by August Niehaus

Candace sucked on her lips and stared at the foggy glass doors, willing them to open. She turned her glare on the woods, her puffy jacket rustling when she shivered. This high up in the mountains, the fog clung stubbornly to the tops of trees even well after sunrise, giving the tiny shack on the side of the freeway an air of extra creepiness. The flickering, droning sign with the alligator on it didn’t help.

She’d been on some field trips in her life, and this was shaping up to be one of the stupidest.

Candace pulled her phone out of her pocket again and sighed. 9:58 AM. The bus had dropped them off almost an hour ago; Ms. Rose hadn’t bothered to do her homework and find out what time the reptile zoo really opened. The owner clearly cared about sticking to a schedule.

Candace could hardly imagine a building full of lazy snakes and lizards caring if bug-eyed children pressed their faces against the tanks two minutes earlier than usual. And anyway, she just wanted to get in, see enough to write a passing report, and then complain of a stomachache so she could get the hell back to civilization.

 

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Fordite

Marie never noticed the musty smell before now, but it was likely always there, hiding beneath the warm smell of roasted ham and marshmallowed yams.  The house became yellow and brittle in the months since Nana and Baba passed, only now being brought to life by her family scratching through it like carrion birds.

“Marie?  Honey, could you hand me that pan?”

“Sure, Dad.”  She answered as she maneuvered though the crowded dining room to the kitchen.  Her Dad’s legs splayed across the floor blocking the narrow kitchen as he worked on a troublesome and stinky drain trap.

“Thanks, I’ve almost got this.”  He took the plastic pan and slid it under the drain just as putrid black water bubbled out of the elbow joint.  “There.  That should help.  Why don’t you see if there’s anything you want to stick your name on now?  J & J will be here any minute to join you.”

“OK – I’ll take a look.”

Her Mom and Dad had been working in the house for a few days and had gotten the clutter down to a point where all the rooms in the small house could be safely navigated.  She turned back toward the living room, full of empty cardboard boxes, and looked over the furniture.  I don’t have anywhere to put any of this.  She thought as she looked at the fancy chairs that her grandmother used to let her stumble around when she was a toddler.  In fact, little of her grandparent’s belongings would be useful to a 17-year-old.  But, at least she had a few minutes before her brothers and their families arrived.

 

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Eloise

by Penelope Wright

I spread my arms wide and smiled, twirling around. The air was sharp, but not with an edge that would cut me. My skin tingled, invigorated, and I soaked up most of the available energy, while being careful to leave a little behind to regenerate in the atmosphere. I watched it sparkle its crackling color, the one we called Ruby, with a capital R, like it was a name rather than a label.

It was nothing like the color of the shiny ruby in Teresa’s necklace, the one she wore every day, which dangled pendulously between her large, squishy breasts. I don’t know why we called it Ruby, when it was so different from an actual ruby. But we all – well, most of us – knew what we were talking about.

“Eloise!” Teresa’s voice startled me from my thoughts. Now that was sharp, and unlike the air, this razor edge felt like it might leave a mark. “What are you doing out there without a coat?”

I heaved a giant sigh and my shoulders sagged, but I turned around and walked toward her before she could tell me to ‘get inside this instant.’ I wasn’t cold, I almost never was, but good luck getting her to believe that. It would probably be easier to convince her of the existence of Ruby, which I’d tried to do a million times with exactly zero success. I nodded at Eldritch on my way in, and he shrugged sympathetically. Couldn’t convince Teresa of him either.

I snaked my arms into a jacket, because it was just easier than fighting about it. My energy level was filled to the brim and bursting at the seams, and now here I was indoors and sweltering in a puffy purple down feather coat. Lydia beckoned me over and we bent our heads together. “Teresa’s driving me crazy today,” she confided. “She keeps blaming me for everything that’s gone wrong. I told her Shenanigan escaped again, but she’s having none of it. Keeps calling me a little liar and making me sit on my hands. I wish I could go outside. I’m doing everything I can to get him stuffed back into his hole, but I’m exhausted. Can you help me out?”

 

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Fairly Bad Mother

“It’s that time of year again, folks! Time to move your family away from that dinner table and dust off the dinner trays and watch as Gardenville’s finest singers compete in the annual VOCE Idols competition. A three-hour showdown of talents hosted by last year’s winner, Babby Winters.

And just like last year, the committee has selected twenty contestants from your thousands of video auditions, and tonight, right here on channel three, those twenty contestants will battle it out for the chance to win the grand prize: a two-year record deal with Empress Records…”

Goldie Drave mutes the television and swivels her hands back to the piano keys. If she’s going to win, she needs to focus on nailing this song, not panicking over the fact that she’s going to sing before a real-life, living and breathing audience of people and not her phone’s camera.

Goldie’s performing experience consists of singing into a mic in her room and—after meticulous practice and edits to make sure only her best is shown to the world—uploading it to the internet. This is just slightly different.

There’s not going to be any do-over. She can’t stop and start a section over. And she’s not going to have the privacy of her four bedroom walls to protect her from her sudden bout of performance anxiety.

