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

Millennials

He smiled broadly as she approached. “Wasn’t sure you’d come.”

She shrugged, settling into her chair. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“I don’t know, might be busy or have trouble finding the place or just … you know, not be interested.”

“I’ve never missed one of our appointments before, have I?” she said frankly.

“Appointments.” He chewed on the word, swallowed it reluctantly. “Well, how’s the last century been for you?”

A frown. “Perhaps you should be a little more discrete.”

“Huh? Oh, about the time thing?”

“You remember what happened in Byzantium…”

She was always cute when she was flustered. “Hah! How could I forget! But folks aren’t that superstitious these days. You tell one of these so-called ‘millennials’ that you’ve actually been alive for millennia, they’ll think it’s a pickup line.”

A flat stare. “Do you spend a lot of time trying to pick up young people?”

“I knew you were gonna go there.” Voice low, teeth clenched. “Atom bombs, lunar landings, global warming, the internet—all the miracles and catastrophes of the last century, and you want to talk about her?”

Slow, anguished words. “Perhaps we are both selfish and narrow-minded. Perhaps, despite the evidence, we are both still human.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Table

A creak, a figure in the doorway. He lunged for the table, for his pack, for the gun inside, but found a rifle pointed in his face instead.

“What are you doing in my house?” the newcomer asked.
“I didn’t think . . .” he hesitated. He couldn’t claim the home seamed abandoned when he had been caught stealing as much unspoiled food as he could carry. “I was hungry,” he said instead.

“You’ve been fighting in the war?” the other man asked.

His uniform was disheviled and discolored, but still recognizable. “Yes, sir.”

“And where’s your battallion?”

No answer.

The man behind the rifle studied the intruder: young, shaking, ashamed. “I see.” He gestured to a chair on the opposite end of the table from the soldier’s pack. “Sit.” The soldier complied. “Hands on the table.” Keeping the rifle aimed, he circled the table and stepped into the kitchen. Ignoring the scattered foodstuffs, he instead withdrew a tall glass bottle from some corner and set it on the table.

A confused expression. “But . . . you know what I am.”

A shrug. “What? Lost? Stupid? Scared?” The rifle lowered as he produced two glasses. “What are you? Are you my guest? Or my enemy?”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Vitals

Carla had been watching the monitors, so she was already dashing toward her patient’s room when the code blue announcement came on overhead. Aurelio was coming from the opposite direction with the crash cart, but she was the first to reach the room. What she found was a panicked tech alongside a very awake and alert patient. What she couldn’t find however, and what none of the other doctors, nurses, or other clinicans could find were any vital signs. No pulse, no respiration, no blood pressure, and a temp slightly above room temperature.

“Is something wrong?” the elderly man would ask.

Carla would look to whichever practioner was fumbling to assess the patient, and when they avoided eye contact, she would answer, “Just some trouble with our equipment.”

He was still apparently fine the next day, though his appetite had vanished with his heartbeat. Security was posted outside the room to keep away the curious, leaving Carla even more uncertain what to tell the visitor who had shown up asking about him.

“Are you family?” Carla asked.

“Not quite,” the old woman answered. “He broke a promise, see? And he doesn’t get to die until I get what I’m owed.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Somewhere

Examining my hazy reflection in the elevator doors, I wipe mud off my face with a napkin I found in my purse. There’s not much hope for my clothes.

“Sorry,” the girl had called over her shoulder, carefree smile on her face. It was like she had barely even seen me, like we existed in different worlds.

I’m staring out the window when a ringing phone jars me to attentiveness. I reach to answer and find the napkin still wadded up in my fist. I’m a second too late and hear only a dial tone. How long had I stood there with the phone ringing? I know I should call back. I should check my email. I should open the stack of briefs on my desk. But my gaze drifts back to the window.

Somewhere off to the south is the apartment where I grew up. Somewhere much farther is the university where I molded myself into the powerful woman who now looks down on the streets that made her. Somewhere down there, a girl and her bike. A hazy reflection of who I’ve always been: just a girl trying to go somewhere.

Streets spread out below.

I feel lost.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Interjected

I looked back and forth between the two of them. Neither of them was looking at the other. Jeff was looking over the kitsch and memorabilia nailed to the restaurant walls while Mallory traced swirling patterns in the sauce left on her plate. Jeff coughed. Mallory’s fork clinked. “I’m sorry,” I said, though I didn’t know what for.

“You’re fine,” Mallory said, licking some sauce off her fork and setting it aside. Her cheeks were flushing red.

Jeff was smiling. “I’m the one who should be sorry,” he said. “Crashing girls night.”

“Oh,” I waved, “it’s not—”

“Don’t worry about it,” Mallory interjected, turning to look out the window, or maybe at a reflection.

“You can stay if you want,” I offered. “We were thinking of having dessert?” I tried to catch Mallory’s eye, but she just shrugged and turned her attention back to her empty plate.

“I’ll get going,” Jeff said.

“Okay…” I said, confused.

For the first time they made eye contact. I was aware that I couldn’t fully grasp what was transpiring, but now I felt the depth of it. “If you want,” Mallory said.

Jeff nodded, drummed his fingers on the table. Then he was gone.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Prize

Derek didn’t mind the cold; falling snow made the moment more romantic. Almost giddy, he declared, “I’m here to win you back, baby.”

Sela remained stiff and aloof on the other side of the threshold. “It’s not a contest,” she replied. “And I’m no one’s prize.”

Derek grinned even wider. “That’s just it though – you are a prize. I was too stupid and selfish to see it before, but I know now. I know how lucky I was, how lucky any man would be to have you.” It was everything he had been wanting to say. The moment was perfect.

“You can’t have me,” she answered.

Snow crunched beneath Derek’s feet as he shifted his stance. “So. Who is it?”

Her eyes flicked away. “What are you talking about?”

“You’re seeing someone, aren’t you? Already?”

“His name’s Jeremy,” she said, shaping the word into a smile.

“I don’t care who he is. He doesn’t deserve you.”

Sela shrugged. “He makes me happy.”

“I don’t care if you’re happy,” Derek spat. “I only care if you’re mine.” The echo of his own words struck Derek like a blow. He turned away from Sela’s shocked expression, and fled into the winter night.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Ducks

Today, a duck reminded me of how the world ended.

I never thought it would be possible for me to forget a single detail of the meteor you sent hurtling into my life. The words you spoke were a life-smothering cataclysm. Blindsided, all I could do was stare straight ahead at the pond, where a family of ducks swam in slow, uneven circles.

I still remember the ducks with perfect clarity, but find I can no longer remember your words. Though I endlessly retraced every syllable, every pause, every shift in intonation, turning the crater into a canyon, I now recall only muffled echoes. The chasms I carved were just scribbling in the sand, and the pain that bored so deeply into my heart is now cold, inert, and surprisingly small.

There are still scars, of course. A few of the joys we shared have fossilized within me, brittle monuments of a different life. Occasionally, one of them turns up. Occasionally, a duck reminds me of incomprehensible sorrow. But life has returned, new and varied and beautiful. The world spins on. And it turns out that the moment I thought was the end of everything was only a fleeting shudder.

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Photo by Bence Balla-Schottner on Unsplash

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Hope: an Epilogue

He was quiet, and she was worried. “You don’t have to come today.”

“And waste this sign?” he said, shocked. “Are you kidding?”

She studied him, trying to figure out if he was really as confident as he acted. She could see dry scabs on his hands and his chin and knew that there were deep bruises all over his back. He was still moving a bit slowly, a bit stiffly, and he would wince whenever he took a deep breath. The protest was marching to the statehouse again today. The same place the police had given him those injuries.

“I’m just saying, no one would blame you if you were scared about—”

A gentle smile made her pause. Such a warm, unexpected expression. He stepped close, taking her hands in his. “I’m doing what you said. No more fear. No more hate. If I have hope, they can’t hurt me in any way that matters.”

Together, they walked into bright sunlight, stepping almost immediately into a stream of protesters. There was anger on faces, but also resolve, love, and even joy. He lifted a sign above his head. In large black letters, he’d written, Today is a New Day.

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash 

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Dread 
part i
part ii
part iii
part iv
part v

Volume 2 of A Breath of Fiction

This is it! Watch: Volume 2 of A Breath of Fiction is now available for FREE via Smashwords, the service I use to self-publish. And very soon it will be available via other online book retailers as well, but why wait? Get it here now!

Vol2 cover