My son Silas’s grief came as sleepwalking. It also came as nosebleeds. Fine one minute and the next screaming under a faucet of blood. He thought it meant he was dying like Daddy. Am I okay? Am I okay? He chanted, shivering against me.

One night I walked into our bedroom to feel him breathing. I stopped when I saw something dark propped up behind the door, what looked to be a camping chair folded upright in the corner. A knot formed in my stomach.

Three miles off the Appalachian Trail, they found my husband’s body, two months after he went missing. They returned his things, a Coleman lantern we bought the first time we ever went camping, a battered tent, his camping chair.

I moved closer and the thing in the corner grew smaller and smaller. My arm lit up in the salt lamp’s light and grew long like a shadow as I grabbed at the thing so far away. Silas. I felt him in my hands and turned him to face me. His cheeks glowed a soft red. His eyes were open, glassy. I pulled him close, “Silas! Are you okay?” He was quiet. I laid him next to me in bed and told him, “It’s okay, go back to sleep,” even though I knew he was asleep, I knew it was his grief.

Lying in bed made the room feel like an open mouth. As a kid, I always felt that way before my night terrors started. I’d run repeatedly into a wall trying to escape something that wasn’t there or wake up screaming in the backseat of my mom’s car. No one was ever coming, just like no one was ever coming to find Caleb until it was too late. I felt all over my mom’s car for something familiar, my hands fumbled for something that wasn’t cold. Cast in the harsh light of the street lamp through the garage door’s broken window, my hands glowed then too, reaching long for the door handle.

Cradling Silas, my hands looked too small like he might slip right through them. His eyes were closed and his head was nestled against my chest, though short lived.

I edged away as I looked down at Silas, and his eyes came open again. This time he was smiling at me unblinking. “Silas!” I said, “Are you awake?” No answer. I laid back into our bed’s gaping mouth as I rubbed his head, staring up at the ceiling, recalling all the unsettling things I’d done with no memory of them, none of those times had I ever smiled like Silas; I was outside running in total darkness from the high-pitched whine of a chainsaw. Blocking the way into my grandmother’s house was an outdoor refrigerator that shocked me every time I touched it; it was much larger in my dream than real life, and it shifted like a cog in front of me. To get away from the metallic clatter of the chainsaw, I pushed the refrigerator towards the noise in the darkness.

I peeked down at Silas again, his eyes were closed. I closed mine too and thought of my dresser covered in snow globes and the shards of glass sticking up from my carpet sharp and saturated. All the lights came on in my house after I pushed the dresser over in my room, which in my dream was the refrigerator. All of my fragile possessions were lost, gone to the thing I couldn’t see. My parents weren’t ever angry, more like rattled, afraid of finding me standing in the dark somewhere staring at nothing.

Silas’s eyes were wide, bluer than ever, focused on me. They were the same blue as Caleb’s before they were stolen, removed and his sockets stuffed with linen cloth. They never recovered any of his organs except his heart wrapped neatly inside his chest cavity with the same cloth cut to replace his eyes.

A familiar sensation came over me, a feeling of being very far away, not real. I put my foot on the floor and felt myself floating above the bed, away from Silas. He was so tiny.

Caleb’s whole body was covered with salt. The detectives waited to see if the person who had preserved him that way would return. By then this person must have been watching because no one ever came back. We could only bait them so long with what was left of Caleb’s body.

Silas knew nothing of these details that felt like a page out of the horror story of my skewed perceptions. Still, Silas’s grief became a ritual. Every night we both stood, him in the corner and me coming in to see if he was still breathing.

Sometimes, the soft light revealed blood crusted below his nose, outlining his mouth and teeth when he smiled up at me; it was hard not to be afraid of Silas’s grief.


A month went by and Silas was still behind the door waiting for me every night, except this time he wasn’t because when I moved toward him, something in our bed moved too. I turned and saw Silas. Silas was in bed. I turned my head back to the corner behind the door; Silas was also there with his back to me. I clawed my way onto the bed with Silas, my Silas, and looked him over. It was him. It was his sandy brown wispy hair, his long eyelashes, his small chubby hands. I stared at the other Silas standing in the corner of our room, and felt myself shrink and split in two.​


I didn’t remember falling asleep. The clock burned red. 2:43. I reached out to Caleb’s side of the bed half expecting to feel him, afraid if I stared too long I’d see a jagged scar below his nose that a crude hook made as it removed part of his brain. I closed my eyes and turned my head, afraid of seeing the gash along the side of his frail body spilling out with our bed sheets.

Anguish turned into adrenaline as I felt all over the bed for Silas. I was cradling an empty wad of linens. My eyes darted to the corner of the room, still dark, and Silas was there. I clicked the bedside lamp on. He stood still. I draped a shirt over the lamp and approached him, Silas, that last night was not my Silas. I laid him next to me, happy to see his eyes were closed, and he was breathing his shallow sleepy breaths I had grown so accustomed to.

