Stephanie Smith is a poet and writer from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in such publications as Pif Magazine, Dark Moon Digest, The Literary Hatchet, The Chamber Magazine, Not One of Us, Illumen, and Liquid Imagination.

Her website is imajican.blogspot.com.


by Stephanie Smith


There―do you see them? Do you see the ghosts in the trees?”

Alice had been talking incessantly about her dead mother―how she was haunting her and how she feared the cancer would come to claim her now. She maintained a tight grip on Marlon’s arm as they strolled through the lamplit park. She didn’t want to go home and so they lingered, listening to the calm chorus of crickets and cicadas chirping and clicking their nightly song. They followed the winding path wedged between the thin wood and creek.

She looked up. The trees were a dancing troupe on that May’s eve, swaying and bending to music she couldn’t hear. A dozen trees encircled her, poking at her with their gnarled limbs. The ghosts rested on branches and howled at her like wolves in the night.

“They won’t leave me alone,” she said softly in Marlon’s ear.

“It’s just the wind,” he replied.

She inhaled deeply, swallowing scents of lilacs carried on the wind. Deeper still was the reek of dead fish from the creek.

She didn’t want to cry again in front of him. How many times since the funeral had she fallen into his arms, wailing with the grief of a thousand motherless children? He never once pushed her away or told her to cope.

Three months. Three long, tormenting months. And the months before of watching her mother fade away like a dream you tried to hold on to, but by the time you rolled out of bed it was gone.

Her mother was that very dream.

Yet part of her remained.

Alice heard her mother whispering words in her ear each and every night. Not with the soft, tender voice that soothed her in the days of childhood nightmares, but stern, emotionless
syllables; a possessed psychic flashing warning signs in her brain. She was chained at the neck
by the devil. She was the Seven of Swords slumped over, impaled and bloodied.


She lay restless in bed that night. If it hadn’t been for Marlon’s coaxing, she’d still be out
somewhere, lost in her thoughts and fears. She must have been lying in her bed for hours, watching shadows crawling on the wall, still no better off than she was.

To make matters worse, one of the shadows suddenly traveled from one side of the room to the next: a black mist that emitted a foul stench of sulfur and myrrh like a church set ablaze. She shot up in bed as it stole her breath away.

It hovered over her now, sending its black, burning stench through her nostrils like an entity seeking possession.

“What do you want!” she cried.

Pain pulsated in her head so bad she felt like her skull was being crushed. She heard voices in the room, too, as if a record player had been set to high speed but she couldn’t decipher what they were saying. She couldn’t see them, but their presence made her think of little creatures like goblins or imps in a fairy tale. She sensed them prancing around the room, tiny tiptoes on the hardwood floor. They tangled their little fingers in her hair and scratched her arms in a bid for her attention.

“Stop it!” she screamed and made a dash for the bathroom across the hall. With a sweaty hold on the knob, she locked the door then backed away. Little feet scuttled outside.

Alice threw on the light switch and all of a sudden, like an airtight container being closed, the sound ceased with a whoosh.

She relished in relief for only a split second, because a wave of nausea instantly knocked her to the floor before she could make sense of anything.

Her arms burned where she was scratched. They looked like cat scratches; thin, jagged lines that squeezed out only minuscule drops of blood, but were as painful as digging a blade into flesh. She wished she had a knife right now. A one-way road down her arm and the scratches would seem like sweet kisses Marlon gifted her in moments of passion. One slice and it would all go away.

She limped to the sink, initially to apply peroxide to her wounded skin, but by the time she arrived there she had forgotten about it. Instead, she stared wearily into the mirror, hands gripping the sides of the small vanity. She knocked over the ceramic toothbrush holder, shattering it and sending a shockwave through her system.

She proceeded to vomit long and hard, throwing up whatever her stomach offered, which was soon nothing but bile and air.

Her stomach and ribs were weak as she looked back at her reflection. At twenty-two, her face looked sunken and old. Her pitch-black hair now flaunted a grayish hue.

And she smelled―what the hell was that smell? Sulfur?

With a shock, she realized it was her emitting the odor. Her skin. Her breath. Like she had thrown up hell itself and bathed in its contents.

She collapsed onto the cold linoleum floor and tucked herself away in the corner. She folded her body up like an origami animal and rocked back and forth―hugging her knees and humming a dissonant tune―until exhaustion got the best of her and she slipped into dreamless sleep.


Alice raised her leaden head off the bathroom floor where she had spent the remnants of the night. She scraped her eyes open and waited for them to adjust to the daylight leaking in from
the bathroom window. She was so parched that her lips stuck together.

She struggled herself upright and splashed cold water on her face, then took a sip from the tap.

A plethora of small open sores had formed on her hands overnight, spread across them like a landscape of active volcanoes. Impulsively, she pressed down on her hand and several of the sores oozed an opaque substance that smelled like sour milk.

She winced at the pain and whimpered, wanting so bad to be held by her mother, cradled like a newborn.

It’s happening again, her mother’s voice whispered.

“What is?” Alice inquired, but was met with nothing but the echo of her own voice.

She recalled the metamorphosis her mother went through with her cancer. How seemingly overnight she changed from a lively forty-three year-old to an elderly woman, barely recognizable even to her own daughter.

It pained Alice to see her deteriorate before her eyes. She couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to feel every organ in her body turning to sludge; rotting from the inside out.

She did feel a dull ache deep within her bones, a burning sensation in her veins. Something tugged at her muscles, stretching sinew like a rubber-band―something wanting to escape.

Right on cue the shadowy form re-emerged, gliding across the dark stage, awaiting its next line.

“Please!” she cried, lacking the strength to deal with whatever chore it was about to throw at her.

Instead, it circled her like an animal craving attention. It floated out the bathroom and then stopped, beckoning her to follow it as it disappeared through the ceiling and into the attic.

Maybe it’s trying to show me something…maybe if I find out what it wants, it will leave, she thought, then reached up and pulled the ladder down. It creaked from lack of use and she feared its rotting wood would give under her weight. Would she actually care if it did?

She was crazy for following some unknown entity, oblivious to where this chase might lead her. She never liked that attic. Not as a child. Not now. Too many nights she lay awake listening to the rats scurrying across the floor, her wild imagination turned on. Who knew what she would find up there?

Her heart raced as she reached the last rung then eased her way on to the wooden floor of the mothball-scented attic. She got herself to her feet, knees popping like firecrackers, and reached for the light. She felt the chain above her and tugged at it. The bare bulb flickered at first, but finally settled down.

The small attic had a crawlspace on either side. It was there on the left the shadowy form lingered. It rippled like the Northern Lights in the night sky, like a waltz she once learned, luring her to the door. But as she stepped closer toward it, it slowly retreated, fading with each inch until it disappeared completely.

Alice, at an early age, succumbed to the belief the crawlspaces were a portal to hell or worse. She never ever entered them. But here she was: undoing the latch and opening the door.

It had one small, round window that shown sunlight through in a single dusty ray, illuminating the dirt floor. The low ceiling seemed to descend on top of her; the wall crept closer.

She swallowed a large pocket of stale air, and on hands and knees approached what appeared to be a large trunk backed against the wall, pleading like a bruised prisoner for release. It was a dark muddy brown color with bronze latches and a broken lock. She pulled cobwebs away and with all her strength forced the trunk open.

A great putrescence escaped as the lid flew open with an ear-shattering squeak. Inside, a mummified bat lay wedged in between two books. Alice gagged, but very delicately picked it up with her thumb and forefinger and flung it over her shoulder.

Most of the books inside the trunk were old and musty. The paper, delicate. She struggled to hold herself together as she perused the disturbing photos confined inside the pages of haunted parchment.

She cupped her hand over her mouth as she saw a baby being tossed into a pit of fire like kindling. Bat-like creatures with cherubic faces flew over a battlefield of mangled corpses and smoking guns. Several of the books contained sigils and symbols she was ignorant to, but nevertheless piqued her interest.

She traced the foreign characters with her fingertips as if somehow, in some way, she did know what they were. Deep down. Like remembering a past life or discovering a relative you never knew you had.

Dizziness overwhelmed her. Pages turned to liquid as she slipped in and out of consciousness, the photos too overwhelming for her fragile state.

She fought to gain composure and continued ruffling through the trunk. She rescued a book buried beneath the others like a dirty secret. A hardcover, colored navy blue with gold-leaf trim. A diary! It looked new.

As she opened the journal a bitter wind rushed the attic, slamming the crawlspace door closed. It failed to win her attention, for she was too engrossed in the journal.

It was her mother’s writing! But the writing was erratic almost to the point of being completely illegible. The last dated entry was just a few weeks before her death:

April 13: This may be my final entry, for the sickness spreads so far into my soul. The visions torment day and night now. Visions of the beings who did not want me. Deemed defective. But I am no longer human either. And the black worms eat at my brain piece by piece. I can feel them. And I can feel life just wasting away…

Oh, I fear for my daughter. I fear this will all become her nightmare soon. I can sense the change is happening to her, too. I pray she has the strength to endure. My transition didn’t take. I only hope hers does…At least it’s something…Something is better than dissolving into


Alice closed the book and a cloud of dust escaped. Her jaw dropped open, hands shaking, pulse quickening at such an intense rate it felt like her heart was going to explode. Her chest wall was caving in and she struggled to not pass out.

She opened the diary again and flipped frantically through the pages. “What happened to you? What’s happening to me?”

The pages became a blur. She caught only glimpses and snatches of words like scattered puzzle pieces. Words like demons and not cancer.

As she sat there putting the pieces together in the long, passing shadows of the afternoon, something clicked. Something else killed her mother, didn’t it? Something doctors never would have seen. To them, her brain was riddled with tumors: black masses that gradually took over her bodily functions, shutting down her organs, until her parting breath.

But according to her writing, it was something supernatural and she spent the last days of her life in a quest for the truth. She died before she was able to warn Alice…to find the right words to make her believe.

Which meant Alice had to figure things out for herself.

How could she leave her alone like this, haunting her, but not helping her?

Torment gave way to rage.

Her eyes played tricks with her in the dark, cramped space, but she knew it was no trick as something small scurried past her. She fell backwards and gasped.

Silence. Save for shallow breaths.

She sat up, rattled and weary as an imp jumped on top of the trunk and grinned at her in such a way she opened her mouth to scream.

Just then, a voice rose up out of the ashes of her burning soul. It was Marlon. His voice traveled upwards from the hallway. A soothing voice, like calamine lotion on poison ivy, like peppermint tea on a sour stomach.

“Alice, are you there?”

The imp vanished. Alice hid the diary down the back of her jeans, covering the top of it with her t-shirt, and left the crawlspace to its memories.

“I’m up here,” she croaked then cleared her throat.

She dusted herself off as Marlon climbed up the ladder.

“What are you doing up here? I’ve been trying to call you.”

He gave her a light kiss on the cheek as they met. She grabbed his arm and pulled him in close, trembling. She buried herself in him, losing herself in the familiarity of body odor and Axe.

“What’s wrong?” he asked and tried to peel her off him, but she clung to him still.

“I don’t think the cancer’s going to get me after all,” she said and finally retracted her embrace.

“Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?” he said. He wrinkled his forehead and squinted at her.

She swung her arms around her back and placed her hands in the rear pockets of her jeans in an
attempt to hide the ichorous sores on her hands and the scratches on her arms from him.

“No.” She shook her head and backed away. “This is worse than any disease. Worse than death itself.”


But she did not explain. The sight of an antique wardrobe behind him caught her attention. The distance between them became thick as it drew her in. She walked passed him and he threw his arms up in surrender.

The wardrobe whined when she opened its doors. Inside, protected by clear plastic coverings, hung several fancy dresses and gowns. Alice stood enamored by the dresses. Their beauty distracted her from her pain.

“Honey, are you high on something?”

She ignored Marlon’s accusations―not because it was illogical, but he was miles away right now. Her lungs sucked in more stale air as she pulled aside an exquisite sky-blue dress.

“Oh, my mother’s prom dress!” She unzipped the covering and released the dress from its decades-old prison.

The dress was perfect. Not puffy or smothered in frills. Rather conservative, in fact. Her mother wasn’t the most innocent teenager, she knew, but this dress could have tricked anyone into thinking it with its tiny daisies sewn around the hemline.


“Did you go to your prom? I didn’t. I was asked. But I didn’t.” She placed the dress in front of her, brushing her hand against the fabric over and over as she spoke. “I never gave it serious thought until now.” She sighed. “There are so many things in life I haven’t done…”

“You’re only in your twenties, Alice.”

