Sad Horror

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

I promised Brooke I knew what I was doing. Dad and I did seances all the time growing up so I could talk to Mom. The only difference this time, besides trading my childhood kitchen table for my college dorm room, was that I’d be talking to Dad.

“So we don’t need a Ouija board or something?” Brooke asked with a morbid curiosity but still unsure of doing this.

“No, that’s just a toy. All we need are a few candles and a dark room on a moonless night.” That was just to keep things simple. Really, it wouldn’t work without Dad’s Necronomicon and his letter to me. But I didn’t want to unnerve Brooke any further. I needed her here for this to work.

When I was little, my dad did his best to raise me by himself. He never told me how Mom died, and I was too young to even remember anything about her. But like every kid, I had a million questions, and it must’ve gotten to him, having to remember his dead wife for the sake of his daughter’s curiosity. Dad played with me, bought me too many toys in hindsight, and let me draw in his study while he designed buildings. But they were all distractions, and he knew it.

So I think I drove him to it.

“Hey, Amber, wanna talk to Mommy?” he asked one night when I was five. I memorized how he was in that moment. It was kind, notes of love dancing with each word he spoke. But there was something in his eyes. Sadness feels too mundane to describe it, but it was there.

As I hopped around the dining room, waving my fairy wand, giddy to meet my mom, Dad set up the candles and turned off the lights. It was past my bedtime, but I was gleefully staring straight into the candles like it was my birthday. I didn’t pay attention to how he put something in the center and then covered it with a white towel, placing a candle on top.

I repeated the same motions with Brooke, making sure she wasn’t paying attention as I covered the Necronomicon with a blanket and set a candle on top. It’s not that the book scared me. I knew it was just a tool. But I thought about how Dad protected me from seeing it that first time; I paid Brooke the same courtesy.

“I know we’re roommates, so I’m right here anyway, but I barely knew my cousin. Shouldn’t you find someone, you know, closer to the accident?”

“Brooke, it’s okay,” I said with a smile, lighting the candles. But I was still trying to convince myself of the same thing. I lit the final candle atop the hidden Necronomicon. The dorm was eerily quiet, but we stayed behind during Winter Break just to perform this ritual with as much privacy as we could.

“Now, one last step,” I whispered, taking out the letter…

“Amber, look, this was you as a baby, still in Mommy’s tummy!” Dad excitedly explained that first time as he laid the ultrasound picture in front of the candles.

“Why was I in her tummy?” I giggled.

“You had to grow there first! Then you just popped out!” he laughed while making a popping noise. Looking back, he was probably trying to make himself less nervous by seeing me smile. I learned later that it was his first ritual too after all.

There was no point in explaining to a five-year-old that the ultrasound picture was a spiritual conduit, something significant to attract her soul. The Necronomicon is the door, but the conduit is the porch light calling the soul back home.

Dad held my hand as he breathed deep and asked, “Denise, if you’re here with us, can you blow out a candle? Please?”

Whoosh. And just like that, the room grew darker, and my life changed forever.

“So, do we… um, hold hands now?” Brooke timidly asked, the flames illuminating her soft eyes.

“Yeah, I guess we can.” I couldn’t focus on her soft hands, the gentle tremble in them. I closed my eyes and breathed in deep, ready to open the door once more…

“Go ahead Amber, ask Mommy a question.” He was excited. Even then I could tell. Some part of him didn’t think it would work but it did.

“Mmmmm,” I pondered, the momentous event lost on me as a kid. “What do you look like Mommy?”

“No, I should’ve explained, it has to be a ‘yes or no’ question Amber.”

“Are you pretty Mommy?”

Whoosh. We both laughed.

“Am I pretty Mommy?”

Whoosh. I laughed but my dad looked concerned at the diminishing number of lit candles.

“Is Daddy pre-“

“Hold on Amber! We can talk to Mommy every month now, but we can’t talk to her for long each time. Okay? So can I ask a question? Remember sharing is caring?”

“Okay!” I politely chirped.

There was a slight guilt to the way he held himself, cutting off my innocent playfulness. But he sighed, holding my hand tighter, working up the courage to talk to his wife.

“Denise… I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you. You needed more support, and I… I wasn’t helping you enough… but I love you so much, and I’m raising Amber the best I can on my own. Neither of us will ever blame you, okay? But can you… can you ever forgive me?”

The candle flickered with a sway. But it stayed lit.

He never asked another question again after that.

I spent the next seven years badgering Dad to keep talking to Mom. He gave in each time, his deep wound reopening each time. But he couldn’t say no to his little girl, and I was still too naive to understand what really happened between them.

He finally broke down when I was twelve, my birthday coinciding with a new moon. I said I didn’t want any friends over for a party because I just wanted me and him to talk to Mom. That’s it. A birthday party for three, a family secret I loved keeping. And it finally broke him. The tears streamed from his face as he explained it to me.

Postpartum depression. He was overwhelmed with his job as an architect, struggling to meet deadlines, convinced he had to hold the whole world on his shoulders for us. But she was struggling at home with me. She confided the dark thoughts she was having, the hatred boiling up inside of her, the fear it would come pouring out and directed toward me.

And he shrugged it off. Cited resources. Claimed this was normal. Said suicide was a rare outcome to postpartum depression.

But that’s how she left us.

“I’m sorry Dad, it’s my fault,” I cried into his arms, feeling sick and ashamed of spending seven years talking to her, never once realizing the truth.

“No it’s not Amber,” he cried as he cradled my head. “It’s all my fault. I didn’t love her enough…”

And right there, feeling Dad’s tender hands, seeing the vulnerability in his eyes, remembering how he’d done everything to give me the world, that’s when I decided. I wouldn’t ask to speak to Mom again. I kept the ultrasound picture in my room, framing it and holding it gently. We put the Necronomicon away, agreeing to never open the door again.

I told all this to Brooke before she agreed to help me this time, six years later. I needed her to know that it’s very possible to perform seances with no consequences. But I didn’t tell her the next part.

The Necronomicon is a door. The conduit a porch light. When you keep opening a door again and again at night, with a porch light beaming bright…

The bugs get in.

I pushed those memories away as I refocused on holding Brooke’s hand in our room. A circle of six candles illuminated the room, one candle in the center on top of the hidden Necronomicon, the other five forming a star shape. Any more candles than six would lead to the door being opened for too long. I wasn’t even planning on using all six. Our mission was simple, get in, give Dad what he needs, then get out.

“Dad? Are you here with us?”

Whoosh. The darkness grew.

“Oh my God,” Brooke whispered. “Are you sure you didn’t blow it out yourself?”

“Brooke, trust me, it’s not all in my head,” I insisted. “Dad. I have your letter here.” I was holding back tears, trying to stay strong. “You know I love you so much. And I don’t blame you, I get it. But it hurts. Some days it hurts so much…”

The middle candle’s flame looked like it grew taller for a brief moment. I blinked, my eyes refocusing on the light, tears pushed back.

“The point is, I don’t blame you, okay? None of us do.” I shook Brooke’s hand, trying to get her to chime in.

“Um, yeah, uh, Mr. Ericson. Or is just Craig okay?” I squeezed her hand to get her back on track. “Okay, um, that bridge collapse was bad, and my cousin died in it. But it’s not your fault! Accidents happen, you know. I’m not gonna blame the architect, and yeah… I hope no one else does.”

I resisted the urge to snap at Brooke. The whole point of doing this was to give Dad assurance, a guarantee that he shouldn’t feel guilty. No hope, no ifs, no maybes.

“Dad, no one blames you. We promise. Dad, please… you don’t deserve to feel guilty, right?”

The candles remained lit.

“Dad, it’s okay. No one blames you for the bridge collapse. Do you understand?”

No response.

Now the panic began to set in. “Dad! Please listen to me!”

Brooke realized something was going on. I could feel her hand tense up. “Mr. Ericson, are you still with us?”

The one candle that had went out relit itself.

Brooke’s scream was drowned out by the buzzing in my ears as the memories of the last six years crept back into my head.

That night, my twelfth birthday, we put the Necronomicon away for good. We packed it away tight in the attic. It felt… unsafe to dispose of it any other way. But as I was trying to fall asleep that night, I heard a tapping at my window. I strained my eyes to see a small figure on my windowsill, about the size of an upright football. It tapped again, but just a faint tap. It reminded me of the birds in spring, tapping on the windows, thinking they could get in.

And then it spoke.


I screamed and called for Dad to come help. He rushed in and turned on the light, bolting to the window when I babbled what I saw and heard. As he neared it, the dark figure flew away. It didn’t sound like the beating of bird wings though, rather the trill of bug wings.

“It’s okay sweetie, I’m here,” he hushed. There was clear trepidation in his voice as he asked me, “Did… did it sound like… your mom?”

He wasn’t thinking straight; I couldn’t have remembered what she sounded like. But it didn’t matter.

“No, Daddy, it sounded like a man.” But I didn’t tell him the full truth.

For years, these shadows plagued us. It wasn’t always the flying creature. Sometimes they’d scurry across our kitchen floor like mice, too fast to make out what they were, but the trail of whispers they left behind were unmistakably unnatural.

“For you… for you…”

Every month or so, as I slept at night, I could feel something… nesting… above my head. I’d look around and swear I saw a mass of black dots scatter across the wall, disappearing, leaving nothing but whispers.

“Amber… Amber…”

I chose to walk the path of denial. No harm ever befell us for years, just the whispering. If anything, it was no different from a pest problem. I had to believe it wasn’t that big of a deal.

But it was breaking my dad. He just kept it hidden from me, but even from the way his hands trembled when he shook his pencil while sketching buildings, I should’ve known.

Then, during my senior year of high school, I was bracing myself for eventually leaving the house, and at the same time, trying to convince Dad that the shadows weren’t too bad.

“It’s fine as long as we don’t use the book again. Right Dad? These are just like bugs you know?”

I needed to move on from the house, from the apparitions, from memories of Mom via candlelight.

