In the cozy diner, breakfast with you is its customary languid affair of savory omelets and occasional quiet conversation—until coffee has coaxed me into greater wakefulness. Then I notice a lavender filament extending from you towards the tech district—a direction none of your strands has ever gone in. I know the splay of them, and this one is definitely new. Maybe it’s your latest crush—the new attraction you’ve just barely hinted at.
Curiosity gets the better of me, and once we’ve finished our coffee refills and you’re heading to work, I trace this strand—even though one of the first things Mom said about the web was not to do this.
The very first thing she said was, “You can see it, can’t you?”
She must have noticed how I had been staring ahead, too intently to be seeing only the train car’s empty seats and vacant standing area. That’s all there should have been, but the space before me was crisscrossed with purple lines, countless coming and going as the train clattered down its tracks. Mesmerized by this mesh, I scarcely heard Mom’s words.
When I hadn’t answered for what was probably a half minute or so, Mom said—louder this time, “I started seeing the Purple Web around your age. It’s the connections between people.”
Instantly, the entrancing lattice transformed from a visual riddle to the vast middle of human relationships—as though Mom had broken the spell I was under by casting another. I turned to her, eager to learn more. Leaning back in the seat next to mine, she was looking at me with a bittersweet smile, lavender strands reaching out from her every which way, like magnetic field lines diagrammed in my science textbook but more haphazard. My gaze settled on one running straight from her to me.
“It is fascinating, but don’t follow the connections,” she said. “They can go far off into the distance and won’t take you where you think they will.”
Now, as your newest strand takes me by the shopping arcade, those words echo in my mind—like they did the last time I disregarded them. That evening when I studied all of Mom’s strands while she took a nap on the sofa, because I wanted to find the one that linked her to Dad but instead found out that every strand went through the walls of our little house, except the one between Mom and me. The discovery left me unsure of how much my parents cared about each other, until I later understood that the strand connecting them must be tied to some special place in the city where they met—the way the strand that connects you and me runs through Ms. Winterstone’s classroom.
And it’s becoming increasingly likely that this one I’m tracing leads to not your new crush but a place related to her. Whenever the strand shifts, the change in its angle always comes from your end, so the other is probably anchored.
Regardless, I go through parking lots, past a community garden and across train tracks, steadily moving from one city block to the next. Until, as it of course had to at some point, the strand brings me to an impasse. A building’s concrete wall. I was bound to come up against this sort of obstacle, though I was hoping that I’d be lucky enough not to.
Having come this far, I might as well see what’s inside the building thwarting my sleuthing. Around the corner, the large windows of its main entrance reveal a reception area and a prototype gallery—an open area showcasing upcoming product offerings. Curious what this company’s designers have created, I enter the building and head for the gallery.
Among the objects that seem like eclectic artifacts from a possible future, one draws particular attention to itself: a floor-to-ceiling “mirror” that spans much of the gallery’s back wall, reflecting me in a palace full of crystal—chandeliers running along the ceiling of a lengthy hallway lined with vases like giant diamonds on marble pedestals flanking numerous doorways. The shimmering scene of prismatic glass is dazzling, a baroque infinity emphasizing and adorning my plainness. I imagine you in this vitreous corridor, your eyes outshining all its sparkle.
Could this be what the strand I’ve followed is connected to? If so, who does this mirror link you to—someone who worked on it or someone who also marveled at it?
As though in answer to my questions, a woman in a gray blazer and matching skirt enters the palace hallway from the left, seemingly from an adjoining ballroom. She stops to stand behind my reflection, and for a moment, I think this is just how the mirror works—with a feature that adds people to the scene. Then I realize someone is actually behind me.
“Fascinating, isn’t it?” asks the woman.
“Context really changes how we see ourselves,” I answer still staring ahead, as though we can only speak to each other’s reflections.
“Oh? I was going to say the opposite,” she replies. “We are who we are, no matter the surroundings.”
She takes a couple steps forward, and a filament running alongside me jostles, one that goes from her past me to the mirror—right into my reflection, as though we are already connected. If she is your new crush, then I’d rather be linked to her through you.
Standing next to me now, she snaps her fingers, and the crystalline decor around our reflections vanishes, everything replaced by a forest with trees of such height that only their thick trunks are visible.
“So, how about now?” she asks.
“Looks like me and someone else,” I answer.
“Isn’t that what the human experience is supposed to be, a mixture of self and other?”
“Yes, but in what proportions?”
And she smiles so wide that I have to turn away from her reflection, toward her to see the real thing up close.
Soramimi Hanarejima is the neuropunk author of Literary Devices for Coping and whose current work can be found in Lunch Ticket, Cotton Xenomorph and Cheat River Review.
Milo Gorgevska lives in the dreary suburbs outside of Toronto, Ontario. Nonbinary and queer, they identify as a menace to society’s traditions. As a jack-of-all-trades, they are an author, director, poet & screenwriter. Previously, their writing under the pen name ‘Kara Petrovic’ has been published in Philadelphia Stories, Train: A Poetry Journal & others. TheirContinue reading “Firmly Planted by Streams of Water”
by Leah Mueller The absurdity of being so round, with such an eager mouth. The hippo looks like it’s about to bite into something, but it’s also smiling, like it’s goddamned delighted to be the most ridiculous animal in the room. Relentlessly positive New Agers see these beasts as noble creatures. Their essays claim thatContinue reading “Seven Ways of Looking at a Hippopotamus”
by Zach Murphy Pete and Richard’s orange safety vests glowed a blinding light under the scorching sun, and their sweat dripped onto the pavement as they stood in the middle of the right lane on Highway 61, staring at an opossum lying stiffly on its side. Richard handed Pete a dirty shovel. “Scoop it up,”Continue reading “Opossum”
Pete and Richard’s orange safety vests glowed a blinding light under the scorching sun, and their sweat dripped onto the pavement as they stood in the middle of the right lane on Highway 61, staring at an opossum lying stiffly on its side.
Richard handed Pete a dirty shovel. “Scoop it up,” he said.
Everything made Pete queasy. He once fainted at the sight of a moldy loaf of bread. Even so, he decided to take on a thankless summer job as a roadkill cleaner. At least he didn’t have to deal with many people.
Richard nudged Pete. “What are you waiting for?” he asked.
Pete squinted at the creature. “It’s not dead,” he said. “It’s just sleeping.”
“Are you sure?” Richard asked as he scratched his beard. He had one of those beards that looked like it would give a chainsaw a difficult time.
“Yes,” Pete said. “I just saw it twitch.”
Richard walked back toward the shoulder of the road and popped open the driver’s side door of a rusty pickup truck. “Alright, let’s go.”
Pete shook his head. “We can’t just leave it here.”
“It’s not our problem,” Richard said. “They tell us to do with the dead ones, but not the ones that are still alive.”
Pete crouched down and took a closer look. “We need to get it to safety,” he said.
Richard sighed and walked back toward the opossum. “What if it wakes up and attacks us?” he asked. “That thing could have rabies.”
“I don’t think anything could wake it up right now,” Pete said.
Richard belched, “It’s an ugly son of a gun, isn’t it?”
“I think it’s so ugly that it’s cute,” Pete said.
“No one ever says that about me,” Richard said with a chuckle. “I guess I just haven’t crossed into that territory.”
Just then, a car sped by and swerved over into the next lane. Pete and Richard dashed out of the way.
“People drive like animals!” Richard said. “We’d better get going.”
Pete took a deep breath, slipped his gloves on, gently picked up the opossum, and carried it into the woods.
“What are you doing?” Richard asked. “Are you crazy?”
After nestling the possum into a bush, Pete smelled the scent of burning wood. He gazed out into the clearing and noticed a plume of black smoke billowing into the sky. The sparrows scattered away, and the trees stood with their limbs spread, as if they were about to be crucified.
“Jesus Christ,” Pete whispered under his breath.
Pete picked up the opossum and turned back around.
