“Each and Every Phantom” sampler

Short story anthology “Each and Every Phantom” available for purchase on Amazon in both e-book and paperback.

“The Priestess”

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.

“Dream Brigade”

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.”

“Each and Every Phantom” Now Available in Paperback!

Checking in really quick just to say that my short story anthology, “Each and Every Phantom” finally had its paperback version go live on Amazon. Below is a synopsis and link. 🙂


“From the classic ghost story to a team of toys that defend the dreams of children, “Each and Every Phantom” explores tales rotating around different kinds of spirits. Within these narratives can be found the dreams of the dead, a haunted ship, the echo of a suicide, a family who struggles to stay together even after death, and more.This debut anthology is perfect for a little kick of Halloween in Winter, with pockets of adventurous whimsy and emotional turbulence woven throughout.”

Featured stories include:

“The Priestess”
“Dream Brigade”
“The Fangs of March”
“Brother, My Brother”
“The Stardust Mirror”


https://www.amazon.com/Each-Every-Phantom-Short-Anthology/dp/1797681400/ref=sr_1_2?crid=2GFYT0CJNY1S1&keywords=each+and+every+phantom&qid=1553859761&s=gateway&sprefix=each+and+every%2Caps%2C165&sr=8-2

Back from the Dead

Here we are, back from the dead, and I come with an announcement.

My first foray into the kaleidoscopic, harrowing territory of self-publication is just beyond the horizon. This February, my short story anthology, “Each and Every Phantom,” will be finding a home in Amazon’s in-house publishing service. The exact date is yet to be announced, but will be posted here as soon as it’s confirmed.

Loren Stump (@acrylix91 on Instagram) did me the honor of designing the cover, which is beautiful and everything I could have wanted.

Updates and details to come as we approach release.

Thanks all you happy people.

30 Day SFFH Writing Challenge

il_570xN_858552710_ik89The following is a list of 30 custom-made writing prompts, designed to invoke principles of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror in their creation.  There is no hard and fast length requirement, but I recommend a minimum of 300 words per entry.  Any prompt designating “you” as the protagonist is not necessarily restricted to the first-person and can be headed by any character of your choice.  Preferably one of your own design, of course.

