Ani-Mind (Short Story – 100 Prompts)

“She’s a lion, definitely. Or no, wait, maybe a jaguar,” whispers Trae under his breath to Mhark next to him. 

“Don’t be stupid, only celebrities and the insanely rich can afford exotic Ani-minds.” 

“I bet she’s a python,” Ash sits on the other side of Mhark and chimes in on their hushed conversation. The three stifle chuckles and try to keep quiet in the back of the conference room.

Despite their whispering, Matilda hears it all. Her reddish brown eyes fix on the three of them. She doesn’t know them by name, they are low level employees from the accounting department, but with one glance she knows everything about them. 

She rambles on with her presentation on their quarterly numbers, able to recite all her stats by heart without looking at the projections behind her, and continues to eye up the three gossipers. Both males wear dark, well tailored suits and white dress shirts, only their ties are a shock of color against their neutral suits. The one on the left has a tie printed with feathers in beautiful orange and red tones. A metallic bird in flight pin adorns one of his lapels. The right hand man has a tie of black feathers with shiny blue-green accents to each of the feathers. His silver tie clip is a large bird silhouette. Birds, they always think they’re better than everyone. 

She turns her attention to the woman who joined in. Her blouse is a gradient of blues, darkening as they flow down towards her waist. A dainty silver necklace hangs at her throat with a blue crystal water drop dangling from it. Just underneath her left eye, a small patch of blue fish scales has been tattooed onto her cheekbone. The scales seem to glow brighter as her face turns scarlet with embarrassment. 

Matilda switches the slide and begins to talk about the upcoming quarter. Her gaze slides over everybody in the room. Each figure in some way proudly displays their Ani-mind; a pocket square with dog bones here, cat whiskers tattooed on plump cheeks there, a wrapped scarf with cartoon bunnies frolicking on another. She thinks about her own outfit today, a modestly cut dress in deep plum with a long gold chain looped several times around her neck. The only other adornment to her outfit is her First Global Bank identification badge hanging on her chest from a longer gold chain. There are no symbols and no patterns which is just as she intended. 

Of course she has an Ani-mind. Everyone does. She just chooses to keep it private. When the technology debuted five years ago, even the founders didn’t know how ingrained it would become in daily life. It was marketed as a way to inhabit the mind of an animal for a short period of time. “A simple escape to a simpler mind,” they touted. Ani-mind was a way to experience the sheer bliss of a dog, the contentment of a cat, the ability to fly as a bird, or swim through beautiful coral reefs as a fish. Practically overnight, they became multi-billionaires. Not only was Ani-mind an escape, it became a lifestyle.

She finishes her presentation and everyone scatters quickly back to their desks. Only after the last person has left does she pick up her plain white mug and make her way to her corner office. Along the way, she overhears several of her employees discussing their dream Ani-mind, if money was no object. The huddled group hush as she gets close, replacing their conversation with a respectful “Ms. King” as she passes with a smile. 

Back at her desk, she opens her mailbox and begins to swipe through the pile of advertising emails she’s received. 

Frolicking Felines – connecting single cats, either in human or feline form. Delete.

Calling all Raccoons! A new study is recruiting now! If your Ani-mind is a raccoon and you’re between 18-28 years old, click here! Delete.

Discount Exotics – Be a lion for an hour at a fraction of the cost! Can’t miss offer!! Delete. 

Matilda wonders about the people who would choose a discount Ani-mind experience. She had seen a report on the news once about those places, the animals are extremely sickly and practically dead which is how they’re able to rent them out so cheap. I guess people do it just to boast that they were a lion once, even if all they did was lay there. 

The rest of her afternoon goes by quickly in a haze of spreadsheets and international phone calls with other branches to discuss the budget cuts she was imposing on them. A headache begins to form at the base of her skull. She leans back from her desk and rubs at it when a small knock sounds on her door. 

“Come in.”

The blonde head of her assistant Christoph pokes through the widening gap. “Hiya Ms. King. It’s 5 o’clock and I’ve finished up for the day. Is it ok if I head home or did you need me to do anything else?”

“That’s all for today, thanks Christoph. Have a good night,” she says with a small smile, glancing at a dog tag glittering from a black cord around his neck.

