The Fourth Wall: Death By Dying


Acting is a deadly serious business

“Vomit’s Better with ketchup.”

Keelie threw a rubber knife at Will’s head. “You’re disgusting.”

“I’m serious. Watch.” Will squirted ketchup into a jar of ‘pureed squash’ baby food. “Okay, Keelie, don’t swish it around, just hold it in your mouth. No swallowing.”

“As if I would.” Keelie adjusted the rolled-up socks in her bra and smacked her barely pubescent hot pink lips. “For the love of the craft. Bottom’s up.” She carefully poured the mix in her mouth, trying not to wince at the slimy texture, and nodded.

Glancing around the basement, Will held up his phone, ready to take a video. “Okay, Jack, you’re up.” He hit ‘record.’ “Death by Dying: Take two. Rolling.”

Jack, a head taller than Will and built like a linebacker, with black eyeliner and a trench coat, screamed an over-the-top, “I skinned your cat—and I’ll kill you too!” He held up a wadded-up black boa dripping with strawberry jam—not a bad illusion of cat fur and chunks of flesh, at least when he kept it in motion, shaking it in Keelie’s face.

Keelie spat out the fake vomit just as he stabbed her in the gut with the rubber knife.

Jack cursed as the reddish formula splattered all over his face. Keelie’s realistic scream pierced their ears, and she collapsed with an odd rattle in her throat, her legs folded under her as she toppled to the floor, dead.


Jack grabbed a rag and swiped his eyes. “Gross. Next time, don’t aim at me, Keelie.”

Will stared at his video. “The lighting was better this time. And Keelie, that was brilliant. You barfed bloody puke all over Jack. It looks really real.” He looked up with a freckle-faced grin. “Okay. Next shot is the funeral. Change into that black dress, Keelie.” He set down his phone.

Jack fussed with a makeshift coffin that he and his woodshop class had pieced together. “It needs some lining inside. We could use a tablecloth.”

Will shook his ginger head. “Coffins are lined with satin. My mom has some yellow satin sheets. I’ll be right back. Keelie, come on. Get off the floor. Get dressed.” He wiggled a toe into her side, but she didn’t budge. She was always stretching the story past the film, breaking the fourth wall, trying to freak them out.

He turned and walked up the carpeted steps. Halfway up, he noticed he was treading ketchup footprints. He groaned. “Crap. My mom is going to kill me. Hey Keelie, you’re a girl. How do you get ketchup out of the carpet?” That’d get her. He knew more about cleaning than she did. Keelie was a slob. And hated sexist remarks. That’s what she got for holding up the film. He carefully removed his shoes and grabbed a scrub brush and cleanser from the hall closet. “Just a second, guys—” He knelt down to scrub a red splotch but frowned. It didn’t smell tangy like ketchup. It smelled more metallic, like raw steak. Like… blood. His brow furrowed. He pressed his fingers into it and held it to his nose. “What the hell?” There was no doubt what it was. “This is blood.” He turned his head slowly. “Keelie?”

She looked pale. And she was completely still. Her chest wasn’t rising and falling. She wasn’t breathing. The nape of his neck prickled, his flesh growing cold. “Hey… Keelie. Get up. Seriously…” He noticed a red puddle forming, expanding, under her. “Keelie!” His mouth went dry. He could only watch, for a moment. For a moment, his feet wouldn’t work. He still had the scrub brush in his hand. It slipped through his fingers with a thud and tumbled down the stairs, bumping against Keelie’s high-heeled feet. She didn’t flinch. The puddle grew. “Oh… shit.” His breath staggered and he bolted down the stairs. “Keelie!” He turned to Jack with horror. “You hit her too hard! She’s really hurt!”

Jack stared back with no emotion. “You told me to kill her, so I did. For the love of the craft, Will.” His left eye twitched.

“Jack, she’s bleeding, hard! I’m not kidding!” Will knelt down to Keelie and shook her. “Keelie?” His eyes watered, realizing this was no game. “Keelie!” he screamed. He touched her bloody waist and saw that the wide cloth belt of her dress had been sliced. Or stabbed. He pressed down with his fingertips in a state of disbelief and very distinctly felt punctured skin where the knife had penetrated. The skin gave way, and his thumb slid slightly into the wound as a gurgle of blood bubbled out.

In a panic, staring with horror at her, Will backed away like a crab on all fours. “Jack! For god’s sake! What did you do? Did you use a real knife?”

The silence was eerie.

“Jack?” Will stood slowly to see Jack’s eyes glazed over, staring at him. Jack was holding a knife. A real one. And the tip was a wet crimson.

Jack almost indecipherably waved the knife. “Is one good?”

A tear slid down to Will’s chin. “What?”

“Is one enough? Or should I kill again?”

Will’s eyes froze on his best friend, who seemed to have snapped. “Jack, call 911.”

Jack frowned gently. “Why? We’re still filming.”

Will squeezed his eyes closed, gathering his wits. “Jack. Keelie is hurt. We need to call 911.”

Jack lifted the knife. “If I did that, I’d have to stop filming.” He nodded to Will’s phone, which he’d propped up on the counter, recording the scene.

“What the hell? Jack! Snap out of it!” He ran to get the phone, but Jack stood in his way.

“I’m sorry, Will. I told you; we’re still filming.”

Keelie groaned softly. Will rushed to her side. “Keelie!” He gathered her in his arms and pressed down on her wound. “Hang on, we’re getting help.”

Jack stepped close. “Put her down, Will, I’m not done yet.”

“You psycho sonofabich! You stabbed Keelie!”

Jack crouched down. “Yes, but she didn’t die. I need to finish. I need to finish her.” He pointed the knife to her.

Will lunged at him, grabbing his wrist and struggling for the knife. But Jack easily twisted Will’s thin arm and held the knife to his throat. “Let me finish, Will. Get in the closet and let me finish, or I’ll do you right now.”

Will felt the metal press against his jugular, felt the point of it. It didn’t hurt—not yet, but one false move, and he’d be spurting blood.

“Closet, or death?”

“Please… stop…” Will whimpered. “Keelie needs our help.”

“Keelie needs to die. Now, I’m going to ease up, and you are going to get in the closet. Understood? You know I’ll just overpower you again. And this time I’ll stab your eyes.”

“Please…” Will couldn’t think. “Please, don’t hurt Keelie.”

“But Will, I did hurt her. You told me to.”

“It’s a film! It’s fantasy! Wake up, Jack!”

“I’m more alive than I’ve ever been, Will.”

Keelie whispered, “Help me, Will!”

“He can’t. He’s too scared. Aren’t you, Will?”

Will could see Jack was lost in the film inside his head. So, he decided to use that to his advantage. “I know—let’s put Keelie in the coffin! Alive! And we can nail it shut!”

“What? Keelie moaned. “Will—what are you doing?”

Jack sneered. “On it.” He tucked the knife in his back pocket and scooped Keelie up as she screamed in pain and fear. He carried her to the coffin.

Will knew Keelie’s phone was upstairs in her purse. He just needed an excuse. “Wait! The satin sheets!”

Jack dropped her roughly into the coffin and closed it. “She doesn’t need it. This is better. Creepier. A rustic coffin. Get some nails.” He turned to see Will creeping up the stairs. Jack ran and grabbed Will by the ankles, dragging him back downstairs.

“Get me out of here!” Keelie screamed, pushing on the lid, too weak to open it all the way.

Jack’s dark eyes drilled into Will. “Nails. Now. And a hammer.”

Shaking, Will rummaged through a toolbox and grabbed a box of nails and a heavy-duty hammer.

“Hurry up.” Jack held the coffin closed to the sound of Keelie’s weak pounding.

Will handed him the box of nails, which Jack took with one hand, holding the coffin lid down with the other.

Will took the opportunity and swung the hammer as hard as he could at the back of Jack’s skull. Jack sank to the ground, dazed.

Will shrieked, filled with hysteria, and swung down again and again, as chunks of flesh and brain matter spewed. Jack lay motionless, and still Will swung, screaming from his gut, until his energy was utterly spent.

Will’s chest heaved, and he hung his head down, panting and sobbing. The hammer dropped from his hands.

The air was deathly still.

Finally, he heard the creak of the coffin lid.

“I think you got him.”

Will looked up to see the coffin was open. Keelie was resting her head on her folded arms, examining the mayhem. A bit of bloody brain clung to the side of the coffin, and she scooped it with her finger. “Mm. Brie and cranberries.” She popped it in her mouth. “Help me out, would you, Jack?” She sat up and pulled her blood-filled hollow belt from her dress.

Jack peeled off his brain-bashing wig and more brie fell in glops onto the basement floor.

Will yelled, “Cut!” and grabbed his phone. “And… that’s a wrap.”

Acting is a deadly serious business

A Christmas Worth Forgetting

Sometimes the blessing is in the forgetting…

The doorbell clanged and the whole family moaned. Everyone except Florence, who headed for the door, exasperated. “Kids, be nice to Uncle Brian. I mean it. It’s Christmas Eve, for God’s sake.”

“But he’s so mean.” Jillian plopped a bowl of mashed potatoes onto the crimson tablecloth, smoothing her Christmas-colored plaid skirt.

“Not mean. Just crotchety. Do as your mom says. Play nice.” Jim leaned over the golden-brown turkey, carving generous slices, his black brows furrowed in concentration.

“Dad, Uncle Brian’s totally mean.” Kai threw a pea at his sister Jillian and got a smack on the head from her wooden spoon. “Just like Jillian,” he added, scoffing.

“Ha ha.” Jillian’s heels clicked-clicked into the kitchen. “You’re so lazy, Kai. Come help. Get some ice for the water glasses.”

Kai’s gangly teen legs kicked back his chair. “Yes, commander.”

With a blast of frigid air, the front door opened. Florence called out, “Look who’s here, even through a snowstorm!” She reentered the room with her blond middle-aged brother, whose wrinkled trench coat matched his scowl.

Jillian sighed under her breath and placed a smile on her red lips. “Hello, Uncle Brian. Nice to see you.” She gave him an arm’s length hug. It was the best she could do.

“Damn. Turkey for dinner.” Brian shook his head and threw his coat on a chair. “It’s not Thanksgiving, last I checked.”

Kai walked around the table, aggressively plunking ice cubes into water glasses.

Brian watched him with disgust. “I see Kai wants to give us all a disease. Did you even wash your hands? I’m not drinking from those.”

Kai’s face turned pink with anger, and he plunked harder.

Florence closed her eyes to gather strength and took Brian’s arm. “Come on, brother. Ease up a bit, okay?”

“Fine. I’m drinking scotch, anyway.” Brian’s eyes drilled into Kai’s. “Neat. Guess what that means? It means, no ice. And for god’s sake, won’t anyone make that boy cut his damned hair?”

“Brian! Stop.” Florence pleaded.

Kai grabbed the bottle of scotch from the counter and slammed it on the table. And snatched a large handful of ice and threw it in a scotch glass. “You’re getting it on the rocks today, asshole, and next time I’m spitting in it.”

“Kai!” Florence blanched, shocked. “Please; all of you…”

Brian didn’t even blink. He grabbed the glass and slowly dumped the ice onto the floor, smacked the glass down, grabbed the bottle of scotch, and took a deep swig. “Merry fucking Christmas.” He stepped back and his foot slipped on an ice cube. He toppled backward, smacking his head on the tile floor, and lay there, out cold.

“Oh my God! Call 911!” Florence shouted. Jillian stood for a moment, stunned, then ran to get the phone.

Florence knelt by her brother. “Jim! Kai! Help me get Brian on the couch.”

Jillian frantically shouted their address to dispatch and finally stepped into the living room, announcing, “They’re on their way.”

Brian lay still and pale on the couch, and Florence knelt beside him. Kai sat nervously in the armchair across the room, jiggling a foot, with his arms tightly folded. “Sorry, Mom.”

Florence placed ice under Brian’s head and glanced up at her son, noticing his eyes were watering with anger and guilt. “He did it to himself, sweetie. He was completely out of line.” She sighed deeply. “He’s got a goose egg, but I think he’ll be okay.” Jim rubbed her back in silence, shaking his head.

Jillian sat on the floor and took her mom’s hand. “What the hell made him like this, Mom?”

Florence smiled sadly. “Believe it or not, it was love. A few years before you were born.”

Jillian frowned delicately, her dark eyes studying her uncle’s face. “What happened?”

Florence shrugged. “Veronica happened. He fell in love. Hard. They were going to marry, but she left him at the altar. He was humiliated, and he never recovered. He said he wouldn’t ever open his heart again, and he never did. And it poisoned him. Turned him into… this.”

Jillian cautiously touched her uncle’s shoulder, as if she might get bitten by a snake. “He looks peaceful. Isn’t that strange? I’ve never seen him without a frown.”

Brian stirred, his eyes fluttering, then opening slowly.

“Hey!” Florence’s lips parted to a smile. “There you are! You scared us.”

He tried to focus. “Hi.”

Florence giggled, relieved. “Hi, back. How are you feeling?”

He touched the back of his head, adjusting the ice pack. “A bit of a headache, but other than that, I’m fine. How are you?”

Florence laughed. “I’m fine. We’re all fine.”

“And… who’s we?” He started to sit up.

Florence gently pushed him back down. “Hey. Not so fast. You fell.”

“I’m Brian.”

Florence eyed Jillian, concerned.

Jillian patted his shoulder. “Hey, Uncle Brian. That’s your sister, Florence!”

“Nice to meet you,” he said.

The doorbell rang and a moment later, a petite female paramedic was by his side with a med kit. “Sorry, we’re short-staffed. The ambulance will be late. I had to take my own SUV. This storm…”

Florence looked at her, frightened. “My brother Brian fell and hit his head. And… I don’t think he knows who I am!”

The paramedic smiled kindly at Brian and tucked her red hair behind her ear. “Hello, Brian. I’m Sophia. How are you feeling?”

His lips pulled into a grin. “I think I’m okay. I guess I fell. I don’t really recall doing it, but I have a lump to prove it!” He chuckled, wincing.

Jillian and Kai exchanged glances. Uncle Brian was being strangely polite. Something was definitely wrong with him.

Sophia flashed a light, checking his pupils. “Brian, do you know who these people are?”

Brain turned his head, examining the crowd, and pointed to Jillian. “This young lady here says I have a sister.” His eyes rested on Florence. “But I don’t really recall. Everything is just a little fuzzy.”

Florence’s eyes welled with tears. “Do you remember our house growing up? The one with the bright red paint and the swing set in the back? And our black lab, Orin?”

He shook his head, confused. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I… don’t.”

Jillian mouthed to her brother, ‘Ma’am?’

Kai stood and stepped to his side. “I bet you remember me, Uncle Brian. I make you really mad sometimes. Pretty much, all the time, actually.”

Brian’s forehead creased. He struggled to sit up, and Sophia helped him. “Why would I be mad at you?”

Kai smirked. “Because sometimes you’re a humongous ass.”

