Fiction Feature: Chasing the Prize

This year I am being more intentional about featuring some of my original short stories here on the blog. This week’s story was a fun one to write. After all, who doesn’t like writing (and reading) about dinosaurs?

Chasing the Prize

by L.A. Smith


Photo by Phil Harris, on Wikicommons

Jayda scanned the sky, for the thousandth time.

“Where do you think Stewart is?” Doug peered behind them, a sudden wind whipping his coat around him. He snatched at it and hastily zippered it up as the rain began to fall.

Jayda shrugged. Her rivals who were chasing the prize held no interest to her. She would find it first. She had to.

A pterodactyl. Could it really be?

“We should find shelter.” Riao, their guide, spoke from the back of their boat, where he manned the motor.

“Not yet.”

“Come on, we’re going to get soaked!” Doug said.

“It won’t last long. Keep going. We’ll stop if it goes longer than an hour.” Jayda had no intention of stopping, but she wasn’t telling them that.

In her pocket she felt a small vibration, and she pulled out her phone, surprised. They should be out of cell phone range by now. She sheltered it from the downpour to read the text.

This is crazy. We should talk. It was from Bryan.

Anger flared. Just her luck that the last message she got from civilization would be from her estranged husband. Seemed a fitting end to this crappy week.

But maybe her luck would change soon.


After two hours, with no signs of the rain letting up, Jayda was forced to admit defeat, and they pulled off at a small inlet off the main river. They set up their tent, stringing a tarp over it to help deflect the worst of the rain.

Jayda watched the rain sheet down, and Doug sat down beside her.

“Maybe it doesn’t fly in the rain.”

“Who knows. Maybe it prefers to fly in the rain. Not like anyone is an expert on pterodactyl behaviour nowadays.”

“True.” He peered at the river, looking back the way they had come. “No one has passed us, anyway.”

“No. But that thing could be anywhere. Knowing my luck Stewart might get the scoop, after all.” Anxiety flared at the thought, and she stuffed it down with an effort.

“Aw, come on. We’ll see it first. The million bucks is ours. I know it.”

Darkness fell, sudden and complete, like it did in the tropics. Howler monkeys hooted close by, and further away some other monkeys screeched. At least it sounded like monkeys.

In the brief blurry video that had stunned the world the pterodactyl hadn’t made a sound, but the tour boat survivors swore they had heard a deafening screech before it had appeared, knocking two of them into the water. They had disappeared without a trace into the murky Amazon.

Doug froze, listening. “Crap. This place is creepy.” He blew out a breath and got up. “We should get some sleep, get an early start tomorrow.”

Jayda didn’t comment, and Doug soon walked away, his footsteps swallowed up in the jungle noises of birds and monkeys and insects. Even at night, this place was loud.

She doubted she would sleep much. She was so close.

Her marriage had fallen apart, she had lost her job at the Tribune. The million dollar prize for the first verified footage of whatever the tourists had seen was part of the tug that drove her on, but the bigger part was the drive to succeed. She had been on a downward spiral for so long. This challenge felt like the right way to turn that around.


 “Here,” Raio said, gesturing at a narrow channel. “This is where they saw it.” His face was placid, but Jayda saw fear flash through his eyes.

She didn’t blame him. Her stomach was in knots, too, as he steered the boat into the channel, the trees thick around them. In some spots they blocked out the sky completely.

Jayda bit back her frustration. If she couldn’t get a clear picture, this was all for nothing.

Doug’s tuneless nervous whistle scraped along her nerves, but she ignored it. She needed him. With her pictures and his writing talent, and the fame of being the first to verify the stories, their book would be a best-seller.

That would show him. Bryan’s book had been a mediocre success, at best.

They had travelled an hour down the channel when a sudden loud screech split the air, seconds before the creature appeared. Crested head, huge leathery wings, and a wicked serrated beak. Flashing impressions only, as Jayda dived to the bottom of the boat to escape it as it swooped down over the boat.

The camera. The thing had disappeared, but the screech deafened them again and Jayda twisted, scrabbling for her camera, scanning the narrow patch of sky above.

There. It was coming back, an arrow aimed right at them. Jayda took the shots as it plummeted. It’s wicked beak snapped just over her head, and she hastily flattened herself to avoid the dangling hooked claws.

“Look!” Doug pointed at the trees, at a huge mass of vines and sticks wedged between two thick branches.

A head popped over the edge: the twin of the pterodactyl, only smaller. Jayda pointed and aimed, taking the picture. Got it. 

The adult completed it’s clumsy turn, aiming at them again.

“Go, go!” Doug yelled at the guide.

She got a couple more pictures as Raio fumbled with the rudder, steering them away and gearing the motor up in to high speed.

She caught a last glimpse of the thing as it flapped clumsily back on the nest and then the trees blocked the view.

The glow of their success carried Jayda down the river until her phone buzzed again, at the same spot as before.

Please. I love you.

Doug saw her scowl, and looked over her shoulder before she shoved the phone in her pocket.

“Maybe you should give the guy a chance.”

A dull ache filled her at the thought of the tangle she and Bryan had made of their marriage. He loved her? He should act like it.  She shook her head. “It’s impossible.”

Doug snorted. “Impossible? We just saw a freaking pterodactyl. I’d say you had better redefine impossible. God moves in mysterious ways, and all that.”


Rain started to fall again, a peaceful splatter this time. Jayda hugged her chest, breathing in the rich scents of the rainforest, the noisy chatter of birds and monkeys punctuating their passage as they slipped down the river.

They were going to pick up some supplies, send the pictures off, and then head back, to see if they could get more. Get a jump on the scientists that were bound to flood into the area.

It would be awhile before they got home. A month, maybe. It would be complicated when she got back, trying to navigate the book deals, the interviews. Trying to figure out what to do about Bryan.

Maybe the time away would be what they needed for a restart.

She peered down at her camera, looking through the pictures, thrilling again at the sight of the strange, otherworldly creature. Mysterious ways.

She found herself smiling, sadness evaporating along with the rain, hope flaring for the first time in weeks.

Maybe Doug was right. Maybe anything was possible, after all.

You can find some more of my short stories at the following links:


Life for Life


A Delicious Irony


This Strange Thing Called Fear


Featured photo: The First Draft, by mpclemens, on flickr


Fiction Feature: More


Matt was just getting off the subway when he saw her. It was rush hour, the people jostling and frantic, ejecting from the car like so much human vomit. And that was just about how Matt felt at the end of the work week.

His briefcase snagged on the door, slowing him down, and he looked back, to see what had happened. But instead, his eyes lit on her, way past the surging crowd, almost swallowed up in the dark of the tunnel beyond.

She knelt with her hands caught in the fur of a shaggy dog’s neck, and it was something about the way that dog was looking at her that caught his eye, or maybe it was the way she was looking at it? Matt couldn’t explain the sensation that pricked at him with a thousand tiny fingers.

He froze, seeing her golden hair that shouldn’t be shining so in the darkness, wonder unfurling like a blossom, and then he was jostled, snapped back into the human stream. When he looked again, she was gone.

A split second of inattention, that’s all it took.

He glimpsed the dog, though, weaving through the crowds, heading out the exit with the rest.

The tingle faded. A harsh curse in his ear made him realize he was standing still, got him moving again.

He forgot her in the bustle of life, the wearisome numbness of work and deadlines and pressure, until three days later, when he saw her again.

The weekend this time, walking home from the grocery store with bags dangling from his hands, no more thought in his head but to get home, put his feet up, watch the game.

The setting sun bathed the city with its last luminescence, everything aglow with the fading of day.

And there she was, just ahead. He knew it from her hair, from the golden strands that held the fading light. She walked slowly, with measured grace, and with his first glimpse his pace quickened, like his body knew before his mind that he had to catch up.

But he couldn’t. The people on the sidewalk, families and hipsters and geeks, became obstacles that blocked and delayed and harried his steps.

Just before she faded into the crowd, she turned back and looked at him, right at him and through him, and he felt that tingle again, stronger and deeper than before; everything ripe with possibilities and charged with meaning.

He heard something, too; a song, bells? Faint, and chiming. Her eyes were the green of mossy woods, and he felt the weight of them, just for a second, and then she turned, and was gone.

A word wafted through his mind.


He saw her again, two days later, and again, a week after that. Brief glimpses. It was driving him crazy. Especially because every time, he forgot about her right after, until his eyes snagged on her and it all came back, the ache of it, and then she would turn a corner, or the bus he was on would whiz past. Or, maddeningly, the elevator door closed in his face just as he glimpsed her walking by, her head turning to look at him.

That time, though, he clenched his fists and fixed her in his mind, and he held on to her for a few seconds. Then the elevator door opened, his boss walked in, and just like that she was gone from his mind as thoroughly as she had disappeared from his sight.

Later, he sat on his balcony in the warm summer night, listening to the sounds of the city murmur around him, a cold drink in his hand. He felt restless, unmoored, aching for something he couldn’t even define. Then he heard it, ghosting above the traffic and the sirens and the heat.


He stood up, looking down, and saw that golden hair, saw her, standing below, looking up at him.

Everything shifted around him, that tingle pricking at him, and he shouted, desperate. “Wait!”

He looked at her in agony for a moment, knowing that as soon as he straightened up, ran down there, the reason for doing so would likely leave him the moment she left his sight. “Stay there! Please!”

He sucked in a breath and ran through his apartment, out the door and down the three flights, tearing the door open, holding her firmly in his mind – don’t forget, don’t forget – and when he burst out onto the sidewalk and found it empty, he could have wept.

Except – there –  she was walking around the corner and he followed, into the Park, under the trees, the muggy heat cooling there, the whizzing sounds of the cars fading into a low murmur, his heart pounding loud as she stopped under the spreading oak and turned back to him.

“So. Will you come?”

Matt stopped short. “I’m here.”

“Yes. Here. Will you come?”


She smiled as slow as the sun going down. “It cannot be undone.”

Matt felt the truth of it. A door was opening. Once he crossed, he couldn’t come back. “But where—“

“Not where. You will be here. The same, you’ll see. But not. A world within the world. Where the edges are different. Where your word is true.  Deeper danger and stronger joys. The stakes are higher.” Her head tilted. “Your choice. Come, or no.”

She stood serene, her hand out.

The song was filling him to the edges, softening his thundering heart, opening his shuttered eyes.


Matt stepped forward, the door closing behind him, and took her hand.


This Girl, by Fio Karr, on unsplash


Featured photo: The First Draft, by mpclemens, on flickr

Fiction Feature: Life for Life

I aim to share more of my writing on the blog, hopefully once a month. We’ll see. Seeing as my novel-in-progress features elves, of a sort, I find that I have quite a few stories floating around in my mind about elves and the mythology surrounding them. The elves in this story are a little more traditional than the ones in my book. It was a fun one to write. I hope you enjoy it, at any rate. Any comments welcome. 

Life for Life

We broke from the trees, the mountain rising before us like a juggernaut, lazy mist swirling around its flanks. I grew cold at the sight. At the base of those rocky slopes I had lost all I held dear, and now I returned, to get it back.

Gruff snarled beside me, and I motioned him to quiet.

His large head swung towards me, lambent yellow eyes glowing, ears twitching.

I let out a breath, which ghosted silver around us. “Not far now.”

He smiled, showing snaggled teeth, the hatred of his kind for the elves sharp in his eyes. “Elf-blood. Soon, Lady, soon.”

I set my jaw. “Perhaps,” I cautioned. “But be wary. Their Charms are powerful, I know it full well. If they use magic we must fight. I will get my child back, or die trying.” My hand fell to the knife at my side and I squinted at the sky. “We must away. I would not fight the Elves at night, with the moon to aid them.”

Gruff nodded, and I gestured him forward, my purpose hardening. I would not fight the Elves at all. That way led to doom. But I kept that from the ogre for reasons of my own. I followed in his wake, the icy ball of fear in my gut growing with every step, no matter my boastful words.

My husband is dead, my family scattered since the Wars. My child is all that was left to me, and I would retrieve him, no matter the dire warnings, the mutterings about the Elves and their trickery. I had thought long, though, and come up with some trickery of my own. I could only pray it would be enough.

Two hours later we came to the riling brook that was the border to Dayladel. We had been watched for some time. I felt their eyes upon me, their mild regard. They had no fear of a human and an ogre, why should they? Their magic shielded them. The same magic that separated me from my babe last year, their songs and enchantments drawing me here, deep into the woods, my son strapped to my back as I stepped across the brook. When I awoke the next day he was gone. They left me with a changeling, a mewling misshapen creature that I brought back, weeks later. When they ignored my plea I left it there to die.

I shook the memory from me. The noonday sun sparkled on the water as I lifted my chin, my hands fisted at my side. “Raleadon!”

My voice was strong enough to startle a bird into flight nearby. The mist swirled among the trees, and beyond the brook I could see but little.

The ogre growled deep in his chest, a low rumbling noise, as a figure appeared through the mists, walking slowly towards us, a high, thin song floating with him.

That song twined around us, the melody elusively complex, carrying with it hints and promises, glimpses of Dayladel, where the dancing Elves wore garments of moonshine and lace, shimmering in a silvery glow….

Beside me, Gruff roared, his foot stamping the ground and my eyes flew open. I staggered as I checked myself–one foot was in the brook. Heart pounding, I leapt back. My cheeks flushed under the cool regard of Raleadon’s violet eyes. So easy it was to be Charmed.

I must act now, or never.

“Gruff!” The word tore out of me and Gruff roared again, lifting his arms and shaking his spear, taking one step towards the Elf.

Suddenly there was a twisting in the air around us. The mist swirled around the ogre, obscuring him from my eyes. Then I blinked, for where Gruff once stood a twisted pine lifted it’s branches to the sky, throwing a spiky shadow.

I swallowed back my surging elation and faced Raleadon. “I’ll have him back. My son is no Elf. My blood has rights on his.”

One thin eyebrow lifted as Raleadon’s eyes flicked over me. “We traded you life for life, and you rejected it. The matter is done. And as you see, we cannot be forced.” He turned, to leave me.

“Nay, it is not. You tried to trick me, thinking my love would blind me to the flaws of the creature you left me with. ‘Twas no true bargain. I want my son back.”

He turned back, his face serene. “But you have nothing to give in exchange.”

I gestured at the pine. “Life for life.” I held my breath, hoping against hope it would be enough. For Gruff I felt but a twinge of regret. He held no claim on me, none at all.

Raleadon’s eyes narrowed as he looked at the tree, and then a wide smile split his face, the cold beauty of it dazzling to my human eyes. “Ah, you prove more interesting than most.” He gestured, and two other figures materialized out of the mist behind him; one wreathed in song, the other, a child.

It took everything I had not to cross the brook. I would not be trapped there again.

The Elves’ magic had done its work; it was no toddler but a young lad that surveyed me with wide eyes. His father’s eyes. With a slight push Raleadon sent him towards me, and he splashed across the water to my open arms.

The Elves turned and faded back into the mist with nary a glance back.

I had won.

A tremor ran through me, and for a moment I placed my hand on the pine’s knobbly trunk. Life for life. It was the deepest magic, the only thing that could sway the Elves. “I won’t forget,” I whispered.

