Jared Prince was stopped by a fan as soon as he entered the Union Street Starbucks. He autographed a napkin for her, thanked her for her babble of praise with as much enthusiasm as he could feign, then stepped to the counter and asked for a Caffe Latte. Looking around while awaiting his order, he saw Charles Butler at a corner table and waved. Charles nodded to him, then lowered his gaze to the sketchpad in front of him. He continued drawing as Jared got his coffee and sat down across from him.

“Remember how great you once thought it would be to be famous?” Charles asked, without looking up.

“I used to enjoy it,” Jared said with a shrug.

“You used to be the Crown Prince of Horror.”

“I’m not any more?”

“You want to keep the title, you’ve got to stay in the ring.”

“That’s a mixed metaphor.”

“I’m an artist, not a writer.” He held up his sketch. “What do you thing? Is that a spooky enough castle? It’s for the cover of Angeline McFadden’s new one.”

“All castles are spooky in the dark.”

“I suppose that’s true.” He set aside the sketchpad and took a sip of coffee. “So what’s going on with you? For two decades you cranked out a best seller a year, now you haven’t published in, what? Three years?”

Jared looked into his cup before answering. “I haven’t written more than a thousand words since the divorce.”

Charles nodded sympathetically. “It’s tough, I know. I’ve been through it twice. You and Sylvia were together for what? Seventeen years?”

“Nineteen,” Jared mumbled.

“Alright, but with all respect, isn’t it high time you moved on? Got back to work?”

Jared scratched his head. “The thing is, I don’t think it’s about Sylvia, per se. I think it’s about getting knocked out of my groove and not being able to get back in it. The divorce is just a part of that. I had a routine. I got up every morning, made my coffee and sat in my office and wrote. I think as much as anything, it’s that I am not in my place. My apartment doesn’t seem like home. In my office, I was surrounded by my books, my music, my memories of all I’d written in that same chair.”

“So, create a new space.”

“Yeah, maybe I ought to find a house. Somewhere more secluded. Even then, I don’t have any strong story ideas.”

Charles sketched for a minute, then looked up at Jared with a crooked grin. “I’ve a thought. Perhaps there’s a stone that can whack both birds. You’ve written about vampires and werewolves and alien invasions, but you’ve never written a traditional ghost story, have you?”

“I’ve tried to never write a traditional anything.”

“Oh, believe me, I know. I still get hate mail because the paperback cover of Fanged Fury depicts vampires in broad daylight.”

Jared laughed. “Well, why should an author be bound to some so-called ancient lore, most of which was invented by Universal Pictures in the nineteen thirties…”

Charles held up his hand. “Don’t get defensive, I was just pointing out an area you hadn’t explored. And I had a reason for it.”

He picked up his phone. “Maeve and I were up north a few months ago…” he said, trailing off as he thumbed the screen. “Okay, here it is…”

He handed Jared the phone.

“Alright, nice house. Needs some work, by the looks of it.”

“It’s in a place called Webster’s Gore.”

“The middle of nowhere…”

“It’s not the middle of nowhere. It’s just two miles down the road from Webster’s Corners, which is not more than ten miles from Webster itself. And Webster is big enough to have a Subway and a Dollar General.

“So, the ass end of nowhere.”

“And it’s for rent.”

“There are plenty of houses right here for rent…”

“And it’s haunted.”

Jared stopped in mid word. He raised one eyebrow and stared at Charles. “Haunted?”

“So the locals say. It’s a nice house, in a beautiful location, and they can’t rent it for half the market rate.”

Jared sat back, rubbing his chin. After a minute, he said, “Charlie, you know why I am so good at writing horror?”

Charlie shrugged. “I have some thoughts, but you tell me.”

“Because I don’t believe in any of that crap. There are no werewolves, there are no zombies.” He took a sip of coffee. “Okay, I grant there are probably aliens, but they ain’t here. So, I don’t think I’m going to get any interviews with ghosts to base a story on.”

“I was thinking more of the ambience.”

Jared stared out the window for a minute, then turned back to his friend. “It is an intriguing idea. Are we talking rattling chains, screeching phantoms rushing down the halls, what?”

Charles set aside his drawing and leaned forward. “Here’s the most interesting part. Most of the stories about the house are claims of seeing a beautiful spectral woman, dancing on the lawn.”

“You should have led with that!” Jared said, laughing. “House for rent. Furnished. Succubus included.”

Charles snorted. “Don’t get your hopes too high. Anyway, why not give it a go? Maybe for a change of pace, you could write a non-fiction piece on what it’s really like living in a haunted house.”

“That’s an interesting thought.”

“I’ll email you a link to the ad.”


Webster had a Subway and a Dollar General, but all Webster’s Corners had was Campbell’s Gas and Variety. Jared had arranged to meet his new landlady, Myrna Freeman there to pick up the keys to the house. A light rain was falling when he pulled into the gravel parking lot. He looked around, but the only other vehicle in the lot was a beat up pickup truck pulled up to an old fashioned mechanical gas pump. The burly man in the red and black flannel jacket and hunters orange hat was clearly not Myrna Freeman.

He parked near the door, got out and dashed into the store. A bell jingled above his head as he stepped inside. The light was dim in the store; the smell was musty. There was a big cooler of beer and soda, and several racks of canned goods and staples, but not much else. Jared was disappointed to realize that this was the closest store to his new home.

A bald man with a long gray beard sat behind the counter, peering out between an ancient cash register and a display rack of lottery tickets. He nodded at Jared as he approached the counter.

“I’m looking for Myrna Freeman,” Jared said, “We had arranged to meet here.”

The man raised one shaggy eyebrow. “You must be the new tenant up to Hawthorne Road.”

“That’s right,” Jared said.

“Myrna said you was some kind of writer. Monster stories and such.”

“I am. Jared Prince.” He offered his hand. The man shook it weakly.

“Abel Campbell,” the man replied.

“You own the store?”

“Fourth generation,” he replied. Without taking his eyes off of Jared, he reached into his shirt pocket, removed a tin of snuff and tucked a pinch under his cheek. “So,” he said, wiping a drop of droll from his lip, “You gonna write a book about the dancin’ girl?”

Jared shrugged. “I might. Have you ever seen her?”

Abel looked off into the distance and slowly nodded.

“I was in middle school. Thirteen or thereabouts. My friends and I hiked up there one night just to see what we could see. Full moon that night. Folks said she danced under that big oak tree and you could only see her when the moon was bright. We never even went in the yard, though, just sat across the road and watched in the dark. We was about to give up, but when the moon come up, I seen I guess you’d call it a glimmerin’ of light. Just her legs, that’s all I seen, shinin’ in the moonlight, doing a little dance. We all seen it. My friends, they jumped up like a bunch of jack in the boxes.”

He paused again, rubbing his chin. “I have to tell you, Mister Prince, I was kind of mixed up. Just as much as I wanted to run away, I had the urge to run to her. Actually took a step or two in that direction, but then I seen…”


“She weren’t dancing on the ground, she was like, floatin’ in air. Well, that did it for me. My friends was about fifty yards down the road, but I caught up to them with a quickness.”

Jared was about to ask him for a fuller description of what he saw, but the bell tinkled and Abel looked past him to the door. “Well, here’s Myrna now,” he said.

Jared turned and saw Myrna Freeman enter the store. She was short, and nearly as wide as she was tall. She looked at Jared with a bright smile.

“I guess you’re Mister Prince,” she said, reaching out to shake his hand.

“Yes, I am.”

“My daughter says she read some of your books.”

“Well, please give her my regards.”

“Uh huh.” She opened her purse and began to dig through it. “So, how’s your mother doing, Abel?”

“She’s still doin’,” he replied.

She squeezed past Jared and put her purse down on the counter. “Gosh darn keys are in here somewhere,” she mumbled. Eventually, she found them and handed them to Jared.

“Big one’s the front door,” she told him, “Smaller one opens the cellar. Have you got the rental agreement I mailed you?”

Jared took the folded paper from his jacket pocket.

“Signed and dated,” he said, handing it to her.

Myrna glanced at it and said, “You understand, this is for one year. If you should decide not to stay…”

Abel snorted and she glared at him.

“You are liable for the year’s rent.”

“Understood and agreed,” Jared said. He took a check from his shirt pocket and gave it to her. She looked closely at it, nodded in satisfaction and tucked it, along with the rental agreement, in her purse.

“Any questions?” she asked. “You know the way out there?”

“No questions. I think I can find it alright,” he replied, then stopped. “Actually, I was wondering something. The name Webster’s Gore, what does that mean?”

“When they drew up the town lines back in the colonial days, they accidentally left a space off and it became a part of no town. A gore means a place that no one claims. Kind of an in between place.”

Jared nodded with a sardonic grin. Just where I belong right now, he thought, an in between place.


The road to the Gore took Jared through a beautiful countryside of rolling wooded hills and tidy farmsteads. The moving van was already there when Jared found the house. Myrna had sent him a few pictures and a hand drawn floor plan, so he knew what to expect when he arrived, yet he was somewhat disappointed. It was just an old farm house with a ramshackle attached barn, there was nothing gothic about it at all. It sat at the top of a slight incline, behind a tumbled stone wall and a wide yard of witch grass sprinkled with purple asters and goldenrod. And there was the tree. It was a massive oak, at least three times the height of the house. Its branches shaded half the yard and the entire width of the road.

The movers climbed down from the cab of their truck and opened its back gate. Jared stepped on to the porch and crossed to the front door. He fished the keys from his pocket, then hesitated before unlocking the door. He felt a twinge of fear, then felt embarrassed for it. Shaking his head and chuckling, he opened the door and stepped inside.

It was dark in the foyer. He could make out a set of stairs leading upward in front of him and the faintly lit outlines of doors to his left and right. He felt on the wall for a light switch, but could not find one. He stepped to the left, according to Myrna’s drawing, the living room, and ran his hand along the wall inside the door. As he did so, he wondered if he had the nerve to stay in the house tonight if the lights did not come on. But his hand struck the switch, and Myrna had indeed, turned the power on. The room was illuminated from a dusty ceiling fixture.

The movers came in behind him and began to check out the layout of the house. Soon, the entire house was lit. They began hauling in furniture and dollies laden with crates and boxes. Jared felt like he was in the way, so he stepped outside.

The late afternoon sun was hovering in the western sky, barely clearing a long line of low hills. He stepped down off the porch and looked toward the tree. “She danced under that big oak,” Abel had said. Jared walked, in hesitant steps, across the lawn and into the shadow of the oak’s massive boughs.

He felt a chill, but attributed it to the shade and the approaching dusk. The grass was thin under the tree, and the ground was bare nearer the trunk, but littered with acorns. He looked up into the tree, thinking that it must be a fine home for squirrels but he saw none. He realized he heard no bird song either.

The bang of the screen door slamming startled him, and he turned to see the movers exiting the house. One of them approached him with a clipboard. He handed it to Jared and took a pen from his shirt pocket.

“All set, buddy,” he said, “Just sign here and we’ll be on our way.”

Jared took the clipboard, signed the papers and handed it back.

“Nice old house, but it sure is isolated out here,” the mover said.

“Well, I’m a writer, I’m hoping to get away from distractions.”

The mover nodded and looked down at his manifest. “Oh, Jared Prince. Yeah, my wife has some of your books. She likes the spooky stuff.” He looked around the yard. “Yeah, you could get some inspiration here. Well, good luck with the writing.”

He signaled to his partner, and they climbed into the cab of the van. Jared watched them pull out of the driveway and for a moment, felt an urge to jump back in his car and follow them. “Don’t be silly,” he muttered aloud to himself, “There’s nothing here to be afraid of.”


The first thing he unpacked was his stereo system. He got it hooked up and filled the house with the sound of Bach concertos as he got to work setting up his new home. He found a box of linens and made his bed, then started on the kitchen. The nearest supermarket was in Farmington, almost an hour’s drive away, but he had brought some staples and a few canned goods. He heated a can of soup and sat at the kitchen table and ate it. Sylvia would have a conniption, he thought, but he was on his own now and could eat what he wanted.

As he was finishing his soup, he glanced up at the window and realized that it was fully dark outside. Go look, he thought, then laughed at himself. He got up and rinsed his bowl in the sink. He looked out across the lawn. It was dark under the tree and he saw no sign of movement. Shaking his head, he went to the living room and found a box labeled “work”. Food, shelter, and writing, he thought, my hierarchy of needs. He dug through the box and found his laptop. Flopping on the couch, he flipped it open. He connected to the hotspot on his cell phone and opened his browser. When he did not connect to the internet, he checked his phone and saw that he had only one bar.

“Fuck me,” he muttered. He closed the laptop and sat quietly, thinking. Maybe that was for the best, he thought, the slow connection would tempt him to fewer distractions. Now, if only he had something to write about.


It was raining in the morning, a slow steady drizzle that continued all day. Jared had slept well. He spent a couple of hours setting up and filling his bookshelves, then made the drive to Farmington to eat lunch and buy groceries. When he returned home, he took his laptop into the kitchen and scrolled through his slush file of story ideas. He opened one, titled Tooth and Claw, and began to read. After a few minutes, he closed it. Werewolf stories had been his bread and butter once, but he couldn’t muster any interest for it. He got up and went to the front door. The rain had picked up and he could hear it hitting the leaves of the oak. He saw nothing in the dark beneath it, but still, it was a place to start. He returned to the kitchen and began to write. He spent an hour on a detailed description of the house. It was much more than he needed, but when he knew what direction he wanted to take the story, he’d trim out the extraneous details.

The words were coming to him tentatively, in fits and starts, but at least they were coming. When he started to feel hungry, he did not want to stop, so he threw together a sandwich for his supper, and kept going.

Myrna had told him that the house had been built in the late seventeen hundreds. He tried to remember what he knew about that period. All that came to mind was George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Perhaps the dancing woman was the widow of a soldier who had been killed in the Revolution. Was there fighting in this part of the country? He thought that Webster had a small library, perhaps they had some books on local history. They might even have something that would give him information about the house and who the dancing woman might have been.

He tried again to access the internet, and grew sleepy watching his home page try to load. He gave up and went to bed.

He awoke in a pool of moonlight. He rolled over on his side, his back to the window and tried to go back to sleep. Moonlight, he thought, as he began to drowse. Moonlight is special, but why? He sat up suddenly as the full thought formed. She danced in the moonlight.

He threw back his covers, and rushed to peer out of his second story window. From this angle the tree’s canopy blocked most of the yard from view. But as the wind blew the leaves, he thought he saw a flash of something white beneath them. He leaned closer to the glass and stared. There was something there, something that was gleaming with the moon’s reflection. Something that was moving.

Grabbing his bathrobe, he hurried down the stairs, pulling it on as he went. He threw open the front door and stepped out on to the porch.

He detected motion before any image became clear. As he stared, he realized he was looking at a pair of delicate feet, toes aimed toward the ground like a ballerina on pointe. He remembered Abel saying that it was the fact that she floating above the ground that scared him into running. Jared did not run, he was mesmerized as the feet flexed and slowly rotated in a circle. His eyes moved up, taking in a pair of slender calves, bone white in the moonlight. Above the knees, the legs were hidden in the darkness of the tree.

Jared imagined himself stepping off the porch and going closer to her. That was something else Abel had said, that he was torn between fleeing from her and being drawn to her. But Jared found that he could not move.

She bent her knees, raising her heels and then slowly dropping them again. She made one more slow spin, and then, like a sputtering candle, seemed to just flicker out.

Jared stood on the porch for several minutes, hoping that she would appear again. But when a cloud hid the moon and the darkness under the tree spread to encompass the rest of the yard, he turned and went inside.

He sat down at the kitchen table and stared at the laptop screen, struggling to find words to preserve his impressions. For years, he had imagined the supernatural, and he had made a good fortune conveying his imaginings to others. But now, personally faced with the otherworldly at last, he could not articulate how he felt. He imagined that this was how religious people felt when they spoke of epiphanies.

Just write it down as it happened, he thought, like a journalist writing a news story. He began typing, reciting the details of how he had awoken and what he had seen when he stepped out the door. Trying to go deeper into the meaning of his experience could wait until after he’d had more time for reflection.

He eyes were bleary. He shut the laptop and went back upstairs. We crawled back into bed. The sky outside his window had grown brighter. She will be gone now, he thought, at least for tonight, and he gave himself over to sleep.


It was nearly noon when he woke. He dressed and drove into Webster. It was a drab town, dominated by the crumbling hulk of an abandoned tannery. In addition to the Subway and the Dollar General, it had a small grocery store and a couple of diners. The one sign of past prosperity was the ornate Carnegie library that loomed over the town square.