Category Archives: SHORT STORIES

The Pain Begins In The Right Arm

By David Duenas

The pain begins in the right arm. It’s probably there for no reason. And even more likely, just a figment of his imagination. All things considered, it is as real as anything else. And, to be specific, it starts at his wrist. He thinks to himself that perhaps it has something to do with his pulse, which would imply that there is a problem with his artery, and thus his heart. If this is the case, he is dying.  He is sure of this by the time she arrives at the words he knew were coming.

The funny thing is that he hadn’t really heard a thing she had said at all. He looked up and saw that there were no stars on account of the clouds that had moved in so quickly, blown in by the Santa Ana winds. She’s gone but the feeling isn’t. And the feeling isn’t heartbreak. He’s convinced it’s more of a heart attack.

If the blood isn’t getting through, then more beer will help. He comes to this conclusion having heard once that alcohol thins the blood. In his mind he sees that there is a thick vein connected to his physical heart. He doesn’t know a thing about anatomy, but this vein must be important. And standing in the way of the blood that should be pumping blood through his heart, and then the rest of his body is a little man. He imagines that this little man is morbidly obese, bearing similar but not identical characteristics of himself.  By the third beer, the heart attack begins to subside. And by the glory of God, he will be able to see the night through.

He’s not drunk, but certainly not sober when he decides to drive to the bar. The bar is in Pomona, and that really isn’t too far if he’s careful and sticks to the side streets. At the bar he orders another. It’s the waitress he had hoped would be working the shift. In the back room a band is playing, but no one seems to be paying attention. He thinks about this and looks around. In fact, besides himself at the bar, there are only a handful of clientele, none of which, besides the two girls who are obviously romantically involved with the shitty folk musicians, give a damn about the music. At the end of the song, he applauds.

“Applauding from the bar, huh?”

“Sure,” he says. “It’s better than nothing. And I know what it’s like to be the opening act.”

“Are you playing tonight?” she asks.

“No. And I don’t think I would if I could get the gig.”

“Why is that?”

“Because all the interesting people are either drinking at the bar or serving them drinks.”

That had shut her up for a while. So she moves up and down and across the bar, which appears to be made of good wood if you knew anything about it. Normally they would share minor witticisms, but this was the first time he was so bold. The heart attack and the drinking had certainly done the trick.

And isn’t she beautiful. He could never quite make out her chest tattoo but this only excited him more. She never seemed to mind her hair as she served her drinks.  She was a dirty blond with green eyes. And today she’s wearing a man’s wife beater. It’s a bit big on her but looks good as it appears to flow with every turn she makes, from bar to liquor, from liquor to beer and then bar again. As the crowd thickens, so does his inebriation.

“Another,” he says. “The same.”

She hasn’t yet responded to his remark, but serves him his drinks. After the fourth drink he puts down two dollars beside his drink, which is his customary tip, despite the amount of drinks he has been served, and steps out for a smoke. Half way through the cigarette, and just as the rush at the bar ends, she finally works up the courage to give her number to a complete stranger. Something she has never done before. And just as she places it beside his customary two-dollar tip and his half-drunk beer, he decides that it was foolish to have been so bold, and what was more foolish was thinking he ever had a chance.

An hour passes before she finally allows an impatient patron to take his seat at the bar, where the two dollars and the number hastily written down on the back of a business card and the beer still remained. Finally, she empties the beer, pockets the two dollars and throws the number away. At the liquor store, no longer in Pomona, he purchases a six pack, considering it a preventative measure against  what he was sure are early signs of heart disease.

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Avoidance

By Karli Massie

Within the time Mike spent kneeling before the stone that depicted his mother’s name, a layer of clouds had slowly crept their way into the now muddled landscape. Mike focused on their formless shapes. He liked it this way, because with the sunlight hidden, he didn’t have to feel bad for his melancholic state. The wind kicked up and he felt a few drops of rain on his face. It would soon be time for him to go. Except that time finally wasn’t an issue for him. He could stare and admire and breathe as long as he wanted. No one would interrupt him. He thought about how he used to think this feeling would be freeing. How he used to believe that remaining detached meant less responsibility, and therefore an irrevocable sense of freedom.

The morning his father left them, his mother was scrubbing the cream-colored tiles that comprised the kitchen counter. Mike remembered watching her meticulously shift from one tile to the next, staring into their centers. She wanted each one completely cleansed, and she wanted to be the one that did it. And so, feeling useless and tired, Mike sat in the tall wicker chair that stood between the counter and the family room. His father’s dim form crowded the doorway as light squeezed itself in between the doorframe and his oversized limbs. His silhouette indicated he was holding two bags, one in each hand. Mike remembered wanting to change his mind, thinking that maybe one more unreciprocated hug would finally yield his father’s want to become a part of the family. But his father left without a word, and Michael Gene Forester became Michael Gene Walker.

This visit to his mother’s gravestone would be his first and his last. He never saw much reason in the act of visiting a grave more than once. He thought it was some sick ritual people performed, some pointless form of self-punishment. He knew she wouldn’t mind. She always understood his reasons, or pretended to for his sake. Mike stood up and brushed the earth from his jeans. The thought of his mother buried beneath him struck a particularly sensitive chord, a chord that vibrated and twitched with agitation. He left the crumpled flowers next to the gravestone. He left her there, trapped under the earth, and trailed off to continue his life.

The following week, the week after his mother had passed, Mike was back at work. He was a web developer for a prominent company in Seattle. He was always the first to come in and the last to leave, mostly because codes gave him an immense amount of comfort. There was something so perfectly logical in the way each specific code he entered, with its figures and symbols, transformed into exactly what he expected it to. After three years he scarcely made any mistakes, so he rarely had to deal with the surprise and frustration that comes with an inaccurately entered code. Order, in all of its trite perfection, was what Mike thrived on day after day. And it was that tantalizing order that drew him back to the office after he buried his mother.

The Wednesday of that week, Mike came into the office at eight. He settled into his desk and switched the monitor on. Taking a deep, satisfying breath he began working on his latest project, which was to create a site for a new high-class men’s magazine. He stole it from Gary, an unfortunate-looking colleague who spent more time playing World of Warcraft than actually working. Mike found him particularly pathetic and therefore took no issue with habitually bullying him into giving up all the good projects. He was feeling a bit playful today, so he hacked into Gary’s computer and wiped his World of Warcraft account clean. The last time he did this Gary fainted. This time, Mike was hoping for a waterworks show or at least a pathetic display of his upchuck reflex.

He had nearly finished sabotaging Gary’s account when other employees began to filter in. Lisa, the slightly attractive, slightly desperate secretary approached him.

“Hey Mike…” She softly said, with an air of uncertainty.
“Hey Lisa.” Sarcasm seeped through his tone.
“Um…are you planning on staying for the staff party today?”
Mike turned towards Lisa, unleashing a torturous glare. “What do you think.” His words dripped with disdain.

“Well, I kind of thought,” Lisa lowered her gaze as she said this, glancing around the room at others who had been intently listening to their conversation. She looked up and began again. “Lance says he wants everyone to stay, and we will be getting paid for it, and also, well, also Emma wants to talk to you.” She quickly turned on her heels and rushed off, not waiting to hear his response.

Four weeks before his mother died of lymphoma, Mike was particularly withdrawn at work. Her cancer was now stage four, and the doctors had given her two months to live. Since his optimism had left with his father, Mike had no issues accepting her death, but he was still a bit shaken up. This made him continuously uncomfortable, so he decided to take the new secretary for a spin to keep his mind off things. He noticed her the day she was hired: brunette, rail thin, legs for days. Just what he liked. He remembered thinking she must have been sent from the web developing gods. They had sensed his current lack of focus, and knew just what to do to get the job done. And boy, did he get the job done. On Monday he churned out three separate projects all before lunchtime, when he and Emma snuck up to the third floor to try out a storage closet they had just discovered. Tuesday and Wednesday were mostly the same, with only one exception, they set out to christen both bathrooms on the fifth floor.

Mike continued to sleep with Emma, the girl who would later abort his child, up until his mother’s funeral. Those three weeks did nothing in the way of heeling him, but they did distract him. And so, the day of his mother’s death, he solidified Emma’s role as his disposable crutch. Just before lunchtime she briskly passed by his desk, threw a covert nod in his direction and left the office through the main entrance. He remembered watching her as she left, her right leg teasing him as it slipped behind the door and out of sight. He never followed her that day, and she never asked why. He knew she would catch on, knew that she would realize he had gotten exactly what he needed from her – and she did.

