Purpose

Portia and Caldwell summon a demon. Well, one more than the other.

Caldwell lit the last candle. Everything was in place, exactly as it was meant to be.

The room we were in was completely devoid of furniture, and was lit only by candles. In the center was a rune and a circle. On the floor was a basket of tulip petals and a silver dagger.

“Portia, I think I’m done. You ready to follow through with this? I mean, I trust you, but I’ve never heard of a demon story that turned out well in the end.” Caldwell stood up from his crouch. “Maybe it’s media bias or something, I’ve never met a real demon, but still. Sometimes stereotypes hold a bit of truth?” He looked at me. If I couldn’t hear the concern in his voice, I could see it in his eyes.

“Yes, Caldwell. I’m sure. I’ve done as much studying on demons as I possibly could, and I know this ritual inside out. The demon will give us what we want, and and we only have to give it something small in return. Demons like knick-knacks.”

Caldwell laughed. “You going to give a demon your baby blanket?”

“Maybe. If it wants it. Kind of ironic how sentimental demons can be.” I shrugged. “You’d think souls of the damned wouldn’t want anything to do with earth, but whatever.”

“Yeah. It’s strange.”

We both stood silently, staring at the rune and circle we had etched into my floorboards. The rune would be the actual mechanism which would allow the demon entry- it literally translates into portal- while the circle would keep the demon from wreaking havoc. We carved the circle with the silver dagger and filled it with salt. It sounded like superstitious bullshit, but nearly every account said it worked, so I chose to trust the books.

“Well,” Caldwell clapped his hands, “The candles won’t burn forever. Should we start?”

“Yes. Let’s start.” I kneeled next to the circle and sprinkled tulip petals into the circle. They began to burn as the touched the wood, their form changing into rotted teeth.

“Oh. That’s what the petals are for?” Caldwell asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Honestly I just thought demons needed you to set the mood. Can’t get it up without the right atmosphere right?”

I didn’t bother responding, and instead threw on more petals. This handful turned into rusty nails.

Caldwell sighed. “Tough crowd tonight. Hopefully the demon likes my jokes a little.”

“Sorry if i’m a little dry tonight. I am trying to summon a demon.”

“Oh yeah, don’t mind me. I just figured you might need some more help from me.”

“I’ll let you know when it’s your turn to do something.” I tossed a last handful of petals into the circle.

This time they turned into polaroids. Each image was of a failure I had endured. My second spelling bee, failing in the second round. My junior high school valentine’s dance, where I was turned down by a girl I had a crush on. My high school graduation, where my uncle showed up drunk.

Each photo held places and objects that would mean basically nothing to anyone else looking at them, but I knew what they were. I could see all of them. The first time I tried to get into a sorority and they told me they didn’t accept lesbians. The first time I tried to join and fraternity, which I had almost forgotten about. There was even the first time I was fired from a job, some sushi place that decided I “didn’t fit in” because someone else outed me.

I could feel my hands shake. I let out a ragged breath, and pushed the remaining petals aside.

“Whoa, Portia. Are you alright? You look like you just- scratch that. What’s going on?” Caldwell kneeled next to me and put his hands on my shoulders.

I didn’t respond.

“What’s in the photos, Portia?”

I brushed his hands off. “Nothing. That just means the ceremony is working.”

“Okay…” Caldwell slowly stood up. “I believe you. Just let me know if something goes wrong. I’ll get you out of here.”

“Mhm.” With that, I stood up. “Okay. It’s your turn now. Stand where I was just standing and close your eyes.”

Caldwell shivered. “Hoo, yeah, okay, that gave me the chills. Close my eyes? This is a little too spooky for me.”

“It’s okay, I have everything under control,” I reassured him.

He sighed. “Alright. Okay. Yeah. I can do this. I trust you. This will be alright.” He stepped into the spot where I had been only a moment before. “I can do this,” he told himself one more time.

“Oh, and Portia?” He started. “In case anything bad happens, I just want you to know that I care about you a lot” He turned around to look at me. “I… I hope this demon thing gives you what you need.” He closed his eyes and turned back around.

I blinked a few times. “So do I, Caldwell.” I leaned over and picked up the dagger. “So do I.”

I thrust the knife between his ribs, then pushed him into the circle. He gasped as I did. The he fell to the ground, and his blood began to pool around him.

I pushed his feet into the circle. I didn’t need any demon getting out

There was nothing but quiet for a few moments. Then, the candles turned into a dark red light. The room hard a harsh wind, circling around Caldwell. His body floated in the center of the circle, turning until he was face up and his feet faced the ground. A bright spear of energy suddenly shot through his chest, and his eyes opened. They were bloodshot, and his pupils replaced his irises. He floated down, landing on his feet.

There it was. The demon I had spent so long attempting to summon was in front of me. It took a step toward me, stopping just a moment before the barrier that kept it from murdering me.

“So it’s you. I had heard about you.” The demon’s voice was just Caldwell’s voice. Nothing had changed. “Tell me. What is it your name?” The demon stared at me. The blood in its eyes receded back into white.

“My name doesn’t matter,” I told the demon.

