📅 Published on June 26, 2020


Written by Meagan J. Meehan
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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The sun was setting. Jane watched the glorious colors splay across the sky from where she stood in her antique shop, staring out the dusty window at the world beyond. The sunsets in Brereton, North Dakota, truly were magnificent; certainly more beautiful than anything else in the sleepy and dilapidated town.

As she basked in the glow of the sunset, Jane caressed the mysterious key in her hand. Where had it come from? More importantly, where did it lead to? Jane would give anything to find out the answers to those questions.

Beginning after the first snowfall in early November, the residents of Brereton had begun finding grotesque-looking snowmen in their yards and small silver keys inside their mailboxes, carefully placed in sealed, unmarked envelopes. No one knew exactly who had made the snowmen or left the keys but nearly everyone blamed local teenagers. With merely 800 residents Brereton was an especially small town and young people often found the oddest ways to amuse themselves, even if it was at the expense of others…

When 87-year-old Tyler Perrison spotted one of the figures on his lawn he had been so surprised that his heart started to race—subsequently resulting in his hospitalization. Amy Harrison had screamed herself hoarse at the sight of hers. Even Rodney Rickson, the most dedicated hunter in town, had been so alarmed that he shot his snow figure with a bow and arrow, convinced that some sort of mutant had crawled onto his property. When he realized that it was just a mound of sculptured snow he humorously put red dye all around the spot where the arrow struck and posted the photo on the Internet.

Although the majority of Brereton residents were horrified and angered by the sight of the monstrous snowmen, Jane found the situation rather amusing…perhaps even somewhat thrilling. It had obviously taken a great deal of time and effort to construct the snow demons and whoever had done so possessed incredible artistic skill—they really were gruesome. Jane knew that better than anyone since she had taken a brisk walk all around town just to see every single one.

Jane had also discovered a dreadful snow figure on her property but she hadn’t screamed or shot at it. Truth be told, she had rather admired it. It was a noticeably larger figure than the others with several arms, numerous eyes, and rows of sharp and pointed teeth. She was planning to keep it for as long as possible and she was extremely annoyed when Officer Henley and Officer Palmer arrived unannounced on her property and promptly kicked the snow figure until it disintegrated into a formless pile. As Jane watched the snow creature—which oddly appeared to be hollow on the inside—disintegrate she had a sudden urge to kick the officers until they were nothing but bits of blood and bone. She always suppressed violent impulses, of course, yet she did wish that she had taken photos of every ferocious figure.

The presence of the police led Jane to consider the possibility that there could be a lunatic loose in town. It would certainly be exciting if there was because nothing interesting ever happened in Brereton. Years ago it had been a thriving factory town supported by an active sugar mill but now it was little more than a rusted ruin. In the summer there were two tepid town fairs, “Riverfest” in July and the “Modern Corn and Apple Festival” in August, but Jane rarely lingered long at either. The villagers were quite tiresome with their petty gossip and that was precisely why she also never joined any bingo nights or “Bone Builders” group exercise classes.

By far the most enjoyable occasions were the rummage sales where Jane both sold and bought things. She was always hopeful that at least one item would turn out to be possessed by some dark force but, thus far, all objects appeared to be quite normal. The only other occasions that the town residents seemed to get excited about were related to baseball and football and such things did not appeal to Jane. She hated sports.

Secretly, Jane was addicted to watching “True Crime” programs on television and so she knew all about homicidal maniacs. She thought the topic was quite interesting, although she kept her obsession to herself since she knew many of the townspeople might think it was morbid or strange and such perceptions would not fare well for her antique business. Undoubtedly the church women would think her media preferences were downright scandalous—just like the church folk had thought her teenage preoccupation with heavy metal music was reprehensible.

Jane had always hated attending church services and she often dreamed about burning the church to the ground. When she was younger her fantasies had been so intense that she could practically smell the smoke and feel the heat of the flames. But it was all in her mind, of course, she would never actually do such a thing. Truthfully, she had never actually done much of anything. She had never journeyed out of state or had neither a nemesis nor a kiss. When she was a girl she had escaped into fairy tales and films like “Labyrinth,” hoping that one day something special would happen to her.

Yet nothing exciting ever did happen—until those snow figures appeared. They were, by far, her highlight of the year, maybe even the decade, and that was why they intrigued her. It was also why she had lied to Officer Palmer about the key. Like everyone else, she had received one in her mailbox but she swore to the police that she hadn’t. They were collecting them to test on every lock in town and, although Jane was desperately curious about their purpose, she didn’t want to surrender hers. It was so shiny and small and captivating. Jane never tired of gazing at it.

Officer Palmer had given her a funny look when she denied having a key and Jane knew that he had pegged her for a lair. Perhaps she was now a suspect, maybe they thought she had been behind the whole affair! Jane didn’t mind, there was no evidence against her and, at 46, she was an unlikely candidate to go around building hundreds of frightening snow creatures in the dead of night. Officer Henley was more accepting of her claim. Jane’s house was on the edge of town, perhaps it was the last one that the perpetrators had gotten to and they had either run out of keys or simply forgotten to leave one.

In the days that followed, Jane wondered if the police would come back and arrest her. She hadn’t done anything to warrant such an event, of course, but she anticipated the possibility. Getting arrested would certainly be a new experience and one that would undoubtedly prove to be quite memorable. Yet Jane did not get arrested and now, nearly two weeks since the snow figures appeared, the authorities still had no leads on who had left the keys or what they unlocked. Jane was bitterly disappointed and she seriously considered starting her own investigation—it would certainly help her pass the time as the winter approached. Brereton had particularly long and bitterly cold winters and Jane spent most of the months of December thru March home alone.

As she stared down at the small silver key, Jane smiled. It was a present from some unknown giver yet it might just grant her the gift of adventure, something she had never known.

* * * * * *

That night Jane locked up her shop and drove home as usual. She kept the radio tuned to her local country music station. That was a perfectly acceptable choice of audio in Brereton. Yet as soon as she got outside of the town limits she slid an old Black Sabbath CD into her aging car’s player and bobbed her head to the sound of “Lady Evil.” Over the past ten days, Jane had started listening to the beloved music of her long-lost youth once again. It both revived and soothed her. Mostly, it helped her block out the voices.

Normally, Jane only heard the voices in her dreams. Ever since early childhood she had recurring visions of dancing with monsters. Upon the arrival of the snow figures those dreams had come back in full force except, this time, she was dancing with demons made of snow. Although most people would categorize such dreams as nightmares, Jane adored them. The macabre land of her dreams was so enticing—so enthralling—compared to the bleak world she awoke to daily.

Jane smirked as she glanced into the rear-view mirror. Saint Edward’s Church was disappearing into the background. She remembered how the churchgoers had reacted to her “wild stories” and “fantasies” when she had been young and foolish enough to confess them. But Jane really did hear things. Sometimes the whispering voices told her to play with knives and turn on the stove’s gas. At first, she had obeyed them and carried out whatever whims they instructed but she had quickly learned that listening to those nighttime whispers in daytime hours was a bad idea—specifically when you were being raised by people like Elmira and Andy Weston.

Jane didn’t know who her real parents were since she had been left on the steps of the church, bundled up in a blanket. Preacher Warren had found her and intended to take her to the orphanage until Elmira had begged him to let her and Andy adopt the abandoned child. The Westons were religious, churchgoing, childless folks and Preacher Warren readily surrendered Jane to them and thereby sealed her fate.

Elmira and Andy never let Jane forget her mysterious roots.

We saved you from a life of destitution, they said.

You owe us, they accused.

You best remember where you came from, they scolded.

Elmira and Andy always had a lot to say to Jane—mostly unflattering speculation about her parentage. Eventually, they decided that her mother was probably a teenaged prostitute and her father a criminal who had escaped from prison. They forever watched over Jane and scolded her whenever they even imagined that she might be considering taking something that didn’t belong to her or wearing her skirt even slightly above the knee. The Westons had always been very firm about one thing: Jane’s bad genes would not be justification for poor behavior.

Jane had no idea if her mother really was a woman of easy virtue and her father a brute but as she got older she grew increasingly tempted to do naughty things, wicked things. She tried to be good but sometimes her urges pushed her to behave most incorrigibly.

At church, she gazed at the beautiful stained glass windows and wondered what they would sound like shattering. At age 11 she had used a payphone in the center of town to call 911, and then remained silent on the line, just to see if ambulances would arrive. Much to her delight, they did with the lights flashing and sirens blaring. Another time she had faked being sick until the EMS came and took her to the hospital. It had been a marvelous experience for Jane who had soaked up all the attention of the doctors and nurses, but Elmira and Andy were so angry about the steep bill that she never dared to feign illness again.

Andy had been a mechanic who restored and sold old cars and tractors and Elmira had quit her job in the post office mailroom to become a stay-at-home mom. Their limited finances were often attributed to Jane, their “extra mouth to feed.” For over a decade Jane toyed with the idea of setting fire to one of Andy’s beloved restored cars but she never got the nerve. Alas, that was usually the case with Jane—she often had wonderful ideas for making mischief but she simply lacked the will to carry out acts of mayhem.

As a child she had written letters to fairies and trolls and placed them in the letterbox, hoping someone (something) would find her and take her away. Every time she saw a freight train she fantasized about hopping it and heading off on a big adventure. As a teenager, she had seriously considered jumping off the bridge and plummeting into the icy water below where her body would mingle with all the fish that Andy frequently hunted. Her suicidal inclinations had been so strong that she had actually stood up on the bridge once and very nearly jumped but balked when she considered the physics of the matter. The bridge was low and if she had jumped she would probably have just ended up cold and wet, not dead. Besides, such an endeavor could certainly have landed her in a psychiatric hospital and that was an experience that seemed too unpleasant to risk, even for someone as bored as she was.

Jane’s eerily quiet nature had made her especially solitary yet she never felt lonely. Truthfully she didn’t think that she was capable of feeling most of the emotions that other people did. She didn’t want to go to school dances, or flirt with boys, or giggle at sleepovers. She was much more inclined to take long walks alone through Skjeberg Cemetery. The name Skjeberg enthralled her; it sounded so exotic…so otherworldly. She had spent hours there fantasizing about being the Empress of the Dead. Jane had always possessed a vivid imagination.

Sometimes she wished that the long-distance truckers passing through town would make eyes at her like they did the local waitresses. There were occasions when she had intentionally loitered around the highway rest stops, hoping to attract some rough shaven character, but her mousy appearance left her perpetually unnoticed. From time to time she even walked past the Elm Crest Motel, looking for some new and interesting faces, but no one outstanding ever seemed to materialize. Monotony was the calling card of her existence.

For a while Jane had gotten away with her peculiarities but, in 1983, everything changed after Andy barged into Jane’s blandly decorated bedroom and discovered her dancing to Black Sabbath’s “Lady Evil.” The Westons were a god-fearing couple and they were not at all pleased about the “ward” in their care listening to the devil’s music. And so, 15-year-old Jane had been forced into one Bible study group after the other—all of them led by Preacher Warren.

In the years since he had found her abandoned on the church steps, Preacher Warren had aged prematurely. As the lines on his face deepened and his hair thinned, his temper got shorter. Most of his Bible study groups included fevered screaming about damnation and eternal suffering. Yet Jane never complained about attending his sessions, she enjoyed it, especially all the fire and brimstone stuff. Preacher Warren’s rants were extremely entertaining and it was thanks to him that she had discovered the artwork of Hieronymus Bosch.

Preacher Warren firmly believed in the power of fear and he obsessively searched for unique ways to terrorize his congregation—especially the poor souls who attended his Bible studies. One day, Preacher Warren had passed around postcards portraying an oil painting titled “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by an artist named Hieronymus Bosch. The painting was filled with depictions of deprivation—most of it sexual in nature—and many demonic figures of assorted shapes and sizes. Most of the unfortunate churchgoers were horrified by the artistic hellscape but Jane was nothing short of enraptured.

Brereton was not a town that placed much emphasis on art. Had it not been for the furor of Preacher Warren, Jane most likely never would have found out about the 16th-century Dutch painter who had so aptly illustrated the creatures in her dreams. As soon as she saw his work Jane immediately understood that Hieronymus Bosch had obviously seen the same beings that she did. Some of the depictions had been so exact that they had taken her breath away! Although Preacher Warren had been trying to scare her, he had actually provoked her curiosity in all-things-demonic and turned her into a life-long admirer of Bosch. Years later, when she acquired the Internet, she spent hours observing each and every one of his demon-laced pieces.

As Jane pulled into her modest home’s driveway and switched off her car’s engine she smiled, just thinking about the mesmerizing painting delighted her. The postcard was now sitting atop her mantle, claiming the honorable position that it deserved. Jane always took the time to admire it as soon as she got home. She hoped it would help her dream of dancing with the demons every night which was usually the highlight of her otherwise loathsome days.

* * * * * *

That night Jane awoke with a start to the sound of the wailing wind. She clutched instinctively at the silver key which she kept hidden in the pocket of her pajama top—no one was going to take her treasure! When she glanced out the bedroom window she saw a distant light in the woods. Jane still lived in the house that she had grown up in. She had inherited it from Elmira and Andy when they passed on. Andy first from a sudden heart attack at age 68, Elmira seven years later after a long bout with emphysema. Jane didn’t miss them nor had she felt much pain or grief at their departure. She had been rather relieved, in fact. Life was less troublesome without them. But in all the years spent in the house, Jane had never known anyone to light a fire in the woods, especially on cold, windy, snowy nights. This was something very unusual—something that warranted immediate investigation.

Jane hopped out of bed and quickly dressed in her warmest parka. Donning gloves, she bounded out into the snow holding nothing but a flashlight. In the back of her mind she knew that she ought to be afraid but, on some deeper level, she knew that she was going to be okay. That light was intended for her. It was calling to her. It was inviting her.

Jane trudged through the snow for what seemed like an eternity but she barely felt the air’s bitter chill. She heard movement all around her and, from the corners of her eyes, thought she saw misshapen snow figures scurrying between the tree trunks, snickering. Jane giggled too—this was quite an adventure!

As she fought her way through the ever-climbing snowbanks, Jane spied a small ramshackle cabin that the light was emanating from. She thought that she had explored every inch of the woods but clearly she was mistaken because she had never seen the old cabin before. It looked quite ancient. As she got closer to it Jane could smell a fireplace mixed with something else—something that smelled absolutely exquisite, like roasting meat.

The door was made of wood that looked as old as time. Jane gripped the iron door handle and pulled only to discover that it was locked. At first, a crushing sense of disappointment rained down upon her but then she remembered the key! As her fingers shook with anticipation, she slid the key into the lock and turned. With a “click” the door creaked open. She had solved the riddle of its purpose.

Jane stepped into the cabin with excitement pulsing through her veins. To her surprise, the cabin was empty except for a small lit fireplace embedded in the right wall and a spiraling staircase that led downward. This was something entirely unexpected since Jane could have sworn that cabins rarely had basements. From the bowels below came the sounds of music and laughter mingled with bright lights and good smells. Jane immediately started her descent.

The steep and seemingly endless staircase twisted and turned like a conch shell. Carved between walls of pure red rock, the steps shone with a golden glow. When Jane eventually got to the bottom she gasped in disbelief at the scene before her: she was standing in a landscape that looked very similar to the “Garden of Earthly Delights” from Bosch’s painting. There were dark caverns but there were also patches of oasis filled with beautiful clear water and lush green vegetation. The creatures from her dreams abounded in the abstract scenery. Most of them were naked, dancing and singing, or drinking and eating.

As soon as she stepped off the staircase they all turned to face her.

“JANE!” they serenaded and bowed down to her.

Before Jane could react, booming footsteps shook the cavern and the sea of demons parted to make way for a huge creature with blue skin and several arms, numerous eyes, and many rows of sharp teeth. The creature wore a silky black cape and a thorny crown. Jane instantly recognized its shape as being the same as the snow figure that had graced her lawn. The creature approached her and extended one of its hands. Jane noticed that its fingers were adorned with dozens of sparkling rings.

“I am Zaakdor, King of the Underlands,” he declared. “You have seen me in your dreams, yes?”

Jane nodded ecstatically.

“Did you make all of the figures in the snow and leave the keys?” she questioned.

Zaakdor nodded.

“In Brereton?” Jane stammered. “There must be better places than this!”

Zaakdor shrugged. “There’s sugar here. We like sugar. Some might even say that we are addicted to it.”

Jane observed that most of the demons were covered in sugar; many were greedily licking it from their hands and garments. They reminded her of kids in a candy store.

“I do hope that you liked our snow sculptures,” Zaakdor continued. “Each one was the exact likeliness of my most devoted followers. They were sent as an invitation to you.”

“But everyone in town had a figure on their lawn and a key in the mailbox,” Jane protested.

Zaakdor waved his arms dismissively.

“It was just a bit of fun,” he answered. “Scaring mortals is amazingly amusing. Besides, I knew that you would be the only one clever enough to catch on…the only one special enough. After all, I am searching for a queen.”

“But surely there are female demons!” Jane exclaimed, awestruck. “Wouldn’t they be better matches for you than I, a mere mortal? Why would you bestow such an honor on me?”

“Haven’t you always heard our whispers and visited our world in your dreams?” Zaakdor replied. “You are one of us, Jane, and you’ve known it all your life.”

Jane felt herself blush and hoped that her crimson complexion would be unnoticeable in the hot landscape. It was Hell but it was beautiful and alluring. Jane already knew that she never wanted to leave.

“Imagine a world without boredom or routine or monotony,” Zaakdor commanded. “Every moment of every day here is a festival! Come, my prize, let me show you!”

Jane allowed the demon to take her in his arms. They spent what seemed like an eternity dancing to heavy metal tunes, frolicking amid the forbidden fruits of the twisted trees, and drinking from the plentiful fountains. Then they dined on the most exquisite and exotic meat that Jane had ever tasted. It was pure bliss.

After the meal was finished, Zaakdor handed Jane a crumpled piece of paper with dried blood on it. Jane squinted as she strained to read the strange language printed on the paper. “Drevozpracujici Druzstvo is a company that produces wood lumber and board materials in the Czech Republic,” Zaakdor explained. “One of my Lordesses got her human mate from there. He’s here with us now.”

A chill crept up Jane’s spine. Vaguely she remembered watching a news report about a Czech lumber worker who went crazy and murdered a number of other loggers before killing himself. Most of the bodies had been dismembered, some were never found. Jane was fairly certain that the company the man worked for had been the same as the one printed on the bloodied piece of paper.

“I can give you everything you want,” Zaakdor declared. “Riches, power, everlasting excitement….even youth.”

As he spoke, a smaller demon with a stick-like body, six eyes, and a birdlike beak held a mirror in front of Jane. To her amazement she looked thirty years younger, sixteen at most! She squealed with glee as Zaakdor continued his speech:

“This can be your home too,” Zaakdor proclaimed. “Would you like that?”

“Yes!” Jane exclaimed.

“Provided that you agree to my terms I think we can reach an agreement,” the demon king replied.

“ANYTHING!” Jane wailed.

Zaakdor chuckled.

“Eagerness, I like that in a lady. What I most desire are people, preferably pure and innocent ones. The sinless tend to provide the best souls and most delicious meat…as you now know.”

Jane recoiled. She had not considered that the meat she had dined upon was human. Then again, what did it matter? A meal that delicious was nothing to scorn no matter where it came from!

“Some generations are tastier than others,” Zaakdor said conversationally. “We had grand feasts in 1930 and 1990. Now I think it’s high time for another.”

Jane remembered looking up Brereton’s population record and seeing severe dips in the populace in both 1930 and 1990. She had always assumed that it was due to people leaving town during the depression and recession yet now it was obvious that some unfortunates had also been devoured by demons.

“How about children?” Jane suggested. “Would they be tasty enough for you, my love?”

Zaakdor licked his lips, clearly pleased. Apparently children were an especially desirable flavor.

Jane knew what needed to be done.

* * * * * *

Reluctantly she ascended the staircase, knowing that the quicker she finished her earthly duties the faster she could return to the euphoria of the demon’s realm. It was already dawn when she ran through the snowy forest, unmindful of the cold and ice, determined only to reach the woodshed and fetch her axe. She had already sharpened the blade. It was ready for action.

After years of consuming media fixated on murderers, Jane finally understood their motives. The Czech man hadn’t been crazy—he’d been enlightened, just like she was now. Nothing ever happened in Brereton but now SHE was going to MAKE some things happen!

There was carnage in the hours that ensued.

She went to Gullander’s Hardware Store first. The grizzled owner barely had time to register her presence before she sank the axe into his chest. Relieved that there was no one else present to massacre, Jane rummaged through the aisles collecting plastic bags and the ropes that she would need to restrain the children who she intended to bring back to the Underlands alive. The demons would decide whether to keep them as slaves or eat them. Jane had no preference one way or the other.

Next, she went to Lefty’s Liquors. She couldn’t imagine returning to the Underlands without booze since the demons would surely savor alcohol. Lefty’s Liquors was busier than the hardware store. Several lapsed A.A veterans—not that there was anything actually anonymous about who were alcoholics in a town as small as Brereton—always seemed to be stumbling around nearby regardless of the weather conditions nor the time of day. With ease, Jane dispatched two drunks and Lefty himself. Then she scooped up dozens of bottles of vodka and whiskey and gin.

Before exiting Lefty’s, Jane butchered the corpses of the slaughtered winos and collected their meatiest parts in a large plastic bag. Although such characters could hardly be called sinless, their constant intake of liquor might have marinated their flesh to tender perfection. Jane assumed that the demons would know how to make a lovely potluck out of such human remains.

Trudging through the snow in her blood-soaked boots, Jane ventured into Drayton Drug. The shop was already decked out in Christmas décor and the festive atmosphere irked her. She had never cared for Christmas. Santa had never come to her because, as her adoptive parents said, she was evil.

“Lady Evil,” Jane whispered and crackled as she struck a blue-haired elderly shopper with her hatchet and then split the young pharmacist in half.

She proceeded to raid the prescription medication counter. She strongly assumed that the demons would be delighted by the pills.

Lastly, she headed towards the school, her final earthly destination. Jane’s joy was indescribable. Once these deeds were done she would be gone from Brereton forever, having achieved her ticket back to Hell—her wicked little slice of heaven.

* * * * * *

The following day the news relayed the story to the shocked public. Jane Weston, 46, had gone on a murderous rampage in the tiny town of Brereton, North Dakota, leaving ten people dead and fourteen wounded. Before being fatally shot by police, Jane had attempted to kidnap several small children from an elementary school. Local residents claimed that Jane had long battles with depression and mental instability and had spent her last hour alive ranting about demons…

She had accepted her invitation.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Meagan J. Meehan
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Meagan J. Meehan

Publisher's Notes: N/A

This story is part of an ongoing doctoral research study being conducted by the author, in which she’s working to determine whether or not readers and listeners can learn advanced words via reading fictional narratives. If you'd like to participate in the study, please click here to access the author's short survey. On behalf of the author, thanks for your help!

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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