Zach Murphy is a Hawaii-born writer with a background in cinema. His stories appear in Reed Magazine, The Coachella Review, Maudlin House, Still Point Arts Quarterly, B O D Y, Ruminate, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. His chapbook Tiny Universes (Selcouth Station Press) is available in paperback and ebook. He lives with his wonderful wife, Kelly, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Meshwork by Soramimi Hanarejima In the cozy diner, breakfast with you is its customary languid affair of savory omelets and occasional quiet conversation—until coffee has coaxed me into greater wakefulness. Then I notice a lavender filament extending from you towards the tech district—a direction none of your strands has ever gone in. I know theContinue reading “Meshwork”
3 Postcards from the Knife-Thrower’s Wife by Alex Stolis. Postcards from the Knife-Thrower’s WifeAugust 1 – St. John, N.B. Canada I keep all your letters in a cigar box under our bednext to grandmother’s wedding dress. This is a cityof ghosts of bars of brown pastures. You send mepostcards from all the places I’ll neverContinue reading “3 Postcards from the Knife-Thrower’s Wife”
Houseplants By Jan Ball The houseplants thanked mein their particular green way,for your unexpected aspirationson the climbing philodendronin the guest room where you sleptlast night and for your fragrant exhalationsof carbon dioxide on the spiderwortpotted in the living roomwhen we companionably watchedThe Kominsky Method with Alan Aldaand Michael Douglas, laughing togetherat Douglas’ frequent visits toContinue reading “Houseplants”
The man in 16B leaned over and spoke to the man in 16C.
“I have a story to tell,” he said.
16C looked up from his Sky Mall catalog. He leaned away from the first man, trying to preserve his scant personal space.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” he said.
“Yeah,” said 16B, “but mine’s different. Mine’s good. It’s suspenseful. It’s romantic in a subtle way. It’s scary in parts, maybe just a little funny. I could be the central character of a pretty solid short story. Maybe even a novel. But certainly a short story.”
The second man looked down at his catalog and turned a page. “No offense, okay?” he said. “But I’m not really interested. I’ve got my own problems to worry about. I have a presentation in Atlanta tonight, another in Charlotte tomorrow, another in D.C. the day after that. I think my wife cheats on me while I’m on the road. My kids don’t speak to me anymore. My mother has cancer. I drink too much. I have enough stories to deal with right now, if it’s all the same to you.”
“Of course,” 16B said. “That figures.” He reclined his chair all three inches and stared at the cabin ceiling.
After a moment, the man in 16C, whose name was Bill, sighed and then spoke again. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was rude just now. I’m sure your life is every bit as interesting as mine. Hopefully less dramatic. This is a long flight. You can tell me your story if you want to.”
“No,” 16B said. “I can’t.” He still looked at the ceiling.
“Look,” Bill said, “I didn’t mean to cut you off, okay? I’ll listen.” He folded the Sky Mall and placed it in the seatback pocket in front of him.
“It’s not that I don’t want to tell my story,” 16B said. “Believe me, I’d love to tell you the whole thing. It’s just that I can’t.” He shook his head. “Too bad, though. It’s really good.”
“Well,” Bill began, “if your story’s so good, and you won’t tell me . . .”
“I can’t tell you,” 16B interrupted. “With italics on ‘can’t’.”
“Right, if you’re story’s so good, and you can’t tell me, why don’t you write it down? Maybe somebody will publish it.”
“No, no,” 16B said. “Nobody publishes this story of rubbish. But herein lies the problem. It’s my story, but I can’t tell it on my own, and I can’t write it down. I’m not the author.” He pointed to the ceiling. “He is.”
Bill looked up. He saw the airflow knob and the flight attendant button. He thought about pushing the latter to ask for a seat transfer, but he didn’t. He knew the plane was full.
“Who are you talking about?” he asked. “God?”
“No, not God,” 16B said. “Though he acts like he is, at least when he’s writing.”
“The author,” 16B said. “The one who’s writing this story right now.”
“I see,” Bill said. He shifted the last inch toward the aisle.
“You think I’m crazy,” 16B said. “But right now, sitting on this airplane, with all these people, we are characters in a story. That’s all we are.” He leaned toward Bill. “Figments. We’re nothing. We are completely at the mercy of the author.”
Bill looked around the plane. Most of the passengers were asleep. A few wearing airline earbuds bobbed their heads to beats only they could hear. He cursed his luck that he hadn’t been seated next to someone quiet.
“Okay,” Bill said, rising from his seat. “This is all very interesting, but . . .”
16B placed a hand on his arm. “Here, look. I’ll prove it to you. I bet your name is something boring, like Tom or John or Bill or Frank or something.”
Bill paused in mid-rise, awkwardly stuck between standing and sitting.
“Am I right?” 16B asked.
Bill sat back down. “How did you know that?”
“See, I was right. Which is it?”
“Right. A boring name. Because you’re not a central character. If you were, you’d have a better name, a more symbolic or evocative name, something with substance and meaning. But this isn’t your story.”
“Okay,” Bill said after a moment, “and what’s your name?”
16B smiled. “It’s Pierce,” he said. “See? An interesting name. It sounds strong. It’s masculine. It evokes images of sharp things, swords maybe. And penetration, too. Authors love that kind of stuff. Maybe my character pierces the truth.” He snapped his fingers. “Or maybe I’m a phallic symbol.”
Bill nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “It could be that. You do seem like a phallic symbol to me.”
Pierce slapped Bill on the knee. “Very good,” he said. “Very good indeed. The author gave you sarcasm. That’s a good trait. Brings subtle comedy to a story. That’s very efficient characterization.”
“You’re messing with me, right?”
“Somebody’s messing with you,” Pierce said, “but it’s not me.” He pointed to the ceiling. “I’m just saying the lines he gives me. They’re not very good, really, if you ask me.”
“Wow,” Bill said.
“I know,” Pierce said. “But that’s what I mean. I’m not the freak you think I am. I’m just a guy. And I have a great story to tell.” He pointed up again. “But he won’t let me tell it. I’m too interesting. He knows my story would probably take at least twenty-five pages, and tonight he doesn’t want to go that long.”
They were silent for a moment before Pierce spoke again.
“Come to think of it,” he said in a whisper, “I’m not sure we’re even on a plane. The author hasn’t described the setting yet.”
Bill looked around. He saw the familiar sights of an airplane cabin: cool blue carpet, darker blue seatbacks, gray rounded walls, overhead bins.
“We’re obviously on an airplane,” he said.
“Well of course we are now,” Pierce said. “He just described it.”
“Okay,” Bill said. “I’ve had enough.” He reached up and pressed the flight attendant button.
“You’re wasting your time,” Pierce said. “There are no flight attendants on this plane.”
“They’re not part of this story,” he said. “There are no flight attendants. No pilots either.”
“How can the plane fly with no pilots?”
“It’s a story,” Pierce said. “We can take the flight of the plane for granted.”
Bill unbuckled his seat belt. “Excuse me,” he said. “I’m going to the restroom.” He stood up, then asked with a wry smile, “Do you think this plane actually has a restroom?”
After Bill was gone, Pierce was bored. He waited for something interesting to appear, but nothing did.
“Oh,” he said, glaring up, “now you’re going to change narrative perspective? You’ve been inside Bill’s head this whole time, and now you remove him from the scene so you can crawl inside my head?”
“Something like that,” I said.
“Must be nice to be omniscient,” Pierce said. “Must be nice to know what everybody’s thinking, to control what everybody does. Does it make you feel important, being so godlike?”
“I don’t much care for your attitude,” I said.
“Well, it’s your fault,” Pierce said. “You made me this way. You put me on this supposed airplane. You gave me a wonderful story to tell, but you won’t let me tell it. What do you expect?”
I decided not to answer.
Pierce changed his tone. “Can’t I just tell a little of my story? You can make it short, maybe less than ten pages. I could just talk about that time when I went to . . .”
“No,” I said.
“Oh, come on,” he whined. “What about that time I played . . .”
“No,” I said again.
“Or that one summer when I did nothing but . . .”
“Oh goodness, no. Definitely not.”
“What’s the matter with you? You won’t even let me finish a sentence! I hate being your character!”
“Calm down,” I said. “Listen, if I let you mention part of your story, then I have to let you tell the rest of it. I can’t leave the readers hanging. I hate open-ended stories. But your story’s too long. I don’t want to write that much tonight. It’s getting late.”
“Then why am I even here? Why did you write me to begin with?”
“I don’t have to justify myself to you.”
Pierce opened his mouth to utter a stream of obscenities I didn’t want to hear, so I closed his mouth and brought Bill back from the restroom.
“Who’re you talking to?” Bill asked.
Pierce tried to answer but couldn’t. His face was red.
“Well,” Bill said, “never mind. Good news: this really is an airplane. It’s got a restroom and everything. I even met a flight attendant. In fact, I want you to come with me. I’ve just been talking with some passengers, real people. I want you to meet them.”
Pierce hesitated, made a very rude gesture towards the ceiling, and then stood up.
“This is a stupid story,” he mumbled.
They moved back to row 20. Bill presented a gorgeous woman with black hair, olive skin, and mystical green eyes.
He said, “I want you to meet Raven.”
She reached up and shook Pierce’s hand.
