John sat on the floor, wishing desperately he hadn’t stubbed his last cigarette out. If he was outside, he could smoke; but he wasn’t outside, and the idea of getting up and walking all the way to the front door just to go outside and smoke seemed ridiculously tedious. If he was going to go that far, he might as well just go home. Which didn’t seem like such a bad idea, really.
He climbed to his feet, steadying himself against the wall. His hand was completely encircled by one large yellowed water stain, a blemish that started in the top right-hand corner of the room and widened and narrowed, almost artistically, all the way down to the floor. He stared at the stain for way too long, thinking about how much fun it would be to trace the shape of the stain with a black magic marker, fill in the shape with doodles and squiggles, turn it into a real piece of artwork. He forced himself to take the two small staggering steps that would take him out of the room and into the hallway leading to the living room, the hallway full of family photos framed in cheap flowery metal frames, all the pictures of Keith and Sarah’s family, including the ones of the two children they lost. The little girl, aged five, and the little boy, aged nine, both dead.
This hallway never seemed right to him. There was too much before photographed and cataloged in this walk, and it bothered him. This hallway belonged to a nice house, of a happy family, and of him as a welcome guest, wearing clean clothes and bearing gifts like nice bottles of wine and takeout food and even flowers, like some smarmy character from a feel-good television show. The walk through the short hallway always felt to him like drowning, and it was only with the greatest exertion that he pulled himself along the wall through the congested hallway and into the living room.
Keith was sitting on the couch with a little boy. The room was full of hungover people ruffling the little boy’s short hair again and again, with the boy smiling patiently through it all as if happy to be in the center of attention. “That’s my boy!” said Keith, again and again, his arm around the boy’s shoulders. He also ruffled the little boy’s haircut. Sarah, in the kitchen making Irish coffees for everyone, smiled every time Keith said “That’s my boy,” patting her stomach as though to reassure the baby inside that he or she would also receive similar accolades once born.
Mira begins to dream of a house and family that aren’t hers. She dreams of them constantly, and it becomes scarily real, especially when her own reality seems to be slipping away. When Mira’s mother suggests that she is not who she thought she was, the dreams worsen. Does her mother’s secret hold the key to escaping the tedium of her oppressive nightmare? SY
Back in Serbia, people never talked about their dreams. Nana said that to do so was not only rude, but bad luck—and, as she always said, wasn’t there already enough bad luck in the world?
But here in Los Angeles, it sometimes seems as though people can talk of nothing else. In high school I took a psychology class and one day the teacher asked each of us to share a recent dream. This was just after we moved here, and I didn’t know Americans liked to talk about their dreams. For me, this felt like being asked to stand naked on top of my desk. When it was my turn, I lied and said I couldn’t remember any.
I was scared too for another reason: the teacher asked this of us just after the dreams started. It was as if she somehow knew.
Now that I’ve been here a few years, I don’t mind talking about my dreams so much. Amy and Caitlin, my roommates at UCLA, said that talking about their dreams made them feel better. I hope you don’t mind.
Sam keeps meaning to clean himself up and make a new start, but somewhere between the buff and the polish it all goes awry. There’s a wonderful subtlety in this supernatural short. SY
“Don’t criticize what you don’t understand, son. You never walked in that man’s shoes.”
—Elvis Presley, 1935 – 1977
The early sun glints off a silvered building. A cooling breeze soothes the streets, and Sam’s eyes flicker open. His body is warm and relaxed, oscillating between asleep and awake, and his mind is at peace with the day.
He turns his head to one side and sees his sleeping buddy tucked under thin grey blankets against the wall of the open verandah they had selected the night before.
Concrete lies under Sam’s thin sleeping bag and he keeps still, knowing the moment he moves, bones will push through the thin material and his comfort will disappear, bringing him firmly into contact with his current situation.
A foreigner in the Isles, returning. They leave her to herself, in the place where there was plague, except the young poet. She is happy in her solitude but he seeks her out. There is a value to politeness and leaving well enough alone. SY
She came back to the Isles in the spring mist. She was left on a pebble beach by a ship from the south, which sailed off without even stopping to resupply. A nearby fishing village took her in for a week, after which she went quietly away and the next anyone heard was that she had made a home in what remained of a hamlet abandoned a hundred years ago or more. And there had been plague there, so no one cared to visit, although she did come back to barter southern coins for food.
Eventually people stopped caring. Foreigners were all mad anyway. Who knew why any of them did anything?
The stream was the same, clear water spilling foam-flecked between brown stepping stones. There were foxgloves still, and green hollows below undercut banks, and here and there the bronze of dead leaves shed by the beech trees coming into their spring growth. Mist crept like a white ghost over the grass.
Barton looked at the scrap of parchment he held between his fingers: 2653 Arcturus Street. The clay numerals above the polished oak door matched the number that the Painter had written out for him. Beyond the door slept a family that had been torn apart by the loss of a child. He was about to shatter their peace and tear the scab from the wound. Would his heart, his conscience be able to withstand it?
This could so easily be my door. If collections don’t pick up it will be my door, my Lilly on the other side of it.
Barton shook his head to clear the image of his unsuspecting family sleeping in their beds. He jumped when his partner laid a hand on his shoulder.
One day, Iris thought, she might cross the bridge. She might find out what was on the other side. But she had a fear of the trolls that her parents told her lived beneath it, and a fear of the devils that they said lived across it, and so she stayed where she was. Safe on her side of the bridge.
But that didn’t mean she wasn’t curious about the world across the river. There was something there, there had to be, or the bridge would have no use. It must have been built for a reason.
Iris would spend hours simply sitting, staring at the narrow strip of moss covered wood that separated her from the other side with all of its seductive secrets. The greenery that grew up through the wooden planks was lush and plush and showed her that no one had crossed that bridge in a very, very long time.