Life in Lenora

📅 Published on July 4, 2022

“Life in Lenora”

Written by Samuel Jack
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Growing up in Lenora, nobody died.  Not in that quiet, dust-flavored hamlet.  Even with a humble town like ours, the small sadnesses you’d see every so often were gone, however young, old, or misfortune.  The hospital beds lay empty, aside from the drunks resting off last night’s dinner.  No, people didn’t die in Lenora.  They went missing.

It was a simple, unquestioned truth of all the natives.  When your time with the Lord came to pass, you obliged him without answer or curtain call.  No hesitation, no credence.  No guessing, hemming or hawing.  Just gone.  We should have been worried, looking back.  But, in all honesty, it just felt like the most natural thing in the world.  There would be a day in passing, every so often, where someone would drop off the face of the planet.

Maggie LeFemmer was the first I could remember.  She would have been my best friend in the world, if we had the time to do so.  But, all Maggie and I shared was a playful game of peek-a-boo around the monkey bars one day.  Just one game.  It seems lackluster, given how often I think of her, but every detail of that solitary encounter is etched into my mind.  Her delightfully springy hair glowed in the midday sun and her green jacket made that incessant swishing noise when it rubbed up against itself.  But, when I came back to the playground the very next day, she was nowhere to be found.  The swishing had stopped, and everyone had moved on.  No one mourned, of course.  Because Maggie LeFemmer wasn’t dead, just gone.

It was easier thinking that than any other horrible thing that might have happened.  Gone meant out of sight.  Out of mind.  And that is precisely what life in Lenora came to be; the passing absence of answers and questions never asked.  When the nice old lady from across the way no longer let out her cats in the evening, the town was quick to pack her things and adopt the kitties.  When Barry Whitmor, my school’s librarian, no longer was there to set out this month’s new read, someone else stepped in.  And when Maggie LeFemmer no longer graced the playground with her loud jacket…well, the way the LeFemmer’s talk about it, it was like they’d never had a daughter.  People acclimated to the strangeness, a sort of adaptation.  We never spoke of it over dinner, improper topics over chicken and peas, I suppose.  It was done, plain and simple.

To an eight-year-old, it made sense.  I’d hear all these sad stories of funerals and messy hospitals, a whole world of nightmare and pain.  I felt sorry for them, in the truest manner a child could, at least.  All we needed to do was sit through the eventual realization that someone else had not come to work that day.  I was fortunate to live in the last place on earth to have never heard of death.  Still, there are things that concern me.

I could always predict when someone would go missing.  I’d get nervous glances or a harmless chuckle whenever I’d bring it up, but I was always right.  On more than one occasion, I was the one who pointed out people had vanished, sometimes even before their spouses did.  There were wonders if I were psychic or perhaps the reason people were missing in the first place.  Yet, I shrugged it all off.

I wasn’t magical or anything like that, no.  In fact, all it was was a random connection you made one day.  One of those passing understandings that explain, in some strange and seemingly disconnected sense, how the world worked.  And my connection came in the form of Old Man Shawler’s place.

See, every town has the house.  The gray one.  The haunted one.  The broken, run-down mansion that no one dares go into.  The house that stains the memories of so many adults and refuses to let go of that simple, childish fear you developed so early.  Well, my house was next to my home, a mere ten feet away.

It seemed to be the last house in Lenora made of nothing more than wood and nail.  The angles of that house were not built with the knowledge of kindness or comfort.  It was a metaphor, perfectly made to say, “It could be worse, you know?”  The grass was stained the color of weak coffee and smelled about the same…though not a blade of brown weed was out of place and not a shutter off its hinge.  It was less dilapidated and more…haunted.  As if all the life that made a house capable of being a home had left.  All that remained was a shambling question that no one dared to answer.

The old cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Shawler, lived there for as long as any of us could remember.  He was the type of man who folks generally talk about but never see more than once.  Perhaps you’ll catch him at a passing glance, should you be wandering the tombstones in the middle of the night.  But Mr. Shawler came and disappeared into his crypt-like home, quietly and without notion.

As such, such troubling things enticed me.  I became entranced by the house, its lack of humanity.  Every day and night, every moment I could spare, I would study the old Shawler place.  No groceries, no music, nothing for me to squint at as I spied on the house from my window.  I could count exactly the number of chips in the paint from my bedroom window.  On a still night, the rafter still creaked and groaned, even in the calmest of conditions.  And, the night before someone would go missing, the lights would go on.  Always.

It never scared me.  It was a fact of life.  When Mr. Shawler’s lights went on, someone would disappear.  I felt no need to tell anyone.  I had already gotten a wide number of complaints and stares after sharing my ability to guess people’s absence, so bringing someone else into my weirdness didn’t feel right.  But when I would lie in bed and see that yellow, flickering light spring to life in the window, I would know.

It was a secret I shared with myself in the wee hours of the night.  I felt almost a sort of morbid glee.  Me, alone, was the only person on the planet that knew someone would disappear.  Children loved secrets, and I was no different.  To me, I had the best secret on the planet, and I was proud.  I saw nothing wrong with it.  Going missing wasn’t bad, just inconvenient.  So I bathed in that golden light, dwindling and weak, knowing that soon, someone’s life would change.

I never meant for it to be mine.

It had been several years since Maggie LeFemmer taught me the fate of people in Lenora, and I had spent the last night basked in the rancid light of Mr. Shawler’s premonition.  I sped down the stairs and eagerly bounded into the kitchen, wanting to guess who was the missing winner of the day to my parents.  Only, the idyllic scene of my mother making flapjacks and my father adding his fourth packet of Splenda to his coffee wasn’t there.  Instead, it was simply my dad, sitting alone at the table, coffee nowhere in sight.

“Where’s Mommy?” I asked, still holding onto the small optimism that I could share another morning with her.

He looked up at me.  I think I’ll remember that face until the day I die.  It was the face of my own father, wracked and ridden with the deepest grief a human can experience and to have completely accepted it; an eerie calm drilled into a facade of horrific disgust.  It was an unnatural face, not meant to be worn.  It was the face of Lenora, and I understood what it meant.

“Mommy’s gone.  Go get breakfast.”

Without another word of explanation, he continued with his coffee and fell deeper into that sickening face.  It would be the face I would see all day.  That pity, the sort of understanding people think they have just because they get to watch you go through something awful.  The head nodding, the “buck up,” the tight-knit smile they throw in your direction as you pass, as if it were some scrap of nourishment to a starving dog.  They thought they were kind, being obstinate and plain.  But every time I closed my eyes, I saw the horrid face of Lenora, I saw the flaccid emotionless void the people had become, and worse, I didn’t see my Mommy.

There was no hint it was her.  There was no sign or premonition.  It was sudden and clean and left me wanting more.  Not just more, wanting anything.  I wanted a bloody hospital bed, or a fallen piano, or one of the million horrible excuses the rest of the world had to be sad, but I had none.  My Mommy was gone, and that may have been worse.

All that filled her void was the pretending, the uncaring niceties people gave me that day.  I preface that day because I knew the moment someone else had gone missing, everyone would forget who my Mommy was.  But I wouldn’t.

I couldn’t forget.  I needed more than “gone.”  Even if she was dead, I needed to know.  But, just like everyone else in this town, there was no clue or trace, at least none that most people would find.  But, I wasn’t most people.  I was the little girl who made a connection no one should have.  I was the child of a missing mother.  I was the one who saw the light go on, and knew what it meant.  So, when the end of that day finally conceded and fell behind the edge of town, I sat and waited for old man Shawler’s light to come on.  That would be my signal to the truth.  The light would guide me, for better or worse, to my Mommy.

So when the clock struck half past midnight, and the amber bulb glowed once more, I felt no fear.  I knew my mission and vowed to stick to it, no matter what happened.

After all, who was to say the kind of man Mr. Shawler was?  There had always been rumors about Lenora’s resident ghoul, but none proven past gossip around a campfire.  Words got thrown around, like “monster” and “boogeyman.”  Then there were stranger ones the parents would whisper in the back of rooms to each other, like “cannibal” or “sadist.”  But, to me, he had always just been the graveyard keeper.  Sad, alone, and just a little too quiet…that was, until Mommy went missing.  Now, he was my only answer.  Whatever the truth may be, I knew all of this had to lead to him and the gray house we feared.

I trotted through the mustard grass, its dead blades crunching under my foot, and climbed the rotted steps.  Thinking back on it now, every creak and groan of the house was telling me to turn around, to go back.  Maybe I was imagining it.  Maybe I was wanting something to stand in the way of that little girl, stop her from finding her truth too soon.  But, no.  No force of nature could have stopped me from reaching the porch.

The door was locked, yet that stood no chance against me.  Fortunately, the sideboard had rotted through the years of miskeep.  After a few good minutes of picking away at the damp wood, the latch swung open.  And without a word, I entered the grey house, never to emerge myself again.

My first horror was the realization that it wasn’t a house, at least not a real one.  The huts and innards of the structure had been ripped away or merely not built.  It was impossible to tell.  The entire house, it seemed, was a giant cavern, devoid of rooms or halls.  The roof could be seen, towering and entangled with exposed wire.  The sole bulb hung by a hair-thick strand of cable, dropping nearly forty feet from the ceiling.  Its yellow beam barely clung to the little details of the structure.  The bare wood, the frayed wiring, and rusted copper were just noticeable.  But for all the light was worth, it seemed its talents were spread too thin.  Such a massive space, all those small details seemed to go unnoticed.  The chill in the air, the grit of the dirt floor, and the single grate in the middle of the room.

It looked like one of those old-school sewer grates, cast iron and all.  A gold padlock glowed against the side, almost mocking the rest of its gothic exterior.  Being curious and starving for answers, I approached my only detail, hoping this grate could answer something, whatever it may be.

I heard the chittering first, like rusty nails rolling around in the dark.  The sound of grinding and crawling, echoing from deep beneath the cage door.  It was intoxicatingly horrid.  To me, it was the worst noise in the world, but absolutely indistinguishable.  Needing answers, I peered over the side.  As I craned my head, the noise grew louder.  When it came to be that the scattering felt like it was coming from inside my head, my eyes began to adjust to the dark.  If I squinted real hard, I thought I could see-

“What are you doing here?” I swing around to see Mr. Shawler, standing at the door.  He looked taller than he normally did, or maybe I just never noticed.  His brown coat scraped against the dirt floor and traced small designs in the soil.  His scraggly beard looked manic in the low light, absorbing any detail of his face so that he was a simple, indistinguishable mass of lines and shadows.  With his paperboy hat kept low and bent, I couldn’t see half of his face.  Yet, his eyes were perfectly white, seemingly glowing in the pitch blackness of his face.  It wasn’t enough to say he looked like the thing parents and children feared.  He looked like fear.  He was a living nightmare, and he blocked my only exit.

“Girl, what are you doing here?” he asked again.  Looking at his hand, I saw a rusty trowel.  Unassuming, plain, but in the hands of someone who you didn’t trust, I wasn’t about to approach him.  Unluckily, he spared me of that and came closer.  As he spoke, wisps of spit hit me and stung my skin.  He smelled like nickel and cigarettes.  But, whatever fear this man instilled in me was nothing compared to my curiosity.

“Where is my Mommy?” I said, less of a question and more of a demand.  There was no doubt that Mr. Shawler took her, but I wanted her back right then and there.  I didn’t care how.  I miss that determination, how something could have been so simple, so easy as “bring my mommy back.”  That would be the last simple thing in my life.

“Your Mommy is gone,” he said.  We were long past the game of pretending he didn’t know who she was, but this was just as bad.  Mommy was gone.  Maggie was gone.  One day, I would be gone.  That was all anything in this town amounted to: gone.  I was tired of that answer.  I wanted something other than the ending Lenora gave me.  I wanted more than gone.

“Your light only turns on when people go.  You do something to them.”

He looked at me, wider-eyed than I thought was possible.  I wondered who was more terrified, me or him.  I was too far now to back out, so I continued.  “I don’t care what you do to them.  I just want my Mommy back.”

He stared at me for a good while, then shook his head.  Silver strands of hair crept out from beneath his brim and cast white shadows against the shadow of his face.  “I told you, girl.”  His voice was low and crackly, like a record.  “Your Mommy’s gone.  Go home.”

“I won’t tell them what you did with her.  I don’t care what happened.  I just want something better than ‘gone.’”  My voice began to tighten as my eyes filled with tears.  Against my eyes, the face of Lenora flashed against Mr. Shawler’s, and I began to prefer his.  At least his was genuine, real, better than a ‘gone.’

He grabbed me.  I wanted to scream at first, but no sound emerged.  Yet, it was unneeded.  After a few seconds, I realized he wasn’t about to hurt me, but just held me in place, forcing me to focus on him and only him.  He took away the world and filled it only with his voice.

“Gone is good.  You don’t want the other option.” His face changed.  It wasn’t that of a nightmare, but of a man who lived in one.  It was the exact opposite of the face of Lenora.  He looked too real, too understanding of the way the world worked.

“Anything is better than this,” I said.  My throat burned from the truth.  I refused to look away from the understanding eyes of Mr. Shawler and vowed I wouldn’t leave until I knew what was worse than gone.

He let go and stood up.  He was nearly three times my height and blocked out the only light in our dismal cave.  After a moment, he reached into his pocket and revealed a small, gold padlock key.  Taking his own time, he walked around me and kneeled at the grate.  As he entered the lock and turned the clasp, he said, “When my father went gone, I thought I wanted to know too.  I thought anything was better than the question.  But, there are much, much worse things.”

I approached him as he swung the grate open.  The clang of the lid hitting the soil rang out like a death bell and chilled my soul.  The indistinguishable sound became almost deafening now.  I could hear it in my eyes, my teeth, my very bones.  And as I began to peer over the side and stared deep into the dark well, I asked, “Like what?”

“The answer.”

Five seconds.  I looked into that hole for five seconds and knew all too well the truth.  Five seconds, and I agreed.  The answer was worse.

She was there, almost as far away from me as that yellow bulb was.  She still wore the nightgown Daddy had gotten her for her birthday, but it was torn and stained.  I don’t know with what; she couldn’t stay still enough for me to see.  Mommy didn’t sound like herself anymore.  It was a hollow croak that seemed to never stop.  Her skin wasn’t hers anymore; what was left, at least.  It was paper white, like Mr. Shawler’s eyes.  She almost glowed in the pit, like an angel.  But angels don’t look like that.  Her bones were wrong, pointing in bad ways.  Her arms were black from trying to crawl up the sides, back to us.  Her head was so twisted that I couldn’t tell which way she was really facing.  All she was was a mess of white and limbs, swarmed by blotches of moving, squeaking black.  I didn’t have a word for what the blobs were, but they were all around her, radiating in the bad noise.  But, as one blob climbed on Mommy’s shoulder and began to crawl into her hollow mouth, I found the word: rats.

Mr. Shawler pulled me back before I could see any more.  I didn’t cry, and he didn’t ask why.  I don’t know why I didn’t scream.  Maybe what was left of my innocence still wanted to protect me, though I doubt any was left.  Shaken and horrified, he held me as I stared blankly at the only thing I understood.  A single, hanging ball of light above us.

“What’s wrong with Mommy?” I asked, not wanting any more answers.

“In her sleep.  That’s the best way to go, or so I hear.  It’ll only take the critters a few more days before she’s gone.”

“Gone for good?”

“Gone for good.”

“That’s better.”

It was on that night I understood.  Here in Lenora, we don’t understand the sadness of death.  We don’t share in the pain others do, that certainty of someone being gone.  Because on that night, I understood no one truly ever goes.  Because here, in Lenora, the dead don’t stay dead.

At least, that’s how Mr. Shawler described it to me.  Just like the old graveyard keeper described it to him and so on.  It’s the dark secret the crypt keeper must keep.  Because after that night, I never doubted why people would be more willing to accept gone than back.  It was our job to make sure all those little accidents and sadnesses out in town had just become little questions that never got answered.

It was an agreement with hospitals and nursing homes, to be discreet and quick.  And the realtors who looked at the grey house on the corner, thinking it would be a nice renovation, were told to move on and to ignore the sounds that came from within.  Because after a few days with the rats, the noise would stop, and everyone could go back to asking themselves why, happily never wanting an answer.

Mr. Shawler taught me the best he could.  How to lower them into the well, how to lock it up, and how to ignore the sounds.  Looking back, I don’t know why he let me see my Mommy that night.  Maybe he wanted someone to share the truth with.  Maybe he couldn’t handle another face of Lenora.  Maybe it was the fault of an old man, wondering who could care for him after he was gone and back.  So that’s what I became, the next rung in the ladder, the next answer to a horrible question, the reason Mr. Shawler was never heard from again.

Now, I’m nearly the age Mr. Shawler was when he met me that night.  Yet, there are no little girls who come to be my apprentice, not since I fixed that front door.  So, all I have left to savor are the memories of so long ago.  It’s funny how often I think of that night and notice new things.  Little details that stand out to you, like a light in the dark.

I’m too weak now to lift my head from my bed, but I’m sure I hear something at the other side of the door.  I guess it’s one of those little mistakes you realize.  Kind of like how you can go to work a million days in a row and still leave your keys on the table, or forget to let the dog out, or how after all these years, I could have forgotten to lock that golden padlock.  What a little detail, but with the sound of gnawing and a hollow moan on the other side of my bedroom door, I don’t wonder what’s on the other side.  As the door creaks open, I know what stands at the foot of my bed and agree once more with Mr. Shawler.

Sometimes, the answer is worse than the question.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Samuel Jack
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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