The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

Tag: Prompted Page 1 of 11

Stories inspired by writing prompts.

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.

Testing Predictions on an Abandoned Village - art by Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle

Testing Predictions on an Abandoned Village

After overhearing an urban legend about an abandoned village, Haley “The Sounds” Riot and Robin Bee set off to test Haley’s future predicting music player to uncover the mystery behind the community.

* This story takes place after Body Drop, however, I wrote this to stand on its own.


Haley Riot pulled on the purple musical note attached to the retractable band around her neck. The networker designed to look like two beamed eighth notes brought life a three-dimensional map of their position in the woods. Beside the map were a few postings and news clippings about the Babylon Sisters Village. Some of the posts talked of treasure, murder, and ghosts but offered no evidence other than stories of people going missing who explored the area.

Haley was determined to solve the mystery and had a secret weapon on her side: a device that predicted the future and revealed truths through song titles. 

Robin Bee took a seat on a fallen tree as Haley reviewed the map. Once she caught her breath, she asked her girlfriend, “Are we on track?”

Haley swiped away the map. “Just down this hill, and we should be there.”

“Good,” Robin said as she laid down the log. “I didn’t expect this journey to be such an exhausting hike.”

“It wouldn’t be an abandoned village if it was next to a subway station.”

Robin sat back up. “Yeah, I know. Does your music player have any advice for approaching the village?”

Haley couldn’t tell if Robin was facetious or genuine. She had only helped solve one murder thanks to the music player, and Haley wanted to put it through a test on this urban legend she heard. Haley also often had difficulties reading Robin’s facial expressions, but she learned to default them all to seriousness. She decided to pull out the device to answer Robin’s question.

“What should we be aware of as we approach the village?” Haley said to her music player. She pressed the shuffle button. “Endless War.”

Robin sighed. “That’s helpful. Anyway, I’m ready to go.”

Haley pondered the meaning for a moment before letting out a frustrated moan as she returned the device to her short’s side pocket. “Yeah, let’s go.”

Haley led the way down the hill. The incline was steep enough for Haley to be mindful of her footing but not steep enough to slow her down.

“Ouch!” Haley mumbled, feeling a scratch across her tanned legs.

“You okay?”

“I felt something scratch my leg.”

“Told you you should’ve worn pants like me,” Robin said and then felt a scratch across her leg. “Ouch! Something scratched my leg too.”

When Robin got scratched, Haley knew it wasn’t her imagination. While Haley was human, Robin was a ghaukvoi, and her thick, blue skin was tougher. Before they could think about it, a bunch more scratches cut across both their legs. Haley cussed, and they both ran down the hill, slapping at their legs to brush aside whatever was scratching them. As Haley rubbed her ankles, Robin looked back to where they once stood. Gusts of wind cut across the grass and plants, and she found the source.

“Wind ants,” Robin said.

“Wind ants?” Haley repeated.

“They’re territorial insects that can fling sharp gusts of wind at their enemies. I did some reading on the subway on our way,” Robin explained. “Anyway, from the looks of it, I think I see two different groups fighting each other.”

Haley’s face lit up. “Like they’re in an endless war!”

Robin’s eyebrows squinted down. “That’s a bit of a stretch.”

“But it makes sense,” Haley said with an optimistic wink. “Come on. We’re here.”

Nature had reclaimed most of the tiny village. According to Haley’s research, the cobblestone community consisted of about 25 people living an off-grid lifestyle. A dozen dome-shaped homes surrounded a large community center building also fashioned out of brown cobblestones.

“You know, this place is kind of cute,” Robin admitted as she took in her surroundings. “Not sure if I would say that at night, though.”

Haley laughed. “We got plenty of daylight left.”

“What do you want to investigate first?” Robin asked. 

Haley took a look at the houses, inspecting them for any activity. “Let’s try some of the homes first and make sure this place is abandoned.”

Robin nodded. “Sounds good.”