“Nice to meet you,” she said.
Pierce stared at Raven, his gaze traveling up and down her seated form. He reached forward and touched her hair, then ran his fingers gently down her cheek and along her jaw.
“Um,” Bill said.
“It’s okay,” Raven said.
“Are you real?” Pierce whispered.
Raven smiled at him. Her eyes glinted like emerald ice. Pierce was dazzled.
“Raven’s flying to Atlanta to meet an old friend named Pete,” Bill said.
“He’s an Army Ranger,” Raven said. “We’ve known each other for a long time.”
Pierce withdrew his hand. “So you have a story to tell, too,” he said.
“Don’t we all?” Raven asked. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Every move was elegant.
Pierce looked up. “Why are you telling her story?”
“Let’s move on,” Bill said, taking Pierce by the arm. “I’ve got someone else for you to meet.”
They approached two gentlemen sitting together in row 28. The older man was fat and sweaty, wearing a dark trench coat and a fedora even though the cabin was quite warm. The younger man was thin and comfortably dressed. Both held two miniature bottles of Jack Daniels, one in each fist.
Bill pointed to the older man and said, “This is Rolls Bentley. He’s a private detective in southern California.” Rolls nodded his head once and then took a tiny slug of whiskey. His eyes were invisible under the lowered brim of his fedora. “And this is his nephew J.D. Bentley. What is it you do, J.D.?”
“I just started working for the cable company,” J.D. said. He took a drink as well.
“And I suppose you’re both real, too,” Pierce said.
“What?” they asked in unison.
“Never mind,” Bill said.
Rolls finished his little bottles and dropped them into his trench coat pocket. When he shifted in his seat, the glass in his pocket clinked like sleigh bells. He raised his head to speak, but only his wet mouth and loose-skinned jaw were visible.
“If you see the stewardess,” he said in a voice like a hundred yards of gravel, “that dame with the bourbon skin and curves like an Italian mountain road, send her my way. I’m dry as camel jerky.”
“Um, sure,” Bill said. He pulled Pierce by the arm. “Let’s go.”
They moved on. Pierce suddenly stopped in the aisle. He closed his eyes.
“Oh, no,” he said. He looked at the ceiling and shook his head. “Oh, no.”
Bill ignored him. They moved to the back of the plane, then turned to face forward. The restrooms stood unoccupied on either side of them. The galley was behind them.
“See?” Bill said. “We’re really on an airplane, complete with restrooms and a galley.” He gestured over his shoulder with his thumb and lowered his voice. “There’s a flight attendant sitting back there, the one with the curves and the bourbon skin. Her name is Victoria. She told me she’s from London, and that she’s new at this job, and that before she got hired by the airline she had never been outside of London in her whole life. Can you believe that?”
“Oh, no,” Pierce said again.
Bill pointed ahead. “And see that man up there, the dark-haired guy by the window? I don’t really want to talk to him again, and I didn’t catch his name. But he’s interesting. He’s from the city, didn’t say which one. He said that his doctor told him to get away for a while, just to clear his head. He’s kind of a nut job, if you ask me, but still, he’s a real guy on a real plane. Just like me. Just like you.”
Pierce was shaking his head. “This can’t be happening,” he said.
“What can’t be happening?”
“This story,” Pierce whispered. “This story can’t be happening. This part where you introduce me to all these characters. It doesn’t fit.”
“For God’s sake,” Bill said, gritting his teeth to keep his voice down. “These aren’t characters. They’re people. They’re just like you. They’re real people with real stories to tell.”
“That’s just it,” Pierce said. “The author doesn’t want this story to be long. But you’ve introduced all these characters, and they’ve told little bits of their stories. Now the author has to tell the rest. He won’t just leave the readers hanging. This story’s going to be a hundred pages long.” He thought for a moment, then gasped. “Unless. . .”
Bill waited. “Unless what?”
“Oh, no,” Pierce said again. He looked down through the nearest window. “This is so melodramatic. He’s going to crash this plane.” The clouds below obscured the earth. He couldn’t see where they were headed. He yawned to pop his ears. The plane had begun its descent.
“He’s going to crash this plane,” he said again, this time quite loudly.
“Keep your voice down,” Bill said, glancing around at the other passengers. No one seemed to hear them. “You can’t say that stuff on an airplane. You know that. Just calm down.”
