Literary Magazine

Tag: Short Story Page 1 of 2

Alone on the Swing Set

By Arpi Schlesinger


In the middle of the park, a girl sat alone on a swing set. She sat suspended above the mahogany bark dust like a sword hanging by a thread, slowly rocking back and forth in the soft but frigid breeze. Rust consumed the chains holding the rubber swing like an infection, creaking in a steady cadence that sliced through the silence in the rest of the park. Shadow covered the green fields of grass like a goose-down blanket, untouched by the sounds of crickets or field mice. No ducks paddled through the river to the west; no frogs croaked on its bank. But sound was not the only thing that escaped the park. Light seemed to as well. No street lamps guided wandering passersby, only darkness perfect for housing bats, raccoons, and other nightly monsters—not that this park had any. The icy air of winter repelled congregating fireflies and forced them to burrow in their warm nests. Like the fireflies, the people in the surrounding  neighborhood burrowed as well; they shut their blinds and turned off their porch lights. The neighborhood was asleep, surrounded by the silent and lightless atmosphere and embracing it like a mother with her children. 

But this park was not completely consumed by darkness and silence. There was the moon, and there was the girl. The moon beamed its harsh, white light onto the girl, revealing a thick head of raven-black hair that dangled in the air, almost touching the bark dust below her feet. The light reflected off the girl’s pale skin, giving her arms and legs a soft glow, a contrast to the darkness of her hair. Her head drooped and cast in shadow, avoiding the moonlight like the plague. She stared blankly at her bare feet in silence. The swing continued to sway back and forth, indifferent to the pale figure that sat on it. The creaking of the rust marinated chains was not the only sound in the park, however. The girl’s stomach spat out a symphony of howls and growls that masked a constant, low hum. But this sound wasn’t enough; the symphony was suppressed. The park was still quiet. The girl was still alone.

Those Amber Stones

By Justin Sims

Harold had nothing but her on his mind when he observed the museum. He knew exactly what it was that he needed to do, the time was now. With not a soul in sight, he slithered his way into the heart of the museum.

As Harold slinked through the desolate museum on nothing but the very tips of his toes, he allowed his eyes to venture across the near darkness. His retinas scanned over every inch of wall, disregarding shadowed figures in their frames as he searched for his true heart’s desire. Among the dozens and dozens of beauties lining the walls, there she finally reared her head: his chef d’oeuvre, his cream of the crop, his masterpiece.

Harold rattled with anticipation, his mouth salivating at the idea of her being so near. No longer able to keep himself composed, Harold gave into his primal instincts and galloped as valiantly as a Trojan warrior riding his steed into battle, chasing his own sort of glory: her.

Dashing across the vast compound of the museum took only a second for Harold, and soon enough she was close enough to touch, to smell, to taste. Here she was before him, in all of her grandeur.

Her beauty was enough to force tears from even the strongest willed, as if a bowl of onions was hidden behind her gilded panel. Every stroke of pigment knew its place in the world of her canvas, alternating between being distinguishable to the naked eye to disappearing among a sea of strokes. Her wispy bangs eclipse her eyes, making her even harder to read and her intentions unknown. There is a sense of uneasiness when staring into those amber stones. She feels real, and she is plotting against you in your most vulnerable moment.

Nothing could stop Harold from touching her, not the safety of her crystal sarcophagus, not even the subsequent alarm that rang throughout the hollow cavern. Harold allowed the severity of the roar in his ears to fade into the background. This was his moment. He was finally alone with her.

Harold removed her from the shards of her once effective prison, a place she hadn’t been taken from in years. The sensation of her ornate frame alone was nearly enough to send Harold over the edge. He refrained himself, only allowing the slightest tracings across her delicately carved edges. Harold shakily outstretched his fingers towards the canvas itself. Feeling that thick acrylic paint bury itself into the beds of his nails gave him a feeling of euphoria, a high that he knew he could only reach with her. He could feel the months of effort behind each stroke, no longer with his eyes alone. Harold could taste the pigment with the ends of his nails, he could finally feel that darkness behind her eyes. Yet, he still wanted more.

As he lay with her among the particles of shattered glass, he knew that he would never feel this level of connection with anyone else. This Dark-Haired Beauty was his soulmate. He hovered over her exposed paint, running his fingertips along her face, grazing her hairs, giving her a playful boop on the nose. This was paradise. Harold leaned in for a kiss, staring deep into that hellish golden abyss the entire time. The acidic sweetness of her lips put Harold into a state of pure ecstasy, he could taste every molecule of passion poured into her. He was in love with the feeling. Her scent somehow was even more lovely; the way she made his nostrils burn, the way she made him feel that oh-so familiar sting in the back of his throat.

Harold took no notice of the blotched shapes now surrounding him. A glint of fluorescence shining through his eyes could not take his attention away from her. The sounds of blaring alarms and barking of commands took a backseat to the silence behind her eyes. He could stare into those eyes eternally.

Painting: Dark Haired Beauty by Juana Romani

Imaginary Friend

By Ava Galbraith


“I got you!” Cindy Johnson was ecstatic; Tally Kent’s red-stained white shoes were visible from across the room. She was crouching in the smallest, darkest space she could find. 

“Darling, who did you catch?” Mrs. Johnson stepped into the outdated, sparsely decorated family room holding freshly bleached sheets. The blood splotches were still visible to Tally and she shied further into the space between the over-used liquor cabinet and the wall. 

Cindy glanced over her shoulder and grinned at her all-too-mechanical mother and pointed to an empty corner.  

Ava Galbraith is fascinated by unexpected turns in stories, particularly the reveal of villains. She dives deep into characters’ psyches and uses stream of consciousness to tell stories. Her work has been published in Ripples In Space podcast, The Dewdrop, Finding the Birds, San Joaquin Review, Open: Arts & Literary Magazine, and Voyage. When not developing intriguing flash fiction, she competes in equestrian show jumping and enjoys emerging herself in foreign cultures.

Blind Cows Happily to the Butcher Go

By Andy Shipley

It is an assured fate that all that lives must die. It that lives without death, is as much a paradox as it that dies without life. It was a sweltering winter evening in mid-January, and dinner had just been set on the oak table of the two Dr. Bames. While the Bames had toiled tirelessly in their nine to five earlier that day, they spent hours that evening preparing a dozen or so dishes precisely seasoned and perfectly cooked. It reminded them of the Thanksgiving dinners they had shared with their family year after year. Today had no significance however, at least none the Bames felt like celebrating. Everyone on earth had spent the day like any other. If it is true that scarcity makes something valuable, then the day had been severely underspent.

The Bames filed their stomachs with foods containing the spiciest chilies, the most expensive saffron, and the most fragrant spices. Caviar adorned their plates like black pearls. They had officially begun planning this meal months ago, but deep down they both knew they actually started planning it many years earlier, when their research had been published, distributed, digested, understood, ignored and ultimately forgotten. It all tasted cold and flavorless like dust in water.

The Bames ate anyway, determined to finish their feast before the clock struck twelve, though they knew not what obligated them to do so. All was silent except for the putrid sound of chewing and swallowing, and the occasional din that occurred when one would get up to lose the contents of their stomach. Every dish was to be tasted and finished. Finally, one dared to speak.

“You know, it really is a shame,” said the first Bames.

“What is that, Dear?” replied the second as they cut apart a porkchop with all the haste they could muster.

“I can’t stop thinking about the children. They have so much potential, and by the end of the day it will all be for naught. I can’t begin to imagine what their parents must be going through.”

The Bames themselves had no children, a recommendation they had given to everyone else, but to no avail. Their friends and family had several kids despite the warnings that they would never live past their teens. Now those parents who had been blind to reason, today discovered they had spent years raising their children for the slaughter.

“I can’t help but remember a story my mother used to tell me when I was little. There once was a cow who never learned to open her eyes. She could see fine, her eyes were perfectly intact, but the stubborn old cow refused to lift open her eye lids. One day a stranger invited her and her calves to his house in town for dinner. She graciously accepted despite the fact her calves told her the stranger was the butcher from town. ‘I saw no butcher,’ she told her calves. So she and her calves go to town but they get lost on the way. She asked some of the locals for directions and they told her she is heading to the butcher’s house. She of course told them ‘I saw no butcher’ and continued on her way. Finally she and her calves got to the butchers house and he ushered them inside. She heard the door lock behind her. For the first time in her life she opened her eyes to see her children being taken away behind her. As she looked back forward the butcher was standing there, cleaver in hand.”

“Your family told some bizarre stories on the farm. What is it supposed to mean?”

“Nothing Dear, it’s a silly old farmer’s wives’ tale. I’d rather not dwell on it. Please pass the salad dressing.”

They resumed eating without another word. The sound of them eating seemed worse than total silence.

“How can you be so content? Is there nothing about this that you regret?”

“There is one thing.”

“And what would that be?”

“From a scientific perspective, it’s disappointing that no human will ever know how the universe ends. No human will ever see the universe expand so far that each atom thinks itself to be the only particle in all existence. Or else no human will ever watch as the universe collapses in on itself reuniting to again become the one great particle from which the whole universe sprang. It’s silly to be disappointed about that though, isn’t it?”

“I’d rather not think about it.”

As the Bames took the last bites of their meal, the clock struck twelve. All the clocks chimed once, and everyone in the whole world rose from their seats. Twice, and everyone walked to their front doors. By six everyone steps outside. Seven, everyone hugs their companions. Eight, lovers across the world share one last kiss. Nine, everyone wishes the moon and stars farewell. Ten, coyotes howl. Eleven, everyone says goodbye for the last time, not only to those around them, but to everyone and everything and the whole universe itself.

Twelve. The world as the Bames know it ends. Perhaps, the earth simply ceases to be, breaking that great law of physics and being completely destroyed, every subatomic particle wiped from the history of the universe. Perhaps the earth survives, but in place of lush green forests, vibrant blue oceans, majestic deserts, everything is replaced by cold black stone. Perhaps, the plants and animals survive, slowly taking back every inch of soil humanity had cruelly and harshly ripped from them. Or perhaps some small fragment of humanity survives, de-evolving into simple apes, and then re-evolving intelligence over millions of years. Perhaps those newly intelligent life forms, form cultures and nations, and perhaps they too grow to ignore their scientists only to go nearly extinct in some catastrophe. Maybe then they de-evolve and then re-evolve, and so comes the rise and fall of the many great species, all intelligent, but not so to the extent they can prevent their own destruction. Perhaps the cycle continues so on and so forth so that someday, somehow, a descendent of humanity, with a big brain, hooves, horns, and an udder watches as time ends and the universe itself, at last, dies.

I wrote “Blind Cows Happily to the Butcher Go” as commentary about the way science is often ignored in the US when it is convenient to do so. I’m an environmental engineering major and this story in a way represents my biggest fear for my future career. While the story was largely about climate change for me originally I think the themes are also very relevant to the way the pandemic has been handled.

Street Rat

By Audrey Epling

Ava sat on the edge of the sidewalk waiting for Valerie– a coke in one hand, cigarette in the other, the bottoms of her black corduroy pants brushing against the street. As Valerie pulled up, Ava began to rise, her heart pounding from her chest. This was the first time she would meet the people that Valerie hung out with every day after school. She got in the car, giving Valerie a nervous smile. 

“What’s wrong?” Valerie asked, clearly noticing the hesitation in Ava’s features. “Nothing… How was your day?” Ava asked, trying to change the subject. She didn’t want Valerie to think that she wouldn’t like her friends or was too scared to meet them. Valerie chose to ignore Ava’s anguish, instead, the girls joked and laughed throughout the car ride like they did as kids, sitting in the back of Ava’s mom’s minivan. 

Valerie stopped in front of what looked to be an old, abandoned art warehouse in the middle of the art district. The girls walked in, Ava’s heart began to pound once more. The room was dimly lit, and there hung a musk in the air. Valerie walked to one side of the room and a man came forward from the shadow. 

“What’s up, Skip?” Valerie casually said. There was no answer. Skip didn’t talk, instead, he handed Valerie a package, for which she handed him a small envelope. There was no dialogue following the transaction, nonetheless, their actions seemed natural. 

As the girls backed out, Ava asked about their interaction, trying to hide her apprehension.

“Oh… Don’t worry about it, it’s no biggie,” Valerie said, shrugging it off. Ava gave her a glare but decided not to push the subject any further. The girls walked along the sidewalk towards Club Congress, where they were supposed to meet Valerie’s friends. 

“So, what do your friends like to do?” Ava inquired. A worried glance swept across Valerie’s face. 

“Oh you know, the usual teenager stuff… party, hangout… Why are you asking?” Valerie seemed worried. 

“Just wondering if they’ll like me,” Ava shrugged. As the girls approached the old hotel, Valerie began to wave maniacally. A group of people waved back, summoning her to come closer. There were three boys dressed as though they were homeless– shirts that hung below their knees with the phrase “SUPREME” emblazoned across their chest, tattered jeans, and beanies that covered their scraggly hair. Another girl peeked from behind them, her fishnets peeking out from above the waistband of her mom jeans, her baggy black shirt layered over a tight fitting red long sleeve. 

“Hey, guys! This is my friend Ava that I’ve been telling you about!” Valerie exclaimed. Her friends gave Ava a brief nod of approval and began to walk off. Valerie followed in haste, telling Ava to keep close behind. They walked behind a building, where they found a small alley. Valerie pulled out the package from her front pocket, opening it to reveal a small ziplock bag of Xanax. Ava got up, holding back tears as she realized the path that her friend had succumbed to.

