Lisa Stenton — Likable Living with a Lifeless Lawyer (Pt. 1/2)

“The worst part is, just when you start thinking you’ve got a handle on things, she changes it up on you.”

I tried to make a distinct frown in between coffee sips. It probably just looked like I hated the coffee. “What do you mean?” I asked.

Sam curled her hair around one ear and looked around to make sure nobody was paying attention. When she felt safe, she scooted her chair closer to me. “Chloe has recently declared a war on wearing clothes. It’s ridiculous. She’s fine with the diaper, thank God, but I can’t take her anywhere because she starts screaming her head off.”

I shrugged and took another sip of coffee. “Sounds a lot like you in high school, minus the diaper, of course.”

“Lisa! We’re in public!” she hissed, blushing.

“Well, I just thought the irony was funny. She’s already so much like you.”

“You certainly haven’t changed at all,” Sam huffed. “It’s no surprise you’re still single.”


We were both quiet for a moment, staring at each other. But then she smirked, and I smirked, and we both started laughing.

“It’s been too long,” we both said in unison. A brief pause and we chuckled again.

“How’s the painting going?” Sam asked, pulling her frazzled hair from her face.

That was one way to kill the mood. “Slowly,” I admitted. “I’ve… been busy, lately.”

“With what?”

Here we go. I had to deflect fast. “Work’s just been a nightmare these past few weeks.”

“Did you get a new job? I thought you were still working night shifts at that shady hotel?”

“It’s not as easy as I make it sound.”

“You always say they’re just paying for the body and that they let you watch Netflix all day.”

“Well it’s not.”

“Lisa,” Sam smiled. “I love you and all, but you’ve got to work on your lying skills.”

I shrugged. I should have known that wouldn’t work. I did know that wouldn’t work. “I’m just a little confused is all. Life’s been different lately.”

“Different how?”

I thought about how to answer that. I could be vague and change the subject. I could tell her I didn’t want to talk about it. But Sam was a friend. A good friend, and though we didn’t see much of each other these days, I trusted her.

“Did you see my post on Twitter about that weird dream I had a few weeks ago?”

Sam looked up, then back at me, nodding. “That one with the lava and the old music player?”

“Yeah.” I could feel my chest pounding. I had never told anyone the truth. “Do… do you believe in things like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, or weird things science can’t explain?”

Skepticism washed over her face. “I don’t believe anything I see on TV or online.” She took a sip of her own coffee as if to prove it.

“What about ghost stories?”

Sam choked as she drank, putting the cup down and swallowing carefully as if I had just suggested jumping on the table and screaming. “I’m sorry?” she asked, still clearing her throat.

I frowned. “Ghost stories? Not like in the scary horror movies or the TV shows about haunted houses. Why was that so troubling?”

She waved a hand, assuming a more casual posture. “Oh, it’s nothing. I just watched Oculus last night after putting Chloe to bed. Terrible idea.”

I sighed, wanting to continue the conversation, but not liking how public the coffee place was. “Right. Actually, do you want to go back to my apartment? Do you have somewhere to be?”

“Well, I have to pick Chloe up from daycare soon, but we’ve got time. I just hope she wasn’t a brat again today.”

“Why don’t you just get a babysitter? They’re cheaper and can hang out at your house.”

“I don’t like the idea of somebody that doesn’t know me staying at my house,” she said.

“What, do you think they’ll steal from you?”

“Something like that. I’m still having trouble getting over my trust issues.”

I winced. “Sorry, didn’t mean to bring it up.”

“It’s fine,” Sam said, but her fist was clenched. “You’ll have to tell me where your new place is.”

We got up from the table and threw our cups away as we walked outside. “I’ll text you the address,” I said. “But you can just follow me. Also, warning you now. It’s not the cleanest. Or the biggest… Or the—”

“Oh stop,” she laughed, slapping me on the shoulder as she pulled her keys out. “I’m sure it’s awesome. I’ll see you there!”


About twenty minutes later I opened the door to my apartment, and the two of us stepped in. It really was a mess. Dirty clothes littered both the couch and the floor in one of the corners, the carpet obviously hadn’t been vacuumed in weeks, and forgotten dishes sat on the coffee table. That was the worst part. The kitchen was twenty feet away and I didn’t even have the decency to put them in the sink. I was regretting everything about the decision to bring her here.

“I really need to pull myself together,” I muttered.

“I think it’s great,” Sam said, rushing over to Whimsy, who laid sprawled in the middle of the carpet where the sun peeked through from the only window.

“Ah, yes. My official Guest Distractor. Keeping people I have over from noticing how much of a literal dump my apartment really is,” I sighed, grabbing pants and underwear on the couch and stuffing them into a single pile along with the other clothes in the corner. I should at least get a hamper for the laundry.

I scooped up some dishes and rushed them over to the sink, rinsing them off. The leftover food didn’t come off with the water, but cleaning it now would be even more embarrassing.

Sam didn’t seem to mind. She was still pushing her face into Whimsy, who was now purring loudly as he snuggled back. She didn’t love cats as much as she let on, and we both knew it, but she was polite enough to seem distracted to give me time to clean a bit. I really missed having her around.

“I see the rule of ‘Whimsy likes everyone except me’ is still in effect,” I said, grabbing something off the counter and returning to the living room.

“Aww, he loves everybody, he just doesn’t need to prove it to his mom,” she cooed.

“Could have fooled me,” I grumbled, glancing over to where I knew some of the pawprints stained the carpet from earlier.

She looked at me, head still buried in Whimsy as much as possible. “So did you want to just show me your new place? Or let me say hi to your cat?”

“No, I wanted to tell you what’s been bothering me.”


“That dream I posted. The one we were talking about earlier. It…” I took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly. “It wasn’t a dream.”

“What do you mean?”

“That story with that masked guy coming into my house, then the weird tunnel, then the music and that guy luring a bunch of tiny ghosts to their deaths was real. It happened. I changed up a few of the facts, but it’s true for the most part.”

“Ah, so you’re crazy.”

“I think so,” I nodded, not sure what to feel in that moment.

She stood up and sat next to me on the couch. “We’ve all got our own brand of crazy, Lisa. ‘Bout time you discovered your own.”

“You don’t understand. I have proof.” I produced the red Sharpie the masked guy had given me. Taking the cap off, I wrote ‘mug’ in cursive right on the coffee table. Sam made a sound of confusion, but the word immediately folded into itself, forming into the shape of a small, solid red coffee mug.

Sam stared at it, expression blank. “Holy s—”

“Wait,” I interrupted, grabbing the mug and walking into the kitchen. I turned the sink on and poured water into it, bringing it back to Sam and handing it to her.

She took it with a careful, overprotective grip, as if handling the Mona Lisa or something.

“You can drink it, it’s just tap water,” I said. Part of me wanted to laugh at how astonished she was, but I didn’t want to seem rude.

She put the cup to her lips and drank. “How did you…”

Okay, I couldn’t resist messing with her. “Oh, just wait.” I held my hand out, and she gave the mug back to me. I drank the rest of the water and threw the mug across the room into the kitchen.

It shattered with a loud crash, and Sam flinched. “Oh God!” she cried, shielding her eyes from any shrapnel.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ve been toying with it a lot. It’s the Sharpie that’s magic, not anything I make with it. As far as I can tell, you can only write one word, and it has to be in cursive. That word takes the shape of whatever you write, influenced by whatever you’re thinking of. You can only have one object at a time, and if it breaks, it shatters into a million pieces that vanish almost instantly. It can’t hurt you.”

“You almost gave me a heart attack,” she breathed.

“Here, try it yourself.” I handed the Sharpie to her. She drew back, cautious, but with a nod and a smile she took it.

“Anything?” she asked.

“Write one word in cursive. Small objects work better, and you can’t make living things.”

She deflated at that. “So I can’t infest your house with magical red snakes? Or spiders?”

“You sound incredibly disappointed at something you thought was literally impossible two minutes ago,” I chided. “Plus, you can only make the one anyway.”

She wrote the word ‘bike’ on the coffee table, and the red words folded into a three-dimensional space as they formed a bike. It was too small for an adult to use, and as soon as it finished forming, gravity pulled it down and it fell off the table onto the carpet.

“Also, I’ve found that small objects work better,” I added.

“This is amazing!” she said, eyes lighting up as she stared back and forth between the Sharpie and the bike.

“Li… sa…?”

I looked over to see Doc standing on the arm of the couch, his enormous head tilting back and forth like a curious dog. It wasn’t as cute without the floppy ears, but I still found it charming.

“Oh!” I shouted, grabbing Sam’s arms and pointing excitedly to the spirit I had befriended from the lake of lava. “There he is, there he is!”

Sam broke out of her reverie to see where I was pointing. “Who?”

“Doc! One of the tiny ghosts I saved from the lake of lava. He’s sort of been my roommate since then.”

“Your… roommate,” she said, voice flat.

“Yeah. Well, maybe more of a pet. I was the one who named him Doc. He can talk, so I figured he could teach me about the supernatural. He isn’t so good at sentences, though, so I haven’t learned much.” Realizing I was talking too fast, I exhaled slowly, then noticed the confusion in her face. “You can’t see him? That’s disappointing. Whimsy can. They don’t get along so well, though.”

“Maybe you really are crazy,” she smiled.

“Wha—but I just showed you real magic!”

“No, no, I totally understand. Now I know why you wanted to show me your place.”

I frowned. “I’ve seen the little guys walking around town since that one day. They’re not everywhere, but they’re pretty common. Maybe one per twenty people I encounter in just daily life.”