“Oh, do you think giving me your name gives me some power over you?” The demon asked. “No, names mean nothing. They’re a human construct. Gods and demons know each by essences, and have no need for names. However, for dealings like this we tend to have one. You may call me Moniker. My pronouns are gi and gir.”

I laughed. “You know what moniker means, right?”

“Very,” gi responded. Gi didn’t laugh along.

I cleared my throat. “Very well. I am Portia.”

“Portia. Interesting. Now what would a Portia want with a demon?” gi asked.

“I want… I want a purpose,” I told it. “I want to feel like my life will make a difference on this earth. I want to prove that I’m worth something, and I want to-” I stopped myself from saying something I might regret. “I want to make the world a better place for me. And for others like me. I don’t want us to have to live in fear anymore.”

Moniker cocked gir head and smiled. “Interesting. And who are you, Portia? Who would you categorise as ‘like you?’”

“I’m- I’m a lesbian. And the people who I’d say are like me are other queer people.” I clenched my fists. “We deserve better.”

“Hm. I’m not usually one to mettle in human affairs.” Moniker clapped gir hands, much like Caldwell used to. “I will do this for you, however.”

“What’s your price?” I asked Moniker.

“Hmm. This room is rather empty.” Gi looked about the room, before scanning the floor. “I’ll take the photos in my circle. They feel charged with emotions. It’s been a long while since I’ve felt an energy like this.”

“Oh. Demons really do like knick-knacks,” I said.

“Who told you that? We keep that part of our deals secret. We like to surprise those we deal with,” gi said.

“I honestly made it up a few minutes ago,” I replied.

“Hm. Interesting.”

I and Moniker sat in silence for a few moments. I stared at the photos at gir feet.

“Well, I need you to do one more thing for me to enact my end of the bargain.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Give me your hands,” the demon responded.

“Oh no, you aren’t fooling me,” I told gir. “I know how this works. I break the circle, you kill me, and then you kill everyone else in a mile radius. Not happening.”

“I have no intentions of killing you, Portia.” I winced when he said my name. Just like Caldwell. “I will change the fiber of your being, yes, but I will not kill you. You will do that much more effectively than I could. Your form will be suited to the job.”

“Hold on, I interrupted. “Will you run that by me just one more time?”

“I’m going to transform you. Your human life as you know it will end, but you will be reborn as something greater. You will be beyond humanity, and even beyond demonhood. You will roam the earth and be submerged in glorious purpose. I almost envy you.”

“I still don’t trust you,” I replied.

“Portia, I’m trapped in a human body with a knife sticking out of my back. Do you truly believe I pose a huge threat to anyone, save infants?” Moniker shook gir head. “No. I will give you what you crave and take the photos in return.”

I stole a glance at one last photo. It was of a leather recliner. A recliner I lost my virginity on. The recliner that my parents walked in and kicked me out of the house.

“Portia, time is running thin. The candles won’t burn forever. Shall we start?” The demon extended a hand, stopping just before the circle.

I sighed. “I trust you.” I put my hand in girs.

“Wonderful..” Moniker gripped my hand, holding on tightly. I felt nothing for a few moments. Then gi let go.

“Welcome to your new purpose. Welcome to your new life,” Moniker said.

“Nothing is happening,” I replied.

“Not yet,” Moniker said. Gi began picking up the polaroids. “They’ll happen soon. Farewell, Portia. I look forward to our next meeting.” Gi had picked up all of the polaroids. They all burned into ash, and then gi closed gir eyes. Caldwell’s body fell back down.

I knelt on the floor and began crying. Had I really killed someone for nothing? Was this really how this was going to happen?

In between sobs, I wiped my eyes. Looking at my hands, something was amiss.

My hands were covered in ink. I pressed them to my face again, and felt the cool liquid.

“Ink. Curious.”

I started laughing, but my breath failed me and never let a sound out. I dug my nails into my cheeks, and felt more of the ink fall out. I felt no pain.

Continuing my cold cackling, I grasped my shoulders. They were soaked. I ripped into my own flesh anyway, just to feel even more of my cursed blood leak. I danced around the room, leaving ink stains on the walls with my hands. Sometimes I dragged my hands across the walls, sometimes I threw ink off of them onto the walls.

I finally knew what it meant to be real. I knew exactly why I was on this earth. I could feel my reason to exist welling up in my chest.

I was born for this.

Suddenly my laughter could be heard. It was quiet. Private. Only I needed to hear myself laugh. No one else deserved to hear me. No one else had the same amount of purpose that I had, and no one ever would.

A Wintertime Tale of Asexuality

During a wintertime festival celebrating snowfall, Ash has to explain asexuality to ver mom.

I was walking down the cold winter street with my mom. We were at some sort of winter festival thing, where people got together to celebrate the snowfall, and subsequently the runoff that would supply us with water during the summer. I had only heard about it this year.

The festival always took place on the 21st of December, the winter solstice, every year. It didn’t matter if it had actually snowed or not, apparently, because this year there wasn’t any snow yet. Well, there was a bit on the mountains, but not any down here.

The festival took up about two blocks of the city, and the roads were filled with small vendors selling all sorts of things, as well as a few street musicians. They were mostly playing Christmas songs, which I found quite irksome, but it was nice that there was music anyway. I always liked hearing acoustic musicians, but could never actually find the time to go out and listen to any. I just wish they’d choose some song other than “Let It Snow.”

I saw a cart filled to the brim with books. I stopped and looked at it, while my mom walked ahead without noticing. Picking up one of the books, I noticed it was some schlocky romance between a city girl and a country boy. I put it down and picked up another. This one was a schlocky romance between an alien woman who crash landed on earth and a farm dude. Shaking my head, I grabbed a different book. If you couldn’t bear to guess it was schlocky romance. This one was between two detective girls though. Neat to see some queer representation, I guess.

“Ash, what are you looking at?” Mom shouted at me. I guess she noticed I fell behind.

“Oh, it was just some books. I thought I might find something cool, but it was all romance,” I replied. I put the third book down and walked to catch up with Mom.

“Ah. You sure none of it would interest you?” Mom seemed to be hinting at something. I wasn’t a fan of that.

“No. I’m not really into romance. Or dating.” I picked up the pace a bit, hoping that forcing mom to move faster would distract for long enough to not ask about it.

“Yeah, but those are just stories. They aren’t real or anything.” Turns out my plan didn’t work.

“I know. That doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy them.” I pushed my mom toward a small pizza stand. The smell was rather tantalising. I also figured I should sit down for this conversation.

“I’ll have a slice of margherita,” I told the stall worker. “Anything you want, mom?”

“I’ll have what he’s having,” she replied.

“Ve. What ve’s having,” I corrected. I paid for the pizza slices, gave the worker my name, and then sat down at a small table nearby.

Mom sat down with me. “So who are you attracted to?” she asked.

“I’m not attracted to anyone,” I told her. “I don’t really experience attraction like you do. I’m asexual.”

“Oh. Okay.”

The stall worker called my name and I grabbed our food. I was surprised my mom had let that go so fast. I was sure she was going to keep pressing for my sexual and/or romantic preferences. I don’t really think she knew what the difference between the two was, though.

“So if you were to date, would you rather date boys or girls?” She asked immediately as I handed her the pizza.

“Yup, there it is,” I said. “I’m not going to date, and the answer really doesn’t matter. So please stop asking.”

“I just want to know, that’s all,” she added trying to seem innocent.

I sighed. “Mom, I don’t feel attraction. I’ve literally never felt attracted to anyone to the point where I wanted to date or have sex with anyone. The most that I’ve ever done is conflate thinking someone was cool and maybe a little cute with feelings of attraction when I actually just wanted to be their friend. I ended up making supposedly romantic gestures to these people and pushing them away because of it. I’m not attracted to people.”

“Well, of those people you liked, were more of them boys or girls?” she retorted.

“Jesus, you were sitting on that response, weren’t you? Neither. Well, that and it’s kind of reductive to only include binary genders when I’m nonbinary. I don’t even like being called a boy in the first place. I literally changed my name to escape that kind of gendering.”

“Oh. Right.” Mom took a large bit of her slice of pizza. I think she was biding her time before she said something else. Which I guess I was the one who opened up that opportunity in the first place by buying food. Oh well. I took a bite of my own slice.

“I know you said you’d never get married a few times. I guess it makes sense that that should extend to dating,” Mom said after a few moments of quiet.

“Thanks for realising,” I said.

I was content to sit silently for a while, but Mom seemed to want to keep talking. “I guess I’m just curious.”

“Curiosity is fine,” I told her, “but that implies learning. You were really pushing for boys or girls in your questions. You should have asked a new question instead of reframing your old one.”

“I see.” After that she was okay with just eating and listening to music. A nearby group had started performing Auld Lang Syne.

No Stops Tonight

Halloween night? Time for a fright…

“Fucking subway pass,” I mumbled, while attempting to reload it. “Damn thing got wet, and now it just refuses to work.” I threw the pass onto the ground. “Whatever, just forget about it, Tessa. You’re fine.” I had the printing machine print me another pass. That was three dollars out of my pocket I could’ve saved.

I hate New York’s subway system so much, but it’s much faster than trying to bus. I’m not even going to attempt to drive in this city.

The machine accepted my cash, then dispensed a thin slip of paper, with a magnetic stripe on the backside. That was why getting it wet was a problem, because the water would just seep into the paper and screw it up if it got too wet. I had ten dollars on my last slip, and that’s just gone, too. I need to move to a different city.

I took my new pass, swiped it at the gate, and waited for my next train. The station was practically empty, except for one guy waiting by the stairs to go up. I stood next to the tracks, and waited for my train.

It didn’t help that it was gross down here, either. The tracks for the trains always seemed to have water pooled in them, and I’ve seen plenty of rats taking drinks from the damn puddles. The walls were often tiled, and that looked good, but the tiling was pretty negligible when the wall just above was nothing but rusty metal, same with the ceiling. Hanging from the ceiling were plenty of light fixtures, which hung on by thin and similarly-rusty tubes. I was always worried a light might just come crashing down one day. Oh, and the ground is often just a dingy and browned concrete. Seriously, it’s disgusting, and probably has never been cleaned since it was installed.

Then, as if to make today worse than it was already was, the lights all went out. I screamed, and ducked down. Shit shit shit!

Only a couple moments later, the lights turned back on. I stood up and looked around. Nothing had changed, except the guy by the stairs had left. It was just me now. “Damn it. I got scared for nothing.”

I pulled out my phone just to look at it. I didn’t have any service. Figures, that’s what happens when I’m underground.

I heard some strange noise coming from down the tracks. It sounded like some sort of quiet chanting. I looked down the dark tunnel, but couldn’t see anything. I lifted my phone and turned on its light. I still didn’t see anything new coming from the tunnel, but I stared for a moment.

Suddenly appearing in my light was the shape of a person. Well, sort of? It looked absolutely like a shadow, but also shimmered a lot and looked blurry. It looked like it was expending a lot of effort to hold itself together.

“Oh FUCK!” I shouted as I realised what was shambling out of the tunnel. It wasn’t human, that’s for damn sure.

I quickly looked back and forth, trying to decide what I should do. Was running a good choice of action? What about my train? Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit!

Then, I heard a rumbling from the distance. The train was approaching. I smiled at the thing and stuck my tongue out at it. It was going to get hit by a train, because it was so slow it couldn’t move out of the way. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t be my problem.

Just as I expected, the train rammed through the shadow-thing and stopped. I stepped onto the last train car, and sat down on a bench. I just beat a weird monster by literally waiting for a train.

“Wow, I should probably be reacting to that more, shouldn’t I? Fuck it, I’m way too tired for this bullshit anyway.” I leaned back in my seat, and got nice and comfortable. “Not. My. Problem.”

The train car was empty besides me. Honestly, the whole train was probably empty except for maybe a homeless person somewhere in the train. I didn’t need to worry about anyone bothering me, I just needed to worry about getting off at my stop.

Then, the conductor of the train spoke over the speaker. “We will be skipping the next stop due to unforeseen technical difficulties. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Yeah, whatever. The most inconvenient thing is how impossible it is to hear you. Damn, speak up.” Seriously, I hated how impossible it was to hear that speaker, even in an empty car.

Another minute passed before the man spoke up again. “The issues are continuing, so we will be unable to stop at any stations until further notice. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Are the brakes not working or something? Jesus. There is literally no other reason for us to not stop.” I stopped and thought about it. “Actually, maybe this is a good thing. No one will bother me on my car.” Smug, I snuggled into the chair.

A few more moments pass, then the loudspeaker started up again. I waited for the voice, but there was nothing. All I heard was that quiet static from the speaker. I sighed. “You knocked the speaker switch on, buddy. Turn it off or something.” I think this conductor didn’t know how to do his job. I’ll be furious if I die on this train.

The static just kept going for a while. I was angry. “Why is the conductor having such issues just running a train?”

I looked at the door connecting the cars. There was a large red sign that made it very clear that you shouldn’t be crossing between cars while the train is moving. Probably for the best, but I might just have to go find that conductor and give him a piece of my mind. He can’t drive a train and he can’t even keep the intercom from turning on. Seriously, who hired this guy?

I got out of my seat, and stepped toward the door. “Yeah, someone needs to go figure out what’s going on. It’s probably just me one this train anyway.” I shoved the door open, and a furious wind started blowing into the train car. I pushed against it, and tried to hold my breath. Not only was the harsh wind making it hard to breath, but the subway never smelled that great.

I stepped between the cars, trying so carefully to keep from flying off the side. Lights from the tunnel were soaring past me, blinking in and out faster than I could think to use them. I pulled the door closed behind me, and got into the next car. With great effort, I shut that door, too. I was relieved once the wind was no longer tugging on me and trying to pull me to my death.

I turned and looked at the car. All of the seats were empty, of course, and there was an empty energy drink can rolling back and forth on a seat. The car also smelled pretty badly of alcohol, so I was in no mood to rest. I went straight for the next door.

Again, a harsh wind blew into the car once the door was open. However, the usual gross smell of the subway was not as bad as the smell of the car I was just in. I almost welcomed it, but the gusts from the train’s speed were still too much to breath.

I covered my face with my arm as moved, this time. I could breath a bit better through my nose this way. I took careful and small steps to cross the short distance from one car to another. I pulled on the door, stepped through, and then pulled it shut. The wind stopped, and the smell went away a bit. I breathed a sigh of relief as I looked into the next car. There was a paper bag that was floating down to the ground and settling, probably because of the door I opened. Once it landed, it rocked back and forth with the movement of the train.

“Wow, you just can’t escape trash in the subway, can you?” I said. Maybe I had too much of a habit of talking to myself. “Yeah, whatever, it’s not like anyone else is affected.”

I started walking to next door when I heard the static suddenly rise in volume. I had forgotten that was even playing for a while. I stopped in my tracks and looked for the nearest speaker. It was up on the ceiling of the car, in a corner. “Oh, yeah, that’s lovely. So atmospheric and nice.”

