Remembrance

Rituals and celebrations had never been important to Julia, but two years had passed since Jason’s death. From the time they met, they had spent every winter solstice together, and this year, Julia wanted to remember that tradition.

For the first time since that night, she was back in the artificial space where the mana worm had attacked. Nine concentric rings of candles surrounded her as she sat thinking about her friend.

There were no stars above, so she had no real sense of the passage of time. At some point, she noticed a translucent image of Jason sitting on the ground facing her.

“Tonight’s the solstice?”

“Are . . . are you real?”

He gave her one of his mischievous smiles. “Does it matter?”

“Yes. I’d like to know if I’ve started hallucinating.”

“If you think I’m real, then I am. If you don’t, then this is just wishful thinking.”

“Death hasn’t changed you.”

His smile got a little bigger. “No, I don’t suppose it has.”

He sounded like Jason. Spoke like Jason. Yet Julia found it difficult to believe; she didn’t want to open the door to disappointment. Still, maybe he was right; maybe it didn’t matter if he was really Jason. This night was about remembering him, and it didn’t much matter if this was just her mind trying to recreate him.

“So how is it? Being dead, I mean.”

“Boring. But time flows differently, so I don’t think it has been boring for long.”

“No great revelations? No insight into the great mysteries of the universe?”

“Sadly, no. Of course, if I did have any such insight, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to share it. Anyway, enough about all things I can’t talk about. What’s been going on with you?”

“Well, Rebecca was possessed.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Everyone helped to save her. Except Thomas. As soon as she left the house, he gave up on her.”

“But she’s okay now?”

“Yes. It’s quite a story.”

“We have all night.”

For the next several hours, Julia recounted Rebecca’s story as completely as she could. Throughout the telling, Jason listened without interruption. Only when she finished did he speak again.

“It sounds as though you are feeling more a part of the house.”

“I suppose so.”

“That’s good.” Jason looked up, though Julia couldn’t see anything herself. “Night is nearly over. I have to leave now.”

“Jason.”

“Yes?”

“Can I see you again sometime?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“I miss you.”

“I know. I miss you, too.” With that Jason faded away.

Reflections on Writing

I have been writing stories for nearly four decades. I don’t know where they come from. I don’t think they’re mine. I call their origin my muse because I don’t have any other answer. They are gifted to me in order that I might share them. I do my best to tell them, though I’m not sure I’ve ever done them justice.

Richard Bach wrote “If you will practice being fictional for awhile, you will understand that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.” My characters are real. I grieve with them, laugh with them. Sometimes I don’t like them very much. Still, I treat them with respect. These are their stories, and they have asked me to tell them. So I listen to them and try to put their stories into words.

I cannot speak for other writers, I do not know how they work their craft, produce their art. I do not know if how I experience writing is common or unique. Am I crazy, or does it just sound that way? When I talk to people about my characters, about how I write, I think they think I’m crazy. But maybe it’s them and not me.

For a long time, I did not feel right calling myself a writer. I was someone who wrote, but I didn’t think that was enough to make me writer. More recently, I realized I have to write. It’s something that I’ve always needed to do. Even if I never publish a single thing (except on my blog), even if I never make a cent, I’m a writer because I can’t not write.

Words feel inadequate sometimes, but they are all I have. And I will continue to use them as long as I can still hold a pen. I write for me. If others like any of it, if anything I write means something to someone else, that is both amazing and humbling. But it’s not why I write. I write because I have to.

Paying Respects

On the other side of the doorway stood an elderly woman hunched over a plain wooden cane. Her face was creased with so many wrinkles that it was impossible to make out her features clearly, and her silver hair was pulled back into a tight bun. Sarah took a step to one side and gestured for the woman to come inside.

“Welcome, Mistress. What brings you here?”

The older woman huffed. “You could at least pretend not to recognize me.”

“I’m sorry, Mistress. It is only because I know you so well. Why do you wear this visage?”

“People seem to expect me to be ancient, so I like to feed their preconceived ideas of me.”

“I see.” Sarah didn’t believe her explanation, but she didn’t want to question her mentor. She led the Mistress to the living room. “Is this a social visit or should we retire to my private rooms?”

“I just came to pay my respects to the new Mistress of the house.”

Sarah offered her an armchair. “Can I get you some tea?”

“No, no. I will not be staying long. How do you like having your own house finally?”

“I’m only in this position because Thomas is trying to mend some fences. This isn’t really my house.”

The Mistress scowled at her. “Self-deprecation does not suit you. Everyone who knows you acknowledges your skill. Furthermore, I did not teach you to be merely a background character. You deserve this house, and it is yours. Do not believe any less.”

“Yes, Mistress.” Though she had been on her own for years, Sarah still deferred to the Mistress’s authority.

“Now, I am quite curious as to why Thomas felt compelled to step down. You said something about mending fences?”

“You remember Jason? Another member of this house, someone who joined with Jason, blames Thomas for his death. She likely would have left if this was still Thomas’s house. He was trying to keep her from leaving.”

“Thomas was responsible for Jason’s death?”

“No, at least not directly. But his secrecy about nearly everything isn’t helping put people’s minds at ease.”

