Story — (Spark) The Origin of the Wilds

The world wasn’t always like this. This… green. At least, evidence points towards the contrary. The Wilds—the giant forests that cover the planet—are new. Older than any of us, of course, but new in the grand scheme of things.

A long time ago, humanity was widespread. You could walk across a city for an entire day and not see a single tree. And there was no need for walls back then, either, because we had nothing to be afraid of. Civilization might have even advanced to the point where we started looking to the stars.

But then of course, things changed.

The researchers at Trellin believe that the Wilds and its connection to the aether beasts are linked. When the Wilds started to grow and spread, aether beasts began to appear. Buildings that touched the clouds came down, and humanity was forced to run. To flee as the forests spread and ate the planet. Over time we’ve gained a little ground back, but we’ve never been able to answer that one big question.

Where did the Wilds come from?

At first we thought it might have been a rapidly spreading species of tree, spreading like a plague that was nearly impossible to kill. But that theory didn’t explain the aether beasts that followed in its wake. And since aether beasts are made rather than born, knowledge of their origin is even more dubious.

Maybe the Wilds was a biological weapon that got out of hand. A technology too advanced for our science to comprehend. Maybe the aether beasts are a product of that weapon. If that’s true, it was probably far more effective than it should have been. Both the Wilds and the aether beasts adapt and grow in response to their surroundings. This theory, outlandish as it might be, does hold some ground on that front. Rapidly changing the environment of one’s enemies in times of war could be quite advantageous.

But my favorite theory is the craziest of all. It’s not really supported by our current understanding of things, and it doesn’t actually explain where the Wilds came from, but it holds far more intrigue than the other two.

What if the Wilds was an aether beast, and the tree roots were all linked into one giant organism? Aether beasts are spawned from a seed, after all, and trees grow the same way. What if there was one seed that created the Wilds?

All these ideas sound ridiculous, I know. But researchers have been actively studying it for decades, and have very little in the way of facts. There are many who think that learning the secret of the aether is key to reclaiming our world.

Perhaps there’s still a piece of civilization out there somewhere that the Wilds didn’t touch, left crumbling in a state of severe disrepair. If there were, what would be the chances that the secret to the Wilds is there?

This all sounds ridiculous, I know, but there are some questions the world needs answers to. And I won’t rest until I find them.


Prompt — Volok the Timeless

Volok the Timeless closed the portal as soon as everyone was through, leaving the cleanliness of the college behind in favor of the warm, damp swamp he and his pupils found themselves in.

Volok looked up at the giant mossy tree that stood in the center of the clearing, frowning as he inspected it. It was the largest one here, roughly as high as the main hall of the university. This was the right place, he was sure of it. It was just so… mundane. It didn’t have any of the burn marks or slashes he had been expecting. The tree same as always, really. Sad. The new skeletons were a nice touch, though. Most of them had sunk into the mud already, and the ones that hadn’t were covered in moss. There was little chance they would be recognized for what they were, but you never know.

He straightened the collar of his robes before spinning around to address the dozen students he had brought here. Little more than children ill prepared for the arcane arts. It must have been only weeks since they had shed their baby fat. Or maybe years. After a while it was hard to tell, and it made no difference besides. Magic was a fickle thing, and these kids were not ready, but Volok had little else to do with his spare time.

Being immortal had strained his patience with the world after a few thousand years.

“I suppose you’re probably wondering why I’ve escorted you to this dreary place,” he said. He threw his hands out in a gesture halfway between exuberance and indifference.

The toddlers looked not about the green bog that surrounded him, but remained fixated on him, notepads in hand as they prepared to write down what would undoubtedly be a riveting lesson from Volok the Timeless. Not a peep was heard from the bunch.

“Well, I’m half wondering that myself,” Volok stated. “You see there’s nothing interesting about this place. It’s far from any civilization. It has no arcane significance whatsoever, and supports only the most rudimentary of ecosystems. Can any of you lot hazard a guess as to what may make this place interesting?” He had no prepared answer to that. It was a genuine question.

The place was silent for a time, and Volok frowned again. After what may have been seconds or minutes, one of the girls raised a hand.

“Is it perhaps to teach us the importance of simplicity? To show how magic, though complex at first glance, has a simple core that lies in the heart of nature?”

Volok sneered in disgust. “What on earth are you blathering about? The interlocking of how the arcane arts flows through all living and nonliving this is the single most complex natural phenomenon ever to exist. There’s nothing simple about it. It takes centuries to truly master it. Most of you won’t live that long, and you’ll be the lucky ones.” He sniffed and smoothed his eyebrows with both hands. Lucky indeed. Nobody really wants to understand magic, they just want to blow other people up with it.

“Then what was your purpose in bringing us here, great master?” another of the students asked.

“Well, for somebody as aged and wise as I, everything I do and say is for a good number of reasons,” he nodded. Yes, that sounded smart. “Perhaps my primary purpose in bringing you lot here is to define the history of magic. A good starting lesson, I think.”

Several of the children began scribbling on their notes. Heavens above, did they even know how to write yet? Oh, yes, they were just atrocious at it. Volok made a mental note not to look at their scribbling. He would go mad.

“All the other masters of the arcane may teach you that magic began with the interweaving of the life force that connects man from nature. The ability to pull heat out of the air, or bend time to move from one place to another by spiritually communing with the world around you.

“It’s all nonsense, of course. Nobody knows how magic started. I know I don’t need to tell you how many thousands of years I’ve been using it, but it is a practice that has been in use for far longer than that. I think it all started with a man. A god, one might say. Living right in the breadth of nature in a place much like this. This man was the lifeblood of all magic, all knowledge of the universe, you see. Can anyone guess his name?”

The infants scratched their heads and looked about as if deep in thought. They actually believed this stupid little fable. Idiots. Volok hid the grin from his face as he watched them. He tried his best to be the wise master everyone seemed to think he was. More fun that way.

One of the students spoke, probably uncomfortable by the silence. “Was it Unasi?” One of the names for God in the Old Tongue. A dull but expected answer.

“Of course not!” Volok said. “There’s a reason we don’t use the Old Tongue anymore. It’s people died. If they were right about everything the people that spoke it would still be around today, hmm?”

