Michael’s Miracle

Michael’s Miracle
by Samantha Bryant

It was a miracle. As Michael watched, the flatline blipped once. Then again, slowly. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes, telling himself it was just exhaustion and grief playing tricks on him. He had hardly left Emily’s bedside in the two weeks since the attack, hoping and praying for a change. He was underslept and overwrought. And now that she was beyond his hopes and prayers, it wasn’t surprising that his mind would play tricks on him.

Michael brushed Em’s soft, blonde hair back from her forehead and leaned in to place a kiss on the smooth skin there. Her flesh was still warm. He fought the urge to succumb to tears again. He should go and let the staff attend to her body. He’d have to make the call to her parents and her sister, then his own family. Em would want him to make sure that everything was done right. He’d been too late to protect her from whoever had done this to her, but he owed her a proper memorial at the very least.

Then, he saw it again. He had imagined it, hadn’t he? No! There it was yet again. A blip, and then another. He ran to the hospital room door, his face still wet with tears.

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Diana Falls

Diana Falls
by Matthew Wilson

“Richard killed his family last night,” Henry Arton said, turning the pages of his newspaper.

“The Benson lad?” Jennie stiffened, accidentally dropping her spoon. She cursed softly and got another from the kitchen drawer. “He was always so nice.”

Henry shrugged. It was old news. “Darn fool looked at the moon. After all the newsflashes, you’d figure some people would learn.”

“But it just seems so unbelievable, that it can make you go crazy like that.”

Henry opened his mouth to moan of youth’s folly, but snapped his lips together when Diana bounded downstairs. The subject was too macabre, and he’d promised not to speak of it around their daughter. He almost screamed when he saw she’d forgotten the golden rule of these dangerous times.

“Where your glasses?” he demanded.

“I can’t see with them on, Daddy.” Diana stopped skipping as she reached the bottom step and realized that a few smiles weren’t going to work. “All the windows are covered up.”

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Cat Nip

Cat Nip
by David J. Rank

Gwen sealed her hazmat suit, the county humane society’s blue-and-red logo on each shoulder. She slid a ventilator over nose and mouth, secured goggles across her eyes, and tightened the suit’s hood around her face.

“Can you hear me?”

“Luke, I am your … mother.” Chloe breathed heavily through her ventilator. “We sound like Darth’s spinster aunts.”

“Funny.” Gwen pulled on her gloves. “Ready or not, in we go.”

Chloe shuddered within her hazmat gear.

They stood on the sagging front porch of the arthritic little house, as gray and rotted as an exposed corpse. Chloe unlocked the weather-blistered front door, shoving the cranky-hinged thing inward with a grunt.

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Flight of the Lonely

Flight of the Lonely
by Dusty Wallace

Edgar tried to make it to the toilet without glancing at the mirror over his bathroom sink. He didn’t want to see himself anymore. His wrinkly, liver-spotted wings had been beautiful once, blanketed with golden plumage. The feathers had started falling away in his fifties, and he’d begun to look sickly. Once they were all gone, the pale, chicken-bumped skin embarrassed him. Now he was an 80-year-old man, and the wings were covered in the same fine, white hairs that filled his ears and nostrils.

Edgar groaned as a trickle of urine forced its way past his enlarged prostate. A retirement community, he thought to himself. Retirement from what? From a furniture factory, was the answer, but he didn’t see it that way. Retirement was what successful people did after a fulfilling life. He had simply grown too old to work and got dragged to this place after a heart attack 10 years before. He groaned again as he zipped up. His bladder never felt empty anymore.

“If only I could fit a bed in here,” he said to himself. “Would make life a lot simpler.” Then he glanced in the mirror anyway.

Most seniors feared giving up their freedom, but for Edgar, it was different. In the past, whenever he’d been angry or frustrated—which was often—he’d take to the skies. A few hours of seeing humanity from God’s perspective would cool his thoughts. Now, holed up in a 90-square-foot room that smelled like dirty diapers and death, he felt tortured.

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The Big Purple

The Big Purple
by S. H. Mansouri

Four white walls, like porcelain drapes, met Maggie’s weary gaze in every direction. The box that housed her was semitransparent, and the only sign of life outside was the occasional shrouded shape that danced across the walls like a shadow play beneath a cotton sheet. The ceiling was open, save for row upon row of cold shimmering silver bars that shot horizontally across the sky. Translucent, brightly-colored plastic tubes were strewn throughout the inside of the box, curving along the corners like neon caterpillars.

She stretched her neck upward and breathed in a concoction of scents: acetone, formaldehyde, latex, and ethanol. The dark, empty space inside these four walls comprised the entirety of her existence. However, Maggie knew from the slightest inkling of hope that the world she truly belonged to was somehow much bigger than anything the box-shaped unit could contain.

The ground beneath her was a mixture of wooden shrapnel and cedar dust that cushioned her every step in the darkness. Groggy and languid, Maggie traversed the yard, climbed to the top of a red tube and gripped her paws around a metal nipple that hung down between the bars on the ceiling. She chugged voraciously from the water dispenser, her stomach expanding like a furry, brown balloon. Satiated, Maggie jumped down from the tube and scurried back to bed, where she burrowed comfortably next to her cellmate, Fran.

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’Tis the Season

’Tis the Season
by Max Booth III

The cat’s heart had been placed on the kitchen table a few hours before the Man in Red arrived. Flies hovered above it, amazed at their tasty discovery. The Man in Red was not annoyed by the bugs. He preferred their presence and their taste.

Beside the heart was a glass of warm milk.

The boy hid in the closet, watching through a crack in the door. The Man in Red moved through the living room, a hefty velvet bag thrown over his shoulders. Despite his massive weight, his feet made no sound as they strode across the hardwood floor.

The boy feared the Man in Red would notice the whites of his eyeballs, hiding in the darkness of the closet, but could not bring himself to close his eyes. He needed to see this, needed to know that the monster had taken the bait.

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Dry Skin

Dry Skin
by Martin Chandler

He had the driest skin they had ever seen. He claimed to moisturize it several times a day, but his skin was dark and scaly and sucked the moisture out of anything. In many places, it was hard and cracked, and he worried obsessively that it would turn to stone if he didn’t keep up his daily lotion schedule.

Of course, his doctor dismissed this worry. “Skin can’t turn to stone,” she said. “At worst, it will flake off and expose a layer of skin underneath. The real question is: Why is it so dry? Do you work for a salt company? Or with sand?”

He didn’t, and told her so. She took some samples of his flaking skin to be analyzed, and prescribed him a topical corticosteroid. He left, feeling entirely unhelped and uncertain.

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