Passerby

First of all, a note: I just realized that I’ve gone through most of 2014 with nary a word here on this blog. I shall attempt to rectify that this coming year. I’ve found most of my energies going into other writings that I’ve hardly given this page a thought. I do plan, however, on having a mass review of all the books I’ve read this year sometime in January.

Here is a new poem that will find its way into my next poetry book, which has a tentative name in my mind right now but may easily change titles before I release it.

“PASSERBY”

Through busy windows
Strung with garland
And lights strobing incessantly

Through city streets
And pub crawl beats
And people strolling drunkenly

Through comedy bars
Past would-be movie stars
I pass inevitably

A wallflower ornament
A mannequin animate
I’m your passerby

Through dance classes
And a zoot suit band
With Zoukers zouking endlessly

Through empty yet occupied homes
And sleepless zones
I write continuously

Through retail stores
And parking lot bores
Slipping through carelessly

A wallflower ornament
A mannequin animate
I’m your passerby

Through love together
We are forever
Confused yet here simultaneously

Through misunderstandings
And make-up kissing
We’ll make it through famously

Through walks in woods
Hand-in-hand, smiling now
We gaze ahead lovingly

A wallflower ornament
A mannequin animate
I’m your passerby

No depression here
Merely watching to hear
Others as I pass by

A wallflower ornament
A mannequin animate
I’m your passerby

Copyright © December 2014 by Michael David Anderson

Mega Review: The Shining (Novel vs. Kubrick vs. Mini-Series) and Doctor Sleep

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When most people think about The Shining, Jack Nicholson’s performance as Jack Torrance immediately springs to mind. Yes, most people know the novel was written by Stephen King, but Kubrick’s vision easily casts its shadow over the book it is based upon. Why? Because let’s face it: more people have watched the film than have read the book. Yes, it’s popular for readers out there – King refers to it as one of the top books he hears about when readers tell him which books of his scared them the most when they were younger – but readership just isn’t as high as Hollywood viewership.

Kubrick was a virtuoso filmmaker. His films are legend.

But let’s talk about the source material, for that is what matters here. I read The Shining the first time in high school. Of course, that was over ten years ago; details have a way of getting fuzzy. Therefore, I decided to read The Shining again before I tackled Doctor Sleep, King’s recently released sequel to his 1977 classic.

The Shining is a horror classic. King gives readers an occasional glimpse behind the veil of madness toward the beginning of the novel, always via young Danny, whom is able to see and sense things his parents, alcoholic Jack Torrance and mother Wendy, cannot. Their time at the Overlook Hotel, cut off from the rest of the world for one cruel winter, will be the stuff of nightmares, for the ghosties hiding in the halls and hotel rooms want Danny for their own twisted purposes: to gain more power, to add the souls of his family to those who haunt the hotel’s halls.

I read The Shining slowly this time. I’ve found that whenever I’m revisiting a tale, I plod through it. I take my time. I’m in no big hurry because I ultimately know where the story is going. I kept mentally comparing the source material to its film and ’90s television adaptation. Kubrick’s version differs greatly from the novel. While it is layered and methodical, it may touch on the overall plot and concept of the novel but does not adequately capture the essence of the novel. Hedge maze? Not in the book, but there was topiary that came to life. Blood gushing out of an elevator? Nope. Jack Torrance in the photos of the staff from generations before the Torrances came to the Overlook? Absolutely not.

Kubrick’s The Shining is a very methodical, highly detailed affair, but I agree with King’s description: it’s cold, whereas the emotions running through the novel itself are fiery.

The mini-series is far more truthful to the novel, although King still deviates from his own source material somewhat as the screenwriter for this particular endeavor. The biggest change? In the mini-series directed by Mick Garris (and featuring a cameo by King as the conductor Gage Creed… who shares a name with the kid who gets run down by the semi in Pet Sematary), Jack Torrance goes to AA! Something he never did in the novel! King himself brings this up when he talks about Doctor Sleep, addressing the fact that Jack was trying the whole white-knuckle sobriety thing. There was no “big book” or anonymous meetings in that novel, something a lot of people pointed out to King, whom didn’t even consider it as an option for Jack.

