Some people see things that others cannot. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (H.P. Lovecraft).

James Alan Gardner: Three Damnations: A Fugue

James Alan Gardner, Three Damnations, Tales of mystery, Relatos de terror, Horror stories, Short stories, Science fiction stories, Anthology of horror, Antología de terror, Anthology of mystery, Antología de misterio, Scary stories, Scary Tales


I. Danny

I won’t go to the house again.
I won’t go to the house again.
I won’t go to the house again.
I went to the haunted house.


I woke naked in the garden. Nothing grew there—not even weeds. Just withered stalks that looked ages old. Maybe dating back to when things were still okay.

The darkness was beginning to brighten. I always came to, just before dawn.

As usual, my mouth tasted of blood. The first few times, I’d thought the blood was mine. Eventually, it occurred to me the blood might come from someone else. That made me swear I’d never go back to the house.

But I did.

I got up and limped around to the front door. It took me a while—plants grew thick everywhere except the garden, and most had thorns or nettles.

Beyond the briars, trees crowded up close to the house. The forest ran for miles in every direction, full of whispery sounds and shifty movements. I stayed away from the woods, even in daytime. Animals hated the place too; I never saw a single bird or squirrel among those trees. I don’t know if the house had infected the woods or the other way around, but they were both no-man’s-lands. Maybe like Mandy and me, the house and the forest went bad together.

The inside of the house was always cold and silent. That hadn’t seemed strange the first time Mandy and I broke in. It was November, with an inch of snow on the ground, so we weren’t surprised to see frost on the mirrors and icicles on the ceiling lamps.



Mandy said, “I hope the ice hasn’t wrecked anything good.” She’d heard no one lived in the house anymore, but the place contained valuable antiques. Me, I couldn’t tell an antique from plain old junk, but Mandy had a sixth sense when it came to money; she didn’t know much about antiques either, but she could always zero in on what would bring the most cash.

Mandy belongs to the house now. Sometimes I find her, stiff and bloody, on the living room floor with the knife through her heart. Sometimes she’s dead but still intact, sitting in the dining room and wearing a wedding dress as white as her skin. Sometimes she’s alive and we make love in the biggest bedroom. That’s the reason I keep going back … even though her flesh is freezing, and the sex often turns sick in ways I never foresee.

That only happens at night. By day, I’ve searched every room and never found where the house keeps her body.

I have enough trouble finding my own clothes. Once in a long while, they’re neatly folded by the door. More often, they’re scattered all over the place: my shirt pinned with scissors to the kitchen wall; my pants inside the piano, threaded among the strings; my underwear peeking out between books in the library; my shoes and socks … sometimes I never find them, and I have to hike to the car in my bare feet, running the heater full-blast till I can feel my toes again.

That day, my pants were hung on the newel-post of the main staircase. I put them on, then started to hunt for the rest of my clothes.

I had to pick through remains of broken furniture. Every time I went to the house, I did my best to hurt it. I smashed its mirrors; I broke the ceiling lamps with a tire-iron; I took an ax to the damned piano and set fire to what was left.

The house seemed to want to be busted up. The nights I wrecked it the most, it sent Mandy to me as a reward. She wouldn’t be bloody—no wounds at all, except the tiny slit where I’d driven the blade into her heart. Our love would be sweet, with no horror-movie change-ups. Afterward, we’d cuddle. Eventually, sure, she’d pick a fight: the same old crap about money, our lousy lives, and how she should have gone with Graham instead of me. She’d slap me, I’d hit her, she’d draw the knife, I’d take it away from her … then I’d wake in the dead garden. But for a while, the house let us be together.

Mostly, though, the house was mad and angry: boiling with lonesome rage. Sometimes I considered doing us both a favor … dousing the walls and me with gasoline, then lighting a match. But the moment wasn’t right for that yet. I’d wrecked everything on the house’s ground floor, and most of the upstairs—all those antiques Mandy said would make us rich enough to stop fighting—but I hadn’t finished smashing the main bedroom. I’d kicked apart the washstands, burned the bookcase, shoved the wardrobe out the window in pieces. But I hadn’t had the heart to destroy the bed that Mandy and I used.

I avoided that bedroom as I searched for my clothes, but I couldn’t find my shirt anywhere else. At last, I accepted that the house wanted me in there. I opened the door and saw Mandy sitting on the edge of the bed.

