Homestead

Pru crunched a vinegaroon under her boot as she watched it try to skitter away. They were fast, but not fast enough. The California sun beat down hard on the flat desert expanse. Pru wiped her forehead, flicking away a bead of salty sweat. She crushed another vinegaroon as she rethought her decision to abandon civilization to build her own private homestead in the middle of nowhere. Her neighbors were nice enough, though they were miles away. She insisted on building her house by herself, which meant staying in a trailer until she’d completed her task. And it was slow work, very slow work. She’d just finished the foundation and was taking a break to hydrate herself. 

She pinched the skin on the back of her hand – she heard once if you were dehydrated your skin would lose elasticity. Still elastic. Also, ow. She sighed and took a big old swig of water, making a face as the taste of hot plastic hit her tongue. The amount of water she had to drink was definitely the biggest downside to moving to the desert.

The upside was the amount of pride she felt for controlling her destiny. For literally building her own home. She learned and set her own limits.

And that was worth all the plastic-tasting water and vinegaroons in the world.

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High Score

Thee’s eyes were red and focused. Her face was illuminated by the eery glow of the screen, blinding her to the crowd that had formed around her. Her hands moved quickly and efficiently over the buttons, moved so fast it might have been mistaken as button-mashing if they hadn’t been watching the impressive combos on screen.

No one had ever beaten this level. It had to be unlocked after playing every single level on every single difficulty and obtaining every single hidden item, and then playing the entire game in reverse on extreme. Thee had been at the arcade non-stop for 3 days – from open to close. She had to make sure she was the last one there, and the first one there, or her progress would be lost. 

But she had finally unlocked the secret level. And she was certain this was going to be the day. All the kids behind her had been tracking her progress. Word was going around town and kids who had never stepped foot in an arcade before were showing up. 

None of them mattered to Thee. What mattered was the victory, the strain of the fight, the sweat clamming up her hands as the heat in the arcade rose and how that affected her gameplay. She felt her glasses slipping off her nose and she was calculating at what point she could sacrifice her hand on the joystick to adjust.

“Hey!” Came a voice in the crowd “hey! Kids! It’s closing time, pack up shop!”

Thee swung herself out of danger and hit start. The game paused. She released a heavy breath, echoed by the groans and sighs of her audience. She took the moment to push up the red rim of her lenses, and then turned around and waited for everyone else to leave. Some of them stayed behind to congratulate her, but until the rest of the crowd had completed their exodus, she refused to abandon her post.

She was so close. By noon tomorrow, victory would be hers. Finally, as the last shoe kicked out of the arcade, Thee exited, with a slight nod to the arcade owner.

The next day, Thee almost skipped to the arcade. Today was the day. She swung the door open and there was her game.

But it wasn’t. It was the loading screen.

“What happened?” She could barely let out the words.

“Hey sorry kid, there was a blackout last night… restarted all the games.”

“Oh,” Thee trembled, angry that victory had been ripped from her. She walked outside and took a deep, deep breath.

And then, after a moment to rejuvenate, she returned to the game, to begin the fight anew. Nothing would stop her. Nothing.

Nightfall

Ebenezer and Scarlett sat on a grassy hill, slightly wet from the dew settling in the night. Ebenezer leaned into Scarlett as their eyes tilted starward. The sliver of the crescent moon barely illuminated their silhouettes in the darkness, but they could still in the corners of their eyes see the corners of their lips curling into enchanted smiles. The stars were bright and their colors shone, more than mere pinpricks in the blanket of pitch. Their fingers intertwined like perfectly interlocked puzzle pieces. A gentle breeze kisses their faces and played gently with their hair. If they’d been more earthward focused, they would have heard the gentle crashing of the ocean on the rocks below them. They would have heard the quietly hypnotic whir of the crickets rubbing their legs together.

But in these moments, looking up at the stars, nothing else mattered. They could name most of the constellations that filled the sky, tell you the story of each of their namesakes. The pair adored the heavens as they adored each other. And here, on their 45th year together as this little ball of life circled its own unique star, the couple made the trek out to this lonely hill, in a forgotten corner of the ocean to watch a meteor shower that had never been seen in more than a century. 

And the first sound either of them hear when their attentions turned earthward again and the shower had glittered the sky was a synchronous “I love you.”

