Category: Flash Fiction Page 2 of 3

Bottomless Pit

“Are we there yet?”

My legs burned. My bites itched. Cory had promised an interesting hike, but so far, the most interesting thing I had seen was a woman wearing sunglasses in the shade. Oh, and a squirrel falling out of a tree. So I was about to abandon them—take my chances with the bears and the moose and whatever the hell else was out here—when Cory replied:

“We’re here.”

“Finally,” I groaned. “This better be good, because—”

My breath caught in my throat.

We were standing on the cusp of a huge pit. A thin fence circled it, covered with signs that read DANGER and NO TRESPASSING.

Vegetation crept up to the edge and spilled over into the darkness, like some kind of grassy waterfall. And an unfortunate tree grew at the edge, its exposed roots stretching towards the bottom.

If there even was a bottom.

“What is it? A sinkhole?”

“Beats me,” he replied, pacing around the fence. “All I know is, locals call it the Pit of Endless Darkness.”

“Oooooh, so spooky,” Kat mocked.

“How deep does it go?” I asked.

“Who knows?” Kat shrugged. “And who cares?”

Cory got out his phone. “If we throw something in, I can time how long it takes to reach the bottom. And then, using kinematics, we can calculate—”

“You’re such a nerd, Cory,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“No, let’s do it,” I said, reaching into my pocket. I pulled out a water bottle, and chucked it. With a soft rush, it fell down into the pit.

Kat leaned against the fence, peering down into the darkness.

But she leaned a little too far.

Snap!

The fence gave way.

Kate tumbled forward—arms outstretched, face frozen in surprise.

And then she screamed.

And screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

Cory and I lunged forward. But it was too late—her scream was echoing up the pit, fading with every second.

And then silence.

No smack, no clunk, no thud. Just the chittering of the birds above, and the rush of the soft breeze.

“Kat!” I yelled, trembling.

“No,” Cory said, his voice cut with sobs. “No, no, no! Kat!”

I stumbled away from the fence and collapsed in the soft grass, sobbing. I pulled out my phone, started to dial 911; but I knew, deep down, there was no saving her.

But then I heard it.

A noise—

Shrill, high-pitched, reverberating through the trees about a dozen yards away.

Cory and I stared at each other.

And then we ran as fast as we could, the branches snapping beneath our feet. “Kat!” we yelled, as the sound grew louder. “Kat !”

There she was.

Lying on the ground, caked with dirt and dust, facing away from us.

As we approached, she tilted her head up towards the sky. “I’m okay!” she called up, her hands cupped around her mouth. “Cory, Jen, I’m okay! I’m at the bottom!”

“Kat?” Cory asked, stepping towards her carefully.

“Yes! I’m okay!” she yelled, her face still tilted towards the sky. Then she stretched her arms out, groping at the dirt. “Dammit, I can’t see a thing. So dark down here.”

“Kat—”

Wobbling, she pulled herself up.

Then she turned in our direction.

Cory stumbled back.

“No,” I choked out.

Her eyes—

They were completely gone.

My Priest Asked Me to Meet Him Alone

Father Nicholas always weirded me out.

He smelled like stale bread and onions. His gaze seemed to look past you, not at you. He had a quiet, sullen demeanor, and he always recited the Nicene Creed in a rasping whisper.

So when he asked me to “join him in his office for a quick chat” after Mass, I freaked out a little.

But I replied: “sure, Father.”

I glanced around the church. It was nearly empty, now; the parishioners were filing out the front door in a thick line, full of chatter and laughter. Behind them, a gloomy darkness had settled in the church – deep shadows behind the pews, behind the altar. The golden tabernacle glinted in the dim light, under the darkened crucifix.

I followed him into the parish office. Father Nicholas closed the door behind us.

“I’ve noticed you haven’t been coming to Mass regularly,” he said, taking a seat across the desk.

“Uh, yeah, I’ve been busy,” I replied, my heart beginning to race. What is this? Some kind of interrogation?

“And you don’t wear your cross anymore,” he said, pointing to my chest from beneath his robes.

“I forgot to put it on.”

Father Nicholas leaned back in his seat, surveying me carefully. I didn’t like the glint in his dark eyes, or the fact that his hands were hidden in the robes. Just tell him you have to go, the voice inside me urged. But reverence kept me locked in place.

“Is there a reason you didn’t get any holy water today?”

My heart began to pound, so loudly that I could hear it in my ears.

The holy water is kept in a tiny basin at the front of the church. How would he know, when I came in, that I didn’t get any? Was he watching me that closely? There were dozens – no, hundreds – of other parishioners coming into the church at the same time, but he noticed I didn’t get any holy water?

“Uh – no, no reason in particular.”

He sighed. Then he pulled a small vial of clear liquid from the folds of his cloak. He wet his fingers, and – before I could react – flicked them, so that a few drops fell on my face.

“What – what are you doing?” I asked.

And then I felt it. Where each drop had landed, it burned, as if he had pricked me there with a poker from the fire.

I shot up, shrieking in pain. “Are you crazy?! What is that?! What did you just put on me?!”

With his face grim, Father Nicholas replied: “holy water.”

“What – I don’t understand,” I replied, clawing at my face like a madman. “Holy water – but –”

“Holy water burns. You don’t wear a cross.” His tone turned almost humorous. “Need I spell it out for you, Jake?”

I stood there, numb, my cheeks still stinging.

“Oh, what – you thought it’d be like The Exorcist?” He laughed – the first time I had ever seen him do so. “No. They’re too clever for that. Why, if you all were projectile vomiting everywhere, and speaking Latin with perfect fluency, we’d catch on pretty quick.”

I stared at him. My heart was racing; my hands felt numb. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

“No, they’re subtle.” He placed the vial on the desk, halfway between us; I involuntarily backed away. “Ever have an intrusive thought? ‘Jump out that window, you know you want to.’ ‘Stop cutting up those carrots and stab him in the neck.’”

I nodded.

“Most of them are meaningless. Just silly thoughts to cloud your mind. But, sometimes… it’s one of them, its voice blending perfectly with yours.”

“But –” I faltered.

“Just a suggestion, in the back of your mind,” he said. And then he laughed again – but this time it was a bitter, empty scoff. “That’s all it takes, for humans to do unspeakable things.”

Just a suggestion.

I pulled my arms around me and felt a shiver crawl down my back. “So… what do we do?” I asked, voice quavering, fearing the answer.

“Come back tomorrow. At dawn, we will begin.”

That night, I tossed and turned. The more the blanket tangled around me, the larger the pool of sweat became, the crazier Father Nicholas’s words sounded. A possession, really? I thought. That’s the stuff of movies. He’s crazy.

I flipped the pillow over. Yes, that’s what it is. The guy is nuts.

But then… what’s his real motive? I stared up at the dark ceiling. Maybe he wants to do something to me. Something terrible. I looked over at the alarm clock – 5:12 AM. The sun would rise within the hour.

You better bring your gun, just in case.

I glanced over at the desk, black in the dusky shadows. At the locked drawer, that held a Smith & Wesson in its bowels.

Bring the gun.

As the horizon lit with the fire of dawn, I made my way to the church, the gun swinging heavily in my pocket.

“I Hear Santa’s Reindeer!”

“Mommy, what are you doing?”

“I’m brining the turkey.”

“What’s brining?”

“I soak the turkey in salt water, and –”

“Why?”

“Hey,” I said, tightening the strings on my apron, “Why don’t you go play with the Starman toy I got you?”

“I don’t wanna play with it anymore.”

Kids these days. Lose interest in a new toy in an hour.

“Want to watch Mommy take out the Christmas cookies?” I pulled the tray out of the oven; heat nipped at my fingers. The cookie Jackson made was burned at the edges, and terribly misshapen. “Your cookie turned out great, see?”

“Can I eat it now?” he asked, his grimy little hands shooting for it.

“I thought it was for Santa.”

“It was, but I’m hungry. And if everyone else if feeding Santa cookies, he doesn’t really need mine, right?”

Smart kid.

I led him into the dining room, with the cookie and a tall glass of milk. “Here you go, honey.”

He sat down. I glanced out the window; Christmas lights from the house across the street twinkled back, in the falling dusk. I patted him on the shoulder, and began walking away.

“Mommy!”

Ugh. What now?! “Yes, Jackson?”

“I hear jingling! Of Santa’s reindeer!”

“That’s nice,” I said. Probably just that old man next door, walking his corgi. But whatever – I’m not going to rain on his parade.

“I’m going to listen to the reindeer!”

Thank God! Finally, something to keep him busy.

I returned to the kitchen, and frowned at the turkey; it looked so pale and slimy. My mother would be here tomorrow, and she was so particular about it. “Don’t overcook it – it’ll be too dry. And don’t put too much salt – nobody likes a salty turkey! And don’t burn it, oh my goodness don’t burn it.” Her voice echoed in my head. “Dave made such a perfect, wonderful turkey last year. The way he seasoned it, ah, it was exquisite.”

Yeah, well, then I caught Dave seasoning someone else’s turkey.

(So to speak.)

“Mommy! I hear them!” he shouted.

“That’s great,” I call back.

Dave’s attempts to reconcile were, to say the least, lacking. Sometimes he’d leave me a voicemail – just saying ‘I love you,’ then hanging up. Other times, he’d text me a photo of his hand, wearing the wedding ring. No caption, nothing else in the picture – just his hand. And the ring was so stupid-looking, anyway – silver encrusted with a ton of tiny garnets, because ‘red is the color of love.’

Red is also the color I saw, when I found them fuc–

“Mommy! I hear them! The jingling! And footsteps!”

“That’s great, honey.”

“Listen! Listen!”

I sighed, and rinsed the slime off of my hands. “Okay, okay Jackson. I’m coming,” I said, stepping into the dining room.

I listened.

Jingle, jingle.

I froze. My heart began to pound.

“Santa’s here! See?” he squealed.

Jingle, jingle.

It wasn’t the jingling of bells, or a leash.

It was the jingling of keys –

As someone tried the lock.

I grabbed Jackson’s arm, and dragged him out of the dining room.

“Mommy? What are you doing?”

“We’re going to sit here, and wait for Santa to come down the chimney, see?” I said, my voice quavering. I eyed the back door – could we make a run for it?

Thump, thump.

“He’s on the roof!” Jackson squealed, grinning.

Thump, thump.

I hugged Jackson, holding him as close as I could –

Thump!

I screamed.

Jackson broke free from my arms, and ran towards the chimney.

Then I saw it.

A small box, wrapped in black paper, had fallen in through the fireplace.

“Jackson! No!”

It was too late. He picked it up, grinning.

Then he frowned.

“It’s not mine.” He shoved it into my lap. “It’s for you, Mommy.”

Hands shaking, I picked it up.

The note read:

YOU CHANGED THE LOCKS

My heart pounding, I lifted the lid of the box –

A ring.

Encrusted with a thousand tiny garnets.

The Mural in my Son’s Nursery

My husband, Seth, has a photographic memory.

So when he said something was off with the jungle mural in the nursery, I should’ve believed him. “Didn’t the orangutan have a baby in her arms?” he said, eyebrows knotted. “I could’ve sworn…”

I looked from the ape’s empty arms, to the toucans above, to the tigers below. They seemed to be intently feeding on something.

“I think it was always this way,” I said, sliding the crib against the wall. “Wasn’t it?”

He sighed loudly – his typical sign of annoyance. “No, really look at it, Brit. I’m positive she had a baby in her arms, when we came through the house a week ago.”

I walked over and stared at the mural. It was beautiful – one of the reasons we bought this house. Long branches of rubber trees, thick canopies of verdant leaves, strangler figs roping and tangling around thick trunks. Tigers down below in the grass, lemurs poking through the trees, a toucan flying near the ceiling.

And the orangutan.

She sat in a tree, right above the crib, orange tufts of hair contrasting sharply with the green around her. She was looking down at the floor, and… there was something profoundly sad in her black, sparkling eyes.

I shrugged and headed towards the door. “Hey, I’m going to get some water. Want anything?”

“Coke would be great.”

I thumped down the stairs. Our babysitter, Kellie, was playing with Kyle on the carpet. As soon as he saw me, he cracked a toothy smile. “Hey buddy,” I said, giving him a little hug.

He cooed back at me, and I smiled.

When I returned, Seth was still staring at the orangutan. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”

I laughed, and nudged his shoulder. “Should I be jealous?”

He smiled, shaking his head, and cracked open the can of coke.

He was right, though – she was beautiful, with her sparkling, black eyes looking right at us.

The first night was rough. At 3 am, Kyle’s piercing screams came through the wall:

Waaaaaaahhhh.

I heaved myself out of bed and walked into the nursery. “Okay, Kyle,” I said, through a fog of sleep.

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!

I clumsily scooped the formula powder into a bottle. “It’s okay, Kyle! Momma’s coming!”

Waaaaaa – aaaaa – aaaahhh!

I hoisted him up and sat down in the rocking chair.

As he grew quiet, holding the bottle with his little hands, I stared at the mural. In the dark shadows of the nursery, it looked… almost a bit scary. The tigers looked menacing, their eyes glowing steadily in the darkness; the lemurs looked like animal versions of clowns, hiding their faces behind painted masks.

And the orangutan –

She was looking down at the crib, her left arm outstretched towards it.

Huh, I thought. That’s weird. I could’ve sworn…

The next morning, in the bright sunlight of day, the mural looked beautiful again. And the orangutan was back to her normal place, looking straight out at me, her arms latched onto the tree. Ha, I must’ve imagined it, I thought to myself. I was half-asleep, after all.

That night, I hoped and prayed for better sleep. But I didn’t get it; at 2 am, I shot out of bed, woken by Kyle’s cries.

Or at least, so I thought. When I actually stopped to listen, I didn’t hear him crying.

I heard him cooing.

Better check on him anyway, I thought. I lifted myself out of bed and started towards the door.

But then I realized –

There was another noise, mingled with his coos. An oo oo oo sound, in short, soft bursts. Curious, I stepped across the hall, and swung the door of the nursery open.

In the gray shadows, there was a fluttering of movement. In my sleep-addled state of mind, I couldn’t quite interpret what it was. I curiously stepped towards the crib.

“Kyle, what are you –”

My breath caught in my throat.

The crib was empty.

“Kyle?” My voice grew from a hushed whisper to a piercing shriek. “Kyle! Kyle!”

But then I stopped.

Something on the wall… was terribly different.

The orangutan was smiling, looking proudly at something in her arms. Something pink and pale, painted with meticulous detail. I squinted, trying to make sense of it in the shadows.

No.

It was a baby. With a tuft of black hair, shining brown eyes, and a toothy grin.

Kyle.

The Streetlamp

Some kids have teddy bears. Others have blankets, dolls, or stuffed animals they fall asleep with.

I had something a bit different: a light.

My window faced a hill. And on that hill was a lone streetlamp, shining down on the road beneath it. Now, I knew that it was just some normal, boring old road. But in the minutes between sleep and wake, where my mind grew fuzzy and dreams started to thread into my consciousness, I imagined it as something more.

The streetlamp in Narnia, against falling snow. The lights of a mermaid colony, shimmering through ocean depths. The glow of a fairy, sitting on a rose petal in a deep forest.

But, one night –

The light was off.

“Mommy! Daddy!” I yelled down the hall, stomping my little feet across the carpet. “The light is gone!”

“What, your night-light?” Dad asked, setting his book on the couch. Mom was slumped on the other side, snoring lightly.

“Not that light! The light up on the hill!”

He followed me back into my bedroom, where I pointed wildly out the window. Through the sheer curtains, there was pitch black beyond. “Why is it gone, Daddy?”

“I don’t know why, Caroline,” he said, scooping me back into bed. “Maybe the lightbulb is out. Remember a week ago, when Mommy changed the lightbulb in the kitchen? Sometimes that happens to lights, and they need to be fixed.”

I nodded.

After another bedtime story, I drifted off into sleep. And when I woke up a few hours later, in the middle of the night –

The light was back on.

I smiled, snuggled against my pillow, and closed my eyes.


But the next night, the light was out again. And the next, and the next. I grew crankier, my sleep got worse. My parents, for the most part, ignored it.

But then something wonderful happened.

On Tuesday night, Mom had to go to the cell phone store over the hill. “Mommy! Let me come!” I begged, clawing at her shirt. “Please?”

“It’s almost your bedtime,” Mom said, shooting a look at Dad. He shrugged.

“Okay, you can come. But then you go right into bed, okay?”

I nodded.

And soon, we were driving up that familiar road, towards the streetlamp. I wanted to see what was wrong with it – was the lightbulb busted? Or some wires frayed? Then, I thought in my little kid brain, I could tell Mom how to fix it.

As we rounded the bend, though, I was in for a surprise.

The streetlamp was on.

Shining brightly like a beacon, its light glistening over the wet road. “It’s on, it’s on!” I cried, so loudly that the windows rattled. “See, Mommy?”

“Yes, honey,” she said, distractedly.

And it was still on when we made our way back. I was so excited, I was jumping up and down in my seat. Narnia, mermaids, and fairies all came rushing back into my head. When we got home, I ran down the hall, jumped into bed, and turned to the window.

No.

It was out.

I shot out of bed. How? I thought. We just saw it five minutes ago! It was on! Shining bright!

I ran over to the window. I grabbed a fistful of curtain and yanked it back. Where is it? I thought, glancing around wildly. Ithas to be here!

My eyes adjusted to the darkness.

Shadows faded into view. Gray against black, bulky and large.

Not the shape of a road and trees.

I pulled the curtain further, curious now.

And then I leapt back.

Two hands, cupped against the window.

Attached to the hulking shadow of a man.

I screamed.

No, there was nothing wrong with the streetlamp – nothing at all.

He was just blocking its light.

My Husband Left Me a Note

The floor was strewn with construction paper, glue sticks, and glitter. In the center was Emma, her hands on a pile of jagged, misshapen hearts.

“You should make a Valentine for Daddy,” she said.

“Daddy and I don’t really do… handmade valentines cut out of construction paper.” And I had too much on my mind for stupid crafts. Jack was mad at me – Cat, I’m supposed to get a call from a very important client. Don’t nag me! And where was Mr. Whiskers? If he ran away again –

“Why not?” Emma said, her scissors cutting wildly into the paper.

“It’s more of a kid thing, honey.”

Her face grew red, and she smeared the glitter with newfound ferocity. “I’m not a kid! I’m eight years old! Eight!

No, no, please don’t have a tantrum. I rushed to pick up a piece of construction paper.

I froze.

Underneath were several small pieces of paper.

I turned them over, and began to read. As expected – they were notes from my husband. He constantly left notes around the house, whether it was to warn us about the broken toilet seat or to tell us he loved us. The handwriting was much sloppier than usual, but still legible.