“You too!” And he leaves with a small wave. 

She decides it’s time for her to head out as well. She shuts down her computer, turns off the lights, and heads down in the crowded elevator, listening to the others talk about meeting up for a flight in an hour. The woman who held the door for her to get on has a single feather tattooed on the inside length of her lower arm in exquisite detail. Matilda can’t help but stare at the skill of the artist who did it. The woman notices her staring and grins.

“Had it done right after my first Ani-mind. I knew I was a bird before I even experienced it.”

“It’s beautiful,” Matilda replies. 

The woman’s eyes scan over Matilda, looking for some clue, and her eyebrows knit together when she finds nothing. Confusion was the typical response Matilda got when people looked her over. People can’t understand why she wouldn’t want to express the love for her Ani-mind. Matilda gives a polite but insincere smile and rushes out of the elevator as soon as the doors open in the lobby. 

Crowds push along the crowded city sidewalk, mostly people in suits rushing home from their office job to meld into the sweet world of their Ani-mind. She crosses the street and takes a path through the park. People line the benches; some are reading, some talking to friends, others have on the thin blue illuminated band wrapped around their head, eyes closed and a smile on their face as a squirrel or a duck or cat runs around nearby. 

Just outside of her building, she runs into one of her neighbors on the street, a ferret on a leash leaping alongside of him. 

“Hey Matty,” he says when he spots her. 

She glares at him. “Ugh, Kevan, you know I hate it when you call me that.” She squats down and pets the light gray ferret and her voices rises in pitch. “Well hello there, Mister Noodles! I’m so sorry you have to deal with him but you’re just so cute!” The ferret wiggles happily under her fingers. She stands back up and they walk into the building, grab their packages from the front desk, and into the elevator side by side. They chat about the weather, work, and finally he brings up the latest episode of “The Tarzan’s,” the latest TV craze about a celebrity family whose Ani-minds are a family of apes. The show alternates between the struggles of human lives and their Ani-mind lives. 

It always hung between them, never allowing them to be more than acquaintances. She could see him almost ask the question about her Ani-mind every time they spoke. She knew it was strange, hiding that side of her, but she couldn’t help it. 

They said their goodbyes as she unlocked her apartment door and stepped inside. Just like her outfit, her apartment shows no sign of her Ani-mind. The decor is minimal and animal free. 

From the moment she left work, she could feel it. That itch, that need to meld into the animal mind. That freedom is such a great release after a hard day. She kicks off her shoes and grabs a glass of water, taking it and her small package with her back into her bedroom. 

Slipping out of her business clothes, she pulls on a pair of comfy stretchy pants and a loose draping t-band shirt faded with age. Her ani-mind halo rests on the seat of a plush gray armchair in the corner of her bedroom. She spins the chair so it’s facing her closet doors. With a gentle tug, she opens both doors of her closet wide, the vast array of neutral and dark colored business clothes swaying lightly. From the middle of the clothes, she pushes them all to the sides and there it sits. 

The glass enclosure takes up the entire back wall of her closet and is two inches deep. The dark sand fills two-thirds of it and a light bar runs along the top of the glass. Tunnels have been carved criss-crossing all throughout the thin enclosure, allowing the white closet wall to show through. Various caverns mark endpoints of some of the tunnels. Moving along everywhere in the massive enclosure, brownish-red ants swarm along. Her eyes scan along the tunnels and caverns, looking for the queen. She spots her in one of the caverns, her size is three times that of the workers that move all around her. 

She runs her fingers along the glass and smiles as the ants move along behind it. She grabs the package and opens it up to reveal the ant food she had purchased online. Off to the left, she opens a hatch and dumps in a handful of the mixture. Then she sets the package on the floor, wraps the Ani-mind halo around her forehead and settles herself into the chair. The wire connected to the halo runs to a small button in her hand. 

She presses the button and the halo lights up blue as she focuses on the ant farm, trying to single out one ant making it’s way through the tunnels. The science behind Ani-mind was explained after it came out, but it never made much sense to Matilda. She knew it had something to do with blocking her sensory receptors and receiving and sending inputs to the animal. All she knew is once she focused on the ant, it takes about five to ten seconds for the room around her to melt away and the dark tunnel to appear around her. She knew from some chemical input that she was following this tunnel to the food her human self had just dropped in and bringing it back to the queen’s larvae. 

