The largest domain ever recorded was manifested by the S-class nightmare Typhon, sixty years after the formation of the undertakers. The fifty-mile radius covered the majority of New York City. Miraculously, the only victim was High Priest Pierre Monroe himself, who left behind only his leatherbound journal, presumed to be his compass. The last entry reads – ‘Typhon’s wish appeared to be for everything to disappear, but in the end, he just didn’t want to go alone.’”

-Internal Archives, History of the Undertakers, Volume 2, Typhon

The Museum of Echoes disappears to reveal the homely interior of the apartment we entered. Smiling photos of Sam’s family decorate the walls of the lime green hallway leading towards a dark oak door decorated with a worn postcard from “Green Haven Park.” Besides the blocky letters, all that remains on the card is a maroon farmhouse in the top left corner. David turns away from the door and starts to shuffle towards the foyer as he strips his mask. I reach out and grab his hand, holding him in place. He whirls around with wide eyes.

“Master, your hand – it’s shaking.”

“It’s not bad to be afraid, dear.” I take off my mask and pull down my hood. My hand moves David’s over my cheek. “Feel my wrinkles, child. Look at my white hair and the tears that never leave my eyes. Can’t you see? I’m always afraid, but that fear is what allows me to try again and again to understand them. Fear is what makes us human. Never forget.”

David nods slowly and raises his mask again.

“Leave it behind. We have reached the nodus. It will not help you here, or anywhere once you truly grasp our purpose. I wear it only to make outsiders more comfortable.”

Without hesitation, I open the door in front of me, and streaming out of the door, a dark plume of smoke expands to fill the hallway. The air becomes heavy, and guttural screams, huffs of frustration, and intense sobbing pierce my ear as I push my way through. Inside, a furious storm of furniture and belongings rages. I duck to avoid being struck by a stack of books. It’s worse than I expected. I need to find Sam, but I won’t reach him before being consumed. My hand reaches into my pocket. It pauses, feeling a soft frilled edge, and then tightens its grip. Sorry Daisy, I want to show him everything as it was, and I know you would have wanted him to know, but I have no choice – I can’t do this alone. I steady my stance and close my eyes, blinking tears into the air.

“SAM, LET HER HELP YOU! YOU JUST WANT SOMEONE TO LISTEN RIGHT? I CAN’T DO IT YET, BUT SHE CAN!” David screams from behind me. I feel a rush of air and open my eyes to see David thrusting his hands into the smoke. Breathing heavily with effort, he begins pulling it apart.

“I may not understand all of it, but I do know what it’s like to push everything away out of fear. For so long, I tried to be some kind of anti-hero with a tragic backstory because I thought it was the only way to justify my pain, but I want to change.” David chokes out the words as he strains. With the last syllable, he stamps his feet into the carpet and doubles his force.

“I’M DONE RUNNING. AND. SO. ARE. YOU!” He screams the words, one after another, grunting in between. The air whistles with their energy as they smash into the smoke.

With a resonating crackle, the storm separates and reveals a head of overgrown brown hair. Shrouded by a tangle of curls, a young man sits on the hardwood floor, hugging his knees to his chest.

“MASTER, GO! I’LL HOLD BACK THE STORM.” Heeding his call, I sprint forward and slip between David’s outstretched limbs. Behind me, the black walls slam back together, leaving me alone with Sam, who lifts his head up to study me with his murky gray eyes. The single lightbulb hanging from a string on the ceiling casts deep shadows on his sunken face.

“Are you here to kill me, Anna?” he asks with a monotone voice, reburying his head.

“We both know I wouldn’t win that fight, Sam.” I say with a chuckle.

“So then why are you here? Do you hate your life that much?”

“I am not the one that hates life, Sam.” He pauses before standing up to face me.

“Can you tell me one thing, Anna?” He pushes his face close to mine and drops to an angry whisper. “What did I ever do wrong? Didn’t I play the game like I was supposed to? Which rule did I break to get here?” Sam’s face contorts with rage.

“None. Absolutely none. You did everything perfectly, Sam.”

“So – WHAT THE HELL WAS IT ALL FOR?” he screams. “What did I bury my dreams for? What did I leave all those friends for? I should be happy right?” He grabs my shoulders roughly. His eyes light up with a strobing golden light. “Hey Anna. Hey, let me tell you something. I’m happy. I have a job that lets me buy anything I want. My family is proud of me. My friends support me. I laugh harder than anyone else and I’m all grown up and the silly things don’t affect anything anymore. So, what is this THING coming out of me? Hey Anna, you know about this stuff, right, so tell me, why am I like this?” His last word falters as the golden light dims. I catch Sam as he collapses, pulling him into a deep hug. Gently, I whisper to him as I stroke his head.

“That’s the worst part, Sam. It’s not fair, and none of it is your fault. It’s no single person’s fault. You were just doing your best the only way you knew how. And all those people, they taught you the only way they knew how. All those ugly feelings are real. There’s no fitting explanation, so it’s ok to scream and sob and be loved nonetheless.”

