Short Story: Fortitude

I’ve always admired those who possess an inner strength, a source of conviction in themselves that sees them past the dark moments in their lives. My mother had it when she kicked that bastard of a father of mine when she caught him cheating on her with the neighbor’s daughter, my former babysitter. I witnessed it firsthand when my sister’s husband was sent to Afghanistan, returning in a flag-draped casket.

My grandfather displayed a quiet sort of courage when my grandmother was diagnosed with ALS, staying by her side as her physical strength failed her. He helped her around until the moment she was bedridden. Cleaned out her trach when she was put on a respirator. I saw him feed her through a g-tube in her stomach, changed her diaper, sponged her clean and combed her hair. He never complained, even as he saw the love of his wife succumb to the disease, dying finally of respiratory failure shortly after their forty-ninth wedding anniversary.

I’ve seen so many examples of courage, and I envy them that strength for it’s something I lack. I was born a coward. I don’t know how else to say it. I’m weak. I’m pathetic. I’m that guy no one likes because I can always be counted on to slink back into the shadows when it counts, and I hate myself for my own weakness.

I have a 9mm in front of me, next to the half-empty fifth of Jack. I just stumbled back into my hotel room, a trailed by the ice I spilled as I came back, locking the door behind. I downed the tumbler in one gulp, threw a handful of ice and splashed another measure into my cup, drowning myself in licor, wallowing in my dispair. I’ve been in tears for the past few days, hiding here, ignoring the constant calls and texts on my phone.

Rejection is something I’ve never learned to deal with. I’m not talking about getting shot down by somebody, or not getting something I wanted. I’m speaking of falling in love and having my heart ripped out of my chest. The kind of heartbreak that makes you want to kill and seek revenge. I had experienced it a couple of times before, and tried to kill myself both times, but I was discovered by my mother at the last moment, and locked in some psych hospital until I got over my suicidal thoughts.

That’s when I learned how to deal with it. I learned to read the signs, learned to read the body language of my lovers. I learned to anticipate when they were done with me and I learned to steel myself and dump them first. There was something satisfying in seeing them begging me to stay, eyes shot red with tears, their egos unable to cope with being dumped, even when they were already planning on dumping me.

It was a rejection of a sort, but I took control, and that made the difference, I think. But this? I could never have predicted it. It was a wholly different sort of rejection. She still loved me, or she said so countless times as I ran from the room. I heard her sobbing on each message she left on my phone. I heard her heart cracking in her voice, but I didn’t give a shit. She broke me first.

I had left town for a few days, my job sending to negotiate a contract with some  son of a bitch with deep pockets and a need for a new supplier. The negotiations went quicker than I had anticipated and came home a day early. I didn’t tell my fiance, wanting to surprise her. Instead, I was the one who was surprised when I heard her upstairs, recognizing the sounds of her moans in the throes of ecstasy. I hoped she was playing with herself, like she usually did, several times a day in fact, but I didn’t think so. I recognize her every moan and grunt, with me and when she plays with herself. This was different.

A slunk upstairs, praying not to see her in bed with some other guy, and my prayers were answered in a fashion. Instead of another man, I found my sister’s face buried between her legs, my fiance’s eyes rolled back. Nothing could have prepared me to see my naked sister, her ass in the air, mocking me as she went down on the woman I loved. I must have made some sound as what I saw hit me in the gut, and I sobbed as my heart fell into the pit of my stomach. My sister turned in horror as she saw me and tried to cover herself, but I didn’t have eyes for her. My eyes were locked onto the woman I had allowed myself to fall in love with, though I had long promised myself never to allow myself that unfortunate weakness.

But I had, and here I am, drunk and wishing I had the courage to either face the world after being humiliated by my once fiance and that bitch of a sister, or put the barrel down my throat and pull the trigger. Pills and drink won’t do this time, nor will cutting my wrists. It has to be the gun and the one bullet with my expiration date written on the casing. I want the pain to end.

It’s been two days and no one knows where I am. I parked my car and hitched a ride out of town, taking only the gun I keep on me at all times. I paid for the room with cash, and everything else for that matter. I didn’t want a way for anyone to track me. I don’t want to be found. I just want it all to end.

I’ve played with the gun, running my fingers down the barrel, caressing the potential instrument of my dispatchment with loving strokes, before setting it down and picking up my Jack again. Two days of toying with my eminent death, wondering whether or not I can do it, but not wanting to face the world mocking my embarrassment. The pain is too much to bear.

I jumped to my feet as I heard voices outside the door, picking up the gun to protect myself. “Johnny?” I heard my mother’s frantic voice pleading to me from the other side of the door. “Are you in there?” I shrank back as she pounded on the door. “Please open up! Don’t do this to me!”

How did they find me, I wondered. I put the gun into my mouth, tears streaming down my face. All I need was one moment of courage to ease myself into oblivion. Let the others worry about cleaning up the gore I leave behind. No one gave a damn about the mess they put me in. One moment is all. All that’s left is to pull the trigger. My whole body shakes with anticipation and fear. Either this or a lifetime of dealing with the aftermath of their betrayal.

I close my eyes as someone breaks down the door and they rush in. Now or never, courage and strength and the eternal darkness. Now or never….

Short Stories

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Previous story – Nice Guy

Short Story: Nice Guy

Lance sat alone, stirring his Jack and Coke with his finger, gazing morosely at the clock above the bar. He would have preferred to have stayed home, not wanting to meet the woman whom had already kept him waiting almost half an hour, but she had begged and pleaded until at last, in exasperation, he gave in. He regretted his weakness.

After waiting another five minutes, Vanessa finally showed up, looking slightly harried, but otherwise unapologetic for being more than thirty minutes late. She walked to the table and waited for him to acknowledge him, but he continued to play with his drink. Finally she cleared her throat. “Lance?” she said inquiringly.

“Vanessa,” he retorted flatly, keeping his eye resolutely on his drink. “Have a seat, I guess.”

She waited for him to stand, thinking he would at least do that one gentlemanly duty that common courtesy demanded, but seeing that he had no intention to do anything but keep his attention focused on the glass in his hand, she pulled the seat out and sat down.

“Thanks for agreeing to see me. I thought for sure you’d turn me down.”

“I did,” he grumbled, “repeatedly. I only agreed to shut you up.”

“Oh,” she look embarrassed. “Sorry.

He shrugged. He finally looked up at her, and the years had taken their toll. It had been more than fifteen years since they last met, and he remembered it well. They had been on a few dates over the course of a few months, and he adored her. For her part, she pretended to be interested in him, at least until he arrived.

Kenny was his polar opposite. While Lance was academic, Kenny was athletic. Lance was artistic and Kenny was unimaginative. Lance was quiet, shy, and introverted, and Kenny was loud and the life of the party. Lance had trouble finding a woman to date while Kenny had women begging for his attention.

Lance didn’t give him much thought, though he should have. She had dated him a few times, but he tried not to let it get to him. They weren’t exclusive, yet. That last time he saw her, he had wanted to get her to agree to go steady, which he later regretted as well. They hadn’t even slept with each other. He had barely gotten a swift kiss good night. He discovered later from a friend that Vanessa had slept with him even before they had gone on their first date.

“I like you, Lance,” he remembered her telling him. “You’re a nice guy, a real sweetheart, but you’re too good for me. You deserve better.”

The seemingly gentle rejection still rankled, even all that time. How many times had he been called a nice guy but some girl rejecting him? A dozen? More? He had lost count even before going out with Vanessa. After her, well he had about given up.

Her relationship with Kenny had been volatile from the start. He drank too much, cheated on her, and rumor had it, he had physically assaulted her a few times. Still, after a few months they married, and she had two kids with him before leaving him after he had tried to strangle her in a fit of rage.

Then came Karl, who was of the same mold as Kenny. Then there was James, Freddie, and too many more too keep track. Lance hadn’t wanted to know, but his friend kept bringing her up, unaware that he was digging the knife further into his gut, and pouring salt into the still gaping wound.

“Are you listening to me?” Vanessa asked, breaking into his dark thoughts.

“What? Oh, yeah,” he stammered before asking, “What were you saying?”

“I was asking you what you had been up to? I can’t believe you’re still single. I would have thought someone would have snatched you up ages ago. You’re such a nice guy. A real catch.”

He shrugged. “That’s the thing about being such a nice guy, I suppose. No one wants one. They all rather date abusers and rapists and the like. I’m done being the nice guy no one wants, so I gave up. Haven’t really dated in years. I don’t see the point.”

“Don’t be like that,” Vanessa scolded him. “I don’t see why anyone would reject you for being a nice guy.”

