Kassandra Clings to Her Last Hope

Chapter 44

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

Kassandra wanted to be shocked, but it made perfect sense. She ran one finger along the rim of the brass cup. Luke always seemed to know just what to say and when to say it.

“My brother bragged about his new talent when he visited me. He recounted the many times he had played with young girls’ emotions, pushing them toward crisis.” Gabriel glanced at Kassandra and then stopped speaking.

“It’s all right.” She gave a weak smile. “I kind of figured that part out for myself. I just didn’t know he could actually read my every thought.”

“Luke cannot open your mind like a book and see what he likes. He can view only the page you are currently on.”

“So, what I’m thinking right when I stand in front of him?” 

Was there a way to turn it off? Shut the book so Luke couldn’t read anything? It would mean she’d have to think about nothing. Or something totally different.

Kassandra glanced at Gabriel. “The paper doll down there…” She pointed to the room below. “That was you, right?”

He nodded, eyes taking a far off look. “I had no idea what my drawings could do. If I had known what Luke used them for…” A snarl of disgust slithered across Gabriel’s features.

“It’s the deck, isn’t it? It let Luke read minds and it caused your drawings to come to life.” Kassandra turned to the table with the cup and ball trick. “How does this game work?” She picked up the leather ball. “What does he do to make the ball vanish?”

Gabriel shrugged. “No one could best Luke at the game. It was his favorite and he never shared his secrets.”

“He’s cocky, that’s for sure.” She set the ball back on the table and rolled it back and forth between her fingers. An idea bubbled up. “If I can get him to forget about the cards, even for a moment, then they’ll zap back to me. I’ve seen it happen before.” The experiment with The Magician card flashed fresh in her mind. The minute Auntie Jo ignored it, the card zoomed back to her. Only this time, maybe the whole deck might return.

Kassandra lifted one of the brass cups—it felt surprisingly light—and plopped it over the ball, making it disappear. Gabriel watched. This trick was mesmerizing. It made people want to find the ball.

“If I dangle the final card in front of him, he’s sure to give me his full attention.”

“No, you cannot let him have the card! Luke fears The Magician card. It is his prison, as the Hanged Man was mine. You must lock Luke back in the Tarot deck.”

“No.” The answer can automatically from Kassandra’s lips. “The cards make him powerful. Without them, Luke’s just some six-hundred-year old guy.” 

“You deceive yourself. Luke will never abandon the Tarot deck. He has waited too long.” Gabriel’s eyebrows bunched together. “What has he promised you?”

Goosebumps sprouted along Kassandra’s skin. She shook her head and grabbed a brass cup off the table. Distracting Luke would make the cards come back to her. It had happened before with Lindsay. She forgot about the Fortitude card and it zapped back. Only, would the one Magician card be enough to pull back the whole deck?

Gabriel snatched the cup away and held it up. “Luke plays with your mind. He tells you what you crave to hear.”

Kassandra turned away. “I can get the cards back. I know I can.”

“No.” He hurled the brass cup across the room. It slapped into a pile of wood, sending the whole assortment crashing to the floor. Both birds startled, chirping their displeasure.

Gabriel stepped right up to her face, inches away. His frustration hummed in the air between them, yet he tenderly gripped Kassandra’s chin.

“What has he promised you?” 

The words came out as a whisper. “My dad.”

A look of puzzlement crossed Gabriel’s face.

“He’s… like Ezabell.”

The name acted like a slap, startling Gabriel.

“You have succumbed to the very same illness as Luke. My brother has clung to that false hope for centuries. If there were a solution to be found, he would have solved it by now.” Gabriel grabbed her. “He would not listen to reason. I pray you will. There is no return from death.”

Kassandra had seen Dad before. Here, in the cards. It meant there was still hope. 

“I tried to get Luke to understand this. I refused to illustrate the final card.” Gabriel let go and stepped back. “In return, he locked me in here.”

An idea appeared in her brain, like a fogged mirror suddenly wiped clean. “You.” She pointed at Gabriel, who looked truly baffled now. “Luke has to know you’re gone from your card. And he totally freaked when I said I’d talked to you.

“I do not know what you mean.”

“Luke’s afraid of you. That’s why he locked you in here.” Kassandra turned toward the table with the cups again. “If I could make you appear in the real world, it would really throw Luke off his game. Then I could get the cards back.”

“You are mistaken. Luke fears nothing, certainly not me.” Gabriel glanced at the surrounding stained glass walls. “I am also not in my card. I cannot return to the real world.”

“Yes you can. Luke almost pulled me out of the Fool card, so it must be possible. Plus this is the only card he doesn’t have. So Luke has no idea you’re in here.”

“Kassandra. Do not fall victim to the same illusion that has plagued my brother.”

She ignored him, scanning the room for a way out. Kassandra scooped the nightingale off the floor, palms tingling as it fidgeted.

Gabriel grabbed her arm. “Consider for a moment. You have a friend trapped in these cards.” 

She remembered Auntie Jo stuck in the chair, watching the endless parade of floats. But Kassandra needed the cards to free her. It was the only way. 

“This plan of yours.” Gabriel looked her in the eyes. “Is it the best idea for your friend? Or for you?”

A heaviness filled her chest. Was she abandoning Auntie Jo to save Dad? Maybe there was a way to save them both. Kassandra held the bird up. It cocked its head. Was she being selfish? It fluttered its wings, testing the damaged one.

“I don’t know what I want anymore.” She glanced at Gabriel.

“I understand the temptation of Luke’s offer.”

Puh-twee-too.

Kassandra caught movement out of the corner of an eye. The bird’s claws momentarily gripped her skin and released. Then it was in the air, shooting forward.

“Gabriel!”

The instant the bird touched her chest, Gabriel and the tower burned away. Everything became pure white light. Muscles spasmed, each one pulled in different directions. An ache spread through Kassandra’s bones almost like they were stretching. A blast of air pumped her lungs open to the bursting point.

Then she smacked, face first, onto an icky grey carpet. This was not Auntie Jo’s house. Someone she knew leaned over her.

“Hi Mom.”

Kassandra Clings to the Glass Tower

Chapter 43

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

The front door squealed shut, the sound reverberating through the glass walls. Kassandra searched for a place to hide, but the options were limited. No way was she going to slip under the covers with paper doll girl.

Kassandra spied one more set of stairs leading up and scooped her nightingale off the floor. The prick of its claws against her palm created a tingling sensation. What would happen if she held it to her chest? The bird would probably leap inside like the one from the room full of cages. But what then?

Kassandra hurried up the stairs, her footsteps creating little clouds of dust. No one had climbed them in a long time. At the top, she emerged into an area only slightly larger than Mom’s room back home. This had to be the top of the tower. Even though the walls were composed of stained glass, it seemed darker. She ran one finger along the wall and pulled away a layer of soot. 

Squawking from the bird room echoed through the tower, the noise dampened only a little by the two floors of stained glass. A chill swept through Kassandra. It was Luke. He was chasing down the birds she’d set free. Corralling them back into their cages. 

The nightingale fluttered out of her hands. As it scuttled around the floor, the bird left tiny footprints in the layer of dust. Various bits of wood and stained glass lay stacked everywhere. The room swayed, boards squeaking as they shifted position, and she planted her feet to keep from teetering. After a moment, the floor swung back, tilting the other way. Bits of glass clinked together. It felt like a ship rocking back and forth over waves. Of course. The tower hitched a ride on the massive snail.

The door downstairs opened and she jumped. Luke was right below her. Any second, he would climb to this level.

She scanned the stacks of wood for a hiding place and spotted a thin ladder leading to a trap door in the ceiling. Several long planks blocked the way. Kassandra rushed over and began setting them aside.

Crash.

Her heart leapt. But she hadn’t made the sound. It came from downstairs. Then another crash along with glass shattering. Kassandra knelt down and wiped dust from a section of floor. Luke stomped around the room, flinging papers from the desk. 

The sound of wood scraping against glass alerted her and she jerked her head up. One of the boards had slipped, and was now sliding to the floor. Kassandra lunged for it, but too late. It thunked into a pile of scraps. The whole mess tumbled to the floor with a resounding smack, sending the nightingale shooting into the air. A glance down showed Luke running for the stairs. 

Kicking the last plank aside, Kassandra scrambled up the ladder and threw open the trap door. A blast of wind slapped her face. The sky outside was a perfect cloudless blue. She scrambled through the opening. The nightingale attempted to follow, but it was hampered by its crippled wing. It landed on the ladder, three rungs down.

Through the stained glass walls, she saw a distorted silhouette of Luke climbing steadily. 

“Come on,” Kassandra said in a sharp whisper. 

The bird launched off the rung and flapped up through the opening. She slammed the trap door shut, cutting off the room below.

