Michael J Moore’s books include Highway Twenty, which appeared on the Preliminary Ballot for the 2019 Bram Stoker Award; the bestselling post-apocalyptic novel, After the Change, which is used as curriculum at the University of Washington; the psychological thriller, Secret Harbor; and the middle grade horror story, Nightmares in Aston: Wicker Village. His work has received awards, has appeared in various anthologies, journals, newspapers and magazines, on television and has been adapted for theater.

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by Michael J. Moore


Gary Lane is a thinly forested street, occupied by colorful manufactured homes with patches of trees in between some, and picket fences in others. Mostly retired folks live here, but the lots are cheap, so there are a few young couples as well. Every morning, Cameron Fischer jogs to the end of the gravel road, where the girl in black leggings is usually outside her house, and he takes a left onto Chapman.

He started jogging last spring, and though he thought he would die at first, by the middle of the summer he was already trekking daily from one end of West Seattle to the other. Finding the time to do it was tricky, so he made a habit of waking up at 4-in-the-morning to run to work, and then catching the bus home at night. Banking being a suit-and-tie job, he got a membership to the gym next to American Capitol, and used it exclusively for showering and storing his briefcase in the locker-room.

Then his father took a fall that almost claimed his life the way breast-cancer had stolen his mother’s and Cameron left the city to return to Camano Island, where there are about three stores, a pharmacy, and 7,000 residents, none of whom get out much. He still jogs in the mornings, but with nowhere to be but home, he now does so in circles.

The island isn’t much more than a hick-town attached to a bridge, with woods everywhere and private beaches that nobody sees unless they own one. When Cameron was a teen, his father used to make him climb onto the roof and spray the shingles with a pressure cleaner. He could see the water from there, but otherwise never really felt like he was on an island.

The girl in leggings has hair that is so black, it always looks wet. It’s usually tied in a ponytail, but sometimes she lets it hang, and when she does, it barely touches her shoulders. When she’s not sitting on her porch, she’s standing in the yard with her phone to her ear. He makes a point not to get caught looking, and so does she, but he can feel her eyes on his back when he passes, and enjoys a belief that they have an unspoken connection.

His mundane routine and the complete absence of a social—and therefore, sexual—life began creating unsettling dreams of choking his manager with a belt. The resultant endorphins became an addiction early on, but sometimes he likes to bring his pace to a full-sprint and fantasize about running until his heart explodes inside his chest.


It’s early summer and he’s able to make his own hours as his father’s caretaker, so his morning jogs usually happen around eight. Today, he’s in a pair of basketball shorts, and the girl in leggings is standing at the edge of her yard, next to street-signs that read Chapman and Gary Lane. Though she can’t be out of her twenties, he suspects she’s married—but then again, the owner of the silver Toyota that returns in the evenings could just be a live-in boyfriend.

Her hair is tied back and reflecting the sun, and she’s wearing a pair of pink running shoes that match her tank-top. She stares from above pointed cheekbones, smiling as he approaches.

Cameron is thinking, Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it, because if you introduce yourself, the jig is up. The unspoken thing will cease to be and she’ll become nothing more than a neighbor.

But the sound of crunching gravel beneath his feet has changed pitches because he’s slowing down, almost involuntarily. His heart rate is accelerating, though, and he’s also thinking, This is what’s wrong with you, isn’t it? The reason you’re such a miserable stain on the undergarments of society. What’s the point in having an unspoken connection if you never plan to act on it

The girl’s smile is increasing, her brow furrowing like she can hear his thoughts. Her teeth are exaggeratedly white. Her nails are splinted with faded red polish, and she’s shifting her weight from one foot to the other, ever-so-subtly, as if anticipating a run of her own. When they’re no more than five feet apart, he’s practically jogging in place, and he utters the only word that comes to mind.


Cameron has never seen her this close, and wonders how eyes so dark can shine so brightly. They narrow as her shoulders come up, and he thinks she’s going to giggle, but then she brings her index finger to her lips, turns, and dashes off, taking a right onto Chapman.

He stares after her, thinking, She wants you to follow. Go, you idiot.

But Cameron always goes left, and she knows this, because she’s watched him do it nearly every day for the past five months. If she wanted to exercise with him, she would have taken his route. She would have allowed him to speak. Introduced herself. She would have broken the unspoken connection to say, “Can I join you on your jog this morning?”

So he prepares to take a left, and the girl in leggings stops dead in her tracks. She turns, bends at the knees and places her hands on her thighs, staring back impatiently.


Chapman is paved, but Cameron jogs in the dirt by the street. It’s surrounded by woods and unmaintained fields, with a few houses hidden behind trees at the ends of long driveways. It’s also located strangely on the inside of a corner, and leads to East Camano Drive on both ends, so this route isn’t a deviation from his usual circle, just a change in direction.

The girl doesn’t wait for him to catch up. Once he’s in motion, so is she, but no more than ten feet ahead of him. One of her black bra-straps peeks out from her shirt, pulling on her slender shoulder, and her leggings hug round curves that show no indication she’s wearing anything underneath.

