Another Haunt

This post is a response to October 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


“Dale! Dale, hurry up!” yelled Marty.

“I’ll just be a few more minutes!” Dale shouted back.

“Dale, come on,” said Marty as he floated through the living room towards Dale’s bedroom. “It’s the busiest night of the year for haunts and you’re spending hours getting ready. The Spectral Turnpike is going to be crammed with spirits trying to get to Earth tonight.”

“I know,” Dale replied. “It’ll just be a few minutes.”

“It’s not like there’s going to be press there. All the celebrity ghosts are going to the party Frieda Kahlo is throwing. The spookarazzi will have its hands full. No need to bust out the couture.”

Dale cracked his door open and poked his head out.

“Spookarazzi?” Dale said. “Really? You know they’re still called paparazzi in the spirit realm.”

“I’m just trying to be festive,” Marty countered.

“Yeah, well if you want to be festive, go finish putting up your lights. Our block won’t win any awards if your only decorations are some fake spiders sprinkled in your shrubs.”

“Fine,” said Marty as he floated to the door. “I’ll be back in ten minutes. If you’re not ready, I’m leaving without you. Last Halloween we hit the thick of traffic and it took six whole minutes to get to Earth. It’s a thirty second trip! I’m not dealing with that again.”

Marty shut the door behind him, leaving Dale to dress in silence. He smashed together a sparkling dark blue powder with a wispy black mass, forming a midnight blue amalgamation on the dresser in front of him. Dale slathered the concoction on his black sleeves, the powder fading quickly into the fabric. He finished rubbing the powder into his top, grabbed a sheathed katana from beside his dresser, and made his was out of the house.

“Took you long enough!” shouted Marty as he dangled lights from his roof.

Marty floated down to the ground and gave Dale a look over before uttering a disapproving scoff.

“A ninja? Again?” said Marty.

“It’s tradition,” replied Dale.

“Tradition for what? You go, scare a bunch of kids for a few hours, then come back and go get blitzed off your supernatural ass with me and the misses. We’ve been doing this for ten years! Try something new.”

Marty pointed across the street at twelve of their neighbors who were organizing themselves into a six by six formation.

“You see that, Dale?” said Marty. “They’re going as a hung jury. Complete with nooses and everything!”

“I don’t do group costumes,” replied Dale.

“It’s not about a group costume. Yeah, you could be the cat to my rat. I just want to make sure don’t get stuck doing the same thing every Halloween forever.”

“I won’t.”


Dale and Marty arrived on Earth at Midland Cemetery in the town of Norton Mills, Indiana. For ten years, Marty and Dale had chosen this cemetery as the start of their Halloween haunts. Cemeteries provided easy portals between the spectral world and Earth, which was particularly useful as spirits couldn’t move as freely on Earth as they could away from it. Though this was a source of frustration for Marty, Dale accepted it as the reality of his circumstances.

“See you back here at 10pm?” Marty asked.

“Yeah. Same as every other year.”

“If you make the Jenkins kid piss himself again this year, be sure to remember every detail.”

“I will, Marty. I always do.”

Marty floated off into the woods behind the cemetery, while Dale ducked behind trees, dancing through the shadows as he made his way towards a suburban neighborhood. Trick or treating was nearing its end, parents and small children making their way back into their homes as teens began to take over the streets.

Dale ducked into a nearby oak tree as teenage twin boys dressed as Freddie Kruger chased their unicorn-clad younger sister down the street. Dale closed his eyes and summoned up a strong gust of wind, blowing leaves up into the face of the twins, slowing them down briefly and allowing the girl to get away. Though Dale disliked using his supernatural powers to control earthly things (even during a haunt), it did provide him a surprising amount of joy to mess with people who were acting like assholes.

As Dale rounded the corner, he floated up to the roof of a small yellow house, allowing him to overlook a similarly designed blue house next door. 38 Carmody Lane. Though Dale participated in occasional haunts wherever he (or Marty) felt like throughout the year, this was the location for his Halloween haunt for the last ten years. It would remain that way for the foreseeable future, if Dale had any choice in the matter.

Dale floated off of the roof of the yellow house, taking care to make sure no living human noticed him doing so. He drifted through a closed second floor window of the blue home, entering a room lit by a small desk lamp by the wall to his left. Dale made his way back into the shadows of the corner, trying to stay as far away from the light as possible. After twenty minutes, a boy — around sixteen years of age — entered the room and sat down at the desk. He fiddled with the lamp, pointing it away from the corner Dale hid in.

“Are you there, dad?” the boy asked, staring into the corner.

“Yeah,” replied Dale.

“Thanks for coming again.”

“I can’t miss Halloween, Kenny. I wish I could come more, but this is the only time there’s enough paranormal activity that I can show up and ghost hunters won’t be tipped off to the consistency.”

“I know,” replied Kenny.

“How’s your sister?” asked Dale.

“Marci’s good. Just started eighth grade.”

“Is she here?”

“Nah,” said Kenny, “her and mom went to Grandma Engle’s house. They should be back late tonight. But you probably can’t stay that long.”

“Do you think she’ll ever want a visit one of these years?” Dale asked.

“She was three when you died, dad. I don’t know how much she even remembers you anymore.”

“Oh.”

Kenny sighed and put his head to his chest.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I know,” replied Dale. “You’re probably right though. You at least had me around for six years.”

Dale examined Kenny, looking him up and down from a distance.

“How tall are you now?”

“Six one,” Kenny said.

“Are you swimming again?” asked Dale. “Or are you trying basketball?”

“Neither. Lifting in the offseason for baseball.”

“I guess that’s good.”

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“Can I see you?” asked Kenny. “Not in costume, I mean.”

“You know I can’t do that, son.”

“I know. But I have more memories of my dad dressed as a ghost ninja than I do of you alive. All I can see is your eyes.”

“It’s not my rule,” said Dale. “If I could change how I looked, this wouldn’t be an issue.”

“It just sucks,” stated Kenny.

“Yeah. It does.”

The sound of the doorbell ringing downstairs put an abrupt end to the conversation.

“Gerald going to get that?” asked Dale.

“Mom and Gerald are separated,” replied Kenny. “Have been a few months. Besides, it’s probably Olivia.”

“Olivia?”

“Yeah.”

“Girlfriend?”

“Yeah.”

“Well,” said Dale. “I’ll leave you two be. Just be safe.”

“I will. I love you, dad.”

“I love you too.”

Dale made his way back through the window and down Carmody Lane and back towards the cemetery. He sat for three hours atop a fading tombstone belonging to someone named Thomas Dickinson. Dale never met the man, but he clearly had comfortable taste in burial decor. As the occasional passerby would walk near the cemetery gates, Dale would make the wind howl lightly, just enough to make the person walk with a bit more purpose in their step, but not enough to frighten them.


“Are you sure you want to change costumes before you come to the party?” asked Marty. “It’s kind of tradition you come as a ninja at this point.”

“I’m sure,” replied Dale. “Tell Courtney I’ll be over shortly.”

“Don’t be too long. All the good spirits will be gone. Or, wait a really long time and then it will only be us bad spirits.”

“I see what you did there.”

Dale entered his home and made his way into the bedroom, shutting the door behind him. He placed the katana down by the dresser, then made his way to the wardrobe where he kept his haunting attire. Behind a pair of ragged suits, he pulled out a box with a new outfit he had bought a few years prior. Dusting off the container, he opened it, revealing a new sport coat and dress trousers. Dale placed the box on the dresser, shoving the bronze centerpiece atop the dresser out of the way, and stared at mirror on his wall.

Through the ninja mask, he could see his own eyes — blue as they had been in life, though hollow and absent of being. His eyes were one of the few features in his life that Dale liked, so he was happy they crossed over with him, at least partially.

The unfortunate reality was that in addition to his striking blue eyes crossing over to the spirit world with him, so did the rest of the physical features that Dale possessed when he died. He removed the mask from his ninja costume, revealing a bloodied exit wound from his suicide. While such a feature wouldn’t get a second look in the spirit realm, Dale could never bring himself to go to Earth with it uncovered. Even beyond the stigmatization he knew suicide held on Earth, he didn’t want Kenny or Marci to see him like this. He removed the ninja costume’s top and began to change for the party. Maybe next year his routine would be different.

Maybe.

Like Clockwork

This post is a response to September 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


“How are you planning to come back from this? Can…can you?” asked Leo.

“Which part?” replied Sara. “The part where I fell in love with someone I shouldn’t have or the part where everyone’s happily celebrating my demise?”

“I’m positive not everyone is celebrating.”

“My mom called me to tell me that I’m better off single anyway. My brother has already texted me his ‘I told you so’. My best friend is busy trying to figure out how to rebound from this relationship.”

“I didn’t mean my question as a bad thing,” Leo interrupted.

“I know you didn’t,” said Sara.

“You’ve been telling me for weeks that things weren’t going to last with Natalie.”

“I have.”

“And you’ve been telling me that getting as close to her as you did was a mistake.”

“I have.”

“So even though this sucks,” said Leo, “you’ve known this was coming.”

“That doesn’t make it any easier,” replied Sara.

“I know it doesn’t. You were together, what, six months?”

“Seven.”

“Alright. And you weren’t to the point where you bought a ring for her like you had for Thia.”

“Thia and I dated for six years,” Sara scoffed. “That’s not a fair comparison and you know it.”

