The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

Tag: short-story Page 1 of 5

Interview Spoilers

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


The name on his fake 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 it for interviews. The audio recorder was real but was fake in the sense that Quis disguised it to match Earth’s technology in the 2010s.

For each interview, Quis carefully constructed a different identity, usually working for a local publication. Big names tended to be open to talking to local nobody journalists Quis had discovered. Plus, it 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 a variety of avenues, focusing on 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 open. 

Upon entering, Quis felt a slight buzzing sensation. He almost didn’t notice it, but he recognized it.

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. 

“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 that depicted 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.

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. I know 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 is going to surprise you, but I have to say, Exploring Earth.”

“The travel site?” Quis questioned.

“Yes, that’s the one.”

“Why?”

“I believe if people traveled more, 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 that.

“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 then 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 life of the universe.”

“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 recognise 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.

Upgrade Cave

Prompted by a mysterious advert, a pair of mermaids travel to a cave that promises to make people better in every way.


Nerine struggled to keep up with Océane as they swam through the field of neon purple seaweed. Every mermaid at their school was jealous of Océane’s speed and agility. Nerine knew Océane’s vigorous training regiment that she put herself through and honestly didn’t mind trailing behind her best friend. As Océane continuously pushed herself to be better, she didn’t put that pressure on her friends, which Nerine appreciated. Nerine was tough enough on herself. 

Nerine put her hand on her networker, which her model resembled the look of a red starfish necklace. A display of holographic icons emitted out from the device. She tapped on the map icon, bringing up a 3D model of the area to figure out where Océane was taking her. No point of interest markers appeared. She sent out a call.

“Where are we going?” Nerine asked, using the networker to transmit her voice as a thought Océane heard via her networker.

“It’s probably fake,” Océane said back. Her networker had the appearance of a smiley face watch around her wrist. “There’s supposedly this cave that promises to make those who enter it better in every way.”

“But, you’re already awesome.”

“You know it,” Océane said with a playful wink. She stopped and faced Nerine for a serious talk. She unzipped a pocket on her black aquatic jacket that sported their school’s logo and pulled out a plastic flyer. “I found this floating around outside after class. This place is guaranteeing to make you better. For all I know, it’s just a drug dealer, or maybe they’re legit in bettering people. I thought with you being a journalist, this could be an interesting story.”

“This could be exciting for our school broadcast,” Nerine admitted. “I don’t get why you didn’t just tell me this upfront.”

“Cause I love whisking you away on an adventure without explanation,” Océane teased as she swam forward, putting the flyer away.

As they swam deeper, the seaweed gradually changed colors from bright neon to a sickly gray, and fish were less common. Océane slowed down, carefully swimming alongside Nerine. Their networkers brought light to the area as they approached a cave. The entrance had a metal facade resembling an immaculate jaw of wolf teeth. There was no signage like the entry was the sign. Nerine thought it was an interesting artistic choice to display strength. From the looks of it, Nerine bet the jaw could open and close too. 

“This is the place,” Océane announced, creeped out by the decor. “Think anyone is inside?”

Nerine swam forward. “Might as well find out.”

Océane caught up as Nerine activated her danger app should anything unfortunate happen. The app would send all relevant data, including location and media, to a user-determined list of contacts. Nerine used it almost every time she did an interview. The app has never saved her, but she found reassuring to have active.

Upon entering the cave, lines of electric neon yellow lights guided them through. The straight forward tunnel was unnatural in design with spiraling characteristics indicating the work from a drill machine twice their size. They didn’t travel far before they entered a vast, brightly lit room with metallic blue walls. 

Down below in the room, they discovered piles upon piles of flayed merpeople corpses mixed with scrap metal. Océane covered her mouth while Nerine used her networker to take pictures of the bodies. 

“This is going to be epic,” Nerine said with giddy. 

Océane felt the opposite. “Maybe we should leave and contact the protectors?”

“Don’t worry. I already activated my danger app. Let’s investigate!”

A red light focused on them, nearly blinding them. A colossal mechanical octopus – the size of a blue whale – emerged from the bodies, as the red spotlight on its head remained focused on the mermaids. Its black rubber tentacles twirled about with no pattern nor motive, but they still put the two on the defensive. Its white eyes housed in the metallic silver body were the size of Nerine and Océane. Overall, the mechanical was in pristine condition without any visual indication anyone had fought it.

“Have you come here for an upgrade?” the octopus asked with a lively, elitist tone. “I can make you swim faster and be stronger, leaving your weak flesh behind.”

“I like who I am,” Océane firmly defended.

“What she means is,” Nerine interjected, “we would like to know more about this upgrade service before we commit.”

The octopus opened its mouth, revealing an automated factory soaked in blood. “I strip the flesh that makes you weak and replace your mind with blissful logic.”

“Oh, well, as I said earlier, I’m happy with who I am, so we’ll just be leaving now.”

“Why?” Its eyes changed color to red. “When you can better.”

The mechanical whipped out a tentacle at the mermaids. They split up, dodging the grab.

“Get out of here, Nerine! I’ll distract it.”

“Got it! I’ll see if we can’t lock in.”

Nerine escaped through the tunnel while the tentacles pursued Océane. She dodged every swipe until she caused the mechanical to get tied up in a knot with two of the tentacles. With it focused on trying to undo the knot, Océane zipped out through the tunnel. The yellow tunnel lights were now dark red. Another tentacle followed.

Océane made it out of the cave.

“Océane, help me close this!” Nerine called out. She was on top of the entrance with her back against the metal jaw, trying to shut the door.

Océane swam up to help, but then the tentacle wrapped itself around her.

“Barnacles!” Océane cursed as she fought to wiggle free.

Nerine gave an extra hard push, causing the jaws to close and bite off the tentacle. It immediately loosened its grip on Océane. Nerine hugged her friend, and she hugged her back.

“Let’s get out of here,” Nerine suggested.

“Agreed. That should be the last of that.”

“I don’t think this is over yet.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You saw all those corpses. What if it did convert merpeople into mechanicals?”


This week’s short story was roughly inspired by the following writing prompt: “There is a strange cave where, rumour has it, the people who go in come out better in almost every way. Deciding to investigate you walk into the cave, and soon discover piles upon piles of flayed corpses.”

I haven’t written any short stories on the Blue Planet, which is part of the Five Following Planets system. I liked how this turned out, especially the “is it over” ending. 

I feel like this story has the potential to be a young adult novel. I got a few ideas of what that story could look like and how parts connect with my universe. I’ll see what people think, but for now, thank you for reading!

Be sure to subscribe to my website to get an email whenever I publish a new post or short story. The subscription form is in the sidebar or down the bottom if you’re on mobile.

Little Shop of Personalities

During her morning jog, Janelle comes across a mysterious new boutique selling personalities. 


Janelle halted her morning jog when she came across an intriguing new boutique as yesterday, the retail space was empty. Through the glass windows, Janelle would’ve for sure seen people installing the drawers that covered the walls from the floor to ceiling. The shop was part of her apartment complex in Film Row, and she couldn’t recall reading about it in the Oklahoma Gazette or her neighbors talking about it. As Janelle thought back, she could’ve sworn when she passed by during the start of her daily run there was a “For Lease” notice on the door instead of a cheerful “Open” sign.

With time to spare and her curiosity piqued, Janelle went inside. All three walls were covered in drawers of varying shapes and sizes but had a matching white, rustic farmhouse esthetic. The beach lavender aroma put her in a relaxed state of mind. Janelle walked over and inspected a label on a drawer. It read, “Brave.”

“Good morning!” a cheerful female voice called out, catching Janelle off guard. 

Standing in the center of the room was a young woman in a red satin dress holding a transparent tablet device. Next to her was a taller, slim man in a pink suit with bold, black outlines. Both had black hair and lanyards holding placards with their names, Raven and Loki, respectively.

“Welcome to Little Shop of Personalities,” Loki greeted with what Janelle thought was more energy than any average retail worker would have this early in the morning.

“Shop of Personalities?” Janelle repeated, confused.

“Yes. We sell a wide assortment of personalities that you can give yourself to change your life,” Raven explained. “If you want to be more likable, we can help.”

Janelle kept her skeptic tongue to herself. She figured this whole ordeal was some pop-up artistic expression or experience. She scanned the drawers and noticed they were all labeled with various personality traits, including negative ones.

“Why would anyone want something like an ‘obsessive’ or ‘creep’ personality?” Janelle inquired.

“You can give them to others,” Loki revealed.

“Including your enemies,” Raven added with a wink and a wave of her finger.

“Weaponize them to get rid of unpleasant coworkers,” Loki commented, and Raven nodded in agreement.

“Buy as many as you like.” Raven smiled. “But no returns.”

Janelle turned her attention to the drawer that caught her initial focus, the one labeled, “Brave.” She opened it up and pulled out a white index-sized card with the word written in a bold font fitting of the name. Even if the card didn’t magically give the trait, she thought it would make for a cute decoration for her desk.

Janelle showed the shopkeepers the card. “How much for this one?”

“Since you’re our first customer,” Loki started.

