Kristen Houghton

The December Editor's Pick Writer is Kristen Houghton

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by Kristen Houghton

“Oh you poor little thing!” Gigi Alice gently scooped a struggling bumble bee out of the pool with her right hand and set it on the backyard wall. Izzy, who was thirteen-years-old and her four-year-old brother Chip, watched as their grandmother softly blew her warm breath onto the bee’s wings to dry them.

“Be careful, oh please be careful, Gigi Alice! Daddy says that bees sting!” Izzy wrung her hands in dismay while Chip just stood frozen to the spot, afraid to move in case the bee came after him. “Don’t get stung!”

Gigi Alice concentrated on the bee while she watched it clean each leg and open and close its wings before flying away toward the rose garden. “That bee won’t sting me, or you either for that matter. It’s a grateful little bee. Now it knows that it owes me a favor.” She turned to her grandchildren. “When you save a life, that life will repay you.”

“But, it’s only a bee. How can it repay you?” asked Izzy.

“Yeah, pay you,” echoed her brother. Then, wrinkling up his forehead he asked, “Do bees have money?”

Gigi Alice laughed and put on her sunglasses. “Not pay me, repay me, my darling little petunia.” She ruffled Chip’s soft blonde wavy hair and gently stroked Izzy long silky ponytail. “Repay means that that sweet little bee will do a great favor for me if I’m ever in need of one. It can save my life.All I have to do is believe and call to it with my heart. It will come to save me.”

Taking each child’s hand in her own, she began to walk toward the deck where she had set up a nice lunch for all of them. Both children eagerly sat down and were handed a bagel generously filled with Taylor ham, cheese, and an egg. Gigi Alicia also handed them ice cold glasses of lemonade.

Izzy sighed with satisfaction. It was a good summer day and they had another two weeks to be with their grandmother. It was their summer treat, something to which they looked forward all year. She knew that after lunch they would go in the pool again and their grandmother would patiently try to teach Chip to float. Best of all for Izzy was the fact that Gigi Alicia had said that Izzy’s very best friend, Sofie, could come over to swim and spend the weekend. She and Sofie would get to spend almost all the first night alone. Gigi Alicia was taking Chip to the park to see a children’s movie on a large outdoor screen. They would be back really late. She knew that Izzy would much prefer to stay home and be with her friend than go see a kid’s movie.

“I know you and Sofie are old enough to stay here alone. Just stay in the house, okay?” said Gigi Alicia making Izzy promise they’d lock all doors and stay in.

After glancing at the clock on the shed, Izzy gulped down her lemonade and went to wait for Sofie by the garden gate.


The woman they called Gigi Alicia was their mother’s beloved step-mother. She had raised their mother from the age of five and officially adopted her after her father died when she was seven. Izzy and Chip’s mother always said that Gigi Alicia was the best thing that had ever happened to her after her own parents had died.

“She’s magical! Forget the silly idea of the wicked step-mother in Cinderella and Snow White, kids,” she said. “Gigi Alicia has always been good and kind to me. Oh, I know she has some strange beliefs, sort of like Grimm’s fairy tales and all, but,I always feel safer knowing she’s in my life. She loves all of us so much. That’s a real mother and grandmother. We’re lucky to have her.”

And Mommy was right. Gigi Alicia was wonderful to them and they knew they were loved and safe when they were with her. Gigi Alicia wasn’t like the other grandmothers with their big bottoms, short old-lady grey hair, and dowdy clothes. She was pretty and young-looking, wore short skirts, had long dark hair, and loved to dance. She was their ‘Gigi,’ her own sophisticated name for grandmother.

She was a great storyteller too, because she truly believed in things that no one else could see. Gigi Alicia told such incredible tales that you could almost see the characters and the places where the stories took place. The stories were filled with magical beings, good and bad. None of the other kids’ grandmothers told such fantastic stories. They did nothing but cook and clean and complain about life. They were boring, but Gigi Alicia was different. She truly believed in fantasy.

In Gigi Alicia’s yard there was a circle of stones around an old tree and she told Izzy and Chip that it was a fairy ring and very sacred. Whenever they had a night swim at her home, she told them to look for the fairies.

“Look, look really hard, my petunias, look for the fairies carrying their lanterns to light their way back home to the fairy ring. The lights not only help them find their way home, but also scares away the night-crawling ogres. Look for the fairies, my darlings!”

They had looked and they had seen winged creatures carrying lights. And a distance off, away from the fairy ring, Izzy could swear she saw something dark and scary. Chip must have seen it too because he said, “Gigi Alicia, are ogres really real? Really, really real?”

“Yes, Chip, they’re real. They exist and live among us. But you don’t have to be afraid, no, not at all. You’re protected here. No worries, my petunia! The fairies’ lights frighten them away. They don’t like lights and the bugs—well, you don’t have to worry. This is all real, my sweet petunias!”

Of course, when Izzy had told her best friend Sofie about seeing fairies, her friend had laughed and said that what Izzy saw were ‘only fireflies.’ And the ogres, said her friend, were just made up silliness.“There are no ogres, Iz. Seriously!”

“But, Sofie, I really think that maybe I did see fairies with lanterns! Anyway, I know my grandmother believes in fairies and ogres and in bugs saving people.”

“Come on Izzy, don’t be such a dork-head,” her friend had said in exasperation, “we’re going into eighth grade! Your grandmother is just making up stories. Boy, maybe she should write them down in a book and make a million bucks! You really believe that a stupid bug can save you from something? Fairies and ogres and life-saving bugs only exist in dumb folk tales. That’s real.”

Still, Izzy wanted to believe Gigi Alicia’s story about the fairies that carried lighted lanterns to find their way home to the ring keeping away any night-crawling ogres as well. Gigi Alicia believed it, so it must be true. Right?


After Sofie arrived, the two friends wasted no time in getting into the pool where they splashed, raced each other from side to side, and did handstands in the water.They were racing toward the deep end of the pool when Sofie suddenly shrieked with horror and began splashing at something.

“Eee-yew! Get it away from me! Oh, gross! Stupid thing!”It was a large gold, beetle, floundering helplessly in the water near Sofie.


“Gigi Alicia, Gigi Alicia, look!” called Izzy. “Come, quickly. Save the bug, it’s drowning. Oh, please! It’s going toward the filter!”

Her grandmother, who was at the far end of the pool teaching Chip how to float, called out, “You must do it, Izzy! Scoop it into your hand, my petunia. Don’t be afraid. You must learn to save bugs.”When Izzy hesitated, Gigi Alicia called out, “Scoop it out before it reaches the filter.”

“Oh, it’s disgusting!” said her friend paddling toward the side of the pool and splashing the bug away from her. “Just drown it!”

“Izzy! Scoop the bug out. Do as I say. Now!” Gigi Alicia’s voice was harsh and commanding. Chip stared at his grandmother in astonishment and began to cry. He and Izzy had never heard Gigi Alicia speak to either one of them like that before. It was scary.

Making a face, Izzy made her hand into a scoop, placed it under the bug, and saved it from the gurgling filter. She held it in her hand for a minute and studied it. Exhausted by its exertions to stay alive in the water, it was not moving. Getting out of the pool, she walked over to the wall and gently placed the large gold beetle on the sun-warmed stone. As she had seen her grandmother do, she blew her warm breath on the bug until it opened its wings and moved cautiously forward. Gigi Alicia and Chip had come to stand behind her.Sofie watched from a distance, her face grimacing at the thought of touching a bug.

“You’ve saved your first bug and it’s a golden beetle, a very large one,” said Gigi Alicia, her voice soft and kind again. She hugged Izzy. “This one will protect you when you need it most. It will repay your kindness by saving your life. You have to believe that, Izzy.”Gigi Alicia whispered something to the beetle as the bug opened its wings and flew away.

“What did you say to the bug, Gigi Alicia?”

“I just reminded it that you saved its life and now it owes you a favor. It will protect you.”

She smiled and said, “Now, who wants ice cream cones? I know I do! I hear the ice cream truck coming. Let’s go get some! Then I’ll tell you another story.”

After eating the ice cream, they spent another hour in the pool and Izzy managed to save two more bugs, a bee and a spider. To each one she whispered what Gigi Alicia had whispered to the large gold beetle. “I saved your life, now you owe me a favor.”

Sofie, sitting on a float, just looked at her and shook her head. She mouthed the word ‘dumb bugs’ to Izzy and looked away.


That night, while waiting for Sofie to get out of the shower, Izzy thought about what Gigi Alicia had once told her about asking a bug for a favor. The favor, her grandmother had said, couldn’t be for something frivolous. You couldn’t, for example, ask for a new bike, or a video game. You could only ask it to save your life. It had to be intangible; something that was unable to be touched or grasped, like your life’s spirit. Was that possible? Could that gold bug actually save her if she needed it?

Izzy lay perfectly still under the gently moving ceiling fan feeling the breeze cool her skin. She squirmed a bit in dismay as she about what Sofie had said to her tonight. “You gotta stop ‘all this fantasy-type bug-favor crap.’ You’re too old for this stuff, Iz.”

Izzy hated to admit it, but maybe her friend was right; she was too old for silly fantasies. Maybe what she thought were fairies with lanterns really were only fireflies. Maybe it was just silly for her grandmother to ask a bug she saved to owe her a favor. And ogres? Wasn’t Izzy too grown-up to actually believe in a beast out of a fairy tale?

Izzy looked at the clock and made a face. Sofie was taking forever to get out of the shower. The full moon lit up the night sky and shown through her window. Finally, her friend opened the door to Izzy’s bedroom, dressed in a swimsuit.

Sitting on Izzy’s bed she told her that she had a great idea. “Let’s go for a night swim. Just you, me, and the fireflies.”

“I don’t know, Sofie. Gigi Alicia made me promise we’d stay inside.”

“Well, I’m not tired at all. Are you?” Izzy shook her head. “Anyway, she and Chip won’t be back for another couple of hours. There’s gonna be fireworks so you know Chip will want to stay after the movie. C’mon, Iz! Can you rebel just a little?”

“I guess.”

“Okay then. Come on. It’ll be fun. It’s hot tonight and going in the pool is just what we need to do. And, guess what? I’ve got two wine spritzers I stole from my mom’s cooler. She and her friends are boozers. She won’t even know it’s gone. She’ll think they drank them.”

Laughing at her friend’s daring, Izzy quickly changed into a swimsuit, then opened her door as quietly as possible. Both girls paused for a moment to listen. There was no sound except the peaceful chirping sound of crickets coming from the half-open windows. Gigi Alicia and Chip were still at the movie. Izzy and her friend ran to the back door.

The backyard at night seemed a different place than during the day. The moonlight glinted on Gigi Alicia’s roses and shone a silvery path on the flat stones leading to the pool. Except for the peaceful sound of the crickets, it was quiet. The pool water was still and beautiful. Surrounded by the roses and Rose of Sharon bush, the pool was a hidden oasis of moonlit beauty. Grabbing towels from a deck chair, Izzy slowly walked toward the pool’s steps.

The soft pop of the screw-off caps on the wine spritzer bottles broke the stillness of the night as both girls eased themselves into the shallow end. They sat, talking quietly and drinking the spritzers a little too quickly. Izzy giggled loudly when her friend asked her if she saw any of those fairies or nasty bugs. Izzy glanced in the direction of the fairy ring but saw nothing. No lights, no lanterns. No one but us and the moon, she thought

“Not tonight, Sof. I don’t see anything.”

“Good. So it’s just you, me, and those old ogres. Hey ogres! Where are you?” yelled Sofie.“Come on out, you night-crawling demons! Come and get us!” She dissolved into a fit of giggles.

“Shhhh! Not so loud! You’ll wake the neighbors!”

Stifling their giggles, they placed their bottles on the wall of the pool and went deeper into the water. Once she was in over her head, Izzy lay back into a float, her eyes open and gazing up at the summer moon. Sofie was floating with a long. Styrofoam noodle held under her arms, kicking her legs slowly and ending up near the cement steps again.

Izzy laughed for no reason at all except that she felt good, floating and becoming part the peacefulness of the night. She was drowsing and thinking of fairies and bugs when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a movement. Getting up with a splash, she turned toward the back fence where the roses grew. Was someone there? She looked again. Nothing. She spun slowly around and was surprised to find herself alone in the pool.

“Sofie?” she whispered. “Hey, Sofie? Where’d you go?” She swam to one end of the pool and stood in shoulder-height water. “Sof?”

Her friend was probably just fooling around trying to scare Izzy. Or maybe she had gone behind the shed to pee instead of bothering to go back inside.

But, something wasn’t right. Holding her breath, Izzy listened intently. There was no sound to the night at all. It was as if everything, any little noise had suddenly ceased. Even the crickets had stopped. Izzy held her breath again and looked slowly around the full moon-lit back yard. A dark shadow seemed to slide past the Rose of Sharon. Sofie? Izzy shivered and called out for her friend again. No answer.

Maybe Sofie had gone inside the house for some reason. Izzy look toward the back door and her heart began beating wildly. There was another dark shadow by the entrance to the house. It moved slowly back and forth as if it was intent on keeping anyone from going inside. Shapeless and ominous, it seemed as if it was guarding the door.

I have to scream, thought Izzy. But her throat refused to obey her thought. What is that shadow? Where is Sofie? She looked toward the rose bushes and the Rose of Sharon but the shadow was gone! Panicked, Izzy looked at the walkway around the pool. Something dark seemed to be crawling toward the water. The shadow! Coming into the water!

The shadow slid into the water like an oily blob. Izzy found that, not only couldn’t she scream, she couldn’t move. Slowly, as it got closer, the blob took on a shape, a hideous shape. Gnarled and bent and covered with coarse black hair, it was, with one long hairy arm reaching out its sharp claws toward Izzy. Its other arm held something close to its side and, as it came closer, Izzy saw, to her horror, that it held the limp body of her friend Sofie. Its arm was wrapped tightly around her friend’s neck. The dark slits the blob had for eyes seemed to glow like red hot coals, and its large ugly mouth opened and closed revealing sharp and dangerous teeth. Izzy saw her friend whispered weakly, “Help me. Izzy, help me!”

Izzy wanted to scream for Gigi Alicia, for anyone to help her, but couldn’t. What was this creature? Was it—? Oh no, no! It couldn’t be! Sofie had said that they didn’t exist outside of fairy tales. Only here it was right in front of her—an ogre! Izzy could do nothing but watch this horror slowly come to where she stood

Harsh, guttural sounds came from a distance away. The shadow guarding the door was now advancing over the stone steps toward the pool. Ogres! No, no! It can’t be true. But in her heart, she knew it was true. What Gigi Alicia had told her in those fantastic stories was real. There are creatures like fairies and ogres that live among us. They do exist. Izzy knew she and her friend were going to be taken away to some dark evil place and something horrible was going to happen to them. She saw Sofie moving her head back and forth, whimpering. Terrified, Izzy could smell the rancid breath of the ogre closest to her and see its long black tongue pushing between its teeth.

Suddenly, in her fear, a revealing thought came to Izzy. If ogres exist, then so do fairies with lanterns! And if fairies exist, so must life-saving bugs! Fantasy, good and bad, existed!

The bugs she saved, the large gold beetle, the bee, the spider—they owed her a favor, they owed her their lives and must now save hers and Sofie’s. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t speak. How would the bugs know she needed their help?

Gigi Alicia had said something about the bugs saving her life if she needed them. What had she said? She said she called them. Called them how? I can’t talk, thought a desperate Izzy. But wait, Gigi Alicia had said she called them with her heart. Can I do that too?

With that thought came relief and a freeing of her mind. Izzy took a deep breath and willed her thoughts to be still. Then, closing her eyes, and with her heart, she silently called the bugs she had saved. “Save me, you owe me your life, now you must save mine.”

The ogre was so close its tongue flicked Izzy shoulder, but still she stood silent, calling the large beetle, the spider, and the bee to save her. Time seemed to stop as Izzy stood immobile in the water. A guttural sound of surprise, an angry moan split the night air. There was a feeling of the earth rumbling. Izzy opened her eyes and stared.

She couldn’t believe what she was seeing! From behind the shed came the largest gold beetle she had ever seen. It was as large as a car. Its mammoth legs moved with a determined motion toward the pool and the ogre. Izzy heard a hissing noise and looked toward the Rose of Sharon. It was draped in a gigantic web and a giant spider sat at the top of the bush, waiting. From the rose bushes came a flutter of large wings and the angry buzzing of a bee, a bee so large that the movement of its wings caused huge waves in the pool.

The ogre in the pool screamed an unearthly sound as the beetle rushed into the water and held it down with its gigantic legs. The giant bee flew over and sank its stinger into the ogre’s arm, forcing the creature to release Sofie. The bee’s enormous wing gently flicked her toward the pool steps where she lay in a heap.

Izzy looked toward the fairy ring which had suddenly come alive with what appeared to be hundreds of tiny lights. The ogre in the pool continued screaming and trying to cover its eyes from the blinding lights as it was dragged by the bee into the spider’s web. The second ogre, who had guarded the house, was dragged away by the beetle and also tossed into the web where the huge spider quickly and neatly wrapped both monsters in tight white silk. Their horrid cries shrieked off into silence as the web, with them in it, disappeared from sight.

Once the ogres had disappeared, Izzy found she was able to move. She ran over to Sofie who was staring numbly at the fairy ring. The lights were dazzling and Izzy saw tiny creatures flying back and forth in the ring. Several flew over to where she and Sofie were, checking to see if they were all right. Izzy could see that they were indeed fairies, with transparent wings. They were dressed in moss-colored clothes, their intelligent faces staring at her in concern. Izzy found her voice. “I’m okay. Thank you.” With a nod to her, they flew back to the fairy ring.

Izzy helped Sofie up to a sitting position and together they watched in awe as the giant beetle, spider, and bee shrank down to normal size. Then they too, disappeared into the night. Izzy thought she heard a voice say, “Believe, believe.”

“Sofie. Sof? Can you stand? Let me look at you.” Izzy checked her friend for any bites or other visible injuries. Except for a large bruise near her neck, she seemed unhurt physically.

“Oh Izzy,” said Sofie quietly, grabbing onto her friend’s shoulders and standing wobbily. “It came from nowhere. I was just floating near the steps when this, this shadow thing came and grabbed me. Izzy! It was an ogre, just like your grandmother warned you about. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry! It was my fault. I called it!”

“It’s okay. You didn’t believe. I half didn’t believe myself, but I’m glad there was enough belief in me to have the bugs save us.”

Both girls walked out of the pool and slowly looked around the yard which miraculously looked as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The fairies made a row of lights toward the house and Izzy led her friend back to the deck. Finally, going back to Izzy’s room, they fell into an exhausted sleep. Gigi Alicia let them sleep until almost noon.


“Sofie, your mom says that you can stay one more night with us. Would you like that?” 
Gigi Alicia had just hung up her old-fashioned kitchen phone and had come out to where Izzy and Sofie were successfully teaching Chip to float. The two girls looked at each and then, unconsciously looked at the fairy ring. Izzy smiled.

“Please say yes, Sof. We can go over to the fair and get those friendship bracelets, okay?”

Sofie nodded yes and was turning to watch Chip finally float on his own, when she saw something near the side of the pool.

“It’s your turn, Sofie,” said Gigi Alicia, her voice soft, but firm. “You know what you have to do.”

Taking a deep breath, Sofie swam to where a gold beetle was struggling in the water. Scooping it out with her hand, she placed it on the wall of the pool and blew her breath on its wings. She whispered something to it then watched it fly to a rose bush and hover there. It seemed to be waiting.

“Thank you, thank you for saving my life,” called Sofie raising her hand in a good-bye wave.

The beetle left the rose bush, circling the pool three times, before flying off behind the shed.

Kristen Houghton’s new novel, Do Unto Others, is book four in her best-selling series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation and is available in all book venues.

She is the author of nine top-selling novels, including Welcome to Hell and is hard at work on a new series that features a paranormal investigator with distinct powers of her own. Houghton is also the author of two non-fiction books and numerous short stories which appear in the popular anthologies of The Horror Zine. She writes for Criminal Element Magazine and The Huffington Post.

cate harlow