Appointment

“I’m leaving for my appointment now” Marta said, setting a disorderly stack of files on her boss’s desk. “Here are the files.

“You see my email?” he asked.

But Marta was already out the door. She made it all the way to the car before realizing her keys were missing. Not in her purse, not in her pocket;

Marta dashed into the office, heart racing. She grabbed her coat from the back of her chair, relieved to hear keys jingling in the pocket.

“Back already?” the boss called as she passed his office.

She didn’t stop.

Outside, across the parking lot, into her car. The engine roared to life.

Something was beeping.

Not now, Marta thought, scanning the dashboard. No alerts illuminated. Then the beeping stopped. Good enough. Marta sped out of the parking lot.

It wasn’t till she arrived at the clinic that she saw the missed call and voicemail.

<Hi, this is Julia calling from Dr. Mossadegh’s office. I know it’s last minute, but the doctor is going to have to cancel your appointment. He’s very sorry, but of course we’ll reschedule as soon as we can.>

She stared blankly at her reflection in the phone and sighed.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Trunk

“Can you take a look at something for me?” Maple asked.

Fir creaked out a flat response. “Do I have to?”

“Please?” Maple asked. “I think I’ve got something on my trunk.”

A sigh of falling needles. “Like what?” Fir asked.

Maple rustled their branches impatiently. “I don’t know; that’s why I want you to look at it.”

“Fine,” the evergreen said..

Maple leaned with the wind, branches parting to give a clear view. Fir leaned as well, bending closer to inspect the trunk.

They spotted the source of Maple’s concern immediately. The growth, or whatever it was, was impossible to miss. Broad, blunt branches ringed Maple’s trunk, there was a lot of discoloration, and several vines hung down from their lower branches. Then Fir spotted the infestation. They were used to this sort of vermin of course; but it was extremely unusual to see so many climbing in the branches of a tree all at once. The squat, hairy little things were all over Maple’s branches, letting out shrill squeals as they scurried about. Fir straightened up with a shudder of revulsion.

“Well?” Maple asked.

“Yeah, you might want to get that checked out.”

“What . . . what is it?”

Humans.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Aditi Gautam on Unsplash

Wish

Story by Gregory M. Fox
from A Breath of Fiction’s archives

Published 12/26/2010

* * *

The sudden flash in the heavy blackness caught her eye like a shooting star. 

She made a wish.  It was a sort of morbid tradition she had. 

Her father had been a smoker and a drinker.  She was six when he first burned her with a cigarette.  Sometimes she still saw that smouldering prick of fire and ash coming toward her face, and since then, the pain of her burns would return whenever she came anywhere near fire or smoke.

At sixteen, she had been driving at night for the first time.  Her father was in the passenger seat yelling about something.  She wanted him to stop—stop shouting, stop hurting her, stop making her miserable. 

Then—a flash of orange cinders

She had never seen a cigarette thrown from a car window before.  It flew at the windshield, and in a flash of sparks she smelled tobacco and burning flesh, and felt her scars ache. 

she tensed

hands jerked

her father shouted

and she was just wishing he would stop

and they were flying

spinning

Then all was still.  And quiet.  Just her breathing and … nothing else.

Now she wishes on cigarette butts.  Because of guilt.  And maybe hope.

Photo by Vasily Kozorez on Unsplash

Binding

Silence filled the space between the mage and his client. Alden knew his craft well, so it was very rare that he had repeat customers, and neither he nor Perin felt comfortable navigating the situation. He moved to the northeastern corner of the house, knelt at the base of the corner post and began carving the rune of binding in the freshly sawed boards.

“It’s a good house,” Alden offered over his shoulder. “Well built. The carpenters outdid themselves. I don’t know if you’ll even need magic to keep this house standing.” Receiving no response, Alden bent back over the rune to begin his spell.

“You said that last time,” Perin commented. It was true of course. Alden made that remark to most of the new homeowners who hired him. It usually made them smile. But Perin was frowning deeper than ever. “The old house is still standing,” he said. “The carpenters did their job well and so did you. I’m the one who ruined everything.”

Alden hesitated, “What’s broken can be mended. It’s not my magic, but maybe it’s yours.

Perin’s eyes shone, but he answered, “No. She deserves that house. Maybe now it can finally be a home.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Mess

Story by Gregory M. Fox
from A Breath of Fiction’s archives

* * *

Mack was sitting quietly on the couch, sipping a glass of ice water in which the ice had already become tiny boats skimming the surface.  The couch leather stuck to his legs as he shifted.

He heard footsteps in the next room halt.  Then a shriek.

“What did you do?” Denise burst in shouting.

“Nothing”

 “That mess in the kitchen is not nothing, Mackenzie Quigley.”

He sighed and rolled his eyes.  It was too hot to worry about something like this.  “It didn’t get on the carpet,” he said.

Denise was getting irritated.  She was a kettle on the stove getting ready to scream.  “That’s not the point.  It needs to be cleaned up.”

“I’ll do it later.”

“But how long’s it been there?”

“I don’t know … a couple hours maybe”

“And you just decided to leave it there?  Dripping and everything?”

He shrugged.  “I’ll clean it later.  I didn’t expect it to bother you this much.”

The kettle boiled.  “HOW COULD THIS NOT BOTHER ME?”

“Don’t worry.  I checked his pockets—found a fifty.  I figured dinner and a movie are on me.  Well, on him, I suppose.”