Memories of Caleb crept in as I clicked the lamp off after a quick glance back at the corner behind the door and every other corner of our room. Caleb wasn’t there. The other Silas wasn’t there. I couldn’t help but think he wasn’t there because he was lying next to me in bed.


The doctor’s office was empty. It smelled of lavender and rosemary, yet something about it felt unclean. I fixated on a still life of a Mason jar with some obscure thing inside of it and felt dazed the longer my eyes came in and out of focus. Silas sat still beside me, too still for a three year old, too tired from all the restless nights.

“When did his sleepwalking start?” Silas’s pediatrician, Dr. Locke, was eyeing me closely.

“A little over a month ago, actually…as strange as it sounds, on the anniversary of my husban—” I fidgeted. “His dad…”

Dr. Locke knew very well that Caleb died under strange circumstances. They found him lying in his tent, gutted. It was all over the news, all over my face every time I came to see her about Silas.

“Not unusual at all.” She assured me. “Three year olds are smart, very perceptive. Grief and fear can manifest in ways you couldn’t imagine. Silas is an exceptional boy. In fact it seems he’s grown two inches since your last visit…when was it?” Dr. Locke looked down at Silas’s chart, “Two months ago. You were in for strep throat.” She looked back at me, “For a little guy getting over an infection like that, he certainly wasn’t hindered!”

I nodded, a little surprised to hear Silas had grown two inches. I just measured him a week before he started sleepwalking. He looked taller standing against the door frame, but it was only because he was standing up as straight as he could with his neck arched back. He was the same height as last month. It seemed impossible for him to have grown two inches in such a short time. They must have it wrong.

I said, “It’s not the most concerning thing. He’s having nosebleeds everyday. Is that also normal?” Dr. Locke tilted Silas’s head back and looked inside his nose. I imagined her sliding a hook in and yanking. I jolted a little and shifted in my chair. She shot me a strange glance before recovering to say,

“Probably just allergies. It should stop once the season is over.” Silas looked up at me and grinned in a way I didn’t recognize. I pulled my eyes away from Silas, who was feeling less and less like my Silas at all. She winked at me and stood up. “Yeah, all is well Mom. Try not to worry and make sure to get some rest in at night for yourself as well. He should grow out of sleepwalking. In the meantime just keep all the doors locked and border any edges of the bed with pillows. Oh, and make sure to listen for any teeth grinding.”

On our way out of the office I noticed two more Mason jar paintings on the far side of the wall filled with—what? Preserves? I got closer and touched a portion of upraised paint, a shade of red so dark it looked like a clot of blood.​


At home the marks on the door frame were the opposite of what I feared. Silas had not grown two inches in a week, he had shrunk two inches. It couldn’t be.

I kept Silas out of preschool for the rest of the day and observed him, the way he moved, the things he played with and ate. Everything felt skewed like the Mason jar paintings in Dr. Locke’s office. My life reminded me of a picture of roses hanging in the foyer of my friend’s house when we were kids. Everyday it displayed a new scene, sometimes it housed a dozen vibrant roses, other times only three wilted roses hung over the sides of the vase or one dead rose lay dried at its base. We could never predict what tomorrow would bring—ten roses or two or sometimes none at all. Her parents insisted the picture was the same as always when we came running scared of—what? I don’t know. I thought of the haunted roses and the clot and the wads of linen cloth.

Silas approached me holding a piece of paper stretched out at arms length. “What’s this?” I tried to sound enthusiastic and soothing.

“Us.” With crayons Silas had drawn me, himself, and someone I assumed to be Caleb.

“Is this Daddy?” I pointed.

“No. Daddy went bye-bye.” A lump formed in my throat.

“Who is this by us?” Silas smiled and blood began to drip from his nose.​

Our room was quiet once I’d returned carrying an ice pack and towel. Silas was standing in the corner. “Silas!” I called out. Silas didn’t move; instead, he stood stiff. I ran to turn him around, and my voice caught in my throat.

In my hands I held a boy whose torso and arms and legs were loosely wrapped in linen, a boy very much like Silas in every way. It was him. It was his sandy brown wispy hair, his long eyelashes, his small chubby hands.

His bright blue eyes popped open, and his mouth stretched to an unnatural size as he let out a gurgling noise. The blood from his nose pooled at the back of his throat and spewed through choking coughs that turned to laughter.​

Image credit:ariadne-a-mazed

Kaci Skiles Laws is a closet cat-lady and creative writer who reads and writes voraciously in the quiet moments between motherhood and managing Crohn's Disease. She was a 2023 winner for Button Poetry's short form contest, and her short story Eugene was nominated for a pushcart prize in 2022 by Dead Skunk Mag. Her most recent poetry has appeared in 3Elements Review, River Teeth Journal, Blood Tree Literature, and elsewhere. Her poetry books, "Strange Beauty" and "Summer Storms" are available on Amazon, and her most recent chapbook, "Smile, Child" is available from Bottlecap Press.