1321 words – Maxine Passant, after fighting through horrors, finally arrives at the home of her high school girlfriend, Lenore.

There it is. Her home. I am exhausted as I approach, dragging a firefighter’s ax behind me. This town is filled with creatures and monsters that I had to kill and sneak around to get here. But I’m finally here.

I drop the bloody ax in her driveway, devoid of any car, and knock on her door. I shiver as a breeze blows the ever-present fog into me. It’s chilling. My jacket isn’t thick enough. Hopefully she’s here so I can help her get out.

The door cracks open, still held tight by the door chain. “Hello?” I say into it.

“Hello?” A voice responds. It’s her!

“Lenore!” I exclaim. “God, It’s so good to see you. This place is hell, we have to get out.”

“Maxine?” she asks, “Maxine, I haven’t heard from you in months. Come in.” She pushes the door shut. I hear her unlock the chain, then she opens the door again. “Sorry if the place is a mess, I wasn’t expecting a guest.”

“I don’t blame you,” I respond, “Considering the sorry state of the town. Not a damn person in sight.”

“People have been staying inside,” She tells me.

“I would’ve skipped town, personally.”

She smiles. “Clearly not. You’re here now.”

Lenore guides me to a table, and pulls out a chair for me. I sit down. The house is a bit messy, as she warned, but it’s definitely still cleaner than the rest of the city.

“So what brings you around?” Lenore asks. She’s opened the fridge. “Would you like anything to drink?”

“Lemonade, if you’ve got it. Water if you don’t,” I tell her. Lenore pulls a pitcher out of the fridge, finds a couple of glasses in her cabinets- which are not as organised as I remember- and pours two cups of lemonade. I could smell something burnt, but Lenore was a bad cook.

“I came to find you, Lenore. I regret a lot of things, and leaving you behind was one of them.” Lenore places the cup of lemonade in front of me, and sits next to me. “Mm,” she affirms.

“I know I was… cold, the last few months we were together, Lenore. But I still love you. And I think I realise where I went wrong. I tried to force my desires and dreams onto you. There was only room for you in my future if you fit yourself into it. I never made space for you.”

Lenore nods as I speaks, eyes closed.

“I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

Lenore sighs, then takes a long drink of her lemonade. She puts the glass down once she is satisfied, opens her eyes, and stares at me.

“I know you’re sorry,” she says. “So am I. Not for the same reasons, but I am. Thank you for saying it. I’m… I’m glad to hear it.”

It’s quiet between us for a minute. I don’t know what to say. We can’t just start dating again after all of that.

The burning smell is a bit stronger now, but it reminds me of something. Something dear.

“Hey Lenore,” I begin. “You remember that summer when we made that big bonfire, just the two of us?”

Lenore laughs. “Of course I do.” Her voice is both silky and gruff, a beautiful song of both strings and percussion. “We weren’t allowed to be unsupervised for months.”

I laugh too. “Yeah, that was fun. What year was that, 2008?”

She shakes her head. “That’s when I got my first cell phone. It was earlier. 2007.” She giggled. “I still can’t believe you convinced Mr. McGregor to give you his scrap wood for a year.”

“It might’ve been longer than a year,” I admit, “but I knew how much you loved summer fires. I wanted to give you a big one, the biggest one you’d ever seen.” The scent of fire and ash is strong now, but I think that’s just the strength of the memory.

“I have yet to see a bigger fire, that much is true,” she admits. “Sometimes I still think back to that flame. Big. Beautiful. Burning. It’s my last name. Burns. Of course I like fires.”

I smile and stare at my lemonade. That bonfire is still a memory I hold dear.

“So what else do you want?” Lenore asked.

“What do you mean?” I ask in return.

She sighs. “You never just come by. You never wanted to stay here. You hate being in this town. You had to come back for more than just… this.”

I sigh, too. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and just speak the truth. “Yeah. You’re right. I guess I was hoping you’d lift me up in your arms, spin me around, kiss me, take me back. Make me feel something again.” I look back up at her. There were flames in the kitchen.

Lenore smirks, and snorts. It isn’t really a cruel snort, but the kind that makes me feel like a kid who asked their parent a cute question. “You haven’t felt anything since we broke up?”

I shake my head. “Not really. I was always searching for something to make me feel real. Something to make me feel alive. I always thought I was missing something, and never thought this town could give it to me. I was wrong.”

“So you realised that it was me you were missing?” Lenore says.

I take a sip of the lemonade. Stalling for time. Frustrated for it being said, I sigh. “Yeah. I did. I kept thinking about that bonfire, and I realised the part of the memory that makes me feel something?

“It’s you. I know it’s been 10 years, Lenore, and I know we were just kids, but I love you. I still love you. It took me 10 years to realise what I walked away from, and I can’t believe that it took me that long to come back.”

Lenore’s smirk fades. “So what do you want to do about it, Maxine?”

I stand up. The fire had spread, and it’s surrounding us. I reach out a hand to her. “Come with me, Lenore. Let’s get out of this town. It’s awful. We can go someplace. We can make a life for ourselves.”

Lenore also stands up. She places her palm underneath mine, and slowly curls my fingers closed. “Maxine, I already have a life here. I’ve always had a life here. You did, too.” She lifts her other hand underneath mine. Her hands are warm on my palm.

“I think I still feel something for you, too,” she continues. My heart pounds. “But you should go. You might love me, but you don’t love this town. You can’t have one without the other.” She lifts my fist up to my breast, and places both hands over it.

“You’re a beautiful woman, Maxine.” She smiles at me, an earnest and dear smile. “I wouldn’t mind settling down with you. I think something hoped you would come back. It’s too late now, though. We both have to move on.”

I pull my hand away from my chest and stare at it. My fingers and palm. My nails. My veins.

“You should go, Maxine,” Lenore says.

I turn away from her. “I’m sorry, Lenore. I didn’t need to burden you with this.”

“You weren’t a burden,” Lenore says, “and I still love you.”

Tears fill my eyes, but I don’t look back. I wouldn’t be happy in this town. I couldn’t bear dealing with the struggles I took to even get here. Lenore was right. I needed to move on. If I looked back now, I might run into her arms and beg her to let me stay anyway.

I pick up the ax as I leave. I walk for a few seconds, before the overwhelming emotions are too much. I look back at the house. It’s completely engulfed in flames.maxine cropped

Silence in the Air

4210 Words – 5 people’s lives all intersect when a heist goes wrong and one police officer gets involved.

The silence in the air is tangible. It is long past midnight. All 3 people in the room are staring each other down. There are two others, just outside the door, discussing things in private.

This is going to end with someone dead on the floor.

Elizabeth, wearing a brisk evening gown and her hair up in a shoddy bun, is openly brandishing a knife. She twists it back and forth between her hands, eight inches of steel blinking continuously in the light. She’s convinced she’s going to be the reason someone dies tonight, and she wants it to be known to everyone else that this is her intention.

Mack desperately doesn’t want to be here, and yet here they are. Mack is just a butler. They’ve never seen more than a thousand dollars in their savings account at any given moment, but this gig was finally giving them the chance they needed to save up and transition. They aren’t out to Elizabeth about being nonbinary yet, and their bowtie is getting tighter and tighter around their neck with every passing minute.

Arthur is here because he tried stealing a single pendant from Elizabeth’s well guarded safe. He was nearly successful, but Mack fucked up keeping watch, and they both got caught in the safe. This whole gig took two fucking years to set up and put together, and it was ruined because some dipshit kid couldn’t keep their hands off the gold. Arthur told them, numerous times, We’re in here for one thing and that’s it. It will make us a fortune.

Outside, Officer Du Bois is talking to the person who caught Mack and Arthur; Elizabeth’s secret lover, Anna. Du Bois can clearly tell Anna is nervous. He has ideas about why- besides the presence of a police force he knows isn’t quite friendly to queer people- but holds his tongue. Right now his job is to listen. He’s trying to get all of the details, and he doesn’t have anyone nearby to help him.

Anna is fucking mortified. She’s dead and she knows it. Elizabeth has a knife and she plans on using it. This pig doesn’t even have a fucking gun, and she knows he isn’t going to put himself in front of a knife for some dyke he doesn’t even know. Elizabeth’s husband is going to find out about this, and Elizabeth doesn’t want Anna to have the chance to come clean about this. Oh, but the way Elizabeth’s hair gleamed in the gentle moonlight…

“Anna,” Du Bois snaps his fingers. “Anna, I know you’re going through a lot right now but I need you to stay with me.” She’s barely in her underwear and a night gown. She’s probably freezing. Du Bois watches her shiver. Offer her your coat.

“Oh. Of course, officer,” she says. “Where were we again?”

Du Bois slides off his coat. “Here,” he says, “Put this on. You’re freezing out here.” Good thing he’s got a jacket underneath as well.

She takes the coat and wraps it around herself. She’s surprised. She’s not sure if this cop is putting on an act to gain her trust or if he legitimately cares about her well being. “Thanks,” she mutters.

You can’t just dodge around the issue. She’s in danger. Du Bois knows this, but he doesn’t legitimately think asking her about her danger will help her in anyway. A different voice speaks up: You might not, but it could lead her to open up more.

Anna stares into the pig’s eyes. There’s something going on behind that lid of his, and she wishes she had any idea what it was. She can watch the gears turning in his head, but she can’t see the hands of the clock turn.

Du Bois sighs. “There’s something more troubling you, isn’t there?”

Anna tenses up. She’s glad the large coat is hiding her body enough so that he can’t see the motion. “I don’t know what you mean, officer. I was just cold.”

He does see her tense up, however subtle that might be. He’s had that coat for five years, he recognises when every single wrinkle in that battered old thing shifts. There it is. Strike the heart. “Don’t worry, once this is over you and Elizabeth will be able to rest in peace.”

Anna shuffles in place, trying to keep from wincing. Barely a moment has passed, but she can tell there’s so much going on in the officer’s head. His eyes, almost imperceptibly, are scanning every inch of her. “You think Elizabeth is going to kill you, don’t you?” he says.

Her eyes widen. Nail on the head, chief. “She’s got a knife, and she hasn’t stabbed anyone else in that room yet. If she wanted the thieves out of the picture, she would’ve done it. You think she’s waiting for you, because you were the one who ran and left to get a police officer. This encounter is the only thing extending your life, because once I cuff those two and walk away, you’ll be alone with Elizabeth, and that’s the last thing you want right now.”

If Anna wasn’t scared of this cop before, she sure is scared of him now. How the hell did he figure all of that out so quickly? She’s barely told him anything. She was going to try and run away- no, sneak away- when the chance arose, but there was no chance. This cop is never going to let her go now.

The first voice speaks again. You were completely correct. Now she’s even more scared, though. You shouldn’t have pressed further. If you leave her here alone, her blood will be on your hands. Her death will be your fault, whether or not you arrest Elizabeth afterward. Du Bois thought about this.

“You’re right!” Anna suddenly cries. “Elizabeth is going to kill me. She’s been cheating on her husband with me for seven months, and she’s going to end my life. He can’t find out about me, do you understand? She can’t let him find out about me. I’m just supposed to be some eye-candy maid for him, and just dust the corners. I know I should’ve left so long ago, but the money was decent, hormones are expensive, and- and-”

Harry nods. He doesn’t say anything. She’s already opened up. Like a shaken up can of pop, she’s finally burst.

“I love her!” She proclaims. “I loved her so fucking much, even though I knew how much of a risk it was. I knew that I wasn’t going to make it out of this relationship safely. I held out hope that one day Elizabeth would sweep me off of my feet, take me out to her boat, and we’d sale off into the pale ocean and onto other land. We’d be safe, and it’d just be her and I. We’d be alive and okay and her husband wouldn’t seek us out.”

Anna is crying at this point. Du Bois wants to cry, too, but he knows he can’t. He can’t just break down in front of a witness. He can’t just let her die, either. He has to make a tough choice, though: keep her here while he sorts out everything between everyone here tonight or let her run away and find new safety right now.

Anna is sobbing and she can’t stop. This is the last night she will ever see the sun, and it wasn’t even between the legs of an older woman. An older, graceful, beautfi- no no no! Those thoughts won’t do at all. She can’t rely on Elizabeth anymore. Elizabeth isn’t her love anymore. She’s alone in this world- again.

Du Bois takes her hand. He knows this is the greatest risk he’s ever going to take on his job, even greater than the time he was shot twice- though both shots only tore some skin off of his side- leaping from the cover that was about to collapse on top of him and the cover that was barely holding itself up during a firefight nearly eight years ago, but it was one he was willing to take. He slips her a business card. “Get out of here, Anna. Call me in 6 hours. We’ll figure this out.”

Anna takes the card, and she runs. She isn’t coming back. She doubts she will call this cop, either. One mercy doesn’t mean a fucking thing.

Du Bois turned back inside. There were still three more people he needed to deal with. He was sure he knew the whole story at this point, no one had lied to him about anything so far, but he still needs to figure out what to do about this whole situation.

“Officer Du Bois, you’re finally back,” Elizabeth chides. “I’m certain Anna treated you well.” Elizabeth digs the knife into her table and drags it down, leaving a sizable mark in it. This was the fifth one she had made so far. Mack winced every time they saw it, and Elizabeth relishes their fear.

Mack, despite every muscle in their black ass telling them otherwise, stares in the cop’s eyes. They need to show they aren’t afraid. This cop couldn’t do anything to them. Mack would get out of here just fine. They knew it. Whatever prison this cop would put them into couldn’t be worse than what they knew Elizabeth desperately wanted to do tonight.

Arthur rolls his eyes at Elizabeth’s statement. “Yeah, alright your highness, you’re rich and your servants,” he put a lot of venom into that, “are well behaved. Are you going to let us go or what?”

Elizabeth huffs, indignant. “You think you get to just leave? After breaking into my home? Attempting to steal my family heirlooms?” She scoffs and shakes her head, looking at Officer Du Bois. “Can you believe this officer?”

Du Bois nods. “I can. Although, according to this lad, the pendant isn’t actually yours. It was stolen from another family who wants it back. He was hired to get it back.” This was what Arthur had told him earlier, and it checked out later when Elizabeth let him examine the amulet. It didn’t actually bear her family crest, but the DuFrasne crest. “It’s a surprise to me that they only requested the pendant be stolen back and not anything else as revenge.”

Mack looks over at Arthur in shock. Why hadn’t Arthur told them this?

Arthur shuffles in his seat. “Yeah, so really I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was basically a subtle repo-man. That’s allowed, right?” It’s a cheap excuse, he knows, but it’s better than nothing.

“No, it’s not,” Du Bois says. “The DuFrasne’s should’ve contacted the police about the theft, and had us perform a proper search and investigation. Taking the law into your own hands is also a crime, and they will be investigated as well.”

Arthur shifts in his chair. He really wasn’t in the mood to deal with the pigs for however long that would take. This was supposed to be an easy job, in and out, and then he was going to take a long trip out to some nice little island and lay low for a few years. Now he’s stuck playing footsies with “the law.” He had a plan B, cold against his leg, but he really didn’t want to have to use it.

Elizabeth scoffed again. “You have absolutely no proof I stole that pendant in the first place.” She couldn’t believe she was being accused of such things. She was rich, no one was supposed to question her. This cop was just supposed to clean up after her, not do whatever he’s doing.

Mack noticed the tight grip Elizabeth had on the dagger. Her knuckles were white.

Du Bois crossed his arms. “Elizabeth, you’d best put that weapon away. You’re in the presence of a police officer, and that can easily be read as a threat.”

Elizabeth laughed. “You don’t even have a gun,” she said. “How do you plan on enforcing any law if you have no weapons to do so?”

Arthur did his best to avoid laughing, too. It was obvious the cop didn’t have a gun. His holster was empty. There’s not a cop within a hundred miles who conceal carries. If this one was the exception, he was probably breaking some rule himself.

Mack’s eyes shifted to the holster. They hadn’t even thought to see if the cop had a gun. You always presume they do, because if you look at their hip they’ll think you want to steal their gun and shoot them. They weren’t willing to take that risk, but they did just now anyway. Now they know this cop can’t do a thing to stop them from leaving. They could stand up and walk away right now.

The knife digging into the table was more audible than any previous dig before. Elizabeth made sure it was deeper, too. “So what are you going to do tonight, officer?” She followed this up by tossing the pendant onto the table. The clatter of its chain was suddenly subdued when contrasted with the knife.

The pendant released some sort of black mist upon hitting the table. Mack saw it, and looked around to see if anyone else did. No one even looked at the thing. They were all too busy staring each other down. Mack returned their eyes to the pendant. They couldn’t see the mist anymore.

Du Bois straightened his shoulders. He knew what Elizabeth was trying to do, and he wasn’t going to let it happen. He’s avoided corruption and bribes for the last six years at least, and he wasn’t in the mood to break his streak as the cleanest cop in his precinct. “I’m going to put all three of you under arrest for further investigation. Come quietly and we won’t have any issues.”

Arthur’s eyebrows rose. The pig was going to arrest the wife of a rich man? That was a bold move, unheard of until today. He had no intention of being arrested, but he was tempted to stick around just to see what would happen. Of course, that would void his deal with the DuFrasne’s, and a bit of fun at the expense of Elizabeth was not worth giving up that money.

Elizabeth stood up, holding her knife at her side. “Fuck you!” she shouted. “I know my rights. You have no precedent to arrest me.” This cop was either stubborn or stupid, because no one arrested Elizabeth. She had every cop in a twenty mile radius under her thumb. What was this bastard doing?

Du Bois briskly reaches a hand into his jacket. He didn’t have his gun, but he thought this bluff might do something worthwhile.

Arthur sneaks his hand down the legs of his pants and reaches for the gun he took. A six barrel revolver, incredibly uncommon in these areas. More fire power than most of the handguns that people could get. Of course, the one cop hiding heat had to show up tonight.

Mack’s eyes scanned everything, as if in slow motion. Elizabeth was standing at the ready, waiting for the chance to strike. Arthur was reaching into his pants, and the bulge of a pistol was suddenly apparent. The cop was also reaching for something in his jacket- wasn’t he wearing a coat earlier?- but they doubted it was actually a gun. Du Bois was bluffing.

Mack lastly, glanced at the pendant again. It looked malevolent. Something wicked was surrounding it, and no one else was paying attention.

Du Bois felt the danger. He carefully eyed Elizabeth- he could probably take her if he had to- then glanced at Arthur and Mack. Mack was slowly scooting his chair sideways, away from everything. That was a reasonable response. Arthur had a hand down the leg of his pants. It was clear he had a gun. Du Bois began to calculate actions within his head.

Elizabeth’s gaze darted amongst everyone in the room, too. Du Bois remained focused on her. Arthur was staring immediately between the two of them, as if planning an escape. If Elizabeth attacked the cop, she knew Arthur and Mack would flee while they struggled. She couldn’t have that.

Elizabeth took a sharp step toward Arthur, and Arthur knew who he was going to point his gun at. He immediately stood up and pointed the gun at Elizabeth. “I don’t make a plan without accounting for all the risk, madame.”

Mack could see the amulet becoming more and more volatile with every passing moment. He carefully stood up, getting ready to run the moment it was convenient- or possible, honestly.

The room was standing still once more. Du Bois still simply had his hand in his jacket, and he knew at this point he didn’t have a bluff worth anything. He slowly pulled his hand out of his jacket and prepared to tackle whichever of those two made the first move.

