We Have No Lysosome – by Emily Vollmer

As far as house parties go, ours started off banal.

The six of us arrived as a numerical function, a countdown to fun. Three in an older but well-kept Volvo. The next two in a nice SUV, recently washed. Then I arrived in my boring little compact car. A cliché: the outsider telling the story of her friends. But isn’t it always the outsider who tells the story? Why mess with an established formula? Life’s more relatable this way.

We had all come together a mere three months prior, though we had been coworkers for longer. Cindy’s Alleyway and Eatery could easily be classified as a dead-end job, a stop for all of us while we decided what it was exactly that we wanted to do with our lives. A typical place, filled with the typical people of middle-of-nowhere New England towns. One Christmas, the manager, Ted, decided to host a tragic holiday party for the employees. The six of us congregated in a corner, desperately seeking something salvageable from the evening. Our clique, squad, girl group, or what have you formed naturally as bees returning to the hive after a long journey. We all belonged together. We just hadn’t known it yet.

Now, we knew it. Our contact was constant, from the WhatsApp group to a standing Friday night movie outing after our shift at the Alley was over. Every Sunday we would do brunch in one of our apartments. On Wednesdays we had after-work drinks at the bar down the street, where we giggled about strange customers at the Alley and told each other that we were too smart to be working there. We should be models, singers, artists, and comfortably wealthy women with girl- and boyfriends at our beck and call.

Really though, none of us were meant for those lives. We belonged to that miasmic lower-middle class, making just enough to feed ourselves and afford our cars, with the rest of our paychecks going towards paying off student loans for degrees we never finished. The rest–the fun–we paid for on credit cards with balances we rarely checked.

Once we’d all arrived at the house, we swarmed then spread through the echoing hallways in a flurry of giggles and unnecessary whispers. The house was unoccupied, recently put on the market. We knew that there would be no one to bother us in the house at the end of a sparsely populated street.

When we were done exploring and evaluating what the house had to offer, we moved quickly. Pulling bags and coolers from the cars, we broke out cheap wine and crackers, homemade cookies and vodka-soaked gummy bears, lighting the kitchen and living room with unscented candles from the dollar store. As I said, a banal night at the start.

Then, the rain started.

There are a few different flavors of rainstorms. Some are soft and quiet, perfect for cups of tea and long naps. Others are sporadic downpours, irritating in their ability to restart just as you chance the run to your car. That night, the rain came down hard and fast, with little warning.None of us had checked the weather before coming to the house. We were young and invincible, after all. What could the weather do to us?

The rain started soon after we arrived, though we didn’t notice at first. We were too busy getting lightly drunk and gossiping about our job, really the only interesting topic of conversation we ever had. That is, we didn’t notice the rain until the one of the Volvo passengers went out to try and grab a sweater.

Though the rain hadn’t been coming down for more than half an hour, the ground surrounding the house was already an inch deep underwater. We watched her progress from the bay window in the living room, quite amused as she struggled to find the walkway leading off from the front door. Even more amusing was how once she reached the car, she realized she had forgotten the keys inside. Or rather, we had snuck the keys from her purse earlier. She always ended up cold and having to go out to the car for a sweater. She quickly retreated into the house. We were unable to keep straight faces as she stomped in with a flurry of curses against the weather and us.

Pranks always seem harmless at the time. We had no way to know what consequences we would bring upon ourselves.

The night continued, each of us slowly getting drunker and sloppier. Occasionally one of us would chance the rain, only to find the water level had risen another quarter, half, then full inch. We started getting worried around midnight. We had all expected to be home or at one another’s apartments by morning, nursing light hangovers with coffee and bacon. However, none of us would be going home that night.

Around one in the morning, we congregated in the living room stuffed with show furniture, three girls on the couch, two curled into each other on an oversized armchair, and me sitting in the bay window. We began trying to make a plan, to figure out what to do from there.

It’s funny how girl groups work. We function like a cell, each member integral to the overall structure of our communal friendship. We each serve a purpose, and no one member more or less important than the others.

The couch housed the main functions of our little cell. On the left end, our plasma membrane talked of how we should all stick together for the night, safer together in the house rather than separated out in the rain. She always held us close like only a mother-type could. On the right end of the couch, the mitochondrion, our little bundle of unlimited energy. Effortlessly and annoyingly positive, she was just so excited that we were on such a little adventure, all of us together on a dark and stormy night. Between them sat the cytosol, a liquid buffer between the membrane’s ceaseless practicality and the mitochondrion’s suggestion that we should all do shots. Though tonight, she was quieter than usual, still sulking over her excursion in the rain, unsuccessful in retrieving a sweater.

The armchair girls were both single and separate entities, our nucleus, so to speak. The nucleolus was the brains and social planner, she found the listing for this house and suggested that we forgo the usual Friday night movie in favor of bonding. She liked being in charge of us, and said so often. The girl you love to hate, the one we are all obsessed with. The nuclear envelope was cuddled up with her, nodding supportively to everything she said. The envelope was a hype man, always ready to second the suggestions of the nucleolus, always making sure we did what they wanted to do. Girl groups are not democracies, just as cells aren’t ruled by committee.

Me? I am the flagella, or the cilia, depending on what type of cell chart you’re Googling. I keep our cell mobile, I decide when the night is over, I’m the killjoy. The fat lady singing, the hook pulling a diving old-timey comedian off the stage. I make sure no one does anything too stupid, by stopping the fun preemptively. Not every girl group or cell has one of me, though I like to think that I am a good influence. After all, we are future models, singers, artists, and comfortably wealthy women with girl- and boyfriends at our beck and call. We need to know when to stop, and I always know when that time has come.

So, we held our little meeting in the living room, trying to decide what to do. We didn’t want to stay in the house; the realtor would likely be by bright and early to make sure there was no water damage. We also didn’t trust ourselves enough to wake up in time to get up and out. More importantly, we didn’t trust our phones to survive and wake us with their tinny alarms. However, we also couldn’t leave. The water was now just below the lower edge of the front door. Our cars’ engines would flood, or whatever it is that makes them stop running in water. The third option would be to walk to the nearest house and ask to stay there for the night, and hope the residents would be amused by our antics, and not tell the realtor about our little escapade.

After twenty minutes of minor arguing, the cytosol excused herself. She’d never warmed up from the rain, and just wanted to curl up under a blanket. One of the upstairs bedrooms was stocked with show furniture, she would be there if we needed her. Talks devolved quickly after she left.

The arguing escalated when the membrane snapped at the mitochondrion, whose unceasing suggestions of shots were in no way helping the situation. The mitochondrion was offended–she was just trying to lighten the mood. The membrane was then also offended–she was just trying to keep the conversation productive. The nucleolus was irritated, the mitochondrion and the membrane were bickering like children. The envelope agreed, as there was no point in argument. Obviously, the best option was the nucleolus’s, to spend the night and deal with the consequences of staying in the morning.

However, the mitochondrion and the membrane couldn’t afford any run-ins with police, no matter how slight. They both had minor records, and didn’t want to add to them. Their future job security depended on it. Just because the envelope and nucleolus could run home to mom and dad if things got rough, that didn’t mean everyone had that safety net.

At this point, I stepped in as I do, suggesting that it was time we all separated for a bit and cooled off. If the cytosol were here she would calm everyone down, reminding us of how we were so close and special to each other. But I don’t have her way with words, and was resoundingly told to be helpful or shut up.  I chose the latter. I had no skin in this fight. I may not have a family unit to run back to, but I also have no record to make worse.

The best and worst things about girl groups is that oftentimes, we never resort to violence to resolve our differences. Instead, we rely on words, and bits of histories we’ve been saving. We know where the bodies are buried, so to speak, and can wield that information like a knife. However, our group had no lysosome, no self-destruct sequence if things got rough. We are stuck together rain or shine. In this case, rain.