The boy looked up at me with his father’s eyes and my heart swelled. I took his hand, and together we turned our back on the mountain, towards home.


Image from suwalls

Feature image: The First Draft, by mpclemens, on flickr

Saturday Short – “Red”

I wrote this short story in response to a challenge from a fellow blogger, to write a 1000 word story based on the photo prompt, which I have included here. She actually posted a picture a day, and we were to come up with 1000 words a day. It was hard! I didn’t actually keep up, but this was one of the early stories, and I kinda like it. Yes, I realized after the fact that the time on the watch is not 6:25, but 6:35. But I had to keep it as 6:25 in the story, for obvious reasons. Oh well. I was writing fast, so you’ll have to forgive me. 

Stacy touched the hair clip with her finger, adjusting it so it was an equal distance from the bow tie and the pen.

She heard Toby’s exasperated sigh, but she ignored it. She was on to something, she knew it. Sweat trickled down her nose, and she brushed it away absently.

“It’s red,” she muttered. She sat back, her shoulder muscles aching from being hunched over the desk for so long.

“No kidding,” Toby retorted. She heard him push back his chair, heard his quick footsteps on the tiled floor. She didn’t bother looking up. They had to figure this out. There wasn’t much time left.

Time. Her eyes were drawn to the watch. 6:25. The time when everything had stopped for Luke, and truth be told, for everyone else, too. Eight hours ago now, but it seemed like a lifetime.

She heard a scream, faintly, heard Toby’s quick intake of breath, the rattle of the shutters as he peered outside.

It was all just background noise, distractions she had to ignore as she focused on the objects illuminated by the thin beam of the flashlight.

The pen. The sunglasses. The wallet.

This configuration felt right. She looked them over again, desperately searching for the revelation that was tickling around her mind.

The shutters fell back against the window, and Toby came back, sliding into the chair opposite her.

“It’s getting worse out there.”

It was not worth commenting on. What did he expect, that it would get better?

The headphones. The bow tie. The phone.

Smashing glass, faintly at first, then closer.

Her head snapped up, met Toby’s startled gaze. He swore, his voice tight with fear as he popped up again, over to the window in two quick strides.

A louder scream, more glass breaking, and around the edges of those sounds a faint low-pitched, snarly muttering.

Stacy’s blood turned to ice, her eyes pinned on Toby’s silhouette against the window; a dark shadow against the darker night beyond.

“Turn it off!”

Tony’s voice made her jump, and Stacy snapped the flashlight off, plunging them into full dark.

“Oh God,” Toby exhaled, the words a thin sigh of terror. “I think there’s one coming in, or maybe more, I can’t see – “

The far-off noises of the city’s death continued as it had all night – muffled explosions, the sharp staccato of guns; the futile last fight of mankind.

Stacy forced her attention back to the objects, tracing them with her fingers.

The billfold. The phone. The watch. The glasses.

Toby sat down again, leaning over the desk. It was true, you could smell fear on a person. He reeked with it.

Her fingers touched the smooth leather surface of the Bible.

“We’ve got to get out of here. Now.” His voice was thin with panic.

“No. Not yet. I’ve got to figure this out.”

“We’ve been doing this for hours. There’s nothing to figure out! No message! No final words, no nothing! He died, like everyone else!”

The pen, the hair clip, the bow tie, the Bible.

The weird whooping electrical noise that had preceded the attack on the city, that had formed the background to everything else, was getting louder.

Her brother grabbed her hand, stopping her sweep of the objects again. His fingers were cold. “Stacy, listen. There’s nothing mystical about this. Those creatures – I dunno what the hell they are, or where they came from, but they are real. Luke died, just like the rest of them. Just because you found this stuff of his in his backpack doesn’t mean anything.” He squeezed her hand, hard, and she had to look up. She could see the faint glimmer of his eyes in the dark. “You haven’t had your pill. The OCD’s making you crazy. You’ve lined all this stuff up a million times, in a million different ways. I’ve gone along with it ‘cause I thought we were safe, that they wouldn’t get this far. But they have. They’re inside the building. We have to go, now!”

Stacy knew he was right. She could feel the cage of OCD closing around her, knew that what she was doing was not necessarily rational. But neither was anything else that was happening.

In a crazy world, maybe it was the crazy ones that could survive.

“I know,” she said. “But not just yet. Just give me a second – “

She pulled her hand away, fingers fluttering over the objects again.

“The hair clip is red,” she said, “that means something. The only thing of color.”

Toby exhaled.“We have to go. Now. Just take them with you if it makes you feel better.”

Muffled thumps drifted up from the building, from somewhere below, but not directly below. They had some time, yet.

“Red,” she said, touching the objects again. The pen, the bow tie, the Bible.

She froze, the revelation rolling over her like a freight train, the pieces snapping in to place.

The Bible.

Read,” she hissed, picking up the small book. “Like reading. Read.”

She snapped on the flashlight, directing it at the pages, her fingers fumbling now.

“Stace! Turn it off, c’mon – “

She flipped through the pages frantically.

This Bible stuff was new to Cody, new to them all. He’d gone to some camp, came back all religious. Talked about Jesus.

Her fingers froze. Red words illuminated under the flashlight’s beam.

“Wait, how do you do this, I mean, when you look up a verse?”

“This is crazy – “

“I swear this is it, Toby, this is the answer. We have to find it.”

His eyes were frantic. He blew out his cheeks.

“You need a book, a chapter, and a verse, like, John 3:16.”

Her eyes caught on a word. Luke.

She flipped the pages.

“Luke 6:25. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” She looked up at her brother. “The end of the world. That’s what this means, what it’s telling us.”

“So what?”

“So maybe the answer is in here, too. The way out of this mess. It’s gotta be.”

Snappng off the flashlight, she scooped up the small book, dropping it into her pocket, her fingers skimming its edges quickly.

Taking her brother’s hand, they left quickly, two small figures racing away from Armegeddon.

Saturday Short – This Strange Thing Called Fear

Well, life has piled up on me this month, and I haven’t been able to finish That Hideous Strength, which is the next book up in my Year of Reading Lewis series. And I’m a day late posting to the blog. Drat. Well, I’m sure all of you dear readers will survive this slight disruption, but to make it up to you I thought I would post one of my short stories, just for fun. I’ll make this a feature, called Saturday Short, a once and awhile treat of a short story, perfect for whiling away some time on a Saturday..

I originally wrote this for a contest which called for adaptations of Grimm fairy tales, with the addition of a different classic monster. The idea was to write a different story each week and the best ones would make it into an anthology. This story didn’t make it, perhaps because I decided to use an obscure Grimm tale rather than the standard Cinderella, Snow White, etc. Oh well.

The monster I had to incorporate in to the story was a vampire. Now, I can enjoy a good vampire story but I’m not that fond of writing about them. It’s all been done so many times before, right? But I actually found it a  fun challenge and in the end, I’m pleased with the story even though it didn’t get published.

If you are interested, the Grimm fairy tale I began with is The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear. 

And here’s my story, This Strange Thing Called Fear

One long ago winter’s night, I watched my older brother tremble and cry out as we listened to my father tell a story. We sat around the hearth-fire, the wind moaning around the rafters and knifing through the cracks in the walls of our wattle-clad home. I thought it was one of these icy fingers that had touched my brother, causing him to jump and screech, and so gave him my blanket. He wrapped himself in it but strangely, his squeals and shakes continued, and so I judged that there was something else that caused his strange behaviour.

