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  • Writer's pictureGuest Writer

The Green Light

A tale of obsession and intrigue, this haunting short story by author David Bench comes with an unexpected ending. We enjoyed this exploration of place and memory.

Author's introduction: The Green Light came about when I drove to work one morning and noticed a green porch light that was flickering. It caught my attention and for several days I couldn’t drive past the house without noticing the green light. I came up with the story at work and refined it over several days.


The Green Light

By David Bench

The old house on Olympic Avenue watched me with menace. Its baleful aura made my arms break out in gooseflesh and caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand at attention. I tried not to meet the gaze of the hulking cyclops and its sickly green eye.

A previous owner had inserted a green bulb into the lone porch light fixture. Day after day, year after year, the malevolent, swamp-colored glow could not chase back the shadows like the domesticated yellow lights of the surrounding homes. It must have been a pleasant shade of green once, some charming viridian—no sane person would purposely choose such a disquieting color. It was the same greasy green of those quick, skittering spiders that lurked in my kitchen when the weather turned. The fuzzy green that grew on long-forgotten leftovers in the deep recesses of my refrigerator. The slimy, slick green film on my pond after weeks of neglect.

The dread was always present, although it was worse in the cold winter months; I passed the house in darkness both morning and evening, walking to catch the number three bus that took me to my office downtown. The house itself was timeless, built a century ago when the town was much smaller. In the ‘50s, developers bought up the surrounding farmland and hemmed in the old house on all sides with cookie-cutter ramblers, thrown up quickly and cheaply to cash in on the baby boom and suburban migration. For a time, the stately old home must have seemed like a queen among her more common courtiers, its Victorian visage set back from the road with the majestic maple tree in the yard. Now, it sat empty and forgotten; even the ‘For Sale’ sign taped to the window was faded and weather-worn. Each year that gnarled ancient maple leaned more drunkenly toward the street, disgorging its leaves across the unkempt yard.

Once lush, the lawn was now hardscrabble; only the hardiest weeds could find purchase there. Over the years, the maple’s roots had forced their way beneath the cracked front walkway. It lurched and dipped, becoming a hazard to anyone trying to approach the house. The rotten porch sagged, its paint peeling like strips of mummified skin. I wondered why the power company hadn’t cut off the power to that miasmic beacon. And how had that awful bulb not burned out years ago? I tried to ignore the green light, but I couldn’t avoid it. Several times I even made plans to take a different route to the bus stop, only to find myself walking past the old place again as if in a dream from which I could not wake.


Something changed one December evening as my bus pulled up to my usual stop. Through the fogged window, I noticed a pretty blonde sitting on the small bench under the shelter. Her blue eyes met mine briefly, before I stood to disembark. The sad look on her face gave me a fleeting feeling of déjà vu. But when I stepped out onto the curb, the bench was empty. I glanced up and down the block, wondering where she’d gone. Finally, I turned up my jacket’s collar and steeled myself for my usual walk home.

The weather had turned, and a biting wind prodded and poked at my thin coat, trying to find a seam or crease into which it could sink icy fingers. I pulled my cap tighter, wrapped my arms around myself for warmth, and shuffled down the frozen sidewalk. I tried not to make eye contact with the house. I focused on the treacherous walkway ahead of me, but something compelled me to look.

A dark silhouette watched me from inside the large window, although the weak green light made it impossible to see the person’s face. I realized that the battered ‘For Sale’ sign was no longer taped in the corner and wondered if someone had finally bought the place. The silhouette raised a thin hand and gave me a subtle wave. Before I had time to think, I waved back. Then a forceful blast of wind buffeted me, making my eyes water and snatching at my cap. When I looked again, the silhouette was gone.

My sleep that night was fitful, my dreams came in a jumble of disconnected images, and I couldn’t make sense of them. Vivid colors all eventually bled into a pale, putrid green. I awoke in a sweaty snarl of blankets, exhausted and disoriented. I showered and dressed, my thoughts repeatedly drifting back to the old house.

As I made my way to my bus stop, no light other than the pale green porch bulb shone from the old house. I saw no movement, nor did the silhouette from the previous night return to the window. I stood there watching for what to me felt like hours, though it could only have been a few minutes. When I finally turned to go, the biting wind had chapped my cheeks and lips, and my fingers were numb despite my thin gloves.


