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May 9, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I was always terrified of doctors above all else, so by the time I finally steeled myself enough to go, the cancer had metastasized in both breasts. I sat numbly in Dr. Kerden’s office, as she droned on about my options. She never berated me for my stupidity. She didn’t have to; her bewilderment and restrained contempt bled through the sympathetic tones she spoke about chemotherapy in.

The bottom line was suffocatingly simple: if the treatments and surgeries were successful (Dr. Kerden could not have stressed the “if” more if she had scrawled it in lipstick on the desk)my chance of surviving more than five years was about twenty two percent.

I was only twenty four and all my plans – marriage to my fiance,future children, a full-fledged career in travel photography – had just been yanked from my feet and placed on a high shelf I had a seventy-eight percent chance of never reaching.

Oddly, out of all those bricks that had just crashed down on my head, the one that broke the dam and spilled my tears was the realization that even if -if!- I survived, married Ben, had children, I would never breast feed them. There was no chance of saving my breasts at that point. To this day, I’ve never figured out why that was what hit me hardest.

Normally I would have argued every inch of a medical procedure. Not this time. I signed papers numbly, barely glancing at the black print that swam in and out of focus. Waivers. Insurance proof. Next of kin. Emergency contacts.

I don’t even remember going home and packing my bag for the hospital that night. I must have talked to Ben, I know, because he was in that sterile room late into the night before the nurses finally kicked him out.

Dr. Kerden, as it turned out, was my polar opposite when it came to medical procrastination; chemo started within the next few days. Let me tell you right now, the chemo patients you see on tv shows and movies don’t tell half the story of the suffering you really go through.

When I looked in the mirror after the first treatment, I saw the most exhausted woman I’d ever seen looking back at me. By the third treatment, she looked more dead than alive. Yellowing skin, hollowed eyes, thin, cracked lips in spite of all the clinical chapstick the nurses gave me. Ben used to tease me for my “baby face” (because he was too sweet to straight up admit that my round face was a tad bit pudgy) and now that face was lined, the round cheeks sunken in. I looked forty.

I would feel dead if I wasn’t hobbling to the bathroom every day, the retching of my stomach gleefully proclaiming: “Yes! Yes we are alive! Ain’t it just fucking grand?!”

Four months. I caved and had Ben bring his electric razor. I was past crying at that point, watching shreds of black hair, once so soft and shiny, fall into a hospital trashcan. Ben hadn’t reached that point just yet, I noticed as he quietly sniffled. He would, I knew.

That night, after Ben had been kicked out by the night nurse, I gave up trying to sleep, and snatched my current forget-I’m-dying-of-cancer book off my bedside table. I had been limping through the book only a few minutes when it dawned on me that I wasn’t alone in my hospital room anymore; a small man in a patchwork coat and a battered top hat was sitting in Ben’s vacated chair.

I stared at him stupidly above the edge of the book, instinctively hiding my young-old face as much as I could. He smiled encouragingly and offered a little wave. His hair was all hidden beneath that oversized hat, but his curly beard was a very bright ginger.

“Um, visiting hours are over,” I offered after a moment.

His smile widened into a grin and he doffed his hat in acknowledgment. “True enough, lass, but visiting hours are only for visitors.”

I blinked in surprise. For his small frame – he didn’t look much bigger than my thirteen-year-old nephew – his voice was surprisingly deep.

“Can I help you with something?” I fumbled for the remote with the nurse call button. “Are you looking for someone? The nurse should help…”

He stilled me with a dismissive wave and a laugh. “Oh no need for that, lass. I was looking for you, as it happened.”

I squinted at him, less alarmed by his potential stalking than the fact that he seemed to be flickering in and out like a candle flame – now solid, now faint as a ghost. Relief washed over me as I finally figured it out.

“I’m hallucinating,” I explained out loud. “The pain killers are kicking in, and I’m hallucinating a homeless leprechaun in my room.”

The walls shook with his laughter, as he kicked his feet in glee. He wiped tears from the corners of his eyes.

“If I had known you would be this delightful, I probably would have come to you a lot sooner.”

Had I been in any normal, non-drugged state of mind, I would have summoned the nurse then and there. Instead I unconsciously loosened my grip dropped the remote on the floor.

“Who are you?” I finally thought to ask. “What do you want from me? I don’t have a lot of money to spare at the moment….”

He flapped his hand in good-natured dismissal again.

“I don’t want anything from you, Anna. If anything I’m here for your benefit. I’ve brought you a gift of sorts.”

The short bark of laughter that escaped me was nothing like the frequent belly laughs I had had four months ago.

“What? You’re going to cure my cancer?”

He raised an eyebrow silently. Abruptly, my laughter dried up and I felt my cynical smile slide off my face. All of my family’s sworn to be true tales about demons and spirits came crashing down around me at once.

“You’re the devil and you want my soul,” I accused him.

He sniffed as though offended. “I’m Eustace, not a demon,” he countered, “and YOU summoned ME. I’m just here to give you what you want.”

Eustace? “I didn’t summon you.”

He sighed. “You read the fifth word of the third paragraph on the twenty-sixth page of ‘Prince Caspian’ at exactly forty-five seconds past one o’clock in the morning on April the fourteenth. You summoned me.”

I gaped at him. “What the hell kind of ritual is that??”

He winked. “The kind I change about every five minutes or so. Makes the odds of someone actually calling me to them microcosmic.”

I paused. “You don’t want people to summon you? Why?”

He chuckled. “By now with all of your social media, all of you humans should have learned a long time ago – the biggest pricks are the ones who come seeking you out. The best people you ever meet will fall into your life by accident.”

I raised my hands in a warding off gesture. “Look, if I summoned you, I seriously did not mean to. I don’t want three wishes, or wealth or any of that crap. I don’t want to give up my soul or my first-born or whatever it is you trade in. Please go away.”

He peered at me earnestly, actually clasping his little hands together like one of Dickens’ orphans. “I told you, Anna, I don’t want your soul. There is no trade to be made; beating the odds enough to summon me seals the bargain. You have earned my luck, and I’m afraid it is yours whether you want it or not.”


He nodded seriously and hopped up out of the chair. Standing, he would barely have come up to where my breasts had once been. He crossed over to my bedside and took my shock-limp hand in his own.

