The Trouble with Cats and Schizophrenia

A Short Work of Fiction

Waiting, I took Sacha into my lap, my smoky grey cat with green eyes. In a matter of minutes, Brian, my boyfriend would be coming over to meet Sacha and take me out to dinner.

Sacha stretched out in my lap. “When’s your boyfriend getting here, Ella? I need my nap.” I could hear Sacha speak when I was on my shizo meds. I didn’t know what I would do without Sacha to keep me company. Her approval meant everything.

The doorbell rang. I straightened out the hem of my skirt and went to answer the door. Pulling Brian into my apartment, I waited to hear from Sacha. She circled around us at lazy pace as I gave Brian a welcome kiss.

“Not bad, Ella.”

I took Brian into the kitchen, where I kept Sacha’s things, for some wine.


Brian and I returned from our date to a dark apartment. I saw Sacha’s eyes in the dark as I turned on the light. Would she leave us alone until her bedtime? Sacha slinked off to my bedroom, and I sighed.

“Give me a minute, Brian. Wine while you wait?” I held up the bottle with a smile.

I found Sacha on the bed, laying there like she owned the place.

“Get out of here, Sacha.”

She hissed and pawed my arm with the claws in. “I don’t like his smell.”

I stood there with my arms across my chest. “What’s wrong with him?”

“He smells like other woman.”

I laughed. “You want to sniff him?”

“Yeah, that would be nice, Ella.”

I scooped Sacha into my arms and put her on the sofa between Brian and I. “This is my friend, Sacha.”

Brian reached out to Sacha.

She lifted up her nose to sniff his wrist. Then Sacha climbed into his lap.

Brian played with her, holding his hands before her paws as targets.

“Brian’s fun. Why won’t he talk to me though?” Sacha meowed with annoyance. “Make him talk to me!” Sacha shrieked in my ear and reached up to scratch Brian’s face.

He was too fast for her.

I pulled Sacha from his lap, bundling her to my chest. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over her.” I dropped Sacha to the floor. “Go to your room.” I pointed to the kitchen with my finger.

I sat on the couch and kissed Brian, feeling the pressure of his hand on my waist. Taking his hand, I led him to my bedroom.


I woke up in an empty bed to Sacha yowling my name. Pulling on a robe, I went to her. She was lying on the linoleum, breathing fast and drooling. I crouched at her side. “What’s wrong, Sacha?”

“I’m burning up. I threw up all over the kitchen and can’t breathe well at all. I need a vet, Ella.”

I put Sacha into the cat carrier and left my apartment. I drove fast through the empty streets at 3am.

Parking in the empty parking lot in the pale yellow light of the streetlamps, I held Sacha in my lap, petting her. Sacha stopped breathing. I opened her little cat’s mouth and breathed into it. Squeezing her chest with two fingers, I pulled her back to life.

The vet took her from my arms in the exam room, and ushered me out. In the lobby, I cried over Sacha. The vet took me back to see her hours later.

I found her in a plastic enclosure with a cone around her head and gauze wrapped around her paw. Turning to the vet, I was crying again.

“Sacha has a throat infection that spread into her lungs. We’ve given her a starting IV dose of doxycycline and are waiting for the tests to come back. She’s on oxygen for now. If everything goes well, she should be ready to go home sometime this afternoon.”

“Thank you, Doctor. Can Sacha hear me?”

“Yes. Can you find your way back to the lobby?”

I nodded, fighting back tears. Putting my hand out to the glass, I talked to her.

She meowed back.

“Talk to me, please. Sacha!” I got strange looks, so I stopped.

I went into the lobby and was about to sit down. A kitten walked over to me to play with the felt on my sneakers. I knelt down. Picking up the cute kitten, I held her in my hands. “Hi, cutie.”

I strained to hear her speak. She purred, nestled into my palm and fell asleep. My shoulders fell. A girl with her mom came to retrieve their kitten.

I went to a pet store full of kittens in pens — not a peep out of any of them.

I went home, and I sat there, not taking my meds.

Days passed with me sneaking antibiotic pills into Sacha’s food and trying to make her talk.

Three days later, it happened. “Ella?”

Alone in my apartment with Sacha, I looked into my cat’s face.

Her lips moved to the words. “Ella, can you hear me?”

“I thought I’d never hear you speak again.”

“I’ve been talking for days. You couldn’t hear me, that’s all.”

Now that I was off my meds, would my shizo voice come back as well?


I walked to work, hearing a nasty whisper behind my back. It was Evil Ella — the voice that told me to lie, cheat, and steal. “Brian isn’t worth your time, Ella. Steve from work is gorgeous though. I wouldn’t mind sleeping with him.”

I said, “No.”

Evil Ella was like an idea. She would spread through my mind, affecting me in ways I couldn’t see until it was too late. I popped my pills that evening.

I asked Sacha what she wanted to eat. She just meowed.

I stood in my doctor’s office wearing the heels and the skinny jeans I’d had from my senior year of college with a dozen rips in it. “Dr. Tomlinson, could we try cutting back on my meds?”

He looked at the computer screen, scratching at his beard. “You’ve been going to therapy?”

I looked into his eyes, wondering what he would say. “For three years.”

