Thursday, January 4, 2024

Jacob's Trial

Happy New Year, Everyone! I hope you are all excited for 2024! I thought I would start the New Year with a Short Story that I wrote for an online competition a few months ago. I hope you enjoy the story!

Jacob's Trial

                “Enter!” A voice shouted from inside the room.

                Jacob felt the warden tug his chains. Jacob obeyed the command and marched forward after his captor. The warden led him into a spacious office, where a variety of generals and guards stood around a large desk. The room was clearly designed to be an intimidating structure with each adornment attesting to the greatness and power of its owner.

On one side, an enormous map of the Delarian Empire covered an entire wall, its massive dimensions highlighting the size of the realm. On the other side of the room, a massive display cabinet showcased numerous shelves filled with crowns, jewels, priceless weapons, and treasures of every sort. If these weren’t enough, a large window lined the back of the office, looking out over the military training grounds, where troops beyond count marched, drilled, and constructed massive war machines that towered over the battlements of the nearby city. Seated behind the desk, in the middle of these testaments to his greatness, was Emperor Valerius Stormheart.

All heads turned to look at Jacob as he entered the room. The generals, whose meeting had been interrupted by the warden knocking on the door, watched them with a mixture of confusion and annoyance. They clearly weren’t happy about the warden’s intrusion upon their conference and weren’t afraid to show it.

Only the emperor’s face showed no agitation. Nor did it show any other emotions. He gazed at Jacob with a face devoid of expression. There were no signs of irritation nor were there signs of interest. He just watched with what Jacob would define as passive disinterest.

 Jacob was led into the middle of the room, directly in front of the desk. There he was ordered to kneel. Jacob did so, lowering his head before the emperor. When the emperor said nothing, Jacob felt another tug on his chains, indicating he should rise. He obeyed. As he rose, one of the generals, a tall, stately man, stepped forward.

“Captain Aric, who is this child?” The general asked. “And why are you bothering us with him?”

Jacob felt a degree of indignation at being called a child. He was fifteen, after all. He was practically an adult. Nor was he just some random juvenile. He was educated and born of noble blood. Or, at least, what had once been noble blood.

“The child’s name is Jacob NightCrest, son of Lord Nightcrest, former regent of the Silverwoods and head general for the late King Whitmore,” the warden said. “My men caught him attempting to free his father from the dungeons below. Further, we found this in his possession. He must have stolen it from the royal treasury.”

The warden lifted his right arm to show a gleaming golden amulet adorned with a family crest surrounded by diamonds and other various gems. The general stepped forward, taking the amulet from the warden’s hand and examining it. Then, he handed it to the emperor. The emperor glanced at the trinket with the same blank expression before setting it down on his desk.  

“Well, boy, what do you have to say for yourself?” The general asked.

Jacob took a deep breath. He knew that his life, his future, and perhaps the future of his entire family hung in the balance. What he said next would either condemn him or save him. Either way, he was resolved to stand for what he believed in and represent his family with pride. If it cost him his life, so be it.

"What should I have to say for myself?" He asked. "The locket bears my family crest and has been in my family for endless generations. It belongs to my family, just like my father. Is being loyal to one's family and one’s father a crime?”

“It is when it involves disloyalty to one’s emperor,” the general replied.

“Does the emperor value loyalty?” Jacob asked.

“What kind of question is that?” The general asked. “Of course he values loyalty. Just as he punishes disloyalty.”

“Then why is my father in prison?” Jacob demanded, summoning every trace of courage he could muster. “Why were my family’s lands stripped from us? What did we ever do other than be loyal?”

“Your father marched troops against our armies,” the general answered. “He led legions across our fields, slayed our soldiers, invaded our cities, and attacked our authority! You call this loyalty?”

“Why would I not?” Jacob responded. “It was you who attacked King Whitmore and invaded his lands. My father had taken an oath to serve the King and that is what he did! Even when outnumbered by your militaries, surrounded by hostile forces, and facing the inevitability of death or imprisonment, he obeyed his king and followed his oath to the very end. Yet, he is in prison, while our lands were given to a traitor who betrayed the king and his oath in the name of riches. Is that how one rewards loyalty?”

Jacob addressed the last words to the emperor. His heart was racing and he was doing everything he could to control himself. He knew his words were confrontational, and each syllable could be his last. But he was determined to vent his outrage, even if it meant his death. The emperor, however, showed no signs of anger, outrage, or any other emotion. He continued sitting there, staring at Jacob without the least sign that he was phased by, or even interested in, Jacob’s words. The general, on the other hand, was much more passionate.

“How dare you question the emperor?” the general demanded. “Do you not realize who you are speaking to? Ignorant child! This is not some playground. Look around you!”

The general strode over to the nearby map and pointed at it.

“Can you not see this map?” he demanded. “Do you not see the might and power of an empire larger than any that has existed in history – an empire that encloses all the wealthiest and greatest kingdoms from the western seas to the great forests?”

The general whipped away from the map, pointing toward the nearby window, and speaking as he strode toward the opening.

“Look out that window,” he said. “Do you not see the glory and prestige of the greatest army to ever cross the lands – an army before whom every neighbor trembles and enemy falls; an army whose every soldier kneels in obedience to every whim of their king?”

 The general spun from the window and marched toward the neighboring display cases, his hands gesturing at their contents.

“Look at this wealth,” he continued. “Do you not see the greatest treasures and most prized possessions of all the wealthiest kings, kingdoms, and regents, now nothing more than mere trophies adorning the walls of the victor who claimed their lords?”

The general turned back to Jacob.

"Do you not see these things?" the general concluded. "And, yet, you have the audacity to question the king."

Jacob looked at the general, his face stubborn and resolute.

“I see the object at which you point,” he said. “But I see none of the things you describe.”

The general looked furious.

“You insolent child,” he began. Then froze.

The emperor had lifted a finger from the table. The move was slight and subtle but enough to attract the attention of the general, and all the advisors, who fell instantly silent and still as statues. The emperor stared at Jacob; his face masklike. After a second, he spoke.

“You say you do not see the things he describes,” the emperor said. “Yet, you see the objects. So you must see something. Tell me. What do you see?”

The king gestured at the map.

“Do you not see the might of my empire?” he asked.

“Your majesty,” Jacob said. “I see only a sheet of paper covered in paint. It depicts lands but not meaning. Some may look at it and see an empire. Others may look at it and see a responsibility. Some may look at it and see a thousand lands conquered. I look at it and see only my home, a small sliver of forest in a vast land, a tiny slice of heaven in a chaotic and uncertain world.”

Jacob stared at the emperor's face, desperately wishing for some sort of reaction. He received none. The emperor merely twisted his hand to point out the window behind him.

“And, there,” he said. “Do you not see the greatest army to ever walk the land?"

"You majesty," Jacob replied. "I see only men and women - daughters and sons, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers – faithfully doing their daily duties to the throne, their commanders, and to each other in a never-ending struggle to ensure their families have food on their tables and shelter above their heads."

The emperor’s hand shifted toward the trophy case. This time he said nothing, simply staring at Jacob in apparent anticipation. Jacob sensed the prompting and continued.

“Your majesty,” he said. “I see only the pride, loyalty, and devotion of the great artisans, craftsman, and laborers who sacrificed countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears, to build a masterpiece that would bring pleasure and pride to the lord they served. All done in the desperate hope they might hear the words, ‘well done’ from their revered master’s lips. That is what I see.”

The emperor lowered his hand back to the table and sat silently, staring into Jacob’s eyes. Jacob stared back, praying that he looked braver and more confident than he felt. Finally, the emperor broke the silence.

“Leave us,” he said.

The words brought an immediate reaction. Everyone, including the warden, turned toward the door at once, as though they were a single body, and marched from the room, the warden dropping Jacob’s chain as he went. Only the general who had spoken to Jacob remained. Snapping to attention, he marched to the side of the emperor’s desk and spun around facing Jacob.

For the first time, Jacob saw the emperor’s expression change as the regent leaned back in his chair and began to scrutinize him. His eyes narrowed as they gazed at Jacob, studying him with intense interest.  

“You speak good words, but are they simply that, words?” The emperor said.

He turned to look at his general.

“What do you think?” He asked.

"King Whitmore is dead," the general responded matter-of-factly. "His kingdom is no more. Any oaths of loyalty, fealty, and servitude died with him and his lands.”

The emperor nodded and turned toward Jacob.

“Do you think your father can accept this fact?” He asked.

Jacob thought for a moment. King Whitmore had been a fair ruler, but not exactly a family friend or great leader. Jacob couldn’t see a reason why his father would not consider any oath to the deceased king to be fulfilled.

“I do,” Jacob answered.

"His father was a skilled leader," the general said. "He was a dangerous enemy on the battlefield."

The emperor nodded.

“Would your father agree to never take up arms against our kingdom and swear to follow and obey me with the same loyalty he did King Whitmore?”

“I believe so,” Jacob answered.

"Very well," the emperor said. "Then I shall give him the option. If he will swear fealty to me, I will set him free and restore your family's lands. You may have your 'small slice of heaven' and your locket back. But I make one condition."

“What is it, your majesty?” Jacob asked.

"You profess your family's loyalty," he said. "Now you will prove it. You will stay here and serve me as an advisor. You answered my general's challenge with an intelligence I seldom see in my subjects. As long as you continue to provide such wisdom, you will remain with me, your family will remain safe, and you will have an opportunity to earn great wealth and prestige. But if you or your family betray me, I will make a punishment of your house that will never be forgotten. Do you accept these terms?”

Jacob hesitated. The terms of the agreement were daunting. He never considered himself particularly clever or wise. Now, the lives and welfare of his entire family hinged upon proving himself a good advisor. On the other hand, the opportunity to restore his family's lands and freedom was far better than anything he could have anticipated achieving when he walked in the door. Besides, it wasn’t like he could really refuse.

“I do,” he agreed.

“Very well,” the emperor stated.

The emperor picked up the locket and held it out to the general. The general took the locket and marched up to Jacob, placing the trinket in his hands.

“Come with me,” he said.

The general turned and marched from the room. Jacob gave a quick bow to the emperor, then turned and followed. He wasn't entirely sure what he had gotten himself into but knew it had to be better than what he had just gotten himself out of.






Monday, December 18, 2023

Gifts from the Forbidden Room


I had originally planned to wait until after Christmas to post my next story. But the writing prompt for my short story group this week was "Christmas Eve" and I couldn't resist posting my story while it was still Christmas time.

Unlike most of my stories, this one is being posted here within minutes after finishing it, which means I haven't gotten any kind of review or feedback on it yet. So, as always, I would be most eager to hear any feedback, suggestions or ideas.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

James Meadows

Gifts from the Forbidden Room
by James J Meadows III

It was the coldest Christmas Eve the village had ever experienced, the deepest snow the village had ever experienced and the strongest wind the village had ever experienced. No one was out walking the streets on their way to visit friends and families. No carolers broke the howling gale with their croaking voices. Nor did any church bells ring, announcing the end of their Christmas Eve vigils. Anyone looking through a window or peering through the night might wonder if the village was a ghost town.

The lack of distractions made the night perfect for my needs. Not that anyone ever interrupted me. Despite being the only daughter of the wealthiest family in the village, and having inherited my parent’s fortune after they passed away, few people wanted anything to do with me. My family had a bad reputation. Most people avoided us if possible.

No one visited me on Christmas. No one invited me to parties or dances. No one brought me any gifts or sent me any cards. It was a lonely existence, resulting in many long nights spent wishing there were someone who cared. Still, just because I didn’t have a friend, didn’t mean I wouldn’t get exactly what I wanted for Christmas. Those people couldn’t get me what I wanted anyway.

Collecting the last of my supplies, a small jewelry box filled with salt and a bowl filled with water, I proceeded through the wall of darkness, whose grip upon the drafty old house remained despite the dim glow of the tiny candle in my hand.

Reaching the staircase leading to the second floor, I started my progression upward, eyes focused intensely on the vaguely discernable steps my feet ascended, and not on the waves of visions swirling around me. Images of wars fought and not fought, babies yet to be born and children yet to die, mingled with visions of blood running down the stairs before me. All fought for my attention. I didn’t want these visions, yet they came nonetheless. They always did on this night.

Reaching the top of the steps, I veered right, down the longest darkest hallway of my family’s ancestral estate, past the small room with the four post bed, which served as my own during my parent’s lifetime, and around a corner to where another staircase led even further upward.

Here, the light was just a formality. I had walked these stairs so many times, I felt confident I could do it with my eyes closed. How many times, as a child, had I scaled these steps to gaze or listen at the doors of the forbidden room above? How many days did I count until my coming of age when I would finally be allowed to open them? And how many Christmas Eves since that day had I returned, each time wishing I had never ascended them in the first place?

More visions swam before my eyes, visions of my parents, both how I knew them and before I knew them, visions of distant ancestors and relatives, some I knew and some I didn’t know, all crossing these stairs throughout the ages on Christmas Eve night, to perform the same ritual. For the door could only be opened on Christmas Eve, and on every Christmas Eve, I was there, just as my parents were there during every Christmas Eve of their lives. And someday, when I too married and had children, my children would come to this door, too, just like their mother. I know. I had seen that in the visions also.

I shut these visions out too. I needed to focus on what I was doing and where I was going. Twenty one steps carried me to the top floor of the manor where, on the opposite side of a long wooden landing, now covered thickly with the dust of a year’s neglect, for no one came up here to clean, stood the only pristine-looking objects in the whole house, a pair of ornate oaken doors, perfectly polished though no rag had ever touched their gleaming exteriors.

A deep steadying breath crossed my lips as I fought to control the waves of emotion washing over me. I had performed the ritual more than a dozen times, ever since I was old enough to memorize the words and movements, with the same precision of my parents. And yet, despite all of these years of experience and the incessant days of practice I always went through leading up to Christmas Eve, I never ceased to feel, as my parents admitted they felt, a certain sense of apprehension toward what was about to happen.

Ultimately, however, the nerves meant nothing since, regardless of any anxiety I might feel for the experience ahead, there was no turning back. And, to be perfectly honest, the thought, though perhaps tempting to other people, never even occurred to me. This was, after all, whether blessing or curse, my family’s legacy, passed from generation to generation for as long as any we had owned this house, which was as long as any written records recorded.

Placing down the candle, a slow and rather more complicated process than it might seem, since I could not risk letting a single drop of wax fall on the floor or chance the candle going out for any reason, I proceeded to empty my hands of all items, positioning the salt and water on their proper places.

The house was much chillier up here, where no grates were built to support a fire, and the thin roof overhead did little to muffle the howling winds rattling across its aging shingles. The conditions, uncomfortable enough on their own, only worsened as I unlaced the front of my dress, allowing the garment to slither off my lithe frame onto a pile at my feet. Now naked, the cold was almost unbearable, and I shivered uncontrollably as I picked up the dress, holding it outstretched before me and headed for the door.

I placed the gown neatly spread across the floor right in front of the doorway, the neck of the dress toward the door and the skirt facing away. I straightened back up, surveying it, making sure everything was correct. It was. I turned toward the door, curling my fingers into a fist, and raising it level with the elegantly carved face of a young woman, staring at me from the front of the left door.

There I stood, breathing deeply, resolving myself to continue, accepting that I had no choice, steeling myself against what I was about to see, determined not to turn back now.


My fist fell, hitting the door. The ceremony had begun. I struck the door a second time and, after another five seconds, a third. Then, my hand fell to my side and I stood there, listening.


A loud knock sounded from the opposite side of the door. My heart leapt into my chest, so I could barely breathe. I turned away from the door, heading toward ceremonial supplies. A series of five carefully measured steps carried me back to the candle, beside which sat the water and the salt.


The knock sounded again. I bent over and collected the salt, grabbing a handful of it as I straightened up. I held the box before me, casting the salt in a circle across the floor with my free hand.

“To the East from which the sun’s light awakes,” I shouted, my voice rising above the harsh wails of the wind, which seemed to grow louder with each second. “To the North, where the flowers grow when spring comes; To the South, where the flowers wither as fall approaches. To the West, where the sun fades as winter ends, bringing darkness and sleep to the now weary land! Seal this circle with the magic of this sand.”


With the last crash, the doors flew open revealing the briefest glimpse of the room within: a glimpse so bizarre and indescribable that there seem no words for it. How can one describe a darkness of immeasurable depth, which, by its very nature, singes the eyes with its brightness; or explain a smell so subtle one can barely taste it, yet so overwhelming that the senses can hardly cope; or express a sound so quiet one can hardly hear it, while at the same time so pervasive it stings the ears. There are no words for such things. They can only be experienced.

Yet, just as quickly as the sensations came, the doors shut again, barring the room from my view. At the same instant, the dress, previously resting upon the floor, rose into the air before me. In a slow gradual manner, reminiscent of a balloon inflating before my eyes, the dress expanded, filling as though some unseen force were slipping it on. A second later, the force ceased to be unseen.

I stood facing a figure I knew only too well. I recognized her long blonde hair, her bright green eyes, her smooth skin, and every other feature about her without the slightest difficulty. An easy task, since she was me.

“Hello Melina.”

Her lips never moved, yet her voice drifted softly across the room, as if carried by a summer breeze.

“Merry Christmas.”

The words hung in the air for a several seconds, while the woman looked at me. I wasn’t sure if she was waiting for me to reply or not. I chose not to. This was not the first time the spirit had assumed my form for one of these meetings. But that didn’t mean it annoyed me any less and I didn’t feel much like wishing it a Merry Christmas.

I didn't know how the spirit first came to occupy the house. Some legends claimed my ancestors trapped it here, demanding it grant them favors. Other diaries claimed the spirit came to live in the house of its own free will, awarding the family boons for allowing it to stay.

Either way, I didn't trust it. The spirit was an unstable entity, dangerous and unpredictable, often creating mischief with even its most benign gestures; hence, the reason I took the precaution of surrounding myself in a protective circle.

“You have come to me,” the voice continued. “The one who can see all secrets kept and to be kept, who knows all things learned and unlearned, who can reveal all mysteries and lore past and future. Yet I sense few questions in you. What would you ask of me?”

I took a deep breath. Though I had said these words many times before, I still felt nervous every time I spoke them.

“I wish to make the visions stop,” I said. The wish was, itself, somewhat futile, since I already knew the answer.

A small smile spread across the spirit’s face.

“Every year you come here asking for this,” she said. “Can I not give you so much more? Can I not show you all the secrets of the past or reveal all the majesty of the future?”

In response to these words, images swam before my eyes; images hinting of secret knowledge, ancient mysteries, lost glories and of equally magnificent splendors yet to be created. The spirit’s speech and visions took me by surprise. Rarely did she ever converse with us in such a manner. I shook my head.

“These my family already has, and, if I could, I would give the gift back. Yet you will not take it.”

The spirit ignored the second part of my statement.

“Why not accept power, instead? I could give you magic beyond your wildest dreams, physical talent to make the mightiest man jealous, or charisma to make all people bend before your will.”

“All such gifts I may have, and yet find no happiness in their acquisition,” I replied. “For power is a dangerous ally, and all who seek it find themselves consumed, as so many of my ancestors learned.”

“Indeed, absolute power can make one lonely,” the spirit said, giving a mischievous smile. “Is that not what you fear the most?”

I felt my blood run cold. A new image swam before my eyes: that of a handsome, gentle man with a kind smile, a warm touch, and a deep soul, sitting, his arms wrapped around me, upon the warm couch beneath a soft blanket, as the wind rattled the night outside. A deep longing crept into my heart. This was what I longed for more than all the wealth and the power of all the worlds: an end to the seemingly perpetual loneliness haunting my days since my parents passed.

My hand, lost like my mind in the waves of unbroken desire to feel the warmth and love of the image, drifted unconsciously away from my body, extending to touch my lover's face. At the same instance, a warning cry sounded in my brain. I drew back, realizing with a sudden horror that my arm almost crossed out of the salt circle surrounding me.

“All of those things will come on their own, in time,” I said, regaining my composure. “Now is not yet that time.”

The vision vanished.

“If you would have none of these things, why have you come,” the voice responded. “You know I cannot take the visions away from you. They were a gift demanded by your first ancestor. And, the gift cannot be taken away.”

“But it can be suppressed for a year,” I replied, “just as you do every year.”

“But why waste your wishes on this?” the voice responded. “Every year your one wish, your family’s one wish they can make of me, is wasted on such a silly purpose: to take away the gift of clairvoyance I graciously bestowed upon them generations ago. Why such waste?”

“You know why,” I answered. “You know what I see when it is active. I can’t sleep; I can’t talk; I can hardly even walk because of all the visions. Your ‘gift’ was a punishment meant to render us helpless.”

“Learn to master it and its secrets,” the voice responded. “Who knows what you might learn?”

I pondered these words. Again, it was very unlike the spirit to engage in such a conversation. Was this some kind of trick?

“Why are you doing this?” I asked.

“You are special,” it responded. “I’ve watched you since childhood. Of all your family through the many generations, none has shown as much promise as you. Why not use your gift…”

“Our curse,” I interrupted.

“Whatever,” the spirit replied impatiently. “Why not use it in a constructive manner, the way your ancestor first wanted. Master it! Learn it!”

“I have made my wish,” I said, a sense of stubborn indignation rising in me.

“Very well,” said the spirit, in a voice which almost sounded like a sigh. “Your energies are suppressed! Now begone! But you will think about what I said before next Christmas! And you may yet change your mind.”

As she finished her words, the doors behind her swung open but this time I didn’t look inside. I merely gazed ahead at the fading figure before me, as she disappeared from view. Then, the doors closed and the dress flopped to the ground.

