Authors: Richard Dansky
Is anybody there?
The hairs on the back of my neck were up, and I had the cold certainty in my gut that someone was standing right there, watching me.
“Hello?” I called, realizing that anyone who could answer was in the house uninvited and closer to the shotgun than I was.
No one answered, not my “hello” or my prayers. No floorboard creaked, no papers shuffled, nothing.
I was alone… with no one else in the house.
No one else alive in the house.…
“Remarkable… a supernatural thriller that effectively breathes life into one of the genre’s staples—the haunted house. Dansky convincingly portrays Logan’s isolation and terror, and subtly gives glimpses of the forces arrayed against him. The author’s insights into human nature and ease with expressive language bode well for future fiction from his pen.”
“Dansky’s ability to build terror slowly and talent for hiding his clues in plain sight demonstrate an attraction to old-fashioned, classic horror. Dansky… exhibits his talent for original supernatural fiction in this tightly paced tale of mystery and terror.”
“Page by page, Dansky builds the tension.… A quick, enjoyable read and the first sign of a new talent in the genre.”
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2008 by Richard Dansky
Originally published in hardcover by Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
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I remember a night when I was six years old the way some folks remember their first kiss or the day a loved one died. Six years old and full of fire, wandering around the field behind the house with an empty jam jar in my hand. I caught my first firefly that night—pulled it out of the air just a little too hard and crushed the life out of it with fingers that shouldn’t have been able to do so. I didn’t know what I’d done, of course, so I took my prize and set it in the jar. It slid halfway down and then stuck to the side, its legs moving slowly, its gold-green glow fading to nothing.
“Shine,” I told it earnestly and screwed the cap of the jar on tight. I’d punched air holes in the top with scissors, the way I’d thought you were supposed to, and I figured that down in the jar the firefly could hear me. “Shine for me,” I told it.
“Son, don’t do that,” my father said. He was a large man who kept getting larger, with a shock of black hair that never got around to turning gray. Mother had broken him of smoking the year I turned five, but she’d never been able to stop him eating instead, and it showed from year to year. When I was six, though, he could still move like a cat, and I didn’t know he was behind me until I heard those words. “Don’t do that,” he said, and I turned to face him.
“Don’t do what?” I asked and held the jar up before me as an offering. “Want to see my firefly?”
He pushed my hands down gently. “No, son, I don’t. You shouldn’t catch them that way.”
“Why not? I made air holes,” I said and tapped on the lid of the jar for emphasis.
He took a deep breath. “Do you know why fireflies light up?” he asked.
“No,” I replied.
“It’s because they’re looking for other fireflies. The ones in the air are looking for the ones on the ground. See?” He pointed to a spot in the grass that was all alight. “That’s how they find one another. The ones that shine the brightest find the others the fastest. But if you catch the brightest, because they’re the ones you see the best, well, that means the best fireflies don’t get to meet their friends. And that’s wrong, you see?”
I stared up at him and blinked. “No,” I said. “I just want to catch fireflies.”
He opened his mouth to try to explain further, and Mother hushed him. “Let me explain, dear,” she said, and Father’s mouth shut like a shed door swinging closed.
“Of course, dear,” he said, and he walked off. She watched him go without saying a word, then turned back to me.
“The problem isn’t with you wanting to catch fireflies, you know,” she told me as she bent down to put her face near mine. Her voice was a whisper that just the two of us shared, her face a blur in the evening darkness.
“Oh?” I said. “Then why is Daddy upset?”
“He’s not upset. He just doesn’t want you to keep the fireflies from doing what they have to do,” she said. “You see, fireflies are how angels find things when they come down from heaven. If you catch the fireflies, then the angels get lost and they can’t take the good souls back to Heaven with them. That’s why you can’t catch fireflies, honey. Is that okay?”
I nodded at her, my eyes wide. “Can I still chase them if I don’t catch them? Is that all right?”
She kissed me on the forehead and laughed. “Of course, sweetheart. Of course that’s all right.” Then she took the jar from me, unscrewed the lid and gently shook the dimming corpse of the firefly onto the grass. Then she screwed the lid back on and headed for the back door to the house, her brown dress making her almost shapeless in the twilight.
My father caught up with her right outside the door. I could hear their voices rising, each in turn, but I paid no attention to their words.
I was too busy chasing fireflies.
Your mother just informed me of your intention not to return home for the holiday season, and I have to say, I am disappointed in you.
I’m sure you have plenty of reasons that seem good to stay at school over Christmas. You have your friend, you have a life up there, you maybe even have a girl. I don’t know—these aren’t things you’ve shared with us since you’ve been away. I can understand wanting your own place and your own life, and I’m sure the house where you grew up seems boring and quiet compared to all of the excitement of the big city, but it’s where you came from, and that ought to mean something to you, at least at Christmas.
I have a certain amount of sympathy for wanting to find something of your own, especially at your age, but that should
never come at the cost of causing pain to others, especially not those who love you. I cannot count the number of times you’ve promised your mother that you would be home for Christmas this year. Needless to say, she misses you terribly, and the news that you are not coming home has hurt her badly.