The Bachelor’s House

Just in time for Halloween, a little witch and ghost story…


I place a hand on the stone, and I see snow on the roof while a girl with a bow in her hair runs on the hardwood floor. In the dining room, a family is gathered at a set table with candles, and there’s the scent of oregano, roast beef, potatoes, and fresh bread everywhere.

Imagination is a beautiful thing, filling up a cold house with warm memories that may never have been. 

Turning the handle, the door creaks, and I peer inside. A fireplace from a nearby room sheds some light into the hallway. Yellow-stained curtains are hung, and there are light switches, a coat hook, and nothing else. There’s warmth, but it escapes through the open door. So, I close the door.   

“Elizabeth,” Helen says in a red dress with a two-foot train—the same one she wore last time I was here. The fire in the hearth hisses as she passes, and dampness drips from somewhere. Helen leans in, touches my elbows, and kisses me on the cheek. “Are you ready to start?”

“Yes,” I say, hanging my coat and purse on the coat hook. Before I leave, I remember I need my hard hat and dig into my handbag to find it. Helen places a hand on my elbow as we walk through the hallway. I look up the stairs and into several rooms and ask, “Where’s Paul?”

“I’m here,” he says, leaning against a doorway. Paul wears brown trousers and a white shirt. His thumbs are hooked under his suspenders.

“I will wait here,” Helen says.

I nod. “Are you still coming with me?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says, straightening.     

I turn the knob on the door to the basement. There’s no railing, so I place my hand along the brick to guide me and carefully take a step down the stairs. Paul’s cool breath is in the back of my neck and stays there until I reach the bottom step. 


Tucking my hair under my hat, I flip the switch on. Light spreads out, and a rat runs across my boots and squeezes into a hole.

I stare at the beams with webs where spiders cling to them and touch one spider called Eve, who apologizes that she wasn’t here the last time I visited. Eve tells me about dishes that were thrown, a child who couldn’t sleep without a light on, and how a waiter ran out of the house one night and never returned. Eve’s eight legs tap the beam, and she says, “The man who built this house, he drank gin nearly every night. Poor thing, he was in love. But he never told anyone. Not even his best friend . . .”

I see. 

Paul slouches nearby and looks around, bored. Ghosts can’t speak Spider, thank goodness. 

I nod to Eve, and she returns to her artwork. “Where are you?” I say. My fingers fumble over the switch on my hat, and it clicks.

“You still can’t see them?”

“Like I told you the last time—I’m a witch exorcist, not a clairvoyant.” Paul shakes his head. “Hey, you’re a ghost that can’t get rid of a ghost.” Paul doesn’t say anything.

Annoyed, I take the cap off and move the knob to another setting. Sure, it’s great that I can see in the dark. But I need to see everything.

I flick the switch with my finger and shake my head. Witches aren’t allowed to use their magic to pay for their day-to-day living expenses. It’s part of the rules. So, I’ve got a nine-to-five job to pay for rent and such, but I have to work these jobs to pay for Mom and Dad’s costs in Trolls Thumping Residence.

“What?” Paul asks.

“Nothing,” I whisper. The knob clicks. “Ha! Now we’re in business!” I cheer. I place the hat on my head and tighten the chin strap. And now I see everything.


Stepping forward, five large snake-lizards are wrapped around the beams.

Paul leans forward, bumping into me. His hand slips through my back and comes out of my stomach.

“Gross,” I say. Some ghosts are good at making themselves flesh-like. Paul is not.  

Weaving through the room, the snake-lizards hiss as we pass by them. I’ve seen these creatures before—they belong to light and shadow and can kill the flesh and devour souls. I suspect Paul might know this, too, based on his raspy breathing.

There’s a flash. I scan the room, looking around the snakes-lizards and the—

“Oh no,” I hiss. Air rushes around as I fly up, hit the wall, slide down, and fall to the dirt floor. “Ow,” I mutter. 

