The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

Category: Imaginary Page 1 of 17

Imaginary Adventures

Key-Changed - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

Key-Changed

A college student shows her dorm mate a mysterious cabin in the woods that changes its inside based on what key is inserted.


“Behold! The House of Keys! At least, that’s my working title.”

Jamie waved her hands, parodying an infomercial host, as she revealed the log cabin to Rhonda. They had to hike for about 30 minutes to get there as there was no path for cars, but they did have cell service as Jamie led the way with her phone’s GPS. The cabin was not old, but it was not new either. From the outside, Rhonda assumed the simple wooden structure housed a single room and perhaps a bathroom. The front door’s red-painted background with roses of various colors invoked feelings of love and romance, while the blacked-out windows invoked mystery. The more Rhonda studied the windows, the more she suspected the owner simply painted them black on the inside. 

For the past hour, Rhonda had been trying to get her dorm mate to tell her what she found during her hike, but Jamie was silent. Jamie claimed Rhonda would only believe it if she saw it for herself. Rhonda disagreed and brought up the fact that they were both journalism majors and would trust each other. Jamie replied that “this is some sci-fi shit” and asked her to “bring any kind of key she could, even keys that weren’t technically keys.” Intrigued, Rhonda dropped the book about the history of zines she was reading and gathered anything key-like.

“Now that we’re here, are you going to tell me what the big deal is?” Rhonda asked, being mindful of watching her snark. “This is just an ordinary cabin in the woods. Wait. Did you find a dead body?”

“No,” Jamie replied, enjoying the secret she held. “Weirder.”

“What’s weirder than a dead body?”

Jamie took a deep breath. She reached into her hoodie’s pocket, pulled out her dorm room key, and put it in the keyhole under the white doorknob but stopped before going any further. “Okay, so whatever key you put in here, the inside takes you to a place inspired by that key.”

Jamie pushed open the door, revealing a room with a striking resemblance to their dorm room. Rhonda stepped inside, seeing duplicates of their bed sets, posters, and personal belongings. The place even had the same scent of lavender and coconut oil from their beauty care products.

“How in the world,” Rhonda whispered. “How did you do this?”

“I just used my key on this door. Notice the dimensions inside and outside. They don’t match. Look at the windows. They match like our place, but not with the windows on the cabin.”

Rhonda picked up a duplicate of the book she was reading, which was in the same spot she had left it in her dorm back at the college. “I still don’t believe this.”

“This was just one room,” Jamie informed her. She grabbed Rhonda’s hand and took her back outside, closing the door behind. “Put one of your keys in there. Any key.”

Rhonda noticed a golden metal sign next to the door that welcomed, “Any key will unlock me. Come inside!” The sign explained why Jamie would’ve tried to get inside.

She picked the gate key to the pool she worked at as a lifeguard during the weekends. The lock absorbed the key, making a satisfying click with its magically perfect fit. She turned the knob, revealing an indoor pool. The natatorium room was much bigger than the outside of the cabin.

“No freaking way,” Rhonda said with her jaw dropped.

“Pretty, cool, huh?”

“Yeah. I think I forgive you for wanting to show me this place instead of telling me about it. Does anyone else know about this?”

“You’re the only soul I’ve told,” Jamie answered.

Rhonda surveyed the forest, looking for any signs of people. “I wonder if anyone else has found this place.”

“I do get cell service here,” Jamie announced as she pulled out her phone. “I’ll check and see if there are any geotagged photos or videos.”

Rhonda hovered over Jamie’s shoulder as Jamie pulled up a video of a guy doing a walkthrough of the cabin about 30 minutes ago. In his video, the inside looked like his bedroom. While the tour was still happening, the screen went blank. Jamie tapped on her phone, reloading the social media post, but it was gone.

“That’s weird,” Jamie muttered as she tried to reload the post again.

“You don’t think someone else deleted it,” Rhonda teased.

“Jamie and Rhonda,” an authoritative voice shouted from the woods. “Please exit the cabin.”

Outside the cabin was a team of three people in white and yellow uniforms with design elements from police officers, firefighters, and paramedics. They wore utility belts with an assortment of medical supplies and mechanical tools. Rhonda found their uniforms comforting but a bit odd that they were all wearing silver bracelets.

In front, taking command, was a short black woman with a buzz-cut hairstyle. Behind her was a heavyset man reviewing information on a black tablet device and a tall man with a thick beard holding a white rifle to his side.

“My name is Mists,” the woman introduced with a smile and a wave. “Are you either of you hurt?”

Both Jamie and Rhonda shook their heads and separately answered no.

“Captain, I’m not reading any other humans in the perimeter,” said the heavyset man as he looked at his tablet.

Mists nodded at him and turned back to the college students. “This building is dangerous. Please, come with us.”

“Not so fast,” a seven-foot-tall, golden skin woman interrupted as she charged out from behind the cabin. “I’m tired of you erasing everyone’s memory that finds my key-changed door, especially when I’m trying to spark love and friendship in those that discover it.”

