Prompt — She Who Believes

(I’ve narrated this story and posted it to YouTube here!)


The trees rustled secret whispers to one another as the three kids sat at the fire beneath them. They had brought their sleeping bags outside of the tents so that they could wrap themselves in warmth while they challenged each other to stay awake. The waning moon loomed over, forming long, reaching arms in the shadows of the leafless trees.

“…and when her parents found her bed empty the next morning,” Brandon was saying, holding a flashlight under his chin to deepen the shadows on his face, “they called the police, tracked her phone’s location, everything. They never saw her again. But once in a while, they could still hear the ticking noise of that doll they had bought her for Christmas.”

“Boring!” Caleb scoffed. He reached his hand out towards Brandon, gesturing for the flashlight. “My turn!”

Rhian sat with her knees bent, ready to dart out at a moment’s notice. She wasn’t scared. She was shivering because she wasn’t as settled into her sleeping bag as much as her brother and his friend. Caleb and Brandon always told stories like this. She just wished that they didn’t have to be told in their huge backyard, where it wasn’t so dark… and cold… and… well… unsettling. They didn’t even have a fence for crying out loud. It just… turned into wilderness eventually.

“Alright, I’ve got a story that will make you lose the bet in a heartbeat,” Caleb said. “You won’t even have the guts to blink once I’m done. Unless you want to chicken out and go back into the house.” He glanced at his little sister with a mischievous grin.

Rhian gulped. This was all just to scare her. She knew that. It wouldn’t work. Her mother always said not to believe anything her brother told her. “I’m not scared,” she shrugged.

“If you say so. But tell me to stop any time you want. I don’t want to have to explain to Mom why you peed your pants again. Who knows? Maybe she won’t let you play with us anymore.”

“I’m not scared!” Rhian said again.

“Okay, okay. But I’m warning you. This one’s a true story.”

“What’s it called?” Brandon asked.

“How the hell should I know?” Caleb replied. “It’s a true story. True stories don’t have titles.” Their mother wouldn’t approve of him using such language. Rhian made a mental note to remember him cursing in front of his baby sister.

“Every good story has a title,” Brandon said.

“Fine, fine. This one’s called ‘The Skeleton of Sin’.”

Brandon’s eyes widened. “Oh, that story.”

The two shared a look. “You know it?” Caleb smirked.

Brandon nodded. “Yeah. The skeleton with four arms, right?”

“That’s the one.”

The two boys looked to Rhian at the same time. Caleb pointed the flashlight back to the house for a moment. “Looks pretty far, Rhi. And this story gets pretty bloody. Last chance to back out.”

Rhian turned around to look back at the house. Maybe she could stay up long enough for the boys to go to sleep in the tents and then sneak back to safety after. Besides, the way they sat around the campfire, the boys had their backs to the forest. She would see anything that came out of it first. Most importantly, she wouldn’t pee herself. Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you. “I’ll be fine.”

“Very well,” Caleb nodded. He turned the flashlight upwards towards his face. Rhian didn’t look. She focused on the moon peeking through the trees above, watching the light from the flashlight dancing across the barren tree branches.

“You guys know the story of how Jesus saved everyone from sin, right?”

“Sure,” Brandon said.

“Where do you think that sin went?” Caleb asked. When he got no firm reply, he continued. “He didn’t destroy it. He pulled the hatred, the rage, the violence out of every human on Earth, and made a creature out of it. Something so grotesque and horrible that anything that lays eyes on it is paralyzed with fear. Not an angel. Not a demon, but an abomination that looks vaguely human, because it was the physical embodiment of everything evil about people.”

Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you, she heard her mom’s voice in her head.

“It has a skeletal body because it once lived inside each person, but it has a few important differences. Like you said Brandon, it has four arms, eternally drenched in unholy blood. Each of its fingers end in sharp claws that are unnaturally long. It’s legs are crooked like a dog’s. They look like… kinda like lightning bolts. It doesn’t have a jaw like a human, but instead two giant mandibles like a bug. But the worst part about it is its eyes. They don’t glow red like the cartoons, no. They are bright white, like a car with its high beams on. They’re bright so it can find its prey more easily.”

A snap of a tree branch, and Rhian swiveled around to see… nothing. She exhaled. Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you.

She turned back to see both her brother and Brandon watching her intently.

“Since the monster was born two thousand years ago,” Caleb said, “and everybody after that was born with sin, it still hungers. It’s constantly on the hunt to tear people apart, limb from limb, seeking to become whole again. But it’s smart. It knows that staying where too many people are will get it killed. So it stalks people who live near forests, much like this one.”

Rhian thought she saw movement deep inside the forest. A raccoon, maybe, but no. It must have just been the shifting shadows from the moonlight.

“It doesn’t hunt adults, because they’re too smart. It’ll either get shot or its prey might call the police. It doesn’t hunt babies because they haven’t sinned. No, it’s favorite thing to prey on is…”

Wait, there was definitely something back in the forest. Like someone holding a flashlight.

“You guessed it…” Caleb said.

No, wait. There were two flashlights, right next to each other.

“It loves to feed on…”

Actually, the more Rhian watched, the light source looked more like…

“Kids like us.”

High beams.

Rhian stared, unblinking as the thing took form. She got the unmistakable impression of a skull as she watched it approach, still some distance away but undoubtedly the exact horror Caleb had been describing. It was too far away to make out details, but those lights, those eyes… She couldn’t look directly at them, they were so bright, yet she couldn’t tear her vision away, either. And it was stalking towards them.

“Scared, Rhi?” Brandon asked.

“I can stop if you want to lose the bet,” Caleb offered.

Rhian didn’t respond. The monster peered down at the ground beneath, looking at one arm as it curved around a tree. It’s fully blood-soaked arm and it’s horribly misshapen legs.

Oh God. She could hear its faint footsteps as it dragged its feet across the floor.

“Rhi I swear, if you peed yourself I’m going to tell Mom. I don’t want to sleep out here having to smell it all night.” She wasn’t looking at either of the boys. She couldn’t take her eyes off that thing. Out of her peripheral vision, the boys seemed to exchange looks at each other. Rhian just kept staring at the same spot. Over the fire, in between the boys. Right at the monster that made its slow, methodical approach.

The rustling of tree branches nearby. Rhian knew. It must be the sound of any wildlife leaving.


The creature wasn’t far now, and it was tall. Too many arms hung about its frame, staring straight at Rhian as it walked. It was less than fifty feet away now.

She should move. She should do something. Anything it lays eyes on is paralyzed with fear, Caleb had said. It was staring at her. She debated screaming. Telling Caleb and Brandon to run. Would that compel the monster to attack? How fast could it chase them?

“Seriously, Rhian, if it’s too scary for you just say something. It’s no big deal if you’re not ready for grownup stories. I keep telling Mom you’re too young to hang out with us.”

She felt a tear hit the palm of her hand as she stared at it. This horrific thing that had come to kill her and her brother.

She was too scared to even cry for help.

Caleb’s mirth faded as he turned the flashlight off. “Rhi, you okay? You haven’t said a thing since I started the story… You’ve just been staring…” He trailed off.

Her focus snapped away from the creature and towards Caleb and Brandon as they both turned to where she had been looking.

The eldritch horror raised its four bloody claws into the moonlight.

And shrieked.

A piercing cry shattered the silence of the woods, shaking every bone in Rhian’s body. Almost like it was trying to pull it out of her. Like her skeleton was desperately trying to leap out of her skin.

She didn’t want to die. Didn’t want Caleb or Brandon to die. She just wanted this nightmare to be over.

Her bones pulled her towards the creature with enough force to hurt. If she stayed here, it would hurt even more. So despite her terror, she stood.

And approached the creature.

Her bare feet felt numb across the dirt and grass, walking under the piercing gaze of the bloody skeleton. Caleb and Brandon were frozen in place, now, too. They didn’t move or speak when she walked ahead of them towards certain death.

“Rhian!” a voice yelled, some distance behind and away from her.

“Rhian!” it repeated. It was her mother’s voice. She knew it, but would not turn away to make sure. Could not turn away from those bright, piercing eyes.

“Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you!” her mother called. She was running. Running towards the campsite.

Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you, she had said. Words often repeated. They were right, of course. But he said so himself. This was a true story. This creature was real.

“It’s not real, honey! It’s all a dream! Please!” Her mother was far too distant to be of any help.

Rhian was within arm’s reach of the creature now. It’s hulking form towered over her, pelvis as high as her head. Her bones still ached to leap out of her skin. To tear itself away. She knew that if she didn’t get closer it would succeed.

“You’re…” Rhian said, holding a hand out towards the creature.

“It’s just a dream, Rhian! You’re safe!” she could hear the terror in her mother’s voice.

Her bones pressed against her skin, yearning to be free.

It hurt. She cried out in pain, tears rolling down her cheeks. The monster screamed back in the same pitch, reveling in her suffering.

This was too much.

Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you.

“You’re… not… real,” she told herself, pressing a hand to its grotesque leg.