He asked me a few more questions and gave me a new prescription.

I heard Evil Ella still. I had a wonderful conversation with Sacha though.

I made a deal with Evil Ella. I’d do things she wanted within reason, like buy those spike heels she wanted me to steal. Or tell the truth with my fingers crossed when she wanted me to lie.


Sacha swept through the apartment, knocking things over like my Grandmother’s favorite vase, shattering it.

I knelt on the floor, crying over it. “Sacha, what’s your damage?”

“Don’t know. Why don’t you tell me?”

I grabbed the spray bottle and chased her around the apartment, spraying until she was curled up in the corner, whimpering for me to stop it with the chilly water. I stopped after she was a little wet.

The little demon scratched me.

I walked away, holding my arm to get a bandage. With her screaming at me, I locked her in the cat carrier wearing the oven-mitts that reminded me of Mom’s cooking. I dropped her off at a neighbors.

I went to the clean smelling, empty Emergency Room to wait for hours with the Evil Sacha there to make me cry. With stitches and a prescription for antibiotics, I returned home to unlock Sacha from the pet carrier.

“Sacha, what’s going on?”

“You go out and bring Brian home to play. It’s so unfair.”

“You want a boyfriend?”

Sacha nodded.

I made her play dates with any cat I knew. Watching her play, I chatted with the owners and their cats when I could. Sasha found a boy cat she liked. I talked to the owner. Philippe — his cat — wasn’t going anywhere by the sound of it.

At Evil Ella and Sacha’s unending arguments, I parked outside Philippe’s apartment when Sacha was in the mood. She climbed the fire escape and snuck into Philippe’s apartment to bring him down to my car.

Philippe was a show cat. Sacha had begged me not to have her equipment removed. Her tubes were tied though. I dyed Philippe’s fur black with a fight.

I had Brian.

Sasha had Philippe.

GK

Russian Exchange Student

A Short Work of Fiction

One decision can change everything.

I snuck into our cramped kitchen. My Mother’s and Father’s Russian mixed together in a fierce argument. I searched for the plane ticket Mother was taking to see her dear brother, Uncle Petr in America.

He’d lost his daughter. Did he need his sister or another daughter more?

I snuck into my room with Mother’s ticket and passport. Calling my friend, Alyosha I looked around my room one last time. A poster of New York City Uncle Petr sent us hung above my bed. It wouldn’t be a dream much longer.

Alyosha was my friend, but I wanted us to be more. Would he help me leave? Looking out my window, I called him to ask for a ride.

“I’ll drop you off. And a kiss?”

Biting my lip, I said, “Yes.”

I could make it to America. Nothing was hard about it. I put on my best dress. With my purse over my shoulder, I left the only room I’d known. Getting his text that he was waiting outside, I hoped my parents wouldn’t notice me walking out the front door with their bickering.

I got in the Taxi Alyosha drove when his Uncle was too sick to. That’s how it would be with Uncle Petr in New York, I’d drive his taxi when he couldn’t. I handed Alyosha the ticket and passport.

“You look close enough to your Mother. Say you quit smoking. Got any cash, Natalya?”

“I’ve been saving up.”

“That’s not enough.” He pulled out a wad of rubbles from his pocket. I never asked where he got the money from.

We stopped at his apartment for my luggage. We’d kept it there earlier.

We drove around before my flight. At the airport entrance, Alyosha handed over my suitcase. Tears came to my eyes. I looked around, whipping my head back and forth. That was my last chance to see Moscow.

Alyosha took my face in his hand. “Natalya, everything will be alright.”

Everything felt okay then. I kissed him on the lips. “Bye, Alyosha.”

I searched for where I needed to be. At the immigration counter, the man took my passport.

“You, thirty-eight?”

I nodded. “I quit smoking.”

“This you in the picture?”

“Need to see my ticket?” I scanned the crowd, waiting for his answer.

“Ticket.”

I handed over the ticket with all my money tucked underneath. “Please, I need to visit my Uncle. He’s dying.”

“Catch your flight.” He returned the ticket and passport, keeping the cash.

All my money was gone. I boarded the plane. A pretty college student sat down next to me, wearing better clothes than anything I’d ever owned.

The plane shook as it floated into the sky. I shook more than the plane ever did. The student, Sabina held my hand.


With the plane parked in New York, we waited for our luggage. Sabina got a pink suitcase, and mine never came.

I filled out a form for my lost luggage, putting down Petr’s address and phone number.

Borrowing Sabina’s phone, I called Petr. That wasn’t Petr’s number anymore. Sabina was the only friend I had now.

She got in a cab with me. We went to her apartment to regroup. A party was going on. People hugged Sabina right and left. We went into her bedroom, piled high with enough coat to drown. I stayed in there, while Sabina partied.

What was I doing in Sabina’s bedroom?


Sabina walked into the bedroom and shut the door.

I held my purse, shuddering — realizing that was all I had.

Sabina sat down next to me. “How old are you, again?”

“Sixteen.”

She put a cup in my hand. “Couldn’t hurt. It’s a little vodka.”

I took a sip. My tongue burned.

She looked from the cup in my hands to my face. “You could be a model.” She fell into me. In the confusion, her lips met mine. 

