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  • Writer's pictureFrank Romans


a campfire story

I don't remember exactly when it began. It sort of sneaked up on me. One day, I'm minding my own business, focused on my story, trying to beat a self-imposed deadline, and he was there.

Let me back up a bit. My name is Harry Miller, and I'm a writer and novelist. At least, that's what I tell myself. Mostly, I have a stack of rejections.

Have you ever felt like you were changing? I mean inside, and not in a good way. Well, that was me in the beginning. It was as if I was slowly turning into a monster, with all kinds of crazy thoughts. Mind you, I'm not crazy. No matter what you hear, I am telling it exactly the way it was.

Anyway, you know how your skin crawls when you get frightened? I had a feeling I was being watched, and believe me, my skin had goosebumps. But to the point...the first time I saw him, he was inside the television, just a reflection. I glanced up from my notebook and there was a silhouette. Let me tell you, I practically jumped out of my skin, and thought someone was behind me. No one was there. Oh, I should tell you, I live alone. As you might imagine, my heart was pounding over what turns out to be nothing. When I looked back at the television, nothing is there.

So, I brush off this occurrence and head into the kitchen to refresh my drink. I settle into my chair, my bourbon chilling over ice, and start writing. The story is moving along, and I get lost in the pages. I glance up, and he's back. Nothing behind me, I blink to clear my eyes. He's still there and looks like he's smiling. Maybe it's a smile.

That's how it started. Just a reflection in the TV, and after a while I suppose it stopped scaring me as much. Sometimes we'd just stare at each other, and then he was gone. Things changed the morning he smiled at me from my bathroom mirror. I almost cut my throat the first time he did that. It's pretty hard to shave when you're looking at a face with jagged teeth and dark eyes, looking back at you. Scared is an understatement. "Who are you? What do you want?" I yelled at the mirror, but he didn't answer.

As the days went by, he danced in and out of my field of vision. Mirrors, reflections, hell...even in my drink glass. And a funny little side note to all of this, my writing was getting better. I'm not saying it is anything more than a coincidence, but it improved a lot. There's lots more to tell, but I have to go to a meeting right now. We'll finish up when I return.

"Hello, Harry. Come in and have a seat."

I settle into my usual chair, and he starts the timer.

"So, how was your week?" he asks. The session always starts the same. No lying down, never sitting on the sofa, just two uncomfortable leather chairs, with a small, round table between them, and his stupid timer ticking off the minutes. I wonder how many billable hours he gets in a day?

"My week was ok," I answer.

"How is your writing coming along?" "Honestly, I suffer writer's block for a couple of days, then I write non-stop for hours."

"And has your little friend visited?" Condescending prick. I know he doesn't believe me, but I know what I see and hear. He makes notes in his journal while continuing to ask me dumb questions.

Hey, you're still here. Thanks for waiting. I'm going to make myself a double, and tell more of my tale. Where were we? Oh yeah. So, the little imp is dancing merrily in and out of my view, and then we had the next change.

Above my desk, hanging on my wall is an old acoustic guitar. A remnant of my musical past, a gift from my Father, rarely used anymore. I am typing away at my desk and he speaks to me. The demon imp is not as scary when he's Tom Thumb-sized. Or perhaps I am growing accustomed to him. So, he sits in the soundhole of the guitar, clutching the guitar strings like rope tethers, and says, "Hey, Harry. What are you working on?" His voice scratched down my spine like fingernails on a chalkboard. "Get away," I screamed. "Stay away from me." He opened his mouth exposing the ragged teeth, in his version of a grin. "Relax, pal. You're the one who brought me here."

"What do you mean?" I am crying and blubbering by now. He says, "You wrote me, and here I am. And I mean to stay."

Now, I don't know about you, but when I suddenly have someone, or some thing, taking up residence in my TV and my mirrors, and anywhere else they see fit, it scares the bejeebers out of me. So this thing, this fella if you will, says I brought him. Then he takes credit for my writing and claims he's the reason for my sudden improvement. Says his name is Achlys. Dumb name if you ask me.

Achlys is living here now. My joke is he doesn't cost me anything, so screw it. Besides, he won't leave and believe me, I have told him to get out several times. He talks to me and tells me things I need to know. About watching out for all those back-stabbers, crooked literary agents, and publishers. I must admit, he enlightened me about family. How they were all taking advantage of me, and I don't need them. He's actually very smart, but I won't tell him that. Look, I have to get back to my meeting now, but if you don't mind hanging around until I get back, we can wrap this up then. Feel free to have yourself a drink. I'll be back soon.

"Do you mind if I smoke, Harry?" Look at him. Big shot Dr. Barnes. He fills the pipe and lights up without waiting for my answer. It smells good. I always did like the smell of pipe tobacco.

"I want to talk to you about your little friend. Would that be alright?"

"He isn't here. And stop calling him that. It makes us mad. His name is Achlys."

"Ok, Harry. May I speak with Achlys?"

At last, a breakthrough. He said the name. Oh, Achlys, did you hear? "I have nothing to say to him. And you shouldn't talk to him either. He is just like all the others. I can't help you if you continue to go against me." But if you speak, he'll believe me. You must show yourself.


"Harry, is everything alright? You seem lost in thought today."

"He won't talk to you."

"Tell me again where he lives."

"We've been over this. He lives in mirrors, reflections, and inside my old guitar."

"When he appears, does he ever talk to you about the accident?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. What accident?"

Oh, good. You're still here. Thanks for hanging around. So, Achlys has really opened my eyes to a lot of things. He's been helpful in more ways than I can count. It was his encouragement that got me to fire my goddamned agent. He exposed what a parasite he was, and family? Ha! Don't get me started on them. Achlys sees right through their mind-games. That meddling bunch of do-gooders, my ex-wife, and her sister think they're taking me to the cleaners? That's not gonna happen. See, they think having me go to meetings with Barnes will help them put their greedy paws right in my pocket, but Achlys and I are too smart for them. Now, wait for me if you don't mind. I have to talk with Barnes some more. He's getting to be a pain in the ass, but I'll be done with him soon.

"Harry, you know what I'm talking about. The accident, and the fire."

"I know what you're up to, Dr. Barnes. You're not getting my money. You and my ex will have to pay your own way."

"Harry, you said before that your wife and children died in the crash. You must face reality if I'm to help you. Do you believe your family is alive?"

"You shut up. Just shut your mouth." Achlys, help me.

Harry, it is time for me to take over. You whiny idiot. You're still an alcoholic and I saw you kill your family. You were so drunk, you couldn't see, let alone drive. You murdered them. Remember Beverly and Timmy, screaming as they burned? And your wife, Millie, begging you to get them out. And you, a useless piece of garbage, watching them die. That's who you are, Harry. A loser and a coward. A useless drunk. Your soul will burn and rot in hell.

I thought you were my friend.

No, dumbass. I am sending you away for good.

"Harry. Snap out of it."

"Hello, Dr. Barnes. Harry is gone. He won't be coming back."

"And who are you?"

"Oh, I think you know my name. I am Achlys. There is nothing more for us to discuss. Shortly, I will leave this pathetic vessel you call Harry. Then you and Millie can be together. Your boy Harry is convinced his wife and children died in the crash. I planted that seed and have been watering it for some time. He will no longer speak and is unreachable. Oh, and one more thing. Careful of your mirrors...I may return one day."

Well, friend, thanks for sticking around. Let's wrap things up. I learned from Achlys how my scheming ex and the good doctor were sabotaging me. We've decided to handle things differently going forward. Achlys is taking over for me so I can focus on my next novel. It's going to be a good one, really frightening. Did I mention I write horror stories? Yeah, I'm pretty sure a best-seller is on the horizon. Keep an eye out for it, and thanks for being such a good listener.

"Hi, baby. Come on in. I have the final diagnosis for your court appearance. Harry suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder. It is usually a reaction to trauma as a way to help a person avoid bad memories. It's a chronic condition, and can't be cured. He has become catatonic now, and I'm going to introduce shock therapy. Maybe he will speak again, and maybe not. The bottom line is he will not be getting out of here, so we are free to resume our lives. I know we haven't known each other long, but I'm crazy about you. And when his assets are released to you, we'll have a wonderful life. You know, he is confused about you and the kids surviving the accident. One minute he thinks you are plotting against him, and the next time he says you died in the fire. Anyway, how does Doctor and Mrs. Barnes sound, Millie?"

"It sounds lovely. Oh, and Dr. Barnes...I did die in that fire."

Dr. William Barnes, born July 3, 1902.

Died October 31, 1939.

Cause of Death: Heart failure.

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