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lich: from Old English līċ meaning "corpse" is a type of undead creature. Often such a creature is the result of a transformation, as a powerful magician skilled in necromancy or a king striving for eternal life using spells or rituals to bind his intellect and soul to his phylactery and thereby achieving a form of immortality. Liches are depicted as being clearly cadaverous, bodies desiccated or completely skeletal.

Bones snap. Sweet marrow is sucked out with a single, greedy slurp; the hollow shell cast aside and lands upon the top of  an ever-growing pile stacked haphazardly in the corner of the room. A shadowed figure kicks its feet of the wooden slab of a desk and rises. Outside, the moon swings high in a blue-velvet sky made soft by wispy clouds leftover from the rainy afternoon. Pale fingers twist a pendant swinging down from a slender neck - a small red crystal worn down to a sphere, nicked in places, and fastened to a chain by thin, twisted wire.

A sigh only in sound passes parted lips; no air escapes, for the lungs have long been shriveled.

A great door swings open. The night chill sweeps in and the shadowed figure steps out onto the lush grass, dampened by a day of passing storms. The door closes. The figure melts into the dark.

“Sloppy,” says a voice down low.

“I don’t recall asking your opinion.”

Magda looks down, one slender eyebrow raised in question or in judgement or perhaps even in both. A pile of sagging skin and bones raises a weary skull and shrugs its knotted shoulders. A gnarled finger taps where its temple should be.

“Then,” it says in a gravelly voice, “shouldn’t...give...this.”

The finger drops down to where the skull’s lips should have been had they not already rotted away and taps there, too. Magda does not grace the skeleton with a response. Instead, a hand emerges from her heavy cloak and proffers a small collection of bloodied scraps: a slice of a liver, a chunk of shriveled smoker’s lung, a tangle of torn veins and fraying arteries. The skeleton slides up on its mossy headstone, peels of its remaining gray skin peeling off and sticking to the rock. The scraps are dropped into its would-be palm and it grinds them all between its once-yellowed, now-browning teeth. As it eats, Magda perches on grave marker, her back to the bones, and swipes her sleeves over her mouth. Still-sticky marrow comes off; sloppy, indeed.

“This,” the skeleton says, “old.”

“So are you,” Magda says.

“And,” the skeleton retorts, “you.”

“You’d be dust without me,” Magda says.

“Be dust,” the skeleton says, “soon...anyway.”

Magda says nothing, but she knows the words are true, and she does not feel like facing the truth. She hasn’t looked the skeleton in the eyes - or sockets now, probably, with maybe something dry and shrunken inside -  in decades. This truth used to be commented on, too, but has fallen out of vogue. Magda trains her gaze instead across the large expanse of Duskswallow Cemetery, straight out to the thin black line of the horizon, to the tiny bumps of gravestones perched along it - to one in particular, in the center of the long-stretched row, with weeds so overgrown Magda could spot each leaf from miles away.

A cold touch lights on her cold hand.

“You,” the skeleton says, “still...try?”

“It’s none of your business,” Magda says.

“My business,” says the skeleton, “if...kill me...for it.”

“You’re already dead,” says Magda.

“You,” says the skeleton, “not much...better.”

The words spark flashes of red across Magda’s vision. She rises, rage swelling in her chest, and whirls on the skeleton - that crumpled mass of skin and bones and hair still clinging in places it no longer belonged. She raises her arms, black tendrils pulled from the red crystal around her neck snaking all the way to the tips of her fingers and fizzing in half-broken streams toward the creature on the muddy ground.

A choked sound gurgles from the dead being’s rotten throat and it clutches at its own neck with bony fingers. It looks at Magda, and Magda makes the mistake of looking back - looking at those miraculous eyes still rolling in the sunken sockets, growing wide with alarm.

She drops her hands. The skeleton sags against its tombstone.

“You,” it says, its voice thinner and more garbled, “still,” it huffs, “try.”

Magda drops beside it. She feels drained, and the crystal around her neck glows and warms her throat with scarlet light. She leans against the stone beside the skeleton - beside the skeleton whose name might have been Alexander or might have been Alistair depending on how one interprets the faded letters on its cracked marker.

The fingers touch her hand again.

“You,” says the skeleton, the voice slowly dripping back to normal, “”

“Maybe,” says Magda.

She thinks of the overgrown grave across the cemetery, the one she’s too afraid to visit, the one untouched for centuries. She thinks about the coffin sunk into the earth there, the body stuck inside.

“I,” the skeleton says, “am...test?”

“An experiment,” Magda says.

“You,” says the skeleton, “keep...try.”

“I fear I might kill you,” she says.

“Already,” the skeleton points out, “dead.”

“Me, too,” Magda says.

“I,” the skeleton continues, “not...who live.”

“No,” Magda agrees.

“You,” the skeleton says, “ others.”

“I don’t want to anymore,” Magda relents.

“Not,” the skeleton asks, “kill?”

“No,” she says. She pushes herself to her feet and returns to her spot on the top of the headstone. She feels the skeleton’s tiny eyes on her, following, and she hears its bones scrape against the stone as it climbs up to see what she is seeing. She is stuck on that same grave again, miles away but haunting her nonetheless. Haunting her with memories of touches a thousand years old and a thousand years gone, memories of kisses that still ghost on her lips in the middle of the night, memories of magic too strong and dreams too big to contain between two people. Of spells gone wrong, trials and errors, and a funeral with a single attendee.  “I want you to live.”

“Me,” says the skeleton, “or her?”