Thirty minutes into the staff party, Gary finally realized the death of his WoW account. Mike was huddled in front of his monitor, thinking of the many ways he could blow off Emma while still allowing the prospect of future storage room sex when he heard someone ask Gary if he was okay. Here we go, Mike thought, a wide grin spreading across his face as he leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. At that moment a figure intercepted his view, standing inches from his face, hands on hips. His eyes journeyed up the sleek legs he had once caressed on a daily basis, and settled on Emma’s disapproving expression.

“Can I speak with you in the hallway.” Her tone didn’t infer a question, and conveniently Mike wasn’t ready to give any answers, so he quietly followed her down the hall.

She stopped abruptly in front of the conference room and his thoughts quickly trailed off. He imagined her strewn across the smooth lacquered wood of the conference table, happily submitting to his advances. And as he enjoyed her limb by limb, taking pleasure in her excitement, he would momentarily forget that he had no excitement of his own.

“Mike…” He loved the way she pronounced his name, breathy and concerned. “I need to tell you something.” She lifted her right hand to one of the buttons on his shirt, fingering the edges and twisting it around. It was as if she craved contact but was too afraid to commit, so she went halfway, settling on an extraneous item attached to his clothes.

As she fidgeted with his button, he admired the way a few strands of hair fell across her face, and thought about how he had missed her. Never before had he become attached in such an unpredictable way. He surprised even himself with these sudden, simple urges to touch her face and feel her pressed against him. But she had something to say to him, so he kept his arms firmly crossed against his chest.

“I wasn’t going to say anything at all, because I know this is the last thing you want to be dealing with.” She looked up at him, tears threatening to cascade down her cheeks at the slightest disruption. “Mike I was pregnant.”

He didn’t miss a beat, and firmly rooted his feet to the ground as he asked her why she was using the past tense. She explained to him the decision she made about their child, one that she supposedly regretted now. But he had left the hallway soon after she began her explanation.

Emma wasn’t at work the following week, or any week after that one. Mike never asked about her, or tried to figure out where she had gone. He needed to be unconcerned. He invested his time in developing websites and would soon become co-president of the company. Sometimes, when he had had too much too drink or was up late working on a project at the office, he thought about her. But he stifled these thoughts as soon as they surfaced, and continued with his work.

 

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Dennis

By Will Schmidt

I don’t know much about Dennis. I tried addressing him as ‘Denny’ one time and he threatened to cut off my big toe. I like my big toe. So I know I should call him Dennis. But things tend to get real foggy when I try to recall the majority of conversations we’ve had, and the only thing I can really be certain of – besides the whole ‘Dennis’ ‘Denny’ issue – is when we first met.

“You just put the blotter on your tongue.” My eyes burned with excitement. But I can’t see them, so I don’t know for sure. I could feel them though. “Just like – naaaahhhh.” I emphasized the tongue-stick-out-noise. For dramatic effect, always for dramatic effect. That’s what Brus always tells me at least, but he wasn’t around right then. Natalie chuckled, Graham looked kind of apprehensive. He kept swiping his left palm against the blue denim on his right leg. “Just go for it, you really can’t have a bad time.” I smiled. Reassurance, sometimes that’s all people need to jump off the cliff of insanity.

“Bottoms up.”Tthe pair kissed, then stuck their blots on each other’s tongues.

“Aw, so cute you two.” I fluttered my eyelashes for, you bet, dramatic effect. Damn, Brus would have been proud. “Let’s roll one up while we wait.” My hands instinctively crawled to the fresh ounce and zig zags. “Personals!” Cheers with my hands up.

“I swallowed mine.” Her eyes went wide.

“Well, how long has it been?”

“Bout five minutes.” Graham drawled while licking his doobie.

“Nah, you’re cool Nads, don’t  sweat it, buuuudd-eeeee.” Pauly Shore, Encino Man status. Once again though, just a bit of reassurance.

Time ticked, time tocked. Lighters clicked, a lot of coughs. After an hour of blowing some serious dro, “It’s going to make things more real…RAW SHIT!” – I was too high maybe – then sun had just hit high noon. The cowboy-duel time of day. The sun rays were pure white, and goddamn warm. Light breeze, too; perfect day. After one-and-one-half hour, things started to get twisted. For Natalie and Graham at least, that is, I knew what to expect. Not to toot my own horn, buuutt, it was my second time.

“My heart feels happy!” Giggle gaggle swiggle swaggle.

“My face hurts from smiling!” Ditto datto bitto batto.

“My brain is Speed Racer’s car!” Fuck the rhyme. So I says, “Give it a bit longer, things will be –”

“Hey, Will, I’m Dennis.” A hand was shoved into my face.

“Things will be what, Will?” Graham wanted the explanation.

“SHH! I’m talking to,” I turned to him, “Dennis was it?”

“Yea, mind if I hang with you guys?”

“Cool by me bruthah.”

Natalie and Graham were too sidetracked by themselves – hands fluttering together – to care at this point. Laughter erupting like volcanoes, eyes flashing wildly, veins bulging on arms. “Oh yea,” thinks I, “it’s settin’ in real nice.”

“So tell me about yourself, Dennis.”

“Nah, let’s go. I’d rather show you instead.” His smirk had a way of reassuring a guy; maybe that’s all I needed.

“Okay,” I smiled, “let’s explore guys!”

The ocean was at our left, for the time, but it always stayed to the west. Even when I put it on my right hand side. Was I turning, or was the topography shifting? Anyways, Dennis was fucking suave, man. A real ladies’ man – primo player. He could strike poses like a goddamned runway model, and I’d be damned if I said his smirk wasn’t rubbing off on me.

Natalie was, well to say elated would be an understatement, but I’ll just say it, excited. Or was it elated?

“Do the – this one – again!” As she acted out my pose.

“Oh yes, one of my favorites!” Head points down to the left, eyes tilt up and right. Mouth purses, cranks up left – no, no, YES! There it is. Hips push off right, feet a little less than shoulder width. Goddamn it was a good pose.

“Dude,” Graham shoved out between laugh-gasps, “dude, du, duh, dude…”

“Yes, Graham my man?” A quickly banged furrow of the brow.

“YES!” He loved that shit.

All for dramatic effect. Vunderbaugh! I could see the cameras shooting, snapping, surrounding me with flashes: “Let’s keep walking.”

“Oh man!” Dennis stopped us though. “Dude check out that chick, real nice ass. I mean, tight, perky, and look at that sway. Those pants are practically ripping at the seams.”

“Ohmgee, pose for her!” Natalie was on the brink of vomiting from laughter. Or maybe it was the blotter wreaking havoc on her stomach. You really shouldn’t swallow those things.

“Go get her!” Graham…love it. Sometimes all a guy needs is a bit of reassurance. Either way, the dog was off the leash. So I walked over to her. That hair was brown, like melted chocolate. And fuck it smelled like a garden of blooming, um, forget-me-whatever they’re called.

“Hey,” I said real cool-like. She turned! She did the I’ve-never-met-you-before-girl-giggle.

“Hi.” Grey eyes, almost silver. Perhaps that’s why the next word out of my mouth was –

“Sterling.”

“I’m sorry, is that your name?”

Oh no, “Dennis!?”

“Pose dammit! Flaunt your goddamned sexual ferocity!” He was roaring like a lion.

So I looked right into those eyes, sterling silver, like new nickels from the mint. I think I even saw that president dude where her pupils were – should have been. One word – “Boom,” dead silence, then I boomed my pose. She didn’t say anything, but just gave me a firm handshake and walked off. That ass waved for three to four more blocks before blowing me a kiss goodbye forever. I just stared.

“She’ll be back.” Dennis said, then both of us in unison: “They always come back!” Uproarious laughter.

I looked at my wrist but realized I wasn’t wearing a watch. Judging from the sun, it was probably one hour past one o’clock p.m. So, about two hours in. The rest of afternoon continued on similarly. Dennis instigated a breakfast burrito fight, and everybody was laughing. Oh, well except the mom and her young son who got beaned with, well, beans. Dennis high-fived me for that one.