She looked good: skin-colored, not white. Her clothes were the same as the night we came here—even the winter jacket, which hid the stab wound.

My shirt lay across her lap. She smoothed the cloth with her hands. “Just this bed left, Danny,” she said. “Just this bed. Then it’s over.”

“I love you,” I said.

“So?”

“I don’t want to wreck our bed.”

“You don’t have to right away.” She glanced out the window. “The sun is up now. Wait till dark.”

“I don’t want to wreck the bed ever,” I said. “Then you’ll always be alive. Sort of.”

“But you’ll never see me again. The house will hold me hostage till you finish the job.”

“I don’t care if I can’t see you. I just want to know you’re still around.”

Mandy tossed me my shirt. “That’s a pretty thought,” she said, and disappeared.

The shirt felt warm, as if her body still held enough life to heat it.


I won’t go to the house again.
I won’t go to the house again.
I won’t go to the house again.
I went to the haunted house.


II. Graham

I won’t use the time machine again.
I won’t use the time machine again.
I won’t use the time machine again.
I used the time machine.


I saw myself young again: sixteen and in love. Mandy sat across from Me‑at‑Sixteen, but Danny sat tight beside her. His hand slid under the coffee-shop table and Mandy began giggling.

That giggle took my breath away. Any other girl would tell her boyfriend no … or maybe she’d let him, but blush and stay quiet to avoid drawing attention. Not Mandy—she didn’t give a damn what people thought.

A second version of me, aged thirty-six, sat in a nearby booth. He’d chosen a place with a clear view of Mandy. He watched her like a starving man; I could feel his hunger all the way across the room. With so much heat pouring off Me-at-Sixteen and Me-at-Thirty-Six, I was surprised Mandy seemed oblivious … but then, she only paid attention to people when she wanted something from them. If they wanted something from her, she tuned them out.

Both my younger selves thought Mandy was beautiful. I didn’t. I could finally see past her skin-deep looks to the ugliness beneath. I also saw she wasn’t as smart and self-possessed as I’d once believed. Cool, yes, and gifted at getting what she wanted. But she wasn’t the “perfect soulmate” whose intelligence matched my own, and she certainly wasn’t wise beyond her years. She was damned well stupid about how to live her life.

Danny, for example … what did she see in him? Even at sixteen, the guy was a loser. Beefcake without money or brains. I, on the other hand, had a rich family and an IQ that would get me into Stanford, then Princeton, then the top-secret Chronos project. Eventually, my ingenious mind would let me bypass Chronos security to make an unauthorized trip into the past.

Meanwhile, Mandy would stick with Danny. They’d take up petty crime and decide to burgle some remote country-house whose ownership was tied up in the courts. In the middle of the job, they’d argue, then fight. Danny would fatally stab her; half a year later, he’d purge his guilt by torching the house and himself. At least, that’s what forensic examiners would conclude from the two charred bodies: one freshly incinerated, one dead for months with a knife wound through her heart. Danny and Mandy would lie side by side in the ashes … just as their younger selves sat side by side in the coffee shop.

Danny’s hand was still under the table. Mandy beamed like a contented Madonna, but once in a while she made deliberate eye contact with me. I mean Me‑at‑Sixteen. I watched as she reached out and laid her hand on my arm. After so many years, I can still remember the feel of her fingers on my skin: her flesh warm, mine on fire. I’d wondered if it meant she liked me more than she let on.

Me-at-Thirty-Six watched from his booth. He too thought Mandy was sending out signals. He believed that if only my teenaged self had seized the chance, he could have won her from Danny. But Me-at-Sixteen had been a coward; therefore Me-at-Thirty-Six went home each night to a cold silent house. Despite my accomplishments—the scientific breakthroughs no one else had even imagined—I’d spent my life aching for the girl who should have loved me.

But with older eyes, I could see the truth: That night in the coffee shop, Mandy had just been yanking my chain. It amused her to toy with me. Perhaps she was also trying to make Danny jealous. Mandy liked tying people in knots.

Suddenly she stood up. The rest of us shot to our feet too: Danny, Me-at-Sixteen, Me-at-Thirty-Six, even Me-Now. Mice pursuing the cheese. I scanned the rest of the shop to see if anybody else was on his feet. I knew I might regret what I intended to do—once in a while, on cold lonely nights. But would I regret it enough to hack Chronos once more and come back to stop myself?

No one else in the coffee shop budged, though there were several men older than me huddled inconspicuously at other tables. I decided not to examine them closely; I didn’t want to know if some Me-as-Senior-Citizen was waiting to correct another mistake.

Mandy and Danny walked out the door. I followed, and I followed, and I followed.

It was night, late November, with an inch of snow on the ground. Our breaths steamed under the streetlights. But the lights were out in the shop’s side driveway and in the parking lot behind: Me-at-Thirty-Six had cut the wires.

I remembered how I’d planned to wait in the darkness. The lot backed onto a park with plenty of trees; I’d intended to lurk in the shadows till the three teenagers appeared. But my resolve lasted only five minutes. After almost two decades, when all I’d had of Mandy were pictures in high-school yearbooks, I hadn’t been able to resist going inside. I’d needed to see her once more in the flesh.

Her sensuous, treacherous flesh.

Mandy and Danny, holding hands, turned at the corner of the coffee shop and headed down the driveway that led to the back. Me-at-Sixteen walked beside them. I can’t remember what I was thinking that night, but in similar situations, I was often consumed with envy. I had a car; Danny didn’t. In my eagerness to serve Mandy any way I could, I’d somehow become the chauffeur who drove them to make-out spots and left them alone for an hour while I went for a walk. The entire hour, I’d fantasize about sneaking back and peeking through the car windows, hoping for a glimpse of … something. But I’d never had the nerve. By January, Danny would scrape together enough cash for a car of his own. I’d scarcely see either of them again.

“Hey,” said Mandy, “the lights are out. I can’t see.”

She was just playing for attention. The driveway was dark, but not black; we could see well enough to get to the car. Still, Me-at-Sixteen gallantly leapt in: “Don’t worry, I’ll get the car and pick you up.” Teenaged me hurried off, feeling like a hero who would earn Mandy’s everlasting gratitude for saving her from the scary, scary dark.

As soon as Me-at-Sixteen was gone, Mandy threw herself on Danny. They kissed loudly. When the first kiss ended, Mandy pulled Danny with her so she could prop her back against the side of the coffee shop while he leaned tightly into her.

When Me-at-Thirty-Six approached, Mandy looked up for a moment, saw it was only an unknown adult, and returned to the kissing … as if that version of me couldn’t possibly matter. Boring old Graham, ignored yet again. As for Me-Now, I hung back out of sight. Me-at-Thirty-Six might run if he saw a witness.

I waited till I heard the shots: bang-bang, two rounds from a .22 pistol, pointblank into Danny’s brain.

Mandy screamed. I ran toward her. Me-at-Sixteen was running too—he’d heard the shots before reaching the car and was racing to the rescue. Me-at-Thirty-Six ran toward his teenaged self. As the two versions of me met in the parking lot, the older grabbed the younger by the shoulders. “Stay with her,” Me-at-Thirty-Six said. “Comfort her.” Then he dashed off, heading for the park where he’d stashed the Chronos transit module.

By then I’d reached Mandy myself. Danny was only a shadow at her feet. I was glad of that—I didn’t regret killing him, but I could live without a good, clear view of his bloody corpse.

Mandy saw me but didn’t stop screaming. For once in her life, something had breached her self-absorption. I remembered how deafening the gun blast had been when I pulled the trigger. Mandy was even closer to the muzzle: her lips had been on Danny’s till the first slug entered his brain. The noise and the flash and the blood had sent her into hysteria.

Up the driveway came Me-at-Sixteen: her intended savior.

The version of me who killed Danny believed Mandy was just an impressionable girl who’d been led astray. Once Danny was eliminated, she’d see who truly loved her … especially if Me-at-Sixteen consoled her in her hour of need. Mandy’s tear-stained eyes would be opened; she’d reciprocate my love with pure sweet passion.

That theory was partly right: Mandy had indeed cried on my shoulder. Her heart was hard, but not invulnerable. For a full month after the shooting, she clung to me like a security-blanket. But it didn’t last. Once her trauma began to fade, Mandy reverted to type. In January, I caught a cold that kept me inside for a week; Mandy visited me once, but by the time I’d recovered, she’d found another guy. And another. And another.

So nothing changed. My teenaged self resumed his trajectory toward Chronos, and nights with yearbook pictures. When Me-at-Thirty-Six returned to his own time, there was nothing but the cold silent house—this time with an edge of mocking bitterness to the cold.

I yearned to use the time machine for further interventions: earlier, later, more subtle, more violent. But time travel can’t be done on a whim. My trip to the coffee shop had required eighteen months of computer calculations to get everything right; trips to other times and places would need the same preparation.

I couldn’t stand another delay. Instead, I tracked Mandy down in the present. With Danny out of the picture, Mandy was still alive … but she lived with a man so much like Danny, he was bound to hurt her eventually.

Using a different gun, I shot him. In a blacked-out parking lot—my reliable M.O. This time, neither Mandy nor anyone else witnessed it.

A day later, I called her. I said I’d read about the murder in the paper. “I’m so sorry, Mandy. Is there anything I can do?”

“Oh God, Graham, it’s good to hear your voice.”

As predicted—as I’d fantasized—the shock of her lover being killed in such familiar circumstances had shaken Mandy deeply. Once again, she was vulnerable. She begged me to come keep her company.

We got together. Because we were no longer teenagers, I spent the night. The happiest night of my life. As night followed night, Mandy wasn’t in such a hurry to find a new man. I was even richer than I had been, from family inheritances and my top-secret job. In high school, Mandy may have disdained rich geeks, but at thirty-six, she’d become more practical.

I now realize she grew bored with me as fast as before, but instead of dumping me, she decided to ride the gravy train. Being all grown up, Mandy could stomach pretending to love me … and she could still have good-looking losers on the side.

So we married. I was happy. Mandy was Mandy.

It took years for me to realize she was a selfish, cheating whore. Even when I caught her, she could wrap me around her little finger and persuade me not to “overreact.” She’d shower me with promises till I believed she really loved me. I blamed myself for her infidelity. Maybe I spent too much time at Chronos; maybe I didn’t give her what she needed.

What Mandy seemed to need was a string of sordid affairs. When I finally got that through my head, I contemplated meeting her in another darkened parking lot … but that was asking for trouble. As the oft-cuckolded husband, I’d be the prime suspect. The police would do their damnedest to nail me.

So I resorted again to the time machine. I’d already done the calculations for that night at the coffee shop; I could go there as often as I wanted. A cold silent house seemed better than one where my wife kept playing me for a fool.

In the coffee shop driveway, Me-at-Sixteen ran up and stopped in front of Mandy. Her screams had turned to sobs. My teenaged self reached to take her in his arms. I grabbed him and pulled him away. “You, boy—go into the coffee shop and call the police.”

“But…”

“Go. I’ll make sure the girl’s all right.” When he still wouldn’t leave, I pushed him. Hard. Reluctantly, he trotted toward the front of the building.

I had the gun in my pocket: the same one I’d used to kill Danny, twenty seconds earlier and all those years ago. Another two shots—bang-bang—and it would look like the killer had come back for Mandy.

The police hadn’t solved Danny’s murder; they wouldn’t solve Mandy’s either. She’d be dead and out of my life. My teenaged self would grieve—probably for a long time—but I wouldn’t spend years shunning other women on the off-chance of connecting with Mandy. I definitely wouldn’t marry her and suffer those betrayals. With Mandy dead, I could live.

My hand gripped the pistol. My finger touched the trigger. Then Mandy, weeping and needy, threw her arms around my neck and pressed her face against my chest. She had no idea who I was, but she needed to hold someone. So she did.

I could smell her hair, even with the stink of gunpowder all around us.

If she’d been older, I could have shot her. I despised the woman she’d become…but I’d never stopped loving the girl she was.

Damn it, Mandy, I thought, I wish one of us could change.

Me-at-Sixteen came back, but I didn’t let him touch her. I held Mandy possessively until a police car sirened up the street. I sent Me-at-Sixteen to tell them where we were, then I eased out of Mandy’s grip and ran.

Now I’m sitting in the Chronos transit module. If I had the patience for another eighteen months of calculations, I could travel to a time when killing Mandy would be easy. Maybe I could knife her in that country-house and set Danny on fire.

But what am I thinking? Danny’s already dead. He’ll stay that way unless I change the timeline again.