“You said they’re ghosts?”

“I mean, they seem like it. They can pass through things when they want to, and they have eye holes like I would imagine ghosts have. Not real faces. They can’t fly, though. But let me tell you: it’s super unsettling when you’re in the shower and he’s suddenly there.”

“I know what you mean,” Sam nodded.

“Yeah. They’re kinda cute, though. Doc is the only one I’ve ‘adopted’, if you will, but—wait. You know what I mean?”

She looked away, putting the cap back on the Sharpie and setting it on the coffee table. “I… uh… yeah. My house is haunted. I know what you mean.”

“Your… really? Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I’ve been sure for a few months now. I don’t know what to do about it, though. I’m not sure if I should like—get an exorcism or something. I don’t want to be one of the crazies.”

“Like me?”

She smirked. “Like you.”

“Is that the real reason you didn’t want to get a babysitter?”

She nodded.

“If you’re feeling unsafe, you should get out Sam.”

“That’s the thing, though!” she said, leaning towards me and putting her hands on my leg. “I don’t feel unsafe. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, with work, and Chloe, and you know all the legal custody stuff. But the ghost that’s haunting my house is… like… helpful. And that’s the craziest thing of all. If I sleep in too late, doors will slam. If I drop something breakable, it almost looks like it slows down before it hits the ground. If it’s too hot, the AC will turn on even though I didn’t set it.”

“That last one sounds like a problem with your electrical.”

“And my bills are way lower than they should be if the wiring is faulty!”

She sounded like she was complaining, which I found a little annoying. How could anyone complain about having access to free AC in California?

“And you’ve never seen any ghost in your house?”

She shook her head. “Never.”

“But you also can’t see…” I turned to Doc, who was still bobbing his head back and forth playfully.

“But you can see them,” Sam finished the thought.


(Read Pt. 2 here!)

Lisa Stenton — The Last Laugh at the Lake of Lava (Pt. 2/2)

(Read Pt. 1 here!)


It was bright. Not like the blinding light of the sun peeking through the window in the morning and waking you up. It was just super colorful. Like I had stepped into a kindergarten classroom that the kids had barfed paint all over. There wasn’t any white or black to be seen.

I found myself in what seemed to be a giant hallway. Both my right and left extended out endlessly, though I couldn’t see very far. A hazy blue fog obscured my view so I couldn’t see past a few hundred feet. The hallway was both wide and tall. Several dozen feet in both directions. On both walls there was an innumerable amount of doors. They were only separated by about a foot or so. And some of the doors were several feet off the ground. The hallway was slightly rounded off the edges, and there were absolutely no features to identify beyond the various door handles, which were all unique in their own right. No stairs, no tables, no benches. Just a huge hallway with a bunch of doorways and no end in sight.

After a few moments, I also noticed the sound of music. It seemed to be a sole piano, and though it was distant, but unmistakable. In fact it was the only thing I could hear. My footsteps made no sound whatsoever. I even tested it by stomping. I tried snapping, and then shouting. Nothing. I almost tried clapping when I realized I still held the red Sharpie in my left hand.

“What in the world?” I said. Well, at least I tried to say it. I felt my mouth move, but still the only noise was the piano playing so far away, and yet somehow so near.

I turned back to the door I had come from, still ajar. Like a window back to the bland world of normalcy. No amazing colors. Just Lisa’s small, lame apartment.

Movement caught my eye, and I hurriedly focused on it as I backed to safety.

Tiny little creatures walked out of some of the doorways, passing through them rather than opening them. They were about as high as my knee I guessed, with heads bigger than their torsos and arms and legs the size of baby carrots. Their shape and color varied somewhat, but they all seemed to be some sort of translucent pastel. They had only the barest modicum of a face—only two eye sockets and a hole where the mouth should be. They looked like colored sheet ghosts, really, only humanoid shaped rather than formless. And their heads gave me a vague impression of lumpy bowling balls. To my surprise, I found the little things adorable.

Whatever they were, they were all marching (though they didn’t have knees) in the same direction. They made no sound as they all massed to the right. I watched as one colored a sky blue tripped and faceplanted onto the painted floor. His tiny little limbs noodled around, but he couldn’t seem to pick himself up.

They were moving like a giant, or tiny, rather, herd of… mice? I don’t know. There must be tiny animals that travel in herds. Lemmings! It was like a tiny herd of lemmings, but even so I found my way across to the one that had fallen over. Gently, I grabbed his head and pulled him onto his feet. It felt cold and sort of squishy, but he was practically weightless. I got the distinct impression that he was male, even if none of the creatures seemed to have any sort of gender. Thus saved, the little thing glanced up at me, cocking his head.

But then, both of us seemed to notice the music once again, and he joined the other little ghosts as he walked alongside the rest of the lemming herd.

I followed the crowd with tentative steps. They didn’t move fast—consequence of their carrot legs—so I could have turned around at any time. With how much bigger I was (wow, I don’t think I’ve ever said that in my life), running in the opposite direction and bulldozing over them probably would have been easy. If it came to that.

These little guys seemed entranced. By the music, probably. Though it was still quiet, it seemed somewhat clearer in my mind. If it was magic—a notion I found myself more and more willing to accept—it didn’t work on me. I was just a curious bystander wondering where these little guys were going.

As we walked through the endless shades of reds and yellows and blues, the crowd of little guys got thicker. They all bunched up around one specific door, trying to get past one another without having the dignity, intelligence, or supervision to make an orderly line.

By now the hallway was absolutely filled with them, and walking was getting difficult. Of course, the ones closest to the door never opened it. They weren’t even tall enough to reach the handle. Instead, they just passed through like it wasn’t even there. It was eerie seeing so many little things moving around and yet not hearing anything except for the music.

The piano was still quiet, which seemed weird. I must have walked a quarter mile or more. If anything, the music sounded grainy, like it was coming from one of those old record players with the brass horn on it.

I carefully stepped in between the squishy little ghosts and approached the door. The handle to this one was pretty ostentatious—one of those twisty carved bar handles to mansions. It didn’t seem to have a hinge, or whatever you call those mechanisms that keep the door closed. So once I got close enough, I grabbed the handle and pulled.

A rush of hot air blew into the hallway as the door opened. The floor on the other side was dark, natural stone. With the little ghosts bunched up both ahead of and behind me, I stepped outside into the noonday sun.

I could feel the heat through my shoes as I stepped onto the rock and gazed out into the open air. I heard some sort of… bubbling, in addition to the piano now, which was definitely an old recording rather than a live performance.

The little things were waddling off and, to my horror, plummeting out of sight as they stepped off a cliff ahead of me. They really were lemmings!

I scrambled after them, but stopped short as the light and heat of the enormous pool of lava blasted into my face. I had to recoil at the intensity of it. A phonograph sat on a nearby outcropping at the edge of the cliff (and I felt a wave of satisfaction having remembered what it was called). I didn’t know the composer, but the piano was fast paced, almost comical in a sense. Like the music to a silent film that was sped up. The way it was angled, the little guys were walking straight out of the door—which, I realized now, was carved directly into the rock—and headed straight for the source of the music, only to fall into the pit below.

I crept on my hands and knees to the edge once more, and exhaled a breath of relief when I saw that there was a huge iron cage installed below the cliff that was catching them. They weren’t falling to their deaths, at least. But there had to have been hundreds of ghost-things already, trapped like the fish in the net at the end of Finding Nemo.

“Well, well, well!” a voice boomed from ahead of me, across the lake. I glanced up to see a well-dressed man standing on a column of rock that jutted out from the cliff. His coat wasn’t quite modern, and the staff he held looked like he had taken it right out of a video game. “If it isn’t the always punctual Lisa Stenton! We meet again, for the first time—for the last time!” He spoke that last bit with an air of ruthless defiance, his free hand clenched as he shook it towards me.

“First my cat ruins my house, then this skull-face guy breaks in through my closet looking for my mom, and now this evil super villain guy killing ghost things knows me by name,” I muttered under my breath as I stood. “Sure, Lisa. You’re not insane. You’re just having a rough day. No biggie.” I looked back to the river of little guys flowing into the cage. “What in the world is going on? Who are you?” I yelled to him.

“My name is Wesley Blankenship, wizard extraordinaire and a chronomancer of unique talent, thanks to you. You and I are both doubtless here for the same reason: revenge! As for me, you and your little leech friend have ruined my plans one too many times, so I’m going to destroy it before you two get the chance to meet! Not to mention that you’re the one that got me into this mess! I’m ruining your future so you won’t be there to ruin my past!”

I frowned. My little friend? Ruining his past? What was he talking about?

Whatever his plans were, I had to stop him. Those little guys were obviously creatures of some sort, and were defenseless.

Somehow I had to stop that music.

I started pacing towards it (if running near a swimming pool was dangerous, I could only imagine how dangerous it was with lava pools), and he started laughing. He held his staff up and angled it carefully, and the light of the sun reflecting off his staff shot right into my eyes.

Flinching, I threw my arms up, blocking the intense beam. He was laughing even harder now. A chilling and menacing, but undoubtedly practiced, laugh.

Something hard struck me on the back of my head, and I staggered forward, reeling in pain. I eased my eyes open. The guy on the rock wasn’t there anymore.

I turned around to see him standing right behind me, swinging the staff upwards in another attack.

It caught me right in the stomach, groaning as I doubled over. I could have stayed in bed today, I thought. Getting beat up on the top of a volcano was definitely not on the agenda.

