Image shows a pencil sketch of a robot standing.
Eduardo Suré; Sketch of a Robot, 2018; Graphite

In 2043, Hurricane Angela battered New Orleans. Even the dead suffered. The storm raised the water table so high that air tight coffins popped out of the ground. Concrete vaults weighing tons floated away from cemeteries like haunted ships. Dead bodies made their way into neighborhoods and were found spread out on lawns and entangled in trees when the flood waters receded.

To spare the living from the horror and for public health, robots were deployed to recover the dead. The robots were incredibly capable at recovering bodies and coffins. They were gentle enough to keep the remains intact, but powerful enough to recover vaults. They solved problems on their own, such as how to retrieve a body from a tree and how to carry a large awkwardly shaped coffin back to its place in the cemetery without damaging it or other tombs along the way.

As one of the robots carried a concrete vault, half of it broke. Part of the vault that was not held by the robot fell and hit the control pack mounted on the robot’s back. The strike caused a crack in the metal and allowed water to leak into the pack. The moisture damaged the robot’s hardware. Detecting the damage, the robot’s trouble shooting subsystem sent a message to the operations control center to notify them that it required repair.

The contractor sent two technicians to repair the unit. Because of the weight of the robots, two people were required to lift them. Therefore, the company always sent two technicians into the field.

“Let’s split up,” Ruth said as Larry put their company maintenance vehicle in park. “I’ll do a quick check of the tombs Unit 219 has serviced since the call. Then, I’ll go find you.”

“As long as it’s quick,” Larry said. “I don’t want to do all of the repairs just to have you show up at the end to sign the maintenance log.”

“I’m not you,” Ruth joked.

Larry walked alone through the above-ground tombs. Some were the size of garden sheds and stood alone surrounded by iron fences. Others were long sun-bleached walls of stone where people were filed away in their final resting place. The city of dead was quiet and the wueee-hueee-wueee-hueee-wueee from the robot’s movement was audible in the distance.

Having heard the robot, Larry walked in the direction of the sounds it made. The echoes off the stone caused him to take a few wrong turns, but he soon saw the back of the robot as it walked in a direction away from him as it worked.

Larry had to jog to close the distance between them, and he was out of breath when he caught up to the robot. He was not used to running and the added weight from his standard tool bag made it additionally difficult for him.

Larry saw the damage to the robot’s control box, pulled out his tablet, and tried to shut Unit 219 down; but the robot would not receive the signal. Therefore, he would need to shut down the robot manually. That required him to walk up to the robot, insert a metal key in its control box, and turn it to the off position. Robots could identify company maintainers, so Unit 219 would stop moving once it saw Larry.

Larry retrieved his key from his tool bag and walked to the robot. The robot continued to work. He placed the key inside the control box, turned it to the off position, but the robot did not begin to shut down. Instead, it turned toward Larry, grabbed him firmly, and stuffed him into a body bag. As the robot zipped the bag up, Larry shouted for it to stop; but it did not. The robot took Larry and placed him on a pile of other occupied human remains pouches. Its software ran a feature recognition and identification algorithm to determine in which tomb it should put Larry.

Larry struggled in the bag to move his arms and take his phone out of his pocket. He unlocked it with his thumbprint, opened the calling application, and selected Ruth from his favorites. There was no signal, so the call failed. He tried again, and failed again.

Larry could tell he was running out of air in the bag. He fumbled around in his pockets to find a small knife he always carried. After he found it, he contorted his arms to pull the knife out of his pocket and open it. Then, he quietly cut a slit in the body bag so he could breathe.

Larry tried to call Ruth again. The phone’s virtual assistant said, “Sorry, we are not connected to a network. I see you have tried to call several times. Please record a message, and I will send it when we have a network connection. Say ‘record’ to record, or ‘cancel’ to cancel the call.”

“Record,” Larry said.

“I’m sorry, I did not understand that,” the virtual assistant said.

“RE-cord!” Larry shouted.

“Please begin to speak after the tone,” the virtual assistant said.

