Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2021
Adult Winners

Third Place

Our third place Adult winner is Will Campbell of Charleston, West Virginia. He is the author of the novel Sometimes the Darkness (released Oct. 3, 2017) and over twenty short stories. He's also the former Director of Business and Industrial Development for the State of West Virginia.

Beyond the Candle’s Reach

Will Campbell

I’ve never considered myself to be real. To be honest, it’s always been as if I’m an illusion, a reflection in a mirror, a lie, of no real substance. My unreality has lead to a number of issues, mostly inter-personal. And, it’s hard to maintain a relationship when you’re not really there. It made me vulnerable to the preying of things of an evil nature.

The memories of my non-existence go back to when I was small, barely out of infancy, although most people find that hard to believe. I’m a psychologist, with a doctorate and a chair at a nice, expensive liberal arts college in Ohio. My research reveals most people don’t remember things from that early an age, when you’re so very small, refining your ability to move, to talk clearly. There are, unfortunately, some things you don’t need to learn, like fear and dread. You come already equipped. They ride your genes like jockeys whipping foaming, ancestral horses.

I remember standing on the front seat of my parent’s car, or at least assume it was their car. The only other car it might have been belonged to my uncle and aunt, my father’s brother and his wife Blanche. My mother told me of my being taken for sleepovers or shopping trips by this lonely couple when I was a baby. I don't remember them at all. I never saw Blanch after the age of three. My mother also told me that when I graduated from high school, Blanch wrote to my father asking for a print of my senior class picture. I wonder if she saw the terror in my Face.

I remember swaying as I stood on the front seat that night. The darkness bullied the car’s lights, beating them down to a narrowed beam straining to stay ahead of us as we swayed up a long and twisting hill coming out of the Ohio Valley toward my home on a hilltop far above the river. The road moved before us, a gray path, slithering snake-like beneath the car, pushed by the depressed pedal, fueling the straining engine, the car fleeing into the blackness ahead. As we neared the hilltop where the tree canopy thinned, I saw a face hanging from the bare branch of a large oak, swaying in the wind near the road. Flashing past, the Face screamed, a pale blazing countenance, a demonic hitcher pissed that we past it by.

My uncle, Blanche’s husband, was a drunk who walked out of the store my father gave him to manage in Steubenville, Ohio, leaving the stock and cash register available for anyone who may have walked in looking for wallpaper or paint. I don’t remember hearing that anyone did. Eventually, Blanche left him and he soon killed himself and another driver on the long, straight slope of a hill in eastern Ohio two weeks before Christmas. His death killed my grandmother two months later.

I knew that slope, having driven it myself at night with the wind blowing a light snowfall before the car’s lights, capturing the night’s dark clarity, alive and dead like winter nights can be, a crispness I pushed through as I approached the kill spot, my own lights making plain the intersection where my uncle took lives a long time ago. The Face, by then a familiar companion, was there as I passed, howling his approval of my Uncle’s accomplishment.

The second time I saw the Face I was sitting against a tree on a globe-tilt shortened afternoon, immobilized by clothing and something else, bundled to protect me against the fall chill but, unfortunately, not my misfortune. My legs would not bend, not easily anyway. My nose ran, my eyes watered, the liquids I produced were my only movement. I was fear-frozen, glued to the bark against my back.

I was three or four I think, our dog, an old, fat collie, with knots of fur behind each ear and scattered throughout her dull coat, was asleep beside me, snoring and quivering, probably dream-chasing an old rabbit or retrieving a cookie tossed into the yard. I watched my mother as she hung wet clothes from a thin rope line, one end tied off on a Seckel Pear tree, the other to a thin galvanized steel pole, planted in the center of the yard, the pole's color the same as the late October sky.

The Face followed her, a visage with no head behind it, with half a neck and some shoulder, its skin dark and blotched, green and black, like mold sprouting on a flood-water soaked bone-colored wall, the Face grimacing and shrieking a silent song. She didn’t see it. I did.

