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.

Demon

It had been 2000 years since Dendrick had first taken the form of a gargoyle. It wasn’t his choice. He used to be a bard. He used to be the greatest bard that had ever lived. That was probably still true, if his fate hadn’t literally been set in stone.

He spent most of those 2000 years trying to figure out the best insults he could throw at the nymph that cursed him. So what if he shared the tale of their union in every pub? He always got a free drink from that story, it was a good story. And she was beautiful. Or at least she used to be until vengeance overtook her and she cursed him to an eternity in stone. Pretty hard to think someone is beautiful after they ruin your life.

Watching the world around him change was so boring. And so disappointing. He had seen such great wonders when he could travel the world, but now he was stuck mounted to a… Well, people always came in and out with lots of money. One time there was a lot of people with weapons that camped outside pointing inwards and he almost thought he was going to finally be free of this entrapment.

But no. Some guy in a mask came out and found a cage of his own. He felt for the guy. But not really. 2000 years stuck inside a gargoyle doesn’t leave much room for empathy.

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.

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.

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.

Twitterpated

The birds circled each other in some vaguely matrimonial dance. With dread, I spread out the blanket and began laying out the food. Henry had offered to help set up the picnic before everyone got there. I am certainly no fool, and recognized his intent. He was a long time family friend, and it was no indecency for him to be alone with me. I could always count on the fact that he would not press too far. His connection to our family meant too much to him.

But it’s the pressing at all that concerned me.

“Sylvia,” Henry began. I bit my lip and focused my attention on getting all the folds out of the blanket. “Look at those birds, they’re mating.”

His lack of subtlety was only one of the many reasons why I dread his courtship. We had known each other for too long for me to falsify some excuse out of this situation – I couldn’t faint, feign illness, spill something on me and become distraught by the inconvenience… Which meant I had to suffer through it.

“Sylvia,” he continued, and I stayed silent. “We have known each other for a long time. You are almost as my sister. But I have always longed for us to be closer, and I feel that you must feel the –”

A lesser woman would have looked away. So would have a smarter one. I locked eyes with him, still saying nothing. My face was flat, my eyes lacking all hints of love, my mouth pursed tight. He needed to know what he was doing was wrong. His words caught in his throat and he coughed a few times to clear it. I almost wanted to laugh, but I needed to make sure the message was clear. I would not be his.

“Lovely weather this day, isn’t it?” Henry forced, his voice a bit hoarse.

Onmatopoeia

Click. Boom. Bam. Onomatopoeia

Click. Boom. Bam.

Click. Boom. Bam.

Click. Boom. Click. Boom. Click. Boom. Bam.

A hand reached out and caught the delicate black hand of Olivia MacPhearson as she ran through her compulsive fidgeting pattern. Her mother, stony-faced and blue eyed only looked at Olivia for a moment and she knew to stop.

She knew to stop, but she didn’t. As soon as her mother’s snow white hand pulled away for a sharp left turn, Olivia continued opening the center console, slamming it shut, and tapping the cup holder.

“OLIVIA!” Her mother shouted, grabbing her daughter’s wrist with clenching force. Olivia let out a whimpering gasp and her mother let go. Olivia held her wrist, almost raw like a rug burn. She looked out the window, sulking.

Tap.

Tap. Tap.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Bop.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Bop.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Bop.

Smack.

Olivia jumped. She just needed sound, something to allay her busy mind. Her mother never seemed to understand this. She hated weekends with her mom, but always stuck them out just in case they for once wouldn’t suck.

It’s been two years since she was able to spend a day with her mother without being hit. She tried to tell her dad or the cops but legally her mother could hit her, as long as it didn’t leave a mark.

How fucked up is that?

Olivia tapped her knee, listening for the hollow internal vibration of padded bone on padded bone.

Eggs

Tina sat in her car, the lights off, fondling a container of eggs in a shadowed corner of the street. She was nervous as hell – it wasn’t every day you decided to egg your representative’s house.

But she had tried the better methods. She wanted to speak up at the town hall, but there was no town hall. She wanted to meet with her representative, or talk, or send a fax, or something, but there was no way to contact him. She had written countless letters and she knew they had gone unread.

She didn’t like violence. She didn’t like causing trouble. She didn’t like seeing people hurt or inconveniencing people.

But she couldn’t handle the hurt, the inconvenience, the trouble of having her voice silenced. If he would not hear her voice, he’d have to listen to her somehow.

2am. It was now or never, she thought. All the cops were patrolling the streets near bars, but Mr. Rorschach’s house was nestled in a quiet little gated community. It was easy to get in – she knew a friend who lived nearby and had said she was visiting them to the guard. She’d even been to Representative Rorschach’s house when she was younger, when her friend had invited her to a party that neither of them enjoyed. He lived down the street.

Come on, she thought to herself. Don’t be a pussy.

Tina tried not to think about how illegal it was to egg someone’s house. She pulled the black mask over her head and walked to the house at the end of the block. All the lights were off. The streetlamp closest flickered on and off. Perfect.

Tina took a big breath, pulled out an egg, and started throwing. By the 8th egg she had accidentally shattered a window. A dog barked. She darted down the street before anyone could make it outside and curled up in the backseat of her car ’til morning.

It was a perfect crime.

Hail

Jimmy heard rocks clattering at his window. At first he thought it must have been Harriet and Carla messing with him, but as he lifted himself from his messy bed, he realized it was hailing. It was so irregular for the normally sunny coastal town he lived in. Jimmy lolled over to the window and stared out with mild fascination at the white-scattered streets and the little white rocks ricocheting off the identical adobe-style houses that peppered his street.

The neighbor, Mrs. Applelight, walked outside in pink pajamas and her hair askew. As the hail beat down on her, she attempted to block it with her hands and started screaming obscenities skyward. Jimmy knew Mrs. Applelight was not having an easy time at home. Her husband had died three years ago and she was aging poorly. Her sanity wasn’t always there.

She began to shout streetward, at every bush and corner, trying to find the culprit throwing rocks at her. She began to wail and fell to her knees. A couple of kids had over the course of the last two years, encouraged by the overgrown lawn and the withering state of the house, dared each other to ring her doorbell on repeated occasions, which had certainly worn down what sanity she did have.

Jimmy felt useless, standing at his window. He wished she would just go inside so he wouldn’t have to feel bad about being one of those kids. It was an easy dare for him to take, he knew her before she was scary. But even still, when he rung her doorbell she didn’t seem to remember him, didn’t remember living next to him his entire life. She swatted him away and perhaps after that day he was a little scared of her. Perhaps he felt a little like she deserved what she got.

But still, Jimmy stood at the window, feeling sad.