I’m Sorry

Callie had been missing for 18 hours before it occurred to me that they wouldn’t find her alive. I’d been sitting in the library, staring out the window at the high school football field across the street. No one had seen her since 3 in the afternoon the day before. It was 9 am.

I checked social media again. No news. I texted my brother. He sent me the article. They’d found her body somewhere in the park. It didn’t say where or what happened.

It’s always the boyfriend, right? He took off shortly after the police report was filed. I never liked him.

I couldn’t call Callie a friend. I hadn’t seen her in two years, but we had been in classes together and had studied together a few times.

A text flashed across my phone, the day and time of the memorial service. Of course it was on a Tuesday. Callie and I weren’t that close, and funerals are for the family and friends. I didn’t know them. Was I supposed to go to the memorial?

I didn’t go. Going wouldn’t bring her back.

Meds Don’t Help

The drip, drip, drip of the sink invades my dreams. The medication, four blue pills and two green, turns even good dreams into nightmares of shape, color, and sound. In my dream, orange squares with beady squirrel eyes chase me through my house which coincidentally is full of quicksand. My legs sink. The sand sucks. I’m falling.

My back hits the mattress. Dim moonlight crosses over the unfamiliar, blue bedspread. Someone rolls over in the bed beside me. A man’s nose brushes my shoulder, his blonde hair almost silver in the darkness. I shift away from him. Why is he in my bed?

He looks like he belongs there, but his name escapes me. I’ve probably woken him up before to ask. It’s not worth it tonight.

I grab the small, black photo album on my bedside table. Little pieces of tape label each picture. The first one is me: Andrea Fae Lynn. I’m in a flowing, white wedding dress. My face was younger, and my hair was darker then. The second is the man in my bed: Danny Lynn. He’s in a tuxedo. We’ve been happily married for twenty years. Danny and the kids tell me these things every morning, hoping I will start to remember. It’s working. I’m remembering what they tell me.

The third picture is the kids: Daisy and Ben. Its Daisy holding baby Ben. They’re both grown now I think. Yes, the next picture is of Daisy with a family of her own. I almost remember Daisy’s baby being born, only because it was after my accident.

Danny mumbles beside me. His eyes open a little bit. “Andrea, are you okay?” He lifts a hand to touch my face, but he stops. The air between us buzzes with hesitation. I kiss him. Our lips don’t fit together anymore, but he smiles. “You remembered me.”

Just his face. I don’t remember what I felt for him. Those feelings are locked away somewhere I’ll never be able to reach, but I return his smile anyway.

Research Beyond the Veil

The purple shade of twilight fell over the cemetery. These things always happen in cemeteries or old mansion, but this one was the cemetery on the hill by a high school in the suburbs. Most of the headstones were readable. Only one had a chip in it. The perfect target.

The witch, a local one who usually only dealt in herbs including but not limited to weed, set up her white protection candles. A small pentagram was already dug into the mud with a stick. She sprinkled a salt circle around it. “No such thing as too much protection.”

As the moon rose over her head, she lifted her hands. “Oh wise Moon Goddess, your daughter speaks. Bring down eternal life so that I may do your work.”

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but pearly, silver rain drops fell. The moon tears broke over the witches skin, filling her with energy and youth. Her spider veins faded, and her wrinkles pulled tight. “Thank you, Goddess.”

As the witch packed up her belongings, the sky turned ashy. Not the deep blue of night, but the gray of death. Then a tear formed in the graveyard. The ground beneath her feet split, the crack continuing up a headstone and into the open air. Then the split opened.

They say that beyond is full of eternal misery or wandering souls or darkness or snow. Whatever it is must be terrifying though because it’s rare to see inside and live. But that witch lived. I tracked her down. I’ve tracked them all down. Most of the Seerers are dead. Some are paralyzed or comatose. She wasn’t. When I asked her to tell her story, her tongue twisted and her hands shook, but I saw images. They were fast flashes (nothing distinguishable) and they filled me with pure fear.

Infinity of Holding On

Moonlight casts shadows on the paisley wallpaper. Everything is a different shade of gray in the dark. Down the hall, a grandfather clock strikes midnight. Tingling fills the air, a sign of magic. Charged silence replaces the chimes. My skin prickles. I unfold my hands, letting them fall open in my lap. “Are you here?”

My body shivers and panicked sadness catches in my stomach. My breath comes fast. My lungs tighten. Images flash through my mind, digging into me. I can’t make sense of them. I can’t slow them down.

Please, help, the soft voice whispers in my ear. My body stiffens. The images freeze. It’s like the girl is standing right in front of me, reddish brown hair falling to her hips. She’s young and faded. The longer someone has been dead, the harder it is to see them. She can’t be the one I’m looking for, but she’s here.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” I brace myself as I always do, but it never helps. Pain blots out the room in front of me. The air pulls from my lungs. My heart thumps, bruised and terrified. Fear freezes my brain. As I feel myself twisting around, I see hands reaching for me. They tighten around my throat, and I thrash and scream. No sound comes out. My body releases, giving into death. As my eyes close, I see a familiar square-jawed man, her step-dad. His normally cheery, brown eyes are dark pits of hate. His lips scowl down at me. Then he’s gone. The room rushes back to meet me. Air fills my lungs too fast, giving me a headache. I wrap my arms around myself, taking a moment to breathe. My neck aches from where I scratched myself trying to escape the phantom hands.

The girl watches me, eyes wide. I press my shaking hands between my thighs. “I’m sorry that that happened to you.”

Don’t be. I’m glad I died. Better to die with honor than be exiled and shamed. 

“How long have you been trapped wandering?”

Too long.

“I can set you free.”

What do I have to do?

“Let go.”

The girl’s eyes narrow. How do I do that?

“Don’t carry this with you anymore.”

What does that mean? You talk like that’s easy.

“I know it’s not, but as soon as you let it go, it can’t hurt you anymore.”

It will always hurt me, even if I manage to forget. I will always be dead because of him.

“Just like my sister. She was murdered by her ex-boyfriend.” My voice comes out strong, but inside I’m crumbling.

Did your sister let go? Is she at peace?

“No, and I need to find her.”

Maybe she doesn’t want to be at peace if it means letting go of everything, if it means forgiving.

“But when you wander you’re in pain and you’re alone!”

But you’re you, and you’re fighting. If I let go, I’m letting him win.

“If you stay, you’re letting what he did control you.”

The girl is quiet for a long time. Then she is gone, and I’m no closer to finding my sister.

Missing Letters

Grandpa’s soft, leathery hands cover mine as we sit at the kitchen table. The whole house smells like cigarettes since he picked up smoking again three years ago. The bowl of blue wrapped chocolates on the counter is stale. None of the grand kids come around anymore besides me, and I’m diabetic. Across the room, the clock on the wall ticks down the seconds until I have to leave. Grandpa’s clock reads 5 pm. My phone says it’s 5:18 pm.

My chair scrapes the tile as I stand. “Ready for dinner?”

Grandpa keeps hold of my hands, his eyes staring at the blank TV screen in the living room. I pick up the remote. “Wheel of Fortune?”

His head bobs up and down with slow deliberation. I press the power button. Since Grandma died, he’s never changed the station. I guess he doesn’t want anymore change in his life. He threw a fit the one time I bought him oatmeal cookies instead of oatmeal raisin.

As the TV blares through the house, I grab frozen chicken strips, precooked and cut, from the freezer and throw a few on a cookie sheet. The oven starts to preheat. Grandpa starts to guess aloud the first phrase on the show. The screen reads: H_ _ _ E     _ E _ _ _ E    _HE    C _ _ _.

“‘Before He Cheats’ by Carrie Underwood.” Grandpa takes a sip of his coffee. I made it earlier for him, but he doesn’t eat or drink much unless he’s distracted.

“I think it says, horse before the cart.”

Grandpa glances at me like he forgot I was here. “You think you’re so smart, but I’m telling you, it’s that Underwood song.”

The oven beeps before I can argue. Sliding the chicken in, I relish in the heat pouring from the oven. Grandpa likes it cold in the house, so cold I worry that his feet are blue under his socks but he won’t take his socks off. My phone reads 5:37 pm. I have to leave at six if I’m going to make it to work on time, but I can’t leave the chicken in the oven. Grandpa would let the house burn down, maybe with himself in it.

I set the timer for twenty minutes. Grumbling, Grandpa heaves himself up, grabs the remote, and turns the TV off. “Damn show isn’t good anymore anyways.”

“Do you want me to turn on the news?”

“Nothing good on the news either. Dow is always down. What’s the point.”

I join him at the table and take the remote. “Your dinner will be ready soon.”

Grandpa looks over his shoulder and lowers his voice. “Did Vivian remember to boil the potatoes? She don’t know how to work the microwave.”

My stomach clenches. He doesn’t forget often. I watch the color drain from his face, and he lowers his head into his hands. His shoulders shake. Sobs break the silence and shatter everything inside of me. The timer goes off, but he doesn’t raise his head again.

Turn Up the Heat

5 am: The thermostat starts at 65 degrees.

6:45 am: The thermostat goes up to 68 degrees because it’s freezing.

9 am: The temperature is 65 degrees because it’s hot.

1 pm: It’s up to 70 degrees because doing homework under three blankets is ineffective.

3 pm: The windows fog. Temperature changes back to 65 degrees.

5 pm: Back to 69 degrees because compromise.

8 pm: To 65.

10 pm: To 70. Thermostat intentionally hidden.

Midnight: To 65.

Leaving You

The easy part was walking away. The hard part was admitting that it was all my fault.

Raindrops sparkled under the street lights. The wind cut through my skinny jeans and tank top. You had my jacket. Maybe I should’ve asked for it back, but then it would’ve smelled like you, like designer perfume.

Bright red light spilled down on the sidewalk from the sign above the bar. It was some new place you had wanted to try. Their beer tasted like shit, but that’s not why I left. You didn’t even notice when I walked out. One minute we were ordering drinks, and then you started playing pool with some girl with a nose ring. Your ex had a nose ring.

Standing in the cool rain, I stared back through the window at you. You didn’t even glance towards the bar, towards my empty seat. My whole body shook as I turned away. You would’ve called me overly dramatic, but that wasn’t the first time that happened.

I didn’t cry when I drove home. Or when I deleted your number. You only sent one text: Where’d you go? You ok?

Was it my fault that you didn’t care? Did I not try hard enough?

I typed out long texts to you and then deleted them.

***

A week later, you called, interrupting my binge watching Star Wars. I let you go to voicemail. When you called again, I turned my phone off. I didn’t look at it again until right before bed. Then I listened to every message. I heard you crying and telling me you loved me. And part of me was relieved that you hurt as much as I did.

Bundled in my blanket on the leather couch, I shoved handfuls of popcorn in my mouth and fell asleep to Star Wars playing. The loud music from the main menu screen woke me in the morning. I checked my phone, convinced the phone calls were a nightmare. They weren’t.

The lump in my throat made it nearly impossible to talk, but I called you anyway. I was prepared to apologize. Somehow I ended up yelling at you.

***

It took me a month before I could go through your stuff. There wasn’t much. I threw out your toothbrush and some of the presents you gave me. I donated your old t-shirt. You probably tossed my stuff too.

Then I worked my way through our pictures together and the pictures I had of you. I stuffed them into a folder to torture myself with when I was sad.

How much self-pity can one person have? A lot. And that’s when I realized how pathetic I was. That moment, laying in my queen sized bed alone, was my worst. That’s when I knew I was wrong and you were right and I was incapable of functioning in a relationship. I’m sorry.

Everything You Can’t Have

Dark clouds smudged the sky as Lily hurried up to her neighbor, Delilah’s house. Delilah answered the door. She was older (thirteen), a head taller, and already wearing heavy, dark eyeliner. Lily’s eyes latched onto Delilah’s white training bra strap. “Want to play?”

Delilah stepped back so Lily could come in. “Did you bring a wand?”

Lily flourished a twig that she’d found in the woods. Delilah squinted at it and nodded. “Good. Are you ready for your first magic lesson?”

“Yes!” Lily beamed, following Delilah into her bedroom. Glitter stuck in the pink carpet. Butterflies were still plastered to the yellow walls. Delilah flopped onto her bed and Lily sat at Delilah’s vanity.

Delilah pulled a polished, black magician’s wand without the white ends from under her pillow. “You’re going to circle your wand over an object, imagine what color you want to change it to, and say, ‘Colos muta‘.” Delilah demonstrated, waving her wand over her white, stuffed poodle. “Colos muta.” The fur turned bright blue.

Lily blinked hard, trying to understand what she was seeing. “It’s real. Magic is real.”

Delilah shrugged. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

Eager, Lily grabbed Delilah’s purple pencil box and waved her wand over it. “Colos muta.” Nothing happened. “Could I borrow your wand? Mine is broken.”

“No. Witches can’t use each others’ wands. It’s forbidden.”

“Says who?”

“Says the coven.”

“Can I meet them?”

“Maybe you’re just not a real witch.”

Lily recoiled. How could she not be a witch? She could see magic. She could wave a wand and say spells. “Delilah, please. I want to be a witch.”

Delilah crossed her arms. “Prove it. Real witches are telepathic. Say something to me in your head.”

Lily closed her eyes and thought really hard. I am a witch, just like you. Lily said it over and over again before finally opening her eyes. Delilah stared back at her, surprised. “You are a witch.”

“I told you.” Lily stuck her tongue out.

Delilah hopped down off of her bed. “Since you’re one of us, you need to look like one of us.” Delilah pulled her golden hair back into a ponytail before grabbing her eyeliner out of her vanity drawer. “Close your eyes again.”

Heat rose to Lily’s face as Delilah stood over her. She felt the pencil poking at her eye as Delilah ran the pencil over her eyelid. Delilah held Lily’s chin. “Stop moving.”

“You’re poking me.”

“I’m almost done.” Delilah stopped. “Okay, open your eyes. Now I just need to do the bottom.”

Lily’s eyes watered as she opened them. Delilah immediately started pressing the pencil against Lily’s lower lids. Lily tried not to move. She was about to give up when Delilah put the eyeliner down. “Perfect.”

Lily blinked her tears away and looked at the strange girl in the mirror. Even with her dark hair, she could’ve been Delilah’s twin. And in that moment, she saw everything she always wanted.

 

Ancient Dark

They knew what they would find when they got there. The stale, off-white walls of the mental institution drained the color from the place. Someone had tried to make up for it by buying yellow couches, but all that did was disturb the patients further. And nothing could mask the smell of body odor, blood, and urine. The closer the wardens came to Andrea’s cell, the worse the smell became. The head warden knocked on Andrea’s door.

She didn’t answer. He knocked again, and she knocked back. Then a horrible scratching noise started on the other side of her door. The head warden pulled a key from his pocket and let himself in. The door swung open, hitting Andrea though she didn’t seem to notice. She was too busy drawing eyes on the floor with a black crayon stolen from the coloring center.

Black symbols darkened her white walls. Eyes overlapped pentagrams, covering almost every inch of white. Swirling symbols decorated her nightstand and headboard. She’d even started to color her bedspread.

The head warden took a step into her room and her head snapped up. Her eyes were narrow and there was a disconnect. This person sitting on Andrea’s floor wasn’t Andrea.

The warden held out his hand. “The crayon, please.”