“Oh,” she said, suddenly becoming very calm.  “Where are we going?”

* * *

originally published December 23, 2010

Lines

I almost didn’t see it, a thin, blue line peaking out of your shirt sleeve just above your wrist. “What’s this?”

“What? Oh, just a tattoo.” Your voice was nonchalant, but your hand still crept away from mine.

“Can I see it?”

You were tense, reflexively twisting to hide the telltale mark. But you nodded, surrendering your arm to my eager exploration.

I pulled back the cuff of your sleeve to chart the curving path of that blue line and found it joined by several others: blue, green, lavender, orange. “What is this?” I asked again, shoving your sleeve up to the elbow. You didn’t answer, nor did you object to the migration of my fingers across your supple skin. The lines grew bolder, curved, branched, interlaced in a complex pattern that covered your entire arm up to the shoulder and beyond. “Where does it end?” I asked, when I finally managed to pull my eyes away from the mesmerizing lattice of color.

Blushing, eyes shining, you were already unbuttoning your shirt. “I haven’t let anyone see the whole thing yet,” you explained, smiling at my sudden silence. “I’m still nervous, but I’m also glad that you’ll be the first.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Canoe

Inside the shed, he found mostly what he expected: rotting wood, cobwebs, dust-covered tools, and in the middle of it all, a patched up, rusty canoe. “Hello, ugly. Ready for one more trip?”

It was a four hour drive up to the lake. He made only one stop, just like when he was a kid, at the combination gas station and soda parlor that still smelled like stale cigarettes. Despite the October chill, he left the windows of his Ford Tempo cracked so that the bungee cords and twine could loop through and keep the canoe secure on the roof until he arrived.

Frosted fallen leaves crunched beneath his feet as he dragged the boat to the water’s edge. On its surface was reflected a blaze of orange, brown and yellow leaves. By the time he reached the middle of the lake, there were a couple inches of water in the bottom of the canoe. He opened the cooler beside him, no bait, no fish, no beer, not even ice. Instead, he withdrew an urn. “Shoulda just dumped you in the boat and let the whole thing sink,” he muttered. Then with shaking hands, he lifted the lid. “Goodbye, dad.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Hasan Albari from Pexels

Dune

Tori sat on a sun-bleached log, staring back down the dune the way we had come. “I just need a minute,” she said. “You don’t have to wait for me.”

I shrugged, dropped my backpack in the sand, and sat beside her. We were quiet. Gulls cawed overhead. The wind whisked away our sweat. Finally, I asked, “What are you thinking about?”

Tori’s eyes fell, and I saw her jaw tighten. I had pushed, perhaps too hard. She lifted her head, but deliberately looked away from me.

“I’m trying, June.”

It pained her to say those words, and I felt the pain echoed in my own breast. “I know you are.” I promised, instinctively placing a hand on her knee, desperate to comfort, to reassure, to protect.

“I am,” Tori insisted. Her hands remained in her lap, fidgeting. “I want to get over it. I just . . .”
“I know.” I could feel her withdrawing despite all my attempts to hold her. So, I let go.

I stood, looked up at the crest of the next dune, and said, “We should keep moving. I bet the view’s even better from up there.” Then I held out my hand.

And she took it.

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Elvira Blumfelde on Unsplash

Jello

“You can keep playing outside while I make the Jello, but you have to stay on the porch, okay?” The three-year-old’s face broke into a wide grin as he nodded. It wasn’t fair for a kid to have such cute dimples.

Kelsey went inside and set a kettle on the stove. She took a quick peek at the front window and saw her son pushing a rock across the porch rail like a race car. It’s fine, she thought. He’s fine. It’s good for both of us to practice a little independence.

Moments later the kettle whistled. She turned off the stove, poured the boiling water into the glass dish with the gelatin mix, began stirring absentmindedly until another tone caught her attention.

A car horn.

Panic rising in her chest, Kelsey ran to the front door, terrified of what she would find outside. A car was stopped right in front of their house. The driver was standing outside the vehicle, looking at something in the street.

Her son. Where was her son?

A dark shape on the ground shifted.

“Mommy?”

A small scream. Kelsey’s son stood beside her on the porch.

“Jello time, mommy?”

Kelsey sniffled, “Not yet, baby.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Image by Lynn Greyling from Pixabay

Devotion

The sculpted folds of cloth were cool beneath his touch. “It’s a beautiful statue,” someone behind him said.

The elderly worshiper turned to see a young priestess watching him. “Beautiful,” he said with a wistful smile, “but still only a poor reflection of the divine, wouldn’t you say.”

“Your humility does you great credit, sir.”

“Ah.” A sigh. “His eminence has been telling stories, I see.”

“It’s an honor to meet you the sculptor who filled this temple with the most awe inspiring representations of the goddess,” the young woman said eagerly.

“It was my honor to work in her service,” the wizened artist replied. His hand still rested on the sculpted stone but it was his other hand the priestess now focused on: the black, deformed thing at his side.

“The high priest also told me about your . . . accident,” she said.

“A fallen stone,” he said, “of all things. I had finished my work, and the goddess claimed my hand forevermore.”

“Why not pray to her for healing? Surely she would answer such a devoted servant.”

A smile, radiant and sorrowful. “And have her return the greatest sacrifice I could possibly offer? What would that say about my devotion?”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Photo by Peter Ivey-Hansen on Unsplash