The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

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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.

Interview Spoilers

A time traveler’s interview goes sideways when the interviewee accuses him of having met in the past.

The audio recorder Quis held was real but fake in that he disguised the device to match Earth’s technology in the 2010s. The name on his fictional press badge clipped to his unremarkable black suit identified him as “Hank Williams.” The name was phony, too, of course. However, Quis had grown accustomed to the alias, regularly using the persona for interviews.

Quis carefully constructed a different identity for each interview, usually working for a local publication. Big names tended to be open to talking to local nobody journalists, Quis had discovered. Plus, the background helped with his forgettable persona so people wouldn’t follow up with someone who didn’t exist.

“Mr. Praevalens will see you now,” the secretary informed him.

From the photos on her desk, Hank bet she was a grandmother. She had that kind, grandmotherly vibe. She happily led the way to the office of John Praevalens, the CEO of Close Ground. The technology company dabbled in various avenues, catering to security for governments and businesses. 

The golden doors to John’s office were a statement. They weren’t massive–they were standard size for French doors but with a pocket design. The doors depicted a battle in an Aztec-influenced art style. Quis made a note to ask John about the doors as the secretary separated them. 

Upon entering, Quis felt a slight buzzing sensation. He almost overlooked the unnatural protection, but he recognized the technology.

Why would they have anti-teleportation security? Quis thought. This planet doesn’t have that at this time. It must be something else I’m sensing.

As an end-timer, Quis wasn’t concerned about having an exit strategy. He could phase through any material and retreat to his time machine. Still, he planned his interviews to avoid resorting to dramatic tactics. 

“Hey, old sport,” John greeted with genuine kindness as he firmly shook hands with Quis.

The spry, 30-something John wore his trademark black pinstriped suit. Around his neck was a gold medallion depicting the sun in the same style as his door. The flat medallion was palm-sized. Quis had read an article about John’s devotion to the family heirloom, but seeing the necklace for himself added questions.

First, anti-teleportation and an artifact crafted by a deity or one of us, Quis thought. I’m starting to feel I did not prepare for this interview.

The secretary softly closed the doors behind her as she left the room.

John led Quis to a modernism lounge area with an artistic golden coffee table and curvy, white leather sofas.

“Feel free to set your equipment on the table,” John offered as he took a seat on the couch. “Anything I can get you? A drink?”

Quis sat his audio recorder on the table and took a seat in a matching armchair. “I’m good, thank you. We can get started right away. Your time is valuable, so I appreciate you chatting with me.”

“You know, you remind me of someone. Have we met before, Hank?”

“No, I would remember you.”

John shifted around on his couch. “Odd. I’m pretty good at remembering people. Anyway, carry on.”

Quis pushed the record button. “I want to start by talking about your passions. What are some of the projects at Close Ground that excite you the most?”

“Starting deep, are we?”

“The best way to warm up is to jump in.”

John laughed. “You know, this one will surprise you, but I have to say, Exploring Earth.”

“The travel site?” Quis questioned.

“Yes, that’s the one.”


“I believe if people traveled more, and spoke with people from around the world, so much of our animosity would be gone. We got some fantastic contributors too. Amber Way showcases places with such enthusiasm that I swear, I want to visit every place she writes about.”

“There are countless stories to be collected,” Quis commented.

“Are you certain we hadn’t met before?” John asked, almost accusing him of lying. 

“People tell me I have a familiar but forgetting face,” Quis joked.

John didn’t laugh. He leaned forward. “Everything about you seems familiar.”

“This is my first time interviewing you, sir,” Quis calmly reaffirmed, trying not to be annoyed. 

“Yes, but I tend to remember everyone I’ve met. What are you?”

“I’m Hank,” Quis responded, unsure how to answer.

“I asked, what are you? You haven’t aged since you saved my life.”

Quis was now confused. “I beg your pardon?”

“Command Blackout,” John shouted into the room.

The window blinds dropped close. The buzz Quis had first felt when he entered intensified. All the lights went out except for the lamp that stood beside John. Hank’s recorder was still on.

“Your recording device should’ve lost power, which means it’s not from this world. Care to explain?”

“I-I don’t know what to tell you,” Quis stumbled. “Maybe you can tell me who you think I am, and we can figure this out.”

John took a deep breath and relaxed back into the couch. “You saved my life a hundred years ago, Quis.”

Quis’ jaw dropped. “Wait. You know my real name and a hundred years ago?”

John revealed his fangs. “Vampire.” 

“Of course, that makes sense,” Quis said as he leaned back into his chair. “But how do we know each other?”

“You rescued me from that theatre fire in New Orleans and helped me fake my death there. Don’t you remember?”

“I’m a time-traveler,” Quis confessed. “For me, I haven’t saved your life yet.” 

“Oh.” John was silent for a moment. “I hope I didn’t ruin anything by spoiling that for you.”

Quis chuckled. “It’s probably good that you told me because, unlike my others, I don’t interfere with the past. I only interview people for prosperity and to understand the universe’s life.”

“Well, shall we continue with the interview?”

“I’d like that,” Quis replied. 

With the interview over, Quis returned to the alleyway where he left his time machine, a plain brown wooden door in a wood frame. Next to his door was a familiar green door and a familiar face inspecting a flame thrower. 

“Gia!” Quis warmly called out to his fellow end-timer. “Good evening.”

Gia put away the flame thrower in her black leather jacket pocket, which was much larger on the inside. She shouted his name and ran up to him with a big hug. Quis returned the hug.

“Who were you interviewing this time?” Gia asked as she let go.

“John Praevalens. Did you know he was a vampire?”

“I didn’t know that. Fascinating.”

“What was that device you were toying with?”

“Just a flame thrower. I borrowed it from the labs at Close Ground. I need it for my play tonight. Want to come along and watch?”

Quis shrugged. “I’m up for a show. When and where?”

“New Orleans, 1919.”

This week’s short story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “You are the world’s only time-travelling journalist. You use carefully constructed false identities to secretly record your conversations with famous historical figures, and are sworn never to alter the past. However, when you meet with your latest unsuspecting interviewee, they recognize you.”

I took the basic premise of a time-traveling journalist and fitted it in my 16th Phoenix Universe, getting to introduce a new end-timer character, Quis. Quis (which is Latin for “who”) is one of a dozen people from the end of time, along with Gia, Slayer, Loki, Raven, and Kojack, who I’ve also written stories about. More to come as I explore and expand the universe. 

Thank you for reading! Be sure to join me on Patreon for early access to my short stories and listen to my exclusive podcast.

Hashtag Cult Problems - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

Hashtag Cult Problems

A cult’s ritual goes wrong when their sacrifice doesn’t die. 

When the sack came off Gia’s head, she found herself strapped upright on a spinning wheel in a dimly lit circus tent. Her curiosity had gotten the best of her. After seeing the performers’ mind-blowing act, she had to know how they did it for her shows. While she was sneaking around after the show, someone snuck up behind her with a sack over her head. Now, she hung before a cult-like gathering.

Using her crowd scanning skill, Gia counted 30 people in bright clown nose red robes with white plastic masks of a cartoonishly broad smile. The outfit vaguely reminded Gia of a production, but what that was was a hazy memory.

“We are gathered together here under the first full moon of the new decade for our sacrifice,” the cult leader announced. Gai recognized the voice belonged to the circus ringleader. 

The crowd cheered. The only thing Gia could spot on the cult leader that made him stand out from the others was a golden inverted pyramid necklace.

“Sacrifice, huh?” Gia said with excited curiosity. “If I may make a suggestion, the lighting is awful. How are people going to see me die? Do you have anything else other than the string lights, like some massive LED stage lights? Surely you got some of those. Although I do like the lights on this wheel, you got me strapped to.”

“We can see well enough,” the cult leader grumbled.

“If you say so,” Gia snarked. “By the way, what’s your cult or organization or whatever’s name? Or is this some tradition with your circus?”

“We are the Cult of Mischief,” the leader proclaimed. 

Gia remembered the show she was trying to pin down earlier. She giggled like she was part of an inside joke.

The leader picked up the jewel-encrusted ceremonial dagger from a pedestal and pointed it at Gia. “What’s so funny?”

“Oh, you’ll find out. Carry on.”

The leader faced the crowd. “Let the ceremony commence!”

With the crowd cheering, the leader stabbed Gia in the chest. Silence fell. 

“Oh, what cruel world,” Gia cried out. “There was so much I wanted to do. There’s so much in this world I wanted to see. But now, my time has come. Farewell.”

Gia’s body went limp. The cultists chanted in unison, “Our sacrifice is yours. Take this soul and bless us.”

Per cult order, the youngest member pulled out the knife from the sacrifice.

Gia raised her head, unharmed, and smiled. The cult gasped.

“Okay, I thought that was a rather stirring death performance,” Gia said.

“How are you not dead?” the young cultist asked with a quiver in her voice. 

“You picked the wrong kind of person for a sacrifice. Hashtag cult problems, am I right?”

“We cannot stand for this,” the leader said. “Our god will not be pleased with us.”

“You mean, Loki?” Gia said. “I’m sure he’s getting a good chuckle right now.”