Together, they said:

CAT

I ALREADY GOT THE

CALL.

I’LL KNOW IF YOU

PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN

IN THE BASEMENT WITH MINE.

TONIGHT, I WANT YOUR BODY

I blushed, and grinned, and even suppressed a giggle. He’d been complaining, recently, how we were always glued to our phones, how we never interacted with each other… I didn’t realize he was talking about sex! And what a romantic idea – to lock away our phones, and have the night all to ourselves, without any distractions…

“Mom, what’s that?”

“Nothing,” I said, stuffing the notes into my pocket. “Uh, I’m going to look for Mr. Whiskers, okay?”


When Jack finally climbed into bed, I curled up against him. “I’ve been looking forward to tonight,” I said, in the best sultry voice I could muster.

He smiled at me. “Yeah? Why’s that?”

I let my hair brush against his neck, the satin chemise touch his back. “I got your note.”

“My note?”

“The one you left me in the dining room.” My fingers trailed up his leg, but he yanked it away.

“What are you talking about?”

Annoyed, I stood up, picked up my jeans, and fished for the note. “This one,” I said, throwing the crumpled pieces of paper onto the bed.

He eyed me cautiously, then picked up the notes – and frowned. “Cat, I didn’t write this.”

“Who did, then?” I said, my voice growing louder. “A ghost?”

Shuffling the pieces in his hands, his eyes grew wide; his frown grew deeper. “I think you read them in reverse order.”

“So?”

He stepped forward. In the dim light, he was white as a sheet. Hands shaking, he laid the pieces of paper on the nightstand. I walked over, my heart pounding, and read them slowly:

TONIGHT, I WANT YOUR BODY

IN THE BASEMENT WITH MINE.

PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN

I’LL KNOW IF YOU

CALL.

I ALREADY GOT THE

CAT

“We need to call the police,” he said, grabbing at his pocket. “Wait – where’s my phone?”

I backed away, staring at the floor.

“Cat? Where’s my phone?”

My heart pounded, and I heard ringing in my ears.

“I put our phones in the basement.”

I Fell Asleep on the Subway

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty!”

My eyes fluttered open.

I was crumpled in a subway bench, my head resting against the window. By now it was empty – save for the girl who had just spoken.

“What time is it?” I glanced at my phone – 9:32pm. Dammit, I had missed my stop. “What’s the next stop?”

“Franklin. We’ll be there in an hour.”

Franklin? I hadn’t heard of that one before. I plopped back down in the seat, and stared at the map on the wall. Thompson, Greenville… but I didn’t see a Franklin.

“Heard you talking in your sleep,” she said, drawing my eyes away from the map. “Nice dream?”

“Oh – uh – it was nothing.”

To my surprise, she grinned – a wide, toothy grin that lit up her face. “Ooooh, was it a sexy dream?”

The heat rose to my face. “No! It’s just – it’s weird, telling you my dream. You’re a stranger.”

“True. But I don’t have to be.” She smiled at me, one finger twirling a lock of her black hair. “I’m Angela.”

My heart fluttered. “Mike.”

“So, Mike –”

The subway lurched.

The lights flickered, sputtered –

And then went out.

“Angela?” I said.

Silence.

A few lights zipped past the window, flashing the car in an eerie green. I could see the faint outlines of the benches, the poles, the windows, and –

A large, black shadow where Angela was sitting.

“Angela?” I said, my voice shaking.

And beside it, something metal, gleaming in the low light…

Thump.

I felt the air shift, as if something walked right by me.

And then –

A cold, bony hand on my shoulder.

“Get off me!” I screamed.

Click.

The lights flicked back on.

Angela stood next to me, her hand on my shoulder. “Did I scare you?!” she said, breaking into laughter.

“Uh – no, of course not. You just startled me, that’s all.”

“Right, right. I startled you,” she said, snickering. “Of course.”

I crossed my arms – but I couldn’t stay mad at her. That pretty black hair, that infectious laugh…

The subway lurched upwards. The black outside faded into the purple of night. Pines lined the track, their branches swaying in our wake. A small sign read: ENTERING AMBLETON COUNTY.

“I’ve never taken the subway this far,” I said.

“Of course not. You city slickers never go out into the suburbs.”

“Aren’t you from the city, too?”

“No, just visiting.”

My heart sank. “Visiting? For how long?”

She laughed – a warm, tinkling laugh that filled the entire car. “Don’t worry. We’ll see enough of each other.”

“Uh – what?”

“We’ve still got almost an hour, stuck here.”

“Oh, right.” I laughed uneasily. “How much longer do we have?” I slipped the phone out of my pocket, and turned it on.

9:32pm.

Huh. Weird.

“So, Mike, tell me about yourself,” she said, as the subway dipped back underground.

“Uh, I’m 27 years old, an accountant for Bauer & Hofstetler –”

“No, no, no. I don’t want the standard name, age, job. That’s what resumés and obituaries are for.” She leaned against me, ever so slightly, and I blushed. “Really tell me about yourself. Your likes, your hopes, your dreams.”

“Okay. On weekends, I play Magic the Gathering –” no, no, that makes me sound so boring – “I mean, I go kayaking with my cousin, upstate.” I mean, I did do that, once.

“What else?”

“To be honest, I always wanted to…” I paused, glancing over at her; she smiled back, her brown eyes staring into mine. “I always wanted to find that special someone.”

“Did you?” she said, her eyes sparkling.

“Maybe,” I said, softly.

Even in the terrible, fluorescent lighting, she was beautiful. Her warm smile, her brown eyes… and her talkativeness, which I at first found annoying, was actually quite fun. I extended my hand out to hers…

The subway lurched.

Reflexively, I turned back to the window. The black faded, again, as we resurfaced from underground. The pines swayed in the wind, and a sign approached –

ENTERING AMBLETON COUNTY.

“Wait, we’ve already seen that sign,” I said, yanking my hand away.

“Are you sure?”

My heart began to pound. “I’m positive.” I stood up, my knees shaking. “Are we – are we just going in circles?!”

But I had not felt the subway turn – not once.

“Mike –” Angela said, rushing over to me.

I swatted her away, and ran to the windows. “And that fallen pine – I remember it, too!” The windows rattled under my fists.

“Calm down!” she yelled.

I backed away. “You’re in on this,” I yelled, so loud that the car shook. “Making small talk, keeping me distracted. To think! I was falling for you!”

Her eyes clouded with tears. “Mike, please…” she said, in a voice barely above a whisper.

“Where are you taking me?” I yelled. I stared out the window, cupping my hands against the glass. “Where in the hell –”

I stopped.

The scenery of the trees, the moon, the sky –

There was something terribly wrong.

I squinted –

And my blood ran cold.

They had no detail. The moon was just a white circle – all the craters were gone. The pine trees were just rough silhouettes.

“Angela – where are we going?!” I cried. My voice was softer now – stripped of its anger, replaced with gnawing fear.

But her hands were already on my shoulders. I could feel her warmth, her calm permeating my body. She snuggled her head against me, and whispered: “I’m taking you home.”

“What are you talking about?”

But then I remembered.

9:32 pm.

Bang!

A crushing pain in my chest.

“There was a terrible accident,” she said, looking into my eyes. Such warm, beautiful, brown eyes.

I blinked, and – for a second – I saw the black shadow in her place, holding a scythe.

“No!” I yelled, tearing myself away from her.

“Mike, please, it’s not your decision!”

I turned to the door.

I took a deep breath. Shaking, I ran forward, ramming myself into it as hard as I could.

Crack.

I was flying, falling, out in the cold air –

Thump.

My eyes flew open.

The air stung my lungs.

“He’s alive!” A flurry of sound – sirens, yells, screams. A rush of motion, as paramedics hoisted me on to a stretcher, asked me my name.

As I was wheeled into the ambulance, I saw, out the corner of my eye –

A dark-haired girl, standing in the crowd.

Watching me.

My Student Gave Me a Cookie

“I got a gift for you, Miss Carver.”

Matthew stood in front of my desk, holding out a big chocolate-chip cookie.

I have to say, I was surprised. Matthew and I didn’t exactly get off on the right foot. His grades were bad, and whenever I corrected him during class, I could hear him muttering “you’re stupid” or “so ugly” under his breath. But I knew his parents were going through a nasty divorce, and he was only nine, so I let it slide.

And it seems my efforts paid off.

“Thank you! That’s so sweet!” I said, placing it in the middle of my desk.

To tell the truth, I didn’t really want to eat the cookie. I was on a strict no-sugar diet to lose five pounds before my friend’s wedding this weekend… so I didn’t eat the cookie that morning. It just sat there, nestled between my pencil holder and stack of flash cards.

But before lunch, Matthew came up to me and asked, “Are you going to eat your cookie now, Miss Carver?”

And finally, I felt kind of bad.

So when Matthew came into class after lunch, and saw that the cookie was missing, he looked shocked. “You ate it?”

“Yes, I did!” I said, with a smile. “It was very good.”

He sat down in the back row, and didn’t say anything for the rest of the class. I admit, I felt bad for fooling him; but I couldn’t break my diet now. It was stashed away in one of my drawers.

In the afternoon, I ended class a few minutes early. I had to catch my flight to Miami for the wedding. As I was packing up to leave, I thought of the cookie. I can’t just leave it here over the weekend – it’ll go bad! Well, maybe I’ll bring it,  I thought. Just in case I get really hungry on the plane.

