📅 Published on March 23, 2022


Written by Christopher Howard “Slimebeast” Wolf
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
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 2 votes.
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I used to go hiking to clear my mind.

It was nothing extraordinary.  No backpack, no walking stick, no geo-locator app on my phone – just casual walks through White Leaf park.  It wasn’t so much a hobby for me as it was a way to pass the time, if that makes sense—something to do and enjoy without placing any real expectations on it.  Sometimes I’d spend hours watching the new crop of butterflies migrating; other afternoons, I’d just take a brisk stroll to forget about a specific customer at work.

I worked in sales, as a cashier, specifically.  Good Books, the soulless chain store that changed its name to BOOX!, exclamation mark included, for a brief period in 2006.  When I was a teenager, it seemed like an easy job with the added benefit of getting my hands on new releases before anyone else.  In my twenties, however, the charm of reading the latest committee-scripted franchise novel was a lot less appealing.  I started spending more time staring at the kiosk of adult calendars than anything else.

If you ever want to know what it’s like to feel alone in a public place, work in a book store.  It has all the deathly quiet of a library, combined with the social ineptitude of every awkward introvert you avoided in high school.  Lord help you if you start a conversation with anyone, at any time, because they’re going to explain their favorite author or preferred genre of literature as if you haven’t heard of it.  All you can do is nod periodically.

It was around sunset when I went to White Leaf that night.  There was a spot where I liked to chill out, maybe work through a few pages of a tale I wasn’t actually very interested in, and convince myself that the world was still a magical place beyond the beige walls of my self-made consumerist prison.

I don’t know if it was because of the waning light, but I think it took several minutes for me to realize I was on the wrong path.  Instead of the normal gravel bed that had been laid out by the park service, I found myself on a foot-beaten rut of dark soil walled by knee-high weeds.  Realizing I must have let my mind wander enough to get moderately lost, I turned around and headed back.

Still, the path progressed deeper into the trees.  Even after completely turning the way I’d just come from, I still seemed to be going the wrong way.  As the setting sun dropped below the leaves and night started to creep in, I found mild relief in a small clearing.  From there, I could check for landmarks and get a better idea of where I was.  At the end of the day, which was now literally approaching, I could always just swallow my pride and phone someone for help.

I hadn’t been in that specific clearing before; that much was immediately clear.  A large, blue-green pond lay at the center of the area, ringed with cattails and milkweed.  Dragonflies skimmed the water, leaving a labyrinthine pattern in their tiny wakes.  I had stumbled onto a nature painting, but all I cared about at the moment was getting back on track.

I had just given up on figuring out where I was when I heard the bubbles.  A burst of air swelled up from the otherwise still body of water, breaking the silence with a wet belch so raucous that left my feet for a moment.

Turning from the glow of my phone to the dimly moonlit pond, I quickly prepared to run from whatever primordial animal had made its home there.  I hadn’t seen an alligator in the park and wasn’t even sure if they lived there, but the thought had crossed my mind every time I passed any hidden body of water.

Instead, I watched a fluttering expanse of pure white float to the surface.



Shrouded in the white, I could see a human form.  Someone had fallen in, and the air that had escaped must have been their last breath before drowning.  All fear of aquatic reptiles and distaste for leeches flew free from my head as I rushed to the pond’s edge.  My haste was dampened as the slog through muck and push-back of water against my legs turned a heroic dash into an awkward waddle.

As I came out, dragging the limp body as best I could, my eyes searched frantically for the path back out of the area.  There would be no way I could call 911 and give accurate directions at that point.  In the heat of the moment, it seemed like there was no longer any path at all.

Moving the cloth from the drowning victim’s face, I found yet another dreadful mockery of my fragile concept of reality.  The body was long dead.  Emaciated.  Beyond any sort of identification.  Eyes rotted out into dark pits, stringy hair clumped and matted.  There was absolutely no way this was a recent cadaver.

My grip loosened from sheer shock and disgust, and in a final act of defiance against the laws of nature, the thing grasped onto me instead.

“Never return to this place.”  Its rasping voice croaked, water spilling from its fetid mouth.

I jumped to my feet and, turning away from the horrifying thing, took one of the many paths that now lead into the thick brush around me.  I screamed, called for help, yelled unintelligible, cowardly things.  All the while, the voice called out from the shore of that cursed pond.