Crooners

Bella looked at herself in the mirror, trying to smooth out the wrinkles she’d accumulated in the last sixty years, widening her eyes to brighten them, switching between smiles and a pouty face – trying to figure out her best presentation. Henrietta would be there in three minutes, and Bella had waited her entire life to find love. She repressed so much of herself because of her family, hidden the part of her that always knew she loved women. She married a man or two, had children, but never really loved the men. It was for protection, or safety, or duty. It was boring.

Bella met Henrietta on a Golden Oldies night at the senior center, with a young man who crooned jazz and swing standards. Their eyes had locked from across the tables and Bella blushed and looked away. Henrietta didn’t. When Bella looked back, Henrietta had started pushing her walker towards Bella’s table. Her heart raced, her mind raced, and she wanted to race out of there as fast as her rickety hips would take her. She just didn’t know where to go. But before she could react, there was Henrietta with her silvery hair and her glittering green eyes and her thin little smile. Henrietta was the first to speak, of course, and the girls chatted on like old friends on their first meeting. Henrietta had casually mentioned her wife had passed and it almost shocked Bella to hear it spoken about so frankly. She knew she grew up a little sheltered, and that the times had changed over the years, but to hear another woman her age be able to identify as a lesbian made her heart rush. Henrietta reached out a hand to Bella’s and whispered in her ear something that Bella had never expected to hear from another woman in her entire life.

So here Bella was, 60 years old and getting ready and anxious over her first date with a woman like the brave, young girl she wished she’d been.

Worlds Away

The pain was insufferable. Everyone tried to tell her they understood it but they didn’t. Not really. They didn’t know. They didn’t know what it meant to be away from her wife and stuck in what might as well have been jail – just with better packaging. They tried to tell her the Florida sun, the warm breezes from the beach, that any of it was worth it. That her wife wants her to get better and that her life was waiting for her, just as long as she got sober.

Fuck them.

Her stomach was on fire, she just wanted to rip her bones out of her body, and scream. They didn’t fucking get it. And that fucking bitch, the woman, her “case manager” was supposed to help her? Bitch never went through this. 

She tossed and turned in bed, kicking the walls and wailing in agony.

“Just get through this,” said a voice by the door.

If she had the strength for it, she would have thrown the lamp at her case manager just then.

Instead she lay there, shaking, trying to drown it all out, trying to sleep, trying to just not exist.

Why did she think she could ever get sober?

Forest

Augustine and Abigail often went into the forest together. Side by side, they foraged for herbs as she taught him her craft. For a long time, she expected her knowledge to go unlearned and to end with her, until the boy stumbled into her garden. He was a strange creature, mute and bedraggled. At first, she meant only to take him in for a few days, but the boy stayed with her even after she nursed him back to health.

He would not speak, though. She was used to a life of solitude, except for the few customers who would come by for her salves. Each one, she would ask, “where did this boy come from?” And each time they did not know. 

She would tell him every day that she was going to take him to the village and find a home for him, but every day he pulled at the hem of her dress and looked at her with big, brown eyes, and she felt, perhaps maybe, she just didn’t have the energy to take him to the village.

And so they continued in this pattern for five years. One day, Abigail had grown so used to Augustine’s company that she brought him with her on a trek to the village. When Augustine realized where they were, he shouted “no” and his silence was finally broken. Abigail had not realized the boy thought she was finally giving him away – the thought was only a little game they played to her at this point.

“Oh little darling!” She cried in response, and took him in her arms. After that day, she was able to ask all the questions that had gone unanswered for five years, but didn’t. Abigail never made him answer, only asked for his name so that she knew what to call him, and continued as they had, walking with each other into the forest as she taught him the magic of plants.

Ghost

I reached out a hand to the mirror, outlining the sheer form standing behind me. It flinched, faceless and cautious. I pulled my hand away, not wishing to disturb it. I had always wondered where the strange noises came from at night. Why sometimes a chill flushed through my veins.

I just wish I knew its name.

“Hello,” I tried. The form pushed through me to the front of the mirror. Ice shot through me and I shivered. I stayed still, watching the form search me up and down. It seemed to finally realize I could see it as it could see me.

“Do you… do you have a name?” It was strange, my throat closed up and I had trouble speaking at first. Wind passed by my ears and I almost thought I heard something.

“What was that?”

Goosebumps prickled up my arms as a soft breeze tickled my ear. I felt as if I could hear, if only I listened a little closer.

I took a step forward and the ghost stepped back. I stepped back. I held out a hand, open-palmed and up-turned, to show I meant no harm.

“Please, here… My name is Kay.”

The ghost seemed to turn its head to stare at my hand, thought on it, and then slowly disappeared. I’d have to try again.