The children nodded as if he had preached some ancient wisdom. None of them pointed out that the statement was riddled with flawed logic. In fact it hardly even made sense to begin with.

He was already bored.

Volok the Timeless sighed. “You know what? Lecture is over.”

Several of the students breathed in relief. They seemed to think he intended to cast a portal to send them all back to the university. He smoothed his eyebrows. No, he had something far more… active in mind.

“Tell you what,” Volok explained. He pointed behind him with a thumb. “You all fight that tree over there, and if any of you survive and make it all the way back to the university in one piece, I’ll graduate you on the spot, got it?”

The children looked at the tree, then at each other. Now he couldn’t keep the smile from his face.

Volok turned to look at the tree as if he was seeing it for the first time. “Hmm. Only problem is, that tree doesn’t look very threatening, does it? Let’s fix that.”

He snapped his fingers and the earth began to shudder. Only it wasn’t the earth. It was the tree uprooting itself as its limbs stretched and breached the surface. Large chunks of bark and branches snapped and folded over, bending into the shape of arms as it shaped into a vague humanoid form.

“Better watch out,” Volok instructed to his crowd of now very alarmed students. “Magic isn’t terribly effective against it. Since this place is so damp fireballs won’t really work.  But I wish you all the best of luck, and if any of you manage to make it back alive, do wash up before you come into my office. I don’t want you tracking mud everywhere.”

Volok the Timeless looked back to the bones half buried in the mire. He probably wouldn’t have to worry about that last bit, but you never know. He snapped his fingers again, opening a portal back to the university and leaving the kids to their own devices.





Story — (Spark) Lady Aimee Calico

“I’m sorry, Zai. It’s just not going to happen. It’s not in our scope.”

“I implore you to reconsider, ma’am. Just think of how much easier all sorts of travel would be If we had a fully operational underground system that connected us to the northern world.”

Lady Aimee Calico put her elbows on the desk and pressed her face into her hands, trying her best to push the sleep from her eyes. Ecco snoozed near her in the corner of the office, not a care in the world. She missed the days when the furry little Ravess slept on her shoulder. Missed those days for a lot of reasons.

She turned her attention back to the young scientist. “You just want a research base to study the Wilds and its endemic life more closely.”

Zai, blushing a little. “I think the research could be very beneficial as well.”

“I admire your courage,” she said. “But a small field base in the middle of nowhere is bound to fail. A subway connecting Redview and Trellin is one thing. Those cities are much larger. Plus it goes against everything Lord Athril believed in. The whole purpose of the foundation of this city was to establish a self sufficient town independent of the north.”

Zai frowned, glancing at the portrait of the city’s late founder that hung on the wall near Aimee’s desk.

“No, my primary focus is the safety of Athril’s Edge. Which reminds me, I have to discuss next week’s border patrol with your father. The expansion is going to be happening soon, and I want it to be seamless. So next time you see him I’d like you to send him my way. Got it?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.

“Alright, assuming you have nothing else you wish to discuss you should be on your way, I’ve important work to be done.” She found a pen and eyed the ever awaiting stack of paperwork on her desk.

“Actually, if you don’t mind my opinion on the matter,” Zai offered.

“What matter?”

“The expansion.”

“Speak your mind.”

He shifted uncomfortably for a moment before taking a seat opposite her. “Now, obviously this isn’t my field of study, but Cadri and I have been discussing the possibility of constructing walls around the lake-facing side of the city as well.”

Aimee grimaced. “Why in the world would we do that?”

“Well, to be honest I’m growing more concerned about the dangers of aquatic aether beasts.”

“It’s not going to happen, Zai. It would be a waste of resources to build that much wall and effective walls would hinder food production. We’ve been over this.”

“I know, but hear me out. We only build walls on the shorelines. The cliffs don’t need them. And we fortify the docks with constant patrols of tamed beasts. Minimal resource loss. Also, Cadri explained that we wouldn’t even have to build them to regulation height because no aerial threats would be coming from that direction.”

Aimee sighed. “We’ve been fine for years. The lake is half the reason we even picked this spot. We only have to defend on two sides and it’s a good source of food. No significant threat has ever come from the lake, and you’ve given me no reason to believe that that is likely to change anytime soon.”

The scientist looked like he wanted to say something, but either decided not to, or couldn’t put it into words. “It’s just a hunch.”

“I don’t have time for hunches, Zai,” Aimee snapped. “I have work that needs doing. And I don’t want you bringing this up again until you show me evidence that I should be concerned. got it?”


“Good. Don’t forget to have your father come see me.”

“Very well, ma’am,” Zai nodded before turning and leaving the office.

“Oh, and Zai?” Aimee said, looking up just as he opened the door.


She returned her gaze to her work. “It’s not going to work out between you and my sister.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You’re not her type. I’m just informing you now. Don’t get your hopes up.”

“Is that an order?” Zai asked.

She shook her head. “No, just an observation. Dismissed.”

The door closed without another word, and Aimee turned to her aether beast, who was still sleeping peacefully as usual.

“Becoming Lady of the city has ruined both of us, Ecco,” she told him. “You get too much sleep, and I get too little.”

She glanced back at the portrait of Lord Athril Mores. His chair was too big for her.

Story — (Spark) The Founding of Athril’s Edge

Athril Mores stood at the edge of the world, pondering the metal grave. Waves crashed below at a slow, thoughtful rhythm, like the heart of Naya breathing alongside him. Athril placed a hand on the grave as he looked out over the Gulf. “I will not forget your kindness, old friend. May you find your place among the aether.”

The sound of footsteps broke his reverie, and he turned to see the Calico sisters in their padded leather uniforms approaching him from the bottom of the slope.

“I hope we’re not disturbing you, Lord Athril,” Aimee, the older one said, saluting. The tiny form of a baby Ravess perched on one of her shoulders. Its feathers were much smaller than normal, almost like strands of fur, indicating an unusual subtype. Athril had seen the girl training with it a lot over the past few days. She was convinced the beast would become one of the next prime defenders of their little outpost. “We have some news to report.”

“No need for the formalities, just tell me what you want,” Athril sighed. The decade he felt like he had aged in the past few days came out as he said that. They were not the words of a leader come to conquer.

“We’ve finished mapping out the area,” Aimee continued. “The masons back at the camp think they have a solid wall design that can house over a thousand people.”

“Oh!” Cadri chimed in, brimming with excitement. “And with your approval, they say they can have the walls built within a month! And I also heard that they’re outlining ideas for future wall expansions, once we reach capacity. Athril’s Edge will be a bustling city in no time!”

Athril glanced back to the gravestone. “It’s called Greydale,” he muttered under his breath.

“I’m sorry?” Aimee said, taking half a step closer.

He turned around to address them. “This establishment is called Greydale. I didn’t mount this expedition and march halfway down the continent to take orders from the likes of you. There will be no talk of wall expansions. I don’t want Greydale to be a bustling city. It was never meant to be a bustling city. I picked this spot because we only have to defend ourselves on two sides. The further our breadth of walls, the more we area we have to protect and the greater risk we run of a breach and succumbing to the Wilds!” He took a breath and realized how tightly his hands were balled into fists. He had been yelling again. Damn.

The Calico sisters seemed a bit stunned at his outburst. Aimee regained her composure but was careful not to offend him again. “Apologies, sir. We’re sorry to disturb you. Rest assured that the aether beast population in the immediate area has been dealt with. There will be no expected danger to the encampment for the next several days, but we still have trainer patrols running perimeter constantly.”

Athril nodded. “Good.”

“Sir?” Cadri said, avoiding his gaze as she recovered from Athril’s rage. “T-the reason we came to see you. The wall designs? You’re the only one that can approve them.”

“I’m sure they’re no different from the walls at Redview or Trellin,” Athril said.

“Not quite, sir,” Aimee said. “The masons explained that the saltwater from the Gulf would erode the wooden supports in the walls much more quickly than in the north. If we made them using the conventional method they would fall into disrepair nearly three times as fast.” She frowned and scratched the back of her head. Her Ravess squawked in agreement, and she moved her hand to start petting it. “Or, something like that. With all due respect, it’s best you hear it from them, sir. They can explain it better than me.”

“Nothing is ever simple,” Athril sighed.

“Although,” she added. “Maybe you could discuss with them the possibility of making the walls out of pure concrete instead of segmented modules. If we don’t want to worry about future expansions, we don’t need to build the wall to be portable. We wouldn’t have to worry about the wood at all.”

“No,” Cadri said. “Walls aren’t modulated just to be moved. If they’re structured in chunks they are easy to replace in times of need. A portion can be torn down by wild aether beasts and replaced by a new one within a day if the new wall segment is ready to be implemented. The segmentation may make the overall strength of a wall weaker, but the beasts aren’t smart enough to capitalize on it, and the convenience of maintenance more than makes up for it.”

Athril nodded approvingly. That just about summed it up. “Have you ever considered masonry, Cadri?”

The girl shrugged, uneasy at the compliment.

Aimee grinned at her sister, then looked back to Athril. “Either way, you should discuss it with the masons, sir.”

“Alright, alright,” Athril said. “I’ll meet with them this afternoon over lunch. Anything else?”

“No, sir,” the girls said.

“Very well. Dismissed.”

The Calico sisters saluted again and retired back down the hill. Athril returned his attention to the grave and the Gulf beyond it.

“Oh! And sir!” Aimee shouted back. “If you ever need time to relax and… you know… forget… I know a few people. Just let me know and I’ll buy you a drink.”‘

“Much appreciated, Aimee,” Athril smiled as he called back.

Soon, the only sound was the rising and falling of the waves as they beat against the shoreline of the cliffs below. Naya herself voiced her approval of the settlement in the steady heartbeat of those waves. Not Athril’s Edge.


It wasn’t fame he was after. Naming the town after himself seemed ridiculously self-serving. Better to name it after somebody more selfless.

He nodded his thanks to the metal gravestone once more, then made to leave down the slope and into the campsite below.

The foundation of a city newly forged.

Prompt — White Words

(I’ve narrated this story and published it on YouTube! Go check it out if you would rather listen!)


The morning chill in what could only be described as a pathetic attempt of a forest bit through Zyn’s robes, and he tried to remind himself that the day would get warmer as the fog dissipated. The thought held little comfort.

He held the wooden claymore over one shoulder as he walked, script covering the length of the blade. Zyn didn’t read it. The sword never had anything useful to say anyway.

The road flattened after a time, and through the fog the shape of a large log structure came into view. Not the town Zyn was hoping for, but some food would be nice.

“I know you’re probably bored,” Zyn said. “But I want you to stay hidden.  You can’t just assume everyone’s illiterate, got it? No writing.”

The white runes on the blade faded as if the wind had worn the words away. New runes replaced them almost immediately, but Zyn could only read the end since most the sword’s length was behind him. It read …kill them.

He sighed. “We’re not going to kill anyone willing to put food in my stomach. This isn’t a discussion.” It couldn’t be helped. He would just have to try to keep the shifting words from eyesight as much as possible.

The building looked warmer and more inviting than the forest surrounding it. Perhaps it was the the log walls that were made from trees too dark and too thick to have grown anywhere near here. Perhaps it was the smoke billowing out from the chimney, fading into the fog out of sight. Perhaps it was the promise of some modicum of civilization Zyn so desperately needed. Either way, it didn’t matter. Anyone that could hold a conversation better than a bloodthirsty sword was worth spending time with.

“Hello?” Zyn called, opening the door with a tentative push.

“Hiya! Come in, come in!” a voice replied, much higher pitch than anticipated.

Zyn pushed the door far enough to allow him to walk in, stepping sideways as he was careful not the brush the sword against the threshold.

The warmth of the interior washed over him, and he let out an involuntary gasp of relief. The hand that held his sword was freezing, so he switched hands and breathed warmth into it.

The room was dark and small. A bar on one side of the room housed several cupboards and bottles behind it, though there were only two chairs at it. Hardly a tavern. To his right was a more open area that surrounded a fireplace like a stage, which was lit by a roaring flame. Further away from the fire, an empty table with a bowl of fresh fruit waited patiently for him to take a seat.

Movement caught his eye, and he turned to see a little girl peek out from behind the bar, her golden hair tied in a neat braid. She grinned. “Business or pleasure?” she asked.

