The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

Tag: short-story Page 1 of 13

You Have 3 Unread Prophecies - art by Janine De Guzman and Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle

“You Have 3 Unread Prophecies”

A morning news show host receives three tips on his phone about the future as he spends time with his sister.


Ever since our parents died, my sister and I made a point to take a weekend vacation around their wedding anniversary as our way of honoring them. We lived in separate states, living separate lives, so getting together once a year – just the two of us, no spouses – would’ve made our parents happy.

This year was my sister’s turn to pick a destination. She watched a travel video showcasing the moonshine, mountain gondolas, and food in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. When she suggested Gatlinburg, I was surprised as the city was nowhere near a beach like she favored, but after doing some research, I was excited to visit too.

Weekends were easy for me to take off but tricky for Sarah. My sister was the Operations Director for a lake resort while I was a co-host for a morning news show. Our parents’ anniversary was toward the end of March, which was a slow period for her work.

After breakfast at the hotel, we visited one of the local moonshine distilleries. We tried Friday night when we first arrived, but we didn’t have the patience to deal with the crowd. Plus, we’d figured we would have better luck in the morning. Gatlinburg’s walkability motivated us to leave our cars at the hotel. (Side tip: you should do the same as parking is hard to come by.)

The winter season still had a grip on the trees, but the skies were clear and sunny, although cold enough to warrant jackets for us as Sarah led us into Ole Smoky Moonshine. Marcus (I think that was his name) entertained us with jokes and samples of six different moonshines. I liked the sour lime while she favored the apple pie flavor. The pickle was…interesting. 

My phone buzzed as my sister stepped away to use the restroom. There was a notification that read, “You Have 3 Unread Prophecies.” I had no idea what app of mine would display such a message. I opened the notification, which brought up an app I didn’t own with a mail-like interface.

The first message said, “Bring cash for donuts.” I didn’t have any cash on me at the moment, but I remembered seeing an ATM outside the building.

“That’s a good tip,” I said as I swiped open the following prophecy.

“Go to Clingmans Dome when prompted.”

When I drove through the Smokey Mountains to get to Gatlinburg, I saw a sign for Clingmans Dome. I didn’t know anything about the place, but the name and location made me think this dome would be like an observation post. I was game to visit. I figured I could get some breathtaking photos.

The last message was the most crypt and eyebrow-raising one. “When you arrive, have your video camera ready, but be safe and don’t get caught.”

This is all so weird, I thought. I bet my sister sent these. She knows of my affection for donuts and exploring.

I tried to re-read the messages, but the app disappeared. 

My sister returned. “You ready for our next stop?”

“Sure,” I said. “Just let me hit up this ATM for some cash.”

“Good idea,” Sarah said with a straight face.

With cash now in my wallet, we strolled over to The Village, which had German architectural motifs in a cute, walkable shopping district. The place was like nothing I’d experienced before. Buildings weaved all over the place, not following any sort of grid pattern like a standard city block. Since there were no streets, delivery people hauled packages on handcarts, which I’m sure was also quite the workout for them. There were hardly any flat surfaces. I took picture after picture with my iPhone. 

Then as the prophecy foretold, we discovered the donut shop that only accepted cash. The warmth and smell of fresh donuts in the tiny cottage-like business brought a wide grin to my face. Using the money I pulled out, I paid for our treats. 

“Good thing I got some cash,” I said with a wink to my sister as we each enjoyed a chocolate long john.

“Yeah, good thing.” Her casual reply and straight face made me wonder if she did indeed send me those prophecies. She changed the subject. “What do you want to do after lunch, Lucas?”

I thought for a moment. From the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a woman with long, vibrant blue hair starring at me, but she turned away and around a building. I shrugged the watched feeling off. “Maybe we can drive around or go hiking.”

“How about Clingmans Dome?” my sister asked. “I saw a photo taken out there in the hotel lobby and thought you would like to take some pictures yourself.” 

I laughed.

Sarah crossed her arms. “What’s so funny?”

In my big brother teasing voice, I said, “Nothing.”

She repeated “nothing” in a mocking tone and then asked what I wanted for lunch. I told her anything, and she suggested we walk around some more and eat wherever caught out attention. We settled for a small burger joint, which I thought was okay. Every summer, we would do a special on creative burgers on our morning show, so I was spoiled. Technically, I’m spoiled on excellent food because of my job, but I appreciate all food, and I didn’t nitpick. My sister liked the place, and that was good for me.

Then as planned, or prophesied, we took my car and made the hour-long drive to Clingmans Dome. The information we found online warned that the road to Clingmans Dome may be closed for the season, but the gate was open for us. Despite being the weekend, the parking lot for the vantage point was empty. We chalked the lack of visitors as luck, or maybe this was the first day they opened for the season? We weren’t going to complain.

We didn’t get far into the hike when we saw a woman dressed like a spy with a long, black trench coat talking to a blue, reptilian alien creature. The alien had on this black leather outfit that made me think he needed extra warmth while also being ready to fight. I yanked my sister down, and we hid behind some rocks.

“What’s going on?” she whispered.

“You tell me,” I mocked, keeping my voice low as I pulled out my cellphone. “This was your plan for me to film this, huh?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I believed her. But who sent me those messages?

My phone had full cell service, which I thought was odd as I didn’t have any bars on the way up. I started a live stream on my Instagram. I positioned my phone like a periscope to watch without them seeing me. 

“This is an interesting location you picked.” The woman’s tone didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the location. She pulled in on her jacket.

The alien checked his surroundings. “I wanted to make sure we would be alone.”

“Of course,” said the woman. “I understand.”

The alien brought up the briefcase to his chest. “See, I don’t think you do understand. My sources told me that some other people who tried to sell to your group are never heard from again.”

The woman scoffed. “Don’t believe in rumors. Do you have the artifact?”

“My price has doubled.”

“Don’t be obscene. Give me the item at our original price.” The woman snapped her fingers, signaling the alien to bring over the briefcase.

“And cut!” I about dropped my phone from the sharp, booming voice. The voice seemed to startle the people, too, because they both jumped. A woman with a long, flowing red scarf marched from around the corner and straight toward the two people. “I think we’re done here.”

I looked around for any other film crew, but I only saw the director. My only explanation was that they were on wireless mics, and this was a drone shot, so everyone was out of sight. At least, that’s how my brain processed their setup at first. 

A fire truck honked its horn as they pulled up behind us. 

The woman with the alien held up both hands like she was trouble. “Director Lux. This isn’t what you think-”

The director turned and looked at us. “Hey, how did you two get on this set?”

I stepped forward and sort of explained. “The front gate was open.”

“That gate should’ve been locked. Now, get out of here,” the director ordered. “I better not see any footage online.”

“Right, sorry.” My sister had a good laugh at the situation. I turned off the live stream and deleted the clip.

The firetruck pulled in front of us, blocking the path. People dressed in uniforms like no other firefighter I had ever seen got out from the vehicle. I shrugged them off as actors. Before we returned to my car, Sarah said she needed to use the restroom. Luckily, there was an outhouse next to us in the parking lot. 

I listened to the film crew on the other side as I waited.

I heard the alien character complain. “I should’ve known you would’ve double-crossed me.”

“I’m in cuffs too,” the spy snapped back. “Hey, how did you find us anyway?”

“Lucas was live-streaming you, idiots,” the director said. “Our V.I. monitor caught the feed and dispatched us. You got a lot of explaining to do.”

The spy grumbled something I didn’t understand, but I understood when she said, “I bet he got a text message disguised as a prophecy.”


You Have 3 Unread Prophecies - art by Janine De Guzman and Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle

In the fall, my wife and I, along with my parents and sister, visited Gatlinburg. We didn’t even spend a full day there, but we knew we all had to come back (during a warmer month). I used the location as inspiration for the third unread prophecy stories, which are connected by the end-timer, Veritas, working to anonymously expose the illegal activities of a rouge fraction of Unity.

Thanks to Janine De Guzman and Mikey Marchan for bringing the scene at The Village to life. Thank you for reading my December short story. I got another one coming for January. Been busy with the holidays, client work, and sickness last month. 

Happy Adventures!

Real Spells for a Fake Witch - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

Real Spells for a Fake Witch

A mysterious man offers a woman dressed as a witch a device that allows her to cast real spells on Halloween. 


“Hey, Witch.”

Jill spun around with the box of wines wine she held, about to punch some guy for calling her a nasty name, but lowered her fist when the gentleman in a white suit and pink ascents continued. “I love your costume.”

“Oh, thanks,” Jill replied, her face flushed red in embarrassment from the misunderstanding. She was outside the liquor store, about to get her car after picking up some last-minute alcohol for her and her husband’s Halloween party tonight. She was dressed as a witch – decked out with a pointy purple hat, black corset, ripped leggings, and red heels for the occasion.

“It’s missing an accessory,” the man commented as he looked her over.

Jill clenched her tongue, bracing for whatever line he would give.

The man shook a finger at the sky when he realized his answer. “Real spells.”

Jill tilted her head back in unexpected confusion. “Real spells?”

“Or, more specifically, the ability to cast real spells,” he elaborated in a manner of an eccentric billionaire. 

The man in the white suit reached behind himself and impossibly pulled forward a green metal chest the size of a watermelon. Before Jill could respond, the man opened the case, revealing a glowing green fog surrounding a crystal ball. 

“Trade me one of your bottles of wine, and this device is yours,” the stranger offered.

Jill leaned forward and stared into the box. “How does it work?”

“Simply hold the crystal and say, ‘I cast,’ and what you want casted. Although, this device will only work until midnight, and you’ll have to live with whatever you created.”

Jill thought the deal over. Even if the crystal ball weren’t magical, the item would make for an excellent display prop or an accessory for her Halloween outfit. The exchange may be more in favor of the stranger, especially if the ball was mass-produced. Besides, she could always go back inside the liquor store and get another bottle of wine. She was grateful she was able to buy booze on a Sunday now.

Jill held out the case of wines. “I accept your offer.”

Without studying the selection, the man pulled out one of the wines. He reviewed the label for a moment – not long enough to read everything – before holding the chest forward for Jill. Jill picked up the crystal ball, losing herself as stars and planets swirled around inside. The display consumed her focus until the liquor store door dinged from someone entering did she snap out of her trance. Jill looked around for the stranger, but he was nowhere. She shrugged.

“I wonder,” Jill said as she held out the crystal. “I cast five boxes of red wine.”

The crystal glowed red before unleashing a spark of purple lighting at the pavement. Jill closed her eyes and jumped back but held tight onto the crystal. When she felt the danger pass, she saw five cases of premium boxed wine sitting before her. 

“Holy shit!” Jill cussed. “It fucking worked!”

Jill glanced around to see if anyone else saw what happened, but no one was around. She loaded up the wine in her black Jeep. After buckling in, Jill grabbed her iPhone from the phone mount and texted her husband. She told him to meet her in the garage as soon as she pulled inside. 

Upon arriving home, her husband followed her instructions. The garage door closed as Jill jumped out of her car.

“You won’t believe what I got,” Jill said, her voice racing as she pulled out the crystal ball from her pocket.

Her husband, Mike, took the crystal. “Neat. Where did you get this?”

“I traded a bottle of wine for it to this weird guy in a white suit,” Jill explained, still in a hurry. “It’s magically.”

Mike flipped up his eye patch for his pirate costume as he studied the crystal ball against the garage light. “I’d say.”

Jill yanked the crystal ball from him. “No, I mean, this is really magically. Watch. I cast a vanilla cake the shape and size of a human skull on a silver plate.”

