Category Archives: Short Stories

A cup

It sat there on the table, silently mocking him. It knew the power that it held over him. It was an inanimate object, incapable of thought, and yet it knew. And it knew all too well.

The fire caused shadows to begin their nightly dance, and they were drawn to the darkness surrounding him. Shadowy hands reaching for him, pulling on him, clawing at him, hunting for a soul to claim. They would find nothing in him, nothing for them to feed on. His soul was long gone, crushed and trampled into nothingness. They would not feed on him that night, but they would help pull him further into the darkness.

Graphic from Pinterest.
“It sat there on the table, silently mocking him.” Graphic from Pinterest.

The barmaid took the object that had held his attention and replaced it with another that could judge him. The liquid inside was a cold, bubbling ale, and foam spilled over the lip dripping down onto the table, forming a golden ring. The barmaid had tried to be generous by filling it to the brim, and he hated her for it. Didn’t she see that it caused him pain? That it controlled his mind and made him live through things that one should never live through even once? Did she not see that he could not escape from it? It took over his mind just as easily as the other one had.

Deeper and deeper he was pulled into the darkness of his mind, shadowy tentacles wrapping around his neck and limbs, pulling on him. There would be no escape this time.

Flash after flash the memories surged forward, claiming his mind. He was back in the numerous battles he had fought in the past, fighting just as he had fought all those years ago. Then he was in an inn much like the one his body was currently seated in.

A warm fire, ale, friends, and laughter. That laughter could never again happen, the friends creating it long since claimed by the black mass that called itself Death. He could feel tears fighting for their release, and so trapped as he was, they fell free. The memories became more horrific, he remembered things that he had fought to forget, and saw things that he had prayed to never have to see again.

All danced across his mind now, and there was no stopping them.

How much longer would he have to suffer like this? When would he be able to enjoy a drink in peace? How long had he already suffered? Why was he the one targeted like this?

Why did a damned cup torture him so?

Trapped

Amber’s black high-heeled boots clacked on the linoleum floor of the hallway. She took long strides, but walked slowly in an attempt to take longer than needed to reach the coffee cart. She knew that the second her presence was noticed there, she would be hounded by questions from the older ladies. How was college? What major are you again? Are you and that Anderson boy still together? Has your mother seen you yet?

It was purely exhausting, but necessary to endure.

Photo courtesy of https://dustdreamsnbeyond.wordpress.com.
Photo courtesy of https://dustdreamsnbeyond.wordpress.com.

Amber checked her watch. 10:54 am. The service started in six minutes. Thank God. That meant the older ladies would all be trailing into the sanctuary by now, leaving a clearing near the magnificent 20 cup silver percolator Amber’s mother had donated to the church, along with bags upon bags of Starbucks Pike Place Roast.

Pouring the steaming black liquid into a travel mug emblazoned with her university’s initials, Amber steeled herself for the torment she would tolerate over the next hour and a half.

Amber breathed in, and let the breath out slowly, pushing open the enormous doors into the sanctuary. Every head turned her way; all conversation stopped.

Giving a faint smile, Amber took a bulletin from an outstretched hand and staggered over to the pew where her mother was sitting. Sweat trickled down her back, despite the fact that the church had duct-taped over the knob on the thermostat years ago, resulting in an eternal 68 degree atmosphere.

Amber strained to keep her breathing at a normal speed. Her head began to ache behind her ears, the way it did when she used to go running on the path behind the high school during the winter.

She opened the hymnal to a random page, and moved her lips to the rhythm of the song being played, but did not sing. Her eyes blurred as she stared at the page, the characters changing shape as tears moved over her eyes, not yet falling.

She couldn’t cry, not here, not in front of everybody. That would incite the same level of gossip as being absent from church on a Sunday when everyone knew she was visiting home.

Closing her eyes, she willed away the tears. She squared her shoulders, hearing the music, but not listening.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Open your eyes.

Amber opened her eyes.

The window

We sat in silence for nearly an hour. The rain was just beginning to let up, though a slate-gray sky kept the atmosphere dark. Beside me Will was stationary in his seat, only breaking the stillness with the flicks of his thumb on the phone in his hand. Vague shapes passed us by behind fogged windows, but we paid them no heed as the bus tumbled along towards our stop.

“Hey—Aaron reply to the text yet?”

Will’s voice nearly startled me. I was beginning to drift off, but quickly straightened myself and gave a shrug. I took out my phone and checked the lock screen, but no notifications were there. “Nope. Probably hasn’t seen it yet.”

“You sent it to him at lunch, though!”

Another shrug.

“You’d think he’d have told us what he needed, sending a message like that. Sounded urgent.”

“If it were urgent, he probably would’ve called.” I straightened my arms out in front of me, stretching the weariness from them. “And if it were urgent, he wouldn’t’ve called us.”

Will sighed audibly, but the turn of his head to the front of the bus was all the agreement I needed. There were several more minutes of silence.

“You bring any of those pills, man? I’m starting to get a headache and this ride is lasting forever.”

“Nope. Ran out.”

Will furrowed his brow. “Don’t you think you should get those filled?”

“I will. I’m seeing him tomorrow.”

“Well damn, man, I probably could’ve just slept through this!”

“You’re the reason I ran out so fast.”

Will gave a quiet snort, but let the subject fall. We were beginning to slow, the quiet whine of the brakes announcing the end of our trip. Aaron’s neighborhood was not too much of a walk from the stop we were getting off at, and it seemed like the weather would refrain for the time being as we disembarked.

Only the sound of our footsteps on rain-soaked pavement accompanied us as we walked the sidewalk, punctuated here and there by the hum of a cars engine and the hiss of their tires through puddles in the road. My leg protested almost the whole way to Oak Grove, the enormous bruise on my shin crying out against any activity.