Her ant form was given a task, she executed it, and was given another task. That was her role and she loved it. After a day of giving orders and figuring out sophisticated financial issues, this simple task following was the perfect way to unwind. After an hour or so of moving the food from the drop site to the larvae to feed, she pressed the button in her human hand and slowly the bedroom appeared in front of her. 

Matilda’s headache was gone, her shoulders no longer tense, and she felt at peace. Leaving her closet door open, she got up from the chair and stretched, enjoying the calming sensation that flowed through her. She understands why people are so inclined to show off their Ani-minds; dogs, cats, and birds are the most popular, other small household pets right behind them in popularity. But she has never seen anyone broadcasting that their Ani-mind is an insect. It isn’t typical. But ants are strong and they band together with their colony and do incredible things. Why shouldn’t she be proud of her choice?

She pulls a black dress from her closet and drapes it over the back of the chair, preparing her outfit for work the next day. Turning on the TV, she climbs into bed and flips through the channels, trying to find something to watch. “Ani-mind Fails” is always an enjoyable watch, so she leaves on the clip show of people’s first time using Ani-mind. Puppies stumbling down stairs, cats with their tongues stuck out, and birds flapping their wings trying to get even an inch off the ground flit across the screen to a laugh track. After a moment, she hops up and crosses the room to her dresser. She digs through the top drawer until her fingers wrap around the small box she bought so many years ago. 

She lifts the jewelry box lid and pulls out the silver chain. Dangling from the bottom is a polished silver silhouette of an ant. It spins around, catching the light of the lamp next to her bed. She drops it back into the box and sets the box on the chair with her dress for tomorrow. She’s had enough speculation and hiding. Matilda climbs back into bed and turns off the bedside lamp. Her eyes drift from the TV to the massive ant farm in her closet. In the light, she can’t see the individual ants, but can make out their undulating movement in the tunnels. She drifts off to sleep with a slight smile on her face, excited about what tomorrow will bring. 


All short stories in the “100 prompts” tag will be written using the flash fiction prompts list on Eva Deverell’s Creative Writing Blog.  They will all be stand-alone short stories unless otherwise noted. Check out the Story Index for more. 

This story was written using Prompt # 70: A woman who uses her pet as a means to escape reality. 

Book Review – Sadie by Courtney Summers

“You aren’t supposed to answer violence with more violence but sometimes I think violence is the only answer.” – Sadie

sadie-courtney-summers-cover-quote

4.5/5

(Spoiler-free review below)

After the brutal death of her younger sister, Mattie, nineteen year old Sadie sets out on a revenge mission to find and punish the man responsible. The book is told in alternating viewpoints: Sadie on her quest to find her sister’s murderer, and West McCray, a podcaster who is looking into Mattie’s murder and Sadie’s subsequent disappearance a few months later.

Although the premise of this book really intrigued me, I struggled to get into it in the beginning. I would get 10-15 pages in and set it down only to wait a week or two before picking it back up. But once I got past my issues with it, I couldn’t put this book down.

I realized that my main issue getting into the story was the podcast chapters. Taking a sensory rich experience like a podcast, with it’s music, sound effects, and tone of voice, and boiling it down to a transcript lost some of it’s dramatic effect. The podcast chapters helped drive the investigation forward but felt flat to me. It wasn’t until after I finished reading the novel that they released the podcast episodes to stream. (The podcast is called The Girls and is linked below.) Now that they are available, I would love to re-read it and listen to the podcasts instead of reading them. Being able to listen to these chapters while I read is an enriched experience that I’m really looking forward to.

The Girls Podcast

Despite my minor issue with the podcast chapters, I absolutely LOVED this story. The characters were broken and flawed and driven, just how I like my characters to be. I was surprised to find out it’s considered a YA (Young Adult) novel due to some heavy issues that get covered; if you’re looking at this for younger readers, read it yourself first or read some spoilers to decide if it’s right for you.

I received this book as an Advanced Readers Copy from Wednesday Books. Along with the book, they occasionally sent additional promotional material to keep me engaged with the story. I received a sample menu from Ray’s Diner and a few polaroid-esque photos, which made handy bookmarks. These additional promotional materials really helped me sink into the story.

