He is Here
The phantom is here
Hollow eyes, gruesome face
He walks the streets
The image of death.
Hollow eyes, gruesome face
People believe he is
The image of death
They run in terror.
People believe he is
Present in our world
They run in terror
Hiding is no use.
Present in our world
He walks the streets
Hiding is no use
The phantom is here.
In the throne room of the Heiling castle, behind the two thrones was an elegant silver weaved tapestry. Woven thread by thread in shiny, flowing lengths was a long, noble family. And with loving detail was each face stitched.
Save for a singular dark stain that tainted the artwork.
And this is where careful fingers caressed as if fearful of the man behind it. Sammy turned around knowing that no matter the lies he told his thoughts he would be back here again. He recalled the first time, as he watched the seamstress omit his face. Believing such a dark, mourning time to be over.
Sadly the memories like scars, would never truly fade. They would remain. Marring an otherwise happy childhood.
Outside the room another boy stood faithfully, waiting as duty and image desired of him. Like the prince, Tyler was dark haired and now wore elegant clothes of red and silver. Yet ever watchful eyes and knife-like claws hinted of a less than honorable past.
The last sort to be given such covetous command of a royal's life.
Finally, the doors opened revealing his royal friend. "Are you alright Prince Sammy?" he asked taking note of his dejected posture.
"I'm fine," he replied, hiding behind a smile but still unable to conceal the haunted look of his eyes. "Besides I told you, don't be so formal."
Tyler persisted just a little longer. Until Sammy reminded him of a dirty secret, equally occulted, and likely much, much more vile.
"Very well," he surrendered, dropping the matter. "What's next on the schedule?" Was his next formal inquiry.
"My history lesson and then we're going to the village," he answered catching Tyler quite unawares and off guard. Sammy had grown notorious for his isolation. For mysterious reasons he held a deep mistrust of even his own people. That to suggest such an outing... was simply ludicrous.
"Why?" Tyler asked, suddenly suspicious himself. Of what, he conceded to not know for certainty.
"I still owe you a sword and a belt I believe is my costs," Sammy answered lightly.
Tyler was reminded more sharply of that by said item's absence. Meaning no sheath, and no touch of cool metal silently vigilant and silently grounding.
Three weeks. Three weeks of lockdown. Puffing on a cigarette, I look between the thick curtains into the street. Guer, a village in Brittany, France, was already quiet before.
Now, it’s dead.
It has become the home of birds chirping and ducks kwaking. Not too bad. I would be okay if it wasn’t for the heat. I wipe my forehead, dripping sweat under my thick and curly hair. I hate the heat. It’s only April and it’s already 28°C here. I thought that by going up north, I would escape my personal hell. But it’s even worse now.
The south of France, Marseille, was my home before. Back there, the temperatures would go up to sometimes more than 35°C. But we had the sea wind of the Méditerrannée. Fresh and strong, it was a relief. I’m not on the oceanic coast here. I’m inland, in the magical Brocéliande forest. The territory of Arthur and Mirdin. So, no fresh and strong wind. At least my father isn’t here. Which is nice…
I get away from the window and leave my L-shaped living room. My black cat, Chewey, is as hungry as I am. Inside my small kitchen, I open the fridge, the fresh air soothing my burning skin. I take a glass water bottle and press it against my cheek, moaning in relief. After a few seconds of desperate meowing, I give in and offer some patty to the famished beast and grab some potato salad for myself. Tomorrow, I’ll eat samosas.
That’s what my life has become. Waiting, cooking, eating, waiting again. I’m 28 years old and I have no job, no relationship, no friends and I live in a state-funded apartment. At least I have my unemployment checks, but it will not last forever. With the lockdown, it will be complicated to find some work to do… My last one was on the Monolith’s site of Monteneuf. As a guide and storyteller around the legends surrounding the gigantic and so-called magical rocks. Legends that had been passed through generations, of antique powers and sightings. It was nice. All the children were adorable, with sparkling eyes of awe, imagining fae and sometimes stone giants roaming the land. But it’s over now. It lasted three weeks.
I sit down at the dining table, with my potatoes and a beer. Seriously, what have I become? Okay, I suffer from depression and anxiety. But as my father always says: “It’s not an excuse. You’re Brunet and a woman. You have to work ten times harder than anyone”. I hop from job to job, I have no prospects. I’m a failure. The smell of vinegar and spices fills the room as I eat. I’m bored. And it’s the worst feeling. One of the most dangerous ones. It leads to apathy, which leads to depression.
I had hopes and dreams before. I would become an author. Write to represent and empower women, share our struggles and victories. It was my life goal. I was talking about it all the time. But my parents weren’t receptive. They wanted me to have a “respectable job,” they said. Lawyer or doctor or anything of the sort. They wanted me to have all they didn’t have. I went to law school. But being the only poor woman was hard. Harassment, sexist insults, sexual assault… I suffered my first depression… and worse.
I know, I know... “It’s not an excuse.” Or so said my parents, especially my father. But I was really at my lowest and I dropped out. They stopped talking to me. Except, of course, when my father kept reminding me through passive-aggressive messages what a disappointment I was.
The last time I saw them was at my grandmother’s funeral, three years ago. She had taken me in. Had helped me get into therapy. With all her might, she had shielded me against the attitude of her son-in-law. She was amazing. My only friend. Now I’m alone. And I have no goals, no dreams, nothing left.
Sipping on my beer --which I know I shouldn’t drink with my meds--, I look at my TV screen. A character is choking one of his minions with his magic. The man is a bad guy but I can’t stop feeling for him. Then I realise it’s because he makes me think of myself. Losing my breath and my mind over something invisible, intangible, that I can’t control and that I can’t fight.
I slowly put my beer on the table. I don’t want to be like that poor lad. Because he’s a mass murderer but also because, unlike him, I have weapons against my own great villain. I have my anti-depressant meds, anti-anxiety meds, and my sheer will. I’m strong. And I have plenty of time, thanks to the quarantine, to do something with myself.
Like a sleepwalker, I go to my bookshelves and pick one of my notebooks. A grey leather bound that I used so much the cover got wrinkly and some pages are torn. I go to the end, where I have last written. It was four years ago, the outline of a YA fantasy. The story of a young, powerful girl that discovers she has the ability to see her Ancestors and draw power from them. I had everything, a complete outline, character sheets, timeline, everything. Then, my Grandma got sick. And I forgot everything about it.
Grandma was really excited to see me working on this. She wanted me to succeed. And I want it too. Even if I don’t get published, I want to at least finish a first draft. I stand up, the notebook in my hand. I’m gonna do this.
I stand on the top of a chair. I don’t know why I’m doing this. The typewriter, a yellowy-white and bulky, electric one, is so heavy I can’t breathe while trying to carry it over my head. Why did I put that goddamn thing on the top of my wardrobe? Its weight crushes my sore muscles, challenging my balance. The heat of the early afternoon transformed my bedroom into an oven. I can taste my salty sweat as I finally manage to take the typewriter against my chest. I wobble a bit, the chair creaking under me, and take a breath. Okay, it’s secured. I get down and go to my living room. I must look like a weird crab, walking like that.
I don’t have an office or even a desk space. So I put the typewriter at one extremity of the dining table. It will have to do. Why don’t I use my laptop? Well… that typewriter was my Grandma’s. And since I’m partially doing it in her honour, it’s only logical. Or at least it was when I took the decision. I plug the monster in. Chewey jumps on the table to sniff it. He meows, curious. This spot is usually his. That machine has taken his place.
“You will have to deal with it, Chewey,” I say, listening to the humming of the typewriter.
The black keyboard is hard to press. I put a sheet of paper in. The clicking is satisfying. Then I type my name. The keys fight against me, refusing to smoothly work like modern ones. I’m used to typing without thinking. Those black squares are gripped, heavy. Now, I have to own each letter, one by one. At last, I sigh in relief. The ink is still kicking! Not as pure black as it could be but certainly there. I smile. The first time in ages.
