Flash Fiction

I’m not sure where this is going just yet. Maybe nowhere. Or maybe this is a new series. Or a new book.

This is a continuation of “Raven’s Wrath” which I published a couple of weeks back. I liked the idea of there being more to it, so here it goes.

You couldn’t know this, but this installment connects the (possible) series to one of my unpublished novels by mentioning the concept of a ‘shadow glade,’ the guardians, and the fictional east Texas town of Parson’s Crossing. Which means if I keep writing this, you’ll get to meet some characters I know pretty well.

It could be fun . . .

raven’s wings

“Wait. What?” Heather was clearly confused.

Raven grunted as she continued to stuff clothes haphazardly into a bag. “You should pack,” she said. “We need to get the fuck out of here.”

“Maggie said that?” Heather asked still holding a half-eaten burger.

“No,” Raven explained. “Maggie said we fucked up. Maggie said the coven would be pissed. Maggie said it was too much.”

Heather remained in the doorway. “Too much?”

Raven tossed her bag to the side and began to gather toiletries from the bathroom. “Jesus, Heather, yes, too much.”

“But he posted a picture of your boobs. Online. Like, anyone can see it. He got what he had coming.”

Raven turned slowly. Her hands were full, but she just dropped everything she held onto the bed and walked over to Heather. She stood before her, glowering. “Do you know what we did?” she asked. “Do you know what actually happened?”

Heather’s voice was uncharacteristically quiet. “It was a simple spell,” she said.

Raven nodded. “That’s what I told Maggie.”

“It was a compulsion charm. He was just supposed to go to work the next day without pants on. Eye for an eye . . .” Her voice trailed off.

“We compelled him, alright,” Raven confirmed. “But not to go without pants. We got something wrong. Some nuance of the chant. Instead of leaving his place without pants, he tried to leave without . . . skin.”

“What?” Heather whispered.

“They found him collapsed in his front yard, dead from blood loss. He skinned himself from the waist down and still tried to go to work—because we compelled him to do so.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah. He’s fucked. We’re fucked. Maggie’s fucking pissed. The coven will want fucking blood. We have to go. Pack a bag or I’m leaving you here.”

“But, where will we go? They can find us anywhere.”

Raven finished cramming a few things into her duffle bag. “Not anywhere. Not in a shadow glade.”

“What shadow glade?”

“Parson’s Crossing. It’s in Texas.”

Heather was finally in motion, beginning to pack as Raven finished. “But the guardians. They’ll turn us in.”

“Not if they don’t know we’re there. We go. We lay low. We hide. We wait for the heat to blow over and then we reach out to Maggie and see if she’ll help us make this right. She can at least ensure we don’t hang for this.”

Heather turned white. “They’d hang us?”

“Or worse. We’re bad witches now, Heather. We need to hide or they’ll kill us for what we did. We have to run.”

There was a knock at the front door.

“We have to run now,” Raven said. She grabbed her bag and Heather’s wrist and they slipped out the back.

Maggie probably could have stopped them, but she didn’t.

Flash Fiction

I make promises. I break ’em. But I swear, I do intend to be more consistent in writing fiction. It’s good for me, and it’s fun.

To prove my intent, here’s a quick little something to . . . brighten up? . . . your Friday.

Once more, a prompt from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘confidential’, ‘midnight’, and ‘troll’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

raven’s wrath

“He’s just a troll. They’re all over the internet.”

“I told you that in confidence,” Raven said.

Heather rolled her eyes. “You need to lighten up. We’re taking care of it.”

It was 3 minutes ‘till midnight.

“Besides,” Heather continued. “The pictures looked real enough. Nice rack you got there.”

Raven glared. “You looked?”

“Of course. I may be straight, but I like boobs.”

“Well,” Raven said, “Let’s see how our troll likes my response.”

They chanted, and when they were done, a man-child Raven had briefly dated learned a powerful lesson. Don’t fuck with a witch—even online.

Flash Fiction

“It’s all too much.”

That’s what I told her. She gave me that look. You know the one. I know you know the one.

I sighed because that’s what I do when she gives me that look.

“It’s not complicated,” she said.

I cocked my head to the side. Had I been a cat, I would have made that “merrrra?” noise they make when they meow a question.

“It really isn’t,” she said.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“We go in,” she said matter-of-factly, “we deal with it, and we get out.”

That made me grin. I didn’t want to. I tried to keep a straight face, I really did, but I couldn’t do it.

“We ‘deal with it’?” I asked.

“Mmhmm,” she said.

I knew what she wanted. She wanted me to ask. God damn her.

You know what she’s like? She’s like a perfect storm building on the horizon. There’s lightning and distant rolling thunder and you can smell the rain, the scent of it blowing in on the breeze, and right about the time you think to yourself, “It’ll be nice to fall asleep to the sound of the rain tonight,” you hear the fucking tornado sirens go off.

That’s what she’s like. All beauty and chaos. A bouquet of toxic flowers.

God, I love her.

“Fuck you,” I said.

She looked shocked and slightly wounded. It was a lie. All part of the show, folks. It’s what she does. It’s how she charms me.

“You have a better plan?” she asked.

“No,” I clarified. “I’m not saying that. I just think it might help if you flesh yours out a bit.”

“Which part?” she asked.

“The ‘deal with it’ part,” I said.

“Oh. That part.”

“Yes. That part.”

“You know,” she said. “Deal with it. Stabby, stabby with the stakes. We’ve done it dozens of times before. I don’t know why you’re acting like this one is different.”

I caught her smirking as she said it, that shit-eating grin she gets when she knows she’s saying something careless and utterly improbable.

“I mean, I think this time’s a little different,” I offered.

“A little,” she conceded.

“That’s the part I need help with,” I said.

She shrugged, pulling on her tactical vest. I love the way it hugs her, hosters lined up against her breasts. Is there anything as sexy as boobs and bullets? No. No, there is not.

Not that guns would do us a lot of good where we were going. I knew we’d take them anyway. Trust me, if you’ve got to get away quick, you feel better doing it with a gun in your hand. But all the coverfire in the world wouldn’t save us if this thing went sideways.

She picked up a stake.

“Ah, yes,” I said. “Stabby, stabby.”

She nodded. “See? Basically the same.”

“Except,” I clarified, “this time we’re going up against royalty. The heads of the oldest clan in the new world. They’re stronger. They’re quicker. There are at least a dozen of them. And they live in a fucking castle. A castle in the middle of Texas. We’ve never taken on anyone as strong them, so I think it’s a little more complicated than normal.”

She maneuvered around the table, pushing supplies and assorted weapons to the side. Her hips grazed the edge. Her ass found its way onto the surface, her legs wrapping around me and pulling me in.

Because that’s what she does. She’s a siren and this is her song. Her fingertips grazed the outside curve of my right breast, one hand high and the other sliding down my lower back until she finds something to grab onto.

She kissed me. It was hard and wet and strong. She bit my lip as she pulled back, a coppery taste lingering where she pierced the skin.

“See, the thing is,” she whispered, “this is what we do. And we don’t stop because it’s hard. We don’t shy away when others would. Fuck that. We rise up. It’s what we do.”

I could feel my nipples getting hard at the sound her words and I went light-headed because I knew. I knew what would happen next.

It was all too much.

Too much to resist. Too much to ignore. Too much to walk away from, no matter what common sense dictated.

“What we do,” I heard myself repeat.

“Yes,” she purred. “What we do. So get your gear and get your ass in the car. We have vamps to kill.”

Fuck me. I can hear tornado sirens in my head and I don’t care.

It’s too much and not enough, all at the same time.

Flash Fiction

It’s been a while. Too long.

I know. Things I’ve said before. But I mean it. I used to publish here every week, and life kind of forced a pause on that. A lot has changed, but I miss the writing. I intend to start it up again, slowly, like easing into freezing waters.

