THE HURT CLUB • by James Van Pelt

“If you want to fit in, you have to do something cool,” I said.

The new girl sat on Jennifer Martin’s living room couch. She wore a farmer-girl print dress that might have been fashionable in the 50s. Blondish hair pulled back into a ponytail. Wire-rimmed glasses. No figure to brag about.

“That’s why you ought to go up to the cemetery. You sit on the hatchet girl’s grave, your back to the tombstone, and say ‘I evoke thee, Sara Cotton’ three times. No one’s done it.”

The new girl kept her hands in her lap, her scuffed up saddle shoes neatly on the floor. Who wears saddle shoes anymore? In the kitchen, Brad and his buddies were whooping it up. They were waiting to see if I could talk the girl into going to the graveyard. If she and I left, they’d sprint up the back way to beat us there. “We can scare her to death,” Brad said. “It’ll be a serious hurt. Then you’ll be in the club.” His eyes got all shiny when he talked about the Hurt Club. Scott got in when he pushed a sophomore down the stairs into the gymnasium. Landon put a pipette over a Bunsen burner in the chem lab until it glowed red, then waited for the color to fade before asking his lab partner to pick it up for him, and Brad… well, Brad had been hurting people for as long as I knew him.

All I had to do was scare the girl. It made me a little sick inside to think of it, but it wouldn’t really hurt her, I thought. She’d get over it, and I’d be in the club.

Most of the party was in the backyard. They’d turned the music up, but in the living room only the bass beat reached us, like a heartbeat. They were probably dancing out there. Everyone belonged, except the new girl, of course. She tilted her head toward me. “No one’s ever done it?”

“No one who lived to tell about it.” I laughed so she’d know I was joking. “It’s a local legend that the hatchet girl rises from her grave if her name is evoked three times. You’ll be a hero.”

“I don’t know anyone,” she said, and she sounded a little desperate. I was ready to call the whole plot off, but she stood up. “I’ll do it.”

The back door shut as we walked out the front. Brad and the boys were on their way.

“What do you know about Sara Cotton?” the new girl said as we walked up the dark, tree-shrouded street. The cemetery was only two blocks away, a black mass of iron gate and stone wall.

“She went to our school like sixty years ago, I heard. Went crazy at a party and killed some kids.”

“Did she really use an axe?”

I shrugged my shoulders, but the new girl probably couldn’t see me in the dark. We were supposed to scare her, but my breath was tightening, and even though it was autumn cool, I was sweating. She was just a kid, a kid with no friends. I imagined what would happen when the boys of the Hurt Club jumped out from behind the stones. It could scare her to death, but not like Brad meant. People’s hearts could stop from fear, I’d heard. She might really be hurt, or at least, forever, have nightmares about the boys in the graveyard. I swallowed hard as we squeezed through a gap in the old gate.

“Is this the spot?” she said when I stopped at a grave. I squinted at the stone until the wavy light from the streetlights outside revealed the name.

“What am I supposed to say?” She stepped onto the neatly mowed grass, her hand on the tombstone.

“I evoke thee, Sara Cotton.” The words were dry in my throat.

She looked around at the grey and black shapes beneath the whispering trees.

“I’m scared,” she said.

Brad rose up from behind another stone. Landon and Scott joined him. They each held a baseball bat, and I knew, like I should have always known, that they weren’t just going to scare her.

“Go ahead,” said Brad. “Say, ‘I evoke thee, Sara Cotton,’ and we might let you go.” He turned his shiny-eyed gaze on me, and his smile was predatory. I was a victim too. He said, “It’s two for one night at the bone yard.”

“What?” She didn’t move. She didn’t even sound frightened.

Landon laughed high in his throat, like it was squeezed from him. “I evoke thee, Sara Cotton, dummy.”

The new girl closed her eyes. Even in the cemetery darkness, I saw them close. She let loose a big breath, a sigh. “Oh, thank you. That’s three times.” She bent to the ground, reached as if to pick up something, and then her hand disappeared into the grave as deep as her elbow. She pushed through, and when she stood, she was holding an axe dripping with dirt, a stringy root hanging from it.

“Run,” she said to me, “and don’t look back.”

As I turned to flee I heard her say in a voice full of maggots and old injuries, “This is going to hurt.”

James Van Pelt‘s fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, Realms of Fantasy and other venues. When he’s not writing, he teaches high school and college English in western Colorado.

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Every Day Fiction

  • I was hoping that’s how it would end!

    Five stars for a pulpy payoff.

  • fishlovesca


    Four stars.

  • Liked it! And congratulations on your 100th story sale!

  • Excellent. I’ve a high tolerance for horror stories that don’t involve entrails and gore. 🙂

    I liked ‘a voice full of maggots and old injuries’. Thanks for the read.

  • J Howard

    Bwa-ha-ha! Loved it, James! Well written, of course, and an enjoyable read from start to finish. Your unnamed new girl was SO nicely crafted, and those final words, priceless. Glad the slice-and-dice part was left to the reader’s imagination, too.

    Great short-short story in one of my favorite genres! Thanks for sharing.

  • Bit cliched, I thought – ‘Bloody Mary’ meets ‘Carrie’.

  • I have to admit, I guessed early where this train was going with the ‘new girl’ in her outdated clothes, but I still enjoyed every bit of the ride.

