Recently, my company was scheduled to change out a couple of electrical panels at an apartment building and were promptly stopped short by a feral tenant. When my tech knocked, she opened the door, yelled at him, and slammed it shut.
       So I called the landlord up, and he told me that this lady hasn’t paid her rent and has been squatting in there for months, and to evict her legally is quite the process: not only can he (and law enforcement) do nothing at this juncture, but you can’t even shut her utilities off! Which, by the way, I’ve seen the power company straight-up padlock people's electric meters because they weren’t paying their bills – but those may have been deadbeat homeowners, and perhaps you get more rights if you’re a deadbeat tenant?
       I would expect this twist of logic in other parts of the country where homeless villages pop up like traveling circuses, formerly eradicated diseases are making a comeback, and they have apps for avoiding feces on the sidewalk (everything I just said is true, by the way, but you still have my permission to laugh), but this is Iowa. We have stand-your-ground laws for God’s sakebut kicking out squatters who don’t pay? Oh, that’s simply too much.
       What if there was a way for landlords – or even the buildings themselves – to retaliate? What would that look like? A classic haunting where the dinner plates are constantly rearranging and the lights flicker on at all hours of the night, or would the houses simply vanish in thin air as a measure of protection? One could go all over the map with this, even to the point of looking at the tenants as a source of food, human nourishment for the drywall and studs, or whatever lurks within.
       Speaking of which – and in case you were worried about our freeloading apartment dweller – she did have Domino’s deliver a pizza for lunch, so no need for alarm; she’s not going hungry.
Danny Hankner
Danny Hankner

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(Ominous / immersive / intriguing)

Threads for Flies
By Jacob Steven Mohr
“The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show you when you are there.”
— Mary Howitt, “The Spider and the Fly”
           It was a cruel summer. Late August, when each sunset painted with a bloody brush, when terrorists beheaded the journalist, Foley, on broadcast national news. Moss never saw the footage himself, but he knew it’d happened, talked to boys on the ball field who claimed they’d actually seen it. They swore the man’s eyes had fluttered, lying in sand dark with his own spurting blood, that his jaw had flexed to form words before his eyes rolled over red.
           Jackson said the other boys were screwing with him. But Moss couldn’t help imagining what Foley’s last seconds of awareness would’ve been like. A living head, thudding heavily in the dirt, caged in with his own blinding terror and pain. His body dead—waiting, with saintly patience, for his brain to catch word that the jig was up, buster. 
           You’ve had it. Ball game. 
           One week before, Moss’s stepbrother broke his leg sliding ass-over-heels off the brick wall behind the corner Kmart. This and the head-chopping painted the last weeks before school began with a ghastly pall of violence. Doom hung in the air like the stink of sulfur, and Jackson, who was thirteen to Moss’s eleven, now mostly slouched around the house, stuck on crutches or in a fold-up wheelchair the hospital sent home, or in a kitchen chair with his cast up on a stool. 
           But cruelest of all were Jackson’s brown glaring eyes, tracking Moss around the house or going out the door, walking upright on two good legs. And now, that Sunday morning before church, those legs carried Moss nervously up the stairs to the bedroom he and Jackson split between them. Jackson sat in the swivel chair on his half of the room, crouched over his tablet with his tie flung over one shoulder. Above his head, four soccer trophies gleamed on a sturdy shelf. 
           Moss coughed and, when Jackson didn’t glance up from the screen, tapped his knuckles against the doorframe. “Mom says come downstairs.”
           The mumbled reply: “Tell her I’m coming right down.”
           “Sure. Yeah.”
           Moss didn’t move. His weight wobbled between the pads of his feet; his toes felt squeezed by his shiny church shoes. Jackson didn’t budge either, or look up from the tablet screen.
           “What’re you watching?” Moss said.
           “Not watching anything.”
           Irritation buzzed in Jackson’s voice—but to Moss’s surprise he raised his head, looking up at him through his drooping curls. He motioned Moss over with a sullen jerk of his head; the younger boy scurried through the door, peering over his stepbrother’s shoulder. 
           “It’s Google Maps,” Jackson explained, angling the screen so it didn’t catch glare from the window. “I’ve been…exploring.”
           “Exploring what?” There’d been shame in Jackson’s tone, but also a strange, vibrating excitement. Moss shifted nervously closer. The room smelled like Old Spice out of the can; so did Jackson, like he’d wheeled himself through a whole cloud of it. 
           “Just look.” On the screen was a street view of a neighborhood. Blurry and pixelated, like a painting with streaks running through it, radiating out from a center point. Jackson dragged his fingers, showing angles of houses to the right and left of the road. 
           “You know where this is?” he asked. “Notice anything funny?”
           Moss nodded timidly. “It’s our street. Right?”
           The words stuck coming out. He and his mom had only moved into the house Jackson’s dad owned a few short months ago. Living there still felt like wearing somebody else’s clothes; the streets around it were as alien as the surface of the moon. 
           Jackson rolled his eyes. “No shit, it’s our street.” He tapped once in the center of the tablet. The world on the screen lurched forward at warp speed. “Look,” he said, like he was instructing a child. “There’s my house. And my bike out front.”
           Sure enough: there was Jackson’s blurry Schwinn, propped on its kickstand by the curb out front of the house. Jackson swung their view left. “And that’s Doug Begley’s house—he grills with Dad sometimes. And on the right…”
           Moss brightened. “The Brecker house?” These were the only neighbors on the new street Moss knew. After Jackson broke his leg, the daughter, Kaity, brought a casserole from Mrs. Brecker to their door in a foil-covered pan. The casserole wasn’t anything to go nuts over, not compared to what Moss’s mom could make, especially for Sunday dinners. But the way Kaity grinned at him at the door had made him feel nice, like the two of them were sharing some funny secret. 
           “No. Stupid…” Jackson scoffed and dragged their view to the right. “The Brecker house has green shutters. And their place is…” He trailed off into a kind of frustrated snarl. “Well, just look at this house. I mean really look.” He spread his finger and thumb, stretching the image on the tablet screen. Moss leaned closer, squinting. 
           Half-obscured by pixel fog, there stood a huge brick house Moss had never seen before. 
           It was gray all over, roof to foundation. Two stories—what Moss’s realtor mom would call a “classical,” with dark narrow windows in two rows all across the front. These didn’t seem to reflect any light, and there were bars welded overtop of them. The front door had a half-moon window exactly like a half-shut eye. Even the shutters and lawn were gray, like they were covered in dust. The house was bigger than any other on its street; its overpowering grayness seemed to bleed out into the air around it. 
           Moss spoke slowly. “Where’s Kaity’s house?”
           “That’s the thing. It’s still there. Just… not where it’s supposed to be.”
           Expectation had crept back into Jackson’s voice, running through its center like a third rail. Moss felt all his neck hairs lift. Jackson had never spoken this way to him before—privately, like he was Jackson’s real-life brother and not a cellmate to watch through narrowed eyes. The change brought all his cloudy anxious feelings back, yet he crowded closer as Jackson adjusted the Google Maps view once more. 
           Beside the gray house, almost hidden by its looming bulk, was the Brecker house with its green shutters and slightly overgrown lawn. The colorlessness of the gray house hit a solid wall between itself and its neighbor; beyond this, even the sky looked bluer. 
           “What’s wrong with the other house?” Moss asked. “The color looks…”
           Wrong, he wanted to say. But this wasn’t right. Wrong wasn’t strong enough. 
           Jackson blew up the image again: the gray house ballooned across the screen, grainy as TV static between stations. But there was enough detail left over that Moss could see… something covering both the walls and the dead scraggly grass. 
           “What is that?” He pointed. “It looks like smoke? Or dust?”
           Jackson shook his head solemnly. “Not dust. Cobwebs.”
           He said it so confidently Moss didn’t think to ask anything else. 
           His mom’s voice lilted up the stairs. “Boys? If we don’t get our pew this morning and have to stand in the back, things are gonna get unpleasant around here.”
           Jackson thumbed the lock-screen button. The tablet winked dark, reflecting only the faces of the two boys. He hollered: “Coming, Audrey. Jeezus…” He flopped the tablet on his bed and heaved upright, reaching for the crutches propped against the wall. But before he shoved the pads under his armpits, he brandished a crutch at Moss, then put a finger against his mouth.
           It rang through clear. This stays between us. 
           A quiet thrill ran through Moss. He stepped clear of the doorway to let Jackson limp by; Jackson paused at the top of the stairs to hand off the crutches to his stepbrother before he started half-hopping, half-shuffling down the first few steps. 
           Even though he knew the answer, Moss called out, “You want help going down?”
           “I’ve got it,” Jackson grunted, without turning.
           The whole family piled into the car, with Jackson’s crutches laying across the floor under the back seats. Jackson’s dad told Moss to fix his cowlick; Moss’s mom tightened and then re-tightened the knot on Jackson’s tie. Then they were out of the garage and rolling. 
           Moss almost felt guilty staring out the window at the houses surrounding theirs. He half-expected to see the house covered in cobwebs casting its gray shadow over them, sucking the color out of the air like juice through a straw. But instead, there was only the Brecker house, with Mr. Brecker mowing the lawn, soaked with sweat with his shirt thrown over one shoulder. 
           “I don’t get it,” Moss murmured, leaning across to Jackson. “How could their house just… move like that?” Jackson widened his glare and shushed him with a wave. 
           But then, only moments later, he too leaned across the back seat. “The Brecker house didn’t move,” he whispered. “The Cobweb House disappeared.”
           A chill rippled through Moss almost painfully. He returned to staring out the car window, looking for a tree, a patch of exposed sky, anything with bright colors. Wrong had not been the correct word to describe the Cobweb House. He knew the right one, but wouldn’t speak it aloud. 
           Church, Costco, lunch. Leftover Stouffer’s lasagna, served in Tupperware straight out of the microwave, with plastic forks and knives. Jackson didn’t mention the Cobweb House again, so neither did Moss. But he watched his stepbrother carefully across the round kitchen table, though Jackson carefully avoided his gaze until Moss’s swinging legs clanged against the front platform of his wheelchair. Then his eyes glowed white, full of sudden righteous fury. 
           Moss looked anywhere else. Past his mom, standing by the sink, up to her elbows in suds, out through the kitchen window. Through the glass, the light changed; a whipping shadow swept past frame, like laundry on a line. Then it was gone. 
           Moss slid back his chair. “Can I walk to the ball field?”
           “Push your brother,” answered his mom without turning from the sink. 
           “I’m all right,” grunted Jackson. 
           “You should go,” his mom said. “Get some fresh air. Some sun.”
           “I don’t mind,” Moss put in. “You could umpire for us.”
           “I said I’m not going.
           For a moment there was only the sound of water running out of the faucet. Then Moss’s mother said, “Well, give me your Tupperware and throw away that fork.”
           Moss scooped up the plastic tray and passed it into the suds-filled sink. Then he made tracks for the front door, pausing to snatch his catcher’s mitt and mask off the front hook. He could almost hear an echo of conversation, his mother speaking Jackson’s name in that pleading tone he’d never heard until three months ago, Jackson’s voice grunting “It’s fine, Audrey…”, Jackson’s stepfather dropping his paper and pushing back his chair just a little too hard, but then the door swung shut in between him and all of them and he was out under the sunshine, jogging towards the park and his friends. 
           The sun looped across the high blue wall of the sky. Moss left the diamond around four, his shirt soaked through, sweat and sun stinging his eyes. His mask was balanced on his head, shielding his face from the blasting heat, his mitt tucked under his arm.
           He didn’t even realize he’d almost passed Kaity’s house until she hollered, “Yo! Moss!”
           He turned, shading his eyes to find her on the front porch of the house. She was crouched on the wood railing, one white skinny leg dangling a bare foot towards the patchy garden. She had circular sunglasses sliding down her nose and a face full of greasy sunscreen. She was halfway through lathering some onto her left arm when she’d paused mid-stroke to shout his name. 
           “You’re not gonna say hi?” she called. 
           “Hi.” He waved, and dropped his catcher’s mitt in the street by mistake. 
           Kaity laughed and hopped down off the rail, stumbling through the garden onto the freshly mowed lawn. “How’s the invalid?” she asked, jerking a thumb at Moss’s house. 
           “He’s not…” Moss started to protest, then thought better. “He’s fine. He’s getting used to the crutches all right, I guess.”
           “I busted my pinkie toe once on a drainpipe,” Kaity offered. “See?” 
           She was across the lawn now, standing above him on the curb, pushing her right foot towards him and wiggling the toes. Sure enough, the pinkie toe on that foot was crooked, kind of turned in on itself, lying sideways at the end of the line. 
           “Hurt like a bitch,” she said. “But they never put a cast on it.”
           The sun was at her back; when Moss glanced back up, he couldn’t quite look her in the face. Kaity cocked her head to one side. “Hey—spooky. What’re you so quiet about?”
           “Was there another house here before?”
           He blurted it before he could stop himself; he half-expected Kaity to laugh. But instead, she pushed her sunglasses up on her nose and turned back to her own front door. 