“Your first personality is free,” Raven finished.

Janelle closed the drawer. “So, how does this work?”

“Simply put the card on the forehead of the person you wish to give the personality trait,” Loki explained.

“I’ll take this one and try it out,” Janelle said, still skeptical. “Thank you.”

To keep the card from getting bent, Janelle held it until she returned to her apartment. Once inside, she tossed her keys on the kitchen counter. She looked at herself in her hallway mirror and put the card up to her forehead. The card faded like her body had fused with it. Instead causing her to freak out, the new personality had filled her with excitement.

Janelle went about her morning routine with vigor as she arrived, first as usual, to the law firm. She took one look at her desk, marched to the break room for a box, and pushed all of her belongings inside. Her boss, whose name was on the sign outside, found Janelle packing up.

“Everything okay?” Janelle’s boss asked her with concern.

“Never better. I’m going to start the yoga studio that I’ve always been too afraid to do.”

“Good for you, Janelle! If you ever do a beginner’s class, I’ll sign up.”

“Thank you. That means so much. Everyone here has been so great to me, but I must move forward.”

Janelle left the law firm with her box, her mind racing with a business plan. In the cleanup process, she decided to open her yoga studio in her apartment complex. There were several vacant spots. She knew one of them would be perfect.

As she walked back to her place, a dog ran across the street, chasing a squirrel. Janelle could see the bus hitting the dog. Without hesitation, she dropped her box and pushed the dog to safety and the bus hit her.

A few hours later, Janelle woke up in a hospital bed. Every part of her felt numb. She rolled her head and saw Raven and Loki standing over her.

While Raven wrote notes in her tablet, Loki held out a bouquet of spring flowers. “All sales are final.”


This short story was first published on the Oklahoma Gazette for their Writers of the Quarantine series. The Loki and Raven story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “A new shop shows up in town. Upon entering the walls are made entirely of drawers, each with a different personality trait written on them. The shopkeeper smiles – ‘Buy as many as you like, but no returns.'”

If you enjoy my story, please share it! I would love to have more readers. If you want to help me more, join me on Patreon and you’ll get beta access to my novella, Intertwined by Cracks. The urban sci-fi story follows Amber Way who can make doors lead to other doors as she deals with cracks leaking monsters from other planets in a plan from a stranded time traveler to harness her powers. 

One Hour Future Photo

A couple buys an antique camera from another planet that they realize takes photos one hour into the future.


Ixan examined the foreign “L” shaped purple device. The bottom had a slot to insert something, what that was, Ixan had no clue, other than it had to be thin. On the front was a circle that seemed like an old-fashioned lens, and the top had a tiny red button on the right corner. There was a worn black leather strap attached to it. From the looks it, the gadget was small and light enough to hold, but it had an antique quality to it, and Ixan didn’t want to invoke the wrath of the kind shopkeeper. 

“Hey, Adriyel,” Ixan called out in a hushed tone to his girlfriend. “Come, look at this thing.”

Adriyel walked over with her arms folded. “What did you find now?”

“I don’t know. I thought you might know.”

“I don’t know either,” Adriyel said as the snakes in her hair moved with unease. “This shop is giving me the creeps. Let’s get out of here.”

“I see you found an Insta Photo Camera,” the shopkeeper said with glee as she strolled over to the couple. She was a young human woman with black hair in a bun and wore a red dress more fitting for date night than an antique shop clerk. She had introduced herself to the couple earlier as Raven.

“Never seen a camera like that,” Ixan confessed to Raven.

“That’s because I acquired it from Earth.”

“Woah.”

“I wonder what the pictures look like,” Adriyel said, her interest peaked. 

Raven pulled out a small, white piece of paper from behind the rustic wooden counter. “Would you like to test it?”

“Yes!” Ixan exclaimed.

Raven handed him the paper. “Simply put this in the slot in the button, point the camera, and press the red button on top.”

Ixan followed the instructions, taking a selfie. The camera buzzed and whirled for a few seconds before it printed out a photo. The picture developed before them showing Ixan at a different location with a red smudge on his purple cheek.

“That was unexpected,” Adriyel commented, confused.

Ixan’s feelings were the opposite. “This is so rad. It’s like the camera remixes the image. How much?”

“It’s 5,000 shinnies and comes with a pack of 13 photos.”

“Sounds like you’re trying to get rid of it,” Adriyel accused. “Especially something that’s supposedly from Earth.”

“Once you use all 13 photos, that’s it,” Raven explained.

“I’ll take it,” Ixan said. “This will be fun to use throughout our date today.”

