how to find the shadowlands

To find your way to the Shadowlands, the twilight realm where the Night Things dwell, you must first pay homage to the Raven Queen. The customary offering is a bushel of dates, left under under an oak tree at midnight on the eve of the new moon. She is most hungry when the air is cool and there are more leaves on the ground than in the trees, but some have reported reported rare success when the world is still vibrant and green.

At the light of dawn, if you count four and twenty blackbirds at roost in the tree, then you will know the Raven Queen is pleased with your offering, and has decided to grant you access to her realm.

On the very same day, head into the woods during the golden hour - when the sun sets the trees on fire, filling the forest with amber and gold and scarlet. Head due east, past the creek and through the valley. You'll know you're on the right path when you pass a fallen tree in the middle of a glade of ferns.

Keep walking until just after you start to doubt yourself and just before you give up hope. Then you will see an old, gnarled tree with twisted limbs that could have been an oak if it weren't for the coal-black bark.

Place your left hand on the trunk of the tree, and then walk around it backwards three times. When you open your eyes, you will see a set of rough-hewn stone stairs leading down a hillside that was not there before. Follow the stairs, and you will find yourself on a path that looks almost exactly but unsettlingly not quite like the path you had traveled previously.

At this point, you might notice that the trees sway against the wind, as if determined to display their independence from the spirits of the air. You may hear the roar of beasts in a timbre that you have previously only heard in dreams. You will be safe as you walk along this leaf-covered path, but be sure not to stray, for out in the shadows, in the darkest recesses of the wood, lie creatures that even the Night Things fear.

Continue down this path until just after sunset, and you will reach the edge of the wood. When you peer out from beneath the canopy of the forest, you will see, nestled in the valley before you, your destination - the goblin city of Ix, with its ten thousand smokestacks silhouetted against the starry night sky.

my writing challenge

At the beginning of the month, I issued a challenge to myself to produce a short story a week for each of the four weeks of March. At the time, I anticipated writing four disconnected stories that were joined by a common topic. Instead, I've stumbled into a cast of recurring characters who I really enjoy writing about.

Therefore, I'm going to issue a different challenge to myself. I'm going to turn the Sacred Geometry stories into an ongoing series starring Scarlett, the paranormal blogger. I'm setting a goal for myself to release 1000-2000 word chunks of her ongoing adventures every two weeks until the story is complete.

So, check back next Friday, April 1st, for the next installment of Sacred Geometry.

halloween horror story round-up

Happy Halloween!

To celebrate the season of ghouls and ghosts, I posted five horror stories during the month of October: four flash-fiction-length and one short story. Thanks to everyone who read along and commented on the stories - I certainly appreciated all of the encouragement and I had a lot of fun writing them.

For those that might have missed them, the five stores are:

The Girl with the Ebony Eyes

Wasps

Free Rent

How I Lost My Head

High Cheekbones, Nice Skin

Remember that all of my stories are published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike License, so I’d love for you to create derivative works based on them as long as you don’t sell them and make sure to give me credit. You’re also welcome to redistribute any of my works as long as you give me the proper credit and don’t try to make a profit on it.

the girl with the ebony eyes

Jim stomped on the brakes, but the car kept moving. He jerked the wheel to the right, just as Cheryl screamed, and the car flew off the side of the rain-slicked road, crashing through the guard rail with a deafening screech of metal on metal before careening down the embankment.

The descent simultaneously took forever and an instant. They crashed through brush, bushes, branches; over rocks and dirt and gravel before slamming into the bottom of the ravine. Both of the air bags exploded as the car hit bottom, cushioning them as the momentum of the fall propelled them forward into the steering wheel and dashboard.  Jim heard the crash of bursting glass and the crack of exploding plastic.

He was stunned and disoriented, so he sat back in his seat and breathed for a moment. Then he shook his head to clear the confusion and asked, “Are you ok?”

Cheryl nodded as she, too, fought off disorientation. “I think so.” She pushed the deflated airbag away from her, then winced and grasped her side. “Ow. I think I broke a rib.”

Jim sat quietly for another moment, and then asked, “Did you see that?”

Cheryl turned to him and nodded slowly, “The girl?”

The girl was no more than twelve, dressed in a white cotton nightshirt, with skin that glowed white in the car’s headlights. Filling her eye sockets was a black, empty space, that, in contrast to her skin, seemed to suck the light right out of the air. She was standing, unmoving, in the middle of the road, right at the spot in the bend where a car’s headlights reach only at the last second.

#

Jim had seen the girl three times before. The second time he saw her, she appeared in the doorway of his mother’s kitchen as he was standing in the dining room, setting the table for dinner. He looked away, startled, and then looked back. She could have been one of the neighborhood children that his mother baked cookies for if it hadn’t been for the empty space where her eyes should have been.

He blinked and she disappeared. A moment later, he heard a thud from the kitchen, where his mother lay dead from a massive heart attack.

The third time he saw her, he was helping his brother stock his liquor store. Jim was in the back of the store, moving cases of rum, when he saw the girl standing at the end of an aisle. He looked away, and a second later heard the jingle of the front door, then a demand for money, and then the sound of a gunshot.

He raced to the front, but the robber was gone and his brother was dead.

#

“We have to get out of here,” Jim said quietly. Now that he was no longer in shock, he was terrified, but he didn’t want to alarm his wife. She didn’t know that he’d seen the girl before.

“Can you open your door?” Cheryl asked. She looked out her window – her door was pinned against a tree.

Jim pulled the handle and threw his weight against his door. It creaked open and he squeezed out, then reached in and helped his wife climb out.

“What the hell, Jim?” she gasped.

“I…I…I don’t know.” He looked around frantically. He didn’t see the girl anywhere, and he felt a moment of hope. Maybe she failed this time. Maybe this time no one would die.

“What the hell?” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a cell phone. “What was that?” She stared at the screen and then started to wave it around.

“I’m not sure,” he said as he stepped back to survey the damage. “Baby, what are you doing?”

“I’m trying to get a signal. Shit – what the hell?” She waved the phone for another minute, then, “We need to get back up to the road.”

“What?” He watched as she took off up the hill. He turned to walk after her but snagged his jacket on a tree branch. As he looked back, he saw the girl again – standing in the darkness, watching them. In the distance, he could hear the rumble of a semi.

“Oh no,” he thought as his heart sank. “No, not Cheryl!” he struggled to free himself – to go after his wife – but the tree gripped his jacket tightly.

“Baby, stop!” he yelled, “Stop!”

“I’m almost there!” she yelled back, and kept climbing.

He could hear the rumble of the semi, could see the headlights approaching, and he prayed that she would stop when she got to the top of the hill. He prayed that she would stop and stand next to the guard rail to flag the truck down.

She reached the berm just as the headlights of the truck cleared the corner. Jim held his breath and felt his stomach lurch as he saw her stumble and fall right into the middle of the road. “No!” he screamed.

His scream was drowned out by the squeal of tires as the truck swerved to the right, following the same path that his own car had taken moments earlier – through the hole in the guardrail, off the side of the embankment.

In that moment, he remembered the first time he’d seen the girl, when he was twenty-three. It was on the same stretch of road, at the same time of night, and she was wearing the same white cotton nightshirt, with the same skin that glowed white in the car’s headlights. That time, though, she didn’t have coal-black eyes. That time, he didn’t have anyone else in the car. That time, he didn’t swerve. No – the first time he saw the girl, her body, not his car, went flying down the embankment. The first time he saw her, he kept driving.

Now, as he watched the truck barrel down the hill toward him – toward where he remained immobilized – he realized that could see through the front windshield, where the girl with the ebony eyes was sitting calmly in the passenger seat – smiling.

wasps

“Oh, no,” Maggie thought as she watched the wasp crawl out of her ear, “Not again.” She’d been in the middle of brushing her teeth when she caught the movement out of the corner of her eye, and she stopped and stared at her reflection in the mirror as the creature emerged.

“No, no, no,” she thought as the wasp unfurled its wings. She didn’t want to startle it, so she held very still – her toothbrush in one hand and toothpaste in the other. She watched it for a moment as it flapped its wings hesitantly, as if to test their stability.

“Please, don’t do that,” she silently pleaded. “Just turn around and go back in.”  Instead, it lifted off her ear and began flying around her head. It circled twice and then darted away, flying quickly through the open bathroom door.

Maggie set down her toothbrush and toothpaste, then grabbed her head and groaned. It had been years since the last time the wasps came – since the doctors told her it was an ear infection, since the doctors told her it was too much caffeine, it was brain damage, it was not brain damage, it was hypertension, it was acoustic trauma – it was irreversible, untreatable, indefinable. Maybe you should talk to a psychiatrist, Maggie. Are you having thoughts of hurting yourself, Maggie? I’ll prescribe something for your nerves, Maggie.

“Oh God, please no.” She looked at the bottles lined up in the corner. There were only two now. Once there were three, and then five, and then she didn’t want to take them anymore. Please don’t make me take them anymore. They didn’t make the buzzing stop – they didn’t put the wasps to sleep. There was only one way to put the wasps to sleep and it didn’t come in a bottle and she put the wasps to sleep but now there were new bottles and…

#

It had been years – years since she took the gasoline and the match to the wasp nest – the one in the gnarled tree out behind her house – the tree that the crazy old man who sold her the house told her to stay away from.  She thought he meant that she was in danger of getting stung – that the wasps were aggressive.

“Just douse the thing with gas, light it on fire, and run,” her father had told her. So she had – and then she’d watched it burn from behind the safety of her screen door. The buzzing began a week later – and she’d gone through tests and more tests and therapy and more tests – but it only grew louder and louder and louder.

Six months later, just when she’d accepted that she’d have to learn to live with the buzzing inside her head, they started appearing – from her ears, from her nose, from her mouth. They crawled out in the middle of the night and built their nests inside the walls and under the floors and in the closets and under the beds.

They crawled into her shoes and fell out of her pockets; they clogged her pipes and infested her kitchen. Everywhere – everywhere – they buzzed and crawled and buzzed and flew and buzzed and stung. Finally, when she could take no more, when she’d been stung for the last time, when she could hear nothing else but the demonic buzzing, she took care of them the only way she knew how: she took the gas can, doused the house, climbed up on top of the bed, and lit a match.

The buzzing stopped.

#

After she’d put her life back together – after she’d made it through years of burn therapy, after the psychiatrists explained that she’d had a psychotic break, after she’d met and married the cute nurse, after she graduated from law school, after they’d had two children – after all of that – on some days she didn’t actually think about the wasps.

She peered out of the bathroom and looked at her husband, lying peacefully in bed. The wasp buzzed around the room, then slipped out of the door into the hall. She followed it, quietly, as it flitted about, and then saw it fly into the room where her two boys slept.

“Oh, God,” she gasped. She pushed the door open, and then watched as the wasp settled into the pillow of her eldest child. “No,” she pleaded, “Please, God, no.”

The wasp walked up the boy’s neck, onto his ear, paused for a second, and then disappeared inside. He whimpered quietly, but did not wake up.

Maggie stumbled back against the wall and slowly slid to her knees. She began to sob quietly. She knew what lay in store for her son – for her whole family – and she knew that she couldn’t bear to see them put through it. There was only one way to fix it – only one way to keep the wasps from buzzing.

The only way she knew how.