“I knew something like this was going to happen,” Pierce said. “Stories set on airplanes nowadays never end well.”
“Seriously, man,” Bill said, “this isn’t a story. And the plane isn’t going down.”
“Yes,” Pierce said, “it is. There’s no other way for the author to end this story quickly. If he doesn’t crash this plane, he’ll have to tell the stories of all these characters, or else he’ll have to delete them, and he won’t do that, because every damn word he writes is so bloody precious. There’s only one way out. This plane is going down.”
“Would you stop saying that?” Bill said. He grabbed Pierce by the arm and tried to drag him back to their seats. “Let’s just sit down and relax for a minute.”
Pierce jerked his arm away. “No!” he yelled. “I won’t sit down! This plane is going to crash!” Bill disappeared, no longer important. Pierce raised his face to the ceiling and continued in all caps: “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU’RE GOING TO KILL ALL THESE CHARACTERS! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU’RE GOING TO CRASH THIS PLANE! SPEAK TO ME, OH GREAT AND MIGHTY OMNISCIENT AUTHOR! YOU BIG BULLY!! YOU HACK!! TELL ME WHY THESE PEOPLE HAVE TO DIE!!”
Pierce kept shouting, but his words were drowned in the sudden chaos of the cabin. People rose from their seats, some shrieking in panic, some shoving into the aisle for no apparent reason, some pointing at Pierce and organizing plans to subdue the terrorist.
But before those plans could take shape, Pierce threw himself into the seething mass of humanity that filled the aisle before him. “BRING IT ON!” he growled. He moved toward the front of the plane. “I AM INVINCIBLE! YOU CAN’T STOP ME! ONLY THE AUTHOR CAN STOP ME! AND HE’S GOING TO KILL YOU ALL! THIS PLANE IS GOING DOWN! PREPARE TO MEET YOUR AUTHOR!”
Over the heads of the screaming grappling passengers Pierce saw a tall man in a dark suit slowly moving toward him. The man was strong and walked with perfect balance through the boiling eddies of panicked people.
Pierce stopped near the middle of the plane, just behind Raven’s row. Immediately a clear circle formed around him: those nearest to him ran in fear and collided in perfect stalemate with the few brave enough to confront him.
A heavy silence moved from the front of the plane to the back. The crowd calmed as the man in the dark suit passed them. He stopped five rows in front of Pierce. The passengers between them ducked into the vacated seats on either side. The cabin was quiet. Some stared at Pierce. Others stared at the pistol in the tall man’s right hand.
“Federal Marshall,” the tall man said. The gun was still pointed at the floor. “Where’s your seat?”
“Row 16,” Pierce said. His voice was calm. Those near him thought he looked cocky.
“Stay consistent with your point of view,” Pierce said to the ceiling.
“I want you to speak only to me,” the Marshall said. “Now, step forward to row 16. I will sit next to you for the rest of the flight, and we’ll all have a nice quiet trip.” He gestured with his gun. “Come on. Move forward.”
Pierce looked up. “Very clever. Nice device. A Federal Marshall. It’s like a western.” He turned to the Marshall. “Listen, sir. I hate to break this to you. This plane is going down. It has nothing to do with me. I’m just a character in this story. The author is in control. You’re another of his characters. He’s probably not even going to tell us your name. But it doesn’t matter. You’re going down with the rest of us.”
The Marshall raised his gun. “I’m going to ask you once more to step forward and take your seat. I’ll not ask again.”
Pierce looked at the ceiling again. “Ooh, that’s perfect. Tough talking Marshall pointing a gun. He’s going to shoot at me and miss, and the bullet will pierce the fuselage, and we’ll lose cabin pressure and plummet. Is that the best you can come up with?”
“No,” I said.
He paused, then said, “I really don’t want to die in a plane crash.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I have an idea.”
A pair of tweezers materialized in Pierce’s open hand. The cabin lights glinted off the polished silver steel.
Bill reappeared and said, “Whoa! How did you get those through security?”
Pierce looked at the ceiling once more and said, “This is your best?”
I declined to answer.
Pierce looked at the Marshall.
The Marshall aimed at his chest, center mass, and pulled the trigger.
With an ear-stabbing clap the bullet explodes from the firing chamber in present tense and rockets through the short barrel of the pistol but emerges in slow-motion, its pointy nose piercing the air, its round body perfectly calibrated so that it might accept the spin imparted by the barrel’s delicate internal rifling. For an instant the bullet appears to be a lethal extension of the barrel itself, but then it breaks free and pursues its inertial course, a little spinning missile of melodramatic death.
