in the abandoned Mill Road house

its light "illuminates" the past, turning its area of effect into a sort of time bubble

Jess convinced me to always check my locks before bed when she climbed through my window at 3 in the morning to tell me about a lamp she saw. I was pretty out of it, having just been roused from a dream where I was flying to the moon on my own private rocket, so I was having trouble following what made it so special. Luckily she explained it six or seventeen times so I was able to piece it together.

She has a friend that lives out in the middle of nowhere, past Mill Road, and every time she visits she drives down Mill Road and passes the Old Mill Road Mansion, a decrepit old two-story home that literally no one was surprised had some weird shit going down inside of it. On the last few drives, she'd noticed a lantern burning in the window of the second story. She started paying closer attention to it and noticed that it was lit more and more often. However, there was never any sign of anyone being out there.

When she proposed we go check it out, my immediate answer was, of course, fuck no. I'm not getting cult-murdered over a lantern. I have electricity. She insisted though that the lantern and the baby doll (#1) might be connected. How often do random items spontaneously combust? And. . . I mean, someone has to pay for my kitchen, so I agreed to help her get to the bottom of it. Sue the pants off that cultist wizard when I get my hands on 'em, yes I will.

The house was somehow dustier than you'd expect. As soon as we set foot inside it felt like the whole world went quiet. I could hear every footstep and shuffle of clothing like it was the only noise in existence. Jess shined her light around, looking for signs of people. Nothing. No footprints, no handprints or smudges on the walls or furniture; hell, there were unbroken spiderwebs in the doorways.

To my surprise we climbed the creaky rotting stairs without the wood breaking and plummeting us into a bizarre basement filled with rusty swords and salt shakers. The top floor was as undisturbed as the bottom floor, except for the lantern, which was immaculately clean. In fact, the area around the lantern seemed better maintained than the rest of the structure; especially odd considering the complete lack of evidence that anyone had even been here.

Jess picked up the lantern and extinguished it. She said we can't "figure this out" in just one night so we needed to take it. I didn't want to touch it because I'm pretty sure warlocks put protective wards on that kind of stuff, so I let her hold it as we walked back to the car and headed home for the night.

I was maybe halfway back to Earth in my private rocket ship when I was roused from slumber by Jess climbing in through my window which I had once again failed to secure. She was wide-eyed, serious; holding a lantern in her hand like a miner or other worker type person who holds a lantern. She explained that she had stayed up all night testing the lantern and learned that it had, as she described it, "some demon type shit" going on.

The lantern, when lit, seemed to make time. . . flow backwards, I guess. She said she put a dead plant by it and it gradually came to life, she put it near a rusty door hinge and it started de-rusting, she put it by a leaky faucet and it slowly stopped dripping. I asked why her house was in such bad shape. She described sprinkling salt by the lantern, lighting it, and watching the salt drift back up into the air. Then she fell down this spiraling rabbit hole about letting the lantern do its thing and watching her house tear apart around her, flying into individual parts, til she was in a field, and then the plants start degrowing, and the earth—

At this point Dan climbed through the still-open window, having (I assume) rounded the corner onto my street to see Jess making her way in and thought, Yeah, she's right, fuck knocking on the front door! I reached into the recesses of my mind and pulled out the old "Not All Holes-in-Walls Are Made Equal" rant from the last inconvenient time Dan climbed through a window and into my bedroom, when suddenly, the lantern flicked on.

After a moment of stunned silence Jess rushed through a story about the lantern relighting itself no matter how many times she extinguished it. She theorized that the lantern would "rewind time" even if it wasn't lit, just much slower, pulling itself backwards second by second until it eventually reached a point when it was lit, and spreading its sphere of rewind more and more.

Dan asked if he could have it. Jess said yeah, she didn't want anything to do with it. I made my annoyance obvious through body language and an exaggerated sigh while they started figuring out the price for the lantern. Dan Cashapped Jess $10 and they both exited through my fucking window.

I checked my phone in the morning and saw about 20 videos from Dan showing off the lantern turning back time and disassembling things. It was pretty cool the first couple of times but then you realize that everything is made of boring shit so it's not actually that fun to watch it get taken apart. At a certain point in the night, the videos stopped, and I assumed Dan had passed out from overexcitement.

What had really happened was Dan decided to conduct an experiment to see just how far he could rewind his home. He sat with the lantern burning for two days, with his goal being to get to the early years of our home town, when it was basically just a trading post on the frontier or something.

Dan didn't like the results of the experiment.

The next time I saw him he looked like a broken man. A man who had witnessed horror. Dirty, filthy, frontiertown horror. I asked what was up. He told me about the experiment. I asked what he had learned. He didn't elaborate. I asked him what the past was like. He said that some ghosts should be left alone.

Dan turned to the window and gazed outside. "I've always loved the rain," he said, squinting in the sunshine. He told me that the lantern was at the bottom of Lake Lundy. I shouted "WH-" before realizing that it didn't really matter to me. Dan explained that the only way to make sure the lantern wouldn't relight itself was to put it in water — forever. Thus: the lantern was launched into Lake Lundy.

I was impressed with Dan's thought process, and after trying to come up with any alternate solutions, I'd probably have done the same thing. I think a dark and dusty part of Dan's brain kicks on when he becomes driven by the need for vengeance against inanimate objects.

I sometimes wonder what's happening at the bottom of the lake. Is the lantern gone for good? Is it still going back in time? Is it constantly trying to light itself, only to get doused again and again by the crusty waters of Ol' Lundy? We may never know. But the fish might. The fish might know much more than they let on. Think about it.


• In the event that someone fishes the lantern out of the lake, I don't care.

• Jess occasionally brings up that she thinks the lantern might have made us age differently, but since it only would have made us younger, we decided that would actually be cool.

• Dan's house is haunted by the ghost of an 1840s brothel.