Lisa Morton

Photo by Seth Ryan

Lisa Morton is a screenwriter, author of non-fiction books, and prose writer whose work was described by the American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening.” She is a six-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award®, the author of four novels and over 150 short stories, and a world-class Halloween and paranormal expert. Her recent releases include the Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances; forthcoming in October 2023 from Applause Books is The Art of the Zombie Movie. Lisa lives in Los Angeles and online at www.lisamorton.com

Lisa will be the Horror Writers Association's Keynote Speaker at the StokerCon 2023.



by Lisa Morton 

He murdered me.

Elise’s thoughts swirled, a chaotic dance of half-formed sentences and unclear images, but that one stood outside the rest. She grasped at it, trying to hold on, looking for any sort of anchor in her personal maelstrom.

He murdered me while he was drunk.

The madness began to subside, as if a lever was slid down, a dial turned. Some of the thoughts connected, creating a chain she could follow, a chain of memories of the last moments of her life:

A Sunday afternoon, not even evening but Danny had already polished off two six-packs of that alcoholic seltzer he liked, he was starting on the third and on the television his team was losing. Maisie had picked the wrong moment to slink through the room and Danny had hurled a can at the cat. Although he’d missed, Maisie had uttered a yelp and fled from the room to the nearest under-bed shelter.

Elise had seen it all from the kitchen, and before she could stop herself she’d blurted out, “Danny!”

He’d shouted something back and then he rose from the couch as he’d done a hundred times before, all those times that left her nursing a red cheek or the cruel words, but this time she saw something different in him. He rushed into the bedroom; when he returned, she realized, with a stab of terror, exactly what was different.

He’d bought a gun last week, a handgun. He said it was for self-defense, but now it was pointed at her.

She didn’t remember what either of them said. She only knew the last thing she heard was the bang as Danny pulled the trigger.

Elise wasn’t sure how long ago that’d been, or what had happened since, or where she was now. She struggled to make sense of the wild pictures in her head; they slowly coalesced into a sequence.

Danny had shot her in the head. She’d died almost instantly. He’d wrapped her body in trash bags, dragged her into their backyard, into the garden that had been Elise’s sanctuary. There, among her vegetables and herbs and flowers, he’d ripped out her prize rose bush – the Queen Elizabeth Grandiflora that her mother had given her a month before she’d been taken by the cancer – and he’d dug a hole there. The ground was hard, the work strenuous, but he’d stayed at it until well after dark. When the hole was big and deep enough he’d rolled her into it, uncaring when one hand had flopped out of the trash bags. He shoveled the dirt back in, tamped it down, and Elise had…

Had what? What was she now? What had happened?

She knew she was dead; she searched for sensation and found nothing. No sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. She couldn’t feel any part of her body, could move nothing, yet this caused no panic in Elise; somehow she knew this was right.

She did have some awareness. She knew, for example, that dirt was around her. Her body was changing; she felt it stiffen then soften as the tiny creatures in the ground began to work at it.

At some point, Elise realized she was not alone. It was not that there was anyone or anything with her, but rather that she was a multitude, of millions. She felt the other Elises next to her. She thought they were exactly like her – each alone, each aware.

She was a cell. Elise was one tiny part of Elise, each part containing all of Elise.

Then – she didn’t know whether it was hours or days or weeks – she was no longer simply cell-Elise. She had become part of something. She felt a swirling mass surrounding her, and she understood: she’d been consumed by something in the soil. A bacteria, a microorganism. It possessed its own primitive awareness that merged with Elise but didn’t dilute her. Instead, she transcended; she saw that death was not an end, but a reconnection, an expansion. She knew the rest of Elise was experiencing this as well, just as every human who had ever lived and died had.

She felt change again: she was now within something bigger, different, with flowing life force. Her consciousness turned again as it merged with what had taken in the microorganism: a plant, its root reaching down for nutrients in the earth.

For the first time since she’d died, Elise felt unease. This new being she was part of was so alien, so different, that it threatened to overwhelm and erase her. A part of her wanted to (even knew she should) give in, that the natural order was for her to disperse this way. It would be an easy grace to attain.

But she wasn’t ready. She felt like she had something left to do, although she wasn’t sure what. She wondered: was this what ghosts were, left-over pieces of someone that found their way through the chain of life to return as just a translucent shred of what they’d been? Would she become a ghost?

But she didn’t feel insubstantial, ethereal; she felt alive, part of something. Something growing.

It wasn’t her beloved rose, though. She realized Danny had probably tossed that away when he’d uprooted it to bury her. She guessed that he’d planted something else above her, something big, to hide her grave.

She felt a trunk form, branches extend, flowers form, fruit ripen. It seemed to happen quickly, but she knew it had really occupied years. The blossoms were almost unearthly, a strange configuration that led to large red fruit stuffed with gleaming seeds.

Elise was part of a pomegranate tree.

As autumn deepened insects preyed on the luscious fruit, boring through the tough outer rinds until they reached the juicy interiors.

When she found herself eating the fruit, she knew she’d become part of an insect. It crouched on a fallen pomegranate, too busy consuming the rich seeds to notice the bird that swooped.

She was flying then, and even without sensation the experience was dizzying. She was a small bird, just a sparrow or finch that stayed mostly to the trees, but it still left her almost ecstatic. To become the bird, lose herself completely, would be so gratifying; she wanted it, but…

Elise didn’t give herself over to it. She stayed aware within the bird, and she waited.

She waited until the day when the bird flew too close to the ground, was suddenly taken into hungry jaws, ripped open in the ancient ritual of predator and prey. The blood around her moved from cold to warm, feathers became fur, the new consciousness beside Elise’s was more familiar…it was, in fact, very familiar. That consciousness also knew her. How was that possible? Unless…

The bird had been eaten by a cat – by her cat, Maisie.

Elise was now part of her beloved companion, Maisie, who had kept her going through the hardest parts of her marriage to Danny (and most of it had been hard). The marriage had been good for a few months but had soured soon thereafter. Increasingly anxious, Elise had fallen in love with the twelve-week-old kitten when she’d walked past a pet adoption display outside a market and, impulsively, had brought the little tortoiseshell home with her. She’d hoped Danny might find the cat as lovely and calming as she did; she’d feared he’d forbid her from keeping it. Instead, he shrugged, disinterested, and walked away.

So she’d kept the cat, raised it, poured love into it. The garden and Maisie had kept her sane, given her solace when the marriage had turned completely bad, when the arguments had stopped being verbal and become physical, when she knew she should leave but she didn’t know where to go.

When Elise had been murdered, Maisie had been a stout, loving five-year-old with a thick coat of gleaming multi-hued fur. Although Elise couldn’t see the cat now, she knew Maisie was older…and desperate. She had consumed the bird down to the bones. Maisie spent her days searching for water and prey; when she slept, she curled up in a cobwebbed niche beneath a pile of old lumber at the far corner of the backyard, among the splinters and spiders. Elise could feel the cat’s resignation and weakness, and she understood: Danny had simply stopped caring for her. He’d lacked even the simple kindness of giving Maisie to a friend, or a shelter. He’d cast her aside like a forgotten, unloved toy, and Maisie had turned feral, a hunter of matted fur and wiry muscles, a starved thing whose ribs stood out on her dull sides.

Elise’s essence aligned with Maisie’s, and each welcomed the other. Maisie immediately grew stronger. The two realized they shared a common goal: the need to adjust an injustice, an imbalance.

Maisie left the shadows of her shelter, made her way through the yard – now fiercely overgrown with Elise no longer around to tend to it – and approached the house. It occurred now to Elise to wonder if Danny still lived there; had he been caught, was now in a prison? The garden and the house both certainly looked forgotten, abandoned…but then Maisie tensed, and Elise knew she’d caught sight of the one human she feared and hated.

Danny had never been found out. He still lived here. Elise wondered how he’d done it. Likely, he’d told anyone who’d asked that Elise had left him; no, he didn’t know where she might have gone. Maybe he’d even thrown her clothes out, so if the police had checked the closet it would look as if she’d packed for a trip. Or perhaps no one had really cared enough to go that far.

Danny always kept the house sealed, even when he was in it. It was late fall, but the weather was still warm enough that he blasted the air conditioner instead of opening doors and windows. She wondered how he was covering the power bill without her income to help.

They’d wait, then. Elise/Maisie was in no rush. The imbalance would be corrected only with care and patience.

There was an open dryer vent on the side of the garage. In the past, plump Maisie would never have squeezed through it, but starved Maisie wormed her way in without great difficulty.

Elise/Maisie remembered how Danny bought his seltzer by the carton, keeping the cartons in the garage until he was ready to move them to the refrigerator. He’d be coming out to the garage before long, to replenish, just as he did every day.

Elise/Maisie waited in the garage, half-hidden by a broken armchair.


At last the door opened and Danny loomed, pausing, already drunk.

Elise/Maisie tensed.

Danny took the step down into the garage.

Elise/Maisie rose, tendons taut.

Danny walked forward.

Elise/Maisie sprang, rushing through his legs, parted in mid-step.

Danny cried out, staggered…then caught himself.

Elise/Maisie reversed, sped back, a blur of motion.

Danny staggered, stumbled, went down. There was a loud crack as his head collided with the bare concrete floor. The only part of him that moved was the blood pooling beneath one ear.

Elise/Maisie hesitated, but could feel the change in Danny. He was silent, immobile.

He was dead.

Maisie sauntered forward, and for an instant Elise feared hunger would drive the cat to take in part of Danny. His was a voice she never wanted to hear again, to share in, to merge with.

But Maisie merely sniffed him before turning away. She skittered through the vent opening, returning to her hunting grounds, Elise with her.

Elise knew she could move forward now. The scales had been evened out again. She wanted to experience what came next, with Maisie. She hoped the cat would go on living, with a new loving companion, and when she/they finally ceased to exist they would share the next renewal together.

Elise let go.

halloween calling

And coming in October:


halloween beyond calliing