           “Here, where my house is now?” She scratched the top of her head. “Dude, I think this house is mega old. All the houses on this street are. If there used to be a different house here it was from before any of us were born.”
           “No, not…” Self-consciously, Moss stooped for his mitt—his groping hand didn’t find it, so he stood up again empty-handed. “I meant, between your house and mine.”
           This time Kaity did laugh, snorting into her cupped hand. “Better be a real skinny house.”
           “I saw something. Jackson and me, on Google Maps. Like there was a whole other yard between our yards, and it had this other house in it. Huge and gray and covered in…”
           “In…?” Kaity mimicked, grinning at him. “In, in, in?”
           “ cobwebs,” Moss finished breathlessly. “Like for Halloween.”
           Kaity rubbed pale knuckles against her chin. “You’ve heard about it already, huh?”
           “You know about the Cobweb House?” Moss’s eyes went round, despite the sun. 
           Kaity shrugged. “Shore. All the kids on the street know. It moves around at night, slipping between other houses. It can squeeze into gaps like a slug, and in the morning, if you find sticky slime on the road, you know it’s been down your street. But nobody’s ever really seen it though—because if you’re out walking at night, and it finds you…”
           Her hands made a swooping, snatching motion; her mouth made a horrible sucking-swallowing sound. If Moss had been standing level with her, he might’ve fallen off the curb. Instead, he only took a step back. But no more. One more step, he knew, was the line between startled and afraid. 
           “Then… what are all the cobwebs doing there,” he protested. “If it’s like a slug, it should be covered in mucus, not spiderwebs.”
           Kaity stared at him, then dropped her shoulders. “Aw—you’re no fun.” 
           She twirled on her heel and turned a lopsided cartwheel back towards her house. “You should put some sunscreen on, spooky,” she told him. “You’re getting red.” Then she was up on the porch and straddling the wood rail again, back in the shade. She pushed her sunglasses up her nose and opened her mouth like she’d speak again, but instead, she just snapped her teeth at him and kept grinning her lazy, lopsided grin, as though she knew all the secrets in the world.  
           Moss waved and picked up his mitt. He stared, dazed, toward the house—but not so dizzy that he didn’t notice Jackson ducking away from their bedroom window, the glint of binocular lenses vanishing just before the movement really registered.
           “I wasn’t spying.” Much later—with blue twilight creeping in from the corners of the windows. They were facing opposite walls in their bedroom, hop-footing into their pajamas.
           “I didn’t say anything.” Moss got his bottoms on first and slipped into bed, nosing his feet between the sheets until he was comfortable. He watched Jackson go for the light switch, then skip-hop with his cast to his own bed, feeling for it in the dark. 
           “Well. You were thinking it. I wasn’t spying.”
           “All right.”
           Sullen silence followed. The ceiling fan was on, filling the room with its quiet thrumming purr. Then Moss said: “Kaity said she knows about the Cobweb House.”
           A rustle in the dark as Jackson pushed himself up in bed. “You told her?”
           “I think she was bullshitting me, though.” The profanity tasted funny leaving his mouth, sharply bitter, like he imagined battery acid would taste. But he was glad he’d said it. It sounded more serious, more adult. More aloof to the danger. 
           Jackson sighed. “Whatever.” Another silence followed, but he didn’t lie back down. “Moss,” he whispered across the dark bedroom. 
           “I looked at the house again.”
           “On Maps?”
           “Yehuh.” Out of the darkness, a rectangle of light bloomed. “You wanna see?”
           Reaching as far as his arm would stretch, Moss took the tablet from his stepbrother. 
           It was not the same view as before. The camera was further down the road, almost past the Brecker house, looking at the Cobweb House at a more extreme angle. But he could still see the whole front of the house, and some of the side as well, rising like a grave above the Brecker’s privacy fence. He could see all the narrow windows as well. But they were not all dark now.
           In one high bedroom window, a grim yellow light blazed.
           Moss locked the screen and handed the tablet back. “What does it mean?”
           But Jackson only shrugged and turned over in bed. Moss didn’t say anything more; he didn’t even breathe particularly loudly until suddenly it was morning and he was waking up, groggy and disoriented and sore from tossing through strange dark dreams he’d already forgotten. 
           The next day was a checkup for Jackson’s leg. Moss and his stepbrother ate breakfast—Jackson’s father had already left for work—then piled into Moss’s mom’s pickup for the drive to the doctor’ s office. Moss waited in the white linoleum hall while the doctor lifted and rotated Jackson’s leg, listening to the man’s deep age-crusted voice ask, “Does this hurt, and this, and this…?” Jackson winced and shook his head each time.
           Moss had Jackson’s tablet in his lap. He’d watched a few game trailers with earphones in, but now the screen was blank. The plastic buds in his ears only served to muffle the conversation from the exam room, coming through the cracked door. 
           “It itches some I guess,” Jackson was saying—and in that instant Moss’s fingers dragged across the tablet screen almost idly. The screen blazed to life; there again was the Cobweb House. 
           Moss stared. It was the same angle as the night before, looking from in front of the Brecker house. But the light in the window had moved. From the back bedroom to a front window, only now the light was dimmed as though it were coming from the hall and not the front-facing bedroom itself. That dull yellow rectangle of light was the only color on the screen: the rest was gray, all gray, all-swallowing gray. 
           Moss glanced up through the exam room door. He saw the side of the doctor’s head, not talking but only bobbing, listening to something his mom was saying. 
           On the tablet screen, the page had refreshed. The light had moved again.
           And this time Moss thought he’d almost heard it—the heavy electric click of the switch, the buzz of the ancient dusty lightbulb sputtering to life in the darkness. He imagined long, slightly crooked hallways on the house’s top floor, haunted by drifting gray cobweb strands; he imagined a glow building under a closed door on that hall, seeping out into the airless dark. 
           He imagined a single creaking footstep behind that door. The too-heavy click of the switch being thrown again by an unseen hand, extinguishing the only light. 
           The sound of an inhaled breath, cut just short—
           The page auto-refreshed. The light was in a room just above the front door. Then the window beside it. Then it bled weakly out of the half-eye window in the door itself. Moss’s hands squeezed the tablet. Maps refreshed and froze; the loading wheel spun in the center of the screen.
           A quiet hiss of breath scraped Moss’s ears:
“Come upstairs.”
           The sudden noise was Moss kicking back in his chair. It was his stepbrother, startled and enraged, loping through the exam room door on his crutches. It was Jackson’s tablet slipping free of Moss’s hands, slithering down to the linoleum, clattering but not quite cracking. It was Moss’s mother’s sudden cry of concern. But it was not Moss screaming—for when his jaws widened to release his terror, he could only gasp, sucking the fear back inside himself, twitching in his seat and gasping, gasping, gasping. 
           Later, in the back seat of the car: “I didn’t break it.”
           They were waiting in the Harris Teeter parking lot. Moss’s mom was inside shopping—making a “surgical strike,” she called it. Eggs and flour and milk, and maybe a few more things if they caught her eye. Pie crusts, paper plates, kitchen trash bags. Jackson’s crutches leaned against the middle seat, a wall between him and Moss. Moss spoke again like Jackson hadn’t heard:
           “I didn’t break it. It’s fine. It still works.”
           “You still dropped it.” Jackson had the tablet clutched in his lap and stared sullenly out the window, watching big black crows squabble over drink lids and French fries. 
           “I said I was sorry.” Jackson didn’t reply; Moss tried again with, “I told you what I saw.”
           “Will you at least look at it?”
           Without glancing down, Jackson said, “When we get home. No signal out here.”
           Moss slumped back against the headrest. He thought about saying more, telling his stepbrother about what he’d heard as well as seen. But every time he opened his mouth to tell it, he thought that voice might come out instead of his own, croaking its whispered summons. 
           Jackson disappeared when they arrived home, leaving Moss to help his mom bring the groceries inside. He didn’t see his stepbrother until almost dinnertime, and when he did, he found him cross-legged on the couch in front of the TV. The controller for the Xbox lay in his lap, but the screen was blank, showing only the letters AUX blinking in the top right corner. Jackson stared straight ahead. The tablet was on the couch cushion on his left, tucked partway under his thigh. Jackson’s fingers brushed the back of the device; then he looked up at Moss. 
           “Oh. Hey.” Moss said nothing, only shifting the pads of his socks against the hardwood floor of the den. It was Jackson’s turn to break the silence. 
           “You were right,” his stepbrother continued. “It still works.”
           “That’s good. How’s your leg?”
           “Fine. How’s yours?”
           Moss’s lips quirked at the absurdity. “Which one?” Jackson’s own laugh was a grunt, but it did crease his mouth like a smile should. His stepbrother’s pile of brown curls bobbed and swayed with the motion of his head. Moss didn’t want to break the moment, but his lips moved without his bidding. “Did you look?” He angled his head at the tablet. 
           Jackson’s face went blank, like it did when he got angry—the kind of angry that didn’t make any noise, the kind of angry that exploded later, that slammed doors, that stomped upstairs when it didn’t have a busted leg to hobble on.
           Moss waited for the blast; instead, Jackson’s teeth chewed along his upper lip. 
           “Would you push me outside a second?” he asked. “In the chair?”
           Silent and stunned, Moss nodded. 
           Outside was a thin gruel of engine noise and birdsong and the occasional bark of an outraged dog. Jackson shuffled to the front door, only easing down into the wheelchair once Moss got it over the hump of the sill. Then he let himself be pushed down the easy slope of the driveway and out into the empty street. 
           The neighborhood was half-alive. No rush-hour cars returning home from work, but there was the occasional summer-kid jumping through a front lawn sprinkler, dog-walker, or squirrel darting across the road or along a power line. The chair’s wheels bumped over cracks in the cement, small twigs fallen from the huge knotty oak that kept the house in cool shadow all morning. Jackson winced at the bumps, sucking air through gritted teeth. Moss slowed to ease the bumps but didn’t alter course. He already knew where he was going.
           Moss stopped in the middle of the street, between Jackson’s father’s house and the Brecker place. Between them was a six-foot privacy fence. Above that hung a gap in the air, like the shape of a ghost, filling the sky. Kaity was not on her porch. 
           But somehow Moss still felt eyes on him. Or a lack of eyes. The feeling was the same. 
           “Push me closer,” Jackson murmured. 
           Moss set his jaw and rolled the wheelchair closer, right to the curb. Jackson thrust his hand forward, palm down, fingers outstretched. It was right on the boundary line, the invisible wall between his house and Kaity Brecker’s. 
           Or—not Kaity’s at all, Moss thought with a cold shock. Between his house and the Cobweb House, between waking and dreaming. Between real and un-real.
           Jackson’s hand shook as his fingers inched closer, like he expected some kind of electrical jolt, like he thought the air there would bite him. Moss held his breath—but finally, his stepbrother drew his arm back and folded his hands in his lap.
           “Let’s go back inside,” he whispered.
           He seemed drained, almost hollowed. Moss obeyed and pushed Jackson back to the front door. Neither spoke until dinner, and neither mentioned the Cobweb House even then. 
           Then: showers, brushed teeth, video games in the den. 
           Then: upstairs and in bed, lights out, no fooling. 
           Soon: dreams without color, dreams sticky with dust and ancient drifts of spider-silk, dreams of endless hallways and doors and rooms that don’t exist. 
           Moss lay awake, painfully immutably awake. The ceiling fan spun and spun. The longer he watched, the more the room seemed to spin around the whirling blades, like the world was spinning down some huge drain. He could feel the rotation, his body twisting and sinking, tipping down towards a gullet he couldn’t see but only feel, sliding head-first now, and when Jackson spoke his name, it jolted him awake with the force of a slap. 
           “It’s there, Moss,” he said. 
           Groggy or not, Moss knew—it could only be one thing. 
           “You felt something?” he asked. “Between the houses?”
           “No. But… it’s there, just the same.”
           “How do you know?”
           Jackson rolled over on his side, groaning—his leg must have twinged. 
           “You promise you won’t tell my dad? Or your mom?”
           “I swear I won’t.”
           “All right.” Jackson eased his weight back down onto the bed. Seconds of silence oozed by; somewhere there was a ticking tapping sound, a branch on a window, water splashing into a sink from a leaking faucet. 
           “I had a dream about it,” Jackson said. 
           Uselessly Moss asked, “The Cobweb House?”
           “No shit.” Rolled eyes, invisible in the dark. 
           “Was it a scary dream?”
           “Fuck you.”
           Moss fell silent. Of course Jackson wasn’t scared. So he asked, “What happened?”
           “It… didn’t start out as anything. I was much younger, and I was playing in the backyard of the house—not this house, but the one I used to live in when I was little. And it got dark outside, kind of all at once like a light shutting off. And I couldn’t find my way to the back door. It was too dark, and the… grass was too high, I think? But I bumped up against the fence between my yard and our old neighbor’s yard—the Shaws, you don’t know them. I knew if I could just find my way to the end of that fence, I could find my front yard, and my front door, and ring the doorbell, and Mom and Dad would let me in.”