That same imago attended my grandmother’s funeral three years later, my father’s mother, where it presented a solemn, respectful presence for a hateful old woman killed by grief for a murdering drunk. I knew the Face liked her. You see, it would have been a good time for the Face to present a contorted lineament, the mask of a tortured soul, not the benignity hanging in the air near the guest registry of the Moody/Downer Funeral Home. I watched it closely, watched it’s faded, blotched surface, an oil-slicked moving skinned Face of God knew who or what, freezing me to the spot beside my aunt, my grip on the arm of the old French Provincial chair enough to burst a small Clementine had I been holding one. It would not look at me as I looked at it. I puked.


Do you know what a ghost is?” I asked.

It's a lost soul,” she said.

Yes, an untethered soul floating free, encased in a weak energy field, a micro-thin coat of electrically charged goo, a looking, searching soul. Have you seen a one, seen a ghost?” I asked.


No. I'm not surprised. They’re almost never seen. It is so rare as to be non-existent. What people see, when they believe they've seen a ghost, is mostly their imaginations, prodded by fear or reflected light, perhaps heat lightning, noiseless, flashing across a mirror or the headlights from a distant car rolling across a ceiling; their imaginations. Sometimes it’s reading glasses. But what is interesting is the other thing,” I said.

Other thing?”

Yes. Souls or ghosts can be felt. They can and do move among us. They invade our space. They will even try hugging a loved one. They can modulate an aura. They seek communication; want to chat. They want to know something but have no way of asking.”

What do they want to know?” she asked.

They want to know why they are so afraid. Scared to death or by death, most likely. They scream a silent scream, the wail of the lost, the stuff of horror stories and movies. Trying to understand, wanting to know why time is so different. Why the fear they feel dead, lasting one second, is greater than all the accumulated fear they felt during their lifetime. Poor souls.”

How do you know that?” she asked.

I’ve been told.”

By who? Have you seen one, Bartlett, seen a searching soul?” Ms. Davis asked. “Yes.

Tell me,” she said.

No, I’m tired and going to bed,” I said, standing.

Will you sleep with me?” she asked.

No, dear, you’re too young and I’m not good at it anymore.”

Will you not just hold me? I fall asleep quickly; then you can roll over and try to sleep,” she said.

No, it wouldn’t be fair to either of us.” “Please,” she asked.

No dear. Good night.”


On October 2, 1961, the Face changed, became something quite different. By then, I believed I had learned to live with it, not well mind you; live with the fear, the dread. I had, I believed, managed it until that day. The date had no special meaning for me. Until that day.

The Face caused me many problems, issues, issues someone my age shouldn’t be made to deal with. I didn’t. My parent’s tried to help, but couldn’t. I never told them about the Face and so they didn’t know. This is something a parent can’t help you with; it’s not acne or puberty or bullies; unless the bully’s from Hell, although any victim of bullying would say their tormentor was from Hell, but they’ve never Faced a specter from Hell I bet. I can’t say for certain what caused the change. It sensed something. The Face took a different kind of interest in me. I wish it hadn’t. It began to talk to me.

It's voice was like nothing I'd ever heard; a lion’s roar whispered with a raging harmonic flux. That’s the best way I can describe it. I heard it more with my heart than my ears, I think.

There was no way I could understand it at first, my terror and its thunderous, trembling wrath rendering me deaf to any meaning or message. I was twelve and hoped my life would end right then. All I could think of was how different it was from my mother’s voice; the sound-the intent. Even when she was tired or angry, there was love there, more often than not, there was happiness, even mischief. For her, life was worth living, always worth the effort. The war of the forties taught her the value of a life to be lived, loves to be had and cherished. My father never understood that lesson, he had not served, had not lost anyone he loved for he had never loved anyone other than himself. She had, my mother, lost loves to that time, that chilling daily story of lives at the mercy of a stupid arrogant circumstance, the whim of monsters created by godlessness. The Face was their Face, the voice the voice of those distant, certain monsters. I hated them and the new monster that always took their places, wished to die to spite them. Nothing changed for years, but me. It was not for the good.

The nervous breakdown happened as I waited for the school bus one late April afternoon in front of my junior-high school, surrounded by eight miserable or joyous thirteen year olds who couldn't see the Face seemingly hanging from a foothold on a nearby telephone pole, gabbing away in that thunderous voice, telling me of poor Beth Harold's impending menstrual cycle, the smell of which would make her retch for years to come. Beth, wearing a blank stare, stood apart from the group, mouth slightly open, breathing as best she could, stuffed nostrils and clogged sinuses bequeathed to her by a hundred generations of low-land Scots occasionally tainted along the way by other mouth-breathing nationalities.

It's hard to describe the joy on that twisting, jabbering mask, a rubbery shimmering smiling horror, just hanging out, talking to his best friend, each word like a whipper's strike. I

couldn’t take it anymore and began to sob, then screamed at the Face to shut up. The group retreated. Usually, I waited until I was alone in my room, in bed, to deal with this maddening rumbling dialogue of grotesqueries, burying my own Face in my pillow or sometime sitting in the small shoe box closet, eyes squeezed tight, ears pressed to my skull by cold hands, my own by the way.

I was into the screaming for about twenty-seconds when the bus arrived, a long Pluto the Dog Yellow loaf of bread shaped cargo container on large wheels and dull rubber tires, the door perfectly aligned with me, the driver opening the door and hearing me shriek at him, “Shut up, shut the hell up.” It did not go well after that.

There is a small area of my nose, a corner, where the crease is a constant inflamed red with an accompanying white head put there by God for accentuation, as if a lame teenager needed it, where the sun feels especially hot after I stand or lie outside in one spot for very long. I never wear a hat and didn't when I was in school. It wasn't the fashion, not like today where everyone wears a baseball cap inside and out, to eat in a restaurant or pray in church, to Uncle Pete's funeral and a cousin's wedding, probably to make love if that's what they call it today. Just before seeing the Face and breaking down, I was watching the obviousness of Beth Harold's vacuity when I became aware of the rise in temperature on the side of my nose. This may sound a bit strange, but the pores of my nose seemed to expand as my nose grew hotter, to the point that I could see my nose rising before my eyes, a pink, porous bread dough rising to its blood/yeast assisted utmost, the heat from the reddened skin shimmering, blocking my view. I was still screaming when the bus drove away without me. The driver later explained that I had simply

ignored his order to get on the bus and he was not the kind to coddle thirteen year old kids. My father said he understood completely. It was the "completely" that got me.

My swollen nose began to bleed a bright red as blood is when newly exposed to the air. The hanging Face across the street also grew red, matching my color, as a means of mocking me, I suppose, while presenting a rolling sneer accompanied by intermittent shrieks and low rumbling laughter. Thinking was beyond all reasonable expectation, at least for me at that moment. I was sweating heavily, soaking my shirt and jeans to the point when I wet myself, it was barely noticeable. I tried to talk, first to myself and then the Face, asking it to stop, to leave so that I might collect myself. When talking failed, I went numb, twitching like a worm pulled from the warm dirt into the hot sunlight, but there was no sunlight. A passing high school junior pushed me to the ground, saying, “Get out of the way P.L.” My nickname was P.L., short for Pussy Lips as my lips were long, thin, dark red and of a uniform size, both top and bottom. Apparently I was blocking the sidewalk.

Now on my side, surrounded by books and loose papers, kicking, looking like a very active third trimester fetus, I lay there until the school's assistant principal and nurse arrived and got me to my feet. When asked to help gather my books and papers, three girls who watched my collapse simply walked away. Watching them, I was jealous, wishing I was the one with the emotional strength to mock me, then immediately focus on the milkshake to come, or the boy to flirt with or the family cat to kick down the stairs when it tripped me as I towel-dried my hair, the semi-damp cloth covering my face, the big pimple in the corner of my nose still oozing junk after being squeezed to the point of popping as I whined my way through my evening bath and face cleaning ritual.

