The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

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I’ll never walk Sutton Wilderness in the dark again - art by Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle

I’ll Never Walk Sutton Wilderness in the Dark Again

This is the story of why I’ll never walk Sutton Wilderness in the dark again.



The sun wouldn’t rise for another hour when I leashed up my dog for our walk. You see, my wife and I started going to the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Last week, our trainer wanted us to add cardio to our routine, so Tuesdays and Thursdays became our cardio days. Our gym was small, and with only one treadmill working at the moment, I opted to get my exercise later in the day via a hike through the nearby urban wilderness. I figured this would also be an excellent opportunity to walk our dog, Penny. 

Fall showed no signs of coming early to Oklahoma as we stepped outside to the 75-degree heat. With all of the lakes and the Gulf Stream, Oklahoma can get unbearably humid. On Tuesday, when I did the walk at 10 am, I felt sweaty enough to want to take a second shower from a 40-minute hike, so this was much better. Today, I opted to start at 6 am before I’d shower and match my wife’s time at the gym.

Despite the dark, there were several cars parked in the lot for Sutton Wilderness. 

“Goes to show that the Sutton Goatman isn’t real,” I joked.

I had heard of the urban legend about a Goatman stalking the woods at night, but that was the extent of my knowledge until I listened to a local podcast that went more in-depth. The host described the story as one that echoed other Goatman stories across the nation. His research compared the sightings of woodland monsters, like bigfoot, through a cultural lens, with people from British backgrounds familiar with apemen, werewolves from Germanic history, and the goatmen from the Dutch. Similar to other Goatman stories, this creature existed near a hospital, or in the case of Sutton Wilderness, a psychiatric ward.

The urban wilderness was once grounds for the Griffon Memorial Hospital, an old central state mental hospital. As the hospital shrunk, the state turned the landscape into the park people enjoy today. According to urban legends, the hospital found a baby deformed with horns to the point they thought the child was a goat at first. The hospital cared for the baby, and as the child grew up and the landscape changed, the child decided to stay here.

The podcast host noted that this would put the Goatman well over 70 years old and said that some people believe the spirit of the Goatman is what haunts the woods. Regardless of the form, the legend warns that people will hear footsteps made by hooves coming from behind them. If a person walked faster or slower, the steps would match their pace until one would feel hot breath on their neck, by which time, you were too late. If you turned around, the Goatman would grab you and drag you deep into the woods–never to be seen again.

The main trail for the park was about a mile and a half long, with the two main entrances looping back at a wooden pavilion. We took the path to our right. Although it was dark, and I could barely see with all of the tree coverage, I was more concerned about my dog eating something she shouldn’t than anything else. The city had widened the trails a couple of years ago to give people more space when crossing each other and reduce the tick population.

My dog stopped. Her ears perked up and turned to the south toward the rhythmic beat of drums off in the distance. 

I tugged on her leash and assured her, “It’s just the high school band practicing, Penny.”

I was over a third of the way on the trail before I encountered my first person. They appeared to be an older gentleman–hard to say with the blue disposable face mask, long sleeve shirt, pants, and fisher hat they wore. I nodded my head hello, and they walked past without saying a word.

When we got to the long straight path near the pond, something behind us caught my dog’s attention. I turned around, and there was a white light floating through the bushes, moving fast along the trail and getting closer. I’m ashamed to admit that my brain took a long moment before realizing this was a headlight from a bike. In my defense, bicycles were not allowed on the trails. I pulled Penny closer to me as we moved to the side and let them pass.

Penny and I came to the final stretch of the woods, which had the thickest tree coverage. Penny’s tail curled inward as she got closer to my side. An educational sign about life in the woods highlighted the various animals one could find, such as bark beetles, ornate box turtles, cedar waxwings, bobcats, eastern wood rats, and downy woodpeckers. Back away from the sign was a hut made out of fallen tree branches. I always viewed this “fairy house” as something fun for kids to explore, but not today.

There were pieces of the bike I saw earlier scattered on the ground. The bike looked like it had been mangled by some machine as no person or creature could do that kind of damage. I turned on my phone’s flashlight. While I stayed put on the paved trail, I used the light to follow the bike pieces to the hut.

Something moved inside. I cut away the shadows with my light and revealed a pair of green eyes reflecting at me.