“You did,” Lance said, barely containing his rage. “So has just about ever other bitch I tried to date. Might as well have called me a fucking unlovable loser. It would have been more honest.”

Vanessa sighed. “You need to stop this. You’re not….”

“What the hell do you want?” Lance interrupted her.


“You begged to see me. I want to know why.”

“So were’re not going to catch up?”

“You lost you chance by being over thirty minutes late. Now, what the fuck do you want?”

She looked annoyed by his rude behavior but shook it off. With difficulty she looked at him, and replied. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry?”

“Yes, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have rejected you. Truth is, I thought you were cute and a great guy, but I was stupid, and naive, and I thought I wanted something more.”

“What do you mean by something more?”

“No offence, but I thought you were safe, and maybe even a little boring.”

“Oh, why should that fucking offend me?” Lance scowled before gulping down his drink in one go.

“I said I was sorry,” Vanessa said weakly, tears welling up in her eyes. “I was wrong. He wasn’t exciting. Kenny was an abusive prick. He was a lying, cheating, manipulative alcoholic. He almost killed me and the kids several times before I worked up the courage to get away.”

“Yeah, and straight to another abusive prick’s bed.”

“You don’t have to be so rude!”

He shrugged and began to play with the fresh drink the bartender set before him. “Is that it? You’re sorry? Kind of a waste of time, if you ask me.”

“No, there was more, but under the circumstances.”

“Oh-ho! There’s more! Then pray tell, what could be so important that you would want to see me after all these years?”

“I was hoping, maybe, to make up for a mistake.”

“What mistake could that be?”

“Not choosing you in the first place.”

He glanced up and scrutinized her. There was no hint of anything but sincerity in her tone and demeanor. It didn’t surprise her. He had expected it the moment she called him. He knew it was coming and had never hoped so hard to be wrong.

“I liked you, and I know that I could have loved you, but I was young and stupid. I chose excitement over stability. I preferred flash over substance. I’ve suffered for years because of it. I want to make it right.”


“I know it’s a long shot, but I never got over you. Not really. You are my biggest regret. You’re the one I wanted to be with, the one I wish I could have married. I knew it the moment me an Kenny got together.”

“And yet you married him.”

“I know,” Vanessa squirmed.

“And then you went out with one loser after another,” Lance continued bitterly.

“I know,” Vanessa replied uncomfortably.

“And you expect me to believe that you wanted to be with me the entire time? You wanted to be with me, but how many did you fuck in the meantime? Yeah, one after another, but here I was, alone, with no fucking prospects, because I’m some fucking noble loser nobody wants. Yeah, you wanted me alright. You wanted me so much that you slept though half the town.”

“Yeah, I did,” she snapped angrily. “I did, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t want you. I was so ashamed of my actions, and too proud to say I’m sorry. I knew I hurt you. I couldn’t get the memory of the way you looked at me the last time we met, and I couldn’t forgive myself. I fucked up, okay? I loved you and I let that slip though my fingers because I was too stupid to realize the truth.”

“And what? You think this makes up for anything? It doesn’t. Not by a long shot. If you’re hoping for some tearful reunion, you can go fuck yourself. Everyone else has. Well, everyone but me.”

“You’re such an ass. What happened to you? You changed.”

“What happened?” Lance laughed. “What happened is you. You and all the other bitches like you, that’s what happened. Nice guy, huh? Fuck you. I’m done being nice. If no one wants me, well dammit, I’ll give you an even better reason to not want me. Fuck you. Fuck all of you.”

“And I thought, maybe we could at least be friends.”

“Don’t. Don’t pretend to give a shit. I know the real reason you’re here.”

“Oh? And what is that.”

“You were hoping I was stupid enough to take you in.”

“What gave you that ridiculous idea?”

“I don’t know, maybe it’s the cancer currently killing you. Yeah,” he leaned in, a sneer appearing on his face, “I know all about it. You’re dying and you have no one to take care of you. No one wants you. You don’t really have much of a reputation left to salvage. Town skank isn’t really much to trade on, especially with death looming over you. No one wants you. I know I don’t.”

Vanessa blanched as she straightened up. “Who told you?”

“I have my ways. Don’t think that just because I no longer live in town that the gossip doesn’t reach my ears. You’re only here because you’re dying. I’m your last resort. That’s all I am, so don’t insult me by pretending otherwise. You didn’t care about me then, and you don’t care about me now. Goodbye.”