Why is that important? Well, his son Danny – or Dan, as his grown up self refers to himself in Doctor Sleep – most definitely is in Alcoholics Anonymous. His reasons for drinking? It numbs the shining. That damned psychic ability to see ghosts followed him from the Overlook… and so did some of the ghosts.

From the back cover of DOCTOR SLEEP.

I’m not going to spoil the book for you, don’t worry. What I will say is this: the ghosts from the Overlook are only a mere fraction of the story and make cameos more than anything, it seems. No, the true focus of the novel’s horror is the True Knot, a roaming band of creatures – once human but no longer – that feed on the “steam” people with the shining essentially exhale when they die, especially after they have been tortured. The True Knot is led by the astonishingly beautiful Rose the Hat, pictured on the novel’s front cover:

There are some surprises, and there was one major twist in the novel that King practically TELEGRAPHED that I still didn’t see coming. I literally facepalmed when the twist was revealed and I realized how obvious it should have been.

For those of you expecting to read Doctor Sleep and get more of the same The Shining horror, you will be disappointed. Doctor Sleep is excellent, but by no means is it like The Shining. It is a beast all its own that builds on the mythology established in The Shining but definitely fits into King’s canon post-Dark Tower, for there have been creatures similar to the True Knot in his universe before, although nothing quite like this.

(SPOILER ALERT!) I want to say this for Whovians out there who might be reading this. When members of the True Knot die, they do something called “cycling.” When they cycle, they literally fade in and out of sight. You can see through them and even see the organs inside their body, and once they cycle completely, they vanish. Every time a member of the True Knot cycled, I heard the sound of the TARDIS in my head. I challenge you to read Doctor Sleep and NOT hear that sound now!

Now, here’s my verdict. Should you read The Shining? Abso-fucking-lutely. It’s a classic.

Should you read Doctor Sleep? Yes. Time will tell if it is a classic like the original, but I will say this: I read the book in three days. I was compelled to devour it. It’s a much faster paced tale, and Doctor Sleep, unlike a few other King novels (I’m looking at you, Under the Dome, another novel I absolutely devoured), has a more satisfying conclusion than normal.

Book Review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished Joe Hill’s NOS4A2. Sue me; I’ve been distracted with my own writing and other projects. WIth that being said, I’m going to keep this review brief and as spoiler free as possible.

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What’s the premise? Essentially, our antagonist is a man named Charlie Manx who kidnaps children and takes them to a place called Christmasland, essentially an “inscape” or place in his own mind he has fabricated, where they can have fun forever and every day is Christmas. Sounds wonderful, right? Wrong! The children become less than human and become something akin to vampires, although not entirely. They do not feed off of blood by any means, but they become something far less than human as well, with a mouth filled with rows of teeth that does lots and lots of damage if they get their horrible maws on you.

Charlie uses his Rolls Royce Wraith, adorned with a vanity plate marked NOS4A2 (brownie points to you if you get the reference), to travel to Christmasland. It is his means of physically going there as well as transporting children.

So who’s the protagonist? Vic McQueen, a hell of a kid at the beginning of the book and a world class fuck-up by the time she reaches adulthood, and really, who can blame her? She goes through her own private hell, and her parents didn’t know how to raise her properly. She has the ability to find lost things, using a bicycle in her childhood and (later) a motorcycle to navigate through reality to find these lost things. Her talent is something akin to Manx’s, as you find out, and her path intertwines with his in horrifying ways.

So there’s the premise. I’ll try to be short on further spoilers, because this is a book that’s better experienced than spoiled. I went into it not entirely knowing what to expect, but the tale itself is a wild ride, and Vic’s issues before the second act’s inciting incident (because, let’s face it, this book features two plotlines connected over time, one for Vic’s childhood and teenage years, and one for Vic’s adulthood and motherhood). Hill’s ability to implement real world reactions to extraordinary events adds gravity to a tale that could have easily spun out of control with its fantasy aspects.

Also, be sure to keep an eye out for some Easter Eggs in the tale. Not only are there references to Hill’s previous novels, Heart-Shaped Box and Horns (which has a movie adaptation starring Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe that will hit theaters at some point in the not-too-distant future), but references abound also to various works of Hill’s father, Stephen King, including It and The Dark Tower. Hill has stated in an interview that he was just messing around, that he wasn’t seriously linking his books to the overall universe of his father’s, but the connections are there nonetheless, and I’m wondering when other Easter Eggs might show up in his later works.

I personally have not been the biggest fan of Christmas these past few years. Working retail will do that to you, I believe. NOS4A2 gives you one more reason not only to dislike Christmas, but also to loathe Christmas songs.

NOS4A2 is a must-read.

Wasted Days… OUT NOW!

That’s right. My seventh book (seven? already? REALLY?) is available now on CreateSpace (where I make a little more in the way of royalties) and Amazon (where it is available as both a paperback and a Kindle edition).Wasted Days front cover

Print is $17.95. If there’s an edition to have, I wholly believe that is it. There is nothing like holding a book in your hand and being able to flip through the pages. However, if the digital domain is more your speed, the Kindle version is selling at a mere $2.99.

As of now, the Kindle version is not linked to the paperback version on Amazon, but that should be rectified in the coming days. Therefore, the links are as follows:

Createspace

Amazon print

Amazon Kindle

…One final note: Amazon currently has the print version for $17.05 rather than $17.95. It’s not much of a markdown and it’s hard to say how long it’ll last, but in time I’m sure it’ll go away. Therefore, go check it out!

Dead Weight – Teaser

A while back, I played a bit part as a zombie in a teaser for a zombie movie. The director, Anthony Pauletto, an alumni of my high school, went back to our old stomping grounds and shot there. I got wind of it, so I showed up late in the night and got zombified so I could mill about, mindless and hungry, in the background. (You can see me around 2:14 in the video.)

The teaser will hopefully get funding for the feature film. Here’s the synopsis for the flick:

Survivors of a zombie outbreak await rescue in an abandoned high school. They’re alive thanks to Toomey, a mysterious entity who keeps the school functioning from the nearby water & power facility. Toomey is on the edge of sanity and it is up to Jeremy, their leader, to mediate the relationship through walkie talkie. Jeremy insists on patience and safety but his efforts are cut down by Connor, a budding sociopath with an agenda all his own. When a new survivor penetrates their habitat with the intention of extracting them to a quarantined colony, Jeremy is torn between protecting their crumbling world and venturing into the dangerous unknown.

Movie Review: Don Jon

My girlfriend Heather and I went to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon, last night. It wasn’t entirely what I expected, but in this case that’s a good thing. I had heard a lot of pre-release buzz that intrigued me, but so little of what the film is was revealed in that buzz that the movie itself took me by surprise.

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Yes, there will be spoilers in this review. I will attempt to keep them brief.

Don Jon, in a nutshell, is about the title character, Jon (whose friends call him “Don Jon” because of his ability to get with women), who has an addiction to women and pornography. The film is set in New Jersey, and while anyone could easily assume this is going to go the way of some Hollywood Jersey Shore rip-off, luckily it doesn’t.

You see, Jon has a problem. He sleeps with countless women he takes home from the bar, but he always walks away unfulfilled. His sole fulfillment comes from watching porn and the release he gains from masturbation. (And there is actually footage from real porn in the film, although a lot of it is heavily cut to preserve the R rating; apparently it received an NC-17 rating when it first toured the major film festivals.)

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The only release Jon experiences is from pornography, and therein lies one of the biggest conflicts of the film: Jon has problems connecting with others, especially in sexual relationships. He is used to the one-sided nature of the fantasy pornography gives him, and porn has given him unrealistic expectations of what to expect in a sexual relationship.

Enter Scarlett Johansson. A “dime,” as the boys call her in the film – and I use the term “boys” purposefully – Don Jon decides that, after he initially fails to get her in the sack, he’s going to go for the long haul. He goes out of his way to meet her again, and the two start dating.

I won’t spoil the specifics of the relationship, but let’s say that neither one of them have realistic expectations.

This isn’t Scarlett’s movie either. I think of her as a major foil to Don Jon throughout the film, but is she the heart of the movie? I say “NAY!” For reasons that will become obvious when you see the flick, if anyone other than Jon is the heart of the film, it’s Julianne Moore’s character Esther, whom Jon meets in a college night class he starts attending because Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) talks him into it during an intriguing late night tease that comes to an interesting outcome. (People who have seen the movie will probably roll their eyes at that last sentence.)

Oh, and Tony Danza’s in this movie. Tony Fucking Danza. That in and of itself is a reason to see this movie. (I literally had the thought during the movie that Who’s the Boss? was Robin’s father, and Robin and Black Widow were dating.)

The film is being billed as a comedy or, worse, a romantic-comedy. I don’t think either term is fitting. The term “romantic comedy” puts me in mind of a chick flick, and this most certainly isn’t. (In fact, it blatantly makes fun of chick flicks at one point thanks to a funny dual cameo by Anne Hathaway, sporting the short pixie cut she sported in Les Miserables as Fantine, and Channing Tatum.) In a lot of ways, this film is probably one of the best representations of relationships and our fucked-up sensibilities and unrealistic expectations I’ve seen in a film ever. (And that’s saying a lot.) This film has a lot of heart, and while I did laugh my ass off at parts, everything is played straight. The realism of the film just adds to the absurdity and the hilarity, but it also reinforces the truth in the film’s conflicts and how everything ultimately resolves.

There is a lot of social commentary in the film as well, touching on everything from family dynamics, the one person who is ALWAYS on their fucking phone, pornography, and Catholicism. Jon’s blatant confessions about sex outside of wedlock and his pornographic masturbation practices lead to an interesting confession scene later that essentially sums up the absurdity of confession for me.

Ultimately, I say go see the movie. I was highly impressed.

Go. Now. I seriously doubt you’ll be disappointed.

A New Excerpt from Twilight Gardens

I’m into the second part of the novel now. It’s called “Susurration of Souls,” and I see it as the second major part of three in the first book.

Yes, I’ve pretty much decided Twilight Gardens will indeed be comprised of two full-length books. The sequel, following the pattern of the old drafts I’ve now consigned to languish on my flash drive for all eternity, will be titled Moonlight’s Requiem.

Also, there will be a novella that will run parallel with the events at the beginning of MR. That novella will be titled Exile.

And now that the news has been relayed regarding my plans for the tale, here is an excerpt from the first chapter of Part II. Enjoy.

-Mike

The Path of Least Resistance

1

Alma Deepneau was nearly at her wit’s end when she discovered the dirt path behind the property of their new house the day after one of the house’s former owners, Montgomery Ferguson, drove out of Seattle nearly a continent away.

It was the voices, see? Those maddening whispers that would wake her out of uneasy sleep, that came to her from the air vents throughout the house. And what did they say? What did whispers of this sort ever say? They said horrible things she’d rather not think about, and along with those things came images, flashing unbidden in her mind, like grotesque paintings splashed on the underside of her eyelids, following her into the dark with their

(red)

ravings and their

(black)

suggestions.

A time or two since they had moved in, Alma had sensed more than mere whispers. A few times, she had actually seen things too. She had stepped out back to take out the trash the other day, for instance, and when she turned around, she had found that the side of the central air conditioning unit had been splattered with blood along one blunt corner. A smeared blood trail led inside. She had followed it as if in a daze, dreading what she would likely find but unable to cease her progress.

In the office, she had seen a man she had never seen before sitting in an office chair… a young man, yes, but a man nonetheless, the side of his head bashed open, his scalp peeling away in a flap of bloody, pulpy flesh that looked far worse than anything she had ever seen on that Walking Dead television show. That side of the man’s ghost pale face had been drenched in crimson rivulets, and a pool of blood had gathered about his feet.

Alma had made it as far as the hallway between the far office and the kitchen through which she had followed the blood trail before the specter opened his eyes. His jaw hung open slackly, then opened even more, as if the bones in his face would dislocate, and that horrible O of a maw produced a blood-curdling moan as shadowy tendrils emerged, hungrily licking at the air…

Mrs. Deepneau had to shake Alma out of it. She had no idea she had stood there screaming, but her throat had become raw and hoarse, the only sound emerging from her throat a mere breathless shadow of the ear-splitting shriek it had been, and an hour passed before she could talk above a whisper again.

Then, from her bedroom later that night as she lay in bed, Alma had noticed that the door to the basement had opened seemingly of its own accord… which was frightening in its own right, seeing as how a previous owner had installed a deadbolt lock on this side of the door, a lock that always remained engaged. There, in the depths of shadow, she had seen another face leering at her, this one gaunt and haggard yet simultaneously young. The mouth had stretched in a rictus of a smile beneath a nose so crooked it resembled a mountain chain more than a facial feature.

She does not remember how she eventually got to sleep, but that horrible, shadowy visage followed Alma into her nightmares that night.

On the day she discovered the dirt path, however, she saw nothing in the house, but the voices, God, the voices wouldn’t shut up. When she was in the living room, watching reruns of Lost, she heard something whisper her name from the next room… and it had to be a thing, couldn’t be anything but a thing, because no person ever had a voice as horrible and grating as this!

She refused to turn, to look toward the whisper in the other room, but she could hear something scratching the wall and imagined long talons scraping at painted wood. She did her best to shut out the sound, but she was about ready to turn and scream for it to stop, please stop, just fucking stop when her mother walked in and asked if Alma would like a bit of tea. Alma smiled her best sweet, everything’s peachy-keen smile, and said yes, thank you, and all that jazz. When Mrs. Deepneau left the room, Alma finally looked toward the next room (a room the Fergusons had referred to as “the green room,” and not because it housed plants but because the walls were painted the color of its namesake) and saw the deep scratches – no, gouges – in the wood of the archway frame, as if the claws of a velociraptor had been tearing at the wall.

In the kitchen, she heard whispers from the bathroom. She heard footsteps, although she wouldn’t look in that direction – no, she wouldn’t dare – and heard those footsteps enter the stairwell leading into the basement. She heard a woman scream, heard that same woman falling down the stairs, her weight slamming down each step. Alma would have run to the basement door right that second had her mother not been standing three feet to her left, oblivious to the sounds of the woman falling, for in that scream Alma almost heard her mother’s voice and would have gone instantly out of fear that it actually had been her mother.

The other whispers she had heard remain unimportant in the vast scheme of things. Every last one is merely another auditory taunt, and most of them are so faint, they are unintelligible. They are sinister – of that, there is no doubt – but all the same, they are merely the voices of a house haunted by things far worse than ordinary ghosts.

Monty Ferguson knows this, for this house rests uneasily on a precipice above what many would consider hell.

2

Alma was outside with Zelda when she first noticed the path.

They had been playing fetch with a Frisbee for a bit, but after a few disinterested throws on Alma’s part (she still couldn’t get those whispers, now beckoning to her from the basement windows, out of her), Zelda had begun to wander away, looking first this way and then that way, before she finally caught whiff of a scent that immediately arrested her attention and began to pad her way around the side of the old garage.

Alma called after her when she realized Zelda no longer cared about the Frisbee, and when the dog disappeared from view, she went after her. The dog led her, sniffing, around the side of the old structure, tail wagging slowly from side to side as it remained erect and alert before Alma. The Deepneaus did not bother with leashes, not with the fence around the yard, but as Alma followed Zelda around to the back of the building, she discovered that there was indeed a break in the chain-link. A casual glance would not have revealed the break, but closer inspection revealed a growing gap in the fence, camouflaged by overgrowth.

And what was this? Zelda came upon a small patch of dirt Alma had not noticed a moment before. (And was it that the bare patch of earth hadn’t been there a moment before? Had it truly been a solid stretch of grass and weeds? Alma knows not, and she certainly won’t consider it at length until much later.)

The gap yawned open before Alma, and through it the patch of dirt became more than a mere patch; it became a path, twisting off to the right to run parallel to the fence. The overgrowth grew around it, as if to shield it from the rest of the world – a feat that Alma thought it had done amazingly well.

Zelda stopped before the gap, nosed the dirt, then backed away, her butt rubbing against the vine-covered bricks of the back side of the garage. She growled deep in her throat, never voicing a full bark, but her ears lay flat against the curvature of her skull, and her eyes regarding the path with pure, unadulterated distrust.

“Zelda, what’s wrong?” Alma asked, but the Dalmatian Retriever paid her no mind.

Alma stepped forward, gripping the side of the cut chain-link, slipping a couple of fingers through, and ducked through a mass of growth hanging about the top of the fence. Zelda darted forward, firmly but carefully affixing her teeth around the hem of Alma’s jeans, and tugged with such fervor that Alma nearly went sprawling, face first, into the dirt. Only her grip on the fence kept her from pitching all the way forward, and she turned back to Zelda, incredulous.