“I’m not trying to compare the relationships themselves,” replied Leo. “What I’m trying to say is that you’ve had a history of diving head first into bad situations and trying to solve them by going even deeper into them. You told me three weeks after you met Natalie that she was bad for you.”

Sara sighed heavily.

“And what was the first thing you did after you told me that?” asked Leo.

Sara sat silently staring at her shoes.

“You texted her asking if she wanted to go skydiving with you.”

“I didn’t want to go alone,” replied Sara. “It was my first time and the thought of skydiving was scary as shit.”

“It’s not about the fucking skydiving, Sara!” shouted Leo. “It’s that you routinely fall for people who you know are bad for you in some way and you turn it into a fucking quest to date them and make it work. You’re an alcoholic. You knew she partied hard on the weekends. What did you expect would happen?”

“I don’t need to hear this from you too, Leo.”

“Yes you do. No one else is holding you accountable. I don’t want to be doing this either, believe you me. But it’s not like you have a community of people around you to tell you to stop making terrible life choices.”

“Leo…” stammered Sara.

“She made you relapse, Sara,” said Leo. “I don’t know how you expect me to react. You’ve lost most of your friends over the problems you’ve had. And I get it. You have a problem. You’ve been working to get help. And when you’re trying to get help, you really do try your best. But…fuck. Stop putting your sex drive above your personal well-being.”

Sara got up from the couch and walked toward the door, grabbing her jacket and slipping shoes on her feet.

“Where are you going?” Leo asked.

“Walking home,” replied Sara.

“The sun isn’t even up yet. You’re not walking home.”

“The fuck I’m not.”

Sara slammed the door behind her and quickly walked down the stairs from Leo’s third floor apartment to the street below. A few moments later, she heard Leo giving chase behind her.

“You know your car’s here, right?” asked Leo.

“Don’t care.”

“You’ll have to come back and get it in the mor…”

“Dooooonnnnnnn’t care.”

“Sara, please let me drive you home.”

Sara violently turned around, whipping her coat around her and creating a wind that shifted the leaves on the sidewalk behind her.

“What do you expect me to do?” Sara screamed. “Am I supposed to be alone for the rest of my life?”

“I’m asking you not to cave to situations that you shouldn’t be in,” replied Leo.

“So what? Are you going to hand pick my next girlfriend? Maybe I should get my brother to do it. I bet Marty will love that. Oooo! I could call Thia and ask her advice. I’m sure she’ll be a great help.”

“Sara. You haven’t slept in thirty-six hours. You’re stressed, you’re upset, and you just got broken up with. Please either let me drive you home or sleep on my couch.”

“Can you promise you’re going to leave me the fuck alone about Natalie for the rest of the night unless I bring her up?”

“I promise.”

“Good. I really don’t want to walk home. It’s cold out.”

Leo walked over to Sara and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, guiding her back towards his apartment stairs.

“I’m hungry,” said Sara. “Do you think anyone is still delivering?”

“Adams’ Wings should still be open,” replied Leo.

“Oh good. The cute redhead from my spin class works there. Maybe she’ll deliver.”

“Sara…”

“Kidding. Mostly.”

Mid-Month Short Story Challenge #14

Welcome to September. It’s the perfect time to start kicking back with a cup of hot cocoa and watch as the leaves begin to turn. Or that’s what books want us to think. In reality, it’s the time of year — at least in Ohio — filled with absurdly hot weekdays followed by rainy, muggy weekends. I know you’re likely wondering how the weather knows to rain on the weekend. And I can’t answer that. It’s just science1It’s not actually science. That’s not how science works..

It’s been a couple of months since our MMSSC prompt hasn’t had a theme explicitly tied to it. And since there will be one that’s also very thematic next month2Spoiler alert., this month’s prompt will be a bit more straight forward.

Your prompt is for this month below. Your story should be posted on October 1, 2018. Be sure to link back to this post so I can see your story and share.

  • Suggested number of words: Minimum 500 words, no maximum
  • Seven words to work into your story: Sun, community, quest, happily, cave, diving, ring
  • Genre: No limitations
  • Rating/Content/Perspective Limitation: First person perspective is encouraged, though not required.
  • Topic: Write a story centering around change.

Vita in Morte Sumus

This post is a response to August 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others. Oddly enough, the inspiration for this story comes both from my song of choice, as well as a comment made by John Green on a recent episode of “Dear Hank and John“. My choice of the three songs listed in the post was “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire3I had originally written a story based on “Atlanta” by Stone Temple Pilots that dealt with the current climate towards legal and illegal immigration in parts of the USA. Upon re-reading the story, as well as a day spent with family members whose views on those topics are diametrically opposed to mine, I decided that my story needed more research prior to publishing. It’s a topic I feel strongly about, as well as one I feel like I presented from the correct point of view. That said, after seeing the venom and hatred that some people feel towards those who are different from them (not to mention how certain people think that splitting up families is a joke), I want to be certain that there are no factual inaccuracies in my story. Not because the people I was around deserve it — but because the people living through the hell that is being an immigrant in the USA today deserve my story to be as accurate of a representation as possible..


