Swept Away

The river was not as cold as she’d expected. Moments earlier, she’d been on the surface, pushing the paddle into the churning water. The spray from the rapids had cooled her golden skin, and the sun had shone through the canopy overhead, tracing dapples along her forearms in the soft shape of leaves. She’d seen the wave approaching, as if in slow-motion, and felt herself pitched off, helpless, sucked beneath the river and pinned on the underside of the raft by a vacuum of swirling water. Squished against the soft vinyl belly, she was no different than a barnacle, or a greenish bit of algae. Except, she needed to breathe.

Looking up, she could see the shadows of the others. They pointed at the rapids, gesturing to each other in motions she took for panic. They were searching for her. A man leaned over the side and called her name. “Elyse!” She knew that voice — her husband. Noah.

He tried again. “Elyse! Where are you?” He turned to another, a shadow merging into another shadow, words fat like bubbles. “Where did she go?”

“I don’t know. She just slipped off.”

“Could she be under the boat?”

They looked down. She held her breath, not daring to open her mouth. The knot in her lungs tightened. She tried to draw them to her with her thoughts. I’m here, look down! The shadows moved to the other side. They didn’t see her. Down here! I’m right under you!


The sound of Noah’s voice was sticky, like honey. Her fingertips touched the raft and brushed the outline of his dark figure. No. She couldn’t leave him. There was the house; they’d just picked out the Dartmouth Cinnamon kitchen cabinetry and a red enamel Viking oven with six burners. And the dog. What would happen to Greit? She loved her sloppy tongue and mammoth paws. She loved Noah too. They were perfectly happy. No fights, no drama, just simple companionship. They could eat Chinese takeout together in silence. That was love, wasn’t it?

A whisper of doubt blackened her thoughts.

She knew what this was; it was the other man. She had never met him, but she felt his presence under the river. He was like a lost mitten, soft, dirty and smelling of her body. She and this man were a matching pair, and they came from a distant memory where shadows were origami and flowers sprang from their folds. This man — she did not know his name — was always present. Forever watching. She could almost see him, but not quite. He reminded her that she’d forgotten.

The knot in her lungs swelled. Blood pounded in her ears. Her vision blurred. The knot became a tourniquet. She couldn’t hold her breath much longer. Save Yourself, Elyse.

She exploded. She was a supernova. Shock waves swept across the universe. She pushed against the raft, not with her arms or legs, but with a cosmic energy which sprung forth from her body, leaving her skin tingling and fingertips burning. The energy was real, she thought. She didn’t know she had such power.
Suddenly she was free. The river pushed her towards the surface. She was now a fishing bobber, where — air! She could breathe again. Gasping, her nerves raw, she looked for the raft, but only saw pine trees and a whir of greenish river and gray granite. She was going too fast.

“Elyse!” Noah called. His voice sounded distant. “Feet first!”

Feet first? Of course. That was what their guide had said to do during the ten minute white water rafting lesson at the boat launch. He was only nineteen, tan from the strong mountain sun and wearing a UC Boulder T-shirt. He’d opened a creased safety card and held it up so they could see the cartoon drawings. “Aways go feet first. Remember that — feet first. You don’t want to hit your head. Let your feet take the brunt of the impact.”

She straightened herself into the safety position just as she tore passed a rock.

She felt its jagged surface swipe her shoulder. It ripped her shirt, and a trail of blood spurted out, leaving inky-pink in her wake as she was swept down river.

Another raft was up ahead. They were waving at her, trying to get her attention it seemed. But this wasn’t her raft. No. Hers was long gone. This was a different group. They were going to rescue her.

Keep calm. Save Yourself.

Yet she could feel the shadow-man watching her. He knew something she did not. He remembered.

Honolulu Luau

Heron stood facing the puppy, still in her pajama bottoms. The puppy looked back at her with crazy eyes, the kind where the whites show, googly and accompanied by a blank stare. Poodles were supposed to be smart, yet Libby left her wondering. Was Libby attempting a poodle mind meld? Was she trying to say something to her through osmosis? The larger question was — why did she do the same thing every morning?

The puppy had already been walked. She must be hungry.