I realized with a start that behind his roguish grin and humor, his eyes were incredibly lonely. His hands held mine with deference, even gentleness.

“Yes, Anna. From this day onward, you will have my luck – however high the odds are stacked, you will always beat them.”

“And what do I have to give up in return?” The words fell nearly inaudibly from my trembling lips.

He smiled almost sadly. “A few minutes spent talking to a lonely old spirit that no one has summoned in a long, long time.”

I had no words left. There we were, a dying woman and an impossible spirit in the ICU at Mercy Hospital. Almost unconsciously, I felt myself squeeze his hand. I swear, a look of naked startlement flitted across his face.

Then the cheery, careless grin was back on his face and the moment was over. He patted my hand distantly and stepped back.

“One word of warning I must offer,” he said. “You humans rely on luck much less than you really know. This gift will change your life, and you must be prepared to change with it.”

He straightened his coat, doffed his hat, and winked out of my room.

The shrill beeping of my empty IV bag woke me up the next morning. I groaned. I felt like I had been hit with a truck; another unfortunate side effect of coming down off the painkiller cushion between you and the chemo.

The morning nurse came in swiftly and shut off the beeping and busied herself replacing the bag. I glanced at the clock. It was five-thirty, and time for my morning blood draw to see if I was dying any faster today than yesterday.

I pushed my encounter with Eustace to the back of my brain until a week later. I was spooning up the last of my jello cup when my current Doctor came in.

He smiled at me automatically over his clipboard as he flipped through the pages.

“Good morning, Miss Hall. How are you feeling today?”

I didn’t respond. He wasn’t offended. We both knew how I was doing. Suddenly he stopped flipping, gave the clipboard a hard look, and then, wonder of wonders, actually raised his eyes and looked me in the face.

“You’re in remission.”


He shook himself, recovering from his slip. “According to your recent blood work and biopsy, the spread of the cancerous cells has stopped. It also appears that the existent cells seem to be dying at an increasing rate.”

I could feel my lips trembling. “The cancer is dying? So I … I beat it?”

He offered me a sympathetic smile. “It’s a little early to tell, Miss Hall. We are definitely going to be monitoring this closely, but things are looking up.”

As it turned out, things were more than looking up; I went home two weeks later. I would still be getting regular scheduled blood work, of course, and a whole score of other tests to make sure that my cancer was actually gone. There was a fair chance that in the next few years the cancer could reoccur.

You might be thinking that I’d be drinking champagne, eating all the food I couldn’t have at the hospital, and having celebratory I’m-not-dead sex with Ben for days. Honestly, all I really wanted was a Tim Horton’s ham and swiss sandwich, and then to sleep in my own bed, in my own apartment for as long as possible.

Ben swung us by Tim’s on the way home. Turned out they were having a mini-event; we were the thousandth customers that day, so our meal was half off, with extra donuts thrown in with no charge.

Eating that vanilla creme, chocolate-iced donut after four months of peach jello was barely short of orgasmic. I think I actually moaned as I ate it, melting chocolate smeared on my cheek.

We managed to beat every rush-hour clog and hit every green light on the way home. Ben punched the air in triumph as we pulled into the driveway. That asshole in 2B who always took my parking spot wasn’t there yet.

Ben parked the car, ran around the front, and opened my door for me. I was still a bit wobbly on my feet, so he offered his arm like a true gentleman. Leaning heavily on him, I stepped into our apartment for the first time in almost five months.

The next few weeks blurred by. I hadn’t expended all my medical leave at Harnon’s Travel agency, but they still allowed me to come back to work a bit early. My hands fairly itched to hold my camera again.

Out of respect for the in-town doctors visits that I would still need for at least another month, my boss kindly set me on largely local assignments.

My photos and article on Alden Park, the local arboretum, actually generated enough interest to bring in a fair handful of tourists. No one marked it as their sole destination, of course, but a fair number of people nonetheless vacationing higher in the mountains read my article and thought it worth a detour to check it out.

As it happened, one of the tourists was the head editor of an internationally famous travel magazine. I found this out when I came in to work and he was sitting in my dinky cubicle, my complete portfolio already picked up from my office manager.

He seemed a little off-put by my appearance: my hair had only just started growing back, and the lines remained etched on my face, even though I had begun to gain some weight back. Nonetheless, he greeted me warmly and shook my hand, shifting my portfolio under his arm.

“Miss Hall? I’m George Mann, Editor in Chief at World Travels.”

I froze. World Travels was a legitimate, big time magazine. “Of course, Mr. Mann. What can I do for you today?”

Turned out he had taken an interest in my photos – he felt that lately most of the photographers working for World Travels were overlooking what he called the “smaller gems” (read anything nature heavy) choosing to focus on growing high-scale restaurants and developing up-town regions in various cities.

To cut a long story short, within ten days of getting back to work, I was offered a position that could legitimately spark off a career as a photographer. What are the odds?

I would have been an idiot not to have started connecting the dots at this point. It was becoming increasingly obvious that Eustace had not been a painkiller hallucination after all.

Still, I have always tried to take a logical, sensible approach to every mystery I’ve ever encountered, so I came up with an experiment that would make or break my theory.

I played the lottery. Not the small-prize scratch cards. I mean the BIG one, the multi-million dollar jackpot. Ben and I watched, slack-jawed, later that week when the powerball numbers were announced, watching as one by one, they matched up with my ticket.

Of course I never mentioned Eustace to Ben. It was enough that I knew he’d been real.

The next five years passed by like a dream. Despite the high risk I was at for a recurrence of cancer, it never struck. My hair grew back in it’s original color, without so much of a sprinkling of the expected gray. Ben and I were married and immediately found our dream house, paid for with a chunk of the lottery money. I privately blessed Eustace, at least at first.

I was on my lunch break, deciding to mix business with pleasure and cover a new soul-food style restaurant downtown. The barbeque ribs were spicy, balanced with just the right amount of sweetness. I took a large bite, and immediately felt a glass-shattering pain in my mouth.

One emergency trip to the dentist later revealed that as an unfortunate side effect of both the chemo and some of the drugs I had been on for cancer treatment years earlier, all of my teeth were slightly more brittle than they had been before.