Brian’s eyes widened with amusement. “Oh! Well, sorry about that!”

Sophia laughed. “Well, Mr. Popular, I need to take your blood pressure.”

Brian grinned, examining her freckles and heart-shaped face. “I love red hair.”

Sophia raised an eyebrow as she placed the band around his arm. “Fresh, too!”

“Not fresh, just honest.”

She shook her head. “Okay, Don Juan, stick out your tongue and say ‘Ah.’”


“Aha!” Sophia stared at him, accusingly.

Florence interjected, worried, “What is it?”

“He’s got the sassy tongue.” Sophia smiled at her. “He’ll live.” She turned back to Brian. “But you’re going to need an MRI. So sorry about the delay with the ambulance.”

Jim sat straight. “I could drive him to the hospital.”

Sophia shook her head. “The roads are pretty slick. Best to just keep him here for now.”

Brian leaned back and closed his eyes.

“… and awake.” Sophia poked his shoulder.

“Always vying for my attention, aren’t you, Sophia,” he crooned.

She raised an eyebrow and turned to Jillian, teasing. “Is he always like this?”

Jillian shook her head adamantly. “He is literally never like this. This is new.”

Florence took Brian’s hand. “Actually, this is how he was, before…”

Brian frowned curiously. “Before what?”

Florence wasn’t sure if she should bring up the forbidden subject. But maybe it would jar his memory. “Before… Veronica.” She held her breath.


Florence shot a glance at Jim.

Jim folded his arms and sat back, thinking. “This is interesting. Take away the memory of Veronica, and…”

Florence’s eyes widened with hope. “And the poison is gone!”

Sophia’s head jerked up. “Poison?”

Brian asked, “Was I poisoned?”

Jim waved his hands at them. “No, no. It’s a figure of speech. He had his heart broken years ago and hasn’t been the same since.”

“Um—sitting right here, folks.” Brian added, “I’d probably be embarrassed if I could remember anything about it.”

Florence tenderly asked, “Do you remember her, at all? Anything about Veronica?”

He shook his head and shrugged.

Sophia frowned. “I don’t think we need to dredge up bad thoughts. How about creating new memories? It’s Christmas Eve. And I smell a delicious dinner.” She craned her neck. “I believe I see it sitting on the table. Why don’t you all go eat, and I’ll stay with Brian.”

“Hey, no fair. I’m hungry too,” Brian said playfully.

Sophia’s face brightened. “Well, appetite is a very good sign. Any nausea?”

Brian shook his head.


“Nope. My head is clearing, too.”

“Do you remember these guys here?”

He smirked. “No, but I sure remember this gorgeous redheaded paramedic who came to rescue me.”

She ignored him but couldn’t hide a subtle grin as she turned to the family. “Go have your dinner.” She turned back to Brian. “If you promise to behave.”

“I’ll be a perfect gentleman.”

Kai headed for the dining room. “That’ll be a first.”

To his surprise, Brian laughed good and hard.

Florence beamed and kissed his forehead. “I don’t care if you don’t remember me. I am so happy to hear your laughter!”

Brian noticed tears in her eyes. “Hey. Um… sister—Florence, is it? Don’t cry. Please. I’m fine. I feel fine. My memory will come back—right?” He looked with hope at Sophia.

Sophia leaned close to his face and said intently, “I believe it will, Brian. I truly do. But remember, your life is filled to the brim, right now, with amazing new memories just begging to be experienced. You’ve got your family here, who obviously care a great deal about you…”

Kai shouted from the other room, “I don’t.” After a pause, he added, “Just kidding.”

Brian scratched his chin. “I actually kinda like that kid. Who is he, again?”

Kai called back, “Your favorite nephew, Kai.” He came strolling back in, gnawing on a turkey leg. “Want some?” He shoved the leg two inches from his uncle’s face.

“Hell, yes!” Brian snatched it from him and took a bite. “Mm-mm, I love turkey,” he said with his mouth full. “Why on earth do we only have it on holidays?”

Sophia chuckled. “Hey, easy now with the solid food. You should be drinking water. You need to hydrate.”

“On it!” Kai ran to the table and grabbed a glass of ice water. He sauntered back. “Here you go, Uncle Brian. The ice was hand-selected by me, placed in that glass by my own fingers.” He wiggled them in his uncle’s face.

Brian took a sip. “Hand-selected? I feel so special.” He raised an eyebrow, confused at Kai’s behavior.

Jillian slugged her brother’s arm with her free hand, the other one carrying a steaming plate. “Leave your poor uncle alone.”

“What? We’re bonding. Aren’t we, Uncle Brian.”

Brian shrugged. “Sure.”

“How’s the water?” Kai stared intently at it while eating mashed potatoes.

Brian examined the glass. “You didn’t piss in it, I hope.”

Kai involuntarily spat out potatoes with a burst of laughter.

Brian groaned. “Oh, God. You did piss in it.”

Kai couldn’t breathe for a minute, he was laughing so hard. “No. I promise. Nothing but ice and water. But if you’re not nice…”

“Geez! Okay, I’ll be nice. Please don’t ever piss in my water, and this is a very strange conversation.”

Sophia packed up her equipment and tilted her head to Brian with a teasing grin, her hair tumbling over her shoulder. “Looks like you’re feeling just fine, Brian!”

Brian was caught off guard, breathless for a moment. She was just so lovely.

“What?” she asked, curious at his intent stare.

“I just hope… we can be friends. In all seriousness. I haven’t laughed for years.”

Florence nearly dropped the plate she was carrying, shocked. She turned to Jim. “Did you hear that? Is he starting to remember?”

Jim held a finger to his lips. “Shh. Just watch.”

Sophia chatted softly with Brian.

Jillian headed for the living room, but Jim touched her arm. “Wait.”

Kai, seated again in the living room chair, shot them a glance. They all heard waves of laughter mixed with gentle conversation, from Brian and Sophia.

Sophia’s brow furrowed at a new cell phone message. “The ambulance is stuck in the snow. It’s not coming.”

Brian stood. “I’m glad. I haven’t felt this good in years. Will you join me for dinner? My sister’s an excellent cook. And Jim always carves the turkey extra thick.”

Sophia grinned and took his arm, strolling to the dining room, and the rest of the family followed. “Well, look at you! You’re remembering!”

He stopped in his tracks and frowned at the revelation. He studied Sophia’s stunning emerald eyes. He turned to his punk-ass nephew, Kai, with that mop he called hair. Then to his kind sister, Florence. There was Jim—a good man. And Jillian, his teenage whirlwind of a niece. “Yes…” he said, as if a veil was lifting. “Yes, it’s all coming back to me.”

Sophia nodded. “Well, this will be a Christmas to remember!”

“No.” Brian said it sharper than he’d meant to. “I’m sorry.” His voice softened. “I just… remember… everything. I remember…” he cringed as if he’d been pierced in the gut with a hot poker. “I remember… hate.”

Sophia slipped her arm from his and said gently, “But you no longer have to claim it. Hate… that was the other guy. The man I met tonight was actually kind of sweet.” She stepped back, knowing this was a family moment.

He looked around, deeply pained. His eyes rested on Florence. “Oh. Oh, Florence. I have been so… cruel.”

Florence cautiously stepped to him. “No. Not cruel, brother. You’ve just been lost.”

His lips trembled and he hung his head. He whispered, with a broken voice, “I’m sorry.”

Florence held him tight, and, though he was a tall man, he buried his face in her shoulder and shook with silent tears.

Florence whispered, her eyes wet too, “Oh, how I’ve missed you, little brother.” He lifted his head, and his sister wiped his tears. “Merry Christmas, Brian.” Florence stood back, patting her own cheeks dry with her sleeve.

Jillian ran up and flung her arms around her uncle. “Merry Christmas, Uncle Brian. This is my first real hug from me to you.”

“Thank you, Jillian.”

She stood back and nodded sincerely.

Jim extended his hand. “Nice to have you back.” He cocked his head. “Are you back?”

Brian nodded. “I think so. Yes. I believe so.” He slowly shook his brother-in-law’s hand.

Brian looked at Kai with eyes still glassy and pink. “How shall we do this?”

Kai shrugged and extended a fist. “I promise I won’t piss in your water if you promise not to be an ass.”

Brian bumped his fist. “Works for me.”

Sophia cleared her throat. “The weather is clearing. I think I’ll just slip out. It looks like you’re in good hands, Brian. And get an MRI in the morning. Until then, if you get any headaches, nausea, or dizziness, please call 911.”

“Or… perhaps I could call you directly?” Brain gazed at her with hope.

“Oh… that is against protocol…” Sophia smiled shyly.

Brian nodded. “Of course. I understand.”

“But I would like to follow up on you. Perhaps I could have your number… sir?” She held back a smile, mustering up a professional demeanor.

Brian cleared his throat and held back his elation. “Of course—ma’am.” He handed her his card.

She smiled enigmatically. “Merry Christmas, Brian.”

“Yes. Yes, it sure is. The best one yet.”

She waved his card in the air and turned away, but he saw her reflection in the window, and she was beaming. As she opened the door to a dusting of snow, he swore he heard her whisper, “Yes. The best one yet.”


What Lurks in Dreams

What Lurks in Dreams

dream, nightmare, demon
Sometimes it’s best not to dream…


On a hospital bed at the California Dream Institute, Cal woke up flushed and clammy. And furious. He’d failed again to control his dream.

“That was a bad nightmare.” Dr. Kline nodded to the erratic line graph that spiked like an earthquake reading. She pulled the electrodes from his forehead. “Did you catch that bad guy you’re always after?”

“Not yet. Next time.”

Her ruby lips parted into that delicious smile. His tortured dreams were almost worth the reward of her fingertips on his skin.

“Your pulse is still high.” She ripped electrodes from his chest.

“Ow.” Cal studied her, his face stoic. Always stoic. The rapid heart rate readings? That would be Dr. Kline’s proximity. A secret that would never be revealed. He needed to keep her safe from Bob.

Bob. Cal had chosen the most innocuous name he could for his nemesis, to take some semblance of power away from the demon who haunted his dreams nightly.

Cal could have named Bob what he really was—Brain-Eater.

He shuddered.

Noticing his own fear, he repeated to himself, Bob. Bob. Bob. The mantra always grounded him.

Like a ribbon in a gentle breeze, Dr. Kline floated into a leather seat and crossed her legs. God, she was perfect.

“Cal, how many more times are we going to do this?” Her smile looked suddenly… placed there, for politeness’ sake.

He felt a rush of disappointment but knew it was for the best that she wasn’t interested—in him, or the experiment. “Until you stop taking my money, or I catch Bob.”

“Bob. The guy in the dream.”

Cal frowned playfully to hide a cringe. “Yes, the… guy in the dream.”

She frowned and slipped on black-rimmed glasses, and somehow got even prettier. “Cal—I’m not sure this is the right approach. You believe your nightmares will stop if you actually catch—and kill—Bob?”

“Ah, yes. You think I need a shrink.”

She leaned uncomfortably close to Cal’s face. “I think you need a friend. Tell me about Bob. Please. Maybe… maybe I can help. I have a good imagination, I’m open-minded, and I don’t have a judgmental bone in my body. Come on. It’s been two months. I think I’ve earned your trust by now.”

Cal considered it. He longed to tell her everything. But—then Bob would come for her, too. Bob was attracted to fear. Bob said that fear made the brain taste good. Something about the flood of adrenaline.

Dr. Kline smacked her lips at Cal’s evasive silence, glanced at the clock—five p.m.—and stood up. “That’s it. This is way against protocol, but…” she closed the door and snapped shut the blinds, “… this is an emergency.” She walked to her desk and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. Grabbing beakers, she poured two stiff drinks. She shoved a glass in his hand and commanded, “Drink. Now.”

Chuckling under his breath, Cal muttered, “Drinking.”

“To Bob, may he rot in hell.”

Cal shot her a shocked glance, but she was kicking off her shoes and nestling back into her chair. He composed himself and said blankly, “To Bob.”

She downed the whiskey in a cheek-rounding gulp. He followed suit, and she poured them another one. Stiffer than the last.

The clock ticked on the wall. Tic-tic-tic… mesmerizing and oblique and fuzzy.

He saw her lips moving, chatting about minutia, her voice blending with the clock. He was getting quite drunk. Otherwise, he never would have done it. He never would have said it. But he simply couldn’t help himself. “Bob is real.”

“Aha! I knew the whiskey would work!” She stabbed a finger at him. “Wait. So—you know Bob, in real life?”

Cal shook his head. Here goes nothing. “No. Bob’s a demon. He visits people in their dreams, and he kills them if they get scared.”

She frowned, obviously attempting to sober up. “Kills them—for real?”

Cal nodded. “Seventeen dead so far, in the ten years I’ve been aware of him.”

She folded her arms and sat back in her chair, looking skeptical as hell. “What are their names? These victims.”

This was Cal’s ace in the hole. He pulled out a folded hand-written list from his pants pocket. “Here. Google these names, if you want. They’re all dead. And I saw each and every one of them in a dream the night before they died. Bob killed them in my dream. The next day—they’re dead, in real life.”

Dr. Kline snatched the note and her phone and did a quick Internet search. She got two people into it and narrowed her eyes. “Okay. So, you have dead people on a list. You could have gotten those names from…”

“The newspaper. Yeah, yeah. Check the dates.”

She studied the coffee-stained, hand-written note that he’d obviously been carrying for ages. “So… at first glance, it looks as though you wrote their names the day before they died.”

Cal nodded. “That is correct. I’d wake up from a nightmare and write the name of the person in my dream—the one being terrorized by Bob.”

She shook her head, her hair falling in her face. She swatted it back. “You could have just written the wrong date after the fact.”

Cal was drunk, yes. But—he was aware that he had a chance to shut his mouth—to shrug and laugh and pretend it was all a joke. Instead, he murmured as quietly as he could, “Check the back.”


Screw it. He raised his voice. “Check the back of the note. What I just wrote down a moment ago, while you were pouring drinks.”

She flipped the note and read the most recent item on the list. “John Embers. October 30th.” She looked up curiously. “That’s today.”

Cal nodded, already feeling guilty for involving her.

She squinted, thinking. “So—according to what you’ve told me, this… John Embers was just killed in your nightmare—the dream you experienced here in my office, not an hour ago.”

Cal nodded. “Yes, that is correct.”

“Bob—scared him to death?”

Again. A moment where Cal could shut his damned mouth and leave the pretty lady out of it.

Dr. Kline refilled their glasses. “To John Embers, may he beat the odds.” She downed her drink, and Cal followed suit.

He just couldn’t keep quiet. “Bob didn’t scare John to death. He scared him into immobility. When they’re scared, he can make them immobile. And then he…” for god’s sake Cal, shut up. This was the point of no return. It was the whiskey. Or maybe Cal was tired of sharing the burden alone. He blurted out, “He makes them frozen with fear, and then he eats their brains.”

Dr. Kline did something completely unexpected. She laughed. Not just laughed, but the gut-wrenching, arms wrapped around the belly, tear and snot and drool kind of hysterical laugh that borderlines on mania. She toppled to the floor, squealing. “Oh—oh—my god, I’m dying here!” She sat up abruptly, serious for a split second. “Oh—get it? Dying? Oh, no, it must be BOB!” Peals of giddy sniggering continued.

Cal was at a loss. In a way, it snapped him back and cleared his head. She didn’t believe him. Good. Time to do the right thing. Cal smirked. “You liked that, huh? I got you!” he forced a dark chuckle. “I’d better catch a cab home tonight. We’re still on for tomorrow, same place, same time?”

She wiped her nose on the sleeve of her doctor’s smock and managed to control herself. She even feigned sobriety. She remembered she was a doctor with a patient, and it was pretty damned funny to see her stand up, put her hand out for a professional handshake, and trip over her shoes. Too drunk to blush, she shoved her toes into her high heels—on the wrong feet—and opened the door. “Same place, same time. Good night, Cal.”


The next day, Cal entered the office, and there stood Dr. Kline, white as a sheet.

He pressed his lips to hide a smile. Hung over, are we, doc? Turns out, that wasn’t the problem.

“What the fuck, Cal?” She held her phone to his face. The screen showed a story about the mysterious death, of one John Embers.

Cal squeezed his eyes shut. “Told you.”

“Did you do it, Cal?” Her voice was ice.

His eyes flew open again. “What? No! Of course, not. I told you. It was…”

“Bob? Your imaginary friend from your dreams? You’re seriously going to blame… Bob?” Dr. Kline looked equal parts furious and… scared.

Oh shit. No, no. Don’t be scared! “I went straight home last night. I swear.” His face brightened. “The taxi driver! He can tell you—he dropped me off at home!”

“You could have taken your car afterward…”

“My car was here!”

“You could have taken another taxi. Enough, Cal, tell me what happened. The truth, this time.”

Cal was at a loss for words. He slumped into the leather chair. “It wasn’t me.”

“We’ll see about that,” she snapped. “He’s probably your neighbor. You probably walked there. I’m checking where he lives…”

Cal watched her eyes widen in confusion as she tapped the phone screen, and he knew he had won the day. “He’s not from here, is he? They’re from all over the world. Bob’s victims. One was from India. The closest one so far was in Kentucky. Where did John die?”

“Australia,” she whispered and sank onto the hospital bed. “He died in Melbourne, in his office. Just keeled over and died.”

Cal nodded.

She stared intently at him. “His brains were not eaten. There wasn’t one word about brains.”

Call shook his head. “No. That’s just how he kills them in the nightmare. I think it marks them for death, and the next day they just drop dead of ‘mysterious causes.’”

“I’m a doctor. There’s no such thing as ‘mysterious causes.’ You have a stroke, an embolism, a heart attack…”

“Or they can’t find a single anomaly, as in Bob’s victims. That’s how you know.”

“Know what, exactly?”

“That Bob killed them.”

She opened her mouth to argue but had nothing to say.

At first.

She jumped up. “Get on the table.” She grabbed him surprisingly roughly and made him lie down. She slapped electrodes on his temples and chest. “God damn you, Cal, you are making me feel insane. I am a doctor. An educated, rational doctor. So, here’s what we’re going to do. You are going to have another nightmare. You’ll write down the name, and then we both spend the night, here. And we don’t leave. Not to eat, not to pee.”

“What if I have to…”

“Shut up, Cal, and go to sleep. You will not make me look like a quack. There is a logical explanation. I am proving your theory wrong.”

“Very well.” Cal was back to his stoic self. And falling asleep on command was never an issue. Bob only ate brains during Cal’s sleep. Bob had told him before, that when Cal didn’t sleep, Bob went hungry. So, Cal was the most sleep-deprived person on the planet. Still, a human goes mad with too little sleep. So, Cal had decided to purposefully sleep, with the aid and supervision of a sleep doctor—the ravishing Dr. Kline, to be precise. And Cal was absolutely determined to find a way to kill Bob.

Dr. Kline dimmed the lights. Cal heard the quiet whirring of the monitors and gave his heavy eyes permission to close.

Dr. Kline said something funny as he faded off to sleep: “You know, they say that every character in your dreams is yourself.”

Yes, thought Cal, I’d heard that before, too. Of course, it didn’t apply to Bob, who was an actual demon.

But—what if it were true? What if Cal was Bob? No. That’s not right. What if Bob was Cal? Somehow? And, if Cal could manifest Bob, could he therefore control Bob? Cal was astounded by this revelation—this theory—and was anxious to put it to the test.

Cal opened his eyes to a haze of white.

“Hello, Cal.”

There he was. Bob. Looking very much the demon he was. Red skin, horns, and a tail. Cal had long ago figured that Bob’s image had been created in Cal’s mind with the help of the Hollywood stereotype. It didn’t make Bob any less real.

“I smell fear.” Bob hissed, his black lips curled into a seductive smile. “She’s very pretty.”

Cal’s heart jerked in his chest. No! Not Dr. Kline! He hadn’t said it aloud. Nevertheless, Bob answered, “Yes. Dr. Kline.”

Cal glowered. “She’s not scared in the least. She is a scientist. She doesn’t believe in you. Sorry, but today, you starve.”

Bob’s eyes drilled into Cal’s. “Oh, my, yes, she is scared. Terrified.” His forked tongue stroked slowly across his lips. “I can’t wait to taste her.” He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply as if smelling a steak on a barbecue.

“You won’t touch her. I can promise you that.”

Bob grinned lustfully. “You’re scared, Cal. You like this one. That’s even more enticing. It’s your fault she’s going to die. How does that make you feel?”

Cal’s hair stood on the back of his neck, his throat dry.

Bob’s eyes rolled half closed, aroused by the smell of Cal’s fear. He took a deep, staggered breath. “More. I want more. I’m so…” his head turned sharply to Cal, “… hungry.”

Cal bolted, his terror building. He ran, blind, through the white mist, and careened straight into Bob, whose nails dug into Cal’s shoulders, holding him still. In a sing-song rasp, Bob said, “She’s scared; so scared! She sees the monitor. It’s spiking all over the place. She thinks I’m killing you. She thinks I’m…” Bob leaned into Cal’s ear, “…eating your brain.”

Cal remembered the strange thought—about Bob and him being the same character. And so, Cal calmed himself. He took a deep, cleansing breath and filled his heart with the truth—that he was in love with Dr. Kline. Cal let the pure love fill his essence. Not the lust—that needed to be put aside. Cal focused instead on the sweet, deep, ache he felt every time she bit her pencil, or twirled that one curl of hair that rested on her shoulder or offered her soft handshake for their daily greeting. The scent of the room when she was in it. The times she’d jiggle her left foot.

The mist was fading noticeably. Cal hung on to the love and wore it like a shield.

Cal studied Bob’s black eyes. They looked… curious, at first. And then they widened with the realization that something was different. A change was taking place in this dream realm. Cal was gaining control.

Bob’s face contorted in rage, and he lunged at Cal.

“You are nothing but air, Bob. Nothing but air.”

Bob’s body fell right through Cal, as if Bob had no substance. Bob was evaporating.

Cal smiled. He thought of his heart monitor. He could feel his heart rate, slow and steady. And he knew Dr. Kline would be happy about that.

“No one is scared, Bob. You have nothing to feed on. You—are me. And I am you. There is only one of us.”

Bob gurgled, deep in his throat. “Yessss. Only one of us! It will be me, you fool.” He cackled with a blood lust. “I want her brain. You want her brain.”

“I want you dead, you sonofabitch.”

“Death…” Bob hissed, “is relative.” His chin jutted up and he shrieked and writhed, bathed in pleasure and pain.

Hurricane-force winds snatched and tore at Cal, but he pictured Dr. Kline’s smile, concentrating with all his might. “Go…”

Bob clawed at the air savagely.


Bob laughed manically, roaring “Brains brains brains brains!”

“hell!” Cal scissor-kicked Bob in the gut and sent him flying.

He watched as Bob split apart, atom by atom, with a piercing wail. A mush of red and black meat and rotten bones and pus swirled and funneled up to the sky with a revolting stench… and vanished.

With that, Cal opened his eyes, awake.

“Oh, thank god, I was so worried!” Dr. Kline stroked his forehead and gently pulled the electrodes off. She held his hands and sat him up. “Did you get the name of a victim?”

Cal smiled, relieved. “There was no victim. I won. He’s gone forever.” Cal couldn’t believe the close call. The next victim would have been Dr. Kline. He looked into her beautiful eyes, tempted to tell her how he felt. That it was his love for her that grounded him, that left no room for the other guy. He thought, for a sick minute, that if he were in fact, Bob, and they had joined together, then Bob would be released into the world in corporeal form. And then, there would be no stopping Bob at all.

Cal shook his head. No. It was the love that had saved him. Saved Dr. Kline, too. He dared to reach up and subtly touch that curl on her shoulder. “You were right, Dr. Kline. I was all the characters in my dream.”

Her brow furrowed. “What? I never said that.”

Cal grinned, incredulous. “Yes, you did. Just as I faded off to sleep.”

She laughed lightly. “I certainly did not. Maybe it was Bob.”

Cal was suddenly overwhelmed by her scent. He needed her. Now. Without permission, without question. He grabbed her forcefully, inhaling.

She giggled. “Cal… wow. Took you long enough.”

He groaned, deep in his throat. And pressed his teeth to her neck, her hair, her scalp, and bit, his teeth nipping her flesh.

“Ouch! Hey—you’re scaring me. Cal! Cal?” Struggling at first, her mobility slowed until she was still as a statue, her eyes widened in horror.

He opened his mouth impossibly wider, inhaling her adrenaline, and feasted.


Hey readers, you can also find this story published on Reedsy!

AND, you enjoy the macabre, Here’s another story of mine, about reaping what you sow…  What Goes Up