    I also like how the narrator was spared, even though she was one of the kids in the plot, and had said one of the three evokations.

    Familiar ground, but very nicley done with well-crafted restraint and skillful imagery.

  • This was pretty cool. I guessed right off who the new girl was (from her clothes)–but still liked that part of it. Yet I just couldn’t figure out why the narrator wanted to be in the hurt club in the first place. He doesn’t seem to enjoy hurting people.

  • Sheila Cornelius

    Ha! Ha! Good story. I guessed Sara Cotton would show up, but not that she was the new girl all along.


  • Entertaining and fun.

  • ajcap

    Love around-the-campfire type horror stories, especially when they’re well told. When you can get your readers to cheer for a hatchet-wielding murderess, you’re doing some good writing. Five stars.

  • Can I give this story 10 stars?

  • Thanks for all the comments. This is a piece I wrote in support of the kids in our Write a Book in a Year Club at the high school where I teach.

  • Good one Jim! Hope to see more of your work around here. Five stars from me for a satisfying ending – and the saddle shoes were a nice bit of foreshadowing / fairness to the reader.

  • Jen

    This was awesome! I figured out the new girl was Sarah Cotton part way through, but I still loved it. The one think I couldn’t figure out though is why did Sarah tell the narrator to run? Does she just love the chase.
    Jim, I love the fact that your school has a Write A Book In A Month Club, that”ve been right up my ally when I was in school.

  • Somewhat predictable graveyard horror, but who cares when it is told so well. Sympathy for the “new” girl and the MC, and just desserts for Brad and his sadistic gang…can’t get much better than that.

    This story has everything. Great characters, scene, pace, voice, structure; if it doesn’t deserve four or five stars from reviewers, then nothing submitted here does (my opinion of course).

    Again great job Mr. High School Teacher. Thank you for it and if I can be off-topic for a final thought, thank for the work you do with our children — your profession is under-appreciated by many in the U.S.

  • I guessed early on that the new girl was Sara Cotton. Perhaps, if you hadn’t mentioned that her clothes might have been fashionable in the 50s, my thoughts wouldn’t have gone in that direction. You could maybe find something else to say about how she looks that conveys that she doesn’t look like the other girls in the school without necessarily placing her looks in the past right at the beginning. But I really liked the story anyway, and I didn’t guess that it would end with her letting the narrator of the story go, so that was very pleasing.

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  • Ira Creasman

    I’m not sure why so many think that a story should be unpredictable to be good. I too realized fairly quickly that Sara Cotton was probably the new girl, but for me that made the story not about the revealation of that fact but instead created tension, wondering what Sara Cotton would do once released.

    Nicely crafted, Jim. I especially liked “a voice full of maggots and old injuries”. There’s a lot packed in that line.


  • Paul Friesen

    i thought this was a solid 4 stars. As opposed to comments #19 and #4 though, I found the line “a voice full of maggots” to be not to my thing. But I’m outnumbered apparently.

  • Simone

    Nice job! As most have mentioned, “the new girl” was obviously Sara Cotton. But that didn’t detract from the story for me. The feel of this reminded me of a song in the ’60s – it was about a guy who picks up a girl along the road and puts his jacket around her shoulders. He drops her off at her house and leaves, then goes back to get the jacket. The parents tell him the girl died on the road long ago. He goes to the cemetery and finds his jacket on her grave. Eerie, but most excellent!

  • Kit

    I didn’t guess the new girl was Sara Cotton. In fact, I thought maybe she was setting up the narrator to be the one who actually gets hurt. So, I was very pleasantly surprised by the ending – in many ways. I also liked the way she prompts the bad guys to say the phrase for the third time so she will be free.

    I wasn’t sure if she tells the narrator to run to set him free or to chase him. On first reading, I thought she was letting him go, but now I’m not sure. Anyway, beautiful job on all fronts – plot, characterization, setting, and capturing the occasional heartlessness of youth.

  • 5 stars. Great pulp read, something I’d love to see more of, at EDF and elsewhere.

  • I really enjoyed this. The ending was sweet justice

  • Maureen McGuire

    It was nice seeing the finished product, which is even better than the snippets I saw earlier.

    — MKM

  • What a great tale! People above are right – knowing that the new girl is Sara Cotton from quite early on doesn’t detract, it builds tension. What is she going to do, and how? That she takes vengeance on the wicked and spares the benign, is the twist, and what a nice one it is. This is a wicked 5 star, for me.

  • Mike

    The ending was unexpected. They deserved that.

  • meow

    5 stars. It is refreshing to read something this good from Every Day Fiction. I hope you get stories of this caliber in the future. (I’m sorry, but lately the stories that I have been receiving aren’t that entertaining.) I think I am now a fan of James Van Pelt because of this, and I will be searching for his other published stories. Looking forward for a full-length novel from him. 🙂 Kudos, Mr. Van Pelt, don’t stop writing good stories.

  • I’ve adopted a new line: This is going to hurt.

  • Steve Isaak

    Out of the thirty or so stories I’ve read on this site – including the “Top” stories – this is the first one I’ve fully enjoyed – it’s excellent, cinematic/visual, engaging and fast-paced: in short, it’s the only publishable-as-is, worthwhile story I’ve read on this site thus far.

    I don’t write this to be mean, but to be honest. Thank you for this wonderful piece, James.

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