I stopped an attendant at the park exist and gave him a more conservative run-down of what I had found.  He seemed more interested in getting back to picking up trash.  I let it go easily, convinced that saying anything at all was more than should be expected of me in that situation.

It was their problem, now.  Fair warning.

I stayed out of the park after that.  I had no interest in going back, and it wasn’t just because of the warning that sopping abomination had uttered.  No one needed to tell me to stay away after that.

I was distant after that.  Lost in my own repetitive thoughts and trapped in a spiral of internal dread that I couldn’t express to another living soul.  I phoned it in at work, even more so than before, and I went straight home afterward to wrap myself up in bed and – what else – read.

That glassy-eyed malaise made it all the more confusing when, out of the blue, my boss made a confusing offer.

The company, Good Books, was looking for a new “Regional Buyer.”  Someone to oversee the largely automated system of selecting and purchasing products to be shelved in various outlets across the country.  As I was told, it was a position that should have been phased out long ago but didn’t seem to get enough attention to be dealt with.  Basically, I would be getting paid a much larger salary, with benefits, in return for clicking an “Approved” button as needed.

I could do it from my damned phone, if I wanted to.

The boss wanted to recommend me for the position.  He was close to retirement and didn’t have the desire to “learn computer,” otherwise he would’ve taken the position himself.  When I asked why he wanted me, of all people, he said something won’t forget.

“You’re a smart guy, and you don’t belong stuck here.  A little voice told me to pick you.”

Suddenly, there was a newer and much more pleasant event in my life to focus on.  I won’t say I forgot all about the horrific encounter.  No, that’s definitely going to stick with me forever, and even then, I knew it.  However, if I concentrated on it enough, the job opportunity was exciting enough to consume my thoughts.

That same night, I broke a personal rule.  I accepted a party invitation from one of my fellow wage slaves.  He congratulated me on the possible promotion, then dropped mention that he was going to a “sick college party” that night.  I don’t know if he meant we should celebrate or if he just wanted to bring up that he, too, was going to have a good night.  Either way, he asked if I’d be interested and agreed to attend.  (I could always be a prick and decide not to go later on, anyway.)

When he said “a little voice” said I might like to go, I considered the idea he had overheard the conversation I had earlier.

I feel like I’ve always stuck out at parties, but it might just be in my own head.  It’s entirely possible that the awkwardness goes unnoticed by everyone else, especially if they’re trying to hide their own shortcomings as well.  Still, every conversation that night was on some pop culture topic I knew nothing about, and I wasn’t even sure how anyone could hold a conversation above the host’s horrible, blaring soundtrack.

Before I knew it, I found myself naturally retreating to the rooms with the smallest amounts of party-goers, furthest away from the noise.  I ended up in someone’s bedroom, a place I wouldn’t have dared invade if not for the fact that a few others had already hidden there.

I mean, I know other people were in the room…but for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you who they were or anything about them.

Except for her, of course — a leggy, cool-as-ice girl with glossy black hair and tortoiseshell glasses.  She was reclining on the bed as if she owned the place and was leafing through an old Lovecraft collection she must’ve found on a dusty shelf.

“Hey.”  I gave a quick, out-of-place nod.  “Great party, huh?”

I tried to sound sarcastic since both of us were obviously hiding from it, but I think it came across as tragically sincere.

“Thrilling,” she replied, eyes still on the book.  Her sarcastic tone was on point, but I was just happy to get a response.

“Lovecraft, huh?”  I choked back a sudden tickle in my throat that nearly set off an unattractive coughing fit, “Ehm – Old Gods are the best Gods, am I right?”

She slowly lowered the book and looked up at me with wide eyes.

“You…” she arched a brow, tilting her head to the side, “You’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, too?”

I nodded enthusiastically as she turned her attention back away from me.

“Wooww,” the sarcasm struck out again like a serpent that had lain coiled in her throat.  “This must be fate.”

I felt my face turn red.  I knew I’d make an ass of myself that night, but that was a new level of gut-wrenching.

I was about to turn and clumsily push my way out the door when she looked up at me again.  She scooted over, dropped the book onto the other side of the bed, and patted for me to sit next to her.

“Read to me.  My eyes are tired.”

Fittingly enough, her name was Paige.

It would be a year and a half later, after we were engaged when I finally asked exactly why she decided to humor me that night.

“There was this little voice that told me to give you a second chance.”

I want to say my life was perfect, but that wouldn’t do it justice.  No one really wants a perfect life.  The flaws are what make everything work, you know?  The job paid well and allowed me the freedom to start planning my own business…but reading through lists of orders and okaying each one was boring as Hell.  Paige was a goddamned dream, but we had our disagreements from time to time – mostly over what to name our cat.  The house we moved into was beautiful, with a spacious lawn and great neighbors who didn’t bother us.  However, the pipes needed work, and the seller had neglected to tell us the attic was a popular home for yellow jackets.

It was perfect, but not too perfect to enjoy.

That “little voice” had done well for me.  The realtor heard it when he decided to show us that property, which he was thinking of saving for a friend.  The lady at the animal shelter heard the voice when she pulled our kitty off of death row and decided we would be the one family that might actually keep him.

It didn’t take too many examples of the voice before I connected it back to that night in the pond.

I didn’t understand it, not entirely, but I had read enough to recognize the general premise.  It was possible…just barely possible…that I had made some kind of contract with whatever eldritch being I had encountered.  By finding it or trying to save it, or freeing it from its watery grave in some way, I unknowingly entered into a deal that changed my life for the better.

My mind swapped things around a bit, and in order to make sense of it all, I started thinking of the thing as a genie or guardian angel.  The dead and panic I felt in that moment?  Why not just sort of push those feelings to the back of my mind and enjoy the idea that it was less horrifying than I was making it out to be?  Sometimes, your brain avoids bad thoughts or memories on its own – but I was more than willing to just let it happen.

In my spare time, I watched a lot of do-it-yourself videos online.  I turned a spare room into a small library for Paige and pretended it was a surprise even though I’m sure she would sneak in there when I wasn’t home and check on the progress.  She was way too inquisitive to let anything lie and had zero tolerance for being told what to do.  I fucking loved it.

It confused me when she’d cry at night.

Everything was perfectly imperfect.  I had everything I wanted.  I was happy.

Why wasn’t she?

I woke up a few times to hear her weeping softly in the adjacent bathroom.  When I passed the library I’d built for her, I could hear her crying beyond the locked door.  Her sadness was the one flaw I couldn’t stand – I didn’t want her to be in pain.  I didn’t ask what was wrong because each time I heard her, I should have been asleep or at least not spying on her.  It was a difficult subject to get my head around.

Then, I accidentally stepped on the landmine.

We were having breakfast, sitting across from each other as she buried her nose in an embarrassing young adult novel that made her roll her eyes and chortle every few minutes.  I had just watched a video about building a playroom.  The site had recommended it, and the designs looked interesting.

“You know,” I chewed thoughtfully on burnt toast, “We’ve never really talked about having kids.”

The book snapped shut.  Paige drew a sharp breath in through her nose, and in seconds I watched her eyes fill with tears.

“Honey?  What’s wrong?”

She all but collapsed in sobs.

She couldn’t have children.  I tried to be as sensitive as I could, given the bomb that had been dropped on me.  It was a casual thought I had expressed, nothing serious, but now I had brought on something terrible.  Nothing I said could console her, from insisting that I didn’t care, to reminding her that I loved her more than anything, to suggesting that if she ever wanted to, we could adopt.

I spit out a frantic litany of promises and possibilities as I knelt on the kitchen floor next to her chair and held her in my arms.  Not in a million years would I have imagined that such a non-traditional person secretly held such a traditional desire.

Nothing I could say was enough to make it better.

From that point forward, I didn’t think of that corpse in the lake as my personal genie.  This was the twist—the price for my Faustian bargain.  I could be happy, eternally happy, but the woman I loved wouldn’t be.  I could have whatever I wanted, but Paige just got me – and I knew I wasn’t enough, even if she didn’t.

The breaking point was when I found her dream book.  It was tucked away on a shelf in the library, a completely unremarkable beige journal you’d pick up in any given craft store.  I didn’t intend to read it; I wouldn’t break our trust like that.  However, when I noticed she had been putting it away one night after a crying session, I decided to at least check out what the book was.

