Next Year I’ll Be Home Again

Laura sighed as children shouted on the street, laughing and exclaiming as pirates, witches, ghosts, and tramps emerged from biodomes decorated with grinning pumpkins and dancing skeletons.

“Billy, I know it’s you!”

“Lookit, Patty is a princess again!”

“Did you see Charlie’s robot head? The eyes really light up!”

“Don’t bother with ol’ Mrs. Adams – she’s giving rock apples again.”

Laura smiled, imagining the boys hitching at the cuffs of the Synthetic Sock Boots their mothers would have made them wear under their costumes, happy to fulfill ancient Terran tradition but not happy enough to let them track red sand into the domes if clown shoes and goblin feet were pulled off after “tricks and treats.”

Laura, a fifth generation Martian, could hardly believe how little the traditions had changed. Even most of the old-timers had forgotten the roots of the rituals brought from the old green planet. Laura herself only knew because of her deep love of ancient history.

Laura was just grateful that with the superficialities of candy and decorations had come something more primal that did not care whether the sky was red or blue, but could not help but follow when her ancestors sowed the seeds of ancestral memory in the soils of a new world.

The shouts grew louder and the pinkish light began to fade to violet, and Laura felt impatience well up inside her.

Luckily, no children would be ringing at Laura’s alcove, bouncing in anticipation of a token gasp of fright at their plasticore masks. Their mothers would have told them, stay away from the Cassidy dome! You leave the lady in peace.

“He’ll be home soon.” Laura chewed nervously at her lower lip. She regarded her carefully set table, the two china plates and real silver knife and fork, the real glass glasses, the cotton napkins. There would be no plasticore, no crystal from the Trinity Crater Mine, no synthetic paper tonight. These were all real Terran antiques. A night like this deserved no less.


Laura’s heart skipped a beat as she turned toward the familiar voice.

“I’m home.”

“Yes, darling.” Laura enveloped the boy in a tender embrace. “I’ve been waiting for you. You must be very hungry.”

“Yes, Mother.” Large brown eyes stared intently into her own, a smile of purest, sweetest innocence shining brightly on the apple-cheeked face. “I’m starved.”

Laura smiled joyously back. “I made your favorite – macaroni and cheese!”

“With real cheese?”

Laura laughed a sparkling laugh. “With real cheese, my darling.”

Dinner was over far too quickly. Laura felt a pang in her heart as she took her son’s hand and led him into the game room.

“Do you feel like a game of rummy?” she asked, holding up a pack of dog-eared cards and forcing a brightness into her voice that did not reach her heart. The chronometer on the wall ticked steadily on. Eight o’ clock already, the small voice in the back of her mind whispered.

“Boy, do I!”

The sight of her son already sitting at the play table, eyes shining expectantly, silenced the little voice. Laura laughed in delight as she dealt out the cards.

The game passed quickly, and they began another, and another, talking the whole time of crimson sandcastles and autogliders, Janey down the road and her ghost of Gale Crater, and Michael at Bio-11 who always wanted to play Moon Man. With each passing second, the chronometer’s ticking seemed to grow louder until Laura found herself fighting back tears, even as her beautiful boy told her the joke about the pit snake and the quarry trader, laughing so hard as he spoke that he could barely get out the words.

Laura felt her blood freeze as her son abruptly stopped talking. He put down his cards and looked quizzically into her eyes.


“Y-y-yes?” Laura stammered.

“Mother, I feel strange.” He closed his eyes and raised a hand to his brow.

The tears began to fall as Laura turned toward the chronometer behind her. The gentle glow of the numbers confirmed what she already knew in her heart.

“It’s okay, my darling,” she whispered through the tears. “It’s just that it’s five minutes to midnight.”

“Oh.” The little hand fell away from the clammy brow. “It means I have to go, doesn’t it?”

Laura choked back a sob. “Yes, I’m afraid so.” Laura watched as her son’s face grew suddenly pale, his eyes dulling and his thick brown hair losing its luster. She glanced quickly at the chronometer once again. “In three minutes you have to leave.”