“Both,” Magda says. “I want you both to live.”

“Then,” says the skeleton, “keep...trying.”

“For centuries more,” Magda agrees. “For centuries more.”





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black-eyed children (also called black-eyed kids): an urban legend of supposed paranormal creatures that resemble children between the ages of 6 and 16, with pale skin and black eyes, who are reportedly seen hitchhiking or panhandling, or are encountered on doorsteps of residential homes. The supposed origins of the legend are some 1996 postings written by Texas reporter Brian Bethel on a "ghost-related mailing list" relating two alleged encounters with "black-eyed kids." Tales of black-eyed children have existed since the 1950s.

Jamie Wright’s entire life fits in the 36 by 60 inch square of a Shell station bathroom stall.

The contents of her backpack spill out over the once-white tile: wrinkled tees and a balled-up sweatshirt, a pack of Camels with about three cigarettes left rattling around inside; her dead cell phone, tangled headphones, a lighter well past its prime; a matchless matchbook, a magazine with most of its glossy pages missing and a puzzle book with the cover torn off; car keys with a faded Publix rewards card and a broken, one-armed Statue of Liberty keychain. Jamie fishes her worn leather wallet out of the bottom of the bag, where it floats among silver gum wrappers and mints spilled from an open tin box. She counts the crumpled bills inside.

Jamie has forty-seven dollars and, after plucking the change tucked into the credit card folds, eighty-nine cents to her name. She has a quarter of a tank of gas in her ‘94 Corolla and fifty miles left to go.

“Alright,” she says, her voice shaky. She tucks a twenty dollar bill under the strap of her bra and stuffs the leftover twenty-seven dollars and eighty-nine cents back into the wallet. She grabs the gray sweatshirt from the pile on the floor and yanks it over her head. “Okay,” she says as she flips her ponytail out of the back of the crewneck. She returns everything to the bag and rises, hiking her jeans up and kicking the lever until the toilet flushes. “Okay.”

With a shaky breath, she steps out of the stall.

The taps have one setting: ice cold. She watches her hands under the frigid water and dries them of on her jeans. As she does, she hears a knock on the  bathroom door. This strikes Jamie as odd, because there’s no key needed, no lock to undo, and the bathroom is your typical bank of stalls and sinks build for customers to come and go as they please. She slings her backpack straps over her shoulders and swings the door open.

There’s no one on the other side.

Jamie swivels her head left and right, but she’s as alone as she was when she first went inside. The sun has since abandoned the sky and the gas pumps across from the building are illuminated by harsh lights spilling from their overhangs.

Deciding that she must have imagined the knock, Jamie shook her head and stepped into the lot. The clerk behind the register is playing some game on his phone she walks up, and Jamie has to clear her throat to get his attention.

“Twenty,” she says, sliding the bill across the counter. “Pump four.”

“Sure,” the clerk says. He’s not exactly young, but not old either - he teeters somewhere in the interim, with salt-and-pepper sprays creeping down his temples and lines pulled at the corners of his eyes. He clutches an e-cig in one hand and puffs from it when he takes the cash. “You’re good.”


When Jamie goes back outside, she stills.

Across the lot, standing by the passenger side of her car, two figures with their backs to Jamie look to be peering inside the Toyota. She glances back to the clerk, but he’s too engrossed in his outdated 8-bit game to notice. Jamie turns back toward the car and sighs.

“I don’t have time for this,” she mutters, and then calls out, “Hey!”

The figures stiffen. As Jamie gets closer she can see they’re two kids - the taller one might be a teen, with the younger maybe a decade or so their junior. They don’t say anything and they don’t turn to look at her, but when she’s about five feet away they bolt. Jamie doesn’t think she’s ever seen someone run that fast in her life - maybe the kids are track stars.

She inspects the window, runs her hand along the door. Nothing’s scratched or broken, and there’s no graffiti to speak of. She doesn’t quite know what the kids were getting at, but brushes it off as a poorly planned prank and carries on with filling her tank. The twenty bucks gets Jamie just over half full, and she prays that it’s enough.

When she drops back inside the car, Jamie fishes a charger out of the glove box. It’s worn gray and the cable is split in several places, exposing stranded copper through the slits, but it’ll do. She jabs into the cigarette lighter and unzips her backpack, reaches inside to find her dead phone when-

Tap, tap, tap - the sound of knuckles on glass.

Jamie jumps. Her heart does, too, way up in her throat so far she thinks she might puke it up.

The kids are back, and this time she sees their round faces pressed up against the passenger window, the taller one stooped down to see inside. Both have their hands cupped around their dark eyes to better see inside. Jamie swallows her fear and  it comes back up as rage.

“What the fuck?” she shouts. “That’s not fucking funny!”

The kids don’t budge. In fact, the taller one leans in closer, their forehead bumping the glass.

“We need help,” the little one says. “Please, can you help us.”

The girl’s voice is muffled by the closed door. She presses her little palms against the window and leans in like its - what? Brother, most likely. They have the same dark eyes and unruly black hair. The girl might be six, her brother sixteen, and they stare into the car with blank faces. Even the little girl’s voice is expressionless, though Jamie figures that could be exhaustion on either her part of the kid’s. She shakes her head and points toward the station mini-mart.

“Talk to the cashier,” she says, a little louder than needed to be sure her voice carries through the shut window. Neither kid moves. They keep staring into the car. “Hey, did you hear me?” Jamie says. She pumps the gas and the engine roars, but the kids don’t startle.

“We need help,” the little girl repeats.

