Friday, December 23, 2016

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.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

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!

        Since my next story will be after Christmas, I want to wish all of you a Happy Holiday Season and a wonderful Christmas time.


          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”.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Jogging in the Shadows


I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with their friends and families. My story this week was based upon a short story prompt from a complete of weeks ago entitled "Pumpkins".

I apologize that I didn't get it out last Sunday as I was on vacation with my family. Hopefully everyone will enjoy the story, though. Let me know what you think! I appreciate all feedback!


James Meadows

"Jogging in the Shadows"
by James J Meadows III

Left, right, left, right…

Each foot fell in front of the other in an almost hypnotic rhythm as I raced down the dimly lit sidewalk on my nightly jog. I liked jogging at night. It was just about the only time when the temperatures were cool enough for someone to go jogging – unless you count the morning, which I don’t. There is no way I am getting up early to go running. No, I’m a night owl, and the night is where I feel at peace.

Over the bridge, past the small pond, and across the entrance to the apartment complex, I made my way along the well-trodden path. Soon, I found myself in a line of thick trees, which provided some protection for my eyes against the glaring headlights of the busy street they lined.

I couldn’t count the number of times I had run this path. Suffice to say, however, I knew the exact distance I was from my house during every piece of the journey, including what time I should be making and how much further I had to go. I knew its every feature by heart.

Over the cracked tile which wound around the ancient oak tree, past the park bench set just a few steps back from the trail, and past the old brick well at the end of the fence line.

It took me about five or six steps before I snapped out of my trance long enough for my brain to process what my eyes had just registered. There wasn’t a brick well on my run.

I turned around, jogging backwards for a few steps, and looked behind me. Sure enough, there was an old-fashioned brick well, with a wooden cover and an old bucket, sitting right in the middle of a small grassy area, which I knew was normally blank. Even more strange, sitting on top of the well was a jack-o-lantern, whose grotesque chiseled features, illuminated by the candle burning in the center, left an odd impression in my mind. Where did they come from?

I spun back around, resuming my jog as I tried to wrap my head around the weirdness of the situation. On the one hand, a well should not suddenly appear in the middle of a park where it didn’t exist before. Furthermore, it was the middle of spring. People didn’t light jack-o-lanterns in the middle of spring. Heck, it wasn’t even pumpkin season. No place would be carrying pumpkins this time of year.

At the same time, though, as I reminded myself, it was a public park, where kids host plays, residents put on shows and neighborhoods have their community events. The whole thing was probably just some sort of prop. I decided to take a closer look at it on the way back. After all, I didn’t get a good look at it as I passed in the dark.

Speaking of the dark, I glanced around. It was much darker than usual in this area. The lamp posts seemed to be out. I lifted my eyes to look at them. Sure enough, all of them were completely black, as though the area was experiencing a power outage.

I glanced ahead at the nearby intersection to see if the traffic signals were out also. Sure enough, they were out. And I mean they were out – not flashing red, like you sometimes see. They were completely black. This made me feel a little leery about crossing the usually busy intersection. Even at this time of night, the road was still fairly well traveled. It was then, I became struck by the sudden realization that I hadn’t seen a car in several minutes of running now, and the intersection was entirely empty.

If I was feeling confused before, I was totally unnerved now. I had a strong desire to turn back on my run. Still, I managed to suppress the desire. I was being silly. I was allowing my imagination to get the better of me. There was a reasonable explanation for all of this and there was no reason for me to abandon my run. I was only a couple of miles into the run anyway.

I was just crossing the intersection, when I felt a strange chill in the air. It was like running through an invisible wall of evil. The hairs on the back of my neck rose, like antennae picking up the dark broadcast of some sinister radio signal. My body involuntarily shuddered, goose bumps rising on my arms, and my footsteps faltering, as though drained of all strength.

Only my resolve to continue on my run compelled me forward, though at a much slower pace as I fought to force my legs ahead.

“Come on,” I muttered to myself, gesturing forward with my hand the way I always did when trying to encourage myself.

“Come on,” I heard the words echo in my head. Except the voice wasn’t my own.

It was a strange, deep, echoing voice, like one might hear when speaking to an empty stadium. Even more disturbing than the voice, was the strange impression that accompanied it: the impression of a presence, a vile-wicked presence, watching me, waiting for me.

This was too much for me. Without needing another moment of thought or reflection, I stopped and spun back the direction I had come. Maybe I was just imagining things, but I didn’t care. I was getting out of here!

As I retraced my steps across the intersection, I felt the strange chill wash over me again, like a gust of wind coming from behind. This time it brought more than just goosebumps. A strange vision filled my mind, a vision of a man – if you wanted to call it a man, perhaps ‘a thing’ would be more accurate – running just a short ways behind me.

The ‘thing’ was man-like with two legs, two arms and a humanoid body structure, yet it possessed no face, no eyes, and no features. Rather, it seemed almost like a living, moving shadow approaching from behind me. The vision brought an almost irresistible urge to turn around and look over my shoulder, an urge I fought to resist as some distant instinct, buried deep within my mind, seemed to come to life, mingling with my fear, urging me to run for all my life was worth and not to look back.

Of all the times in my life where I found a ‘second-wind’ none compared to the burst of energy I found now. My previously weary legs sprang to life, sending me hurtling forward.

“Come on,” the voice whispered in my head again.

With it came a fresh vision. I could see more of the creatures. Some of them seemed to be wearing clothes, hats, and various garments now, yet the figures inside them remained dark as the night. An eerie sinister energy seemed to radiate off of them. I picked up my pace, as much as I could with my heart already aching like I was running a marathon.

This didn’t seem to make a difference. Rather, they seemed to go even faster in response to my increase, steadily growing nearer to me with each step I took. As they approached, the visions grew more intense, their dark forms more clear and their evil aura more intense.

I ran harder, my legs and feet screaming in protest. Yet I didn’t dare slow down. I had to run. I had to get away.

“Come on.”

The voice whispered more urgently, the words taking on an almost sinister delight, as though mocking me, or perhaps, inviting me to my doom. I didn’t care which. I just wanted to get away.

Then I saw it. A short distant ahead the well sat in the park with the bizarre jack-o-lantern on top, its grotesque candle-lit grin shining through the night. That was where all the strangeness began. Maybe if I could make it back there, everything would return to normal. It was a long shot. But at this point, it was all I had.

Straining with all my might, I sprinted toward the pumpkin, the black figures in hot pursuit; the vision growing ever clearer as they grew nearer. I was only a fifty yards away. They were getting closer. Only thirty yards away, they were practically on top of me. Only twenty yards away, I could see their shadowy hands rising. They were reaching out to me. Ten yards away, the nearest one almost had me. Five yards, his fingers were just inches from back.

I could feel him grab me. I could hear the vile voice laugh in my ears.  He was pulling me backward!


With the last burst of strength I could muster, I threw myself forward, out of the strange grasp, and fell tumbling onto the sidewalk, rolling past the well and its wicked decoration.

Everything was silent. The voice was gone. I looked up and stared around me. There were no figures. There was no well. There was no jack-o-lantern. Cars were passing down the road, their headlights illuminating the dark street along with the glow of the fully illuminated street lamps.

For several minutes I lay there gasping for air. I could feel the pain throbbing from my knees and arms where they struck the pavement. At that moment, however, I could care less. I was just thankful to be alive; thankful to be safe; thankful to be away from wherever or whatever I was experiencing.

Still gasping for air, I rose to my feet, my injured legs shaky beneath my frame and headed home to chart a new route for my evening runs.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

In the Necromancer's Lair


This short story was inspired by a short story prompt called "Dramatic Entrance". The story is written to stand alone, although my long-time readers will recognize the characters from the adventures of Annie and her Psuedo-Dragon which I first started writing in My Grandmother's Pendant and continued in Voices and Visions in a Dark Wood.