“Zelda, what’s gotten into you?” she demanded, pulling free of her dog’s jaws. Zelda looked up at her with wide, full eyes, a low keen rising from her, and this time she did bark, once, and sat at the edge of the dirt path, regarding Alma with a pleading expression.

Alma regarded Zelda with a puzzled expression. Back here, away from the house, she could no longer hear the whispers of the house. All feelings of dread and despair had left her, and curiosity had swept in like a flood, filling her and leaving her feeling less drained than she had in days. Here, in the presence of the new, of the unknown, with something that seemed far more normal and devoid of the supernatural that plagued her waking moments close to the house, only curiosity remained.

“If you’re going to be that way, stay here,” Alma told her.

Zelda looked back toward the corner of the garage with one eye, looking positively antsy, then back at Alma. She whined, as if to say, Come back with me, girl. You mustn’t go.

            But why shouldn’t she? Alma wondered.

The curiosity of what lay beyond, along the path, drew her forward more than her dog’s worrying could hold her back. “Stay,” she told Zelda, with added emphasis, then turned and began to follow the path.

Zelda sat at the beginning of the path and did not follow.

3

Had anyone been watching this from afar, it would have looked as if Alma had vanished into midair. And, for all intents and purposes, she did.

4

The path was narrow, and in places the overgrowth, thick with choking kudzu and brush, clung to branches that overhung the path, creating a thick canopy that effectively blocked out the sun, casting the path in shadow. Despite this, Alma thought the path was uncharacteristically bright, as if the molecules in the air itself were self-illuminating just enough to drive back the darkness.

The farther Alma walked down the path, the greater her sense of calm increased. And the voices? They were silent, thank God, they were silent! Back here, the voices did not reach out to her.

Alma cast a single glance back to see if Zelda might have decided to follow her after all, but of the dog there was no sign. She was probably still waiting at the gap in the fence. Alma gave her dog only one more thought, wondering why she was acting so strangely there of all places, and dismissed it. Even that little bit of worry ebbed away, replaced by the soothing calm of this place.

Further down, the path snaked slightly to the left, and from beyond the curve Alma saw a basking glow of sunlight painting the leaves of kudzu. Particles of pollen danced in the shafts of yellow light, and she thought that this view could easily be a painting. That light! It was so saturated, so hyper-real, that it almost broke her heart in its pure beauty!

A faint smile pulled at the corners of her mouth, and after Alma had marveled at the beams of sunlight long enough, she hurried along, almost running, until she reached the end of the path… and stopped, breathless, to find a small clearing. At its center, a pond filled with the clearest water she had ever seen sparkled in the sunlight and reflected the sky above like a mirror. Perfect trees – perfect, as if they had come to life from a Disney painting – surrounded this space, and a boulder, smooth across its top, overlooked the pond. There, astride the rock, was a girl of about Alma’s age, her vibrant red hair pulled back from her face and braided in magnificent ponytails, a ribbon so starkly red tied around each braid of hair that it looked like saturated blood, and she wore a beautiful sundress to match the ribbons. The girl was reaching down, trailing a finger along the surface of the water, creating small ripples along its surface, and it was only then that Alma noticed the duck floating serenely across the pond’s surface.

The entire sight looked like something straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting.

Alma stepped forward, her dirty shoes sinking into the pristine grass. When she looked down and saw her filthy Reeboks contrasting so horribly with the wonder around her, she frowned momentarily. She looked back to the girl on the boulder and wished ardently that she didn’t look so downtrodden in comparison.

“Hello?” she called, a little meekly at first. The clearing reminded Alma of a church in that she felt like any loud sound would be taken as blasphemy, any blemish (such as her dirty sneakers) would be a desecration.

The girl atop the boulder looked at her, and for the briefest of moments, Alma thought she saw a flash of something else in the girl’s eyes. Whatever it was, however, must have been a trick of the light, for they revealed themselves to be the captivating shade of a glistening emerald. The girl offered a smile. “Greetings,” she called back, sounding far more sure of herself than Alma had.

Alma approached slowly, eying the pond before her and then everything around the clearing. Now that she was here, she wondered where this was in relation to the other houses. Weren’t there houses beyond the back fence? Whose property was this? The girl’s parents? Despite the site’s majesty (or perhaps in spite of), Alma found herself wondering how this wondrous space could possibly coexist in the same neighborhood as her house, a residence filled with restless spirits.

“I’m sorry if I’m trespassing,” Alma said. “I came across the path and was curious.”

The girl’s smile brightened. “Oh, that’s quite alright. This is a place for anyone who wishes to come.” Then, dropping her voice and giving Alma a conspiratorial wink, she added, “It’s a great place to get away from the voices.”

Alma’s eyes widened. Her heart beat escalated. “You hear them too?”

“Why, of course!” the girl said, rising onto her knees, the fabric of the sundress pulled beneath to protect her bare knees from the surface of the boulder. “I’m quite certain anyone close to that place–” (she pointed to beyond the tall growth of kudzu, which Alma was surprised to see had grown here to nearly the height of her house; how on earth had it grown so high, and why hadn’t she noticed it from the house before?) “–hears them, nagging at the brain. They tend to get in deep and grow there, sprouting like weeds.”

Alma looked back to the girl. She noticed a glimmer of a grin touch her lips that was far less inviting than the smile had been.

“What’s your name?” Alma asked.

The girl looked away, glancing off into the trees. “You haven’t lived there very long.” This was not a question, Alma noticed, nor was it lost on her that the girl had blatantly ignored her question.

Alma said nothing at first, but when the girl looked back, her gaze piercing, those green eyes seemingly penetrating into the depths of her soul, she replied, “No, I haven’t.”

“No one lasts long. The writer certainly didn’t.”

Curiosity got the better of Alma. “Did you know him?”

The girl smiled, shook her head. “I knew of him. Who didn’t?”

A shadow fell over the clearing. Alma looked up and noticed that a dark cloud, nearly black, was rapidly spreading, eating up the whole sky. It’s cancer, she thought without knowing why. It’s cancer, and it’s spreading. If we’re not careful, it’ll gobble the whole world up.

It did not occur to her to wonder what she meant by we.

“It’s coming,” the girl said.

“What?”

“It,” she said again, casting her eye to the tumor of a cloud above. “The dark cloud.” The girl looked back to Alma, and her face was suddenly simultaneously young but also much older – ancient, in fact. Her skin had dried nearly to the point of putrefaction, yet her eyes remained a beacon of vitality blazing in the center of that dead mass. Her lips were dry, chapped slivers around her teeth, and her hair hung in dead clumps that looked more like dreads than pigtails. She leered, lips cracking open in puffs of dust.

“He’s coming home,” the corpse girl rasped, and from behind her back she withdrew a pair of wicked shears, their blades long and pitted and stained a rusty color that might have been dried blood.

And there, beneath the girl, the pool retained its mirror quality, but the duck was no longer alive. It floated atop the water’s surface, its body dried and dead, a mummy sans mummification, for its corpse had been preserved almost as a Medusan statue. Its eye sockets were empty, hollow.

Zelda’s behavior suddenly made sense. This place was not one of peace but of death, and she had sensed the truth behind its glamour from the foot of the path.

Alma turned to leave, but where the opening to the path had been, now there was only a thick network of interwoven branches and kudzu blocking her exit. She ran for it anyway, throwing herself at the vines, ripping at them, crying all the while, the fear coursing in her veins, pounding in her heart. She was determined to get out, to race back to her Zelda (whom she could hear barking frantically in the distance; now that she recognized it for what it was, hadn’t she heard the dog barking for quite a while already, somewhere beneath the peaceful silent of the clearing), but for every branch and length of kudzu she ripped away, lacerating the flesh of her hands in the process, several layers more blocked her progress.

A corroded blade pressed against the flesh of her throat. Alma froze, tears coursing down her cheeks, and the corpse girl leaned close to her ear.

“Who are you?” Alma asked, trembling.

The corpse grinned. “Oh honey, why do you want to know my name?”

Alma squeezed her eyes shut, and a new trail of tears streaked from beneath her eyelids. “What do you want?”

The corpse grinned wider, and a drool of black bile escaped the corner of her lips, ran down the side of her chin. “I want you to deliver a message for me.” She leaned closer then and began to whisper in Alma’s ear.

Alma opened her eyes, and they grew wider by the second. Her mouth dropped, hung agape, and her lips began to tremble.

A moment later, she began to scream.

Copyright © October 2013 by Michael David Anderson