I have to resist temptation. Other people get by without murdering those who hurt them, or using Chronos to reset their lives. I too can hold myself together, no matter what I find when I get back: the cold silent house or the sham hateful marriage.

I can be strong. I’ll forget the option that’s looming in my mind—what I thought of as I fled through the dark, with Mandy’s tears on my shirt and the smell of her clinging to my clothes.

I’ll banish the thought that I could come back one more time and shoot my sixteen-year-old self. Surely my life isn’t so bad that I’ll choose to end it on the last night I was happy.


I won’t use the time machine again.
I won’t use the time machine again.
I won’t use the time machine again.
I used the time machine.


III. Mandy

I will not dance in the grove again.
I will not dance in the grove again.
I will not dance in the grove again.
I went to the grove to dance.


Only two men have truly loved me. Danny and Graham. They were boys, but they were men; they never hurt me. They would have loved me forever if they hadn’t both been killed.

Despite everything, I still believe in love.

After Danny and Graham got shot, I fell apart. I looked for love in all the wrong places, till my parents threw me out. That wouldn’t have happened if Danny or Graham had lived—I was doing just fine, but their deaths derailed me. I didn’t get my act together till the night I found the grove.

I’d been in court that afternoon, watching yet another boyfriend get sentenced. Good riddance. I blew him a kiss, then left the room fast; the court building and I were old acquaintances, but we didn’t get along.

I was in such a hurry to escape, I nearly smacked into a fifty-ish lawyer as I went out the courtroom door. He wasn’t my type, but I was his—instead of “Oops, sorry,” he struck up a conversation, pouring on all the charm. I thought, what the hell: With my boyfriend in jail, my nights were wide open.

I followed the guy to another courtroom where he said he’d be done “in ten minutes, tops.” I left at the two-hour mark. By then, I’d heard enough of the man’s droning voice to change my mind about dating him. I’d also heard enough about the case to catch my interest. The lawyers were arguing about this big country-house whose owner had died without a will. An appraiser said the place held a lot of antiques, worth more than a million, all told. Naturally, the next-of-kin were fighting over who would inherit. Also naturally, I drove out to the house after midnight to see what I could grab for my own.

The moment I got out of the car, I sensed something—like when you walk into a club and know someone has his eye on you. Every step, the feeling grew; it was November, with an inch of snow on the ground, but my skin felt hot and itchy.

After jimmying the door, I paused for a second. I had an intuition something big was about to happen. When I stepped across the threshold, pain ripped into my chest like I was being stabbed, and everything went black.

I woke naked in the garden. For a moment, I had this idea I wasn’t supposed to be alive … like maybe some homicidal lunatic had been holed up in the house, and he’d knifed me, then dumped me in the yard. The stabbing pain in my chest hadn’t gone away. But I couldn’t feel blood or any kind of wound, and there was nobody in sight. Just cold, silent darkness.

Snow had killed all the plants around me. I knew I’d freeze too if I didn’t warm up soon. My panties, white in the darkness, hung on a trellis across the garden. I limped to get them, over plant stubble that jabbed my feet every step. When I put my underwear on, the silk was ice against my skin. A moment later, I caught sight of my bra draped over the back of a cast-iron bench. More limping over stubble and frozen earth. I put on the bra and looked for more. My shirt was far down a garden path….

Like following a trail of breadcrumbs, I gathered my clothes piece by piece. The trail led away from the house and into the nearby forest. The feeling under the trees was so claustrophobic, I could barely breathe. Again, I imagined some homicidal lunatic watching in the blackness. This could be some crazy game to lead me somewhere very bad.

I was so cold I didn’t care. With every wad of clothing, I traveled deeper into the woods. I ended up in a clearing: a circular patch of bare ground with neither grass nor snow. Until that moment, I hadn’t noticed the moon … but suddenly it was there, big and full, right above me. It shone down on my last piece of clothing: my left shoe in the middle of the grove.

I sat down in the moonlight and put the shoe on—at last fully dressed, but still deathly cold. Nothing I did seemed to warm me … as if my body had stopped producing heat. Sitting on the ground, I hugged my knees and tried to squeeze warmth into my bones.

It didn’t work. I got dizzy … started to hear things…dream-like voices. They whispered all around me, but I could only make out one word.

“Dance.”