Paul shakes and looks around. Then running toward me, he stumbles. Paul hits the ground, and a snake-lizard unravels itself from a beam like lightning strikes and hisses. It snaps when it’s within reach of Paul. “No,” Paul says. The snake-lizard’s head rises, and Paul and the creature stare at each other.     

I’m eye to eye with a snake-lizard, too. “Did you get the memo? I’m a witch exorcist. I can destroy you.”

The snake’s head bobs back. His black eyes blink. I’m sure I see his head tilt, and then, he vanishes.     

“Paul!” There are heels on the stairs, and a translucent red hem appears.

“Stay there!” I yell.

Helen crouches down and covers her mouth. “Oh, Paul!” she cries.

“I love you, Helen. I always will.” Paul’s voice is steady, and his eyes are misty. But he keeps both eyes on the snake-lizard.  

I smack my hands together, and bits of scales and leathery skin fly up and explode in the air and onto the dirt floor.

I’m not sorry about killing the four remaining snake-lizards. They heard what I said to the other one and knew Paul and I were traveling together. Paul drops his head to the floor. I raise one finger, Paul rises from the ground, and I place him beside Helen.

“Is the ghost gone?” Paul asks.

“No,” I say. “But I don’t think he’ll come out with both of you here. So, go upstairs and stay there.”

“How do you know?” Paul asks. 

“I got a message,” I say, pushing my hair back. “Besides, Paul, I don’t want you to get hurt. You and Helen couldn’t be together because of her hateful, controlling, abusive husband. Now, you can be. You’re only here because you think you should be. But those creatures could have taken your soul. And where would that leave Helen?” So there’s no doubt, I add, “I’ve got this.”

Helen and Paul glimpse down at me. Even though their ghosts, their eyes shine with some look of understanding. Nodding again, they turn and climb the stairs, and the door creaks closed.    

“Perfect,” a man with dark eyes says, holding a watch. “It’s Elizabeth?” he asks, snapping the timepiece closed and hooking it onto the vest of his suit.

“Yes—and you are?”

“Jeffrey Sackston the III’rd,” he says, bowing.

“You can probably drop the III’rd now.”

He spins his cane, grins, and says, “Yes, I suppose I can.”

“I thought it was you.”

“Most people did.”

“I thought you didn’t want anyone to live in your house.”

“Well, you were wrong,” he says.

“You scared the flesh.”

“Yes, unfortunate side-effect.”

“I’m to—”

“I know what you are to do, Elizabeth,” he says. His smile dips. Then he throws his cane up, catches it, and smiles brightly again. 

“You never wanted the house.”


Looking up the stairs, I ask, “How long have Helen and Paul been here?”

Jeffrey’s eyes watch the stairs behind me. 

“You did it because of Paul and Helen?”

“Yes,” he says. “Paul’s insecurities about how he wished he had protected Helen better in life, plagued him in the afterlife, too. Certainly, their murders at the hands of Helen’s husband didn’t help,” he says, sighing. I had hoped it would be something Paul could overcome. I guess he did, somewhat. Still, Helen knows he’s not perfect, and she loves him just the same. Thanks to you, Paul knows that too, now.”

“You could have asked for help.”

“I did not have your number,” Jeffrey says, winking. “Besides, if anyone else knew, there was a risk it would be repeated to Paul, and my old friend would be embarrassed.” 

“You’re the bachelor who wanted ghosts to have love in the afterlife?”

“Don’t tell too many people. I wouldn’t want them to think Jeffrey Sackeston the third was a softy!” He smiles and leans into his cane. 

“How did you make yourself invisible to them?”

“I’m very good at hiding.”

I roll my eyes. “How did you get those creatures to cooperate without them taking your soul?”

“Ghost secrets,” Jeffrey says, arching an eyebrow. There’s something in his smile or his eyes, and it reminds me of a saying that I’d heard when I was young—

Ghosts who want something can ask the snake-lizards a favor. But they must trade their souls—and a willing soul is more delicious than one taken!