I stomped over to the next door and pushed it open. After doing this twice, I felt much more confident in myself and got through much quicker and steadier.

The next car looked worse than the previous cars. There were plastic shopping bags fluttering about, and the contents of the bags were too. There were unlabeled cans rolling around, a broken and cracked carton of eggs making a huge mess, wrappers and other sorts of paper trash flying about, and even an empty and spilled milk carton was bouncing around. It took a couple of moments, but everything eventually settled in place.

I sighed again. “Seriously, who just brings a carton of eggs onto the train? And how do you get a carton of milk to open and spill like that?”

The lights went out, and the car was dark. The only source of lights were the quickly passing ones out in the tunnel. I looked out the window and saw us blast past a station. There were a few people waiting for a train, but they clearly didn’t get to catch this one. Something was more off than just an incompetent conductor.

I pulled my phone out and turned on its light. I flashed it around the train car. Nothing looked different than when the lights were on, but now the trash caused bigger shadows in the car. I quickly stepped onto the seats and walked over the trash. “I really didn’t sign up for this shit.”

I hopped off of the seats and in front of the door that led to the next car. I grabbed the handle, ready to turn it and shove the door forward. Then, I heard a noise behind me. It sounded like chanting, again. “Fuck no.”

Without letting go of the door, I turned around and shined my light back into the car. Walking through the door behind me was a blurry and dark figure. It opened what had to be its mouth, and I heard more whispers float from it and toward me. Its mouth-thing connected one side of its head to the other, but certainly wasn’t quite grinning. It lifted one hand, a hand previously resting near its knee, and reached out to me.

“What the fuck!” I shouted. I pulled on the door handle and used my entire body to shove it open. I stumbled out into the between-car section, and tried as quickly as I could to tug the next one open. I slid open as quickly as I could make it, and I stepped onto the next empty train car.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. What the fuck?” I realised my phone was in my hand. “Oh shit, no no no no.” I patted myself down, and touched a large shape in my pocket. “Oh, fuck. Okay, I’m good, I still have my phone. I never even realised that I stuffed it in my pocket while trying to move from one car to another. Fuck, dude.” I pulled the phone out of my pocket. Its light was still one, so I shined it into the car. The seats of the car were covered in a blurry, shadowy mess. The shadows were slowly moving onto the floor of the car. I ran past them all and to the next door. I pocketed my phone again, pulled on the handle of the door, and shoved the bastard open. It easily let me out, and I moved over to the next car.

“Please let there be one more, please let there only be one more,” I whispered. My light illuminated the car. For a moment I thought the light wasn’t working, because I still only saw darkness. I turned the light to my face. It was definitely still on. The static from the speakers was suddenly more apparent in the dark. “Fuck me, is this really happening?”

I put my left hand in front of me, and tried to use it to help me figure out what was in front of me. My legs bumped into what had to be the seats often, but my hand didn’t touch anything. All of my steps were slow. And agonising. I was already sick of this train car. Then, my hand touched a pole.

“Shit!” I shouted, and stumbled backward in pain. I looked at my hand. The dark stuff was a little stuck to it. “No!” I tried to shake it off. Luckily for me, I was successful. My hand was reddened from where the shadows had been. It stung.

Eventually, I stumbled to the other side of the train, and found the other door. I guessed at where the handle was. I grabbed it, grunted from the pain, and tugged the door open. The lights from the tunnel were still flashing by. I stepped through the doorway, and tugged the door closed behind me.

“Aah!” I screamed as I let go of the door. I felt relief from the pain, but then a stinging followed. I shook my hand vigorously. I pulled out my light and shined it at the other door. That same darkness covered it. “Fuck. Fuck!”

I stood in place for a few moments, thinking of what to do. An idea crossed my mind. “Hell, I might as well give it a shot.”

I pulled my shirt off, and the winds were even colder on my bare skin. I used the shirt to keep the shadow-stuff off of my hand as I pushed the next door open. It worked, and I didn’t feel the same pain from touching the darkness. Yet, the stinging sensation was still there.

I entered the train car and put my shirt back on. “How the hell can this thing cause me so many problems, yet not even be here?” Shining my light into the train car revealed everything as it was supposed to be, and I sighed in relief. “At least I can see again.”

I crossed my fingers as I approached the next car. “Please be the last one, please be the last one, please be the last one!” I pulled on the handle, and the door opened. From the side of the train, I saw a really bright light. I looked over, and saw a stop approaching. “Yeah, great, I bet we’re missing this one, too.”

No one was at the stop as we flew by. I wish there had been at least someone. How many of the other stops had people at them that I just missed? How many times had I lost the chance to call for help?

The light from the stop disappeared in the distance. I was only illuminated by the tunnel again.

Suddenly, I realised I didn’t really remember why I was trying to move to the front of the train. What was my goal?

“Right. I should probably stop the train. Hit the brakes or something.” I sighed. “Fuck, how did this happen?” I turned over to the other door and pulled it open. Inside was just another passenger car.

