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Literary Journal Publication!!!

GUYS GUYS GUYS GUYS GUYS!!! My university’s literary journal was finally printed and my story was published. Now that it’s published I’m free to post it where I like. So here it is!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Seven Little Words

It was almost midnight when I got the text from my little brother. Hey, you awake?

I frowned at the screen. Texts like that rarely preceded something good. Hoping that I was just seeing through jade-colored glasses, I texted back, Of course. What’s up?

His response back was almost immediate. Can I come over?

The warning bells jangled in my head. It wasn’t the first time Aaron had been to my apartment, but never so late. Aaron was two and a half years younger than I was and still lived with our mother and step-father. He had just finished his first year of college and had only been home for a few days. We had lunch plans on Saturday, so whatever this was couldn’t wait until then. Sure, I replied. You remember how to get here?

Yes, be there in ten, came the answer.

Eight minutes later there was a soft knock at my door. I opened it, revealing Aaron. Right away I could tell that something was wrong. Aaron looked wrung out: thin, wan, tired. He was slumped forward, as if an invisible weight kept him from standing upright. There were black shadows under his eyes and his mouth was set in a grim line. He was dressed in ratty basketball shorts and a tank top that read, ‘Sun’s Out, Guns Out.’ Despite my growing worry, I couldn’t help but laugh on seeing it.

“You’re a dork,” I told him, pointing at his shirt.

“Good to see you, too, Sis,” he shot back. “Let’s go for a walk.” I shrugged and grabbed my keys and a hoodie to throw over my pajama top. We headed out of my apartment complex and down the street toward the neighborhood park. It was the beginning of summer. The air was warm and the sky was clear. I looped my arm through Aaron’s and walked while looking up at the night sky, letting him keep me from stumbling.

“How were finals?” I asked.

“Fine,” he answered.

“How’s living with Mom again?” I wanted to know.

“Fine,” he replied. “Mom’s Mom, y’know? I haven’t really seen Terry, yet, since he works all day.” Terry was our step-father. He and our mother had married when Aaron and I were young. To me, Terry was simply ‘Dad’ because my biological father hadn’t been in the picture before the marriage. Aaron’s father, Frank, had broken up with our mother shortly after Aaron was born. The breakup had been very messy. Despite that, Frank had wanted to be part of Aaron’s life, so Aaron had gone from one house to the other twice a month. He never quite took to calling Terry ‘Dad.’

“You okay?” I asked a few minutes later. Aaron shrugged and pulled his phone out of his pocket. He didn’t provide any other answer, but I wasn’t too worried. Years of living with him had taught me that pushing him to talk, the way our mother did with us as teenagers, would not end well. Pushing me led to tears and me shutting down as hard as I could. Pushing Aaron led to screaming fights and slammed doors. Aaron would talk about whatever was bothering him when he was ready and not a moment before. All I had to do was wait.

So I watched as his thumb flicked lazily over the touchscreen. He was playing a game. At the top of the screen was a list of hints. Below that were boxes with letters in them in combinations of two, three, and four.

“What are you playing?” I asked, leaning over to get a better look.

“Seven Little Words,” he answered. “It’s a word game. You gotta make a word with the letter combinations there. There’s prompts. Like…” he read the list of prompts. “‘Haptophobic’s fear.’” He made a face. “What the hell is haptophobia?”

“The fear of touch,” I informed him.

Aaron looked at the boxes. Sure enough, there was a box with ‘TOU’ and one with ‘CH’. He poked the screen, typing in the answer. The game dinged. “Damn, it worked,” he muttered. He turned so he could give me an incredulous look. “How do you know this shit?”

“I’m an English major,” I scoffed. “I read, I write, and because I write, I research. Do you know how weird my Google search history looks? The NSA probably thinks I’m a serial killer.” Aaron snorted and looked back at the screen. He went quiet again. I watched him play two levels of his game. Most of the hints were easy things like ‘roller skating waitress,’ the answer being ‘carhop.’ Aaron picked them out quickly, getting stuck only occasionally. I, too, looked at the hints and the available combinations.

“‘Makes a choice,” I stated, nuding him with my elbow. “Try ‘decides.’” Ding! I did a wiggle dance of victory.

“My dad’s getting divorced,” Aaron blurted.

I stopped my victory wiggle in surprise. Aaron didn’t talk about that side of his family often. Residual feelings of resentment from the breakup meant Mom didn’t want to hear about Frank or Aaron’s step-mother Colette. Sometimes, Aaron would talk to me about them, though, so I knew a little bit. They had been married for something like twenty years. They had two elementary school-aged children named Evelyn and Marcus. Their family had always sounded like something out of Leave It To Beaver: idyllic, stable, and normal.

“I’m sorry to hear that…” I said carefully. “Did they say why?”

“Colette’s had enough,” Aaron explained. “Of him. Of him… not trying. Or of not getting ‘what she needs.’ I guess she’s sick of pushing him to, like, be more or something. She’s been cheating on him for years.” He poked his phone, attention back on the game. A couple more dings and a longer chime marked him finishing another level. He frowned when the next list of hints came up. “‘Tippy boat.’ Five letters.”

“A kayak?” I guessed. Aaron squinted at the screen and shook his head.

“Letters don’t match,” he said. His thumb worked over the screen and I heard another ding. “Canoe.”

“Damn,” I muttered. “Anyway… That sucks. How’s Frank taking it?”

“Not great,” Aaron sighed. “He just… stopped everything. He’s not working or keeping up the house or cooking, even. He orders take-out and drinks all the time.” He jabbed a finger at his phone, again, pulling up another hint. “‘Covered in spider silk.’ What’s spider silk?”

“Cobwebs,” I replied.

Aaron shook his head. “Needs nine letters.”

“Uh, try past tense? Cobwebbed?” Ding!

“They were always a normal couple, y’know?” Aaron went on. “Like, super boring normal parents you see on sitcoms or some shit. Nobody lost their shit at the drop of a hat, and nobody got blindsided by someone losing their shit. Everything’s done all calm and rational, and feelings are actually okay. Like, you’re expected to feel and you’re allowed to express it.” He paused, chewing on his lower lip. “You know how Mom makes you feel like you’re the one going crazy? And how you’re just… awful? The worst person in the world?”

I did know what he meant. Growing up, being at home had been like navigating a minefield. One wrong move or word and everything blew up in spectacular fashion. There had been days when I moved as quietly as possible and didn’t speak so as not to draw attention to myself. Any emotional reaction from us was treated like it was irrational or wrong. If you tried to fight back you were attacked, spun in endless circles until you didn’t know which way was up. Somewhere along that line, you had been convinced that your response was indeed wrong and that you were scum for feeling it. How dare you be upset when you had no reason to be?

The confrontations had never been physical, but more than once I had curled up in the fetal position in my room, trying to cry quietly so I wouldn’t be heard.

“Yeah,” I agreed.

“My dad and Colette don’t do that,” Aaron said.

Aaron’s father’s house had been a sanctuary for him; a place to hide and recuperate. He grew up being able to fight, if only a little, because he had someone in his corner backing him up. I hadn’t ever had a place like that and instead developed a kind of hypervigilance and heavy emotional armor. Looking over my shoulder all the time was exhausting and the armor was so thick it kept me cut off from everything, good and bad.

“And it was like, the bad was not the norm,” Aaron continued. “Mom’s… off, yeah, and it’s bad sometimes, but it’s not normal shit. It can’t be normal, right?”

“That shit is the normal,” I told him quietly. “In this day and age, the functional families are the weird ones.”

“‘Piratical disease,’” Aaron murmured.

“Scurvy.” Ding!