How very poetic of me. Look at that. I already sound like someone trying to sound like a writer. Some things don’t change.

This week’s prompt is from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘crate’, ‘nerve’, and ‘simultaneous’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

Let’s do this.

the crate

I stood in front of the crate for at least 5 minutes, trying to work up the nerve.

In the end, I didn’t even do it. There was this noise, like a wounded animal, and a simultaneous thump from inside. Hard.

The wood splintered and cracked, and I just stood there, eyes closed, while whatever was inside came. I could feel it breathing on me, smell the stench of its breath, before it howled and took off.

I don’t know where it went. I don’t want to know.

I hope I’m never near that thing again.

Flash Fiction

It’s been far too long since I posted any fiction. Time to change that, though I’m easing back in with something super-short. Just 98 words.

The prompt comes from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘floss’, ‘history’ and ‘sketch’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

I hope you enjoy it.

the dentist

“Have you been flossing?” he asked with a little too much trill in his voice. His patient did not answer.

“You know the history of dental care, don’t you?” he continued. “A great deal of it was extraction.”

He tugged hard and another tooth popped free.

“A bit sketchy, really. I mean, it does nothing for gum disease.”

Tug. Pop.

“Just primitive.”

He wiped his blood-soaked fingers.

“It’s a good thing we got that tongue first. I have so much more room.”

His patient moaned in protest, but it would do no good.

“Now, where is my drill?”

Flash Fiction

This week, another redo. I promise to bring you something fresh next week.

But first, I’d like to revisit one of my favorite short stories. It’s simple and quick, with a nice little reveal at the end. I like the punchiness of it.

I made only minor edits to the original. Enjoy.

tender embrace

“You’re mucking it all up,” he said.

“That’s a point of view,” she replied.

“No, that’s a fact.”

She sighed. “I forget how difficult it is for your kind to distinguish perception from reality.”

“Perception is reality,” he said.

“Thank you for making my point.”

He opened his mouth to speak and then thought better of it. After a moment’s reflection, he wagged his index finger and said, “None of that. None of your riddling. I’ll not allow you to turn this into a war of words.”

She smiled benevolently at him. “What sort of war would you prefer, sir?”

He blustered, his hands forming fists and his cheeks turning red. Along the left side of his forehead, just above the eyebrow, the thick thread of a single vein could be seen. It looked ready to burst.

He held a book in his right hand. Reflexively, he lifted it and began to sift through its pages.

“That trinket will do you no good here, sir,” she said casually.

“Trinket? Why, this is–”

“I know full well what it is. I don’t come to your home and insult your intelligence. I’ll thank you to show me the same courtesy.”

“No,” he said. “You merely come to my home and kill people.”

It can be so difficult to explain to a human, she thought. “I don’t kill.”

He hefted the book before his face with two hands as though its weight required a double grip. “I said in the cutting off of my days,” he read, “I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years.”

She made a small gesture and the book lifted out of his hands. He stared at it, awed and terrified. She made a second gesture and the book closed on its own and floated to her.

“What makes you think I’m the one who deprives you?” she asked.

His eyes remained transfixed on the book.

“This,” she said looking down at it. Her fingertips ran along the leather spine. “Yes, this is sacred. This is truth. This is so much more and so much less than your kind understands. What it says about me most of all. Sir, answer me, why do you blame me? Why seek me out? Why try to stop me from performing my duty?”

“You are the enemy of man,” he said. “You must be stopped.”

She smiled at him again, not unkindly. “Let me ask you a question. You say you sought me out?”

“Yes.”

“To stop me?”

“Yes.”

“Under what circumstances would I meet with a man, face-to-face?”

He recoiled in shock. “No . . .”

She moved forward and placed a hand on his shoulder. Looking gently into his eyes, she said, “Yes, my dear, sweet, noble man. Yes. It is already done, else you would not be here.”

And then Death wrapped her arms around him and held him tight in her tender embrace.

Flash Fiction

I’m sorry for the fiction hiatus. It’s been a long month, full of ups and downs. Most weeks I’ve just been too drained. I’ve started a few stories, but finished none.

And this week, I’m cheating. Sort of. I’m dusting off an old story originally published on my site all the way back in 2012. I’d forgotten about it, but I like it. Quite a lot, actually. It’s got a nice sense of balance.

So, with a few edits, here it is. Enjoy it, and forgive the repeat. It’s not like you’ve read the original, anyway.

leaving the fold

“Ester, you must go to The Binding. You must. Jedidiah will be sorely vexed if you do not.”

Ester looked into Rahab’s eyes. She’d known Rehab all her life. Until three weeks ago, she’d never spent more than a few hours outside her company. That was before she wander away from the group in town. They were buying supplies.

That’s where she met Eddie.

“You were named for a whore,” Ester told Rahab. “Have you ever thought to ask your Pa why he named you that?”

Rahab recoiled from the words. “She’s in the geneology of Matthew,” she whispered. “She saved God’s people.”

“And she was a whore.”

Rahab’s lip quivered, her eyes filling with tears.

“The Binding . . .” Rahab said, still reeling.

“I’m not going.”

“But you’re promised to Jedidiah. You’re to be his wife.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“But the elders have decided it. It is God’s will. It is God’s way. It is –”

“Not my choice. I’m not going.” Ester looked into Rahab’s eyes. Her friend was badly shaken. She sighed.

That first day, meeting Eddie, it had been the same way for her.

“What the fuck you dressed that way for?” he asked.

Her cheeks turned red at the use of the devil’s tongue, but she talked to him anyway. Perhaps her heart was already gone, even before her feet were willing to follow. It certainly hadn’t taken Eddie long to convince her.

She only wanted a few things – a necklace that had been her mother’s, a couple of dresses, just until she could get some normal clothes, and her dowry. It was, after all, more than ten grand. Enough to buy freedom and a new life.

“You can come with me, Rahab. If you want.”

“What? Leave home? Leave the fold?”

“It’s all shit anyway,” Ester said.

“Such profanity!”

“They’re just words. Come with me. Please.”

“I can’t.” Rahab’s tears dried at the idea of betrayal.

“You can and you should. All of this is bullshit.”

“Why do you keep saying things like that?”

“Because they’re true. Rahab, you don’t have to be Bound to Seth. You could make your own choices. Think about it. Isn’t that what you think God really wants? For you to choose? This life – the way we’re forced to live – this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.”

“You’ve become an abomination!” Rahab declared.

Ester closed her bag and shook her head, defeated. She moved toward the door, preparing to slip out into the night.

“You’ll burn,” Rahab said, her voice flat with judgment and finality. “You’ll burn in hell if you leave the fold, and I’ll not weep for you.”

Ester closed her eyes. She wanted to hug Rahab, but she did not. Instead she simply said, “I’ll weep for you,” and left.

Flash Fiction

I heard someone reference the game “Fuck, Marry, Kill” this past week, and it immediately struck me as the basis of a story. After all, there’s a name in there. If you tease it out.

When I started this, that’s all I had. A name. But it flowed right into The Assassin Diaries beautifully, even though the unnamed assassin isn’t the primary character. I couldn’t resist. He’s my favorite hitman, after all.

And Mary. I’m definitely going to have to write more about her.

fuck mary kill

It was a joke. A lame-ass joke, and it stuck.

It was my first job. I needed an alias, and 19 year-old me thought “Mary Kill” would be funny. You know, like people would hear I was coming and say, “Fuck! Mary Kill!”

Here’s the thing about hitmen. Hit-people. Whatever. They’re not the most jovial individuals. I didn’t even get a snicker.

Instead, they just started calling me Mary. I wasn’t about to tell them my real name, and that first job actually went really well. It was a two-and-two – double marks, double frames. The deaths didn’t even appear to be related.

I was suddenly the goddess of death. With a stupid fucking name.

But the contracts came pouring in. Contrary to what you might see in movies, attractive female assassins are rare. Most assassins are former military. They’re a rugged and resourceful crew. I’ve met a few lookers, but most of them are downright homely. And honestly, that helps. You don’t stand out.

I came into a killing career a little differently. You know that myth about the med student who strips on the side to pay her way through college? That’s me. Only I don’t strip. I kill. And it’s not for college.

I know I’m supposed to feel bad about it. The killing part. I don’t. The lion doesn’t mourn the gazelle.

My shrink tells me that makes me a psychopath. I flash my gun, he looks unimpressed, and then we get back to talking about my mom.

The point is, my personality doesn’t fit the profile. Like, at all. I’m young, I’m easy on the eyes, and when I’m not plotting a lucrative death, I’m doing pretty normal shit.

I go to dance clubs. I hang out at bars. I even date. Sometimes. Guys are morons.

Oh, but I know what you’re wondering. How does a girl like me get into a career like this? I have a connection.

My mentor would likely cringe at that title. He’s all business, most of the time, at least. Very proper. He was supposed to kill me, but I talked him out of it.

Okay. That’s a stretch. I just showed him my ID. He doesn’t do minors.

But I was an epic loose end, and I wasn’t really digging on the parental units, so I made a deal. I wouldn’t say a word if he’d take me in and teach me the craft. I have ambitions. I need a bit of cash to bankroll my dreams.

How very The Professional of me.

He was understandably hesitant. But he’s a softy at heart, even if he doesn’t want anyone to know. And he’s really guarded. I don’t even know his name.

He told me to just call him “Simon.” He said it with an absolutely wicked grin.

I did my first mark a week after I turned 18. Simon got paid, but that was my kill. It was more than a year before he put me in touch with his handler and I got a proper job. Since then, it’s been faster kill, pussycat.

And everyone calls me Mary. Fucking Mary Kill.

Laugh it up, asshole. It doesn’t phase me. Just pray no one asks me to pay you a visit. I’m one helluva first date.

Flash Fiction

This is the first draft of my first attempt to write a fable. It’s largely inspired by a series of books I’m reading, The Fairyland Series.

They’re fantastic. Better than what follows, frankly, though I’m pleased with how this came out, especially for something I haven’t yet revised or refined.

It’s long for my typical flash fiction, but still short enough to qualify. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Don’t be shy. The comment box is right there, inviting your feedback.

the restless spirit

Before there were Wi-Fi connections or vacuum cleaners, before there were big cities or sedans, even before there were nations or rulers, there were people. They lived in a single village, and their days were spent hunting and gathering.

They hunted small animals and big animals, but mostly small animals because they didn’t yet have an intricate system of tools or weapons, and the big animals could bite rather hard. They gathered whatever they could find – fruit, vegetables, even sticks and mud and rocks – because there wasn’t much else to gather, and they weren’t particularly picky.

All they cared about was food and shelter. And really, that’s two of the three things you and I care about. The third is connection. We want to love and be loved. But the first people didn’t feel this final need because the first people didn’t yet know how to talk.

They lived in the village, not to bond, but for purely pragmatic reasons. They could gather more. Hunt bigger things. It was safer in the deep dark of the night to huddle with other human beings than to hide away in a cave by yourself.

The first village wasn’t a fun place.

During that time, there were many spirits that roamed the world. Most of them are still here today, but their wandering ways have changed. In that day, they explored freely, doing as they pleased, never bothering to hide.

Who would they hide from? All the people in the world were in one place, and the spirits didn’t really care if they were seen, anyway.

The spirits were of all sorts. There were joyful spirits and angry spirits. Spirits of spite and spirits of compassion. And there was one extremely restless spirit.

The restless spirit sensed change on the horizon. How long would people be content in their mud huts with wild berries and unseasoned rabbit stew? Probably not long.

Something, the restless spirit thought, should be done about the potential rise of these hairless would-be upstarts.

And so the restless spirit, who was quite cunning in its own right, manifested itself in the form of a great, wild bear. Bears are strong and large and more than a little scary, even when they’re not hungry or upset.