The leader got in Gia’s face. “How do you know of our god?”

“Oh, we go way back,” Gia explained and then thought about the chronological order of time. “Or forward technically. He casted me as the Cult of Mischief’s first leader centuries ago to fool some traveling act for him to study their reactions. I’m surprised the cult is still around, to be honest, but knowing him and his partner, I bet they’re watching, studying.”

There was a hushed discussion amongst the members when two people revealed themselves from a stack of cargo containers. One was a slender man in a pink suit with bold, black outlines and a young woman in a red satin dress holding a transparent tablet device. Both had black hair and flowed in sync with each other.

“It’s them!” one of the members shouted. “From the painting of the first ritual.”

All the cult members dropped to their knees.

“Loki! Raven!” Gia greeted with a bright, cheerful smile. “how are you two doing?”

“I must admit, I find it humorous they tried to sacrifice you,” Loki dryly said while adjusting his cufflinks as they approached Gia.

Raven worked on freeing Gia. “It’s been fascinating studying the cult’s evolution throughout the centuries.”

“But I am growing bored of it,” Loki confessed.

“Shall we end?” Raven asked him.

“Yes, let’s go out on top.” Loki turned to address the cultists, who were still bowing down. “Since you tried to kill my sibling, I will now forsake you and no longer give you my blessings – ever. Begone!”

The cultists scattered away as Raven undid the last strap around Gia.

“Thanks,” Gia said as she hopped down. “What’s next for two?”

Loki and Raven exchanged glances and spoke in unison. “More mischief.”

Hashtag Cult Problems - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

This week’s short story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “You have been kidnapped by a cult preparing to sacrifice you to their god. Problems? You’re immortal, the god they worship is a close friend of yours and the entire cult was the result of a prank you forgot you pulled centuries ago.”

I got inspired by this prompt to write a story with my end-timer characters as I thought this would be a great situation for them.

Thank you to Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle for bringing this scene to life.

Thank you for reading! If you liked this story, be sure to check out my others with Gia, Loki, and Raven.

The New Windows at The Last House

Gia is brought back to the end of time by a friend to investigate the new windows at The Last House.

“I think we should kill it.”

Gia crossed her arms and rolled her eyes at Slayer. “That’s your solution to everything.”

Slayer floated in front of Gia. Slayer’s ghostly, black-draped crystalline form would’ve given anyone the chills from its presence. However, being a fellow end-timer herself, Gia was able to turn that feeling off. In contrast to Slayer’s form, Gia took the appearance of a human with the charming beauty of an actress dressed in a black cocktail dress with matching stockings, a short leather jacket, a jade bracelet, and red sneakers. She also only had two arms compared to Slayer’s four.

“Why are we here?” Gia inquisitively asked. “There’s nothing left for us here.”

There was almost nothing left. All the stars had burnt out. All the planets had been destroyed or withered away ages ago. All the end-timers born on this rock floating through an endless black swamp of rolling midnight had all scattered back in time to periods where there was still life. What did remain was a structure they referred to as The Last House, which stood before the two end-timers.

The Last House was a dilapidated three-story mansion. Gia was always impressed that the building had managed to be still standing and retained its purple exterior paint. As Gia looked at the house, she had a feeling the structure had changed since her last visit.

“Do you notice it?” Slayer asked.

“I’m not sure,” Gia replied. “Is there something different about it?”

“The windows. They’re solid red now.”

“They are. How’d you notice this?”

“I like to come back here from time to time to see if anything is different – if any one of us had managed to change the end.”

Gia always liked to think of endings as the start of a new act, a new story, but being here, Gia felt the true grim weight of the end. She shifted the subject. “Why bring me?”

“You’re the most creative of us,” Slayer unashamedly admitted. “If I investigate The Last House with anyone, I want it to be with you because if something does go awry, you’ll find a solution.”

“Aww, that’s so sweet of you, Slayer.”

“Don’t make me regret this,” Slayer said as they led the way to the front door with Gia following beside him. “When was the last time you were here?”

Gia sighed. “It would’ve been lifetimes ago.”

Gia stepped on the wooden porch. The porch responded with a creaky hollow that she ignored as she opened the eggplant-colored door. To Gia’s surprise, the golden door handle had a pristine shine. The inside was a chaotic collage of architectural styles from various time-periods from numerous planets. Her eyes darted all over the place, trying to make sense of the building. She ran her finger on the red glass windows. The color wiped away with her stoke, leaving a tacky reside on her fingertip.

Slayer did the same with one of their hands. “This is blood. Fresh blood.”

“How is that possible? Are there any other end-timers around?”

“No, we’re the only ones here.”

Gia flicked the blood off her finger. “I don’t think we’re alone.”

The ceiling began to pour down with blood. It washed over every surface of the walls, reaching the Milky Way color marbled floor. It drifted around them, as if it was sentient, and pooled together in the center of the room. From the ground, the blood stood up, taking a humanoid form with dragon-like wings.

“Freedom is mine,” the blood creator roared as it bolted out the open front door.

Gia and Slayer looked at each and shrugged.

“Not very many places for it to go,” Slayer commented, unworried.

“Yeah, you said it,” Gia added. “The question remains, which one of us locked it up here and why?”

“It could even have been us, but it hasn’t happened in our timeline yet.”

“That’s true.”

Gia and Slayer casually strolled out of The Last House, with Gia closing the door behind. In the foggy field before them stood two free-standing doors. One was green and the other red, with the green one being Gia’s time machine and the other belonging to Slayer. The blood creature was nowhere in sight.

Slayer opened his door. On the other side was a sunny, sandy desert. “Until our paths cross again.”

Gia nodded goodbye as Slayer went through their door. The moment the door closed, it blinked out of existence as if it was never there. Gia opened her door, leading to a theatre stage. As Gia closed her door, a small puddle of blood slipped its way through.

This week’s short story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “Creation is no more. What remains is an endless black swamp of rolling midnight. Terrible and boundless. The only thing that persists, that continues on into the darkness, is the Last House, an old construct that harbors all those that are left from the feast of Night.”

Five Minutes Ago - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

Five Minutes Ago

A jogger is out on a run, paranoid someone is following, only to discover her stalker is herself.

A jog in a forest was what the doctor would’ve ordered. Gia needed this escape after the audience from her last production tried to kill her for ridiculing their corrupt ruler. She paused for a moment to soak in the partly cloudy skies, a comforting summer breeze, and the fact that there was no around for miles. The latter was vital because her black leggings and sports bar were not appropriate for the 514 C.E. time.

Not far, there was a loud crack of a broken branch. Gia studied a large, fallen redwood tree for any possible dangerous animals. She thought she heard a voice too, but when nothing emerged, she shrugged it off and continued her jog.

“I’m getting paranoid,” Gia said to reassure herself.

Humans weren’t supposed to discover this portion of land for at least a few hundred years. No one could be there. It was only her. Still, she couldn’t shake off the feeling someone was following her. The trail was thick with twists and turns, adding to her paranoia.

Gia made a sharp turn off the trail and doubled back, keeping an eye on the route she had taken in case someone was following her. The seconds in the four minutes of intense investigation felt like pine needles always poking her. In her journey back, she came across the fallen tree, where she first thought someone was watching her.

As she positioned herself behind the tree, she lost her footing and broke a thick branch in half. She cursed under her breath, but caught herself and shifted her persona to a spy character hiding from enemy forces. 

A moment later, she heard a voice, “I’m getting paranoid.”

Gia crept her head over the redwood.

Jogging along the trail was herself from five minutes ago.

Gia stood up. “This isn’t good. I must be caught in a localized loop, but what’s causing the contamination? It has to be close.”

Gia leaped over the tree and followed her past self down the trail. When she came to the spot where she made the detour to go back, she discovered a set of paw prints. She kneed down to study them.

“These look like lion prints, but they’re not native to these parts.”

As Gia reached for her back pocket, a sneaker hit her on the head. With one hand, she rubbed her head and inspected the show with the other. When she recognized it, she looked up in the sky to herself held by sphinx flying below the treetops. 

“I guess I found the contamination,” the Gia on the ground said.

“You found it?” the Gia in the sky snapped. “I found it first.”

“What is going on here?” the sphinx demanded.

The version of Gia in its grasp answered, “We’re trapped in a micro temporal loop because you don’t belong here.”

“I’ve been here for years!”

“Have you noticed the changing of the seasons?”

The sphinx landed on the ground and released its Gia. The two Gia’s hugged, causing a radiant yellow light that caused the sphinx to cover her eyes with her paw temporarily. When the light subdued, only one Gia stood.

“I hate the headache that brings,” Gia mumbled to herself.

“What just happened?” the sphinx asked.

“My people can merge themselves whenever there’s been a loop,” Gia explained. “It causes an annoying headache as the duplicate memories sort themselves out. But enough about me. Let’s get you home, friend.”

Five Minutes Ago - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

This short story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “You’re out for a jog and you can’t shake the feeling that someone is following you. It started off as an inkling, but now the idea has consumed your thoughts. As you reach the crosswalk, you wheel around and confront your stalker. It’s you, from five minutes ago.”

Thank you to Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle for bringing this scene to life!

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