           Moss held his breath, making fists in his blanket. Jackson’s voice had stumbled, like the word Mom was a phantom step at the top of the stairs.
           “It was blind dark now. I was pushing along the fence, feeling with my hands. But it just seemed to go on and on, longer than any fence should go. Instead of the end, I found a gap—just a hole, where one board had been loosened and fell away. And even though I was littler in the dream I didn’t think it was big enough for me to squeeze through until I’d done it, without even wanting to, and when I looked back the fence had sealed up tight behind me.”
           Jackson took a breath before he went on, and a gulp of water from the bottle on his nightstand. “The Cobweb House doesn’t have windows out back. It doesn’t need them.”
           “Why not?” Moss whispered. 
           “Because we only ever see the front.”
           A huge chill—like a giant’s cold hand, squeezing Moss all over. “On Google Maps.”
           He could see Jackson nod in the dark. “So I’m lying in the grass, or dead leaves, or cobwebs. I can’t see what, but I’m stuck there staring up at this not-a-house. And after a moment it… turns and looks at me. I don’t know how else to describe it. I felt its attention shift and slide over me like it was pressing me down, and I was staring at the front windows all of a sudden, like they were eyes, not windows, like it could really see me. And just when I couldn’t stand being looked at like that anymore—all the lights in the house switched on at once, foom!” Jackson spread his fingers in a starburst array. “And the world got brighter and brighter until I was awake again…”
           Another swallow of water, a shift of the blankets. “This was last night,” Jackson said. “And then today, after the doctor, you said… I don’t know. I just…”
           He groaned again, but it didn’t sound like pain this time. “You all right?” Moss asked.
“I think there’s a way to get in,” Jackson said. “I think it showed me how to do it. I think it wants me to come through. I think it wants me…”
           His voice faded, leaving what the Cobweb House wanted from him unspoken. Or perhaps that truncated statement was enough. A desire. A command. It wants me. 
“Come upstairs.”
           “Hey…” Moss began haltingly. “You’re not, I mean you wouldn’t…”
           “Shut up and go to sleep, Moss.”
           “Promise me. Promise me you won’t.”
           But Jackson only breathed in the dark. Maybe he was already asleep. Maybe Moss had spoken too softly. Or maybe he hadn’t really spoken at all. 
           A countdown to the end of August, to the start of school. A rocket launch, a bomb timer, an execution. X’s on a calendar in red. Doom in the air, with hints of sulfur, growing stronger and stronger with every box crossed off the grid. Moss could’ve almost forgotten about the Cobweb House. But it scratched in the back of his head, like many fingers in the dark, tapping a single insistent morse-code message.
           It did not storm Thursday evening, although it threatened. Boulder clouds crowded for space in the sky, and every so often their grumbling rolled down like the distant roar of a plane. But instead of rain, infernal heat settled across the neighborhood. It lay in drifts like yellow pollen—and the pollen had been bad that year, thick as snowfall in some places. Mostly it slowed the whole world to a honey-crawl; Moss prayed for rain, even if it would wreck the ball diamond until the puddles dried up in the outfield. He wished he could put out his tongue and pant like a dog. He wished marble-sized beads of sweat would stop rolling down his ribs from his armpits. 
           But mostly Moss wished this ominous feeling would lift. It wasn’t the heat—though it had boiled his belly, making him feel simultaneously full and achingly hungry. The clouds had cast everything in some new hue of shadow, not darkened but merely… changed. Like orange mornings in the springtime, or dull yellow fall evenings. Walking outside was like walking through a dynamo. The air held heavy charge: Moss felt pre-exploded, like microwave popcorn. 
           Whatever was going to happen, it would roll through fast. Soon—that night or sooner.
           Thursday night was games around the dining table. Uno, Golf, Yahtzee. Jackson’s face was a mask, even as he scooped up the dice for a double-or-nothing gamble on a high straight. The tablet was tucked between his leg and the armrest of his wheelchair. Nobody but Moss seemed to notice, and pretty soon he forgot all about it. 
           But at last the cards were swept away, the scores were tallied, the popcorn eaten, and the chocolate milk drunk. Jackson seemed to mount the stairs in a daze. He’d take one step, then drag his cast-leg up behind him, slower and slower with every step. Once he stopped altogether, swaying slightly, leaning against the railing like he’d fallen asleep on his feet. 
           “I’m just tired,” Jackson snapped. Moss almost believed him.
           Into bed and into dark oblivion—but for the hospital-white glow of Jackson’s tablet, lofted above his face like a dentist’s lamp. “What’re you looking at?” Moss asked. 
           “It’s just a livestream. The new Dark Souls game.”
           It was a lie; Moss let it sleep. 
           “I was thinking,” he said. “We should tell Kaity about the Cobweb House. Maybe show her the Google Maps. She lives next door to it too, she should know.”
           “Sure. Whatever.”
           Moss tried again: “She asked about your leg. How you were doing.”
           Jackson grunted, “She’s old enough to babysit you, you know.” But this carried no heat. Moss rolled over, staring at his own blank bedroom wall, where no trophies stood or ribbons hung. 
           “Well—good night,” he said. Or maybe he was already asleep.
           Moss knew the room was part of the dream. He’d dreamed it before: a small room like this, and featureless, with metal walls green and scabbed with rust. Every time he looked away from one wall, the other three would creep forward with a terrible scraping sound until he felt all four tap against his shoulders from every side. He knew it was a dream, and yet he squirmed, trying to angle his body so his lungs could still expand, so his ribs wouldn’t crack. 
           He knew it was a dream, but when the four walls suddenly withdrew half a foot, even in sleep he yelped because he knew somehow that each cold rust-covered surface was only waiting that split-second space of a breath to surge forward again in a single muscular squeeze…
           He thrashed away the tangle of sheets and blanket. Lightning exploded outside the window; in that shutter-bulb flash, he saw Jackson’s empty bed, his missing crutches. 
           He remembered the fence, the yard. The rows of staring windows. 
           Moss smushed his eyes with his hands, already swinging his bare feet off the bed. Down the stairs and through the kitchen—the dimmer switch lights under the cabinets cast the room in a waxy glow, like an old photograph, a half-real memory. His feet didn’t know this new house’s floors, their squeaking boards, hidden under rugs and carpets. But he padded to the sliding glass door at the back of the dining room and pressed his nose against it. 
           Rain slapped the glass; the backyard was dark wet emptiness. Moss opened the sliding door and a gasp of hot summer storm wind blew back his hair. He pushed through it, onto the brick stoop, and heaved the door shut at his back. 
           The storm was all around him. But despite the wind turning the rain to bullets, the world still felt like a diorama he’d stepped into by mistake. Too dark, too empty, too eerily artificial. The light from the back porch only carried a few feet across the glistening grass before it seemed to hit a wall. Beyond that, only the looming shadows of swaying bushes and trees and the dark solid monolith of the fence. 
           “Jackson…” Moss called into the torrent. “Jackson…”
           Gargle of wind and rain. Then: the creak of a loose board, from the Brecker’s fence. 
           Moss put one foot on the wet grass, then the other. Mud pushed up between his toes, clinging to his heels and under his nails. He felt forward blindly with hands outstretched; he flashed on Jackson’s dream, feeling along the fence. Every so often, lightning would burst overhead, lighting up the whole yard like a photo negative. Branches of trees seemed to lean down towards him in those brief flashes of daylight, but whenever the bark of thunder that followed shook the world, it always did so in darkness. Moss continued to call Jackson’s name. Nothing in the storm replied. Then he was at the fence, high and solid as any castle wall. 
           One board was loose, pulled away, lying in the grass.
           Moss crouched beside the gap. Rain ran down his forehead, plastering his hair around his eyes like wet seaweed. It was only one board-width, no wider than two hands laid side by side. And it was no darker beyond the hole than in his own backyard. But he peered through, searching for some flicker of movement to tell him this was where his stepbrother had gone, that he hadn’t simply stepped off the edge of the world. 
           He saw nothing. But a voice spoke above the downpour, just on the other side. 
           “Moss,” Jackson whispered urgently. “Moss.”
           Without thinking, Moss reached through the gap between the remaining boards. His hand closed on Jackson’s chin; his fingers almost pushed into his mouth. But then his stepbrother grabbed him by the wrist with both hands and pulled—and somehow he was pulling Moss through the aperture, and they were tumbling in a heap on the wet dead grass on the other side, and Moss was picking himself up and looking around—
           No Jackson. Nobody had pulled him through the fence. Nobody had called his name. 
           Above him, staring down through the driving rain, rose the Cobweb House. 
           Jackson’s account was half-true: the back of the house did have windows, but they were smattered haphazardly, like a breakout of zits. Lighting struck overhead; Moss could see spiderweb cracks in each, like cataracts. But the sliding door at the back of the house was unblemished. It led to a crumbling deck, rotted porch furniture, a rusting hollow grill with the hinged lid torn away like a broken jaw. 
           The glass door stood open, letting the rain pour through. When Moss started towards it, he pulled free from long wet strands of something that dropped back behind him in the grass. 
           They seemed to twitch as they fell away. It wasn’t cobwebs. Moss didn’t know what it was. 
           The steps up to the deck held Moss’s weight, though he could feel the rotted wood groaning and giving under his feet. He went slow, terrified of splinters—he imagined teeth closing on his bare foot, chewing away the skin beneath the arches. 
           But the wood was slick and smooth despite its age and didn’t bite. Now he found himself before the door. His heart quickened behind his ribs; he waited for lightning to strike, to light his path forward, to show him what waited in that great breathing darkness. But no lightning came. Even the wind had stopped. The rain on his face was a constant dull pressure. Turn back. Turn back. 
           Moss put one hand on the wood frame of the sliding door. Then he was inside. 
           The storm noise was gone. Shut off, like a radio station had changed. Now, only a dusty furnace hum filled the air. Moss had toured empty houses with his mother before she sold them; rooms without furniture always felt either too small or too huge. This one—a dining room, almost exactly like his, or what had once been a dining room—seemed to yawn around him. Like a cavern, a purely organic formation. Its slightly off-angle walls, peeling wallpaper, dusky chandelier hanging where a table should stand: all accidents of natural processes.
           But Moss knew somehow that if he touched that chandelier, or ran his fingers along that wall, he would not feel paper or iron or glass. His hand would come away wispy with feather-strands of cobweb, and whatever he had touched would unmake itself, unraveling to nothing.
           So Moss thrust his hands into his soaked pockets. A kitchen split off to his right, with linoleum peeling up along the walls. The cabinets were oak skeletons; missing drawers showed holes like the spaces between ribs. In front of him was an empty den. The ceiling was bruised with water damage, and one whole section gaped like a wound, revealing ceiling joists and oozing insulation. The floor under Moss’s feet was just subfloor, rotted nearly black and coated with dust that stuck to his bare heels. The heartbeat of the furnace hummed far below him. 
           Moss looked down. In the weak light, he spotted the blood-dark footprints his wet feet had left in the dust. There was another set beside these, threading a path through the den and around the corner. One foot bare, one foot blunt, and stiff as plastic. 
           “Jackson,” he called, his voice tiny inside the empty hugeness of the Cobweb House. 
           But no answer came. Only a cruel echo, writhing in the back of his mind:
“Come upstairs.”
           Don’t listen, he told himself. 
           But Jackson hadn’t wanted to squeeze through the fence in his dream. Neither had Moss; they’d both been pulled through. But they’d each heard the call, stood at the opening.
“Come upstairs.”
           Nobody had spoken. He wiped his wet face and kept walking. 
           Moving through the den, Moss passed a line of windows guarding the front of the house. On Google Maps, they had been uncovered, staring. Now they were shuttered, as though the house had closed its eyes. Asleep, anticipating, savoring. Moss imagined refreshing the page, seeing his own creeping form frozen behind the glass in the street view. Would he recognize himself? Or would he be just a shadow, a dark scattering of pixels, a blurry Loch Ness snapshot?
           The trail of footprints ended in the front hall before the door. The last print was just a circular heel mark, like Jackson had simply ceased mid-step. To his right was a coat closet with a bifold hinge bent just enough to show a crack of true black emptiness behind it. 
           Next to that: a slanted inverted throat. The front stairway. 
           Jackson’s footprints ended here, at the door. Maybe he had simply passed through, found his way home like he’d described in his dream. Circled to the front, rang his own doorbell, and been ushered back into the existing world, the visible world. Maybe he was asleep now, in dry clothes in his own bed. Moss could be there too, shaking free of that same dream. But the staircase seemed almost closer now, widening towards him, seeming to breathe him up inside it. Moss peered up through swaying cobwebs, his shaking hand barely brushed the railing…
           Then he flung himself at the front door, teeth clattering, fumbling desperately at the knob. It turned slowly, fighting years of rust— then it crumbled, becoming fine grit between his fingers, pulling away in clouds that set him coughing uncontrollably. And the door was collapsing away too in long dust-coated strands, until there was nothing but a blank plaster wall. His heart squeezed like a fist; his hands clawed the barrier, mouth open in a silent spitting hiss of terror—
           Cold wet flesh pressed over his mouth, his nose. Something slithered around his chest and tightened, pulling him down. He struggled and screamed but the wet dusty thing over his face swallowed away the noise, dragging him down and down, towards the rotted and sagging floor, huffing obscenely in his ear, so close he could feel its breath.