“But why?”

The plaintiveness of his cry was almost too much for her soul to bear. “You know why, my darling.” Her voice was almost inaudible.

The boy looked up at her with eyes suddenly sunken, the cheeks gaunt, the silver of his lume suit fading to gray before her very eyes.

“Yes…” His voice was suddenly weak. “I remember.”

Laura swiped ineffectually at her streaming eyes.

“It’s because I died.”


“I can only come home once a year. Isn’t that right, Mother?”

Laura nodded her head quickly, afraid of what might happen if she let herself speak.

“Once a year,” the boy mused.


“Because it’s Hallow Eve.”

“Because it’s Halloween,” Laura sobbed, reaching out for her son.

“It’s okay, Mother,” he said gently, allowing her arms to enfold him. “I’ll see you next year.”

“I know, my darling.” She held him tighter, hoping against hope that he would stay even one second past midnight, if only she held him tight enough.

“I have to go now, Mother.”

Laura tightened the circle of her arms.

“I love you, Mother.”

The chronometer chimed twelve. And he was gone.

Laura buried her face in her hands and cried.

“I love you, too, Bobby.”

Thank you, whoever or whatever planted that piece of the old green world in our Martian sand, Laura thought in the velvety darkness.

Only 686 days and he would be home again.

Psycho Therapy

“Oh, he’s in there, all right,” Harry whispered to his best friend, Jimmy, as they huddled in the bushes, peering out between spiky twigs at the building across the street. “He’s in there, and he’s got another one.”

Jimmy shifted impatiently, his knees aching from kneeling on the ground for so long. “No way it’s for real,” he scoffed. “It’s gotta be a joke or something.”

“No, I’m telling you, there’s a sign on the door.” Harry gestured wildly as he spoke, eager to recount the tale again. “I saw it with my own two eyes. And when I walked past the door-“

“-I know, you told me a million times,” Jimmy interrupted, rolling his eyes.

“When I walked past,” Harry went on, ignoring the interjection, “I heard a woman crying.” He lowered his voice ominously.

Jimmy squinted at his friend. “Well… even so…”

“I’m telling you, I’m right! I was the one who was in there, for Chrissake!”

The two friends fell silent, their eyes glued to the door at the top of the stone steps.

Jimmy was the first to break the silence. “This is dumb. There’s nothing to see from here, let’s just go.” He started to stand, brushing off the knees of his jeans.

“Wait!” Harry exclaimed, almost shouting in excitement. He grabbed at the sleeve of Jimmy’s T-shirt without turning around. “Look!”

Directing his attention back to the building, Jimmy saw the door swing open. A woman in a dark blue skirt and white blouse stepped out, her long, blonde hair glowing ethereally as she walked into the sunlight. Her high heels clacked pleasantly on the cement as she made her way down the steps, rummaging in her pocketbook as she walked. She fished out a crumpled fistful of Kleenex and began to dab at the corners of her eyes.

“See! That proves it!” Harry reached up and seized Jimmy’s arm, pulling him down so hard he sent up a cloud of dust as his knees hit the ground.

“Hey!” Jimmy protested, yanking his arm free. “Quit it!”

“Sorry, sorry. Just look at her, will you? She’s been crying, too. And look how she’s all wrinkled and her hair’s all mussed. See?” Harry’s eyes gleamed as he pointed at the woman through a hole in the prickly bushes.

Jimmy stared at the strange woman while she jammed the Kleenex back into her pocketbook and took out a compact. She stood in the middle of the sidewalk, rubbing at the dark circles under her eyes and smoothing the flyaway hairs around her face.

“Well… I guess she is kind of messy,” Jimmy conceded. “But how do you know she’s coming from there anyway?”

“Because she’s crying,” Harry replied impatiently.

Jimmy furrowed his brow, considering his friend’s logic.

The two boys watched in silence as the woman put the compact away. She tucked the pocketbook under one arm, and walked briskly down the street, quickly disappearing from the boys’ view.

Jimmy turned away from the building. “It’s weird, I’ll give you that,” he said. “But why would people keep going in there?”

Harry sat back on his heels. “I don’t know, but I think he’s a doctor. Maybe he’s drugging them or something.”

“Oh, come on,” Jimmy replied incredulously.

“Well? Why else would anyone go in there?”

“I don’t know…” Jimmy ran a hand through his dark, shaggy hair as he always did when he was thinking hard about something. “But wait, it’s illegal. How can he just keep doing something illegal, and put a sign on the door and everything?” he asked. “And maybe drug them,” he added with a laugh.

“I don’t know!” Harry looked annoyed as he stood up and took a step away from their hiding place in the bushes. “I know you don’t believe it,” he said. “So see for yourself.” Harry motioned for Jimmy to follow him with a swift nod of his head. He turned and started across the street without waiting to see if his friend was following.

Jimmy only hesitated for a moment. He trotted after Harry, catching up with him as he reached the opposite side of the street. Together they walked up the steps and Harry pulled open the heavy door with the dark tinted glass.

The building was cool inside and surprisingly well lit. Harry gestured to Jimmy to keep quiet as he led him into a little alcove to the right of an old elevator.

“I don’t think there’ll be too many people around, but just in case,” Harry whispered as he sidled along the wall to a door labelled Stairs.

“Why? Aren’t we allowed in here?” Jimmy asked, hugging the wall behind his friend like a spy on a covert mission.

“I don’t really know actually,” Harry admitted as he led the way up a narrow flight of stairs to the second floor. “But I don’t want him to see us anyway. Who knows what he’d do?”

“Yeah, I guess…”

The two boys walked along the second floor, flooded with natural light streaming in from a large picture window at the end of the hall. The carpet under their feet was an ugly mustard yellow, but thick and new, dampening the sound of their footsteps as they creeped along past doors shut fast, some with small name plates and carefully stenciled letters on the front.

The corridor opened into a waiting area set up with red cushioned chairs.

“Oh, good. Last time, there was someone sitting there,” Harry gestured vaguely at the seats. “Okay, there, see? Look at the door.”

Jimmy glanced warily around as though he were committing some indefinable crime that had not yet been given a name. He examined the neat, black letters on the door before him.


Jimmy’s eyes grew wide. “No way…”

Harry came up beside him. “What’d I tell you?” he asked triumphantly.

Jimmy nodded as he sounded out the word on the door.

“Psycho the rapist.”

A Gentleman Entered An Establishment

A gentleman entered an establishment. He reviewed the situation and hunkered down at the sideboard.

“Taverner, kindly provide me with a flagon of lager,” he expressed to the mixologist.

“Assuredly, master,” the mixologist announced.

The gentleman received the flagon from the mixologist and imbibed a hearty gulp. Forthwith, he heeded an intonation.

“I appreciate your jersey.”

The gentleman surveilled the interior of the establishment but could not observe any character who might have articulated. He consumed another generous swallow.

The incognito utterance repeated. “Your stature is enjoyable.”

Perturbed, the gentleman scrupulously scrutinized his environs.

“Your comportment is congenial.”

This concluding proclamation was adequate for the gentleman. His inquisitiveness kindled, the gentleman hailed the mixologist.

“Pray, inform me, taverner,” the gentleman asserted. “What is the significance of the verbalizations that I persistently apprehend?”

The mixologist meticulously minded the gentleman. Conclusively, he cachinnated prior to disclosing the elucidation of the unavowed vociferation.

“It was the legumes, master. They are encomiastic.”

And Ever I Go Onward


Silent tears rolled down the boy’s face. His father laid one hand on the boy’s shoulder, gentle but firm, the other pointing into the distance.

“Where do I go?” the boy asked softly.

“Where we all must go. The journey is long and dangerous. But you are ready.”

“Why must I go alone?”

“We are all alone, my son.”