That’s your gun! A voice spoke to Du Bois. Shit in a biscuit, it was indeed his gun. He recognised the barrel, with a small inscription on the side. It was illegible at this point, but it used to say “Lady Death.” The owner before him was a bit gruesome. He’d been missing this gun for a year and the precinct refused to issue him a replacement. He thinks he lost it during a chase, where he must not have closed up his holster properly. Someone must’ve snagged it during the in-between.

Arthur has 2 bullets in the gun. If he makes a shot, he needs to make it count. He stares down the barrel of the gun, straight at Elizabeth. He takes a second to glance at Du Bois, who he notices has not drawn a gun but has his hands out his coat. The pork chop bluffed.

Elizabeth is sitting in silence as well. So much for that idea. She’s fuming. She was going to fucking kill these god damn thieves and that god damn cop and the god damn girl. She’s done playing games. She’s done playing around with everyone. That amulet deserves to be with her. It’s her amulet. It was always meant to be her amulet. “Fuck it,” she says, before grabbing the necklace and running.

Arthur is surprised. “Wha-” is all he manages to say before realising he doesn’t know what he’s watching.

Mack sees the mist wrap its way up Elizabeth’s arm. It has a vice grip on her flesh. Her skin color is becoming paler, and her veins are darkening.

Du Bois rushes her. He charges directly at her. He can tell she’s running toward the window, and he has to stop her before she jumps. This is only a second story, but that fall would certainly break a bone, at least.

Elizabeth is almost there. She’s nearly there. The window is right there.

Mack watches the mist take over more of her. Are those three not seeing this?

Arthur suddenly notices what’s happening and takes the chance. He whispers to Mack “Let’s bounce.”

Du Bois grabs Elizabeth’s arm. She turns and stabs at him with the knife. Du Bois steps aside and uses her own momentum to throw her back into the main room.

Elizabeth somersaults back to her feet and leaps at Mack, who was following behind Arthur. She raises the knife with her hand in the air and shrieks.

Arthur turns around at the sound of the shriek and sees this. He fires.

Mack’s ears are ringing.

Du Bois is running to grab Elizabeth again.

Elizabeth no longer has a knife curled between her fingers, but instead carries four fingers and a thumb. This means nothing.

Du Bois sees Elizabeth is preparing to jump off of Mack’s back. He tries to grab her ankle, but she’s already airborne. “Shit!” he cries.

Arthur sees her gliding toward him. There is no blood leaking from her palm. She’s looks sickly, like death. Her hand is wrapped around his throat, and her nails are digging into his skin. Nothing about this is right.

Du Bois shoves Mack out of the way and assesses the situation. Arthur dropped his gun. Elizabeth is tightening her grip around Arthur’s throat. He’s bleeding.

Mack fucking knew it. Mack fucking knew there was something wrong with that fucking pendant. She’s a fucking monster now. She’s being possessed by some kind of fucking demon. She’s covered in that mist now- there’s absolutely no way everyone else hasn’t seen it by this point- and she isn’t bleeding. She’s about to strangle Arthur to death, and she isn’t even human anymore. This is fucking bullshit.

Elizabeth grasps even tighter. Arthur gurgles. Her thumb touches her ring finger. She pulls, lifting her hand above her head. The smell… it’s delicious.

Du Bois already dove for the gun. He’s already crouched and aiming the revolver at the back of her head. She cackles and let’s go of Arthur’s windpipe. Du Bois steadies his hand. He breathes out. He fires.

Elizabeth was right. She was the reason someone died tonight, technically. Consciousness returns to her for just long enough to witness Arthur’s corpse on the floor before she, too, fades from this existence.

Du Bois sighs. He checks the chambers of the revolver. It’s completely empty. He got lucky.

Mack sees the black mist swiftly retreat back into the pendant. That can’t be a fucking good sign.

Du Bois gets up and begins to assess the damage. The first thing he does is try to pull the pendant out of Elizabeth’s hand. It’s much easier to do before rigor mortis sets in.

Mack witnesses the fucking cop go for the amulet. They lean over and pick up the knife. “Don’t touch that fucking amulet,” Mack says.

Du Bois stops. He looks at Mack, and sees that they’re currently armed. “What do you know about the necklace?”

Mack curses. “Are you fucking dense? Did you not see the black mist that possessed Elizabeth? And how it disappeared the moment you killed her? Back into the amulet?”

Du Bois didn’t see any of this. Though, glancing at her hand, he does now see that she only just started bleeding. That is strange. “Hand me the knife, then,” Du Bois instructs Mack.

“What? Mack asks. “What do you plan to do?” This cop is loose as hell. What would the knife do to the amulet?

Du Bois holsters his gun, only just realising he was still carrying it. The weight is simultaneously comfortable and burdensome on his hip. “I’m going to cut off her hand and place it into an evidence bag.”

Mack eyes Du Bois. They sigh. Du Bois still has the gun. There isn’t a damn thing this knife would do anyway. They hand the knife over, and Du Bois takes it.

Du Bois saws her hand off. He then slides the entire thing into an evidence bag he took from his jacket.

He stands up. “Will you wait here, Mack, while I radio my precinct and let them know about this, or do I have to arrest you?” Du Bois is done. This is only the fifth person he’s killed during his 21 years of police work. He wants to go home and be fucking done with this case for the night.

Mack shakes his head. “I- um-” They don’t even know where they would go or what they would do. Their plan was to get paid by Arthur and then leave this place for a long time, probably forever.

He gets into his buggy. He radios his precinct and tells them to get over here. He’s exhausted.

Mack sits in the hallway, alone. If they wanted to, they could probably go back into the safe and take some valuables and run away. They don’t think they should, however. Whatever was going on with that amulet only they could see. They don’t really want to be working with any cops, but they need to figure out why they could see it but no one else could.

Anna is cold. She stole Elizabeth’s purse from next to the door before leaving, and it had a lot of cash in it. She ran for a long while into the night. She paid for a hotel room at least two miles away, and she lies in bed, on top of the blankets, still wearing the officer’s coat. She would need to buy some clothing tomorrow. Or send someone else to do it, more likely.

She sighs. She isn’t sure where she is going to go from here. She at least has enough money for the next two weeks, if she’s careful. What will she do after that?

She reaches into one of the coat pockets and finds the business card the cop gave her. She pulls it out and looks at it. “OFFICER DU BOIS,” it says. It has a phone number, too. Phones are wildly expensive, even Elizabeth didn’t have one. If you wish to make a phone call, you usually have to wait in line at a payphone.

Anna thinks about the card long and hard. Maybe she’ll give him a call. She doesn’t know what else she can do.

“…I had no idea.”

391 words. One person waits for hours for their partner to return home, and yet their partner fails to show up.

I waited for hours for them to come home. The full bottle of wine turned into an empty one before I had finally collapsed and fallen asleep, my mascara streaming down my face.

The first hour of waiting was only a little bit uneasy. I kept telling myself that they’d return, milking a glass of wine as I waited. I threw on a record, and listened to both sides the whole way through before finally feeling that unease become a reality. By the second hour I was desperately texting them, calling them, worried something tragic had happened to them and that tomorrow morning I’d see their face in the obituary. By the third hour I was drinking straight from the bottle and bawling my eyes out, screaming at the sky for letting them die. Or was I screaming because they had abandoned me? Either way, the fourth hour saw me scrawling in my journal furiously about how much I hated them and never wanted to see them again. I think at this point I blacked out, but I know I must have cut up my journal because I found myself stepping on slips of paper as I trudged into the bathroom to vomit. I wasn’t a pretty sight, and I no longer knew how many hours had passed. I do know I eventually had fallen asleep again, in an empty bed.

Yet, I woke up with a clean face. My mascara had been washed off, along with everything else. There was one blemish on my face, however: a bright red lipstick mark on my left cheek. My journal had been swept up and partially taped together, but some pages were too destroyed to piece together again. The bottle had been picked up and put into my recycling bin– or theirs, more likely– and instead a half-empty lukewarm cup of coffee and a glass of water sat on my bedside table.

I slowly made my way to the kitchen, my brain blistering and my pulse echoing through the hallway. They were in the kitchen, reading a book. They looked up at me and smiled before standing up, sliding their chair in, and helping me to the table. They kissed me on the forehead. “I appreciate the thought,” they whispered to me, “but I don’t think that’s something I could do for you.”


7189 words. Claire’s estranged uncle comes to visit, along with his children. One of them, Elisa, becomes fast friends with Claire. However, with both of their fathers fighting, they aren’t sure this friendship will last

“Claire, Stand straighter. You are going to be in the presence of a military official in a few moments. You are required to show him utter respect,” Dad told me. He was standing so straight that I couldn’t really believe it.

“I’m standing as straight as I can, Dad,” I replied.

“Father. I am your father in the presence of others. Do well to remember that.”

“Yes, Father. Am I standing straight enough?” I asked.

Dad sighed. “It will have to do. Gregory will be here any moment.”

Dad, all of the butlers, and I stared at the door. Our doorbell would ring at any moment, and then a butler would open the door. In would walk in my uncle Gregory, we would greet him, and then I would go and do whatever I did. I didn’t have any lessons for this week, since Gregory was visiting.

Then, a rumbling set of bells began to ring. Even though electric doorbells existed, Dad insisted on keeping our old bells. You could hear them from out in the fields if you were quiet.

As a butler opened the doors, I heard the rain outside grow in volume for a short second. Then a few men walked in, and the butler shut the door behind them. The sound of the rain almost disappeared entirely.

One of the men was older then the other two, his beard and hair showing the start of grey. The other two were maybe half of his age at best. They both had sandy brown hair that was messily left out in loose waves.

“Richard, it’s good to see you!” The oldest man proclaimed. His voice echoed through the building. He spoke again, but quieter. “Ah, oops. I forgot how hollow your home is. Sorry.”

“No matter,” Dad said. “Welcome back, Gregory. Gregory, this is my daughter, Claire.” Dad moved his hand to exaggerate me.

Gregory stepped toward me, and shoved his hand toward me. “Nice to meet you Claire. How old are you?”

I took his hand. “I’m ten, sir.”

“Sir? No, no, I’m not a sir to you. I’m just your uncle Gregory. You can just call me Greg.” Greg shook my hand, then turned back to the men he had brought with him.

“When was the last time you saw my children, Richard? What were they, ten and six? No matter, This is Spencer, and this is Ray.” Spencer waved when he was introduced, and so did Ray. Ray was a bit shorter than Spencer, so I assumed he was the younger of the two.

“Has Elisa gotten inside yet?” Gregory asked.

“She insisted on taking her bags in herself,” Ray replied.

“Daft girl. I told her that someone else would get them. She doesn’t listen, but that just makes more work for her.” Gregory walked over to the door and opened it. “ELISA! COME INSIDE, IT’S POURING OUT THERE!”

Gregory held the door open until Elisa appeared inside. I gasped. Elisa was a girl! She had blonde hair cut just below her chin. It was drenched in rain. Her eyes were a golden hazel, and she had a few freckles crossing her nose. Her cheeks were thin, and led down to two jaw bones that connected in a single, defined point. She was shorter than Ray by at least a few inches, but her height wasn’t boosted by any sort of heel. She wore a black dress, with the skirt cutting just below her knees. She had a thin jacket on over her dress, which had protected some of her from the rain. Under each arm was crooked a small bag, and she held two more in her hands.

“Everyone, this is-”

“I’m Elisa,” She proclaimed. Her voice also echoed through the building, but not as loudly as Greg’s did at first.

“Yes. She’s Elisa.” Gregory shut the door, and the rain sounds disappeared again.

“I’ll show you to your room, Gregory,” Dad said. “Spencer, you go with Pete. And Ray, you go with Mark.” Dad pointed to Pete and Mark, the two of them led the other two away.

Dad turned to me. “Claire, I will trust you to take Elisa to a fitting room. You know about… girls. So you should be able to find her a room she will be comfortable with.” Dad looked back to Greg. “Let’s go, Greg.”

Dad led Greg up the stairs, and into the second floor. I watched them go.

“Claire was it?”

I jumped and turned around. Elisa was behind me.

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you! Really, that was an accident, I wasn’t trying anything on purpose, cross my heart.”

“You’re fine,” I said. “I’m Claire.”

“Lovely name, Claire. Well, where are we off to?” Elisa smiled at me. I felt my knees grow weak. I didn’t know how to respond.

“Um, well, uh, my room is the only real girl-room,” I started to play with the bottom of my shirt. Dad preferred I wear trousers over any dresses or skirts. “But it’s a lot like all of the boy-rooms in the house, too.”

“That’s fine,” Elisa said. “I’m used to boy-rooms. Whenever Pop tells the places that we’re staying that he has three kids, they always assume three boys. Although, I don’t think there’s really much of a difference between boy-rooms and girl-rooms. What’s your room look like?”

I blinked a few times. “Well, um, I can show you my room.”

“That would be lovely!” Elisa’s voice echoed again. She cleared her throat and whispered. “Sorry about that. I’m not used to places being so hollow.”

“That’s what Greg said.” I began walking up the stairs, and Elisa followed me.

“Ah, I suppose that’s proper. Pop can get pretty loud too. He’s used to being on boats and airplanes for when he moves from place to place, and those are much louder than houses. I suppose I am, too, because I’m often riding those boats and airplanes with him.” Elisa looked around at the walls and hallways while I led her away.

“Quite the place you’ve got here,” She said. “There sure are a lot of paintings and the like. Do you have any suits of armor stashed in any of these halls?”

“I don’t think so. I’ve never seen one, anyway. Maybe you could ask my father.”

“I’d rather not. He seems somewhat… Intense? Yeah, intense is the word.”

I didn’t say anything. I really didn’t know what to say. Either way, I stopped walking.

“Hey, how old are you, anyway?”

“I’m ten years old.”

“I’m sixteen. Boy, you’re so mature, I could have sworn you were at least twelve. I could believe that you were older than me, honestly.”

I smiled. “Thank you. We’re here, by the way.”

“Oh, I had noticed we weren’t walking anymore.”

I opened my door, and stepped inside.

“My, your room is a lovely little place, isn’t it?” Elisa asked.

“It’s most certainly my room,” I responded. I had never really thought of my bedroom as anything special. It was just another room, except I kept my things in it.

Elisa stood next to my bed. “You’ve a rather large bed for such a small girl. Do you ever just feel buried in your own blankets?”

“Not really. I kind of lay on top of the blankets more than under them, anyway.”

“So do I, actually. The cots on navy ships can be rather stiff, and the blankets are better used to make it softer.” Elisa threw herself onto my bed, spreading her limbs across the mattress. “My, this is rather comfy, too. Sometimes I can get a little cold, but it’s better than a little stiff in the morning. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Probably. I’ve never been on a boat. I usually just ride to town with father and mind my manners when I’m with an elder.” Elisa was a lot different than what I thought girls were like.

“Well, don’t bother minding your manners with me. We’re friends, and friends needn’t make each other feel uncomfortable.” Elisa sat up and smiled at me. I shuddered at her smile.

“What do you do for fun around here?” She asked.

“Well, I read a lot of books, usually. When the weather is nice I like to go outside and find bugs. I just look at them.”

Elisa looked around the room, and at some of my bookshelves. “My, you do have quite a few books, don’t you? You’re quite the young scholar.”

“Thank you,” I replied.

“Have you ever tried to play hide and seek in this place?” Elisa asked. She was barely trying to hide a smirk from me.

I blinked at her. “None of the butlers have ever asked me to play. I haven’t ever had any friends over, either.”

“Oh, or tag! Tag would be a great game to play around here! So many hallways and places to go… Do you ever wonder if you have any secret passages connecting rooms you wouldn’t think to be connected?” Elisa was no longer hiding her smile.

I- I hadn’t considered that,” I confessed.

“Well, what do you say you and I find some secret passages?” Elisa proposed.

I couldn’t help myself anymore. I smiled at her, and nodded.


Elisa and I were playing hide and seek, and I was hiding. I had found a perfect little closet to hide in, and I was trying my hardest not to laugh at how smart it was.

Then, I heard voices. They were quiet at first, but they grew louder as they entered the room.

“Gregory, you know they can’t be reasoned with.” It was Dad’s voice. “They attacked America unprovoked. They want a racial cleansing just as badly as the Germans do. You’re wasting your time there, and you know it.”

“Well, the Japs that I’ve met haven’t been so cruel. They’re rather fine fellows, and we have lovely conversations. They understand what’s at risk as well as I do, and they are willing to discuss the war-”

“Do you mean that they are willing to discuss our conditions of surrender? They don’t give a damn about peace; they give a damn about taking over the world!”

“No, no, no! Yes, there are power-hungry madmen in Japan, but there are power-hungry madmen here, too! Have you not seen how we are still taking over India? Our “great leader” is currently occupying another country and attempting to steal from them! Churchill is not a saint, and we should be as loathe to trust him as we are the Japanese war leaders! I’m trying to make a difference, damn it!” Uncle Greg was doing his best not to yell, but he was still rather loud.

Footsteps prattled down the hallway. “Claire, I’m coming to find you!” Elisa shouted.

“We’ll finish this discussion another time,” Dad said.

“That’s an agreeable idea,” said Greg. “Let’s see what your servants are cooking up in the kitchen, eh?”

I heard Dad and Greg walk out of the room. “Good evening, Elisa,” said Dad.

“Good evening, Richard. My, you startled me. I didn’t expect to see you suddenly appear from that room, with Pop in tow.”

“Yes, well, I’m giving him the grand tour. We’re heading for the kitchen now. Care to join us?” He asked.

“Oh, I’d love to, but I’m trying to find Claire. We’re playing hide-and-seek. Don’t tell Claire I’m out here.”

“Ah. I see. Well, I’m certain she couldn’t hear your shouting in the hallway either.”

Elisa laughed. “That’s part of the fun.”

“Hmm. Alright, well, let’s be off, Greg.” The footsteps of Greg and Dad continued away, into silence. I heard Elisa step into the room.

“Oh, Claire, where are you? Could you be hiding in here!” Claire opened a cupboard very loudly. I quietly opened the doors to the closet I was in and slid out.

“Oh, there you are, Claire! You know, it’s not as fun if you just come out of hiding. I’m supposed to find you.”

“Dad and Uncle Greg were talking about the war,” I said, ignoring her statement.

“What?” Elisa looked surprised. “What did they say?” She suddenly moved very close to me, and grabbed my hands.

“Dad seemed to want Greg to stop trying to talk to the Japanese. He said they are bad people. Then Greg said that Churchill is a bad person too.”

“Oh my,” Elisa looked at the floor as she said this. “I- I was worried about this.”

“What’s wrong, Elisa?” I asked.

I could see her eyes start to moisten over. “I don’t want to leave again,” she whispered. “I don’t want to leave anymore.”

“Elisa,” I paused. “Elisa…” I pulled Elisa close to me. “Elisa, you can stay with me. I’ll let you stay with me for as long as you want.”

She sobbed into my chest, and I let her.


That night, we all had dinner. We all sat around a table that Dad had. It wasn’t the largest table in the house, but it was large enough for all of us.

Greg was telling a story. “So I said to the man, in perfect Japanese, ‘If you won’t have him, you won’t have me either!’ And then my friend said, in flawless English, ‘I believe you are mistaken. He is more Japanese than I.’” Greg erupted into laughter, and nearly everyone else followed suit. I didn’t get it.

“Why was the man being Japanese a problem?” I asked. Dad swiftly sighed.

“Well, erm,” Greg began, “It’s because we are at war with them. That makes some of the folks around here nervous. They didn’t really know that he was born and raised here the same as you or I.”