If you’re waiting for a big finale, some twist that will shock and amaze you, it’s not coming. Our story ends as banal as it started. We split up in the house, sleeping ‘til morning. I woke up first, saw that the rain had stopped, and got everyone moving. We packed up our bags and coolers, scraped off wax from where it melted on the tables. We split up to our cars and carefully drove away on soaked roads. No realtor came, we had no run-in with police. We went home and nursed hangovers with coffee and bacon, albeit in our separate apartments.

On Sunday, we met up at the nucleolus’s apartment for brunch. Last week was the envelope’s turn to host, and next week will be the cytosol’s turn. On Wednesday we met at the bar, and laughed over beers and mix drinks about the fake glasses Ted wore to look more managerial.

Consequences can be subtle. A barbed comment at brunch, an eyeroll over drinks, an argument over which movie to see that becomes strangely heated. A member of the group no longer willing to mediate, because she’s still mad about a prank her friends pulled on her on a rainy night. Maybe one day, when we are all models, singers, artists, and comfortably wealthy women with girl- and boyfriends at our beck and call, we’ll laugh about the time a rainstorm almost destroyed our friendship. Maybe we won’t. Maybe we will let our resentment of each other’s privilege and personalities simmer just below the surface for years.

Maybe we’ll find our lysosome, our self-destruct button. Maybe, one day.

# # #

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Emily Vollmer is an aspiring writer, artist, and terrible poet with five-eighths of a degree in marine biology. She believes that good writing can have a meaningful impact on the world and strives to one day reach that level in her own work. For now, she’ll be happy sharing her stories with anyone willing to read them. She lives in shoreline Connecticut with her big beautiful bunny Frankenstein and two parakeets Leonard and Nimoy, as well as her cats Batman and Walt Disney. She can be found at https://emilyvollmerthewriter.wordpress.com

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Marcus – by Grey Nebel

I hardly remember the accident. Night had befallen the streets of Rome, but I, believing in the sheer principle of thinking occurring in its purest form in the twilight hours, had never been one for sleep.

I did not forget the dire need for me to be awake at such an hour. As the sun rose, I was to be summoned to deliver a speech to some of Rome’s finest men, per the request of Pope Leo X.

The last thing I recall is standing to relieve myself when the hutch behind me tipped from an imbalance of weight, falling upon me.

* * *

When I awoke, I was in a world so entirely different that I believed I was still in a dream.

“Oh, Zeus be with me,” I whispered as a shrill, inhumane beeping filled my ears, mixed with the shouts of young women.

Women had no place in the Greek workforce, and I had never seen one in the Roman one, either.

A woman can do anything a man can do, Artemis had told me in my dream. And now, you will learn that. Find me in this new world, Marcus Musurus.

I shook my head groggily, becoming aware of the softness of the cot beneath my body. Not even the most luxurious of Roman housing had such a soft, feather-like cot, one I felt as though I could sink into if I truly desired.

“He’s awake!” One woman screeched, so loudly my head began to pound, in a tongue I hardly recognized.

“I’m sorry?”

“No, now don’t talk-” she sighed, frowning when I failed to comprehend what she was saying. Her words sounded nothing short of gibberish, and I suppose that was evident upon my face.

You will find yourself lost, confused, and hurt, but you will also right the path of wrong on which you find yourself.

“Artemis, be with me now,” I whispered to myself, my tongue dry and leaden.

I opened my stinging eyes slowly. The brightness of the room pierced through me. I was confined to an area of pure, porcelain white and baby blue, on the walls, on the cot, and on the woman standing before me.

This was not Rome.

“Aria,” the woman said, pointing at the golden tag on her light blue blouse. She pointed once again, this time to her head. “Aria.”

I will be with you from the beginning. But fear not, you will have no remembrance of me. I will look, act, and even be named differently.

“Marcus,” I croaked, this time pointing towards myself.

“Mark?”

Your name may be changed. You will be in a different reality, mortal, and it is dire that you fit in. The world does not wait for those who lose, especially in a futuristic world.

I gave a small nod, shifting in the cot and groaning as an electric pain sparked through me, searing my insides.

Aria thrust her hands in front of her, her eyes wide. “Don’t move!”

Panic was a universal language, as was pain. I did not move again.

Aria left the room as the beeping that I had tuned out spiked. I turned my head–slowly, trying to avoid the pain–towards the source of the noise, and was greeted by a bright light rising and falling like mountains on a white box. They were green, and so bright they were like miniature suns.

“Apollo?” I whispered.

There was no response. My eyes began to tingle and water from staring into the light of the suns, so I simply shut my eyes instead, wishing I were in Greece, enjoying wine over a simple meaty meal.

You will not find this life enjoyable. Most people living there do not, either. However, if you wish to have a peaceful afterlife, you will learn to live on this new Earth as one of its new creatures.

Artemis was no liar. These were people unlike my wildest dreams, so different than what even a playwright could conjure up. Despite the similarities in our physique, Aria was a woman unfamiliar to any humane conception.

She had gadgets beyond the realm of Greek and Roman understanding.

Was this the afterlife? Had I been allowed inside Mount Olympus? I saw no nectar, no nymphs offering ambrosia to all they saw. I instead saw magical lights within screens, women in charge, beeping that somehow connected to me. It was all so different than Greece, so starkly contrasted to Rome.

But Artemis was wrong. If this was where she meant to send me, she had made a mistake. She spoke of evil, but I saw no evil. I was confused and scared, but I was not hurt by what I saw. I saw no misery, especially as Aria returned with a cup in her hands, placing it into mine with a small nod.

“Drink,” she instructed, forming a cup with her hands and lifting it to her lips.

My eyes shone with understanding. I pursed my lips and lifted the glass to it, my palms clammy, smiling in relief when I recognized the cool, refreshing taste of water.

The one thing I recognized. In a foreign world, water was the one thing that I knew. And I clung to it, savoring every last drop of home.

“Mark,” Aria started, her tongue this time one I understood perfectly, sending shivers down my spine. “We need to talk.”

“I–”

“I told you I would be with you. And now, it is your time. Go out into the world. There will be a woman waiting for you in a city named Athens.”

“Athena?”

“Athens is a city. But she is there. A war is brewing on this Earth. If you play your part right, you will find repentance for your sins. Your philosophy has served man well, but if you are not careful, you will damn yourself to Hades. Now is the time–and the only time–you will have the chance to fix this.”

“But–”

Aria–Artemis–gave a solemn nod. “May the gods be with you, Marcus.”

# # #

greynebel

Grey Nebel, an Atlanta-based writer, finds herself entirely guided by her right brain. As an actress, technical theater worker, writer, and all-around nerd, she has enjoyed stories since she has enjoyed walking (hint: a long time). She suffers from a severe tea addiction, prides herself on her knowledge of world history, and learns languages to fill her free time (what better way to improve on English than write a story, right?). Led by spontaneity, she hopes to make her dreams come true. Be it writing or climbing a mountain, Grey has hopes to do it all–after all, she only gets to live once! Her previous works include Cheap Thrills, one of the short stories appearing in the award-winning Twisted Fairy Tales Anthology.  She can be found at greycantwrite.weebly.com.

Update: Submissions Closed! – by Nikki rae Spano

Here’s the deal: Kelly started a new job which has taken up most of her time, and I’ve fallen behind on, well, everything.

While I’m thrilled at the volume of submissions SLM is getting, I’m simply drowning.

As you can see, it’s nearly April and I’m still working on publishing stories from the January and February prompts. My brain is chaotic. The schedule is fucked. (Pardon my vulgarity, but it is what it is.)

Basically, I have to temporarily close submissions until I can get through whatever is already in my inbox, publish what needs to be published, and catch my damn breath.

Anything sent in will be deleted immediately until submissions reopen.

Thanks for understanding.

Keep writing.

Nikki rae Spano

Bird’s Eye View of the Back of Your Head – by George Saoulidis

Tony saw his dead wife. He wasn’t crazy, and she wasn’t a ghost. But he saw her, and she couldn’t see him.