I had shattered a back molar down to the root. Fortunately, the dentist peering at my outraged tooth informed me that it was actually one of my wisdom teeth, and not a true molar. That was the good news.

The worse news was that given the damage dealt, an extraction was the only real option on the table. I hate dental procedures worse than standard medical.

The doctor prescribed a penicillin derived antibiotic for after the extraction. The extraction itself actually went alright; it was after I had been taking the pills for two days that a quick ER trip revealed that I had apparently developed an allergy to all drugs in the penicillin family.

One full-body rash and a antibiotic switch later, I was back to work. Mr. Mann had become a pretty big fan of my work, and was giving me regular assignments now. The assignment folder on my desk today was for a piece on a section of the Appalachian trail and the small town in Vermont it opened up in. Full expense for air travel paid of course.

Since Ben was mainly freelance writing at this time, and could work anywhere he had access to wifi, I convinced him to come with me. We could try some maple candy and do a little hiking ourselves.

The odds of a plane crashing are actually pretty small, as are the odds of surviving it. When the plane went down over Pennsylvania, I survived. Ben didn’t.

When I stood at the foot of his coffin during his burial, I held an umbrella against the rain. I got struck by lightning. Twice. The photographs I took of the scars it left down my left arm and leg, alongside the entire story of how they came to be there fully cemented my career as a respected photographic journalist.

Looking at how my life has fallen in and out of pieces since Eustace stepped into it, I can’t hate him. I can’t say he cheated me, because I never gave him anything. I can’t say he lied to me, because he never once promised that the luck would be good.

There will always be odds stacked, but sometimes they are naturally stacked against you. Sometimes they are stacked in your favor. Eustace never promised I would only win; he just promised I would always manage to beat the odds. I can only say that he’s right on that count.

So I learned to stagger the odds against myself now and then. Now when it’s raining, I wear as much metal jewelry as I can decently fit on my body. When I go swimming, I only do it after a full meal. I do all of my jogging through dark alleyway late at night with my headphones cranked all the way up. If I have to be somewhere in a hurry, I stall for as long as possible and go through the highest traffic areas I can. I even under-cook all of my meat and fish just a little bit.

So far I’ve never been mugged, my health has been fairly steady, my career is wonderful, and I have enough money for a very comfortable life. On the other hand, my bed is empty every morning. Ben’s cologne never seems to wash out of his pillow. I still have the list of the names we wanted to give our children.

I can’t even really talk to a therapist about this because of how crazy it all sounds. Although I do suspect that given my luck, I would end up with the one doctor who happens to hold an un-confessed belief in the supernatural. I can’t even talk to a priest to bless away Eustace’s gift because I know deep down he told the truth when he said he was no demon.

Like it or not, the gift will be mine forever. And as Eustace advised, I’ve learned to cope with it. I don’t take high-reward risks anymore, learning to take pleasure in the small things. No fewer than fourteen times I have managed to catch perfect pictures of mother deer milking their fawns in wildflower fields. I can always find some small gem in the grimiest second hand stores.

As much as I miss Ben, I can’t be truly lonely either. I think the true gift Eustace gave me was this; since I met him, I have encountered some of the wildest, freest, and brightest minded people in the most unlikely places. They are the best people I’ve ever met, and they all found me by accident.

If there is one thing I still can take control of here, it is this; the odds are split even fifty-fifty on whether I will live a happy life.

What can I say? When all other odds are stacked, life has a funny way of evening out.

Credit: MJ

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White Sale

May 8, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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On June 8, 2010, I turned 14. Two days later, my mom tripped over a pair of my tennis shoes and died. She was carrying laundry down to our washer in the basement when it happened. She broke her neck. Her name was Meredith and she was only 45. Her and my dad would have been married for 23 years that August.

After my mom died, it was just dad and me. I am an only child. When I was younger, my dad use to joke that I was such a miserable baby he and mom decided not to have any more kids, but mom always said I was the her greatest accomplishment. I was named Mary after my mom.

I was in the middle of taking final exams at school when mom died. The school gave me a pass on taking the rest of my finals that year. Dad took the next two weeks off from his third shift delivery job, and we spend the time planning mom’s funeral and trying to figure out what to do next. Everything had changed.

At the end of the two weeks, dad had to go back to work. I knew he felt guilty leaving me alone at night, but I also think he was relieved. The house was so quiet now. His first night back to work was also the first night I started sleeping with my t.v. on.

I had always been a good sleeper, even as a baby, but that first night alone in the house, I was wide awake. I kept thinking about my mom and the accident. Every time I closed my eyes I could picture her lying there, dead on our basement floor, sheets and towels scattered around her body. I kept thinking about those stupid tennis shoes. The ones that shouldn’t have been on the steps.

At first I tried watching cop shows to help me fall asleep, but shows like CSI and Law and Order hit too close to home. Next I tried putting on “The History Channel”, but I got so interested in the programs that I stayed up all night watching them. The news was too depressing, I hated sports, and cooking shows made me hungry. And then I stumbled across it. The perfect put-you-to-sleep show. HSN, or Home Shopping Network.

I knew what HSN was; I think my mom may have even bought from them once or twice. It was never anything I would have chosen to watch. But that night, alone in the house with just my thoughts, I decided to give it a go. To my surprise, I found the overly excited sales ladies comforting. They were the exact opposite of my mom, with piled on make-up, perfectly coifed hair and way too much personality. The drone of their sale pitch became white noise, and before I knew it, I could sleep.

As the weeks went on, I developed a bedtime ritual. Dad would leave for his job by 10:00, I would take a long, relaxing bath, read in bed for an hour or two, and when the lights went out, the t.v. came on.

I kept the station on HSN, and I watched it with the volume turned low; just loud enough to hear the strangely soothing voice of the 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m host.

“Welcome everyone to this amazing hour of shopping here on the Home Shopping Network. I’m your host for the next few hours, Cynthia -Cindy- Myers and I’m so glad you could join us. We have some great deals coming up and our first one will be a flex-pay…”

I was usually sound asleep before the first item was sold out.

“Hurry hurry hurry all you shoppers. If you want to get in on this deal, you MUST act now. This one won’t last.”

By the beginning of July, I was starting to feel a little like my old self. I still missed my mom, and I was still lonely at night, but Cynthia -Cindy- Myers had become like a surrogate to me. I looked forward to her visits each night and drifting off to sleep to the sound of her voice. I thought I was adjusting. I was wrong.

