Spell Check, by Carol Ayer


The first day, I found the whole thing interesting, even amusing.

I plopped down on the couch, grabbed some popcorn from the bowl on the coffee table, and said to my husband, “So, guess what some of the alphabet blocks spelled out when I got up to the attic today?”

He shook his head, lost in the intricacies of his football game.

“S-L-A-Y. Slay,” I told him. “Weird, huh?”

“That’s nice.” Jerry reached out for a handful of popcorn and stuffed it into his mouth. I didn’t press the issue. We’d received the blocks from my mother when our daughter was a baby, and Jerry had wanted me to get rid of them long ago. Sara had loved the blocks, transitioning from playing with them as toys to spelling out words when she grew older. It hadn’t helped her much; she had been a dismal speller up until her tragic accident at age 18. I’d kept them along with several other childhood mementos. I still hadn’t decided how and if I was going to smuggle the treasures to our new house across town.

The next day, I began to wonder if the blocks were trying to tell me something. When I arrived in the attic, I found four of them leaning up against my hope chest, spelling out another word.

“Jerry, did you go up to the attic today?” I asked my husband at dinner. I served myself some salad and passed the bowl to him.

“No, I did not. You said you were taking care of packing those boxes. That you didn’t need any help. And, by the way, I certainly hope you’re not planning to lug Sara’s old things over to the new place. I know you, Catherine, you can’t throw anything away. But we just don’t have room at the new house.”

“It’s just…the alphabet blocks…they spelled out another word.”

“So? I’m sure you could find a ton of words up there, depending on how the blocks are stacked. And you’ve probably been knocking them around with your boxes and rearranging them without even knowing it. But the bigger issue is why haven’t you gotten rid of the damn things? I asked you to give them away ages ago. You never listen to me!”

I decided this probably wasn’t the best time to tell him that the blocks against the hope chest spelled out K-I-L-L.

The following day, after about fifteen minutes of packing, I glimpsed a new arrangement of letters stacked up against one of my finished boxes. I abandoned my current project of packing up Sara’s childhood sled, tore down the stairs, and ran from room to room, desperately seeking out my husband.

I finally found Jerry in the garage and, heart pounding, told him I’d had enough with the attic.

“Why?” he demanded. “What’s the matter now? Can’t you just finish what you said you would do?”

“The blocks!” I whispered. “They spell M-A-I-M!”

He laughed. “You’ve always had such a great imagination. You really should be a writer. Maybe you could make us a lot of money, and I could quit my job.”

I turned and stomped off. I sulked in our bedroom for half an hour. But as my heart rate calmed down, and I considered the three episodes some more, I realized my husband was right. My imagination was playing tricks on me.

After all, I’d lived in this house my entire life. Jerry had proposed to me on the porch, and we’d wed in the living room. Our reception had been held amongst the flowers in the garden. Sara had taken her first step in what was now the laundry room, and I had pictures of her posing with her date in the foyer, dressed in her pink prom gown. They were some of the last pictures of her.

I had to face it. Subconsciously, I didn’t really want to leave, and I was finding words which reflected death. I was giving up a place I’d known and loved my whole life, and the place where I’d last known and loved my daughter. I’d been against the move from the beginning, though I knew Jerry was right when he insisted we needed a smaller place as we got older. Ironically, the couple who was buying the house had been looking for a larger place. They had ten great-grandchildren and were looking forward to holding frequent family reunions.

In any event, it was pure coincidence that I’d found threatening words in the attic. If I looked closely enough, I’d probably find benign, even positive, arrangements such as “LOVE,” “BIRD,” and “KIND.” Perhaps even “MOVE” and “GOOD.”

I had to buck up. I couldn’t help this “death” from happening. We were moving, and that was that. I resolved to finish my attic packing the next afternoon, and give away the blocks and Sara’s other toys to charity.


The elderly couple who had purchased our home arrived the next morning to look around.

“Dear, is it all right if we go up to see the attic?” Mrs. Peabody asked. “We’ll probably use it for some of the children’s sleeping arrangements.”

“Of course. I’m not quite done with my packing. But go ahead.”

I watched the Peabodys tentatively climb the stairs, gripping the railing and each other’s arms with each step.

I headed for the kitchen to help Jerry finish packing the pots and pans, thinking nothing more about the attic until Mr. Peabody’s voice rang out through the entire house, “Mame!!”

I heard a horrible noise of someone falling, stair by stair by stair.

Jerry and I ran to the foot of the staircase, where Mrs. Peabody was now lying with her limbs splayed in an unnatural position.

“She slipped on the sleigh!” Mr. Peabody cried from the top of the staircase. “It killed her. Mame, oh, Mame!”


It was only after the coroner had come and gone that I said to Jerry, “You can move if you want. I’m staying here with my daughter.”


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Posted in 2012, Fiction, Horror
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