"The Change" by Jennifer Vandenberg
The day Jamie finally turned invisible came as a relief. She was tired of people asking when she would turn. Her mom was the only one telling her not to rush it because invisibility was forever. Jamie didn’t care. Four of her best friends at middle school were already invisible, and it was all they ever talked about. Jamie had felt excluded.
Excited to share the news, Jamie ran downstairs into the kitchen. Her mom stood at the stove, scrambling eggs with a spatula that seemed to float as she held it in her see-through hand.
“Mom!” Jamie shouted. “I’m invisible!”
Her mom turned, the front of her colorful button-down dress now visible. “I’ll miss your beautiful smile, sweetie. It’s a shame you can’t change back.”
Jamie’s smile slipped as she realized no one would see her expressions again. Was this why her mom wasn’t celebrating with her? No, she chided herself. This was a good thing. “I won’t ever want to change back. Now I will know what my friends are talking about. It’s exciting!”
Her mom hugged her. “Today it is. Eventually, it will just be normal. It’s our burden as women.”
Jamie shook the doubts from her head. “It’s not a burden. I’m glad I went through the change.”
Something warm touched her cheek, and Jamie leaned into her mother’s hand. The gesture felt reassuring, but her mom’s sigh sounded sad. “If you’re happy, then I’m happy for you.” After another quick hug, the spatula waved in the air toward the stairs. “Go on, and wake your brother.”
Jamie walked away, sure her mother was wrong. Being invisible was the best, even if no one could see her, right? Puzzled, Jamie knocked on her brother’s door. Change was harder than she had expected.
"Non nobis, Domine, non nobis - Not unto us, Lord, not unto us" by Ryan Diaz
Oh how they loved Father Steve. Whatever he said was holy and right.
He arrived two years ago from the adjacent diocese and became highly popular among the faithful ladies.
It was his birthday last Friday, they praised the Lord before the barbecue, backstabbed the choir girl during, and walked him back to their Lord their God after.
The congregation gathered this Sunday, they arrived three minutes late. ‘No biggie, he is up there, we’re down here.’ They sang their hearts out, with their floral dresses swaying sideways and oblivious to the divine bread still sticking onto their fleshy gum. Lord have mercy.
Father texted on Monday asking for volunteers to help out the service, he got as many disciples as his Lord had in less than five minutes. ‘Father needs help. Stacey, you coming?’ They sat in the pews for an hour, scrolling for updates and adding to carts. ‘No biggie, He is up there, we’re down here.’
They brought their sons and daughters to the luncheon on Saturday and clapped after Father Steve put down his microphone. ‘Well sung, Father!’ ‘You should be on talent shows!’ They commented as they spooned their soup and forked their salads.
Prayers followed the luncheon and they faced the crucified Lord. Father spoke of his celibate life and the graces from the vocation. He thanked the ladies for the food and the Lord for the gifts He laid.
'See you Friday, Father Steve!’ It came out moisturized by an always-gossiping tongue.
'Ben, honey, forget what Father Steve said.’ It was commanded by another.
Oh how they loved Father Steve. Whatever He said was holy and right.
Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam — but to thy name give glory.
"Red Raw Knuckles" by Alan Kennedy
Red raw from knocking, Andrew’s knuckles throb like a cartoon character’s. When they deigned to open the door, a uniformed guard ushered him into this cubicle. Six hours squirming on the edge of the plastic seat. He checks his form to remind himself why he is there, goes over his personal information for the fifteenth time and pleads with the screen number to change.
How much longer?
Through the bullet-proof glass partition, a steady stream of smiling people trickles out the exit door clutching the coveted permission, stamped and triplicated. Two of them give Andrew the thumbs-up sign. The machine above the way in hums into action, whirring faster and faster. Andrew’s heart matches its rhythm. He takes a slug of water from his canteen.
Click! Sixty-seven becomes sixty-eight.
Despite his bladder being on the point of bursting, Andrew doesn’t dare to shift from his chair. Every morning for the last week he has repeated this ritual. Today’s the day. He’s not going anywhere.
The apparatus throbs one more time before cutting out with a wheeze like a heavy smoker’s last breath. Andrew jumps to attention when a clipboard holding civil servant strides out. The pin stripe suited man looks down at his notes and clears his throat.
‘Sorry. No more interviews till tomorrow.’
Andrew crumples the slip of paper with ‘sixty-nine’ into the wastepaper bin. Blinded by his tears, he shoves his way out past the queue already forming for the next day’s consultations.
"Hell's Cobblers - Stick on Souls" by Lesley Anne Truchet
‘Why am I here? I was a priest for God’s sake.’
‘Mistakes happen, Father.’
‘I want to go up there. It’s your mistake. Do something, you flaming horn head.’
‘To go up you must replace your lost soul. Try Hell’s Cobblers, over there.’
‘Hi cobbler. I need a replacement soul.’
‘No problem, Father. I can stick one on you. However in payment you have to nominate someone without a soul to die.’
‘I need the business. No one wants to be here.’
‘Ok. Hal E. Luya. He’s a Horrible Bishop.’
‘A Bishop. Fantastic. Come back in one hour.’
An hour later I found myself rising heavenward, my soul floating behind me like gossamer wings.
‘May I come in?’ There were too many pearls on the gates for my taste.
‘No, Father. You’ve caused Bishop Hal E. Luya to die.’
‘It’s the only crime I’ve ever committed.’
‘One is enough.’
‘But I don’t want to go back down there.’
‘You can’t. If you choose to leave Hell they don’t let you back in. You’re stuck with the multitude in Dead Man’s No-Man’s-Land.’
‘Hey. That’s my soul.’
‘Not any more. I sell them back to Hell’s Cobblers.’
"Morpheus boons" by Ashique Ali
The cat named Tottochan, a blacky black one with blueish blue eyes, says.
All the dreams are wet and drippy. A storm that keeps changing directions, follows you either way. Step into that timelessness, you bleed. If you come out of it you are the loneliest survivor.
Naked in the playground. Everyone around laughing. I wished the world end.
Wake up to the world which was still there, without any defects.
Childhood. Walked over to the toilet, pass water. If there is a heaven in earth its when you urinate after holding it for ages.
Wake into a wet bed and blanket.
Tottochan and me were playing. I passed him a plastic ball. Whenever the ball reached him it metamorphosed to a tiny rat. Tottochan was dribbling with it.
Later, mom digs a grave for Tottochan.
Life flourished with dreams of unknown continents. I turned to a dreamless being, a shadowless monster. I begged the Morpheus, at least give me a nightmare.
A parade of nightmares followed. Suffocating, drowning, falling, snake bite, lightning, electric shock, Tsunami. No casualties felt invincible. Even if almost dead, I wake up into an epiphany, it’s just a dream. That’s a wonderful relief, a reincarnation. We all reincarnate a million times.
We live a million lives in dreams, it blossoms.
Riding motorbike. Tottochan stood on the fuel tank like a steel logo embellished in front of the vehicle.
Next day there were three blacky black kittens with blueish blue eyes in the backyard. I’m not sure which is Tottochan 2.
Life is a hell, dreams pleasure trips, the only world I am the lonely watcher. A single show movie made exclusively for me. You cannot dream for me. You don’t even know my dreams.
Dreams continue raining.
"In the Garten of Ina" by Brandt Scheidemantel
I wonder if clouds get hungry, he thought. The sunset draped sherbet hues beyond the mountains and he felt as though he could taste the bare tree trunks in the valley. Maybe if he could snatch them up, they would crunch like chocolate pretzels.
Lately, he had also wondered about God, about the origin of things. The order to the day. A germinating flower, a robin’s nest. The architecture of sunshine. How, when the sun dies, the stones of the front stoop radiate like indentations in the sheets. Moonlight that reveals thoughts, bumping in the night. He gulped a finger of whiskey and leaned in the deck chair.
“If you don’t have homemade whipped cream,” reassured a TV voice, “store bought is fine.”
“Will you shut ‘er up!” he hollered toward the kitchen.
“Hush and drink your whiskey,” his wife responded through the screen window.
“Store bought this and store bought that...”
“You done nothin’ but buy from the store anyhow.”
“This ain’t Nam.”
“So I say, what’s changin’?”
“Harold, God dammit, you watched your mouth for fifty years. Don’t stop now.”
She closed the window.
The sky faded from rust to black and all depth was swallowed into darkness. Approaching his chair, she tripped the motion sensor light. He wiped tears from his cheek. She placed her hand on his shoulder and a cream-topped bowl of berries in his lap.
“Who am I?” he asked the darkness.
She grabbed his whiskey and sipped.
“Sweetheart,” she said, feeling his fingers squeeze hers, “if you don’t have a homemade order for things, God’s order is fine.”
