The Last Bite

The Last Bite

My dreams are strange. Sometimes I slip between worlds by accident. Between lives. Maybe I don’t really go anywhere. Maybe it’s just random synapses of my brain firing off while I rest, idling before the new day. Whether you believe it or not, I’d like to share one of these wanderings with you because I think there’s something here that belongs to you.

I had an argument with something that called itself Death. I’ll retell it to you as well as I can remember ….

I’m in one of those reincarnation dreams I have so often. Rewinding and fast-forwarding through lives and exploring the spaces between. Longing for loved ones I’ve never met and trying to find the exact place where I left them just to see them again. Missing the me I’ve never been before and trying to figure out how to put him back together.

I’ve lost my wife again for the hundredth time and I’m trying to get back to her in the right shape so she will recognize me, and suddenly I’m in darkness. Complete darkness. What happened? Did I break the dream somehow? 

The darkness isn’t empty. It doesn’t feel alive but it has a weight to it. A presence. A cold black velvet fog that slows my thoughts. It pulls the energy straight out of my flesh and leaves me as a chilled pile of wet clay. I’m so tired. I hate being tired in my dreams. It doesn’t seem fair.

I can’t conjure up anything to see or any path to explore. I can’t think of anything I would want to do anyway. Too much effort. It’s all too much. I just want to melt into the darkness and not think anymore. Not be anymore.

Ah. This is familiar.

“Hello Depression,” I sigh into the black.

I feel it smile. I can’t see the expression but I know. Like I’m sitting in its mouth and I can feel the walls twist.

“Go away,” I say. “I want to go back to my dream.”

“No,” it replies. Its voice ripples. A gust of wind across an almost-frozen lake. I can’t pick out any one tone. It fluctuates. “You came here. You go away,” it continues.

I’ve overslept my alarm. I know that. Being winter in Finland, there will be no sunshine. We will be buried in snow, even more than there was when I went to bed. The street lights might even be on already. What can I even do with my day that matters? I’m an unpublished writer with crippling mental health issues, unable to even hold a “real” job. 

It’s still smiling. “I’ve trained you so well,” it says, amused. “I hardly have to do anything anymore these days. You defeat yourself for me before you even get out of bed. A little nudge and you ruin everything for yourself.”

I think about the chores that need doing. That would at least be useful to someone. But I’m tired. I haven’t even opened my eyes yet and I’m tired.  “I don’t want to wake up,” I mutter.

“Then don’t,” it says. “You know it’s pointless. Even if you finish a chore, it will need to be done again the next day. The next hour even. You can’t win. Even at the small things.”

“Just shut up,” I say and I sit down. I have no idea what I’m sitting on in the dark and I don’t want to think about it. 

It says nothing. The silence yawns. It doesn’t help. I can still feel it watching me. I’m angry and the anger warms me. Maybe I can make some use of the situation. I give it a try.

“What are you anyway?” I ask it.

“I am Death,” it says. “I am the Great Consumption. The Inevitable. The End.”

“No you’re not.” I fold my arms in defiance. “Death isn’t malicious. Death doesn’t go around killing people on purpose.”

“Doesn’t it?” it asks me.

“No.” I persist. “Not for fun. Not like you do. Besides, people die of lots of things, not just Depression.”

“It’s all the same in the end,” it says. I feel it shrug. “I devour everything.”

“I don’t believe you,” I tell it. “You lie all the time.”

“Keep telling yourself that if you like,” it says. “It won’t change the outcome. You believe me anyway and you continue doing what I want regardless of how much you protest. I always win. I win every time someone lets out their last breath. All I have to do is wait and I win.”

“Then why do you always have to try so hard?” I snap back. 

For a moment, it doesn’t answer. “What do you mean?” it says finally. The amusement is gone from its voice, replaced by something prickly.

“Why do you expend so much effort circling around me all day?” I press my question. “Why do you have to keep chewing on me like that? Telling me I’m garbage and that nothing I do matters and that it’s all too much effort and nobody will appreciate it anyway. It’s a constant,  never-ending stream of pressure from you, every day, all day. Why do you go to so much trouble if all you really have to do is wait?”

It says nothing but I can feel it thinking. Something in the mist rolls and boils against my skin. It’s cold and damp as ever, but the warmth in my chest is growing. It gets to gnaw on me until the day I die so why can’t I turn around and bite it back just this once? 

“Wait and win, isn’t that what you said?” I turn my legs and sit up on my knees. “If victory is inevitable, why don’t you just sit back and wait for me to die like everybody else? If you really are Death like you say you are, then you’d just wait to receive the fallen when their time is done. But you don’t.” I clench my fists. 

“You’re always circling around, whispering your trash in my ears, pushing down on me, sucking out my energy, filling my head with fog and lies. Why do you have to try so hard?” I thump my fists against the ground and it hurts my knuckles. Like punching ice. 

I’m exhausted and I’m panting like I’ve run for miles but my breath is hot and the cold dark is barely touching me now. Just little wisps against my shoulders here and my feet there. I can’t see anything, but … is it pulling back from me?

“Because it’s fun to watch you struggle,” it whispers. The voice is above me, I think. The little hairs on the back of my neck stand up. “Everyone tries different strategies against me. The fight is exciting. They always fail, but it’s interesting to see exactly how it will happen.”

It brushes against me on either side like wet wings made of cobwebs. I wrap my arms around myself and rub my skin with my hands, trying to banish the numbness. How many times have I dove headlong into that vacuum of feeling just to escape that damned voice? I don’t want to give it the satisfaction. Not this time. 

“So, you just like seeing how the story plays out then?” I ask. “A little tragedy play with your meal?”

“Now you’re getting the idea,” it says. I feel the smile again. The fog caresses my back like a dead fish. “It adds to the flavour. Each death is a unique dish.”

“You’re lying again,” I snarl. I force myself up to my feet. I wobble. So tired. So weak. I can hear little chuckles hovering around me in the darkness but it makes the anger in my gut flare. “Life is hard enough without your interference.” The tittering gets louder, as if more voices are joining in. 

“If you really enjoyed watching me struggle, you’d want it to go on for as long as possible. You have all the struggles of every living thing to watch. If you wanted an epic battle, each and every life is a saga of trials and victories and defeats. But you want to cut my story short. Why?”

Silence. I turn in a slow circle, wanting a face to address, but there’s nothing to see. The darkness watches.

“If you really are Death and you tell me that struggling makes people delicious, then why don’t you want me to live as long as possible?” I shout my question and there’s enough space around me to echo. It’s there still. I can feel it in the air, the way my voice vibrates and comes back to me. But it’s not touching me anymore. 

“You should want me at full power, accomplishing my goals, hoping, praying, failing, getting back up again, cursing, striving, building a legend for your banquet instead of settling for the dregs of someone too tired to even try.” 

There are tears on my face, I realize. I’m too afraid to wipe them away because they’re warm and alive and they feel like something real. Memories of all the mornings that passed me by while I hid under the blankets are choking me. The exhaustion. The fear of failure. The disappointment. The disgust of catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. The grey hairs marching through my scalp, recruiting more and more as I run out of time to create just one. god. damned.  thing.  for people to remember me by.

It’s all wrapping around my throat and my chest and squeezing. Shoving down on my head and my shoulders until I have to put my palms on my knees just to stay standing. My own brain is begging me to just let it end. Just let it take me down. Anything is better than feeling this way. Oblivion is a kindness when the only alternative is pain. All I have to do to make it stop is just submit.

“Submit.” I can’t tell if it said that to me or if it’s my own mind trying to shut down. Trying to escape.

Somewhere, on the other side of the darkness, my wife is at her computer. I can’t see her or hear her but I know she’s there. 

“And every project you’ve left undone. And everyone who hates you and thinks you’re a freak. And the family who adopted you only to kick you to the curb when they found out what a disappointment you are.” 

It’s got to be talking to me. It wants me to think I’m doing this to myself but I’m not. I know I’m not. 

“And everyone who has to support your useless life because you’re too broken to contribute anything of value. You are a burden. A drain. Submit and let me have you.”

Come and get me yourself!” 

The pressure slackens. I take a breath. Then another. 

“You can’t!” I scream at it. “You can’t take me if I don’t let you!”

I don’t care if it thinks this is fun anymore. I’m furious. Just this once, I won’t obediently slide down its gullet like a good little morsel. I’m going to dig my claws into its throat all the way down.

“You’re not Death. You’re not inevitable. You’re a parasite!” Wrath burns in my belly. “You’re so pathetic you can’t kill your own prey! You can only feed once you’ve convinced someone else to kill it for you!”

It’s not squeezing me anymore. There is pressure building, but it’s coming from inside of me.

“Tell me I’m wrong!” I raise my fists. “Answer me!”

My demands go unanswered. 

“You don’t want a legend to eat do you?” I continue. “You can’t handle one. That’s why you don’t want me to live a long and full life. You don’t want me to leave a legacy because you can’t eat that!”