“The word is racism,” Dad said. “The shopkeep was just racist. I’ve told you what racism is before, correct?”

“Oh, of course, Father. That makes sense now.” I smiled at Greg and Dad. Dad gave a concerned look over to Greg. Greg didn’t see it.

“So how come all of your staff are men?” Spencer asked.

“Men are what were available,” Dad responded. “There weren’t many women willing to travel out this way. It is rather secluded. Many of them have children to care for. The men here are mostly bachelors.”

“I suppose that makes sense. I’ve just never seen a home with butlers but no maids.” Spencer shrugged.

“Yes, well, the butlers do their jobs well enough. I haven’t a need for a maid at the moment. Besides, Elisa grew up surrounded by Navy men. She’s just fine.” Richard took a bite of his food.

“Oh, sir, he didn’t mean to-” Ray started.

“That’s rather true, Richard. Elisa is a perfectly healthy girl, right?” Greg asked.

Elisa nodded. “Of course. I’m as healthy as you could expect. Not an ounce of scurvy in my gums, see?” Elisa peeled her bottom lip down, showing off her red gums.

“That’s not quite what I meant,” Greg said. Elisa laughed.

“Normal is just what boring people tell you to be, so that they feel okay being boring. I don’t need to be boring, because I don’t want to be boring.” Elisa twisted her fork in her hand. Her plate was already empty.

“That’s one way to look at it,” Ray said. “Most people just call her ‘eccentric.’” He laughed, and Elisa did too. I laughed with them.

“Oh, bugger off. You would hate to have a boring sister and you know it,” Elisa informed him. Everyone laughed along with her.

“It’s never a bad thing for a girl to speak her mind,” Dad said.

I took that as an opportunity. “Well, I’m finished eating,” I said. “May I be excused?” Much like Elisa, I hadn’t said much during dinner, so I had finished eating faster than everyone.

“You’re excused,” Dad told me.

“Thank you, father.”

“I’ll head off, too,” Elisa said. “Keep the young one out of trouble.”

Dad laughed. “Good luck finding her in trouble to begin with.”

I walked out of the dining room, and Elisa followed me.

“It was starting to feel a bit stiff in there, don’t you think?” Elisa asked.

“What do you mean?” I asked in return.

“Well, there was a lot of skirting around the war. You forced them to face a certain reality. I think that the whole dinner was just a tad rough, eh?” Elisa nudged me as she said that.

“I suppose so. I never really thought about it.” I kept walking down the hall, toward my room.

“You know, this place is rather spooky at night,” Elisa mentioned.

“You use some odd words, Elisa. What is spooky and comfy?”

“Oh! Right, those aren’t very common words. Well, Spooky is just a word for frightening, and comfy is an easier way to say comfortable,” she replied. I went into my room and hopped onto my bed.

“Why not just say frightening or comfortable, then?” I asked. Elisa hopped onto the bed next to me.

“Well, I just like spooky and comfy more. They’re just fun words.” Elisa laid back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. I laid back and stared with her.

“Where do you learn fun words?” I asked.

“Not in dusty old books. Not to say they’re bad, just that they’re old. Rather, you learn these words from other people. They slowly become more popular with time, and so more people will want to use them. I think it’s interesting that I can simply help in making a word popular.” I glanced at Elisa. Her eyes were bright.

“Have you ever tried making up a word?” I asked. Elisa turned her head to look at me.

“Not really. I think making up new words is actually rather difficult.” Elisa smirked at me. “Do you want to try and make up a new word?”

“No. I like the words I already know,” I replied.

“Yeah, there are a lot of good words. That’s probably why I never made up any words. It’s hard, anyway. Trying to make up a new word take so much work.” Elisa looked back at the ceiling.

I used my hand to draw shapes in the air. “Sometimes I like to pretend that I’m painting beautiful scenes in the sky. I asked Dad for a painting set one time. He told me he would see what he could do.”

“Well, how long ago did you ask?”

“I don’t remember. A long time ago.”

Elisa pat my belly. I think she was trying to comfort me. “That’s alright. You’re young. You’ll always have time to paint when you’re older. Who knows, maybe tomorrow he’ll buy that paint set you want. There’s always time.”

I shrugged. “Maybe.”

“I want to go to bed, I think,” Elisa informed me.

“I think that’s a good idea.” I shot up. “I never showed you to your room!”

“Oh, that’s fine,” Elisa said, “I can just share a bed with you. There’s clearly plenty of space.”

I put my hand on my chin, and thought about it. I liked Elisa a lot, and I didn’t think any harm could come from it.

“Okay, then. Just turn out the light.”


I woke up, and rolled over. Elisa wasn’t in the bed.

I leapt up and turned on the light in my room. Elisa was gone. I stepped out into the hallway to look for her.

My home was especially quiet tonight. I felt like at any moment, one of my footsteps could create a huge echo.

I creeped down the hallway, careful to avoid waking anyone up or make any noise. I peeked into various rooms, seeing if Elisa was inside. I consistently couldn’t find her. Then, I cracked a door open, and I was facing a pair of legs.

“Dad-” I started.

“Oh, Claire. It’s good to see you. Please, come inside.” Dad opened the door, and motioned for me to enter. I did. He was still wearing his day-clothes.

“Claire, you’ve been getting along well with Elisa, haven’t you?” He sat down in an armchair, and took a drink from a glass. I think it was just water, but it might have been a clear alcohol.

“Elisa is my friend,” I politely informed him. I hopped into my own armchair, and looked around for a glass of water for me to drink. I tried hard not to smile as I took the glass on the table next to me, and sniffed it to make sure it was water.

“That’s very good. It’s always good to have friends,” Dad responded. He looked over at the lit fireplace. “I haven’t given you many chances to make friends.”

“I’m not sure what you mean, dad.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. I was just thinking out loud.”

I nodded.

“I never told you much about your mother, Claire.”

I shook my head, and took a drink from my cup.

“Well, your mother chose your name. It was something that she had heard and liked a lot. She died when you were only two.” Dad nodded, and took a drink from his own cup. He continued. “We knew that it was getting worse for her for a while, but she told me she wanted a child before she passed. I told her we would try. I would do anything for her. She told me: ‘If it’s a boy, name him Thomas. If it’s a girl, name her Claire. So I did. So we did.”

I already knew my mother had died when I was two years old. Jeff had told me. She died of cancer, specifically. Her heart had failed her.

Dad was looking rather sad. I wanted to hug him.

“I think having you made her healthier, for a while. She was in terrible shape before she was pregnant with you, but she marginally improved before you were born, and after. I was terrified that the stresses of pregnancy would be too much for her. I was so glad to be wrong.”

Dad sighed, and finished the rest of his glass. “You are all I have left of your mother. I wasn’t sure what to do with you, for so long. I didn’t want to love another woman after she died, and I was even a bit scared to love you. I did my best, because all children deserve at least one caring parent, but I still worried it wouldn’t be enough.”

He let the silence hang in the air.

“Do you know why I’m telling you this?” He finally asked.

I nodded to him. I understood.

Dad laughed. “I don’t believe you, you silly girl. Come give me a hug.”

I hugged him, and he held my tightly for a while. “Whatever may happen, Claire, I love you. I know I’m just some old man, but I truly do.” He let go, and stood up.

“You should head back to bed, now. I have to talk to Gregory.”

“Goodnight, Dad,” I whispered to him. I waved as I left the room, and returned to the hall.

I walked back to my room, still silent despite not trying. I had forgotten to look for Elisa when I returned to my room.


At another point in the night, I woke up again. Elisa was next to me again, breathing softly. I was shocked for a moment, remembering that I hadn’t looked for her, but I was glad that I found her anyway.

I closed my eyes again when I heard people speaking from outside.

“You think Richard really wants us to leave so suddenly?” One voice asked. It was either Ray or Spencer.

“He’s very angry with Pop. He shouted at him for being ‘so dense’, he said.” That was the other brother. I really didn’t know who was who.

“Still, I can’t believe he would just turn his brother away like that. I wouldn’t ever turn you away from my home.”

“Yeah, but we’ve lived in the same places for years,” The brothers laughed, and their voices faded down the hallway.

I looked over to Elisa. Her breaths hadn’t changed.

“I don’t want you to go,” I whispered. I scooted closer to her, and laid my head on her shoulder.


Sunlight leaked into my room from between my curtains. Well, only a little bit, as it was still the rainy season.

Elisa was still sleeping soundly. I got out of bed, got dressed, and entered the hallway.

I could tell that it was still early in the morning because the house was quiet and there weren’t many servants out and about.

Upon walking into the grand entryway, I saw Ray and Spencer tossing a ball back and forth between the two of them.

“So how much longer do you think we’ll be allowed to stay here?” Ray asked Spencer.

“Probably a day or two, honestly. Rich has been rather disagreeable about Pop’s employment. It’s a shame, but we’ll probably have to stay in a hotel for the rest of the week.” Spencer threw the ball back to Ray.

Ray caught the ball, and swiftly tossed it again. “Richard is an odd fellow. So anti-war, but also incredibly anti-japan.”

I began walking down the stairs. Spencer saw me first. “Ah. Claire. Good morning to you,” He said. He tossed the ball again.

“Good morning, Spencer. Good morning, Ray,” I replied.

“Good morning, Claire,” Ray replied. “Sleep well?”

“Well enough,” I said. “What about you?”

“We stayed up rather late last night. I’m a bit tired, but military discipline wouldn’t let me sleep through any part of the morning,” he said.

“Nor I,” said Spencer.

“Well, that’s a shame. Have either of you had breakfast yet?” I asked.

“Not yet,” Ray informed me. “Nothing had been prepared yet.”

“Maybe something is now. I’m heading to the kitchen,” I said.

“Tell us if you find anything,” Spencer said, before they returned to passing the ball.