“That’s it? Goodbye?”

“That’s it. I won’t good guy you like you did me. No, I’ll tell you the truth. You’re beneath me. I’ll agree with you, that I deserve better than you, not that I’ll ever find anyone. Better alone than be some bitch’s no other choice. Goodbye.


The next morning Lance was woken by a phone call. “Hello,” he yawned.

“What the fuck happened last night?” A female’s voice came on the other line, sounding frantic.


“Who else? What happened with Vanessa?”

“What makes you think something happened with her?”

“Because, they just found her.”

“Who found her?”

“Her parents. They found her in the garage, with her children, dead. The drugged them, and then herself, turned on the car with the garage door down, and killed herself and the kids. What the hell happened?”

“I refused to take her back.”

“You what?”

“She wanted to meet, hoping I would take her back. She thought I was stupid enough to forget that she rejected me, and forget the parade of men she ran through after her marriage ended. She though I’d take her in just to watch her wither away and die. Fuck that!”

“Yeah, okay, but you understand that she’s dead?”

“Yeah, so?”

“So? Are you really that callous that her suicide doesn’t affect you?”

“Maybe I am. She killed herself. I didn’t do it. Why should I care?”

“Because, she murdered her children.”

“They’re not mine. I mean it’s sad, I guess, but they’re not mine. What should I feel sad? She didn’t give a damn about me.”

“You’re unbelievable.”

“Whatever. I’m going back to sleep. I had a long night.”

He didn’t wait for a response before hanging up. He smiled. She was dead. Of course, she hadn’t killed herself, but at least people were believing it. It had taken a while to convince her that he was sorry, and to get her to let him in. From there, it was a simple matter of drugging her first, and then the kids, with allergy medication and sleeping pills, carrying them to the car, and turning it on.

He had been a nice guy once, but something had broken long ago, something her arrival stirred up. No, she hadn’t loved him, and damn her for thinking he’d let her waltz back into her life when she had nowhere else to go. Revenge was sweet, a delicacy to savor. Whatever happens next, he knew that he’d never be a nice guy again, and began to wonder who he could do in next.

Short Stories

Next story – Fortitude
Previous story – Obedience

Short Story: Noticing James Smith

He was invisible, or at least as invisible as a man can get and still be solid and alive. It wasn’t as though no one ever saw him, but they didn’t notice him. They’d greet him absently and immediately proceeded to forget him. That’s what he was, forgettable.

He was common and average, from his name James Smith, to his height, build, and weight, to the color of his skin. His eyes were a common brown, as was his hair. His clothes, while immaculately pressed, were somehow neither dated nor fashionable. He didn’t stick out, which was both a blessing and a curse. It was, as he thought, the way it was, and that was that.

From a young age, he learned that he didn’t matter. His parents only tolerated him, lavishing their attention to their eldest son, and their youngest daughter respectively. He had middling grades, no athletic abilities, and barely any artistic talents. He wrote poetry under a pseudonym, which was published by some obscure online magazine, but was never paid for the honor.

It didn’t matter to him much. He didn’t have many friends, and the few girlfriends he ever had almost immediately forgot about him, moving on to their next boyfriends, most often without bothering to tell him about it. He shut that part down, repressing his need to engage with anyone, especially with people of the opposite sex. He saw no use in putting himself through that torture ever again.

The only thing that might be considered remarkable was his uncanny ability to play the markets. He bought stocks from every job he worked for, that being one of the benefits he took advantage of. Soon he’d sell and trade, looking for patterns, listening to the prognosticators on the business channels. His worth reached $100K by the time he was twenty-three, $1 million by twenty-seven, and he was nearing $10 million, hoping to hit it before his thirty-first in less than a month.

He didn’t need to work, so he didn’t. He passed his time idling away in one non-adventure after another, visiting art museums around the world. He took pictures of European cathedrals, castles, and monuments. He heard the best symphonies played by the greatest musicians in the grandest auditoriums, and met the most talented singers. What he didn’t do was go off the beaten path. He never had an adventure.

James Smith sat in a coffee shop across from Central Park, having gone to the Big Apple to see an off-Broadway production solely because he read a favorable review. He sipped his Irish cream latte while scrolling down the page on his phone, wondering where to go next. He didn’t notice the woman in front of him until she interrupted his research. “Do you mind if I seat here?”

James took his eyes off his phone and looked up and almost gasped. In front of him was his exact opposite. She was tall and thin, her perfect skin almost translucent, with only a few freckles dotting her otherwise flawless face. Her head was aflame with a mane of red hair, curls framing her heart-shaped face. She wore a short dress which showed off her toned legs, and she wore impossibly tall red stilettos.

“Oh,” he stammered as soon as he found his voice. “Please. I was about to leave anyways.”

“I wish you wouldn’t,” she sighed before taking the seat next to him and breaking into a nervous laugh. “I’ve been hit on by one creep after another, and I just need some peace for a moment. I’m hoping they’ll leave me alone if they see me sitting with someone. My name’s Vesper, by the way. Vesper Deering.”

“Oh,” he stammered again, not know what else to say. “Smith. James Smith, and that makes sense. I can stay a little longer.”

“So I’m not keeping you from anything important? A job or a wife?”

“Nothing at all,” he states wistfully. “I’m enjoying an extended vacation and I’m not married.”

“Not even a girlfriend?”

“Not even a hope for one,” he confesses, embarrassed by his admission.

“I find that hard to believe. You’re a good looking man,” she says before blushing. “Or are you gay?”

He shakes his head, amused by her question. “No, I’m straight. I’m just not the kind of guy people, and especially women, notice.”

“I noticed you,” she says, flushing scarlet again.

“You’re the only one.” He looks around, and everyone in the coffee shop steals glances at her, men and women, and even he’s being eyed enviously by just about everybody. “I see that everyone can’t keep their eyes off of you, and I don’t blame them. You’re beautiful.”

“I know,” she sighs sadly, before looking at James and seeing his reaction. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not conceited or vain, but I’m being told constantly that I’m pretty and that I’m beautiful, and men can’t stop hitting on me. Sometimes women can’t as well.”

“That must be exhausting,” James says astonished, the very idea sounding foreign to his ears.

“And I can’t imagine what’d it be like not to be noticed, but sometimes it would be a welcome change.”

“It’s not so bad, but it does get a little lonely at times.” James sits in shock, having never thought about his situation.

“So what is it you do?” Vesper inquires, trying to get the conversation started once more.

“Nothing really. I play the stock market full-time, and I make just enough to indulge my love of art, theater, and traveling.”

“Sounds amazing.”

“It was,” he sighs. “It’s grown stale but I don’t know what else to do.”

“You could always go off on an adventure,” Vesper says wistfully. “If it were me, I’d try something new and exciting. For instance, I’ve always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro.”

“So why don’t you?”

“Because I don’t have the funds to do so,” she states. “Oh, there’s always somebody willing to give me what I want in exchange for favors.”

“I can’t imagine being bold enough to try something like that.”

“I’ve dealt with it my entire life,” Vesper says wearily. “For once, I’d like someone to like me for my mind, and not for this,” she motions at her body.

“And I’d like some one to like me.”

“For what?”

“Not anything in particular, just like me. Like I said, I’m usually not ever noticed.”

“That’s a shame. I think everyone needs someone, a friend, a companion, a lover.”

“I’ve never had any real friends, and the few I have now are more interested in my bank account than my company. The last lover I had was, well, so long ago that I’m embarrassed to tell you.”

“Then mine was so recent that I’m equally embarrassed to admit. Finding lovers has never been difficult for me,” she shakes her head sadly. “I just can’t find someone to love me, truly and really love me for me. I think I’ve taken up enough of your time,” she says suddenly, looking at the watch dangling on her wrist. “The guys that were harassing me are gone. I think it’s safe for me to go.”

“Oh,” he says, feeling suddenly disappointed. “You sure?”

“I think so. You can walk me out, if you want. I could use an escort. I’d appreciate being able to walk the street without the cat calls.”

“I won’t promise that you won’t be whistled at, but I’ll do what I can.”

James stands up, offers Vesper his arm, which she happily accepts. “You’re quite the gentleman, aren’t you?”

“I can be, when given the opportunity.”

“Then I’m glad I gave it to you,” Vesper smiles.

The pair walk  out in silence, James allowing his mind to wander, thinking about what it would be like to have an adventure. “Kilimanjaro,” he says quietly after walking almost an entire block. “It’s in Tanzania, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Vesper nods.

“Never been there,” he says, his wanderlust kindled. “I don’t suppose you’d go with me? I’m not sure I’ve ever had a real adventure before.”

