's 2018 Horror Write-off:

Only Ethereal

Submitted by Allen Chew (email)

"Vast, isn't it?" my grandfather said.

We looked up into the night sky, speckled with stars. The nothingness, a deep black.

"You say this every night, gramps." He chuckled.

"It's worth noting, how vast. So, very, very vast." He looked at me with a grim smile; his lips curled ever so slightly so that the creases on his mouth deepened.

We sat on the hill every night to watch the stars. It was the only relief my grandfather had from the stresses of daily life. A curmudgeon, constantly angry; he lashed out at my parents and siblings for petty, mundane things. When he would calm, I would take his hands and trudge up the hill near our house. It was here in the moments of the night and the stars that he was able to find solace.

We sat in silence for a few minutes. The stars were beautiful, as always.

"Time to go back inside?" I asked. I took his hand but he yanked it back and held it.

"No, no...not yet." He pursed his lips and furrowed his brows. Grandfather sat firmly in the grass. He stared not at the sky, but at the grass that he sat in, and at the light from our home.

We sat for a few minutes more.

"Wanna go back inside now, gramps?" I grasped his frail hands and gently tugged. He stood up, but almost fell back down.

"Fine..." His voice trailed, but I knew he was reluctant. We walked step by step down the grassy hill; I had to wait for his slow gait to catch up. When we reached the bottom, he stopped.

"I wonder what the stars will look like tomorrow," he said. It was strange, how he whispered it, like an ancient prophecy. It was strange, I thought, because the sky looked the same every night.

We entered the house, and the change in atmosphere was immediate. He tended to bring his mood to the room. Grandfather's gentle face turned into a scowl as his wrinkles became more prominent, and my brother immediately yelped. He had forgotten to wash the dishes for the night. Mother and father were out of town. Grandpa looked intently at the full sink for a few moments, and suddenly, snapped his head towards my brother.

"HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU, YOU INSOLENT LITTLE BRAT?! HAVEN'T YOUR MOTHER AND FATHER TAUGHT YOU A THING ABOUT RESPONSIBILITY?! You..YOU...YOU!!" He roared until his voice croaked and wavered. He had strained it from yelling but the tone was nevertheless belligerent. Glaring with a raging fist, he shook it violently at my brother, who cowered against the wall.

"Grandpa..p-please..!" He covered his face with his small hands and whimpered. Grandfather never struck a blow in his fits of rage. He never laid a finger on any of us when he was frustrated, and yet, the pure anger in his voice was enough to send us reeling. I could never imagine how mother grew up so resilient, for when she was subject to grandfather's rage, she only looked back with a stone cold stare.

Grandfather's face was warped with fury; the wrinkles cut deep into his face like canyons and his fragile hands trembling as he grasped nothing. It was then that I noticed something about his eyes, the gentle blue suddenly the color of the stars: deep, black, and vast.

It was only for a moment, and the anger was gone. His face softened. The rage in his eyes diminished. He approached my brother and laid his hand on his shoulder.

"...I'm sorry." He then walked to his room and turned to sleep.

It was quiet after grandfather went to rest. The house was silent, except for the sound of my brother's frightened weeping.

"I hate that. The way he screams," my brother whispered through his tears. "He's mean, he's mean."

"No, he's not..." I thought about how he stared into the sky every night with wonder. I thought about the way he spoke under the stars: soft and wistful. Those were the only moments where he was gentle. Grandfather wasn't mean. Only disoriented.

"He's not mean. He's that." I tried to console my brother. He knew it, too. But deep down, I wondered, what had happened to Grandfather that made him so bitter? It must have been something. It must have been.

Something bothered me. I thought about what Grandfather had said before we entered the house. I wonder what the stars will look like tomorrow. Something was wrong. Something was very, terribly wrong.

Tomorrow came. Grandfather was bitter, acrimonious throughout the day. When night fell, we walked up the hill together and sat in our usual spot.

I lay down on the grass. The sky was the same, as always. We stared at the darkness together in silence, with nothing more than the chirping of crickets and the whispers of the wind.

"You know, I hate it," my grandfather spoke suddenly.


"The light." He stared into the dark, starry sky. "I despise it...Know why?" My grandfather wasn't usually one to ask questions. An eerie, chilling feeling crept down my spine.

"...Why?" I inquired.

He gave a long sigh before he spoke. "The light...You can see everything in the light. Everything. The imperfections. The flaws. There are so many of them I wish not to see." I couldn't see his face in the darkness, but I could feel that he was scowling. It was the first time he felt discomfort in the quiet moments of the night.

"Only in isolation...can I render those imperfections hidden. I need't worry about things in the dark." He put his hands on top of mine and sighed deeply again.

"I am a perfectionist. I don't like seeing the imperfect. I hate it." He raised his head towards the sky. "How interesting is it that in the vast universe we are merely a speck of imperfection?" He looked above for a very long time.

"The stars...they are not imperfect, only ethereal, see?"

I did not see. Grandfather was never this talkative, it was strange to hear him utter words of light and dark and perfection. It was uncomfortable. I sat up and grabbed my grandfather's hand.

"Gramps...time to go inside." He got up slowly, and this time, he looked at me, and I could see his face illuminated by the light of the stars. He smiled, but his eyes were sorrowful. It was frightening.

The walk down the hill was longer than usual. Grandfather had to stop a few moments to catch his breath. I could hear him wheezing softly, his breathing uneven and inconsistent. When we reached the bottom, he stopped, just as he did the night before.

"I many other specks of imperfection are hidden in this dark universe?" he said, and then went inside the house. I didn't want to know what he meant by that, nor did I like it one bit.

Grandfather was not angry. He entered, and when he saw my brother, he did not scowl. He simply put his hand on his shoulder and smiled, and in the light of the house, I could see it much more clearly. The same, sorrowful smile. I could see much more, his upward furrowed brows, the subtle creases of his lips, and the color. The color of his eyes, deep black, black as the night sky. The house was quiet for the first time in years.

I blinked. Had I imagined it? I looked back at grandfather and he was scowling, his eyes a gentle blue. No, I saw it clearly. I did. Had he not been smiling a moment ago? Grandfather grumbled, and ambled off to bed.

I lay awake at night, thinking. Something was changing about grandfather. It was strange, the way he smiled. It was strange, because all of a sudden I saw things about grandfather I had not seen before. In older days, there would be moments where he'd look up at the stars without uttering a single word. We'd go back inside and the house would be a ruckus until he went to sleep. Always irritable. And always quiet in the night. But lately, I'd hear him talk more. I would hear him say something, just once, then go back to looking at the stars. And for the first time, I saw his sadness. I saw his frustration and sorrows and loneliness. For the first time, I was frightened because all of a sudden he was not talking things of complaints or inconveniences. Not once in the past did he ever say what truly bothered him, and now, I pondered. Was I an imperfection? Was there more to the world that grandfather hated?

I couldn't sleep. Grandfather kept me awake thinking.

Mother and father returned from a trip the next morning. They asked how everything was and if we got enough to eat, and other things, but not a word about grandfather.

Later into the morning, grandfather woke from his slumber. Groggy, he walked to the chair my mother was sitting in and said, "Hello. Good morning." He then went to make his coffee.

Mother eyed me in concern.

"Is something wrong with grandfather?" she whispered.

I thought about the things he said the night before. The imperfections. The flaws. I thought about his smile and starry eyes and said, "No, mother. Not a thing."

Night fell. Grandfather walked to where I was sitting and held out his hands.

"Want to go outside." He looked at me intently. I put my hands on his and he tugged me towards the door.

Grandfather was never urgent to go on our nightly walks. I shivered as we stepped outside, and the wind pricked my skin.

We trudged up the hill, my grandfather's grasp tight and firm. Step by step, until we reached the top.

Grandfather did not sit down. He stood where he was, his neck craned upward towards the deep night above where he stood.

Over the years, I've gotten bored of the stars. And yet, I climb up the hill near our home every night only to keep grandfather company. I looked not at the sky, but down the hill, where the creeping shadows of the trees formed from the light of our house.

At long last, grandfather said to me,

"It seems the stars are getting closer."

The stars? That was impossible. It was impossible for the stars to be closer. Grandfather had said that as if he were sure. As if he were sure the stars were coming closer.

I uttered a frightened laugh. "Gramps, you're going senile."

"Senile? I'm not." He huffed loudly and crossed his arms, defensive. But then, he started to laugh. A hearty, eerie laugh.

"Senile! No, never!" He continued to cackle.

I was taken aback. Grandfather's laughs were usually rare, if anything, a mild chuckle. But never like this. I've never heard him laugh like a crow, raspy and hysterical. I didn't like his laugh. Nor did I like what he said.

I didn't know how to describe the feeling, but I felt as if I was losing my grip on him. I felt as he was slowly fading. No, no. I didn't want that. I was scared if lose him; even if he was bitter, even if he seemed unloving, he was my grandfather. I was afraid to lose him. I was afraid to lose the moments where he looked at the sky in fascination. I was afraid to lose the same old grandfather I'd known for years. And now, he felt like a different person. I didn't know what to feel; he wasn't angry and he was talking to me. But it bothered me, because deep down, I knew that this wasn't like him. This wasn't like my grandfather.