“Why the fuck does this just not end? I’m done wasting time.” I stomped over to the other door, and ripped it open. I shut it, and broke into the next car.

My phone light illuminated seats. I lifted it up to the other wall. “Oh thank god.” The door was closer to me than any of the other ones had been. “The fucking cockpit or whatever you call it. Jesus, finally.”

I ran to the door, and pulled it open. I gasped.

The conductor’s face was covered in pitch black. The speaker microphone was hanging, just above the ground. I was reminded of the static playing behind me. I pushed past the man in the chair, and started looking for an emergency brake. “Fucking fuck, there’s gotta be something somewhere!”

Behind me, I heard the whispers again. “You’re fucking with me.” I flashed the light back into the train. The shadow was stepping through the door, and toward me. “You’re fucking with me.”

I stood in place. There was literally nothing I could do to stop it. I flashed my light at it, constantly flicking it off and on, but it didn’t change anything. It just kept chanting and stepping towards me.

I stopped flicking the light, and just kept it on. “What the hell do you want?” I could feel a lump welling up in my throat. It was halfway through the car at that point.

I felt a tear slide down my face. Am I crying?

Its chants got louder and louder, and I saw it open its mouth. It was as wide as my face, and split the head greatly. Shadowy strings connected the two halves. Its body shuddered.

I regained control of myself, and immediately started hitting buttons on the control panel. One of them had to be a brake or something. Right?”

Nothing was happening when I hit the buttons. They all just kind stayed dim.

“Won’t… Work…” I heard from between the chants. I looked back, and the thing was maybe two feet away from me. I tried to scramble away, shining my light at it. The area behind it was suddenly covered in pitch blackness.

“Turn… Off…” Were the only understandable words that came through its mouth. Maybe its mouth? It was making noise, and it was still chanting. “Off… Light…”

I breathed quickly, and my vision was blurry. I wiped my eyes with my arm. The creature was inches away from me. I still held my phone at it. Its body quivered more and more the closer it got to my light. It grabbed the phone in my hand. The light turned out, and the screen itself powered down. The sound of static was loud again. The chanting disappeared.

I covered my head in my arms, and I sobbed. It was so dark.

Trainyard

Every step I took left a crunch as I passed over rocks and leaves. The sounds of my footsteps were accompanied by the sounds of birds singing in the distance. Overhead and on a bridge, I could hear cars driving by occasionally.

Around me were painted trains. By that, I mean trains and train cars that had been painted on. There were covered in graffiti. No one had driven these trains in years, so the art just kept accumulating. It took me a few minutes, but I eventually did find an empty spot on the side of a car. The train itself was a dingy red color, and its paint was chipping away in spots. It was exactly what I wanted.

I dropped my pack onto the ground next me. I kneeled down and started going through it. I took a few cans of spray paint out of the bag and put them down. After I had the colors that I wanted, I stood up and dusted my hands off on my pants. I picked up a black can, shook it up, and sprayed it onto the train car.

After a while, a dark black oval sat on top of the rusty red. I tossed the black can onto the ground, and reached down to grab a different color.

I might’ve been there for hours, just spray painting this train. I had emptied at least two of the cans that I had brought, including the black one I used for the background. After I was done making my art, I slid backward and admired my work. It was better than I had ever imagined putting onto a train car.

I took the remaining paint cans, the ones that weren’t empty, and put them back into my bag. I had left my mark in the trainyard, and that’s all I had wanted to do.

As I left, I could still admire the art around me. I know that graffiti is supposed to be a crime, but how can anyone hate something so wonderful?

Let’s Not

“Great view from down there, huh?”

“Yeah,” I replied. I was laying on the ground, taking photos of the party lights that shone on some trees.

Whoever said that walked away, and I took a few more photos. More than anything, I didn’t want to be here right now. Yet, I had to be. It was a scholarship required event. So here I was, laying on the ground, taking photos of lights on leaves.

I could hear the music and shouts of excitement coming from the crowd less than 20 feet to my right. I sighed.

I haven’t really felt much connection or want to connect with any of these people. The closest I had to a heartfelt moment was a really awful conversation that went like this:

“I really want to get into law, because I love politics,” he said.

“You love politics?” I asked.

“Yeah. They’re great.”

I sighed. “I mean, politics themselves aren’t great. By the standards of ‘politics,’ I have to debate my own existence with more people than I care to think about.”

“What do you mean you have to debate you’re existence?”

“I’m trans.”

“Oh. So does this mean you want to be a girl, or were you a girl before?” He seemed earnestly interested enough, so I figured I’d tell them the truth

“Neither. I’m nonbinary.”

“I see. So do you have a, you know? Or the other thing?”

I groaned loudly. “Oh my god. This is exactly what I was talking about.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Let’s change the subject.”

“Sure.”

He smiled. “So I’m registered to vote Democrat. They want to expand trans rights. That’s good, right?”

“Mm. I mean, it would be nice, if it would ever happen. But Democrats are so obsessed with trying to appeal to a middle ground that they keep ceding power to Republicans.”

He seemed to be listening to me. I was a bit hopeful I could change his mind.

“Okay. So are you saying Republicans and Democrats are the same?” He asked.

“More or less. If they weren’t so similar, blue states would be drastically different from red ones. But do you ever really notice a difference between California and Oregon to the north?”

“Okay Republicans and Democrats are not the same. Have you seen the things Trump says? He’s so different from Democrats!” He sounded upset.

“Sure they are. Whatever. I’ve gotta go to the restroom.”

“Okay, man, see you later,” he said.

I winced. Man. I’m not a man. I had explained that.

The party seemed to have gotten larger while I was lost in thought. They were only fifteen feet away now. The cheers had certainly gotten louder.

I got up and walked away. It was dark enough that they wouldn’t notice.

So, I wandered. Not enough to get lost, but enough to be away. That was all I really wanted, so I was going to take it.

I walked away, to a small clearing with just a couple of trees. I sat down next to one and simply stared away.

In my pleasant fantasies, someone would approach me to have a conversation. But, seeing as how this wasn’t a fantasy, I couldn’t have that. To be fair, I looked like I wanted to be alone in the first place.

Lights and voices started to approach. They were people, likely trying to go to the bathroom. I sat in place, making no motion or sound. They walked past, oblivious to the fact that the only thing between them seeing me was a tree and my own low posture. I was hiding in plain sight.

I looked up, and hoped to see some stars. I didn’t. There was too much smoke in the sky from all the forest fires. In fact, earlier today, the sun was red from the smoke’s cover. Curling my head around the tree, so was the moon.

“I shouldn’t be breathing comfortably right now. This is really bad.”

I sighed. There was so little I could do to change anything right now. I couldn’t leave, I didn’t want to dance, the music was too close to the tents for me to sleep, I couldn’t stop the forest fires from happening, and I can’t vote my way into change.

The only thing I really could do was sit in silence, and continue to think about things.

Shopping

I stood outside of our house, waiting for my husband. He always took a while to actually get out of the house once I tell him ‘I’m ready.’ He’s the kind of guy who thinks he can get ready in a couple minutes, so he puts it off until he’s either late or almost late. Either way, it gave me the chance to smoke before we went grocery shopping.

It was only early afternoon, but the evening fog had set in early today. I could only see about 40 feet away from myself in any direction, but it’d be enough. The grocery store wasn’t too far away.

“Alright, let’s go,” Brett said, walking down our porch stairs to our car.

“Wow, I only smoked half a cigarette this time,” I replied, laughing.

Brett scowled. “You really should quit smoking.”

“I know, I know. I’m working on it. No need to remind me.” I kneeled down rubbed the cigarette out on the ground

“I’ll stop reminding you once you have completely quit,” He replied.

“Not even a rare social smoke?” I asked as I put the cigarette away.

“Not even that.”

Either way,I got into the driver’s seat and drove us to the closest superstore. Really, it was just a Walmart, but I hated admitting I shopped at Walmart.

“You’ve got a list, right sweetheart?” I asked.

“Of course I do, Arthur. Why wouldn’t I?” He replied.

I laughed. “Ah, well, I just like double checking. You know how I am.”

“I know, sweetie. It’s probably a good thing you’re so insistent on keeping me up on things.”

“You’re welcome,” I replied, smugly.

“Oh, I see how it is, Mr. Marlboro,” Arthur laughed.

“Okay, fine. Thanks for pushing me to better myself too.”

“I can live without a shopping list,” he said, “but you aren’t living if you’re missing a lung.”

“I know, I know,” I wave him off. “Gee, you’re worse than my mom.”

“I feel like your mom,” he started to laugh, “Old and crotchety!”

We both laughed, and let the quiet hang in the air afterwards. It was nice.

“Fog’s out early today, huh,” I mentioned.

“We’re probably in the thick of it right now. It should pass in a few days.”

“I hope you’re right. It’s pretty dreary, and we have to drive at 20 miles-per-hour everywhere we go.”

“It could be worse. We could just be not shopping at all.”

“Oh, you know that isn’t really an option. We should have just gone last week,” I piped in.

“Oh well,” he said. He pulled down the sun blocker, so that he could look at himself in the mirror.

Within a few more moments, we arrived at the superstore. We both found a parking spot near the back of the lot– so that we wouldn’t lose our car among other cars– and walked toward the store.

Once we entered, I was relieved to see my breaths stop leaving a huge cloud of steam everywhere I went. I grabbed a shopping cart, and caught up with Arthur. “Alright, where to first?”

“We should left and get cereal first,” he told me.

“The freezer section is closer, though,” I replied.

“We’ll get frozen goods on the way back,” he said.

I started walking toward the dry foods anyway. “You know, this isn’t summertime down in Georgia anymore, Arthy-dear.”

“I lived in Wyoming. Georgia is nowhere near Wyoming.”

“Eh, they’re both just as conservative to me,” I chuckled.

“S’why I left,” Arthur replied. We reached the cereal aisle, and he grabbed some off-brand cheerios. I grabbed a box of Cookie Crisp, and we put them into the cart.

“I can’t believe you can still stand eating that stuff,” Arthur chided me.