  1. Write a story in which horticulture could be destructive or abused on a global or personal level.
  2. You wake up and suddenly you have a new twin!  Umm…where did they come from?  Also, why are they so angry?
  3. Using omniscient POV, write a story in which you must escape from the Roman Space Coliseum.
  4. A new culture of people is discovered hidden literally underneath America.  Facial hair is a big deal to them.  Why?  What does it mean for the women?
  5. What is that thing looking at you from the bottom of the basement stairs?
  6. A powerful mage has caused it to rain acid.  In a medieval setting, you must talk down a character who has lost hope and is threatening to take their own life.
  7. Three (in)famous writers will grant your wish to bring their characters into your world for the day.  Write the conversation you have with the writers, detailing the vehicle of your decision-making.  Use dialogue to navigate most of the story.
  8. A woman with full control over her mental faculties decides to kill her daughter.  You must write why we should empathize with this person, post-offense.
  9. The main character of your last story (whether from #8 or something else altogether) is now a witch/wizard.  They want to save the world, but should they?  Run them through a strict Q&A about their aptitude for world-saving.
  10. The world was legitimately supposed to end yesterday.  It didn’t.  Write the aftermath of people now acclimating to the fact that their lives are not over and that they must now return to their usual work day.
  11. You’ve inherited Tony Stark’s standard “Ironman” suit.  What’s the first thing you do with your newfound abilities?
  12. Oh my god, you’re in a hotel and something wants to kill you.
  13. You might have just stolen the Philosopher’s Stone from the tomb of Nicholas Flamel.  Now, with immortality in your hands, you are able to live forever.  Describe what you are doing four hundred years from now.
  14. Camping with your friends in the woods, your sleep is interrupted by the sound of someone or something trying to unzip your tent.  Who/what is trying to get inside, and why?
  15. You witness the destruction of an internationally renown zeppelin.  The next day, you are arrested as primary suspect in the crime.  How do you plead?  Do you even stick around to find out, or do you try to run?
  16. Onboard a space voyaging ship, your crew prepares to celebrate the birthday of the captain.  You’re in the void of the universe and haven’t made a stop in weeks, but he’s disappeared and there’s no sign of him on the ship.  What happened to him?
  17. You’ve been invited to Mt. Olympus to cheer up Zeus, who has officially been friend-zoned by all of the goddesses.  Can you help him set up a date, or will you take another course of action?
  18. In a city of perpetual night, you are assigned by your team leader to do a dead drop for the new recruit.  You must decide what goes wrong and how it plays out accordingly.
  19. Congratulations!  For whatever reason, you’re in the crowd when Oprah decides to give everybody a pet dragon.  Write about your first day together.
  20. You know that one celebrity you have a huge crush on?  Well, they died.  Except now their soul lives on as a sentient app for your cellphone.  In 30 days, they will disappear forever.  What do you do with this time?
  21. It has been scientifically, spiritually, and physically proven that our reality is a simulation and is going to shut down at the end of the year.  What happens to the world now that the masses are aware of this approaching, ultimate conclusion?
  22. You broke up with your boyfriend/girlfriend.  They took it pretty hard.  Sucks for you, because they are a ninja and you must figure out some way to resolve this problem before they take you out.
  23. You are locked in a toy store for the night.  The toys are alive.  Write a story about what happens until the sun rises.
  24. A professional, virtual-reality, video game team has recruited you.  Describe your first tournament match in the virtual-reality arena.  How do you feel?  How do you perform?  What opinions do others form of you?
  25. Cupid needs a day off and you’re the fill-in.  You need to make at least three new couples by the end of the day, or by the time you’re done you will never be able to fall in love again.
  26. You’re running a daycare when seven new kids are dropped off into your care.  Each of them represents and perpetuates the characteristics of one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  You already have five kids in your care before this development and you are entirely on your own.  Survive.
  27. A supernatural virus has doomed your body.  Describe its influence on your mind and flesh as you slowly become consumed by its corrupting power.  Bonus points if the entire story takes place in one room.
  28. North Korea has created a giant robot (science-fiction for multiple reasons, clearly).  How does the world respond to this?
  29. You possess a special kind of magic in which whomever you paint a portrait of, you trap their soul inside of it.  Addicted to your power, you’ve become a novelty-person’s collector.  Who do you collect?  Write a story in which you explore this idea.
  30. Begin a story with the words “I will not die the monster.”

Challenge Month, Day 5

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Day 5: Write a conversation (in tumblr “chat format”) about a man who calls a wrong number, and ends up talking to an angry woman.  Go through the conversation, ending with the line: “Well, I suppose so.”

Note: I will not be doing this in Tumblr format, as that seems like nothing more than an infuriating gimmick.

“Hello?”

“Yeah, is this Sauce n’ Toss Pizza and do you still deliver?”

“No.  You have the wrong number.”

“I must have called Uncle Ben’s Pizza Parlor on accident.  Oh well.”

“No, boy.  This is Margaret Taylor.  You have the wrong number.”

“Margaret Taylor?  Never heard of you guys.  Oh well, I’m adaptable.  How much is your medium pepperoni?”

“Did your mom drop you as a child?”

“Weirdly personal question, but yes.  I’ll take two medium pepperonis, a twelve-piece breadstick, and some marinara on the side  How long does it take for you to make it to 1239 Penny Drive?”

“What’s your name?  I want to know your name.”

“My name is Donald, ma’am.”

“I am not a ma’am.”

“Sorry, didn’t realize Margaret had become a dude’s name.”

“I am a woman, you brat!”

“Sorry, but could we get back on track, mister Taylor?  I’m looking at your website and it says you have a special where I can get a personal dessert pizza with your two-for-one medium pizza deal.  That offer hasn’t expired, has it?”

“I don’t have a website.  You need to stop now.”

“Sorry, I lost you there for a second.  What was that last part?  I was driving through a tunnel.”

“Driving and talking on the phone?  Now you are threatening the lives of others.  Shame on your parents for not spanking these habits out of you as a kid.”

“My parents were good parents, mister Taylor.  They did not beat me.  Believed that it was a tranference of bad energies from one person to another.”

“That’s nonsense.  My parents spanked me all of the time.”

“And look how remarkably polite you turned out.  Can we return to my order?”

“We may not!  You must put away that phone right away before you get into an accident and kill somebody!”

“What about the laptop?”

“Laptop?”

“Yeah, it’s sitting right here in front of me.  How else do you think I was talking to you and on your website at the same time?  I’m not a wizard.”

“Put them both away!”

“Look, I’m cruising South on Highway 1 right now.  Haulin’ around 75 miles an hour so I can make it home in time for the game.  I’d really appreciate if we could minimize the distractions and get back to my order.”

“Oh my god.  Okay okay, what do you want?”

“Ha! I knew you were a pizza place, mister Taylor.  Playing coy with me.”

I am a woman.  Margaret it a woman’s name.

“Alright, I want the chicken parmesan for eight, with three Dr. Pepper’s and-”

“I thought you wanted pizza!”

“What good pizza place doesn’t double as an Italian restaurant?  Ask Subway, they know what’s up.  They started with sandwiches and now they’re getting pizza.  What a time to be alive.”

“Fine, fine!  Just keep your eyes on the road.  That’ll be a chicken parmesan for eight, three Dr. Pepper’s.  Anything else?”

“Fries and a taco.”

“Okay.  Fries and a taco.”

“What’s my total?”

“29.99 plus tax.”

“What kind of criminal price is that?  Your website says that if I get a taco the whole order is fifty-percent off.  That was the point of the taco.”

Fine.  14.99 plus tax.”

“See, was that so hard mister Taylor?  I look forward to picking up my order.”

“No problem, Don.  What was that address again?”

“Um, it was 1616 Quarter Avenue.  The house on the corner.”

“Thank you for your cooperation, Donald. I’m going to call the police and have them meet you at your house.  I’ll let them know all about what you’ve been doing here and how you’ve compromised the safety of our roads.”

“That’s fine, as long as they bring me my pizza.”

“You ordered chicken parmesan!”

“You know, Margaret.  The correct thing to do in this situation would have been to just hang up like, three minutes ago.  Instead, you’ve enabled me to be a potentially dangerous driver.”

*click*

    “Actually, the polite response would have been ‘I suppose so, mister Donald.  Well, I suppose so.’  But my parents didn’t spank me, so what do I know.”

Challenge Month, Day 4

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Day 4: Write 250 words starting with the next piece of dialogue you hear.

“I hear ya,” Jordan ran his hand over his face, sweat sliding against oil.  “Chief was last in B-wing helping one of the scrubs.”

Trista licked her lips and set the procedural ledger on the counter.  She shuffled in place and smoothed out her pink nursing uniform.  “I don’t know how to help this guy, then.  I’ve never set a femur.”

“I don’t think you can just set a femur.  Isn’t that a little outside our weight class?”

Trista looked away.

“Sorry,” Jordan apologized.  With deftness he’d only barely learned to control, he slid a needle into the soft notch of Miss Ortega’s arm.  He landed the vein on his first try in spite of himself.  He only learned how to do it last week.  “Look, it’s not like anybody is making it your responsibility.  That’s the perk of being interns.”

“But everyone else is preoccupied,” Trista snapped.

“Make one of them preoccupied,” Jordan took the lash in stride, “I don’t know.  It’s not our job.”

“It is our job.”

“It will be our job,” Jordan lassoed the IV cord around the backside of Miss Ortega’s bed and flicked the apparatus a few times until he was certain no wandering air bubbles would compromise his patient’s safety.  “I can’t help you.  I want to, but I can’t.”

But Trista didn’t seem to receive Jordan’s rebuffing very well.  She did not leer at him, but the look cutting through her eyes definitely meant something.  Without further discussion, she yanked her ledger off the counter and hiked down the hall towards B-wing, evading orderlies and otherwise doing a fine job of showing how panicked she’d become.

“Sorry girl,” Jordan said beneath his tongue, “I’m not a hero.  Doubt I ever will be.”

Challenge Month, Day 2

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Day 2: Write 250 words inspired by the color of the walls of the room that you’re in.

 

It was in that box Danny first heard the words of the voice she’d later come to call “Itsy.”  Itsy, because the prompts and suggestions were small, only noticeable if she were looking to find them, and the voice had a spindly quality, like a spider.  Friendly, composed, welcoming like a nursery rhyme, but a spider all the same.  Not many stories cast spiders in a very good light.  Charlotte’s Web did, but then that maternal arachnid didn’t even make it to the end, so she doesn’t count.

The box was just that, a box.  Danny could not leave the box, because The Tall Man told her she must stay until he got back.  The box had walls like a banana’s dream of maturity, a perfectly ripened, earthy color.  A stiff wind could compromise the box’s durability, but as long as Danny stayed inside like The Tall Man said, it wouldn’t blow away.  It was her responsibility to keep the box safe.  Itsy thought so, too.

Itsy thought The Tall Man was a liar.  Itsy was young, but she seemed smart enough.  Danny believed Itsy when she said The Tall Man would not be coming back.  This was Danny’s box now, she didn’t need to share.  It was only big enough for her and Itsy, anyways.

That’s it.  Screw The Tall Man.  Danny figured he’d be gone a while, but hours.  He could find his own box.

He’d better hurry, too, Danny snickered to herself.  A grey storm was stirring over the city pillars, high-fiving the sky.  He’d want a box before it started to rain.  Rain?  Danny grimaced.  She’d have to make sure Itsy didn’t get washed away.

If that happened, then she’d only have the box left for company.

    Boxes weren’t very talkative.

“Papa’s Little Girl” – Short Story

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It just doesn’t seem fair, you know?

I mean, I don’t hold anything against you.  How could I?  You are guilty only of good things, papa.  The warm night snuggling beside you or at the foot of your bed, I loved those.  They were some of my favorite things.  Not to mention the treat you’d grant me from your very own hand, and that smile when you’d drop, look me in the eye and say “That’s my girl,” with a comb of your fingers through my hair.  That was my favorite, too.

It’s hard not to love you, papa.  I know when I was young I had brothers and sisters.  I remember them vaguely, but I remember.  You took me home with you, so I haven’t seen them in a while, but that’s okay.  Maybe I was scared at first, being removed from my family. Scared of you. I can only hope my siblings were also blessed with such wonderful papa’s.  Thank you for making me safe and not scared anymore.  Thank you for sharing your home with a clumsy little girl like me.  Thank you so much, papa.

Papa, I’m still not sure why I’m not allowed to be a mama someday. I went to sleep around some strange people and when I woke up, well, it just hurt.  Something was wrong inside of me too, I just hadn’t figured out what at the time.  I’m not questioning you, papa.  I know you only want what’s best for me, but I still get sad sometimes.  Is that okay?  Am I allowed to be sad when I have such a great papa?  I just…I don’t know.  I wish I could be a great mama, too.  I wish I could show little puppies all of the love that you showed me.  I wish so bad to be as great as my papa.

It just didn’t seem fair back then.  Papa, you’re a good guy.  I’m sorry you get hurt sometimes.  Sorry the job people didn’t want you anymore.  Sorry that woman didn’t love you.  The tears you cried into my head were warm.  They made me want to cry, too.  When you kept saying “Why am I not good enough?”, I knew you weren’t talking to me, but papa, I wanted to answer so bad.  I wanted to tell you exactly how good you were.   That you were friendly, and funny, and made the sun sparkle, and worth the trust of all things in all the whole wide world.  You deserved the best friends, the best family.  I wanted my papa to be happy so bad it hurt.  I’m sorry I couldn’t help, papa.  You were the best papa a little girl could ask for, and it made me sad that I didn’t know how to tell you.  I’m not very good with words, papa.

But even though you got hurt sometimes, you never gave up.  Papa, that’s what’s great about you.  That’s why I’m proud to call you my papa.  You got a new job, a better job, and you stopped asking if you were good enough anymore.  It helped you be happy again.  Then you bought me my stuffed bunny toy, Squeakman.  I love Squeakman.  Even now, he’s still my best friend, even if he doesn’t squeak much anymore.

But even better than Squeakman was your face when you met mama.  I remember when you came back from your first date.  Oh papa, how you smiled!  You picked me up and spun me around and laughed with a full heart.  The spinning made me dizzy, but I’d be dizzy for a million years if it meant my papa could be happy.  Mama was a good lady, I knew.  We shared that same feminine instinct and class, so there was no doubt in my mind.

So papa, I know you’re no dummy.  That’s why I knew you’d propose to mama.  I’m sure the wedding was beautiful too, but I couldn’t go.  Nah, papa’s little girl was starting to feel tired lately.  That’s okay.  Squeakman and I celebrated from afar and eagerly awaited your return.  I was only sad once, the whole time you were gone, when I thought about being a mama myself.  But it passed and I remembered how happy my papa was.

Our new home was bigger than the old one and full of new smells, so me and Squeakman made a day of exploring it when you both went to work.  We found a secret lair beneath the deck, I chased two squirrels out of the yard, and we introduced ourselves to our neighbor Sammi.  She’s a bit of an airhead, but I like her.

Papa, you have no idea how my heart fell through the floor when mama got that call you were in the hospital.  They said it was an accident and you’d need surgery.  Papa, it just wasn’t fair.  I wanted to go and be by your side so bad, I would have turned over the world to find a way, but mama said I couldn’t come.  I didn’t want to disobey mama, and knew she had her reasons, so I stayed, though my soul was in tatters.  I paced, and cried, and prayed to Big Papa that you’d be okay.

I’m really thankful to mama.  She was there when I couldn’t be.  I knew she was good, but to think she was also the best.  She was the best mama a little girl could ask for, because she knew how to take care of you, papa.  I know she was the best, because once you got better and she was out with her friends for the night, you cried with me.  You cried and thanked Big Papa for sending mama to help you through life when it got hard.  I didn’t know you could do that.  I didn’t know a person could cry and smile at the same time, but you did it papa.

I saw you do it again a while later, when Little One was born.  I saw you cry, but not because you were sad.  No, you might have been even happier than ever.  I was happy too, and not just because of how Little One made you smile.  Little One helped kindle an old fire in my heart.  If I couldn’t be a mama myself, then I would help my mama protect her Little One.  I would do it with all of my heart.

Watching Little One grow was one of the best things in my life.  You were a great papa to us both and I loved showing Little One that you didn’t need to be afraid of people like me and Sammi.  People with four legs.  Thank you for allowing me to be there when Little One began to walk.  Thank you for letting me be a protector when you were gone.  I promised that until the day I die, I would never let any harm come to Little One.  On my honor as a mama.

But as Little One got bigger, I started to feel something strange. Papa, it happened every time you came home from work or kissed mama.  It happened every time you woke up in the morning and began to move around.  There was something wrong with all of it.  But the problem wasn’t with you, papa, it was with me.  I was broken.  I was changing and you weren’t.  The stairs I climbed to reach your bedroom, they seemed further apart, but you didn’t think so.  My legs which helped me run to your side everyday were made of heaviness. Why didn’t your legs seem heavier, papa? Why could you still run when I could not?

Eventually it became too much for this little girl.  I tried so hard to keep up with you, papa, but you were moving too fast.  Everything hurt and I was always tired.  But why?  All I wanted was to stay by my papa’s side.  Why couldn’t I do that anymore?  What was wrong with me?  It just wasn’t fair.

One day I woke up when Little One accidentally fell on me.  My body hurt something incredible.  I knew it wasn’t Little One’s fault, because I’d felt the pain growing deep inside of me for a while, but suddenly I couldn’t move.  I could barely even breathe, papa.  Do you know how scary that is, not being able to breathe?  Thank you for taking care of me though, and please let Little One know it wasn’t their fault.  I was a broken little girl.  I take full responsibility.

Still, it just wasn’t fair.  You took me in to see that doctor person.  I didn’t like that doctor person because he smelled like the people who stopped me from being a mama, but I trusted you knew what was best.  He placed cold things all over my body and shined a bunch of painful lights into my eyes.  He asked you to sit down in the chair so you could talk, but I knew what he was going to say.  I was starting to get the feeling that I wouldn’t get to leave with my papa today.  The words he used were big and confusing, but I understood the fear in your face.  He said I was broken, didn’t he?  I was too “old.”

What is old, papa?  Are you old?  Please don’t become old, it’s really not very fun.  I hope Little One never becomes old.

You left me with the doctor person for the night.  Papa, that was the loneliest night of my life.  I was so scared and I only had Big Papa to comfort me.  I could do nothing but lay down and wait and hope you’d come back when the sun rose again.

Thank you for coming back.  Thank you for bringing mama and Little One to see me.  This is going to be the last time, isn’t it?  I can tell because nobody is smiling.  I mean, you’re trying to smile, but you can’t trick me, papa.  I could smell your sadness when you stepped through the door.  I can feel your heart breaking, just like mine.

Papa, did I ever tell you how much I love mama’s voice? It’s so tender, like she’s apologizing to Big Papa for every bad thing everyone has ever done.  It’s so sweet, like a magical rain made of candy.  You are so special to have her, papa.  She’s a better mama than I could ever be.  Please take care of her forever and always.  I know you will, because that’s the kind of papa you are.

Little One doesn’t know what’s happening, do they?  That’s okay.  I protected them, just like I promised I would.  Please keep Little One safe when I’m gone.  Please show them what love is.

And Papa, it really, really isn’t fair, you know?  Why do you not look any different?  I spent my whole life with you.  You were there from the beginning.  Had you had little girls like me before?  Will you find another once I’ve left?  If you do, please be the papa I know you are, and show them how to be happy like me.  Fill them with wonder and hope and joy.  Little girls need those things from their papas.

Because I’m old now, papa, and very tired.  Thank you for placing Squeakman beside me, so I don’t have to go alone to find Big Papa.  Thank you for being here, even though I know it hurts your heart.  You’ve always been here, haven’t you?  I’ve seen you every day since I could remember, and you still look exactly the same as when we first met. That’s not fair.  I want to spend more time with my papa, but I can’t keep my eyes open anymore.  Why are my eyes the only ones that have to close?  Why do I have to go into the dark without my papa?

It just doesn’t seem fair, you know?

“The Drums” – Short Story

There was rain. On a Hallows’ Eve, that meant something. In the shadows of the manor Whitewine, it meant something more. Whitewine was a cobweb of antiquity, and one could swear it was that way from the beginning. But there had been people once. A family of five and however many generations preceded them. Noel was a Whitewine, so she knew it to be true, even if that was long ago and time had since filled the manor with desolation. Noel was trusting and altogether knowledgeable in the stations most considered worth having knowledge. But she was also young, frightfully empathetic, and tonight, very much alone.

There was rain and it came hard. Against the ceramic shingle rooftop of the manor, it struck like an army of drummers. This was a good thing. The drone of their fall helped muffle each creak in the aged manor floor as Noel stepped within. It muted her imagination, which would have otherwise suggested there was somebody walking through the upstairs. But Noel’s mind was prone to remembering, and it remembered awful things at the worst of times. Whitewine was a family, one of her own blood. And in a time before hers, they were considered very much unholy. She would never have thought to thank the rain, because she underestimated its kindness. For without the rain, she would have heard the moans from the basement cellar. Moans very real, despite her being alone.

There was rain, but soon it might stop. Nobody was allowed in the manor without rain’s company, especially during the after dark hours. Noel knew this, but decided to take the risk regardless. The family Whitewine was notorious for their business of stealing people. Noel had learned such in the news columns of decades passed. When finally the family had been caught in evidential movements and the manor was searched for missing persons, the town militia did not understand how sundered the minds of Whitewine truly were. Their discovery led them to a home for bones and things which bled out slowly. The kidnapped persons were not wholly themselves any longer. Through rigorous and generous torture, only parts of their minds and bodies remained intact. Many were stripped nude, strung up by manacles in the cold cellar until their feet had gone black and flaky. They would beat their heads back against the cellar wall, trying to lull themselves into death. Some succeeded, others simply cracked their brains. Some were missing their tongues, eyes, lips, or ears, later found assorted in the children’s bedrooms. There were worse things than this, things that would make the devil proud, but those memories were dark and the worst representations of man, so Noel dutifully tried to forget them. But these crimes were not easily forgotten. Not by man, by God, or by time.

There was rain, and it made the air cold. Noel wondered sometimes if God forgave people like these. Did Heaven also delight in their company? She was unsure what to think of it all. But that wasn’t important now. The manor was important. Basking in its history and acclimating to its macabre silence. Except it wasn’t silent. There was always a sound of drums. The rain now making earth its pasture. There was something more to the noise, but it was lost in the rain, to her benefit. Young Noel would find the Whitewine legacy on her own very soon. Once the dust guided her down to the cellar. All in time, all in time.

Still there was rain, but it was drawing to a close. The yearning patter began to crawl to a stop, leaving all natural life refreshed and thankful. In this saturated world, hope was as alive as it sounded. And that was beautiful. But though the rain reached the manor, it held no cure for the bitter memories within. Those memories of pain and hatred and cruelty of the greatest sort. Noel remembered them from her readings, and for years her imagination had played with her, trained her for this moment. This was not good, nor beautiful, as she would soon find out. Not that she expected different from God’s worst sinners. But within her dark dreams came a whistle, something entirely unexpected because of its ferocity. Dread crept onto her the way only it knew how. With a smile and slow courtesy. The whistle was not in her mind, like she first believed it might have been. It came from the boards between her feet, twenty feet into a grave of the earth and the black heart of the Whitewine manor. Noel flinched and stepped forward, quickly finding the door to the basement cellar.

The rain died and ceased its pounding. The new absence reminded Noel of an old heart, finally giving up its struggle. There was quiet, but only for a moment, until the girl reached for the cellar door. As she did, the drums dawned again. Rather, she only finally began to hear what had always been. These drums belonged more than the rain and it was their right to stay. They thudded like a dull fist striking a table and echoed twice as deep. Noel spun the knob and yanked open the door. She was welcomed by a years-old stink. Something like wood rot and disease. The clouded light from outside filled in the cellar as she descended. There were windows, veiled by the webs of a hundred dead spiders, and everything was of tattered stone. It looked and smelled as unhallowed as she’d imagined. But the drums were different. They were a raw beat, unsettlingly alive and visceral. With the bravery of a fool, Noel began to search for that rhythm growing ever louder.

There was no rain, but still the drums sounded. As she lurked ahead, Noel was increasingly aware of her thin frailty. She was a scarecrow. All straw and thread, no spine or substance. But the drums had her. For a breath she reconsidered if it wasn’t all in her mind. That would be simple and explanative, but it would also be very untrue. In the furthest back, towards the darkest end of the basement, she found a man in suffering. Iron shackles arrested him, and they lay at his sides. Noel cringed at the slope of his body. It was as though his spine had been pulled apart and fastened into a stretch, with only his upper torso and head supported by the cellar wall. An unsettling gray crust had baked over his skin, while his jaw seemed broken and slack, swaying back and forth with each toss of his head. Both of his manacles were affixed by chain and nail to a slab of wood behind his head, forever preventing escape. Noel shivered.

Where was the rain? She wanted it back. Again and again the dead man would crack its head against the wood. It was a dull thump, thump filled with resigned defeat, something Noel took to mean that he’d wanted to die for so long, only for death to never come. Thump, thump it continued, just like the rain. Thump, thump went the drums. It quickly became too much. Maybe Noel cast herself away from that horror, that godless tomb. She couldn’t remember, even years later. Again she tried to counsel herself into believing that the Whitewine’s sins had long since ended. The dead man was just as he was, dead. A disaster of her mind, fabricated from long nights of reading Whitewine lore. It didn’t really matter. Every moment the rains came thereafter, she remembered the drums. And of course they remembered her, too. Goodnight, Noel.