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.



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


“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.


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.


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.


She sneezed. Wet droplets of infection escaped her too-late fingers as they rushed to cover her nose.

Bobby grimaced at her friend, cuddling up against the wall.

“You know, you shouldn’t cover your mouth with your hands, that’s how you spread disease,” the younger girl chastised. Erika pouted, quickly rubbing her hands on her pants.

“Ew,” Bobby sighed and looked away. It was hard to be friends with Erika. Sometimes it seemed like she just didn’t care. She was always forgetting about this, or neglecting to notice that.

Bobby hated how superior she felt to Erika, but she couldn’t help how much attention she paid in class. Bobby did work hard for her knowledge, but she did have to admit it came pretty easy to her. Which is what really baffled her about Erika. The girl had been stuck on basic algebra for years. Bobby had helped her through study packet after study packet but it never seemed to stick.

It was like that weird comeback they used to say in 1st grade – “I am rubber, you are glue, everything you say to me bounces off and sticks back to you” – except that being rubber was no advantage for Erika. At least, not so far as Bobby could tell.


Spindly, that was the word. It was like a spider arced out one painfully slow limb after another. Like an ethereal twig waving in the wind. I felt my insides tighten and warmth flush my throat. I looked away and the nausea released me, slightly. But I couldn’t look away forever.

I lifted my foot, and felt an overwhelming weight pull it back down. I gasped in pain as the muscles in my legs strained for movement. I fell to my knees, palms splashing in the murky water. I tasted salt in my mouth before I realized my face was wet with tears. I pushed my hands forward, digging my fingers into the earth. It felt like my fingernails were being torn from my flesh with every forward movement.

The sky crackled, and the monster screeched. I looked around for everyone else — anyone else. My throat was dry, I swallowed and when I swallowed fire burned against my esophagus.

Then, I saw her. Struggling every bit as much as I, my mother had reached the monster. She had strength I could not begin to fathom. But I felt her strength flow through me as I was able to crawl, painfully, slowly.


Don’t touch it. That’s all he said.

But oh, how hard that was. I didn’t even like apples, but this one glistened. This one echoed with the crunch of satisfaction. My stomach grumbled, cringed, wept every second I stayed still.

I had hardly eaten in days. Once, someone told me it was easier to not eat at all than to eat very little. I didn’t believe them, and because my pockets were so light as of late, food had been hard to come by.

I looked around the tent, trying to determine what kind of people I was about to shack up with. Bits and bobs, odds and ends, things of no discernable value were strewn about shelves and the desk and the floor. I’m sure they bore value to circus people, but I was no circus person. Not yet, anyway. Not until he came back and saw that I had not touched the apple.

It must have been a test. But he made no mention of a test, and no mention of whether or not my new occupation relied on restraint.

It felt like hours had passed. I had, in my haze, dreamt every possible method of slicing and consuming the apple. I was in the middle of imagining cutting it up with an axe when I realized the axe swings I had heard were not axe swings, and were in fact footsteps.

“Good,” he muttered. “This we can work with.”

So a test, after all.