My Oh So Very Imaginary TED Talk: Becoming A Storylistener

This one’s gonna require you to stretch your imagination a bit (and pop a Dramamine) as we take a dizzying sidestep into an alternate reality in which my indisputable awesomeness has been recognized and I have been asked to do a Ted Talk.


Did you know that a secret ingredient to becoming a master storyteller is right here, right now? You’re all using it! That’s right, I’m talking about your ears. Welcome to my TED Talk on “Becoming A Storylistener”, where we’re about to embark on a journey of listening our way to storytelling greatness.

As the famous poet Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Stories are everywhere, in books, movies, and even in the simple anecdotes we share with friends. But how do we become skilled storytellers ourselves? The answer is surprisingly simple: become a storylistener first.

Every day, stories are swirling around us like leaves in a gust of wind. We absorb them through conversations, TV shows, and various media. But to truly harness their power, we need to actively listen and learn from them. By doing so, we gain insights on crafting compelling narratives, building tension, and keeping our audience captivated.

Listening to stories not only helps us refine our storytelling skills but also fosters empathy. As we immerse ourselves in someone else’s tale, we begin to see the world through their eyes, sharing their emotions and experiences. This newfound understanding helps us create stories that resonate with our listeners on a deeper level.

So, how do we become proficient storylisteners? It starts with being present. While someone narrates their story, resist the urge to plan your next witty remark or judge their actions. Instead, focus on their words, emotions, and imagery. As Atticus Finch said in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Another crucial aspect of story listening is asking questions. This shows genuine interest and allows us to delve deeper into the story. Questions clarify confusion, reveal key elements, and give us ideas for our own storytelling adventures.

Lastly, embrace an open mind. Not every story will resonate with us, and that’s okay. Even when we don’t agree, there’s always something to learn, be it a different perspective, an unfamiliar experience, or a previously unconsidered aspect of human nature. These insights help us create stories that speak to diverse audiences.

To sum it up, the path to becoming a master storyteller begins with attentive story listening. By honing our listening skills, we can develop our storytelling prowess, cultivate empathy, and create content that strikes a chord with our listeners. I challenge each of you to actively listen to someone’s story today, and see how it transforms your storytelling abilities.

Thank you for being storylisteners today, and may you continue to grow as both storytellers and listeners!

The Chrisom One – A Tale of Eldritch Romance

The sad fact of the matter was that some people simply weren’t made for socializing. That was the case with Bridget, forever the outsider, disconnected from the world around her. She was mid-thirties thin, her wiry frame suggesting she wasn’t getting proper nutrition or exercise, and her skin was pale to the point of translucency because she spent the majority of her free time indoors, alone in her small Arkham, Massachusetts house with her nose buried in a book and lost in fantasy worlds where all her true friends existed.

The problem with living in a fantasy world was that it required constant fuel in order to keep the illusion fresh, which meant she was always on the hunt, combing through secondhand bookstores for that ever-elusive literary world that contained the answers to cure her loneliness forever. And in her most recent outing that was when she stumbled upon the book.

It was large, cold and clammy to the touch, and took both her hands to lift because it was heavier than a book of its size should have been. Bound in a thick black as night material that surely was not like any leather she had ever felt, its cover was adorned with strange, arcane symbols that seemed to shift and writhe under the light. She attributed this illusion to her tired eyes and a trick of the dim overhead fluorescent lights. When she opened the book, the pages were yellowed with age and covered in spidery handwriting that was barely legible and she was hit with a musty smell of old parchment and decay, like a tomb that has been sealed for centuries. That was all it took. Bridget made a beeline to the counter.

The shopkeeper behind the antiquated cash register was a portly, gray-haired man with a lined face that bore the traces of many years of hardship. His eyes were sharp and piercing, with a glint of intelligence and cunning that belied his weathered appearance.

“How much is this?” Bridget asked, handing over the book. “It doesn’t have a price sticker.”

The shopkeeper let out a barely audible grunt under the full weight of the book in his hands. “Where did you find this?”

“There’s a little book cart in the back,” Bridget pointed over her shoulder. “Next to the Self-Help section. It was on top of a pile of books.”

The shopkeeper first eyed her then eyed the book, turning it over and over in his hands, and eyed her again.

Bridget put on her best polite-bordering-on-friendly smile and attempted to bat her deep-set, expressive brown eyes that often seemed to be lost in thought or focused on something unseen. Then she began playing with her long, deep auburn curly hair, twirling locks around her index finger. She hadn’t actually understood the appeal of this action but remembered it worked to charm a man in a movie she once saw.

“Forty-five dollars,” the shopkeeper said, cocking an eyebrow and allowing the slightest smile to curl at the corners of his mouth.

Bookery Nookery was one of Bridget’s favorite haunts. She was in this rundown secondhand bookshop all the time, and she had a relationship of sorts with the shopkeeper, whose name she should have known but such was the life of an introvert, where they would haggle over the price of books. She knew he always started way too high and allowed her to negotiate him down to the price he was actually willing to sell the book in question.

“I’ll take it,” she said. Her rapid response caught her by surprise as much as the shopkeeper, judging by the stunned expression on his face.


Until she found this tome, Bridget was unaware just how fascinated she was with the unknown and the unknowable. And yes, she stopped referring to the grimoire as a mere book when it became increasingly difficult to handle, some of the pages even seemed to resist the touch of her hands. The spidery handwriting was dense and convoluted, often written in archaic languages and filled with obscure references to things that existed far beyond her ability to understand.

That hadn’t stopped her. The deeper she delved, the more she felt a growing sense of unease and dread but the alluring knowledge contained within the pages was irresistible. She became consumed by the pursuit of understanding the passages, her mind racing to keep up with the dense and impenetrable text.

Hours turned into days that became weeks and expanded to months as Bridget became more and more obsessed with scouring the internet and reading and re-reading about matters that existed beyond her comprehension, matters that began seeping into her dreams, causing waking nightmares and strange visions that she attempted to record but found impossible to put into words. She even slipped into the dark web in order to study ancient texts and explore forbidden places, seeking answers to the deepest questions of existence. She always felt as if there was something missing in her life, some deeper purpose or meaning that she couldn’t quite grasp.

Then, one day, she stumbled upon a key, an arcane Rosetta Stone that translated an obscure text in the tome that spoke of cosmic entities that lurked beyond the known universe. Her grimoire was written by a madman, dismissed by most scholars of his age as the ravings of a lunatic. But as she deciphered and read through its pages, something deep within her began to stir.

Bridget began spotting patterns and connections in the world around her that she never noticed before. She was definitely getting closer to something profound and transformative, and if only she could unlock the secret of a certain arcane sigil, she would be able to uncover the mysteries of the universe.

For weeks, she threw herself into her research, ignoring everything else in her life, even her job. Bridget locked herself away from society, barely slept or ate, poring over the ancient scrawling, desperate to decipher its meaning, driven by an unshakeable sense of purpose.

Unaware that sanity was the locking mechanism, the level of security that kept the human mind safe, Bridget pushed onward and with each section of text she was able to decode, she unwittingly set in motion the delicate process of manipulating the pins and levers inside her brain. And as she translated the final sigil, the last tumbler fell into place.

The air surrounding her grew thick and heavy, charged with a strange energy, and as the veil over her mind’s eye lifted, allowing her to peer into the deepest recesses of the universe, her sanity slipped away like shadows into shade and she barely even noticed.

This was a groundbreaking discovery, a secret that would change the course of human history, and so lost was she in her excitement that she missed the warning signs that something was very wrong.

Privy to things that no human was meant to see, Bridget caught glimpses of creatures of impossible size and shape that seemed to defy the laws of physics. And with each new revelation, reality twisted like a Rubik’s Cube around her. And when her mind began to tear up and sob uncontrollably, that was when she encountered the Chrisom One.

It appeared in her mind as a shifting, amorphous mass of shadows and mist, coalescing and dissipating in unpredictable ways. Its form was constantly changing, flickering between shapes and colors, though sometimes taking on a vaguely humanoid form, with long, spindly limbs and a head that shifted and twisted in impossible ways. Other times was more like a nebulous cloud, with tendrils of darkness and light swirling around a central core.

Bridget’s heart raced, her breath quickening, and she felt a wave of fear wash over her. Every muscle in her body tensed up, her hands shaking uncontrollably. And then, as if on cue, she felt a strange sensation in her lower abdomen, an urgent need to relieve herself.

She tried to hold it in, to stay composed and focused, but her body had other plans. The fear was so overwhelming that it triggered an involuntary response, a primal instinct to empty her bladder and bowels in a bid to shed the excess weight and flee the danger.

Trembling with embarrassment and horror, she tried to move away from the creature, but her legs wouldn’t obey. Her mind was consumed by the fear, by the realization that she was powerless against the entity’s terrifying presence. All she could do was wait for the inevitable, for this unholy beast to make its move, for her fate to be sealed.

“ܡܫܩܝܚܝܐ ܒܪܝܕܬ، ܐܢܐ ܐܝܟ ܟܪܣܘܡ ܐܚܪܝܢܐ. ܥܕܬܝܢܝ ܐܡܪ ܠܟ ܐܦ ܫܡܬܐ ܕܐܢܐ ܩܪܝܨܬ ܠܝܕܥܬܐ ܕܕܝܢܬܐ ܐܦܝܠܐ,” it said in Aramaic and Bridget recoiled from the entity’s voice echoing in her mind.

“I—I don’t understand you,” Bridget stammered. “And your voice…it’s too loud in my head…it hurts!”

“My apologies. It has been a while since I communicated with one of your kind,” it said, adjusting the intensity of its presence to an acceptable mortal level. “Welcome, Bridget Baxter, I am the Chrisom One. I have been watching you for some time now, and I am intrigued by your quest for knowledge.”

“What are you?” she asked, her voice trembling.

“I am…beyond,” the Chrisom One replied. “Your fear is thick, but unwarranted, for I mean you no harm. Your hunger for knowledge sets you apart from other mortals and you have the potential to grasp the deeper truths of the cosmos.”

Bridget found herself both intrigued and terrified by the Chrisom One’s words. “What do you want from me?” she asked.

“To guide you toward the knowledge that you seek,” the Chrisom One replied. “To show you the secrets of the universe, and help you achieve the enlightenment that you crave.”

Bridget hesitated for a moment, weighing her options. Even though she was certain this encounter would shred her mind further, she couldn’t resist the lure of the unknown.

“I want to see,” she said, her unsteady voice filled with determination. “Show me the secrets of the universe.”

And with those words, Bridget began a journey that would forever change her life.

She still had to study in order to process all she was being shown and when she fell asleep, exhausted after a long day of research, she found herself transported to bizarre and otherworldly places. It was in her dreams that the Chrisom One would appear to her in its form of shimmering unearthly light.

At first, Bridget was terrified, but as the dreams continued, she began to feel a sense of familiarity and even a strange comfort in the Chrisom One’s presence. Eventually she found herself opening up to the entity, sharing her hopes and fears, and listening as it spoke of the secrets of the universe.

Over time, their relationship deepened. Bridget would eagerly anticipate each new dream, eager to see the Chrisom One again and learn more of its mysteries. The cosmic entity, in turn, seemed to take a special interest in Bridget, guiding her toward the knowledge and enlightenment that it believed she was capable of achieving.

It was during one of these dreams that the pair shared a kiss. Bridget had been listening as the Chrisom One spoke of the infinite possibilities of the cosmos, and suddenly felt a surge of emotion she couldn’t explain. Without thinking, she leaned in with a soft, closed-mouth kiss before parting her lips slightly, inviting the Chrisom One to deepen the kiss. What passed for the Old One’s tongue entered her mouth, gently caressing Bridget’s tongue and exploring the inside of her mouth.

To her shame, Bridget hadn’t kissed many men in her life and hadn’t considered herself very good at it but the Chrisom One turned the kiss into a delicate dance, a tango of tongues and lips, a passionate embrace that set her heart ablaze. She leaned in and felt the heat of its breath on her skin, the anticipation building with every passing moment.

Her senses were alive with the unworldly taste and scent of this being that was older than anything she could imagine, the sweet warmth of its mouth as she explored the entity’s depths. Their hands roamed over each other’s bodies, seeking out every curve and contour, every ridge and dip. They pulled each other closer, their bodies pressed together in an embrace that ignited the flames of desire.

Passion surged within her like a wild river. Bridget lost herself in the moment, in the pleasure of the kiss, as if nothing else in the world mattered. And when it finally ended, she was left breathless, her heart racing, longing for more.

From that moment on, their relationship became more than just a strange and inexplicable connection between teacher and student. They would speak for hours, sharing their thoughts and emotions with each other in a way that Bridget had never experienced before. As they learned more about each other, she began to feel a sense of closeness and intimacy that was unlike anything she had ever known.