There’s a sharp sound. Like a gust of wind pulled backward. I’m terrified that I’ve made a mistake. That another assault is coming. But I can’t stop. If it has the power to end me then let it do it now. I’m so tired of living my life on my knees.

“You want complete victory. You want all of me, and you can’t eat other people’s memories of me.” 

I’m right. I know I’m right. I have to be. I push harder.

“You can’t have all of Robin Williams because millions of people have seen him and laughed and they remember. You can’t have all of Chester Bennington because you can’t erase every recording of his voice. You can’t have all of Alan Turing because you can’t un-invent the Turing Machine and you can’t rip him out of millions of textbooks. We have the films, we have the books, we have the memories and you can’t swallow us all!”

It’s shaking now. I can feel it all around me. Tremors in the ground and in the air. I wait.

“You’re going to build a legacy then?” it says finally. The resonance in its voice is gone and it sounds farther away now. Above and behind me. 

“Why not?” I answer. “I have nothing better to do with this life.”

“A legacy of what?” it scoffs. “Scooping cat litter? Sweeping floors? Fetching groceries and all the cute little tasks you think are so very essential and appreciated?” 

“Everybody does chores,” I bite back. “And nobody finishes them all every day, every week, every month. Everybody has projects left undone. That’s not a sign of failure. That’s everyday life. Your expectations are unreasonable! And even if they weren’t, I’m not letting you set the benchmarks for me. What have you accomplished today, hm?”


“Well? All you do is talk. Even I do more than that.” I’m warm now, I realize. I don’t think I’m actually wearing anything but even the clamminess of the ground isn’t reaching my feet anymore. I can’t tell if I can see a faint glow around me or if my eyes are playing tricks in the dark.

“Fine,” it sighs. “Maybe you’ll actually finish and publish one book before you die. Maybe five or ten people will actually read it. Maybe they’ll even enjoy it. But then their lives will end as well and no one will remember anymore.”

“Still one more book than you’ve ever written,” I snap. “Got anything else for me? Hm? These are schoolyard jabs and I’ll remind you that those didn’t break me either.” I’m almost sure I can see a faint outline of myself. Well, it’s a dream. Why not? I lift my chin and stare into the blackness.

“There is nothing you can do that will leave a lasting impact on this world,” it says. Irritation sharpens the words. 

“Tell that to the guys I’ve talked out of suicide.” I bare my teeth in challenge. 

“Two or three.” It scoffs. “I still have plenty of time to wear them down again.”

“I cost you a meal,” I say. “More than once. I bet that made you mad.”

It huffs, trying to dismiss my words, but I recognize the sound from the bullies of my childhood when the teacher came to end their fun.

“So two or three–”

Five,” I interrupt. 

“A few guys will remember you for a few years. That’s not a legacy,” it retorts. “A minor delay. That’s all. There are hundreds of thousands of others teetering on the edge of the precipice as we speak. I’m not going hungry any time soon.”

“I’m not done yet,” I tell it flatly.

“Excuse  me?” I wonder if it has eyebrows to raise.

“I’m not done,” I repeat. “I’m not done talking and listening and helping. I’m going to take more than five out of your mouth.”

“You think I’m afraid of a deformed cripple with a saviour complex?” it laughs.

“You had better be afraid of a deformed cripple with a functioning sense of empathy and a personal vendetta against you.” I jab my finger in the direction of the voice and I realize I can see my hand. It’s faint but there’s a warm light there, enveloping my skin.

“Your life is already half over, human,” it snarls. “You are one tiny bump on the road, barely enough for me to feel let alone trip me up. You’ve wasted so much time cowering under my heel that you don’t even have enough left to make a difference among eight billion of your little pestilent kin. Do you have any idea how much effort that would take?” I feel a waft of air as though a hand sweeps in front of me in dismissal.

I cross my arms. “Only as much effort as I’ve been making so far.”

“Hah! How do you figure that?”

“One light in the darkness draws all eyes. That’s all I need to do, and all I need to be.”

Whatever it was planning to say, I seem to have derailed it. It gets out the first part of a word and stops. Finally, it speaks again. “That’s all very poetic and pretty but ultimately useless. Impractical. Be realistic,” it says. 

 “You can’t even finish the project that’s been sitting in your workshop for two years now? And how long have you been working on that novel you care so much about? Do you really think you can save everyone?” it chides. 

“No,” I say. I lift my chin.

“Then we’re in agreement.”

“I don’t have to,” I continue. It scoffs but I don’t give it the opportunity to get in another jab. “All I have to do is show them the truth. I will shine my light all over you and show them that the Black Dog of their nightmares is nothing but a bloated tick with a god complex. I will shine my light all over them and show them that they have value and beauty even if you told them they don’t.”

“That’s all very cute but …”

“I will show them how I fight!” I shout over it. “And they will know that it’s possible. They will fight you too.”

“And you’ll all get the laundry done in a timely manner?” it says. “Maybe lose a little weight on the treadmill? Or even … dare I say it … get a job? How heroic. I’m sure they’ll write songs about you.” 

I ignore its attempts at mockery. I’ve heard it all before. 

“We’ll all live long enough to die of something else.” I glare at it. I can see it now. Undulating clouds of darkness all around me. I extend my arm, pointing a finger at it. It retreats, avoiding my touch. “And you’ll get nothing. Because you aren’t Death. You’re a thief. You’re an unnatural interruption of life. You’re a carrion feeder.”

“Believe what you want,” it sighs. “I will outlast you and every other human in this world. I am eternal. Even if you could beat me, I always return.”

“You keep telling yourself that.” I slap it with its own words. “I hope you are eternal so you can live in starvation until the end of the universe.” 

“You go right ahead and tell everybody your little story then,” it says. “There is not a single soul who will believe your ravings. You’re a mental case and they know it.”

“If only one believes, it is enough.” The fog is further away from me now. The light covers me like dragon scales. 

“Is it?” The voice is smaller still. Only a few strains to it, as if only two or three people are speaking in sync. “You think it’s enough to support one person in this world? A single human that will ultimately forget your existence and then die?”

“I know it’s enough,” I say. “Or you wouldn’t be trying so hard to stop me.”

It struggles to say something but I’m done listening. 

“You picked the wrong human to mess with, Depression.” The light is pushing it back and I can see the ceiling above my bed. I can hear my wife’s fingers on her keyboard across the room. “You can chew on me all you want, but you’ll never get the last bite. I will starve you. I will blind you. And if I ever get my hands on you somehow, I will make you wish you could die.”

Silence. Even if it tried to speak, it’s too far away for me to hear. 

“This is my head and you’re not invited. Get out.

As I woke fully and stretched, I smiled at my wife. Yeah, I slept through my alarm. Oh well. I decided to make the best of my day anyway. I don’t know how much work I’ll get done on my novel today but I will do some storytelling here anyway. I hope you found it interesting.

Oh, and if you see Depression around, tell it I said “the cafeteria is closed.” It’ll know what you mean.

The Rabbit – Short Story

Author’s note: This is an exercise that we did in our writers’ circle a week ago and I’ve just gotten around to tidying it up. It is a fanfiction piece, the first I’ve ever done. It is from an anime called Shiki. Hope you enjoy!

Fandom: Shiki (anime)

Focus: Seishin Muroi

Time Period: Takes place just after the end of the anime and ignores the manga.

The Rabbit

From the diary of Seishin Muroi.

This is not how the story is supposed to end.

I had always known that death was my path. I could not help but hear its whispers in the forest growing its grave-marker trees all around me. All my life has been lived in its noose.

When I was younger and more foolish, I courted it, sought to marry it with a knife to my wrist. But it would not have me yet, and I felt shame for trying to force my mortal body upon a grave yet to shallow to receive me.

  Continue reading “The Rabbit – Short Story”

A Setup – A Short Story

Author’s Note: Here’s a short story that I submitted to the Writers’ Circle this past weekend. It was pretty well received and I liked it enough to revise it and share for your reading enjoyment. This short is based in the same world as a novel I currently have on the backburner to work on when I don’t feel like tinkering with Blood of Midnight. Got to keep those writing muscles in shape and a change is as good as a rest! Hope you like it.


A Setup

“We don’t serve his kind in here,” the barkeep said, jabbing a stubby finger in Arkan’s direction.

Kierendros looked at his travelling companion and frowned. Ordinarily, he’d have exercised his right as prince of Endar to put the man in his place but their mission required secrecy. Without his crown and sigil, his word held no power, especially not here in Eastern Gar. Alder-Venian outposts littered the coast like clots of seaweed after a storm.

The dark elf blinked slowly, making no move aside from white lashes falling over cerulean eyes, but the inn quieted as though he’d drawn blades. The patrons nearby shifted their chairs away from him. Arkan stepped close to him and whispered in his ear.

“My Lord, all is well. I can wait outside.” Continue reading “A Setup – A Short Story”

Chapter Two and Short Story Update

Woop woop! Finished the first draft of chapter two of Blood of Midnight: A Hollow Vengeance. It needs some editing but stands up well enough for me to continue on with chapter 3.

Also, my short story I Am The Way, received some more edits from my writer buddies so I will probably upload a more polished version of it soonish.

That’s all for now. Ethan out.

I am the Way – A Short Story

As promised, here is a short story from a novel I currently have on the backburner. It is also a fantasy world and here I have begun playing with different systems of magic and new ideas. Hope you enjoy. Note, this piece was updated April 17th with some edits to smooth it out. Thanks to my writer buddies for the additional polish!


I am the Way


A group of ten second-year students and their two mentors gather in the auditorium, close enough to see clearly and far enough away should something go awry. Demonstration days are always difficult. I’m always afraid I’m going to explode myself and scar some poor apprentices for life. They’re warned that this particular spell is dangerous, but you really cannot understand until you’ve seen a man botch his cast. It looks and smells like the floor of a slaughterhouse at the end of the day. I know the faculty wants to deter apprentices from experimenting with magic above their level, but I think this is too young to be exposed to master-level workings.

I remember those white robes fondly. When I was an apprentice, I thought masters were presented with black robes as a mark of their achievement. Now I know better. it’s because you can’t get the stains out. I bought black ones less than a year after graduation.

I stand with my hands tucked into my sleeves, gazing up at the diffused glow from the skylight while Master Yousef gives a short lecture. The room is completely clear of any furniture, papers, and other items. The echoes of the mentor’s voice bounce crisply off the bare stone. Continue reading “I am the Way – A Short Story”

When Casey Met Staruff – A Short Story

Here it is folks! Sorry for the delay. Many thanks go out to my writer buddies who vetted this for me and got it up to snuff. Hope you enjoy.

When Casey Met Staruff


Casey choked mid-snore and coughed out a mouthful of woolly yak hair, realizing he’d fallen asleep on Boob’s back again. The giant sat up in the saddle and rubbed his face, trying to slap some wakefulness back into his brain. The cold wind whipping over the shoulders of Mount Yarrowmane helped with his efforts. The lichen-littered boulder beside him was the same dark basalt as all the others, standing as islands in the long golden grass of the high plain. He wondered if the yak had even moved from this spot.


The massive animal under him, named for the big dark spot in the middle of his creamy head, shifted his stance and continued cropping at the long grass. Casey looked up at the sun, veiled by the brooding clouds. How long had it been since he’d dozed off? It was hard to determine how far it had proceeded, especially since he couldn’t remember where it had been when he’d last looked up.


It had been long enough for his ass to go numb, at least. He swung his stiff leg over the saddle horn and jumped off to stretch. It was usually useless to keep track of time given that nothing of note would happen until one of his brothers came up to relieve his watch with ale and food. He leaned his forehead against Boob’s shoulder and sighed; another grey day. The wind slid icy fingers up his neck and he pulled up the fox-fur mantle to stave off the chill. Soon it would be winter and the plains would be a misery of cold, driving rain and irritable yaks. The animals ate far too much to keep them in corral for months.

Continue reading “When Casey Met Staruff – A Short Story”

Short Story Update

Got the preliminary draft done on When Casey Met Staruff. Needs a bit of editing but hopefully I can get that done and have it out by the end of the month. Ideally, I’d like to put out two short stories a month for y’all. We’ll see whether or not that ends up being reasonable.

For the time-being I’m making use of my novel character template to flesh out Casey and Staruff a bit more. This story has been eye-opening in terms of who these characters are. I never realized how difficult it would be to write Casey all by himself. I’ve always relied on the banter between him and Staruff to accomplish what I need to within the story. But there’s much more to these characters than I knew.

Another difficulty I’ve come across is determining the appropriate body weight for an 8’2″ mercenary … Yeah. BMI doesn’t even begin to cover something like that. Got to account for muscle-to-fat ratio plus the weight of bones at the density they would need to be to comfortably support someone of that size. Rawr! Well, I’ll work it out somehow.

Until next time, y’all! Thanks for stopping by.

Deus Ex Machina – Short Story

Author’s note: This piece parodies the Final Fantasy video game series and similar Japanese Role-Playing Games. Those who are familiar with this genre will probably get a few more of the references than those who are not. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy.

Deus Ex Machina

When I became an adventurer, I had no idea what it meant. The weathered parchment tacked up on the town hall’s message board was laced with bold-faced lies with all its talk of “saving the world” and “bringing evil to justice.” Had it been honest, the job description would have been more akin to “trekking through every back-water gods-forsaken village and hamlet in the kingdom and doing everyone else’s work for them.” Continue reading “Deus Ex Machina – Short Story”

The Luckiest Stonehart

For your reading pleasure, here is a short story set in the same world as my novel Blood of Midnight: The Broken Prophecy.

The boy frowned as he squinted through the mist into the gully below, glancing at the stream that had formed after days of rain. The sodden moss under Damon’s boots gave off a fresh scent as he crouched down. It was not properly raining anymore but the thick fog that clung to the air made it hard to see more than a few feet.

Beautiful, he could admit, edging each leaf and blade of grass with droplets of diamond, but surely more enjoyable if it did not soak through his tunic and breeches. Somewhere in the underbrush, his sister Sunev was puzzling out the tracks of a deer. Among their favourite hunting techniques was for Damon to stay off to one side of the track while Sunev followed it on the other. One of her arrows would drive it off the path and into the sights of his crossbow

It was a good system. Though his sister was better at tracking and far better with a bow, Damon was more adept at moving silently over the forest floor. She scared it and he shot it. It also kept them from shooting each other when the underbrush was too dense to see through.

Damon canted his head, listening to the quip-quip-quip-quip of a bird’s call as the pattern was repeated a few times: Sunev’s signal to move forward a quarter bow-shot. With The trill that followed he smiled; The deer was close.

He reached up to the slender poplar tree that leaned out over the outcropping, using it to steady himself as he got to his feet.

Suddenly, it gave a loud crack and he realized belatedly that its roots were not as solid as he thought. He tried to scramble out from under it but the spongy moss let go of the stone and his boots slipped, pitching him over the edge.

Damon braced himself for a muddy landing and a nasty blow from the falling tree. Instead, a wave of disorientation seized him so strongly that his stomach churned. Everything went black and for a moment he thought he’d fainted. The stream still gurgled close by, though, and he could hear water droplets pattering among the leaves around him.

He opened his eyes to find himself lying in the mud amid poplar branches, yet he could feel neither wetness beneath nor weight on top of him. He tried to sit up but there was no response from his body.

Oh no. Panic lanced through him. No, please no. This can’t be happening. I can’t feel anything!

He tried to push at the tree but there was no movement. Looking down, he could not even see his hands. In fact, he could not see any part of himself, not even the crossbow he’d been holding a moment ago.

Oh Aervie, I’m dead!

Damon desperately tried to scramble to his feet, as though getting away from the tree would change the fact of his demise. Dizziness struck again as he drifted upward, weightless.

This isn’t right. He took a few deep breaths to calm himself, scanning the tree below him. Wait…There’s no body. If I died, there would be a corpse. The broken branches and mud gave him no answers. This must be some kind of strange magic, he told himself. Stonehart magic frequently manifested in moments of surprise or fear, often with catastrophic effects.

What if I did die and made my body disappear?

Had the Stonehart Curse claimed him at last? The notorious foul luck of his clan, hewing down men and women in their prime, was not a thing to be envied by those without magic. While lighting a candle with a fingertip or warding a blade against rust were certainly handy, dying by exploding one’s house was definitely not worth the trade.

Like all the other Stonehart children, Damon had heard horrible tales of the wampyr—the bodies of the dead not burned on a pyre as they should be to release the spirit inside—rising to walk the land, preying on their own kin. They were hunted with fire and blessed blades, but how would they put a stop to one that couldn’t be seen?

He shook his head violently. Or rather he tried to and made the world spin around him sickeningly. He pulled in on himself, too frightened to move.

I must get hold of myself. I’m not dead. I must find help.

Damon took a breath and tried calling for Sunev but no sound came out. He had no sensation of opening his mouth, no vibration in his throat or, indeed, any notion of his chest rising as he took in air. He drifted over the downed tree and into the bushes beyond the path, still trying to determine if he was breathing or not. He was fairly sure he was crawling, though he couldn’t feel his arms and legs either.


Sunev stood over him, holding the edge of her divided riding skirt up off the ground as she peered through the gloom. His initial surge of hope when she called out was smashed. She wasn’t looking at him. She was looking at the empty outcropping and the broken foliage. He tried to tug on the hem of her skirt but there was only a faint wafting of mist across her ankles. She noticed nothing. Instead, she went to investigate his abandoned post, concern written into the lines of her forehead.

In desperation, he drifted back toward the clearing where he had left his horse, Silhouette, to graze. Perhaps the stallion would be able to sense him? He’d always been a very perceptive creature.


The air in the little meadow was a bit more stifling than it had been within the tree line, he noticed. It was uncomfortable, but he was more concerned with attracting the attention of the large, black horse cropping away at the grass, his head partly obscured by the thick swathes of fog covering the ground. Damon floated near his hooves and tried to push on his legs.

Hey! Help me!

Though he did not succeed in making a sound or putting any pressure on the animal, Silhouette turned his head toward him and snorted, ears quirked in his direction.

Can you see me?

The horse’s nostrils expanded as he sniffed the grass around him. Silhouette’s head passed right through him as he investigated the anomaly of his bodiless rider. Then, he backed off, whickering and shaking his head, agitated. Just as despair began to settle in again, Damon noticed something: when the horse moved, there were two distinct shadows: one belonging to the animal, and the other to Damon.

I have a shadow! He swirled around in a circle, watching black tendrils wave through the greenery. No, he thought, pausing in wonderment. No, I am a shadow. He moved the tendrils around, amazed at the black mist that he had become. He bunched them all up and observed the dark little cloud that was himself. Then, he stretched them out, flattening himself into a fine layer over the clearing, completely invisible.

Afraid of losing bits of himself by spreading too far, he contracted again and moved to hover near Silhouette’s forelegs. As incredible as this discovery was, he really needed to figure out how to get back to himself.

Sunev emerged from the trees, tugging her cloak up around her neck. She looked wet and miserable, pale blue eyes searching the clearing for any sign of her little brother.

“Damon?” she called.

He condensed himself into a little ball and hovered up over his horse’s back, bobbing up and down enthusiastically as he tried to catch her attention. Her mouth fell open as she spotted him.

“What in the name of Aervie is that?”

Sunev’s grey mare, Torrent, ambled over to Silhouette and sniffed at the shadow bouncing above his saddle. She snorted and rested her head on the stallion’s neck, apparently at ease with the whole situation. Sunev approached cautiously and peered up at this strange creature with a wrinkled nose.

“Damon? Is that … is that you?”

He floated down just above the saddle and bobbed emphatically.

Yes, yes! It’s me! Please understand. Please!

She wrapped the edge of her cloak around her hand and tried to poke him with it. It passed through him. She shivered and retracted her hand abruptly.

“It’s cold.” She flexed her fingers, looking at her palm, and then back at him. “It is you! Damon, what did you do to yourself?”

I didn’t do it on purpose, he thought ruefully.

“Well, come on, Fuzzball. Got to get you to Lorne.”

Fuzzball? If he’d had a face, he would have frowned.

“Hope he can change you back,” she continued as she mounted up on Torrent. She could not hear him and thus made no answer.

When she began to trot away, Silhouette followed and Damon was obliged to float along with them or be left behind. He supposed it must look funny, a black ball of fluff “riding” a horse. He was too busy trying not to lose track of the saddle he couldn’t feel to laugh.


His cousin Lorne sat on the edge of the bed in Damon’s room looking perplexed at the mass of shadows hovering just above the blankets. Large, dusty books sat all around him, bristling with bookmarks and pages of notes. It was sheer luck that the librarian had been visiting their father, or it would have taken him days to make it in from his home in the north.

Lorne sighed and began tying his long black hair away from his face in preparation for the spell needed to snap Damon out of his predicament.

“It should be just a simple transformation,” he said. “I’ve never seen someone become a shadow before, though. Any other clansmen who accidentally changed became some kind of animal when they did. I think.” His mouth twisted into a frown. “They could very well have made themselves into bushes or trees and we never found them.”

Damon dearly wished the librarian would leave off with such morbid thoughts. He was never going to look at a tree again without wondering if it was a Stonehart, trapped for hundreds of years and unable call for help. Ants crawling through their bark and … He shuddered.

The sky was beginning to dim in earnest now and Damon’s father, Erik, brought a lantern into the room so that Lorne could see what he was doing. As soon as the light hit him, Damon felt like he was burning, suffocating under a summer sun that had bloated to three times its natural size. He reeled back and oozed off the side of the bed into the darkness. Instantly he felt better.

“Damon?” Erik said. “Where did you go?” He came around the side of the bed, shining the light on his hiding spot.

Damon flattened himself and zipped under the bed.

Cut it out!

“Son, come out. What are you doing?” He heard his father shuffling around on the floorboards on his knees.

“Ah, Erik. I think you may be hurting him.”

“Eh?” Erik stopped.

“He is a shadow. Light rather … banishes them.”

Damon heard the sound of a palm hitting a forehead. “Of course. Sorry Damon! Augh, I can’t believe I just …” Erik climbed back to his feet and moved around the bed again. “Are you certain you can fix him?”

“Yes, just close the shade on the lantern. I’ve looked over all I need to at this point.” There was the sound of a page turning and the rustle of papers. The room darkened and Damon flitted out from under the bed to rest on the blankets once again. “Damon? You can come out now,” Lorne called, and he realized he couldn’t see him.

Damon bunched himself into a denser ball and lifted up to hover just in front of his face.

“Oh! There you are.” He smiled, squinting into the darkness. “Alright, just lie down … um …” Lorne frowned. “If you can.”

Damon stretched himself out on the bed in as close to human shape as he could manage. He really had no idea what of all this shadow constituted his arms and legs and head so he just prayed that whatever Lorne was up to would put him all back together the right way.

“Close your eyes and just relax.”

He tried. He managed to make his vision blur a bit but could not seem to do anything similar to cutting off his sight.

“And don’t open them until I tell you to. You probably don’t want to see this.”

See what? I hope this doesn’t hurt.

“Just focus on your breathing,” Lorne instructed him patiently.

Damon was beginning to see why this would work on an animal transformation better. He tried just imagining the air passing through him. That was pleasant enough.

“I want you to envision a tree. A steelwood tree with its roots reaching deep down in the ground. Imagine that its roots are growing out of your bones, drawing up strength from the soil and giving it to you. Imagine it feeding your marrow, making it grow strong, solid, resilient.”

A bit of a tingle ran through him as he listened to the gentle, hypnotic voice. He reflected that it would be nice to fall asleep with his cousin reading to him.

“Your bones are strong, and heavy. Feel them weighing you down on the mattress. From your skull, right down to your toes.”

He did feel a little more substantial, he supposed. He looked down and realized that there was a skeleton stretched out on his bed. He fought to keep calm in spite of the disturbing sight. A high-pitched shriek ripped through the last vestiges of his tranquillity and he realized that his little sister Rebecca had been standing in the doorway, curious as to the goings-on in her brother’s room. The skeleton evaporated back into shadow as her footsteps and sobbing thudded away through the house.

Lorne sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He could hear Sunev talking quietly in Rebecca’s room, consoling her.

“Let’s begin again, shall we?” Lorne said, smiling ruefully in the rough direction of where Damon’s head was.


It took hours to rebuild himself from marrow, to meat, to flesh, and finally to bring forth the clothing and crossbow he’d had with him when he disappeared. Lorne never left his side, talking softly the whole time. Damon had been immensely pleased when he had eyelids to shut out the sight of his own beating heart and contracting lungs.

At last, Lorne fell silent and he rested for a few minutes.

“Damon? Can you sit up?”

He opened his eyes, very carefully moving his fingers. He was terrified that if he shifted too much, he would fly apart again. His body held together, as solid as it had ever been. All the same, he patted himself down, just to be sure.

Lorne offered him his hand and he took it, skin pale as salt against his cousin’s. He sat up slowly but thankfully was not hit with any dizziness this time. He smiled and a sigh of relief escaped him.

“I think I’m alright. Thank you so much, Lorne.”

“Good to hear.” The librarian wrapped his arms around him and patted his back. A hug had never felt so good in his entire life and he squeezed him back. “Think you can keep down some soup?”

Damon thought about it. He was ravenously hungry. “Yes please!”

“Good. You should eat something at least. It will help ground you, keep you in this world.”

That sounded like a great idea. He waited while Sunev fetched some soup and a slice of bread. She placed the warm bowl in his hands and smiled.

“Good to see you in one piece,” she said.

“Has Rebecca stopped ranting about ghosts and wampyr?” he asked her.

Sunev wrinkled her nose. “Eh, for now. Next few days, she’ll be scared of you.”

He frowned as he sopped up some soup with his bread.

“Do you think you can remember all this in case it happens again?” Lorne asked him.

Damon nodded. He was never going to forget a single terrifying moment of this day for as long as he lived. He was quite sure of that. Sunev sighed and shook her head. He swallowed his mouthful of food.


“Luckiest Stonhart ever.”

He laughed. “What? I just turned myself into a cloud of … I don’t even know, and you say I’m lucky?”

“Yes,” Lorne answered for her. “You turned yourself into a cloud of I-don’t-even-know and survived.”

Damon sobered, thinking of the trees again. He shivered. “Yeah. I guess you’re right. Lucky.”

He ate the rest of his meal in silence.

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