Adriyel agreed, and so Ixan paid for the camera. The two carried about their romantic outing in downtown Helvetica, wandering through a few other boutiques before they stopped for a snack at Pi’s Pie Time.

The smell of freshly baked goods greeted them along with warm welcomes from a ragtag trio of workers behind the glass cabinets. The largest of the three was a chrisom minotaur, who, despite having the build of a wrestler, had the smoothness of a ballerina. He carefully placed tiny adorable pies inside a display case from a massive tray he held with one hand. A dark-skinned human woman near in size with the minotaur approached them from behind the counter.

“What can we make for you today?” the woman asked as an animated tattoo of a white bear performed tricks on a unicycle around her sleeveless arms.

“A small cherry pie for me,” Adriyel politely requested.

“Same for me,” Ixan added.

They paid for their order and took a seat on a soft, flora pattern couch. The cozy, intimate coffee shop bakery had about a dozen tables, and several sofas scattered about as mellow rock tune filled the air.

A moment later, the women who took their order bought out their cherry pies. As she walked over to them, she didn’t notice the bag someone had left behind a chair and tripped over it. She managed to keep a grip on one pie, but Ixan’s face caught the other. Adriyel laughed.

“I am so sorry,” the woman profusely apologized.

“It’s okay,” Ixan admitted. “It’s just pie.”

“I’ll get you another one.”

The woman left, and Adriyel stopped laughing. Disbelief covered her face as she stared at her boyfriend.

“What’s wrong? Is there something in my teeth?” Ixan joked.

“Pull out that selfie you took with that Insta camera.”

Ixan pulled out the photo from his hoodie and handed it to her.

Adriyel held the photo up side by side to his face. “This is a perfect match. It’s like the camera took a photo of you an hour into the future.”

“Let’s test it out.” Ixan filled the camera and took a picture of Adriyel. In the photograph, Adriyel was smiling, covered in bubbles. “I don’t see you getting covered in bubbles in the next hour.”

“Me neither.”

The woman returned with another pie and a gift. “If you’re interested, I got a pair of tickets to a concert tonight. A promoter dropped off a few earlier today for us to giveaway.”

Adriyel enthusiastically took the tickets. “I love Valiance Refuges! I’ve always wanted to see them live. Thank you!”

The woman smiled. “You’re welcome. Enjoy the show, and so sorry about the pie.”

With the show starting soon, the couple finished their meal and leisurely made their way to the concert venue. The lights dimmed in the historic building as the stage curtains opened to a mellow guitar solo, followed by a thunderous drum beat and cannons spraying foam bubbles, covering the audience.

The crowd cheered while Adriyel and Ixan looked at each other, unsettled.

“That’s two for two,” Adriyel stated with worry.

“Let’s take a photo of us together,” Ixan said, still skeptical.

They huddled together for a selfie. In the printed photo was only Adriyel. She was crying. Thinking he frame themselves wrong, he took two more shots, each solo. Adriyel’s photo had her still crying while Ixan’s was blank.

“Okay, this thing is just messing with us,” Ixan grumbled. “Let’s just enjoy the show and go home afterward.”

It took a few songs and some alcoholic drinks, but their mood improved. In the end, they rated the show as one of their favorite concert experiences. They left the venue in cheerful spirits, discussing their favorite moments.

“Next time that band’s in town, we should see them,” Ixan said to Adriyel.

“I’ll keep tabs on their schedule. Hold on. What’s that noise?”

Adriyel looked up while Ixan shrugged. A dragon twice their size was falling from the sky with damaged wings. It was headed straight at them. 

“Watch out!” Adriyel screamed as she ran to the side.

Confused, and a little intoxicated, Ixan sluggishly looked around for the danger, only to see the dragon too late. The dragon crashed into him. Adriyel cried out. Strangers nearby rushed over to help. 

The next day, Adriyel returned to the antique curiosities shop with the camera strapped around her. The retail space was empty, with only a “For Lease” sign on the door.


This story was inspired by a simple writing prompt about an old camera that photos one hour into the future. Since the last few of my stories have taken place on Earth, I decided to give this concept a sci-fi setting and place it on The Black Planet. I also worked in a pie shop that I have featured in one of my books I’m writing currently.

If you want to help support me, join me on Patreon and one of the rewards is early access to my short stories. I’ll also post locked/exclusive stories that I’ve submitted to publications, like this one here, about a shop that sells personalities.

Thank you for reading!

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.

“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 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.

“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 led 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.

“We’re part of an improv retreat,” Robyn added. “There’s us plus our teachers, Nick and Jessie, and then Heide, Jeff, and Shai.”

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.

Sleep well! 

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