She hissed and drew faster, still staring unblinkingly. The warden cleared his throat. “Andrea, you are not a witch. You have psychosis. It’s very treatable as long as you follow our procedures. We can help you.”

Words poured from her mouth in a language unspoken for centuries. Fear bristled in the warden’s heart, and he shifted his weight to run. Then he felt it. It was as if his body had been penetrated by a ghostly hand. Cold discomfort went through him. It latched onto his stomach and forced him to his knees. Eye to eye with Andrea, he saw a primal darkness there and for a brief moment he felt one with something greater than himself.

The head warden died at 12:01 a.m. on an average Tuesday morning. Andrea vanished from her room at 12:02 a.m. No one bothered looking for her.

Is it Love if?

Lavender straightened her desk at least twenty times a day. She’d wake up in the morning, drink her coffee, and fix her desk before starting her work as a freelance editor. On the good days, her husband, David, would kiss her before leaving for his law firm. Today, the front door opened and closed without a word. Lavender adjusted her papers again before reading another chapter of the manuscript she was editing. She highlighted at least five paragraphs in red and typed a detailed note to the author about how to fix it. He probably wouldn’t do it. She’d sent his manuscript back at least seven times already, which meant more pay but less new customers.

She moved onto the next manuscript, eyes roving over the electronic words until her head throbbed. Breaking for lunch, she reorganized her pens then popped a frozen pizza in the oven. Cooking was usually up to David.

Lavender burned her mouth on the cheese when her phone started ringing. “Hello?”

“Oh, so now you’re okay with talking? Are you even working right now?” David must’ve went to lunch early.

“I’m eating. What’s wrong?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Should she even go there? “Please, talk to me.”

“I said I’m fine.”

“I’m probably going to have to work late. One of my authors needs to send me another draft.”

“If you keep working late, your dinner will get cold.”

“Then it gets cold.”

“But I work all day and then I don’t even get to see you.”

The same old fight. Lavender threw the rest of her pizza away. “You didn’t kiss me this morning. That’s on you.”

“I’m sorry. I’m just having a really bad day.”

“It’s okay. I love you.”

He hung up.

***

Lavender stopped editing every few minutes to adjust and readjust her desk. One second her papers would be angled too much to the left. The next second they would be stacked too high, and she’d have to organize them differently. As the garage door opened, she took David’s picture, positioned between her computer and printer, and put it face down. She tried to finish the chapter she was on, but David’s briefcase thumped onto the floor of her office. Loosening his tie, he kissed her cheek. She kept her eyes on the screen. “How was work?”

“Exhausting. Everyone always wants to sue everyone.”

“Welcome to America.”

“Why are you so mad?”

“I’m not. I’m just working.”

David crossed his arms. “I see. I’m not important enough. I just feed you. I’ll go cook dinner.” He left his briefcase by the door, and Lavender moved it out to focus.

The crappy author from earlier finally emailed her back just as the timer in the kitchen went off. She left the email unopened and powered down her computer hoping that would appease David. But fish wrapped in bacon with a side of green beans met her at the dinner table and all of it was cold. David sat next to her. “I’m sorry that it’s not your favorite, but we don’t have anything else in the freezer. You should go grocery shopping tomorrow.”

She attempted to eat a little bit of the salmon, but it was too fishy. “I don’t have time.”

David’s fork hit the plate. “But I cook. You don’t even try.”

“I’m not your mom.”

“No, but you’re your dad. Every opinion he has, you have. Why do we have to spend so much time with your parents?”

They didn’t. They saw her parents for Thanksgiving every other year and his parents for every damn holiday including President’s Day. She shoved her plate away. “Screw this. I’m going to live with my sister.”

“Fine. I paid for most of this house anyway.”

Her suitcase was packed in twenty minutes. As she started to roll out of the driveway, David ran out to stop her. “Baby, wait. I love you. Let’s talk about this.” It was like a movie. A movie that replayed at least twice a month, and Lavender didn’t think she’d ever get sick of it.