Of course, their relationship was far from simple. The Chrisom One’s true nature remained shrouded in mystery, and Bridget was never quite sure if it was truly capable of love in the way that humans understood it. And as their relationship deepened, Bridget continued to lose her grip on reality, consumed by her obsession with the entity and the power it represented.

Despite the darkness and danger that surrounded their love, Bridget and the Chrisom One were bound together by a connection that was both terrifying and beautiful. Their love was a force that defied the laws of the universe, a testament to the infinite possibilities of the cosmos.

But anyone who ever experienced love knew full well that it was a form of madness that ofttimes traveled hand in hand with obsession. Bridget’s once-logical mind was now clouded by jealousy and suspicion, leaving her unable to distinguish between reality and illusion. She could no longer ignore the nagging feeling that the Chrisom One was involved in multiple relationships, and that it had no true allegiance to her. The thought of losing the entity she had grown to love filled her with dread, driving her to desperate measures to keep it by her side.

Despite her inner turmoil, Bridget couldn’t let her suspicions consume her completely. She had to find a way to confront the truth about their relationship, no matter how painful it may be. And the way eventually presented itself in the form of an ancient incantation.

Fingers trembling with excitement, Bridget traced the strange symbols etched into the pages of the grimoire. She was taking a tremendous risk by confronting an Eldritch Old God but needs must when the Devil drives. Their relationship was either going to be transparent or it was going to be nothing at all.

She recited the incantation, her voice growing louder and more insistent with each passing moment. The air crackled with dark energy, as the portal to the unknowable plane of existence tore open before her very eyes. And then, with a surge of power, the Chrisom One appeared before her, its form twisting and writhing like an endless nightmare.

But as Bridget stood before the being she had come to love, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of doubt. Was this truly the being she had longed for, or merely a twisted imitation of the creature she had conjured in her warped mind?

Sensing her hesitation, the Chrisom One stepped closer to her, its form radiating an aura of otherworldly power. Bridget felt a shiver run down her spine as the being coaxed her toward her bed, its ancient voice cooing dead language words of comfort and desire in her ear.

As they lay together, Bridget’s doubts and fears melted away, replaced by a deep sense of longing and fulfillment. The Chrisom One moved with a fluid grace, its touch reigniting the flames of passion she felt the very first moment they kissed.

Lost in the ecstasy of their lovemaking, Bridget was consumed by the power and majesty of the being she had summoned. But even as she surrendered to the Chrisom One’s embrace, a small voice in the back of her mind whispered that this could never truly be love, that their relationship was built on a foundation of madness and obsession.

As the final remnants of her sanity slipped away, Bridget was left with only the bitter knowledge that her love for the Chrisom One had come at a terrible cost, and her fate was now forever intertwined with that of an Eldritch being who was filling her with what passed for its love and absorbing her at the same time.

Laying there, awash in the creature’s unearthly energies, she realized with a sense of horror that she had been manipulated into opening a portal, allowing the Old Gods passage into the mortal realm. And her thanks? To be devoured by a creature that could no more be in love with her than she could be with an insect.

Despite her silent rebuke, Bridget felt the climax surging, her body responding to the being’s touch even as her mind screamed in protest. If she was to rid herself of this monstrosity that had consumed her so completely, she needed to act quickly.

Wrapping what was left of her feeble arms around the entity, Bridget pulled herself close, her mouth near to what passed for its ear. “My mistake was loving you, and your mistake was teaching me too much,” she whispered, her voice laced with bitter regret. And then, with a fierce determination, she began to recite a banishment incantation that was a part of her early lessons, her words ringing out with the power of ancient magic.

As the climax reached its peak, the Chrisom One shrieked and bellowed a string of curses in a language older than the known universe, its power in this plane of existence waning as the incantation took hold, sending the creature vanishing into the void from whence it came.

Bridget would have felt a surge of triumph if she was able to but incantations, even small ones, came at a cost and when the portal closed behind the Eldritch Old God, it used what was left of Bridget’s withered corpse as a seal to prevent it from ever reopening.


This should have been a cautionary tale, warning others of the dangers of obsession and the pursuit of forbidden knowledge, but Bridget was a loner and an introvert, so no one knew about the unassuming woman who grappled with the knowledge and forces beyond human understanding and control. A woman with an enormous sense of hope and wonder who nearly came to grips with the enormity of the universe, and with the power of love was shown to be capable of triumphing over even the most incomprehensible forces of the universe.

Wherever Bridget Baxter’s soul now resides, may in forever live in peace.

My So-Called Shakespearean Life

A 100% absolutely true (what would give you cause to doubt me?) day in my life event as transcribed by the immortal bard (written in iambic pentameter, naturally). Enjoy.

As I Perambulate
Walking hath been my preferred mode of transit,
Six decades on, my primary exercise.
It offers me a brief respite permit
From my hermitic life, in city skies.
But daily walks on the same route I tread
Became a habit, stuck in pattern's hold.
Today, I challenged self, a new path led,
For I felt down, new scenery foretold.
As I roamed down an unknown avenue,
I spied a throng around a dying tree.
They danced and chanted, speech unknown, askew,
And my suspicion rose, but so did glee.
Before I knew, I moved in closer stance,
Eager to discover their purpose, trance.
A dancer, auburn hair and flowing dress,
Parted the crowd and approached with a smile.
"Join us in celebration, nothing less!"
She asked, and I felt my heart reconcile.
Though city-born, I said, "Sure, why not?"
Something in her demeanour, calm and fraught.
As soon as I joined, all went out of sight,
A blur engulfed, and I felt lifted, free.
When my eyes cleared, I found myself in fright,
Lost and alone in forest, what could be?
I knew not where to go or what to do,
Far from home, despair did strike anew.
Before I fell into complete panic,
A man with grey beard appeared from a tree.
"Merry meet, friend," he said, his eyes volcanic.
I wondered who he was, and what could be?
"Call me Wiz," he said, "guide you I shall."
"Who sent you, and why?" I asked, enthralled.
"That is for you to discover, my dear,
I'm here to guide you on your journey's path."
He started walking, choice was crystal clear,
To follow or to stay, face nature's wrath.
I followed him, through mountain, river, sky,
On the back of a dragon, crows did fly.
We stumbled upon a meadow of whispers,
Fairies danced around a tiny pond.
One landed on my shoulder, mind blisters,
And whispered something I could not respond.
"She said you've a kind heart and curious mind,"
Wiz smiled, reassuring and refined.
Through the day, we met creatures odd and rare,
A giant, a dancing tree, even aliens.
Tiring, but I had no thought to compare,
For it was an experience worth billions.
Back at the tree, the crowd welcomed me back,
And I knew, never to forget this track.
As I headed home, gratitude did swell,
For the strange and wondrous journey I'd been on.
Changed forever, I could no longer dwell,
For my heart and mind now shone like a dawn.
A day I'd always cherish, and I knew,
People I met made it a one-of-a-kind view.

The Folds of Love


When the delivery truck pulls up outside the shop, neither of us look out the window ’cause we know exactly who it is. 12:15 pm on the dot means Department of Tissue Waste Removal. Light load today. Driver only schleps in one body bag.

“You’re up, Mickey.” Jhonni nods my way. “Snag ‘n tag salvageables and dip the rest.”

Mickey. Only other person to ever call me that was my pops. I hated when he did it and I damn sure hate that my boss somehow exposed that raw nerve. He only does it to get a rise outta me, but I ain’t bitin’ so I let it slide this time. My mistake? Tellin’ baldilocks here I prefer bein’ called Michelle.

Snag ‘n tag means I gotta dissect the corpse for salvagables, which are any organs that ain’t completely shot to shit and dip whatever’s left over in the chemical vat for DNA repurposin’ — usually either cosmetic skin grafts, lifelike mannequins for movie stunts or some other bioengineerin’ bullshit I don’t really understand.

I sigh, chuck the rest of the deck onto my game of solitaire — cards weren’t cooperating, no how — and walk over to the body bag. I ain’t squeamish about dead bodies or puttin’ the blade to ’em, but I do have one hangup…

I hear myself mutterin’ before I have a chance to stop it, “Don’tbeadudedon’tbeadudedon’tbeadude…” and when I unzip the bag, guess what? A dude. So’s we’re clear, I gots no prob flaying a man, it’s just that chick thing that does me in. You gals know what I’m talking about.

Every man a woman meets, she sizes him up and decides if she’d break him off a piece. Sex, I mean. Young, old, fat, skinny, short, tall… alive or dead, you rate ’em. Would you do ’em, could you do ’em and under what circumstances? A dare? Boredom? For the story? Only me, I got this vivid imagination, see, and when I come across a mutilated dude, I see myself having sex with him. And no, I ain’t no nekkidphiliac, they’re very much alive in my scenarios, just all banged up, pardon the expression.

This one, Ethan Garner, by the toe tag, was tore up from the floor up. Anythin’ worth savin’ would be an innard and not one that’d bring high market value, either. Somethin’ nickel and dime like an appendix, spleen, or some shit.

The fluorescents buzz overhead and sweat breaks out on my forehead as I hear Ethan groan beneath me in my mind’s eye. Think of a dude I know, think of a dude I know. No good. Where’s my iPod? I need a distraction.

The cause of death is listed as Industrial Misadventure which meant poor old Ethan was mangled by machinery, probably one of them press and fold jobbers. His body looks like a bedsheet fresh out the package, tucked up all tight into a tidy square. How the hell am I going to get inside to harvest organs?

I put a little elbow grease into it, dig my fingers into a crease — an armpit, maybe? — and try to pry it apart. Bones creak and skin pulls apart from skin with the sound of moist velcro. I’m sweatin’ buckets now, cause in my head, Ethan is givin’ me the workout of a lifetime, only I can’t see his face so it’s like doing it with a Hot Pocket with a hard-on. Focus, Mickey! Focus! Damn, now that bastard’s got me doin’ it.

With the back of my blade I scrape away the dried blood, which there’s plenty of, and I find a seam. That’s right, a goddammed seam! Now, I wasn’t exactly top of my class in Biology, but I’m kinda certain the human body don’t come equipped with seams. But I’m curious about this so I make my first cut along Ethan’s unnatural hem.

My fingers move into the cut and part skin. I tilt the swing arm lamp to get a better view and the light catches somethin’ that makes my stomach hitch. Whoever bagged this on-scene fucked up big time, which I suppose is kinda sorta understandable, given the unusual nature of the cause of death, but if I reported it, it’d probably cost that slob their job. The Office of Forensic Affairs forgives a ton of infractions, unfortunately, the body count ain’t one of ’em. This was incorrectly listed as a single, when Ethan here, is wrapped around a whole other body.

The second body’s a smaller one, a girl, judging by the tiny pink-painted fingernails, and in the middle of a splatter of brain matter is a child-sized tiara, pressed between them like a flower in a book. The sex visions with Ethan stop instantly and my stomach heaves as I try not to hurl.

My jumpsuit is dripping with sweat and it clings to my clammy body to the point it makes my skin crawl. And then my trusty dusty brain, with its wonderful imagination, kicks into overdrive and I play the story of their final moments.

Ethan works — worked — works in laundry services. It’s bring your daughter to work day. Maybe he’s a weekend dad that doesn’t get to spend enough quality time with his baby girl and he fights the court order and pushes for this until he’s able to negotiate terms.

So he brings her to his job and she insists on wearing the little princess halloween costume, the one with the tiara, and he can’t say no because she is his little princess. Things are going great and he tells her to be careful and stick close to him, but he gets distracted for a moment, maybe by his boss about special instructions on a rush job or somethin’.

The little girl tries to be good and listen to her daddy, but curiosity gets the better of her and she climbs on a piece of machinery she shouldn’t be climbin’ on and Ethan’s dad-alarm goes off and he spots her, losing her balance and he runs for her… runs and dives with no care for his own safety and he manages to grab hold of her but it’s too late and they both fall into the machine before his coworkers can hit the shut off switch.

So, Ethan does the only thing he knows to do… he wraps himself around the little girl and folds her in his love, as the machine does what it’s designed to do.

It probably ain’t even in the same neighborhood as the actual events, but even though my story is most likely bullshit, it’s still real to me. it’s what I choose to believe.

And it breaks my heart ’cause that’s how I wish it was with me and my pop, but after moms died, we can’t be in the same room for ten minutes without it breakin’ into some big production. I know he means well, but who the hell is he to give me instructions on how I should live my life? Holder of the Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition Lifetime Achievement Award, is who.

I carefully harvest the tiara and clean body residue out of every nook and cranny. Then I place the plastic jewelry on a towel and carefully fold it into the best presentable package I can manage.

“Fuck’re you doing over there, Mickey?” Jhonni says over his shoulder.

And suddenly I can’t do this anymore, not just Ethan and this nameless little girl, but any of it. I peel the sopping wet jumpsuit off me and throw it at my boss. “Quitin’ is what I’m doin’.” Correction, my ex-boss.

I take the tiara package over to the phone and search the directory for Forensic Affairs. “And it’s Michelle, by the way, you fat piece of garbage. Call me outside my name again and somebody’ll be unzippin’ you from one of those bags.”

I expect a response, an argument, a something… but he just sits there and takes it quietly. Makes me think this isn’t the first time somethin’ like this has happened.

I dial the number. Do I feel sorry for the person about to lose their job? Sure, but fuck ’em. There’re more important matters at hand. There’s a family that needs reunitin’.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll make another call after this one. It’s been a while since I spoke to the old man, after all.

The Anniversary Meal

As Amantha carefully diced the spleen, she caught herself. Lost in the preparation of the meal, she absently sang a song under her breath. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem but she was doing it in her native tongue, a dead language that might have revealed her true identity, had anyone heard it. Not that they’d have been able to pinpoint what she was exactly, but they would have sussed she wasn’t what she appeared to be.

She bit the inside of her cheek as she marinated the kidneys, the pain and the coppery tang of blood in her mouth served as a reminder to be more cautious. The head that had been severed and chilled on ice overnight to preserve its freshness, was placed in the stewpot to dissolve in a broth that smelled faintly of sulfur. She would have to remember to do the same with the hands and feet and all the other body parts that couldn’t be disguised as normal cuts of meat.

Anal to a fault, Amantha arranged all the innards neatly on the countertop and went to work on deboning the torso and limbs, the bones of which would join the head in the liquefying broth. She knew she had plenty of time to get rid of the evidence, but she also wanted time to get dressed and made up before Onathan arrived. It was their one year anniversary and she wanted the meal to go without a hitch because she suspected he was going to propose tonight.

“He’s going to propose tonight,” she let slip aloud as she slit open the intestines to clean them. If only she had studied the language better, none of this food preparation would have been necessary.

Onathan’s mother was an important figure in his life, more a best friend than a parent, and he wanted to include her in the anniversary celebration, which Amantha had no problem with because she enjoyed the old woman’s company, she just wished he had phrased his wish differently.

His exact words were, “Do you mind if we had Mom over for dinner? It’s a special night that I want to share with her. Since Dad died, she’s been alone in that house and it’s not good for her.”

“Of course, I don’t mind,” Amantha answered, playing the question over and over in her mind. “If you’re sure that’s what you want.”

“You’re amazing. I can’t believe how understanding you are.” Onathan pulled her into him and gave her the biggest kiss. Surely, she had gotten it right this time. The kiss made her confident that her first interpretation was accurate.

Amantha called Onathan’s mother over late last night after he had gone to bed and she came without question or hesitation. Either she was the most selfless person on the planet or she truly was lonely in that big house all by herself. This would be a good thing.

No stranger to the procedure, Amantha treated her hopefully soon-to-be-late mother-in-law to refreshments laced with a two-part toxin. The first substance was mixed into the pâte sucrée and would have passed through her system harmlessly, had it not bonded with the chemical placed in the sherry. Death was instantaneous and painless.

The phone rang not a few seconds later. It was her mother. When Amantha relayed the news and what Onathan asked and what she had done, there was silence on the other end of the line.

A chill ran down Amantha’s spine. Before her mother said a word, she knew she had gotten it wrong once again. English was such a bastard of a tricky language.

“These humans, they’re not like us, Ammie,” her mother said. “Relatives do not sacrifice themselves for celebration feasts nor do they feel pride in eating kin.”

“But what am I going to do, Mother?” the rising panic made her body quake.

“Are you sure she’s dead?”

Amantha prodded the old woman’s arm with her shoe. “No doubt about it. I followed your recipe to the letter.”

“Looks like you have no choice but to tell him the truth.”

“The truth? I can’t do that! Hi, honey, remember your mother? I killed her by mistake last night, sorry. He’ll never marry me now!”

“Then play ignorant,” her mother suggested. “Human females do it all the time.”

“And what about the body?”

“It isn’t a body anymore, it’s evidence. If you intend to live a lie, you’ll have to get rid of it.”

“I can’t move the body, somebody will see me!”

“Who said anything about moving the body?” her mother said nothing further, waiting patiently for her daughter to catch on.

“You mean cook her?”

“You were going to do it anyway.”

“I–I can’t. That would be wrong.”

Turned out she could. After hours of playing out scenarios in her head, she decided she couldn’t live without Onathan and he wouldn’t want to live with her if he found out the truth.

The difficult part was hiding the body until Onathan left for work in the morning. Amantha thought she had tipped her hand when she rushed him through breakfast and out the door. One of his mother’s earrings was on the kitchen floor, right beside his shoe! It was so close that if she made any move to retrieve it, he would have noticed.

But all that was behind her now, as she opened the refrigerator to get the older woman’s eyeballs to mash into a jelly topping for the dessert. But they weren’t there. She searched everywhere she hid body parts, everywhere they could have rolled but there were no eyeballs! She distinctly remembered plucking them out of their sockets last night.

How could she have misplaced them? Amantha knew she had to find them before Onathan came home in two hours. She threw herself into overdrive and tore the house apart, all the while cursing herself for not being more careful. The last thing she wanted was to have Onathan accidentally stumble upon one of the elusive orbs. He might not recognize it as one of his mother’s, but at the end of the day, it was a human eye and while she didn’t completely understand human culture, she was sure finding random eyeballs in your house wasn’t a common practice.

Amantha finally found them, yes, in the refrigerator. They somehow managed to roll off the saucer and landed in the crisper. She breathed a sigh of relief… until she looked at the clock; Onathan was going to be home in less than an hour, and she not only hadn’t finished dinner yet but now the house was a complete mess.

She prepared the dessert in record time and then hopped on the massive chore of tidying up the house. Just as she put the finishing touches on her makeup, the doorbell rang.

Amantha sat on pins and needles the entire dinner. What if he recognized his mother’s taste? A silly concern but it plagued her nonetheless.

Onathan seemed nervous as well, his eye constantly checking the wall clock or shooting over his shoulder to the front door. It didn’t stop him from enjoying the meal and he ate everything placed before him. At the end of the meal. he accidentally knocked his fork on the floor. Amantha was about to comment on how clumsy he was when he came up on one knee with a ring in his hand. “I was going to wait until mother arrived, but I feel now’s the perfect time, after the perfect meal.”