I grab my laptop and search for a live write-in on Youtube. Of course, there aren’t any, since most of them are held by Americans. So I use a replay. I don’t feel lonely anymore. Don’t get me wrong, Chewey is… as good company as could be. But it’s not the same as human beings. I can’t talk with him. A cat won’t exchange ideas, won’t give me a warm smile, try to pick me up when I doubt myself, or ask me for advice. It won’t joke either. My cat doesn’t even cuddle.
While listening to the intro of the video, I go over my chapter-by-chapter outline once again. It’s not bad! As the voice of the host fills the room, a shadowy presence kicking away the loneliness, I start to imagine my characters. Alive and moving. A seven minutes sprint starts. It takes me a minute to jump into it. I’m nervous. But the words start to flow. Around the world, dozens of writers had spent those seven minutes putting in as many words as they could. Together, they had worked to make the world a better place. And I’m joining them through time.
Malorie held her breath. The deer was drinking peacefully in the river…
For a few minutes, I forget about myself and become Malorie. Little by little, she’s coming alive under my fingers. Her tan skin is shining under the sun, with golden undertones. Her braided hair smells like rich almond oil. She is powerful, confident. Too much sometimes, but she deserves it. She can be afraid too because she doesn’t accept her gift. She doesn’t understand her link to her Ancestors. All those women within her family line who held the same power. She doesn’t know she can harness it. Harness their strength.
She avoids the guards, she needs to find food and she’s going to hunt that deer. The law of the invaders doesn’t matter to her. Her muscles tense, as she aims her hunting bow. She has to be swift. The men in arms aren’t far. She won’t go to prison. Not again…
Letting myself flow with the story is peaceful. Alongside other writers from all around the globe, I write. All their silhouettes sit around me. They type, they scribble with their pens and pencils. Some of them men, others women. Young and old, of any ethnicity. We work as one. And I’m not alone anymore. One of them sips coffee and the smell fills the room. I tell a joke and a few laughs. It’s exhilarating.
As I knew I would, I’m struggling with the typewriter. I go from one live write-in video to the other. Each host is funny and encourages me to keep going. Some hold seven minutes writing sprints, others go to fifteen or even twenty-five. We work. I work. And it’s amazing.
At the end of the day, I reread the chapter and realise that I’ve put a lot of myself into Malorie. A lot of my insecurities, doubts and aspirations. It’s not too bad. I write what I know and it’s the first time I’ve attempted to create a full-fleshed character. So… yeah, I think it’s okay. Maybe a bit too “fanficey” for a novel but I can rework this in the edits.
I go take a bath to relax. The lukewarm water takes away all the stress and questioning from my mind. As my muscles relax, I think about today. I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve been proactive. It’s been so long since I’ve done something! A feeling of pride takes over me. I can do this. I definitely can… I’ve never finished a first draft, it’s true. But we all start from somewhere. I’m almost thirty and I’ve never studied in that field. But I wouldn’t be the first author to do it that way. With this tardiness. I’m behind, compared to a lot of people. Some teenagers have already finished multiple first drafts and even edited them. I don’t know anymore.
So… Can I do this? While dressing in a fresh nightgown, I start to wonder. How many times have I been like this? Overexcited and proud, doing something, sure I could accomplish something grandiose. Just to stop after a few days, once my fire had disappeared. No. I have to stop thinking about this, I say to myself. I have to stay positive. It’s possible. I’m not the only one going through this and I don’t have less value than the next writer. I just need to stay focused and work my arse off. Keep it up, Miranda!
I lay down in my bed. The window is open to let the fresh air of the night get in. I can smell the rose bushes downstairs and grass. As I fall asleep, I start dreaming of the sound of the typewriter and hear someone whispering my name.
My name is now Malorie. I don’t know how but I know I’m dreaming. The rocks of the maquis are scratching and burning my bare feet. My palm is moist around the body of my bow. I kneel, looking around me. I’m close to the river. The shadow of the pine trees is long under the sun.
Someone is approaching. A presence behind my back. I hear them breathing, panting. They are going up the hill I’m standing on. Horses are drinking, far away. I want to stand up and run. Reach the river to hop on a horse and get away. But I can’t move.
“It’s stupid, this is your dream, you can control it. And you don’t have to be afraid, none of it is real!” I say to myself. But I can’t help it. My heart starts racing and I can’t move. I try to stand up but even if I imagine my movements nothing happens. It should be a beautiful dream where I get to be my beloved character but it’s ruined.
I don’t know how long I stay there. The sun doesn’t move, I keep hearing and feeling the person walking toward me. But they never reach me. And I just stay there, like an idiot. Until I wake up.
Sounds in the night
The scorching sun wakes me up at 8 a.m. and I’m not happy about it. But, at least, it gives me more time to write. So I decide to be happy about it. As happy as can be. It saved me from the nightmare I was having after all. My kitchen is still cool, so I run to it after closing the window and curtains of my bedroom. I grab my breakfast and go to the living room.
Last night, I left my little workspace in shambles. Pages were everywhere, there was a plate and the typewriter was unplugged. Everything is pristine. I think someone even wiped the table. Did I sleep-clean? Is it even possible? The typewriter is plugged and buzzing. There is still a sheet in it. And it’s not my last page. Grabbing it, I start reading and don’t recognise the words on it.
“I… can’t have cleaned and written without remembering. It’s not possible,” I mumble, all my blood leaving my face.
The page falls on the floor. I have to check my apartment. The linoleum of the floor squeaks under my bare feet as I walk sideways, my back against the walls. First thing, I make sure my door is locked. Three times, I turn the key. All good. Same for the windows. Then, I check each millimetre of the place. Are my items misplaced? Is there a smell I don’t recognise? Some adrenaline jolts through me every time I have to move from one wall to the other. A hand could grab me. I could be knocked out by someone. But it’s all normal in here. Is it too normal? The last thing I do is punch the blankets in my cupboard. Nobody grunts. Nobody fights back.
With my palms on my table, back in the living room, I breathe in. I wish Grandma was here to tell me everything's gonna be okay. Or to put her foot down and shake me back into sanity. My head turns but the Diazepam pill I just took will help with that. Sitting eyes closed, trying not to think about all that could happen to me when I’m in the dark, I focus. Breathing in three times. Exhaling five times. Organising my thoughts. What happened here? Someone wrote on my typewriter and cleaned my place. Who was it?
What kind of twisted mind would do such a thing? Especially with cops turning in the village to enforce the lockdown! Little by little, with my calculated breathing and thanks to the pill, I feel my heart slowing. My shaking limbs calm down and the walls stop turning around. Okay. I’m okay, I try to convince myself. It’s possible that I wrote this in my sleep. Sleepwalking can be a symptom of my depression and anxiety. Yes, it’s true. It makes sense. It’s weird, yes. But I’m messed up anyway. I already know that. It has to be me. I was locked inside the entire day and night. Nobody could’ve gotten in.
After a long moment, I stand up. I grab the page that fell and the other ones, and put them on top of my own work. Taking a deep breath, I start reading.
It’s written from the point of view of another character. An elderly woman from the village, named Romane, that had had the same power as Malorie in her youth. She takes her under her wing. Or tries to. Malorie isn’t up for it, as she is running away. Her power is, after all, dangerous. Feared by the forces that invaded their country two hundred years ago.
I looked at her. She was tall and knew of her strength. Her eyes were full of a fire ready to scorch the earth in her path. Muscular, there was no way to deny she knew how to hunt and fight. But there was a pain, hidden deep. My eyesight may have been cloudy but her soul shone bright. She could have been a Queen in the future. But at the moment, the crown would have crushed her.
