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

Terra

I used to marvel at the way stars passed. Then galaxies began to fade into the distance. The universe, vast as it is, can still become tedium when I have to watch it pass alone.

I keep moving. I try to keep my promise

There are moments of brilliance of course. Not all wonder has been lost. Stars burst and are reborn. Nebulae swirl. Color and light. Void. Dust, debris, and emptiness.

Sometimes the darkness seems endless. Distant pinpricks of light offer little comfort, no matter what worlds may orbit around them. Still I move forward – until I reach new lands. Ground beneath my feet, air to breathe, a sky. A place where I can plant the seeds and try to keep my promise.

For all that I have seen, a sky can still be a vast and wondrous thing. In such moments of solidity, I can find myself. I can even begin to find meaning. I forget which stars I have visited, which galaxies I have abandoned. I see only a sea of new constellations that yet have no names. As life takes root, I write our story in the stars. I let myself remember.

I let myself hope.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

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

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

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

Puke

Leah rubbed Aaron’s back gently as he puked over the deck railing. A wave of cheers drifted out of the warmly lit banquet hall.

“What are they doing now?” Aaron groaned.

“Looks like they’re cutting the cake.” Another choking groan followed by a distant splat. “You’re feeling pretty shitty aren’t you?”

Aaron spit out a stray chunk of regurgitated food and mumbled, “You think?”

“What’s going on?”

“I drank too much,” he said, dragging himself upright.

“You know that’s not what I’m talking about.”

He shrugged and pulled out a flask. “What about you?”

Leah blinked out into the darkness. “I’m fine.”

Aaron unscrewed the flask, then held it out. “There’s no way you’re fine with how awful I’ve been tonight. Pretty sure you need this more than I do.”

She glanced at the flask and frowned, then looked back at Aaron. He was a mess, but his eyes were warm, kind, generous. She snatched the bottle and took a long swig.

“That bad, huh?” Aaron grinned when she finally offered it back. “I guess you know I’m in love with the bride. Who are you in love with.”

Feeling like she was going to throw up, Leah answered. “You.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Better

“What are you doing here, Paul?”

From within the glare of the headlights, a thick voice answered, “I’m gonna kick Matt’s ass.”

Stacy stood in the doorway of the bar, arms crossed. “And you really think that’ll make Annie want you back?”

Seated on the hood of his car, Paul answered, “No, I think it’ll make Matt regret being such a piece of shit.”

“Well you’re wasting your time. He’s not even here.”

Before Paul could retort, another voice said, “It’s fine.” Matt stepped outside into the headlights. “I’ll fight my own battles.”

Paul leapt from the hood and charged. “Damn right you will.” His punch knocked Matt flat on his ass. “Get up,” Paul growled, and Matt obliged. Another furious swing Stacy screamed, others poured out of the bar. Paul kept swinging, meeting no resistance from his opponent. “Come on, fight me,” he roared as Matt once more hauled himself to his feet. “What’s the matter with you, asshole?”

Matt’s lip was already swollen and split. He answered, “Annie.”

“Don’t talk about her,” Paul raged, once more knocking Matt to the ground.

“She would want me to be better,” Matt coughed. “She would want us both to be better.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Eugene Triguba on Unsplash

Leaving

I watched him prepare to leave, feeling a strange emptiness a foreboding. Then my dad happened to stride past. “Dom, you’re not staying for dinner?” he boomed.

Dominic shook his head. “The number 23 stops running after seven.”

“The bus?”

“Yes, dad,” I said, unable to stifle my own attitude.

“Nah, come on,” he insisted, clapping Dominic on the back. “Stay for dinner, then I’ll give you a lift.”

Dominic’s face was still, as impossible to read as ever. All he said was, “My mother might worry, sir.”

Dad gave a sharp, approving nod. “Fair enough. We’ll take you back now.” Then he turned to me. “Whaddya say, Harry?”

“Dad, just be cool.”

But he wasn’t even listening for my answer. “Dom, where do you live?”

A quick glance in my direction. “Corner of Fifth and Washington.”

A pause.

“That’s . . . that’s on the East Side, right?”

Dominic’s jaw tightened. “That’s right sir.”

The jovial tone returned. “Oh, would ya stop calling me sir. Call me Bob.” Then he grabbed the keys and flung open the door. “Come on boys, the Cadillac’s out front.”

We rode all the way to Dominic’s house in silence. Somehow, I knew that everything had changed.

* * *

A story by Gregory M. Fox

Clinging

“I can’t do this anymore.”

We were used to shouting at each other. Angry clashes and passionate reconciliation had always been our pattern, but then a simple, calm statement ended everything. I couldn’t even summon a response, just stared blankly, searching her face for some sort of explanation.

She shook her head. “Things were supposed to be different here.” I could hear a deep, searing pain in her voice. “You said they would be different.”

“I thought they were.”

She didn’t respond for a long time, just stood in the doorway. Finally she said, “My sister’s downstairs. She’ll give me a ride. The apartment is yours now.” A pause. “Goodbye.”

She must have shut the door, but I did not, could not watch her go. At some point, night fell.

At some point, I smashed a lamp and toppled a bookshelf. At some point, I ran out of liquor. “This is your fault,” I said at last.

A thin voice replied, “No.”

“We left everything to get away from you. You weren’t supposed to be here.”

“You . . .” the voice creaked, “brought me.”

“Leave me alone,” I pleaded.

“I . . . can’t.” And I sat in the darkness, clinging fiercely to my anger.

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

Story by Gregory M. Fox