I kept moving, though, and Will did not notice the slight winces that crossed my face with each step.

Aaron’s house was not grandiose to any extent, but it was reasonable enough for his tastes. With two floors and a dull beige paint job, it stood as the clone of several older buildings put up for sale down the street. It was clear that he had not taken a power-washer to the place for a while, as small dots of mold were beginning to pop up here and there between the exterior paneling. Will winced.

“You’d think Sarah would’ve gotten him to clean the place up. It’s not like her to let it get this bad…”

His words faltered under my withering glare, and he brought a hand up to fix his mussed hair. Though it was no longer raining, a low-lying fog had moved in and was beginning to mist our clothes and skin.

Rain soaked window. Graphic from Sam D'Amico Photography
Rain soaked window. Graphic from Sam D’Amico Photography

“Sorry, I know—”

“You’re fine,” I said.

“Yeah, but I know it wasn’t cool for—”

“You didn’t care then, why should you now?”

“Dude, it was her choice. And you know it wasn’t like that.”

“It’s fine. She probably just hasn’t seen it yet. His problem now.”

Will looked at me for a little while longer, with an infuriating air of what could have been pity. It did not much matter to me at the time, though, as I was not really paying much attention. I climbed my way up the short flight of steps to the house’s porch, waited for Will to get up beside me, and rang the doorbell.

No answer.

We waited half a minute, growing colder by the second in the misty weather. Will reached out and hit the bell again. We both heard the tone play throughout the house, but received the same response. I turned to watch as Will checked the driveway again, but Aaron’s blue ford was still parked where I remembered it.

“This asshole better be home. I have shit to do today.” Will shivered and replaced his hands in his jacket pockets.

“Maybe he can’t hear us?” I offered, albeit halfheartedly. I punched the doorbell two more times and waited. When once again answered with silence, Will stepped forward and reached for the door’s handle.

“Why’s he leave this stuff unlocked?”

“It’s Aaron,” I said. Once again, this seemed enough for Will as he gave a deprecating shake of his head and pushed the door wide. Inside there was darkness, and a brief moment when my heart sped up and sweat ran colder than the insidious vapor that clung like a damp blanket. Then we stepped in, and turned on the light.

It was a handsome entrance room, with an open archway to the kitchen on the left and living room on the right. Stairs set into the right wall climbed up to the second floor, and in the middle between the stairs and kitchen was a shortcut to the dining room. Aaron’s shoes were piled beside the doormat, with Sarah’s flats beside them. The walls were painted white, darkened here and there by odd shadows and aged blemishes. Will looked at the shoes quizzically before taking his own off and walking into the kitchen. I turned, setting the door’s deadbolt and hanging my jacket on a nearby hook.

“Hey, come check this out!”

Will sounded excited, and despite my leg I moved quickly to investigate. He was no longer in the kitchen, but the dining room. I cast my eyes around to see what he was referring to, and it didn’t take long. One of the chairs was upturned, lying on its back, and the table was slightly crooked, pushed nearly a foot forward on the right side.

I furrowed my brow. “What’s that?”

Will, who had probably looked around a little bit before calling me, narrowed his eyes and cast them around the room and down the hallway. His voice was quiet, his tone suddenly serious. “You think someone broke in here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Shh! Shit, man, what if they’re still in here?”

“We rang the doorbell four times.”

“Where’s Aaron? Where’s Sarah?”

His steely glare was disconcerting, definitely, and I hardened my expression as well. We stayed in that room for several more seconds as the soft sound of rain suddenly began pattering against the roof. A tree branch, blown by the wind, scratched against the nearby window. He seemed at the same time worried for his friend and scared to leave the dining room.

“Maybe they’re upstairs?”

His words, or at least their tone, were almost pitiful to hear. I had never thought of Will as a coward, but this was a side of him I had not seen before. He seemed genuinely frightened at the thought of going up to look for Aaron and Sarah . . . so much for the bravado he always seemed to show. When he finally moved away from the table to venture for the stairs, I turned my eyes back to the dining room one last time. The chair had not moved from last I remembered, and a low-set bench was still knocked to the side of the room.

My shin gave a throb.

Every step we took stairs creaked under our weight as we climbed the stairs, the carpet on the steps doing nothing to muffle our sound. It was growing steadily darker. None of the lights were on. Every picture hanging from the walls seemed to be watching us. I stopped when I reached the top of the staircase, but kept my eyes on Will as he slowly moved on. My heart racing in my chest, my senses clear, I made an effort to stay silent as I crept after him as he reached the end of the hallway and Aaron’s and Sarah’s bedroom.

I didn’t have to look up to see the scene that kept Will motionless, that brought his hand up to his mouth and held back the words struggling to rise to the surface. I did not have to see the two forms lying in utter stillness on the bed, an expression of confusion and fear frozen on their face. All I had to feel was my aching arm, pushed to exertion twice today already, and it snaked under Will’s jaw and locked.

The phone on the bedside table buzzed in reminder of its unread texts. Will’s hands tried wrenching the arm away, growing weaker by the second. I turned my eyes on the woman in the bed as the body fell limp in my arms, and kept squeezing.

 

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The water-slicked asphalt reflected the slate-gray sky above as the bus screeched to a halt in front of me. Its doors opened, and I climbed in, stretching out my arm and wincing at the pain of each step. I laid my head against the cold, fogged window, and closed my eyes.

It was going to be a long trip home.

The climb

Red leaves fluttered downward, carried by the wind toward the asphalt of Cherry Street. The newly risen sun barely peeked over the mountains surrounding Appleton, its rays not yet strong enough to break up the morning fog that hung like heavy curtains over the ground.

Mrs. Anderson opened her heavy front door slowly, its hinges creaking with effort. Frigid air streamed through the crack between the door and the jamb, making her bones ache from its icy touch. Quickly, she wrapped her flannel robe tightly around her sagging breasts, refusing entrance to the cold gust.

She clutched her cup of coffee with both hands like a talisman as she made the long descent down her driveway toward her mailbox. One step at a time, she told herself. Cold as it was, it wouldn’t do to fall a quarter of the way to the mailbox. None of her lively yuppie neighbors would be awake at this hour, leaving her utterly without help if she should fall.

coffee cup in old hands
Photo By: Danielle Johnson. Photo of: Kristinia Contreras

Pausing for a moment, Mrs. Anderson took a sip from her mug. The currently lukewarm coffee slid down her throat, offering no reprieve from the temperature. She disappointedly poured the last sip, chock full of coffee grounds, onto the grass that bordered her driveway. The break over, she secured her empty mug within a deep pocket of her robe. She continued on her trek, side stepping down the last section of pavement.

The ground beneath her was finally flat. Mrs. Anderson breathed a sigh of white, steamy relief at arriving safely at her mailbox. Her cheeks wrinkled with her smile as she opened the mailbox to retrieve her news.

She opened the newspaper to listen to the headlines before summoning the effort to climb back to the warmth of her living room.

“ARREST MADE IN RAMPTON JEWELRY THIEVERY,” one newscaster screamed from the paper. “A break was made in the case last week when Detect-,” the newscaster was cut off when Mrs. Anderson flipped to the Lifestyle section, uninterested.

“The Top 5 Pie Recipes You Need This Fall,” the perky voice of a female reporter drew Mrs. Anderson’s interest.

Seeing the picture of the spiced pumpkin pie featured, Mrs. Anderson’s wrinkled smiled returned, her eyes growing wet. The recipe was one of her mother’s, from the early 2000s. She felt the heat emanating from the wooden fireplace of her childhood, so different from the false, gentle warmth brought by her current fireplace screen.

Deeply ensconced in another time, Mrs. Anderson didn’t care one bit that her feet were growing numb, toe after toe.

Mommy’s blanket

Sitting in front of the fire, I use my blanket to keep my back warm. The flames tickle the crisp November air, as heat dances across my face. It feels good.
I hear someone crunch the dead leaves behind me, it’s probably Mr. Williams, “Eli, are you coming in?” I look around and see that all the other children have gone inside for the night. The suns almost completely set; I guess the days are getting shorter. “Um listen,” Mr. Williams comes up and stands next to me, “I know you’ve been here for quite some time, I consider you one of my own, I don’t know if that means much but yeah, so umm if you want you can stay out here for awhile, just put out the fire before you come in,”
I nod, and he leaves me alone. If he considers me one of his, then why hasn’t he adopted me? I tug on the ends of my blanket; the snug fit makes me feel safe. Its nice to be alone, I’m never alone. Perhaps that’s a good thing, I don’t like to reminisce when people are around me. I always feel like somehow they know. Like they know what I’m thinking, and they judge me. The only time I can think about what happened that night is when I’m alone.
The sound of breaking glass rattles the floor beneath us.
“Carl what was that?”
“It was probably the furnace, you know how it gets in the winter.”
“Damn it! Carl go do something!”
“Alright,” Daddy gets up from the couch, while Mommy swaddles me in the blanket as if I were still a baby.
“Where are you going?” My mom shushes me.
She lifts me up and cradles me in her arms. The rapid beating of my mothers heart pounds against my ear, a cold sweat breaks out across her skin as she keeps me silent.
“Hey!” I can hear him shout from all the way down stairs, “You there! Who are you?” The sound of the gun being shot makes me cry.

FullSizeRender
Photo By: Danielle Johnson

His name is Broden Coulter, and I hate him. He killed my parents. He made me an orphan. He gave me this life.
I ball up my blanket in my fists; I no longer feel the cold. The heat from the fire radiates through the air and into my mind. This damn blanket saved me; it would be easier if I hadn’t been saved.
“I hate you!” I’m not sure if I’m yelling at my blanket or Broden Coulter. Either way I hate them both. The fire roars as a gust of wind fuels its anger. It tempts me. I know what it wants; I know what I want. Calmly I feed the fire my baby blanket.

“Shhhhh. You have to be quiet, Eli.” I hear what she wants from me, but I can’t stop my tears. I keep wailing and wailing like the baby I am. All the while, mommy is running, frantically looking for something. I don’t know what. First she runs into the bathroom but then retreats back to her room. I want to go to my room. I want to sleep. Suddenly she turns and throws the both of us into her closet and closes the door behind us. The darkness makes me cry harder. Mommy pulls down all of the clothes from her rack, and then reaches up to the top and pulls down every soft blanket and bed sheet. She pushes me to the floor and leans me against the wall. I flail out for her. I feel her side and latch on. She doesn’t stop though; mommy keeps moving everything around until they’re all perfectly on top of us. Were on the inside of a cloud, its soft and cozy, but it’s a dark cloud, I can’t see. Mommy’s smothering me against her chest, as I cry. My tears run down my cheeks like a cold rain. I don’t like storm clouds.
“Eli,” she stops for a moment, “You must listen to me. You must be quiet.”
But that noise was so loud!
“Shhhhhhhh” I shake my head in fear as she smothers me, “Shhhhhhh, It’s ok sweetie. It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok.”
I feel her tears drop down onto my head. She’s crying to, but she’s being quiet. Maybe we’re playing hide n seek. The floor vibrates, and I can hear footsteps outside.
“You’ll never find us in here Daddy!” I snicker, loving how clever I can be. It helps me stop crying for the moment.
Mommy gasps, and dampens my words with her chest. The door opens moments later. Everything falls silent, even myself. I can’t let Daddy find us too easily can I? Mommy squeezes me tight, I can barely breathe.
The gun goes off.
Mommy screams.
I cry.
Something hot lands in my blanket.
Warm liquid floods out of mommy’s chest.
Mommy holds me in her arms.
I can’t stop crying.
Mommy shushes me.
“Shhhhhh.”
That calms me.
“Eli,” She starts shaking, “Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you Eli.”
The warm liquid stuff is all over my blanket and I.
“I love you.”
Mommy squeezes her arms together, pressing me against her heart.
She keeps squeezing, and doesn’t stop.