After a tone; Larry said, “Ruth, Unit 219 forced me into a body bag. I don’t think it can tell the difference between a living person and a corpse. I couldn’t connect to it from my tablet to shut it down. It grabbed me when I tried to shut it down manually. Leave the site, call headquarters, and ask them to disable it.” He hit send.

Ruth had inspected the tombs and had found that Unit 219 had been performing his tasks as programmed. She walked through the city of tombs and looked for Larry. Abruptly, she stopped walking as if to listen. There was a faint sound in the distance: wueee-hueee-wueee-hueee-wueee. She began walking again in the direction of the source of the sound and it became louder.

When Ruth turned the corner, she saw Unit 219 placing a human remains pouch in a tomb. A puzzled look appeared on her face. The robot was dirty, and units are usually cleaned as a part of service and maintenance.

“Larry!” Ruth called out. “Larry?” Unit 219 sealed the tomb and turned toward her after she yelled. Ruth observed the robot as it looked at her. “That’s an extra-long scan, Unit 219. Aren’t you going to say, ‘hello’?” Her phone began to ring. She reached into her pocket, but then the robot began walking toward her. “Stop immediately, Unit 219!” The robot did not stop.

Ruth’s eyes opened wide as she guessed what the robot was going to do to her. She could not outrun it, so she thrust her hand into her tool bag and pulled out a short cylinder. It was the size of a hockey puck and had three buttons which she pressed at the same time. While holding down the buttons with her fingers, she gripped the device firmly as Unit 219 closed the distance between them.

Unit 219 stopped within reach. It extended its arms to grab Ruth. She dodged the robots gripping hand and struck it in the chest with the device. It stuck. When she unclutched the device, it released a powerful electromagnetic pulse and shut the robot down.

Larry ripped the body bag open and crawled out. While dusting himself off he said, “I thought he almost had you.”

“Yeah, Larry. Thanks for the warning,” Ruth said as she recovered her tool bag from the ground.

“I did call you,” Larry said.

“You just hush, and help me disconnect the power before the unit reboots,” Ruth said.


Running Storm

This image is a pencil drawing of a fallen tree.
Eduardo Suré; Sketch of Fallen Tree, 2018; Graphite

Mr. Robinson is content as he hears his three grandchildren’s shoes crunch behind him on the gravely trail. The four hikers are quiet as they pass peach-colored mountains and waterfalls under the cool shade of cottonwood trees. Mr. Robinson leads the group. Jonathan, who is ten, follows at his heels. Anna, the youngest, is next. Shirley, who is sixteen and the oldest, is at the rear. The group is very tired after hiking nine miles into the backcountry. No one had complained during the long hike, so Mr. Robinson is very proud of his grandchildren. They know it is almost time to set up camp and they look about for a comfortable spot as they walk. On their left, they see a clearing of high flat ground surrounded by trees. A stream has cut into the land over the years forming a beautiful valley next to it.

“Let’s camp there, Grandpa,” Jonathan says with excitement.

“I’m sorry, Jon,” Mr. Robinson is apologetic. “We can’t camp there.”

“Why not?” Jonathan asks. “The ground looks level and soft. It’s high ground and we wouldn’t be under any trees.”

“Sorry, Jon,” Mr. Robinson replies calmly. “It’s just not a good spot.”

Jonathan is upset that his grandfather did not agree with his suggestion. Being the middle child, he feels like his opinions are always inferior to Shirley’s or secondary to whatever Anna’s needs are at the time. He had given good reasons for camping at that site, but his grandfather had not provided reasons against it. He had only said it was not a good spot. Jonathan had been taught by his parents to only insist once, but then follow an adult’s instructions. However, he feels badly because his grandfather ordinarily agrees with him more than his parents.

Mr. Robinson notices the weight of the silence as they walk. He suspects that Jonathan is upset that he shot down his suggestion without an adequate explanation. He is eager to make the group cheerful again.

“Sorry we didn’t set up camp where you suggested, Jon,” Mr. Robinson says. “Once we are out of sight of that ground, I can explain why. Is that OK?”

“OK, grandpa,” Jonathan says.

As they hike, Mr. Robinson treats the ground Jon pointed out as if it were a person on the street he’d caught intending to harm them. He frequently looks behind the group toward it and makes everyone nervous. As it begins to fade out of sight in the distance behind them, he checks one last time as if to ensure it is not following them.

“Shirley, let’s switch places for a little while,” Mr. Robinson says. “You lead, and I’ll walk behind you guys so you can hear me.”

“OK, grandpa,” Shirley says as she jogs past everyone to get to the front of the group.

Mr. Robinson waits for the children to walk by him. Once behind them he says, “Before there were horses in America, native people walked wherever they went. They carried everything they needed, just like we are doing.”

“Like homeless people, grandpa?” Anna asks.

“Shut up and listen, Anna,” Jonathan snaps.

Mr. Robinson continued, “Back then, there was a warrior named Running Storm. He was the best hunter in his tribe. He was known for running after game until it was too exhausted to go on. He was also fierce in battle and, being the fastest runner, was the first to engage the enemy.”

“What is game?” Anna asks.

“Wild animals people hunt for food,” Shirley answers.

“One day, Running Storm and the other men in the clan left to hunt,” Mr. Robinson continues. “The women and children stayed behind at camp. There was nothing extraordinary about the hunt that day. They were successful and began to make their way back to camp with their trophies. As they neared their camp, they saw from their distance that something was wrong. There were too many people moving around the camp. Their movement was erratic. The camp was being attacked. The men dropped the animals and ran to camp as fast as they could. Running Storm led the charge. The men soon arrived at the camp and defeated the attackers, but they were too late to save their families.”

“Oh no!” Anna shouts.

“As you might imagine, the men were devastated,” Mr. Robinson says. “Running Storm’s sorrow was exceptionally great. His grief was so abundant, the Spirits took notice of it. And when he cried out that he wished he had been as fast as the wind so that he would have saved his family, the Spirits granted his wish: they turned him into wind.”

“Jerk Spirits! That was so Monkey’s Paw!” Shirley comments.

Mr. Robinson continues, “Running Storm could not protect his family in life. So in death, he fiercely protects his family’s burial ground.”

“Is it where I wanted us to camp?” Jonathan asks.

“Yes,” Mr. Robinson replies.

“I’m not scared by ghost stories, Grandpa,” Jonathan declares.

“It’s not just about a ghost story,” Mr. Robinson says. “The Ranger asks park visitors not to camp there. Not too long ago, a man hiked into this backcountry alone. He saw the beautiful place we saw and, like you, thought it would be a great place to camp for the night. As he would try to set up his tent, the wind would blow it away. He gave up on it and set up to sleep under the stars. He tried to have dinner before going to bed, but he could not start a campfire because the wind would blow it out. He gave up a hot meal and, after having some trail mix, tucked himself into his sleeping bag. During that summer night, he got so cold that he thought he was going to freeze to death. He finally had the good sense to leave. He was too cold to pack, so he left anything he couldn’t use as a coat behind. When he was rescued, he told the Rangers what happened. The Rangers don’t tell everyone that story, they just mark it as a hazardous area on the maps.”

Jonathan is satisfied by his grandfather’s story. True or not, he had gone through the trouble of explaining why he had shot down his suggestion. He forgives his grandfather.

The family soon sets up camp at another location. It is not as beautiful as the one they had seen, but it is beautiful indeed. After setting up camp, Mr. Robinson and Jonathan retire to one tent; and Shirley and Anna sleep in another. Later that night, a big tree that had rotted to the core falls toward their tents. A powerful gust of wind blows suddenly and changes where the tree kands. The crash as the tree hits the ground wakes everyone. They exit their tents.

“That was lucky,” Jonathan says. “Just few yards to the left and the tree would have killed all of us.”


Fire Bear

fire bear - 2018
Eduardo Suré; Fire Bear Sketch, 2018; Graphite

Dr. Amy Garcia planned to work off the anger that night. She thought it was the most productive thing she could do. It was better than going home, being alone, and eating junk until her stomach hurt. She would take the energy generated by her terrible feelings, put it toward lab work, and maybe even advance knowledge in biology.

Dr. Garcia went to a wall in the lab to retrieve her protective clothing and equipment. As she gathered it, it began to drain the energy out of her. The company logo was all over the safety gear she had to wear. She had worked at Animalia Labs for so long, that her personal brand and reputation were intertwined with the company’s. She may as well have been tattooed with their logo too. It was one of the reasons she was so angry that night to hear that she was passed over for a promotion. She took a deep breath and, with great effort and resentment, she tied back her hair, jerked on a lab apron, and snapped on her safety goggles.

Dr. Garcia prepared a workstation with a live materials observation container and a special microscope. As she prepared it for the tiny creature she was going to study, she thought about all the ways she was a better choice for management than the man their senior executive picked. She had definitely put her time in at the lab. She had worked through lunch, had stayed late, and had gone into the lab on weekends to finish special projects. She was an internationally recognized biologist, but Dr. Stephen Martinez had not accomplished anything significant in the field.

Dr. Garcia’s thoughts were on the unfairness of her current situation, not on proper laboratory procedures. To her distracted mind, everything around her workstation appeared setup correctly. She glanced over the live materials observation container, microscope, and measurement equipment before leaving the workstation to retrieve a specimen. She had actually neglected a few safeguards, but that would not be the worst of her problems.

Dr. Garcia retrieved an unknown species of tardigrade from another room. Tardigrades, also known as Water Bears, were extremely tough. The animals could survive extreme cold, heat, radiation, and even the vacuum of space. They were tiny and, when seen under a microscope, looked like grubs with many legs, claws, and round horrible mouths. She was going to record some physical descriptions and run some routine tests on the specimen.

As Dr. Garcia worked, it was clear she was not herself. She was angry and her mind was on her past and future at the lab. Subconsciously, she took out her frustrations on the tardigrade. She exposed it to higher extremes than the species was known to tolerate. Yet, the specimen survived.

In her growing rage, Dr. Garcia saw the animal as a symbol of the company. She went from subconsciously trying to hurt it to trying to hurt it on purpose. The animal bore the extremes until she tested its heat tolerance. Many tardigrades were known to tolerate heat as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit. She exceeded that in her testing. She turned up the temperature little by little at first. As the animal survived, it challenged her frustration and she raised the temperature higher and higher in response. The tardigrade refused to die.

When Dr. Garcia saw the temperature displayed on her lab equipment, she realized how unethically she had behaved. She stopped turning up the heat and examined the specimen. She expected it to be dead. She saw the tardigrade sustain a smoldering reaction. The slow, low-temperature, flameless combustion did not surprise her: what surprised her was that the tardigrade moved.

Dr. Garcia felt terribly about what she had done. She thought the animal was suffering, and she was going to end it. She reached for the thermal control to quickly incinerate the animal; but, before she touched it, a display showing the tardigrade’s temperature began to go up. The animal was self-heating.

Dr. Garcia watched the tardigrade change to a deep red and began to panic. As if sensing her state, the tardigrade’s self-heat rapidly accelerated. The doctor never expected to observe thermal runaway in a living creature; but it was happening. Then, the tardigrade ignited.

Dr. Garcia froze with shock. The flame from the tardigrade grew quickly. She felt the heat from it hit her face and she winced. That is when she unfroze and ran to the nearest fire extinguisher. She stopped momentarily to review the label on the extinguisher and determine whether she could use it on the equipment she was using. She quickly glanced back at the specimen. It was moving out of the container.

The tardigrade took flight like a wasp on fire. Dr. Garcia abandoned the extinguisher. She swung the lab door open, flew through the doorway, and slammed the lab door closed behind her. She thought she was out of danger.

Dr. Garcia looked into the lab through the door’s tempered glass window. She looked around for the creature and could not spot it. Suddenly, the flaming tardigrade landed on the glass. The doctor jumped back and yelled. The tardigrade stuck to the glass and rapidly accelerated to a higher temperature. The glass began to melt.

Dr. Garcia took another step back and watched in disbelief. When the tardigrade began to crawl through a hole in the glass, the doctor ran away down the hall.

As Dr. Garcia ran, an idea lit up her mind. There were marine life units in the facility. If she jumped into a tank and the tardigrade followed, it might be extinguished.

Dr. Garcia followed the signs to the marine lab as she ran through the halls. Her lab coat flew behind her like a cape. She slid as she went around corners. She thought she heard buzzing as if a bumble bee was behind her, but she did not dare stop to look back. She only stopped when she arrived at the door leading into the marine labs. It was locked.

Dr. Garcia turned the doorknob and shook it violently, but the door was solid and would not open. She looked back, and the flaming, flying tardigrade had followed her. The flames around it grew as if it was preparing to torch her.

The doctor was suddenly aware of the necklace hanging from her neck that displayed her badge which also served as a key card. She slammed her badge against the key pad. It unlocked the door. She jerked the door open and fled through. She did not have an opportunity to close the door, and the flaming tardigrade flew through it.

The tardigrade followed Dr. Garcia as she ran through marine life offices. She ran through a lab. She ran through a room with small marine specimens in tanks. She ran through some double doors, felt cold air, and stopped. She saw a pool.

Dr. Garcia did not know if the poolwas empty, if it held dolphins, or sharks; but she jumped in. It was deep enough that the doctor did not touch the bottom. She swam up and looked toward the light emitted by the animal on fire. The tardigrade hovered over the edge of the pool as if deciding what to do.

The doctor noticed that part of the pool was as under a roof, but the other part was open to the night sky. The tardigrade flew over her head and the pool and left the facility. Dr. Garcia watched it go and thought to herself, ‘What have I done?’


Corrupted Water

sketch of water monster - 2018 - 4x3
Eduardo Suré; Sketch of a Water Monster, 2018; Graphite

Deputy Nicholas Martin found himself repeatedly dialing up the air conditioning of his county government SUV. He placed his palm over a vent to verify cold air was coming out. The daytime temperatures had been high, and he had looked forward to a cool desert night; but it was hot. The air conditioning in the deputy’s personal truck did not work, so he appreciated being able to drive around in a cool vehicle. He was especially glad to be able to drive around during that hot night with the windows rolled up and keep the dust and bugs from the farm roads outside where they belonged.

The deputy was rarely in this part of the county. He found himself becoming anxious in the darkness, on an endless dirt road, surrounded by vast fields of cotton. On most nights, the sky was full of stars and he felt like he was with somebody or like someone was keeping an eye on him. It did not feel that way tonight. He felt as if he was in an abandoned warehouse, with the lights out, and did not know the direction of the doors.

The deputy tried to remember the name of the farmer who had called. He did not recall meeting him in all the years he had worked as a deputy. The records showed that Farmer Eric Thompson lived alone and was an older man. He probably worked hard all the time and kept to himself like most people in the county.

The deputy saw a single light beam in the distance among the cotton. After driving further down the dirt road, he saw a figure in the darkness. It stood with its back bent, crooked limbs, and the long shadows cast behind it from the SUV’s headlights made it look sinister. It was an older man, and he was signaling the deputy to stop. He held a flashlight and knew enough to keep it pointed down so as not to blind the deputy. The deputy slowed down and pulled up next to the man.

“Are you Mr. Eric Thompson?” the Deputy asked.

“Yes, sir,” the farmer replied simply. His face was apologetic, and he was no longer an evil figure menacing the deputy from the darkness. “I called about someone wreckin’ my crops. I can show you.” Before the deputy could reply, the farmer was walking down the dirt road ahead of him.

The deputy did not like the farmer taking the lead, so he waited in his SUV. He hoped the farmer would return after noticing he was not following, but he did not. He continued to walk away and was nearly out of sight; so, the deputy drove after him.

Farmer Thompson walked surprisingly fast. The deputy guessed that working alone all that time, he never had to wait for anyone and moved as fast as he could. Without any indication as to why, the farmer stopped walking and looked out into the cotton fields. The deputy parked his SUV, got out, and walked hurriedly to the farmer as if to catch him before he wandered off again.

“Where’s the trouble, Mr. Thompson?” the deputy asked trying to keep him in one place with the question.

“Look out there,” the farmer replied pointing with his flashlight. “Do you see how the cotton plants are smashed? Makes me so mad. I needed every one of ‘em to repay my loans and stay in the black this year.”

“It looks as if someone drove a steam roller over them,” the deputy said. “How far back does that path go?”

“All the way to the river,” the farmer answered.

“It’s an odd track,” the deputy said. “Could someone have drug a flat-bottom boat through your fields to the river? Maybe a jon boat?”

“Probably not,” the farmer replied. “See how the mounds and the plants are crushed in a direction away from the river? I don’t think anyone’d come from the river anyway. No one goes in there since WorldChem Co. built upriver. I’m surprised my cotton grows after all the chemicals they dump in there.”

“They don’t dump in the river,” the deputy said.

“Not while the government is looking they don’t,” the farmer answered. “The government can’t test for everything; especially not the new stuff.”

Deputy Martin moved his eyes over the long path of flattened cotton plants. It began beyond the reach of his flashlight’s beam. He turned to look behind them to see where it led. In the distance, he saw pecan trees. It looked like the track led to them. He did not want to go into the forest-like darkness of the pecan crop; he easily imagined himself lost among the identical trees.

“Do you know where this ends?” the deputy asked.

“Nope,” answered the farmer, “but they appear to lead to my crop of pecans.”

The deputy and the farmer followed the path to the pecan trees. They followed the track into the wood. As he had feared, everything looked the same in the dark – especially with the crop of pecan trees planted so evenly spaced. He was grateful to have the farmer as a guide and a track to follow back out.

To help himself calm, the deputy looked back at the farmer and said, “It’s easy to get lost in here, isn’t it?” When the deputy looked at the farmer, he saw the farmer frozen as if scared.

“Did you see that!” the farmer whispered loudly.

The deputy turned to look in the direction of the farmer’s frightened eyes. He aimed the beam of his flashlight around trying to spot what the farmer had seen. Every tree made a shadow which moved as the flashlight passed over it. “What did it look like?” the deputy asked.

“It looked like a big blob of water,” the farmer answered. “It was the size of a tractor. Translucent, but cloudy. Kind a’ brown.”

The deputy thought the farmer might be tired. “Let’s go back to my truck so I can write this down before I forget the details,” the deputy said.

The two men followed the track out of the trees and walked quickly through the cotton. Once they were back on the dirt road, they saw the vehicle. The farmer followed the deputy back to his government vehicle. The deputy invited the farmer to sit inside. He set up his computer and asked questions for the form he had to fill out. The farmer did not have his identification with him for the deputy to scan; so the deputy had to manually enter his full name, date of birth, and address.

It quickly became hot in the SUV. Wanting relief from the heat, the deputy turned the vehicle on. The headlights illuminated automatically. As he looked up and out of the windshield at the vast cotton fields wondering what he should include and exclude from the report, he saw a large brown figure cross the beams of the SUV’s headlights.

“Did you say you saw a big brown blob?” the deputy asked.

“Yes, sir,” the farmer answered. “Why?”

“I think I just saw it,” the deputy replied and, without warning, something slammed into the side of the SUV. The deputy saw the fields outside spin as the vehicle rolled. Neither he nor the farmer had buckled up: they tumbled around, hit the insides of the SUV, and knocked into each other.

When the SUV stopped rolling, the farmer let out a yelp. “My back ain’t gonna be right after that.” The deputy was glad the farmer was conscious. The SUV was on its side. The passenger door was against the ground. To get out, they would need to break the windshield or climb up and out through the driver’s door.

The deputy reached out for the radio receiver. He placed it near his mouth, pushed a button, and said, “Code one. Deputy needs assistance.” When the operator responded, the deputy was speechless. The creature had moved into the path of the SUV’s headlights. He saw it clearly. It looked like an enormous, shapeless, and muddy blob of water had not flattened after falling on the ground. It was clear from its appearance that there was something wrong with the water. It was impure. It was beyond contaminated. It was corrupt.

It appeared to the deputy that the monster was aware of the two men. It looked back at the deputy and studied him. It began to move toward the SUV. It seemed to flatten the ground as it moved slowly over it. It flowed deliberately. When it reached the hood, its dirty water began to sweep over it. The water went over the top. It poured down the sides. As it began to spill inside of the SUV through cracks, the deputy pushed the button on the radio and said, “Make that a code 10. Send everyone.”


