“Mentone” Supernatural, Psychological Thriller by Sjoerd van Wijk

"Mentone" Horror by Sjoerd van Wijk

Last Summer – the last day

“Arrevedeci, Mentone!” someone blurted out in the crowded hallway of Menton station.

He jumped at those words. His otherwise slightly crooked back straightened with a jolt – his frayed, slightly oversized red coat fell in line. His clunky leather shoes clicked together and the gaping hole between his bent legs disappeared.

No one noticed him. People rushed past, holing up in their sunglasses and their earbuds and their newspapers as a train came to a halt at the platform nearby.

He scratched in between his short messy fat hairs. And started: “Well…”

An electric shock surged through his hand and he stood even straighter. She had taken it, caressing it softly. His eyes went from her black hairs, twinkling brown eyes, bemused smile with thin lips, down to her flowery dress, tanned legs, and her massive white sneakers.

He then looked straight past her. Some fluffy white dog, owner unknown, stared at him from the platform.

“It was fun,” she said in the half English-French concoction they used to speak.

Now she had to get back to university life. He himself had to return home to Cologne to analyze data in spreadsheets.

That dog didn’t let go of his stare from afar. His heart skipped a beat.

She poked his sides to laugh at his shrill shouts of surprise. Then she hugged him. He wriggled a bit. But she held him tight – ever tighter than before.

He wanted to tell her, “So…”

She turned him loose, grabbed her bag and walked to the train, petting that white dog in passing. He followed quickly, eyeing the dog which eyed him, her, and the train she was boarding.

In the train’s doorway she blew a kiss, blurted out another ‘goodbye, Menton’, disappeared into the opposite aisle and that was that.

Mid December – morning

The corded streetlights of Menton boulevard dangle in the winds this early morning before sunrise. As do threads of his frayed red coat as he walks underneath, casting a tall shadow. Despite the long train ride here he had tossed and turned in bed during the night.

“Goodbye, Menton,” her voice resounds with each blow of the wind.

It’s almost Christmas here, making the Mediterranean chilly. He ducks himself in more, absent the heat of day. Wrappings of sweets race past him in spurts until they reach some broken garbage can in between two holed up sidewalk cafes. A blue plastic bag barely covers the contents that spill out over the cobbled street.

He makes fists in his pockets. He freezes – not from the cold.

A white mop of a stray dog rummages through the rubbish. The dog unaware pants in the same rhythm as the flapping threads of his red coat. Its tongue almost rolls right over the floor.

He walks slowly past. His knuckles white from the chill turn red.

At this point of the boulevard, it stretches out for miles back and front. It’s packed with hotels boarded up for this winter’s sleep. Nary anyone else in sight – just a dilapidated palm tree here and there. The waves crash over boulders nearby.

And the wind cries in her voice, “Goodbye, Menton.”

He quickens his pace and sets his eyes on a point far away. A parasol somehow left open through the night by its careless owners. Sweat drenches his skin, pricking everywhere on his body. He resists the urge to scratch as he races on. Just the clicks of his crummy leather shoes resound in the winds.

He pauses and closes his eyes for a deep breath near the parasol. Then freezes. 

Mrrrwf. Something bumps his legs.

Last Summer – the third day

“Hi,” she said.

The dog still bumped against his leg – he tried wishing it away, gazing at the sea.

“Hello?” she said again.

He looked in her general direction. Her red summer dress popped in the sun. He had to squint for a while.

He stepped sideways to escape the dog for a moment. “Hi.”

Her index finger pointed up. “I’m here.”

He followed it until he stared right into her big shades.

She removed them and laughed. “He doesn’t bite. Isn’t he sweet?”

He glanced sideways. “Oh, OK.”

She knelt to pet the dog. The wind swept up strands of her black hair.

“Are you scared? Really?”

He laughed back sheepishly.

She stood up again and held her palm high. “There’s nothing to worry about. You see?”

The dog jumped high to reach for her hand, then it turned on him.

He stiffened and hid his shaking hands wet from its snout in his pockets.

She chuckled. “All right, I’ll save you.”

She took that white mop. Held it tight against her. It hummed as she stroked it now and then. They walked to a bench through the masses, hurrying past unfazed by the dizzying sun. They sat down for a while. She asked all kinds of questions about him and he answered as best he could. Her English was as rusty as his French, but they managed. He did something right because she had to laugh more than once.

As they parted, she winked. “If you ever find courage, meet me in front of the casino at eight.”

“Su…” he began.

She freed the mop from her grip, then ran off after it.

Mid December – morning

He tries shaking his leg. To no avail. That white mop still bumps against it. He runs away despite some initial resistance from below. A mrrrwwllf of surprise. After a short while, he glances back anxiously.


He startles, stumbling right on top of a great big Santa, sporting a great big grin which falls backwards under his weight. From behind, he can hear the dog panting heavily. He gets up quickly to run.

Santa’s meant to welcome visitors to a market that serves as this place’s sole reminder of Christmas. The stalls enforce makeshift avenues within. Air rushes through creaks and crevices as if the market’s alive and whistling. He runs past signs of sausages, traditional tableware, dried fruits and some tableau of Jesus Christ born eternally in Maria’s lap, her loving gaze molded in plastic.

The wind doesn’t die down here. With each blow, her giggles reverberate throughout the place.

He cuts some corners. Dilapidated palm trees cast their shadows over the stalls here and there, large enough for a person to hide in them.

Again, her giggles resound.

A bark in the distance responds.

He flits his eyes from side to side. Cuts another corner for something cold to prick his sides.


He sways his arms around. A figure rolls over until it stops underneath a palm tree. Out of the shadows Santa stares at him sideways, sporting his great big grin.

He runs past it out of the market and on to the port, where the boats drift as yet untouched by their owners. The blackened border mountain hovers over them like a big kid picking on someone smaller.

“Just look closer,” the wind whispers from behind in her voice.

Last Summer – a week in

She pointed at a bright white spot in the port he couldn’t discern even after three clarifications.

“Just look closer. It’s there!”

He bent over some more and shielded his eyes from the sun with his hands.

“Never mind,” she said. “Let’s go.”

She slapped him on his bottom. His cheeks tightened. Then she took his hand and walked.

He complied, nervously glancing at some white mop of a dog staring at him from a distance. He tried to make some pun about boats – but it got lost in translation. When he jumped in the boat under the watchful eye of the dog following them, she did crack a smile. The boat rocked violently as he barely kept his posture, flapping his arms around.

“Don’t rock the boat, you silly…” she said.

“I am a bit silly,” he said.

Gliding through the blue-green waters – the motor really plowed in there – the mechanical noise drowned by the breeze. They moored at some rocks. The boat swayed in the waves and he instinctively put his hand on one side of it.

Standing tall, she undressed. Her white bikini over browned flesh almost seared anyone’s eyes who dared to look closely at her. He held his head down as the boat rocked again.

“Why don’t you take it off?” she asked, pulling at his worn out green shirt.

He tried to get up, to get used to the left-to-right rhythm of the boat. Then tried to remove his shirt under her watchful eye.

“I’m so clumsy,” he said when he got stuck.