“Wake up! It’s finally here! Today is here!”

Maddie rolled over and placed her pillow atop of her head, cuddling her skull into the mattress beneath her. For a few seconds, the silence around her gave her hope that sleep was coming. But that hope was quickly shattered by her roommate, Cruz, shouting at Maddie again in her melodic, soprano voice.

“Maaaadieeeeee,” she sang. “It’s your special day!”

“Then why are you waking me up?” Maddie mumbled back from under her pillow.

“Because it’s your last chance to do anything you want!” replied Cruz. “You don’t want to miss out on that.”

Maddie sat up in bed, then threw her pillow at Cruz with a swift-moving left-handed toss. The pillow missed wide, bouncing off the wall and landing harmlessly at the foot of the bed.

“What if all I want to do all day is sleep?” asked Maddie. “I’m dying today. I should get to do whatever I want. And maybe I just want to curl up in bed and dream about sleeping while I’m sleeping.”

“But…” Cruz stammered. “What about spending time with your best friend?”

“My cat’s dead,” Maddie deadpanned.

Cruz picked up the pillow off the floor and playfully tossed it at Maddie’s head. Her throw flew truer than Maddie’s, striking Maddie’s hands just as she got them up in front of her face.

“Bitch,” said Cruz.

Maddie climbed out of bed and walked toward her dresser. She pulled out a pair of baby blue leggings, pulling them onto her legs and over her hips.

“I’m really sorry, Cruz,” stated Maddie as she dug through another drawer looking for a shirt to replace her sleeping shirt with. “What would you like to do today?”

“It’s not my day, Maddie. It’s yours. Whatever you want.”

“But I don’t know what I want. All I know is that I’m not spending this day wearing a bra. Fuck that noise.”

“Then let’s go get some coffee and figure it out from there.”

Maddie and Cruz left their apartment and walked to the nearby coffee shop they had frequented numerous times over the three years they’d lived together. Upon entering, they were greeted by Cline, a burly middle-aged man with a graying beard and a blue bandana covering his balding head.

“Good morning, ladies,” Cline bellowed out from behind the counter. “The usual?”

“That’s fine for me,” replied Cruz. “But we need to make something special for Maddie. It’s her day.”

“Oh, yay!” Cline exclaimed. “Happy birthday!”

“Not her birthday,” retorted Cruz. “Her day.

“Oh…” said Cline as his voice trailed off. “Um…well, what would you like, Maddie? It’s on me.”

“You don’t need to do that,” replied Maddie.

“Please?”

Maddie sighed. “Fine. A small decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel is butter.”

“Go have a seat. I’ll bring it out to you.”

Maddie and Cruz walked to the far side of the coffee shop, taking a seat near an large window that stared out to the shopping center behind the building. A small emerald green sedan rolled slowly through the lot between the coffee shop and the shopping center. Its back and sides were covered in bumper stickers of all sizes and shapes and colors. One of the largest stickers — a bright yellow sticker with bold, black font — read “EXPIRATION DATES ARE POPULATION CONTROL”.

“I hate seeing people like that out in the wild,” said Maddie.

“Why?” Cruz inquired.

“Everything is a conspiracy theory to them. I get there there are actual conspiracies out there, filled with shady people doing shady things. But most of the time it’s just people upset with something that’s out of their control.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Being upset isn’t bad,” replied Maddie. “Shouting as loud as you can about something you know nothing about is. Especially when there’s impressionable morons who will believe anything they hear.”

Cline walked to the table, a drink in each hand and a plate balanced on each arm. Cruz and Maddie reached out to take the plates from him as Cline carefully placed the drinks down on the table.

“Decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel with butter for you,” he began. “And a blueberry coconut Italian soda with a slice of lemon pound cake for you.”

“You’re the best,” Cruz said enthusiastically.

“You’ve been getting that flavor combination for nearly a year now and I still don’t understand it.”

“Have you tried it?” asked Cruz.

“Yep,” replied Cline. “It’s one of the few times in life I’ve regretted something I ate.”

Cruz shrugged. “More for me, I guess.”

The sound of sleigh bells hitting a glass door announced the arrival of new guests at the coffee shop.

“That’s my cue,” said Cline. “Maddie, if there’s anything else you want, just tell me or come help yourself. Okay?”

“I will,” she replied. “Thanks.”

Cline walked back to the front of the store where he began to make drinks for a young couple struggling to corral the three young children that had arrived with them.

“Is there anything you feel like you’re going to be missing out on?” asked Cruz, her mouth half full of pound cake.

“Nothing I’m not over,” Maddie answered. “I mean, I would have liked to have been rich and famous. But it’s hard to get either of those things by the age of twenty-six.”

“It’s not fair though. Not the not getting to be rich and famous. But you’re only twenty-six. Most people get to be around until they’re in their eighties or nineties. You don’t feel anything’s wrong with that?”

“Not really,” said Maddie. “There’s still a lot of people who think a sky spirit pre-ordains when it’s their time to die, even if it’s an untimely death. I don’t see how this is any different.”

Maddie took a drink from her coffee, closing her eyes and savoring the taste of the coffee in her mouth for a moment before swallowing.

“In fact,” Maddie continued, “it’s a better situation. I get to know when I’m dying. I could choose to ignore it, live life on the run, and then die anyway. Or I can have my shit together, say my goodbyes, and live my life the best I can in the finite time that I know I have.”

“But what about the people that’ll miss you?” asked Cruz.

“My adoptive family hasn’t spoken to me in years. My parents gave me up as a baby and I haven’t heard from them since. My group of friends has been dwindling the more people I tell about my expiration date. My cat’s dead. It’s pretty much you and the service workers I interact with that’ll notice I’m gone.”

Cruz clenched her lips together, contorting them to the side as she bit down on them from the inside. She took a deep breath in, then let it out with a long, slow exhale.

“I’ll miss you a lot,” stated Cruz.

“I know,” Maddie replied. “I’m sorry. You can keep as much or as little of my stuff as you want. Whatever helps you.”

“I appreciate it. What time is it?”

“A quarter to eight.”

“You have to be there at nine, right?”

“Yeah.”

“We should get going then.”

Maddie and Cruz took the last few bites of their food, then packed up to leave the coffee shop, their drinks in hand. Cline waved at them from behind the counter, though only Cruz returned a wave, albeit a half-hearted one.

The Expiration Bureau was a large sandstone building on the edge of the downtown area. It has previously been a bank, as well as a hotel before that. But with the formation of local Expiration Bureau offices by the National Board of Human Services and Well-Being, many cities found their largest — and often most well-known — buildings converted into Expiration Bureaus.

Maddie and Cruz entered the building and proceeded to a large reception desk with several employees seated behind it. After a short wait, they stepped up to a middle aged man wearing a cobalt blue suit.

“Your full name and birth date, please?” he asked, not bothering to look up from the screen he was about to enter the information into.

“Madeline Niko Raymond. Born November 1, 2084.”

“One moment,” said the man.

Behind her right shoulder, Maddie heard Cruz begin to sniffle. She reached back and grabbed Cruz’s hand, grasping it tightly in hers.

“It’s okay,” Maddie whispered.

“No it’s not,” Cruz whispered back.

“Do you wish to submit a final will and testament, Ms. Raymond?” asked the man.

“I do,” said Maddie. “I wish for all my possessions, physical, digital, and financial, to be turned over to Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega.”

“Is that who’s here with you today?” inquired the man.

“It is,” replied Maddie.

“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man, “please state your name and date of birth so that the system can locate you and complete the final will and testament process.”

“Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega,” stated Cruz. “Born January 11, 2086.”

The man waited for the voice verification system to process Cruz’s information. He scrolled through the prompts that followed, tapping various boxes and radio buttons as he did so.

“Would you like any final pictures taken prior to processing?” the man asked.

“No, thank you,” replied Maddie.

“Any pets, children, or non-emancipated robotic beings where custody would need to be transferred to a family member, domestic partner, or other willing and financially responsible entity?”

“No.”

“Do you wish to opt out of the national organ donation program?”

“I do not.”

“Do you have a preferred method of processing?”

“Can you make me famous?” asked Maddie.

“I cannot, Ms. Raymond.”

“Then just make it painless.”

The man tapped at more options on the screen, his eyes glancing back and forth as he read through the various prompts on the screen.

“Do you need more than legally required hour and a half of visitation to say goodbye to friends, family, or business associates?”

Maddie looked back at Cruz. As Cruz stared at the floor in front of her, she shook her head slightly from side to side.

“No,” Maddie murmured. “I do not.”

The man motioned for Maddie to place her hand in a translucent blue box in front of her. The box felt warm around Maddie’s hand. After a few moments, she felt a gelatinous fluid filling the box around her fingers. The fluid filled the box nearly completely, though just as Maddie started to feel pressure from the fluid building on her hand, the box began to buzz and the fluid began to recede. The fluid completed its escape, the box stopped buzzing, and Maddie’s hand was freed from the box. She pulled it away, her hand covered in a pale white powdery film.

“Go down the door on the far end of the lobby,” said the man as he gestured toward the door with two fingers. “Place your hand under the scanner and wait for the door to open. Follow the purple line to the visitation area if you so desire. After your visitation ends, you’ll follow the white line back to your room. Do you understand, Ms. Raymond?”

“I do,” said Maddie.

“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man. “Once visitation ends, advise one of the attendants that you’re Ms. Raymond’s primary heir. You’ll be taken to handle any and all final arrangements for Ms. Raymond, as well as to process her will. Do you understand, Ms. Ortega?”

Cruz nodded.

“Ms. Ortega, I need verbal confirmation,” the man stated.

“I understand,” replied Cruz between sobs.

“Thank you both. You’re free to go. Welcome home, Ms. Raymond.”

Laramie

This post is a response to July 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


For reference, here is the song that was picked to use as inspiration for this month’s story4I ran a poll on Twitter in mid-July between four songs that had been stuck in my head recently. This song won after round robin coin flips following a three way tie.

The register of Grant’s cries burned at his own ears, stabbing harder at his ossicles than any noise he’d heard before. It wasn’t as though the sounds were any louder or more percussive than jet engines or fireworks, yet his own wails pained him far more. As tears trickled down his face and onto the steering wheel of his car, their landing slowly changed from a splatting to a splashing as the vinyl exterior covering his airbag was wetted.


It’s one thousand, nine hundred and fifty-nine minutes — more or less — to drive from Woonsocket, Rhode Island to Laramie, Wyoming. During his nearly thirty hour marathon drive, Grant could only feel that it was more than worth his time. The lack of sleep, the copious amounts of caffeine and fast food, the never ending white lights charging towards him on the interstate, the cramped car without air conditioning; all of them would be worth it. On the west side of Laramie, there was a hotel room for two waiting.

Nine years is a long time to wait for something to change. It’s even longer to wait on a person to change. Grant knew that. Yet he was committed to the wait, whether it be for two years or twenty. Candice would get over her fear in time. She had promised him that much.

On a Thursday evening nine years prior, Grant was settling into his seat on a tiny aircraft that would take him from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Chicago. He’d then board a plane bound for Boston, from where he’d get his car out of the Logan Airport parking garage and make the dark drive back home to Rhode Island. Even though it was in his best interest to get some sleep on one of the two flights, too many people on the plane would have their window shades open. As they should, Grant reasoned. It was still early evening, which coupled with a time zone difference meant a plane full of people who didn’t want to sleep.

Grant pulled his hooded sweatshirt off of his torso, rolled it into a ball, and placed it between his head and the wall of the plane. He closed his eyes and began to focus on his own breath, hoping his meditation would cause the sounds of others boarding the plane to fade away. For a few moments, it worked. But then Grant felt a hand forcefully lean against him. He opened his eyes to find a young brunette woman in a University of Wyoming hoodie struggling to hold herself up as she placed her bag in the overhead bin above them.

“You need a hand with that?” Grant asked.

“As long as you don’t plan on moving in the next five second, I should be fine,” she replied.

“Don’t worry,” answered Grant. “In a previous life I was a support column for a building.”

The woman chuckled as she finished stowing her bag and took the seat beside Grant. For the hour long flight from Cedar Rapids to Chicago, Grant spent time getting to know this woman who gravity had assisted him in meeting. Candice was a graduate student and tennis player at the University of Wyoming. She was back in Cedar Rapids to visit her family. Grant was amused to learn that Candice’s cousin was the receptionist at the Cedar Rapids branch of his company, while Candice found it funny that Grant attended the graduated from the same university during the same year as her current roommate (though they didn’t know each other). It was a small world, particularly considering Grant had never been to Iowa before that trip.

When they parted ways in the airport, Grant and Candice exchanged phone numbers and went on their way. They kept in touch via text over the next few months. As Grant’s next trip to the company’s Iowa branch loomed closer, he was overjoyed to learn that Candice would be back in town too.

They met up on a Tuesday night, spending the evening drinking at a bar with narrow chairs and overpriced cocktails. As the night progressed, both Candice and Grant began flirting with each other more aggressively, eventually leading to a night of passionate romance in Grant’s hotel room. The next morning, Grant woke up with a pulsing headache to find Candice gone. The only trace left of her was a hastily scribbled note written on hotel stationary.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me.”

Grant texted and called Candice, trying to get to the bottom of her early morning disappearance and her note. Days and weeks passed with no word back from Candice. Initially it was upsetting, but after a few weeks, Grant slowly began to feel better. It was a good night they spent together. Everything was consensual. He just go ghosted. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. It likely wouldn’t be the last.

About three months later, Grant woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of his phone buzzing, rattling against the glass of water on his nightstand.

“Hello?” he mumbled groggily.

“I didn’t want to just leave like that, you know.”

“Candice?”

“I’m engaged, Grant,” Candice replied, “and I made a mistake.”

Grant sat up in his bed, leaning against the headboard and wall behind him.

“Look,” Grant began,  “had I known that you were with someone, I wo…”

Candice cut him off. “No. I made a mistake getting engaged.”

“Then leave him?”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Why not?” asked Grant.

“When will you be in Cedar Rapids again?”

“Not for six weeks or so. Why?”

“How’s Rhode Island this time of year?”

Ten days later, Candice showed up at Grant’s door, a backpack full of clothes clutched close to her. She spent the weekend mostly in Grant’s arms, talking about how she desperately wanted out of her engagement, but how she didn’t want to hurt anyone. Her parents — who already weren’t doing well financially — would be out thousands of dollars they insisted on putting into her wedding. Her fiancee, AJ, had already been left at the altar once before and she didn’t want to make him hurt again. Grant largely listened, not knowing what to say in response to most of Candice’s concerns. He had begun to care for Candice, but knew it wasn’t right of him to try to convince her to call off her wedding. Emotions got the best of both of them, leading Candice and Grant to sleep together again. While Candice called AJ and continued her lie that she’d need to spend more time with her family in Iowa instead of with him in Wyoming, Grant defiantly told himself that she’d end up coming clean with AJ and ending their relationship.

Eight years and sixteen days ago, Candice and AJ married in a church just off of the campus of the University of Wyoming. In that time, Candice had met up with Grant hundreds of times by Grant’s count. Sometimes she flew to meet him in Rhode Island. Sometimes it was on one of Grant’s business trips to Iowa where Candice would conveniently also be in town to see her family. There was even a time where Candice flew to Las Vegas to meet up with Grant while he was at a conference for a weekend — just because she wanted to feel like they got to take a vacation together.

For Grant’s part, the initial mental struggle and concerns about his part in Candice’s infidelity soon gave way to apathy and acceptance. Grant loved Candice completely and irreversibly. If Candice had to borrow time from her life with AJ to be with him, Grant was willing to accept that. But with each passing visit, Grant wanted nothing more than for Candice to surprise him by saying that her marriage with AJ was finally over. Every time the thought of asking Candice to leave AJ crossed Grant’s mind, he got a little more courage towards asking her. Yet each and every one of those times, Grant chose not to say anything. For eight years and sixteen days since the wedding, and in nine years since Grant had met her, Candice was someone else’s — even if she was a very intricate part of his life.

This drive would change that. It had to. There’s no way that Grant could drive across nearly the entire United States in an effort to convince Candice to leave AJ, only for Candice to reject the plan completely. Candice loved him. She made a point to make sure to tell Grant that every single day, be it via text, via phone, or in person. Grant had told Candice he was going to be in Laramie. He told her where he’d be staying. All he had to do was to tell her that he was coming to take her away from her life with AJ so that they could be together. After all this time, it’d be a great relief to both of them. It had to work that way.

When Grant looked out his hotel room window and saw Candice’s baby blue sedan pull into the hotel parking lot, parking beside his own car, he sprinted out onto the second floor walkway. He met Candice at the foot of the staircase leading from the ground floor up to his hotel room, embracing her tightly. Candice didn’t hug him back though. Her face was tear streaked and somber, her eyes red and puffy.

“What’s wrong?” Grant asked.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Candice replied.

“That’s why I’m here! You don’t have to. We can leave and go back to Rhode Island.”

“No.”

“I’m not married to Rhode Island. I’m at the point where I can freely transfer wherever. There’s Cedar Rapids if you want to be near your family.”

“No.”

“There’s San Diego if you want to be somewhere warm.”

“No. Grant.”

“Hell, if you really want to get far away from here, I’m sure we could go to Amsterdam or Auckland.”

“Grant!” Candice screamed. “Stop. Please.”

“I’m just trying to give you options,” Grant retorted.

“I don’t have options!”

Candice reached into her purse and grabbed a plastic baggy from in it. She handed it to Grant, being sure to have the readable side of the pregnancy test inside face up.

“You’re pregnant?” Grant said, stunned.

“Yeah,” sighed Candice.

“Is it ours?”

“It might be. It might not be.”

“We can raise him. Or her. I’m guessing it’s too early to know?”

“No,” replied Candice. “We can’t. I can’t do this anymore.”

“What if the child is mine?” Grant asked.

Candice wiped tears away from her face, though she struggled to keep her face dry as they formed quicker than her hands could move. She leaned in and kissed Grant on the cheek.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me.”

Candice pulled away from Grant and sprinted through the hotel parking lot and into a field that separated the hotel from the highway that ran behind it.