Haley and Robin walked over to the nearest house, where Haley knocked on the door and called out hello. The wooden door crept open with a sharp squeal. Haley looked around and opened the door further, calling out hello again as she entered. Robin stayed behind, keeping watch.

“Anyone here?” Haley shouted.

The house was the same small size on the inside as it was on the outside. The lights did not automatically turn on, so Haley turned on her networker’s flashlight function to see. Instead of electricity, she found candles scattered around. The home was one room with furniture creating dividers for different sections. The place’s brown wood design had a warm, rustic atmosphere that Haley would have found calming if it weren’t for all of the belongings left out and covered in dust, leaving her with an ominous feeling. She returned to Robin outside.

“Anything interesting?” Robin asked.

“It’s weird.”

“Weird how?”

“It’s like someone lived there, but they left years ago without taking any of their stuff.”

“That is weird. Do you want to head back?”

No,” Haley said without hesitation. “I want to see if it’s the same story with the other homes, and then I want to check out the big building.”

The couple visited three more homes, each with the same story. Clothes, food, and keepsakes were all left to gather dust. Inside the fourth home, Haley found a crimson wooden spoon resting on the kitchen counter. The spoon reminded Haley of the one Robin used to shove a rainbow muffin into her mouth when they first met. Upon seeing Haley’s rainbow hair at the coffee bakery shop Robin worked at, Robin thought Haley would be a perfect test subject for the new recipe. Robin pocked the spoon and left the abandoned house.

“Same story,” Haley said to Robin as she closed the door.

“I’m curious. If everyone here suddenly disappeared, then how did you hear about this place?”

“I overheard this conversation at a bar, and they were talking about unexplained stuff, and this person was talking about the Babylon Sisters Village. Apparently, they came out here to deliver stuff for a wedding, and no one was around. I did some digging as I wanted to know more, but there wasn’t much to be found as it’s a small community. There were some posts about people saying they were going to explore this place for themselves, but they never did follow up.”

“Did they just not go or something?”

“No, it’s like they said they were going, and they disappeared.”

“And you’re not worried about disappearing?”

“Not when I got this,” Haley said, shaking the music player. Robin scoffed, and Haley quickly added, “And you too, of course.”

“Smooth save there, muffin. That thing tell you how this all got started?”

Haley asked the music player the reason that caused everyone to disappear and tapped the shuffle button.

“My Heart is Burning,” Haley said, confused.

“That’s—”

“Don’t finish that thought,” Haley interrupted. She held up her music player. “How does Robin feel about that news?” Haley tapped shuffle. “Okay, now finish.”

“Spooky,” Robin finished.

Haley smiled and showed Robin the exact song title.

Robin rolled her eyes. “You set me up.”

“What? No way!”

Robin turned away and faced the community center. “How about we go check out this large building now?”

“Yeah, let’s do that.”

Blocking the wide double doors rested a large wooden crate with the retailer’s name, “Journal of Ardency,” stamped in black ink across the sides. Haley peeked inside through the opening. The container was empty, save for a few bits of red fabric hairs. Despite nothing being inside, Haley requested Robin’s help after trying to push it aside as it was heavier than it appeared. With the door clear, they both went inside this time. There was no need for additional lights as the windows filled the space with warmth and light. Both girls’ jaws dropped at the simplistic charm of the wooden reception area. They slowly walked into the room, soaking in the place. Haley could see the site as a perfect venue rental for events with its open floor plan and natural lighting. 

“There’s nothing here,” Robin said, surprised. 

“Except for that big old rug,” Haley added. In the center of the room was a fluffy, red rug several times their size. “Wait. I wonder if something is under it.”

As Haley stepped off, Robin yanked on her arm and pulled her back. “Hold on. Something is off about this place.”

“What do you mean?” Haley asked.

“You said all the homes were dusty?”

“Yeah.”

“There’s not a speck of dust here.”

Haley looked for confirmation. The place was immaculate. Haley asked her music player, “What danger should we be aware of in this building?”

“Well, what did it say?”

“Quicksand,” Haley spoke with gentle reservations.