Mercifully, he stopped. I looked up to see him slack jawed, staring at me in… terror? But no, he wasn’t looking at me.

He was looking at the red Sharpie that I somehow still had on my person.

“You already have it?” he said, shocked. “Impossible. You aren’t supposed to be Wizened yet!”

Head and stomach throbbing, I got to my knees and held it up at him as if it was some sort of weapon. If he was scared of it, maybe I could beat him. Or get out of here, in the very least. After a second thought, I pulled the cap off and stuck it on the back end. “Get back or… or I’ll…” I’ll what?

He furrowed his brow. “You… don’t know how to use it?”

Uh oh. He was on to me. I took a quick breath and lunged at him, swiping the Sharpie downwards. I slashed down and got the sleeve of his coat pretty good.

Nothing happened.

Wesley smiled and started laughing again. “You don’t know how to use it! Wonderful! I’ll destroy you and take the artifact! Besides, my cursive is much better than your pathetic scribbling. With the pen in my hand, no one will be able to stop me!”

Cursive. I had written on my notepad, but it hadn’t done anything. It had to be cursive?

He swung at me again, but I ducked out of the way and ran in the opposite direction. My head pulsed again with a throb of pain, and I tripped over the uneven rock.

My knee skidded against the ground, and I winced in pain. He was coming. I didn’t have time to get back up.

Panicked, I wrote ‘gun’ in cursive on the rock.

I watched as the word began to glow and actually lift off the ground. The letters wrapped around themselves and… turned into a pistol, a solid red color, the same color as the ink from the Sharpie.

With one swift motion, I scooped it up and swung around, aiming it at him as he made to strike at me again with his staff. He stopped short instantly.

“Whoa,” he said. “Let’s not get hasty here.”

I didn’t want to kill this guy. I didn’t know if I could. He seemed bad, but I really had no grasp on what was really going on here. If I had to… go to court or something for this later, could I call this self defense?

I pointed at his foot and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

The blood drained from my face. I had a gun, but I didn’t have bullets. I was still powerless.

He smirked and swung downwards.

I rolled to the side, dodging out of the way. Rushing to my feet I threw the gun at his head.

It didn’t hit him in the forehead like I had been hoping, but he did grunt in pain when it smacked his nose.

I bolted for the phonograph. That ridiculous piano was still playing, and the ghosts were still falling into the cage. It was super packed now.

I looked back to the phonograph, and the wizard guy was now standing in the way.

The momentum carried me right into another vicious swing of his pointy staff. I could feel the blood on my cheek before I even hit the ground.

“How… did you…” I muttered.

“Chronomancy,” he said. “Your future self had the audacity to sever my temporal connection to the world. A small blessing in some ways, but it’s a infuriating when you go into a Starbucks only to find that the drink you hadn’t ordered yet is already ready and cold. You can’t imagine the horrible things I’ve had to suffer through because of this curse. Because of you!”

Hurriedly, I wrote ‘sword’ on the ground with the Sharpie.

As he approached, I swung upwards with the solid red blade as hard as I could.

Metal slammed against metal as I sliced right through his staff. The force of the blow thrust the two pieces from his grasp, and it toppled over the cliff into the lava below.

He staggered backwards, anger and fear painted on his face.

Getting to my feet took some effort and no small amount of pain. I hurt all over, but he didn’t seem eager to fight anymore. The sword was a lot heavier than I expected, but now he was the one who was unarmed.

Short of breath, I walked over to the phonograph and heaved it off the cliff. The music stopped almost immediately. I didn’t even hear it hit impact the lake over the sound of the bubbling. I watched as the spirits all stopped walking in a little trance. They all seemed to regain a sense of themselves.

“No!” he shouted, looking back and forth between the ghosts and me. “No, no, no! You’ve ruined everything!”

You’re the one who attacked me! And those little guys, too!”

“You started this,” he seethed. “And I’ll be damned if I let you be the one to end it.”

He charged.

I had nowhere to run. On all sides of me was more lava.

Throwing the sword away, I dropped as low to the ground as I could right as he lunged for me.

A rush of air whizzed over me, and it was followed by a loud slam against the rock along with a cry of panic.

I peeked around to see him barely holding on to the rock by his forearms.

“You give up yet?” I said, trying to sound confident. It came out as a request.

“I may have seen the last of you, Lisa Stenton,” he said. “But you have most certainly not seen the last of me! I will be your end, even if it’s the first thing I do!”

And with that, he let go of the rock. My breath caught. One moment he was there. The next, he wasn’t.

I didn’t have the courage to look over to see if he… made it. I didn’t want to have to live with what I expected to see.

But it seemed it was over. Whatever it was.

This wasn’t how Harry Potter was introduced to the supernatural. I wondered if I was supposed to have some guide. Some sort of Hagrid that would teach me about wizards and goblins and vampires or whatever. Instead, I was just a girl that had found herself, by circumstance alone, fighting a wannabe villain based on some weird personal vendetta against her. My mom owed me some sort of explanation for my near death today.

I turned back to see the little ghosts starting to file back into the doorway through which we had all come. ‘The Passway’, I supposed.

“L…Lisa?” I heard another voice say. It was high pitched and distinctly not human.

I looked down to see one of the little ghosts looking up at me. He was sky blue just like… like the one I had helped up after he had tripped.

“You can talk?” I asked.

“A… little,” he replied. His voice went up and down. His voice was like a wind chime trying to speak English.

“Well, we should probably go home. I’ve got to clean still. And maybe go to a hospital. We’ll see.”

“Home,” he hummed. “With you?”

“That’s not what I meant. Haven’t you got a home?”

He hummed, but made no reply.

“I suppose you can stay with me a while,” I said. “I have to admit I am a little curious as to what you are.” That gave me an idea. “Maybe you can be my guide!”

“Guide…” he said. “Home?”

“Well, I’ll take you home. Then you tell me what you know. Deal?”

“… Deal.”

Having almost forgotten about the spirits in the cage, I really had to scratch my head as to how I would get them out. Eventually, I remembered my Sharpie, and wrote ‘ladder’. It worked perfectly, and though I was worried I’d have to make several hundred trips scooping them out, they actually managed to hop onto the rungs themselves and climb their way out. It took probably an hour for them to clear out, but I didn’t mind. None of my cuts were bad, and though I’d look atrocious tomorrow, I was pretty sure I only needed some good rest.

I realized later that finding my way back could have been a nightmare. All of the doors in the colorful Passway looked the same, except for the handles. In fact, I might never have found my way back home, had I not left the door to my closet wide open. Whoops.

Luckily, Whimsy was still locked in my bathroom. And after thorough inspection of the rest of my house, I concluded that nothing spooky, supernatural, or magical had found their way into my apartment via my closet. I really should invest in a lock of some sort, but for now, I settled for pushing all the boxes against the door to deter any would-be intruders.

Plus, I kept the red Sharpie on my nightstand. Just in case I needed a sword at a moment’s notice.

Lisa Stenton — The Last Laugh at the Lake of Lava (Pt. 1/2)

(Story art pending! And all other Lisa Stenton stories are now considered non-canon. Treat this as the first time you’re seeing this character.)


A lot of creative people might tell you that beginning is the hardest part. Back in high school I had a few writer friends that would say that, at least. Honestly, I don’t get what all the fuss is about. Beginning is easy. You get a blank page (or a canvas in my case), and you just put down whatever’s on your mind. Doesn’t matter if it’s bad. You just get it done and draw whatever’s on your mind the next day. Super simple.

Not that that philosophy has ever gotten me anywhere. I’d like to think I’m a good artist. I’ve thought about trying to sell some of my stuff online, but nothing’s ever as good as I want it to be. I was hoping today’s piece — a girl in a dress looking out across a creek — would be the first of many masterpieces.

But then I made the mistake of leaving a mostly finished project unprotected while I took a bathroom break. And when I got back, my cat was lazily strolling about my desk, where my canvas lay (I had always preferred painting on a flat picture rather than an easel). With my luck, he had stepped in the oils first.

Unfortunately, a trail of pink paw prints don’t really make sense over a landscape painting.

“Whimsy!” I yelled, shoulders drooping in dismay. “Come on, get down! Down!” I snapped twice, spurring him into motion.

The cat jumped off the desk and onto the tile. He didn’t seem to mind that he had ruined a good three hours of work. Whoever coined the phrase ‘curiosity killed the cat’ was right. I was going to murder him.

But not before he continued to destroy my apartment. Because while the area immediately around my desk was tile, everything else was carpet, and as soon as I realized my mistake, I scrambled after him.

He subsequently turned into a blur of blackness, zooming across the place. I felt like I was chasing my own shadow.

Two minutes, a ruined shirt, and a significantly more pink apartment later, I had managed to put him in the bathroom where the amount of havoc he could wreak was lessened. I exhaled slowly, burying my face in my hands. This was going to take all day to clean, if not longer.

I took off my cap and changed into a new shirt. Ruined as it may have been, I didn’t want to worsen the problem as I was cleaning. My leggings had gotten paint on them, too, but it was sparse enough to ignore.

Clean shirt and cap back on, I was ready to get back to work. Maybe not the work I wanted to be doing right then, but some days just don’t go your way. If anything, I wanted to strangle Whimsy, who was incessantly meowing and scratching at the bathroom door.

I would never willingly hurt him. But on days like today, I really wanted to.

“Alright Google,” I mumbled under my breath, pulling open my laptop as I sat back down at the desk. “Please tell me oil isn’t a nightmare to get out of carpet.”

