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I met a boy in the moods.

Well, not so much met as crashed into. He had been running. I had been running. And objects in motion stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside source. We were each other’s outside source. We had not seen each other. We slammed right into one another. My back still hurts from hitting the ground, and my legs ache from all the running we have done.

It is not morning anymore.

The sunlight has warmed into a honey afternoon. 

Summer heat creeps up our legs and makes us sweat under thick cotton t-shirts. The boy walks ahead of me. We came upon a cabin in the woods and he said he knew it. He said he knew it meant that we were almost home. I have not thought about home since I left it this morning. Now, I cannot stop thinking of Mother in the window. She was red-faced angry. Raw-throat angry. The more I think about her the more I do not want to go back. 

But when the boy says home, he means his home. He means a house on Verbena Drive. I don’t quite know where that is but I hope it is far from Mother. I hope it is far from her rage.  

“Are we going the right way?” I ask the boy.

“You tell me,” he says, because I have been marking our path by scraping bark off of the trees. I look around and all the trees I see are untouched. I touch the closest one. I peel away a strip of its bark and let it fall to the floor.

“We haven’t been here before,” I say.

“Then we’re going the right way,” says the boy.

“We could be going deeper in the woods,” I say.

“I don’t think we are,” says the boy. I want to believe him. I don’t want to believe him. I want to escape the woods. I don’t want to go back with Mother. I think about following him all the way to Verbena Drive. I think about Mother finding me there. I think about running as far as I can. I think about never going home. “Where did you come from?” the boy asks me.

“Home,” I say.

“No shit,”  he says. “I mean, what are you doing out here?”

“That’s not what you asked,” I tell him.

“It’s what I meant,” he shrugs. 

“I saw you walking alone,” I tell him. “You shouldn’t go in the woods alone.”

“Because of the stories?” the boy asks.

“Mother says the stories aren’t real,” I say, “but the woods are still a danger.” 

“My dad said that, too,” the boy says. “Kinda.”

“Is it true?” I ask. “That the stories are all fake?”

“Truth?” he asks.

“Truth,” I say. 

“I don’t know anymore.” We return to our silence. He walks two steps ahead of me, and I keep tearing bark from trees. The woods make all their sounds: the birds shaking the leaves, the wind weaving through the branches, the skittering of little animal feet across the ground. The boy turns his head at every sound. His breath hitches up in his throat each time he does. 

“What was chasing you?” I ask him.

“I don’t know,” he says.

“An animal?” I ask. 

He stops in his tracks. He looks over his shoulder. He says, “That.”

I turn around, but I do not get a good look before the boy grabs my wrist like he had when we met and begins to run. I stumble. I almost fall but I catch myself and his hold on me keeps me moving. I scramble to fit my feet beneath me and force my legs to run. I try to look behind us, but I can only see the blurry trees and the shape of some strange shadow moving through them. It is animal. It is a tree. It is a person. A person. A girl. It is a girl. 

“Who is that?” I shriek, but the boy does not answer. 

We run and we run. The girl runs after us. But she doesn’t run. She glides. She floats. Her hair is a wild mane around her face and her mouth is open in an angry, animal snarl. She flits behind one tree and appears behind one three trees ahead. 

“Keep running!” the boy yells. He darts between the trees, too, like he’s trying to shake her off our tail. We run and run and run. My lungs burn. My legs burn, too. My whole body is on fire but I will not let it stop. I cannot stop watching the girl. She screams and it is the loudest, most awful thing I’ve ever heard. It makes my ears ring. 

“What is that?” I yell.

“We’re almost there!” the boy says. I do not know where there is, but when I look ahead I can see the thin gold line of the forest’s edge. We are almost out. I force my legs to go faster. We are sprinting. The girl is, too; or whatever her strange version of sprinting is. She is not winded like us. She does not look tired or red-faced or sweaty. 

She is close. She reaches out a hand and her fingernails look like jagged claws. She grabs for me. She scratches my wrist and I scream, and the boy pulls me forward and shoves me at the treeline. 

We stumble into the light like newborn deer. 

I fall onto my knees. I am breathless. I am bleeding. There is a cut along my wear the girl scratched me. The red leaks out. I stare at it, wide-eyed.

The boy is doubled over beside me. He is breathing heavy. I listen to his breaths and I try to calm my own. I look back at the woods. I cannot find the girl in them. It is as though she has vanished - as though the dark has swallowed her whole. 

I look down the street. We are where we began. 

Mother is standing on the lawn with the phone to her ear. My heart jumps back into my throat. I feel my chest go tight. This time, it is my turn to grab the boy’s wrist. “I need to go,” I say, and then, “We need to go.” because, surely, if she sees us together she will have his head, too. The boy gasps. He tries to pull away, but I hold on as tightly as he held me and, again, we run.


