Fiction story ideas are all around us. It’s not a matter of finding them so much as just opening your eyes and seeing them. A story idea could come from a bit of overheard conversation, a photograph, a brief article in the newspaper, or an old family tale.
Many horror and dark fantasy authors can find inspiration in local legends. You don’t even have to look for something as popular and well-known as the Mothman, Resurrection Mary or the Jersey Devil. Most every community has lots of smaller stories of ghosts and monsters that you can use.
For instance, Ohio State University is home to many ghost stories. Here’s one I found at the Forgotten Ohio site:
The story with this one goes that a girl was stuck in an elevator all night in Hopkins Hall, the art building. This threw her into a nervous breakdown, and for some reason she wrote things all over the walls of the elevator. She eventually graduated but was later killed in a car accident, and it is said that people sometimes find notes or scratchings in the Hopkins Hall elevator.
Based on that little bit of apocryphal history, I wrote the following flash story. I hope it will inspire some of you to try writing your own stories based on a little legend or haunting.
Britt’s boyfriend Mike led her to a tree-shaded concrete bench by Mirror Lake. It was a beautiful, cool spring evening. She could not imagine more perfect weather.
“Okay, close your eyes.” He was beaming like a kid at Kings Island.
“What are you up to?” she laughed.
“Just close ‘em, okay? And hold out your hand.”
A second later, she felt the velvet texture of a small jewelry box in her palm.
“Okay, open ‘em.”
She gasped when she saw the glittering diamond engagement ring nestled in the white satin. It had to be worth at least three thousand dollars. Her heart beat faster as she realized what he was doing. “For real?”
“For real.” He got down on one knee on the sidewalk before her, wiped his hands off on his Buckeyes sweatshirt and gave his curly blond hair a quick comb with his fingers. “Britt, will you marry me? I know you’ve had a rough time of it with guys who cut out on you, but I swear that I will always be there for you. I will be your white knight. I will be your rock.”
“… And my hard place?”
She couldn’t help but laugh when he blushed.
“I’m being serious here!”
“And, seriously, I accept.”
He slipped the ring onto her finger, and she pulled him up for a long, slow kiss.
“Does my lady wish to celebrate?”
“Sure! But I need to go back to the studio ... I forgot my sketchbook up there.”
“To Hopkins Hall!”
He took her hand and they began to skip down the sidewalk toward the art building.
“I hope nobody grabbed it,” she said. “I really like the paper. It’s nice and toothy.”
Mike struck a Superman pose. “If some scoundrel hath stolen milady’s notebook, I shall take my iron steed forthwith to Dick Blick’s and purchasetheth her a new one. Forsooth!”
She giggled. “I dub thee Sir MasterCard.”
“Ugh.” Britt stared at the dead bugs trapped in the light cover as the elevator creaked them up to the fourth floor. “I swear if this thing was any slower –”
The machinery made a grinding noise and the car abruptly dropped two feet, slamming to a stop between the floors. The lights went out. Britt used her iPhone as a flashlight to find the alarm button. Nothing happened when she pressed it.
“That’s not good.” Mike’s voice trembled.
“I’ll call campus police.” Britt touched their entry, and her phone dialed out. The call dropped. She tried again. Another drop.
“Third time’s the charm.” She jabbed the screen forcefully.
A click. Had someone picked up?
“Hello?” Britt pressed the phone to her ear. “Hello, are you there?”
“I’m still mad,” a girl’s voice whispered back, all static and echo. “I’m still mad for what they did to me.”
Britt tried to end the call. The phone slipped through her fingers. Glass and electronics cracked and popped. The screen went black.
Suddenly it seemed to be absolutely freezing in there. She was sure she’d be able to see her breath, if she’d been able to see anything at all.
“Do you hear that?” Mike whispered.
“Hear what …?”
“I’m still mad.” The faint voice circled above them. “I’m still mad. Still mad. Still mad ….”
An unseen hand scrawled I’M STILL MAD across the ceiling in ethereal red letters.
“Oh Jesus,” Mike breathed.
“W-why are you mad?” Britt stared up into the blackness, her heart pounding with terror and wonder. She’d gone to church every Sunday for twenty-two years, never really knowing if Heaven or Hell or God or any of it was actually real. But now this. This ghost was real. And that meant the world was a far stranger, wilder place than she’d ever imagined. “What did they do to you?”
A skeletal face came out of the gloom, staring at her with abyssal eye sockets that somehow managed to be even blacker than the unrelenting darkness around them. Mike shrieked and dropped Britt’s hand. She was cold, so cold.
“They left me here,” the skeletal face said. “They knew I was here but they just left me here. They knew I was afraid of the dark. Afraid of small spaces. But they just left me here and let my mind eat itself alive ….”
Britt stared at the specter, mesmerized. Somewhere in the back of her mind she was aware of Mike screaming and scrabbling at the elevator doors. The air smelled like urine.
“I’m still mad for what they did to me.” If the specter still had eyes, Britt had no doubt that it would be weeping.
Britt nodded in sympathy. “I’d be mad, too.”
A shaft of light came into the elevator, banishing the phantom. Mike had muscled the doors open, still screaming. He chinned himself up onto the third floor, scrambled to his feet, and took off running down the hallway.
Not once did he look behind.
Britt blinked and gathered up her broken iPhone. She stared at her reflection in the dark glass. “I’d be mad, too, if I got left behind in an elevator.”
She took off the engagement ring, set it on the floor, and began to pull herself free.