Rick McQuiston is a horror fanatic residing in boring Warren, Michigan. To date, he has had well over 400 works published, including four novels. Rick is currently under contract with Raven Tale Publishing for several more novels; a workload he happily embraces.  


by Rick McQuiston


The hinges squeaked when Toe pushed the door open.

The house had been abandoned for as long as any of them could remember. It squatted like an enormous toad in a forgotten pond, simultaneously a warning and an invitation to any who saw it.

Dolly felt the former was definitely predominating.

“Come on, Toe, you gonna go inside or not?” asked Betsy through the long red braids that frequently hung in front of her face. “We didn’t come all this way for nothing, you know.” She glanced over at her friend Dolly. “How did he get that stupid name anyway?”

Toe spun around, his eyes blazing. “My grandmother used to call me that,” he snarled. “She always said I had big feet just like my grandfather.”

Betsy rolled her eyes. “Well, you know what they say about boys with big feet…” Both girls giggled and Toe did his best to ignore them. Instead, he focused on the house.

A rectangle of darkness greeted the investigators. It was just dark enough to effectively conceal what was within it, and yet transparent enough to suggest household shapes such as light fixtures, accent tables, and wall hangings. It felt haunted.

Toe produced a flashlight, a cheap plastic thing he’d swiped from Needs Hardware Store a few days earlier, and clicked it on. Instantly, a thin yellow beam sliced into the gloom, although it revealed only more darkness.

Both Dolly and Betsy seemed to shrink in their skin. He knew they were scared, and would have preferred to be at one another’s house giving manicures. Instead, they were talked into trudging out to the middle of nowhere, following their friend Toe on another one of his crazy adventures.

But this particular adventure did have some merit: there was rumored to be the ghost of a woman who had hidden her fortune in the house decades earlier when she had succumbed to a terrible wasting disease. Apparently, she didn’t trust banks and hid the fortune somewhere on the grounds. True or just an urban legend? Toe preferred to be an optimist; where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Both Dolly and Betsy liked ghost stories so they couldn’t resist when their troublesome-prone friend suggested they tag along with him on the treasure hunt.

“Her name was Hannah Spoles,” he explained as he led the way into the house. “She was a lonely spinster, hoarding all her wealth in boxes that she stowed away in hidden spots throughout the place.” He turned to face the girls with narrowed eyes. “At least that’s how the story goes.”

Betsy tilted her head, causing her red braids to swing to the side. “So where should we start?”

Toe turned around. “You girls take the lower rooms: kitchen, living room, hallway; and I’ll check the upper rooms. Check everywhere. Look under rugs, behind furniture. Everywhere you can.”

The girls nodded and promptly withdrew their own flashlights from their handbags. Twin beams of light immediately followed, dancing around the darkness like living things searching for food.

Toe quickly scooted away. He found the staircase, a rickety structure that was worrisome at best, and without hesitation climbed it, all the while being aware of the eerie feeling he got from the house. But images of hidden riches flowed from his mind, spurring him on.

When he reached the top of the stairs, he was surprised to see how vacant it was. He’d expected old furniture dotting the hallway, threadbare carpet, or broken light fixtures dangling in the stagnant air, but everything seemed empty. There weren't even any spiders nestled in their webs or mice scuttling around for scraps of food.

Toe swayed his flashlight to and fro, but only saw an empty hallway that led into emptiness. Oh no, maybe someone else had beat them to the treasure hunt. Still, maybe something had been missed.

“Where the heck would she have hidden anything?” he whispered to himself, noting how his words felt as if they were swallowed by the gloom. All he could do was hope the girls were having better luck than he was.

And then he hit the jackpot.


Dolly took the kitchen, Betsy the living room. There were a lot of places to look (behind old appliances, under carpet and rugs, behind furniture) so the possibility of there actually being some hidden treasure was becoming more and more exciting.

“Do you think there might be jewels?” Betsy asked as she rummaged around behind a half-rotted, chair. The piece was so shredded from mildew it was scarcely held its shape. “I want necklaces, and rings, and bracelets, and...”

From the kitchen, Dolly ignored her friend. She was busy trying to pull an old fridge away from a wall. She saw a few mice scamper around behind it, but suppressed her fear and disgust. She also wanted to see if the stories about Hannah Spoles were true.

She walked the fridge from side to side. It tore chunks of faded linoleum off the floor as the leveling feet slid across it. “Well, I don’t know about jewels but maybe there’ll be some gold coins or valuable antiques.”

Her heart skipped a beat when a mouse, a scrawny little thing with greasy gray fur matted to its body, scampered out from beneath the fridge. Its beady black eyes focused on her for a second or two before it continued on its journey.

“...and maybe some diamonds,” Betsy continued from the family room, oblivious to her friend’s rodent encounter. “My grandmother used to have this bracelet that was loaded with diamonds. She left it to my mom when she died, and...”

Dolly tuned out Betsy and watched the mouse scamper out of the kitchen and into the family room. She smiled to herself when she thought of what would inevitably happen next. She stopped for a moment and listened but heard nothing other than her own heartbeat. “Betsy?” she called out with a bit of hesitancy. She didn’t want her friend to think she was being foolish, a scared little girl afraid to be left alone for a few minutes. But in a way, that’s exactly what she was. “Betsy? What are you doing?”

Her words were swallowed by the gloom.

She walked out of the kitchen, mindful of where she stepped. The possibility of trampling on some disgusting rodent did occur to her so she was acutely aware of every move she made. But the thought of scraping blood, guts, and fur from her shoes paled in comparison to the feeling she had when she entered the family room.

Betsy was nowhere to be found.

Confusion mingled with disbelief, and the most prominent feeling: fear.


She stepped into the family room so slowly, so cautiously that it seemed as if she were floating. Her mind raced with possible explanations but none made much sense. Her friend, the girl she used to watch Romance Channel movies with, and trade manicures with, and talk about boys with, her best friend in the whole world, had quite simply vanished. Suddenly she was filled with thoughts that something had happened to Betsy. Something bad. The void in her heart that was created at that terrible moment of realization yawned like a gaping black hole: absolute, undeniable, and most of all: frightening.       

She looked around the room. Nothing seemed out of place: the moldy furniture, the derelict fixtures, the forgotten arrangement of said pieces, even the dust itself seemed to remain intact with nary a footprint or any other disturbance noticeable.

Overhead, she heard Toe rummaging around but felt an irrational feeling that she must not make any sounds. She didn’t want to attract the attention of whatever had grabbed Betsy. She knew she was being selfish but was too scared to behave any differently. The stairway seemed miles away so looking for Toe was out of the question.

And then another puzzling thought struck her: among so much dust on the floor, why were there no footprints? Even the rodent…what happened to the mouse? There were no tracks in the fine layer of dust in the room, and in fact it looked as if nothing had been in it for years.

Her gut twisted into a knot. She knew that she and Betsy had walked all over the family room, yet there was no evidence she or her friend had ever been there. Something impossible was staring her in the face, and it wasn’t pretty.

She shook it off. Betsy was missing. A mouse had vanished. She was standing in an abandoned house, alone except for Toe, who was crawling around upstairs somewhere, and her flashlight was starting to dim.

She had to get help! She had to find Toe.

As she turned to leave, a glint of gold caught her eye. It was fairly large, about the size of a baseball, and was in stark contrast to its dismal surroundings.

Dolly stopped in her tracks. Despite the situation, she couldn’t deny that she was excited. The prospect of the stories actually being true was a tantalizing notion. It was irresistible and greed overpowered her fear.  

She stepped toward the gold, training her light on it. It was a box of some sort, plain in design with no apparent markings on the lid, and was nestled in a dark corner between the legs of a small accent table and the frayed edges of a love seat.

Dolly stepped over to it and set the flickering flashlight on the floor. Instantly, stale air rose from the minor disturbance of the dust.

She reached for the box just as a small lump, a gyrating mass of dust the size and shape of a mouse, scooted up toward her outstretched hands.

Then the box disintegrated into dust.

Then the mouse fell apart, a dusty apparition.

Then her light went out and she screamed.


Toe heard the scream and promptly dropped the jewels. Rubies the size of quarters, jagged emeralds glowing dark green, and crude diamonds that literally oozed value, clanked on the dusty floor like so many useless trinkets.

His heart rate increased as adrenaline swelled his panic. He had been foolish to split up the group. There was safety in numbers, although he didn’t think there was actually anything dangerous in the house. There was no such thing as ghosts.

And secretly, he was glad he was alone so he could keep most of the bounty for himself. Precious jewels that would be worth a fortune were hidden under a forgotten dresser, nestled in a half-rotted rag. There were nearly a dozen packages, each bulging with value. He could quit his lousy job at the convenience store. He’d be set for life!

But dreams of a luxurious lifestyle were quickly diluted by the scream he’d heard. He didn’t want to be scared, but he was. The girls were in trouble. Although it pained him to leave the riches behind, he simply had to investigate, and he didn’t want the girls to know what he’d found, so he hid them in a gloomy corner where they wouldn’t be easily seen.

He sprinted out of the room, not noticing the jewels suddenly were nothing more than shapeless lumps of coagulated dust.

He stumbled down the steps, the beam from his flashlight dancing in front of him. He took two steps of the time, although fear threatened to compromise his balance. “Dolly? Betsy?” he called out. “Where are you?”

The dust-coated stairs muffled his steps. The surrounding gloom, bolstered by darkness and hopelessness, tried to overtake him.

“Dolly? Betsy?” He finally reached the last step and managed to stop in his tracks. He stood there for a brief eternity, waiting for something, anything to give him the courage to move forward.

His flashlight hung between his fingers, a useless tool pointing towards the floor.

“Well, did you find anything?” the soft voice asked from the darkness on the far side of the room.

“Dolly?”  He was overcome with relief, but it was tempered by the memory of the scream.

He raised his flashlight

Dolly moved into the light. “Of course it’s me. Who did you expect, Hannah Spoles?”

The reply caught Toe off-guard. He didn’t expect such sarcasm, given the situation. “Were you the one who screamed?”

Dolly took a step forward. Her expression dangled somewhere between indifference and deceptiveness. “She never existed, you know,” she said in a tone so laced with hopelessness that it practically sucked the air right out of the room.

Toe instinctively took a step back. Suddenly he yearned for the comfort and safety of his bed. Hidden treasure didn’t matter to him anymore. “Who never existed?”

“Hannah Spoles. She was just a temporary creation, a facsimile used to attract prey.”

Toe felt his throat constrict. His mouth became so dry that he couldn’t swallow.

Dolly took another step. Then another. And yet another, until she stood within a few feet of Toe. Her solidity had thinned, innumerable clots of grain hardly managing to hold the form together. But her face, her dust-layered face, still remained distinct...and more frightening than any ghost could ever be.

Another figure rose from the floor then. It resembled a female, but with no discernible features it was difficult to tell. But Toe knew who it was. “Betsy?”

The figure paused for a moment, as if acclimating itself to its surroundings, before appearing to recognize Toe. It came up behind Dolly and stood there, immobile and yet seeming to waver.

“And now,” Dolly continued, “you will become one with the dust.” As she spoke, a virtual shower of dust particles sprayed out from her mouth.

Within a few seconds, Toe was incapacitated by the assault. He felt dust shooting down his throat, choking him, drying out his life. He tried to cough but it was useless. Every time he inhaled, more dust filled his lungs. He heard Dolly’s voice—a dry, raspy noise like sandpaper across concrete, continuing to drive him further into the widening void that was overtaking him.

“Soon we will expand from here. Soon our granules will touch every aspect of life. Soon all life will return from which it came: dust. This has been happening for millennia. Now it’s your turn.”


Terri couldn’t believe her luck. She had to rub her eyes to make sure she wasn’t dreaming.

She wasn’t.

With trembling hands, she slipped her backpack off and set it on the ground. It was heavy (a couple of textbooks added quite a bit of weight to the numerous notebooks she regularly toted to and from school-she was an honor student, after all), and she couldn’t deny the relief she felt from unloading such a burden from her back.

She knelt down on the gravel road, gently, making sure there weren’t any sharp pebbles, and studied her treasure.

The jewelry box was fairly large, about the size the one her mother used to have (she loved
playing with it as a kid-marveling at all the family heirlooms and custom trinkets inside), and was mostly hidden beneath a light layer of dirt, pebbles, and desiccated leaves. Only one of its corners remained completely visible, revealing the unmistakable glint of gold.

Terri snatched the box from its grave, and brushing it off, stared at her good fortune. Yet her joy was tempered by an unusual fact that simply couldn’t be denied. She tried to ignore it, focusing instead on the gold, the sparkle of precious stones lining its edges, the overall ornate grandeur of the box, but couldn’t.

The box was light. Too light. In fact, it weighed hardly anything at all. It sure wasn’t real gold. It wasn’t anything. She felt both confused and frightened. It didn’t seem natural.

Suddenly she felt superstitious. She remembered Moira Fowley-Doyle’s quote from Spellbook of the Lost and Found: “Be careful what you wish for; not all lost things should be found.”

She decided then and there to get rid of the jewelry box. She didn’t trust it. It should have weighed a pound at least and probably more at most—no matter what it was made of—it should not be lighter than a feather.

Tossing it back into its hole, she turned to leave. She would no doubt be bothered by leaving such a treasure behind but she was scared for some reason.

“It’s foolish to ignore your good fortune.”

She spun around and came face-to-face with three people: two girls and a boy. Each wore a haggard expression and all were wavering from side to side as if standing on the deck of a ship at sea.

“Who are you?” Terri asked, glancing from one to the other. “And where did you come from?”

One of the girls, the one with red braids framing her weathered face, leaned forward, her eyes ablaze with fire. It created a stark contrast to the rest of her features.

“You will return,” she croaked, “to that from which you came: dust.”

Terri felt her throat constrict with a storm of dust as she collapsed at the feet of the three smoldering forms. By then they hardly resembled human beings anymore—being made up of a swirling tempest of dust.