“What’s age matter when the world as you know it is ending?”

“You’re talking nonsense.”

He tried to relax her with a shoulder massage but she only shrugged and hugged the dress, swaying slowly from side to side to music only she could hear. She hummed along with the phantom tune.

Marlon squeezed her hand, now, and kissed the backside of her head. “Look, come by my place later, okay?” he said and departed without waiting for a response.

Alice, meanwhile, continued to glide across the attic floor until sunlight scorched her feet. She carried the dress down to her room and draped it delicately over the bed, smiling for the first time in a long time.


The shadowy form returned that evening. She did not fear it this time. In fact, she became accustomed to the new inhabitants of her house.

Besides, she was just too weak to care anymore. It gave her a rush not to care. She didn’t care that her body burned on the inside, that on the outside her nails grew rapidly into claws. She started losing her teeth a couple hours ago as new, sharper ones probed eager to emerge.

One particular imp who had resided in her company all evening approached her bloodstained mouth with caution, sniffing at it like a lusty dog.

“Fuck off,” she said and swatted at it. Twice it returned before it finally got the picture. Then it sat on the floor alongside her, staring at her with its blackened eyes. It had tiny nubs for ears and jaundiced skin that smelled like a dirty toilet.

She stared back, torso propped against the dresser, legs stretched out. Her stomach churned and the imp squealed. Snot dangled from its pug nose.

“I’m hungry, too,” she mumbled. She tasted the blood in her mouth. It struck a nerve in her, like the onset of a caffeine buzz. Everything was so clear now.

She thought about Marlon, her insides aching in starvation and anger. Her thoughts ceased to be about her love for him. All positive feelings for the living faded away and were replaced by a drive to tear him to pieces.

The old Alice was dying. She couldn’t resist anymore, but managed to shed one final tear before she dug her newborn incisors into her arm and wailed. It was a cry of grief and pain and not knowing where to turn.

Blood sprayed out her arm, on the dresser drawers, and over the side of the bed. It splattered on her face and all over the imp who proceeded to spin around in circles trying to catch some on its serpent tongue. Her blood was bitter and thick like syrup, but satisfying. Skin stuck to her teeth as she swallowed a chunk of her own flesh.

She stood up, blood pouring from the gaping wound in her arm. The imp danced ecstatically beneath her now, panting and thrusting its pelvis forward. It urinated, burning a hole into the carpet.

Alice’s face was almost unrecognizable in the dresser mirror; the same mirror she used to put
her make-up on and to brush her hair. Her transition was almost complete.

I should have warned you, her mother said. It was the last time she heard the voice. Even then she could no longer comprehend the words that were spoken but its sound sang of regret. And the shadowy form, which had hung over her like a raincloud for so long, slowly disintegrated.

She looked at the dress lying on the bed. Innocence in a room of chaos. It was the dress that spoke to her now.

She stripped and slipped it on.

She went outside into the night.

A crescent moon followed Alice as she staggered across town to Marlon’s house.

She took the dark roads, encountering but one soul along the way. He was a street thug: unshaven and bathed in alcohol and body odor. He cracked a joke about it not being Halloween and tried to offer her some smack. When she refused, he cut the spaghetti strap of her dress off with a switchblade knife and demanded some action.

The right side of the dress sagged, revealing her small breast and its pink, hard nipple. Dark purple veins dripped down her chest. He reached his hand out to attempt a feel. She, in return, swept a maddened claw across his face.


Marlon swung the front door open when he heard the scratching noise. “Alice, why didn’t you knock?”

She stood motionless outside in her mother’s blue prom dress, displaying her demonic metamorphosis. Her face was pale, but presented the same thin pulsating purple veins that engulfed the rest of her body. Her right hand clutched on to what resembled a mask, but was all too real. She looked at Marlon with dead, milky eyes.

“Alice? Oh my god!”

He didn’t have much time to question if what he saw was just his imagination, or if it was really Alice standing before him. Alice in that freaking blue dress. Alice reeking of blood and shit and brimstone. Alice, the love of his life, who he cared for more than anyone.

She lunged at him―mouth as wide as the abyss that now gaped beneath them, her breath hot and putrid―and gave him one final kiss.