“But everything seemed just fine,” Aaron insisted. “It came out of nowhere! They haven’t been fighting or anything. It was business as usual. And she just left us.” Left me, I heard. I remembered, when we were younger, Aaron would wax poetic about Colette. She was a good woman, and provided a kind of stability that Aaron needed in his life. When most kids said that they wanted to help people, their elders patted them on the head and said, “Okay, you do that, then.” When Aaron said he wanted to go into Psychology to maybe be a therapist and help people, Colette hadn’t balked or given him a dismissive answer. She had offered him any assistance or support he needed without hesitation or expectation of repayment.

That, to me, was the strangest part, that the assistance was offered with no strings attached and no catch. There were always strings attached and there was always a catch. Even random “gifts” had a catch. I learned early not to ask for help unless I had no other choice because there would be a price to pay. Sometimes no price was stated, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. With those, the price would be collected later and it would hang over my head like the Sword of Damocles. Sometimes, the price was one I wouldn’t have agreed to had I known beforehand.

That wasn’t a thing in Frank and Colette’s household, apparently. That place, for Aaron, was tangible, visible proof that maybe, just maybe, we weren’t wrong to think that something wasn’t quite right at home. It was a stable foundation for him to build on, but the foundation was crumbling and so Aaron crumbled with it.

I stepped in close and shoved myself under his arm, wrapping myself around his too-skinny body. I didn’t have words to offer him to make anything better, but a hug could be a momentary comfort. Aaron enveloped me with an exhausted noise. Even his hug felt tired.

“What happens to Evelyn and Marcus?” I wanted to know.

“Shared custody, I think,” Aaron replied. “Just like with me. They’re still working out the details, there. Colette’s moved out and taken them with her. School’s ended, so no reason to stick around, I guess.” He paused and I heard him clicking about on his phone. “‘Causing harm.’ Eight letters.”

I looked at the screen and the letter combinations available. My mind went through the synonyms I knew for harm: abuse, ruin, hurt, damage–

“Damaging,” I said. Ding!

We stood still for another moment. I had one more question that I didn’t want to ask. I already knew the answer. I could feel it in Aaron’s bony fingers. I could see it in his down-turned mouth and dulled eyes. Aaron’s eyes had never been dull before. In the end, I needed to hear it and I could tell that Aaron needed to say it. “And you?”

The pause that followed was painful. I could hear Aaron’s heartbeat in my ear. It was normal, steady, lacking anything out of the ordinary. Both of us already knew the answer. “I don’t… think I know how to help anyone, anymore,” he eventually admitted. “I’m just… sad. And I kind of want the world to be sad with me.”

I shut my eyes and sighed. My arms tightened around Aaron’s waist as if I could somehow protect him by keeping him close. Aaron’s bright optimism had been like color in a world gone gray. In that instant I knew that he would settle into tired acceptance and the grim continuation that infected the young and disillusioned. I knew that he would grow to be strong and stubborn, but the hope he had once radiated would be gone.

“I love you,” I murmured. “And I’m here.”

“I know,” he said.. “Thanks.” He let out a weak chuckle. “‘To split in two.’ Six letters.”

“Divide,” I answered.

Ding!

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Short Story

This is another thing that got written for class. It’s already been revised. I’m happier with it than I was the original, though I’m waffling on the title. 😀  Please be sure to check the tags. Let me know if I have missed anything or if you feel I should add something.

Beloved Despised

Her name was Li Fen. Is Li Fen. It’s almost always Li Fen. The lucky whore usually gets to keep her name. Do you know how many Li Fens there are in the world at any given time? A lot.

Instead of ‘Fen,’ I call her ‘Feng’ because it pisses her off. For those who don’t know the translation, ‘feng’ means ‘crazy’ in Chinese. Feng calls me ‘Fèifèi.’ It means ‘baboon.’ I’m not exactly fond of it but it could be worse.

We met at some ball or party. I can’t remember what I was doing there or who I was with; it isn’t important anymore. What is important is that I met her. She was there with a visiting dignitary or ambassador. She was wearing a blue silk dress with little white flowers embroidered on it. Her wide-set eyes were as dark as the night and she had the tiniest feet. Our eyes met and I just knew. She was something different. I don’t know how I knew; just that I did.

She smiled at me from across the room and quietly excused herself. I knew that I might never meet another like me and I had so many questions. I craved answers and so I followed her.

Almost immediately I hated her and she hated me. She acted like meeting me was nothing special, but I could tell she felt the difference in me that I did her. My questions were an annoyance because she knew as little as I did. Finally, I grew angry and asked why her feet were unbound. Her answer was a subtle insult to my weight. I called her a dancing monkey. She called me a tofu seller. We were not going to be friends and I spent the next hundred years wishing I had never met her.

Yes, you read that correctly. Centuries apply. We’re immortal.

Before you ask, no, I am not a vampire nor am I an elf, and I have never had anyone come at me with a claymore shouting, “There can be only one!” so this isn’t a Highlander thing, either. That movie was terrible, anyway.

Over the long years, Feng has been the only person I have seen consistently. At first it was just the odd party or festival. We exchanged barely-civil greetings and then ignored each other. As our friends aged and we didn’t the parties were fewer and further between. When both of us were in attendance we found each other and debated heatedly until one of us left. However, doing so meant admitting defeat. Our discussions were filled with venom and spite. Ask anyone else and they would say we were arguing bitterly. But to Feng and I it was fantastic competitive entertainment.

The first time called on me at home was just before I left France for the first time. One of my servants showed her into my parlor. Feng took in the room’s hardwood furniture and the plush rug and sniffed derisively. She sat on my chaise lounge without an invitation and stared at me expectantly.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded. I didn’t bother to hide my disdain for her. We were not friends even if she was my favorite debate partner.

“It’s been a decade, Fèifèi,” she reminded me. Her face was a mocking sneer. “Last time we spoke, I won. I am gracious enough to give you a chance to even the score.”

I felt heat rise to my cheeks as anger swelled in my chest. The bitch thought she had bested me? I would show her. I daintily took my seat again and bared my teeth in a polite smile.

“How generous of you,” I simpered. “Where shall we begin?”

Feng stayed the night and left the next morning. By the time she left we had had two shouting matches and one very tense meal. My servants whispered about it for weeks.

Years passed and Feng continued to seek me out. Our fights grew less heated as the world around us changed. We began to teach other what we had learned between meetings. It was a game, a petty way to compare whose travels had been grander. We traded language for language and skill for skill; Chinese for French, Shen Yun for the Viennese waltz, Japanese for German, Cantonese for Italian, pipa for violin, wushu for fencing…

What? When you’re alive for hundreds of years, you get bored, okay? Being an immortal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Nobody ever mentions how boring it can get.

Feng continues to seek me out to this day. I don’t know how she does it, but somehow she always manages to track me down. It doesn’t matter how many times I have relocated between visits, she eventually shows up at my door. It’s unnerving and annoying and comforting all at once. She stays for years, sometimes, living out her life just as I live out mine.

I always let her in. She has become a constant in my life in spite of our mutual loathing. I have precious few constants and immortality is so lonely it aches. While I have had many lovers in my years none of them have ever been such a complete balm to my loneliness. Feng seeps into the cracks in my life like she was made for them, soothing the ache into silence. So even though I hate Feng more often than I don’t, I can never quite bring myself to chase her off for good.

The first time we fell into bed together was perhaps two-hundred years later. She had been gone for nearly fifty years. The loneliness had begun to eat at me ten years earlier. I worried that something had happened to her. What if she had been hurt? Or even killed? I would have no way of knowing. What if she simply decided to never come back? The thought was terrifying every time I considered it.

Late one night someone banged on the door, heavy-fisted and dreadfully loud. I flailed out of bed and hurtled down the stairs. It was Feng; it had to be Feng. I yanked open the door and sure enough, it was Feng. She was soaking wet from the rain. Her clothes clung wetly to her and her hair hung heavily across her back and shoulders.

I seized her wrist and hauled her into the house, slamming the door behind us. “Where the hell have you been?” I demanded. “It’s been almost fifty years!” I wanted to know where she had been and why she had stayed away so long.

