Short story anthology “Each and Every Phantom” available for purchase on Amazon in both e-book and paperback.
Even in this dark, Reed could feel the approach and descent of night. The cold always found a way inside, and as it made itself comfortable, Reed nursed his angers. His wrath against his father, that leathery ulcer of human discontent. His sister who did not support him, even when he protected her. This house, this village, and everything which dared to exist.
He clutched at the metal star in his hand and curled upon it—the center of his world. For the first time, he wondered who might have kept it before his mother. It was an old piece of iron, so she was unlikely the first. Perhaps she found it on the side of the road, or received it as payment for services rendered. Perhaps it was a gift from family. Reed knew little of his mother’s family, only that she too, had once had a sister of her own. He hoped there was love between them, greater than the love he knew. He wished his mother was there with him.
Reed pinched at the rise of warm salt in his eyes.
He did not want to be hateful. His mother would not have wanted that of him.
Still, the night clawed forward and Reed saw no release from the gray room, even after the lamplights of the home went out. He would be cold and alone tonight. He tapped his teeth with shaking fingers.
Then the shanty returned. It was in his head all the day long, and suddenly was not. The cadence of it was faint and distant, but absolute and real.
The beast had come again upon the waters.
As she’d predicted, a large figure lifted itself up from a chasm in the chocolate landscape. It had an arched back, a blood-red bonky nose, wild green hair and skin white as the moon. Shadows retreated down the narrow lengths of its body.
“Aw man, I hate clowns,” Cadence shivered. “Why can’t they ever be pandas or something? Maybe next time,” still, she was a brave balloon girl, so she drew upon the power of her REM balloon sword. If she struck it enough times, she could cure this nightmare.
Tumble took an involuntary step back and swallowed through a hard throat. His chest felt heavy and mixed up, like he’d loosed a tornado of marbles inside. Breathing came in difficult waves. Breathing was not supposed to be difficult.
When finally the clown nightmare pulled itself entirely to the surface, it stood at an amazing height and girth, like a bulldozer. Red and yellow pinstripe overalls covered its body and made its Mickey Mouse shoes seem extra bright and puffy.
The clown bonked its nose with closed eyes. It seemed innocent. Then it smiled, baring a wreath of blackened fangs and eyes that flashed open to veins of red and cold white.
Tumble stepped back a little further and docked an arrow. Kerflooey moved in with the others, head down, his boxing gloves crackling with electric-blue REM.
With a wet crack of its neck, the nightmare charged. Too-long arms dragged along the ground as it lumbered forward, a circus titan from the belly of hell. Its laugh was a demented *hick-hickaw*.
“The Stardust Mirror”
In the kitchen where his mother was usually found slicing bread or baking something sweet, a giant of a man was busy going back-and-forth instead. He was the tallest and broadest creature Tennyson had ever seen outside of the zoo, with everything about him suggesting he might be a distant relative to the rhinoceros. Despite his size, this man, who Tennyson assumed to be the aforementioned Braum, was deft and moved with agility throughout the kitchen, stirring spiced eggs with dexterous fingers, preparing the crust of a cobbler, and flipping strips of sizzling meat on the stove.
“It smells lovely, Braum,” Old Missus Freyja said and retrieved a cane from against a bookshelf in the dining area. Had that cane always been there?
Braum, for all his physical bravado, seemed to blush at this. “You flatter Braum, but he accepts. It will be done soon, we are hoping. Who is this?”
“That’s Tennyson,” Old Missus Freyja leaned in further, if it were even possible with the shape of her back. “I’m introducing him to the family.” She said as if she were passing along a secret.
“Well, Braum hopes we do not spook him. But yes, yes, now we are busy,” Braum attended to a snap of meat which sat on the oven, cooking in burning oil. “We shall talk more later? When Braum is ah, ah, not so busy, ya?” He ran one blocky hand over his blond beard and pink lips. “Lily I think would make for a better introduction, maybe? She is out teaching the chickens how to fly.”
To this, Tennyson’s brow screwed to a point. He looked out the window. “We don’t have chickens,” a pause. “And chickens can’t fly.”
“Ah, but they can,” Braum raised a defiant finger. “You just need to help them believe in themselves.”