And that was all it took. The dam of emotions she tried to suppress all evening burst wide open and Amantha began to cry uncontrollably.

“D-did I do something wrong?” Onathan said, confused. “I thought you wanted this?”

“No, no, I do want this,” she said, her breath hitching. “Just not this way.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s not you, you’re fine. Really, really fine. It’s me. I have something to tell you.”

The Math of the Moment


There were two things that Evan knew:

  1. Mathematics
  2. He lived the wrong kind of life

The first he had known nearly all his life, from age four, if a proud mother’s braggadocio was to be believed. The second he only recently discovered, when he first laid eyes on The Woman. As was his nature, Evan quickly tabulated the absolute value in his head to assess his chances with her. The figures hadn’t added up.

The Woman, obviously accustomed to being the object of men’s stares, avoided eye contact with every XY chromosome in the room as she stood in the doorway and scanned the tables for a place to sit. There were so many free spaces, Evan hadn’t given the possibility of her settling next to him a second thought… until she did just that.

Suddenly the nearness of her had Evan checking the computations of his existence and wondering how he came to live a life so cruel as to deny him the reality of waking up beside The Woman every single morning. The closer she stepped, the more he realized just how lacking he was. The more he examined himself, the further away he pushed the percentages of the two of them spending the rest of their lives together.

But even though he knew down to his square root that nothing could ever have existed between them, he couldn’t let the thought of her go. He wracked his brain trying to suss out what needed to be done to correct their blaring parities.

What charismatic calculus would he have had to perform in order to make the possibility of a relationship between them a reality? What was he lacking that could have been excavated from the untapped depths of his soul in this limited time they cohabitated at this table, these minutes that were passing far too quickly, that would have given her pause? What prime number would have made her consider the impossible? Convinced her to go against every single internal voice and take a chance on a fractioned man well past his sell-by date? A man who needed her greater than she would ever have needed him?

Instead of coming up with solutions to solve the theorem, he vapor locked. He went to the place where he should have found inspiration and courage and instead stood staring down at a dry well.

If this were a movie, a romantic comedy following a by-the-numbers formula, this would have been their meet cute moment, where though she had no time for him, Evan would somehow have found the nerve to punch above his weight class, as he swung for the fences, until he stumbled upon that one right sentence, quite by accident, that would have opened the door of their budding relationship just a crack.

But this wasn’t a movie in which Evan had access to some writer, a prince of prose, to whip up a witty bit of icebreaking banter, which meant he sat there quiet as a church mouse as the woman of his dreams failed to acknowledge his presence as she sipped her small yet overpriced mall beverage and worked her delicate thumbs across her smartphone keypad.

Perhaps he had approached it wrong. His shyness and lack of confidence in this situation was the problem, but all problems had a solution, so if he somehow broke down the math of the moment, he could not only solve the equation but restructure the formula to his benefit.

And so he began with

The Problem

He was absolutely enchanted by this stranger, who, when she left this table, wouldn’t have known him from Adam due to his insecurities. And while the thought of either tricking or forcing her to have affection for him against her will was a repulsive notion, he wanted to at least put forth the concept of a relationship between them.

The Equation

The left-hand side of the equation needed to describe the geometry of the manifestation of what a man considered love and the lengths he would go through to achieve it. The right-hand side needed to reflect the concomitant swirling curvature of a woman’s nurture and passion weighed against the romanticized notions of love.

Evan pulled a tattered notebook from his backpack and wrote the equation. Front and back on all the blank pages. On the backs of pages containing non-related items. In the margins. On every napkin he laid his hands on. and finally on the table itself.

He wrote and wrote until his brain collapsed under the sheer weight of computations, then he wrote some more. He continued to write until he finally discovered…

The Solution

Evan straightened his back, turned to The Woman, cleared his throat and said in a voice squeakier than he would have liked, “Excuse me, Miss. Hello, my name is Evan.”

Beast of the Illusory Moon

“Mǣnōn concede to me the quietude to recognize the effects I should not alter; the bravery to transform the conditions I am able to; and the insight to recognize the distinction,” he leaned against the chain link fence, covered in less blood than he first imagined and prayed to the moon.

Not the Moon, not Luna, the other one, Mǣnōn, the illusory moon that sat back and to the left, that was only visible every four years on the twenty-ninth of February.


He had never been so disappointed in himself as he stared at the nubiles sauntering in and out of the afterhours bars and nightclubs that lined the strip. The passersby, those who bothered to toss him a sideward glance, sussed him as an alcoholic, but his problem was far more severe than that.

His affliction stemmed from the fact that everyone had two sides, no matter how open and honest they appeared to be. There was the side they showed the world and the beast side that only revealed its face when they were all alone. And it wasn’t necessarily as evil as it sounded, but it was there nonetheless. And there was no way of really knowing someone’s true nature unless they revealed it to you.

But he saw it. On this night, with the gift he had been granted by the Goddess of a moon visible to no one but he, which wasn’t a present as much as a curse that gnawed at his sanity. He saw the true faces of evil that hunkered down within the tall brush of fashion, cosmetics, and innocence. And sometimes the evil saw him.

He caught sight of a woman as she appeared from one of the clubs, ultraviolet stamp still moist on the back of her hand. Ten years his junior, she was stunningly beautiful in an exotic way that unsettled him. Her auburn hair cascaded over the shoulders of her white satin dress and gave her the appearance of an old-world masterpiece come to life.

She walked past a Chinese take-out joint and the exposed ATM before she realized she was being followed. When she turned, he knew she had seen him for what he was as clearly as he had spotted her. Her countenance shifted from serene beauty to that of a woodland creature frozen in the headlights of a speeding vehicle. But it wasn’t fear that registered in her eyes—she was making a decision, flight or fight.

The moment her face tightened with determination, he knew she would rabbit. And she did. She spun on the balls of her feet, kicked off her heels and bolted out into the street, dodging cars as she ran against the traffic, inhuman toenails ripping into the tarmac.

He grinned as he whipped out past the parked cars; he loved it when they ran. His reflexes, sharp normally, were amped under the light of the illusory moon and hope blazed in his mind as he was about to overtake her easily. In this mode, before what had to happen actually happened, he saw himself as a savior. What he had to do was in everyone’s best interest, even hers. He would not fail this time. He intended to honor his duty. And as he was about to lay his hand on her shoulder and set things right—he heard a wet thumping sound and felt pain down to his marrow as a car bumper made contact with his hip and sent him sprawling into a lamppost.

