The Other Child

The first time you notice the child, two groups of trick-or-treaters have converged on your porch at once. It’s twenty-two minutes past six and the smaller children are out in full force, guided by grown-ups or older siblings pressed into service.

The monsters are pretty thin on the ground right now. At this hour, it’s mostly mutant turtles and cartoon princesses, Sith Lords and Jedi Knights… and at the pack of the pack, standing just off the edge of your small patio-like front porch is one tiny child, painfully pale and painfully thin.

If those dark circles are just makeup, it’s a far more subtle job than the usual Halloween face paint. The brief glimpse of gray you get beneath the neck doesn’t look much like a costume, but then a taller child in wizard school robes shifts in front of you and you lose your train of thought.

By the time the crowd has thinned out, you couldn’t exactly swear that the pale child in the back never came forward to grab a handful of Smarties and Sixlets with the rest, but you didn’t see it happen.

Well, some kids are shy, you tell yourself. Probably someone else in the group was an older relative, tasked with the perilous task of going up to the door and actually collecting the candy.

When you open the door a few minutes later to see the same child, dressed in a shapeless gray sweater and dingy white pants, standing at the edge of your porch behind a pair of children dressed as superheroes in tutus, you manage to summon up a smile and a remark about how glad you are to see they found the bravery to come back, but somehow the words catch in your throat and the smile dies on your face when you meet the child’s eyes.

You can’t be sure—after all, it was only a glimpse before—but you’d almost swear it was standing in the exact same place as last time. Head at the same angle, eyes staring ahead in the same fixed way. You hold out the candy bowl for the first two visitors and then make a valiant effort to thrust it out towards the strange child at the back of the porch for several seconds. When it doesn’t move or react in any way, you step back and quickly shut the door.

The next time there’s a knock on the door, you take a look through the peephole. No one there but a pirate. You step back and open the door in the same motion, and find yourself looking at a child you’re sure wasn’t there before, as though the door had been a screen wipe transitioning to a fresh scene.

You give the pirate the due booty and barely manage to restrain yourself from screaming at a child for being spooky at Halloween.

“Nice trick,” you say to the other child. “Bet you don’t get much candy that way, though. Come up and have some!”

You know the child won’t.

When you close the door, you look through the peephole and then through the side pane and see nothing. You try to convince yourself that if you were to open the door, your front step would be deserted. You don’t quite manage it.

When the next knock comes, you take a long time to answer it. You know what you’ll see before you open the door, and of course you’re right. When you close it this time, you briefly flick off your porch light, then you look at the candy in your bowl and think about the decorations all over the outside of your house. No one would look at your house and believe that you’re not at home to trick-or-treaters.

Anyway, would be any better to hide out alone in your house with the lights off, waiting for the children knocking to go away disappointed? It’s not like the other child would leave.

You do your best to ignore its continued presence as you go about your holiday duties. Surprisingly, it works. No one else mentions the other child or gives it much notice, and after a while it just becomes a background part of the routine.

The crowd changes a bit as the sun finishes setting and full dark sets in. The older kids are out now, the ones who go all out on their costumes. The little kids are cute, but you’ve always loved the scary side of Halloween, the ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night…

And just like that, you’re thinking of the other child again, and suddenly you’re noticing that at some point he took a step up and is now positioned just inside the bounds of your porch. He’s changed the angle of his head, and the look on his face is… less vacant. Hard to quantify, though.


Official trick-or-treat hours for your town run until 8:00, though you’ve always kept the light burning a bit later for people who don’t read the community calendar.

Tonight, though, you start giving out your remaining candy multiple handfuls at a time, and as soon as your phone says 8:00, you lock your door, turn out your porch light, close all the blinds, and turn on every light inside your house.

You pour yourself a glass of wine, and you’re just in the process of trying to decide between going upstairs to drink it with a book or sitting down with something light and fun on the TV when you hear the unmistakable metal screech of your storm door being opened.

You freeze up. The porch light is off. Everybody knows that’s the universal signal of “no candy here”, right? You’ve closed up shop for the night. All you have to do is be quiet and ignore it…

A knock.

“Trick or treat.”

It’s a child’s voice, a tiny voice, yet one that is remarkably piercing in the stillness of the moment. Your blood pounds in your ears as you try to decide what to do. Answering the door seems impossible, even if it seemed like a good idea, but you’re not sure how much longer you can stand to ignore it…

“Hello?” another voice says, an older one, and you both jump in surprise and then relax so completely you practically deflate. It’s your next-door neighbor. They always come by your house last, after doing a driving tour of other neighborhoods. They must have been running a bit late tonight, that’s all. You remember now that you didn’t see them among the press of costumed bodies at your front door. It might have seemed weird at the time, if anything so normal had the power to seem weird.