I was on my feet and down the stairs before I knew what was happening. Waiting in the cool afternoon, I tried to call a cab.

Sabina came out of the apartment building. “I have no idea what happened back there. I can call you a cab if you want..”

I nodded.

“Do you want me to go with?”

“Sabina, I have to do this on my own.”

Sabina went back inside.

I shivered waiting there.

A taxi pulled up to the curb. I got in and showed him the address I had for Petr.

We stopped outside an apartment building better looking than anything we had in Moscow. I told the headscarfed taxi driver I’d be right back. There wasn’t any cash to pay the man. I went down the hall to 1C and knocked. A man wearing boxers came to the door.

“Petr Petrikov here?”

“Never heard the name.”

I walked away and cried in the hallway. How could I find Uncle Petr? I didn’t have money for the taxi, either. I had to run, but where? New York public libraries — the old music played through my head. I found a way out of the apartment away from my waiting cab.

I sprinted away, still needing directions. An hour later, I saw an old Russian woman that looked like my grandmother. I told her what was going on in Russian. I rode in a cab she paid for and ended up at the library. Finding a computer, I searched for Petr Petrikov.

I knocked on Petr’s door.

He wanted to know why I’d come.

“I always dreamed of living in New York.”

He rubbed his hands down his face. “I should call your mother, send you back.”

Tears came to my eyes. “I’ll do everything you say, Petr.”

Petr turned his back to me. “Where will I get food and clothes for you?”

“I’ll work, make money.”

He sighed. “Call your mother. Tell her you can stay.”

I worked at a coffee shop and went to school.

Uncle Petr got sick. I got another job taking care of him. Sometime in the night, he stopped breathing. I got a ticket back home with money I’d saved. Alyosha was waiting for me at the airport in Moscow.

I was back with a new dream, talking Alyosha back to America with me.

GK

Roulette

A post-apocalyptic short story of revenge.

That was my name all right — Roulette. I reminded myself of that now. Nothing else remained of that identity.

Roulette — the only part that was still me.

Before all this, I had an identity. I was a whore. That was the only word we knew for it. I was in a stolen troop carrier driving into the unknown, a place I knew from words alone. I could never go back to my life. That identity was gone now, leaving an emptiness in me. We define ourselves with the facts of our life — a job, a place that’s home, and the people close to us. Without those sources of identity, I was a name and a face.

Staring out at the rubble on the side of the road made me feel alone. There wasn’t anything human out there for miles. A whole field of rubble went out into the distance, the shards of a destroyed civilization. A few highrises dotted the rubble afield. A post-apocalyptic existence didn’t give people opportunities. You did what you could get.

The smiling faces of my sisters made me happy. Excited chatter moved through the cabin of our liberated troop carrier. The uneven ground shook us. The rough sound of knobbed tires on gravel echoed around us. It was too late to turn back and go home. What we’d done was irrevocable.

It was revenge. That was all there was. Sometimes you want to be free just once and see justice done.

Did they have to kill our sister? Did they have to kill Jet in one of their petty games? And we weren’t supposed to do anything about it? We were supposed to shut up and take it like a million other things

It happened a few hours ago.


There I was under this muscular guard. Moans escaped my mouth. Sounds he had to hear for something I wasn’t feeling. It wasn’t working like it should. He chugged away like a train engine — rocking back and forth as he slid in and out. Sex was supposed to be great, but as a job, it wasn’t. I played along and faked the rest of the way.

The sweaty guy got off me. He was spent, and I still didn’t feel a thing. So many guys went through, they started to blend together. Remembering a face I’d seen for seconds and sacrificing a life for it wasn’t worth it.

The tat on his neck snatched away my breath. He was one of the guys that ruined Jet. The tat proved what I couldn’t any other way. Four guys were too much at once — Mother told them. We were theirs to take.

Jet wasn’t the same after. She couldn’t take it. She told them No the next time. That was enough. They shot her between the eyes.

I drew the sharp sticks in my hair — sharp after what happened to Jet. I turned to my lover for a kiss, and the pointy end went in his neck.

He spun away.

I jabbed it in deeper.

My feet were around his middle — he couldn’t escape.

He fell to the floor with me on his back.

I took the massive gun from his holster. My sisters reached the same conclusions I had. Four near dead men were in our home.

Their troop carrier was outside. Our folly was simple, killing men we shouldn’t have. Someone would come around, looking for the valuable equipment. They would find us, and all of us would die. We knew it would happen from the beginning. The price of revenge wasn’t too high. It was the lives of a few in an abysmal world. Lives didn’t mean much anymore with billions already lost and countless dying each day. After a while, loss became meaningless, maybe even a gift if used right.

Our life wasn’t happy. It was the plaything of the rich and powerful. They did what they wanted. We shut up and took it. I didn’t want to live and die that way. I wanted my life to mean something — anything at all — taking something instead of being taken.

All sisters — Daisy, Fen, Held, and me got into their troop carrier.

It was benches and screens on the inside and a shell with slits on the outside. A bench opened. The chemical smell of new rubber filled our heads. There were suits warped and twizzled into a scraggle of material that could stretch to any size — taught rubber on our bodies. I pulled the zipper down to feel the air on my chest. How could people breathe stuffed so tight in rubber?

There was nowhere we could have gone dressed like we had been, in clothes tattered from generations of use. We’d be spotted and gunned down on approach that way.

Their gun belts were too big, so they hung on at an angle. We had hours before anyone came looking for the troop carrier. They hid their tracks well to associate with us in the rubble. Our home drew power and sustenance from their business. Underground they went to find us in mazes of track.

Getting the map of the high rises around and the places we could do something more with our lives was easy. Mother made trades, our services for anything they had on them.


The troop carrier swerved around debris and rubble, sliding to a stop. With massive guns drawn, we walked out. The chill wasn’t severe in the warm rubber. There was the high rise — gilded green and gold. A barrier of plasma flew high into the sky to match. Rings of steel zigzagged in circles around.

We weren’t getting out the way we went in.

One guard had survived our revenge with raspy breaths. We’d pushed his hand against the screen inside the troop carrier for recruit badges. Held knew the computer every which way. That was enough. Getting him dead with another jab of a sharp stick, we’d taken the badges as points of steel in our thumbs. It didn’t hurt having those bits of steel implanted. It was just a dazzle of light.

We crossed barriers of steel and burning plasma. Walking through the steel doors and across the lobby, we entered a granite pillbox bank. The doors shut behind us. The short, mousy-haired teller behind the counter looked us over. The vault was on the opposite end. Held got on the terminal.

Fen drew guns too soon.

An auto-turret swung down and locked on.

My heart beat in my chest.

A thump and the shot fired — a scream from the teller.

Another thump and Fen fell to the floor.

Blood gushed from her stomach — too much blood.

Fen was my sister. I didn’t want to see the life wick away from her like I’d seen Jet’s. I didn’t want to bear witness.

I couldn’t bear witness again. It would break me in two, and then, everybody would die too.

Held took down the guns. The room blinked into darkness for a second. The doors behind us locked with a click. A gun was in my hand. Held hacked away at the terminal. Daisy had Fen’s head in her lap.

I pulled Daisy away and held her close to me. My gun went to Fen’s head, and a shot rang out. Our sweet young Fen was gone — to be no more.

I knew it was wrong to end her life seconds too soon for my own sake, but so much was wrong with our world.

Jet shouldn’t have died. Whores we shouldn’t have been. In that place, in those rubber suits, in that granite bank, we shouldn’t have been, but we were. Fen was dead. We all would be soon, and life couldn’t be lived that way.

The vault was behind us — the tiny teller in front of us. I took my gun and fired at him.

The small teller ducked. Glass shattered.

I pulled the mousy-haired teller over the counter to the floor.

“What kind of game is this?” His voice shook. We were a game to them, our lives were used and discarded like poker chips.

I didn’t want to turn and look at Fen. Nothing made sense now, but a few things came to mind. We had an out now. Held had the destruct trigger in hand to incinerate the troop carrier and the evidence of our crimes with it. The troops from the carrier were burned to cinders. This could all be explained away — a case of mistaken identity. We were on a job to realize a fetish, a fantasy of the mousy teller — sex with bank robbers. It would be easy to fuck Mr. Teller and become whores again.

I had to ignore the rotting corpse of Fen. That I couldn’t do. If she wasn’t dead, we would make it all go away.

There wasn’t an out now.

All the cards were played. The more we took control, the worse it became — fewer and fewer options. I dragged the impish teller across the bank and threw him at the vault. It scanned the biometrics of the teller I’d thrown at it.

He slumped to the floor, knocked out from my throw. The swinging door swept him aside. There was nothing inside.

Alarms blared. Held was at the terminal again.

Her body jerked around, sitting there by the wall, facing the terminal. Sparks went through her hair. Smoke wafted up. Her body was stiff. She didn’t slump. She didn’t relax. She froze.

Held was dead. Sweet Held, the smartest was no more. We didn’t have time to think. The auto-turrets fell from the ceiling and opened fire.

I pulled Daisy over the counter with me. The rubber suit slipped through my fingers. Daisy screamed as bullets cut her to pieces. The shots rang out after her screams ended. I shook. Tears rolled down my face. It was over. There was nothing left. The machinery of progress and survival of the richest chewed me up. There was nothing I could do hiding behind the stone counter. The bullets cut out, but the auto-turret spun with clacks.

The doors scraped open. Boots marched across the pillbox bank and identified bodies. Fen, Held, and Daisy wouldn’t have names without my confession. Mr. Teller was Michael Crawford. They shot him dead like he didn’t mean a thing.

Everyone was dead but me. Silent tears rolled down my face. That wasn’t supposed to be. I wasn’t supposed to survive without them. We were supposed to die together, at the same time. I wanted to survive too bad, and I had. There wasn’t anything left for me. I put the gun in my mouth.

I couldn’t pull the trigger.

They found me.


A table was before me. The cool steel of the tabletop chilled my arms. My rubber suit was sticky and tight as ever. A crisscrossing web of iron was at my back, cutting the light falling across the table. The guard that hauled me away sat there before me.

“Name?” His deep voice echoed around my head.

“Roulette.”

“Occupation?”

“Whore.”

“Really?” He was bored. I was the most interesting thing he had to deal with for a long time. Their defenses were impenetrable.

“Yeah, I fuck people for a meal. Got a problem with it?”

“How do you work up the attitude?”

I spit across the room. Good manners didn’t do favors in the rubble. It got you raped. I wasn’t a nice girl that got ruined. I was the corrupter.

“Good news, they want you upstairs.”

I let him talk at me for a while. That was all you could do sometimes. The privileged kept to their blather, ignorant of the matter at hand.

“I don’t know why they want you upstairs. My orders are clear. You’re not to be harmed.”

I could tell it wouldn’t be good. They wanted me whole. No one knew I existed. Everyone was dead. I’d seen the bodies as they took me away. It wasn’t good news — not good at all. Why did they want me? I couldn’t say, but it wouldn’t be good. Fear chewed at me.

After killing the guard in my bedroom a few hours back, I’d felt nothing. I still felt nothing, but fear was making a comeback. Feeling too much got you killed in the rubble. It took a lot for me to feel something. It was all too much now. I wanted it to end. The machinations of fate were too much. The unknown was before me, and I was scared as I should be.

“You must have something interesting under there.”

“There’s nothing. Trust me.”

“Mind if I take a look? Seeing as you’re in the business.”

“Eat dirt.”

He took hold of the cuffs between my hands, and they popped open. The door latched shut with a clang.

“Fuck you!”

He held my throat up against the wall.

“Stop!”

“Shut up.” He got the stick strapped to his back and held it to my throat, ready to deliver a shock to paralyze my throat, killing me.

I couldn’t breathe. Sputtering for air, black took over my vision. I couldn’t see, couldn’t speak.

He peeled back the rubber. His hands searched me. He was so strong, I couldn’t fight. His lips found mine.

My hands found his gun and grabbed on.

He pushed me against the webbed window.

I pressed the gun in my hands to the soft spot under my chin.

His hands locked onto the gun.

I pulled the trigger, and nothing happened.

He got the gun from me and threw my rubber suit at me.

“Get dressed!”


Two guards in rubber suits held my arms. I walked between them, not wanting to make them angry — I didn’t want to get hurt again.

They took me through rusted hallways with bands of bright steel. We went around corners and up flights of steps. It made my head spin. The bright bands of steel grew into entire corridors and entire floors. We stopped at a set of gleaming doors. The doors slid aside to a tiny room with no windows.

The corridors had no windows either.

My burly guards and I got in the tiny room. The doors shut behind us.

I felt motion. My ears popped. The doors opened.

A tall, wide woman was waiting for us. Yellow light bathed the room. Sheer draperies hung about the place in place of doors. Light stone pillars supported a stone ceiling. Pillows and cushions were everywhere.

Padded furniture filled the rooms. It was like the pictures in books.

We didn’t see the sun anymore except there, like in the books. They handed me over to her.

The big woman took my arm. They left, and the doors shut.

I was a rag doll in the lady’s hands. She was so much bigger than me. She tapped a stick to my suit. The suit formed seams and peeled away. I held everything in place. The rubber blackened in my hands. She shoved me into a pool of warm water. The ash washed off my skin.

“Get out.”

I did what she said — I didn’t want her angry with me.

“Dry.” She threw me a thick towel.

A clean smell covered me.

She tossed a sheer dress at me. I put it on. Nothing would be left to the imagination. It was long and joined in the middle with magic where the ends met. She threw me into a chair.

My hair lengthened by a stick she waved across my head. She swirled my hair around and stuck it in place with sharp pins.

“The Prince needs a compatible host and mother for his offspring. That’s you. Aren’t we lucky, dear girl?”

I spit across the room. It wasn’t a bad thing in the rubble.

She grabbed my cheeks, making my lips open like a fish. “Cut that out, dear.” She pressed a pin on her ample bosom. Pain radiated from the pins in my hair. I screamed in agony until it stopped.

She took me from that room through others to a room with a gilded cage swinging from the ceiling. She dragged over a stool. The cage door swung open.

I wasn’t going in there.

“Step up, dear.”

I shook my head.

Electricity arched over me.

I cried out, but goddammit I wasn’t going in.

She shoved me.

I fell against the steps.

“Up you go.”

The electricity surged again. I cried there on the top step.

Then my legs moved. I couldn’t stop it. My body stood up and ascended the steps. The gilded cage shut with a twang.

She left me. I was there for hours and hours. A plate piled high with food was within my reach and a jug of wine. I sat on the floor. The wind blew through the room. It was warm against my skin. The sheer fabric blocked nothing. I felt in my hair for the pins. I took a hold and pulled. My fingers tingled painfully. I took a piece of hard bread and put it between my teeth.

No one could hear me scream. That matron would rush in and zap me.

I pulled the pin free, screaming into the hard bread. Tears flowed down my face. The taste of metal filled my mouth. Then, it stopped.

I stuck the freed pin into the lock of my gilded cage. Then, pulling another pin arced electricity through the pin in the lock, making the door spring open. I jumped down from the cage. The dress bound my feet together too tight. I ripped off the front in a wide strip. I went in the direction of the breeze. It led to an archway and a long strip of stone sticking out into midair.

I walked to the end and looked out below. Green stretched out far and wide, and gleaming glass towers rose up miles under my feet. It was the world before.

Before the rubble, before the disaster, before everything went wrong — before.

My life was over. I wouldn’t be the Prince’s concubine. He would impregnate me in the way all men wanted me. I would bear his son or daughter. If a daughter, the whole thing would repeat.

If I struggled, if I refused him, if I didn’t eat — they would take control and force me.

My life was over.

They wouldn’t have control. I took a step and floated away to peace — my death at last.

GK

Finding Love a Block from Home

A short piece of fiction.

I walked familiar potholed streets to the corner store. It’d passed through different owners like dollar bills, but the worn asphalt and shabby cinder block were mine. The familiarity of life turned into a warm security blanket that covered and smothered. Predictability suited me fine though.

I walked by off-brand cans of beans and went to the fresh, stacked in little plastic bins, covered with slick cellophane; the finest beans you could get for a dollar. I wandered the aisles, adding to my tiny cart.

My little shopping cart full of essentials, I looked through glossy magazines, imagining how my life could’ve been if I wasn’t a waitress blocks from the only address I’d ever called home. My cart coasted through line and out past the clerk. I walked into the cool night lit up with street lamps. My ringing phone stole away my gaze to check who it was as I crossed the parking lot.

The blare of a horn and a glare of light came from a pickup swerving through. My phone fell from my hand.

A stranger pulled me from the frenzied driver’s path, and we fell to the rough ground.

The truck sped by, knocking my cart around.

“What the hell, man!” It was the man next to me. He got to his feet, pulling me up. “Alright ma’am?”

I stood up, breathing in the cool night, trying to calm my frazzled nerves. “Thank you.”

The man that saved my life walked away with a smile. Such a nice dude.

I couldn’t get him out of my head. He’d saved my life, and we’d been on the pavement together. Wistful searching of the aisles got me nowhere. Would I see him again? Did he live around? What were the chances?

A few weeks later, he walked into my diner. We went out the night after.

Life was a string of pearls, moment after moment. What you did with them meant the world.

GK

A Lost Love

A 300 word short story

I held her hand as she slept. Wires monitored her life dwindling away. Any moment could’ve been her last; I didn’t want her to be alone. We were happy before this started, but happiness wasn’t our fate. We got chemo and radiation. Cancer was a revolt against the body, ending with excruciating pain. Stripping away her soul with “treatment” couldn’t fend off the beast.

She called my name. Then she saw me there. There was clarity but not pain. “Promise me something.”

“Anything, Ansell.”

“Find love again.”

I couldn’t speak the lie she wanted. Tears sprang to my eyes. I wanted things to be different, but nothing could change our fate. Life isn’t fair — the moment you find a sliver of happiness, the bony hand of fate snatches it away.

I opened my eyes. She was looking at me with sad eyes and a smile. Everything started to change. Her face softened; her grip slackened. I saw the life slip out of her, shed off its corporeal skin.

My wife Ansell was gone.


I didn’t feel anything for days after. Oblivious people made things harder. The funeral was a farce of celebration, not changing a damn thing. There’s no preparation for your life imploding in on itself.


I was jogging in the rain and ended up at her grave. My sweet wife Ansell was gone now, buried under my feet. My heart broke in half and brought me to my knees. Falling against her gravestone, I didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t want to reassemble everything and live a sham. I wanted to wither away to nothing. Ansell was gone, and I was no more.

Her words hurt, like a dagger twisting in my chest. Find love again.

Her words were what I needed to hear, but I couldn’t understand.

GK

Cut Apart

A 1,200 Words Short Story

Miranda was in bed after her last day of work, and it wasn’t voluntary. She was fired for unnamed reasons. People were uncomfortable with the way she acted, warm one minute and cold another. It was frustrating that people couldn’t connect with her unscrupulous personality. Her extreme emotions were unfathomable. That should’ve been okay. Maybe she had to change — go on mood stabilizers, and get therapy. Her warm comforter didn’t care about her mood swings. It cared about nothing, because it didn’t have feelings. That made Miranda a little sad.

She didn’t care what other people thought. Making herself accountable to them terrified her. It was too much pressure.

The door opened. April’s footsteps drummed through the hallway, matching Miranda’s beating heart. The motivation to get up from bed appeared out of thin air. She put on some clothes, looking at the empty bed she wanted someone to fill. April was the one she wanted.

Miranda walked into their living room and sat down with a bowl of cereal in her lap. She munched away, thinking about the day she moved in with a stranger. She was in love with that stranger now, April. There were questions asked, answers given by text, and meetings over coffee. Dragging her luggage up a flight and across the threshold she would share with April.

And April was there that day in a long pleated skirt with a blue t-shirt. That’s when it happened. Miranda tried to fight the images flooding her brain, but after a while, she didn’t want to anymore. Her fantasies were too much to ignore try as she might. Miranda wanted to feel the touch of those pretty red lips against her skin — against her own. She wanted to kiss April against a wall until she couldn’t breathe — until she didn’t feel alone anymore — until she didn’t feel bad anymore.

April was in a towel, still pearly with moisture, standing in the hallway before her. She wanted April more than anything, and nothing else was left in her life.

“Hey, Miranda.”

“Hey.”

“Going out tonight?”