Overall, Sadie is a great read and a well paced mystery novel.

Buy Sadie on Amazon

They Say… (Short Story – 100 Prompts)

“They say this is the boy’s bike…”

It certainly looked old enough to fit the legend. Every inch of the frame was rusted metal and bulky, nothing like the streamlined road bikes which they all straddled. The relic rested haphazardly against a long forgotten wooden fence post that at one time marked the edge of a farm that used to be here. Every ten feet or so, another gnarled wooden post stood, creating an eerie border, cutting through the woods. The six boys dropped their bikes to the forest floor and crowded around the rusted figure.

“Wait, what boy? I thought you said the ghost was an old man?” Sean tugged his backpack off his shoulders and tossed it down next to his bike. 

“It is, newbie,” Lincoln sighed. He stepped in front of the bike, centering himself in front of the group of them. It was obvious from the moment Sean first walked into Timberland Middle School that Lincoln was the leader of the seventh grade. Sean knew if he wanted to fit in, he needed to be friends with Lincoln. “His name was Willard Grady. They say he kidnapped kids and brought them to the river and drowned them.”

“Why?” Ezra had spoken up. Sean was sure this wasn’t the first time the other boys had heard the story, but Lincoln was in showmanship mode and all of them stood enthralled.

“He was crazy.” Lincoln squatted and touched the rusted bike frame reverently. “They say this bike belongs to his last victim. He disappeared the same day as Old Man Grady, nobody knows what happened to either of them; they say their bodies were never found.”

Lincoln stood back up and swung his bag around so it rested on his stomach. He dug in and pulled out a handful of things. “They say Old Man Grady still haunts these woods, ringing an old bicycle bell as he prowls for more kids to drown in the river. Sean, your dare, should you be so brave as to accept, is to walk to the edge of the river, light this candle, and shout out to Old Man Grady that you’re here and not afraid of him.”

Lincoln shoved the items into Sean’s hands: a white pillar candle, a pack of matches, and a flashlight. Sean didn’t relish the thought of walking into unfamiliar woods alone less than a week after moving to a new town, but he wanted to be part of the group, he wanted to show them he wasn’t scared. “Each of you has done this before?”

The five other boys emphatically nodded and added words like “loads of times” but somehow Sean didn’t believe them. “Ok, well how far until the river?”

“Walk for about 10 minutes in that direction and you’ll see it, you can’t miss it.” 

Sean loaded the candle and matches into his bag which he slung back on his shoulders. He stood at the rusted bicycle, hesitant to cross the invisible barrier where the fence used to be. With one last glance over his shoulder at the guys, he took his first step deeper into the forest. 

He told himself not to look back, that looking back was a sign of fear and weakness, but he couldn’t help himself and, after enough time had passed, glanced back to see if they were still there. Although he was far enough away that he couldn’t really tell them apart, he figured the one leaning against a tree was Lincoln with Thomas, Ezra, Nicholas, and Jace all sitting on the forest floor in front of him, the beams of their flashlights waving around madly as they fought with them. Even though it was only dusk, the dense canopy of the forest made it necessary for them to need flashlights. 

He turned away from them, thankful that they hadn’t left him as a cruel prank, and continued deeper into the dark woods. Sean told himself that he was almost thirteen, almost a man, and wasn’t going to be scared of a story. Everything was still and quiet this far in, the only sound is the constant babbling of water from somewhere ahead of him. The flashlight Lincoln had given him wasn’t anywhere near as strong as the one he had at home, it’s beam weakly lighting up a small patch in front of him as he walked. 

A small sigh of relief escaped from his dry lips as his flashlight finally reflected off the moving water ahead of him. He was almost done. At the water’s edge, there were several boulders. He walked up to the largest of the three, it stood about chest high and he placed the candle from his bag on top. Sean twirled the matchbook between his fingers, contemplating his options. He had made it to the river, he could walk back and say he did it. He was far enough away from them that even if he yelled out to the ghost like he was supposed to, they wouldn’t hear him. 