The strange tension in the room seemed to fade. There was a moment of silence, interrupted only by the sound of the wind.

Hearing the wind brought my thoughts back to the storm and I suddenly remembered how cold I was. I hurried through the rest of the ritual, picking of the water and ceremoniously washing away the salt circle before retrieving my dress.

As I retied the strings on the blouse, I couldn’t help pondering what the spirit told me. Was I really special? Could I really master the visions? Or was the spirit just playing with me, tempting me to not make the wish on the one night of the year I was able to - a trick to make me suffer for the next year, unable to escape the prophetic dreams and nightmares haunting my waking hours?

I didn’t know. I did know the spirit was telling the truth about one thing, though. I had a feeling I was going to spend a lot of time thinking about her words before next Christmas.

Frowning at the thought, I hurried down the steps. There were no visions or images to trouble me as I walked. And in that way, at least, I knew I had gotten exactly what I wanted for Christmas.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Hello Everyone,

This short story is based upon a writing prompt I was given for last week called "The Package" and I thought it made a good story for Christmas. Feel free to leave any feedback and let me know what you think!

"Packages for Lilly"

There it sat, beneath the tall sparkling green tree that Lilly’s parents had erected just a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful box, long and rectangular, wrapped up inside that shiny, glistening paper.  The box rested on top of another, much larger package and had several large glass ornaments hanging down around it. Yet, neither the larger package nor the ornaments could grab Lilly’s attention at all. The smaller box was the only one she cared about.

This box was magical. Lilly knew it was meant just for her. There could be no doubt about that because of the bow. It was a large bow made from blue lace, sporting multiple long trailers, which dangled over the edge of the box beneath it.  Something that neat had to be meant just for her. There they hung, waiting for her!

Lilly inched toward the package as if it were a siren calling her name. There was something alluring about it. She didn’t know what was lurking inside the box, below the surface of the wrapping paper. Nevertheless, she knew she wanted the box. Even more, she wanted the bow. She wanted to touch that beautiful blue lace.

She moved closer to the package. 

“Lilly, no!” Her mother’s voice called.

With a swiftness, which caught Lilly off-guard, her mother snatched her from the floor and away from the shiny box. Lilly gave a loud whine of dismay. She also gave a small wiggle, trying to get out of her mother’s arms. But it was a half-hearted effort at best.

Lilly knew any attempts to escape would be pointless. As such, the initial struggle quickly gave way to simply hanging limp from her mother's grip as Lilly was lugged unceremoniously to the other side of the room. There, her mother deposited her gently onto the couch before turning away again.

Without another word, Lilly’s mother went back to the dining room and resumed doing whatever it was she was doing before. Lilly didn’t have the slightest clue what it might be.

As best Lilly could tell, her mother was holding some long cylindrical plastic stick with a point at the end. She kept using it to scribble something onto a bunch of strange square-shaped papers. Then, she would lick some small object and press it onto the corner of the paper.

Under other circumstances, Lilly might have found this activity to be interesting. At the present moment, though, Lilly found herself unable to focus on anything except the tantalizing little box sitting under the tree.

            Lilly had to have it! Why couldn’t her mother understand?

Lilly gave another loud whine of indignation which her mother ignored. This was so not fair! How could her mother do this to her?

Without warning, the sun broke through the hazy layer of clouds outside, temporarily casting its rays through the open window nearby the tree. The rays fell directly upon the package, which sparkled afresh in gentle morning light. Once again, Lilly found herself unable to look away.  

With careful, measured movements, Lilly slunk off the couch, her eyes still transfixed by the hypnotic twinkle of the gleaming package. She took a quick glance in the direction of her mother. As she did so, her mother rose from the table, walking toward her.

For a moment, Lilly hesitated, thinking her mother was coming for her again. Instead, her mother walked right past her and headed into the nearby bedroom. A loud rustling and shifting and opening of drawers soon ensued. Her mother was looking for something.

This was Lilly’s chance. Creeping stealthily over to the package, she examined the string hanging down from the bow. There was something mesmerizing about the way it hung there. It seemed to hang there just for her.

With a fierce swipe, Lilly swung her hand at one of the trailers dangling from the lace bow. It swung away and then returned back to its original location. That was kind of fun. Lilly struck it again, entertained by its swinging.

This was neat but it got old pretty fast. Lilly wanted to try something new. On a whim, she leaned forward and tried to bite the lace. When she did, she discovered she was having a hard time hanging on. No sooner did her teeth latch down on the trailer than it slid from her jaws.

Reaching out, she grabbed it, trying to make it stay still so she could get a better grip with her teeth. No sooner had her hand gripped the cord, though, then, to her horror, the cord seized her.

With a surprising strength, the lacy trailer latched to her hand, refusing to let go. Lilly couldn’t get it off. She gave a cry of alarm and began to thrash her hand wildly about, trying to get the cord to release her, yet its grip was firm. With a yank, she pulled her hand backward, causing the package to fall off of the larger package it was on.

A loud tinkling sound like cracking glass greeted her ears as the package smashed against the floor. Still, the lace trailer clung to her, refusing to let go.

Lilly gave a strangled cry of agitation, struggling more fiercely. Yet, the relentless cord refused to release her from its clutches. Spinning, writhing and leaping around in dismay, Lilly swung, twisted, and flung her hand in all sorts of directions, trying to free herself from the lace’s clutches.

As she did so, her body collided with the ornaments dangling from the tree. These also fell to the floor, with loud cracking noises. The struggle was becoming more intense as Lilly’s panic grew. Still, the trailer refused to cede its grip, clutching more tightly to her hand.

Lilly screamed furiously. She didn’t know what was happening. She only knew she had to get away from this package. Somehow, she had to escape.

“Lilly!” Her mother’s scream of alarm rang through the room.

As if in answer to some unspoken prayer, Lilly felt her mother’s arms seize her, interrupting the battle. Lilly called to her mother for help, relaxing slightly in the woman’s strong grip. Without a word, her mother reached down and seized the lace trailer. Slowly and carefully, Lilly’s mother detached the troublesome trailer from Lilly’s claw.

“Lilly, look what you’ve done!” her mother said angrily, gesturing at the cracked ornaments and fallen Christmas present.

The cat could have cared less. Freed from the attacking package, she raced across the room and hid beneath the coffee table. From her new post, Lilly watched as her mother examined the box and the fallen decorations. After a moment, her mother picked them up and headed for the kitchen.

Lilly turned her attention back to the presents, glaring angrily at the packages which had dared to attack her. They were dangerous. There was no way she was going to go anywhere near those things again!

As this thought passed through her mind, she noticed another package sitting on top of a large box. It was a sparkly package with a bow on top. From the bow, dangled a long green lace trailer.

It seemed to call to Lilly. She knew it was meant just for her. Lilly wasn’t sure if it was as dangerous as the last package. Still, it couldn’t hurt to investigate. Slowly, Lilly inched toward the package, as though it were a siren calling her name. 

Monday, November 20, 2023

Night Owl's Guide to Houston


       This story, entitled "A Night Owl's Guide to Houston," was actually written back in 2012 and is based upon an actual experience from that summer. It was such a bizarre experience that I felt the need to write it down, since I wasn't sure anyone else would believe the tale. I hope you enjoy the story and would appreciate any feedback!


          James Meadows

Night Owl's Guide to Houston
by James J Meadows III

            “Night Owl’s Guide to Houston: Our town is full of all-night venues for eating, drinking and making merry that aren’t full of drunks. We’ll meet at 9pm and choose where to go from a list of more than 100 destinations that are fun for even sober people. By 10, we’ll be en route to great adventures! Guide: Ella Tyler.”

            These words in the Leisure Learning Center catalog gripped my interest. As a 30-year old single male tired of spending my Friday nights surfing internet personals ads, a work friend recommended I check out the leisure learning center. They told me it was a great way to learn new things, meet other singles, and have fun in a casual environment. A flip through the catalog revealed endless possibilities including horseback riding, kayak trips, and even classes on how to have winning first dates. Among them all, I found this ad and I was hooked.

            This was my chance to meet people in a setting free from drunks and alcohol. It was a chance to learn about night spots and hangouts where I could interact with singles or take future dates. I’ll admit, the rather expensive 45 dollar registration fee and the requisite 40 dollars in spending cash were a touch discouraging. I’m a single parent and rather strapped for cash, not to mention sitters. Still, adventure awaited and I wasn’t about to let a little money stop me. I signed up for the class.

            On the designated day, I headed to “Grey’s Café” in downtown Houston to meet the group. Upon entering the 24-hour café there was one thing I noticed immediately. There was not a soul in the place except for the staff and one table in the corner with three customers. One of the customers called out to me.

            "Are you looking for the Night Owl’s Guide to Houston?”

            I acknowledged I was and they waved me over to the table. I headed that direction surveying my new companions. First of all, I wish to point out that I enjoy foods and deserts. At the same time, I am not a person who spends lots of time eating. I am very conscious about my weight and appearance. Likewise, I tend to prefer hanging out with people who also care about their appearance.

            This may be a touch superficial. Still, the truth is: birds of a feather flock together and people typically prefer hanging out with others who have similar values and priorities.  You rarely see paparazzi pictures of professional athletes hanging out with people who look like they’ve spent the previous week eating donuts. If you have a work-out fanatic family member or friend, you probably haven’t seen them walk through the door with a date capable of swallowing them and not showing it.

            On that note, I can say without a doubt that all three of these people were in shape. By that I mean: round. The table was positioned against a wall and I could hardly squeeze between them and the table behind to reach a vacant chair. There were two women and one man. I was glad to see one of the women, a middle aged African American, wasn’t eating. The other two had pancakes, bacon, hash browns, waffles, omelets, toast, and milk sitting in front of them; and those were the plates they hadn’t already finished.

            The woman who called me over, a large Caucasian woman, informed me between mouthfuls of food that she was Ella Tyler, the guide for the class. She presented me with a print-out of available activities and hangouts. My spirits dropped as I perused the list. They were all 24-hour restaurants, including such unique hang-outs as Whataburger and Denny’s.

            I searched the table for a second page. I found one. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much better. It consisted of almost all bars. Meanwhile, the few “late night hang-outs” appearing on the page included the Houston Aquarium, which closes at 10pm, as well as the Winter Solstice Wine and Lights Festival - which would have been an exciting possibility...if it wasn't currently July.

            My mind began searching for some excuse to get out of this mess when our last three classmates entered the restaurant. The first was a middle aged woman with short black hair; but, the second one caught my eye. She was a beautiful and fit woman in her upper-twenties with long flowing brown hair and green eyes. I started thinking this night might not be a waste after all. That was when a fit, athletic male of about the same age walked in behind her. He took her hand and they headed for the table. My enthusiasm dwindled. Still, it was good to see someone of closer to my own age, and I hurriedly struck up a conversation with them.

            The couple was from San Francisco and was visiting the girl’s mother here in Houston. The middle-aged woman who entered with them turned out to be said mother. She was looking for a way to show her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend the sights of Houston. The best part was that they weren’t interested in eating. They wanted to see popular hang outs and fun venues around the city. My hope became rekindled as they expressed this preference to Ella.

            The guides readily agreed to this plan and proceed to pack everyone into a compact car for the tour. The Californians and their mother wisely decided to follow in their own vehicle and we headed for the first destination. As I sat in the car with the other three, I listened to them discussing the numerous eating groups they were members of. They encouraged me to join an eating group also. They said meals usually only cost between fifty to a hundred dollars and told me it was a great way to try all the unique restaurant venues in Houston. When I told them I wasn't really interested in an eating group, they became more insistent. 

            The previous discussion of my eating habits and finances as a single parent probably already tipped you off to this fact. However, in case it didn’t, I will admit that having a group of people who can barely fit in their own car seats pressuring me to join eating clubs so I can go around town spending a hundred dollars on meals wasn’t my idea of a fun ride. Needless to say, I leapt out of the car as soon as we reached our location.

            Said ‘location’ turned out to be an empty bridge in the middle of an empty park beside a suite of empty office buildings. Something told me this was not one of the premier hangouts in Houston.

            The guides led us through the darkness to the edge of the bridge. There I was greeted with a smell unlike any other in the world: Guano. I didn’t need their explanation or the barrage of siren sounds to know that a swarm of bats lived under the bridge.

            Now, I like seeing bats as much as the next person and enjoy watching them fly. Please note, though, that the operative words in the previous sentence both dealt with visibility. Now, please see the first sentence in the previous paragraph referring to the darkness. You couldn’t see anything! We were at least informed there were bats under there, even if we had no way to see them firsthand. We were also told scientists liked to come here to study the behaviors of bats or harvest the guano for agriculture purposes. Then, after loitering about for several minutes, we were led back to the car.

            Okay, stop one, not so great. But Ella announced that the next stop would be more exciting. This second stop was a new skate boarding park built by the city of Houston. It was complete with concession stands, modern art and loud music. They said it was a popular hangout for young people. Things were looking up again. There was only one small fly in the otherwise wonderful ointment. We arrived to discover the park closed at 8.

            We spent the next thirty minutes walking around the chain link fence so we could stare into the well lit concrete obstacle course. While we did so, I visited with the young couple from California. Since I lived in California during my military enlistment, I found myself sharing stories of life up there and how different it was from Texas.

            Eventually, Ella announced our next destination: New China Town. She talked about how the place was filled with stores, restaurants, and other locations which are open all night. She said people are always milling about and enjoying the night life. Again, the idea showed promise. 

            Hopping back into the car, we began a 40 minute drive out to the small suburb of Sugar Land to see China Town. On the way, the host received a phone call from some old high school friends. These friends wanted to join us for the remainder of the event. The hosts obliged them and told them we were heading to China town, where they agreed to meet us. We arrived in China town and parked in an empty parking lot full of closed buildings. A small still-open coffee shop became our point of rendezvous with the coming high school friends.

            We ordered tea and waited for their arrival. I was pleased to see for the first time some signs of life and activity. Neon lights in Chinese and parking lots full of cars stood in a single large shopping center across the way. Unfortunately, we weren’t going there. We were sitting at a coffee shop waiting for the host’s friends to arrive.

            A half an hour later, we were still sitting at a coffee shop waiting for the host’s friends to arrive. Forty-five minutes later, we were still sitting at a coffee shop waiting for the host’s friends to arrive. So far the only interesting thing I’d done in China Town was share more conversation with the California natives. When forty-five minutes turned into an hour, however, the California natives were ready to go. Feigning being tired, they excused themselves and prepared to leave. Possessing the good sense to act before my chance passed, I also excused myself, informed Ella that I had a nice time, and convinced the Californians to take me back to my vehicle. The ride was nice. We had a pleasant visit on the way back to the café.

            When they pulled into parking lot, we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. Then they were off and so was I. The next morning, I pulled out my leisure learning center catalog and noticed another event I had circled to go on. I hurriedly scratched the event off my list and threw the page away. It read:

            “Houston Secrets: See secret Gardens, international and local foods, and fascinating places to shop on this tour of little-known spots in Houston. We’ll meet a 9am and leave by 10. Guide: Ella Tyler”.

Monday, November 6, 2023

The Last College Tradition


This short story was written in response to a short story prompt called "Indian Curry" and is loosely based upon actual people and events in my life, although I changed the names and some of the details both to avoid giving away too much information about my past. Anyway, let me know what you think! As always I appreciate any feedback!



"The Last College Tradition"
by James J Meadows III

                The refreshing aroma of various spices tickled my nose as I passed through the dirty double-glass doors of the old restaurant. Somehow, even after all these years, the familiar aroma still filled me with a rush of excitement and anticipation, sending my mouth watering and tongue tingling. The smells blended nicely with the equally pleasant sense of comfort and peace I felt, as I looked around at the familiar decorations and tapestries, almost completely unchanged since the first time my friends and I had placed foot inside this restaurant so many years ago.

                “Mister Baker,” called the warm, cheerful voice of a middle aged Indian man, emerging from a nearby doorway. “My goodness, is it that time already? How the months have flown!”

                “Good afternoon, Mr. Sachdeva,” I replied. “I agree. The months certainly have gone by! How are you doing?”

                “Doing well, thank you,” he said. “Your usually seats and table, I presume?”

                “Yes, please,” I replied, as he collected four dinner menus and signaled for me to follow. “I am sorry to hear about your father, by the way. He was a wonderful man.”

                “Thank you,” Mr. Sachdeva replied.

                He seemed uncertain what else to say and I, sharing his sense of awkwardness, didn’t press the conversation. Mr. Sachdeva’s father was the original owner of the restaurant, and had owned it at the time my friends and I first started coming here. Back then, Mr. Sachdeva worked as the greeter. He had taken over the family business after his father’s death a few months ago.

                “Here you go, sir,” he said, gesturing me toward a chair at the small table for four in the back of the restaurant.

                It was the chair I always sat in, at the table my friends and I always sat at. Mr. Sachdeva placed the menus around the table at their various spots, while I took my seat.

                “I’ll be right back with the drinks,” he said. “You would like Riesling, of course. Mrs. Daniels wants a Chardonnay; Mr. Jones would like a water; and Mr. Bellard will take a Pinot Gris. I will place the food orders with the cook.”

                “You know us too well,” I said, giving a small laugh.

                He shared in the chuckle, yet the smile did not extend to his eyes. There was a look of sorrow in them and, I daresay, perhaps even pity. I tried not to think about the look as he walked away.

                Glancing at my watch, I checked the time. There were still five minutes until six o’clock, the hour my friends and had I agreed to meet here – I was usually early. The gathering was a tradition for us. This was our favorite restaurant when we were in college together and, when we graduated, this is where we ate our final meal together. On that day, we made an agreement to make sure our friendship never died. We would meet here every six months, on June 1st and December 1st, at 6pm, and we would eat the same exact meal we had on that last day, with the same drinks and everything. Today, was June 1st.

                We knew the tradition was silly. At the same time, it was something unique, fun and ultimately meaningful to us. Now, sixteen years later, it was a tradition we still maintained. Sadly, though, it had changed somewhat.

                  I glanced at the chair to my left. This chair once seated, Shannon Daniels. She and I had met in junior high school and hit it off quite well. We formed a study group with some of the other kids and even dated for a short period, before ultimately concluding we were much better off as friends. We remained so throughout our college years.

At the time we graduated, she was engaged to a young man named Allen. She was the first of our group to get married and the first of our group to have children. Sadly, a heat stroke, while working in her garden one weekend, meant she was also the first of us to die. She was still in her twenties.

                “Here you go, sir,” Mr. Sachdeva interrupted my thoughts, placing down drinks around the table.

                “Thank you,” I answered, glancing at the glass of Chardonnay he placed at Shannon’s spot.

                After she passed away, my friends and I decided to keep her spot. Not only that, in keeping with tradition, we would still order her food and drinks, to serve as a reminder that she was still with us in spirit.

                “Should I start the food, sir, while you wait?” Mr. Sachdeva asked.

                “Yes, go ahead, please” I replied.

                He gave me another mournful look, which I tried to ignore, and headed for the kitchens.

                  I glanced down at the glass of water sitting across from me. This glass belonged to Michael, the only one of our company who didn’t drink. I met him at Sunday school, while I was still in high school. We became best friends almost instantly. For the remainder of our high school days, we were inseparable, together every evening, weekend, and any other time we could get away with it. We were the closest thing either of us ever had to brothers.

                 Unfortunately, like the Chardonnay, this glass would not get drunk. Michael and I went different directions in our careers and to different cities in our state after graduation. When we were thirty three, he suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of stress at work. The police and his family found his body at a hotel, where he had ended his own life. Distracted by work and life, I hadn’t spoken to him for three months prior to his death – a fact for which I doubt I will ever forgive myself.

                “Your food, sir,” Mr. Sachdeva’s voice broke in upon my reflections.

                “Thank you,” I replied, as he placed a full plate of freshly cooked curry in front of me. “It smells wonderful!”

                I pulled out my fork and started eating my dinner. As I took a bite, I watched Mr. Sachdeva place a plate of Beef Biryani in front of the spot where Shannon sat and a plate of Rajma and rice in front of the spot where Michael once sat. Finally, he put a large bowl of Jalebis in front of Robert's spot.

                Robert’s food would not get eaten either, though I couldn’t tell you why. I’m not sure I’ll ever know. Robert and I met while working at the same summer job after our freshman year. We bonded over a passion for computers, television shows, and video games. I never really knew his family, outside of a few girlfriends he dated, who sometimes came to our get-togethers.

                One day, when we were both 36, I called Robert and scheduled a time for us to get together in about two weeks to hang out, have dinner, and just visit. When the date came, he didn’t show up. I texted him but he didn’t respond. I tried calling him, no answer. Later that day, I went onto his Facebook page to send him a message – which was rare for me since I don’t use Facebook much.

                I saw from comments and pictures left by family on his site that he had died a little over a week-and-a-half before. His funeral was performed the previous day, the day before we were supposed to meet. I messaged his family, asking what happened. They never messaged back and I didn’t press the issue.

                Finishing my last bite of curry, I placed the fork down onto the table. I stared for a few seconds at the untouched dishes and drinks circling me. Just sixteen years ago, a group of college graduates sat at this table, celebrating our friendship and planning for the future. How could they all be gone in less than twenty-years, not one of them getting to see their forties? How much longer would I press on before joining them?

I leaned back in my chair, staring at the empty seats. For a moment, a brief moment, the seats weren’t empty anymore. I could see Michael’s pale skin, platinum hair and trademark smile as he sat upright and proper, watching me; I beheld Robert’s dark skin, dark hair, and scarred face as he reclined backward in his usual manner; I gazed in Shannon’s bright green eyes as they sparkled with her usual zest and enthusiasm.

Somehow, I knew they were all there with me, smiling at me, thinking of me and proud to know that I was thinking of them. Then, the images faded. I saw only Mr. Sachdeva standing across from me, watching me with his sad, yet understanding stare.

“How much do I owe you?” I asked, rising from the table and reaching for my wallet.

“Nothing,” he answered. “This one is on me.”

With a small smile, he picked up the plates and headed toward the back. I reached into my wallet, withdrawing all the cash I owned. It wasn’t much but it was something. I placed all of it onto the table then turned for the door.

 Passing through the glass doors, I gave one last nostalgic look behind me, staring at the table as long as possible until the tinted doors finally closed, hiding its view from me. Heading for my car, I climbed inside, buried my head in my hands and wept for the last time – until December.

Monday, October 16, 2023

The Elevator Game


Well, with Halloween coming up, I thought I would go for a slightly more suspenseful story, in true Halloween spirit. This story was partly inspired by a YouTube video about the "Top 10 Scary Games You Should Never Play". I had just watched the video the day before my short story group came up with the prompt: "Dying to Live", so I saw a chance to use my inspiration to create a story.

Anyway, let me know what you think of the story and look forward to any feedback!

Have a Happy Halloween!


"The Elevator Game"
by James J Meadows III

Some of you are, no doubt, going to tell me, with unwavering conviction, that if you were in my position, you would never have done something so stupid and childish. Of course, you also, I’m sure, will tell me you never stood in front of a mirror chanting “Blood Mary” or played Three Kings at your friend’s house.

To all of you, I have these words, “A coward dies a thousand deaths!” Having quoted Shakespeare, I will now go to a rather less eloquent, though no less profound, quote by Jimmy Buffet, “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.”

Both these statements summarize my own personal view on life, a view shared by my good friend Stephen. This philosophy, and this philosophy alone, brought he and I to opposite sides of a hallway at midnight one lonely Friday in October.

“I bet my elevator gets here before yours does,” Stephen teased, glancing over his shoulder at me.

“No way,” I snapped back. “No elevator wants you or that crummy old jacket inside it.”

“Don’t be a hater.” He teased, displaying the old burnt-orange jacket, with its numerous tears, rips and stains, toward me as if it were made from white mink. “Just because you lack fashion sense, doesn’t mean I can’t look good in these regal robes.”

I stuck my finger in my mouth and made a gagging sound, as though I was about to vomit. He just laughed and turned back toward the elevator. I faced mine, with an equally determined grin, which served to mask my growing anxiety.

Although we were standing near the lobby of one of Houston’s premiere hotels, thanks to the lateness of the hour, we were the only people there. This was the way we planned it. We didn’t want anyone else getting on the elevators with us. Each of us had to be alone. If someone got on with one of us, that player had to quit. Those were the rules of the Elevator Game.

The Elevator game, which originated in Korea, was supposed to be one of the scariest and most unnerving games in existence, promising to take the player to a frightening alternate dimension from which they might never return. Like the other creepy games Stephen and I had played over the years, we didn’t really expect anything to happen. After all, nothing happened when we played with the Ouija board; nothing happened when we played three kings; no mysterious man caught us when we played the midnight game.

Altogether, we had no reason to believe this one was any different. Yet, the adrenaline rush pulled us onward. The sensation of tingles, chills, and goosebumps, spreading across our arms as we performed each new scary ritual, awaiting the results with frightened anticipation, called us to try the new game.


The sound of an elevator arriving caught my attention. I glanced instinctively upward at the lights above me. It wasn’t my elevator. It was Stephen’s. The up-light on the elevator in front of him had illuminated, signaling its arrival.

“Told you mine would get here first,” Stephen said, giving me a teasing smile over his shoulder.

I watched as the elevator doors slid open to reveal an empty interior.

“I’d love to stay and chat, but my chariot awaits me,” he declared in a mocking tone, giving a rather comedic bow, as he advanced backward into the elevator.

The elevator doors started to close as he stepped inside but his hand shot out quickly to stop them.

“Don’t forget,” he added, in his best impression of a spooky voice, made all the more humorous by his exaggerated expressions and forced attempts to keep a straight face. “Before you get off the elevator, check every single detail to make sure you come back to the correct dimension. If even one thing is out of place or incorrect, don’t get off, or you may become trapped in the otherworld forever! Dun, Dun, Dun!”

Then, still wearing his usual grin and his comic smile, he let the doors close. Yet, as he faded from view, I could tell from his body language that he was nervous. The eyes gazing at me as the doors slid closed revealed a mix of mingled excitement with nervous agitation. The same agitation gripped me. Up until this point, we had always performed our various stunts together.

Even when we played Three Kings, though we each sat alone in the room, one of us was assigned to check upon the other after an hour passed. This time, however, we were on our own. Somehow, this made everything just slightly more frightening.

I pushed the up button again to call the next elevator and waited. The lobby around me, with its empty chairs and unmanned desk - the clerk had walked into the back just a short time prior to Stephen’s elevator arriving - were dull and lifeless, kind of like the whole last week, which Stephen and I spent studying for our mid-terms. It was this monotony of studying, working, and walking to-and-from classes, which motivated Stephen and me to seek this break, this adrenaline rush, this small chance to escape our ordinary daily lives.


My elevator had arrived. I took a step back in case people needed to get off. No one did. The elevator, like Stephen’s elevator, was completely empty. I took a step inside then hesitated. Without Stephen here, I felt my courage wane slightly.

“It’s just a game,” I said aloud to myself, willing myself to get on. “It isn’t real.”

I knew it was a game. I knew it was stupid. I knew I couldn’t turn back anyway; because Stephen was already on his elevator. What would he say if, after all of our talk and teasing, I chickened out now?

Mentally forcing myself onward, as though my brain were some telepathic device dragging my frozen feet across the threshold, I advanced into the lift.

“Well, here I am,” I said. “There is nothing else for it. Let’s go.”

I reached out my hand and pushed the button for the fourth floor. The elevator rose.

“You can do this,” I muttered to myself. “There is nothing to be afraid of. It’s just a silly game, like all the others.”

The elevator doors opened onto the fourth floor. Determined not to give myself further opportunity for doubt, I immediately slammed the button for the second floor. After a moment, the doors closed and we were on our way down.

“Please don’t be anyone there,” I said to myself, trying to sound convincing in my own ears; ignoring the silent voice in my head secretly wishing for someone to get on so I could abort this stupid game.

No one did. The elevator doors opened and shut. To the sixth floor –  nobody. Back to the second floor – still nobody. Now up to the tenth floor – no one there.

The doors shut again. I stared at the back of them, my heart racing so fast I could hardly breathe. This was the moment of truth. Fighting the urge to abandon the game – the urge to cheat and head straight back down, the urge to chicken out and claim I had done it even if I really hadn’t – I extended my finger toward the number five.

“It’s just a game,” I repeated aloud, “a really stupid game. There won’t be anything there.”

I gave a small laugh, which sounded hollow even to me.

“Just one more floor and I’ll be back with Stephen, laughing this whole thing off as the nonsense it is,” I said again, trying to reassure myself.

