Final Sunset

572 words. Two fresh high school graduates both try to figure out what they’re going to do now that they’re out.

The sun is warm. A sickly sweet breeze blows. Dane is sitting on the edge of the pier, feet dangling off the edge, the tips of their shoes just above the water. They breathe in deeply, slowly, then let the air out all at once.

A friend appears behind them, offering a can of knock-off cola. “Party’s just begun, Dane,” the friends says to them. Dane looks up at the speaker. It’s Dylan. She hasn’t picked a new name yet, but Dane’s certain she’ll figure one out soon. She’s been transitioning for a year.

“Yeah,” Dane replies, “I just wanted to take in one last sunset out here. The way the light reflects across the ocean… I’m gonna miss it.” They reach up and take the cola.

Dylan sits next to them. “Yeah. It’s really something.” She’s obviously nervous about something. She’s twirling her own drink, causing the liquid to slosh in the can. She has an excellent poker face, but Dane sees through her.

Dane cracks open the can. They take a long drink of the cold soda. Dylan’s can quietly swishes. “So what are you gonna do next?” She asks.

Dylan already knows the answer to this question. She just wants to hear it from Dylan’s mouth. It doesn’t feel real yet, even with the unofficial graduation party going on in the abandoned warehouse next door.

Dane sighs. “I’m moving to Capron, Illinois. I’m going to take over my grandpa’s general store.”

Dylan sighs, too. She can feel the distance between her hands and theirs. It’s only inches, but it feels like so much more. “That’s small, huh? Only 1500 people. You think you can get used to that? No misgendering?”

Dane shrugs. “They’ll probably get it wrong for a long time. That’s okay. They’re good people. I used to know some of them when I was younger. They’ll grow.” Dane takes another sip of the cola. Swish, swish.

Dylan’s soda is nearly spilling out of the top of the can. “Just a general shop. Do you know how to run a store?”

“Grandpa’s not dead yet,” Dane replies, “So I’ll learn a bit from him. He’s just worried about the place. He doesn’t want to sell it. Besides, I’ve always been interested in taking it over.” Dane puts their soda down and lifts a leg onto the pier, folding their arm over it.

“But that’s not what you want to ask about, is it?”

And before Dane has the chance say something else, Dylan has already thrown herself onto them. She’s gripping their shoulder tightly, pressing her lips against theirs. Dane is taken aback. They don’t know what they’re supposed to do.

Dylan is completely sober; Dane can’t taste a hint of alcohol on her breath. She stops kissing them, but keeps her face near theirs. “I’m so sorry. This was stupid. I’m stupid.”

Dane puts a hand on her cheek. She’s so warm, so soft, so alive. They kiss her back. They release the kiss, and Dylan sighs as they retreat. “Don’t say that, Dylan. You’re beautiful, and amazing.”

They sit in silence for a while, Dylan laying atop Dane. Both of them breathing each other in. Dylan is so scared. Dane doesn’t know what to do.

“Take me with you,” Dylan finally asks. “When you leave for Capron, take me with you. I don’t want to be here in California without you.”

Dane grips her hand tightly.

Letters

441 words. Despite dying around 3 years earlier, a grandmother’s letters keep getting sent to her grandchild.

Her letters were piling up.

I didn’t want to open them. My grandmother had been dead for 3 years, and I just kept taking in her letters. At first I threw away the ones that were obviously advertisements, but I kept the ones that looked like they might’ve come from someone real. I couldn’t bring myself to open them, though.

There were at least a couple dozen of the letters there. 3 years worth of mail, and she was still getting letters more often than me.

My mom had been getting on my case about the letters for a while now. Well, my step-mom. She wasn’t too close with my grandma. I’m not mad about that, it is what it is. Still… It stung.

I sat down and finally tore open one of those letters. It was for some psychiatry or hospital service or something. I don’t remember the details.

Well, I remember one.

“You might be experiencing rapid loss of brain tissue, dementia-”

“No shit!” I shouted. “She’s in the fucking dirt!”

I cried. I watched her suffer for the last three years of her life. I should’ve taken her off of life support earlier. I shouldn’t have requested the liver transplant. I should’ve just let her go to a retirement home. I shouldn’t have moved in with her. I shouldn’t have inherited her house. I shouldn’t have started renovating it the moment she was gone. I shouldn’t have lived with roommates who fucked my over. I shouldn’t have had my girlfriend move in after they left. I shouldn’t have taken the master bedroom- her room. I shouldn’t wake up every morning with the only memory of her in this being twenty fucking letters on a table. I should visit her grave. I should buy her flowers. I should stare longingly at the grave and tell my girlfriend that “you were taken too soon.” I should stare at the sun as it sets, and ask her what she thinks my grandma’s last sunset looked like. She should say “You saw it with her, didn’t you?” I should say “Yeah. I did. But I didn’t even look at the sun. I was looking at her. She was dying. I knew it. I knew I would never see her again after that night and I wanted to take in every one of her details. She wasn’t on oxygen, she didn’t have any other life support, she just had me, a wheelchair, and the fading sun. She stared at the mountains in the distance while I watched her life fade in front of my eyes.” I should stutter. I should cry.

I do.

Fleeing

446 words. You fled from something in a dream. You awake to find that you cannot flee.

You had a dream last night. You dreamt that you were running from something late at night. It wasn’t normal. You never got a good look at it, but you knew that if you didn’t run it would catch up. Eventually, you slipped and fell into a deep, deep chasm.

You wake up this morning. You are in your room, thank god. Nothing is broken. You can’t find any scabs- though you often have scratches you don’t remember getting. It was just a dream. The sky is still blue, you are still alive, and your stomach can still growl.

You go out for breakfast and see someone in the kitchen, cooking. They’re a friend, they were over last night and were too drunk to drive home, so you let them crash on your couch. That explains the nightmare. Your dreams were addled by alcohol.

You call out their name, greet them. They turn around to face you and there’s nothing. There’s just a hole. A maw. The dream returns to you. The chasm was filled with red. Swirling, mortifying red. So is their face. You stumble backward, and fall down.

“Whoa, hey, what’s the worry?” They ask you. They start walking towards, but your fear overrides that. You scramble through the nearest door, slamming it shut and locking it as fast as you possibly could. “Hey, are you okay?” They call out.

Your breathing is ragged. You didn’t go to sleep last night. You tried to walk your friend home. They didn’t drive to your house- they don’t even own a fucking car.

They were the creature, weren’t they?

“This is going to sound crazy,” they say to you, “but I need you to look into the mirror.” You look into the room that you locked yourself into. It was the bathroom. You didn’t even realise.

Your heart pounds faster after realising this. You did fall into that chasm. You were consumed by that terrible, terrible color. Your body was ripped into pieces, yet you could still feel every single piece missing from you. It didn’t even hurt.

“Look, I know this is a little weird. Might take some getting used to,” they try to comfort you,“ but this is our life now. This is who we are.”

You look into the mirror. You didn’t wake up. You never went to sleep. You died. This isn’t your home. This isn’t even your reality.

“No…” is the only word you can manage out. “Estamos juntos en esto, amige,” they say, in their native tongue. You’re still not the best at Spanish, but you know this phrase. They’ve told you what it means. ‘We’re in this together, friend.’

New Life

346 words. One life gives in so that another may flourish

She holds the infant in her hands. 9 months of total agony, 9 hours of utter decimation, and here’s what there is to show it. A baby, covered in blood. She’s angry at the child. It doesn’t deserve to exist any more than anyone else does. So many people die out here that the creation of new life feels like a spit in the face to those who tried so hard to just survive.

Her sister grabs her arm, desperately. “Please, I want to hold them,” the sister says. She scowls at her sister. Truly, you wish to carry this burden? This curse, this evil? She blinks, and the scowl is gone. She hands the infant over.

Her sister sobs into the hair of the screaming thing. She can tell the sobs are of joy, and it sickens her. You’re happy about this? The heart rate monitor is beeping faster. The only real medical tool they had available to them.

The sister hands the infant back, short of breath. She takes it back. Hesitant. She still hates this child.

“Please. Keep them alive. For me,” the sister says. The heart rate monitor flat lines. Her sister is dead. The baby shrieks.

She screams back at the infant. This minuscule collection of flesh just killed her sister, and yet she’s supposed to keep it alive? This petite scab destroyed the only thing in the world that she loved, and what? She has to feed it now? Keep it warm? Change its pants? For what? She could smash the infant against the rocks and be done with this whole ordeal. She could go back to traveling like she used to.

She looks back at the corpse of her sister. It wouldn’t be like how it used to be. She’d be alone. She’s never been entirely alone before.

She looks back and the child. Apparently, her shakes of anger were something similar to rocking. The child is soothed. She clicks her tongue. “The world is hard. You are not. You are lucky to have a mother to protect you.”

“It’s good for you.”

164 words. Medicine. Divorce. Hotel room.

Mom insists I drink my medicine. She hands me the mini measuring cup, filled with two ounces of ooze.

Her and Dad argue. I can hear it through my wall. I cover my ear with my pillow. It doesn’t help.

She stares at me, waiting for me to drink the syrup. She looks so tired.

Something crashes and breaks. Dad gasps. Mom is breathing heavily. Their door slams and footsteps pound down the hallway and upstairs. I hear them above me, until they leave the house entirely. The other pair of feet quietly follows. I am alone.

I stare at the milky liquid. I tilt the cup, and it slowly shifts to follow. I look back up at Mom. The motel light above us flickers. She sighs. “I won’t make you drink it, sweetie.” She steps into the doorway. “I’m going shopping. Be good.” She leaves.

I tilt my head back and drink the medicine. It’s bitter and my head shakes at the taste.

Stare Down the Ocean

430 words – Sometimes you can’t change anything, but you so desperately wish you could.

There she is. Standing at the shore. I knew she would be here. She stares at the ocean when she’s troubled. I always thought it had something to do with the soothing sound of the waves, but there’s a storm brewing on the horizons. There is no peace in the ocean today. I can’t help but wonder how many other storms she’s weathered just to stare at this big body of water.

Even though I came here looking for her, I feel utterly apprehensive at the idea of actually speaking to her. My hands are shaking. I clench them into fists. I want to blame the shakes on the roaring wind, but I can’t. Why am I scared? She’s the one who’s dying. I don’t have any right to be scared.

“I know you’re there,” she shouts over the wind. Shit. Of course she does. I’ve never known how she’s so utterly perceptive. I thought maybe the wind would drown out the sound of my car if I drove up quietly enough. Guess not.

I walk next to her, hopping the short metal sheet between the road and the beach. “Yeah. I’m here,” I say.

We stand together, silently staring at turbulent seas. After some time of this, I speak up. “What are you doing here?” I turn my head to look at her.

She doesn’t look back. “I’m staring down the ocean.” Okay. That doesn’t make sense.

“Staring down the ocean. Like, intimidating it.” It didn’t really make sense to me. You can’t stare down the ocean. It doesn’t care about the whims of us humans.

“When I was young, I convinced myself that I could stare at the ocean, angrily, and it would settle down during a storm. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t. I didn’t know much about how weather worked when I was a tot.”

I laughed, briskly. They continued. “I know I can’t actually stop the ocean from being enraged, but I thought maybe for a moment I could. Maybe if I just stared hard enough, the endless water might bend to my will. The waves will stop beating on the shores. I’ll see some peace.”

“Yeah,” I say.

“Still, staring at the ocean is comforting. Seeing it in the same state that I’m in feels more legitimate than anything. No one has ever understood what it means to be angry with me. No one but the ocean.”

“Oh. Oh,” I say.

We stand on the shore. We say no words. She’s trying to stare down the ocean. I’m trying to stare down the ocean.

Rhythm

986 words. Beatrice and Melody have an important discussion about their lesbian relationship and Beatrice’s partial attraction to men

“Hey,” Beat said. She was standing in the doorway of my office, partially obscured by the wall so that I could only see half of her. I slid my chair backward so that I could see more of her and smiled. Sometimes she gets nervous about small things that don’t matter to me, but it’s alright. It might be a little shitty, but I think she’s cute when she hides like that.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“May I come in?” she asks.

“Of course.”

Beat steps into my office and, staring at the floor and avoiding looking at me. Her short and curly hair dangles just far enough that I can’t quite see her eyes at this angle. I lean back in my chair and look up at the ceiling. “Something happen, sweetheart?” I ask.

“Y-yes,” she replies, voice breaking. This is way more serious than I thought. I keep my eyes up. Beat doesn’t like being stared at when she’s nervous like this.

It’s quiet for a while. Beat is fighting back tears; I can hear it in the way she’s breathing. I don’t say anything. I don’t get up to try and comfort her. She needs to be strong and say this on her own. I can’t take that from her.

She does. “I was watching a show… and I saw a sex scene. It was a man and a woman.” She’s been nervous about this kind of thing before. She once said she was ‘cheating’ on me because the scenes weren’t between two women. I initially laughed because it was a silly thought to me, but she took it very seriously. I never laughed about it again after that.

“Okay,” I said. It’s good she knows I’m listening, but I can tell she has more to say.

“I thought about it, Lottie,” she continues, “and I know why I feel so awful about it. Sometimes I want the man to do to me what he’s doing to her.”