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A boy and a girl are lost in the woods.

They follow the slivers of sunlight that poke through the dense, leafy canopy above their heads. They tip-toe around the shadows like they are sleeping beasts. They pass each other, but are too far to see such truth. Their hearts beat hard against the cages of their ribs. Their breath quickens with their frantic steps. Dead leaves and snapping twigs crunch beneath their feet. The girl is barefoot. She walks on her toes and steps cautiously around tree roots and nests of fallen leaves. She sees a flash of something in the dark and she follows it. She thinks that it is the boy. She followed him into the woods, but has lost sight. Now, she loses sight of the flash of the something. She spins around, and around again, but she cannot find it.

She is surrounded by the dark. 

She looks up. She spots of a spill of light in the distance ahead and she runs. She runs and she runs, and she does not know that the boy is also running and running to that same thin stretch of sunlight breaking through the trees.

A boy and a girl are lost in the woods.

They are running.

They collide.

They fall back against the dirt and grass and leaves and all the air flies from their hard-working lungs. The boy scrambles quickly upright. He looks over one shoulder and then the other, and then the first again. He can hear his blood pulsing like roaring ocean waves in his ears. It drowns out the sounds of the woods and no matter how hard he tries he cannot hear the sounds of footsteps like he had before. He looks deep into the shadows. The shadows do not look back.

The girl sits up. She asks the boy what he is doing, and her words shock him into motion like an electric current. He grabs her wrist and pulls and she goes flying to her feet. She stumbles and struggles to keep up as he begins to run again, his hand on hers.

“Where are you going?!” she asks. The boy does not answer. He runs. They run. 

A boy and a girl are lost in the woods.

The girl tells the boy they are going in circles. The boy tries to argue, but he does not know that he is wrong. The girl begins to pull bark from the trees. She leaves bare bald spots behind, “So that we know we’ve been here.”

They stop running. The boy keeps looking over his shoulders, but he does not answer the girl when she asks what he is looking for. His blood stops pumping so hard in his ears and he can hear again. He reacts to every little noise, pulls the girl away from any tiny sound.

“Is there something in the woods?” asks the girl. The boy’s silence is an answer in itself.

They walk together for what feels like hours. They loop through the winding trails, their pacing slowing the longer they walk and the farther they go. When they find a cabin they thing that it might be a mirage, the kind that explorers see in the desert when they are hot and tired and desperate for the cooling waters of tropical oases. They share a glance.

“Should we?” asks the girl. The boy shakes his head. 

“I think I know this place,” he says. “I think we’re close to home.”

“Where is home?” the girl asks.

“Verbena Drive,” the boy says.

A boy and a girl are lost in the woods.

They turn away from a little cabin that promises they are near home. They do not turn around. They do not look back. They walk side by side and keep to the sunlight poking through the trees. Behind them, as they walk away, the cabin lights flicker.


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The Tower

something wicked
part two | (read part one)

The morning mist hangs heavy against the window. It makes the sun look hazy in a dreamy sort of way. I watch it paint watercolors across the hardwood floor. Below that floor I hear soft, shuffling footsteps. I hear the clink of a teaspoon in a coffee cup. 

It is summer now. The schools have closed their doors.

I know this because the weather has warmed, and because I saw all the kids spill into the streets in droves. They zipped by on bicycles and skateboards and scooters, all of them hollering and high-fiving one another. I wondered what it might be like to be down there with them. To be a part of their crowd. To run out of the large, red double doors of the school and celebrate two whole months of freedom.

Mother does not believe in school.

“They’ll teach you bad morals,” she says.

“How can morals be bad?” I ask, but she never answers. She tells me, instead, to recite the poems I was to memorize last night. To do the algebra equations she has written on the rickety easel chalkboard in the living room. To go upstairs and to read.

Mother has stocked shelves upon shelves of books that I’m allowed to read. She reads them all first, to make sure they are acceptable, and then lets me have them. I keep my favorites lined in neat little rows on the high shelves in my bedroom. Mother tells me that I should not read the same books over and over again, but I do it anyway. Why have a favorite book if you cannot visit it from time to time? If you do not peek your head back into its world, you may forget its wonder. That’s why I read fairy tales again and again. Adventures. I dip my toes back into worlds were the princess escape their towers and slay their dragons and marry princes who love them. I read them and I imagine myself in them. 

I am to read ten pages before breakfast. I do this as I listen to Mother in the kitchen. There is a sizzle on the stove. The tap, tap, tap of an eggshell cracked against a ceramic bowl. 

I read two lines before I notice a shadow down there on the street. 

I leave my book face-down on the bed, brave heroine paused mid-heroic, and lean over the sill. The morning mist is settling now into a soft dew across the grass. There is a boy on the sidewalk. He looks determined. He is on a quest.

He is heading toward the woods. 