The Haunted Shed

Eduardo Suré; Shed, 2017; Watercolor on Paper
My youngest son was excited to go out for a walk with his two older brothers alone for the first time. I gave my boys the conditions of that Saturday afternoon’s freedom as they scrambled to put on their winter coats, boots, gloves, and hats. They were to stay together, be home before sunset, and stay away from the shed if for any reason they were still out in the woods after dark.

My middle child froze for a moment and then scanned his older brother’s face to see if he caught him being scared. He had not. My oldest boy was lacing his boots and, without looking up, agreed aloud with an OK whose pitch ascended on the O and descended on the K. My youngest son looked up to at me with apprehension and asked why they should stay away from the shed.

I had not told him the story before, so I told him while he bundled up. A long time ago, all of the land around us as far as we could see belonged to one family. The farmer intended to cultivate all of the land; but his wife died giving birth to their second daughter, Anna. The farmer had more to do with less help than he had planned, so he only used a small portion of the land for crops and the rest of it remained a forest.

One January, after a few years had passed and Anna was about preschool age, a warm front moved in and chased the freezing air away. It was beautiful outside that day. Mary, the oldest girl, and Anna had been kept inside of the house by freezing temperatures for more than a month already that winter. They expected to be trapped inside the house for many more cold months, so they were excited to get out of it. Mary prepared a picnic basket and Anna prepared her doll.

That afternoon, the girls left the house for their picnic without telling their father. They walked past the fields and into the woods to eat their dinner among the trees. Since the day was so warm, the top of the ground had thawed and become muddy. They did not want to set their blanket down on mud. Mary told Anna that they would picnic by the creek where they could lay their blanket over large flat stones.

The girls guessed at the general direction of the creek and hiked through the leaves and mud on the forest floor to it. They eventually found the creek, but the section of the creek at which they first arrived was not rocky or dry. So, they walked along the side of the creek until they found a good dry spot. They set up their blanket, had dinner, and played by the creek for a while.

Mary noticed that it was getting dark. She gathered up their belongings as Anna told her doll about the animals found near the creek. Once she packed everything, she grabbed her little sister’s hand and scanned the woods for a path. She did not see one. She pulled her sister along the shore of the creek hoping to find a path back into the woods, but did not find one. Holding her little sister’s hand harder than she intended, Mary walked briskly up and down the edge of the woods trying to find a familiar landmark. Everything was unfamiliar to her. The girls were lost.

As Mary thought hard about what they should do, the sun set. The temperature dropped. The beautiful day that had welcomed them outdoors was abandoning them there. The wind started to blow. Mary guessed at the general direction of their home, took Anna’s cold little hand, and led them into the woods.

It was darker in the woods than at the creek. The sun was gone. The temperature’s drop accelerated. Despite their brisk pace, Mary and Anna were cold. The wind bit at their exposed skin. They began to trip over roots and other things they could not see on the forest floor.

The girls found a shed and went inside to get shelter from the wind. Anna shivered violently and began to cry. Mary cried too, but kept quiet. Anna thought they were close to home because of the shed, but Mary did not recognize it. Anna became desperate and tried to leave to find the way home. Mary had to pull her back into the shed and hold her tightly so she could not get out again. When Anna calmed down, Mary gave her whatever spare clothes she had on to help keep her warm. Thinking only of Anna, Mary wrapped her in the picnic blanket and held her tightly to both keep her warm and keep her from leaving the shelter of the shed.

A search party found the girls the next morning. Anna needed medical attention, but survived. Mary did not make it.

The story about the girls, as everyone tells it, was based on the way the sheriff had reconstructed and documented what happened.

The people who lived near the shed learned more. They found out that Mary’s ghost haunted the shed. On windy days, the doors swung back and forth; but on windy nights, they closed tightly on their own. Children avoided walking by the shed when it was cold and dark. Mary grabbed those that did not as they walk by, pulled them in, and held them inside of it all night like she held Anna.

The End