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A Stage of Twilight Goes Gentle

Death. As the saying goes, it’s one of the few things inevitably shared by all humans. Yet when it’s pending, we often don’t know how to deal with it – and in cinema this reluctance is often reflected. Film is full of funerals and spectacular, world-saving sacrifices, but tends to flinch from confronting the slow, inevitable road to demise most of us will eventually face.

A Stage of Twilight does not flinch. It’s an intimate, real drama with a primary storyline that follows Barry (William Sadler, “Deep Space 9”), his wife of decades, Cora (Karen Allen, Raiders of the Lost Arc) and their extended family friends after he learns he has about a month of increasingly failing health left. There is a touching coming-of-age subplot involving a teen choosing between relationships, the family business and a chance to go to college, but the heart of the story by director Sarah Schwab lies in looking at how Cora and Barry cope with end of life issues that don’t typically make it to the screen. 

The film unfurls at a slow but engaging pace, and features many moments of subtle humor. The rural setting and small-town feel are brought to life by lovely cinematography and seasoned actors with nothing left to prove but a great deal of talent still to share.

The director is not afraid to let her actors’ work hold the camera with close-ups that range from thoughtful to intense, and it’s a rare eye that won’t have at least a little tear jerked from it by the end, but Stage of Twilight keeps it simple, without the melodrama that can infect an end-of-life story. And there are enough twists and surprises to keep you guessing. You’ll come away with something to talk about, and it might be something we don’t talk enough about.

RI Film Office’s Steven Feinberg interviews Allen, Sadler and Schwab at the RISD Museum Auditorium screening



Weird Fiction Runner-Up: The Dregs of Dreams

The Dregs of Dreams

by Lauren D’Ambrosia

The metal door had no handles, just keyholes. It could only be slammed aggressively shut. This bothered her at first, the amount of noise that echoed up and down the stairwell announcing her every departure. It bothered her until she realized how very few of the other apartments were actually inhabited. It was the off-season in the port city of Yūchi. The dead season. The tourists from Jōchō would not swarm over and infest the real estate until high-season, when the tidal surges were at their peaks. During these extremely enticing weeks of the year, up from the sea came shimmering waves of turbulent mucus. It crawled up and inland, overtaking the coastal barricades that once served as barrier between land and sea. It rolled and spread its way through town. It danced in the streets. It climbed up and down the backs and bellies of buildings, and slithered back out to sea by dawn. It left everyone reeling with a strange, inexplicable ecstasy, and a lingering longing for perpetual night.

On the landing where she now stood, a half-dozen doors also stood. At six stories high, the residential tower rose fifty meters into the air. The lower half of the tower was unoccupied stem, functioning solely to elevate the building above encroaching ocean swells and storms, and other things from the sea. Of the doors before her, only one apartment currently housed occupants: a Yūchian family of sixteen. Two wives. Eight children under the age of twelve. One cousin. Three uncles. Two unrelated elderlies who joined the family during the daytime once and never left the pack.

She had never officially introduced herself to these people, her neighbors. She did not speak Yūchian well. But she made note of their movements. In Yūchi, rent was dirt cheap during the off-season. Landlords starved for tenants, tripe, and Supai parrots, a local delicacy, with too many feathers and gears to truly enjoy. No one inhabited any of the apartments adjacent to her own. It was agreeable, in a way. Quiet. No one could hear her. From her balcony at night, she could see the soft twinkling of spartan lights from the nearby buildings, illuminating the darkness like distress signals in a vast vacuum of noiseless nothingness. Not even the crashing waves from the ocean could be heard or seen through the assemblage of tall towers.

When the glittering sludge and the visitors alike flooded the streets during the summer surges, she would have to find a new place to live, in a new city. For now she could settle in. She could idle for awhile.

She had moved to Yūchi to begin work at the city’s government run, foreign language school. Everyone wanted to learn the language of her native land. It was easy for her to get this kind of job, and it allowed her to live almost anywhere. It took little effort, and you were typically treated well. The locals thought you had special skills and knowledge. It was an easy job so far, and the streets of Yūchi were agreeably flat, making bicycling less strenuous, though the two-wheeled traffic was not always easy to navigate through. The tram lines did not run offseason. Nor did the trains, shuttles, conveyors, or purveyors of pedestrians. The local government had no interest in their permanent inhabitants. Profit, not prosperity, was their agreed upon agenda.

The buildings that made up the city, whether residential, commercial, or industrial, were all titanic, feathery towers. Seabirds roosted in them. The glistening sludge could not climb to the considerable heights of their lowest windows. On certain nights, however, when the undulating ocean was particularly alive, the spray and vapors from the surge could be felt by the eyes, in the nose, and over the skin, a stinging and prickly, but immensely pleasurable sensation. Tears of rapture welled in eyes. Marvelous mucus leaked from noses.

Each day at the foreign language school she would be assigned to a new classroom. She was on rotation, there to supplement and assist the permanent language teachers whose mastery of the language was fragmented and strange. The demand for teachers was high, and the qualifications for employment exceptionally low. This did not stop the government from charging substantial prices for lessons. Education was not free. But it was purportedly “freedom.” Kakudo was the language of international business, trade, politics, and potential prosperity. If these poor plebeians ever wanted to make it out of Yūchi, they would need to communicate in Kakudo. For all they knew, they were receiving an optimal education. They should have known better. They should have known if they could not purchase fresh tripe, drink from the pipes, breathe in deeply the low-lying air, or listen to independently aired music waves, they also could not learn the skills required to forcibly obtain their freedom.

Tonight she was placed in C1 on the seventeenth floor. As she walked into her assigned classroom, murmurs unrelated to language learning skittered around the room. The primary teacher did not seem to mind the obvious distraction of the students, but did keep insisting that they speak their troubling gossip in the foreign language they sought to one day masterfully wield. An old man sitting by the door clutched a bladed weapon. It was long, thin, bowed, and apparently of little concern to the others in the room.

He hunched low and whispered surreptitiously to his desk-mate, “I brought this. If it’s erratic enough to come ashore now, at this time of year, it’s wild enough to climb higher, much higher, and to envelope more, much more.”

“It’s not wild. It’s confused, or sick. That’s what they’re saying.”

“Irrelevant,” asserted the old man, drumming two fingers, then three, then two on the oily hilt. “It’s ravenous.”

“Does it understand Kakudo? Does it understand language? I heard you don’t need a blade. I heard there are certain words you can speak to it now, and not need any kind of blade. I know it doesn’t like suigin, but I heard you might not even need a blade. I say this, because I don’t have a blade. When the visitors are here, the seifu protect the city. I have never needed a blade. I don’t have a blade. There’s that new foreign lady.”

She stopped. Looked at the man, looked further down, and fixedly at the blade, then continued walking. She did not have a blade either and did not understand what it was needed for, but instantly understood two things: the old man felt threatened and had a certain knowledge about how to proactively protect himself given his past experiences.

In the days that followed, a new station began airing on the dual-dial, dialogic, bird bots. Someone or something had sent her one of these flying devices. She wasn’t sure who, but three days into her relocation to the area, what she assumed was a normal and naturally occurring, green parrot landed on her kitchen windowsill. Upon closer examination, the Supai turned out to be an odd combination of local communication device, information distribution, and musical mechanism. The instant it began rattling off introductory instructions for operation, she felt certain it was not simply a parrot of the planet. Several years ago, not long after the sludge surges slid ashore for the first time in digitally recorded history, the privately owned government body took on the daunting task of designing a device that could be remotely controlled, could recall itself if need be, and that appeared aesthetically exotic to the keen adventurers’ critical eye. From a distance, the shimmering, shuttering sludge was an enticing spectacle; the closer it came, the more divine and deadly its desirability. If flames attracted moths purposefully, one might make a metaphorical comparison here.

The new station aired a list of “the missing,” fragmented names and numbers, assumed dates and times of disappearances, and locations from which they were supposed to have vanished. This consisted of mostly bedrooms, kitchens, windows, dive-bars, and all-night convenient stores. The time was always night, but few hours were not night at this time of year. Other stations rattled off daily and occasionally imaginative, but rarely elaborate explanations: unknown animals, unknown machines, inky enemies with ill intent, a secret desire on the part of the vanished to leave this deadbeat city in the dregs of night for greener grottoes, visiting unlisted relations, hunting, foraging, temporarily lost in the sinister stairwells of very tall towers. It seemed clear that if the government intended to openly admit to such obviously troubling occurrences, they would also have to provide some sort of strategic solution or cognitive cure. They went with the latter option. A remedy of words was always best. And why wield all the words themselves this time? Why not put the “weapons” in the hands of the timorous populace? It was soon announced that these new “weapons” would be distributed at the language school where she worked.

This news caused an immediate spike in enrollment. It was reported that Kakudo words, if uttered in the proper order, at the perfect pitch and volume, with the right emotional backing, could effectively fend off the encroaching leaks, seeps, and advances of the weighty, shimmering, vaguely whispering, sludge slicks. Yes. If they were to offer this new remedy of words, they must officially pronounce the true name of their beloved predator: the sludge – the touristic appeal that inspired fervent zeal in travelers with deep pockets and strange desires.

“Do not harm the surge. Charm the surge.” was the recording now on repeat, replacing the airwaves that once spouted speculations as to the causes of the missing persons.

Of the new students, both young and old, there was a man who claimed to be an exmember of the city government.

“I didn’t work there long, though they did like me at first. They said I had the right kind of malleable personality. But when they found out I was an actual resident of the city, a native so to speak, I was promptly dismissed.” The depression in his voice came from the depths of a well recently emptied of all ambition.

She did not dare ask what employed his time these days. She did however make a point to remember him. Perhaps there were things he knew that others did not, things that might prove pivotal in the days to come when these linguistic placebos no longer sufficed to subdue the panic nor the physical threat.

By the week’s end, the school had succeeded in teaching the majority of the remaining populace a number of magical words and phrases. Memorization came first, followed by the practicing of dramatic deliveries. She would play the roll of the sludge, and correct the grammar and pronunciation of the words and phrases bravely hurled at her.

After a second week, classes had returned to their normal sizes. She assumed students had mastered the content, and had not simply gone missing. Many of the buildings that stood, swaying closest to the sea had been completely abandoned now, or were no longer occupied for more troubling reasons.

On the eve of the third week, even before night fell, the sludge swelled up and over the school.

Words were futile. Windows shattered.

Students and teachers fled out through the classroom door. They hid in the halls, uncertain of where to safely and sensibly flee to next. The old man with the blade took a fearsome stand against the sludge, but fell, his suigin sword skittering across the tiled floor. The ex-government employee had already been sucked away, slurped up, dragged out through the window. Perhaps he was miles out to sea by now. Possibly alive. Perhaps there were things he knew that the others did not. The old man could ask him; he was missing now too.

She picked up the sword without looking at it and exited rapidly into the hall. Passing the quivering clumps of students, she entered into the stairwell. She knew where she was going. She needed her identification documents. She needed proof of nationality. She felt no guilt in leaving.

No one knew her name.

She somehow managed to cycle home, snaking a stranger course than usual to avoid the drifting sounds of clamor and screams. Once at her building, she took the lift up to the first floor (this was as high as the lift ascended), then frantically climbed each ensuing flight. She noticed in passing, hurried though she was, that not a single apartment appeared to be inhabited on any of the floors. When was the last time she saw or heard her neighbors? She came to a halt before her door. She fished for her keys.

In the weeks that followed, Yūchi hired hundreds of itinerant workers to replenish the workforce now needed to meet the increasing demands of new influxes of fanatical, thrill seeking tourists (who were now required to sign lengthy waivers upon arrival). Suigin blades were now sold in mass quantities at every market and shop. One old man in particular, who was in fact not dead, sold appallingly expensive blades forged using deceptive blends of suigin and other, cheaper, less sludge-repellent metals.

“They want a thrill, don’t they?” he asserted in his defense.

We are not sure where she is now, but the government might know. Her things are gone, the blade is gone too, and the Supai bird bot has been tinkered with and taken.




2022 Weird Fiction Contest Winners

1st place

Tide Awaits
by Edward Palumbo

2nd place

What water and wine can’t do.
by Ava Andrew

3rd place

Untitled
by Emily Anderson

Runners Up

The Dregs of Dreams
by Lauren D’Ambrosia

Spring Chickadees
by Amanda Grafe

The Blue Room
by Jack B. Rochester




Weird Fiction Contest Runner-Up: Spring Chickadees

Spring Chickadees

by Amanda Grafe

On April second, Grace Hawkins struggled to hold open a large, oak, door as the movers dragged up an old, floral, couch from her basement.

“Thanks for doing this on such short notice, Earl,” Grace said to the man holding the far end of the sofa.  

“No problem,” said Earl. “People are always looking for vintage furniture. I can sell this for a pretty penny, probably by next week.”

“It’s all yours,” said Grace. “I just want it out of here.”

“Understood,” he said maneuvering his end through the doorway. “Let me know if you are getting rid of anything else and I will come pick it up for free.”

“Sure thing,” said Grace. “It won’t be until the end of the month though. I’ll give you a call then.”

“Sounds good,” he replied. Earl and his help carefully navigated the hallway towards the front of the house. The bell rang. Grace released the door, shaking out the cramps that had formed in her arms from straining her muscles against its weight.

“Boy, that’s hefty,” she said to herself. The bell rang again. “Coming!”

Grace peered around the corner through the screen that was separating her kitchen from the outside. In the distance, she saw Earl loading the last of the furniture into his truck. Directly in front of her stood a petite, middle aged, female named Helen. Grocery bags hung from each arm like laundry on a clothesline.

“Hello, Grace,” Helen called out when she spotted her. “Sorry to ring the bell so many times. These are getting heavy, but I didn’t want to just walk in.”

“Oh, it’s fine. You’re practically family,” said Grace waving her forward. Helen pushed through the screen and was immediately helped by Grace who took some of the bags.

“You got a lot today,” said Helen referring to the loads of provisions she had been forced to carry.

“Yeah,” said Grace. “You can just put them on the counter.”

Helen moved further into the kitchen and put down the bags. At the table, a frail, elderly, woman sat with her hands folded. She stared out the window.

“Hello Jane,” Helen said to the woman. Jane Hawkins gave Helen her attention once she was in her line of sight before she looked Grace with confusion.

“Who’s this?” she asked.

“That’s Helen, Grandma,” said Grace. “She’s been bringing your groceries for the past couple of years.”

“Who?” Jane repeated. Helen leaned in close.

“Jane? How are you this morning?” Helen asked.

“What?” Jane yelled back.

“I said, how are you doing today?” Helen repeated. Jane didn’t answer.

“I don’t know what she’s saying,” Jane said to no one in particular. Grace turned to Helen.

“I’m sorry. Her hearing has gotten worse and she’s misplaced her hearing aids again. Not that it makes a difference. She can’t really hear with them on either. I don’t even bother trying to have a conversation anymore.”

“No worries,” said Helen. “My mother also had a hard time hearing at her age. How old are you now Jane?”

“What?” Jane responded.

“You’re ninety-three,” Grace answered for her. An engine backfired. It was Earl’s truck pulling away.

“Doing a bit of spring cleaning?” Helen asked.

“No,” said Grace. “I am putting the house up for sale. Just trying to get as much out as I can first. We’ve already cleaned out the attic, the basement and one of the bedrooms.”

“You’re selling the house!” Helen exclaimed with a bit of disappointment in her voice. “Where will you go?”

“I go back to work in a couple of months. She only has me and my brother and I’ve already taken a year off to try and care for her. I just can’t do it anymore and I can’t ask my brother for help. We’re practically estranged.”

“What about Jane?” asked Helen concerned.

“She will be going into a full-time care facility on the twenty-eighth of this month.”

“That’s a few weeks from now, poor thing,” said Helen. She over exaggerated a frown so Jane could see. “How do you feel about that Jane?”

“Don’t worry,” said Grace. “I doubt it will make a difference. She doesn’t even know where she is now.”

“You!” said Jane as she pointed at Helen. “Could you hand me some bread?” Helen looked to Grace for approval.

“Go ahead,” said Grace. “At least she’s remembering to eat.” Helen gave a piece of bread to Jane who proceeded to break it up into little pieces and toss it out the window.

“Grandma!” scolded Grace as she ran towards her. “Stop throwing food out the window. You’ll attract mice!” Grace snatched the bread from her grandmother’s hand and threw it in the trash.

“But it’s for the birds. They are so pretty,” Jane argued.

“Yes, they are.” Grace dismissed. Helen shifted uncomfortably.

“So, I’ll see you again next week?” she asked.

“No,” said Grace. “Grandma doesn’t eat much so what I ordered should last the both of us until she goes into the nursing home.”

“Oh,” said Helen surprised. “So, this is the last time I will see you?”

Grace nodded.

“Oh boy,” Helen said teary eyed. She bent over and rubbed Jane’s shoulder. “Goodbye Jane.” Jane pulled away and continued to watch the birds outside.

“Thank you, Helen, for everything you’ve done,” said Grace. “Once she’s settled in, I’ll let you know. I am sure she would love to have a visitor.”  Helen forced a smile.

“Sure thing,” Helen replied. She waved and whispered a saddened goodbye before exiting.

“Are you going to be okay up here while I finish sweeping up the basement?” Grace asked her grandmother loudly. Jane nodded, but Grace could not be sure it was in response to her question or purely coincidental. It didn’t matter. There was a deadline and things had to be done.   

Grace used all her might to pull open the basement door again and somehow, this time, it was intent on staying open. Just to be sure, she fashioned a chair in front of it. She flipped on the switch to the basement and headed down the creaky, wooden, steps. Shards of wood and ceiling that had fallen with age, dirt, small screws and parts and pieces of paper littered the ground, but the space was otherwise empty. Three weeks to go and four more rooms and the house would be cleaned and ready for sale.  

Grace took the broom that was leaning against the cold, stale, wall and began to sweep, starting with the corners. The light at the center of the room was not enough to illuminate her way and the lack of windows in the century’s old dungeon contributed to her blindness. Still, she did her best to consolidate the flotsam into one pile at the bottom of the stairs. The bulb flickered. Grace reached up and attempted to adjust it but pulled back immediately when the heat stung her fingers.

“Ow,” she exclaimed as she sucked on their tips. “Stupid house.” The edifice did not take kindly to her comments and as the bulb flickered again, this time it left her in darkness. Grace huffed with disappointment. To her left, back up the stairs, natural light poured in from the hallway above where the door had been left open. She made her way toward it slowly lifting one foot over the other with muted vision. She was about halfway to the top when the rectangle of light began to recede as the door slammed shut.

“Oh, come on!” exclaimed Grace as she stood in the pitch black. She bent part of the way over, putting her arms out in front of her so she could feel the next step. Beneath her hands, dirt and dust stuck to her sweaty skin as her anxiety of the inconvenience of losing one of her senses rushed upon her. She grimaced at the thought of what her palms would look like when she reached the top and how no amount of washing them would ever make them feel clean again. Almost there, she told herself. She extended her reach, this time hitting something in front of her. It was the way out.

“Finally,” she said out loud. She turned the handle and pushed into the door with all her weight. Nothing. Again. Nope. No matter how hard she pulled on it or which way she turned the knob, it wouldn’t open. She balled up her first and pounded against the door.

“Hello?” Grace yelled. “Grandma? Are you there? Let me out now!” Grace saw a shadow pass underneath the frame. On the other side, Jane hurried by, delightfully humming a song to herself. Grace put her ear to the door. It was an old sonnet her grandmother used to sing to her before bedtime and had somehow committed to what was left of her memory.