Walking in the kitchen, I found some toast set up on a plate, but nothing else was ready. I could tell various things were being cooked, however.

“Sorry we don’t have much prepared right now, miss Claire,” Jerry, one of the butlers, said, “We didn’t expect anyone to be up so early after how late most everyone seemed to have stayed up last night.”

“It’s no problem, Jerry. It doesn’t help that it’s a Sunday and most of the staff is at church.”

“Ah, right. I was wondering why we were so understaffed today. Anyway, feel free to help yourself to what is prepared. I’ll find you a jar of marmalade as well.”

“Thank you,” I responded. I picked up the plate of toast, and took the jar of marmalade from Jerry. “I’m going to go share this with Spencer and Ray while you’re still cooking.”

“Fine by me. Good morning Claire.”

“Good morning, Jerry.”

Upon returning to the entrance, Spencer and Ray had sat down on the stairs next to each other.

“Breakfast isn’t ready, but I brought some toast and marmalade,” I said to them.

“Lovely!” Ray proclaimed. An echo rang through the house. “Right. Sorry.”

We sat down in a circle and shared the toast.

“So Claire,” Ray began, “What do you do for fun around here? Seems rather lonely. Do you ever have friends over or anything?”

“No,” I said. “Most of the time I just read books, go to lessons, and play outside.”

“My, you’re a trooper,” He said. “I would have just gotten bored and lost my mind at this point.”

“You already have,” Spencer said. They laughed.

“What do you boys usually do for fun?” I asked.

“Well, you saw us passing a ball earlier. When we’re here in Britain we play sports with anyone we can find. On the ships, though, we usually just play card games and talk with the other troops. The Japanese play mahjong more than our western card games, so we’ve learned how to play that, too.”

Around this time, Elisa appeared and joined us in eating toast.

“Good morning Elisa,” I greeted her.

“Good morning Claire. Brothers.”

The two boys returned her greeting as she joined our circle.

“This is a rather informal breakfast, isn’t it?” She asked us.

“Um… Yeah,” Spencer said.

“That’s tends to happen when a child brings a plate of toast and marmalade into a foyer,” Ray added.

“Is there not a breakfast ready elsewhere?” Elisa asked.

“Probably, but I was kind of enjoying this quiet sit down in the foyer,” Ray said.

“No harm in sitting a while longer. Maybe the rain will even subside for a few hours,” Spencer said.

“I doubt it,” I said. “The rain hardly ever goes away until summer time.”

“So you’re saying there’s a chance?” Spencer asked.

“When hell freezes over, you dote,” Ray replied, laughing.

“Still sounds like a chance to me,” Spencer said.

Once the plate of toast was empty, we all sat in silence for a few moments. “So do we get more toast or do we actually get breakfast from the dining room?” Ray asked.

“Come now, no need to be total slobs. We’ll go to the dining room. I’m certain more is ready by now.” Elisa stood up, and walked up the stairs and into a hallway. The rest of us watched her. A moment later, she peeked her head around the corner. “I don’t know where I’m going,” She called down.

I laughed, stood up, and called her back. “The dining room isn’t up there.”

I guided the three of them to the dining room. Once there, we found that the table had been completely set and was ready for us to eat. Jerry stepped in with a platter of glasses and a pitcher of orange juice.

He turned as we all walked in. “Ah, so you all decided to finally stop eating in the foyer.”

“Yeah,” I replied. “We didn’t want your hard work this morning to go to waste!” I chirped.

“Well, I appreciate that. You should teach your father those manners.” Jerry laughed. So did everyone else. I still wasn’t totally sure what was funny, but I laughed anyway.

“Speaking of which, has anyone seen Richard? Or Pop, for that matter,” Ray asked.

“I haven’t,” said Jerry.

“I haven’t, either,” said Elisa.

“I haven’t,” I said.

“I suppose we’ll just start without them,” Ray said.

With that, we sat and had breakfast, just us children. It was fun and ‘boisterous,’ a word I’m certain Elisa would have used.


Later in the day, Elisa and I were sitting in my room and reading books. I showed Elisa one of my favorites, and she picked out a book for me at random.

“So why exactly was Dorothy taken away by a tornado?” Elisa asked me. I put a bookmark in my book.

“So that she could be taken to the land of Oz.”

“But where is the land of Oz?” she asked.

“Well, it isn’t really in our world. Oz is a magical place.”

“So why is Dorothy there, but not anyone else?”

“Dorothy was the only one out when the tornado picked her up.”

“Oh. I guess that part makes sense. American books are weird.”

“You haven’t even read it all!” I proclaimed.

Elisa giggled. “Still weird.”

I laughed with her. “All books are weird then.”

Elisa laughed louder, and so did I, before we were suddenly silenced by the calamitous crash of a slammed door.

For a moment, it was deadly quiet.. Elisa stared intently at my door. Quickly, the patter of rain was unbearably loud on my window. The dim lighting of the room felt more apparent and oppressive than before. Elisa eyes were shaking, if I could believe my own eyes. The freckles on her face appeared to shrink. I could hear the sounds of her breaths through the rain, and then I could suddenly hear mine just as clearly.

I couldn’t bear it. “Elisa, what do you think it is?”

Elisa shook her head. “It was- it was probably nothing. Don’t worry.”

I was worried, though. Elisa was so scared for a few moments. There was something she knew that I didn’t, and I couldn’t stand it.

“I’m going to go investigate,” I told her.

“You really shouldn’t. It was probably just an accident.”

Ignoring Elisa, I hopped off of my bed and toward my door. “I’ll be back, Elisa.”

“Wait!” She called after me, but I had already gone into the hallway. Unfortunately, the hallway was still too quiet. Or maybe it was always this quiet, but right then it was a specific kind of quiet.

I didn’t know where the door slam came from, so I started to just walk down the hallway and figure it out later.

After I had gotten to the opposite side of the house, I heard Greg shouting in a room. “It doesn’t matter, damn it! This is my job, not yours! I asked for hospitality for a week, one week! And this is how you act! I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“You are actively communicating with our enemies!” Dad shouted back. The shouts were loud enough to hear through the wall, but not quite loud enough to echo through the house.

“I’m not communicating with enemies! I’m communicating with politicians who want this war ended just as badly as I do!”

“They’re lying! You might as well be talking to Hitler and taking bribes from the bastard!”

“They are not Hitler! Good god, man, listen to yourself! Are you going to just say that anyone who is living in a opposing country is under Hitler’s thumb? There are still people in Germany right now who disagree with the Nazi party!”

“The poor in Germany are not the same rich elitists you know in Japan!”

You’re a rich elitist here in Britain! What, just because you don’t live in Japan or Germany you’re suddenly the most correct? Have you ever heard of ambiguity?”

“Ambiguity has nothing to do with your communications with the enemy!”

“What, so does that make Britain the enemy now? They are the ones ordering me to communicate with Japan!”

Dad didn’t respond right away. I then heard Greg say something much quieter. Dad also said something quietly. Then, I barely heard Greg say one word: “Fine.”

I heard Greg start walking toward the door, and I quickly dived to the wall. Greg broke through the door, and began tearing down the hall. I watched as he swiftly moved away. Then, he turned a corner and was gone from my sight. I took a peek into the room he was in, and saw Dad sitting in a chair with his head in his hands. I didn’t understand their argument.

I knew I couldn’t risk being seen by Dad, so I walked around the house the other way. I passed through the halls, through the entrance room, and through some more halls before returning to my room.

Once inside, I noticed Elisa wasn’t there. I threw the covers off of my bed, to see if she was hiding there, but I found nothing. I turned around, and saw that Elisa’s bags were still in my room. I sighed in relief.

I hopped onto my bed, and looked at where Elisa left off in her book. However, when I opened the book, the bookmark fell out of the cover, onto my bed. I let out a huff, and put the bookmark back.

I sat in my room for another few minutes, waiting for Elisa to return. She didn’t.

“Maybe she went for lunch,” I told myself. Convinced, I went into the hallway and walked to the dining room again. Spencer and Ray were eating, but Elisa wasn’t there.

“Have either of you seen Elisa?” I asked them. They both turned to me and shook their heads.

“She came by earlier looking for you,” Spencer said.

“Where did she go?”

“Somewhere, I’m certain. Here, she’ll likely come back. Just have lunch with us.” Spencer motioned to the food on the table, and I felt obligated to sit.

“Don’t stress about us too much, Claire. We aren’t here for too long, you know,” Ray said. Spencer nodded. “Rather, just enjoy spending time with us while we’re here, instead of getting sad about us having to leave eventually. We tend to move around a lot, so that’s how we stay happy.”

“And you haven’t thought to question it?”

Elisa. I turned around to see her. She was staring intently into the dining room. “Have the two of you always just been so accepting of having to leave everything behind for months at a time, just to return home long enough to get attached again, only to have to abandon it again? Are you two telling me that you don’t think twice about what it means to live like this? You’re both doomed to live like Pop does, because that’s all that you’ve known. We don’t have a home. We have nowhere to stay. You just sit and let it happen?”

Ray rubbed his temples. Spencer spoke, “Elisa, it isn’t that bad. This is some people’s dream-”

“Well it isn’t mine!” Elisa shouted. The echo of her voice rippled through the home. That silence from a short while before had suddenly returned.

Elisa was panting. Her fists were clenched, and she was shaking. Her eyes looked moist. I slid out of my chair, and walked toward her. I took only two steps before Spencer spoke again.

“Elisa, this is how things are. You’ve known it for at least fourteen years. It’s not that bad.”

Elisa shook her head. “Of course you don’t understand.”

I gasped. Suddenly, Greg was behind her. Elisa turned to leave, and almost bumped into him.

“Elisa. Is this really what you think?”

Elisa’s palms were open and trembling at her sides. Then, she curled her fingers back into her palm. “Yes, Pop. That is exactly what I think. I have been dragged into a life of never knowing comfort, and this isn’t my choice. I hate it.”

Greg sighed. “You know, I’ve worked hard to keep you fed since your mother died. It’s incredibly unfair of you to accuse me of such things. Get out of my sight.” Greg walked into the dining room, and took the seat that I previously had been sitting in. I took a couple of plates off of the table, and followed Elisa out of the dining room

Outside, I found Jerry again. “Afternoon, Claire.”

“Afternoon, Jerry,” I briskly said, looking past him and keeping my eyes on Elisa.

“Let me help you with those,” He said. I handed him the plates. “Where to?”

“We’re following Elisa.” I started moving to follow her.

“Very well,” Jerry said, and he followed me too.

“Today has been a rather restless day, Claire. I hope you’re doing fine,” Jerry said as we walked.

“So do I,” I replied.

Jerry chuckled. “Witty. You seem to really like Elisa.”

“Yes,” I said.

“What do you intend to do when she leaves at the end of the week?” I don’t think Jerry was trying to be rude, but I didn’t appreciate how he was asking his questions.

“I don’t know, okay? I’ll figure it out when the time comes, okay?”

“Hmm. You are passionate, Claire. I’m glad to see it. Perhaps…”

“Perhaps what?” I demanded, my eyes still trained on Elisa.

“I was just thinking out loud. Ignore me.”

I openly took his invitation, and stopped listening as we moved down the hall. Eventually, Elisa entered my room. I followed her in, with Jerry in tow.

“Elisa,” I said. I didn’t say anything else. I was shocked to see her simply standing in place, still shaking in rage. Jerry set the plates down on the floor by the door, and then left.

“Elisa,” I said again.

Elisa placed her hands over her face, shook her head, then moved her hands to the side of her face. I shut the door behind me. “Elisa.”

“Claire. I don’t know what the fuck to do.”

I stood still. “Neither do I.”

Elisa stepped backward, until her back hit the wall. She slid down the wall until she was sitting, then started sobbing.

“Elisa- I-” I stepped towards her. I sighed, and sat next to her. I put my arm around her, and drew her closer to me. She accepted, and cried into my shoulder. I wrapped my other arm around her.

“Elisa. I won’t let them take you away.” I felt my own eyes getting moist. “Elisa. I love you.” I shook my head, but I still started crying. Arm in arm, Elisa and I shared our tears.

“What the fuck do we do?” She asked between ragged breaths. I shook my head against hers. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have any answers. I was only ten.

“Claire,” Elisa sniffed, “I’m going to miss you.”

“Don’t say that,” I replied, my face still buried in her hair. “Don’t say that.”


I woke up a few hours later, with no one near me. The moment I found Elisa gone again I panicked. I leapt up from where I was. Of the two plates, one was missing. I burst through my door, and ran down the halls. I can’t lose Elisa. I can’t lose Elisa.

My footsteps echoed until I had suddenly entered the grand entrance. Standing at the top of the stairs, I saw Dad standing alone.

“Dad!” I shouted. “Where is everyone?”

Without turning to look at me, he answered. “I sent them away. Greg and I just couldn’t see eye to eye. It’s a shame. I haven’t seen him in years.”

I felt tears well up in my eyes. I rubbed them, hoping to not cry. “What about everyone else?”

Dad sighed. “I couldn’t really send Greg away without his children. They went with him.”

I shook my head, and rubbed my eyes more. Yet, I couldn’t really stop myself from crying. I ran back into the hallway.

“Claire, wait!” Dad called to me. I didn’t respond.

I kept running to my room, as fast as I could. I charged through the door, and leapt onto my bed. I curled the blankets near my body, and cried into them. At some point, I looked up and saw Elisa’s bags still sitting in my room.

“She- She left everything…”

I sobbed. I had only known her for a couple of days, but I felt like I had moved on as a person so well.

Then, the voice of a girl broke the sounds of my cries. “Well now. What are you crying for?” I looked up.


I soared off the bed and into her arms. She spun me in a circle.

“I thought you left with your pop and brothers?” I sniffled, and wiped my eyes on my arm.

“Well, I was supposed to. But your dad offered me a position here, as something of a nanny for you. He’s making a contract for me, and he’ll have it ready at some point.”

I pressed my face into her shoulder. “Elisa…”

“I think good things are going to happen, Claire. I really do.”

A Promise

875 words. Two friends made a promise to each other- one that neither of them can keep

There were once two very close friends: Adah and Leah. Adah and Leah loved each other very much, and couldn’t bear the idea of losing one another. So, they both made the promise to each that if one of them were to ever die, they would tell the other what lays beyond.

Unfortunately, Adah was struck dead in a brutal car accident one summer afternoon. Leah heard the news, and was heartbroken. However, Leah knew her friend would return to her soon to tell her what lays beyond death, and assure her that they’d reunite.

Adah did find what lay beyond, too. When she awoke again after the accident, she found herself in a glowing land filled with peace. She was greeted by a comforting voice. Despite it not having a form, she could feel it holding her and making her comfortable.

“So this is what lays beyond,” Adah said. “I like it.”

The voice laughed in pure joy. “I am glad you find it comfortable, child,” it said.

Adah looked around, trying to find a way back to Earth. She did not find one. “Voice,” she asked, “How am I supposed to go back to Earth?”

The voice sighed. “Adah, you are not meant to return to Earth. Your body has perished, and now your soul is moving on. This is way things are, and the way they have always been.” Adah panicked at hearing that. “But Leah!” She begged.

The voice cocked its head- can voices do that? “Adah, what about Leah?” the voice asked. Adah looked down, as if hoping to avoid the gaze of the voice- can voices have eyes? “I t-told her,” Adah stutter, “I PROMISED her that I would tell her what lays beyond death!”

The voice considered what Adah was saying. “Well,” it began, “you can return to Earth. But if you do, you will not be allowed to come back here. You will be trapped there forever, and you will have to watch as Leah eventually dies and comes here herself- without you.” Adah thought about this carefully. The voice spoke to comfort her. “Leah will not be alone forever. She will come to new friends on Earth, and she will eventually be here to reunite with you, too.”

Adah nodded. “Leah won’t be alone without me forever. And she’ll be here too.”

Adah looked up, as if facing the voice. “Okay. I’ll come with you. I’m sure she’d rather I be happy here with you than alone on Earth after telling her what lays beyond. And so Adah died and went to what lays beyond, finding peace despite her short time on Earth…

Leah waited for months for Adah to return to her and tell her what lay beyond.

Leah went to Adah’s funeral, and felt despair. However, she reminded herself that Adah would come back to her soon and tell her what lay beyond, and remind her that she’d eventually be reunited with her friend. She cried, but she cried out of happiness for that knowledge. So she waited for Adah, every day. She would stay silent as much as she possibly could, in case Adah’s voice was quiet and Leah needed to hear her whispering in her ear. She was quiet, and waited for day after day, week after week, and month after month for her friend to speak.

Leah never heard Adah’s voice. Despite all of her waiting in silence, she never once heard Adah tell her about what lay beyond. Leah became more and more angry and bitter, day after day, week after week, month after month. Her friend never told her what lay beyond death. Leah became bitter. She was angry because there was nothing beyond death. Her friend died, and never came back to tell Leah what lay beyond death. Eventually, Leah would die too, and she would never reunite with her friend in whatever lay beyond death. Leah was lonely. Leah hated her loneliness, and hated finally knowing the truth. Leah knew she would die and be alone, and she hated that. She hated it hated it hated it hated it.

Eventually, however, she learned to live again and made a new friend, Maya.

Maya and Leah loved each other very much, and couldn’t bear the idea of losing one another. Maya asked Leah that if she were to ever die, that she’d come back and tell her what lay beyond, and that Maya would do the same too.

Leah felt tears well up in her eyes. “Maya, there’s nothing beyond death,” she said. “We’ll be friends with each other but only for as long as one of us lives. If I die, I can’t promise you that I’ll tell you what lay beyond. But if I ever die, please don’t be sad for me. Please go make a new friend and live.”

So Maya and Leah promised each other that if one of them died, they wouldn’t tell each other what lay beyond- for there was nothing. Instead, they promised each other that if one of them died, the other would not be sad and would keep living her life.

Leah hated knowing the truth, but she was glad she had finally found someone to share it with.


244 words. A microfiction about two friends sitting by a river

We were sitting next to the river. The water was quietly rushing past. A light breeze caused the nearby trees to rustle. I let my bare feet soak in the water. My friend was throwing stones into the river, trying to make them skip.

“Hey, look, that one actually managed a little bounce! I saw it!” I encouraged.

“Yeah, just a little bit. There has to be something with my angle; I used to be really good at this.”

“I remember. It’s been years.”

We were both quiet for a short while. My friend threw a couple more stones into water, and none of them bounced off.

“Forget about it, I don’t care if they skip anymore. I’m done.” After saying that, my friend came and sat next to me. My friend’s feet weren’t put into the water.

“How’s your mom doing?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her in a couple months. I thought she might swing by for my birthday, but no luck.” My friend picked up another stone and tossed it into the water.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t be,” My friend replied. “It isn’t your fault. At least you care enough to ask.”

I looked down at the river and sighed.

“Hey,” My friend said. “Chin up.” My friend put his hand underneath my chin and lifted my face up. I turned my head to look at my friend. “After all, you and I are still here, right?”

Take Note

262 words. Someone found a note on their bus ride home. Does it mean anything?

I hopped onto the bus, paid my fare, and walked to the back to sit down. On the way over, however, I saw a note. There was a small, pink square left on a seat. It was left in a somewhat standing position, but it definitely looked like it was supposed to catch someone’s attention. The bus was empty besides me.

I picked up the note. On the side that was facing me was a drawing of a crown. It had three tall points, and three small circles under each point. The tallest, middle point also had a taller circle beneath it. Above each point was a small line, that almost made the little crown doodle look like it was shimmering.