The tall man with a thick beard pointed his rifle at the unknown woman. Mists raised her fist, singling not to fire yet. Jamie and Rhonda remained silent, not sure what was going on or how to react.

“They’re not reading as human,” the heavyset man whispered to Mists. “Not showing up as anything.”

“Stun them,” Mists ordered as she lowered her fist. 

The tall man fired a blue electric beam at the stranger, but it did not phase the woman. He fired a second shot with no results. She laughed as she brushed aside her long, luxurious red hair. 

Mists chucked back. “The stories are true. You must be one of the rumored end-timers.”

“My name is Pulse,” the woman shared like she was on camera. “But you won’t remember that because you’ll be the ones forgetting this event, this time.”

Pulse pulled a black device that resembled a garage door opener from a pocket in her white and red skirt. She pressed the red button, and the silver bracelets the officers wore flashed blue, rendering them unconscious.

“This was not the adventure I had in mind for you two,” Pulse said as she walked up to them. “But I’m sure you won’t forget about this either.”

“I have so many questions,” Jamie blurted out.

“Me too,” Rhonda added. “Like, who are you and who were they, and what is this place?”

Pulse did not respond. She instead knocked four times on the cabin door. The building folded onto itself, leaving only the red door and a frame around it. She opened the door, revealing a purple forest unlike anything on Earth.

“It wouldn’t be an adventure if I told you the answers,” Pulse said as she stepped through the doors. “I will tell you that you should get home before they wake up.”

The moment the door clicked shut, it disappeared in a blink with no fanfare. 


I hope you all enjoyed July’s short story! I’m in Chickasha, Oklahoma working with the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, but I wrote this story in advance.

This story introduces another end-timer, Pulse. Getting close to having all 12 end-timers revealed and featured in stories. I was inspired by the following writing prompt: “There’s a door with a single keyhole – it will open regardless of what key is used. All keys open this door, but what’s on the other side, however, entirely depends on the key.” 

Thank you to Janine De Guzman for bringing the confirmation scene to life.

May your next hike be safe!

Motion Activated - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

Motion Activated

Nathan wakes up to a motion-activated alarm with a video of him several minutes into the future, pounding on the front door.


Nathan could have sworn his smartwatch was set to bedtime mode when it buzzed him awake. He moved his wrist to his face while avoiding waking up his husband. It took several seconds for his eyes to focus and his brain to process the message on his watch: “There is motion at your front door.”

“What is it?” Grayson mumbled, partly awake.

“I’m sure it’s just a cat,” Nathan whispered. “Go back to sleep.”

“Check it, so your imagination doesn’t keep you awake, again.”

“Hey, that story won me an award.”

Grayson rolled over to the side, ignoring him. Nathan reached for his phone on his nightstand, missing it during his first attempt but grabbing it on the second. He opened the notification, bringing up a video feed of himself pounding on the front door. The version of himself in the video wore the same bison t-shirt and pajama pants he had on now. In the video, he ran up to the door, pounded on it, searched through his pockets, and ran off-screen. He watched the video a second time before shaking his husband fully awake.

“What? What?” Grayson said. Nathan shoved the phone in his face, forcing Grayson to watch. Grayson sat up. All he could say was, “What the hell?”

“I know.”

“Hold on, what time is it?”

Nathan looked at his watch. “It’s 2:37 am.”

“Look at the timestamp. It says 2:48.”

“Wait, that’s like 10 minutes from now.”

Nathan tossed off the sheets and walked over to the bedroom window. Dangling from a rope net in their front yard, a man in a white suit with pink accents and a woman in a red dress waved at him when they noticed him peeking outside.

“There are people caught in a net in our tree,” Nathan said in disbelief.

“You’re joking,” Grayson said as he rushed to the window. “No, you’re not.”

“You stay here while I go talk to them,” Nathan said. 

Grayson nodded, grabbing his cellphone just in case while Nathan stepped outside.

“See, I told you that would get him to come outside,” the man in the white suit said to his sibling.

The woman sighed and tossed him a gold coin, which he caught with a smug smile.

“I’m surprised the video we had of him covered in blood didn’t cause him to come outside,” the woman in the red dress remarked as she brushed aside her raven black hair. 

“Okay, what is going on?” Nathan asked. “And who are you, and how did you get…like this?”

“Ah, Nathan!” the man in the white suit greeted with a warm smile like they were old friends. “In the order asked, we’re trying to catch a monster, I’m Loki, and this is Raven, and we didn’t catch the monster.”

Nathan chuckled and starting looking around for cameras. “This is a prank show, isn’t it?”

“No, we’re trying to catch the monster you set free the first time we met,” Raven said without snapping at him.

“The first time we met?” Nathan repeated.

“Yes,” Loki answered. “This is like the….”

“34th time,” Raven added.

“34th time we’ve met,” Loki finished. “We can’t seem to leave until we manually set time back in order.”