With tears in my eyes I realize what I’ve done. My blanket, it’s in the fire! Mommy would be so upset with me. I can’t let it burn up, I can’t!
“Mommy!”
A dangerous impulse has me jump straight into the bonfire, but I feel nothing. Embers sizzle on my bare feet, and the smoke churns as I inhale the toxic fumes. The flames dance around my body, as I retrieve my charring blanket. I throw the blanket out, as I dive onto the warm grass. We roll across the ground together, extinguishing the flames on both of us. Tears stream down my cheeks like a river. “Mommy, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I love you. I love you.”

Inside the glass cube

She walks down the beaten path, with her head hung. The sun hides in the shadows of the great hills behind her back, beginning to warm the cool morning air. Clint stands looking through my transparent walls, trying to watch her approach him. He quickly dusts off his clothes and fixes his hair. It’s been weeks since he’s seen Viola. He’s here so that he can think on his sins. So that he can find a way to change, be the person he wants to be, and the man Viola needs. His blood increases circulation, and his breaths quicken as she nears. I can feel Clint wish I would turn to air, allowing him to run to her arms, but I can also feel his confusion. As much as he wants me to be gone, liberating him, he really only wants to be liberated by Viola’s will, not by his.

She pulls off a thinly strung necklace, and uses the key dangling from it to open my lone door and walk inside me. Clint stands at the ready, his skin trembling over his bones, knee’s shaking he decides to speak, “Hey, I’ve missed you.”

She inspects him head to toe, analyzing his appearance. While he’s done his best to keep himself well groomed, Clint can’t hide the bags under his eyes.

“You look tired.”

“I’m sorry,” panic sets in across his face, “sleeping has been hard.” I’ve watched him curl up at night with his eyes wide open staring out into space. The things he see’s I can only imagine. He sweats in the dark has he relives his haunting memories, and cries himself to sleep. I have to admit, I feel pretty bad for the guy however, I have no idea what he did to land himself here.

“Viola, I’m sorry. I understand that I need to be able to take care of myself if I am to also take care of you. It’s just the sleeping…”

“How so?” Skepticism washes over her face.

“It’s hard to sleep. I find myself lying awake at night, just overcome with regret. I feel weak and pathetic. The reason I can’t sleep is the fact that I’m constantly thinking about you, what I did, how much I love you, and how much I hate myself.” The auburn brunette gazes at the floor unresponsive, while Clint stares at her begging through his exhausted eyes. “Every morning I wake up and look towards the road, hoping to see you making your way here.”

“Every morning?”

Glass house. Graphic from Curbed Hamptons
Glass house. Graphic from Curbed Hamptons

“Every.”

A timid smile forms across her lips, “I hate all of this.”

“So do I,”

“You’re the reason it’s like this,”

“I know,” The smile is gone from her lips, “I am sorry.”

“Sorry isn’t good enough,”

“I understand,” he takes a breathe as he eyes the sun ascending the clear sky, “That’s why I’m here,” taking a moment gesturing to me.

“You’re in this box so that you can change.”

“Exactly, this glass cube allows me to keep myself within the parameters I need to be in, and though that I can change into the man, we both want me to be.”

“Yeah.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

They stand there for a good while. Viola gazes through me off towards the mountains. I wish I could tell her how much he’s missed her. Or let her see what I’ve seen. Watching a young man cry himself to sleep every night isn’t something one can forget easily. I’ll be damned if he doesn’t love her, and there’s no mistaking it; I have no doubt in saying he regrets what he did.

“Do you think I’ll be able to fix this?” Clint questions.

“That’s something you should know,”

“Well in your opinion, I know my answer.”

She turns and looks at him, “I think you have a shot.”

“You do?” Hope sprinkles his lips into a hesitant smile.

“Yeah, but it’s not happing right now.” The smile is erased and he nods solemnly. “I think it’s best if I go.”

“No, don’t,” the young man trembles.

“Why not?”

“Because, Viola I miss you,” he looks into her light brown eyes, “I miss you.”

I can tell she doesn’t know what to say, confused by her brain and heart. Her brain tells her,

“It’s a mistake to even speak with him. People never change.”

But her heart says something different. “Love is a powerful thing and she loves him. It will be hard yes, but anything is possible if you try hard enough.”

“But once a cheater, always a cheater.”

“No, people can change.”

“How can you ever trust him again,” the brain beckons.

“Time, time is the universal healer,” her heart counters.

“But for that, she has to give him time, how can you be so sure she’ll do such a thing?

“Love. It conquers all.”

“I miss you,” Clint repeats for a third time, as tears roll down his stubbly cheeks.

“I,” she takes a second to think everything through, “I miss you too.”

Almost before she’s done speaking he latches onto her and says, “Thank you.”

“Don’t cry okay?”

“Okay, but it’s just so hard not to. I’m still beside myself. I just can’t believe what I’ve done.” He tells her.

“Yeah, well I’m the one who’s been hurt. I’m the one who should be crying.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry sweetie.”

“I shouldn’t be here, Clint. Most girls would have left and never spoken to you again.”

“I know, thank you. You know most guys would have just called it quits. But I’m not giving up on you.”

“Yeah I guess,”

“I love you.”

She pulls away from him. Once again she inspects him, head to toe. Her brain is screaming at her, but her heart beats fast. Doesn’t she still love him? Why did she pull away from him? He loves her! Just look at him, he’s on his knees now fidgeting with his hands, desperately wanting to pull her back to him. He’s smart though, and lets her make her own moves.

“I’m going to be on my way now, alright?” she quizzically awaits his response.

“Okay,” the young man wipes away his tears, “I’m not going to give up.”

She lets a small smile emerge as she turns towards my door.

“Viola,” Clint stands up, and runs over to her, I love you. I love you Viola.”

“I love you too Clint.” She pulls him in for a hug. “You have a shot okay? I’m rooting for you, but you have a long way to go.”

“I know. I know it’s going to take awhile,” he stops and sniffles, I’m rooting for myself as well.”

“Good. You need to believe in yourself if I am to believe in you again. But I need to get going now. You’ll see me again soon.”

“You promise?”

“Yes, I promise. Bye.”

“Bye.”

She walks through my door and locks it behind her. They steal one last one last look, Clint mouths, “I love you,” and she gives a nod in somber agreement. He watches her walk back up that beaten path with her head still hung. I can’t tell exactly what he’s thinking but I’m certain he’s both sadden her visit, and optimistic. He loves her; I hope he can win her back.

Adventures in scrapbooking

The men on the lawn looked like aliens as Michelle watched them pulling the industrial vacuuming equipment out of their van. She kicked her car door shut behind her as she looked them over- white uniforms all tucked in at the ankles and wrists like they were going into a quarantine zone or a surgery. They had parked in her driveway, behind the black sedan, and she had to park on the road. Wrangling her groceries, she tried not to look too irritated as the workers in white uniforms waved at her despite the fact that, with her arms full of bags, she obviously couldn’t wave back.

The house was one of the only ones situated on their street, small and pale with vinyl siding. It faced north and had three azaleas, two boxwood shrubs that still had the new topsoil piled around their roots near the living room windows, and the two tiny sage plant cuttings from Michelle’s mother that sat next to the sidewalk. All were bordered with diatomaceous earth.

These details, which Michelle hadn’t cared about (or even known) before, were known only to her now because of the problem that her new house had come with a few months ago. She fumbled with her keys for a moment before the door opened in front of her.
“You look angry, Mitch,” Nicole, her girlfriend, informed her as Michelle handed a few of the plastic bags to her. Michelle sighed.

“Yeah, well, the bug guys parked in my spot.”

“Don’t take it personally. We can take your car into town.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s just on principle, you know? I just wish people wouldn’t do that.”
As grouchy as she felt, the gentleness in Nicole’s voice made it impossible to get too snippy. They walked into the kitchen together.

“How was the store?”

Michelle shrugged a little. “Some good, some bad. There was a pretty good bread sale, but when I was leaving, some asshole in the parking lot called me a Mexican and told me to go back where I came from.”

“Oh, nice.”

“It’s whatever. You know, considering most of Texas was annexed anyway, it wouldn’t even make any sense even if it was true. Besides, he had one of those Ron Paul bumper stickers, so I don’t think any important friendship was lost there.”

She heard Nicole laugh softly at her quips as she pulled out the eggs and margarine from the bag and set them on the counter. Against her better judgment, she found her eyes drawn up to the crawling, shadowy shapes on the window that faced the front yard and the bug men beyond it.

“They’re just ladybugs, baby.”

She looked back at Nicole. She was a dark-skinned, beautiful woman with almond-shaped eyes that always seemed thoughtful and kind, even when she was pissed off. Privately, Michelle thought she was probably way out of her league, if everything was evaluated by what Nicole, in her studious, teacherly way, would call mainstream cultural standards. She was hourglass-shaped and naturally toned, whereas Michelle herself was, as Nicole put it lovingly, “reubenesque.” Sometimes straight men liked to try to hit on her and scoot Michelle off like she was some kind of token fat friend, but Nicole always found a way to shut them down that made her feel a lot less irritated. It happened less since Nicole had cut her hair short, but now there was a wretched minority that tried to get her attention by talking to her about sports. It didn’t matter how much Nicole insisted she was a lesbian, most people selectively ignored it.

“I saw the bug guys outside. How long is it supposed to take?”

“I’m not sure. They said a few hours because of how bad it is. They said they’d be done by tonight.”

“Good. Hopefully this’ll finally get rid of them.”

The ladybugs had been on them like a biblical plague since they had moved into the house. They were on the walls, the floor, in the bed, in the dishes and the pantry. They had put the diatomaceous earth around the house, burned lemon candles, sprayed mint oil, vacuumed up as many as they could, but it never seemed to have an impact. They had moved in over the winter, and at first they had assured themselves that they would leave sooner or later, but now it was getting to be summer and nothing seemed to have changed. They had fussed about it and eventually decided that professional help was the only recourse they had left. The bugs were too much, and their efforts were futile.

“I bet if your mom had heard that guy in the store, she would have flew off the handle.”

“Yeah, and make me look like a freak for being with her. The only time anyone here cares about Shoshone people is for five minutes in seventh grade when they talk about Lewis and Clark.”

Nicole snorted into her coffee.

“Don’t laugh, it’s true!”
“I know, that’s why I’m laughing. I’m sorry.”

She wasn’t really angry. Michelle’s tongue in cheek attitude served her well enough and kept her temper in check (for the most part). Even if the weird racist had genuinely gotten to her, she was too relieved at the prospect of finally getting rid of the bugs to let it spoil her mood. One of her cousins managed the company, and she trusted her employees, as far as bug companies went.

Michelle and Nicole had planned to spend the evening doing something fun together, and to some extent, they succeeded- the early summer weather was very mild, and they went out to dinner and ate outside in a restaurant blessedly free of ladybugs. Michelle told a story about one of the classes she was teaching, how one of her students that played the clarinet was already offered a scholarship despite only being a sophomore. They expected the workers to be done (and gone) by the time they returned, but some hours later, the men were still around, loading the vacuums into the van. When they approached, there was only one worker left outside, a tall man who was sheepishly milling around it. Michelle assumed this must be the manager, since the other two seemed to have taken the chance to avoid conversation.
“What’s up? I thought you were going to be done a while ago,” Nicole asked him as he avoided eye contact.

“Well, I mean, we are done.”
“Are the bugs gone?”

“Not really.”

“Honey, I thought you said you were done?”

“Yeah, I’m- I’m sorry. We sucked up the ones we could, but we had some trouble. We could come back again and try it, maybe half off-”
“No, no, nope. If it didn’t work the first time, why would it work the second?” Michelle demanded, and the man’s cheeks turned red. She was embarrassed for him. She knew he was just trying to do his job, but clearly, he wasn’t very good at it.

“Listen,” she began, more compassionately. “I know you boys did the best you could, but really, I think we’re going to keep trying to handle it from here. I’m sorry.”
“That’s all right, ma’am. Sorry we couldn’t do more for you.”
“It’s okay,” she said, patting him on the arm. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” he said, and pulled out of the driveway, heading down the road.

Nicole shook her head. They headed back inside.

“This is some shit,” Michelle sighed as they shut the door. Nicole kissed her on the cheek.

“Don’t take it too hard. I’m sure they did their best.”

Michelle shrugged. To her, it seemed like some nerve to screw up what was supposed to be your job and then ask for more money to fuck it up again. That night, while watching TV, they chatted back and forth and pretended like it ‘really did seem a little better,’ and tried to convince themselves that maybe there had been an impact, although they both knew it wasn’t the case. The following morning their conversation was sparse and marked by disheartened silence, and they went back and forth debating solutions, although there wasn’t much that they hadn’t already considered.

As Michelle styled her hair, she heard Nicole from the other room.

“You should call your mom.”
She stared into her reflection’s annoyed dark eyes.
“I don’t really… I’m not sure I feel up to that,” she called back.

“I’m not trying to push you, I’m just saying-”

Michelle turned her head without thinking. She jerked the hair curler away from her jaw as she felt the sudden shock of the heat, and let it clatter into the sink as she examined the cylindrical mark as they darkened on her face. From the bedroom, she heard Nicole talking over her yelp of pain.

“I just think she’d really appreciate it-”

“Christ, Mitch, I fucking burned myself! Can you just cut me some slack for five seconds!?” She yelled, and her girlfriend fell silent.

For a moment, she did too, partially regretting her reaction but knowing, deep down, it was probably justified. She unplugged the curler and put it on the counter to cool off. She heard the sound of Nicole’s shoes on the wood floor and the door shutting behind her, and sighed. She wasn’t sure whether to be angry at her partner or herself. Sure, Nicole could have rushed in and tried to console her, but she could have also not have snapped at her.

From the hallway, she saw Nicole sitting in the loveseat in the living room. She lay out across it with her head craned off the other arm, staring up at the ceiling, her arms crossed across her chest.

“Nicky?” Michelle called, gently.

“There are a hundred bugs on this ceiling,” she responded flatly.

Michelle glanced up at the tiny red shapes ambling across the uneven white plaster and looked away in disgust. She’d never seen ladybugs stick to the ceiling, and it made her think of roaches.

“Nicky, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gone off on you like that.”

Nicole uncrossed her arms and sighed, running a hand over her short hair.

“It’s all right. I’m sorry you got burned.”
“It was my fault. I’m okay,” Michelle assured her. Nicole sat up and turned to face forward on the loveseat as Michelle joined her.

“I’d really like to see her, Nicky.”

“I know, it’s just- you know it’s complicated with my family. I don’t always want to hear about where I came from,” she sighed, running her hand over Nicole’s knee. Nicole scoffed.

“Yeah, well, at least you get the chance.”

The Roommate

This is it. Sophie took a deep breath and unlocked the door to her home for the next year. The hinges creaked loudly, screaming their unwillingness to open. To her surprise, another girl stood barefoot in the middle of the room, as if waiting for her. The other girl was strangely beautiful, with pale smooth skin and long auburn hair held away from her face by a ribbon.

“Are you to live here?, the girl asked, smiling demurely with her head tilted to one side. Sophie slung her backpack onto the ground next to the empty bed.

“Yeah. I guess that makes you my roommate. The RA’s must be a little frazzled today. The one that checked my in said that my roommate hadn’t even arrived yet. My name’s Sophie.”

ghost+girl
“Sophie typed the name “Analise” into the online student directory. Nothing came up. She tried multiple variants of the name, figuring she had spelled it wrong. There were still no results.”

The other girl smiled and turned away saying, “I am called Analise.” Analise peeked over her shoulder. “Do you need any help unpacking? I’m pretty good at organizing things.” Sophie pulled a laptop out of her bag and set it on the desk. She plugged the charger into the wall first, and then into the laptop.

“That would be cool. I have a little bit in my car right now. My parents are arriving in a few hours with the rest of it.”

After emptying her backpack completely, Sophie stood and turned back to the girl, who, it seemed, hadn’t moved an inch. Awe man, she thought. I’m gonna be stuck with a weirdo.

“I’m gonna go out to my car and get some of my stuff. I’ll be right back.” Analise ran her hands through her long hair. “I suppose I’ll see you soon,” she answered.

Beginning the long trek back to her car, Sophie began to think. At least this girl seemed nice. Yes, she was odd, but there were worse things to be. Besides, there were so many more aspects of college to be excited about.

It seemed like hours before Sophie returned to the large brick building that was her dorm. Arms aching with the effort it took to carry three duffle bags full of clothing, she managed to open her door without dropping anything.

There was someone else in the dorm.

“Hey! You’re Sophie, right? I’m Angela. Looks like we’re gonna be roomies!” Sophie dropped all three bags in the doorway. Puzzled, she backtracked out the door to double-check the room number. Angela frowned and looked down at her copy of the roommate agreement. “You are Sophie, right? Sorry, I just assumed.”

After double and then triple checking the room number, Sophie slowly walked back inside.

“Yeah, I’m Sophie. I’m sorry. I’m just a little confused. There was another girl in here earlier. I thought she was my roommate.”

Angela’s smile made a quick reappearance. “Nope! That’s me. I can’t even tell you how excited I am!” Sophie smiled. Maybe she wouldn’t be stuck with a weirdo after all.

Later that night, after all of the tearful goodbyes had been said, and all the bags had been unpacked, Sophie sat on her bed, wondering. I bet I could look Analise up in the directory, she thought. The girl wasn’t that bad, and Sophie was beginning to feel a little desperate for a friend.

Sophie typed the name “Analise” into the online student directory. Nothing came up. She tried multiple variants of the name, figuring she had spelled it wrong. There were still no results. Hmmm. As a last resort she typed “Analise Radford University” into Google.

Five different news stories came up. She clicked on the first one, its headline reading, “Analise Whitten- you will be missed”. Sophie quickly skimmed the article, and then froze. She could hear her blood pounding in her ears. At the bottom of the article, which was a student-written obituary, was a picture of Analise Whitten.

It was the same girl she had seen hours ago, down to the auburn curls and bare feet.

The Eternal Bridge

beach photo

(Beach Photo by Joyce Saviak)

 

Avery cranked the window down in her 1994 jeep wrangler. She could hardly contain her excitement as she drove onto the Refaire Bridge. Now this is what summer is supposed to be, she thought to herself. She had a very strong opinion that summer was to be filled with boys, beaches, and tans, yet so far her summer had been anything but that.

Now she was headed down to her grandparent’s old beach house, where she would help out with anything they needed- mainly grocery store trips and repainting the house. They had gotten so old that there was only so much that they could really do by themselves. Normally her aunt took care of her grandparents, but this summer it was her turn. To others in her family this trip seemed like a chore, but not to Avery. She adored her grandparents, and thought that this summer could be one of the last chances she had to spend time with them before heading off to college next summer.

Cruising down Bonneroute Boulevard, she stuck her arm out the open window to feel the breeze. This is perfect, she thought. The sky was the most beautiful blue; however, off to the right on the horizon, a huge storm was brewing. It wasn’t uncommon for storms to brew over Mobile, AL and never make it to the island, but this one looked as if it may.

When she finally reached her grandparents house at the west end of the island, she stepped out of the jeep and stretched. The trip here from Tennessee was long, and loud inside her jeep. Her mom had offered for her to borrow the corolla, but Avery refused. The trip may have permanently hurt her eardrums, but she would never have given up the chance to drive her jeep around on the dunes behind her grandparent’s house. It was something she had been dreaming of doing for years, even before she had bought her jeep.

“Avery? Is that you?”

Both of Avery’s grandparents were standing on their porch, far above her head, screaming her name. Her grandparent’s house was on stilts, like most beach houses, which was one of the main reasons that her grandparents never left it. The stairs were too much of a hassle for their aging hips.

“Yeah! I’m here!” Avery called back up to them, and proceeded to drag her enormous duffle bag across the center console and out the driver’s side door. Although the sun felt great on her back, the humidity was already making Avery sweat bullets. By the time she had lugged her duffle bag all the way up the stairs, she was drenched.

“Come inside, its nice and cold in here. Would you like a coke, honey? We have a few in the fridge already,” Avery’s grandma put her arm around her and hugged her close. She picked up her suitcase while her grandpa held the door open, cold air wafting out of it.

Down at the beach, the water was calm and the sand was deliciously warm. Avery spread out her arms, wanting to feel the warmth on as much of her body as possible. Now this is what she thought summer should be. Thinking of all the possibilities for the rest of her summer made Avery smile, and she sat up to enjoy her view. A group of attractive guys about her age were playing beach volleyball a dozen yards away. They seemed to sense her staring and began playing even more aggressively, each guy trying to outdo the other.

Avery giggled. Boys will be boys, she thought. It made her happy that someone, especially a few someones, wanted her attention. Pulling her beach bag closer to her, Avery searched for her sunscreen. Frustrated, she found nothing. In all of her excitement to head down to the beach, she had forgotten to put it in her pack. Her fair skin would surely burn if she didn’t use sunscreen out here. Huffing, she picked up her beach bag and towel, and turned to head back to the house.

She walked fast, wanting to get back as soon as possible in the hope that the boys would still be playing when she returned. Her flip-flops slung sand against her calves as she made her way out of the sand and onto the street. Although her grandparents’ house wasn’t right on the beach, it was only a street away.

Finally reaching the stairs to the house, Avery took the steps two at a time and dropped her bag and towel right outside the door. “Hey Grandma, I’m just grabbing my sunscreen!” She yelled, searching the kitchen table for the lotion. Out of the corner of her eye, Avery saw her grandma walk inside from the back porch.

“Avery, do you think you could be a doll and head into town to get a few things? I’m afraid we are out of most of the food we’ll need for the next week. Jenny was supposed to go to the market for me, but she had to stay late at work.” Avery’s grandma looked up at her, her knit eyebrows leaving deep creases in her forehead. Even though she wanted nothing more than to return to the beach ASAP, she could never say no to her grandma. After all, it was grocery trips like this one that were the reason that she even had the chance to be down on the island at all.