I knew the mumbles from behind the Principal's door were the whispers of the Face into the ears of those now discussing my fate, the commands of a demon given to the weak people tasked with educating the children of the ignorant who think they know these children, but don't know them any better than they know themselves. Instructions were given, how to handle me, to proclaim me damaged goods, broken, to expel me to save the other students, those salvageable psyches, sterile, malleable, stupid. Maybe. What if he wanted me kept here, on display, easy entertainment for the easily entertained; the tethered bear, the barricaded deer, you don't even need to aim; the only target gets the only bullet.

When my father arrived to take me to the hospital, the Face shrieked in delight then waited in the backseat to ride along. I was assigned to psychoanalysis and given a book to read; the Bible. It didn't help me, but it helped my friend.


To ease her fears for me, for my mental state, to make my mother stop crying, I read the Bible, telling her it helped, when it fact it didn't. I bought Cliff Notes for the Bible, identifying those chapters, called "books" I hoped might shed some light on why I was as damned as I was. It shed no light. In fact, it seemed to me to absorb light or enlightenment, but then again, what doesn't. I mean, just when you think you're starting to get a handle on things, something turns your world around and your facing backwards. The Face read along with me, a melodious thundering echo of the words as they rolled through the bone cave where my brain hid in the dark. I assumed Einstein's skull was translucent, letting in light and enlightenment, allowing his brain to grow, a bean sprouting world-damning thoughts, warmed by the Sun each day. We always await the dreams of the brilliant. For the next thirty years, the Face quoted the Bible to me, usually during the night as I lay awake, thinking. My thoughts amused the Face as a tumbling monkey amuses spoiled and expectant royalty.


I did not play sports in high school or join clubs or service organizations or date. I did not ask a girl to a dance, skipping both proms. Late into my high school career, the presence of he Face had become irritatingly familiar and tedious, like the pet dog that follows you to school, biting people along the way.

I did, however, volunteer to be the student director for the junior class play, but only succeeded at pissing off Mr. Valencia, the overweight, badly toothed balding bachelor faulty theater advisor who appeared to wear the same worn and scuffed shoes and faded black dress socks to school every day. Mr. Valencia insisted the student actors pronounce magnifique as “mag-ni-fi-kay”. I objected. He explained the other students would not pronounce it correctly and it added comic effect. The play was a comedy, an unappreciated and under attended off- broadway number I suspect, I really don’t remember what it was to be honest. I continued to disagree, saying no amount of effect could salvage this garbage or something to that effect. It was then I was tossed. What was odd about all of that, about the play and Mr. Valencia and my fellow thespians was the Face, who took a position high up in a corner of the ceiling, tucked away in the shadows, quiet, passive, taken by the acting, perhaps the cavorting. The Face loved to cavort or loved cavorting. Maybe not being real life, the play held little interest for the demon or maybe it just a fan of poor writing.


My arm, propped on my desk, held my head steady in the stream of the morning sunlight, the warmth falling on my neck, warming the muscles, tense and bunched as they always were. I held the book, tightly or as tightly as I could, which was not very tight, with my warped, bunched, bulging-knuckled fingers, the product of my poorly lived life and failed whipped genes, beaten to a point where all they could do was present tendons and muscles as grotesquely painful shapes reminiscent of the bare branches waving sadly, slowly outside my window. A beige page made lighter in the sunlight held the words I wrote more than ten years before, a book of research and explanation, a book which received more praise than condemnation, understandably a short lived best seller, my first and only.

Dr. McCready, do you want another cup? Ms. Davis asked. I put the book down.

No, Audrey, I’m good,” I said. “Could you fetch the file? Then I’ll need these notes transcribed and annotated. I’ll be here for a few more minutes and then in the study until two o’clock. I have a teleconference until three then I’ll get ready for the dinner at the school. After you finish the notes, you’re done for the day, as far as I’m concerned.”

My office is so small, if I sneeze, the windows fog over and I'm a tenured, senior professor, the head of the psychology department. The small university where I work is attached like a benign growth to a tiny village, a million miles from anywhere, but now intimately connected to everyone on the planet by a few wires and air, the sinew, tendons and muscle of our new, global technological body. Even small liberal arts colleges call themselves universities, like a mall security guard calls himself a law enforcement officer.

I teach children more ignorant than my cat, students confident in the Internet’s ability to cover their asses, freeing them to text message and play Halo 75 or whatever iteration currently scalds their eyes and sensibilities.

My cat is a smart animal, gigantic and black, cunning and mean, whose primary interests; killing, eating, sleeping and ass-licking, are, with my insomnia, the components of our midnight to dawn routine. I work from home as much as I can. Thirty years is a long time to live in the same house, but I have. The house is an old red brick Federal with a hint of Georgian thrown in, a typical Midwest college town styled house. It caught the eye of a young associate professor's wife, an educated young woman, with a good style sense, but none of the common variety, that thread of sense that ties an appreciation of value to humility and self-confidence. The house was attractive and comfortable, I can’t remember living anywhere else, although I have; five homes in between my bachelor’s degree and Ph.D.; none since accepting the position at this college. Twenty-seven since my wife’s suicide. It was our fault.


It seems nothing is as it seems.

Time is it, isn’t it? It's the single most mysterious, misunderstood concept we wrestle with each day. Yes, we can tell time, we learn that as children, a practice which only helps delude us even more, convincing us at an early age we have mastered time and can move on to more important, more easily understood matters such as love. We never know time really, never understand it. The sweep of a tiny metal rod over a watch face or glowing red numbers, fuzzy edged 2s and 4s magically changing in the night as we watch, begging for sleep, dreading the morning, the disillusionment of a new day. Our bafflement grows as we grow; time never gets old, but we do.


Dr. McCready, can I schedule a conference with you tomorrow? I’m having a difficult time with my research, developing my abstracts and organizing my research notes. I’m worried about getting behind. The work load is huge, just huge and difficult, very difficult. I need to review this with you, but I’m not ready. I will be tomorrow though,” the kid said, standing before the podium, looking stressed and stupid, not an unusual look for a sophomore taking a class he should have skipped. What was really noticeable, beyond the usual vacuity, was his left eye. It made of glass or whatever they use to make prosthetic eyeballs. While his right eye slid rapidly back and forth as he whined out his excuse, his left barely moved. I found myself focusing on that eye (sorry), wondering how it worked, how it was attached, were muscles super-glued to the eye, wondered what happens should it detach, if doctors can remove it if need be, does it need to be cleaned, would the kid try to put a decorative contact lens on it for effect, a holiday wreath in place of an iris, a tire while watching the Indianapolis 500.

Call my GA and she’ll see what can be done,” I said.


"Did the young man with the glass eye talk to you about scheduling a conference with me?" I asked Audrey later that afternoon. I noticed, again, how lovely she is. She is that combination of brains and beauty, bolstered, as if that pairing isn't enough, by a hint of humility, perhaps decency, the decency of recognizing her gifts and keeping them in a perspective which only enhances her attractiveness. When you're old or on the verge, and male, you begin to recognize certain dangers or pitfalls in your life. Pretty young women are at the top. When you're alone, they are as potentially dangerous as a pre-cancerous cell. A failure to recognize that implication is foolish, foolishness being the practiced art of old men. "Audrey, could you pour me a martini? There's some in the pitcher on the cart."

"Yes, he's on your schedule for tomorrow at 11 o'clock. I'll get your drink."