Heron turned to the utility closet where the kibble was kept. One small scoop — a quarter cup measured out of a tweety-bird-yelow flexible measuring cup. The kibble clattered into the aluminum dog bowl. She opened the fridge and pulled out a can of Merrick Honolulu Luau soft dog chow. It was one of Libby’s favorites.

Or was it?

She looked back at the puppy. Her stance had not changed. Her little legs stood squarely, taught, her head tilted upwards and gaze trained on the can. Maybe Libby hated Honolulu Luau. Perhaps that was what she was trying to say.
Heron hesitated, then opened the drawer to the flatware. Her hand hovered between the large spoon and the small one. She looked back at the puppy. Her pink tongue flashed across her black, stubbly muzzle and disappeared. The large spoon then. Libby was definitely hungry.

Heron scooped a heaping mass of the drippy chow onto the dry food. She paused. How old was this can? She couldn’t remember what day she’d opened it.
Is that what Libby was trying to say? That the chow was spoiled?

She couldn’t feed her rotten food. No. That was just cruel. Dogs were supposed to be able to eat anything, but Libby was only eight pounds. A tiny toy. Salmonella could kill her.

Heron reached her fingers into the can and lifted a chunk of Luau to her mouth. Here goes nothing, she thought to herself. It can’t taste that bad.

May the Fourth Be With You

Ruby twisted her white robes around her knees and crossed her legs, revealing a peak of her huarache sandals.

“I don’t know Leia, it seems like a guy-thing.”

Leia shifted her intense gaze from the scroll in front of her, quill paused centimeters from the page, “Really? What makes you say that?” She lowered the quill and returned its tip to the ink well on the dark wooden table where Ruby sat across from her, looking more uneasy with every passing minute.

“It’s not like it was with Yoda. He loved women Jedis. Now we just have Luke, and let’s face it, his force is weak. Anyway, he always pays more attention to the male recruits.”

“Let’s try to avoid absolutes, Ruby. Always. Never. No one always or never does one thing or another. If you think Master Luke’s force has become weak as he’s aged, that’s a serious accusation. Perhaps more serious than the other you just made. Remember your place and rank.” A slight breath of air escaped from between Leia’s lips. She pursed them tightly together, annoyed that she had even let that much of her opinion escape.

Ruby felt the room buzz with force, Leia’s force.

“I’m sorry, Mistress Leia. I forget that he’s your brother, and I forgot that he’s my teacher. You’re right. I spoke out of turn.”

“Apology accepted. This time. Next time I’ll toss you on your ass. With my mind. Got it?”

“Got it. I guess I just miss Yoda.”

“We all do, now get over it. Luke is Master Jedi. Yoda retired to the beaches of Ishapstar. It’s an adjustment. But stop being such a weakling. Work for Master Luke’s respect.” Leia reached for the quill again, tapping the excess ink on the side of the jar. “Now, let’s get you signed up. I have others waiting for recruitment who would take your spot in an instant.”

The pen raced across the page in the narrow, boxy script Leia had labored years to achieve. It was just right, not too girly, more typeset than anything else. No little hearts or smiley faces to dot the I’s. This was a man’s world. Even if Leia knew she was stronger, wiser, better than her nitwit brother, she accepted long ago that she was to recruit and he was to practice. The force inside her was ten times greater than his, but she would never tell Ruby that.

“It’s a real commitment, Leia. I mean, this is it. Once I sign that paper I get my lightsaber. I’m officially a Jedi, Class C.2.1.1001.”

“True, Ruby. It is a path you must choose, but know that the force does not make mistakes. It is something you are born with, not something that develops over time. You have the force. Use it, harness it, learn from it.”

Leia reached across the table pen in hand. She smiled widely, knowing that Ruby would sign. Once she did, Leia’s quota for the month was reached and she would get her bonus. “Come on, Ruby. Sign the paper. Everyone wants to be a Jedi, right?”

“You think?”

Idiot. Ruby’s eyes widened in surprise and Leia worried for the briefest of instants that she had spoken the word out loud, ruined her chance for that bonus–a weekend retreat with Yoda studying advanced force self-defense. She planned to actually use it some day to keep her promise to Ruby–toss her on her ass. But Ruby hadn’t heard her mind, and Leia hadn’t spoken the word out loud. Ruby was deep in her own thoughts.

“Ruby, I know. Take the pen. Sign the paper.”

Ruby’s hand quivered and lifted from where it had rested on her lap. It moved through the air independently, like an toy that belonged not to her, but to Leia.”

“What? Leia, I–”

“Look at me Ruby.” Their eyes met and Ruby could see the darkness, the wickedness deeply rooted in Leia’s force. She was helpless to resist her, her force was too weak a match for Leia’s years of study and brooding hatred for her brother. “Sign the paper. Join us. Do it. Just sign the paper.”

Ruby’s hand moved through the air. She could feel the molecules stretch like molasses as she fought against it.

“You can’t, you can’t do this, Leia!

“I can and I will. Sign it.”

And with that Ruby’s hand relented and she pressed the quill to the page, scrawling her name in close proximity to her real signature. It was close enough that no one would ever believe her. How could they? She pressed the tip of the quill deep into the page, feeling it bite the wooden desk beneath it. It was done.

“There,” Leia released her and Ruby’s hand fell limply to the table. The pen rolled off the side and clattered to the floor, “Anyway, we need more female Jedis.”


Bife e Salada

“Do you need help ordering?” The man at the table next to Mia smiled and leaned in, speaking as if the two were part of a great conspiracy.

“I guess I do. I thought that because I can read Spanish I could read Portuguese,” Mia looked up and tried to smile, but his overpowered hers, which just came out weak and crooked, a self-consious grimace. She flushed a mix of embarrassment and charm. It was enough for the man.

He leaned in further, invading the obligatory personal space that separates strangers from intimacy, and jerked his chin to indicate that she was to come closer for a secret.

His breath was heavy. The words tumbled out of them in a flurry of musical cadence, “Don’t say that around the Portuguese, huh? We hate the Spanish.”

“Oh, I had no idea,” Mia felt red heat creep up her neck.

The man leaned back, all the way back, lifting the front legs of the chair off the cobblestone patio and balancing on the back two. He shrugged indifferently and with a precise and practiced movement, flicked a wayward strand of black hair off his forehead with the back of his hand.

“Americans never do.”

His features were angular, distinct in a way that were he to visit the United States, everyone could tell in an instant he was from Europe, not Cleveland. It was not clear exactly what constituted that–a subtlety just beyond the grasp of simple explanation.

Mia pushed her glasses up the bridge of her small nose and refocused on the tatty, stained paper in front of her, pulling absentmindedly on a strand of blonde hair, glad to break his gaze and return to the menu.

“What’s good?”

“Steak. Get the steak, but ask for salad instead of fries. The fries are shit here.” He bounced his chair back onto all four legs timing it perfectly with his expletive. “How are you in Lisbon and so helpless that you can’t even order from a menu?”

“It was a last minute thing. I usually try to learn enough of the language wherever I’m going to not be so…” Mia paused and pulled the word as it flashed in front of her mind’s eye, “American.”

He wagged a finger at her in disapproval. “Only Americans are always worried about being noticed as Americans in their travels.” The effect was equal parts chauvinistic and charming.

Mia scanned the restaurant’s patio and realized that she didn’t hear a single other table speaking English. It was so Mia to pick a place where she stuck out. It was a great flaw. Most times she wanted to hide, be a wall flower, observe, but she put herself in situations that made it impossible.”Well yes, I mean, we are Americans, so it makes sense. Aren’t you worried about the same when you travel?”

“No. We Portuguese love being Portuguese. Why would I care if someone said, ‘Ah, that man is so Portuguese?’ It would make me smile.” And with that the man did. A great, wide smile whose effect would have put anyone at ease. It was a smile that spoke of a deep kindness and vulnerability. A smile that communicated that this was a man to be trusted. At least with Mia’s dinner.

The waiter rounded the corner and the man seemed to sense the waiter before he saw him, flicking his hand into the air in the universal signal that said “I’m ready.” A large fat man with a dirty apron streaked with orangish handprints lumbered to the table like a great creature, elephantine but dim. His small head was framed with cheeks so round that it made closing his mouth an impossibility. His lips clung to his face, slack and gross.

“Yeah?” The rolls of his neck shook slightly with the single-syllable vibration.

The man pointed at Mia and smiled at the waiter. Mia saw that it was true, the smile seemed to hypnotize the fat waiter, and she wondered if the man knew he had a latent superpower that made all of those around him like him.

“The American, bife e salada, yeah?”

They both turned and looked at Mia. One tall and thin but sitting and then other standing but short and fat.

Mia smiled back at them and finally relaxed, “The American, steak and salad. Gracias.”

The waiter scowled and the man shook his head, “That’s not the right word.” But he was grinning, enjoying her mistake, and she felt she had permission finally to smile back and laugh too.



Pick Your Tune

“Pick a record, any record, any song. Go on.”

“Heavy D and the Boyz.”

“Oh you quite like to play the dumb girl card, don’t you Suzanna?” Professor Glick leaned back in the caned rocking chair positioned crookedly in his living room. He placed one hand on his bulging belly, tight and drum-like under his cheap JC Penny button down. The other he lifted habitually to his white mustache, ends waxed and pointing up, just one inch short of Yosemite Sam.

“Now, young mistress, pick again. You seem to have enjoyed selecting the one option you know an old man would not have.” Glick waved his hand theatrically to the walls behind him.

Suzanna’s eyes circled around the small townhouse. Cinder blocks lined the walls floor-to-ceiling with raw, unfinished boards that formed rudimentary bookshelves. The old man’s house was filled with them. Thousands of records, floor to ceiling. A lifetime of collection. A lifetime of obsessive hobbying. A lifetime to loneliness shrouded in the pride of an austere collection.

“The Water Goblin, Professor. I want to hear the Water Goblin.”

“Ah! She speaks wise words. Dvorak’s least familiar piece for most Americans.” He sat back and smiled broadly, mustache twitching joyously at the corners of his playful mouth. He was pale, and his cheeks flushed red with delight as he hoisted his massive, rotund frame from the chair. His movements were boyish though. Spectacularly light and reminiscent of a youth lost long ago.

“Only the briefest of moments, Suzanna. You doubt I know its precise location?” His eyes twinkled. That had been the game. The challenge. Any record, Professor Glick had it. Any record, Professor Glick knew its precise location, even if it hadn’t been selected for listening since he first placed it amongst his collection on the shelf.

“Only the briefest moments,” he nuzzled into the air spinning first to the left and then to the right, recalling in his mind with photographic precision, no doubt, the day he had come home with the record and soundly placed it on the shelf next to its brethren.

Suzanna watched as Glick moved through the house, running his hands along the shelves like a lover touching a body already claimed by another. First delicately, then curiously, and then giving into the passion that he had tried to banish and the lover tried and failed to protest. His breath quickened as he moved through the room and his cheeks flushed scarlet with excitement.

“Only the briefest of moments, dear Suzanna.”

“No rush, Professor, I’m here all evening. Remember, your party lasts until 10 p.m.”

Glick paused, resting his finger gently on the spine of an old record deformed with age and moisture. With the flick of a practiced finger, he pulled it from its long home, glee in his eyes.

“But, dear girl, you are the only one in a class of 600 that actually came. Why is that?” He now clutched the record to his chest, spun and met her eye.

“I’m not sure professor. I suppose I’m an old woman at heart, an old woman who enjoys the company of old men.” His smiled broadened and Suzanna marveled that in this moment, in her small skirt that inched up her thighs throughout the evening as she walked and her tight T-shirt that moved against her breasts with suggestive clarity, she felt safe. At home. Glick was not interested in that. Glick was interested in her company, not her potential to warm his bed.

“Ah! Excellent response, dear girl. Excellent!” He jumped slightly at the last syllable, perhaps an impossible response to the excitement of youth in his house at last.

“Here is is! Dvorak’s Water Goblin. Do you know what it is about, Suzanna?”

“I actually don’t.” She shifted in her seat uncomfortably. She loved the piece, but felt woefully uneducated when it came to classical music. Her feelings for Dvorak were nothing but gut responses to the Czech complexity and affinity for clarinets as a representative of mischievous women. But she didn’t even know that. Somewhere deep inside her, she knew it was beautiful, and for her, that was enough. It was like wine: snobbery aside, if it tastes good, enjoy it.

“I’m not sure I want to know.”

