Attention, SLM-ers!! Read me, Damn it! – KELLY FITZHARRIS, Editor-in-Chief

SLM family, readers, writers, team, and all who have ever derived any sort of happiness or satisfaction from reading this magazine, this is directed to you personally: 

I am sorry about the implied lack of communication on my part. It is definitely not intentional – at all. 

I just finished publishing all of the pieces from Paul Beckman’s ‘It Began in an Elevator’ theme that was originally scheduled to take place at the end of OCTOBER, 2016.

My staff have left me and not returned since then – leaving me to steer and navigate the ship that is SLM alone once more. It’s nothing that I’m not used to; but with the growth the happened over the summer, this is a ship that, if ran alone, is ridiculously difficult and slow-going.

Previously, the only way that submissions came to me was through word-of-mouth. Or, conversely, if I tweeted to a few writers until they wanted me to  leave them alone, then they might occasionally send me in a piece to publish.

Now THAT was navigable by one person. What SLM has grown into, however, requires a staff.

I have posted MULTIPLE, MULTIPLE letters on the site explaining this delay in publishing and that all acceptances still stand. I need you to breathe in for a moment and remember that I’m still human, just like you are, and that I, too, go through difficult times in my life. The things that are disconcerting and disheartening for me are: when I see a Facebook message asking me about an accepted submission. Please, just email me. I’m doing my best.

I have hired on a “Right-Hand Man” so to speak; someone whom I will introduce to you as soon as I am able to, as soon as we have our own groove. This person will, for the time being, be my new “Melissa.” (Melissa, I miss you. I love you and you are always welcome back, even if it’s years from now. Please know that I mean this with 100% sincerity. This magazine is always going to exist with your hard work woven into it. I will never forget the times we worked together and I don’t break promises.)

I’m excited to introduce my new teammate, someone who has been published by us before, someone who has been supportive, giving, and excited to be on the team.

Here’s what the schedule is going to be for now:

Carrie Redway’s two themes for November will be published in FEBRUARY

The themes that were supposed to be up and published in December will now be published in MARCH

Until then, of course, my new Senior Managing Editor and I have both come down with a cold that we both described to one another as being “manufactured by Satan himself,” but we plan to post some letters to introduce her to the team and the readers,  and it will give me time to finally post THE SLM T-SHIRT CONTEST FINALISTS!! This is VERY exciting, guys! As soon as I receive the other three finalists’ designs, I will begin putting the post together. All shirts will be available for purchase and I need you to vote on your FAVORITE! The winner’s logo will be OUR NEW LOGO for an unspecified amount of time – don’t worry, Gene Farmer, your original creation for me isn’t going to disappear.

In the meantime, go live your life! Enjoy! Write!

Cheers,

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Kelly Fitzharris Coody

(Soon-to-be Kelly Fitzharris. Or six months. Who knows?)

 

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Death at the Atlantic – by NATALIE WYATT

Death at the Atlantic

Natalie Wyatt

It was already 1:30pm and she was late, as usual. Phil hated people being late, it showed a lack of respect in his opinion. To make it worse it was her idea. She had chosen the Atlantic Hotel for this unwanted lunch date and as he waited in the lobby he could see the charm; the opulence was maybe slightly overbearing but he guessed that was one of the reasons she liked it. Apparently this was the current favourite of the ‘inner circle’. As Phil took this in he had a strange feeling of familiarity; he was sure he had never been here before and yet he knew, instinctively that the curtains in the rooms would be a deep burgundy. He had no intention of booking a room though, especially not with her, but he didn’t feel like he needed it confirming. Somehow, he just knew.

“Darling, you’re early!”

“No, you’re late. Again.”

“Fashionably late, of course.”

Angelica, the woman who at twenty one could have had her pick of the men, chose him. Phil had thought he was the luckiest man alive back then. He didn’t know why this beautiful woman would show any interest in him, let alone become his wife. Now he knew, though. Twenty seven years later he knew all too well what she saw in him. Success. Even at that young age it was clear Phil was going to do well in life and Angelica wanted in on that success.

Angelica breezed past him in a cloud of Chanel No 5, with only the briefest acknowledgment to anyone looking on that she was in fact here to meet him, instead of passing the time of day with an acquaintance. With a practiced movement she pressed the button to summon the lift that would take them to the tenth floor and to the ‘best restaurant in town’. Phil knew he was expected to follow, and follow he did. He had negotiated impossible deals in many high powered meetings but when it came to Angelica he knew she was not to be questioned, and certainly not to be denied whatever it was that took her fancy at any given time. That particular day her fancy had been to meet for lunch at the Atlantic Hotel. She had never wanted to see him during the day before, it felt like living in the same house as him was too much for her at times, so actively seeking time with him was unusual. There must be something for her to gain from this… or something she wanted. But, of course, one doesn’t question Angelica’s motives. And certainly not to her face.

After a silent wait that seemed too long, the lift arrived. Again, Phil was sure that the lift was usually quicker but didn’t know how he knew or why he was so sure. Trying to shake this feeling he stepped into the lift behind Angelica.

“It’s the tenth floor!” Angelica stabbed at the tenth floor button with her perfectly manicured nail and exclaimed under her breath why on earth he would think they wanted the twelfth. Phil wouldn’t have been able to explain why he automatically went for the big brass button clearly marked twelve, even if he wanted to. There, again was that sensation that he had not only been here before, but knew this place. He knew that that sound coming from the gears above was not normal, and this seemed very important. But why? Phil was not normally a superstitious man, he had become the man he was by thinking things through logically, methodically. He never made a decision based on gut feeling alone – if you can’t show your working, Phil isn’t interested. Which all went into making Phil feel very uncomfortable, he didn’t like not being in control.

Phil turned his attention back to Angelica who, until this point had been busying herself regaling the lift doors with tedious stories about how Tiffany had embarrassed herself wearing a fox fur to an anti-hunting dinner.

“She might as well have ridden in on horseback sounding the bugles for the hounds!” A satisfied grin spread across Angelica’s face at the memory. The heavy silence that followed was swallowed by a high pitched whine, like the grating sound of fingernails down a blackboard that was the start of a whole new chapter in Phil’s life.

Just as the sound was beginning to become unbearable, it stopped. And so did the lift. Unfortunately for Angelica and Phil the lift had not yet reached its arranged destination and was now sat in-between floors four and five. Angelica started frantically pressing buttons, clearly frustrated by the interruption in her day.

“I don’t think that’s going to help, dear.”

“Well I don’t see you doing anything!” Angelica sneered, continuing to jab at the buttons, more now just to be contrary rather than in the hope of it rectifying the situation.

“I don’t know why they didn’t put in a whole new lift system when they renovated the building.”

“Probably too expensive, I imagine.” Phil said as he watched his wife take in the unquestionably outdated lift. He hated agreeing with Angelica but the shabby carpet and fake wood wall panels didn’t exactly go with the rest of the perfectly finished hotel décor, and could certainly do with looking at. That’s if it even starts again.  

“Erm… Hello, this is the head of security, please allow me to firstly apologise for this inconvenience.” The tinny voice came through the small speaker just below the collection of floor buttons, “Unfortunately the intercom is only one way, but please be assured we are doing everything we can to get the lift moving again. This appears to be a recurring problem and we should have a technician here within the hour. Again I am very sorry for this inconvenience.”