She laughed. He gave the shirt a stern last pull and removed it.

“Don’t you hurt your eyes,” he said, pointing to his beaming pale skin.

She put on her sunglasses in jest, tossed them away again on her blue tunic folded in a corner, and jumped in.

Her splashes wet his pants, which he quickly removed. He jumped in after her, them splashing each other back and forth in the water.

In the boat they dried, drops sizzling away in the sun, while she leaned her head against him. Her drying hairs kept his shoulder blade moist. He closed his eyes. Waves splashed against the boat. Horns blared in the distance. Seagulls flew right over them, mewing gently. He cracked a smile and put his arm around her. She cuddled up.

Last Summer – the day after

He felt her breathing softly on his neck as they lay down. Species most exotic in the botanic garden aroused his interest more than hers, so at her request they took a break from strolling around. He tried to close his eyes again.

But as soon as he did, she woke up from her slumber. She raised her head and put her sunglasses in her red-white striped shirt such that it got pulled down a bit in the middle. Her long fingers slithered around in his messy hairs, pried away his shades, and tossed them away. The glasses crashed against the cobbled path. One patch fractured into shards.

He pulled himself up and made sure there was some space between him and her. But she pulled him closer again and caressed his face with a wry smile. His pupils flashed frantically from one side to another. Blinks per second, sky high. She pricked his belly. It tightened.

“You know,” she chuckled, “You really have the eyes of a psychopath.”

Mid December – morning

He quickly walks past the botanic garden. Barks, barks, barks resound on the empty street. Dog’s paws rattle all the mansion’s fences. Their spit specks of saliva light up in the early morning air.

Her whispering voice follows him, carried by the wind. “A psychopath’s eyes.”

He tries not to look sideways, at those lush mansions where the rag tag guardians abide.

“A psychopath’s eyes.”

Slender fingers curl around a palm tree on the sidewalk. He stumbles forward to the other side of the road. Peeks again at the tree despite his pounding heart. Despite the incessant barks. The barks. The barks. Paws still rattle the fences.

But nothing’s there. The tree merely casts a long shadow, the size of a human being. Still he turns around, hellbent on leaving this street now. Right now.

The wind still follows him. “A psychopath’s eyes.”

He looks back. Something white in the distance seems on the move. He runs. Past another tree around which fingers slither.

He gets to the end of that street where the iron fences clang and creek when another gust of wind shakes up his hairs without a whisper. A loud sigh. He looks back one more time and rounds the corner.

Screeeeeeech! A car comes to a halt. A blackened window rolls down.

He apologizes to the void.

An expletive leaves the window in return. It rolls up again, and the car continues its path down past those fences which barking dogs still rattle.

Last Summer – two weeks in

Loud rap music faded away, and with it, the car. A white stray dog followed them walking, peeping and mumbling.

He stuck out his hand to take hers. She slapped it.

“What… What were you doing?” she asked.

She kept pricking his sides with one of her long fingers. The dog let out a bark.

“Eeeh…” he said.

She stomped the ground with one of her white shoes. “You left me hanging there!”

A peep.

She pointed to the dog. “And he barely got away as well with you blocking his way!”

“But, but, but–” he said.

“That car came out of nowhere and suddenly you were gone.”

He stopped. Tried to get a glimpse of her fiery brown eyes hidden behind her sunglasses. He tilted his crooked back forward as he peeked. She put her glasses in her hands and just looked at him.

Finally, she said, “You abandoned me.”

Her otherwise supple hands formed fists. She crushed the feeble black plastic in them. They creaked harshly. The dog let out another bark.

“You abandoned me,” she bit again.

Mid December – morning

With that car gone, he slows down. He goes up some steep trail of sand and pebbles. Away from the asphalt, which smolders already this early in the morning. The barks and rattles of the dogs in the street fade away. Except for one. One still shrieks and peeps and barks from a distance.

His heart races. Up the slope he goes, breathes heavily with each step. Sweat pours. Despite his haste, he has to rest every once in a while, holding a tree for support. He always checks behind it. Stares into the bush. No one’s there hiding.

The barks don’t stop. They edge closer.

So he skips his next rest, straight past some ruin where stones amass under a crumbled wall and caved in roof. He wets his palms against his moist forehead while rushing. The thicket of trees thins past a wreck of some rusty machine, purpose unknown. This high up he eases briefly with no one around. He leans back against a tree. It feels cold to the touch.

“You abandoned me,” carries the wind. “With your psychopath’s eyes.”

Something massages his neck. Fingers. He jolts himself back.

Wrrrooof! It resounds from below, even closer than before.

He looks back at the tree with trembling hands. Yet the only sign of life there is a single white shoe at the base, resting on a bundle of frayed clothes.

He continues. The barks and pants of the dog following him now sound too close for comfort. His knuckles beat as if in spasm when he hoists himself up over an edge. Pebbles tumble down in their hundreds. Something behind him growls. Peeps. Growls. Pants. Step by step, his feet sink into the sand underneath the loose constellation of stones.

Wrrroooof! He turns his head. A white mop of a stray dog stares at him.

“Aaah,” he grimaces and reaches for his lower back. “What do you want? Stop it!”

He goes on. Cries of that white mop. Goes on. Legs stiffen from cramps. He goes on. Sun’s a-scorching. Still he goes on. His left leg drags now. He goes on.

Mrrrrwwllf, the dog peeps.

“What do you want?” he asks again in vain.

Wroof. Wroof. Two paws grab his left leg.

Pebbles race past them.

“Stop it!” he shouts.

He shakes his left leg, stretches it, shakes it again. Kicks. A whimper.

Mrrrrwlf. The white mop rolls down with the rocks.

“Stop it! Go away!”

The wind moves his hairs. With one final hoist, he gets over the last edge. Menton lies down below, the size of a small dot. He wipes the dust from his face, drowned in sweat. A gust of wind cools him down.

“My little knight,” her voice rings within it.

Last Summer – three weeks in

They met up at the entrance of the keep. He waved hello and stared at her massive white shoes.

“Sorry I’m la–”

She took his hand.

“Let’s go,” she said.

Her fresh hands cooled his clammy ones as she dragged him with her to the top.

She laughed. “You really can’t handle the heat, can you?”

He slipped. “Wooooh!”

Their hands clutched in a flurry of black hairs and their arms rubbing the other’s face midst shouts of surprise. Some brick on the stairs must have gotten loose. She held him by the waist to save him,  tightened her grip and stared in his eyes. He deftly maneuvered out of her grasp.

At the top of the keep, she hopped to the merlons. She pointed in the distance to the contours of Monaco.


“Yes,” he said.

She turned and winked. “Like you.”

“Y-Yes,” he said.

He scratched his head and turned away from her piercing eyes. The sun sparkled in the sea as he leaned on the hot stones. Down below, a white dog turned around its head to stare at him up above.


He tightened. Two arms – her arms – wrapped around him and left him no escape. She spoke some sweet words in her native Italian.

“My knight,” she said.


His hairs raised. Three tiny little kisses on his neck. He tried to move but with one jerk, she turned him around. She cast a shadow over him save for the one ray of sun that shone on his trembling shoulder. Her brown eyes glistered.

“My knight,” she whispered in his ear.

She winked. He quivered. She put her lips against his, slid her tongue in. He let out a muffled shriek. She pulled him even closer in reply. Then they kissed, and that was that.

Mid December – noon

At the top of the mountain he screams. At the top of his lungs, “Stop it!”

The white dog jumps over the edge. Blood courses past its blazing eyes. Wroof. Wroof.

“Stop it,” he says again, but the dog jumps up against him.

They fall backwards. His head cracks against a pointy rock.

“Ouch, ouch,” he moans.

The blood dries seconds after in the sun. A glittering pink tongue laps him up everywhere.

“Sto…” he says.

The tongue slobbers all over him, goes into his mouth.

A gust of wind carries her voice, “My knight…”

He batters against the white mass. Blood, sweat, tears, dribble, paws, hands; black hairs suddenly. From within the clutter, she stares at him with her bemused smile. The dog pants heavily. He sweats. It drools. Fingers appear from under the stones and scratch him.

He grabs his back in pain. “Ouch.”

Again the dog pants. Her soft hands caress his. He kisses her hands. He kisses everything he can, sticks out his tongue in advance, kisses, hugs the other body tightly and tightly and ever tighter and tighter.

“My knight,” her voice resounds.

“Stop it!” he shouts.

An iron stench fills the air. He scratches and bumps with his fists and barks become whimpers. Blood flows out from everywhere in the huddle until he soaks in it. He tries to get up. His knee kicks the now white-red mop a stone’s throw away. It falls down whimpering. On his knees his ripped clothes sway to and fro in the winds as her black hairs do behind a tree down below.

“Goodbye!” he screams. “Goodbye!”

He runs up to the dog and kicks it again. And again. And again. The beast glances up and peeps, whizzing with every blow in a steady rhythm until silence falls.

“Goodbye,” he whispers.

He rubs his eyes wet from tears, shaking and sweating in the heat of noon. He sits down next to the dog as it lets out its last breaths. And there he will sit until the sun hides and the clouds gather and the blood dries and the rain pours down from heaven.

Sjoerd van Wijk (1988) is a writer, filmmaker and journalist from Nijmegen, the Netherlands. His work frequently deals with themes of loneliness and alienation, with psychological horror being his fiction genre of choice. One day he hopes to turn Mentone into a film as well.

If you enjoyed this story, you may also enjoy “Bloodsucker” dark, supernatural fiction by Mehnaz Sahibzada.

While you’re here, why not drop by The Chamber’s bookshop?

“Things Have Been Strange Around Here” Psychological Horror by Amelia Slater

"Things Have Been Strange Around Here" Psychological Horror by Amelia Slater

Andrew Heiss saw her through his window on the ground floor, peeking onto the street that led alongside their apartment complex. It was a dark day spattered with rain that drizzled down the glass, slightly obscuring his view. That didn’t stop Andrew from being able to make out her figure in the rain. Penelope’s rain jacket marked her as a splash of bright yellow in the dismal scene. Her back was turned to him while she stared at the passing cars in front of her. Her blurred arms lifted to remove her hood, exposing her blonde hair to the downpour. It immediately matted down with water, turning two shades darker as it soaked. Andrew’s grip tightened on the windowsill as her hair began to gently float. One tendril at a time drifted into the air as if gravity no longer insisted. A sharp spike of pain was nagging at his hands as the edges of the windowsill cut into his flesh, yet Andrew paid it no mind. A halo of hair surrounded the back of Penelope’s head now, like a monstrous spider was flaring its legs around her head. He was just about to back away from the gutting spectacle when he noticed Penelope turning back toward their apartment window. Very slowly, methodically, not expending any energy. A stroke of fair skin became visible again amidst the yellow. Andrew waited for a nose or drops of light blue eyes to show from beneath the hood, but the pale skin didn’t end. Only smoothness unmarked by facial features. He felt blood dripping from his palms onto the wall.

She did not have a face. The hair fell limp to her sides.

            Andrew jolted awake, inhaling sharply at the sight of his dark room. He sat up and slouched forward, peeling his sweaty legs apart and ripping off the blanket. The coolness of the night air was welcomed. He looked to his left and saw Penelope sleeping soundly next to him. The rise and fall of her small frame was so slight he sometimes frightened himself into thinking she was dead. That wasn’t the only sleeping scare he had experienced with her, either.

            The kitchen light was excruciating, but the darkness didn’t feel comfortable tonight. Andrew wiped sleepy seeds from his eyes and made some chamomile tea to sip on. He needed to shrug off that nightmare. He didn’t dream often, but occasionally he would be struck by dark dreams so bizarre and twisted that he would be affected for days afterward. As if a film was left on him, a faint slime he couldn’t see. He turned on his phone and let the stimulating blue light sweep him away from the bad memories for a moment. He swiped through some photos that he and Penelope had taken the other night when they were on a date, and then landed on a video he had taped the night prior to that.

            Andrew frowned. He didn’t recall taking that video. The thumbnail was just darkness, so curiosity compelled him to play it.

            The moment it started he instantly remembered why he had taken it. He was in their bedroom, and Penelope was standing facing the door. She was sleepwalking again, and just like all of the other instances, she could not be woken up. In the video Andrew was shaking her shoulder, saying “c’mon baby, wake up, don’t do this again. I have to get up early in the morning. Please.”

            As usual, it was to no avail. Penelope continued walking toward the closed door, gently knocking her head as she met her obstacle. She made no sound or movement with her other limbs. Just steadily walked. That was all the video contained. After the dream he just had, Andrew wished he hadn’t watched it.

            He and Penelope had been dating for three months now, and just started living together the past month. At first Andrew felt like they were moving a bit fast, but rent was expensive by himself; besides, what’s the worst that could really happen? She wouldn’t be on the lease, and Andrew was pretty sure he was falling deeply in love with her.

            He took a sip of his chamomile tea and opened the notes app on his phone. He never did spend money on a physical journal when it was more convenient to type your thoughts whenever you needed to. The last few entries had all been about Penelope’s sleeping habits.

            February 26th, 1:13 AM

            I keep trying to wake her up. I don’t know why I keep trying when I know the result is the same, so maybe I’m really just going insane. But I don’t know…I had another nightmare just now and I can’t stand her not being able to wake up. It freaks me out.

            February 27th, 4:01 AM

            The paramedics just left. She was sleepwalking and fell and hit her head, so I called 911. They asked me if she was on any medication or drugs, and I said no. They asked me all of the usual things, like family health history and whatnot, and then asked if they could take her to the hospital because she wouldn’t wake up. I said no. They insisted. I insisted as well and said no. They eventually left. In the end they had told me she didn’t sustain any injuries, so I didn’t see the point in having her stay somewhere else for the night when I knew she would wake up at the same time anyways. So I guess we will see.

A creaking sound interrupted Andrew’s reading, and his head snapped toward the source of the disturbance. It seemed to have come from the bathroom. He placed his cup in the sink and walked into the small space. Black ropes of fear tugged at his throat. He knew it was childish to be afraid of the dark, but as of late, the dark had harbored nothing but ugly and unknown things. As he reached for the light switch, his eyes flickered to the mirror. There was no reflection in the glass.

            He stifled a scream that came out as a strangled yelp, and jerked backward. His finger caught the light switch as he did so, and beautiful light illuminated the bathroom. He saw a man with large, frightened eyes and accompanied with a horrific bed-head. After a minute his breathing calmed and his heart rate returned to normal. He waved a hand in front of the mirror and blinked. He roughed up his hair. He smiled and relaxed. Yes, his reflection seemed to be behaving normally. However the trick of the darkness in the mirror had rattled him to his core, and it was at that moment that Andrew knew he wouldn’t be sleeping tonight.

            He crawled back into bed with Penelope. Like usual, even his small scream didn’t wake her up. He drew his knees to his chest, and waited for the sun to rise.


            Penelope got up at 8 o’clock on the dot, just like she did every single morning. She sat straight up, yawned, and hugged Andrew before she got out of bed.

            “You look beat. Did you sleep badly last night?”

            “Yeah, I slept awful. I had a horrible dream about you turning into some kind of monster. Fun stuff.”

            Penelope put on her robe and turned to him. “I’m so sorry, honey. I’ll make you some breakfast and coffee and maybe that will help a little bit.”

            It did help, a little bit. Being awake for the rising sun was a horrible feeling when you were sleepless, and Andrew couldn’t fight off that sickening sensation of sleep deprivation no matter how much coffee and bacon Penelope gave him. As he finished off his coffee, he asked, “this is a weird question, but do you ever get freaked out by mirrors? Something about them makes me feel uneasy.”

            Penelope poured her own coffee and sat down with him. “Yes, I do. Some cultures regard mirrors as portals to other realms, and I think I agree with them. Sometimes I don’t think the reflection is really me.”

            “Yikes. That’s a horrifying thought. I wasn’t going to go that far. In fact, I was all wired up last night from my nightmare and for a second I thought I didn’t have a reflection at all! I turned on the light, though, and obviously I saw that everything was fine. Still, I couldn’t sleep after that.”

            Penelope stared into her coffee. Her eyes had that slightly glazed look she would get when she was lost somewhere else completely. Andrew often wondered where she went. “I think there’s a lot of things we don’t know,” she said at last.

            Andrew was going to have her expand on that statement before she picked up her phone and shot out of her chair. “It’s 8:45. You should get ready so you’re not late.”

            He barely made it to work on time. He settled into his desk, and was content to have his mind wander to the monotonous work in front of him. It was a welcome escape from the chaos of the night.

            5 pm rolled around very slowly, as if time were attempting to elude him. At long last he slumped into the driver’s seat of his car. Thank god he lived a five minute drive down the road. He would buy a bicycle if he wasn’t so lazy.

            He was at a stoplight when he happened to look over to his right. An elderly lady was driving a garishly red Prius. He had never seen one that color. “I hope I have a better taste in design when I’m that old,” he muttered, and the light turned green. The lady in the red Prius turned right to merge onto the freeway southbound.

            There was one last intersection just before he got home. Normally Andrew was so zoned out while driving that he didn’t notice small details in his surroundings. However today he felt a strange prompting to look outside his right window again. An elderly lady in a blistering red Prius was right next to him.

            Andrew looked back toward the road, then whipped his head back in the former direction. He stared for a moment. His eyes had to be deceiving him; he knew this woman had taken the freeway south. There was no way to loop around toward his neck of the woods fast enough to catch up with him. Yet despite the impossible circumstances, here she was. She drove off past his apartment complex, a sharp honk alerting Andrew back to the road ahead of him. The light was green. The world felt thick around him as he shifted into gear. Almost like he was in a dream.

            The apartment was quiet when he entered the cramped space. A one bedroom studio was all he and Penelope could afford, and that was with two incomes. He threw his keys onto the kitchen counter and crawled into bed. Penelope was working the closing shift at the restaurant tonight, so he didn’t have to worry about being disturbed. Exhaustion quickly overcame him as he sighed in contentment. He rolled over to his left in an attempt to get comfortable when he noticed the drawer in Penelope’s nightstand was very slightly ajar.

            Andrew felt like they were close to each other most of the time, but it was times like these that made him feel like there was a side to her he didn’t really know. We all have our secrets, but he felt like she had a lot more than he did. She was quiet, reserved, and creative. When she spoke, her words were always well crafted and meaningful. While this was something Andrew loved about Penelope, it was also something that tickled at him. He was not a snooping kind of person and respected privacy, but traits like hers brought even the most trusting person to do a bit of detective work. Besides, she always kept that drawer locked. It was impossible to resist.

            The drawer made a slight noise as it opened that made Andrew flinch. The rest gave way easily to reveal a single piece of paper and a pen. The paper rustled in his shaking hands as he delicately unfolded it. He curled his fingers into his palms in an attempt to relieve the clammy sensation, to no avail. There was a lot of text, and Andrew had no idea when it had been written.

            How does a god fill in all the gaps?

            I ask this because I have never struggled with it before. I have never dreamt of such a place that is its own realm with its own entities. In fact, I have also never been able to write so clearly, or come back from being awake only to find that the world here has moved on without me. I have determined that all realities must be dreams of sleeping gods, upon which all religion is founded. Is this realm mine to do such? I don’t know. I barely have any power here. I cannot change things at will nor transport myself with a mere thought. I have to muster incredible willpower to simply move through a wall; this is what has made me realize this place is real. I have found that when I do acts like this, bizarre disparities occur. Objects will duplicate or simple physics will momentarily glitch, so to speak. What’s worse, I have fallen in love with a denizen here. That’s you, Andrew. Please do not be alarmed. We will speak when I get home. I am excited to share the truth with you. The future is bright.

            Your love, Penelope.

            The paper was hurled against the wall in a crumpled ball. Andrew rolled over onto his back and covered his face with his hands. He grabbed a pillow and threw it as well, then tugged at his hair. “God, I have to call her.” He fumbled the phone out of his pocket. The minute it took to ring felt like an eternity, and the voicemail message was like sealing his own coffin. “Damn it!” He stood up out of bed and paced around the small living room. “She’s going insane. I should’ve been talking to her more about how she’s feeling. I knew she was bipolar or something.” His breathing quickened when he thought he saw her standing outside the window. He ran over to the glass, only to see strangers passing by on the sidewalk. He caught his breath, lost it, and caught it again. The air was getting stuck in his throat. He couldn’t breathe. What did people do when they were hyperventilating again? The cabinet under the kitchen sink was torn open to grab a plastic bag. In, out, in, out.

            Once he could breathe again, he sat down on the sofa to think. It was two hours before she got off work. He didn’t know how he was going to be able to wait that long. Besides, the thought of her coming home to approach him about these ‘ideas’ made him feel sick to his stomach. It was already twisting in knots. Of course Andrew didn’t believe a word she was saying, but when he thought back to her sleepwalking a wave of paranoia swept through him. He didn’t have anyone to call and talk to about it. Except for perhaps the hospital.