The boy tried to turn, but his father’s hand kept him firmly turned to the horizon.

“Go now, my beloved son. We will see each other again one day. Until then, look to the end, and walk, do not run, until you get there. Go. And no matter what you see or hear along the way, never look back.”

The weight of his father’s hand lifted. The boy took one step, and then another.

A dull thud echoed from behind and to the left, and the breeze carried his father’s voice, whispering the boy’s name.

“I love you, too, Father.”

The boy’s words were lost on the wind as he walked onward, his gaze never turning from the horizon.

The Bad Son

Billy stood over his sister’s crib where the infant lay crying in wet, choked sobs, the ugly red bruises on her face and arms darkening before his very eyes. He slowly reached down and wiped the tears glistening on the baby’s swollen face with the tip of his finger.

“Billy!” His mother grabbed the boy by the arms and whirled him around, sending him stumbling into the dresser on the other side of the room. Billy fell to his hands and knees, stunned, as he noticed his little brother, John, watching from the corner, wide-eyed and silent.

His mother stared down at the baby in horror as the full import of what she was seeing dawned on her. “Not again, Billy…,” she cried. “Not again!” Angry, sorrowful tears stung her eyes as she gently bundled the little girl into her arms. “Billy,” she said, careful to keep her voice even, “this was your last chance. It’s over, Billy. This is going to end now.”

As a trembling, speechless Billy and his mother left the room, John stepped out from the shadows and peered around the doorjamb into the hall.

“Billy…,” John whispered as his mother and brother disappeared down the stairs.

That night, John lay in bed listening to his parents’ whispers that floated down the hall from the baby’s room. He closed his eyes and pulled the blanket up to his chin.

“Hey there, kiddo.” John’s father entered the room and sat down slowly on the edge of the bed. “How’re you doing?”

The boy shrugged from beneath the covers.

His father sighed. “I know you were a little scared by what you saw today, son. But you remember what Mom told you earlier, right? Billy’s just not feeling well. He needed to go away for a while to get better.” He patted John lightly on the shoulder. “But it’s only for a few years. He’ll be back before you know it.”

After his father left the room, John lay for a while staring at the ceiling. The corner of his mouth trembled. Only for a few years. That was a very long time. But the important thing was that Billy would be coming back.

The tremble subsided as John’s lips curled up in a smile. He settled himself deeper into the pillow and sighed contentedly.

Billy would be coming back. John could play with the baby again when his brother returned.

Message Read

Chloe had a special notification tone just for him. She rarely bothered even looking at her phone unless she heard that special sound.

That morning, she grabbed the phone eagerly when the sound pulled her from a restless sleep haunted by strange voices calling out to her from the darkness.

See you tonight – be there 6ish ❤️

Her heart soared and she knew it would be a good day after all.

After a hard day at work, Chloe quickly tidied the small apartment and ran a brush through her hair. The clock read 5:45 and he would be there any minute. Opening a bottle of wine, she took one last glance in the mirror and forced herself to sit down to relax before he arrived, barely able to contain her excitement.

At 6:02, she heard the special sound again.

I’m here 😘

They sat briefly on the small sofa, her phone completely forgotten on the coffee table now that he was finally with her, sipping wine and laughing and exchanging sensuous glances, but the week spent apart proved to be too much and they quickly moved to the bedroom. She pulled him down to the bed, her breathing quickening, her whole body aching for his touch.

As he wrapped his arms around her, holding her fast against him as he kissed her, all at once her excitement fell away as though a switch had been flipped inside her when a sound rang out from the living room.

His sound.

She pushed him gently away, staring intently into his eyes, her breathing coming faster, though no longer from the thrill of his touch.

“I… I should just check that quickly…” Her voice was steady though her knees felt weak. “It might be work.”

He smiled what looked like the familiar smile. “Go ahead. I’ll be here…”

She wandered in a daze to the living room and picked up her phone. The time read 6:27.

So sorry – running so late. Be there in 10. Love you.