It passed through.

Her mother was right. It wasn’t real.

A wave of relief washed over her, and the monster began to dissipate. The brightness in the eyes faded first, then it’s arms, followed quickly by the rest of it’s body.

She fell to her knees as the walking nightmare faded. And felt her chest constrict in a tight embrace. Her mother was hugging her.

“You’re safe, honey,” her mother said, cradling her with a hand behind her head. “Don’t worry. You’re safe.” They both cried into each other.

“What… what was that?” Rhian asked.

Her mother turned Rhian around to look at her. She glanced at both the boys, who were both staring at her, trembling with fear. Fear…

Of her.

“Don’t believe anything Caleb tells you,” her mother said, voice cracking. “Every story he tells is fake, okay? Even if he says it’s true, it’s not.”

“Yes, ma…” she said.

“Right,” her mother said, wiping the tears away from both of them. “Let’s all go back inside.”

None of the kids cared much about the bet anymore.





Me — March ’18 Update

I’ve been pretty swamped with work lately. The last few weeks I’ve kept a notepad near my desk with a to-do list, because I’ve been having trouble keeping track of everything that needs doing. Because of that, the list always seems to be disappointingly long. I’ve been managing, though, and while I’ve run the risk of burning out and crashing a few times, I’ve managed to teeter on the edge quite well so far.

And as always, here’s the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

Like last month, no blog changes are planned. I feel as though I’ve found a schedule that works really well with my school semester and work load. I’ve been posting “Me” posts pretty much every Wednesday even though they’re freebies, but that’s mostly because not a whole lot of “different” things have happened lately. I haven’t been playing D&D the last two months, for instance. I also don’t know what I’m going to do about Sunday posts. I’m not ready to dive back into Spear Gate. In fact, I’m writing this before Sunday’s post. I don’t have a clue what I’m going to do (or what I will have done, as you would see it). I’ll figure something out, obviously. I don’t want to just not publish on Sundays. Wait, I’ve got an idea. More on that later… Well, I mean yesterday, for you.

Which leads me to my writing plans. They’re pretty short and simple. I plan on outlining Part One of Spear Gate soon, and then going back to work on it. Lots of stuff will be different. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to rewrite it from scratch for the most part. Lisa Stenton is doing pretty well. The second story was hard to write, and I’m hoping March’s won’t be so difficult. They also obviously need work, and if I’m going to publish twelve as a short story collection, they’ll need some serious edits. But as of now I’m still enjoying it and I think I’m certainly up to the task.

Video games. Not a whole lot to say, actually. I’m still mostly playing Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone. I’m eagerly awaiting the next expansion for the latter, because I’ve got a bunch of in-game money saved up for card packs. I’ve also been playing Dungeon of the Endless, but less so the last few days. It takes a big time commitment to play properly.

In conjunction with whenever I’m playing games, I’ve also had the time to (finally) relax and listen to podcasts, too. I’ve caught up on Writing Excuses, and I’ve also been listening to Julian Smith’s new podcast: Spellbound. Each episode is basically an in-depth discussion about a different topic such as space, psychology, technology, etc. The content isn’t out of the park amazing, but since I could start with Episode One as it aired, I’ve been keeping up. It’s nice to not have to play catch-up, like I’m still doing with Voice Acting Mastery. I’m still about two dozen hours away from being up-to-date with that one, as I’m at December of 2015 at the moment. Luckily that one doesn’t post a whole lot of new content. I’m not reading anything physically at the moment. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have the time, but reading has always felt like a chore, and with how busy I am, I just need to relax with my free time.

School has been fine. Actually, most of my classes allow me to express myself alongside peers in different ways, so that’s interesting. I have a writing class, an acting class, and a costume design class. None of them are as high maintenance as my classes were last semester, so I’m not stressing out over it. Being at school literally all day two days a week is exhausting, but it could be worse, of course.

Just as a parting thing, I just want to mention how much can change for me in the next few months. If everything goes exactly how I want it to, I’ll be travelling no less than three times this year, and that alone has me excited. I want to start doing more and seeing more, and just generally getting more out of life. I still like video games, but sitting at home and playing them all day makes me uneasy now, even if I have a day off. I have no news to report for now, but hopefully the May and June 2018 updates will be fun.


Me — Why I Want to Be a Writer

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. And I don’t mean surface level stuff of “I want to be famous and published worldwide and pretty much the next J. K. Rowling”. First off, I really don’t want that. I don’t want to me “famous”. Ideally, I want to be known well enough that the average person may or may not have heard of my book series, but probably can’t think of my name off the top of their head, and especially doesn’t know what I look like.  Christopher Paolini is a good example. Most people know what Eragon is, but far fewer know the writer or anything about him. I want to be there, but maybe even a rung or too less successful. I want enough money to live comfortably, but I definitely am not aiming for the stars here.

But that’s not why I want to be a writer. Minor amounts of fame and comfortable lives can be achieved through hundreds of different professions. Hundreds of different creative-based professions, even. So why a writer?

Until recently, I’d have told you I want to tell stories about things that can’t happen in the real world. I don’t have an awe inspiring message I need to tell the masses, I just want to tell cool stories.

I think that’s part of it, but in the end that pretty much only explains why I write sci-fi/fantasy, not why I write as a whole.

I’m going to backtrack a minute, because I’m going to tell this story how it happened chronologically in my head. I had been wrestling with those ideas for a while, and at some point I came to something I considered a tangent. A footnote to this entire idea.

When I was in junior and senior year of high school, I was struggling with a lot of negative emotions. All day I would imagine a grim reaper following me around and getting revenge on people I didn’t like. I fantasized about this powerful being of death that could let me use my anger and frustration to get back at people. This was a person. A character. Her name was Cyntheras, and while she lived in my head, she was just visiting, because her true home was my first original universe, Nacre Then.

I would doodle tiny drawings of her (because if I work small it’s easier not to hate the art), in lots of classes, depicting her in powerful poses, and always with a giant scythe, which was her weapon of choice.

To me, she was just a neat idea for a character. I intended her to be an antagonist in one of the books in the Sorik series I never actually got further than a chapter or two in. She wasn’t mean, exactly, but she was a sadist, and she loved nothing more than to serve her dark god. Usually, that meant violence. And she was so good at it, that where she came from her name was synonymous with death.

Then, years after high school, I wrote a short story told in her perspective: “A Day of Reckoning“. It was the first time she had ever come to life outside of tiny drawings and short conversations with friends. I got to be ruthless. I got to revel in the power at my command. But most of all, I got to hurt people in my own harmless little way.

I liked the story. It came out well because of how dark it is. To this day it’s probably my most brutal piece. And in a way, it was my way of ending Cyntheras’ vacation in my head and returning her to where she belonged. I loved being evil, and now I don’t feel the need to think that way anymore.

It was in this thought that I realized. Once I wrote her story, she left my head. Left my thoughts. I realized that, at any given point in time, there’s almost always a person renting a space in my head. they invade my thoughts and my personality. Sometimes it’s a good thing. Other times, it’s not. Writing about them is just my way of evicting them.

My characters are different versions of me. Some are more me than others, but in writing their stories, I stop being me for a while. I get to explore possibilities and manifest things that are either not socially acceptable or not physically possible. I simply enjoy becoming different people for a while, which sort of explains why I find characters most like me harder to enjoy writing about.

This also explains why I like acting, and Dungeons & Dragons. I love just taking time to not be me. Cyntheras isn’t like me. She thrives on hurting people and lives only to serve her god. But I could fulfill myself in that through her, I could take action without fear of consequence. Maelys isn’t like me. He doesn’t take the time to question what’s happening around him, he just lets things happen unless he’s forced to react. But through him, I could explore, experience wonder, and adventure without having to worry about responsibilities. Lisa Stenton isn’t like me. She’s sassy and insecure and doesn’t even know what she should be doing with her life. But her stories allow me to have fun despite roadblocks and hardships.

None of my characters are me. But, in a way, they’re all me. I always jump at the opportunity to step out of my own shoes for a while, so with that in mind I suppose it was only a matter of time before I got into acting and broke out of my shell. I’m still introverted yes, but it doesn’t stop me from taking vacations from my own head.

That said, Cyntheras’ mind is a very different place. It can be fun for a while, but I don’t recommend staying there for long. For one, it’s crowded. I guess that sort of happens when you hear voices.

Also, I don’t want to be a writer. I am a writer. But I’m not a writer because of the prestige that the title may or may not get me. I’m just a writer because it’s the easiest way to write evictions for the many people that come and go from the very cramped space that is my head.

Me — Writing “Enough”

I’m a big fan of stats and information. I love writing stuff down, compiling it, visualizing it, and while I wouldn’t consider myself obsessively organized, I can’t handle disorganization. Most of the documents I have on Google Drive are kept within four sub-levels of folders. My Spear Gate manuscript, for example, is under “Writing > Bigger Projects > Spear Gate”. The presentation I made for my senior project in High School is under “School > Homework > [Name of School] > 2014-2015 > AP English 12”. Yes, I could pull it up on a moment’s notice if I needed to.

One of my main folders is titled “Data”. I keep track of both information about myself, my writing, and the people around me. It’s not something I need. I could delete the whole folder in a heartbeat and never lose anything I would ever really miss. But having all these lists and numbers is something I like to do, because I’m a visual person.

I have a phone app that is something of a journal. Twice a day I tell it my mood and write a little bit about what I’ve been doing. Knowing how my activities affects my mood really helps me get a better understanding of what I enjoy, what tires me out, and what I can and can’t handle.

I had a tough time getting through this month’s Lisa Stenton. I’ve adopted a bad habit of intentionally procrastinating because I’ve (unfortunately) come to the realization that I can work more productively if I wait to the last minute rather than staring at a blank screen knowing I don’t need to work on it today. I did that with Lisa Stenton last night, and it took me about five hours to write the entire second half of the story. Not too shabby, because that’s almost 500 words an hour. But I wrote in my phone journal before and after I did that, and writing for that long made me exhausted. Maybe that’ll help me learn to write sooner than I need to, because I’m not eager to repeat that.

I’ve only been keeping track of my mood and energy levels for a few months, but I’ve already learned quite a bit. Something that surprised me was the fact that I’ll get a little tired before a big day or big event, and I’ll relax a bit afterwards knowing everything is over.

Another thing I’ve found that doesn’t surprise me is that I need to write in order to be in a good mood. If I do nothing but play games for a few days straight, I’ll feel a little down, because the knowledge of the fact that I haven’t really done anything will make me feel bad. So the best way to keep my mood up is to constantly write. Luckily, I’ve only skipped my 500 word requirement four days in February, and a few of those days I’ve written well over 2,000.

So it’s a balance. I need to write pretty much every day in order to feel productive and thus be in a good mood, but if I procrastinate and let it pile up (like Lisa Stenton yesterday) I’ll burn out and it’ll be way worse.

Moral of the story: keeping track of stuff will make you learn. And learning is always cool.

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!)

Me — The Daily Dose Turns Two

The Daily Dose of Derailment turned two years old yesterday, which led me to an interesting realization. If I consider the beginning of my writing career to be the first stories I ever started writing in 7th grade of middle school, the blog now takes up a considerable chunk of how much time I’ve spent as a writer. Roughly 25% of my life spent as a writer has been in conjunction with the blog now.

What’s more, since writing blog posts is considerably easier than writing actual fiction, a good portion of the time I’ve spent writing has been nonfiction at this point. I keep a Google Doc of all the things I’ve ever written and each of their word counts, but admittedly I haven’t updated it since September. It’s simply a lot of maintenance, which is a great problem to have. Even back then, though, over 50% of the words I’ve written have been blog posts, and by now I’m probably well past 500,000 total words published.

I have a lot to thank the blog for. Most importantly it’s held me accountable for actually writing, even when it’s difficult. One of my friends taught me something the other day, and it really works. To paraphrase his paraphrased quote from I don’t remember who: “Motivation is terrible. It won’t get you anywhere because it’s fueled by emotion rather than need. But discipline can give you results and force you to push yourself to be who you want.” I find that sentiment to be surprisingly valid.

The best part is, I really do feel like I’m growing as a writer. I’ve looked into how to grow your audience so that more people will read your work. It involves a lot of engaging with other communities and bringing them back to your own. Honestly, that doesn’t interest me much. I do it from time to time, but it’s mostly to see how others are holding up with their own work rather than advertising my stuff. So when I see I have well over a hundred followers without actually publicizing my work, I can be relatively confident that it speaks to the quality of what I produce more than anything else.

I’ve recently started thinking a lot about how I personally view myself, and I’m happy to say that I’ve finally started to unconsciously view my self-worth in terms of my writing. That’s good because I honestly feel like I’m, generally speaking, pretty good at it. I have a lot to learn, obviously, but after eight-ish years of writing garbage, I’m slowly gaining respect for the more recent stories I’ve been working on.

Last year I submitted an application for the 2017 Writing Excuses Retreat. Of the three writing samples I submitted, the three things I considered my best works, one was written in 2014, and the other two were written in 2016. I still think that they’re alright, but I don’t think that they can compare to newer stories like, well, any of the short flash fiction stories I’ve written in 2018. It proves I’ve made some progress.

By this time next year, I hope to be working on publishing a Lisa Stenton book, complete with twelve 5,000 word short stories. It wouldn’t be the first thing I’ve published, but it would still be a huge step forward for me. Here’s hoping.