“Fucking Chris Carpenter over here!” Oh yea, Dennis was a huge Cardinals fan.

The mom just walked away. The kid was rather portly. So he ate the beans. Even the ones on the ground. Yuck. But not completely misguided. I mean,

“Dogs do it” Graham threw in.

“Yea they do. Also,” Natalie collected her thoughts: she leveled her hands, in steeple formation, in front of her heart while biting the index finger of Graham’s right hand, “I’m a water person. Like elementally. Babe, your palms are sweaty.”

We started walking to the ocean, west, always west! Damn how did it always manage to do that? My investigation was sidetracked. There was this really neat bush, just oozing plant lust – goo – and succulent pollen. White buds that smelled of honey and far away spices.

“Bro, check it out.” Dennis pointed. Bees. They were flying around the plant. Tens. No. Hundreds. Not quite. Thousands. Yes, thousands. Big ones, like the kind that would kill an infant or small feline.

“Oh, my…” I couldn’t speak. My mouth might as well not have been there. The green was enveloping, the white near blinding. The yellow of the bees shone like neon street lights. Miraculous.

“Fear not, youngling.” The bush was speaking. Dennis and I locked gazes.

“Holy shit, man, fucking talk back!”

“Yes, oh great bush,” hesitation. “You’re not like, God, man, right?”

“Nay, verily I am just a bush. Too long have people feared my resident bees. I beseech thee: lay down your burdens, world-weary traveler, and rest in me for a time. You are one of us.”

As if on cue, the little white buds began swaying in the wind, beckoning, reckoning. I could not reply nor resist. Only a nod sufficed.

“Be with nature.” Dennis gave me what all men sometimes need: reassurance.

I stretched my arms. Head to the sky, my breath was deep, like I was tasting a sweet current in the air nobody have ever noticed before. Step, one. Step, two. The bush held my weight surprising well, and smashing my face into those sexy, lusty, drippy, oozy buds was better than any pussy I’ve ever had. The bees made not one move to harm me, never did they touch me. They rather kissed me, and I began to cry.

“My son, you are home.” The bush sounded like Mufasa, James Earl Jones I think. Before I left I plugged my nose with that scent one last time, and Dennis helped me back to my feet. “Go now, and be. Simply, just be – exist!” And the bush quieted forever. Dennis hugged me.

After, the sun had set and the straight lines stopped bending. And air ducts stopped breathing. I remember sitting in the living room being massaged by shadows.

“Natalie, Graham…” I looked at them. Graham blew a smoke ring. “Ton verdict? S’il vous plait.”

“Yes,” was all they said. I understood perfectly. What I couldn’t understand though, was where Dennis had got to. The two lovers eventually fell asleep in each other, like two furry puppies.

“Dennis?” I whispered. And just before I gave up my search, I heard a whisper in the back of my brain.

“Yeah, bud?” – “You still here?” – “Yeah.”

I looked around, but couldn’t locate the source.

“I’ll always be with you, Will.”

 

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The Brevity Of Life

By Karli Massie

Whitney paused at the stained-glass window inside the dimly lit church, admiring the subtle beauty of it. Worn with time, it depicted the Virgin Mary. Her head hung low and her back formed a graceful arch that led Whitney’s eyes to the bottom of the glass in a smooth sweeping motion. She had never been inside this well-worn church that was situated at the corner of Front Street and Bardwell Road, and had only come here upon a sort of request, a suggestion really. Whitney was in no sense a religious person, she prayed when necessary, but the extent of her relationship with God stopped there.

Three figures waited for her at the archway, which formed a passage to the heart of the church. The sting of the cold wind that had been steadily seeping through the door had now abruptly stopped. Whitney laid a hand on her cheek, lamenting the loss of this element, and her eyes darted towards the closed door. She instantly longed for what was on the other side and felt her body slowly shift towards the door. But paused as a cold hand slid into hers.

“We need you.” Despite Amanda’s icy touch, Whitney felt the warmth and the truth of her words. She felt her body comply and crossed the threshold, her eyes focused on Kristen’s wavy hair. She had no desire to observe her surroundings today.

