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


“What can we brew for you today?” Lizzie asked with a friendly smile.

“Behold!” the customer cried, “though bitterness pours out in a flood, the frothing tide of plenty shall yet uplift the soul.”

“Whole milk latte,” Lizzie replied, entering the order into the register. “Anything else?”

“Know ye, all are born to covet and crave; only they that surrender avarice shall find true joy in life’s gifts.”

An understanding nod. “That will be $3.84.”

Caleb was a regular who spent a few days each week prophesying on the opposite corner of the intersection. He held out a five dollar bill saying, “The hand that offers coin and the hand that receives, both are servants to the hunger of profit.”

“You really can’t turn it off, can you?”

“Nay . . . er, no.”

She shrugged, holding out his change. “Your drink will be ready shortly.”

Coins scattered across the counter. Caleb gripped Lizzie’s wrist tightly. Eyes unfocused, voice haggard, he spoke. “Love hearkens on invisible wings. Truth spoken plainly cuts with a razor’s edge. Truth hidden is a not mercy but slow poison. Answer.”

The counter vibrated. Caleb collapsed. Someone screamed. Lizzie stood petrified, staring at her phone. Her boyfriend was calling.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


“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


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 . . .”


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

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


Danny hoped his annoyance didn’t show too much as he tried to comfort his crying child. “What happened to your teacup, honey?”

“The monster broke it,” Ava sobbed.

“Oh a monster, huh?” Danny replied, jaw tensing. “Well did you tell the monster that we have to be extra careful with your china tea set?”

“I tried,” she said, sniffling, “but—but—but—”

Danny finally softened at the tears, recognizing that whatever had happened, his daughter was in genuine distress. “Alright sweetheart, go sit on the couch and calm down while I clean up the rest of your tea party.”

“B-but—but the monster!

“Don’t worry,” he called out over his shoulder, “I can handle a—” But then he saw it.

Blue feathers, a scaly tail, a party hat resting between curved horns. The monster messily gobbled up a cucumber sandwich they had skewered on their claw. “What did your dad—oh . . .” they trailed off, locking eyes with Danny.
“You . . .”

The monster hastily wiped crumbs from their maw and said, “Yeah . . . sorry about the plate.”

“It’s . . . okay . . .” he mumbled. “We got them from a thrift store.”

“Right on,” they answered. “Oh, and tell Ava she makes a kickass cup of Darjeeling.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


As soon as Maren stepped into the room, my pain started to lessen. “Alright Dell,” she said flashing a quick, radiant smile, “let me just scan that bracelet.”

Maren moved with brisk efficiency, but I still had opportunities to note the playful bounce of her short natural curls, the shifting muscles in her forearms as she typed, and the dimple that emerged in her cheek when she grinned. It almost made being in the hospital feel tolerable.

“Three pills and a shot this time,” my nurse announced.

Immediately my vision started clouding, and I felt beads of sweat on my neck. “I . . . I don’t really like needles,” I admitted, looking down at my hands.

“That’s alright,” she said handing me the pills. “I’ll see what we can do.”

I felt relieved, but still shaky. Maren waited patiently while I forced down the meds, then asked, “May I see your hand?”


She placed two fingers on my wrist as though to check my pulse, but instead of checking a watch or clock, her eyes shifted to mine. Perfect lips asked, “Will you marry me?”

“W-what? OW!”

A dimple in her cheek. “Sorry!” And Maren walked away with an empty syringe.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


They had agreed on two things: ordering the artisinal goat cheese platter as an appetizer and admitting deep fears to each other.

“Do we have to do this here?” Benni asked with a nervous glance at the restaurant’s lunchtime crowd.

Doug nodded, heaped some garlic and herb cheese onto a cracker, and said, “It’s now or never. I’ll go first. I’m afraid that everyone in the office can tell I don’t know what I’m doing.” He smiled, seeming relieved, and looked to Benni who hastily shoved a cracker into her mouth.

Instead Samantha declared, “I’m afraid I’ll never tell Doug I love him.”

A fork clattered to the floor. A clump of cheese fell from Doug’s lip. Samantha sank into her chair, busying herself with spreading fig and honey cheese onto a cracker.

Finally, Benni spoke. “I’m afraid . . . never mind.”

“You can tell us.” Doug offered encouragingly.

“I’m afraid of what you’ll think if I do.”

“That doesn’t count,” Samantha muttered.

Benni looked around the table. Doug smiled brightly. Samantha’s cheeks glowed red. Five expensive logs of cheese lay before them.

“Fine. Benni said with a sigh of surrender. “I’ll say it. I’m afraid I don’t actually like goat cheese.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


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


Jun was waving as I stepped out of the skip station, but I didn’t rush to meet them. They reached out to take my hand, and I flinched, startled by the contact.

“Is something wrong?”

“I . . .” I hesitated. Uncertain? Embarrassed? Afraid? “I think I had a bad skip.”

I tried to read Jun’s reaction, but their features suddenly seemed foreign in a way they never had before. “Let’s get some food,” was all they said, “then you’ll feel better.”

There hadn’t been anything strange about this evening’s skip. I had stepped into the pod in Philadelphia and 17:23:51 planetary standard time and stepped out in Kyoto at 17:24:07. Practically instantaneous transportation. Not transportation, I reminded myself, reconstitution.

“Is something wrong with your noodles?” Jun asked. Was that concern on their face? Confusion? Fear? How long had I been staring at my noodles lost in thought?

Lost echoed in my mind.

“Bathroom,” I muttered, then left the table.

I studied my reflection and found every freckle, every hair, every scar exactly where I expected. Something still felt wrong. I splashed water on my face, gripped the edge of the sink, tried desperately to convince myself I was more than a ghost.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


“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