He picks up his pace, and so does she. He wonders again if this isn’t what she wanted. As if in response, she cuts a sharp right into a nearby field, disappearing in yellowing grass and bushes that are nearly taller than she is.

He stops and stares as a gust of wind sways the brush. A red van appears briefly in his periphery, then passes behind him. There’s a thick maple tree just beyond the foliage. Its canopy is massive, and one of its arms almost reaches the air above the street.

Growing up on Camano taught Cameron that the island’s herb-life can be more dangerous than the animals. It cuts and stings, and leaves rashes that last for days. Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be an opening where she entered.

He clears his throat, cups his mouth, calls, “Are you ah—are you okay?” and is only answered by nearby singing birds. “Okay,” he pushes, “I’m gonna go. I didn’t mean to ah—I wasn’t trying to freak you—”

Before he can finish his sentence, a very small object catapults over the grass from somewhere near the tree. It expands in flight, and Cameron doesn’t recognize it as the girl’s leggings until just before it lands on his face and his lungs are filled with the aroma of flowery perfume. They slide off, and he catches them at the last second, staring down and picturing her in only running shoes and a tank top.

It’s enough to make him decide to go into the weeds.

The grass sparkles with dew as he approaches, and before his hand slices into it, he finds himself taking a breath as if he’s about to dive into the ocean. The moisture is colder than the day, and he knows it will stick seeds to his exposed skin. But the girl is just beyond this wall of foliage and she’s no longer in leggings because they’re in his other hand. So he sweeps aside shrubbery and steps into spongy soil that squeaks beneath his feet.

Finally he sees her. He exhales, begins to retreat, but her thin fingers emerge from within and wrap around his wrist. She tugs gently yet urgently and all of Cameron’s inhibitions seem to evaporate. His shoe slides as he steps in to see her completely nude, pulling him along.

His socks are instantly soaked, but within a handful of steps, they make it to the tree, where the surrounding grass is ankle-high, and the earth solid. Only now does she turn, and at first Cameron doesn’t register what it is that causes him to drop the leggings and his heart to leap into his throat.

Then every hair on his body erects in a wave that starts at his testicles and expands out in every direction, because where her eyes should be, now rests the darkest voids he has ever beheld. She places a hand on his chest and presses her body into his. Though he embraces her almost involuntarily, he also expels a shaky groan and takes two steps back, tripping, falling on his ass, and feeling water soak into his shorts.

He’s thinking, Get up. Get up and run. You need to go now.

But he’s also thinking, Don’t look away. Don’t take your eyes off her or you won’t make it out of this field.

And she’s changing. The color is draining from her skin, leaving behind a pale canvas. She’s shrinking, depleting from inside and beginning to look like a skinsuit on a skeleton. Her jaw hangs down to her clavicle, as she advances on Cameron, reaching out with both hands and grasping at the empty space between them.

He cries, “No!” and scurries back into the tree, his heels leaving tracks in the ground as he attempts to push through it.

She tumbles onto him, digging bony fingers into his chest and gazing up with empty sockets. A hole has appeared in her face, through which a pointed cheekbone protrudes, and her lips have vanished from her open mouth, which she presses into his.

Cameron screams and hears what must be a hundred flapping birds explode out of the tree before his ears begin to ring. He shuts his eyes so tightly that his face might turn inside out and shakes his head, feeling her body crumble to pieces on top of his. When he comes to the end of his breath, it continues to echo in the distance, and the tiny pieces of the girl wriggle all over him.

Glancing down, he discovers that this is because they’re not pieces of a girl at all, but pink earthworms, contracting and writhing on his clothes and his skin. Some are crawling into the collar of his shirt, so Cameron flies to his feet and feels them fall all around him—even hears their slimy bodies as they land in a pile.

He’s thinking, Go now, they’re only worms, but he’s also paralyzed with fear, his eyes glued to the terrible scene as they come together like atoms to form a squirmy humanoid shape. It’s petite, laying on its side like an infant, and curled into a ball. Then the worms dislodge and crawl swiftly into the earth. It happens unnaturally fast, and within seconds, Cameron is standing alone, scanning the area for any validation that there was ever a girl in leggings.


It's not yet 9-AM and it’s already hot as Hades in the house, so Harry Fischer sits in the living room with the front-door wide-open. He almost took another fall when his son burst inside a few minutes ago holding some mud-caked piece of black clothing, and hollering about the neighbor girl who disappeared last year.

Harry informed him, “It was her pecker-head boyfriend. The whole damn island knows it, too. Everyone on the block told the cops how he used to beat the piss out of her like there wasn’t a drop of shame in his blood. Even they knew it was him. Problem is, they never could find no body. Poor kid.”

Now Harry is alone, watching the morning weather, and thinking he might have to fix his own breakfast because as soon as he finished speaking, Cameron stormed out the backdoor, fetched a shovel from the shed, and took off jogging up the street like he’d just discovered the location of buried treasure.