I wrapped it in a napkin, threw it in my laptop bag, and caught an Uber to the airport.

The lines at security were long. When I finally got there, I put my laptop in one of the bins, and threw the rest of the bag on to the conveyor belt. But after I passed through the metal detector, I was immediately pulled aside by one of the TSA agents.

“Ma’am, come with me,” she said, leading me down a hallway and into a back room.

“I’m already late for my flight,” I huffed. “I might not be able to board –”

The door swung open.

There were several people sitting around the table. Some were TSA agents; others were wearing a uniform I couldn’t identify. And they were all staring at the item in the center.

The cookie.

Dread flooded me. My legs began to shake. Matthew’s face flashed through my mind, with his toothy grin. In a small voice, I asked:

“What’s going on?”

One of the officers stepped forward.

“The scanner showed that there’s something embedded inside the cookie. Or, rather – multiple things.”

I stared down at it. My vision began to swim, and I gripped the back of the chair for support. “What? What’s inside it?” I asked, my voice trembling; but I was afraid of the answer –

“Razor blades. Eight of them, baked right into it.”

The Hitman with a Heart

Michael Zinsky wasn’t my usual type of client.

He wasn’t a spurned lover, looking for revenge. Or a murderer, looking to snuff out the witnesses to his crime. Or a husband, hungry for his wife’s insurance policy.

He was just an ordinary guy, looking out for his sister.

“I wouldn’t normally resort to… such drastic measures. But Harold has become so awful. Treats her like garbage. Doesn’t give a rat’s ass about her, or anything, except for that stupid band he sings in with his work buddies.” He blew his nose loudly. “You understand that – right, Switchblade?”

I winced. “Uh, that’s just my alias, Michael. You shouldn’t… like… actually call me that in casual conversation.”

“Then what should I call you?”

I blinked. Clearly, he had never done anything like this before. “Uh, do you have the cash?”

His eyes darted around the diner. Then, from his pocket, he pulled out a wad of hundred-dollar bills.

“You can’t just – they’ll see it!” I hastily threw him one of the napkins. “Wrap it up in that. And do it discreetly.

He wasn’t discreet – but, thankfully, the diner was nearly empty at this hour. “It’s twice your usual rate,” he whispered, very loudly. “I wanted to give you a big tip, so you’ll do a good job.”

A tip? You’re not ordering an ice cream cone, Michael. You’re ordering a hit. But I took the cash, smiled, and buried it deep in my pocket.

“And I don’t want you to kill him.”

What?

“Michael, you know I’m a hitman, right?”

“Yes. But Nancy needs his income – she’s been a housewife for the past twenty years. No work experience, no education past high school. There’s no way she could support herself on her own.”

You could support her, with the cash you just gave me.”

He shook his head. “I’ve tried. She won’t let me. Cares too much.”

I sighed. “Well, okay. Suppose I did take you up on this… job. What do you even want me to do to him, if not kill him?”

“I don’t know! Scare him. Threaten him. Just make him stop being so terrible to her.”

“But it’s risky business. I mean, he’ll know what I look like, and –”

“You’ll go on Sunday morning. He’ll be napping alone in the house – won’t even see you come in.” Michael looked down at the table, and then added: “It’s the only time he’s ever alone in the house. The only time… he lets her leave.”

My belligerence evaporated, and I felt a pang of sympathy. “It’s that bad?”

He nodded.

“Okay. I’m in.”


The house was a tiny little thing, shoved into the gap between a massive brownstone and a dilapidated food mart. It would be a challenge to do it without any witnesses.

Good. I like a challenge.

I snuck through the backyard, creatively using the various bushes and fencing to hide from onlookers. I then stepped into the open window, like Michael told me to.

The knife was heavy in my hands.

I turned left at the kitchen, and crept into the living room. In the center stood a microphone, a music stand, and some sheet music – presumably for Harold and his band. Nancy’s needlepoint supplies were pushed into the corner, taking up as little space as they possibly could.

I walked into the next room.

And there, in the armchair, sat Harold.

Fast asleep.

I retrieved the chloroform from my pocket. With the grace of a dancer, I lay it against his nose.

And then I set to work.


I visited Nancy myself a few weeks later.

I like to do that sometimes. Pose as a friendly neighbor, see how their lives have changed in the wake of my work. Yes, I know it increases my chances of getting caught. But, as I said, I like a challenge.

When she flung open the door, her eyes were bright, and she wore a smile.

“Hi! I’m Smith Baker,” I said. “Just moved here – a few houses away from you, behind the food mart.”

“Oh, how nice! Please come in.”

She led me into the living room, and I smiled. The music stand and other equipment were thrown haphazardly in the corner; Nancy’s needlepoint was sprawled across the sofa, taking up as much space as it possibly could.