The restless spirit attacked the village, rending stick shacks and slashing at the inhabitants. A few of the people were killed, but they scattered and hid like roaches when the lights come on. (Like today’s roaches, that is. The roaches of antiquity were as big as small dogs and they hid from no one. Be glad they moved on to wherever giant insects retire.)

The restless spirit left the village in ruins, not a single building still standing, but there was far too little blood to wipe from its paws. In a matter of days the people rebuilt the village, silently working until every hunt was restored. This frustrated the restless spirit, who determined to strike again.

This time it took on the form of a pack of wolves. Wolves are many and harder to hide from. They run quickly and can corner whole groups of people, their rabid jaws snatching and biting.

They came at night, howling and rushing back and forth along the dirt walkways of the village. They flung themselves against the walls of the new hunts, and the hunts came tumbling down. (The first people weren’t exactly master craftsmen.)

Again, the people scattered. The wolves cornered a few, ripping into flesh and ending the lives of a handful. But the second attempt was much like the first. There were only a few casualties. Not enough to put a true dent in their numbers. The restless spirit grew more restless and decided to consider its next move more carefully.

For its third attack, the restless spirit chose snakes and spiders. Both are frightening to look at, and both are armed with poison. Rather than storming in and making a commotion, the restless spirit slithered and crept in at twilight, making use of shadow and stealth. When the people lied down to sleep, it hissed and scampered and bit, bit, bit.

It bit with the long, sharp fangs of the cobra and the tiny, needle-thin fangs of the black widow. It pierced skin and left sickness and death in its wake. The people were much afraid, and more of their numbers died. But the snakes and spiders did not go unseen, and rather than running, the surviving people gathered together in the middle of the village where they built a large fire. The snakes were afraid, and the spiders too darkly colored to hide from the light of the flames. The people trampled any spider that drew near and waved flaming sticks at the snakes.

The restless spirit was defeated once again. It retreated a third time, taking even longer to devise another scheme. Weeks passed before it conceived of its fourth plan. Rats.

Contrary to what you may think you know about rats, they are not aggressive animals. In fact, they get along swimmingly with people and even make wonderful pets. Rats aren’t especially dirty animals, either. However, they tend to carry diseases that can easily be passed along to humans, and this was the core of the restless spirit’s plan.

It found a few sick rats and spread that sickness to many more, and then sent the rats into the village to live among the people, who eventually got sick, too.

This time even more died, wasting away before the people knew what was happening. But they caught on. They removed the bodies of the dead from the village and burned the hunts of those who died. In doing so, they rid themselves of both the germs (which, of course, they knew nothing about) and the rats, who had taken up residence in the empty homes.

The restless spirit cursed, calling out to the earth and sky. What would it take to undo humanity? How could it defeat the people and ensure they never seize upon the full extent of their potential? What sort of attack would that take?

It pondered this, not for days or weeks, but for months leading into years. And then one day while wandering along the shore of the only sea, talking to itself in search of an answer, it came up with its fifth and final plan.

The restless spirit took on the shape of a person and made its way to the village. The other people were skeptical of the new-comer, but ultimately accepting. After a time, the restless spirit began to grunt to get their attention, or hum as it gathered, or cry out as it hunted. One day it pointed to a rock and said, slowly, “Rock.”

And the people listened.

It took an agonizingly long time, but over the course of years the restless spirit taught the first village to talk. And two things happened.

The people of the first village discovered friendship and love. They could put words to their thoughts. They hunted better, gathered more, built more impressive homes, and grew to care about each other.

Except when they didn’t. For sometimes one person wouldn’t like another. And that’s when the second thing happened.

Gossip. Lies. Horribly mean verbal attacks that torn apart friendships and cut at the first people’s hearts.

And smiling to itself, the restless spirit left the village.

It knew the people would continue to build bigger, greater things. That they would one day dominate the planet and all her other residents. But they would never be as great as they could be, and that’s really all the restless spirit wanted.

For the tongue can sooth and comfort. It can heal and create. It can make wrong things right, and restore even the most broken relationships.

But it can hurt and destroy and kill, too.

Words are stronger than a wild bear, more cunning and quick than a pack of wolves, more threatening and poisonous than snakes or spiders, and more insidious and crippling than diseased rats.

Words, the restless spirit realized, can divide. And divided, humanity will never achieve what it could united.

Flash Fiction

I get on these kicks sometimes. I’ll find a fictional device and I want to play with it, exploring it from different angles. If you read last week’s story, you’ll get it. This one uses a similar structure.

Some of this stuff is straight from my actual nightmares. As such, I find this particular story haunting. Eh, it might not scare you. Horror is extremely personal that way.

Regardless, I’d love to know your thoughts. If you like it or hate it, speak up. Tell me what you think in the comments.

devil’s kiss

I woke with a start. Immediately I noticed the room didn’t feel right.

It’s hard to explain. My nightstand was there. The lamp. The alarm clock, those sideways eyes staring me down, blinking, relentlessly declaring the passing of time. A silent scream I can only ignore when I sleep.

But everything was all wrong, too.

The windows weren’t quite square, the tops tapered just enough to leave me uneasy. The blinds rattled in the breeze, and I struggled to remember why I’d left them open. I could hear rain, and the rational part of my brain, the part not really awake yet, tried to tell the rest of me I needed to close them to keep the sills from getting wet.

There was more.

Little things out of place on the dresser. The sense that my bed was shorter than it should have been. No glow from the streetlamp outside. Darkness enveloped me, like a thick blanket on a warm night, and I couldn’t seem to kick my feet free.

It felt like a caricature of my room. An artist’s rendition. It was close, but not accurate.

The darkness hung in the corners like the shadows had mass. They ran under the bed when lightning struck. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her.

She was short. Maybe five feet tall. Her hair was a tangled mess of black curls and leaves. She smelled like autumn and tasted, I thought, of dirt, though how I would know such a thing I had no idea.

She swayed beside the bed, not four feet away.

I strained to make out her silhouette in the dark, but she might as well have been a ghost. There was a flash and, like a cat, she was somehow closer by a foot. Her head was down, her face hidden in shadow and hair.

Another bolt, and she was closer. I could hear her nails scratching on the caked surface of her nightgown. Was this a neighbor, sleep walking in the middle of a thunderstorm? How had she gotten in? Was it safe to wake her?

Flash. She was beside the bed, near enough to touch. But I didn’t want to touch her. The pale hue of her flesh glowed in the aftermath of the lightning, and I became certain her skin would be cold to the touch. Not cool from the rain. Cold and . . . dead?

I felt panic rise in me, and I tried to move. Only I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand, or sit up, or even roll away. I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out. I strained, pushing myself to vocalize something, anything, but my lungs pushed out empty air and frustration.

Light filled my vision, and she was straddling me. I hadn’t even felt her climb on top. Her head hung down and I still couldn’t see that face – that horrible face, for I was certain she was a demon. A specter. A tormentor, and I, her prey.

I felt her weight settle on me, her crouch pressed against mine like we were making love with our clothes on, me and the mysterious dead girl. But I felt nothing. No inclination to caress or thrust. I wanted to vomit, but all I could produce was another neutered cry for help.

Flash.

She was leaning forward. I saw her lips, dry and cracked, blood oozing and glistening in the blue-white light of the storm. She was moving to kiss me, and something inside me knew, simply knew, that if she did it would kill me.

I began to thrash, moving what little I could, trying to break the paralysis. I strained my throat to produce even the smallest sound, and somewhere deep within my chest I felt it coming – the scream I wanted so badly to produce.

Just as her hair tickled my face, as I smelled her sour-sweet breath, as her ashen hand caressed my cheek, it happened. My voice broke through and I bellowed with enough force to break the spell, jolting myself from the nightmare.

I woke with a start. Immediately I noticed the room didn’t feel right . . .