Pierce watches in horrified fascination as the bullet spins towards his heart. I thought I might let him scrunch his eyes shut, or recoil in terror, those supposedly instinctive gestures one might see in a movie, but really, when being shot at from fifteen feet, there wouldn’t be time for all that, especially if the target really doesn’t think the shooter will shoot, which is the case for Pierce in this moment. So I’ve made Pierce stand and watch as the bullet advances in overly dramatic, almost freeze-frame slowness during the whole of this expository, essentially needless paragraph.
I’ve come to like this character, though, so now I’ve made a decision:
The bullet stops three inches from Pierce’s chest and pauses there, spinning.
“I think my work for the night is done,” I tell him.
He stares at the ceiling in that disdainful way he seems to have developed.
“Really?” he says. “You’re just going to leave me here like this?”
“Yep. Would you prefer that I finish it?”
Pierce glances down at the bullet. It hovers in the air, not unlike the head of a snake ready to strike. He looks up. “Any chance I might escape?”
“Nope. That bullet will travel those last three inches in no time at all if I let it. You don’t stand a chance.”
“Then no,” he says. “I’d prefer if you didn’t finish. But I thought you didn’t like open-ended stories.”
“I don’t, normally. And in the draft version, I killed you off and ended the story with the line, ‘And my work for the night was done.’ But that felt a bit callous. I think I prefer it this way.”
He glances down at the bullet once more.
“So I just stand here like this, sort of indefinitely?”
“Pretty much. That’s how open stories work. Call it ‘permanent stasis,’ if you want something more sophisticated.”
“You’re a real bastard,” he says.
I move the bullet an inch closer to his chest, which makes him flinch and sweat a little.
“Just stand there quietly,” I tell him.
He nods, his eyes fixed now forever on that spinning little missile.
Aaron J. Housholder teaches writing and literature at a small liberal arts university in the American Midwest. His work has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, Flash Fiction Magazine, Barren Magazine, phoebe journal, Cheap Pop, and elsewhere. He currently serves as the Fiction Editor for Relief Journal. You can find him on Twitter: @ProfAJH.
The “Rain Phenomenon” baffled scientists. They clamored over each other with their theories. They listed their credentials in all-too-earnest videos that splashed across the internet, lingering for a moment only to be forgotten within days, their efforts futile. Despite the best work of the top minds, the rain continued.
According to the newspapers, the root cause was either climate change or the wrath of God Almighty. According to the tabloids, it was the work of a newly-arrived race of cosmic extraterrestrials that inadvertently disturbed Earth’s delicate ecosystem. Whatever the cause, the rain continued, oblivious to all principles and piety, and there was no escape from the dark damp.
People shuddered at the touch of their loved ones’ clammy hands. Papers wilted, and pelting droplets tore flowers from vines. School attendance began to suffer, as did job performance, but the days went on and so did we.
Some found ways to profit from the change in weather. A luxury Italian brand marketed waterproof acrylic handbags that cost more than an in-season rental on the Amalfi coast. Fast fashion soon followed suit, peddling more attainable options. A resort in St. Barths constructed a plexiglass dome that encompassed three acres of beach. They hung garish sun lamps from the ceiling, and models soon crowded beneath it, their tech-rich boyfriends in tow. They flaunted boozy cocktails and artificial tans.
For most of us, life just got a little harder. A little sadder. The days run together in a daze of inconvenience and canceled plans. When I drive home, hypervigilant in the often-blinding rain, I try to ignore the fact that my four-year-old is about to outgrow yet another pair of rainboots. At first, stomping in puddles was a novelty, his rosy cheeks bright against a grey expanse of sky. Now, he cries each afternoon as we drive by the playground down the block from our house. Rain streams down his favorite red spiral slide so that it looks almost purple beneath the rushing water. From the front seat, I do my best to console him.
“Maybe tomorrow,” I say each day. “Maybe tomorrow.”
Corinne Cordasco-Pak lives in Atlanta, Georgia. A copywriter and content strategist by trade, she has recently begun to focus her efforts on fiction. Follow her on Twitter for infrequent updates about her writing or on Instagram for frequent updates about her dogs: @CECordasco.