Softly, Sam begins to cry. I feel his tears soak through my hair and drip onto my neck. He shudders with the force of his sniffles and draws sharp breaths in between aching moans. In response, I squeeze him tighter, lowering him slowly to the ground. Suspended in my arms, he cries and cries until we are covered in snot and spit and warm breath. And finally, he is still, breathing tranquilly with his head on my lap. I speak quietly.  

“Let me show you a story, dear. Someone who was brave in the face of unfairness. Someone who was also awake in their dream. Maybe it will lighten your fear.”

My hand finds the frilled edge of the handkerchief in my pocket. I pull it out and from it, a soft pastel pink glow expands to embrace the room in a distant memory.


It’s summer, and in our backyard garden, Chloe crouches over something on the ground. She wears pastel blue overalls and a frilled pink skirt and as she works, the bright July sun filters through a voluminous cascade of golden hair and lights up little clouds embroidered on her clothes. I call out to ask what she is doing. She tells me that it’s a secret. I chuckle and fake a pout. Laying down on the grass, I smell the air. The rich, sweet aroma of the cake I placed in the oven pours out from the open kitchen window behind me. Little pattering footsteps. Then a dimpled, loving smile replaces the sun above me. Chloe waves, and I wave back. She tells me to sit up and close my eyes for a surprise gift. Feigning astonishment, I do as I’m told. Something soft tickles my neck. She tells me I can look now. Looking down, a necklace of daisies. I smile and wrap my arms around Chloe. She wriggles and giggles as I pull her to me. I tell her how much I love the gift, but also that I love her more. She pulls herself up using my neck and kisses me on the cheek. She tells me she’s a little tired. I tell her to take a nap, and I’ll wake her up when the cake is ready. Chloe scampers off towards the porch stairs. I run my hands over the flowers on the necklace. The petals are warm and wrinkled where little fingers gripped them. I can’t stop smiling. The windchimes jingle in the breeze. I hear a thump behind me. I turn around. Chloe is motionless at the bottom of the stairs.

It’s a month later, and in the hospital bed, Chloe sleeps with her favorite lime green blanket. I made it for her fourth birthday. She turned 6 last March. I tell the doctor to come outside to the hall. He agrees and follows me. I shut the door. I tell him that Chloe has worked really hard. He agrees. I tell him how rough all the tests were on her. She really misses home, but she trusts the grownups. He agrees. I decide that I don’t like him very much. I think he knows. I ask him about his day. He says that it was good. He asks about work. I tell him that it was good. I ask him about his kids and apologize that we’re making him so busy. He says it’s his job and it’s his pleasure. I didn’t mean it anyways. I ask more questions. He gives more answers. I run out of questions. He still has answers and tells me Chloe has eleven months to live. I ask him why not a year. He looks at me in thought. I apologize. It’s a dumb question. I don’t need the answer. I’m a liar. I know he’s a liar, too. Chloe can’t die. She’s too busy making flower necklaces. She hasn’t tasted my birthday cake yet. We’ll leave tomorrow, I think. I tell the doctor that I’ll talk to him in the morning. He agrees.

It’s two months later, and in the steel coffin, Chloe shares every thought in her head with me. She tells me it’s called an M-R-I, emphasizing each letter. She tells me that the nice lady with the blue hat said M was for magnet, like the photos on the fridge, and she would teach her another letter tomorrow. She tells me that the lady puts on PBS for her and lets her play math games on her phone, and that she’s glad she won’t be behind when she goes back to school. She tells me about the baby bunnies that hop past her window all day. She tells me about the doctors that always praise her for how hard she is working to feel better. She tells me about the old janitor that has Einstein’s hair color and the dad jokes that he always makes. She tells me that everyone at the hospital is so nice, but she misses her friends a lot. She tells me that she’s feeling tired and wants to go to sleep. I tell her to nap. I tell her it will make her better.

It’s six months later, and back in the hospital bed, Chloe embroiders a handkerchief. The treatment has slowed her down, and it’s difficult for her shaky hand to thread the needle through the correct spots. Hours pass. The pink frill only covers a fraction of a corner. I ask what it is for. She tells me that it’s a secret. I feign a smile. Chloe squints her eyes. The noonday sun has recently begun to bother her. She points to the curtains, and I close them. Soft fluorescent lights turn on overhead. I look at Chloe. The shadows sink into her cheeks. The light highlights the split hairs sticking out of her cat-themed beanie. I look at the square port on her chest outlined by the gown. I tell her the doctors might be able to swap it out for a heart or a flower. Chloe breaks into a dimpled, loving smile. I can’t help but notice the dark brown rot scattered in her mouth. I think about her dry mouth complaints. I think about vomiting. I tell her that her adult teeth will come in soon. She tells me that she knows and leans back into her pillow. The handkerchief falls off her lap and onto the floor. I reach down to pick it up. I bend back up and hit my head on the nightstand. A cup of coffee spills on the ground. A cup of coffee spills on the handkerchief. It’s dirty now, and I can’t get up because I can’t take it anymore. Deep breath. I don’t think it comes out right. Tears. Tears fall, and everything is wet, and I’m so sick. A little pat on the head. Chloe tells me that it’ll be ok. I tell her that she’s going to die. She tells me that she knows, and I will be ok because I’m strong. She hugs me but I can’t hug her back because my strength will break her.  

It’s a year later, and in the operation room, the machine beeps slower and slower. The doctors have all left. They said something about privacy. Chloe’s hand. It’s so cold. Like ice cream, I tell her. She’s holding ice cream in her hands. Ten beeps. I tell her that I love her. Five beeps. She loves me too. One beep. Mom, I don’t want to die. Beep. I close my eyes. It is so silent, I think. So peaceful. I hear a thud. She tells me I can look now. Chloe stands in front of me. She twirls and her hospital gown billows around her like a sundress.

It’s an hour later, and in the hospital, Chloe skips through the hallways. I rub the tears out of my eyes. She asks me to open the windows with her. I unlock them and lift her up so she can push them open. A warm, flowery breeze slips between us. We visit the playground. She wants to go on the swing, so I push. She wants to go on the slide, so I wait at the bottom. She wants to spin, so I whirl her around and around. Our laughter echoes through the music room. I laugh at her silly little dance to the tune of The Magic School Bus. She wants to go to the garden last so we ride the elevators up and down as we crack KitKats and leave crumbs. Chloe tries to catch fruit snacks in her mouth. They spill but it doesn’t matter because we have more. A paper airplane soars through the pastel summer day from the rooftop. I look at Chloe with her back turned towards me, crouching in the garden. Dear God. Please. Make this moment go on forever. Please. I won’t ask for anything ever again. Please. Just don’t take anymore from me. Chloe runs back to me and drapes a wreath of sunflowers over my head. She smiles and says she will make more for her hospital friends. Please. Where are they? she asks. They’re on a field trip. They’ll be back tomorrow. Please. Did they all get better? she asks. Yes. Please. I know they’ll never get better, but you will thanks to this miracle. I don’t say this out loud. Please. I’m tired, she says. You don’t want to play anymore? PLEASE. I do, but I need to rest to welcome my friends back tomorrow, she says. Please. PLEASE. PLEASE. Ok, Chloe. Please don’t leave me again.

It’s a minute later, and in the garden, Chloe lays in the grass. You know, mom, she says, I love this world. I love people. Promise me you’ll keep loving people tomorrow. Promise me, she says. I pinky promise. Sing me a lullaby, she says. I sing. The morphine needle empties into her heart-shaped port. A dimpled, still loving smile. Beep. A soft pink glow embraces the hospital. Below, cheers erupt. A stream of people runs out of the hospital, screaming thanks to gods, probability, and miracles for curing their illnesses. It’s the most beautiful summer day, but none of them know. None of them will ever know that in the rooftop garden, I cry into the little blue handkerchief that remains where Chloe laid. They’ll never know of her choice, how she sacrificed her only wish for love. I cry at the carefully embroidered pink frills and daisy and the crooked letters that spell happy birthday mom. Happy birthday, I think. Happy irthday.

Thank you, my Daisy. You taught me how to love. The unfairness meant something.


“We have forgotten our role as priests. We see only monsters, and that will be our doom. We are not reapers. We are priests, bringing peace, not judgment. I urge all of us to try and remember. Remember the value of empathy. I know it will hurt more. Your hearts will be filled with the darkness and sorrow you take on, and you will cry and scream at the unfairness of it all. And one day – the nightmare will visit you too, but you’ll rest peacefully knowing that someone will be there to hold your hand. Empathy, not apathy, will be our compass through the long dark.”

-Internal Archive, History of the Undertakers, Volume 3, Inaugural Address of Anna Bellemer, fifth head of the Undertakers

“Do you think I can be brave like her, Anna?” Sam whispers weakly in my arms.

“You are already brave like her, dear. It’s a brave act to ask to be understood.”

“What will happen when I die?” Sam closes his eyes.

“Reincarnation, heaven, rest, freedom. Maybe a tranquil meadow. Maybe a Museum of Echoes. If all of this is possible, then I’m sure it will be anything you can imagine. Do one thing, Sam, tell my daughter I’m keeping her promise and tell her that I’m going to do so much more.”

“I will, Anna.” The sound of breath fades. Around me, the darkness curls away. I turn to David who stands in the same pose I left him in. His robes are torn and his hair sticks out in every direction.

I start towards the exit of the apartment. When I reach David, I reach up to tousle his hair.

“You have done well, David. Now we must go. The Undertakers must know of Sam. I think I’ll name him the Dreamer. It’s a fitting name for someone who will change the world.”