Wave

The feeling that had been tickling my feet, enticing me to go deeper, suddenly withdrew. I was used to the coming and going of these bubbling feelings. It was fun to feel each new surge of excitement. And knowing I could never hold onto them anyway, I let those feelings trickle away without mourning. Whether I waited for it or not, there was always another wave on its way.

I thought I knew what love was.

It’s not like I had never waded out past the shore to immerse myself in that vast mystery. Liberating, exciting, breathtaking – all of it yes. But also exhausting and dangerous. Better to chart my own course than to get lost in the currents, though it’s not like the sea cared at all about my opinion on the matter.

Should I have seen it coming. What would I have done, what could I have done if I did?

It withdrew farther than it ever had before. I only gradually became aware of what I was missing. And by the time I did, nothing could prepare me for what was coming.

I thought I knew what love was.

And then a tidal wave swept me away.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Bouquet

She was looking at me and smiling. “What?”

“I tried to explain it to him,” she said.

“Psst,” a small voice hissed beside me. I peered over the arm of the couch to see my five year-old son smiling up at me.

“What’s up, Benji?”

He held up a handful of action figures, each one taped to a popsicle stick held tightly in his small fist. “Mom said it would be fun to get you a bouquet for Flower’s Day.”

“Flowers Day? But it’s—” My wife sushed me from the doorway. “Okay, sure. So these are…?”

“A bouquet of Fathers.”

“Fathers for Flower’s Day” I felt the smile taking over my face. “Ah, Darth Vader, I see. And the Mandalorian too.”

“Adopted dads count too,” Benji said seriously.

“Definitely. Who’s the police officer?”

“Andy Griffith.”

“Sure. And the animals?”

“That’s Mufasa.”

“Very good choice,” I confirmed. “And the gorilla?”

“That’s Mr. Incredible—um, because I lost my actual Mr. Incredible.”

I nodded, holding up the final figure. “James Bond, but you drew a mustache on him. Is this one me?

Benji’s face crinkled up. “Really dad?” he said, “That’s Gomez Addams.”

“…Oh.”

“Happy Flower’s Day!” he called out prancing away.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Introductions

“Is there something you’re not telling me?”

“What? No, I’m fine,” Kalisha answered a little too quickly.

“That’s not what I asked,” her mother said, narrowing her eyes.

Kalisha groaned. “I just know how you can be sometimes, and I really don’t want—”

“Oh hush, child,” her mother interrupted. “We won’t be too hard on Robby when he gets here.”

“That’s the thing—”

But then the doorbell rang, and her mother’s eyes lit up. “Oh good, he’s here.” And with that, she turned sharply and walked away from her exasperated daughter.

“Mom,” Kalisha hissed.

“George,” she called to Kalisha’s father. “Get downstairs. Kalisha’s boyfriend is here.”

“Mom, before you open that door—”

Too late. She swung the door open with a flourish to stifle her daughter’s protestations. Standing on the porch was a slender, bright-eyed young woman with messy purple hair. “Good afternoon Mrs. Johnson,” the stranger said.

“Oh. Hello. Are you . . .”

“Robbi,” she answered. “Yeah.”

Kalisha held her breath.

“Of course you are,” her mother said, face broadening into a smile. “Come in, come in.”

Robbi strolled in casually and planted a kiss on Kalisha’s cheek.

“Mom?”

Still smiling, her mother called out, “George! You owe me twenty bucks!”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Rain

Reflections of red and green danced in the falling rain. She hugged herself tightly as she walked. Nothing could stop the chill seeping in through her sweater, but it was the only comfort she had.

Lights from behind. A revving engine. She turned sharply, ducked down a narrow alley and just kept walking. The car didn’t even slow.

She kept walking.

Water poured into her shoes. Thunder rattled her bones. She leaned against a wall, trying to remember how to breathe. She stared up at street signs trying to make the letters into words. And then she was in front of the building, not even knowing how she had arrived.

She stood on the sidewalk for a long time, then turned back toward the road. The asphalt sparkled, faintly in the cold darkness. She climbed the steps and knocked.

Nothing.

She knocked again, paused barely a moment, then knocked again furiously. Sharp pain in her numb fingers as her knuckles wrapped on the wood.

A light sprang to life in the apartment. No sound.

She knocked even harder than before until finally the door opened. Her sister’s face, haloed by warm, steady light.

“Penny?”

“I don’t know where to go.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Worried

“But, you have kids?”

Scott’s face scrunched up in confusion. “Yeah?”

“Doesn’t it worry you? With all the shootings and . . . everything?”

His jaw tightened. He held out the gun he’d been showing off. “Does it worry you?” Moving with practiced efficiency, he dropped the clip, showing it empty of bullets, opened the chamber, displaying the same. Finally, he pointed to the safety, which was engaged. “Trust me,” he said soberly, “I know what I’m doing. This gun isn’t in danger of killing anyone.”

“But . . . you have kids,” she repeated. “Aren’t you worried about—”

“Of course I am.” Scott spat. He holstered the gun, but kept his hand firmly on the grip. “Connor and Jamie know gun safety. I’ve taken them to the shooting range. They know what they’re doing.”

And they did.

Twelve days later, Connor deliberately unlocked the gun cabinet. He placed the bullets into the magazine one by one, inserted the clip into the gun until it clicked, pulled the slide loading a bullet in the chamber, then carefully released the safety. All was quiet. The gun was heavy and cold in his hand. But it warmed.

“Fuck,” Connor whispered. “Fuck everything.” He pointed the gun at himself.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Curse

“What just happened?” she asked, rubbing her forehead.

He sighed picking up the golfball that was rolling around at their feet, “It’s the curse.”

“You were serious about that?”

A somber nod. “Every time I sneeze, someone around me gets hurt.”

“But where did the golfball even come from?”

He shrugged, “From a black hole, a magic portal, the universe’s butthole. It’s just my bad luck.”

For a moment they sat in silence. He fiddled with the golfball. She rubbed the growing welt on her forehead.

“So how do you break it?” she asked.

“Well,” he glanced at her nervously. “I’m supposed to,”

“What?”

“A kiss.”

“Oh,” she straightened, “you mean—”

“No, no,” he stammered, “I wasn’t trying to—”

“You mean you don’t want to kiss me?”

“I . . . that’s not . . .” he grinned, then quickly wiped the smile from his face. “I just wouldn’t want you to feel pressured.”

She shifted a little closer. “Well there’s no harm in trying, right?”

He shrugged, nodded, smiled. “Right.”

They leaned in, paused. Their eyes met, then so did their lips.

Magical.

“Did it work?”

“I don’t think so,” he answered. “We better try again.”

She grinned. “You’re full of shit.” They kissed again.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Lucky

“We’re gonna be lucky,” Hank said. The fields were dotted with white, and his brow was beaded with sweat “It’ll be a good crop.”

“You’ve done me proud, boy,” his father answered. “You’re actually going to save this place.”

“Just a few more weeks till harvest,” he said. “It’ll all be worth it.” And so he headed out to the field east of the creek, continuing his weekly routine of walking the fields, inspecting the cotton from the ground level.

***

“Just a few more weeks,” Hank said to his wife when she met him on the porch.

She replied by holding out her phone, lit up with a picture of spiraling clouds. “You been tracking this storm?”

Hank barely spared a glance. “We’re gonna be lucky,” he said, pulling off his boots “It’s supposed to miss us. We’ll have time to get the harvest in.”

***

They didn’t.

The storm took a sharp turn inland, then stalled. Ravaging winds, torrential downpours, debris, flooding. All Hank’s investments were a loss, his work wasted. But after the winds subsided, he stepped outside to examine the old elm that had fallen just a few feet from the house. “Lucky,” he muttered. “We’re so lucky.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Flashlight

Quinn knew they couldn’t ignore the flashlight for long. Ignoring footsteps was easy. Ignoring cars was even easier; their rising and falling noise could be almost soothing. Voices were tricky, especially the boisterous ones spilling out of the pub at the other end of the alley. But they always moved on eventually.

The flashlight didn’t move. “You can’t stay here, son,” a gruff voice declared.

Quinn finally opened their eyes, glaring into light. It was impossible to discern any features of the individual, but even so Quinn knew exactly what sort of person was staring down at them. “Fine,” they croaked, and began hauling themself up from the makeshift bed. The spotlight never left. They almost felt like taking a bow.

“You need a place to go?” the officer asked.

Why else do you think I’m sleeping behind the dumpster? Quinn thought. But they simply mumbled, “I’m good,” and began shuffling down the alley. The flashlight followed.

“It’s going to be cold tonight, son” the officer offered. “Better to be somewhere warm, with four walls around you.”

Quinn kept walking. “I’m nobody’s son,” they said without looking back. They followed the shadow ahead of them, moving resolutely into the unknown.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Hot

“Balls!” Joselyn hissed. She clenched her fist tightly and pounded the counter waiting for the burning to subside.

“Everything okay?” Eddie called.

“Oh yeah,” Joselyn called out wincing, “just dandy.” Moments later she stepped into the room holding two mugs of tea, steam rising in wisps and curls. “Careful,” she said, holding out one of the mugs “it’s really hot.”

“Oh,” he said gingerly accepting the proffered mug. “Thanks.”

Joselyn settled into the couch beside him and blew on her own cup of tea. She glanced over at Eddie to see why he hadn’t pressed play to resume the movie and found that he was staring at her instead, a slight grin tugging at his lips. “What?”

“You sipped my tea,” he said.

Joselyn panicked. “Is that… I thought it would be okay. I mean, we’ve already made out, I figured… but I know it’s different with drinks. I’m sorry—”
“It’s okay.”

“I just thought—”

“No, no,” he insisted. “That’s not,” he paused, gathered his thoughts, looked at her with a tender smile. “You burned your tongue for me.”

Joselyn suddenly felt warm all over, and not from the tea. “I… I guess I did, yeah.”

“I love you too.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Shadows

They buried Boneheart Cole Carrow in shallow grave on the battlefield where he fell. For long years afterword, people avoided that burnt and broken land with its memories of tragedy and strife. So, no one knew when the tree began to grow.

It was a jagged, twisting thing. The old men would spit on the ground when they passed the place and would warn their children and grandchildren to stay clear of Carrow’s tree. It was considered a sign from heaven when the tree was stuck by lightning during one late summer storm.

Only, the tree didn’t die. New branches rose from the charred stump like a clawed hand rising from the grave. Men declared the field cursed, and none would build or plow or even cross through that place. A wood grew up around the undead tree. Or, as some whispered, that one forsaken tree, glutted on blood, had spread like a weed until it had become a forest unto itself.

Generations later, the battle has been forgotten, as has Boneheart himself. But the trees still stand. The folk of that region know to avoid Carrow Wood. Old twisted branches claw toward the sky and cast long, dark shadows.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox