I hope my sister dies soon.

Original story

It’s not easy having a twin. Someone who looks like you, thinks like you. Someone who can get inside your head, sticky little fingers poking around even though you ask her nicely to stop.

Jean and I are identical but there’s something different about Jean. Jean is quiet. She doesn’t like to talk to other people. She only talks to me — talks with her eyes, with her mind. I want to talk to other people but Jean won’t let me.

When we were younger everyone thought it was cute. Mommy and Daddy smiled at us in our matching dresses, holding hands like tiny porcelain dolls, sweet and inseparable. But it’s only cute when you’re little. Get a bit older, keep wearing the matching dresses and holding hands, well — people can’t help but think of those girls from “The Shining”.

Jean likes the matching dresses. I don’t.

They tried to assimilate us, thought that maybe separating us in school would be a good idea. I could tell from the screams ripping through my skull that it wasn’t, but it still took the first week of third grade for the counselors to retrieve us from our different classrooms and send us home to Mommy. Jean had just stopped, stopped everything — eating, drinking, almost blinking — in a form of catatonic protest. She made me do the same.

I liked my new class. I wanted to make new friends. Jean had been furious when the teacher led her down the hall away from me, but that was nothing compared to when she looked inside and saw my blossoming hope to become my own person, someone Jean couldn’t touch. In my head she screamed and cried and threw tantrums and gripped my throat with her sticky invisible fingers until I gave in and stopped eating too.

It’s like being in an echo chamber with your own voice shrieking at you. You know it’s not you and yet somehow, it is. It’s maddening.

You’re supposed to love your sister. Aren’t you? When I search my heart for that feeling I always come up empty, and yet there’s still that phantom cord running between the two of us, a kind of passageway from my mind to hers like the tunnels that ran under ancient asylums.

I grew up learning not to fight. Jean’s the stronger twin, she always has been.

When we were 13 we began to bleed on the same day, at the same time.

In her own sick way, Jean tried to be a friend to me. After all, we were all we had. Mommy and Daddy became leery of us, unnerved by our silence and constant staring eyes. I didn’t blame them. But Jean didn’t understand. As far as she was concerned it was us against the world.

We might’ve been okay except that last week, we turned 17. I heard Mommy whispering furtively to Daddy about “facilities” and “better places”. Somewhere to send us away. I buried this new knowledge in my head but Jean found it, she always does, digging away with her grubby little fingers in the soft parts of my mind.

She took my hand in hers and lead me to the kitchen. She got the jug of milk out of the fridge and set it neatly on the counter. She looked at me and demanded, silently, that I fetch the rat poison from beneath the sink.

For the first time in a long time, I told Jean ‘no’.

Get the rat poison from beneath the sink.

No, Jean.

Get it.

We stared each other down, one girl as a mirror image standing silently in the kitchen’s sunny afternoon light.

She didn’t move but I felt her grip tighten around my throat, shutting off my flow of air, bullying me once again into doing what she wanted, always what she wanted!

NO, JEAN!

And I found suddenly, miraculously, that I could do it too.

My phantom fingers closed around her neck and I saw her eyes go wide, eyes that could’ve been my eyes, eyes that were never scared unless it was my own reflection but it wasn’t now — Jeanwas scared.

She let go of me then. She stared, unblinking, unbelieving. Her mind, too, was silent.

She took the milk and put it away, an expression less of defeat and more of someone who’s decided they didn’t want milk after all.

Jean stayed quiet for a long time. I felt her fingers probing at me, gentle now that they knew what I was capable of, but I began shooing them away like flies on warm food.

Yesterday, she came to me in our bedroom and sat on her bed. She waited a moment, as though she understood the gravity of the situation very well indeed, as though she were an aging businessman with the orders to lay me off and not my teenage twin sister.

Jean struck me a deal.

We could either exist fully together, or fully apart. There was no room for middle ground. We were one, or there would only be one left.

I can’t be silent for my whole life. I want to cry out to my parents that I’m still here, I’m all right, I don’t need to go away and I love them very much, even though Jean’s never let me say so.

And so here we are, twin girls in twin hospital beds, our fevers rising, organs shutting down. The doctors are baffled. They’re running test after test but no one knows what’s wrong… except us.

I’ve managed to keep her out of my head by entertaining myself on the Internet, but I can feel her struggling for the upper hand. If she gets it, well… this is the last you’ll hear from me.

I’m going to see if I can stop her kidneys now.

I hope my sister dies soon.

13 notes

1957- My grandfather’s last fishing trip

Original story

The following is a transcription (with notes I made at the time) of an audio recording of my grandfather. He passed away twelve years ago, and this recording was made a few years before he died. I interviewed him for a high school assignment - “Lessons From Our Elders” - and this interview was meant to be the basis of my project. After interviewing him about his last fishing trip in 1957 and discovering what happened to him and his friends deep in the Canadian wilderness, I decided to scrap the whole thing and go in a different direction.

Not long ago I stumbled upon the tape and my old notepad in a moldy box while cleaning out my mom’s basement. The tape was in poor shape; I didn’t think it would last much longer. Wanting to preserve this piece of family history I decided to finally create the transcription I had planned to write fifteen years ago. My grandfather’s words, as well as my questions and notes about the interview, are presented in their entirety below.


“Is this close enough, or do I have to get closer?”

I think you’re okay. Thanks again for doing this, Grandpa. It really helps me out a lot.

“Are you sure this thing can hear me?” (taps microphone four times)

Dad took it from work; he says it’s the best.

(laughing) “My son, the microphone expert! He thinks he’s an expert in everything - but did you see how he fixed the garage door? Damn thing still doesn’t act right. If you grow up to be half as confident as your father then your head will be the size of a float in the Thanksgiving Day parade. I suppose there’s worse things in the world, though.” (coughs)

Can I ask you the first question? I’m worried about how much tape is on this thing.

“Sure, sure. Fire away. That’s what I’m here for.”

The name of my assignment is “Lessons From Our Elders” - what lesson do you want to teach me today?

(eight second pause)

“Have I ever told you why I haven’t gone fishing in forty years?”

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The Christmas Tree

Original story

Staring at the tree, whiskey in hand, Pete was pleased that this year would be different from the last. It had been the strangest time of his life, but he truly felt like things were finally coming together, and when better to come together than at Christmas? A time he loved more than any other.

In some ways the past year had been like an eternity, in others as if it had succumbed to time in the blink of an eye, but either way he was glad to see the back of it.

Staring at the Christmas tree, its beautiful lights casting a warm hue over the room, and the snow quietly falling outside as the sun set, Pete began to think of the past year, of his daughter Lana, and his wife Janet.

It had started with a very normal December, 12 months earlier. The small town in which they lived was covered in a thick layer of snow, the residents spending most of their days clearing driveways, and Pete’s wife going off for one of her usual wanders.

She had been gone for a couple of hours, but while Janet was utterly devoted to her family, she still needed moments to herself. To clear her head. To diminish the stress that comes with a loving yet disorganised husband, and a little girl who was kind, but whom enjoyed trying her parents’ patience as much as possible.

When the tensions of a domestic life clouded her feelings, or began to weigh on her spirits, Janet would wander out of the back door into the fields and woodlands which characterised the entire area, and trek for a little while through the pines which dotted the landscape.

It therefore wasn’t unusual for her to be gone for fairly long periods, especially since it was around that time of year when she would take it upon herself to choose the Christmas tree. No matter how much Pete or Lana asked to help out; this was Janet’s job. She loved the tradition of it, the process of choosing the best possible tree, cutting it down, bringing it home on a small sledge and then seeing the bright smiles on her family’s faces, as they would gleefully take the tree indoors and decorate it with sparkling glitter garlands, warm glowing lights, and an array of festive baubles.

It was a small Highland town, where they lived, far away from any major city, but Janet and the rest of her family loved their home. The simplicity of it, the feeling of being an integral part of a close-knit community, and of course the beautiful surroundings, lush during the Scottish summer and cold, crisp, stark but yet awe inspiring in the winter. Most importantly, she loved the pine woods nearby, specifically a collection of trees which sat at the top of a small hill within walking distance from the house: Perfect for picking a Christmas tree! She would return there each year, and while their numbers thinned due to a few other neighbours going there for the exact same purpose, there were enough trees to last a good many years.

When she had been gone for three hours Pete began to grow nervous, as this was longer than usual, and since it was getting dark, he took it upon himself to venture outside, telling Lana to lock the doors after him, and that he would not be long. Lana laughed when he told her that he expected that mummy was struggling through the snow with a huge tree; bigger than any other they had ever had!Pete loved to see the excitement in his daughter’s face at this time of year, and he told her to watch from her bedroom window to see what they would bring back. With this, she excitedly ran up the stairs straight to her window before he had to call her back down to lock the door.

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The Cocoa Jumping Spider

Original story

Cut to present day, a Tuesday evening on a suburban street in Sugar Point, Texas. The neighborhood is white-collar, mainly wealthy-but-not-rich Texans. It consists of a straight-line road with newly-painted ranchers and manicured lawns on either side and it ends at a doorway to the desert. The last three houses of the neighborhood are clustered together but far off from the rest, with a few hundred open, grassless feet in-between where a large section had been demolished by fire, cleared away, and never rebuilt.

Duragard owns one of the three houses. He’s a curmudgeonly war vet in his late 60s. Across from his house is the McLuster family – two boys, mother and father – with Ann and William Francis in the house next door. Duragard had lived there since before the fire separated his house from the many others; the McLuster pack picked the house specifically for its seclusion, so Mr. McLuster could, without distraction, brainwash home-school his boys (and wife, if need be) in the good Lord’s name; and Ann and William Francis, the most recent to move in, chose the locale for its cheap market price.

They all keep to themselves, mainly.

Duragard sits at his bedroom window, binoculars out, watching dusk settle out over the desert. He has his rifle across his lap, window open. His black labrador Biscuits is resting beside him, tired and old like his owner. There’s a heavy wind in the air and Duragard mentions it several times to Biscuits.

“This wind ain’t kicking down none. Keeps pickin’ up, seems,” and then Duragard looks over, down at the dog. Biscuits keeps his head to the floor but glances up, unimpressed. “Eh, well…”

He stands from his cheer, stretching his shoulders and thick chest with the rifle between his arms and behind his head. Bending down over to pull a beer from the cooler he keeps in his bedroom, Duragard sees the McLuster boys passing the football to one another in the street.

“Pffffft,” he blows a raspberry toward the two Nancys tossing the pigskin underhand. Like everything else in their life, they seem to be misinformed. (Duragard does feel a ping of sadness as, had he been younger and more able-bodied, he would have gone down and showed them boys a thing or two.) Before hobbling back to his chair, cold beer in hand, he checks for the boys’ father, whom he detests. Man’s a Nazi, as far as Duragard is concerned.

Back in his seat, Duragard looks out into the wind. He twists open the bottle of beer (Biscuits lifts up his head, as the KATEECH noise always gets his attention), looks out toward the desert with narrowed, somber eyes, and sips his beer—but he cuts his sip short. He squints. It’s getting darker but there’s plenty sun left and no clouds; well, no clouds except those approaching.

“Well look’t them clouds, would’ya,” he says, looking down at the dog. Biscuits keeps his head to the floor but glances up, unimpressed. “Eh, well…”

And so goes their routine.

But Duragard continues watching these clouds with growing fascination. They’re low and thin, weaving with the wind, moving quick over the desert. They dip and raise, unnaturally, a series of large, cotton-candy like clouds, ebbing and flowing with the wind.

It isn’t until these clouds are right on top of him that Duragard realizes that something is wrong, that these aren’t clouds. They begin landing, two shy of the house and then on seemingly just above his window.

“What in the name…” he mumbles, leaning forward. One landed just several feet outside the bedroom window. Duragard sticks his head out to inspect the fallen cloud. He notices that the mound of white fluff is pulsating—“Nope, nope, no way.” He instantly shuts the window before traveling to each room and insuring that each window is closed and locked. He returns to the bedroom and notices the window over the cooler is still open. Shutting and locks the window, he sees that the McLuster boys have stopped poorly tossing the football; instead, they’re inspecting one of the giant cotton balls. Duragard also notices that these cotton balls have landed on the other two houses and that one on top of the Francis house has popped like a balloon and deflated. His eyes revisit the two boys inspecting the large white ball, one of them poking it with a stick. He wants to tell them to leave it alone but he doesn’t want to open the windows…and he’s a bit curious to see what happens when it gets poked with a stick.

The screaming starts far off. It stops the boys from poking the thing with a stick. Duragard can hear it even it through the window. A woman’s scream. Loud, passionate. The door to the Francis house opens and Ann runs out swinging, stripping off clothes, running her hands through her hair. She has her shirt over her head, her black nylon bra exposed – the two boys thoroughly distracted. Her scream grows hoarse – she takes a deep breath – starts screaming again – sprinting into the street. She looks like she’s on fire, without the fire.

Unable to see with her shirt over her face, frantic and running full sprint, Mrs. Francis runs head first into one of the McLuster boys. He’s knocked back, hard, stumbles, and together they fall onto the large white ball in the street.

Duragard hobbles over to his chair, get’s his binoculars, and hobbles back to the opposite window. The boy and the woman are struggling in the white fluff, the other brother standing back, watching panicked. The white fluff has blows out like a piñata, spilling a thicket of brown over brown. Through his binoculars, he can see that the two on the ground are being swarmed by something, hundreds of somethings. Their bodies disappear under a moving blanket of brown. The brother standing nearby runs for it, brushing at his socks and feet, hoping as if the ground were on fire. He runs for it, heading the opposite direction, running as fast as he can.

And then Duragard sees what it is and he sees it large, right into its face, into its beady eyes. Horrified, he steps back and almost falls down. The spider dangles outside the window he had just been staring through, hanging from a single silk thread. It’s large, with eight spindly legs twitching. It continues to lowers to the windowsill. Another follows alongside, faster. Duragard is appalled. He turns and finds his other bedroom window already had several spiders on the glass, which they’ve begun to enshrine in web. There are so many spiders on his roof that, now joining the sound of his heavy breath, he felt like he could hear a hundred thousand legs shuffling.

He checks out the front window once more. Over a dozen hairy brown spiders now crawl and dangle outside his window; just passed, he finds that the other two houses are taking on a thin white sheet overtop them, webs encircling windows and doors, garages and rooftops.

He hears clinking, something in the pipes—they’re in the pipes.Which pipes? he thinks. Not the sewer line. And then it dawns on him, the stove-pipe. He hobbles quickly, forgetting the pain in his knee. The stove is clinking. He cracks the oven door—two brown blurs dash out, leap faster than the eye can follow, both landing on the kitchen floor. He yelps low (glad no one could hear him), slamming the oven door shut; before dealing with trespasser scurrying across his floor, he sets the oven temperature to 400 degrees.

“Suck on that, you bastards,” he growls, turning to the face the two hairy monsters on his floor. They’re both on the linoleum, side-by-side with their legs sprawled out. The first leaps from its spot on the floor toward Duragard’s shin. His leg’s already out of the way, the spider passing and landing against the wall—the SQQQQUISH is satisfying beneath the toe of his boot.

There’s a tickling on his shin, the second spider already crawling up his calf. He dances, shimmies, yelps again, and flings the spider off…but not before he’s been bitten. The sting hurts but is short-lived. Duragard already has a toaster in his hand, unplugged. He wraps the chord taut around his first, watching the spider scurry right, left, watching him from the floor. He lets the toaster hang but the wire around his hand, waits an extra moment, swings the toaster gently, backs a step—SLAM, he smashes the second spider so hard it explodes. Again, this is satisfying.

Duragard knows that there’s a significant chance the spider was poisonous and that his only chance of survival is to make it to the hospital. After grabbing a few things from beneath the sink, he approaches the front door knowing full well he can’t just open it. While he thinks of his next option, the stove can be heard sizzling, almost screeching, and thin black smoke curtains out.

There’s a scratching sound coming from the base of the front door and, as he inspects it, several dozen baby spiders pour in through a crack in the wood base frame of his front doorway threshold. With the materials he grabbed from under the sink, Duragard lights the aerosol spray with his red Bic lighter. The babies curl and wither and sink and disappear into ash. He plugs the hole with cement putty.

“Not today, sons’a b—” Biscuits whimpers from the bedroom—“No!” He dashes, no hobble. Duragard sighs in relief as his dog is merely whimpering at the webbed catacombs now surrounding their rancher and the dozens of spiders lining the windows. “It’s fine, boy,” he reassures him.

There’s the sound of pressure on glass, a slight fracture.

Biscuits cries and Duragard leads him to the living room, to the couch. Unlike every other day, today he lets Biscuits up on the couch next to him. He pets the black Lab behind his ears. Biscuits rests his head on Duragard’s lap. “Guess I could’a let you up here all this time,” he says of the couch. It was a silly rule, he realizes.

A window cracks enough to break but Duragard is unsure in which room. He doesn’t look, either. “I’m glad it’s you I’m with,” and he just keeps petting Biscuits behind his ear. From the bathroom, the wall and carpet begin to wobble, move, as dozens of long-limbed, hairy brown spiders crawl over every surface. “You were a good boy.”

Biscuits keeps his head on his lap but glances up, unimpressed.

“Eh, well…”

The Cross by the Railroad Tracks

Original story

I saw something back in 1990 that has haunted me ever since.

We were a boy scout troop of sixteen boys between the ages of 13 and 17, going on a two-day hike along a trail that ran sixty miles from Richmond to Marion in Indiana. Three adults supervised us the entire way. They gathered us up on the north side of town one Friday after school in late September, checked our supplies and gear, then off we marched.

Most of the journey that evening followed an old, abandoned railroad track through farmers’ fields. We managed to reach a small bit of forested area just before it got dark, and we pitched tents there, gathered wood for a fire and had our meals. After we ate, the grown-ups got out a couple bags of marshmallows to roast and we all sat around the fire where people had a chance to tell ghost stories.

Many of the tales were the classic urban legends like one about a woman who stopped at a gas station and found out she had a serial killer hiding in her back seat, and one about two kids who parked somewhere late at night and only just barely escaped a mental patient with a hook for a hand.

But for his third and final story, the troop leader told us all to get up and follow him. We left the safety of the fire and hiked up the ridge to where the railroad tracks were. He pointed down the line a ways and we all saw something white in the distance. It was a cross set in the ground just to the side of the track.

"See that cross?" he said, "That marks the spot where Jack Hobbs died."

"Who was Jack Hobbs?" Someone asked.

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Grandpa’s Second Voice

Original story

When I was younger, my grandpa and I would watch those medical mystery TV shows. You know, the ones with six-legged cows or skinless babies that still manage to live. Weird allergies, genetic mutations, and even the somewhat comical “Well the doctor made a really big oops and left medical equipment inside of you and you’ve been living with it for 5+ years” stories. They were educational and gross at the same time, something that I fed off of as a young teen.

Grandpa would always joke around that he should be on those shows. I knew he wasn’t serious - he hated drawing attention to his issue. I would occupy myself with what they would title an episode of his, and always came back to the blunt, retro movie title of “The Man with Two Voices”.

Ever since any of my family can remember, grandpa’s had “two voices”. The only way for me to describe it is to compare it to having phlegm in your throat when you’re sick, and how it sometimes creates a split in your voice. There’s your normal speaking voice that you can hear fine, but underneath it is like a deeper growly echo. Then it’d be gone when you cleared your throat. My grandpa is like that all the time, but his “second voice” is just as loud as his normal voice.

I remember him telling me stories when he was much younger, and his mother pulling her hair out over the whole ordeal. Took him to doctors that stuck scopes and lights down his throat - nothing. Primitive x-rays on his neck - nothing. I used to ask grandpa why he didn’t go back to the doctor after that, especially now with all the new things they have in hospitals that he didn’t have growing up.

It was always the same answer, “They can’t tell me nothin’ new.”

We named his second voice “Ed”. My grandpa’s name was Albert, usually Al, so it sounded like a TV show. Ed & Al. Al & Ed.

When my grandpa died, it was tragic. Despite his vocal anomaly, he had tons of friends and people that loved him. Or, my skeptical mother would say, people that liked his “circus act”.

Her skepticism - that grandpa was using some sort of parlor trick - was quickly debunked at his autopsy.

Grandpa should have gone back to the doctor, we learned. An ultrasound would have indicated that his beer gut wasn’t actually beer, and his “second voice” was literally a second voice. The small, curled-up body of his unknown twin was unearthed from his belly, connected to his esophagus below his collarbone. His childhood doctors did not detect it.

It was made clear, then, that the hollow tube connecting the mouth of grandpa’s twin to his esophagus was the source of grandpa’s second voice. A voice that kept talking past grandpa’s death, according to the autopsist. Ed was still alive some days after that.

27 notes

The Man in the Tree

Original story

A few months ago, I was biking home from work. It was a particularly rough day at work that day, a Friday night at one of the most popular bars in town. I’m no bartender, just a barback, but the crowd was particularly rowdy and left me exhausted for my five-mile bike home at three in the morning. As I got closer to my home, I slowed down and turned onto my street, taking a wide left turn.

As I straightened out, I noticed a tree underneath a streetlight. It wasn’t a tree that I recognized, although I imagine most trees aren’t very recognizable. But this tree in particular caught my eye because sitting right in a V halfway up the tree was a man, both hands grabbing the trunk to his sides. He smiled languidly at me as he swung his legs back and forth, tapping the tree with the heels of his feet. I wondered what he was doing sitting in that tree this late at night, but I rode right past him as he smiled at me.

I got back home and chained my bike to the porch, went upstairs to my room and collapsed onto my bed. I fell asleep immediately.

I’m normally a terrible sleeper, so it didn’t surprise me when I woke up an hour later. I noticed my curtains swinging in the moonlight, the wind from outside rushing in through the open window. I didn’t remember if I left the window open before I went to work, but I decided to close the window so bugs wouldn’t get in. I jumped back, startled as I grabbed the top of the window to close it. The man was sitting in the tree about ten yards from my window, facing me directly, smiling. You know the weirdest fucking thing? I don’t have any trees in my yard.

I rubbed my eyes and opened them again to look out the window. I had a clear view of the house across the street from me, no tree to block it. I’ve hallucinated before from sleeping pills, but I was so tired that night that I forgot to take any. Maybe it was still affecting me since I’d taken them for so long. I stood for a while until my heart slowed down, then went back to bed.

A few weeks went by and I didn’t see the man again, or the tree. I forgot about him entirely, putting it off as another hallucination from my sleeping pills. That is, until one night I went back to my window to close the curtains before going to bed and I saw him again. I fucking screamed when I saw him, sitting right in that little V just like before, smiling at me. I rubbed my eyes again, but neither he nor the tree disappeared like last time. I sat breathing, trying to calm down, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He just sat there with that fucking grin on his face. He looked much, much skinnier than when I saw him last, his cheekbones protruding as if he hadn’t eaten in weeks. That’s when he waved at me.

I opened my window. “Do I know you?”

He stopped waving and nodded, smiling at me the entire time.

“How do I know you?”

He motioned for me to come over, his smile growing ever so slightly. I was determined to figure out who he was, so I closed my window and walked outside. I walked to the base of the tree and looked up. He was looking down at me, smiling, waving me to climb up. “Just tell me who you are.” He just continued to wave me up. Fucking hell.

I grabbed the lowest branch and continued to climb up. He was a good twenty feet up, and I wasn’t much of a climber. When I was about halfway up, he stood up in his V and turned to climb further up the tree. “Wait!” He disappeared into the branches, a few leaves falling down toward me. I finally reached the V a few minutes later and stood, looking up to find him. After a few minutes of searching and yelling, nothing moved from up above. I couldn’t see anything other than leaves and branches up above, the closest branch nearly fifteen feet or so up the tree. Tired and confused, I sat down in the V. Who the hell was he?

I sat confused for another few minutes, looking up every now and then to try and find him. Nothing. I considered climbing back down and going to bed, cutting my losses. It was nice up here, though. The wind was blowing slightly, cooling me down from the climb up. I looked down and smiled. After months and months of stress and life, I finally felt relaxed.

Before I knew it, I could feel the warm rays of the sun falling on my face. It felt incredible.

Jake, one of my best friends, pulled into my driveway and saw me sitting in the tree. He got out of the car and yelled up to me, “The hell are you doing up there, man? And when did you get such a big tree?” I smiled at him, feeling no need to respond. It was so serene up here. He walked over to the base of the tree and looked up at me. I just smiled back at him. “Get down from there man, the game starts soon.” Game? I had no interest in watching any sports. I liked it up here. After a few minutes of him yelling at me, he finally gave up, got in his car and drove off. I smiled as I watched him drive away.

Silence. Finally.

I stayed up there for a few weeks. It was funny, I didn’t even feel hungry anymore. Being here in this tree was the happiest I’ve ever felt. Jake would come back every now and then to try to get me out, but it always ended with him driving off, frustrated. I wish he could feel how happy I was to be here. So the next time I saw him, I waved him up.

“Dude, you’ve been up there for weeks. You look like you haven’t eaten at all.” He was right. I hadn’t eaten anything since I climbed up. I didn’t care though, I wasn’t hungry. I waved him up to join me. “Quit fucking smiling, man. You’re creeping me out.” I waved him up again, swinging my legs. He was a good friend, and good friends try to make each other happy.

“Oh for fuck sake,” he said, and began to climb up. Finally, he could be as happy as I was.

That’s when I heard rustling from above, the branches cracking and leaves rustling. I looked up and saw the man from weeks before, reaching out toward me, waving me up. His skin was tight on his bones, his eyes protruding from the sockets. He lost some of his hair, and whatever of it was left stuck to his forehead. His fingers looked like they were pure bone, and his nails extended out even further.

And his smile. He looked so happy. His lips curled back so far I could see all of his teeth. And at that moment, with all of my heart, I wanted to be as happy as he was. I stood up and climbed the tree, hugging it as I clawed my way up, smiling in anticipation.

When I finally made it up to the top, he was gone. But I didn’t care. I was so happy to be up here. I was even happier than when I was sitting down below. I looked back to Jake who just made it to the V. He was yelling up at me. A few times he looked right at me, but I could tell he couldn’t see me. After a few minutes of yelling he sat down, putting one arm on each side of the V.

And he smiled.

5 notes

One Last Trick or Treat

Original story

I live in a small house at the end of the lane. Another non-descript house down a row of its sisters. Pre-fabricated mostly. Far enough off the beaten path to be cheap, not so far as to be rural. But close, pretty damn close. I didn’t expect many kids to call around trick or treating come Halloween. It’s a long road, and most children manage to fill their baskets long before they get to my place. Besides, I quite like the peace and quiet. Halloween used to be a good night to settle down and catch some of the classic horror movies on TV. I kept a couple of bags of candy around just in case some kids actually made it all the way down the lane, but mostly it would be an evening all to myself.

I can’t quite remember what I was watching that night. Probably because I’d been enjoying an after-dinner beer and I may have gotten carried away, dozing off after one too many. I woke with a start. My beer had gone warm on the side table, my hand still curled around the can. I winced as I unwrapped my fingers. Something had woken me up. The TV droned on in the background, the senseless drivel of late night programming flickering across the room.

Maybe it was just some high school kids out after some Halloween party, out on the streets, making some noise that woke me up. I checked the time. Past midnight. I was glad that I’d invested in a little security for my house. Just the basics, really. A good camera to cover my front lawn. Motion activated lights around the front and back.

I was trying to make the tough decision of whether to clear up the mess right there and then or to just kick the can down the road till the next morning when a loud rapping at the door shattered the silence. The can bounced off the floor, warm beer spraying across the bottom of my track pants. The shock left me too numb even to swear. I had just set the can back upright when the knocking sounded again. That arrhythmic rap increasingly impatient, the tempo building up as I stepped towards the door. I peered around the edge of the window. I saw nothing but my pale face in the glass. It was pitch dark outside.

Why wasn’t the light working? The knocking stopped.

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The Midnight Hike

Original story

“I need a favor.”

Marcus, normally calm and collected, sounded anxious. I cradled the phone to my ear and responded, “Sure, man. What do you need?”

“I’m taking a group up Pine Ridge tonight, but I need to bail. Can you cover for me?”

Marcus and I were guides for Daytrekkers, a company that ran hiking trips out of the city. Our expeditions were favorites among city slickers who wanted to experience nature for no more than a few hours at a time. Recently, Daytrekkers had been promoting Midnight Hikes: post-sundown treks along easily navigable trails, usually accompanied by campfires and s’mores. I’d led a few groups up Bear Creek already, but so far Marcus had the monopoly on Pine Ridge. I’d never even led a daytime trip there.

“Ah, man, you know I would if I could, but I’m leading the Bear Creek hike again tonight.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right. Listen, I could take that one if you want to switch with me.”

I was confused. “Don’t they leave at the same time? I thought you said you had to bail.”

“Well, yeah, it’s just—the Pine Ridge trail…” Marcus sighed, a low rush of air barely audible over the phone. “I can’t do that hike tonight.”

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