It was during the big “White Sale” that Cynthia Myers stopped talking to her audience of shoppers, and started talking directly to me.

It had been a rough day for me, and by the time I got upstairs to bed, I was too tired to even read a chapter of my latest teen novel. I must have been asleep for only a few minutes when I was awaken by the sound of someone calling my name.

“Hey Mary. Wake up. You’re not going to want to miss this one.”

I opened my eyes, confused. Did the t.v. wake me up?

“This is the one you have been waiting for Mary. Home Shopping Network’s famous White Sale. 300 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets in white, cream, beige, and for the first time, desert sand.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I sat up in bed and stared at the t.v. in amazement. There on the screen, looking right at me, talking directly to me, was HSN’s Queen of the Late night. Only this time, Cynthia Myers looked…off. Her normally perfect hair was sticking straight out from her head in electric shock fashion. Her eye makeup was smudged under both eyes, and one false eyelash was dangling from her lid like a sleeping spider. When she smiled, her perfect teeth now appeared discolored and grey.

As I watched, blood began to drip from Cindy’s nose and splash onto the once pristine sheet in her hand. This pissed her off.

“Oh great” she said, holding the sheet up to the camera. “Look what you made me do Mary. Look what you made me do.”

She was getting herself worked up. Her eyes looked wild.

“You couldn’t just call in could you Mary. You couldn’t just call in and help me make a sale could you. You owe me Mary. This is all your fault. You and those Goddam sneakers.”

Cindy then took the once white sheet and began to twist it around her neck. Once, twice, smearing the drop of blood in the process.

“What are you going to do now Mary? What now?” She screamed from the t.v. “Pick up your phone. There’s still time to get in on this deal.”

With that, Cynthia Myers pulled the ends of the sheet tight across her throat, and with a resounding “snap” proceeded to break her own neck.

I might have screamed then. I really don’t know. But the next thing I remember I was standing in the hallway outside my bedroom door. My heart was slamming and I couldn’t catch my breath. My muscles felt tight and I was ready to run. Instead I stood stock still and listened. And waited. And when nothing happened I dared to look back into my bedroom, and at the t.v.

The twisted image of Cynthia Myers breaking her own neck was replaced with the pleasing face of Samantha Greene, host of the 4 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. sunrise show. The “White Sale” was over, and we had moved on to herbal remedies and supplements. Needless to say, I didn’t go back to sleep that night.

I decided not to mention my crazy dream to my dad the next day. He was dealing with his own issues, and his guilt at having to leave me alone at night. I had also convinced myself that this dream, this nightmare, really wasn’t as messed up as I had first imagined. You can make yourself believe anything if you really want to.

The next day I replayed that dream over and over in my head, and when it was night again, I couldn’t bring myself to try and sleep. Even though I was exhausted, I decided to stay up and watch t.v. on the living room couch. I put on a rerun of some campy show from the 80’s, and I was asleep before the first commercial break.

This time, it wasn’t the voice of Cynthia Myers calling my name that woke me up, but the distinct “click, click, click” of channels being changed on my t.v. screen. In my groggy state, I only caught a glimpse of different shows as they flicked across the screen. Then, the clicking stopped. Cynthia Myers was looking up at me from behind a table heavy with costume jewelry and semi-precious gems. She smiled at me, and this time I noticed she was missing her two front teeth. When she spoke, her voice came out in a whistle.

“Hi Sweetie. Welcome back to this hour of exciting sales.” She lisped, air escaping from between her teeth. “Stick around kiddo, you just may learn something.”

Then she gave me an exaggerated wink and a thumbs up sign that she quickly twisted around into a one finger salute.

I pushed my hands against my eyes. Hard. I tried to blink her away. She was still there. Only now, her broken smile was once again perfect and whole, and impossibly white. She spoke to the camera and to her “viewers at home”.

“You don’t want to miss this next half hour” Cynthia smiled. “We have something really big coming up so stay tuned.”

I abruptly turned off the t.v.

I picked up my cell phone and hit speed dial for my dad. If I was going crazy, he would probably want to know. Plus, I was scared shit-less. I wasn’t worried about protecting my dad anymore, I wanted someone to protect me. My dad answered on the second ring and he sounded worried. He always sounded worried when my mom or I called him in the middle of the night. He said he always thought something bad must have happened. My mind had been racing a mile a minute about what I wanted to tell him, but once I heard his voice, all I could manage to say was “hi dad”.

I don’t know why I didn’t tell him about my freaky dreams or visions or whatever they were. But I felt 10 times better just talking to him. I told him I couldn’t sleep and that I was thinking about mom. He told me that he thought about her all the time too. He said there wasn’t much else to do when you were on the road except think. He sounded so sad. We talked the rest of the night, and into morning. And when his trip was over, I talked him home.

We sat at the breakfast table together and I made us scrambled eggs and toast. It was one of the only things I knew how to make. We ate our breakfast, cleaned up the kitchen, and then we both went to his room and fell asleep.

When I woke up 12 hours later I felt like a weight had been lifted from me. I felt like I could see things more clearly. It was then that I decided to face my fears head on.

That night, at 10:00, every light in the living-room blazing, I called Cynthia -Cindy- Myers.

The phone number for HSN was blazing across the front of my screen in bright white digits. I picked up my cell phone and dialed the toll-free number and waited for an answer.

“Hello, and thank you for calling the Home Shopping Network. We’re so glad you decided to shop with us today. How can we help you?”

This recorded message was followed by a number of options.

“Please press 1 if you would like to make a purchases.”
“Please press 2 if you would like to make a payment.”
“Please press 3 if you have a question regarding shipping or delivery.”
“Please press 4 if you would like the opportunity to speak on air with one of our Home Shopping Network Hosts.”
“Press 5…..”

I didn’t need to listen any further. I pressed option 4 and waited.

In just a few minutes, a voiced answered the phone.

“Thank you for calling Home Shopping Network. This is Lisa.”

After answering some pre-screening questions about why I wanted to talk to Cindy Myers on-air (I lied) they put my call in the queue and told me I would be “live” in about 15 minutes.

My hands were so sweaty that I thought I might drop my phone. My heart was pounding and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to speak when it was my turn. After waiting about 20 minutes I started to question what the hell I was doing. This was nuts. Just as I was about to hang up the phone I head a click and then:

“Hi, this is Cynthia Myers thank you so much for calling into the show tonight. What is your name?”

I drew a blank. I couldn’t remember my own name.

“Hello….your on the air with Cynthia Myers. Can you hear me?”

“Mary” I squeaked out. “My name is Mary”.

“Hi there Mary, so nice to talk to you tonight. Where are you calling from?” Cynthia asked. Her voice was so soothing, she put me at ease.

“I’m calling from Binghamton, New York” I said. “Thank you so much for taking my call.”

Cynthia went on to ask me about my experience with the current product she was selling, and asked me to tell the viewers why I loved it so much.

“Actually Ms. Myers” I began. “I don’t really use this product. I’m calling you because my mom died last month and I have been watching your show at night” I said. “I wanted to thank you for keeping me company and making me feel less alone”. I could feel my voice catching in my throat and I was afraid I would start crying. I watched Cynthia’s reaction to what I had just said on my screen. Her face softened and she smiled gently.

“Well bless your heart” Cynthia said, placing a hand over her chest. “That is one of the sweetest things I have ever hear in my 6 years on the air. I’m so glad that I could help dear”.

I took a deep breath and continued. “Ms. Myers, the last few nights something weird happened when I watched your show”.

Cynthia’s face filled the screen, a quizzical look playing across her features.

I gathered my courage and continued: “I was wondering if you experienced anything weird too.”

I didn’t expect what happened next.

Cynthia’s once pleasant features twisted up in an ugly snarl and she glared at me through the t.v. screen. “Mary, I really don’t think this is the time or place to be discussing this do you?” She said. Her voice stern and no-nonsense.

My breath caught in my throat. I didn’t know what to say. I could feel my hands sweating. “What?” I stammered.

“That’s it, I’m done with this shit.” Cynthia raged at the camera. She plucked something off the collar of her floral dress and threw it to the ground. I heard a crackle sound and realized it was her wireless microphone.

Cynthia moved around to the front of the display table, her face inches from the camera. She brought her finger up to her now red face and I could swear I saw smoke coming from her mouth. “I’m coming over there Mary. We are going to settle this once and for all. Face to face”.

Then she was out of frame, and the camera showed the empty sound stage for just a moment before a black screen went up with the words “We are experiencing technical difficulties….please stand by.”

It was at that moment my doorbell starting to ring.

I jumped up off the sofa, phone still clutched in my hand. I looked wildy around the room, as if it could give me some clue as to what I should do next. The ringing at the door grew incessant and then it was replaced with hard knocking, and then pounding. The door shook. It felt like the whole house was shaking. I felt something warm and wet trailing down the leg of my pajamas, and realized for the first time in 11 years, I had peed my pants. I started crying.

“Please, go away.” I whispered. “Please.”

And just like that, the pounding stopped.

I must have stood in the middle of my livingroom for 15 minutes. Legs shaking, my heart thudding in my chest. I looked down at my cell phone, clutched tightly in my hand, and realized the call had been disconnected. The smiling face of my mom stared back at me from my screen saver. I sat down on the floor and began to cry even harder.

Finally, in what could have been a few minutes, or a few hours, I dragged myself to my feet and walked over to the front door. I felt like I was having an out of body experience. Like I was watching myself lift my hand to the doorknob and unbolt the lock. I gripped the handle and it felt cold and slick in my hand. I turned the knob and opened the door. I stepped outside into the cool, pre-dawn air and took a deep breath. There on the stoop sat a package with “Home Shopping Network” printed on the side. The computer generated label was address to me.

I looked around, the street was deserted.

I picked up the package and carried it inside the house. I closed the door behind me but I didn’t bother locking it again. I took the box into the kitchen and got out a pair of scissors. Taking a deep breath, I cut the tape securing the lid of the box. I suddenly felt calm. I lifted the lid.

That was a little over 2 years ago. Not long after what I now refer to as “that night” my dad took a new job in a different part of the state and we moved from our house into a gated apartment complex complete with a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a cute 11th grade neighbor.

Overall, my life has been pretty good. I still miss my mom, but I can think about her now and smile. I have made lots of friends, and I joined the tennis team at my new school. I keep myself busy and I don’t dwell on the past.

I love my new room, and dad let me decorate it any way I wanted. The walls are pink with white trim, and I have movie posters and pictures of musical groups hanging everywhere. But my favorite decoration is the gift I got that night, packaged up in a Home Shopping Network box.

Inside the box was a new pair of white tennis shoes together with a Home Shopping Network “Receipt for Payment”.

Under the section for purchases, written in my mom’s delicate script, it read:

“The tennis shoes were never on the stairs Mary. They were on the basement floor, right where you left them, the whole time.”

The receipt is in a frame on my desk, and those new tennis shoes, just my size, are sitting on a shelf over my bed. Two years later, and I can still detect the faintest hint of her perfume on them.

I never figured out what really happened “that night” and I really don’t care. Maybe the whole ordeal was just a series of dreams from the mind of a guilt ridden teenaged girl. But maybe not.

A week after “that night”, I watched the Home Shopping Network for what would be the last time. They had a new host for the 10:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. slot. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember her saying the old host had moved on to “bigger and better endeavors”. I turned off the t.v., and went to bed.

Credit: Tracy Allen

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Crappypasta Round-Up for 5/7/2016

May 7, 2016 at 5:14 PM

The following stories were uploaded to Crappypasta over the past week:

Comments on the roundups will be closed – if you have feedback on any of the stories linked here, please use their own individual comment sections.

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May 7, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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The perfume haunted me. It fluttered through the air, teasing me, leading me towards an obscured end. I ran down hallways bathed in red tapestries, my night gown shuddering in the cold. Moonlight showed me the way as I searched for the perfume’s source. Around blind corners, through doorways of solid oak, into rooms once filled with laughter and terrible deeds. With each step the scent grew stronger. Roses. A sting of ginger and citrus. Never quite putting my finger on the familiarity of it all.

And then I entered a chamber. An old room which differed from the rest. One solitary candle sat by a large four poster bed. The light cascaded out, revealing a room dark and brooding. The floor was cold, the wood warped slightly, my bare feet losing what little heat they once held. A huge fireplace lay opposite the bed, unlit, devoid of life. And above it, a large portrait dominated the room. In the painting a woman sat, wearing a dark green dress of many decades past. Her hair was pulled tightly in a bun, her pale skin like languid pearl, and her eyes cold and cruel with dispassion.

Those eyes seemed to watch, following me as I wandered around the bed until I stood at its foot. A once rich, now faded crimson blanket covered the mattress, and as the candlelight struggled against an unseen draft, it became clear that someone lay in the bed.

I could not see the face of this person, the body was covered from head to foot by the red blanket, shrouded by it. The sight of that cloth outline struck fear into my heart – I dared not remove the blanket, uncertain that my nerves could endure the shock. Again, I was stung by the familiarity of it all, a memory hiding in the shadows just out of sight, refusing to reveal itself. The pungent rose perfume was stronger than it had been before, as I could feel the spiteful gaze of the portrait behind me, watching proceedings. Then I noticed another scent. Something which had festered in that room for years, obscured by the sweetness of the perfume; a foul underbelly.

As I stared at the outline of head and body beneath the blanket, the stench grew. With each breath I was treated to a mixture of roses and something humid; murky; like soil after a downpour. There was something rotten in that room with me. The rancid smell became so thick that I could taste it. The hidden memory threatened to break loose from its chains. I had to flee. Run. Be away from that room, that house, out into the open where I could breathe again.

I walked quickly to the door where I had entered. It was locked. I twisted at the metal handle, its spherical body covered in dark brown paint. The locked mechanism entombed in oak echoed out into distant recesses which taunted me and resisted; I was a prisoner confined to a solitary room, to a place where the sweet air of flowers was mixed with that of death.

I pounded on the door. Shouted. Screamed. But my pleas went unanswered. They simply faded into that lonely house, my family home which I had not visited since I was seven. A place which hid dark recollections, and wounds which ran deep, covered thinly by the proceeding decades. At last I gave in. I stopped my protests, rested my forehead on the cold wooden surface of the locked door, and tried to compose myself.

Then I heard a sound.

One at first, followed by three others. It was a clicking, creaking noise. I turned around slowly to see what was there, but the room was as it had been. The body in the bed lay still, the blanket forming a perfect impression of it. The bedside candle flickered but remained, and as it did so shadows danced around the room. They created the illusion of movement, and for a moment I stared at the portrait, the woman’s eyes peering out at me from above the darkened fireplace, and it was as if a flicker of recognition fell across the face.

I shuddered, believing that it was merely a trick of the light, but still, the face looked on. Then I heard the creaking sound again. A series of quick clicks, like an aching door which had not been opened for an age, slowly moving in the night. But I could not see the source. My heart raced as I looked around, and for the first time I noticed that in the dim light there lay an old wooden wardrobe on the other side of the room.

The creaking sounded once more; a frightful unease began to take over as each click sounded; it both puzzled and repulsed me. I turned to the door and twisted the handle as hard as I could, but the reality had not changed. I was locked in that room with a body rotting under the sheets, and a clicking noise coming from inside a wardrobe. A noise which felt organic, alive somehow, differing itself from the shifting contractions of the wooden floor and beams of the old house. It at once sounded natural, and yet felt unnatural.

Another creaking, clicking, and I knew that I had to look at the wardrobe across the room. I was terrified by what I might find, but the anticipation of waiting, just waiting until something threatening emerged from its wooden tomb, was too much to bear. I wanted this torturous night to be over, to return to my adult life. Something had compelled me to visit my ancestral home, but I was sure that if I ever felt the cool breeze of the outside world again, I would curse that place and never return.

Obscured memories flickered in front of my eyes once more. The familiarity of the perfume stinging my senses. The room… A dreadful window into my past. I would not be tortured like this, played with; I had to know what was inside that wardrobe.

I stepped forward, moving around and then to the foot of the bed. I was certain that the portrait stared on menacingly, but I dared not catch its eye, and so my gaze remained fixed on the wardrobe as I neared. The clicking, creaking noise sounded intermittently. With each step I listened intently, sometimes being greeted by that horrid sound, other times being welcomed by the silence, an equally unappealing night time noise.

As I reached my hand out to the wardrobe door, my blood ran cold. The door moved, if ever so slightly. But it did move. I could see an inch of the darkness inside, a small slither of black air, and I felt as though a watchful eye was glaring at me from within it.

A creak replied to my proximity, this time louder than before. But it took on a new characteristic, like knuckles being clicked; bone and ligament snapping in place, limbs which had not moved for an age breaking free of time’s relentless hold. I reached my hand out slowly and pulled the door open with force. For a moment, I thought I saw two eyes in the dark of the wardrobe peering at me, but as the light from the room’s solitary candle reached that dark place, I saw nothing. No clothes, no belongings, no creeping eyes, just the emptiness of a life now vacant.

I sighed with relief, but when I turned to the room I froze to the spot. Something was different. Something had changed. It wasn’t the portrait on the wall. The bitter face of the woman in the painting stared onward. It wasn’t the fireplace either, remaining as it did unlit, its mouth bathed in night. It wasn’t the door on the other side of the room, my only avenue for escape, standing still closed, no doubt locked by some unseen jailor.

No, none of these things had changed. But what had frightened me, tore at any composure I still had within me, was the figure lying under the covers in the bed. That dead, silent corpse which filled the air with perfume and macabre aura.

It was gone.

The red blanket had been pulled aside revealing white silk sheets, and the only evidence that someone had been lying there was an impression in the mattress, an outline of a now missing body.

I gasped as the creaking sounded once more, this time from the bed, but there was no sight of the body. The room was unoccupied, and yet the air did not feel absent of company. Something was there. I looked around, and it was then that I entertained a thought. One which otherwise would have been preposterous to me. Perhaps it was an invisible spectre which had been lying under the red blanket. An apparition with the body of a person, but transparent to the naked eye.


The noise drew closer.


This time from the foot of the bed. Whatever it was, it was slowly walking towards me, the warped floorboards shifting under its weight the only sign that I wasn’t alone.

If only I could see the cadaverous thing before it placed its rotten hands on me. At that thought I leapt to the bed, and as the spectre stepped forward, I pulled the sheets off the mattress, throwing them into the air like a net. They fluttered with movement, bringing with them that sweet, rancid perfume with it. And then they came to rest, but not on the floor, instead they covered the walking corpse, showing me its outline. A shrouded dress of white sheets, resting over something hideous beneath.

Perhaps I should have allowed the thing to walk unseen. For the sight of a long draped sheet stepping towards me almost stopped my heart. Creak. Creak. Each invisible footfall brought with it pangs of dread the likes of which I had never experienced before. And then came the rustling, as something else moved underneath the sheets. A prodding motion, as what I could only assume were two hands outstretched beneath their shroud reaching out towards me.

I stumbled backwards. I cried out, and as I did so the room dimmed. My retreat had led me into the wardrobe. The arms of the shrouded figure were now almost upon me, and my only recourse was to pull the wooden door of the wardrobe towards me, to shelter me from that thing.

My new found sanctuary shook violently as the shrouded spectre heaved and pulled at the door. I held on with all my might, my fingers poking out into the room, grasping onto that piece of wood, the only barrier between me and that rotten apparition.

Memories began to flood back, the dark wardrobe a trigger to painful events I had managed to bury deep within me; of a little girl locked in dark places. Cellars, attics, wardrobes… A girl put upon. Beaten. Mocked. Emotionally tortured by her one and only carer. My body convulsed and shivered as the reality of my early childhood filtered through.

The attack ceased, silence became my world. And then I heard two whispered words.

Little… Sophie…

The words were more breath than voice, and in them I recognised the speaker. My grandmother. That horrid woman who had abused her duty.

“I was only a child!” I screamed at the top of my voice. “How could you?”

Still, I held on tightly to the door, sure that the spirit of my grandmother stood in front of it. This was confirmed to me, when I felt a warm, sticky breath on my fingers. A mouth, seen or unseen, must have hovered over them for a moment, exhaling foul air. Then something wet licked the length of my fingers. A rotten tongue from beyond. But I dared not open the door. There was little I could do. I held onto it tightly, while the ghost of my twisted grandmother licked at my exposed flesh.

Then nothing. Again silence. No breath. No shaking of the doors. Nothing.

Teeth dripping with saliva then bit hard down onto my fingers. I screamed in agony as they delved deep through skin and then crunching into bone. And under my screams of pain I heard a sly smirk, a laugh of delight.

History had repeated itself as more memories flooded through the torture. She had done awful things in the past. Malevolent, twisted things. Locking me in the darkness, beating, prodding, and more. The pain of memory mixed with the pain of the moment as those dreaded teeth ground deeper.

No more!

I screamed in rage and pushed the wardrobe door, knocking the shrouded figure to the ground. My fingers gushed blood, but they were free, as was I. Leaping onto the bed, I charged for the locked door once more. I yelled and cried and fought as the door remained tightly closed. It would not budge. I pounded and railed against my imprisonment. Then two hands reached from behind, wrapping sheet covered fingers around my neck.

We struggled, the grip around my throat tightening, choking the breath from me. And in a moment’s rage, a moment of pure survival, I reached for the solitary candle which sat by the bed and cast it to the feet of my grandmother, catching the shroud of sheets. The room burned. The bed. The painting. The wardrobe… And my last memory was looking beside me, to see my grandmother’s corpse burning on the floor.

I was found standing in the garden of my family home, dazed, watching it collapse in on itself, consumed by flames. And in the years since I have wondered about that spectre in the room, the corpse in the bed. I had returned to my childhood home to oversee my grandmother’s things after she was done with this mortal world. But it appears she was not done with me. After that night, at long last, I was certainly done with her.

Credit: Michael Whitehouse

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The Great and Powerful Oz

May 6, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Not all ghost stories are scary, but they can still send chills down your spine.

My grandfather was a Lutheran minister. Growing up he had four brothers. His wife, my grandmother was an only child and a divorcee, a terrible blemish in the 1950s when they wed. Her first husband had been abusive, but even with that justification a divorced woman marrying a minister in that day and age was an anomaly. Other than that, I know remarkably little about my grandparents.

This story is about my grandfather. “Grandpa Boo” we called him, though he was never scary to us. He had a big hearty laugh and would sometimes take the long way home down a big hill so our tummies would toss. He’d let us decorate his office with streamers when we went to visit and we mutually impersonated the mysterious figure of “Oz” that my sister and I had dreamed up one day as children. The joke stuck.

Every time we visited we’d dress up a mannequin in a costume and position it at the top of the stairs, saying that Oz had come to visit too. Over the years we started sending tapes back and forth of our deeply-modified recorded voices, always impersonating Oz. He usually had a riddle or joke for us, sometimes he told us to be good or enjoy an upcoming trip. In turn, we’d create tapes and send them to him. He thought we were immensely talented, and would tell anyone who’d listen that my sister and I were going to be famous broadcasters someday.


I remember the day my grandfather died. It was March 1, 1991. I was young and he’d been sick as long as I could remember. He was always in and out of the hospital, having some procedure or running some test, but that never dampened his smile. His death wasn’t unexpected. We went to visit him in the hospital before he passed. I remember picking out my best outfit; I think I knew it was the last time I’d see him alive.

We traveled from central Pennsylvania for the funeral near Altoona. It was scheduled for March 4, my Birthday. Looking back, I was unforgivably selfish about the arrangements. I pleaded and begged for it to be changed so we could observe my Birthday and, when that didn’t work, I resorted to guilt.

“It’ll scar me for life,” I promised. This did not turn out to be true. At least, I don’t think it did.

“I’ll never be able to celebrate a Birthday without thinking about this day,” I sneered. This turned out to be true, though I often reflect more on my poor character than any other aspect.

“You’ll be sorry you scheduled it for that day,” I threatened. This, as fate or other forces would have it, also turned out to be true.


My Aunt, Uncle and cousins came in from Pittsburgh for the viewing the night before the funeral. As I said before, my grandfather was a minister and almost the entire parish came out to wish him farewell. It was unreasonably long and terribly boring for my sister, my cousins and me.

Eventually the eight of us were told we could play quietly in the other rooms of the funeral home. Before long we found the kitchen and proceeded to dare one another to consume the packs of sugar we found there. By the time the viewing was over and my parents came to get us we were unruly, sugar-fueled terrors.

They packed us all in cars and shuttled us back to my grandmother’s house, a three-story home with plenty of spare bedrooms to sleep all the guests. We ran screaming from room to room, high on sugar and the company of one another. My Mom and Aunt somehow got us all washed and changed, then dragged us up to bed, threatening that if we didn’t say in bed and go to sleep there’d be hell to pay.

Now, in my cousins’ family there is a special Birthday competition to see who can wish the Birthday girl/boy happy Birthday first on their big day. So that night, as my Mom tucked me in, I was promised of a shower of Birthday wishes in the morning even though it was the same day as the funeral.


I did not awake to the promised Birthday wishes. The first thing I remember was hearing screams. We woke up late, very late, though no one could say exactly how late at first. The power had gone out overnight, most likely due to the near foot of snow that had fallen so far. Without power, none of the alarms had gone off and we’d all slept just as late as we pleased.

My Dad had to run out and fire up the old wagon to see the time. It was 9:07 a.m. The funeral was at 10:00 a.m., half an hour away in good travel conditions. There were eight kids and five adults in the house who were not showered, dressed or fed. The immediate consensus was that we’d skip breakfast and showers were on an as-needed basis. Everyone flew into action and, miraculously, by 9:30 a.m. we were all buckled into cars and on our way.

In our car was my Dad behind the wheel, my Mom, sister and grandmother. We plowed through the snow at a desperate crawl. Each mile seemed to go slower than the last, with snow falling more and more rapidly as the minutes ticked past.

Because of the heavy snowfall we soon discovered our planned route – west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike – had been unexpectedly closed. We followed the detour onto the highway instead. It was only a minor setback; we could still make it my father insisted, trying to convince himself as much as the rest of us.

We didn’t begin experiencing car trouble until we were getting off the highway. My cousins were behind us – all eight of them crammed into their car. My Mom leaned out the window and flailed urgently at them, trying to communicate that we needed to pull over. We stopped in a Hoss’s parking lot.

There was more than a foot of snow on the ground by now, and our options were quickly deteriorating. We’d all come to terms with the sad reality that we were going to be late. Now it looked like we might not make it at all. As my Dad and Uncle were under the hood trying to figure out what was wrong with our wagon, my Aunt crept over to me.

She smiled weakly and bumped hips with me, trying to feel out my mood. I half-heartedly smiled at her and hugged my coat tighter as the sky pelted us with white flakes.

“I feel bad,” she confided. “In all the rush this morning, I forgot to wish you happy Birthday.”

I beamed.

“Who was first?” she asked.

“You,” I said. “Everyone else forgot.”

A burst of laughter overcame her. I was confused; how was that funny? Just as she was stopping, another wave of laughter seized her and soon she was nearly doubled over from laughing so hard. Everyone was staring at her by the time she regained her composure.

She smiled, a big wide smile that seemed so out of place with the mood of the morning. She squatted near me. “Grandpa Boo remembered,” she said, gesturing at the car and snow and the world around. “Heck, he’s only been up there three days and he’s already running the place. Guess he didn’t want his funeral to be today either.”

In the end, the fourteen of us all piled into my Uncle’s car for the final five miles of the trip. We didn’t make it on time, but we made it. On the way back we stopped at my parents’ car. It started right away this time and rode fine for the trip to the cemetery and, later, back home. My parents never figured out what the problem was.


On the way back to Harrisburg after the funeral, my sister and I found an unmarked tape in the backseat of the old wagon. We played it later when we got home and found a mysterious message recorded on it. Though it didn’t identify the recorder by name, the voice sounded too similar to Oz to be anyone but him.

The tape explained that sometimes life doesn’t go our way, but that the people who love us will always try to do their best for us. It signed off with a promise that he’d always use every resource at his disposal to ensure our happiness. He always did.

When we tried to replay the message, nothing was on the tape but static.


It has been 25 years since my grandfather died. To this day I believe that he was behind the trials of that morning. Between the rogue snowstorm, the power outage and the car trouble, it’s just too many events for me to chalk it up to mere coincidence. And if that wasn’t enough, my sister and I both heard the fortuitous message on Oz’s final tape.

Not all ghost stories are scary.

*Written with love in memory of The Rev. Richard L. Tome

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Darkness in the Rear View Mirror

May 5, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I have always been uneasy driving alone at night. It was worst the first few times, when I had just gotten my license, but the nagging fear has never gone away to this day. It’s disorienting to look into the mirrors and see nothing, and I mean nothing but the consuming blackness of the night. It makes me hesitant to check the mirrors should I see this dark void, or worse, someone sitting in my back seat staring at me.

In the summer of 2013, I found myself driving home alone on highway 902 from a party. It was almost midnight, and needless to say it was pitch black. As was usual at night, I was on edge. I had the radio off, and could hear nothing but the muffled roar of tires on pavement and the dull hum of the engine. I stole a glance into the middle rear view mirror, and saw nothing but darkness through the back window.

I know that I looked backward and saw nothing. I’m sure of it. Just the seemingly endless blackness of the night. I remember it so clearly because not ten seconds later a car passed me to the left. Headlights on. I had one of those sudden adrenaline rushes like when you think you see a person outside your bedroom window when it’s just a tree, or when you start awake at night with the feeling of falling. Ten seconds earlier, nothing had been behind me. Suddenly, a car. I drove all the way home shivering and knowing something was off.

The next morning, I found two sets of scratches near the back of my van. One was on the left rear, one was on the right. The car was pretty old. They could have been there for months, but that was the first time that I distinctly remembered seeing them.

In hindsight, there are two possibilities for what happened that night. Possibility one. By some glitch in reality, or something paranormal, this other car had somehow appeared behind me within ten seconds of me checking my mirror. Like some weird ghost crap or something. However, the second option is what makes my blood run cold whenever I consider it.

It didn’t even occur to me until months after the fact, but it makes me dread driving alone at night even more. Possibility two. The car was normal. It had approached me from the rear and passed me to my left. However, something large, and wide, and as black as the night had been clinging to the rear of my car, obscuring my view through the window and leaving deep scratches on the sides.

And I had inadvertently driven it home with me.

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