Memory

Olivia’s memories were a heap of soggy brown leaves. Gone were the bright colors and sharp edges. Instead her mind wandered through decomposing mush.

Someone was looking at her. Olivia stared into those keen hazel eyes, groping for recognition, but the detritus of long years crumbled away in her grasp. My sister, she thought.Maggie? Do you need something?”

The expression twisted into concern, and Olivia realized her mistake.“Joanna,” she said, correcting herself. “I’m sorry. Sometimes it all just gets a little . . .”

“I know, mom.”

Her daughter spoke compassionately, but with a pitying note that turned Olivia’s stomach. Or maybe that was actually something she ate. She had obviously eaten some of the turkey and potatoes that had been piled on her plate, though she couldn’t remember it. A child ran past. Whose kid? She had no idea. But they were at her house, so they must be related to her. There were people moving all around her, a cacophony of voices, a swirling current she couldn’t keep up with.

Life, vibrant and clear, and growing in the midst of it – love.

“Mom? Is something wrong?”

Olivia’s eyes were clear and shining when she answered, “I’m just so thankful.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Vegetables

“I hate you,” Joan announced, walking out of the kitchen.

Tabi’s eyes went wide eyed at the plate of crackers and dip her girlfriend carried. “Holy shit,” she said, “You’re insane.”

Joan just glared back. “I’m insane? What kind of a sicko puts googly eyes on a tomato?”

Tabi at least had enough sense to restrain herself from snorting with amusement, but still said, “When you told me you wouldn’t eat anything with a face, I didn’t think that included fake faces.”

Joan settled into the armchair with an emphatic flop. “Well when you said you like my ass in skinny jeans, I didn’t think you’d suddenly start sabotaging my waistline by turning all the vegetables into adorable little fridge friends.” She punctuated her retort by shoving a fistful of crackers into her mouth.

Crunch!

“It was a joke. I thought it would be funny.”

“Maybe it is,” Joan replied, “but I still end up feeling like I’m the joke.”

Silence.

Crunch!

A sigh.

“You’re right,” Tabi said. “I’m sorry. I’ll go chop some vegetables.”

“No,” Joan insisted. “Let them live their lives.”

Tabi’s eyes narrowed. “You named them, didn’t you?”

“It’s not my fault! You made them too cute.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Image: Keri Lee Smith on Flickr

Crash

“Funny running into you like this,” Jeff said.

Marci batted her eyelashes in surprise, looking first to their wrecked cars, then back to her co-worker. “Did you just make a joke?”

His head tilted. “Yes?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you joke,” Marci said, a slow smile spreading across her face. “I like it.”

“Yes. Good.”

There was something adorable about his awkward stiffness. She found herself wishing for the conversation to continue. “I am sorry about your car,” she said, feeling that part had to be addressed first.

“Yes. It is thoroughly ruined now,” Jeff said with a simple nod of affirmation. “We are both quite lucky I was not damaged as severely as my vehicle.”

Marci tensed, suddenly worried that she had been misreading the entire situation. But Jeff didn’t seem angry, despite his blunt words. “Wait a minute,” she said, smile returning. “Are you joking again?”

“Yes?”

She moved a little closer, grinning. “So, you want to get a bite to eat when this is done?”

Jeff’s eyes glazed over. As an extraterrestrial, he was far out of his depth here. “Flirting is an enjoyable activity.” he declared.

Marci frowned. “Did you . . . hit your head?”

“Yes?”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Blessing

“I’d like to…” he stalled, struggling to speak, “to bless you.”

She rolled away slightly from the man who had approached her on the sidewalk. “What sort of blessing?”

He sighed. “You think I’m trying to play you.”

“No, I—”

“‘It’s fine,” he continued, breath labored. “I don’t blame you. So how about this, just let me touch your wrist, and if nothing happens, then you’ll know.”

“My wrist?” Shifty and shaken as this man seemed, there was something adamant in his gaze that made her feel brave. “Fine. Let’s see this blessing.” And so she held out her arm.

Relieved at her change of heart, the man knelt beside her chair, reached out and laid his hand on her wrist. Immediately, her skin began to glow.

“Holy shit!” she exclaimed.

“Yes,” he said through gritted teeth. “Yes, that’s exactly what I am.”

“What?”

“Any harm I do to someone must be repaid as a blessing, or else I suffer it too. I’m a curse as much as a blessing.”

“So if you’re blessing me, that means.”

Then, for the first time in a decade, she felt her legs.

No small miracle.

There were tears running down the stranger’s face.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Spirits

The neon sign off the side of the road glimmers like an oasis in the wasteland of darkness Jack has been driving through.

“Spirits.”

The lights are low inside the bar, and the tables mostly empty. “What’ll you have?” the bartender asks as Jack settles onto a stool.

“Something strong.”

A nod. She turns around, grabs a bottle off the shelf, unstoppers it with a practiced hand and sets the bottle on the bar in front of him. No glass appears, and the bartender shuffles away without another word. Ah well, he doesn’t intend to go home tonight anyway. He reaches for the bottle.

“Duuuuuuust . . .” The woman’s voice is parched, broken, and a little spiteful.

“Who . . . ?” And then he sees the misty, ethereal glow inside the bottle.

“I loved a man who loved men,” the voice continued. “I got him to marry me for the sake of his career and thought we could be happy. Resentment. Anger. Infidelity. Fire. Dust. I burned it all down. All we built – dust. My bones – dust. You too and all you love shall be dust.”

