Month: May 2019


Color Me Maui Photography/

This post was originally published through Patreon on June 19, 2018.

The first thing Sara senses is the far-off churning of the ocean. Lapping, foaming, splashing. Then comes the light that seeps beneath closed eyelids. It’s red and bright and hurts her eyes.

This is the moment she knows she needs to wake up. But fatigue still has too great a hold on her, and all she wants to do is let the world spin around her. The sun could burn out for all she cared, as long as she was left alone.

A memory bubbles up from her subconscious: her mother, hovering over her while Sara presses a pillow to her face to block out the light.

“Time to get up, Sara.”

She groans, desperate for one more minute of sleep, but her mother is adamant. The woman pulls the pillow away from Sara’s face, and the world comes into sharp and terrible focus.

“Time to get up.”

Sara’s eyelids flutter.

Don’t want to get up.

“You have to.”

No, not yet.

“But she’s coming. You have to get up.”


This time her true eyes open. Once more, the world comes into focus.

Whereas her room greeted her on that day of distant memory, today it’s the open coast. She can feel the sand, piping hot against her back. Her head lolls to the side, and she catches sight of the water line perhaps fifty, perhaps a hundred yards away, the current pulling in, then out.

In, then out.

There’s something Sara has to remember, something important. But sleep is still heavy on her mind, and it slips away before she can seize it.

In the distance, the ocean crashes and foams.

Where am I?

She should be doing something. What that something is is a mystery, but she knows she can’t just lay on the beach and do nothing.

If only she could close her eyes for a few more minutes and rest. She’s still so tired, and even with the hot sand burning her skin, she would give anything to sleep some more.

So tired.

“Wake up, Sara.”

The voice no longer comes from her memory, nor does it belong to her mother. Sara rolls on her stomach, wild eyed with panic. She can’t yet stand, can’t yet make her muscles work the way she thinks they should. Instead, she stares up at the woman standing before her, covered from head to toe in sparkling white seashells that glitter beneath the late afternoon sun.

“Who…” But she can’t finish the sentence. Her voice is thick and slurred. She feels drugged, and despite her terror, her eyes droop once more.

“No,” the woman says. “No, this just won’t do.”

The woman kneels, her seashells clicking like beads, and reaches under Sara’s chin.

Go,  Sara thinks. Just leave me alone and let me sleep.

Run, another internal voice whispers. Now, before she takes you into her arms and carries you away.

The woman tsks.

“I chase you half way across the universe only for the hunt to end like this?”

“Run, Sara.” Her mother’s voice once more echoes through the marble halls of the distant past.

She remembers running now—remembers fleeing one strange world after another, an endless procession of familiar yet jarring alien landscapes that made Sara think the cosmos were just one great funhouse mirror, contorting what she knew into variety of grotesque reflections.

Her mother’s voice is right. She should run. But she’s tired, so tired, and she cannot push her body any further.

Sara closes her eyes.

“No,” says the woman, who looks as if she’s been fighting with herself. “I will not take you like this.”

She reaches into a pocket and retrieves a slim glass vial, a quarter full with bright gold fluid, translucent, pulsing with its own interior light. Like the woman had somehow bottled a star, Sara would think if her eyes weren’t already closed. The woman uncorks the vial, which pops like a newly opened bottle of champagne. She places the tip of the glass to Sara’s lips, then pours.

Sara shudders. An electric current surges through her body like lightening, setting wearied synapses on fire. Her entire self blazes as if engulfed by flames, licking, lapping, and churning like the ocean.

Sara’s eyes shoot open. She staggers to her feet and stares into the woman’s eyes, which gleam and sparkle with the light of far-off stars.

“That’s more like it. Taking prey that’s already dead is no fun. I prefer my meat fresh.”

Sara’s briny mouth opens, then closes.

The woman leans in, almost conspiratorially, and whispers, “This might be a good time to run.”

Sara agrees. She beholds the bemused features of her hopeful captor a moment longer, then lopes off toward the shimmering ocean.

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


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.


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—


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


And again.


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


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.


“No,” she cried. “Leave me alone!”


“Please, let me go.”


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.


“Leave me alone!”


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.


“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.


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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