The Land Beyond the Slats
There have been tales of a mysterious being that haunts this land. The Celtic people, including my father, greatly connect it with their past and even their identity. It was my father's father's demise. And I hear it keeping my own father up late into the night, muttering to himself as he reads from his many books on the subject, and searches his scrolls for answers.
We have just two bedrooms in the house, and all of us girls use one, that acts as a reverse loft if you will, in the ground where it is cooler, with a ladder to bring us up to the main level of our humble abode. Even my mother has been sleeping down here with us lately, sharing a bed with me and my younger sister. I fear for their marriage as my father slips deeper and deeper into madness.
Finally, I had to know. Against my mother's wishes, I snuck upstairs late one night to talk to my father and ask the question I had been wanting the answer to since I could remember.
There he was, sitting at his desk, his fingers running madly through his salt and pepper wispy hair that stuck out a little further on the sides than the top. His greying bear was also quite a mess and his eyes were bleary, as if he hasn't slept for days.
I walked over to him in my nightgown and set a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Father, tell me the story about the spirits that haunt our land."
He looked up at me, startled at my sudden appearance but also looking right through me. He began to mutter just a little more clearly to me. "Long ago there was a plague upon this land. The people, my father, continued to see the glowing lights at night that floated above our crops and houses and wells, and in the morn the crops would be dead, the children I'll, and the wells dry. They chased the lights to a series of tunnels and locked them away forever. But the King wouldn't stand for it and demanded to know where such a power was kept. It would prove an insurmountable weapon against our enemies if we could learn to control it. He offered a reward for the power's capture, alive. After some of the droughts and I'll ess in our neighboring lands, there were rumors that this plague had once again been released and many who knew it's powers feared that it would return to our own lands. I must find it, before it kills us all."
He became belligerent, rifling through the many books and papers on his desk. Searching for something he hadn't found in my 18 years of living. From his desk, a map fluttered to the floor and in a quick glance as I was trying to calm him, I recognized a network of tunnels in the cliff edge about a half mile outside of town. I had been in these tunnels before, exploring with a couple town children some years ago. And many of these passages I knew well.
"Father, go to bed. Try again in the morning. You need to rest." I helped him ease out of his chair and led him to my parent's bedroom on the same level. It was empty and quiet without the snores of my mother, but my father didn't seem to notice. He laid there still muttering something, but drifting off to dream amidst wool blankets.
I snuck back down the ladder to our bedroom and grabbed a pair of pants, stockings, and my shoes, tucking my nightgown into the pants as best I could. Shimmying back up the ladder, the house well past the witching hour of night, I searched for and found one of my father's lanterns with a decent amount of wax still left in the candle, stuck another candle in my back pocket for good measure, and a box of matches. Then I picked up the map off of the floor and snatched my father's large heavy jacket off it's hook by the front door and was off, into the night, heading determinedly to end my father's madness once and for all by answering the question that had plagued him his whole life.
It didn't take me long to get to the tunnels. In the lantern light I even recognized the entrance to one of them that on the map my father had marked in red. I pulled the map out and further examined it. Surely enough, the red markings were isolated to only this one tunnel. What could he have meant? Only one way to find out.
I went into the tunnel marked on my father's map and quickly realized it went much deeper than the town children and I had ventured. The walls began to get narrower the further I walked until I was forced to hold the later directly in front of me and my elbows were forced closer to my body. The walls wound back and forth deeper and further into the cliff edge. For a brief moment I even had to duck my head down just to fit. But the strangest thing was at some point in I switch began to flip in the back of my mind and I began to regard these tunnels as hallways rather than the natural wonders they once were. The longer I walked, the more I began to realize that the walls around me we're lined with bricks rather than smooth stone. Then the tunnel widened into a large room, and I knew that something fishy was afoot.
In front of me, on the stone bricked floors, were many colorful luminescent lines of red and green and yellow and blue. Some of them were lit and some of them were not, with a few holes in the floor that some of the lines let to and lit. This was a puzzle, some red flags went off in the back of my mind. I showered the floor, looking for clues, walking down lines to see if it would change anything, stepping in the shallow, spherical holes, but nothing happened. For some reason, it felt to me that this puzzle had already been solved.
In the back of the room was an opening to a hallway again. I shrugged inwardly and began down that hallway. Not 10 feet down the way, another beautifully colored puzzle showed itself on the wall and after a little while of trying to figure it out the feeling that this puzzle had also been solved began to take over me as well. Once again I shrugged, a little frustrated that my efforts toward solving these puzzles had been for nothing.
Three more of these solved puzzles reared their heads before I finally came to a dead end: a boarded up section with large wooden planks and even metal beams pushed across. There was a glowing coming from behind this barricade that simultaneously sent shivers up my spine and out a calming warm effect in my chest.
I walked up toward the barricade. A yellow orb pops out between two planks of wood and buzzes toward me like a mosquito. By instinct I grab it, and it turns into a yellow rubber ball in my hand. I throw it back through the slats. If the story my father had told me held any bit of truth ...this orb could forebode terrible pain for the land.
Again an orb popped out from a different section of the slats. And again I grabbed it and it turned into a ball, this time a little blue rubber ball and again I threw it back. There was a giggling on the other side of the slats that caused the hairs all over my body to stand on end.
I mustered up the courage to peek through the slats at what lay behind and the sight took my very breath away. Behind the slats was a beautiful paradise. It was as if I was looking over a cliff, or on top of a mountain, overlooking a lush forest full of spearmint colored piney trees and a mountainous waterfall that cast forth a mist that overlaid the floor of the forest. It appeared to be a glorious afternoon, with a warm sunshine that didn't quite reach the slats.
What was most peculiar of all was the young face of a darker complexion than I had seen before standing to my direct left. It was a youthful boy holding a red ball and smiling impishly. He didn't say anything, but giggled once more and shoved the red ball between the slats toward me. On my side it turned into a red glowing orb that flew around like the others, before I snatched it and shoved it right back.
A feeling of dread and anger welled up inside me. This...this...this child was trying to infect our world with famine and illness and drought. I searched the room for loose planks and ended up finding a few boards on the floor. If it killed me, I was going to protect my land from this ill fate and keep what belongs on that side of the barricade on that side.
I had no hammer nor any nails, but I began jamming planks and boards between the openings. The giggling voice on the other side became less jovial and more insistent. While I was fixing the barricade he kept shoving more orbs through the slots and I had to keep catching them and shoving them back. To him, it may have been a game, but he never said.
"Stop that! You're going to hurt people! Just stay over there!" I hollered at him, a little more than peeved.
Suddenly, the ground began to tremble under my feet. The slots were full, and I turned tail and ran, winding my way back to the head of the tunnel, tripping more than a few times than I care to admit. The puzzles had erased themselves. A loud voice roared behind me, but I couldn't understand what it was saying.
I ran as fast as I could the whole way home, slamming the door to my home a little harder than I had intended, switching the latches to lock it as fast as my bleary mind could. Then I sat at my father's desk, still wrapped in his jacket and cradled my head in my hands, tangling my fingers in my hair, panting hard as I could.
I sat there, panicked for a few minutes, trying to force my heart rate to go back down. And then in the light of my lantern that was now sitting on the desk, I saw my father appear from his bedroom, almost ghostlike with wide eyes that reflected the firelight of the lantern.
"My dear, what are you still doing up?" He came up to me, noticing the jacket around my shoulders and helped me take it off. "Where have you been?"
While I was trying to organize my thoughts, I realized that he had addressed me directly, as he had not done in many years. I blinked rapidly at him, actually seeing my father as he used to be, lucid and aware of who he is and where he is.
"You haven't been visiting a boy have you?" He raised an eyebrow at me.
"No, no, no, Father, nothing like that. I just...couldn't sleep so I went for a walk." I said, reassuringly.
From down the hall I heard my mother call out quietly, "John?" And in she walked, in her white nightgown, identical to mine. "What are you two doing up? Go back to bed." I could tell she was exasperated with my father, as it was very much like him to stay up at this hour with his ramblings, but the look on her face changed when she realized it was me at the desk and he that was standing beside me.
"Don't worry dear. I just caught our little miss coming in from a midnight stroll and was about to send her right back off to bed." He said, in a comforting way. I beamed at him, recognizing my father from my early youth, and not the haunted shell of a man I had come to know.
Apparently my mom saw the same thing, because she didn't say a word, but just walked up to him and gave him a big warm hug. He seemed shocked, but not concerned.
"Why don't we all go back to bed?" I said, and began descending the ladder to the room my sister and I shared. I undressed back to my nightgown and laid in bed listening to the sound of my mother snoring from my parent's room. A sense of calm washed over me and I slept more peacefully than I had in years.
The Day She Met Herself
It had been a long time since Mara had heard the stories about the cryptids. Mara had heard about nymphs, sirens, and most importantly, doppelgangers. It was a cold December night, the night of the winter formal at the high school, Mara was looking in the mirror as she put her makeup on. Suddenly in the mirror appeared a second face, so similar to hers that she quickly turned around; nobody was there.
Mara turned back to the mirror to see that there was only one reflection there. Creepy, Mara thought as she went to tell her parents goodbye.
"Have a nice time," her mother said.
"Be careful, don't take anything offered to you," her father ordered, "who knows what might have been placed in the punch."
Weird, that sounds like Dad's adding to the warning from my doppelganger. If it was my doppelganger. Mara just nodded, "of course, Dad, I'll watch myself."
When Mara arrived at the high school she couldn't help but keep scanning the crowd of her peers. Immediately her eyes locked on a girl who looked quite similar to her, but as the girl turned around Mara could tell that it was one of her friends. Her friend, Jackie, looked almost exactly like her, and almost the whole school year they had been mixed up by friends and teachers.
Tonight's definitely different, Jackie looks a lot like my second reflection I saw earlier. Maybe I should try my best to avoid her tonight, just in case my theory is correct.
"Hey, Jackie," Mara heard a male voice from behind her.
Mara slowly turned around, it was Michael Fischer, the boy that she had had a crush on since eighth grade. Why? Why has he always seemed to think Jackie is more attractive than me?
"Actually I'm Mara, sorry." As Mara turned away to go request her favorite song to the DJ, Michael grabbed her arm.
"I know, I just wanted to see your reaction," he smiled. Mara knew that the rumors about his canine teeth weren't true, but tonight they looked a little exceedingly sharp. Though she knew that if the rumors were true, he would have bitten someone by now.
"And?" Out of curiosity, Mara also smiled.
"You're still mad when people mix you and Jackie up," Michael said, chuckling, "I actually came over here to ask you something."
No way! Is he about to ask me to dance! I can't believe it!
"Do you wanna go outside and dance, I don't like dancing with girls in front of other people?"
Oh, well it's close, but I might have to stay inside.
"Sorry, Mike, could we just dance inside? I feel like it's too cold to go outside."
"Well, if it makes you more comfortable, I guess it won't kill me," he smiled again.
As they glided across the floor, Mara almost forgot all about Jackie and her theory. Until the song ended.
"I'm thirsty, wanna get a drink?"
"Maybe later, I think the punch might be a bit dry," Mara said, trying to make a good excuse.
"Oh, yeah. I'll probably wait until I get home as well."
Is he only agreeing with me because he likes me, or is there something I'm missing?
As Michael walked away, a hand holding a cup appeared in front of her. Mara looked up to see Jackie smiling. Jackie, with her brunette hair in a princess bun, sporting a short black dress, and red and black Louboutins. A small tiara sitting perfectly in the middle of her hair.
"Hey, girl. I was wondering if you were here." Jackie's smile seemed a little inhuman like as she pushed the drink into Mara's hands.
"Don't worry, I already took a sip for you. Drink it, you look dehydrated."
This has to be a threat, is there a way I can fool her into thinking I drank it? Maybe I can tell her that I have to go to the bathroom? Dad never told me how he survived his encounter with his doppelganger, if only he were here, he'd know what to do.
Before Mara could say anything, Jackie was already forcing the drink into her mouth. Mara, trying hard not to swallow, allowed the punch to enter her mouth. I hope Michael comes back, she couldn't help thinking.
Before she knew it everything went blurry.
When going camping in the woods pick a place many people have been, I was on my way to said spot when I saw a beautiful clearing not on my map. However, as soon as I set foot in the clearing a terrible odor filled my nostril's, so horrible in fact I had to take a few steps back and grab onto a tree so I wouldn't fall. I collected myself and held my nose as I looked around for the source, only to finally see it. I don't know how I didn't notice it before those big black paws, giant stained teeth, and those deep red eyes that stared into my soul daring me too look away. It was a hellhound, it took a couple of steps in my direction then lunged, I flinched and ducked behind a tree terrified but once I heard the scream of pain coming from far behind, I realized it wasn't me he'd come to collect.
My husband passed away while I was recovering from a serious operation in hospital. Quite possibly the worst timing of anything anyone could dream of. He was gone in his sleep, as I had always hoped he would. Quietly and peacefully with a smile on his face. My mother and the building manager went into the apartment to find him. It was a devastating period of my life, but I swear he never really left.
I was in a private room and the staff were instructed to leave everything as it was for me. This included the chair he used everytime he came to visit. It was one of those high backed Lazy-boy types that leaned back and you could put your feet up. He had heart problems, and it was very obvious he suffered from angina. He often held his left side at the bottom of his ribs. He refused to use the oxygen he slept with during the day, and I knew he was getting worse.
About a week after he passed, as I was on the phone again, settling details of claiming life insurance and arranging his cremation, the rudest nurse I’ve ever met, waltzed into my room and pulled his chair out into the hallway. When I protested, in tears, she said, “Get over it. I need it.”
For me, it removed a visual reminder of the support he’d shown me and the joy of celebrating our 34th anniversary. His wicked sense of humor, and the jokes he told walked out of the room with the chair and so did his ghost.
They moved it into another room where a recovering hip replacement patient tried to sit in it, and couldn’t. She said there was already someone in it. Since she was just getting up for the first time, and still woozy from anesthetic, the nurse didn’t put much store in her complaint until she tried to sit in it and yelped.
Her words, “Someone pinched my ass.”
Later, at shift change, she told one of the other nurses she had a bruise on her bottom which made it uncomfortable to sit.
She pushed it back into the hall just outside my door and I got to listen to the fun. Two toddlers who tried to get in it to sit while their mother visited their grandmother, were unceremoniously dumped to the floor. They tried repeatedly to get onto the seat, and the nurses at the unit desk watched in disbelief as they tumbled to the floor four times in a row.
An infirm elderly gentleman tried to sit down, and then slid right out, ending up on the shiny linoleum floor. The scramble to get him up again was kind of funny, as I knew we had a ghost and they didn’t. And not just any ghost, a poltergeist. A spirit with a sometimes vicious sense of humor, which described my dear departed husband precisely.
Eventually they moved the cursed chair back into my room with a sign. Out of order. When my nurse practitioner came in to visit me and asked how physio was going, she took one look and burst out laughing. She was right with me, when I told her Jim’s ghost was still using it, She told me about the attempts to move it into other rooms, with varying disastrous results. He did let one curvy intern sit down, but molested her breasts. He always did have a thing for a nice pair of tits.
My girlfriend Michelle came to visit me. A wise Cree woman, she’d heard my stories, and since sitting on my bed wasn’t advisable as I was recovering from a below the knee amputation, she picked up the sign and spoke.
“Alright Jim, be a decent guy and let me use your chair. You need to move on, you're disturbing everyone. You’ve had your revenge on them. Karin is doing fine.”
She sat down with no problems. She always did have a way with spirits. She claimed she could see them. I believed her. When she passed away herself, she came to see me in my dreams, and still does when I’m particularly sad or agitated. She did get our poltergeist to behave, at least some of the time. Anyone coming to visit me with my approval could use the chair without ill effect. Every time they moved it into another room, it was back to no one being able to use it.
When I came home, I found his favorite lamp was out. It was one we left on 24/7 because it provided just enough light to keep us from tripping in the living room when one of us would come out in the middle of the night because we couldn’t sleep. Shaped like a red flame, it was a plasma lamp and used very little power, so we didn’t feel guilty about letting it run. I couldn’t get it to work, but left it plugged in hoping it would come back to life.
On the day I sold his guitars, which he told me to do, it lit with a hissing crackle. Exactly at the moment I signed the bill of sale. He wanted them to go to someone who couldn’t afford much and showed a love for music. The man was a new immigrant to Canada, starting a music school in his home. He took all the guitars, and because he was willing to move it, I gave him the electric organ we had as well. He got the two amplifiers for the electric instruments and a couple of other odds and ends that would serve him well in his new endeavors. The lamp finally burnt out on the fifth anniversary of Jim’s death.
He visited me one more time after that. Barely eight months after he passed, I was in hospital once again, this time with a deadly version of the flu. I found out later there were only a few people who caught it, but it didn’t have a very high survival rate. I was hovering somewhere between when he came. I knew I had a choice. Live or die. It could go either way. He stood there, and held me in his arms, and I wanted to go with him so intensely it caused me to weep. He spoke.
“You’ve had your cry. Now go back like you always have, stronger for the tears, and get better. You have more to do. Live your dream. Love again. It’s not your time yet.”
He was gone for the last time. I knew that was our last goodbye.
I recovered. I was told it was pretty miraculous. I’ve done as he told me; spread love and write the books he knew I had filed away inside my imagination. He always supported my creative side. I know I’ve made him proud, and I’m getting ready to publish my first book on Amazon Kindle in just over a month.
Yes, I believe in ghosts. I’ve had one fight for me, so I know they exist. When things go bump in the night, I remember the chair that wouldn’t let anyone sit.
"We're the worlds slimiest nerds," John said.
"Nah," I say, admiring the fake membrane hanging off my arms. "Slimiest artists, more like. We're going to scare the shit outta Baker."
"Anyone can scare Baker, Ryan. Hell, a local news story about a science fair winner can scare Baker. He's so paranoid that he doesn't even have a phone."
"He doesn't own a phone? Jesus, it's a miracle he hasn't up and died yet."
"Maybe he has," John says, wiggling his fake-webbed fingers. "But nah, I'm not interested in scaring Baker. I'm thinking bigger."
"Baker's like, hundreds of pounds. He's the biggest guy in town," I say with a snort. "Any bigger and we'd need to bring a coffin, to deal with the heart attack victim."
"I heard his mom took three urns to carry her," John says. "That's pretty damn big. Bigger than Baker, I'd bet."
"I heard his dad took four," I counter.
"Ah, fuck off. I'm thinking bigger than four urns. I'm thinking about a whole damn graveyard compared to that."
"Hm," I say. "How big?"
"It's going to be the biggest thing in Loveland since Lola Smith was caught banging Mr. Little in the school bathroom."
"God damn, John. You set your standards pretty high."
"Listen, Ryan. We've got the latest iPhone. We've got costumes so good Frogman's mama couldn't tell us apart. In other words, we've got the beginnings of the best Halloween prank in existence."
"D'ya think two Loveland Frogs are too weird? Maybe people'll get suspicious."
"Nah," John says. "You can be the Loveland Frog's beautiful wife." He swoons and makes kissing noises into the air.
"And you can be the inbred cousin," I say, punching him in the shoulder. "Hideously deformed and destined to die alone."
John flips me off, and I smile.
"So," I say, still grinning. "Who're we gonna scare?"
The flashlight traces a drunken path in front of us, a golden patch dancing from sidewalk to sidewalk, flowerbed to flowerbed, minivan to minivan.
All the houses look the same. Red brick and white siding. Navy blue shutters.
The only house that doesn't match is 1313, with shutters as red as blood.
Guy who lives there, Dan Baker, he's a paranoid son-of-a-bitch. Says that red brings good luck. Keeps his shutters locked all the time. Rarely leaves. Real kook.
One Halloween, some kid made the mistake of coming to his house for trick-or-treat.
Baker thought he was some kinda actual monster, shot him in the gut. The gun was loaded with rock salt, so the kid didn't die, but poor Harry hasn't been the same since. Pretty sure he just got outta St. Luke's Hospital after he almost killed a girl.
Baker's loony, and his type of crazy is contagious.
"Little further," John says.
"Hang on," I say. "How do you even know where Julie's party is gonna be? It's only for the best of the best. The strongest of the strong. The cheeriest of the cheer squad. The hottest of the hot. How'd you get it?"
"Ha, ha, very funny. Believe it or not, I got invited."
John holds up a small business card. On it is an address and a date.
"No way," I say. "No goddamn way. Really?"
"No, not really," John snorts. "I might fit the hottest of the hot criteria, but I'm also the gayest of the gay. I don't get invited to things."
"Didn't I invite you to my house?"
"You don't count."
"Ouch. So how'd you get the card?"
"I promised Luke Star that I wouldn't tell good old papa Reverend Star about his tryst with Gina and Carrie. It was purely out of the goodness of my heart. I'm following the 'bro code.' I just... asked for something in exchange."
"You sick bastard."
"See, now you get it. I told you, I'm planning for this to be the most fun this shithole has had in years. I mean, our claim to fame is a police officer who shot a crippled iguana, for God's sake. We need to liven things up around here. Now shut up. We're getting close."
With no small amount of trepidation, I pull the frog mask over my eyes, covering the last bit of exposed skin left on me. Everything, from my toes to my eyes, is covered by the frog suit. It took us all month to make it, and finally, it's done. And done well, I might add.
A few minutes later, the flashlight goes off. No use in revealing ourselves until we're ready.
We've got some popular assholes to scare.
The door, of course, is open. Julie's party is elite. It moves around every year. So she's not too worried about uninvited guests.
Well she's about to get two guests she never invited.
As I sneak towards the sounds of raucous party-goers, I realize that John has vanished, taking my iPhone with him. Preparing to film, I guess.
Bastard. If there's a single crack on that thing, I'm gonna kill him.
When I feel like I'm close enough to the action, I hide. Waiting for John's signal, whatever that may be.
Then the lights go out.
Stupid bastard. You can't film if there's no light. And we can't exactly rely on flash photography, now can we?
Some high pitched, giggly screams come from the room ahead. Ah yes, cheerleaders. Always with the dramatic flair.
Not all cheerleaders. There was this one girl named Tori who was awesome. But she moved away, and only the worst that the cheer squad has to offer get invited here.
Think of any high school movie you've ever seen. Now picture the main antagonist: the Blonde Barbie, leader of the cheer squad and girlfriend to the most popular guy.
Now you've got Julie.
See? Worst of the worst.
"Anyone got a Ouija board?" asks a loud, definitely drunk voice.
There are some nervous giggles, but overall, no answer.
I fiddle around in my suit until I find the little speaker in my pocket. It should be connected to my phone, which should be transmitting a signal, playing music for my frog ears.
Hell yeah. Works like a charm.
I can hear the room getting tenser. More nervous laughter.
"Who is that?"
"Turn it off, you assholes."
"Damn, which one of you thought this would be funny?"
And then, the voice of Julie, filled with false confidence.
"Don't worry guys, my older brother does shit like this every year at Halloween."
There's a relieved silence for a moment, but then I hear another girl speak up.
"Isn't Brayden away at college?"
My smile is invisible under my frog mask. Soon, the panic will set in.
Julie ignores her.
"Dammit, Bray, shut up! My friends are over!"
One step forward. Two steps forwards. A bit farther and they'll be able to see me. Not all of me. In the dark, they might not even be able to tell that I'm the Loveland Frog. But they'll be scared just the same.
Another step. And another.
"Holy shit, Jules," says a boy. "I see something moving over there."
"I'll deal with it, Seth. It's fine. I told you, it's just my brother.
"But Jasmine just said—"
"I said, I'll deal with it!" Julie snaps.
She walks right into me.
Her face tilts up towards me, and her eyes bug out as she observes me in horrified shock.
But then, something goes horribly wrong.
Her eyes keep bulging. They grow and stretch until they look like the eyes of a bug.
Or... the eyes of a frog.
A thick, pink tongue shoots out and back in.
"Jesus Christ, Brayden," she says, her voice taking on a horrendously unnatural lisp. what are you thinking? If they see you like this— If our secret gets out—"
"Julie?" asks the boy named Seth.
"It's fine," she says. "I was right. Don't worry, I'll tell him to piss off."
I can do nothing but stare.
"Hang on," she says, staring at me with an intensity I really don't like. "You're not Brayden."
Yeah, nope. I'm done. I'm out. Who gives a shit about scaring people now? I've seen way too much. I am out of here.
I do the safe thing.
But Julie's faster than I thought. Her little frog legs let her jump and catch up to me, easy.
"Just a costume, hmm?" she says, easily keeping pace with me. "Who's under that mask?"
I stop dead and start sprinting in the opposite direction. Okay. Outrunning her is not an option My little trick bought me a few seconds, at most. What do I do, what do I do...
A loud bang right next to my head makes me fall to the ground in shock.
Ow, dammit, my ears...
I wait for Julie to catch up to me.
I look up and squint into the darkness, trying to find the source of the noise.
"I'll be damned," I say. "John? That you?"
"It is indeed," John says, pulling me up. His hands are 100-percent-costume free. I take my costume off pretty fast, too. As far as I'm concerned, I never want to see another webbed hand in my life.
"What was that?" I ask.
"That," John says, "was the real Loveland Frog. And, with the night mode on your iPhone, we just got it on film."
"You knew?" I ask.
"Course I knew. I know everything. I'm the man, man."
"You sick bastard," I say.
Despite everything, I smile. He's a sick bastard, sure, but he just saved my life.
And I just saw a real life legend. I'd say that's a damn good night.
He'll have some questions to answer later, though.
Right now? I'm just happy to be alive.
"So next," John says. "Next, I'm thinking Bigfoot."
I just laugh and shake my head.
He thinks he's found something here? Footage of a Loveland Frog?
He's got no idea. He's only just found the tip of the iceburg.
But I'll play along.
T’Were Many Years Ago Now...
Afta the biggest drought we ever had. The rain come in that night like mother’s milk to a parched babe. A precious gift thrown to the ungrateful red earth, which supped it mercilessly and begged for more. We set out buckets to collect it, Janey and me, so’s we had a little cleaner drinkin’ water than what was spluttered out by the rusty rain-tank.
- I take it yur’v heard of the burrowin’ toads that live here ’bouts, and pop up afta a rain? There was some talk they was pois’nous after old Tombo got sick from a stew he made outa one of ‘em, he was hallucinatin som'n fierce, tellin’ ever’n he come ’cross how the “Frogmen” were comin to rule over us. How they’d bilt an entire civilisation unda-ground, and one day theyd dig 'emselves up afta the rains come, to eats up all tha children and livestock.
Well that’s Tombo for you, all they all thort was he must’ve ate sumthin mighty ’musing.
Anyway that was years before, so we didn’t pay’t no mind. We was still kids then, Janey was nine and I was about 'leven or so, and we couldn’t think of nothin better than to go frolicin' in the rainy dark, seein' if we’s could find one'a them burrowin’ toads to keep for a day-pet.
So there we was, digging 'round in the little puddles which was formin’ on the dried up ol' river bed. B’n dry as a bone for years... Anyway, that's when I noticed a few bubbles comin’ up in the mud under a rock. So I turned 't over, and somethin was squirmin' underneath. I called to Janey to bring a bucket ’coz I’d found one I thort, a big one too. Big as a football almost. I couldn’t see too well though ’coz my flashlight started flickerin', so I just went by feel. I tried to pick him up - it was definitely a toad I thort, judging from the slimy bumpy skin - but it was stuck in the mud somehow and wouldn't come up for nuthin'. I carefully tried to dig ’round it, loosen it up, but I couldn’t get my hands underneath it's belly.
That’s when it opened it’s eyes.
Two big orbs the size of golf-balls, glowing reddish yellah in the pitch black.
I screamed like an iddy biddy girl and I ain’t ’shamed to admit it. The thing I’d been touching that I thort was a whole toad was only it’s head. I backed up, fallin over Janey in the mud, and we froze thar shiv’rin in terror as it dug itsulf out.
Our eyes made out what they could in the little bit of flickering light. It was tall as I was, and twice as fat. Stood up on it’s hind legs, with a sickeningly 'telligent smile on it’s huge flat face. All at once it was free of the mud and it came t'wards us with a startling leap. Sunk it’s teeth down into my leg right here. Surprizin'y sharp teeth, like a shark almost. Still have the scar, see? Ripped right through my jeans and tore out a big chuck a' flesh. I’ve b’n limping ever since.
But I guess it didn’t like the taste a me too much because it sort of choked and spat 't out and then all t'once tha blaggard was gone, bounded off to go et Lord-knows-what for puddin'.
They all think I’m gone loopy whenever I tell 'em that, but Janey saw it too. Only she can’t corroborate to nobody coz the sight of the thing scared her voice right outta her and she han’t spoke a word since.
My eyes slowly flutter open, I have no clue where I am. I can feel the warmth radiating from the shining sun above, I feel the luscious green grass underneath me, the air sends a pleasant breeze across the beautiful blue sky. I feel at peace. Not a care in the world or a worry on my mind. As I come out of what felt like a relaxing nap, I am greeted with the warm sun shining down. I glance around me noticing the vast field of green that surrounds me, I can't recall how or when I got here or any events leading up to the peaceful and wonderful place my body now resides. I bring myself to stand as I take in the light breeze. I am alone, and I am calm. My body feels a sudden jolt as a memory flashes into my mind, I am in shock as my vision goes black, the warm sun disappears and in its presence a chill comes over me, I am met with the sounds of people screaming and sirens wailing. My vision returns and I am faced with a view of myself lying in a hospital bed, my family gathered around my body, I can see my mom crying. I try to call out and tell her I'm ok but she doesn't seem to hear me. Almost as suddenly as before my vision went to black again. I'm back in the field I once felt calm in, My whole body shakes as the wave of uneasiness washes over me, then I feel it. That peace I felt before slowly returning, I no longer felt that shock and pain of seeing those who I love most suffering over my body but again I felt at peace. Then I heard it, a soothing voice called out to me “welcome home my child”
The night was warm but the twisting silver of the trees was cold to the touch. Regardless, the Witch ran her weathered fingers over the smooth metal, marveling at the power it must have taken to create such an enchantment. She peered closely at the leaves, delicate but sharp as a blade.
Between the trees was only darkness and fog. Above a canopy of leaves blocked out the moon but it's light was reflected all they way to the bottom most branches.
All she could hear was the metallic crunch of her pointed boots as she kicked through the leaves under foot. And, every so often, there came the long lonely cry of something caged.
The sound was getting closer which she found encouraging. Even as it filled her veins with ice and tore at her heart, she was encouraged.
The spell had been cast centuries ago and even then the Witch had been an old woman. The walls of the house where she might once have raised a family had long turned to ash. She hadn't been able to help then, though she'd tried.
Many had tried. Witches with spells. Hunters with arrows. Priests with prayers.
All had failed. Many had fallen beneath its claws trying to do the right thing.
The Witch had woken weeks after her own encounter with the creature with clawmarks raking down he whole right side of her body. Villagers had gathered at her bedside to tell her of the miracle, of the great Enchantress who'd sealed the beast away.
Thus she'd never met the woman but she'd often wondered about her. Who was she? How did she learn such skills? Was she a witch or something other? And where had she gone when it was all done?
Everyone had reasoned there was no need to come this way again. Only a fool would travel to the heart of these woods.
The Witch was no fool. She had something those hunters and priests never had. A relic from a time long forgotten.
She reached the edge of the woods, where the silver trees fell away and at last there was nothing but darkness. Not even the moon shone here. Just the shadows of the tall dewy grass.
A long and terrible keening filled the air. It could only be a few yards away.
With a steeling breath the Witch removed her coat from her shoulders and looked down at the label stitched its collar.
The name, "John Doe" was written there.
Looking back into the dark she called back, "John!? John!?"
Her voice echoed and was swallowed by the long pause that followed. Then a pair of yellowed eyes appeared from the void.
They stared at her hungrily but she raised her chin stubbornly in turn.
Lifting the coat she announced, "It's time to come home now, John!"
Did she imagine it? Or had his gaze softened.
The Wolf crept forward, slowly edging into the reflected light from the trees. The silver light glowed off his black fur. He was tall enough that his head was leveled with hers.
She held her breath as she waited patiently for him to come before her.
At last he stopped and a deep understanding passed between them as they watched eachother.
"That's enough now, John." The Witch told him.
Slowly the Wolf laid down and the Witch struggled to contain her shock and relief.
She threw the coat over him and at once the Wolf was gone. All that remained was the much smaller, lumpy shape beneath the coat.
Slowly the Witch knelt and lifted the collar of the coat. The dazed eyes of a man looked back at her.
She smiled at him tearfully and she cupped his face in her hands like she might have done when he was a child. He blinked at her, his eyes growing clearer.
"I've missed you, my child." She whispered to him.
At once he crawled into her arms and the pair of them wept.
The Necromancer’s Shadow
The dark hooded stranger
Carries intricately carved knives at his belt,
And gold and blue liquids
Strung about his neck on a chain,
Glowing in the twilight
Through translucent corked bottles.
He walks through the darkness
In boots worn with adventure and travel
That leave footprints in the mud
In which a bright young shadow
Silently makes his imprints seconds after;
Not quite as large, but just as curious,
Though the the boy's curiosity
Still filters through the veil of innocence
As he stalks the unfamiliar entity
Through the trees that are haunted
With the wails of the cicadas.
The stranger halts
So the child halts
And watches as his mother stands and blinks again,
Still bleeding ancient blood from ancient burns
That never got enough time to heal;
Still covered in the grime
That collected on her person
In its years under the dirt.
But her eyes
Are not still the same loving green
That the child looked into
As she told him stories of her journeys
As a wandering adventurer.
These eyes are empty
And as grey
As their son's broken tears
As he runs through the woods
Back to the orphanage;
Followed, but not seen,
By a startled young magician
Who thought he heard wolves
Stalking him in the dead of night,
Leaving only a whispering mother
Grieving for her grieving child
in their wake.
A small towns tale
It calls to me, to us, the woods that is. Like the pied piper the wind blows through the trees sending such a soft and sweet melody through our ears calling, enticing us to find the source. Oh what a beautiful sound it is, I do wish you could hear it. My grandmother told me story's of how she would sit in her mothers lap and they would crack open the window and listen to the beautiful gentle song of the trees. Night after night they fell more in love with the sounds as they swept through the entire town. However, not all appreciated the gifts the trees had given us and they did what humans do best, tried to turn a profit.
Unfortunately people not born in our little town could not hear the beautiful song of the trees. "If you will not sing for the outsiders then you need not sing at all." They spat in a blind rage once they realized the trees would not line their pockets with wealth. So they called in many a lumberjack and bulldozers so that they may line their pockets in a different way. The lumberjack raised his axe up high and with a mighty swing cut into the bark of the first tree, and out came a screech so gut wrenching and ear splitting it was heard all the way at the edge of town but no farther. And the lumberjack along with all of the men who had come to turn the beautiful trees into paper dropped dead.
From then on, like a sweet siren the woods sang and anyone who dared enter the woods to hurt the trees be it by accident or on purpose fell victim to the screech. Night after painful night it woke them from their sleep and when morning came the police would deliver the news to the town via radio of whom had perished. These woods have fueled many ghost stories they say, if you hear what sounds like change in your pocket as you walk and you don't have any. Then the spirit of the businessman who tried to cut down the forest will drag you down with him. Or if you hear a random thud in the night, its the sound of the lumberjacks body hitting the ground.
Well i can't say there is no credibility to the stories that are told. These woods are haunted with the souls that dared to threaten it, forced to spend their days wandering and dying a painful death over and over again with each shrill call. And in the night the trees whisper to me a funny joke, they say "If you will not live for me then you need not live at all."