Why did I think I could do this? I was drunk. That’s the only explanation. Yep, definitely drunk.

 

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The Space Between

by Janice Lichtenwaldt

Cindy should have been suspicious when Ronnie stopped her before third period asking for help with a “personal issue.” Nobody ever came to Cindy with issues, personal or other. So when Ronnie asked for help Cindy jumped at the chance. They were to meet in the northeast girls restroom 10 minutes before the ending lunch bell rang. The location couldn’t have been more appropriate for the eventual utter humiliation the Honey Hive inflicted on Cindy; a run-down, rust encrusted little-used room of waste elimination.

The actual event of shame was so run-of-the-mill. So ordinary. So basic.  She should have seen it coming, but Ronnie seemed so damn concerned. At the appointed hour, Cindy met Ronnie in the bathroom. Ronnie led her into the wheelchair stall and when she turned around her pupils where so big Cindy couldn’t tell the color of her eyes.

“What’s wrong Ronnie? You’re scaring me,” Cindy said.

“I….well….I…,” Ronnie squeaked out. In retrospect, Cindy realized Ronnie wanted to be there as much as she did. She wasn’t under her own power in this situation, which spoke to a spark of humanity in her.

“What Ronnie?” Cindy was actually getting scared for her friend.

Ronnie’s phone chimed with a text. She glanced down at the screen and the color washed from her face. She stiffened her shoulders and said, “I have a problem. A girl problem. I…I think there is something wrong with my vagina.” It all came out at once, rushed, almost rehearsed. Cindy missed that part because she was deeply concerned for her friend.

 

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The Axedental Antecendent

by Jill Corddry

Glida poked her Mazda Miata’s snout over the sidewalk and checked the oncoming traffic, a cheeseburger clutched in her mouth. While she waited for the city bus to roll past, she glowered at the gathering storm clouds. Just her luck—she’d put Betsy’s top down moments ago, so of course it was going to rain. Any tips she pocketed today would go to upholstery repairs—not culinary school.

She rested her hand protectively on the bag in the passenger’s seat, which was labeled “The ‘Craft Store” with its distinct pentagram-of-wands logo. On second thought… Glida rested the bag in her lap instead. It was the second premium love potion order this week, a rare occurrence even when Tante Darya had a deal up on Groupon. Glida wasn’t about to screw up a premium delivery. Not again.

Not with next quarter’s tuition on the line.

The burger plopped onto the potion bag, a perfect bite taken out of it. Glida squeaked, chewed hurriedly, and scooped the burger back into her mouth as she nosed the Miata out onto the main road. She flipped a U-turn and gunned it up the hill.

 

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by August Niehaus

Glida poked her Mazda Miata’s snout over the sidewalk and checked the oncoming traffic, a cheeseburger clutched in her mouth. While she waited for the city bus to roll past, she glowered at the gathering storm clouds. Just her luck—she’d put Betsy’s top down moments ago, so of course it was going to rain. Any tips she pocketed today would go to upholstery repairs—not culinary school.

She rested her hand protectively on the bag in the passenger’s seat, which was labeled “The ‘Craft Store” with its distinct pentagram-of-wands logo. On second thought… Glida rested the bag in her lap instead. It was the second premium love potion order this week, a rare occurrence even when Tante Darya had a deal up on Groupon. Glida wasn’t about to screw up a premium delivery. Not again.

Not with next quarter’s tuition on the line.

The burger plopped onto the potion bag, a perfect bite taken out of it. Glida squeaked, chewed hurriedly, and scooped the burger back into her mouth as she nosed the Miata out onto the main road. She flipped a U-turn and gunned it up the hill.

 

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Meanwhile in Florida

by Amy King

Restarting in a moment

“That’s nice. Except for the part where I didn’t ask you to restart. I asked you to print my spreadsheet.” Charlie’s left eye squints in disapproval as he watches the six white balls pull themselves around in a spinning circle on the screen.

They dance around themselves, mocking his attempts to accomplish anything before the doors open and the inevitable sea of witches and wizards flood the waiting room of the Department of Reversals and Repairs of Palm Springs (DRRPS). Or, as Charlie likes to call it, “Derps”.

It’s a sign. Coffee.

Charlie grabs his mug and trudges toward the break room and straight to the coffeepot. He hears a light slish of liquid swirling the bottom of the metal pot.

Empty…sigh.

He unscrews the lid (the one meant to keep the liquids inside warm—all two teaspoons of it) and rinses out the dregs. He grabs the filter, dumps the grounds in the garbage, replaces it with a new filter bag of fresh grounds, fills the machine with water, places the pot back on its holder, and punches the brew button.

Charlie wraps his fingertips around the lip of his mug and drags it across the counter as he retreats to his updating computer.

“Um, Mr. Hunt?” Charlie’s 19-year-old desk neighbor, Marvin Dell, shyly calls out to him from the copier. He sighs, knowing from the sound of that question, what’s in store.

 

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