I looked to my mother and saw her clenched fists, and breathy sighs, and the way her chest rose up and down as if she had been running. This was odd, as she was in fact taking her ease by the fire, being entertained by my father’s tale. It dawned on me then, seeing them both shudder and moan almost as loudly as the wind, that it was something about the story itself that caused their reactions. This puzzled me deeply, for it was a silly story, to my mind, about the dead who walked and the mischief they caused. I could not see the reason for my brother’s distress nor my mother’s wide eyes as they listened.

Mid-way through, my mother turned to me and smothered me in her bosom, crying out that such a tale be too fearsome for my young ears and begging my father to stop, which he did, chucking me under the chin and telling me not to fear, for ’twas merely a tale to bide the time.

Unnecessary advice, for this strange thing called fear I did not know, not then; nor do I now, as a man grown.

It became obvious as I grew older that this was odd, not to tremble and shudder when others around did. It was also odd that at times I saw others tremble and shudder at me, when I would walk through the graveyard at night or face a bear without flinching.

They called me courageous at first, then stupid, and then the other folk took to looking at me sideways, and scuttling away when I approached. Whispers spread, so much so that I determined in my mind that I would learn this thing called fear, and by so doing become as other men are.

My father did not understand my quest, calling me stupid and casting me out, with only 50 thalers to my credit. It stung, this rejection, but I promised myself I would overcome my difficulty and return triumphant, able to shudder with the rest of them.

Oh, the places I went and the things I saw! I met others, who, to be fair, tried without success to help me in my quest. They introduced me to some hanged men knocking in the breeze; and to a castle full of dogs and cats and merry moving beds and other such amusements.

Although through the course of my adventures I did not learn fear, it was not without reward, this journey. Through spending three nights at the enchanted castle I ended up a king, with a fair maiden as a wife, and great riches besides.

For the first few months we lived together well enough, my wife and I, but as time passed the nature of my affliction became real to her.

“Oh husband, ’tis unnatural,” she wailed, one night as a storm battered our castle, the wind whistling around the battlements. “I do not wish for you to be a coward, but surely you can see that to have no fear is dangerous? For without fear how will you understand what danger truly is? How can you protect me, and your kingdom?”

I smiled at her, and petted her head, murmuring sweet words to her until she slept. But her words kept me up the rest of the night as I puzzled over them.

There was a change between us that night. I found her looking at me sideways, at times, and felt her love withdraw from me as sand runs through an hourglass. Her previous regard turned into unease, until finally, I heard her whispers to her maid.

“He is not like other men, and I am afraid,” she said.

It was obvious that my quest was not yet over. I began to see that I would have to leave her as I had left my home, for as I went about my business it became obvious that it was not only she who whispered, but my servants and subjects. Perhaps they would kill me, I thought, which gave me great sorrow that I should die for such a cause.

I determined to leave one night, under the cover of the darkness they all feared, and left my wife sleeping soundly in our gilded bed, stepping softly so as not to wake her.

I left my castle behind, and walked long as the moon rose high, past the sleeping villages of my kingdom. I walked further than ever I had before and finally I came to a cross roads. Here I paused, wondering now which way I should take, for my previous journey weighed heavily in my mind, and most especially my failure to gain my desire. I had tried this once before, I thought, and failed. What point to try again?

It was vexing, this problem. Surely there must be somewhere I could go to learn how to shudder, when at long last I could be as other men were. And then I could return to my kingdom, and my wife, and the whispers would cease.

As I stood there, perplexed, I saw a shadow moving in the woods, and soon a man stepped out from the trees.

He was very pale, gleaming in the moonlight that shone all around. His eyes were black pools in his white face, and they were fixed upon me with marvellous intent. He was dressed all in black, and had an elegant air, I considered, seeing the smooth and graceful way he strode towards me.

A strange man, to be sure, but I was glad to see him, for I thought to ask him if he knew which places the roads led to. I was on a road I was not accustomed to, and wished to leave my kingdom, to seek a faraway place where mayhap they could teach me all I lacked.

I waited as he approached, and he stopped, a few paces away, silent. I drew my cloak closer to me, to ward against the chill that deepened as we stood regarding each other.

“Greetings,” said I. “It is fortunate indeed to meet you here, for I am in need of help.”

At this the man laughed, and as he did I saw his teeth were pointy in his mouth, and thin. His laugh made the air colder, and it had a sharp edge to it, that cut the air around us.

How inconvenient, I thought, and wondered at his own lack of a cloak.

“Help, is it?” His voice was soft, and pleasing to the ear. “Well, the help I give, you might not want. But I am curious, for when men see me they scream, and tremble, and run, yet here you stand, and do not move. What gives you such courage?”

“It is not courage,” I said, and I admit to some weariness in the answering. I longed for the time when I would not have to explain this, over and over again. “It is that I have not yet learned to fear. I am on my way, in truth, to find a place where I might learn it. You seem an obliging sort, to converse with me, so I would ask you: Do you know of such a place?”

A mist was rising, clammy and cold,, and I was forced to pull my cloak even tighter against it.

“Ah. Not a place, no. But perhaps I could help you, after all.” He stepped closer, his black eyes glittering in the moonlight. I saw his hands, the fingers long and pointed as he stroked his chin, regarding me with a faint smile on his face. “Tell me, why do you want to learn this?”

I sighed, and thought that perhaps this man could not help me after all. Surely he should not have to ask. “To be as other men, of course. To enjoy their society, to have the respect of my wife…” I trailed off as I saw the slow grin crawl across his face. It was odd, that grin, for it was most unpleasant.

“Then indeed I can help you! For here is your problem: you wish to be like them, but have you never thought that they should be like you? To have no fear, to never tremble?”

I was struck dumb, for indeed he was right. I had not thought of that before.

He stepped closer, the cold deepening around me, and I found my voice.

“Why you are right, of course! But how could I do such a thing? I seem to be the only one with this affliction.”

His smile widened, moonlight glinting silver off his pointed teeth, and I remember thinking how beautiful they were.

“You are wrong, for I, too am like you. I have no fear, no need to tremble.”

Again I was dumbfounded, and it took some time for me to speak. The mist was thickening now, swirling so that it alternately obscured and revealed his long, thin form.

“How could this be? I thought I was the only one.”

He stepped closer, through the mist, until he was right before me. I had not noticed before, but his black eyes had a faint tint of red in them, like a banked fire.

“Oh no, not the only one at all,” he said, and I was trembling now, but not for fear, but for the cold, which had thickened around us as surely as the mist. “There are many of us. And here is a secret: I know how to make others like us, and I will show you how, if you are willing.”

I cannot tell you the joy I felt at his words. I would be able to return to my kingdom, to my wife and subjects, and make them like me, to have no fear. I would be able to make the whispers stop.

“Oh please, sir,” I said, “I am most willing, indeed.”

His smile was fierce, and his eyes glowing coals.“Loose your cloak and bare your neck, then, and it will be done.”

It was long ago, when I stood on that road before him, so long that the years between then and now have blurred into a river of time that tumbles each moment smooth, robbing them of their poignancy.

But that moment I will never forget, that moment when his long sliver teeth bit deep and everything in me changed.

I woke up hungry, and my mentor showed me the way of our kind, the stalking and the pouncing, the salty nectar of blood and the burning fire of the sun.

You may ask what is the end of this story, what became of my wife, my kingdom, my family. It is a tale to long for the telling, but I can say that I did return, and indeed I made them like me, as my mentor said I could.

It has come to me, in the long years since that beautiful moonlit night when I finally understood my error, that this thing called fear is something not to be desired, after all. For see what I gained because of its lack? Wealth, a beautiful wife, a kingdom, and life never-ending.

Fear is highly overrated.

But it is hard to explain this by words. It is rather something you must experience for yourself.

I’ll visit you soon. And then you’ll see.