When I removed it from the shelf to look for a title, three pictures fell out and scattered on the floor.  They had been cut out of magazines.  Women with dark hair, glasses, similar to Paige.  All holding their newborn children.

I was emotionally destroyed.  All of the hopeless yearning that had been imbued in that book pulsed through me in waves of black melancholy.

I let anger take over.  Anger toward life, toward fate, toward the dead wretch that had cursed me in a way so devious that I mistook it for a blessing.

After loading some light hiking gear into the car, I told Paige that I wanted to take her out for a special surprise.  Something that would be fun, “just because.”  In true form, she refused to go without knowing everything – but I was eventually able to convince her to trust me.  With a reasonable amount of sighing and groaning, we were off.

“Where are we going?” she asked periodically.

“Not telling.” I would reply, doing my best to sound joyfully mischievous.

“I get to ask 20 questions, and you have to answer them.”


“Let me hold your phone for a second; I need check something.”

“I don’t have the destination marked on it.  Nice try, though.”

As we got closer to the park, she grew quiet.  I could tell that her mind was working.  I could almost hear the gears grinding.  Not knowing something drove her crazy, but if I told her where we were headed or why, then I’d be the crazy one.

The glare she gave me when we drove into the parking lot at White Leaf could’ve frozen magma.

“You’re not serious.”  She folded her arms.

“Trust me.”

I knew there was a 99% chance I wouldn’t find that clearing again.  In that case, I was prepared to explain that I wanted to show her my favorite reading spot from the days before we’d met.  I’d come up with some romantic words about nature and time and spending our lives together – and I’d mean every word of it.  The real goal of that trip could easily be hidden away if it didn’t work out.

The sun was setting again by the time I noticed we had gotten off the established trails.

“I don’t think we should keep going,” Paige noted, and in any other circumstance, I would have completely agreed.

“I want to show you something.  It’s just a bit further.”

The clearing opened up in front of us.  The pond was as calm and foreboding as I had remembered.  A chill ran through my body, and it wasn’t due to the crisp night air.  I heard Paige crunching the leaves behind me as I led her to the edge of the water.

“Okay, so…” I started, unsure of what to actually say.  “Just bear with me on this for a bit.”

I looked into the water but couldn’t see past its inky surface.  The moonlight wasn’t helping.

“Hey!” I called out.  “Look, I know what you did, okay?  I know what you’ve done for me, and I think I get what’s going on.  Every gift has its price, and all that.  Standard folk tale stuff…”

“You need to stop.” Paige chided.  I ignored her; I knew what I was doing.

“Just give that same gift to my fiancée, Paige.  Okay?  Like, set her up with the deal.  A perfect life, little voices, all that.  Can’t you let her have what she wants more than anything?”

Nothing stirred in the pond.  In the distance, a frog croaked its unnecessary reply.

I stood at the water’s edge for as long as I could stand the icy silence.  Reluctantly, I shut my eyes tight, grimaced at my own ignorant failure, and turned to explain away what must’ve looked like sheer insanity.

“I said never,” Paige moaned.  The sorrow in her voice was heavy.

When I looked back at her, I stumbled backward, landing in the murky water.

It was her, but it wasn’t her.  Paige stood with her head hung low, a blurred, fading smudge on the face of the universe.

All at once, I was looking at the decaying body that had haunted my subconscious for so long.

“Never,” she repeated, water cascading over exposed, yellowed teeth.  “Never-ever-ever-ever-ever-ever-ever!”

I felt myself sink backward into the muck, as the pond enveloped me and blocked out my senses.  Choking and gasping for air, I dragged myself up from the water and pulled on fistfuls of rugged weeds until I managed to drag myself out.

It was gone.  She was gone.


I still have the job…the house…the cat.  Nothing disappeared, or anything like that.  The lack of “magic” in my life is shockingly evident, even though I didn’t fully recognize it when it was there.  It’s obvious that something very rare and special is absent.

I haven’t been able to find the clearing again.  I went to White Leaf every day for the following three months, and I mean it when I say EVERY day.  Now, I hike out each week, so I can camp out and search for full 24-hour periods.  I’m not going to stop, even though I know in my heart that I won’t find it again.

Once in a while, a little voice tells me to give up.

I won’t listen to it.  Never-ever-ever.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Christopher Howard “Slimebeast” Wolf
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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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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