“Within the hour?!” Angelica’s perfected air of indifference was now lost to panic as she shouted at the intercom, despite just being told it was one way, “Recurring problem?! Are these people incompetent? How can they hope to run a business like this? I shall be suing for compensation you mark my words!”

“I’m sure they’ll have us out of here in no time, dear. They probably just overestimated the time so it would look good when they arrive quicker.”

Despite Phil’s effort to calm his wife, Angelica would not listen and had instead started to pace the small area, which only took two steps to reach the opposite end.

“There’s no air! I can’t breathe in here!” Clutching at her throat, Angelica gulped at the air as if the oxygen supply would run out at any time, “I need air, Phil, do something!”

“What am I supposed to do? We’re not going to run out of air, dear. It’s not like the lift is hermetically sealed, if you just calmed down….”

“Don’t you dare tell me to calm down! Be a man, Phil, and do something!”

All the years of bitterness and coldness fell away as Phil looked at his wife, all her defences were down and he finally saw the vulnerable, scared woman underneath who needed help. Needed his help. Despite the situation, Phil was glad; glad he got this chance to see his wife again properly for the first time in so long. Determined to do something for her, Phil looked around the lift again for inspiration, for anything that could let some more air in. He noticed that the ceiling, like the walls, was made up of panels and hoped he might be able to shift one to the side. Reaching up, Phil was comfortably tall enough to get purchase on one of the movable side panels, finally the lift being small was working in his favour. Trying to slide it towards the door, it appeared to catch on something and the panel would only move a couple of millimetres. This time Phil tried to push it the opposite way and after a moment the panel finally started to move freely and he was able to rest it on the panel behind. As he was making sure the panel was as far back as it would go he felt something brush down his back. For a second he thought it was Angelica, maybe showing thanks for opening the hatch; however unlikely that was, he can always hope. Before he had chance to turn around Angelica let out a scream that would have drowned out the sound the gears had been making. Time seemed to slow down as he turned, first he saw Angelica’s face, her hands covering her mouth and her eyes so wide there was a perfect ring of white around her irises. Then he saw the source of her terror; he saw himself, hanging from the ceiling, the right temple covered in dried blood. Small pieces of his skull poking through the skin.

Unable to take his eyes off this inverted version of himself he reached up and touched his own right temple and felt something wet, sticky. Looking at his fingers he saw fresh blood, he was certain that had not been there before, surely Angelica would have mentioned it? Looking back to Angelica in the hopes she might be able to explain this, might be able to tell him he was imagining it, that there was nothing there, he suddenly felt like he was falling. It was like a memory of something that wouldn’t end, he could almost feel the air rushing past his face but he wasn’t moving.

“Hello,” The familiar tinny voice of the head of security came back over the intercom to break the trance that had come over both Angelica and Phil, “We are going to have to try and get you out manually so please stand back from the doors.”

Just then the sounds of men working on the doors came into the lift, the sound of metal on metal as they tried to crow bar the doors open caught Angelica’s attention and she turned toward them. Relief flooded her features as she turned back to Phil to share the joy that this ordeal would soon be over and the likeness of the body would prove to be just that – a likeness only. But he was gone, Angelica was alone in the lift with the body of her husband hanging from the ceiling.

VERDICT ON DEATH AT THE ATLANTIC

by Mark Gillespie

Six months after the body of Philip Walker, 52, was found by his wife, Angelica Walker, 48, on the ceiling of the hotel’s lift a guilty verdict has been announced for defendant Katie Fitch, 25. CCTV footage from the hotel clearly shows Mr. Walker arriving with Miss. Fitch and interviews with hotel staff confirm that the pair were checked into a room on the twelfth floor. The couple were in fact regulars, known to the staff. Details from the trial reveal that Miss. Fitch was unhappy with the fact that Mr. Walker refused to leave his wife for her and an argument ensued. Several witnesses recalled hearing shouting in the hallway of floor twelve but no action was taken. Breaking down on the stand Miss. Fitch explained how she had pushed Mr. Walker, not realising that due to maintenance the lift shaft was empty, causing the deceased to fall to his death onto the lift car below. Panicking, Miss. Fitch had left the hotel failing to inform authorities of the death. The jury took only two hours to come back with a guilty verdict for the charge of manslaughter.

Throughout the trial Mrs. Walker remained absent, leading to a lot of speculation as to why she would not want to be at the proceedings and if this was a reflection of how she feels at finding her husband was having an affair. Rumours continue to circulate that Mrs. Walker has in fact checked in to a private medical facility after claiming Mr. Walker had been with her in the lift prior to finding the body. Medical professionals have ruled this to be impossible – it was Mr. Walker’s suit getting caught in the gears that caused the lift to stop, trapping Mrs. Walker.

Miss. Fitch will learn the length of her sentence when court is reconvened in one week.

***

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Natalie Wyatt lives in Edinburgh, Scotland with her fiancé, Ric, and step-budgie Bryn. When she is not staying up far too late reading, she enjoys eating too much pizza and not even regretting it. After a long break from the imaginary, she is enjoying getting the creative juices flowing again.

I Lost the Five Grand and Much More – by PAUL BECKMAN

I Lost the Five Grand and Much More

 

Large high-rise office building—huge bank of elevators. I bet myself five grand on number 3. Number 6 opened up but since it was going down to the basement it didn’t count. My game—my rules. Number 3 opened and I walked in and punched 14 to take me to my lawyer’s office. A hand stopped the door from closing and a vision walked in—upscale business dressed, pencil skirt, double breasted jacket and a yellow fedora. “Fourteen”, she said as if I was the operator.

She looked over at the buttons and the elevator started to zoom up. “Quick! Stop the elevator,” she said and when I didn’t she took a step forward and threw the stop switch.

“I have an important sales meeting and my bra is twisted” she said taking off her double breasted. She began unbuttoning her white blouse and she said, “Shit. I forgot to put on my bra. Do you think this’ll be okay?”

She stood there, shamelessly showing me her gorgeous rack and took off her hat.

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“Do they look alright?”

“Gorgeous,” I said. “Simply gorgeous.”

“Feel them,” she said. “Let me know how they feel?”

“What kind of interview are you going for?” I asked.

She answered by pulling my head down to her breasts and they felt good and they were softly perfumed and her nipples grew in my mouth and I felt her hands on my crotch. She pushed me away without so much as a thank you and got dressed, threw the switch back on and in no time we were moving and she pressed twelve and exited without a word.

My lawyer’s secretary came out and took me to the conference room, closed the blinds and said my lawyer would be there momentarily. He was, not looking happy and said, “Your wife and her attorney will be here shortly. We had everything worked out and I just got a call saying we may have to renegotiate.”

They walked in, hostility trailed them and my soon to be former wife’s attorney opened her lap top and played a silent scene of me and the vision in the elevator from minutes ago looking down at us from a ceiling camera.

There was a renegotiation after her lawyer explained that the woman I was groping was the judge’s daughter.

***

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Paul Beckman’s story, “Healing Time” was one of the winners in the 2016 The Best Small Fictions and his 100 word story, “Mom’s Goodbye” was chosen as the winner of the 2016  Fiction Southeast Editor’s Prize. His stories are widely published in print and online in the following magazines amongst others: Connecticut Review, Raleigh Review, Litro, Playboy, Pank, Blue Fifth Review, Flash Frontier, Matter Press, Metazen, Pure Slush, Jellyfish Magazine, Thrice Fiction and Literary Orphans. His latest collection, “Peek”, weighed in at 65 stories and 120 pages. Paul lives in Connecticut and earned his MFA from Bennington College. His published story website is  www.paulbeckmanstories.com and  blog is www.pincusb.com

Between Stations – by FRANCIS P. CURRAN

Elevator

Between Stations

Mr. Talas felt the weight of his exhausted body shrink as the elevator hummed down floor by floor. The descent was smooth, but forceful. And with each passing digit clicking lower on the floor indicator, he could sense the growing struggle between the hurling clench of gravity and the unnatural resistance of the elevator’s mechanism.

“17th floor….16th floor….15th floor….,” a sterile, metallic voice regularly interrupted from the control box.  It usually bore a mechanical, feminine voice so devoid of emotion or care that it took to announcing the descending floors with brutal efficiency.

But tonight, Mr. Talas couldn’t help but pick up on something more in the unnatural voice.  An added sense, perhaps sinister. The intonation shallow and slyly deflective only to be perceived by a mind inattentive and wandering enough to entertain the absurd.

Like the scheme of a water snake just below a river surface, momentarily ceasing its slivering glide to invite its prey across a calm ford, the predatory elevator cast an environment deceptively ordinary.

Sure, the adventured, scarred naturalist eyes a smooth river crossing with an out-of-place skepticism married to memoried pain, bitten before from beneath a mockingly shallow, even current. But Mr. Talas could uncover snake traps of his own, modern ones created by stuffy offices. Unlike the practiced woodsmen, whose adventure he daily envied from within his fluorescently lit cubicle, his expertise was in the mundane. Demoralizing routine was a daily prick to vibrancy, drawing out seldom moments of surprise to the fore. The numbing, crippling regularity made him quite receptive to, and even excited by, the out-of-place.

        And so, a smirk grew across his face as the elevator descended, an outward badge  that signaled pride in knowing the subtle, chilling mockery of the elevator’s unnatural voice humoring him on last time. He had caught the snake in the act.

“14th floor”

But perhaps not. His smirk grew a grin because part of him realized the absurdity of it all. He thought himself logical, well-educated, and now a fool becoming excited by superstitious fantasy.

What he did know clearly today was the demeaning sting of a secretary. The shrill voice laced with disregard, handing him a last minute assignment with devious pleasure. Her belittling poison churning again through his veins, boiling his skin and temporarily scalding away his tired fantasy to reveal a fresh wound to dignity.

“From Mr. Steward. ASAP. Don’t stay too late now,” he remembered her saying with a wry smirk, handing him a stack of papers right as he was about to leave.

“This is the last time, I’m better than this” Mr. Talas now thought. “Six years, enough with the bullshit late-nighters. My mind gets scrambled, now hearing unnatural things. And for what? Some worthless document review.”

“13th floor”

His frustration simmered for only a moment, but becoming lulled by a controlled sense of falling, he slowly let his heavy eyelids descend. They closed gradually to their natural state, as would those of the thick wooden doors of his Sunday church—the kind that ordain cathedral churches—that shut with the start of mass bells, only to be opened with great effort.

“13th floor,” the unnatural voice again announced.  

Behind the shade of his eyelids, the world was a bare black canvass. He could summon the memories of his day, paint them on it.  He focused on the speed of the elevator, its growing  acceleration a mixing palette for the painted shadows of the day. A splash of morning rush there, a mountain of paperwork in the foreground, a sun-touch of the partners’ red faced ire to detail foreboding perspective across his corporate landscape.  Now watch them mix, his memories don’t dry. The images blend, dripping faster down the canvass with the melting motion of the accelerating elevator.  The colors bleed to form anew the imagination he so suppressed, giving calming creation to his eyed, canvass creation.  

Warmth overcame him and he loosened his posture, now leaning against the metallic elevator railing. Its cold touch drew his heated spirit to sensational ecstasy. His limbs went limp, completely succumbed to the faster motion of the elevator.

“13th floor,” the voice began to howl.

Suddenly, he felt no attachment to his weary body, just the warmth which seemed to penetrate his soul.

***

        Just as this ease promised to subsume his consciousness, the elevator came to a halt.  The parting doors let slip an icy draft that jolted him to all senses but vision, which was momentarily obscured by his heavy eyelids only halfway retracted. Mr. Talas crossed the threshold into the first floor lobby and his thoughts returned to the cyclone swirl of incomplete notions that so often battered him, all twisting aimlessly in his mind’s tempest. His struggle to snatch out of that wind just one fraction made him oblivious to his surroundings. Only the gentle voice of the guardsman reminded him that he did not exist on an island.

        “Another late night, Bruce?”

        “Another early morning,” he sarcastically replied, annoyed to be interrupted by the frail, old guardsman that occupied the secretary booth. He often encountered this guard, especially on nights like tonight when he stayed late. The guard’s bright demeanor stood in opposition to the dark shadows which danced across the glass-enclosed lobby. His cheerfulness always irritated him.

        “Can I call a cab for you? I heard the subway’s been on the fritz today. You shouldn’t take the subway.”

        “Save your breath, I’m sure it’s fine now.” Mr. Talas responded, hastily moving toward the door. He didn’t have time for chit-chat. He would need to get back to the office in only a few hours for another grueling day. Sleep beckoned.

        “Well, good night, Bruce,” the guardsman shyly replied.

        “More like good morning,” he quipped with equal parts self-loathing and disdain for small talk. In the office, he was powerless to make such curt remarks. But he thought himself clearly superior in this occasion.

        “Of course,” the guard replied.

The clack of his dress shoes on the marble lobby floor hurried as he approached the glass door.  Its transparency was fogged and in the dimness, he slowed to find the handle. Grasping the cold fixture, a chill ran through his spine and across his shoulder – a tingling uneasiness that compelled him to look back upon the guard with one last parting gaze.

He sat hunched and small. His shadow cast a wide image upon the towering walls of the lobby. This facade was much larger, foreboding and mighty as it flickered with the light of passing cars that gave it shape.  It aligned perfectly along the wall’s decorative fixtures to almost appear with wings. He found the image so uncanny in comparison to the frail guard that sat now smiling at him.   

“Oh, Bruce! How silly of me to forget.” The guard said slowly, catching his eye wandering along the shadowed wall.

“You forgot your cross.”

“My cross?” Bruce stuttered, his hand remained clasped to the door handle.

“Yes, your cross. It was left here for you to take. The cross examination from the Hedrin case? Mr. Steward left it for you to take home and review for spelling.”  The guard pointed to a bursting folder of papers he now placed upon the booth counter.

“Shit.” Mr. Talas mumbled, and hurried back along the lobby.

Feigning a disinterested smile, he took up the large folder, placing it in his messenger bag.  The heavy documents burrowed the bag strap deep into his shoulder and a look of discomfort streaked across his tired face.

“Heavy isn’t it?” The guard chuckled. “Yes, sir, I’ll stick to my little booth in my little lobby. Won’t be weighed down by bag or concern alike. On a clear day, when the clouds reflect off the glass ceilings, you feel so light. Like you’re flying.”

“Uh huh. I’ve got to go.”

        Mr. Talas walked swiftly along F Street outside his building, his pace fueled by sinking resentment. The cluttered fictions that played on repeat beyond his eyed rationality continually gave him grief.  He knew for some time that these ambitions were surely outsized. And they were often modified, whittled down here or there, but always to give shape to something enviable in his mind—a future image still of value, still a believable future self-portrait.

So he wouldn’t be a partner by 35? Fine, whittle away the excess, a successful litigator will do. Not even that, he thought? Fine. Whittle away more, the true form will be revealed. Wait, not even moderately well off? No family yet? No free time to create? What is there left but an empty hand when all the dreamed form is sheared away? Stroke by stroke, hope became fantasy and these cluttered fictions lent less inspiration to plow through the daily grind he justified as putting in his due.

The empty sidewalk sprawled before him, leaving no obstacle save for the spent wrappers and trash animated by the sticky August breeze. Even at this late hour, a waft puffed irregularly and offered no respite to the still oppressive city heat. It only minced the sweat dripping down his haggard face and invited more from beneath his baggy suit. The uncomfortable torrent of perspiration complemented the uneasiness of his mind. He longed for the cool of the subway station, its chilly solitude like a deep tomb offered calm for mind and body. A place where expectations were simple for both: wait for a train and sit in quiet.

        Just a block away now, his bag seemed to grow heavier, with the oppressive air sinking further upon him.  Sweat poured from his brow and caught his eye. The sting of the salted moisture triggered a quick reflex. His free hand shot up with a relieving rub momentarily blocking his vision.

        As if seizing a carefully planned moment, the thick wind picked up. A half crumpled box shifted to catch his unguided feet and Mr. Talas fell to the hard concrete with a dizzying thud. The fall heralded only by his cross examination papers bursting forth from his bag to sprawl across the pavement.

He lingered there on the ground for a moment in disbelief and dejection. A long day now made even worse. He could feel his torn hand pulsating with rhythmic pain and was sure that he had sundered his suit in some yet unforeseen way.

        The traumatic trance was broken with the pitter-patter of soft feet about him.

        “Hey man, you right as rain?” A hoarse, smoky voice spoke.

        Lifting his head up and heaving upright, he saw a man and an elderly woman before him. They both appeared homeless, in tattered clothing. The man was muscular and large. He wore a black t-shirt with its sleeves crudely ripped off. White paint was splotched about his ragged jeans, long ago dried from some paint job.

        The old woman was small and hunched. Her bones wrought her wrinkled skin in an uneven and burdened manner. Hunger had advanced her age.  She wore a homely light blue dress once a majestic sapphire and white, but long ago sun stained and spotted with dirt.

        “Name’s Simon. Hey man, can I get some cash? Mary here, my sister, you see she’s real hungry and she got some kids too, they just round the corner. You can’t see ‘em, but I promised I’d ask a nice guy for help.”

        Simon got close to him and shook his shoulder, his toothless plea giving off an unpleasant stench complemented by his great unwashed beard.

        “Ah, no, no, not tonight.” Mr. Talas stuttered and shook his head, avoiding eye contact. He felt uncomfortable among beggars. It was usually easy to avoid them. He’d either ignore any plea or walk past with a quick grunted ‘no.’ But with his papers scattered about, he was left to engage in this most uncomfortable encounter.

        “Hey man, you sure got a lot of papers. You must be real important.” Simon quickly hustled to recover from the initial rejection. He was well aware of the opportunity with his captive audience.

        Simon grabbed a bunch of papers, crumbling them to collect quickly.

        “Just don’t.” Mr. Talas commanded.

        “Hey man, no worries. No grumps, I’m just chilling here. Just trying to help, ya know? Be worth a few dollars,” Simon chucked. Mary stood quiet in the shadow of a lamppost, stooping with eyes cast down. A heavy, solemn sadness seemed now to crawl across her broken face, darkening the wide wrinkled crevices that zigged and zagged along all directions from haggard eyes.

        Mr. Talas quickened his effort to collect the final papers, but could not help but look at her between paces.

        “Uh, dude, I’m about to make you a sick deal man.” Simon interrupted, following close behind.  “You just gotta help us out here. I’m no hustler man, you can trust old Simon. I’m all business too. We’ll make a trade. I’ll tell you something you need to hear, man, for a few bucks.”

        Mr. Talas ignored him with a glare.

        “You really need to hear my advice, man.” Simon again implored, with a strange out of place urgency on his breath that almost tempted Mr. Talas’s curiosity.

        “Man, I didn’t want to do this to you. But I’m not going to give you these papers if you don’t give me some money. I know you will. You think you’re so important, don’t you? Man, you just a desk jockey in the grand scheme of things.” Simon chuckled with a veil of derision. He showed Mr. Talas a few crumpled pages of cross examination stuffed in his jeans, an early fail safe to extort him, Mr. Talas realized.

        Fury bellowed up in Mr. Talas, boiling to a brim all the inadequacies of the day now ignited beneath his sensibility, overblowing in a small matter nonetheless an easy target. Unmistakable was his anger, but to the careful—to the one who looked close enough, with a soul long sculpted by pity—it was all a rebuff to that engine of anger that long drives the just or the passionately maddened. As a child embarrasses himself with tantrums thought to be so appropriate at the spark, he betrayed his stuffy business formality for compulsive response.

        “They’re mine!,” he shouted, his voice cracking a note higher than the deep menace he intended. Flinging his bag down—the cross examination papers again spreading across the sidewalk – he swung his arms widely like a madman, ripping the stolen papers from Simon’s hand.

        “They’re mine, they’re mine!,” he screamed again and began hastily stuffing the papers into his bag that were again splayed across the sidewalk.

        “You two are con artists, you don’t even look related. Spinning a bunch of bullshit,” Mr. Talas was rabidly shouting. Saliva and sweat projected across his mouth, frothing and dripping down his chin. “You have ten seconds before I break out!” he heaved from his chest, his anger carrying his breath away. He didn’t even know what he meant.

        “You want money, you filthy pig. You money whore, good for nothing. Make something of yourself.” Mr. Talas threw a few dollars at Simon and hurried away. He brushed his suit down as his composure returned and hurried away along the sidewalk. He’d take a cab next time, he resolved to himself.

        Simon stood silent for a few minutes, his eyes following Mr. Talas as he hurried away.

         “Come on Mary, let’s go. No hope, one learns it through genuine charity.” Simon muttered, speaking in a now deliberate, clear tone. Almost like a different person. He turned and threw Mr. Talas’s money in a nearby trash bin.

        “There’s always a bit of hope to very end. But I fear for him.” Mary spoke quietly, pity pouring over every word.

“He gave me the money after all that” Simon brushed “And didn’t even care for my advice about tonight,” he sighed softly. Mary cast her head down.

        “He really shouldn’t take the subway.”

***

        The unbearable stench of rotten eggs rushed in with the warm wind driven from the dark terranean tunnel.  The subway emerged from its bowels, screeching along the rail metal – an unnerving squeal akin to nails on a chalkboard.  Its sound filled the expansive chamber of the station, echoing off the concrete buried deep below the city streets, drowning out a foreboding sense.  The cylinder blocks mounted higher and higher around the small platform, curving upward to meet many feet above. They cast an inescapable grey shadow. It loomed as an opaque presence, coloring patient waiters in a monotone hue.   

Mr. Talas felt small on the subway platform, even smaller alone in this solemn sarcophagus tunnel.  The arching ceilings, the muted red brick station platform, the impenetrable darkness of the tubes from which the snaking subways emerged: they all cast a large presence. Alone, one felt alien in this place, a bystander among a feud of competing arrogances. First, the voice of man, seeking an unnatural monument to his arrogance, saying: “we can build deeper, put a cathedral of stone underground, a home for our machines.” The second voice, that of arrogant nature waiting patiently, saying in reply: “how cute these blocks are, these toys – with one rumble, I can make my ground fall, bury all in a proper grave.
Both voices are sinister. Both voices silently echo among onlookers who wait with blank stares, their trances interrupted only by the squeal of metal bending.

“Doors opening.” The subway train announced in its sterile voice, feigning a welcoming tone.

Mr. Talas entered into the fluorescently lit cabin, the gaudy and tattered upholstery reflected the white lights creating a pale yellow atmosphere.  Mr. Talas felt dirty. The air was heavy and hot.

Squinting his eyes and adjusting to the lighting, he made his way directly to a nearby poll, griping it hard in anticipation of the subway’s forward motion.  His bag felt heavier than ever, its strap digging deeper into his shoulder. Stooping it down to let gravity do its work, he let the bag fall harmlessly with a thud. In the process, he now noticed his ruined pant leg from the earlier fall. The ire from the subsequent encounter – those awful homeless people, he again thought – boiled up for a moment. But like when a stove is turned from high to low, the froth simmered down and his senses returned to the grungy car. It demanded his full attention.

He felt none of the anticipated relief he desired in the subway station. Far from the relieving cold he imagined, it remained hot and sticky even underground.  The subway car clearly had no functioning air conditioning. Sweat continued to pour down his face.

Grasping for some relief, he noticed a pile of grungy napkins on an adjacent seat, no doubt the last remains from the dinner rush. They read ‘Veronica’s Pizza’ on the front of each. Cheap and flimsy, but they’d do the trick.  He picked up the lot in desperation to sop his paling face.

As the napkins covered his eyes, he felt a shadow pass before him, the subtle presence of another passenger. He turned around quickly and gazed down the car. He saw no one. His head turned to the open doors and heard the flapping of a crow’s wings. A black bird landed opposite of the door and stood peering in at Mr. Talas.

Had it been in the subway car, he thought? Staring intently at the bird, Mr. Talas could see worn feathers, crumbled in masses protruding from its skin. Its beak bore a tinging crack, crusted blood red. Having been observed long enough, it cawed and quickly bust into flight toward the towering ceilings above. Mr. Talas felt uneasy and even more out of place.

“Doors closing,” the subway announced. Slowly, the doors closed with a loud thud and clicked with a locking mechanism. Mr. Talas wondered why they would have to be locked so securely, but again his mind was drawn to the car.

It was long and empty with vacant rows of yellow and orange seats. They were strewn with liter from a day’s worth of busy travel.  The floor was no better. It was grimy and had been long abused by spills, spit, and spite.  The florescent lights buzzed lightly, except for those toward the back of the car, which flickered on and off.  The stench of rotten eggs penetrated the cabin.

The cab radio clicked on. Amid static, Mr. Talas could hear the muffled conductor announce “Next Station.”

But minutes passed and the subway remained motionless. It creaked and groaned under its own weight as if trying to heave itself alive.

                                                                                                            

Minutes more passed and Mr. Talas grew impatient. Hoping to glean the delay from something outside, he walked toward the closed doors to peer onto the platform. But remembering that wretched bird and wanting to avoid its stare, he decided better of it and walked back toward his bag.

In mid-stride, the subway lurched forward with the clenching sound of metal reeling against metal.  The forward start was abruptly halted with a loud screech and the subway came to a sudden stop having only moved but yards.

The stop and start caught Mr. Talas off guard. His mind was stuck on the grotesque features of that bird and he was unable to prevent himself from falling to the floor. His face landed inches from a crushed pink gum, ground deep into the faded fabric of the floor. The gum gave a decaying stench long transformed from the bubble-gum pink of its creation. Mr. Talas wrenched as he picked himself up. Feeling queasy, he quickly took a seat next to a window, his head turned upward toward to lights.

The subway again lurched forward just as Mr. Talas let off a groan. He felt the cabin pick up speed as it finally accelerated along the platform, plunging deep into the dark tunnel.

Again, the cab radio crackled to life but no voice could be heard amid the static. Turning to the nearby window, he peered out into the darkness. It was a thick and menacing breed. He could only see the reflection of the inner train cab on the transparent window. The darkness was merely a reflective foreground too solid to betray its inner intentions. His reflective view was only interrupted by the brief flick of sparks that flew from the rails as the subway drew faster into the depths of the tunnel. In those brief moments, its walls revealed themselves in their ugly grey, oozing with splotches of dark liquid. Shadows danced across those dripping, unnatural murals. Just as Mr. Talas focused on one point or another, the spark died and again the inside of the cabin grew clear.

Staring back at him was his pale, cold reflection. Blood shot eyes called his attention to its sullen depths. Haggard, he looked old and tired, many more years his age. His slim face was now sagging, shaped neatly across gently protruding check bones. His trim features had always been a point of pride. It lent a special dignity to his appearance that he long fancied as an outward signpost to the world, announcing his wit and inner grace. Body and soul intertwined, his physical features merely the vessel that would call forth his soul to the fore, showing the world his true worth. But tonight, his face was betraying him with an old exhaustion that reminded him of the homeless women he saw earlier.

Her wrinkled features again came to mind, but even her crippled appearance did not prevent the graceful, pitied depths of her soul from protruding forth.  Yet Mr. Talas could not now recognize the image from within that shaped itself on his face. Hints lay only from behind his eyes.

        Lost within these foreign eyes, the subway came to a screeching stop. Sparks flared from the rails and the reflective image disappeared as bright white flashes illuminated the tunnel walls, now just inches from the window.

        “You’ve arrived.” the cab radio announced clearly. He sat for a few minutes, his body hyper attentive and expecting a corrective jolt of the subway moving forward to its true destination.

        But only silent stillness prevailed. Stunned, Mr. Talas jolted up and frantically looked around the empty car, desperately seeking an explanation, hoping to goad the subway forth with an example of frenzied movement. At last he rushed to the conjoining door with an idea to move along the train toward the conductor’s cab. Locked tight.

        He could feel his face grow pale. In one final spark of thought, he scrambled to the nearby emergency call button and rang the conductor.

        “Hello? Are you there?”

        Static. No response.

        “Hey! Answer me!”

        Static. No response.

        Mr. Talas rushed to the other end of the cabin in desperation. Walking back and forth trying to think.

        The emergency call button came to life again. A low voice interrupted his pacing.

        “This is your stop.”

        “It can’t be. What are you sayi….?” Mr. Talas broke mid-word. Incessant flapping from side to side whirled from above the cabin. Claws scratched at the roof.

        Dizziness overcame Mr. Talas and he felt faint. Grabbing for the nearest chair he flung himself on the seat, his chest heaving up and down rapidly. No sooner as he sat, the hairs stood up on the back of his neck. A cold chill ran across his spine. He looked back.

        On the other side of a cabin sat an old man in black. He sat hunchbacked, staring at him with unblinking eyes. Mr. Talas slowly rose from his seat, strangely compelled to approach the starring man.

        “This is your stop.” The old man spoke with the same voice that came from the emergency box. Mr. Talas stood still in dread. The man’s cataract eyes pierced him, they stood forever unshaded with no eyelids. Only an unfathomable dread came from these clouded, bloodshot eyes.  

        “This is your stop,” he repeated.

“Forever.”

        The old man spoke these words with strange conceit. In a moments flash, he felt the unbearable weight of crushing from deep within. Mr. Talas fell to his knees and begged.

“Please. Please…”

       

        “You exhausted your chances and it pleases me.”

“But…” Mr. Talas was weeping now.

“Thought I was going 0-4 tonight. Three spiteful women just died in a crash on Jerusalem Street. Barely missed grabbing them. But unfortunately for you, I can always count on pride. You exchanged your cross for another.

“After you died, He gave you one last chance, but you passed it up.”

        “How did I…die?” Mr. Talas sheepishly asked.

        “In the elevator.”

        The old man disappeared. Mr. Talas toppled over and crumpled to the ground. His grief was overwhelming as he lay motionless of the floor, oppressive heat bearing down on him like an anchor.

        From watered eyes, he glanced around the cabin. All alone, sweat poured down his brow and an intense thirst overcame his throat.

        In manic frenzy for any kind of relief, he stripped off his clothes and scrambled around the cabin, rummaging through the litter.  Perhaps some left over water or soda lay hidden in the cans.

        But it hit him. Paralyzed by fear and feeling millions of miles from anyone. Purely alone.

        He slumped down along a window with eyes fixed forward. They no longer beheld fantasies of the future, but visages of a short life.

They would keep him occupied in the subway coffin, forever a mix of terrible longing and memories of days once lived, consisting mostly of paperwork.

 

                                                                    ———

        A convulsive jolt awoke him. His eyes turned wide as he inhaled deeply, just as a struggling swimmer reaching the surface with just seconds to spare.  The cold sweat that drenched his shirt held the fabric uncomfortably across his torso. He clawed at his chest seeking relief from the skin tight embrace.

        Thrashing his arms about, he was feeling again the freedom of his body, knocking papers across his desk as his senses came revived from dream’s kingdom.  Amid clouded eyes, he realized he was in his office, at his desk.  

        It must have been a nightmare. He wasn’t sure how else to explain his current state in the office. But all the memories of it were still crystal clear and he trembled with phantom fear, the everlasting dread he felt in the subway cabin was lurking about his being. It was as if fear was taking form, hiding unseen behind cabinets or office chairs setting a trap and waiting to spring from all those symbols of drab routine made anew in the dark.  Never before had he been so skeptical of the ordinary, sensing such a distrustful unreality of visions that dance to and fro day and night within his mind’s inner sight.

Standing now on weak knees, he looked around the vacant office grasping at familiar objects to ground himself in this reality, trying to convince himself. Resolved that being outside would dissolve any doubts, he made for the elevator.

But he remembered what the old man in black said about it.

Should he take the stairs? No, he decided. This was the only way to know, to be attentive to the ordinary and fully revel in it.

        The great metal doors opened and as he crossed the elevator’s threshold. Mr. Talas trembled as he stood staring at the floor indicator as it descended steadily. Every bump and twitch was magnified as he forced himself to concentrate on the physical presence of the elevator. Pain shot up his arm from his intense grip on the railing.

        “Ground floor.” The elevator finally announced. He eyed the elevator with an optimistic skepticism before striding out into the lobby.

        “Bruce.” A meek voice called from the guard booth just as he stepped outside.

        “You forgot your cross.”

       

        ***

Francis Phillip Curran is a law student in Philadelphia. When he’s not sifting through dense casebooks, he writes poetry and fiction as a creative outlet. He’s only beginning to explore sharing his work with a wider audience and is happy to be making this debut with Sick Lit Magazine. 

       

 

 

The Reflection in the Mirror – by SEBNEM SANDERS

The Reflection In The Mirror

 

It didn’t begin in the elevator, but it started with the photograph taken in the elevator. My niece, Lara, sent me the picture from Berlin. The black and white shot could have been from a classy fashion magazine. A trendy couple, both wearing hats and dark sunglasses, and confidence clothes only young people look good in. Casually elegant, street-style, very Berlin.

I saved the photo and kept looking at it, until it dawned on me. The mobile snap summarized all my feelings. It was the reflection in the mirror, the split image on the right that showed her in two parts. In one portion, she’s half of a couple, in the other she’s following her dreams. This was my worry, what I wanted to say. Don’t stop chasing your personal goals. Don’t allow yourself to be submerged by your lover’s wants and needs. Don’t compromise on your ideals. You’re doing so well …

These thoughts had occupied my mind, ever since the carefree party girl began to date this young man. Will she let him change her plans? No, she won’t, she’s too smart for that. Should I talk to her, say something? My gut feeling said, No. Besides, who am I to give advice? I’ve done exactly what I fear for her, not once, but twice.

Did advice work? NO. Does anyone learn from advice? NO. So, does it make you a worthy person to try to protect someone from making a mistake, if this is one? You haven’t even met the guy. You’re imagining things to satisfy your ego. I told you so, I warned you. I’m free now, blah, blah …

Let her learn from her mistakes. She’s entitled to that. Set her free from your experience and baggage. Let her deal with her own Karma. Maybe she’ll be happier this way. Don’t be judgemental. Who are you, her guardian angel?

You’re making up stories. Maybe they’re not in an elevator. Perhaps they’re just strolling out of the hotel lobby or a restaurant. The split image is a convenient coincidence, you’re using it to transfer your anxieties.

Next time I spoke with Lara, I said I loved the photo and asked who took it. She said she did, capturing their reflection in the elevator mirror, with her phone. She also told me there’s a special process for converting the pictures into black and white images. Something I must learn.

All I said was, “I find it very inspiring. I’m going to write a story about it.”

***

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Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the Eastern shores of the Southern Aegean Sea where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have been published on the Authonomy Blog,  The Drabble, and  Sick Lit Magazine. More information on her work can be found at her website: https://sebnemsanders.wordpress.com/ where she publishes some of her work.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sebnemsanders

**Featured image courtesy of Sebnem Sanders**

It Began in an Elevator – by AMANDA EIFERT

It Began In An Elevator

It began in an elevator.

One of those unexpected moments which occur in life. You were gazing at me and I looked up at you transfixed; there was a sparkle in your blue eyes.

As the elevator went higher, the people emptied out onto their respective floors. Eventually, we were alone.

I felt my breathing quicken and could hear your breath speed up beside me. I listened to you breathe, your breaths going in and out. Desire for you rushed through my veins.

There had been a meter between us in the elevator, now you somehow were right beside me. I could smell your cologne, ocean, vanilla, and a note of something sweet.

I felt your eyes peering down at me, inspecting me from head to toe. The mirrors around the elevator reflected my image: Shiny black booties, polka-dot hose, a black A-line skirt, and a hot-pink sleeveless blouse. Makeup lightly done, eyes bare except for mascara and black eyeliner, and pink lipstick. My light blond hair was braided, stray hairs framing my face.

You saw me catch you, giving me the once over and you smiled genuinely, daring me to look you over. My eyes discovered your form: tall, and lithely muscled, wearing a navy pin stripped suit, grey dress shirt, and a grey-blue tie. The tie matched your blue eyes exactly and your face was freshly shaved with a defined jaw; brown hair curling slightly at your collar.

I blushed, staring at my booties, comparing them to your designer shoes. It felt as if the elevator wasn’t moving at all, or maybe time was standing still.

“You look pretty,” you told me. Your voice deep and a bit husky. “I like your perfume, it’s floral but not overwhelming; it smells delicious.” You gave me a devastating smile and I nearly swooned.

Instead, I gathered my wits and smiled back at you, blushing.”I like your navy suit,” I stammered. “The blue, blue of the tie and the navy of the suit, it matches your great eyes. And your cologne, it smells wonderful.”

I couldn’t believe what I said. I saw you grinning at me from the corner of my eye as I stared shyly down at my boots.  It wasn’t normal for me to be so nervous but my heart beat furiously, around you.

You tipped my chin up to look me in the eye.

“The elevator. It’s not moving,” I said.

You chuckled, “I made it stop. If only for a moment or two.”

“Why?”

But then, your lips touched mine. Soft and questing at first. Gently, coaxing my month open, until your tongue danced inside. Rubbing and sucking on my tongue, causing me to sigh and fall against you.

I returned your kiss grabbing the lapels of your jacket, kissing you harder, wanting more of you, of your magic taste, your delicious mouth all over my skin. Your arms came around my body, holding me close.

Suddenly, the elevator started moving up again. We both pulled back from each other panting.

“Why did it start again?” I asked.

You gazed at me with your intense blue eyes, still gathering yourself. “I’m not sure. You have to have high-clearance to make the elevator start and stop. I didn’t make the elevator move again. Believe me!”

Before we could say more, a beautiful woman with dark hair, walked into the elevator on the twenty-sixth floor. The woman smiled at us both, not oblivious to what had gone on between us minutes before.

“You have lipstick on your face, darling,” she said to you. Your face went pale and you tried to speak but the woman only laughed at you.”Don’t say a thing, you do this all time. But I’m your wife and I know, you’ll always come back to me.”

Your wife exited at the top most floor and you gave me a meaningful look, whispering: “I’m sorry.” In only a few minutes, you broke my heart.

What is it about elevators? I wondered later. My recent experience with you made me think of many TV shows and movies, where elevators have great symbolic and/or metaphorical value.

Elevators are the place for the beginnings of trysts and romances, as I had hoped today would be. They are the places stopped in order for people to reveal truths and secrets. They are a place where often, everyday manners and values are forgotten quickly. Elevators can even be symbolic of life and death.

Today, I felt cheated. I thought the elevator was our beginning. In reality, I had been caught in the middle of some rotting relationship. You were extremely deceitful and right now, I can’t forgive you for what you did. Your lies have killed my attraction to you.

So much so, on Monday when I see you get into an elevator, I will wait for the next elevator going up to arrive. I know you’ll notice, it’s exactly what I hope.

***

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Amanda Eifert is a writer, blogger, and student from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She enjoys yoga, walking, drawing, the Edmonton sports scene, and spending time with her friends and family. Her blog is www.mandibelle16.wordpress.com and includes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction writing. She has her BA in English Literature from Concordia University of Edmonton.

Elevator Music – by MELISSA LIBBEY

It happened in the elevator.

He dropped my bags on my floor. The sweet whistle of an unknown song played above us. It flowed out of the speakers at such a low volume that I almost didn’t notice it. But the slow melody got stuck in my head.

He dropped my bags beside my feet and looked into my eyes. The aqua blue mixed with gray created one of the most beautiful colors I have ever seen.

His eyes were enough to make me want to stay.

That day I packed my bags.

I did it while he was at work. I flew through the bedroom with purpose and shoved anything I could find into my two duffel bags. He walked through the door before I could finish. The look of disbelief on his face was enough to break my heart, but I wouldn’t let it.

He asked me to move in with him three months ago. I said yes, but I moved my stuff in little by little. I kept expecting him to change his mind.

He never did.

I found myself lying awake each night wondering if I had made a mistake. Tossing and turning to find that he was sleeping through the night while I lied awake wondering if he truly loved me.

Every time I asked him he would just say, “Of course I do.” He would laugh it off and kiss me on my forehead. But I never felt like that was enough. He had a way of laughing everything off. It used to make me smile but sometimes I wanted him to feel what I felt. I wanted him to yell and scream like I did. But he always just smiled instead. So I stared at the ceiling fan every night while I listened to him sleep. I did that every night until I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, I can’t stay here anymore.”

“Why?”

When he asked me why, the sadness in his eyes said it all. I didn’t know what to say. At night I planned the words in my head. I recited them over and over while I finally drifted off to sleep. But now, I couldn’t remember them as he stood in front of me, defeated.

        “I don’t think I was ready for this. I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”

He walked over to me and put his arms around me as I placed my head on his chest.

        “Please don’t go.”

        “I have to. I feel like I’ll suffocate here.”

He picked up my bags and walked to the door.

        “At least let me walk you down to your car.”

I thought it was a nice gesture.

I was in love with him.

I wanted him to fight for me.

I couldn’t live up to the woman he wanted me to be. That pressure weighed down on me every day. I was ready to let it all go, to feel free.

That’s when we entered the elevator. He pushed the button and I pressed myself up against the back wall and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath and opened them to see him looking at me.

He dropped my bags. He put his arms on either side of me up against the wall. His face was inches from mine.

        “Stay.”

        “I can’t.”

        “But I love you.”

I looked into those amazing blue eyes and I could see that he meant it. He took my head in his hands and kissed me deeply. The elevator had reached the main floor. The doors chimed and then opened.

I walked over to the door and turned to look back at him. I reached over and hit the button for our floor and I stared in to his eyes while the door closed behind us and the elevator brought us home.

***

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Melissa Libbey is a recent graduate with her MA in English and Writing Studies. She is also the first intern (turned Senior Editor) for Sick Lit Magazine (she’s currently on sabbatical). When she isn’t writing or reading, she can be found drinking wine while petting her dog. She has also been published on Thought Catalog, Kean Xchange and her twitter: @Miss_Libbey16

One Floor Up – by DON TASSONE

ONE FLOOR UP

by Don Tassone

It began in an elevator.

It was just after noon on a Wednesday. I was on my way to the cafeteria. It was only three floors up. Normally, I would’ve taken the stairs. But I was in a hurry, just grabbing a sandwich to eat at my desk.

The elevator stopped at eight. You were standing there alone, holding a book.

“Ten, please,” you said softly, as you stepped inside. Then, as you turned around, you saw the button was already lit. “Never mind,” you added, with a small laugh.

You were standing right in front of me. Under the bright ceiling lights, I noticed the red in your chestnut brown hair and a few strands of grey too.

The doors opened at nine. Several more people got in. You took a step back, and your left heel came down hard on the toe of my left shoe.

“Ow!”

You wheeled around.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” you exclaimed.

Turning around that way just as the elevator started ascending again threw you off balance. Instinctively, I gripped your upper arms from behind and steadied you.

“It’s OK,” I said.

Your arms were surprisingly firm under your white blouse. You faced forward and said nothing more. I imagined you were embarrassed.

The doors opened, and everyone got out. I walked over to the deli counter. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see you heading to the salad bar.

As I stood in line, I watched you place a plate, silverware, a napkin and your book on a tray and make your salad. I noticed how slender you were and how snugly your black skirt fit.  You were wearing low heel pumps. No wonder my left foot was throbbing.

You stepped over to the drink station. I noticed your toned calf muscles. You dispensed Diet Pepsi over ice into a plastic glass.

You waited in a short line for the cashier. I didn’t see anyone with you. You paid, stopped for some salad dressing and headed into the dining room.

I grabbed my sandwich and a drink and headed back to my office. As the elevators passed the eighth floor, I wondered if that’s where you work.

#

You were at least ten years my senior. But for the rest of that day and all the next morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I wondered if you went to the cafeteria for lunch every day.

I took a chance. Just after noon, I got on the elevator. Once again, it stopped at eight.  And once again, there you were.

Today you were wearing a light blue sweater and a dark blue skirt. Once again, you were holding a book. You turned around as the doors closed. Once again, you stood right in front of me. And once again, the doors opened at nine, and several more people got in.

This time, though, you looked down before stepping back. The elevator was more crowded today, and I needed to move back too to make room. But I could go no farther. My back was against the wall. You avoided stepping on my toes. But you backed into me, your bottom pushing against my thigh, your back against my chest.  Once again, instinctively, I gripped your upper arms.

“Pardon me,” I said. But I didn’t let go.

You turned your head and looked up at my face.

“It’s OK,” you smiled.

I dropped my hands. But your backside remained pressed against me. Your hair smelled like flowers. I looked down at your left hand and noticed you weren’t wearing a ring.

The doors opened at ten. Everyone got out. You looked over your shoulder. Your eyes were honey-brown.

“Goodbye,” you smiled.

I waited in line for a sandwich again and watched as you made your salad and headed into the dining room alone.

#

It was Friday. Everyone in my office dresses down on Friday. Some even wear jeans. But today I wore a suit, though without a tie.

All morning, I kept checking the clock. A few minutes after noon, I got into the elevator.  I prayed that the doors would open at nine.

They did. And there you were!

Today you were wearing a sleeveless, red dress. Your hands were empty, folded in front of you. You were looking at the spot where I always stand. When you saw me, you smiled.

“Hello again,” you said.

“Hello,” I smiled.

Once again, you stood right in front of me. Once again, when people crowded in on nine, you pressed against me. And once again, I gripped your upper arms. This time, though, I could feel your skin. It was soft, with goosebumps.

“Have a good weekend,” you said, turning to me as you got out. Your step, like your body, was lithe.

“You too,” I said.

I watched you get in line for salad. I couldn’t take my eyes off you in that dress.

Waiting for my sandwich, I watched you disappear into the dining room. But this time, I headed there too.

I saw you sitting alone at a table next to a window. As I walked toward you, you saw me.  In the sunlight, you looked older and even lovelier.

“Would you like some company?” I asked.

“I’d love some,” you smiled.

#

***

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Don Tassone lives in Loveland, Ohio and teaches public relations at Xavier University in Cincinnati.  His stories have appeared in a range of literary magazines.  They’re posted at http://dontassone.com

 

The Elevator – by SARA CODAIR

The Elevator

By Sara Codair

 

It began in an elevator.

Alfred sneezed on the button, and June touched it.

June coughed on the doorknob before Brandon turned it.

Brandon drank from Elizabeth’s glass and backwashed into it.

Elizabeth sneezed onto her hands. She didn’t wash them before distributing fliers.

 

It started out like a cold with

Stuffy nose, coughing fits and itchy eyes.

It progressed like influenza with

High fever, aching joints and sore throats.

 

It sprouted sores that itched like chicken pox and burned like shingles.

It attacked human brains like those rare amoeba’s that lurk in warm lakes.

 

It ended like the plague.

Bodies dumped in mass graves.

Scientist shunned – replaced with mystics.

Entire city blocks burned with cleansing fire.

 

Billie was born in a ruined world. Mobs roamed the streets like rabid dogs while families hid in the decrepit shells of suburban homes, growing whatever crops they could squeeze into fenced in yards. Illness wasn’t tolerated out of fear that it would spread like wild fire and finish the humans off once and for all. When Billie got the sniffles, he was to be burned in the cleansing fire. His mother wept and wailed. The lines around his father’s face hardened. Billie had seen other children burned. He had seen how their mothers broke while their bodies bubbled, burst and blackened. It was not a fate Billie wanted.

He ran.

He ran down the streets that he had played on in the day and feared at night, past his neighbors houses to a place he had never been. The buildings were tall and leaning. Their windows were broken and their insides were black like rotten skulls.

The buildings got taller and taller and the mob got closer and closer. Billie’s feet were cut and bloody, his clogged lungs burning from effort. He was exhausted, unable to run much longer.

He rounded a bend ahead of the mob and ducked into the tallest building he had ever seen. On the outside, its walls were gray stone. Inside was mix of cracked tile, crumbling sheet rock and gleaming plastic.

The mob passed by; ignorant of the fact they had just lost Billie.

He ventured further into the building, until he found a tiny room with heavy, sliding doors. They were open just wide enough for him to slip into. He curled up in corner, wondering why there were circles with numbers on the walls.

He fell asleep.

He woke up healed.

It began in an elevator.

***

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Sara Codair writes because her brain is overcrowded with stories. If she doesn’t get them out, she fears her head will explode. When she isn’t making things up, she is either teaching, binge reading or enjoying nature. Her short stories have appeared in or are forthcoming from Speculative 66, Ink in Thirds, Scrutiny, Foliate Oak, Centum Press, After Lines Anthology, Sick Lit Magazine, Fantasy Crossing and Mash Stories. Her fist children’s book will be published by Wizard’s Keep some time in 2017. You can find her online at saracodair.com or @shatteredsmooth.

Moving on – Kelly Fitzharris, Editor-in-Chief

Sometimes we start out the New Year hungover, covered in glitter, in our own beds (somehow) having fallen asleep in party clothing.

 

Others, we abstain from that lifestyle altogether and don’t drink; so waking up on January the 1st  is like any other day for us, except for possible unspoken or unaddressed marital discontent.

 

It’s never an easy time.

 

Especially when you, yourself, are the recipient of said marital discontent that you were previously unaware of or not quite privy to, and also have two malleable children to take care of and comfort throughout this ordeal.

 

In short, a little over a week ago, my husband let me know that he wanted a divorce.

 

Please, please try and abstain from saying negative things about him or towards him at the time being. Just because one person is initiating the split doesn’t mean that they’re the ‘bad guy,’ so to speak. Although there’s a lot of pain and misunderstanding to go around during a time like this, negativity that is more-than-contagious, we are trying to keep everything as amicable and pleasant as we can.

 

Heartbreak is a crazy thing; it makes people go insane! It’s what makes one person throw their spouse’s clothes out on the lawn, find themselves feeling hostility that can manifest itself into unchecked rage, and can make a parent unwittingly pit their children against their mother or father. And much, much worse.

 

Or…on the other side of the coin, we can take a breath. We can step back and remember who we really are; that we pride ourselves on our humility, resilience, and are way stronger than anyone has ever given us credit for being. That there are people in our corner who not only like us, but love us, and believe in us.

 

So. All of that being said, I am here. I have a magazine to run. We have a T-shirt contest that I have to get out here on the site and let all of you vote on–hell, the entire graphic design department of Kean University in New Jersey has students who worked their TAILS off creating graphics for T-shirts for this web site, their competitive spirits helping them create the best designs they could, their professors spurring their creativity with encouragement and empowerment.

 

Although I’m not doing great at the moment, I won’t let this magazine die.

 

I may be slow-going for a while…for a long while…but, I am actively working on putting the T-shirt designs in a post for you to vote on, while making ALL of the designs available to purchase.

As the late and great David Bowie sang, “The planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do…” in the song Space Oddity. In other words, he’s saying that things happen that are out of our control.

Can you hear me, Major Tom? 

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