As always, I appreciate and enjoy any feedback! Let me know what you think. Also, if there are every any story ideas or prompts you'd like to send my way for me to try, let me know!

Have a Great Week!


"In the Necromancer's Lair"
by James J Meadows III

                “To restore balance to the worlds, you must retrieve the Pendant of the Last Kingdom. The ancient mystical talisman can be found in the stronghold of the Necromancer, the ancient lord of death. Find his lair, hidden within the secret kingdom of Radash, and return the pendant back to us. Or all will be lost.”

            Those were the seer’s words, which started this whole mission almost three weeks ago.

Now, I stood at the door to the Necromancer’s lair. Disguised as a small stone house in the middle of the city, it was the perfect camouflage, one which sent me on a two week long goose chase around town trying to find it.

Who knows? If not for the tip from a stranger at the local bar, I might still be searching for another three weeks - perhaps longer.

            “Remember, if all the legends are true, getting the pendant from him will not be easy,” whispered my invisible pseudo-dragon companion, Llander, his high pitched voice coming from just to my right. “He is said to be extremely powerful, capable of roasting us with nothing more than a flick of his wrist. We will need to move fast before he can do so.”

            I nodded, still staring at the door. Summoning my courage, I approached the barrier, advancing up the sidewalk until I stood almost directly in front of it. This was absolutely nuts.

I was just a simple teenage girl, with no notable powers, skills, or talents. Heck, I wasn’t even from this world. How could the great seer expect me, of all people, to defeat the mysterious necromancer, recover the lost Pendant, and restore balance to the worlds?

“Alright,” I said, my head spinning as I tried to wrap my mind around what I was about to do. “We will need to catch him off guard, I will try to keep him distracted while you rush in and grab the pendant.”

“How do you plan to do that?” my companion asked.

“Not sure,” I answer. “What I need is some sort of dramatic entrance, something no one will expect?”

“You are going to enter doing a theater routine?”

“No, not dramatic like that,” I replied, feeling a rush of annoyance at my companion’s usual inability to understand figurative language; it was a flaw all pseudo-dragons possessed. “I mean, dramatic as in do something big and grandiose!”

“You are going to make yourself larger?”

“No,” I said, my annoyance increasing. “I mean like bursting into the door, creating a lot of noise, something that will catch him off-guard so he won’t be able to take immediate action.”

“Oh,” my companion mused. “You are going to burst through the door? But won’t it be locked?”

I hesitated. Come to think about it, I never considered how we would actually open the door. In all the fantasy novels I always read, or various video games I played, you typically just walked inside the evil villain’s dungeon and confronted him.

“Um, I don’t suppose you have some sort of magic that can unlock a door?” I asked.

“That isn’t really a part of my race’s abilities,” he answered. “Maybe you can kick the door in?”

If I could see my companion, I would have rolled my eyes at him. I was five foot two and weighed one hundred pounds. I was more likely to get blown away by a breeze than kick in a door.

“Why don’t you kick it open,” I asked. “Your race is, like, part-dragon or something, isn’t it? Don’t you have some sort of supernatural strength?”

“I’m one foot tall and weigh about ten pounds, what do you think?”

“Well, we’ve got to figure out some way in!” I said, with no small amount of exasperation.

“If you’ll step aside, I have the key,” a deep voice sounded from behind me. “I can open the door for you.”

            A chill ran up my spine as I turned to see a tall black-robed figure towering above me. He had narrow grey lips, thin sallow skin, and long white hair flowing down from beneath the low hood.

            For a moment, I stood paralyzed with fear, gazing into his bloodshot eyes. I didn’t need an introduction to know I stood in the presence of the mysterious Lord of Death, who the seer had told me about; the one capable of turning me into a pillar of dust with just a word. He had apparently walked straight up to us while we were debating, without us even noticing. Now, we would pay.

            I stood there, holding my breath, waiting for my doom.

Nothing happened. He just continued standing there staring at me for a second, before making a slight gesture with his right hand, which I now realized was holding a key, as though requesting me to move out of the way.

            With a quick nervous step, I moved aside. To my surprise, he proceeded right past me, with complete nonchalance, placing the key into the door, twisting it, and pushing it open. He then turned around, looking at something behind me, and waved his hand. I looked back and realized there was a small cart full of vegetables, meats, and various other supplies sitting on the lawn, a short distance behind where he stood a moment before.

            In response to his wave, the cart rolled forward, advancing through the door and down a short hallway visible within. He took a couple of steps after it before turning around.

            “Are you coming?”

            I stood irresolute for a second. This was not in any way what I was expecting. My instinct was to look at my companion for advice. Then, I remembered he was invisible. I was on my own with this decision. Still, it wasn’t like I had any better plan of what to do next. So I went ahead.

            He led me through an entry hall, into a large sitting room attached to a kitchen. I followed him in before giving a sudden scream of fear, backing into the wall behind me. The kitchen and sitting room were filled with walking skeletons, their bones, teeth and eyeless skulls devoid of all flesh, organs and decorations, save for the dirty, moth-eaten clothes hanging from their frames.

            Our host ignored my outcry.

            “Roger,” he called, addressing one of the skeletons. “Fetch some drinks for our guests.”

The skeleton replied with a rather rude gesture, involving one hand and one finger.

            "Don’t you give me any lip,” our host snarled. “Just do it! That’s an order!”

            The skeleton retreated into the kitchen as our host turned back to us. Meanwhile, other skeletons began collecting the various foods, wines, and supplies from his cart, placing them into cupboards and spaces around the kitchen.

            “The undead can be such a pain at times,” he said, with a small sigh. “But if I don’t keep them in line, the wandering hordes will go wreaking havoc across the kingdom like they used to. Please, sit down.”

            He gestured toward a series of plush armchairs and couches. I took a seat on the nearest one, feeling completely bewildered.

            “Anyway,” he said, taking a seat across from me. “You must be Annie.”

            “How did you know my name?” I asked, rather surprised, not just at his knowledge of my name but also at the fact that he called me by it. Though I always introduced myself by name, so far no one else in this world had used it.

            “I know a lot of things,” he answered. “Your name is just one of them, though if you’d rather me call you ‘Light Child’ like everyone else, I will do so.”

            “No, please, call me Annie,” I said, feeling a rush of relief.

In some ways, it was nice to actually have what seemed like a normal conversation with someone; though, at the same time, considering I hadn’t met a single other person in this world who seemed capable of such conversations, this only added to the already surreal quality of the scene.

            All-in-all, though, holding a conversation was much better than the alternative. I only hoped my companion was taking advantage of this time to look for the pendant. As I had no way to tell, I decided I would just keep the conversation going as long as possible and hopefully buy some time.

            “Do you have a name?” I asked.

            “Probably,” he answered. “I couldn’t tell you what it is, though. No one has called me by it for centuries. They always call me by various pseudonyms and titles. After a while, I just forgot what it was.”

            “Oh,” I replied, unsure quite where to take the conversation from here.

            Fortunately, the skeleton, dubbed Roger, came back about that time carrying a pair of glasses and a small ceramic container, which reminded me forcibly of a dog bowl. He handed one glass to the Necromancer, one to me, and placed the bowl on the ground beside me. They were all filled with a strange, glowing, greenish-liquid. The drink in the bowl started getting lapped up as soon as it touched the ground - so much for my companion scouring the place for the pendant.

            I studied the drink, feeling somewhat apprehensive.

            “It isn’t poisoned or drugged or anything,” my host replied.

            “That is okay, pseudo-dragons are immune to poisons,” came my companion’s voice from beside me.

            “Yeah, I know,” the necromancer responded. “I was talking to her – Earthlings aren’t.”