The silhouette was waiting for me that night, and I stood transfixed, wondering why this person was staring out the curtainless window in the dark. My stomach clenched, and I realized I’d been holding my breath. I took a couple of hesitant steps toward the house but lost my nerve. I shouldn’t be here, I thought. I blinked, and the woman in the window was gone. Finally, I surrendered to the cold and turned for home.

That night, I dreamt of smooth, deep red waves, becoming russet-brown soil spilling over me—until I awoke, gasping for air with my head pounding.


The following day, the old house—and the mysterious woman within—repeatedly returned to my thoughts, and I found I could not focus on my work. A coworker nearby was wearing an unusual yet familiar perfume, and the scent hung in the air, making it even more impossible to concentrate. I made my excuses to my boss and feigned an oncoming illness. Mr. Townsend glanced up from his paperwork briefly, narrowing his eyes as if he possessed the ability to visually screen for disease vectors.

"Alright, Robert, just don't make a habit of it. Your work is already behind schedule."

After a moment, he shooed me away and buried his nose in his work again.

A heavy cloud cover muted the daylight, though the green porch light lacked much of the menace it projected in the dark. I slowly made my way toward the run-down structure. I navigated the tilted concrete slabs of the front walkway, careful not to trip over any upturned edge. The remains of the gravel drive showed no evidence of recent use. The clusters of unbroken, desiccated milkweed stalks pushed up through the surface and disappeared from view around the back of the property.

At the porch steps, I hesitated. A voice in my head screamed at me—to turn around, to walk back toward the street, to just go home—still, I climbed the creaking stairs and walked toward the entrance. The glass pane of the front door was loose in its moulding and rattled when I knocked on it. What would I say if they answered? Hello, I’m from down the street, I thought. I just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood. It felt pretty lame, but it would have to do.

No one answered. I shaded my eyes and leaned against the glass to see inside, perhaps expecting to see a worn-out carpet or outdated wallpaper. However, the small windowpane was filthy, and I could see no light within. I tried the knob and was surprised when it turned in my hand. The rusted hinges protested loudly as I pushed the door inward and—

“Can I help you?”

The voice startled a small yelp from my throat, and I turned around so quickly I almost stumbled off the sloping porch. A middle-aged man in a faded and flannel-lined denim coat stood looking at me expectantly. He carried a stack of cardboard signs tucked under one arm. A white truck with the city's logo stenciled on the door now sat at the curb.

“I—I’m from down the block,” I stammered. All my confidence had drained away. “I just came to welcome you—”

“This house is slated for demolition,” he said, his expression a mix of concern and curiosity. “No one has lived here for more than ten years.”

Well, that explained why the ‘For Sale’ sign was gone.

“Were you here last night?” I asked.

The agent shook his head. “Sir, I’m telling you, the city condemned this place—can’t you read?”

He pointed to a large yellow sign taped to the door stating just that. I could swear that sign wasn’t there when I’d climbed the steps.

“There’s no one here,” he continued.

“I saw a person—a woman, I think—in this window last night.”

The man took a half step back and reached for his cell phone. “Buddy, I told you, there’s no one here. And you’re trespassing.” He held up his phone and began to dial.

“Ok, ok,” I said, raising my hands in surrender. “I must have been mistaken. Sorry for the confusion.” I retreated to the street, gave the house one last glance, then quickly headed off toward home.


Just after midnight, I awoke in a cold sweat. Perhaps I was coming down with something after all. The remnants of another nightmare turned to wisps of smoke and faded into the familiar darkness of my bedroom, lit only by a greenish light emanating from just beyond my open bedroom door. I became momentarily paralyzed by the green light that had somehow followed me home. Then, still gripped by fear, I walked toward the doorway. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and stepped out into the hallway.

I could now see the glow coming from the kitchen, and I breathed a sigh of relief; it was nothing more than the string of under-counter LEDs, that no longer appeared to glow green as I approached. My fixation on the old house was causing my mind and eyes to play tricks on me. Whatever had triggered my distress was robbing me of sleep and poisoning my thoughts. Determined, I strode back to the bedroom and dressed quickly. I grabbed my coat and hat on my way out and put them on as I walked briskly toward the old house.