           “Shh!” begged Jackson. “Shh! Shh!”
           Moss kept struggling. But this was only inertia, and as his panic slowly cycled down, he fell slack, and the hands released him. Jackson, really Jackson, knelt on the floor in front of the open coat closet door, his cast-leg splayed out at an angle in the dust. He was in his sleep shorts and nothing else; the shirt he’d gone to bed in seemed to have been torn from his shoulders. Only the collar remained, looped like a seashell necklace at Jackson’s throat. 
           Moss nearly flung his arms around him then, and would have done so but for the yards and yards of thick gray cobwebs that covered his stepbrother’s body. They fell like hair from his arms, his shoulders, his cheeks. They fixed to the walls and floor, and when Jackson moved they tore away and fluttered, sticking again to the first surface they touched. 
           Some had even latched onto Moss; he tore them away with a yelp. 
           “Shh!” Jackson put a shaking hand over Moss’s mouth. 
           “Sorry.” Moss rocked back on his knees, trying not to stare. “Are you all right?”
           “All right,” Jackson said. 
           “Good. Good.” Moss peered around, looking for another door. But even the windows had vanished, or were too far away, or too dark to see, or had never existed. He chanced another look at his stepbrother. “Do you know a way out of here?”
           “Way out of here…” 
           Jackson’s mouth barely seemed to move. And in the no-light of the Cobweb House, his skin looked grayed out. Paper-thin, like it would tear at just a touch. 
           “Yeah,” said Moss uneasily. “A way out.”
           Jackson only stared, swaying slightly on his knees. “A way out. A way out.” Then he shook himself, looking at Moss as though for the very first time. 
           “Can’t find the door,” he murmured. “Can’t find… door. Up-stairs. The light, the light…”
           Moss glanced around frantically. “Light? What light? Jackson, what…”
           Jackson’s eyes darted around, mirroring Moss. “Can’t. Light. Find. Stairs…”
           Then he lunged, pushing up from his knees. His hands pawed at Moss’s face, tugging his ears, his eyelids, his lips, pushing down his cheeks. 
           “Moss! Moss!” he was saying, like a baby with his first word. Thick, gray drool poured down his chin—drool that seemed to squirm when the light touched it.“Muh! Muh! Muh!”
           “Jackson, stop!” Moss cried out. Without thinking he reared back and thrust his hands against his stepbrother’s shoulders, sending him toppling backwards into the dust. 
           Jackson lay still. Only his bubbling lips moved. “Muh. Muh. Muh.”
           Moss hadn’t noticed when the furnace thumped off. But he heard the heavy electric click of a light switch thrown at the top of the stairs. He froze; every muscle knotted against its bone. 
           Yellow light oozed down the steps, slow as a mudslide, pushing the cobwebs aside like it was a solid thing. A heavy footstep creaked, unseen; a throat coughed dust; lips smacked and spoke:
“Bless your hearts,
And bless your eyes,
Bless the threads
That catch the flies.
First he jiggles,
Then he wriggles,
Then he jerks and dies.”
           Then—a rushing, rubbing, rumbling noise. The sound of something too huge and too heavy sliding down the stairs on its distended grub-fat belly. Something that breathed like a whole house gasping at once, with hoarse lungs, gritty lungs, full of dust… 
           And Moss was scrambling to his feet, screaming Jackson’s name as he pushed himself up; he was running, he was trying to run; his stepbrother’s paper-thin, ghost-gray tendrils were tightening around his ankle; he was stumbling, twirling through space, through layers of cobwebs and hanging dust, towards the jutting railing-post at the bottom of the stairs, growing huger and huger across his vision. 
           Then all the lights in the world blasted on at once. 
           A world of gauze, a world of cotton. Close and muffled, like inside a sleeping bag. The new darkness seemed to draw tight across Moss one slender loop at a time. Too numb now to speak, too fog-headed even to crack his eyes. Warm. Warm and safe.
           “Muh. Muh. Muh.” Jackson’s voice, or his own. 
           Once and only once: the close-by flittering click of dozens of tiny eyes blinking all at the same time. The sharp tickle of many chitinous legs caressing his cheek. 
           Then the last loop tightened across his face. Thread, dusty sticky thread, slithering into his nose and his mouth, smothering a scream he had no breath inside him for, and then there was light returning, daylight, through the open window…
           …of his bedroom.
           Moss clawed his face in panic. But there was nothing covering his mouth, nothing stretched across his face—not even the blankets, which were heaped now below him on the oblong braided rug in the middle of the bedroom. Soft rainfall pattered against the window; news radio filtered up the stairs from the kitchen. It all arrived piece by piece, a shattered world reassembling itself, a fractal kaleidoscope image twisting and twisting into focus.
           Jackson had propped himself up on one elbow, staring across the room at Moss. “You awake?”
           And, when Moss nodded uncertainly: “Are we awake?”
           Moss felt his bare stomach and chest, half-expecting his hands to pass straight through. But the only real change he felt was a small lump beside his neck, like a large pimple, a raised abrasion that felt solid inside when he probed at it with his fingers.
           He nodded again. It could’ve been a mosquito bite. It could’ve been anything.
           They cobbled the story together between the two of them. A heart-racing escape. A hidden door, discovered at the last possible second. A blind terror-sprint across the grass through the battering rain, pursued by some unseen lumping, chittering horror. Drumming their fists against their own front door—or simply finding it unlocked, slipping inside, unseen, slinking upstairs. Dragging their bodies into bed, completely spent of energy, plunging into dreamless sleep before their heads even touched their pillows.
           “It had to be,” they told each other over and over. “It had to be, it had to be.”
           Then they rubbed their eyes and went downstairs.
           Friday morning. Pancakes with butter melting between the layers in the stack; orange juice without the pulp; links of sausages seared black on one side, oozing with grease. Friday morning comic strips from the newspaper; Moss’s mom reading aloud from Ask Amy before Jackson’s dad kissed her cheek and slipped out the front door in his hat and raincoat. NPR burbling from the radio. Steam rising up off the street, warm soft rain that never seemed to stop.