I slowly sit upright, but don’t look at her. “I see,” I say. Fuck, wrong move. I shouldn’t have moved. She thinks I’m mad.

“Lottie, please don’t be mad at me,” she says.

“I’m not mad,” I clarify. “I just- this makes sense. You’ve been nervous about straight sex scenes for a long time. That’s why you thought you were cheating on me!” I feel a laugh coming, but cover my mouth. I take a few deep breaths.

“What? What happened?” Beat asks.

“Sorry, I was about to laugh. I felt like it might be rude.”

“Oh,” Beat says. “But I am cheating on you. I like those scenes. I’m not supposed to like men.”

“Beat, honey, can I look at you? I promise I’m not going to say anything angry or accusatory, but I really want you to see my eyes when I tell you this.”

Beat takes a few moments to think about it. “Okay. Okay, I’m ready. You can look at me.”

I turn my chair and meet her gaze. Her cheeks are stained with tear trails. “Beatrice, I’m not going to stop loving you because you have a revelation about yourself and your attraction to men. I can still love you while you have attraction to other people. It’s natural to feel things like that. You don’t have to deny your reality anymore because you think it will betray me. I can still love a bi woman, or a pan woman, or whatever you determine yourself to be.”

Beat shakes her head. “I’m not bi, I’m not pan, I’m still a lesbian. I couldn’t love a man the way that I love you. It doesn’t feel right. I can’t see myself walking through a mall hand in hand with any man, fictional or not. I just… I think I might enjoy… sex. With men. Maybe.”

Beat is recovering. She’s not as shaky as before, and she’s wiping her eyes. “Beat, come sit down with me. Let’s talk about this. I want to hear more about what you’ve learned about yourself.”

Beat steps further into the office and sits in the extra chair I keep for her. “Okay. I want to talk to you. I love you, Melody.”

“I love you too, Beat.” I reach a hand out and offer it to her. She accepts it.

“I had a boyfriend, back in high school,” she tells me. “It was before I knew I was gay. He asked me to a dance, we danced and had fun, and afterwards we made out. He asked me for permission before doing anything, but we did have sex. We had a lot of sex. I never really liked holding his hand or cuddling him, but we had sex a lot. I convinced myself that the only reason we did it was because I was addicted to the dopamine. It wasn’t though. I liked having sex. I didn’t love him, but I loved having sex with him.” Beat looks down at her leg, still gripping my hand.

“But I only really love women. Every extended relationship I had with someone after was a women. I’ve only ever loved women. I only liked having sex with that boyfriend, and I only like thinking about sex with men. I can’t be anything but a lesbian because I don’t love men the way I love women.” She sighs, and looks up at me.

I nod. “Okay. So you’re still a lesbian, then. Or do you feel like there’s something missing?”

Beat nods. “Yeah. I’m missing something. I’m still a lesbian, but there’s… something more there. There’s something else I need to find.”

I smile. “We’ll find it together, Beat. I’m not leaving your side, you got that?”

Beat starts crying again, but it was a good kind this time. She leans into my arms and cries. “I love you, Lottie,” she says.

“And I love you too, Beat,” I reply.

Twin Stories

530 words. Two stories that are technically separate, but ultimately tied together by blood

Returning Guest

“So you’re back already, huh? That didn’t take very long.”

The red visage sat at my feet. It almost looked like a cat, or a small dog. It was a peculiar form for it to take.

“Well, come inside. Let’s reunite.”

The puddle at my feet vibrated with excitement. I lowered my hand to it, and it morphed around my hand and attached itself to me. A crimson globule surrounded my extremity.

“You’re still warm. That makes sense. You must not have travelled very far this time around.”

If it could’ve purred, it probably would have. Usually when I donate blood it takes a few days for the blood to make its way back to me. The longest it took was nearly an entire month. This time, it must’ve only taken an hour.

I continue to speak while I make my way to my attic. “I sent you on a break only two days ago. Why did you come back so quickly?” I eyed the ooze surrounding my hand cautiously. It seemed almost embarrassed.

“Well, no sense in worrying about that now. You’re already back. How was your host?”

By this time I’m in my attic and sitting in my chair. I put my hand near the open bloodbag, and my blood scurries into the bag. I lift the needle on the opposite end, rusted and slightly bent, and jam it into my forearm.

The blood slowly makes its way back into me, drop by drop. Memories flow into me at the same speed.

O Positive

“Here, have a cookie. It’s good for your blood sugar or something. Whatever, you’re alive and you deserve this cookie,” he handed me the cookie, a large, individually wrapped chocolate chip, and sat down on a chair next to the hospital bed.

