Wish

The streak of light had passed in an instant, but Jude kept staring into the sky as though expecting it to reappear. “I’ve never seen a real shooting star before,” he said.

“So what’d you wish for?” Collin asked.

“Isn’t it bad luck to tell?”

“Whatever,” Collin shrugged. “I’ll tell you mine.”

Jude rolled his eyes. “Let me guess, a new Jeep?”

“How did you—”

“Because you mention that you want one basically every day.”

“I guess,” Collin grunted.

“Also,” Jude said, giving his friend a conciliatory pat on the back, “you have no imagination.”

“Excuse me?”

“This is a wish we’re talking about. It should be something big. Something you can’t achieve on your own.”

“Well a new Jeep’s pretty big,” Collin retorted.

Jude shook his head. “Something life changing.”

Collin’s face went serious. “A new leg?” he asked.

Jude blinked in surprise, looked down at the prosthesis supporting his weight. He opened his mouth to speak, then shook his head. “No,” he said softly, looking up with a pained smile. “I wouldn’t wish for something I can live without.”

Jude’s eyes shone in the starlight. Collin stared into them, feeling his face grow warm as he finally understood.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Bradley Allweil on Unsplash

Escape

They were already running, but Kurt broke into a sprint when he heard the sound of that whistle in the distance. Eva staggered as he pulled her along in a white-knuckled grip. They broke out of the narrow alley just down the road from the station and saw the train at the platform.

There was no way could hide until the next train. They had to run.

Steam hissed from the engine of the steel beast as it lurched forward. No time for tickets, lines, or turnstiles; they ran for the fence. Kurt gave Eva a boost to inelegantly clamber over the chain links. An officer had spotted them, but was too slow in reacting to catch Kurt before he too tumbled over the fence. Ignoring the officer’s shouts, they sprinted for the accelerating train. Kurt caught onto a handrail, half-pulled, half threw Eva onto the steps.

Then he leaped…

Slipped…

Fell…

The train pulled away.

Kurt heard gravel crunching beneath approaching footsteps. A pair of polished shoes and a cold voice. “Beneath the mask of bravery, foolishness,” the man sighed. “We will simply pick her up at the next station.”

“No,” Kurt said. “No more. I’ll tell you everything.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Candy

The dolorous ringing of the doorbell woke Stacey from a heavy sleep. He rolled over and tumbled to the floor, only then remembering that he had fallen asleep on the couch watching The Mummy, like he did every Halloween.

“Trick-or-treat!” a thin voice sounded through the doors.

He must have left the porch light on even after kids had stopped coming by. But what time was it? Bleary eyed, he looked for a clock, but couldn’t see the hands on the clock above the sink. He couldn’t find his glasses. Then he remembered to check his phone, which read 00:00. Midnight? It seemed too late.

“Trick-or-treat!” the voice called again.

He staggered toward the door where the mostly empty bowl of candy sat on a stool. For some reason, he felt like he ought to be in costume. With no better options, he grabbed the blanket he had been sleeping under and threw it over his head before answering the door.

Standing on the other side was a small figure, similarly shrouded. “Trick-or-treat!” they said once more holding out a small pumpkin-shaped bucket. Stacey dumped a full sized Snickers into the bucket. “Sweet,” they said. And then the figure disappeared.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Underneath

“What are you doing?” I cried. I had seen my ex-, Trevor, ahead of me on the sidewalk carrying a baseball bat and, curious, had followed him down the alley.

Trevor barely glanced at me before answering, “Hitting this wall.”

I tried to say something else, but was cut off by the loud clang of aluminum striking against cinder block.

“Right” I replied, still jarred by the sound. “But why?”

Another swing of the bat. “I’m trying to see what’s underneath.”

“Under— it’s a wall. Underneath is the inside of the building. Maybe some plumbing or some insulation.”

He shook his head matter-of-factly. “It’s not a real building.”

“Trevor, I’m getting a bit worried. Maybe I should call someone for you.”

“It’s okay,” he replied. “I’m almost through.” Then he adjusted his grip on the bat and took another swing. The bat rang sharply, but there was another sound underneath: a crumbling sigh. At the point of impact, bits of the wall flaked away like eggshell revealing a core of shimmering light.

“What . . .” I began. But as we stood there in the alley, a spiderweb of cracks spread out from the point of impact. Light began spilling into the alley.

Close

You should have been surprised by my translucent form leaning over you, but perhaps you were expecting me. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“Trying to be close to you.”

I looked around at the rows of tombstones surrounding us, then back down at your form stretched out on the mound of earth covering my coffin. “This is creepy,” I said.

Your brow crinkled that way I think is cute. “I thought it would be sweet.”

I rolled my eyes. “So melodramatic.”

“Seriously?” you replied, propping yourself up on your elbows, “Why are you being so obnoxious?”

“You want obnoxious?” I snorted, “Try being dead.”

And suddenly, you were shouting. “Don’t you think I know that? Look, I’m sorry alright. I’m sorry!

“Sorry?”

“Yes!”

“Why are you sorry?” I asked. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Red rimmed eyes, filling with tears. “But . . . I’m still here.

I sank to the ground beside you, wishing with all my unbeating heart that you could rest your head on my shoulder. “I know. And it’s beautiful. Life is beautiful. You living is beautiful.”

You sniffed. You sighed. Then you smiled. “Thanks. I’m glad I came here.”

“Me too. Even if it is a little creepy.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Enlightenment

Esme decided to climb the mountain and find enlightenment because it was the only way to win Lonnie back. If she had a spiritual experience at the spot Lonnie described as “the definition of sacred” that would prove they were meant to be, right?

It was auspiciously sunny the morning Esme set out. She had stuffed a backpack with granola bars, water, a pink and teal meditation rug she’d bought online, and a journal she’d bought at the coffee shop. The trails were lovely, and she took lots of pictures as evidence. She heard birds cawing and a lot of droning, buzzing noises she assumed were bugs, which meant she was definitely experiencing nature.

She tried to think of all the things Lonnie would like about being here. She couldn’t help thinking of all the things about Lonnie she missed.

Clouds had rolled in by the time she reached the overlook. At some point on the way up, she had stepped on a condom and had to scrape it off her shoe with a rock. Seated on her rug, empty journal in hand, the first raindrops began to fall. Esme wrote a single sentence before retreating:

“I hate being alone.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Kaleidoscope

“Just wanted you to know, I’m here if you ever need anything.”

She held her phone tightly, unwilling to read those words again. Instead she stared blankly at the lights refracted through the raindrops on her windshield, almost as if she expected the payday loan company to dissolve into that blurry kaleidoscope and coalesce into a new way out of her predicament.

The contact in her phone was named “Don’t Answer”, and in the two weeks since the text had arrived, she hadn’t opened it. She also hadn’t deleted it. She had simply read the preview over and over again, trying to fight off the feeling that the decision had already been made for her.

Now she had waited as long as she could, but now escape had come. The phone felt heavy in her hand. This was how he operated. He would help her, give her whatever she needed without question. And with the most compassionate smile, his jaws would close around her throat.

She couldn’t go back. And she couldn’t pay her loan.

Hands trembling, she unlocked her phone.
She opened the message.
She deleted it.
Tears blurred her vision as she started her car and drove away.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Andras Vas on Unsplash

Darkling

It was dark. He heard strange, chittering voices close by. What happened? He remembered rain, headlights, a guardrail, and then . . .

He was still in the car. He wasn’t alone. Shapes moving, and those voices . . . words he couldn’t understand. Then a head loomed over him, eyes giving off a pale reflection in the night.

“You awake?” a reedy voice asked. “You come?”

Something was odd about the shape of that head, the shape of those words, the shape of his windshield. In his mental fog, all he could mutter was a hoarse, “Where?”

It seemed to suffice as an answer. A flash of steel in the night, and his seat belt fell away. He found himself outside a twisted heap of metal. Behind him, the low drone of highway traffic. Ahead, starlit darkness into which those small, strange figures were retreating. The last one stopped short, looked back. “You come,” they repeated. He wasn’t sure if it was a question or a command.

He followed anyway. Grass gave way to trees, the sounds of civilization faded. Occasionally, trees parted, allowing moonlight to revealed his companion plainly. Green skin, pointed ears, sharp smiles.

Thrilled and terrified, he continued into the darkling unknown.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Piano

It was so rare to find truly good music at these country parties. Belle had been dying to meet the man in the dark suit at the piano, and after an hour of boring chitchat, she finally broke away from her companions.

“Pardon me,” she said gently, then gasped when the pianist looked up. “My goodness! I came here to give my compliments to the brilliant young man at the piano, only to discover that you’re a woman.”

“Am I?” they gasped in feigned surprise. “Goodness, I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“What? Oh, it’s quite alright.” Belle replied. “But why are you dressed that way?”

“Well I always believed the suit made the man,” they answered in a sultry contralto, “but apparently I was wrong.”

Belle’s giggle made all the ringlets of her golden curls bounce merrily. “That’s very droll,” she said.

A grin. “Being droll is my specialty.” A flourish on the keys. “That, and charming young ladies.”

“If I didn’t know any better,” Belle laughed. “I might think you were propositioning me.”

“You might be right,” the answered, “unless you know better.”

Belle’s heartbeat accelerated, suddenly matching the piano’s rhythm. The pianist smiled invitingly. Music filled the night.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Lorenzo Spoleti on Unsplash

Goose

Thumb absently rubbing my finger, I watch him moving through the bar. It looks like a game of “Duck Duck Goose,” all the girls with no dates watching him circle, each ready to chase him the moment he singles them out.

But he chooses me.

“Hey,” he says with a cocksure grin, “you want to dance?”

I follow the rules of the game, I rise to follow him while all the rest watch. In that moment, I want nothing more than to feel like a child again, to throw myself headlong into a carefree pursuit.

I want to, but…

“You’re not having a good time,” he notes after a couple songs.

“I’m sorry,” I answer. “It’s not your fault.”

To his credit, he doesn’t look at all wounded by my lack of enthusiasm. He simply gives an understanding nod, then asks, “The tattoo on your finger?”

Once more, my thumb presses into the black ink line on my ring finger where a metal band used to rest. Somehow, I find myself smiling. “Actually, he was a duck all along.”

I leave alone that night. Looking up at the sky, I see the stars for once and not the darkness between.

* * *

A story by Gregory M. Fox