Zyn frowned. That wasn’t where her voice came from before.

“Siba, nobody comes here for pleasure,” somebody said from behind Zyn.

He spun around in surprise to see a boy standing there, golden hair kept short. He seemed of very similar age to the girl in that both had reached the end of their adolescence. He had probably come from a side room Zyn hadn’t noticed at first. He grabbed one of the fruits on the table and bit into it.

“That’s what Gramps told me people say, Siben,” the girl replied. Their voices were so similar Zyn could hardly tell them apart.

Zyn’s uneasiness grew. There was one person on each side of him. One of them was bound to see the words on the sword sooner or later. Luckily he was much taller than them. He shifted the sword to lay flat on his shoulder so that the words pointed upwards.

“Yeah, but we’re in charge now,” the boy said in between bites. “So we can say whatever we want.”

“You mean whatever you want,” Siba shot back.

Zyn sighed. After all this time, this is what he got?

Siben, the boy, was now waving the fruit in the air to emphasize his point. “All I’m saying is—”

“Excuse me,” Zyn interrupted. The two of them shut up to look at him. Maybe they had forgotten he was there. “What sort of place is this?”

“It’s Siben and Siba’s Restful Resort!” Siben said.

“It is not!” Siba argued. “You can’t change the name just because Gramps retired! Besides, my name should come first!”

“Your name? Why your name?”

“Gramps says I’m older than you!” she stuck her tongue out at him.

“That doesn’t count!”

“It’s Siba and Siben’s Restful Resort or we don’t change the name at all!” Siba said, folding her arms.

“Please,” Zyn sighed. “I’d just like a place to stay for the day.”

“You got money?” Siben asked.

“Siben, that’s rude!” Siba scolded.

“It is not! We’ve got a business to run!”

“I don’t,” Zyn confessed. “But I can make it more than worth your time by sharing the news from the west.” That was the deal he often made with establishments like this.

“What would we want news for?” the twins said in unison. Their similar voices added an eerie air to the words.

“Surely you’d like to hear how other lands are faring.”

“Not as much as I’d like to hear coins in my pocket!” Siben shrugged.

“And what would you do with said coins?” Zyn asked. “I can’t imagine either of you have been to the nearest village more than once in your lives, given your age.”

“But merchants come through here selling wares,” Siba said. “If we had money we could buy stuff from them.”

These kids clearly hadn’t been doing this sort of thing for very long. “But in that case you can just trade wares for services,” Zyn explained. “Likely they’ll want to stay for a while, too.”

“He drives a good point, Siben,” the girl said.

“Yeah, he does,” Siben replied, finishing the last of the fruit. “But it still seems like he’s getting a free bed just for some dumb news we don’t care about. What else you got?”

“What about that sword?” Siba asked.

“Not for sale,” Zyn said, tone final.

“Looks weird,” Siben noted as though he was seeing it for the first time. “What’s it made of?”


“A wooden sword?” the girl said.

“What’s the point?” the boy nodded.

“It’s not really a weapon,” Zyn shrugged.

“It’s a sword,” Siben said, tone flat.

Zyn sighed. “Not just a sword. Can you two read?”

“Sure can!” Siba perked up.


“How about I tell you about me and my sword in exchange for a bed for the night?”

“I don’t know…” Siben frowned.

“Oh shut up, what are we gonna do, make him leave?” Siba said. “Tell us!”

Zyn relaxed, taking a seat in the table that overlooked the fireplace. Siba hopped onto the bar and threw herself over it, sitting on the counter and rocking her legs back and forth as she waited for Zyn to settle in. Siben grabbed another fruit from the table and went to sit, legs crossed, by the fireplace.

“This sword is an ancient heirloom that has been passed down for generations in my family. Legend says that it was used as the vessel for a powerful spirit that could command people with just the sound of its voice. They trapped it in this blade so that none could be controlled by its power ever again, but over time, it found a new way to exert its dominance.

“You see, the spirit inside the sword can write along its blade. You could have a conversation with it. You merely say something to the sword and the text on it will change in response.”

“Whoa,” Siben said. “So it can, like, hear us now?”

Zyn nodded. “The spirit is evil, and even though it can no longer physically speak, it has been known to control the minds and thoughts of others just through its words. My family has proven to be the only one that is unaffected by the spirit’s influence, and thus we have become the bearer of the sword.”

“Why not just leave it somewhere and forget about it?” Siba asked.

“Yeah, like couldn’t you just throw it in the ocean?” Siben said.

“I could. But Cinderbark is one of the hardiest woods ever discovered. The tools used to carve this blade have been lost to time, and I know of no other way to destroy it. By leaving it unattended, it is forcing trouble on future generations. I would not want to be guilty of such a travesty.”

“So the words are magic?” the girl said.

“As far as I know,” Zyn nodded.

“But you’re immune?” the boy replied.


“What’s it say now?” they both asked.

“I don’t read it very often. Mostly it just tells me to kill those around me. It tries to persuade me to follow its bidding nonetheless. But don’t worry, I won’t harm you, even if you do throw me back out into the cold.”

“Cool,” Siben said.

“Read it!” Siba nodded.

“That’s not a good idea.”


“Because it can hear this whole thing. It’s a wise and powerful being. Anything I tell you it says could influence your actions into causing something horrible.”

“Oh come on, it can’t be that bad,” Siba laughed.

“Read it or you can’t stay the night,” Siben said.

Zyn sighed. Children. “Alright, but you can’t look. And I won’t be held responsible for this. There’s no telling what horrible images it wants to plant into your mind.”

They nodded in agreement. He raised the sword from his shoulders and pulled it from around his head, holding it with both hands as the white script on the blade changed.

As soon as he read the words, he shook his head. Now he was forced to make something up, or look like an idiot.

“It says,” he began. “‘Siba and Siben’s Restful Resort’ is a good name for this place.”




Lisa Stenton — Likable Living with a Lifeless Lawyer (Pt. 2/2)

(Read Pt. 1 here!)


Sam had to go pick up her daughter, but I agreed to come back home with her to see if I could figure anything out for her. I decided to bring Doc along with me, too. I hoped ghosts wouldn’t try to claw each others’ eyes out if they didn’t like each other. One too many bad experiences introducing cats to one another taught me to be wary. Doc could do whatever he wanted. I literally couldn’t stop him if he wanted to be somewhere, but he seemed to listen to me when I asked him to. Most of the time, at least.

Her house was much better than mine. It was a house, for one thing. It had a driveway with a nice car, a watered lawn, and it was an overall respectable home. It reminded me of the house my parents and I lived in before they moved to England. As much as I liked being independent, this was a staunch reminder of the peaceful, cleaner, and altogether simpler life I had had just a few months ago.

“Uh…” Sam started, voice hushed as she held the sleeping Chloe with both arms. She was already so big! “Just so you know, the fact that my house is haunted isn’t the only reason I never have anyone over.”

“What do you mean?”

“Let me just light some candles before you go in, okay?”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m sure I’ll be fine, Sam.”

She smiled a little. “Okay, but if you pass out you’re going to have to call your own ambulance.”

“That doesn’t even make any sense,” I objected.

“That’s the deal,” she said, struggling to put her key in while holding her daughter. I moved to help her, but she turned it and pushed the door open with her hip before I could be of any use. She had gotten some aspects of parenting down, it seemed.

As soon as we walked inside, though, all the nostalgia of my old home faded.

Sam’s place was a mess. It was as if five of me lived together and had no reason to leave. And maybe also had to resort to eating baby food to survive. A bunch of shoes lay scattered in a pile near the doorway. Most were tiny. An open box of crayons was left on the floor next to one of the rear walls, and though several half-ripped sheets of some mermaid coloring book were set aside near them, Chloe had evidently used the wall as her canvas instead. A pungent smell wafted into my nose the further I got in, but it was hard to place. Old and fruity was the best I could manage.

“I know it’s bad,” she said. “I’m sorry. Here, let me just put Chloe down so we can talk.”

“Sure, alright.”

I stayed in the entryway as Sam went upstairs, looking for any signs of ghosts but not having any idea what those signs might be.

“Ghost… here,” Doc said, holding one of Chloe’s old shoes up to his face and sniffing it.

Well, that was easy. I didn’t even know ghosts could smell.

“You can tell by sniffing a shoe?”

“Smells… like human,” he confirmed.

“We’re not looking for humans, Doc. We know humans live here.”

“Human ghost,” he nodded, tossing the shoe aside.

“There are not human ghosts?”

He put a tiny arm to where his chin might be, then waved his hands out. “Maybe?”

“Some help you are,” I muttered, walking down the hall.

I passed the stairs and what seemed to be a bathroom, entering where the kitchen married the living room in one big, open area. The sound of my shoes sticking to something caught my attention, and I looked down to see the culprit of the smell. The corpse of some orange popsicle lay forgotten in a sticky pool of gross, passing through the cracks of the tile and pooling around the carpet of the living room, too.

“Such a shame, that,” a deeper voice said. “Peach raspberry is such an underappreciated flavor.”

I swung around to see an older man in a suit standing next to me, pondering the sorry puddle as if he was mourning the loss of a dear friend.

It took no small amount of effort not to cry out in panic. Okay, maybe I did squeal a little bit, but it certainly wasn’t loud enough to wake up any napping baby-toddler.

He looked real. Alive. As if somebody had just walked in through the front door. I even looked down the hall again, just to make sure nobody had simply walked in behind me. Sure enough, it was closed.

“Who… are you?” I asked. “Where did you come from?”

“Hm?” He looked up at me, scratching one of his sideburns. “Oh my, you can see me, can’t you?”

That seemed rather obvious, so I didn’t dignify that with a response. Instead, I took a careful step away from both him and the puddle.

“That won’t be necessary, I don’t bite. I’m not sure I even can in my old age. But it’s nice to have somebody who can hear me for a change. Well, besides the child, of course. My name is Martin Morris. I used to be a family lawyer in a local law firm. A pleasure.” He held his hand out towards me.

I tried to take it, but my hand passed right through. It felt almost like dipping my fingers into freezing cold water, and I flinched.

“Ah,” he said, looking back at his hand and returning it to his side. “My apologies. I’ve been rather forgetful lately.”

“You said… the chi—Chloe can see you?”

“Why, yes. Rather remarkable girl. Very smart for her age. Though her mistreatment of popsicles is rather tragic.”

“So you’re the ghost that’s been haunting this house?”

“Is that what I’ve been doing?” he frowned. “Hm. Well, the mother has seemed rather anxious of late. I thought I might try to help out around the house. I’ve been here longer than her, after all. It’s more my house than it is hers.”

“I don’t think that’s true, seeing as you’re… well… dead.” Nice job being tactful, Lisa.

“I suppose that’s true. But—”

“Are you talking to the ghost?” Sam asked.

I turned to see her standing at the bottom of the stairs, glancing back and forth between me and the rest of the house with wide eyes.

“Um…” I looked between them. Martin shrugged. “Yes, it seems so. Man, of all the random hobbies I could have picked up in my early twenties, being a medium was really unexpected.”

“You’re… very tall,” Doc said from my feet, pointing up at me.

“Yes, thank you, Doc, but seeing as I’m barely five feet tall, I think most people would disagree with you. You have a very skewed perspective.”

But Doc already wasn’t listening. He had taken to rolling in the puddle of popsicle.

This was too much. “Can we sit down?” I asked the two of them.

“Fine,” Sam said, pulling her frazzled hair out of her face again.

“Certainly,” Martin chimed in simultaneously.

We moved into the living room to sit down on the couch, but there was a bunch of laundry on it, so Sam went to work folding it. I took a seat on the couch next to the laundry while Martin sat on one of the rocking chairs nearby.

“I’m… uh… not really sure where to start,” I said.

“I believe introductions are customary,” Martin smiled, scratching his sideburns again.

“Right, right. His name is Martin Morris. He was the previous owner of the house I think.”

Martin shook his head. “No, not quite. There was one or two residents in between me and the good… I’m sorry, what’s her name? I see it on the mail all the time, I’m simply drawing a blank.”


“Hm?” Sam looked up at me as she finished folding a pair of jeans.

“Oh, nothing,” I said. “Just telling him your name.”

“Is he dangerous?” she asked, picking up a tiny shirt.

“He’s in the room, Sam,” I said, looking to the ghost, who seemed taken aback at the question.

“I know, it’s just… Where is he sitting?”

I pointed to the rocking chair.

“Mr. Martin,” she said, putting the shirt down without folding it. “I realize you’ve been very nice, and this you’ve probably been here the whole time I have, but I’d like to ask you to stop helping me. No more unexpected microwaved dinners. No more setting off alarms or slamming doors when you know I need to wake up. No more anything.”

I raised a hand. “Sam—”

“No,” she interrupted. “I don’t want to be one of the crazy ones. I don’t want to be scared to bring people into my home. I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking… this is normal. As nice as you are, it’s just impossible to get any sleep around here knowing there’s this thing in your house that you can’t see, can’t touch, but it can still do things.”

This was different. Apparently it had been some time since I had known Sam the rambunctious teenager. Now she was Sam the concerned mother.

I bit my lip and looked to Martin, who stared down as he scratched his sideburns. “I see,” he said.

“Sam, he has feelings, too.”

“He’s not alive, Lisa.”

“Let’s have a civil discussion before we get into the territory of ultimatums, okay?”

She huffed and went back to folding.

“Martin,” I addressed. “Do you know why you’re still here?”

The ghost shrugged. “I suppose there must be a reason.”

“How did you die?”

“Lung cancer. I’m afraid I picked up some bad habits in youth that were a real nuisance to break.”

Part of me hoped he was an unsolved murder victim, but then I regretted even having that thought.

“So you didn’t stay here to get revenge on anyone?” I asked. “Or make amends with somebody? You don’t have any regrets?”

“You don’t live a life as long as I did without piling up a mountain of regrets, child,” he laughed.

“Can you think of anything that might be holding you back from the afterlife?”

“Hm… Not in particular. I can’t seem to leave this house, however. Is that normal?”

“Yes, ghosts typically attach themselves to a residence,” I lied. I had no idea what I was talking about, but maybe if I sounded professional I could keep this conversation where I wanted it.

“Have you ever meant harm to either Sam or Chloe?”

He gave a fierce shake of his head. “No, absolutely not! Why should I?”

“What did he say?” Sam asked, voice anxious.

“He’s perfectly harmless, Sam,” I assured her. “Why are you so hung up on this? He seems like a wonderful gentleman and he only wants to help!”

Sam took a deep breath and sat down on the couch where the pile of clothes used to be. “I… I don’t want anyone to come by here and have any reason to take Chloe away from me. It’s not just the weird ghost stuff I’m worried about. It’s my sanity level. What if somebody comes here and thinks I’m crazy, or sick, or that the house is too dirty for a child to live in?” Her voice cracked at the end like a dam that was about to burst with the pressure.

“You’re losing the battle,” I breathed. Out loud, to my dismay. She nodded, and burst into tears. Dam broken.

I wrapped my arms around her, and a moment passed. Several moments.

“I… think I might be able to offer something of a solution,” Martin said.

Still holding Sam, I looked to him and nodded for him to continue.

“It’s admittedly been some time since I practiced law,” he noted. “But I specialized in divorces and custody battles.”

My shoulders relaxed as the tension eased. This was the news both of us needed.

“The trouble is,” Martin said. “I’m not so good at the minute details. I can’t pick up a pen and write, for instance. I could read documents and determine their credibility and provide legal assistance, but it would all have to be indirect, of course.”

“You would do that?” I asked.

“Of course. “The last thing I want is for a daughter to be taken away from her mother. Especially if it’s my fault.”

“What’s he saying?” Sam asked, wiping away the tears.

“He says he can help you with your custody stuff. He’s a divorce lawyer.”

“Well, that’s the short of it, though ‘divorce lawyer’ wasn’t technically the job title,” he put in.

“How could he possibly help with that?”

“He can read the papers for you and help you understand them.”

“He can’t even talk to—”

“Sam, he can talk to me.”

“You’re asking me to take legal advice from a dead person.”

Well, when she put it like that…

“A dead person who cares about you two and genuinely knows more about the situation than you do,” I countered.

“That means you’re offering to help me, too, you know.”

“I’m not going to stand around and watch this happen to you if I can help, Sam.”

She sighed. “Alright, but we do this on my terms. Does he agree?”

“Of course,” Martin said.

“He does,” I translated.

“No more ghost crap. I don’t want anyone to know this place is haunted. Not even if the house is empty and somebody breaks in, okay? No door slamming or floating stuff, okay?”

“Agreed,” I said at Martin’s approval.

“The only time I ever want evidence of your existence is if Lisa is here, got it?”

“Got it.”

“And no talking to my daughter. I don’t even want you in the same room as her, whether I know it or not.”

Martin didn’t seem to like that. “Is this an indefinite promise or until the legalities are in order?”

I relayed the message.

Sam frowned. “When I win and get to keep my daughter, we’ll talk about changing these terms then.”

“Understood,” I said for him.

Sam shook her head as if she still wasn’t satisfied.

“Sam?” I asked. She looked to me. “I… I can take care of Chloe for a while. While you’re at work and I’m not busy. I can take a break from painting. It’s cheaper than a babysitter, and having a trusted friend watch your daughter will look better, for whatever that may be worth.”


“I’m not sure you’ll be the best influence on her,” she smiled.

“That’s the idea.” I poked her in the side.

She laughed. “I don’t want to ask you to come over so often, though.”

“Hey, if anything it’s a self-esteem boost. My apartment looks great by comparison. As long as we’re not talking about the exterior.”

“Well, having Chloe over at your place may change things.”

“I’ll just sue you for every time she colors on my walls.”

“Oh God I don’t have that kind of money. You’re going to have to hide all the writing implements in your house, she loves drawing. Especially on things she shouldn’t.”

That brought up a question I hadn’t considered. What would happen if you just scribbled with my magic Sharpie? Would it fizzle out like words not written in cursive?

“Well, Doc and I should probably get going,” I said, getting up from the chair. Doc was still rolling around in the popsicle puddle, which was now smeared everywhere. “Sorry about that.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Sam said. “It won’t be any harder to clean up now.”

She followed me to the front door, with Martin staying behind. I waved goodbye, and he gave me a warm smile on my way out. As soon as he thought I wasn’t looking, though, I saw the warm expression vanish. He probably wished he could be of more use.

“Thanks again, for everything,” Sam said, opening the door.

“No problem,” I said, giving her a hug. “Come on, Doc!”

While we were waiting, I thought of one extra thing. “Don’t forget Martin can hear you. Tell him that if he ever needs to talk to you—or, well, me as it so happens—you two should establish a signal. Like a red crayon in the sink means he needs to talk. I don’t know, you’ll probably think of a better signal. But once you do figure out a signal, let me know and I’ll come as soon as I can, got it?”

“I will,” she nodded. The smile on her face was clearly a polite one. The kind of smile she gave when she was thankful, but still worried. I couldn’t blame her.

“It was nice to see you,” I said, walking out the door.

“Lisa?” she called after me. I turned. “I’m glad I’m not the only crazy one.”

Lisa Stenton — Likable Living with a Lifeless Lawyer (Pt. 1/2)

“The worst part is, just when you start thinking you’ve got a handle on things, she changes it up on you.”

I tried to make a distinct frown in between coffee sips. It probably just looked like I hated the coffee. “What do you mean?” I asked.

Sam curled her hair around one ear and looked around to make sure nobody was paying attention. When she felt safe, she scooted her chair closer to me. “Chloe has recently declared a war on wearing clothes. It’s ridiculous. She’s fine with the diaper, thank God, but I can’t take her anywhere because she starts screaming her head off.”

I shrugged and took another sip of coffee. “Sounds a lot like you in high school, minus the diaper, of course.”

“Lisa! We’re in public!” she hissed, blushing.

“Well, I just thought the irony was funny. She’s already so much like you.”

“You certainly haven’t changed at all,” Sam huffed. “It’s no surprise you’re still single.”


We were both quiet for a moment, staring at each other. But then she smirked, and I smirked, and we both started laughing.

“It’s been too long,” we both said in unison. A brief pause and we chuckled again.

“How’s the painting going?” Sam asked, pulling her frazzled hair from her face.

That was one way to kill the mood. “Slowly,” I admitted. “I’ve… been busy, lately.”

“With what?”

Here we go. I had to deflect fast. “Work’s just been a nightmare these past few weeks.”

“Did you get a new job? I thought you were still working night shifts at that shady hotel?”

“It’s not as easy as I make it sound.”

“You always say they’re just paying for the body and that they let you watch Netflix all day.”

“Well it’s not.”

“Lisa,” Sam smiled. “I love you and all, but you’ve got to work on your lying skills.”

I shrugged. I should have known that wouldn’t work. I did know that wouldn’t work. “I’m just a little confused is all. Life’s been different lately.”

“Different how?”

I thought about how to answer that. I could be vague and change the subject. I could tell her I didn’t want to talk about it. But Sam was a friend. A good friend, and though we didn’t see much of each other these days, I trusted her.

“Did you see my post on Twitter about that weird dream I had a few weeks ago?”

Sam looked up, then back at me, nodding. “That one with the lava and the old music player?”

“Yeah.” I could feel my chest pounding. I had never told anyone the truth. “Do… do you believe in things like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, or weird things science can’t explain?”

Skepticism washed over her face. “I don’t believe anything I see on TV or online.” She took a sip of her own coffee as if to prove it.

“What about ghost stories?”

Sam choked as she drank, putting the cup down and swallowing carefully as if I had just suggested jumping on the table and screaming. “I’m sorry?” she asked, still clearing her throat.

I frowned. “Ghost stories? Not like in the scary horror movies or the TV shows about haunted houses. Why was that so troubling?”

She waved a hand, assuming a more casual posture. “Oh, it’s nothing. I just watched Oculus last night after putting Chloe to bed. Terrible idea.”

I sighed, wanting to continue the conversation, but not liking how public the coffee place was. “Right. Actually, do you want to go back to my apartment? Do you have somewhere to be?”

“Well, I have to pick Chloe up from daycare soon, but we’ve got time. I just hope she wasn’t a brat again today.”

“Why don’t you just get a babysitter? They’re cheaper and can hang out at your house.”

“I don’t like the idea of somebody that doesn’t know me staying at my house,” she said.

“What, do you think they’ll steal from you?”

“Something like that. I’m still having trouble getting over my trust issues.”

I winced. “Sorry, didn’t mean to bring it up.”

“It’s fine,” Sam said, but her fist was clenched. “You’ll have to tell me where your new place is.”

We got up from the table and threw our cups away as we walked outside. “I’ll text you the address,” I said. “But you can just follow me. Also, warning you now. It’s not the cleanest. Or the biggest… Or the—”

“Oh stop,” she laughed, slapping me on the shoulder as she pulled her keys out. “I’m sure it’s awesome. I’ll see you there!”


About twenty minutes later I opened the door to my apartment, and the two of us stepped in. It really was a mess. Dirty clothes littered both the couch and the floor in one of the corners, the carpet obviously hadn’t been vacuumed in weeks, and forgotten dishes sat on the coffee table. That was the worst part. The kitchen was twenty feet away and I didn’t even have the decency to put them in the sink. I was regretting everything about the decision to bring her here.

“I really need to pull myself together,” I muttered.

“I think it’s great,” Sam said, rushing over to Whimsy, who laid sprawled in the middle of the carpet where the sun peeked through from the only window.

“Ah, yes. My official Guest Distractor. Keeping people I have over from noticing how much of a literal dump my apartment really is,” I sighed, grabbing pants and underwear on the couch and stuffing them into a single pile along with the other clothes in the corner. I should at least get a hamper for the laundry.

I scooped up some dishes and rushed them over to the sink, rinsing them off. The leftover food didn’t come off with the water, but cleaning it now would be even more embarrassing.

Sam didn’t seem to mind. She was still pushing her face into Whimsy, who was now purring loudly as he snuggled back. She didn’t love cats as much as she let on, and we both knew it, but she was polite enough to seem distracted to give me time to clean a bit. I really missed having her around.

“I see the rule of ‘Whimsy likes everyone except me’ is still in effect,” I said, grabbing something off the counter and returning to the living room.