In that moment, I looked at the sky, and I saw the universe: deep, dark, and so, so, very vast. It filled me with sorrow; a deep feeling welled up inside, and I started to weep. It was too grand, the universe, too much for me to comprehend. Nothing I would ever do mattered. I was merely a speck in the vast emptiness. The tears fell in great drips as I stood, dripping, dripping. We sat under the stars in silence.

It was getting late. Wiping away my tears, I grasped grandfather's hand and pulled, but it slipped away as he sat, unmoving.


"I'll meet you inside," he said, as he continued to look into the sky. "Let me stay a while longer."

I was hesitant, but I decided to leave him be. I walked down the hill, step by step, alone.

When I entered the house, mother was sitting in my seat. I sat next to her.

The house was quiet. How long was grandfather going to stay out there? A few moments passed, and I waited.

"You know, he wasn't always like that," my mother whispered suddenly.

"Really?" I said. Mother never talked about grandfather before, but it seemed important now.

"Your grandfather used to be a happy, cheerful man, always smiling," she said, reminiscing about the past.

"But your grandfather...he was sent to war when I was little. I missed him dearly." Mother grasped her hands tightly.

"You know? He was never the same after that. Bitter. Angry. I was frightened because this wasn't the father I knew."

Her words echoed in my mind. This wasn't the father she knew. This wasn't the grandfather I knew. For a moment, I was relieved, knowing that my mother felt the same. It made sense, the fact that grandfather would be withered from war. But there was still something I couldn't grasp about him that left me feeling empty. The flaws. The imperfections.

Grandfather returned, and I watched as he passed by my mother and I without saying a word. I watched his limp, and his groans that came with every step. He went inside his room and turned to sleep.

"Father is weakening," said mother suddenly. "He's getting too old. He won't be with us much longer." She looked down at my feet. "What will you do then?"

I didn't want to answer that question. I didn't want to imagine what life would be like without grandfather, I didn't want to think about how I'd feel without him, and I didn't want to bear the thought of ever seeing the stars without thinking of him.

"Goodnight, mother," I said, and I hurried off to bed and shut my eyes very tight.

I awoke early that morning. The house was still dark. I crept, as to not wake the rest of the family, out of my room and towards grandfather's. As I opened the doorknob, I heard something; grandfather was mumbling in his sleep. I crept closer, and it became clear that he was very, very distraught; his face scrunched and disturbed. I couldn't make out what he was saying, but as I was leaving, I caught a single word from his slumber.


I froze. It was the only word I could make out but it sent chills down my spine. I looked back, and grandfather was fast asleep.

I felt like panicking, I felt as if time was fleeting fast, slipping through my fingers like the nothingness of space. No, no. The feeling of being wracked with fear tore inside me and shook violent shivers all over my body. I didn't know how to stop it; I didn't like the anticipation of change. In that moment, I let out a broken sob and crumpled to the ground and held my head and cried because I was so, so afraid of grandfather being gone and away and I hated these changes and-

"Are you alright?" I stopped at the sound of mother's voice. She crept slowly from her room. The house was silent, except for the sound of my stifled tears. Mother approached me, kneeled, and wrapped her arms around. It was comforting, it was safe.

"I don't want to lose grandfather," I croaked, and my mother stroked my back.

"Me neither," she whispered in return.

She looked at me with sorrowful eyes and gripped my hands tightly. “But,” she hesitated. “It will happen. We will move on.”

It was the last thing I wanted to hear.

“Mother! I-“

“Worry not, child. He will move on too...and live among the stars.” Mother looked out the window, and still it was black as night. The house was dark, except for the light from the stars.

“Like he always wanted,” I whispered. The thought was certainly reassuring. Mother stroked my back until I was calm, then we both returned to sleep.

The time came for our nightly stroll.

“Come on, Gramps.” I took his hand, and he grasped lightly in return.

We stepped out the door. The wind was calm, and the night was perfect. I looked onto the grassy field, and there I saw a stunning sight: fireflies illuminated the sky, the specks of glowing light dancing in the night.

“Gramps, look!” I motioned towards the sight, but he only nodded softly. He did not smile.

The walk up the hill was the longest yet. I matched my pace with his, my arms around his frail body. Step by step.

We reached the top, and I looked into the night. Deep, dark, and vast. The sky was perfectly clear and the night was cool.

“It’s beautiful tonight, isn’t it, Gramps?”

“Yes...certainly,” his voice trailed, and he let out a long sigh. His neck craned up towards the sky as he stared into the abyss.

I was afraid, yes, of these nights. Time was ticking, these moments were going to disappear soon. But as I looked into the night sky, my thoughts of everything else vanished. It was quiet, it was beautiful, and in that moment, I could only think of the here and now, with grandfather.

I don’t know how long we sat, but after a long moment, grandfather stopped looking at the sky and instead stared directly at our house.

“I’ve had enough of it.”

What? What did he mean by that? His change in tone was frightening, and suddenly, I became very worried.

“I’m getting sick of this place,” he growled. “It’s time I move on.”

“Gramps, what do you mean?” I moved my hand to hold his, but he pulled away sharply.

The wind picked up, swirling and swirling around and around. The world around us was moving, changing, and suddenly, I stumbled, dizzy and nauseous. Was it an earthquake? No, I knew it was something more.

Grandfather stood in the middle of the hill, staring up into the night.

“I’m tired of this place,” he said, and slowly, he raised his frail arm towards the sky. He raised his open hand towards the sky, where the night was deep and the stars were bright, and clenched his fist, bringing it to his face.

And it felt as if his fist was pulling the sky to Earth.

I felt a pulse, a pulse that seemed to reverberate throughout the universe and beyond and back again. I felt the universe revolving, round and round, and everything was moving except for grandfather, where time stood still. And then, I saw the stars.

The stars were coming closer.

No, no, that couldn’t be. The stars couldn’t be coming closer, it was impossible. And yet, my fears were confirmed true, my eyes widening in horror at the glowing balls of light.

Oh my god, the stars were really getting closer, brighter and brighter, hotter and hotter, and I screamed.

I looked back at grandfather, and I saw his face, warped and twisted with sorrow, his wrinkles cut deep and his smile as wide as a jester’s grin. The stars, falling, falling, falling.

No, this can’t be happening. My deepest, darkest fears were suddenly becoming true, our world collapsing, ending much too sudden. No, no, it can’t be, everything I’d ever known would be gone, gone. Mother, gone, brother, gone, father, gone, grandfather, gone.

Everything, gone.

“Grandfather, why are you doing this!?” I screamed, and my heartbeat became faster and faster as I saw the stars in the sky looming closer and closer.

Grandfather looked at me, and began to laugh. His horrible, hysterical, hyena’s laugh.

“Oh dear...Haven’t we had this conversation before?” he said, and he cocked his head to the side and grinned. “I am a perfectionist. I am simply eradicating this world of its imperfections.”

“No, grandfather, please don’t do this,” I begged, and I could not stop my tears as I grabbed his shoulders with shaky hands. The ground below was shifting still, and I crumpled to the floor, holding my grandfather’s frail legs as he stood. But he grabbed my hands and pulled them forcefully off of his legs.

“Oh, don’t you get it!?” He roared. “Get off of me, I’ve had enough!” I cowered into the grass, and his looming figure towered over me. He shifted his eyes to the side.

“I’ve grown tired of this body,” he said, suddenly weary. “This cumbersome and heavy body.” He bared his teeth and clenched his fist.

“Do you know how much I hate it all!?” His voice raised again. “This world has nothing good to offer! Your insolent brother, your incompetent mother, and god knows HOW much I’ve despised the concept of war, this death and destruction over NOTHING! NOTHING!!” His gestured became more erratic and frantic, his small body trembling with rage.

His then smiled, but his eyes remained distraught and angry.

“Oh, but you...” he sighed. “You were always there for me, weren’t you? When nobody else was,” he chortled. My breath was shortening with an uneven heartbeat and I could feel myself gasping for air.

“Gramps, I-!”

“Every night, up on this hill, to watch the stars. To comfort me. Isn’t that right?” The shadows of the trees grew longer, and crawled as the branches grasped like fingers clawing into the ground.

“I despise those nights the most. Every moment leaves me only feeling trapped in this wretched world, like a window to perfection!!” He screamed towards the sky.

“Do you know how much I’ve longed to leave Earth behind!? This disgusting, horrible planet!? The lights of the stars mock me, as if they beckon me, pulling to somewhere I can’t go!! Because of YOU and EVERYBODY ELSE!!”

I was shaken by his words. He had hated me so much and he had hid it for the last 20 years. The world was spinning, changing, dying, the wind whirling and the ground rumbling. I screamed, but grandfather could not hear me.

He stood atop the hill, cackling, as the light neared closer and the world began to collapse.


I screamed and screamed and screamed as I watched the light engulf the sky, time ticking, ticking, ticking as I saw the world end before my very eyes.

“The calls to me.” Grandfather’s voice echoed.

“It’s time I move on.”


And as I watched in horror, I looked at grandfather for the last time, and what I saw caught my breath. His face, twisted and warped, his wrinkles forming swirls that contorted the form of his smile, his eyes, black, pitch black, black as the emptiness, dripping with the black of the night, dripping with sorrow, his lips curved into an empty smile. It was then that I saw my grandfather as something beyond me, something beyond this world entirely. He was not imperfect, only ethereal.

That was the last thing I saw before I vanished into nothingness.