Eric Neher

The February Selected Writer is

Eric Neher

Please feel free to email Eric at: ericneher3@gmail.com


by Eric Neher

The door was locked. My older brother Dave slammed his shoulder against the panel, the panic in his eyes contagious. Even now, I can still hear the explosion that had wrenched us away from our afternoon cartoons.

“Was that a gun?” I asked.

“Stay here,” said Dave.

I waited as he rushed out of the back door and made his way around to our father’s bedroom window. The shattering glass caused me to flinch, and within moments the handle began to turn.

Dave cracked the door open, careful not to allow enough space for me to see inside of the room.

“Get back, Jake,” he said, nudging me away and pulling the door shut behind him. I followed him into our kitchen, my knees feeling as if they had suddenly become disconnected and slid down against the wall as he picked up the phone.

That was a long time ago, but I never forget.


Strange how one act can influence the lives of so many. At first, the outcry was overwhelming with feigned offers of If there’s anything we can do, just let us know. What would they have done if we had called their bluff? Could they have saved our mother from the bottle? Could they have stopped the nightmares that soon infested our sleep like monstrous invaders? Most likely not, and even if they could, would they have?

Our father’s legacy was much too well-known for such a conclusion. His tragedy swept through the community like a spring breeze, allowing those who dwelt within his darkness a momentary reprieve, a chance to laugh at their own demons in a squandered celebration of life.

This was the road that Dave and I suddenly found ourselves thrust upon, paved with shame, lit only by the haloes of guilt and loathing. Our father was the creator; the architect whose own resignation had designed a merciless pit both cold and without hope, and it was from here that our lives truly began.

Where does one go when all of the doors have been shut? There was no magical savior, no spiritual guide that would appear upon command like some kind of Holy Cab. When in the dark, you reach for anything that might help light your way.

For my brother, that beacon was found in the reoccurring jabs of a needle. The felonious liquid muffled the screams that he had yet to release. Never once did I see him cry, even after he was forced to step over our father’s body. It was as if a part of him had split, had agreed to hide away in forgotten seclusion just as long as it remained fed.

One would think that the enveloping darkness would begin to brighten at some point, that time would eventually heal even the deepest of wounds, but that is not always the case. Instead, the years only widened the divide, and soon where once stood, a comrade was a stranger. Dave’s skin had aged; his bright eyes dulled into a reaction-less stare void of emotion. Had I not been so consumed with my own fight for survival, I might have been able to help him.

The ramifications of our choices are not clear. We all teeter on edge hoping that yesterday’s decision doesn’t lead to today’s disaster. Each precaution that we take based on fear that our past has produced. Within our shattered brotherhood, we had made a sacred pact. There would be no more guns in the house, and all doors would remain open, except for our father’s. That door would be forever closed.

It now seems like a humorous slant on our tragic slide from the truth. We both had embraced our agreement, clinging to it like a buoy as the water continued to rise, and yet we were content to tread, unaware that exhaustion was already setting in. We had created a sanctuary of lies, a blanket of artificial perceptions fueled by toxins and buffered by shallow promises.

Still, we chose to linger in the house, ignoring its warnings, pretending that the opened doors and weaponless rooms would be enough. And yet, there were nights when I swear I could hear the floors creak, would catch a glimpse of shadows, there and then gone.

Discussing this with Dave would have been pointless. By then, the hidden section of himself had ballooned into addiction. Often I would stop at his doorway and watch as the sheets covering his comatose body hitched their way up and then slip back down in timing with his breathing. But if he was breathing, then at least I knew he was still alive.                                                            


On one occasion, I was awoken by the sound of whispering. I sat up and quietly crept out of my room into a hallway illuminated by dust infected beams of silver moonlight. I made my way down the hall, pausing briefly at Dave’s room, sure that what I was hearing was nothing more than my brother’s hidden half trying to make a brief appearance. But the only sound from his chamber was the rasping storm of his narcotic slumber.

And yet the unintelligible voice continued, and a sudden chill flooded through my veins as I realized that there were words melded in this whispering; consonants tripping into long, anguished vowels but I couldn’t make them out.

A sudden thought struck me like a hammer: Perhaps this was madness! Perhaps I had been mad all along! It was then that a spine-tingling grind of a rusted hinge echoed throughout the hallway. I looked into the weak glow and saw that my father’s door had opened. I stood there, my skin constricted, my heart pounding.

Did terror accompany madness? For a moment, I again felt like the child from all those years ago who could do nothing more than helplessly wait as his older brother confirmed what we both already knew. I gazed over at Dave’s doorway and considered calling out to him but decided against it. Not because I was afraid, although there could be no denying that. It was because of the sudden anger that had washed over me.

Dave had already crossed this line, had already gone into the unknown to protect me, and it had cost him everything. Could I expect him to do that again? Was I that much of a coward?

Yes, you are, was the immediate response. I closed my eyes, took in a deep, shuddering breath, and made my way down the hallway. My father’s doorway stood just a couple of feet away. The posts of his unmade bed cast thin roads of shadow across the dark carpet, winding their way towards me.

Across the room was the very window that my brother had climbed through. Under its sill was the throw rug that had been placed over the burgundy stain. I stood there motionless, my gaze darting from one relic to the next like a patron at a freak show. All of these things I had seen before and yet in the low light, they appeared oddly new. Each one holding the memory that I had for so long been trying to forget.

The low wind of the whisper continued, garbled words lost in an eerie moan. I could feel my legs shaking, and despite the cold that seemed to be emanating from everywhere felt a layer of sweat form across my brow. A sudden motion drew my attention to the dark corner just beyond the bed. A shadow was rising from the floor like a trickling creek. The blurred stream of nonsense began to slow, articulating itself into carefully timed syllables. I found myself drawn to it; my eyes never leaving the image that had appeared.

Come to me, Jacob, it whispered.

An explosion of pain erupted from my shoulder, and I felt myself pulled from the room.

“Get back, Jake!”

Dave slid passed me, seemingly lucid as he reached for the handle of the door, slamming it shut just as the shadow from the corner rushed forward.        

“Did you see it?” I said. “When you went into the room, did you see it?”

Dave looked at me, his watery eyes narrowed.

“You saw nothing,” he said.

“Someone was in there!” I said.

Ignoring that, Dave asked, “Why did you open the door?”

“I didn’t. It was already open. Didn’t you see it?”

“Stay out, Jake,” he said. “There’s nothing in there for us.” He then erupted into a sickening cough. I reached out for him, offering what little support I could give. He brushed away my hand and stumbled back towards his room.

Strange that a man at my age would adhere to a command from someone just a couple of years older, but Dave’s wisdom had always been unquestionable. It had come from the true knowledge of his sacrifice.

There are ghosts. I genuinely believe that, although they may not be the wayward spirits of those who have died, more like manifestations of our past that refuse to go away. And for me, that is much more terrifying, for one can always leave a place that is haunted. But where does one go when you are the one haunted?

I turned back to the door, expecting it to burst open, but it remained closed. The whispering had stopped leading me to believe that what had happened was nothing more than a sleepwalker’s dream. How else could I explain the rising shadow in the corner or the jumbled voice that had called my name?

I turned to make my way to my room when I heard something like sandpaper slowly scraping against the laminated finish of my father’s panel. I did not turn back.

Sleep abandoned me for the rest of that night. I lay there staring up at the cracked ceiling fighting the urge to investigate further. Come to me, Jacob, the voice had said as if it had been waiting. Had it been the shadow that had spoken? I nestled my eyes within the crook of my arm and again told myself that it had only been a dream.


That morning, I found Dave leaning against the kitchen counter, staring into the coffee pot as it slowly filled. His thinning hair stood like desolate clumps of weeds on a desert floor. Yellow stains ringed the pits of his dirty white t-shirt. He looked up at me as I walked into the room.

“Do you want a cup?” he said.

“Please,” I answered. I watched as Dave poured the coffee with a trembling hand. He then shuffled his way over to the table, placing the cup in front of me, then went around to the other side and collapsed in his chair. We sat there for a while, quietly sipping. Dave placed his cup down on the table, slowly spinning it, his brow furrowed.

“I want to talk to you,” he said finally.

“I know it was only a dream, Dave,” I said.

“Just shut up and listen,” he said with a sternness that left me mute. “I have to tell you about that day. The day when I went into our father’s room. I think it’s time.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I ran into the room and almost fell over his body. He had shot himself by the window.” My brother’s face was a portrait of misery. Never had he spoken of that day, at least not to me, and I could see the memories assaulting his mind like invading hordes.

“I couldn’t help but look down,” he said. “I didn’t want to, but I had no choice. I knew what he had done, even before I came through the window, I knew.”

“I think we both did,” I said.

“Yes,” he snapped. “I suppose we did; only it was me who had to check.”

“I was only seven,” I said.

“And I was only ten!” Dave shouted. “Ten years old and standing over the corpse of my father.”

“I’m sorry, Dave. I would have gone if I could have.”

He looked over at me with disbelieving contempt. I sat back in my chair, crossing both arms over my chest in defiance, but it was a feeble gesture.

“None of that matters,” he said. “It’s not you that I’m made at. It’s not what I want to talk to you about, anyway.”

“Then what?” I said.

“Last night, you said that you saw something in the room...a shadow.”

“Yes,” I said. “I also heard a voice, but it went away as soon as you woke me up.”

Dave let his gaze wander back down to his coffee cup, his hand again slowly turning it. “That day I went into the room, I heard scraping against the wall. At first, I was far too shocked to notice, but then something moved. I looked over and saw a black shape in the corner. It was like someone had suddenly appeared.”

“That’s what I saw!” I cried, my hand now clenching my cup.

“I know it is,” he said. “And it scares me.”

Dave shook his head and continued, “There’s more. A couple of nights before he died, I woke up to voices coming from his room. At first, I thought that maybe it was his television, but then I heard his voice, and it sounded like he was talking to someone, so I snuck over to the door and put my ear against it.”

I found myself now leaning on the table, my jaw hanging loose and my eyes wide. Dave was opening up in a way that he had never done before, and I was terrified.

“What were they saying?” I said.

“I’m not sure,” said Dave. “The other voice was so low that it barely sounded like a voice at all. But Father sounded worried, and I did hear him say But you already have her, and then I swear the other thing began to laugh. Jake, it sounded like snakes, and I almost screamed.”

“What did you do?”

“I went back to my room,” said Dave. “I covered my head with my blanket and put my fingers in my ears. I didn’t want to hear any more.”

“Maybe it was our father talking to himself,” I said. “He was obviously losing it.”

“I told myself the same thing,” said Dave. “And I would have believed it had I not heard it again.”

“Wait,” I said. “You’ve heard it since father died?”

Dave looked up from his cup, his eyes narrowed. “Listen to me, Jake,” he said. “There is something in there, and it knows us. I think that it wants us. It took our mother and our father, and now it wants us.”

“That’s crazy,” I said. “Mother drank herself to death.”

“Did she?” said Dave. “And do you think that I shoot myself up with heroin because I enjoy the ride? I’m right next door to it, and it knows that. But I can’t hear it when I’m high.”

“You think mother heard it too? That’s why she was always drunk?”

“Maybe,” said Dave. “Maybe it already had her. Maybe it already has us.”

I knew then that we were in trouble. Not because of some hideous creature lingering in a corner but because we had let our habits take control. We had both become junkies standing on the edge of suicidal delusion. His weapon of choice was the needle, and mine was whatever bottle of pills I could find that day. We were two codependents in free fall, and there was only one thing for us to do.

“Dave,” I said. “We have to get out of this house.”

“And where would we go, Jake?”

“Anywhere but here,” I said, reaching for his paper skinned hand. “This place is killing us. Our addictions are killing us. Maybe a rehab?”

“This house is all we have,” said Dave. “It’s free and clear. We couldn’t afford anything else. And we certainly cannot afford any rehabs.”

“Who cares about the house?” I said. “What good is it if we’re dead?”

Dave shook his head and stood up. The thought of leaving seemed to fill him with as much dread as whatever he assumed the dark thing in the corner was. I understood his mindset: it was scary being an addict, but trying to quit…the unknown was even scarier. But could anything be worse than this?

I watched my brother exit the room, his stride matching the withered gate of an old man. For a moment, I considered calling out to him, imploring him to at least consider my proposal. If his fantastic story about the house was correct, then why would he want to stay? Could we not sell the house and use those funds to start over? Why was he so reluctant? I decided to wait until later to approach him.

Of course, that would prove to be my worst mistake.


That evening found us deep within our own devices. Dave was once again swimming in hypodermic euphoria while I plummeted down a Valium slope. I lay in bed watching out my window as the fading orange of the setting sun devolved to black. Even in my modified state, I couldn’t escape the conversation from earlier that day. We had to get clean, and to do that, we would have to leave this house and all of the nightmares that it contained. I would have to convince Dave. I decided to try again.

I rose from the bed, and made my way to his bedroom. The hallway again held the trespassing silver rays of the moon. I stumbled my way through his doorway, flipping on the light as I entered. It was empty.

A moment of unexplainable dread seized me. I stepped back out into the hallway and felt my heart freeze.

My father’s door was open.

Slowly I crept my way towards the threatening void, my head slightly tilted, listening. Dave was standing near the corner where the shadow had been, his hands hanging loose at his side, his dirty t-shirt draped just past his boxers. My brother suddenly began to shake in place, his hands clenching and then releasing.

“Do you promise?” he cried out. “Will it be over?”

I had seen enough.

“Dave, you’re sleepwalking,” I said gently.

He turned his grief-stricken face toward me and said, “I wish that were true.”

I threw my arm around his waist and led him out of our father’s room, shutting the door behind us. He came with me quickly enough, his head lowered, his breath hitching like a child recovering from a fit.

“It’s okay,” I said. “You were just dreaming.”

We made it to the threshold of his room when he suddenly stopped.

“You were right,” he said. “We need to leave this place.”

“We can talk about it in the morning,”

“No,” said Dave, tossing my arm off. “I want you to pack and be ready to go.”

“Are you serious?”

“Do it, Jake,” he said. “Be ready when I get back.”

“Where are you going?”

“I need to get supplies,” he said.

I knew then that he was serious. Dave was ready to leave, but he wouldn’t go cold turkey. I considered trying to talk him out of his ‘supply’ trip but realized this was something that we would have to deal with one step at a time.

At least we were leaving. We could confront the getting clean part after we had gotten to wherever we were going. And just where were we going? Did Dave have a plan? For me, it mattered little as long as it was far from here.

I barely noticed the front door closing as I pilfered through my closet and drawers hastily cramming clothes into the suitcase I had laid out on my bed.

Once I had everything that I wanted, I placed the case on the floor and stretched out on the mattress. The pills had gone into overdrive, and I felt my eyelids struggling to remain open.

And then something jolted me awake. I could feel my heart thrumming as cold sweat trickled into my half-opened eyes. The room felt chilled, like winter had found its way inside. I looked up and saw Dave standing at my door.

“That was fast,” I managed to mumble.

“Are you ready to go?” he said.

I was able to sit up on my second attempt and pointed at the clock. “It’s two-thirty in the morning.”

“We either go now or not at all,” he said, and his tone acted like a sudden shot of adrenaline. I found myself reaching for my suitcase and following him down the hall toward the front door.

“Where are your bags?” I said.

“I already put them in the car. Come on. We have to hurry.”

Dave moved as if fifteen years had been washed away, and I found myself struggling to keep up. We neared the end of the hallway and were about to turn into the living room when I suddenly stopped.

“Dave, it’s open.” Our father’s doorway sat like a gaping mouth, its dark chasm seeming to devour what little light the hallway could provide. A sudden sound like rolling wind surrounded us, whispered screams filled with anguish and regret. I felt my stomach clench, and for a moment, I was sure that I would be sick. Dave grasped my arm and pulled me into the living room.

“Go,” he said. “Get out of the house.”

I made my way to the front door, turning the handle, and noticed that I was alone. Dave was still standing by our father’s door and in his hand was a pistol.

“What are you doing?” I said.

“You have to go, Jake,” he said, and I could see tears now streaming from his eyes. “It’s the only way.”

“What are you talking about?” I said, feeling frantic.

“It’s a trap, Jake,” he said, his voice rising near hysteria. “It claims everyone who witnesses. It killed our father to get to me. You’ll be next. Don’t you see?”

I stood there, my heart drumming in my head. “I don’t understand,” was all I could say.

“Don’t go into the room no matter what you hear,” said Dave, the gun now trembling in his hand. “Just get in the car and leave.” Dave then turned and stepped through our father’s doorway, pausing just long enough to say, “I love you, Jake.”

I darted forward as if released from a spell just as the door slammed shut. The whispering moans intensified, and I could hear ghostly sighs of warning hidden within. I grabbed the doorknob, twisting it. The door was locked. It would not allow me inside.

I felt myself again cringing like a child. A sudden blast sent a wave of pain through my skull, decorating my vision with a brief moment of red.

“Dave!” I screamed. But there was no answer, nor would there be. The whispering warnings were now shrieks with hideous cries of FLEE!  RUN!  IT IS COMING!  

I let out a shriek of my own and dashed for the front door. The Toyota that Dave and I had shared sat idling in the driveway. I raced to the driver’s side door, flinging it open and tossed both bags into the back seat. From behind, the wails of misery continued, but I did not look back. It was only after the sign for the I-35 on-ramp appeared did I dare gaze into my rearview mirror.


I admit now that only the shade of night lingered. But within it, camouflaged in that darkness hid a timeless killer, a destroyer of dreams. My brother knew this, perhaps had always known it, and had sacrificed himself in a selfless attempt to save his younger brother. A span of fifteen hundred miles now separates me from the origin of this story, and yet I still feel the darkness. And even now, so many years later, I sleep with the light on and with one eye open. 

Eric Neher is an award-winning author who lives in Newcastle, Oklahoma with his wife Tammy (The Traveling Nurse).  He is a continuing contributor to Uniqelahoma Magazine, as well as having numerous short and flash fiction stories published.

Notable works include “Permian Remorse,” “The Bane of Dave,” “Fractured Frame,” “The Cycle,” “A Haunted Cemetery,”  and “Horrific Separation.”

His debut horror novel titled The Killing Pledge will be released in June 2021.

Follow him on Twitter: @ENeherfiction