The crystal glowed red before and then unleashed a spark of purple lighting at the ground, creating a vanilla skull cake. Jill smiled, proud of herself for holding steady during the spell casting this time. When she noticed Mike hadn’t said anything, she saw his face was drooped down and whiter. She picked up the cake.

“Don’t you think this is cool?” Jill asked, her voice soft.

“I’m worried,” he responded softly. “Remember that old Simpson’s Halloween special where the things they wished for had negative side effects?”

“Oh,” Jill uttered but then perked up. “But what’s wrong with this cake then?”

“I bet the cake has that fondant icing I hate,” Mike said.

Jill nabbed a tiny piece of icing from the back of the skull for a taste test. “Damn. It is fondant. But I bet other people will enjoy it.”

Mike shrugged. “I guess small spells have small consequences, so how about we keep it that way?”

Jill huffed. “I suppose you have a point. Besides, the guy said this would stop working at midnight anyway.”

“Of course he did. Typically spooky wares guy. Was he dressed in a black robe?”

“No, I said he wore a white suit with pink accents.”

“Oh, that’s right. You did say that.”

“Yeah, and he also had this strange, pink tie with white swirls,” Jill added. “The pattern made me think of Norse mythology or something like that. He wasn’t an old man either. He looked about our age.”

“Well, we should get this stuff inside,” Mike said. “We do have guests.”

“Right, you go back inside, and I’ll bring in the wine. I might have cast a spell for more wine earlier.”

Following the recommendations of her husband, Jill kept the spells small throughout the night. Whenever she wanted something, she went to the garage to create the item, which made for the perfect cover. She casted spells for things like more food, new wine glasses after being broken by a guest, full-size candy bars for the trick-or-treaters, additional Halloween decor, and other small items that wouldn’t raise suspicions.

The party lasted until almost midnight. As Jill and Mike cleaned the living room with the house to themselves, a thud hit their window. Jill thought nothing of the sound until she heard another one. She peeked out behind the curtain. A group of teenagers was throwing eggs and toilet paper at their house.

Jill pulled out the crystal from her pocket. “Oh, I’ll teach you a lesson.”

Jill stormed outside, prompting her husband to stop vacuuming and follow her. The teens laughed and started to run away. Jill’s eyebrows lowered and pulled closer together as she aimed the crystal ball.

“I cast a giant black widow to scare them!”

The crystal glowed and sparked to life a 10-foot tall black widow spider. The pranksters screamed in terror while Jill laughed in delight. The spider chased after them, knocking over her mailbox and some streetlights in the chase. The spider spewed webs, capturing the teenagers.

“Okay, this is going to have some major consequences,” her husband said.

“You’re right, you’re right,” Jill agreed with a sigh. “I cast spider be-gone.”

The crystal did not respond. Jill shook the device and tried again, but with no result.

“It’s 12:02,” Mike said while looking at his watch. “Didn’t you say everything would go away at midnight?”

“Yeah, I thought it would be like Cinderella, and everything would turn to normal, but I guess that’s not what he meant. He did say I would have to live with whatever I created.”

The black widow returned with the three teenagers, dropping them off like a cat offering a mouse. From above, three firetrucks landed like flying saucers, surrounding the spider and their home. Troops of humans in bright white and yellow uniforms poured out from the firetrucks. One with a rifle fired at the spider, stunning the creature and causing her to collapse. Another group rushed over to the teenagers and proceeded to free them.

Jill and Mike stood close together as a short woman with a yellow overcoat approached them. The couple read the name Captain Mists on her silver name tag. The leader glanced over the couple, spotting the crystal ball in Jill’s hand.

“May I see that,” Captain Mists formally requested, pointing at the crystal ball. Jill handed over the spell casting device without saying a word. The woman grunted in frustration. “Not another one.”

Captain Mists whistled, getting the attention of her team. “We got another spell caster situation. Standard procedure. Clear out anything that’s  not theirs and wipe their memories.”


Real Spells for a Fake Witch - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

This short story was triggered by my random logic process. As I was leaving a convenience/gas store, I saw a woman dressed as a witch leaving, which got me thinking of how witch rhymes with another word and what if someone offered the power to cast real spells. I’ve written a story with just Raven, so I wrote this one to feature Loki by himself.

Happy Adventures! 

The Cursed Photo from the Barbershop - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

The Cursed Photo from the Barbershop

During a walking ghost tour, a photo taken of a barbershop has consequences for a young couple.


I zipped up my hoodie to shield myself from the chilly October night breeze. The tour group moved along the downtown sidewalk and stopped in front of a barbershop. My Tinder date, who I will refer to as Rebecca, recommended the ghost tour walk. After reading one of the host’s many books about ghost stories and urban legends in Oklahoma, she learned about his guided tours. I have to admit, I was enjoying the tales from Jeff Provine about Norman.

Jeff told us that sometimes when people take a photo of the barbershop, a man in a brown overcoat and hat would appear starring back at them. Just about everyone-my date included-proceeded to pull out their phones and snap their cameras. The group inspected their photos only to have captured nothing.

The group moved forward while my date pulled me back for a moment.

“You should try with your camera with no one around,” she suggested.

When we met up for our date, Rebecca thought bringing my Polaroid camera was a fun idea. She also mentioned that she hadn’t been out with anyone with such a hobby. I was about to tell her that nothing would happen, but she put on an irresistible smirk that I could not deny. I smiled at her and pulled up my camera. I enjoyed the thoughtful, selective nature of the limited printed photos in a world of unlimited takes. While the tour host talked about the restaurant next door, I snapped a picture of the barbershop.

We rejoined the group, letting the photograph develop in my hoodie’s pocket. After a few stops, Rebecca asked to see if the barbershop photo had finished developing. I pulled out the picture, and she inspected the image like a person searching for treasure.

“I think you got something here,” Rebecca whispered with excitement as she showed me the photo.

“That looks like a brown smudge to me,” I told her with honesty. 

“Well, maybe it needs to develop more,” she said.

I didn’t say anything back. She was too cute, and I was enjoying the night. The tour was more informative than scary. We didn’t actually go hunting for ghosts, and no one jumped out to scare us. I think the best way to describe the experience was like a walking history tour involving ghosts and murders. I don’t want to spoil the tour for anyone, but I wanted to give some backstory on my cursed barbershop photo.

After the tour, Rebecca and I went our separate ways. When I got back to my apartment, my roommate was still gone. He was out of town for the weekend visiting family. He was a relatively chill roommate who kept to himself. He let me decorate the dining area, which I did by hanging my Polaroid prints with clothespins and strings all over the room. He thought they added much life to the bland beige walls of the apartment.

As I dumped out my belongings on the dining table, I got a text from my date asking me to send her a photo of all of the Polaroid pictures from the night. I laid them all out on the rustic white table my parents handed down to me when they bought a new one for themselves. Using my phone, I took a picture of the dozen prints. In the process, I took a closer look at the one in front of the barbershop. Where I thought I saw a blemish at first resembled more of the person Jeff described. I sent Rebecca a closeup and a copy to the tour guide too. Rebecca immediately FaceTimed me.

“I told you!” was the first thing she blurted out to me. “I told you so!”

“Okay, okay,” I admitted. Then I thought of a line. “Maybe you should come over and make sure this man in brown doesn’t try to kill me.”

Rebecca laughed. “Maybe I should. You know, to make sure you don’t die. Text me your address.”

I texted her my address, and she said she would be there in about 15 minutes. I proceeded to tidy up the apartment. I cleaned the place before leaving, but I didn’t expect her to come here as this was our third date. I started with the kitchen since I was already there. After emptying the dishwasher, I rounded up the prints on the table. As I was picking them up, I noticed the man in brown was in all of the photos. He stood in the exact same position compared to the one in the barbershop.

I assured myself, “This was to be some exposure glitch.”

I stacked the photos face down on the coffee table. I decided to worry about them later. I scrambled around the apartment, throwing out trash and cleaning dirty surfaces. I was straightening my bedsheets when I heard the doorbell rang.

I rushed to the door. However, when I answered, no one was there. I called out hello, but no one but the wind answered. I questioned my hearing. Did the doorbell ring? I closed the door and checked my phone. There were no new messages from Rebecca, and only 10 minutes had passed since her last text. As I was about to put away my phone, I received a text from Jeff.

“Thank you, but I should warn you that those who were able to capture a photo of the man in brown said they were haunted by him until they got rid of the picture,” Jeff’s message read with a winky face emoji at the end. 

I chuckled. He was clearly joking around, or at least that’s what I thought at the time. On my way back, I realized all of tonight’s prints had been scattered all over the living room. I proceeded to pick them up, which I figured got blown around from the wind when I opened the door. As I collected the final one, the doorbell rang. There was no mistaking the ring was mine.

I put the prints in my back jean pocket and answered the door. The man in brown stood before me with an old straight razor to Rebecca’s throat and a hand covering her mouth. Dirt covered his three-piece suit like someone dragged his outfit out of the ground.

“I want the photos,” the man demanded in a low grumble. His voice sounded rough like he hadn’t spoken in ages.

Without hesitation, I handed them over, and he pushed Rebecca onto me during the exchange, causing us to fall backward. As we stood up to shut the door, the man was gone.

Rebecca and I ended up staying up all night – not in the way I had hoped.


The Cursed Photo from the Barbershop - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

After the love for my previous short story, I’ll Never Walk Sutton Wilderness in the Dark Again, I was inspired to write another semi-realistic horror piece. This one was inspired by a story by Jeff Provine where people on his ghost tour would capture a photo of a man in a brown suit at the barbershop in downtown Norman, Oklahoma. So, yes, that part is true! I thought having the man come to life to reclaim the pictures would be a spooky tale for the season.

Thanks to Janine De Guzman for bringing the photographic moment to life.

Thank you for reading and Happy Halloween!

I’ll never walk Sutton Wilderness in the dark again - art by Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle

I’ll Never Walk Sutton Wilderness in the Dark Again

This is the story of why I’ll never walk Sutton Wilderness in the dark again.



The sun wouldn’t rise for another hour when I leashed up my dog for our walk. You see, my wife and I started going to the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Last week, our trainer wanted us to add cardio to our routine, so Tuesdays and Thursdays became our cardio days. Our gym was small, and with only one treadmill working at the moment, I opted to get my exercise later in the day via a hike through the nearby urban wilderness. I figured this would also be an excellent opportunity to walk our dog, Penny. 

Fall showed no signs of coming early to Oklahoma as we stepped outside to the 75-degree heat. With all of the lakes and the Gulf Stream, Oklahoma can get unbearably humid. On Tuesday, when I did the walk at 10 am, I felt sweaty enough to want to take a second shower from a 40-minute hike, so this was much better. Today, I opted to start at 6 am before I’d shower and match my wife’s time at the gym.

Despite the dark, there were several cars parked in the lot for Sutton Wilderness. 

“Goes to show that the Sutton Goatman isn’t real,” I joked.

I had heard of the urban legend about a Goatman stalking the woods at night, but that was the extent of my knowledge until I listened to a local podcast that went more in-depth. The host described the story as one that echoed other Goatman stories across the nation. His research compared the sightings of woodland monsters, like bigfoot, through a cultural lens, with people from British backgrounds familiar with apemen, werewolves from Germanic history, and the goatmen from the Dutch. Similar to other Goatman stories, this creature existed near a hospital, or in the case of Sutton Wilderness, a psychiatric ward.

The urban wilderness was once grounds for the Griffon Memorial Hospital, an old central state mental hospital. As the hospital shrunk, the state turned the landscape into the park people enjoy today. According to urban legends, the hospital found a baby deformed with horns to the point they thought the child was a goat at first. The hospital cared for the baby, and as the child grew up and the landscape changed, the child decided to stay here.

The podcast host noted that this would put the Goatman well over 70 years old and said that some people believe the spirit of the Goatman is what haunts the woods. Regardless of the form, the legend warns that people will hear footsteps made by hooves coming from behind them. If a person walked faster or slower, the steps would match their pace until one would feel hot breath on their neck, by which time, you were too late. If you turned around, the Goatman would grab you and drag you deep into the woods–never to be seen again.

The main trail for the park was about a mile and a half long, with the two main entrances looping back at a wooden pavilion. We took the path to our right. Although it was dark, and I could barely see with all of the tree coverage, I was more concerned about my dog eating something she shouldn’t than anything else. The city had widened the trails a couple of years ago to give people more space when crossing each other and reduce the tick population.

My dog stopped. Her ears perked up and turned to the south toward the rhythmic beat of drums off in the distance. 

I tugged on her leash and assured her, “It’s just the high school band practicing, Penny.”

I was over a third of the way on the trail before I encountered my first person. They appeared to be an older gentleman–hard to say with the blue disposable face mask, long sleeve shirt, pants, and fisher hat they wore. I nodded my head hello, and they walked past without saying a word.

When we got to the long straight path near the pond, something behind us caught my dog’s attention. I turned around, and there was a white light floating through the bushes, moving fast along the trail and getting closer. I’m ashamed to admit that my brain took a long moment before realizing this was a headlight from a bike. In my defense, bicycles were not allowed on the trails. I pulled Penny closer to me as we moved to the side and let them pass.

Penny and I came to the final stretch of the woods, which had the thickest tree coverage. Penny’s tail curled inward as she got closer to my side. An educational sign about life in the woods highlighted the various animals one could find, such as bark beetles, ornate box turtles, cedar waxwings, bobcats, eastern wood rats, and downy woodpeckers. Back away from the sign was a hut made out of fallen tree branches. I always viewed this “fairy house” as something fun for kids to explore, but not today.

There were pieces of the bike I saw earlier scattered on the ground. The bike looked like it had been mangled by some machine as no person or creature could do that kind of damage. I turned on my phone’s flashlight. While I stayed put on the paved trail, I used the light to follow the bike pieces to the hut.

Something moved inside. I cut away the shadows with my light and revealed a pair of green eyes reflecting at me.

I ran, and so did Penny. I was struggling to keep up with her, but I had her on the leash still. Behind us, I heard what sounded like hooves matching my pace on the paved trail. I dared not to look back.

The sun was rising as we made our escape out of the woods and back to the gazebo. With the sound of hooves gone and no warm breath on my neck, I stopped to catch my breath. Staying behind in the trees was someone about my height. I thought I saw horns like a goat, but as I tried to get a good look at them, they faded into the shadows.


I’ll never walk Sutton Wilderness in the dark again - art by Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle

This short story was inspired by an actual walk I had through Sutton Wilderness one morning. My muse spoke to me along the walk and I recorded several voice-to-text memos of the scenes for this story as I walked my dog. Bits like the drums, the person in the mask walking, and the cyclist happened to me, adding to the realism of the story.

The podcast referenced in the story was from the Tales Unveiled episode, The Wilderness of Sutton. (I also produce this show and voice Sam.) The goatman legend is one of the urban legends about the area, so if you want to know more about this myth and others, give the episode a listen.

While I first published the story to my supporters on Patreon, I did share this on r/NoSleep where the work got some great feedback and traction. I had a few people reach out to me asking if they could read the story on their channel, so I’m excited about that experience. I’ll update this page with those links as I get them. (Find them at the top.)

Thank you to Mikey Marchan at Design Pickle for creating the story art based on my photo. Love the woods scene? You can get Spooky Sutton Wilderness design in my store.

Thank you for reading!

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!

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