The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

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Festival Suggestions

After finishing a project for her history class to modernize an ancient Greek festival honoring Dionysus, she jokingly makes a toast to him and the god appears. 

“Finished at last,” Shelby cheered to herself, alone in her studio apartment. 

Shelby stood up from her two-person dining table where her laptop lived. She stretched her body from the extensive writing session. As a final class project, her history professor assigned everyone to write a report about modernizing a forgotten tradition. She chose the Great Dionysia, which she learned about the ancient Greek festival honoring Dionysus from a video game.

To celebrate, she procured a clean wine class from her kitchen cabinet and poured herself a glass of her favorite boxed red wine. Jokingly, she raised her glass in the air.

“To you, Dionysus,” she toasted. “Hope you like my festival idea.”

She took a sip and then sat her glass down on the kitchen counter. The moment she looked up back at her table, she saw a tall, slender man in a gray suit. She shrieked. The man dramatically spun around like a dancer in an elaborate musical number reveal. His brown, curly hair with a pair of locks rested gracefully on his shoulders. In his hair wear a pair of grape leaves. 

“I love it!” the man praised.

Shelby grabbed the pepper spray attached to her car keys and sprayed the man in the eyes. The man did not flinch. He casually blinked when the spray stopped.

“Yeah, that doesn’t hurt us,” he politely explained.

“Who are you?” Shelby demand with a tremble.

The man’s face brunched up, offended she didn’t know. “You just wrote a report about me.”

Shelby’s jaw dropped. “Dionysus?”

“Ding!” he smiled.

Dionysus sat in the gray armchair Shelby had stationed next to the table. He waved his hand over the table, swirling to life in a blue-green mist, two bottles of wine in the air that gently landed on the table. He took one, drinking directly from the bottle. Dionysus nodded at Shelby and nudged the other bottle toward her in a peaceful gesture to join him.

“How did you do that?” Shelby asked in a hushed voice.

“You know what,” he started and then paused to think how. “I just kind of made them appear. God of wine, et cetera, et cetera. Would it help if I turned into a fox to prove who I am?”

Shelby nodded. Happy to put on a show, he snapped his fingers, and in a poof of purple smoke, he reappeared as a red fox with the same suit top.

“Ta-Da!” Dionysus announced in a charming tone.

Shelby fainted, falling on the floor. Dionysus sighed and snapped back into the human form.

“I was hoping to talk and make a few suggestions for your festival, so I’ll just edit your document while you take a nap.”

This week’s short story brought to you by wine and this writing prompt: “You’re sat alone, with a glass of wine in hand, and decide to jokingly toast the Greek God Dionysus. You did not expect him to appear before you in human form, create two bottles of wine, and take a seat next to you.”

The game mentioned in the story is Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which has made me fantasize about putting on a modern version of the festival. Hope you enjoyed this fun little story. 

Story Artwork by Nona Calingasan at Design Pickle. Get a discount off your first month of Design Pickle via this affiliate link, which full disclosure, I earn a small commission as a discount for me as well.

The Ghost Child from the March of Flaming Skeletons

Three time-travelers visit a Halloween parade when a young spirit starts to cause mischief. 

A thousand people dressed as skeletons held tiki torches as they led a Halloween parade. The three time-travelers siblings blended in with the Saturday, October 24, 2009 audience with their own costumes. The one named Raven wore a silky red dress with a foam pumpkin over her head. The one named Gia dressed as the 1950s movie star Marilyn Monroe. The one named Slayer simply wore a hooded black robe.

“I can’t believe you had me change my form for this,” Slayer grumbled as they crossed their human arms. “Skeletons are on parade, and you wanted me to look human. My form would’ve been appropriate.”

“A floating transparent skeleton would’ve freaked people out,” Gia playfully reminded. 

Slayer put a thin piece of white paper in their mouth. “At least the candy is good.”

“That was a sticker you ate,” Raven corrected in a polite factual matter. 

Slayer shrugged. “I’ve never been much for this world anyway.”

Gia scanned the parade for something to change the subject. It had been a while since she spent time with them, and thought this parade would’ve been something they could all enjoy.

“Hey, look at the little skeleton,” Gia said, pointing at a little girl dancing in the street with the other marching skeletons. “Aren’t they just the—”

Gia’s jaw dropped as the child danced through the other people. People shivered, losing their balance, and some almost hit others with their torches.

“That’s a spirit,” Raven said in a matter-of-fact as she pulled out her tablet from her dress pocket that was much bigger on the inside. “It seems to be causing quite the disturbance.”

“Finally, some chaos!” Slayer cheered with hands raised high.

“No, no chaos and no watching how it all plays out,” Gia ordered. “We have to guide the spirit home.”

“Fine,” both Slayer and Raven grumbled.

The ghost child turned into the crowd of bystanders, skipping along through people. While Gia lost sight of the girl, she watched the movement of people shaking from a sudden chill and losing their balance. The three pressed against the crowd. 

“Where did she go?” Gia asked as they emerged out from the crowd. 

“Over there,” Raven alerted. She pointed to the girl standing in front of a couple heading to watch the parade. A man in his late 20s got one knee to talk to the girl on her level. “That human seems to be able to interact with the spirit.”

Gai squinted in thought. “Wait a second. I think I know him or, more specifically, who he will become.”

“What becomes of him?” Slayer questioned.

“His name is Geoff DeRoot, and he becomes a rather prominent paranormal researcher, but this isn’t his origin story. Not until the death of his fiancé drives him mad,” Gia explained as she started to sprint forward. “We can’t let him get introduced to ghosts just yet.”

“So, where are your grown-ups?” Geoff asked the spirit.

Before the spirit could answer, Gia stood beside them. 

“There you are!” Gia exclaimed to the spirit. “Come on, let’s get you home.” She looked at the couple and smiled. “Thank you.”

“No problem,” Geoff said as he stood back up and wrapped his arm around his girlfriend.

The girl smiled wide and held out her hand, which Gia took as best as possible to make it look like she was holding the spirit’s hand and not going through it. Raven and Slayer caught up with Gia. Together, they walked down the alleyway, where they parked their freestanding doors that allowed them to travel throughout time and space. 

Slayer opened his red wooden door, letting out a bright white light. “I’ll take this one where she belongs.” Before walking through the door, Slayer turned back and faced his siblings. “You know, watching the Halloween parade was kind of fun. I guess this world isn’t so bad.”

Gia smiled. Missioned accomplished. Slayer closed their door, and it blinked out of existence. Raven reached for the handle on her red metal door with a golden frame.

“It has been fun, Gia,” Raven thanked. “I should get back with Loki as I left him in the middle of an experiment.”

“What are you two up to this time?” Gia asked with a slightly accusatory tone. 

“We’re hosting a spaceship reality game show on Earth.”

“Oh. That sounds like fun! What year?”


“Yikes,” Gia chocked up. “I tend to avoid that year.”

Raven chuckled. “It’s been fruitful for us. Anyway, it was good to see you.”

The two exchanged hugs and left through their respective doors, disappearing without any fanfare as the first wave of parade participants crossed through the alley to the afterparty.  

This week’s short story was created in response to a writing challenge. The setting had to involve Halloween with a word limit of 800. Bonus points for using the following words: Candy, Leaves, Chill, and Pumpkin. Points for also using the sentence blocks, “Skeletons are on parade” and “I’ve never been much for this world anyway.”

Hope you enjoyed this story and all of the other spooky tales this month!

Story Artwork by Joemar Villarejo, Design Pickle. Get a discount off your first month of Design Pickle via this affiliate link, which full disclosure, I earn a small commission as a discount for me as well.

Mother's Warning - art by Chen Kang at Design Pickle

Mother’s Warning

I should’ve listened to my mother about visiting the train tracks alone at night. 

I should’ve listened to my mother about visiting the train tracks alone at night. As young as I can remember, she was strangely persistent that I “never, ever go alone to the abandoned tracks on the outskirts of town at night.” The few times I asked why she would only tell me that it wasn’t safe. However, when I was a teenager, there was this one time that I felt extra rebellious, and I edged her on about it. She threatened me with losing ten years of my life if I ever did go there. I felt terrible after provoking her, so I never brought up the subject again. Over time, I just kind of forgot about the tracks.

If it weren’t for my dorm mate igniting my curiosity, I probably would’ve never gone. With Halloween approaching, we got into a casual discussion about urban legends, and I brought up the abandoned tracks. After some goading, I drove out there at about 11 p.m. 

From inside my car, the two sets of tracks looked ordinary enough. With my phone fully charged, I walked on them, looking for anything unusual or creepy.

But there was nothing.