"The Aftermath" by Clíodhna Russell
The door, shot through with bullets, refuses to close; a single hinge is all that stands between us and them. Outside, nothing is to be heard but the raucous laughter of beasts who hide beneath a mask of polished buttons and khaki. In the distance a loose bullet tears through the streets and I wonder who has left us tonight.
Huddled beside me is my brother, whimpering like a wounded dog. In the moonlight his tears glisten like stray pearls. The house is as cold as the night outside, but we dare not light a fire.
We have not seen Father since last Sunday. News of a bloody slaughter reached us the next day; I have not left the house since.
"Bridget?" He dares not raise his voice above a whisper. He knows what will happen if they find us. "Where is Mammy?"
I swallow the blackberry-sized lump in my throat and feel the telltale prickle in my eyes. I must not cry - for Samuel's sake. I take a shuddering breath and turn to him. "Mammy's gone out for a bit. She'll be back soon."
"Will she bring us something to eat?"
A warm tear trickles down my cheek, and despite it, I smile and nod. "She'll come back with fresh bread and jam, if we're good."
He wipes his eyes with the sleeve of his coat and settles against me, satisfied - for now. I do not know what I will tell him when Mother does not return. Before long, I will have to venture out for food. Sometime over the past few months, I have become a woman, and it I am not careful I will meet the same end as Mother.
The house is quiet except for a low creaking - the creaking of a single, rusting hinge.
"The Verdict" by Michael Conklin
My heart raced as the jury marched back into the courtroom with the verdict. I quickly assessed all twelve of their facial expressions in the hopes of gleaning a clue as to what the verdict might be. Juror #2 avoided eye contact with me. Juror #8 looked relieved. Was that good or bad?
In the fifteen-seconds it took them to sit in the jury box and deliver the verdict, my mind recounted all six days of the trial. The fourteen witnesses, the nineteen pieces of evidence, the countless motions from the attorneys—most of which I still didn’t understand. I thought about my experience on the witness stand. I naively assumed that if the jury simply listened to me tell the truth, they would understand. Now I could only wonder if it did more harm than good.
The trial was nothing like they are on TV. No dramatic music, no surprise witnesses, and no ability to turn it off and go about my life like nothing happened.
The jury foreman rose, unfolded a sheet of paper, and began to read from it; his hands were shaking almost as much as mine. “We the people in the case of State v. Sanders, find the defendant...” I knew that no matter what the next word was, it would alter the rest of my life. “...Not guilty.”
And that’s it. The rest of my life would now be separated into before and after hearing that sentence. The man I watched kill my son was free to go.
"The Almost Child" by Jaz Hurford
It is no secret I miss you. At night, my mind draws pictures of you as a baby to find sleep. Crisp sunlight comes and I recall the images while your daddy and I lie there, not yet full of morning air. Giggle at the very joy of you; you all soft footed, all warm milk. He often indulges me a while, though his lips remain squeezed together in passionless embrace.
When you come to visit, I fry meat. Ordinarily, your father abhors such practice; normal mealtimes for us consist of bowls of lentils, of thanking the Lord. I lay three places at the table even in your absence, as though the silent silverware may summon sudden knock at the door.
You always ring the telephone to announce arrival, though I gave you a key when you were just shy of ten years old. It’s open, I holler loudly, as I shake water from the boiled vegetables. And you step through, fresher than the new-found day. You uncork the wine; bottled the very year you were made. I plate our food as my head swills and spits out various greetings. Each one falters on my lower lip, tastes inadequate, somehow. Try as I might, I never have the words for you.
Thankfully, it seems age has weathered both our tongues. We enjoy the food without exchange. The silence is a gift inherited from him; the power to remain quiet even in uncomfortable places. But I know if conversation were possible, you’d tell me you’re doing well. New job. Perhaps a child of your own on the way.
"Six Months Since" by Zoe Biggs
“Stop being so bloody awkward.”
His voice raised above the noise of the pub, carrying the unavoidable point across the room. It landed with precision.
He must have sensed a weakness. I was wrong again. My existence of being quiet in a crowded room deemed incorrect.
I attended here only upon my friend’s invitation. Her birthday. An hours journey across town, but I was content until his words. A smirk creased the corner of his lips. The woman beside him extended a hand to his shoulder, and, in unison, they turned away.
They would not remember this.
The words ricocheted sharply, skimming each edge of my memory. It was these that would be screamed back by my mind as I tried to silence it once again at two in the morning. But, I have had no peace, even six months since.