Jamie revs the engine again and says, “Go inside.” When the kids still don’t move, Jamie cracks the window. “If you need money, I don’t got any,” she says. The kids don’t budge. Jamie sighs, and grabs her wallet from her open backpack. She plucks out a ten dollar bill and holds it toward the kids. “Go on,” she says. “It’ll get you some food at least.” The kids stare at her, and in the darkness of the night Jamie can’t see any whites to their eyes. Eventually, the boy pinches the bill timidly between two fingers. He takes it, leaving Jamie with seventeen dollars and eighty-nine cents to her name.

The boy stares at Jamie, and so does his sister, and Jamie glances between them, suddenly feeling more nervous than she ever has in her life. “Alright,” she says slowly, the vowels all drawn out, and then she says, “You’re welcome, I guess.” The kids don’t move, even as she closes the window and revs the engine. The boy is holding the ten as if he’s never seen one before. Jamie watches him a moment longer before she pulls away.

As Jamie’s little Corolla putters down the highway she can see the kids standing stupidly in the gas station lot, their heads and strange dark eyes following her until she dipped down a great hill and out of sight.

Logan lives on the far edge of Lee County, off a sharp turn down a dirt road without street lamps and dotted with black-and-yellow wildlife crossing signs. Cougars, chickens and ducks, horses. After the third sign with a bobcat on it Jamie turns down a long dirt-and-gravel drive.

The porchlight is on - a single bare bulb screwed in over the front door. On the edge of its yellow glow a shadow pushes off a wooden rocker and steps into view. Logan is wearing tattered jeans and no shirt. His feet are bare and he’s got a cigarette tight between his teeth. He smiles around it when Jamie steps out of the car. A chorus of barks, both high and low, clamour on the other side of the door.

“You made it,” Logan says. Jamie walks into his open arms. She lets them wrap around her shoulders and squeeze. She rests her head against his shoulder for just a second, breaths in the scent of hay bales and cigarette smoke.

“Hey, brother,” she says.

“Hey,” Logan says. He guides her inside where dogs big and small jump up to lick her hands. Logan shoos them all away, but they just circle around one another to take another turn. This continues until they get to the kitchen table where Jamie drops into a chair. “Drink?” Logan offers, already halfway to the fridge. Jamie scrubs at her face and nods.

“Yeah,” she says, and when she opens her eyes just a second later a Pabst is already set in front of her. She pops the tab and takes a long sip. “Thanks for letting me crash.”

“Ain’t like you wouldn’t do the same for me,” Logan shrugs. He downs half his beer in one long gulp and sets the can down on the table. “I’m just glad you’re outta that fucker’s house.”

“Amen,” Jamie agrees.

“You still got the ring?” Logan asks.

“Gonna pawn it tomorrow,” Jamie says. “So I can get outta your hair sooner.”

“Ain’t in it,” Logan says. “But I can put some feelers out for you, if you want. For a place.”


“S’what family’s for.”

They lapse into a comfortable silence, broken only by the tick-tack, tick-tack of dog claws o the hardwood floors. Logan has four of them, and when they all line up they look like those old raising the bar cell phone commercials. Every now and then, the littlest one jumps up on someone’s leg to sniff at the table.

“So,” Logan begins, rising from the table to get himself a second beer. “I don’t got a guest room. But you take mine, and I’ll crash on the couch for however long you’re here.”

“I don’t wanna put you out,” Jamie says.

“You’re not,” Logan says.


“You’re not.”

“Fine,” Jamie concedes. “Thanks.”

Again, that easy silences washes like a gentle wave, and stretches on until-

Tap, tap, tap- knuckles on the front door. Jamie looks at Logan.

“You expecting someone else?” she asks.

“No,” Logan says, rising out of his seat. The dogs have already crowded the door, their barking less excited this time and, the longer they stand there, growing almost panicked. Soon enough the little one is whimpering and whining, turning circles around Logan’s ankles as if begging him to keep her safe. Curious, Jamie gets up, too, and stands where she can see the doorway as it opens.

“Little late for Girl Scout cookies,” he says at the same time Jamie says, “What the fuck?”

She races to the door, grabbing at her brother’s elbow if only to have something to steady herself. That same feeling of ice-cold dread runs all through her veins. It seems to seep through her very fingertips and catch under Logan’s skin because she feels him stiffen, too, and hears him swallow thickly. She wants to look at him, to tell him to shut the door, but she can’t turn away from the kid’s strange eyes.

Black. Nothing but black eating up iris and sclera, like their eyes are just huge pupils stuck in the sockets. They seem to stare both at and through Jamie at the same time. She holds her brother’s arm so hard her nails dig into his skin.

“Please,” the little girl says. “May we come inside?”

“We need to call our parents,” the boy says. He is still clutching Jamie’s ten dollars in his hand. She can see the green of the bill poking between the fingers of his clenched fist.

“We need help,” the little girl says. “Please, can you help us?”

“We need to call our parents,” the boy repeats. The little girl opens her mouth to speak, but Logan slams the door in her face. His breath is shaky. The dogs scramble around Logan and Jamie, each of them whining, each of their tails tucked nervously between their legs. After a few seconds-

Tap, tap, tap- the sound of knuckles of the door.

“Don’t open it,” Jamie says.

“I feel like-”

“Don’t,” Jamie says firmly. She yanks Logan away from the door and all the dogs follow them. The knocking picks up pace, rapping the same monotonous beat against the wood.

“Their eyes,” Logan says. “Did you see their eyes?”

“Please,” a muffled voice calls through the closed door.

“I saw,” Jamie says.

“May we use your telephone?” a second voice calls.

“I feel-”

“Weird?” Jamie suggests.

“Scared,” Logan says. It’s the first time Jamie’s heard hims use the word since they were kid, and that makes the ice inside her freeze colder.

“Me, too,” Jamie says. The knocking continues, and even from his spot perched on the couch, one knee bouncing nervously up and down and Jamie’s hand still tight around his arm, Logan’s eyes are drawn toward the door.

“I feel like I just-“

“Don’t,” Jamie repeats. “I saw them back by Bonita, at a gas station. Tried to get them to go away by giving them some cash, but they just stared at me. It was dark, so I didn’t get a good look at their eyes.”

“They followed you all the way from Bonita?”

“I don’t know how. They didn’t even have a car.”

“Please,” the girl’s voice calls. The knocking continues, but it never grows frantic or loud. It sticks to the same steady rhythm, like a rock band drummer.

“May we use your telephone?” the boy’s voice follows.

“What do we do?” Logan asks.

Jamie considers this, then says, “Wait it out?”

Wait it out they do. For hours. They turn on the TV, watch bad comedies to drown out the sounds of the knocks of the door and the monotonous pleas for help. Wait between bursts of all the dogs barking, then whining, then whimpering, and then back to barking again.

And then suddenly, the knocking stops. Not fades. Not quiets down. Just stops. Logan flicks the TV off to be sure, and sure enough the house is plunged into silence. Silence, and the pitter-patter of dog footsteps circling round and round the floor.

“We have to go now,” the girl’s voice says eventually.

“Thank you,” the boy’s voice follows.

Logan and Jamie share a cautious glance. Their heads turn the door, then back to one another. Slowly, wordlessly, the both stand and make the quiet trek to the door. There is now sound on the other side.

Jamie reaches for the handle and opens the door just a crack. Logan peeks through the sliver of right. At the bottom of his drive, there are two tall men. It’s hard to tell in the dark, but they seem to wear nearly tailored suits. Their heads are down, faces covered by the brims of their hats. The kids were walking towards them like two little soldiers, each step meticulous. When they meet the men, the little turns around. Her black eyes land on Logan. She waves him, but the expression on her face remains unchanged. Logan pushes the door closed.

He and Jamie stand together; they soak up the silence for a long while before Logan finally says, “I need another drink.”





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sasquatch (also called bigfoot): from Salish se’sxac: “wild men”; a large, hairy, humanlike creature believed by some people to exist in the northwestern United States and western Canada. It seems to represent the North American counterpart of the Himalayan region’s mythical monster, the Abominable Snowman, or Yeti.

October 1998
Windber, Pennsylvania

“Did you hear that?”

“Shut up.”

“I’m serious.”




“Did you hear that?”


“I’m serious.”


The tent fills with the sound of rustling nylon. Small hands grab for the electric lantern tucked away in the corner. The bulb inside buzzes and flickers to life, casting strange shadows across the taut temporary walls. There was the snick of the zipper and the door folded out and flopped toward the ground. More nylon rustles as Heather scrambles to sit upright. She perches in her knees with her fists clenched tight and frightened around the cool fabric of her sleeping bag.


“I’m gonna find out what it is,” Abigail says. There is a hint of annoyance in her voice that does nothing to calm Heather’s fears. Abigail steps outside, taking the light with her, and when the warm glow of the lantern is gone Heather jumps to her feet. She scurries after her sister.She bumps Abigail’s back, shaking the beam of light so that the shadows all around them seem to stretch and grow along the gnarled bark of the trees.

Abigail doesn’t startle. She never does.

“There’s nothing out here,” she declares. “See?”

She sweeps the light across the trees, yawning as if to prove fear futile and even useless. When she’s hit each bramble and bush she drops the lantern to her hip. She seems ready to turn back to the tent, intent on getting back to sleep, but Heather grabs her arm.

“Ow!” Abigail hisses. She tries to tug her arm away, but Heather won’t let go. “Get off!”

Heather is holding her so tight Abigail can feel her little nails cutting half-moon slits into her skin. She thinks it might break and bleed and when the jostled lanterned spills toward Heather, Abigail finds her tiny knuckles gone white as she squeezes. She shakes her sister to no avail, and when she pushes for Heather to let her go, Heather’s big eyes only grow wider with fear.

“Do you see it?” she says, finally. At last one hand frees Abigail - the other still holding on like a vise - to point at a high point between the trunks of the trees.

“See what?” Abigail whispers. She shines the light, but all she finds is a lot of brown and black and green muddled together like paints on a used up palette. She takes a small step forward, stopped only by the tug of her sister’s firm grip still latched upon her arm.

“Abbi,” Heather squeaks. Her voice is tinier than Abigail’s ever heard it, so small and high she nearly misses it in the wind. Heather’s feet shuffle in the dirt as she sidles closer. Her free hand grabs onto Abigail again. “Abbi, it’s watching us.”

“Heath, there’s nothing there,” Abigail insists.

The leaves rustle, but there’s no wind to move them. Heather jumps and presses her little body against her sister’s back. She is trembling all over, almost like the way she did when they found a buzzing hornet’s house on the belly of their treehouse - almost like that, but worse somehow, because this kind of shake seemed to start in her bones and radiate out. Abigail thought she felt the ground beneath then shudder with the force it.

“Abbi,” Heather says again, but the leaves move again and a branch snaps and falls.

Both girls scream. They turn, Abigail dropping the lantern in her frenzy, and stumble over one another as they race back to their tent.