Loki rolled his eyes during the word “manually” as things would automatically set themselves in order. Before Nathan could respond, a large crash erupted from his backyard. Nathan thought it sounded like a battery ram smashed through his backdoor. He ran to his front door, as going through would be faster than around. Nathan tried to open the door, but something was blocking it. He pounded on the door, calling out for Grayson. Nathan pushed on the door again, with no luck. He ran back to the two strangers in his tree for answers.

“Seriously, what is going on?” Nathan demanded.

“It sounds like the monster went around back,” Loki said.

“We should set up our motion-activated trap there next time,” Raven said.

“Next time?” Nathan shouted. “What do you mean next time?”

“Once the monster kills someone, we reset to 2:30,” Raven explained.

Grayson’s scream pierced through the walls to the outside.

“Too late,” Loki sang.

Nathan woke up to the buzz of his smartwatch. 


Motion Activated - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

I’ve been mauling over the writing prompt that inspired this story for some time, but when I finally sat down and wrote it, the story came out. The prompt was: “‘There is motion at your front door’ – You groggily awake to the notification on your smartwatch. You check the video on your phone and see yourself frantically trying to open the door. The timestamp reads 2:48 AM. You look at your watch. It’s 2:37 AM.”

Loki and Raven

When I first saw this prompt, I thought it would be perfect for Loki and Raven, which at the time, I got this beautiful piece of artwork done by Janine De Guzman of my characters. Janie is also responsible for this story’s amazing cover art.

The Problematic Shovel - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

The Problematic Shovel

While driving to visit his parents for Mother’s Day weekend, Junfeng finds himself on an alien planet where he is gifted with a shovel with the power to bury any problem or dig up the solution to any problem.


Junfeng took the blood-stained shovel that the alien thrust into his hands. With his car stuck in a sand dune when he was in a forest a moment ago, he felt denying the shovel from the strange purple person – that was the only living being around in sight – would lead to even more trouble.

“What is this for?” Junfeng said without thinking about the words that came out of his mouth.

“I’m surprised that’s your first question,” the person said in English. “I was expecting, ‘Where am I?’ or ‘Who are you?’ Looks like I picked the right person for the job.”

“What job?”

A tentacle erupted from the sand a few steps in front of them. The top half was purple and looked like an octopus, while the bottom half was brown like a spider’s leg. With a panic scream, Junfeng smacked the tentacle, sending it to retreat to the ground.

“Yeah, sorry, those are a problem on this planet. Oh, my name is Modva. I created this shovel with the power to burry any problem or dig up the solution to your problem. Neat, huh? I still have some bugs to work out, but you can beta test those for me.”

Before Junfeng could ask anything, Modva pushed him, causing him to fall backward through a freestanding door. The door slammed shut and disappeared the second it closed. He stood up, dusted himself off, and gathered his bearings. The last of the sun’s rays were settling behind the trees. A familiar, in the sense that was from Earth, car drove past him. 

“Looks like I’m back in Canada,” Junfeng said, reasonably certain he was at the same spot before he wound up on a desert planet. He had only taken his eyes off the road for a second to get a drink of water, and when he looked up, he crashed into a pile of sand. “And I guess my car didn’t make it back with me.”

Junfeng remembered what the person said about the shovel being able to dig up solutions to problems. With nothing to lose, he walked over to a patch of dirt and started digging.

“Maybe I’ll unbury a nice car, like a Tesla or something,” Junfeng mumbled. 

After digging a small hole, a light shined through. The ground rumbled. Junfeng stepped back as a brand new Tesla car drove out from the dirt. He walked around, inspecting the silver vehicle to make sure it was real. He looked back at the hole, and it patched itself up. He put the shovel in the backseat and got in the driver’s seat. The car had a full charge and was ready to drive. He checked the glove compartment, and there was even insurance and title paperwork in his name. He buckled up and shifted the car into drive.

“This is going to impress my parents,” he said, bobbing his head.  

Junfeng was not particularly excited about his weekend visit to his parents for Mother’s Day. While he loved his family, lately, they’ve been increasingly negative about him being a mentalist. Granted, he was barely making ends meet performing a few corporate party gigs here and there, but he was doing more each year.

I know they just want what’s best for me, he reminded himself. Hopefully, this car will show them I’m doing well, but I’m sure they can find something else to critique, like the lack of a girlfriend.

He glanced at the shovel in the backseat.

“I wonder,” he said.

Junfeng pulled over to the side of the quiet road and started to dig.

“Okay, magic shovel, bring me the perfect girlfriend,” he said, feeling a mix of awkwardness and hopefulness for making such a wish.

He was about a foot deep when a hand burst out from the ground like a zombie movie. Junfeng fell backward as a gorgeous woman with long, blond hair emerged. She appeared to be about the same age and height as him. She was unfazed by the chilly May weather with her flora pattern sundress. 

The woman extended her hand out and smiled. “Hello, lover.”

Junfeng took her hand, standing back up. “Hello, there – um, what’s your name?”

The woman thought for a moment. “I don’t have one. I guess you have to choose one for me.”

“Oh, okay,” Junfeng said and thought. “How about Pearl?”

“I love it!” Pearl said, hugging him.

“All right. I think this is going to work. Now, we just need some sort of backstory before we see my parents,” Junfeng said, excited. “I can’t exactly say I dug you up.”

Pearl giggled. “I can’t wait to meet your parents! Where do they live?”

“They’re about an hour north of Vancouver,” Junfeng said. “But we’re almost there. Come inside, and we’ll work on our story.”

“This will be fun,” Pearl said as she got in the passenger seat. She pretended the dashboard was a drum set, drumming her fingers to a beat in her head while Junfeng put the shovel in the back. She stopped when Junfeng got seated. “Okay, so how about this: You saved me by pushing me out of the way from a runaway truck?”

“I think that’s a bit too far-fetched,” Junfeng said. “I was thinking of going with something more grounded like you enjoyed my performance at one of my corporate gigs.”

“I like that,” she said, slapping his leg in excitement. “Let’s say I work in HR too for this company. That’s a good job, right? Of course, it is. Plus, this story allows our story to be more natural and make you look good at being a…”

“A mentalist,” Junfeng finished.

“A mentalist. That’s so awesome, doing what you love. Not many people can say that.”

“I wish my parents would see it that way.”

“Tell me about your parents.”

“Well,” Junfeng started, thinking for a moment on what to share. “My mom, Akina, moved to Vancouver from Japan to be a TV actress. However, she changed careers and became an accountant because she said she wanted something more stable. That’s where slash how she met my dad, Nathan, who owns a movie prop equipment rental company.”

“Do you have any siblings?” Pearl asked as Junfeng pulled into his parents’ driveway of their country home.

“No, it’s just me.”

“Anything else I should know about your family?”

“Not that I can think of, but I’m sure you’ll get to know them over the weekend, and we can always say I didn’t tell you much. I’m sure my parents will be happy to see me with anyone. The bar of expectations for improvements is pretty low at this point.”

“Don’t you worry, Junfeng. I am going to make you look so awesome in your parents’ eyes.”

Junfeng laughed, and his face turned slightly red, thinking, Did I ever tell her my name? Surely I must’ve or shovel magic? He shrugged the thought off, and they both got out of the car. 

Junfeng’s father, Nathan, opened the front door to their modern single-story log cabin home.

“You’re late,” Nathan scoffed.

“Sorry,” Pearl immediately apologized. “It was my fault. We had to go back to my place because I forgot some things.”

Nathan’s grumpy demeanor shifted to forgiveness upon seeing Pearl. “Oh, you brought a lady.”

“Yes, this is Pearl.”

“Hello,” Pearl said with a smile and a wave. “It’s nice to meet you!”

“It’s nice to meet you too,” Nathan said as he opened the door, and Pearl stepped inside. He turned to Junfeng. “You got any bags?”

“Right, yes, I’ll go get those. You go inside. I’ll join you in a moment.”

Nathan nodded and closed the door behind while Junfeng jogged back to the car. He grabbed the shovel out from the backseat and opened the car truck so no one could see him dig up two overnight suitcases. Junfeng shook off the dirt, returned the shovel, and closed the doors. He jogged back up to the front door. With one hand holding the suitcases, he opened the door with the other. He dropped everything the moment he saw his family dangling in the air. 

Pearl held his parents by their necks. Her arms were now tentacles like the kind he saw on the desert planet.

“Hi, there, lover,” Pearl greeted with a smile.

“What the hell?” Junfeng shouted. “What are you doing?”

“I was just telling your parents how wonderful you are,” Pearl explained, keeping a smile.

“No, not like this!”

“Oh,” Pearl mumbled. She squeezed tighter. “I think my way is working. Don’t worry. I’ll be done with them soon.”

Junfeng looked back and forth between his parents and Pearl before coming up with the idea to run outside and grab the shovel. He flung open the door and yanked the shovel out. His car started to move and transform on its own.

“No, no, no, no, no,” he repeated. He looked at his shovel. “Let’s see if I can bury this problem.”

He rammed the shovel into the dirt and flung it at the car as it took a robotic humanoid form. The soil caused the robot to screech, reminding him of the wicked witch getting wet in Wizard of Oz. He tossed another patch at the robot, weakening it more. Several shovels fulls of dirt later, the robot sank into the ground. As much as he wanted to catch his breath, he knew he had his original problem still.

Junfeng dug up one more shovel full of dirt and raced back inside. He tossed the dirt at Pearl, causing her to drop his parents. Pearl’s arms morphed back to their human form. She hissed at him like a vampire hissing at the sun and leaped at him. He ran outside, and she followed.

Before Junfeng could strike the ground with the shovel, Pearl tackled him, tossing the shovel aside as she pinned him down. 

“Why are you trying to stop me?” Pearl demanded with a mix of rage and tears. “I only want what’s best for you.”

“You’re hurting my parents!”

“But they’re hurting you!”

“They’re just worried about me!”

“They’re stifling your dreams.”

“No one is stifling my dreams. The only one who can do that is me.”

