Thread

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

Leaving

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?”

“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.

Marble

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

Vegetables

“I hate you,” Joan announced, walking out of the kitchen.

Tabi’s eyes went wide eyed at the plate of crackers and dip her girlfriend carried. “Holy shit,” she said, “You’re insane.”

Joan just glared back. “I’m insane? What kind of a sicko puts googly eyes on a tomato?”

Tabi at least had enough sense to restrain herself from snorting with amusement, but still said, “When you told me you wouldn’t eat anything with a face, I didn’t think that included fake faces.”

Joan settled into the armchair with an emphatic flop. “Well when you said you like my ass in skinny jeans, I didn’t think you’d suddenly start sabotaging my waistline by turning all the vegetables into adorable little fridge friends.” She punctuated her retort by shoving a fistful of crackers into her mouth.

Crunch!

“It was a joke. I thought it would be funny.”

“Maybe it is,” Joan replied, “but I still end up feeling like I’m the joke.”

Silence.

Crunch!

A sigh.

“You’re right,” Tabi said. “I’m sorry. I’ll go chop some vegetables.”

“No,” Joan insisted. “Let them live their lives.”

Tabi’s eyes narrowed. “You named them, didn’t you?”

“It’s not my fault! You made them too cute.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Image: Keri Lee Smith on Flickr

Crash

“Funny running into you like this,” Jeff said.

Marci batted her eyelashes in surprise, looking first to their wrecked cars, then back to her co-worker. “Did you just make a joke?”

His head tilted. “Yes?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you joke,” Marci said, a slow smile spreading across her face. “I like it.”

“Yes. Good.”

There was something adorable about his awkward stiffness. She found herself wishing for the conversation to continue. “I am sorry about your car,” she said, feeling that part had to be addressed first.

“Yes. It is thoroughly ruined now,” Jeff said with a simple nod of affirmation. “We are both quite lucky I was not damaged as severely as my vehicle.”

Marci tensed, suddenly worried that she had been misreading the entire situation. But Jeff didn’t seem angry, despite his blunt words. “Wait a minute,” she said, smile returning. “Are you joking again?”

“Yes?”

She moved a little closer, grinning. “So, you want to get a bite to eat when this is done?”

Jeff’s eyes glazed over. As an extraterrestrial, he was far out of his depth here. “Flirting is an enjoyable activity.” he declared.

Marci frowned. “Did you . . . hit your head?”

“Yes?”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Haunted

Toni’s house was haunted.

The smell of acrid smoke assaulted her as soon as she entered the kitchen. A moment of panic, quickly replaced by anger. The ghost had struck again.

“Karl!” she called out. “Why did you run the coffee maker?”

A translucent figure drifted in from the living room. “I turn on the coffee maker every morning,” he said with a dismissive shrug.

“Yes, but did you notice there was no coffee or water in it?”

A roll of the eyes. “I’ve lived in this house for thirty years. You really expect me to change my routine after all that time? It’s not my fault you don’t know how to make coffee properly.”

“But you don’t live here anymore,” Toni retorted, gesturing to his hovering form. “And you can’t even drink the coffee.”

“And you can’t prepare it responsibly, but you don’t hear me complaining.”

Toni rubbed her temples. The headache she had woken up with had intensified dramatically. “I’m leaving,” she announced. “Apparently I need to stop by Starbucks on my way to work.”

“While you’re there,” the ghost grunted, “You should look into picking up a new coffee maker. This one doesn’t work anymore.”

Toni screamed.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Taxidermy

Sharp teeth of a snarling cougar, a tray full of glass eyes, animal skins hanging from hooks. Phillip looked nervously over his shoulder to see Liza offering an encouraging smile. Then the door shut, and Phillip alone with Isaac, his girlfriend’s father.

“I could spend hours working out here,” the older man was explaining. “I find it very thought provoking, especially about politics.”

Liza had tried to warn him, but nothing could have prepared Phillip for this. “About . . . what sir?”

Isaac smiled just a little too eagerly at this invitation. “Well just look at our governmental system. Maybe it was alive and thriving once, but now it’s just a carcass. A relic from antiquity, stuffed with clay and mothballs. And no matter how well we prop it up and preserve it, no one’s going to be fooled for long.”

“I guess . . . it’s hard to nice to have something recognizable to hold onto,” Phillip offered. In the corner, a taxidermy mouse was preserved forever beneath the paw of a hungry looking coyote. Phillip envied the mouse.

“But don’t you see? That’s the problem! I once put wings on a groundhog. I could put a lizard skin on a chicken frame and make a dinosaur. It takes vision. A willingness to experiment. And a very sharp knife. Few people have all three.”

That’s when Phillip finally noticed the tools in the room. He had been so distracted by the animals, he hadn’t noticed the needles, shears, knives and other sharp implements spread out on the workstation. “Are we still talking about politics?”

“Your eye’s twitching, Philllip.”

“I’m very uncomfortable, sir.”

Isaac nodded. “Arrangement of skin,” he declared. “That’s the literal meaning of taxidermy. Putting it like that, we’re all taxidermy. Keep that in mind, and you might be worthy to date Liza.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Reserved

Jane rushed down the apartment steps, tense and flustered. “I don’t want to hear it,” she announced without even looking toward the man from apartment G.

Heavily lidded eyes glanced at her sidelong. An eyebrow rose with exaggerated slowness. “So you do know that it’s my month,” he said dryly.

Lights flashed as Jane unlocked her car. “It was an emergency,” she explained.

Ned’s expression and voice remained flat as he lingered outside. “There’s a schedule for a reason,” he remarked

She flung her purse into the car. “I know, I know. It won’t happen again.”

“That’s what you said last time,” he called out as his neighbor dove into the shelter of her car. With the door firmly shut and Ned’s lazy admonitions muffled, Jane let out a tense sigh. She started her car, glanced in the rearview mirror, and then—

“Ned!”

“Yes?” Was that a grin on his dour features?

“What the hell is this?” she asked gesturing at the Saab parked directly behind her car.

“Chaos, Jane,” he said. “That’s what you get when you abandon the system.”

Though both residents apologized for what happened next, neither was ever allowed to use the reserved parking space again.

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Rain

Reflections of red and green danced in the falling rain. She hugged herself tightly as she walked. Nothing could stop the chill seeping in through her sweater, but it was the only comfort she had.

Lights from behind. A revving engine. She turned sharply, ducked down a narrow alley and just kept walking. The car didn’t even slow.

She kept walking.

Water poured into her shoes. Thunder rattled her bones. She leaned against a wall, trying to remember how to breathe. She stared up at street signs trying to make the letters into words. And then she was in front of the building, not even knowing how she had arrived.

She stood on the sidewalk for a long time, then turned back toward the road. The asphalt sparkled, faintly in the cold darkness. She climbed the steps and knocked.

Nothing.

She knocked again, paused barely a moment, then knocked again furiously. Sharp pain in her numb fingers as her knuckles wrapped on the wood.

A light sprang to life in the apartment. No sound.

She knocked even harder than before until finally the door opened. Her sister’s face, haloed by warm, steady light.

“Penny?”

“I don’t know where to go.”

* * *

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