“A street rat is a person who is comfortable wherever they are. This story took reference from Tucson teenagers– those that are typically found downtown, hanging out, and are seemingly free. The story references drugs and the idea of losing friends to addiction, focusing on the changes we go through in adolescence and the people we choose to be as a result. The story ends abruptly to allow the reader to come to their own conclusion about the characters and what they ultimately decide to do.”

The Encounter

By Holland Sterling

I cannot think of a more shocking encounter than when I saw my father in Minnesota for the first time in eighteen years. I was in Minnesota to visit a friend of mine that I’d made at a summer camp years earlier.
This day, we decided to divide and conquer Duluth. I’d get groceries and she’d get the pet food and gas.
She dropped me off on the corner of the street and I began my walk to the supermarket. I’ve always appreciated walking on days like these. It was around 78 degrees and not a single cloud was in the sky. It was bright out and everyone seemed so happy. I looked ahead to see a man walking towards me. He felt so familiar. When I realized, I almost fell over. He was unmistakably my father. No one could deny it. Of course, the hair on his head was beginning to fade from black to gray and he’d gained a little more weight than when I’d last saw him but it was my father plain and simple. Walking right towards me on a crowded sidewalk in Duluth, Minnesota.
I walked right on towards him too. I began imagining what I would say to him or what he’d say to me. I definitely wasn’t going to throw my arms around him and forgive him for everything he’s ever done but I was somewhat excited to talk after so many years. It gave me a slight rush.
We would say quite surprised hello’s and have small talk; “What are you up to these days?”, “Where do you live?”, “What do you do?”
I’d tell him about college and about my studies and about how Colorado is far nicer than Tucson. I’d tell him about my writing and he’d remember seeing an article I wrote online. I talk to him about my mom and my sister and how I have my own cat in my own off-campus apartment. He’d tell me about working at University of Washington in Seattle and that he does a fair amount of writing himself but it’s all science writing. He’d tell me how old his kids are, probably starting high school and that his wife is the same as ever. We would walk and find common interests like hiking or cooking or writing or photography. Then I’d show him pictures I’d taken and stories I’d written.
I’d invite him to meet my friend and he’d gladly come to dinner with me and her family. We’d have a conversation at dinner about him and his life and career and I’d swiftly veer the conversation away from any awkward topics–especially about why he left. After, he’d say goodnight and have to go back to his hotel room and prepare for his symposium tomorrow at University of Minnesota Duluth. He’d invite me to sit in on it and listen and after, my friend and I would take him for a hike or go “mocking”, as my friend calls it. We’d set up our hammocks and listen to the river and maybe read. Then we would hike back and have lunch at my friend’s favorite deli and my dad would agree with me that mustard is far superior to ketchup. We’d also agree that turkey is better than ham and then all three of us would feel bad about eating meat and joke about going vegetarian even though none of us could give up salami. My dad could show us around the UMD campus and I would dream of graduate school here. My friend and I would tell him about the first time we went to Duluth together along with our camp counselor. We visited
Tettegouche State Park and I had the most beautiful experience of my life. We’d enjoy the view of the lake and when it got dark we’d go get ice cream and sit on the deck of some restaurant. Then we’d have to go because my dad’s plane had to leave the next morning back to Seattle. It was a short work trip, made better by seeing his first daughter. Then I’d say goodbye. I can’t know whether I’d hug him goodbye or just wave. It’s hard to say. Of course, talking to him for the first time in many years would be awkward but we’d be curious about each other and so the awkwardness would pass as quickly as it came.
My dad was almost right in front of me and I mentally prepared myself for this far delayed meeting. Just say hi. He looked up and saw me, and I looked at him. I didn’t smile, I just let him know I saw him. Hey, it’s me, your daughter. He was right in front of me. I opened my mouth to say something. And then he was past me. He continued walking down the street without a word.
He did not even recognize me.

I can’t help but be a little curious of what I would do if this actually happened. It’s a tough subject for me so that’s why I like to write about it. I like pulling from my own personal experiences and turning them into art. It doesn’t mean I am healed from experiences nor does it mean I am forever hurting but it means that I am at peace with what has happened in my life and that I have moved on and become stronger from it.

Magical Tucson

By Evangeline Erickson

        Her entire body was on fire. Her muscles screamed with pain and her breathing was shallow. Abby took a drink of water and put her hands on her knees. She was hunched over, staring at the ground in a poor attempt to stop her head from spinning. She often asked herself why she ran at all.
Slowly, she lifted her head and took in her surroundings. The scenery never ceased to amaze her. Abby’s favorite place to run was a nature preserve on the west side of town. Locals referred to the preserve as “The Hill.” The entire trail was three miles long: one and a half miles up, one and a half miles down. Masses of people in athletic clothing could be seen on The Hill for miles on any given evening. It was easy to see why. The path was surrounded by cacti, creosote bushes, rock formations, and various desert animals. The wildlife proved to be an excellent distraction from aching muscles. The one and a half mile trip to the top was steep and arduous, but oddly satisfying. As she scanned the area, Abby smiled to herself. This was why she ran.