“Grandma!” Grace yelled as loud as she could. “I’m down here!” Grace paused to listen for some indication her grandmother had heard her, but there was none. She continued to pound on the door for a few more minutes before turning her shoulder downward and ramming it into cold wood. It was no use. The door was sturdy. Cumbersome. Not like the one’s manufactured today. Grace slid down and sat on the top stair and sat in complete obscurity and silence until…

A tiny squeak echoed from somewhere nearby. Then another. Claws scratched against the cement as something scurried across the room looking for the last bits of food Earl and his crew had dropped during their lunch break. Grace hugged her knees to her chest as she listened helplessly. She hated mice. If that’s what they were. The hairs on her arms began to stand up and a soft, tickling, sensation seemed to move from her elbow towards her wrist. Only it wasn’t the formation of goosebumps. It was something else. Grace jerked her arm up and down as she spatted away whatever was crawling on her. It was something with many legs and a hard shell.

Grace screamed as she shot up into a standing position, writhing internally with fear and disgust by what she had just experienced. The squeaking continued and new tingling sensations, like the feeling of spiderwebs settling over her body, began to startle her. She faced the door again, kicking and punching it until she reached near exhaustion and tears began to well in her eyes.

“Grandma!” Grace screamed. “Grandma! Open the door!”

…………………..

On May first, Jane Hawkins took a bite of a sandwich she made herself for lunch. One piece of turkey between the loaf ends and a hint of mayonnaise. There was plenty of food left from the weeks before, as she didn’t eat much. She got about halfway through when she decided she’d had enough. She tore up the rest of the bread into tiny piece and began throwing them out the window. As she watched the spring chickadees peck at her offerings, she smiled to herself. How pretty, she thought.    




Weird Fiction Contest Runner-Up: The Blue Room

The Blue Room

by Jack B. Rochester

“This is the Blue Room,” Helen Devries said. I looked around, enjoying the tour of this old Rhode Island farmhouse I had already made up mind to buy. The Blue Room was indeed blue, shade upon shades of blue, from the wallpaper to the curtains to the bedspread on the white metal bedstead. “It’s said this was once the room of a beautiful young woman named Samantha, back in Civil War times. The father built this house. He and his wife had five children, four boys and the youngest a girl. They each had their own room, and this was hers.” It was a huge Colonial farmhouse, perched atop a steep hill, surrounded by oaks and maples at least as old as the house. The view across the rolling purple hills was just magnificent.

“Our three boys had their rooms up here, on the second floor, and Will and I shared the master bedroom on the first floor. Just like when the Grantham family lived in it. Until Samantha – um, was killed.”

“Killed?” I said, startled. “You mean murdered?”

“Oh, no, not murdered. It was an accident. Her father was driving a buckboard, taking her to a Hallowe’en party. Took a turn too fast. Poor Samantha was thrown out of the carriage and struck a rock or something. Died. You can still see the marker out on Old Bainbridge Road.”

I started to say something commiserative, but it wasn’t Mrs. Devries’ daughter; she was just telling me the story.

“Poor girl was just twenty-four years old,” she continued. “Her father was inconsolable, as you might imagine. They lived here, oh, what, perhaps another year? – then moved away. You see that poster in the breezeway? It was the auction announcement for the farm. Grantham packed up his family and just walked away. He died shortly after. But that’s not why I tell you the story of Samantha.”

I turned to her. “Oh?”

“No, I tell you the story because I can see in your eyes you want this house for your own, and I want you to have it. I think you and the house are right for one another. But it’s only fair for me to tell you it’s haunted.”

I raised my eyebrows and suppressed a smile. “By Samantha.”

“Yes, by Samantha Grantham. So I am told. I have never encountered the ghost myself, personally. But many stories have been told by others who have owned this house over the years, and guests who have stayed in this room, who have met the ghost of Samantha Grantham. And do you know, I have also been told that nothing – absolutely nothing – about this room has changed since the child lived in it. The bed, the curtains, everything – just as it was when she was alive.”

“Wouldn’t the wallpaper have yellowed or peeled? The bedding rotted away?” I asked.

“You would think so, but none of that has happened.” She gave me a steely gaze. “So be forewarned, Mr. Harrison. This is truly a haunted house. Ghostly events have driven many from it. So don’t say you weren’t told what you’re getting yourself into.”

* * *

My name is Hank Harrison. I’m a bachelor, a graphic designer by trade. A small inheritance and the Internet gave me the freedom to settle into the quiet comfort of this well preserved old farmhouse. I grew serene and content here, and my two dogs were too, happy to play outdoors on the rolling hillside or sleep under the big old trees. It was summer, and the three of us enjoyed every minute of it.

One day I took the dogs on an exploratory excursion, I on my mountain bike, Missy and Dagmar running alongside, over the old dirt roads and hiking trails. As we came off one of the latter, I saw we were on Old Bainbridge Road. Further along, we came to the iron cross planted beside the road with a sign that read

Here felle Samantha Grantham

Beloved Daughter of Stewart and Mary

This day 21 October 1863

Jest Twenty-four Yeares of Age

May Her Soule Rest with God.

And so the story was confirmed, although I thought little more of it at the time. Summer passed, and it was in early August that the so-called “tears of St. Lawrence,” the Perseid meteor showers, began. I lived far enough into the country that no man-made light of any kind spoiled my nighttime skies, and so spent many hours in my easy chair outside, watching for falling stars and marveling at nature’s fireworks display.

One night I stayed out too late and fell asleep in my chair. I rose, gathered the dogs, and went in through the front door. I thought I heard a sound, and at the same moment the dogs became agitated and began twisting and turning at the foot of the staircase. They never went upstairs, for their own reasons I suppose. I shushed them and climbed to the second floor. Samantha Grantham’s room was the first at the top. A pale light suffused it, probably moonlight glowing in all that blue, I thought.

I entered, and the light remained although it did not seem to come from the windows. As I stood there, trying to figure out what was occurring, I was overcome with drowsiness. I felt compelled to lie down on the bed to rest. As I lay on my back, I saw the pale luminescence moving again, around and around, like a restless star from the Perseids now trapped in the confines of this room. I tried to follow it, but my eyelids grew so heavy I had to close them.

I snapped awake. The glowing orb hovered over the foot of the bed, perhaps five feet in the air. As I looked on, the orb turned into a face. The face of a beautiful young woman, pink and healthy, smiling, surrounded by long, golden-blonde hair. Her form slowly rose into the air to reveal a pale blue frock of shimmering silk, and there she hovered, over the foot of the iron bedstead. She was at once ethereal and real, and seemed to modulate between those two states. The smile grew on her lips and she spoke. Or at least I thought she did. Perhaps I heard it only in my mind.

I thought I heard her say, “Henry.”

No one had called me Henry, not since childhood. 

My thoughts were diverted as I was overcome with a feeling of weight pressing upon me. The countenance of Samantha Grantham – for indeed, I could no longer rationally argue that I was not seeing her ghost – was floating above my outstretched form and coming to rest upon me. The glow was becoming more material by the moment, taking human form. I could smell her perfume, feel her hair fall on my cheeks, and then her kiss upon my lips. Her fingertips touched my face and I put my arms around her, holding her, absolutely certain she was as real as real could be. We clung to one another in a sweet embrace and I felt our bodies begin to float and rise from the bed. As we hovered in mid-air, the most powerful erotic sensation I have ever known enveloped me, overpowering and blurring my senses, indeed all of my consciousness. I was utterly in the possession of this spirit whom I held in my arms, whose lips and tongue were at play with my own, and the contact seemed to flow from our faces down our forms, rippling like an erotic tidal wave into our loins. And there it was, the unmistakable fact that I was making love with the ghost of a girl who had been dead for well over a hundred years. And it was amazing, it was all-encompassing, the most peaceful yet intense lovemaking I have ever known. We moved together toward the crescendo but never crested that ecstatic moment or descended the other side. I wanted it to never stop.

“Henry,” she sighed again and again.

“Samantha,” I breathed into her ear. I closed my eyes and felt tears squeeze out and flow down my face.

When I opened my eyes, daylight was coming through the window. I was lying on the bed – her bed – utterly naked and slightly chilled. I rose and staggered into the hallway. The dogs were lying at the foot of the stairs, looking up at me expectantly.

All day, and for days afterward, fleeting mental images and strange sensations kept recurring as I thought about our lovemaking, suspended in the blue-tinged air above Samantha’s bed.

And now, many years and many nocturnal visits to her bedroom later, I believe I can say with some sense of certainty that Samantha’s spirit has departed the Blue Room, and her soul is indeed at peace with her God.

END




Weird Fiction Contest 3rd Place

Untitled

by Emily Anderson of Pawtucket

My fingers trembled as they wrapped around the ledge of the balcony, and I could feel my heart catch as I leaned forward, expecting to see the worst but still surprised by the carnage that had rendered my beloved home unrecognizable. It had been 12 days since Cthulhu washed up in the Providence River, right in the heart of the city. Ever since then a thick fog had settled over Providence and it seemed as if everyday someone new was missing. I wasn’t a religious person by any means, but I often found myself praying in the days following the start of The Destruction. To whom I was praying I wasn’t exactly sure, whoever might be out there and willing to listen I guess. But still, I silently pleaded, willing the madness to end, begging for those I loved to be found. Yet nothing happened. No mystical being came down from the heavens to slay the beast in the waters below, and Cthulhu never seemed to tire of his rampage. It
was as if he was feeding on our sorrow and fear.

Jump.” The voice that spoke to me inside my head was somehow simultaneously yelling and whispering, and it’s voice was both sharp and raspy. It had been a constant in my life since the first day, and despite living with it for nearly two weeks it still brought a chill down my spine every time it spoke. “JUMP.” The voice repeated sternly. I pushed myself away from the ledge, refusing to let myself bend to him. He had taken so much from me already, I wasn’t going to allow him to break me down any further. I could hear the voice cackling as I turned back inside my apartment, slamming the sliding glass door shut as if that would be enough to save me from Cthulhu’s clutches.

I looked around at the current state of disarray that had taken over my apartment. Clothes were strewn everywhere, dishes had completely flowed over the sink and spilled onto the counter. “Not like any of it matters,” I thought to myself. The world around me was collapsing and I hadn’t had contact with anyone I cared about in nearly two weeks. I made a deal with myself at that moment, if I made it through the end of The Destruction I would come back and do my dishes. Until then, it was the least of my worries.

I took a deep breath as I accepted what my next moves had to be and started gathering as much of my dirty laundry into a small backpack as I could before swinging it over my shoulder.

Foolish girl,” the voice chided me as I reached for the knob of my front door. I took a step over the threshold, letting the door slam shut behind me. “Do you think you can run from me?

I strolled down the street, towards the train station. The trains hadn’t been running for days since evacuation efforts had ceased abruptly but I figured if I followed the tracks long enough I’d make it out of Rhode Island, and hopefully wherever I ended up wouldn’t be touched by the same kind of evil as Providence.

No matter where you go,” the voice warned. “I will always be right here, inside every thought and inside every dream. There is only the eternal way out.”




Weird Fiction Contest 2nd Place

What water and wine can’t do.

by Ava Andrew of Pawtucket

My father became a priest when we lived in Providence. He worked in the tiny church at the top of our street. He’d never been to any schooling or even went to church when we lived anywhere else, but here he was devoted to it. He worked everyday, seven days a week in that church; and made me tag along each time. 

I didn’t like it very much, the air was always thick and it smelt like a damp basement. I always thought the other kids were stuck up, with their rosaries and bible versus stamped in their heads. Everyone loved the stuff and I just couldn’t get behind it. 

Thankfully, Providence didn’t last long. My dad got a job opportunity out west with the church, a camp out in the dense forests of Colorado. He didn’t say much about the job, he just packed us up and moved us out right away. 

I liked the west far more than the cities. There wasn’t a house or person for miles it seemed. I enjoyed the privacy. And this camp was the epitome of private, miles and miles into woods no one touched. My father became the priest for this camp too, working the same job he did in Providence. 

But everything was different. These people weren’t stuck up like the folks before, they didn’t preach to me or speak in hymns. They were kind and welcoming. 

The first day we were there the older women took me into their cabin to measure me for new clothes. They were master seamstresses who made all the girls’ clothes, flowy white dresses that ended right below the knee. They were the most beautiful thing I’d ever worn, I’d begged them to make me as many as possible. 

I saw dad more than I ever did before, he wasn’t as consumed in work as he was before. He had his own special clothes too, the woman made him fitted black suits he wore everyday. He looked handsome, clean and happy. 

“I like it here,” I told him once after the nightly fire. “I like it alot.”

“Me too,” He smiled. “I think this is the start to a new beginning.”

He was right. This was a new beginning. A new life we’d never experienced before. I spent more and more time with the women and girls of the camp. For the first time, I had friends. Every morning the older girls would take us out to the large field behind the church, the only place where the trees cleared and the sun shined. The grass was thick and soft under our bare feet. We sat in a circle and prayed and read. I’d finally taken a liking to reading and praying. In this circle it became fun, exciting. 