There’s a snap—a snap from fangs that bite into skin and a mouth that can inhale wisps of air that are phantoms. 

It’s also the snap from my fingers. And the snake-lizard I allowed to leave is gone. Permanently. Well, except for the dust.


I stare down at the yellow-eyed orange furball. “Jeffrey . . .” I say, “you almost died a second time.” I shake my head and gather him up in my arms. “You’ll live this life as a cat as this form protects you from those scavengers. And also, that way, no one can say I never did my job. It will be our secret,” I whisper, stroking his fur. “And maybe in your next life, you’ll come back and can find love, too.” I climb the stairs, cradling Jeffrey, and add, “Now, I need to get paid.”

End of the line

Grey-toned skin with shadows that hang around her colorless smoky eyes stare at me, dark dots like black pearls. Mouth slightly open, joy glistens from the curve in her cheek, the round of her mouth, the glow in her hair. Optimism seeps from the woman’s face.

Who is she?

A black beret sits tilted on top of her head. Was the beret a rebellious attempt on her part? And if it was, were there other photos where she held a Lucky Strike between two fingers while she reclined back in the booth at a speakeasy with her friends?

My wrist twists. I’m hunting the haunting as I search for a name, a date, or a place written on the back of the yellow-stained paper. Leaning in, I squint at the scribble, trying to make out the smudged words on the back. “Unreadable,” I say to no one. 

Rubbing a hand over the letters, I say to the woman, “Tell me who you are, and how your photo ended up here, under my foot at the dump?” Scanning the hill of garbage, I see a crushed gift card box nearby. I bend forward, pick it up, and slide the photo into it.

I walk away from the mountain of black bags with rotting food, worn-out clothes, twisted blinds, and other household cast-offs and settle on a spot with weeds nearby. Pulling my gloves on, I get down on my knees, dig my fingers into the dirt and lift it over, and over, and over again until I’ve dug a hole just big enough.

I place the gift card holder into the hole. Closing my eyes, I remember the woman’s face. “I’m sorry,” I say. “This is the best I can do—,” as I throw dirt on top of the cardboard coffin.

The Lights Out Theater

Sia’s heart fluttered, and her feet pounded the grey stone pavement as she slowed her pace. She craned her neck and searched through the twilight of parked cars, the newly built forty-foot condominium, and into post-World War II brown stacked office buildings.

The Lights Out Theater doors flew open, and Sia leaped back. Patrons poured out onto the streets. She sighed as men dressed in suits with vests and neckties and bow ties and women in sequined floor-length gowns and empire dresses smiled as they passed her.

Why Sia had run, she couldn’t say. There was, of course, the story in the L.O.T. Standard about a philanthropist found dead at an abandoned distillery with only two holes in his neck. Today, Sia saw a second story about an award-winning fifty-year-old female photojournalist who documented the refugee crisis at a camp near a border town and had washed ashore off Guinevere’s Lake. The article said that drowning was most likely the cause of the woman’s death—except puncture wounds were also found on the woman’s neck.

Sia, come with me . . .  

Sia blinked at the long-haired man. Her hand trembled as she fought to pull it away from the ice-cold fingers wrapped around her fingers. His dark hair shone as he took a step forward and the light from streetlights faded, and the voices from theater-goers dissipated. And then they were somewhere else—

She wanted to say something. But all she could do was gulp and open and close her mouth. Then, as the man ran a finger along her neck, she croaked, “Why me?”

“Why not you?” he said.  

Sia’s muscles in her throat loosened, and she whispered, “I’m no one.”

He smiled and pulled his hand away from her neck. “You are someone,” he said as he stepped away from her.

“Did you kill the man they found at the distillery and the photojournalist by the lake?” Sia asked as she trembled.    

