“Sorry you didn’t get the promotion,” Lara said. She and Ronni were the only two in the breakroom, but she had still approached both Ronni and the conversation topic furtively.

“Oh, it’s alright,” Ronni answered.

Lara shook her head. “Bastards.”

“It’s fine, really,” Ronni insisted. “I don’t even care.” It was a lie that Lara could see through easily, even though they weren’t that close. But then, Lara wasn’t the one Ronnie was trying to convince. Perhaps it was the very fact that Lara had spotted the attempted self-deception and didn’t call her on it that allowed Ronni to finally admit the truth. “I shouldn’t care, right?”

“You . . . shouldn’t?”

“I hate this job!” she declared. Lara’s eyes widened, which somehow encouraged Ronni. “I hate the people I work for. I hate the way this company treats its customers. Why do I even care what any of those . . . those . . . those bastards think?”

“Yeah, screw ‘em!” Lara suggested.

“Screw ‘em!” Ronni echoed. “Wait—no.”


Ronni sighed. “No . . .”

“Why not?”

“Because . . . I do care, dammit.” She looked around, took in the dingy, depressing breakroom and considered her place in it. “I guess . . . I guess I just wanted it all to mean something.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

A Lot

“Oh, oh hey!” Juliet said, spinning Bianca around and pointing. “This brewery does carryout. We could totally buy a pack and take them up to the roof of my apartment. You’ve gotta see the view!” But when Juliet looked over to see if Bianca was bouncing with excitement too, she instead saw a nervous, wide-eyed face that looked even paler than usual. “Sorry,” Juliet said. “Never mind.”

“What?” Bianca asked. “I didn’t—”

“You don’t have to say anything. I saw your reaction.”
“I’m sorry,” Bianca said, blushing, “it was just . . . a lot.”

Juliet swallowed hard. The words reverberated in her mind, adding to the echoes of all the other times she had heard that same phrase. Next would be the part where the person fled. She forced herself to smile. “People say I’m best in small doses. Come on, I’ll walk you home.”

“But . . . the roof?”

“I was kidding,” Juliet shrugged. “You can forget about it.”

But Bianca was rooted in place. “I said it was a lot. I didn’t say that was bad.”

“You mean . . .”

Bianca hooked her arm through Juliet’s and pulled her toward the brewery. “You move fast,” she said, “but you’re always worth catching up to.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


They’re going to tell you that I’m crazy, and you’re probably going to believe them because I sound crazy, and there’s nothing I can do to persuade you that I’m not, even if everything I say is true, because the lies will have such pleasing colors and smooth shapes, and the truth will cut you open with its jagged edges and uncomfortable barbs, and I can’t blame you for wanting to avoid the same pain that makes me howl like a beast into the chaos of humanity, and I can’t blame you for ignoring my screams when they have told you I am crazy just because they’re scared of what I’ve seen and what I know and what I might reveal about the way they control us like viruses that creep in and become a part of the body even as they weaken it, and more than anything they are afraid that I might tell you how to remove their influence for good, but even if I told you what had to be done, you would say that I’m crazy, and I would answer that the whole world is insane, so the mad are the only ones you can trust.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


Cyan wrapped their arms tightly around Kevin’s broad chest, nuzzled the back of his neck, and whispered, “I love you.” To Cyan’s surprise, they felt Kevin’s body tense abruptly.

“Oh my god,” Kevin muttered.

“What?” Cyan asked tersely, anger swooping in to mask a sudden swell of anxiety as they drew back.

Kevin turned, unable to meet his fiance’s eyes. “I . . . I just farted.”

“You just . . .” Reflexively, Cyan sniffed, and then immediately regretted it. “Like right now?”

Kevin’s face had gone bright red, and he could barely meet Cyan’s eyes. “Right when you grabbed me.”

“So . . . right into my crotch,” Cyan said, nose now wrinkling involuntarily for multiple reasons.

As the fart cloud lingered around them, Kevin’s embarrassment only grew. He was just as revolted by the smell, but felt he just had to endure it as a sort of penance. “I’m so, so sorry,” he said.

Cyan folded their arms, giving their fiance a calm, appraising stare. Then a shrug. “That’s alright,” they said. “I’ll just fart in the bed tonight.”

“You’ll—” Kevin blinked rapidly, too surprised to be embarrassed. Then he saw the wide grin spreading across Cyan’s face.

Laughter, sudden, hearty, and pure.

“I love you too.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


Round and round Ana wound the thread, bright turquoise running between her fingers. “If you would just let me explain…” she tried to say.

“You’re not going,” the older woman announced, not even glancing away from her work on the loom. “There’s no point discussing it.” Her fingers danced like a harpist plucking the strings, but hers was a song of color and patterns that would take weeks to complete. Ana marveled, not for the first time, how someone as severe as her mother was capable of creating such beauty.

Every thread in its place.

Round and round, Ana spun the thread, her grip on the shuttle so tight her fingers started to hurt. Her mother continued weaving. “You don’t really need me here, Ana remarked.

The answer came automatically. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I do.”

No thread out of place, Ana thought. The last of the turquoise thread slipped through her fingers. The shuttle was ready. But instead of handing it to her mother, Ana slipped it into her pocket and said, “Mother, I think this will be your finest work yet.”

Ana meant what she said, but her mother simply scoffed. Ana didn’t care. She was leaving.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


She should have been mad, but she just felt tired. So very tired. Much too tired to spend another night fighting, especially since she no longer knew what she was fighting for.

“Okay,” she said.


“Okay,” she repeated. “I’m leaving.”

“What? Hold on; you can’t just leave.” She didn’t answer. She just walked to the closet and pulled out her coat and a pair of shoes. “Where are you going?”

She shrugged. “Away.”

“Well stop,” he growled. “I’m trying to tell you I’m sorry.”

A vague nod as she walked to the door. “You told me.”

Helpless with fury, he cried, “Why are you punishing me?”

She stopped, hand on the nob, and turned. Her eyes crashed through him like a brick through glass. Nights of rage, nights of grief, nights of wondering and of regret had condensed into a dense, dark abyss that sucked all further words from his throat. “Punishing you?” she echoed softly. “Believe me, I’m not doing this for you.”

And then she was gone.

The night was cold, her feet ached, and she had no idea where she was going. She should have been scared. Instead she felt the wind stirring.

She followed it.


Cletus glared up at the young man bouncing at his heels. “You sure are chipper this morning,” he growled. 

Dominic beamed back. “I’m excited to begin work.”

Cletus’s scowl deepened. “You know what kind of work we do here, right?” he asked, gesturing with his crippled hand at another worker, struggling to hoist a large block of stone. 

“I’ve cut stone before,” Dominic replied with all the earnestness of a young man wishing to be taken seriously. Cletus’s face darkened as he recalled the days when he had stood as tall and confident as this boy. Dominic was oblivious, staring in awe at the rocky slope. “I’ve just never had the privilege of cutting sacred marble.”

“Sacred,” Cletus grunted. “Right . . .”

The younger man gasped. “You resent the honor we’ve been given?”

It was too much for Cletus. “You think I don’t know why we’re here, boy? I’ve been working in this pit since I was half your age. Stones don’t care if they’re sacred or profane. They’ll crush you just the same.”

“It would be a blessing to give my strength in offering to the gods.”

Back twisted, hand maimed, arms scared,  Cletus replied, “May their blessings never reach you.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


She gave a knowing smile as I studied her. “You’re . . . not what I expected,” I finally admitted.

“People seldom are.” I wasn’t sure that applied in her case, but wasn’t brave enough to say so. “And what was it that surprised you?”

I knew how ridiculous it would sound, but I had no other way to say it. “Your warmth.”

Her laugh was somehow both mirthful and merciless. “Perhaps you don’t know who you’re talking to after all.”

I shrugged. “Christmas lights, coming inside from the cold, the way snow sparkles; all of that is you.”

She grew melancholy, though her smile remained. “I have little to offer that anyone would want,” she said. “But in the cold and the quiet and the long dark, the smallest scrap of color is a treasure, a fountain of life. I may offer my children only the hope of light, but perhaps that is more valuable than light in abundance.”

“Your . . . children?”

She nodded. “All those who have received my gifts are my children, whether loss and loneliness, fear and freezing, or darkness and despair.”

“Isn’t that just . . . everyone?”

Winter’s eyes were sad, dark, and lonely. Still, she smiled. “Yes,” she answered, “everyone.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


“Are they fresh?” I asked. A colorful flame danced in each vial, but many flickered fitfully in a way that made me nervous

The man at the cart clutched his heart with a practiced gesture that illustrated how wounded he was. What do you take me for? You think I would set up here on the corner to sell delusions or mania, something like that?”

He had named my exact fear, disarming me. Of course Hope could be incredible, exultation tinged with the risk of despair. But everyone has heard stories about what happens to a person with a bad Hope. I fidgeted, not wanting to linger here playing games. So I said, “You didn’t answer my question.”

“They’re good, the vendor insisted. “I picked them up from the Dream Docks this morning.”

It was as good a source as you could ask for if it was true. That was where I had sold my last dreams all those years ago. “Fine,” I grunted.

“So you’ll buy?”

I almost walked away then. Maybe I should have. But it had been so long since I had any Hope. Colors danced within the glass, dangerous and inviting.

I picked up a vial.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox


“For your great acts of service to the throne, I hereby dub thee—”


The flatulence echoed in the soon-to-be knight’s armor and resonated further in the vaulted stonework of the chamber. For a brief moment, the throne room was silent. Then a cough. Then a series of chuckles.

“Laugh not!” the king warned, glaring sternly over the assembled nobles. “For who among us is not made of flesh and blood and thus prone to any and all of its weaknesses. And yet it is by sacrifice of the selfsame flesh and blood that this man has demonstrated that nobility too is woven into the very fabric of his being. And it is for that reason, that I name him—”


This time no pause preceded the laughter, but it was once more silenced by the commanding presence of the young king. “Who among us smells ever fragrant? What mortal heart has never been besmirched by some foul thought or deed. Yet by the grace of God are we redeemed. And with that same grace I now elevate this squire to—”


“Sorry m’lord.”

“I give up,” the king sighed. “Rise, sir Butts, a knight in the name of God.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox