• Genre: Psychological thriller, suspense
  • Content Warning: Themes of violence and torture, foul language, and ambiguous ending ahead
  • Disclaimer: This is a complete work of fiction and in no way represents how hypnosis actually works.

I grabbed my keys and waved goodbye to my best friend.  “Don’t wait up,” I winked.

“The Grim Reaper again?  You’ve been seeing a lot of him lately.”

My bestie and roommate, Lexie, had resorted to calling the guy I’ve been seeing of late “The Grim Reaper” based on his love for all things dark and twisted.  If Halloween were a person, my boyfriend would be an accurate representation of it.  He’s actually famous for running the nation’s most extreme haunted house.

“His name is Dane.”

“Yeah whatever,” she replied.  He’s rich and hot.  Like, ‘gentlemanly hot’ if you know what I mean.  Those guys are the ones you have to watch out for.  They got a lot of kink on lockdown, but once that tie comes off it usually ends up around your throat.”

“One could hope.” I closed the front door behind me and drove to where I was meeting Dane. 

Tonight’s date was a nighttime hike through the local woods, allegedly haunted by the ghost of a woman named Diana.  The sun had set, and the sky was growing increasingly dark as I passed the empty guard shack at the entrance to the park.  It appeared I was the only one there as I navigated the winding road that ended in the parking lot. Dense trees lined the way, a thick canopy of leaves closing out whatever trace of light still hung on from the day.  Finally, my headlights illuminated Dane’s Corvette parked in the corner of the lot, just off the trail.

Dane was casually leaning against his car.  Gentlemanly indeed, I thought to myself.  He was usually dressed in a suit and tie but appeared to have “dressed down” for our hike. He stood tall and solid in a pressed, black button-down shirt untucked from black jeans.  His sleeves were rolled up exposing muscular forearms.  Every strand of his dark hair seemed to be in place, and his perfectly straight, white teeth flashed behind perfectly shaped lips. Dane may have been the crispest, cleanest, sexiest person I’ve ever known.  He exuded power, authority, and control at all times.

“Sara, you look amazing,” he said, taking me into his arms. His subtle, masculine scent intoxicated me. His fingers tangled into my long, deep-purple hair, and his lips found mine.  We stood there kissing at the edge of a haunted forest, under the moon, for what felt like forever.  I was lost in bliss. 

I reluctantly pulled away, slipping my arms into a long, dark grey sweater, closing it over my black tank top.  With my form-fitting black pants, we were almost matching.  Like all-black was some sort of unofficial uniform for ghost hunting or something.

Dane switched on his flashlight.  The tiny strip of light illuminated our dirt path while the shadows closed in around us.  I followed Dane into the tree line, feeling completely safe and at ease with him near me.  Mostly because we had already agreed that if a ghost or demon did happen to appear, I would hand him over as a sacrifice and run like hell.  Honestly though, in all of my macabre adventures, I’ve never actually seen a ghost or a demon.  I was more afraid of running into a rabid raccoon than Diana of the Dunes.

Leaves crunched beneath our feet as we went deeper into the woods.  I expected to hear crickets or racoons moving around, but the world was deathly still.  I thought I saw something move out of the corner of my eyes.  My adrenaline was pumping, and I wasn’t sure if there was truly danger laying ahead, or if I was just working myself up.  Probably the latter, I was known for being a little dramatic at times.  Either way, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was about to go down.

Dane grabbed me unexpectedly, throwing me up against the tree.  His lips found mine in the darkness. My senses reeled at the excitement of the moment, and my hands tangled into his hair.  His muscular fingers slid up my neck and tightened around my throat, squeezing ever so slightly.

“Is this okay?” his gruff, low voice whispered next to my ear.

I figured it was since I had goosebumps over every inch of my skin and my insides were tingling with anticipation. 

He pressed his hard body into mine and grabbed a handful of my hair, roughly pulling my head back exposing my neck, alternating between licks and bites.  I tried to slide my hands around his waist, but he grabbed both my wrists and pinned them against the tree over my head.

That night we didn’t find any ghosts.  But right there, in the middle of the woods, I had the wildest, most animalistic sex I’ve ever known in my life.


            “I can’t believe you’re still seeing that psychopath,” Lexie had said, looking up from the book she was reading.

“He’s not psycho.”  I didn’t understand her aversion to him, she hadn’t even met him.  Lexie actually thought that was odd, but Dane was just a busy guy, and at this time of year his haunted house kept him busy.  He was in high demand, doing at least two shows a week.  That’s what he called them.

People from all over the world would apply for a shot to make it through his extreme haunted house.  No one ever had ever succeeded, though.  It was just too intense.

“He just seems a little off,” Lexie pushed. “I don’t know how you can’t see it.  I mean, who runs a torture chamber for fun?”

“It’s not a torture chamber, it’s an extreme haunted house, and it’s wildly popular.  Dane told me I could give it a try if I wanted to,” I had told my friend.

“You’re insane,” she had replied.

Which I figure must be pretty accurate.  How else could I explain that I was out in the middle of nowhere, sipping wine in Dane’s living room, preparing to try my hand at a haunted house so extreme I had to sign a fifty-page waver?

The things I had just signed over permission for this man to do to me was unlike anything I’d ever given permission for in my life.  Shaving my head, pulling out my teeth, ripping out my nails, and injecting me with a needle?  Dane assured me it was all just bluster, adding to the psychological aspect of the show.  Everything was recorded and livestreamed, with people all over the world betting on when each contestant would tap out.  It had to be on the up-and-up or this man would be in jail, right?  Plus, he was my boyfriend.  Of course I trusted him.

Dane returned to the living room, rolling up his sleeves.  The muscles in his forearms flexed, and I had a vivid flashback of him pinning me down by the throat as he had me in ways I’d never been had before.

My life had been so boring these last few years.  So vanilla.  And Dane was the pop of wild flavor I needed.

“All finished signing?” he asked, taking the wavers from me.

“Yep.  I’m all yours.  Do with me what you will,” I teased.

“Oh, I plan to,” he said with a slightly devilish tone in his voice.  He gently grabbed my throat and devoured my lips slowly and sensuously.

“So when do we start?” I asked as soon as he let me have my mouth back.


I finished my drink and attempted to find the bathroom.  I’d been here once before, but the glass of wine hit me hard for some reason.  I was a little disoriented and stumbled into Dane’s office instead.

I struggled to focus through the haze.  This couldn’t be right.  There were several large monitors hanging around the room.  On each screen was a person in various forms of torture.  There was no sound that I could hear, but a girl on one screen had her bloody mouth open in a silent scream as a masked man pulled her teeth out one by one.

My eyes slid to the next screen where a woman was being dragged by the hair and repeatedly kicked in the ribs as she cried out for help.

On the next screen was an empty room.  It appeared dark and moldy.  The camera focused on a rusty tub filled with brown, murky water. I could only imagine what went on in that room.

“Sara, this isn’t the bathroom,” Dane chided in a calm tone.  He was leaning against the door frame with his arms crossed casually, as though the disturbing images weren’t playing out right there in the room.

“What is this?” I asked.  But I already knew.  This was the livestream of his show.  The show I just signed up to be on. “I want out.”

“Already?”  He sounded disappointed.



“What do you mean ‘No’?” I asked, my words slurring way too much for someone who only had one glass of wine.

“Sara,” Dane advanced closer, sounding ominous, “I thought you trusted me.  I already have bets on when you’ll tap out.  I can’t disappoint my customers; they’ll take their money elsewhere and I have bills to pay.”

I glanced to the monitor with the girl getting her teeth ripped out.  She seemingly passed out, as she hung limply from the chains that bound her wrists, blood slowly stringing out of her mouth and onto the ground.

The other girl was getting roughed up by some masked men.  They were smacking her around and ripping her mouth open with violent fishhooks.

“Well I’m tapping out now,” I tried to say, but my words weren’t coming out right. “I’m out.” I tried again.

“Remember, Sara, everything you see here is just an illusion I’ve created to test the limits of your mind.  You can do this.”

I could barely focus but was vaguely aware of Dane speaking to me.  He touched my forehead, and then slid his hand down my shoulder.  My body went limp, and everything went dark.  I felt my hands being tied behind my back and a sense of being dragged out of the monitor room.

I must’ve blacked out because my surroundings came into focus, and I most certainly was not in the room I thought I was in.  It smelled musty and stagnant, as though real, clean oxygen hadn’t found this room in decades.  I was on the cold, damp floor, propped up against the tub I had seen on the monitor.  A masked man emerged from the shadows.

“Dane?” I asked, my stomach turning.  I was done with this game already.

The masked man approached me and grabbed me roughly by the hair, forcing me to look up into his eyes.  They weren’t Dane’s eyes.  These eyes were blank, dark, and sadistic.  It was like looking into the eyes of a demon.

“Dane said you’re mine now.”  His voice was harsh and full of malice.  “I’ve got free reign, and by the time I’m done with you, you’ll wish you’d never heard of this place.”

He lifted me up without any effort at all and tossed me into the tub headfirst.  With my hands still tied tightly behind my back, it was difficult to right myself.  I gulped water, choking violently as I tried to spin around and sit up out of the filthy water.  It smelled like death.

Inhaling stagnant air and coughing water out from the back of my throat I yelled at the masked man.  “Stop!  I’m done, I’m tapping out.”

He grabbed me by the throat and squeezed, but not in a hot way.  In a completely sadistic way.  Slowly, he pushed my head down closer to the dirty water.  I fought to stay upright, but the water was slimy, and I had no leverage.  I had no free hands to grab onto anything.

The water tickled the back of my head, closing in over my forehead and chin.  My cheeks felt the ice-cold water and the masked man went blurry as the murky liquid closed in over my eyes.  I took a breath just before my mouth and nose went under.

The masked man held me down far longer than I could hold my breath, and I began thrashing around as the need for oxygen consumed me.  But he held me firmly under the water.  I couldn’t hold my breath any longer and I choked and gasped as the death-water filled my lungs.  A fire burned in my chest and panic consumed me.  I was going to die.  This man was going to kill me.

He jerked me up out of the water, and I coughed and sputtered in his face.  I wanted out and I tried to tell him that, but he shoved me back under the water.

I hadn’t had a chance to take a good breath, so I was already choking.  He brought me back out and then down again, his sadistic face coming into and out of focus as he ruthlessly half drowned me, half choked me.  I wondered who hurt him.  Who made him a monster that got off on doing this to me?  He was smiling, enjoying this little game as I tried desperately to hold onto life.

“Dane!” I screamed out.

The masked man laughed.  “Dane! Dane!” he mocked.  He grabbed me by the mouth and squeezed tightly, hurting my jaw.  “Dane can’t help you.  Don’t you get it?  You asked for this.”

He pried my mouth open with his dirty, salty fingers and shoved a substance that smelled like actual feces down my throat, gagging me before shoving my face back under water.  It was at that point that I blacked out.


I’m not sure how much time passed between when everything went dark, and when I came to, but I was back in Dane’s living room.  He was smiling at me.  “How are you liking my mansion so far?”

I stood; brows furrowed.  “It sucks you asshole!  I want out.”

“But you’re doing so well, Love.”

“I almost died in there!  That man tried to drown me.”

He laughed. “Nobody was drowning you, Sara.  You were under hypnosis.  We just made you think you were drowning.”

“But it was so real!”

“How could your hair and clothes be completely dry if you were just moments away from drowning?  I’ll tell you why.  It’s because you were never actually in any water.  We just tricked you into thinking you were.”

Valid point, both my hair and my clothes were dry.

“Please, stay,” he motioned for me to sit back down.  “My money is on you lasting much longer than the first round.”

“This isn’t fun.”

“It’s not supposed to be fun; it’s supposed to be terrifying.  That’s the challenge.”

I considered my options as he stood and closed the distance between us.  His lips turned up into a sensual half-smile.  “Don’t you know I’d never hurt you?”

I mean, yeah, but I also didn’t enjoy feeling like death was coming for me.  He kissed me.  “I believe in you, you’ve got this.”

Dane touched my forehead and slid his hand down my shoulder, and once again a hazy calm came over me, my body went limp, and darkness closed in.  “You can do this, Sara.”

When I came back around, Dane was gone and a masked man towered over me.  Grabbing me roughly by the hair, he dragged me out of the room.  We went down the hall and around the corner where the light on the ceiling was flickering on and off.  He opened another door and threw me into a room filled with other people in various forms of consciousness.  All of them looked like hell.

The ceiling fan spun over the dim lightbulbs, creating a strobe light effect in the small room.  What appeared to be blood smears covered the dirty walls.  Some of the more conscious people were crying, some were moaning, while others writhed in pain.  I stepped over the bodies and made my way over to the closest wall.  I sat on the floor wondering how long I’d be in there.  A girl about my age crawled over an unconscious body that probably should’ve been checked for a pulse.  Her eye was dark and swollen shut.  Dried blood clung to her chin.

“This is intense,” she said, settling in next to me.

“This is bullshit, is what it is,” I replied.

She shook her head in agreement. “Yeah, maybe, but I’m going to be the first to make it to the end.  I’m going to earn that money.”

“Nobody makes it to the end,” I told her.

“Well, I’m gonna.”  She leaned against the wall, not seeming to mind the blood she was touching.  “It’s all just a game.  It’s mostly an illusion.”

I didn’t want to break it to her, but her face didn’t look illusory to me.  I’m pretty sure she was legitimately banged up.  How could Dane allow something like this to happen to her?  I don’t care if she signed a waver, this was extreme.  Unless…maybe she was an actress in costume and make-up.  Maybe she was part of the illusion?  That would make so much more sense than Dane being a psychopath.

I examined her face as best I could in the dim flashing lights.  It could be make-up.  Yeah, I was pretty sure it was make-up.  She was good, really had me going!  All of the people in there probably worked for Dane!  I relaxed a little.

The door opened and two masked men filled the frame.  One came in and grabbed the girl next to me.  She winced in pain but quickly regained her composure.  “Here we go again,” she said, winking at me with her good eye.  The masked man punched her in the back of the head as he shoved her violently out the door.  The second masked man walked to me, his heavy footsteps warning of impending doom.

He lifted me up on my feet with barely any effort at all.  I found myself staring into zombie eyes a shade of blue so light and icy they were almost white.  He dragged me out into the flickering hallway and slammed my head into the wall before shoving me to the floor.  I’d never been hypnotized before, but this sure felt real to me.  Pain seared through my head, and my shoulders burned as he pulled my arms behind my back, duct taping my wrists together.  It was painfully tight, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of calling out in agony.  I reminded myself it was all an elaborate illusion as he taped my ankles together, then brought them up to the middle of my back, taping them to my wrists.  I had zero leverage to move or stabilize myself and was now completely at his mercy.

He stuck the loose end of the duct tape to my temple, then wound the roll around and around my head to cover my eyes.  I had no mobility, and now my vision was taken from me.  I heard the familiar sound of duct tape ripping from the spool right before my mouth was taped in the same fashion as my eyes had been.

I felt the ground fall out from under me as he lifted me and dropped me on a cold, hard surface.  I could only guess I was being moved to another location as wheels bumped and squealed beneath me.  Multiple screams could be heard from around the house.  Maniacal laughter echoed from somewhere nearby before the sounds all disappeared in the distance.

I tried to control my breathing as panic began to tug at my lungs.  Dane wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me.  I’d spent enough time with him to know he was a good guy.  This was all just part of the illusion.  It had to be.

The surface I was on stopped rolling, and a solid click echoed around me, followed by a creak of possibly a door opening.  Freezing cold air flowed over my body and I was pushed inside, an icy chill consuming every inch of me.  A door slammed loudly, and I sensed I was all alone.  At least I hoped I was.