Whitney’s focus point took a sharp left into the fifth row from the front, and she let her gaze fall to the floor as she settled into the padded bench. It creaked a little as the four girls sat simultaneously. She prepared herself for the start, and coaxed her eyes from the grooves in the wooden pew. Regretting this instantly she focused again on the grooves, but it was too late for that. She had seen them. The little boy was the spitting image of his father, the same jawline and purposeful stare, the same dark brown eyes. And the little girl, she was exquisite. Her Italian roots radiated through an abundance of chocolate brown curls extending from her scalp, which framed a face laden with olive skin. Her wide eyes did not betray her emotions like Whitney’s did now. Their mother sat beside them, her brow riddled with signs of the intense worry she must have been feeling for her children. Like the children she was dressed in black, the only trace of color resonating through her straight brown hair was that of the dainty white pearls on either ear. She was a seemingly put together woman trying desperately not to let anyone know that she had fallen apart. As she watched her professor’s wife struggle to maintain her composure, Whitney thought about how quickly it had all materialized. How at once, life can turn into nothing.

****

One week earlier, Whitney had been sitting in class listening to Professor Wilson explain what he perceived to be the failed ending of Jane Eyre. He had a way with words, so anything he said sounded as though it had come directly from a book on literary theory. Whitney and Kristen were both enrolled in his Gender and Literature class, which took place every Monday and Wednesday. They had discussed and gotten to know this particular professor so well that, at times, they could predict what he might say. He rarely changed the format of the classes, so they knew what to expect, but this is not to say that they felt the lessons to be banal.

At times in life, it becomes apparent that one is in a situation of great benefit, and at these times it is pertinent to pay attention. Whitney and Kristen had acknowledged this in regards to this particular professor. They had discussed his intellect at length, promising each other that they would attend every class and absorb every bit of knowledge he would impart to them.

One Wednesday morning, as Whitney and her fellow students gathered in the classroom where they would undoubtedly talk about Frankenstein, the late Mary Shelley’s Gothic masterpiece, Professor Wilson waltzed into the room and declared that they would be holding class outside today. The air in the room instantly felt lighter, and they all trooped out onto the unconfined sunlit lawn. He spoke of his children often, and today he began the lesson with an anecdote about the fit his ten-year-old son threw in front of a grocery store, all because his mother told him that she absolutely would not buy him another pair of Nikes. During these stories, which tended to sound like he was ruthlessly poking fun at the various and frequent antics of his children, Whitney recognized the adoration and loyalty her professor felt for his family. This was of course the very essence of him, and his students understood what kind of man he was without him ever having to tell them what he valued most.

****

The following Monday, Whitney and Kristen walked to class, happily discussing the weekend’s events. In the midst of late nights and early hangovers they had become hooked on Mad Men, racing through the first three seasons’ worth of DVDs at a rate that would astonish even the most dedicated couch potato.

“I think that may have been the best and most nauseating episode we’ve seen. Seriously though, imagine having your foot run over by a fucking lawn mower,” Whitney said with a disgusted grimace.

“True, but can we talk about how good looking men must have been in the ’60s? Where’s my borderline alcoholic businessman in a suit?” Kristen had a thing for assertive, strong male figures that knew how to dress themselves. Basically, she liked assholes.

“Okay they may be attractive but,” Whitney stopped short. They had become so ensconced in their authoritative male debate that neither one had noticed they had arrived at the door of their classroom. It had been propped open so both girls had only to peer inside to see tears streaming down a fellow student’s distraught face. Whitney’s legs rooted to the ground as an eerie premonition washed over her. She sensed the danger of the situation, and somehow in the midst of feeling like her head had been pulled underwater, she listened to someone tell her that her professor was dead.

Whitney found the wall with her left hand and braced herself against it. Suddenly, she detested the cheap fluorescent lights that were beaming down on her, illuminating the reality of the situation. Everything about this room felt impersonal; the plastic tables engraved with silly anecdotes by tragically bored students and the hideous blue carpet that Whitney had never noticed until now. She wanted out.

****

Someone passed in front of Whitney and lifted her attention from the memory. She had been clasping her hands together so tightly that they were now flecks of red and white. She rapidly curled and then uncurled her fingers trying to get the circulation back, and watched as a lanky male figure sauntered up to the podium. He spoke of her professor and his propensity for inspiring people through simply being. She understood this, and was then annoyed at this quick understanding. She had hoped that maybe her professor would be nothing like the man that she had come to admire. That maybe she had been completely wrong, and really he was just ordinary outside the classroom. But the man at the podium explained otherwise. Professor Wilson was a blazing intellect. He was someone who couldn’t help but be brilliant all the time.

Whitney thought about her own funeral. What would people say about her? She had no idea. But she understood that this eulogy was one that didn’t come around often. She was certain that blazing intellects were few and far between. The eulogy came to a close with the tall man addressing Professor Wilson’s family. Again, Whitney focused on the boy with the strong jaw and the girl with the olive skin. As the man told her professor’s wife to preserve his memory for their children, Whitney saw the strength and courage it took for this woman to struggle with her tears as she nodded in acknowledgement. She clutched her children, and then it was over.

Whitney felt the collective presence of everyone who had attended, and walked with them as they all exited the church. She sighed under the weight of it all, knowing that her life, and the lives of everyone who knew Professor Wilson would be forever changed.

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The One She Wrote for Halloween

By Kaitlin Perry

Your group is approaching the first haunted house at the theme park.
The rules? You can’t touch the frightening characters, and the frightening characters can’t touch you.

As you enter the building, you hear screams and the sound of compressed air escaping from tubes. An insane-asylum patient begins to follow you through the maze as you scream with terror, but you know that you’re safe because he can’t touch you, right? But then he steps in front of you, separating you from your group. You yell your friend’s name as you try to get around the young man that is taking his role a bit too far. Forced to turn back, you realize there is no one behind you. You are the last one in the maze.

Then he grabs your hair,
and pulls you behind the curtain to your left,
exposing the extra costumes on the ground.

You try to yell for help, and thankfully you are able to, but the people walking past laugh, thinking that someone ahead of them is getting “attacked” by a fake zombie or ghost.

But it’s not pretend.

The young man rubs his hands up and down your body. He puts his face up to yours, wiping your tears away. He tells you not to be scared as he quickly ties your hands together with rope. And then he hits you over the head with the handle of a prop sword.

Upon waking, you realize that your hands are tied in a pleading position, and your wrists are burning, bleeding from the tightness of the rope. You look around, and notice that the surrounding space is just wooden walls and wooden floor, like a movie set. You look out of the makeshift window and see a sign that reads “Bates Motel.”

You are on the Psycho set.

You see the Universal Studios tour tram drive by.
You begin hyperventilating.
You remember being face to face with someone who wasn’t supposed to touch you.
You thought you were protected by the words of a contract.

Then he enters, dressed like Norman Bates. He has set up the mother’s corpse in a rocking chair, just like the film. But this corpse is real, and rotting.

He lifts you up by your shoulders and tells you the story of how he transported you to his mother’s home, and explains to you why he is doing this. He says you were the most beautiful girl that had walked through the maze, and he had been waiting to find the perfect girl to reenact one of the most famous scenes in movie history. But your bruised and battered head doesn’t know what scene he is talking about.

And then you realize you can’t walk on your own. Or talk. And he notices your sense of panic and tells you that he injected you with a paralyzing agent, but it should wear off in about two minutes. As tears roll down your flushed cheeks, he starts telling you what you are going to do.

You are going to get in the shower and pretend you are calm, relaxed and completely unaware of what is about to happen. He will then come in with a knife, and stab you. He says it has been his dream to act this out. “This,” he says, “is the scene that made me the man I am today.”

You try to resist being dragged to the bathroom he has set up. You kick, punch, pinch, bite – but really, your body is still.

He sets you down on the tile floor and takes off your clothes, turning his face to the side. He wants your body to be wet, clean and at ease when he sees it for the first time.

You notice that your voice is coming back, and you scream for help, but it comes out as a whisper. He starts to breathe heavily and, eyes closed, carries you into the shower.

Your knees hit the side of the tub.
“Please,” you beg in a hushed whisper.
“You don’t have to beg,” he says through gritted teeth. “The best is yet to come.”

He quickly closes the curtain, and he walks over to a cd player to test the music, which is the unmistakable screech of Norman Bates’ knife splitting through the skin of a blond actress.

Music to be murdered to, as they say.

Skipping backwards to the track before, he explains that you have 53 seconds of silence to clean yourself, and play the role you were born to play. The paralyzed state you were in has warn off, and you turn on the shower, trying to devise a plan of escape, but there are no windows, and Norman is waiting behind the door, counting down the seconds to your inevitable death.

You fall to the porcelain floor.
You lose hope.
His figure is visible through the shower curtain.
The outline of the butcher knife is visible through the shower curtain.
The screeching is audible through the shower curtain.
The shower curtain rips open, and the skin of your thigh rips open, and the skin of your belly rips open, and the skin of your arm rips open.

The point of the knife pierces your spine as he begins to slice you down the middle of your back, and your warm blood coats your left eye and outlines your face, which is pushed down against the porcelain. Your hair has become red. The blade moves in and out, in sync with the music.

You think of your mother, your father, your sister, your brother. You think of your hands, your smile, your hair, your teeth. You see Norman’s face, smiling and sweaty, as he kisses your lips, and you feel the knife move from the left side of your neck to the right.

All is finished, and all is black.

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One Question

By Will Schmidt

“I’ll just be having, uh,” he stopped to think, “Banquet Beers for lunch. I guess.” The fridge was empty, per usual. The only option besides Coors was a bucket of Halloween candy his mom had sent him a few days ago. “Yes, Banquet Beer and Reese’s.” He smiled. “So are you gonna come over for the new episode today?”

“I don’t give a fuck what you’re going to eat, or not eat, for lunch. I don’t care about any goddamned TV either.” Nicole’s voice was harsh on the phone – scratchy, and it quivered. Was she,

“crying? Are you crying?” ‘It’s amazing,’ J.B. thought, ‘how quickly the mood of a conversation can shift. Like a light switch? No, too cliché. More like those times when it’s sunny one moment, and in the blink of an eye – torrential downpour of rain. Yes.’ “Jesus Nikki, what’s up?”

“I talked with Steve earlier.” Christ. Steve. The two had dated, Nicole and Steve that is, for the last two-and-a-half years. Long time. Steve was also a good bud of J.B.; the two had known each other for years. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know what was coming next. “and, St- St-…” her voice bubbled and wubbled. “Steve buh buh buh-roke up with meeeeee!” She carried her ‘e’, she always liked to carry vowels. She would never pronounce his name simply ‘Jay-Bee’. It was always ‘Jaaay-Beeee’ and those eyes would light up like fireworks.

Fuck. This is a pickle J.B. didn’t want to find himself in. Fucking pickles, he fucking hated them. The food and the colloquialism. “Well shit, are you oka-” he couldn’t even finish.

“NO I’M NOT OKAY GODDAMNIT! I need your help” J.B. could see her face on the other end of the phone; those firework eyes snuffed out by overcast skies. His heart strings were being pinged.

“Alright. Just chill, man, and talk with me girl.” J.B. had a soothing, hypnotic voice. “Just breathe, relax. How are you doing?” He couldn’t help but flash a smile.

The next ten minutes passed quickly, but J.B. couldn’t concentrate. Remember that time when Nicole had spent the night? Steve left early for classes, and she had stuck around the house while he was gone. J.B. waltzed downstairs, and the two picked up the threads of an opening conversation quite easily. There was the other time when she saw J.B. on campus. A big smile spread on her face like peanut butter on toast, except he was the one melting. She ran up to him and gave him a big hug shouting, “HEY J.B.!” These encounters and more wracked his mind. His relationship with Nicole had more depth than her relationship with Steve. He knew it. And he was sad for the poor girl, she deserved better.

“Well if you need anything else, you know how to reach me Nikki.”

“Thanks, J, you’re a good guy.” J.B. tossed his phone onto the couch.

His brain was a floodgate blasted open. No water, though. Only questions flowed in droves. There seemed only one of importance that kept resurfacing in the turbid rapids of his synapses:

How do you tell a girl that has dated your best friend for the last 2.5 years that you fell madly in love with her, and that you don’t anticipate yourself falling out anytime soon?

This love, it is a wretched thing to lift a man’s heart so high, only to crush it so nonchalantly. Now it was his turn to cry. He could see no possible answers.

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