There is no such thing as a bad martini or rather, no such thing as a horrible martini. There are bad martinis and then there are some that are rather good. I like gin that reeks of Juniper, with a large gin to vermouth ratio, the gin and vermouth chilled by refrigeration rather than with ice, which will water-down the concoction no matter the alacrity with which it is made. I like three large olives kept in a brine heavy with vermouth. I like the glass chilled. Two is my limit. Three makes me susceptible to a brain aneurism. At least that's how I feel as I lay in bed trying to sleep, worried the third martini may have thinned the walls of the veins webbing my brain to a point they will leak or tear, filling my head with blood and not the usual fear.

Time is the skin covering the body that's a life, the seconds and moments knitted together, the progressive squamous epithelium, contracting while the more familiar structure covering the human body stretches and sags alarmingly. There comes point in a life, a point pricking that fabric, that skin of time, when you look at a much younger person and realize what they really are; a ruler by which you now measure how little time you have left. They help measure the disappointment, the foolishness of your beliefs, the dreams and planning, the hollowness. Laid along the cloth stretching over a lifetime, they let you mark the shortening years, the days and hours that drag on while the months fly by. Audrey was that kind of ruler, long, thin with lovely regularly spaced markings, unknowingly measuring my fast-shortening days.

"I can't drink these things you know, they're too strong. I don't really like drinking alcohol; it's just too much. I prefer sweetened tea, iced you know," Audrey said. These are the tines I prefer silence.

Sipping slowly, savoring that distinct martini taste, feeling the fumes rise into my head, filling the cavities behind my eyes, I said, "I'd rather take a beating than drink sweet tea."

Smiling, Audrey sat in the wing-backed chair opposite mine and curled up, sitting with her legs tucked- in beneath her; her movement into the chair one fluid motion as only a young woman can do. Heavy black-framed glasses rode low on her pert nose, a pair of fat crescent lashes waved in nano-spurts, catching the moats before they could cloud her vision, as if it could be more clouded.

You said you saw a ghost. You said it last week. When did you see it?”, she asked.

If I answered this question, the evening would turn into the middle of the night before it would be through, at least through enough to make me feel I had told her enough; enough to be convincing, if that were possible.

Looking at my glass, at the olives, at the glossy liquid, warming in the heat of the room, its taste soon dulled by its own humbling numbing narcotic effect, a cost I was willing to bear, I thought it may be time to share this awful story with someone, the first since my wife. It was odd to think that, through all those years, I had not shared the presence of the Face with my parents, with what few friends and acquaintances I had in college, had only confided in my wife, my wife and my psychiatrists, for there were a few of those. Now I was about to tell a young woman I barely knew of an experience no one would believe or had. I’ve never been really certain I believed it. The fact was that the vision was as much of a memory for me as my parents or my wife, its horrible countenance perhaps my most constant and dedicated companion, a tormentor of extraordinary persistence, a mystery, a condemnation of my existence and a validation of my worthlessness, was shaming to me.

It is my most distant memory, borne by me from a very early age. My wife never believed I could remember that far back, possibly to when I was two or three, young enough to stand on the front seat of a car between two adults. I do remember; I wish I didn’t,” I said. My cat had taken his place on my lap soon after I started the story. Now he was settled in, the heat from his long body baking the skin beneath my English tweed pants, his long claws dug into my thigh, the wheezy hum he emits when he’s not afraid, the right background music for my tale.

I saw the Face hanging from the branch of a large tree on a windy night as the car we were in raced by. It seemed to scream at us as we passed, at least that’s the impression I retained. I have the feeling I passed-out; more a feeling than a memory.I don’t remember anything else from that night. The adults did not see the Face, at least they never mentioned it as I recall.” I said.

I told Audrey the rest of the story, the story of my life, such as it is. It took awhile; so pathetic. It’s the kind of thing you do when you’ve come to the end and you know it’s been a waste. There’s no time for correction, nothing of the sort, no eraser, no forgiveness, knowing that your God is disappointed, shaking a head of some kind, maybe just a large beam of pissed-off light or a disheartened plasmic clump, the massive, galaxy sized regret the same as your wife’s or the dean of the college when you can’t explain the scream in the classroom or the apathetic response to a freshman destined to become the failure his parents feared as much as they feared eternal damnation, all of which you somehow guaranteed.

