I was lost – I was certain then.

I’d refused to believe it at first. And for the next three hours. But after the fifty-millionth turn into an alley I couldn’t avoid no matter how hard I’d tried, it was time to admit the truth.

I was absolutely and irrevocably lost.

I dropped my bag and leaned up against a fairly nondescript brick wall next to me in defeat.

I mean, it was pretty nondescript. Especially considering that I fell right through it. I was stuck on that – how mundane that wall was – because that was something my brain could process.

What it couldn’t process was the lush fairy land that lay inside of it. I felt the cool, dewy moss dampening my pants and shirt. I looked up into a night sky clear of clouds and reigned over by a purple moon. Fireflies danced in the twilight. The air was crisp and floral.

I reached forward to press into the space that once held the wall that brought me here, but it was gone.

I don’t know that I wanted to leave this quiet utopia for the city quite yet, but I wanted to make sure I had a way back. I ran around in circles, once again retracing my path and losing myself but the way I came in was nowhere to be found.

I could have mourned the loss of what was once my life, but I just grabbed my bag and began walking into the life that was to be.

Flake

This house has always echoed. The walls are almost completely bare. We never invested in carpet.

Don’t ask me why my very minimalist and utilitarian father moved us into a Victorian manor. I’ve been trying to answer that question to myself for years.

When there’s nothing to suck up the sound, you hear everything. Every little footstep. Every chuckle, every sob, every heartbeat.

Eventually we all moved out, except for Mom and Dad. Then Mom died from her skin cancer a year ago and Dad refused to leave, even if the house was too big for him.

More chilling that the house reflecting the echoes of all those years, potentially, is how mom’s skin has never really left the house. She was always trying to keep it on, but it flaked off everywhere. Every time I’ve been to visit Dad, I’ve walked out with pieces of my mom caught in the fabric of my clothes, the strands of my hair.

We keep trying to get him to add to the house – pictures of our family, some small decorations. But he wants none of it.

He seems content to surround himself in the echoes of the house, the past, and the floating remains of mom’s dead skin.

Heat

Earlan looked on in horror as the sun spat out its tendrilous rays, thrashing the Alsviðr. It bent, parts of it expanding, parts turning to blackness, parts of it dripping into the liquidy globules they’d remembered seeing gallium make in water back on Earth.

Their number two put a hand on Earlan’s shoulder, trying to pull them away.

“Captain, it’s been hours since it happened. There’s nothing we can do,” Kamya nudged, her dark lips attempting something like sympathy.

“You ever see anything like it?” Earlan managed after a few minutes pause.

“No, and I don’t want to ever again,” their number two shivered.

There was a knot in Earlan’s throat, the culmination of the twisting insides that defied all the laws of physics. They’d never see Pocovus again. The two of them had spent years baiting eachother and joking via communicators. He was Earlan’s closest friend – always separated by too much dark matter. When was the last time they’d even seen each other in person?

Earlan tried to push the thoughts aside. They closed their eyes and immediately regretted it. Forever imprinted, literally burned, into their vision was that sight of the Alsviðr: metal twisting and screaming and dripping and expanding.

Loops

I hate it: the screaming, the wind scraping at your face, the way your insides twist about. How do people ride roller-coasters for fun? I felt sick. Anna laughs like a lunatic at my side, gleefully taking in the sharp twists and turns. There’s some preteens in the seats in front of us, and a kid which I’m sure didn’t actually meet the height requirements behind us with their punk-ass looking dad.

It’s nighttime, and I’m confident this whole experience would be hell regardless of the hour. Maybe when I wasn’t on the Thrasher it looked almost pretty, with the green and blue and white lights glittering enticingly. Maybe when I wasn’t on this hell-beast, I thought the night added a sweet sort of ambience to it.

I’d never ridden a roller-coaster in my life before tonight. My father hated them and my mother didn’t want to go without him. Our family was too small and we didn’t make friends easy growing up, so there was no one else to take me.

Anna loves roller coasters. She loves theme parks – the thrill and the adventure. Don’t get me wrong, I love adventure, too, but if I wasn’t madly in love with the woman, I would never have gotten on this death trap.

“Natalie,” she laughs, pulling on my arm, “the ride’s over. You have to get off.”

I look to my right and see the impatient park patrons glaring at me right along with the harangued ride operators. Slowly, my limbs regain life and I lift myself out.

“Wow, you look like death,” she laughs as she drags me out the exit and towards the next instrument of my death: the 3-loop coaster that faces at the ground.