It’s good for a first draft. And I can see how this new character may add depth to the story. A fiery character and one made of water. The future and past colliding. A bridge between Malorie and her Ancestors. I could also fix a few plot points that would’ve been complicated for Malorie to accomplish alone. But I know I never thought of it while awake. I smile. It’s so on point, it has to be proof it was me. Nobody could’ve added this in my story so pristinely except for… Well, me. I was dreaming of the story last night. A weird nightmare, yes. But it must’ve gotten my brain working and I did this!
So I do the mature thing and decide not to think of it too much anymore. I’ll do something about it later. All morning, I write Romane’s character sheet, her arc and include her in the outline. It’s easier than expected. As if the story had waited for her to appear. I don’t freak out and prepare my samosas.
While I cook, I put a plan together. This afternoon, I’ll just do as programmed and draft the second… no, the third chapter. After that, I’ll do something about that… situation. If I’m sleepwalking now, it’s concerning. I could hurt myself or Chewey. I have to handle this.
Today, I’m lucky. There is an actual live stream for me to work with. I put it on and abandon myself in my writing. The voices of the hosts help me think about something other than the weirdness of this morning. But, as I make Malorie interact with Romane, I realise I won’t be able to completely erase the event from my mind.
I don’t even know why I’m going along with it anymore. Even if Romane is a good idea, I don’t feel like I have control over this character. It just popped into my life unannounced. It’s mine but also… it’s not. But she’s so good for the story!
Romane's eyes made me uncomfortable. They were pale because of some old person’s disease. But they kept focusing on me. As if she could see me clearly. As if she could see inside of me.
And that draft of the second chapter is like that to me. As if someone had seen inside my head and extracted what could be. And it gives me a weird impression. Like, someone is staring at me, blankly. Their eyes deep holes I could fall into. Their laser sight pierces my skull and rummages in my thoughts. I’m followed. All the time. I even glance over my shoulder from time to time, just to make sure nobody’s standing in the corner. But it also makes me curious. Because this someone I’m fearing seems to be me. I need to call my therapist.
Time passes by and the night sets in. I’ll finish later than yesterday with all that work this morning. But it’s not a bad thing. It gives me time to think about my plan. It’s bold and could cause a disaster if someone is really getting inside my apartment. But hey, what can you do? Stop messing with yourself, Miranda. What I really want is to catch myself in the act, to show it to my therapist.
I check the front door again, just in case. Then, I set my camera up, hidden behind books but with a good view of the typewriter. I leave a mess, like yesterday, and go to bathe and sleep. Needless to say that even a fresh bath doesn’t solve my anxiety issue of the night. I only stay in for five minutes, unable to relax and too scared some stranger will barge in. But no, it won’t happen. You’re locked in. You’ve even closed the windows despite the heat. You’re safe and your brain is sick and messing with you. You’re locked in… I put my thoughts on repeat, the sentences swirling around. I can picture the letters burning themselves on the wall in front of me.
A few moments later, I’m laying under the covers despite the heat. Yes, the night is fresher but still… I almost can’t breathe. But I need that layer like a shield over me because I’m scared. Scared that I’ll hear someone getting in, someone cleaning and typing. Even though I know it’s impossible.
I stay awake for at least an hour, listening, hearing all the creaks and bangs from the wood of the ceiling moving. The crickets are deafening. My body relaxes, the high temperature is numbing.
As my eyes are closing, the sound of the keyboard wakes me. I didn’t hear anyone get in. What? Why? I’m frozen, unable to move and my eyes fixated on the wall. I weep, sounding like a miserable dog. Teardrops fall on my pillow. Am I losing my mind?
I try to focus. The light in the room seems surreal. A breath fills my ears, rasp and panicked. It’s my own. It has to be my own. Each shadow fixes me. They lurk, they move but they don’t. I have to move. I know this state. It’s happened before. I have to test myself. I try to close my eyes. It doesn’t work. Then, I try to move my hand before my face. I feel the movement. I can picture my hand in my mind. But a part of me knows it’s not here for real. I don’t see it. Not for real.
The sound of the typewriter gets louder and louder. My heart tries to escape my ribcage. I want to cry but I can’t. I need to wake up. To wake up for real!
There is no clicking sound anymore. I woke up panting. A headache destroys my brain. The blanket is on the ground. I press my hands on my closed eyes, trying to think. I need to watch the video. But what if that person is still here? My… stalker or something. No, yesterday morning, they were gone. They have to be gone. I mean, I had decided there wasn’t anyone in the first place. But I also heard the typewriter in my sleep paralysis state. Didn’t I? Or was I imagining things? I don’t know anymore. So, I get up, grab my lightsaber replica and get in the corridor. Nothing. Slowly, I get to the front door and almost pee myself. It’s closed. What the frick? Do they have a key? That’s the worst! Or maybe it’s the best. It should be proof nobody was here. Because nobody was here, Miranda! Or maybe, just maybe…
I get to the living room. No one in the dining part. The table is tidied up though. I jump to the TV section. Empty. I turn in my apartment. There is no one but me. And Chewey who sounds like he is dying of hunger. I give him some food and, putting my lightsaber against the wall, I go to the camera. I put a charged battery inside and start to watch the video on my TV screen, with the sound up. I go to the time around which I heard the sound. But there is no figure on the screen.
Don’t get me wrong. I do hear the keyboard. But nobody is using it. Worse, I see the dishes fly out of the room in the direction of the kitchen. The pages lying around put themselves in a neat pile. Like in the stories I told to the children when I worked in Monteneuf. I feel like I’m gonna vomit.
“Do you see that, Chewey?” I ask my cat.
He stares at me, bored out of his mind. Objects flying, items using themselves… Is that a particularly well-executed prank? I grab my lightsaber again, get on a chair and start poking the ceiling, trying to find hidden cameras. The plastic makes a pitiful sound. I look at my lamp, along the ridges of the ceiling’s beams, on top of the doors. No cameras, no microphones, and no well-hidden devices to make it seem like the objects are flying.
I’ve lost it.
“That’s so well done! Is it CGI or did you use invisible cables?”
“So spooky and magical. I’ll show it to all my friends XD”
“So sad it’s in night mode. But it’s a start. Hope you can do a video in the daytime next.”
“Clearly fake. Dislike.”
“Did you see my text message?”
Okay so. I posted the video on my Youtube account. And it seems like everyone sees the things that I see. My cousin doesn’t seem to care though. Her text message was asking me for money I don’t have. So I’m not completely mad.
A thought dawns on me. My Grandma’s typewriter must be magical. My heart swells in my throat. I take a break and look at it. It’s still a dirty white, still bulky, still a bit dusty, but suddenly I find it the most beautiful thing on Earth. I have a magical object. Magic is actually real. More, this typewriter chose to help me write. How awesome is that? I’m so happy that I feel like screaming and just start laughing. I touch the precious item with the tip of my fingers.
“Thank you,” I whisper with a wide smile on my face.
Grandma has gifted me a lot of things during the time I lived with her. Both material and emotional. She taught me how to accept myself, and how to take care of my mind and body --even though that one is still a work in progress. She taught me how to trust, that I could love and be loved. And she gave me my first notebook and planner. But this is the ultimate thing. How come she never told me about it?
Maybe it isn’t magical per se? I think. After all, I live in Broceliande. The land of Fae, Druids, Monoliths and Korrigans. Did one of those beings do this for me? Did they hear my pain and complaints through the veil of their world and mine?
“That’s not possible!” I start to reason with myself. “But it’s not like those comments are fake. Most of those people you don’t know so they couldn’t be in on a prank.”
I grab the book about Brittany’s mythology I used for my work. It says most fae is scary and kills people. Some are just jokers. But there is one type of friendly being. The Margot. Did a Margot decide to help me?