Suddenly the cat sprang away and the night folded in over us. It was now three forty-two; a cold and empty time; the time when fatigue and chills are inseparable, when you start to think you might as well wait for morning, but it’s a million minutes away. When you know, at this late stage of your life, you may be screwed by any decision you make.

I think I’m afraid,” she said. “Yeah, me too.”


This book that I'm writing will be my last. I've written several, all research based, all about the psychology of fear, one about role the imagination plays in the level of fear in individuals. This one is different. It’s about a soul-breaker, about a specter that thought my psyche was a ball to kick around, an bemused asshole punting my soul every day in the backyard while I chased it, trying catch its wispy form, a flimsy oblong with my short life’s story scribbled across it’s surface, sailing over the house, me running after it while the neighbor’s children laughed in delight.

It’s my last book; I know that. It’s best. ***

At three forty-five or so, the bulbs in the two lamps by my desk dimmed by about fifty percent I’d guess, leaving the room gloomy. About two-thirds of the way through my story, Audrey, fled into the depths of the winged chair, wrapped in a thick wool throw from the settee and struggling to hide. Fright pinched her lovely Face, a basting of perspiration across her brow, she was swaddled and shaking beneath her deep-blue cloth. “Is it here,” she asked.

Maybe-I don’t know. Probably. It’s not like it rings the doorbell or calls before it arrives, you know.”

Don’t be mean; I’m scared and I feel stupid for being here, for having felt sorry for a crazy old man. It just goes to show how pathetic I am, attracted to someone my father’s age. Only my father isn’t haunted,” she said, pushing the words out from the opening of her woven burrow.

Audrey died, no was killed, a second after her statement about her father not being haunted. I was looking at her nose, a pert pink nub, shaded by and framed within the blue throw, so focused was I that I didn’t really notice her slump, not until the cloth collapsed and she fell over onto the right arm of the chair, the throw falling away to exposed her slack face, gapping mouth and long lashes dividing the white and peach tops of her cheeks. For a second I thought she had fainted, then I knew she was dead, killed by a vision of hell, her soul torn apart by the face of a demon, lethal to someone so young, someone not borne to it, a child devoid of the leathery chrysalis time brings as a gift of protection against the horrors of this universe. It and I killed her.

Why bother with us is the question? We are so small, so unimportant, abandoned on an insignificant ball of dirt with the swirling innards of hell beneath our feet, a celestial Cadbury Egg full of molten goodness where our souls can burn for all eternity and still be close to the things and ones we love; moms, proms, Super Bowls, the illicit and the divine.

You are a coward,” I hissed, the room now so cold steam streamed from my lips, a smoky stake looking to pierce a stone heart. “I’ve spent my life with you clinging to me, a prideless lover, a sicken-at-all cost soul snatching azoic asshole. Well, it’s over; right now. I’m making this a self-extinction event.”

It should have been done years ago, but I was too much a coward. This child’s death is on me as is my wife’s. Guilt is a sandwich gone bad, sealed in a leaky plastic bag, tucked away in the freezer that’s your skull, decaying processed-baloney memories. So you reach into your frozen bone box and find lunch, the stiff crinkling bag waiting to puff its foul odors in your face. It's then that you realize just how bad the trip has become, the miles crawling toward you and then falling behind at the speed of light. You’ve been a sub-compactualized vehicle towed to the junkyard, filled with problems no warranty can fix. God and GM, so similar as to be indistinguishable, refusing to stand behind their product after sixty-six million months or so. I’ve just found the General Theory of Self-Relativity, that particular God Particle marble, the Aggie with which I will knock his sorry ass out of the ring. Without me there is no continuation, no path of least existence, no magical river to soul-surf down. The worst part is I had this solution available to me all my life; too much the coward.