Woods, I know, are dangerous. 

“You are never to go in them,” Mother says, and all the books I’ve read have backed her up. But the boy is going to the woods, and he is going there alone. This is dangerous. I know this, too, because in all the books lonely adventures end only in tragedy. I look down the road but the boy has no friends behind him. I strain to see ahead but there is not one in front of him. 

Downstairs, I hear a needle drop into the tiny groove of one of Mother’s records. I hear her humming. I am to go downstairs when the record stops. This is our routine. Mother likes routines. She likes schedules that are strict and girls who obey them. 

I listen to her humming and I watch the boy walking down the street. I watch him approach the tall trees. I watch him hesitate at the mouth of the woods and, overcome, I yank the window open.

“Hey!” I shout. Then I bite my tongue.

I wait, but it seems that Mother has not heard me. The boy has not heard me, either. He steps into the woods. Anxious, and a bit thoughtless, I climb onto the roof. “Hey!” I shout again, but the boy does not hear me. I scale the roof like the hero of an action-packed adventure novel. I dangle from the gutter and I count to three. I let go. 

The ground knocks all the breath from my lungs. 

I lay there, stunned, for one second and then two and by the third I suck in air like it is my first time breathing, like I am a newborn shocked by the cold of the world. I bolt upright.

I see Mother’s shadow in the kitchen window. She is scrambling eggs. She sips her coffee. She looks at the window and then down at the stove and then, to my horror, back at the window. 

She screams my name, “Rose!”, but it is muffled by the thick glass.

I scramble to my feet. My ankle hurts but I run away, lopsided and lame. I run down the road where the boy had gone. I cannot see the boy anymore, but I run as though I can. I run as though he is the moth-flame I am drawn to. The wind blows back my hair and my lungs burn like two small fires in my chest. 

I run past the trees. 

I run into the dark.


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The Woods

something wicked
part one

She has become more grave than girl: that’s what the legends say. All those bedtime stories that raise more nightmares than sweet dreams. We were warned as children not to go into the woods. She lives in there, you see. It is where she died, centuries ago, and where she is said still to roam. Some say she is a ghastly sight, but more say she is lovely.

She was beautiful in life. In death, the stories deviate. That happens when people die. The ones left behind all remember them differently, and they all tell their conflicting stories, and somehow all those stories create a lasting memory - perhaps even a legacy. 

“She comes looking for the old woman,” they say, “who killed her in that woods.”

I used to ask my father why someone would kill the girl, but he never liked to answer. 

“Don’t worry yourself with nonsense,” he’d say. “There’s no girl out in those woods.”

I am ten years old when he tells me this. There’s no such thing as ghosts, he says. The girl is just an urban legend. She is meant to scare you. “She does scare me,” I said, and my father says that means she’s doing her job. He says that because the woods are dangerous, parents want their children to stay out of them, so they made up the story of the girl whose awful step-mother killed her. They say that she roams the woods and will eat anyone who crosses their path. “Why would she eat people?” I ask my father, and he says that it’s part of the legend. All the old monsters in all the old stories eat the children who disobey the rules. 

This is what I tell my friends on the very first day of summer.

We hang out near the woods. Not in them, of course, because no one is supposed to go in them. There are bears and hunter’s traps in the depths of those woods. “And the dead girl,” Ben reminds us, and I tell him that she isn’t real.

“Bullshit,” says Joey. 

“It’s true,” I say. “My dad said so.”

“Your dad’s a liar,” says Joey.

“Is not,” I say. “My dad doesn’t lie.”

“Well I’ve seen her!” Joey says, and he cross-his-heart swears that it’s true. 

That’s a lie,” I say.

“I have!” says Joey.

“When?” I ask, and he says it was two years ago when he snuck into the woods with his brothers. They knew about an old hunting post with a cabin that the older kids sneak into. It’s supposed to smell like cigarette smoke and cheap booze, but I don’t really know what makes cheap booze smell different than the expensive stuff my father keeps in the back of the liquor cabinet for special occasions. It had been near dusk, when the sky gets purple-hazy and porch lights start to flick on one by one down the streets. 

“I heard something,” Joey says, “and I thought it was a deer. But every time I turned around, there was nothing there. It was like some...some invisible person was following me.”

“Then you didn’t see it,” I tell him.

“I’m not done,” Joey says. “It kept happening, and I started walking real fast, and my brothers are making fun of me for being scared. But when we got to the cabin they locked all the doors, because they were scared, too. And they had this case of beer their friends stashed, so they were drinking, and I tried some, and we didn’t hear anything until later. Then we heard something., tap tap tap.” Here, he taps his fingernail against the lens of his glasses. “On the glass,” he says. “On the windows. And we all looked at each other. Like, like what the shit, right? And we all turned around and no shit. We. All. Saw. Her. She had her dead face all pressed against the window. And she was tapping on the glass.” Again, he clicks his nail against his glasses.

“What’d you do?” asks Ben.

“Turned out all the lights,” Joey shrugs. “Waited for her to go away.”

“That’s bullshit,” I say.

“Is not!” says Joey. “My brothers don’t even go out there anymore. To that cabin? Their friends all go out still, but they won’t go. They think she’s waiting for ‘em to come back.”

“Why doesn’t she get their friends, then?” I ask. “If she’s waiting?”

“I said that’s what they think, asshole,” says Joey. “Point is we all saw her.” 

The conversation shifted from there- to the new machines at the arcade, the summer reading we didn’t want to do. The shadows grow long and the sky goes from pink to purple to deep, deep blue. We all walk together to the split between Peony and Verbena. Joey turns left, and Ben and I walk right until we reach his house.

“Do you believe it?” I ask before he goes inside. “The dead girl?”

“I don’t know,” Ben shrugs. “I believe Joey.”

“Why?” I ask.

“He’s never lied before,” says Ben.

I think about this all through dinner. I think about it when I wash the dishes and when I brush my teeth, I think about it when my father says goodnight and that he loves me. I think about it when he turns out the lights. Every small gust of wind outside sends the tree branches bending and bowing and rattling against the roof and against each other. I think about a whole forest full of those sounds. I think about the dead girl, lost out there, wandering around. I think about Joey tapping his glasses, and about how he swears she tap, tap, tapped on the cabin window in the woods. 

In the morning, I get up early, because in truth I had not slept.

I tell my father that I am going to Joey’s. This is a half-truth, because I will go see Joey after I walk the woods and tell him about how the dead girl isn’t real. I walk to the woods and I watch them for a moment, or two moments, perhaps even three, because they are as deep and dark as the stories even in the golden daylight. Then, I step inside.

I don’t know how long I walk. 

The woods are quiet. There is soft grass growing off the beaten path, the one the hunters walk, and the hikers when they want to see the leaves turn fire-colors in the fall. I stick to the path as best as I can and listen for the footsteps that Joey swears he heard. They do not come.

Satisfied, I turn around. 

I realize I am lost. 

I thought that I had stuck to one straight path, but when I turn around I cannot find my way. There are forks and deviations I cannot make sense of. I walk down one way and hit a copse of trees. I go down another and find a stream. I turn around and around and still I cannot find my way. 

That is when she comes. 

She is shadows first, and then she is a girl. 

She is porcelain-doll pretty. She is ghastly. She is beautiful. She is dead. 

She stands at the end of the path and I am frozen stiff. I want to turn into one of those many trees tower all around me; I will myself to grow roots, beg my skin to turn to bark, but it does not happen. She watches me with her glass marble eyes. She smiles. I stare at her, and I as I star at her I think with fascination how none of the legends ever mention she has fangs.


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demon: a supernatural and often malevolent being prevalent in religion, occultism, literature, fiction, mythology and folklore. In Ancient Near Eastern religions as well as in the Abrahamic traditions, including ancient and medieval Christian demonology, a demon is considered a harmful spiritual entity which may cause demonic possession, calling for an exorcism. In Western occultism and Renaissance magic, which grew out of an amalgamation of Greco-Roman magic, Jewish Aggadah and Christian demonology, a demon is believed to be a spiritual entity that may be conjured and controlled.

It is a small black book with small black writing, ink dragged first in a tight and careful hand, then turned progressively looser and messier with each turn of the page. The names inside are long and near-illegible, but I have seen them before - I have heard them in the unearthly voices broken through split lips.

The small black book came from a small black room. I am told that the room did not used to be black, but that it turned a different color on That Night. That is how people refer to exorcisms. That Night. That Day. There are no dates tied to these phrases. People know what you mean. On That Night something evil threw itself against the wall and bled into the folds of our reality. On That Day strange tongues rang off the high ceilings, screaming strange names at the sky and spitting curses at the holy water poured over a writhing body.

I have traveled thousands of miles, by plane and train and boat, to get this small black book. It comes from a priest I have never met who speaks a language I can only speak in fractured stammers. But it has to help.

It has to.

There is something inside of me. Something that twists my tongue in languages long dead and whispers things inside my head. It lives inside my skull and I can always hear it scratching there. Even when it stops its murmuring I can feel its claws against my bones; because this something wants out. It is fighting and my body is getting weaker and weaker. The small black book was inside a church I could not step inside, because the something burned me from the inside when I tried. Its heat still simmered beneath my skin each time I looked at the spiraling towers with their perfect little crosses shadowed by the sun - a punishment for wishing.

The something inside me pulls at the threads of my eyes when I try to read the small black book, and sings in my ears when I have it read to me. But I can’t stop trying. I whisper prayers that make it angry, let it scream itself to exhaustion, just so I can keep going.

It leaves me exhausted, too. Some days all I can do is sleep.

When I sleep, I dream terrible dreams of goat eyes and snakes, hordes of flies, blood spilling from black storm clouds and runes whose meanings are lost when, at last, I wake.

I am at war with this thing inside me. I don’t know how to win.

But I have the priest’s black book and a Bible blessed  by Cardinals. I have Crucifixes that I right again and again, for the thing inside me gets out to flip them while I sleep. I have holy water and I have will. I think I still have will. It is smaller than it used to be; a little flicker in my belly that I must cling to, or else let slip away. It cannot slip away. The thing inside me tries to cut and shrink and shrivel it, but I cannot let it slip away.





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dr. jekyl & mr. hyde: Dr. Henry Jekyll and his alternative personality, Mr. Edward Hyde, is a fictional character in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He is the title character, but the main protagonist is Gabriel John Utterson; Jekyll feels he is battling between the good and bad within himself, thus leading to the struggle with his alter ego, Hyde. He spends his life trying to repress evil urges that are not fitting for a man of his stature. He develops a serum in an attempt to mask this hidden evil. However, in doing so, Jekyll transforms into Hyde, a hideous creature without compassion or remorse.

There is a picture in the morning paper that I think might be me. It sits above the fold, blurred with motion in the center of its focus, but I think it looks like me. Not the me that awoke stiff-boned and yawning from the folds of fresh white sheets, not the me that poured hot coffee and sat on the front porch waiting for the paperboy in his rickety bike with the squeaky wheels to fling a bundle onto the drive. If it were that me I would not be on my porch because I would be in a cell because I would have been recognized by the corner store clerk who sold me cigarettes last night or by the pubescent boy that flung the morning news behind the back tires of  my Buick.

The other me is still at large. A wanted man.

The charge is murder. Actually, the charges - as in, multiple counts, as in, multiple murders,  as in, more than one person was killed. I found a spot of red on my gray shirt collar and I think the charges are for me. Not the me sitting at the breakfast nook over half a leftover buttered croissant, but the other me. The wanted me.

I’ve never talked to the other me. I don’t how to ask him what he’s done. But I don’t have to, because I can read about it, because the morning paper is urging citizens to look out for the other me.

The other me is taller. The other me is broader. The other me has a deeper voice and stronger hands and calluses on all his fingers. The other me likes the dark. The other me is short tempered. He lingers at the edges of my consciousness and waits for little grievances to pile up, and when he has to wait too long, he tips the scales himself.

The other me knows that I hate him. I do not need to speak to him to know that he knows this. We understand these things about each other because we live on opposite hemispheres of the same brain and sometimes our wires get crossed. Sometimes he taps into me, or I tap into him, but I have more to hide from him - because I can read about him in the morning paper, but there are no headlines about me.

We can hear each other sometimes, too. I linger at the edge of his mind  when he rages and sometimes I catch glimpses of his thoughts. Because I do this, I know that he can, too. And I have talked a great deal lately about how I wish to extract him.

He does not want this. He wants to live.

I cannot blame him. I want to live too. This is why I want to erase him.

Not erase, I suppose. Erasure is permanent, and he exists in print. I will never truly get rid of him., and perhaps this is exactly what he wanted. Perhaps this is why he swells and breaks my bones and tears my skin. Perhaps it’s why he storms into the straights and lets people see him.

Because if he exists to them, he will always exist. And if he always exists, I can never escape.





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haunted doll: a handmade or manufactured doll or stuffed animal that is reported to be cursed or possessed in some way. The earliest report of a haunted doll goes back to Ancient Egyptwhere the enemies of Ramesses III attempted to use wax images of his likeness to bring about his death. The dolls used in this ritual were said to be living and would curse anyone who bore their resemblance. The ancient Egyptian poppet, effigy and voodoo dolls are often said to be cursed because of their long history of being used to place curses on other people and their association with the occult.

Olivia does not scare easy.

She pushes the planchette during her sister’s Oujia seances (Is there someone in this room with us? YES. Can you tell us your name? NO. Is there something you want to say to us? G-E-T O-U-T N-O-W.), she lets her friends huddle in nervous giggles behind her as she takes the first step inside the “Scariest Haunted House on the East Coast!”, and she doesn’t check behind the shower curtain or peek into the closet to check for serial killers after slasher movie marathons.

Olivia allocates her fear toward things she considers real: taxes are real, and so are car accidents; plane crashes are rare, but no less real for it; bears exist and their pure, brute power and probable anger management issues are more than enough reason to stay out of the woods. Olivia thinks that she should, perhaps, be afraid of abandoned buildings, but finds herself fascinated, instead.

“This place gives me the creeps,” Tim says.

“It’s four walls and a roof,” Olivia rationalizes.

“And asbestos,” Kelly quips.

They are armed with cameras and slowly-thinning determination. It’s Olivia who kicks at the first door. It groans under the force, but does not budge. Dust falls from its frame. Olivia tries again and gets the rusted lock to rattle. The dust coats her Chucks in a thick, gray layer.

“See?” Kelly says. “Asbestos.”

“Let me try,” Tim says. Olivia steps aside and lets him take a hard swing at the door with the baseball bat he’d dragged with them - for protection, he’d explained, and Olivia had decided this was sound. Ghosts aren’t real, but who knows who might actually be hunkering down in those halls. He gets the rust the flake and fall, unlocking the latch and making the door creak eerily inwards. He jumps backwards.

“Four walls and a roof,” Olivia reminds him. “And maybe some homeless dudes.”

She pushes the door wider and steps inside. Her footfalls echo in the hollow, empty foyer. There’s a large, round reception desk a few feet ahead of her. There is flaked paint and crumbled pieces of plaster piled in the corners of the room, and the cracked fluorescent lights are so caked in dust they probably couldn’t illuminate much of anything even if they did work.

Olivia raises her camera and snaps a picture. The photograph that plays back makes the whole room look even more bleak, and the power of such an artistic playground inspires a smile.

“Come on,” she says. “This place is sick.”

“Probably literally,” Kelly says, but she steps inside anyway. “Holy shit.”

Tim is the last to step inside, and he keeps the door wide open behind him.

“Let’s go,” Olivia says, and together they press forward into the dark.

It is tradition, on these urban expeditions, for everyone to take a suvionier - a token of proof that they’d gone somewhere they were not supposed to go and saw things that they were not supposed to see. Tim takes little things, bits of broken wire and buttons left floors, anything small enough to stuff in a shoebox shoved in the far corner of his closet. Kelly went for florals - dried up weeds and dead leaves and little bouquets of wildflowers that she pressed inside her biology textbooks.

Olivia, true to form, is the most bold. She keeps a crate in the back of her parent’s shed, hidden behind the ride-on mower and a large assortment of rakes, behind the boxes her mother packed up for the yard sale that they never had. There she had books from the library of an old orphanage and an unopened package of surgical masks from the county hospital that closed down when they were just kids; she took full staff manuals with the covers missing and cracked coffee pots from retired break-rooms, state issued blankets that were no longer fit to be issued. She takes things that once mattered, things with names on them - full folders of files that once meant something, and now doesn’t. She likes to go for the weird things: the single shoes left in empty halls, the jackets forgotten on dusty coat racks.

This time, though, she finds the strangest treasure of all.

“Don’t take that,” Kelly says.

“Why not?” Olivia asks.

“It’s creepy is what it is,” Tim says.

“That thing’s possessed for sure,” says Kelly.

The thing in question is a doll. A simple doll made of felt, with black button eyes and a smile made of squiggled switches that were probably endearing before some spiders made their webs across it. It wears a dress that looks like it used to be a tablecloth; homemade, Olivia thinks, and that makes her want it more.

“You guys are nuts,” she says, sweeping her sleeve across the doll’s face to clean off the dust and cobwebs. “I think it’s cool. Kind of cute, once you clean it up.”

“You have a weird definition of cute,” says Kelly, but Olivia is not listening. She’s turning the doll over in her hands, inspecting it. It’s well made, she finds, the stitching hardly frayed except for at the hem of the little blue dress. On one of the doll’s feet the name Libby is written in black ink.

“Look at that,” Olivia says, pointing to the ink. “She’s even got a name.”

“That just makes it worse,” Kelly says. The doll goes into Olivia’s bag anyway.

When she arrives home, she bypasses her parents’ shed and instead goes straight inside. She cleans the doll up with some washcloths from the bathroom cabinet and and sets it on a high shelf in her bedroom. No one seems to notice it, no one but her sister, who swears it changes positions throughout the day.

“You can stop moving it,” Olivia tells her, “you’re not going to scare me.”

“Are you kidding?” says Natalie. “I’m not touching that thing!”

“Sure,” Olivia says. “So it just jumped on my bed of its own accord?”

“It was on your bed?!”

“Very funny, Nat.”

“Liv, I swear,” says Natalie. “You brought home a goddamn demon.”

Olivia dismiss this with a quip about Natalie’s Oujia board, a quip that does not go over well because apparently when Natalie is really scared of something she doesn’t want to try to talk to it with the stupid spirit board. Too bad. Olivia would have liked to mess with her - make the planchette spell out things like I’m here, and Right behind you, and Yes, I am a demon.

Little Libby the Doll continues to move around Olivia’s room. Once, it even ends up in the living room, just perched on the couch like it was gearing up for Sunday football.