He looked at me, failing to give his usual cheerful smile. But then I saw him stare deep into my eyes, finding his resolve, and then he smiled again.

“You’re right. Go.”

That night, the bridge he designed and oversaw construction on collapsed during rush hour. Fifty-six people died, several more injured. But I went to bed without hearing about it, distant from both my phone and Dad that night.

I woke up to his letter. But no body. Ruled as death by suicide in two weeks’ time.

The shadows disappeared after that. But the guilt remained.

“Bring Dad back, whoever you are!” I shouted, letting the years of being haunted fuel my rage, my voice echoing in our dorm room.

The middle flame grew impossibly large, almost touching the ceiling. I took it as an insult, a taunting middle finger.

Brooke was screaming and rushed for the door, but it was locked. She couldn’t open it.

“Look outside!” she screamed.

There was nothing outside anymore. Just darkness. The candles were the only light in our world.

Then I heard it. The whispers.


I never told Dad but the voices I heard… they were definitely his voice…

The middle flame spiraled out slowly, and out of it, from the Necronomicon through the candle, slowly rose a black figure. Its feathered wings unfurled and spanned the entire room. It was closest to an owl, but its head was fully skeletal, a black cloud of flies buzzing around it, pouring in and out of its eye sockets and beak. But its chest… instead of matching plumage, it was like looking at the underside of a cockroach, legs twitching erratically until settling at its side along with its wings. Then it stared at us.

I saw Brooke collapse, her nose bleeding, fully unconscious. I was struggling to stay upright, the buzzing of the flies seeping through my ears.


The voice echoed, sounding hollow, but there was no mistaking it. It was Dad, the voice I’ve been hearing for years. But it wasn’t coming from the bird’s beak, but rather from within its stomach.

“D-Dad? Are you in there?”

“Yes. I’m here Amber. Don’t be afraid.”

“W-what the hell?! Don’t be afraid?! Dad, you- you’re- you’re a demon?”

“No… I’m not. But I’m here for you Amber. I’m always here for you.”

“So why’d you kill yourself?!” I shouted, tears and rage rising to the surface. “You knew Mom killed herself and you still did it too! How could you leave me like that…?” I fell to my knees, realizing I just failed my goal of removing his guilt.

“Amber. There’s blood on my hands.”

“The bridge…” I muttered.

“Your mother. She never forgave me. You saw. So I might as well have been a killer before the bridge. But then, the bridge cemented the fact that I was a murderer. It’s all my fault.”

“Dad, no-“

“Listen. My soul might as well have been damned the moment Denise died. How could I have neglected her like that? I knew I couldn’t do that to you. The demons were crawling all over our souls, stuck on this side. I needed to send them back, but I had no power over them… at least not until I had more blood on my hands.”

“Wh- what?” I stuttered.

“I made a deal with Ny’Ooul, the demon before you. She’d return the demons that clung to you to Hell, and she’d get my soul, the soul of a murderer, for all eternity.”

“But that’s not fair! The demons weren’t hurting me, you didn’t need to-“

“They were waiting Amber, waiting for you to die to feast on your body and soul.”

“But Dad-“

“I need to go now. My mistake was leaving a letter for you, even just to say goodbye. I wrote it to placate my own guilt, and all it did was drive you to make the same mistake I did years ago when I summoned your mother. So I’ll leave with it, along with your memories of tonight. Your friend’s too, if that puts you at ease.”

“No! I deserve to know! There’s gotta be something, anything I can do to make it up to you-“

“Amber,” he spoke as Ny’Ooul spread her wings, her cockroach legs clawing at her own chest. “That’s the exact mistake I made…”

And then he emerged, the insect torso cracking apart, like an egg hatching. His body was covered in blood and mucus, his skin dark blue, like a moonless night. He didn’t make eye contact, instead letting his body dangle forward, reaching for the letter.

I rushed to grab the letter, to hold onto it, but he pulled hard. And then he looked up at me. He was missing his head from the bridge of his nose up. No eyes.

The shock of his partially digested face caused me to scream and let go, falling on my side and crying.

Even now, at the end of my memory, he still smiled, holding the letter, slowly returning to Ny’Ooul’s womb, the flames going out, the space outside the window returning to normal.

“For you… I did it all for you, Amber.”

July 07, 2023 01:22

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Angela Ginsburg
09:30 Jul 14, 2023

This is really creepy. The build from haha we’re having a séance to the bugs coming in to the demons who have to be appeased is perfectly paced. I don’t know if you could do better at showing how the demon got the dad rather than him just telling it given the length. The end becomes gory and gross in good horror fashion. The running theme of guilt eating a person really succeeds. Good work


Allan Bernal
15:54 Jul 14, 2023

Thank you! I’m glad you noticed how literal “guilt eating a person” was!


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Lara Deppe
04:42 Jul 13, 2023

Allan - your story is engaging from the beginning. It based on the truth that there isn't anything we will not do for family. Well done.


Allan Bernal
15:53 Jul 14, 2023

Thank you!


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