Month: May 2019

Lonely

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This post was originally published through Patreon on June 26, 2018.

Crrreeeaaak.

The door opened and Janet walked inside. The house was dark and empty. She took two hesitant steps forward.

The door slammed shut.

Janet spun on her heel, lunged for the knob, and tried to pry it open. But the door wouldn’t budge.

“Jack? Brian? Greg? This isn’t funny!”

Chest fluttering, heart hammering, she pounded on the door. She listened for their obnoxious laughs, the sound she always dreaded but resigned herself to hear whenever she played along with one of their stupid dares. But she heard nothing, only the quiet stillness of the dark.

She whirled again, suddenly afraid of what might be looming over her shoulder.

In that moment, the air grew heavy with the weight of a thousand unseen eyes. When she returned to the safety of the porch outside, she’d pound those boys so hard.

Only, she wondered if this was actually their fault. They’d dared her to go inside, of course. That was a running challenge between the kids in their fifth grade class: to visit the abandoned house on San Mateo Street after sunset, confront the ghost that everyone swore lived there, and survive. But now that she was actually here, now that she was experiencing the house for herself, she suspected there might be other forces at play.

She could feel a gravity in the room with her, a presence that made her skin prickle. She’d felt it almost as soon as she walked inside.

There’s no such thing as ghosts.

She twisted and pulled the doorknob for a while longer before stopping to catch her breath.

The back door.

The idea struck her mind like lightning.

I’ll find the back door. Maybe it still opens.

But after a few steps forward, she stopped and realized she couldn’t see. The area by the front door, though dim, was bright enough that her eyes had been able to adjust. But the rest of the house was consumed by a thick, tangible black—like an impossibly deep hole, or the vacuum of empty space. No matter how long she stared forward with her eyes open, no matter how much time she spent trying to tease out some shadow, line, or shape that could help her orient herself in the dark, nothing came into focus.

“Greg?”

She whispered the boy’s name, though she didn’t expect him to answer. He was the one she liked, although she pretended to hate him the most. She would have felt a lot better with him at her side.

An icy draft grazed her exposed shoulders and she shuddered, for a moment imagining that she was elsewhere—not in a house, but a cave beneath the earth, filled with dusty ancient secrets whispered not for the benefit of the living but the dead.

A sound—

Oooooh.

—a low keening wail. Soft, distant. At first, Janet though it was just the wind outside. Then it came again.

Oooooh.

And again.

Oooooh.

Each time, the sound was closer, clearer than before.

Oooooh.

The ghost of the San Mateo house was real.

Janet spun and pounded on the door again.

“Let me out! Jack! Brian! Greg! Let me out right now!”

But she knew they wouldn’t answer.

Oooooh.

“No,” she cried. “Leave me alone!”

Oooooh.

“Please, let me go.”

Oooooh.

Janet spun to face the approaching spirit, possessed of the mad notion that somehow she might defend herself. That was when she saw it for the first time.

The ghost was human in shape but featureless and impossibly gray, a three-dimensional smudge about which the darkness of the house orbited like a planet around a star. Janet’s terror reached a startling, heart-stopping climax, and she backed into the wall without realizing what she was doing, edging further into the darkness in her attempt to get away.

The ghost followed.

Oooooh!

“Leave me alone!”

OOOOOH!

Except now that she could hear it up close, she realized she’d misheard. Not Oooooh, but Noooo. Janet listened—really listened—and at the heart of this mournful spirit’s cry, she perceived an unexpected suffering, a terrible, aching need that shot an arrow of sorrow through her heart.

Noooo. And when it saw it had her attention, it went on. Don’t go. Don’t leave me alone in the dark.

She stared at this abstract nightmare, a creature right out of every horror flick she’d ever seen, and understood at last that it was lonely, that it was just as frightened of the dark and the quiet as she.

The ghost began to cry, and remarkably, Janet cried, too, unexpected tears welling in the corners of her eyes.

Don’t leave, it repeated. Don’t leave me alone in the dark like Mommy and Daddy.

The ghost slumped to the ground, and a moment later, Janet did the same.

The ghost was real, she thought, but it wasn’t at all what she’d expected.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

Sam.

“Why did your Mommy and Daddy leave?”

They left after I died. They said the house made them sad. I tried to get their attention, tried to show them that I was still here, that we could still be a family. But they couldn’t hear me, and eventually they went away. Others come sometimes, but they always run away, too. You won’t run away, will you?

“I— no. But I can’t stay. I have my own Mommy and Daddy back home.”

Will you come back?

Moved by the ghost’s raw and desperate need, Janet found herself unable to say no.

“Okay.”

The darkness dissipated like water turned to steam, and the features of the old house came into sharp and instant focus, along with those of the boy, who stared up at her now with the most heartfelt eyes Janet had ever seen.

“Tomorrow,” she said. “After sunset. We’ll play a game.”

* * *

“Did you see the ghost?” her friends asked when she stepped outside at last.

Janet huddled against the cold, wondering for just a moment what it would feel like for Greg to keep her warm, and said nothing.

“Come on,” Jack pressed. “Did you? What was it like?”

Lonely, she wanted to say, but she knew they wouldn’t understand.

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The Word

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This post was originally published through Patreon on May 29, 2018

Once, I was a writer. Still am, though now I keep my work to myself. In my youth I wasn’t so reticent. I submitted my stories all over, even got some published in prestigious magazines. I was on my way up, ready to storm the gates of the literary world.

Then the words stopped flowing.

The channel through which their magic once surged slowed to a trickle, and a thousand nascent worlds inside my head withered and died. Oh, how I mourned their untimely loss. I sat for hours in silence, trying to pick apart the dam that held the words back. But it was no use. They were gone, and they were never coming back.

Then a miracle: a missive from the gods.

One word.

It burst to life inside my head in the middle of the night like an atomic bomb, waking me from a dreamless sleep.

One word.

It filled my vision like the blinding glare of the noonday sun. It was so beautiful. I had to capture it; I had to contain it for future study. So I sat down at my desk, something I hadn’t done since the magic died, and I prepared to write.

Nothing happened.

The word was so vibrant, so full of life, yet my pen wouldn’t move, couldn’t. There seemed no way to express it in writing. How to record such transcendent beauty, such otherworldly clarity?

This was no natural language, I soon realized, but something more, something beyond symbols and sounds. I kept my interior gaze fixed upon its wondrous contours, and in the course of my examination, I became aware of more: an undercurrent, a river of words just as elemental as the first, throbbing beneath the surface of the world like an artery.

Pumping, flowing.

This was true language. Not the names assigned to things by creatures incapable of understanding the world any other way, but true names, the purest essence of all that ever existed and all that ever would.

I had to examine this other language more closely, had to divine its innermost secrets. So I turned inward, focused on its constant flow, churning now, like a river, pulsing, spouting…

Too close, the current pulled me in.

Flying.

Flailing.

Struggling to hold my head above the water.

Power crackled all around me, and I knew in that moment that if I didn’t pull back, if I let it draw me in much further, I would burn before the searing heat of realities too profound for any mortal mind to comprehend.

Pushing against the flow, I forced my way upriver. But the words had hold of me now, and they didn’t want to let go. The current grew faster, stronger. After a time, I could feel the gravity of another world in the distance, tugging at me from the other side of time.

For a moment, I actually wanted to go, wanted to let the words sweep me away. This was a journey, I thought, that all of us must take sooner or later, a truth the river spoke to me as it charged through the cosmos. But it wasn’t my time. There was more left for me to do in my mortal life, and I couldn’t yet move on.

So I pushed. I pushed and pushed and pushed. All the while, those words sang to me, cajoled me, urged me to follow after them.

I will, I promised. In the fullness of time, I will.

It seemed they understood because, at last, they offered me a way out. A light appeared in the distance, pointing the way home, and all I had to do was trudge against the current and follow after it.

The light grew.

Grew.

It enveloped me, reached down to pull me out, placed me back once more in—

My room. Once more, I was in my room. I was at my desk, pen still in hand, my notebook stretched before me, ready to receive my vision.

Those words were gone now, along with the one that had first revealed itself to me. But I could still feel that otherworldly current beneath me, thrumming, rumbling. The dam inside my head exploded, and a flash flood of new words surged through an opened mind. Only ordinary words this time—human words—yet I embraced them as a long lost love.

I could have found unrivaled success with words like these. I could have made a lot of money, built a towering career as a celebrity author. But it seemed profane to put them to such use, and at any rate, I was no longer interested in making a name for myself. All I wanted was to study that living, thriving river, and to ponder the journey that I promised I would make in the fullness of time.

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Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

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No one knew how they came into the world, and no one cared. They were angels, or so they claimed, sent to Earth to watch over mankind—to root out evil and promote the common good. Raising their voices and their trumpets, they heralded the end of poverty, the end of violence, the end of suffering as we knew it. We embraced them as our saviors, those shimmering, golden guardians of the skies, and we forever after revered them as gods.

Radiant with their wide, gilded wings and their glittering otherworldly armor, how could we not fall prostrate and submit ourselves for judgement? We handed over our weapons. Of what use would they be to us now? We gave them the keys to our businesses and homes. What did we have to hide? We dismantled our countries, surrendered our sovereignty. Surely they were better suited to leadership than we?

They crowned one of their own, and in the days that followed—as the reign of mankind came to a swift and decisive end—we learned the single most important truth that has been taught in our schools and repeated in our homes ever since: that angels are superior to humans, that whatever they command of us, they do so for our own good.

The angels provide us with whatever we need, and in return, all they ask for is obedience in all things.

Hark, the herald angels sing: Glory to the newborn king!

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