Lucky

“We’re gonna be lucky,” Hank said. The fields were dotted with white, and his brow was beaded with sweat “It’ll be a good crop.”

“You’ve done me proud, boy,” his father answered. “You’re actually going to save this place.”

“Just a few more weeks till harvest,” he said. “It’ll all be worth it.” And so he headed out to the field east of the creek, continuing his weekly routine of walking the fields, inspecting the cotton from the ground level.

***

“Just a few more weeks,” Hank said to his wife when she met him on the porch.

She replied by holding out her phone, lit up with a picture of spiraling clouds. “You been tracking this storm?”

Hank barely spared a glance. “We’re gonna be lucky,” he said, pulling off his boots “It’s supposed to miss us. We’ll have time to get the harvest in.”

***

They didn’t.

The storm took a sharp turn inland, then stalled. Ravaging winds, torrential downpours, debris, flooding. All Hank’s investments were a loss, his work wasted. But after the winds subsided, he stepped outside to examine the old elm that had fallen just a few feet from the house. “Lucky,” he muttered. “We’re so lucky.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Flashlight

Quinn knew they couldn’t ignore the flashlight for long. Ignoring footsteps was easy. Ignoring cars was even easier; their rising and falling noise could be almost soothing. Voices were tricky, especially the boisterous ones spilling out of the pub at the other end of the alley. But they always moved on eventually.

The flashlight didn’t move. “You can’t stay here, son,” a gruff voice declared.

Quinn finally opened their eyes, glaring into light. It was impossible to discern any features of the individual, but even so Quinn knew exactly what sort of person was staring down at them. “Fine,” they croaked, and began hauling themself up from the makeshift bed. The spotlight never left. They almost felt like taking a bow.

“You need a place to go?” the officer asked.

Why else do you think I’m sleeping behind the dumpster? Quinn thought. But they simply mumbled, “I’m good,” and began shuffling down the alley. The flashlight followed.

“It’s going to be cold tonight, son” the officer offered. “Better to be somewhere warm, with four walls around you.”

Quinn kept walking. “I’m nobody’s son,” they said without looking back. They followed the shadow ahead of them, moving resolutely into the unknown.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Hot

“Balls!” Joselyn hissed. She clenched her fist tightly and pounded the counter waiting for the burning to subside.

“Everything okay?” Eddie called.

“Oh yeah,” Joselyn called out wincing, “just dandy.” Moments later she stepped into the room holding two mugs of tea, steam rising in wisps and curls. “Careful,” she said, holding out one of the mugs “it’s really hot.”

“Oh,” he said gingerly accepting the proffered mug. “Thanks.”

Joselyn settled into the couch beside him and blew on her own cup of tea. She glanced over at Eddie to see why he hadn’t pressed play to resume the movie and found that he was staring at her instead, a slight grin tugging at his lips. “What?”

“You sipped my tea,” he said.

Joselyn panicked. “Is that… I thought it would be okay. I mean, we’ve already made out, I figured… but I know it’s different with drinks. I’m sorry—”
“It’s okay.”

“I just thought—”

“No, no,” he insisted. “That’s not,” he paused, gathered his thoughts, looked at her with a tender smile. “You burned your tongue for me.”

Joselyn suddenly felt warm all over, and not from the tea. “I… I guess I did, yeah.”

“I love you too.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Shadows

They buried Boneheart Cole Carrow in shallow grave on the battlefield where he fell. For long years afterword, people avoided that burnt and broken land with its memories of tragedy and strife. So, no one knew when the tree began to grow.

It was a jagged, twisting thing. The old men would spit on the ground when they passed the place and would warn their children and grandchildren to stay clear of Carrow’s tree. It was considered a sign from heaven when the tree was stuck by lightning during one late summer storm.

Only, the tree didn’t die. New branches rose from the charred stump like a clawed hand rising from the grave. Men declared the field cursed, and none would build or plow or even cross through that place. A wood grew up around the undead tree. Or, as some whispered, that one forsaken tree, glutted on blood, had spread like a weed until it had become a forest unto itself.

Generations later, the battle has been forgotten, as has Boneheart himself. But the trees still stand. The folk of that region know to avoid Carrow Wood. Old twisted branches claw toward the sky and cast long, dark shadows.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Oblivion

I feel the pull of oblivion.

I’m about to die, and no one will ever know. It was a risk, they told us, but not one I ever took all that seriously. Instead, I had imagined celebrity. I had expected interviews about the courage it took to leave my planet and sail off into the unknown.

Stupid.

The crushing pressure of inevitability.

Half the reason I left was because I knew no one would miss me. Exploration! Adventure! The advancement of the human race! It sounded fantastic – like an opportunity to give my life meaning, instead of surrendering to the empty void that was open in front of me.

Ironic.

I’m falling, and I may never stop.

If it had been a supernova, then eventually earth would have found out. Centuries later, that annihilating light would have reached terrestrial eyes. They would have known my fate, if not the details. Even if it was a simple equipment malfunction, remains might have endured. But nothing escapes a black hole. No distress signals, no wreckage, not even light.

Inescapable.

What was it all for?

Wonder and awe. Light bends and swirls. Time stretches and breaks apart. Reality ripples. The universe consumes me.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Millennials

He smiled broadly as she approached. “Wasn’t sure you’d come.”

She shrugged, settling into her chair. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“I don’t know, might be busy or have trouble finding the place or just … you know, not be interested.”

“I’ve never missed one of our appointments before, have I?” she said frankly.

“Appointments.” He chewed on the word, swallowed it reluctantly. “Well, how’s the last century been for you?”

A frown. “Perhaps you should be a little more discrete.”

“Huh? Oh, about the time thing?”

“You remember what happened in Byzantium…”

She was always cute when she was flustered. “Hah! How could I forget! But folks aren’t that superstitious these days. You tell one of these so-called ‘millennials’ that you’ve actually been alive for millennia, they’ll think it’s a pickup line.”

A flat stare. “Do you spend a lot of time trying to pick up young people?”

“I knew you were gonna go there.” Voice low, teeth clenched. “Atom bombs, lunar landings, global warming, the internet—all the miracles and catastrophes of the last century, and you want to talk about her?”

Slow, anguished words. “Perhaps we are both selfish and narrow-minded. Perhaps, despite the evidence, we are both still human.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Sloppy

“Sloppy,” the old man announced, shaking his head.

Mara’s brush hesitated, her brow furrowed. “Sloppy? I’ve hardly even begun.”

A flippant wave at the canvas. “And you paint as though how you begin does not matter.”

She examined her scant progress, suddenly hyper-aware of its imperfection “But I can just paint over all this anyway, can’t I?”

Thick white eyebrows arched in exaggerated shock. “You think you can cover over your inadequacies so easily? I teach artists, not house painters or politicians. Every brush stroke matters. To make a masterpiece, every drop of paint must serve the whole.”

The words stung, and they confirmed her own suspicions. “So, I’m just doomed then. Anything that’s not perfect from the start should just be thrown out, right?”

“No, no,” he began bellowing, then paused. With an artist’s eye, he observed her downward glance, closed posture, inward agony. “No, child,” he resumed more softly. “What I mean to say is that if you try to hide your mistakes, then the whole painting will revolve around them. You must move forward from the failing, acting because of what is before you, not because of what could have been. Only then can you achieve wholeness.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Table

A creak, a figure in the doorway. He lunged for the table, for his pack, for the gun inside, but found a rifle pointed in his face instead.

“What are you doing in my house?” the newcomer asked.
“I didn’t think . . .” he hesitated. He couldn’t claim the home seamed abandoned when he had been caught stealing as much unspoiled food as he could carry. “I was hungry,” he said instead.

“You’ve been fighting in the war?” the other man asked.

His uniform was disheviled and discolored, but still recognizable. “Yes, sir.”

“And where’s your battallion?”

No answer.

The man behind the rifle studied the intruder: young, shaking, ashamed. “I see.” He gestured to a chair on the opposite end of the table from the soldier’s pack. “Sit.” The soldier complied. “Hands on the table.” Keeping the rifle aimed, he circled the table and stepped into the kitchen. Ignoring the scattered foodstuffs, he instead withdrew a tall glass bottle from some corner and set it on the table.

A confused expression. “But . . . you know what I am.”

A shrug. “What? Lost? Stupid? Scared?” The rifle lowered as he produced two glasses. “What are you? Are you my guest? Or my enemy?”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Asphalt

Ten miles into the ride, he had entered a sort of trance. Thoughts had faded along with the early aches of his stiff muscles.
The rhythm of his pedals
The wind in his face
The asphalt beneath his tires
The breath in his lungs
Rising
Descending
Pushing
Turning
The sound of a car
A quick glance over his shoulder, then eyes ahead
A bird
Not even that close, and it had flown past in an instant, but that was all it took.
A swerve
A wheel dropped off the asphalt
The world flipped on its side
A crack
A horn
Screeching tires
A roaring engine
Wind
Asphalt
Breath
And finally, pain.
At first it was everywhere, but thought was quickly returning, and he was able to take stock.
Left calf
Right wrist
Both palms
Left shoulder
Chin
Head?
No, just the pounding of his pulse in his ears.
He was alive.
Eyes opened, and he saw. Swaying stalks of corn. A car quickly receding into the distance. A vast immensity of blue. His bike.
It was in better condition than he was, wheels and handlebars still straight, he just needed to fix the chain.
Home was only ten miles away.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Vitals

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