The gift

The slim man stopped cold on the sidewalk in front of a blank, gray door. The tiny ebony numbers were barely noticeable under the single black sliding peephole. Uncertain, the young man pulled a single cream, engraved invitation from his back pocket. His blue eyes darted from the four numbers on the page to the matching four numbers on the door. His breath hissed out from between clenched teeth, making a frosty cloud of ice crystals in the frigid air.

Heart thumping in excitement, the lanky man stretched forward to grasp the black painted door lever. His slender fingers trembled before latching hard on the metal. He thrust the door open, putting all his spare weight behind the push. The door was immensely heavy, much heavier than an ordinary door. The young man’s mighty effort carried him into the waiting building.

The interior of the building was bleak, with pale gray walls bouncing brilliant white light across the bare concrete floor. In the middle of the room was an oblong box, wrapped in metallic crimson paper, topped with gold and crimson spiraled ribbons.

The slim man slid forward, peering around the large room with blue eyes squinted nearly closed. Gingerly, he nudged the ornately wrapped box with his black booted foot. Neither sound nor movement came from within.

Curious, he crouched down next to the box upon the plain concrete floor. His fingers twitched toward the ribbons, itching to pull the knot loose. The metallic spirals easily slipped apart. The papered top fit easily in his trembling hands.

Inside the box, nestled in clouds of white tissue paper was another box, smaller and simply wrapped in stiff white paper. The nervous man lifted the smaller package from the nest of white and slipped a slender finger under the stiff taped flap of paper.

The wrapping came off quickly, revealing the square cardboard box within. He pried the top off the smaller box, a smile spreading across his face in anticipation. But inside, to his shocked horror, was an ugly black handgun, with a tactical rubber grip and oiled barrel. Perched on top was another ivory card, boldly engraved with a single name.

He couldn’t tear his blue eyes from the name emblazoned on the card, Harlan Edmonds.

His name.

Then the hot white lights flashed once, then fell dark. He heard the heavy door scrape open once more. In the darkness, he fumbled for the gun.

The stiff creamy card bearing his name fluttered to the ground, name face down on the hard, cold gray concrete.

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Morning in the castle

The crystalline chiming from above her halo of golden hair woke the girl from her dreamless slumber. Bleary-eyed, she blinked at the rainbow of color swarming around her ivory canopied bed. Sunlight beamed through the leaded glass arched windows high above.

The golden girl slipped from between the warm sheets to stand on the plush jade carpet. Her toes wiggled in contentment in the deep cushiony softness of the dense pile rug. The air in the whitewashed stone room was chilly, the crackling fire in the person-tall fireplace doing nothing to ease the cold that crept into the ancient block walls of the fortress.

Once again, the child heard clearly the cheerful bells above her head. She looked up, stretching her long neck until it ached, trying to find the source of the playful music.

Cavorting in the rays of sunlight were tiny beings, with wings of rainbow sheer and dresses of rich jeweled color; amethyst, emerald, sapphire, ruby and gold. Every beat of the minuscule wings sent waves of laughing music through the sun-kissed room.

The girl tried to count the dancers, but not one of them stayed still long enough. Every accounting was different from the one before. With the way the colorful things zipped around, the yellow-haired child couldn’t even tell if they were all female, although she assumed they were. She’d never heard of boy fairies, after all.

 

The stolen boy

The countryside flashed by in a blur of greens and blues. Every so often, soft buttery yellow would zoom in and out, or a stark line of ebony would zip by. The kaleidoscope of colors mesmerized Billy. His eyes lost focus, his mind wandered, and he let the spinning world spin.

The small boy’s tiny fingers picked at the loose pumpkin orange threads of his ragged old scarf while his emerald green eyes glazed over. The heat filling the inside of the battered old Ford was making the child sleepy, but he struggled to stay awake, like any six-year-old bound on an adventure. Even if he didn’t know what kind of adventure this was supposed to be.

A soft, wrinkled hand slipped on top of Billy’s fidgeting fingers, stilling the unraveling of the scarf. The warm flesh against his quieted Billy’s fears. He smiled up at the wizened old woman on the seat beside him. She didn’t smile back, so the child’s expression slipped back into sleepy blankness once again.

Watching the child with eyes untouched by age, the wrinkled old hag nodded to herself as the boy folded in on himself. She kept her hands atop his, knowing in his uncertainty he would pull the threads once more if she removed her calming touch. She couldn’t have the boy leaving traces of his presence for snoopers to find.

The woman looked to the man driving the beat up old truck. His expression was grim, teeth clenched in anger and fear. It had been his idea to take the sandy-haired little one. The man had promised the boy a ride on a spotted pony, if only the boy would climb up into the primer gray vehicle. The boy had readily agreed, especially when the lady who looked like his gramma had offered him a whole giant chocolate bar of his very own.

Feeling the crone’s gaze on his rugged face, the balding man turned to her, just enough to shake his head at her unspoken questions. He didn’t want to talk about what they’d done, what he’d forced his mother to participate in.

She’d tried to call the police, threatened it even as her enormous son had driven them to the nearby park. But when she’d seen the boy, she’d relented, giving in to her son’s pleas for help. She felt sick when she thought back on what they’d done. She knew they would have to report it, tell the police where to find the boy, confess all, from the first to the very last. But she would wait until after they put the boy to bed. At home.

The home he’d been stolen from a year earlier.

In the garden

From the one side, the ornately carved stone archway seemed ordinary, a valiant attempt at making a rather plain garden into a fantastical oasis. It echoed the mass-produced faux stone statues scattered around the thriving landscape. It was definitely nothing to write home about, though.

On a whim, he walked through, leaving his strolling companion behind. He laughed as he walked, puffing out his chest and high-stepping as he got closer to the archway. The girl laughed with him, encouraging his theatrical exaggeration.

But they both stopped laughing when he passed through the opening. Because to her, left behind in the mid-town garden, her friend had simply vanished.

For him, however, all thoughts of his companion fled his mind when he stepped across the threshold. The carved stone, on this side, was overgrown with twisted, hairy black vines. From the apex, a massive dark seed dripped a thick, cloying merlot liquid, which clung to his hair and slithered down his stark white collared shirt.

The landscape before him had changed, as well. Gone were the big-chain garden store pots and planters. No more same-faced statues oddly placed along a carefully tended cobblestone path. Instead, he stared into an overgrown jungle of exotic and strange flora. The brilliant white noon sun was absent in the sky.

A dim emerald glow emanated from somewhere above, barely illuminating the snaking vines that crept across the silvery gray pebbled pathway. Fuschia and puce flowers, with stamen that looked like wicked sharp teeth bloomed in explosions of color among the head-high greenery. Twisted black trees in the distance mimicked the towering skyscrapers of the mid-town horizon he’d just left.

Panicked, the man turned, intending to return to the heaven of the plain, everyday garden he’d laughed so long and hard about, just moments before. But the stone archway, under the wicked vines and viscous liquid led not to his longed-for destination, but instead to a maw of midnight, with a brilliantly white path disappearing down into the heretofore unseen mountain.

The terrified man clenched his eyes shut, praying silently and quickly that it was all his imagination, or maybe an extraordinarily elaborate joke.

The sudden jab to his ribs snapped his eyes open. The amethyst colored eyes, at his elbow, startled him yet again. But the dozens of pairs of eyes, blinking at him from within the flora, propelled him into action. His legs pumped furiously, throwing him headlong down the darkness of the tunnel, to an unknown fate.

 

The Traveller

When the first happened, I thought it was just my  pre-teen imagination, fueled by one too many late night horror flicks, watched in secret while my parents slept peacefully unaware.

The second, and then the third, were frightening, but only at first. They flickered and phased in and out of sight, so I conveniently let them slip from my mind’s grasp.

The next few, when I was just entering adulthood, weren’t so easily forgotten, mostly because they were closer to me in life: my parents and my baby sister.

I haven’t counted lately, but I’m pretty sure I’m up to ten, now. Ten ghosts following me everywhere I go. The first three, those are just barely flickering along. But they’re still there. My parents and MaeLynn, they’re a little less visible than when they began following me, when they were killed in the plane crash.

It seems the newer the ghost, and the closer to me in life, the more substantial the otherworldly follower. I think, or maybe hope, that there’s a limit, too. I don’t know how I’d stand it if I had more than a dozen or so ghosts trailing behind.

Unfortunately, I don’t know why they’re all with me. I don’t know the first three ghosts, or the latest. I’d never met them in life. So why are they following me? I mean, my family I can understand. Even the one guy from my high school class, I can sort of get. But total strangers?

Why do they follow? Why me? How long will they be with me? Who were they? How many ghosts can I have in my entourage at one time? How do I help them move on? Do they want to move on?

I have so many questions and absolutely no one to answer any of them. I am Samantha Spectre. I am the Traveller.

 

Tiny croaks

The croaking of the frog didn’t bother her too much. Not at first, anyway. She lived in a rural area, not too far from town, but far enough that she could see plenty of wildlife if she looked closely enough.

She dimly heard the ‘ribbit’ of the creature from the comfort of her floral armchair. The television was on, of course, but she wasn’t paying too much attention to it. She was drifting, not quite sleeping and not quite not.

The croaking of the frog stayed steadily in the background, every so often capturing the woman’s attention for a few seconds before she was carried onward by other, louder sounds.

Nearly an hour after she’d first heard the throaty call of the frog, the woman rose from her chair, slipping quietly across her carpeted floor to her kitchen. She wanted a cup of tea; Lady Grey to be exact.

In the brightly lit, white tiled kitchen, adjacent to the TV room, the croaking was louder. Not tremendously so, but enough to cause a tic in the woman’s head. The sound, although not loud, was an annoyance, now.

The woman looked out the small window over the kitchen sink, but saw no tree frogs clinging to the mesh screen. She searched the low grass outside with her sharp eyes, but no signs of any toads there, either.

Sighing, determined to ignore the grating sound, the woman turned to the sink. She twisted the shiny knob, holding her battered tea kettle beneath the arched faucet. The water she expected to flow, didn’t.

The woman heard the water running through the pipes, but nothing was pouring out into the waiting kettle. She leaned forward, straining to hear over the croaking. But the croaking only grew louder.

When the brilliant green tree frog popped, with a wet sucking sound, from the faucet, the woman just stared in horror. When the second and third tiny frogs landed in her kettle, she dropped the metal and stepped backward. It wasn’t until the sink was full of emerald, lime, olive, yellow and red spotted frogs did she think to flee.

By then, it was too late.

The thing outside the window

The figure outside the window is so funny looking. His head is perfectly round and bald. He has no features, that I can tell. He bobbles like a balloon held in a joyful child’s clutch.

His body is long and gaunt. His legs are stork thin and miles high. His arms are sticks, like a first-snow snowman, all akimbo in his perplexity.

I see him, from over the top of my computer screen, bobbing his way to-and-fro and fro-and-to, going and coming from who knows where.

I try to ignore his waving arms and his ducking and weaving head, but when I look away, he bounces from left to right, right to left, grabbing my attention again.

I reach down to pet the snow-white, sparkly creature beside me. Her single silvery horn nods at my unspoken question, her rainbow hair swinging along. She sees the bobble boy, too. But then, a unicorn would.