Jared’s Book


A seed, planted in fertile soil. With a little water and sunlight, it begins to grow. At first, it measures maybe half an inch in height, but soon, it’s shooting toward the sky, tall and proud, gazing down on the world below.

Then time passes, and the once-mighty tree begins to wither. It never loses its colossal stature, but the light within begins to dim, and one day, in fifty years or five hundred, the light goes dark, the wood grows stiff, and forever after, when men and women gaze into its skeletal branches, they ruminate on the memory of better days.

That was how Jared felt now, old, decrepit, joints stiff, eyes milky and glazed. Oh, to think upon the days of his youth and the adventures he used to enjoy. But that was all behind him now, and when once he might have spent the night in a club or a bar, now he spent it ensconced in a tiny, two-bedroom house almost as rundown as himself, with only his books to keep him company in his twilight years.

But life was not as dismal for Jared as one might expect, for he had a secret, one that even he himself had forgotten until this very night when the ravages of old age grew too burdensome to withstand.

His father had passed it down to him, and his father down to him, on and on through the ages for God only knew how long. A priceless heirloom, and now Jared was ready to discover it for himself.

He dragged the calloused tips of his fingers across the smooth leather cover. A book, the pages still fresh and smelling of ink despite its great age.

“One day,” his father had told him on his deathbed, “when you’re very old and very lonely, this book will save you.” He’d pointed to a dusty volume on his bedside shelf, and then, unburdened, he’d taken his final breath and said no more.

Now, hands trembling with the memory, Jared grasped the front cover. He took a deep, steadying breath, steeling himself for whatever he might find within the book’s interior. Then he opened it.

The pages parted like the Red Sea, filling the room with an otherworldly light so bright, Jared felt its warmth like a nearby fire, restoring some of the vigor time had stolen from him long ago. The handwritten symbols he found within were unknown to him, but he didn’t need to know the words to understand the message they conveyed.

Here, in a moldering bedroom with the paint peeling off the walls, Jared encountered a celestial mystery. Here, in the darkness of the midnight hour, Jared was transported to the threshold between Life and Death, where he was permitted, by some mystical supernatural grace, to glimpse the world to come, to sneak a peek at all the adventures he had yet to experience in the fullness of time. That world, limited though his perspective was, radiated love, as well as a purpose so profound that Jared no longer found himself looking back to the days of his youth, but forward to the stars and the secrets they longed to reveal.

Someday, they assured him before the story ended and he was forced to put down the book, and when the sun finally rose to kiss the newborn sky, Jared gazed out the window at everything that lay beyond and uttered his reply.

“I’ll be ready.”

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Haley’s earthly journey was coming to an end. Soon, she would transcend the human plane, and then? She didn’t know, only that she would start anew.

She turned to her husband, who slept beside her on a queen-size bed, and sighed. How, after so many years together, could she tell him what she was, or worse, that she would soon be leaving him alone?

I’m not human, she wanted to say, except that wasn’t precisely the truth. Like her husband, she possessed a hominid nature. The trouble was that she was also something more. Like a Russian stacking doll, her existence was multi-layered. She was human, yes, but also a dozen other things.

The awful truth was that, at the bottom of all those layers, Haley didn’t know what she was. Was she one of a kind, a novel form of life as complex and ever-changing as the universe itself, or were there others like her? How would she even know?

She could still remember bits and pieces of her other lives, shards of light and memory filtered through senses her human mind could understand. She knew what always happened at the end, how the fire would surge up from within, a mounting heat that burned from the inside out. Like a Phoenix, she would rise from the ashes of her unmaking and become something new. She never knew how long each incarnation would last, and her only warning would be that otherworldly heat she experienced now.

Haley shook her husband, who rolled over onto his side.

“Mark, wake up.”

“Haley?” His eyes popped open, and Haley’s heart leaped. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. I just—” She bit her lip. “Would you hold me? Please?”

Mark didn’t ask why, only wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead, slick with sweat. It was the kind of gesture she’d fallen in love with, and in the midst of the midnight darkness, she choked back tears.

“I love you,” she said. “You know that, don’t you?”

“Of course. Are you sure you’re all right?”

No, I’m not all right. Not at all.

But rather than express her true feelings, she only nodded, not trusting herself to speak.

Yes, the fire was rising now. It had started as a pain in her stomach, a sharp burning not unlike acid reflux. She’d tried to suppress it, to give herself some extra time with the man she loved, but like a wildfire, there was no controlling it. It would burn her down in its own time, with or without her cooperation.

“You’re burning up,” said Mark, pulling away. “I’m going to call the doctor.”

“No.” Haley clamped onto him with her arms. “Don’t let me go. Stay with me. I need—”

A flash, blinding, like a massive electrical discharge. That celestial fire consumed her, and then Haley was riding the storm of her unmaking once more, bracing herself for something new.

I’m giving away free signed hardcover copies of my 2019 novella, Inkbound. To learn how to get yours, click or tap here.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.