“I could be convinced.”

April took Miranda’s hand and pulled her up.

Those hints, signs that all hope wasn’t lost kept Miranda trying. Those little moments of connection were enough.

April flashed her brilliant smile. “I need a night out in the stars. Music would be nice.”

“You mean that club down the block?” They lived in a loft somewhere in the warehouse district. Clubs were all around. They just had to pick.


The black silk was smooth and cool against Miranda’s skin. Music raged through the room and people danced in frenzy. The room was warm — the air electric. There they were, dancing the lonely night away. The music drove a relentless beat to escape the confines of mundanity. To forget everything wrong with the world and live free.

The fierce thrumming waxed and waned from this track to the next. They were up against the bar for drinks. April looked pretty, her green dress playing off her blonde strands.

In the colored lights, Miranda was interested in the love, the beauty that evaded her. And there it was. The chance she’d wanted. Drinks and drinks numbed her fears, and her loathsome worries dissipated for just long enough. They’d been talking about work, the trouble with guys, the politics of ignorance — of the familiar, and the impermanence of it all.

Miranda used the desire, the locked away need. She took April around the waist away from the crowded bar. They walked to an empty spot along the wall. The music rocked them back and forth. April turned Miranda’s head. The music was too loud to speak, so just April’s lips moved to words. Miranda swore that the words were obvious and true. April leaned in. Miranda couldn’t believe it was going to happen. After all these months waiting, they were going to kiss. Miranda leaned in and found April’s soft lips teasing of cream and strawberry.

Miranda saw shock in April’s eyes. Then a hint of sadness flowed over, turning them dark. It was obvious to Miranda. April didn’t feel the same way, and things would never be the same again. There’d always be the frustrating question between them. You like me? Can I like you? There’d always be awkwardness between them — something ephemeral — something visible in the distance but blurry, indecipherable.

Miranda ran through the pressing crowd. She stood in line hurting and paralyzed into avoidance. Rejection stung, but it wasn’t minor. Her whole world was imploding in on itself. There was nothing she could do, except stand there and watch it happen. The gaping hole at her center grew and grew. She wanted it to stop. She wanted it to end.

Or she didn’t want to feel it happen. Her throat cried out for tears. She was gasping with the pain at her heart. They had names for that. It was sadness but for her, grief of a loved one lost. The possibility of loving April was dead. She mourned in line outside the bathroom, wanting an anesthetic to wipe away her woes and diminish her hurt. It was minutes away at the end of a razor.

Miranda pushed the heavy door out of the way. Flickering light filled the room as the door slipped shut. Inked lines plastered the walls. Water dripped from the faucet, and everything was pale in the yellow light. Down her purse went. Out her razor blade came and everything else she needed. She never left home without.

Sitting on the counter, her hands shook from the pain of rejection. Miranda uncovered her thigh hidden under her skirt. There in the web of scars, she needed to cut, somewhere no one could see or question her. The razor felt warm against her skin as she pressed. The blade slid through her scarred skin. Pain wasn’t on her mind. The slicing blade silenced her mind, cut off her emotions.

Pounding went around the room. “People need to pee out here too.”

The door jumped in the frame, and Miranda’s razor went a little too deep. She pulled the razor. Blood spurted out of her inner thigh. Miranda clamped a hand over her gushing leg, but blood drained down between her fingers. She wrapped her oozing leg in gauze and walked out the door with a limp.

Walking through the party, she felt cold seeping down her leg. It was too dark to notice. It was like a heavy period, right? She wobbled down the street and across to their apartment — get away. She couldn’t risk another cut or running into April.

She sat in their apartment, a belt cinching her thigh. Pressure applied didn’t stop the bleed. Her body was burning, head spinning, and heart pounding. Black came in around her vision. Miranda got her phone. 9–1–1 was across her phone screen. She tried to call, and the phone clattered to the floor.

Miranda opened her eyes to the light flicking on. April screamed and ran to her. The nightmare wasn’t over yet. April panicked. Miranda bent in half and made the call. Her voice was weak. “I need help. I’m bleeding out.”

Lights and sirens, rough hands covered in latex, stitches and a needle in her arm, happy nurses and sad doctors, therapy and medication. That was what she needed — a break from reality.

A cut too deep was what she needed to find a new way forward.

Finding a way to recovery is like seeing a map. There’s no way to know if Miranda could walk the path she discovered. Only time would tell.

GK

Brass Tacks

A 1,300 word short story.

Private First Class Greg “Sully” O’Sullivan was before a screen in the cool communications room, cordoned off with a woman on the screen half a world away. They weren’t strangers but the closest two people could be. Wetness pooled in his eyes. They weren’t talking as if thousands of miles were between them.

“Kate, I can’t think of anything else. I want to be back with you.”

“Sully get your head on straight. Stay safe out there, baby.”

“What’s the matter Kate? You look different.”

“Took you that long to notice, huh?”

“Umm.”

“It’s nothing. I’m pregnant that’s all.” Kate was cool. She didn’t care half the time, and people couldn’t tell when she did.

He knew enough to guess. How they’d been getting baby clothes in the mail. The way Kate was around kids. He knew, but her words wouldn’t be enough. Nothing would be until they were together again.