I’m going to die. Is love even worth this?

Ache

Her feet hit the pavement hard. The sound of her sneakers smacking against the ground was no match against the pounding of her heart. She had to keep running. If she stopped…

Sweat had no chance to pool, trickling down or flicking off her skin from the constant movement. If she ran hard enough, she could blame the wetness on her face on being sweat, not the tears she was fighting so hard to stop releasing. Her muscles burned, almost as intensely as her eyes, but nowhere near as much as the burning she felt in her heart.

How could they? she screamed internally. How could they do this, knowing her as they did?

She tripped on a crack in the pavement and tumbled forward, rolling onto the grass next to the sidewalk. If it wasn’t nearly midnight, she’d have screamed and never stopped, finally deprived of the escape the momentum of her run had given her.

Now that she’d stopped, she’d have to think. Really think about what they’d done. The implications. The fact that nothing would ever be the same between them after that day.

The damp grass cooled her backside and a shiver ran up her spine. She began coughing, the blood pumping in her cheeks, her throat, her chest, her arms. After the coughing fit ceased, she pushed herself back up, and began walking back. She couldn’t stay out in front of some stranger’s lawn the whole night.

It had to be dealt with. Now.

Secret

She loved her little secret. Maya’s teacher would tell her to put away her purse (the one Daddy bought her special last week – the one that was just the perfect size to hide it). She would comply, but her attention would never leave that little mermaid-scale bag.

Ms. Agner had enough of the bag. There was learning to be done. There were letters to learn and numbers to crunch and histories to be explored. She wanted so badly for Maya to find a passion for all the things she did, but Maya never took her eyes off that stupid mermaid purse. These girls, these little girls, and their obsession with mermaids nowadays. Maya was the worst of them when it came to obsession. Ms. Agner couldn’t figure out what it was about that particular purse, but Maya asking “what did you say?” for the thousandth time after Ms. Agner asked HER a question finally broke the bewildered teacher.

“Maya, I need you to give me your purse.”
“No!” Maya screamed, running to the back of the class where her cubby – and the purse – was.

Ms. Agner couldn’t stop herself from also running to the back of the class. The other students started screaming and laughing. Ms. Agner forgot them, focused only on that purse. Maya had gotten to it first, but Ms. Agner was bigger and stronger. She grabbed at the purse, and Maya was screaming. Tears streamed down her cheeks.

“It’s mine! It’s mine! Let go! It’s mine!” she cried.

Some of the students spoke out, shocked their teacher would act so violently.

“STOP SCREAMING,” Ms. Agner screamed.

Finally, there was silence, except for the sniffles and sobs of little Maya.

Ms. Agner ripped the purse away – and ripped was the right word as the contents scattered out of it. Maya screamed again.

On the floor lay a little shimmery figurine with iridescent silken wings. Or, that’s what Ms. Agner, and the rest of the class had thought at first. The figurine was luminous – was luminous, and the illumination was quickly fading. As they all looked on with bated breath, they saw the staggered, inconsistent rise and fall of its chest.

“You’ve killed her,” Maya whispered, crawling towards the little fairy. She gently – so gently – scooped the little body into her hands, eyes red and bleary, and walked out of the classroom.

Step by step

“If you’ll walk with me, I’ll walk with you.”

They were the first words you spoke to me, on that rainy afternoon when everyone had left the park but us. I was there to read, and had lost myself in a book until you broke me from my immersion. I hadn’t felt the chilly air as it whipped small sprays of raindrops towards me until then.

You were there to jog, and had made it almost all the way through until you saw me. The rain was unusual, but you used to live in it before you moved here. It was no obstacle for you, but you were concerned I’d catch a cold, so you’d said.

I told you I supposed I could walk, and we did, huddled under your sweaty jacket. The sweat was quickly washed away by the rain, and we laughed about this.

That’s how our whole relationship was, walking together, laughing at the absurdity of life. Many years passed with this shared conviviality.

But then I got sick, and so did you. I got better. I hoped you would.

But here you are, breaths barely rising. If you breath with me, my love, I’ll breath with you. Please don’t go.

Breathe

I felt my muscles tense up as soon as the instructor guided us into downward dog. Child’s pose was child’s play.

Obviously.

“And breathe…” the instructor sighed.

When I’d walked into the class, my makeup was melting off even before I stepped into the insanely hot room. I had just finished chasing down a mark. He got away, and I climbed through a couple of dumpsters just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything.