One morning, at the circle, I didn’t read. Sometimes, I just enjoyed listening. While other girls read from the book we were asked to close our eyes and put our heads down, giving the speaking girl the spotlight. But this one morning, I did not close my eyes. Instead, I eyed a beautiful rose bush by my side. I’d never seen this bush before, it’s as if it bloomed overnight. I reached for the roses, plucking a few from the bush. I’d remembered our lesson a few days prior, when a few of the older girls taught us how to make flower crowns. I began twisting and threading the roses into a beautiful crown which I eventually placed atop my head. 

I was so proud of my creation, I did the forbidden; I left the circle. I was so blinded by happiness, I raced away to show my father. He was in our cabin, dressing for the day. I raced through the door and showed him the crown atop my head, anxious for him to praise my work.

But I was met with horror, his eyes widened and he raced to me, comforting me. He reached for my head, to remove my crown, but I backed away.

“Don’t you like it?” I asked. 

He didn’t answer. He just stared at my head. I was confused. I went to my bedside, where a large mirror divided me and my fathers bed. 

I understood his horror now. My crown of roses wasn’t roses at all, but thorns. The rose bush was a dead one, full of nothing but stems of sharp thorns. And now those thorns wrapped around my head, puncturing my scalp and leaving me bloodied. 

I wish this was the end of my distorted visuals, but it wasn’t. I’d tried to convince everyone that that rose bush was full, but no one understood. But I powered through, going about my daily tasks. 

While sweeping the patio of our cabin one afternoon, an older woman came to me asking me if I would forage for berries. She was going to make a pie and sent me on a quest to find the juiciest berries in the woods. So I took my basket and began my adventure, racing around the dense forest to find bushes of berries. I picked blue ones, red ones, big ones, and small ones. My basket was full of delicious fruits. I’d even sampled a few, they were juicy and ripe. 

But when I brought them back to camp, the woman was not pleased. She took my basket, horrified. She called over my father, who just so happened to be walking by, to show him my basket. 

“She asked me to pick her berries for pie.” I explained. 

But my father looked at me and the basket with confusion. He picked up a berry and placed it in my hand. Only, it wasn’t a berry. It was a roach. A nasty, black bug. I peered into the basket, and it was full of them. Dark, writhing critters.

Everyone thought I was playing a joke! I would never do such a thing! I attempted to explain but no one cared. My father told me I wasn’t allowed to go to the circle every morning anymore, I was to spend my days with him. He took me to his meetings and I sat in his office all day while he worked. 

It wasn’t fun at all. I sat, bored for hours. I attempted to read, but it wasn’t the same without the fresh sunshine on my back. I took up drawing, as I had nothing better to do. I’d always loved the stained glass window of the churches in Providence and wanted to recreate them. 

I suppose I’m not that great of an artist though, everything I created was bad. Everything I drew was a damnation. That’s what my father said. I had a strange urge to draw the Virgin Mary, but everytime she was covered in blood; eyes plucked from their sockets. I drew the baby Jesus, but he was not a baby but a dark; rabies riddled goat. 

This is when I got drawing privileges revoked. And soon it was reading privileges, too. Without drawing, I took books from my fathers shelves and studied them. But each one I read was in latin, explaining the reader about the horrors of Satan and sinning. My father said he didn’t understand how I could read them, I’d never been taught latin. So, soon all books other than the bible were taken from his office.

I was angry. I couldn’t do anything. The camp I loved quickly became one I hated. Everyone thought I was strange, all of the girls I considered my friends didn’t speak to me anymore. I began bursting out, yelling at my father. I kicked and screamed like a child on the floor of our cabin, while he tried to reason with me. I threw things, making holes in the walls. I ripped down the mirror and shelves. Worst of all, I ripped the holy books from the shelves and tried to burn them. I’d taken the small gas can on the porch of our cabin used to fuel the generators and doused the books in them. I was rabid. 

I apologized later for this behavior, as the rage inside of me blinded me. But he didn’t care. He was certain I was evil. He looked at me with a distaste I’d never seen before. He quickly arranged a ceremony to expel the evil from me. The entire camp was in attendance. He’d planned to baptize me, cleanse me with holy water. 

“Whatever’s happening in there,” He pointed to my head. “We’re gonna get it out.”

But if they’d just listen, they’d know there was nothing to get out. I was fine, I was normal. But he insisted on this ceremony. So I dressed in my best white dress, the one I loved the most, with short flowy sleeves and bows. My father brought me to the front of the church, on display for the entire camp to see. We recited prayers and lines from the book and he reached for the wine; the blood. I sipped from the cup feverishly. If this is what it took to be “clean”, I would do it. But when I drew back, I realized I’d split wine on my clean white dress, the dress I loved so much. 

My father ignored the growing stain, ushering me to the pool of water. 

“The water will wash away the stain.” He assured me. 

And I believed him. So he dunked me under multiple times, submerging me entirely in the water. But the stain would not wash. It stuck to the bright white of the fabric like a sore thumb. This enraged me. He promised it would come out and it didn’t. He’d lied. Now my favorite dress was soiled, just like I. 

“You can’t clean me,” I shouted. “You lied. You can’t clean me! You can’t clean me!” 

I raced out of the church, shouting. I’d caused quite a stir, the audience in the church cried out in distress as I ran. I raced to our cabin, looking for sanctuary. Instead, I was met with the bright red gas can I’d used in an attempt to singe our bibles. 

I grabbed it, racing back to the church. My father was right where I left him, his face full of confusion. As I raced up the aisle, I uncapped the can and left a trail of gasoline behind me. My father shouted at me, attempting to reason with me. I doused the altar where my father stood in gasoline.

“Your water couldn’t clean me,” I shouted. “Maybe flames will!”

I ran to the large statue of Christ watching over us all. Tall, bright prayer candles sat at his feet. I grabbed as many as I could, singeing my fingertips. My father shouted at me, pleading with me. The camp cried. I raced down the center aisle, throwing the candles to the floor. The room ignited immediately. My back burned from the heat chasing after me. I turned around at the church doors, to admire my work. I was blinded by flames and deafened by screams. It was beautiful. I feel in that moment I truly was cleansed, it had worked! The fire had done the job the water and wine couldn’t. My beautiful white dress was caked in ash, the bottoms choppy from the burn of the flames. It was no longer white, it had become black and red. But I’d never felt more innocent and white. 