I knew I was hallucinating, but maybe the voices were from my subconscious giving me advice. Movement might get my blood flowing. If not, then what the hell: I’d rather die dancing than huddled in surrender.

Head spinning, I staggered to my feet. I nearly fell, but kept my balance enough to waggle my hips a little. I must have looked pathetic; even so, I got the feeling that the whisperers approved. I took some wobbly steps … started moving my arms … thought I’d flop on my face, but had just enough strength to keep going.

I didn’t get warmer. I couldn’t feel my feet. An insane thought struck me: I could move more freely without my jacket.

Well, why the hell not? It was like being drunk, when you deliberately do things to feel out of control and reckless. The less caution, the more life. I took off the jacket I’d worked so hard to find, and tossed it into the darkness.

I didn’t get warmer, but I suddenly felt strong. Power flooded up through me: from the earth, the trees, the moon. The stabbing chest-pain that had clutched me since I stepped into the house vanished instantly. The whispers around me still didn’t form words, but I understood them better. I unbuttoned my shirt…

Soon I’d stripped down to nothing again. Each time I threw off some clothing, a flood of energy surged through me. It was better than sex or drugs: it was magic. Honest-to-God mad moon-magic. I was soaking up sorcery, filling with silver fire.

When I was naked once more—when the universe was in me like a lover and I could ask for anything—I asked for Danny.

I woke with him beside me. We were inside the house, in a bed together. The darkness was beginning to brighten into dawn.

Danny looked like I remembered: the boy I’d been kissing when he died. At first, he didn’t recognize me—I was twenty years older than when he’d last seen me. But I forgave him for not knowing who I was … and it didn’t take him long to accept I was really his Mandy. The years hadn’t changed me that much.

Later on, Danny admitted he’d thought I was some older relative with a strong family resemblance to the real teenaged Mandy. But after we’d left the house—we found our clothes folded on the washstand—Danny realized I was telling the truth. Years had passed since his death: he could read the date in any newspaper. It freaked him out, but I was there to take his mind off things till he got over the shock.

The next few days were my happiest ever. We spent hours in bed, where Danny learned what sex could be beyond our awkward fumbling in the car. We also went out a lot; I had fun buying him clothes and making him get a decent haircut.

Sometimes Danny got mad that I was trying to control his life, but how else could it have been? He had no one else but me. His friends and family knew he was dead; they’d been to his funeral. I showed Danny his obituary in the clippings I’d kept about his murder. If he tried to contact people he’d known, what would they think? Likely that he was some stupid street-kid trying to pull a con. They’d call the police.

I was all Danny had, but I promised he’d never need anyone else.

If it had been the real Danny, I would have kept that promise forever. The real Danny wouldn’t have let me down. But everyone knows that magic is slippery: tough to get right, especially your first time.

I realize now what I summoned couldn’t have been Danny. I’ve learned a lot about magic since those early days. That version of Danny must have been a changeling: a lost soul so desperate for life, it took Danny’s form to fool me. Or maybe I just didn’t get all of Danny—I resurrected his physical self, but not what was most important. I didn’t get Danny’s love.

I believe in love. I do. So much of my life has been bad, but I have been truly loved. What’s the point of magic if it can’t give me that again?

But that first time, I didn’t quite get the magic right. I found that out the first time I left Danny alone.

My bank account was strapped, but I had a ready source of cash: a car full of antiques. Despite the excitement of Danny’s resurrection, I hadn’t forgotten why I’d gone to that country-house in the first place. Before Danny and I drove back to the city, we’d crammed the car with valuable old treasures. I knew a man who would buy them, no questions asked, and he wouldn’t even cheat me too badly. One problem: He never did business in front of people he didn’t know, so I told Danny to stay in the apartment till I got back.

When I returned, the place was empty. Danny (or whatever he was) had flown the coop.

It took me hours to find him. The sun had set by the time I thought to check the coffee shop where Danny had been killed. Maybe he’d been struck by morbid curiosity, wanting to see his own murder scene; or maybe he was just visiting the places we used to hang out. Anyway, he was inside the coffee shop when I arrived … and he was surrounded by giggling teenaged girls.

Have you ever felt sad and sick and furious, all at the same time?

The coffee shop was still a high-school hangout, and Danny still looked like a cute high-school boy—especially in the clothes and haircut I’d paid for. The shiny teenage bitches couldn’t wait to sink their teeth into him. Danny basked in their attention like a king in his harem.

That’s when I realized it wasn’t Danny. The real Danny wasn’t that kind of boy. He loved me.

I walked to his table; I was nearly blind with rage. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but it all became clear when he looked up and smirked, “Oh, hi … Mom.”

It was like he’d stabbed me through the heart. Feeling cold to the bone, I said, “Can we talk outside?”

He didn’t answer right away. He must have wanted to yell at me, but was reluctant to cause a scene in front of the girls. Sighing hugely, he got up. He followed me out and around to the driveway at the side of the building. “Look,” he said, “what did you expect? That you could keep me forever as your boy-toy? That’s gross … Mom.”

I looked him in the eye. “You know that thing mothers say? I brought you into the world and I can take you out?” I pointed my finger at his head like a gun. “Bang-bang.”

His head snapped back and he dropped like a stone. I’d seen the same thing years before, but not from this angle.

Back then, I’d screamed in horror. Now, I only smiled; I like payback. I also felt good that I’d guessed right about how magic worked—if I gave life to someone, I could also give death.

“Okay,” I told the body at my feet, “get lost.”

For a second, I was afraid nothing would happen. That would put me in big trouble. Those girls in the coffee shop had seen me; if Danny’s corpse was found in the driveway, the girls could give the cops my description. But the carcass began to melt, as if the Danny-thing had been made of snow. Within a minute, nothing was left but a wet patch on the pavement.

That proved it wasn’t the real Danny. I had nothing to feel guilty about. I’d done nothing wrong.

My feeling of justification vanished as fast as the body. By the time I got back to my apartment, I had a bad case of the shakes. I’d lost the love of my life again, and in the days that followed, I plunged into the same self-destructive craziness that seized me at sixteen. I cried for hours at a time, got drunk every night, and went home with any guy who asked. I damned near gave up and killed myself … but while I was freezing my ass in an alleyway, waiting for a connection who’d sell me enough for an overdose, the blistering cold reminded me of the grove.

I realized I could have another chance. I could use the magic again. I just had to get it right.

I began to study how magic worked. I read books; took peyote; hung out in weird backstreet shops. I had to wade through New Age crap, but it didn’t throw me off—after dancing with genuine magic, I could tell what was mumbo-jumbo and what was the real deal. Soon enough, I understood how to refine what I’d done in the grove: how to get the boy I wanted, not some ingrate impostor. All I needed was ritual and sacrifice … to steer the magic and prove the depth of my commitment.

Exactly midnight on the next full moon, I stood in the grove again. I cut patterns in my right arm, burned sigils into my left. I sucked my wounds to fill my mouth with blood. On a black velvet cloth, I opened my high-school yearbook to a picture of the boy I was calling. Then, piece by piece, I removed my clothes as I danced around the photo.

The photo wasn’t Danny; it was Graham. He’d never been cocky with girls—he’d only had eyes for me. That made him a safer bet.

I danced, feeling power come at my call. The night was colder than before: When I shook, I couldn’t tell if I was quaking with magical energy or shivering on the edge of death. I couldn’t think straight; I stopped thinking altogether. But I kept dancing.

The moon grew so bright, it was a blinding white tunnel. The earth heaved in orgasm…

I woke inside the house, in bed with Graham.

He didn’t take it well. If Graham had found himself under the sheets with Me-at-Sixteen, he would have been flustered enough—I’d always laughed at how badly he wanted me, and how guilty he felt about it—but finding himself with an unknown woman, Graham totally went into hysterics. Since he didn’t know how he’d got me in bed, he leapt to the conclusion he was a sex-fiend maniac who regularly flipped into a different personality and ravished women against their wills.

Eventually I calmed him down. Then I got us both dressed, stole more antiques, and drove us back to my apartment.

The days that followed were fun, but not the same as with Danny—Graham needed more maintenance. Danny would placidly lounge with me in bed or in front of the TV. Graham seemed incapable of staying still unless he was doing something.

On the plus side, once I’d convinced him about the whole “death-resurrection” thing, Graham’s virginal guilt vanished. Knowing magic was real somehow liberated him … as if it gave him permission to rewrite a bunch of rules he’d been carrying in his head. Me being twice his age didn’t bother him a bit.

But in lulls, Graham kept asking how the world had changed since he died: what was new in science, and how magic worked. When I wanted to take him shopping for clothes, Graham said he’d only go if we went to the library first. When I told him he was getting a haircut, he said I had to buy him pens and paper too.

But he loved me. He loved me like an addict and I was his drug. He couldn’t get enough of me … even if he had no patience for lingering afterward. I was Graham’s everything. He never gave a hint of wanting anyone else.

I still felt insecure about girls his own age. Graham would never go on the prowl like Danny … because let’s face it, Graham was a geek who’d already got the woman of his dreams. He had no reason to chase girls, and they certainly wouldn’t chase him. Even so, I worried. Danny had been a traitorous impostor. How could I be sure Graham wasn’t one too?

I couldn’t resist testing him. A few weeks after his rebirth, I drove Graham to our old favorite coffee shop.

The shiny airheads were there, but they ignored us. Graham showed no interest in them either: he looked once in their direction, then focused on me. I thought, He doesn’t care about anyone else. I’m the only one he’ll ever love. I’ve got him. Aloud I said, “You’re mine, aren’t you?”

“Sure.”

“That’s all I’ve ever needed,” I told him. “Men think I’m made of ice: They say I’m a selfish, manipulative bitch. But it’s not true—there’s nothing wrong with me except I’ve never been properly loved.”

“Well, I love you,” Graham said. “Are we just getting coffee or can we eat too?”

Teenage boys: not made for romance. But Graham had said he loved me with such offhand sincerity he couldn’t be faking.

As we left the coffee shop, Graham took my hand. I squeezed it fondly … but the moment we turned into the driveway, I saw the lights were out all the way to the back-lot.

“Oh no,” I said. “Not now.”

I turned to run, but a man cut me off: the killer from twenty years earlier. He was only a shadow in the dark, but he was the same shadow.

“Mandy,” he said. “Why couldn’t you leave well enough alone?”

He lifted the gun. I said, “What the hell is your problem? What did I ever do to you?”

“You brought me back. I’d broken the cycle, but you started it again. In a month, you’ll get bored the way you always do. The most exhilarating time of my life, and you’ll just lose interest. You’ll feel bad enough for dumping me that you won’t erase me like Danny. You’ll hand me a hundred bucks and kick me onto the street. Then it all goes the same, only twenty years later. Around and around, it all goes the same, and we’re all too obsessed to walk away.” He took a step toward me. “I couldn’t shoot you when you were a girl, but you’re old enough now…”

I was still holding Graham’s hand. I yanked it, pulling Graham between the gunman and me. After all, I thought, I can always bring Graham back.

Startled by my movement, the gunman fired. Bang-bang. Graham jerked. I tried to keep him in front of me as a shield, but his corpse began melting in my hands.

This is it, I thought. I’m dead. But the gunman was melting too: his face, his clothes, his pistol.

Ten seconds later, there were two wet patches on the same damned driveway.

I got away as fast as I could. People in the coffee shop had surely heard the shots. Later on, I found out that they’d called the cops, but nothing came of it. The police found no bodies; no bullets either. Eventually, they wrote off the shooting as a car backfiring or kids playing with firecrackers.

Now here I sit in my cold silent apartment. I’ve been brooding about what the gunman said. I don’t understand what he meant, but it’s got me on edge.

Part of me wants another chance with Graham. I used him to save my own skin. I owe it to him to bring him back … especially when we were so totally in love. It’s ridiculous to think I’d get tired of him. And anyway, if Graham and his lack of romance start to bore me, I can always dispel him, right? Bang-bang, just like that. I’m the bitch with no feelings, aren’t I? That’s what everyone believes. I’m cold-blooded enough to rid myself of a nuisance, even if he looks at me with puppy-dog eyes.

Same with Danny. Those first few days with him—damn, but they were great. So uncomplicated. To have someone adore you completely … I could bring Danny back, but send him away before he gets restless.

Or maybe I could resurrect both boys together. Why not? Everyone already calls me a slut.

But I can’t get the gunman’s words out of my head. Maybe if I got my act together instead of trying to steal love from a past that’s dead and gone…

Self-control, Mandy. Self-control.


I will not dance in the grove again.
I will not dance in the grove again.
I will not dance in the grove again.
I went to the grove to dance.

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