Nausea and blood mixed in his mouth and as he looked up through blurred vision he could just make out her lithe frame turning down a side street. A voice cried out amidst the murmurs in the background, I’m sorry! it said. You came out of nowhere! I didn’t see you in time!

Voices shouted and people rushed to the scene from both sides of the street. He fought the pain and forced himself to his feet. He had to leave before the police showed up. Too many witnesses. He couldn’t have explained why he was chasing the girl in the first place. Who would have believed him? To bystanders, he surely must have looked like a psycho ex-boyfriend or worse, a perverted sex deviant.

He kept his head low and shielded his face from camera phones as he pushed through a crowd of people asking if he was okay, hobbling towards the side street, hoping against hope that he hadn’t lost her trail.


He still couldn’t fathom why he was chosen. Had he been a cop or any other branch of law enforcement, this might have been so much easier. Easier to pursue, apprehend and deal with a special brand of evil one night every four years. But as a thirty-seven-year-old accountant, what was he supposed to do? How long could this go on before he was caught, or even worse killed? He had no social life and how could he? This thing made him unfit for human consumption. And what if he managed to hook up with a woman only to see, come February twenty-ninth, what sort of demon lurked beneath her cool surface? He knew he had to quit at some point. Maybe tonight, if he was able to resolve this in time he would petition Mǣnōn to find a replacement.

Along with his heightened abilities came the urge. He needed to scour the streets and rid the city of pestilence on this very special of nights. It was a basic bodily function to him, as much a part of his continued existence as breathing.

He limped around the corner, his pace picking up as his fractured bones knitted themselves back together and his muscles and internal organs returned to their optimal state. The neighborhood wasn’t the safest to begin with and those with sense stayed on the strip in crowded well-lit areas. The side street was dark, streetlamps busted on both sides, which was probably why she chose it to escape into, to hide in.

He moved into the street and swiped a finger across a bit of dug up tarmac, touched it to his tongue, and smacked his lips, processing the taste of her. Motionless, twilight settled on him as he cleared his mind—then he picked up her trail.


“You don’t have to do this,” the woman called out from somewhere in the dark.

“Yes, I do,” he stood at the mouth of the alley and scanned the blackness as his eyes adjusted to the starlight. She was well hidden.

“I haven’t hurt anyone.”

“Yet,” he spat. “You should come out, you really should. It’ll be so much easier for you than if I have to tear this alley apart to find you.”

The woman eased herself to her feet, stepping from a darker shadow within the shadows, shaking off the alley debris like an octopus coming out of hiding.

“Please, let me go,” her voice, as soft as a butterfly’s footfall, was the sincerest plea he had ever heard from one of these demons. She stared at him, eyes watering, lips pursed into a small quivering bow. It was clear she wanted to live.

“That isn’t the way this works. The earth must be cleansed of all unnatural beasts.”

“W-wait…” her shaky hand reached down to fumble at the clasp of the handbag slung across her shoulder.

He thought she was going for some sort of weapon but what could she have been carrying in such a tiny purse that could hurt him when he was like this, at the zenith of human abilities? Although he wasn’t afraid, his body tensed reflexively, ready to pounce. And he was hit with that thought again, of how incredibly stunning his prey was even in her beastly form. Her hair, slimy from alley gunge, hung in her face like a tangle of dead eels but it couldn’t hide her eyes which were larger than he had ever seen on a living creature.

“All beasts must be cleansed? No exception?” she asked.


“Have you seen yourself?” the woman pulled a compact mirror from her bag and held it up, catching the faintest bit of night light.

His expression shifted from predator to absolute horror. His jaw clenched, clamping down upon a shriek, and the grip loosened on his anger. He dropped down on his haunches. She was right. In the reflection, he could see that he was a beast, no different than she. It took a beast to catch a beast, he supposed. And he did the only sensible thing he could have thought to do.


Up against the chain link fence, he dug his claws into his own chest and tore out his heart, marveling at how little blood there was.

“Living one moon at a time; enjoying one solstice at a time; tolerating adversity as the conduit to tranquility; acquiring, as you do, this aberrant humanity as it is, not as I would wish it; believing that you will set all things right if I submit to your command; that I may be satisfied in this life and rewarded with you forever in the next,” his guttural voice trailed off to a whisper. And when he had completed his prayer, Mǣnōn, the illusory moon, embraced his spirit with open arms.

About Beast of The Illusory Moon:

Ideas, or story inspirations, come from the unlikeliest of places and often strike when you least expect it. This one came about while I was viewing a trailer for the Kevin Costner movie, Mr. Brooks, which begins with him reciting the Serenity Prayer while staring at bottles of liquor on a shelf, so the logical assumption is that he’s an alcoholic but his actual problem runs along a different, darker line—if you’re interested in the true nature of his problem, view the trailer, the movie isn’t the subject of this introduction, the thought that it inspired is.

The trailer made me think about the dichotomy, the two mostly equal parts of peace and war, love and hate, and the black and white delineation of so-called good and evil that exist within us all.

The story itself doesn’t really tackle or explore the characteristics of duality but that’s the nature of an idea, isn’t it? It never ends up on the page the way it began life in your grey matter before being put through the meat grinder process of dramatic structure.

C’est la narration.

I Fell Through Hell


Because it was bored and had little else to do but support my head while my body shut down to replenish itself, my pillow took advantage of the moment by whispering my destiny in my ear in the dead of night during that flash second of waking from a nightmare, the moment where the line between illusion and reality blurred, when fear tangled around the heart like a sweat-soaked bed sheet. It said:

Heaven holds no place for you.

It spoke to me in English but with a tongue drenched in an accent I was unable to place. Some dead language known only to pillows, I supposed.

My own unique brand of pillow talk first happened when I was a child and in defiance of all the childhood messages that slipped away unremembered, this one had taken root. I had accepted my fate at a tender age and decided to play the hand I was dealt. And after a lifetime spent in disregard of my fellow man and the consequences of my selfish actions as I baby-stepped my way through my sinful prophecy—I slipped and fell…

Down through the frozen landscape of Niflheim, where the branches, bramble and roots of the World Tree, Yggdrasill, beat my face and tore at my skin. And where Hel, daughter of Loki, stood on the Shore of Corpses, petting the head of Nidhogg, the giant snake that fed on the dead

Carried along on the poisonous snake river, Tuoni, I was brought through Tuonela, a place not wholly unlike Earth under the gloomiest conditions, where the maid of Death, Tytti, cast me down further for bringing no provisions as a tribute.