I ran, and so did Penny. I was struggling to keep up with her, but I had her on the leash still. Behind us, I heard what sounded like hooves matching my pace on the paved trail. I dared not to look back.

The sun was rising as we made our escape out of the woods and back to the gazebo. With the sound of hooves gone and no warm breath on my neck, I stopped to catch my breath. Staying behind in the trees was someone about my height. I thought I saw horns like a goat, but as I tried to get a good look at them, they faded into the shadows.


I’ll never walk Sutton Wilderness in the dark again - art by Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle

This short story was inspired by an actual walk I had through Sutton Wilderness one morning. My muse spoke to me along the walk and I recorded several voice-to-text memos of the scenes for this story as I walked my dog. Bits like the drums, the person in the mask walking, and the cyclist happened to me, adding to the realism of the story.

The podcast referenced in the story was from the Tales Unveiled episode, The Wilderness of Sutton. (I also produce this show and voice Sam.) The goatman legend is one of the urban legends about the area, so if you want to know more about this myth and others, give the episode a listen.

While I first published the story to my supporters on Patreon, I did share this on r/NoSleep where the work got some great feedback and traction. I had a few people reach out to me asking if they could read the story on their channel, so I’m excited about that experience. I’ll update this page with those links as I get them. (Find them at the top.)

Thank you to Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle for creating the story art based on my photo. Love the woods scene? You can get Spooky Sutton Wilderness design in my store.

Thank you for reading!

The Winged Letter - art by Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle

The Winged Letter

With a pounding headache, Samantha wakes up in her New York City apartment unable to recall yesterday. As she tries to piece her memory together, a paper airplane flies into her studio apartment on the 15th-floor. Written on the wings in red capital letters were the words “open me.”


Beat. Beat. Beat. My head pounded with rage and ominous warnings, like The Master beating on a drum as he taunted The Doctor of his pending demise. I’ve never experienced a hangover before, but what I felt was what I imagined a hangover would feel. My brain took a few moments before reminding me that I don’t drink, and I didn’t go anywhere wild last night.

“What did I do last night?” I grumbled as I tossed off my white comforter. “And why am I in a purple dress? I don’t own a purple dress.”

Surely my phone would have answers. I climbed down the ladder of my twin-sized bed. My New York City apartment was only 342 square feet big, so wherever I left my phone, I wouldn’t have to look long. Fortunately, my iPhone was where it belonged on the charger on my desk under the bed.

I opened my messages—nothing from yesterday. I checked my calendar as I couldn’t remember anything about yesterday, but the calendar was blank. I checked my Instagram. No one tagged in any photos, nor did I post anything. Running out of apps to inspect, I opened my photos. One image unfamiliar to me was a woman standing behind a microphone, holding a book as she read aloud a passage. She reminded me of Gal Gadot, but with silver hair and the same purple dress on me. She even had leather arm bracers that matched her dress, further adding to my Wonder Woman comparison. 

A cold breeze brushed on my skin. My only window was open. As I walked over to end the chill, a paper airplane flew into my 15th-floor apartment. The plane landed perfectly on my desk like someone used telekinesis for precise placement. I looked out the window to see who could’ve sent it, but there were just brick walls. 

Written on the plane’s wings in red capital letters were the words, “OPEN ME.” The Scully voice of my brain told me this all had to be a hoax, while the Mulder’s voice told me to embrace this mystery.

Inside, the letter read, “Sorry I had to erase your memory. You caught me reading an excerpt from your future novel you hadn’t conceived yet, and the universe can’t have that now. Happy writing! Love, Brigit.”

I read the letter two more times. All I could muster as a response was a, “What?”

My mind drifted back to that photo I took last night. With the letter still in hand, I reopened the picture. I zoomed in on the book, seeing the title and author.

“The Winged Letter by Samantha Vincent.”

“No way,” I uttered. “No. Freakin’. Way.”

I pulled up the GPS information on the picture, which tagged a new coffee shop I hadn’t heard of before. As tempted as I was to leave right then and there, race to the coffee shop, show the staff the photo, and demand answers, my adult voice reminded me of my obligations. With a heavy sigh, I checked my email to see if my clients had any notes for me about the stories and articles I had written for them. I cracked open my laptop—no new mail. I hit refresh, and still, no new mail, which meant…

I’m going on an adventure, my inner Bilbo Baggins screamed.