“I hope you don’t expect me to sleep with you in return,” she jokes.

“I don’t, but you don’t know what you’re missing. My lovemaking prowess has often been described as ‘just what the hell do you think you’re doing?’ I think my aforementioned lover fell asleep once. It was quite the fiasco.”

Vesper begins to laugh, and not a polite chuckle, but a loud laugh, ending with a snort and another wave of laughter. “Well see, Romeo,” she grins before kissing his cheek. “We’ll see. How about something a little nearer to home before we start traveling the world.”

“Technically I live in Ohio, but in actuality I’m a bit of a vagabond. I’m staying at the Plaza at the moment, and you know, I’ve never actually been to Niagara Falls. Is that close enough.”

“Better, but how about Gray’s Papaya for a hot dog? It’s only a couple of blocks away, and I’m famished. Haven’t had a bite to eat yet.”

“I’d like that,” he says. “I’ve always meant to go there but never quite made it.

“Today’s your lucky day then, James.”

Later that evening, after he walked Vesper to her apartment, he walked a little straighter, his eyes focused on the road ahead. He witnessed a subtle change in how people regarded him, noticed by passers-by, and he smiled, glowing from the small kiss goodnight that Vesper had given him on his cheek. Somehow, he didn’t feel so ordinary anymore.

Short Stories

Next story – Shards
Previous story – My Curse

Short Story: The Storyteller

Glenda listened as her great-granddaughter Emily spoke excitedly about her latest accomplishment, securing the movie rights to a book she never heard of before. That was her thing, the reason she woke up in the morning, the reason she went to work as a lawyer for a movie studio. She loved the thrill of competition, thrived in it, excelled in an industry more concerned for making money than for its workers. She reveled in making obscure writers famous, at having that immediate financial impact to make their lives that much better.

Glenda’s granddaughter rolled her eyes, and Glenda struggled not to do the same. At almost a hundred years old, she had lived a long life, though not necessarily a fulfilling one. There wasn’t anything she felt particularly excited about. She did what needed to be done, what she had to do in order to keep her family alive. There was no joy in it, no reward other than a meager meal most nights, and sometimes having to go without in order to feed her children.

She felt a twinge of jealousy whenever her great-granddaughter came over to visit, regaling her with tales of the celebrities she met, the places she visited, the life she led. It wasn’t for the fact that she rubbed elbows with the rich and famous that Glenda felt jealous. No, she envied that feeling of purpose and excitement, the feeling most people never felt in their entire lives. She envied her great-granddaughter, though she didn’t want to dampen that excitement by being bitter like her granddaughter, Emily’s mother was.

On that particular trip, Emily invited her to go to the bookstore with her. “I hear there’s another book people are buzzing about,” Emily confided in Glenda. “I need to read it and see if it’s worth pursuing.”

Glenda agreed and listened as Emily went on about another book, another movie being made, and another author becoming a little better off than they had been before. When they arrived at the bookstore, they saw a group of kids in the children’s section, looking sad that their reader hadn’t showed up, again. “Kind of sad, don’t you think?” Emily said, glancing in their direction. “I remember you bringing me here as a kid to listen to Storytime during the summer. It’s what got me interested in books in the first place. It’s why I do what I do now, help bring stories to life for another audience.”

Emily walked away, lost in the aisles of books, searching for who knew what, when a child caught Glenda’s attention. A boy, or maybe it was a girl, emaciated and bald, crumpled in a wheelchair, tears falling down their face. Glenda didn’t know why she did it, the compulsion to step forward beyond her conscious thought, but Glenda put her hand on the employee’s arm and asked, “Is there not a reader for the children?”

“No,” the employee replied sadly. “Third time this month. It’s difficult to find someone to read. If we can’t find anyone soon, we’ll have to shut down Storytime for good.”

“I could do it,” Glenda volunteered, surprised at having put herself forward.

“Could you?” The employee looked hopeful. “You would be a godsend, especially for Sarah,” she pointed at the young girl in the wheelchair. “Cancer,” she informed Glenda, “final stages. Probably only has a few weeks left.”

“I’d love to,” Glenda said, her eyes trained on the young girl, her own heart bursting with emotion for the moribund child.

“It’s strictly voluntary,” the employee said. “I wish we could pay someone, but we don’t have the funds for it. Used to be that the library hired someone to read, but they stopped funding it years ago. That’s why we have difficulty finding anyone to read.”