As her grandma made a list of things that she needed from the grocery store, Avery slipped out of her bathing suit and back into her shorts and t-shirt. Grabbing her purse off of the dresser as she headed back into the kitchen, Avery looked for her flip-flops along the wall next to the front door.

Shuffling toward her, Avery’s grandma thrust out a piece of paper and several twenty- dollar bills along with a set of car keys. “Oh, no grandma, I brought my jeep. I don’t need to borrow a car.” Avery tried to hand back the keys, but her grandma shook her head. “Nonsense. It’s about to storm and your jeep doesn’t even have a roof. I don’t want you to get soaked on the drive back inland. You’d catch a cold.”

It did make more sense to take her grandma’s car, but Avery was still hesitant. Rain or not, she loved driving the jeep. It was pure freedom to have nothing other than a roll cage in between you and the sky; almost as if you could spontaneously lift off of the tarmac and fly up to the heavens. “Okay, Grandma. I’ll take your car.”

The rain was pouring by the time Avery got down to the Oldsmobile. She unlocked the door with her key, and slid onto the old leather seat. She pushed her wet hair off of her forehead and turned the key in the ignition. The world looks so much different when it rains. All of the colors dim and run; nothing seems as well defined as it did before the storm. Avery turned on her headlights in order to see more clearly.

 

What is it that makes a human being a person? Is it their eyes? Their smile? Their laugh? At what point are they no longer considered a person? Doctor Carter Reynolds pensively watched Avery Walden’s chest rise and fall, rise and fall. He was a friend of the Walden family and had witnessed that girl grow up. He had given her her first stitches. He understood that medically, it seemed less and less likely that Avery would recover.

Doctor Reynolds reviewed Avery Walden’s patient file sheet for the fifth time that day. Doctor Cooper, a doctor new to the hospital, walked into room 229 behind him. “Doctor Reynolds, I think it would be wise to ask the family if they would consider discontinuing life support. Avery has been in a vegetative state for three months now. It doesn’t seem likely that she will ever regain consciousness.” Doctor Carter Reynolds’ dark, heavily lined eyes looked up from his coffee.

“She’s not gone yet. I can feel it.”

 

Avery cranked the window down in her 1994 jeep wrangler. The movement seemed so familiar, as if she had done it a million times.

The eyes

The eyes won’t shut up! They’re stupid, I hate them! Why won’t they go away? They look at me through the black night, they pierce me and they speak. I can’t tell what they are saying, but I know they have a message. I hear no words, but I feel their bitter language drip down onto me like a broken facet dripping blood. I beg to walk faster through the dark. The eyes match me step for step. Why won’t they shut up? Continue reading The eyes

Outside of Greentown: Chapter 7

I stormed off through the woods back toward home. I was furious. How did she escape me? I never knew she could perform such a seamless transportation spell. “Semantics,” I thought to myself. “I must find out what she plans for the future. I can do nothing about the past except learn from it.” I moved faster through the maze of trees. My feet barely touched the ground, and I was back on my front porch in just a few minutes. Continue reading Outside of Greentown: Chapter 7

Outside of Greentown: Chapter 6

I ran frantically through the woods, feeling the air temperature around me quickly start to rise. When I reached the edge of the blaze I could barely make out Erlina’s thin black figure. I didn’t bother calling out to her. She was deep into her magic, expanding the widening ring of fire around her and torching anything in its path. Continue reading Outside of Greentown: Chapter 6

Outside of Greentown: Chapter 5

A dark shadow crept from corner to corner in a dimly lit alley. The figure came ever closer, moving quickly. I started to run back toward the street. I could see the light at the end. It was still so far away. I could feel my heart throbbing heavily in my chest, fueled by adrenaline. The air rushed past my ears and kept me from hearing any advancing footsteps. I couldn’t afford to turn around in case she was still following me. Continue reading Outside of Greentown: Chapter 5

Outside of Greentown: Chapter 4

I watched Erlina disappear from the antique shop’s office and sit back in my chair. “What the hell is she doing here?” I thought to myself. I threw a cloth over my crystal and massaged my temples. It’s been 50 years since the last time I drove her out of my town. I picked up my now stone cold tea and finished it. I spun the cup in my hands and looked closely at the dregs. I had already known there were going to be visitors two weeks ago when a few leaves floated to the top of my cup. Four leaves. Four days away. I did the math in my head. She’s been here for ten days. Enough time for her to cause plenty of trouble. Why didn’t I see her before? I began to worry as I recognized the clear shapes in the leaves. Continue reading Outside of Greentown: Chapter 4

Outside of Greentown: Chapter 3

He crushed his cigarette under the heel of his boot and stood up. The man grabbed his case off the bench and turned to walk into town. The chugging of the train softened as he weaved between buildings and a chill ran up his spine when he heard a wolf cry out faintly. He quickened his pace towards the shop. He couldn’t be late for the meeting. Tardiness was not something this particular customer tolerated. Continue reading Outside of Greentown: Chapter 3

Outside of Greentown: Chapter 2

The midnight train whistled shrilly as it began to take off towards the West, slowly lurching forward on the moonlit tracks. The hard wheels squealed in the cool summer evening. Men rubbing sleep from their eyes bustled about in the dark, securing and checking the cars. The engineer fed the steel beast’s red-hot belly with shovel after shovel of coal to quicken their forward movement. The frowning whistle screamed once more as they chugged steadily out of the station. A man sat on a bench outside the station in the dark, quietly smoking, watching the train pull out. Continue reading Outside of Greentown: Chapter 2