fiction

The Looking Glass

The first time I saw her, she was fluffing her hair. She stared right at me, smoothed the bright auburn strands, and touched up her coral lipstick while she waited for you. When she finished primping, she gave me the saddest look I’ve ever seen. I’m not even sure she realized she did it. Then the door opened, and she exchanged the lost look in her eyes for a fake smile. You’d never notice that smile wasn’t genuine.

The second time I saw her, she looked at me more closely than the first time. Could she sense me looking at her? I panicked as she fully turned her head in my direction. She looked at me from across the room and smiled. Turning to you, she asked you something I couldn’t decipher. I heard you say her name – Marcia. You nodded and told her to “go ahead.” That’s when she sauntered over to me in a way that only she can. Her smile was genuine this time. I felt special.

After this, I saw Marcia frequently, but she was always with you. I saw the way you treated her. Despicable. The worst part of it was that she was always sweet to you. I had never seen her do anything that deserved the shitty way you treated her, and I’ve seen a lot. Marcia always offered to do what she could to help, but you couldn’t help yourself. You kept on with the designer drugs, the legal problems, the other women. You were a mess. If I had the chance with her you had, with the same problems, I would have changed. I’m not surprised you didn’t, though.

The last time I saw her, she had a bruise over her left eye, and you weren’t done. I heard the yelling first. I recognized your voice instantly; It has this grating tone that makes me cringe. At first, I thought it was just you. Maybe you were yelling at yourself, you know, the way people talk to themselves. For a second, I thought you had seen the error of your ways, not only in the way you treated Marcia, but in every aspect of your life. Or maybe you hadn’t had a revelation. Maybe you’d gone off the deep end. It would have been a long time coming.

Then she came into my view. I saw the bruise. My realization was slow, but eventual. You smacked her with the back of your hand right in front of me. My shock was palpable; I’m surprised you didn’t see it. You hit her again. The shock quickly wore off, and I became enraged. I would make you pay.

When you smacked her for the third time, something wonderfully unexpected happened. She discreetly wrapped her slim fingers around the fireplace poker and turned on you. The smug look on your face dissolved as you realized what was about to happen. I felt myself sigh in satisfaction when she smashed the poker into the side of your face.

Blood oozed from a small cut on your cheek. Marcia raised the poker over her head, this time aiming for your hairline. Before you knew what was happening, it came down with more force than I thought she had. The dull thud of the poker connecting with your skull would have made me smile if I was able. You stumbled backward, the look of shock on your face slowly being replaced with anger.

But you’re not fast enough. Marcia raised the poker once again, this time holding it like a dagger. She aimed for your eye, and I must say, she was spot on. That poker went straight through your eye and right out the back of your skull. I couldn’t have been more proud.

Your body slumped to the ground as Marcia wiped her cheek with the back of her hand, smearing blood onto her perfectly made-up face. That one flaw didn’t detract from her beauty. She smiled. It was the biggest smile I had ever seen on any of the girls you had ever brought into this penthouse, and you had to be dead for me to see it. What does that say?

But I digress. Marcia slowly walked over to me, keeping her eyes on me the whole time. She wasn’t looking at herself, like all the other girls did. She looked at me. No one had ever looked at me like that before. I felt proud. Marcia stood directly in front of me and ran her hands over my clean lines. She admired my beveled edge, my clear glass. “You’re a beautiful mirror. I just might take you home with me.” She whispered. I knew she couldn’t see it, but I beamed.

Marcia turned back to the spot on the living room floor where you lay. I saw every muscle in her body tense, and I knew why. Your body had disappeared; Only the blood stain remained. Confusion swept over Marcia’s flawless features as she turned back to me and saw your reflection, in front of the fireplace where she dropped you. Marcia swiveled her head back and forth, but no amount of swiveling would change what she was seeing.

My spirits fell a bit. She slowly realized what had happened. I wish I could make it clear. Marcia could never take me home with her. If I had a heart, it would have ached.

My home would always be inside this condo, hanging in the foyer, staring through the entrance to the living room at the fireplace. Awaiting another tenant; One even nastier than you. That tenant would get what they deserved too, just like you. It has happened for decades, and it will happen for decades still. People always get what they deserve, don’t they?

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announcements

Revelations Cover Art and Legend Tripping: A “Choose-Your-Own” Travel Guide

revelations: a horror anthology by elizabeth hartl

I want to give a big shout out to Chris Manley for designing the cover art for Revelations: A Horror Anthology. It perfectly captures the atmosphere of the book and I absolutely love it! This book launches with major retailers on September 15, 2020.

I am also super excited about another book I’m working on, Legend Tripping: A “Choose-Your-Own” Travel Guide. This is what I call a “choose-your-own-hell” adventure book. If you’re familiar with my blog, you’ll recognize some of the locations I’ve covered here. This book launches October 2021.

I’ll give you guys updates on both books as they become available.

Thanks for reading!

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Revelations: A Horror Anthology Pre-Order

The Revelations: A Horror Anthology pre-order is now live! The pre-order is for the Kindle edition. The paperback version will be available for order on September 15. (And… I have to say this… Please don’t judge the book by it’s cover 😜, it’s a temporary cover.)

I’m also looking for ARC reviewers if anyone’s interested in writing a short, honest review on it. It would be greatly appreciated. If you are interested in the ARC thing, please email me at hartl_elizabeth@yahoo.com or contact me at Elizabeth Edits.

I can’t say this enough…

Thank you for your readership. It really does mean everything. 💕💕💕

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Legends

“I don’t believe you.” Chad whined as he pulled a piece of beef jerky from Mark’s pack before Mark could slap his hand away.

“What’s there to believe? It’s horseshit.” Eric poured a half a cup of whiskey, downing it in one gulp.

“It’s not though. The legend goes back centuries in these mountains.” Jack snatched the whiskey bottle out of Eric’s hand as Eric attempted to pour another cup.

Eric and Mark scoffed as Jack leaned forward, elbows on the rickety kitchen table, wetness soaking his thermal shirt. The previous owners had forgotten the old table at the cabin, which was now sticky with alcohol spilt when the group had played beer pong hours before. “They say, the creature still stalks these woods.”

Sensing Jack was gearing up for a long, dramatic story, Eric called to the girl sitting in the only lit corner of the living room, reading a book. “Merideth, honey, you got to come hear this.”

“Another one of Jack’s wild stories? No thanks.” Merideth never took her eyes from her book, her voice riddled with annoyance.

“Oh, shit.” Eric lowered his voice, leaning in, stifling a giggle. “I’m in trouble.”

The guys roared with laughter.

When the laughter died down, Jack continued. “Don’t worry about her,” waving his hand near the living room. “You’ve got bigger problems.”

“Oh, Right. The creature.” Eric drew out the last word, mocking Jack’s theatrics.

“You think I’m joking.” Jack slammed back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Aw, you gonna pout?” Eric took a gulp from the bottle of whiskey and slammed the bottle back on the table. “Alright, guy. Tell your story.”

Jack narrowed his eyes at Eric and continued. “The creature. It lives in these mountains. Has for years. They say that going into the woods alone makes you vulnerable to it. Like a cat stalking a mouse, it plays with you. It’ll warp your sense of time. You’ll lose your direction. Walking paths will disappear.” Jack looked around the table at his friends.

Eric smirked, Mark drank from the whiskey bottle, and Chad’s eyes teared up.

Jack leaned back in his chair, dropping the theatrics. “The creature took the guy who lived next door. He was new here. Didn’t know the story. Wasn’t around long enough to make friends, I guess. When my family was staying here last summer, I was sitting on the back porch with my dad. This neighbor guy was making his way into the woods through his backyard to get firewood or something. Hell, we even waved to him and my dad asked if he needed any help. He said he could manage, so we watched him go into the woods. That was the last time we saw him. Later that summer, his house went up for sale. It’s still empty.”

They stared at each other for a few moments, silent. Then Eric shook his head. “Ain’t no creature, man. The guy was probably just there for the summer.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You ever see this creature?” Mark took his lips away from the whiskey bottle long enough to ask.

Jack shook his head. “But I’ve heard it.”

Chad leaned in closer, although it looked as though he was about to throw up. “What’s it sound like?”

“Like a wailing. A high-pitched, anguished wailing.”

“That’s a fucking coyote, man!” Eric was sure he solved the puzzle.

Jack shrugged.

That Jack wasn’t responding to what he had said annoyed Eric. After staring at each other for a while, Eric said, “All right. Let’s go.” He stood.

“Where?”

“To find the creature.”

“No way, man!” Chad’s face had lost its color.

“I don’t recommend it.” Jack replied.

“C’mon. We’ll all go. Even Merideth.” Eric turned to where his girlfriend was sitting in the living room, but she wasn’t there. “Anyone seen Merideth?” Eric called loud enough for her to hear.

No answer.

“Seriously, where’s Merideth?”

“Last I saw her, she was reading, like a nerd.” Mark chuckled.

Eric shoved him hard. “Shut up, douche lord.” Eric left the kitchen to check the bathroom and the bedrooms. “Merideth! Hey! We’re going out. Let’s go!”

Eric returned to the kitchen after searching the house. “Where the fuck is she?” He rushed out the back door.

“Hey!” Jack called after him, hurrying to the open door. “Where are you going?”

“She’s fucking with us.” Eric called back, heading for the woods.

“Dude! No woods!” Jack rushed out after Eric.

“There’s no creature, man! Relax!” Eric responded.

“Fuck that, you don’t even have a light!” Jack followed Eric to the edge of the woods, Chad and Mark close behind.

Jack stood at the treeline, watching Eric go further into the woods. Chad and Mark bumped into Jack’s back.

“Aren’t we going?” Chad asked Jack.

“Nope.”

“He can’t go by himself.” Mark pointed to where Eric had disappeared into the trees.

Jack shook his head. “I know better.”

Chad and Mark stared at Jack. Finally, Mark said, “Well, I’m going with him.”

“I wouldn’t.” Jack said to Mark’s back.

Mark turned to face Jack. “He doesn’t know these woods. You’re a real shithead for letting him go in alone.” Mark continued toward the treeline.

“He won’t come out. It’s too late.” Jack grabbed the sleeve of Mark’s jacket. “If you go in there, you won’t come out either.”

Mark wrestled his arm free of Jack’s grasp. “Get off me, man.” Mark continued past the treeline, disappearing into the woods after Eric.

A high-pitched wailing sounded. The bushes rustled. Chad shuffled closer to Jack. “What… I…” Chad wiped his palms on his jeans.

Jack and Chad froze when they heard painful screams coming from the woods.

“They’re not coming out.” Jack turned back to the house and hurried inside.

Chad looked into the woods, then back to Jack, who was already closing the back door, and hurried to catch up.

Inside the kitchen, Jack reached for the whiskey bottle as he slumped into a chair. He took a long sip off the bottle, then offered it to Chad. Chad bounded over to Jack and slapped the bottle out of his hand. It shattered on the tile floor. “What the fuck?” Chad’s anger shocked Jack.

“What the fuck what?” Jack stood, towering over Chad.

“What are they gonna do? Huh?” Chad’s voice rose.

“Not my problem.” Jack got in Chad’s face. “Eric’s the asshole who can’t stand to be stood up, and Mark’s the dumbfuck who follows whatever he does.”

The back door opened and shut so quietly Jack and Chad didn’t hear it. They didn’t notice someone standing beside them until Merideth spoke. “Where’s Eric?”

Jack and Chad stopped their bickering to stare at her. “Where did you come from?” Jack’s confusion written on his face.

“I went for a walk. You’re all so boring.”

“Eric and Mark went into the woods looking for you. They’re probably hurt. We have to go after them!” Chad stammered as he rushed to get the words out.

Merideth nodded and walked toward the living room to retrieve her book. Her calm demeanor set both guys on edge. Jack looked closely at Merideth as she walked away and nudged Chad sharply. Jack pointed to Merideth’s shoes. Chad’s eyes widened. The hem of Merideth’s jeans were covered in blood.

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Revelations Release

I have exciting news! My new book, Revelations, is due for release September 15, 2020 on Amazon. Revelations is horror-meets-fairy-tale in a crazy mash-up that teaches a lesson. Examples from the book are actually posted in “fiction” on this blog, so check them out!

I will announce updates as they become available.

I am super excited! Thanks everyone for sticking around, it means the world to me!

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Road Trip

“We have to go back.”

“Not yet. We’ve only traveled for two days. You got the entire week off of work for this.”

“Denise, honey, we’re out of money.”

Xavier stopped at the only red light in the small country town in Arkansas. He tapped the steering wheel with one hand and rubbed his forehead with the other. “I don’t know. What do you want me to do?” Xavier reached for his cell phone.

Monitoring the light in case it changed, Xavier opened his bank’s application and put in his password. The light turned green. There wasn’t another car for miles, so Xavier didn’t move, choosing instead to wait for his phone to load. $58.63.

“Okay. So, we’ve got enough money to either make it up to St. Louis and then we live there, or we turn around now, head home, and we may have enough for dinner. You’re choice.” Xavier glanced at his wife, then quickly looked away.

“I guess we’ll have to turn around.”

Xavier made a U-turn in the middle of the empty intersection. “Sorry. This is my fault.”

Denise shrugged. “I’m tired though. It’s getting late.”

“We don’t have enough for a hotel room.” Xavier kept his eyes on the road.

“Mm.” Denise stared out the window.

They rode in silence for the better part of 45 minutes when Denise brightened. “What about camping?” She looked at Xavier.

The thought hadn’t crossed Xavier’s mind. “Decent enough idea.”

They rode in silence for a few more minutes while Xavier mulled it over. “Okay. Find a campground. Under twenty bucks, though.”

Denise’s face lit up. “This’ll be fun!” She wasted no time searching cheap campgrounds near me on her cell phone.

Xavier spotted a sporting goods store in a strip mall a few miles out of town. While Denise remained in the car, Xavier purchased the cheapest tent he saw. He tossed the tent into the back of the SUV and slid into the driver’s seat as Denise said, “Willow Falls Campground. $15 a night.”

“That’s the one.” Xavier started the car as Denise hit the get directions button on the campground’s listing.

Twenty minutes later, they were lost. “This is what it says.” Denise showed him the blue line on the map on her phone. “We’re still on track.”

“I call bullshit.” Xavier snapped as he looked to his left out the window. “There’s nothing around. The damn road isn’t even paved!”

“Keep going.” Denise urged.

Ten more minutes of driving over the pitted gravel road, and they came up on a wooden archway with a sign hanging from the top: Willow Falls Campground. The sign’s paint was peeling and one chain securing it seemed to be shorter than the other, causing the sign to hang crooked.

Xavier steered the car past the archway, and up to a small shack labeled Office. Several small white envelopes hung by thumbtacks from a corkboard on the office door. Each envelope had a surname on it. There was one for Xavier and Denise. Denise hopped out of the car and sprinted up to the door. She yanked on their envelope without pulling the thumbtack out. After getting back in the car, Denise opened the envelope. Inside was a map of the campground with their campsite circled. Denise guided Xavier to the correct spot.

Xavier drove slowly on the narrow path. They seemed to go further and further into the woods. “Well, it doesn’t seem like we’ll have much company.” Denise attempted to make conversation.

“Mm.” An unexpected sense of dread nagged at Xavier’s intestines. He glanced at Denise, wondering if she felt the tension he did, but she seemed enthusiastic.

“Oh, here it is!” Denise unbuckled her seat belt. Xavier parked in the gravel space next to the fire pit.

Xavier did not understand that this part of Arkansas had so much wooded area. The foliage was dense. He inspected their campsite as Denise flopped down on the grass, legs crossed, a genuine smile on her face that Xavier hadn’t seen in months. There was a fire pit, a grassy area for a tent or small camper, and a weathered picnic table. Xavier lifted the hatchback of the SUV and hauled out the tent.

After they set the tent up, the sun was sinking further below the tree line. It was almost dark. “I’d better get some wood for a fire.” Xavier absently told Denise as he looked at the sky.

“You want me to come with?”

“Nah. I’ll be right back.” He tossed her the car keys. “But just in case you want to sit in the car or something. It’s a little chilly.” With that, he set off into the dense forest in search of firewood.

There was a thin path that led from the campsite into the woods. It surely wasn’t a designated path, but one worked into the land after years of visitors taking the same walk. Xavier picked up large sticks, cradling them in the crook of his arm as he walked. About five minutes into his search, he noted a tree with a yellow ribbon tied around one of its low-hanging branches. Xavier also noted an oddly shaped bush further into his walk. He wanted to find his way back.

As the sky got darker, the path beneath Xavier’s feet vanished. Xavier’s arm was full of medium and large sticks, but he was looking for fallen branches. He didn’t find any. The sky was turning an inky purple when Xavier decided that he should head back. He wouldn’t be able to see in ten minutes.

Xavier began walking back the way he came. He found the oddly shaped bush. He kept walking. Xavier found it odd that he was no longer on a path, but he had found the bush, so he figured he was going in the right direction.

Xavier kept walking when he came up on the tree with the ribbon. Xavier stopped in his tracks when he noticed that the ribbon was no longer yellow, but red. Xavier felt a chill as he stared at the ribbon fluttering in the breeze. He forced himself to move past the tree.

After a few more minutes of brisk walking, Xavier almost tripped over a disemboweled raccoon. Flies swarmed around the entrails, a rotten smell emanated from the carcass. It must have been there for a day or two, at least, but Xavier would have remembered it if he had seen it looking for firewood. Xavier looked around, past the trees surrounding him. Someone must have put it there after he had passed this spot. Someone was watching him. Then he remembered Denise.

Xavier ignored the feeling of doom that gnawed at him and ran toward his campsite. After a minute, he saw an orange glow ahead. His pace slowed as he wrinkled his brow in confusion. It had to be his campsite; There was no one around them. Xavier hurried toward the glow. As he got closer, he recognized the picnic table and his SUV on the gravel pad. Denise was standing in front of a roaring fire, her back to him. He wondered how she got such an enormous fire going without supplies.

Tension filled the air. There was something wrong. Denise remained completely still in front of the fire. He approached slowly and quietly. “Denise?” Xavier gently called.

Denise didn’t respond or even turn around to face him.

“Denise?” Xavier called louder as he got closer.

Nothing.

Xavier reached his arm toward her, about to touch her shoulder, when suddenly Denise spun to face him. She was paler than usual and he noticed immediately that her eyes were not the same color they had been fifteen minutes before. A sinister smile was plastered on her face. This was not Denise.

Xavier backed away in shock. Denise continued to smile at him; Not moving, not speaking. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her as fear gripped his heart. He continued to back away. She continued to smile. The glow from the fire back lit her, giving her a demonic glow.

They stared at one another, Xavier breathing heavily and Denise smiling. The crackling of the flames was the only sound. Xavier’s mouth had gone dry, his body trembled. He then heard a rustling in the trees to his right. As he looked, Denise pounced on Xavier, sending him sprawling on his back. Sharp teeth dug into his neck. Xavier howled in pain. The teeth sank deeper until Xavier had no energy left to fight.

Xavier lay on the cold ground, staring at the sky, feeling his blood ooze out of the open wound. Denise came into his view. She stood over him and let out a cackle, licking the blood off her lips. Xavier let his head flop to the right. A raccoon ambled out of the tree line at the edge of the campsite as darkness crept into his vision. It’s only a raccoon.

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Anniversary

I found the hide-a-key inside a fake rock by her back door. I knew she wasn’t home yet, so this was the perfect opportunity. I let myself in and stood in her kitchen in the dark, listening. The house was silent. I made my way to the second floor; To her bedroom. She had a closet she never used. I slipped inside the closet and waited.

I heard her open the front door about a half hour later. She was talking on the phone as I heard her voice get closer. She was walking up the stairs, no doubt to her bedroom to get ready for their night out. I liked surprising her, and this was the perfect opportunity. She wouldn’t suspect a thing. I stifled a laugh as her voice entered the bedroom, still on the phone.

“Yeah…Quick…No, nothing like that…Just one shot…Mm-hmm…Trezzini…Right…8 o’clock…I’ll be right next to him…You’ll see us…”

Who the hell was she talking to? She mentioned where I would be. Just one shot? To the head, perhaps? It was no secret that we were having our issues, and some were really bad, but I thought we were past that. And that, you know, she still loved me.

I felt sweat prickle my forehead. She disconnected the call and threw her phone on the bed. I was going to surprise her. This was supposed to be a romantic evening. It was our anniversary, and it sounded like she wanted me dead. I did not expect this. The more I thought about it, shock began to overwhelm my system. Fear overwhelmed me. I couldn’t let her get away with this.

I emerged from my hiding place, surprising her like I had planned, but I was no longer stifling a laugh. My heart hurt. I could barely look at her.

“What are you doing here?” She smiled at me. Apparently, she thought my surprise amusing. “I thought we were meeting at the restaurant?”

Tears formed in the corners of my eyes as anger took over. How dare she. I didn’t know what to say to her, so I said nothing. Instead, I crossed the room and reached for her neck. Making contact, I squeezed as hard as I could, both of my thumbs pressing hard on the hollow of her throat.

Her mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water. Her eyes widened until they looked as though they were going to pop right out of her skull. I increased the pressure as anger filled me. She began to turn red, then purple. Her eyes became bloodshot. This was taking longer than I had anticipated, but finally her body went limp and I let her fall to the floor.

Her phone started to buzz as I heard the thump of her body hitting the floor. I reached for the phone. It was a confirmation message sent by text. I unlocked her phone and opened the message.

“Just Shoot Me Photography

Confirmation number: 09567423

Date: August 26, 2019

Time: 8:00pm

Location: Trezzini Restaurant

Price: $35.00

Paid in Full”

My hand trembled, making the phone shake as I read the message over and over again. I had made a terrible mistake.

I wiped the drool that was forming at the corners of my mouth. I hoisted her body onto my shoulder and placed her gently on the bed. After arranging her hair away from her face, I unbuttoned her shirt and laid down next to her. I guess we weren’t going to make it to dinner, but I still wanted tonight to be special. After all, it was our anniversary.


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Intrusion

A glass of wine on the end table and a book in her lap. Jasmine had put her two children to bed early that night, needing the peaceful silence after a long day of the boys fighting. She sipped her wine and listened to her twins snore for a moment on the baby monitor before opening her book. Jasmine hadn’t had the time to get into the story, she was only on page three, but tonight was the night she would make progress.

Jasmine had just started page seven when she heard the front door unlock, open, then close. “Ken? You’re home early.”

She heard footsteps making their way up the stairs in the foyer to the second floor, but she received no response.

Jasmine glanced behind her through the entryway and saw black work boots on the top stair, rounding the corner of the hallway that led to the bedrooms. “I know it’s my fault you have to work so much, but you could still answer me.” She called up to him.

Still, no response.

Shrugging, Jasmine returned to her book. She knew he must be tired. Ken had just bought this house for her and he had been working 14 hour days on the late shift for a few weeks now to make sure they had enough to satisfy the mortgage. She didn’t blame him for just wanting to go to bed.

Jasmine closed her book and took another sip of wine, too bothered by her husband’s lack of response to continue reading. She knew she should get a part-time job to help out, but then who would watch the boys? They couldn’t afford daycare, not with all of the other bills they had to manage. Ken didn’t necessarily resent her for not working. He understood she had to stay with the boys while he was at work, but lately it seemed as though the mounting bills had put a tremendous strain on their marriage.

Footsteps making their way back down the stairs snapped her out of her thoughts. “You hungry? I can heat you up a plate.”

Again, no response.

Becoming agitated that he wouldn’t speak to her, she stood up, book still in hand, and turned to see the profile of a strange man disappear behind the foyer wall. She froze, dropping her book, and listened to the front door open and shut.

Adrenaline kicked in and she raced to the front door and flung it open. There was no one on the walk, no car in the driveway. There were footprints in the freshly fallen snow leading to the house, but none leading away.

Jasmine’s heart beat against her chest. She slowly and quietly closed the door. Jasmine glanced at the two closed closet doors on either side of the front door. Keeping her eyes on them, she slowly backed away. She glanced toward the living room where her phone sat on the end table with her glass of wine.

Jasmine eased toward the living room, refusing to look away from the closet doors. The pounding of her heart was the only sound in the silent room. Without turning her back to the foyer, the back of her legs bumped into the end table and she fumbled for the phone, spilling her wine in the process. She flipped the phone open. It took her four attempts to push the correct buttons, but eventually she connected with the 9-1-1 operator.

“9-1-1. What is your address?”

Jasmine rattled off her location in a whisper.

“What is your emergency?”

“There’s someone in my house.”

As Jasmine stated her emergency, she heard one of the closet doors creak open. She held her breath, waiting for the man to appear from behind the foyer wall. When no one emerged, she crept toward the staircase, keeping her eyes glued to the empty space where just a few feet away, behind the wall, she knew a stranger stood. There was silence once again. Then she remembered the boys.

Jasmine dropped the phone and flew toward the staircase, not bothering to look toward the closet doors. She took the stairs two at a time. She whipped around the corner at the top of the stairs, slipping on the freshly-polished hardwood floor. She crashed into her sons’ room and doubled over in horror at the sight. Blood splattered the walls and ceiling. Her sons lay face down on their beds, each a pulpy mess. Jasmine covered her mouth to keep from vomiting.

Then she heard the floor creak behind her.

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Assumption

The cold wind beat against Miranda’s back as she pulled up the hood on her trenchcoat. The snow was so thick she could barely see where she was walking. Cars honked and people bundled in their winter best shuffled past her, their visibility no doubt as bad as hers. Miranda squinted her eyes to see the addresses on the buildings. She had another mile to go. “Damn.” She said out loud as she continued to walk.

Soon, the sounds of cars and people faded until the only sound was the howling of the wind that swirled the snow around her. She was in a section of the city she didn’t recognize, and she did not want to get lost with no one around. Miranda tried not to let fear get the better of her thoughts. The streetlights became sparse as she took in her surroundings. Miranda caught the address of the nearest building. She was almost there, a few more blocks.

As the wind whipped at her face, she heard crunching behind her. Footsteps. She walked faster. The crunching became more pronounced. Miranda moved to one side of the sidewalk to let whoever it was pass. They were certainly walking faster than she was, but no one passed. She glanced behind her. All she could see was the swirling snow. She increased her speed, feeling cold sweat run down her neck. The footsteps remained. Miranda saw the building up ahead, festively lit, a bright beacon in the dark. She even heard the music and laughter spill out into the quiet night. All she had to do was get past an alley. “Almost there.” She encouraged herself. The footsteps behind her remained, matching her stride.

Miranda reached the alley when she was pulled off her feet and slammed into the frozen ground. She didn’t have time to call out as she saw the flash of a serrated blade in the moonlight come toward her at lightning speed. The blade tore into her chest. The pain took her breath away. Her blood ran on the freshly fallen snow. As she watched the blood pool, her vision faded to black.

*

Shadows crept along the wall like ghosts. Miranda watched them in a trance-like state as they interacted with each other, with her. A cold sweat prickled on her forehead. Her breathing came in short, raspy breaths. The aromatic candle on her bedside table flickered in the breeze of the open window. She had only been asleep for five minutes, but the dream had felt like it had taken hours to complete. Putting stock in dreams was foolish, Miranda knew, but she couldn’t help but feel as though she should cancel her flight to Denver in the morning.

*

“Don, I just can’t.” Miranda cradled the phone between her ear and shoulder.

“You still haven’t given me a satisfactory answer as to why this meeting needs to be canceled. Miranda, this is one of our most lucrative clients!” Don was losing his patience.

“I know, but can’t you send Michael? He’s great at this kind of thing.”

“I guess I’m going to have to.” Don was silent for a moment. “You know, I’m starting to get the feeling that you’re edging out on me.”

“What?” Miranda took the phone into her hand to prepare herself for what was coming.

“It seems like you don’t want this job anymore.”

“I do want my job!”

“Three meetings you’ve canceled in the last two months, all with our most important clients! That tells me that you no longer want your job.” What little patience Don had left evaporated. “I’ll send Michael to Denver, but Monday morning you need to clean out your desk.”

Miranda was speechless. “Don, come on. You know I love my job. I need my job.”

“It’s done.” The line went dead.

Miranda looked at her kitchen counter. “Fuck.” She muttered as she placed the phone gently on the table.

An odd sense of guilt and relief washed over her. Miranda couldn’t give him a satisfactory excuse for canceling on one of their most important clients, a client that had come to trust Miranda. She couldn’t tell her boss she was canceling because she had a scary dream she was afraid might come true. It sounded absurd. She had thought a lot about the dream she had the night before. She recognized the city she was in, and it was Denver. She couldn’t take the chance.

*

“What are you doing tonight?” Miranda texted Allie.

“Jenny and I are gonna check out that new bar in Pullman.” Allie responded almost immediately. “Thought you were in Denver.”

“Nope. Still home.”

“What happened?”

“Have time to talk?”

“Not really. Gotta leave soon. Wanna come?”

Miranda didn’t respond right away. The snow was becoming blizzard material, and her car was in the shop. She’d have to walk, and she’d never been to Pullman. “Sure. What time?”

“8:30.”

“Great. You’ll never believe what happened to me today.” Miranda locked her phone and tossed it on the bed, heading for the shower. She needed a night out, if only to bitch about losing her job.

*

Miranda stepped out of the subway station one stop too early. Oh well, She thought. I could use the exercise. As she walked toward Pullman, theater marquees lit up the sidewalks and people rushed past her, either on their way to dinner or the theater. The cold wind beat against Miranda’s back as she pulled up the hood on her trenchcoat.

Miranda walked for a few blocks as the snow worsened. Her visibility went from a 5 to a 1 in the blink of an eye. The cars that once honked and the people that once rushed past her faded to silence. Miranda squinted at the nearest building, trying to see the address. Another mile to go.

As Miranda walked on, the streetlights became fewer and before long, she was utilizing more of the moonlight than the streetlights to guide her way. She buried her chin in her coat and trudged on. As the snow swirled around her, Miranda realized that she didn’t recognize her surroundings. She must be in Pullman.

Before long, Miranda could hear the sounds of music and laughter up ahead. She saw the blinking of red and green lights through the wall of snow. That must be it. She thought as she picked up her pace. Then she heard snow crunching. Footsteps coming up fast behind her. She moved to one side of the sidewalk to let the person pass, but no one passed. Miranda glanced behind her but saw only snow.

The memory of the dream she had the night before slammed into her like a truck. It came so fast and so hard it almost took her breath away. Miranda started to run. The crunching footsteps kept pace with her. She saw the lights of the bar up ahead, the music and laughter floating on the fierce wind. She was tackled to the ground before she could scream for help.

Miranda felt the blade tear through her skin into her back. “Help!” She managed, but her scream was weak. Pain seared through her; The red of her blood against the white of the snow an ugly contrast.

The last thought Miranda had was, I should have gone to Denver.

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fiction

Stickpin

Rain drizzled on the tent above the casket while mourners huddled around, trying to keep warm. As the priest spoke his final blessing, Lita grabbed a handful of damp dirt and tossed it into the grave. It landed on the wooden casket with a sick thud. She took her sister by the arm. “Come on, Renee.” Lita led Renee away from the handful of mourners bowed in grief.

“Can you believe this turnout? Only four people, not including us.” Renee broke free of Lita’s grasp and lit a cigarette.

Lita shrugged and rolled the cuff of her sweater.

“Doesn’t matter, I guess. Why would anyone care if they’re gone?”

Lita rolled her eyes. “Always with the drama.”

“Not true.”

Lita dug her toe into the wet grass. “Rosa will miss him.”

Renee snorted. “Yeah.” She watched as a tearful Rosa threw a handful of dirt into the grave.  “Doesn’t surprise me.”

Lita and Renee watched from a distance as one by one the mourners drifted away from the grave and the gravediggers shoveled dirt onto the casket. Lita turned to Renee. “I can’t believe he’s gone.” She took one last look towards her father’s grave. “And I’m not sorry.”

*

“I, Francis J. Moody, being of sound mind and body, bequeath Ms. Rosa Martinez $50,000 for her loyalty and friendship throughout the years. As for the rest of my estate, including the house and land, I request it liquidated and all proceeds from its sale, including all monies in trusts and bank accounts, be merged and given to the charity of my daughter, Lita’s, choice.”

“What?” Lita shook her head, staring blankly at her father’s long-time lawyer, Jackson Bean.

“I’m sorry. He left nothing to either of you.”

Lita’s eyes moved to Renee. Renee nodded and spoke up.

“Can’t we fight this?”

Mr. Bean sat back in Francis J. Moody’s executive desk chair behind the antique walnut desk and steepled his hands against his lips. “Sure, but it will be a lengthy process that probably won’t give you the outcome you desire. Francis was clear and level-headed right up to the end. But you can try.” Mr. Bean stood up and handed a check to Rosa Martinez, who sat at the back of the room.