PFC Sully walked to the humvees they were taking out for a drive across the scorching desert of a newly liberated Iraq. The city portion would be downright deadly. Sully was shaking with nerves, and that was status quo. It was enough that nothing had happened, yet. No one knew, but Sully didn’t show it either. He belonged there, and no one could say otherwise.

The Staff Sergeant commanding the Unit, “Rough Neck” Cochran patted Sully on the back. “Mounting up on the 50 cal. today, Sully?”

Sully didn’t have to think. In a mere matter of months, he would have a little person in his arms. And it felt alone as hell up there. A massive barrel in your hands and a tiny piece of armor around you — a target and unprotected at the same time. And the desolate streets had threats in every direction. Sully wasn’t the arrogant risk taker he once was as a young Marine.

“Not me today, Rough Neck. Give Keller the hot seat.”

“Your loss bud. Your loss.”


Sully was in the back across from the sweaty Private Vandorne. She was the only woman in the Unit. Sully was chatting it up with Rough Neck, shooting shit against a stiff breeze. The Privates weren’t buying their bullshit. The other members of their Unit followed behind in two humvees. That’s when it happened.

A IED on the street exploded. Debris flew everywhere. It was a tank shell that blew a hole in the ground. The entire block was on fire. There was no way through. The line of humvees backed up on Rough Neck’s orders. Another explosion cut off the way back. They were stuck.

Bullets flew through the air and in through the windows. The glass nicked and shattered under the barrage. They were in the crossfire from either side.

Vandorne groaned.

Rough Neck ordered everyone out.

Vandorne was hit.

Sully pulled her out through the door. Cover fire went up. Sully scanned the buildings. An empty courtyard was behind them. He dragged the injured Vandorne across the pale sand, leaving droplets of red in their wake.

Vandorne was gasping for breath. Sully pulled off her helmet. He had to do a double take. Sure, his wife had brown hair. And sure they both had pale, translucent skin. They looked a little alike. Sully’s heart stirred at the similarities between the two women.

The resemblance added panic to his actions. She was shot in the shoulder. There was a pool of blood growing on the ground. Sully pulled the coagulation powder and sprinkled it down. He pressed a compression wrap on the hole in Vandorne. She cried out in agony despite fast intakes of breath. Sully saw the life drain from her eyes. The hint of light became dull and disappeared.

Sully’s throat went hard.

Rough Neck was on the radio. “Positions go.”

Their Unit was all over the block. Sully chimed in.

“Sully, you’re the closest bud.”

“Copy that.”

“Get up those stairs and show the motherfuckers the force of nature that is a United States Marine. Nail those fuckers into the ground. We’re getting hammered on the south face of this godforsaken block. Everyone over there converge on Sully.”

“Vandorne’s KIA”

Everyone was quite for a moment.

“Get up those stairs, Marine.”

Sully had a moment of seeing his flag draped coffin. His wife crying. Their child wailing. Then it was gone.

Anger took its place. Nothing would keep him from seeing his family again. A few things needed to happen. And they would happen. Anything standing in the way would burn up faced down with Sully’s sheer determination. Fancy words held no consolation for Sully. Action was the only thing that mattered.

Sully stepped away from Vandorne’s body, saying a prayer. He set his helmet straight and cocked his gun. He walked with the weight of his mission to see his wife again. His mind was clear. Action, consequence. Vindication was coming on the back of Sully. He would show everyone that his name meant something. That there was justice in the world.

He kicked down the door. Walking the building, he threw open each door and swept the rooms clean with his gun sight. He went up another flight of stairs and combed the dusty rooms. No one was there. He went up the stairs.

One room was up there. Sounds wafted through the thin door. Hushed voices and gunfire. That was the place. Sully felt the aggression building in his body like an electric charge ready to break free — the clouds before lightening struck. His muscles were strung out, ready to snap into action. His grip tightened.

Sully burst through the door. Four people were inside. The person facing him opened fire. Sully dropped his weight to the floor. As Sully opened fire, the other people turned to face him. Shots echoed around the room. The wall behind him was blasted white. A few bullets went past him, and a few went through his legs. Until the bullets stopped flying, the pain was minuscule.

Rough Neck was trying to get through. “All wrapped up. How are things on your end Sully?”

“Sully?”

The sound of boots filled Sully’s head. The cavalry was there. The medic got to him. Medicine was injected through his veins. They took him down the stairs in a litter. The fire had gone out. They loaded up Sully in the back seat. A bottle of fluids hung above his head. Sully didn’t remember much from the blood loss. He was in and out for days.

Sully woke up in a military hospital somewhere in Germany. The room was empty and stark white. The sun came in through slits in the blinds and fell across the floor.

Nothing happened for what seemed like hours. Then his wife came in, filling the room with her cool smelling perfume. Sully was the happiest person in the world for a minute there.

“Sully.”

“Where have they been hiding you away?”

“That’s what you’re going to say?”

“Get over here.”

“I was so scared, Sully.”

“It was nothing Kate.”

“There you go again.”

“This will be the last time I ever leave you.”

“Bet on it, Mister. We need you.”

The experience could’ve taken Sully away from his wife forever. In the end, it brought them together again in a tiny hospital room somewhere in Germany.

GK