A light snow had begun to fall, blanketing everything in a crystalline whiteness and making the sidewalk slick under the trudge of my possessed feet. The neighborhood was quiet as a cemetery. No cars rolled by, and no one was about at such an early hour. Minutes later, I reached the house; its familiar green light both beckoned me and dared me to enter. My legs felt weak, and I considered abandoning this foolish quest and returning to my warm bed. I had come this far, though, and I needed answers.

The snow was falling heavier now, piling up and obscuring the walkway. I could almost hear the sound of each snowflake landing around me, falling in time with each rapid beat of my heart and the blood pulsing in my ears. I took a few faltering steps toward the old house, then slipped in the snow. I fell to one knee briefly before righting myself and pressing on toward the door atop the rickety porch. The window was empty, the house dark except for that incessant green glow. I turned the knob and pushed the door open, eliciting a louder scream from its hinges than I had anticipated.

A musty, ripe smell assaulted my nose while I waited for my eyes to adjust to the dim light that spilled in from the porch. A quick flip of the switch to my left confirmed what I already suspected—only the porch light was receiving power.

A large, gold-framed mirror hung in the hall, reflecting the green light deeper into the house. The carpet in the hallway was threadbare, perhaps as old as the house itself. In a large room off the hallway, wallpaper had begun to peel away from the walls. It bubbled and sagged under its own weight. Some animal had made its nest in a half-rotted sofa, and the husks of long-dead insects lay scattered about. With my eyes now accustomed to the darkened house, I recognized the pattern in the wallpaper, and I knew the house's layout the way I knew my own. I walked from room to room, more confident with each step. I felt a familiarity I hadn’t expected.

I stopped at the stairway leading to the second floor. Someone had spilled something here, something heavy and black. Tar, perhaps, or maybe paint. The substance spattered the walls and lower steps and pooled across the floor at the bottom of the stairway. The pale green light seeping in from the porch only intensified the inky spill, and the most significant part of the stain was like a bottomless hole roughly cut into the floorboards. Something compelled me to touch it, though my better judgment tried to warn me against getting too close. Instead, I ran my fingers over the dark spots on the walls, feeling the noticeable change in texture. Rough to smooth, smooth to rough. Still visible under a thin layer of dust, several large, dried drips trailed away toward the kitchen. I followed the trail of droplets across chipped linoleum, past an old gas stove, until they disappeared behind a bolted cellar door.

The windowless cellar beyond was pitch black; what little light had accompanied me this far into the old house died at the top of the steps leading down. I reached in my pocket for my cell phone and saw that the battery was low—hadn’t I charged it? I used the screen’s pale light to find my way into the cellar.

In a few steps, the musty smell of the house above was replaced with rot from below. On a shelf along one side of the earthen-walled room, the shriveled remains of potatoes, onions, and squash sat alongside ruptured and blackened cans of expired food. Insects skittered away from my light as I panned it around me, casting weird moving and warping shadows here and there; I could hear the movement of what I could only imagine were larger creatures in the deeper darkness that my phone’s weak light could not penetrate.

Then I caught a faint trace of a new scent, entirely out of place here, yet familiar to me—a woman’s perfume.


I froze at the sound of my own name. The voice was almost imperceptible, barely above a whisper. I was letting my fear get the better of me. The sound I heard may have only been the movement of the insects. Still…

I stepped further into the room and moved toward the back of the dank cellar, where my light revealed the shallow discolored depression in the hard-packed dirt floor. A rusted shovel leaned against the earthen wall—where I had left it ten years ago.

Images flooded my mind now, like snippets of a long-forgotten dream. Red lips. Pale blue eyes. Golden hair. A black leather skirt. A torn purple sweater. A silver knife, covered in scarlet. Scarlet spread on the walls and floor at the bottom of the stairs. Scarlet that dried to rust, then turned black in the sickly green light of the porch.

I knew you’d come back.

The voice came from both the hole in front of me and the stairway behind. My heart was a triphammer in my chest, and I spun around trying to see in the weak glow from my phone but found nothing and no one there, just the insects scrambling to remain in the dark. The voice came again, louder this time.

I’ve been waiting so long. I thought you’d forgotten me.”

A name and a face pushed up from the depths of my subconscious.


I felt a wave of dizziness, and my legs felt weak.