        From her view on the crest of The Hill, Abby could see the entire city. The freeway was lined with the glittering lights of cars. Downtown was especially illuminated; the skyscrapers appeared less severe from a distance. Even the airport seemed minuscule from where she stood. As the sun sank lower into the sky, her town parted with the rosy hue of the sunset and welcomed the navy oblivion of night. There was a light breeze and the leaves of the creosote rustled, causing the air to smell like rain. The saguaros–though they were stationary–resembled dancers, their arms twisting beneath the moon. Abby closed her eyes and mentally captured the image. She perched atop a small boulder, ignoring the pain in her calves and gazing at the stars. Andromeda, Pegasus, Sagittarius, and Ursa Minor were visible, among other groups of stars she couldn’t name. The constellations brought back memories of her runs with Gray. Gray Davenport had been Abby’s closest friend for as long as she could remember. He appreciated her love of running and nature and didn’t mind her frequent ramblings. There was an old observatory located at the peak of The Hill, where Abby and Gray would go to wind down after the difficult run up. The observatory, once white, was now a dusty, sun-bleached beige, its ladder rusted. The pair would scramble up the ancient rungs and look at the sky; Gray pointing out the name of each constellation, Abby attentively listening and absorbing the information. She could almost remember how his crooked smile and intelligent blue eyes looked in the moonlight. On special nights, they’d see a single celestial body streak across the sky.

        “Look, Gray! A shooting star!” she’d exclaim.

        “C’mon Abby, you know it’s just the visible path of a meteoroid entering the atmosphere,” he grinned, “but feel free to make a wish.”

        Abby wished for the soreness in her muscles to disappear. She wished she had more water. She wanted to wish away this feeling of nostalgia. But most of all, she wished Gray were with her. He’d moved away a year ago today.


By Isabella Cheeseman

“Who are you?”

She stared emptily at the sunrise. “A damaged girl with dreams,” she said sadly, shifting her eyes to the boy now sitting next to her. “And you?”

The boy’s eyes glimmered and he sighed, “A broken boy with hope.”

The girl plastered what could have been a smile on her face and looked back out to the sunrise, admiring the colors painting the morning sky for what might be the last time.

I made this early in the morning when a sprout of inspiration hit me. It’s something I might write about as a prompt but I made it around the idea of loneliness.


By Michell Goyal

“Excuse me, do you know where Dr. Williams is?” Mrs. Leon asked the man in front of her. He was shuffling through some papers on a desk. He was a young man, and Mrs. Leon was quite sure he was a new trainee at the institution. He had a slight shake to him as he looked through the contents of the desk, as if he was trying to find something rather quickly. As Mrs. Leon spoke, his eyes snapped over with a sharp intake of breath.

“Oh, no, I’m sorry. I just got here. Meaning, I just recently started working here a few weeks ago.” The young man’s eyes darted around nervously, seeming to want to escape his conversation with Mrs. Leon. But the woman simply looked at the man with sad eyes and small smile.

“Oh, that’s quite alright. I’m sure he should be around soon.” She exchanged another glance with the intern and then turned her attention back to the multitude of monitors on the wall in front of her. She furrowed her eyebrows as she read the information.

“Negative”, Mrs. Leon muttered. She sighed and drummed her fingers on the table at her side, as she often did when nervous or frightened. Mrs. Leon was becoming impatient.

“Ah, Dr. Leon. How are the trials going?” Mrs. Leon turned as an older man with graying hair made his way towards her. As he reached the wall of monitors, he took out a pair of clear-framed glasses from his shirt pocket and placed them on the bridge of his nose.

“All negative, I’m afraid”, Mrs. Leon replied. She took a deep breath and flattened her hand against the desk. Her eyes flickered over to an employee

typing away on their desktop. Her thumb twitched as the employee’s finger jammed on a key rather harshly.

Dr. Williams’ hands found each other. He rubbed them tensely.

“Shall we go see?”

Mrs. Leon nodded numbly, her eyes on the monitors. Dr. Williams gestured for the young man to follow, and the three silently made their way across the large room into a hallway, Dr. Williams leading the way. The sound of footsteps filled her ears as Mrs. Leon’s heart seemed to thump out of her chest. She swallowed and took one last breath as she approached a door. As she held up her hand to swipe her pass card, Mrs. Leon’s hand contained a slight tremor. She cleared her throat, swiped her card, and quickly turned the handle. The three walked in and gazed upon the young boy laying in a bed, unconscious. Mrs. Leon began to inspect the smaller monitors on the wall behind the boy.

The intern looked at Dr. Williams, confusion etched into his face. “This is getting worse by the hour,” the doctor muttered. “Now this information stays with you, understand? While it might be becoming more topical among civilians, we work very hard to keep most of it out of the public eye.” Dr. Williams said quietly to the intern beside him. After a few moments, the young man’s confused expression eased. “Of course, Doctor. I completely understand.”

Mrs. Leon seemed to be busying herself with small tasks. She changed the boy’s IV bag and adjusted the various tubes and wires. The monitors seemed

to beep in tune with her pulse, both loud enough to fill her ears. She became deaf to almost all else. Almost.

“She seems to care an awful lot about the boy”, the young man said. “But he doesn’t look like he is in the beginning stages of the disease anymore, as I have heard. And I have to ask, Doctor.” Mrs. Leon had now stopped her toiling. She stood over the bed and gazed woefully at the boy. She stroked the boy’s cheek with the back of her fingers, still shaking. The young man looked back at the older with a questioning look.

“Oh, yes, the boy happens to be the progeny of Dr. Leon,” Dr. Williams explained.


The two men looked over at the women facing the monitors who had spoken for the first time since entering the room.

Progeny?” Mrs. Leon yelled sharply. She was fully turned towards them now, anger burning in her eyes and her body shaking slightly.

“He is my son.” Her voice boomed against the walls of the room. “He is not some experiment of yours, Doctor.” She said the last word as if it was some kind of insult, but coming from her it might as well have been. Dr. Williams looked down at his shoes with newfound interest, seemingly embarrassed at his choice of words. “I apologize, Dr. Leon,” he said quietly.


The three adults turned their heads towards the small, still voice behind Mrs. Leon. The young boy’s eyes flickered open to look at the people standing in

his room. Usually there were only two, but now there were three. A loud sound had woken him up.

“Hey, sweetie. How are you feeling?” Mrs. Leon abandoned her conversion with Dr. Williams to sit at her son’s bedside. She looked into his deep brown eyes that were so similar to another’s she had known. The little boy grabbed his mother’s hand and squinted his eyes at the light in the room.

“It still hurts like last time,” he said quietly.

“I know, sweetie, I know. But It’s okay, it’ll be okay. Dr. Williams and I are going to make it better, okay? It won’t hurt again after this.” Mrs. Leon’s voice quivered as she spoke. She put on a small smile and squeezed his hand.

The boy looked up at his mom worriedly. “Promise it won’t hurt again?”

The mother let out a shaky breath. She cupped her other hand around his cheek. Her eyes grew watery but not a single tear was shed. She needed to stay strong for her scared little boy. Brown on brown, like it had been for so many years. Yet this time, it contained a stronger love, an unbreakable bond, a connection that would last until the end of time.

“I promise, sweetie. It won’t ever hurt again.”

Relief flooded the boy’s face, as if his mom’s words held the ultimate truth. He squeezed his mother’s hand back and a big smile stretched across his face.

Mrs. Leon let go of her son’s cheek to rub her nose.

“Okay, well, it’s time to go back to sleep now, okay? Dr. Williams and I are going to run a few more tests and give you some more medicine, okay? I’ll

see you in the morning, my love.” She whispered the last part, unable to trust her voice to stand firm with her words.

The boy sported a goofy smile with sparkling, tired eyes, reflecting his mother’s image back to her. “Okay, Mommy, see you in the morning.”

A nurse appeared beside the bed, injected a clear liquid into a tube that ran into the boy’s small arm, and disappeared just as quickly as he came. Mrs. Leon ruffled her son’s sandy brown hair and placed one last kiss on his forehead. She stayed in that position until she could no longer feel slow rise and fall of his tiny chest. She stayed with her forehead against his, both of their cheeks wet now. She wrapped her arms around her sweet little soldier and openly sobbed into the pillow behind him.

Dr. Williams and the intern stood at the doorway a few ways behind her. The former looked solemnly at the ground, mourning at the loss of another patient, so young and small. The young man had tears running down his own cheeks, horrified at what he had just witnessed. He hastily wiped the water from his eyes. “Why?” he whispered.

“Another few hours and he would have been feeling excruciating pain. Another day and he would have passed out from it. Two days, and we would be in the same place we are now.” replied Dr. Williams.

“That’s right.” The women in front of them stood up on shaky legs, but her voice was once again firm. “And that means there are thousands of children as well as adults and seniors who are suffering just the same.”

Mrs. Leon smoothed her coat down for a second before looking Dr. Williams in the eyes with her own swollen and red ones. With hands clenched at her

sides and her heart aching with loss, she said, “come, Dr. Williams, we have work to do.”

The House of Oddities

By Andy Shipley

“Wardo’s House of Oddities”

That is what the sign said, faded and withered on the old boarded up house. Karleen had passed by this house thousands of times on her way to a cornucopia of daily adventures: on her way to school, on outings to the grocery store, excruciatingly boring journeys to her dumb brother’s soccer games, pilgrimages to church, her expeditions to violin lessons, or excursions to her favorite café she often went to with her mother.

“Has it always looked so awful?” Karleen mumbled to herself quietly. The house had two stories and was medium sized. It sat at the center of an acre and a half plot of land covered with trees and dead yellow grass. The plot was surrounded by a bronze ornate fence with a large gate padlocked three times. The gate, the long forgotten and underappreciated guardian of this land, protected a dark driveway that had long ago been cracked and overrun with weeds. The house itself was an odd shade of pink with chips of paint slowly peeling away, revealing the light-colored wood below. There was a hole in the gate where two bars were bent opposite of each other. The hole was just big enough that Karleen could slip through.

She walked up the driveway, angry at her mean brother for stealing her doll. He wouldn’t return it unless she went to that awful house and found a baseball he and his friends had accidentally thrown through the window. At the end of the driveway, she arrived on a large porch with one of those swinging benches. The front door was partially boarded up, but it was incomplete; there were only two boards on the top of the doorway and one at the bottom. Whoever had done this was in a rush, and as result, the door had been left ajar. In front of Karleen was a staircase that led to the second floor. To the left of the staircase was a long dark hallway with floral pattern wallpaper peeling off the wall, and to the left of that a family room. To the right of the staircase was dining room that had been left in shambles and behind it a dim lit kitchen. It was easy to see what window the ball had gone through since there was only one window not completely boarded up. Karleen could instantly see the hole in the window her awful brother had made with his baseball to the right of the dining room table. Everything around her was covered in dust and cobwebs. The carpet was a disgusting dark shade of brown. As she made her way over to the table she could see piles of unpaid bills and promotional posters that had slogans such as “Come Solve the Mystery,” or “See the Eighth Wonder of the World.” The floor was filthy and covered in broken glass, but she got on her hands and knees searching for her disgusting brother’s baseball. She did not find it in the dining room, or the kitchen. So, she went to look in the family room and sure enough, she found it hiding under a coffee table. But, as soon as she had the ball in hand, a loud terrible screech, like a thousand awful, dark crows all screaming the highest possible audible pitch at once, came from somewhere in the house. Being a sensible person and being scared of all manner of creature and monster that could produce such a sound, Karleen ran from the house as fast as she could with her cowardly brother’s ball in hand.

The next day Karleen was not interested in staying home and playing with the doll she had gotten back from her lazy brother. She was intrigued by the old abandoned home she had explored yesterday. What exactly is a ‘house of oddities?’ she wondered to herself. After three excruciating hours of sitting idly, she lost an internal battle, and her curiosity put her on auto pilot. She left her home and walked down the street. She went through the fence and up the driveway with more speed and purpose than the day before. When she got in the house she looked for the area that made the sound yesterday. She didn’t find any open doors on the first floor, but when she checked the second floor, she found one door wide open. Sure enough, when she tested the door it made the same terrible sound as yesterday. The room behind the door was completely empty except for the blue paint on the walls, the hardwood on the floor, and the same dry, dusty air that filled the rest of the house. Karleen stepped into the room to try to see what caused the door to open yesterday. As soon as she stepped inside, the door slammed shut. Slowly at first then faster, like a carnival ride turning on after fifty years of abandonment, Karleen started to float until it seemed as if gravity abandoned her. Karleen was stuck to the wall opposite the door, near the top of the room. She kicked off from the ceiling and floated to the door. She tried to twist the doorknob and as soon as it moved a fraction of an inch, she fell back to Earth with a low, ungraceful thud. Karleen suddenly knew the nature of this “House of Oddities”.

She immediately got up and opened the door to the next room with a new kind of excitement, like she had never felt before. It looked exactly the same as the other room, only this time she was transported somewhere that definitely was not in the house. She was standing on a cloud, with the great, big, blue sky above her. When she looked below, she could see the abandoned house in the same poor condition she had left it. If she looked a little farther she could see her house and her insignificant brother and his friends, about the size of ants, playing basketball in her backyard. The irony of this pleased Karleen as rude brother had always made fun of her small stature. She decided she would never let her self-entitled brother ever enter this house. The house was hers now, and she refused to share it. It was a part of her and she a part of it. If her brother saw it through his eyes everything she experienced would surely be destroyed. She would make up any story, tell any tale, create any excuse, lock any door, or block any sun, but her snobbish brother would not step one foot in this house. She looked at the vibrant reds oranges and pinks on the horizon and she realized she had to go home for the day. Suddenly, a door materialized behind her, and shortly after, she was back on the ground walking home.