Natalie stars to have nightmares, too. She tells Olivia about them. She talks about finding the doll at the foot of her bed with a knife gleaming in its little felt hand. She talks about blood dripping from the doll’s button eyes and sometimes woke up with terrible headaches, swearing that they were all the doll’s fault.

“The joke’s getting old, Nat,” Olivia tells her sister one night when she found Libby sitting on the front porch when she’d come home from school. “Give it up.”

“It’s not a joke, Liv,” Natalie swears. “Get rid of that fucking thing.”

Olivia just rolls her eyes and sets Libby back on her shelf.

Kelly doesn’t go into Olivia’s room anymore. Eventually, she stops coming over all together, instead inviting Olivia and Tim to her basement rec room for movie nights and to plan their next expeditions into their next condemned building. One night, over popcorn and bottles of cola, Olivia tells Kelly and Tim about Natalie’s obsession with Libby.

“It’s not scary,” Olivia says. “I don’t get why she keeps at it.”

“Do you ever think that maybe she’s telling the truth?” Tim asks.

“Natalie? No,” Olivia says firmly. “She’s just stuck on this gag.”

“If you say so,” says Kelly. “But I still think that doll’s bad news.”

Olivia stands firm in her belief that Libby is just a doll and nothing more. She swears allegiance to rationality when Natalie’s headaches grow into migraines so severe their mother rushes her to the hospital. She swears this when her mother starts to get nauseous whenever she steps in Olivia’s room, and when the family dog stops crossing her narrow threshold. She swears it even when her father wakes up in the middle of the night pacing the ground floor with her mother’s cooking knife in his hand, nearly stabbing Olivia when she tried to wake him up. (It was my mistake, Olivia reasons, because you’re not supposed to wake a sleepwalker, and that’s all that was happening.)

The hardest thing to rationalize is when Natalie tries to burn the doll in the firepit when her friends are roasting marshmallows, only to have the doll show up on Olivia’s shelf with a thin film of ash on its little felt hands.

She thinks Natalie is lying about using Libby as kindling, that her little friends are all in on it and backing her little sister up when they swear up and down that they watched the thing go up in flames so high Olivia’s father came out of the kitchen to dump water over the pit.

The nightmares come and go - for Natalie, and their mother, and their sleepwalking father, and eventually even to Olivia. The dreams are different for Olivia, though. Different than the way Natalie and their mother describe them - Olivia does not dream of blood and knives. She just hears a soft voice whispering in a language she doesn’t understand.

Kelly tries to get her to get rid of the doll.

“We’re going back anyway,” Kelly says. “You can dump it there.”

“It’s a doll,” Olivia says.


“But nothing,” Olivia swears. “It’s just a doll.”

Even when she’s drawn to the knives her father drags from the kitchen each night. Even when the takes one for herself instead of waking him. Even when she brings it into her little sister’s bedroom. Even when the police put it, red slicked, into a plastic bag and slap cuffs over Olivia’s slender wrists.

It’s just a doll.

Just a doll.





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zombie: a fictional undead being created through the reanimation of a human corpse. Zombies are most commonly found in horror and fantasy genre works. The term comes from Haitian folklore, where a zombie is a dead body reanimated through various methods, most commonly magic. Modern depictions of the reanimation of the dead do not necessarily involve magic but often invoke science fictional methods such as carriers, radiation, mental diseases, vectors, pathogens, scientific accidents, etc.

Don’t look them in the eyes.

The eyes are where they start being human, and when they start being human, you go soft. The way you keep from being afraid is not to look them in eye. This is what my mother taught me. She was born before they came. She remembered a world full of tomorrows, but she didn’t talk about it much. She was not the kind of mother who told you sit up straight and eat all your vegetables. She was not the kind of mother who flashed the porchlight three times to call you in for dinner. Those were the kinds of things they did in that world ripe with tomorrows and next weeks and next years. They went to grocery stores then, and I know my mother went to those grocery stores when she lived in that great big yesterday because she knew all the names of all the hollowed out concrete husks we sometimes camped in when I was a child. Stop & Shops were different from Shop Rites were different from Whole Foods, and Fresh Market, and King Kullen - they were different to my mother because she knew what they were before. I only knew them by their shelf sizes, because sometimes, when I was small enough, I would sleep on them in a bundle of threadbare blankets and my mother’s clothes. They were mostly the same, but my mother knew their names.

My mother could not be the kind of mother who stood in line at the deli counter or stuffed fruit into thin plastic bags. She was, instead, the kind of mother who dug through the weeds outside the broken of shell of what used to be a Waldbaum’s and showed me what plants were safe to eat. She was the kind of mother who threw food scraps up in trees and wrapped thin wire like a fence around our house each night. She was the kind of mother who traded fresh grown tomatoes and cucumbers and sweet peppers with neighbors so that we could share their apples and their lemons and their almonds and tea leaves. She was the kind of mother who ate berries right off the wild bush, and she was the kind of mother who taught me not to look them in the eye.

“Are they people?” I asked her sometimes, and she would get this really somber look on her face - like she see the whole world and all its problems and she was overwhelmed by all the ways she absolutely could not fix it - and then she would sigh.

“They were,” she said. “Once.”

But the eyes, she told me, stay human.

My mother would never talk about that world she grew up in, the one where all the postcard pictures of bright, rolling landscapes and smiling faces came from. She would talk about The Beginning. She would talk about the day she knew she would never get her world back.

She would talk about the eyes.

My mother taught me all about their teeth, too. That was the first thing she ever taught me. You don’t go near them, and if they get near you, you don’t let their teeth get close. Their teeth is were the sickness lives. That’s how my mother explained it. They sink their ugly teeth into your skin and swallow pieces of you down into their bellies. If they don’t finish you off then you get the sickness, too. My mother taught it was better if they finished you off.

“They suffer,” she said. “Before they’re them.”

Before they’re them, they’re still people, and bitten people come down with fevers so high they scream out in the night. Their whole bodies hurt because the sickness eats them from the outside out.

“They eat you,” my mother said, “it’s from the outside, in.”

She thought that this was better, because you’d probably pass out and not feel it when you died. If they left you, then you felt it, every single second of it, before you become one of them.

I’d seen bitten people before. My mother took me with her when she went to help a neighbor. They said that their son was sick. My mother was a nurse in the world of tomorrows, so people were always calling her when someone took sick. They said that is was a fever. They said maybe it was the flu. They forgot to mention that their son had fallen into the creek and that one of them was swimming there. It grabbed him, and it bit him, and my mother took one look at him and got pinch-faced mad. She dragged the parents into another room to talk to them - she said talk, like, “Shelley, I’m going in there to talk to Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So, you sit tight and I’ll be right back” - but I heard her voice getting louder.

“They’re mad at me,” the sick kid said. His voice was really weak and he wheezed as he sucked in air. His eyes were rimmed watery and he was shaking all over, like he was cold, only there was sweat slicking up his forehead and pouring all over his skin, so much sweat it was like the sun had laser-eyes on him.

“I don’t think at you,” I said.

“Can you get me some water?” the sick kid asked. Our neighbors lived in a tiny one-floor ranch, and there was a jug of water in the kitchen right outside his room. I went to get him some, and was handing him a plastic cup when my mother came back in. The sick kid had forgotten about the water. He was shaking really hard then, so hard the bed shook, too, and his mother starting crying. Her cries sounded more like screams.

“Shelley, get out,” my mother said, and she shoved me so hard out the door I spilled the water glass. The door shut behind me before anybody noticed. I heard muffled crying on the other side, and more screaming that could have been crying, and my mother’s voice still half-mad and sharp-edged.

It was a long time before she came back. On the walk home, she told me about the eyes.

I’ve learned how to kill them. My mother was the kind of mother who taught me how to kill. We had shotguns and rifles and revolvers, we had a crossbow that we used for hunting, we had thick knives and penknives and everything in between. You had to know how to kill in this world. The world that was born in was broken and dying, and if you didn’t know how to kill the things that broke it, they’d take you down, too.

My mother is gone now. Not becomes of the things, but because her time ran out. Or rather, her heart did. It seized up right in her chest when she was gardening - an unspectacular end for what I’d always considered the most spectacular life. It didn’t fit her, and on the rare occasions I have to tell her story, I leave out the way it ended.

I don’t ever lookthem in eye, just like my mother said.

Not until I have to.

Not until I’m trapped inside an old hunting shack surrounded by dead things. They are pounding their gray fists against the walls, the door, the windows. The building is low and I can their faces through the mossy, grimy glass. Their mouths open and close like guppies. I am safely away from their teeth. Their eyes, though, I cannot avoid.

A gnarled hand breaks the window and the glass shatters at my feet. They all swarm like bees at the sound, and they fight each other to take the first peek inside. One round head wins. It pops through the opening, not caring as the broken glass slits its skin. No blood comes out of the cuts.

The eyes find me.

I have no choice but to look back, to see them for the first time in my twenty-five years.

They are blue and glassy and clouded with edge. The eyes don’t move inside their sockets, even as the jaw works up and down the teeth gnash against each other. They are still. They may as well be marbles stuck inside a skull.

My mother was the wisest woman I’ve ever known, but she was wrong about one thing. She was wrong about those eyes. They’re not human. They haven’t made me soft. The longer I look at them, the more I know that they are anything but human, and I am anything but soft.

Those are monster eyes. The kinds you see in the woods at night when your parents swear it’s just the light playing tricks. I grab my knife and charge - charge at the broken glass and those broken eyes - and I jam the blade right through one, if only to stop it from staring at me - to stop it from making me look.