Tanya, the pretty blonde that lived in this old house she inherited from her grandmother. Tanya, whose parents had died in a car crash when she was ten. Tanya, who had graduated from Skyline High school just a few blocks from here—who’d worked for a temp agency saving up for college, and rode the same bus downtown every day.

It was like the old song by The Hollies about the couple who meet at a bus stop and share an umbrella—only with Tanya and me, it had been a crossword puzzle in the paper. We struck up a conversation, and I felt genuine chemistry between us. We met every day at the same stop and sat together on the number three bus that took us downtown. We’d huddle together under the bus shelter for warmth when the weather turned cold. In the enclosed space, her perfume was intoxicating. After several weeks of this routine, Tanya invited me over for a home-cooked meal, and I accepted her invitation.

Tanya was an excellent chef and during our dinner conversation, she spoke wistfully of her grandmother who taught her to cook. A year earlier, she had passed away—suddenly and unexpectedly—leaving Tanya alone in the large house.

After dinner, Tanya put some music on, and we moved to sit on the antique sofa. I put my arm around her shoulder and leaned in to kiss her. She kissed me back, placing her hand on my chest. I felt the warmth of her body so close to mine. I naturally assumed this would lead to something more intimate. When it didn’t, I tried to press the issue. I knew I should have stopped, should have listened to her. Yet, the more she resisted, the more excited I became. When she screamed at me and pushed me away, I laughed. I don’t know what came over me; I was no longer the rational, stable man I’d always tried to represent. I wasn’t even me anymore.

I grabbed her and pulled her closer. Then she struck me with something heavy, and my world spun. My ears were ringing, and I felt deep-seated anger rise within me. When I came to my senses, I found myself in the cellar, bathed in sweat and blood, tossing the dirt over her lifeless body.

I arrived home that night with a wound on my head, and the concussion I had suffered left me confused and questioning what had really happened. The evening was a blur.

When I awoke the following day, I convinced myself that I’d fallen and hit my head, that’s all—it had all been a bad dream. There was no Tanya. There had never been a girl at the bus stop. The whole thing was just the product of a mild brain injury and my vivid, overly active imagination.

How had I let myself believe my own lie and wall away the painful memory of what I’d done for nearly ten years?

We have some unfinished business, Robert.” Tanya’s voice grew louder. It was coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

I felt a prickling on my skin and a sudden tightness in my chest. My breath came in short, wheezing bursts as if a giant fist was squeezing me. I felt the bile rising in my throat. My breath became a fog, and I felt the room grow colder. The screen from my phone dimmed, then went black. I pressed its buttons, but it remained dark and lifeless.

In a moment of blind panic, I turned and ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time—I needed to get back to the kitchen, to the hallway, to the porch, and to safety. Halfway up, one of the rotted treads gave way, and I plunged into the space beneath. I landed awkwardly and heard a sickening crack as violent pain surged through my body. My left leg was pinned beneath me at an impossible angle, and I could feel something sharp protruding from my thigh. The leg of my jeans was wet, and warm blood flowed across the fabric.

“Help!” I cried out, my voice muffled by the earth surrounding the cellar. No one would hear me down here.

No,” Tanya said, her voice more forceful than I remembered. “Did you hear me that time?”

I tried to peer up through the ruptured stairs toward the open door at the top of the stairway. I heard the insects moving around me in the deep darkness—something larger moved there as well.

Darkness crept into the edges of my vision, the pain in my leg ebbed, and my breathing grew shallow. Above me, I could just make out the faintest green light.


Author Bio

David developed a renewed interest in writing after illustrating The New Kid, a children’s book written by his wife, Liesl, and has since written and illustrated two other children’s books. Retiring in 2021 to devote more time to music and writing, David completed his first novella, Hawking’s Highway, in 2021, and Death in the Shadow of Oberon followed in the summer of 2022, via his own personal publishing venture: Bench Press Publishing. When not writing, David enjoys cooking, playing guitar and Hofner electric bass, and spending time with family (including an African Gray parrot with an attitude). He currently live in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Check out Dave's website at or head over to Amazon or Lulu to check out (and maybe buy) a book or two.

Alternatively, why not check out this Insider Interview with David Bench?

Cover image courtesy of DE Bench.


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