“That’s okay, deary,” Glenda said, taking the book from the employee’s hand. “I could do with getting out of the house every now and again.

Glenda sat in an armchair under the paper tree on the wall. The children that had begun to drift away noticed the new reader sitting down and opening the book and ran back with gleeful shouts and laughs, excited to have someone read to them. Sarah, looking sick and frail, looked up with an intensity that shook Glenda, seeing a life in her that yearned to escape the prison of her body, even if only through the stories told to her by a stranger.

Emily was shocked to see her great-grandmother sitting in the middle of a semi-circle, with children listening with rapt attention as she brought a story to life. Emily listened as well, the images coming to life in her mind’s eye, amazed that so old a woman could inject a mere child’s book with such life as to almost make it real.

That was the first time Glenda sat in the reader’s chair at the bookstore, and she fell in love with it. For the first time in her nearly one century of living, she had found something truly her own, something that excited her. She began planning her next Storytime, reading the next book the store gave her to read, learning the nuances, practicing until she could act out the story for her readers.

No one appreciated it more than young Sarah. She came to life during the weekly readings. Emily made it a point to join Glenda as often as she could, transfixed by the magic the simple act of reading could conjure. Storytime grew until a new sponsor came forward to fund the it, though the sponsor refused to be named. Glenda suspected it was Emily, but she would evade the question when asked with a sly smile.

Always in front, sat Sarah, and Glenda read to her, her hand usually on her knee or Sarah’s hand clasped in her own. Glenda could not let the children down, especially Sarah, whose cancer had gone into remission, and who had grown stronger with each successive week.

And then she was gone. Glenda noticed and learned that Sarah had taken a turn for the worse. Glenda found out where Sarah was at, and began volunteering to read at the Children’s Hospital as well. Even after Sarah had passed away, after listening to one final story, Glenda pressed on, reading at both the hospital and the bookstore, knowing that this was what she was meant to do, grateful at having found her place in the world.

And she continued for years, celebrating her 1ooth birthday with the children who would never even make it to their next, their joy infectious. She read stories of knights and princesses, dragons and aliens, of good and evil, life and love. She poured herself into each book, even as her own life began to fail. “They deserve an escape,” she protested whenever someone would suggest she give up her volunteer work. Even as her body faltered, her voice was strong, bringing life to new stories and new characters.

One day, after her 101st, Glenda sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by her children, “mine,” she thought with pride. They all came, sensing perhaps that this was the last time she would grace them with her presence, though she didn’t know it at the time. She began to read, and she looked up to see a child, healthy and happy at the back of the room.

Glenda continued to read, wondering why the girl looked so familiar, or why the other kids beside her looked familiar as well. It was only after she was done reading, after the hugs and the kisses from her children that she realized who they were. Standing out in front stood Sarah, the glow from her soul palpable. “We’ve come to bring you home, Nanna” Sarah said, offering Glenda her hand.

Glenda reached up and felt the aches and the pains fall off of her. She turned to see herself sleeping peacefully in the chair, the book resting on her lap. Then she felt Sarah tug on hand and knew it was time to go. Without a backwards glance, Glenda walked with Sarah, and the other children she saw pass away. They led her home.

Short Stories

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Short Story: Shattered

I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment my heart broke. There has to be a moment when it’s whole and well and in the next it’s shattered beyond recognition, beyond hope of ever being whole again. In my mind’s eye, I picture a high-speed camera recording it happening, and then when I replay it time and again, I can see the seismic event as my heart flutters and contorts violently, before the trauma rips through the organ, shredding it into uncountable pieces.

I replay the event constantly as I try to sleep. I try to divine meaning or purpose from it. I wonder if I had missed any warning signs. I pray for healing, but I’m left barren, an unbeliever in a miserable dark night of the soul. I’ve been hurt before, but never like this. Never have I been left questioning even my own identity. Maybe I should tell you what I’m talking about.

I met her a few years ago at a 5K event, a fundraiser with proceeds going towards cancer research. I lost my mother to breast cancer the previous year, and I wanted to do something to honor her memory. I took up running, hoping to help the cause. Sandra had also lost a loved one, in her case her favorite aunt. We met at the sign in table, and we started to talk. She was actually one of the first women I initiated a conversation with. I felt a pull from her, a well of gravity that captured me and placed me in her orbit, though I hadn’t recognized it at the time.