I closed the doors and raced to my favorite place, the open field. The sunshine had been replaced with the gleam of the moon. The coolness aided the burn of my flesh. I sat; right next to my beloved rose bush, and watched as the church was swallowed. The smoke dissipated into the dark sky, but the orange flames illuminated the dark forest. My father was wrong, it was not about what was happening in my head, it was theirs. But he was right about one thing, this was a new beginning. 




Weird Fiction Contest Winner

Tide Awaits

by Edward Palumbo of Warwick

The bayside Oakland Beach may be considered “modest” when compared to some of Rhode Island’s larger, oceanside, sandy shores. However, it remains a very pleasant escape, when the weather is agreeable. Some ninety yards south of the clam shack lies the main beach: the large beach, if you will. That is where I found myself, out for some exercise, trudging through the sand and doing my best version of beachcombing. The grounds were surprisingly well populated, given that it was late September, and, while certainly a clement, early evening, the weather was not what one may have called balmy. A dozen kids played on the swings and the slides, and a like number of adults sat watching them. Perhaps twenty folks roamed the shore, no one being brave enough to wade into the chilly surf.

A large, oval island of grass separates the main beach from a smaller, lesser used portion of the seashore. That island is bisected by an asphalt path. I made my way along that path, happy to see visitors dining at the picnic tables, or simply relaxing after work or play. A slight chill found me, and it announced that summer was about to depart, and far too soon. I reached the small beach in what seemed like two minutes, and I began strolling on the upper half of the shore, where the footing was firm.

I came upon a stack of stones about three feet high. The structure was neatly balanced and composed of eight or nine gray units. The capstone was mostly round, but it had one flat face that looked upon Greenwich Bay. The flat part of the capstone was adorned with a red handprint.

It was almost certainly fresh blood that created the crimson image, or so the speculative fiction author in me argued. The logician in me countered that the source was red paint. Whatever the origin of the image, I was left pondering as to its meaning. Was it a command to halt? Or could it just be someone saying “Hi”?

I left the monument behind; and traveled about twenty feet, before nearly stepping on a small piece of white paper that was folded into four sections. I opened it and read the note:

Get into the boat. You won’t be disappointed.

It was an interesting message, but there was no boat, not on shore, anyway, or even one docked within shouting distance. Something made me turn back to the west, and I saw it, an old, wooden rowboat. The craft was tiny, and it was painted blue. The coating was faded and cracked. The boat lay nestled against the massive seawall, and it was no surprise that I missed it, when crossing onto the beach. I approached the vessel carefully. Perhaps, I thought it might spring at me, but it did not. I wouldn’t say the rowboat was fully beached, more like eighty percent on the sand. The gentle waves lapped at its bow. I climbed aboard, in keeping with the directions of the note, but I was sure I would be going nowhere, as there were no oars onboard. I became bored after just a minute or two, but as I moved to exit the craft, the boat shifted beneath me. And then, as if by magic, I was traveling on the bay.

The gently rocking boat, as coupled with the darkening sky, put me in a state of near-hypnosis. I was only brought back to reality by the realization that water was filling the boat.

The dark liquid sloshed against the inner walls of the craft. But it was not water at all. It was blood, my blood. The floorboards of the boat had become as if teeth, and they chewed on my lower legs, fiercely, relentlessly. Before I fainted, I managed to pull myself over the side of the rowboat and into the water. That is all I remember of that day.

Shark attack. That’s what they said at the hospital, perhaps even a great white. Right, maybe a twenty-footer, I said to myself. How could a twenty-foot shark find its way into Greenwich Bay, which is about nineteen feet across? But, I jest, Greenwich Bay is much wider than that, and many large sharks have been spotted off Rhode Island Beaches, but none of same, to my knowledge, off Oakland Beach. Whatever the truth, my legs were gone beneath the knee. It was a long road back. The rehabilitation was far more than I could endure, and yet, I endured it. My medical insurance was as good as advertised, and I was walking on prosthetic legs, and rather adeptly, by the following Easter.

A mid-May day, and a warm one, found me back at Oakland Beach for the first time since the incident. I walked the upper shore, of the small beach, sinking somewhat into the sand, as I moved, but I was more agile that I might have believed upon arrival. The stack of stones had been disassembled, but I found all the “pieces” and I built the monument anew. It wasn’t the first time I had created such a work of art. I reached into my pocket for the folded piece of white paper I would find there. I checked the spelling on my note. It was fine. I tossed the paper onto the sand. The small beach was little populated, and I doubt anyone took notice of my actions.

It was just after 7 pm, and that meant dusk was not far off.

I cast a glance at the seawall, and there, the rowboat waited. It did not look any better for the wear. I found a place of rest on a grassy knoll, from which, I watched the spot where I had dropped the note. An old couple came plodding along, arm in arm, but they took no notice of the folded paper, or of me, for that matter, as they moved down the beach in the direction of the marina. A few minutes passed, before a girl, no more than ten, came screaming across the beach, kicking up sand, as if in fear for her life. A boy trailed her, an angry friend, or brother, I surmised. He got closer, before the girl stopped dead in her tracks. She made an instant U-turn, and the boy lost his footing and fell face-first into the sand. The girl escaped the way she came, laughing all the way. The boy trailed behind, once on his feet.

Ten minutes passed without any action, and then came two more, potential customers, a guy and a gal, in their twenties, both clad in denim shorts and t-shirts. They walked the upper beach and passed right by the note, but then, the woman turned. She picked up the folded paper and read my words. I couldn’t hear what she said to her male companion, but she motioned to the rowboat, and away they went. I felt phantom tingles in my legs, as the couple climbed aboard the blue boat. In a few moments they were on the bay. I felt not a moment of guilt. Boats gotta eat, too.




What the F Do I want?: A Christmas Story

What the fuck do I want for Christmas?!

Lucas Fine clamped his mouth shut before he could yell in his mother’s face. He swallowed the half-bite of dissolving corn flakes, picked up the bowl, stood, scraped the rest into the trash, put the bowl and spoon into the dishwasher and walked out of the house.

“Luke!” Mom called after. “I need to know.”

She didn’t mean to piss him off. It was Saturday morning. He’d slept late, but was up before noon, and was eating his bowl of cereal and milk when she’d brightly popped in front of him and asked. Nicely, politely and with genuine curiosity. 

“What do you want for Christmas?”

He was already down the steps before the door slammed behind him. He turned right and started walking. 

It was cold, but not as cold as it was supposed to be in December in Rhode Island. And that was the fucking point. 

He shivered a little. You stomped out without your coat, he could hear her voice in his head. Do you want me to buy you a new coat?

No, I don’t fucking need a new coat, he snapped back to his invisible Mom. I’ve got a perfectly good coat. I’ve got enough shoes. And boots. And I don’t need or want a new goddamn cell phone.

Get moving, he told his feet, you’ll warm up quick. 

There was no snow on the sidewalk. No puddles of slush to avoid. The air was frigid, but the sun on his face was hot. It felt like it was burning him. 

Ever since he was a kid, he had heard about climate change. Starting in third grade, they’d taught him that the planet was warming, that weather and ocean patterns were being disrupted, and that the sea levels were rising. 

During his senior year in college, in the middle of the COVID lockdown, he’d read article after article online about floods and droughts, tornadoes and rampaging fires not just in places like Africa or Bangladesh, but in Europe and all across the US.

Little Greta Thunberg was shouting at the United Nations to do something about it.

That year his parents had shipped him a brand-new laptop. Because he’d needed it. His old laptop, which was a high school graduation present, had truly sucked. Low memory, slow chip. The screen had dead pixels. And the wifi was slower than sludge. 

He remembered the first video call with Dad and Mom on Christmas Day, and how relieved they all were that the lags and delays were gone. “It’s good to see you, Son,” Dad had said. So goddamn dadlike. They’d sent him this huge package full of Christmas candy and new socks and a stupid fucking ugly sweater that matched the ones they wore.

Luke felt himself tearing up at the memory, as if he was George Whatshisname in It’s a Wonderful Life. Sentimental about a gift laptop on a socially distanced Christmas. 

Now he was back living at home in his old room, and his parents were ecstatic that the world was reopening and things would be “getting back to normal.”

“You can get a job,” Dad was always saying. “Lots of places are hiring.”

Not in his field. Sure, he could work in a restaurant or deliver packages for Amazon, like some of his friends. But finding an entry level job that would give him a chance to build a career? And was that kind of long-term plan even something he should be wanting? 

He stormed up the street to the little park where he and the guys used to go when the parents were having a party. He stood in the grass, which was still green in fucking December, closed his eyes, and felt the hot sun on his face. 

Nothing was certain. Old white people were all happily vaccinated. Black and Brown people were still getting killed by cops. All the kids who’d gone to school during COVID were educationally fucked from spending a year in their rooms trying to do “online learning in line with the expectations of the existing curriculum.” 

And the sea level was rising. And the hurricanes were blowing more frequently. And the bomb cyclones and the goddamn atmospheric river, whatever the hell that was. And the possible – no, probable – flipping of the Gulf Stream.

Are we heading toward a new ice age? Is the Midwest going to become the Sahara Desert?

And what the fuck do I want for Christmas?

Luke tried to meditate. Deep breaths. Be in the moment. You can’t do anything about the past, because it’s gone by. You can’t do anything about the future.…

What bullshit!

When the fuck else can you do anything about the future? 

Over the dinner table, his Dad had tried to explain that the economy was made up of a complex system of interlocked and overlapping parts, and that changing just one thing could have these ripple effects and cascades of unintended consequences.

Luke had tuned him out. It was bullshit that justified doing nothing. 

Carbon taxes. Carbon sequestering. Switching from fossil fuels to electric? Where did that electricity come from? Nuclear? Wind turbines without killing birds? How do you rewire everybody’s house for heat pumps? Who pays for it? What the fuck are poor people supposed to do?

Luke, be grateful for what you have. That thought popped into his mind. Yeah, I guess. I’m white, middle class, and have parents who love me. I’m not a beggar kid in Mumbai or a religious militant in Sudan. I’ve got a cell phone, a digital watch, an almost-new laptop, and three different video game consoles. Whoo hoo. The pinnacle of human existence. 

Except, once you’re at the top of the mountain, there’s no place to go but down.

Unless you’re one of those billionaires launching themselves into space on their rocket penises. He smiled. “Rocket powered Viagra! Wears off after four to eight hours. Call a doctor if your symptoms last longer.”

Luke blinked. He was babbling. Maybe he should go home and get a gummy. At least then he’d be buzzed and babbling. 

But that wouldn’t solve anything either. 

He tried to live lightly on the planet. He didn’t have a car. He walked. He took ride shares. He even took the bus when he had to. As much as he wanted to move out, get away from his loving and caring parents and get a little privacy so maybe he could bring somebody home to have sex, doing that would only increase his carbon footprint. 

Honestly, killing himself would be the best thing he could do from a global climate perspective. If enough people offed themselves then the rest could live on in safety. Right?

But that would be a major bummer for his parents on Christmas. 

And, if he was honest, for himself too.

Now that he was standing still, the cold air was cutting through. 

Luke crinkled his nose. He scratched it.

What do I want for Christmas? 

We can’t have a do-over. There’s no restart or extra lives. 

I want to know what to do. I want to know how to spend my time. 

I want to be able to envision a world where I could even think of having kids of my own.

He bit his lip. Where the fuck had that thought come from? 

Hey, Mom, I want a girlfriend who doesn’t want kids. Can you get me that…?

No no no. He laughed to himself. Not going to have my parents set me up. 

Money for dates was out, because his family didn’t believe in giving money or gift certificates. 

“A present is a memory made tangible,” Dad had said a few years back, when Luke had asked for a gift card to buy online video games. “A gift is something that matters. The giver has the pleasure of giving, and the receiver gets to know that they are loved.”

And then he knew what he wanted. It just came to him in a flash. Didn’t even know he’d wanted it before then.

Luke turned and headed back home. 

It didn’t need to be expensive, but he wanted a watch. An analog watch with no batteries to replace or operating systems to upgrade. Not a fifty-thousand-dollar Rolex or whatever. Not a status symbol. Something that was water resistant, yeah. And shockproof. 

He grinned. Shockproof. That’s a concept. 

No, I don’t need anything. Yes, I’ve got a cell phone and the laptop. But when the world goes to hell, they won’t have any signals or power.

You want to give me a present?

I want something to help me keep time, Luke rehearsed what he was going to say. Because time is the only thing that I’ve got. That we’ve got. And as the seconds and minutes tick past, I want to make the most of it.

He walked up the steps, opened the unlocked door, disarmed the alarm his mom had set, and then stood in front of the radiator until he was warm. 

Yeah. I’m lucky. Time to do something.

Wait… Shit. What the fuck am I going to get for them?

Mark Binder is the outgoing editor of Motif. His novel The Groston Rules, and his book Izzy Abrahmson’s Winter Blessings are available on Amazon and at markbinderbooks.com. Mark will also be performing a  live-on-zoom storytelling event called Izzy Abrahmson’s Winter Blessings on Dec 4 and 5. Reserve a FREE ticket at https://village-life-winter-blessings.eventbrite.com/