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

Kaleidoscope

“Just wanted you to know, I’m here if you ever need anything.”

She held her phone tightly, unwilling to read those words again. Instead she stared blankly at the lights refracted through the raindrops on her windshield, almost as if she expected the payday loan company to dissolve into that blurry kaleidoscope and coalesce into a new way out of her predicament.

The contact in her phone was named “Don’t Answer”, and in the two weeks since the text had arrived, she hadn’t opened it. She also hadn’t deleted it. She had simply read the preview over and over again, trying to fight off the feeling that the decision had already been made for her.

Now she had waited as long as she could, but now escape had come. The phone felt heavy in her hand. This was how he operated. He would help her, give her whatever she needed without question. And with the most compassionate smile, his jaws would close around her throat.

She couldn’t go back. And she couldn’t pay her loan.

Hands trembling, she unlocked her phone.
She opened the message.
She deleted it.
Tears blurred her vision as she started her car and drove away.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Andras Vas on Unsplash

Darkling

It was dark. He heard strange, chittering voices close by. What happened? He remembered rain, headlights, a guardrail, and then . . .

He was still in the car. He wasn’t alone. Shapes moving, and those voices . . . words he couldn’t understand. Then a head loomed over him, eyes giving off a pale reflection in the night.

“You awake?” a reedy voice asked. “You come?”

Something was odd about the shape of that head, the shape of those words, the shape of his windshield. In his mental fog, all he could mutter was a hoarse, “Where?”

It seemed to suffice as an answer. A flash of steel in the night, and his seat belt fell away. He found himself outside a twisted heap of metal. Behind him, the low drone of highway traffic. Ahead, starlit darkness into which those small, strange figures were retreating. The last one stopped short, looked back. “You come,” they repeated. He wasn’t sure if it was a question or a command.

He followed anyway. Grass gave way to trees, the sounds of civilization faded. Occasionally, trees parted, allowing moonlight to revealed his companion plainly. Green skin, pointed ears, sharp smiles.

Thrilled and terrified, he continued into the darkling unknown.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Piano

It was so rare to find truly good music at these country parties. Belle had been dying to meet the man in the dark suit at the piano, and after an hour of boring chitchat, she finally broke away from her companions.

“Pardon me,” she said gently, then gasped when the pianist looked up. “My goodness! I came here to give my compliments to the brilliant young man at the piano, only to discover that you’re a woman.”

“Am I?” they gasped in feigned surprise. “Goodness, I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“What? Oh, it’s quite alright.” Belle replied. “But why are you dressed that way?”

“Well I always believed the suit made the man,” they answered in a sultry contralto, “but apparently I was wrong.”

Belle’s giggle made all the ringlets of her golden curls bounce merrily. “That’s very droll,” she said.

A grin. “Being droll is my specialty.” A flourish on the keys. “That, and charming young ladies.”

“If I didn’t know any better,” Belle laughed. “I might think you were propositioning me.”

“You might be right,” the answered, “unless you know better.”

Belle’s heartbeat accelerated, suddenly matching the piano’s rhythm. The pianist smiled invitingly. Music filled the night.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Lorenzo Spoleti on Unsplash

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

Pizza

Duncan stared in confusion at the vacant lot, then double-checked his GPS and the order receipt. The address was correct, but there was no house. When he looked up again, half a dozen young girls were staring at him from the sidewalk. Nervously, Duncan rolled down his window.

“You got pizza?” the smallest shouted.

“Uh, yeah.” A brown-skinned girl in an oversize flannel marched forward and held out her arms. Duncan blinked then handed over the stack of boxes from his passenger seat. “Are you . . . girl scouts or something?”

“We’re anarchists!” the little one announced.

“Judy, shh…”

“Oh, right,” she replied, “We’re secret anarchists!”

“Aren’t you all a little young to be anarchists?”

The girls exchanged knowing glances. “We are the women of the future,” flannel girl said.

Another continued, “If we are to be free women tomorrow, we have to dismantle oppressive power structures today.”

“Alright,” Duncan said, “then which of you revolutionaries can pay me?”

One of the girls shoved a plastic bag through the car window. Inside Duncan found a collection of markers and pens, three barbies, and a flashlight.

“Sorry,” flannel answered, “we don’t believe in currency.” And before Duncan could protest, the girls had scattered.

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by Jordan Nix on Unsplash

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

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.

Lucky

I remember stars. I remember the world cracking open. I remember voices. “Come here . . . Did you see that? . . . Wake up . . .”

“You’re very lucky,” the doctor had said. Conscious, but still heavily medicated, I had struggled to comprehend why I felt like a fly in a spiderweb. Later I would understand about the hospital, the ambulance, and the collision. And while the doctors pieced me together, I tried to piece together my memories.

I remember a broken heel. I remember twisting, crunching, crashing, rending. I remember a tinkling rain of falling glass.

“The EMT’s said they found you alone on the sidewalk. Do you have any idea how you got there? Do you have any idea who might have placed the 911 call? Do you have any idea what happened?”

I remember a hand reaching out. I remember twisting shadows, glowing red eyes, claws, fangs, laughter. I remember a celestial light, trumpets sounding in the night, sheltering beneath wings.

“Do you have any idea how lucky you are?”

Lucky . . .

“Hey beautiful, where you going? Stick around—this is your lucky night. What, you don’t want to talk to me? Come here, bitch. I said, come here.”

I try not to remember.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox