The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

Tag: Mists

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!

Emergency Alert

An emergency alert instructs everyone in an apartment building to leave their home.


Myles’ cellphone buzzed to life. This puzzled and vexed him because he always turned off his phone before live-streaming his gaming sessions. Since he wasn’t in the heat of a battle, he flipped over his phone with the intend to read the message before shutting it off. The message changed that plan.

“This is a nationwide emergency alert,” Myles read aloud to his hundreds of viewers. “Please stay calm, and follow instructions. Do not remain in your homes. I repeat, under no circumstances stay in your homes. Please stay calm and await further instructions.”

Myles checked and flipped the message to the camera.

“Which one of you is responsible for this?” he playfully accused.

He’d heard stories of other streamers being pranked or doxxed, which thankfully, hasn’t happened to him, but he has dealt with the sporadic racal insult from time to time. He watched the chat, waiting for the streaming delay to sync up, but no one responded. He looked at his viewer count and the number plummeted until it hit zero. He re-read the message again in a hushed tone to himself. With still no activity on his stream, he quit and stepped outside his apartment.

In the hallway, everyone was gathered together, confused. His neighbor across the hall, an elderly woman who lived by herself who preferred to be referred to as Ms. Johnson, walked up to Myles. She clung to her stroller as she showed her cellphone to Myles.

“Do you know anything about this?” Ms. Johnson inquired.

Myles took a look at the message. “No. I got the same message too.”

Ms. Johnson grumbled. “Anything about it on them Twitters?”

“Let me check,” he replied as he pulled out his phone. “Odd. I’m not getting wifi or a cell signal.”

“I’m going to listen to the warning,” Ms. Johnson announced as she made her way toward the elevator. “I didn’t get to be my age by ignoring warnings.”

The lights went out, leaving only the glow of the moonlight from the windows at the end of the hall and the emergency exit signs. Then one by one, each apartment was filled with a violent high-pitch scream. Everyone in the hallway covered their ears and some crouched in pain as the sound washed through each room like a wave. When the noise reached the end, it faded away.

The lights returned. Everyone’s cell phone dinged or buzzed with an alert. Myles pulled out his phone.

“It is safe to return,” Myles read out loud so Ms. Johnson could hear.

Myles returned to his apartment, leaving the door open as he carefully inspected his place for any damage. Nothing seemed out of place. He expected to find broken glass, but there was nothing wrong other than his clocks blinking 12:00. He returned to Ms. Johnson in the hallway.

“I’m going to go outside and see what’s going,” he informed his neighbor.

Myles took the three flights of stars down and rushed outside. The summer night breeze sent a calming chill over his skin. A short black woman in a police officer uniform commanded several other officers. As authoritative as she was, Myles felt she would be kind enough to explain the situation.

“Excuse me,” Myles interjected. “Is everything okay? What’s going on?”

The officer faced him. The name tag read Officer Mists.

“We’re handling the situation,” she calmly explained. “Are you hurt or anyone you know?”

“No, I’m fine and everyone on my floor seems to be okay. What’s going on?”

“Someone hacked the building’s system to scare everyone, including using the smoke alarms to make a high-pitch scream. If anyone is hurt or needs help, you come get me.”

“Will do,” Myles replied, feeling relieved.

Myles jogged back to the apartment as Office Mists turned to another officer.

“I told you that story would be an excellent cover,” Mists bragged.

“I didn’t deny it,” the other officer praised as he worked on his tablet. “The scans are showing the attack did kill three people, so we’re going to have to come up with explications for those too.”

“Damn,” Mists grumbled.

“I know. Who do this and why this apartment complex?”

Mists shrugged. “We were dispatched because of the non-terrestrial readings, so start there.”


This week’s short story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “This is a nationwide Emergency Alert. Please stay calm, and follow instructions. Do not remain in your homes. I repeat, under no circumstances stay in your homes. Please stay calm and await further instructions.”

With it being October, I focused on a prompt where I could tell a spooky and unsettling story. Hope you enjoyed it!

Campfire Monster Creation

During a race to get back to camp first, a pair of teens stumbled upon a paper cube that grows a monster. 


The story I am about to tell you happened on a starry October night at a place called Lake Thunderbird. Some of the locals referred to it as Lake Dirtybird on the count of the lake being murky from the clay soil. Still, it was a beautiful and beloved state park. Many of the trees were still green as Mabry and Heide raced passed them along the dirt trail. Earlier, the two had made a bet that the first one to the campfire would get the loser’s s’more.

“That s’more as good as mine,” Heide shouted from the lead.

“Don’t count your desserts just yet,” Mabry snapped back as she went off trail to get ahead.

Mabry’s shortcut did work. She did surpass Heide – until she tripped. Mabry cursed, causing her friend to stop.

Heide stopped and helped Mabry get back on her feet. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Mabry groaned. “Let’s call the race a tie.”

Heide laughed. “Only because I’ll feel bad eating your s’more. What did you trip on anyway?”

Mabry shrugged and pulled out her cellphone from her jeans. Using the flashlight feature, she scanned the area and found a cube of newspaper about the size of a baseball. The cube was densely packed. She picked it up.

“This is heavier than it looks,” Mabry commented.

“Really?” Heide questioned. Mabry handed her the cube. “Wow. This is heavy. Do you think it’ll burn?”

“Maybe. We can put it in the fire and find out.”

Heide tossed the cube back to Mabry, and the two walked back to the campsite where they joined their fellow students around the fire. The intimate group of teenagers were united for a weekend improv retreat. Standing together facing the teens were two of the “camp counselors” or improv teachers, Jessie and Nick, both in their mid-30s. As part of their improv troupe wardrobe bit, they wore matching short black ties and black fedoras. 

“Heide, Mabry, so glad you’re finally here,” Jessie said in a cheerful team mascot tone. “We got plenty of marshmallows and chocolates still.”

Nick noticed the dirt scuffle on Mabry’s clothes. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, I tripped over this,” Mabry explained as she held out the paper cube. “Thought we could add it to the fire.”

“Go for it,” Nick encouraged, and Mabry tossed it in.

Jessie clapped her hands, getting the group’s attention. “While everyone enjoys dessert, let’s play an icebreaker game where we each reveal something that scares us. We’ll go clockwise, and I’ll start first. I’m Jessie, and I’m afraid of ostriches.”

Jessie’s reveal garnered some giggles in the crowd.

Nick went next, holding a flashlight under his face. “Reverse Vampires. They crave sunlight! Also, Land Sharks.”

“Disease,” Mabry somberly answered, thinking of all the family she’s lost to sicknesses.

“Being burned alive,” Heide said as her marshmallow caught on fire from her impatience. 

Robyn pushed aside a streak of her white hair. “Being Followed.”

“Robyn, you’re like a black belt,” Jessie commented. “People should be worried about you following them. Michael, your turn.”

Michael adjusted his metal glasses and stumbled to confess, “Drowning.”

“Asphyxiation!” Shai jumped with an unexpected burst of excitement, eager to share.

The last person, Jeff, took a deep breath and, with a serious face, answered, “Sandpaper.”

The group laughed.

“What?” Jeff huffed. “It’s a texture thing.”

“Okay, okay,” Nick instructed, “let’s play another–”

The crackling fire collapsed into itself. The group went silent as they watched the paper cube pulsate with a rainbow of colors. The cube began to expand, like one of those black snake fireworks that grow when lit on fire. Then, it ramped up in speed, growing and forming an ash black ostrich with a shark’s dorsal fin on its neck and pectoral fins instead of wings. A green sewage cloud of disease-ridden gas seeped out of its mouth.

The creature let out a terrifying screech. The campers scattered every which direction as it whipped out its monstrously long tongue around Jeff’s body and Shai’s neck. The tongue was rough like sandpaper. Jeff and Shai pulled, clawed, and fought back. In retaliation, the creature flung them into a tent.

The creature spotted Heide running down a trail by herself. It spat out a fireball, catching Heide on fire. While Heide rolled around on the ground, the creature scurried down another path. 

“What the hell is that?” Robyn asked Mabry as they and Michael ran as fast as they could.

“Like hell, if I know,” Mabry snapped back.

“It’s like an amalgamation of our fears,” Michael commented, struggling to keep up.

Robyn turned her head back. “It’s following us!”

“Just keep running,” Mabry encouraged.

The trio burst out of the woods, leaving them nowhere else to run with the lake before them.

“Great,” Michael grumbled.

Mabry pointed across the lake. “Let’s swim to the other side. It’s not a long stretch. Maybe it can’t swim.”

“But who knows what’s in that lake,” Michael exclaimed. “There could be alligator snapping turtles.”

“It’s either that or face the monster,” Mabry laid out.

The creature screeched, prompting the three of them to jump and swim, with Mabry leading the charge. The teens were halfway across when the beast arrived at the shore. The creature paused as a powerful beam of light from a park ranger’s flashlight shined on it. The monster hissed and charged at the park ranger.

Mabry was the first one across. She watched as the park ranger firmly stand his ground as the monster lunged at him. The park ranger opened fire, his gun emitting an icy blue beam. The creature burst into a puff of smoke.

Before Mabry could process what she witnessed, her fellow campers walked out the water only to be greeted with the light of another park ranger. She had buzzcut hair, black skin, and was short, at about five-feet tall, but stood with a calm authority that made her appear taller. The name patch on her green uniform shirt read, “Ranger Mists.”

“Are you all okay?” Mists asked, concerned.

“This–this land shark ostrich monster is chasing us,” Michael blurted out with no regard for how crazy he sounded.

Mists pointed her flashlight at the park ranger across the lake. He gave her a thumbs up. She shined the light back at the teens. “You’re safe now. My partner took care of it. Where did you first see it?”

“I found this weird cube of paper that I tossed in our fire, and it grew from that,” Mabry explained to the ranger.

“Where’s the rest of your group?”

“At the Post Oak campground,” Mabry said. She started to feel uncomfortable with how comfortable Mists was with believing them. Does she really believe all of this? she thought.

“We’re part of an improv retreat,” Robyn added in a panic. “There’s us plus our teachers, Nick and Jessie, and then Heide, Jeff, and Shai. You got to help them. They’re all probably hurt.”

Mists put her hand on Robyn’s shoulder to reassure her. “Don’t worry. We’ll help them, and then this will all just be a bad dream.”

The silver bracelet around Mists’ wrist that was resting on Robyn’s shoulder emitted a calming white aurora that put the teens to sleep.


I made a post on Facebook, “It’s my Birthday and I’ll kill you off at a summer camp if that’s okay with you. Leave a comment with something that scares you.” I took the fears they responded with and named a character after them. When writing this story, I wrote with the intent of telling this at a campfire.

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.

Sleep well! 

The Red Cube Decision

Three close friends decide to ask their science teacher about a mysterious red cube that nearly leads to interplanetary conflict.


“Are we in agreement?”

Mya stood over her two best friends who huddled together around the concrete table and bench. They sat together in silence, thinking over Mya’s proposition, as the cube at the center simply emitted a gentle pulsating red light. Each side of the solid red cube was a couple of inches long. There were no ports, holes, or any way to open it. They tried and even tried to break, but it wouldn’t crack or get any scratches. Joining the cube on the table were their packed lunches and phones. 

Omar adjusted his black cuffed beanie sporting the logo of a podcast reporting local ghost stories to cover his ears from the November chill better. He would instead prefer to have lunch inside the cafeteria. Still, he understood why Mya wanted the privacy to meet outside their high school.

The cube jumped into the air a few inches. All three of them jumped when the cube did.

Emma adjusted her gold metal glasses. “The cube is becoming more active and brighter.”

“I can’t believe that thing is still glowing,” Cooper commented. “It should’ve drained its batteries by now. We’ve had it for almost a month now.”

“Are we in agreement with showing this to Mr. Haines after school?” Mya repeated. 

The cube jumped again. When it landed, it was slightly bigger.

“Did it just grow?” Omar asked.

Emma pulled out a small measuring tape from her lime-green backpack and measured the cube. “Omar is corrected. It’s five millimeters larger than yesterday. It’s almost twelve centimeters.”

“Okay, I think we should show it to our science teacher,” Omar admitted.

“Yeah, we should see what Mr. Haines thinks,” Emma agreed.

“Then we agree,” Mya said as she sat down on the bench. “After school, we show him the cube.”

A pale man in a dark suit, in a dark room, appeared on all of their phone screens, facing the camera.

“Thank you,” the unknown man spoke with a raspy crackle. “I’ve received all of the information I need. Goodbye.”

All their screens went back to black.

After a moment, Emma was the first to speak. “That was weird.”

“Yeah,” Mya agreed.

The three of them tried to turn their phones back on, but couldn’t.

“Can anyone get their phone back on?” Mya asked.

“No luck,” Emma said.

“Ditto,” Omar added. “This has to be some sort of prank, right?”

“By who?” Mya retorted.

Omar shrugged. The cube hopped, but this time no one flinched.

“I’m starting to think we should’ve thrown this back through that purple crack at the lake,” Emma commented. “This has to be alien tech.”

“There’s no such thing as aliens,” Mya retorted.

“No such thing as glowing purple cracks, but we saw one of those,” Omar snapped.

“Let’s not fight,” Emma said, jumping in to prevent an escalation. Both Mya and Omar apologized. “Good. It’s my turn to keep watch of it, so I’ll put it in my locker until after school.”

The other two agreed and continued with their lunch. 

Mya always wondered why Mr. Haines was still teaching classes. For starters, Mya would never admit to anyone, but she thought he was way too good looking to be a teacher. Then there was the fact that he had a popular science show with millions of followers online. She knew he had to be making way more money from his channel than he did as a teacher in one of the lowest-paid states. Though today she was grateful that she had someone brilliant and caring, she could talk to about something so bizarre.

All of the students from the final class had left when Omar and Emma joined Mya outside Mr. Haines’ door. Emma’s backpack bounced, catching Mya’s attention.

“It’s been rambunctious,” Emma explained. “Let’s get inside.”

The three of them went inside as their teacher cleaned the foamy mess from today’s science demonstration. Omar closed the door behind them and locked it. 

“Hey, Mya, Emma, and Omar,” Mr. Haines greeted. “What brings you here?”

“Pull it,” Mya whispered to Emma.

“Oh, right,” Emma said, caught off guard.

Emma sat down her backpack, pulled out the red cube, and sat it down on the table. It sat on the table for a moment with no one saying a word until it bounced up, a few feet high.

“That’s cool,” Mr. Haines praised. “Did you make this?”

“No,” Mya confessed, then she began to ramble. “We found it about a month ago. We can’t seem to open it or break it, and it’s always been active. We figured its batteries should’ve died out by now, but it hasn’t and seems to be getter bigger.”

Mr. Haines rubbed his chin in thought as he studied the cube. “By any chance, did this come out of a purple crack?”

The three students were all taken by their science teacher’s exact guess.

“Yes,” Emma said with slight hesitation. “We found it at Lake Thunderbird, collecting specimens for your assignment when it popped out a purple crack on a tree.”

The cubed jumped, but when it landed, it changed shape to a six-legged spider-like robot.

“The prince has been born,” the pale man announced from the back of the classroom. Everyone turned their attention away from the robot to stranger, who made his approach. “I’ve been hired by the 9S Family to retrieve their child that has ended up on Earth.”

“You heard the man. Give them their kid back,” Mr. Haines ushered.

Mya picked up the baby robot and handed it to the pale man.

“Thank you for watching over the child,” the pale man said, taking the robot.

The door burst open, unbroken, with a short, buzz-cut female police officer. Emma shrieked. The officer’s name tag read, “Mists.” She pointed her gun at the pale man. Omar put up his hand in reaction while Mya stood frozen. 

“You are an unauthorized visitor to Earth,” Mists ordered. “Step away from the children and come with me.”

“Officer Mists,” Mr. Haines addressed. “This person is simply retrieving a lost child that my students found. No need to panic.”

Mists took a good look around the room. She put away her weapon, creating a collective sigh of relief.

“I don’t know what’s going on here,” Omar spoke with a tremble.

“Don’t worry about it because you’ve been pranked,” their science teacher announced dramatically. 

“What,” Mya uttered, annoyed.

“Pranked! You see, I knew a bunch of my students would be at the lake that weekend, so I set up these contraptions to surprise them with these cubes. You’re the first to bring me one of them.”

“So the pale man,” Emma started to ask.

“Hiding in the closet,” Mr. Haines answered. “The robot is a new invention made by a friend, and the officer here is also a friend of mine. I hope you learned a valuable lesson in keeping secrets.”

“I can’t believe I didn’t suspect you,” Omar said, shaking his head in disbelief. 

“Now, head home and enjoy your weekend,” their teacher said, leading them out the door. He closed the door behind them and promptly turned to Mists. “I have never lied so fast and well in my life.”

“Should I wipe their memories?” Mists asked.

“No, I’m positive they bought that prank story. It’s not the first time I’ve pranked my students.”

“Very well,” Mists said and faced the pale man holding the robot. “Let’s get you two back to your planet.”


This prompted short-story is inspired by the idea, “You’re scrolling through social media, like usual, until the screen goes black, it goes black on all your friends’ phones too. A pale man in a dark room is showed speaking on the screen, ‘Thank you, I’ve received all the information I need, Goodbye.'”

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