But did he really want to solidify his new friendships with a lie? Before he could think on it too much more, he struck the match and lit the candle. It wasn’t much, but the small flame helped make the forest seem not as dark. This was it. All he had to do was say some words and he could head back to his new friends. He cleared his throat and decided to scream as loud as he could, hoping that Lincoln and the others could hear him. 

“Old Man Grady! Here I am! And I’m not afraid of you!!” It would have felt empowering, if his voice hadn’t cracked in the middle of the word afraid. Was it from fear or puberty? If he thought the forest was quiet before, it was as if all sound had been blocked now. Even the river seemed to quiet down. 

A twig snaps somewhere to his left. He sweeps the beam of the flashlight in the direction, anxiously shining it’s light around searching for the source of the noise. It was a deer, or a rabbit or something, he told himself. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. He had done what he needed to. He blew out the candle and left it where it sat. 

As he turned to head back, his flashlight flickers, briefly engulfing him in the darkness of the forest, before coming back on. Sean never thought he would be so happy to have that weak stream of light. Not wanting to be there any longer than he needed to be, he heads off back out of the forest, faster than he had walked in. 

Brrring! The wind carried the distant noise to his ears, the sound which in any other situation would have been completely normal. But here, in the middle of the woods, the ring of the bicycle bell causes every inch of his skin to form goose bumps. Icy water had replaced his blood and he was colder than he ever thought possible. His chin quivers and he rationalizes that it’s probably just Jace, they said he was a prankster, so he probably added the bit about the bell so he could scare him. Yeah, that was it. 

And yet his feet stomp just a little faster. Something fast breaks through the cylinder of light cast by his flashlight. It took a fraction of a second. Did he imagine that? Maybe. But instinct takes over; his fingers and toes tingle as his body is flooded with the “flight” hormone. Sean takes off running at full speed, barely avoiding trees. 

He can hear his heart pounding, louder than he’s ever heard before. And yet over that deafening noise, there is something else. The sound is unmistakeable. Something is behind him and catching up. 

It’s too risky to turn and look but he has to know. Has to. Would he turn and see Jace red faced and laughing? Or would he see the ghost of a madman? 

He glances over his shoulder and his blood turns to ice again. It’s not Jace. 

But it’s not Old Man Grady either.

The figure chasing after him has the appearance of a boy, younger than him, but not by much. He wears overalls and his skin is sallow and gray. Even though he is keeping pace, his feet never touch the ground. He merely hovers along behind him. His arms are outstretched, reaching for Sean.

A part of him always thought if he did see a ghost, it would be see-through, like a fog. This apparition behind him was scarier. It seemed to have weight to it, as if it could really hurt him. Even though his legs ached with exhaustion, he pushed harder, trying to put distance between himself and the boy. 

Up ahead, the trees thinned and he could see the beams from five flashlights lazily floating around. An unintelligible scream escapes his throat. Part warning, part cry for help. Instantly all five flashlights find him. He can hear them screaming “hurry up!”

He can’t explain it, but Sean knows that if he can get past the old fence post, he’ll be safe. 

A raspy voice right behind him shouts “Run!”

He’s close enough to make out who is who in the dark, he can even see the shape of the fence post. He’s so close, he’s going to make it, he’ll be safe in just a few more seconds.

Before he can reach the invisible boundary, he is pushed to the ground from behind. The wind is knocked out of him and he lays there, gasping, listening to the frantic screams of Lincoln and the others just feet away. 

Cold fingers wrap around his ankles and with a sharp tug, begin to drag him back into the woods. His fingers claw for purchase in the forest floor, but find nothing but loose dirt and twigs. Sean lifts his head to see the five boys gathered next to the post, screaming to him. A sixth boy in overalls stands nearby, watching Sean with sad eyes. Without thinking, he kicks at whatever is holding him, glancing backwards just long enough to see the surprised look on the old man’s face. 

Scrambling on hands and knees, he heads for the fence post. The ghost of the little boy no longer scares him. Instead it waves it’s arms as if to say “yes, this way, come on!” 

Kicking off with his back feet, he reaches an arm out towards Lincoln to pull him to safety but it’s at that moment when Willard Grady’s ghost grasps his ankle again. Sean’s arms wildly reach out for anything to grab ahold of and they grasp the rough metal of the old bike frame. Before he can get dragged in again, Lincoln, Jace, Nicholas, Thomas, and Ezra each grab the other end of the bike. 

With two hard yanks, they manage to free Sean from the ghost’s grip and pull him to their side of the fence. They lay in a pile, breathing raggedly, and watch as Old Man Grady stalks back and forth along the inside of the invisible fence before giving up and heading back into the woods. 

The young boy still stands off to the side, smiling at them. He glances to the rusted bicycle tangled up in their arms. With a wink at them, a bicycle identical to the one they cling to, except without the rust, appears. The young boy hops on and turns to ride off into the woods, with a last brrrrring of his bicycle bell as a goodbye.


All short stories in the “100 prompts” tag will be written using the flash fiction prompts list on Eva Deverell’s Creative Writing Blog.  They will all be stand-alone short stories unless otherwise noted. Check out the Story Index for more. (Image is from: Here)

This story was written using Prompt # 15: Write a story that begins and ends with a bicycle.

They’re Just Like Us (The Finale)

Catch up on the story here


Warmth. Something soft beneath me. A crackling fire. Tripp’s voice nearby, groggy, saying “what… what happened?” A scuffling sound. Cool hands pressing against my arm, my face. “Maggie? Maggie wake up.”

My eyelids are so heavy and I feel so comfy. I don’t want to wake up.

“What did you do to us? Come on, wake up, Maggie!”

The panic in his voice scares me, so I slowly open my eyes. After adjusting to the light, I see Tripp is sitting on the floor next to the worn couch I’m lying on.

After a quick look around, I realize we’re in an old stone house, but not like the one where I first met him. This house has been well tended to and is in perfect condition. The interior walls are still standing here and are adorned with paintings, the floor is polished wood and covered with crocheted rugs, and the stairs leading to the second floor look as solid as the day they were built.

A smokeless fire is burning in the hearth nearby and next to it, rocking in a wooden chair, is the old hag. For the first time that I’ve seen, she is smiling.

“Ah, see there?” she says in a frail, thin voice. “I knew she would wake soon, there was no cause for alarm.”

I sit up as Tripp fusses over me, making sure I’m feeling ok as I do so. 

“You both must have been very determined,” she continues to rock, watching up with a curious expression. “My wards have sent even the strongest hunters running off in the opposite direction, yet you two forced through them and even managed to cross my wall.” 

“What’s a ward?” Tripp asks as he moves to sit next to me on the couch. 

“A repellant spell, to keep people from getting too close to my home. Of course I also have other spells in place: a camouflage spell so the house isn’t visible to anyone who gets near enough, and the defense spell that you both are waking up from.” 

“Who are you?” I ask.

“My family name has been lost to me, but you can call me Patience. I am the Witch of the Woods.”

My head was swimming with questions; trying to sort and prioritize them was almost impossible. Instead of a well thought out question, I blurted out, “How old are you?”

Instead of getting angry, her smile grew even wider. “Old,” was the only answer I got. She turned her attention to Tripp. “I owe you an apology.”

“Me?” Tripp leaned forward, eager to soak in every word Patience said. 

She stopped rocking and slowly got off her chair, taking slow shuffling steps to the mantle above the fire. She pulls down a thin navy blue box. She runs her fingers lovingly across the lid before opening it like a book and sighing heavily. 

She begins to take shuffling steps towards us when Tripp hops off the couch and crosses the distance of the small room. I follow his lead to look at the object in her hand. 

What I thought was a box was actually a portfolio style case for an old tintype photograph. The man in the photo looks to be around his mid-20s and although he is posed stoically, you can see the warmth in his eyes. I look up to see Patience is choked up. I guided her back into her rocking chair, Tripp and I sit on the floor in front of her. 

“My Amos.” It seemed as if even saying his name was painful. “I have lived more lifetimes than I can count and he is the only man I have ever loved. I used my magic to extend his life, but all magic comes with a price. I couldn’t make him immortal as I am, but the spell I did extended his life immensely, but doing so instantly took my youth and vitality and made me into what you see in front of you.”

She closed her eyes, for a few seconds before continuing. “My Amos didn’t care. He loved me no matter how I was. We lived here blissfully, completely disconnected from the world around us for over one hundred years.” 