Shards of broken glass and twisted bits of lead made up the parapet of the tower. Once it must have been gorgeous, but now the edges were hacked apart. This must have been where Luke salvaged all the chunks of glass.

The floor swayed with the motion of Monstro the Snail. Below, two massive eye stalks fixed forward as the creature continued its journey through the bleak landscape. The nightingale waddled around, pecking at the floor. The tower shifted to one side and it threw out its wings to hold its balance.

Kassandra scooted toward the edge for a peek down. The parapet would have provided a railing, but now the floor went straight to the edge. The tower tilted again. Thrown off balance, she grabbed for a twisted strip of lead molding. It snapped free and her feet flew off the side. Kassandra flung her arms out, clasping the remains of the parapet. The glass cracked, but it held. She dangled half over the edge. 

Her feet groped for a foothold along the slick wall. Kassandra wanted to haul herself up, but the more pressure she put on the thin sheet of glass, the more it fractured. A strip of lead ran along the edge, keeping her hands from being shredded.

A squeaking sound grabbed her attention. The trap door was opening. The nightingale scuttled to the side as the door fully opened. Kassandra tensed, preparing to face Luke. Instead Gabriel popped through the hole.

He rushed over, callused hands gripping her wrists with surprising strength, and heaved her up. Once on solid flooring again, she wrapped him up in a fierce hug.

“I thought you’d left me.”

“Never.” He squeezed her tighter. 

Kassandra picked up his musky wood scent again. “Don’t go again. This place sucks even more when you’re alone.”

“I know.”

She pulled away, realizing what a horrible thing she’d just said. This guy had been locked in the Tarot deck for centuries and Kassandra was complaining about a couple of hours. 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”

Gabriel squeezed her shoulders. “You have endured more of this cursed deck than most. You need not apologize.” The tower lurched to one side. “Let us go below.”

“Yeah.”

He let her climb first. Kassandra felt the whoosh of air as the nightingale dropped down. Then came a crescendo of chirping. Gabriel had brought up the other nightingale, setting the cage on a table with a sheet draped over it. Stepping off the ladder, she was drawn to this piece of furniture. Various objects bulged under the white sheet, creating odd shapes. 

Kassandra lifted the birdcage off and snagged a corner of the fabric. Pulling the sheet away released a cloud of dust right into her face. She stepped back, coughing and fanning the air. The dust cleared to reveal three brass cups and a small leather ball. They reminded her of the trick Luke had played with the bottle caps and the pea. The room swayed and the ball rolled on the table, leaving a little trail in the dust. Kassandra caught the ball before it plummeted off the side.

“Luke could have tossed these into the corner and torn up the table like the others.” She nodded toward the scraps of wood. “Why leave it?”

“This was Luke’s favorite trick. He loved fooling people into thinking the way he wanted.” 

Kassandra dropped the leather ball into a brass cup. It landed with a clunk and kicked up a puff of dust.

“This is just sleight of hand. No magic or wizardry.” Instantly she recalled what Auntie Jo had said about the original meaning of the card. “Luke is nothing more than a con man.”

“You’re wrong. The cards change you somehow. They amplify your natural talents.” 

“What? He’s an even better juggler now?”

Gabriel looked her straight in the eye. “Luke can read minds.”

Kassandra Reached the Origin of the Tarot

Chapter 38

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

“I thought you didn’t want me to spin it. Now you do?” Kassandra tugged again, but her hand was stuck to the metal peg of the wheel.

Gabriel pointed to the Roman numeral one at the bottom of the wheel. “We seek Luke’s card, here. You must make the wheel land on exactly that spot.”

She examined the wheel. The numbers were in order like a clock but kept going from thirteen through to twenty-two.

“It’s only about half way.”

“You don’t understand. The wheel only spins clockwise and it must make a full revolution before stopping.”

At first Kassandra didn’t understand. The number one was right there at the bottom of the circle. Then it sunk in. A full revolution.

“You’re kidding me. You mean I have to spin it all the way to thirteen again, and then get it to stop exactly on number one?”

“That is why I wanted you to wait.”

“This is impossible. No way I can make it.” She stared at the wheel, working it out in her head. The spin had to be one and a half times around, almost exactly. If she missed, then it would land on any of the cards nearby.

“What does the green stand for?”

“It is not a card I illustrated, nor one of any Tarot deck.”

So she needed to avoid hitting the mystery spot. Kassandra sucked in a breath and gave the wheel a good push. Once it was in motion, her hand slipped off, no problem. The metal pegs struck the top arrow as the wheel raced past the first full spin making clickity clack sounds.