           Time skip-hopped forward, like Jackson wobbling on his crutches. Friday morning bled into Saturday afternoon, became Sunday evening sweetness. Summer, circling the drain at last—but there was no doom in the air now. Only numbness, stillness, quiet. Only the inward pressure of the strange gray light flexing just outside the windows, and the steady hiss of the rain.
           Jackson was on the couch, lying against a pillow with his tablet balanced against his knees, completely absorbed by a livestream. Moss stood at the den window, leaning on the sill. Under the ledge of the soffit, out of reach of the rain, a garden spider was rebuilding a part of her damaged web. It made a clumsy ballet, straddling the ragged gap torn by a fallen leaf while her back legs fluttered in a stop-motion blur, spinning out a line of near-invisible silk. Sometimes she seemed to lose her grip entirely, but her thread would always catch her, jerking her back just in time before she plunged into the bushes.
           In the opposite corner of the web hung a cluster of tiny white pills: flies or little beetles, pumped full of venom and cocooned in tight silk. Every time the spider plucked a thread, the whole web quivered; Moss was sure the flies would get unstuck and flung off, or squirm at least, roused from their stupors. But the little bundles never even twitched.
           Out in the street, Moss caught sight of Kaity’s long white legs under a dark blue slicker, kicking barefoot through puddles in the gutter in front of their house. As if she sensed his stare, she turned and put up a beckoning hand. Through the rain, her smiling face had no color in it.
           Moss turned with a jerk, looking for Jackson in the gray gloom. “Yeah?”
           His stepbrother stared glassily across the room. He’d heaved to his feet, leaving the tablet face-down on the sofa—standing with his hands in his shorts pockets on two good legs.
           “You wanna hit the ball diamond tomorrow?” he asked. “I mean if this dries up.”
           Moss turned quickly back to the window. Kaity had vanished into the rain somewhere, and the spider had finished her repairs. Now she was stepping with precise, jerky grace towards her well-stocked larder in the corner of her web. Moss wondered if the flies dreamed after the venom took them. He wondered if the spider knew the flies were dreaming, if she could guess what those dreams might be. He imagined her whispering to them, rocking them in their slumber, stroking tickling forelegs across their fat little bodies.
“First he jiggles—then he wriggles…”
          “What do you think?” Jackson asked, somewhere behind him. Moss didn’t know what to think.
           Kaity met him on the porch. Her hair was bundled up in a pink towel, a wobbling bulge on the top of her head. She had a sweatshirt tied around her waist and a blue half-eaten ice-pop dangling from her teeth. She looked Moss up and down: his dripping hair, his hunched shoulders, his darting eyes. “You coming inside like that?” was all she said. 
           Moss looked past her into the dark empty house and shook his head hard. 
           Kaity shrugged. “Fine. On the porch, then.”
           She brushed past him, leading him to a hanging loveseat. She sat down heavily, rocking it back against the porch rail. The limp ice-pop came out of her mouth, dangling between her fingers like a cigarette. She thumped the floral cushion beside her and looked at Moss expectantly. 
           “All right, spooky,” she said. “Tell me about it.”
           It didn’t take much telling, really. It all came out in a rush, like the first gasps of water spurting from a rubber garden hose. But by the time he’d nearly finished, Moss was trembling all over, embarrassingly close to crying. “And Jackson’s cast is gone somehow,” he was saying, “and he’s not acting, I mean, he’s not talking like himself. And the rain isn’t stopping. And the light is…”
           He broke off; beside him on the swing, Kaity hid her mouth behind her hand. 
           “You’re scared of rain?” she said. 
           But there was no real mockery in her voice, no malice. Moss shrugged uneasily. 
           “I’m just scared, I guess. Not of the rain, not of anything. I’m only…”
           His thoughts flashed suddenly to the bottom of the staircase in Cobweb House; to Jackson, curled on the floor, staring waxy-eyed out of the dust and covered in gray grasping threads. It seemed like a faraway dream—and yet it seemed so real, so repulsively solid. And without warning he was crying now, unable to stop himself, unable to hold it back any longer. 
           “I’m just scared,” he repeated, between sobs. It was all he could say.
           He thought Kaity would laugh, waited to hear it starting in the hitch of her breath. But when he rubbed his eyes, she’d turned away from him, watching the rain whisper against the street. 
           “I didn’t mean to scare you,” she murmured. “I didn’t want that.”
           Moss paused. Her voice had rung strange, like the melancholy call of a distant bell. But when Kaity turned back toward him, she was grinning again, that special secret grin, shaking her hair loose of the towel and laying it aside.
           “I made all that stuff up about the house. You know that, don’t you? It was a goof.”
           “But Jackson’s leg. His cast.”
           Kaity looked at him seriously. “They took Jackson’s cast off yesterday. Remember?”
           Moss blinked. “Yesterday?”
           “Sure,” she said carelessly. “Yesterday. You told me yourself.”
           Moss just stared at her. Kaity shrugged and scooted across the loveseat, throwing one arm across his shaking shoulders. “Look, spooky,” she said, smirking. “I hate to break bad news. But you realize you’re probably completely crazy, right?”
           He sniffed and coughed, an ugly little sound. “You think I’m being a baby.”
           Kaity rolled her eyes. “I’m not that much older than you. Besides,” she said. “Even if I didn’t make that stuff up, the house probably… I don’t know. Moved on, right?” She looked at him sidelong, her glare sparkling. “Who’d wait around for a skinny thing like you?”
           She drove hooked fingers under his ribs; he squirmed away shrieking. But when she stopped her assault, to Moss’s surprise she didn’t move back to her side of the swing. She turned to watch the rain again, leaving her arm just touching his, her boney shoulder almost pressed against him.
           “I really didn’t want to scare you,” she repeated. 
           Moss hardly dared breathe. So he followed Kaity’s gaze—across the soaked lawn, at the space between their houses. That space was a gray empty hole in the air. Sheets of rain shimmered on the wind. There was nothing there. There’d never been anything there. 
           If he stared hard enough, he could make it so. 
           Kaity’s sharp elbow nudged his arm. “You believe me, don’t you?”
           He nodded dumbly. Something had tickled across his nose: a loose strand of Kaity’s hair, maybe, or a wispy dangling thread. But he brushed it away. You could dream a whole evening, a whole summer, a whole life before they called ball game. Moss hoped he’d have at least that long.
About the author:
          Jacob Steven Mohr does not believe in human consciousness; his works emerge as though from the ether, fully formed and fully ominous. Selections of these can be observed in Cosmic Horror Monthly, Shortwave Magazine, Chthonic Matter Quarterly, Weird Horror Magazine, and The Best Horror of the Year Vol. 15. He exists in Columbus OH. Follow him everywhere @jacobstevenmohr. 

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