“Oh, but you must know! It fits you so well.” Glick’s smiled broadened and it seemed that the very corners of his mouth were somehow connected to that great belly that pulled more tightly against the buttons as related to the width of his paternalistic smile.

“You see, Suzanna. A mother tells her girl to stay away from the lake, but the girl doesn’t listen. She is abducted by a water goblin and has his baby. It ends badly. Too sad–the details would ruin our perfectly lovely evening.”

Suzanna sat back and closed her eyes, she could hear Glick move back through the room toward her, his chair and then finally hear his hands on the record player. She heard the lid open and the metallic slip of needle against record. She exhaled deeply and listened as the first notes of the four bar theme with simple three note harmony lit inside her ears. The timpani rang three times like a church bell tolling its warning. Her thoughts went to Glick and the townhouse.

He lived alone. He invited 600 people to his house and a single student showed up. The TAs didn’t come either. It was just her, a single student. The music moved over her and she saw the photograph in her mind’s eye. It was above the fireplace. Small. Square. Back and white and simple. A woman. A boy. She held him on her lap on a great carousel unicorn. It looked as if the unicorn would take flight, as it was in the up of its up-and-down. She smile and the boy, a mere toddler, waved to the camera. Suzanna wondered if they had been the Professor’s. Six hundred invites and only Suzanna had come.

The last notes of the song rang in her ears.

“Ah, Suzanna! Wasn’t that profound? Pick another!”



Sleep Sparrow

Molly leaned her head against the window. The rolling cloudscape made her contemplative. It was a different world up in the sky. The clouds were like mountains and hills, valleys and deserts. And she was a little bird flying over them. Like the sparrow.

She closed her eyes and tried to sleep. The flight was too long. This was the problem. She hadn’t slept in at least a day. Maybe two — she couldn’t be sure with the time change. And now she felt like she was starting to lose her mind.

Her mind drifted, but sleep did not come.

“You’re too good for this world,” her mom had told her once when Molly had brought the sparrow home from school. She’d found it sitting in a puff of feathers with its eyes closed, hunched on the asphalt of the playground. It had broken its leg and upon further inspection had a puncture wound in its tiny wing. A cat was the likely culprit.

The sparrow had lived, but what her mom had said stuck with her. Not in a way that made her think she was better than everyone else, but rather made her wonder what world she should have been from and what that place was like. Was it filled with people like her? Those who always felt like they really didn’t belong? Those who could see certain things that others couldn’t, or didn’t care to? Did they have moments of clarity the same way she did? Like those times when she could see the past and the present at once, and sense that something — or someone — was alongside her. Someone who was cloaked in shadows, faceless and hungry to be seen.

Yes, she needed to sleep.

Little Baby

There was a legend about the well in the garden. It’s deep, cavernous mouth gaped at the sky, swallowing light. Ruth peered at it between her fingers as if she was in a horror movie and couldn’t bear to watch the atrocities on the screen unfold. She inched closer. Just slightly. Just enough.

Ruth you’re a baby. Baaay-bee.

Stop it.

She reached down and itched her leg under her Easter dress absent-minedly. Her mother had purchased it from Sears. It was supposed to be special, but Ruth couldn’t wait to get it off and put her Dungarees back on so she could play in the barn.

Ruth is a silly baaay-bee.

Sunlight fell on the smooth stones that flanked the well’s mouth. Small, persistent ivy clutched and crawled desperately along the sides, looking for its way in. A crumble of concrete that it could hold, a small bump to act as a ledge. How long had the vine been creeping closer and closer to the mouth of well? Much like Ruth now did too. Unlike the ivy, she didn’t want to hold on tight. Just look. Just peek and see.

Ruth. Ruth. Ruth. Ruth. Ruth. Ruth.

It sounded a bit like her mother. Maybe a little off, a little different. Maybe like her mother as a child. Ruth wasn’t sure. These were considerations for much older people. She couldn’t yet fathom her mother as a child. In her mind, mother was perpetually mother. She always had been mother and always would be. Children had no room to consider their parents as actual people.

Ruth, little baby. Here, here, little baaay-be.

Ruth lowered her fingers from her eyes and cocked her head, pulling her chin toward the warm sun like a flower bending gently toward the light.

Ruth. Ruth. Come here. I’ve got you, little Ruth. Come and see.

One step. Two steps. Three steps and Ruth had reached the lip. All there was to do was look over and see who was in the bottom of the well.

Law and Order

He didn’t understand what he’d done to her, but he would by the time she was finished. His attempts to focus on the words that were coming out of her mouth continuously failed him. It was just so hard to pay attention. Everyday it was a new thing, a new reason she was mad, a new injustice he had committed. Everyday he must face her judge and jury of one. She had picked the fight in the living room just as he had settled in to watch Law & Order: SVU.

“Hey. Patrick. Hello?” Minnie put her hand on her hip. Whenever she did that she unconsciously pushed her hip forward and stuck out her lower lip – a lady pout. Patrick smiled up at her from the couch; it was quite sexy actually.

“Yes, sorry.” His eyes traveled down from her swollen lip across her delicate neck and remained there. He loved that space. The space where her neck and shoulder met. It was strong. Lithe. Feminine.

“Are you staring at my tits? Jesus, Patrick.” Minnie flicked her thick inky hair off her shoulder as she rolled her eyes.

He moved toward her and took her hand.

“So what if I was. I still do. Isn’t that worth something?”He squeezed her hand as he said it. Minnie softened just a little.

Patrick caught a glimpse past her as Detectives Odafin Tutuola and Benson tackled a perp running out of a bodega on the television. Minnie had picked this fight right as SVU started. She knew the beginning of the show was essential. Between the title page and the opening theme song was the most important part–the whole story began. Opening credit, then poof–a naked woman lying in bed with multiple stab wounds. Or, opening credit, then poof–murdered little kid in a dumpster. Miss the beginning? Shit, just turn off the TV. You’d never catch up. Patrick had missed the beginning. No point to this now. He might as well listen to Minnie.

“Minnie, what is it? What is wrong?”

Minnie moved toward him just a little. It was a good sign that she was giving in. He took her other hand. She didn’t resist. That was an even better sign.

“I don’t know.”

“Minnie. Come on.”

“Forget it. Go ahead and get back to Benson and Tutu-whoever. You are obsessed with that show.”

Patrick stood up and put his arms around her waist. He buried his face in his favorite spot and breathed in deeply. He loved the way she smelled. No matter how annoying she could be, he couldn’t help but love her.

He looked up at the TV. Dr. Huang, the child psychologist, was scaling the side of a sky scraper telling a teenager that he could help him get out of this after all. He knew he didn’t kill that woman.

“Okay. Let’s just add this fight to tomorrow’s agenda.”

Patrick guessed he might never know what he’d done today to upset her, but he was sure he’d do something else tomorrow. He didn’t care if he missed Dateline NBC.


He was a terrible client. The absolute worst. His agent Aggie knew it. Hell, even the rabbit in his hat knew it.

“Listen, Charles, you can’t just go around throwing rabbits behind couches, and thinking the crowd doesn’t notice.”

He couldn’t see her, but he heard the cigarette, the sound of air sucking through her shriveled lips. The wheeze as she inhaled and the deep rumble as she exhaled.

Aggie had been his agent for over 10 years and Charles had been in her tiny salmon pink office so often that his mental picture of her was complete in his mind’s eye: The roll of her eyes, the deep pull of the Marlborough, the way its tip glowed and advertised untold delights, seducing its the next user—moths to a flame.

“Aggie, I didn’t throw a rabbit behind the couch.”

“That’s not what I heard.”

Charles sighed. It was true, sort of, but it had been a joke, ironic. What kind of magician makes his rabbit disappear by tossing them, obviously and wildly, through the air?

“For the record, Aggie, it’s not a couch,” Charles muttered, “It’s a Lazy-boy that I use to hypnotize people. And I didn’t throw the rabbit. I said, ‘Quick, get behind the couch!”

He heard Aggie rustle in her chair through the crackle of her old telephone. It was pink too. But bubblegum pink. He had a serious suspicion that her office used to match that phone before she locked herself in there, closed the windows and smoked away the last 20 years. Charles decided that next time he visited her he would say, “Oh Aggie! That painting is crooked, can’t you tell?” and shift it just enough to peek and see if the paint behind it was the same nicotine-stained Marlborough pink of the walls or bubblegum pink.

“Aggie, the rabbit, it’s my schtick.”

“Charles, you have hit the big time. There is no room for schticks in Las Vegas. Let me explain something to you since you don’t seem to get it…” her voice lowered conspiratorially as if she was about to tell him him some rich secret, There is no God, or even a mundane tip, Sucrets are on sale at the Piggly Wiggly. “Rabbits are for barmitzvahs and birthday parties. No rabbits. No ladies sawed in half. And jesus-christ-on-a-pickle-stick, don’t say ‘poof’ anymore. People want illusion.” She let the last word roll slowly through the phone: Ill-ooooo-sion.

Charles rubbed the bridge of his beakish nose and closed his black eyes. “I like ‘poof’. It’s my thing.”

“Your thing? Please, darling. Not another schtick.”

“Look, Aggie, I respect you. You’ve been a good agent to me over the years and a better friend.”

He heard the clink of an ice cube followed by liquid tinkling into a glass. Scotch, maybe? Nice combo, Aggie. What is it in LA? Ten in the morning?

“But you need to back off. I let you do what you do best, now let me do what I do best.”

“But you’re not the best, Charles. You’re a joke. Do you have any idea what Copperfield’s people are saying about you?”


“Don’t sass me. Not poof. That you’re not the real deal. That you don’t deserve the Mirage—hell, that you don’t even deserve the Golden Nugget.”

Charles breathed deeply. It was ironic because he was truly a magician. Not just a guy who knew tricks, but a real magician. David Copperfield was just tricks with a million-dollar budget.

“Aggie, I’m telling you, I’ve been telling you for years, that I am the real McCoy. Have a little faith in me. ”

“Oh, I do. I’ve believed in you since I dragged out of that pathetic trailer in Wisconsin and pulled the bottle out of your hands. Don’t tell me I don’t believe in you, but—“

“But nothing. I’ll prove it. Listen. I hear your breath rattle when you breathe. It’s all that smoking you do. I have a serious hunch that the rattle is just the beginning. Isn’t it?”

“What? How dare you—“

“I know that you get up in the middle of the night terrified because you’re coughing up blood. Terrified because you can feel it, sense it growing inside your lungs.”

Silence hung on the line. The only thing Charles could hear was Aggie’s labored breath.


“You son-of-a-bitch.”

“True. No argument there. But you know I’m right.”

Aggie was quiet for a long minute. Charles would not have been able to tell that she was still on the phone had it not been for the wheeze of her lungs pumping in and out.

“Fine. Yes. It’s true.”

“Do you want me to fix it?”

“Fix it?

“Take a deep breath in, Aggie.”

He heard her death rattle.

“Hold it.”



She hummed that she was.


The Happening

There had been many theories on how she had been murdered, but none of them had been correct. In fact, no one would ever find out what had occurred except for Mae herself. And Mae wasn’t talking — at least, she wasn’t discussing it with the authorities.

She’d been told straight away, before the one-eyed man hit her the first time, that she was being welcomed into the Happening. He’d backed her against the brick wall near a dumpster in the alley, where she’d been crouching like a cat while smoking crystal. Her fingernails, painted black, dug into the mortar and her heart  raced, which made her armpits dampen inside her pullover that she’d decorated with  safety pins.

“What do you want?” she asked, trembling, understanding at the same time that no matter what she said, she was going to die. She’d never seen the Grim Reaper, but she was quite sure he was standing in front of her now.

“I’m inviting you into the Happening,” the man said. He was big and bald, towering over Mae with a pickax in his hand.

“What … What’s the Happening?”

“It’s a new life, Mae. A new start. You’ll change the world.”

In spite of her fear, she frowned at this. “How do you know my name?”

“Oh, I know everything about you. I know that you came to San Francisco because your mom kicked you out. I know that you left your sister behind, with your step-father. And that you live with the guilt of what he’s doing to her every day. That’s why you do crystal, isn’t it? Because of the guilt?”

Mae’s eyes were wide. “How do you know this?”

“Because I’m part of the Happening. And we know everything. Come with us, Mae. Seek revenge of you step-father. Kill your mother.”

“I … I don’t want to kill anyone.”

The man smirked and raised the pickax. “Too bad. Because I’m not really giving you a choice.”