The spirit’s words burn going down. Jack feels dizzy, feels sick, feels a cold numbness seeping into his bones.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Haunted

Toni’s house was haunted.

The smell of acrid smoke assaulted her as soon as she entered the kitchen. A moment of panic, quickly replaced by anger. The ghost had struck again.

“Karl!” she called out. “Why did you run the coffee maker?”

A translucent figure drifted in from the living room. “I turn on the coffee maker every morning,” he said with a dismissive shrug.

“Yes, but did you notice there was no coffee or water in it?”

A roll of the eyes. “I’ve lived in this house for thirty years. You really expect me to change my routine after all that time? It’s not my fault you don’t know how to make coffee properly.”

“But you don’t live here anymore,” Toni retorted, gesturing to his hovering form. “And you can’t even drink the coffee.”

“And you can’t prepare it responsibly, but you don’t hear me complaining.”

Toni rubbed her temples. The headache she had woken up with had intensified dramatically. “I’m leaving,” she announced. “Apparently I need to stop by Starbucks on my way to work.”

“While you’re there,” the ghost grunted, “You should look into picking up a new coffee maker. This one doesn’t work anymore.”

Toni screamed.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Screaming

Jones could hear the screaming as soon as she stepped out of the squad car. She directed a grim nod to her partner and approached the house.

Nancy could barely hear the pounding at the door. The second or maybe third time that a fist beat against her front door, she finally managed to break through the haze, stagger over and open it.

Noise tumbled out of the open door and with it, a woman: frantic, desperate, wide red-ringed eyes. “Thank God you’re here,” she cried.

“You’re the one who called?”

“You have to take him away.”

“Is there someone else here?” Jones asked, looking past her into the house.

“Please,” Nancy said. She held out the screaming infant. “I haven’t slept for three days. You have to save me.”

The officer’s jaw clenched. She glanced back at the squad car. “Collins—”

Another officer appeared. He strode over with a calm gate and a gentle smile. “May I?” With her permission, he flipped the baby onto his belly, draped him over an arm and started patting his back. In a matter of moments, the sobs had turned to small sniffling breaths.

“But . . . how?”

“You have a nice day ma’am.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Wall

The door shut. She waited, counting his steps as he descended the apartment stairs. Finally, she spoke to the empty room.  “He didn’t really see anything. He just said the spot on the wall looked like a face.”

Silence. That seemed like a good sign. So why did she feel so cold? 

“I’m sorry,” she offered,  just for good measure. “I know I’m not supposed to let anyone know about you. But it was an accident.”

The wall creaked and quivered. The spot with the brownish stains bulged like a growing bubble. It pulsed and shuddered,  shadows caving in as a hollow-eyed face pushed its way into the room. A noise that was almost a voice shuddered out the word, “Lies…”

“No,” she insisted. “No, no, no, no, no,  please don’t think that. I didn’t tell him anything.”

Wood cracking, insect skittering, air moving in empty places: “Punishment…”

A shape like a hand began pressing through the wall. “Not again. I swear, he doesn’t know anything.”

Blood….”

It was cold. She could see her breath. “Y-you want… you don’t mean…”

There was a knock on the door. 

A gasp, a murmur, a sob: “Please.”

The wall began to crack.  

Blood…”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Stage

75

She had to take slow, careful steps to reach the center of the stage, but her pain disappeared as the applause reached a crescendo. This was why she kept performing; not for the applause, but for the audience. For a chance to create something meaningful.

50

A trophy, gleaming gold. Lights shining in her eyes. Faces turned toward her expectantly. “Thank you,” she began. They would think she meant for the award. How could she let them know it was for so much more.

35

The audience had been thin and the performance had been exhausting. Bad reviews had scared people off, and they had never managed to turn it around. Each night she asked herself if it was worth going on, not just with this show, but with the whole damn career.

When she left the dressing room that night, a wide-eyed girl lingered in the theatre lobby. “It’s you,” she said. There were tears in her eyes. “Thank you”

25

She stood in Times Square, dizzy and delirious, staring up at a her name on a marquis.

20

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

“It won’t be easy.”
“I know. But maybe it will mean something.”

Listen

“Wait,” she said, panting, “stop for a second.”

“Huh, wha—” he said, growing still above her. “What’s wrong?”

“Is that . . .”

“I know,” he said bashfully. “I was trying something I read—”

“Not you,” she said. “Quiet.” Then after a moment’s consideration, she whispered, “but you should definitely keep going with that in a minute.”

“Okay, great!” he whispered back. “But then why—”

“Goat.”

“What?”
She paused a moment longer, then nodded confidently. “It’s definitely a goat.”

He looked beneath the sheets, “It’s a . . . I don’t . . .”

“Just listen.”

And how could he refuse that playful smile or the twinkle in her eyes, especially when she was naked beneath him. So he listened. He waited. He heard the pounding of his veins and the quiet music he had put on earlier, but nothing else. “What am I—” And then he heard it, an unmistakable bleating.

“Goat,” she repeated. “We gotta check it out.”

“But . . . now?”

They disentangled, gathered the blankets around them, and peaked through the blinds above the headboard. Sure enough, standing in the apartment parking lot was a brown LaMancha goat staring directly at their window.

“I don’t like that,” he whispered.

“Do you still want to . . .”

The goat bleated.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox