Mystical Objects Part Three

“And I want my grandparents to come back to life.” My cousin’s words ring in my ears. It’s like all of the air is sucked out of the room.

“Done.” The genie picks at her nails and turns to me. “Two wishes left for you. What do you want?”

My brain locks up. “Our grandparents are alive? Just like that?”

“Yes, that’s how wishes work.”

“But where are they?” Ness asks. She’s on her feet, eyes ringed red. Her car keys jangle in her hand.

“Wherever they were before.”

Ness grabs my arm with her cold fingers. “Jessica, wish for them to be here.”

“What?”

“Don’t you want to see them?”

“They–they’re supposed to be dead.”

“Do you want them to be dead? I brought them back. They’ll be happy. Everyone will be happy.”

“I miss them too, Ness, but they’re supposed to be dead. Bringing them back…it’s not right.”

Ness’s grip tightens on my arm. “Please, Jessica. Wish for them to be here.”

“But what if?” The words stick in my throat. What if they’re decomposing? “How are we going to tell everyone that they’re not dead anymore?”

“We show them the lamp. And grandma and grandpa can explain it to them. Please, Jessica.”

My stomach twists so tight I’m not sure if it will ever untangle itself. “I wish our grandparents who you just brought back to life were standing in this basement, healthy and not d-decomposing.”

The genie, who had been completely ignoring our conversation, perks up. “Done.”

One second its the three of us, and then my grandparents are sitting on their ugly paisley couch. Just like that. As if they had been there the entire time. They barely have a moment to breathe before Ness is charging at them, trying to hug them. I stand back, scanning their skin for any sores. They don’t look pale or blue. Their eyes don’t look cloudy. But they aren’t smiling.

Grandma speaks first, “Ness? Where are we? Why are you crying?” Not a hair on her white head is out of place. She’s still wearing her nice navy dress, her funeral dress.

I jump in before Ness can. “What’s the last thing that you guys remember?”

Grandpa pushes his brown, oval glasses up his nose. “We were in bed about to fall asleep. Then we were ended up here. Did we sleep walk?” 

“I told you you’re getting dementia.” Grandma put her hand on grandpa’s. “We were falling asleep. Then we heard you two rustling around. We came down here to see if you needed anything and…” Grandma’s brow wrinkles. She looks at the genie. 

I hold my breath, waiting for her to ask. Instead she turns back to Ness. “What are you girls doing in our basement? Why are our boxes out?” 

Ness shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter. You’re here now.” 

“Where else would we be?” Grandpa huffs. 

Grandma swats his hand. “Frankly, you girls are scaring us. What’s gotten into you two?” 

“You were dead.” Why did I have to tell them? Why couldn’t Ness own up? My stomach drops at the horror on their faces. 

Grandpa sticks his tongue in his cheek, his thinking face. “That’s not possible.”

I grab the genie lamp out of the box, ignoring the genie’s glare. “We found this and used it.” 

“Oh.” Grandma won’t look at me. 

“We-we thought you’d be happy,” Ness explains. “Everyone misses you.” 

Silence settles over us. The seconds stretch on. Grandma doesn’t look up, but Grandpa holds her hand tight. I feel Ness dissolving beside me. Her shoulders shake with grief. I want it to end. I want our grandparents to say something, to go upstairs and hug my aunt and make cookies. I want that family reunion Ness was talking about. But it doesn’t feel right. 

“Are you going to make your third wish?” the genie sighs.

Grandma jumps. “You didn’t use it yet?” 

“No.” I didn’t want to yet either. I don’t know what to wish for, and I can’t think straight. 

“Honey,” Grandma reaches for me.

I try not to shrink back. Her hand looks wrinkled and normal, but what if she feels dead? Swallowing the bile that rises in my throat, I lightly put my hand in hers. It’s warm. I feel her heartbeat beneath her skin. She’s not like a zombie or a vampire or a ghost. She’s really alive again. 

“Wish for a wonderful life or happiness or love. It’s your last wish. Don’t waste it.” Grandma pats my hand.

She’s really here. The surreal sheen that had fallen over the past twenty minutes after seeing the genie finally falls away. They are here, and they’re going to have a reunion tonight. They’re going to be at my wedding. They’re going to meet my kids. They’re going to be alive. 

I turn back to the genie. “How long?” 

“Do you wish to know how long your grandparent’s have?” 

“Can’t you just tell me?” 

“Nothing’s free.” 

“Fine. I wish to have a long and happy life.” 

“Done.” The genie shimmers, turning back into smoke. 

I don’t feel different. I don’t feel healthier. And when I turn back to the empty couch with two butt imprints still mushed into the cushions, I don’t feel happy.   

The End

***

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Mystical Objects Part Two

Ness takes the genie lamp from my hands. “Maybe it’s a souvenir?” She examines it from all sides. It’s brass with a few decorative swirl engravings. She gives me a half-smile. “Should we rub it?”

“It may be metal, but it’s still just a decoration.” I hold my hand out for it, ready to get back to inventory. We’ve barely made a dent.

“Come on. What if it’s real? What would you wish for?”

“For the inventory to be done.” I try to snatch the lamp away, but Ness is too fast.

“That’s a stupid wish. You should wish for a butler instead. You could make him do inventory for you and then cook and clean every day.” She tries to look into the spout of the lamp. “I wonder what Grandma and Grandpa wished for.”

The lump that’s been sitting in my stomach for the past few days tightens. “Money?” I suggest.

“Yeah, but what about the other two wishes?” Her joking smile falters. “Why’d they keep it in the basement anyway? There’s so much junk down here.”

I look around at the piles of boxes. It’s going to take forever to get through. I wish the other cousins had elected to help. Yeah, it’s hard and it sucks, but don’t they want to see the house before it’s empty and sold off?

Feeling the tears pricking my eyes, I tilt my head back to try to stop gravity from pulling them down. “I’d wish for a personal library with unlimited books and shelf space.”

“Of course you would.” Ness rolls her eyes. “I’d wish for a butler, unlimited money, and a fiance.”

“You’re only twenty-one.”

“That’s why I said fiance and not wife. I want her loyalty forever, but I’m not ready for forever yet.”

“Right…” I start to empty the rest of the box and add the items to my list when I hear Ness’s ring clinking against the brass lamp. She’s actually rubbing it. I laugh to myself.

Then everything happens at once: a whoosh, blue smoke billowing out of the end of the lamp, and the basement lights short circuiting.

A deep female voice whispers, “Who rubbed my lamp?”

No light filters into the basement. I blink hard, trying to discern any shapes in the darkness.

“Well?” She asks.

“I wish the lights were back on?” No sooner as the words out of my mouth then the lights flicker back on.

The genie lamp sits on the ground in front of Ness where she must’ve dropped it, and standing before both of us is a tall, slender woman with dark purple skin and a black ponytail that stretches down to the floor. It looks painful, and her outfit, an emerald pantsuit that nearly melts into her skin seems just as restrictive. “You, whatever your name is. You have two more wishes.”

“Thank you.” I hear myself saying. What else are you supposed to say to that?

Ness sticks her hand out. “I’m Ness and this is my cousin Jessica. You knew our grandparents?”

The genie doesn’t shake Ness’s hand. “Yes. They bought me from a flea market for a lot of money.”

“What did they wish for?”

“The holy trinity: money, sex, and drugs.”

“What?” I blurt. Sure, maybe my grandparents had done drugs back in the day, but the thought of old people smoking weed was a little ridiculous. Not more ridiculous than the genie standing in front of me though.

The genie glared at me with her icy blue eyes. “Not human drugs. Authentic fairy dust. It lasts twenty-four hours, makes you feel good, and lets you hallucinate whatever you want. No bad trips and no side effects.”

Great, so fairies exist too. It’s too absurd. I’m numb.

I don’t know if Ness wasn’t listening or if she’s just as numb, but she asks, “Do we both get three wishes?”

The genie crosses her arms. She hasn’t smiled once. “Those are the rules.”

“Any restrictions?”

“No.”

“Then I want unlimited money.”

“Done.”

“I want to meet and start dating my soulmate tomorrow.”

“Done.”

“And I want my grandparents to come back to life.”

***

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Mystical Objects Part One

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My car stutters as I turn into my grandparents’ apple orchard. It’s a crisp September day, but the trees lining the dirt path reach out with bony, leaf-less limbs. Rotting apple cores sit decomposing in piles beneath the trees, and I roll up my window to avoid the stench. Headlights flash in my rear view mirror as my aunt’s Sequoia rides my ass into the front yard of the property where the path turns into a concrete parking lot. My cousin’s silver convertible has already claimed the first spot. She puts her hard cider on the porch banister and meets me halfway.

I nod at the two story farm house complete with a wraparound porch and yellow porch swing. “It doesn’t look different.”

“My mom’s been taking care of it. They’ve only been gone four days, but she’s cleaned everything twice.” My cousin, Vanessa (Ness for short) brushes her orange, flat-ironed hair back off her shoulders. She usually wears cute sweaters and leggings all autumn, but today she’s opted for light-wash, mom jeans and an old, paint-splattered sorority t-shirt.  Ness and I are the only cousins out of ten who volunteered to help sort through our grandparents’ things.

“Your mom’s here by the way.” My head’s up isn’t necessary as my aunt is already lugging a vacuum out her back seat.

“Mom, there’s a vacuum in the house. We’re just sorting through boxes, remember?” Ness rolls her eyes, but her voice is soft and cautious.

My aunt Meredith hauls the vacuum up the porch steps, nearly knocking Ness’s glass off. “While you girls sort, I’m going to get a bit of cleaning in.” Aunt Meredith’s face is more red and puffy than usual, and her jacket is inside out.

“Mom, it’s clean. Maybe you should go home and get some rest.”

“I slept a few hours this morning. It’ll only take a few minutes.”

Ness looks to me, and we let Aunt Meredith go in and start vacuuming the living room. The noise distracts from the heavy silence. I grab the red, plastic cookie jar out of the cupboard. There’s only one left. Ness and I split it. Then we start in the basement, knowing it’ll take the longest.

Five boxes of holiday decorations later, I come to the last box in the basement closet. It’s unmarked. At first it appears to be filled with loose ball ornaments in various colors, and then I spot a shiny, ovular object near the bottom. Initially I assume it’s a toy, but it’s heavy and made of brass. “Ness, can you come here?”

“If it’s a spider, kill it yourself,” she calls from the other end of the basement.

“It’s not a bug.”

She sighs. Her footsteps slow as she gets closer. “Is that–a genie lamp?”

****

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Fairy Circle

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The pitter-patter of fairy feet broke through Lily’s dream. Their tinkling voices whispered in a language she didn’t understand. She risked opening one eye and caught a glimpse of small silvery wings disappearing behind her jewelry box. At the end of her bed, her pink curtain blew back and forth. They must’ve opened the window.

Propping herself up slightly, she pulled the covers to her nose and peeked around the room. Two fairies tumbled out from behind her mirror and flew to the window. Their bodies glowed golden, so Lily couldn’t make out their features, except for their tiny feet and their wings.

The window clicked shut, and Lily shot up and pressed her face against it. The fairies were floating off towards the woods in her backyard. She put on slippers, crept through the house, and ran out the backdoor in her nightgown. She could just make out the glow of the fairies disappearing into the trees, so she followed them.

The humidity made the backs of her knees sweat. Sticks poked at her feet and scrapped her legs. Her nightgown snagged on tree branches, but she pressed forward. She needed to see where the fairies had come from. Just when she thought she’d lost them, the woods opened into a clearing with the largest tree she had ever seen in the center. Hundreds of fairies flew around it, just inside a circle of red toad stools. A tin, high-pitched melody drifted from the tree, fairy music. Lily stood in plain view of the fairies, but no one seemed to notice her. They just talked and danced and zoomed around. She inched closer, hoping to get a better look.

Lily had explored these woods a hundred times, but had never come across this place. The leaves of the tree seemed to shimmer in a shade of green so green it couldn’t be possible. The bark of the tree twisted almost as if the lines were writing. Did all of the fairies live here?

She moved closer and closer. The music started to sound familiar. The disconnected notes were finally making sense. She could make out the tiny bodies donned in elegant dresses woven from flower petals. Their hair came in every shade from gold to magenta to mulberry to aqua. As she approached the nearest couple, they turned and stared at her. Their eyes were a dark, deep, impossible blue. Lily wished her eyes looked like that. How amazing it would be to be a fairy. To dance all night and sneak around humans and to be able to fly!

She waved at the two fairies. “Hi!” And as she took one last step, the lights blinked out. All of the fairies and the tree disappeared at once. She was still standing in a clearing, but it was dark. Clouds had covered the stars and the moon. Crickets chirped around her. She blinked and glanced around, trying to understand. Had she dreamed the whole thing?

As she turned to head home, her ankle brushed against a dew-covered toad stool. The circle remained.

***

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The Library

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After her mom closed the bedroom door, Rae watched the sliver of light creep under her door. If the bathroom light was on, then she could pretend that her parents were awake in the living room. And if her parents were awake in the living room, then she was safe.

She clung to this thought as she hid beneath the covers. Everyone knew that monsters couldn’t get through the blankets. As bursts of orange and yellow began to morph into shapes in her mind, she heard a train whistle as clear as if it was in her room. Now her parents would dismiss this. Call it a dream or tell her she only heard the train passing a few neighborhoods away. But it was so distinct and close.

Rae sat up, eyes darting to make sure her dolls hadn’t moved. They never did, but she could feel them watching. Her eyelids drooped, but her mind bugged her heart until her body twitched with panic. She gathered her courage, bundled her blanket into a lump behind her, turned on her dog flashlight, and leaned over to look under the bed. Two bins of Barbies took up the space there. She pushed them back against the wall so that nothing could hide behind them. No movement or noise indicated that there was anything more there than toys.

Sitting back up, Rae tried to reassure herself. She was being silly. What could a train do to hurt her? How could a train even get in her bedroom?

Adjusting her grip on her flashlight, she headed towards the closet. The doors squealed on their tracks as they slid open. She dropped the flash light. She didn’t need it. Where her clothes should have been was a train compartment. Sunlight streamed through the window onto two dark green benches. She looked behind her into her ordinary, boring room and stepped into the train car.

The closet door slid shut and morphed into frosted glass. The glass door opened. “Candy, Miss?” a train worker asked, gesturing to a tray of chocolate.

Rae accepted two plain pieces of chocolate. “Where are we going?”

“To The Library.”

“What library?”

The Library. It has every book ever written, including the ones no one has published.”

Rae had never heard of this library, but it sounded perfect. “Do I get to read the books? How many books are there? Can I read them all tonight?”

“You’ve been invited by Lucinda Powell, the head scholar of The Library. She’s studied every book that it contains, and she can answer all of your questions.” With that, the worker left.

***

Time passed quickly. Rae watched the scenery go by: hills, plains, mountains, back to hills, and then a dense forest overcame them. The train slowed, and Rae pressed her face against the window as a tall twisting glass palace appeared in the middle of the trees. White iron held the large panels of glass together. It was unlike any building Rae had ever seen, prettier than any skyscraper.

The train pulled directly up in front of the palace. Rae knew this was her stop. She passed empty compartments and climbed out of the train onto the grass. A petite woman wearing a purple dress with a shoulder cloak held out her hand. The woman’s blonde bob bounced as she gestured for Rae to follow her. “I’m Amira. It’s nice to meet you. We never get visitors. It distracts all of the scholars.”

“Are you a scholar?” Rae asked, following Amira up the steps of to the front door.

“No. Just a receptionist. Scholars don’t like handling phone calls. I’m a people person, so I do it for them.” Amira’s perky voice put Rae at easy.

The entrance hall of the library was smaller than Rae had imagined, but a crystal chandelier hung over the center of the room, making the hall magnificent regardless. Amira gestured to a pale tan leather armchair against the wall. “Wait here please.” Before Rae sat, Amira disappeared through a side door.

A heavy wooden door blocked the entrance hall from the rest of the library. If Rae knew that the door wasn’t locked or that an alarm wouldn’t blare, then she would’ve snuck in and grabbed as many books as she could carry. Instead, she sat, swinging her legs and trying to ignore the tiredness creeping over her.

“Rae, I’m Dr. Lucinda Powell.” A tall, grey-haired woman with a few wrinkles strode across the entrance hall. She moved fast and her blue gown revealed a thin figure. “I’m so glad that you could join me this evening.”

Rae smiled, unable to find words. Lucinda seemed to understand. “I want to show you the main chamber. The Library has multiple wings and rooms. With so many books, how could it not?”

The floor to ceiling wooden doors thundered open, and Rae melted. The main chamber was as wide and long as a football field. Bookshelves were built into the walls. Windows and bookshelves were staggered, rising up five stories in a twisting shape. Rae didn’t understand how to get to the ones so high up, but she didn’t wonder long because the main level was filled with cozy armchairs of every color and fabric. Scholars occupied most of them with stacks of books resting on their end tables.

Rae wanted to run for the nearest shelf, grab an armful, and claim a chair for the night. Lucinda watched the anticipation and excitement grow on Rae’s face. “That’s how I felt when I first came here. Would you like to read one?”

“Yes!”

“I’ll find a good one. Pick a chair.”

Rae scouted a chair near a window and away from the other scholars. It was floral, blue and yellow. She curled up in the seat. She could fit comfortable with her legs bent. Lucinda brought a heavy, brown leather book over. It was a little bit smaller than a normal book, like it was a field guide. The title read: Magick, Wisdom, and Reason: The Ultimate Guide to a Knowledge and a World Beyond the Visible. Rae dove in. Every page had little notes scrawled in blue ink alongside the printed text. Things were underlined and circled and crossed out. Rae couldn’t stop turning the pages. It wasn’t until she finished it that she realized Lucinda was watching her. Rae pretended to read the last page longer so that she wouldn’t have to give it back. But she couldn’t pretend forever.

“Did you like it?” Lucinda asked, letting Rae hold onto the book a little longer.

Rae nodded, all of her questions demanding to be asked. She didn’t know which one to say first.

“I was your age when I moved into The Library. Like you, I wanted to know everything that I could. I wanted to read every book and understand things that no one else had. I wanted to decipher the meaning of life, the origin of the world, and how it all ends. And I have.” Lucinda lowered her voice. “There is a Book of Time that begins before the beginning and ends beyond Time. In order to comprehend it, you need to learn everything that you possibly can. You have to read every book. Only then will you be able to handle it.”

Rae wanted to handle it. She was ready now.

“I invited you here because you love learning and reading. I’m inviting you to be a Scholar of The Library.”

Rae nodded eagerly, ready to accept so that she could keep reading.

“Do you understand that you will stay here?”

Rae nodded. “I’ll get my clothes and tell my parents.”

“The Library is a secret of scholars. You won’t be able to go home.” Lucinda looked sad. “I know that this is a big decision for someone so young.”

Rae bristled. She didn’t like adults thinking she was a child. She had full capability of her thoughts and actions, and she didn’t like being told otherwise. Her thoughts were reasonable, thank you very much. And she wanted to stay more than anything.

But she remembered that time her mom had thought she was missing. The panic and fear in her mom’s voice. Rae never wanted to hear it again. She missed her bed.

Reluctant, Rae handed the book back to Lucinda, and Lucinda called the train.

***

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Propose Part Two

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Elyssa’s Perspective

I hadn’t expected Allie to propose. I couldn’t think straight. She doesn’t even know me. She thinks she does, but I haven’t told her the truth yet.

The bathroom is empty thankfully. Each stall is separated by full walls with wooden doors, the way every bathroom should be. Whose bright idea was it to leave gaps anyway? Does it actually save that much money on materials?

Hiding in the first stall, I expect Allie to come running after me. I expect my phone to buzz with her concerned texts and calls. Neither thing happens. I just stand there sniffling into too soft toilet paper. This restaurant is ridiculously fancy. I should’ve know.

The bathroom door opens. Two girls walk in talking about how awful their double date is. I lift my hand. “Silencio.”

My stall seals, blocking the outside sounds. Allie doesn’t know that I’m a witch.

Being gay is easier than being a witch. My friends were all supportive of the former. None of them know the latter. I can’t see the terror in Allie’s eyes when I tell her. I can’t deal with her looking at me like I’m a dangerous freak.

I wanted to tell Allie at the right time. But if I don’t tell her now, then I’ll lose her. My throat tightens. I’ll never be able to go back and speak the words. So I pull out my phone.

The ringing fills my ear. It goes to voicemail. Allie must be pissed. Her voicemail beeps.

“Hi, Allie. I’m so sorry that I left you like that. I just–I haven’t been fully honest. I–this should be an in person conversation, but I’m too afraid. I’m a witch. I have and use magic. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you sooner. Please call me back. If you still want to marry me after this then, you’re a better person than me. I love you.”

Allie’s Perspective

A steaming plate of lasagna sits in front of me, uneaten. Elyssa’s spaghetti is getting cold. I want to go find her. I want to apologize. I want to take it all back.

Ring box closed, I put it beside her food. She’ll come back when she’s done freaking out. I try to eat my food, but my stomach churns every time I look at it.

The waitress asks if everything is okay. I say yes, that my girlfriend is just in the bathroom. She doesn’t feel well, I lie. The waitress looks at the ring box and offers takeout boxes. I accept. I pay the check.

My phone vibrates. It’s Allie. Is she calling to apologize? Did she leave? Is she moving out? As soon as her message is recorded, I listen to the voicemail.

Three years of dating and one year of living together, and she thought I didn’t catch on? I’d suspected the truth for the last year. Did she really expect me to believe that she could clean the entire apartment in ten minutes?

I shouldn’t be mad, but she basically insulted my intelligence. I don’t call her. Instead I text: I know you’re a witch. I loved you anyway. How could you not trust me with this sooner? Ring and dinner will be on the kitchen table. I won’t be there.

To be continued…

************************************************************************************************************

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Propose Part One

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Elyssa crosses the restaurant to meet me. This is it. After three years, I’m going to propose today. The ring feels heavy in my dress pocket. She’ll love it. It’s one of the designs from her Pinterest board.

Her hips sway as she approaches. Her little black dress fits her perfect curves. Sometimes I’m jealous of her. Sometimes I want her tiny form instead of my wide thighs and shoulders. She’s an hourglass. I’m a pear.

Not a single hair strays from Elyssa’s blonde bun as she slides into the booth across from me. “Have you been waiting long?” She asks, scanning the wine list.

“No,” I’m not sure. Every second has felt like an eternity. I won’t be calm until she says yes.

The waiter takes our drink orders. I get coconut rum and lemonade. She gets a sweet red wine.

Leaning across the table, she takes my hand. “Didn’t feel like Chinese food and binge-watching or did you want an excuse to wear that dress?”

We bought the dress together a few weeks ago. It’s my first real cocktail dress: burgundy, knee-length, off the shoulder. It’s gorgeous. Elyssa rubs her thumb across the back of my hand and her green eyes fix on my lips. My heart hitches the way it did that first time right before we kissed. Her soft pink lips break into a smile. “What’s the occasion?”

“We’ve lived together for a year without killing each other. Isn’t that occasion enough?”

“No,” she says, but she doesn’t press further.

We order and I wonder when I’m supposed to bust out the ring. People usually wait until after they’ve started eating, right?

“Allie, are you okay? You look pale.” Elyssa puts her hand against my forehead. “You’re burning up. Should we take the food to-go?”

She always does this. If I feel slightly nauseous, she tries to take care of me. It’s sweet and sometimes annoying. I brush her hand away. “I’m fine.” Shit. I said the f word.

“Hey, please talk to me.”

“I’m really okay. Just nervous.” I try to drink more alcohol without seeming suspicious.

Too late.

“This isn’t our first date. We live together.” She takes both of my hands. “I love you, remember?”

I can’t wait until our food comes. In the mirrored wall beside us, I barely recognize my slick, black hair. I’m glad that Elyssa straightened it for tonight. “Elyssa,” I stand up, move to her side of the table, and get on one knee. The carpet feels gross. Maybe I should’ve worn pants.

Despite her foundation, Elyssa’s face burns red. “Allie?”

I take the ring out with shaking hands. I can barely see her face. I think I’m blacking out. “Will you marry me?”

Her mouth moves, but I can’t hear the answer. She’s crying. She isn’t smiling. Then she’s moving past me towards the bathroom.

To be continued….

*****

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Choices

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The words came undone and broke apart in Alaina’s mouth as the ferris wheel lifted her and her boyfriend, Cam up to the top, “I think we need to take a break.” She had been testing the words in her mouth since they’d gotten on, but they had only just slipped out when her heart lurched. Was she making a big mistake?   

Cam’s hand loosened in hers. Alaina looked out over the happy faces of their church picnic. She couldn’t look at him, but she saw in her mind his hurt and confusion. She pictured his eyebrows scrunched into zigzags above watery eyes.

“How long have you felt this way?”

Out of all the questions Alaina had prepared for, this wasn’t one she wanted to answer. The truth was months, but they’d talked about moving in together after college as recently as last week. Part of her had believed that this was what she wanted, but the other part knew the truth. She was doing the right thing. “Not long.”

“What changed?”

Alaina turned her head towards him, but stared at their hands. “I applied for a really good job in Florida, and I got an offer.”

“Did you accept it?”

In her mind, she saw his eyes glazing and his mouth pressing into a hard line. “Yes.” She couldn’t pass on it. It was exactly what she wanted to do. How could he ask her to give up her dreams?

Cam’s hand shifted onto his knee, leaving her fingers half-curled. He cleared his throat. “I understand. This was always temporary, wasn’t it?”

The ferris wheel stuttered to a halt. Their cart swung in the breeze. The early summer air still held a chill. “I thought I could find a job here, but I can’t.” She’d tried applying for any job remotely close to her degree, but she wasn’t passionate about them. She hadn’t even gotten an interview. She was doing the right thing.

The wheel turned and stopped. They were two carts from the bottom. Alaina forced herself to look over at Cam. He stared out in front of them, eyes locked on trees behind the church.

“Please say something.” Alaina hated the crack in her voice. She was supposed to be strong for him.

One cart between them and the bottom.

Cam shrugged. “What am I supposed to say? Everything’s different now.”

“Will we still talk?”

Their cart inched towards the platform where the bored carnival worker stood waiting to usher them off and usher on the next couple. Cam met her eyes and the indifference in his cut through her stomach. “No. I’m not going to help you feel better about what you’re doing. You chose this. Good luck in Florida.”

Alaina climbed out of the cart after him, but he walked down the platform and through the crowd before she could stop him. She pulled her phone out of her jean shorts pocket. She had done the right thing, hadn’t she? She needed to grow without him, to pursue a career that would make her happy. She scrolled through her old texts, reading the reassurances from her friends. She’d made the right move. She was doing the right thing. This was right, wasn’t it?     

Undeceased Uncle Part Four

Image from Luiz Claudio via Pexel

Moonlight spilled across Ms. Freterer’s decanting table, dripping onto the floor. It slid over her bedspread and pooled on her face. Her throat closed. 180 long seconds. Her legs thrashed. Her hands scratched at her neck, but there weren’t fingers there. In the end, it was hopeless. She knew the price of cheating death, but she had done it anyway.

***

It turns out that coming back from the dead leads to cramped muscles, stiff joints, and a number of awful bodily problems. Castor stumbled out of bed, trying to massage his limbs back to life. They resisted, but he managed to make it to the kitchen without major incident. What do the undead eat? He grabbed a bowl of cereal, Aurora had stocked up on his favorite. “Aurora, do you want some?” Castor had passed his sister in the sitting room on his way down.

She didn’t respond, didn’t look up. Castor watched her. She was crouching by the front window, body clenched in a ball. He moved towards her. “Aurora, have you been up all night?”

As he reached out to touch her, he heard her frantically whispering. “Praise be the moon goddess for bringing my brother back home,” Aurora chanted. She flinched away from his hand. “I’m not done! I’m not done. Eat without me.”

Castor grabbed her shoulder. “Have you been sitting here all night?” No, that was crazy. But she was wearing the same clothes from yesterday.

“Let me go! I didn’t finish yet.” She kept her head bent over her folded hands. “High praise, high praise from your lowly servant.”

“That’s enough.” Castor pulled her hands apart. “Pray after you eat.”

Aurora started to protest, and then she perked up like someone was speaking to her. Her face became serene. “Yes, I’ll eat first.”

Castor’s hunger dissipated. This was his fault.

***

Aurora’s health deteriorated as quickly as Castor’s limbs. She hadn’t gone to the store to replenish their supply of Say No to Eternal Rest, the only thing keeping Castor’s body from rotting. Even if Castor could go without fear of being lynched again, Ms. Freterer’s was closed. The shop was boarded the day after Castor’s return, the day that Larry found her body.

As hard as Castor tried, he couldn’t pry Aurora from her prayers. The moments she fell silent were the worst. She would disappear for several hours and return with scarlet hands. “Paint,” she’d claim, but her eyes, usually glazed, would glint slightly and she’d smile. Castor couldn’t confront her, couldn’t admit his guilt in all of this when she refused to acknowledge his normal requests, like reminding her to sleep and eat. Often she’d reek of pee before Castor could drag her to the bathroom to shower. He considered ending it, but even in death, she couldn’t rest. He had taken that from her too, gave her eternity away without her permission.

But this was her fault. If she hadn’t been so hellbent on keeping that stupid promise…If she hadn’t played with death…, he thought. He considered crawling back into his coffin, but how do the undead die again? Was he doomed to rot fully conscious? He was pondering the possible suicide options when he heard the worst sound. An exhausted thud.

Aurora and Castor’s house wasn’t tall, but if you landed right…Aurora’s body was twisted. Blood leaked out. A red so dark it was nearly black seeped into the soil. She was face down. Castor thanks the gods that she’s face down.

***

How long does it take the undead to die? As long as it takes to mourn. Years and years until the pain dulls. Castor’s body disintegrated and his consciousness faded until, like the loved one lost, he faded quietly into dust.

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Undeceased Uncle Part 3

All Castor remembered of life was a rope scratching his neck and his sister’s voice in his ear, “I’ll bring you home again.” The promise stuck with him long after the ground fell away and the cold rushed to meet him and his own name became foreign. When he woke, he couldn’t remember who had said it or if it was real. So many things he saw weren’t real. The space around him looked familiar, but parts of the world would fade in and out of focus. Sometimes shadows would drift past. They were shapeless and if they spoke, their voices sounded distorted like speaking underwater. Castor wanted to engage with them, but if he approached, they would disappear. He couldn’t remember much, but when he was alive, real things didn’t disappear. I.e. the shadows weren’t real.

Though Castor didn’t have a clear body anymore, he could only see so much space at one time. He was connected to everything and nothing, and he was limited. He could travel to different locations but not instantly. Being dead was exponentially boring, so he traveled often. He tried to find other beings like him to no avail.

But he had recently heard a familiar voice calling to him. He couldn’t place how he knew her, but her voice cut more clearly through the veil than any other. Most of her words were mumbled. He caught “soon,” “flame…extinguish,” and “will be home.” This woman had made the promise. Castor couldn’t recall anything about her or his home, but that didn’t matter much. Anywhere would be better than the place he was.

 ***

Dead people don’t sleep, but paying attention for all of eternity grows old. To fill the void, Castor stops focusing. He lets himself settle in one spot and then looks past everything he sees until he’s no longer looking. This is exactly what Castor was doing when the moon goddess approached him. She appeared in the form of a shimmering silver orb. “Do you want to live again?” she asked him.

It took him a minute to register her words. “I’m sorry?” He doubted that she had that power.

“Do you want to return home?”

“If it were possible.” Saying yes felt like a trap.

“It is possible.” The orb burned brighter from pale blue to hot white.

“What do I have to do?”

“Nothing.”

“What does it cost?”

“Your sister’s, your relatives’, and your ancestors’ undying devotion to me.”

Castor didn’t understand. “How can I make them worship you?”

“You can’t, but you can give me permission to make them worship me.” The orb floated closer. “I’m a loving goddess. I don’t hurt my supporters. You have my word.”

“Why doesn’t everyone come back from the dead if it’s that easy?”

“Your sister has already made a sacrifice to me in your name. Not everyone will do what it takes.”

Castor considered. Did he have a sister? Why was she trying to reverse death? Necromancy is known to be the darkest of black magic.

“I don’t have much time, and I need your permission, your half of the deal. Don’t let your sister have suffered in vain.”

Castor wanted to refuse, but refusing a goddess is ill advised. It was already too late. His sister had started the mess. He couldn’t back out. “My sister, relatives, and ancestors will worship you above all other gods and goddess until their dying day.”

“No, I want their loyalty forever, even in death,” the orb snapped.

“They will worship you forever.”

It happened quickly. Castor was formless watching the orb rise into the air, and then an uncomfortable feeling of compression came over him. His being was being compounded into a shape again. The invisible force shoved him deep into the ground, pried open his coffin, and jolted him back into his body. Cold flesh trapped him. He tried to stretch in his skin, but everything was stiff and the dirt weighed down on the coffin lid. What good was coming back from the dead if he had to claw back to the surface?

Then the dirt rolled off the coffin as if made of water. The weight of the ground disappeared, and Castor pushed the lid open. The light from the moon shone too bright for Castor. He squinted up at the world of the living and suddenly it felt safer to be dead. What if his murderers returned? What if they killed him again? What if they tried to kill him again but he couldn’t die? People say nothing is worse than death, but these people don’t know torture.

Castor buried his fear, stepped out of the coffin, and rejoined the world. Memories from his life swirled in his brain, but the loudest one was the whisper from the woman, his sister. Her promise glowed in the graveyard and pushed him forward. If asked where his house was, he wouldn’t be able to answer, but his feet that night led him home.

Aurora had left the front door unlocked. He crossed the threshold, and the candle in the front room flickered out. “Aurora?” he called, moving from room to room. Her footsteps thundered down the steps and her arms were around him before he could turn to face her.

She shivered at his cool touch, but she didn’t let go. “You’re late. Ms. Freterer promised you’d be home before moonrise.”

“Ms. Freterer?” The name felt odd in his mouth.

“She owns the potions shop, don’t you remember?” Aurora stepped back to examine him. Her eyes lingered on the rope burn around his neck. “You still look dead.”

“I only remember certain things right now. I’d be surprised if I didn’t look like a corpse, my heart isn’t actually beating.”

“We can clean you up; it doesn’t matter as long as you’re home.” She tried to pull him towards his bedroom, but he wouldn’t move.

“Rora, what sacrifice did you have to make to the moon goddess?”

Aurora frowned. “Nothing. I just bought a potion, poured it out, and lit a candle.”

“That’s all? You swear?”

“Yes. What happened to you?”

“It’s nothing. Dying just makes you paranoid. On the other side, it was impossible to know what was real.”

“Well, this is real.” Aurora smiled and she showed him into his bedroom.

***

Aurora didn’t sleep that night. Instead she sat by her bedroom window and prayed to the moon goddess, thanking her for bringing Castor back. She prayed for Ms. Freterer and for Castor’s health. She lost hours just talking to the moon goddess, a one-sided conversation that always came back to Castor. Aurora had always been weary of necromancy, but this wasn’t scary. This wasn’t dark and evil and wrong. This was love.

To be continued…

*****

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