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Welcome to Sonja's Secret Stories

Okay, if we're being real, this is the internet. There are no secrets. That being said, I've added this hidden page to give my newsletter subscribers access to some of my non-published works. This may include short stories, extra book content, deleted scenes, or whatever strikes my creative fancy.

So, I guess this page is a secret & a mystery.


The Light Keeper

Haunted by his dead mother, a teenage boy falls for a girl who radiates love—the one thing he’s always wanted—except that he thinks she’s a ghost. In one death-altering kiss, he attempts to live off her light forever.

This story came from the 2024 NYC Midnight Short Story Competition. I had eight days to write a 2,500 word story with the following prompts:

Genre- Ghost Story

Theme - First Love

Character - A Light Keeper

I submitted it in five days and won 2nd place in my prompt category, moving me on to the 2nd Round.

The Light Keeper


          The dark isn’t scary anymore. Not like when I was a little kid, and I would hide under the blankets wishing Mom would come turn on the lamp and call me her baby boy again. She never did. Now that it’s too late, I come to her.  I don’t bring a light, though.

          I sit criss-cross on the dying grass in front of her grave marker and frown at the leaves that hide her name from the moonlight. Annabeth Mae Blackwood. Until the fire, I’d thought her name was Beth. Now that’s the only part of her name I see.  If I try to brush the leaves clear, they will only come back. I remember learning about the leaf cycle in kindergarten. About how the sun gets farther from us, and the leaves can’t make food, so they shrivel and drop to the ground all curled up. I remember thinking I was like a leaf and Mom was the sun.

          Until she burned out.

          A twig snaps in the woods, and I jerk my head, scanning the low stone wall that separates the cemetery from the forest. While I’d been lost in thought, the sun had risen. A single beam shines directly on a teen girl about my age, standing next to the new grave a few sections over. She’s bathed in sunlight, almost glowing in a too-large white sweatshirt. Her face and hair are pale, and even though I don’t mean to, I notice the small bumps on her chest that prove she’s closer to a woman than a girl.

          I jump to my feet as a gust of air whips through the grounds, scattering the leaves. They scrape across Mom’s name, sending a chill through me as they bury the marker next to hers. The girl turns and her gaze sweeps past me before she pauses and slowly looks back. Our eyes lock and the wind stops blowing. The branches stop rattling. I can’t move.

          The next thing I know, she’s a grave-length in front of me, her thin brows lifted in surprise. There’s a light in her pale blue eyes that draws me closer.

          “I’ve seen you here before,” I say. “A couple days ago.”

          She jolts, as if surprised. “You…saw me?”

          Her voice is as shallow as a breeze. I think I’m surprised, too. She’d been at a funeral the last time it rained, standing apart from the crowd, wearing the same sweatshirt and sad face.

          I nod, and even though I’m trembling, I say, “You’re hard to miss.”

          The glow in her eyes has spread now, making her whole body seem to hum in the sun breaks. Like a lightkeeper, storing all the brightness inside. I’ve never seen anyone else so radiant.

          “I didn’t see you.” She takes a careful step back and runs her gaze down my body. I resist the urge to cover myself, knowing what she’ll see; a skinny fifteen-year-old in worn denim, untamed brown hair, and a singed gray jacket that I think might have belonged to my father once. With mom gone, I’ll never know.

          I point to the etched stones at our feet. “Nobody ever looks up around here.”

          She’s silent. So still, I wonder if she’s a ghost. Spending as much time as I do here, I’ve seen a few. 

          A crow caws from its perch on a tombstone. The girl blinks, breaking eye contact as she takes another step away. Her gaze darts around the cemetery where the sun casts elongated shadows of angels and crosses on the dew-covered grass. I know she sees what I see every day. There’s no one else here but the dead.

          When she moves away, panic fills me. I reach out to reassure her. To stop her? “Are you visiting someone?” I ask desperately. “Someone who loved you?”

          She halts, her brows dipping in confusion. She’s so pretty. “Don’t you mean somebody I loved?”

          Did I? In my experience, it was much easier to love somebody than to be loved in return. I wonder what it would be like to be loved by the girl in front of me. By anybody. I shrug.