Not even graffiti or trash or even strange noises. There was a faint smell of a wood fire burning, but no smoke or flames. After about an hour of walking alone, I made my way back to my car when the rusty metal railings I was on lit up in bright purple.

I jumped off to the other set of tracks when a giant shimmering disc made of a fiery violet light sparked to life over the tracks down where the purple glow stopped. Engulfed in bright neon purple-pink flames, a train with the face of a human skull burst out from the disc, passing me faster than a race car, into another purple disc down the way. Despite the train’s size, the train itself was relatively quiet. The only noise it made was from it slicing through the air. 

Before I could process what happened, the track that I moved to lit up purple. Recognizing it as a warning, I leaped completely off the tracks as the train sped out from a disc to another disc.

With my car in sight, I ran toward it. A red disc of light appeared on the ground beneath it. The train erupted from it, sending my car flying as the train drove into the sky through another disc. My car landed upside down.

“Fuck!” I screamed. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”

A fiery disc appeared not far from where the car landed, and the train leaped out of it, like one of those monstrous worms in a sci-fi movie. Spheres of purple lights filled the skull’s eye sockets with rage as blue-white flames seeped out of its mouth. I rolled to the side – the train narrowly missed me. I got back up and continued running. I repeatedly looked over my shoulder, watching for the portal to appear. Then I looked at my arms and noticed a purple glow. That’s when I looked up and realized it had opened above me.

I closed my eyes as the train smashed into me. I felt my body being tossed around in a metal box like a ball in a washing machine. When the pounding sensation stopped, I opened my eyes. I was lying on the floor in the middle of an aisle inside a modern passenger train car, unharmed. The smell of the car made me think of brunch. There were no other passengers. Outside the windows were stars and rolling hills of forests. 

A chime dinged over the speakers, and a cheerful voice announced, “We will arrive at our next destination in 10 years.”

Mother's Warning - art by Chen Kang at Design Pickle

This week’s short story was brought to you by the following writing prompt: “Your mother told you to never go near the train tracks alone at night. You should have listened.”

Don't Go Inside - art by Chen Kang at Design Pickle - Dual Colored

Don’t Go Inside

A typical movie night between two girls turns weird when the characters on the screen began to hear them.

Hoi plopped down on their thrift-store-find purple couch. She grabbed a single popcorn from the giant bowl and tossed it at Bree’s face. The popcorn bounced off with no reaction from her roommate. The two worked part-time at a boutique coffee shop and were reasonably immune to each other’s shenanigans. Both considered themselves geeks with Bree being a costume designer and Hoi as a video game streamer who specialized in playing with randomization mods. 

“Put the phone away,” Hoi playfully provoked her friend.

“Just a second,” she replied as she scrolled through the sea of social media comments. “I’m making sure people are behaving.”

Hoi grabbed a hand full of popcorn and started snacking. “Your Geralt cosplay getting a ton of likes and shares?”

“I’d say so. Lots of people like my take. It’s also getting its fair share of haters, but it’s mostly positive.”

“Cool, cool, cool,” Hoi praised with her mouth full. She finished chewing. “So, tell me about this movie you got for us tonight.”

Bree traded her phone for the TV remote on the coffee table. “It’s an indie-flick called The Voices. I brought it from this eccentric couple at the farmer’s market this morning.”

Hoi raised an eyebrow. “Eccentric couple?”

“Yeah, like the dude wore this white suit with pink outlines, and the girl had on a sparkly red dress.” Bree took a sip of her gin and tonic. “Oh, and all their DVDs were in milk crates, and they had this pink door with them.”

“Sounds very Wes Anderson.”

Bree laughed. “Exactly. I thought the movie would pair nicely with our dreary weather. They said the film was about these two guys who hear voices in the woods.”

Hoi waited a moment for Bree to explain more. “And?”

“And that’s all they told me. I couldn’t find anything online about it either.”

Hoi pulled up the fluffy blue blanket around her legs. “This should be fun. Hit play.”

Bree obliged and hit play. The movie began with an establishing nighttime areal shot of a forest. No names or title cards appeared as the drone flew down and followed two young adult men. The guys walked along a gravel trail into the woods, using their phones as flashlights. A lively set of forest sounds accompanied them on their journey. 

“These guys kind of look like us,” Hoi whispered.

Bree shushed Hoi while one of the characters did the same on-screen. The characters stopped, making the girls pause in anticipation of a jump scare. The music shifted to eerie strings as the camera panned around the empty forest. 

“What is it, Marcus?” Anthony whispered. 