Time seemed to stand still as my body violently shivered.  Eventually, my breathing seemed to slow as I felt more exhausted by the second.  This cold was sucking the life out of me.  Was this how I was going to die?  Where was Dane?

After what seemed like forever, the door opened, and I felt myself being wheeled out.  I was too tired and confused to try moving.  Someone grabbed me roughly by a chunk of my hair, ripping my head up into an unnatural position.  My skin stung as the duct tape was torn from my face, pulling out my eyelashes in the process.  My eyelids stretched beyond normal capacity, and clumps of my hair remained on the duct tape as it was discarded in a brightly lit hallway.  My eyes revolted against the harsh intrusion of light and tears blurred my vision.

A twisted, sadistic clown stood in front of me, its razor-sharp teeth pulled back in a grotesque, permanent smile.  He unbound me and ripped the last of the duct tape from my lips, leaving it tangled in a clump of my hair at the back of my head.  He pulled his fist back and punched me right in the mouth.  The hit didn’t hurt immediately.  Instead, a numbness settled in as the taste of blood touched my tongue.  My heart pounded in my chest, my frozen body too weak to fight.  He landed a second violent hit to my nose and more blood began to trickle down my face.

He lifted me gently, a confusing move under the current circumstances.  I dared to hope he had found some compassion for me.  But that hope was destroyed as he placed me into a small, metal chest.  I’d never been claustrophobic, but this chest was so small and restrictive I began to panic.  It was already so difficult to breathe through what I can only assume was a broken nose, but now it felt like an elephant was standing on my chest.  My body was so drained, and my mind was so numb I didn’t think I could take anymore.

“Please, make it stop,” I whispered.

He slowly lifted a finger to his frozen smile in an ominous gesture of silence.  He lifted the lid off a bucket and hovered the bucket over me.  He began tilting it and I prayed it wasn’t water again.  I couldn’t handle any more water torture.

But it wasn’t water.  Instead, hundreds of spiders cascaded out of the bucket, dropping down into the chest with me.  I could feel them sliding down my skin and crawling over my face.  I wanted to thrash around and stand up, but my movements were so slow and I lacked coordination.  It’s just an illusion, it’s just an illusion, I repeated to myself trying my best to remain calm. The demented clown sealed the glass lid on the chest.  I opened my mouth, and a scream from the very depths of my soul poured out.  In a pure panic, I slipped blissfully into darkness.


I opened my eyes and looked around the room.  I was in a huge luxurious bed, tucked under a cozy down comforter.  Sunlight poured in through the open window, a crisp fall breeze rustled the sheer drapes.

“Good morning, sleepyhead!” Dane’s husky voice called out from the doorway.

I sat up clutching the covers to my chest.  “I want to go home!” I practically screamed trying not to cry.

“Okay,” Dane replied.  “You’re free to leave.”

I jumped out of bed and realized I was only wearing an oversized t-shirt.  “Where the hell are my clothes?”

Dane motioned to a chair in the corner of his room.  “Don’t worry, I didn’t take advantage.  I just didn’t want you in my bed with dirty clothes.”

“What the hell is going on here?  I feel like I’m losing my mind!”  I stomped across the room to my clothes.

“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Dane smiled.  “You are fucking killing it out there.  I’m banking here.  You’ve exceeded expectations!”

“I got my ass kicked by one of your criminal employees!  He busted up my face, poured spiders over me, and locked me in a freezer.  Do you think I give a damn about your profits?  You’re sick.”

“Sara,” Dane’s voice was gentle, “I told you, it’s all an illusion.  I’m a hypnotist and a Psychological Operations Specialist.  I’m an expert in the field of mind control.  I would never put you in any actual danger.”

“I saw the spiders, Dane!  I felt them.  I can still feel them.”

“They were plastic spiders.  I just made you think they were real.”

“My busted up, bloody face was real,” I snarked, just as I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  My face was perfectly fine, and come to think of it, I didn’t have any pain.  If I had really been roughed up the way I remembered there’s no chance I wouldn’t see or feel some kind of evidence of it.

Dane smiled as I ran my fingers over my perfectly fine mouth and nose.  “I told you, Love.  It’s all pretend.”

I snapped out of my reflection.  “I don’t care.  I’m out.  And also, I think we should see other people.”  I grabbed my clothes off the chair.  Noticing all the blood stains on my shirt, I lifted it to show him while I glared.

“It’s fake blood.  I buy buckets of it.  I need the props to help convince your mind the illusion I’m creating is real.”

“Why do my clothes smell like old urine and shit?”

“More props, Sara.”

Wow, he really took this stuff seriously.  “Whatever, get out, I need to get dressed.”

Dane left the room closing the door softly behind him.  Once I was dressed, I opened the door and saw the long dark hallway to my left, and the living room to my right.  Oddly enough, the constant screams weren’t present.  Everything was quiet and seemingly normal.  I walked to the living room and retrieved my purse.  It was right where I’d left it.

“It’s a shame you can’t stay,” Dane said from his leather chair.  “You’ve done so well, people are betting you’ll make it all the way.  I’m one of them.”

“I don’t know how to put this nicely, but I don’t give a fuck.”

“I understand you’re upset.  Our minds can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality.  It’s a fact I manipulate expertly.  Even though you were never in any real danger, your mind has been through a lot.”

“That’s an understatement.”  I walked to the door.

“If you stay until the end, I’ll give you one million dollars.”

I stopped to process what he just said.  While I couldn’t care less about his profits, I was certainly interested in mine.  Who couldn’t use a million dollars?  “I’m sorry, what?”

“If you leave I’ll lose, but if you stay, I’ll make enough money to share with you.  And you’re never actually going to be in any real danger.  I just need your mind to stay strong for a while longer.  You’re almost to the end.”

“This is twisted.”  I couldn’t believe I was actually considering staying.

“Yeah, the dark web is a fucked-up place.”

I ran my hands over my face to loosen up my tense muscles.  My lips weren’t swollen, my nose wasn’t broken. It had clearly all been in my head.  Was I strong enough to finish this?  The stakes were high.  I’m not sure what you would do, but I put my purse down.

“I told you this was intense,” he said.

“Just make it quick, Dane.”

“I promise I will.  You stay strong, and I’ll keep you safe.  You know, you’ll be the first to ever make it through the mansion.”

I glared at him and then excused myself to use the restroom.

As I reached for the soap, I discovered a small, tender bruise on the back of my hand, just over my vein.  I caught the vague reflection of a digital clock in the mirror and turned around to face it.

This couldn’t be right.  The digital date was three weeks ahead of the date I believed it to be.  How could this be?  Did I lose time?  How long had I been out?  I assumed it had been overnight, but according to this clock…

I examined the bruise over my vein.  Something was wrong.  If this much time had really passed, Lexie would’ve come looking for me, so it must be an illusion.  I looked at the clock again.  What if she had come looking for me and now she was trapped in here too?  “What is happening to me?” I asked out loud.  There was a knock on the door followed by Dane’s voice.  “Are you okay, Sara?”

“No!”  The door opened and Dane stood there with the masked, zombie-eyed guy to his right, and the creepy clown to his left. 

“How long was I unconscious, Dane?”

“Just overnight.”

“Then why does the clock say…”

Dane gently touched my forehead.  “What clock?”

I glanced over where the clock had been, but it was just a blank wall.

Dane slid his hand down my shoulder.  My body went limp, and everything went black.


When the blur finally cleared from my eyes, I looked around the dark, damp room.  Rusty pipes of various sizes littered the ground.  A single, dim lightbulb swung from the ceiling.  My wrists were shackled above my head, my heels lifted off the ground, with only the balls of my feet to support my weight.

The masked, zombie-eyed man sauntered over to me, his figure blending with the shadows, and something metal glinting in his dirty hands. “I brought out the new pliers for you,” he said, as though I should be grateful.

He moved closer to me, and I was suddenly aware of how small I really was.  He reached out and squeezed my face.  I was still a little groggy as I tried to shake my head free, but he was relentless.

The creepy clown emerged from the darkness and they pried my mouth open, inserting a device that forced my jaws wider than was comfortable.  Zombie-eyes brought the pliers to my mouth as I protested, my body shaking, and tears streaming down my face.

I heard the tooth cracking in my head as the searing pain exploded through my gums and into my whole face. The taste of blood overwhelmed my tongue before spilling from my lips, and my stomach revolted, as the sadistic monsters removed the next tooth.  I screamed until my throat burned and my lungs were completely used and empty.  My long, matted purple hair stuck to the wetness on my face.

“Her damn hair is everywhere,” the clown complained.

“Get rid of it then,” the masked man answered.

Clown disappeared into the shadows, and the unmistakable sound of the clippers filled the musty air.  My head was snapped backward with a rough pull of my hair, and Clown was behind me, half pulling, half shaving random clumps of my hair off.

The masked man brought the pliers back up to my mouth. “No,” I cried, blood-soaked spit spraying onto his face.

His wild eyes widened, and his lips turned down in disgust.  He wiped my blood off his face then examined it on his fingers.  “You bitch!”  He brought his fist back and landed a punch to my face.  Everything went black before the pain even registered.


I once heard that people under extreme stress sometimes exhibit superhuman strength.  As they undid my chains and lowered my battered body down to the ground, this unexplainable strength was brewing inside me.  Deep in the pit of my stomach, growing in intensity like a spark that was destined to turn into a wildfire, destroying everything in its path.  I wasn’t going to die like this.  No fucking way.

The two bastards were a few feet away with their backs to me, discussing something that I couldn’t hear.  Pure adrenaline surged through my veins as I discreetly wrapped my hand around a spare pipe laying just within my reach.  I slowly moved it closer to myself, doing my best not to draw their attention.

I stood unnoticed and positioned the pipe over my shoulder like a bat.  I didn’t know where my strength and courage were coming from, but by the time the two men noticed I was right behind them it was too late.  I swung with a fierceness I didn’t even know I had, and the clown, caught off-guard, went down instantly.

The zombie-eyed guy was better prepared and able to block my second swing.  He ripped the pipe from my hand and threw it behind him.  The deranged man came toward me, and with the same sadistic determination I went toward him.  He reached for me and I gripped him in a bear-hug, clinging tightly as I tore his mask off and bit into his face, tearing shreds of skin and muscle off.  He howled in pain.

“Guess you shouldn’t have left me with so many teeth,” I said, reaching up and digging into his eyes.  He squeezed them shut instinctively and grabbed at my wrists, but I was already knuckle deep into his eyes.  Blood poured out, blurring his vision, and it was at that point that I made a run for it, leaving the screams behind me.

My head was throbbing, my mouth and face numb as I made my way out of the heavy door and into a dark corridor. There was only one way out.  I peeked through the exit, and then flung the door wide open.  Fresh air filled my lungs and hope ignited as I ran into the darkness, only the soft glow of the full moon lighting my path. 

“Sara!” Dane’s voice echoed into the vast night.  “You’re too deep into hypnosis!  Come back Sara!  I can help you!”  There was an urgency I hadn’t heard from him before.

I ran into the shadows behind a shed and crouched low, trying to calculate my next move.  I was surrounded by vast, empty land.

“Sara,” Dane tried again, “please, I need to bring you out of hypnosis.”

I reached up to my hair and felt the large patches of scalp.  I tasted the blood in my mouth and traced over the swelling on my face.  I was certain this was real.  Right?

The only chance I had was to make a run for it and hope I was faster than Dane.  I bolted out of the shadows hoping I had enough of a lead to outrun him.  Dane spotted me and called out my name. 

I pushed my legs harder and faster, propelling me to speeds I’d never reached before.  My lungs burned and my heart hammered in my chest as I ran blindly through the open land in the opposite direction of Dane’s house.  I didn’t look back, fearing any delay in forward movement would cost me my life.   I didn’t know where I was going, only that I had to keep going.  There was nothing in sight, nobody around.  Just a dark, endless void.

I heard heavy steps just as I felt him grab me from behind.  I tumbled to the ground and Dane straddled me, pinning me on my back with my wrists above my head.  I had no strength, and no leverage.  The night was silent as we struggled to catch our breath.

Dane’s face was mere inches from mine.  He smiled his familiar, sexy smile, but everything about him looked different to me now.  He touched my forehead and then gently slid his hand down my shoulder. “I’ve got you Sara,” he said.  “You’re safe now.”

Invisible Anna


After the blinding light cleared, Anna tried to refocus.  Her head felt fuzzy, but despite being disoriented, she was able to regain her vision.  Directly in front of Anna was an ornate mirror hanging on the wall, with a wooden table and an arrangement of pink roses below it.

“This can’t be right,” she said, squinting to get a better look.

The reflection in the mirror was definitely Anna, only she looked as though she was in her thirties again.  She stepped closer to the mirror and touched her warm, soft cheek.  Stretching her hands out in front of her, she noted the smooth, slender fingers and glowing skin where age spots had been moments earlier.

Pulling at the neckline of her favorite t-shirt, she took a peek inside.  “Well hello girls, you’re looking perky,” she said, pleased that her body was back in place and not hurting anymore.

Anna’s daughter came into the foyer just then, her dark brows were pinched, lips set in a thin line, and her eyes had dark circles underneath.

“Allison, what’s happening?  How did I get here?” Anna asked.

Allison ignored her mother and disappeared through the double doors.  Anna followed behind pushing the door open, and the hinges protested with a creaky moan.  Anna’s three children and their families stood at the front of the room, turning to see what the sound was.

“There must be a draft,” Allison said.

“No, it’s just me,” Anna replied, but her family had already shifted their attention away from her.

Anna moved forward to get a better look at what everyone was gawking at.  Some of her family was crying, and everyone stood defeated, as though the weight of the world rested on each of their shoulders.  They were gathered around a casket.

“What am I missing?  Who died?” Anna asked, moving in for a closer look.

She clamped her hand to her mouth, stumbling back a few steps, swallowing the bile that was rising in her throat.  Tears filled her eyes as panic settled into every crack of her being.  It couldn’t be.

“Goodbye Mom,” Allison whispered into the coffin.

“I’m right here!”  Anna’s voice cracked, she shook her head trying to clear out the confusion.  “What the hell is going on?”

Anna backed up to put some distance between herself and the coffin.  She bumped into someone and, out of habit, turned to apologize.

“Man, I’ve missed you,” Jack’s familiar voice soothed her.


Tears fell from Anna’s eyes as her late husband wrapped her up in a tight embrace.

“I knew I’d see you again, I knew it!”   She pulled back, stroked his middle-aged face, and squeezed his arms to be sure he was real.

“Is this a dream?” Anna asked him.

“I think you know it isn’t.”

“But I don’t feel dead.  I’m so confused.”

The funeral director began setting up a large picture on a stand next to the coffin.  Anna crept over to have a peek at her old, wrinkly body.  It was covered only by a clean, white sheet pulled up to her neck to conceal her nakedness.

“Just like I requested,” she noted.

The director gently closed the coffin as Anna examined the oversized picture of herself.  She looked at Jack with a sparkle in her eye, and the two of them burst into laughter.

“This is the one?  This is the best picture they could find of me?”

“At least they blurred out your middle finger,” Jack smiled.

“My gosh, I remember this!  I was drinking tequila.  Would you look at the hot pink lipstick on that shriveled up smile of mine?”

Jack winked at Anna.

“You’re eighty-five years old, get it together,” she yelled at the picture, smiling.

Her family slugged around the room, as guests began pouring in to say their goodbyes.

“This is depressing,” Anna said.

“Well what did you expect?  The world is a darker place without you in it, my love.”

Jack reached for Anna’s hand and held tight.

“Oh look!  There are Jenny and Mel.  I’m going to miss those girls.  Maybe I’ll haunt them sometime.”

More familiar faces piled in and a smile spread over Anna’s face.  “It’s good to know they cared,” she told Jack.

Anna’s youngest great-grandchild was Jill, a blonde hair, blue-eyed sweetie pie who just celebrated her first birthday.  She came toddling toward Anna on unsteady feet.

“Nana!” Jill babbled, pointing as drool hung from her lips.

“Nana’s in heaven with the angels now,” her mother soothed.  She swooped Jill up into her arms.

Jill’s chubby-cheeked smile flashed over her mother’s shoulder, as the toddler reached out to Anna.

Anna placed her thumbs against her temples and wiggled her fingers while blowing raspberries to Jill.  The sweet girl squealed and clapped.

Anna placed her hands over her heart.  “She can see me?”

“Sometimes they can,” Jack said.  “Especially when they’re little.”

Anna arched her brow as a new guest entered the room.

“And what is Ethel doing here?  She doesn’t even like me.”

Jack shrugged his shoulders.

“Look at her pretending to care.  Oh, I’m haunting this one for sure.  Books will be flying off shelves, and dishware will be levitating.  You can count on it,” Anna promised playfully.

Ethel made her way up to the casket, collapsing into tears and causing a scene.  Anna followed close.

“What a drama queen.  Would you look at this, Jack?  I don’t even think those tears are real!”

“Anna,” he said.

“What a fake…”

“Anna!” Jack interrupted.  He nodded in Allison’s direction.

She was huddled with her two brothers and clearly struggling with this event.  Anna floated over to her children, who were already wrinkled with age themselves.  She put her arms around them as best she could.

“Oh God, it’s like she’s still here, I can feel her,” Allison sobbed.

“Mom probably is still here,” Alan soothed.  “She’d never let anything keep her away from us.  Not even the Grim Reaper himself.”

“I can feel her too,” her oldest brother agreed. “Of course, it could just be gas.”

“Andrew!” Allison snorted at her brother’s weird humor.

Anna floated back to Jack’s side.  “I feel so helpless.  Is there anything I can do to comfort them?”

“Not that I know of.  This is their time to hurt and to heal.  It’s what life is all about.  They’ll be fine.”

Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” played softly over the speakers.

“They remembered!”  Anna clapped her hands together as a smile spread across her face.

“Don’t worry…about a thing…cause every little thing’s, gonna be alright…” Anna swayed to the music, memories flooding her soul.

Her family also smiled now, sharing their own memories of Anna.  Some memories were such a gift, and the most important ones never seemed to fade.

“I’m really going to miss the kids,” Anna sighed.

“We’ll stay close by.  They’ll be here with us all too soon.”


Anna and Jack stood side by side on the familiar grounds of their property.  In human terms, a week had passed, but time was different in this new reality.  For Anna, it had only felt like minutes.

Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were gathered at the back of the property, just outside the tree line.  Allison and her husband had moved in to help take care of Anna during the final stages of her life, so Anna left the house to them.

It was a beautiful fall day.  The sun was shining, and the leaves were vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red.  The smell of burning firewood blew in on the crisp breeze.  A small hole was freshly dug a short distance from the ten-year-old oak tree with Jack’s memorial plaque tacked to it.  Allison placed the bio urn, containing Anna’s ashes and an oak seed, into the hole.

“Rest in peace, Momma.  Hug Dad for us.”

Anna wrapped her arms around Jack.  “This is from the kids.”

He smiled and hugged her tight.

Allison furrowed her brows.  “Do you think that, somewhere out there, Mom and Dad still exist?”

“I don’t know.”  Alan put his arm around his sister.

The grandkids buried the urn, excited for the day they would have a picnic under their Nana’s living memorial.

That evening while Allison was in the shower, tears slid down her cheeks and she sobbed.  Thoughts of her own mortality, her mother, and the fresh empty void in her life consumed her.

“She’ll be okay, Anna.”

“There has to be some way I can comfort her.”

“Let her live, I promise she can handle this.  We’ll check on her in a little while, but right now, I have so much to show you.”

Anna started to follow Jack.  But then her eyes lit up and a smile played at the corners of her mouth.

“Wait, I’ve got an idea!”  She disappeared into the bathroom.

Seconds later she emerged, her features much more relaxed than before, and she took Jack’s hand.

Somewhere in the Universe, in a place so beautiful human language can’t describe it, Jack and Anna laughed and twirled in each other’s arms to a heavenly melody no human ear could comprehend.  Peace and love permeated every part of her soul.  She was home.


Allison stepped out of the shower and reached for her robe.  Her eyes widened, goosebumps tickled her skin, and her breath caught in her throat.  Then peace filled her heart, and she smiled.  She hadn’t heard anyone enter the bathroom, but in the fog on the mirror, in her mother’s familiar handwriting, were the words: WE STILL EXIST.





Eww, Valentine’s Day

yuck heart

As a romance author and hopeless romantic, it comes as a shock to some people that I don’t like loathe Valentine’s Day.  But wait!  Hear me out.

So, I love love.  And I don’t like too many regulations.  As a compulsive rule-follower, too many rules are hard to keep up with and it stresses me out.

Valentine’s Day, which in my opinion should have no authority in our lives whatsoever, regulates how and when someone should love their significant other.  For example, you should love your other by buying them diamonds, chocolates, flowers, and of course, the master indicator of love…the greeting card.  Also, you should do it on February 14th. Every. Single. Year.

Come on, really?!  Who decided that’s how you show love on this pretend holiday?  If you want to show your love, do it whenever you want, and with your own personal flair.  Not the generic flowers and chocolate crap. (Unless the generic flowers and chocolate crap is your own personal flair, then please accept my apologies.)  My husband and I show our love by snuggling on the couch, having a meaningful talk while collapsing in an exhausted heap of tired parents, in the middle of the active conversation we are having.  But we do that all the time, so February 14th means nothing to us.

According to the National Retail Federation, spending this Valentine’s Day is expected to hit 19.6 billion dollars.  What if I’m broke, and can’t afford diamonds?  I have a pantry stocked full of chocolate, you know, in case of an apocalypse, so I don’t need any more of that nonsense.  And while flowers are undeniably beautiful, in reality, I just have an overpriced glass of rotting plant in the center of my table, and the newly acquired chore of watering it as I watch it slowly die.  Nothing says “love” like more responsibility, am I right?!

What about those who can’t be with their loved ones on this day, or who don’t have a romantic partner for the occasion?  This commercialized, fake holiday just worsens feelings of inadequacy, loss, and depression.

Or what if I’m just crabby on Valentine’s Day, or something happens and my husband and I get into some kind of argument?  It’s, like, ten times worse if it happens on this specific day, because of the unrealistic expectation that everything concerning love is magically perfect on February 14th.  Suddenly, I’ve convinced myself that I’m a failure at love, when in fact I’m not, I’m just PMSing.

Real love is ugly, messy, and hard, and sometimes it hurts.  It’s also beautiful, fulfilling, and can leave you breathless.  None of that changes because someone (Hallmark) says love, somehow, should be extra special on this calendar date.  It’s too much pressure.  Love just is what it is, regardless of how you want it to be.


The Girl in the Rain



She walked along the city street, in a sea of strangers, on a cloudy day.  Thunder crashed violently overhead, but she didn’t flinch.  In fact, she barely even noticed.

She was always disconnected from the people around her, never really belonging in any place or situation.  Maybe it was the way she viewed the world, or just the way the world viewed her.  Most of her existence was unnoticed and insignificant.  She was easily forgettable, which she tried to see as an advantage, but it didn’t feel like one.  All around her, people laughed and connected, but she always stood on the sidelines, just outside of the action, watching it unfold but never participating in even the slightest sense of the term.  She watched, and wished that she could find her place, but eventually realized there was no place for her here.

A stranger bumped into her without so much as an ‘excuse me’, and for the millionth time that day she wondered if she existed at all.  People often looked through her, and she worried that she had in fact died but not realized it yet, and that nobody could see her because she no longer existed.  She felt truly invisible, and the emptiness inside was so deep and so dark that even a black hole itself could be overtaken in the vacuum of nothingness that resided within her soul.

It’s not that she didn’t want to connect.  It’s that something inside of her, woven into the very core of her being, couldn’t connect.  She was one to ask, but never to be asked.  She was one to care, but never to be cared about.  She was one to listen, but never to be heard.  She was called mysterious, but she wasn’t mysterious at all.  She was practically screaming, “I’ll tell you anything you want to know!”  But that’s the thing.  No one really wanted to know anything about her.  She worried what people thought of her, but eventually came to understand that nobody thought of her at all.  She had so much to share, but nothing to offer.

Sometimes she hated herself.  She knew she was a broken-down mess of a soul. She just wished the others couldn’t see it so well.  If she could have cried, she would have.  But the emptiness ran so deep that she no longer felt sadness.  Just an overwhelming numbness overtaking her very essence, what made her who she was.  She felt nothing.  She was nothing.

She’d never been popular, and she pretended it was by her choice, but she knew that wasn’t the reason.  It was because no matter how hard she tried to connect, she just couldn’t.  Nobody really cared, not the way she did.  And in the end, maybe that was her own fault.  Caring too deeply and thinking too much.  This kind of existence could torture a soul.

It had been raining, but she barely noticed.  Even though her hair was dripping, raindrops hung off her lashes and her clothes clung tightly to her cold body, she barely felt it, had barely felt anything in so long she’d almost forgotten how to feel at all.

She stopped in her tracks, on the city sidewalk and looked up into the dark, gray skies.  The ice-cold rain slammed across her face, invoking a numbness upon her skin that matched the numbness inside her soul.

Maybe she wasn’t meant for this world.  Or maybe it was her purpose to walk across the Earth like a ghost.  Unnoticed, ignored and easily forgotten.  To be looked at, but never truly seen.  To be listened to, but never truly heard. To be there, but never to belong.

She closed her eyes against the onslaught of lightning, and as everyone else ducked for cover she held out her arms and prayed Grimm would come for her.  But in order for death to take her, she would first have had to live, and she never quite made it that far.  She rarely felt anything anymore, just went through the motions in a world that was too bright to notice her insignificant, dim light.

She would never belong to this place, to these people.  She would never be enough for this place, for these people.  Her quiet voice would never be heard among the shrieking of the others, and anymore, she wasn’t sure she wanted to belong here anyway.

She put one foot in front of the other, water filling her shoes and sending a chill straight to her tired bones.  If she felt anything at all she would’ve shivered.  But she didn’t feel anything now, and she didn’t shiver.

She turned down a dark alley, the grayness and rain obscuring the view of her silhouette as it disappeared around the corner, and just like that…she was gone and forgotten.

The hustle of the city street forged ahead, and nobody missed a beat.  One was left to wonder…did she ever truly exist at all?