“Coming!” you shout, almost laughing with relief.

You run-walk to the front hall, where you reach for the door before realizing you have empty hands. The last remnants of the candy are in the bowl, which you set down on the little foyer table just behind you.

You turn around…

First Published: October 29th, 2015

Word Count: ~1200

October 29, 2015 | Horror | No Comments »

Seven Days Without Spiders

It has been seven days since I saw a spider within the house.

Knowing their propensity for squeezing within tiny spaces and scurrying under things, I have spent most of the week searching in vain for their new hiding spot, or spots. I examined in minute detail the cracks between the floorboards and all the seams in the walls. Realizing their ability to move in three dimensions coupled with their keen senses and quick reflexes could allow them to follow my own movements through the house while staying just outside the arc of my vision, I tried on several occasions to whirl around quickly and catch them off-guard. I never saw them, though.

After seven days without a single solitary sighting of a spider, I have begun to suspect something. Do spiders count in base eight? Do they attach some special significance to the number of their limbs and eyes? Do they ? I cannot see how it would be otherwise.

If this is so, then whatever they have planned for me, it will be tomorrow.


October 28, 2015 | Horror | No Comments »

How The Minotaur Lost Her Way

Well, she lit out from Kellisport
so many years ago
bound for Hulmouth Harbor
before the winter snow.
Her holds were packed with cargo,
her sails were full of wind
and not a mortal living
knows where she met her end.

Who can know? Who can say
where the Minotaur lies today?
She started out so swiftly
but somehow she lost her way.
My heart was packed inside her
when she went down that day.
Oh, my heart was packed inside her
when she went down that day.

She carried tonnes of cotton,
and barrels full of rice,
casks of hearty wine
and sweetly scented spice,
treasures from the conquest
and priceless works of art.
and one lonely young sailor
I trusted with my heart.

Mermaid-snared? Tempest-tossed?
They only know that she was lost.
The bankers know the value,
but no one knows the cost.
Now my heart lies under waters
no ship has ever crossed.
Oh, my heart lies under waters
no ship has ever crossed.

It happened of a sudden,
one calm and moonless night.
My sailor left his watch-post
and doused his lantern-light.
Urged on by the promise
I’d etched upon his skin
he drew steel and crept astern
and did the captain in.

Who can know? Who can say
how the Minotaur lost her way?
Only one man’s certain,
and he will never say.
He took my heart down with him
when the ship went down that day.
Oh, he took my heart down with him
when the ship went down that day.

The Minotaur lies quiet now
in the darkling deeps,
and prowling round about it
my sailor never sleeps.
In the ribs of the wreck
a light no depths can kill,
and at the center of it
my heart beats even still.

October 27, 2015 | Poetry | No Comments »

Watching Over Us All

The cold, pale, slightly irregularly-shaped orb that rose over the horizon that pivotal first morning was not the sun, not our sun at least.

It gave off enough light to be seen, but only just. It was nowhere near bright enough to blot out the stars, but they disappeared in its wake, just the same as if it were drawing a shade behind it as it traversed the sky. The moon was nowhere to be seen.

It had been getting smaller—farther away, astronomers said—for days before, lighting out for parts unknown. No one knew what was keeping the tides going. We’d have to rewrite the physics books entirely when we found out, assuming that anyone could and that anyone would be around to write it all down.

The temperatures plunged, but not as much as you would have expected. Things got chilly, but not icy. Plants kept growing, though they were observed to grow away from the pale new sun rather than towards it. Flowers that had once tracked old Sol’s progress across the sky now turned their faces away from his replacement.

The fire-and-brimstone preachers all screamed that they’d warned us, but as time went on with neither deliverance for them and their followers nor devastation for the world, they sort of settled down and found a new rhythm, a new routine. They said to anyone who’d listen that the end of the world was imminent, that all the signs and portents proved this, but they’d been saying that for as long as anyone could remember.

The really surprising thing was how quickly it all became normal. The government pushed through a lot of new travel restrictions and emergency regulations right away, supposedly to preserve readiness—readiness for what, no one knew—and prevent panic. Some of them were relaxed when no actual crisis materialized, some of them weren’t.

Habits changed more quickly than language, with idioms about daylight and sunshine maintaining their currency years after anyone had ever seen such things.

The world had changed. We just changed with it. Things had been scary for a while, but we came out the other side okay. If anything, it just went to show you how resilient we were, as a society. As a species.

Maybe that’s why there was as little reaction as there was, the day the pallid lid finally opened and we found out what the thing in the sky really was.

October 26, 2015 | Horror | No Comments »

Bean Sidhe

“Tall whipless double espresso soy mocha!”

“We’ve talked about this, Morgan.”

The barista blanched at the sound of her supervisor right behind her. She stood with a fixed smile on her face until the drink had been collected, then turned.

“Simon, I’m sorry,” she said. “It just slipped out! Force of habit.”

“It never should have become a habit in the first place,” he said. “You’ve worked here long enough to know the policy. We ask the guest’s name, we write it on their cup, we call it out! It makes people feel welcome, as if you’re treating them nice. It’s not rocket science. If it was, you wouldn’t be doing it.”

“Couldn’t I just be nice for real? I have… issues… with shouting people’s names. Julia never had a problem with my little quirks.”

“Yeah, well, Julia retired,” Simon said. “I don’t have a problem, either. You do, and you need to get over it right the fuck now.”

“You’re sure I can’t just call out the drinks?” Morgan asked.

“No. Names or nothing,” he said. “Do your job or hit the bricks.”

“Could I… practice with yours?”

“If that’s what it takes,” he said, rolling his eyes.

She called his name.

It didn’t take long for the EMTs to get there, but it was too late to do anything. The shop closed for the day, and Morgan knew it might be closed a bit longer, but when it reopened, no one would ask her to call out names.

October 8, 2015 | Horror | No Comments »


The wind carried the strange chemical signals away from the crater. The signal-cloud was too light and dispersed to be sensed through the visible spectrum. The molecules it contained were heavy enough to fall like a soft rain in its wake, though, creating a trail that the hive’s scouts discovered.

An individual ant was not equipped to make sense of what it was detecting, any more than an individual rod or cone in a retina can read a book. The first scouts who found the alien scent-trail stopped in their tracks. If they had been people, their reactions would have been as though they’d just read a sentence in which all the words were correct and in the right order but it still didn’t make sense, or as though they’d just heard something that had the tone and cadence of speech but wasn’t.

An ant is not a person, though. An ant isn’t even a mind. It’s more like a slow moving set of impulses in a larger neural network. The ones who found the trail retreated to the hive, where the information could circulate amongst the All. None of the individual ants knew what the signals were. No one could make sense of it.

The All could, though. The All knew what it was looking at.

Ah, the All thought. Chemical formulae. Interesting.”

The hive reached itself out to follow the trail to its source. By the time they reached the crater, the source of the trail had been packed up and carted away by the pesky bipedal monominds who got in everywhere and poisoned everything. The hive did not care. It trusted that if they even noticed the signals, they would have no clue how to read them. All the important information had suffused the soil around the object.

Instructions. Recipes. Technology.

The hive was cautious, but curious. It was always interested in improving itself, and all the necessary ingredients could be harvested or refined easily enough. There were enough young that some could be fed a formula from the stars to see how it would affect their growth. This sort of applied biochemistry was the colony’s stock in trade.

Scouts from other hives began to arrive at the crater. The All of the first hive briefly considered the merits of combat, but discarded it as an option. The markers had dispersed too widely to keep them a secret and there was no hope of defending so wide a territory as the landing site. Better to withdraw and begin applying the new knowledge. If it provided any advantage, then the first hive to develop it would have an edge over the others.

Among the monominds, the message eventually went out that the meteorite had shown traces of an interesting organic compound. This sort of thing was reported often enough that it provoked more debate over the likelihood of terrestrial contamination than it did excitement over the potential implications.

While the monominds bickered, the hives decoded the recipes and synthesized new compounds. The next generation of queens were showing some fascinating potential, and that was saying nothing about the warriors…

September 29, 2015 | Science Fiction | No Comments »

We Ride The Line

When night comes out,
it does not fall.
It just shows up
when the light dies.

The darkness was always there,
hiding behind the light.
I try to wrap my head around this,
look at the moon,
so pale in the morning sky.
I know it shines as bright in the blue
as it does against the black.

I know the stars are there
behind the glare, somewhere.
I know darkness is just what’s left
when light goes out of your world.

I don’t know what it means.
I just know it’s true.

We ride the line, she says.

I tell her I knew a girl like her once.
She tells me I’m mistaken,
I didn’t know that girl then
and I don’t know her now,
I’ve just confused real people
with the intersection
on a Venn diagram
between observable traits
and my own imagination.

She says she’s used to it,
she knows I’ll learn better.

We ride the line together,
tell our stories, say our prayers.
We pass from dark to light
and back again, frequent flyers
on the annual trip around the sun,
all expenses paid
one way, or another.

Daylight changes things
more than we’d like to admit.
Each time the light dies
we swear we’ll get it right
next time, tomorrow,
next year, time after that.
We burn up our somedays
like we’re made out of maybes,
like we’ll never run out.

We ride the line to the end.
Alone, we go around together.
Somewhere is a last stop
waiting for us.
Someday the fare box
will take our last pennies,
exact change
from one state of being to another.

Just like flipping a switch.
Just like shutting off a light.
The darkness is there already,
hiding behind it.

We ride the line.
Night does not fall.
It just comes out,
when the light dies.

September 23, 2015 | Poetry | No Comments »

Toll Call

To continue this call in English, press 1.
To continue a different call, press 2.
To resume a call you don’t remember placing, press 3.
To end a call you had no intention of ever beginning, press 4.
To speak with technical support, press 5.
To speak with the dead, press 6.
For billing inquiries, press 7.
For all other inquiries, press 8.
For other other inquiries, press 9.

If you know your party’s extension,
enter a perfect dreamless sleep
and never awaken

If you’d like to leave a message,
please consider with whom,
and at what cost.

If you’d like to speak with the operator,
please hang up the phone
and turn around

Please have your account number
and be ready to scream.
Be ready to run.
It won’t help.
Nothing will help.

Your call is very important to us.
It will be answered in the order it was received.

September 22, 2015 | Horror, Poetry | 1 Comment »

Feeding Gnarlybone

“Why do trolls live under bridges?”

“Well, properly speaking, trolls don’t live under bridges,” I said. “They’re highly magical creatures, you see, and they like to live in canyons and river beds, places where there’s a steady flow of energy for them to tap…”

“But then why does everyone act like they do? And what about old Gnarlybone? Is it just him?”

“You didn’t let me finish,” I said. “Trolls live in canyons and river beds, but those things don’t exactly come with roofs, do they? So the troll builds himself a little house out of stone… no one’s cunning with stone the way a troll is, and they anchor it on both sides of the pass, and what does that give you?”

“A bridge!”

“Something very like one, yes,” I said. “Close enough that they might as well do a little extra work to make it into one. Because the places where they like to live are natural channels for natural energy, but there is another kind of energy that’s created when folk travel on the same path in enough numbers for enough time. The flow of ideas, of thoughts, of words, of life… it creates a channel that intersects the one the troll taps.”

“So trolls don’t actually eat travelers?”

“Have you ever heard of old Gnarlybone eating anyone?”


“Have you ever known anyone who got eaten by Gnarlybone?”


“It would be accurate to say that trolls feed on travelers, or on travel, but so do humans and most other folk,” I said. “After all, we’d be in pretty sorry shape if we couldn’t get grain from the flatlands, wouldn’t we? But trolls can survive without that kind of commerce, as long as they can tap a powerful enough natural flow. The way I understand it is that it makes things better for them, like a bit of honey or spice might do. It’s a thing they can live without, but life is better when they have it.”

“So rivers are troll food, but roads are troll candy!”

“Yes,” I said. “I suppose that’s about right.”

“So we should probably go down into town tomorrow.”

“Oh?” I said. “Why do you say that? Are you in the mood for some candy yourself?”

“No! Because then we’ll be feeding Gnarlybone, and he won’t have to eat anyone.”

I laughed.

“I don’t think it works that way,” I said. “Anyway, we don’t need anything from town.”

“But we could buy some candy.”

“I thought you didn’t want any.”

“Yeah, but if it would help us feed Gnarlybone… I’d take some.”

September 17, 2015 | Fantasy | No Comments »


“Back already?” I said when I heard the front door open.

“Yeah,” she said. “They didn’t have what I was looking for.”

“No open computers?”

“Oh, there were a ton of open computers,” she said. “But what’s the point of that? I have a computer here.”

“To be honest, I’m having a hard time figuring out why you’d want to go to an internet cafe in the first place.”

“I wanted to know what internet coffee tastes like.”

February 11, 2015 | Fiction | 1 Comment »