Pearl screamed in pain as a pile of dirt hit her back. She fell on top of Junfeng, losing her grip over him. With her weakened, he pushed her off as another pile of dirt landed on her. She cried out as one last shovel full of dirt hit, causing her to sink into the Earth.

Junfeng’s mother, Akina, stood over him with the magical alien gadget in hand. She dropped the shovel, helped her son up, and hugged him. He hugged her back.

“I am so sorry we were so hard on you,” Akina said. “I do not know how, but she showed us one of your performances. You were really, really good.”

“Thank you,” Junfeng said. “Are you okay?”

“I should be asking you that,” Akina said as she let go. She took a moment to admire her son. “Come on. Dinner is ready. I bet you have a story to share.”

Junfeng picked up the shovel. “Hold on. I should bury some suitcases before those come to life too.”


The Problematic Shovel - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

Thank you for reading! This story was inspired by the writing prompt: “You were in your car just a minute ago. Now you’re in the middle of a desert with no sign of life anywhere. Except for that person in a lab coat. They walk up to you and you notice they’re holding a shovel stained with fresh blood. A shiver goes down your spine.”

The person in the lab coat, made me think of my end-timer character, Modva, who I’ve only featured in one story so far. From there, I thought about making this shovel “magical” with the power of burying problems and digging up solutions, with it having issues in vain of the lyre from The Problematic Lyre. I got another story in mind for Modva that I think would be fitting for an October release, so stay tuned for more!

Thank you again to Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle for bringing the opening scene to life! May your Mother’s Day trip remain on Earth.

Dog-Sitting Cerberus - art by Chia Yee Liow at Design Pickle

Dog-Sitting Cerberus

With business to attend on another planet, Hades hires Sally to dog-sit his giant three-headed dog, Cerberus. As Sally takes the dog for a walk in the Underworld, they discover a locked away secret.


Sally Wilkerson wiped her brow with her arm and sighed from having just finished her mopping duties at The Creamatory of Screams. She put the mop in the grungy, yellow plastic bucket and pressed on the level, ringing out the last of the dirt.

Behind the cash register next to the ice cream station, her co-worker, Mark, counted the money. Mark took his time, making sure none of the bills were stuck together, every coin was there, credit card totals matched up, and everything was ready for the next day. Sally had learned not to interrupt because she didn’t want him to start over. She would have to wait to use one of her favorite closing puns like, “How in Hell did we do?” or “Everything good in Hell?” The puns about being in Hell, Michigan made Mark groan or roll his eyes every time, which was part of Sally’s fun. She often forgot that he was sixteen like her. 

As far as tiny towns went, Sally enjoyed living in Hell. She knew all of the locals and the tourists were fun. As she pushed the mop bucket back to its station, a tornado of flames erupted in the store. Mark screamed, knocking over the cash drawer as he ducked behind the counter while Sally stood unfazed.

From the flames, a tall, slender man stepped out. He pinched out a lingering ember of fire on his dark, almost black, purple suit with red pinstripes. He inspected his reflection from the ice cream cabinet, about to adjust his hair, but realized he had taken a form where his hair consisted of a blue flame. He stroked a finger along his grizzled movie star beard with crimson red skin.

“Hiya, Mr. H!” Sally greeted.

Mark stood up, picking up the fallen cash and ignoring their guest. Hades turned to Mark, snapped his fingers, and like magic, all of the money flew back to the register in perfect order.

“Your balance is correct, by the way,” Hades said to Mark as he walked up to Sally. “Sally, I have some business on another planet to deal with, and I need you to dog-sit Cerberus for me while I’m away.”

“Oh, wow,” Sally said. “Well, as you may know, Mr. H, I’m a good dog-sitting, but you’re talking about Cerberus. That’s way out of my qualifications.”

“Isn’t Cerberus like a giant-three dog?” Mark said, recalling what he knew about Greek mythology. “Can’t he handle himself?”

“Just because you’re a badass doesn’t mean you can’t use someone watching over you,” Hades said. “Cerberus just needs someone to play with for a bit while I’m gone. It will be easy for you. Just take him for a walk.”

“Well, if you think I can handle it.”

“Excellent. You start now.”

“Hey, wait!” Mark shouted. “We still need to close up.”

Hades snapped his fingers, and from a flame portal, a brand new XBOX gaming console landed in Mark’s arms.

Mark sat the compensation down. “Have fun dog-sitting!”

Hades twilled his wrist in the air, swirling Sally and himself in a ring of fire that warped them to the Grand Library in Earth’s Underworld. The ornate green walls always made Sally think of the Statue of Liberty. The library held several floors of well-organized books, curious artifacts, and eclectic works of art. Many dogs of every breed popped out from around the brightly lit library upon Hades’ return. With tails wagging, they welcomed them. Sally got down on her knees to pet the smaller dogs while Hades gave casual head scratches to some larger dogs.

With the dogs greeted, Hades whistled. “Cerberus! You have company.”