“Aww, he loves everybody, he just doesn’t need to prove it to his mom,” she cooed.

“Could have fooled me,” I grumbled, glancing over to where I knew some of the pawprints stained the carpet from earlier.

She looked at me, head still buried in Whimsy as much as possible. “So did you want to just show me your new place? Or let me say hi to your cat?”

“No, I wanted to tell you what’s been bothering me.”


“That dream I posted. The one we were talking about earlier. It…” I took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. “It wasn’t a dream.”

“What do you mean?”

“That story with that masked guy coming into my house, then the weird tunnel, then the music and that guy luring a bunch of tiny ghosts to their deaths was real. It happened. I changed up a few of the facts, but it’s true for the most part.”

“Ah, so you’re crazy.”

“I think so,” I nodded, not sure what to feel in that moment.

She stood up and sat next to me on the couch. “We’ve all got our own brand of crazy, Lisa. ‘Bout time you discovered your own.”

“You don’t understand. I have proof.” I produced the red Sharpie the masked guy had given me. Taking the cap off, I wrote ‘mug’ in cursive right on the coffee table. Sam made a sound of confusion, but the word immediately folded into itself, forming into the shape of a small, solid red coffee mug.

Sam stared at it, expression blank. “Holy s—”

“Wait,” I interrupted, grabbing the mug and walking into the kitchen. I turned the sink on and poured water into it, bringing it back to Sam and handing it to her.

She took it with a careful, overprotective grip, as if handling the Mona Lisa or something.

“You can drink it, it’s just tap water,” I said. Part of me wanted to laugh at how astonished she was, but I didn’t want to seem rude.

She put the cup to her lips and drank. “How did you…”

Okay, I couldn’t resist messing with her. “Oh, just wait.” I held my hand out, and she gave the mug back to me. I drank the rest of the water and threw the mug across the room into the kitchen.

It shattered with a loud crash, and Sam flinched. “Oh God!” she cried, shielding her eyes from any shrapnel.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ve been toying with it a lot. It’s the Sharpie that’s magic, not anything I make with it. As far as I can tell, you can only write one word, and it has to be in cursive. That word takes the shape of whatever you write, influenced by whatever you’re thinking of. You can only have one object at a time, and if it breaks, it shatters into a million pieces that vanish almost instantly. It can’t hurt you.”

“You almost gave me a heart attack,” she breathed.

“Here, try it yourself.” I handed the Sharpie to her. She drew back, cautious, but with a nod and a smile she took it.

“Anything?” she asked.

“Write one word in cursive. Small objects work better, and you can’t make living things.”

She deflated at that. “So I can’t infest your house with magical red snakes? Or spiders?”

“You sound incredibly disappointed at something you thought was literally impossible two minutes ago,” I chided. “Plus, you can only make the one anyway.”

She wrote the word ‘bike’ on the coffee table, and the red words folded into a three-dimensional space as they formed a bike. It was too small for an adult to use, and as soon as it finished forming, gravity pulled it down and it fell off the table onto the carpet.

“Also, I’ve found that small objects work better,” I added.

“This is amazing!” she said, eyes lighting up as she stared back and forth between the Sharpie and the bike.

“Li… sa…?”

I looked over to see Doc standing on the arm of the couch, his enormous head tilting back and forth like a curious dog. It wasn’t as cute without the floppy ears, but I still found it charming.

“Oh!” I shouted, grabbing Sam’s arms and pointing excitedly to the spirit I had befriended from the lake of lava. “There he is, there he is!”

Sam broke out of her reverie to see where I was pointing. “Who?”

“Doc! One of the tiny ghosts I saved from the lake of lava. He’s sort of been my roommate since then.”

“Your… roommate,” she said, voice flat.

“Yeah. Well, maybe more of a pet. I was the one who named him Doc. He can talk, so I figured he could teach me about the supernatural. He isn’t so good at sentences, though, so I haven’t learned much.” Realizing I was talking too fast, I exhaled slowly, then noticed the confusion in her face. “You can’t see him? That’s disappointing. Whimsy can. They don’t get along so well, though.”

“Maybe you really are crazy,” she smiled.

“Wha—but I just showed you real magic!”

“No, no, I totally understand. Now I know why you wanted to show me your place.”

I frowned. “I’ve seen the little guys walking around town since that one day. They’re not everywhere, but they’re pretty common. Maybe one per twenty people I encounter in just daily life.”

“You said they’re ghosts?”

“I mean, they seem like it. They can pass through things when they want to, and they have eye holes like I would imagine ghosts have. Not real faces. They can’t fly, though. But let me tell you: it’s super unsettling when you’re in the shower and he’s suddenly there.”

“I know what you mean,” Sam nodded.

“Yeah. They’re kinda cute, though. Doc is the only one I’ve ‘adopted’, if you will, but—wait. You know what I mean?”

She looked away, putting the cap back on the Sharpie and setting it on the coffee table. “I… uh… yeah. My house is haunted. I know what you mean.”

“Your… really? Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I’ve been sure for a few months now. I don’t know what to do about it, though. I’m not sure if I should like—get an exorcism or something. I don’t want to be one of the crazies.”

“Like me?”

She smirked. “Like you.”

“Is that the real reason you didn’t want to get a babysitter?”

She nodded.

“If you’re feeling unsafe, you should get out Sam.”

“That’s the thing, though!” she said, leaning towards me and putting her hands on my leg. “I don’t feel unsafe. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, with work, and Chloe, and you know all the legal custody stuff. But the ghost that’s haunting my house is… like… helpful. And that’s the craziest thing of all. If I sleep in too late, doors will slam. If I drop something breakable, it almost looks like it slows down before it hits the ground. If it’s too hot, the AC will turn on even though I didn’t set it.”

“That last one sounds like a problem with your electrical.”

“And my bills are way lower than they should be if the wiring is faulty!”

She sounded like she was complaining, which I found a little annoying. How could anyone complain about having access to free AC in California?

“And you’ve never seen any ghost in your house?”

She shook her head. “Never.”

“But you also can’t see…” I turned to Doc, who was still bobbing his head back and forth playfully.

“But you can see them,” Sam finished the thought.


(Read Pt. 2 here!)