“He aged over the years, at a much slower pace than he would have without the spell. After enough time, we looked like a proper couple.” A dry chuckle escapes her throat. “Even though we knew it was coming, his passing was too difficult for me.” 

I glance over at Tripp and his gray eyes watch her raptly. 

“Those first days were the hardest of my life. I made the fateful decision one night after crying nonstop for hours.” 

Patience took a slow, steadying breath, but I knew what she was going to say. “You decided to bring him back.”

Her chestnut brown eyes opened and fixed on me, they appeared decades younger than the rest of her. “I did,” she nodded lightly. “A powerful full moon was approaching. At the height of it, I performed the ritual and within minutes he was back with me, just as he was before – except his eyes.” She shifts her glance to Tripp. “We spent the night holding each other and smiling.” 

She points to a shelf on the far wall, “my dear, bring me the doll over there.” I jump up and cross the room. On the shelf is a small, hand sewn doll made of a coarse brown woven material and a blue cotton shirt material. Small gray pearl buttons have been stitched on for the eyes. I never believed in magic before all of this, but holding this doll, it radiated with magic. 

I brought it back to Patience and she cradled it in her lap. “Amos and I spent the next two weeks back in our euphoric state.”

I held my breath, I knew what was coming. 

“But as I said, all magic has a price.” She looked back to the doll in her lap, unable to look at us as she continued to tell her tale. “The new moon came around. A full lunar cycle from the night he passed. As soon as the sun went down…” 

“He changed,” Tripp filled in when she couldn’t bring herself to say it. 

“He wasn’t himself. I had no choice but to-“ 

“You did what you had to,” I chimed in. 

She brought her gaze back up to meet my eyes. “I did. I didn’t know he would change back, I couldn’t leave him like that. So once again I was alone. It wasn’t long after… that when I noticed all the helicopters overhead. I ventured out past my  wall and into the town and saw that my spell had brought more than just Amos back.”

“I wandered the towns gathering information. I learned that everyone who came back ‘changed’ during the new moon but were themselves again the next morning. I should have broken the spell right then but despite the new moon challenge, I saw families reunited. I couldn’t break them up again.”

Patience whispered, barely audible. “I’m so sorry.”

“It wasn’t your decision anymore,” Tripp said. I could only watch, confused, as he reached forward and took the doll from Patience’s lap and stood up. He spun the doll around in his hand, slowly, inspecting every inch of it. 

I stood up as well, thinking he was looking for something on the doll. I stood mesmerized as he twirled it in his strong hands. 

“Maggie…” he began but stopped himself. 

Beside us, Patience worked her way out of the chair and made her way across the room to the small kitchen area, her back to us. I almost thought I heard a sniffle as she walked away. 

I looked up into Tripp’s gray eyes and felt something warm on my face. With one hand, he wiped away the tears that had slipped from my eyes. My body knew what was happening before my mind had caught up but in that instant, I knew what was happening. 

“No. Whatever you’re thinking, just… no.” More tears fell onto my cheeks. 

“I- all of us, we were never supposed to be back. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved having this extra time, but every new moon that comes around…” He wiped away more tears and left his cool hand resting on my shoulder. “It’s not right. We need to go back to wherever we were before.”

“There’s protocols, to keep everyone safe,” my voice is so shaky it doesn’t even sound like me.

“For how long? What if they fail?” But he doesn’t wait for an answer, he leans down and kisses me, his cool lips connecting with mine. 

A sob escapes my throat as he pulls back, he turns towards the fire. “No, wait, please!” I grab at his upper arm, desperate to hold him longer. “Not yet, please. Please.” 

A small cough comes from the kitchen, we both turn and see the old hag pointing out the window, the forest beyond the glass is orange in the setting sun. The new moon is minutes away. 

My breathing is ragged and I pull Tripp into a hug, not wanting to let go. He holds me tighter than he ever has and plants one last cold kiss on my forehead. Still in my arms, he tosses the doll onto the flames next to us. For a heartbeat nothing happens, but then with a flash of green flames, Tripp’s body crumples to the floor. 

I drop down beside him, draped across him, and weep. After several minutes, Patience sits down on the floor beside me. She gently puts a mug of steaming tea into my hands, I sit up and look at her pleadingly. 

“Bring him back.”

“Drink up, Maggie. Everything will be ok.”