“Why would you care? You did not know them.” His eyes fluttered like ravens in the night sky as he slid a claw-like nail along his red lips. “They were no ones,” he said.  

Sia’s cheeks flushed with rage. “She was an award-winning photojournalist who documented over-crowded living conditions at a refugee camp—and he gave scholarships to a handful of troubled kids every year that gave them a chance to go to college or university!”

The man with dark eyes, dark hair, and long fingernails lifted his chin. “And you?”

Sia shrank back. “I’m no one.” 

His manicured eyebrows lifted. “What about your volunteer work at the SPCA?” 

“I get to play with puppies and kittens. That’s hardly volunteer work.”

His smile widened, and white fangs flashed. He stared at Sia. “And what of your volunteer work at the Women’s Shelter?” 

Sia stood there, not knowing what to say. “How do you know about that?” 

There was a flash of something—an arm, a hand, or maybe eyes. They were her eyes. Closed and gone. Sia had a sense there was nothing in front of her, behind her, with her, around her—

Sia shoved him away. Or she tried to but couldn’t because her arms were weak as if she’d lifted a fridge and carried it up a hundred steps.

Then there was warmth and light. Sia lurched forward and threw the blanket off her that covered her arms. Awake, she tapped her neck as she stared at the red drapes with gold edging that hid whatever was on stage. 

Seated in a black leather chair, a woman with salt and pepper hair leaned into a younger man with brown hair and blue eyes. He tugged at his sleeves and glanced at Sia over his shoulder. They looked familiar.

Sia saw the man again with the long dark hair and cape. He stood close by with arms crossed behind his back. She straightened herself in her seat, stood up, and marched toward the man.   

With only a few steps between them, she said, “Did you kill them?”

“No, I did not.” His voice dripped with calm.“I wrote stories about them and gave them to you to read.”

“Why?” Sia said, confused. She hesitated and added, “How?”

“Because they felt like you do—that they were no one,” he said while he circled her.

“You’re lying.”

“Why would I kill them?” he asked as he lifted his chin and tilted his head.

“You’re . . . ,” Sia hesitated, “. . . a part of the dark world.”  

He raised his nose and laughed. “You’re right.” His canine pointed teeth gleamed from the crystal chandelier lights that hung from the ceiling. “Tell me, did you read about their murders anywhere else besides in the L.O.T. Standard?” He said this as he stretched out his hands and looked up to the balcony seats, the lights, and the shuttered red and gold curtain on stage . . .

Sia shifted. Stunned, she pulled out her phone from her back pocket and punched at the keys: Award-Winning Photo Journalist Murdered in Creeping Town. Only one article came up: The one that announced the woman’s award. Sia held her phone, and then she remembered the title of the other article she’d read: Creeping Town Philanthropist Found Dead at Distillery. But, again, she found nothing—except for articles about the philanthropist and the kids he’d helped. 

Sia frowned at the couple as they turned around. The woman smiled and said, “Yaroslav!” Even though Sia and the vampire had been there for at least ten minutes, it was the first time the woman greeted them—or had said anything to them.

“Hello! Did you enjoy tonight’s show?” Yaroslav asked.

“It was terrifying!” she said as she threw her head back and laughed. The man seated beside her smiled and fiddled with his tie.

“This is Sia,” Yaroslav said as he gently placed a hand on her back. “Would you mind explaining some things to her? I have more work to do tonight . . .”

“Sure thing, Yaroslav!” the photojournalist said.  

Yaroslav leaned next to Sia and whispered, “Do not believe all the fairy tales told to you as a child. They weren’t all true,” he said. Then, he turned away, strode to the exit sign, spun around, his cape swung around him with his turn, and he said, “Welcome to the Lights Out Theater! No membership fee. And it’s open to you for your lifetime!” His eyes widened, he twirled again, and then . . . he was gone.