I sat down where the paper was. I flipped it over to look at what it said on the opposite side.

“Sometimes we must sacrifice something good for something better or best.”

I chuckled to myself. They added two words, and made the phrase sound kind of awkward. I flipped it back over and though about the quote some more.

Do we really need to sacrifice things to get better things? Or are the things that we think of as good sometimes actually not, and we don’t know that at the time? Maybe the note is telling me to let my comfort go for the chance and something even better.Maybe someone was just waxing poetic and hoped it would make a difference in someone’s life.

Either way, I slipped the note into my pocket and took it home with me.


779 words It’s important to take care of your pets, and okay to worry about them

I stepped to my front door. It had been a long day at work, and I just needed a break. I figured that I could just sit around and nap for a while. I think that I earned it, considering how rude my manager is.

I took out my keys, and unlocked my door. It slid open, my key glided out of the lock. “Doodles!” I yelled for my cat. I waited for a second. How odd. Normally he’s right at my feet the moment I open the door.

I began to walk around and look for him. “Doodles?” He wasn’t anywhere to be seen. “Doooooodles!” I heard a faint meow at that, coming from my room. “Doodles!” I was concerned at this point.

I walked into my open door frame. I looked down. Doodles was just lying there, breathing harshly. A pile of vomit lay near him. “Oh god, Doodles, what’s going on?” I panicked a bit. Doodles had never actually been sick like this before. I picked him up, and wrapped him in a blanket. I needed to get him to the vet’s.

I carried him away and put him in my car’s passenger seat. “It’s okay, buddy, I’ll get you better in no time.” Do veterinary clinics even have a pet emergency room?

Doodles mewed faintly. This looked bad.

I started to speed. I only hoped there weren’t any cops waiting to ticket me.

I continued driving to the clinic. I had him caught up on all of his vaccines, why is he so sick? I braked at a stop light, eager to continue. Maybe he just bit a bad bird or something while he was outside? The light turned green, and I pounded the gas. What if he caught avian flu or something? Can cats even catch diseases like that? I turned right into the parking lot, and parked as close to building as possible.

I hopped out of my car and ran to the other side to get Doodles out. I picked him up, to which he mewed again. I rushed inside the clinic. “Hello Miss, would you like some help?” I sighed in relief, and handed the man Doodles.

“Yes. I came home from work to see Doodles on the floor of my room next to a pile of vomit. I don’t know what’s wrong, but I think he needs attention right now!”

The aid smiled. “Of course ma’am. We’ll get Doodles attention right away,” he handed Doodles to another aid, “In the meantime, I’ll need to you to fill out these forms.” He handed me a clipboard. I took it, and thanked him.

I filled out the papers as quickly as I could. Name, Address, pet’s name, medical problem, insurance, the works. I had basically memorised all of this, since I took doodles in at least once every three months. I took the form up to the attendant. Then I waited.

I looked at the clock. It only took me a couple minutes to fill out the form. I had only been here for about ten minutes. I doubted that they would have examined him that quickly. I tapped my toes. Who knew how long it would be until they called me in? I had never had an emergency like this before. I looked at the clock again. Only a minute had passed. I leaned forward and put my head in my hands.

I tapped my fingers. I tried to avoid thinking about what could be wrong with Doodles. Instead, I thought about my three day weekend and all of the naps I would be taking. Yet, Doodles usually sleeps on my bed with me, and my thoughts fell to him anyway.

“Sophie?” Oh thank god. I stood up and walked over to the same aid who greeted me. “Right this way.”

He led me to my usual doctor’s office. I wouldn’t have guessed he was on emergency duty. The aid opened the door and let me in.

“Sophie, good to see you are well,” Doctor Rhodes greeted me. I got straight to the point, “How’s Doodles?”

He turned to my cat. “He’ll be fine by tomorrow. He just caught a rough bug that’s been going around the neighborhood. Just keep him inside for a couple weeks, and put him next to food and water for tonight.”

I smiled and laughed. “Thank you so much, doctor. I was so concerned that something really bad was going on” He laughed, too. “Just make sure you don’t speed on the way home.”

I wrapped Doodles back up, thanked the doctor once again, and brought Doodles home. “I’m so glad you’re going to be okay.”

A Wintertime Tale of Asexuality

936 words. During a wintertime festival celebrating snowfall, Ash has to explain asexuality to ver mom.

I was walking down the cold winter street with my mom. We were at some sort of winter festival thing, where people got together to celebrate the snowfall, and subsequently the runoff that would supply us with water during the summer. I had only heard about it this year.

The festival always took place on the 21st of December, the winter solstice, every year. It didn’t matter if it had actually snowed or not, apparently, because this year there wasn’t any snow yet. Well, there was a bit on the mountains, but not any down here.

The festival took up about two blocks of the city, and the roads were filled with small vendors selling all sorts of things, as well as a few street musicians. They were mostly playing Christmas songs, which I found quite irksome, but it was nice that there was music anyway. I always liked hearing acoustic musicians, but could never actually find the time to go out and listen to any. I just wish they’d choose some song other than “Let It Snow.”

I saw a cart filled to the brim with books. I stopped and looked at it, while my mom walked ahead without noticing. Picking up one of the books, I noticed it was some schlocky romance between a city girl and a country boy. I put it down and picked up another. This one was a schlocky romance between an alien woman who crash landed on earth and a farm dude. Shaking my head, I grabbed a different book. If you couldn’t bear to guess it was schlocky romance. This one was between two detective girls though. Neat to see some queer representation, I guess.

“Ash, what are you looking at?” Mom shouted at me. I guess she noticed I fell behind.

“Oh, it was just some books. I thought I might find something cool, but it was all romance,” I replied. I put the third book down and walked to catch up with Mom.

“Ah. You sure none of it would interest you?” Mom seemed to be hinting at something. I wasn’t a fan of that.

“No. I’m not really into romance. Or dating.” I picked up the pace a bit, hoping that forcing mom to move faster would distract for long enough to not ask about it.

“Yeah, but those are just stories. They aren’t real or anything.” Turns out my plan didn’t work.

“I know. That doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy them.” I pushed my mom toward a small pizza stand. The smell was rather tantalising. I also figured I should sit down for this conversation.

“I’ll have a slice of margherita,” I told the stall worker. “Anything you want, mom?”

“I’ll have what he’s having,” she replied.

“Ve. What ve’s having,” I corrected. I paid for the pizza slices, gave the worker my name, and then sat down at a small table nearby.

Mom sat down with me. “So who are you attracted to?” she asked.

“I’m not attracted to anyone,” I told her. “I don’t really experience attraction like you do. I’m asexual.”

“Oh. Okay.”

The stall worker called my name and I grabbed our food. I was surprised my mom had let that go so fast. I was sure she was going to keep pressing for my sexual and/or romantic preferences. I don’t really think she knew what the difference between the two was, though.

“So if you were to date, would you rather date boys or girls?” She asked immediately as I handed her the pizza.

“Yup, there it is,” I said. “I’m not going to date, and the answer really doesn’t matter. So please stop asking.”

“I just want to know, that’s all,” she added trying to seem innocent.

I sighed. “Mom, I don’t feel attraction. I’ve literally never felt attracted to anyone to the point where I wanted to date or have sex with anyone. The most that I’ve ever done is conflate thinking someone was cool and maybe a little cute with feelings of attraction when I actually just wanted to be their friend. I ended up making supposedly romantic gestures to these people and pushing them away because of it. I’m not attracted to people.”

“Well, of those people you liked, were more of them boys or girls?” she retorted.

“Jesus, you were sitting on that response, weren’t you? Neither. Well, that and it’s kind of reductive to only include binary genders when I’m nonbinary. I don’t even like being called a boy in the first place. I literally changed my name to escape that kind of gendering.”

“Oh. Right.” Mom took a large bit of her slice of pizza. I think she was biding her time before she said something else. Which I guess I was the one who opened up that opportunity in the first place by buying food. Oh well. I took a bite of my own slice.

“I know you said you’d never get married a few times. I guess it makes sense that that should extend to dating,” Mom said after a few moments of quiet.

“Thanks for realising,” I said.

I was content to sit silently for a while, but Mom seemed to want to keep talking. “I guess I’m just curious.”

“Curiosity is fine,” I told her, “but that implies learning. You were really pushing for boys or girls in your questions. You should have asked a new question instead of reframing your old one.”

“I see.” After that she was okay with just eating and listening to music. A nearby group had started performing Auld Lang Syne.


355 words. A rookie artist goes to the local trainyard to add their graffiti to the collection

Every step I took left a crunch as I passed over rocks and leaves. The sounds of my footsteps were accompanied by the sounds of birds singing in the distance. Overhead and on a bridge, I could hear cars driving by occasionally.

Around me were painted trains. By that, I mean trains and train cars that had been painted on. There were covered in graffiti. No one had driven these trains in years, so the art just kept accumulating. It took me a few minutes, but I eventually did find an empty spot on the side of a car. The train itself was a dingy red color, and its paint was chipping away in spots. It was exactly what I wanted.

I dropped my pack onto the ground next me. I kneeled down and started going through it. I took a few cans of spray paint out of the bag and put them down. After I had the colors that I wanted, I stood up and dusted my hands off on my pants. I picked up a black can, shook it up, and sprayed it onto the train car.

After a while, a dark black oval sat on top of the rusty red. I tossed the black can onto the ground, and reached down to grab a different color.

I might’ve been there for hours, just spray painting this train. I had emptied at least two of the cans that I had brought, including the black one I used for the background. After I was done making my art, I slid backward and admired my work. It was better than I had ever imagined putting onto a train car.

I took the remaining paint cans, the ones that weren’t empty, and put them back into my bag. I had left my mark in the trainyard, and that’s all I had wanted to do.

As I left, I could still admire the art around me. I know that graffiti is supposed to be a crime, but how can anyone hate something so wonderful?