Hands trembling, Chloe turned toward the bedroom, eyes widening and the blood pounding in her ears as she stared into the darkness. Her eyes flitted uncomprehending back and forth from her phone screen to the vaguely silhouetted shape in her bed.

A voice called out from the darkness and a cold shiver ran down Chloe’s back.

“Come back to bed, sweetheart. I’m waiting…”

Meet Me in That Nightmare Forest

I was walking a solitary path through a deep, dark forest. There were no sounds around me. I glanced left and right as I walked, but there was nothing to see except the trunks of trees so thick and tall no light broke through from the sky above, their bark so rough I thought my skin would be sliced open if I reached out to touch them. Despite the darkness, I was not frightened. I did not wonder why the leaves did not crunch under my feet nor did I ask myself where I was going. The path narrowed and curved suddenly but the forest barely seemed to change, no matter how far I progressed.

On a whim, I glanced back over my shoulder and was certain I could make out a lone dark figure following behind me, just coming around the bend in the path. Even though I could not discern any distinguishing features, I felt a deep aversion to that dark figure. It did not matter what it was or why it was following behind me. I dared not look back again, somehow sure that were I to do so, that figure would be even closer.

I looked down at my feet, overcome with the desire to walk faster, but they kept moving at a steady pace, and I was carried ever farther along that forest path. The ground grew suddenly steep, and the path widened enough for two people to walk side by side through the trees. I felt a surge of panic, as I could not quicken my pace as I started up the incline. Try as I might, I could not force myself to move faster and, even as my fear of the dark figure intensified, I tried to resist the urge to look over my shoulder again. The need to know what was coming overcame me, however, and I stole a fast glance behind me.

The dark figure that had been almost one hundred yards behind had gained on me by more than half that distance.

A certainty that I must quicken my pace gripped me like an icy fist. But try as I might, I could not force myself to move faster, although I did not grow weary or lose my breath as I climbed up that forest hill. I felt a chill run down my spine and I knew the dark figure was closing in on me. I lowered my head and pumped my arms desperately, but my feet stubbornly continued to move at the same pace. The silence around me was as the thickest liquid through which I attempted to push my legs, pressing on me from all sides.

It was at that moment that I heard the unmistakable sound of a footfall.

My heart beat faster and faster but my legs continued to walk with the same maddeningly slow stride. Another footfall, and then another, echoed in the dense forest of trees and my eyes rolled frantically from side to side as I searched for any route of escape from the path and the figure that pursued me. I stole one more glance back over my shoulder and saw the dark figure just ten feet behind me. It, too, seemed to be walking at the same, ever unchanging pace, yet it had gained on me so quickly. It was tall, but with no distinguishing features other than the long, long legs that carried it ever closer. When I turned back to the path in front of me, I saw that I had almost reached the top of the slope. More footfalls rang out, and I suddenly realized that the steps were not coming from the dark figure behind me.

They were coming from the hilltop in front of me.

Slowly, as though rising from inside the earth, you approached me from over the crest of the hill. At the very top of the path, you stopped and waited for me to meet you, your arms outstretched. Your face seemed to glow with a heavenly light that banished the darkness deep into the trees. Your smile brought hope to the lonely, never ending forest and you regarded me with eyes so full of kindness. I reached out my hands to embrace you just as the chilly breath of the dark figure gently grazed the back of my neck. It was then that your gaze shifted ever so slightly and I knew that you caught a glimpse of the dark figure that was practically upon me. Your arms dropped to your sides and your expression changed to one of such horror, your eyes wide, mouth straining to scream, your entire visage twisted into a grotesque parody of human emotion.

And then I woke up.

Upon awaking, I cried bitter tears, only not because of my fear of the dark figure in my nightmare or the eerie forest from which I could not escape. Not even because of the look of abject terror on your face that was the last thing I saw before emerging from a fitful sleep.

I cried because I longed to return to that nightmare forest and walk that path again. For it is only in the dream that I can remember your face.