I lay down on my couch. I want to scream. Faes are not supposed to exist. Mirdin, Arthur, Melusine and all those people are just… fairytales. And as much as I love Grandma, she wasn’t magical either. She was just kind, loving and strong. And being a decent human being is good enough. Popping up an anxiety pill because I feel myself shaking more and more, I grab my phone and call my therapist.
“Miranda! I’m glad to hear from you. We’re not supposed to talk for another week. What’s going on?”
Hearing a human voice talking directly to me is such a relief, teardrops cloud my vision.
“I’m losing my mind, Sir. For real this time.”
And I tell him everything. He checks the video I sent him through email and there is a long, long silence. I even check if the call hasn’t ended.
“Miranda,” he says, obviously concerned. “Are you… trying to tell me you believe a Margot turned your typewriter into a magical item of some sort?”
“No!” I protest, my voice shaking as much as my body. “I’m telling you I’m trying not to believe that.”
“Listen,” he sighs. “Do you want to go to the hospital?”
“No, not that. I can get through this without it. Or I want to try. I can’t go back there.”
“Okay. So I’m going to send a new prescription to your pharmacist. And we’ll talk together twice a week from now on.”
He explains to me that he’s upping my antidepressant doses, and adding a new molecule to help my brain distinguish between reality and dream or something. I’ve stopped caring right now. He’s not helping. He’s just pushing new medication on me. I’ll take it, of course. He’s a professional. But I needed more from him right now. I needed sanity. I needed someone to tell me I’m not mad.
As I walk back from the pharmacist, I gasp. For a second, I thought I saw a form in the flirtatious. I kneel and look between the blades of grass. A Korrigan house. Made of walnut shell and twigs. I smile behind my mask. Children playing. It’s just children playing.
Then, near the lake in front of my apartment, I hear bells jingling. Standing in the empty parking lot, hair stands on my neck. In the wind, whispers of laughs and songs reach me. Someone is watching me. And for the first time in years, I don’t feel threatened. This particular stare calms me. I’m watched by someone who cares.
It’s frightening. But also exhilarating. Feeling safe. Right now, I feel safe. This being can shield me against anything and anyone. The help I expected from my therapist, I can get from them. They care and I can trust them. Even though I don’t know them.
Weeping willow branches wave into the breeze. Bells again. That moment is the happiest I’ve ever been in months. I laugh and run back into my home. To Chewey. To my work. To my typewriter.
Sitting down, I grab my laptop and start searching for a write-in. I choose the first I find and get to work. Suddenly, I have no doubts anymore. I’m worthy. I was chosen. I have an actual chance of finishing that novel. Doesn’t matter if it’s published or not, it will be completed. My fingers and hands get sparks of energy as I type, fast and resolute.
Plus, I have a new resolution: to show the typewriter that it was right in selecting me as its new owner. To show the Margot she didn’t make a mistake. My writing is gonna be so good that its magical mind will blow.
“I’m gonna show you!” I yell, exhilarated.
Chewey, who is napping on the blue sofa, meows, bewildered that I dare wake him up. But I don’t care right now. I have power. I have focus. I have my imagination. This is a challenge that I set up in my mind. We will see who, between the magical typewriter and me, can write better.
“Again!” yelled Romane, looking down at me. I was laying down on the dirt. Panting, I glared at her, angry about her tone, angry about the heat, angry about everything. But most of all, angry about that Power. I never asked for it. I never asked to be different, to be the recipient of some ancient magic…
I could understand why Malorie would be mad. I felt a tingling in my stomach. Looking at her, on the verge of breaking apart, was hard. But I found solace in the thought that it was necessary…
The days pass by, powerful sessions of writing change the atmosphere. My apartment isn’t a cage anymore. It’s a sanctuary of Magic and Art. It’s a place where I’m safe, cared for and where nobody can hurt me.
I write the Malorie chapters by day, the typewriter takes care of Romane’s by night. Malorie and Romane learn to know each other, as well as I learn to know my magical item. Slowly, I see a bond forming between us all. My MC learns to do magic, I learn to write better every day. Romane learns to be a teacher and the typewriter learns to adapt to me and teach me lessons. I’ve never been so happy about something. I wake up early, I eat more healthily, and I take time to play with Chewey. He’s not as grumpy as before, either.
Even the weather isn’t as bothersome now. Maybe I’m just less focused on the heat? I forget that I should hate it. The sun rays between leaves of green, the smell of roses, vinca, and marigold… All of this is now a symbol of happiness and joy.
Chewey brushes against my ankles as I stretch after six hours of work. It’s been a good day. I even surprised myself by doing the dishes! Am I becoming better at adulting? Taking a sheet out of the typewriter, I reread a scene I just wrote:
I looked at the face of Romane. Her clouded eyes had a look I had never seen before. Tears gleaming at their corners. For the first time, she looked her age, her face carved in knotty wood. I opened my mouth, ready to ask her what was wrong…
The same thing happened to me in the past. With my Grandma. A few weeks after I went to live with her. She was hard on me, not letting me despair and lock myself into nothingness. She helped me stay out of the water. And at that moment, when it seemed like she needed me, I did nothing. I saw the tears she tried to hide. The corners of her pinched lips distorted with sadness. It would have been so easy to reach for her. To say something… Or, at least, to hug her. I didn’t do any of that. Scared, and hurt, I let that moment pass. But Malorie doesn’t have to do that. She can do and say everything I wish I had done and said.
And so we do what has to be done right now. Through Malorie, I express everything my Grandma represented to me. Through me, she tells Romane how important she is to her. Drops run down my cheeks, my hands are shaking. I struggle to breathe and to see the page. Why am I sad? I should be thrilled to do this, to use my work to resolve something that’s been tormenting me for years. And I was happy just moments ago! Or maybe it’s not sadness. Maybe it’s just the bubble of tension and hurt that’s bursting. Mood swings will kill me someday.
So I take some time to regroup with myself and my feelings. It was hard, yes, but it was a good thing. Not only was it cathartic, it made up for an amazing scene. A few tears are okay. You can be emotional, it doesn’t mean you’re a mess. I breathe slowly and compose myself. Everything is fine.
In the end, I go to bed, realising I can’t wait to read Romane’s reaction to my words. But is it healthy though? Those past few days, my therapist --who doesn’t know anything about my acceptance of the typewriter-- has been trying to teach me how to not rely on others to accept myself (and that magic isn’t real but that’s not the topic of the situation). That I have to find a way to see my own worth without the approbation of an external source. Whether it be someone close to me or something else. That I need to exercise my brain to accept itself as it is. And to better myself because I want to and not because I need to… for others.
I feel pity for myself. A grown-ass adult waiting desperately for a magical item to reassure her. It’s ridiculous. My clean sheets smell like violets and I grab my pillow to hug it, losing myself in the fragrance. Chewey jumps on the bed and curls against me, purring like crazy. He’s never been so affectionate before. Or maybe it was me? I just scratch his head and listen to the typing sounds coming from the living room. They rock me to sleep.
Love and other complicated things
“I love you like a daughter, Malorie.”
Those few words, at the beginning of the page, make me weep. I’ve lost control. My Grandma never told me that. I know she thought it. It showed through her actions every day. But she never said it. My typewriter seems to have just filled a hole in my chest. It’s like Grandmother and I just had this long-awaited conversation we needed, thanks to it.
I’m putting too much of myself in the text, am I not? I think. But I realise I don’t care. It’s cathartic. It’s important. I need this. Therapy by writing is a thing after all. And some authors do it anyway. Why should I not? And the readers don’t need to know. Maybe they’ll see it, after revisions, editing. But it’s okay. And it may never be published and… I take a deep breath. I have to stop. And today’s chapter is important.
It’s the midpoint of the book. Malorie and Romane have reached the capital city and are about to try and infiltrate a castle, to bring down the antagonist, the ruler of the country. Of course, it’s not going to be easy. And it will not go well.