In answer Feng fixed me with a glare. Lesser men have fled in terror when her face looks like that. It just made me angrier. “I go where I please,” she snarled. “Leave me alone. I’m exhausted and I have absolutely no patience for your neediness, right now.”

She took a step to my left to move around me. I didn’t want her to go, yet. I wanted to pull her close and strangle her all at once. My hand slammed into the wall to cut off her exit.

Feng’s eyes narrowed. She still didn’t answer. “Fèifèi,” she said instead. “Move.” Her voice was quiet. Dangerous. Her body was tense like a snake about to strike. Her lips pulled back from tightly-gritted teeth like some wild predator. I know she could kill me just as quickly as I could kill her but it doesn’t matter. All that mattered to me is the rage and loneliness roiling inside me.

We glared at each other for a solid minute. Feng didn’t offer any explanation and it only made me angrier. Before I knew it, I drew back my fist and punched her in the mouth. Feng stumbled back a step, hand covering her lips. Her eyes were wide with shock. Hell, I was shocked, myself. I had never struck Feng before, not like that.

We fought, tearing through the house and each other. Feng was faster but I was larger. I finally managed to pin her up against a wall. The room is a disaster; the table was overturned, two lamps were broken, my lovely blue tablecloth had been ripped all up one side. Out of the corner of my eye I could see one of the chairs had been upended.

The two of us weren’t in any better condition. We were both panting and bleeding. My hair was a tangled mess, one of my cheekbones was screaming in pain, and I’m pretty sure I bit my tongue. One of Feng’s eyes was swelling shut and her teeth were bloody. Her tongue flicked over her lips and I couldn’t look away. I don’t know who moved first but we were suddenly kissing. It was rough and violent, nothing like those silly romance stories describe. Neither Feng nor I are gentle creatures; we struggled and fought, teeth cracking together harshly. I didn’t know if I was tasting my blood or hers or both.

She shoved me away from her only to grab me again. I dragged her up to my bedroom and we somehow managed not to murder each other on the way. Afterwards, I had nail marks in my back that didn’t fade for weeks.

It was totally worth it.

We have never truly put a name to what we are. Neither of us feel a need to. All I know is that if I were to lose her entirely I would break. I worry that one of these times something will happen. She will not come back. There are times when I catch her looking at me and I can see the same fear in her eyes. I know, however, that if I try to keep her with me I will lose her just the same. Perhaps I could go with her but I have no true wish to leave until I must. I like my homes and my quiet days. I like having a place where Feng can find me. I think Feng likes having a place to look for me.

This time is no different from any other. I went to bed alone. I wake up with her wrapped around me like a handsy octopus, sleep-warm and familiar. Something inside me loosens in relief because she is there. There had been no alarms set off nor phone calls from the security company. How the hell did she get passed the system?

It was her damnable computer. The wench hacked my security. I refuse to let that stand. If I do, she’ll have one on me and I only just got our scores evened. Something must be done. But later. For now I am content to burrow into her and fall back asleep.

When I open my eyes again Feng is awake and watching me. Her head is propped up on her hand. “Finally,” she drawls. “I was starting to wonder if you would sleep the whole day.” I swat at her half-heartedly with one hand and rub my eyes with the other. I take in her appearance, noting that the bags under her eyes have grown a little larger like she hasn’t been sleeping well. She has developed faint lines around the corners of her mouth. Has she been frowning? There are two studs in the top shell of her ear that weren’t there before. Her hair…

“You cut off all your hair!” I exclaim. Feng’s hair has been very long for the past several decades. Now it sticks up everywhere with bedhead, but I can tell that it is some kind of asymmetrical bob. I reach up and shove my fingers into the strands, mussing it further. Feng allows this for a few seconds before she begins poking at my sides.

“Knock it off,” she orders. I huff and release her. I then stand and saunter to the bathroom so I can shower first.

After we have both bathed and dressed I make breakfast for us. I add one too many sugar cubes to her tea and turn her mug around the wrong way so that she has to adjust it before she can drink. Her eggs are over medium instead of over easy. Suck it, bitch.

Over breakfast I ask her where she has gone and what she has learned. She went to Taiwan and learned, among other things, how to make dumplings. I know, right? Dumplings. But apparently they will make me salivate. When she makes them that night and they are as delicious as she claims. She will teach me, of course. In return I will teach her how to make memes.

Don’t give me that look. Memes are fantastic.

After dinner we spar, testing each other after so long apart. She has learned new tricks, but so have I. We are pleasantly sore, afterwards. I run us a hot bath and we spend the night relearning each other.

She stays for six years. We argue over whether or not Keanu Reeves is one of us (he totally is). Feng never truly warms up to memes and I send them to her to make her glare. She leaves her clothes and shoes everywhere, even when there is a perfectly good closet three feet away. We cook and spar and fuck and fight. Feng chases away the loneliness, settling into the familiar grooves like she never left. The years are good; nearly perfect.

But Feng never stays in one place for long. She gets restless. It always begins with Feng watching out the window. She’s not watching anything in particular–just standing there with a faraway look in her eye. Next comes the fighting. We rip into each other’s soft spots and leave gaping wounds. Our screaming matches rattle the windows. The fights gradually get worse; shoving, punching, and outright brawling. My neighbors threaten to call the cops twice.

It always happens this way. Feng is trying to tear herself free. Pieces of her are catching on pieces of me. She takes them with her when she goes, and I keep bits of her, too. We’ll get them back when she finds me again, because I know she will.

I wake up one morning and the first thing I see is her bag by the bedroom door. She will leave after breakfast. For now, she is half on top of me, drooling on my sleep shirt. The wet spot is uncomfortable and, quite frankly, gross. I heave her off of me and she goes tumbling to the floor. I can hear her cursing in every language she knows as I get up and make my way to the bathroom.

When I get out of the shower I find Feng has made breakfast. A cup of coffee is sitting near my seat. I sip and it is perfect, just as it always is when Feng makes it. I don’t know what she does, but her coffee always tastes better than mine. The damn immortal bitch.

After breakfast, Feng takes her turn in the shower while I clean up. The television plays in the background because Feng is a heathen who can’t remember to turn it off. When I look up again I see a familiar face on the History channel. This one is even more annoying than Feng’s.

“Feng! Guess who resurfaced again?” I call when I hear the shower shut off.

There’s a snarl of outrage. “Fucking-!” Feng appears in the doorway to the bedroom, hair wrapped in a towel, face twisted in anger. “Dave?!”

“Fucking. Dave,” I confirm. Feng’s eyes narrow into slits as she takes in the television. With an animal snarl, she disappears back into the bedroom. I can hear her cursing faintly.

You know those conspiracy theories that revolve around lookalikes from the past? That’s what Dave does. He has sat for dozens of portraits and tapestries and murals throughout his life. Dave establishes himself as an important figure somewhere, hangs around for a few decades, and then disappears, leaving the art behind. Every fifty to a hundred years he’ll show up again and do the same thing. History is littered with his likeness.

Neither Feng nor I have met Dave. We don’t even know his real name; we just call him Dave. The bastard has been trolling the entire world for centuries, probably driving historians mad. It upsets me because he could give us, immortals, away with his antics. It’s totally not because I didn’t think to do it myself, first.

Feng emerges from the bedroom dressed in loose, comfortable travel clothing. She has her sneakers in one hand. “One of these days,” she scoffs, “I am going to find Dave and I am going to punch out his stupid perfect teeth!” A cheshire cat grin lights up her face as she puts on her shoes. “We’ll see how he likes having his portrait painted then!”

“If you do it and don’t get a picture for me I will put ink in your tea for the rest of our lives,” I threaten. Feng just cackles, shoulders her bag, and leaves.

I return to my couch and the History Channel. I feel no deep sorrow at her departure. She will always leave and I will always let her go. I will move and she will find me. She will come back and I will be waiting.