“Candice!” Grant yelled as he started to give chase. “Where are you going?”

Grant initially gained ground on Candice, but his lack of physical activity meant that Candice quickly pulled away from him. Candice continued her charge toward the highway, seemingly picking up speed the closer she got. Grant slowed to a fast walk, panting and huffing as he did so. As Candice neared the highway, Grant let out a strained shout.

“Candice!” he yelled. “Come…come back!”

Candice ran onto the highway at a point where an on ramp merged into the interstate, doing so at the same grade as the land beside the road. A car coming down the ramp saw her and swerved onto the shoulder, avoiding her before darting back into its lane. A second truck — a large moving van towing a small hatchback — wasn’t as quick to react. The vehicle struck Candice at full speed, launching her into the air before skidding to a stop on the side of the road. As Candice came crashing to the ground, Grant collapsed in the field, sobbing into the grass beneath him.


The chime of his car signaling that it was low on gas brought Grant’s head up from the steering wheel. It had been hours since he had talked to the police and paramedics about why Candice had run into oncoming traffic on the interstate. Since he wasn’t family, they couldn’t tell her anything more about her condition — merely the hospital she was taken to. Despite wanting to go and to be there for Candice, he couldn’t bring himself to leave the hotel parking lot. In between bouts of crying at the top of his lungs, Grant had dozed off, exhaustion both mentally and physically getting the best of him.

Grant put the car in reverse and drove along side streets from the hotel to the gas station on the other side of the highway. As he parked his car and got out to pump gas, a white pickup truck pulled into the station, parking at the pump across from him. Grant began to fill his gas tank as a tall man in a white cowboy hat exited the truck. The man began to fill his own tank while talking on his cell phone, leaving Grant to hear a one-sided conversation.

“That’s what they told me,” said the man to whomever he was on the phone with. “The cops were saying it was lover’s quarrel gone wrong.”

He paused.

“I figured it was bound to happen sooner or later. Her running off, that is.”

He paused again.

“Yeah, it’s morbid, but what in the fuck else is there to say?”

The pump clicked on Grant’s car, indicating it was full. He returned the nozzle to its latch, shut the gas tank door, and got in his car. Grant drove to the hospital, hoping that somehow, someway, Candice would still be alive when he got there.

Grant walked up to the front desk at the hospital, only to find it unstaffed. After a few seconds, an elderly nurse in pink scrubs walked around the corner and behind the desk.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Um, yeah,” Grant stammered, “I’m here to see Candice Hopewell-Ravinia.”

“Are you family?”

“Not exactly.”

“Are you on her allowed guest list?”

“I’m not sure?”

“What’s your name, hun?” asked the nurse.

“Grant Lazar.”

The nurse typed Grant’s name into the computer, slowly reading over the results on the screen.

“Room 2904,” she said. “Though visiting hours end in 35 minutes, so you can’t be up there long.”

“Thank you,” replied Grant.

Grant ran off to the elevator, frantically pushing the button to get the car to come down to him. Though the hospital was nearly empty as midnight neared, Grant stared down the hall towards the building’s full emergency room. A screaming child from the other end of the hall masked the sound of the elevator’s arrival, causing Grant to have to quickly throw his arm in the door opening before it closed and left without him.

Upon arriving on the second floor, Grant followed the meandering hallway to a room where he found Candice in several casts, her left leg in traction hovering above the bed. A young doctor was looking over Candice when Grant entered.

“Hi,” Grant stammered.

“Hi, I’m Doctor Thomas. You must be AJ.”

“No, Grant.”

“Ah, okay,” replied the doctor, “Candice’s mother said you might show up.”

“How’s she doing?”

“I can’t share any specifics with you, but we’re keeping a close eye on her. If her family decides to share more info with you when they arrive, they can.”

“I understand,” said Grant. “Do you care if I stay here with her for a little bit?”

“Not at all. There’s a chair in the corner that you can wheel over if you want.”

Dr. Thomas left the room as Grant brought the chair over to the side of Candice’s bed. Grant carefully placed his hand on her partially exposed fingers, holding them lightly. He began to sob, tears trickling down onto the bed beside his hand.

“I love you,” said Grant. “I’m so sorry this happened. If you never want to see me again, I’d understand.”

Grant felt Candice close her index and middle finger around his hand, clutching them as tightly as her cast allowed. As he tried to move away, Candice close the grip tighter, pinching his fingers against the cast. Grant moved back to his original spot, kissing Candice’s exposed fingers to let her know he was staying. The cast cut into his fingers, blood trickling down onto the sheet below. Yet Grant didn’t move. In this moment, perhaps for the first time, Grant felt like he could see Candice for who she truly was. He wasn’t leaving that moment.