“Close it!” Heather shrieks. Abigail wrestles with the zipper. It goes a few inches, then snags. A few more, then it happens again. Heather cries, “Close it, close it, close it!”

“I’m trying,” Abigail says through gritted teeth. She feels sweat prick her forehead and she wipes it away as one hand still tugs desperately at the zipper.

Outside the tent, the shadows move. Something massive comes out of the trees, a hulking figure that walks stooped over but isn’t fooling anyone. Abigail can see the rippling ridges of its over-broad shoulders. Thick fur hangs off of it like moss from a tree.

It hands hands like Abigail’s. She can see that much as it pokes a curious finger at the lantern still rolling on the ground. It crouches down and Abigail thinks she sees it bow its head to sniff at the offending object. She is frozen in both terror and awe, watching the strange creature prod at her lantern. It plucks it between two fingers the way she sees her father sometimes pick up peanuts from a jar. It holds the lantern up to the moonlight, then howls when the harsh light of the bulb hits its eyes.

For the second time that night the lantern falls, and this time its plastic panels crack in spiderwebs. The creature rubs at its eyes, shaking its head and crawling back  into the shadows again.

Abigail and Heather sit in stunned silence.

They watch the shadows, but nothing happens. The large creature doesn’t come back. In the morning, their father will hike from his site at the bottom of the slope and find the lanterned shattered, the handle cracked in half, and his daughters huddled together at the far end of their tent. He will try to explain away what happened - a dream, a nightmare, and when the girls insist they were both awake and both saw it, it suddenly became a trick of the shadows.

“People see all sorts of things in the woods,” he says, but they had never seen something like that before.

October 2018
Portland, Oregon

Abbi Warren sits cross-legged on the hood of her F150. A tin mug of steaming coffee is cupped between her gloved hands. It is a cold October morning, and the mist has yet to clear. A wool hat is tugged so low over her forehead it nearly covers her eyes.

The sun has just begun to rise. The first golden fingers stretch high over the treetops and dip into the lightening blue of the sky. Abbi tips back her head and downs her coffee in one hot, burning gulp. Then she leaps off the car and raps her knuckles against the passenger window. “Heath,” she says, and the lump of blankets on the seat starts to move. “Heather, let’s go.”

Heather is now twenty-five, but in many ways looks much like the frightened girl in those dark woods those two long decades ago: the same wide brown eyes, the same white-knuckled fingers - though this time they were wrapped around a diner take-out cup instead of Abbi’s wrist. She slurps at her coffee and drops the empty paper cup into the holder before sliding out of the car. Her blanket caccooon sheds itself behind her and falls into a heap on the truck’s leather bench.

“Why are we doing this again?” she asks. Her hair is in two long braids slung over her shoulders and, without gloves to warm them, shoves her hands into the deep pockets of a winter coat it was still too early to be wearing.

“I just-” Abbi starts, and she quickly falls silent. She looks at the woods ahead of her, the rolling expanse of green and brown and black. “I just need to know.”

“We haven’t found anything,” Heather says.

“No,” Abbi agrees.

“We might not ever find anything,” Heather says. She’s right, and Abbi knows it. They’ve followed the stories up and down both coasts and still, nothing. They’ve spoken to experts who were always just fantasy enthusiasts begging to prove the skeptics wrong, the people with books on cryptids perched on their coffee tables begging you to ask about them. They’ve read those books, and all the forum threads online, and the'y’ve followed every lead to no avail.

Abbi sighs. She’s not willing to give up. She’s not willing to let her sister give up, either.

“You just don’t want to go in,” Abbi retorts.

Heather thinks on this, then says, “Maybe.”

“We probably won’t find anything,” Abbi concedes. The words leave a bitter taste in her mouth.

Again, Heather thinks on it, and this time she sighs. It has been twenty years since that night, since the thing in the woods that crept out of the shadows and scared them half to death. They had tried to forget - tried to rationalize the way their father taught them, tried to find an explanation that could ease their minds. But at night, when the moon was high and the wind whistled like it did that night, they’d whisper to each other, “Do you remember?” What it looked like, what it smelled like, the way its hair mimicked the trees.

Abbi couldn’t let it go, and the more she spoke about, the more Heather realized that she couldn’t, either. She steels herself and looks into the wide expanse of trees laid out before them, resisting the urge to jump back in the car and peel away back down the mountainside.

Heather nods firmly and says, “But we have to try.”

They spend the day hiking. Hiking, and searching.

They kneel on the ground and brush at the dirt. They veer off the trail and inspect rogue branches for tufts of foreign fur. Once, they heard a rustling that sounded almost right, but when they investigated further they found only a small bear on the far side of the woods, a mere speck with the distance between them. It paused and seemed to look to them, then lumbered on unfazed.

“I’m sorry I dragged you out here,” Abbi says as the sky turns purple and the bumper of their car emerges through the trees. Her hat has long been removed and her hair is tossed and wild.

“Don’t be,” Heather says with a shrug. “It was kind of fun. Like revisiting our old stompin-”

She trails off, and stops in her tracks. Abbi keeps moving but Heather’s hand at her elbow holds her back. Abbi feels annoyed for all of a second before she sees the look on her sister’s face, that odd mixture of terror and awe Abbi herself had only ever felt once before.

Abbi follows Heather’s gaze. Follows it down the trail, down the yawning gap of its head, right to the truck -

And the hulking giant perched on its hood.