“And breathe…”

The room was thick with the scent of essentail oils, which thankfully masked the pungent smell I’d walked in with. Made sense – they needed to mask the grotesque smell of sweat from the classes. It was so humid I felt like choking.

As we moved into cobra, I looked myself in the mirror and deeply regretted my decision to wear makeup today. It was a new thing, or maybe I’d have had something waterproof. I didn’t think about that.

I don’t think the exercise is completely what wiped it out. I had more than once wiped my eyes or scratched at my face and it had messed up the whole arrangement. I’d been wearing more feminine clothes when I found my mark, and I think that’s why I lost him too.

I’d have to try this whole feminine experiment another day. Hopefully on a less exciting one. And definitely not tomorrow.

Tomorrow would be the day I hit my mark.

Bones

It was a clear, dark night and nobody walked the streets. The usual quiet hum of traffic was absent tonight. Every window was covered, every light was off. Doors were not only locked and bolted, but reinforced with chairs and couches and bookshelves.

If one listened well enough, you could hear the quiet breathing of an entire city: shaky, expectant.

Children stifled their whimpers as the clattering began – the deliberate clicking of bone on cobblestone as ancient skeletons began to wander the streets. Mothers hugged their children close, buried beneath coats and shoes in their innermost closets. Fathers relinquished their hard-held concepts of masculinity as they clung to their children’s teddy bears.

Deep in the heart of the city, a single tavern bustled with energy. The lights weren’t on, and the doors were locked like everywhere else, but in its basement sat its usual constituents. The bartender poured frothy beers quietly, but his patrons, red-faced and jolly, couldn’t help but giggle and joke in the face of absolute terror.

The celebratory aura of impending doom radiated from the basement to the buildings all around. It made those who wished for quiet uneasy. They so wished the night would pass and the morning would come and they would be safe. But with such noise, the skeletons would soon come.

The bar flies were afraid of this too, but they long ago learned to quell fear with the courage of liquor.

Scram

She furrowed her brow as the sound of a muted trumpet traveled to her ears via a rogue wind stream, trying to listen closer.

The occasional hum of an engine. The buzz of power lines overhead. The ocean, thundering faintly even from miles away.

Ah – there it was again. Some sleazy tune slinked its way into her eardrums once more. Before she knew it, her feet were on the case – newfound sleuths ready to bust this wide open. The night was chilly, and she felt the frost biting her nose and cheeks red. The faint streetlights lit the icy clouds of her breath as she pulled her fur coat tighter around her neck.

Mother would kill her for walking alone this late at night. Hopefully Mother would be too far into her nightcap to notice.

The neighborhood changed – pristine white and sands turned to mud-spattered blues and pinks and greens, white fences turned to open, patchy lawns. There were no lights on in these houses, not like home where the electricity pulsed through the home until late into the night to light the way for her brother’s guests and her servants.

Soon, the multi-colored houses became brick and industrial metals, newly made but rusted already from the ocean air. The buildings seem to vibrant, and the muted squawk of the trumpet was joined by the wail of a saxophone. Soon she realized a faint tapping was the percussive beat of drums. Her footsteps picked up, matching the tempo. She felt her heart trying to match it too.

Fast, frantic, frenetic music began to take full form. She became wild with the need to discover its source. She crossed back and forth across the street, until she noticed a door with an eyeslit. It was so unassuming.

She rapped at the door, jumping back as the eyeslit revealed two piercing blue eyes beneath near-black eyebrows.

“The dog laughs at midnight,” snipped a gruff tenor as the jazz exploded out the small rectangle.

“What?” she laughed.

The eyeslit closed in an instant. A winter breeze tickled her bare knees, slick from sweat she didn’t notice until then.

She rapped once more on the door. The eyeslit opened, and closed even quicker.

She rapped again, and would not stop. Her knuckles were raw from the cold metal impact.

“Go away,” the voice barked, opening the eyeslit for only enough time to say his peace and then close once more.

So she knocked. Again.

The door swung open, and she felt herself being pulled in by a rough hand.

“Who are you?” demanded the man, glaring at her from two inches away.

“Carla Richardson,” she said coolly, trying not to let on the fear she felt being grabbed by a strange man into a nondescript warehouse.

“Richardson? Oh boy. Look here, miss, you tell no one you were here. Go back home. There’s nothing happening tonight.”

The man let go of her arm, his eyes darting to the pink outline of his hand on her forearm.

“Sorry about the uh… mark. I’m sure it’ll go away,” he calmed. “But just the same, you best head back home. Scram, if you know what’s good for you.”

With that, he shoved her outside the door.