This part is exciting. And the action will help me think about something other than my feelings. I’m glad about that. Even though Malorie’s power is deeply rooted in her emotions so… Anyway, let’s start writing. I take a deep breath and place my hands over the keyboard.
And like that, the words start to blacken the page. A jolt runs through me as I reach that zone, where I block everything around me to write. Just write. I don’t need to think about my uneasiness. About the fact that that typewriter I’m using has become my only friend. That an object understands me better than my parents do.
I held my breath. Soldiers were everywhere around us. The tapestries against the white walls moved, waving in the Mistral wind. The smell of the maquis melted in the scent of incense and ripe fruits. I heard the steps of the men in armour go away…
Am I like that? Avoiding men in arms in my brain, slaloming between bad thoughts not to face them and alarm the most dangerous of them all? What? Keep focused! I urge myself, as Malorie finally faces the Big Bad Man: a fascist invader that dares to wear the colours of the royal family he killed. Neither the typewriter nor I have found a name for him yet. So he still has the placeholder of Big Bad Man. It makes me laugh a bit and I calm down.
I write their discussion once. Then twice. Soon, a dozen pages are discarded as I can’t find my way through it. Will I have to let the typewriter do it for me? No! I won’t do that. She’s a helper, not a crutch. And I don’t want to disappoint her. Then I realise I’ve referred to it as “her” in my mind. I stand, starting to pace in the room. My cigarettes are on the table and I just now remember that I haven’t smoked in weeks. Good thing. Even though thinking about it makes me crave nicotine.
A smell of cologne fills the room. I feel like I know that scent. Well, of course, I know what cologne smells like… But that particular brand of cologne I know well. Rich, with a hint of lavender and musk. It comes from the typewriter. And reminds me of my Father. Yes. I understand you, typewriter. You always know best.
I sit down and do as I did before. When I imagined myself talking to Grandma. Now, I’ll imagine that Malorie talks to my Father. It’s sad to associate a Big Bad Man with your own dad. But their political views and character traits are close, sadly. My Father has always been hateful and cruel. Their mannerism matches, too. So it will help me.
I didn’t know the typewriter could do this. It’s like she was talking to me (I’ll just keep referring to it as a “she” won’t I?). Her powers may be more extraordinary than I thought. And anyway, it’s not like I knew a lot of magical items. Heck, before last month, I didn’t even know magic was real.
Facing Father through text seems easier than confessing my love to Grandma. I’m in total control here after all. And I’ve faced his anger, viciousness and contempt so many times before. It’s like a dance, a pas de deux that I know by heart. What’s amazing though, is that here, I’m Malorie. Not Miranda. So I can snap back, and be sassy. I don’t let him be in control, I rob him of that power he has over me. And even if I flee in the end, I know that I’ll come back and win, in the end. What a thrill!
I go through the dialogue one last time. It’s better. Not perfect, but good enough for me to move forward.
“Thank you, typewriter,” I say, smiling.
For a spare second, I hear the humming change, as if she was answering. I think it’s time for me to go to bed. I’m clearly losing my mind.
Romane and Malorie understand each other. Even when they argue, they do it with respect and care. They would never turn their back on each other and they’re ready to die for one another. I’ve never had someone like that since my Grandmother died. Those last three days, I’ve started to feel resentment towards Malorie. I’m a bit jealous. She has agency, she has power, she has a friend and she is going to win. Why? Why her and not me?
It’s stupid to feel that way because it’s all fictional… and I made it this way! Even though Malorie was supposed to be alone in this and it’s the typewriter who added Romane. But still, I gave it a go and why would I feel jealous of my own character?
I haven’t written yet today. I needed a break.
“Sorry typewriter, I just need to rest,” I apologise to an object.
But it’s magical and clearly has a mind of its own, I justify to myself. Sitting on the couch and watching The Return of the King, I eat some ice cream. Vanilla and salted caramel, the best. I have to take a step back. Malorie is a part of me. All she is, I could be… minus the magical powers. And I’ve started to become more like her. I fight to achieve my dream. If I want friends, I need to open myself up more to others. I can find safe people, I just have to look for them.
But there is something else. A secret that I’ve never told anyone. Malorie has it too. But it doesn’t hurt as much for her because she knows Romane would never turn her back on her. Would she? Even my Grandma didn’t know about it. Should I…
I look at the typewriter. When I think about it more closely, I see a lot of Grandma in Romane. She is strong, relentless and kind. The biggest difference is that she’s easier to talk to. Because she’s softer in a way. Maybe I could do it. Maybe I could tell it to Romane, through Malorie. Like I talked about Grandma’s pain and my love for her. It’s a way to cope.
“Romane… I know it’s not a good time, with the Big Bad Man after us and all, but I need to talk to you.”
And I write everything as if I talked to Grandma. How I discovered at a young age that I was attracted to girls as well as boys. How, in secret, I dated both in high school. How I was ashamed, my parents and family being deeply catholic and full of hate -- especially my Father. How I’ve always felt out of place, disgusting, unwelcomed. How being pansexual is already a struggle but being pansexual and a woman was the worst. Even in LGBTQ+ circles, you’re not safe from discrimination. And I’ve wanted to tell her for a long time but I was scared. So scared that even she, even the person I loved most, my best friend, would see me differently. Of course, I don’t use those exact words, to adapt it to the novel, but that’s what I mean, inside my heart.
When I’ve finished, I let my body go, half laying down on my chair. I look at the ceiling, numb and unaware of anything. Teardrops roll in my hair. The decor turns around me and I feel Chewey jumping on my lap and licking my hand. Seems like he doesn’t like that when I’m sad. Was he like that before?
Click, clack, clickety tap. The typewriter is writing. At midday. In front of me!
“I’ve always known you were unique. I don’t care who you love as long as they respect you and love you back. I’m no one to judge you based on something you can’t control. I love you.”
Submerged by love, relief, and sadness, I let myself fall on the floor as the text keeps going on. I can’t keep reading right now, it’s too much to handle. That bitter joy overwhelms me. Chewey runs away, his fur a mess and his ears flat on his head. I feel validated. I feel seen. And I don’t know why, it’s like… like it was Grandma saying those things. I stand up, wiping my face with the back of my hand. The typing is over. Chewey looks at me from the sofa. He is grumpy. And I realise he’s not looking at me… he’s looking past me. Behind me. I turn slowly, hair standing on my neck. I breathe in.
Grandma is here. Light shines on her. From her. She looks like an angel. Glowing tan skin, a face wrinkled with kindness and laughter. She wears her most beautiful red dress and her white hair is thick and prettily curled. Exactly how she was when we buried her. I chose those clothes and that wig for her. Even her golden jewellery.
“It was you, wasn’t it?” I ask with a coarse voice, already knowing the answer. “It wasn’t the typewriter itself or a Margot, it has never been.”
She nods, kindness on her calm face. I fly to her, not daring to touch her, scared she’ll disappear. My heart inflates inside me. She brushes my cheek and just says: “Hello, sweety”. And like that, it’s like she never left.
We spend the day talking about the book.
“You should be sure about your theme and execution. It’s easy to end up passing the opposite message. You want to value the memory of fellow oppressed women, show their strength and power. Make sure it’s what you say,” says Grandma.
Her voice is as I remember it. Deep and shaky. She smells of almonds. She would seem alive if it wasn’t for the light and the strange echo when she speaks.
We write together, correct the outline, and prepare for the last act.
But what will happen when I write “The End”?
I’m trying to sleep, as Grandma is writing in the living room. I’ve eaten with her. Well, she watched me eat. After that, we played chess and she endured one of my favourite Sci-Fi movies as I said every line of it out loud. It was like old times.
And I don’t want it to stop.
I must have fallen asleep since Grandma wakes me up at eight in the morning.
“I’ve prepared fruit salad,” she says like she’s announcing Christmas came early.