“He does have a tendency not to share, always has. Has he started researching the attack again?”

Sarah shrugged. “I can’t be certain, but there haven’t been any more incidents. And he has not brought it up in years.”

“Good.” The Mistress nodded thoughtfully. “Have you spoken to Matthew recently?”

“I haven’t been able to locate him since he left. He gave me the impression that he wouldn’t talk to me as long as I remained here. So far, he seems to be sticking to that.”

“That is a shame. I always liked him.”

“So did I.” Sarah couldn’t find the words to express everything she was thinking and feeling, so she added nothing else.

The Mistress stood with ease, belying her apparent decrepitude. “It has been nice chatting, but I should be going.”

“Really? You just came for a brief social visit?”

“I told you, I came to pay my respects. Never doubt that you deserve to head your own house. I am deeply proud of you.”

“Thank you, Mistress.”

The woman before her changed into much younger person before giving Sarah a warm hug. When the woman pulled back, she was once more an elderly crone. Sarah couldn’t repress a smile as she walked the Mistress to the door.

A New Customer (part two)

The basement was little more than a cement floor with cinderblock walls. It was large but mostly occupied by boxes piled seemingly at random. What light there was came from the few lightbulbs suspended here and there from the beams above. The only space that didn’t have boxes strewn about was one corner occupied by a washer and dryer. There weren’t any places to hide that he could see; if there was a monster, it couldn’t be that large.

David slowly made his way through the area. The woman who had come into the shop, Jennifer, said that she had seen it on the side of the basement opposite from the laundry. He was skeptical that there was a monster, but she had been on the verge of tears all the way back to her house. Something had clearly terrified her, so he wanted to be thorough. He moved boxes aside to look behind them and even opened a few to look inside.

He had made it over halfway through the basement when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. As soon as he turned his head, it disappeared. The light in that part of the room wasn’t good, but it looked like a large white mouse or maybe a small rat. Had she mistaken a mouse for a monster? Not wanting to jump to any conclusions, he decided to investigate more closely.

With all the boxes around, even a small flame could quickly turn into an inferno. So he bent down to touch the floor and sent a wave of ice toward the place he had seen the mouse. He hoped it might trap it in the ice, but at least it might make it harder for the thing to run away. A squeal from a box suggested the ice had had the desired effect. He carefully picked his way over the ice and lifted the box. There was nothing there.

Putting the box back down, he began looking around to find where it had run off to. When the box touched the ice again, the squeal came back. Out of the top of the box, between the flaps concealing the contents, the head of a white mouse poked out. David quickly grabbed at it and somehow managed to catch hold of it.

He tried pulling it out, but it resisted him as though something were pulling in back inside the box. Surprised, David let the mouse slip out of his grasp. He hurriedly pulled back the flaps to look in the box. Upon seeing inside, he involuntarily took a step back.

There was a white, amorphous blob, roughly one foot across at the widest point. Several tentacles extended from the mass; each of them ending in the shape of the front two-thirds of a mouse’s body. He had the impression the thing was staring at him with the mouse eyes.

Samuel had told him about horrors, but David never expected to see one. His training protected him from the madness that usually emanated from such beings, and it was small enough that it didn’t pose much of a threat in other ways. Not yet. Had Jennifer gotten a good look at it, she very well might have been driven insane. He covered it in ice, abruptly silencing it. Then he wrapped it in a blanket to keep anyone else from seeing it. The real question was where it had come from.

“Julia?” he called out tentatively.

Her response was nearly immediate. “Did you find your monster?” It sounded like she was chuckling.

“Yes, as a matter of fact. Already have it contained. But I need your help.”

“Why?”

“It’s a horror.”

He paused, expecting her to react, but she didn’t say anything.

“I need you to locate the portal it came through and close it.”

“A horror? You’re joking, right?” Any hint of amusement was gone from her voice.

“Unfortunately, no. It’s small, and I froze it. Luckily, it was vulnerable to cold rather than heat. But I don’t think I can find it’s portal on my own.”

“Why do you sound sane? Are you sure it’s a horror?”

“Quite sure. My guide, Samuel, trained me, prepared me to deal with these things. He has had to deal with them before, so he wanted to make sure I was equipped to deal with them, too.”

“That’s good, I guess. I’m going to come through. Please keep the thing out of sight. I don’t think I can deal with it.”

“Don’t worry. I have it wrapped up.”

A portal appeared in front of David. He assumed it had been there all along, allowing Julia to keep tabs on him. Julia stepped through holding a green crystal. It looked like the same crystal she had been holding in the coffee shop when they had been looking for Rebecca.

“Where did you find it?”

“That box over there.” He pointed it out.

Julia took a few steps toward the box and looked at it while holding the crystal up to it. She was being careful not to touch the box. “Yeah. The box itself is a portal. I’m not finding any others.”

“Can you close it?”

“Not here, but I should be able to stop anything else from coming through until I can deal with it properly.”

“Good. Can you open a portal to the shop? I want to secure this thing elsewhere before talking with Jennifer again.”

“Sure. Better your shop than the house. Just be careful.”

“Always.”