“I thought I heard someone talking,” Marcus replied at an average volume. “Come on, let’s hurry back to the cabin.”

The characters started to pick up their pace as the camera flew up and followed them to a small, modern wooden cabin with a chimney. The screen was on a wide shot, showing the guys walking up the cabin as a shadowy figure slipped down the chimney.

The camera switched to a close-up shot of Anthony reaching for the doorknob when Hoi screamed at the TV, “Don’t go inside!”

Anthony yanked his hand away from the door. The camera switched to a medium shot of Anthony and Marcus as they rapidly looked around the area.

“Did you hear that?” Anthony asked, his voice faded. “It sounded like someone said, ‘Don’t go inside.’”

Hoi gasped and briefly covered her mouth while Bree cracked a smile. 

“Now, that’s freaky,” Bree commented in enjoyment.

The guys got close to each other and pointed their flashlights into the woods.

“Who said that?” Marcus shouted into the woods. “Who said, ‘That’s freaky?’”

Hoi slapped a hand over her mouth as Bree’s jaw dropped.

“It’s like they can hear us,” Hoi remarked.

“Yeah, we can hear you,” Marcus yelled, still searching for the voice’s source.

“It’s not like they can hear us, hear us, you know,” Bree vacillated.

“What are your names?” Anthony asked into the void. 

“I’m Bree, and my friend is Hoi,” she joked.

Marcus scanned the forest with his light as he asked, “Now, how about don’t you come out, Bree and Hoi.”

“Shit, they can hear us,” Bree admitted, nearly dropping her cocktail.

“’Couse, we can hear you,” Marcus groaned. “Why don’t you show yourselves?”

“We-we can’t,” Bree explained, fumbling on what to say. “You’re on our TV.”

Anthony and Marcus pointed their lights higher at the house, looking for cameras. Anthony reached for the doorknob again.

“Don’t go inside!” Hoi blurted. “We saw some shadowy monster sneak in through the chimney.”

“A shadowy monster?” Anthony repeated.

“It must be The Devour,” Marcus insisted as he pulled on Anthony’s hoodie, dragging them away from the cabin.

“But what about our stuff?” Anthony pleaded.

“We’ll be dead if we go inside.”

The cabin door burst open. Anthony, Marcus, Bree, and Hoi all shrieked as a massive shadowy monster jumped out, pounding into the ground with each step. It had the appearance of a ravenous black wolf that was the size of a horse.

“Run!” Hoi and Marcus screamed at the same time.

Hoi and Bree held each other as the camera switched to a red-vision viewpoint of The Devour. The guys ran as fast as they could, but they were no match for the monster. The Devour leaped on them, and the screen went black.

After a few minutes of staring at the black screen, Hoi spoke up. “Is that it?”

Bree stood up and walked over to their DVD player. She pressed the eject button, and the tray opened up with no movie inside. Bree moved the other movie cases around, looking for the one the film came in, but it wasn’t there.

Bree turned back to Hoi. “It’s gone. It’s all gone.”

Don't Go Inside - art by Chen Kang at Design Pickle - black and white

This week’s short story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “While watching a horror movie, your friend shouts “Don’t go in there!” as the main characters are about to enter a cursed woodland cabin. To your shock, the characters all begin looking around, asking each other if they had heard that voice as well.”

I thought this would be a fun story to write with how my wife and other people I know love to yell at the characters on the screen, wishing they could hear them.

Story Artwork by Chen Kang at Design Pickle. Get a discount off your first month of Design Pickle via this affiliate link, which full disclosure, I earn a small commission as a discount for me as well.

Thank you for reading and be sure to support indie filmmakers. 😉

Through the Washing Machine

During her birthday party, Krystal hides in a new and mysterious giant washing machine at an immersive art gallery only to come out in a strange world.

Inside Factory Obscura's MixTape - photo by Dennis Spielman

Krystal had never seen the giant washing machine before. While she felt like she would discover a new tiny detail with each visit to the immersive art gallery, a front-loading washing machine, the size of an SUV was not something she would’ve missed. She walked around the silver-colored machine. The art piece wasn’t backed against a wall or connected to anything. That ruled out it leading to another section like the famous washing machine portal at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

If she didn’t want to get caught, she didn’t have time to stare. For her 30th birthday, she rented out the entire 6,000 square feet hand-crafted, immersive art project known as MixTape by Factory Obscura. Factory Obscura’s MixTape was a multi-sensory experience that explored the emotions associated with giving or receiving music as a gift. As a gift, Krystal invited a dozen of her friends for an adults-only game of hide-and-seek. Plus, a feast of pizza, cake, and craft beer from local businesses. Her goal: have an unforgettable birthday adventure.

The round, plastic door to the washing machine was covered with a milky way wallpaper on the inside, making it impossible for Krystal to see through. Curious, she grabbed the handle–not sure if it would even open–and pulled. Inside was a fully padded room of clouds against a blue sky and bright pastel-colored pillows, matching those of the nearby cactus treehouse. On the ceiling was a scattering of fairy lights. Krystal’s face lit up in awe.

“I can hide in here,” Krystal declared as she climbed inside.

When the door latched close, soft, dreamy atmospheric music began to play inside. Krystal leaned against the pillow wall and stretched out her legs. She felt confident in her hiding spot and bet her friends wouldn’t figure out that the door opens. She tried to listen for anyone coming, but she couldn’t hear anything over the music.

After several minutes, annoyance began to settle. Krystal regarded her hiding spot as good, but not that good. She then began to wonder if it was a prank or perhaps a wholesome trick.

Maybe my friends are in the lobby together, waiting to surprise me? Krystal thought. Then I shouldn’t keep them waiting.

Krystal opened the door. A sea of socks of every color and every pattern filled the sunny outside like sand dunes. There was no way Factory Obscura could pull off such a room. To fill a place with this many socks, they would’ve had been collecting them for decades–putting out numerous calls for donations, which she would’ve seen and probably would’ve contributed to the cause too. More importantly, she then realized, was that the area was larger than the entire building.

“Hello?” Krystal called out.

No response.

She eased out one leg, keeping most of her body inside as she tapped on the ground. It was solid. Feeling safe, she gradually stepped out of the washing machine. The ground felt like standing on a pile of laundry. She looked behind the machine. Off in the distance were small buildings composed of socks and random junk. 

With the small town being her only visible point of interest, she started walking. After taking several steps, the terrain began to rumble. She turned and ran back to the washing machine, but before she could reach it, the machine was flung up into the air by a giant white sock worm.

Krystal screamed. The washing machine landed far away, near the town, but it didn’t seem damaged. The stock worm was three times the size of the washer. Krystal held up her arms, bracing herself to be eaten whole.

“Hello, there,” the sock worm warmly greeted.

Krystal let her guard down. “Hi.”

“Are you new here?”

“Yeah. Where am I?”

“You’re in the Land of the Lost Things.”

“Land of lost things?” Krystal repeated. “Is this like where lost things end up?”

“Yes, but you don’t seem to be lost. We rarely get humans here. How did you get here?” the sock worm inquired with a friendly tone.

“I just got inside that washing machine,” Krystal explained while pointing to said machine, “and when I opened the door, I arrived here.”

“I don’t like that machine,” the sock worm grumbled. “I don’t like it’s creator either. Always playing tricks on people to study the universe.”

“Could you help me get back to my friends?”

“Depends. Do you consider yourself lost in life?”

“Actually, I feel like things have been looking up for me lately and that I have a purpose, a direction for once.”

“Then this won’t hurt.”

“What won’t–”

Before Krystal could finish, the sock worm opened their mouth and devoured her. Her scream muffled as the socks surrounded her, making everything go black. Everything stopped moving, and she stopped screaming.

Then she felt a bop on her head by a human hand. She pushed away the clothes in front of her face, revealing she was back at Factory Obscura in a pile of socks where the washing machine once stood.

“Found you,” her boyfriend playfully taunted.

Through the Washing Machine - art by Henry Yusman - black and white copy

This week’s short story was inspired by the writing prompt: “You are playing hide and seek, and decide to hide in the washing machine. You sit there for some time, but it seems like your friends gave up. You climb out, only to discover that you are on a mountain of socks. Welcome to the land, where all the lost things go.”

When thinking about this prompt, I was thinking of some way to feature adults in the story as a twist. That got me to thinking of the washing machine portal at Meow Wolf, but I didn’t want to write about that one. Instead, I made up an art piece (or really a machine from Loki and Raven) that would act as a portal to the other world. I debated on leaving Krystal in the land of the lost, but I liked the sweet line of her boyfriend finding her. Happy ending today!

Story artwork by Henry Yusman at Design Pickle!

Thank you for reading!

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