The next day, she had just barely eaten her breakfast before rushing off to the abandoned house. She tried as many rooms as she could. She made a rule for herself: “only ten minutes per room, so that way you can see them all”. One was a botanical garden, with hundreds of different flowers, and what seemed like thousands of different butterflies. Another had no floor, but rather a pool filled with oatmeal, and another seemed to have nothing different about it except that it smelled of fresh baked cookies.
Who has been watching over this place? she asked herself, someone must be caring for those flowers, and that oatmeal had looked as if it had been cooked just this morning. I’m sure no one has baked cookies in that kitchen for at least thirty years, so then why do all these rooms have these things?
One of her favorite rooms was one that took her to the Grand Canyon. The room didn’t simply take her to the rim of the canyon, no, it floated right above the large crack in the earth. This room was one of the few that had windows; she could lean out the window and see the beautiful geological formation from above. Except it was not the Grand Canyon. At first to her it looked like the pictures she had seen but the longer she was there she realized that the geological formations were like the spires of a medieval building, nothing like the pictures she’d seen of the Grand Canyon. In fact she was not even sure if what she was looking at could be considered a canyon. Not to mention it had too much water to exist in the arid and hot Arizona she’d learned about in school.. This realization did not change her love of the room and in fact made it more unique. It was a canyon that likely only she would get to see, it was hers; the Canyon of Karleen, Karleen County, The United Counties of Karland.

This is not possible, she thought to herself there is no way this could be here, yet here I am. She could see people on the rim of the canyon coming to visit just as she was, but when she waved and called to them, it was as if they couldn’t see or hear her. In fact, it seemed as if they couldn’t even see the canyon right in front of them.
She checked her watch, she had broken her rule by twenty minutes: If she wanted to see all the rooms today, she would have to leave this room right now. Angrily she submitted to her rule She continued to sample rooms until she got to the last one on the second floor. She was about to open it when she noticed a sign on the door that said:

Karleen figured it was almost sundown anyway; she might as well investigate this door tomorrow to see if it was safe. She walked down the stairs and was about to exit the house when she saw her invasive brother and his friends walking up the driveway.

“No!” Karleen yelled at them from the threshold of the front door “ You shouldn’t be here! What do you want? This is my place and you can’t have it. I won’t let you spoil this place before I can see it all.” She ran up the stairs, leaping two at a time. She ran all the way to the end of the hallway and threw open the last door. The room was filled with fire. The fire spread rapidly, and Karleen ran all the way to the stairs but the fire beat her there. She was completely surrounded by flame. The smoke was choking. The flame was inches away she could feel the heat and the flames were bright. She fell to the ground and then there was darkness.

Karleen awoke with a scream. She heard footsteps as someone ran to check on her. The door opened to reveal her mother.

“Oh, there you are,” her mother said with relief. “We were looking everywhere for you. Your brother was walking up to the awful abandoned house and it caught on fire. He swore he saw you run into it right before it erupted into flame. I came back here to look for you. We couldn’t find you and we were so worried, I’m just so glad you’re safe. You look sick. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine” Karleen responded, “I just had a nightmare, I’ll be alright.”

Karleen got up and went to the bathroom to splash water onto her face, but when she looked up into the mirror, she noticed soot in her hair.

“You said there was a fire at the abandoned house?” Karleen shouted at her mother from across the house.

“Yes, a big one, there’s almost nothing left of it, the firefighters are almost done. You could go watch them finish up if you like,” her mother responded.

“I’ll be back before sunset” Karleen shouted through the house hoping her words would reach her mother as she left her house. Karleen ran down the hallway, out of the front door, and down the street past her irresponsible brother. Why would he walk up to a flaming building, he’s older than me he should be more responsible she thought to herself. The firefighters were wrapping up their hoses, preparing to leave. The house was a large, unruly pile of ashes; the only distinguishable features were parts of the staircase and a couple of doorways black, burnt, and barely standing. A large piece of paper fell from the sky that had at one point been ravished by flame. Karleen snatched it out of the air. Only part of the front was legible. Karleen could make out: “CIRCUMSTANCES”, “ARE TO REMAIN”, “AT ALL TIMES”,” HANDS BEFORE”, and “-Wardo”. On the other side it had one phrase written over and over in several different fonts and sizes, appearing in what seemed like no particular pattern or shape.

“For Grand Finale use only.”

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