Google didn’t have good news for me. But even while I was cursing how bad today was going, I still thanked Google for being such an invaluable resource when you lived alone. Well, if you don’t count a demon cat. Who was still meowing and scratching.

I had been on my knees in the hallway, painstakingly dabbing soapy water at the paint stains for five minutes when I heard something else. The sound of shuffling like… hangers sliding in my closet.

That wasn’t my cat.

I stopped what I was doing to listen more closely. I had had a rat problem a few weeks ago. That was a nightmare to fix. Were they back?

The crash of a box falling over and a grunt of pain told me that the party in my closet was definitely not rodent-based.

There was somebody in my house.

Whimsy was still meowing, but that seemed less important now. What did I have to defend myself?

And how had an intruder gotten into my closet? Had he been there all night? My heart leaped into my throat as I thought about opening the door to change my shirt and not seeing something — someone — staring at me.

I crept into the kitchen and found an iron pan. I could hear my heart pounding over my cat. I could run. Call the police. Why hadn’t that been my first thought?

Three knocks came from my closet door. Steady and almost… polite.

I stopped again. What in the world? Everything was still for a moment. Even Whimsy.

Three more knocks.

I took a deep breath. Breaking and entering via closet was probably a new one, but we all die someday. Slowly, silently, I stepped into my room, pan at the ready. This was probably the most use it had seen in months. I should really learn how to cook something more complicated than eggs.

Holding the pan close to my chest like a shield, I extended my left hand out to open the closet door. I had no idea if bullets could go through cast iron, but if they could, they probably wouldn’t have enough force left to kill me, too.

My hand touched the crevice-like handle, and I slid the door open, preparing to strike.

As soon as the closet opened, a dark, humanoid sized shape stepped into the room. I jumped back in surprise, but whatever it was didn’t seem to be aggressive.

The figure was tall. Over a foot taller than me (but then, at an even five feet, everything was taller than me). They were shrouded by a long cloak that covered head to toe. White at the bottom, then slowly fading into black at the hood. I couldn’t see their face — it was mostly covered by what looked like the top half of an authentic skull of some sort. Maybe canine. It didn’t have a jaw, though, so I could see the person’s lips underneath.

The figure turned to me, and I could see their eyes through the sockets of the skull. They seemed human, but I didn’t have a clue what was going on anymore. “Greetings,” he said. Definitely a male voice. “I’m looking for Merideth Stenton.”

That was my mother’s name. I gulped. “What the hell? Where did you come from? Get out of my house!”

“Whatever do you mean? You left your Passway open. There aren’t even any locks on it.”

“My what?”

He looked back towards the closet, then back to me. His posture could only be described as ‘bewildered’, which I’m sure mirrored my own, only on a way smaller scale. “Are you Wizened?” he asked.

“Am I what?”

He shook his head. “That answers that. Look, nevermind. Does Merideth live here or not?”

“No, she doesn’t. But I hardly see how that matters when you’re intruding on another person’s property!”

“I’ll be out in a moment, I assure you. I have places to be.” He touched a gloved hand to his chin, muttering something under his breath. I was used to looking up to people, but this guy was intimidating on an entirely different level. He obviously wasn’t deranged, but if he did attack me, I doubted a pan would make much difference. I doubted he would at this point, but I held it firm just in case.

“Does she live nearby?” he asked. “I was just running an errand for her. Fulfilling a debt, you see.”

I slowly shook my head. He seemed genuine, but that was only because everything about him was so vague and confusing that pinning anything about him down was tough. I felt comfortable giving him a little bit, though. “She moved to London a few months ago.”

“Oh, I know where she lives.” He made a grunting sound, like he was annoyed, or maybe confused.“But you’re saying this isn’t London?”

Okay, maybe he was deranged. “No? This is Wilbridge, California.”

“Hm. That damn nymph must have given me an outdated map,” he said to himself, so quiet I must have misheard him. Then to me, “Well, that’s a pity. I was hoping to give her something. You must be her sister, then.”

How old did he think I was? Then again, dressed in some throwaway clothes and sporting a ponytail as I was, I probably didn’t look particularly alluring. “What? No. Merideth is my mom.”

“Divine spirits above, they actually did it,” he said, a note of awe in his voice.

“Excuse me? Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but you have to go. You’re breaking and entering.”

He looked around my room as if he had just realized where he was. It was a mess, but then, I hadn’t been expecting company. “You’re quite attached to this ‘intruding’ idea, but I understand. My apologies for dropping in so suddenly. By the by, you really shouldn’t put boxes right in front of your Passway. Or at least put a light in there so people can see where they’re going.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I don’t have people inside my closet very often.”

He didn’t seem to pick up on my sarcasm. “Right. I’ll have to ask Merideth about that when I see her. Why open a Passway if your daughter isn’t Wizened?” He seemed to be talking more to himself than me at this point.

“I still have no idea what you’re talking about. Dude, get out of my house! Through the front door, preferably.” I never thought I’d have to direct somebody on how to leave my apartment.

He raised his hands from his cloak, and I noticed he had an actual sword strapped to the belt of his slacks. “Alright, alright. Really, though, your Passway would be far more accommodating an exit. I’ll try not to knock anything over this time.”

“What? No! You haven’t made any sense since the moment you walked into my bedroom. Through my closet, I might add! Now get you and your stupid sword out of my house before I call the police!”

“Oh, my, you really are serious. I suppose I had best get going then… Are you sure about the closet?”

“Get OUT!” I shouted, pointing down the hallway with my pan. I had no idea where this courage had come from but his mannerisms had diffused any fear I had of him.

“Of course. My apologies, once again. If you see Merideth any time soon, tell her the Scavengers are looking for her. And give her this.” He stuck a hand into his coat and pulled out a red Sharpie. Not daring to come nearer, he placed it neatly on top of my bed and hurried down the hall, rounding the corner. I was still standing in the same spot when I heard the door, then the screen door, open and close without another word. After a few moments, I followed in his footsteps into the living room to make sure he had gone, and the apartment was silent once again. Even Whimsy.

“Well,” I breathed. “That just happened.”

The house was still a mess, but going back to cleaning after that guy showed up seemed… wrong, somehow.

I put the iron pan on the counter in the kitchen and returned to the bedroom to find the Sharpie he had left. It seemed normal, and even if black was by far the most common color, I was pretty sure the markers came in different colors. In any case, it didn’t seem to be like… a bomb or anything. I even tested it out on a piece of notebook paper. Just… an ordinary marker.

I frowned. Some guy found his way into my closet, looking for my mom, to give her this? And what was all that talk about ‘Passways’ and ‘Wizeneds’?

Suspicious, I crept towards my closet, which was still open. Opening it up, I saw the toppled boxes on the ground. Useless junk my parents wanted me to keep, so I wasn’t too broken up about it. I pushed the clothes out of the way and rearranged the boxes and, despite myself, stepped into my closet.

I don’t know what I expected. Some demon pulling me into another dimension? A letter that told me I had been accepted into Hogwarts?

Nothing happened. It was dark, obviously. I couldn’t blame the guy for knocking over some boxes. But where had he come from?

I don’t know what happened exactly, but I think the hem of my shirt got caught somewhere. On the door, on one of the lopsided boxes. Either way, I found myself plummeting to the floor, and on the way down my hand found the distinct sensation of cold steel.

My elbow scraped the wall, and I hit my head pretty good. I’m glad my closet had carpeting. With a groan of pain I felt my way up the far wall, and I felt the cold steel again.

It was unmistakably a door handle.

My heart skipped a beat.

I got up on my knees and inspected the wall. The door was small; probably less than four feet high, and it connected almost seamlessly with what should have been the wall of the closet.

Now, I love horror movies as much as the next person. Okay, maybe that’s not true. I get queasy if anything gets too graphic. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I like suspense. Like everybody else, I get really mad when the girl goes in the attic alone, or you know, whatever. It was plain suicide, right?

Well, I wasn’t about to leave my closet and not open the door. For one I don’t think I would have been able to sleep again knowing that something worse might come from the other side. Plus… it didn’t make any sense. Where could this door possibly lead?

With a deep breath and a pounding chest, I pushed the door handle down and out.

And on the other side was a world of color. Light flooded into the closet. Sunflower yellows and royal blues and cherry reds. It was then that I realized that the light was literally, somehow, flooding into my closet. Mixes of colors flowed slowly out onto the carpet where the closet’s wall should have been.

It was paint.

Now this was something that I had to investigate. I stepped in.


(Read Pt. 2/2 here!)

Prompt — The Most Important Thing

(I’ve narrated this story and published it on YouTube! Go check it out if you would rather listen!)


“What’s the most important thing a girl needs to live?” Sage asked.

“This must be another one of your trick questions,” her staff replied.

“Nope! Not a trick,” she said, stamping her bare feet as she jumped across the tree roots. “Just a simple question.”

“But there is nothing simple about that question. There’s too much subjectivity involved.”

Sage stopped in her tracks. There were no appropriate tree roots to jump to. She hated walking in grass almost as much as the grass hated her walking in it. Almost. She turned around and started jumping back across, stepping on the same roots once more. “You know you think a lot for a dumb stick.”

“Would you expect any different?” it’s voice hummed into her mind. “I’ve seen more sunrises than every person on Earth combined.”

Sage frowned. “But the sun doesn’t rise or set here.”

“My point stands.”

“You’re stalling. You never answered the question.”

“The trick question?”

“It’s not a trick question!” her already high-pitched voice rose an octave in anger.