The scent coming from the warm mug is floral and herbal and unlike anything I ever smelled before. As I lift the mug, my tears fall from my cheeks and mingle into the tea. With the first sip, my sadness lessens just a little bit. 

Outside in the distance, the futile air raid siren sounds. 

 

Epilogue

In a booth at the Lakeside Grill, I sit with my laptop open in front of me and my notebook open beside it. I scroll through the Undead Reporter website and all the articles that I’ve posted in the six months since The End. I told myself I would honor Tripp’s memory by reporting the whole truth. Thankfully, he had given me the username and password for his site so I used his platform to continue spreading the news. 

I scrolled through the titles of past articles I’ve written: The Witch of the Woods; the CDC Interrogation; the Body Collection; and The Wall Comes Down posted only two days ago.  

I go to the drafts page. The title stares at me in big bold letters: MY GOODBYE. 

The empty field for the body of the post stares back at me. I’ve started and deleted this post so many times. Saying goodbye to his readers feels like a final goodbye to him. Tripp’s dedication to the truth gave me the drive I needed in my own life. In a few days, I start a new job at the area’s number one news station. 

The Undead Reporter helped with that. My posts reporting on everything that happened got world wide attention. I had offers from LA to New York to London. I chose to stay local. My dad being gone again has been really hard on my mom so I wanted to be able to be with her and commute to work. 

I begin to type: Thank you, dear readers, for allowing me to bring you with me on this whirlwind the last few months.

A camera flash to my left breaks my train of thought. I look up to see a plump woman with unnaturally red hair. The stunned look on my face prompts her to take a step closer to my booth.

“I’m so sorry to bother you, it’s just – you’re her, aren’t you? Maggie Kirkland?” Her sweatshirt is a pale pink embroidered with the name of a coastal town I had never heard of, the seashell details obscured by the camera hanging around her neck. 

“Yes, I am. Hi, nice to meet you.” I shake her hand and as quickly as her name comes out of her mouth, I’ve forgotten it. She takes a selfie with me and goes back to her table, chattering excitedly and showing her pictures to the man at the table. 

This kind of interaction is nothing new, since the wall came down, our town has been flooded with tourists. They all have traveled here to see the empty CDC containment centers, the paper mill, the lake, and the woods. But no matter how far they search into the woods, they will never find the stone house that Patience occupied. 

The last time I saw her was that fateful day six months ago. I sipped my tea with Tripp’s lifeless body next to me. She told me the tea wouldn’t take away my pain, but it would make it bearable. She also said she was moving on from these woods, they would never be the same without Amos. She was going to find other woods to call her home. I drifted off to sleep and when I woke up, I was in the middle of the forest with Tripp’s body and both of our backpacks. I used his GPS to send my coordinates to my mom. I waited for hours until the retrieval team showed up. They took Tripp’s body and escorted us both out of the woods. 

When the CDC team took the map and went back to the restricted area, they found nothing but more woods. No stone house, no wall, and no Patience.

I had no evidence for the CDC to back up my story other than a map to nowhere. But with no other explanation, they “unofficially” accepted my story. “Officially” all their reports claim it’s a freak combination of water and soil and bacteria that caused The Rising. 

After the “official” reports were released, hits on The Undead Reporter site skyrocketed. According to all the tourists that have been interviewed, no matter what the CDC says, my truth has become the “official” story of the people. 

Back to my laptop I delete what I had written and begin again. 

Thank you, Tripp, for showing me that the truth-

I hit the backspace key, deleting what I just wrote until all that was left was, “Thank you, Tripp.”

A satisfying feeling passed through me as I pressed the big green “PUBLISH” button on the right hand side of the screen. As I tuck my laptop into my bag, I see a pair of worn converse step up to my table. 

A familiar voice says, “Hi.”

I look up to see Tim standing over me. I only ever saw him sitting down and in a CDC hazmat suit, so seeing him out in the open like this was shocking. He’s muscular, and taller than I would have thought. 

“It’s nice to finally meet you,” he extends his hand and blushes slightly.

I shake his hand, comforted by it’s warmth. “Nice to finally meet you too.” 

He slides into the booth across from me and, without the aid of Patience’s tea, I feel like things might just be ok.