“Thanks, you goober,” I reply.

I open up the cookie and nibble on it. “You were worried about me?”

He sighs. “Yeah, duh I was worried. You got into a wreck, and it was looking pretty bad.”

I smiled. “Yeah. My guts took a pretty gnarly hit. Didn’t break any bones though.”

“The doctors wouldn’t tell me what kind of injury you had. Can you?” He asked.

“Nah,” I begin. “I kind of didn’t want to know. Makes me feel too mortal. All I know is that my guts got kinda fucked and now I have some stitches on my front and back. All I want to know.”

He grunted, clearly dissatisfied. “Well, you probably had your intestines ruptured or something.”

I shrugged and took another bite of the cookie. “I don’t really care. It’s a miracle I’m alive, and I’ll call that fine.”

“You were bleeding a lot,” he says, trailing off.

“Yeah. It was a huge stroke of luck. Yesterday someone donated blood of my type,” I inform him. I take another bite of the cookie.

“Yeah, you’re O+ right? Pretty rare blood type,” He scoots in and gives me a kiss. “You’re just as rare of a boyfriend.”

I laugh. “You are too, you goof. Though we might want to hold off on kissing. I might get infected or something.” I laugh some more. So does he.

Hotel Mattress

386 words. You feel a lump under your mattress. You tell the nearest hotel staff about it. It gets worse.

“There’s something under my mattress,” you complain to the hotel attendant.

“Miss, this is the third night you’ve come to complain about something being under the mattress. I’ve personally checked the bed twice already and found nothing. Have you looked under the bed yet?”

You’re nervous at being asked that question. You don’t want to find out what’s under the bed. You know there’s something there, and it terrifies you. You’ve barely slept since arriving that rainy night, and the bags under your eyes make that quite clear.

“Miss?” the attendant snaps you back into reality. “Okay miss. I can tell this is really bothering you. Let’s go check under your bed.”

Your heart pounds. This is not what you wanted. “Oh, um, I have to leave for a- an appointment. You’ll have to check it without me.”

The attendant sighs. “Look, Miss- What’s your name again?”

“Pearle. Kirsten Pearle.”

“Okay Miss Pearle,” she says to you. “This will take a minute. It’s 3 AM, you’re not even dressed, so I know you aren’t in that much of a rush.”

You have no idea when hotel attendants became so lippy, but apparently they are. You’re about to say something sharp in return when you realise that she has already walked away. She’s going to your room. Your heart pounds. You no longer have a choice in the matter, do you?

You rush to catch up to the attendant, already at your door. She opens it and holds it out for you.

You stifle your heavy breaths.

She lifts up the mattress.

Bones. A random assortment of bloody bones are underneath the mattress.

“What the fuck!” cries the attendant. She drops the mattress. She scrambles out of the room and begins calling out someone else’s name. You stand in place, shocked.

The attendant’s voice fades into the background. You hear a new voice speak to you.

“My princess… you knew I was here. Only a true princess could feel my presence.”

The sound comes from under the bed. You can’t help but lift it back up.

“Thank you,” the voice speaks. “You have no idea how stifling it is under there.”

You shake your head. How…

“I’ve been awaiting the arrival of a true princess for so long now. Finally, you are here. We can be united.”

Daycare

219 words. Some atypical parents drop their ‘child’ off at a daycare.

Two parents enter my daycare and place their child onto my front desk. The father’s mouthless and writhing form screams at me “TAKE THE CHILD TAKE THE CHILD TAKE THE CHILD TAKE THE CHILD TAKE THE CHILD TAKE THE CHILD TAKE THE.” The mother’s ghastly and liquid visage stares at me.

Her singular eye stares through me, holding me in place. I glance at the egg. It’s pitch black, just like both parents, and has some sort of nest at its base. It radiates malignant energy. Almost a plasma, but cold. I glance back at the mother.

It was here that I noticed they had stolen the light. The room had been dim since they entered. I was distracted by the father’s gaping and toothed mouth. It still whisper-screams at me. The mother’s eye hasn’t left its place either.

Her words vertebrate out of her form, from where I know not. “You had best take the child.” She is simultaneously threatening and concerned. That cruel ectoplasm still floats off of the egg– the child?

Both parents fade out of the room, the father with a raspy groan. The lights brighten, but only barely. I look back at child, unsure of what to do with it.

Its shell cracks. Black mist floats out of it. My heart begins to pound.