She pulled out the wooden spoon she found and tossed it at the rug. The rug snapped on the spoon, like the jaws of a giant beast. Haley and Robin both shrieked and jumped back. The carpet slithered toward them, and they both bolted out of there. They didn’t bother to look back to see if the rug was following them or not. They ran as fast as they could, slammed the door shut, and moved the wooden crate back over the door.

As they caught their breath, a tall, brown fur sasquatch yelled, “Don’t go inside there!”

“Too late,” Haley snapped back as the sasquatch came racing up toward them. “What the hell was that thing?”

The sasquatch didn’t immediately answer.

Robin repeated Haley’s question with a threatening grumble. “What was that?”

“A carnivorous carpet,” he confessed.

With a gentle tone, Haley asked, “How did this all start?”

“You could say it was because my heart was burning with pain.” The sasquatch took a seat on a rock, putting him more at eye-level. “The woman I was in love with was getting married to someone else, and I got that rug, thinking it would scare them as a bad omen. Instead, it ate everyone in the village. I’ve been sticking around for the past few years to make sure it got no one else. I was hoping it would’ve starved to death by now…”

“But it’s still kicking,” Haley said.

The sasquatch nodded.

Haley pulled out her music player and asked it, “How do I kill the carnivorous carpet?”

She tapped the shuffle button. Upon seeing the result, she nodded.

“Simple enough,” Haley said as she strolled off. “Be right back.”

“What is she doing?” the sasquatch asked Robin.

Robin shrugged. “Her thing. I’m Robin, by the way.”

“Francesco,” the sasquatch introduced.

About a minute later, Haley returned with a rag stuffed inside a glass bottle.

“Open the door and get ready to close it,” Haley said to both Robin and Francesco.

Haley struck a match, lighting the rag on fire. Without questioning her, they promptly opened the door. Haley tossed the flaming bottle at the rug. It snapped the bottle in its clutches. Robin and Francesco slammed the doors shut as the carpet howled in pain. Robin covered her ears while Francesco squinched in pain. Haley hummed and moved her fingers like she was conducting an orchestra until the cry stopped.

After a moment of silence, Haley consulted her music player.

“It’s safe to enter,” Haley announced.

“Are you sure?” the sasquatch asked.

“See for yourself.”

Robin stepped back as Francesco opened the door. In the room was a smoldering pile of ash from the burnt carpet. The sasquatch bent down and picked up some of the remains. They blew out from his hand as a tear formed.

“It’s over,” Francesco said.

Night had fallen when Haley and Robin returned to the subway station to get home in Aequus. Francesco insisted on staying in the village as he didn’t know where else to go, but he assured them he would give his future some thought. The car Haley and Robin entered only held a few other people, but they knew it would fill as they got closer to the city. They used the opportunity to spread out and relax. Robin rested her head on Haley’s legs.

“What does that thing say about how I feel about you?”

Haley asked and pressed shuffle. “Really love you.”

Robin smiled. “What about our future?”

Haley consulted the device.

“Champagne,” Haley lied as she closed the music player, hiding the answer, “Can’t Cheat Death.”


Testing Predictions on an Abandoned Village - art by Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle

Thank you for reading my February 2021 short story!

After writing about Detective Psychon last month, I knew I wanted to feature another story about Haley “The Sounds” Riot where she was solving some sort of mystery to test the music player. I got inspired by the writing prompt, “For years, people go missing in the nearby abandoned village, sparking dozens of theories about treasure, murder, and ghosts. The culprit? A carpet that traps and drowns them like quicksand.”

Like I did for Body Drop, I also solicited song suggestions from friends that I incorporated through the story in different ways. Those songs were: Journal of Ardency by Class Actress, Spooky by Classics IV, Babylon Sisters by Steely Dan, Don’t Call Me Back (feat. Francesco Yates, DJ Lux & AJ McLean), Really Love You by Paul McCartney, and Mein Herz Brennt by Rammstein. I also tossed in a few of my shuffled songs.

Story artwork brought to life by Mikey Marchan 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.

I hope you enjoyed this story!

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