The gun was heavier than I remembered, the last time I even looked at it was after my wife’s death when I thought about this same act, but couldn’t muster the nerve, retreating into alcoholand the belief the molding of young minds was a valid if not valiant reason to live; what bullshit.

As I sat down, gun in hand, the lights in all the lamps of the room blazed to a brightness they weren’t designed to achieve then slowly faded, and as they did, the Face materialized before me, solemn, sporting a dead stare any East LA gang member would be proud of; lifeless, uncaring, the envy of every Bruddah in Hell.

Just in time. Did you bring popcorn?” I asked. It’s mouth sprang open, stretching into a long gapping trough, a black, cracked tongue moving back and forth, like a corn snake cross a scorched and blackened stone. The shriek was earsplitting.

What? Ah, I’ve offended you, haven’t I? Why should you be offended? Not offended? Then what? Worried? Is that it? It is, isn’t it? You don’t want me to go. It’s because I’m too much fun. Or maybe because I’m the reason you’re here. I’m you’re life-time pass to this plane. Without me you’ll be force to return to Hell. Is Hell boring? When you know they’re already yours, stuck there, it’s not as amusing, is it?. The live ones, those air sucking batted mice make it much more entertaining. I believe I’m about to punch your ticket too. You see, I’ve made and poured myself another martini, frost cold and stronger than I usually make. By the time I finish this, I’ll have the resolve to put a hole in my worthless heart. It’s then, I believe, you and I will depart this world together, hand in mis-sharpened hand. No, you don’t believe me? I don’t blame you.” I slurred.

The Face began moving back and forth, swaying, mouth contorted, with a hint of anger I had not seen in the sixty odd years of our being together. It was like a marriage-fight, an old couple swinging at one another, hoping to land what both knew was an ineffectual blow, but swinging nonetheless, feeling good just to let the other know they still cared enough to risk themselves harm in making a futile effort. Love.

Yep, after years of my cowardliness, who would think I could do the brave thing, the last full measure of devotion; so Lincolnesque. I should have done it when my face was covered in pimples and was very stupid. Think of the money I would have saved my poor parents; before I tricked a beautiful woman into believing I was worth changing the course of her life’s lovely and valuable arc; what a pit my existence has been. Me and you. How good have we been together? Great friends, twins of a kind. Well, we’re not very kind, are we?”

Two things happened in rapid succession, so fast I was unable to comprehend what, even which came first. I heard a loud gasp, rapidly, violently and I did not at first recognize the sound, what it was or where it came from. I was too drunk and the answer was, as I later realized, beyond my understanding. Audrey’s corpse took in air, a volume too great for her size I thought. It sounded like a seal had broken somewhere in the room, the rush of air filling a void, not a young woman gasping for breath and certainly not a dead body coming back to life. With a violent series of coughs and convulsing arms, Audrey tried sitting up, the coughing now interrupted by whines and tiny screams. White flowed from her temples and through her hair, fanning out, feathered into the auburn, she aged ten years in ten seconds. Standing with the unsteadiness of a child learning to walk, Audrey croaked, “I must leave now. I want to see my parents. I must go, I must go...” It took mere seconds.

With its own screams whirling in a thrumming, staccato sound, the Face began to spin. It was a soul-cracking stroboscopic disorienting noise, intermingling with my drunkenness to conjure-up an instantly debilitating headache. An intervention, a sly and tricky prick my demon was, thinking he could keep me from my task, keep my heart whole, keep my lead and brass savior in its steel tomb, preventing an acolyte finger to roll back the stone.

Shakespeare said, “Out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow.” Funny thing was, I’ve been walking in the shadows all my life, just beyond the candle’s light.

As I raised the gun to my heart, the slight ridges stamped or cut into the trigger felt like the edges of a brand new wood saw, like knife-points, the pain of five needles against my finger. I thought screw him and our life together… I pulled the trigger.

Continue to the 2nd place story

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