            He punched the number into the keypad on his phone, and hesitated. Andrew was not without mental crises throughout his life. If someone had submitted him to the mental hospital against his will, he might have never trusted them again. He needed to hear her out and give her a say. So he waited.


            The bottle of vodka was half empty by the time the door opened. A jangle of keys and rustle of quiet footsteps were the only cues Penelope had come home. Besides Andrew sitting in the living room right in front of the door, of course. It was a studio after all.

            “How was work?” Andrew asked, and then chuckled a little bit at his casual tone in such a dire situation.

            “Oh, you know, busy as usual. Even for a Thursday night. I have to tell you, I had a few tables that made me just want to––ugh! God, I seriously don’t understand some people, you know?”

            “No, I actually think I do understand most people.” The words came out a lot more sloshed than Andrew preferred, then he decided he didn’t care. “The thing is, Penelope, I don’t understand you.”

            Penelope sat down next to him on the couch in a way that made her bounce off the cushions a bit. She ran her hands through her hair to get it out of her face. Another thing she did that signaled her mind was somewhere way different than the current conversation. “Mm, I assume you’re referencing the letter you must’ve found.” Her nose wrinkled in an exaggerated frown. “You know it’s not good to snoop in other people’s property, baby.” The frown broke into a wide grin. She poked his nose. “I’m just kidding hun. I wanted you to find it. What did you think?”

            Andrew’s neck rolled his head over to look at her, leaning into the couch. “Oh, what did I think? I wonder what I think.” He stood up and parted his hands as if he were introducing a character in a freak show. “I think you are certifiably insane, darling! And you need serious help! Unless you were joking, of course. In which case it would not be very funny anyway.”

            Penelope looked at him with a demure expression. “Are you so blind to the world around you that you haven’t been noticing anything strange lately?”

            Andrew took a swig straight out of the bottle. “Funny you should mention that! Yes, actually. The thing we have discussed endless times; you don’t wake up when you sleep and it freaks me the hell out! We don’t even have to mention, oh, the nightmares and potential hallucinations and all that jazz. So yes, I guess you could say things have been strange around here.”

            “Nightmares and hallucinations? Don’t you think you’re the one that might be insane?”

            “Do NOT turn this around onto me. You are the one who wrote that schizophrenic delusion of a letter. I am not involved in the conversation about who’s crazier right now.”

            Penelope chewed on her lip and twirled a strand of hair between her fingers. “Alright. That’s not what I wanted to talk about anyway.” She leaned forward. “Andrew, where do we go when we sleep?”

            “Penelope, you know that’s a question that’s never been answered for sure. I know you have your theories, but we cannot entertain ideas like–”

            “Answer the question, please!” Her foot was tapping against the ground.

            “I don’t know, and I don’t care. Go ask a brain doctor. If you are so fascinated with the subject, do actual research. I would love to know the answer as well, but it’s pointless to chase these sorts of things. They drive you mad because they are endless.”

            A slight smile tugged at her small lips. “What if I told you I know where we go?”

            Andrew shifted his weight from foot to foot. “If your answer is what I think it is, I would call you insane.”

            She went on regardless. “Andrew, most dreams are the playthings of a brain burning off steam. You know, discharging excess energy and emotion. That’s why so many dreams are emotionally fuelled and symbolic. When you lucid dream in these playgrounds, anything can happen because you are inside yourself. However, once in a blue moon you will come across what I call ‘realms’. Whole other multiverses that the dreaming soul accidentally stumbles upon. I believe that if you lucid dream in these worlds, you become a god of sorts. That’s how religion was founded, and how there’s so many of them!” Penelope stood up and walked over to Andrew. She placed her hands on his chest and looked up at him with baby-blue eyes. “I am not of this world, Andrew.”

            He stepped back, leaving her standing a few feet in front of him. He set the bottle of vodka on the kitchen table and shook his head. “I am so sorry, but you need some serious help, hun. Is it ok if we make an appointment for you to get some professional help? It’s ok to reach out. Honestly I’m glad you’re telling me all this.”

            Anger flashed through her face. “The only reason I can’t immediately prove it to you is because my power is weaker in a developed realm. The rules are already set here and I have to break them. I know how to show you.” She pushed past Andrew into the kitchen and withdrew a knife from the knife block. Her arm was raised when Andrew screamed and slammed into her.

            “NO! You’re not ok, Penelope. Let me help you. LET ME HELP YOU.”

            He wrestled the knife out of her hands. She was screaming now, hitting him and scrambling to get her hands on another weapon. He pushed her to the cold kitchen tiles, resting all of his body weight on her slender frame. Her hands beat on his back and her cries pierced his ears. Using his right hand he reached down into his back pocket and dialed 911.

            “Yes, this is an emergency. Hi, I need you to get here as soon as possible, my girlfriend is having an episode and is trying to hurt herself. Please, I need you to hurry, she is extremely unstable and she needs to get to a hospital. Yes, here’s my address. Across from the 24 hour grocery store. Yes, thank you.” He threw his phone onto the ground and looked down at Penelope. She had stopped struggling and was staring blankly into the distance. Cautiously, Andrew pushed himself off her to pick her up and carry her to the couch. “It’s ok. Everything will be ok.”

            The ambulance arrived shortly afterward accompanied with two police vehicles. The flashing lights signaled a blur for Andrew through the following events. Penelope didn’t protest as the paramedics wheeled her into the back of the ambulance. She only stared directly at Andrew with hatred in her eyes.

            A sheriff approached Andrew. “We need to ask you a few questions. What led to her having a psychotic break? Was she showing any clear signs of distress?”

            Andrew clenched his fists. The screams were definitely heard over the call, and that made him look extremely bad. “She’s been acting really strange the past few days. She sleepwalks and won’t wake up no matter how hard I try, to the point where I called the ambulance one time. This morning she was commenting about how things aren’t what they seem, or something like that. The main thing was that she wrote a letter about how none of this is real and we’re all in a dream. She brought it up to me tonight and when I told her that was crazy, she tried to hurt herself to prove it.”

            The sheriff nodded and scribbled something down on his notepad. “Do you have that letter?”

            “Yes, actually. Allow me to go grab it.” He ran inside his apartment to fetch the crumpled paper on the bedroom floor. He rounded the foot of the bed. It wasn’t there. His brow broke into a cold sweat. I know I threw it around here. He grabbed clothes and threw them around, shoved items off the dresser, tore the blankets off the bed. Nothing. It was simply gone.

            His heart pounding out of his chest, he walked back to the sheriff. “I am so sorry, I seem to have misplaced it. She might’ve thrown it out without me knowing.” Which was a lie.

            The sheriff’s eyes narrowed, but he didn’t comment. “Screams were heard over the call, including shouts of ‘let me go’. Could you please explain that to me?”

            “She was trying to hurt herself with a knife and I knocked it out of her hand. I was laying on top of her when I made the call so she wouldn’t try to do anything worse.”

More scratching on the notepad. “Miss Penelope has not indicated that she has been abused, but we will continue to question her about her home life. In the meantime, she’s being submitted to the hospital to stay overnight until we have more details. Do you know of any family of hers we can contact? She was not responsive to the question.”

            Andrew shook his head. “No, as far as I know she hasn’t contacted her family for years. I’m her only emergency contact.”
            “I’ll put you down as primary contact, then. That’s all for tonight. We will continue our investigation with her and if necessary, the hospital will contact you in the morning to discuss your plan of action. Good night Mr. Heiss.”

            The sheriff walked back toward his car, glints of red and blue reflecting off everyone’s faces. Andrew stood there until they left, and then there was nothing but him and the darkness.


            The ringing of his phone pierced through the heavy silence of the night. Andrew jolted awake, slick with sweat once more from another nightmare. No-faced Penelope was back, and this time she was in his mirror.

            The phone went quiet, and then began ringing again. Andrew rolled over and squinted at the light emanating from the screen. It was a number he didn’t recognize, but no one called him at 5 in the morning. He answered. “Hello?”

            “Mr. Heiss. This is Strawberry Fields hospital. We were performing our night checks on our patients and we found Penelope to be missing from her room. We do not understand how this has happened, other than the possibility that perhaps you have helped her escape. Is she with you now?”

            “What? No, she’s not. How could she have escaped? Are you not a huge hospital?”

            “We are. Everyone is on full alert and we are trying to figure out what happened. The only other explanation is that a staff member may have assisted her in getting out. Since she is regarded as being a danger to herself, we have police searching for her as we speak. We ask that you attempt to contact her and find out her whereabouts. If you do, please call emergency services as soon as possible. We will call you back when we have more details.”

            “Wait!” Andrew shouted, but the hospital had already hung up. He sank back into the bed and pulled the covers over himself. The shadows were growing long and it was so dark in the apartment it appeared that they were dancing in the corners. He scampered out of bed and turned on the light. The shadows retreated, and he let out the breath he was holding. Until he heard a resounding thump in the bathroom.

            No, no. He could not handle this. Creaks came from the bathroom, as if someone was walking. His heartbeat was going so wild he thought he was going to have a heart attack. He leapt back into his bed with the lights still on and pulled the covers over himself. Eventually, the noises ceased.

            He knew he would have to go in there. If not just to prove that nothing was there, to prove he still had some semblance of mahood left within him. At this point he was acting pitiful. He kicked the blankets back off, and marched out of the bedroom. Penelope was crazy, nothing she said was true, and the apartment was locked. Andrew assured himself he was being completely irrational.

            The bathroom was a black hole in the apartment. It seemed blacker than usual, like no light could escape it. Mustering all of his courage, Andrew stepped into the bathroom. He forced himself to look at the mirror. There he was, barely noticeable in the tiniest captures of light. Another sigh of relief. He flicked on the light switch.

            He screamed, fell backward onto his bottom, and screamed harder. His hands tore at the wall behind him. Penelope was in the mirror, smiling down at him. It seemed like she was having trouble arranging her face. Her eyes kept moving in unsynchronized movements, and her smile looked like it was molded from playdough.

            “I…told you…I’d show you! All dreams!” She giggled, and it was a wet laugh.

            Andrew tore out of there. He was wearing only his boxers as he ripped through his door and ran as fast as his legs would allow through the crisp night air. The sun was coming up soon, and he only had to run until it did. He would find the solace of the light eventually.

            Yet until then, darkness surrounded him. It swallowed him up and found him at every turn, and in the obsidian realms of unseen corners, Penelope followed him.

Bio pending.

If you enjoyed this story, you may also enjoy “Dream Errors” psychological horror by Jay Charles.

While you’re here, why not drop by The Chamber’s bookshop?

“The Monsters Under My Bed” Dark Fiction by Mikayla Randolph

Beneath my bed, three distinct monsters have resided. Three monsters I now call mine. Near constant companions, their presence outlasts kindergarten friendships, first loves, false families, and any other menace I’ve encountered. A special connection formed long ago barred them from being discovered by anyone but me. No, they are my monsters. My burden to bear. Mine alone. No sight, no sound, no stench, nor pain could give them away to anyone but me. Throughout life, they’ve followed me from small town to big city, from house to home, and journeys abroad. No matter where I find myself, I find them there too.

My first monster was a hideous sight to behold. Eyes – large and black with red hollows and a heavy stare, tracked me in utter darkness. They followed my every move, every inch, every breath. Even as I cowered beneath the covers, I felt those eyes watching me. Always watching. Stiff, reptilian hands oozing with slime, long and bony – Nosferatu-like in shape – but covered in scales, snuck up the side of my bed. Its claws glinted in the moonlight. At the foot of the bed, its tail slithered up and crept beneath my blanket, set to strike, to circle my feet, and drag me underneath. Its split tongue slid between rows and rows of razor-sharp teeth, waiting to consume me.

I screamed for my parents, for my siblings, for anyone who dared come to my rescue. They flashed on the light, checked beneath the bed, and declared it nothing more than an act of my imagination. As they left, keeping on a lone nightlight on at my insistence, its throttle kept ringing in my ears. The deep pant of a creature craving blood and flesh, ready to leap upon its prey and devour it at any second. With white knuckles, I clung to my blanket and learned it would stay in its place if I refused to move, not an inch, not a breath. I feared sleep but discovered that the monster preferred me awake and afraid. Little children must taste better that way.

My second monster was far more ordinary. Far less terrifying to behold, barely even worth a heartbeat’s skip if we’d passed on the street. I cannot recall when this new monster replaced the former; I’d wondered how and why but assumed it’d simply scared the creature away. This monster was just a man. Or at least a shadow of one. Maybe not even male at all. My memory of him is most hazy. At times, I recall him having deep-set eyes and a scar, of being large and imposing. At other times, those depictions seem wrong. Whatever it was, it was clever. It was crafty. And it was angry.

He whispered venomous words with delicious glee. Not just threats, though they were plentiful too, but worse: my innermost fears spoken aloud, given form, and perfectly executed when it would pain me most to hear. His dirty fingers clutched a long dagger, always dripping with blood, as a disturbing grin marked his excitement. He laughed. A deep callous laugh that crawled into my ears right as I finally began to drift asleep, foreshadowing the atrocities he intended to commit.

Yet, for all the dread he caused, he never did raise that knife to me. Never plunged it in deep, over and over until the blood spouted freely from my body, and never left only a drained corpse behind. No. Instead, he just kept cackling and taunting, whispering words only I could hear, knowing they cut deeper than any blade.

The third monster tricked me. One night, before climbing into bed, I checked beneath to see how the man looked that day, only to discover that he’d apparently vanished. Nothing. No trace, no creature, no man, just dust and air. At first, I froze, startled by the sight, until relief crept in. With a smile, for the first time in a long time, I lay in bed happy, reveling in the warmth and safety. Not this time, not this night – no – now I was going to finally rest in peace. And sleep wrapped around me like a soft song sung just for me. I slept. For a while. 

In the dead of night, a jolt of electricity burst through me, and my eyes darted open; my body dripped in sweat. It was here. It was back. Something came for me. Something far worse. I peeked below the bed with trembling hands but saw nothing, heard nothing, smelt nothing. Perhaps it wasn’t here for me this time. Perhaps, this time, it was here for someone else.

In a panic, I bent over my partner’s lips so my ear hovered a mere inch away. I listened for their breathing. Strong and steady, it flowed, and their hot breath warmed my cheek. In an instant, I was up, out, and moving to the nursery. On my tiptoes, I snuck in, trying not to wake my child or alert the monster. I watched their little belly moving in and out, each breath accompanied by the tiny whisps of snores, the angelic picture of a child sleeping peacefully. Relief returned; my loved ones were safe. I crept back to my room, back to my bed, back to rest. I hoped.

Once more, I checked beneath the bed. Once more. I saw, heard, smelt nothing. I lay in darkness with my eyes wide, my mind alert, and my pulse racing; I waited for the monster. I sensed it; the hairs on arms rose despite the warmth of my comforter. All I could see were varying shades of black and night and nothing. Still, I felt it. It was near. I waited; it was waiting too. We remained at a stalemate, each waiting for the other to strike, attack, and defend. For years, we waged this motionless war.

These are my monsters. They are mine, just as much as my hands, my voice, or my mind. I keep them in thought, in memory, and in my company. I need them. When they are near, I cannot sleep. Without them, all I can manage or want is sleep. See, you may have forgotten – I mentioned it so long ago: they haven’t always been my monsters. They have not always been there. They’re not constant companions, just near enough.

There have been times, the darkest of times, when I did not sense my monsters. Or at least I did not care. On those nights, rare but bleak, I’d step into bed without checking what manner of monster lay in wait below. If it clawed at me in the darkness, or slashed me to bits, or suffocated me with nothingness, then so be it. I had no strength to fight. And sleep was calling. Those times when I most needed a companion, it seemed it was just me. Alone. I’d sleep soundly those nights – mostly – long and deep from the exhaustion.

The next day, I’d awake wishing my monsters would return. That’s what made them my monsters. That – despite their horrific appearances, hideous voices, and the dread they inspired – I wanted them to come back to me. I’d rather the sleepless nights with one of my monsters lurking below than the hollow alternative. After all our years together, at odds, I’d finally claimed them as my own. Tamed them, as much as any monster can be tamed. Each night, I want nothing more than to reach a hand down my monster, to let it clutch my fingers, and to feel something in the darkness.

Mikayla Randolph resides in California, where she is a customer relations liaison in the tourism industry. She is currently editing her debut novel, a modern gothic horror. When not writing, she enjoys reading, traveling, and taking too many photos of her dogs. Twitter: @Mikraken

“Nocturnal” Dark, Psychological Poetry by Todd Matson

Shake the diagnostic
decision tree.  What falls out?
Schizophrenia or bipolar mania?
Posttraumatic stress or night terrors?
Something not classified as mental illness?

Enough with the analysis.
This is not some manic episode.
Not another word about antipsychotics –
abilify, seroquel, zyprexa, these are not for me.

I have no melatonin deficiency.
Ambien is not what I need.  My circadian
rhythm is as it should be, awake all night, asleep all day.
Insomniacs are not the only creatures who don’t sleep at night.

Mindless slurs against the nocturnals will
solve nothing.  Mice, raccoons, and possums –
I understand them.  Bats, coyotes and cockroaches –
they know what they’re doing.  Do you honestly believe
millions of years of evolution has driven them up a blind alley?

The nocturnals come out under
the cover of darkness to eat in peace,
to avoid being seen, smelled and devoured.
Benzodiazepines – xanax, klonopin, valium, these
would only make them sitting ducks for vicious predators.

Stealth is survival.
Do you think me insane?
Night is the time to be awake,
aware, hyperaware, hypervigilant.

You have not experienced
my calamities.  You have not dreamed
my dreams.  You have not lived my nightmares.
When they come for me, let them come in the light of day.

Let them be seen 
for the cowardly ghoulish
fiends they are.  Put them on notice.
I am nocturnal.  I am hungry.  I smell blood.
I will be hunting them in their pitch-black nightmares.

Todd Matson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  He has written poetry for The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling, has been published in Ariel Chart International Literary Journal, Bluepepper, and The Chamber Magazine, and has written lyrics for songs recorded by a number of contemporary Christian music artists

“It’s Raining” Short Fiction by Francene Kilgore

It’s raining. The first drop touched the corner of my inexpressive mouth. Afraid to taste it, I removed the moisture with the back of my hand. Vacant droplets reached my shoulders. The air, an uncontrollable dampness, raked my nerves. Elusive shattered shelter pushed me beyond the dank cold pour of precipitation. It’s raining. Wet, a drop touched my blouse. The sensation of acid remained on my flesh as the fabric of sanity broke away from the onslaught of venomous rain.  Blinking, protected the view in brief cycles of clarity and vision. The damaged vengeful rain touched me. Mocking my forehead it jolted me to the reality of once was to now be.  Amid cruelty the smell of desperation hung among the heedless rain. Soaked and sealed with literally nothing else to evade the rain, it bubbled on the surface of empty empathy and painful panic memories.  It’s raining.  Unidentified articles reasoned about the importance of being one with the nature of rain. Inadequate and inadvertently the causes of rain risk the smallest amount of my sanity. Welled inside a cocoon unbalanced and buried among burdened puddles,  I hid the true resemblance of my screaming soul staring at the rain.  It’s raining, to mock me. To test my response to reality, my resolve,  my values, and beliefs.  It’s raining inside my skin,  stomach, hair, and veins. Filling me beyond capacity to create,  remember, change,  or challenge the traditions of storms that swell and sweep away all and everything. It’s raining.  As my mind and body fade from this decade to the last. It’s raining. 

Francene Kilgore has a Master’s degree in Educational Administration from Concordia University of Austin. She has been teaching writing at an elementary school in Midland, Texas for several years. She says that “Often in my vacant gaze, I hear a melody. Sometimes it’s soft and easing to the mind; other times it’s a frenzy of movements and tones; but most often, it is just you, crossing my thoughts from far away.”

“Big Game Hunter” Fiction by Travis Lee

It’s dusk and no one’s coming.

The damn beast wasn’t supposed to charge me. I paid $45,000 to come hunt it, an albino rhinoceros with a nice horn. They made me sign a waiver. This land is owned by a diamond mining conglomerate, and when Pavel looked at my signature he told me I was going in alone. Once I kill the rhino, contact him by satellite phone.

The phone. In the tall grass, maybe still working, or maybe in pieces along with the rest of me because when the rhino charged I was not prepared. Animals have never acted hostile before. You should see the lions. They tear apart wildebeests and buffalo calves, but when they see me they just lay there as I squeeze the trigger.

My arm is aching. I’m trying not to move but my arm. I shift a little. My gut explodes in pain. Blood attracts predators and there’s a difference between a healthy man aiming a gun and a bleeding man under a tree. One’s an anomaly.

The other’s prey.

I went on my first hunt was when I was twelve. My uncle took me to Yellowstone Park and before we set off he pulled me close and said, Congratulations. You’re now part of the food chain.

I haven’t thought of that in years.

Funny what your mind coughs up.


I have some pills but I dare not take any. Night has fallen and I’m alert. I have a .357 Magnum with six shots, well, five. Five for the hyenas.

One for myself.

They sound close. I raise the gun, ignoring the pain. It’s stupid, of course, as hyenas hunt in packs. The best I could do is scare them and if that doesn’t work?

One bullet will.

Hyenas can bite through anything. They’ll start at my legs, ripping me apart beneath the clear savannah sky.

At which point do you die? In the middle or does it happen last, after you’ve been mostly eaten?


Night passes. No hyenas.

I’m getting weaker. I sip the canteen. There’s enough water for a day, maybe two if I space it out but it’s hot. The sun breaks through the leaves and a fly crawls around my mouth.


The satellite phone is ringing.

Beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep. The sound of salvation I spot it in the tall grass, green light flashing.




I’ve spent the day making arguments against going for the phone. My uncle’s words keep coming back, circling me like the flies. I’m already part of the food chain, and it didn’t happen when the rhino charged and I stood there like a doofus, too shocked to do anything. It happened the moment I stepped out of the jeep.

A caw. I look up.

A vulture cruises overhead.

I close my eyes. Vultures can smell the dying from miles away.

I open my eyes and reach for my gun. The vulture. I stare at it, my eyes burning in the unfiltered daylight. The vulture spreads its wings and perches on a high branch.

It’s staring down at me.

I tilt my gun skyward, , aligning the barrel with the bird. I do a silent Mississippi-count to five.

I fire.

The bird drops down beside me. Its wings spread open, covering my legs and I look down and scream, brushing it away and igniting a new series of pain.

I shove the dead bird as far as my arm will allow and close my eyes. The smell. A messy infection below and I can smell myself rotting and I can’t hold it in. I turn my head.

I puke.


Laughter cuts through the night. My eyes flip open and I grab the Magnum.

Congratulations. You’re now part of the food chain. I had slipped away to somewhere just beneath the pain. My uncle was leading me through the jungle to where the rhino stood waiting in a long field. I lined up to take my shot while the rhino charged and I took it down, one shot. Dead.

Their laughter makes me want to laugh too and I let go of the gun. I cover my mouth with both hands. I laugh, pressing my hands tighter as they approach.

The hyenas move with purpose through the tall grass. Their eyes shine like migratory starlight as they rush their prey. I know they can see me and smell me but do they understand and I know I should grab the gun because this is it, but I don’t.

I just laugh.

And I’m still laughing when the hyenas ignore me. An elephant herd is on the move. I’m laughing when the hyenas slip between the great beasts’ legs, separating a baby elephant from the herd. I’m laughing when they start with the trunk, one hyena tearing it in half and the rest ripping it off. The baby elephant is screaming as the pack swarms and I have my answer: you die at the very end. The hyenas eat the baby elephant to the bone.

I’m laughing so hard I have a coughing fit.


The pain is bad and the smell is worse.

The pills are part of the standard first aid kit they issue all hunters. They give you a vacuum-sealed pack of six. One a day.

Or six.

I tell myself it won’t come to that. I look up. The sun hasn’t crossed the midway point yet and the predators hunt at night. I look out across the savannah. The baby elephant’s bones. I feel a laughing fit coming on and I jab my tongue against my cheek. The laughter rises, falls back. I hold my tongue there until I no longer feel like laughing.

I peel one of the pills free.

It dissolves on my tongue in seconds. I lean back, close my eyes and listen for the phone.



I open my eyes.


I close them.


I’m awake. For a second I think there is a bear in the tall grass, guarding the satellite phone. I have to concentrate for several minutes, readjusting my mind to the time and the shapes around me.

It’s night. I slept all day.

I wasn’t supposed to sleep all day. God damn pills are only supposed to knock you out for five hours. But you’re also supposed to eat with them and I have no food. The three emergency MREs they give you are out in the tall grass somewhere, assuming the hyenas haven’t gotten to them.

Flies crawl on my forehead.


I turn my head to puke but only dryheave. I have nothing to throw up.


I’m awake all night, thinking of my rifle.

My uncle taught me how to shoot. We hit targets on his property. And in Yellowstone, he taught me the importance of stealth.

Since we’re part of the food chain we gotta act like it, he said, outfitting a silencer to his rifle.

We tracked the bear and her cubs for days. We weren’t dumb enough to carry our rifles out in the open and once we were in position for a good shot, my uncle handed me his rifle. He showed me how to steady the aim. The cold cylinder in my hands. The weight that decides death.

I can still see the bear. She looks right at me when I line up my sight. My uncle would have laughed so I never told him but I know what I know, and what I know is that bear saw me. She knew I was there to kill her.

Her cubs squealed afterwards. They crowded around their mother, sniffing her, trying to lick her back to life. My uncle told me not to feel sorry for them: turn the tables, and the bears would have me for lunch.

Let’s go, my uncle said.

We’re not taking it?

Where? To who? He gave me a light smack on the back of my head. Yellowstone’s got too much stick up their asses for that.

We left the bear to rot, her cubs to mourn and on the way back home we bought ice cream.


A fly lands on my cheek buzzing I brush it away more on my forehead


I drift off and wake up hearing the bear cubs sobbing for their mother. What ever happened to those cubs? Male bears will kill cubs that aren’t their own but the bear would eat me if the tables were turned and besides we’re now part of the food chain so we have to act like it.

I cough. Flies. I can’t wave them away. Something is stalking me through the tall grass. I can’t make it out. Hyena? Lion?


Where the hell is Pavel? They should have come for me by now. The satellite phone is working, I heard it beep (yesterday? day before?) so they know I’m here.

Where are they?

I don’t have the strength to move but I do have the strength to think and see and combined I think I see what’s out there in the tall grass.

I grab the Magnum. The movement startles the flies but doesn’t scare them away.

Five shots left.


Laughter and it’s not coming from the hyenas.

It’s coming from the bear.

Mama bear is laying in front of the satellite phone. She keeps her paws to the side of the phone so I can hear it ring.




Laughter. Sounds like hyenas but it’s that fucking bear. Congratulations. You’re now part of the food chain.


Fucking bear. You haven’t moved all day. The sun sets and I need another pill for the pain and the flies the itching is driving me crazy the smell makes me gag. I dryheave.

The bear laughs.

And this is it. I won’t survive another day out here. Pavel isn’t coming. I need to get to the phone. That’s him calling. Their equipment is broken. They can’t find me unless I answer.

The bear laughs.

Your cubs are dead, I whisper. My voice sounds like it belongs to someone else.

My uncle is beside me. He swats me on the back of my head and hands me his rifle. The rapport might knock me down, but at least mama bear will die and this time she will stay dead.


I stand up. Something’s coming closer. A small stampede. The laughter grows. The bear doesn’t raise her head. I aim the rifle as something tears at my legs. The flies have scattered. I try to squeeze the trigger but my finger is too weak and I no longer feel it.

I feel teeth.

I hear laughter.

And somewhere, the satellite phone is ringing. Beep-beep.


Travis Lee lived in China for two and a half years, where his short story ’The Seven Year Laowai’ went viral among the expat community. He currently lives in Japan, working as a weather forecaster. Find out more at https://www.travis-lee.org