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mermaid (sometimes called sirens): a fabled marine creature with the head and upper body of a human being and the tail of a fish. Similar divine or semidivine beings appear in ancient mythologies. In European folklore, mermaids were natural beings who, like fairies, had magical and prophetic powers. They loved music and often sang. Though very long-lived, they were mortal and had no souls.

A red sky warning breaks with the dawn.

The sun bleeds bright crimson across the horizon and spills scarlet rays across the waves. From the shore, Ollie watches the rich sunrise dip into the foam fizzling along the shore. Strong bursts of wind throw sand in wild spirals and churn the frothy water. In the distance, far-far along the thin, blurred line of the horizon, a shadow begins to grow.

“Ollie,” his father says in that gruff-but-soft way of his. “Let’s go.”

Ollie’s father is a hulking man. He has scars all on his hands and a scraggly sort of beard that looks like something might live inside it. One of his eyes is permanently closed with a thick, raised scar and splotchy pink-and-white marks that never seem to go away. Ollie asks about what happened almost every day, and almost every day his father tells him that he’ll find out when he’s older.

But Ollie gets older every day, and he’s yet to learn the truth.

He follows his father down the steep slopes of the dunes. He nearly tumbles once, twice, even three times as he scrambles to keep up with his father’s long strides. Ollie wonders if one day he might be as tall as his father; if, maybe, he might wake up one morning and spring to six feet. He hopes he will. He hopes with all the hope he can find in his heart and in his head, because maybe on that day he’d finally hear the stories his father tells him he is too young - too small - to hear.

“Be careful,” his father says as they approach the dock.

“Of what?” Ollie asks.

“Watch the waves,” says his father.

It’s not much of an explanation, but there is no elaboration, and Ollie doesn’t think he’s supposed to ask for one. When his father stops, Ollie continues on to the end of the dock.

The sky has already begun to turn hazy, the red blurring into something of a deep pink - less scary, less intimidating, but nonetheless otherworldly to young Oliver Kidd. He’s mesmerized, until the memory of his father’s advice jolts him. Ollie turns his attention downward to the water, where the silver scales of frantic fish flicker haphazardly under the spray.

“What am I watching for?” Ollie asks. His father stands behind him, his single eye trained on the growing black smudge pulling farther away from the horizon.

“You’ll know,” is all his father says.

There’s no clarification, so Ollie turns back to the water. The swirl of the foam, the way the waves fold over one another, is hypnotizing. Ollie becomes lost in it. The wind roars and whistles and throws salty seafoam against Ollie’s skin and the water - the water bends and bows and lets the wind drag it to-and-fro, reaches up to light on his hands and catch in his hair.

Ollie is lost in it all, so lost he doesn’t notice when the sound of the wind begins to melt into song; soft, and lilting, and in a language foreign to sand and soil. He’s so lost he doesn’t hear the hoarse voice behind him, the sound of his name shouted over and over, the voice growing louder and louder yet always drowned out by the singing that seemed float to the choppy surface of the water.

Something reaches out of the water. Slender fingers slip between turbulence.

There is a face, Ollie thinks. Angular, but pretty. An older man might call it beautiful.

And then there are hands behind him, strong and firm, and a force yanking him backwards. The dock splinters beneath him, and though Ollie feels shaved little slivers of wood stabbing into his hands and his arms but he can’t bring himself to care. The face is still there - the woman, he swears it’s a woman, with dark hair billowing around her slim face and soft eyes. Her lips move under the water but not in the way that s fish’s do, not that mindless open-close-open-close - no. She’s singing. She’s the music in the wind, and Ollie wants to let himself dade into that song, wants to take the woman’s hand and dive into the depths with her - wants to hear her sing forever.

When he’s pulled so far he can no longer see her, Ollie screams.

He screams, and there is a heavy heat in his face that could burn it clean off.

He screams and he screams. His throat turns raw and, when he can’t scream anymore, his mouth sticks in what might be a permanent ‘o’. Ollie reaches out with desperate fingers because he thinks he sees those slender hands grabbing onto the edge of the dock. He thinks he hears that voice, and that song he doesn’t understand, and he wants it - he needs to be near it, with it, in it -

And then it’s gone.

And the world goes black.

Ollie’s father is sitting at his bedside.

It is dark outside, and the moon spills silver light across the knotted wooden floor. The first thing Ollie notices is that his throat hurts. He wants to talk, but no sound comes out, and it hurts when he tries to force it. He snaps his mouth shut and leans back against the pillows.

The second thing Ollie notices is that the pillows are not his own. He blinks, and the candlelit room shifts into focus. The high ceilings. Ropes pulled taught by sailor’s knots tacked onto the walls. A bed as big as a boat - or, at the very least, as big as the dinghies his father keeps at the shore.

Ollie is in his father’s bed, in his father’s room.

His father is slumped in cracked chair from the kitchen. Ollie suspects he dragged it in, though he’s not sure how long ago he’d parked it in the bedroom. The sheets rustle as Ollie pushes himself upright, leaning against the many pillows his mother had insisted on but that his father usually left on the floor, and he tries to remember what happened. All he can think of is the voice. The voice that rose out of the water, the voice that spun inside his head and made him want to sink deep into the waves and vanish from dry land - forever, for good...he didn’t care.

“Pa-” Ollie starts, and then coughs. He tries to tamp it down and hold it all inside his chest, but the stinging in his throat makes a fit explode out of his. The force of it wakes his father.