The staff was not intimidated. It was bigger than her, after all. “Very well. A girl needs the same thing that everyone else needs to live. Food and water. Perhaps shelter, too, depending on circumstances.”

“Wrong!” Sage sang.

“Do you mean psychologically? It could be said that a girl requires love, even if that love comes from herself.”

“Wrong!” she said again. It was at this point that she had circled the tree again. No roots to jump onto unless she turned around.

“Sage, I know you hate walking on grass, but we’re going to be here for eternity if we keep going like this.”

“There’s nowhere else to go,” Sage said. She wiped a tear from her eye at the thought of stepping on the grass. Then, she turned around and started hopping the way she had come.

“Why don’t you just use your magic?” the staff said. More a request than a command.

“I don’t believe in magic,” she scoffed.

“Wh-what? The Everlight is a realm governed by magic. It’s the lifeblood of everything here! Especially me and you!”

“Nope. I’m just a normal human girl that has very vivid hallucinations,” Sage decided.

“By the Allsoul… But normal girls don’t have vivid hallucinations.”

Sage stopped, eyes wide. “You’re right! I’m not normal at all! You know, for a dumb stick you can be pretty clever.”

The staff didn’t reply, and the two were silent for a moment.

“So,” her staff offered. “What’s the answer to the question?”

“What question?”

“The most important thing a girl needs to live?”

Sage’s playful smile widened into a mischievous grin. “What does it matter?”

“I don’t understand.”

“I didn’t expect you to.”

“…are you going to explain? Why ask the question if the answer doesn’t matter?” the staff asked.

“What’s the point? An old stick like you has had bazillions of years to figure it out, and you didn’t. You can’t hope to learn now.”

“Allow me to try,” it said.

Sage got to the end of the tree again. Before she could turn around, however, the staff thrust itself from her grasp and split into three. The wood bent and twisted into large tree roots that did not attach to any tree, but instead floated in the air, waiting for her to jump onto then.

Gleefully, she hopped across the new roots. As she hopped, more tree roots appeared ahead of her, leaving the grass below blessedly untouched as the bridge slowly led her to a new tree, where the forest was denser. Once she stood safely on the natural trees, the staff once again formed in her hands.

“Are there girl sticks like you?” Sage asked as she began hopping across the tree roots once more.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re fun to talk to and all,” she explained. “I just think I’d get along with a girl staff better.”

“Are you saying I’m a boy staff? That’s absurd. Staves have no gender. You don’t have a gender, either, if we’re being technical.”

She shrugged. “That sort of talk is exactly what makes you a boy staff. If you knew better, you’d know that the answer to my earlier question wasn’t important. It was the question that was important.”

“Why ask a question you don’t want to know the answer to?”

“That’s what makes you a boy. You’re too focused on getting somewhere.”

“How does that make any sense?” the staff asked.

“These tree roots aren’t any better to jump across as the tree we were at before, you know. Not everything needs to have a ‘why’.”

“But your question didn’t seem rhetorical. You seemed to genuinely want an answer.”

“I already know the answer,” Sage laughed. “The most important thing a girl needs to live is color. Obviously.”

“I suppose you mean metaphorically.”

“Of course,” she rolled her eyes.

“And boys don’t need color to live?”

“Boys can’t see color,” Sage explained. “They only have rods. Girls have cones. I heard a human talking about it once.”

“I think perhaps you may have misunderstood what they were saying.”

“What do you know? You’re just a dumb stick.”

“And you’re just a silly girl that doesn’t believe in magic and hates stepping on grass.”

Sage’s smile broadened. “Looks like we’re finally getting somewhere.”




Story — My Lisa Stenton Notes

So, this isn’t a story. Sorry about that. Instead, I decided I should talk a bit about my plans for Lisa Stenton, where it’s going, and where I see difficulties, not in that order. So, spoilers ahead soon for literally anyone reading this (because this is information I’ve never shared with anyone.) But if you don’t care, read on! I will make a mention of where the spoilers actually begin, so it’s safe to keep reading for now.

First, when I started the Lisa Stenton shorts, I wrote them as just that: short stories. The more I write, however, the more it (perhaps inevitably) is turning into an actual novel, and I actually don’t like that. For one, I’m not really writing novels at this point in my career because I get bored with the characters/story after about 8-10,000 words. Now, I’m already at the point with Lisa’s stuff, and luckily I still like everything that’s going on, but it’s still a concern for me.

Another concern is that I never wrote it as if it would be a novel. The first three chapters all happen weeks a part, so if I were to make it a novel I would condense it into days at the most. Now, this isn’t a big problem, but it does change some subtle things. I wanted the shorts to be “snippets” of her life, not “the next important thing” that happened.

She’s also a bad protagonist. I don’t have a clear goal for her to be working towards, for one. Right now she’s still just learning about the supernatural world. In the same vein, I have no character arc set up for her. This isn’t as much of an issue, as I’m realizing I’m apparently writing her as an unsympathetic jerk, and I can make that change over time, but it’s not an intentional thing going on there. Those things make me scared to move on, because I don’t have a novel structure I’m really basing it off of. Of course, the most important thing is that I like the characters and the story, so I shouldn’t worry about writing myself into a corner when I have some semblance of a plan.

Alright: spoilers ahead here. Where is the story going, and what is that semblance of a plan? Before I get to that, let me give you the big picture of this world I’m building. The most important thing is that everything derives it’s power from belief. Supernatural creatures are stronger the more prevalent they are in folklore. In our world, most people don’t believe werewolves exist in our world, but they are given life through our ideas of them. This contrasts old, pagan gods like the Norse, Greek, Chinese, Egyptian, etc. Today’s society doesn’t really believe that those gods ever truly existed in any form, so in my world they simply are immortal beings with no power. So you can use “belief” as a gauge to tell how powerful a supernatural creature would be in my world.

It’s the same thing with the magic. I’m not quite sure if this will work the way I want it to, but right now, the only constraint is your ability to believe something is possible. You could fly if you truly believed you were capable of it. This is why the humans in the supernatural world have formed guilds. They specialize in things because it’s a lot easier to teach somebody to create magic ink if you show them it’s possible. Lineages have their own powers and specialties because doing magical things without anyone to learn from is basically impossible. I also like the idea of bloodlines being directly related to your supernatural abilities, but I don’t have a proper justification for that just yet. As a side note: Lisa totally has a power, but I have no idea what it is. The only inkling I’ve got was maybe it’s her power to believe in other people, giving them power, but I don’t think this really fits with her character very much.

So, all of this ties in to where I’m going. But there’s one big piece of lore I haven’t mentioned yet: The Old War (as I am calling it as of this very moment). The Old War is the reason the majority of every people don’t know about the supernatural world. About 3,000 BC and prior, the world was overrun with the supernatural. It was part of every day life, and because everybody knew they existed, they were incredibly powerful. Think of this time as an advanced civilization. (Not Space Age, mind you.) The world was far more advanced than even the Romans managed, and precious little is known about this time. That’s because the Old War was a century long battle between the humans and the supernatural to wrestle control for the Earth, and the humans won. With their victory, they all but erased the supernatural off the map, utterly destroying their power by doing so. Because of this, that’s the way it’s remained ever since. In Lisa’s time, it is debated to this day whether or not that war was good or bad. On the upside, it gave humans control of their lives, but on the downside it set technology back extremely far. (I’m sort of basing all of this on technology archaeologists have found that confuse our understanding of how advanced the people were back then, like the Antikythera mechanism.)

What does that have to do with Lisa’s story? Absolutely nothing… yet.

But it does tie in with what her entrance to the supernatural community means. First off, and perhaps most importantly, there is no extra plane of existence in this world. The Earth is all we’ve got. This brings a lot of challenges writing an urban fantasy, because it makes it so I also have to hide the events of this story from the public the entire time I’m writing. (Although big events can leak through like in other series. I have no qualms with that.) All that being said, I do want their to be action, and I want swords to be involved somehow, since I’m an epic fantasy writer after all, but I don’t know how to make it work. I have no “cover story” I can use from the real world to justify the true meaning behind what’s happening in mine, and it’s especially hard if I want to use swords rather than just using plain old guns. So, I still have to give that quite a bit more thought.

Lastly: what’s in Lisa’s house? Well, saying it flat out will be disappointing, but in the context of the story I think it’ll come across as a breath of relief. Most importantly, it is an extremely dangerous being. When Lisa described what happened to Will, he recognized that the only things that could do what it did were powerful and dangerous, so that’s why he warned her not to go back home. What he doesn’t know is that that creature is bound in servitude of Lisa’s parents, and effectively under contract to keep her safe. This will take some time to be revealed in Lisa’s actual story, but that’s what’s going on. I don’t know what to call this beast just yet, but his name is Reed. He is a body-snatcher, and without warning or approval, can take direct and complete control of somebody’s body. This is what he did to Lisa when he wrote her suicide note. He did this as an introduction, since he recognized her discovering the supernatural world. (It was also his way of showing his annoyance of having leeches in the house.) Now, what does Reed do? Well, he reads. Lisa’s mother named him based off the same principle that she names leeches. This isn’t his real name, but it’s hard to pronounce so they just call him Reed. He reads ancient manuscripts from the Old War, which is what Lisa’s parents go off every spring to collect more of.

As an aside to everything I’ve already said, Lisa and Doc will have an Ash/Pikachu relationship, except in this circumstance she does it because she knows it annoys/disturbs the rest of the supernatural world to have a leech by her side all the time. She does it because she genuinely likes Doc, being one of the only people that was introduced to the leeches on her own terms.

So that’s pretty much everything I have planned for Lisa Stenton’s story. The upcoming chapters will be her and Will going off to do something that I don’t have planned, and it will be a little while before she goes back home, not knowing what’s there and being terrified to return. I don’t plan on continuing the story for a few months at least, because I’ve got other stuff I want to be working on, but also I need to iron out some of the above details before I’ll let myself continue.



Story — (LS) Answers Pt. 2

I pulled into a quiet neighborhood. The single story house had a quaint little atmosphere. It would have been a welcoming environment if there was anybody around. It was just past noon on a Sunday, and there was no soul in sight. Maybe having a serial killer live here was what chilled this place.

His house was the first one down the street. After turning the car off, I grabbed my phone, which still had the police at the ready.

“Hey! Wait!” A voice called as I walked up the driveway. I turned to see Will jogging from up the street. He was dressed casually in a t-shirt and jeans. He wasn’t wearing glasses, either. “That’s not actually my house.”

My face reddened and I quickly returned to the sidewalk. “You lied to me? Why would you give me a fake address?”

“Now, now,” he said, voice gentle as he held his hands up. “I had it all covered. I didn’t know if you would actually come or just send our dear boys in blue over. My place is close by.”

“Absolutely not,” I said, taking a step back. He halted, still about twenty feet away. I held my phone up so that he could see. “Give me one good reason not to call them over anyway. I have no reason to trust you.”

“Oh, come on. You wouldn’t do that. You’re already here. You do trust me.” His posture opened up a bit to seem less threatening, despite his argument.

“Humor me,” I said.

He sighed and stuck his hands into his pockets. “Fine. I’m going to be completely honest, here, I could kill you in this very moment and not only would your body never be found, but I’d get a free car out of it to boot. There would be nothing you could do about it. I’m not going to, but I could. If that scares you, you can get back in your car and drive off. I’ll delete your number from my phone, and our paths probably won’t cross again. But if you want answers, I can oblige.”

A breath caught in my throat. I could call the police with the push of a button, but if what he said was true it would be meaningless. Once again, I wondered what he really was. A vampire or werewolf could probably kill me pretty quick. Heck, maybe there were hundreds of things in the world that were even scarier. I was so lost I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. Of course, maybe he just had a gun. “What’s in it for you? Why not just kill me and take the car?”

He laughed at that. “Believe it or not I don’t just go around killing people for their stuff. That sort of thing gives you the wrong sort of attention. Plus, I have a reputation to uphold. I’d much rather have this chat indoors, though. We don’t know who could be listening.”

“Fine.” I grimaced at my phone one more time before putting it in my pocket. Or at least I tried. My skirt didn’t have pockets, and I was wearing sandals, not boots. Being so anxious about today left me grossly unprepared. I had nowhere to put anything. Not even the car keys I was still holding in the other hand. With a huff, I unlocked my car and grabbed my emergency purse from the backseat. It didn’t match my outfit at all, but when in need…

“Got everything?” he asked with congenial smile, no ridicule whatsoever on his face.

I closed the door and locked the car again. Making sure I was all set, I shrugged.

“Alright, it’s just a short walk down the street.”

He started walking. I followed behind, but not too closely.

“You look cute, by the way,” he commented.

“I know,” I muttered, closing the topic before it began. No way was I letting that happen.

I was half expecting him to guide me into a secret door hidden in a tree, or to a manhole cover that led to an underground world. Instead, we jaywalked across the street to an apartment complex. It was both relieving and disappointing. He unlocked the gate inside and led me up the stairs, but stopped once he got to the door.

“Before I let you in, I’ve got one rule.”


“No leeches.”

“No what?” Did he really think I had a jar of blood sucking leeches in my purse or something?

“The thing you had with you at the library?”

I scratched my head. “You mean Doc? The little spirit?”

“You named it?”

“Sure,” I replied. “I’ve got half a dozen back home. I make them do chores for me. They followed me around so I figured I could put them to use. Why do you call them leeches?”

He visibly shuddered at that. “That’s just what they’re called. Remind me to never go to your house. Just know that they’re not allowed in my place, okay?”

“I mean, I can’t really tell them where to go. It’s not like I could stop them.”

“Sure, whatever. But they can’t be in my place, got it?”

Was he not even listening to what I was saying? “Alright, I got it.”

He nodded and unlocked his door. I was again disappointed when I got inside. It looked like a normal apartment, even if it was a bit messier than most. The smell of dirty clothes and something burnt wafted through the air. “Sit down wherever,” he said as he continued into the room. “You want anything? Coffee? Water? Soda? Beer?”

“I’m good, thanks.” I sat down on the couch, which sunk much lower than I had expected. A surge of adrenaline rushed through me as the sensation of falling ended as abruptly as it began. From across the apartment I heard a refrigerator door open and close. He returned with a can of beer and a bottle of water. After a polite decline, he put the water on the coffee table and sat down opposite me on the couch. I shifted around, tucking my skirt underneath me to face him.

“So,” he began, cracking open the beer. “Ask away, but you gotta be okay with the answers I don’t give, alright?”

“Fair enough,” I nodded. “What are ‘leeches’? Why do you hate them? They aren’t so bad.”

“Well, they’re technically called fragments. Classified as spirits. Simply put, they’re ghosts that aren’t really people anymore. They’ve forgotten everything about everything and cling to any semblance of humanity they can find.”

“So they’re ghosts. The souls of the dead.”

“Yeah, of sorts. Or at least they were. The older a ghost is, the more it loses. Fragments are kind of like the final stage a ghost goes through before they’re gone forever. They’re called leeches because they soak up anything they can around them. They like getting attention from others, which is probably why they follow you around. You don’t know any better.”

I frowned. “Are they dangerous?”

“Nah.” He took another sip from his beer. “Just annoying, mostly. Not really useful for anything.” I had to agree with that.

“Okay, let’s go broader. Give me a rough image of the supernatural world. What is and isn’t real. How you and I fit into it.”

“Hm. That’s a big one. The short answer is that everything is real, just maybe not in the way you think it is. Unicorns, dragons, faeries. All real. Bigfoot? Sort of. The evidence around him is usually solid, but not the conclusion, if that makes sense. How do we fit into the world? Uh, hard to say. We all have different places. You’d call us both spiritwalkers as a general term, but that only means ‘supernatural human’, really. There’s a million and one different kinds of us.”

“Wait. You’re human?”

“Uh, yeah?” He smirked. “What did you think I was?”

“I dunno. A werewolf, maybe?”

He choked on his drink and had to put it down to swallow properly. “I wish. No, I’m what you would call an ‘Inkmaker’. The humans are divided into factions called ‘guilds’ in the supernatural world. We all have different skills and jobs. I basically use alchemy to make magic ink that does cool things. Like the stuff I used to write on your arm.”

“So we’re all magical? What can I do?”

“No idea. I don’t know your lineage. Pretty much all spiritwalkers can see supernatural creatures, and some beings of the supernatural can be seen by normal people, like werewolves. Things that strong are super rare, though. I’ve only met one myself. But speaking of the ink, I’m curious. Did you find out anything neat about me?”

“I found out you’re a serial killer,” I said, glancing down uncomfortably.

His brow furrowed. “Not really. What was the question that led you to that conclusion? What words did you use specifically?”

“Uh…” Remembering a sentence I had said a few weeks ago verbatim was tough. “I think it was “How many people has Will killed?”

“Oh, that makes sense, then. When you say ‘people’, the ink probably registered that as both humans and spiritwalkers. I’ve killed plenty of those.”

“So it’s true?”

“Sure. I’m sure it’s no surprise that there are evil spiritwalkers out there. My hands aren’t clean.”

“How would you have killed me?” I asked.

He shrugged, a weak smile on his face. “I have a few vials of ink that could kill you if it gets in the right places. Sort of like grenades, really. If you know any sort of martial arts you probably would have been fine had I attacked you. Or if I had just missed.”

“So you lied to me again.”

“Well, I could kill you. In fact, I still can. It’d be much easier now, especially since the door’s locked. But as far as ‘threatening supernatural powers’ go, I’m pretty low on the list.”

“What ‘guild’ are you in? What do you do?”

He shook his head. “I can’t tell you that. You might be in a rival guild.”

“I’m not in a guild!” I frowned. “I’m just learning about all of this!”

“Well, most people inherit their guild. Assuming your parents are spiritwalkers, then you’re most certainly already in one. Pretty much every spiritwalker is.”

“Then why are you helping me?”

“I’m not,” he shrugged. “This is basic information. The only reason I knew you didn’t have it is because there was a leech following you at the library, and no self-respecting spiritwalker associates with leeches. You should stop letting them follow you in public, by the way.”

“How do I even do that? I told you I can’t do anything about them following me.”

“Don’t let them feed off your energy. It’s what they crave, and you’re just giving it to them.”

“What if I like having them around?”

“Your choice, I guess. But the less you tolerate their presence, the less they’ll be around.”

“Okay, let me ask you something else. Several weeks ago I found a suicide note written on my kitchen counter, in my own handwriting.”

He raised his eyebrows at that. “Spooky.”

“You don’t know how it got there?”

“Nope. There aren’t many supernatural things that can do that, but the list isn’t small, either. Course, you could have also just been drunk and written it yourself.”

“I wasn’t.”

He held his hands up. “Okay, okay, relax. It was a joke. What did it say?”

“It was basically written to my parents. It had some weird code on it, and mentioned some sort of ‘foe’. It implied my body was in my attic, but when I went up there there was nothing.”

His expression darkened at that. “Do you still have the note?”

“Uh, maybe. I’d have to look.”

“No, too dangerous.”

“What? Going back to my house?” A chill ran down my spine.

He nodded. “There’s definitely something there. Something powerful. And it’s been watching you.”

Story — (LS) Answers Pt. 1

March twenty-sixth. I woke up with a knot in my stomach. My parents were still away, a week late from their trip home, and I still hadn’t heard from them. I was anxious, but it didn’t surprise me. The ink Will had written on my arm a month ago had told me March twenty-sixth was the day things would start making sense. Maybe this was the day they would come home.

But something in my gut told me not to get my hopes up.

I remembered reading somewhere that prophecies had a way of coming true even when they were avoided. If I considered the date the ink gave me to be prophecy, then I would get answers today regardless of what I did. Maybe I would find a book in my parents’ room that told me everything I wanted to know. Maybe Doc would stop being so vague with his answers. Maybe I would go down the stairs only to find a werewolf there waiting to eat me. Life was so full of wonderful mysteries.

But if I sought out my own answers, I could probably fulfill the prophecy on my own terms.

Throwing off the covers, the chill of open air and stretching my muscles helped me wake up. “Fetch!” I called after a good yawn.

After about a minute, the little green spirit walked through the closed door and into my bedroom.

“Pour me a glass of orange juice downstairs. No rush.” He nodded and walked back through the door. “Oh, and Fetch!”

This time he popped his head through the door so that only his white, pupil-less eyes went through. That had stopped bothering me a long time ago. In fact, I found the little spirits cute nowadays. “Make sure to get me a clean glass this time. From the cupboard, not the sink.” I shuddered at the thought of yesterday morning when I drank some unholy mixture of old coffee and orange juice.

As he vanished from sight again, I reached for my phone. Pulling it off the charger where it sat on the nightstand, I unlocked it and opened my contacts. I had still never contacted Will since he gave me his number. The fact that he was a serial killer probably had something to do with it. Maybe he was hunting for his next victim when he came to talk to me. But there was that ink to consider, as well.

“What doing?” Doc said from behind.

Startled, I swiveled around and covered myself with a pillow. Some shield it would make if there were any real danger. He sat on the bed frame, staring at me.

“Doc,” I breathed, relaxing. “How many times do I have to tell you to use the door?”

“It’s closed,” he pointed out.

“I know. But that is the area in the room intended for entrances. It’s really unnerving when you sneak up on me through the wall like that.”

With my heart rate increased, I decided to take this time to actually get up and change. As I discarded the phone, Doc hopped off the frame and got comfortable in the now empty bed. He picked up the phone and examined it in his tiny hands, but there was no danger as he couldn’t unlock it.

“I’m going to talk to Will today,” I commented as I pulled a t-shirt on.

“Dangerous,” he crooned, shaking my phone. It was hard to tell what his plan was, but he turned the motion sensor activated the flashlight.

“Give me that!” I scolded, swiping it away from him and turning it off again. “I know it’s dangerous, but as long as I’m careful I’ll be fine.” I changed into more suitable pants and glanced into the mirror. After some minor tweaks and adjustments, I definitely passed the ‘Is that a human being?’ test. Well, I would after my hair was brushed, at least.

Looking at my phone contacts again, I stared at Will’s name. It was so weird to have a serial killer so readily available. I could text him any time I wanted. But as soon as I did, he would have my number, too.

A thought occurred to me. I set the phone down on my white, floral themed desk, and crouched to get under my bed. After removing several armfuls of dirty clothing I forgot I owned from underneath, I grabbed my old backpack from school. The binder inside was full of chemistry formulas and English notes, but it was bound to have a blank sheet somewhere. Okay, fine, it was mostly filled with doodles, but whatever. Besides, I was pretty proud of a few of them.

Tossing it onto the desk, I opened it up to the first blank page I found. Going to meet somebody with answers. His name is Will. Probably works at the library. Possibly a serial killer. If you’re reading this, I made a bad call. Sorry Mom & Dad!

Below that note, I wrote the date. Two suicide notes in barely a few months. My life was really derailing lately. At this one was a lot more ‘Me’, for whatever that was worth.

Still sitting at my desk, I looked at the unsure girl in the mirror one more time. She might be making the biggest mistake of her life today. She was never one for taking risks. I wondered what compelled me so adamantly to talk to him today.

An steady exhale and a string of ignored mental warnings later, it was sent. “Hey, Will. This is Lisa.”

I stared at the phone, watching as the text changed from ‘sent’ to ‘delivered’.

A thousand butterflies filled my stomach. Each one was an entirely different conversation. What if he had nothing to do with the ink? What if it was the wrong number? What if he could track the text back to my house?

But no. I doubted texts were traceable. And even if they were, Will probably wouldn’t have the resources to do it. Still, the anxiety of the immediate future was overwhelming in that moment. A glance back at the notebook on my messy desk sent a chill down my spine. I added ‘I love you‘ to the bottom of the page before leaving the room.

As I descended the stairs and walked into the dining room, my phone hummed with the default ringtone I still hadn’t gotten around to changing. My breath caught in my throat. It was from him.

“Hey! Took you long enough!”

Something innocuous.  I guess it would have been weird to expect ‘Hey! You’re too late to be murder victim number thirty-six, but if you hurry you can by thirty-seven!’. What was I thinking?

“I had to think over your offer” I sent back. The glass of orange juice sat nearby on the counter. It was a bit on the empty side, but it was definitely an acceptable color this time. Still, precautions were necessary when Fetch prepares your drink, especially without supervision. A careful sniff indicated that it probably wasn’t poisonous. It seemed he had gotten everything right for once. That was reassuring. The spirits didn’t learn very well.

My phone hummed again. “You asked some interesting questions, huh?”

How could I respond to that? I wondered what he knew, and what he thought I knew. What if the information I had gotten that day wasn’t even the worst of it?

“I want to meet up and talk” was my response. I was nervously chugging the juice, waiting for his reply.

“Sure, I’ll give you my address. See you in 30?” Maybe he didn’t think I knew as much as I did. I wasn’t about to meet a serial killer in his own home.

Having finished the glass, I stood up and walked over to the sink to wash it out. Before I got there, I slipped on a puddle right in front of the refrigerator and fell forward. The glass shattered ahead of me, scattering glass all across the kitchen. Thankfully, I was fine. Upon inspection, I realized that the puddle was orange juice. Apparently Fetch hadn’t performed as flawlessly as it seemed. I opened the fridge to see that he had dropped the carton inside. There was juice spilled everywhere.

“Sparkle!” I yelled.

A moment passed, and a purple spirit plopped onto the counter, passing through from the ceiling above. It stood up and looked at me. “Yes!” she chimed.

“Please clean this mess up. Don’t go in the fridge, and just push all the glass into a pile. Take all the time you need. Got all that?”

The little ghost nodded. I liked this new one. I hadn’t been training her very long, and I still didn’t like her name, since it sounded so childish. I was pretty sure the spirits didn’t even have genders, but whatever. Sparkle was a girl’s name.

Now I also had to change. Again. Luckily, I wasn’t wearing socks. I picked up my phone from the counter. I still didn’t like the idea of going to his house. “I was thinking coffee, actually” I replied.

“I can show you some cool things if we meet in private ;)”

Oh, brother. “Like the sharp end of a knife? I’m not meeting some guy I don’t know where my safety isn’t guaranteed.”

He didn’t respond immediately, so I took the time to look for a change of clothes. No clean pair of jeans left. I was forced to grab a skirt that matched my top. Could I teach Sparkle to do my laundry? Probably not. I would have to delegate that job to a different spirit. What would I name that one? I’d have to give that some thought another time.

Looking through the mirror after I was once again fully clothed, I realized I almost forgot to brush my hair. I was beginning to think I had scared Will away when my phone hummed again. “Your kind has nothing to fear from me. I promise. But if you want to meet, you’ll have to come to my house.”

Your kind. Was he not human? I wasn’t sure whether to be more or less scared because of that text.

Several minutes passed, and my scalp ached, but my hair was straight. I ran my fingers through it to make sure it was perfect. I went back downstairs to put some sandals on. “Your address?” I texted him.

He sent it. Two miles. Too far to reasonably walk. I’d have to take the car, even though I hated driving. “I’ll be over soon.”

“See you soon!”

I dialed 9-1-1 into my cell phone so I would be ready in case anything went wrong.

Story — (LS) Numerophobia Pt. 2

Every time I tried to learn something about the spirits and all the mysterious things that had been happening, I stumbled across something entirely new. It was incredibly frustrating.

“Doc,” I whispered, still careful not to arouse suspicion in the library. “What’s going on?”

The little spirit cocked his head side to side. “Numbers changed,” he said again.

“I know,” I hissed, then, trying to relax, I took a deep breath. “Why?”

“Magic?” he shrugged.

I rolled my eyes. “It’s not enough for werewolves and vampires to exist. Now magic does, too. I can’t believe this. When will this start making sense?” I buried my face in my hands, rubbing my eyes.

“Numbers change!” Doc repeated, excited now.

I glanced to my wrist. The black number ‘0’ under ‘WILL’ was fading. When it vanished completely, a string of digits started appearing. They were spaced apart in such a way that resembled a date. If it was a date, it said ‘3 26 2017’. I could only presume this meant March twenty-sixth. Why was that important?