We exchanged phone numbers, and within a few days I called her, wanting to hear her again, needing to see her. The sensation was unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was utterly intoxicating. We went out for dinner, and then the next week to a movie. Soon we were dating fairly regularly. I’m not even certain when we became a couple.

All too soon, we ended up moving in together. I, who had spent a lifetime taking things slow, never wanting to rush into anything, fell headlong into a relationship. I realized quickly that I was attracted to her, that I felt a rush of emotions when I was with her. The heady feeling of euphoria clouded my judgement, but I didn’t care. I was in love with her, and she told me constantly that she was in love with me. It was bliss, or so I thought.

There were signs the entire time, of course, but I ignored them. I was too in love to see clearly. I cast my doubt away and allowed my heart to blind me. She, I believed, could do no wrong. She would never betray me, yet there was a nagging suspicion in the back of my head. I shouted it down, but the voice became louder. Still, I ignored it. I was, after all, in love.

As time wore on, however, the little signs became clearer. Maybe it’s because she became emboldened by my refusal to see what was in front of me that she no longer felt the need to hide it from me. I accepted her fidelity as a given, but her actions clearly betrayed her. Even my friends could see what was going on, and though they tried to warn me, I ignored them as well.

We were together for a year before the truth became brutally clear. Sandra, in her arrogance, started being careless. I would read texts between her and her friends. They were clearly romantic in nature. I’m not sure romantic is really the word I’m looking for. There were explicit, but I tried to rationalize it. I wasn’t giving her my full attention. I was clearly working too hard and not being available to her.

So I left work early ond day, wanting to surprise my lovely girlfriend. I got home, noticed several cars in the driveway, cars that I didn’t recognize. Curious, I crept quietly into the house. That’s when I heard her. From the doorway of the house, I heard her moaning, moans that I had never heard escape her lips. It sounded ravenous, guttural, with a kind of savage ferocity that I had never thought possible to issue from a woman’s mouth.

My heart seized in my chest, but I was still in denial. I had to be imagining it. I hung my jacket in the closet before sneaking up the stairs. The moans became louder and clearer as I crept up. I heard the voices of several men, in addition to hers. I heard her utter words I didn’t even know she knew, profanities and invocations to a deity I was beginning to lose faith in.

I opened the door, hoping not to see what I knew very well was happening within. On the threshold into the bedroom, I felt my very soul torn asunder. Something in my mind broke the moment my heart was shattered. When I came to myself, I was surprised at what I saw. I was covered in blood, the bodies of two men strewn along the floor, their bodies broken by my hand, and the wooden bat I must have picked up from the coat closet by the front door.

Sandra cowered in the bathroom, having witnessed my break from sanity as I swung against her lovers with an anger I had never displayed in my life. The aggression that had built up during a lifetime of submission washed over me, like a dam spilling over after a flood. Nothing could hold back my anger, and in those moments she came to discover that even the meek can only by strung along for so long.

I felt the power pulsing in my veins as I drank in the fear from her eyes. I must have looked mad, drenched in the crimson life force of the lovers with whom she had mocked my own manhood. At that moment, my tenuous grasp at sanity was fleeting and I felt a surge of hatred overpower my control. This time, however, I was fully aware of what I was doing. I knew what I had to do to regain my battered manhood. I would have to kill her.

I lifted my bat above my head, relishing the terror etched onto her face. I thought my love for her was intoxicating, but having control of her life, and now her death, was empowering. I laughed a mad laugh as I walked towards her, watching her shrink back against the vanity, having nowhere to flee. Her life had been forfeited for having been a treacherous bitch.

In my righteous anger I hadn’t heard the muffled, pained breathing of one of her lovers. I was deaf to everything but Sandra’s pleading for mercy. I didn’t hear anything until the loud pop from behind me, then the eerie warm sensation of something viscous pouring from my side. Then the searing pain as another bullet ripped through my body and I fell onto the floor, my consciousness floating away.

I’ve been told that I failed to kill those two bastards, but that the one who shot me lost the vision in one eye, and the other may never walk again. No one will tell me what happened to that bitch of a girlfriend of mine. I hear precious little in here, and the nursing staff will not talk to me. My therapist is trying to put my psyche back together, but I don’t think there’s much left of me to fix. The man I was is dead. The woman I loved killed him with her betrayal. I wish I didn’t miss her. I don’t understand how I can still love her with my shattered heart.


Short Stories

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