“Easy,” Ollie’s father says. His big hands, calloused and worn, land on Ollie’s shoulders and press him back into the pillows. When Ollie is finished, his father combs back his hair - a gentle gesture that hardly seems to suit his stature or his scars. “Easy,” he says again, and Ollie forgets all the questions he has. Tears prick at his eyes and he flings himself into his father’s chest, his little fingers clawing at his dad’s broad shoulders and clinging there as his father is the only thing keeping him tethered to the earth.

When Ollie returns to the water, he is called Oliver.

He stands where his father always had, at the far end of the dock where the boats look like specks that grow into hulking beasts. He has not set foot at the edge since That Day.  

He knows what happened to his father now. That his father has his own That Day. He knows he’s lucky to come away with scars inside his head and not out, thought sometimes he thinks maybe outside would hurt less. That song still stuck inside his skull, plastered there and refusing to peel. He wonders if he’ll ever get it out. Wonders if that woman in the water, the woman who he thinks had fish scales - maybe he had imagined them, and maybe he hadn’t - and who reached out of the waves to take him down to the bottom of the raging surf, down where it might be quiet and he’d be able to hear her song and her song alone.

Oliver is older now. He has spent much time away, much time where the ocean can’t crawl up to his feet or try to swallow him whole, and now his skin looks like his father’s had when Oliver was just a boy.

But the song has never left him, not in all the years he’d tried to drown it out with whisky and scotch and whatever stinging sludge sloshing at the bottom of dirty bottles. He could never get it out. He still hasn’t, and he’s tried everything but one. So Oliver has come home. He has returned to the dock where it happened, to the water where he’d seen the woman of the waves and heard that damn song for the very first time.

It is a red sky morning, just like that day when he was a child and the song stuck to him like a moth to a flame. Oliver waits until the clouds turn hazy magenta, watches as the red bleeds into the water, and then he starts to take slow steps toward the end of the dock.

His heart sinks. The song is not there. He doesn’t hear it. It’s only the wind.

Only the wind…

Until it isn’t only the wind, and the whistling turns to soft hums that float out of the seafoam. Oliver takes a long, slow breath. He clenches his hands into fists, then unclenches them again and rolls his shoulders back.

He peeks over the edge.





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vampire (also spelled vampyre): in popular legend, a creature, often fanged, that preys upon humans, generally by consuming their blood. Vampires have been featured in folklore and fiction of various cultures for hundreds of years, predominantly in Europe, although belief in them has waned in modern times.

Music - or, at the very least, what passes for it - throbs through the ceiling and down the concrete walls. The cellar shakes. Bottles rattle and one falls off the shelf, spreading shards of glass and splashes of Shiraz across the dusty floor. A trickle of wine kisses bare skin, hesitates, then pools around the body curled in the corner.

It does not notice.

Not at first. Not until the head turns and the red tickles the nose and the slumped figure wakes, sputtering, hands and feet scrambling for purchase. It kicks up dust in a frenzy and when it finally stills, back to the wall, the spilled wine has formed a rivulet across paint-peeled molding. Ripples tremble and the wine snakes toward the stairs.

Dark eyes find the ceiling. The bass shudders, then kicks back in with a stronger beat.


Nell pushes herself to her feet, her sleeves dripping wet and her jeans stained red. She shakes her arms and soft droplets spray across the floor. “Okay,” she says again and, sighing, she tears off her soaked shirt - peels off her jeans - digs through the tattered backpack sitting at the edge of the spill and fishes out fresh clothes. She combs her fingers through her tangled hair and stuffs her feet into the unlaced boots flung sloppily at the bottom of the stairs.

“Let’s do this.”

The room is dark save for the spotlights swinging from the stage. Their bright beams sweep across the writhing crowd. Faces glisten in their harsh glow, slick with sweat, hair of all shades clinging to foreheads and lips and cheeks and shoulders. The music swells to fill every last pocket of air; any sliver of space missed is plugged quickly by slurred voices crooning misheard lyrics out-of-tune.

An average Saturday night at The Chain.

Nell slinks through the throng of people, the rubber soles of her shoes squelching and squeaking over spilled drinks. She wonders if there was ever a time when the floor was not sticky with beer and vodka, fruit juice and spritzers, and then thinks maybe she should clean up the wine sloshing all over the basement floor.

Once she’s crossed the club, she decides it would be a hassle to turn back.

“Usual?” It’s Christian who asks. He’s behind the long black slab of the bar sweeping a gray-ish dish rag along the rim of a martini glass.

Christian’s name is ironic, because he looks anything but: swollen muscles speckled with sailor tattoos, long hair pulled back as he works, silver studs stuck through the tail of his brow and a matching ring poking through his lip. He wears a cross around his neck, though, on a thick chain that belonged to his father, and sometimes Nell sees him grab it when he thinks no one is looking. Once, she even heard a Hail Mary in a gentle whisper. Christian keeps the cross tucked under his shirts and jackets, a tiny little secret, something just for him, but sometimes Nell can see it glint under the strobe lights.

She doesn’t know what he prays for.

Christian has a warm smile, the kind that makes him look like a friend, the kind that rakes in tips from drunk girls when he makes their vodka sodas and that makes drunker guys feel insecure.

Nell likes Christian. He’s kind in the real sort of way, he doesn’t skimp when he pours bourbon, and he’s never asked questions when Nell ends the night with a smudge of blood on the corner of her mouth.

Well, he did ask once. And a few times after that he seemed concerned. Then it clicked.