A realization dawned on me. Were these numbers changing in response to questions I asked? What had I just asked it? ‘When will it start making sense?’ It was a date. March was about a month away. It was a week after my parents were due home. Was it predicting the future? If that were the case, why wouldn’t it predict the day my parents got home? Was something bad going to happen?

“When was the Declaration of Independence signed?” I whispered into my wrist. I hoped fervently nobody had been watching me.

The numbers vanished. In it’s place, new numbers appeared. ‘8 2 1776’. August? That seemed odd, but the year was right.

“How much cash do I have in my wallet?” I said again. This time, I held my hand down, away from my mouth. It wasn’t as if the ink had ears, anyway, and since I didn’t understand how it worked, I thought I might as well test out out.

After a moment, the number ‘8.05’ appeared. I pulled out my wallet to verify. Three one dollar bills and a five. I pulled out the five to see if the number on my wrist changed. It didn’t.

“What’s the population of the Earth?” I wondered aloud. The old number faded.

When it had vanished entirely, my entire arm started darkening with the dozens of digits. It looked almost as though I had spontaneously grown a tattoo sleeve full of numbers. Anyone that was looking would have noticed immediately.

“How many quarters equal a dollar?!” I asked hastily, trying to get it to stop.

All the ink on my arm vanished once again, and I was left with a small ‘4’ under the word ‘WILL’. I relaxed.

“I guess I should have asked for human population,” I said to Doc, who was still seated on the shelf nearby. “Maybe we should go home to experiment with this a little more.”

“What about Will?” Doc chimed.

“He knows something, obviously. But I can’t confront him here. I need to talk to him in a safer environment. Find out if he’s friend or foe. He’s a vampire for all I know. Or maybe a witch or something. I guess that makes more sense.”

Doc inclined his head, standing up on the shelf. “Not a vampire,” he said after a moment.

“Yes, you’re very helpful,” I replied. “I’m putting my glasses back on. You’ll have to follow behind me or I’m leaving you here.”

I took my glasses out of my pocket again and put them on. I looked to my wrist to see if the ink had vanished, but it didn’t. “What’s Will’s telephone number?” I asked my hand.

The ‘4’ vanished. In it’s place, a string of ten digits materialized. I had what I needed. Time to go home.

I walked back out of the aisle and started pacing to the entrance of the library. It was still pretty vacant. Only a few people looking for books and even fewer people sitting down to read any.

As I passed the main desk in the front, I saw Will sitting at a computer. He looked up from his work and, adjusting his glasses, winked at me.

I quickened my pace, hurrying out the door. He probably wasn’t a witch, but, as they say, better safe than witch food. Or something like that.

The sun was setting by the time I got outside. I had been gone longer than I’d realized. Only then did it occur to me that if the ink was magical, it might also be temporary. Assuming it would be gone by the time I got home, I had to learn what I could from it now.

“How old is Will?” I thought in my head as I walked down the sidewalk. I crossed my arms, folding them across my chest so that nobody driving or walking by could easily see my wrist.  The number didn’t change. I asked the question out loud, and it morphed into ’23’. Definitely not a vampire, then. I wondered why it wasn’t more specific. Why give me a date and not the time of day? Why tell me in years how old somebody is, but not also give the months? It all seemed so arbitrary.

“How old is Doc?” I asked, scanning around to make sure nobody was nearby. Aside from the occasional car that flew down the main road, there was nobody. Looking back to my wrist, I was disappointed when nothing had changed. “I wish I had somebody to tell me how this stupid magic worked,” I mumbled. Maybe I wasn’t specific enough. “How old is Doc in human years?” Maybe they counted them differently, like dogs or something. Still, nothing changed. Was it because Doc was a nickname I had given him? Did I have to use his real name? What was his real name?

Maybe I could figure that out later. For now, a higher priority was knowing whether I could trust Will. The thought of having a real person to talk to about the supernatural and everything that had been going on was enticing, and I wasn’t about to shun the possibility just because he might want to eat me.

At the same time, though, I couldn’t ask ‘Can I trust Will?’ because it seemed to only operate in numbers. “How many times has Will been arrested?” I instead asked.

A small ‘1’ appeared where the ’23’ had been. “How much jail time has Will spent in months?”

The number didn’t change. Another bad question?

Either way that didn’t give me anything concrete, so I thought about taking a different approach. “How many times has Will killed a human being?” I stated, voice low.

The number ‘1’ faded. In it’s place, the number ’35’ appeared.

Story — (LS) Numerophobia Pt. 1

A week had gone by since the scare with that mysterious suicide note. I still hadn’t figured out what that was all about, but it wasn’t from lack of trying. In fact, that entire week was spent on my laptop. Okay, maybe it would have been spent on my laptop anyway, but still. Dozens of videos, news articles, and blogs later and I had found nothing similar to what I had seen lately. I decided to take my search to the local library.

It’s hard to research paranormal stuff. Really hard. A lof of the ‘concrete evidence’ you find on ghosts or werewolves is collected by crazy people. All the videos you find are horribly shaky or have terrible resolution. It’s like when somebody sees something they can’t believe they put their smartphones away and start recording it with their thirty year old camera.

So it was that I was hopelessly perusing the library of anything useful I could find. At least books couldn’t contain unsettling yet obviously fake videos of ‘Bigfoot Seen in Backyard?!’

I pulled another book from the shelf to see Doc’s white, pupil-less eyes staring back at me, startling me into flinching and dropping the book.

“Doc,” I exhaled, kneeling to pick the book back up. “I swear, if there’s a way I can strangle ghosts you’ll be the first to feel my wrath.”

“You’re… kidding,” the little spirit replied, pondering as he tilted his head.

I rolled my eyes. “You’ve got a knack for interpretation, I’ll give you that.”

After that I paid him no more heed. He wasn’t even supposed to be here with me, since I specifically asked him to stay home, but it wasn’t as though I could stop him. I had also gotten into the habit of taking my glasses off indoors, which resulted in mishaps like this.

The book I had grabbed was titled Paranormal Sightings of the Twentieth Century. I immediately went to the end, looking for an index, but there wasn’t any. Instead, I skimmed the glossary and ended up closing the book again, just as somebody walked into the aisle with me. It was a guy about my age, black hair, wearing glasses, and dressed in a button-up shirt.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’m going to have to ask you to keep your voice down,” he said.

I had thought I was whispering to Doc. Apparently not. I glanced to the spirit that still sat on the shelf. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” I stammered. I pushed the book onto the shelf, passing it through Doc. My arm shuddered a bit at the chill, but I masked it by taking my glasses out of my pocket and putting them on. I took a second glance at where Doc should be if I could still see him. I couldn’t, which was assuring. It was easier to be normal if invisible ghosts weren’t talking to you.

“Who were you talking to?” the guy said, looking behind me and furrowing his brow.

“Oh,” I chuckled nervously. “Nobody. Just thinking… I have an exam coming up,” I lied.

His face lightened up a little. “Yeah, I know what you mean. Do you go to Southview, too?” he asked, referring to the local university.

I nodded. “Anthropology major,” I lied again. I wasn’t used to talking to strangers, and I had a habit of lying in small talk. Luckily, practice makes perfect.

“That’s pretty cool. I’m going into Accounting. My name’s Will, by the way.” He held his hand out. I took it. He had a firm, grip. His hand was warm, though that may have just been that mine had passed through a freezing ghost a few moments before.

“Lisa,” I smiled as we shook.

“What’s your exam on?” he asked.

I glanced back at the book I was looking at. What would justify studying a book about paranormal stuff? “Cultures around the world and their views on supernatural belief,” I stated, trying to sound bored with the idea.

“You know, I know quite a bit about anthropology myself. I could help you study if you want. After my shift is over, that is.”

“Oh, I don’t know if I’ll be here much longer,” I dodged. I was about to say I had been here for a while already, but he would probably know that was a lie. This place wasn’t very populated.

“That’s okay,” he replied. “How about I give you my phone number and you can decide whether or not you want my help?”

I shrugged. “I don’t have my phone on me.”

“You mind if I write on your hand?” He pulled out a pen from a pocket of his pants.

I did. It was weird to have a stranger write on me. But at the same time, I got the vibe he would leave if I let him, and I didn’t want to be rude. “Sure,” I said. I rolled up my sleeve and held out my wrist.

He took a few steps forward, clicking his pen and writing ‘WILL’ and a string of numbers under it. When he was finished, he clicked his pen again and put it back in his pocket. “I gotta go,” he sighed. “Remember that,” he pointed towards my wrist. “That will come in handy.” He took his glasses off and winked before walking back down the aisle, leaving the way he had come.

I returned to what I was doing, and after about a minute I took my glasses back off. Doc shimmered into view, and now he was nonchalantly walking along the top of the bookshelves. “That was weird,” I said, remembering to be extra quiet. “I wonder how many times he’s tried that one on girls.”

Doc stopped to look at me. He tilted his head back and forth, as if trying to discover something. “He’s different,” he hummed.

“Hardly,” I scoffed. “If I had a dime for every time a guy tried to hit on me, I’d be rich.”

“Numbers change,” Doc murmured.

“What? Of course they change. Every guy is going to have a different number.”

“No…” Doc shook his head. He pointed a tiny arm towards me. Specifically, to my arm.

I glanced down at my wrist. The ink on my hand read ‘WILL’, but under it wasn’t the line of ten digits I was sure Will had written there. Now, there was just the one digit: zero.

Can’t I solve one mystery before another is thrown in my face?