            “How do you know the world I’m from?” I asked. I was growing more than a bit unnerved by his seemingly vast knowledge of me. “And how do you know what my race is and isn’t immune to?”

            He gave a small laugh.

            “My dear young lady, they wouldn’t have appointed me Keeper of the World Pendants, if I didn’t have a pretty good knowledge of the various worlds,” he replied. “I suppose that is what you came here for, after all. Here you go.”

            The necromancer reached into his robes, withdrawing a large golden medallion, featuring a bright blue circular gem situated inside a ring of gold, attached to a thick chain necklace. I recognized it instantly as the one my grandmother used to always wear. He tossed it over to me in a haphazard manner. I caught it, even more confused than before.

            “You’re just giving this to me?” I asked.

            “Of course,” he replied, “Why not? You’re the rightful bearer, chosen by the previous bearer to take over their legacy. Plus, you passed the first test.”

            “What test?” I asked.

            “Finding me,” he answered, “and having the courage to confront me.”

            “But, you haven’t been dangerous at all,” I replied. “What kind of test is that?”

            “A real one,” he said. “Many of the greatest fears people face are in their heads. Being able and willing to face and overcome your own internal fears is the first step to facing the real fears and dangers which confront you the rest of the way.”

            “The rest of the way…” I said, my voice trailing off as the realization dawned that this might only be the first test.

            “My dear, did the seer not talk to you about the many vile forces seeking to throw the worlds out of balance for their own dark schemes?” He asked. “Do you really believe obtaining the pendant and returning to your world will be so easy with such enemies?”

            “I guess, I hoped,” I replied.

He smiled at those words.

            “But what does this pendant have to do with anything?” I pressed. “This is just a simple necklace that my grandmother used to wear. What does it have to do with bringing balance and safety to the worlds?”

            “Each world in our multi-verse of worlds has a pendant associated with it,” he answered. “This world, being the center of all worlds, is the repository from which they are distributed. Within each world, there is one bearer of their pendant, who is tasked with guarding and protecting it.”

            “Your grandmother took on the responsibility when she came to this world ages ago,” he continued. “When she passed away, she willed you to be the next guardian.”

            “Then, why didn’t she just give it to me herself?” I asked. “Why did I get brought into this world?”

            “The pendant must attune itself to the wearer, if it will give them the power of their world,” he said. “While you wear the pendant in your world, you will attract all the blessings, joys and happiness of your world; or else, you will attract all the pain, grief and suffering of your world. It all depends upon you! If you are to unlocked the good and benevolent powers of the pendant, you must learn to attune yourself to it and unlock its secrets. These things can only be done here.”

            “So, what do I do now?”

            “Now?” He asked. “Well, you can finish your drink for one. Then, I would put the pendant on. Afterward, I encourage you to head back to the seer. I expect as you travel there, your next step will be revealed to you. Be open to the power of the pendant and its messages. Do so, and the whole world, and the secrets of all the worlds, will open up to you. Protect it, for dark forces want the medallion for themselves, and will try to prevent your unlocking it.”

            I studied the pendant, twirling it around in my hands. I felt myself reeling from the shock of all I had just heard. I took a sip from my drink as I thought about everything I had gone through. The drink possessed a odd, sweet flavor which reminded me, strangely, of flowers. My mind was too preoccupied to enjoy it, though.

Only ten minutes ago, I had stood at the door, trying to figure out a way to make a dramatic entrance so I could get the pendant. Now, a part of me wished I could make a dramatic exit to get rid of it.

            Yet, the weight of the obligation, and the knowledge of the faith everyone had in me, stayed my hand. I could see the concerned faces of the seer and her people, asking me to help them. I couldn’t let them down. I put the pendant around my neck, placed down my drink, and rose from the chair.

            “Thank you,” I said. “I appreciate your straight-forward answers. You are the only one who has given me any. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll see myself out.”

            With those words, I strode boldly back toward the door and the waiting world beyond. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

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.