unknowns, and the children of the neighborhood learned as a group to fear the unknown. In conversations the Shaws were built up as devious and diabolical, menacing and malevolent child-hating curmudgeons who never smiled.

It was a Halloween night when I found out how different the Shaws really were. Jimmy and I were eight or nine. On a dare, I crept up to a window at the side of the house to peer in. All the blinds were drawn. I kept looking back to Jimmy because he held my bag of treats and I didn’t trust him for too great a distance with the loot.

Standing on an overturned trash barrel, I could just see into the house. The drawn shade curled in slightly at the edge and there was a gap at the bottom. The Shaws all sat in arm chairs around a circular coffee table. Each of them held a book open, intently reading. The one I thought of as the younger sister—quantifying that would be impossible, for they were all ancient to me—began to read aloud. I realized that they all held identical books open to the same page and were in a group reading session.

I hadn’t done anything like that since first grade with the adventures of Dick and Jane and it seemed odd to me that adults as old as these would participate in such an activity.

I looked back to Jimmy who had positioned himself in the shadows. I gave a weak wave.

The Shaws were all reading aloud when I looked back. I could barely hear them from outside the circle and outside the house. Their lips moved together as if in a chant. The man wore his clergyman’s collar. The women wore matronly gray dresses with white bib fronts.

The book each held seemed more ancient than any bible I had ever seen. Each had gilded pages and was cased in stamped leather. Several red silk ribbons for marking places had been bound into the spine. The books themselves were twice the size of any bible I had ever laid eyes on.

Yet as they read, they did so with the same solemnity reserved for bible passages. The man shifted hold of his and raised a fist in the air; not so much in a threatening way but more as if to add power to the words he read.

Little shards of crystalline air twinkled within the room, appearing and dissipating like spent energy.

At first, one at a time would appear and fade. Then there were more, the occurrences increasing exponentially until the room was filled with them.

The Shaws kept reading in unison as if nothing had changed.

Soon the energy points were traveling into the center of the group of three before dissolving. The travel cycle increased in speed yet none collided. The convergence was above and at the very center of the round table where a ball of raw energy collected. It drew the pinpoints of light faster and faster as if by an increasing gravitational pull.

There was a sound that coincided with it which started so quietly that I hadn’t noticed it at first. The sound almost seemed to emanate from my own head. It built with the intensity of the energy in the room until it sounded like a huge orchestra of string instruments violently racing to a crescendo.

I looked back to Jimmy and he had his hands out as if pleading for an update. The bags of candy sat next to a slender tree.

Looking out toward Jimmy I realized how much of the light inside the Shaw house escaped the blind. It played on my face like dozens of possessed strobe lights.

The ball of energy that grew over the coffee table had begun smaller than a marble and was as big as a basketball when I returned my eyes to the scene inside. Pinpricks of light still originated from every corner, plunging into the growing orb.

I had to rub my eyes, which was a mistake because they had to refocus. I missed the start of what happened next.

The Shaws themselves began to radiate toward the energy center. At first it came from their eyes. Suddenly light escaped from them as if their life forces were joining the ball of energy.

I felt the pull on my own soul. I was frightened, but I couldn’t look away.

The orb swelled to several feet in diameter, swirling and pulsing, shimmering and crackling.

The pinpricks of light stopped occurring in the room.

The Shaws became motionless and silent.

The orb swelled one last time as if taking a great breath of air and then shrank to a singularity and popped out existence all together.

All that remained of the Shaws were scarecrow husks of their former selves; their books still open on their laps. In the aftermath, the room was lit by a single table lamp and the silence was unsettling.

I got down from the trash barrel and told Jimmy all of what I had seen. He didn’t believe me of course. I wasn’t even sure about what I had witnessed.

The next morning I saw the Shaw’s garage door open and their car backed out. When the car stopped, all three Shaws turned to look at me.

I ran.


7 thoughts on “Shaw House by Donald Conrad

  1. J. M. Strother

    Hey, that was a great Halloween tale. The Shaws are very creepy, and the last line leave the reading with that “Oh oh” feeling. This kid’s in serious trouble. Nice one.

  2. soesposito

    oooo…where did they go? Time travelers? Ghad, so many questions! Poor kid, I have a feeling he should move. Nice flash.


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