“Please,” she tells him. A glass lands on the bar before she even sits down. She hooks the heels of her boots on the rings of the stool and listens to the Old Crow trickle and splash into the tumbler while she watches the dance floor. She turns back in time to see a drop spring onto the back of her hand. She licks it off, then slides the glass closer. “Thanks.” There’s a pause that would be silence if the DJ wasn’t scratching and the crowd wasn’t certain of its (not so) perfect pitch. Nell watches the shadows, the flashes of arms and legs and hips swaying under frantic lights.

“Something on your mind?”

Christian is back to cleaning glasses. He smiles the tiny sort of smile that lets you know he cares, and Nell smiles back. She sips from her glass, shrugging as she does, swallowing before she says, “A wine bottle broke.”

“Downstairs?” Christian asks.

“Yeah.” Nell takes another sip. “Shiraz.”

Her gaze has trailed away again, attention fixed on the crowd. She finds herself drawn to the fringes where young couples go to argue, friends snap photos, girls adjust shoes too painful to dance in but too cute to take off. A drunken frat boy is trying to start a conga line. He fails.

The clink of glassware pulls her back. Christian is sliding wine glasses upside-down on the rack over his head. Nell lifts her glass, swirls the amber liquid inside. She downs the rest of her drink. Christian reaches for the Old Crow, but she holds up a hand. “No?”

“I’m good,” she says. His hand lingers on the neck of the bottle.

“You sure?” he asks. But Nell isn’t looking at him anymore. Across the room, something catches her eye. Christian notices, and he isn’t surprised when Nell slides off her stool, leaving her empty glass on the counter and his question effectively answered.

It’s easy to lose sight.

Nell learned this quickly. In a club, in the dark, in the shadows of the alley where the cooks steal smoke breaks out of the watchful eye of the security cameras. People like dark clothes for nights out, and that makes them look like the shadows they move through on the dance floor and out in the street.

Scents, however, are much easier to lose.

Scents cling to a person and permeate the air. They drift and they linger and they leave trails. If one is enough in-tune with another’s scent, one can track them for miles - across highways and state lines and continental borders if one wanted to. Nell doesn’t often have to go that far. Tonight, she doesn’t even make if off the block.

The man is in his thirties; on the tail-end if Nell has guessed correctly - and she usually does. When Nell first spotted him, he was with a woman not much younger - late twenties, Nell would say, if she had to put money on it. They’d been dancing. He’d been close. A few times she twirled away, but he’d take her hips and pull her back each time until, eventually, she grabbed the wrist of a friend in a pink sequined dress and declared that they were going to the bathroom. A code, Nell knew. A code for, “we need to talk” or “this guy is bugging me” or “I need to borrow a tampon”. Judging by the scent, it was one of the former - perhaps both.

Scents tell stories - blood most of all.

In their absence, the man turned his stumbling, drunken attention to a blonde girl nearby, who scooted closer to someone who could have been her boyfriend or could have been her husband or could have just been a safe spot to land.

Whoever he was, he got the hint, and whirled the girl away.

The man gave a few more tries.

Nell watched him flit from a redhead to another pretty blonde to a busty girl in a silver top who seemed to take a liking to him. Until he got too close, that is. Too handsy, one might say. The girl shoved him away, but kept dancing with a distance between them. As one song bled into the next, the man closed in again, and again his wandering hands got the better of him.

The girl slapped him that time, clear across the face. Nell swore she saw red in his eyes, but his backwards stumble had turned some heads, and he seemed to shrink under the sudden attention.

So he bolted.

Nell followed, and now she is on the edge of a quiet back alley, watching him take a piss against a wall. He mumbles to himself when he finishes, speech slurred and words incoherent, and staggers when he steps away.

He doesn’t see Nell - not until he slams straight into her.

“The fuck?!” the man blurts. He glares at Nell, but she says nothing. “Watch where you’re goin’.” The man adjusts his jacket - worn, made of leather that smells beaten and old - and side steps. He’s about to say something else in his attempt to move past Nell, but all he gets out is a short, “B-” before she grabs him and shoves him hard into the brick exterior of The Chain. He hits the wall so hard his head bounces against it and dust and crumbled bits of mortar catch in his unruly hair.

Nell smells blood.

The man blinks, dazed, and scarlet drips down to his shirt collar. It smells boozy, like iron soaked in rum, and when it snakes around the front of his neck Nell leans close enough to taste it. The man wriggles beneath her. She hisses as he struggles and presses her forearm hard against his chest, pinning him so firmly he can barely move. “What th’ f-..fuck!” he growls, though it comes out more like a whine. He trembles, breath hitching, as Nell scrapes her teeth against his neck. She hears his heart hammering in her own ears, hears the blood streaming through his veins. “Ge’off!” he says, and tries to push her. It’s to no avail. “Ge’off!”

Suddenly, Nell stops. She raises her head to meet his eyes. She licks his blood off her lips.

“What’s the matter?” she asks. “Don’t like strangers touching you?”

Before he can answer, teeth tear open flesh. A vein snaps like a thread.

The man gurgles, his hands clutching at Nell’s wrists. She ignores him in favor of ripping at the wound. Warm, rich blood oozes out. Nell drinks greedily, drinks until the man’s hands fall away from hers, drinks as his body goes still and slides down the wall, drinks until there is nothing left to drink.

She straightens, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. Behind her, a door swings open. Nell turns to find Christian carrying overloaded garbage bags to the dumpster. He pauses, eyes flicking between Nell and the slumped body at her feet. He sighs.

“Tell you what,” he says. “I’ll clean up the Shiraz if you...take care of that.”

He gestures toward the corpse, and Nell considers the dead man.


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