          “I’m visiting my dad,” she says, and her light shines brighter. Pulls harder. She shoves her fists into a pouch on her sweater, and I instantly understand it was his. “He died in a car accident.” She scans the markers below us, reading Mom’s name before squinting at the one covered in leaves. “You’re here to visit your—”

          “Mom,” I say, stepping away from my mother’s bones. “My name’s Adrian.”

          A few hills over, a tall figure floats between two rows of headstones. She gasps.

          “Don’t worry.” I draw her attention from the apparition. “No one comes over here. Please, stay.” I want her to share her light.

          She glances to where the tall figure had been, but he’s already disappeared. They always do. “I think I should go.”

          I move toward her, but she glides backward. Graceful as the glow that surrounds her.

          “Will you come back?” I ask.

          She must hear my desperation because she pauses on the grass. “What do you want, Adrian?”

          “Your name.” I smile.

          After a pause, the corners of her lips lift. “I’m Lucy.”

          The brightness of her smile drags me closer, but she turns and dances away. I race after her, jumping over evenly spaced plots, and stop at the cemetery gate seeing nothing but the silhouettes of towering trees behind me and the still-sleeping town in front. When I turn back to the grass, only one set of footprints marks the dew.


            Fire licks at my feet as I kick open my bedroom door. I squint at the brightness as I stumble down the hall. Mom is screaming. Not my name. My little sister’s.

            “Abby! Baby! Where are you?”

            For seven years, it’s only been Abigail. Like my sister took all Mom's love and kept it locked inside her. If I can save Abby, maybe I can earn some love back. I make my way to Abby’s room but change direction when I hear a loud crash and Mom starts shrieking. I throw my weight against her bedroom door. It burns my shoulder as it opens. Mom’s lying on the floor, gasping. The ceiling is on her. It’s on fire. Her hair is on fire. She looks at me, face distorted with pain, and croaks out, “Abigail.”

            My eyes pop open and I stare up at the gnarled branches of a tree reaching into the cemetery. This happens more than I like, memories of the fire pulling me under. I sit up, and my vision adjusts in the cloud-covered darkness. A coyote cries from somewhere in the hidden depths of the woods. The first time I heard that sound, I curled into a ball. I thought a child was being murdered somewhere. But nobody got buried later. No small ghosts came around. I haven’t been scared since.

          “You’re here,” says a surprised voice behind me, whisper soft.

          Her. The light keeper. I jump up and find Lucy standing a few feet behind me. Even on this moonless night, I can sense the light inside her. It tugs me closer.

          “You came back.” They never come back.

          Lucy shrugs, her sweater lifting slightly above her knees. “I couldn’t stop thinking about you.” She smiles. “The boy in the cemetery. Come on,” she points to the low stone wall. “Talk to me.”

          I don’t look at the ground as she walks. Don’t listen for the telltale crush of leaves under her feet. Instead, I jump onto the wall and hold still until Lucy settles next to me. Our feet dangle over a cluster of drooping weeds, inches apart, yet I feel no warmth from her.

            “Can I tell you about my dad?” she asks, kicking her legs silently in the air. I watch them move. I’d watch anything Lucy did. Do anything for her because she came to me in the dark.

          “Yes.” I rest my hand on the wall between us and she sets hers a hairsbreadth away. I want to wrap her fingers in mine. Keep her next to me forever. Is this what love feels like? 

          “Have you seen my dad wandering around here?” she asks, glowing brighter, love in her voice. “He’s short and stocky and has a big laugh.”

          I pull back to look at her. “What makes you think I believe in ghosts?”

She scoffs, amusement dancing in her eyes, even in the shadows. “Don’t you?”

          I frown, feeling stupid. We both know ghosts exist. “I haven’t seen your dad.”

          “Oh,” Lucy slumps next to me, dimming. I press my hand against hers. An electric charge pushes into me. The world around me brightens until she snatches her hand away, jamming it into her pouch. When I look at her, she’s shaking, a duller version of herself. I’ve never felt more alive.

          “That doesn’t mean he won’t show up,” I say. “They do what they want, when they want.”

          She offers a small smile.

          I want to touch her hand again, but some instinct tells me I shouldn’t. “You really loved your dad, didn’t you?”

          “Of course.” Lucy looks at me and the shadows on her face seem larger, her skin grayer. “Didn’t you love your dad?”

          Would I have loved my dad if I knew him? I had hated Abigail’s dad, but he hadn’t even stuck around for her birth. My gaze darts to Mom’s grave marker. To the one resting beside it. What could love between a parent and child look like? Could it grow stronger after death? “I don’t think I’ve ever really loved anyone.”

          The look she gives me is so sad, that I have to turn away. I don’t want Lucy’s pity. I want her smiles. Her light. “But it’s never too late to start,” I say with a forced laugh.

          Lucy only looks sadder.


            The leaves have all fallen and branches stretch their bony fingers toward the burial plots that slowly fill with each passing day. Lucy appears almost nightly, talking about her dad, brimming with light. With love. When the ghosts skirt past us, we say nothing. What could we say that wouldn’t change everything between us? On the days she doesn’t come, I feel a sucking emptiness. I know that I need her.

          “I think I figured out what love is,” I say to her one night.

          Lucy’s sitting on Mom’s grave marker, her knees pulled under her sweater, arms wrapped around them as she stares across to her father’s grave. She does this sometimes when she’s thinking. In those moments, her inner brilliance seems to cry out to me. I haven’t dared touch her since that first night, but I’ve wanted to. I think I need to.

          She props her chin on her knees and smiles warmly. “What’s love, Adrian?”

          I steel myself. Force myself to meet her gaze. “You are love, Lucy. You’re exactly what I always imagined it as.”

          She bites her lower lip and tears form in her eyes. She’s never cried before. I didn’t know she could. “You can’t love me, Adrian. It’s impossible.”

          “No.” I jump up. “Don’t tell me I don’t know what I feel. I love you. Because, if I don’t, then I don’t think love is real.”

          “We aren’t real, Adrian.” She untangles herself from her sweater and stands, shivering like she’s cold. I only feel the heat of my burning hallway. It’s all I ever feel. In my head, I hear a scream. Abigail!

          I step away from the marker I’m standing on and look down. I’ve never read it before because I know I hadn’t done enough to save her. Except it’s not Abigail’s name I see. Adrian Carter Blackwood, beloved son and brother. I stumble back.

          “Beloved?” How does that feel less real than standing over my own bones?

          “I’m so sorry, Adrian.” Lucy is crying. Ghosts don’t cry. I never cry. “I can’t do this anymore.”

          I’m in Mom’s room, turning to run for safety, when her hand snakes from under the burning rubble and clamps around my ankle. “Help me,” she croaks. My skin is burning. I try to break away, but she won’t let go. A flash of movement catches my attention. Abigail stands in the hallway, small and wide-eyed, coughing in the smoke. She meets my gaze, then looks down at Mom before gasping in fear and running down the stairs. The front door crashes open sending a draft of fresh air up the stairwell. Around me, the fire swells. So bright. Mom finally turned on the light for me, and it's nothing like I’d wanted. There’s a rumbling, cracking sound, and then nothing.

          I blink back into awareness, the blazing memory settling into the steady, constant brilliance of Lucy as she stands in front of me, face streaming with tears, hands twisted in her sweater. “I thought I could be closer to my dad here. I thought you could help me find him.” Before I can process what she’s just told me, Lucy closes the distance between us. “I’m so sorry.”

          She stands on her tiptoes and gently presses her lips to mine. Her inner light slams into me, pouring into the dark emptiness, filling me with a need that outweighs my heartbreak. I wrap my arms around her and move my lips over hers, taking her love, even though it’s not for me. Bit by bit, I draw her into me, holding tight as she tries to break away.

          “Adrian! Let go! Please.”

          I can’t let go, even as she fights me. With a little more time, I know I can make her love me. I kiss her harder, drink deeper. I need somebody to love me. I need her to stay.

          When she stills, I finally let go. She stares at me with sad, blank eyes, her light extinguished. I feel it inside me, burning like a fire. So bright. And somehow not enough.

          “Look what you’ve done, Adrian,” she yells, her voice an angry ripple in the air. She looks down, and at my feet, I see another version of her lying in the grass, perfectly still, face pale, eyes open wide with shock. Dead.

          “You can’t force love, Adrian,” Lucy’s ghost says sadly, even as she starts to fade away. Ghosts never linger when I’m around.

          Then, she is gone, and loss sweeps over me as my emptiness returns. She didn’t have enough light for me. They never do. 

nyc midnight 2nd place.jpg
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