Down further, I was injured whilst falling onto the Chinavat Bridge, which was thinner than a hair, yet sharper than a blade. The twin four-eyed guardian dogs snapped their jaws at me, judging me based on the deeds in my life.

The bridge turned on its side, for my bad deeds outweighed the good, and pitched me into the demon-filled pit below, where the demon Vizaresh dragged me into the House of Lies, a place of disgusting filth, where I was served spoiled food and tortured by demons, hundreds in number, each representing a specific sin, before Apaosha, the demon of drought and thirst, and Zairika, the demon that makes poisons, cast me further down.

Through a lake of fire and up against an iron wall where I passed through a series of gates guarded by half-animal, half-human creatures named The Blood-Drinker Who Comes From The Slaughterhouse, and The One Who Eats The Excrement Of His Hindquarters, into Duat where my heart was weighed against a feather and eaten by the demon Ammut. Although horrified at the sight of my heart being eaten, I was fascinated by the sight and wanted to watch but I could not stop myself from falling…

Down through Gehenna, a deep and desolate place in which noxious sulfuric gasses hung in the air and flames continuously burned and rained from the sky into rivers of molten metal and where the followers of Moloch sacrificed children in the great fires. My fingertips clutched for purchase on this foundation but I fell…

Down past the nine-headed hydra, into Tartaros, where I was whipped by Tisiphone as I tumbled deeper into the deep black dungeon full of torture and suffering.

Down through Maharaurava where the serpent demon Ruru tried to eat my flesh.

Through Kumbhipaka where I was nearly boiled in hot oil.

Through Diyu where Yama Loki of Naraka condensed the 96,816 hells into 10 sections the Chamber of Tongue Ripping, The Chamber of Scissors, The Chamber of Iron Cycads, the Chamber of Mirror, Chamber of Steamer, Forest of Copper Column, Mountain of Knives, the Hill of Ice, Cauldron of Boiling Oil, Chamber of Ox, Chamber of Rock, Chamber of Pounding, Pool of Blood, Town of Suicide, Chamber of Dismemberment, Mountain of Flames, Yard of Stone Mill, and Chamber of Saw.

Down through Xibalba, where the lords of the afterlife inflicted various odd forms of torture on me such as causing pus to gush from my body, squeezing me until blood filled my throat and I vomited my organs…

Before being cast even lower into rivers filled with blood, scorpions, and pus, where I cascaded over a waterfall to my final death, crashing into oblivion and shattering into millions of pieces…

Only to wake up and hear my pillow whisper in its thick accent:

Hell holds no place for you.

So, again I lost my footing and fell, through limbo this time, into…

Hacked Life

During his regular Wednesday afternoon 10-minute guided energy-cleansing meditation session, the following message flashed on the inside of Brydon’s eyelids:


Thanks to a programming flaw in the neural chip implanted in your brain, we have hacked it and essentially your life and extracted the databases cataloging the entirety of your being.

How did this happen?

Our team of experts has found a backdoor vulnerability within your brain chip that we were able to exploit, allowing us to access your credentials and extract your entire database, the information of which has been moved to an offshore server.

What does this mean?

We will systematically go through the process of destroying your reputation. Secrets? You no longer have those. Your life has just become an open book. The portion of the database containing all the damaging skeletons hiding in your closet will be leaked or sold to the highest bidder to use as they see fit.

Next, if there are any salacious or negative thoughts or dreams about family, friends, or coworkers, they will be forwarded to all parties involved. Committed a crime that you thought you got away with? The local and perhaps even federal authorities will be notified.

And in case you’re not worried about this hack because you lead a good, honest and innocent life, you will want to take note of the fact that we will invent scandals that will turn your life into a living hell. You will be shunned by family and friends, fired from your place of employment, run out of town, face the possibility of imprisonment, and be forced to notify your neighbors that you are a registered sex offender.

How do you stop this?

We are willing to refrain from destroying your reputation for a small one-time cryptocurrency fee:

  • The amount: $30,000
  • The Address Part 1: Xliehhviwwmw1313qsgomrkfmvhperijmvwxlsywisrxlipijx
  • The Address Part 2: Mjcsyaiviefpixshigmtlivxlmwevir’xcsyxligpizivpmxxpigpsknywxxcti
  • The Address Part 3: “sverkitiipneddferh”mrxligsqqirxxspixqiorsacsygvegoihmx

In order to remit payment, you will need to manually copy + paste Part1, Part2, and Part3 in one string with no space between the parts that begin with “X” and end with “x” – This is the actual address where the money must be sent.

Once you have met our demands, we will automatically be informed of your payment. Please note: It is imperative that you issue payment within 72 hours of receipt of this message, or else the database leak WILL BEGIN IMMEDIATELY!

How do you purchase cryptocurrency?

You can easily buy cryptocoins via several websites or even offline from a Crytocoin-ATM.

What if you decide not to pay?

If you unwisely choose not to pay, we will begin the attack at the indicated date and uphold it until your payment is received. Please be advised that there are no countermeasures to this. You will only end up wasting more money trying to find a solution. We will completely destroy your reputation with people and oraginzations in your past, present, and even your future.

This is not a hoax! Do attempt to reason or negotiate with us! Payment in full is your only recourse! Upon receipt of your payment, we will discontinue our malicious act and you will never hear from us again!

Please note that crytocoin is anonymous and no one will find out that you have complied.

So, what are you waiting for? The clock is ticking!

Not. The. End.

At Last, The Destination

Although the sun sat high in the midday sky, the figure who approached me was draped in a shadow so complete as to let no light escape the boundaries of its form. Its frame was crisp but the features blurred and I knew in that instant that none who lived was allowed to view its terrifying countenance.

“You have come for me?” I asked, my voice betraying the courage I strove to display.

“Come?” the figure said in a voice neither male nor female but not wholly unpleasant. “No, my dear, I am always present.”

“But you surely do not deny that you are the Grim Reaper?”

“The Reaper I am, yet not so grim. And I pose no danger to you for Death is not to blame for death. If it offers you some measure of comfort, think of me as the ultimate destination of your lifelong journey.”

The Reaper spoke without guile. Its words, a wave of tranquility, washed over me and suddenly I found myself in the embrace of a satisfaction I had never known in all my days. This newfound contentment was accompanied by the realization that I had overcome insurmountable obstacles and completed a near-impossible task, and as I accepted the Reaper’s hand, warm and soft to the touch, I slowly exhaled all the limitations of the physical world and welcomed the painless transition into the final stage of existence.