Closing my eyes, as though unable to watch myself do it, I leaned forward, feeling the five button compress at my reluctant touch. The elevator lurched downward.

This floor would reveal everything. The game claimed that a mysterious creature would appear on this floor, in the guise of a woman - a woman who you must not talk to or even look at. Otherwise, she might decide to keep you for her own. None of the stories explained what happened to such victims. Supposedly, none returned to tell.

“It’s nonsense,” I repeated to myself. “It’s just made up rubbish.”

The elevator lights flashed nine, then on to eight.

“There is no mystery woman going appear and get on the elevator,” I reminded myself.

Next to seven, then to six.

“It’s just a dumb gag!”

The elevator alighted onto the fifth floor. With a “bing” the doors slid open.

My breath caught in my throat, my body almost trembling with nerves. If the woman, who I kept reminding myself didn’t exist, did appear and get on, I was certainly not going to look at her. Fixing my eyes on the buttons, I waited.

The doors just sat there, open and expectant. They remained open for no more than their ordinary time of five seconds. Still it felt like five minutes. Several times I was convinced they had somehow broken. Yet, even as panic started to set in and beads of sweat appeared upon my face, the doors began to slide shut again.

A sigh of relief escaped my lips as I watch them drift toward each other, their reflective silvery interiors gradually masking the outside world from my sight. I moved forward to hit the “1” button, thankful the game was over.

“Hold the doors!”


A female voice sounded from the hallway, followed by the clanking sound of metal and gears, as the doors reopened with a “ding”. Someone outside had pressed the button for the elevator. Before my stunned eyes, I saw a woman enter to join me.

A feeling of indescribably horror gripped me. I tried to dismiss it. This wasn’t a monster, I told myself. It was just pure coincidence. There were lots of women staying in the hotel. This just happened to be one of them, getting on the elevator at the wrong time. That was all.

I could feel my lungs contracting as my heart rose into my throat. Staring ahead, trying not to look at the woman, I found myself unable to resist studying her from the corners of my eyes. She appeared to be about my age, with long, beautiful black hair, a soft winning smile, and a slender-shapely body, well-outlined by the one-piece swim suit she wore, her figuresque physique only slightly concealed by the towels gripped in her hands. She looked like she was on her way down to the pool.

“Sorry about that,” she said, as she moved inside to stand next to me. “My friends are down at the pool and I’m running a little late to join them.”

I said nothing. Although going swimming at midnight might seem a little odd, the pool was open and it was a Friday. At the same time, this was the fifth floor. Was this girl really what she seemed?

I wanted to kick myself for my own stupidity. Of course, she was just what she seemed. There were no alternate dimensions or mysterious monsters that trapped people as their own. At the same time, the whole thing seemed a bit too coincidental, and my already strained nerves were not prepared for this turn of events.

 “Where are you going?” she asked, gesturing at the unlit buttons before us.

As I had not yet selected my floor, the question seemed innocent enough. In my current state of mind, however, they were the most sinister words I could possibly hear.

“Where are you going?” were the words the mysterious monster on the fifth floor was supposed to say to the elevator rider when she boarded.

It’s just a game, I tried to repeat inwardly. This is just a normal woman, trying to figure out what button to press, that’s all.

I made an effort to say, “First floor” but the words caught in my throat. What if it wasn’t just a game? What if it was real? What if I spoke to her and was lost forever?

As I stood frozen, the elevator doors closed. I realized I better act fast or else I’d look like an even bigger moron. Taking a step forward, I pressed the “1” button, my sweaty hand trembling so badly I could hardly contain myself.

Pressing the button for the first floor was the next step in the game, anyway, and the logical step outside the game. If she was a real woman, we would just coast down to the first floor and it would all be over.

“Are you okay?” the lady asked, as I retreated back into the corner of the elevator, my eyes still locked on the ground.

I didn’t speak. I knew I must look like a complete idiot. At the same time, I’d rather be a living idiot than a dead fool. So, I pressed myself into the corner as hard as I could, my eyes still fixed on the buttons.

 “Oookay,” she said in a confused voice, turning to face the closed elevator doors. At the same moment, I felt the elevator lurch. But to my horror, we weren’t going down. We were going up.

My eyes shot toward the numbers above the button panel: Five to Six, Six to Seven, Seven to Eight. No, No, No, NO, NO!! This couldn’t be happening. The elevator was going to the tenth floor. It was taking me to the alternate dimension! The game was coming true!

“That is odd,” I heard the woman muse. “I guess we didn’t press the button in time. It must be going to pick someone up.”

My eyes locked onto the ground! Don’t speak to her! I thought. Whatever you do, for God’s sake, don’t speak to her!

The elevator went from eight to nine and from nine to ten. Then, slowly, inexplicably, the doors began to open.

I didn’t want to see what was out there! I rushed forward, slamming the first floor button over and over with all my might. According to the game, when the doors opened, I would see a hallway identical to the actual tenth floor, yet pitch black, with no lighting of any kind, save for a blood red cross, the only thing visible through the distant windows.

I wasn’t going to look at it. I wasn’t going to see it. There was no way I was getting out of this elevator!

“Close, close!” I all but screamed, hammering over and over again on the button, as I watched the doors slide apart, unable to take my gaze off the image I knew they were about to reveal. With a sudden buckling sensation, my knees gave way beneath me. I found myself kneeling on the floor, still pressing the button for all I was worth.

A man stepped into the elevator from the well-lit hallway beyond, speaking on a cell phone and holding a pair of car keys in his hand.

“No, you don’t need to be driving here if you’re like that,” he was saying. “I’ll come pick you up! You said you’re at the West End Bar?”

The man froze as he entered, staring at my pale face, sweaty skin, and frantic manner.

“Are you okay?” he asked, lowering the phone to address me.

I didn’t answer. Unable to think anymore, I collapsed backward into the corner, burying my face between my knees and curling my arms above my head. I don’t know what the girl and man must have thought. I didn’t hear any words that they said. If I did, my agitated mind was too weak to hold them. Instead, I remained in a state of complete paralysis all the way down to the first floor.

The moment the elevator opened, I erupted from the shaft, without even a glance at my surroundings, my body a frenzied tornado of flailing arms and racing feet. I was so desperate to get out of there I almost plowed straight into Stephen, who caught me with an expression of shock.

“Dude? What’s wrong?” He asked, concern evident in his voice. “What happened?”

I looked back at the elevator. The man and woman stood staring at me in astonishment. They didn’t say anything, though. They merely exited the elevator and went their separate ways – the girl toward the swimming pool and the man toward the parking garage – each watching me out of the corners of their eyes until out of sight.  

“They were real,” I gasped. “They weren’t monsters. They were real!”

“Oh my god!” Stephen exclaimed, realization dawning on his face, along with an obvious urge to laugh. “Those people got on at the fifth floor and you thought they were the mystery woman didn’t you!”

He started to laugh.

“Well, at least I got that far,” I replied angrily over his laughter. “What did you do?”

“I had a janitor get on at the sixth floor so I had to abandon. Want to come back and try again tomorrow?”

“Definitely not!” I shouted, a response which only served to illicit more laughter from my friend.

“Come on, then. Let’s get you home,” he said, pulling the car keys from the pocket of his maroon and white jacket before guiding me toward the distant parking lot.