From around a corner, a black dog the size and strength of a tank popped his three heads out. The dog walked over gently as not to cause any books to shake off the shelves. Cerberus’ middle head licked Hades’ head, temporarily putting out the blue flame hair. Hades laughed and rubbed underneath the dog’s chin.

“You be a good boy for Sally,” Hades said in a warm but stern tone. “She’s going to keep you company for a few hours while I repair things.” 

Cerberus barked in acknowledgment.

Hades turned to Sally. “I’ll send someone to relieve you in a few hours. Make sure he doesn’t eat anyone he isn’t supposed to eat.”

In his flames, Hades vanished, leaving Sally hanging with questions.

Sally looked up at Cerberus into his large, red eyes. “So, do you want to go for a walkies?”

Cerberus barked and lowed his heads.

“I am I supposed to ride you?”

Cerberus wagged his tail.

Sally shrugged. “Okay, I guess I’m going to ride Cerberus.”

With the helping nudges of the other heads, Sally got up on Cerberus. The moment she got into position, Cerberus ran, causing some books to fall off the shelves. She gripped the red collar like she was holding on to the bar of a wild rollercoaster as they raced out of the library, bursting through a large double swigging wooden door and out into a cave.

It took a moment, but Sally acclimated herself to the ride. Several ghostly white transparent butterflies the size of her head crossed their path. Cerberus changed course and chased after the butterflies until they faded away. Sally laughed and petted the center head. Cerberus continued walking along a glowing green river. Sally took in the sights of the luminous green crystals and plants adoring the dusty red cave. The place smelled like an underground forest to Sally, which she wasn’t expecting, but appreciated.

As they continued down the river, Sally could no longer see the library. She was a bit concerned but also figured Cerberus knew the way back. A gentle harp melody snuck into her ears, bringing a feeling of sadness as she listened to the song.

“Where is that music coming from?” Sally said. Cerberus barked. “Can you find that sound?”

Cerberus run in the direction of the sound. As the music got louder, the cave got darker and smaller until they came to a pair of bronze doors. While the doors were huge compared to Sally, they were only the size of one of Cerberus’ heads. Cerberus pawed at the door and whimpered.

“I’ll go check it out,” Sally offered. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

Cerberus lowered his heads, and Sally slid off. With a big push, she opened the door to a dome-like room. The glowing blue flames from the torches revealed piles and piles of musical instruments. Some she recognized, but many she didn’t. Sally stepped deeper into the room, and the music stopped.

“A visitor?” a voice called out, echoing in the room.

“I’m sorry,” Sally apologized as she searched for the person. “I was just following a beautiful song.”

“You have nothing to apologize for, Sally,” the voice replied.

“You know my name?”

“Of course. I know everything about you, including your future.”

“You do? Where are you?”

“In the center. I’m the giant four-string harp.”

Sally found the golden harp. It was three times her size. As the harp played, each one of its strings lit up as a different color. Sally’s jaw dropped in awe of its splendor. 

“I would love if you played with me,” the harp invited. “It would set me free with joy.”

Meanwhile, at the Underworld of the Green Planet, an animated skeleton of a lion that stood upright on his two feet gave Hades an update on rebuilding efforts.

“The rollercoaster is almost complete,” the skeleton lion explained over a 3D holographic map of the Underworld. “We’re still missing one of the carts for it.”

“I have someone retrieving that as well as the other items left on the surface,” Hades answered.

“Good. Once we get everything, it will be like this place never crashed on the surface.”

Twirling around in her green dress, Persephone skipped up to Hades. She rested her head on his shoulder like she was his second head.

“Is the rollercoaster fixed yet?” Persephone asked.

“We’re still putting it back together,” the lion skeleton answered.

“Sad,” Persephone said as she slumped away.

“Persephone,” Hades spoke with a gentle tone. “Would you kindly head to Earth and watch over the Underworld there? I have Sally dog-sitting Cerberus while we’re here.”

Persephone jumped into the air and started clapping. “That’s wonderful! I’m so excited to hear Apollo’s music again finally. It’s been so, so long.”

Hades laughed. “What are you talking about, Persephone? We have him locked away when he went mad after the Atlanteans left Earth.”

Persephone slouched to stop. “Oh. I thought you were finally letting him free.”

“No…Why would you think that?”

“Don’t you remember his prophecy?”

“Apollo was constantly spatting doomsday prophecies. That’s why we tricked him into transforming into a harp and locked him up.”

“I remember the one he said to you and bothers after you chained him up. It was so beautiful the way he sang it.” To the tune of a children’s melody, Persephone danced and sang, “The ice cream girl from Hell touched by the end-timers will set me free.”

The flame of Hades hair mellowed. “Oh, heavens.”

Sally approached the harp without any hesitation. She plucked a sting, filling the entire room with its note. The harp shimmered brighter and brighter, forcing Sally to shield her eyes with her arm until the light subdued. With the light gone, she saw in place of the harp a man with radiant golden skin. He shook his head, causing his long, curly brown hair to dip down to his knees.

Hades kicked down the door. Sally flinched to the sound of the door crashing into the instruments.

“Apollo!” Hades said with his fists clenched. 

“Uncle Hades,” Apollo greeted with warmth. “It’s so good to see you!”

“Wait, what’s going on?” Sally interrupted.

“Sally, go to Cerberus,” Hades said.

“Why?” Sally said. “This is Apollo. What’s he doing here?”

“I became overwhelmed with visions of the future,” Apollo explained as he walked toward Hades. “Then, Dionysus got me drunk, while Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades here locked me away here.”

“You were ranting non-stop about the destruction of a universe, someone collecting demigods, and I can’t remember what other nonsense,” Hades said, getting in front of Apollo. “You also became insistent on making sure those doomsdays would happen.”

“Not that they needed my guidance,” Apollo scoffed. “According to my original calculations, shouldn’t the universe have cracked?”

“It did, but it was resolved and turned out to be no big deal,” Hades said.

“Okay, time-out! Time-out,” Sally shouted like she was babysitting some fighting siblings.

Both Hades and Apollo looked at Sally.

Sally pointed at the ground. “Sit. Both of you.”

Hades crossed his arms. “I’m not going to sit.”

Apollo smirked. “I didn’t need to look into the future to see that coming.”

“Look,” Sally started, “I don’t know what happened back then, but Apollo hasn’t been ranting about the future since I’ve been here.”

“That is true,” Hades mumbled.

“Without as many followers believing in me, I suppose my powers have weakened over the years,” Apollo said. 

Sally put her hands on her hips. “Well, it sounds like you all just need to talk it out now. Just don’t resort to locking people up or having their liver pecked out or whatever you all did in the past.”

Apollo sighed. “I guess I didn’t leave you many options back then.”

“Oh, Zeus had many options for dealing with you back then, but this one seemed the least sadistic.”

Apollo laughed. “How is my father nowadays?”

“He’s still an ass, but he’s matured.”

“I guess I should pay him a visit.”

“You should. I do know Persephone wants to see you again.”

“Oh really? Maybe I can join you for game night?”

“Haha, no. I still remember what you cheat you are.”

“Surely you got some games I can’t cheat,”

As the two walked out of the room, Sally picked up a neon purple electric guitar. She pretended to play it as she walked back to Cerberus.


Dog-Sitting Cerberus - art by Chia Yee Liow at Design Pickle

This short story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “As you may know, Mr. H, I have had a good experience as a professional dog sitter but clearly this is a task too monumental to take on. I mean this is Cerberus we’re talking about!”

When I saw this prompt, I pictured Sally from #TwinCities. This story takes place after their original meeting, so if you enjoy this adventure, be such to check out the first one.

Thank you to Chia Yee Liow at Design Pickle for bringing this scene to life. The butterflies Chia drew I incorporated into the story.

Thank you for reading this story!

You Have 2 Unread Prophecies - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

You Have 2 Unread Prophecies

After getting off the San Francisco trolly, a young woman receives a notification on her phone about two unread prophecies. When the first one comes true, her curiosity compiles her to investigate the second one, despite its danger. 


Claudia could not think of a single previous instance of when she took the San Francisco trolly with practically no other riders. It was just her and another woman with red hair like herself the whole ride home. It was nice at first, but as no one else boarded, the entire trip began to feel like a bad omen. Where is everyone? Is there a big event going on? Did something terrible happen? She could feel the whole trolly getting wider and bigger with each passing moment while the other passenger was jamming out to tunes on her headphones.

When Claudia’s stop finally arrived, she bolted out, nearly tripping on the steps on her way out. She could feel her face light up on fire with embarrassment, but the driver didn’t seem to notice as they said nothing and carried forward.

“What was that all about, Claudia?” she said to herself. “Come on, now.”

Claudia spent her first minute of freedom letting the world resize back to normal. She focused on her breathing and then listened to the sounds of the city. Feeling composed, it dawned on her that she hadn’t looked at her phone since leaving the coffee shop. She pulled it out from her laptop bag.

On the phone was a notification: “You have two unread prophecies.”

Claudia re-read the notification three times to make sure her eyes weren’t deceiving her. She thought it might’ve been something from one of her games getting her attention, but none of those had anything to do with prophecies. She tapped the banner, which brought her to her text messages.

The first message warned: “Watch out for the firebird.”

Claudia scratched her head. “There’s no such thing as a firebird.”

Curious, she scrolled down to the following message, which warned, “A woman in a black dress with a matching briefcase and a pink scarf will get off the next bus. A man in a brown suit and a brown briefcase will follow her and kill her.”

“That’s specifically odd,” Claudia said as she put her phone back in her bag. She then corrected herself. “Or oddly specific, but totally fake still.”

As she snapped her bag close, a pair of car headlights blasted her eyes. She looked up to a red convertible with a flaming bird painted on it swerve in her direction on the sidewalk. She leaped out of the way, avoiding the car. It continued to weave down the hill and around a corner.

“Idiot,” she grumbled. She paused, remembering the warning. “But there was a firebird on it.”

Claudia pulled out her phone again and re-read the second message. Consumed with curiosity, she decided to cross the street, placing her opposite of the bus stop, and waited.

She scrolled through her Instagram feed, catching up with news from her favorite local businesses and friends. There weren’t any major or terrible events she saw that would’ve warranted the trolley’s lack of people. I guess I didn’t miss out on anything, she thought. While scrolling, she kept an eye out for the bus after every few posts. The sun was almost gone, and the night was starting to take over.

She wasn’t sure what she would do if the message was true. She figured if she followed the woman, the man wouldn’t make a move on her with someone else present.

Safety in numbers, she remembered her parents drilling in her head.

As Claudia read a post about the Museum of Ice Cream, the bus approached the stop. She kept her phone out, pretending to be on it as the bus let out passengers. When the bus drove away, it revealed an Asian woman in a black dress with a pink scarf, holding a black briefcase as she walked up a flight of steps with a Caucasian man in a brown suit and briefcase following her. 

Claudia’s jaw dropped. “Well, fuck.”

Claudia looked both ways before jogging across the street, following the two up the stairs. The unassuming and easily missed concrete staircase provided a passage to the Ashbury Heights neighborhood and also provided some scenic views of the city. The woman continued up the street, walking along the sidewalk with the man not too far behind and Claudia not far behind him either. She caught strong gusts of the man’s tobacco and oak scented cologne that almost made her gag. She thought for a moment that her reaction would’ve drawn too much attention, but both strangers marched forward like they were eager to get home after a long day.

They walked past a dozen houses to a turn in the road, revealing the tiny thousand square-foot park, Mount Olympus. Claudia remembered one of her friends telling her this place was once considered the city’s geographical center. With a name like Mount Olympus, her first and only visited shattered Claudia’s grandiose expectations with disappointment. There was just an empty pedestal for a lost statue, and any views of the city were obstructed by trees and condominiums. Nothing had changed since her last visit with the expectation of maybe that there were even fewer viewing spots of the city.

Claudia kept back as the woman walked up the stairs to the top by the pedestal and waited. The man joined her.

“Cats are dangerous creatures,” the woman said to the man.

“Not as dangerous as birds,” the man replied. 

“You have the item?” the woman asked.

The man tapped on his briefcase. “I thought it would only be fitting to sell The Ring of Olympus here.”

The two exchanged briefcases. While the woman looked inside the briefcase given to her, the man reached inside the side of his jacket.

Thinking she saw a holster for a gun, she shouted, “He has a gun!”

The woman looked up at the man and immediately swung the briefcase at his face, knocking him out. As he hit the ground, a gun slid across the concrete. The woman walked over and kicked the weapon even more out of reach.

The woman looked down at Claudia. “Thanks for the warning. Are you okay?”

“I feel like I should be asking you that,” Claudia replied as she revealed herself.

The woman laughed as she walked down the stairs. “It’s my job to protect people.”

The woman extended her hand out. Claudia studied the friendly gesture for a moment before shaking her hand. The woman’s silver bracelet flashed a calm, blue light, rendering Claudia unconscious. The woman grabbed and gently laid Claudia down. She seized Claudia’s phone and tapped the screen with her bracelet, unlocking it. She went straight to the messages, finding the prophecies.

The woman held two fingers on her bracelet and spoke into it, “Hey, I got a situation of another innocent human getting one of those ‘prophecies’ to our operations. We really need to figure out who is sending these messages to people.”

From the balcony of a condominium across from the park, the redhead woman on the trolly with Claudia earlier spun and danced with a gigantic grin plastered across her face. She paused, leaning on the steel balcony rail as she watched backup arrive for the agent. Her grin grew even wider.

“Looks like you hit a nerve, Veritas,” she praised herself as she spun around to her freestanding door.

Veritas opened the fiery-orange door, revealing the aftermath of the first prophecy text message she sent to a person in Hoquiam, Washington. She closed and opened the door, rewatching the scene of her prophecy text in Augusta, Maine. She closed and opened her door several times, rewatching the endings of all of her escapades. She took a long look at the one in Atlanta, Georgia. When she closed the door, her smile snapped straight.

Veritas pulled out a tablet from the air. “I think it’s time to conclude this quest and force those secret keepers to reveal their truth.”


You Have 2 Unread Prophecies - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

For this short story, I wanted to expand on the mystery of, “You have 1 unread prophecy.” No prompt inspiration this time. I chose to write about San Francisco because I was thinking about Oklahoma City’s streetcars and then thought about the trolly system there. I looked around Google maps, learning about Mount Olympus, and thought that would be an interesting focal point.

For this story, I wanted to show the same thing happening to another person, but when I finished the first draft, I felt like it was basically an alternative version with nothing new. I thought it over and decided to use this story to reveal the person behind the prophecy message: the end-timer, Veritas. As I hinted in the story, Veritas is obsessed with the truth. She never tells a lie and believes the universe’s lies and secrets brought its downfall. 

The ending does set up for a third and final text prophecy story. I don’t have any ideas for it yet, but it will involve three unread prophecies. 😉

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