She hopped from one foot to the other. The wheel slowed as it passed ten. Seven. Five. It was going to make it. The wheel crawled past four on its way to three. Kassandra bounced up and down with glee.

Gabriel took a step back. “Do not wait for me.”

“Huh?” She turned to look at him.

“Each spin is for one person only.”

“What do you…?

Out of the corner of her eye, Kassandra saw the wheel passed Roman numeral one. It was going to stop at zero. The arrow struck the metal peg separating zero from the green section. Sweat prickled her skin. It finally clicked over, landing on the green section.

Kassandra glanced at Gabriel, but then a massive tree surged up between them. The platform rumbled as hundreds of trunks crashed upward, splintering the plywood floor. They shot up at super speed, reaching their full height in seconds. Trees sprouted all along the street as well. Several speared the float with the syringe, shredding the fiberglass construction. The crowd scattered as the asphalt crumbled and cracked apart.

After a moment, the trees halted their accelerated growth. She stood on the mangled viewing platform surrounded by massive trunks. Silence spun out. The street lamps were gone, but a dim light filtered through the newly sprung forest.

Kassandra scrambled around to the spot where Gabriel had stood, the plywood flooring wobbling unsteadily. Nothing. Only more of the fragmented platform. And of course, trees. The velvet chair was toppled, one leg falling through a crack in the floor. Auntie Jo had vanished. What was left of the street looked abandoned. Kassandra couldn’t see a trace of the buildings through the tightly packed tree trunks.

Twee-ta-ta-ta-ta-weet. Her nightingale swooped down and landed on a jutting branch. “Don’t go away. I need someone to stay with me.”

The scant light intensified. It felt like dawn. Somewhere in the distance she heard the clang of metal and a shout.

People.

Kassandra raced toward the sound, feet swishing through a mist hovering right at ground level. The nightingale zoomed ahead, zigzagging through the trees. Maybe she was out of the cards now and back in the real world. Forests grew all over the mountains around Arroyo Grove.

She ran into a meadow where a group of wagons formed a circle. Her shoulders sagged. These were just like the ones in the room of mirrors. So much for getting out of these cards. 

Kassandra approached the opening in the circle of wagons. A crowd of people milled about inside. Their outfits looked crazy, like stepping into a Renaissance fair. A few guys even had swords strapped to their belts. Then Kassandra smelled the food. Until now her stomach hadn’t made a peep. But the scent of roasting meat drew her through the crowd and up to a fire where a grizzled man fried sausage in a pan. The nightingale flapped down and balanced on a pole holding up a laundry line. The man glanced at Kassandra, face covered in soot, and offered up the blackened pan. A dozen sausages popped and sizzled inside. 

“Here you go…” He paused and stared at her jeans. “Lass?” The accent was some kind of old fashioned English.

Kassandra grabbed a sausage and nodded thanks. It felt like her fingers would burn away, but she bit into the meat anyway. Hot juice ran down her chin. It was so good. She don’t care. Kassandra kept gobbling until only a tiny nub remained. As she shoved the last bit into her mouth, a red ball bumped her Converse sneaker. It was stitched out of leather and about the size of a golf ball. Kassandra glanced around to see where it came from and then her body froze. 

Luke Rykell strolled through the crowd, a wicked grin plastered across his face.

Kassandra Spins the Wheel of Fortune

Chapter 37

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

Kassandra shoved through the mass of people. The night air was sticky and a sheen of sweat coated her skin. She hustled forward. A break in the crowed showed a massive Mardi Gras float rolling through the street. It depicted a young black man from the waist up with an oversized syringe in one hand. The needle moved back and forth, in and out of the man’s arm with some kind of liquid sloshing around the cylinder.

It was Ronald, Auntie Jo’s son. Kassandra glanced at the men whooping it up in the crowd. They all resembled Ronald. Although some were as young as twelve or thirteen, none appeared older than the photo taped to Auntie Jo’s dashboard. Their eyes seemed unfocused, as if they weren’t really seeing what was happening. When one fist pumped the air, Kassandra noticed withered arms with track lines dotting the skin.

She had no idea he’d been an addict. Auntie Jo hardly talked about him.

As soon as the parade float passed, Kassandra charged across the street and clambered onto the viewing platform, the plywood and metal structure squeaking beneath her. Auntie Jo wore the apron with the all seeing eye from home. She sat in lavish purple velvet chair with the nightingale perched on one corner. 