I follow her into the living room. My breakfast is waiting for me in front of the typewriter. The temperatures have gone down lately and the window is open. There’s a weight on my stomach as I walk to the chair and sit down but at least I’m not burning anymore.
“You’re going to disappear, aren’t you?” I ask.
“What d’you mean?” Grandma answers, a look of concern on her face.
“When we finish the book… you’re going away.”
She looks at the floor. She always does that before telling me something she knows I don’t want to hear.
“Darling… I’m not going away,” she finally says.
I look up at her, surprised and shaking.
“You won’t see me anymore, but I’ll still be here. Around you. With you,” she says.
My heart and stomach twist and turn. I bite my lip and swipe my eyes.
“So…” I say with a small voice. “So I won’t be able to hear you but you’ll still be with me.”
Okay. I can work with that. It’s painful to know that I won’t see her but she will be here. She will hear me and see me. I’ll still talk to her and imagine her being here, nodding and smiling. Yes. It’s okay.
“So, let’s write some more!” I cry.
She sits down next to me, brushing my cheek with the back of her hand and we get to work. The third act of the novel is full of action scenes and a lot of emotional moments. Something is slowly drawing itself in my mind. Something I should have known.
Romane has to die. It’s the end of the road for her. She brought her knowledge forth, helped Malorie, and gave her advice and comfort. Her country will be freed and the next step is not for her. It’s the job of Malorie and the new generation. They will have to rebuild without her.
“She won’t be completely gone,” says Grandma as if reading my mind. “She will join the Ancestors.”
“You knew she had to die from the beginning.”
I clench my jaw. I still have a lot to learn. At least I understood what had to be done. I’ll give her an amazing death. The scene she deserves.
They were standing around us. I could hear the sound of their voices, murmurs echoing through space and time. The dirt, harsh and coarse, slapped my body from all around as I rose, filled with the will and energy of the Ancestors. Big Bad Man looked at me, a distorted smile on his face. Hatred and contempt. But he had no chance. The maquis was mine.
His army was gone, devoured by the waters of the Mediterranean sea. His allies were under my thumb now, scared and obedient. What could he possibly do? His own magic was weak, so far from his land. Pulsating power emanated from my frame as I started to leave the ground. Finally, I could fly! I pointed a finger toward him. I felt the life force from the Ancestors flood my body and wash over my hand.
“I wouldn’t do that, woman,” said Big Bad Man.
Why was he so sure and full of himself still?
I freeze. I still have a chance. A chance to change the story and save her. I don’t want her to go. Just like I don’t want Grandma to go. I know what it will do to Malorie. But we both have to accept that life isn’t forever, don’t we? And that they’re not entirely gone. They’ll stay in our hearts, in our memories. Romane is not from Malorie’s family so her power won’t help her to see her friend. But she’ll know a trace of her subsists, she’d just have to find her descendants.
Romane screamed. Her old body contorted as she escaped the Big Bad Man’s embrace. She held her hand high, trying to conjure power. I let go of the lightning bolt contained in my hand. But the Big Bad Man knew. He jumped, higher than any human could possibly jump, and unsheathed his black sword. They started to fight, sword against dagger. Romane stood her ground, countering any of his attacks. She breathed calmly, her focused face like stone. I couldn’t do anything with my magic. I would have touched Romane as well. I couldn’t move.
For a crazy second, I thought she had won. With an agile movement of her wrist, she had disarmed her adversary. He had a knee on the white rocks surrounding him, his head down. Slowly, Romane held her arms up, both daggers pointing down. She was about to pierce his neck. Big Bad Man suddenly stood up and hit her in the chest with his fist. A wave of power propelled his arm. Red flashes slashed the air.
Romane didn’t scream. She just fell. The Ancestors stood silent for a second. But after the realisation, we all screamed. Our voice destroyed the pine trees and ripped the sky apart. I could’ve seen the starry sky midday if my rage hadn’t filled me.
Grandma takes me in her warm arms. Her skin, soft and airy, smells like always. Chewey jumps on the table and licks my cheek.
We reread the entire novel, a few days later.
“It’s… a first draft,” says Grandma.
“It is indeed. It’s trash. But I can see a good story in it. Can’t you?” I ask, scared.
“Of course, I can!”
I smile. It’s time. I put the last page in the typewriter and prepare to write the last two words. The ones that will put an end to all of this. This madness, this magic, this miracle or whatever it was.
My hands shake, above the keyboard. I’m so anxious. It feels like I’m about to kill the most important person in my life. She sits next to me and closes her beautiful caramel eyes. Her hands get inside mine. It’s like putting them under warm water. I feel my fingers moving alone.
I can’t help it. Tears run down my face, inside my blue collar. A bird sings, in the silent street.
Chewey meows, scared too. I mumble something, a weird throaty sound. I don’t even know what I want to say.
Faster, even though I try to stop with all my might, the last three letters click.
E. N. D.
My heart breaks into multiple pieces. A sharp pain pierces my left side. I want to scream but no sound gets out of my mouth. I pretended to be okay with this but I’m not. I want Grandma to stay with me.
“Please!” I manage to articulate.
She just looks at me, watery pearls on her calm face.
“I’ll be with you. Always,” she tells me as her colour fades away.
For a few seconds, I have a star in my living room. I hide behind my arms, the light is too powerful for me to look. Then, after a sigh, she goes away. Forever.
I look at the rain, the thick curtains opened. I’m chewing on a toothpick to avoid smoking. Today, I don’t think I’ll work in the little park, in front of my building. Spring was hot, summer is cold. Nothing makes sense anymore. But since the quarantine started, reality has been in shambles anyway. Lockdown has been over for a few weeks and I’ve let the novel rest ever since that day. Both because it has to be left alone but also because I’m scared to look at it again. I don’t want to be disappointed and it reminds me of too many melancholic things.
“You’re impossible,” I tell myself.
Grandma worked so hard to help me achieve my dream and now I can’t even think about it without crying.
The rain stops as abruptly as it started. The weather seems to have something to say. Or maybe I’m just so accustomed to magic that I see it everywhere now. The world wants me to resume writing, perhaps. But maybe, just maybe, I want to write. And I’m looking for excuses to justify myself. I’m being childish. I don’t need excuses. I need to move my sorry arse. I sigh and grab the manuscript, my coat and a pencil. I’m going to start revising. In honour of Grandma… and for myself. I have to start moving, going forward. I have to stop living in the past. And trust in my gut. Chewey meows, not wanting me to abandon him. Or to encourage me. I don’t know anymore with that animal…
I sit on a bench, as dry as possible, under a weeping willow. Under the canopy, I feel safe. It’s kinda like being inside but also taking advantage of the fresh outside air. The ducks wait for me to toss them something to eat. I ignore their disappointed look, smiling. Smiling has become a habit. A surprise, for sure. But a welcome one.
I work for an hour, annotating all that needs to change, all that’s good enough, all that needs to go… It’s calming. As Grandma promised, I feel connected to her again. She seems to be watching over me. I can hear her voice advising me. I’m just imagining things, of course, but whatever. I’ll take what I have. She’s gone, it’s painful. But it’s a natural part of life. And I know she’s happy and we parted having said everything that needed to be said. And not everyone has that chance.
A shadow approaches. I raise my head and see a beautiful woman. Her deep brown skin glows under the pale sun. Her long braided hair is tied in a knot behind her head. Her golden eyes sparkle with cleverness and confidence.
“You’re the writer,” she says. Her voice is warm, like Grandma’s.
“I’m Camille, your neighbour. I could hear your typewriter, day and night. You work hard.”
“I… I do my best. I’m Miranda, sorry for the noise.”
She sits down next to me. She smells like roses.
“Don’t mind it. I’m not angry,” she says. “ And pretty name, by the way. What’s the book about? If you don’t mind… I’m a bit curious.”
“It’s fantasy,” I answer. “About two women fighting against invaders in their country. To reclaim their land and rights.”
“Great! It seems interesting. Something I would read.”
Her smile is bright, like a star sitting too close to me. And I made her smile. How amazing is that? A human, living being, around my age, smiled thanks to me. Someone is interested in me and my work. I can’t even begin to comprehend what’s happening.
She gets herself comfortable and grabs a drawing pad.
“I’m glad I met you,” Camille says. “I’d just moved in when the lockdown started and I don’t know anyone in the building.”
“I’m glad too…” I answer awkwardly.
“D’you mind if we work together and chat?”
“No. Not at all.”
We talked for hours. About the novel, about ourselves. She’s in my living room now. We are watching The Fellowship of the Ring (long version, of course) and eating popcorn. It’s so easy with Camille. I’ll wait for her to know me better before reciting all the lines of the movies we watch together though. Not everyone has Grandma’s patience.
Plus she’s a painter so she understands in a way. The creative process, the struggle to get something out of your guts and to work your butt off. She also didn’t insist on seeing the first draft but she made me promise to be the first beta reader when I’m ready.
“I want to feel… represented and empowered for once,” she admitted.
“That’s why I wrote it. Women deserve that.”
She had smiled and sipped a bit of beer.
I’ve never been so close to a stranger. All because she heard the typewriter. All thanks to Grandma. She also heard me talking alone though, but she thinks it’s part of my process. I told her that I talk to Chewey to find the best dialogues possible. She finds that funny and normal. A small lie. But a necessary one. She’s my first almost friend in years after all. I ain’t gonna lose her because she thinks I’m cuckoo.
“Miranda,” she asks suddenly as Arwen saves Frodo’s sorry ass. “Do you think magic exists? Because I do.”
“Me, too,” I answer, my throat tight.
The question was innocent. And because we just saw magical horses made of water run over the Nazguls. She doesn’t know it has a deeper meaning for me. It’s batshit crazy how she manages to be on point at every turn without realising it.
“Weird, it smells like almonds, doesn’t it? Is it your perfume?”
I whisper, “It does, and it’s not...”
I look at the typewriter. The fading sun sparks on the thick plastic frame. Its warmth diffuses the rich scent all over the room. I will never see you again Grandma, but you’re still here. Like you promised. I can feel you.
“And then, the old woman closed her eyes, a smile on her face,” I say. Tom’s irises are sparkling in the moonlight.
Around us, his toys are scattered on the floor. He’s in bed while I sit on a small chair, near the window. In the shadows, I can see posters of Disney movies, plushies and a doll house.
We’ve been neighbours for two weeks now. In the beginning, he was always saying “I don’t want to play with a girl.” But when I started telling him my stories, he changed. He loves stories as much as I do. Scary ones, nice ones, old and new. I’m happy he changed his mind, he’s my best friend now.
“Did she ever wake up? Tell me, Elisabeth,” he whispers.
We’re having a secret sleepover in his house. Mine is just across his garden and neither my Mum nor his parents know we are together. Mum doesn’t like him. I can’t help it. I wish she could see him as I do. A nice, kind person.
“No. She was at peace, surrounded by everyone she loved,” I answer softly.
“Isn’t it sad she died?”
“Well, she was old. And she got to see them again…”
We hear footsteps. I dive behind Tom’s door as it opens.
“Who are you talking to?” asks a furious adult voice.
His father enters the room. He’s tall and broad. He’s scary when he gets angry like that.
“No one, Dad,” says Tom with a small voice.
Not convincing. He pulls his sheet up to his eyes, not daring to let his face betray our secret.
“I heard voices, don’t lie to me!”
Tom’s dad slams the door shut behind his back. I don’t move, paralysed. If he turns --when he turns-- he’ll see me because I’m so afraid, I can’t do anything.
“Are you using your phone to call your friends?” he asks, walking towards the Cars bed.
“No! I’m just having a sleepover with Elisabeth!”
Tom sits in his bed, pointing at me. His Dad sighs into his black beard:
“How many times did I ask you not to use your pretend friend to…”
And then he turns, facing me. It’s the first time he has seen me, truly. I know what’s going to happen. Mum warned me. His face distorts in disbelief. He goes back and forth between my face, my nightgown and my bare feet. And then, the horror. The adults never understand, Mum says. They don’t try to. His large brown eyes widen as he struggles to walk backwards, grabbing Tom as if to protect him. They both scream, the Dad shouting for the Mum, and Tom scared of his father’s reaction. So I sigh and go away.
Our neighbours usually never stay long in the pretty home with walls of red stone and a roof of grey tiles. The ones that do always end up living with us. They always ask, “What about the shack?” and the sellers always answer the same thing: “It’s always been there. It could be useful if you repaired it.”
I look through the broken window as Tom’s Dad takes him and his startled wife in their car. Tom looks at me through the car window. The last thing I see is his Mum covering his eyes and screaming, looking at me.
“They’ll never accept us,” says a coarse voice. An old woman is standing next to me, her translucent skin almost glowing.
“Tom did!” I say. “He’s my friend!”
“And now he’s gone. Forever. We can’t mingle with humans. They either try to destroy us or go away,” she explains to me kindly. “Children can sometimes see who we really are. But it rarely lasts.”
A cold, dark shadow hides the stars and dims the moon. My mother arrived and that dark aura means she’s furious.
“Mum,” I whisper.
The look of disappointment on her face pierces through my evanescent body.
“I told you not to do it. We almost disappeared once, reduced to exist in this… disgusting thing, leaving our home. And now, they could destroy us forever. Because we have nowhere else to go.”
I know this tale, but I don’t accept the end. It happened so long ago. In the 15th century! My family gathers around me.
Mum’s long low-waisted dress and her cape float in the winter wind. I take her hand, admiring her beautiful face.
“But it won’t happen again, Mum,” I cry. “They don’t believe in us anymore. They’ll think they had a hallucination or—”
“I recognised the look on that man’s face,” she interrupts me. “He thinks he’s protecting his wife and child.”
All around us, the members of my family listen. Some from centuries ago in old clothing. Some from just a few decades ago in jeans and flannel. A few show how they died. Not everyone can get past their stories. Twenty stories I had planned to tell Tom. I only had time for four. As the sun rises, we take each other’s hand, waiting for what’s to come.
“Tom won’t let them hurt us. He’ll help!” I say.
Nobody answers. They don’t believe me. I’m not sure I do either.
The car comes back in the morning. We hide in the sunlight, invisible to the living. Hope burns in my chest. But then, another car parks near Tom’s parents’ car. A man and a woman get out. He’s tall, even taller than most adults. She has red hair and a lot of jewels. They go inside the house and close the door. Tom tried to see me, I know it. But I had to stay hidden. To protect my family.
Suddenly, I hear my name. Someone’s calling for me. A warm, kind voice. It echoes through the air, attracting me. I try to fight it but I can’t help myself. It gets me angry. I‘m in the big house’s living room. The red-headed woman has her eyes closed. Her jewels in her hands, she’s the one calling for me. They’re all seated on the carpet. Only Tom and his Mum are missing.
“Good morning, Elisabeth,” says the tall man. “My name is Jonathan. And this is my wife Lisa. We are here to help you.”
“I don’t need your help,” I answer.
A weird feeling ties me to the woman and I can hear my words coming out of her mouth instead of mine. It’s like shackles that link me to her soul. Chains of lead crushing me. I hate it. I can feel something growing inside of me, along with my anger.
“I just want to live in peace with my family. And play with Tom sometimes.”
“There are more of you?” Jonathan asks.
I almost say a bad word. I shouldn’t have told them that! A glass shatters.
“Just leave us alone. We won’t hurt you! Please! We were just playing!”
Jonathan places a hand on Lisa’s shoulder. She’s covered in cold sweat. That bridge she built between us seems to affect her a lot more than it affects me. Good, I should have the right to talk for myself.