Lita sighed and stood, offering her hand to the lawyer. “Thank you for your time and service. We’ll be in touch.”

Mr. Bean took Lita’s hand. “I know how much of a shock this is for you. Try to remember, though, that your father did what he thought was best for you and your sister.”

Lita nodded, eyes downcast in what she hoped looked like grief. “Thank you.”

Mr. Bean patted her on the shoulder and showed himself out. Rosa Martinez followed him.

“This is bullshit!” The sound of Renee’s voice reverberated throughout the room.

Lita waved her hand as if to shoo a mosquito away. “Shut up. I have an idea.”

*

Lita and Renee, shovels in hand, made their way through the twisting path of tombstones to the north corner of the cemetery. The rain had dwindled to a mist, making their walk that much more miserable. Renee visibly shivered and Lita’s toes were numb.

“Should we be doing this?” Renee’s voice shook.

“You want your piece, don’t you?” Lita snapped.

“Well, yeah.” Renee stopped walking.

Lita sighed and turned toward her sister. “What’s your problem?”

Renee shrugged. “Nothing.”

“Then what is it?” An exasperated Lita threw up her hands.

Renee was quiet for a moment.  She looked Renee in the eye. “What if he’s not dead?”

Lita didn’t respond immediately. She shivered. “Don’t be stupid.”

Lita started walking and Renee had no choice but to follow her.

*

When they reached Francis J. Moody’s grave, Renee dropped her shovel and sat down hard on the ground, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Lita noticed that her sister didn’t look at the grave. She knew Renee was superstitious; their mother had instilled that in them. Despite this, what Renee said on the walk ran through Lita’s mind like a mantra, What if he’s not dead?

Fear gnawed at the corners of Lita’s mind. She shook it off as best she could. They were here to do a job, nothing more. The old man was dead; She had made sure of that. Lita stared at her father’s tombstone, remembering the good times. Then she remembered the falling out they had, his frugality, and her selfishness. “Fuck it.” She muttered as she dug.

Lita did most of the digging as Renee complained. Hours later, they had the casket unearthed and the two of them stared at it. They had reservations, but Lita was the one who shook with fear. She couldn’t put her finger on exactly why, but it terrified her.

The rain turned from a light misty drizzle to a downpour. Lita tried to keep the water out of her eyes with her hands but only smeared her face with mud as she and Renee attempted to pry the casket lid open. The casket lid inched open as the rain increased. Lita heard the corpse moan. “What the fuck?”

“What?” Renee was agitated from the weather and hard work.

“He made a noise.” Lita pointed to their father.

“No way.” Renee finished opening the casket lid.

“I swear.”

“It’s the wind, Lita. Now who’s being stupid?”

In the moonlight, Lita saw her father’s diamond stickpin glitter. That stickpin alone was worth a fortune, not to mention the other valuables with which the old man requested he be buried. Francis J. Moody’s corpse held nearly $1 million in jewelry. “Bingo. This is mine.” Renee reached for the diamond stickpin first.

As she did, Francis J. Moody’s tombstone became dislodged because of sliding mud and fell forward, knocking Renee in the head before she could wrap her fingers around the stickpin. She fell unconscious next to the casket.

“Renee!” Lita tried to revive her sister.

Lita was alone with the corpse of her father. She took a minute to think about how to get Renee out of the grave as the rain beat down on them. As the rain increased, the sides of the grave became a muddy mess. Lita knew she couldn’t stay much longer. Time was becoming her enemy.

“I can’t do this by myself!” Lita was becoming frazzled.

The rain kept coming, sweeping the dirt and mud they had dug out back into the grave. “Fuck!” Lita stuffed her pockets with as much jewelry as they could hold.

What if he’s not dead?

“Fuck! Renee!” Lita slapped her sister. Renee remained unconscious.

What if he’s not dead?

“Shut up!” Lita couldn’t take it anymore. “I’ll come back for you!” She called to her unconscious sister through the howling wind and beating rain. Before Lita began crawling up the sides of the grave, she grabbed the diamond stickpin.

Lita gained a strong foothold and hauled herself up. Her body moved halfway before something pulled on the back of her shirt. “Fuck!”

Lita tried to free herself, but the more she twisted and struggled, the stronger the hold on her seemed to get.

What if he’s not dead?

Lita’s heart dropped into her stomach. She felt the blood drain from her face. She shook so badly she almost lost her grip on the vine she clung to.

Turn around! He’s got you!

“Let go!” Lita screamed hysterically. She struggled to free herself, but whatever was holding her felt like it was trying to pull her back into the grave, further towards her father’s corpse.

He’s not dead!

The last thing Lita saw was the grinning corpse of her father

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