Kassandra rushed up. “Jo, let’s get out of here.” Auntie Jo’s gaze was locked on the passing floats. Kassandra stepped right in front, waving her hands, but Auntie Jo simply leaned to the side to keep watching the parade. 

This wasn’t working. Kassandra needed something physical. She grabbed the woman’s shoulders and shook. All this did was send the tiny silver ankh bouncing. 

The nightingale squawked and snapped at Kassandra’s hand. What was going on with this bird? It jabbed, this time nipping one finger. She released Auntie Jo and stood back. A bead of blood oozed from one knuckle.

Kassandra glared at the bird. “I’m trying to save her.”

Puh-twee-too-ta-ta-ta-ta-weet. The chirping came from above. A glance up showed a second nightingale perched on a nearby lamppost. Two birds? When did that happen? 

Kassandra examined the nightingale on the chair. Even in the sickly yellow lamplight, the feathers looked like smudged chocolate. It wasn’t the right bird. Her nightingale flitted down, landing on the platform. So did the other bird belong to Auntie Jo? Maybe it was trying to protect her. Auntie Jo continued to ogle the passing floats, eyes looking dull and drugged. 

Kassandra sucked on the wounded knuckle to stop the bleeding. Enough with being nice. She was going to make this happen. Kassandra gripped Auntie Jo’s arm with both hands and yanked, managing to lift one shoulder off the chair. The other nightingale swooped down, all wings and snapping beak. Kassandra let go and stumbled backward to the edge of the platform, arms circling to stay balanced. The bird hovered inches away, its wings flapping furiously. Finally, her nightingale darted over and the two birds squawked and pecked at each other.

Kassandra regained her footing and toppled to the wooden floor. Auntie Jo’s nightingale retreated, taking its roost on the chair again.

This was pointless. She couldn’t save Auntie Jo and it was her fault she was stuck here. Out of the corner of her eye, Kassandra noticed a two-story version of Auntie Jo trundle down the street. The fiberglass arms extended out to hug Ronald. The mechanics had them moving back and forth, hugging and separating. 

The float rolled onto a side street. The next one in line was the float with the syringe. Was it a repeat or were there really only a few floats? Kassandra looked back at the hugging float. It disappeared behind a building. On the other side of the platform, a third float turned onto the street. This showed Auntie Jo again, standing before a mausoleum. Her cheeks were decorated with blue glitter, which sparkled in the light like tears.

It was like the hall with the mirrors, except here the parade showed parts of the past. Kassandra glanced from the float with the syringe to the one with the mausoleum. Then it struck her. Mom had always said Ronald died in some sort of battle. Kassandra never realized it was a battle with addiction.

She scanned the crowd of weeping women, each one with the same features. Auntie Jo blamed herself for not saving her son. No wonder she went ballistic with Kassandra’s cutting. She figured it was the past repeating itself.

Another float emerged, the hugging one again. So there were only three. They kept looping around, a constant reminder of Auntie Jo’s mistake. These cards were designed to torture their victims.

Kassandra noticed a massive wheel spinning farther down the platform. How had she missed that? She walked over to it, giving the chair and the bird a wide berth. 

The men in the crowd clamored as another float passed by. Kassandra thought she heard someone call her name. She paused and saw the men hollering as the syringe float wheeled past. No, it was just those guys again, whooping it up.

The click clack of the wheel drew her attention back. Slender metal pegs struck an arrow at the top, creating the sound. The disc was broken into sections of alternating colors, red and white, with one section marked in green. It reminded her of a wheel used on game shows or carnivals, or maybe a roulette wheel.

Roman numerals lined the edges, but it spun too quickly to read. She caught two sets of double Xs, which meant twenty and twenty-one. The numbers counted down to zero, and then there was the green section, which had no number.

Kassandra reached for one of the metal pegs. Maybe if she stopped the wheel, Auntie Jo would snap out of it. 

“Stop!”

She twirled around as Gabriel scrambled onto the platform. Kassandra sprinted forward, nearly knocking him over with a fierce embrace.

“I’m so glad you’re here.” She squeezed, feeling his damp clothes. 

“It is a blessing to see you again, too.”

Kassandra pulled away and he shivered in the cold night air. “What happened to you?”

“The portal led me to a frozen lake. I searched for you, but the land was deserted.” Gabriel rubbed the scar on his elbow. “Then the lion appeared.”

“Why was it under the ice?”

He frowned. “You could see me?”

She nodded, glancing away for a moment. “When I escaped, I saw your painting hanging with the others. But there was nothing I could do. It wouldn’t let me in.”

Gabriel ran a hand lightly over his face as though remembering something. “Perhaps each person must face the lion alone. On his own terms.” He blinked and looked back. “The lion was part of the ice, attacking my reflection and shredding it.”

When Kassandra had been in the forest, the lion went after her greatest weakness—cutting. For Gabriel, it attacked his reflection.

“Vanity.” 

He stared at her, startled for a moment.

Kassandra’s mind recalled the easel in the mirrored room. “That’s why you illustrated the cards. You said you wanted your illustrations to last forever.”

“Yes.” Gabriel flexed his arm, rubbing the elbow. “Everyone looked up to Luke. They expected great things of him, but never me. I wanted something that would outlast him, so years in the future, my name would be the one spoken. Not his.”

“Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget.”

His brow wrinkled.

“It’s from a poem. I think we all want to be remembered for something.”

Wee-tee-tee-tee-tweet. This time it was Auntie Jo’s nightingale that chirped. It tilted its head, eyeing Gabriel to see if he warranted a threat.

“What’s with the birds? I have one and so does Auntie Jo.”

“When I awoke in my prison, I too had a nightingale like yours.”

“What happened?”

“Luke brought a cage and captured the creature. I still recall its cries when he took it from the room.” His face twisted into a pained expression. “That was many years ago.”

“When I first arrived, you said to protect it.”

Her heart sped up as she scanned the platform. Where was her bird? Did it fly away? Kassandra spun, searching everywhere. Finally she spied the tiny brown bird at the spinning wheel. It hopped up and down, letting out chirps and trills. Okay, message received. She needed to do something with the wheel. Kassandra walked over and Gabriel trailed behind.

Click clack. Click clack. 

The arrow struck the metal pegs over and over, showing no signs of slowing. She looked from the wheel to Auntie Jo seated in the chair. Stopping it had to snap her out of the trance. Kassandra snagged one of the pegs.

“Don’t.” Gabriel grabbed her arm. 

Too late. The wheel halted on XIII. Thirteen. She glanced back, but Auntie Jo still stared at the passing floats.

“How come nothing’s happening?”

Gabriel’s gaze fixed on her hand. “Do not move, or you will start the wheel again.”

“What do you mean?” She let go of the peg, but her fingers stuck to the metal, as if coated in super glue.

“What’s going on?” Kassandra jerked.

He gripped her shoulders. “You’ve taken hold of the Wheel of Fortune. Wherever the wheel lands, that is the card to which you will travel.”

“But I’m still here. And the wheel landed on thirteen.”

Gabriel shook his head. “You chose that number but the Wheel thrives on possibility.” He looked her in the eyes. “You must spin.” 

Teeny Haunts: The Dark Watchers

The Dark Watchers are shadow people who materialize in the mountains of Santa Lucia California. Many people have witnessed these strange folk, often singly but sometimes in groups. I read of one account where two motorists were surrounded by these glowing eyed figures.

Steinbeck wrote about them in his 1938 short story “Flight”.

“Pepe looked up to the top of the next dry withered ridge. He saw a dark form against the sky, a man’s figure standing on top of a rock, and he glanced away quickly not to appear curious. When a moment later he looked up again, the figure was gone.”

Short Story Collection: The Long Valley

This experience of the dark watchers vanishing when you look away is a common one. People glimpse them while driving or walking only to have the figures vanish upon closer inspection.

The poet Robinson Jeffers also commented on the shadowy observers:

“He thought it might be one of the watchers, who are often seen in this length of coast-range, forms that look human to human eyes, but certainly are not human. They come from behind ridges to watch. He was not surprised when the figure turning toward him in the quiet twilight showed his own face. Then it melted and merged into the shadows beyond it.”

“Such Counsels You Gave Me” from 1937

I used the idea of them melting into the shadows for the illustrations.

One theory posits that swaying trees cast against fog create these specters. Our pattern-seeking brains misinterpret the image (a phenomenon is known as pareidolia). This is similar to how a Rorschach test works.

Yet the accounts of people who have witnessed are too varied to be simply a trick of the brain. One eye witness stated that the dark watcher waved back and smoked a cigar.

Whoever these mysterious figures are, they seem to not want to harm us. Still, let’s leave them be. Just in case.

Tim Kane