“All we want is to help you and your family join the afterlife. Your place is not among the living anymore, do you understand that?” Jonathan says. Why, it’s not fair! I think but say nothing. Out of nowhere, Tom arrives, his mother running behind him. Tom’s Dad, who was staying silent, looks at me like I am a disgusting monster and screams. But all I can hear is Tom.
“They want to kill you, Elisabeth! Run!”
“But I didn’t do anything wrong! Why…”
And then I see myself. No, not myself. I see how they see me. The living that aren’t Tom. There is a mirror hanging on the wall upon the chimney. I can see how translucent I am. My deep eyes with black marks under them. All the blue and black veins under my skin. My hands and feet look purple and black and my nightgown is stained. Like that night when my first Mum killed me. Before my true Mum took me in. Yes, I do look like a monster. But…
“I didn’t do anything wrong!” I scream.
The power that has been growing surges through me. The anger did something to my essence, turning it into a force I cannot control. It painfully explodes out of my body. The windows and the mirror shatter. I don’t understand why but I feel relieved afterwards. The link between Lisa and me breaks and I turn towards the two men.
“You’re mean, we have the right to be here,” I hear myself growl in my own voice before I flee. The last I see of them is the blood leaking out of their ears.
“I’m sorry, Mum,” I cry. “They pretend we aren’t at peace and they want to help us but…”
“I know, baby girl, I know…”
“They just want to get rid of us! Like in your tale!”
I’m sitting on her lap in our small home. The entire family awaits, as, in the descending sunlight, the man and woman walk towards the shack. We say how much we love each other, and how everyone will be missed. How we hope there is something after so we can see each other again. Outside, the mean adults talk. All I can hear is “purification” and “salt and fire”. They create a circle with salt around our shack and light torches. Jonathan reads from an ancient book. Tom’s Dad throws his torch on our home.
After that, everything is pain. The salt feels like shards of glass under my skin when Lisa throws it on us. The fire devours my soul. It digs its way under my frame and starts eating away every millimetre of my being. Until all there is left is cold, darkness and the faintest trace of light. The chants are so loud, I can’t hear my own screams. But had I been alive, my throat would have bled.
It’s Tom’s voice. I open my eyes with difficulty. I’m in his bedroom. The shack is still smoking. Under the pale moon, I can feel all my family has disappeared. One by one, they have been “purified”. But I’m still here! Why?
“I called for you. I prayed like in church and you came,” says my friend, crying.
His parents are downstairs, looking at the massacre. I sit on the bed and weep. Even though he can’t touch me, I know Tom would hug me right now.
“You can live here,” he says. “In my room. And finish all the tales. And when we get older, we will tell our own. Invent them or even find others, like you found your family’s tales.”
He opens the doll house. Now that I see it up close, I can tell how beautiful it is. It’s ancient, probably from a few centuries ago.
“I found it in the attic. My Mum helped me make it pretty to put it here as decoration. It’s yours now.”
Seventy years have passed by. Tom sleeps in an adult room now but he always kept my home near him. His living family surrounds him as he coughs, lying in his sick bed. Every night, we would tell each other a new tale, true or invented. Scary or nice. Old or new. Often, he wrote them down and he became famous for that somehow.
I wait. Slowly, his eyes turn to me. I smile, and as he draws his last breath, I see him calm and happy.
“We have all the time in the world now.”
“I’m glad you came back looking like when we met,” I say.
“Well, that’s who I truly am. But if the living were to see me, I’m sure I would look like a scary old fart.”
We laugh. That tale will be fun to give to the next child clever enough to appreciate it. Together, we go inside the doll house. Inside our home.
The seven sacred oils used in ritual and found in the tombs of the pharaoh have been a secret for millennia. I have recently been researching old texts and found reference to these oils in The Book of the Dead and various other source, but had never been able to narrow down the exact definition of these oils until now.
Ancient Egypt, a civilization that flourished along the Nile River over several millennia, held a deep belief in the supernatural and the power of magic. Magic played a crucial role in the lives of ancient Egyptians, influencing their religious practices, healing rituals, and burial customs. Oils and aromatic substances were an integral part of their magical and spiritual beliefs.
The Egyptians believed that magic could influence the natural and spiritual world. Magicians and priests were skilled in using spells, incantations, and amulets to invoke divine powers of Ra to protect against evil forces. These practices were woven into daily life, ranging from healing rituals to ensuring a successful afterlife.
Oils and aromatic substances, such as myrrh, frankincense, and lotus oil, held significant spiritual value. They were believed to possess purifying and protective properties. These oils were used in religious ceremonies to ward of evil spirits, as offerings to the gods, and in the embalming and mummification processes.
In the tombs of pharaohs and high-ranking officials, containers of seven precious oils were placed alongside the deceased. These oils were intended to accompany the spirits of the departed, providing nourishment and comfort. The embalming process also involved the use of oils and mummification resins to preserve the body for the journey to the afterlife.
The tombs often contained magical texts and spells inscribed on papyri or tomb walls. These texts were intended to protect the deceased from malevolent spirits and guide them through the perilous journey to the afterlife. Magical formulas and prayers were recited by priests during burial ceremonies and rituals.
Rituals involving oils and incantations were performed to invoke divine protection and blessings for the pharaoh and the kingdom. Offerings of oils and aromatic substances were made to gods and goddesses as a sign of devotion and reverence.
Oils were not only valued for their practical uses but also for their symbolic significance. They were seen as manifestations of divine essence, linking the mortal realm with the divine. The fragrance of the oils was believed to carry prayers and offerings to the gods.
The following are believed to be the sacred seven sacred oils:
1.Myrrh: Myrrh was one of the most commonly used aromatic substances in ancient Egypt. It was often used in religious rituals, embalming practices, and as an offering to the gods.
2.Frankincense: Like myrrh, frankincense was another valuable aromatic resin used in religious ceremonies and offerings to the gods.
3.Cedarwood Oil: Cedarwood oil was believed to have purifying properties and was used in rituals associated with cleansing and protection.
4.Lotus Oil: The lotus flower had symbolic significance in ancient Egypt, and its oil was used in religious rituals and to anoint statues of deities.
5.Almond Oil: Almond oil was used in various cosmetic and ritual practices, such as anointing statues or applying to the body during religious ceremonies.
6.Olive Oil: Olive oil was not only used as a culinary staple but also had religious significance in ancient Egyptian rituals and offerings.
7.Palm Oil: Palm oil was used in lamps for lighting religious sanctuaries and ceremonial spaces.
In conclusion, ancient Egyptian magic and the use of oils were deeply intertwined with their religious beliefs and funerary practices. Oils and aromatic substances played a vital role in their rituals, providing both practical and spiritual purposes. The tombs of pharaohs held a treasure trove of sacred oils, attesting to the significance of these substances in ensuring a successful journey to the afterlife and the continuation of the pharaoh’s divine power.
Suggested books and references:
The Book of the Dead (also known as “The Book of Coming Forth by Day”): This is a collection of magical spells and prayers intended to guide the deceased through the afterlife and protect them from dangers they might encounter.
The Pyramid Texts: These texts were inscribed on the walls of pyramids during the Old Kingdom and contain spells and incantations for the pharaoh’s safe passage to the afterlife and their transformation into a divine being.
The Coffin Texts: Written on coffins and burial equipment, the Coffin Texts served a similar purpose to the Pyramid Texts, providing magical spells and rituals to assist the deceased on their journey to the afterlife.
The Book of Amduat: This text describes the journey of the sun god Ra through the underworld during the night, providing magical protection and guidance for the deceased pharaoh’s soul.
The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys: These texts were recited during the mummification process and funeral rituals, invoking the help of the goddesses Isis and Nephthys to mourn and protect the deceased.
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.
"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.