He went on with his day, same as every day before she decided she hated everyone and rammed their car into a bus.

“Die, stupid children,” the on-board nav device recorded as her last words.

So they didn’t get life insurance.

And people hated them.

More specifically, him, cause his wife was dead. Vilified, for killing all those kids.

And to top it all off, she had recorded herself with the holoselfie gadget he’d bought her for Christmas.

It was a device for every narcissist. Not only could you see yourself doing whatever it was that you did all day, but you could see yourself from any angle, holoprojected in your own space.

Oh, sure, it was marketed as, “Posture Straightening Gadget,” or as, “Personal Development Gadget.” Tony’s favourite excuse was the, “External Personal Evaluator.”

That was the version his wife wanted, so she could see herself and what she did all day, and make sure she became more interesting. Or work out more. Or dress up nicer while doing chores.

It made sense at the time, or at least it made sense how she phrased it.

How was he to know it would push her over the edge?

Because she wasn’t a perfect narcissist, you see. No, a perfect narcissist would watch himself all day and feel great. He’d think he was hot shit, the best ever. A lesser narcissist saw imperfections, flaws, things he should improve upon to look better.

A smidge lower than that and you had Alex, his wife. She was narcissistic enough to want to watch herself all day, but not so much as to feel complete.

The days started getting darker since he got her that damned gadget. But darkness creeps in, luminosity fades slowly and your eyes adjust and you don’t realise you’re in the shadows until it’s too late.

He saw the signs. He spoke out, but not enough. She was obsessed with herself. Always fixing her posture. Always slapping herself for biting her nails. Always angry at Tony for not noticing her biting her nails and helping her stop the bad habit.

The imperfections kept going on and on, in a long list.

But the problem was, that Tony had never seen imperfections in her. He loved her, and to him, she was perfect.

“You stupid man. Can’t you see my nail polish is chipped? Why didn’t you tell me that? How could you let me go outside like this? Aghh!” The hologhost of Alex grabbed her hair and stormed into the bathroom.

She wasn’t really there. Recorded from one of the dark days, it was replayed so that the user could see himself and improve. But the gadget was smart enough to stop recording, since she had set it to record only her, and dumb enough to keep replaying the projections, never noticing that the user was dead and gone.

“Good morning, love,” Tony said, loud enough to be heard inside the bathroom. He put on his tie. It felt weird around his neck after not wearing it for so long. Like a noose. He got dressed.

Then he went to work. It had been months since her death and things were crazy, but he had used up his paid-leave and he really needed to get back there. It was insane how much funerals cost, and his wife wasn’t really good with budgeting her credit cards. So he readied himself for the big coming back and stepped foot into work.

It was a boring type of job, corporate, not even central offices, just the offshoot offices they send people who do inane work for inane hours and nobody wants to see their miserable faces around. The building was grey and ageing, bought from some public use so it was practically condemned. They were inhaling asbestos and rat feces in there, but nobody cared and nothing ever got fixed.

He got a lukewarm welcome at work. Some people said their condolences, others just nodded and said hi. Some patted his back. His boss called him in, spoke in platitudes, we’re here for you, this is your family, yada yada.

Then he got back to his cubicle and started working. The specifics of his job are not important. For while he worked, he couldn’t help but see himself in bird’s eye view, like the holoselfie would if he used it in here.

What would it see?

A guy–with a patch of baldness on the back of his head that everyone could see but which he ignored because he couldn’t notice it in the mirror–hunched over a keyboard, sipping his coffee. And the coffee wasn’t even that good, but the holoselfie wasn’t yet advanced enough to have taste, but you could see it. The surroundings in which you experience some food or drink matter as much as the cooking. It was impossible to taste anything other than miserable coffee in this miserable place.

He did do something: he went to pee a couple of times. He spoke to the man in the next cubicle, stretched his legs a bit.

That was all.

An entire 8-hour work day, seen from a bird’s-eye view.

Pathetic, he thought, and it was his wife’s voice.

How had it all changed like that? Tony used to be fun. Nah, he was never cool, but he was fun. Fun to be around, fun with his friends, fun with Alex. That’s why she fell in love with him. They had so much fun.

Now, it was all bland and grey and pathetic.

Tony clocked off work and went home, to find a wet bag of shit on his doorstep.

A usual occurrence, after what Alex did. He got inside, took off his jacket, took some absorbing paper and a trash bag and threw the stinky thing away.

It was hard for him to hate people. Losing eighteen kids is a good excuse to be mean to people.

Tony kicked off his shoes.

“Don’t track mud inside! I told you so many times, scratch them there by the door,” Alex yelled at him before turning back to wash dishes.

“Yes, babe.” He obeyed his dead wife and then started a microwave meal.

As the microwave spun, he watched his wife prepare dinner for him. He remembered what she didn’t like about that particular recording. “Ugh, those sandals, terrible. And that hair bun. Tsk, tsk, my posture, again. I keep forgetting to stand straight over the kitchen sink, that’s why my back hurts. And look at that, I scratched my butt without thinking. I told you, Tony, you need to notice these things so that I can stop doing them!”

The microwave dinged.

He pulled out the meal and sat in front of the smart TV. It noticed him sitting there so it turned itself open and played his favourite show.

Tony caught himself thinking about the holoselfie. What would it record now? Misery. Yes, the surroundings were slightly better than the depressing office, but now it was the cooking itself that ruined the taste buds.

He scratched his chin; there was stubble. He laughed at himself. This morning, when he was about to get in the bathroom and get shaved, his wife got in before him. He had forgotten she wasn’t really there and just skipped it and went to work. He was still stuck thinking about her as if she was more than a recording.

He had an idea. He went to the holoselfie gadget, it was the newest thing in the house, and pushed the display. It showed a menu. “New user detected, keep recording and render last 24 hours?”

He tapped “yes.”

He didn’t look back at the gadget, ever again. He just left it there to do its job. Tony went about his daily rituals: shave, shower, fix the bed, read a book, sleep, wake up, get ready for work.

His wife didn’t greet him. When the gadget recorded, it didn’t show anything until the next day. It needed to process the data or something like that. Tony never read the manual.

He got ready for work, cleaned the new bag of shit from his porch and went to his 9 to 5.

The work was the same. Even blander, if that was possible, because the novelty of him coming back had worn off. This time only a couple of co-workers greeted him, and he spoke only with one.

Those were people he’d spent fifteen years of his life next to. He knew stuff about them, overheard conversations, saw their profiles and their photos. But did he even know them? Did they even know him?

Did they show up at his wife’s funeral?

No.

Only the reporters did, and they got their news.

Thankfully, they quickly forgot about him. Some other man might have put on a better show, been more dramatic, more newsworthy. Even the vultures knew that Tony was boring.

Tony finished his eight-hour shift and went home.

No bag. That was an improvement.

He got inside, and started a microwave meal.

He glanced at the gadget, it recorded religiously.

He watched his favourite show, then cleaned up after himself and went to bed.

He hit the snooze button. He checked the time. Twenty-four hours of holoselfie time. Twenty-four hours of his life, indicative of the entirety of his existence. Inane. Pathetic.

The holoselfie showed himself on the bed, transparent, bluish, like his soul standing up and going out of his body. Even his bed placement was aligned, his life was that predictable.

His holoselfie stood up and yawned, then started getting ready for work. His wife appeared, walking around the room.

“You stupid man, can’t you see my nail polish is chipped?” his wife said.

His holoselfie said, “Good morning, love.”

Tony said nothing. He hooked his tie on the top of the door and hanged himself.

His wife stormed into the bathroom, and his holoselfie forgot to get shaved for work.

# # #

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George Saoulidis writes sci-fi shorts. Sometimes, he throws in a bit of mythology. It’s always very dramatic and someone always dies. Or it’s funny. Or both.