Visions

“Do you want to talk about what you saw?” I asked softly

She nodded, wringing the hand that had shaken his.

“Now?”

Hesitation, eyes watery and unfocused. She nodded.

We made our way to a quiet corner of the party where we could pretend to look out a window at the city. I was quiet at first, wanting to give her the opportunity to speak first. My imagination swirled with possibilities either tragic or gruesome enough to trigger this sort of reaction from her. But I had learned early on not to press her about her visions. She couldn’t help glimpsing a person’s final moments, but that didn’t give her the right to share them. Even after nine years together, she still hadn’t told me anything about my own death.

So I waited. She remained too shaken to speak “It was a bad one,” I said, more an observation than a question.

“Not exactly,” she answered. “He’s . . . happy. Maybe a decade older. He’s in a hospital bed, but he’s surrounded by people. Mostly family by their looks, but friends too.”

“That sounds beautiful.”

“I’m there too,” she added. “But . . . you’re not. By then . . .”

Understanding, cold and merciless, opened my eyes.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Effervescence

Effervescence came rushing past her, airy and prismatic.

It burst.

Martina stopped short on the park sidewalk, uncertain whether she had even seen the bubble. She was just about to give up and continue on her way when another of the delicate spheres drifted past.

Silly little things, Martina thought to herself. She looked in the direction from which it had come, over a low, grassy hill. As she did, she saw several more bubbles drift over the top of the hill, though they popped before reaching. Silly old woman. She left the path and began climbing the small slope.

Over and down into a small cluster of trees. Bubbles were thick there, radiant with captured sunset and reflected green. She descended,. The bubbles rushed to meet her, then burst like kisses on her hand, like tears on her cheek, like whispered wishes.

“Hello Mom.”

She had stumbled out of the cloud of bubbles beside a young woman who had her same eyes.

Martina smiled. “I thought I’d find you if I just followed the—”

The bubble burst.

“Oh, but you’re . . . does that mean I’m . . . ?”

A somber nod. “I’m sorry.”

“No, darling,” Martina answered, eyes glistening with captured sunset, “I’m ready.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Line

“Oh,” Anya said, “I didn’t realize there would be a line.”

The older man in front of her glanced back at the new arrival. “A lot of people arriving all at once,” he explained.

“Right. I guess there would be.” The line shuffled forward. “You look familiar,” Anya said. “Have we met?”

“I doubt it,” he replied, still facing forward.

Anya shrugged, asking instead, “So, what did you do . . . you know, before?”

He sighed wearily, answering, “I worked in government.”

There’s a thankless job for you. I was a waitress, got no end of grief from customers, but at least there’s still a tip at the end.” A shadow fell over Anya’s expression. “I was working when it happened. I . . . think it was a bomb. You?”

“A bullet.” He winced as though he could still feel it. “In the back.”

“It’s all just madness, isn’t it? You have to wonder if the people responsible for all this really believe it’s worth it.”

A somber silence. “Maybe they did,” he finally replied. “But once they’re here, about to be judged . . . how could they?”

That’s when Anya recognized him. “You’re . . . You . . .”

“Yes,” came a voice like the grave, “I started the war.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Guitar

Deb had left work early and come home to an unnervingly empty house. Fortunately, the discordant notes trickling down from the attic let her know where to find her husband. She pulled down the stairs, braced herself, ascended.

“Hey Springsteen!”

Startled, Paul looked up from his guitar, then smiled widely. “You’re home!” Deb pulled up a milk crate beside the dusty trunk he was sitting on; they kissed. “Listen to this,” Paul said, giving a strum. “Can you believe how sweet this baby sounds, even after all this time?”

“You’ve always taken good care of it.” He strummed a couple more times, then began very carefully but clumsily shifting between chords. “How long have you been at it up here?”

“A couple hours,” he said, focused intently on his fingers, “ever since I got home from the appointment. I tell ya, honey, this is it. This time I’m finally going to master this thing.”

Deb let him continue until a grating jangle of notes broke his concentration. “Paul,” she said softly, “how bad is it?”

His chin quivered. “I always struggled with that ‘A’ chord. My fat fingers . . .”

“Paul?”

“It has to be this time,” he said. “My last chance.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Growth

“I didn’t know if you were coming,” Patty said as soon as Marie had pulled herself out of the dented beetle.

Her sister shrugged, shoved a cigarette between her lips, and lit it with the same beat-up Zippo she’d had since she was 17. “Let’s get this over with.”

Patty pursed her lips. Marie kicked off her shoes. They began walking toward the grove.

“They’re growing well,” Patti explained, stress compelling her to speak. “Much fuller than last year. I was a bit worried, with that late frost—”

“You know they’re dead, right?” Marie interjected.

“I,” Patti faltered, “was talking about the trees.” Marie snorted, took another drag and walked on. “Someone has to tend them,” Patti grumbled.

Then they reached the trees. Tall, sturdy oaks, some nearly 200 years old. Continuing on, they passed smaller and slimmer specimens until the sisters stopped suddenly about fifteen feet back from the two slender saplings on the eastern edge of the grove.

Stillness among the trees.

“That’s where they’re . . . ?” Marie asked.

“Yes,” Patti said in a whisper.

A gentle breeze. Leaves shaking. Their hands found each other.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here,” Marie said.

Patti squeezed tightly. “I’m glad you’re here now.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Just

Two men stepped onto the scaffold.

“You want me to kill you?” the prisoner asked.
“To execute me in your place, yes.”

Both wore hoods, one black and menacing, the other a simple burlap sack.

“Then what happens?”
“You get to keep your head,” the grizzled older man replied. “Freedom within the jail and an indefinite postponement of your sentence, at least until you give the job to someone else. Don’t know how long it’s been, but way back someone decided that no righteous souls should be tarnished by killing, even for the sake of justice. Now only someone sentenced to death can carry out that sentence for someone else. Leave it to those already damned to ferry other foul souls off to hell.”

An axe blade rose, glinting in the sunlight.

“How long has it been for you?”
Eyes stare blankly at stone walls. “Thirty years.”
“And how many have you killed?”
“Enough,” he answered “to grow weary of death.”

The axe fell with a sickening thud.

“So what do you say? Free an old man from his torment?”
The prisoner looked into dark, weary eyes, saw a soul in agony. He answered, “No.”

Blood ran across the boards.

Gift

“I don’t know what I did to deserve this as a gift,” she says in her seat beside the hospital bed. She presses his hand into hers, though the bony fingers remain limp in her grip. A life, faint and fading.

A life is ending.

She had never felt more scared than when she realized she was sitting in the room where her husband would die. She would have to say goodbye to him alone.

“On Christmas, of all days.”

Two floors above, another woman wipes a tear from the corner of her eye. “A gift,” she whispers. “Such a beautiful gift. And on Christmas of all days.”

She had welcomed him into the world alone, never before feeling as relieved as she did when her son was born and she held him for the first time.

A life is beginning. A life, so fragile, so hopeful.

She cradles his head to her chest, lets tiny fingers grip her thumb. “I don’t know what I did to deserve this as a gift.”

Two floors below, a woman says goodbye to the love of her life with tears in her eyes. “A gift,” she whispers. “You were such a beautiful gift.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Sandy Torchon from Pexels

Dust

The tower’s columns soared as high as an eagle, a masterpiece of both architectural and magical construction. Still it shook when the dragon alighted on its pinnacle.

“Madame?” the servant said uncertainly. “There’s no time left. We must–“

“Must?” the mage answered sharply. “The only thing we must do is face death.  You may do that now, or if you wish you must postpone it.”

The servant glanced upward, nodded, and dashed for the stairs.

Ignoring his retreat, the mage stepped to the balcony. “Beast!” she called out. “I’ve been waiting.”

A large, scaled head descended, the monster’s large yellow eye peering down at her. “Your bravado is wasted, witch,” the dragon’s voice rumbled. “No boasts nor screams nor pleas for mercy shall stay my fire. I will consume you, crush your tower, incinerate even the memory of your name.”

She smiled. “All are forgotten eventually. All comes to dust in the end. Even you.”

The dragon snorted, a cascade of smoke and sparks.

“Piteous,” she sighed, “that a creature of ruin would be too afraid to face the darkness that awaits us all.” With that, she turned her back.

No flames came.

The tower shook as the dragon fled.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Cave

I
I’ve found a cave I can use for shelter. It’s dry and surprisingly warm, and I’m alone here. There’s enough light to write at the moment, but darkness is coming. I’ll make a fire soon. Maybe tomorrow I’ll move on.

II
Yesterday wasn’t my first day here, but it was the first day I wrote something down.  I think it’s been a couple weeks now. I didn’t think it would be this long.

V
This journal was a dumb idea. I have nothing to say.

VI
I should leave. I can’t stay here forever.

VIII
Something came into the cave today. It stayed at the entrance, but I think it knew I was here. I’m not sure what it was. I was too afraid to move. But what if it was a person? 

XI
It was back today. I called out this time, but there was no response. I’m sure something was in the cave though, even if there were no footprints outside.

XVII
It comes into the cave every night.  It might be in here right now. I should leave.

XXV
It’s waiting for me. The dark. It is the dark. The end. It won’t let me go.

Photo by Alessio Zaccaria on Unsplash 

Story by Gregory M. Fox