I flipped out the dress, trading it out for white jeans and a red sweater. I then went to the bathroom and got myself ready for an epic quest as I listened to my favorite movie soundtracks. I had to know what happened last night, who this woman was, and how she got a book I hadn’t written yet. Before I left, I folded the mystery dress and put it in my messenger bag. I figured if I crossed paths with her, she might want the dress back.

“Let’s solve the mystery of my night,” I said, my voice shaking more than I would admit as I opened my apartment door to the real world.

On the subway ride to The Violet Raven, I rummaged through my messenger bag. I was hoping to find a business card, a phone number written down on a napkin, or a hotel matchbook like in those black and white detective noir movies to give me another clue. While I didn’t find any of those exact items, I did find a postcard flyer for a themed open mic session at The Violet Raven with yesterday’s date. The topic was “the future,” which I assumed caught my attention and explained why I went to this coffee shop for the first time.

As I returned the flyer, the subway car became wrapped in darkness. There were no emergency lights – not even a glow from people’s cellphones. I could hear the subway rolling along on the tracks, but nothing else. I fumbled through my pockets, trying to find my phone, when the light swept back, but the people did not return.

A ghostly figure with no legs and a skeleton body floated on the far end of the car. Their black-feathered robe moved to a wind that didn’t exist. The skull stared at me while my jaw dropped, unable to speak. Fear and intrigue paralyzed me as the apparition raised all four of their hands to point at me.

“Answer the call,” a voice whispered into my head.

Darkness swept over the car again, but this time the void only lasted for a brief moment and returned all the passengers. Everyone was passing the time with their books or cellphones with no expressions of panic or any indication they knew of their disappearance.

The subway train came to a stop. Although I was a few stops away from my destination, I bolted out and up to the surface. What the hell was that? I thought as the cool, October air calmed me down.

A colorful banner promoting a technicolor quilt exhibition provided a happy distraction until the phone booth ringed. I pulled up walking directions to The Violet Raven and continued my journey on foot. As I walked down the street, another phone booth ringed. I ignored the rings and went on. When the fifth one rang, I decided to answer.

I held the phone to my ear, listening for a moment before I said, “Hello?”

“Mocha with a triple shot of pepperoni,” the crackling voice on the other end spoke.

“Excuse me?”

“Mocha with a triple shot of pepperoni,” the voice repeated.

I hung up the phone. The click on the receiver triggered the skyscraper business complex to shimmer away, like a holographic façade hiding the real identity of a dilapidated three-story brick house. I looked at the people on the street. No one was paying any attention to the creepy house that suddenly appeared. I felt like I was the only one who could see the monstrosity.

“Why is this happening to me?” I asked the universe.

The universe did not respond.

I ran down the street, looking back from time to time as the business complex returned as I got further away. I turned the corner and realized I was almost to my destination.

Upon entering the boutique coffee shop, scents of lavender and fresh ground coffee greeted me, while the first thing that caught my eyes was the balcony. I felt like I stepped into a mini-opera house. I’d never seen a coffee shop or any business for that matter with that kind of layers of seating.

I pulled out my cellphone and brought up the photo. In the back center was a raised platform for a stage, and the flora wallpaper matched the one in my picture. The only difference now was a table and chairs on the stage instead of a microphone.

“Welcome to The Violet Raven! My name is Don. What’s yours?”

I was taken a bit back by his cheerful demeanor. Most places I visited were more straightforward. 

“My name is Samantha.”

“Nice to meet you, Samantha. What can I get started for you?”

“I’m actually trying to find somebody from last night’s open mic.”

“You’re in luck. I happened to work last night.”

Yes! I thought as I performed a quick lucky dance in my head, and then I showed him the photo. “Do you know this person?”

“I’m afraid I can’t say,” he replied with slight hesitation. “Perhaps you would like to order something while you’re here?”

I sighed, but then I started to feel like Don was in on whatever was happening to me. I decided to put my theory to the test.

“I would like a mocha with a triple shot of pepperoni,” I said with confidence.

“Right this way,” Don said, leaving the counter. “Brigit is waiting for you.”

Don led the way to a door with “Staff Only” written in red lettering like my paper plane. Inside, the office walls consisted of shelves of books from the floor to the ceiling. As valuable as each square foot of real estate was here, the massive office felt like a show of power as a private room. Behind a standing desk stood the woman from my photo, dressed in the same iconic outfit. Don closed the door, leaving me alone with the stranger and her library of books and a single, tiny aloe vera on the desk.

I pulled out and placed the purple dress I presumed she loaned me on her desk. She looked at the outfit and then at me.

“You found me rather fast,” Brigit said as she crossed her arms and glared at me as if I cheated on a test. “I take it you didn’t go inside the haunted house?”

“Wait. You knew about that?” I accused her. “How? What is going on?”

“We met last night at the open mic. You confided in me that you wanted to write an urban fantasy novel, but you lacked inspiration. I had you take my photo, made you forget about last night, and set up this whole adventure for you.”

“Then what about the book from the future?” I asked.

Brigit grabbed the book from her shelf and spread open the empty pages. “Just a prop.”

While I thought of my next question, Don knocked twice and opened the door. “Hey, boss. Something bizarre just happened.”

Brigit waved him in. “What happened?”

“I was about to clean table 14 when this purple crack appeared on the table and sucked away the dishes,” Don said with a tremble like he wasn’t sure his boss would believe him.

Brigit pulled on a bookshelf, revealing several TVs and a state-of-the-art security system. She tapped the rewind button, and we watched as a porcelain skin woman with long black hair finished her meal. The customer left a cash tip and walked away. Shortly after she was out of frame, a purple, glowing crack sprouted on the table and sucked away all of the dishes as Don described. The crack closed, leaving no trace. Brigit returned the camera feed to the present time.

“Is this part of your inspiration for me?” I inquired.

“No, this is something else,” Brigit replied, and I believed her.

“Look!” Don shouted, pointing at the screen. “The crack is back.”

The crack reappeared, but this time a red left plant crawled out of the portal. The crack disappeared while the plant remained. I thought the plant looked like a cross between a dog and a Venus flytrap. I wasn’t too keen on petting this creature. 

“What is that?” Don asked, fascinated and disgusted.

“That’s a Lunar Iamx,” Brigit spoke with a slow dread. “They’re a sentient plant species from another planet, which means they’ll be here soon.”

“Who will be here?” I asked.

On the TV showing the entrance, a team of three people in white and yellow uniforms stepped inside. Their uniforms didn’t look like they belonged to any organization I knew, but Brigit waved her finger at the screen as if she knew.

“That was too fast,” Brigit said. “They must’ve already been in the area. Don, grab the plant and do whatever they tell you to do. Samantha, come with me.”

Don did as Brigit told him while I jogged behind Brigit. Even though the people who just entered were dressed in bright, easily identifiable uniforms, Brigit ushered me away as if they belonged to some sort of top-secret Men In Black government agency. She stopped when we got to a free-standing golden door in the back hallway with the bathrooms.

“I can’t have them erasing your memory too,” Brigit said as she opened the door. “Not after all the work I went through to inspire you. Go write your book!”

Before I could respond, she shoved me through. I stumbled into my apartment. The door slammed shut. I turned around, not seeing the door I came through. I collapsed on my computer chair, trying to process everything that happened to me this morning.

Was any of this real? I thought.

Then I saw the winged letter I left on my desk.


The Winged Letter was inspired by the following writing prompt: “Head splitting and unable to recall the night before, Samantha awoke to something unusual. Somehow, a paper airplane drifted through the open window of her New York apartment on the 15th floor. It gently landed on her bed. Written on the wings in red capital letters were the words ‘open me.'”

A few universe notes. This is the second story to feature the end-timer, Brigit. Brigit’s first appearance was in A Question for the Writers. The ghostly figure in the subway was Brigit’s sibling, Slayer, and the haunted house was a project by Modva, which will be seen again in another story. The woman who was sitting at the table where the purple crack appeared is the main character in my book, Intertwined by Cracks. The three people seen entering the coffee shop were the same ones from my last short story, Key-Changed. Lots of connections in this story, but written so one wouldn’t have to know all of this while still enjoying the story as Samantha didn’t know this either.

I had different second half for The Winged Letter where Samantha didn’t experience anything weird along the way to the coffee shop, but there was a fun bit of conversation she had with the barista that got cut. I do believe in cryogenically freezing my darlings, so I saved that chat and may use it for another story.

I would like to thank Mikey Marchan for bringing the cover art scene to life.

By the way, I have a store where you can buy t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, and more featuring characters and art from my fictional universe. Check it out and you can also support me via Patreon too.

Thank you for reading and happy 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.

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