The woman slapped her knee and laughed. “Does he ever like to play up the vampire thing!” Sia stood in front of the woman and chewed her thumbnail. The photojournalist’s smile disappeared, and with a shrug, she said, “He finds people who think they don’t matter. And he tells us we do. So the membership to Lights Out Theater is our reward—and reminder—that we’re important.”

The Pacifist

*Left punch.

Nose dripping, eyes watering, salty blood pours from my mouth, and a spine-tingling throbbing spreads to my head.

*And a right hook. 

*I stand there and continue to stand because it doesn’t matter how many times fist meets cheek, chin, right or left eye, stomach, back—I’m a pacifist who doesn’t know how to surrender, and there are only two ways I’ll get out of this: If I get knocked out and spend the rest of my time on the floor; or my opponent stops pounding me, but then I’ll be stuck here, with this guy circling me—this infinite space where no bell will signal the end of this fight as he struts around the ring in a dance with his mouth wide, eyes gleam, teeth shine and circles me waiting for the chance to strike me again as the crowd chants, “Knock her out!” while my hands rest limply at my sides.

*Straightening my back, I raise my chin and try to open my half-closed bloodied eye while I tighten my muscles and wait

—for the next blow to fall.


Laura reclined back in her cushioned work chair. Her hand on her mouse, she scrolled through the columns of the spreadsheet with expenses for the Marriott hotel, receipts from restaurants, gas, rental car, and airfare charges. 

Heat pricked at her cheeks, and her eyes stung.

Knock, knock.

Frustrated, Laura sighed.

The headache had started a couple of hours ago, and now her skin tingled from the pain. The “knocking” on the frame of her workstation only made the pounding in her head worse.

“Hey Laura,” Jan said as she grabbed the spare chair from the corner of her cubicle and rolled it close to Laura’s desk.  

Laura’s jaw tightened.  Expenses for the Sales Team must be submitted to the Chief Financial Officer by the end of the day today. She hoped whatever Jan had come for wouldn’t take long.

Jan said some words about an incident from the weekend that made headlines because of what could have happened but didn’t.

 Laura touched her swollen, warm lips.     

 Jan was mad. Angry that on the first warm spring day where birch, balsam firs, and oak trees lined the paths, the parents with children, the teenagers, and seniors that were there, well, none of them had helped a boy who nearly drowned.    

Laura offered excuses: Perhaps, some had heart conditions? Or maybe they didn’t see him? Still, others may not have known how to swim.  Other people may have been in denial about what they witnessed and didn’t have time to react.

Jan left.

Before she left, though, she pushed her caramel-colored hair back, harrumphed, and returned the chair to the corner of the cubicle. Jan shook her head and said, “How can you defend them?”

Laura shrugged her shoulders as her chest throbbed.

Jan spun on her heels and trudged off down the hallway. The clip-clop sound faded. Laura sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose as she stared at the expense sheet for Joy Thatcher.   

 The lines on the spreadsheet, the cells Laura remembered they were called, blurred together.

Concentrate, Laura. Concentrate. It’s only noon. 


Other people were around.  But, she wanted to remember the boy.  

Slowly, she’d limped back to her car. Her coat sagged. So, Laura peeled her black jacket off and threw it in the trunk. God, her sweater clung to her like forgotten cilantro in the fridge still in its plastic bag. Then her car chirped, the doors unlocked, she opened the car door and almost got inside.

A woman’s soothing voice said something from behind her. Laura stopped and spoke with the white-haired woman in the black hat who told her she was a retired nurse. The woman said: You should get checked out.

But Laura wanted to go home. She squeezed the woman’s hand once and reassured her that she was okay. Then she watched as the grey-eyed woman walked away.

Once Laura was in her car, she rubbed her hand to her face. Then she watched as two paramedics lifted the boy strapped onto a gurney, and loaded him into the ambulance. Not long after, the transport vehicle’s lights whirled, and the siren screamed as it left the parking lot.