“Smith, this is my husband, Harold.”

He just stared at me. Still, silent, pale.

And then he started shaking wildly, clawing at the raw, red mark across his throat.

“Oh – sorry – I should explain.” She sat down, with a small smile. “He’s not trying to be rude. It’s just that… well, he had an accident, a few weeks ago. And now he can’t speak, I’m afraid.”

She patted his arm, comfortingly, as he clung to her. “Or sing, unfortunately.”

Hmm.

An “accident.”

That, mysteriously, cut his vocal cords –

And left the rest of him untouched.

I could see Harold’s hands shaking, his lip trembling. I wonder if he was thinking about the first thing I said to him, when the chloroform wore off.

If you don’t treat Nancy right – I’ll slit your throat again.

And next time, you’ll lose more than just your voice.

I smiled at Harold. “Would you like a cookie?” I asked, holding out the tray. “I baked them myself.”

I Tried to Switch Bodies With My Sister

If this were a Disney move, I’d be the “evil” sister.

Can you blame me? My sister, Eva, got quite a different lot in life than I did. Tall, tan, and buxom, with a placid disposition and a beautiful voice. Me? I’m short and pale, with a habit of eating too many Reese’s and a voice that sounds like a dying frog.

Sometimes, when I tell her, she’ll laugh (that tinkling, feminine, beautiful laugh) and go “Oh, Cora, don’t be jealous! We should love each other like sisters, not fight over stupid things.”

But I wonder if she’d still say that, if she were the one who got the short end of the stick.

Last night was the breaking point. We went to a party at one of the fraternities. I waved over one of my classmates, Robby, from Physics. But as soon as I did, and his eyes fell on Eva, it was all over. No matter how many jokes I made, no matter how many times I touched his shoulder – he barely gave me a second look.

That very night, after Eva went to bed, I snuck out of our apartment. I’d heard rumors – crazy ones. That a real-life witch lived in the abandoned house at the end of the street. It was something no grown-ass woman should’ve believed.

But I was desperate.

When I arrived at the house, my heart sank. The boards were rotten and splintered; the glass was cut into large, pointed shards that rose up from the frame like fangs. I could tell there was a light on inside, though, somewhere – a dim, yellow glow.

I raised my hand to knock.

But before my fist hit the wood, a voice called from inside: “Come in!”

Creeeeeaaak. I took a step inside, my legs shaking. “Hello?” The light seemed to be coming from a back room; I made my way towards it.

“Welcome.”

A woman sat on the floor, in the middle of a pentagram, wearing a hooded robe. She looked only a few years older than me, her blonde hair poking out from under the hood.

“Uh… are you the witch?” I said, rather awkwardly.

She grimaced. “W-I-T-C-H is not a term we use around here. It’s Woman of the Magical Arts.

“I’m so sorry! Uh, well –”

“What do you seek?” she interrupted.

“I want to switch bodies with my sister.”

“An easy spell. I can do it for you – but the question is, can you pay the price?”

“What’s the price?”

She paused, staring up at me with her ice-blue eyes. “Your firstborn son.”

“I, uh – I don’t know –” I stuttered.

She broke into laughter. “I’m just messing with you. The payment is money – a thousand dollars. Cash or credit?”

“Uh, credit,” I said, breathing a sigh of relief. I fumbled for my wallet and handed her the card.

She pulled a smartphone with one of those Square card readers out from the folds of her robe. Once she swiped it, she patted the floor and said: “Come, sit with me.”

I gingerly lowered myself down on the pentagram. “After it’s done – will she know we’ve been switched?”

She shook her head. “No. I’ll cast a memory reformation spell, too, which will reform her memories and make her think she was always you.”

I smiled. “Good.”

She took my hands in hers. “Lady of Darkness, I beseech thee, switch this woman and –”

Creeeeaaak.

One of the floorboards, creaking from a back room. I shot up, staring into the shadows.

Thump, thump, thump.

Out of the darkness, a silhouette began to take form. A woman – old and withered, with pentagrams and symbols cut up and down her skin in white, shining scars. She stared at me with two deep red eyes, and I felt my blood run cold.

“Do you need help, dear?” she asked.

“No, Grandma, I got it. She just wants a body swap with memory reformation.”

But the old woman paced forward. She knelt on the ground beside me, and leaned in close, until I could smell the odd citrusy scent of her hair. “Body swap, again? Did it not work the first time?”

I looked at her, eyebrows furled. “What?”

“Well, you were just in here a few weeks ago. We did this exact same spell.”

I stared at her, the realization sinking in. “I… was?”

“Oh, yes.” A smile crinkled her pale skin, and her eyes twinkled.

“You were in here, looking to switch bodies with your better-looking sister – and to make sure she never remembered any of it.”

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