“Come on! It’s like desserts, but in the morning! That’s awesome!”

“Whatever, you can have your kid’s cereal,” he said, waving his hand farewell to me as he walked forward.

I followed him. “I will have my children’s breakfast item, thank you very much,” I said.

The rest of our shopping went rather similarly, with Arthur grabbing foods you actually have to cook, while I grabbed pizza rolls and burritos.

At check-out, I ribbed into him a little bit. “I know you have to be incredibly jealous of how I live?”

“And how is that?” He demanded.

“Oh, allI have to do is go to work for a few hours every week, and then I get to come home to a lovely hubby who cooks all my meals for me while I just laze around the house,” I bragged.

“Oh yeah? Well, I can’t help but wonder who enables your lifestyle,” He said, with dignity.

“You know who that is,” I said through a smile. I grabbed him from behind and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

The counter girl laughed. “Get a room, you two.”

I gasped. “Is not a superstore just one giant room?”

She laughed, along with Arthur.

“Your total will be $127.34,” she told us.

I took out my wallet, paid, and we left the store with groceries in tow. The moment we walked out of the door, though, it was incredibly apparent that things weren’t right.

“Where are the cars?”I asked.

“I have got no idea. Did we come through the wrong doors?”

“Even if we did, there should still be cars on the opposite side. What the hell?”

I left the cart on the sidewalk, and I stepped toward the parking lot.

“Maybe-”

I jumped. “Jesus, I didn’t know you followed me, Arthur. Warn me next time.

“Sorry,” he said.” “Was there was some emergency alert you and I missed?”

“I doubt it. Our phones would have been buzzing and going haywire and shit.”

“Um,” Arthur mumbled. “Hell. I don’t know.”

“Let’s just see if we can find our car, alright?” I reassured Arthur. At least, I thought I was. I didn’t really know how scared Arthur was.

“I was about to suggest that myself.”

The two of us continued to walk into the parking lot. Of course,since we parked so far away from the the store, we lost sight of it due to the fog. Scouring the parking lot yielded no car.

“This is either terrifying or a really good prank.” I reached into my pockets to make sure I still that the keys. I felt them, and pulled them out.

“What do you make of this?” I asked.

Arthur shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe you’re just dreaming. Pinch yourself.”

“Real nice of dream-you to tell me the secret of the dream, don’t you think.” I sighed.

“Maybe we should just head back to the store,” he suggested.

“Sure. Let’s just do that.”

The two of us walked back toward the store.

“Hey, we forgot to grab our cart,” I mentioned.

“I left it on purpose. Not much use dragging a cart around when we don’t even have a car,” he reasoned.

“Yeah, okay, that’s fair,” I said.

I stopped walking. “Does it seem weird to you that we haven’t seen the building yet?” I asked. “Like, we went the right way. All I see is more parking lot all around.”

“I didn’t want to say anything,” Arthur admitted.

“Hell,” I said. “What do we do now?”

“I don’t know,” he sighed. “Like, this is some kind of bullshit you see happening in one of your b-films.”

“Or one of your video games,” I said.

“Yeah, but in the video game you find a way out. There are usually clues or something,” he said.

“Nothing out here but unlit street lamps. It’s still daylight out.”

We both stood still, without saying a word for a few moments. That was when the alarm sounded.

Arthur and I refused to make a sound, instead opting to look about wildly for the source of the sound. It sounded like it was coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. It hurt my head to think about it.

I grabbed the sides of my head in recoil, trying to block out the sound. It didn’t work.

Then, almost as suddenly as it began, it stopped. It was just over.

I looked up at Arthur. My head was throbbing from the sudden end of the alarms.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

Arthur said nothing, but he pointed past and behind me. I craned my head back to see what he was pointing at.

There were silhouettes in the fog shambling toward us. There were dozens of them.

“Holy shit,” I whispered.

“So you see them too. That’s- that’s good,” Arthur said.

I squinted to try and see them a bit better. “Oh fuck, I think those things have holes instead of faces.”

“Don’t you try telling me those are the goddamned pirori!” Arthur shouted

“I don’t know what the hell that means,” I said, “But you can look for yourself.”

Arthur squinted at the figures, much like I had, and gasped. “Okay, what the hell are we still doing here, Brett?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “We already tried to leave.” I was desperately trying to stay calm, but I wasn’t sure how long my bravado would last me.

“No, I mean right now!” Arthur grabbed my hand, and started to run away from the figures emerging from the mist. Not really able to choose, I kept up with him.

Despite our clear goal being to get as far away from the figures as we could, I couldn’t help but look back at them. Which, of course, is when what was behind became even worse.

Standing far behind the now-miniscule figures was something huge. I looked vaguely like a giant human, but it’s stomach was facing upwards, and it’s back was arched back terribly. It’s limbs didn’t look quite right either, with more than one joint bending in each one, suspending it. I saw its mouth open before it receded into the fog and out of my vision again.

“Arthur, run faster!”

There was a curdling scream. Unlike the alarm, it clearly came from one direction.

Arthur took my advice after hearing that. I only wish he hadn’t looked back.