There was the hum of vibrating beeps. Over the noise, a clinical voice said, “The time of death for Laura is . . . ,”

There’s a wish that Laura had, something she’d never said, and it’s this: She hoped the boy would be okay.

Running on Empty

I chop strawberries and drop them into a bowl. 
I glance at your bed in the corner of the room. 
I throw yogurt and honey into the round dish,
when the memory of your labored breathing comes crashing down.  
I gobble up my breakfast as quick as I can. 
Start to work, uninterrupted, while night changes to day. 
As the numbers click by on the clock, I know I have time to run, to daydream, and to work some more—
if I want.
Our days of morning walks in the woods are done.
In the backyard, your squeaky ball sits against the fence. 
The pile of stuffed toys overflows from your box, 
and they stare at me with no owner left to carry them around.

You were always there through all of life's changes:
lost jobs, some illnesses, and too many deaths. 
You offered a lick and a hug, and with a tilt of your head: 
Reminded me we'd go for a walk and eventually would be okay again.
The last few years, I've watched as you went deaf, tumbled, and fell. 
But you always struggled, with unending glee. 
Sitting on the pavement, you smiled, to lure in a passerby who might pat you on the head,
and maybe offer you a treat.
They said you were doing well . . .
I knew they were just kind.
Because we all knew what was coming—me, running on memories—
and us, with no more time.

Three Soldiers

I woke as one usually does—as it was early March, and I lived in a drafty apartment, cold and with a full bladder and a need to empty it.

I flopped a foot out of my bed and placed it against the frigid hardwood. Well, to be precise, it was parquet. I lived in a brown six-story building with elevators that rattled, and when I traveled in one, I feared I would become lodged between the third and fourth floors. It was a place where students living on loans lived—and it was a shared two-bedroom apartment with another student where we split the rent and other bills, occasionally a pizza, but otherwise, we seldom interacted with each other.   

I didn’t turn the light switch on in my bedroom. I don’t need to after I’ve lived somewhere for some time as I can generally navigate my way from one room, half-asleep, and in darkness to the bathroom.  

I opened my bedroom door, crossed the hallway, and placed one foot inside the bathroom. In the mirror, something caught my eye, and I wondered whether my roommate was playing some practical joke on me.

This thought was brief. There, in the plastic tub, stood a young man with grey eyes, wearing a uniform with a divisional insignia on the upper arm and a service cap on his head. His hands rested by his sides. He spoke no words. Instead, his eyes full of pride stared at me, and I stared at his reflection through the mirror.  

I shifted. My mouth was parched, and my heart raced. I blinked a few times and hoped he would disappear. Then I turned my head to look directly into the eyes of the soldier and maybe to ask him what he wanted and why he was here.

But when I turned to face the phantom in the bathtub, he was no longer there.  

I sucked in a breath and stared into the mirror again.

This time the reflection was someone I thought I knew. Maybe it was some photo I saw as a child of a man in his twenties, dressed in a WWII uniform that I recognized. But, then again, perhaps that wasn’t it—because it was his smile too, I remembered on an older face when I was much younger. His jaw was set, and a thin smile crossed his lips, an expression that reassured me everything would be alright.  

I didn’t hesitate. I spun around to face the soldier, annoyed at the hallucinations that never said anything. There was no one to ask, though. The ghost was gone.   

My eyes drifted across the cheap, grey (but in daylight, white) shower curtain and across the tiled, chipped, ceramic floor. I didn’t want to do it—still, I did it anyway.

Dark eyes stared at me. I kept my eyes on the reflection in the mirror. There was sadness that flowed from this shadow. I can’t tell you how I know this because I can’t really explain it myself. Was it the way his eyes shone? Or was it because his mouth was nothing more than a line? Or if it was just the way he stood there in a white tank top, dog tags glimmered around his neck, and in cargo pants and with a gaze that rested on me.  

I placed a hand on the light switch and flicked the light on, and then, I searched the mirror and the bathtub and hunted for ghosts. But it was only me who stood there and stared at an empty bathtub.

I rubbed a hand to my forehead. What had happened? Was I sleep-walking? Had I dreamed the whole thing? Or had I done too many late nights working on third-year papers?  Or was it stress?

I used the washroom, quick as I could, went back to my room, and switched the lights on. I slept fitfully as I rolled back and forth and wondered if I had lost my mind or if three ghosts really had visited me.

When I woke the next day, something felt off. So, I made some calls and then made one more to the only person I’d ever known to have fought in a war.  

My paternal grandfather was a soldier for Greece during WWII. As a child, grandpa told me stories about how he’d been caught by German soldiers a few times and escaped and how he’d spent time at a prisoner camp. When I placed my call, my grandfather had suffered a few strokes but had recovered, and from what I knew, he was alright.  

I called and spoke to my uncle and grandmother and claimed it was only a quick call to say, “Hi,” and asked if my grandpa was, “Okay?”

I don’t remember what was said, but when I hung up, I was relieved because there was no need to worry.

Two days later, I received an email that said grandpa was sick. I don’t recall if my uncle said he’d had another stroke or if there was something else wrong.  What I do remember is this—three weeks later, my grandfather was dead.


Others love them.

They talk about the length and thickness of them. Sometimes, we’ll dress them up, dab black ink on them. Make them more defined: longer, more prominent, richer. Only when I joined the TET Club, did I find out about the secret others already knew. I’m still a new member. I joined, out of necessity, when, like everything else, they retaliated against me six years ago. It’s been a long six years. Worse yet, I know this battle will go on for decades.    

My enemy hides by tucking in amongst the others. You should know too, it also changes its color to white. This makes it hard to see. It reminds me of a polar bear that ambles across the snow-covered Arctic. Hard to know where the snow ends. And the bear begins.  Kind of makes it hard to pluck out the thing from the landscape that will kill you.

The silver glistens with the sun’s rays. Pointedly, it’s sharp. I tap a finger across the top as I bathe it with soap and rinse with warm water. It’s a requirement: the weapon must be sterilized. I’m still new to this. The older members of the TET Club, they know. Know what positions to be in, or have a contact name and number where they can hire a professional to make it, so.

Instead, here I am. My hand shakes. But I know this has to be done. If I lack the will to do it, I know I’ll spend my days blurry-eyed in slimy regret. I grab the top and bottom of the eyelids. Hold them wide open. Clasp the hairs down. The blue eyeball flutters at me. Tearful. But, my resolve is firm. It will take more than watery eyes to convince me to stand down.

With a flick of my wrist, I grab it—and tweeze the rebellious hair from my eyelid!

“Ow!!!!” I scream.

I place a hand on my eye to soothe the throbbing. Now, it’s only another eight curling, twirling, microscopic eyelash hairs that need to be plucked. Snapping the arms of my tweezers together, I ready myself. Then, I raise my weapon and point it at my new target.

Hope, don’t leave me.

I don’t need hope when everything I’ve wanted I get, every plan goes according to plan, and each step taken gives me a gold medal and cheering crowds at the end of a finish line. 

The belief that my future life might be better than my present or past, I cling to when I’ve lost so much, and then I misplace my plan. It’s those times when I’m cold, hungry, limping, bruised, and bleeding, and I cross the finish line to find no water and food, and an empty stadium.  

Hope forces me to pick myself up from those dark spaces and encourages me to take another step forward. Sometimes, the act of surviving is enough to propel me forward and to believe that sometime in the future, things might be just a little better. 

The Quicksand of Dona

In the quicksand of Dona, he waits. Saer sees nothing, though, as he tiptoes close by. Still, Saer searches the sand. He’s heard about the monster.  Today, the creature made things personal.

Saer stares up to the grey marsh tree where rope-like strings hang from it. The ropes would entice anyone to climb up its limbs, and temptation for a child is difficult to ignore.  Hands clasped into fists at Saer’s side, the marsh tree is the only one he’s ever seen. Gods, laugh, it’s almost as if the Creator placed it beside Quickie on purpose. 

Saer’s fear is trampled by rage.

He knows what his grandson wanted: Just a look at Quickie. One evening, when they’d stared up to the golden starred lights, his grandson had told him his plan to climb the marsh tree to see the monster. The child said he’d be safe from the beast. The grandfather did what any grandfather would have done—he told Ron not to do it. But as little boys are prone to do, he discarded his grandfather’s advice and did what he wanted. Or, that’s what Ron’s stricken, shaking friend Astrid said when she returned and told the people in Gerstar what happened to Ron. Still, Ron’s only six-years-old and should be allowed to make some mistakes—

No! Shaking his head, Saer won’t believe itnot yet.

“Where are you, Quicky?” Saer shouts. The old man stomps his feet on the river bank as he unpacks his forty-five-pound salamander shark from his bag. It was Saer’s prized catch, the one that would feed him and his son’s family for the next month. His son was always a quitter when he faced obstacles. So, of course, he’d begged him not to come.

Saer shakes his head. Is that fair? Jacob wept when he asked him not to risk his life because he was convinced Ron, his only child, was dead. After all, no one had ever survived a taking.  

Saer huffs, swears, and hisses between breaths. Saer is an old man, with more life behind him than in front of him. He came anyway. Old men and little boys are both the same. Stubborn. And yes, right now, fish are in short supply. Still, his grandson meant more to him than a full belly. They would find other ways to feed themselves. 

“Quicky!” the man barks.  

Red dots move in the sand. If Saer blinked, he wouldn’t have seen them. But Saer’s determined, and that makes his mind sharp. And there’s something else—something, no one else knows. He heard a word said today that he’s never heard before. The phlegm-filled gargled voice croaked one word, trade, and it was said when no one else was around. And before Saer knew his grandson had been taken.

Is it a trap? Does Quickie want to turn him into his dessert? Or does the monster really want a trade? More importantly, if the beast can talk to people, why has Saer never heard of this before? Was it even Quickie? Or is he an old man who now hears voices? “There are no guarantees,” Saer whispers to the mud. 

The hairs on Saer’s arms stand up from the northern wind. His feet sink into the mud, and sniffing once, he catches the increasing stench of rotting food.

Saer squints at the spot and watches the red dots circle. Moving in closer, Saer swings the shark across his shoulder. One black dot flutters back and forth, up and down. Then the white-bearded, white-haired man runs with the fish across his shoulder and jumps into the sand with the heels of his boots slamming down on a gel-like round form.

The serpent screeches! His thirteen tentacles rise up, and then the rippled, suction-cupped arms shake as if they’ve been jarred by a hard object. Something from ol’ Quickie is flung high into the air and lands on to the muddy, moss-laden embankment. 

“Here!” Saer says. “Take this! You wanted it!” Then Saer heaves and swings the shark at Quicky. A tentacle rises up and snaps the fish up in one sweeping motion. Saer jumps from one of Quickie’s arms to another, riding the limbs as if they were marbles on the floor. The grandfather shifts, lurches, and then finds the steadiness of his feet, only to lose them again when he leans to the right. Swaying, Saer moves closer to the quicksand’s edge, and then he jumps and dives next to whatever Quickie had thrown.

Ron lies on the embankment. Black webbed saliva drenches the child’s still body.  The six-year old’s chest rises and falls.

Saer hears a hissing from behind him. The red dotted with black pupil eye stares at the grandfather and the boy. One of the thirteen tentacles holds the shark. Then, Quicky recoils his limbs and slinks backward before he sinks beneath the sand. 

The grandfather doesn’t see this, though. His skin pricking with excitement, he runs towards Gerstar with his grandson in his arms.